Reply to Nate Soares on Dolphins

How would you feel if you sunk forty months of your life into deconfusing a philosophical issue that had huge, life-altering practical stakes for you, and the response to your careful arguments from community authorities was a dismissive "haha yeah"? Would you, perhaps, be somewhat upset?

Perhaps! But also that doesn't seem to me like what happened. The response to your careful arguments was the 1000ish words that engage with what seemed to me to be the heart of your questions, and that attempted to convey some ways it seemed you were misunderstanding my communications. Also, the primary intent of the "haha yeah" was not dismissal, and the 100ish words following it were intended to convey some ways it seemed you were misunderstanding the linked twitter thread. Your apparent reading of my "haha yeah" as dismissive of your careful arguments looks to me like yet another way you're misunderstanding my communications.

(FWIW, as far as I can tell on very brief introspection, the main purpose of the 'haha yeah' was to hold open a space -- however small -- for online correspondence to be actually fun, with a comparatively minor side purpose of dismissing a very limited part of your argument. Furthermore, my conversational ethics do not permit such attempts at dismissal to be purely implicit, and the following paragraph attempts to render explicit the grounds on which I believe a specific narrow part of your argument deserved dismissal. There are forces in play whose names I don't readily have on this brief introspection, and my account might change on a deeper introspection, but I feel like I know where the dismissal is in all this, and don't expect I'd find that the main purpose was dismissal-based if I introspected further.)

My take on this conversation is that you're dramatically mismodelling me, and then running really far -- and getting quite distressed -- based on bad models. For instance, it looks to me like you read my 'haha yeah' as "the response", despite how it follows a thousand-odd words of engagement, and is sandwiched between a quote selecting a narrow portion of your argument and a paragraph explaining why I think that argument is off-kilter. I have a sense this sort of dramatic misread of my intentions has been happening repeatedly since the beginning, without engagement with my attempts at clarification, and I currently despair of communication.

I know you haven't solicited advice, but for future reference, if you were taking smaller steps in your assumptions about my intentions, and asking more and earlier questions (example: "What's the 'haha yeah' doing for you? (I'm reading it as broadly dismissive, and feel hurt by it)."), I both expect that you'd have a better chance of communicating with me, and that I'd be more enthusiastic about trying. (I acknowledge that this style of communication requires a high degree of trust, and that you might not have that trust with me.)

As things stand, I have the sense that you're lashing out wildly at shadow-versions of me you've constructed, and I'm not enthusiastic about engaging further on the object level (and my cheerful price is quite high, alas).

But when I do—and I will—if you have any scrap of human decency in your brain, you will not shitpost at me.

I've heard (perhaps incorrectly) that this is very emotionally salient to you, that you take it seriously, and that you care deeply about how I react. I feel an abstract compassion for you in this; your quest sounds like a thankless job and plausibly a virtuous one. Only abstract compassion, though, because my current emotional response is one that emits sentences like "well fuck you too; call me back when you can model me farther than you can throw me". It is from that state that I dispute your factual claim quoted above. My model of human mindspace contains variants of me who could retain some decency while shitposting in ways you perceive as being "at you". (Example: the thing I'm perceiving as you mismodelling-and-lashing-out hurts to be on the receiving end of, and I claim that humans can retain their decency while lashing out in response to being hurt. Also, I think the shitposting has purposes you're not modelling, and there are ways your response could be shaped such that shitposting in reply seems reasonable on its face.)

(ETA: the primary connotation of the above is something like "you seem to be attempting to apply pressure to me in a manner I consider invalid; it holds no sway over me" / "I have perceived this as a desperate simultaneous plea for both compassion and deference, and while I have the compassion, I lack the deference". Neither of those are quite right etc. I add this parenthetical out of an anticipation that, without it, you'll wildly misinterpret me here. I feel bitterness about how regularly and wildly you seem to misinterpret me, without apparent awareness or acknowledgement, and the bitterness tempts me to sharper phrasings.)

All that said, I've heard you as making a request that I avoid a certain type of glibness in my replies to you, on the grounds that it causes you great distress. Insofar as this doesn't cause me to stop interacting with you wholesale (eg, for fear that I'll cause you undue great distress given your apparent propensity to misread me), and insofar as I don't, like, forget when I'm banging out a very quick response, I predict I'll honor that request. And for the record, I do not intend to cause you distress, and I continue to respect your what-seems-to-me-like conviction in the pursuit of truth.

