ExCeph

Extradimensional Cephalopod: I’m an eccentric existentialist philosopher and high-functioning chuuni. While I have little in the way of formal credentials in cognitive science (having studied engineering), I’ve devoted most of my waking time to studying and solving problems of the mind, influenced in large part by the aspiring rationality movement. In my arrogance, I believe that the resulting ideas might stand on their own, and am working to test that belief. My specialty is paradigms of conscious thought: mindsets and motivations. My ultimate goal is to catch the rest of the world up with the wisdom and principles of rationality that are already known, so that we can build a self-advancing enlightened society that does things deliberately. In other words, I focus on instilling intelligence and ethics in people, which might hopefully be useful to the pursuit of instilling them in machines (even after taking into account the obvious hardware differences). Ideally, I’d like to find people here with the initiative to help change the world by helping the general populace learn the methods of forming more accurate pictures of reality and creating systems with foresight and conscientiousness. Looking forward to seeing where this community will go!

Best regards,

Extradimensional Cephalopod a.k.a. ExCeph, a.k.a. XF, a.k.a. “a handsome, brooding Cthulhu” (website: https://wordpress.com/view/ginnungagapfoundation.wordpress.com)

ExCeph's Comments

Order and Chaos

I confess, your comment surprised me by calling for a different epistemic standard than I figured this article required. I had to unpack and address several issues, listed below.

  1. I can make a bibliography from the links I’ve already included, if it would help.
  2. Are there any specific assertions in this article that you think call for more evidence to support them over the alternatives?
  3. This article is meant to build the foundation for explaining the concepts that we'll be working with in the next article. After that article, we'll mostly be using those concepts instead. Those will be supported by your own observations of how people learn different skills with varying degrees of difficulty.
  4. I didn't know how much of the theory I was building on would be taken as a given in this community, so I decided to just post and see what wasn't already part of the general LW paradigm. I’d like to hear from more people before I make any judgment calls.
  5. These ideas at this point in the sequence are not intended to make new predictions that would require the introduction of new evidence. They are intended to help the reader more clearly and efficiently conceptualize the information they already have. This article asserts that some ideas are conceptually distinct from each other and others aren’t, which is not an empirical issue. The technical terms I introduce in the article are a condensation and consolidation of existing ideas, so that people can more easily process and apply new information. I predict that as I continue to explain the paradigms I’ve developed, they will be consistent with each other and with empirical evidence, and that the reader will develop a more elegant perspective which will allow them to apply their knowledge more effectively. It may be that I need to make that more clear in future articles.
  6. In order to think effectively, there are many concepts we can and must learn and apply without relying on the scientific establishment to do experiments for us.

Does that all make sense? I'll work on framing future articles so that it's clear when they are making empirical predictions from evidence and when they are presenting a concept as being better than other concepts at carving reality at its joints.

The Foundational Toolbox for Life: Introduction

Practice with different example problems is indeed important for helping people internalize the principles behind the skills they're learning. However, just being exposed to these problems doesn't always mean a person figures out what those principles are. Lack of understanding of the principles usually means a person finds it difficult to learn the skill and even more difficult to branch out to similar skills.

However, if we can explicitly articulate those principles in a way people can understand, such as illustrating them with analogies or stories, then people have the foundation to actually get the benefits from the practice problems.

For example, let's say you see numbers being sorted into Category A or Category B. Even with a large set of data, if you have no mathematical education, you could spend a great deal of effort without figuring out what rule is being used to determine which category a number belongs in. You wouldn't be able to predict the category of a given number. To succeed, you would have to derive concepts like square numbers or prime numbers from scratch, which would take most people longer than they're willing or able to spend. However, if you're already educated on such concepts, you have tools to help you form hypotheses and mental models much more easily.

The objective here is to provide a basic conceptual framework for at least being aware of all aspects of all types of problems, not just easily quantifiable ones like math problems. If you can put bounds on them, you are better equipped to develop more advanced and specific skills to investigate and address them.

And yes, experiments on the method's effectiveness may be very difficult to design and run. I tend to measure effectiveness by whether people can grasp concepts they couldn't before, and whether they can apply those concepts with practice to solve problems they couldn't before. That's proof of concept enough for me to work on scaling it up.

Does that answer your question?

Should rationality be a movement?

