All of Wes_W's Comments + Replies

"Willpower is not exhaustible" is not necessarily the same claim as "willpower is infallible". If, for example, you have a flat 75% chance of turning down sweets, then avoiding sweets still makes you more likely to not eat them. You're not spending willpower, it's just inherently unreliable.

I'm pretty sure that decision theories are not designed on that basis.

You are wrong. In fact, this is a totally standard thing to consider, and "avoid back-chaining defection in games of fixed length" is a known problem, with various known strategies.

Yes, that is the problem in question!

If you want the payoff, you have to be the kind of person who will pay the counterfactual mugger, even once you no longer can benefit from doing so. Is that a reasonable feature for a decision theory to have? It's not clear that it is; it seems strange to pay out, even though the expected value of becoming that kind of person is clearly positive before you see the coin. That's what the counterfactual mugging is about.

If you're asking "why care" rhetorically, and you believe the answer is "you shouldn't be... (read more)

Well, as previously stated, my view is that the scenario as stated (single-shot with no precommitment) is not the most helpful hypothetical for designing a decision theory. An iterated version would actually be more relevant, since we want to design an AI that can make more than one decision. And in the iterated version, the tension is largely resolved, because there is a clear motivation to stick with the decision: we still hope for the next coin to come down heads.

Your decision is a result of your decision theory, and your decision theory is a fact about you, not just something that happens in that moment.

You can say - I'm not making the decision ahead of time, I'm waiting until after I see that Omega has flipped tails. In which case, when Omega predicts your behavior ahead of time, he predicts that you won't decide until after the coin flip, resulting in hypothetically refusing to pay given tails, so - although the coin flip hasn't happened yet and could still come up heads - your yet-unmade decision has the same effect as if you had loudly precommitted to it.

You're trying to reason in temporal order, but that doesn't work in the presence of predictors.

I get that that could work for a computer, because a computer can be bound by an overall decision theory without attempting to think about whether that decision theory still makes sense in the current situation. I don't mind predictors in eg Newcomb's problem. Effectively, there is a backward causal arrow, because whatever you choose causes the predictor to have already acted differently. Unusual, but reasonable. However, in this case, yes, your choice affects the predictor's earlier decision - but since the coin never came down heads, who cares any more how the predictor would have acted? Why care about being the kind of person who will pay the counterfactual mugger, if there will never again be any opportunity for it to pay off?

You're fundamentally failing to address the problem.

For one, your examples just plain omit the "Omega is a predictor" part, which is key to the situation. Since Omega is a predictor, there is no distinction between making the decision ahead of time or not.

For another, unless you can prove that your proposed alternative doesn't have pathologies just as bad as the Counterfactual Mugging, you're at best back to square one.

It's very easy to say "look, just don't do the pathological thing". It's very hard to formalize that into an actual dec... (read more)

Except that even if you make the decision, what would motivate you to stick to it once it can no longer pay up? Your only motivation to pay is the hope of obtaining the $10000. If that hope does not exist, what reason would you have to abide by the decision that you make now?

But in the single-shot scenario, after it comes down tails, what motivation does an ideal game theorist have to stick to the decision theory?

That's what the problem is asking!

This is a decision-theoretical problem. Nobody cares about it for immediate practical purpose. "Stick to your decision theory, except when you non-rigorously decide not to" isn't a resolution to the problem, any more than "ignore the calculations since they're wrong" was a resolution to the ultraviolet catastrophe.

Again, the point of this experiment is that we w... (read more)

Well, if we're designing an AI now, then we have the capability to make a binding precommitment, simply by writing code. And we are still in a position where we can hope for the coin to come down heads. So yes, in that privileged position, we should bind the AI to pay up. However, to the question as stated, "is the decision to give up $100 when you have no real benefit from it, only counterfactual benefit, an example of winning?" I would still answer, "No, you don't achieve your goals/utility by paying up." We're specifically told that the coin has already been flipped. Losing $100 has negative utility, and positive utility isn't on the table. Alternatively, since it's asking specifically about the decision, I would answer, If you haven't made the decision until after the coin comes down tails, then paying is the wrong decision. Only if you're deciding in advance (when you still hope for heads) can a decision to pay have the best expected value. Even if deciding in advance, though, it's still not a guaranteed win, but rather a gamble. So I don't see any inconsistency in saying, on the one hand, "You should make a binding precommitment to pay", and on the other hand, "If the coin has already come down tails without a precommitment, you shouldn't pay." If there were a lottery where the expected value of a ticket was actually positive, and someone comes to you offering to sell you their ticket (at cost price), then it would make sense in advance to buy it, but if you didn't, and then the winners were announced and that ticket didn't win, then buying it no longer makes sense.

