Suspended Reason

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The Dark Miracle of Optics

Thank for the tip on fn 7, it's a pull from an Axelrod & Hamilton paper! Updated.

How long have I been doing what?

Edit: I'll give some possible answers, been blogging regularly six or seven years, been lurking LessWrong four years, writing here a few months, and got into game theory six to eight months ago, though haven't had as much time as I'd like to dig around in it. Still really need to ready Schelling, and would love to do reading on multiagent simulation.

The Dark Miracle of Optics

Ah thank you, looks like they all got jammed together in the formatting.

Hope you enjoyed reading!

In praise of contributing examples, analogies and lingo

It's always been a bit of a mystery to me why examples are so hard to generate. Once I thought my own struggle to get a handful of good examples together was good evidence my thesis was weak, but I'm less sure of that now.

Even when examples do present themselves they are never "quite right"; there are so often other factors in the outcome, beyond your simply toy model, that it would require much handwaving and disclaimer to persuade relevance.

And yet, as you say, they're butter to argument's bread.

Sporting vs. Herding: two styles of discourse

Good pointer on nearest unblocked problem; that's a very good analogy and I'll have to think more about it. What kind of solutions might present themselves if we look at it through this frame?


I agree about passive aggression, but I'd also point out that "herding" culture is somewhat different from nurture.

Sporting vs. Herding: two styles of discourse

My intuition would be that having categories would make these behavioral patterns legible and recognizable to others, potentially defanging them. Of course, as soon as they're "spotted," behaviors will shift evasively, but the core problem here seems to be reifying object-level behavior that at some historical point for some people, coincided with predation (e.g. "nice guy behavior") rather than identifying the higher-level, abstract patterns.

Signaling: Why People Have Conversations

Yeah! That was my thought as well. Unfortunately, despite combing through fashion theory, there's not much literature on the subject; I've had to make a lot of it up as I go. I wrote a bit in the essay linked above about it:

In the Upper-Middle Paleolithic Transition, human societies and economies grow increasingly complex. Trade deals and diplomacy are performed among credible spokesmen, and social hierarchies need preservation across interactions between strangers. Fashion enters as a technology for maintaining and navigating the social graph. “By the production of symbolic artefacts that signified different social groups and kinds of relationships, Aurignacian people were able to maintain wider networks that could exist even between people who had never set eyes on each other,” giving them a competitive advantage. The practice spreads through the law of cultural evolution: “The surface of the body… becomes the symbolic stage upon which the drama of socialisation is enacted, and body adornment… becomes the language through which it was expressed.”[5] We have entered the second stage of simulacra. The territory has a map, and there are parties interested in manipulating it.
Once this association between optics and essence, between appearance and reality, between signal and quality (the biological frame) or public and private information (the economic one), is formed, it can be freeridden. It becomes, in most cases, easier to pay “lip service”—to outwardly express the associated public characteristic—than it is to to develop the private characteristic. This is not entirely the fault of the freerider; it is a difficult situation he finds himself in. Imagine he “chooses” (I’m anthropomorphizing evolution) to remain with his blue and yellow colors: even if his “product” is “good” (I’m mixing metaphors, but I mean to say, his advertising is honest), it will take some time for a trusted association between signal and quality, public and private, to form. As consumers, we may initially disbelieve an advertiser’s claims, and for good reason, since there is incentive to deceive. And thus it is with the sun-basking lizard, deciding which butterfly to eat. Far easier for a precarious insect to ride coattails, to imitate and pretend toward what he is not—and so, quite simply, it does.
The connection with fashion should come into view now. The “barberpole” metaphor of fashion, where lower classes continually imitate higher classes, who are themselves engaged in a continual quest for “distinction” from the chasing masses, is a popular one in rationalist circles for good reason. Its cyclical nature is the result of limited options and a continual evasion of freeriders who exploit an associative proxy: clothing for caste.

Recently I've been considering the frame of a discoordination game, in which it is one actor's interest to synchronize with the other actor, and in the other actor's interest to stay de-synchronized ("distinguished" or "distinct" a la Bourdieu).

Signaling: Why People Have Conversations

I want to pick at Simler & Hanson's "relevance constraint" as meaningful evidence of a signaling thesis. There is a much simpler explanation for why conversations travel along throughlines of pertinence, which first must be dealt with, and accorded causational influence, before we get carried away with signaling: human cognition is fundamentally associative (see not just Lakoff & Hofstadter but William James). Our thought bounces from one relation to the next; this much is self-evidently clear. Why would two individuals performing cognition jointly differ significantly in this pattern? And what then is left over for the signaling explanation? Indeed, when one considers how loose the “relevance constraint” is in the first place—it really requires only one coherent point of departure to switch subjects—their argument appears all the weaker.

Signaling: Why People Have Conversations

Can you talk more about the movement of signaling frontiers? I'd be super appreciative of an example if possible. I assume your mention of Goodharting is the idea that as soon as something becomes legible as a reliable signal of a quality, it'll be optimized for and cease being reliable. This is the movement of the signaling frontier, I take it?

I've read through the papers you recommended in a previous comment, which I incorporated into The Dark Miracle of Optics, but I'd love to continue this conversation with you. Is there somewhere—your own post, or elsewhere—I should explore re: this moving frontier, and the constant Goodhart-led inflation of signals?

Situating LessWrong in contemporary philosophy: An interview with Jon Livengood

Thank you! I'd be very curious to hear what didn't resonate, since I'm working the ongoing MetaSequences project, but of course you're very busy, so only if you think it'd be valuable for both of us!

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