All of Mitchell_Porter's Comments + Replies

Open and Welcome Thread - May 2021

Was there a recent post, where some expert claimed that deep learning can't deal with ... some kind of discreteness? 

What weird beliefs do you have?

That's certainly a weird combination, but I doubt it's the right way to combine those ingredients... 

The AI Timelines Scam

Can you name any of these people? I can't think of anyone who's saying, "I'm dying, so let's cure death / create AGI now". Mostly what people do, is get interested in cryonics. 

The Fall of Rome: Why It's Relevant, And Why We're Mistaken

Welcome to the study of the rise and fall of states, empires, dynasties, civilizations. Also see: Toynbee, Spengler, undoubtedly many other historians east and west. John Glubb's "Fate of Empires" even argues for a specific life expectancy of empires, 250 years. 

Covid 4/22: Crisis in India

On India

it is entirely our responsibility for not accelerating vaccine production in time to help them 

India is the world's biggest vaccine producer, and the cornerstone of the Gavi plan to supply Covid vaccines to poor countries. And when this second wave became evident, I believe they quickly started redirecting their national Covid vaccine production for domestic use. I am not sure what the exact cause of the Indian second wave is, but I don't think you can blame it on America, unless you think it was America's responsibility to foresee and preempt all problems worldwide in beating the pandemic. 

1CraigMichael16d“I don't think you can blame it on America, unless you think it was America's responsibility to foresee and preempt all problems worldwide in beating the pandemic.” A world where we accepted and followed through with these kinds of responsibilities would, overall, be a better one.
2GeneSmith17dI think what Zvi is saying is that we could have helped but won't be able to do much because we made poor choices. Those poor choices are our responsibility.
Hell is wasted on the evil

A good person seeks out opportunities to do good with the desperation of a castaway in the desert seeking out water. They will find it or die trying.

Are opportunities to do good in such short supply? 

4abramdemski23dOpportunities to do the most good are. I guess it's necessary to get a bit technical to explain what I mean by that. I do not mean that the number of maximally-good things is small; that is true, but will be true in most environments. What I mean is that the distribution has a crazy variance (possibly no finite variance); take two "opportunities to do good" and compare them to each other, and an orders-of-magnitude difference is note rare. The water-in-the-desert analogy really falls apart at that point. It's more like an investor looking for a good startup to invest in; successful startups aren't that rare, but the quality varies immensely; you'd much much much prefer to invest in "the next Google/Uber/etc" rather than the next [insert some company from 2010 which made a good profit but which you and I have never heard of].
What weird beliefs do you have?

Starting over ten years ago, there were some similar posts about an "irrationality game", starting here

A Brief Review of Current and Near-Future Methods of Genetic Engineering

This is not what I expected. I thought this article would be about molecular methods of directly altering the genome - CRISPR, artificial chromosomes, etc. 

But instead I only see one method mentioned, and it consists of a quasi-darwinian cycle in which lots of eggs are fertilized, allowed to divide a few times, genetically screened for desired traits, and then cells from these early-stage embryos are used to make a new generation of sperm and eggs so as to repeat the cycle. 

Darwinian evolution consists of variation followed by selection, and here... (read more)

1GeneSmith1moThank you for writing such a thoughtful comment. I have to confess, I probably gave this post the wrong title. For the longest time I simply titled it "Genetic Engineering Part 3" as I wasn't sure what to call it when I first started. I then accidentally left that title in when I first published it and hastily changed it to its current title even though that doesn't quite fit either. You're correct, of course, that I did not comprehensively review all possible techniques for genetic engineering. Most notably among these is whole-genome synthesis, with which we could theoretically create an entire genome with any base pairs we wanted. In my research I estimated that synthesizing a whole human genome from scratch would cost about $200 million. So we still have a few orders of magnitude to go before whole genome sequencing becomes a viable method for creating superhumans. I also have some serious concerns about other much more dangerous uses of whole-genome synthesis. If the technology becomes cheap enough and widely enough available it could become an incredibly dangerous weapon for engineering biological weapons. This is such a big worry that I think pursuing human genetic modification via genome synthesis might actually end up INCREASING the risk of human extinction rather than decreasing it. If there were false positives in a GWAS then the model would have poor performance on the test set. Of course there ARE issues with GWAS predictive power when you try to generalize to other populations with a high ancestral distance from your training set. For example I remember reading about a GWAS for general cognitive ability that predicted about 10% of variance in Europeans, but only 2.5% for people of African descent. However that isn't an issue of false positives. It's an issue of different genes having different frequencies in each population. We could create a good predictor for people of African descent if we had data sets that included more people from those popula
Rationalism before the Sequences

The real question is, is there a historical precursor to /r/SneerClub? Perhaps an SF zine run by someone who didn't like Korzybski and Van Vogt... 

1degsy1moa lot of the new wave stuff feels like a SneerClub sensibility w r t golden age SF
1Astaroth071moYes you are right. Should've mentioned them since leptons are another family altogether

my friend made 50M 

Is that 50 million dollars? Or is it a crypto abbreviation that means something else?