Reply to Nate Soares on Dolphins

I'm surprised you think this is "absolutely critical". Do you think I'm making a grave error in my newfound distaste for paraphyletic groupings? (My ability to notice their awkwardness felt internally like evidence that my joint-carving skills have improved over the years, ftr.) Is there some other joint-carving skill you believe I am lacking, or have lost? Or perhaps you're decrying a decay in general community epistemics, for which my thread is simply a poster-child? Or perhaps you're lamenting some general community or global decline of candor? I'm uncertain what precisely you're dismayed about, and solicit specific criticisms of my actions.

Reply to Nate Soares on Dolphins

Why? What changed?

On the object level question? Like, what changed between younger Nate who read that sequence and didn't object to that example, and older Nate who asserted (in a humorous context) that it takes staggering gymnastics to exclude dolphins from "fish"? Here's what springs to mind:

  • I noticed that there is cluster-nature to the marine-environment adaptations
  • I noticed that humans used to have a word for that cluster
  • I noticed a sense of inconsistency between including whales in "even-toed ungulates" without also including them in "lobe-finned fish".
  • I noticed that paraphyletic groupings seem to me to lack the courage of their convictions.
  • I learned that nature just keeps turning out crabs, which is a chink in the armor of phylogenetic classification schemes
  • I noticed my own discomfort as the lines around "fruit" and "berry" started wavering
  • I noticed specifically the distinction between "would be at home atop a fruit pizza" and "everything anatomically analogous to an apple"
  • I generalized, and noticed that I don't actually believe phylogenetics is generally a good way to carve up the life forms around me
  • I took stock of my phylogenetic concepts, and asked myself which concepts were lost but plausibly still useful
  • I decided that the concept previously known as "fish" (the marine adaptation cluster) had some plausible use. (In particular, the specific use that sprang to mind when I checked this a while back was the ability of kids to point at arbitrary marine creatures and say "look a fish", an influence that showed up in my thread.)

Scott's post is I think the source of the first two in me, the rest is novel to me as far as I recall.

Attempting to force the change into a single sentence, I'd say that the main thing that changed is I noticed the subtle background forces that whisper (at least to blue tribe members in their youth) "phylogenetic classification is the one true way to organize life forms", and rejected its claim.

For the record, I don't see my current state as incongruous with Eliezer's example. These days, if someone says that they have a definition of "fish" that includes salmon, guppies, sharks, dolphins, and trout but not jellyfish or algae, I might ask them how they classify camels before assuming they've made Eliezer's mistake #30. But I continue to think #30 is a real mistake (I'd gloss it as "insisting that your concept denotes an awkward boundary even after the boundary has been revealed to be awkward"), and that Eliezer's given example is still doing its job, despite the fact that I'd now say it gets a clarity boost from the subtle-implicit-insidious background cultural context on the ultimacy of phylogenetics, which it perhaps does not deserve.

None of this feels like a big reversal to me. I'd say that the hypothetical person in the example can be understood from context to be proposing a definition of "fish" useful for predicting features like breathing apparatus and bone structure (thanks to implicit, insidious, familiar, and universal background assumptions), and the "nitwit game" is to deny error and assert that the actual desideratum on the definition is that it be shaped in precisely thus-and-such an awkward way. I haven't changed my stance on that point. I also don't think it's a "nitwit game" to say "oh, this concept is actually intended for predicting existence of vertibrae, sorry for the confusion".

I think the place where I've made a decent-sized shift is that the idea of assigning a whole monosyllable to a notion that includes both the jawed and jawless fish, but excludes the shellfish, jellyfish, starfish, and the subset of jawed fish that routed through terrestrial forms, feels a lot more awkward to me than it used to. I don't really see myself using that concept much in practice -- and, like, if I'm watching a documentary on ocean creatures, I don't think I'm being done any favors by having word-structures that group lungfish and lamprey while excluding sea turtles. This is the sense in which it seems to me to take some gymnastics to arrive at the modern word "fish" (as opposed to, say, shorter words for bony fish and jawless fish, plus a "fish" word that includes bears, plus a "fish" word that includes cuttlefish and crayfish), and, furthermore, some gymnastics to find a variant of "fish" that does not include dolphins.

I don't stand by the claim that these gymnastics are "staggering" -- at least, not in the sense that the gymnastics themselves are all that tricky. (Like, I can kinda see it, and it's a fairly striaghtforward paraphyletic group as far as that goes, and there's at least a bunch of "I know it when I see it" style visual clustering). The thing that I find staggering is how pervasive and unremarked the gymnastics are. (And this sort of sloppiness -- being staggered by the size of the psyop, and tacking the adjective "staggering" onto the gymnastics -- is the sort of thing that I endorse while in a shitposting context.)

