Open Thread: March 4 - 10

post by Coscott · 2014-03-04T03:55:33.045Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 391 comments

Contents

  If it's worth saying, but not worth its own post (even in Discussion), then it goes here.
None
391 comments

If it's worth saying, but not worth its own post (even in Discussion), then it goes here.

391 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by D_Malik · 2014-03-05T10:03:22.866Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Covert conditioning is an interesting variant of operant conditioning where, instead of using an external stimulus to modify someone's behaviors, you just have them imagine themselves doing things and then receiving rewards or punishments. For instance, an alcoholic could imagine drinking alcohol and then immediately feeling nauseated. Or a student could imagine deciding to do his homework and then suddenly winning a million dollars.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure whether covert conditioning works. The linked Wikipedia article doesn't really give much evidence. If covert conditioning works, it seems like it could be very useful, especially in situations where ordinary reinforcement techniques are hard to use. For instance, one could easily reinforce sociability, which is hard to reinforce through ordinary methods because you don't want to look weird in public. Or one could train oneself to avoid unhealthy food by imagining that it makes one nauseated, precluding the need for actual emetics.

(Not going anywhere in particular with this, just curious what people's thoughts are.)

comment by AndekN · 2014-03-08T11:03:04.544Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I attended a fire preparedness course, and the instructor told us that actual fire evacuation drills were not necessary. It was enough just to spend a couple of minutes vividly imagining what we would do in case of a fire. Our chances of surviving would greatly increase if we imagined the situation in advance. Unfortunately he gave no references to that claim.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-09T12:43:36.667Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yesterday at the Lesswrong Berlin meetup I taught a technique for dealing with emotions. On of the things I learned from the experience is that it's hard to get people in the LW crowd to strongly associate emotions through bringing up memories.

Or a student could imagine deciding to do his homework and then suddenly winning a million dollars.

That's a bad idea. Most people are not motivated to engage in actions that make them win a million dollars. It's outside of their comfort zone to just win a million dollar. It requires people to update their self identity in a non trivial way to win a million dollars. You want to imagine situations that feel good but that are easily accessible.

Using tricks with mental imaginary is a large part of what hypnosis is about.

Changing sociability in a lasting way isn't easy because we have had strong conditioning about what to feel in the past.

Even through my German vocabulary is bigger and it's my native language I'm frequently more let go in social interaction when they are in English because I learned to speak English socially with people in environments that have generally an upbeat vibe like Toastmasters while I spoke a lot of German in my life in situations like school where I behaved socially inwardly.

If I can get someone in a deep enough trance in hypnosis then I can attach an emotion to a well defined behavior. The emotion will come up the next time the behavior is triggered.

If it's something like sociability and the person gets often negative feedback in social situations then the emotional trigger will burn out and soon lose it's effect.

I personally consider implementing negative emotional responses to be dark, but if anyone who comes to the LW Europe Community Camp in Berlin wants a 1-on-1 hypnosis 30 minutes experience to associate a positive emotion to an experience just approach me. As far as I understand there going to be lots of unsheduled time at the weekend.

comment by Slackson · 2014-03-09T09:50:17.771Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How well does operant conditioning work where there's a perceived causal link compared to when there is not?

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-09T12:45:24.594Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think a stable causal link helps to stabilize the conditioning against changes over time but it's not required to get emotional responses.

comment by Brillyant · 2014-03-06T17:22:06.659Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Of the 12 most recent posts in 'Discussion', nine are 'Meetup' related and one is a meta-level discussion about producing LW courses.

Is LW imploding into some sort of self-impressed death spiral? Where is the new non-LW meta content? Am I way off, or has the quality of posts significantly diminished over time here?

I'm curious to know what others think.

comment by Coscott · 2014-03-06T19:18:41.709Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I have noticed waves of insightful posts inspired by other insightful posts, followed by periods where nobody thinks of anything important to say, so we are dominated by meetup posts. I think for me, there has been a greater density of interesting in the previous 2 months, than there was in the 6 months before that.

comment by gjm · 2014-03-06T17:55:59.215Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

There are two possible mechanisms that could produce a predominance of meetup posts over interesting new content: an explosion of meetup posts, or a dearth of interesting new content.

There are frequent complaints about how the meetup posts swamp everything else. I'm not sure whether anyone's come up with a convincing way to solve the problem and offered to implement it.

My impression is that there is less interesting stuff on LW than there used to be, partly because a small number of particularly high-quality contributors have moved elsewhere or run out of new things they want to say. Two obvious examples: Eliezer (more or less completely stopped; presumably he's working on some combination of saving the world and writing Harry Potter fanfiction) and Yvain (has no more time for blogging on account of being an overworked junior doctor; also blogging, more than ever but at slatestarcodex.com rather than LW).

Another explanation for the shortage of interesting new things: saying interesting new things is hard and more and more of the things people might want to say have already been said.

comment by Brillyant · 2014-03-06T19:16:22.064Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'd agree that EY's stuff makes up a big chunk of the best of LW and Slatesarcodex is cool.

I'm speculating if LW has run it's course, at least quality content wise?

At some critical mass, it seems to me the content won't matter all that much in most groups. LW can function as it's own meetup.com where rationalists and/or Harry Potter fans can come to meet like minds.

It kind of reminds me of my time in church—it becomes not-that-important if all the doctrinal stuff is true because everybody benefits from the social construct in place as a distant result of once caring deeply about the doctrinal stuff.

comment by moridinamael · 2014-03-07T15:56:27.307Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Well, (moridinamael hemmed and hawed, debated whether to open his big dumb mouth) there have also been a few huge disaster-threads recently that really damaged my personal affect regarding this community. When everybody in The Rationality Club (tm) starts acting like children, defect-defecting on each other and statusmongering and basically looking indistinguishable from my Facebook feed, one begins to feel that a Rubicon has been unknowingly crossed somewhere. It reduces my unconscious impulse to contribute; it reduces my expectation that my contributions will be received in the generous spirit that I feel they would have been received in, oh, two or three years ago.

I hate writing posts like this, mainly because I hate complaining without suggesting solutions, so I will end with a solution: let's be more generous to each other. To each others' arguments and possible meanings. To the moods we might have been in when we wrote the posts we wrote; users aren't bad people, they just have bad days. (Fundamental Attribution Error should be in bold at the bottom of the Reply button.)

Maybe we wouldn't all feel the need to hide in the Open Thread if we were nicer to each other.

comment by Brillyant · 2014-03-07T17:43:32.091Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting.

Let's be more generous to each other. To each others' arguments and possible meanings.

I don't know that I'm for this. I like the sentiment. But I've recently noticed the aspect that I enjoy about LW (when it is at is best) is it's relatively cold, irrational indifference.

In my regular world, which is not filled with scholars or even particular rational people, everyone seems phony, flattering and patronizing. It's very Facebook-y.

I love having a place to go to find a rational take on things. I often search LW for discussion on things I'm interested in.

Maybe you are right that the style of engagement has devolved and that has caused—or at least contributed to—lower quality content.

Didn't the latest poll indicate numbers are up year-over-year? Perhaps quantity of users is diluting the quality of the content?

comment by moridinamael · 2014-03-07T18:22:41.242Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You extend to me quite a bit of courtesy here, and your tone is very generous although you disagree with me. I seem to see a lot of posts these days that skip the courtesy (which is necessary for productive discourse, rationality is about winning, etc.) and start with "You're wrong" and then proceed from there with middle fingers raised. I do think most of these are relative newcomers, as you say.

Any post trying to say something complex is bound to have multiple valid interpretations. This is just a fact of communication and the difficulty of expressing ideas using language. The truth of this is borne out by the fact that multiple commenters responding to the same post will interpret the original post differently. So, it is not so radical, I think, for me to suggest that we wait to say "I disagree!" or "You're wrong!" until after we've first said "Let me make sure I understand what it is you're saying."

comment by Brillyant · 2014-03-07T20:04:04.052Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'd agree there can be a great deal of courtesy-skipping here. It slapped me in the face at first.

Then I got used it. And it forced me to get smarter, and to be more careful about what I said and how I chose to say it. I'm grateful for LW in that it forced me out of some lazy communication habits. I'm still lazy in my communication, but LW helps to the extent I engage with intention.

Perhaps some of it is just a style issue? Or that social awareness of courtesy tends not to go hand-in-hand with brute IQ and technical genius?

Anyway, you make good points (and, to evidence those good points, it basically true that I quite telling people they made good points on LW some time ago as it seemed to violate the often kurt decorum. :)

comment by MathiasZaman · 2014-03-08T13:17:16.593Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You extend to me quite a bit of courtesy here, and your tone is very generous although you disagree with me. I seem to see a lot of posts these days that skip the courtesy (which is necessary for productive discourse, rationality is about winning, etc.) and start with "You're wrong" and then proceed from there with middle fingers raised. I do think most of these are relative newcomers, as you say.

This reminds me of Cynical about Cynicism where Yudkowsky writes:

Which in turn means that rationalists, and especially apprentice rationalists watching other rationalists at work, are especially at-risk for absorbing cynicism as though it were a virtue in its own right - assuming that whosoever speaks of ulterior motives is probably a wise rationalist with uncommon insight; or believing that it is an entitled benefit of realism to feel superior to the naive herd that still has a shred of hope.

People here can be blunt for the sake of getting to the point, or can at least appear blunt. This could make it look like "rationalists are blunt," which makes people blunt for the sake of signaling rationality.

comment by moridinamael · 2014-03-08T16:23:22.722Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This is obviously my own opinion, but I see being blunt regardless of context as a social habit that one grows out of, not something that one grows into. I certainly haven't personally found it useful to become more rude over time, quite the opposite.

From a tribal affiliation standpoint, we are often reflexively portrayed as "the ones who value truth and honesty above feelings," as if this necessitates that feelings not matter at all, or that they not exist, which is totally contrary to the truth of human psychology and how our interactions work.

comment by PECOS-9 · 2014-03-08T03:58:43.844Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

there have also been a few huge disaster-threads recently that really damaged my personal affect regarding this community. When everybody in The Rationality Club (tm) starts acting like children, defect-defecting on each other and statusmongering and basically looking indistinguishable from my Facebook feed

I'm curious, which threads are you referring to?

comment by moridinamael · 2014-03-08T16:28:52.222Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I found a lot of behavior in the White Lies thread to be disappointing, not in content but in tone and how people were treating each other. I think it affected me so much that I've been reading other threads recently with a bad taste in my mouth, because I frankly can't point to any other threads and say "this one was also a nightmare" but it just feels like the level of civility across the community took a big hit, or maybe my faith took the hit and it's coloring my reading.

comment by Randy_M · 2014-03-07T23:20:11.896Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Personally I find usually more interesting material in the open threads than the discussion area or the main. I take this to mean I am at least somewhat outside of the core target audience of the site.

comment by Slackson · 2014-03-06T20:32:29.510Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

More meetup posts clutter Discussion (which is kinda bad) but mean that people are actually going to meetup groups (which is kinda awesome). Maybe frame a meetup post not as a trivial inconvenience, but evidence that rationalists are meeting in person and having cool discussions and working on their lives instead of hanging around in Less Wrong.

When there's a lot of interesting content here, sometimes people ask why we're all sticking around talking about talking about rationality instead of doing stuff out in the world.

comment by jaime2000 · 2014-03-05T07:09:21.110Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I want to use computers without being exposed to the internet. I haven't been able to find a lot of practical information about this. I would appreciate the LessWrong hivemind's thoughts on this matter.

My current plan is something like have no internet access at home, record internet tasks on a todo list, go to a library once per week and do them (sample tasks include downloading fanfic reading material for the week, sending e-mails, downloading new versions of programs, checking my bank accounts, etc...). Lack of torrents is something I'll just have to live with. I'm also thinking of switching my phone to a Nokia 106, which has no internet access. There's a neat trick where you can get e-mails as text messages, which should be enough to deal with emergencies. I'll make sure to avoid careers which involve prolonged interaction with internet-capable machines, such as programming. Is teaching math safe?

I dread the day when wireless internet becomes omnipresent. It's a horrible, horrible supertimulus.

comment by D_Malik · 2014-03-05T08:15:01.196Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If you want to have absolutely no exposure to the iternet, this should be easy to accomplish by sabotaging the tools your computer uses to access the internet. If you're on Ubuntu, you can do this easily by going into /sbin and removing dhclient, and possibly if and iw. To get those back you'd need a liveCD, and to get a liveCD you'd need an internet connection.

I used that solution for a couple months and it worked well. But I often do have legitimate uses for the internet. So you could use something like LeechBlock to block unproductive websites but retain internet access. Unfortunately, LeechBlock and similar solutions are easy to circumvent.

So I built a system to flexibly manage internet access restrictions in a way that is very difficult to circumvent. The code is here, but it's hard to use without a tutorial, and I haven't written a tutorial yet - I'm planning to, but it might take me another month or two. Essentially, you have two user accounts on your computer. The one is a "controller" administrator account, while the other is a "requester" non-administrator account. Most of the time, you are in the requester account, and you do not have access to the controller account; the controller account's password is randomized and hidden from you by the system. You can issue requests to the controller account; an example of a request is "give me access to the controller account". These requests take some time to be enacted, which prevents precommitment-breaking. The controller account restricts the requester account's internet use by filtering packets and blocking certain domains. Again, this code will be hard to use until I write a tutorial/readme, which I'll probably do in a month or two.

comment by CAE_Jones · 2014-03-05T07:25:22.345Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Seconded!

Currently, my plan is to not get internet at home, and to rely on public places such as libraries/Starbux/etc whenever necessary.

I don't currently have a Smartphone, but am pretty convinced that there are way too many advantages to having an iPhone as a blind introvert to avoid one forever (Android accessibility is too weak to rely upon at present). I am worried about how to make this work without having the constant temptation of 24/7 internet access hanging over my head (I don't really know how any of the data plans work / what extremely useful apps require an internet connection / etc).

