All of komponisto2's Comments + Replies

While obviously the legacy of history always remains a social force to some extent, it's open to question exactly how potent that force is. Clearly it's less potent than it used to be -- but acknowledging this is frowned upon in some circles because it sounds like a concession to the enemy.

(By the way, as this comment demonstrates, it is possible to access accounts automatically created from the importation of Overcoming Bias posts into Less Wrong. One simply uses the password reset function, checks the appropriate e-mail address, and follows the instructi... (read more)

consider Christian Heaven: singing hymns doesn't sound like loads of endless fun

Unless, perhaps, you happen to enjoy music...

(Seriously -- suppose you got to compose your own hymns.)

A general comment: I am tempted to question the wisdom of tying Fun Theory so closely to the aesthetics of storytelling, by discussing the two in such proximity. As we all know, there's not necessarily any correlation between the worlds we would want to live in and the worlds we like to read about. I'm not just talking about Dystopian stories either. I love watching House, but ... (read more)

Music is actually a good big mine of fun (thought naturally it is finite). We seem to need longer to tire of the same piece of music than of say a movie or a book.

TGGP, I'm not going to argue the point that there has been moral progress. It isn't the topic of this post.

Phil Goetz:

Everybody says that not taking the land from the Native Americans would have been the right thing to do; but nobody wants to give it back.

The whole point of my original comment was to refute this very inference. Arguing that taking land from the Native Americans was wrong is not the same as arguing that it should be "given back" now (whatever that would mean). Nor is it the same as wishing we lived in a world where it never happen... (read more)

Michael, I take the point about outliers -- but claims like the one I made are inherently statistical in nature.

Furthermore, it is worth noting that (1) pre-WWI Germany would indeed have to be considered one of the more morally enlightened societies of the time; and (2) the Nazi regime ultimately proved no help to the cause of German scientific and cultural advancement -- and that's putting it way too mildly.

So perhaps this episode, rather than undermining the proposed correlation, merely illustrates the point that even advanced civilizations remain vulnerable to the occasional total disaster.

TGGP, I'm afraid you've committed the moral analogue of replying to some truth claim with a statement of the form: "As a non-X-ist, I don't find the notion of truth to be meaningful".

By "moral progress" I simply mean the sense in which Western civilization is nicer today than it used to be. E.g. we don't keep slaves, burn live cats, etc. (If you have any doubts about whether such progress has occurred, you underestimate the nastiness of previous eras.) In particular, please note that I am not invoking any sort of fancy ontology, so let'... (read more)

Slightly tangential, but I think this needs addressing:

What is the moral argument for not colonizing America?

Literally interpreted, that's a meaningless question. We can't change history by moral argument. What we can do is point to past deeds and say, "let's not do things like that anymore".

If European civilization circa 1500 had been morally advanced enough to say, "let's not trample upon the rights of other peoples", chances are they would already have been significantly more advanced in other ways too. Moral progress takes work, jus... (read more)

Eliezer, although you and Robin agree on the general principle, Robin has signed up with Alcor, while you have signed up with CI. (Despite the fact that you say you could afford Alcor also.) How much of a disagreement is this, and what does it reflect?

More generally, how should one rationally approach this decision?


Komponisto: that definition includes human beings

No it doesn't. I said controlling the weather, not affecting it or influencing it.

Unknown, how about this:

God: a conscious entity capable of controlling the weather.

(At least, I propose these as necessary attributes of a deity.)

Under this definition, I'm pretty sure Eliezer is an atheist. On the other hand, do you dare assert that a typical theist doesn't believe their god could make it rain tomorrow?

To all defending Modern Art: Please point to at least one item available online which exemplifies that which you think I'm ignoring or missing.

Funny -- I didn't actually read the post as an attack on Modern Art. The point seemed to be that, appearances to the contrary, Modern Artists are in fact trying to hit a narrow target, albeit not the one you might at first think. It is presumably this attempted optimization that makes Modern Art (to the extent such a thing does in fact exist) a worthwhile or interesting activity to those who practice it.

