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Inner Alignment: Explain like I'm 12 Edition

Isn't this just "Humans are adaptation-executors, not utility-maximizers", but applied to AI to say that an AI using heuristics that successfully hit a target in environment X may not continue that target if the environment changes?

Open & Welcome Thread—May 2020

What's that SSC post where Scott talks about how he didn't think he terminally valued punishment, but then he was able to think of some sufficiently bad actions, and then he felt what seemed like a terminal value for the punishment of the bad actors?

I went through the titles of his posts over the last year and googled around a bit, but couldn't find it.

hunterglenn's Shortform

Litany of Gendlin

"What is true is already so.
Owning up to it doesn't make it worse.
Not being open about it doesn't make it go away.

"And because it's true, it is what is there to be interacted with.
Anything untrue isn't there to be lived.
People can stand what is true,
for they are already enduring it."

There are a few problems with the litanies, but in this case, it's just embarrassing. We have a straightforward equivocation fallacy here, no frills, no subtle twists. Just unclear thinking.

People are already enduring the truth(1), therefore, they can stand what is true(2)?

In the first usage, true(1) refers to reality, to the universe. We already live in a universe where some unhappy fact is true. Great.
But in the second usage, true(2) refers to a KNOWLEDGE of reality, a knowledge of the unhappy fact.

So, if we taboo "true" and replace it with what it means, then the statement becomes:

"People are already enduring reality as it is, so they must be able to stand knowing about that reality."

Which is nothing but conjecture.

Are there facts we should be ignorant of? The litany sounds very sure that there are not. If I accept the litany, then I too am very sure. How can I be so sure, what evidence have I seen?

It is true that I can think of times that it is better to face the truth, hard though that might be. But that only proves that some knowledge is better than some ignorance, not that all facts are better to know than not.

I can think of a few candidates for truths it might be worse for someone to know.

- If someone is on their deathbed, I don't think I'd argue with them about heaven (maybe hell). There are all kinds of sad truths that would seem pointless to tell someone right before they died. Who hates them, who has lied to them, how long they will be remembered, why tell any of it?

- If someone is trying to overcome an addiction, I don't feel compelled to scrutinize their crystal healing beliefs.

- I don't think I'd be doing anyone any favors if I told D-Day soldiers what their survival odds were.

- If I could talk to people in the Nazi concentration camps, I don't think I'd spend my time "helping" them question the evidence of God.

- I'm not sure that examining the constructed nature of certain moral ideas and rights would be a good idea for at least some people.

The Litany of Gendlin is conjecture supported by fallacy, with no evidence for it, and a great many plausible disproofs.

hunterglenn's Shortform

There are two kinds of great writing.

One is the type where as you work your way through its palatial paragraphs, you find yourself thinking and feeling over and over, "Wow, this is great writing."
Interestingly, the simultaneous sentiment seems always to be "Wow, I read really great writing," which comes accompanied with the sensual pleasure that the beautiful enjoy in mirrors. The pleasure in having arrayed before you the evidence of your greatness. That alone justifies a mirror, and it justifies reading the kind of writing that proves to you that you read "great writing."

Then there is the writing that moves you, teaches you, changes you. It is writing which points to your soul and to the world you live in, not to itself, and not with labels reading "great writing here." The writing that does not have to be proven great, because people will read it and recommend it whether it is "Certified: Officially Great" or not.

I don't think highly of snobbery, and I don't mean to be a reverse snob here, snobbishly looking down on snobs and proudly displaying my *true* superior taste by putting down the books that only the snobby naive think to be great.
And actually, I kind of recognize the fun that people have being snobbish, and don't necessarily begrudge them their fun. There is a place for the kind of writing that dances before you with colored ribbons and then leaves you the same person after, no more educated or purified.

But it's still worth understanding the difference between the two. And while both are valuable, one is the kind that makes a bigger difference in the world. For now, when change is needed and survival is fragile, we need powerful writing. Perhaps someday, when our power extends to every atom of the earth and sky, and nothing can uproot us in our strength, we will find that flowers and flowery writing are all we have use for, and we'll admire those most remarkable souls of times past, who cultivated beauty in a tumultuous world.

But for now, my vote goes for the educational, the insightful, the moving, the powerful. And if we someday live in a world where we can afford to luxuriously look back on them and call them trite and unrefined, this will be their victory.

hunterglenn's Shortform

When you are in a situation, there are too many true facts about that situation for you to think about all of them at the same time. Whether you do it on purpose or not, you will inevitably end up thinking about some truths more than others.

From a truth measure, this is fine, so long as you stick to true statements. From a truth perspective, you could also change which true facts you are thinking about, without sacrificing any truth. Truth doesn't care.

But happiness cares, and utility cares. Which truths you happen to focus on may not affect how true your thoughts are, but it does affect your psychological state. And your psychological state affects your power over your situation, to make it better or worse, for yourself, and for everyone else.

There's a chain of cause and effect, starting with what truth you hold in your mind, which then affects your emotional and psychological states, which then affects your actions, which, depending on if they're "good" or "bad," end up affecting your life. I harp on this so because some people keep thinking thoughts that ruin their mood, their choices, and their lives, but they refuse to just STOP thinking those ruinous thoughts, and they justify their refusal on the truth of the thoughts.

So let's say you're helping to pass food out to stranded orphans, and it occurs to you that this won't matter in a thousand years.
Then it occurs to you that there are so many orphans that this won't make any appreciable difference.
It occurs to you that you'll go about your life in the world afterwards, seeing and hearing many things, and probably none of those things will be any better as a result of what you're doing for these orphans. Not better, not even different.
And what you're doing isn't a big enough change to be noticeable, no matter how hard you look.

