All of Epictetus's Comments + Replies

Let's say I wanted to solve my dating issues. I present the following approaches:

  1. I endeavor to solve the general problem of human sexual attraction, plug myself into the parameters to figure out what I'd be most attracted to, determine the probabilities that individuals I'd be attracted to would also be attracted to me, then devise a strategy for finding someone with maximal compatibility.

  2. I take an iterative approach: I devise a model this afternoon, test it this evening, then analyze the results tomorrow morning and make the necessary adjustments.

W... (read more)

How would you do (1) without making hypotheses and testing them, i.e. (2)?

I did overlook the definition of H. Apologies.

The point is that the behavior of H is paradoxical. We can prove that it can't return true or false without contradiction. But if that's provable, that also creates a contradiction, since H can prove it to.

More precisely, H will encounter a proof that the question is undecidable. It then runs into the following two if statements:

if check_if_proof_proves_x_halts(proof, x, i)

if check_if_proof_proves_x_doesnt_halt(proof, x, i)

Both return "false", so H moves into the next iteration of the while loop.... (read more)

If it is undecidable, then that means no proof exists (that H will or will not halt.) If no proof exists, then H will loop forever searching for one. Therefore undecidability implies H will run forever. You've just proved this. Therefore a proof exists that H will run forever (that one), and H will eventually find it. Paradox...

Why can't I be unsure about the truth value of something just because it's a logical impossibility?

If you're using logic to determine truth values, then a logical impossibility is false. The reason is that if something is logically impossible, then its existence would create a contradiction and so violate the Law of Noncontradiction.

Your logic sounds consistent. Thanks, I'm happy to accept the utility of the law of non-contradiction and therefore don't believe in the logical impossibility of god anymore, not the logical impossibility of anything I conceive.

From the link:

That means that we can’t actually prove that a proof doesn’t exist, or it creates a paradox. But we did prove it! And the reasoning is sound! Either H returns true, or false, or loops forever. The first two options can’t be true, on pain of paradox. Leaving only the last possibility. But if we can prove that, so can H. And that itself creates a paradox.

H proves that it can't decide the question one way or the other. The assumption that H can only return TRUE or FALSE is flawed: if a proof exists that something is undecidable, then H would... (read more)

H is literally defined as either returning true or false. Or it can run forever, if it can't find a proof. It's possible to create another program which does return "UNDECIDABLE" sometimes. But that is not H. The point is that the behavior of H is paradoxical. We can prove that it can't return true or false without contradiction. But if that's provable, that also creates a contradiction, since H can prove it to. Not only can H not decide, but we can't decide whether or not H will decide. Because we aren't outside the system, and the same logic applies to us.

Isn't the obvious answer, "because, assuming your life isn't unbearably bad, living the next 1,000 years has higher expected utility than not living the next 1,000 years?"

We don't have accurate predictions about what the next 1,000 years are going to look like. Any probability calculation we make will be mostly influenced by our priors; in other words, an optimist would compute a good expected utility while a pessimist would reach the opposite result.

Responses like yours confuse me because they seem to confidently imply that the future will

... (read more)
Makes sense. Thanks for the reply.

Honestly, I don't even find the prospect of living another decade all that exciting. If it's anything like its predecessor, my expectations are low. If I were to suddenly die in that time I wouldn't think it a big loss (albeit my family might not like it so much), but if I'm alive I'll probably manage to find some way to pass the time.

If you asked me whether I'd like to live another thousand years (assuming no physical or mental degradation), I'd ask myself "Why would I want to live 1,000 years?" and, failing to find an answer, decline. If I were... (read more)

Isn't the obvious answer, "because, assuming your life isn't unbearably bad, living the next 1,000 years has higher expected utility than not living the next 1,000 years?" Responses like yours confuse me because they seem to confidently imply that the future will be incredibly boring or something. It's possible, but the opposite could also be true. And even if it was unexpectedly bad, you'd still likely be able to opt out at any time.

Confidence is based on your perception of yourself. When someone tells you to be more confident, it's probably because they believe your perception of yourself is worse than reality. Excessively low confidence is no less of a delusion than excessively high confidence.

