All of mtraven's Comments + Replies

Politics is the Mind-Killer

No offense taken.

BTW I have written quite a bit since 2007(!) on the relationship of rationalism and politics, see here for a starting pont.

Politics is the Mind-Killer

Probably make some snarky remark about how people who think they are free of politics are in reality in the grip of one of the more deadly forms of it.

Btw, "you" was "general you", not you personally, and mine was trying to piggyback. Post edited to clarify.
Teaching Introspection

After posting that I felt even more unsure about my assertion about Buddhism and introspection than I had indicated, so did some's some support from an actual Buddhist, though I'm guessing there is a wide variety of opinion on this question.

Teaching Introspection

I exaggerated a bit. The points I was trying to make: we can only weakly introspect; the term "introspection" is misleading (I think "reflection", mentioned by another commenter, is better); we are in a strong sense strangers to ourselves, and our apparent ability to introspect is misleading.

I am only a dabbler in meditation and Buddhism, but I think an actual Buddhist would NOT characterize meditation as introspection. The point of it is not to have a self more aware of itself, but to reveal the illusory nature of the self (I'm sure that is a drastic oversimplification, at best).

I agree that "reflection" is the best term for what people can do. It does make sense to associate the strongest term, "introspection", with the strongest belief, the naive one.
After posting that I felt even more unsure about my assertion about Buddhism and introspection than I had indicated, so did some's some support [] from an actual Buddhist, though I'm guessing there is a wide variety of opinion on this question.
Teaching Introspection

I think you miss the point of the linked article, which is not that we are "not very good" at introspection, but that introspection is literally impossible. We don't have any better access to our own brain processes than we do to a random persons. We don't have little instruments hooked up to our internal mental mechanisms telling us what's going on. I fear that people who think they do are somewhat fooling themselves.

That doesn't mean we can't have models of ourselves, or think about how the brain works, or notice patterns of mental behavior ... (read more)

To me, it seemed like the article said only that we were unexpectedly bad at introspection when actually trying it in practice, not that it was impossible for anyone ever to do any kind of introspection.
That's not entirely true. The various kinds of rationalization, for example, each have their own distinct feeling once I learned to recognize when I was doing them. I suspect the analogy to biofeedback training is a good one; I would guess the experience of e.g. learning how to control your blood pressure, is a similar sort of thing.
We can't open the box and see what is inside directly, but we do have more info than we do about other people. We have partial access to the outputs of different parts of the brain. We can simulate how we'd respond in circumstances in addition to the circumstances we actually find ourselves in. Of course, we can think we're simulating what we'd actually do but actually simulate what we think we should do, but that's a self deception problem and not a problem fundamental to introspection. For example, I can ask someone "Why did you buy that car?" and they can answer the first thing that comes to mind (which may be wrong, and may be selected because it makes them sound good), or they can think "hmm, would I have felt the urge to buy the car if it was not blue? No? I guess color was important"
The point of the linked article is that when naively thinking that we are good at introspection, we fail at it. For example, "When presented with the idea of cognitive dissonance, they once again agreed it was an interesting idea that probably affected some of the other subjects but of course not them." That only weakly implies "We don't have any better access to our own brain processes than we do to a random persons." We not only don't know how trained people can do, we don't even know how untrained people who would agree they are subject to biases would do! If you define introspection as magically perfectly accurate self-knowledge gleaned without thinking, or even training, that is idiosyncratic.
The benefits of madness: A positive account of arationality

Great post, a very lucid account of your experiences, thank you.

As it happens I was just contemplating writing something along the lines of "mysticism for rationalists", but I think you may have it covered.

I am right now trying to fathom the problem of synthesizing rationality and mysticism. Would you like to correspond on this topic?
Rationality Quotes: April 2011

Well, I deliberately left out the source because I didn't think it would play well in this Peoria of thought -- it's from his book of essays Farewell to Reason. Link to gbooks with some context.

