“Global poverty, community building, and x-risk through rationality? You’re really hedging your bets!”

mingyuan's Comments

Bay Area Winter Solstice 2019

Yes, please come, we'd love to have you!

DanielFilan's Shortform Feed

fwiw the global poverty part of EA already does a fair amount of work in India. I know EA is a bit (and increasingly) fragmented between different cause areas, but that still might be a useful entry point?

The LessWrong 2018 Review

It does not - it still strips it all out and redirects me. Chrome on a Macbook Pro.

mingyuan's Shortform

Also probably related: habit formation

mingyuan's Shortform

[This is in shortform because I haven't looked into any of the existing literature on the subject]

I've been thinking for a while about how people's mental machinery works. Specifically, I've been thinking about spelling and reading. It's reasonable to assume that everyone has roughly the same mental machinery for spoken language, as this is something that has been a part of human experience for tens of thousands of years. Similarly, you'd expect everyone to have the same mental machinery for loving others, feeling hungry, and other things that were present in the ancestral environment.

Reading, on the other hand, is an 'intellectual technology' that's only been around for a couple thousand years. And of course, along with reading comes writing and spelling.

My housemates and I had a conversation once a couple years ago where we each tried to describe our internal experience of spelling words, and they were so vastly different as to be incomprehensible. For example, for me, words are basically indistinguishable from their spellings - each English word is a chunk, and when I think of a word I just also think of a picture of that word. If asked to spell it, I can read it off from the picture, or I can just say the correct sequence of letters in a way that's introspectively opaque to me.

On the other hand, some of my housemates described having to sound out the word each time (it was stored verbally rather than visually), or other things that were even more foreign to me and that I can't remember because the conversation was two years ago. (But you can imagine another person who has to imagine looking the word up in a dictionary, or typing it on a keyboard, in order to spell it.)

I see this also with the task of memorizing text. For me this is basically trivial - I can memorize hundreds of lines of text in a day or two if I just read through it enough times. One of my housemates, on the other hand, has basically nothing memorized at all, and it's very hard for him to memorize anything. We once went caroling, and even though we sang the same song like 20 times in a row, he just had to hum along in the background because he couldn't learn the words.

The takeaway is that we all have basic mental scaffolding that allows us to develop skills like spelling and memorizing text, but there are many different edifices that we can construct on top of that scaffolding. Some will be more effective than others (e.g. my native memorization machinery is much more effective than my housemate's). This isn't often noted because most people are not as into introspection as the people I know.

Something to note is that, since many of these edifices are constructed from a very young age, one would expect them to be very hard to retrain. For a real example of people building new mental edifices, look at memory palaces - they replace an introspectively opaque, sort of random process with a structured and effective process, but they take time to learn. 

Follow-up thoughts: Could this be leveraged to teach people to spell, or be better at more important things like math or research? Like, instead of saying, "spell this word", you could say, "picture this word in your mind and read off the letters." Except that not everyone has mental imagery? Typical mind fallacy feels related but in a more complex way than just "these are the same topic." 

My lunch break is now over.

The LessWrong 2018 Review

This is also happening to me

Skill and leverage

This feels very much like typical mind fallacy. Sure, for me, cleaning my room and loading the dishwasher are extremely easy, mindless things. But I know some people - my boyfriend, for instance - for whom household chores take up an undue amount of mental energy and are near-physically painful to do. On the other hand, he can happily spend hours trying to figure out a complex physics problem (while for me, this takes an undue amount of mental energy and is near-physically painful). Perhaps a more widespread example is reading books. Some people find it relaxing and do it all the time; other people have to exert a lot of mental violence to do it.

So, forcing my boyfriend to do 'easy' things like doing the laundry or reading a novel is going to be an uphill battle, but it could well be the case that doing AI safety research would, to him, feel like an endless stream of fun. I think that's the point Katja's making. Everybody's different.

Who lacks the qualia of consciousness?

Yes, but not super vividly? Like, there's definitely a spectrum - you have people with aphantasia, and then on the other end you have my sister, who can build a 3D model of a sculpture in her mind, make various changes to it, and then construct it out of clay. My mental imagery is much weaker than that, more like vague impressions with some visual component, or images that are definitely there but fade when I look them head on (like stars).

Who lacks the qualia of consciousness?

I'm not sure if this counts but: the experience you describe as "a vivid sensation of my own presence" is something I only have rarely, in flashes, and it always freaks me out. It's happened to me periodically for my whole life, and I've come to believe it falls under the label of dissociation.

Most of the time, I walk around basically on autopilot. I have feelings and wants, and I can introspect and remember things, but I'm not paying attention to the fact that it's myself doing those things; I just do them. This is very qualitatively different from what it's like to dissociate. When I dissociate, I am very aware that I am a brain in a body, that there's something it's like to be me and not anybody else, that everything around me was constructed by humans, etc. This sounds more like the "vivid sensation" you talked about, but I'm not sure. If so, I don't entirely lack the qualia of consciousness, but I don't have it most of the time, and it freaks me out when I do have it.

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