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My thinking on this point is that the only proper way to respect a great work is to treat it with the same fire that went into making it. Grovelling at Niels Bohr's feet is not as respectful as contending with his ideas and taking them seriously — and expending great mental effort on an intense, focused interlocution is an act of profound respect.

There's a difference between that and discourtesy like what is displayed in the movie scene. Extending courtesy to a kind and virtuous person is a simple matter of justice. Comparing his face to a frog is indelicate, whereas admitting plainly that you find him unattractive is equally as honest without being as hurtful. If he wants a more specific inventory of his physical flaws, he can ask for elaboration.

In The Latter-Day Pamphlets, Thomas Carlyle made a big deal about something he called the human intellect, the beaverish intellect, and the vulpine intellect. With regards to school assignments, these map more or less straightforwardly to the pursuit of excellence in the moment for its own sake, the "good enough" mindset associated with the Chinese phrase "cha bu duo", and finally plagiarism and other forms of cheating.

Of these three, only the former can provide a schoolchild with a profound sense of fulfilment and self-esteem. This does not mean that everyone other than geniuses are screwed. Instead, most children should be working on either material, but should learn it to a higher level of fluency. School in this vision should not be aimed at giving you access to universities for the sake of some credential race, but simply at teaching you skills and rectitude and making you able to take pride in your work.

This then is my vision of what childhood should be: children should learn to read and write, but instead of their classes focusing on giving them as broad a knowledge as possible of these fields, spanning every gimmicky type of fad literature that was popular in some decade or other, they should focus on the fundamentals and develop these so that they can write with clarity, dignity, confidence, etc. Likewise, they should learn mathematics. Introducing them to sociology, philosophy, etc. is however pointless as children do not have the life experience to grasp these at any but the most superficial level, not to mention that it is a rare schoolteacher who is capable of teaching them.

Aside from that, they should get work experience, ideally something more or less artisanal in nature. This need not be traditional crafts like tailoring, but also modern crafts like gamedev, audio engineering, etc. They should of course learn to work seriously and be paid for their work.

In addition to that, they should of course still have plenty of time to play and experiment with things.

This is in many ways a form of preparation for adulthood, but because the children would be achieving excellence in easier tasks instead of struggling at harder tasks, it will also be fulfilling in the short term, not to mention that the skills are much more likely to stick than present schooling is.  

The term "altruism" was at the time of The Fountainhead's writing — or at least at the time of Ayn Rand's youth — used in a much stronger sense than it is now, referring not only to a disposition towards charity, but to something more along the lines of what we'd now describe as selflessness. Since then, memes favourable to self-affirmation have entered the dominant culture from the integration of sexual minorities and especially the black gay scene. Thus, the apparent discrepancy in vocabulary is to at least a certain extent a generational gap.

Setting that aside, I think there is an important distinction between having unnatural categories that lump completely separate phenomena together and having coherent categories that are systematically being used as smears in a case they don't properly refer to. If for example some culture is in the habit of referring to atheists as idiots, it does not mean they are using the word "idiot" in a sense that conflates these two phenomena, but simply that they are trying to insult atheists.

While that distinction is obvious in this case, I do believe it is often accidentally erased in the name of linguistic descriptivism. The meaning of a word is not merely how it is commonly used, but what people intend to convey by it. When people accuse someone of selfishness, they really do mean someone who is highly egocentric and doesn't care about other people. In Ayn Rand's time, it was of course used somewhat more broadly, since it was also considered selfish to care about your own friends, your own family etc. more than your fellow countrymen or indeed the whole human race.

Howard Roark's line there is indeed alluding to the tendency of people to conflate selfishness with narcissism, which does constitute failure to carve reality along the joints, but a similar conversation with Gail Wynand clearly implies that Roark believes this unnatural category stems from people being mistaken about the psychology behind narcissism. Ayn Rand's position is that people have a profound antipathy towards selfishness as she uses the term, much more so than they do towards narcissism of the Peter Keating variety, and that when they do on occasion want to decry narcissism, they do it by associating it with selfishness.