That said, notably, everyone can already perform these gymnastics. We're all taught to do these gymnastics implicitly, in youth, before we have the wherewithal to question them. Which means that relying on people to understand these (locally universal!) gymnastics when writing an example is perfectly reasonable.

In other words, I read Eliezer as saying something like "[assuming the standard gymnastics] failing to admit that the inclusion of dolphins was an error, and instead insisting that the concept boundary is supposed to contort, constitutes an additional error", and me as drawing attention to the standard gymnastics.

even if it was a shitpost, your epistemic-status followup thread still contends "but also y'all know i'm right"

haha yeah

For the record, the poor capitalization and informal tone there (and in the preceding tweet) were intended to be tells that those tweets were still being written from the "shitposting" frame (as were all my threads since April). The follow-up starting with "By which I mean", plus the remainder of the thread being well-punctuated, plus the final one ending by saying "And with that I'll end this thread; any more and I might slip back into cogent model-building, and I'm not quite ready to end my shitposting streak yet." were intended demarcate the switch from semitrolling to candor. Some of the things I value in shitposting are lost if I break the frame too readily in the threads themselves, so I'm rather loathe to give clearer signals in-context, but I'm generally happy to answer (publicly or privately) which tweets are spawned from which generators.

Apologies for the length. I'd make this shorter if I had more time.

Reply to Nate Soares on Dolphins

My epistemic status on that thread is, explicitly, "i been shitpostin since april". I do not wholeheartedly believe the argument I made; I acknowledge your counterpoints and appreciate you making them; I largely agree.

For the record, the fragment of my argument that I currently endorse is something like "be wary of those who say they are here to refine your concepts, for sometimes they are here to steal them". My current stance is that I'm not particularly entrenched on either side wrt "fish", and might push back about "fruit" and "berry" if I found those words being pulled on in the wild.

Another thing the thread attempts to convey, by dint of the visible exasperation and derision, is... something I don't have words for yet (related to why I shoved it into the connotations of a shitpost), but I'll take a few stabs: A visceral sense that the world is mad? A bid for a particular breed of reflexive intellectual independence? A sense of alarm that something sinister has made it past the defenses, in the quest to objectivify?

There's also a specific way in which I'm hurting about something here, and conveying it is another purpose of the exasperation and derision. (I'm not hurting in a bad, unsustainable, or worrying way, for the record.) And of course there are a variety of other reasons for the impolite conduct, including fun, flexing, and throwing some elbows around to put a check on how seriously people take me all the time around these parts.

(For whatever it's worth, I do endeavor to be careful when I throw my elbows around like this, by eg explicitly marking the context as shitposty, and by choosing broad targets and funny contexts before unleashing my ire.)

Having said all that, I hereby push back a little against this style of response to my shitpost. I value you (and others) pointing out weak points and impoliteness in my arguments. I also think the ability to throw elbows around in this way, and the ability to shove inarticulate feelings into the connotations in the right context, are important. The alternative, at least for me, is that I don't say things until I've done a heck of a lot more noticing and explicating the side-channel stuff, which means I say less and don't get to draw on the aid of friends for the noticing and explication. Also, it seems to me that our community has dramatically too little fun on social media. My pushback here is intended to increase the space we have for that.

(There are also other aspects of why I believe shitposting is healthy and good that I have not yet managed to articulate. I also acknowledge that it has costs, and suspect there are costs I could avoid paying if I understood them better.)

Finally, I'll note that that thread was not a veiled attempt to discuss gender issues. The idea that it could be read as subtweeting gender issues didn't cross my mind. The relevant Scott Alexander post didn't cross my mind (though I read it years and years ago, and I suspect it was an influence on my argument). I suspect that Scott's post played a causal role in me starting the thread out on fish (eg, by causing me to have fish-relevant parts of the argument cached in an articulate format), but the things that felt like the causes were rather: (1) someone using fish vs dolphins as an example classification problem (months ago); (2) someone asserting that pillbugs aren't bugs on account of being crustaceans (months ago); and (3) some entertaining banter with a marine biologist (the day before drafting the thread). Not worrying about whether I'm going to be read as subtweeting the controversial topic du jour is one of many benefits of the shitposting mindset, and I recommend it.

So8res' Shortform Feed

Crossposted from Twitter, might not engage much with comments on LW and I may or may not moderate replies.

Thread about a particular way in which jargon is great:

In my experience, conceptual clarity is often attained by a large number of minor viewpoint shifts. (A complement I once got from a research partner went something like "you just keep reframing the problem ever-so-slightly until the solution seems obvious". <3)

Sometimes a bunch of small shifts leave people talking a bit differently, b/c now they're thinking a bit differently. The old phrasings don't feel quite right -- maybe they conflate distinct concepts, or rely implicitly on some bad assumption, etc. (Coarse examples: folks who think in probabilities might become awkward around definite statements of fact; people who get into NVC sometimes shift their language about thoughts and feelings. I claim more subtle linguistic shifts regularly come hand-in-hand w/ good thinking.)

