All of Pete_Carlton's Comments + Replies

Mundane Magic

Devour Soul (level 6) This spell enables the Mage to extract Energy from the Bodies of Plants and Animals, merely by placing various Parts of them inside the mage's own Body. More advanced Mages can derive not only Energy, but physical Pleasure, from enhancing this spell with dark and eldritch lore found in Books of magical recipes, exotic Potions and the judicious use of Fire.

8MBlume11yEldritch Lore []
Setting Up Metaethics
>> "Or if "Morality is mere preference!" then why care about human preferences? How is it possible to establish any "ought" at all, in a universe seemingly of mere "is"?

I don't think it's possible, but why is that a problem? Can't all moral statements be rewritten as conditionals? i.e. - "You ought not to murder" -> "If you murder someone, we will punish you".

You might say these conditionals aren't justified, but what on earth could it mean to say they are or are not justified, other than ... (read more)

1DanielLC9yNot really. Moral statements need to tell you what to do. The example you gave only helps make predictions. I know murdering will result in my punishment, but unless I know whether being punished is good or bad, this doesn't tell me whether committing murder is good or bad.
Taboo Your Words

Good point, especially since the most common words become devalued or politicized ("surge", "evil", "terror" &c.) but...

The existence of this game surprised me, when I discovered it. Why wouldn't you just say "An artificial group conflict in which you use a long wooden cylinder to whack a thrown spheroid, and then run between four safe positions?"

So what was your score?

(Did you cut your enemy?)

The Simple Math of Everything
But there's no way I have time to write this book, so I'm tossing the idea out there.

Would you have time to start a wiki whose purpose was to be edited into a book, coauthored by dozens of contributors, who can explain the basic simple math of their field to non-math-phobic laypeople? (This is different from just scraping Wikipedia; these would be targeted articles, perhaps some invited ones...) Of course that could end up taking more time due to the infamous herding cats problem. But I'd love to have that book to read on the BART train.

3Yoav Ravid2yFor those wondering about the answer - he did, it's called Arbital []. but it was discontinued (see arbital postmortem [])
Evolutionary Psychology

What are you saying - that EP has closed the book on them?

My point about infanticide etc. was that EP has bigger problems for becoming generally accepted than how difficult it is to reason about - problems having to do with a perceived removal of agency from human beings.

Anyway, it doesn't strike me as surprising that purely evolutionary mechanisms led to our psychology, and especially not our sense of morality. Are these things much more complex than any other animal behavior we're happily willing to concede to evolution?

Evolutionary Psychology
"To reason correctly about evolutionary psychology you must simultaneously consider many complicated abstract facts that are strongly related yet importantly distinct, without a single mixup or conflation."

Sure, but after a while this just becomes a habit and I don't think it's more difficult than, say, organic chemistry. But without some practice or exposure, it is deeply counterintuitive. It's also probably encroaching on some sacred territory. You can subject some atrocious things like infanticide and homicidal rampages to evolutionary expla... (read more)

Fake Optimization Criteria
Where is the standardized, open-source, generally intelligent, consequentialist optimization process into which we can feed a complete morality as an XML file, to find out what that morality really recommends when applied to our world?

We have reasons to think this step will never be easy. If you imagine that this file, like most files, is something like version 2.1.8, who is going to make the decision to make this version "count", instead of waiting to see what comes out of the tests underway in version 2.1.9? By what moral critera will we deci... (read more)

The Tragedy of Group Selectionism

Everything Wiseman is describing is happening at the level of the gene, not the population.

Imagine there is a gene for breeding rate - different variants of the gene give rise to different breeding rates (1, 2, .... offspring per year, let's say). A fox that has a high-rate allele of the gene will spend more energy on breeding than on caring for existing offspring, while the reverse is true with a fox that has a low-rate allele.

Given the natural fluctuations of food availability over the long term, there is going to be an optimal range of breeding rates. ... (read more)

The Tragedy of Group Selectionism

(Oops, I didn't refresh for a while and I see you beat me to the critique, Constant.)

The Tragedy of Group Selectionism

Wiseman, you need to put your scenario into mathematical terms, or write a simulation, or something. It's too easy to imagine some foxes and rabbits breeding and scurrying about, and convince yourself that something is possible. In any case the situation you described is not "group selection", but good old-fashioned gene-level selection. In this case it's selection for genes that lead to an optimal breeding rate.

An Alien God

Most of the essay is thoughtful and interesting as usual - good points about laypeople uttering "evolution" with the same semantic force with which others utter "god". But why bring up that god stuff at the end? Doesn't it just create confusion to stretch metaphors this way? You have only to look at how religionists have seized on Einstein's and Hawking's metaphorical use of the word "god" to suit their purposes.

Evolution isn't "god", it's just what happens when you have competition between replicators. Trying to use... (read more)

Torture vs. Dust Specks

Okay, here's the data: I choose SPECKS, and here is my background and reasons.

I am a cell biologist. That is perhaps not relevant.

My reasoning is that I do not think that there is much meaning in adding up individual instances of dust specks. Those of you who choose TORTURE seem to think that there is a net disutility that you obtain by multiplying epsilon by 3^^^3. This is obviously greater than the disutility of torturing one person.
I reject the premise that there is a meaningful sense in which these dust specks can "add up".

You can think in... (read more)

Torture vs. Dust Specks

My algorithm goes like this:
there are two variables, X and Y.
Adding a single additional dust speck to a person's eye over their entire lifetime increases X by 1 for every person this happens to.
A person being tortured for a few minutes increases Y by 1.

I would object to most situations where Y is greater than 1. But I have no preferences at all with regard to X.

See? Dust specks and torture are not the same. I do not lump them together as "disutility". To do so seems to me a preposterous oversimplification. In any case, it has to be argued that... (read more)

Torture vs. Dust Specks

If you could take all the pain and discomfort you will ever feel in your life, and compress it into a 12-hour interval, so you really feel ALL of it right then, and then after the 12 hours are up you have no ill effects - would you do it? I certainly would. In fact, I would probably make the trade even if it were 2 or 3 times longer-lasting and of the same intensity. But something doesn't make sense now... am I saying I would gladly double or triple the pain I feel over my whole life?

The upshot is that there are some very nonlinear phenomena involved with ... (read more)

8JoeSchmoe12y"If you could take all the pain and discomfort you will ever feel in your life, and compress it into a 12-hour interval, so you really feel ALL of it right then, and then after the 12 hours are up you have no ill effects - would you do it? I certainly would."" Hubris. You don't know, can't know, how that pain would/could be instrumental in processing external stimuli in ways that enable you to make better decisions. "The sort of pain that builds character, as they say". The concept of processing 'pain' in all its forms is rooted very deep in humanity -- get rid of it entirely (as opposed to modulating it as we currently do), and you run a strong risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, especially if you then have an assurance that your life will have no pain going forward. There's a strong argument to be made for deference to traditional human experience in the face of the unknown.
Bay Area Bayesians Unite!

Looks like there had been 52 responses before me.. I hope I am free to attend (I'm in Berkeley..)

Belief in Belief

From the post:

While I disagree with Dennett on some details and complications, I still think that Dennett's notion of belief in belief is the key insight necessary to understand the dragon-claimant. But we need a wider concept of belief, not limited to verbal sentences.

If you've read Dennett on beliefs, you'll appreciate that this "wider concept" based on behavior and predictability is really at the heart of things.

I think it is very difficult to attribute a belief in dragons to this "dragon-believer". Only a small subset of his acti... (read more)