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2012 Less Wrong Census/Survey

Why do I get the feeling that you will tease me about the discrepancy between my probability estimates on aliens in the milky way contra the rest of the universe?

Where are we?

Härnösand, Sweden.

Rationality Quotes November 2009

An enemy is a remedy to a malady in your melody, if you're strong not brittle.

The Cat Empire - Protons, Neutrons, Electrons

Rationality Quotes November 2009

Good. I thought about just writing "Disillusionment is what heroes are made of", to avoid the possibility of confusion, but decided to go with the original quote. It is said by a cynic as an encouragement to a person disillusioned by the behavior of people in groups. It's a call to embrace it. For even if it might be better that the world lives up to your expectations, it would be worse if you didn't have the judgment to realize something is wrong. And it is only the ones who realize something is wrong who will do something about a problem.

Rationality Quotes November 2009

Disillusionment is what little heroes are made of.

E.K. Hornbeck in Inherit the wind

BHTV: Yudkowsky / Robert Greene

With the disclaimer that I'm likely projecting to some extent here, I made this analysis. Hope it's not too offending, it is written with the purpose of having my misconceptions corrected.

Quick summary of what I found interesting.

1) EY asked Greene which he valued most: power or happiness. Greene chose power.

2) EY asked if Greene would imagine a society working if everyone lived after the laws in his book. Greene answered no, but that's not a problem, since most people won't.

3) Greene asked what would motivate people in the absence of the sense of urgency imposed by death.

EY said that people don't fear death, since if so, they would try to solve it. Greene countered with that they are so terrified about death that they get into denial and avoid thinking about death, and therefor don't show the rational behavior Robin Hanson said one should expect.


Greene, like everyone, makes his statements from his own perspective, in which death makes him feel an urgency to get things done. Life is limited, he wants to makes the most of it, and if he doesn't act now it will soon be too late. To make the most of life, he seeks power. One way to power is to use society, another is to become a great wielder of rationality. His path to rationality is to acknowledge death which he sees as inevitable, but in opposition to most people, refuse to become petrified by the fear of it. Therefor the 50th Law.

This combined with the first point seems to reveal a fundamental difference of perspective on the nature of meaning between Greene and EY. Greene accepts death while EY does not, and this makes their values different. I was surprised, but I guess it would make some sense if you don't die: Does EY put value on happiness in disregard of what it represent? Sure, happiness is nice, and there is really no meaning in spending all of your life depressed. But attaching meaning to happiness is a mistake.

Happiness is a reward we get when we reach goals we, or our biology, have set for ourselves. For a reductionist, happiness is just a bunch of chemical in our brains, that we soon will be able to synthesize without adverse effects. If there is inherent meaning to happiness, it would make sense to take a happy ever after pill and just stare at a wall for an eternity. I'm probably interpreting things too much, but don't know why one would ask that question otherwise.

As someone who accept death and wants to make the most of life, how does he measure his success? Greene does not strive for happiness, for he has seen that happy people are content people, who idles away in closed loops of work, food, TV, sleep, not examining their own existence.

From hearing about his book, it would seem he chose comparing himself to other people. Not by what they think about him, but how much more rich and different his life is in content.

Also, we might have found a likely source of bias here. At the end, EY and Greene seemed to agree that people avoid thinking about death because of the fear it invokes. How would this influence their relationship with rationality? If thinking rationally made them feel a deep stab of fear every time they did, Pavlov sez: they'd start avoiding it.

Greene's method to solve this is to accept death, while in the video EY said people can be made to confront death by presenting them with a viable option(in the short term, EY suggested cryonics), thereby making it less scary by giving people hope.

Your Most Valuable Skill

Because I want to be right, I love to be wrong. Or more correctly, to realize why I'm wrong. I'm not sure how it came about, my best guess is it has something to do with humor, but every time I realize I'm wrong, I get happy. It gives me a stupid grin across my face and makes me snicker. It also happens when I realize why someone else is wrong. (as in becoming aware of what mistake they have made, or what information they are missing - not just that they are mistaken!)

Sure, most people want to be right, but they hate to be wrong. They get ashamed, frustrated, blame themselves, and try to avoid it. The problem, I believe, is that they have bundled "being wrong" together with realizing that they're wrong. To avoid these feelings, they unconsciously try to avoid giving up on their beliefs for as long as they can get away with it.

If you want to be right then you should love realizing that you're wrong, because every time you do, you'll get more right.

In short, I guess you would call this skill "being able to update". Just wanted to give my theory of how it works for me, and why so many are bad at it. The reason behind why most people have this faulty behavior is most likely the pursuit of status. Groups don't reward ability to update, in fact they punish it. You lose prestige, they'll call you a flip-flopper, instead of praising your ability to discard false knowledge. Which explains a lot about the state of the world and it's leaders, really!

Open Thread: April 2009

So after all these post about rationalists having problem cooperating, I am left wondering: Cooperate on what? Are there any existing projects to join? As a student I am not able to support by giving any large amounts of money, but I do have time to spare on a worthy cause.