All of Grotace's Comments + Replies

I think one reason doctors want such highly credible evidence is that they're defending themself against attacks by snake oil salesmen. Historically, there have been many attempts to sell "treatments" that have absolutely no benefit at all, and for an individual doctor, it is very hard to tell whether they're being sold something that actually works or not. 

Another related reason for wanting highly credible evidence is that doctors tend to be conservative, out of a desire to not prescribe things that might harm their patient (they don't necessarily be... (read more)

This its very similar to another result: at the beginning, before seeing any draws, you believe that at the end of $n$ draws, every possible number of  green draws is equally likely, i.e, $\int_0^1 \binom{n}{k}x^{n-k}(1-x)^{k} dx = \frac{1}{n+1}$. The proof: if you draw $n+1$ IID uniform $[0,1]$ random variables, on the one hand, the first one its equally likely to have any particular rank, so the probability it has rank $k+1$ is $\frac{1}{n+1}$. On the other hand, the probability it has rank $k+1$ is exactly the probability that $k$ of the remaining $n$ uniform random variables take a value greater than it, and $n-k$ of the remaining $n$ take a value lesser than it, which equals the integral.

EDIT: Thanks again for the discussion. It has been very helpful, because I think I can now articulate clearly a fundamental fear I have about meditation: it might lead to a loss of the desire to become better.

Cool. :) And yes, it might; it also comes with several other risks. If you feel like these risks are too large, then avoiding meditation may indeed be the right move for you. (As I said in the introductory post, I am trying to explain what I think is going on with meditation, but I am not trying to convince anyone to meditate if they think that it doesn't seem worth it.)

Of course. You are, at the very least, technically right.

However, I think that obtaining enlightenment only makes it harder for you to change your values, because you're much more likely to be fine with who you are. For example, the man who went through stream entry you linked to seems to have spent several years doing nothing, and didn't feel particularly bad for it. Is that not scary? Is that likely to be a result of pursuing physical exercise?

On the other hand, if you spent time thinking clearly about your values, the likelihood of them changing for the better is higher, because you still have a desire (craving?) to be a better person.

He did, and then eventually his mind figured out a new set of motivations, and currently he is very actively doing things again and keeping himself busy. Even apart from enlightenment, it is my own experience that one's motivations may change in ways that are long-term good, but leave you adrift in the short term. At one point in my life I was basically driven by anxiety and the need to escape that constant anxiety. When I finally eliminated the source of anxiety [], I had a period when I didn't know what to do with my time anymore, because the vast majority of my habits (both physical and mental) had been oriented towards avoiding it, and that was just not necessary anymore. Likewise, if people have trained learned to motivate themselves with guilt, then eliminating the guilt [] and trading it for a healthier form of motivation may be long-term beneficial, but leave them without a source of any motivation until their mind readjusts. Whether enlightenment makes it easier or harder to change your values - I don't know. Reducing craving means that you are less likely to cling to values that need revising, but may also eliminate cravings that had previously driven changes to your values. Certainly you can still spend time thinking about your values even if you are enlightened. (Though I am unclear to what extent anyone ever really changes their values in the first place, as opposed to just developing better strategies [] for achieving what, deep down, are their actual values.) Personally I am not enlightened, but I certainly feel like developing deeper meditative insights has made it easier rather than harder for me to change my values. But human motivation is complicated, and which way it goes probably depends on a lot of
EDIT: Thanks again for the discussion. It has been very helpful, because I think I can now articulate clearly a fundamental fear I have about meditation: it might lead to a loss of the desire to become better.

Thank you for this comment. Even if you don't remember exactly what happened, at the very least, your story of what happened is likely to be based on the theoretical positions you subscribe to, and it's helpful to explain these theoretical positions in a concrete example.

I guess what I don't like about what you're saying is that it's entirely amoral. You don't say how actions can be good. Even if a sense of good were to exist, it would be somehow abstract, entirely third-personal, and have no necessary connection to actual act... (read more)

Well, we can certainly still evaluate reasons: in my example, "being under a cold shower for too long might be unhealthy" was a reason for stepping out of it. And it was evaluated consciously, in that the thought was broadcast into consciousness, allowing other subsystems to react to it - such as by objecting if they happened to disagree, or if they felt that continuing the experiment outweighed the risks. If other subsystems had raised objections, possibly I would have stayed in the shower longer. This seems correct to me. My understanding is that the samurai actually practiced meditation in order to do well at battle and fear death less [], that is, to be better at killing. A draft for a later post in this series actually contains the following paragraphs: It is somewhat unclear to me why exactly this bothers you, though. To me, meditation practice - together with the insights that it brings - is just a skill that brings you benefits in some particular areas, just like any other. Getting better at, say, physical exercise, also doesn't tell you anything about how actions can be good. (Why would it?) Physical exercise also works the same for a murderer, possibly allowing them to murder better and easier. (Why wouldn't it?) I do think that there's definitely some reason to expect that meditation could make you a better person - e.g. many of the reasons for why people are motivated to hurt other people, involve psychological issues and trauma that meditation may be helpful with. But if a sociopath who completely lacked an empathy subsystem (I don't know enough about sociopathy to say whether this is an accurate description of it, but for the sake of argument, let's assume that it is) happened to meditate and became enlightened, then of course there's no reason to assume that meditation alone would create an empathy subsystem for them. Your values are what they are, and meditat

