DanielFilan's Shortform Feed

post by DanielFilan · 2019-03-25T23:32:38.314Z · score: 19 (5 votes) · LW · GW · 52 comments

Rationality-related writings that are more comment-shaped than post-shaped. Please don't leave top-level comments here unless they're indistinguishable to me from something I would say here.

52 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by DanielFilan · 2019-10-11T23:48:53.653Z · score: 42 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hot take: if you think that we'll have at least 30 more years of future where geopolitics and nations are relevant, I think you should pay at least 50% as much attention to India as to China. Similarly large population, similarly large number of great thinkers and researchers. Currently seems less 'interesting', but that sort of thing changes over 30-year timescales. As such, I think there should probably be some number of 'India specialists' in EA policy positions that isn't dwarfed by the number of 'China specialists'.

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley) · 2019-10-14T17:41:22.455Z · score: 18 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For comparison, in a universe where EA existed 30 years ago we would have thought it very important to have many Russia specialists.

comment by DanielFilan · 2020-07-29T04:35:45.398Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just learned that 80,000 hours' career guide includes the claim that becoming a Russia or India specialist might turn out to be a very promising career path.

comment by Adam Scholl (adam_scholl) · 2019-10-18T06:58:58.876Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've been wondering recently whether CFAR should try having some workshops in India for this reason. Far more people speak English than in China, and I expect we'd encounter fewer political impediments.

comment by lifelonglearner · 2019-11-21T15:12:28.347Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also, anecdotally, there have been lots of Indian applicants (and attendees) at ESPR throughout the years. Seems like people there also think rationality is cool (lots of the people I interviewed had read HPMOR, there are LW meetups there, etc. etc.)

comment by Raemon · 2019-11-21T20:50:45.154Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also fyi, a nontrivial fraction of new users on LessWrong have Indian sounding usernames.

comment by mingyuan · 2019-11-21T21:16:45.348Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

fwiw the global poverty part of EA already does a fair amount of work in India. I know EA is a bit (and increasingly) fragmented between different cause areas, but that still might be a useful entry point?

comment by DanielFilan · 2019-07-04T22:44:38.428Z · score: 35 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Indian grammarian Pāṇini wanted to exactly specify what Sanskrit grammar was in the shortest possible length. As a result, he did some crazy stuff:

Pāṇini's theory of morphological analysis was more advanced than any equivalent Western theory before the 20th century. His treatise is generative and descriptive, uses metalanguage and meta-rules, and has been compared to the Turing machine wherein the logical structure of any computing device has been reduced to its essentials using an idealized mathematical model.

There are two surprising facts about this:

  1. His grammar was written in the 4th century BC.
  2. People then failed to build on this machinery to do things like formalise the foundations of mathematics, formalise a bunch of linguistics, or even do the same thing for languages other than Sanskrit, in a way that is preserved in the historical record.

I've been obsessing about this for the last few days.

comment by DanielFilan · 2019-04-30T00:23:22.069Z · score: 20 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Shower thought[*]: the notion of a task being bounded doesn't survive composition. Specifically, say a task is bounded if the agent doing it is only using bounded resources and only optimising a small bit of the world to a limited extent. The task of 'be a human in the enterprise of doing research' is bounded, but the enterprise of research in general is not bounded. Similarly, being a human with a job vs the entire human economy. I imagine keeping this in mind would be useful when thinking about CAIS.

Similarly, the notion of a function being interpretable doesn't survive composition. Linear functions are interpretable (citation: the field of linear algebra), as is the ReLU function, but the consensus is that neural networks are not, or at least not in the same way.

I basically wish that the concepts that I used survived composition.