We've had rationality quotes before from C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterson, and Jack Chick among others. I don't think people are going to complain because of generic context issues even if Feyerabend did say some pretty silly stuff.
Can you please explain what you mean by calling LW a "Peoria of thought" and why you believe it is one? It doesn't sound good, and if you've found a problem I'd like to know about it and address it.
Rationality Quotes: April 2011

The best education consists in immunizing people against systematic attempts at education.

-- Paul Feyerabend

This one could do with expansion and/or contextualisation. A quick Google only turns up several pages of just the bare quote (including on a National Institue of Health .gov page! []) - what was the original source? Anyone?
Philosophy: A Diseased Discipline

Right, and I'm asking you what you think that "something else" is.

Hell, how would I know? Let's say "thinking" for the sake of argument.

I'd also re-assert my challenge to you: if philosophy's arguments don't rest on some evidence of some kind, what distinguishes it from nonsense/fiction?

People think it makes sense.

"Definitions may be given in this way of any field where a body of definite knowledge exists. But philosophy cannot be so defined. Any definition is controversial and already embodies a philosophic attitude. The only way to find out what philosophy is, is to do philosophy." -- Bertrand Russell

Philosophy: A Diseased Discipline

I'm not at all a fan of Hegel, and Heidegger I don't really understand, but I linked to a paper that describes the interaction of Heideggerian philosophy and AI which might answer your question.

I still think you don't have your categories straight. Philosophy does not make "claims" that are proved or disproved by evidence (although there is a relatively new subfield called "experimental philosophy"). Think of it as providing alternate points of view.

To illustrate: your idea that the only valid utterances are those that are supported by empirical evidence is a philosophy. That philosophy itself can't be supported by empirical evidence; it rests on something else.

Right, and I'm asking you what you think that "something else" is. I'd also re-assert my challenge to you: if philosophy's arguments don't rest on some evidence of some kind, what distinguishes it from nonsense/fiction?
Philosophy: A Diseased Discipline

"Often people who dismiss philosophy end up going over the same ground philosophers trode hundreds or thousands of years ago."

See the paper on the Heideggerian critique of AI I posted earlier.

The notion that we have Platonic a priori knowledge looks pretty silly without a great deal of massaging as we learn more about the mechanism of brain development.

Oh? I would think that one of the lessons of neuroscience is that we are in fact hardwired for a great many things.

The language in impenatrable because they have nothing to say.

How do ... (read more)

Philosophy: A Diseased Discipline

I think you are making a category error. If something makes claims about phenomena that can be proved/disproved with evidence in the world, it's science, not philosophy.

So the question is whether philosophy's position as meta to science and everything else can provide utility. I've found it useful, YMMV.

BTW here is the latest round of Heideggerian critique of AI (pdf) which, again, you may or may not find useful.

Hmm.. I suspect the phrasing "evidence/phenomena in the world" might give my assertion an overly mechanistic sound to it. I don't mean verifiable/disprovable physical/atomistic facts must be cited-- that would be begging the question. I just mean any meaningful argument must make reference to evidence that can be pointed to in support of/ in criticism of the given argument. Note that "evidence" doesn't exclude "mental phenomena." If we don't ask that philosophy cite evidence, what distinguishes it from meaningless nonsense, or fiction? I'm trying to write a more thorough response to your statement, but I'm finding it really difficult without the use of an example. Can you cite some claim of Heidegger's or Hegel's that you would assert is meaningful, but does not spring out of an argument based on empirical evidence? Maybe then I can respond more cogently.
Philosophy: A Diseased Discipline

A few points:

  • Philisophy is (by definition, more or less) meta to everything else. By its nature, it has to question everything, including things that here seem to be unuqestionable, such as rationality and reductionism. The elevation of these into unquestionable dogma creates a somewhat cult-like environment.