(I also don't know if any of my neighbors would have unsecured wi-fi, or if the signal would be strong enough to access from home. At my parents' house, the wi-fi from across the street is strong enough and unsecure enough that my laptop connects automatically if nothing else is available.)

comment by trist · 2014-03-05T13:42:38.736Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Most teaching jobs around here involve significant use of internet capable machines for grading, communication with other teachers and administration, and increasingly communication with students. Mathematics is probably more resistant to online teaching materials than most subjects though, and you may be able to find a school that eschews such things.

comment by Dagon · 2014-03-05T09:22:52.057Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Can you unpack this goal a little for me? Is your desire to constrain your future self from some activities, or something more subtle? Is this an exploration of a possiblity to see what effect it'll have, or a plan to solve a specific problem that you've identified?

Your last few sentences makes me think this is more like performance art than any rational goal-driven decision. If you're planning to arrange your life around this, I suspect you simply can't live in an urban setting. Teaching math isn't safe, you will be surrounded by people who don't share your phobia. Farmhand may or may not be safe.

comment by jaime2000 · 2014-03-05T10:04:28.935Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This is the next step in a series of escalating steps I have taken to try to fix a worsening problem. I understand that from your perspective this probably looks like a very drastic action taken for no adequately explained reason, but I think of it as a very proportionate response adopted after lesser options have been exhausted.

As for my goal... let's just say I find this passage very familiar, except instead of "day" it's "days", or perhaps "weeks":

Opening Safari is an actively destructive decision. I am asking that consciousness be taken away from me. Like the lost time between leaving a party drunk and materializing somehow at your front door, the internet robs you of a day you can visit recursively or even remember.

Could you elaborate on why you think teaching math in a city might not be safe but being a farmhand in the country might be? If every city starts installing open WiFi networks you might be right, but right now it seems to me that creating an internet-less place at home should be enough (I'm glad routers are now coming locked by default, with long-ass alphanumeric passwords).

comment by Dagon · 2014-03-05T11:46:13.845Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Simple part first: yes, I claim that every city has or will soon have near-ubiquitous internet access. If you need to deny your future self the ability to choose to use the internet easily, you won't be able to live in a city. Further, surrounding yourself with internet users is going to prove much harder to resist than surrounding yourself with a non-technical, somewhat isolated community.

Harder part: I don't know what you've tried already (and specifically: get professional psychological assistance, which often requires that you try multiple providers until you find one you trust). This level of avoidance (where you're considering careers based on availability) seems way more than you should undertake via self-diagnosis only.

comment by savageorange · 2014-03-06T02:20:31.110Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Simple part first: yes, I claim that every city has or will soon have near-ubiquitous internet access. If you need to deny your future self the ability to choose to use the internet easily, you won't be able to live in a city.

One doesn't follow from the other.

Take out any built-in wifi hardware; get a usb wireless module. These are tiny enough that you can employ almost any security/inconvenience measure on them. Decide which security/inconvenience measures are appropriate. Done.

comment by Dagon · 2014-03-06T08:26:48.264Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect I'm taking jaime2000's situation a little more seriously than perhaps I should. If one is considering rearranging one's life around this for many years, that's not a matter of a little inconvenience or simple "prevent devices I own/carry from internetting". It's a matter of "don't associate with people who aren't supportive, and deny myself access to kiosks, public wifi, borrowed tablets, etc."

If your concern is that you'll end up on the street offering sexual favors for a glance a wikipedia, having a net nanny on your computer at home isn't sufficient.

Now, it may not be that it's a harmful serious addiction that he or she is facing, and the original post was overstated. Identifying the underlying problem is necessary before suggesting technological band-aids.

comment by jaime2000 · 2014-03-05T17:57:07.613Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Simple part first: yes, I claim that every city has or will soon have near-ubiquitous internet access. If you need to deny your future self the ability to choose to use the internet easily, you won't be able to live in a city. Further, surrounding yourself with internet users is going to prove much harder to resist than surrounding yourself with a non-technical, somewhat isolated community.

Like I said, I fear for the future. There are some ideas which would help even in a future full of free Wi-Fi connections (I've been toying with the idea of buying an 5th generation iMac, which was the last model of iMacs not to include a built-in WiFi antenna, and installing Windows on it; or I could just pay some IT dude to physically rip the internal antenna from a new laptop machine), but if it reaches the point of a free internet terminal in every room or something like that, then yes, I may well have to flee first world cities. That said, we aren't there yet, so I might as well take advantage of cities while I can.

Harder part: I don't know what you've tried already (and specifically: get professional psychological assistance, which often requires that you try multiple providers until you find one you trust). This level of avoidance (where you're considering careers based on availability) seems way more than you should undertake via self-diagnosis only.

I find the idea that I am supposed to consult with a "professional" before making drastic changes to my life a little creepy. However, if this doesn't work, I will seriously start to consider the use of psychiatric medication, which will necessitate talking to a shrink.

comment by Dagon · 2014-03-06T08:29:31.685Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I find the idea that I am supposed to consult with a "professional" before making drastic changes to my life a little creepy.

Yeah, it is a bit creepy. For some types of changes (those that are related to common, diagnosable behavioral problems), it can still be incredibly valuable.

comment by iarwain1 · 2014-03-06T00:52:22.934Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I've used Internet Lock effectively in the past. Presumably there's some way around it but it sounds like you're like me and don't know enough to find out what that way is.

Currently I do use internet, but with severe filtering restrictions using both K9 and Microsoft Family Safety. So for example, I couldn't follow the link you provided to explain your goals, because K9 blocked it. My wife has the password to both programs, which she makes sure I don't find out. She also carefully monitors what I do online (at my request - plus I told her what types of things to call me out on) using SpectorPro. So yes, that means she'll see what I'm writing now - hi dear! Obviously this wouldn't work without a good partner.

I don't have a smartphone, and neither does my wife. I'm a student, so perhaps that doesn't count, but my wife's a database / software consultant, and she gets along just fine without one. Again, that's not getting rid of the internet, just the smartphone.

I know several people who don't have internet access in their homes, and several who don't even have computers. They work in positions where they don't need to take computer-related work home with them, so any computer / internet use they have is at work. By the way, that's the most effective way to do it - just ditch the computer entirely if at all possible. If it wasn't for the fact that I need it for studying I'd do it myself.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-03-05T16:46:50.780Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I want to use computers without being exposed to the internet.

Why is this a problem? Drip some epoxy into your physical Ethernet port, break off the Wi-Fi antenna, delete the network drivers from your system...

comment by jaime2000 · 2014-03-05T18:17:35.949Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I have no talent for hardware modification, so I'd either have to find some way to get good at it or pay someone to do it for me. That said, I have also considered this (removing Wi-Fi antennas before purchase was one of the few practical suggestions I found while trying to read up on this topic). Right now it seems like my current plan is easier, but I am certainly willing to experiment with many variations on the basic theme if my initial approach doesn't work.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-03-05T18:21:39.945Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I have no talent for hardware modification

You only need to break things. Breaking stuff is much easier than general-purpose hardware modification :-)

Deleting the network drivers, though, is a filesystem operation and will cut off your machine from the 'net quite effectively.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-03-05T09:40:08.631Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How about using two computers?

Buy the cheapest one you can find for the internet connection, and put it in an inconvenient position, for example where you have to stand while using it. After downloading everything you had on the list, always shut it down, to create a trivial inconvenience for starting it again.

comment by jaime2000 · 2014-03-05T09:43:43.472Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Paul Graham tried something similar. It didn't work very well. My previous experiences with creating trivial inconveniences have also been far from encouraging.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-03-10T12:16:22.743Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

More significant inconveniences, then? Paul didn't make his computer really physically awkward to use as Viliam suggested.

comment by aubrey · 2014-03-07T14:38:03.472Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I have had a ridiculous munchkin idea. My idea is to hold a pencil in your teeth to increase productivity.

There are some reasons to believe that being happy makes you more productive, rather (just?) than the other way round. This research is quite new. This does not mean it is wrong, but it is not replicated well. If it is true, you can make yourself more productive by making yourself happier.

Forced smiling may make you feel happier. It is hard to force smile when you are not happy. It is even harder to do work and force smile at the same time. When I try this, I forget to force smile.

There are some reasons to believe that holding a pencil in your teeth makes you happier. This research is very old. This does not mean it is wrong, but it is not replicated well.

I have just had this idea. It seems to be widely known as an idea to make you happy, but not to make you productive. I have not yet time to test it for a long period. Short-term results are that I feel silly. I do not want to do this in the office. However, I am smiling because the idea is fun. In my subjective opinion this makes me more productive.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-03-07T17:17:09.523Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is absolutely awesome!

There are some reasons to believe that being happy makes you more productive, rather (just?) than the other way round.

I believe this strongly. Coincidentally, today I was reflecting on my past life-optimization attempts, and seems like the most frequent reason for failure was that at the beginning the idea of the new change made me happy, but after some time I stopped being happy, and then it became difficult to overcome obstacles and I gave up. So I decided that when I try something new in the future, an important task will be to keep myself happy about the project. Even if it means something stupid, like dancing a few minutes before I start the task, or something similar.

Holding a pencil in your teeth could achieve the same thing, just more simply.

(I am not sure what will be the long-term consequences for your teeth. If you keep your mouth partially open for long periods of time, it may change the chemical environment. Maybe try a short pencil or something, so you can keep your mouth closed. And maybe use some pencil-shaped thing without graphite.)

comment by aubrey · 2014-03-08T07:06:48.223Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I am happy my idea made you happy!

Maybe try a short pencil or something, so you can keep your mouth closed.

I do not think this will work. The theory is that holding the pencil in your teeth contracts the same muscles you use to smile (zygomaticus major, risorius). If you can keep your mouth closed, these muscles will not be affected in the same way. I think any other object that is long enough should work. I use a mechanical pencil.

comment by tut · 2014-03-09T15:22:44.771Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe try a short pencil or something, so you can keep your mouth closed.

The instruction in the experiment aubrey refers to is to hold the pencil with your teeth without touching it with your lips. Holding the pencil with your lips without touching it with your teeth got the opposite result.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-03-09T18:50:58.294Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Considering how awkward that is, that's not surprising.

comment by tut · 2014-03-09T15:40:53.905Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There is also some reason to believe that smiling stops making you happy if you force a smile too often.

Bus drivers are expected to smile at costumers. Some days that doesn't come without effort. Bus drivers use two strategies to solve that: force a smile and think about something that makes them smile. On days when a driver used mostly the first strategy their mood tended to get worse, while when they used the second it got brighter.

comment by lucidian · 2014-03-05T03:47:38.778Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Cog sci question about how words are organized in our minds.

So, I'm a native English speaker, and for the last ~1.5 years, I've been studying Finnish as a second language. I was making very slow progress on vocabulary, though, so a couple days ago I downloaded Anki and moved all my vocab lists over to there. These vocab lists basically just contained random words I had encountered on the internet and felt like writing down; a lot of them were for abstract concepts and random things that probably won't come up in conversation, like "archipelago" (the Finnish word is "saaristo", if anyone cares). Anyway, the point is that I am not trying to learn the vocabulary in any sensible order, I'm just shoving random words into my brain.

While studying today, I noticed that I was having a lot more trouble with certain words than with others, and I started to wonder why, and what implications this has for how words are organized in our minds, and whether anyone has done studies on this.

For instance, there seemed to be a lot of "hash collisions": vocabulary words that I kept confusing with one another. Some of these were clearly phonetic: hai (shark) and kai (probably). Another phonetic pair: toivottaa (to wish) and taivuttaa (to inflect a word). Some were a combination of phonetic and semantic: virhe (error), vihje (hint), vaihe (phase, stage), and vika (fault). Some of them I have no idea why I kept confusing: kertautua (to recur) and kuvastaa (to mirror, to reflect).

There were also a few words that I just had inordinate amounts of trouble remembering, and I don't know why: eksyä (to get lost), ehtiä (to arrive in time), löytää (to find), kyllästys (saturation), sisältää (to include), arvata (to guess). Aside from the last one, all of these have the letter ä in them, so maybe that has something to do with it. Also, the first two words don't have a single English verb as an equivalent.

There were also some words that were easier than I expected: vankkuri (wagon), saaristo (archipelago), and some more that I don't remember now because they quickly vanished from my deck. Both of these words are unusual but concrete concepts.

Do different people struggle with the same words when learning a language? Are some Finnish words just inherently "easy" or "hard" for English speakers to learn? If it's different for each person, how does the ease of learning certain words relate to a person's life experiences, interests, common thoughts, etc.?

What do hash collisions tell us about how words are organized in our minds? Can they tell us anything about the features we might be using to recognize words? For instance, English speakers often seem to have trouble remembering and distinguishing Chinese names; they all seem to "sound the same". Why does this happen? Here's a hypothesis: when we hear a word, based on its features, it is mapped to a specific part of a learned phonetic space before being used to access semantic content. Presumably we would learn this phonetic space to maximize the distance between words in a language, since the farther apart words are, the less chance they have of accessing the wrong semantic content. Maybe certain Finnish words sound the same to me because they map to nearby regions of my phonetic space, but a speaker of some other language wouldn't confuse these particular words because they'd have a different phonetic space? I'm just speculating wildly here.

I'd be interested to hear everyone else's vocab-learning experiences and crazy hypotheses for what's going on. Also, does anyone know any actual research that's been done on this stuff?

comment by whales · 2014-03-05T04:41:23.148Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

These are interesting questions. I think the keyword you want for "hash collisions" is interference. Here's a more helpful overview from an education perspective: Learning Vocabulary in Lexical Sets: Dangers and Guidelines (2000). It mostly talks about semantic interference, but it mentions some other work on similar-sounding and similar-looking words.

comment by lucidian · 2014-03-05T04:52:40.752Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks!

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-05T09:16:20.815Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

For instance, there seemed to be a lot of "hash collisions": vocabulary words that I kept confusing with one another. Some of these were clearly phonetic: hai (shark) and kai (probably).