[*] Actually I had this on a stroll.

comment by Raemon · 2019-04-30T02:26:33.585Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fwiw, this seems like an interesting thought but I'm not sure I understand it, and curious if you could say it in different words. (but, also, if the prospect of being asked to do that for your shortform comments feels ughy, no worries)

comment by DanielFilan · 2019-04-30T02:35:28.567Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Often big things are made of smaller things: e.g., the economy is made of humans and machines interacting, and neural networks are made of linear functions and ReLUs composed together. Say that a property P survives composition if knowing that P holds for all the smaller things tells you that P holds for the bigger thing. It's nice if properties survive composition, because it's easier to figure out if they hold for small things than to directly tackle the problem of whether they hold for a big thing. Boundedness doesn't survive composition: people and machines are bounded, but the economy isn't. Interpretability doesn't survive composition: linear functions and ReLUs are interpretable, but neural networks aren't.

comment by DanielFilan · 2020-01-26T20:14:48.395Z · score: 15 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A bunch of my friends are very skeptical of the schooling system and promote homeschooling or unschooling as an alternative. I see where they're coming from, but I worry about the reproductive consequences of stigmatising schooling in favour of those two alternatives. Based on informal conversations, the main reason why people I know aren't planning on having more children is the time cost. A move towards normative home/unschooling would increase the time cost of children, and as such make them less appealing to prospective parents[*]. This in turn would reduce birth rates, worsening the problem that first-world countries face in the next couple of decades of a low working-age:elderly population ratio [EDIT: also, low population leading to less innovation, also low population leading to fewer people existing who get to enjoy life]. As such, I tentatively wish that home/unschooling advocates would focus on more institutional ways of supervising children, e.g. Sudbury schools, community childcare, child labour [EDIT: or a greater emphasis on not supervising children who don't need supervision, or similar things].

[*] This is the weakest part of my argument - it's possible that more people home/unschooling their kids would result in cooler kids that were more fun to be around, and this effect would offset the extra time cost (or kids who are more willing to support their elderly parents, perhaps). But given how lucrative the first world labour market is, I doubt it.

comment by Isnasene · 2020-01-26T23:29:15.524Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
A bunch of my friends are very skeptical of the schooling system and promote homeschooling or unschooling as an alternative. I see where they're coming from, but I worry about the reproductive consequences of stigmatising schooling in favour of those two alternatives.

While I agree that a world where home/un-schooling is a norm would result in greater time-costs and a lower child-rate, I don't think that promoting home/un-schooling as an alternative will result in a world where home/un-schooling is normative. Because of this, I don't think that promoting home/un-schooling as an alternative to the system carries any particularly broad risks.

Here's my reasoning:

  • I expect the associated stigmas and pressures for having kids to always dwarf the associated stigmas and pressures against having kids if they are not home/un-schooled. Having kids is an extremely strong norm both because of the underpinning evolutionary psychology and because a lot of life-style patterns after thirty are culturally centered around people who have kids.
  • Despite its faults, public school does the job pretty well for most of people. This applies to the extent that the opportunity cost of home/un-schooling instead of building familial wealth probably outweighs the benefits for most people. Thus, I don't believe that the promoting of home/un-schooling is scaleable to everyone.
  • Lots of rich people who have the capacity to home/un-school who dislike the school system decide not to do that. Instead they (roughly speaking) coordinate towards expensive private schools outside the public system. I doubt that this has caused a significant number of people to avoid having children for fear of not sending them to a fancy boading school.
  • Even if the school system gets sufficiently stigmatised, I actually expect that the incentives will naturally align around institutional schooling outside the system for most children. Comparative advantages exist and local communities will exploit them.
  • Home/un-schooling often already involves institutional aspects. Explicitly, home/un-schooled kids would ideally have outlets for peer-to-peer interactions during the school-day and these are often satisfied through community coordination

I grant that maybe increased popularity of home/un-schooling could reduce reproduction rate by an extremely minor amount on the margin. But I don't think that amount is anywhere near even the size of, say, the way that people who claim they don't want to have kids because global warming will reproduce less on the margin.

And as someone who got screwed by the school system, I really wish that when I asked my parents about home/un-schooling, there was some broader social movement that would incentivize them to actually listen.

comment by DanielFilan · 2020-01-27T07:07:25.096Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I expect the associated stigmas and pressures for having kids to always dwarf the associated stigmas and pressures against having kids if they are not home/un-schooled.

