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Answer by RiverMay 10, 2022Ω21

 For the less cryptographically inclined, or those predicting the failure of computing technology, there is always the old school method: write your prediction on a peace of paper, literally seal it in an envelope, and mail it to yourself. The postal marking they put over the stamp includes the date.

I think many people should be less afraid of lawsuits, though I'm not sure I'd say "almost everyone."

I wouldn't draw much from the infrequency of lawsuits being filed. Many disputes are resolved in the shadow of the legal system, without an actual court being involved. For example, I read a number of cases in law school where one person sued another after a car accident. Yet when I actually got into a car accident myself, no lawsuit was ever filed. I talked to my insurance company, the other driver presumably talked to their insurance company, the two companies talked to each other, money flowed around, things were paid for. Much more efficient than bringing everybody into a courtroom, empaneling a jury,  and paying lawyers in fancy suits to make arguments. The insurance companies knew what the law was, knew who would have to pay money to who, and so they were able to skip over the whole courtroom battle step, and go directly to the payment step. This is what usually happens when an area of law is mature - the potential parties, sometimes with good advice from their attorneys, reach similar conclusions about the likely outcome of a potential lawsuit, and this allows them to reach an agreement outside of court. Lawsuits are much more likely to happen when the law is more ambiguous, and therefor the parties can have significantly different estimations of the outcome of the suit. So the frequency of lawsuits is often a measure of how much disagreement there is about an area of law. Other times it reflects a requirement to actually go to court to do something (like debt collection or mortgage foreclosure). But I don't think it is a good measure of the likelihood of having to pay out money for some arguable violation of the law.


Also, many contracts contain arbitration clauses, which also prevent conflicts from making it into a courtroom.


The notion of lawyers being overly conservative I think is also an incomplete description of that dynamic. A good lawyer will tell you how much you can expect a potential lawsuit to cost, and therefor whether it is more or less than the expected benefit of the action. If your lawyer won't do this, you should  fire them and hire someone else. As an illustration, think about universities violating the free speech and due process rights of their students, and getting sued for it. They do this because the cost of not doing it (in public relations, angry students/faculty/donors, Title IX lawsuits) is more than the cost of a potential constitutional lawsuit, and they know it. How do they know it? Because their lawyers told them so.

I think sometimes people don't want to take the advice of lawyers they perceive as overly conservative, even when they should. People trying to build something or make a deal will often get very excited about it, and only want to see the ways it can go well. Lawyers have seen, or at least studied, many past conflicts, and so they can often see more clearly what conflicts might arise as a result of some project, and advise clients on how to avoid them. That is often what clients pay lawyers for. But to the client, it can often feel like the lawyer putting an unnecessary damper on the shiny project they are excited about.

There is also the moral aspect. Laws often have a moral point behind them. Sometimes when people refrain from doing things to avoid being sued, they are refraining from doing immoral things. And sometimes when people disregard legal advice, do a thing, and get sued, they actually did an immoral thing. To take an example that I watched closely at the time, and that connects to one of Alyssa's examples, during the 2014-2015 school year Rolling Stone published an article, based on a single young woman's account, of gang rape being used as a form of fraternity initiation at UVA. Rolling Stone did not do the sort of fact checking that is standard in journalism. (If memory serves the Columbia School of Journalism put out a report detailing the failures here). Over the course of several months, the story fell apart, it turned out to be a complete fabrication. And Rolling Stone was sued, and had to pay out. I can imagine Rolling Stone's lawyers advising them not to publish that article without doing some more fact checking, and those lawyers would have been right on the law. But more fact checking also would have been the morally correct thing to do. Even in the case of abuse/rape, defamation law does have a moral point to make - you shouldn't make up stories about being abused/raped and present them as the truth.

Finally, as an ex-lawyer, I unreservedly endorse Alyssa's advice not to take on six figures of debt to go to law school without researching the job market.

When you steal a newspaper from a kiosk, you are taking paper and ink that do not belong to you. The newspaper is harmed because it now has less paper and ink. When you bypass a paywall, the newspaper still has all the same computers and servers that it had before, it hasn't lost any physical object.

When I hear the words "intelligence" and "wisdom", I think of things that are necessarily properties of individual humans, not groups of humans. Yet some of the specifics you list seem to be clearly about groups. So at the very least I would use a different word for that, though I'm not sure which one. I also suspect that work on optimizing group decision making will look rather different from work on optimizing individual decision making, possibly to the point that we should think of them as separate cause areas.

When I think about some of humanities greatest advances in this area, I think of things like probability theory and causal inference and expected values - things that I associate with academic departments of mathematics and economics (and not philosophy). This makes me wonder how nascent this really is?

