All of Erebus's Comments + Replies

The ethics of breaking belief

I have recently had the unpleasant experience of getting subjected to the kind of dishonest emotional manipulation that is recommended here. A (former) friend tried to convert me to his religion by using these tricks, and I can attest that they are effective if the person on the receiving end is trusting enough and doesn't realize that they are being manipulated. In my case the absence and avoidance of rational argument eventually led to the failure of the conversion attempt, but not before I had been inflicted severe emotional distress by a person I used ... (read more)

Stupid Questions Open Thread

Solomonoff's universal prior assigns a probability to every individual Turing machine. Usually the interesting statements or hypotheses about which machine we are dealing with are more like "the 10th output bit is 1" than "the machine has the number 643653". The first statement describes an infinite number of different machines, and its probability is the sum of the probabilities of those Turing machines that produce 1 as their 10th output bit (as the probabilities of mutually exclusive hypotheses can be summed). This probability is not... (read more)

Rationality Lessons Learned from Irrational Adventures in Romance

Of course it is still valid, unless X corresponds directly to some observable and clearly identifiable element of physical reality, so that its existence is not Platonic, but physically real. Obviously it wouldn't make sense to discuss whether someone has, say, committed theft if there didn't exist a precise and agreed-upon definition of what counts as theft -- or otherwise we would be hunting for some objectively existing Platonic idea of "theft" in order to see whether it applies.

Of course? There must be a miscommunication.

Do you think it ma... (read more)

6Vladimir_M10yWell, morality is such an enormous and multi-sided topic that what usually matters in a concrete situation is only some particular small subset of morality. A discussion can be meaningful if there is agreement on the issue at hand, even if there is disagreement otherwise. So to take the same example again, if we're discussing whether someone is a thief (i.e has committed the sort of immoral behavior that is called "theft"), it doesn't matter if we define murder differently, as long as we define theft the same. But yes, of course that discussing whether a given behavior is intelligent, friendly, or moral makes sense only if we agree on the definitions of these terms. As I said above, in practice our definitions about human affairs are always fuzzy and incomplete to some degree, so there will always be disagreement at least in some corner cases, and discussions will be meaningful as long as they stick to the broader area of agreement. However, in case of friendship, intelligence, and most issues of morality, people typically agree at least roughly on the relevant definitions, so the usage of these words is usually meaningful. Also, when people agree on definitions, it doesn't matter if they are able to state these definitions precisely and explicitly, as long as there is no disagreement on whether the definitions are satisfied assuming given facts. Giving a precise definition of "friendship" would be a difficult task for most people, but it doesn't matter since there is no significant disagreement on what behavior is expected from people one considers as friends, and what behavior should disqualify them. One the other hand, when someone makes vague ideological accusations such as "sexism," there is no such agreement at all, and a rational discussion can't even being before a clear definition of the term is given.
Rationality Lessons Learned from Irrational Adventures in Romance

[...] Discussing whether some institution, act, or claim is "sexist" makes sense only if at least one of these two conditions applies:

  1. There is some objectively existing Platonic idea of "sexism," [...]

  2. There is a precise and agreed-upon definition of "sexism," [...]

Replace "sexism" by "X". Do you think this alternative is still valid?

Or maybe you should elaborate on why you think "sexism" gives rise to this alternative.

9Vladimir_M10yOf course it is still valid, unless X corresponds directly to some observable and clearly identifiable element of physical reality, so that its existence is not Platonic, but physically real. Obviously it wouldn't make sense to discuss whether someone has, say, committed theft if there didn't exist a precise and agreed-upon definition of what counts as theft -- or otherwise we would be hunting for some objectively existing Platonic idea of "theft" in order to see whether it applies. Now of course, in human affairs no definition is perfectly precise, and there will always be problematic corner cases where there may be much disagreement. This precision is ultimately a matter of degree. However, to use the same example again, when people are accused of theft, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the only disagreement is whether the facts of the accusation are correct, and it's only very rarely that even after the facts are agreed upon, there is significant disagreement over whether what happened counts as theft. In contrast, when people are accused of sexism, a discussion almost always immediately starts about whether what they did was really and truly "sexist," even when there is no disagreement at all about what exactly was said or done.
Rationality Lessons Learned from Irrational Adventures in Romance

I am troubled by the vehemence by which people seem to reject the notion of using the language of the second-order simulacrum -- especially in communities that should be intimately aware of the concept that the map is not the territory.