I think you have profoundly misunderstood Ayn Rand's novels. The position you attribute to her, that even self-proclaimed altruists are secretly selfish, is known as descriptive egoism and is something Ayn Rand fervently disagreed with. Her refutation of this view is actually a major part of both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

There's a moment where James Taggart realizes that he was never motivated by material greed:

It was not the knowledge of his indifference to money that now gave him a shudder of dread. It was the knowledge that he would be equally indifferent, were he reduced to the state of the beggar. There had been a time when he had felt some measure of guilt—in no clearer a form than a touch of irritation—at the thought that he shared the sin of greed, which he spent his time denouncing. Now he was hit by the chill realization that, in fact, he had never been a hypocrite: in full truth, he had never cared for money. This left another hole gaping open before him, leading into another blind alley which he could not risk seeing.

What this is getting at is that wealth was merely a means for him to achieve admiration in the eyes of others. While this may still seem selfish, the key realization here is that what he sought admiration for was not his real self, but a facade that was constructed specifically for the purpose of being liked and admired, and which was shaped on the basis of the ideals of others rather than his own ideals. That is, he wishes for others to like not his true self, but the character he has constructed in reverence to their values and prejudices, not even his own.

Here's a second quote where Howard Roark reflects on Peter Keating's life:

"I’ve looked at him--at what’s left of him--and it’s helped me to understand. He’s paying the price and wondering for what sin and telling himself that he’s been too selfish. In what act or thought of his has there ever been a self? What was his aim in life? Greatness--in other people’s eyes. Fame, admiration, envy--all that which comes from others. Others dictated his convictions, which he did not hold, but he was satisfied that others believed he held them. Others were his motive power and his prime concern. He didn’t want to be great, but to be thought great. He didn’t want to build, but to be admired as a builder. He borrowed from others in order to make an impression on others. There’s your actual selflessness. It’s his ego he’s betrayed and given up. But everybody calls him selfish."

You can of course agree or disagree with the reasoning, but she is pretty unambiguously repudiating descriptive egoism.

Ayn Rand's theory of narcissism is that it stems from a lack of confidence in one's ability to survive / thrive independently, so that popularity becomes vitally necessary for one's flourishing. A person confident that he can "make it", in some sense, "on his own" will have a tendency to only care about the opinions of people whose judgements he respects. Compare the following quote from Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality:

"I don't know how to explain to you," Hermione said in a sad soft voice. "I'm not sure it's something you could ever understand, Harry. All I can think of to say is, how would you feel if I thought you were evil?"

"Um..." Harry visualized it. "Yeah, that would hurt. A lot. But you're a good person who thinks about that sort of thing intelligently, you've earned that power over me, it would mean something if you thought I'd gone wrong. I can't think of a single other student, besides you, whose opinion I'd care about the same way -"

(Incidentally, I think Yudkowsky is a lot more influenced by Ayn Rand than he realizes and/or is willing to admit)

Ayn Rand's position is that people are usually born with a certain love of life and confidence in themselves and eagerness to face the world. Some of them lose this, and acquire a feeling of helpless dependence on others, which in turn leads them to value popularity to an unhealthy extent, leading to a narcissism that erodes their sense of self as they more and more habituate to performing a character act shaped according to the values, prejudices, and whims of others. 

For this reason, the Danish translation of The Fountainhead has a title which literally means "only a strong person is free". She would almost certainly have been infuriated at this title, but I think it actually fits pretty well with her view.

It is not describing memetics, which I regard as a mostly confused framework that primes people to misattribute the products of human intelligence to "evolution".

New memes may arise either by being mutated from other memes or by invention ex nihilo - either of which involves some degree of human intelligence. However, if a meme becomes prevalent, it is not because all of its holders have invented it independently. It has rather spread because it is adapted both to the existing memetic ecosystem as well as to human intelligence. Of course, if certain memes reduce the likelihood of reproduction, that provides an evolutionary pressure for human intelligence to change to be more resistant to that particular kind of meme, so there are very complex interactions.