  • Often people who dismiss philosophy end up going over the same ground philosophers trode hundreds or thousands of years ago. That's one reason philosophers emphasize the history of ideas so much. It's probably a mistake to think you are so sma

... (read more)
While I agree that it's important to avoid succumbing to these ideas, philosophy curricula tend to emphasize not just the history of ideas but the history of philosophers, which makes the process of getting up to speed for where contemporary philosophy is take entirely too long. It is not so important that we know what Augustine or Hume thought so much as why their ideas can't be right now. Also, "the history of ideas" is really broad, because there are a lot of ideas that by today's standards are just absurd. Including the likes of Anaximander and Heraclitus in "the history of ideas" is probably a waste of time and cognitive energy.
"Often people who dismiss philosophy end up going over the same ground philosophers trode hundreds or thousands of years ago." Really? When I look at Aquinas or Plato or Aristotle, I see people mostly asking questions that we no longer care about because we have found better ways of dealing with the issues that made those questions worth thinking about. Scholastic discourse about the Bible or angels makes much less sense when you have a historical-critical context to explain how it emerged in the way that it did, and a canon of contemporaneous secular works to make sense of what was going on in their world at the time. Philosophical atomism is irrelevant once you've studied modern physics and chemistry. The notion that we have Platonic a priori knowledge looks pretty silly without a great deal of massaging as we learn more about the mechanism of brain development. Also, not all new perspectives on the world have value. Continental philosophy and post-modernism are to philosophy what mid-20th century art music is to music composition. It is a rabbit hole that a whole generation of academics got sucked into and wasted their time on. It turned out that the future of worthwhile music was elsewhere, in people like Elvis and the Beatles and rappers and Nashville studios and Motown artists and ressurrections of the greats of the classical and romantic periods in new contexts, and the tone poems and dissonant musics and other academic experiements of that era were just garbage. They lost sight of what music was for, just as the continental philosophers and post-modernist philosophers lost sight of what philosophy was for. The language in impenatrable because they have nothing to say. I know what it is like to read academic literature, for example, in the sciences or economics, that is impenetrable because it is necessarily so, but that isn't it. People who use sophisticated jargon when it is really necessary are also capable of speaking much more clearly about the e
It's not that people coming from the outside don't understand the language. I'm not just frustrated the Hegel uses esoteric terms and writes poorly. (Much the same could be said of Kant, and I love Kant.) It's that, when I ask "hey, okay, if the language is just tough, but there is content to what Hegel/Heidegger/etc is saying, then why don't you give a single example of some hypothetical piece of evidence in the world that would affirm/disprove the putative claim?" In other words, my accusation isn't that continental philosophy is hard, it's that it makes no claims about the objective hetero-phenomenological world. Typically, I say this to a Hegelian (or whoever), and they respond that they're not trying to talk about the objective world, perhaps because the objective world is a bankrupt concept. That's fine, I guess-- but are you really willing to go there? Or would you claim that continental philosophy can make meaningful claims about actual phenomena, which can actually be sorted through? I guess I'm wholeheartedly agreeing with the author's statement:
A reply on just one point: I don't mean to make reductionism unquestionable, I'm just not making reductionism "my battle" so much anymore. Heck, for several years I spent my time arguing about theism. I'm just moving on to other subjects, and taking for granted the non-existence of magical beings, and so on. Like I say in my original post, I'm glad other people are working those out, and of course if I was presented with good reason to believe in magical beings or something, I hope I would have the honesty to update. Nobody's suggesting discrimination or criminal charges for not "believing in" reductionism.
Call for Volunteers: Rationalists with Non-Traditional Skills

This is a guy who calls for the assassination of politicians on his blog. I'm not sure you want him on your side, for both tactical and ethical reasons. Not to mention that an easy resort to violence doesn't really suggest rationalism, but YMMV.


What a great post. Of course, I like it because it undermines the very reason most of you are here. Basically people aren't all that rational, they require something to praise, something to devote themselves to. You guys are trying to make "reason" be the object of devotion, but it's not a great fit to the mental slot (and it's been tried before).