"I started out skeptical of many claims, dismissing them as pre-scientific folk-psychological speculation, before gradually coming to believe in them - sometimes as a result of meditation which hadn’t even been aimed at investigating those claims in particular, but where I thought I was doing something completely different."

Did you come to believe in rebirth and remembering past lives?


You say that "I wasn't sure of how long this was going to be healthy...". Was this experienced as a negative valence? If so, why did you do what this valence suggested? I thought you were saying we shouldn't necessarily make decisions based on negative valences. (From what you've been saying, I guess you did not experience the "thought of a cold shower being unhealthy" as a negative valence.)

If it wasn't experienced as a negative valence, why did you leave the shower? Doesn't leaving the shower indicate that yo... (read more)

Also, to clarify: reducing craving means that one's mind isn't as compelled to make decisions on the basis of pushing away negative valence or being compulsively drawn towards positive valence; but at the same, a reduction of craving may also mean that the mind is more capable of making decisions based on negative valences. Suppose that a thing that I am doing is likely to have a negative consequence. This means that thinking about the consequences of my actions, may bring to mind negative valence; if I have a craving to avoid negative valence, I might then flinch away from thinking about those consequences. In contrast, if I don't have a craving to avoid negative valence, I might think about the consequences, notice that they have negative valence, and then take that valence into account by deciding to act differently.
So this was pretty much an altered state of consciousness, making it hard for me to recall specifics about the phenomenology afterwards; much of my recollection is based on notes that I made during / immediately after the experience. So I will do my best to answer, but I need to caution that there is a serious risk of me completely misremembering something. That said... During the event, there was no experience of a separate "doer" nor an "observer"; if I looked at my hand, then there was just a sight of the hand, without a sense of somebody who was watching the hand. The sensations that had previously been associated with a sense of self were still present, but it was as if the mind-system was not interpreting them as indicating any separate entity; rather they were just experienced as "raw sensations", if that makes any sense. There was also no sense of being in control of my thoughts or actions. Intentions and experiences would just arise on their own. In the shower, there was a strong negative valence arising from the cold; but the subjective experience was that the part of my mind that was experiencing the negative valence, was distinct from the one that made the decision of leaving the shower or remaining in it. The negative valence did not compel "the deciding subsystem" into any action, it was just available as information. I do not recall the exact phenomenology associated with stepping out of the shower, but my best guess would be that it was something like: the thought arose that staying in the shower for too long might be unhealthy. This was followed by an intention arising to step out of the shower. That intention led to the action of stepping out of the shower. From a third-person perspective, my guess of what happened was: different subsystems were submitting motor system bids of what to do []. For whatever reason, the subsystem which generated the

Thank you for your reply, which is helpful. I understand it takes time and energy to compose these responses, so please don't feel too pressured to keep responding.

1. You say that positive/negative valence are not things that the system intrinsically has to pursue/avoid. Then when the system says it values something, why does it say this? A direct question: there exists at least a single case in which the why is not answered by positive/negative valence (or perhaps it is not answered at all). What is this case, and what is the answer to the why?

2. Oft... (read more)

Appreciated. :) Answering these in detail is also useful, in that it helps me figure out which things I should mention in my future posts - I might copy-paste some parts of my answers here, right into some of my next posts... It might be helpful to notice that positive/negative valence is usually already one step removed from some underlying set of values. For example: * Appraisal theories of emotion [] that emotional responses (with their underlying positive or negative valence) are the result of subconscious evaluations about the significance of a situation, relative to the person's goals. An evaluation saying that you have lost something important to you, for example, may trigger the emotion of sadness with its associated negative valence. * In the case of Richard [], a subsystem within his brain had formed the prediction that if he were to express confidence, this would cause other people to dislike him. It then generated negative self-talk to prevent him from being confident. Presumably the self-talk had some degree of negative valence; in this case that served as a tool that the subsystem could use to block a particular action it deemed bad. * Consider a situation where you are successfully carrying out some physical activity; playing a fast-paced sport or video game, for example. This is likely to be associated with positive valence, which emerges from the fact that you are having success at the task. On the other hand, if you were failing to keep up and couldn't get into a good flow, you would likely experience negative valence. What I'm trying to point at here is that valence looks like a signal about whether or not some set of goals/values are being successfully attained. A subsystem may have a goal X which i

Typically, when we reason about what actions we should or should not perform, at the base of that reasoning is something of the form "X is intrinsically bad." Now, I'd always associated "X is intrinsically bad" with some sort of statement like "X induces a mental state that feels wrong." Do I have access to this line of reasoning as a meditator?