It is not a confused framework - at least not inherently - and it does not require us to ignore the role of human intelligence.

Memetic evolution in this context would not have inclusive genetic fitness as its "outer" objective, so whether memetic evolution can "transfer the skills, knowledge, values, or behaviors learned by one generation to their descendants" is irrelevant for the argument I was making in the post

My argument is that evolution selects simultaneously for genetic and memetic fitness, and that both genes and memes tend to be passed on from parent to child. Thus, evolution operates at a combined genetic-memetic level where it optimizes for inclusive genetic-memetic fitness. Though genes and memes correspond to entirely different mediums, they interact in complex ways when it comes to evolutionary fitness, so the mechanisms are not that straightforwardly separable. In addition, there are social network effects and geographic localization influencing what skills people are likely to acquire, such that skills have a tendency to be heritable in a manner that is not easily reducible to genetics, but which nevertheless influences evolutionary fitness. If we look aside from the fact that memes and skills can be transferred in manners other than heredity, then we can sorta model them as an extended genome.

Not really. The only way our understanding of the biology of taste impacts the story about humans coming to like ice cream is that we can infer that humans have sugar detecting reward circuitry, which ice cream activates in the modern environment. For AI systems, we actually have a better handle on how their reward circuitry works, as compared to the brain. E.g., we can just directly look at the reward counter during the AI's training.

But the reason we can say that it is bad for humans to become addicted to ice cream is because we have an existing paradigm that provides us with a deep understanding of nutrition, and even here, subtle failures in the paradigm have notoriously done serious harms. Do you regard our understanding of morality as more reliable than our understanding of nutrition?

Remember, the context was Yudkowsky's argument that we lack a paradigm to address systematic failures in which reward circuitry fails to correspond to good action. That is, specific understanding like that relating to sweetness and the scarcity of sugars in the ancestral environment, not just a general understanding that tastiness is not necessarily the same as healthiness. Without a clear understanding of the larger patterns to an AI's perceptual categories - the inscrutable matrix problem - it is simply not possible to derive insights analogous to the one about sugar and ice cream. 

Sure there is. Feelings, at least in a typical materialist worldview with an information theoretical theory of identity, are simply cognitive patterns that exist independently in the several approximate copies. The copies, being similar, will ipso facto have similar feelings. That's all there is to it.

When you stipulate uncertainty about this matter, you are unknowingly invoking some kind of soul-intuition. That's the whole point I'm getting at. By "feelings", you are clearly not merely referencing the cognitive patterns of each individual clone as they occur independently in the separate clones. If you were, there would be no mystery about it; nothing to resolve.

Edit: Also, even without running the experiment, it should still be possible to operationalise and to examine what conclusions could be inferred from which experimental results and which experimental results seem more likely. Right now, you seem to be basically blackboxing the whole issue.

I've been thinking about theories of identity lately. Under a strictly information theoretical theory of identity, a person's desire to remain alive is most straightforwardly understood as a kind of sentimental attachment to their own person, such that they want the universe to contain at least one person with these cognitive patterns.

There does not however seem to be any particular reason why it would have to be an exact match. Indeed, it is hard to explain why a person should object to simply being replaced with a more idealised version of himself. Perhaps he wants to go through processes of self-improvement instead of essentially "cheating" his way through life, but that does not apply to fixing birth defects, chronic illnesses, cancer, etc., or simply becoming smarter. Most importantly, assuming an information theoretical theory of identity, there does not seem to be any particular reason why perfect continuity is important. General continuity may be desired out of essentially aesthetic reasons, but consider the following case:

  1. A person has three copies made of himself with extended longevity and better physical health. The copies do not have quite exactly the same cognitive patterns as the original, but they are close enough to be indistinguishable in practice.
  2. One of these takes over his present occupation, hobbies, relationships, etc. The other two dedicate their lives to alternate paths that the original person had to sacrifice because of time constraints.
  3. The original is destroyed.

