Associate yourself with people whom you can confidently and cheerfully outperform the Nash Equilibrium with.
Re: the Repugnant Conclusion, it’s not necessarily my opinion, but there’s a coherent set of moral principles that values A+ over A but also A+ over B-.
It might come from something like rejecting diminishing marginal utility as relates to certain very big questions — thinking that yes, Mozart + five otherwise uncreated good lives of new musicians is better than Mozart alone, but a world of six musicians substantially worse than Mozart is worse than either just Mozart+0 or Mozart+5.
Hmm. At the time of my starting this comment, this is on the frontpage and at +31 after my strong vote up — but it had no comments on it.
This is somewhat unusual — this is normally a group of people that at least one person will quickly comment with a flash first pass impression, introduce a question, talk about something in the domain, link a research paper or share a related quote...
And no one has yet done so.
So, here is my (somewhat meta) take — I read this in bits and pieces, somewhat slowly, over the afternoon and evening between calls and activities, periodically coming back to it in my browser. At first, I was like, ok, I get where this is going; I’m familiar with the general background and theories and I’ve had some of the personal experience of thinking through genes and their implications and how I relate to them, etc. Your personal experience of reasoning about it wasn’t exactly the same as mine, but close enough to be recognizable and it made sense.
Then you build up to your conclusion and there was this significant shift my thinking — I think It happened for me roughly around where you discuss how learning the underlying genetic theories seemed to “hollow out” the lion, but updating your understanding of the genetics didn’t “re-fill” the lion — and I had this experience of, “Oh wait, I think there might be a significant and large hole in my thinking on the topic.”
This combined with the general stylishness of the piece — for lack of a better word — Shakespeare, the image choices, the language choices, etc... left me in an interesting and unusual place I don’t wind up in after reading nonfiction:
The first was a strong intrinsic desire to think this through more clearly before formulating any other opinions on the topic. The second was — again for lack of a better word — a mild form of something like “awe.”
This was a really delightful and interesting read, and I’m grateful for having read it. I can understand why there aren’t any other comments yet, though — it seems like something of sufficient importance that it would not be fitting to make a snap judgment or contribute a tiny detail, since I should spend some time around what not seems to be a large gap in my thinking on this topic that I hadn’t adequately perceived or reasoned through.
So, anyways, that was my experience reading this. Thanks for writing it. “Thought provoking” gets thrown around rather casually these days, but this was very much the strong version of that for me.
First, I love this question.
Second, this might seem way out of left field, but I think this might help you answer it —
One of the BGB's [editor: the German Civil Law Code] fundamental components is the doctrine of abstract alienation of property (German: Abstraktionsprinzip), and its corollary, the separation doctrine (Trennungsprinzip). Derived from the works of the pandectist scholar Friedrich Carl von Savigny, the Code draws a sharp distinction between obligationary agreements (BGB, Book 2), which create enforceable obligations, and "real" or alienation agreements (BGB, Book 3), which transfer property rights. In short, the two doctrines state: the owner having an obligation to transfer ownership does not make you the owner, but merely gives you the right to demand the transfer of ownership.
I have an idea of what might be going on here with your question.
It might be the case that there's two fairly-tightly-bound — yet slightly distinct — components in your conception of "theoretical evidence."
I'm having a hard time finding the precise words, but something around evidence, which behaves more-or-less similarly to how we typically use the phrase, and something around... implication, perhaps... inference, perhaps... something to do with causality or prediction... I'm having a hard time finding the right words here, but something like that.
I think it might be the case that these components are quite tightly bound together, but can be profitably broken up into two related concepts — and thus, being able to separate them BGB-style might be a sort of solution.
Maybe I'm mistaken here — my confidence isn't super high, but when I thought through this question the German Civil Law concept came to mind quickly.
It's profitable reading, anyways — BGB I think can be informative around abstract thinking, logic, and order-of-operations. Maybe intellectually fruitful towards your question or maybe not, but interesting and recommended either way.
I'll review and think more carefully later — out at dinner with a friend now — but my quick thought is that the proper venue, time, and place for expressing discontent with a cooperative community project is probably afterwards, possibly beforehand, and certainly not during... I don't believe in immunity from criticism, obviously, but I am against defection when one doesn't agree with a choice of norms.
That's the quick take, will review more closely later.
Hey - to preface - obviously I'm a great admirer of yours Kaj and I've been grateful to learn a lot from you, particularly in some of the exceptional research papers you've shared with me.
With that said, of course your emotions are your own but in terms of group ethics and standards, I'm very much in disagreement.
The upset feels similar to what I've previously experienced when something that's obviously a purely symbolic gesture is treated as a Big Important Thing That's Actually Making A Difference.
On the one hand, you're totally right. On the other hand, basically the entire world is made up of abstractions along these lines. What can the Supreme Court opinion in Marbury vs Madison be recognized as other than a purely symbolic gesture? Madison wasn't going to deliver the commissions, Justice Marshall (no relation) knew that for sure, and he made a largely symbolic gesture in how he navigated the thing. It had no practical importance for a long time but now forms one of the foundations of American jurisprudence effecting, indirectly, billions of lives. But at the time, if you dig into the history, it really was largely symbolic at the time.
The world is built out of all sorts of abstract symbolism and intersubjective convention.
That by itself wouldn't trigger the reaction; the world is full of purely symbolic gestures that are claiming to make a difference, but they mostly haven't upset me in a long time. Some of the communication around Petrov Day has. I think it's because of a sense that this idea is being pushed on people-that-I-care-about as something important despite not actually being in accordance to their values, and that there's social pressure for people to be quiet about it and give in to the social pressure at a cost to their epistemics.
