A stats student and aspiring rationalist. Currently following Zvi's advice and putting myself out here.

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Chantiel's Shortform

I try to avoid using the word 'really' for this sort of reason. Gets you into all sorts of trouble.

(a) JBlack is using a definition related to simulation theory, and I don't know enough about this to speculate too much, but it seems to rely on a hard discontinuity between base and sensory reality.

(b) Before I realized he was using it that way, I thought the phrase meant 'reality as expressed on the most basic level yet conceivable' which, if it is possible to understand it, explodes the abstractions of higher orders and possibly results in their dissolving into absurdity. This is a softer transition than the above.

(c) I figure most people use 'really exist' to refer to material sensory reality as opposed to ideas. This chair exists, the Platonic Idea of a chair does not. The rule with this sort of assumption is 'if I can touch it, or it can touch me, it exists' for a suitably broad understanding of 'touch.'

(d) I've heard some people claim that the only things that 'really exist' are those you can prove with mathematics or deduction, and mere material reality is a frivolity. 

(e) I know some religious people believe heavily in the primacy of God (or whichever concept you want to insert here) and regard the material world as illusory, and that the afterlife is the 'true' world. You can see this idea everywhere from the Kalachakra mandala to the last chapter of the Screwtape letters.

I guess the one thing uniting all these is that, if it were possible to take a true Outside View, this is what you would see; a Platonic World of ideas, or a purely material universe, or a marble held in the palm of God, or a mass of vibrating strings (or whatever the cool kids in quantum physics are thinking these days) or a huge simulation of any of the above instantiated on any of the above. 

I think most people think in terms of option c, because it fits really easily into a modern materialist worldview, but the prevalence of e shouldn't be downplayed. I've probably missed some important ones. 

Chantiel's Shortform

It sounds like you're using very different expectations for those questions, as opposed to the very rigorous interrogation of base reality. 'Does Santa exist?' and 'does that chair exist?' are questions which (implicitly, at least) are part of a system of questions like 'what happens if I set trip mines in my chimney tonight?' and 'if I try to sit down, will I fall on my ass?' which have consequences in terms of sensory input and feedback. You can respond 'yes' to the former, if you're trying to preserve a child's belief in Santa (although I contend that's a lie) and you can truthfully answer 'no' to the latter if you want to talk about an investigation of base reality.

Of course, if you answer 'no' to 'does that chair exist?' your interlocutor will give you a contemptful look, because that wasn't the question they were asking, and you knew that, and you chose to answer a different question anyway. 

I choose to think of this as different levels of resolution, or as varying bucket widths on a histograph. To the question 'does Jupiter orbit the Sun?' you can productively answer 'yes' if you're giving an elementary school class a basic lesson on the structure of the solar system. But if you're trying to slingshot a satellite around Ganymede, the answer is going to be no, because the Solar-Jovian barycenter is way outside the solar corona, and at the level you're operating, that's actually relevant.

Most people don't use the words 'reality' or 'exist' in the way we're using it here, not because people are idiots, but because they don't have a coherent existential base for non-idiocy, and because it's hard to justify the importance of those questions when you spend your whole life in sensory reality.

As to the aliens, well, if they don't distinguish between base level reality and abstractions, they can make plenty of good sensory predictions in day-to-day life, but they may run into some issues trying to make predictions in high-energy physics. If they manage to do both well, it sounds like they're doing a good job operating across multiple levels of resolution. I confess I don't have a strong grasp on the subject, or on the differences between a model being real versus not being real in terms of base reality, I'm gonna wait on JBlack's response to that.

Relevant links (which you've probably already read): 

How an Algorithm Feels From the Inside, Eliezer Yudkowsky

The Categories Were Made for Man, not Man for the Categories, Scott Alexander

Ontological Remodeling, David Chapman

nroman's Shortform

I had my first jab of the vaccine early yesterday, and last night had an extremely vivid, mystic dream. I recount the exact details here, but suffice it to say that holographic psychopomps led me through the underworld in a search for the archangel Raziel. I have no idea what to make of this.

Do any of you have firsthand experience or close anecdotal experience of strange dreams after the vaccine? I don't find it very likely, but a relative who heard this and referred to some secondhand anecdotal accounts, so I want to check. 

Second, is there any value in the examination/interpretation of dreams? Does Internal Family Systems (with which I have very little familiarity) have anything to say on the matter?

nroman's Shortform

I hadn't considered that angle. Still, that heuristic assumes

a) that the field is one where those differences are salient (I maintain mathematics at least is exempt) and

b) that the people you're inviting have sufficient background to make meaningful contributions, contra the orthodox intersectional considerations you mentioned before.

I'm tempted say that this heuristic (diversity of identity) is strictly less effective than diversity of thought/ideology, but that seems to be what Scott runs against. It would indicate that there are insights not available just through ideology but through (to use an abused phrase) lived experience.

As to how these cross over and whether they're intersectional, that's another can of worms I'm not going to open.

nroman's Shortform

Good points. Perhaps 'intersectionality' isn't the right term. I also considered 'positionality,' trying to refer to ' ideology that emphasizes identity over reasoning.' Or maybe I'm thinking of the 'motte' form, so that [whatever the Scott quote represents] is a weaker form of motte!intersectionality is a weaker form of bailey!intersectionality. 