I would add that it could be more generally a mismatch between your perceptions and another person's perceptions. I've had people tell me to be more self-confident when I was already feeling confident. After some time I figured out what they actually meant was "Speak up more in meetings" and "When you accept a task, don't mention various things that could interfere with you completing it. Say "I can do it" and leave it at that, even if you have an appreciation for life's uncertainties."
The cynical alternative hypothesis is that "be more confident" actually means "be higher status".

Of course. I seem to have overlooked that.

Used rot13 to avoid spoilers:

K unf qrafvgl N rkc(-k^2 / 32) jurer N = 1/(4 fdeg(2*cv))

L unf qrafvgl O rkc(-l^2 / 2) jurer O = 1/fdeg(2cv)

Fvapr gurl'er vaqrcraqrag gur wbvag qrafvgl vf gur cebqhpg bs gur vaqvivqhny qrafvgvrf, anzryl NO * rkc(-k^2 / 32 - l^2 / 2). Urapr, gur pbagbhe yvarf fngvfsl -k^2 / 32 - l^2 / 2 = pbafgnag. Nofbeovat gur artngvir vagb gur pbafgnag, jr trg k^2 / 32 + l^2 / 2 = pbafgnag, juvpu vf na ryyvcfr jvgu nkrf cnenyyry gb gur pbbeqvangr nkrf.

Guvf vf gnatrag gb gur yvar K = 4 ng gur cbvag (4,0). Fhofgvghgvat vagb gur rdhngvba sbe gur ryyvcfr, jr svaq gung gur pbafgnag vf 1/2, fb k^2 / 32 + l^2 / 2 = 1/2. Frggvat k = 0 naq fbyivat sbe l, jr svaq gung l = 1.

Small quibble: +- at the end. [EDITED to be less spoilery.]
You're right. That's what I expected, but not the answer I was getting. I was plotting bivariate distributions, it was 3AM, and a parameter that I thought was a standard deviation was a variance.

You're conflating weight loss and nutrition throughout.

Short term, the body is resilient enough that you can go on a crash diet to quickly drop a few pounds without worrying about nutrition. On the other hand, nutrition is an essential consideration in any weight-loss plan that's going to last many months. That's why I associate the two.

But, again, it isn't the aim that a diet should involve no hunger when compared to your current meal plan. That is just plain silly and irrational.

Certain approaches purport to do this very thing by means of suppress... (read more)

Naive calorie restriction is just regular calorie restriction with a negative name. Good eating habits entail calorie control. That's not naive. It's basic.

By "naive" I just mean calorie restriction without any other consideration. For example, a diet where one replaces a large pizza, a 2-Liter bottle of Coca-Cola, and a slice of chocolate cake with half a large pizza,1 Liter of Coca-Cola, and a smaller slice of chocolate cake is what I'd consider naive calorie restriction. I don't know that anyone would seriously argue that the restricted ver... (read more)

Well, of course. I never said or implied calories were the whole ball game. You're conflating weight loss and nutrition throughout. No, but you'd be hard pressed to make up those calories by eating proteins. That is quite the point. I've mentioned satiation as a real issue that ought to be addressed by any rational diet plan. But, again, it isn't the aim that a diet should involve no hunger when compared to your current meal plan. That is just plain silly and irrational. Losing weight is like any other pursuit—it requires the expenditure of resources: Will power, focus, effort, energy, discipline. It may diminish your capacity to pursue other things for a time. It doesn't mean you have to be bedridden or incapacitated. Again, any other pursuit is like this: Working long days on a big project at work, training for a taxing athletic event, studying for difficult classes and exams, etc. Dieting is a significant project to take on. There seems to be this idea floating around that you can diet, lose lots of weight, and not have it consume some bandwidth in your life. BS. There are some great, rational hacks available, but it takes some sustained work to lose weight. There isn't anyway around that.

The very idea that 1 may be not-quite-certain is more than a little baffling, and I suspect is the heart of the issue.

If 1 isn't quite certain then neither is 0 (if something happens with probability 1, then the probability of it not happening is 0). It's one of those things that pops up when dealing with infinity.

It's best illustrated with an example. Let's say we play a game where we flip a coin and I pay you $1 if it's heads and you pay me $1 if it's tails. With probability 1, one of us will eventually go broke (see Gambler's ruin). It's easy think o... (read more)

If the limit converges then it can hit 0 or 1. Got it. Thank you.