There will never be any more 10K; there is no motivation any more to give 100. Following my precommitment, unless it is externally enforced, no longer makes any sense.

This is the point of the thought experiment.

Omega is a predictor. His actions aren't just based on what you decide, but on what he predicts that you will decide.

If your decision theory says "nah, I'm not paying you" when you aren't given advance warning or repeated trials, then that is a fact about your decision theory even before Omega flips his coin. He flips his coin, gets hea... (read more)

But in the single-shot scenario, after it comes down tails, what motivation does an ideal game theorist have to stick to the decision theory? Like Parfit's hitchhiker, although in advance you might agree that it's a worthwhile deal, when it comes to the point of actually paying up, your motivation is gone, unless you have bound yourself in some other way.

Decision theory is an attempt to formalize the human decision process. The point isn't that we really are unsure whether you should leave people to die of thirst, but how we can encode that in an actual decision theory. Like so many discussions on Less Wrong, this implicitly comes back to AI design: an AI needs a decision theory, and that decision theory needs to not have major failure modes, or at least the failure modes should be well-understood.

If your AI somehow assigns a nonzero probability to "I will face a massive penalty unless I do this reall... (read more)

I don't think so; I think the element of repetition substantially alters it - but in a good way, one that makes it more useful in designing a real-world agent. Because in reality, we want to design decision theories that will solve problems multiple times. At the point of meeting a beggar, although my prospects of obtaining a gold coin this time around are gone, nonetheless my overall commitment is not meaningless. I can still think, "I want to be the kind of person who gives pennies to beggars, because overall I will come out ahead", and this thought remains applicable. I know that I can average out my losses with greater wins, and so I still want to stick to the algorithm. In the single-shot scenario, however, my commitment becomes worthless once the coin comes down tails. There will never be any more 10K; there is no motivation any more to give 100. Following my precommitment, unless it is externally enforced, no longer makes any sense. So the scenarios are significantly different.

Precommitments are used in decision-theoretic problems. Some people have proposed that a good decision theory should take the action that it would have precommitted to, if it had known in advance to do such a thing. This is an attempt to examine the consequences of that.

Yes, but if the artificial scenario doesn't reflect anything in the real world, then even if we get the right answer, therefore what? It's like being vaccinated against a fictitious disease; even if you successfully develop the antibodies, what good do they do? It seems to me that the "beggars and gods" variant mentioned earlier in the comments, where the opportunity repeats itself each day, is actually a more useful study. Sure, it's much more intuitive; it doesn't tie our brains up in knots, trying to work out a way to intend to do something at a point when all our motivation to do so has evaporated. But reality doesn't have to be complicated. Sometimes you just have to learn to throw in the pebble.

I'm not sure you've described a different mistake than Eliezer has?

Certainly, a student with a sufficiently incomplete understanding of heat conduction is going to have lots of lines of thought that terminate in question marks. The thesis of the post, as I read it, is that we want to be able to recognize when our thoughts terminate in question marks, rather than assuming we're doing something valid because our words sound like things the professor might say.

Yeah, that's fair, although it sounds like the student he's quoting did understand that. I'm just saying that "guessing the teacher's password" isn't usually a fair way to view what's going in in cases like this. "Building up a concept map of connections between related concepts" is probably more accurate, and that really is a vital part of the learning process, it's not a bad thing at all.

No part of his objection hinged on reversibility, only the same linearity assumption you rely on to get a result at all.

OK. I think I see what you are getting at.

First, one could simply reject your conclusion:

However at no point did I do anything that could be described as "simulating you".