1Michaël Trazzi2moyes that's 50 million dollars
Dark Matters

Some comments informed by Stacy McGaugh's blog (you may know most of this already):  

The rotation curves show a very tight dependence on the amount of baryonic matter alone, something which you might expect from modified gravity sourced by baryonic matter, but not so much, from ordinary gravity sourced by a mixture of baryonic matter and dark matter. 

Lensing is a relativistic effect. The leading phenomenological theory of modified gravity here, MOND, is Modified Newtonian Dynamics, i.e. is defined for the nonrelativistic regime (since the rotatio... (read more)

2Charlie Steiner2moI'm quite curious about whether RelMOND matches the CMB spectrum nearly as well as Lambda-CDM (which has what, 3 free parameters for dark matter and dark energy?), and how much work they had to do to get it to agree. Like, if all you care about is galaxy rotation curves, it's easy to say that dark-matter-theorists keep changing the amount of dark matter they say is in galaxies to match observations (while, symmetrically, baryonic-matter-theorists keep changing the amount of non-visible baryonic matter they say is in galaxies to match observations). But the CMB is significantly more tightly constrained.
I want to die in an infinite universe. How philosophy led me to the deepest heights of indifferent despair.

better explained reasoning 

That final link is my first encounter with Mario Alejandro Montano (1997-2020). It seems he could be a Mitchell Heisman for the 2020s. 

I don't believe the cosmology of reincarnation as a Boltzmann brain, etc. I think the self is grounded in substance. But I hope you complete your articulation of the opposite view. 

Daniel Kokotajlo's Shortform

No nanoscale robotic system ... should be permitted to store more than a small fraction of the digital file containing the instructions to replicate itself.

Will you outlaw bacteria? 

1Gerald Monroe2moI didn't create this rule. But succinctly: life on earth is more than likely stuck at a local maxima among the set of all possible self-replicating nanorobotic systems. The grey goo scenario posits you could build tiny fully artificial nanotechnological 'cells', made of more durable and reliable parts, that could be closer to the global maxima for self-replicating nanorobotic systems. These would then outcompete all life, bacteria included, and convert the biosphere to an ocean of copies of this single system. People imagine each cellular unit might be made of metal, hence it would look grey to the naked eye, hence 'grey goo'. (I won't speculate how they might be constructed, except to note that you would use AI agents to find designs for these machines. The AI agents would do most of their exploring in a simulation and some exploring using a vast array of prototype 'nanoforges' that are capable of assembling test components and full designs. So the AI agents would be capable of considering any known element and any design pattern known at the time or discovered in the process, then they would be capable of combining these ideas into possible 'global maxima' designs. This sharing of information - where any piece from any prototype can be adapted and rescaled to be used in a different new prototype - is something nature can't do with conventional evolution - hence it could be many times faster )
4gilch2moThe point was to outlaw artificial molecular assemblers like Drexler described in Engines of Creation. Think of maybe something like bacteria but with cell walls made of diamond. They might be hard to deal with once released into the wild. Diamond is just carbon, so they could potentially consume carbon-based life, but no natural organism could eat them. This is the "ecophagy" scenario. But, I still think this is a fair objection. Some paths to molecular nanotechnology might go through bio-engineering, the so-called "wet nanotechnology" approach. We'd start with something like a natural bacterium, and then gradually replace components of the cell with synthetic chemicals, like amino acid analogues or extra base pairs or codons, which lets us work in an expanded universe of "proteins" that might be easier to engineer as well as having capabilities natural biology couldn't match. This kind of thing is already starting to happen. At what point does the law against self-replication kick in? The wet path is infeasible without it, at least early on.
Covid 2/18: Vaccines Still Work

A current hypothesis that China is holding off on vaccinating anyone until it can have sufficient supply for the whole country.

According to the article, they've vaccinated 40 million already. 

Cowering To Genocide: Uighur Persecution And The World’s Last Hope

I interpret the Reddit commenter to be saying that whatever the Chinese policy in Xinjiang is, it's not complete deracination. Possibly it's a mix of surveillance for the majority, and intense sinification for the minority considered most at risk ideologically. 

I do not regard the depiction of events in Xinjiang by US State Department, BBC, etc, as particularly objective or reliable. I believe the moral and factual claims made are made in service of political and geopolitical agendas. 

edit: Let me say more about this... The west has been militari... (read more)

Cowering To Genocide: Uighur Persecution And The World’s Last Hope

I cannot improve on the words of redditor @TurkicWarrior: "I think they’re trying to tame the Uyghur people, break their national aspiration and be loyal to China. I don’t think they will take the Uyghur culture away, it’s impractical."

5PatrickDFarley3moYour response to the first-hand claims of forced sterilization, forced "re-education", and banned language is that an anonymous Reddit commenter thinks it's "impractical"?
Covid: Bill Gates and Vaccine Production

Vaccine production, and in particular vaccine production by Pfizer and Moderna, has languished for want of a few billion dollars

Is this actually true? Money is necessary but not sufficient. Concrete problems e.g. of industrial process have to be solved too. 