Larry D'Anna on Jaynes:

I found the first two chapters of PT:TLOS to be absolutely, wretchedly awful. It's full of technical mistakes, crazy mischaracterizations of other people's opinions, hidden assumptions and skipped steps (that he tries to justify with handwaving nonsense), and even a discussion of Godel's theorems that mixes meta levels and completly misses the point.

Not to mention the totally unnecessary and irrelevant screeds against mainstream pure mathematics in general, which can only serve to alienate potential converts in that discipline (they sure alienated the hell out of me).

Also do we really want to assign a prior probability of 0 that the mathematician is a liar! :)

That's not the point I was making.

I'm not attacking unrealistic idealization. I'm willing to stipulate that the mathematician tells the truth. What I'm questioning is the "naturalness" of Eliezer's interpretation. The interpretation that I find "common-sensical" would be the following:

Let A = both boys, B = at least one boy. The prior P(B) is 3/4, while P(A) = 1/4. The mathematician's statement instructs us to find P(A|B), which by Bayes is eq... (read more)

Bayes gives you an ability to calculate values for different variants with hypotensis in base, not with combinations of it in base. And you don't know by magic that mathematic has one boy, you see something in reality, don't get data from search or question. Of course, you need to use P("i see that mathematic said: i have one boy"), not P("i see that mathematic has one boy"), and also not P("i ask a question: is one of your kids a boy, and get answer: yes").

No, wait -- my question stands!

Do we really want to assign a prior of 0 to the mathematician saying "I have two children, one boy and one girl"?

Never mind -- missed the "If" clause. (Sorry!)

If the mathematician has one boy and one girl, then my prior probability for her saying 'at least one of them is a boy' is 1/2 and my prior probability for her saying 'at least one of them is a girl' is 1/2

Why isn't it 3/4 for both? Why are these scenarios mutually exclusive?

Lara, I don't think they value it "for its own sake" as opposed to as a means to an end; rather, they see it as a necessary condition for achieving their ends, and are worried they don't have what it takes. Nothing but an anxiety trip.

And of course, there's also the ego thing -- when people build superiority over others into their self-image. This is counterproductive, of course. When someone else demonstrates that they're "smarter" than you by offering unexpected insight, you don't fatalistically wallow in jealous misery; you listen to... (read more)

At the risk of asking the obvious:

Does the fact that no one has yet succeeded in constructing transhuman AI imply that doing so would necessarily wipe out humanity?


Robin, the underlying point of the soldier quote (and others like it) is that the liberal society we enjoy comes at a (military) cost. Freedom, as the saying goes, isn't free. If we really want freedom of speech and the like, we had better be prepared to enforce it (ironic though that may seem).

Eliezer, while I think that Caledonian (and perhaps also Richard Hollerith) has apparently missed the whole point of a number of your posts (in particular the recent ones on Löb's theorem, etc), I'm not sure why you are so concerned about people being "fooled". These are comments, which happen to be clearly labeled as not being authored by you. Would anyone really assume that a particular commenter, be it Caledonian or anyone else, has necessarily summarized your views accurately?

Furthermore, for every one such "misrepresentative" comm... (read more)

The flipside of this is the inanity of Southwest Airlines employees with respect to boarding the plane:

As is well known, Southwest doesn't have assigned seats, so the choice of seating is determined by boarding order, with earlier people getting more choices. People want to avoid middle seats, so the natural tendency of later boarders on crowded flights is to keep walking as far as necessary toward the back of the cabin in the hope of finding and empty aisle or window seat. For some inexplicable reason, however, Southwest flight attendants and gate manager... (read more)

Clarification: in the first paragraph of the above comment, when I wrote "The whole point of 'morality' is..." what I meant was "The whole point of non-relativist 'morality' is...".