One other note: the advantage of having your praise-object be something remote and universal (like God, or the Tsar (pretty remote for most Rus)) is that if your are expressing your allegiance to Lor... (read more)

Is it rational to be religious? Simulations are required for answer.

This post is based on the (very common) mistake of equating religious practice and religious faith. Religion is only incidentally about what you believe; the more important components are community and ritual practice. From that perspective, it is a lot easier to believe that religion can be beneficial. What you think about the Trinity, for instance, is less important than the fact that you go to Mass and see other members of your community there and engage in these bizarre activities together.

There is an enormous blindspot about society in the libertarian/rationalist community, of which the above is just one manifestation.

No, I very clearly am aware of those two things as separate things. (Though I could have been clearer about this in my post.) It is not obvious that faith couldn't be psychologically useful, also separately from practice.
Five-minute rationality techniques

Here's the exact opposite advice. I wouldn't even bother posting it here except it's from one of the major rationalists of the 20th century:

"In studying a philosopher, the right attitude is neither reverence nor contempt, but first a kind of hypothetical sympathy, until it is possible to know what it feels like to believe in his theories, and only then a revival of the critical attitude, which should resemble, as far as possible, the state of mind of a person abandoning opinions which he has hitherto held.... Two things are to be remembered: that a ma... (read more)

I think Russell was right that this is a powerful technique, but he was also naive about the heuristics & biases addendum to classical rationalism. So he is recommending a technique that is very useful but also epistemically dangerous.
The Shabbos goy

The fact that people aren't jumping in to compete with lower-costs journals makes me suspect that it isn't that easy. But it's still not at all obvious why academic journals cost so much.

Huh? People are most certainly jumping in with zero-cost (to read) journals such as PLoS and others. The open-access publishing movement is not obscure and I'm surprise to see that people here aren't aware of them.

The reason existing journals cost so much is that publishers can charge monopoly rents based on their ownership of a high-status imprint. That game is not going to last very much longer, IMO.

PLoS is a non-profit, and I'm certainly aware of it. If, however, for-profit academic journals charge much more than it costs to produce them, I would expect to see for-profit startups competing with them. The "impact factor" measure is a part of this; you can't just start up a new journal and have a high impact factor.
The Shabbos goy

The Amazon example doesn't seem to be that illustrative of the concept you are trying to get across, mostly because the reason academic institutions don't sell computation is that they aren't set up for it, not that commerce is considered evil. They have no problem charging for other services, such as tuition.

Here's a better one: police, military, and government in general. Everyone in that role has slightly different moral codes than the rest of us, in that they are able to legitimately employ violence in various forms, and for the most part we are willing to cede that role to them. The government is our shabbos goy, although too often a master rather than servant.

Commerce is considered evil. We're sensitive to this at JCVI, because a large proportion of the biology research community hates our founder, Craig Venter, for having had the gall to make money off of biology. Today, it's better-accepted; but when he started, it was apostasy. If he hadn't made money, there wouldn't be a JCVI now; we couldn't afford to do what we do just on grants. By its fruits you shall know the tree. Universities are given a free pass in some ways. Note that the first universities (Padua, Paris) were deliberately for profit. Harvard would make a profit without charging any tuition - so why does it charge so much tuition? MIT may be in the same situation; they get over a billion dollars a year from the government, and have only 10,000 students. Many of our grants require us to give the results away for free. If we charged people to run the software on our servers, we'd have to make the case that charging for the use of computer time was distinct from charging for the use of the software resulting from the contract. There's little legal precedent in this area AFAIK. Moreover, legal precedent don't matter when you don't get a chance to make your case - it doesn't matter what the law says; it matters how the next program officer feels about what you're doing.
Open Thread: November 2009

Yes, probably it deserves a top-level post, or going outside of this community and advertsing more widely.