The reason low carb diets lead to weight loss is because they restrict calories. I'm aware of many dieting tricks that can assist, but a calorie deficit must be created in order for weight to be lost.

No one in this thread is disputing that you need a calorie deficit to lose weight. My contention is that this is merely the beginning, not the end. Let's refer to the following passage from the linked article:

Translation of our results to real-world weight-loss diets for treatment of obesity is limited since the experimental design and model simulations r

... (read more)
It isn't unrealistic to create a reasonable calorie deficit for awhile...and I have no idea what a "free-living" individual is. It may be difficult to lose weight, but it's like anything else that is difficult. It requires focused effort over time. Habits can be hard to change. There are plenty of tricks and hacks to help. Avoiding carbs is a good one becuase it will autmotically eliminate 25-60% of an individual's daily calorie consumption. That's all it will do. You could avoid fat, too. Same effect. Fat and carbs = calories. No magic. Yeah, but strawman. Dieting involves some hunger. It's not going to kill you. It's just part of the adjustment to a more healthy level of consumption. Naive calorie restriction is just regular calorie restriction with a negative name. Good eating habits entail calorie control. That's not naive. It's basic. Weight loss is generally really simple. We should be grateful that this is so. Every discussion I've seen on LW makes dieting much more complicated than it need be. It's very hard for many people, but that doesn't mean it's complicated.

Hunger is the big diet killer. It's very hard to maintain a diet if you walk around hungry all day and eat meals that fail to sate your appetite. Losing weight is a lot easier once you find a way to manage your hunger. One of the strengths of the low-carb diet is that fat and protein are a lot better than carbs at curbing hunger.

Yeah. But that's not really the point. The reason low carb diets lead to weight loss is because they restrict calories. I'm aware of many dieting tricks that can assist, but a calorie deficit must be created in order for weight to be lost. This may seem self evident, but there is still debate about it. Carbs are not magically evil, they are just a macro nutrient that happens to be a large share of the calories in a typical Western diet. That's it. No magic. If you don't eat after 6pm, never eat dessert or fast food, eat a larger breakfast, have a salad or X raw vegetables everyday, drink X water everyday—these can all help you lose weight. But there is nothing magical, or even scientific about any of these tactics. It's all stuff we've known for 100 years. Likewise, if you walk 2 miles a day everyday for a year, you'll burn X calories that will lead to X weight loss. It's just math. My point was to specifically disparage diets like the Atkins Diet. It does nothing apart from restricting calories, yet libraries have been written about the magic of how and why it works. It's all just noise aimed at selling books, etc. to people who are looking for help.

So how to solve the problem of scientific misconduct? I don't have any good answers. I can think of things like "Stop awarding people for mere number of publications" and "Gauge the actual impact of science rather than empty metrics like number of citations or impact factor." But I can't think of any good way to do these things. Some alternatives - like using, for instance, social media to gauge the importance of a scientific discovery - would almost certainly lead to a worse situation than we have now.

If you go up the administration... (read more)

Situations where an event will definitely or definitely not occur doesn't seem to be consistent with the idea of randomness which I've understood probability to revolve around.

"Event" is a very broad notion. Let's say, for example, that I roll two dice. The sample space is just a collection of pairs (a, b) where "a" is what die 1 shows and "b" is what die 2 shows. An event is any sub-collection of the sample space. So, the event that the numbers sum to 7 is the collection of all such pairs where a + b = 7. The probability o... (read more)

This is what I meant by something being a proven truth- within the rules set one can find outcomes which are axiomatically impossible or necessary. The process itself may be random, but calling it random when something impossible didn't happen seems odd to me. The very idea that 1 may be not-quite-certain is more than a little baffling, and I suspect is the heart of the issue.

Would I pay $24k to play a game where I had a 33/34 probability of winning an extra $3k? Let's consult our good friend the Kelly Criterion.

We have a bet that pays 1/8:1 with a 33/34 probability of winning, so Kelly suggests staking ~73.5% of my bankroll on the bet. This means I'd have to have an extra ~$8.7k I'm willing to gamble with in order to choose 1b. If I'm risk-averse and prefer a fractional Kelly scheme, I'd need to start with ~$20k for a three-fourths Kelly bet and ~$41k for a one-half Kelly bet. Since I don't have that kind of money lying aroun... (read more)

(3) Having agreed to do something silly (like wearing a uniform) may put you in a frame of mind where you're more likely to agree to other silly things the leader of the group asks you to do later.

