Rescuing the Extropy Magazine archives

Hi, see above for my email address. Email me a request at that address. I don't have your email. I just sent you a message.

ADDED in 2021: Some people tried to contact me thru LessWrong and Facebook. I check messages there like once a year.  Nobody sent me an email at the email address I gave above. I've edited it to make it more clear what my email address is.

Debate update: Obfuscated arguments problem

[Original first point deleted, on account of describing something that resembled Bayesian updating closely enough to make my point invalid.]

I don't think this approach applies to most actual bad arguments.

The things we argue about the most are ones over which the population is polarized, and polarization is usually caused by conflicts between different worldviews.  Worldviews are constructed to be nearly self-consistent.  So you're not going to be able to reconcile people of different worldviews by comparing proofs.  Wrong beliefs come in sets, where each contradiction caused by one wrong belief is justified by other wrong beliefs.

So for instance, a LessWrongian would tell a Christian that positing a God doesn't explain how life was made, because she's just replaced a complex first life form with an even more-complex God, and what made God?  The Christian will reliably respond that God is eternal, outside of space and time, and was never made.

This response sounds stupid to us, but it's part of a philosophical system built by Plato, which he designed to be self-consistent.  The key parts here are the inversion of "complexity" and the denial of mechanism.

The inversion of complexity is the belief that simple things are greater and more powerful than complex things. The central notion is "purity", and pure, simple things are always superior to complicated things. God is defined as ultimate purity and simplicity.  God is simple because you can fully describe Him just by saying he's perfect, and there's only one way of being perfect.  He's eternal, because if he had a starting-point or an ending-point in time, then other points in time would be equally good, and "perfection" would be ambiguous.  "God is perfectly simple" is actually part of Catholic dogma, and derived from Plato.  So a Christian doesn't think she's replaced complex life with a more-complex God; she's replaced it with a more-simple and therefore more-powerful God.

The denial of mechanism is the denial that anything gets its properties mechanistically.  An animal isn't alive because it eats food and metabolizes it and reproduces; it eats food and metabolizes it and reproduces because it's alive.  Functions are magically inherited from categories ("Forms"), rather than categories arising from a cooperative combination of functions.  (This is why spiritualists who believe in a good God dislike machinery.  It's an abomination to them, as it has new capabilities not inherited from any eternal Form, and their intuition is that it must be animated by some spirit other than God.  They think of magic as natural, and causes other than magic as unnatural; we think just the opposite.)

Because God is perfect, He is omnipotent, and hence has every possible capability, just as he is perfect in every way.  Everything less than God is less powerful, lacking some capabilities, and more-complex, because you must enumerate all those missing capabilities and perfections to describe it.  (This is the metaphysics behind Tolstoy's saying, "Every happy family is happy in the same way. Every unhappy family is unhappy in different ways.”)  The Great Chain of Being is a complete linear ordering of every eternal Form, proceeding from God at the top (perfect, simple, omnipotent), down to complete lack and emptiness at the other end (which is Augustinian Evil).  Each step along that chain is a loss of some perfection.

Hence, to the Christian there's no "problem" of complexity in saying that God created life, because God is less-complex than life, and therefore also more-powerful, since complexity implies many losses of perfection and capabilities.  There is no need to posit that God is complex to explain His powers, because capabilities arise from essence, not from mechanics, and God's perfectly-simple essence is to have all capabilities.  This is because Plato designed his ontology to eliminate the problem of how complex life arose.

If you argue with Marxists, post-modernists, or the Woke, you'll similarly find that, for every solid argument you have that proves a belief of theirs is wrong, they have some assumptions which to them justify dismissing your argument.  You'll never find yourself able to compare proofs with an ideological opposite and agree on the validity of each step.

Where do (did?) stable, cooperative institutions come from?

"Cynicism is a self-fulfilling prophecy; believing that an institution is bad makes the people within it stop trying, and the good people stop going there."

