Valentine's Comments

The Intelligent Social Web
I think what I'd personally prefer (over the new version), is a quick: “Epistemic Status: Fake Framework”.

Like so? (See edit at top.) I'm familiar with the idea behind this convention. Just not sure how LW has started formatting it, or if there's desire to develop much precision on this formatting.

I think a lot of the earlier disagreements or concerns at the time had less to do with flagging frameworks as fake, and more to do with not trusting that they were eventually going to ground out as “connected more clearly to the rest of our scientific understanding of the world”.

Mmm. That makes sense.

My impression looking back now is that the dynamic was something like:

  • [me]: Here's an epistemic puzzle that emerges from whether people have or haven't experience flibble.
  • [others]: I don't believe there's an epistemic puzzle until you show there's value in experiencing flibble.
  • [me]: Uh, I can't, because that's the epistemic puzzle.
  • [others]: Then I'm correct not to take the epistemic puzzle seriously given my epistemic state.
  • [me]: You realize you're assuming there's no puzzle to conclude there's no puzzle, right?
  • [others]: You realize you're assuming there is a puzzle to conclude there is, right? Since you're putting the claim forward, the onus is on you to break the symmetry to show there's something worth talking about here.
  • [me]: Uh, I can't, because that's the epistemic puzzle.

(Proceed with loop.)

What I wasn't acknowledging to myself (and thus not to anyone else either) at the time was that I was loving the frustration of being misunderstood. Which is why I got exasperated instead of just… being clearer given feedback about how I wasn't clear.

I'm now much better at just communicating. Mostly by caring a heck of a lot more about actually listening to others.

I think you're naming something I didn't hear back then. And if nothing else, it's something you value now, and I can see how it makes sense as a value to want to ground Less Wrong in. Thanks for speaking to that.

I don’t think things necessarily need to be ‘rigorously grounded’ to be in the 2018 Book, but I do think the book should include “taking stock of ‘what the epistemic status of each post is’ and checking for community consensus on whether the claims of the post hold up’", with some posts flagged as "this seems straightforwardly true" and others flagged as "this seems to point in an interesting and useful thing, but further work is needed."

That seems great. Kind of like what Duncan did with the CFAR handbook.

This is all to say: I have gotten value out of this post and think it’s pointing at a true thing, but it’s also a post that I’d be particularly interested in people reviewing, from a standpoint of “okay, what actual claims is the post implying? What are the limits of the fake framework here? How does this connect to the rest of our best understanding of what's going on in the brain?” (the previous round of commenters explored this somewhat but only in very vague terms).

Mmm. That's a noble wish. I like it.

I won't respond to that right now. I don't know enough to offer the full rigor I imagine you'd like, either. So I hope for your sake that others dive in on this.

The Intelligent Social Web

I've made my edits. I think my most questionable call was to go ahead and expand the bit on how to Look in this case.

If I understand the review plan correctly, I think this means I'm past the point where I can get feedback on that edit before voting happens for this article. Alas. I'm juggling a tension between (a) what I think is actually most helpful vs. (b) what I imagine is most fitting to where Less Wrong culture seems to want to go.

If it somehow makes more sense to include the original and ignore this edit, I'm actually fine with that. I had originally planned on not making edits.

But I do hope this new version is clearer and more helpful. I think it has the same content as the original, just clarified a bit.

The Intelligent Social Web

I don't know if I'll ever get to a full editing of this. I'll jot notes here of how I would edit it as I reread this.