Why are uniforms necessarily silly? Let's take military dress uniforms. In the US, you can tell a military member's rank and branch of service, and even get an idea of their service record, just by looking at their dress uniform. To insiders, this can be rapidly gleaned looking at someone from across a room. With millions of members, individuals cannot possibly be expected to know everybody else and so the uniform serves a useful function.

Wearing a uniform is not always silly; as you say, sometimes there are compelling reasons for it. However, sometimes there are no such compelling reasons, and in that case wearing a uniform is (at least prima facie) pointless. In the scenario under discussion, no reason for wearing a uniform is provided (or apparent) other than "the leader says we have to".

Recently came across Valiant's A Theory of the Learnable. Basically, it covers a method of machine learning in the following way: if there's a collection of objects which either possess some property P or do not, then you can teach a machine to recognize this with arbitrarily small error simply by presenting it with randomly selected objects and saying whether they possess P. The learner may give false positives, but will not give a false negative. Perhaps the following passage best illustrates the concept:

Consider a world containing robots and elephants

... (read more)
EY made a whole series of posts about this idea. A Human's Guide to Words []. Specifically see the Cluster Structure of Thingspace [].
I've yet to read the paper, so forgive me if it's repeated there (but I will read it), but the situation is similar to NP problems: hard to find a solution, easy to check a solution. Maybe concepts are NP problems encoded in our brains.

High fructose corn syrup and its ilk have been rather devastating.

I don't want to involve myself in an endless topic of debate by discussing the treatment of slaves, towards whom we Romans are exceptionally arrogant, harsh, and insulting. But the essence of the advice I'd like to give is this: treat your inferiors in the way in which you would like to be treated by your own superiors. And whenever it strikes you how much power you have over your slave, let it also strike you that your own master has just as much power over you. "I haven't got a master," you say. You're young yet; there's always the chance that you'll have one.

--Seneca, Letter XLVII

1) Can aspects of grooming as opposed to selecting/testing be steelmanned, are there corner cases when it could be better?

How about selecting someone to groom? There was a line of Roman Emperors--Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Anoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius--remarkable in that the first four had no children and decided to select someone of ability, formally adopt him, and groom him as a successor. These are known as the Five Good Emperors and their rule is considered to be the height of the Roman Empire.

This is a subset of selection-from-above which I did not qualify in the article but obviously a different category than selection by voters or customers i.e. "below". A modern example of selection-from-above would be [] where existing fellows vote on new ones and the funny part is that this is not supposed to work at all - they have no external control from customers, their main incentive is to not let too good folks in who would prove a too serious competition, so the whole thing is a lot like an entrenched, uncontrollable monopoly - and yet it works. I guess they must be really saints. This is a confusing and difficult thing - there are problems with selection from above and below. When it happens above, one can select early and groom.

It would be condescending for the master too, to talk in short bursts of wisdom to his disciples, as long as he was alive.

Good point. I suppose what I had in mind is that when the disciple asks the master a question, the master can give a hint to help the disciple find the answer on his own. Answering a question with a question can prod someone into thinking about it from another angle. These are legitimate teaching methods. Using them outside of a teacher/student interaction is rather condescending, however.

The issue is rather that once he dies, and

... (read more)

This puts a big constraint on the kind of physics you can have in a simulation. You need this property: suppose some physical system starts in state x. The system evolves over time to a new state y which is now observed to accuracy ε. As the simulation only needs to display the system to accuracy ε the implementor doesn't want to have to compute x to arbitrary precision. They'd like only have to compute x to some limited degree of accuracy. In other words, demanding y to some limited degree of accuracy should only require computing x to a limited degree o

... (read more)
Hmm, then why is the universe so consistently arranged to be differentiable? That still requires an explanation.

When all is well and people are living peacefully and amicably, you don't really need the law. When problems come up, you want clear laws detailing each party's rights, duties, and obligations. For example, when a couple lives together for a decade while sharing assets and jointly building wealth, what happens when one party unilaterally wants to end the relationship? This situation is common enough that it's worth having legal guidelines for its resolution.

