Reply to Nate Soares on Dolphins

Thanks. I regret letting my emotions get the better of me. I apologize.

Philosophy in the Darkest Timeline: Basics of the Evolution of Meaning

As a longtime Internet ratsphere person, but not a traditional philosophy nerd, the idea [...] never occurred to me.

Are you sure that's not the other way around?? (I don't think Brian Skyrms is a traditional philosopher.)

Reply to Nate Soares on Dolphins

(I've drafted a 3000 word reply to this, but I'm waiting on feedback from a friend before posting it.)

Reply to Nate Soares on Dolphins

you tend to get a bit worked up sometimes

Well, yes. I've got Something to Protect.

Reply to Nate Soares on Dolphins

Thanks, you are right and the thing I originally typed is wrong. I edited the comment.

Reply to Nate Soares on Dolphins

Thanks for the reply! (Strong-upvoted.) I've been emotionally trashed today and didn't get anything done at my dayjob, which arguably means I shouldn't be paying attention to Less Wrong, but I feel the need to type this now in the hopes of getting it off my mind so that I can do my dayjob tomorrow.

In your epistemic-status thread, you express sadness at "the fact that nobody's read A Human's Guide to Words or w/e". But, with respect, you ... don't seem to be behaving as if you've read it? Specifically, entry #30 on the list of "37 Ways Words Can Be Wrong" is—I'll quote it in full—

  1. Your definition draws a boundary around things that don't really belong together. You can claim, if you like, that you are defining the word "fish" to refer to salmon, guppies, sharks, dolphins, and trout, but not jellyfish or algae. You can claim, if you like, that this is merely a list, and there is no way a list can be "wrong". Or you can stop playing nitwit games and admit that you made a mistake and that dolphins don't belong on the fish list. (Where to Draw the Boundary?)

That is, in 2008, as part of "A Human's Guide to Words", Eliezer Yudkowsky explicitly uses this specific example of whether dolphins are fish, and characterizes the position that dolphins are fish as "playing nitwit games" (!). This didn't seem particularly controversial at the time?

Then, thirteen years later, in the current year, you declare that "The definitional gynmastics required to believe that dolphins aren't fish are staggering" (staggering!), and Yudkowsky retweets you. (In general, retweets are not necessarily endorsements—sometimes people just want to draw attention to some content without further comment or implied approval—but I'm inclined to read this instance as implying approval, partially because this doesn't seem like the kind of thing someone would retweet for attention-without-approval, and partially because of the working relationship between you and Yudkowsky.)

But this is pretty strange, right? It would seem that sometime between 2008 and the current year, the rationalist "party line" (as observed in the public statements of SingInst/MIRI leadership) on whether dolphins are fish shifted from (my paraphrases) "No; despite the surface similarities, that categorization doesn't carve reality at the joints; stop playing nitwit games" to "Yes, because of the surface similarities; those who contend otherwise are the ones playing nitwit games." A complete 180° reversal, on this specific example! Why? What changed? Surely if "cognitively useful categories should carve reality at the joints, and dolphins being fish doesn't do that" was good philosophy in 2008, it should still be good philosophy in 2021?

It would make sense if people's opinions changed due to new arguments—if people's opinions changed because of reasons. Indeed, Yudkowsky's original "stop playing nitwit games" dismissal was sloppy and flawed, and I ended up having the occasion to elaborate on the specific senses in which dolphins both do, and do not, cluster with fish in my 2019 "Where to Draw the Boundaries?"

(Get it? "... Boundaries?", plural, in contrast to "... Boundary?", singular, because I'm talking about how you can legitimately have multiple different category systems depending on which subspace of configuration space is decision-relevant in a particular context.)

But when I look at the thing you posted and Yudkowsky retweeted (even if it was a shitpost, your epistemic-status followup thread still contends "but also y'all know i'm right"), it doesn't look like the party line about dolphins changed because of reasons. You didn't even acknowledge the reversal, despite explicitly lamenting (in the followup thread) that people haven't read "A Human's Guide to Words".

Am I the only one creeped out by this? To illustrate why I'm freaked out—why I've been freaked out to a greater or lesser degree almost constantly for the past five years—imagine that in a fictional 2008, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence were at war with Eastasia for harboring the terrorist unFriendly AI Emmanuel GoldstAIn. It would make sense if, on 21 November 2014, Luke Muehlhauser were to announce:

We're making some changes! First, we're now going to be the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, or MIRI for short, instead of SingInst. And the reason for that is, the old name is no longer appropriate because we're no longer unambiguously "for Artificial Intelligence" after we figured out that it's probably going to destroy all value in our future lightcone. Second, a leaked pastebin revealed that Emmanuel GoldstAIn is actually being harbored by Eurasia, not Eastasia. Whoops! We'll be winding down our war with Eastasia with the hope to be ready to declare war on Eurasia in time for our winter fundraiser. Third, we're calling it "aligned" instead of "Friendly" AI now, and the reason for that is because Stuart Russell convinced us it's a less goofy name.

That would make sense, because in this story, Luke is acknowledging the changes, and giving reasons for why it's correct for the things to change. If Luke were to just say out of the blue on 21 November 2014 that the war with Eurasia is going well, without any indication that anything had changed for any reason, you would expect someone to notice.

Or, imagine if in 2014, Yudkowsky suddenly started saying the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics is correct, without acknowledging that anything had changed. That's how weird this is. (Revised: Adele Lopez points out that this is wrong.)

And on this classification-of-dolphins issue (specifically, literally, dolphins in particular), it seems like something has changed, and everyone is pretending not to have noticed. Why? What changed? I have my theory, but I could be biased—I want to hear yours! I want to hear yours in public. Do you have a cheerful price for this? I could go up to $2000 for a public reply.

Containment Thread on the Motivation and Political Context for My Philosophy of Language Agenda

Okay. I give up. I really liked your 11 May comment, and it made me optimistic that this conversation would lead somewhere new and interesting, but I'm not feeling optimistic about that anymore. (You probably aren't, either.) This was fun, though: thanks! You're very good at what you do!

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