Understanding signaling in communication is almost as basic as understanding the difference between the map and the territory.

A choice of words always contains an element of signaling. Generalizing statements are not always made in order to describe the territory with a simpler map, they are also made in order to signal t... (read more)

4Logos0110yCertainly. However, the simple truth is that communication becomes positively impossible if 'sweeping generalizations' at some level are not made. Is this a trade-off? Sure. But I for one do not find it exceedingly difficult to treat all broad-category generalizations as simulacra representing the whole body. Just like how there's probably not a single person in politics who agrees with the entirety of the DNC or the GOP's platforms, discussing those platforms is still relevant for a reason. And political identity is arguably one of the most flame-susceptible category of that available for discourse nowadays. So that's saying something significant here.
Open Thread: September 2011

Maybe I misinterpreted your first comment. I agree almost completely with this one, especially the part

(...) not relying on some magic future technology that will solve the existing problems.

Open Thread: September 2011

What would be the point of criticizing technology on the basis of its appropriate use?

Technologies do not exist in a vacuum, and even if they did, there'd be nobody around to use them. Thus restricting to only the "technology itself" is bound to miss the point of the criticism of technology. When considering the potential effects of future technology we need to take into account how the technologies will be used, and it is certainly reasonable to believe that some technologies have been and will be used to cause more harm than good. That a critical argument takes into account the relevant features of the society that uses the technology is not a flaw of the argument, but rather the opposite.

0kurokikaze10yNo, I'm not talking about the basis to criticize technology, but more about of actual target of criticism. Disclaimer: there sure are technologies that can do more harm than good. Here I will concentrate on communications, as you picked it as being one of the top problematic technologies. For me, it all boils down to constructive side of criticism: should we change the technologies of the way we use them? Because I think in first case, new technologies will be used with the same drawbacks for humans as old ones. In the second case, successful usage patterns can be applied to new technologies as well. For example, rather than limit the usage of communication technologies or change the comm technology itself, maybe we should focus on how the people use them. Make television more social. Or make going out with other people more easy and fun. Promote social interaction and activities using existing technologies, not relying on some magic future technology that will solve the existing problems. I think building the solution around existing technologies is a faster way than waiting for new ones. Surely, there are technology side and social/culture side of the problem. But we cannot change any of these fast. We can only expand one to help the other. For example, on one programming site, around two years after its creation, people started to organize meetups in local places, much like LW meetups. Then, year later, other group on the site organized soccer games between different site users. The people liked it. And it doesn't take much time because they were building around existing stuff. Also, sorry for my english. It's not my main language.
Why We Can't Take Expected Value Estimates Literally (Even When They're Unbiased)

The argument is that simple numbers like 3^^^3 should be considered much more likely than random numbers with a similar size, since they have short descriptions and so the mechanisms by which that many people (or whatever) hang in the balance are less complex.

Consider the options A = "a proposed action affects 3^^^3 people" and B = "the number 3^^^3 was made up to make a point". Given my knowledge about the mechanisms that affect people in the real world and about the mechanisms people use to make points in arguments, I would say tha... (read more)

0Peter_de_Blanc10yThe setting in my paper allows you to have any finite amount of background knowledge.
Helsinki meetup Saturday 9.4 (cancelled)

I can't make it before mid-August, so waiting for me is probably not a good idea.

Helsinki meetup Saturday 9.4 (cancelled)

A mailing list is a fine idea. With the amount of traffic on the front page these days, a dedicated mailing list might be a more reliable way of contacting less active readers. Assuming, of course, that we can get them to sign up on the list :)

Unfortunately I'm unable to participate in the meetup this time, as I'll be out of the country for quite some time starting on friday.

0Bongo11yundefined
Less Wrong NYC: Case Study of a Successful Rationalist Chapter

This post inspires me. I'll definitely keep this in mind when considering the next meetup in Helsinki.

(Unfortunately for organizing meetups, I'll be traveling until August. I hope my motivation won't have subsided when I come back.)

Helsinki LW Meetup - Sat March 5th

Thanks to everyone who attended!