Developed countries already have below-replacement fertility (according to this NPR article, the CDC claims that the US has been in this state since 1971), so apparently you can have pressures that outweigh pressures to have children. In general I don't understand why you don't think that a marginal increase in the pressure to invest in each kid won't result in marginally fewer kids.

Despite its faults, public school does the job pretty well for most of people.

Presumably this is not true in a world where many people believe that schools are basically like prisons for children, which is a sentiment that I do see and seems more memetically fit than "homeschooling works for some families but not others".

Lots of rich people who have the capacity to home/un-school who dislike the school system decide not to do that. Instead they (roughly speaking) coordinate towards expensive private schools outside the public system.

My impression was that rich people often dislike the public school system, but are basically fine with schools in general?

I doubt that this has caused a significant number of people to avoid having children for fear of not sending them to a fancy boading school.

Rich people have fewer kids than poor people and it doesn't seem strange to me to imagine that that's partly due to the fact that each child comes at higher expected cost.

Even if the school system gets sufficiently stigmatised, I actually expect that the incentives will naturally align around institutional schooling outside the system for most children. Comparative advantages exist and local communities will exploit them.

This seems right to me barring strong normative home/unschooling, and I wish that this were a more promoted alternative (as my post mentions!).

And as someone who got screwed by the school system, I really wish that when I asked my parents about home/un-schooling, there was some broader social movement that would incentivize them to actually listen.

Yep - you'll notice that my post doesn't deny the manifold benefits of the home/unschooling movement, and I think the average unschooling advocate is basically right about how bad typical schools are.

comment by Isnasene · 2020-01-29T01:53:57.268Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
Developed countries already have below-replacement fertility (according to this NPR article, the CDC claims that the US has been in this state since 1971), so apparently you can have pressures that outweigh pressures to have children.
...
Rich people have fewer kids than poor people and it doesn't seem strange to me to imagine that that's partly due to the fact that each child comes at higher expected cost.

I think the crux of our perspective difference is that we model the decrease in reproduction differently. I tend to view poor people and developing countries having higher reproduction rates as a consequence of less economic slack. That is to say, people who are poorer have more kids because those kids are decent long-term investments overall (ie old-age support, help-around-the-house). In contrast, wealthy people can make way more money by doing things that don't involve kids.

This can be interpreted in two ways:

  • Wealthier people see children as higher cost and elect not to have children because of the costs

or

  • Wealthier people are not under as much economic pressure so have fewer children because they can afford to get away with it

At the margin, both of these things are going on at the same time. Still, I attribute falling birthrates as mostly due to the latter rather than the former. So I don't quite buy the claim that falling birth-rates have been dramatically influenced by greater pressures.

Of course, Wei Dai indicates that parental investment definitely has an effect so maybe my attribution isn't accurate. I'd be pretty interested in seeing some studies/data trying to connect falling birthrates to the cultural demands around raising children.

...

Also, my understanding of the pressures re:homeschooling is something like this:

  • The social stigma against having kids is satisficing. Having one kid (below replacement level) hurts you dramatically less than having zero kids
  • The capacity to home-school is roughly all-or-nothing. Home-schooling one kid immediately scales to home-schooling all your kids.
  • I doubt the stigma for schooling would punish a parent who sends two kids to school more than a parent who sends one kid to school

This means that, for a given family, you essentially chose between having kids and home-schooling all of them (expected-cause of home-schooling doesn't scale with number of children) or having no kids (maximum social penalty). Electing for "no kids" seems like a really undesirable trade-off for most people.

There are other negative effects but they're more indirect. This leads me to believe that, compared to other pressures against having kids, stigmas against home-schooling will have an unusually low marginal effect.

Presumably this is not true in a world where many people believe that schools are basically like prisons for children, which is a sentiment that I do see and seems more memetically fit than "homeschooling works for some families but not others".

