All of ruelian's Comments + Replies

I think the basic problem here is an undissolved question: what is 'intelligence'? Humans, being human, tend to imagine a superintelligence as a highly augmented human intelligence, so the natural assumption is that regardless of the 'level' of intelligence, skills will cluster roughly the way they do in human minds, i.e. having the ability to take over the world implies a high posterior probability of having the ability to understand human goals.

The problem with this assumption is that mind-design space is large (<--understatement), and the prior pro... (read more)

What is this process of random design? Actual Ai design is done by humans trying to emulate human abilities.
Possibly the question is to what extent is human intelligence a bunch of hardcoded domain-specific algorithms as opposed to universal intelligence. I would have thought that understanding human goals might not be very different from other AI problems. Build a really powerful inference system, and if you feed it a training set of cars driving, it learns to drive, feed it data of human behaviour, and it learns to predict human behaviour, and probably to understand goals. Now its possible that the amount of general intelligence needed to develop advanced nanotech is less then the intelligence needed to understand human goals and the only reason why this seems counter intuitive is because evolution has optimised our brains for social cognition, but this does not seem obviously true to me.

Looking for advice with something it seems LW can help with.

I'm currently part of a program the trains highly intelligent people to be more effective, particularly with regards to scientific research and effecting change within large systems of people. I'm sorry to be vague, but I can't actually say more than that.

As part of our program, we organize seminars for ourselves on various interesting topics. The upcoming one is on self-improvement, and aims to explore the following questions: Who am I? What are my goals? How do I get there?

Naturally, I'm of the ... (read more)

A few random thoughts: A system composed of atoms. (As opposed to a magical immaterial being who merely happens to be trapped in a material body, but can easily overcome all its limitations by sufficient belief / mysterious willpower / positive thinking.) That means I should pay some attention to me as a causal system; to try seeing myself as an outside observer would. For example, instead of telling myself that I should be e.g. "productive", I should rather look into my past and see what kinds of circumstances have historically made me more "productive"; and then try to replicate those more reliably. To pay attention to the trivial inconveniences [], superstimuli, peer pressure -- simply to be humble enough to admit that in short term I may be less of the source of my actions than I would like to believe, and that the proper way to fix it is to be strategic in long term, which is not going to happen automatically. Most people value happiness. But the human value is complex; we also want our beliefs to correspond to reality instead of merely believing pretty lies or getting good feelings from drugs. Often people are bad at predicting what would make them happy. There is often a difference between how something feels when we plan it, when we are living it, and when we remember the thing afterwards. For example, people planning vacation can overestimate how good the vacation will be, and they may underestimate the little joys of everyday life. Or a difficult experience may improve relationships between people who suffered together, and make a good story afterwards, thus creating a lot of value in long term despite being shitty at the moment. Sometimes we have goals, or we tell ourselves that something will be awesome, under influence of other people. We should make sure those people are in our "reference group", and that they are speaking from their experience instead of merely repeating popular beliefs (in bes
"How to Actually Change Your Mind" is a great topic. I good way to start such a workshop is by having everybody write down instances where they changed their mind in the last year and then discuss those examples.
Idea that might or might be relevant depending on how smart / advanced your group is. You could introduce some advanced statistical methods and use it to derive results from everyday life, a la Bayes and mammography []. If you can show some interesting or counter intuitive results (that you can't obtain with intuition) it would give the affective experience you want, and if they want to do scientific research, the more they know about statistics the better. Statistics are also a good entry door for rationalist thinking.

It also depends on the jeans. Some jeans are, for some reason, more likely to smell after being worn just once. I have no idea why, but several people I know have corroborated this independently.

One thing that can affect this is the material used in the jeans. Typically, a lot of synthetic fabrics tend to start smelling more easily, while wool and silk are known for being naturally odor resistant. This can vary some, but it's a good general guideline.

Map and territory - why is rationality important in the first place?

Alright, that works too. We're allowed to think differently. Now I'm curious, could you define your way of thinking more precisely? I'm not quite sure I grok it.