That problem is called memory interference. I think reading Wozniaks 20 rules, gives you a good elementary understanding of concepts like that.

In general there doesn't seem to be a good way to predict memory interference in advance.

When faced with apparent interference I usually make a card specifically for the interference:

Front: (kai / hai) -> shark
Back: hai

Front: (kai / hai) -> probably
Back: kai

comment by TheOtherDave · 2014-03-05T05:29:01.988Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You may find "linguistic cohort"a useful search phrase.

When I studied linguistics back in the 80s it was a popular way of thinking about lexical retrieval. E.g., a cohort model might explain collisions between "kertautua" and "kuvastaa" by observing that they share an initial-sound, final-sound, and (I think?) number of syllables, all of which are lexical search keys. (Put another way: it's easy to list words that start with "k", words that end with "a", and three-syllable words.)

That said, I remember thinknig at the time that it was kind of vacuous. (After all, it's also easy to list words with "v" in the middle somewhere.)

comment by primality · 2014-03-11T10:16:37.827Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I find that making up mnemonics works well to combat interference. They don't have to be good mnemonics for this to work.

Example: I noticed I kept mixing up the Spanish words aquí (here) and allí (there). I then made up the mnemonic that aquí has a "k" sound so it's close, and allí contains l's so it's long away. A few days later, I encounter the word "allí". My thinking then goes "That's either here or there, I keep confusing those" -> "oh yeah, I made up a mnemonic" -> "allí means there".

I wonder how well this method would work for others.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2014-03-11T16:37:55.184Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is generally how I memorize the bits of scripts that are from my perspective arbitrary. It doesn't even need much of a connection to the text itself.

E.g., one line I had trouble with was "Come, sirs", which I kept paraphrasing as any of a dozen phrases that basically mean the same thing, until I associated it with brothels for knights. Now my cue comes along, I know I'm leading a group of people elsewhere, a bunch of competing ways to say that get activated, the brothels for knights concept gets activated along with them, it reinforces "come sirs" and that's what I say.

comment by Emile · 2014-03-05T08:52:48.313Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I tend to think of this in terms of compression: you can use various compression schemes to store english words in fewer bits, but that will make you store foreign words in more bits. For example, you could order letters by frequency and represent frequent letters with fewer bits. You can do the same with groups of letters (e.g. "thing" = "th" + "ing", both very frequent combinations in English), or take advantage of conditional probabilities ('t' much more likely to be followed by 'h' than 'n') to squeeze a few more bits of compression. Similarly, if a westerner wanted to describe the Chinese character 語 without any prior knowledge of Chinese, the description would be very long, but a Chinese speaker would describe it as "the key for speech, and a five above a mouth".

This is just another way of describing what you call phonetic space.

Simple issues of frequency makes learners see words as "closer" than native speakers do, another problem is when the "phonetic space" of one language has more(or different) dimensions than those of another; e.g. many people find it hard to learn words when the distinction between voiced and unvoiced "th" is important, or when the tone of a syllable also carries meaning (as in Chinese). The Chinese words for "mother", "insult" and "horse" all sound like exactly the same word, "ma", to non-Chinese speakers.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-08T11:26:37.256Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

How do you use librarians? College libraries seems to pay money to employee qualified librarians. Being a student myself that means I sort of have access to them as a resource but never really used them for help.

Did anyone here used the librarians at his local university to find information that he otherwise wouldn't have found or had other good experiences with librarians?

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2014-03-08T15:58:43.974Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Try asking the librarians what they can do for you, even if you don't bring a specific project to ask about.

comment by mwengler · 2014-03-09T16:01:33.520Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The librarians at the company I work for will produce reports on topics you ask them about by compiling results from data bases. It is actually quite useful and would take a lot of learning for the non-librarian to produce.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-03-09T08:35:16.806Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I have used libraries all my life, but I have never used a librarian, except for the fact of their running the libraries. Not even before the Internet. I have never quite understood what one would consult a librarian for, especially now that we have the Internet and Google.

comment by CAE_Jones · 2014-03-09T09:43:13.699Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Good librarians know their way around databases and such; in the past, they've helped me with research when my Google Fu wasn't strong enough to accomplish my goals. (Particularly relevant at colleges and such institutions that can get through paywalls)

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-09T19:57:10.089Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Could you give examples?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-03-07T18:48:38.310Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Inefficient altruism-- knitting sweaters for penguins-- I welcome evo psych explanations for the desire to knit.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-03-09T14:28:45.429Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I suggest substituting "knitting unwanted sweaters for penguins" for "raising money for rare diseases in cute puppies" because the sweater thing actually happened, research into rare diseases of cute puppies might pay off in understanding other diseases, and at least for me "rare diseases in cute puppies" has a nasty pattern match to sneering at rare diseases in people, cuteness, and puppies.

comment by tut · 2014-03-16T08:54:10.676Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm... There are people wastefully knitting sweaters for penguins, and there are penguin chicks freezing to death every time it rains. Would it be possible to get those people to knit wool sweaters for the penguin chicks?

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-03-04T05:57:17.577Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

A new paper by Lenny Susskind discusses the black hole firewall problem and suggests that the computations necessary to actually create the standard paradoxical situation are computationally intractable. Paper here, discussion by Scott Aaronson here.

comment by Coscott · 2014-03-04T04:11:00.351Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I am getting married in less than a month, and I just realized that the wedding is probably the Schelling point event of my life. Therefore, if I were to make a commitment to change something about myself, now is probably the time to do it. It seems to me that If I want to make a short term resolution to change something about myself, I should start on New Years Day, so that I can have that extra push of being able to say "I have not done X this year." However, If I want to make a long term change, the best time to do it is probably the wedding, since it is probably the Schelling point of events in my life.

So what are some useful commitments I can make in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?

One idea is to get a "Precommitment Journal", and commit to follow anything that I write down in there, but in that case, I have technically followed everything I have written in that non-existent journal, so that commitment does not really need a Schelling point start date.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-04T20:39:38.723Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I would say the big one to start is Family Traditions, and the like. Ideas:

  • A weekly or bi-weekly date night where you go do something different (no dinner-and-a-movie.)

  • If you don't usually have a "Family Dinner", make one day of the week a "Family Dinner" night.

  • Weekly or monthly get-together where you can hash out plans, see what's been problematic, hopefully correct things before they lead to arguments, etc

  • The yearly traditions such as: having a jar where you write down all the awesome things that happened on slips of paper, and read the paper on New Years, various holiday traditions, or yearly vacations, or whatnot

comment by chaosmage · 2014-03-04T11:11:28.006Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Your future spouse can answer this better than we can.

comment by moridinamael · 2014-03-04T14:58:02.353Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

If having children is in the plan, I will comment that having kids has been much more Schellingy than getting married was, and any life-changes I didn't have solidly cemented before having kids damned sure weren't going to be made after having them.

One thing I'm glad I did was make a habit of trying to write fiction a few times a week before the kids came along - basically, selfishly carve out some me-time - because now I'm still able to maintain this habit with two babies.

comment by XFrequentist · 2014-03-04T15:38:20.507Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm experiencing this now (with about six months still on the clock). Anything you wish you'd implemented pre-kids?

comment by Coscott · 2014-03-04T19:58:12.221Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Children might be a common time start resolutions, especially ones that might effect the children, but I disagree that it is more Schellingly in the sense that if two people were to choose a day in my, and try to name the same day, the wedding would probably be third only to birth and death.

But I guess that does not make it the best day to start a resolution.

However, note that in my position, it is better for me to temporarily believe that this is the best time to start a resolution, because that makes me more likely to go through it. Thanks for the basilisk. :)

Also, I already kind of used up the first kid, by setting that as my deadline for deciding about cryonics.

comment by Emile · 2014-03-04T21:25:57.217Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree weddings are more Schellingy, you're more likely to want to remember them, they involve more friends and family and nice food, and less splattered blood and feces (your mileage may vary though).

comment by tgb · 2014-03-04T12:58:32.632Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Let me just state some obvious ones:

  • Exercise
  • Saving money
  • Eating well
  • Anki
  • Anything in the longevity guide
  • Practicing a new skill (eg: musical instrument, cooking, a sport or hobby)
  • Learn how to make bulleted lists in this system, why isn't this working?
  • Overcoming an annoying habit like biting nails
  • Meditating regularly
comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-04T14:57:01.854Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
  • Learn to manage stress well...?

Btw, you need to start a new line every time you make a bullet point.

comment by Emile · 2014-03-04T16:37:41.326Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Btw, you need to start a new line every time you make a bullet point.

No, you need to leave a blank line before the first item of the list (the items of the list can be linked)

  • like
  • this
comment by tgb · 2014-03-06T03:57:35.083Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ah... thanks.

comment by Metus · 2014-03-04T14:12:20.988Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Learn how to make bulleted lists in this system, why isn't this working?

Make two newlines before starting the list.

  • Like this it works
  • There has to be new line after the dot above and a newline immediately after that.
comment by pianoforte611 · 2014-03-04T23:25:56.792Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Start a a good feelings journal or a relationship journal. Being positive and specific boosts your mood and satisfaction with the relationship.

comment by terasinube · 2014-03-05T09:20:14.400Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A commitment to being healthy and happy could be a good idea. The information from the Blue Zones could provide lots of useful ideas.

A commitment to love could also be a good idea. Love 2.0 book has scientific research in this field.

On a simpler note, you could commit to a long walk in nature with your wife every month or every fortnight. Find a nice trail and keep returning there for a nice slow walk. You could use this time to unwind or to calmly discuss what you could do about things.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2014-03-04T14:16:18.849Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It is hard to make suggestions not knowing the current state of your life.

If you currently smoke, stop smoking, the general disruption in routine around the wedding should make it easier. Reflect on how you want your relationship with your partner to be over the long term, maybe arrange to discuss these things with them at regular intervals.

comment by shminux · 2014-03-04T17:15:01.339Z · score: -1 (11 votes) · LW · GW

If you are anything like the majority of married men, you will be told what to change about yourself, in what direction and by how much. [Yes, this is tongue in cheek]

comment by gjm · 2014-03-04T17:17:13.473Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

And then won't change any of those things.

[EDITED to add: Of course this is an unfair and inaccurate overgeneralization. Just like the parent comment.]

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-03-05T09:31:22.338Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

And then won't change any of those things.

Which is probably a good strategy. Not optimal, but better on average than blindly following the advice.

People are sometimes bad in predicting what will make them react which way. If you marry someone, at least you know your current set of trait made you attractive to them, and made them want to spend their time with you. There is no such guarantee for the proposed new set of traits.

Typical failure: In far mode it seems like a good idea that a man should have more ambition, and do what he can to progress on the carreer ladder. But that has some side effects, such as working longer hours, more stress, less attention to what happens at home; even some personality changes. And that is often resented in near mode, and sometimes leads to a divorce.

(I'm currently reading "Why Men Are the Way They Are" by Warren Farrell, and there one man describes his story of following all the advice people around him gave him... finishing with: I worked really hard to become a person whom everyone hates, including myself.)

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-03-06T17:50:01.142Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I can't find an appropriate post at the moment, but I'm pretty sure Ferrett Steinmetz writes about him and his wife working to improve each other-- a difficult and contentious process, but useful.

Do you think there's no chance of partners having blind spots in different areas and using this so that eventually both can see more clearly?

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-03-06T18:27:18.009Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If it works, it's awesome. I wouldn't recommend it to an average couple, though. Even an average aspiring rationalist couple should be extra careful.

Constantly showing your partner your weaknesses may be a bad idea. Partners are supposed to impress each other. Of course they know the other one is far from perfect, but that's not a reason to bring it to attention too frequently. I am not saying it could never work, just that it seems like an unnecessary risk.

And outside of the rationalist community... most people want to believe in mystery. Ruin the mystery, and you may have ruined the relationship.

comment by AndekN · 2014-03-08T12:29:43.779Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Did you mean this post about him and his wife pushing each other into doing things they know the other will like, despite the spouse's initial protests: I Love My Wife Because She Disrespects Me?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-03-08T14:00:25.884Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Probably at least that one. There may be others.

Thanks.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-03-04T23:29:00.240Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

You know, I wonder if anyone ever made a Fault Tree Analysis of Romance. Specifically, of all the things that could and did go wrong in their previous romantic history. All the causality chains. One could argue that romantic failures have as huge an impact on the economy as the most disastrous industrial accidents, and that this is a field worth researching.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-06T04:35:38.112Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Unless you post an example fault tree analysis with this software (say, as an image), all this PUA/Anti-PUA/Meta-PUA/Game/Whatever conversation is highly unlikely to be productive.

Edit: I want to make it clear that I'm excited with what you could come up with, and how you could formalize yours and existing/others theories on relationships. You could definitely bring conversations on relationships to a higher level.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-03-06T10:46:10.015Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't haod much practice. I'll need a day or two to find my references, get familiar with the software, and plot something up.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-03-06T11:14:36.141Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

EDIT: A friend just shared an interesting Wikipedia page with me. I can already see that those rules require several caveats.

comment by Metus · 2014-03-05T00:55:21.540Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I am sure a proper analysis of the impact of relationship problems on the life of the average person in terms of happiness, well-being or some other similar quantity will put this near or at the top of the list in the Western world.

Though seeing as exercising and eating properly are similar in magnitude - I assume - but people are still not doing it gives me little confidence.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-05T00:04:38.096Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If you focus your attention on trying to prevent all kinds of error to happen, you are likely going to act needy and romance won't work well. A highly optimized process might get a pickup guy laid but it doesn't produce a real connection.

Good romance is about enjoying the time you spent together instead of optimizing all the actions that you take while you are together to achieve some future goal.

While dancing Salsa or Bachata I can produce pretty strong intimacy fast, by being in the moment. If I however dance really intimately with a woman whom I just meet I often get inside my head and think whether what I'm doing is alright and about the consequences of my actions. That in turn messes up the whole interaction because I'm not acting based what I'm feeling in the moment anymore and that's going to feel strange to the woman.