Interesting -- my bubble doesn't really have a "schools are like prisons" group. In any case, I agree that this is a terrible meme. To be fair though, a lot of schools do look like prisons. But this definitely shouldn't be solved by home-schooling; it should be solved by making schools that don't look like prisons.

comment by cousin_it · 2020-02-04T08:18:31.960Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I tend to view poor people and developing countries having higher reproduction rates as a consequence of less economic slack. That is to say, people who are poorer have more kids because those kids are decent long-term investments overall (ie old-age support, help-around-the-house). In contrast, wealthy people can make way more money by doing things that don’t involve kids.

Kids will grow up and move away no matter if you're rich or poor though, so I'm not sure the investment explanation makes sense. But your last sentence rings true to me. If someone cares more about career than family, they will always have "no time" for a family. I've heard it from well-paid professionals many times: "I'd like to have kids... eventually..."

comment by Wei_Dai · 2020-02-04T05:35:33.635Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you're overstating the stigma against not having kids. I Googled "is there stigma around not having kids" and the top two US-based articles both say something similar:

USA Today:

Society telling women they must have children is also on the decline, according to Laura S. Scott, author of "Two is Enough" and director of the Childless By Choice Project. She said American women used to face social isolation from friends and neighbors with children, but, for many, that stigma has dissipated with celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Aniston and Helen Mirren explaining their choice not to become mothers.

Times:

Today, more and more women are choosing not to have children, and while the stigma hasn’t completely lifted, it’s not what it once was.

comment by Isnasene · 2020-02-05T00:16:16.565Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
I think you're overstating the stigma against not having kids. I Googled "is there stigma around not having kids" and the top two US-based articles both say something similar:

Agreed. Per my latest reply to DanielFilan:

However, I've actually been overstating my case here. The childfree rate in the US is currently around 15%which is much larger than I expected. The childfree rate for women with above a bachelor's degree is 25%. In absolute terms, these are not small numbers and I've gotta admit that this indicates a pretty high population density at the margin.

I massively underestimated the rate of childfree-ness and, broadly speaking, I'm in agreement with Daniel now.

comment by DanielFilan · 2020-02-01T21:23:40.698Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

[next quote is reformatted so that I can make it a quote]

This can be interpreted in two ways: wealthier people see children as higher cost and elect not to have children because of the costs; or wealthier people are not under as much economic pressure so have fewer children because they can afford to get away with it. At the margin, both of these things are going on at the same time.

Glad to see we agree - and again, the important point for my argument isn't whether most of existing low fertility can be attributed to the existing cost of kids, but whether adding extra cost per kid will reduce the number of kids (as the law of demand predicts).

The capacity to home-school is roughly all-or-nothing. Home-schooling one kid immediately scales to home-schooling all your kids.

I'm sure this can't be exactly right, but I do think that the low marginal cost of home-schooling was something I was missing.

This means that, for a given family, you essentially chose between having kids and home-schooling all of them (expected-cause of home-schooling doesn't scale with number of children) or having no kids (maximum social penalty). Electing for "no kids" seems like a really undesirable trade-off for most people.

I continue to think that you aren't thinking on the margin, or making some related error (perhaps in understanding what I'm saying). Electing for no kids isn't going to become more costly, so if you make having kids more costly, then you'll get fewer of them than you otherwise would, as the people who were just leaning towards having kids (due to idiosyncratically low desire to have kids/high cost to have kids) start to lean away from the plan.

This leads me to believe that, compared to other pressures against having kids, stigmas against home-schooling will have an unusually low marginal effect.

(I assume you meant pressure in favour of home-schooling?) Please note that I never said it had a high effect relative to other things: merely that the effect existed and was large and negative enough to make it worthwhile for homeschooling advocates to change course.

comment by Isnasene · 2020-02-02T17:17:06.593Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
I continue to think that you aren't thinking on the margin, or making some related error (perhaps in understanding what I'm saying). Electing for no kids isn't going to become more costly, so if you make having kids more costly, then you'll get fewer of them than you otherwise would, as the people who were just leaning towards having kids (due to idiosyncratically low desire to have kids/high cost to have kids) start to lean away from the plan.

