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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.

Things are allowed to be good and bad at the same time

This is partially right, but missing an important part of the picture. If your level of analysis is too narrow, you won't evaluate the trade-offs.

When one consideration is brought up, it’s as if it “cancels” the other.

And this is one problem that typically follows: You're implicitly giving equal weight to every positive and negative point. If I gain a candy bar by stealing from a shop, it's not a neutral act just because there's one positive and one negative (i.e. positive for me, negative for the owner). Different effects have different weights.

And there doesn’t need to be an “overall goodness” of the job that would be anything else than just the combination of those two facts.

Rather than pick a limited number of factors, a better question is "Would the timeline in which I got this job be better than the timeline in which I did not" (which accounts for every factor). On this front, there is an "overall goodness", for example "The average utility at any given point in time over the age of the universe". You have to make a decision, so you have to weigh the trade-offs against each other into a single rule. This is true whether or not it's acknowledged.

Bet On Biden

Let's say Trump actually had a 50% chance of winning last time

What do you mean by this? That human behaviour is non-deterministic? Or that, given the publicly available information at the time, the best guess was 50 percent? If the latter, it's easy to get a better credence after the event happened. Look at Nate's track record. An event that he gives an percent chance happens pretty damn close to percent of the time. You could've just as easily said he underestimates the winners when he got it "right" (i.e. he said > 50 percent chance), and therefore Biden has an even higher chance of winning.

Industrial literacy

I do think that an infant is not worth much except their sentimental value to their family.

All meaning is in our heads. That doesn't make that meaning any less real. If someone places a lot of meaning on their infant dying, then the infant had a lot of value. If you want to put a dollar value on it, then you can ask the family how much they would pay to bring their child back to life. I would expect most people would pay a lot.

Is Stupidity Expanding? Some Hypotheses.
Answer by FCCCOct 17, 20201

Bad neural nets worked okay under the training set. With a distributional shift, you could see the weaknesses of their models.

I think most beliefs are the mode of what a person hears. You ask me whether someone is for or against abortion, I'll ask you what their parents and friends believe, then I'll bet on the most common belief within that group. So when "the Earth is flat" enters the conversation, and people's reason for believing the Earth isn't flat is basically "It's the only statement I've heard on the topic", they might not have a robust way to determine what is true. Most people can't state necessary conditions for evolution in an arbitrary system. I'd wager most people who believe in evolution can't explain why monkeys still exist.

So when the rug of apparent consensus is pulled out from under the feet of everyone, quite a few will fall over.

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