So, I'd say there are three modes of thinking I can identify: * Normal thinking, what I'm doing the vast majority of the time. I'm thinking by manipulating concepts, which are just, well, things. * Introspective thinking, where I'm doing the first kind of thinking, and thinking about it. Because the map can't be the territory, when I'm thinking about thinking the concepts I'm thinking about are represented by something simpler than themselves - if you're thinking about thinking about sheep then the sheep you're thinking about thinking about can't be as complex as the sheep you're thinking about. In fact they're represented either by words, or by something isomorphic to words - labels for concepts. So when I'm thinking about thinking, the thinking-about-thinking is verbal - but the thinking isn't (although there's a light-in-the-fridge effect that might make one think it was). * Auditory thinking, where I'm thinking in words in my head, planning a speech (or more likely a piece of writing - and most of the time I never actually write or say it). This is the only kind of thinking I'm conscious of doing that really feels verbal, but it feels sensory rather than thinking in words; I'm hearing a voice in my cartesian theater.

So, essentially, there isn't actually any way of getting around the hard work. (I think I already knew that and just decided to go on not acting on it for a while longer.) Oh well, the hard work part is also fun.

This appears to be a useful skill that I haven't practiced enough, especially for non-proof-related thinking. I'll get right on that.

reads the first essay and bookmarks the page with the rest

Thanks for that, it made for enjoyable and thought-provoking reading.

I don't really have good definitions at this point, but in my head the distinction between verbal and nonverbal thinking is a matter of order. When I'm thinking nonverbally, my brain addresses the concepts I'm thinking about and the way they relate to each other, then puts them to words. When I'm thinking verbally, my brain comes up with the relevant word first, then pulls up the concept. It's not binary; I tend to put it on a spectrum, but one that has a definite tipping point. Kinda like a number line: it's ordered and continuous, but at some point you cross zero and switch from positive to negative. Does that even make sense?

It makes sense but it doesn't match my subjective experience.

Right, that makes much more sense now, thanks.

One of my current problems is that I don't understand my brain well enough for nonverbal thinking not to turn into a black box. I think this might be a matter of inexperience, as I only recently managed intuitive, nonverbal understanding of math concepts, so I'm not always entirely sure what my brain is doing. (Anecdotally, my intuitive understanding of a problem produces good results more often than not, but any time my evidence is anecdotal there's this voice in my head that yells "don't update on that, ... (read more)

Doing everything both ways, nonverbal and verbal, has lent itself to better understanding of the reasoning. Which touches on the anecdote problem, if you test every nonverbal result; you get something statistically relevant. If your odds are more often than not with nonverbal, testing every result and digging for the mistakes will increase your understanding (disclaimer: this is hard work).

I'd say that my thinking about mathematics is just as verbal as any other thinking.

Just to clarify, because this will help me categorize information: do you not do the nonverbal kind of thinking at all, or is it all just mixed together?

I'm not really conscious of the distinction, unless you're talking about outright auditory things like rehearsing a speech in my head. The overwhelming majority of my thinking is in a format where I'm thinking in terms of concepts that I have a word for, but probably not consciously using the word until I start thinking about what I'm thinking about. Do you have a precise definition of "verbal"? But whether you call it verbal or not, it feels like it's all the same thing.

Could you please explain what you mean by "correct" and "accurate" in this case? I have a general idea, but I'm not quite sure I get it.

Correct and Precise may have been better terms. By correct I mean a result that I have very high confidence in, but that is not precise enough to be useable. By accurate I mean a result that is very precise but with far less confidence that it is correct. As an example, consider a damped oscillation word problem from first year. You are very confident that as time approaches infinity that the displacement will approach a value just by looking at it, but you don't know that value. Now when you crunch the numbers (the verbal process in the extreme) you get a very specific value that the function approaches, but have less confidence that that value is correct, you could have made any of a number of mistakes. In this example the classic wrong result is the displacement is in the opposite direction as the applied force. This is a very simple example so it may be hard to separate the non-verbal process from the verbal, but there are many cases where you know what the result should look like but deriving the equations and relations can turn into a black box.

I only got to a nonverbal level of understanding of advanced math fairly recently, and the first time I experienced it I think it might have permanently changed my life. But if you dream about math...well, that means I still have a long way to go and deeper levels of understanding to discover. Yay!