The argument here is something like "just because you did the calculations differently doesn't mean your calculations failed to simulate a consciousness". Without a real model of how computation gives rise to consciousness (assuming it does), this is hard to resolve.

Second, one could simply accept it: there are some ways to do a given calculation which are ethical,... (read more)

From the point of view of physics, it contains garbage,

But a miracle occurs, and your physics simulation still works accurately for the individual components...?

I get that your assumption of "linear physics" gives you this. But I don't see any reason to believe that physics is "linear" in this very weird sense. In general, when you do calculations with garbage, you get garbage. If I time-evolve a simulation of (my house plus a bomb) for an hour, then remove all the bomb components at the end, I definitely do not get the same result as running a simulation with no bomb.

Well, actually, physics appears to be perfectly linear... if you work purely quantum level. In which case adding R is just simulating R, and also simulating you, pretty much independently. In which case no, it isn't garbage. It's two worlds being simulated in parallel.
It seems to me you are taking my assumption of linearity on the wrong level. To be exact, I need the assumption of linearity of the operator of calculating future-time snapshots (fixed in the article). This is entirely different from your example. Imagine for example how the Fourier Transform is linear as an operation.

And apparently insurance companies can make money because the expected utility of buying insurance is lower than it's price.

No, the expected monetary value of insurance is lower than its price. (Assuming that the insurance company's assessment of your risk level is accurate.) You're equivocating between money and utility, which is the source of your confusion.

Suppose I offered a simple wager: we flip a coin, and if it comes up heads, I give you a million dollars. But if it comes up tails, you owe me a million dollars, and I get every cent you earn until... (read more)

More generally it's that the marginal utility of money decreases, making buying insurance potentially an expected gain in utils even when the expectation of financial gain is negative.

Because we can't actually get infinite information, but we still want to calculate things.

And in practice, we can in fact calculate things to some level of precision, using a less-than-infinite amount of information.

You're right, I missed that line.

If I were making music in the style of someone who died six years before I was born, people would probably think I was out of style. I'm not sure if this is the historical fallacy I don't have a name for, where we gloss over differences in a few decades because they're less salient to us than the differences between the 1990s and the 1960s, or if musical styles just change more quickly now.

Oh, I agree; Brahms was quite old-fashioned. But Phil specifically said that Brahms's was writing music in a style that "had gone out of fashion before he was born", which I think is clearly not true.
It seems that the pace of change in music waxes and wanes, and does not seem to be accelerating. The twenty year gap from 1955 to 1975 is enormous. From 1995 to 2015, not so much.

I spent a long time associating Amazon with "something in South America, so it's probably not accessible to me" before the company was as ultra-famous as it is now.

On the other hand, asteroid mining technologies have some risks of their own, although this only reaches "existential" if somebody starts mining the big ones.

The largest nuclear weapon was the Tsar Bomba: 50 megatonnes of TNT, roughly equivalent to a 3.3-million-tonne impactor. Asteroids larger than this are thought to number in the tens of millions, and at the time of writing only 1.1 million had been provisionally identified. Asteroid shunting at or beyond this scale is by definition a trans-nuclear technology, which means a point comes where the necessary level of trust is unprecedented.

You're right, I misread your sentence about "his personal preferences" as referring to the whole claim, rather than specifically the part about what's "mentally healthy". I don't think we disagree on the object level here.

Cromwell's Rule is not EY's invention, and relatively uncontroversial for empirical propositions (as opposed to tautologies or the like).

If you don't accept treating probabilities as beliefs and vice versa, then this whole conversation is just a really long and unnecessarily circuitous way to say "remember that you can be wrong about stuff".

Nobody is saying EY invented Cromwell's Rule, that's not the issue. The issue is that "0 and 1 are not useful subjective certainties for a Bayesian agent" is a very different statement than "0 and 1 are not probabilities at all".
The part that is new compared to Cromwell's rule is that Yudkowsky doesn't want to give probability 1 to logical statements (53 is a prime number). Because he doesn't want to treat 1 as a probability, you can't expect complete sets of events to have total probability 1, despite them being tautologies. Because he doesn't want probability 0, how do you handle the empty set? How do you assign probabilities to statements like "A and B" where A and B are logical exclusive? (the coin lands heads AND the coin lands tails). Removing 0 and 1 from the math of probability breaks most of the standard manipulations. Again, it's best to just say "be careful with 0 and 1 when working with odds ratios."