For the next meetup we should probably think of discussion topics in advance. Risto asked about the concrete benefits of having read Less Wrong. At least I feel that I wasn't able to articulate a satisfactory answer, so that might be one topic for next time. Since most of us were quite young, another thing that comes to mind is optimal career or study choices.

Helsinki LW Meetup - Sat March 5th

I didn't have any specific topics in mind when proposing the meetup. Since this is the first Helsinki meetup, I think it might be a good idea to start with something like rationalist origin stories to get the discussion started.

Helsinki LW Meetup - Sat March 5th

I wouldn't expect that having the meetup in English would be a problem for most of the prospective participants.

Starting a LW meet-up is easy.

Judging from the comments, I guess we can fix the date of the meet as Saturday 5th of March. Any suggestions for a place? I'd think a not-too-noisy cafe in the center would be ideal, but I don't really know the options to recommend any. Just to provide a default suggestion in case nobody has a preference, let's say we meet at Cafe Aalto.

Starting a LW meet-up is easy.

According to these statistics, Helsinki has the eighth largest population of LW-readers out of all the cities in the world. Even if that number is for some reason bloated compared to other cities in the list, I think it'd be a good idea to try and have a meet-up here. So, is anyone else from around Helsinki interested? A couple of answers in this thread should be enough for us to settle on a date (I prefer a weekend in March) and post an announcement on the front page.

0Erebus11yJudging from the comments, I guess we can fix the date of the meet as Saturday 5th of March. Any suggestions for a place? I'd think a not-too-noisy cafe in the center would be ideal, but I don't really know the options to recommend any. Just to provide a default suggestion in case nobody has a preference, let's say we meet at Cafe Aalto [http://www.cafeaalto.fi].
2Risto_Saarelma11yYes. Any weekend will do.
2Bongo11yI'm available.
0mjr11yTheoretically yes, though I'm notoriously bad at actually bothering to appear at social events.
2Kaj_Sotala11yAt the moment, all of my March weekends are free.
What is Bayesianism?

Infinity is mysterious was intended as a paraphrase of Jaynes' chapter on "paradoxes" of probability theory, and I intended mysterious precisely in the sense of inherently mysterious. As far as I know, Jaynes didn't use the word mysterious himself. But he certainly claims that rules of reasoning about infinity (which he conveniently ignores) are not to be trusted and that they lead to paradoxes.

What is Bayesianism?

Just remember that Jaynes was not a mathematician and many of his claims about pure mathematics (as opposed to computations and their applications) in the book are wrong. Especially, infinity is not mysterious.

0thomblake12yIt should be obvious that infinity (like all things) is not inherently mysterious, and equally obvious that it's mysterious (if not unknown) to most people.
For progress to be by accumulation and not by random walk, read great books

Do you have any specific examples in mind, or is this an expression of the general idea that the academia is mad?

7MichaelVassar12yI mentioned biology and economics, philosophy and psychology. I could go farther if desired. However, really, since academia promotes reading old books, I'm happy to place the probablistic burden of the claim that academia is mad on it.
You're Entitled to Arguments, But Not (That Particular) Proof

Would you expect to see evolutionary biologists discuss the methodological errors of creationist arguments in private correspondence?

(I don't think this is the place for this, since I don't think we're getting anywhere.)

0RobinZ12yUpvoted for the parenthetical.
You're Entitled to Arguments, But Not (That Particular) Proof

You're still talking about how the e-mails fit into the scenario of fraudulent climate scientists, that is, P(E|A) by my notation. I specifically said that I feel P(E|B) is being ignored by those who claim the e-mails are evidence of misconduct. Your link, for example, mostly lists things like climatologists talking about discrediting journals that publish AGW-sceptical stuff, which is exactly what they would do if they, in good faith, thought that AGW-scepticism is based on quack science. Reading the e-mails and concluding that sceptical papers are being ... (read more)

1mattnewport12yMy impression from reading the emails is that different standards are being applied to the AGW skeptics because of their conclusions rather than because of their methods. At the same time there is evidence of data massaging and dubious practices around their own methods in order to match their pre-conceived conclusions. The whole process does not look like the disinterested search for truth that is the scientific ideal. My P(B|E) would be higher if I read emails that seemed to focus on methodological errors first rather than proceeding from the fact that a journal has published unwelcome conclusions to the proposal that the journal must be boycotted.
You're Entitled to Arguments, But Not (That Particular) Proof

For the most part, I don't think you're quite answering my question.