I'm really having trouble understanding how this isn't tantamount to moral relativism -- or indeed moral nihilism. The whole point of "morality" is that it's supposed to provide a way of arbitrating between beings, or groups, with different interests -- such as ourselves and Pebblesorters. Once you give up on that idea, you're reduced, as in this post, to the tribalist position of arguing that we humans should pursue our own interests, and the Pebblesorters be damned. When a conflict arises (as it inevitably will), the winner will then be whoever... (read more)

Moral realists don't believe in karmic retribution. most popular critiques of MR strawman it as something much stronger than any other kind of realism or objectivism. Objectivisms only require the availability of mind independent truths to those capable of, and interested in finding them.
He's also arguing that the pebblesorters p-shold pursue their own p-interests and we humans be p-damned, for that matter.
Could you taboo "point" and "arbitrating"? I'm not sure if I'm interpreting this correctly.
I don't think so. I don't think it's h-right to destroy or reprogram the pebblesorters, so if we're exploring space and find them, I don't think we'll do that. It may be P-right for them to re-program us to forget about h-right and just start sorting pebbles, though, so we want to watch out to make sure that doesn't happen.. I think the mistake that most "moral relativists" make is that they forget about the shared human morality we all have, and therefore claim that it's all arbitrary and meaningless.

The Second World War, as a whole, was probably the most catastrophic event in humanity's recorded history. The world was pretty much screwed as soon as it started -- indeed, probably as soon as Hitler acquired control of Germany.

For the purpose of saving humanity in the future, it may not be most effective to focus our attention on particular decisions (even apparently large ones) made during the course of the war (indeed, near the end of it); we risk missing the forest for the trees.

Eliezer, you're definitely setting up a straw man here. Of course it's not just you -- pretty much everybody suffers from this particular misunderstanding of logical positivism.

"Untestable" does not mean "untestable by humans using current technology". What it means is untestable, period -- even by (say) a hypothetical being with godlike powers. This is what distinguishes a chocolate cake in the sun from "post-colonial alienation". If a chocolate cake spontaneously formed in the Sun, there would be physical consequences. These... (read more)

1Sunny from QAD3y
How do you know that the phrase "logical positivism" refers to the correct formulation of the idea, rather than an exaggerated version? I have no trouble at all believing that a group of people discovered the very important notion that untestable claims can be meaningless, and then accidentally went way overboard into believing that difficult-to-test claims are meaningless too.
Surely a god would be intelligent enough to recognize post-colonial alienation when he sees it? After all, my professor can, and he's no god!

(Correction: "Tom Tyler" above is a typo for "Tim Tyler")

Tom Tyler: The point [Watson] was making was that that stuff isn't real, it's all actually down to physiology

Eliezer: Tim, that wouldn't argue against Freud.

It's hard to see how any philosophy of mind (whether physicalist, dualist, or idealist) could directly argue against Freud, whose important claims were about psychology itself, not what psychology reduces to.

Eliezer, it's particularly important to make a distinction, as the SEP and Wikipedia articles do to an extent, between "behaviorism" as a methodological stance in the field of psychology (of which Skinner was an advocate), and "(logical) behaviorism" as a position in the philosophy of mind associated with the logical positivists such as Carnap.

Carnap's thesis, as expressed in his 1932/33 article "Psychology in Physical Language", was simply that psychology could (ultimately) be reduced to physics -- a proposition I presume you... (read more)

Growing human brains are wired to learn syntactic language - even when syntax doesn't exist in the original language, the conditional response to the words in the environment is a syntactic language with those words.

This, under the name "universal grammar", is the insight that Noam Chomsky is famous for.

At the risk of revealing my identity, I recall getting into an argument about this with Michael Vassar at the NYC meetup back in March (I think it was). If memory serves, we were talking at cross-purposes: I was trying to make the case that the di... (read more)

A felony conviction within 10 years is usually admissible on the question of credibility if the perpetrator takes the stand.

Does this apply only when the perpetrator lied about the felony conviction (which would be directly relevant to credibility), or just in general (on the theory that people with felony convictions are Bad and thus likely to be dishonest)?

The book How Music Really Works has some decent ideas about the evolution of music.