If we're asking what the author "really meant" rather than just what would be correct, it's on record.

The argument for why zero and one are not probabilities is not, "All objects which are special cases should be cast out of mathematics, so get rid of the real zero because it requires a special case in the field axioms", it is, "ceteris paribus, can we do this without the special case?" and a bit of further intuition about how 0 and 1 are the equivalents of infinite probabilities, where doing our calculations without infinit

... (read more)
It seems that EY position boils down to And that's a weak claim. EY's ideas of what is "mentally healthier" are, basically, his personal preferences. I, for example, don't find any mental health benefits in thinking about one over googolplex probabilities.
I think the issue at hand is that 0 and 1 aren't special cases at all, but very important for the math of probability theory to work (try and construct a probability measure where some subset doesn't have probability 1 or 0). This is incredibly necessary for the mathematical idea of probability ,and EY seems to be confusing "are 0 and 1 probabilities relevant to Bayesian agents?" with "are 0 and 1 probabilities?" (yes, they are, unavoidably, not as a special case!).

What do the following have in common?

You focused on akrasia, and obviously this is a component.

My guess was: they're all wildly underdetermined. "Cheer up" isn't a primitive op. "Don't have sex" or "eat less and exercise more" sound like they might be primitive ops, but can be cashed out in many different ways. "Eat less and exercise more, without excessively disrupting your career/social life/general health/etc" is not a primitive op at all, and may require many non-obvious steps.

I am the downvoter, although another one seems to have found you since. I found your comment to be a mixture of "true, but irrelevant in the context of the quote", and a restatement of non-novel ideas. This is admittedly a harsh standard to apply to a first comment (particularly since you may not have yet even read the other stuff that duplicates your point about human designers being able to avoid local optima!), so I have retracted my downvote.

Welcome to the site, I hope I haven't turned you off.

I guess relevance is a matter of perspective. I was not aware that my ideas were not novel; they were at least my own and not something I parroted from elsewhere. Thanks for taking the time to explain, and no, I feel much better now.

Good I'm glad we agree on this. Now, why are you trying to defend positions that rely on denying this claim?

I'm not. I entered this discussion mostly to point out that you were equating "corresponds to social behavior" with "does not correspond to anything", which is silly.

It's worse than gender not corresponding to anything. Like in the standard example, it corresponds to multiple things, which don't necessarily agree.


Yes, and creeps, or example, want to be treated as a woman with respect to which bathroom they enter.

Do they... (read more)

No. Two possibilities, not just one:


So a man getting an ID card with a typo in the gender field makes him female?

Legally, maybe so, at least until the error is corrected. You'd have to ask a lawyer to be sure.

ID cards are a physical object, which is not determined by biological sex, since as a question of legal fact one can get an ID card of one's self-identified gender if one jumps through the appropriate hoops, even without sex reassignment surgery. (At least that's how it works here in California. I have no idea how it works in other states or countries.)

This seems to me a counterexamp... (read more)

Ok, now I officially have no reason to care about Wes_W!gender. So you agree this social norm has no factual basis to it. Good I'm glad we agree on this. Now, why are you trying to defend positions that rely on denying this claim? Yes, and creeps, or example, want to be treated as a woman with respect to which bathroom they enter.

So you agree that "gender" as distinct from "sex" doesn't correspond to anything,

I'm pretty sure that ID cards and human interaction are territory, not map. Please don't do the "social constructs basically don't exist" thing, it's very silly.

The discussion of a hypothetical person who wants to change gender (but nothing else) every five minutes is giving me a vibe similar to when someone asks "how does evolution explain a monkey giving birth to a human?" It doesn't. That would falsify the model, much like our hypo... (read more)

So a man getting an ID card with a typo in the gender field makes him female? How about not "every five minutes", but whenever he feels like going to the women's bathroom to ogle/be generally creepy? Well, this fact itself seems like to should falsify gjm's model. Let's see what he says about it.