2ChristianKl3moAccording to BioNTech it's not true and they add no room for funding in 2020.
The True Face of the Enemy

Whether children should be in school is inseparable from the question of how children should live in general, and ultimately, how human life as a whole should proceed. 

For the average modern family, school is not just a place where their children go to learn, it's a place that takes care of the children during the day, while the parents work to earn money. 

This has not always been how life works. One may certainly look to the history of humanity for alternative paradigms. But in general, I think the historical alternative to compulsory schooling ... (read more)

Grey Goo Requires AI

Imagine an airborne "mold" that grows on every surface, and uses up all the atmospheric CO2. You'd need to be hermetically sealed away to escape it, and then the planet would freeze around you anyway. 

Grey Goo Requires AI

These replicators would transform all matter on earth into copies of themselves

A replicator doesn't need the capacity to devour literally all matter (with all the chemical diversity that implies), in order to be a threat. Suppose there was a replicator that just needs CO2 and H2O. Those molecules are abundant in the atmosphere and the ocean. There would be no need for onboard AI. 

1harsimony4moIs it fair to say that this is similar to Richard Kennaway's [] point? If so, see my response to their comment. I agree with you and Richard that nanotechnology still presents a catastrophic risk, but I don't believe nanotechnology presents an existential risk independent of AI (which I could have stated more clearly!).
6avturchin4moAnd it could be made via some modifications of E.Coli or other simple bacteria, like adding ability to fix nitrogen. It almost happened already during Azolla [] event.
Covid 12/10: Vaccine Approval Day in America

At this point, I am not trying to show that lockdowns were an overreaction, so much as I am just trying to understand why events unfolded as they did. 

How did the idea of a national lockdown enter public health contingency plans all over the world? (the idea existed before Covid, but I think people usually envisaged it as a response to a much deadlier pandemic). What are the attributes of Covid which made people regard it as dangerous enough to warrant national lockdowns? (e.g. a lethal respiratory disease, of a kind for which no vaccines existed). Wh... (read more)

Covid 12/10: Vaccine Approval Day in America

you still don't have evidence that lockdowns are benefitting them

I was struck by the case of a political columnist who tweeted an appeal to ordinary people, to just let their businesses fail, rather than risk orphaning their kids; while she herself went about organizing a new online business venture involving dozens of colleagues. 

Lockdowns are hardest on those who are already vulnerable, and on people who can't work from home. But digital society is run by affluent people who spend their working days in front of a computer. It makes sense that they would be much less sensitive to the drawbacks of a stay-at-home policy. 

1TAG4moAnd it still doesn't follow from that , that anything untoward is going on. The events match the narrative where the evil PMCs screw everyone else over, but they also match the narrative where lockdowns are the best solution for everybody. So you still need to disprove that.
Covid 12/10: Vaccine Approval Day in America

lockdowns are to protect the elderly 

Let's suppose we're trying to understand why almost every society on Earth engaged in unprecedented society-wide lockdowns, over a virus which is certainly highly lethal e.g. for people in their 80s, but which is mostly harmless for people in the prime of life. 

I like the theory above - that the lockdowns are to protect the elderly - because of its simplicity. If it's true, it should be possible to present an account of what happened in 2020, in which that thought and intention is central. 

But to develop ... (read more)

1TAG4moThe unprecedented part is the global,not the lockdowns. Staying inside during plagues is well attested historically. Maybe, you are not really saying what is is wrong with the simple account. You keep harping on about the professional managerial classes, but you still don't have evidence that lockdowns are benefitting them, or that they are not benefitting the relatives of poorer people. Wanting to make sacrifices to protect your elderly relatives is not weird.
We desperately need to talk more about human challenge trials.

If you want to make the case that with a different ethos, Covid-19 mortality might have been dramatically lower, it would help to exhibit a scenario in which this happens. 

Much is being made of the fact that mRNA vaccines were first synthesized, very soon after the virus's genetic sequence became available. But this just means that a particular molecular construct (a carrier for spike protein mRNA, I guess) could quickly be synthesized. 

To go from that to mass vaccination, even if we skip trials for efficacy and safety, requires that you know eno... (read more)

100 Tips for a Better Life

To the author of this post: I continue to plead for help. If not from you, there must be someone that you know. 

We desperately need to talk more about human challenge trials.

OK, let's talk about some of the issues that would arise in this scenario. 

Taking an mRNA vaccine means becoming temporarily transgenic. mRNA for Covid spike protein is injected into your muscle cells, they produce it, and this stimulates antibody production. 

In having trials, one is not only testing that the Covid mRNA vaccine is effective against Covid; one is also testing whether the vaccine itself has side effects. 