You present two explanations for the lack of peer-reviewed articles that are sceptical of the scientific consensus on global warming. The first is that there is unjust suppression of such views. The second is that such scepticism is based on bad science. You say that you think the leaked emails support the first explanation, and that there is sufficient evidence of biased (I'm guessing "biased" means "unmerited by the quality of the science" here) selection by journals.... (read more)

8mattnewport12yI do think the likelihood ratio is significantly above 1. This is based off reading some of the emails, documents and code comments in the leaks. Here's [http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2009/11/20/climate-cuttings-33.html] a reasonable summary of the emails. It looks like dubious science to me. I find it hard to understand how anyone can claim otherwise unless they are ideologically motivated. If you genuinely can't see it then I'm not really interested in arguing over minutiae so we'll just have to leave it at that. It seems to me that AGW skeptics made a variety of claims that AGW believers dismissed as paranoid: there was a conspiracy to keep skeptical papers out of the journals; there were efforts to damage the careers of climate scientists who didn't 'toe the party line'; there were dubious and possibly illegal efforts to keep the original data behind key papers out of the hands of skeptics despite FOI regulations. I did not see many AGW believers prior to the climategate emails saying "Yes, of course all of that happens, that's just the way science operates in the real world". When the CRU leaks became public and substantiated all the 'paranoid' claims above, including proof of illegal destruction of emails and data to avoid FOI requests, I find it suspicious when people claim that it doesn't change their opinions at all. The standard response seems to be "Oh yes, that's just how science works in the real world. I already knew scientists routinely engage in this sort of behaviour and the degree of such behaviour revealed in the emails is exactly in line with my prior expectations so my probability estimates are unchanged". That seems highly suspect to me and looks an awful lot like confirmation bias.
2Cyan12yVoted you up not for your particular assessment of P(A|E)/P(B|E) but for using this pattern of assessing evidence to guide the conversation.
You're Entitled to Arguments, But Not (That Particular) Proof

What, specifically, is "damning" about those quotes?

Suppose creationists took over a formerly respected biology journal. Wouldn't you expect to find quotes like the above (with climate sceptics replaced by creationists) from the private correspondence of biologists?

6mattnewport12yAGW skeptics have often been challenged on the lack of peer reviewed papers in credible climate science journals supporting their arguments. Now it is quite possible that this is the case because skeptical papers have been rejected purely due to being bad science (as is the case with the lack of papers supporting the effectiveness of homeopathy in medical journals). However, the absence of papers from the key journals cannot be treated as independent evidence of the badness of the science if there is a concerted effort by AGW believers to keep such papers out of the journals. It is legitimate to attack the science the AGW skeptics are doing. It is not legitimate to dismiss the science purely on the basis that they have not been published in peer reviewed journals if there is a concerted effort to keep them out of peer reviewed journals based on their conclusions rather than on their methods. Now I'm sure the AGW believers feel that they are rejecting bad science rather than rejecting conclusions they don't like but emails like the above certainly make it appear that it is the conclusions as much as the methods that they are actually objecting to. In my opinion the CRU emails mean that it no longer appears justified to ignore claims by AGW skeptics purely because they have not appeared in a peer reviewed journal. They may still be wrong but there is sufficient evidence of biased selection by the journals to not trust that journal publication is an unbiased signal of scientific quality.
Open Thread: January 2010

Inspired by reading this blog for quite some time, I started reading E.T. Jaynes' Probability Theory. I've read most of the book by now, and I have incredibly mixed feelings about it.

On one hand, the development of probability calculus starting from the needs of plausible inference seems very appealing as far as the needs of statistics, applied science and inferential reasoning in general are concerned. The Bayesian viewpoint of (applied) probability is developed with such elegance and clarity that alternative interpretations can hardly be considered appea... (read more)

3komponisto12yAmen. Amen-issimo. The solution, of course, is for the Bayesian view to become widespread enough that it doesn't end up identified particularly with Jaynes. The parts of Jaynes that are correct -- the important parts -- should be said by many other people in many other places, so that Jaynes can eventually be regarded as a brilliant eccentric who just by historical accident happened to be among the first to say these things. There's no reason that David Hilbert shouldn't have been a Bayesian. None.