The various spousal privileges are also at issue. Sure, you can file all kinds of paperwork to grant... (read more)

But if different groups (e.g. different churches or other kinds of organizations) hired lawyers to prepare different standardized packages, they would be able to offer different kinds of contracts that would correspond to that group's concept of marriage. That would give an individual more freedom to choose and would make it unnecessary to solve issues of non-traditional marriages at the political level, and I think that making things less political is usually a good thing. Of course, there would be more legal paperwork, and, as you've mentioned, there are various risks related to that, in addition to other things.
The legal issues remain, but I see no reason to delegate them to the government. The people involved should be able to come up with any contract they like, regardless of their gender, number or the nature of their relationship. After all, we don't have special legal status for relationships between landlord and tenant, employer and employee etc.

the President does have, as part of his oath of office, defending the Constitution, which presumably could require him to stop an insane SCOTUS out to wreck everything

That came up in one of the Federalist papers:

The judiciary...has no influence over either the sword or the purse; no direction either of the strength or of the wealth of the society, and can take no active resolution whatever. It may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm even for the efficacy of its

... (read more)

The debate over what is right is different from the debate over what is legal. Laws are generally written in an attempt to reflect what we believe is right. If a conflict should later appear, then the appropriate course of action is to change the law. It's a very dangerous precedent for a government to openly flaunt laws on the grounds that it's "right" to do so.

The book you linked is the sort of thing I had in mind. The historical motivation for Lie groups was to develop a systematic way to use symmetry to attack differential equations.

In general, if your problem displays any kind of symmetry* you can exploit that to simplify things. I think most people are capable of doing this intuitively when the symmetry is obvious. The Buckingham pi theorem is a great example of a systematic way to find and exploit a symmetry that isn't so obvious.

* By "symmetry" I really mean "invariance under a group of transformations".

This is a great point. Other than fairly easy geometric and time symmetries, do you have any advice or know of any resources which might be helpful towards finding these symmetries? Here's what I do know: Sometimes you can recognize these symmetries by analyzing a model differential equation. Here's a book on the subject that I haven't read [], but might read in the future. My PhD advisor tells me I already know one reliable way to find these symmetries (e.g., like how to find the change of variables used here []), so reading this would be a poor use of time in his view. This approach also requires knowing a fair bit more about a phenomena than just which variables it depends on.

If you're arguing that the scientific method is our best known way of investigating consciousness, I don't think anyone disputes that. If we assume the existence of an external world (as common sense would dictate), we have a great deal of confidence in science. My concern is that it's hard to investigate consciousness without a good definition.

Any definition ultimately depends on undefined concepts. Let's take numbers. For example, "three" is a property shared by all sets that can be put in one-to-one correspondence with the set { {}, {{}}, { {... (read more)

These are Von Neumann's ordinals! Want to register agreement with your post, though it seems incongruous to say, one the one hand, that consciousness seems to escape definition and on the other the scientific method is the best known tool for explaining it.

We can talk about sweet and sound being “out there” in the world but in reality it is a useful fiction of sorts that we are “projecting” out into the world.

I hate to put on my Bishop Berkeley hat. Sweet and sound are things we can directly perceive. The very notion of something being "out there" independent of us is itself a mental model we use to explain our perceptions. We say that our sensation of sweetness is caused by a thing we call glucose. We can talk of glucose in terms of molecules, but as we can't actually see a molecule, we have to... (read more)

Really? What's the quale of a number? I think we can investigate consciousness scientifically precisely because science is one of our very few investigation methods that doesn't amount to introspecting on intuitions and qualia. It keeps working, where previous introspective philosophy kept failing.
Yes, I think that's right, the conviction that something exists in the world is also a (unconscious) judgement made by the mind that could be mistaken. However, when we what to explain why we have the perceptual data, and it's regularities, it makes sense to attribute it to external causes, but this conviction could perhaps too be mistaken. The underpinnings of rational reasoning seems to bottom out to in unconsciously formed convictions as well, basic arithmetic is obviously true but can I trust these convictions? Justifying logic with logic is indeed circular. At some point we just have to accept them in order to function in the world. The signs that these convictions are ofter useful suggest to me that we have some access to objective reality. But for everything I know, we could be Boltzmann brains [] floating around in high entropy with false convictions. Despite this, I think the assessment that objective reality exists and that our access and knowledge of it is limited but expandable is a sensible working hypothesis.