Are you proposing to move straight to mass vaccination, without testing for vaccine side effects? But if not, how will makin... (read more)

2AllAmericanBreakfast5moYes, I think there are basically three options: 1. Vaccinate with safety and efficacy data (conventional trials) 2. Vaccinate only with efficacy data (early HCTs) 3. Vaccinate with no data (immediate vaccination campaign on development of a vaccine) I'm advocating that option 2 and option 3 be considered as realistic scientific, ethical, and political possibilities during the early stage of a deadly future pandemic akin to the one we face now. Two of the questions I still have are: * What are the worst side effects of any vaccine that's ever been tested? * How frequently do vaccines fail in conventional trials due to safety concerns? This paper finds [] that 33% of tested vaccines have made it through all 3 trial phases. One of the worst consequences of a historically approved vaccine, used as an example by the AAMC [] of why we can't rush a COVID-19 vaccine, was the polio vaccine where 120,000 doses contained live virus. This caused ten deaths. Stack that up against over 1.6 million and counting. Once again, I'm not strictly saying the AAMC is wrong. But they are begging the question. Comparing the historical base rate of deaths due to unsafe vaccines vs. the base rate of expected deaths due to COVID-19 is, on its face, a pretty reasonable and obvious approach to evaluating what we should do. The AAMC glosses right over this issue. They must know it's why many of their readers are looking up the article in the first place. So they're choosing to ignore this line of thinking. I'm asking them to stop ignoring it.
We desperately need to talk more about human challenge trials.

I did some google-research... From wikipedia, I learned that HCTs have already been performed many times, for a variety of pathogens (I didn't know that). So it seems like they are already part of accepted practice. 

I found a reddit thread with comments from a few people who work in the medical industry, remarking e.g. that HCTs would only have come in at Phase 3 and would only have saved a little time. And a PNAS opinion piece giving what I guess is the common opinion among the bioethics establishment, that HCTs are not appropriate for Covid, and the... (read more)

2AllAmericanBreakfast5moI can actually expand on this a little bit for you. HCTs have been run in the past, but only for diseases where we had an efficacious treatment. The reason COVID HCTs would only have been run in the Phase 3 stage is because early in the pandemic, we had no proven-effective treatment. This is a choice based on ethical and political reasoning, rather than science. As Peter McCluskey points out, the choice not to begin an immediate mass-vaccination campaign with the untested mRNA vaccines we had on January 13th is likewise based on political and ethical reasoning, rather than a scientific choice. We now know, of course, that those vaccines were extremely effective. We'd have saved a colossal number of lives if we had. If we'd paused to run HCTs early on and then distributed the vaccines, we'd have still saved the vast bulk of lives that have been lost. It's only because our institutional leaders have made the ethical and political choices they have on our behalf that HCTs appear to be ineffective. We could have made different choices that were equally scientific, but based on different political and ethical reasoning. Continuing with our conventional ethical/political choice cost us over a million lives. Is it worth it? Medical ethicists disagree, none of the experts are talking about it enough, and it's time for them to step it up and for The People to have a say.
We desperately need to talk more about human challenge trials.

I disagree with that one line, mostly - the idea that having "billions" of people "debating" an issue is a meaningful or constructive goal. 

Human challenge trials seem like a useful thing. Although maybe there's some inconvenience because the infected people need to remain quarantined throughout the trial. And maybe there are other considerations that I don't know about, intrinsic to vaccine development, that make it less useful or practical than it seems. 

Those are about the extent of my thoughts on the issue. They are not especially deep. ... (read more)

2AllAmericanBreakfast5moLet's imagine that "billions" is two billion people, and that it takes the reading of one book for each to feel they have an adequate depth of understanding to have an informed opinion on pandemic vaccine testing alternatives. That might be 5 hours per person. Ten billion person-hours is a little over one million person-years. COVID-19 has killed over 1.6 million people so far. If a better approach to vaccine testing could have prevented 2/3 of those deaths, and each person who died lost just one QALY (which I suspect is an unrealistically conservative estimate), then that balances out with the time investment of having two billion people read a book. Consider that over two billion people are certainly spending more than a total of five hours talking and thinking about the pandemic. Having a large part of the time they were going to spend thinking and talking about it anyway devoted to HCTs and other alternative vaccine testing approaches would be a good use of that time. It's also possible that humanity would make the considered decision not to enact an alternative approach because they value conventional medical ethics to that degree. I don't have the hubris to be certain they're wrong. But I am confident that they should consider it. As Peter McCluskey illustrated, although I've thought about this issue way more than anybody else I personally know in real life, I still am nowhere close to adequately educated on the subject. So I feel confident in advocating for mass conversation on the subject, but not for mass adoption of HCTs.
We desperately need to talk more about human challenge trials.

"Billions of people could be having debates ... about human challenge trials." 

There's something peculiar about this way of promoting the idea. Either human challenge trials are worth it, or they are not worth it, or "it depends" (on context, on opinion). It shouldn't require billions of people to figure out something that basic. And if the answer is "it depends", then it's going to depend on medical technicalities or simply on local culture, and again, having billions debate it isn't helpful. 

