Evan Clark


Example population ethics: ordered discounted utility

My internal visualization is that all the individuals in the world are disjoint line segments of a certain length which laid end to end correspond to the world-segment, and that when the weighting-fairy (or whatever) passes through, sets of segments which were all previously the same length ought to still be sets of segments of the same length.

Honestly, I do apologize for spending so much of your time running you around in verbal circles because something didn't correspond to my internal model. Thank you for trying to understand/help.

Example population ethics: ordered discounted utility

I have realized that I am coming off like I don't understand algebra, which is a result of my failure to communicate. As unlikely as I am making it sound, I understand what you are saying and already knew it.

What I mean is this:

Despite a = b, it could "look like" a < b or b > a if you didn't have access to the world but only to the (expanded) sum. If you can ask for the difference between the total sum and the sum ignoring a, but not for the actual value of a.

I can't think of a non-pathological case where this would actually matter, but it seems like a desirable desideratum that a = b will always "look like" a = b regardless of what kind of (sufficiently fine-grained) information that you have.

EDIT : After reading your above comment about willingness to sacrifice elegance, I kind of wish I hadn't said anything at all, considering my comments are all in the interest of what I would consider elegance. To be sure, I think elegance is a legitimate practical concern, but I wouldn't have engaged with you initially had I known your view.

Example population ethics: ordered discounted utility

My mistake with respect to the sum being over all time, thank you for clarifying.

No. If a=b, then a+γb=b+γa. The ordering between identical utilities won't matter for the total sum, and the individual that is currently behind will be prioritised.

While the ordering between identical utilities does not affect the total sum, it does affect the individual valuation. a can be prioritized over b just by the ordering, even though they have identical utility. Unless I am missing something obvious.

Example population ethics: ordered discounted utility

It seems odd to me that it is so distribution-dependent. If there is a large number of people, with a large gap between the highest and the lowest, then it's worth killing (potentially most people) just to move the high utility individual down the preference ordering. One solution might be to fix the highest power of γ (for any population), and approach it across the summation in a way weighted by the flatness of the distribution.

Another issue is that two individuals with the same unweighted utility can become victims of the ordering, although that could be patched by grouping individuals by equal unweighted utility, and then summing over the weighted sums of the group utilities.

A Taxonomy of Weirdness

(Also "uncompromising" could mean a few things and some of them are pretty bad. The good kind of "uncompromising" is something like believing what you believe, feeling what you feel, thinking what you think, and wanting what you want, and not letting someone else suppress that. The bad kind is trying to impose any of that on someone else / demand that someone else change to accommodate that.)
Relatedly, I'm also concerned that in this taxonomy it's very tempting for people to label themselves as Fried Eggs to justify their lack of social success, or something like that.

I grappled with the same thought process, but I came to the conclusion that any attempt on my part to address this would a) ring false - if for no other reason than my life was the motivation for the term b) be counterproductive, for reasons I will go into below, and c) be kind of missing the point.

I think it would have been counterproductive to make a point about the fact that Fried Eggs as a category contains both people who are just unusual and unable to be usual without life-altering effort, and people who like to come into other people's spaces and wreck shop. I suspect that the sort of people who really do take up too much space, disrupt local status hierarchies, or are deliberately off-putting, are not also the sort of people who it would be useful to address in a general manner. I also suspect that the sort of people who just want freedom to express themselves and can't seem to fit local norms are exactly the sort of people who would take any criticism leveled at the former group as being aimed at them. While such commentary is helpful and necessary, (especially since I don't think Fried Eggs tend to build good communities, which I don't think you dispute) I don't know if general, relatively short blog post is the right format. Or that I am the right author.

As well, as I said in c), this was also very much not the point of the post - which was to divide people by etiology of weirdness and explain the friction between them - and that point was already unclear so I didn't want to muddy the waters too much.

This is the part of the post that personally interests me the most, and I would personally like to hear more from you along these lines; less abstract theorizing about the nature of weirdness and more stories of experiences of you or other weird people you know being / feeling rejected or whatever else prompted this post. (Then theorizing afterwards, maybe. But it's hard for me to tell where you're coming from without the stories.)