Revisited The Analects of Confucius. It's not hard to see why there's a stereotype of Confucius as a Deep Wisdom dispenser. Example:

The Master said, "It is Man who is capable of broadening the Way. It is not the Way that is capable of broadening Man."

I read a bit of the background information, and it turns out the book was compiled by Confucius' students after his death. That got me thinking that maybe it wasn't designed to be passively read. I wouldn't put forth a collection of sayings as a standalone philosophical work, but maybe I'd use it... (read more)

It would be condescending for the master too, to talk in short bursts of wisdom to his disciples, as long as he was alive. The issue is rather that once he dies, and the top level disciples gradually elevate the memory of the master into a quasi-deity, pass on the thoughts verbally for generations, and by the time they get around to writing it down the memory of the master is seen as such a big guy / deity and more or less gets worshipped so it becomes almost inconceivable to write it in anything but a condescending tone. But it does not really follow the masters were just as condescending IRL. You can see this today. The Dalai Lama is really an easy guy, he does not really care how people should behave to him, he is just friendly and direct with everybody, but there is an "establishment" around him that really pushes visitors into high-respect mode. I had this experience with a lower lama, of a different school, I was anxious about getting etiquette right, hands together, bowing etc. then he just walked up to me, shook my hand in a western style, did not let it go but just dragged me halfway accross the room while patting me on the back and shaking with laughter at my surprise, it was simply his joke, his way of breaking the all too ceremonious mood. He was a totally non-condescending, direct, easy-going guy, who would engage everybody on an equal level, but a lot of retainers and helpers around him really put him and his boss (he was something of a top level helper of an even bigger guy too) on a pedestal.

Utilitarianism is useful in a narrow range where we have a good utility function. The problem is easiest when the different options offer the same kind of utility. For example, if every option paid out in dollars or assets with a known dollar value, then utilitarianism provides a good solution.

But when it comes to harder problems, utilitarianism runs into trouble. The solution strongly depends on the initial choice of utility function. However, we have no apparatus to reliably measure utility. You can easily use utilitarianism to extend other moral systems... (read more)

A single example of extravagance or greed does a lot of harm--an intimate who leads a pampered life gradually makes one soft and flabby; a wealthy neighbor provokes cravings in one; a companion with a malicious nature tends to rub off some of his rust even on someone of an innocent and open-hearted nature--what then do you imagine the effect on a person's character is when the assault comes from the world at large? You must inevitably either hate or imitate the world. But the right thing is to shun both courses: you should neither become like the bad beca

... (read more)

Actually, interestingly, some Victorian prudishness was encouraged by Victorian feminists, weirdly enough.

Feminists of that era were practically moral guardians. In the USA, they closely allied with temperance movements and managed to secure the double victory of securing women's right to vote and prohibiting alcohol.

Old-timey sexism said that women were too lustful and oozed temptation, hence why they should be excluded from the cool-headed realms of men

I can't track the reference right now, but I recall reading a transcript of a Parliamentary deb... (read more)

In both cases one of the most important skill is hiring the right people and delegating responsibility to them. A person who grew a startup to a massive company is likely better at that skill then the average senator.

The President has to be able to operate effectively within the existing structure and deal with the people who were elected by voters or rose up through the bureaucracy. I don't know that running a successful startup is a good way to get acclimated to overseeing the largest bureaucracy in the country and working within the system to get things done.

In the US the president can pick a lot of the people who work under him. He isn't as limited as UK or German politicians in that regard. Big tech companies also go through a lot of negotiations. They acquire companies, negotiate deals with other companies and they do lobby for political legislation. They still aren't Washington insiders. They lack relationships and inside knowledge about how deals get made in Washington. That's not perfect but they can hire people who do know how Washington works. To the extend that we aren't happy with the way Washington works and want a change in how it operates, having a president who's not a Washington insider has advantages.

There's no stigma associated with self improvement. Say, wanting to be more confident.

The sort who can't last five minutes without bringing up how much they improved will find plenty of stigma.

There's no stigma associated with wanting to help people.

Provided you don't become a self-righteous ass about it.

Maybe it's because all of those other things are narrow enough that it's not seen as an attempt to be "better" than others. But since rationality is so general, it is seen as an attempt to be "better" than others.