With finesse, it's possible to combine the techniques of truth-seeking with friendliness and empathy so that the techniques work even when the person you're talking to doesn't know them. That's a good way to demonstrate the effectiveness of truth-seeking techniques.

It's easiest to use such finesse on the individual level, but if you can identify general concepts which help you understand and create emotional safety for larger groups of people, you can scale it up. Values conversations require at least one of the parties involved to have an understanding of value-space, so they can recognize and show respect for how other people prioritize different values even as they introduce alternative priority ordering. Building a vocabulary for understanding value-space to enable productive values conversations on the global scale is one of my latest projects.

Ia! Ia! Extradimensional Cephalopod Nafl'fhtagn!

Yes, that's exactly what I meant, and that's a great clarification. I do prefer looking at the long-term expected utility of a decision, as a sort of Epicurean ideal. (I'm still working on being able to resist the motivation of relaxation, though.)

Ia! Ia! Extradimensional Cephalopod Nafl'fhtagn!

The specific attributes I was referring to in that sentence are three out of what I call the four primary attributes:

  • Initiative (describes how much one relies on environmental conditions to prompt one to start pursuing a goal)
  • Resilience (describes how much one relies on environmental conditions to allow one to continue pursuing a goal)
  • Mobility (describes how rapidly one can effectively change the parameters of one's efforts)
  • Intensity (describes how far one can continue pushing the effects of one's efforts)

I had only been using intensity since I didn't know about the others and didn't develop them naturally. Since combined they are stronger than the sum of them separately, I was stuck at less than 25% of my theoretical maximum effectiveness.

The deep differences in worldview that you refer to are something that I've noticed as well. The different mindsets people use inform what aspects of the world they are aware of, but when those awarenesses doesn't overlap enough, conflict seems almost inevitable.

I agree that knowing our utility functions is also important. For one thing, it helps with planning. For another, it lets us resist being controlled by our motivations, which can happen if we get too attached to them, or if we are only responsive to one or two of them. (That may have been what you meant by "exercising agency"?) "Eschatology" is an interesting way of phrasing that. It puts me in mind of the fundamental liabilities that threaten all goals. I wish we taught people growing up how to both accept and manage those liabilities.

I'll be writing a sequence elaborating on all of these concepts, which I've been applying in order to become more capable.

On Doing the Improbable

You raise a good point about the multiple factors that go into motivation and why it's important to address as many of them as possible.

I'm having trouble interpreting your second paragraph, though. Do you mean that humanity has a coordination problem because there is a great deal of useful work that people are not incentivized to do? Or are you using "coordination problem" in another sense?

I'm skeptical of the idea that a solution is unlikely just because people haven't found it yet. There are thousands of problems that were only solved in the past few decades when the necessary tools were developed. Even now, most of humanity doesn't have an understanding of whatever psychological or sociological knowledge may help with implementing a solution to this type of problem. Those who might have such an understanding aren't yet in a position to implement it. It may just be that no one has succeeded in Doing the Impossible yet.

However, communities and community projects of varying types exist, and some have done so for millennia. That seems to me to serve as proof of concept on a smaller scale. Therefore, for some definitions of "coordinating mankind" I suspect the problem isn't quite as insurmountable as it may look at first. It seems worth some quality time to me.

On Doing the Improbable

I'm painfully familiar with the issue of lack of group participation, since I can't even get people to show up to a meetup.

Because of that, I've been doing research on identifying the factors contributing towards this issue and how to possibly mitigate them. I'm not sure if any of this will be new to you, but it might spark more discussion.
These are the first ideas that come to mind:

1. For people to be intrinsically motivated to do something, the process of working on it has to be fun or fulfilling.

2. Extrinsic motivation, as you say, requires either money or a reason to believe the effort will accomplish more than other uses of one's time would. If it's a long-term project, the problem of hyperbolic discounting may lead people to watch TV or [insert procrastination technique here] instead, even if they think the project is likely to succeed.

3. If people already have a habit of performing an activity, then it takes less effort for them to participate in similar activities and they demand less benefit from doing so. Identifying habits that are useful for the task you have in mind can be tricky if it's a complex issue, but successfully doing so can keep productivity consistent and reduce its mental cost.

4. Building a habit requires either intense and consistent motivation, or very small steps that build confidence. Again, though, identifying very small steps that still make for good productivity early on may be tricky.

