All of tel's Comments + Replies

Murder, suicide, and Catholicism don't mix. It's supposed to be an challenging opera for a culture that truly believes in the religious moral compass. You empathize with Tosca and her decisions to damn herself. The guy she kills is rather evil.

I'm not sure I follow your first notion, but I don't doubt that rationality is still marginally profitable. I suppose you could couch my concerns as whether there is a critical point in rationality profit: at some point does become more rational cause more loss in our value system than gain? If so, do we toss out rationality or do we toss out our values?

And if it's the latter, how do you continue to interact with those who didn't follow in your footsteps? Create a (self defeating) religion?

Well it would be surprising to me if becoming more or less rational had no impact on one's value system, but if we hold that constant and we imagine rationality was a linear progression then certainly it is possible that at some points as that line moves up, the awesomeness trend-line is moving down.

That's close, but the object of concern isn't religious artwork but instead states of mind that are highly irrational but still compelling. Many (most?) people do a great deal of reasoning with their emotions, but rationality (justifiably) demonizes it.

Can you truly say you can communicate well with someone who is contemplating suicide and eternal damnation versus the guilt of killing the man responsible for the death of your significant other? It's probably a situation that a rationalist would avoid and definitely a state of mind far different from one a ... (read more)

Tosca sounds like it has some strange theology. Surely most people who believe in Hell also believe in Absolution?

I feel like this is close to the heart of a lot of concerns here: really it's a restatement of the Friendly AI problem, no?

The back door seems to always be that rationality is "winning" and therefore if you find yourself getting caught up in an unpleasant loop, you stop and reexamine. So we should just be on the lookout for what's happy and joyful and right—

But I fear there's a Catch 22 there in that the more on the lookout you are, the further you wander from a place where you can really experience these things.

I want to disagree that "po... (read more)

Well if rationality were traded on an exchange the irrational expectations for it probably did peak during the enlightenment, but I don't know what that really means to us now. The value reason has brought us is still accumulating, and with that reason's power to produce value is also accumulating.

A loss of empathy with "regular people". My friend, for instance, loves the opera Tosca where the ultimate plight and trial comes down to the lead soprano, Tosca, committing suicide despite certain damnation.

The rational mind (of the temperature often suggested here) might have a difficult time mirroring that sort of conundrum, however it's been used to talk about and explore the topics of depression and sacrifice for just over a century now.

So if you take part of your job to be an educator of those still under the compulsion of strange mythology, you probably will have a hard time communicating with them if you absolve all connection to that mythology.

I believe that in general, being able to make decisions that lead to the best consequences requires being able to imagine consequences of decisions, which requires being able to imagine counterfactuals well. If you want to be able to evaluate whether a claim is true or false, you have to be able to imagine a world in which the claim is true, and another in which the claim is false. As a result, although it's irrational to believe in eternal damnation, a rational mind should certainly be able to empathize with someone afraid of eternal damnation. If a religious (or otherwise irrational) work of art is good, it would be irrational not to appreciate that. I think the reason you may see the opposite effect would be atheists who are afraid of admitting they felt moved by a religious work of art because it feels like an enemy argument.

I agree! That's at least part of why my concern is pedagogical. Unless your plan is more of just run for the stars and kill everyone who didn't come along.

I'm sorry, as I'm reading it that sounds rather vague. Gelman's work stems largely from the fact that there is no central theory of political action. Group behavior is some kind of sum of individual behaviors, but with only aggregate measurements you cannot discern the individual causes. This leads to a tendency to never see zero effect sizes, for instance.

I think this is an important direction to push discourse on Rationality toward. I wanted to write a spiritually similar post myself.

The theory is that we know our minds are fundamentally local optimizers. Within the hypothesis space we are capable of considering, we are extremely good exploitive maximizers, but, as always, it's difficult to know how much to err on the side of explorative optimization.

I think you can couch creativity and revolution in terms like that, and if our final goal is to find something to optimize and then do it, it's important to note randomized techniques might be a necessary component.

This is made explicit in removing connections from the graph. The more "obviously" "wrong" connections you sever, the more powerful the graph becomes. This is potentially harmful, though, since like assigning 0 probability weight to some outcome, once you sever a connection you lose the machinery to reason about it. If your "obvious" belief proves incorrect, you've backed yourself into a room with no escape. Therefore, test your assumptions.

This is actually a huge component of Pearl's methods since his belief is that the very ... (read more)

If lecture notes contain as much relevant information as a book, then you should be able to, given a set of notes, write a terse but comprehensible textbook. If you're genuinely able to get that much out of notes, then yes that definitely works for you.

The concern is instead if reading a textbook only conveys a sparse, unconvincing, and context-free set of notes (which is my general impression of most lecture notes I've seen).

Both depend heavily on the quality of notes, textbook, subject, and the learning style you use, but I think it's a lot of people's e... (read more)

Gelman's text is very specifically targeted at the kinds of problems he enjoys in sociology and politics, though. If you're interested in solving problems in that field or like it (highly complex unobservable mechanisms, large number of potential causes and covariates, sensible multiple groupings of observations, etc) then his book is great. If you're looking at problems more like in physics, then it won't help you at all and you're better off reading Jaynes'.

