FCCC

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The Power to Demolish Bad Arguments

Can you help me paint a specific mental picture of a driver being exploited by Uber?

I've had similar "exploitation" arguments with people:

"Commodification" and "dehumanization" don't mean anything unless you can point to their concrete effects.

I think your way of handling it is much, much better than how I've handled it. It comes across as less adversarial while still making the other person do the work of explaining themselves better. I've found that small tricks like this can completely flip a conversation from dysfunctional to effective. I'll have to remember to use your suggestion.

Terminal Values and Instrumental Values

Damn. This formalism is similar to one I developed (except I did it much later) for determining when a goal is good or not. Did Eliezer come up with those four pieces himself or is this based on someone else's work?

Bet On Biden

Agreed. The best prediction would have been to assign Biden 100% credence. A defence of their position might say that "Given the information 538 had at the time, the best possible prediction machine would have less certainty than Nate", but this is too hard to prove, and it's inconsistent with the fact that Nate is a calibrated forecaster who (as far as I know) consistently beats the market.

Bet On Biden

And this year too. I agree about the small sample size if we're just asking "Who will be president?" We should use every one of 538's predictions that could have been used to make a bet in a liquid betting market.

If a profitable set of Kelly/Markowitz bets (under all election orderings) has a worse Brier score than the market's Brier score, I'd be more interested in the profit of the bets, since we're talking about betting money.

Bet On Biden

Here's what would make me question Nate's credibility: If we look at the 538's former projections and compare them to the betting markets prior to election, make Kelly bets, and lose money.[1] Note that 538 can be on the wrong side of the market some of the time and still be profitable.

Saying Nate lacks enough credibility when he is well calibrated and on the right side of the market doesn't make any sense and seems like an extreme case of hindsight bias. For example, you use the 2016 election to undermine 538's credibility, but (if I recall correctly) 538's forecast gave Trump a greater chance than the market's odds implied, so if you bet based on 538's forecast you would have bet on Trump and made money. I could be remembering wrong, so if someone links this data, they'd get an upvote from me.


  1. Looking at all orderings of elections ↩︎

No Causation without Reification

You'd have to point me to one of my sentences that you disagree with, since I don't think I've made that mistake.

Perhaps you think the only true fact about the universe is the whole universe itself, so in that case, talking about the "rules in the source code of the universe" wouldn't make sense. I'm having to guess here, since you haven't stated your disagreement. But if that is the case, you'd be assuming something about the nature of the universe. I only said that the universe might innately contain rules.

The bads of ads

I've had the same thought. Does the advertising market satisfy good goals? Probably not. What do you think the goals of the market should be?

Should we use qualifiers in speech?
Answer by FCCCOct 24, 20201

When I'm as sure as I can be about something, I won't use qualifiers. For my areas of interest, I'll try to get to this stage, which has the added benefit of making my language more concise. If you're unsure, you should qualify, but if you qualify a lot, why are you talking? (However, for some question domains, things can't be known, like predicting election outcomes, in which case, it's fine to get on a soapbox and qualify.) It's a mistake to cut out your qualifiers if you haven't done the hard work of figuring out all the details.

Of course, qualifiers should be common because people talk about stuff they don't know all the time, and they want you to engage with them. It'd be a bit weird to say "I don't know" and then walk away for 99 percent of your interactions. In these situations, I'll try to include qualifiers. Sometimes I'll forget, and state something as if it were a fact only to be categorically shown to be wrong two seconds later. I hate this. So, for me, qualifiers are worth it. But even if you're not embarrassed when the truth is literally the exact opposite of what you just said, qualifiers are good. They help you delineate between what you know to be true and what you think is true, which is useful for your own thinking. They also communicate your actual beliefs.

Even better than this binary distinction is using credences.

No Causation without Reification

Formally, we often model causation as the action of one thing implying another, and we might formalize this with mathematical notation like to mean some event or thing causes some other event or thing to happen.

Causation is not so easy to model. I have a job that requires a degree. This implies that I have a degree. But my having this job did not cause me to have a degree (to clarify, perhaps the expectation of gaining such a job caused me to get the degree, but not the job itself). From ET Jaynes, after a similar example:

This example shows also that the major premise, ‘if A then B’ expresses B only as a logical consequence of A; and not necessarily a causal physical consequence, which could be effective only at a later time. The rain at 10 am is not the physical cause of the clouds at 9:45 am. Nevertheless, the proper logical connection is not in the uncertain causal direction (clouds ⇒ rain), but rather (rain ⇒ clouds), which is certain, although noncausal. We emphasize at the outset that we are concerned here with logical connections, because some discussions and applications of inference have fallen into serious error through failure to see the distinction between logical implication and physical causation. The distinction is analyzed in some depth by Simon and Rescher (1966), who note that all attempts to interpret implication as expressing physical causation founder on the lack of contraposition expressed by the second syllogism (1.2). That is, if we tried to interpret the major premise as ‘A is the physical cause of B’, then we would hardly be able to accept that ‘not-B is the physical cause of not-A’. In Chapter 3 we shall see that attempts to interpret plausible inferences in terms of physical causation fare no better.

Judea Pearl is supposedly working on defining causation, though I know little of it. I think he talks abut "backwards causation" and the examples of it that I've heard (if I recall correctly) sound like they confuse the job with the expectation of the job. Maybe causation is an incoherent idea.

This means that there's no aspect of the territory that is causality. There's no A, there's no B, there's no ⟹, there's just "is".

Here's how I think of it: I have sensory data coming in (what I see and hear and so on), and every word I associate with that data is an abstraction that seems to match with a useful pattern within the data (e.g. "I'm looking at a table"). So I think we kind of agree with the "There's no A or B" (the table is not fundamentally part of the universe, it's my model of some collection of actual universe "stuff"[1]), though I would phrase it in a way in which people might think we disagree. I think it still makes sense to talk about A or B (tables are real), it's just that statements like "A is true" become a lot more slippery (but not in a "Everybody has their own truth, man" way). And this is the case, as you say, even at the level of atoms, though our sensory data is intermediated with other high-tech tools (e.g. electron microscopes or whatever).

Where I think we disagree is "there's no ⟹". Maybe there isn't. But the universe apparently follows some rules. The laws that physicists found may be implications of these rules, but they might be the rules themselves. For the sake of analogy, the "code" that the universe runs on might contain "matter/energy cannot be created or destroyed", and I think it's fair to consider this to be part of the universe (though whether we can establish that a rule is actually in the code is another matter). The rules might also contain something about causation.

Anyway, great post.


  1. Strictly speaking, it's not even that, it's a model of my experiences, which is a filtered and somewhat distorted version of the actual universe. ↩︎

Industrial literacy

True, but the value is to them.

Yes, and not just in this case. Value is always to some individual: There is no value outside of someone's brain. When we say "value to society", that's shorthand for "the aggregation of the value inside every individual's head".

Money measures some of the value inside people's heads: You pay $20 for a shirt, and I can tell that you value the shirt by at least $20. When I go for a walk, I'm not paying anyone, but that doesn't mean the value is $0.

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