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Heads I Win, Tails?—Never Heard of Her; Or, Selective Reporting and the Tragedy of the Green Rationalists

(This post is important enough that I'm breaking my commitment not to post until a certain time in the future.)

The model here strikes me as the correct *sort* of model, but deserving of substantial complication. Two complications in particular seem clear and relevant to me.

First, will the smart sincere idealists be simply *misled?* Given that this hypothetical imperfect rationalist space exists within Green territory, deviations from the Overton ratio will be punished by Greens *both inside and outside* the rationalist space; as such, it could (entirely unintentionally, at least at first) serve to *reinforce* Green partisan hegemony, especially if there's a large imbalance between the abilities of Greendom and Bluedom to offer *patronage*.

We already know from history that regimes may become so... self-serving and detached from reality, as one could put it... that they'll feel the need to actively select against smart, sincere idealists, or any permutation thereof. Loyalty to anything but the regime may be seen as an inefficiency and optimized away.

As a result, it could be useful for Green partisans to keep such spaces around, albeit low-prestige and generally reviled. Partisans also have an interest in identifying the sincere and the idealistic, but for precisely the opposite reasons. (Cf. the Hundred Flowers Campaign.)

Second, the neat division of truths into Green, Blue, and Gray rings unconvincing to me. Consider the Greens and Blues as having reality maps: certain things directly benefit their reality maps, certain things directly harm those maps, and certain things are neutral. (To pick on Zoroastrianism: the reality of Ahura Mazda or Angra Mainyu would be in the first category, a genealogical account of Zoroastrian doctrine in the Nietzschean sense would be in the second, and the contents of a randomly selected academic journal in the field of (say) accounting would, I assume, be almost entirely in the third.)

If we multiply the three categories of the Greens by the three categories of the Blues, we get nine options, not three. If we make certain assumptions about Green-Blue conflict, we can reduce this somewhat, and posit that anything that is beneficial to one side but seemingly neutral to the other in fact benefits the first at the expense of the second.

But this leaves five possibilities, not three! In addition to [+Green -Blue], [-Green +Blue], and [0Green 0Blue], we have [+Green +Blue] and [-Green -Blue]. Would Blues and Greens not fear displacement by something outside their union?

Attacking enlightenment

What's the value proposition of enlightenment?

If I have a choice between taking up organized religion and going to church or taking up spirituality and following empirical instructions to scale the mountain of enlightenment, why should I do the latter instead of the former?

What's the common theme in all these books? I don't see it. Impro contains some useful exercises, although I think most of the value in the book would come from people getting together IRL and actually doing them, and I haven't heard of anyone doing this. (I tried to get someone whose social network is much bigger than mine to make this happen, but then she moved to the Bay.) But it's about developing acting skills, not Buddhism...

Open Thread September 2018

The Wikipedia article on it does.

A Dialogue on Rationalist Activism

These are good questions.

0. Are "we" the sort of thing that can have goals? It looks to me like there are a lot of goals going around, and LW isn't terribly likely to agree on One True Set of Goals, whether ultimate or proximate.

I think one of the neglected possible roles for LW is as a beacon -- a (relatively) highly visible institution that draws in people like-minded enough that semirandom interactions are more likely to be productive than semirandom interactions in the 'hub world', and allows them to find people sufficiently like-minded that they can then go off and do their own thing, while maintaining a link to LW itself, if only to search it for potential new members of this own thing.

My impression of internet communities in general is that they tend to be like this, and I don't see any reason to expect LW to be different. Take Newgrounds, another site formed explicitly around productive endeavors (which has the desirable (for my purposes here) property that I spent my middle school years on it): it spawned all sorts of informal friend groups and formal satellite forums, each with its own sort of productive endeavor it was interested in. There was an entire ecosystem of satellite forums (and AIM/MSN group chats, which sometimes spawned satellite forums), from prolific NG forum posters realizing they had enough clout to start their own forum so why not, to forums for people interested in operating within the mainstream tradition of American animation, to a vast proliferation of forums for 'spammers' who were interested in playing with NG itself as a medium, to forums for people who were interested in making one specific form of movie -- wacky music videos, video game sprite cartoons, whatever. And any given user could be in multiple of these groups, depending on their interests -- I was active on at least one forum in each of the categories I've listed.

