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A Quick Guide to Confronting Doom

I agree. I find myself in an epistemic state somewhat like: "I see some good arguments for X. I can't think of any particular counter-argument that makes me confident that X is false. If X is true, it implies there are high-value ways of spending my time that I am not currently doing. Plenty of smart people I know/read believe X; but plenty do not"

It sounds like that should maybe be enough to coax me into taking action about X. But the problem is that I don't think it's that hard to put me in this kind of epistemic state. Eg, if I were to read the right blogs, I think I could be brought into that state for a bunch of different values of X. A few of the top of my head that seem plausible:

  • Climate change
  • Monetary policy/hyperinflation
  • Animal suffering

So I don't feel super trusting of my epistemic state. I guess I feel a sort of epistemic learned helplessness, where I am suspicious of smart bloggers' ability to get me to think an issue is important and worth dedicating my life to.

Not totally sure how to resolve this, though I suppose it would involve some sort of "going off on my own and actually thinking deeply about what it should take to convince me"

Searching for outliers

A few more instances of cheap screening of large numbers:

  • I've seen people complain about google-style technical interviews, because implementing quicksort in real-time is probably not indicative of what you'll be doing as a software engineer on the job. But google has enough applicants that it doesn't matter if the test is noisy; some genuinely good candidates may fail the test, but there are enough candidates that it's more efficient to just test someone else than to spend more time evaluating any one candidate
  • Attractive women on dating apps. A man's dating profile is a noisy signal of his value as a partner, but it's extremely cheap for an attractive woman to just "swipe left" and try the next one. This strategy will certainly pass up people who would have made good partners, but the cost of evaluating a new profile is so low that it makes sense to just ignore any profiles that aren't obviously great
An Observation of Vavilov Day

I'll offer up my own fasting advice as well:

I (and the couple of people I know who have also experimented with fasting) have found it to be a highly trainable skill. Doing a raw 36-hour fast after never having fasted before may be miserable; but doing the same fast after two weeks of 16-8 intermittent fasting will probably be no big deal.

Before I started intermittent fasting, I'd done a few 30-hour fasts, and all of them got very difficult towards the end. I would get headaches, feel very fatigued, and not really be able to function from hours 22-30. When I started IF, the first week was quite tough. I'd have similar symptoms as the fasting window was ending: headaches, trouble focusing. But then right around the two week mark, things changed. The symptoms went away, and the hunger became a much more "passive" feeling. Rather than hunger directly causing discomfort, the hunger now feels more like a "notification". Just my body saying "hey, just so you know, we haven't eaten for a while", rather than it saying "you're going to die if you don't eat right this moment". This change has been persistent, even during periods where I've stopped IF.

Both of the two others I've seen try IF have reported something similar, that the first few weeks are tough, but then the character of hunger itself starts to change. Today, I can go 24 hours without eating fairly trivially, ie without much distraction or performance decreases from hunger.

Going 36 will still be a challenge, but some pre-training may make it easier! Of course you may be specifically trying to test your willpower, in which case making it easier may be counter productive. Either way, this seems like a cool idea for a secular holiday. Best of luck! 

AI Safety Needs Great Engineers

I'm in a similar place, and had the exact same thought when I looked at the 80k guide.

Nate Soares on the Ultimate Newcomb's Problem

Yes that was my reasoning too. The situation presumably goes:

  1. Omicron chooses a random number X, either prime or composite
  2. Omega simulates you, makes its prediction, and decides whether X's primality is consistent with its prediction
  3. If it is, then:
    1. Omega puts X into the box
    2. Omega teleports you into the room with the boxes and has you make your choice
  4. If it's not, then...? I think the correct solution depends on what Omega does in this case.
    1. Maybe it just quietly waits until tomorrow and tries again? In which case no one is ever shown a case where the box does not contain Omicron's number. If this is how Omega is acting, then I think you can act as though your choice affects Omircon's number, even though that number is technically random on this particular day.
    2. Maybe it just picks its own number, and shows you the problem anyway. I believe this was the assumption in the post.
How much should you update on a COVID test result?

