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You'll die if you do that

This is why you don't eat silica gel.

I'm always mildly bemused by the use of quotation marks on these packets. I've always seen:



Why would the quotation actually be printed on the package? Who are they quoting?

Building rationalist communities: a series overview

What are you all most interested in?

Your solution to the "Four People Who Do Everything" organization problem. This will be immediately relevant to my responsibilities within the next couple months.

Your Evolved Intuitions

I'm actually not making an accusation of overconfidence; just pointing out that using qualified language doesn't protect against it. I would prefer language that gives (or at least suggests) probability estimates or degrees of confidence, rather than phrases like "looks like" or "many suggest".

ID theorists are more likely than evolutionary biologists to use phrases like "looks like" or "many suggest" to defend their ideas, because those phrases hide the actual likelihood of ID. When I find myself thinking, "it could be that X," instead of "because of A and B, X is likely," I suspect myself of being overconfident, and I apply the same heuristic to statements from other people.

Your Evolved Intuitions

An exercise in parody:

  • The bacterial flagellum looks like a good candidate for an intelligently designed structure.

  • Many [non-biologist] researchers think Intelligent Design has explanatory value.

  • Many [non-biologist] researchers suggest Intelligent Design is scientifically useful.

  • Our brains may have been intelligently designed to...

  • but we may not have been designed to...

Evolutionary psychology isn't as catastrophically implausible as ID; hence the bit about parody. The point is that merely using qualified language is no guarantee against overconfidence.

Offense versus harm minimization

I'm not convinced that "offense" is a variety of "pain" in the first place. They feel to me like two different things.

When I imagine a scenario that hurts me without offending me (e.g. accidentally touching a hot stovetop), I anticipate feelings like pain response and distraction in the short term, fear in the medium term, and aversion in the long term.

When I imagine a scenario that offends me without hurting me (e.g. overhearing a slur against a group of which I'm not a member) I anticipate feelings like anger and urge-to-punish in the short term, wariness and distrust in the medium term, and invoking heavy status penalties or even fully disassociating myself from the offensive party in the long term.

Of course, an action can be both offensive and painful, like the anti-Semitic slurs you mention. But an offensive action need not be painful. My intuition suggests that this is a principled reason (as opposed to a practical one) for the general norm of pluralistic societies that offensiveness alone is not enough to constrain free speech.

I'm not sure which category the British Fish thought experiment falls into; the description doesn't completely clarify whether the Britons are feeling pained or offended or both.

We are not living in a simulation

They're a physical effect caused by the operation of a brain

You haven't excluded a computational explanation of qualia by saying this. You haven't even argued against it! Computations are physical phenomena that have meaningful consequences.

"Mental phenomena are a physical effect caused by the operation of a brain."

"The image on my computer monitor is a physical effect caused by the operation of the computer."

I'm starting to think you're confused as a result of using language in a way that allows you to claim computations "don't exist," while qualia do.

As to your linked comment: ISTM that qualia are what an experience feels like from the inside. Maybe it's just me, but qualia don't seem especially difficult to explain or understand. I don't think qualia would even be regarded as worth talking about, except that confused dualists try to use them against materialism.

We are not living in a simulation

I didn't intend to start a reductionist "race to the bottom," only to point out that minds and computations clearly do exist. "Reducible" and "non-existent" aren't synonyms!

Since you prefer the question in your edit, I'll answer it directly:

if I replaced the two hemispheres of your brain with two apples, clearly you would become quite ill, even though similarity in number has been preserved. If you believe that "embodying the same computation" is somehow a privileged concept in this regard -- that if I replaced your brain with something else embodying the same computation that you would feel yourself to be unharmed -- what is your justification for believing this?

Computation is "privileged" only in the sense that computationally identical substitutions leave my mind, preferences, qualia, etc. intact; because those things are themselves computations. If you replaced my brain with a computationally equivalent computer weighing two tons, I would certainly notice a difference and consider myself harmed. But the harm wouldn't have been done to my mind.

I feel like there must be something we've missed, because I'm still not sure where exactly we disagree. I'm pretty sure you don't think that qualia are reified in the brain-- that a surgeon could go in with tongs and pull out a little lump of qualia-- and I think you might even agree with the analogy that brains:hardware::minds:software. So if there's still a disagreement to be had, what is it? If qualia and other mental phenomena are not computational, then what are they?

We are not living in a simulation

If computation doesn't exist because it's "a linguistic abstraction of things that exist within physics", then CPUs, apples, oranges, qualia, "physical media" and people don't exist; all of those things are also linguistic abstractions of things that exist within physics. Physics is made of things like quarks and leptons, not apples and qualia. I don't think this definition of existence is particularly useful in context.

As to your fruit analogy: two apples do in fact produce the same qualia as two oranges, with respect to number! Obviously color, smell, etc. are different, but in both cases I have the experience of seeing two objects. And if I'm trying to do sums by putting apples or oranges together, substituting one for the other will give the same result. In comparing my brain to a hypothetical simulation of my brain running on a microchip, I would claim a number of differences (weight, moisture content, smell...), but I hold that what makes me me would be present in either one.

See you in the morning! :)

We are not living in a simulation

"Computation exists within physics" is not equivalent to " "2" exists within physics."

If computation doesn't exist within physics, then we're communicating supernaturally.

If qualia aren't computations embodied in the physical substrate of a mind, then I don't know what they are.

We are not living in a simulation

I'm asserting that qualia, reasoning, and other relevant phenomena that a brain produces are computational, and that by computing them, a Turing machine can reproduce them with perfect accuracy. I apologize if this was not clear.

Adding two and two is a computation. An abacus is one substrate on which addition can be performed; a computer is another.

I know what it means to compute "2+2" on an abacus. I know what it means to compute "2+2" on a computer. I know what it means to simulate "2+2 on an abacus" on a computer. I even know what it means to simulate "2+2 on a computer" on an abacus (although I certainly wouldn't want to have to actually do so!). I do not know what it means to simulate "2+2" on a computer.

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