Whether to have human challenge trials is ultimately ... (read more)

7remizidae5moI strongly disagree with this idea that only a few vaccine experts should be debating the topic. Aside from a few basic technical concepts, the basic question here is ethical. Everyone can judge ethical questions. And if the past year has taught us anything, it’s that medical ethics questions are too important to be left to the experts.
3AllAmericanBreakfast5moI appreciate you commenting! My intuition is that experts need to see public opinion change, as well as that of their colleagues, before they’ll feel comfortable running more HCTs. Without some amount of pressure, our tendency to see inaction as less blameworthy than action will prevent a serious reconsideration of how we do things. Also, even quality expert debate is lacking, as the OP I hope makes clear. Finally, I think that ethics are for everybody. People should have a say in the ethics of the society in which they live. Overall, it’s not clear to me if you just disagree with the one line you picked out, or the substance of the post overall.
4Ericf5moHaving everyone talk about it builds awareness and familiarity in the population, basically ensuring that it becomes politicized, and either guaranteeing it happens next time, or ensures it does not happen, depending on which faction happens to be in power at that time. I mean, Measles Vaccine is already "controversial" and Measles is worse than covid (in both transmissibility and cfr)
An argument for personal identity transfer.

You assume that the conscious part of the brain consists of interacting but independent subunits, whose only property of significance is how they interact with their neighbors. 

This is not the only ontological option. For example, there is the quantum notion of entanglement. There may exist a situation in which there are nominally two entities, but the overall quantum state cannot be reduced to one entity being in one state, and the other entity in a second state. 

Consider a state of two qubits. If the overall state is |01>, that can be decomp... (read more)

Covid 12/10: Vaccine Approval Day in America

Now that western governments are scrambling to approve and deploy vaccines, it must be the beginning of the end of the pandemic in the west, and I am glad of that. But I am concerned that I don't have a coherent understanding of so much of what happened this year. 

Mainstream media reporting is a jumble of anecdotes and numbers without context, but overall their big picture is that this is a disaster and we should all obey the public health restrictions until the authorities tell us that it's over and we're safe. 

I have a sociological explanation ... (read more)

1TAG5moLockdowns aren't actually good for the PMCs, they're just less bad. That being the case, the default explanation that lockdowns are to protect the elderly holds.
The Hard Problem of Consciousness

the description ought to be rewritten to actually resolve ... the problem... The Hard Problem of Consciousness is simply...

Is there a protocol for this sort of thing? 

I don't agree with your answer, but that's not an issue. Less Wrong can have an official position on some topic, and I can disagree with it, and that's alright. I am wondering more about this: how do you decide what the official position is, or if there even is an official position? I have the impression that even among Less Wrong's central organizers and personalities, there isn't consensus on the hard problem. 

4habryka5moMy guess is we should have a bit of discussion and see where people's opinion are before enshrining anything. In this case Jim seems pretty obviously confused to me, given that even Eliezer thinks we are not anywhere close to having solved the hard problem of consciousness. The only thing that his argument is saying is that it requires thinking about algorithms, but we don't actually have a written up version of an algorithm that would give rise to our conscious experience. I do agree that the above should do a better job than to copy the Wikipedia description, which feels a bit confused. But I definitely don't think the problem should be marked as "solved" or anything like it.
Should I do it?

What will your AGI do, once it exists?

3MrLight6moAt the end? I don't know. You will be able to give the AI tasks or problems to solve, but I really don't know what it will make of them in the end. It will be an independent thinking and acting entity.
Spend twice as much effort every time you attempt to solve a problem

In gambling, the strategy of repeatedly "doubling down" is called a martingale (google to find previous discussions on LW), and the main criticism is that you may run out of money to bet, before chance finally turns in your favor. Analogously, your formal analysis here doesn't take into account the possibility of running out of time or energy before the desired goal is achieved. 

I also have trouble interpreting your concrete example, as an application of the proclaimed strategy. I thought the idea was, you don't know how hard it will be to do somethin... (read more)

7abramdemski6moIn the gambling house, we already know that gambling isn't worth it. The error of the martingale strategy is to think that you can turn lots of non-worthwhile bets into one big worthwhile bet by doubling down (which would be true if you didn't run out of money). In the world outside the gambling house, we don't do things unless we expect that they're worth the effort. But we might not know what scale of effort is required. The post didn't offer an analysis of cases where we give up, but I read it with the implicit assumption that we give up when something no longer looks worth the next doubling of effort. It still seemed like a reasonable heuristic. If at the beginning I think it's probable I'll want to put in the effort to actually accomplish the thing, but I want to put in minimal effort, then the doubling strategy will look like a reasonably good strategy to implement. (Adding the provision that we give up if it's not worth the next doubling makes it better.) But let's think about how the analysis changes if we explicitly account for quitting. Say the expected payoff of success is $P. (I'll put everything in dollars.) We know some amount of effort $S will result in success, but we don't know what it is. We're assuming we have to commit to a level of effort at the beginning of each attempt; otherwise, we could just keep adding effort and stop when we succeed (or when we don't think it's worth continuing). We have a subjective probability distribution over the amount of effort the task might require, but the point of an analysis like the one in the post is to get a rule of thumb that's not dependent on this. So instead let's think about the break-even point $Q where, if I've made a failed attempt costing $Q, I would no longer want to make another attempt. This can be derived from my prior: it's the point where, if I knew the task was at least that difficult, my estimation of difficulty becomes too high. However, by only using this one piece of information from
2gwern6moThe doubling strategy also has counterparts in array allocation strategies and algorithmic analysis (it's common to double [] an array's size each time it gets too large, to amortize the copying). Successive Halving [], a racing algorithm, is also of interest here if you think of a portfolio of tasks instead of a single task.
Multiple Worlds, One Universal Wave Function

