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I get an uncomfortable feeling, Eliezer, that this work is to ultimately lead to a mechanism to attract:

  • people of libertarian bent

  • people interested in practically unbounded longevity of consistent, continual consciousness

and also lead to a mechanism to tar people disinclined to those two goals; tar them with the label "sentimentally irrational".

Rationality to me is simply a tool. I would have absolutely no confidence in it without the ongoing experiences of applying it iteratively, successfully to specific goals.

And of course, no matter how much you profess your love of mere usefulness, you should never actually end up deliberately believing a useful false statement.

I haven't yet needed to "deliberately believe a useful false statement" (to my knowledge), but I wouldn't be particularly disturbed if I tried to, and found it repeatedly successful. Another tool for my tool belt.

Right now I am having some success with modeling the world over the conditions I care about with:

  • scientific laws (including information theory)

  • mathematics

  • groups of causality graphs, for the same phenomena, in competition

  • specific causality graphs

  • naive Bayesian

  • straightforward use of Bayes' theorem

  • frequentist probability and statistics

  • discrete probability

  • logic

(causality graphs considered can include relations defined by simulation, and all other tools listed. Whatever it is, shove it into a causality graph. I haven't found it useful to restrict the use of anything in a causality graph, particularly if they are forced to compete over the ability to be consistent with past data and predict future results.)

(The list above is somewhat ordered over more applicable to specific situations, to less applicable to specific situations. I attach the lowest confidence to any specific causality graph, more confidence with the graphs in aggregate in competition. I attach more confidence in frequentist analysis over good data, over Bayesian, but Bayesian is applicable in more circumstances.)

I have to deal with finite resource allocation in a manufacturing plant. Where else to use these tools? Possibly an the opportunity from celebrating the differences in all the people working in the plant.

I am often confused by your writing, because I don't see where you have "skin in the game". Where are you exercising your tools of rationality?

Is it all just to make the world slightly more hospitable to libertarians interested in life extension? (No negative judgment if that is the case.)

(Sorry to beg your indulgence of a long post)


A 2% annual return adds up to a googol (10^100) return over 12,000 years

Well, just to point out the obvious, there aren't nearly that many atoms in a 12,000 lightyear radius.

Robin Hanson didn't get very close to 3^^^3 before you set limits on his use of "very very large numbers".

Secondly, you refuse to put "death" on the same continuum as "mote in the eye", but behave sanctimoniously (example below) when people refuse to put "50 years of torture" on the same continuum as "mote in the eye".

Where music is concerned, I care about the journey.

When lives are at stake, I shut up and multiply.

I assert the use of 3^^^3 in a moral argument is to avoid the effort of multiplying. Demonstration: what is 3^^^3 times 6? What is 3^^^3 times a trillion to the trillionth power?

Where am I going with this? I am very interested in improving my own personal morality and rationality. I am profoundly disinterested in passing judgment on any one else's morality or rationality.

I assert that the use of 3^^^3 in a moral argument has nothing to do with someone improving their own personal morality or rationality. It has everything to do with trying to shame someone else into admitting that they aren't A "good little rational moralist".

My comment is an attempt to steer the thread of your (very interesting and well written) posts towards topics that will help me improve my own personal morality and rationality. (I admit that I perceive no linkage between the "wheel in my hand" and the "rudder of the ship", so I doubt my steering will work.)

It appears to be a quite general principle that, whenever there is a randomized way of doing something, then there is a nonrandomized way that delivers better performance but requires more thought.

If I was a casino owner, I would not purchase a non-randomized slot-machine or a non-randomized roulette wheel. (I might if I was running an underground gaming room.)

Two uses of randomness:

  • Have to express a sequence, and need that sequence to have minimal information content about inner state.

  • Don't want to be doomed by history, always want maintain a tiny chance of success.

What other uses am I missing?

The mere fact that you asked that question makes me a little worried about you, manuel.

Uh, thx 4 ur concern. Kthxbye.

I call myself a liberal. Not because I act or think like most self-described liberals, but because the simple word "liberal" sends waves of debilitating revulsion through many people. Precisely the people whom I identify with a low probability of sustaining rational thought.

I am a liberal, but I am profoundly uninterested in coercing change in the beliefs or behavior of others. I find it a full-time job to coerce change in the beliefs and behavior of myself, consistent with goals, values, responsibilities, and personal roles I choose for myself. After working on myself, there is no time or energy left to try to affect others.

Frankly, I have zero confidence in any program of coercing change in the beliefs or behavior of others, regardless of the agency or the means. The specific means always overtake whatever was the initial positive goal. And the outcome becomes waste, sin, or cruelty.

That is what I find puzzling about "Overcoming Bias: The Blog Website". It is interesting when it discusses self-disciplines that are conducive to rationality. It is puzzling when it discusses irrationality of others. Because there is no agency or means to force others to be rational.

Others delight in irrationality. Full stop.