I think this is a key observation. Western academia has grown continually more cynical since the advent of Marxism, which assumes an almost absolute cynicism as a point of dogma: all actions are political actions motivated by class, except those of bourgeois Marxists who for mysterious reasons advocate the interests of the proletariat.

This cynicism became even worse with Foucault, who taught people to see everything as nothing but power relations.  Western academics today are such knee-jerk cynics that they can't conceive of loyalty to any organization other than Marxism or the Social Justice movement as being anything but exploitation of the one being loyal.

Pride is the opposite of cynicism, and is one of the key feelings that makes people take brave, altruistic actions.  Yet today we've made pride a luxury of the oppressed.  Only groups perceived as oppressed are allowed to have pride in group memberships.  If you said you were proud of being American, or of being manly, you'd get deplatformed, and possibly fired.

The defamation of pride in mainstream groups is thus destroying our society's ability to create or maintain mainstream institutions.  In my own cynicism, I think someone deliberately intended this.  This defamation began with Marxism, and is now supported by the social justice movement, both of which are Hegelian revolutionary movements which believe that the first step toward making civilization better is to destroy it, or at least destabilize it enough to stage a coup or revolution.  This is the "clean sweep" spoken of so often by revolutionaries since the French Revolution.

Since their primary goal is to destroy civilization, it makes perfect sense that they begin by convincing people that taking pride in any mainstream identity or group membership is evil, as this will be sufficient to destroy all cooperative social institutions, and hence civilization.

The Solomonoff Prior is Malign

"At its core, this is the main argument why the Solomonoff prior is malign: a lot of the programs will contain agents with preferences, these agents will seek to influence the Solomonoff prior, and they will be able to do so effectively."

First, this is irrelevant to most applications of the Solomonoff prior.  If I'm using it to check the randomness of my random number generator, I'm going to be looking at 64-bit strings, and probably very few intelligent-life-producing universe-simulators output just 64 bits, and it's hard to imagine how an alien in a simulated universe would want to bias my RNG anyway.

The S. prior is a general-purpose prior which we can apply to any problem.  The output string has no meaning except in a particular application and representation, so it seems senseless to try to influence the prior for a string when you don't know how that string will be interpreted.

Can you give an instance of an application of the S. prior in which, if everything you wrote were correct, it would matter?

Second, it isn't clear that this is a bug rather than a feature.  Say I'm developing a program to compress photos.  I'd like to be able to ask "what are the odds of seeing this image, ever, in any universe?"  That would probably compress images of plants and animals better than other priors, because in lots of universes life will arise and evolve, and features like radial symmetry, bilateral symmetry, leafs, legs, etc., will arise in many universes.  This biasing of priors by evolution doesn't seem to me different than biasing of priors by intelligent agents; evolution is smarter than any agent we know.  And I'd like to get biasing from intelligent agents, too; then my photo-compressor might compress images of wheels and rectilinear buildings better.

Also in the category of "it's a feature, not a bug" is that, if you want your values to be right, and there's a way of learning the values of agents in many possible universes, you ought to try to figure out what their values are, and update towards them.  This argument implies that you can get that for free by using Solomonoff priors.

(If you don't think your values can be "right", but instead you just believe that your values morally oblige you to want other people to have those values, you're not following your values, you're following your theory about your values, and probably read too much LessWrong for your own good.)

Third, what do you mean by "the output" of a program that simulates a universe? How are we even supposed to notice the infinitesimal fraction of that universe's output which the aliens are influencing to subvert us?  Take your example of Life--is the output a raster scan of the 2D bit array left when the universe goes static?  In that case, agents have little control over the terminal state of their universe (and also, in the case of Life, the string will be either almost entirely zeroes, or almost entirely 1s, and those both already have huge Solomonoff priors).  Or is it the concatenation of all of the states it goes through, from start to finish?  In that case, by the time intelligent agents evolve, their universe will have already produced more bits than our universe can ever read.

Are you imagining that bits are never output unless the accidentally-simulated aliens choose to output a bit?  I can't imagine any way that could happen, at least not if the universe is specified with a short instruction string.