Though I think the Scott quote represents something stronger than 'paying attention to identity X's perspective'. It looks more like 'identity X may provide information and insights in unpredictable ways.'

This is not compatible with reflexively applying a narrative to an identity group, as so often happens. If identity X's insights line up perfectly with your preexisting beliefs, there's something else going on. 

Perhaps more specifically, I newly endorse the proposal, "Identity has distinct and unpredictable effects on research," but not the more extreme proposals:

"Identity group members are replaceable."

"Identity groups have a 'correct' position."

"Problems must be examined first in relation to identity groups."

I'm personally coming into this with a heavy bias against intersectionality and critical theory, so I'm trying to steelman where possible. 

nroman's Shortform

I found a passage in James C Scott's Seeing Like a State that shifted me a little closer towards agreeing with intersectionality. 

I think that a "woman's eye," for lack of a better term, was essential to Jacobs's frame of reference. A good many men, to be sure, were insightful critics of high-modernist urban planning, and Jacobs refers to many of their writings. Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine her argument being made in quite the same way by a man ... The eyes with which she sees the street are, by turns, those of shoppers running errands, mothers pushing baby carriages, children playing, friends having coffee or a bite to eat, lovers strolling, people looking from their windows, shopkeepers dealing with customers, old people sitting on park benches ... A concern with public space puts both the interior of the home and the office as factory outside her purview.  The activities that she observes so carefully, from taking a walk to window-shopping, are largely activities that do not have a single purpose or that have no conscious purpose in the narrow sense

-Seeing Like a State (p.138)

This passage, and the book in general, provided some concrete examples of 'different ways of knowing' that I could wrap my head around. Going forward, I will take claims to the importance of researcher identity a bit more seriously in certain fields (ie urban planning and agriculture, but not in mathematics and CS).

This seems to point to a weaker form of intersectionality/identity-focused theories that makes a lot more sense: 'researcher identity has distinct effects on research in complex and/or culturally charged fields' vs the orthodox strong form, 'researcher identity is the primary lens through which research must be judged in all fields.'

I experienced a similar nudge reading David Chapman, who insists on the importance of early postmodern philosophers such as Foucault. I previously dismissed both groups out of hand, now I take a moment to assess individual claims and expect that some have validity.

Has anyone experienced similar nudges, or have particular comments on this subject?

The Scout Mindset - read-along

Looking at the early section on motivational advice, I was reminded of Antifragile (my review, Scott's review). Motivational advice which assures success if one believes hard enough and encourages people to try for things despite long odds doesn't look like it helps those individuals. If this advice is widely spread and followed, who benefits? Possibly society as a whole. If individuals in general overestimate their chances of success, try, and largely fail, then there's a much larger pool to select from, and hopefully the best successes are better than they otherwise would be. Deceptive advice transfers antifragility from individuals to the system. 

On the same subject, I've long felt a disdain for that sort of motivational rhetoric as trite, but I'm still not sure why. The connection to self deception provided by Galef is one possible explanation. Has anyone else experienced something similar, or have an explanation for why that might be the case?

The Scout Mindset - read-along

Chapter 3: Why Truth Is More Valuable Than We Realize

Early in the chapter, Galef lays out examples of tradeoffs between Soldier and Scout mindset, most vivid for me in the anecdote of the charity president, who convinces himself that the budget is well spent, helping to gain donations but reducing actual effectiveness. 

Two questions which occurred to me reading this: First, is it possible to compartmentalize the Soldier and Scout mindsets to a significant degree, such that one can be used when soliciting donations and the other when deciding which projects to cut?

Second, if it is possible, is it desirable? What consequences might come about from trying to separate these two processes? Maybe doing so requires an extreme psychology or ability to self-deceive, or the effort to separate them is just too tiring to maintain. 

[ACX Linkpost] Prospectus on Próspera

Cowen doesn't seem to have written his own thoughts on the matter, but has reported on it at the links below, and seems excited. Until recently the project has kept relatively quiet, as they were shopping around for big early investors. It's only recently they've opened themselves up to the public, and they're still focused mostly on attracting local Hondurans. I've known about the project for a few years,  but only because I'm close to people who got in on the early stages. If I had to guess, I figure they want to have more built and have a solid local base before advertising to the foreign public. Just a guess though.

Apologies for the redundancy if you've already seen those links. 

Roatan is safer than the mainland, both due to its separation from the bulk of drug crime and the local focus on tourism, which shifts the weight onto petty crimes that target tourist's wallets. But it's still Honduras, and there was the notable murder of a US citizen a couple years ago. Prospera aims to have private security, instead of depending on the local police. 

Prospera also claims to be minimally dependent on the Honduran government, in particular by setting up its own services and courts for most crimes. The deal they negotiated is supposed to be a hands-off affair, where HPI pays them taxes and abides by a portion of Honduras' laws. Whether this can be done successfully is yet to be seen.

Honduras deciding to take over seems unlikely, but future administrations wanting to increase their cut in violation of contract is a very real worry. Prospera is trying to curb that by setting maximum tax revenue as a portion of GDP in their charter and Bill of Rights, but if the Hondurans did try to force their hand, it's not clear what they could do.

That's as much as I can answer for now. I'm going through their materials and intend to ask questions of their CEO. If you have specific questions for him, I may be able to pass them along. 

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