Being vulnerable is also important for romance and drawing fault trees doesn't help you to get into a state when you are vulnerable and can allow yourself to be touched on a emotional level by the other person.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-03-05T02:05:44.701Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Well, yeah, but I don't mean "seduction methods", I mean basic discipline, among which are ethics and forethought. Such as "Don't cheat on a partner. If you're going to cheat on a partner anyway, don't lie to the other partner about having the first partner's consent. If you're going to lie to the other partner anyway, for god's sake don't leave them drunk and alone together. " "Don't do things that you'll later feel the need to keep secret" also sounds to me like very sound general advice. "Don't put yourself into a situation in which you're likely to do something you'll later regret ." (such as getting intoxicated on whatever, without a sober party you absolutely trust to watch your back).

You know, the relationship equivalent to "never, under any circumstances, point a gun at anything you don't want dead", or "don't even try heroin, and if you're going to do so anyway, lie on your side, not your back", or "do not fuck with the IRS". Or don't piss on an electric fence. Or even "don't run with scissors" and "put your seatbelt on" and book your flights in advance and study your materials every day rather than cram for the exam.

You know, basic stuff. Stuff that, if Harry heard you doing, you know he'd think "You EEEEDIOT!" with a consternated voice. Stuff that would make Quirrell think "Humans never fail to live down to my expectations." That kind of stuff.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-05T09:00:18.124Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Well, yeah, but I don't mean "seduction methods", I mean basic discipline, among which are ethics and forethought.

My idea of ethics is different from following a process that avoids errors that make other people dislike you. Act ethically for it's own sake and not because it's a technique to influence your partner into staying in a relationship with you.

I think people who act ethically in order to get other people to like them are generally untrustworthy, because you don't know what they will do when put in a emotional charged situation which they haven't analysed beforehand. I rather interact with someone with a strongly developed system of ethics even if that system differs from my own.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-03-05T12:29:13.374Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

It's not a matter of getting people to like you, it's a matter of preventing people from getting hurt. Lovesickness and heartache are, in my experience, among the worst, most devastating pains the world can offer.

comment by Brillyant · 2014-03-05T17:02:12.774Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I share your feeling that breakups, and all things related, suck. And I like your idea of coming up with best practices for avoiding as much heartache as possible. But I'm unsure about the practicality here.

It is my experience that love involves high-level risk necessarily, and by it's nature.

I just saw a Terence Malick flim this past weekend (To the Wonder) and a quote from the movie comes to mind "The one who loves less is the one who is stronger".

My general thought is that this is opposed to everything of which LW is in favor. That is, love is not a rational move, since it (by a definion I'd accept) requires self-sacrifice for the good of another.

(Note: Not that LWers are selfish, per se. Only that love which chooses another person winning big while you open yourself up to lose hard is antithetical to most of the sentiment I see here.)

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2014-03-05T17:28:01.801Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

My general thought is that this is opposed to everything of which LW is in favor. That is, love is not a rational move, since it (by a definion I'd accept) requires self-sacrifice for the good of another.

Dedicating resources to one thing that you want means that you can't dedicate them to another thing that you want. Wanting to make someone happy isn't different from any of the other things that you want.

comment by blacktrance · 2014-03-05T18:37:13.379Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

That is, love is not a rational move, since it (by a definion I'd accept) requires self-sacrifice for the good of another.

Love makes/recognizes another person's good part of your good, so, depending on the magnitude, it isn't self-sacrifice to give up some other parts of your good to increase that of your loved one's.

comment by Brillyant · 2014-03-05T20:15:35.627Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If love were as simple as this, that would be great.

As Ritalin said:

...it's a matter of preventing people from getting hurt. Lovesickness and heartache are, in my experience, among the worst, most devastating pains the world can offer.

"Love" requires that you risk the "devastating pain", I think. You may hold back, or engage principles that mitigate the heartache you feel when a relationship ends—to an extent this is fine, as recklessness is not good—but the risk or devastating pain is inherent in "love", as I'd define it.

Of course, if you find a relationship where both parties are always happy and healthy and pinging each other's fuzzy/utilon meters, then good for you. Life, in my experience, is a bit more dynamic and challenging than that.

I like the idea of coming up with disciplines to protect those who you love from heartache whould things not work out, but love is risky. It just is.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-03-05T17:12:16.698Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Love makes the other's welfare a win state. It is the ultimate incentive to cooperate.

comment by Brillyant · 2014-03-05T17:13:31.938Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Would you be willing to elaborate?

comment by shminux · 2014-03-05T17:31:45.330Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

What's to elaborate? That your partner's smile seems to be directly connected to endorphins in your bloodstream? That knowing that your smile has the same effect on them makes it twice as potent? That your baby's first laugh or step makes all the sleepless nights to fade away? That your dog happily wagging its tail when you come home cheers you up after a hard day? "The ultimate incentive to cooperate" seems like an apt decision-theoretic description of what evolution wrought.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-03-05T17:34:58.237Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"The ultimate incentive to cooperate" seems like an apt decision-theoretic description of what evolution wrought.

It's actually considerably more than just incentive to cooperate. Valuing the welfare/happiness of another above your own leads to many things other than game-theoretic cooperation.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-03-05T19:28:42.827Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'd like to hear more of what you have to say about that.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-03-05T19:32:26.805Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Love (and consequences) is a very wide topic :-) Do you have anything particular in mind?

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-05T23:44:36.653Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You can follow the ethical principle of always telling the truth, you can also follow the principle of telling white lies whenever that will make the other person feel better.

If you are consistent and the other person can expect you to follow your principles they won't ask you for opinion if the truth will hurt them and you have the policy to always tell the truth.

If you don't have principles and sometimes tell the truth and sometimes tell white lies, it's however much harder for the other person to interact with you to avoid getting hurt.

When driving and there are pedestrians who want to cross the street, you have two valid choices. Stop and let them pass the street before you or continue driving with your speed. When I started taking driving lessons I got the idea of going the middle way of driving slower. That was stupid. It doesn't provide the pedestrians with valid information that they can use to adapt their behavior towards myself.

Hurt feelings often come from people expecting something which doesn't happen. If you follow some codex of ethics and the other person understands which codex of ethics you follow, they won't be in much emotional pain if you act in according with that codex because they can expect you to do so.

it's a matter of preventing people from getting hurt.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I don't think that focusing on preventing other people from getting hurt is good for a loving relationship.

In the past I also found it very condescending when other people thought that they should make the decisions about risk getting hurt for me. Give me all the information that I need to make a decision but in the end it's my own decision if I want to risk getting hurt.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-03-06T00:04:58.474Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Here we have another principle: "Have ethics and morals, and be consistent about following them, so that people know what to expect, and don't feel betrayed, cheated, or disappointed.".

In the past I also found it very condensing when other people thought that they should make the decisions about risk getting hurt for me. Give me all the information that I need to make a decision but in the end it's my own decision if I want to risk getting hurt.

Condensing?!

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-06T09:41:52.161Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Here we have another principle: "Have ethics and morals, and be consistent about following them, so that people know what to expect, and don't feel betrayed, cheated, or disappointed.".

That's not the kind of principle that you create as a result of Fault Tree Analysis.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-03-06T10:53:01.008Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, good! Someone who actually knows about this! Well, help me out here; we do have a causation tree, yes?

"Inconsistent Behavour -> Broken Expectations -> Pereption of Defection".

comment by gjm · 2014-03-06T01:50:05.032Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Condensing?!

Probably intended to be "condescending".

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-06T09:07:47.164Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes. I edited.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-03-06T11:13:09.104Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Then you might want to edit this too: "that they should make the decisions about risk getting hurt for me." The syntax is ambiguous.

I see you have that Classic Liberal mentality of "Do not protect me from my own stupidity, give me all the relevant information and let me make my informed decisions as a responsible adult". Problem is,

  • it is possible that the other person is unwilling to share all the relevant info with you (privacy, information hazard, shame, cowardice, dishonesty) or even unable (they don't know or they can't properly put it into words)
  • Even in possession of all relevant information, you may find yourself making the wrong decisions because you're not quite in your right mind. I don't know about you, but when I am high on sexual arousal I can barely even talk.
  • It's not about protecting others from their stupidity, but from your own.
comment by gjm · 2014-03-06T12:32:07.213Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I see you have that Classic Liberal mentality of [...]

I suggest that it is probably counterproductive to make this a debate about identity rather than about issues.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-06T11:56:59.436Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I see you have that Classic Liberal mentality of "Do not protect me from my own stupidity, give me all the relevant information and let me make my informed decisions as a responsible adult"

I do share those sentiments but they don't fully describe my position I'm not focused on the mental stuff.

Even in possession of all relevant information, you may find yourself making the wrong decisions because you're not quite in your right mind. I don't know about you, but when I am high on sexual arousal I can barely even talk.

I might make decisions that bring me emotional pain, but then I'll learn worthwhile lessons.

it is possible that the other person is unwilling to share all the relevant info with you (privacy, information hazard, shame, cowardice, dishonesty) or even unable (they don't know or they can't properly put it into words)

I think it's very useful to learn nonviolent communication to express your emotional needs to give the other person the information he needs.

I however wouldn't say that everyone has to learn nonviolent communication because it's not the only model that works.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-05T06:21:43.986Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

So, principles instead of methods. Like this? I'm not sure universal, empirically-validated game exists. With one relationship, it isn't usually as simple as 'this caused this'. With multiple, you might be able to pick out correlations and hypothesize causation. The best you can do is gather everyone's stories, create theories, test them, see what sticks, and then use blog/forum archives to write handbooks for people seeking general relationship advice. This has obviously been done many times, focusing on sex, long term relationship, marriage, family, and religious family.

I don't think it makes any sense to model a relationship as "a system with subsystem and component failures". Doing so successfully would probably be human-level AI-complete.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-03-05T12:51:32.639Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The closer you follow the letter of these commandments, the easier you will find and keep real, true unconditional love and happiness in your life.

That's just sickening. Also, it's a list of attitudes, ways to manipulate your lover into being obsessed with you, mostly by exploiting the addictive effect of "unreliable reward".

comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-05T19:36:32.899Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I'm surprised that as a "longtime PUA student" you haven't come across that before, and even more surprised that you'd describe it like that, unless you recently had a huge change of heart regarding PUA/game stuff.

Regardless of ethics, I think something like what I linked would work better for most people (for creating a good, hurt-free relationship) than an overly-complicated fault tree analysis. (I'm still confused about the practicality of such a tree, can you give a small example?)

comment by Ritalin · 2014-03-05T20:08:18.369Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I already did; look at the whole thread.

And my change of heart over PUA was a long and painful disillusion after the original discovery. I'm not a Pachinko machine; if I have to keep my partner addicted, obsessed, and insecure, it hurts me. When I have to refrain from showering my beloved with affection and kindness, it tears me apart. The kind of shit PUA suggest is something I am incapable of doing with someone I truly care about. And as for someone I don't care about, those do not make it to my bed. I only f--k when I I give a f--k. I tried the alternative, and it found it disgusting and hollow.

comment by bogus · 2014-03-05T22:22:04.043Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

if I have to keep my partner addicted, obsessed, and insecure, it hurts me.

You should note that PUA does not advocate this, at least not necessarily. There is an extremely broad spectrum between "trying to keep your partner insecure and obsessed with you" and "boring them to death until they up and leave you for someone else". Many of the posts on Chateau Heartiste seem to be written in an over-the-top way for the sake of stirring up controversy; he is far from being representative of all of seduction/'PUA'.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-03-05T22:43:59.053Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

All I ever see of PUA is around this tone. The art as it is commonly understood and practised is a method to pick up chicks and get laid, not an ethos to build satisfying, durable relationships. If you compare it to actual martial arts, I see a lot of Krav Maga and very little Aikido.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-03-06T09:15:43.149Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

There are probably some parts you have missed.

Also, remember the Sturgeon's law.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-03-06T10:58:05.972Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That sounds great, I'll give it a good look. And Sturgeon's Law applies to literary genres; if it applies to socio-political movements, then we have a problem. We certainly can't judge, say, the Catholic Church or the Objectivist movement by their 1% of most virtuous fellows.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-03-06T11:57:23.003Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

if it applies to socio-political movements, then we have a problem. We certainly can't judge, say, the Catholic Church or the Objectivist movement by their 1% of most virtuous fellows.

If you ask an average Catholic to to explain you some things about their religion, and if you ask a Pope, you will find a lot of differences. You may also find Catholic theologists saing that Pope is actually not a Catholic.

This is not merely a criticism of Catholicism... this is what happens when you have a sufficiently large movement. It happens to other religions, it happens to policial movements, it happens everywhere. I guess even Ayn Rand couldn't prevent it. This is what humans do.

We might ask what is the true Catholicism? But that's assuming that words have a meaning on their own, instead of merely being labels attached to meanings, inconsistently by different people. If you would look at people's beliefs as points in the belief-space, you could empirically find a few clusters: there would be current version of the official belief (or a few competing versions) that only educated theologists know, schisms and heresies, various kinds of folk interpretations, etc. That's the territory. It's your choice whether you apply the label "true Catholicism" to the opinion of the current Pope, or to the most popular folk version. Either way, someone will insist that you are using the label incorrectly.

I believe this is a source of many hopeless arguments about politics. For any political label X, you get many people self-identifying as X, with many different beliefs, sometimes contradictory. Now are the "true X" the most educated of them, or the most numerous ones, or those most visible in media? How about those who are very educated, but controversial within the group; how much weight to we assign to their opinions? How about those who try to follow their leaders, but misunderstand what the leaders are trying to say; is their true belief what the leaders believe, or the most frequent misinterpretation of the leaders? -- And in real life, most people will use "what most of my neighbors who self-identify as X seem to say", which is a different answer for different people.

Should alchemists be considered part of the same group as chemists? Today most of us would say "no", but what if we lived when chemistry was new? Etc.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-03-07T13:01:27.844Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sedevacationists believe that the Pope is a heretic. Is that the same thing as not being a Catholic?