I find this position rather disturbing, especially coming from someone working at a university. I have spent the last sixish years working mostly with high school students, occasionally with university students, as a tutor and classroom teacher. I can think of many high school students who are more ready to make adult decisions than many adults I know, whose vulnerability comes primarily from the inferior status our society assigns them, rather than any inherent characteristic of youth. 

As a legal matter (and I believe the law is correct here), your implication that someone acts in loco parentis with respect to college students is simply not correct (with the possible exception of the rare genius kid who attends college at an unusually young age). College students are full adults, both legally and morally, and should be treated as such. College graduates even more so. You have no right to impose a special concern on adults just because they are 18-30.

I think one of the particular strengths of the rationalist/EA community is that we are generally pretty good at treating young adults as full adults, and taking them and their ideas seriously. 

Given that you already have reductive explanations of A,B ,C, you can infer that there is a probility of having reductive explanations of D and E in the future. Not a certainty, because induction doesnt work that way.

So you haven't shown that intuition isn't needed to accept the validity of a reductive explanation.


So because something is based on induction and therefor probabilistic, it is somehow based on intuition? That is not how induction and probability theory work. Anyone with a physics education should know that. And if it were how that worked, then all of science would rely on intuition, and that is just crazy. You have devolved into utter absurdity. I am done with you.

Shooting a civilian is murder, whether or not the action is correct. 


Shooting a civilian is not murder if it is self-defense or defense of others, which I think is a very good approximation to the set of circumstances where shooting a civilian is the correct choice.

I don't think it's correct to call the bombing of cities in WW2 a war crime. Under the circumstances I think it was the correct choice. One of the key circumstances was the available targeting technology at the time - the human eye. They didn't have plane-based radar, much less GPS. They didn't have the capacity to target military production specifically, all they could do was target the cities where military production was occurring. The alternative was a greater risk of loosing the war, and all of the evils that that entailed. So yes, bombing cities with civilians in them sucks, but it sucked less than the other options that were available at the time.

Same as you, physics degree. I'm curious why you picked now to bring that up. I don't think anything I've said particularly depends on it.

Hair colour merely belongs to a subject..and that's not the usual meaning of "subjective". Experiences are only epistemically accessible by a subject .. and that is the usual meaning of "subjective".


It may be more difficult to get evidence about another person's experiences than about their hair color, but there is no fundamental epistemic difference. You can in principle, and often in practice, learn about the experiences of other people.

A lot attempts to, but often fails. Where it succeeds, it is because both speaker and hearer have had the same experience. Describing novel experiences is generally impossible..."you don't know", "you had to be there". and so on.

Taken literally, those kinds of statements are just false. Sometimes they come from people who just want to be overly dramatic. Sometimes they really mean "explaining it would take more time than I want to invest in this conversation." But they are never literally true statements about what a person can know or how they can know it.


And my argument is, still, that intuition is always involved in accepting that some high level phenomenon is reductively explicable,because we never have fully detailed quark-level reductions.


Why on earth do you presume that we need to know how in order to know that? Of course we almost never have quark-level or even atom-level reductions. So what? Why on earth would that mean that we need intuition to accept that something can be explained in terms of known physics? We use induction just like we do on many other things in science - most stuff that people have tried to explain in terms of known physics has turned out to be explainable, therefor we infer that whatever phenomenon we are looking at is also explainable. There is no intuition involved in that reasoning, just classic textbook inductive reasoning.


All you are doing there is contrasting naive, uninformed intuition with informed intuition. 


How can intuition be more or less informed on something like experience? That doesn't even make sense to me.


And if it were then case that 100% of scientists were qualiaphobes, you would be into something ... but it isn't. Many scientists agree that we don't have a satisfactory reductive explanation of consciousness.

I agree that we don't have a satisfactory explanation of consciousness. As explained above, that does not justify taking seriously the position that there isn't one in terms of the already known laws of physics.


And yet some things still can't be explained in terms of our currentunderstanding. You are not advancing the argument at all.

This is not a point on which we disagree. The fact that we don't currently have an explanation for some things is not a reason for thinking there isn't one.


"Appear" is just an appeal to your own intuition.

No, it is an appeal to the inductive reasoning explained above.


I am appealing to the arguments made by Chalmers and other qualiphilic philosophers, as well as those by by qualiaphilic scientists. You have not refuted any of them. You have so far only made a false claimthat theyn dont exist.

You have yet to actually appeal to any such argument, or to even name a scientist who you think is "qualiaphilic". Present one, and we can talk about why it is wrong. As I have said before, the burden is on you.

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