This brings us to the 4th problem:  It makes little sense to me to worry about averaging in outputs from even mere planetary simulations if your computer is just the size of a planet, because it won't even have enough memory to read in a single output string from most such simulations.

5th, you can weigh each program's output proportional to 2^-T, where T is the number of steps it takes the TM to terminate.  You've got to do something like that anyway, because you can't run TMs to completion one after another; you've got to do something like take a large random sample of TMs and iteratively run each one step.  Problem solved.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding something basic, but I feel like we're talking about many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that you're talking about an entire universe of intelligent agents conspiring to change the "output string" of the TM that they're running in.  This requires them to realize that they're running in a simulation, and that the output string they're trying to influence won't even be looked at until they're all dead and gone.  That doesn't seem to give them much motivation to devote their entire civilization to twiddling bits in their universe's final output in order to shift our priors infinitesimally.  And if it did, the more likely outcome would be an intergalactic war over what string to output.

(I understand your point about them trying to "write themselves into existence, allowing them to effectively "break into" our universe", but as you've already required their TM specification to be very simple, this means the most they can do is cause some type of life that might evolve in their universe to break into our universe.  This would be like humans on Earth devoting the next billion years to tricking God into re-creating slime molds after we're dead.  Whereas the things about themselves that intelligent life actually care about with and self-identify with are those things that distinguish them from their neighbors.  Their values will be directed mainly towards opposing the values of other members of their species.  None of those distinguishing traits can be implicit in the TM, and even if they could, they'd cancel each other out.)

Now, if they were able to encode a message to us in their output string, that might be more satisfying to them.  Like, maybe, "FUCK YOU, GOD!"

Honoring Petrov Day on LessWrong, in 2020

I think we learned that trolls will destroy the world.

Stupidity as a mental illness

It's only offensive if you still think of mental illness as shameful.

Stupidity as a mental illness

Me: We could be more successful at increasing general human intelligence if we looked at low intelligence as something that people didn't have to be ashamed of, and that could be remedied, much as how we now try to look at depression and other mental illness as illness--a condition which can often be treated and which people don't need to be ashamed of.

You: YOU MONSTER! You want to call stupidity "mental illness", and mental illness is a bad and shameful thing!

Group selection update

That's technically true, but it doesn't help a lot. You're assuming one starts with fixation to non-SC in a species. But how does one get to that point of fixation, starting from fixation of SC, which is more advantageous to the individual? That's the problem.

Group selection update

It's not that I no longer endorse it; it's that I replied to a deleted comment instead of to the identical not-deleted comment.

Group selection update
Group selection, as I've heard it explained before, is the idea that genes spread because their effects are for the good of the species. The whole point of evolution is that genes do well because of what they do for the survival of the gene. The effect isn't on the group, or on the individual, the species, or any other unit other than the unit that gets copied and inherited.

Group selection is group selection: selection of groups. That means the phenotype is group behavior, and the effect of selection is spread equally among members of the group. If the effect is death, this eliminates an entire group at once--and the nearer a selfish gene approaches fixation, the more likely it is to trigger a group extinction. Consider what would happen if you ran Axelrod's experiments with group selection implemented, so that groups went extinct if total payoff in the group below some threshold.

The key point is nonlinearity. If the group fitness function is a nonlinear function of the prevalence of a gene, then it dramatically changes fixation and extinction rates.

Well, maybe. If the plant has a typical set of recessive genes in its genome, self-fertilisation is a disaster. A few generations down the line, the self-fertilising plant will have plenty of genetic problems arising from recessive gene problems, and will probably die out. This means that self-fertilisation is bad - a gene for self-fertilisation will only prosper in those cases where it's not fertilising itself. It will do worse.

No. Self-fertilisation doesn't prevent cross-fertilisation. The self-fertilizer has just as many offspring from cross-fertilization as the self-sterile plant, but it has in addition clones of itself. Many of these clones may die, but if just one of them survives, it's still a gain.


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