I don't think that people in different inertial reference frames have to agree about how many worlds there are, indeed I don't even think people in the same inertial reference frame have to agree about how many worlds there are.

At this point I have nothing to say, because there's no coherent concept of 'world' left to debate. 

I think one version is "if the complex amplitude for me having a certain brain state approaches zero, then the probability that I will find myself experiencing having that brain state also approaches zero" 

This could become ... (read more)

6Steven Byrnes6moGood! Maybe we're on the same page there. "World" is not part of the theory and is not a well-defined concept, in my opinion. Hmm, I guess I would propose something like "the complete history of exactly which neurons in a brain fire at which times, to 1us accuracy, is a mind, for present purposes". Then I would argue that different "minds" don't exhibit measurable quantum interference with each other, or we can say "different minds are in different worlds / branches" as a casual shorthand for that, if we want. And there is a well-defined (albeit complicated) way to project the universal wavefunction into the subspace of one "mind", in order to calculate its quantum amplitude, and then you can apply the Born rule for the indexical calculation of how likely you are to find yourself in that mind. Something like that, I guess. I haven't thought it through very carefully, I just think something vaguely like that could work, with a bit more effort to iron out the details. I'm not sure what's in the literature, maybe there's a better approach...
Multiple Worlds, One Universal Wave Function

The point seems so simple to me, I am having trouble expressing it... A wavefunction is the instantaneous state of a quantum system. It is extended spatially. In relativistic space-time, to talk about the instantaneous state of an extended object, you have to define simultaneity. This means choosing a particular decomposition of space-time into spacelike hypersurfaces that are treated as surfaces of simultaneity. In a relativistic universe, you cannot talk about finite time evolution of spatially extended wavefunctions without first breaking space-time int... (read more)

4Steven Byrnes6moHmm. Again, "the universal wavefunction is real" is part of the theory but "it is a superposition of worlds" is not, the latter is just a way to talk loosely about particular situations that sometimes come up. I don't think that people in different inertial reference frames have to agree about how many worlds there are, indeed I don't even think people in the same inertial reference frame have to agree about how many worlds there are. It's not part of the theory. The only other thing that is part of the theory is some kind of indexical axiom, like I think one version is "if the complex amplitude for me having a certain brain state approaches zero, then the probability that I will find myself experiencing having that brain state also approaches zero", or things like that, I think. In my experience when physicists challenge a proposal as being inconsistent with relativity, they try to come up with an example where two people in different reference frames would make different predictions about the same concrete experimental (or thought-experimental) result. Can you think of anything like that? It seems like you have a different demand, which is "people in different reference frames cannot disagree agree about the value of ontologically primitive things" even if the disagreement doesn't shake out as a concrete prediction incompatibility. If so (and sorry if I'm misunderstanding), I guess I just don't see why that's important. Why can't something be both ontologically primitive and reference frame dependent? Like velocity, to take an everyday example. I don't know if it's ontologically primitive, (partly because I'm not sure what ontologically primitive means), but anyway, I don't see why reference frame dependence should count against it.
Multiple Worlds, One Universal Wave Function

A wavefunction is spatially extended. Your description of MWI involves tracking how the properties of a wavefunction change over time. In relativity, that's going to require choosing a reference frame, a particular division of space-time into space and time. 

In a Copenhagen approach to, say, particle physics, that doesn't matter, because everything that is frame-dependent vanishes by the end of the calculation (as does everything that is gauge-dependent). But I don't see how you can reify wavefunctions without also having a preferred reference frame. 

In quantum field theory the wave function is an operator at each point in spacetime, and it works out that everything is consistent with experiments across reference frame changes and nothing travels faster than the speed of light, etc. That's all experimentally established. Can you say again what's the problem?

everything that is frame-dependent vanishes by the end of the calculation

I mean, velocity is frame-dependent, right? You can measure velocity, it doesn't vanish at the end of the calculation... It's different in different reference frames, of co... (read more)

Multiple Worlds, One Universal Wave Function

Well, it seems like the most important part of your answer comes in a subsequent comment 

"how many worlds are there" is not a question with a well-defined answer in Everett's theory

As far as I am concerned, that renders the theory unviable. We-here (as opposed to our copies in slightly divergent branches) inhabit a particular world. We definitely exist, therefore the object in the theory corresponding to our existence must also definitely exist; therefore if its existence is only a matter of degree or definition, then the theory is wrong. 