Yeah, I was thinking in broad strokes there. I agree that there is a margin at which point people switch from choosing to have kids to choosing not to have kids and that moving that margin to a place where having kids is less net-positive will cause some people to choose to have fewer kids.

My point was that the people on the margin are not people who will typically say"well we were going to have two kids but now we're only going to have one because home-schooling"; they're people who will typically say "we're on the fence about having kids at all." Whereas most marginal effects relating to having kids (ie the cost of college) pertain to the former group, the bulk of marginal effects on reproduction pertaining to schooling stigmas pertain to the latter group.

Both the margin and the population density at the margin matter in terms of determining the effect. What I'm saying is that the population density at the margin relevant to schooling-stigmas is notably small.

However, I've actually been overstating my case here. The childfree rate in the US is currently around 15% which is much larger than I expected. The childfree rate for women with above a bachelor's degree is 25%. In absolute terms, these are not small numbers and I've gotta admit that this indicates a pretty high population density at the margin.

(I assume you meant pressure in favour of home-schooling?) Please note that I never said it had a high effect relative to other things: merely that the effect existed and was large and negative enough to make it worthwhile for homeschooling advocates to change course.

Per the above stats, I've updated to agree with this claim.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2020-01-27T02:40:37.648Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The trend in China of extreme parental investment (lots of extra classes starting from a young age, forcing one's kid to practice hours of musical instrument each week, paying huge opportunity costs to obtain a 学区房) almost certainly contributes significantly to its current low birth rate. I think normative home/unschooling has the potential to have a similar influence elsewhere.

But have you thought about whether lower birth rate is good or bad from a longtermist / x-risk perspective? It's not clear to me that it's bad, at least.

comment by DanielFilan · 2020-01-27T07:13:26.735Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But have you thought about whether lower birth rate is good or bad from a longtermist / x-risk perspective? It's not clear to me that it's bad, at least.

I haven't thought incredibly carefully about this. My guess is that a high birth rate accelerates basically everything but elderly care, and so the first-order question is whether you think humanity is pushing in roughly the right or wrong direction - I'd say it's going in the right direction. That being said, there's also a trickier factor of whether you'd rather have all your cognition be in serial or in parallel, and if you want it to be in serial, then low birth rates look good.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2020-01-27T07:37:55.758Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A couple of considerations in the "lower birth rate is good for longtermism" direction:

  1. Lower birth rate makes war less likely. (Less perceived need to grab other people's resources. Parents are loathe to lose their only children in war.)
  2. Increased parental investment and inheritance which shifts up average per-capita human and non-human capital, which is probably helpful for increasing understanding of x-risk and ability/opportunity to work on it. (Although this depends on the details of how the parental investment is done, since some kinds, e.g., helicopter parenting, can be counterproductive. Home/unschooling seems likely to be good in this regard though.)
comment by DanielFilan · 2020-01-27T07:57:02.648Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One factor here that is big in my mind: I expect per-capita wealth to be lower in worlds with lower populations, since fewer people means fewer ideas that enrich everyone. I think that this makes 2 go in the opposite direction, but it's not obvious to me what it does for 1.

comment by Dagon · 2020-01-27T17:38:19.964Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not clear that positive-sum innovation is linear (or even monotonically positive) with total population. There almost certainly exist levels at which marginal mouths to feed drive unpleasant and non-productive behaviors more than they do the growth-driving shared innovations.

Whether we're in a downward-sloping portion of the curve, and whether it slopes up again in the next few generations, are both debatable. And they should be debated.

comment by DanielFilan · 2020-01-27T21:23:11.942Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My sense is that on average, more population means more growth (see this study on the question). But certainly at some point probably you run out of ideas for how to make material more valuable and growth just becomes making more people with the same consumption per capita.

Whether we're in a downward-sloping portion of the curve, and whether it slopes up again in the next few generations, are both debatable. And they should be debated.