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-03-07T17:27:12.441Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I am not a theologist, and I only met one Sedevacationist in an internet forum and he didn't seem quite sane to me, so I don't know how much his opinions are official. He said something like "the Pope has implicitly excommunicated himself by..." I don't remember what exactly was the reason, but probably because of the alleged heresy.

(Makes some sense to me. I mean, if you are serious about a religion and serious about the religious hierarchy, because you believe that the bishops are literally the messengers of God and the whole Church is the God's living body on Earth, or something like this, then... being a heretic, not being a Pope, but still pretending to be a Pope... that seems like an insanely serious offence. It's a religious equivalent of falsely pretending to be a King.)

comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-05T20:26:20.762Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've read the thread. I mean an example of one of the trees, drawn out in whatever software that is.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-05T09:01:38.618Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So, principles instead of methods. Like this?

That website is a PUA website, so probably not what Ritalin is looking for.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-03-05T19:30:31.210Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

More importantly, I couldn't follow that advice if I tried. I don't think it's even possible to do that if you're actually in love with someone.

comment by miekw · 2014-03-06T12:17:08.344Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Even if it genuinely made the object of your love happier?

The essence of all persuasion, manipulation, whatever you call it, is giving others what they want; sometimes knowing what they want better than they themselves.

If they are as cold and calculatingly manipulative as you imply, most people who do PUA would almost definitely have no problem being kind, committing and caring towards women if that worked, i.e. made women happy to be with you.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-03-06T15:48:06.406Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The essence of all persuasion, manipulation, whatever you call it, is giving others what they want;

Not at all. Consider the standard FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) -- it is manipulation, it is clearly not giving the subject what it wants.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-03-06T17:54:26.448Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This seems like a dictionary dispute.

In one sense, a con-man who sells you a fake medicine to treat a serious affliction is "giving you what you want". After all, you willingly paid for the medicine, and — not knowing that it is fake, and expecting it is a real cure — you believe that you are better off than before the exchange. You feel better having bought it; in the moment, you are glad to have bought it.

But in another sense, he is not "giving you what you want", because your goal in buying the medicine was to get a cure for the affliction, and fake medicine won't do that. Once you find out that you have been defrauded, you are not glad any more, but probably angry or indignant at being deceived. Not very many people would react to discovering that they have been cheated, by fondly recalling how nice it felt to believe that they would be cured.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-03-06T18:21:10.866Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In one sense, a con-man who sells you a fake medicine to treat a serious affliction is "giving you what you want"

No, I don't think this is a meaningful sense of "what you want". In the same way giving your wallet to an armed robber is "what you want", too.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-03-07T02:03:34.913Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree; I wouldn't use the word that way — but that notion of "want" would explain the way miekw is using it above.

comment by miekw · 2014-12-02T07:57:33.670Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Do you think that it's completely implausible that someone would want to experience those emotions too?

I'm not claiming you'll have much success giving only those, but the wider the range of emotions you can incite, the better.

The claim that most would want this is more extreme and more difficult to find evidence for. I have no evidence beyond my own experience.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-02T15:42:50.132Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Do you think that it's completely implausible that someone would want to experience those emotions too?

It's plausible, I guess, but that's not what actually happens in 99% cases of manipulation through FUD.

comment by MrMind · 2014-03-06T09:22:47.122Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That sounds like an interesting project!
Probably doomed to fail, but this doesn't mean it's not worth beginning...
First step first: do you know how to do FTA? Or do you know a good source for learning FTA?

comment by Ritalin · 2014-03-06T10:44:39.278Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Last term I was introduced to Environment Technologies at school, and part of the course covered them. We also did them in Projects. In the former, it was more "How can your factory blow up, and how do you prevent that from happening". In the latter, we did a project about a monorail, so it was more "How can your train derail and kill everyone, and how do you save it without the help of Superman?" It's all about coming up with ways for things to go horribly wrong, disaster scenarios, and figuring out how to avert them.

comment by MrMind · 2014-03-06T13:45:16.240Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sounds easy enough :p

In the "divide and conquer" spirit, let's just do the first part. How can a relationship blow up?
I already have some idea...

Did you use a special software back at school to draw FTs? Do you have any recommendation?

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-03-05T03:00:28.278Z · score: -3 (21 votes) · LW · GW

I believe it's called PUA.

comment by CellBioGuy · 2014-03-05T03:06:42.448Z · score: 3 (11 votes) · LW · GW

That has nothing to do with romance.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-03-05T09:35:36.259Z · score: -2 (14 votes) · LW · GW

It's what remains of romance when you remove the mystery (i.e. stop worshiping your own ignorance).

comment by Ritalin · 2014-03-05T12:33:02.119Z · score: 10 (14 votes) · LW · GW

As a long-time student of PUA, I call bullcrap on that one. PUA is, in general, highly manipulative and unethical. It also says nothing about:

  • how to maintain a good relationship
  • how to break-up in good terms or
  • how to recover from a break-up, especially a bad one.

Additionally, when your feelings of attraction run so high you can barely speak, when your misery is so great you cannot sleep, when your thoughts keep intrusively going back to your beloved, "removing the mystery and not worshipping your own ignorance" helps about as much as knowing medicine and physiology while drunk off your ass; it doesn't change the fact that you're drunk, it doesn't mitigate the alcohol's effects, and your judgement is perturbed enough that you might not even be able to use your knowledge.

That's why, for being drunk as well as for being in love, you take your precautions in advance.

comment by bogus · 2014-03-05T22:10:29.787Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Um, I'll have to call BS on all of these points. First of all, whether "PUA is, in general, highly manipulative and unethical" is simply not a meaningful question. However, many people find PUA to be extremely beneficial, quite independently of any such manipulation - and one key reason for this is that PUA does address these issues quite effectively, specifically through 'inner game', i.e. romance-oriented mindhacks.

For instance, if you are highly attracted to someone, a PUA might encourage you to meditate on how known biases such as the affect heuristic and the halo effect might influence your perception of the person you are attracted to. While this may not directly affect your attraction to that person, it will nonetheless allow you to behave more rationally and improve your overall outlook in romantic matters.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-03-05T22:39:38.467Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

if you are highly attracted to someone, a PUA might encourage you to meditate on how known biases such as the affect heuristic and the halo effect might influence your perception of the person you are attracted to. While this may not directly affect your attraction to that person, it will nonetheless allow you to behave more rationally and improve your overall outlook in romantic matters.

I've already done that, and that's not PUA, that's rationalism. Also, thinking rationally doesn't attenuate the feelings one bit, it just makes you better at achieving what you want to do in the moment.

comment by bogus · 2014-03-06T00:26:27.223Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I've already done that, and that's not PUA, that's rationalism.

Says who? You seem to be artificially restricting 'PUA' in that "only the bad parts count". But that's reference class tennis - it doesn't help us address the original question.

Interestingly, even if you object to using the term "PUA" for broadly acceptable practices (and this might be quite sensible on historical grounds), that hardly prevents groups - such as the Reddit group /r/letsgetlaid (caution: possibly NSFW) [1] - from drawing on the seduction community's knowledge about human interaction as a way of improving one's romantic success, while holding to strict ethical standards.

[1] It's quite early to say whether this particular approach will be successful. One reason for skepticism is that past attempts along the same lines (e.g. the 'be suave' community) have tended to devolve into repeating meaningless or wrong-headed truisms. Nonetheless, I view this effort as more likely to be helpful, partly because the ethic of "sex positivity" has improved the 'political' climate around what used to be quite uncomfortable ideas.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-03-06T00:45:24.394Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Says who? You seem to be artificially restricting 'PUA' in that "only the bad parts count". But that's reference class tennis - it doesn't help us address the original question.

Let me rephrase that; "That's simply the application of the universal rationalist principles of maintaining an awareness of one's own biases and compensating for them, it does not include any special insights or techniques, and would be equally relevant in any situation where your feelings might get the better of you." Just like "keep your distance from an enemy and wait at for opportune time to strike" is general strategic advice, not martial arts, and "don't leave stuff on the fire without observation" is basic safety rather than a cooking technique.

drawing on the seduction community's knowledge about human interaction as a way of improving one's romantic success, while holding to strict ethical standards

That sounds like something I'd love to see.

comment by bogus · 2014-03-06T00:56:52.506Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

That's simply the application of the universal rationalist principles of maintaining an awareness of one's own biases and compensating for them...

Um, many things appear 'simple' and 'obvious' in hindsight, but this does not make them any less helpful. If for nothing else, the PUA community deserves credit for actively experimenting with this idea and reporting positive results, thus raising it to our attention as something that's potentially useful.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-03-06T22:49:11.402Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe if you're talking about the general public, but no Lesswronger worth his salt is going to forget about these essential biases when attempting to compensate for how being in love may affect their judgement.

Rather, the point is to come up with principles and policies to follow, to compensate for those biases, knowing that, while they are high on love, they will not think or care to do so on their own. Mental preparation, "being set", is essential for avoiding mistakes while in mind-altered states.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-03-05T14:46:34.613Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

PUA techniques are unabashed realpolitik. It's horrible between nation states, and horrible between individuals.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-03-05T16:47:52.212Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah but States are non-personal entities that don't care.

comment by bogus · 2014-03-07T22:08:53.641Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, one problem with 'realpolitik' theories in international politics is that they assume that states do care, specifically about their safety from outside coercion. This is quite strange when you think about it. Even when an inpersonal institution appears to 'care' about something, say a business caring about profit, this is typically a result of well-defined incentive structures, such as residual claimants controlling the business. But there is no equivalent for states (except for strong monarchies, dictatorships or oligarchies - or neocameralist/formalist polities), so how is this realpolitik thing supposed to work? Maybe it could work like PUA after all - evolutionary dynamics in the course of history have led states to pick up lots of adaptations that improve their security, and they execute on these adaptations even if they aren't security maximizers?

comment by Ritalin · 2014-03-09T08:20:18.252Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's very dangerous to play at evolutionary psychology when one isn't from the field. I'd abstain.

comment by iarwain1 · 2014-03-07T20:58:14.099Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I just discovered libgen.org, but I don't know anything about it. Is it legal? Looks like I can download full-text copies of copyrighted books, so I don't see how it could be legal.

comment by gwern · 2014-03-07T23:29:44.906Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Totally illegal. Damn useful though.

comment by chaosmage · 2014-03-06T09:00:12.813Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

One area of my life I'd like to optimize is my cleaning. What I have is habits I picked up from others, what I want is knowledge of which tasks have which effects, so I can focus on what makes sense and leave out steps that are just a waste of time.

Anybody have a good source for that?

I'm aware that a good solution would be to hand everything over to a cleaning person. But if I do that, I'd still want to know what exactly I want to pay for.

comment by Brillyant · 2014-03-06T17:43:13.257Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

A (perhaps obvious) tactic that has worked for me:

Clean one thing per day - Dust an end table, wipe off the TV screen, vaccuum the hallway. Tasks that take 30 seconds to 5 minutes to complete help curb the temptation to procrastinate. Plus, cleaning can be infectous—dusting one end table can turn into two; vacuuming a hallway can lead to vacuuming a whole floor of your home, etc. (Note: I've found the " Just One Thing A Day Method" to be helpful in cleaning my house, changing my diet to be more healthy, getting rid of clutter over time, adding productive habits at work, etc.)

The effect I've observed is that my house stays clean—my roommate even says I'm "too clean"—but I feel as if I'm devoting very little time to "house cleaning".

One thing worth considering in your search is how different peoples' definition of "clean" is. Their is a wide spectrum in preferences, and I'd imagine that matters a great deal based on what you are after.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-11T10:11:42.797Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Organizing is investment cleaning. It takes a lot more time in the beginning (it will even look WORSE mid-project), but once you have a place for everything it is SO much quicker and easier to put everything in its place. If your area isn't organized, then you have to think about each think you pick up or clean. Where does this go? Where should I put it? Once you've organized, cleaning is a simple process of putting things back where they belong.

Some heuristics: Things you use frequently should be easy to get to, and easy to put away. For example put your most frequent coat on a hook, not hanger. You want to have shelf space and or a canvas box that is currently empty, to use for future miscellaneous items. Don't be hesitant to just get rid of things.

Re: Picking Up- The number one most important thing to take care of is trash/garbage. Pick it up, put it in a bag, take it out. Do not let it accumulate. This leads to smells and contributes most to a feeling of "grossness". Kitty litter also falls under this category. Number two thing to pick up is clothes. They go in a hamper. For people on this site, number three is probably books. Clothes and books both have the quality of being large, often strewn about, and easy to pick up.

comment by Metus · 2014-03-06T15:45:04.911Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is a point to be made more generally for personal hygiene, cooking, actually anything that we all have to do regularly but isn't regularly taught in books and schools.

comment by chaosmage · 2014-03-06T16:16:20.054Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Both for personal hygiene and for cooking, the web has excellent scientifically literate resources, so this is really specifically about cleaning apartments.

comment by Metus · 2014-03-06T16:51:04.945Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Really? I never found articles detailing the correct way to cut vegetables in a time-saving manner, how to sharpen knifes that they last longer, how to shower in the quickest yet still clean manner ...

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-03-05T11:51:24.584Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

In the previous Open Thread NancyLebovitz posted an article about the living-Biblically-for-one-year guy deciding to try living one year rationally. Alicorn noticed that the article was from 2008, so the project was probably cancelled.

However, I was thinking... if someone tried to do this, what would be the best way to do it. (It's easy to imagine wrong ways: Hollywood rationality, etc.) We can assume that the person trying this experiment is not among the most rational people in the world, because they would already be too busy optimizing the universe, and wouldn't have a year of time to spend on such experiment. Also, they would probably already be living pretty rationally, so there would be no big change in their life, and therefore not an interesting report. (Although the participation in the experiment might create some extra incentive to behave rationally more consistently.) On the other hand, too irrational person would not be able to perform the task successfully. So, let's assume that the experimental person is... maybe an average LW reader, or someone generally LW-compatible who haven't found the website yet. (This also assumes that the LW model of rationality is approximately correct. Well, without this assumption it doesn't make much sense to discuss the best strategy here.)