Open Thread: November 2009

How many people here would be interested in forming a virtual book study group, to work through Jaynes ?

Yes! I've been wanting a virtual place to help me learn probabilistic reasoning in general; a group focued on Jaynes would be a good start.

So far it seems to be only the two of us, which seems rather surprising. In probabilistic terms, I was assigning a significant probability to receiving N>>1 favorable replies to the suggestion above. I'm not sure yet how I should update on the observation of only one taker. One hypothesis is that the Open Thread isn't an effective way to float such suggestions, so I could consider a top-level post instead. Another is that all LWers are much more advanced than we are and consider Jaynes' book elementary. What other hypotheses might I be missing ?
Our House, My Rules

I think discussions like this are useless unless "child" is qualified by the age of child you are talking about. Children of different ages have vastly different cognitive capacities and what is suitable for one age is not for another. Think about children at ages 0, 5, 10, 15, and 20 (to take arbitrary ranges). The line about "my house that I allow you to live in" is something I might conceivably use in an argument with a surly 15-year-old, who is at the point where they need to start thinking about leading an independent life, but it would seem like an incredibly cruel thing to say to a 10-year-old, and would probably just be meaningless noise to a 5-year-old.

Our House, My Rules

There is a movement called Taking Children Seriously that advocates that a parent should never deploy arbitrary authority, but always reason a child into doing what they ought to do. I think they are nuts, but some people I respect respect them, and it might appeal to rationalists. They are somehow based on Popperian epistemology.

In a related vein I just made a Facebook page for the Association of Anarchist Parents, an organization that I have envisioned ever since my own kids were old enough to have wills of their own.

Why You're Stuck in a Narrative

Telling yourself that you are struggling to free yourself from narrative is of course itself a narrative. There's no escape.

Although one of the distinguishing things about this community is its willingness to use heroic metaphors for this struggle, imagine themselves as martial artists, etc.

An alternative is to embrace the narrative nature of intelligence. See here for some efforts to do that.

And of course there are plenty of narratives about that. Sophie's World, Princess Tutu, 1/0 []... Of course, sometimes the characters "escape", but...
Applied Picoeconomics

This is a rather reductive approach to Ainslie. He's not writing a self-help book. The upshot of his view is not simply that people get distracted from long-term goals by short-term goals, but rather that the self emerges from the need to manage conflicts between a variety of internal goals. Fervid declarations like "I have but one Self, a timeless abstract optimization process to which this ape is but a horribly disfigured approximation" gets it exactly backwards. You don't have a Self, except as a hacked-together construct that helps your goals get along.

More discussion here and especially more in the links to bhyde's commentary.

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Truth About Morality and What To Do About It

Greene and Haidt have coauthored papers together, so I would guess they are aware of each other's work!

Silas doesn't seem to have noticed this...
Special Status Needs Special Support

Very good...celebreties are the secular gods of our age. And it is notable that phenomenon of "being famous for being famous" is widel acknowledged.

Might I also point out that the same irrational reasoning occurs when we pick mates? Our partners will probably share similar characteristics as many other people in the world, but the act of picking a partner immediately makes them more special than any of the thousands who may be just as pretty/intelligent/smart.
Special Status Needs Special Support

The sacred is sacred not solely because of its inherent properties but because it just is -- that is, a group of people have for a multitude of reasons and historical contigencies focused on this text, place, or object and assigned it a special status. This doesn't make much rationalist sense -- it's just the way these sort of things work.

But then the reasons you name are not true sources [] of its special status, and you may as well be silent.
The mind-killer

The arguments against voting are mostly puerile, and so is this one against political judgment. See here for an alternative view.

Rational Me or We?

