Jessica Taylor. CS undergrad and Master's at Stanford; former research fellow at MIRI.

I work on decision theory, social epistemology, strategy, naturalized agency, mathematical foundations, decentralized networking systems and applications, theory of mind, and functional programming languages.

jessicata's Comments

Don't Double-Crux With Suicide Rock

Being able to parse philosophical arguments is evidence of being rational. When you make philosophical arguments, you should think of yourself as only conveying content to those who are rationally parsing things, and conveying only appearance/gloss/style to those who aren't rationally parsing things.

Maybe Lying Doesn't Exist

I don't think it's the crux, no. I don't accept ordinary language philosophy, which canonizes popular confusions. There are some contexts where using ordinary language is important, such as when writing popular news articles, but that isn't all of the contexts.

Maybe Lying Doesn't Exist

For the record, my opinion is essentially the same as the one expressed in "Bad intent is a disposition, not a feeling", which gives more detail on the difference between consciousness of deception and intentionality of deception. (Subconscious intentions exist, so intentional lies include subconsciously intended ones; I don't believe things that have no intentionality/optimization can lie)

"Normal people think you can't lie unawarely" seems inconsistent with, among other things, this article.

Note also, you yourself are reaching for the language of strategic equivocation, which implies intent; but, how could you know the conscious intents of those you believe are equivocating? If you don't, then you probably already have a sense that intent can be subconscious, which if applied uniformly, implies lies can be subconscious.

Act of Charity

[this is a review by the author]

I think what this post was doing was pretty important (colliding two quite different perspectives). In general there is a thing where there is a "clueless / naive" perspective and a "loser / sociopath / zero-sum / predatory" perspective that usually hides itself from the clueless perspective (with some assistance from the clueless perspective; consider the "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" mindset, a strategy for staying naive). And there are lots of difficulties in trying to establish communication. And the dialogue grapples with some of these difficulties.

I think this post is quite complementary with other posts about "improv" social reality, especially The Intelligent Social Web and Player vs. Character.

I think some people got the impression that I entirely agreed with the charity worker. And I do mostly agree with the charity worker. I don't think there were things at the time of writing, said by the charity worker, that I outright thought were false at the time, although some that I thought were live hypotheses but not "very probably true".

Having the thing in dialogue form probably helped me write it (because I wasn't committing to defensibly believing anything) and people listen to it (because it's obviously not "accusatory" and can be considered un-serious / metaphorical so it doesn't directly trigger people's political / etc defenses)

Some things that seem possibly false/importantly incomplete to me now:

  • "Everyone cares about themselves and their friends more" assumes a greater degree of self-interest in social behavior than is actually the case; most behavior is non-agentic/non-self-interested, although it is doing a kind of constraint satisfaction that is, by necessity, solving local constraints more than non-local ones. (And social systems including ideology can affect the constraint-satisfaction process a bunch in ways that make it so local constraint-satisfaction tries to accord with nonlocal constraint-satisfaction)
  • It seems like the "conformity results from fear of abandonment" hypothesis isn't really correct (and/or is quite euphemistic), I think there are also coalitional spite strategies that are relevant here, where the motive comes from (a) self-protection from spite strategies and (b) engaging in spite strategies one's self (which works from a selfish-gene perspective). Also, even without spite strategies, scapegoating is often violent (both historically and in modern times, see prison system, identity-based oppression, sadistic interpersonal behavior, etc), and conservative strategies for resisting scapegoating can be quite fearful even when the actual risk is low. (This accords more with "the act is violence" from earlier in the dialogue, I think I probably felt some kind of tension between exaggerating/euphemizing the violence aspect, which shows up in the text; indeed, it's kind of a vulnerable position to be saying "I think almost everyone is committing spiteful violence against almost everyone else almost all the time" without having pretty good elaboration/evidence/etc)
  • Charities aren't actually universally fraudulent, I don't think. It's a hyperbolic statement. (Quite a lot are, in the important sense of "fraud" that is about optimized deceptive behavior rather than specifically legal liability or conscious intent, especially when the service they provide is not visible/verifiable to donors; so this applies more to international than local charities)
  • "It's because of dysfunctional institutions" is putting attention on some aspects of the problem but not other aspects. Institutions are made of people and relationships. But anyway "institutions" are a useful scapegoat in part because most people don't like them and are afraid of them, and they aren't exactly people. (Of course, a good solution to the overall problem will reform / replace / remove / etc institutions)
  • It seems like the charity worker gets kind of embarrassed at the end and doesn't have good answers about why they aren't doing something greater, so changes the subject. Which is... kind of related to the lack of self-efficacy I was feeling at the time of writing. (In general, it's some combination of actually hard and emotionally difficult to figure out what ambitious things to do given an understanding like this one) Of course, being evasive when it's locally convenient is very much in character for the charity worker.
Maybe Lying Doesn't Exist

The concept of "not an argument" seems useful; "you're rationalizing" isn't an argument (unless it has evidence accompanying it). (This handles point 1)

I don't really believe in tabooing discussion of mental states on the basis that they're private, that seems like being intentionally stupid and blind, and puts a (low) ceiling on how much sense can be made of the world. (Truth is entangled!) Of course it can derail discussions but again, "not an argument". (Eliezer's post says it's "dangerous" without elaborating, that's basically giving a command rather than a model, which I'm suspicious of)

There's a legitimate concern about blame/scapegoating but things can be worded to avoid that. (I think Wei did a good job here, noting that the intention is probably subconscious)

With someone like Gleb it's useful to be able to point out to at least some people (possibly including him) that he's doing stupid/harmful actions repeatedly in a pattern that suggests optimization. So people can build a model of what's going on (which HAS to include mental states, since they're a causally very important part of the universe!) and take appropriate action. If you can't talk about adversarial optimization pressures you're probably owned by them (and being owned by them would lead to not feeling safe talking about them).

Dialogue on Appeals to Consequences

I think that you must agree with this?

Yes, and Carter is arguing in a context where it's easy to shift the discourse norms, since there are few people present in the conversation.

LW doesn't have that many active users, it's possible to write posts arguing for discourse norms, sometimes to convince moderators they are good, etc.

and it is often reasonable to say “Hey man, I don’t think you should say that here in this context where bystanders will overhear you.”

Sure, and also "that's just your opinion, man, so I'll keep talking" is often a valid response to that. It's important not to bias towards saying exposing information is risky while hiding it is not.

Maybe Lying Doesn't Exist

Treat it as a thing that might or might not be true, like other things? Sometimes it's hard to tell whether it's true, and in those cases it's useful to be able to say something like "well, maybe, can't know for sure".

Dialogue on Appeals to Consequences

Bidding to move to a private space isn't necessarily bad but at the same time it's not an argument. "I want to take this private" doesn't argue for any object-level position.

It seems that the text of what you're saying implies you think humans have no agency over discourse norms, regulations, rules of games, etc, but that seems absurd so I don't think you actually believe that. Perhaps you've given up on affecting them, though.

("What wins" is underdetermined given choice is involved in what wins; you can't extrapolate from two player zero sum games (where there's basically one best strategy) to multi player zero sum games (where there isn't, at least due to coalitional dynamics implying a "weaker" player can win by getting more supporters))

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