So instead of every civ fillings its galaxy, we get every civ building one in every galaxy. For this to not result in an Engine on every star, you still have to fine-tune the argument such that new civs are somehow very rare.

There are some hypotheticals where the details are largely irrelevant, and you can back up and say "there are many possibilities of this form, so the unlikeliness of my easy-to-present example isn't the point". "Alien civs exist, but prefer to spread out a lot" does not appear to be such a solution. As such, the requirement for fine-tuning and multiple kinds of exotic physics seem to me like sufficiently burdensome details that this makes a bad candidate.

EDIT: Edited my response to be more instructive. On some level it's fine to make the kinds of qualitative arguments you are making. However, to assess whether a given hypothesis really robust to parameters like ubiquity of civilizations, colonization speed, and alien psychology, you have to start formulating models and actually quantify the size of the parameter space which would result in a particular prediction. A while ago I wrote a tutorial on how to do this: [] which covers the basics, but to incorporate alien psychology you would have formulate the relevant game-theoretic models as well. The pitfall of the kinds of qualitative arguments you are making is that you risk confusing the fact that "I found a particular region of the parameter space where your theory doesn't work" with the conclusion that "Your theory only works in a small region of the parameter space." It is true that under certain conditions regarding ubiquity of civilizations, colonization speed, and alien diplomatic strategy, that Catastrophe Engines end up being built on every star. However, you go on to claim that in most of the parameter space, such an outcome occurs, and that the Fermi Paradox is only observed in a small exceptional part of the parameter space. Given my experience with this kind of modeling, I predict that Catastrophe Engines actually are robust to all but the most implausible assumptions about ubiquity of intelligent life, colonization speed, and alien psychology, but you obviously don't need to take my word on it. On the other hand, you'd have to come up with some quantitative models to convince me of the validity of your criticisms. In any case, continuing to argue on a purely philosophical level won't serve to resolve our disagreement.

The second civilization would just go ahead and build them anyways, since doing so maximizes their own utility function.

Then why isn't there an Engine on every star?

The second civ would still avoid building them too close to each other. This is all clear if you do the analysis.

Implausible premises aside, I'm not convinced this actually resolves the paradox.

The first spacefaring civilization fills the galaxy/universe with Catastrophe Engines at the maximum usable density.

But now the second spacefaring civilization doesn't have any room to build Catastrophe Engines, so they colonize space the regular way. And we're right back at the original problem: either life has to be rare enough that everybody has room to build Engines, or there's lots of life out there that had to expand the non-Engine way but we somehow can't see them.

The second civilization would just go ahead and build them anyways, since doing so maximizes their own utility function. Of course, there is an additional question of whether and how the first civilization will try to stop this from happening, since the second civ's Catastrophe Engines reduce their own utility. If the first civ ignores them, the second civ builds Catastrophe Engines the same way as before. If the first civ enforces a ban on Catastrophe Engines, then the second civ colonizes space using conventional methods. But most likely the first civ would eliminate the second civ (the "Berserker" scenario.)

But... you can already buy many items that are lethal if forcefully shoved down someone's throat. Knives, for example. It's not obvious to me that a lack of lethal drugs is currently preventing anyone from hurting people, especially since many already-legal substances are very dangerous to pour down someone's throat.

From the Overcoming Bias link, "risky buildings" seem to me the clearest example of endangering people other than the buyer.

I can see that, and I realize that there are advantages to having a store that can sell illegal things. I would now say that such a store would be benificial. There would have to be some restrictions to what that type of store could sell. Explosives like fireworks still could be for use by a licensed person, and nukes would not be sold at all.

No one does it for the fun of it.

A friend of mine does. Not "fun" per se, but she derives enjoyment and satisfaction from it.

I can see in the Recent Comments sidebar that your comment starts with "[There is no such thing as ", but the actual text of your comment appears blank. Something might be screwy with your link syntax?

Interesting. Can I ask you to unpack this statement? I'm curious what exactly you're comparing.