For whatever reason, the community here (so-called "rationalists") is heavily influenced by overly-individualistic ideologies (libertarianism, or in its more extreme forms, objectivism). This leads to ignoring entire realms of human phenomena (social cognition) and the people who have studied them (Vygotsky, sociologists of science, ethnomethodology). It's not that social approaches to cognition provide a magic bullet -- they just provide a very different perspective on how minds work. Imagine if you stop believing that beliefs are in the head ... (read more)

The flaw in that is that ignores dissenters- to some extent, minorities in a community can dissent from the common belief.
This sounds to me a lot like "Imagine if you stop believing that information is in the genes and locate it in a species." I don't think institutional effects on thought are a bad thing to study- institutions definitely have massive effects on the environments individuals operate in- but I think assigning thinking entity status to institutions is a bad way to approach that study. Thinking about information stored in species has a long and storied history of making worse predictions than thinking about information stored in genes. But institutions certainly apply selection pressure on memes, and influence how memes replicate themselves and propagate. The analogy is also somewhat tenuous- institutions are far more fluid (almost by definition) in their boundaries than species. Because of their tremendous impact, institutional design deserves comparable attention to environmental design (architecture, agriculture, lots of smaller fields). (We do already have those fields, though; the economy is the environment commercial institutions are built for (and other institutions reside in as well), and economists try to study it and design it. Public choice theorists help study the design of (primarily democratic) political institutions.)

I am guilty as charged in being much more familiar with individualistic than socially oriented ideologies.

Why don't you write some posts about techniques or discoveries from socially-oriented science that could help rationalists?

I would say Robin Hanson's views on status fit quite well into the gap you perceive. I do find it interesting that status isn't talked about more on Less Wrong. Maybe I can tie this into what I think about the article. LW's articles do currently take an individualist stance on rationality (although I doubt objectivism has any role in this). The "refinements" they propose are mostly alterations of cognitive habits, not suggested ways of changing group dynamics. But LW as a whole is not simply a bunch of iconoclasts. Rather, there appears to be a clear attempt to collectively change patterns of thought. People write stuff, get +/- karma, feel good/bad, update their beliefs and try again. So even though the content of LW is individually applicable, posters will naturally develop preferred topics of expertise, subjects on which they know enough to benefit the community by what they write. And developing expertise does benefit from the martial arts analogy.
Closet survey #1

There is no such thing as a free market.

Yeah there is, they are just really small. Just the other day I asked if someone would come in on their day off from work in order to cover for me. I paid them, and they performed the service. All this went down without any government intervention, coercion, or use of force.

If you mean that there is not a single country on Earth that contains ONLY free markets then you are absolutely right.

Closet survey #1

Scientific materialism is overrated -- because the things we care about (like rationalism, or truth, or well-being) are not material things. The current theories for how ideas are implemented in the material world (such as AI) are grossly inadequate to the task.

I think you are mistaking ambition and the spirit of betterment for "naivety and arrogance." You say "it is one of those things that humans do and efforts to get rid of it would seem doomed," but that was once applicable to slavery. It may be difficult, quixotic, and almost comically ambitious. But the only thing that would make it "doomed" would be an attitude that says it must be. MBlume's comment below summarizes nicely how we as a society might go about that (as does this whole thread). Incidentally, I don't think this comment is really so bad; it's within reasonable argument, if only it didn't come blasting out of the gates with insults.

Religion, as practiced today, is most commonly a collection of propositions, entirely incompatible with rationality.

If religion fills certain needs (and in fact I won't argue that it does) we will find more constructive ways to fill those needs without lying to people.

If you really think that religion isn't about god, then honestly, I don't think we disagree that much -- I don't know why you're starting out with insults flying.

Is it rational to take psilocybin?


The analogy with a trip to India is not a bad one. You can read all you like about India, but it won't be the same as actually going to Mumbai and experiencing it first-hand. Presumably nobody would claim to be an expert on India without visiting it, seeing as it isn't that hard, and while it is not without risks the experience is worth it.