I find this comment kind of irksome, because (a) neither I nor anybody else said that they weren't proper subjects for debate and (b) you've exhorted debate on the topic but haven't contributed anything other than the theoretical possibility that the effect could go the other way. So I see this as trying to advance some kind of point illegitimately. If you make another such comment that I find irksome in the same way, I'll delete it, as per my commenting guidelines.

comment by DanielFilan · 2020-01-27T07:08:17.945Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I now think the biggest flaw with this argument is that home/unschooling actually don't take that many hours out of the day, and there's a lot of pooling of work going on. Thanks to many FB commenters and Isnasene for pointing that out.

comment by DanielFilan · 2020-01-27T07:26:32.281Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And also that anti-standard-school memes are less fit than pro-home/unschooling memes, such that "normative home/unschooling" doesn't seem that likely to be a big thing.

comment by Pattern · 2020-01-26T23:28:08.621Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
A bunch of my friends are very skeptical of the schooling system and promote homeschooling or unschooling as an alternative.
As such, I tentatively wish that home/unschooling advocates would focus on more institutional ways of supervising children, e.g. Sudbury schools, community childcare, child labour.

So you're a proponent of improving institutional ways of supervising children?

comment by DanielFilan · 2020-01-26T23:30:14.168Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So you're a proponent of improving institutional ways of supervising children?

Tentatively, yes. But I've only just had this thought today, so I'm not very committed to it. Also note my edit: it's more about being in favour of low-time-investment ways to raise children that don't have the problems schooling is alleged to have.

comment by DanielFilan · 2019-09-26T18:25:14.942Z · score: 15 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I get to nuke LW today AMA.

comment by DanielFilan · 2019-05-02T19:58:26.356Z · score: 13 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I often see (and sometimes take part in) discussion of Facebook here. I'm not sure whether when I partake in these discussions I should disclaim that my income is largely due to Good Ventures, whose money largely comes from Facebook investments. Nobody else does this, so shrug.

comment by Raemon · 2019-05-02T21:49:43.324Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Huh. Indeed seems good to at least have talked about talking about.

comment by DanielFilan · 2019-04-25T05:18:51.938Z · score: 13 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One result that's related to Aumann's Agreement Theorem is that if you and I alternate saying our posterior probabilities of some event, we converge on the same probability if we have common priors. You might therefore wonder why we ever do anything else. The answer is that describing evidence is strictly more informative than stating one's posterior. For instance, imagine that we've both secretly flipped coins, and want to know whether both coins landed on the same side. If we just state our posteriors, we'll immediately converge to 50%, without actually learning the answer, which we could have learned pretty trivially by just saying how our coins landed. This is related to the original proof of the Aumann agreement theorem in a way that I can't describe shortly.

comment by DanielFilan · 2020-05-15T17:33:48.773Z · score: 12 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hot take: the norm of being muted on video calls is bad. It makes it awkward and difficult to speak, clap, laugh, or make "I'm listening" sounds. A better norm set would be:

  • use zoom in gallery mode, so somebody making noise doesn't make them more focussed than they were before
  • call from a quiet room
  • be more tolerant of random background sounds, the way we are IRL
comment by Pongo · 2020-05-15T18:54:43.696Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreed. I often find myself unmuting because I'm trying to make social sounds (often laughter). However, in a large conversation, I prefer someone becomes a weird void without backchannel sounds than be plunged into domestic mayhem

comment by DanielFilan · 2020-09-17T03:34:47.211Z · score: 11 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Models and considerations.

There are two typical ways of deciding whether on net something is worth doing. The first is to come up with a model of the relevant part of the world, look at all the consequences of doing the thing in the model, and determine if those consequences are net positive. When this is done right, the consequences should be easy to evaluate and weigh off against each other. The second way is to think of a bunch of considerations in favour of and against doing something, and decide whether the balance of considerations supports doing the thing or not.