As a disclaimer (which I should maybe put in the actual post as an edit) - the beginning anecdote about where "fried eggs" comes from is 100% true, including every detail about which members of my family were what other shape, etc. However, the examples at the end (about Tonari no Totoro and short skirts / biker jackets) come from real examples with the details shifted so as to achieve two things. One, I didn't want to share personal stories about people who are not me, especially if those stories involve rejection. Two, I wanted to generalize the stories in a way that I hoped would reach the intended audience (the LWsphere) better, without sacrificing the relative vividness of specific examples. Again, the broad outline, that someone was told they were bad for not considering the sociopolitical implications of a piece of innocuous media, and that someone was told they couldn't wear idiosyncratic clothing because snobs might be less friendly as a result, both come from true stories. I just didn't want to share those true stories exactly.

Addressing your post, the whole reason I added the beginning segment was that without it, the whole post felt a bit . . . unmotivated. You are right that I should have gone further, and that the structure doesn't actually support the content very well. This is mostly just a writing error on my part, so I can't say much more than, fair enough.

Macroscale Minds

As you can see, I similarly struggled to communicate my ideas. Probably more than you did, however.

Two or maybe three years ago I suggested at a CFAR reunion that close-knit tribes / communities of humans, rather than individual humans, might be 1) alive / thinking in some important sense and 2) the natural unit of moral value
  1. I am not sure that small groups of humans are complicated enough in their interactions to form a collective mind capable of thought.
  2. It seems like tribe-centered moralities have a poor track record, but that obviously assumes a metric for evaluating moral success that you might dispute.

Macroscale Minds
Are you familiar with Searle’s “Chinese Room”[1] thought experiment?

Yes. As I believe the provided link makes clear, the China Brain is related both historically and obviously conceptually to the Chinese Room.

So, if we imagine every single person in America (including babies, etc.) being organized in such a way as to give rise to a mind-like structure (connectome), then it would seem that the resulting mind would be about as “smart” or “conscious” as a parakeet. Not very impressive!

On the contrary, this is incredibly impressive. Regardless, the point still stands: even a parakeet mind slowed down by millions of times is still, in some sense, a parakeet mind. I actually address the numerical point specifically, but to restate it, I believe humans are capable of simulating 100 or more neurons at once.

But of course that’s quite silly. In reality, the organizational structures composed of humans are too loosely connected, and not connected in anything like the right ways, and not cohesive enough, and not made up of enough parts, etc., to be plausibly mind-like

Well, I do agree that America is not even as sentient as a comparatively simple animal (for the exact reasons you mentioned), however I believe that there are a sufficient number of properties (complex but relatively consistent connections, self-reference and modification, etc.) that it shares in common with minds that deserves at least the label of mind-like.

[1] What is it with using China and Chinese as examples of these things??

Well the Chinese Room presumably uses the written Chinese language because it has a reputation for being mechanical and analytic. (This is really only little bit true in my experience, 可是我的中文很不好 so don't ask me).

For the China Brain, it is probably due to China's large population, as well as a play on the Chinese Room.

The Jordan Peterson Mask
you can just have the System 1 experience and then do the System 2 processing afterwards (which could be seconds afterwards). It's really not that hard. I believe that most rationalists can handle it, and I certainly believe that I can handle it.

It is probably true that most rationalists could handle it. It is also probably true, however, that people who can't handle it could end up profoundly worse for the experience. I am not sure we should endorse potential epistemic hazards with so little certainty about both costs and benefits. I also grant that anything is a potential epistemic hazard and that reasoning under uncertainty is kind of why we bother with this site in the first place. This is all to say that I would like to see more evidence of this calculation being done at all, and that if I was not so geographically separated from the LWsphere, I would like to try these experiences myself.

There's no substitute for personal experience in many skills, especially those involving the body, and in fact I think this should be your prior. It may not feel like this is the prior but I think this is straight up a mistake; I'd guess that people's experiences with learning skills here are skewed by 1) school, which heavily skews towards skills that can be learned through text, and 2) the selection effect of being LWers, liking the Sequences, etc.

I am not sure that it should be the prior for mental skills however. As you pointed out, scholastic skills are almost exclusively (and almost definitionally) attainable through text. I know that I can and have learned math, history, languages, etc., through reading, and it seems like that is the correct category for Looking, etc., as well (unless I am mistaken about the basic nature of Looking, which is certainly possible).

So I'm just not going to talk about A. And given that, the least painful way for me to maintain consistency is to not talk about any of the weaker variants either.