Follow-up question (just because I'm curious): how do you approach math problems differently when working on them from the angle of engineering, as opposed to pure math?

It seemed to me that the people I knew who were studying pure math spent a lot of time on proofs, and that math was taught to them with very little context for how the math might be used in the real world, and without a view as to which parts were more important than others. In engineering classes we proved things too, but that was usually only a first step to using the concepts to work on some other problem. There was more time spent on some types of math than on others. Some things were considered to be more useful and important than others. Usually some sort of approximations or assumptions would be used, in order to make a problem simpler and able to be solved, and techniques from different branches of math were combined together whenever useful, often making for some overlap in the notation that had to be dealt with. There was also the idea that any kind of math is only an approximate model of the true situation. Any model is going to fail at some point. Every bridge that has been built has been built using approximations and assumptions, and yet most bridges stay up. Learning when one can trust the approximations and assumptions is vital. People can die if you get it wrong. Learning the habit of writing down explicitly what the assumptions and approximations are, and to have a sense for where they are valid and where they are not, is a skill that I value, and have carried over into other aspects of my life. Another thing is that math is usually in service of some other goal. There are design constraints and criteria, and whatever math you can bring in to get it done is welcome, and other math is extraneous. The beauty of math can be admired, but a kludgy theory that is accurate to real world conditions gets more respect than a pretty theory that is less accurate. In fact, sometimes engineers end up making kludgy theory that solves engineering problems into some sophisticated mathematics that looks more formal and has some interesting properties, and then it

I have a question for anyone who spends a fair amount of their time thinking about math: how exactly do you do it, and why?

To specify, I've tried thinking about math in two rather distinct ways. One is verbal and involves stating terms, definitions, and the logical steps of inference I'm making in my head or out loud, as I frequently talk to myself during this process. This type of thinking is slow, but it tends to work better for actually writing proofs and when I don't yet have an intuitive understanding of the concepts involved.

The other is nonverbal ... (read more)