  • I'd ax the whole opening section.
    • That was me trying to (a) brute force motivation for the reader and (b) navigate some social tension I was feeling around what it means to be able to make a claim here. In particular I was annoyed with Oli and wanted to sidestep discussion of the lemons problem. My focus was actually on making something in culture salient by offering a fake framework. The thing speaks for itself once you look at it. After that point I don't care what anyone calls it.
    • This would, alas, leave out the emphasis that it's a fake framework. But I've changed my attitude about how much hand-holding to do for stuff like that. Part of the reason I put that in the beginning was to show the LW audience that I was taking it as fake, so as to sidestep arguments about how justified everything is or isn't. At this point I don't care anymore. People can project whatever they want on me because, uh, I can't really stop them anyway. So I'm not going to fret about it.
    • I had also intended the opening to have a kind of conversational tone, as part of a Sequence that I never finished (on "ontology-cracking"). I probably never will finish it at this point. So no point in making this stand-alone essay pretend to be part of an ongoing conversation.
  • A minor nitpick: I open the meat of the idea by telling some facts about improv theater. I suspect it'd be more engaging if I had written it as a story illustrating the experience. "Bob walked onto the stage, his heart pounding. 'God, what do I say?'" Etc. The whole thing would have felt less abstract if I had done that. But it clearly communicated well for this audience, so that's not a big concern.
  • One other reviewer mentioned how the strong examples end up obfuscating my overall point. That was actually a writing strategy: I didn't want the point stated early on and elucidated throughout. I wanted the reader to resonate with what I was describing, and then use that resonance to point out an implication of the reader's own life. That said, I bet I could do that with more punch and precision these days.
  • Reading over the "abuser"/"victim"/"rescuer" stuff, I'm now reminded of Karpman's Triangle. I didn't know about that at the time. Karpman was a grad student under Eric Berne, the father of Transactional Analysis. These days many folk know it as "the drama triangle". Were I writing this essay today I might reference this triangle.
  • I feel like most of the value of the improv analogy is actually in the contrast between player and character. When I hear about people being impacted by this article, most of what I hear has to do with the mechanics of how the social scene unfolds and how that creates constraints (anti-slack). Which is wonderful! But if I had to choose one illumination for people to experience from this whole thing, I'd rather they get a glimpse of who they are as the player, and how much that really really isn't the character that's usually talking and saying "I", "me", and "my". It's immensely freeing to see this clearly. But there's a lot of pleasure to be taken in playing genre-naïve characters, and I don't mean to dismiss that. That's just not the scene type I want to play in anymore. So on net, this wish of mine probably wouldn't meaningfully affect how I'd edit this piece.
  • The reason for referencing Omega was to foreshadow a later post on Newcomblike self-deception.
    • The short version is: If Omega is modeling your self-model instead of your actual source code to predict your actions, then you're highly incentivized to separate your self-model from your method of choosing your actions. Then you can two-box while convincing Omega you'll one-box by sincerely but falsely believing you're going to one-box. This paints a pretty vivid picture if you view the intelligent social web as the real-world version of Omega with "social role" playing the part of "self-model".
    • I'd now skip that whole reference. It made sense only in my mind. And even if I had finished the Sequence this was part of, the references to Omega would make sense only to those who had finished it and then went back to reread this essay.
  • There's something about how this essay uses the concept of slack that nags at me. I suspect it's fine for the purposes of the 2018 review, but I'd be remiss not to mention it. The intuition about slack is itself interpreted from within the social web. But slack affects only the character. So although slack is a genre-savvy concept, it's still a concept within the web itself. That introduces a dimension of self-reference that might be elegantly self-reinforcing, paradoxical, or something else. I honestly don't know.
    • This has me wonder about there being a type of construct, which is genre-savvy concepts. This whole model is an example, as is the concept of genre-savviness. I suspect that's a gateway to an insight type that's usually called "spiritual".
  • There's a bit where I refer to the possibility of using Looking to shift roles. I have a much more sophisticated view of this now. I think I was being truthful and reasonably accurate… and yet for the sake of the essay I would either expand on that reference to clarify it, or remove the reference entirely. It's not helpful to say "There's a magic consciousness thingie you can do that'll do things your character can't understand" if that's literally all I say about it.

So, with all that said, here are the edits I'd make:

  • Cut the opening section.
  • Add a hyperlink to Karpman's Triangle.
  • Erase references to Omega, maybe expanding a bit where needed instead.
  • Either delete references to changing one's fate by Looking, or spell it out in less mysterious terms.
The Intelligent Social Web

Thank you. Thank you for sharing how you were impacted. That touched me. I'm delighted to have played a role in you enjoying your life more fully. :-)

The post’s focus on salient examples (family roles, the convert boyfriend, the white man’s role) also has a downside, in that it’s somewhat difficult to keep track of the main thrust of Valentine’s argument. The entire introductory section also does nothing to help the essay cohere; it makes claims about personal benefits Valentine has acquired by using this framework. These claims are neither substantiated nor explored further in the essay, and they are also unnecessary — the essay is compelling by the force of its insight and not by promising a laundry list of results.

