orthonormal's Comments

An Orthodox Case Against Utility Functions

I mean the sort of "eventually approximately consistent over computable patterns" thing exhibited by logical inductors, which is stronger than limit-computability.

An Orthodox Case Against Utility Functions

I think that computable is obviously too strong a condition for classical utility; enumerable is better.

Imagine you're about to see the source code of a machine that's running, and if the machine eventually halts then 2 utilons will be generated. That's a simpler problem to reason about than the procrastination paradox, and your utility function is enumerable but not computable. (Likewise, logical inductors obviously don't make PA approximately computable, but their properties are what you'd want the definition of approximately enumerable to be, if any such definition were standard.)

I suspect that the procrastination paradox leans heavily on the computability requirement as well.

Choosing the Zero Point

Thank you for confirming. I wanted to be sure I wasn't putting words in your mouth.

I think I just have a very different model than you of what most people tend to do when they're constantly horrified by their own actions.

I'm sorry about the animal welfare relevance of this analogy, but it's the best one I have:

The difference between positive reinforcement and punishment is staggering; you can train a circus animal to do complex tricks using either method, but only under the positive reinforcement method will the animal voluntarily engage further with the trainer. Train an animal with punishment and it will tend to avoid further training, will escape the circus if at all possible.

This is why I think your psychology is unusual. I expect a typical person filled with horror about a behavior to change that behavior for a while (do the trained trick), but eventually find a way to not think about it (avoid the trainer) or change their beliefs in order to not find it horrible any longer (escape the circus). I can believe that your personal history makes the horror an extremely motivating force for you. I just don't think that's the default way for people to respond to those sort of experiences and feelings.

It's also the reason why I want people to reset their zero point such that helpful actions do in fact feel like they push the world into the positive. That gives a positive reinforcement to helpful actions, rather than punishing oneself from any departure from helpful actions. And I expect that to help most people go farther.

On R0

Possibly more important than even the grocery store vector are the people whose exposure level is high enough that their reference class hasn't been mostly infected yet, but will be soon. I think of suburban parents who think it's fine to go down to the neighbors, and let their kids play with other kids, etc. The ones who think they're "doing enough" but really aren't.

Interventions on their behavior, from [public health messaging in the right places] to [literally ticketing them], could do quite a bit.

Choosing the Zero Point

(Splitting replies on different parts into different subthreads.)

The real problem that I have (and I suspect others have) with framing a significant sacrifice as the "bare standard of human decency" is that it pattern-matches purity ethics far more than utilitarianism. (A purity ethic derived from utilitarianism is still a purity ethic.)

For me, the key difference (keeping the vegetarian/vegan example) is whether it is a better outcome for one person to become a vegan and another to keep eating meat as usual, or for two people to each reduce their meat/egg consumption by two-thirds. The "insufficiently horrified" framing makes it sound like neither of the two people in the latter case really count, while at least one person in the former does count.

Do you agree (without getting into which outcome is easier for activism to achieve) that the latter outcome is preferable to the former? And separately, does it aesthetically feel better or worse?

Choosing the Zero Point

(Splitting replies on different parts into different subthreads.)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I hear you say that your sense of horror is load-bearing, that you would take worse actions if you did not feel a constant anguish over the suffering that is happening.

That could be true for you, but it seems counter to the way most people work. Constant anguish tends not to motivate, it instead leads to psychological collapse, or to frantic measures when patience would achieve more, or to protected beliefs that resist challenge in any small part.

Choosing the Zero Point

(Splitting replies on different parts into different subthreads.)

One part of this helped me recognize an important emendation: if many bad things are continuing to happen, then a zero point of "how things are right now" will still lead you inexorably into the negatives. I was intuitively thinking of "the expected trajectory of the world if I were instead a random person from my reference class" as my reference point, but I didn't crystallize that and put it in my post. Thank you, I'll add that in.

Choosing the Zero Point

Changed the title because I realized it didn't match the terminology of the post. (I changed the post from a previous draft.)

What will happen to supply chains in the era of COVID-19?

That's unfortunate to hear, and it seems like it could have been different.

In the case of food supply chains, though, it would be just a literal matter of counting and not accepting IOUs for food in lieu of actual physical food.

Conflict vs. mistake in non-zero-sum games

Office construction stops in San Francisco. The development fees from office construction are a major funding source for affordable housing. The affordable housing stops being built.

(Same thing happens for all the restrictions on market-rate housing, when it's also paying fees to fund affordable housing. The end result is that very little gets built, which helps nobody but the increasingly rich homeowners in San Francisco. Which is the exact intended outcome of that group, who are the most reliable voters.)

Heh. I guess I'm a conflict theorist when it comes to homeowner NIMBYs, but a mistake theorist when it comes to lefty NIMBYs (who are just completely mistaken in their belief that preventing development will help the non-rich afford to live in SF).

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