(As an aside: I say 'spammers' because that's what they were called, but later on I developed enough interest in the art world to realize that there's really no difference between what we did and what they're doing. (The 'art game' people would do well to recognize this -- they're just trolls, but trolling is a art, so what the hell.) There were also 'anti-spam' forums, but I brought some of them around.)

1. As for classical LW goals, the AI problem does seem to have benefited quite a bit by ethos arguments. I'm not sure if "our goals" is even the type of noun phrase that *can* have semantic content, but cultivating general quality seems like a fairly broad goal. A movement that wants to gain appeal in the ways I've outlined will want its members to be visibly successful at instrumental rationality, and be fine upstanding citizens and so on.

2. I don't think I'm smarter than Ben Franklin, so my advice for now would be to just do what he did. At a higher level: study successful people with well-known biographies and see if there's anything that can be abstracted out. I notice (because Athrelon pointed it out a while ago) that Ben Franklin, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Thiel, and Musk have one thing in common: the benefit of a secret society or something like it -- the Junto, the Inklings, or the Paypal Mafia.

Zetetic explanation

I'm not a biologist, but I think it would be pretty difficult to tell whether fruits are intended to encourage animals to eat them or to protect the inner seed. But the energy in an avocado is primarily stored as fats, and it's generally thought that they were eaten by now-extinct Central American megafauna. (And it's common to stick avocado seeds with toothpicks to get them to sprout...)

There's also the chili pepper, but I don't know if anyone's studied digestion of pepper seeds in birds (which aren't sensitive to capsaicin) vs. mammals (which are). It may be that chili peppers evolved to deter mammalian but not avian consumption because the mammalian digestive tract is more likely to digest the seeds, rather than (as the common explanation has it) because birds disperse the seeds more widely.

Open Thread September 2018

It started as the leftist alternative to Conservapedia.

A Dialogue on Rationalist Activism
How do we (second) convince others, and (first) establish for ourselves, that we’re different? What can we offer to prospective joiners that cannot be offered by other movements (i.e., what can we offer that constitutes an unfalsifiable signal that we are the “true path” to the “good ending”, so to speak)?

I came to this article having just read one about Donald Trump's response to the 9/11 attacks, which mentioned that Trump saw them from the window of his apartment. The WTC attacks happened at around 9 AM, the start of the standard workday; but he had decided to stay in his apartment later than usual to catch a TV interview with Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric.

I thought that was interesting. Welch is well-known in the business world, and at least was once well-regarded. I have one of his books, although I haven't read it yet.

Now, the problem of how to convince people to pay attention to a memeplex is a problem Less Wrong has. Jack Welch, not so much. I saw his book at a thrift store, had some idea of who he was, and figured it'd be worthwhile to buy it. Donald Trump heard that he'd be on TV, knew well (I assume) who he was, and figured it'd be worthwhile to watch the interview. We aren't on TV.

Why not?

Maybe it's because we aren't Jack Welch.

We've all read our Aristotle, right? Our marketers come up with plenty of logos and pathos. Ethos, not so much. But it worked for Jack Welch...

There's an important difference between the alien's initial sales pitch and the problem of recruiting people to Less Wrong. The alien is a representative of an advanced civilization, offering a manual for uplifting the human race -- so there's a solution to widely advertising it that will only work if the manual does: simply distribute the manual to a few hundred people around the world who are highly motivated to do well in life. Once they've learned it, applied its contents, and become wildly successful CEOs of General Electric or whatever, some of them will (almost certainly) make it known that their success is due to their mastery of the contents of a book...

But the book doesn't actually exist, we aren't hot-shit enough to recruit through ethos (why not? could it be that we're failing? could it be that we're failing so badly that our startups try to write their own payroll software?), and our sales pitches are pretty bad. I noticed so many of our quality people leaving, and so much lack of interest in *actually winning*, that I stopped paying attention myself -- I only saw this post because it was linked on Twitter.