So, all of these are factually accurate, true ideas, let's say. Fine. Now what happens to your psychological and emotional state? You perceive the choices before you as suddenly meaningless.

Moving your arm to hand out the food? Pointless.
Picking up another bag of food to carry over to a small group of orphans? What for?
The motivation to act is drained from you. You become pensive and darkly reflective. All actions have lost appeal, your motivation is gone, everything seems harder and heavier, and there's no reason for it: you've essentially talked yourself into a depressive episode.
So, you slowly stand up straight (but not that straight), drop the food, and slowly shuffle away, thinking "deep" nihilistic thoughts about how meaningless everything is.

And if someone could read your mind, they'd say "Hey, stop thinking about those things!"

And you'd say, "I can't. They're true, and I can't just lie to myself about them. Pushing away hard truths is baby-ish and weak, anyway. It's more courageous to confront them head-on. And if that makes you sad, so be it. Only stupid people are happy."

(Interestingly, in order to justify thinking these "true but sad" thoughts, you have let slip in a few falsehoods, half-truths, and logical fallacies)

But, as we already discussed, not thinking about certain, specific truths, doesn't mean thinking falsehoods instead, and it doesn't mean running away from the truth. You can simply choose to think about other truths, and truth does not care, and will not be offended.
You are *already*, whether consciously or not, or randomly or not, choosing to think about some truths rather than others, in every moment. Why not make it non-random, and conscious, and choose to think of the truths that evoke the mental states that you really want?

So, let's say, instead of thinking those "sad but true" thoughts while helping the orphans, you focus on some different, equally true facts.

As you hand out the food, you focus your attention on the face of the child in front of you. None of the faces are disdainful or dismissive. Many are happy or grateful.

Looking at faces is not lying to yourself, it is noticing a true and accurate piece of reality. And your brain is wired to respond to faces, for good or ill. In this case, all the faces you're looking at trigger a pleasant response in your brain. Your brain kicks out certain chemicals, and you feel validated, powerful, admired, like what you're doing matters.

Well, that seems like a better emotional state.

And you can imagine, as true and accurately as you can do it, how the hungry children are feeling, without lying to yourself one iota about any of it. And you can imagine how they feel when the food passes from your hand to theirs.
The next time you hand a child some food, your brain has a miniature explosion, a little burst of positive emotion, as it accurately models how the child feels about this. The child's brain has a strong positive reaction. And since your brain is simulating the child's brain, your brain contains that simulated strong reaction, and you feel a shadow, a half cup-full of the happy explosion in the child's brain.

And you can imagine the eyes of your fellow workers occasionally watching you, noting your diligence as you work steadily in a worthy cause. You can, truthfully, imagine that their opinions of you are probably increasing.
Here, and at every stage, you have a choice, you are at a crossroads, where the devil waits for gullible passersby.

You can always think about how the workers' opinions don't matter, for one of many true reasons. And you can think about all the starving children that won't be fed, and you can think about how we'll all die anyway, so what does it matter? And even if we don't die, this moment will fade away into obscurity and won't matter.

You could do that. And it would have predictable consequences.

Or you could just imagine the workers' opinions of you improving, as they probably are. And your brain is wired to respond to such truths, and will probably give you a nice, clean, swelling, full sort of pleasant joy rising up in your chest, and brightening your eyes.

And as your mood lifts and shows itself in your face and your gait, you can imagine that people will probably notice these cues, consciously or subconsciously, and find themselves attracted to and uplifted by your positive mood and bountiful energy. And knowing that, and noticing how they respond the next time you see their faces, this will likely make you feel even better.

So you feel good, and your actions seem purposeful, and feel motivated, and you work on and on, and it's great, and you go home in a pleasant buzz and a happy haze, and you lay your head on your pillow and drift dreamily off with optimism implicit in your expectations of the future.
You will do such things more from now on.

And no sacrifice of truth was necessary. You must choose which truths you focus on with purpose, and steer the world the way you want it by steering your actions, by steering your emotions, by steering which truths you hold at the forefront of your imagination.

And if, someday, you have to contemplate the lowest and meanest and darkest and wildest and the most terrifying and beastly aspects of life and hell, IN ORDER TO achieve some goal, or to alter your plans, then so be it, and now you deserve to be admired for courageously confronting the hard truths from which most run and shield their eyes and shut their eyes against and drown out with distractions, and all of this at once, to get away.

But if you're just ruining a walk through the park with these thoughts, then you're stupid for being sad, not "deep." And I think this is the habit that some fall into. Every time they think of these sad things, they feel sad and nihilistic and purposeless, but they also feel special and deep and cool, and it's their way of looking down on basically anyone and everyone, because if someone seems better than you in some way, you can strip away their virtue by throwing both of you into the pit and supposing that nothing matters, for one thing. And on top of that, you can pity the poor, happy fool, probably stupid, who doesn't think deep like you, and doesn't know the hidden truths that you know, and probably couldn't handle them, anyway, and aren't you condescending and magnanimous for not destroying their stupid happiness with the terrifying exposition of cosmic meaningless you could totally blow their minds with, and

Yes, you can see why this could become a rut someone could get stuck in.
And the rut sinks deeper with every passing, and when you're far down in the dirt, and working your way through the bedrock, who knows what hell you find yourself in.