Obviously, all else equal, the person would wish for the original not to be destroyed, but supposing it were an unavoidable part of the bargain - is there any reason he should refuse? Yet my intuition, and the intuition of most people as far as I can tell, seems to be that he would not survive the bargain, even though the universe still holds one person more or less exactly like him after the fact, as well as two copies living counterfactual life histories.

There seems to be an intuition that something like a "soul" or "Heideggerian Dasein" is bound up with the original in a manner that makes continuity much more relevant than it would otherwise be. Thoughts?

I'm much less STEM-oriented than most people here, so I could just be totally misunderstanding the points made in this post, but I tried reading it anyway, and a couple of things stood out to me as possibly mistaken:

Evolution applies very little direct optimization power to the middle level. E.g., evolution does not transfer the skills, knowledge, values, or behaviors learned by one generation to their descendants.

Am I missing something here, or is this just describing memetics? Granted, skills, knowledge, values, traditions, etc., are heritable in other ways than purely by lineal descent, but parents do also impart these to their children, and these are subject to evolution.

In contrast, I think we can explain humans' tendency to like ice cream using the standard language of reinforcement learning. It doesn't require that we adopt an entirely new paradigm before we can even get a handle on such issues.

But isn't this solely because we have already studied our sensory organs and have a concept of taste buds, and hence flavors like sweet, etc. as primary categories of taste? It is not clear to me that we can do the same thing with regard to eg. ethics, even where humans are concerned. Does this not illustrate Yudkowsky's point about inscrutable matrices?

Ten years late to the thread, but I wanted to make a clarification for people who might see this.

Yudkowsky's characterisation comes from a good faith misunderstanding of what Yarvin (Moldbug) is doing. Yarvin is perfectly capable of separating the normative from the descriptive, but this is much less relevant to his project than to Yudkowsky's. Yudkowsky is trying to solve AI alignment, and therefore ideally needs a very pure conception of the terminal values of humanity, or the coherent extrapolated volition of humanity. But this is purely theoretical axiology, and in the context of political philosophy, it is rather ephemeral. 

Political philosophy is more concerned with the distinction between long term goals and short term goals. This is related to terminal values versus instrumental values, but there is no clear dividing line, since the long term goals are also constrained by material reality and therefore contingent, which contingency separates them from true terminal values. Since a sharp dividing line between long term goals and short term goals would be arbitrary and fail to properly capture the nuances of the spectrum, Yarvin does not draw such a line. He does not however conflate goals belonging to different time horizons, so he is also not committing the "fallacy of grey". 

But the point of a priorism isn't to make empiric predictions in the first place. To examine this, let us consider the example of putting two apples in a bowl, adding another two apples, and being left with four apples. This is often used, erroneously, as an empiric test of 2+2=4, but what you actually have done is not add two and two together but started with four apples and moved them closer together into a single container. That you frame this in terms of addition is somewhat arbitrary, and if you lived in a counterfactual universe where a fifth apple appeared, or, if in the process you somehow managed to destroy one apple, it does not disprove 2+2=4, which we can know is true a priori regardless of any empirical evidence.

Likewise with Austrian economics, at least in the Misesian view; praxeology purports to create a deductively sound framework that is essentially analytical.

On another note, Austrian economics actually begin with Carl Menger, famous as the author of the concept of subjective preferences and mutual gains from trade, ushering in the new paradigm of marginalism to replace the Smithian labour theory of value*. In addition, Mises' concept of acting humans is strikingly similar to Menger's concept of economising persons - if anything, Mises' action axiom is less strict than Menger's.

From division of labour to comparative advantage, the marginal revolution, the vast majority of major contributions to economics came from economists using methodologies that are essentially similar to the Austrian school.

*On LessWrong, the labour theory of value seems to often be misattributed to Karl Marx. This is historically inaccurate, as it was a very mainstream concept until it was replaced by none other than the founder of the Austrian school, ie. Carl Menger.

Edit: Fixed typo

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