JohnWittle

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2014 Less Wrong Census/Survey

I took the survey, now give me my ~40 upvotes.

(is the free karma just an incentive to take the survey? or do 45 people really think that commenting that you took the survey is a valuable contribution to the discussion?)

Open Thread, June 2-15, 2013

Heh, I would have bid 0.5btc if I had known I would be the only bidder...

Problems in Education

Yes, we are for-profit. Most grants stipulate that some proportion of the grant money be spent on an evaluation of the project.

Seduced by Imagination

This is an interesting thought. I started out a heroin addict with a passing interest in wireheading, which my atheist/libertarian/programmer/male brain could envision as being clearly possible, and the 'perfect' version of heroin (which has many downsides even if you are able to sustain a 3 year habit without slipping into withdrawal a single time, as I was). I saw pleasure as being the only axiomatic good, and dreamed of co-opting this simple reward mechanism for arbitrarily large amounts of pleasure. This dream led me here (I believe the lesswrong wiki article is at least on the front page of the Google results for 'wireheading'), and when I first read the fun theory sequence, I was skeptical that we would end up actually wanting something other than wireheading. Oh, these foolish AI programmers who have never felt the sheer blaze of pleasure of a fat shot of heroin, erupting like an orgasmic volcano from their head to their toes... No, but I did at least realize that I could bring about wireheading sooner by getting off heroin and starting to study neuroscience at my local (luckily, neuroscience specialized) university.

Once I got clean (which took about two weeks of a massively uncomfortable taper), I realized two things: the main difference between a life of heroin and a life without is having choices. A heroin addict satisfies his food and shelter needs in the cheapest way possible and then spends the rest of his money on heroin. The opportunity cost of something is readily available to your mind, "I could get this much heroin with the money instead", instead of being a vague notion of all the other things you could have bought instead. There is something to be said for this simplicity. Which leads me to the second realization: pleasure is definitely relative. We experience pleasure when we go from less pleasure to more pleasure, not as an absolute value of pleasure. The benefit of heroin is that it's a very sharp spike in pleasure for a minute or two, which then subsides into a state where you probably are experiencing larger absolute pleasure, but you can't actually tell the difference. Eventually, some 6-8 hours later, you start to feel cold, clammy, feverish; definitely you experience pain. I remember times where i'd be at 12 hours since my last shot, and feeling very bad, but I would hold out a little longer just so that when I finally DID dose, the difference between the past state of pleasure and the current state would be as large as possible.

In fact, being in the absolute hell of day 2 withdrawal, 24-48 hours since last dose, puking everywhere and defecating everywhere and lying in a puddle of sweat, and then injecting a dose which brought me up to baseline over the course of five-ten seconds, without any pleasure in the absolute sense, was just as pleasurable as going from baseline to a near-overdose.

I am glad to be free of that terrible addiction, but it taught me such straight forward lessons about how pleasure actually works that I think studying the behavior of, say, heroin-addicted primates, would be useful.

Fake Reductionism

A better example of an anti-reductionism argument would be the behavior of supercooled helium. I am not a solid state physicist myself, but I have been told by an anti-reductionist that superfluidic helium behaves non-reductionistically. I do not know if this is true. The person also told me that solid state physicists tend to be non-reductionists. I also don't know if that is true, but if I needed to know if reductionism were true, I would immediately go study solid state physics, since superfluidic helium seems to me to have the highest probability, out of any phenomenon I've observed, of being a counterexample.

Qualitatively Confused

I don't think there is ever a direct refutation of religion in the Sequences, but if you read all of them, you will find yourself much better equipped to think about the relevant questions on your own.

EY is himself an Atheist, obviously, but each article in the Sequences can stand upon its own merit in reality, regardless of whether they were written by an atheist or not. Since EY assumes atheism, you might run across a couple examples where he assumes the reader is an atheist, but since his goal is not to convince you to be an atheist, but rather, to be aware of how to properly examine reality, I think you'd best start off clicking ‘Sequences" at the top right of the website.

Problems in Education

It depends entirely on when you were in school. At present day, most of a student's path is determined by whether they are selected for 8th grade Algebra (in fact, if you were to rank all of the factors possible in determining a person's lifetime earnings, the factor at the top would be whether you took Algebra in 8th grade). The 7th grade math teacher's recommendation is the primary factor in this particular decision, and middle school teachers are incompetent at predicting whether a child could succeed at advanced math 4-6 years later.

An Abortion Dialogue

Alright. I can see the usefulness of deontology in determining if an abortion doctor acted in a way worthy of praise or blame, but I feel as though the issue isn't whether or not we put abortion doctors in prison, or whether we allow mothers to have abortions. The issue comes down to whether we want to live in a world where every possible potential human is realized, and has the opportunity to exist. Since humans are just a pattern of neurons, this goal isn't realizable today, since the possible human "JohnWittle who, while writing a comment on a blog, got randomly teleported to the 1800s" doesn't exist and doesn't get to live out his experiences, while we might wish that he did. Every aborted human would have lived a whole life full of experiences, and maybe we would prefer to live in the world where that human had gotten to have those experiences.

Would a superintelligence later be able to simulate all of the possible humans we aborted, and all of the possible (good) experiences those humans might have had, along with every human which could have been made by you and I mating, you and King Loius XIV mating, King Loius XIV and some random peasant in feudal Japan mating, and all the potential offspring of all those potential people, algorithmically generating every possible brainstate which we would call 'good'? Maybe.

In that case, perhaps we are not losing those experiences in an irrecoverable manner. How likely is it to happen this way? Who knows? Is the possibly temporary, possibly permanent loss of those people worth the increase in standard of living for whoever would be affected negatively by being forced to invest in that human? Is having an abortion morally equivalent to simply not conceiving the human in the first place? According to "simplified humanism", we know that Life is Good, regardless of whether the life in question is 20 or 120 or 1020. Does that also apply to life that doesn't exist but could? If we want to believe life is good, period, does that mean we should be creating as much life as possible? Is contraception morally equivalent to abortion? Is abstinence morally equivalent to contraception? Should people not willing to work on the immortality problem be spending all of their time conceiving as many humans as is possible? By not doing so, are we behaving suboptimally towards maximizing our values in the world around us?

I think the reason why the abortion debate is interesting is because there are all of these consequentialism issues surrounding it. If you are in favor of a woman's being able to abort, does that mean you don't actually value life, or are you banking on a future superintelligence giving those potential humans a better life than they would have had in the present time, or is that just a rationalization so you can say you value life when really you just want to maximize your own or your girlfriend's quality of life? If you are against a woman's ability to abort because you value life, are you also against abstinence because you value life? If you value life, does that not mean that you would prefer the presence of life to its absence? Should we be spending our effort on creating more life (through sex, or antiagathics research, or research into shortening pregnancy and/or moving the prenatal stage outside of the woman so she can conceive sooner afterward)?

Even while just looking at the problem through consequentialist eyes, there are still lots of issues to discuss. I had hoped to discuss some of them here, since I personally am a consequentialist who has yet to make up his mind. But if instead we're arguing about deontological issues, then I'll look elsewhere.

Deontology for Consequentialists

I never came across that word during my four years of studying latin. What declension is it?

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