Wiki Contributions


If you mean the less-fun-to-work-with part, it's fairly obvious. You have a good idea, but the smarter person A has already thought about it (and rejected it after having a better idea). You manage to make a useful contribution, and it is immediately generalized and improved upon by the smarter persons B and C. It's like playing a game where you have almost no control over the outcome. This problem seems related to competence and autonomy, which are two of the three basic needs involved in intrinsic motivation.

If you mean the issue of why fun is valued more than doing something that matters, it is less clear. My guess is that's because boredom is a more immediate and pressing concern than meaningless existence (where "something that matters" is a cure for meaningless existence, and "fun" is a cure for boredom). Smart people also seem to get bored more easily, so the need to get away from boredom is probably more important for them.

When I read this:

9) To want to be the best in something has absolutely no precedence over doing something that matters.

I immediately thought of this.

On a more serious note, I have the impression that while some people (with conservative values?) do agree that doing something that matters is more important than anything else (although "something that matters" is usually something not very interesting), most creatively intelligent people go through their lives trying to optimize fun. And while it's certainly fun to hang out with people smarter than you and learn from them, it's much less fun to work with them.

I've always wanted a name like that!

But I'm worried that with such a generic English name people will expect me to speak perfect English, which means they'll be negatively surprised when they hear my noticeable accent.

In my opinion, this second question is far from being as important as the first one. Also, please see these posting guidelines:

These traditionally go in Discussion:

  • a link with minimal commentary
  • a question or brainstorming opportunity for the Less Wrong community

Beyond that, here are some factors that suggest you should post in Main:

  • Your post discusses core Less Wrong topics.
  • The material in your post seems especially important or useful.
  • You put a lot of thought or effort into your post. (Citing studies, making diagrams, and agonizing over wording are good indicators of this.)
  • Your post is long or deals with difficult concepts. (If a post is in Main, readers know that it may take some effort to understand.)
  • You've searched the Less Wrong archives, and you're pretty sure that you're saying something new and non-obvious. The more of these criteria that your post meets, the better a candidate it is for Main.

The inhabitants of Florence in 1494 or Athens in 404 BCE could be forgiven for concluding that optimism just isn't factually true. For they knew nothing of such things as the reach of explanations or the power of science or even laws of nature as we understand them, let alone the moral and technological progress that was to follow when the Enlightenment got under way. At the moment of defeat, it must have seemed at least plausible to the formerly optimistic Athenians that the Spartans might be right, and to the formerly optimistic Florentines that Savonarola might be. Like every other destruction of optimism, whether in a whole civilization or in a single individual, these must have been unspeakable catastrophes for those who had dared to expect progress. But we should feel more than sympathy for those people. We should take it personally. For if any of those earlier experiments in optimism had succeeded, our species would be exploring the stars by now, and you and I would be immortal.

David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity

I'm quite sure I'm not rounding when I prefer hearing a Wagner opera to hearing any number of folk dance tunes, and when I prefer reading a Vernor Vinge novel to hearing any number of Wagner operas. See also this comment for another example.

It seems, lexicographic preferences arise when one has a choice between qualitatively different experiences. In such cases, any differences in quantity, however vast, are just irrelevant. An experience of long unbearable torture cannot be quantified in terms of minor discomforts.

I've always thought the problem with real world is that we cannot really optimize for anything in it, exactly because it is so messy and entangled.

I seem to have lexicographic preferences for quite a lot of things that cannot be sold, bought, or exchanged. For example, I would always prefer having one true friend to any number of moderately intelligent ardent followers. And I would always prefer a FAI to any number of human-level friends. It is not a difference in some abstract "quantity of happiness" that produces such preferences, those are qualitatively different life experiences.

Since I do not really know how to optimize for any of this, I'm not willing to reject human-level friends and even moderately intelligent ardent followers that come my way. But if I'm given a choice, it's quite clear what my choice will be.

It is not a trivial task to define a utility function that could compare such incomparable qualia.


However, it is possible for preferences not to be representable by a utility function. An example is lexicographic preferences which are not continuous and cannot be represented by a continuous utility function.

Has it been shown that this is not the case for dust specks and torture?

I'm a bit confused with this torture vs. dust specks problem. Is there an additive function for qualia, so that they can be added up and compared? It would be interesting to look at the definition of such a function.

Edit: removed a bad example of qualia comparison.

With its low probability, it doesn't significantly contribute to expected utility, so for decision making purposes it's an irrelevant hypothetical.

Well, this sounds right, but seems to indicate some problem with decision theory. If a cat has to endure 10 rounds of Schrödinger's experiments with 1/2 probability of death in each round, there should be some sane way for the cat to express its honest expectation to observe itself alive in the end.

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