Each serves its own purpose. It is like the technical and artistic sides of musical performance: the technique serves the artistry. In a sense the former is subordinate to the latter, but only in the sense that the foundation of a building is subordinate to its superstructure. To perform well enough that someone else would want to listen, you need both. This [] may be useful reading, and the essays here [] (from which the former is linked).
As someone with a Ph.D. in math, I tend to think verbally in as much as I have words attached to the concepts I'm thinking about, but I never go so far as to internally vocalize the steps of the logic I'm following until I'm at the point of actually writing something down. I think there is another much stronger distinction in mathematical thinking, which is formal vs. informal. This isn't the same distinction as verbal vs. nonverbal, for instance, formal thinking can involve manipulation of symbols and equations in addition to definitions and theorems, and I often do informal thinking by coming up with pretty explicitly verbal stories for what a theorem or definition means (though pictures are helpful too). I personally lean heavily towards informal thinking, and I'd say that trying to come up with a story or picture for what each theorem or definition means as you are reading will help you a lot. This can be very hard sometimes. If you open a book or paper and aren't able to get anywhere when you try do this to the first chapter, it's a good sign that you are reading something too difficult for your current understanding of that particular field. At a high level of mastery of a particular subject, you can turn informal thinking into proofs and theorems, but the first step is to be able to create stories and pictures out of the theorems, proofs, and definitions you are reading.
I'm a math undergrad, and I definitely spend more time in the second sort of style. I find that my intuition is rather reliable, so maybe that's why I'm so successful at math. This might be hitting into the "two cultures of mathematics []", where I am definitely on the theory builder/algebraist side. I study category theory and other abstract nonsense, and I am rather bad (relative to my peers) at Putnam style problems.
I don't tend to do a lot of proofs anymore. When I think of math, I find it most important to be able to flip back and forth between symbol and referent freely - look at an equation and visualize the solutions, or (to take one example of the reverse) see a curve and think of ways of representing it as an equation. Since when visualizing numbers will often not be available, I tend to think of properties of a Taylor or Fourier series for that graph. I do a visual derivative and integral. That way, the visual part tells me where to go with the symbolic part. Things grind to a halt when I have trouble piecing that visualization together.
I don't see a clear verbal vs. non-verbal dichotomy - or at least the non-verbal side has lots of variants. To gain an intuitive non-verbal understanding can involve * visual aids (from precise to vague): graphs, diagrams, patterns (esp. repetitions), pictures, vivid imagination (esp. for memorizing) * acoustic aids: rhythms (works with muscle memory too), patterns in the spoken form, creating sounds for elements * abstract thinking (from precise to vague): logical inference, semantic relationships (is-a, exists, always), vague relationships (discovering that the more of this seems to imply the more of that) Note: Logical inference seems to be the verbal part you mean, but I don't think symbolic thinking is always verbal. Its conscious derivation may be though. And I hear that the verbal side despite lending itself to more symbolic thinking can nonetheless work its grammar magic on an intuitive level too (though not for me). Personally if I really want to solve a mathematical problem I immerse myself in it. I try lots of attack angles from the list above (not systematically but as it seems fit). I'm an abstract thinker and don't rely on verbal, acoustic or motor cues a lot. Even visual aids don't play a large role though I do a lot of sketching, listing/enumerating combinations, drawing relations/trees, tabulating values/items. If I suspect a repeating pattern I may tap to it to sound it out. If there is lengthy logical inference involved that I haven't internalized I speak the rule repeatedly to use the acoustic loop as memory aid. I play around with it during the day visualizing relationships or following steps, sometimes until in the evening everyting blurs and I fall asleep.
Personally, the nonverbal thing is the proper content of math---drawing (possibly mental) pictures to represent objects and their interactions. If I get stuck, I try doing simpler examples. If I'm still stuck, then I start writing things down verbally, mainly as a way to track down where I'm confused or where exactly I need to figure something out.
I don't really draw that distinction. I'd say that my thinking about mathematics is just as verbal as any other thinking. In fact, a good indication that I'm picking up a field is when I start thinking in the language of the field (i.e. I will actually think "homology group" and that will be a term that means something, rather than "the group formed by these actions...")
I usually think about math nonverbally. I am not usually doing such thinking to come up with proofs. My background is in engineering, so I got a different sort of approach to math in my education about math than the people who were in the math faculty at the university I attended. Sometimes I do go through a problem step by step, but usually not verbally. I sometimes make notes to help me remember things as I go along. Constraints, assumptions, design goals, etc. Explicitly stating these, which I usually do by writing them on paper, not speaking them aloud, if I'm working by myself on a problem, can help. But sometimes I am not working by myself and would say them out loud to discuss them with other people. Also, there is often more than one way to visualize or approach a problem, and I will do all of them that come to mind. I would suggest, to spend more time thinking about math, find something that you find really beautiful about math and start there, and learn more about it. Appreciate it, and be playful with it. Also, find a community where you can bounce ideas around and get other people's thoughts and ideas about the math you are thinking about. Some of this stuff can be tough to learn alone. I'm not sure how well this advice might work, your mileage may vary. When I am really understanding the math, it seems like it goes directly from equations on the paper right into my brain as images and feelings and relations between concepts. No verbal part of it. I dream about math that way too.
As someone employed doing mid-level math (structural design), I'm much like most others you've talked to. The entirely non-verbal intuitive method is fast, and it tends to be highly correct if not accurate. The verbal method is a lot slower, but it lends itself nicely to being put to paper and great for getting highly accurate if not correct answers. So everything that matters gets done twice, for accurate correct results. Of course, because it is fast the intuitive method is prefered for brainstorming, then the verbal method verifies any promising brainstorms.
I'm only a not-very-studious undergraduate (in physics), and don't spend an awful lot of time thinking about maths ourside of that, but I pretty much only think about maths in the nonverbal way - I can understand an idea when verbally explained to me, but I have to "translate it" into nonverbal maths to get use out of it.

You're right, my apologies.

My value judgment about disincentives still stands, though. Religious communities have a framework for applying social and other disincentives (and incentives) in order to achieve their desired result. That framework could be useful if adapted to the purpose of promoting rationality.