I prefer model-building to consideration-listing, for the following reasons:

  • By building a model, you're forcing yourself to explicitly think about how important various consequences are, which is often elided in consideration-listing. Or rather, I don't know how to quantitatively compare importances of considerations without doing something very close to model-building.
  • Building a model lets you check which possible consequences are actually likely. This is an improvement on considerations, which are often of the form "such-and-such consequence might occur".
  • Building a model lets you notice consequences which you might not have immediately thought of. This can either cause you to believe that those consequences are likely, or look for a faulty modelling assumption that is producing those assumptions within the model.
  • Building a model helps you integrate your knowledge of the world, and explicitly enforces consistency in your beliefs about different questions.

However, there are also upsides to consideration-listing:

  • The process of constructing a model is pretty similar to consideration-listing: specifically, the part where one uses one's judgement to determine which aspects of reality are important enough to include.
  • Consideration-listing is much easier to do, which is why it's the form that this hastily-written shortform post takes.
comment by DanielFilan · 2020-09-17T17:10:17.765Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Homework: come up with a model of this.

comment by DanielFilan · 2020-05-02T02:56:23.418Z · score: 11 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the use of dialogues to illustrate a point of view is overdone on LessWrong. Almost always, the 'Simplicio' character fails to accurately represent the smart version of the viewpoint he stands in for, because the author doesn't try sufficiently hard to pass the ITT of the view they're arguing against. As a result, not only is the dialogue unconvincing, it runs the risk of misleading readers about the actual content of a worldview. I think this is true to a greater extent than posts that just state a point of view and argue against it, because the dialogue format naively appears to actually represent a named representative of a point of view, and structurally discourages disclaimers of the type "as I understand it, defenders of proposition P might state X, but of course I could be wrong".

comment by Dagon · 2020-05-04T22:20:27.888Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've seen such dialogs, and felt exactly the same way. At least twice I've later found out that the dialog actually happened and there was no misrepresentation or simplification, just a HUGE inferential distance about what models of the universe (really, models of groups of people are the main sticking points) should be applied in what circumstances.

comment by mr-hire · 2020-05-03T15:36:06.282Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
'Simplicio' character fails to accurately represent the smart version of the viewpoint he stands in for, because the author doesn't try sufficiently hard to pass the ITT of the view they're arguing against.

Possibly this could also be a strength, because by representing the views separately like that it makes it easier to see exactly what assumptions are causing them to fail the ITT.

On the other hand if they're sufficiently far off, the dialogue basically goes off in the entirely wrong direction.

comment by Mark Xu (mark-xu) · 2020-05-04T03:58:25.363Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you have examples of dialogues that fail to pass the ITT? I'm curious if you think any of the dialogues I've read might have been misleading.

comment by DanielFilan · 2020-08-13T04:31:41.550Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As far as I can tell, people typically use the orthogonality thesis to argue that smart agents could have any motivations. But the orthogonality thesis is stronger than that, and its extra content is false - there are some goals that are too complicated for a dumb agent to have, because the agent couldn't understand those goals. I think people should instead directly defend the claim that smart agents could have arbitrary goals.

comment by DanielFilan · 2019-03-25T23:41:11.929Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I made this post with the intent to write a comment, but the process of writing the comment out made it less persuasive to me. The planning fallacy?

comment by Raemon · 2019-03-25T23:42:42.216Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If this is all that Shortform Feed posts ever do it still seems net positive. :P

[edit: conditional on, you know, you endorsing it being less persuasive]

comment by Raemon · 2019-03-26T00:04:30.435Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Similarly, I sometimes start a shortform post and then realize "you know what, this is actually a long post". And I think that's also shortform doing an important job of lowering the barrier to getting started even if it doesn't directly get used.

comment by DanielFilan · 2019-12-11T18:15:15.631Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Better to concretise 3 ways than 1 if you have the time.

Here's a tale I've heard but not verified: in the good old days, Intrade had a prediction market on whether Obamacare would become law, which resolved negative, due to the market's definition of Obamacare.

