Kaj_Sotala's Comments

The LessWrong 2018 Review

Occasionally I think about writing a review, but then feel like I'm too confused to do so.

Some of my open questions:

  • I'm unsure of what to write. The post says that "A good frame of reference for the reviews are shorter versions of LessWrong or SlatestarCodex book reviews (which do a combination of epistemic spot checks, summarizing, and contextualizing)", but this feels like weird advice for reviewing a blog post, which is much shorter than a book. Especially the "summarizing" bit - for most posts the content is already too short for further summarizing to make sense. This guideline confuses me more than it helps.
  • If I just ignore the guideline and think about what would make sense to me, it would be... something like my longer nomination comments. But I already posted those as nominations. Should I re-post some of them as reviews? That seems silly.
  • I don't know which posts I should review. I won't have the chance to review all of them, so I should pick just a few. But which ones? The post says "Posts that got at least one review proceed to the voting phase", which makes it sound like reviews are like nominations / votes; a post won't be included unless it gets at least one vote. That creates an incentive for me not to review posts I don't like, since even a critical review might cause it to get to the voting stage. So I should probably focus on reviewing the posts that I like. That conclusion does not seem like it's what was intended, though.
  • Also, I'm not sure of how to review posts that I didn't like. The posts that got to this stage are generally decent quality, and I don't have major criticisms of them. If I don't think that something should be included in a collection of best posts, then my reason is generally "I didn't seem to have gotten any lasting value out of it". But someone else did, or else it would not have been nominated. There's no point in me posting a review saying "I didn't get lasting value out of this, but of course someone else might have".
The Actionable Version of "Keep Your Identity Small"

Related: Identities are (Subconscious) strategies

Identities are Strategies towards Goals

Consider a person who prides themselves on their identity as a writer: “I am a writer.” This identity is precious because there is an implicit statement of the form “I am a writer[, and therefore I will have a job, income, status, friends, lovers, and my life will be good].” The implicit statement is the goal to be obtained and the explicit identity is the strategy for achieving that goal. The value of the identity derives from the goal is supports.

I describe these plans as subconscious because more often than not they are not articulated. Many people have an identity around being intelligent, but I expect that if you ask them why this important, they will need a few moments to generate their answer. I also expect that in many cases the belief in the goodness of an identity is absorbed from society and it is social drives which motivate it for an individual. In that case, the full identity statement might go “I am a __ [and therefore society will approve of me]” whether or not an individual would admit it. In the most general case, it’s “I am a __ [and therefore goodness].”

Threats to the Identity are Threats to the Goal

Given that an identity is a strategy for achieving a goal, any threat to the identity is a threat to the goal. The degree of threat perceived is proportional to the importance of the goal and to the extent that the identity is sole strategy for achieving the goal. If someone believes that being a writer is their sole avenue for having a good and fulfilling life, they are going to get upset when that identity is challenged. This holds even if person does not consciously recognize that their identity is part of a plan. It is enough that some part of their mind, S1 or whatever, has firmly stamped “being a writer” as critical for having a good life.

Consider, though, someone who has identities both around being a writer and around being a musician. Suppose that this person has achieved considerable fame and fortune as a musician and resultantly already has wealth, friends, lovers, etc. by dint of this identity alone. I predict that this person will be less bothered by challenges to writing ability than the person who staking themselves on being a writer. If the writer-only has their manuscript rejected, it will be devastating, whereas for the writer-musician, it will be a mere disappointment.

Protect the Goal and the Identity Can Be Free

If threats to identity are really about threats to goal-attainment, then the key to working with identities becomes a) surfacing the hidden goals and, b) ensuring there is security around attaining those goals. Tell the child that they’re not cut out to be writer and they’ll tantrum, but tell them they’re not cut to be a writer yet have phenomenal painting skills, and they might just listen. Substitute one less viable plan for a new and better one. Other variations include exposing that the goal in fact has already been attained, as in the case of the writer-musician above, or recognizing that the identity in fact is going to be an ineffective plan regardless, e.g. giving up on being a goth because you realize that no one thinks goths are cool anyway.

Compare also Richard, whose brain found it really important that "confident" not be a part of his identity.

What is Abstraction?

Worth noting that 'abstraction' has different meanings in different disciplines. For example, Wikipedia has separate articles for abstraction in computer science, abstraction in mathematics, abstraction in linguistics, and abstraction in sociology.