On the contrary. That is exactly the sort of rubbish that gives evolutionary psychology such a bad name.

The idea that something like music -- an extremely high-level byproduct of human cognition -- could be explained directly as an evolutionary adaptation is absurd enough. (Imagine trying to give a Darwinian account of why chess pieces move in the way they do.) The invocation of sexual selection -- the process that explains the peacock's fancy tail -- borders on the ludicrou... (read more)

Sexual selection only applies in cases of strong sexual dimorphism? That... isn't what I was taught in high school bio class, nor does it square with my understanding of the dynamics of life. Or, at least, that human dimorphism is sufficiently strong for sexual selection effects to begin kicking in.
The cognitive ability required to appreciate music is quite significant relative to the cognitive ability required to perform music.

Douglas Knight:

I've heard that isn't true in tonal languages

Where did you hear that?

It's false. "Tone" as a lexical property of words (as in "tonal languages") is a specific technical concept that is not to be confused with "intonation", which is an essentially universal phenomenon of human speech.

I second Davis: current commenting system fine except for pagination limit and link problems (using both Firefox and IE in my case).

In an ideal world, this would be a reasonable comment. In the real world, with the history of male oppression of women that comes with it, there is an asymmetry that means these things are not equivalent.

Shouldn't we be trying to move our "real world" in the direction of an "ideal world"?

I sometimes get the impression that contemporary sex/race-oppression consciousness is analogous to the Jewish Yom Kippur ritual as Eliezer described it, in which the point is confessing sins, not trying to avoid them and keeping track of how well one ha... (read more)

I agree with your point that it's much more useful to work towards the ideal than it is to merely confess that we haven't yet attained it. However, this is just silly: Modern culture did not spring fully-formed from Zeus's head when the current generation was born; it grew organically from the culture which existed before it, and that it therefore retains historical memes seems almost too obvious to mention. When historical oppression stops being a potent social force, we can stop talking about it like a potent social force. In the meantime, those of us who strive to cull those harmful memes from our culture will not do so by ignoring them.

Caledonian, Sapir-Whorf becomes trivial to abolish once you regard language in the correct way: as an evolved tool for inducing thoughts in others' minds, rather than a sort of Platonic structure in terms of which thought is necessarily organized.

Phil, I don't see how the argument is obviously incorrect. Why can't two works of literature from different cultures be as different from each other as Hamlet is from a restaurant menu?

Even taken this way, I don't see how it abolishes Sapir-Whorf. Different languages are different tools for inducing thoughts, and may be better or worse at inducing specific kinds of thought, which will in turn influence "self"-generated thoughts.

Don't you mean Michael Ruse?

Why does the area under a curve equal the antiderivative?

The rate of area-accumulation is given by the height of the curve, i.e. the value of the function. You can see this easily with constant functions: a horizontal line 2 units above the horizontal axis accumulates area underneath at a rate of 2 square units per unit of length.

At least that's how I like to think about it.

As one who understood linear operators (as mathematics) for years without having a clue what they might have to do with atoms and quarks (and never seeing this spelled out in writing anywhere), I can relate to Eliezer's sentiments.

Out of curiosity, Eliezer, what should the calculus textbooks have said?

Whoa, said I to myself, Steven Pinker is a mysterian?

Well, he had already said as much in How the Mind Works. And also in this conversation with Robert Wright.

Sure, what I just said is logically impossible


Here's an analogy: Suppose you thought you lived on the unit interval [0,1] in the real line. Then experiments showed that whenever you got to 1, you were magically whisked away back to 0. So a clever mathematical physicist, well versed in topology, comes along and says, "Hey! Why don't we just identify 0 and 1 as the same point? That way, we can say that we're living on a circle, instead of a line segment".

Suddenly, a whole new research program emerges. If we're living on a circle, what's its ... (read more)

1/(2*pi). Duh.

Since Scott Aaronson has chimed in, it is worth pointing to this discussion on his blog in which Greg Kuperberg explains the Hilbert space issues from the previous thread.

a function of a real space has uncountable degrees of freedom

Right -- that's exactly the misunderstanding I was addressing in my earlier comment.