So... let's suppose we have a volunteer who says: "I will try living the next year as rationally as possible, of course within my limits, so give me an advice about how to do it best. (In exchange I promise to keep logs, diaries, and publish the whole story, which could create some popularity for LW and CFAR.)" What advice would we give them?

A good meta-advice would be to keep a feedback loop with other aspiring rationalists. Not just take some initial advice, go away, return after one year with the report and risk getting a "you completely misunderstood it" reaction. Instead they should keep in contact; the question is merely how frequent and how detailed would the optimum contact be, to avoid wasting too much time in web discussions. I could imagine: asking specific difficult questions whenever necessary, and writing a detailed report every month, with the plans for the following months, so people on LW could comment on the strategy. Of course even this decision could be consulted on LW.

Now this feels a bit like cheating. Are we trying to test what one person can achieve during a year of living rationally, or are we using a LW hive-mind to optimize the person? In other words, would the results of the experiment speak about the benefits of rationality on one person, or about benefits of having a LW hive-mind available? Uhm... maybe there is actually no difference there? I mean, it is rational to use the best tools available. Virtue of scholarship, optimizing our social environment, munchkin attitude, etc. For a munchkin, there is no such thing as "cheating"; there is only more or less winning. -- But the important question is what is the goal of this experiment. Is it optimizing the one person's life? Or is it describing a strategy that dozens of other people may follow? Because if too many people decide to follow it, the LW hive-mind may be unable to provide a quality advice to all of them. On the other hand, such an event might motivate the LW hive-mind to become stronger and invent more efficient ways of supporting the aspiring rationalists. -- Uhm... I guess some forms of cheating should be prohibited. For example, if a poor person volunteers for the project, and some people from LW will send them money, and then they would rationalize it as winning by being rational even if the person does nothing else smart. ("What? In their situation it was rational to volunteer for the rationality experiment and ask people for money. It was a strategy that successfully increased their utility, and rationality by definition is winning.") On the other hand, if the person asks LW members for an expert advice in a domain they didn't study, I think that is completely fair; that is what they could (and perhaps should) have done even without the experiment. So, some kinds of support feel okay, other kinds feel not. Maybe the proper question is: Imagine that after successfully publishing the report, the next day 1000 more people would want to try using the same strategy. Would we feel that this contributed to our goal of raising the sanity waterline?

I also think that this kind of experiment would be fun, which is probably the main reason why I describe it; but as a side effect, if successful, it could be a great marketing material. What do you think? Is this "try one year of living most rationally with the support of LW hive-mind" experiment a good idea? Is anyone interested in being a volunteer? Are enough people interested in supporting them? (If yes, maybe we could launch the project on April 1st, the Fools' Day, because it's about all of us being less foolish, isn't it?)

[pollid:642]

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-03-06T13:49:42.261Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is an excellent project, so excellent that I have to ask, why are we not (if indeed we are not) already doing this, all the time?

Weight-watcher groups are watching their weight all the time, not just meeting to talk about it. People meeting to help each other learn a foreign language are learning that language the rest of the time, at least, for as many hours a day as they find useful. University students make studying a full-time job (the ones that are serious). Rationality is supposed to be applicable to everything; every moment is an opportunity for practice.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-03-06T15:46:52.247Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You mentioned specific groups which try to reach a specific goal. That's great, on the level of individual goals. But we also need to go more meta. The foreign language group will not tell you to stop learning the language if your life situation changes so that the original purpose of learning the language is no longer valid; or if simply a better opportunity appears and it would be rational to move your limited resources from the language towards something else. Also, if you already haven't decided to study a specific language, the group will not find you and explore with you whether starting learning the language would be a good idea for you.

A rationalist group could help with this. We could already provide this support to each other; on meetups, on skype, on mailing lists. Some of us already use our good friends for this purpose; but the problem is that these friends are not always LW-style rationalists, so sometimes we only get their "cached thoughts" as an advice. Also, some people may use a psychologist; not necessarily as a source of rational advice, but as someone to listen and reflect on obvious irrationalities.

So, I think many of us are already using somewhat similar solutions, but either they were not consciously optimized, or they were optimized only for a partial goal.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2014-03-06T12:39:19.082Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Bad idea if you just go "live rationally", imo. I predict it'd end up either as mostly useless cargo-cult behavior by a sufficiently incompetent-and-unaware-of-it participant, going crazy and frustrated trying to apply not yet processed for daily human consumption raw heuristics and biases research to everyday living 24/7, or doing the general wise living thing that smart people with life experience often already do to the best of their ability but which you can't really impart in an instruction manual very well without having the "smart" and "life experience" parts covered.

Might be salvageable if you narrowed it down a bit. Live rationally to what end? Not having a clear idea of what my goals are is the first problem that comes to my mind when looking at this. I don't see why "my goals are doing exactly what I already do day in, day out, so I've already been living rationally all this time, thank you very much" would necessarily be incoherent for example. So maybe go for success for society-wide measuring sticks, like impressive performace in standardised education and good income? A lot of people are doing that, but I'm not seeing terribly much sentiment here for people trying to maximize their earning potential and professional placement as the end goal in life, though some do consider it instumentally.

So maybe say the goal is to live the good life. Only it seems that the good life consists of goals that are often not quite accessible to the conscious mind and methods to search pursue them that can be quite elaborate and often need to be improvised on the spot.

Not to be all bleak and obscurantist though, there is the Wissner-Gross entropy thing, which is a quite interesting idea for an universal goal heuristic, something like "maneuver to maximize your decision space". Also pretty squarely in the not yet ready for human consumption, will drive you crazy if you try to naively apply it 24/7 bin. And if you could actually codify how well someone's satisfying a goal like that you'd probably be getting a PhD and a research job at Google, not running a forum challenge.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-03-06T15:31:00.176Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The participant could be observed by the LW community; something like a reality show. The costs of observation would have to be weighted, but I imagine the volunteer would provide:

A short log every day. Such as: "Learned 30 new words with Anki. Met with a friend and discussed our plans; seems interested, but we didn't agree on anything specific. Exercise. Wrote two pages of my thesis, the last one needs a rewrite. Spent 3 hours on internet." Not too detailed, not to waste too much time, but detailed enough to provide an idea about progress. (The log would be outside of LW, to reduce the volunteer's temptation to procrastinate here.)

A plan every week: What do I want to achieve; what needs to be done. Something like a GTD plan with "next actions". What could go wrong, and how will I react. What do I want to avoid, and how. -- At the end of the week: A summary, what happened as expected, what was different, what lessons can be taken. -- The LW hive mind would discuss this, and the volunteer can decide to follow their suggestions.

Every month: A comment-sized report in LW Group Rationality Diary; for the same reason other people write there: to encourage each other.

going crazy and frustrated trying to apply not yet processed for daily human consumption raw heuristics and biases research to everyday living 24/7

In this case I would recommend giving feedback: "I'm trying to do this, and it drives me crazy. Any advice? I spent thinking five minutes about it, and here are my ideas: X, Y, Z."

or doing the general wise living thing that smart people with life experience often already do to the best of their ability

This could probably be solved by making a prediction at the beginning of the project. The volunteer would list the changes in the previous years, successes and failures, and interpolate: "Using my previous years as an outside view, I predict that if I didn't participate in this experiment, I would probably do A, B, C." At the end of the project, the actual outcomes can be compared with the prediction.

Live rationally to what end? Not having a clear idea of what my goals are is the first problem that comes to my mind when looking at this.

Sure. The goals would be stated by the volunteer, either from the beginning, or at least at the end of the first month.

I don't see why "my goals are doing exactly what I already do day in, day out, so I've already been living rationally all this time, thank you very much" would necessarily be incoherent for example.

It's perfectly okay. It just does not make sense to participate in the experiment for this specific person. The experiment is meant for people who are not in this situation.

Instead of trying to do the perfect thing immediately, I would recommend continuous improvement. Find the most painful problems, and fix them first. Find the obvious mistakes, and do better (not best, just better). Progress towards your current goals, but when you realize they were mistaken, improve them. If you think you couldn't do a big change, start with doing small changes; and once in a while reconsider your beliefs about the big change. The goal is not to be perfect, but to keep improving.

If at the end you are significantly better than a prediction based on your past, that's a success. If as a side effect we get better experimental data, or if you can rewrite and publish your logs as an e-book to make extra money and do an advertisement for CFAR, that's even better. If you inspire dozen other people, and if most of them also become significantly better than the predictions based on their pasts; and if the improvement is still there even after the end of experiments; that would be completely awesome.

The decision of what is "better" is of course individual, but I hope there would be strong correlation. (On the other hand, I would expect different opinions on what is "best".)

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-06T09:36:27.675Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think most Christians would say that Jabocs completely misunderstood Christianity.

I think that experiments like this which take ideas very seriously are good because they give us an additional perspective of what rationality happens to be.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-03-06T11:32:36.245Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think most Christians would say that Jabocs completely misunderstood Christianity.

Jacobs' Biblical behavior : Christianity = Hollywood rationality : LW rationality

He cheated by approximating the outside behavior, while preserving his inside behavior (thoughts and beliefs) as much as possible. When the year was over, he probably reverted back to normal. That kind of experiment is only good for examining a strawman. And also... for publicity.

I believe that in this community it is completely obvious that we are not trying to perform the Hollywood rationality. However, there is still a risk that our understanding is imperfect, and taking ideas seriously will expose the imperfections. For example, we may publicly profess that emotions are important, and yet our "rational" plans may fail to consider them. But this is where we need to use our ability to go meta and think: "okay, this plan sounded completely reasonable, but now that I am doing it for two months, I feel somehow unhappy and unmotivated", so we try to update the plan, instead of merely (a) blindly following it, or (b) giving up completely.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-06T11:57:34.541Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

One of the best example that I have for a rational plan is my attempt to gain weight by adding 800 kcal of maltodextrose to my daily tea consumption. It made so much sense.

On the other hand it didn't work and it took me 2 months to admit that my scale showed still the same weight. The planes didn't land.

However, there is still a risk that our understanding is imperfect, and taking ideas seriously will expose the imperfections.

I think it's pretty certain that our understanding isn't 100% perfect. We can run controlled trials to update our understanding of rationality and as far as I understand CFAR wants to does go that way.

Taking ideas overseriously is another way to see imperfections and gather knowledge. I think that when one tries to gather knowledge about a domain it's useful to use many different approaches to gather knowledge.

comment by Fossegrimen · 2014-03-06T16:36:04.579Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Why were you trying to gain weight and is it still a goal?

I deliberately adjust my weight up or down by ~ 10kg fairly regularly and depending on your situation, I might be able to offer some ideas.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-06T16:45:57.565Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes I still have that goal. I'm 181 cm tall and at 56 kg with +-2 kg for the last 3 years. Probably also the last ten but only in the last 3 I had regular measurements.

comment by CAE_Jones · 2014-03-05T12:44:41.319Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm curious about the qualifications to embark on such an experiment, and what makes it different from what everyone who posts in the rationality diaries has already been doing. I mean, for all intents and purposes, I made an effort to live more LW Rationally after reading the sequences, but that's clearly not what we're aiming for, here. Also (as I whine about frequently), I'm "poor"/legally blind/living in bible-thumping rural America, but would prefer to improve locally rather than move to, say, the SF Bay area; does any of that disqualify me from volunteering for the experiment?

I do really like the sound of this, though, and I'm hoping something useful (or at minimum entertaining) comes of it.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-03-05T13:13:32.619Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't have a completely clear idea at this moment -- to be honest, I am not even sure if the whole thing is not completely insane -- but I imagine a very high commitment to the cause. For example, I am somewhat trying to live rationally, but I keep forgetting some useful things, or I break my rules all the time if I don't feel like following them, etc. And the idea is that as a volunteer, I would stop making various kinds of excuses, and would give other people more control over my life or express my objections as honestly as I could. For example if other people told me to quit my job and do something else, I would either do it, or would write an explanation of why I am not convinced that this is the rational thing to do. I would respond to all rationality advice (at least by saying "sorry, for some emotional reasons I don't completely understand, I can't do this"), instead of merely picking the parts that feel nice and silently ignoring the rest, and even forgetting those nice parts whenever it is convenient.

In other words, I would make an extraordinary effort to live rationally, the whole year. If some things are taboo to me, I would try to declare that in advance (of course I cannot predict everything), to make a difference between something that is unacceptable in long term, and a short-term desire to avoid some inconvenience. I would take risks, when told to, assuming that the given advice is good. Or I would make some clear limits, such as: the money I have now in my bank account I want to remain there untouched during the experiment, and I will not take any debt; but of the money I make during the experiment, you can tell me how to use it. -- Something like the guy who lived one year Biblically did: he also had some limits, e.g. didn't stone anyone, but otherwise he tried to follow the rules.

Your refusal to move to a different area, even if adviced to, does not disqualify you automatically. If this is your psychological constraint, it's good to be open about it. On the other hand, if such constraint would make the members of the hive-mind so disappointed that they refuse to provide you support within these limits, that could disqualify you. (Or they may just decide to use their limited resources on someone with less constraints.) But if we communicate this all in advance, we minimize the risk of disappointment during the experiment; everyone either agrees on the same rules, or does not participate. If the hive-mind knows about your constraints in advance, they have no right to complain later.

EDIT: After reading what I wrote... seems like I'm equating "living rationally" and "obeying the LW hive-mind", which technically are two different things. The idea behind this is that there is only one rationality, there is no "my rationality" and "your rationality" (there may be different values, though). I usually behave irrationally when I am under control of my impulses, because at that moment, they are all I see. Replacing these impulses with outside control should improve things. And the communication would make my thoughts more explicit, which also should help.