But at ... (read more)

4Steven Byrnes6moI guess I don't really understand what you're getting at. For example, displacement and 4-velocity and electromagnetic 4-potential are all 4-vectors, such that their components are different in different frames. Whereas, say, the rest mass or electric charge of a particle is a Lorentz scalar, the same in every frame. Is your position that Lorentz scalars have a special status that Lorentz 4-vectors, 4-tensors, etc. don't have, that allows them to be "ontologically fundamental"? If so, why? I haven't ever thought of Lorentz scalars having a special status, and I don't find that notion intuitive. Or sorry if I'm misunderstanding.
Multiple Worlds, One Universal Wave Function

I asked

Which basis do you use in obtaining multiple worlds from a single wavefunction?

evhub replied

Any diagonal basis—the whole point of decoherence is that the wavefunction evolves into a diagonalizable form over time.

Then my next question would be, exactly when in this evolution does one world become many? 

I also asked

How do you deal with relativity?

evhub replied

Just use the Relativistic Schrodinger equation. 

In relativity, wavefunctions will only be defined with respect to a particular reference frame. You have to say which spacelike surfaces ... (read more)

6Steven Byrnes6moSee also discussion here [] ; I'll copy it for convenience: Sometimes you find that the wavefunction|ψ⟩is the sum of a discrete number of components|ψ⟩=|ψ1⟩+|ψ2⟩+⋯, with the property that for any relevant observable A, ⟨ψi|A|ψj⟩≈0fori≠j. (Here, "≈0" also includes things like "has a value that varies quasi-randomly and super-rapidly as a function of time and space, such that it averages to 0 for all intents and purposes", and "relevant observable" likewise means "observable that might come up in practice, as opposed to artificial observables with quasi-random super-rapidly-varying spatial and time-dependence, etc."). When that situation comes up, if it comes up, you can start ignoring cross-terms, and calculate the time-evolution and other properties of the different|ψi⟩as if they had nothing to do with each other, and that's where you can use the term "branch" to talk about them. There isn't a sharp line for when the cross-terms are negligible enough to properly use the word "branch", but there are exponential effects such that it's very clearly appropriate in the real-world cases of interest.
Multiple Worlds, One Universal Wave Function

Sorry, but the Copenhagen interpretation, with the important proviso that observables, not 'the wavefunction', are what's real, is presently the best 'interpretation' of quantum mechanics, because it's the only one that actually works in all situations where QM is applied. 

As someone wishing to understand reality, you are of course free to speculate that the wavefunction is a real thing and not just a step in a calculation, and that it is some kind of multiverse. But if you then wish to proclaim that this is obviously the truth, then the onus is on yo... (read more)

3Signer6moYou can derive practical usefulness of Copenhagen approach from MWI without postulating reality of observables. I never actually heard any coherent arguments in favor of reality of observables. If we giving up on minimizing complexity, why not go all the way to the original intuitions and say that Spirit of the Forest shows you the world consistent with QM calculations? And to avoid misunderstanding: MWI means wavefunction is real, but worlds and Born rule are just arbitrary approximation.
7evhub6moAny diagonal basis—the whole point of decoherence is that the wavefunction evolves into a diagonalizable form over time. Just use the Relativistic Schrodinger equation [].
Cowering To Genocide: Uighur Persecution And The World’s Last Hope

Let's compare this goal of "stopping genocide in Xinjiang" with, say, the goal of "stopping famine in Yemen". The Uighurs are governed by a state which is not within the American sphere of influence. Famine in Yemen is the product of a Saudi blockade that is strategically supported by the United States, because it opposes the expansion of the Iranian sphere of influence. It would make slightly more sense to use the NBA to prevent famine in Yemen, since the United States really does have political leverage there. But nothing would actually change unless som... (read more)

Cowering To Genocide: Uighur Persecution And The World’s Last Hope

I must inform you that this post is very detached from reality. First of all, what is a genocide? I always thought it was the killing (-cide) of a people (geno-), and usually involves the murder of hundreds of thousands. Like Germany killing Jews, or Rwanda killing Tutsis, or Turkey killing Armenians. 