This is a sad circumstance, I wish it were otherwise, and I understand why you have made the choice you have considering the (rather ironically) immediate and visceral response you are used to receiving.

The Jordan Peterson Mask

(This is my second comment on this site, so it is probable that the formatting will come out gross. I am operating on the assumption that it is similar to Reddit, given Markdown)

  1. To be as succinct as possible, fair enough.
  2. I want to have this conversation too! I was trying to express what I believe to be the origins of people's frustrations with you, not to try to discourage you. Although I can understand how I failed to communicate that.
  3. I am going to wrap this up with the part of your reply that concerns experiential distance and respond to both. I suspect that a lot of fear of epistemic contamination comes from the emphasis on personal experience. Personal (meatspace) experiences, especially in groups, can trigger floods of emotions and feelings of insights without those first being fed through rational processing. Therefore it seems reasonable to be suspicious of anyone who claims to teach through personal experience. That being said, the experimental spirit suggests the following course of action: get a small group and try to close their experiential gap gradually, while having them extensively document anything they encounter on the way, then publish that for peer analysis and digestion. Of course that relies on more energy and time than you might have.
This seems like an unfair conflation of what happened in the Kensho post and everything else. The Circling post was entirely an attempt to communicate in words! All of these comments are attempts to communicate in words!

On a general level, I totally concede that I am operating from relatively weak ground. It has been a while - or at least felt like a while - since I read any of the posts I mentioned (tacitly or otherwise) with the exception of Kensho, so that is definitely coloring my vision.

If I spent all my time defending myself on LW like this instead of just using what I believe my skills to be to do cool stuff, then I won't ever get around to doing the cool stuff. So at some point I am just going to stop engaging in this conversation, especially if people continue to assume bad faith on the part of people like me and Val, in order to focus my energy and attention on doing the cool stuff.

I acknowledge that many people are responding to your ideas with unwarranted hostility and forcing you onto the defensive in a way that I know must be draining. So I apologize for essentially doing that in my original reply to you. I think that I, personally, am unacceptably biased against a lot of ideas due to their "flavor" so to speak, rather than their actual strength.

Do you really want to punish me for not consistently sticking to a particular level of weakening of my true belief?

As to consistency, I actually do want to hold you to some standard of strength with respect to beliefs, because otherwise you could very easily make your beliefs unassuming enough to pass through arbitrary filters. I find ideas interesting; I want to know A, not any of its more easily defensible variants. But I don't want to punish you or do anything that could even be construed as such.

In summary, I am sorry that I came off as harsh.

EDIT: Fixed terrible (and accidental) bolding.

The Jordan Peterson Mask

I think that perhaps what bothers a lot of rationalists about your (or Valentine's) assertions is down to three factors:

  1. You don't tend to make specific claims or predictions. I think you would come off better - certainly to me and I suspect to others - if you were to preregister hypotheses more, like you did in the above comment. I believe that you could and should be more specific, perhaps stating that over a six month period you expect to work n more hours without burning out or that a consensus of reports from outsiders about your mental well-being will show a marked positive change during a particular time period that the evaluators did not know was special. While these would obviously not constitute strong evidence, a willingness to informally test your ideas would at least signal honest belief.
  2. You seem to make little to no attempt to actually communicate your ideas in words, or even define your concepts in words. Frankly, it continues to strike me as suspicious that you claim difficulty in even analogizing or approximating your ideas verbally. Even something as weak as the rubber-sheet analogy for General Relativity would - once again - signal an honest attempt.
  3. There doesn't seem to be consistency on the strength of claims surrounding frameworks. As mentioned elsewhere in thread, Valentine seems to claim that mythic mode generated favorable coincidences like he was bribing the DM. Yet other times Valentine seems to stay acknowledge that the narrative description of reality is at best of metaphorical use.

I think that given recent rationalist interest in meditation, fake frameworks, etc., and in light of what seems to be a case of miscommunication and/or under-communication, there should be some attempt to establish a common basis of understanding, so that if someone asks, "Are you saying x?" they can be instantly redirected to a page that gives the relevant definitions and claims. If you view this is as impossible, do you think that that is a fact of your map or of the relevant territory?

Anyway, I really hope everyone can reach a point of mutual intelligibility, if nothing else.

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