I suspect this phenomenon is one cause of jargon. Eg, when a rationalist says "my model of Alice wouldn't like that" instead of "I don't think Alice would like that", the non-standard phraseology tracks a non-standard way they're thinking about Alice. (Or, at least, I think this is true of me and of many of the folks I interact with daily. I suspect phraseology is contagious and that bystanders may pick up the alt manner of speaking w/out picking up the alt manner of thinking, etc.)

Of course, there are various other causes of jargon -- eg, it can arise from naturally-occurring shorthand in some specific context where that shorthand was useful, and then morph into a tribal signal, etc. etc. As such, I'm ambivalent about jargon. On the one hand, I prefer my communities to be newcomer-friendly and inclusive. On the other hand, I often hear accusations of jargon as a kind of thought-policing.

"Stop using phrases that meticulously track uncommon distinctions you've made; we already have perfectly good phrases that ignore those distinctions, and your audience won't be able to tell the difference!" No. My internal language has a bunch of cool features that English lacks. I like these features, and speaking in a way that reflects them is part of the process of transmitting them.

Example: according to me, "my model of Alice wants chocolate" leaves Alice more space to disagree than "I think Alice wants chocolate", in part b/c the denial is "your model is wrong", rather than the more confrontational "you are wrong". In fact, "you are wrong" is a type error in my internal tongue. My English-to-internal-tongue translator chokes when I try to run it on "you're wrong", and suggests (eg) "I disagree" or perhaps "you're wrong about whether I want chocolate".

"But everyone knows that "you're wrong" has a silent "(about X)" parenthetical!", my straw conversational partner protests. I disagree. English makes it all too easy to represent confused thoughts like "maybe I'm bad". If I were designing a language, I would not render it easy to assign properties like "correct" to a whole person -- as opposed to, say, that person's map of some particular region of the territory.

The "my model of Alice"-style phrasing is part of a more general program of distinguishing people from their maps. I don't claim to do this perfectly, but I'm trying, and I appreciate others who are trying.  And, this is a cool program! If you've tweaked your thoughts so that it's harder to confuse someone's correctness about a specific fact with their overall goodness, that's rad, and I'd love you to leak some of your techniques to me via a niche phraseology.

There are lots of analogous language improvements to be made, and every so often a community has built some into their weird phraseology, and it's *wonderful*. I would love to encounter a lot more jargon, in this sense. (I sometimes marvel at the growth in expressive power of languages over time, and I suspect that that growth is often spurred by jargon in this sense. Ex: the etymology of "category".)

Another part of why I flinch at jargon-policing is a suspicion that if someone regularly renders thoughts that track a distinction into words that don't, it erodes the distinction in their own head. Maintaining distinctions that your spoken language lacks is difficult! (This is a worry that arises in me when I imagine, eg, dropping my rationalist dialect.)

In sum, my internal dialect has drifted away from American English, and that suits me just fine, tyvm. I'll do my best to be newcomer-friendly and inclusive, but I'm unwilling to drop distinctions from my words just to avoid an odd turn of phrase.

Thank you for coming to my TED talk. Maybe one day I'll learn to cram an idea into a tweet, but not today.

I'm still mystified by the Born rule

Thanks! I expect I can stare at this and figure something out about why there is no reasonable notion of "triality" in Vect (ie, no 3-way analog of vector space duality -- and, like, obviously that's a little ridiculous, but also there's definitely still something I haven't understood about the special-ness of the dual space).

ETA: Also, I'm curious what you think the connection is between the "L2 is connected to bilinear forms" and "L2 is the only Lp metric invariant under nontrivial change of basis", if it's easy to state.

FWIW, I'm mostly reading these arguments as being variations on "if you put anything else than a 2 there, your life sucks", and I believe that, but I still have a sense that the explanation I'm looking for is more about how putting a 2 there is positively natural, not just the best of a bad lot. That said, I'm loving these arguments, and I expect I can mine them for some of the intuition-corrections I seek :-)

I'm still mystified by the Born rule

Thanks! This seems to me like another piece of the puzzle =D

In this case, this is one that I already had (at least, well enough for the hindsight bias to kick in :-p), and it's on my list of trailheads next time I try to ground out the 2 in the Born rule. FWIW, some lingering questions I have when I take this viewpoint include "ok, cool, why are there no corresponding situations where I want to compare 3 vectorish thingies?" / "I see why the argument works for 2, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this 2 is being slipped into the problem statement in a way that I'm not yet quite following". Also, I have a sense that there's some fairly important fact about anointing some linear isomorphism between a vector space and its dual as "canonical" that I have yet to grasp. Like, some part of the answer to "why do I never want to compare 3 vectorish thingies" is b/c the relationship between a vector space and its dual space is somehow pretty special, and there's no correspondingly special... triality of vector spaces. (Hrm. I wonder whether I can ground the 2 in the Born rule out into the 2 in categorical duality. That would be nuts.)