The difference between "has practiced a movement to mastery" and "has never performed a movement before" can be very large, like my powerlifter/snatch example in the other comment. But this is comparing zero practice to a very large amount of practice over a very long period of time. I would find it easy to believe that IQ tests see much greater returns from small amounts of practice.

It does! It's pretty reasonable to say that I'm much stronger than the average non-athlete, and Dan Green is much stronger than me, and all the fiddly caveats don't really change that analysis.

Does this work better or worse than IQ? I'm not sure.

Also, you bias IQ tests if you repeatedly take them, but you don't do likewise with strength tests so it's much easier to track changes in an individual's strength over time and most anyone whose lifts weights can objectively verify that he has become stronger.

Strength tests are absolutely biased by taking them repeatedly. Athletes call this "specificity".

The practice effect for IQ tests is about two orders of magnitude stronger than for strength tests. You could call this "specificity," but at that granularity, it's a bad thing.

How do you define/determine this?

The standard definition of strength, which the post cleverly avoided ever stating, is "the ability to produce force against external resistance" or some variant thereof. Force is a well-defined physics term, and can be measured pretty directly in a variety of ways.

Isn't there an "obvious" causal relationship between brain mass and intelligence?

No. Whales aren't smarter than humans.

If by "obvious" you mean "the sort of thing you might guess from first principles", then both are ... (read more)

Does this definition resolve the problem posed by the OP, that competence in one of various different specific activities requiring strength doesn't imply competence in the others? That is, after all, the basis on which IQ tests are attacked - competence on Raven's progressive matrices doesn't imply competence at the Piano. If we would answer their objection by saying that intelligence is the general capacity to solve problems, have we shed any light on what ties these capacities together? That's what I interpreted James Miller to mean, at least roughly. Seems to me to be merely a difference of degree. While not "leaping out", brain-mass and intelligence do seem to correlate non-trivially (at least when cranial volume is measured via MRI): []

Given a field with no expert consensus, where you can't just check things yourself, shouldn't the rational response be uncertainty?

I don't think global warming fits this description, though. AFAIK domain experts almost all broadly agree.

The devil is in the details. They "broadly agree" on what? I don't think there's that much consensus on forecasts of future climate change.

Some subcomponents aren't skills - or at least, it seems odd to label e.g. "unusually long arms" as a skill - but this is a nitpick.

It is interesting, though, how non-general strength is.

There is indeed a widely (unwittingly) held idea that "strength" is a one-dimensional thing: consider, say, superhero comics where the Hulk is stronger than anybody else, which means he's stronger at everything. You never read a comic where the Hulk is stronger at lifting things but Thor is stronger at throwing; that would feel really weird to most people. If the Marvel universe had a comic about strength sports, the Hulk would be the best at every sport.

But this isn't at all how strength wor... (read more)

7SilentCal8y [] I can't find data, but I bet the one-dimensional folk model works quite well among the general population.
I'd think of the hulk's universal strength as something like the difference between species instead of between individuals. I don't know, but I imagine that a mountain gorilla is much stronger than me, at bench pressing, at deadlifting, at overheard pressing, at throwing, etc.
Sub-components of "strength" are each just skills. Some skills have broader applicability transfer than others. There is nothing universally upstream of every single other strength skill.

If we could build a working AGI that required a billion dollars of hardware for world-changing results, why would Google not throw a billion dollars of hardware at it?

Given that I am wrong, I would prefer being proven wrong to not being proven wrong.

Yours is probably the central case, but "prove me wrong" and "I hope I'm wrong" aren't unheard-of sentiments. For example, a doctor giving a grim diagnosis. I think this can only (?) happen when the (perceived) value on the object level outweighs concerns about ego.

It appears to me that ChristianKI just listed four. Did you have something specific in mind?