I quite agree. Thank you for stating this so clearly.

At the time I was under the delusion that people would read and consider what I had to say because they consciously could expect a benefit from doing so. So I tried to state the value up front. I think I was also a little embarrassed to be talking in public in a way I wasn't aware of, so the "laundry list" was a way of assuaging my unrecognized shame.

All of which is to say, I agree. :-) And I'm glad this point got into the reviews for this.

Noticing the Taste of Lotus

Ah, I didn't realize these post as comments. That's fine, I'll leave this here.

I'm also amused by my poor modeling of intending "a few quick notes". I'm smiling bemusedly at myself, and also taking in that this has been a chronic years-long glitch in self-modeling. Oh, humans.

Noticing the Taste of Lotus

I thought I'd add a few quick notes as the author.

As I reread this, a few things jump out for me:

  • I enjoy its writing style. Its clarity is probably part of why it was nominated.
  • I'd now say this post is making a couple of distinct claims:
    • External forces can shape what we want to do. (I.e., there are lotuses.)
    • It's possible to notice this in real time. (I.e., you can notice the taste of lotuses.)
    • It's good to do so. Otherwise we find our wanting aligned with others' goals regardless of how they relate to our own.
    • If you notice this, you'll find yourself wanting to spit out lotuses that you can tell pull you away from your goals.
  • I still basically agree with the content.
  • I think the emotional undertone is a little confused, says the version of me about 19 months later.

That last point is probably the most interesting to meta-reviewers, so I'll say a little about that here.

The basic emotional backdrop I brought in writing this was something like, "Look out, you could get hijacked! Better watch out!" And then luckily there's this thing you can be aware of, to defend yourself against one more form of psychic/emotional attack. Right?

I think this is kind of nuts. It's a popular form of nuts, but it's still nuts.

Looking at the Duolingo example I gave, it doesn't address the question of why those achievements counted as a lotus structure for me. There are tons of things others find have lotus nature that I don't (e.g., gambling). And vice versa: my mother (who's an avid Duolingo user) couldn't care less about those achievements.

So what gives?

I have a guess, but I think that's outside the purview of the purpose of these reviews. I'll just note that "We're in a worldwide memetic war zone where everyone is out to get us by hijacking our minds!" is (a) not the hypothesis to default to and (b) if true is itself a questionable meme that seems engineered to stimulate fight-or-flight type reactions that do, indeed, hijack clarity of mind.

With all that said, I still think there's a ton of value in "noticing the taste of lotus" as the title suggests. It's pointing out where we're more likely to believe our motivations are getting diverted from our goals if we were to notice.

It's just that, about a year and a half later, I now reflect on this being a very basic entry point to a much more interesting question.

In particular, this "hijacking" is basically how culture works from what I can tell. Is culture wicked? Or is it benevolent? Or is it a mix? How can we tell whether the reasoning faculties we're using to work out these puzzles are themselves "hijacked" by having been immersed in a culture of lotus-eaters?

From what I've been able to see for myself and reason about, I think you can't answer those questions from within the framework that's asking them. It's too fear-based. "Fear-based" isn't inherently bad, but when the fear isn't acknowledged as the base then you can basically guarantee that the thinking isn't clear. (As Carl Jung said: "Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it 'fate'.")

A few relatively minor notes that I imagine y'all would find relevant:

  • I went back to Duolingo a few months ago. I'm even using the achievements a bit. I just worked out a way to have the "lotus nature" work toward my goals with French.
  • I made a minor edit to the article, changing a single letter to correct the grammar ("build" to "built").
Of Two Minds

Yep, that seems like a correct nuance to add. I meant "predict" in a functional sense, rather than in a thought-based one, but that wasn't at all clear. I appreciate you adding this correction.

Of Two Minds
You might have gone too far with speculation - your theory can be tested.

I think that's good, isn't it? :-D

If your model was true, I would expect a correlation between, say, the ability to learn ball sports and the ability to solve mathematical problems.

Maybe…? I think it's more complicated than I read this implying. But yes, I expect the abilities to learn to be somewhat correlated, even if the actualized skills aren't.