An arbitrary function does indeed have uncountable degrees of freedom, but in that context you're notconsidering it as an element of a Hilbert space. (Those degrees of freedom do not correspond to basis vectors.)

Tom McCabe: The category of Hilbert spaces includes spaces of both finite and infinite dimension, so it presumably includes both countable and uncountable infinities.

mitchell porter: But the Hilbert space of a quantum field, naively, ought to have uncountable dimension, because there are continuum-many degrees of freedom.

Given any cardinal number, there exists a Hilbert space with that orthogonal dimension. Note, however, that even if the dimension is uncountable, individual elements are still given by linear combinations with countably many terms. In othe... (read more)


I'd say that I was assuming the continuum hypothesis, except that I'm an infinite set atheist.

Not that again! Let's not mix up the map and the territory. You may not think there are any infinite sets out there in the territory, but mathematics is about the map -- or, rather, mapmaking in general. So it's a category error to jump from the conviction that the "real world" contains only finitely many things to Kroneckerian skepticism about mathematical objects.

For what it's worth, the cardinality of the set of reals is 2^aleph_0. The continuum ... (read more)

I'd thought the Hilbert space was uncountably dimensional because the number of functions of a real line is uncountable

Well, the number of points in a Hilbert space of dimension 2 is uncountable, and yet the space has dimension 2!

I suspect the source of the confusion here is that you're trying to think of the values of a function as its "coordinates". But this is wrong: the "coordinates" are the coefficients of a Fourier series expansion of the function.

The confusion is understandable, given that the two concepts coincide in the finite-... (read more)

I have the same questions for Eliezer as Jadagul and Toby Ord, namely:

  • Why would the space of amplitude distributions have uncountable dimension? Unless I've misunderstood, it sounds like it would be something like L^2, which is separable (has countable orthogonal dimension). (Of course, maybe by "dimension" you just meant the cardinality of a Hamel basis, in which case you're right -- there's no Hilbert space with Hamel dimension aleph_0. However, "dimension" in the context of Hilbert spaces nearly always refers to orthogonal dimensio

... (read more)

suggest that, like ethics,

Link to SIAI blog here broken (404 Not Found).

Michael Vassar:

The classical disproof of positivism is that it is self-contradictory. "Only the empirical can be true", but that statement is not empirical.

I have always been mystified at how this glib dismissal has been taken as some kind of definitive refutation. To the contrary, it should be perfectly obvious that a meta-statement like () a statement is nonsense unless it describes an empirically observable phenomenon is not meant to be self-referential. What () does is to lay down a rule of discourse (not meta-discourse). Its purpose is to ba... (read more)

We can play "maybe"s all day long, but it doesn't seem very helpful unless you can actually show that a mistake has been made.

Richard, the burden of proof is on you. You are in effect making the claim that a certain problem ("reduce consciousness to physics") is impossible to solve. But why should we believe that? When all is said and done, you appear to be saying, "because it seems that way". This is where Eliezer comes in.

In a traditional school environment, grades are the de facto student motivator

Motivator of what? The point is that whatever behavior it is that grades in school serve to motivate, it is not learning per se. Indeed, grades are more often than not a motivator against learning. To quote Eliezer (emphasis added):

"[S]tudents aren't allowed to be confused; if they started saying, 'Wait, do I really understand this? Maybe I'd better spend a few days looking up related papers, or consult another textbook,' they'd fail all the courses they took that quarter.&q... (read more)

Any commited autodidacts want to share how their autodidactism makes them feel compared to traditional schooled learners? I'm beginning to suspect that maybe it takes a certain element of belief in the superiority of one's methods to make autodidactism work

First, "traditional school learning" is itself inherently problematic. Consequently, "belief in the superiority of one's [own] methods" is not hard to acquire.

Second, all actual learning is necessarily autodidactic anyway, because where it takes place is in your own mind, not in your ... (read more)

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