EDIT2: I believe it will be entertaining. It will be like a reality show (which is something humans love to watch, even if they are ashamed to admit it), only instead of stupid people doing pointless things there will be smart people doing potentially awesome things. Humans love stories. Humans love being a part of story.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-06T09:04:24.974Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Something like the guy who lived one year Biblically did: he also had some limits, e.g. didn't stone anyone, but otherwise he tried to follow the rules.

He didn't stone anybody to death but he still did through some pebble at other people to at least sort of follow the guideline.

comment by Squark · 2014-03-04T20:05:54.748Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

How to delete pages in the wiki? This looks like spam: http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Young_Rap_God_Kills_Eminem_Remix_By_Token

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-03-09T19:43:16.458Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Translating the article Entropy, and Short Codes, there is a part where Eliezer writes about how words for categories are created, and (if I understand that correctly) the most frequently used categories are likely to get the shortest words.

The specific examples are: "furniture", "chair", "recliner". The shortest one is "chair", because that one is most frequently used in speech. Word "recliner" is too specific, it refers to a rare set of objects, so people will use it rarely. On the other hand, "furniture" is too general; people will usually want to be more specific than that, so people will use this word also rarely.

Unfortunately, this example does not work completely well in Slovak translation. I am curious about other languages. Please give me examples, and also the number of syllables (which is sometimes not completely obvious for those who don't speak the language). Use the same order of words (from most general to most narrow) as in the English example. Here are the data I already have:

English: furniture (3), chair (1), recliner (3)

Slovak: nábytok (3), stolička (3), sklápacie kreslo (5)

comment by primality · 2014-03-11T10:29:27.569Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Danish: møbel (2), stol (1), lænestol (3)

Furniture is countable in Danish, so the word I wrote means "piece of furniture".

It's actually really weird that furniture is uncountable in English. Most other uncountable nouns make sense - you can't really count how many milks you have. I wonder how it came to be that something so tangible is uncountable in English?

comment by Lumifer · 2014-03-11T16:09:04.823Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's not unusual for category nouns to be uncountable precisely because they are category nouns. For example, "clothing", "food", "cutlery", etc.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2014-03-11T15:55:59.779Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's probably uncountable in English because the original meaning was the "act of furnishing."

and yet the closely related word "furnishings" is always plural.

comment by Squark · 2014-03-09T21:06:35.975Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Hebrew: רהיט s(2), כסא s(2), כורסה s(2 - closer to "armchair")

Russian: мебель (2), стул (1), кресло (2 - closer to "armchair")

Notes:

  • Modern Hebrew was strongly affected by its artificial revival due to Eliezer Ben-Yehuda so it might violate "evolutionary" laws.

  • The Hebrew word for "furniture" I wrote is singular i.e. corresponds to "a piece of furniture" in English. Plural is רהיטים which has 3 syllables.

  • In both languages I don't know a word for "recliner" as opposed to "armchair". It is probably possible to use some 2 word combination like in Slovak.

comment by NoSuchPlace · 2014-03-10T22:50:55.381Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

German: Möbel (2) Stuhl (1) Liege (2)

comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-03-10T14:37:59.795Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Spanish: mobiliario (4), silla (2), silla reclinable (6)

comment by DaFranker · 2014-03-04T15:24:28.975Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Quantum Mechanics as Classical Physics, by Charles Sebens. It's described as yet another new QM interpretation, firmly many-worlds and no collapse, with no gooey "the wave function is real" and some sort of effort, if I read correctly, to put back the wave-function in its place as a description rather than a mysterious fundamental essence. Not in quite those exact words, but that does seem to be the author's attitude IMO.

Sounds interesting and very much in line with LW-style reductionist thinking, and agrees a bit too much with my own worldviews and preconceptions. Which is why I'm very much craving a harsh batch of criticism and analysis on this from someone who can actually read and understand the thing, unlike me. If anyone knows where I could find such, or would be kind enough to the world at large to produce one, that'd be appreciated.

comment by shminux · 2014-03-04T17:12:08.300Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

My ad hominem argument of the day: the author is in the philosophy department... figures...

comment by DaFranker · 2014-03-14T13:03:07.886Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I've retracted my (epistemically unhealthy) previous responses about great physics discoveries. I'd say "oops" as per the LW tradition, but when I look back on what I wrote all I see is a rather shameful display of cognitive dissonance. There's no mere "oops" there, but plain old full-blown contrarian, academic-hipster biases. Sorry.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-03-11T15:17:24.345Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Peter Spirtes is in a philosophy department too.


"It's too bad all the people who know how to do philosophy are too busy driving taxicabs or cutting hair."

comment by shminux · 2014-03-11T18:02:36.380Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The version I heard was about professional sports players and coaches.

comment by DaFranker · 2014-03-04T20:59:34.851Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

On the other hand, my confidence that the ultimately correct and most useful Next Great Discovery (e.g. any method to control gravity) will not come from a physics department is above 50%.

Philosophy simply happens to be one of the more likely departments where it might come from, though still quite a ways behind "unaffiliated" and "engineering".

comment by The_Duck · 2014-03-05T01:24:35.512Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

my confidence that the ultimately correct and most useful Next Great Discovery (e.g. any method to control gravity) will not come from a physics department is above 50%.

If you care to expand on this, I'm curious to hear your reasoning.

comment by shminux · 2014-03-04T21:27:40.074Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe not from a Physics department, but from a research lab of IBM or similar. Do you have any examples from the reference class of Great Discoveries in Physics? If so, what fraction of them did not come from trained physicists?

comment by NoSuchPlace · 2014-03-04T22:05:31.606Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The obvious example example of a (/several) great discovery(s) in physics by someone outside of a physics department is Einstein.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2014-03-05T00:52:08.277Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Grad students count as people in physics departments.

comment by NoSuchPlace · 2014-03-05T01:20:25.756Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

From my reading of Wikipedia:

Einstein was working at the patent office in 1905 while also working on his phd. He published his first annus mirabilis paper in March, was awarded his phd is April and published the remaining papers in May, June and September. He didn't take a position as a lecturer until 1908. This means Einstein was outside of physics while publishing his papers on Brownian motion, Special Relativity and Mass-Energy equivalence. Or did I miss something?

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2014-03-05T03:04:48.219Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

My understanding is that this was a normal career path at the time and the fact that he was not paid by the university after getting his degree is no more evidence of him being outside the physics department than his not being paid by the university before completing it.


Added: But it is relevant that this isn't normal today.

comment by DaFranker · 2014-03-05T12:59:29.899Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

My best take on the thing is that, historically, most great physics discoveries were made by generalist, wide-branching natural philosophers. Granted, "natural philosophy" is arguably the direct ancestor of physics from which spawned the bastards of "chemistry" and "biology", but even regardless, the key point is that they were generalists and that, if we were going to solve the current problem simply by throwing more specialized physicists and gamma ray guns at it, this is not the evidence I'd expect to see.

Given historical base rates of generalists vs specialists in physics, and the ratio of Great Discoveries made by the former rather than the latter, it feels as if generalists have a net advantage in "consolidating" recent research into a Great Discovery.

I do have to agree, though, that all of them came from physicists, if not necessarily formally trained, although in most cases they were. Good knowledge of physics is necessary, that I won't argue. But what I'll point out is that I've personally met many more game developers and programmers with a much better grasp of (basic) physics (i.e. first volume of Feynman's Lectures) than college physics department members, on a purely absolute count. It doesn't seem that far-fetched, to me, to assume there's a comparable difference in base rates of people within and outside physics departments with a solid enough grasp of physics for the Next Great Discovery, whatever that threshold may be (and obviously, the lower the actual threshold, the more likely it is that it will come from outside Physics Departments).

comment by shminux · 2014-03-05T16:30:28.747Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I am hard pressed to think of any significant discovery in the last 100 years or so which was not made by specialists (granted, often with a wide view of things). I'm sure there are some, but likely only a tiny fraction. If you look through the list of Nobel laureates in Physics, Chemistry and Biology, do you find any "generalists" there? Or, assuming the Nobel committee is biased toward the establishment, inspired by "generalists"?

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-03-11T15:49:26.975Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

To expand on shminux's point about what has happened in the last 100 years that's different: There's a serious lack of low-hanging fruit. Ideas are more complicated and the simple ideas that a generalist has any chance to find have to a large extent already been discovered. Note also that in fact it is well before 100 years ago that this trend already started. Darwin, Maxwell, Faraday and many other 19th century researchers were already specialists by most notions of the term. So really this trend has been going on for almost 200 years.

comment by DaFranker · 2014-03-04T15:25:09.820Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Meanwhile, I'd also pounce on the "Ontological Alternatives" chapter there to ask a slightly unrelated question: Regarding the "fourth option" there, has anyone ever tried to analyze a world ontology where, unlike here, particles can belong to multiple different worlds according to some kind of rule or per-particle basis? e.g. Instead of having a particle belong to World # 872 as an elementary property, which lets it only interact with other W-872 particles, it would have a set of "keys" where any other particle that also has at least one of those keys can be interacted with, while that other particle might have a slightly different keyset and thus be able to interact with a third particle "located" right next to the first one (insofar as position of two non-interacting particles is relevant to the second one in question)?

I realize I'm throwing ideas around while having no idea at all what I'm talking about, but at the same time from where I'm sitting it feels like all the "sides" of the QM interpretation debates always share a humongous bag of uncontested assumptions. Namely, assumptions about pesky details like "position" being a necessary, elemental and fundamental property of particles.

comment by Squark · 2014-03-04T20:22:04.777Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't read Sebens' article and my a priori estimate of its value is very low. Maybe I'll take a look at it later.

Regarding what you write about particles. Particles are not fundamental entities in modern physics: quantum fields are (or quantum string fields, whatever the latter are). A state of matter can only be described as a collection of particles in certain limits and approximations. The position of a particle is especially ill defined because of Compton wavelength non-locality in quantum relativity.

Also thinking of QM worlds as "keys" is not a good idea. The wavefunction can only be decomposed into "worlds" as a macroscopic approximation, there are no "worlds" on the fundamental level.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-03-04T16:10:00.344Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It strikes me as a potentially fruitful SF novel idea.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-04T15:15:18.936Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Lately I've been wondering about telescope resolving power, and physical limits on the size of features we can see at interstellar distances.

I know about the diffraction limit, which (by my quick and dirty math) seems to imply a telescope on the order of a kilometer in size could resolve objects several meters across, but I imagine it's actually more complicated than that. Does anyone know a good source of information on the topic?

comment by rocurley · 2014-03-04T17:12:59.991Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Not sure I've got a good source for you, but if you use the Rayleigh criterion you get that you can just about make out earth-sized objects using visible light at 4 ly. You could use much higher energy photons (better resolution from lower wavelength), but this gives you other problems. Anything beyond visible light won't make it through the atmosphere (1 km is a BIG thing to put into space), and x and gamma rays are really hard to build optics for.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-03-10T12:08:35.615Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, if you want to build a space telescope 1km in diameter, you'd better build it out of local materials.

comment by spxtr · 2014-03-05T05:43:34.831Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Any introduction to astronomy textbook will help you out. I used BOB.

Instead of having huge individual telescopes which run into issues {How do you keep the mirror clean? What shape do you make it? How do you deal with the atmosphere (Adaptive optics are hard enough for small telescopes)? Constructing a telescope this large in space would be fantastically difficult and expensive.}, you can do interferometry. The largest telescopes these days run into the tens of meters, see E-ELT.

comment by witzvo · 2014-03-09T22:39:14.791Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

A new study in mice (popular article) establishes that elevated levels of fatty tissue cause cognitive deficits in mice with potential significance for humans suffering from obesity or diabetes. They hypothesize that the mechanism of action involves the inflammatory cytokine interleukin 1 beta. Interventions that restored cognitive function included exercise, liposuction, and intra-hippocampal delivery of IL1 receptor antagonist (IL1ra).

comment by moridinamael · 2014-03-07T14:47:42.651Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I have created an anonymous feedback form for myself, totally ripping off Luke's in both concept and style:

Here is the link to the form.

While I don't have the stature, karma, popularity, or cohesive base of posts that Luke (or gwern) has, what I do have is a desire to improve and a feeling that I need more forms of feedback than a metaphorical mirror.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-06T12:37:56.375Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The recent events in the Ukraine seem important. Till now I haven't come across a good article that describes the background of the event in detail. Can anyone provide me a good link?

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-03-06T14:21:37.200Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

It is difficult to get good info on the English-speaking internet. I have been following the Russian-speaking Internet + I have personal contacts (I was born in the Crimea, and raised in Odessa). I am happy to answer questions.


edit: the outside view of this reminds me of the European middle ages. Much of European politics was dominated by the conflict between France (a unified autocratic state), and the Holy Roman Empire (a highly decentralized "superstate" but dominant in central Europe). France was often able to exploit the decentralization of the HRE, and the lack of effective political power of the Hapsburg emperor to get its way, even though a unified HRE would easily defeat it. In fact, one of the stated foreign policy goals of France was to keep the HRE divided, which was accomplished by siding with individual german princes against the Hapsburg emperor (and doing scandalous things like allying with the Ottoman empire, which was a muslim state).

The EU is a kind of modern, liberal HRE, and is having the same difficulties solving coordination problems.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-06T15:29:06.658Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

A who's who chart with the power players would be a good start.

But it's hard to ask the right questions without having a background. I would have never asked whether the Egyptian military has a problem with Mubarak following Washington consensus policies. Yet it's something very important for understanding why they allowed the mob to remove Mubarak from power. It's also the kind of thing that you don't get to read in Western mainstream media.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-03-08T17:17:18.063Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

By the way, I am not avoiding this question, I simply have no useful information to give you.

The non-obvious part is the Ukrainian government. I can say that Russia is not entirely incorrect when it claims there are radical elements there, but I do not think these elements form anywhere near the dominant majority (a similar situation with iffy radical elements often happens in parlamentary democracies).