Concretely, if someone asked me why I would go to a dentist if my teeth were rotting, I would have to reply that I do so because I care about my health or maybe because unhealthin... (read more)

Even to the enlightened, experiences with positive valence still feel like they have positive valence; experiences with negative valence still feel like they have negative valence. (Well, there are accounts which disagree with this and claim that perpetual positive experience is possible, but I am skeptical of those.) One can still prefer states with positive valence, and say that "they just feel good to me" - one is just okay with the possibility of not always getting them. I realize that this is hard to imagine if you haven't actually experienced it. An analogy that's kind of close might be if you were offered a choice between two foods that you were almost indifferent over, but just slightly preferred option B. Given the choice, you ask to have B, but if you were given A instead, you wouldn't feel any less happy for it. At least, you could let go of your disappointment very quickly.

Thank you for your reply, and it does clarify some things for me. If I may summarise in short, I think you are saying:

  1. Craving is a bad sort of motivation because it makes you react badly to obstacles, but other sorts of motivation can be fine.
  2. Self-conscious/ craving-filled states of mind can be unproductive when trying to act on these other sorts of motivations.

I still have some questions though.

You say you may pursue pleasure because you value it for its own sake. But what is the self (or subsystem?) that is doing this valuing? It feels like the valuer i... (read more)

Roughly, yes, though I would be a bit cautious about framing craving as outright bad, more like "the tradeoffs involved may make it better to let go of it in the end"; but of course, that depends on what exactly one is trying to achieve. As I noted in the post, it is also possible for one to weaken their craving with bad results, at least if we evaluate "results" from the point of view of achieving things. Different subsystems make valuations all the time; that's not an illusion. What's illusory is the notion that all of the different valuations are coming from a single self, and that positive/negative valence are things that the system intrinsically has to pursue/avoid. For instance, one part of the mechanism is that at any given moment, you may have conscious intentions about what to do next. If you have two conflicting intentions, then those conflicting intentions are generated by different subsystems. However, frequently the mind-system attributes all intentions to a single source: "the self". Operating based on that assumption, the mind-system models itself as having a single decision-maker that generates all intentions and observes all experiences. In The Apologist and the Revolutionary [], Scott Alexander writes: One way of explaining the construct of the self, is that there's a reasoning module which constructs a story of there being a single decision-maker, "the self", that's deciding everything. In the case of the split-brain patient, a subsystem has decided to point at a shovel because it's related to the sight of the snowed-in house that it saw; but the subsystem that is constructing the narrative of the self being in charge of everything, has only seen a chicken claw. So in order to fit the things that it knows into a coherent story, it creates a spurious narrative where the self saw the chicken claw, and shovels are needed for cleaning chicken sheds, so that's the

I am a bit confused by the lines:

"...pursuing pleasure and happiness even if that sacrifices your ability to impact the world. Reducing the influence of the craving makes your motivations less driven by wireheading-like impulses, and more able to see the world clearly even if it is painful."

Once we have deemed that wanting to pursue pleasure and happiness are wireheading-like impulses, why stop ourselves from saying that wanting to impact the world is a wireheading-like impulse?

You also talk about meditators ignoring pain, and how the desire to ... (read more)

Fair question. One answer is: wanting to save the world can be a wireheading-like impulse, if it is generated by craving as opposed to some other form of motivation. Likewise, pursuing pleasure and happiness can also be non-wireheading-like, if you pursue them for reasons other than craving. Wanting to avoid death, too, is something that you can pursue either out of craving or for other reasons. For example, you may pursue pleasure: * Because you value it for its own sake * Because experiencing pleasure makes your mind and body work better than if you were only experiencing unhappiness * Because it is useful for releasing craving * Or for some other reason. The difference (or at least a difference) is more in how you react to the possibility of there being obstacles to that goal. Take the dentist example. You might value pleasure and healthy teeth in a non-craving-based way; this leads you to conclude that even though the dentist visit might be unpleasant, overall there is going to be more pleasure if you just go to the dentist right away and get the source of discomfort fixed as soon as possible. You can think about how unpleasant the dentist visit is and weigh it appropriately, without instinctively flinching away from the very thought of that unpleasantness. Or you might have a craving to pursue pleasure and avoid discomfort, in which case even thinking about the dentist visit is aversive. In third-person terms, you have a constraint "do not think about doing unpleasant things", so as soon as you mentally simulate the dentist visit and the simulation includes discomfort, your mind is pushed to think about something else. I call this "wireheading-like" in the sense that you are taking actions which are superficially furthering the goal in the short term (by avoiding the thought of the dentist, you are avoiding some discomfort), but are actually hurting it in the long term (if you just went to the dentist right away, you'd end up with much less discomfo