It's an att... (read more)

Hostility towards LW/Eliezer doesn't have any more to do with a general hostility to rationality than does hostility towards Objectivism/Ayn Rand.

Eliezer's treatment of topics like cryonics, friendly AI, transhumanism, and the many world interpretation of quantum mechanics are more than enough to fuel a debate, even if one agrees that rationality is a worthwhile aspiration. People can disagree with you without being enemies of truth or logic.


You'll never get quality feedback from that kind of environment. If the bar is so low that you need only exert minimal effort to outclass everyone around you, then how will you ever be able to excel?

Worst case, you put yourself in a toxic environment and lose all motivation. If those fine folks around you don't find something important, then why should you? You can pick up bad habits that way. For example, there's one study which found that if your friends are obese, then you have a much higher chance (57%) of becoming obese yourself.

“No matter how slow you go, you are still lapping everybody on the couch.” If the choice is between lacking motivation entirely and having some motivation, the second seems better. One possibility is that you could find an environment that motivates you intrinsically, then once intrinsic motivation was acquired, start setting challenges for yourself.

What's the base rate on lackluster social skills? Based on the popularity of self-help books and seminars aimed at improving social skills, I'm led to believe that social butterflies aren't all that common among the general population either.

Most people pick up a huge amount of tacit social knowledge as children and adolescents, through very frequent interaction with many peers. This is often not true of intellectually gifted people, who usually grew up in relative isolation on account of lack of peers who shared their interest.

Curious use of the singu... (read more)

When I was in high school, I was a skinny nerd that could barely bench-press the bar. But I spent most of my senior year eating my lunches with some guys from the football and track teams, including a lineman who went on to the NFL. These guys weren't dumb. They generally weren't academic stars -- they did well enough in school not to embarrass themselves in college applications, but they spent their time on the field instead of studying and it showed in grades. But they were quick and clever and could enjoy an intelligent conversation -- often a more intelligent one than the nerdy clique, once you'd exhausted the possibilities of Warhammer and Counterstrike. (A couple years later, I discovered fencing.)

Force comes from the barrel of a gun. It may or may not lead to actual power. There are countless historical examples where use of force simply served to fan the flames of resistance or where brutal persecutions only strengthened the cause.

People generally listen to the powers-that-be because said powers still look after their interests to an extent. People might not like the local tyrant. They may yearn for a better government. They are also keenly aware of how things can get worse. If the Emperor is tough on crime, leaves you alone if you follow the rule... (read more)

I understand what you are saying, it's just that I don't think it's a useful framework for analysis. There are a bunch of issues with what we mean by "power", so let's define the thing. Actually, let me offer three definition in a descending order of generality. (1) Power is the ability to achieve your goals, make things happen, actually do stuff. If you're Superman you have the power to fly. (2) Power is the ability to make other people do what you want. If you're Elon Musk, you have the power to build spacecraft. (3) Power is the ability to make other people do what you want through negative incentives (basically, threats). If you're a cop, you have the power to arrest people. Going back to DVH's point, neither of these is "a trick, a shadow on the wall".

Power is a relationship. You have power over me if I find it in my interest to grant it to you. This could be a financial interest, a desire to avoid physical harm, or anything else. What's granted can be revoked. If I no longer fear your ability to inflict harm or if I decide I don't want your money, your power over me ceases to exist. Power resides where men believe it resides, because they put it there.

With that said, there are, as observed, a number of methods of reliably gaining power over individuals. Money and force will work on most people in the short term.

That's sophistry -- it's easy to adjust your interests. Power still grows out of the barrel of a gun. Yes, you can be a martyr and get shot, but the great majority of people do what powers-that-be tell them.

Looking back, I think Yoda just wasn't prepared in giving a crash course on Force use. He spent his career in the Jedi temple. It was a monastic order where initiates were expected to spend their time pondering the Force. In that setting, it makes sense to give a few snippets of wisdom and leave the student to work it out. A student gets a lot more out of taking a week to progress on his own than in having the master spell everything out. Yoda's goal was to give them the tools they'd need to eventually become Jedi Masters. This method may be less than ideal for rapidly getting a neophyte in shape to go fight the Empire, but that doesn't make it bad in general.

