Noah Walton


Active Curiosity vs Open Curiosity


Getting stuck solving a problem should ideally trigger open curiosity. I was thinking about this in the context of solving a Project Euler problem (math problems that usually require some programming). There seem to often be alternating phases in solving where you find some low-hanging fruit, and then get stuck. Stuckness can be for example conceptual (you need to speed up your algorithm; you haven't found an algorithm that works at all; you don't understand the problem) or related to code (you have a natural-language framework for your problem but not code; the only code you can think to write is really ugly; there is a bug).

The thing I call "stuckness" perhaps often indicates there is no clear path to go on -- if there is, I would be going on it. Sometimes this should trigger taking a break to rest. Other times it should trigger open curiosity about the problem. Even if I am remaining openly curious about the problem, it seems more likely that I will do something like get up from where I am sitting at the trigger point.

A common failure mode is to continue being actively curious when stuck; this is associated with treating the situation like something it's not.

Overconfident talking down, humble or hostile talking up
When you’re communicating with people who know more than you, you have two options. You can accept their greater state of knowledge, causing you to speak more honestly about the pertinent topics. Or, you could reject their credibility, claiming that they really don’t know more than you. Many people who know less than you both may believe you over them.

A third option is to claim epistemic learned helplessness. You can believe someone knows more than you, but reject their claims because there are incentives to deceive. It's even possible to openly coordinate based on this. This seems like something I've seen people do, maybe even frequently. I can't think of anything specific, but one method would be to portray the more knowledgeable person as "using their power [in the form of knowledge] for evil".

An Ontology of Systemic Failures: Dragons, Bullshit Mountain, and the Cloud of Doom

"Scientists with notable discoveries" might be an example of Gryffindors.

The One-Channel Paradigm

I think I agree with you. Here's what I think was going through my head at the time of writing:

"The universe is a state evolving over time according to a transition function. But sometimes I seem to confuse this with thinking I can only take one action at a time, where 'action' is defined much more narrowly. For example, I model myself as exclusively 'sleeping' or 'riding the bus' or 'writing', even though there are parts of me which I'm not consciously attending to doing other things. This seems bad."

If the universe is indeed a state evolving over time according to a transition function, then in this sense physics is a one-channel process. It just so happens that the one channel is all the channels.

Is the universe perfectly describable by a state-transition model, though? I feel like this frame has been useful to me, and others have talked about it being useful to them, and physics seems to be largely done in this paradigm (speaking as an outsider who might be totally off). But this is a cop-out. "This frame has been useful to me" is itself being judged from within the state-transition paradigm.

Metaphilosophical competence can't be disentangled from alignment

If "empathy" means "ability to understand the feelings of others" or "ability to predict what others will do", then it seems straightforward that empathy is learnable. And learnability and teachability seem basically the same to me. Examples indicating that empathy is learnable:

  • As you get to know someone, things go more smoothly when you're with them
  • Socializing is easier when you've been doing a lot of it (at least, I think so)
  • Managers are regularly trained for their job
Naming the Nameless

Following this xkcd, it seems natural that lots of designers (most designers?) "get great satisfaction out of creating things that are (mostly) unnoticed" (or else these designers aren't satisfied with their jobs). In a world where so much *is* designed, it would be exhausting to notice all the details.

Goodhart Taxonomy

Causal: An early 1900s college basketball team gets all of their players high-heeled shoes, because tallness causes people to be better at basketball. Instead, the players are slowed and get more foot injuries.

Adversarial: The New York Knicks' coach, while studying the history of basketball, finds the story about the college team with high heels. He gets marketers to go to other league teams and convince them to wear high heels. A few weeks later, half of the star players in the league are out, and the Knicks easily win the championship.

Why did everything take so long?

I'm curious about your item three.

Nobody told early humans to invent things. They just had to end up doing it. That's also true for crows and other primates. If you were a crow, how would you find and use a tool? (Warning: I'm trying to work toward a plausible story in the following. There are probably lots of wrong implications about animals.)

Clavicus the crow flew straight over the field to a new tree. It had seen the setting sun and knew that meant it was time to return home. Every time clavicus went to a tree, it thought for a moment about where it had bee n last, so it would find the place with the tastiest and newest worms. All of this happened in a flash of its mind, which no faculty of its own was aware of.

Clavicus thought about little when it slept, and when it woke up, it thought about worms in the ground. Each day, it went down to the ground and picked at it. It had learned to identify many promising signs of worms, even above the obvious little burrows. Parts of the field covered in grass were more promising than barren patches of dirt. The latter were easier to look at, but could be scanned quickly during flight for burrows, saving time to look in denser areas.

Clavicus went flying out on Yellow-Grass Prairie With Triangle Of Trees In The Center the next morning. As it searched below Tree In The Triangle Closest To The Place Where It Made Its Nest, Clavicus's beak bumped against a stick, which upset the dirt below it, leading to a large upset of the dirt, a sign that Clavicus at this point recognized as being great indeed.

It was bound to happen, once every million crows.

Clavicus tried the movement again and soon was able to do it pretty quickly and with little error, as inefficient ways of moving the stick got pruned away from its thinking.

This was only bound to happen once every billion.

The next day, Clavicus got eaten by a cat. Some other crows eventually used tools, and their relatives saw them and imitated them. Soon, tool use was common enough among crows that it persisted.

Animals that couldn't imitate each other weren't so lucky as the crows.

An Equilibrium of No Free Energy

1) Though there is probably someone suitable and willing living within 5 minutes of Jesse, many more of the people within 5 minutes of em are not. It's hard to filter these people, and risky to get it wrong. At best, the other person is unwilling, rude or annoying. Worse, they could be unhealthy, violent, or untrustworthy.

2) Dating sites don't optimize for efficiently starting romantic relationships. If they were really successful at this, people would spend less time on the sites, getting the sites less attention and thus ad / member revenue.

3) A selection effect (?) Many people are already in satisfying romantic situations. People searching right now are more likely to have some sort of character flaw or bad strategy which has keeps them in this situation.

How would we test these? Maybe there's research already out there that (dis)confirms them?

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