5. If you have trouble getting people to start joining, it may be good to seek out early adopters to provide social proof. However, the social proof may only work for people who are familiar with those specific early adopters and who take cues from them. In that case, you may need to find some regular early adopters and then identify trendsetters in society (habitual early adopters from whom many people take their cues) you could get on board, after which their followers will consider participating. (Then the danger becomes making sure that the participants understand the project, but at least you have more people to choose from.)

6. It may help to remind people from time to time what they're working towards, even though everyone already knows. Being able to celebrate successes and take some time to review the vision can go quite a ways in relieving stress when people start to feel like their work isn't rewarding.

From item 1, if people think they can get a benefit from working on a project even if the project fails, they might be willing to participate. Socializing with project members and forming personal relationships with them may help in this respect, since they'll enjoy working with people. Alternatively, you could emphasize the skills they'll pick up along the way.

From item 4, I've been working on 'mini-habits" (a concept I got from Stephen Guise) to lower my own mental costs for doing things, and it seems to be working fairly well. Then the trick becomes getting enough buy-in (per item 5) so you can get other people started on those mini-habits.

There are probably some other factors I'm overlooking at the moment. Since I haven't been able to get results yet, I can't say for sure what will work, but I hope this provides a helpful starting point for framing the problem.

Is Rhetoric Worth Learning?

Currently, Difficult Conversations is the only book I recommend to literally all people, because it establishes the principles and practices of effective collaborative truth-seeking. If you want a good chance of persuading someone of something they are already opposed to, you have demonstrate that you understand their point of view and value their well-being. (On a similar note, I read Ender's Game in middle school and took to heart the idea of understanding your adversaries so well that you love them.)

Can the art of influencing emotions be used for destructive purposes? Yes. It's certainly possible to play off of many humans' biases to get them to adopt positions that are arbitrarily chosen by an outside source, by presenting different perspectives of situations and associating different emotions with them. However, it is also possible to explore as many relevant aspects of a situation as possible, validate people's concerns, and have your concerns listened to in turn. Like any other tool it can be used to constructively get people to feel better about seeking the truth. Rhetoric allows you to reframe a situation and get people to go along with it. Some try to reframe a situation for selfish purposes, but you can still frame a situation as accurately as possible, and persuade people to accept and contribute to this reframing.

Here's a twist, though: rhetoric would still be important even if people were rational truth-seekers by default. You can't accurately and efficiently convey the relevant aspects of a situation or idea without rhetoric. The people listening to you will have to spend more energy than necessary to understand your meaning, because you don't know how to arrange your message in a logical order, with clear language.

You'd also be missing a quick method for getting people to start appreciating others' emotions different cultural frames of reference. Even putting them through a simulation wouldn't work as well; their own frame of reference (the Curse of Knowledge) would likely prevent or delay them from having an epiphany about the other person's paradigm. Sometimes you just need to spell things out, and for that, you need rhetoric and other communication skills.

Just because rhetoric isn't sufficient to seek truth doesn't mean it's not necessary. If we tossed out everything that can be used for destruction as well as for construction, we'd be facing the world naked.

AI Goal Alignment Entry: How to Teach a Computer to Love

How to actually construct the AI was not part of the scope of the essay request, as I understood it. My intention was to describe some conceptual building blocks that are necessary to adequately frame the problem. For example, I address how utility functions are generated in sapient beings, including both humans and AI. Additionally, that explanation works whether or not huge paradigms shifts occur.
No amount of technical understanding is going to substitute for an understanding of why we have utility functions in the first place, and what shapes they take. Rather than the tip of the iceberg, these ideas are supposed to be the foundation of the pyramid. I didn't write about my approach to the problems of external reference and model specification because they were not the subject of the call for ideas, but I can do so if you are interested.

Furthermore, at no point do I describe "programming" the AI to do anything--quite the opposite, actually. I address that when I rule out the concept of the 3 Laws. The idea is effectively to "raise" an AI in such a way as to instill the values we want it to have. Many concepts specific to humans don't apply to AIs, but many concepts specific to people do, and those are ones we'll need to be aware of. Apparently I was not clear enough on that point.

Announcing the AI Alignment Prize

Submitting this entry for your consideration: https://www.lesserwrong.com/posts/bkoeQLTBbodpqHePd/ai-goal-alignment-entry-how-to-teach-a-computer-to-love. I'll email it as well. Your commitment to this call for ideas is much appreciated!

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