But isn't this just another failure mode of groups working together, which we already know is far from optimal?

Like so many of the other failure modes of groups (stupid but loud people having an over-sized influence, smart but shy people having no influence, stopping exploring the problem/solution space way to early, couching everything in weasel-words, etc), you can do so much better with an iterative process:

  1. Quick brainstorming

  2. Written summary of everything said during brainstorming

  3. All participants work on sub-problems on their own.

  4. All participants present individual findings before whole group.

  5. Repeat (solo-work becoming less about research and more about production as time goes on)

This gets to the heart of one thing I don't understand about "Overcoming Bias: The Blog-site". Is the idea to stamp out bias in others, or is the idea to prevent bias in ourselves?

The only people who have a chance over "overcoming-bias" are the ones striving for a goal under significant constraints. Because the are the only ones willing to shoulder the burden of consistent rationality.

The perfect age of the past, according to our best anthropological evidence, never existed.

Minor point: in defense of the esteemed Taoist, I would argue Chuang Tzu was speaking of the time humans were small groups of hunter-gatherers. Based on my understanding of Jared Diamond's "Agriculture: the worst mistake in the history of the human race".

Back on the point of your post. I am not ashamed to say I listen to Zig Ziglar tapes (I probably should be). His folksy way of putting it is "Do you want to be a learner, or learned?" With "learned" implying that you have mastered a system of thought perfectly suited for a receding past.

Apropos of nothing: you have a lot to say about the discrete Bayesian. But I would argue that talking about the quality of manufacturing processes, one would often do best talking about continuous distributions.

The distributions that my metal-working machines manifest (over the dimensions under tolerance that my customers care about) are the Gaussian normal, the log normal, and the Pareto.

When the continuous form of the Bayesian is discussed, they always talk about the Beta distributions.

I have tried reasoning with the lathe, the mill, and the drill presses, to begin exhibiting the Beta, but they just ignore my pleadings, and spit hot metal chips at me.

The standard frequentist approaches seem like statistical theater. So I am inclined to explore other approaches.

"Resist against being human" is an interesting choice of words. Surely, most people would not see that as a goal worth pursuing.

Nominull nailed it on the head, Eliezer. What are the human qualities worth amplifying, and what are the human qualities worth suppressing?

For myself, "cultishness" is definitely a human group failure mode.

To others, maybe "cultishness" is a comfortable state of being, like relaxing in a warm bath. (Partake in the vivid imagery of a group of nude people in a drowsy state soaking in their collective body-temperature urea solution...)

I assert that the choice of what elements of humanity are worthy, and what are unworthy, is completely personal and subjective. I would be interested in seeing the argument for the differentiation being objective. Is there an objective criteria for what elements of humanity are worthy, and what are unworthy?

A different point: You really demonstrate the value of blogging and independently developing a stable of ideas, and then being able to reference those ideas with terminology backed up by a hyperlink. I am constantly rereading your posts as you link back to them, and it is interesting and profitable.

Have you read Bion's "Experiences in Groups"? He was an English Freudian, so he was extremely passive while observing group behavior, which is fine, because he was also careful to record what was happening.

I am less satisfied with his analysis, because, as a typical Freudian, he always has ad-hoc reasons why any piece of evidence (or its exact opposite) perfectly confirms his theories. Absolutely impossible to falsify.

What I took from it was that, after you establish a concrete, positive goal for a group's interactions, for each and every sub-element of the goal, you can find some element of the human personal dynamic, or the human group dynamic, that will work against it.

It is a strong statement along the lines of Murphy's Law: "Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong". If it is a sub-element of a concrete, positive goal, there will be, in opposition, some element of the human personal dynamic, or the human group dynamic. It is a strong statement you can use to predict failure modes of your particular work group.

* If great progress is being made by the group, the individual identities of the members will lessen in importance. So people will assert their individual identities through disruption, gaining attention.

* If progress of the group demands full attention on the final objective, the group will become paranoid and invent some internal or external bug-a-boo to focus on instead.

My personal take, informed by Buddhism, is that this is not necessarily a bad thing. There should be some push-back on the goals of working groups. 99 out of 100 ideas turn out to be terrible ideas, and so it is a good thing they die from the irrational failure modes of the human personal dynamic or the human group dynamic. If it is a good idea, then it is worth to take care from assaults from human irrationality.

And also, attempting to attack head-on any particular irrational failure mode will only make it stronger. For example, a troll will never have so many defenders as when the group leaders focus in to remove him. Better to use Jujutsu. (Trolls are best countered with neglect leading to boredom.)

Bion's "Experiences in Groups" will give a good sample of failure modes. You can attempt to skillfully steer around them, and keep the group working on the positive goal.

Yours is an interesting idea, keeping a "token" troll around. I would make a rule: any discipline against a troll will be matched by identical discipline against anyone who engages that troll, even in attack. "Feeding the troll" will have precisely the same sanctions as trolling itself.

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