Before asking what LW can offer to prospective joiners that can't be offered by other movements, ask if it *has* anything like that. I don't think it does, and I don't think it's in a position to get there.

How many philosophers accept the orthogonality thesis ? Evidence from the PhilPapers survey

I don't think the orthogonality thesis can be defined as ~[moral internalism & moral realism] -- that is, I think there can be and are philosophers who reject moral internalism, moral realism, *and* the orthogonality thesis, making 66% a high estimate.

Nick Land doesn't strike me as a moral internalist-and-realist (although he has a Twitter and I bet your post will make its way to him somehow), but he doesn't accept the orthogonality thesis:

Even the orthogonalists admit that there are values immanent to advanced intelligence, most importantly, those described by Steve Omohundro as ‘basic AI drives’ — now terminologically fixed as ‘Omohundro drives’. These are sub-goals, instrumentally required by (almost) any terminal goals. They include such general presuppositions for practical achievement as self-preservation, efficiency, resource acquisition, and creativity. At the most simple, and in the grain of the existing debate, the anti-orthogonalist position is therefore that Omohundro drives exhaust the domain of real purposes. Nature has never generated a terminal value except through hypertrophy of an instrumental value.

This is a form of internalism-and-realism, but it's not about morality -- so it wouldn't be inconsistent to reject orthogonality and 'heterogonality'.

I recall someone in the Xenosystems orbit raising the point that humans, continuously since long before our emergence as a distinct species, existed under the maximal possible amount of selection pressure to reproduce, but 1) get weird and 2) frequently don't reproduce. There are counterarguments that can be made here, of course (AIs can be designed with much more rigor than evolution allows, say), but it's another possible line of objection to orthogonality that doesn't involve moral realism.

Monopoly: A Manifesto and Fact Post
While you can't just try to transfer the effect of Coca-Cola's branding to your new product, I think you can, in fact, try to compete on branding.

La Croix did this. It's just flavored seltzer, the same as the 59c store-brand bottles, but it became wildly successful. What's more, it had been around for a while before becoming successful.

What did they do?

The first MAI study identified a highly-attractive target segment of prospective sparkling water users not at all interested in the Perrier brand and its “snobbish / expensive / for special occasions” positioning
Among package designs evaluated, MAI research led to recommendation of the design considered least appealing by the Heileman Marketing Group. The MAI-recommended design:
a. Promoted an “all occasion” image
b. Offered strong LaCroix name presence
c. Used elements that were most consistent with water imagery to the newly-identified target segment
Another unexpected research result was the surprising consumer enthusiasm for sparkling water in cans, a packaging idea that had not yet been introduced in this category. LaCroix’s subsequent introduction of sparkling water in cans allowed the brand to capture the lion’s share of new category growth from this innovation

I don't think that's the whole story. La Croix was originally positioned as an alternative to Perrier, whereas now (maybe as a result of the packaging in cans) it's positioned as an alternative to soda. And the copy on the box is pretty distinctive -- "calorie-free", "innocent" and so on. (It isn't quite grammatical, but that must be intentional. Trying to affect a European accent?)

There's a plausible narrative where La Croix succeeded because no one else had tried packaging seltzer in cans, but there's also a plausible narrative where it succeeded mostly because of its unusual branding.

If pressed, I'd favor the first -- Poland Spring also has a line of expensive brand-name flavored seltzers, but the bottles are a little unwieldy, not the sort of thing you'd pack with a work lunch. But I'm not in the target audience for its branding, so.

Monopoly: A Manifesto and Fact Post
Once a company reaches a monopoly position, its incentive structure is to suppress all innovation that does not improve its core business.

Once an actor reaches uncontested dominance, its incentive structure is to suppress all change that does not improve its position.

In my more paranoid moments, I suspect there's something like this going on in general: American power actors want stagnation and fear change, because change can be destabilizing and they're what would be destabilized. This is obviously true in the case of cultural power, but I'm not sure how it would extend beyond that.

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