I remember hearing from what I thought was multiple sources that your run-of-the-mill PCR test had something like a 50-80% sensitivity, and therefore a pretty bad bayes factor for negative tests. But that doesnt seem to square with these results - any idea what Im thinking of?

Secure homes for digital people

I agree. It makes me really uncomfortable to think that while Hell doesn't exist today, we might one day have the technology to create it.

EA Hangout Prisoners' Dilemma

I’m disappointed that a cooperative solution was not reached

I think you would have had to make the total cooperation payoff greater than the total one-side-defects payoff in order to get cooperation as the final result. From a "maximize money to charity" standpoint, defection seems like the best outcome here (I also really like the "pre-commit to flip a coin and nuke" solution). You'd have to believe that the expected utility/$ of the "enemy" charity is less than 1/2 of the expected utility/$ of yours; otherwise, you'd be happier with the enemy side defecting than with cooperation. I personally wouldn't be that confident about the difference between AMF and MIRI.

For those of us who don't have time to listen to the podcasts, can you give a quick summary of which particular pieces of evidence are strong? I've mostly been ignoring the UFO situation due to low priors. Relatedly, when you say the evidence is strong, do you mean that the posterior probability is high? Or just that the evidence causes you to update towards there being aliens? Ie, is the evidence sufficient to outweigh the low priors/complexity penalties that the alien hypothesis seems to have?

FWIW, my current view is something like:

  • I've seen plenty of videos of UFOs that seemed weird at first that turned out to have a totally normal explanation. So I treat "video looks weird" as somewhat weak Bayesian evidence.
  • As for complexity penalties: If there were aliens, it would have to be explained why they mostly-but-not-always hide themselves. I don't think it would be incompetence, if they're the type of civilization that can travel stellar distances.
  • It would also have to be explained why we haven't seen evidence of their (presumably pretty advanced) civilization
  • And it would have to be explained why there hasn't been any real knock-down evidence, eg HD close-up footage of an obviously alien ship (unless this is the type of evidence you're referring to?). A bunch of inconclusive, non-repeatable, low-quality data seems to be much more likely in the world where UFOs are not aliens. Essentially there's a selection effect where any sufficiently weird video will be taken as an example of a UFO. It's easier for a low-quality video to be weird, because the natural explanations are masked by the low quality. So the set of weird videos will include more low-quality data sources than the overall ratio of existing high/low quality sources would indicate. Whereas, if the weird stuff really did exist, you'd think the incidence of weird videos would match the distribution of high/low quality sources (which I don't think it does? as video tech has improved, have we seen corresponding improvements in average quality of UFO videos?).
How To Write Quickly While Maintaining Epistemic Rigor

I really like this post for two reasons:

  1. I've noticed that when I ask someone "why do you believe X", they often think that I'm asking them to cite sources or studies or some such. This can put people on the defensive, since we usually don't have ready-made citations in our heads for every belief. But that's not what I'm trying to ask; I'm really just trying to understand what process actually caused them to believe X, as a matter of historical fact. That process could be "all the podcasters I listen to take X as a given", or "my general life experience/intuition has shown X to be true". You've put this concept into words here and solidified the idea for me: that it's helpful to communicate why you actually believe something, and let others do with that what they will.
  2. The point about uncertainty is really interesting. I'd never realized before that if you present your conclusion first, and then the evidence for it, then it sure looks like you already had that hypothesis for some reason before getting a bunch of confirming evidence. Which implies that you have some sort of evidence/intuition that led you to the hypothesis in addition to the evidence you're currently presenting.

I've wondered why I enjoy reading Scott Alexander so much, and I think that the points you bring up here are a big reason why. He explains his processes really well, and I usually end up feeling that I understand what actually caused him to believe his conclusions.

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