FWIW, one of my litmus tests is question "assuming we are supposed to measure distance in R2 using an L2 norm, why are we not supposed to measure distance in R3 using an L3 norm?". And, like, I have a bunch of explanations for why this is (including "L3 isn't invariant under most any change of basis" (per Alex's argument above) and "b/c the natural notion of distance between two points in R3 factors into two questions of distance in R2, so using L2 in R2 pins down using L2 in Rn"), but I still feel like there's some... surprising fixation on 2 here, that I can't yet explain to the satisfaction of young-Nate who guesses that cuberute(x^3 + y^3 + z^3)=r is the equation for a sphere. Like, I still feel kinda like math said "proof by induction: starting in the case where n=2, ..." and I'm like "wat why aren't we starting at 0" and it's like "don't worry, n < 2 will work out as special cases" and I'm like "ok, sure, this argument is valid, but also wtf are you doing". My wtfs aren't all ironed out yet.

And, maybe I'm chasing shadows (eg, seeking a logical explanation where there is none, which is the sort of thing that can happen to a poor sap who lacks an explicit understanding of logical causality), but my suspicion is that I'm still missing part of the explanation. And both this route (which I'd gloss as "understand why it's so important/natural/??? to have/choose/determine a canonical isomorphism between your vector space and its dual, then appeal to bilinearity", with a prereq of better understanding why we have/care-about duality but not triality in Vect) and Alex's (which I'd gloss as "explain why 2 obviously-should-be the balance point in the Lp norms") both feel like good trailheads to me.

(And, in case this wasn't clear to all readers, none of my assertions of confusion here are allegations that everyone else is similarly confused -- indeed, Alex and Adele have already given demonstrations to the contrary.)

<3 hooray.

I'm still mystified by the Born rule

Cool, thanks. Yeah, I don't have >50% on either of those two things holding up to philisophical progress (and thus, eg, I disagree that future theories need to agree with UDASSA on those fronts). Rather, happeningness-as-it-relates-to-multiple-simulations and happeningness-as-it-relates-to-the-simplicity-of-reality are precisely the sort of things where I claim Alice-style confusion, and where it seems to me like UDASSA is alledging answers while being unable to dissolve my confusions, and where I suspect UDASSA is not-even-wrong.

(In fact, you listing those two things causes me to believe that I failed to convey the intended point in my analogy above. I lean towards just calling this 'progress' and dropping the thread here, though I'd be willing to give a round of feedback if you wanna try paraphrasing or otherwise falsifying my model instead. Regardless, hooray for a more precise articulation of a disagreement!)

I'm still mystified by the Born rule

<3, this is exactly the sort of thought I claim to be missing when I say I still don't know how to trace the 2 in the Born rule back to its maker. This is a step I didn't yet have. It doesn't feel like the last piece I'm missing, but it does feel like a piece -- eg, now I can focus some attention on "why precisely is this crossover point at 2 / where is that 2 coming from?". Thanks!

(And ofc there's still a question about why we use an Lp norm, and indeed why we pass out gaze along the walls in a way that factors through the shadow on that wall, but I am fairly happy rolling most of that into the "what are we to learn from the fact that reality has the quantum nature" bundle.)

I'm still mystified by the Born rule

When you're using TMs to approximate physics, you have to balance the continuity of physics against the discreteness of the machines somehow. The easy thing to do is to discuss the limiting behavior of a family of machines that perform the simulation at ever-finer fidelity. I was doing this implicitly, for lack of desire to get into details.

And as I've said above, I'm not attempting to suggest that these naive approaches -- such as sampling a single classical state and reporting the positions of some things with arbitrary fidelity in the limit -- are reasonable ideas. Quite the opposite. What I'm trying to point out is that if all you have is a quantum state and the Born rule, you cannot turn it into a hypothesis without making a bunch of other choices, for which I know of no consensus answer (and for which I have not seen proposals that would resolve the problem to my satisfaction, though I have some ideas).

I agree that the correct way of making these choices will almost surely not involve recording any observation with infinite precision (in the limit).

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