On the other hand, China is not trying to eradicate Uighurs. They're not even trying to deny their existence as a distinct ethnic minority. China has dozens of officially recognized minorities, and I think the Uighurs would be in the top ten as far as po... (read more)

3PatrickDFarley3moSome of these claims have not aged well []. Do you still believe that "China is not trying to eradicate Uighurs" and that the camps are "largely aimed at eradicating religious extremism"? Am I to believe the BBC (along with its named sources) has flat-out lied about all of this?
5Thomas Kwa6moI agree that OP's plan is unlikely to do much good, but I strongly disagree with both the direct meaning and implications of the above sentence. My understanding is that "eradicating religious extremism" is simply the CCP party line and nobody really believes it. Also, whatever the aims of the CCP, we have nearly incontrovertible evidence that their actions include severe human rights violations on a large scale. I've also heard that the fact that the OIC supports China's actions in Xinjiang is response to Chinese bullying [] , not a reflection that they think such actions are good. I'm downvoting this comment because it either (a) shows a lack of caring about human rights, or more likely (b) is needlessly unhelpful because it doesn't start the brainstorm of ways to do good that realistically mesh with the CCP's strategic concerns.
6Viliam6moWe can debate which label is most proper to apply, but I think the article is more concerned about what actually happens [], no matter how we choose to label it. And how mostly no one gives a fuck.

I would argue that this is not an assumption. Something exists; we know that something exists; and we know that we know. What existence "is", what knowledge "is", how and why knowledge is possible - those are challenging questions. But doubting that anything exists, and doubting that there is any knowledge, seems to require willful negation of fundamental phenomenological facts. 

And it's not far from the existence of knowledge to the existence of "evidence", since evidence is just, any fact that has implications for the truth; and it is part of the ma... (read more)

Engaging Seriously with Short Timelines

Hi, for some reason I didn't see this reply until recently. is the most sophisticated sketch I've seen, of how to make human-friendly AI. In my personal historiography of "friendliness theory", the three milestones so far are Yudkowsky 2004 (Coherent Extrapolated Volition), Christiano 2016 (alignment via capability amplification), and June Ku 2019 ("AIXI for Friendliness").

To me, it's conceivable that the schema is sufficient to solve the problem. It is an idealization ("we suppose that... (read more)

3stoat8moThanks! FWIW your high opinion of the project counts for a lot with me; I will allocate more attention to it and seriously consider donating.
Why haven't we celebrated any major achievements lately?

He's a regular on pro-Russian, pro-Chinese political sites. I'm on his mailing list. I was quite surprised to see him here.

Covid 9/10: Vitamin D

"risk factors... notably diabetes"

This was my thought - that vitamin D deficiency here might be a proxy for ill health in general, with other conditions being the true risk.

1[comment deleted]8mo
Covid 8/27: The Fall of the CDC

It's surely time to start modeling the endgame, in the form of vaccination scenarios, starting with critical personnel, and extending to the broader population as more doses become available. Not predictions, there's not enough definite information yet, but scenarios: make some assumptions about how vaccines will work (e.g. are boosts needed every few months) and about when they become available, assumptions that are plausible and that are concrete enough to have definite implications - and then let's see what that looks like, let's see... (read more)

Partially Enlightened AMA

I have heard there was a debate in Tibet once, between a Chinese and an Indian Buddhist, on whether enlightenment can be instant (Chinese, Chan, Zen position) or whether it requires time and analysis (Indian position). Do you favor one side in this debate?

4grumpyfreyr9mo[Epistemic status (am I using this term right?): I am not a scholar, nor well versed in any school of Buddhism. My understanding comes from a combination of personal experience and insight cross-referenced with wikipidea articles []] I see Buddhism as split into two basic schools of thought: I would class that Indian Buddhist as Sutrayana and the Chinese one as Vajrayāna . In simpler terms, one is getting there by taking 'the correct steps', and the other is getting there by understanding what 'there' is, setting it as the goal and leaving the means up to the unconscious mind. Each approach has its limitations. Sutrayana is a lot of hard work. Vajrayāna is confounding to anyone who isn't ready for it. Sutrayana is the one that can be expressed in rational terms. Vajrayāna is mysterious. My way is Vajrayāna, so my attitude is the same as the Chinese Buddist. I'm all like "Why are you working so hard? Just wake up and smell the manure!" But I can appreciate that my way isn't going to suit everyone, and for those who don't get it, learning by rote is better than nothing and will keep them safe until they are ready. So, back to your question, it generally requires time and analysis, but it doesn't have to. Everyone is in the process of running a meaningless marathon to nowhere. They could just stop, but most will not stop unless you give them lots of bricks to carry. --- Shit, I've realised there's more to this story. Even with my path, there is mmmm. Jeez this is a complex topic. There is no inherent need for time. But, taking a long time over it may be preferred. Faster is not always better. The mind is full of shit. Looking at that shit is not comfortable. It becomes comfortable. The first time you see it you scream. The second time you wimper. The third time maybe you just cry a little. And so on until you're like "this is okay actually, I can live with this". And then when you've made peace with that, something els
Many-worlds versus discrete knowledge

Bohmian mechanics is not relativistic and has not been coherently formulated for spin-1/2 or spin 1 fields.

The Copenhagen interpretation is the best (most accurate) interpretation of quantum mechanics, so long as it is understood as a purely "epistemic" interpretation. That is: unlike pre-quantum theories, quantum mechanics does not provide a complete ontology of the world. There are physical properties (the observables) that can take various values, and the theory gives conditional probabilities for these possibilities, but no picture of what h... (read more)

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