I disagree here. I think that Annoyance's analogy was apt in that it is the same sort of decision, but with a different cost/benefit analysis. Clearly in both cases (and in the India case) you "should" take the action (get a concussion, take some drugs) if you think that the cost of taking the action is less than the potential benefit. I do agree with you, however, in the sense that I imagine that most people consider the net benefit of taking drugs at least once to be more in line with a trip to India than with a damaged brain.
Is it rational to take psilocybin?

Suppose it made you less "emotional towards others". Then you could ignore all those nagging feelings that you ought to be performing charitable works and become a perfect personal utility maximizer.

I've heard cocaine is a pretty good drug for producing this sort of effect, but obviously it has other less desired effects as well. Perhaps some rich Randroid could fund an effort to develop a better anti-altruism drug.

Is it rational to take psilocybin?

If you are at all interested in how the mind works, you ought to have at least a cursory exposure to psychedelics and other psychoactive drugs.

On the other hand, if you are the kind of person who organizes their life around maximizing a utility function, then you probably shouldn't.

Isn't that a little bit like saying that you should have at least a few concussions to better appreciate how a damaged brain alters experience?
Cynicism in Ev-Psych (and Econ?)

I can't help notice the unquestioned assumption that it is more virtuous to love someone for their mind than for their body. I assume that underlying this is that you love your own minds and despise your own bodies, or are at best indifferent to them.

Happy Valentine's Day!

For The People Who Are Still Alive

I was going to make about the same objection steven makes -- if you take this stuff (MWI, anthropic principle, large universes) seriously as a guide to practical, everyday ethical decision-making, it seems to lead inexorably to nihilism -- no decision you make matters very much. That doesn't sound at all desireable, so my instinct is to suspect that there is something wrong either with the physics ideas, or (more likely) with the way they are being applied. But maybe not! Maybe nihilism is valid, but then why are we bothering to be rational or to do any... (read more)

mtraven, Why we are "bothering to be rational or to do anything at all" (rather than being nihilists), if nihilism seems likely to be valid? Well, as long as there is a chance, say, only a .0000000000000001 chance, that nihilism is invalid, there is nothing to lose and possibly something to gain from assuming that nihilism is invalid. This refutes nihilism completely as a serious alternative. I think basically the same is true about Yudkowsky's fear that there are infinitely many copies of each person. Even if there is only a .0000000000000001 chance that there are only finitely many copies of each of us, we should assume that that is the case, since that is the only type of scenario where there can be anything to gain or lose, and thus the only possible type of scenario that might be a good idea to assume to be the case. That is, given the assumption that one cannot affect infinite amounts by adding, no matter how much one adds. To this, I am an agnostic, if not an atheist. For example, adding an infinite amount A to an infinite amount A can, I think, make 2A rather than 1A. Ask yourself which you would prefer: 1) Being happy one day per year and suffer the rest of the time of each year, for an infinite number of years, or 2) The other way around? Would you really not care which of these two would happen? You would. Note that this is the case even when you realize that a year is only finitely more than a day, meaning that each of alternatives 1 and 2 would give you infinitely much happiness and infinitely much suffering. This strongly suggests that adding an infinite amount A to an infinite amount A produces more than A. Then why wouldn't also adding a finite amount B to an infinite amount A produce more than A? I would actually suggest that, even given classical utilitarianism, my life would not be worthless just because there are infinitely much happiness and infinitely much suffering in the world with or without me. Each person's finite amount of happiness mu
Engelbart: Insufficiently Recursive

Google's internal facilities and processes seem to have something of the Ubertool about them. There's a famous quote going around: “Google uses Bayesian filtering the way Microsoft uses the if statement." Certainly they seem closer to taking over the world than anyone else.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Ad Hominem

Hm, I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the evidentiary reasoning version of ad hominem, something like "you seem to have a bad character, so I'm going to assign low weight to anything you say". I use this rule all the time. Ie, I'll give more weight to statements made in a reputable scientific journal than those on a Nazi website. This is not a valid argument againt anything on the Nazi website, just a rule that says not to pay too much attention to stuff found there, or at least seek independent verification from a more reputable source. The... (read more)

