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Resolving the Fermi Paradox: New Directions

Parrots and other birds seem to be about that intelligent, and octopi are close.

Perhaps that's an argument for the difficulty of the chimp to human jump: we have (nearly) ape-level intelligence evolving multiple times, so it can't be that hard, but most lineages plateaued there.

Anthropic Atheism

That doesn't look right--if she just flipped H, then THT is also eliminated. So the renormalization should be:

HH: 1/2

HT: 0

THH: 1/4

THT: 0

TTH: 1/4

TTT: 0

Which means the coin doesn't actually change anything.

2013 Less Wrong Census/Survey

Took it. Comments:

  • Hopefully you have a way to filter out accidental duplicates (i.e. a hidden random ID field or some such), because I submitted the form by accident several times while filling it out. (I was doing it from my phone, and basically any slightly missed touch on the UI resulted in accidental submission).

  • Multiple choice questions should always have a "none" option of some kind, because once you select a radio button option there's no way to deselect it. Most of them did but not all.

  • I answered "God" with a significant probability because the way the definitions is phrased, I would say it includes whoever is running the simulation if the simulation hypothesis is true. I'm sure many people interpreted it differently. I'd suggest making this distinction explicit one way or the other next time.

Pinpointing Utility

Your "dimensionless" example isn't dimensionless; the dimensions are units of (satandate - whalefire).

You only get something like a reynolds number when the units cancel out, so you're left with a pure ratio that tells you something real about your problem. Here you aren't cancelling out any units, you're just neglecting to write them down, and scaling things so that outcomes of interest happen to land at 0 and 1. Expecting special insight to come out of that operation is numerology.

Great article other than that, though. I hadn't seen this quote before: "We have practically defined numerical utility as being that thing for which the calculus of mathematical expectations is legitimate." For me that really captures the essence of it.

Group rationality diary, 5/14/12

Hi all, I'm Jeff.

I've started mentally rewarding myself with a happy thought and a smile when I catch myself starting a bad habit ("Hey! I noticed!") instead of castigating myself ("Doh! I'm doing it again!"). Seems to work so far; we'll see how it goes.

I started using the Pomodoro technique today (pick a task, work on it for 25 minutes, break for 5, repeat). I'll had to adjust it somewhat to deal with interruptions during the day, but that wasn't too hard: when I get done with the interruption, I just have less time before the next break. (I'm keeping the breaks at :25 and :55 to make it easier to keep track.)

There are a number of minor tasks that I've been putting off for weeks (or months) that I finished today, just because I was stuck in the middle of a 25-minute assignment and I wasn't allowing myself to switch to something "more important" until then. So so far Pomodoro is very promising.

I allocated the first time block this morning to scraping together my notes and planning for the week. I didn't get a plan made, but I did realize how ridiculously overcommitted I was once I started thinking of tasks in terms of available half-hour slots.

I also have a strong aversion to posting my writing publicly, especially if it reveals anything personal about myself. So this post right here is a direct attempt to overcome that by just doing it. I'm not sure if this is using any specific technique from the minicamp, or just making use of the crazy mental energy from the camp while I'm still feeling it.

Seattle, WA - Less Wrong Meetup - Sunday February 20th, 2:00 PM

During-meetup report: is the meetup still on? Brandon and his sign aren't here, and I don't see a likely group. The waitress had no idea who I was asking about.

Two different baby showers, though. I could join one of those instead.

Update: located one other LWer. We talked about the sequences and whatnot for an hour; then I had to go. On my way out discovered the table with five more folks.

Lesson for next meetup: bigger sign.

Consciousness of simulations & uploads: a reductio

I don't see how this differs at all from Searle's Chinese room.

The "puzzle" is created by the mental picture we form in our heads when hearing the description. For Searle's room, it's a clerk in a room full of tiles, shuffling them between boxes; for yours, it's a person sitting at a desk scratching on paper. Since the consciousness isn't that of the human in the room, where is it? Surely not in a few scraps of paper.

But plug in the reality for how complex such simulations would actually have to be, if they were to actually simulate a human brain. Picture what the scenarios would look like running on sufficient fast-forward that we could converse with the simulated person.

You (the clerk inside) would be utterly invisible; you'd live billions of subjective years for every simulated nanosecond. And, since you're just running a deterministic program, you would appear no more conscious to us than an electron appears conscious as it "runs" the laws of physics.

What we might see instead is a billion streams of paper, flowing too fast for the eye to follow, constantly splitting and connecting and shifting. Cataracts of fresh paper and pencils would be flowing in, somehow turning into marks on the pages. Reach in and grab a couple of pages, and we could see how the marks on one seemed to have some influence on those nearby, but when we try to follow any actual stimulus through to a response we get lost in a thousand divergent flows, that somehow recombine somewhere else moments later to produce an answer.

It's not so obvious to me that this system isn't conscious.

Book Review: The Root of Thought

One of the most popular such ideas is to replicate the brain by copying the neurons and seeing what happens. For example, IBM's Blue Brain project hopes to create an entire human brain by modeling it neuron for neuron, without really understanding why brains work or why neurons do what they do.

No, the Blue Brain project (no longer affiliated with IBM, AFAIK) hopes to simulate neurons to test our understanding of how brains and neurons work, and to gain more such understanding.

If you can simulate brain tissue well enough that you're reproducing the actual biological spike trains and long-term responses to sensory input, you can be pretty sure that your model is capturing the relevant brain features. If you can't, it's a pretty good indication that you should go study actual brains some more to see if you're missing something. This is exactly what the Blue Brain project is: simulate a brain structure, compare it to an actual rat, and if you don't get the same results, go poke around in some rat brains until you figure out why. It's good science.

Understanding your understanding

Where in this system would you place a thorough and accurate, but superficial model that described the phenomenon? If I've made a lot of observations, collected a lot of data, and fit very good curves to it, I can do a pretty good job of predicting what's going to happen--probably better than you, in a lot of cases, if you're constrained by model that reflects a true understanding of what's going on inside.

If we're trying to predict where a baseball will land, I'm going to do better with my practiced curve-fitting than you are with your deep understanding of physics.

Or for a more interesting example, someone with nothing but pop-psychology notions of how the brain works, but lots of experience working with people, might do a far better job than me at modeling what another person will do, no matter how much neuroscience I study.

...to answer myself, I guess this could be seen as a variation on stage 1: you have a formula that works really well, but you can't explain why it works. It's just that you've created the formula yourself by fitting it to data, rather than being handed it by someone else.

[Edit: changed "non-generative" to "superficial"]

Open Thread: February 2010, part 2

Ah, I misunderstood the comment. I just assumed that Gallo was in on it, and the claim was that customers of Gallo failing to complain constituted evidence of wine tasting's crockitude.

If Gallo's wine experts really did get taken in, then yes, that's pretty strong evidence. And being the largest winery, I'm sure they have many experts checking their wines regularly--too many to realistically be "in" on such a scam.

So you've convinced me. Wine tasting is a crock.

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