A mechanistic model of meditation

Thank you very much for your kind words. :)

"Introspective awareness" sounds like the right object. Or, more specifically, it definitely feels like it's describing my own experience. And my own, homegrown hypothesis was something like: consciousness is like an echo or picture-in-picture. We can get glimpses of "ourselves" because we can look at / load partial concepts of ourselves into the working memory.

Yeah, that sounds like it's talking about the same thing. I also quite liked the way Mark Lippmann talks about "afterimages", which seems to also be very closely related:

When you look, see, or notice something, there’s a very predictable pattern that then occurs. First, there is your contact with the actual sensory experience. This is very, very brief. Almost immediately, your mind moves to phase two.

In this phase, you are no longer paying attention to the actual sensory experience, but you are instead paying attention to a sort of “afterimage” of the experience. This is what your mind actually collects and takes away from the outside world, and this is what you actually think about, make sense of, and reason about. [...]

Another way to get a sense of afterimages is to generate a short sound or some other sensory experience and then ask how you know it happened. For example, snap your fingers. Ok. How do you know you just snapped your fingers? You remember you did, right?

Unless you wait too long, part of the experience of that memory is the afterimage of you snapping your fingers. And, there’s often a special property of afterimages that you can play with: You can access the afterimage to more fully replay the experience that led to the afterimage. A replay is not available for some experiences and you might lose the replay for the experience if you wait too long before accessing it. Finally, even if a replay isn’t available, the afterimage may still contain some detail that you can inspect.

So, being aware of and using afterimages is one way that you can inspect subtle phenomena, especially phenomena that goes by very fast.

When doing so, there are some caveats to be aware of.

First, it’s good to remember that the afterimage is not a perfect replica of the experience. It is a “tag” that the experience happened, that may contain or evoke some of the structure or phenomenology of the original experience. If you’re using afterimages to investigate experience, you have to make some effort to to separate out what the experience of the afterimage is versus what remains of the original experience.

Second, it’s important to note that afterimages will always have some conceptual contamination. Afterimages are part top down and part bottom up. That is, afterimages are partially composed of what you expect to see. That’s why you can be positive you just saw a bug skitter across the flow but when you look closely it was just some very suggestive dust caught in a draft. The afterimage is what your reflexes and emotions actually react to, and the afterimage is not the same thing as what was actually there. The way to partially get around this is to try to not have preconceptions and to try to take lots of careful observations of the phenomena.

Finally, there’s a subtler point, here. It seems to be the case that you may be able to “take” or “get” an afterimage only if you already have some inkling of what you’re looking for. That is, if you already have some hint of an idea or concept of what’s there. That doesn’t mean you have to have a name for the experience. And, it doesn’t mean that you’ve had to explicitly reflect, before, on some prior occasion, on having those sorts of experiences. I just means that somewhere in your mind there has to be some sort of… familiarity for the experience before you go looking or paying attention in general.

So, how do you get that initial experience, if you can only have the experience if you’ve had the experience? It seems to “bootstrap” slowly, by simply paying attention in the vicinity of what you’re looking for. You brain eventually, faintly discerns a pattern on the edge of experience, and you gain a creeping sense of familiarity that becomes clearer and clearer, until finally you can put your finger on it, haltingly describe it with great difficulty, and maybe finally name it as a thing or break it down into further parts.

A Practical Theory of Memory Reconsolidation

Do you know any person in your life (not necessarily a close one, just someone who you've met at least occasionally) who feels like they express warmth and honesty at the same time? If you do, looking at how they express themselves is one way of getting pointers.

It might also be worth checking whether your problem is just about not knowing what to do, versus your brain having an outright objection to getting what you want. If you can, try to imagine what it would feel like to get love and affection, in exactly the way you would like to have. Take a moment to imagine it in as much detail as you can. Then pay attention to how it feels - is there any trace of unease, of anything not feeling quite right about you having achieved it?

A Practical Theory of Memory Reconsolidation

You mean a concrete example of some LW reader doing memory reconsolidation on themselves? I'm applying updates on a regular basis, though they are mostly small tweaks rather than really big stuff. Can report on some if people are interested.

What are the requirements for being "citable?"

No citations are listed, probably because of the formatting.

What are the requirements for being "citable?"

Google Scholar has already indexed (the AF version of) at least one of my posts.

2018 AI Alignment Literature Review and Charity Comparison

Excellent and useful review. Definitely the kind of thing that I would like to encourage in the future, and which also holds historical interest - what kind of progress was made in 2018?

Load More