Canonical reply is this one:
("Canonical" was intentionally chosen, incidentally.)
I feel like Oliver's comment is basically saying "people should have taken this seriously and people who treat this light-heartedly are in the wrong". It's spoken from a position of authority, and feels like it's shaming people whose main sin is that they aren't particularly persuaded by this ritual actually being significant, as no compelling reason for this ritual actually being significant has ever been presented.
From Well-Kept Gardens:
In any case the light didn't go on in my head about egalitarian instincts (instincts to prevent leaders from exercising power) killing online communities until just recently. [...] I have seen rationalist communities die because they trusted their moderators too little.
Honestly, for anything that wasn't clearly egregiously wrong, I'd support the leadership team on here even if my feelings ran in a different direction. Like, leadership is hard. Really really really hard. If there was something I didn't believe in, I'd just quietly opt out.
Now, I fully understand I'm in the minority on this position — but I'm against both 'every interpretation is valid' type thinking (why would every interpretation be valid as it relates to a group activity where your behavior effects the whole group?).
Likewise, pushing back against "shaming people whose main sin is that they aren't particularly persuaded by this ritual actually being significant" — isn't that actually both good and necessary if we want to be able to coordinate and actually solve problems?
There's a dozen or so Yudkowsky citations about this. Here's another:
Let's say we have two groups of soldiers. In group 1, the privates are ignorant of tactics and strategy; only the sergeants know anything about tactics and only the officers know anything about strategy. In group 2, everyone at all levels knows all about tactics and strategy.Should we expect group 1 to defeat group 2, because group 1 will follow orders, while everyone in group 2 comes up with better ideas than whatever orders they were given?In this case I have to question how much group 2 really understands about military theory, because it is an elementary proposition that an uncoordinated mob gets slaughtered.
Let's say we have two groups of soldiers. In group 1, the privates are ignorant of tactics and strategy; only the sergeants know anything about tactics and only the officers know anything about strategy. In group 2, everyone at all levels knows all about tactics and strategy.
Should we expect group 1 to defeat group 2, because group 1 will follow orders, while everyone in group 2 comes up with better ideas than whatever orders they were given?
In this case I have to question how much group 2 really understands about military theory, because it is an elementary proposition that an uncoordinated mob gets slaughtered.
Now it may be the case - a more agreeable part of me wants to interject - that this ritual actually is important, and that it should be treated as more than just a game.But.If so, I have never seen a particularly strong case being made for it.
Now it may be the case - a more agreeable part of me wants to interject - that this ritual actually is important, and that it should be treated as more than just a game.
If so, I have never seen a particularly strong case being made for it.
I made that case last year extensively:
I even did, like, math and stuff. The "shut up and multiply" thing.
Long story short — I think shared trust and demonstrated cooperation are super valuable, good leadership is incredibly underappreciated, and whimsical defection is really bad.
Again though — all written respectfully, etc etc, and I know I'm in the minority position here in terms of many subjective personal values, especially harm/care and seriousness/fun.
Finally, it's undoubtedly true my estimate of the potential utility of building out a base of successfully navigated low-stakes cooperative endeavors is undoubtedly multiple orders of magnitude higher than others. I put the dollar-value of that as, actually, pretty high. Reasonable minds can differ on many of these points, but that's my logic.
Ah, I see, I read the original version partially wrong, my mistake. We're in agreement. Regards.
Hmm. Appreciate your reply. I think there's a subtle difference here, let me think about it some.
Thrashing it out a bit more, I do think a lot of semi-artificial situations are predictive of future behavior.
Actually, to use an obviously extreme example that doesn't universally apply, that's more-or-less the theory behind the various Special Forces selection procedures —
As opposed to someone artificially creating a conflict to see how the other party navigates it — which I'm not at all a fan of — I think exercises in shared trust have both predictive value for future behavior and build good team cohesion when overcome.
I'd be interested to hear various participants' and observers' takes on the actual impact of this event
Me too, but I'd ideally want the data captured semi-anonymously. Most people, especially effective people, won't comment publicly "I think this is despicable and have incremented downwards various confidences in people as a result" whereas the "aww it's ok, no big deal" position is much more easily vocalized.
(Personally, I'm trying to tone down that type of vocalization myself. It's unproductive on an individual level — it makes people dislike you for minimal gain. But I speculate that the absence of that level of dialogue and expression of genuine sentiment potentially leads to evaporative cooling of people who believe in teamwork, mission, mutual trust, etc.)
Reasonable minds can differ on this and related points, of course. And I'm very aware my values diverge a bit from many here, again around stuff like seriousness/camaraderie/cohesion/intensity/harm-vs-care/self-expression/defection/etc.
Great comment. Insightful phrasing, examples, and takeaways. Thank you.
Two thoughts —
(1) Some sort of polling or surveying might be useful. In the Public Goods Game, researchers rigorously check whether participants understand the game and its consequences before including them in datasets. It's quite possible that there's incredibly divergent understandings of Petrov Day among the user population. Some sort of surveying would be useful to understand that, as well as things like people's sentiments towards unilateralist action, trust, etc no? It'd be self-reported data but it'd be better than nothing.
(2) I wonder how Petrov Day setup and engagement would change if the site went down for a month as a consequence.
Interesting thought yeah.
My first guess is there's some overlap but it's slightly orthogonal — btw, it might not have come across in original post, but Butler is a really well-loved teammate who is happy to defer to other guys on his team, set them up for success, etc. He doesn't need to be "the guy" any given night — he just wants his team to win with a rather extreme fervor about it.