This brings to mind the notion of Heterozygote advantage for certain traits. For example, there is the sickle-cell trait. One allele makes you highly resistant to malaria. Two gives you sickle-cell anemia. In a population where malaria is a grave threat, the trait is worth it in the general population even if some poor saps get shafted with the recessive genes. For reference, Wiki quotes a rate of 2% of Nigerian newborns having sickle-cell anemia.

If there's some process where homosexuality is a fail mode, then as long as it confers a net overall advantage one would expect it to persist.

Thought a bit about the problem. Presumably, there's some way to determine whether an AI will behave nicely now and in the future. It's not a general solution, but it's able to verify perpetual nice behavior in the case where the president dies April 1. I don't know the details, so I'll just treat it as a black box where I can enter some initial conditions and it will output "Nice", "Not Nice", or "Unknown". In this framework, we have a situation where the only known input that returned "Nice" involved the president'... (read more)

Here are some other ways the problem can go wrong: []

So the question is, can we transfer niceness in this way, without needing a solution to the full problem of niceness in general?

How do you determine that it will be nice under the given condition?

As posed, it's entirely possible that the niceness is a coincidence: an artifact of the initial conditions fitting just right with the programming. Think of a coin landing on its side or a pencil being balanced on its tip. These positions are unstable and you need very specific initial conditions to get them to work.

The safe bet would be to have the AI start plotting an assassination and hope it lets you out of prison once its coup succeeds.

How does that compare to the utility of suing for peace and coordinating with the Boltons to defend the Wall?

Stannis assigns a very high utility to sitting on the Iron Throne, so he may believe it justified. However, that's a sign of his own obstinacy and unbending will rather than a dispassionate evaluation of the situation. Roose Bolton pointed out in the previous episode just how untenable Stannis' military situation is.

The Boltons are untrustworthy so it would be hard to reach an agreement with them, but even if what you write is the global maximum what Stannis did was better than if he didn't do that but still went on to attack the Boltons.

I think there's an underlying assumption here that an advanced culture should be similar to our own.

Let's reverse the question: "How did a culture that stages such bloody spectacles manage to achieve so much?". Rome didn't become advanced and then start with gladiator games; those were around in some form for a long time. Is it that big a shock that Rome managed to get far without abandoning those games?

Yes, they stem from the human sacrifice of captives at the funerals of big guys, really old. Downright sacred, originally, not just a spectacle. Your proposal sounds good. If I interpret it properly: cultures have old traditions that live on despite maybe even contradicting their own values. I.e. if they had to invent it at that, they would not, because it contradicts the values, but being a tradition, it carries on. For example today we would not invent cars or at least would not allow civilian car ownership. We have a safety oriented culture and proposing that every chump should be allowed to drive two tons of steel with 180 km/h top speed and easily wiping out a bus stop full of people if he falls asleep or killing a whole family in another car, if it was proposed today it would be shot down as a CRAZY dangerous idea. It would be seen as far worse than civilian gun ownership because with a gun you don't kill five people by mistake. But as it is an old tradition, so lives on despite contradicting accepted values. But if we had to invent it now, we would be horrified.
It was similar to ours. They just didn't have CGI, so they had to do bloody spectacles the hard way.
I think the underlying assumption is much worse: that any advanced culture must be squeamish about things which the author finds squeamish, barbaric, and uncouth.

Prison gangs formed from a kind of arms race of mutual self-defense. Take away the need for self-defense in prison, and people will stop joining them.

People will still join for social reasons. They do it outside of prison, so there isn't much reason to discontinue the practice inside of prison.

More to the point, there is really no reason to allow criminals to associate with each other in prison at all. Let them talk to non-prisoners via Skype calls for socialization and send them out on supervised work details if their behavior is good.

Solitary conf... (read more)

Actually self-defense is one of the main reasons people join street gangs too; they live in violent neighborhoods, go to dangerous schools, etc. You obviously don't need a criminal enterprise to get social interaction. Even if some people join gangs just because they like being in a gang, it is a well-established fact that most of the people who join prison gangs do so because they feel it is necessary to protect themselves. And I suppose being raped, terrorized, beaten, etc. are not forms of torture? Of course, the modern practice of solitary confinement is designed as a punishment, including not being given visitation, yard time, television, etc. That is nothing like what I propose, which would involve using visitation and work-details so prisoners get to socialize with non-criminals.
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