Sometimes you're interested in answering a vague question, like 'Did Donald Trump enact a Muslim ban in his first term' or 'Will I be single next Valentine's day'. Standard advice is to make the question more specific [LW · GW] and concrete into something that can be more objectively evaluated. I think that this is good advice. However, it's inevitable that your concretisation may miss out on aspects of the original vague question that you cared about. As such, it's probably better to concretise the question multiple ways which have different failure modes. This is sort of obvious for evaluating questions about things that have already happened, like whether a Muslim ban was enacted, but seems to be less obvious or standard in the forecasting setting. That being said, sometimes it is done - OpenPhil's animal welfare series of questions seems to me to basically be an example - to good effect.

This procedure does have real costs. Firstly, it's hard to concretise vague questions, and concretising multiple times is harder than concretising once. It's also hard to predict multiple questions, especially if they're somewhat independent as is necessary to get the benefits, meaning that each question will be predicted less well. In a prediction market context, this may well manifest in having multiple thin, unreliable markets instead of one thick and reliable one.

comment by DanielFilan · 2020-08-07T19:00:18.270Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Avoid false dichotomies when reciting the litany of Tarski.

Suppose I were arguing about whether it's morally permissible to eat vegetables. I might stop in the middle and say:

If it is morally permissible to eat vegetables, I desire to believe that it is morally permissible to eat vegetables. If it is morally impermissible to eat vegetables, I desire to believe that it is morally impermissible to eat vegetables. Let me not become attached to beliefs I may not want.

But this ignores the possibility that it's neither morally permissible nor morally impermissible to eat vegetables, because (for instance) things don't have moral properties, or morality doesn't have permissible vs impermissible categories, or whether or not it's morally permissible or impermissible to eat vegetables depends on whether or not it's Tuesday.

Luckily, when you're saying the litany of Tarski, you have a prompt to actually think about the negation of the belief in question. Which might help you avoid this mistake.

comment by DanielFilan · 2020-08-07T19:05:13.397Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Alternate title: negation is a little tricky.

comment by DanielFilan · 2020-07-17T04:51:28.172Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Excerpts from a FB comment I made about the principle of charity. Quote blocks are a person that I'm responding to, not me. Some editing for coherence has been made. tl;dr: it's fine to conclude that people are acting selfishly, and even to think that it's likely that they're acting selfishly on priors regarding the type of situation they're in.


The essence of charitable discourse is assuming that even your opponents have internally coherent and non-selfish reasons for what they do.

If this were true, then one shouldn't engage in charitable discourse. People often do things for entirely selfish reasons. I can determine this because I often do things for entirely selfish reasons, and in general things put under selection pressure will behave in accordance with that pressure. I could elaborate or develop this point further, but I'd be surprised to learn that you disagreed. I further claim that you shouldn't assume that something isn't the case if it is often the case.

That being said, the "non-selfish" qualifier doesn't appear in what Wikipedia thinks the principle of charity is, nor does it appear in r/slatestarcodex's sidebar description of what it means to be charitable, and I don't understand why you included it. In fact, in all of these cases, the principle of charity seems like it's meant to apply to arguments or stated beliefs rather than actions in general...

Tech people don't like it when the media assumes tech companies are all in it just for the money, and have no principles. We shouldn't do the same.

You should in fact assume that tech companies are in it for the money and have no principles, at least until seeing contrary evidence, since that's the standard and best model of corporations (although you shouldn't necessarily assume the same of their employees). Regarding "we shouldn't do the same", I wholeheartedly reject the implication that if people don't like having certain inferences drawn about them, one shouldn't draw those inferences. Sometimes the truth is unflattering!

comment by Pattern · 2020-07-18T01:46:56.823Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Whether it is more charitable to assume someone is or isn't selfish can depend on context.

comment by Dagon · 2020-07-17T14:12:10.086Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you (and Wikipedia and Scott) are limiting your ideas of what the principle really means. _IF_ you only care about rationality, it's about assuming rationality. For those of us in conversations where we _ALSO_ care about intent, nuance, and connotation, it can include assuming goodwill and best intentions of your conversational partners.

In all cases, the assumption is only a prior - you're getting a lot of evidence in the discussion, and you don't need to cling to a false belief when shown that your opponent and their statements are not correct or useful.