Based on admittedly anecdotal evidence I'm inclined believe this correlation, but I think we're interpreting its existence differently. In my view, by becoming more "religious" and providing more disincentives for deviating from norms, we can increase our cohesiveness and effectiveness, but this should only be done up to a point, that point being, as far as I can tell, where we as a community can no longer tolerate the disincentives. This view is based on my value judgment that not all disincentives for deviating from norms I find acceptable or admirable are unacceptable, but rather too many disincentives or those that are too extreme are unacceptable.

Be careful about keeping descriptive and normative separate. The correlation that we are talking about is descriptive and has to do with observable reality. What you think should be done and how is normative and has to do with your value judgments.

I agree that this is the case in some religious communities, and that this is not necessarily the direction a rationalist community should go. (On the other hand, I have a hard time agreeing with the proposition that social pressure in favor of rationality is a bad thing, but I have yet to reach a definite conclusion on the subject.) However, I happen to be familiar with several religious communities where direct and violent pressure to conform is not the case, and it is those communities I wish to emulate.

I feel that the cohesiveness of a community and its effectiveness at maintaining its norms is directly and strongly correlated to the disincentives that it provides for deviating from these norms. Just presence of symbols is not enough. Of course things like self-selection and evaporative cooling [] are major factors as well.

I made no mention of control. Simply being present in all aspects of life is not the same as having control over all aspects of life. For example, if you live in a western society it's extremely probable that marketing and advertising are present in many aspects of your life, but I don't think either of us would say that the simple fact of their presence gives the marketers control over those aspects of your life.

Well, yes, but I think that in practice living within a religious community imposes a lot of pressure to conform to the religious norms. Some of that pressure is social (from not being invited to the right cocktail parties to outright shunning) and some can be direct and violent. I recall that the haredim are not above throwing stones at cars on a Saturday...

Done, though sadly without the digit ratio due to lack of equipment. I'm a newbie and I just thought that was really cool.

Not necessarily. It's totalitarianism if said institutions do the ensuring through force, and without the consent of the disciples. However, by choosing to belong to a religious community, people choose to have institutions and members of the community remind them of the religious values.

The mark of totalitarianism is not force, but rather complete control over all aspects of life. "He loved Big Brother".

You're right, that was uncalled for and I retract that statement.

I think this sort of thing works differently in my country (Israel) than it does in other places. Because religious and secular societies are more segregated, it's fairly common for people to affiliate themselves with a particular group due to the community's norms, customs or values rather than religious belief.

As a newbie around here: thank you, this is quite helpful.

When explaining/arguing for rationality with the non-rational types, I have to resort to non-rational arguments. This makes me feel vaguely dirty, but it's also the only way I know of to argue with people who don't necessarily value evidence in their decision making. Unsurprisingly, many of the rationalists I know are unenthused by these discussions and frequently avoid them because they're unpleasant. It follows that the first step is to stop avoiding arguments/discussions with people of alternate value systems, which is really just a good idea anyway.

Cultivating a group identity and a feeling of superiority to the outgroup will definitely be conducive to clear-headed analysis of tactics/strategies for winning regardless of their origins/thedish affiliations/signals, and to evaluation of whether aspects of the LW memeplex are useful for winning.
Let's call them "people".

Universities are not a good example of the institutions he was talking about. Durability isn't the only important factor. One of the main strengths of religious institutions is their sheer pervasiveness; by inserting itself into every facet of life, religion ensures that its disciples can't stray too far from the path without being reminded of it. Universities, sadly, are not capable of this level of involvement in the lives of communities or individuals.

In this case, rationality should seek to emulate religion by creating institutions and thus a lifestyle... (read more)

That's called totalitarianism, by the way. Not many people consider it to be a good thing.

Until very recently I believed that I was completely anti-religious and took the opposing view to religion whenever the choice presented itself. I participated in a discussion on the topic and found myself making arguments I didn't actually agree with. This was mostly due to several habits I've been practicing to make me better at analyzing my own beliefs, most notably running background checks on any arguments I make to see where exactly in my brain they originate and constantly looking for loopholes in my arguments.

Because of this experience I've come t... (read more)

What is "religious society"? (I'm in particular confused about it being something such that one probably has a choice about whether to live in it or not.)