Ask OB: Leaving the Fold

I'm not a Christian, never have been, and don't know what variety of it you are involved with, so may not be qualified to comment. But I would say rather than replace a simplistic (fundamentalist) religious belief system with an equally simplistic atheism, you might search for a version of religion or spirituality that is compatible with science and doesn't require counterfactual faith. Someone already mentioned the Friends, and this site may be a good place to start. There are several well-known scientists (Ken Miller, Francis Collins) who manage to rec... (read more)

BHTV: Jaron Lanier and Yudkowsky

Yvain, nicely put.

Another kind of argument, which I'm not sure if Lanier was making but other people have, is that you can be a naturalist without being a reductionist, and you can be a reductionist without believing that computation is the right model for human brains. EY himself has pointed out that certain forms of symbolic AI are misleading, since naming your Lisp symbol UNDERSTAND does not mean you have implemented understanding. Lanier is making a similar but stronger case against computation in general.

More reasoned critiques of computationalism f... (read more)

BHTV: Jaron Lanier and Yudkowsky

@Max M: According to him, they should elect the candidate [Obama] that is looking to take a more top-down command and control position on the economy (unless he doesn't realize this is Obama's position, or thinks its not 'really' his position, or something to that effect).

Um, maybe you should give some backing for this statement, given that government spending has wildly increased under recent Republican administrations, and that John McCain promises even more expensive foreign wars, which translates to even more of the economy being spent on the non-produ... (read more)

BHTV: Jaron Lanier and Yudkowsky

Eh, Lanier has some sound intuitions but his arguments supporting them seem confused. I am (naturally) more impressed with my own arguments against reductionism, some of which are collected here. My attempts to argue them around here have mostly come to naught though.

Also, you should read some Brian Cantwell Smith.

You owe it to yourself to take on the strongest arguments against your position as well as the weak ones. I don't know where my half-assed speculations fit in, but Smith is a serious thinker who, like you and Lanier, comes out of the computatio... (read more)

Which Parts Are "Me"?

Everything I am, is surely my brain; but I don't accept everything my brain does, as "me".
Such an awkwardly phrased and punctuated sentence is evidence of cognitive failure, or at least a hiccup. There's a fundamental mistake you are trying to paper over right at the start of this essay, which goes downhill from there.

Why are hardcore materialists, who presumably have no truck with Cartesian mind/body dualism, so eager to embrace brain/body dualism? Or software/hardware dualism?

So you start by restricting your self to your brain (at least, I... (read more)

Crisis of Faith

Religion is the classic example of a delusion that might be good for you. There is some evidence that being religious increases human happiness, or social cohesion. It's universality in human culture suggests that it has adaptive value.


Nope. There is some evidence that christians in the USA are happier than atheists in the USA. But since that correlation doesn't hold up in Europe I prefer to interprete it as: America is bad for atheists.

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Crisis of Faith

"Try to think the thought that hurts the most."

This is exactly why I like to entertain religious thoughts. My background, training, and inclination are to be a thoroughgoing atheist materialist, so I find that trying to make sense of religious ideas is good mental exercise. Feel the burn!

In that vein, here is an audio recording of Robert Aumann on speaking on "The Personality of God".

Also, the more seriously religious had roughly the same idea, or maybe it's the opposite idea. The counterfactuality of religious ideas is part of their strength, apparently.

Beyond the Reach of God

Eliezer, if that last comment was in response to mine it is a disappointingly obtuse misinterpretation which doesn't engage with any of the points I made. "Life" is worth something; that doesn't mean that striving for the infinite extension of individual lives should be a priority.

Beyond the Reach of God

Oh, and while I'm stirring up the pot, let me just say that this statement made me laugh: "But members of Team Rational are not herd thinkers." Dude. Self-undermining much?

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