Uhm, I kind of felt the pigeon experiment was a little misleading. Yes, the pigeons did a great job of switching doors and learning through LR. Human RL however (seems to me) takes place in a more subtle manner. While the pigeons seemed to focus on a more object level prouctivity, human RL would seem to take up a more complicated route. But even that's kind of besides the point. In the article that Kaj had posted above, with the Amy Sutherland trying the LRS on her husband, it was an interesting point to note that the RL was happening at a rather unconscious level. In the monty hall problem solving type of cognition, the brain is working at a much more conscious active level. So it seems more than likely to me that while LR works in humans, it gets easily over-ridden if you will by conscious deliberate action. One other point is also worth noting in my opinion. Human brains come with a lot more baggage than pigeon brains. Therefore, it is more than likely than humans have learnt not to switch through years of re-enforced learning. It makes it much harder to unlearn the same thing in a smaller period of time. The pigeons having lesser cognitive load may have a lot less to unlearn and may have made it easier for them to learn the switching pattern.

In the above explained situations I would say that in that case simply put their are multiple answers each of which can in the eyes of a different person he true or false.

Yes, except often it really is important to nail down which question we're asking, rather than just accepting that different interpretations yield different answers.

Like he killed a man so its bad BUT that man who was killed had also killed a man so it was good. Choose one it cant be both and the judge of any court knows that.

In logic, we have the law of excluded middle, which stat... (read more)

Not all statements are precise enough to be nailed down as definitely true or false. If there's any leeway or ambiguity in exactly what is being stated, there might also be ambiguity in whether it's true or false.

As a trivial example, consider this statement: "If a tree falls in the forest, and there's nobody around to hear it, it doesn't make a sound". Is the statement true or false? Well, it depends on what you mean by "sound": if you mean acoustic vibrations in the air, the tree does make a sound and the statement is false; if you me... (read more)

I like your reasoning but my stance still remains. In the above explained situations I would say that in that case simply put their are multiple answers each of which can in the eyes of a different person he true or false. It is evident that each person is entitled to their own opinion so it is up to your own reasoning capabilities to tell whether you view it as true or false. but what I am stating is sometime they literally say it is both good and bad. Like he killed a man so its bad BUT that man who was killed had also killed a man so it was good. Choose one it cant be both and the judge of any court knows that.

I don't think this is carving reality at the joints.

The free will illusion, at least as presented by Yudkowsky, is that we don't know our own planning algorithm, and understanding how it (probably) works dissolves the illusion, so that "do I have free will" stops even seeming like a question to ask. The illusion is that there was a question at all. The relevant category to watch for is when lots of people want an answer even though nobody can nail down exactly what the question is, or how to tell when you have an answer.

This is a much more specific phenomenon than "elaborate structures", which includes pretty much everything except fundamental particles or the like.

I agree my arguments must be grotesque. I hope to get better by participating more here and reading the sequences so I may be more useful for the community. Your explanation above helps me fill in the blanks of things I missed of Yudkowsky's free will articles. It is a little disconcerting not to have opinions like "free will does not exist because..." or "Free will is an illusion because..." instead of "dissolving" issues which requires much more abstract thinking and preparation for newbies like me!

Can you clarify what you mean by "cognitive illusion"? I don't see why your other three examples should be grouped in that category with free will.

In the physical world we may call a set of wheels on a chassis, with a steering wheel, and a motor, a car. The meaning car is very tangible and useful, but cars are constructs in our minds. In reality it is organized metal, rubber, and fuel. In the environment of the mind we build concepts like cars, but we put together properties like "store of value", "unit of account", "exchange mechanism", "divisibility", etc. and we call it money, but money doesn't exist per-se, although it is very useful to quantify it, manage it, and turn it into a commerce tool. The same way we feel that time, free will, and randomness exist. So, if we call some constructs "cognitive biases", others are calling these more elaborate structures "cognitive illusions".
I don't see why free will should be there either. That it is an illusion is one particular view of free will, but it is not "normally discussed as such".

Yes, this is a failure mode of (some forms of?) utilitarianism, but not the specific weirdness I was trying to get at, which was that if you aggregate by min(), then it's completely morally OK to do very bad things to huge numbers of people - in fact, it's no worse than radically improving huge numbers of lives - as long as you avoid affecting the one person who is worst-off. This is a very silly property for a moral system to have.

You can attempt to mitigate this property with too-clever objections, like "aha, but if you kill a happy person, then in ... (read more)

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