Part of the challenge is that math reasoning seems to coopt parts of the mind that normally get used for other things. So instead of mentally rehearsing a physical movement in a way that's connected to how your body can actually move and feel, the mind mentally rehearses the behavior (!) of some abstract mathematical object in ways that don't necessarily map onto anything your physical body can do.

I suspect that closeness to physical doability is one of the main differences between "pure" mathematical thinking and engineering-style thinking, especially engineering that's involved with physical materials (e.g., mechanical, electrical — as opposed to software). And yes, this is testable, because it suggests that engineers will tend to have developed more physical coordination than mathematicians relative to their starting points. (This is still tricky to test, because people aren't randomly sorted into mathematicians vs. engineers, so their starting abilities with learning physical coordination might be different. But if we can figure out a way to test this claim, I'd be delighted to look at what the truth has to say about this!)

Of Two Minds

I mostly agree. I had, like, four major topics like this that I was tempted to cram into this essay. I decided to keep it to one message and leave things like this for later.

But yes, totally, nearly everything we actually care about comes from the social mind doing its thing.

I disagree about curiosity though. I think that cuts across the two minds. "Oh, huh, I wonder what would happen if I connected this wire to that glowing thing…."

Noticing the Taste of Lotus
Yes, most pleasures grab your wanting. I'm suggesting that you actually enjoy collecting arbitrary achievements, there is no "hijacking" about it. And I don't understand why collecting arbitrary achievements needs to be meaningful, while delicious food is allowed to be meaningless.

Okay, seriously? You want to play this game?

Meta time:

I get that status here comes in part from good arguments. It's a fine metric for truth-seeking. But it isn't the same as truth-seeking, and it Goodharts into disagreement-hunting even where the disagreements don't matter.

I'm trying to point at a simple observation: some things grab your wanting directly and yank you off-course. Seems like a good idea to notice when that happens. That's all.

I'm not saying that one shouldn't ever let those want-grabbers do their thing. But maybe you can't tell I wasn't saying that; communication is hard. But if you think I am saying that… then can't you just notice that that's stupid, mention that, and highlight the point I should have made?

So… I mean, really, you seriously think you're meaningfully refuting my points by saying I enjoy achievements and therefore there's no hijacking? Seriously? Seriously?

I mean, I think your next norm-driven move is to say "Yes, seriously." And then do some kind of weird philosophical thing that, I don't know, makes it sound like I'm arguing that some wants are good and others are bad, and then knocking down that strawman. Or something.

But… come on! Really?

Can we just… not fence for status?


I don't understand why collecting arbitrary achievements needs to be meaningful, while delicious food is allowed to be meaningless.

I never said anything about food. Or about what needs to be meaningful. Just that there are want-grabbers that are meaningfulness-symmetric.

I don't usually think of good food as lotus-like. Like, here are some pleasurable non-lotuses (for me):

  • Walks in nature.
  • Kissing someone I'm dating.
  • Meditating.
  • Intense exercise.
  • Breaking a fast with good food.
  • Doing an acrobatic flip.

I basically never find these yanking me away from what I'm doing. I just like them. Sometimes I want to do some of them more and it's hard to make myself. Very not lotus-ish.

Sometimes I don't do these things because I'm busy, I don't know, getting sucked into getting achievements on some game that leaves Tetris effects in my brain.

I mean, if I want to do that, then that seems cool.

Seems bad not to even notice that's happening though. Then Facebook gets to program my wants however it chooses to.

I worry that the more important distinction between collecting achievements and eating food is that the former is a low-status activity.

I don't think of it as low-status. FWIW.

I don't think there is any objective measure to tell what desire is ok and what is a compulsion. I think, similarly to the word "disease", a desire is "compulsive" only if you think it causes problems for you.

Uh… then I'm not sure what your point is. You said:

"My point is that there is nothing inherently wrong with arbitrary pleasures that don't improve your life. The problem is when you develop compulsions. There seems to be a difference between simple desire and compulsive desire."

So… if I take you literally, I think you just said that the only problem is when you develop a desire that causes you a problem.

Like, I don't think that's actually what you mean. I'm strawmanning your words to point out that I think I haven't understood your real message.

Help me understand?

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