(Also recommended over Gelman's Applied Regression and Modeling if the above condition holds.)

Hmm, I might be totally off base here, but wouldn't that sort of thing be useful for reasoning about highly powerful optimization processes that would be driven to maximize their expected utility by figuring out what actions would decrease the entropy of a desirable portion of state space by working from massive amounts of input data? Maybe I should check it out either way.
Ah, interesting. I used the material I learned from that book in my thesis on data analysis for proteomics, so you can expand the list of topics to include biological data too; biology problems tend to fit your list of problem characteristics.

This is in general one of the advantages of Bayesian statistics in that you can split the line between aggregate and separated data with techniques that automatically include partial pooling and information sharing between various levels of the analysis. (See pretty much anything written by Andrew Gelman, but Bayesian Data Analysis is a great book to cover Gelman's whole perspective.)

The short of it, having read a few of Pearl's papers and taken a lecture with him, is that you build causal networks including every variable you think of and then use physical assumptions to eliminate some edges from the fully connected (assumption free) graph.

With this partially connected causal graph, Pearl identifies a number of structures which allow you to estimate correlations where all identified confounding variables are corrected for (which can be interpreted as causation under the assumptions of your graph).

Often times, it seems like these metho... (read more)

Clearly one could split a data set using basically any possible variable, but most are obviously wrong. (That is to say, they lack explanatory power, and are actually irrelevant.) To attempt to simplify, then, if you understand a system, or have a good hypothesis, it is frequently easier to pick variables that should be important, and gather further data to confirm.

That makes sense if you're only evaluating complete strangers. In other words, your uncertainty about the population-inferred trustworthiness of a person is pretty high and so instead the mere (Occam Factor style) complexity of their statement is the overruling component of your decision.

In the stated case, this isn't a totally random stranger. I feel quite justified in having a less-than uninformative prior about trusting IRC ghosts. In this case, my rationally acquired prejudice overrules in inference about the truth of even somewhat ordinary tales.

The author did not mention anything about an exceptionally high percentage of liars in IRC relative to the general population (which would be quite relevant to his statement) therefore there's no reason to believe that such had been HIS experience in the past. Given that, there is no reason for HIM to presume that the percentage of compulsive liars in IRC would different from the general population. YOUR experiences may, of course, be drastically different, but they are not the subject of discussion here. DP

Egad, true. I jumped on seeing the juxtaposed question mark and then messed the English grammar.

Perhaps it's not about the ad hominem.

"Rationality is whatever wins."

If it's not a winning strategy, you're not doing it right. If it is a winning strategy, overall in as long of terms as you can plan, then it's rationality. It doesn't matter what the person thinks: whether they'd call themselves rationalists or not.

Picometer nitpick, for accuracy:

你有鼻子, as phrased, is not a question and thus ironically even more bewildering, not that someone who couldn't understand the utterance would be able to determine that. To phrase it as a question you need a different form; one of

你有鼻子吗? 你有没有鼻子? or 你有鼻子,对不对?

would work. The first is a simple question. The second leaves a bit more credence to the possibility you don't have a nose. The third probably is trying to imply that if you don't agree then you're foolish.

It's supposed to be a statement, not a question - have a look a the two in English.

That's certainly sensible, and in But There's Still a Chance Eleiezer makes examples where this seems strong. In the above example, it depends a whole lot on how much belief you have in people (or, rather, lines of IRC chat).

I think then that your strength as a rationalist comes in balancing that uncertainty against some your prior trust in people. At which point, instead of predicting the negative, I'd seek more information.

The level of "trust" you have in a person should be inversely proportional to the sensationalism of the claim that he's making. If a person tells you he was abducted by a UFO, you demand evidence. If a person tells you that on the way to work he slipped and fell down, and you have no concrete reason to doubt the story in particular or the person in general, you take that at face value. It is a reasonable assumption that a perfect stranger in all likelihood will NOT be delusional or a compulsive liar. DP

Doesn't any model contain the possibility, however slight, of seeing the unexpected? Sure this didn't fit with your model perfectly — and as I read the story and placed myself in your supposed mental state while trying to understand the situation, I felt a great deal of similar surprise — but jumping to the conclusion that someone was just totally fabricating is something that deserves to be weighed against other explanations for this deviation from your model.

Your model states that pretty much under all circumstances an ambulance is going to pick up a pat... (read more)

See antiprediction [].

I like to think Einstein's confidence came instead from his belief that Relativity suitably justified the KL divergence between experiments in 1905 and physics theory in 1905. He was not necessarily in full possession of whatever evidence was required to narrow the hypothesis space down to relativity (which is a bit of a misformulation, I feel, since this space still contains a number of other theories both equally and more powerful than Physics+Relativity) but instead possessed enough so that in his own mental metropolis jumping he stumbled across Relativ... (read more)