The issue also is that Russia uses "fascist" as a rather flexible label. For example, the "Nashi" ("Ours") youth group:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nashi_(youth_movement%29 http://www.nashi.su/

is called an "anti-fascist" youth organization, but is precisely the opposite (heavy shades of Hitler youth).

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-08T23:11:05.247Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Those two pieces are both useful information. On their own not enough but they help with building the full picture. Knowing things is hard.

comment by XiXiDu · 2014-03-06T15:07:09.955Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I have been following the Russian-speaking Internet + I have personal contacts (I was born in the Crimea, and raised in Odessa). I am happy to answer questions.

What are the top reasons people provide when asked why they want to join the EU or the Russian Federation?

How strong is the correlation between the language people speak and their desire to either strengthen the ties with Russia or the EU?

Do people living in the Crimea mostly listen to Russian media or also Ukrainian and western media?

Did at any point, since the crisis started, Russian people in the Crimea seriously feared for their lives/safety?

How is the relation between Russian people in the Crimea and Crimean Tatars?

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-03-06T17:45:35.974Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

What are the top reasons people provide when asked why they want to join the EU or the Russian Federation?

Because Ukraine is fairly large, it has complicated demographics (both ethnically and in terms of opinion).

The educated middle class in Ukraine understands that Ukraine inherited weak (in the sense of huge corruption drag on everything) Soviet institutions, feels a sense of shame because of this, and wants to modernize institutions using western Europe (and e.g. Poland) as an example to follow. I think the main push to join EU is this (obviously people also want to do well economically, but I think pride/shame has a lot to do with this as well). I think Russo-sphere is a profoundly dysfunctional and "third world" place in many respects. For example, here is a (russian-speaking, but pictures speak for themselves) url showing what some hospitals look like in Russia (w/ some comparison to how the elite live): http://lj-editors.livejournal.com/393747.html

The intelligentsia (both in Ukraine and Russia) is ashamed and deeply critical of Putin. Many Russian members of intelligentsia are ashamed to be Russian right now. There are anti-war protesters in Russia that are getting jailed.

It is also true that there is a segment of the population in Ukraine that does not like Russians (and Jews!), and some of these folks are fairly radical, and further some of these folks were involved in the February revolution. Some of these folks view http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stepan_Bandera as a folk hero, although he has a negative status in Russia as a Nazi collaborator (the worst thing you could be in Russia). "Banderan" is a typical slur/catchall used against radical nationalist Ukrainians. These folks have motivations that are obvious.

It is also true that there are a lot of Russians/Russian speaking people living in the Ukraine, and when Ukraine obtained independence it started making moves that made this group unhappy (e.g. mandating Ukrainian for official use, and for education). There is a (racist) perception among some Russians that the Ukrainian language is a kind of "village dialect" of Russian, and not a real language (which is of course preposterous). Some of these folks worry about that an independent, Europe-oriented Ukraine will suppress Russian language and culture, and for this reason may prefer a more Russia-oriented stance.

Further, some (generally older) folks (Russian or not) share Putin's view that the breakup of USSR diminished Russia's place in the world, and for this reason prefer a stronger "USSR sphere" which would include Ukraine staying in Russia's sphere.


How strong is the correlation between the language people speak and their desire to either strengthen the ties with Russia or the EU?

I hope the above answered some of this. I think Putin's invasion showed his true colors, and radicalized Ukrainians against Putin's Russia. For example, in Donetsk (eastern "russian" part of Ukraine), the pro-Ukraine demonstrations are now vastly larger than anti-Ukraine. Odessa had very large pro-Ukraine demonstrations (some say largest in Odessa history).


Do people living in the Crimea mostly listen to Russian media or also Ukrainian and western media?

I do not have the information to answer this. I know independent Russian-speaking news sites are under continuous DDOS attack from Russia (but generally are handling it well, and are staying up). There is a huge activity of pro-kremlin 50-centers ("Kremlinbots" as they are called) on all major news media sites with comments.

The internet (especially social media) is making it far easier to get reasonable news quickly, despite disruption attempts from Russia.


Did at any point, since the crisis started, Russian people in the Crimea seriously feared for their lives/safety?

I would find troops with guns milling around and military tech scary. The point of the invasion is to pass a referendum in Crimea to join Russia under the barrel of a gun. I do not think the Crimeans were genuinely worried about the Russian spetsnaz, e.g. opening fire on them. However, military units in the Crimea who are loyal to Kiev are under tremendous pressure/siege to surrender. Some Ukrainian personnel were wounded with non-lethal stuff the Russians are using (e.g. flash grenades).


How is the relation between Russian people in the Crimea and Crimean Tatars?

What follows is conventional history (e.g. don't need me for this, but providing as a reference):

There is a lot of bad blood between Crimean tatars and russians for historical reasons. The tatars are a turkish people that migrated with the mongols and were a part of the Horde (original connotation of "Yurt"/"Orda", meaning a nomadic tent) that conquered Rus (what we call "mongols", russians call "mongol-tatars".) When the original Horde fell apart, the Crimean tatars had a Khanate that included Crimea and most of southern Ukraine, and were allied with the Ottomans. Tatars were a heavily oppressed minority during Tsarist Russian days, and were relocated from the Crimea to central Asia by Stalin around the time of the second war due to the same worries that led to japanese-american internment.

Despite the bad blood, the sides mostly kept to themselves, and the situation resembled typical ethnic tensions found in many other places (e.g. nowhere close to genocide).

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-07T12:53:17.764Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The educated middle class in Ukraine

What people count into the middle class in Ukraine? How many percent of the population would you count into that class?

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-03-07T13:05:27.469Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ukraine's standard of living is very low, so it is difficult to compare directly with a middle class in a Western country. But by "educated middle class" I mean, roughly, college graduates, white collar workers, engineers, teachers (many quite poor by our standards!) The kinds of people that make a living in a way a middle class person does, and that have received a certain basic education level.

How many percent of the population would you count into that class?

I am not sure. I think at most half of the population is middle class, and some proportion of this is educated. Maybe 10-20% of the overall population? This is me shooting from the hip.

comment by XiXiDu · 2014-03-06T18:03:35.989Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks! Could you also comment on the following points published by the U.S. Department of State: President Putin's Fiction: 10 False Claims About Ukraine. Who is less wrong about those 10 claims, Putin or the U.S. Department of State?

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-03-06T18:22:31.331Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Will add to this post as I collect my thoughts:


Putin is farcically lying about 1. We can even identify specific units sent (for example the "East" battallion sent to Dzhankoy). Not even mentioning, e.g. russian license plates on military tech. Putin's claim that the troops wear uniforms "that you can buy in any store" are widely ridiculed in the Russosphere. The troops in the Crimea are Russian infantry Spetsnaz.

2: there might be some scope for Russian troop presence, but I did not read the agreement in detail. Not willing to pass judgement yet.

4: legitimacy is a matter of interpretation, so a tie.

Russian state TV is farcically lying about 5 (e.g. they are showing footage of what is supposed to be the Ukrainian/Russian border with a string of refugees, but is in reality the Ukrainian/Polish border identifiable by landmarks, with regular car traffic).

8: it is difficult to say because of the possibility of "black ops." I have heard an account from a Crimean Rabbi that there was a swastika graffiti that appeared the day after Russian troops arrived (and this sort of thing never happened before).

9: I don't know what Putin is trying to say here.

10: there is some radical influence in the Rada, but I do not think the radicals form anywhere near a dominant majority.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2014-05-30T21:25:15.642Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I have been following the Russian-speaking Internet + I have personal contacts (I was born in the Crimea, and raised in Odessa). I am happy to answer questions.

My girlfriend was born in Odessa, has family there, all pure-blood Ashkenazi. I've heard that Russian control of Ukraine would be better for Ukrainian Jews. It's not a precise claim, but do you think it's accurate?

comment by private_messaging · 2014-06-16T06:41:00.346Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:W7a815ys0XwJ:usa.mfa.gov.ua/en/press-center/news/24185-mi-uvichnimo-pamjaty-gerojiv-ochistivshi-nashu-zemlyu-vid-nechistiarsenij-jacenyuk-u-spivchutti-ridnim-i-blizykim-zagiblih-vojiniv-u-lugansyku+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk

before the cache updates, quote:

“They lost their lives because they defended men and women, children and the elderly who found themselves in a situation facing a threat to be killed by invaders and sponsored by them subhumans. First, we will commemorate the heroes by wiping out those who killed them and then by cleaning our land from the evil”

That's the prime minister. From Ukrainian embassy website. Those who speak Russian don't have to wait for such things to be translated to English.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-05-31T18:37:46.791Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ukrainians are quite anti-semitic, but so are russians. Probably given this, an autocratic asshole with an interest in appearing photogenic would seem like a better deal. Historically persecuted minorities do worse under weakened centralization.

Though if your choices are such that Putin is a better idea, then it seems to me that the correct response for an Odessan jew is to move to Brooklyn (?).

comment by Lumifer · 2014-05-30T23:42:52.285Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've heard that Russian control of Ukraine would be better for Ukrainian Jews.

Given this, doesn't look likely.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-05-31T05:04:50.460Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Well Masha Gessen is not necessarily the most trustworthy source on these matters.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-09T20:01:38.910Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

After reading a bit, I got a decent question: Who does Victor Pinchuk happen to be in your opinion?

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-03-11T15:13:34.148Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is a good question! Very rich folks like Victor Pinchuk in that part of the world are hard to know well. I am guessing he covertly supported the February revolution, and probably has ties with the new government.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-11T15:42:52.369Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The thing that I don't quite understand is why someone who's financial interests are about selling pipes to Russian companies will found the Yalta European Strategy to increase ties between the EU and the Ukraine?

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-03-11T17:37:17.988Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

While this is an interesting conversation to have, I should point out that I no longer claim any sort of special knowledge due to being from that part of the world, or being able to read Russian language news. This is the sort of question you need a highly paid analyst for.


Pinchuk seems smart (I have read an interview of his). I think he basically realizes people like him do best in the long run in a legally stable environment, which means EU and not Russia. The issue with Russia is very weak institutions, that is a government of men and not laws. Bad for business (though well connected people can become very rich in such an environment, crucially they cannot reliably count on staying rich, or free, or alive).

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-11T22:39:16.191Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is the sort of question you need a highly paid analyst for.

To me it seems like a straightforward question. Russian mainstream media probably won't ask it but there might be good blogs who do.

As far as I understand the situation at the moment and please correct me if I got something wrong or missed something important:

The EU proposed an association agreement last year that would have integrated the Ukraine into military exercises with EU countries and that would prevented the Ukraine from having a trade free agreement with Russia.

The Ukrainian president Yanukovych said no. Then the Yalta group headed by Pinchuk got angry. Europe didn't wanted to do that much about it but the US was willing to spend 5 billion to buy a revolution to switch the regime of Yanukovych with one that would accept the association agreement.

From an EU perspective, we have enough trouble on our own supporting countries like Greece but there are still US policy makers who believe in cold war containment, so they choose to play strongly. Figures like George Soros are willing to fund related courses.

Pinchuk made his money with selling pipes but owns 1/3 of the Ukrainians media. For a while he was in parliament but he thinks he can do more working outside of it. He also made Time 100 most influential people once, his company was the first to go to Davos. He knows the US people, he signed Bill Gates pledge. He does a lot to combat AIDS but a lot of his charitable donations go into building civil society organisations that serve his political ends which happens to get the Ukraine into EU.

Forbes description of Pinchuk during the crisis:

He wasn’t just a passive spectator. “We were on the phone constantly–with businessmen, with politicians, with our Western and Eastern friends, discussing what all of us could do.”

Other interesting information from the article:

Pinchuk’s fortune is tied to trade with Russia. Lest he forget that, Vladimir Putin’s regime recently imposed crippling tariffs on his core asset, the steel tube company Interpipe.

Recently is an interesting word. Having a date would be nice to understand the timeline of events better.

It seems very much like someone overplayed their hand. They gave weapons to facists that aren't really nice. They didn't anticipate that the Crimerian government rather wants Crimeria to be part of Russia than of the Ukraine. The didn't anticipate that Russia can just move in and take Crimeria.

Given what happened in Georgia that seems stupid on the part of the US but it's the US. The alternative is that Pinchuk was angry at Russia for the tariffs and therefore gave the US bad intel about Crimeria to get them into play.

comment by Fossegrimen · 2014-03-06T14:28:41.954Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26270866

is a decent starting point

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-06T15:06:09.190Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't want to read government propaganda but would rather read something deeper.

I couldn't listen to the German state television on the issue without busting out laughing.

comment by iarwain1 · 2014-03-06T15:38:15.622Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

CFR has two issue guides on the subject. As an aside, I find CFR in general to be a great source of relatively balanced foreign news analysis. My primary source of world news these days is their Daily News Brief which I get delivered in my inbox.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-06T15:51:35.434Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

CFR provides deep coverage but they aren't balanced. They are a think tank with major influence on US politics. Joe Biden would be an example for a prominent member of the CFR.

It's funded by ExxonMobile, Goldman Sachs and various other banks and Big Oil companies.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-03-06T16:30:05.307Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

but they aren't balanced

"Balanced" is a very subjective term, it basically means "in a one-dimensional political space their positions fall both to the left and to the right of me". In reality the political space is multidimensional and different people have quite different reference (anchor) points in it.

I don't think it's possible for a single news source to be well-balanced. To get a reasonable picture you need to read a diverse collection of sources (and it's OK for some or even most of them to be "unbalanced" as long as they are skewed in different directions).

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-06T16:44:10.742Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"Balanced" is a very subjective term, it basically means "in a one-dimensional political space their positions fall both to the left and to the right of me".

If you look at the interests of a think tank like the CFR I don't think it makes much sense to think in terms of left and right.

If I look at CFR coverage of Ukraine, than asking whether it's right or left isn't helpful because it tells you little about the interests that the CFR has on Ukrainian politics. In the Ukraine it might work because there's fascists against communists and you have a clear left right split.

If you look at a country like China or Egypt it doesn't work because the interested of the multinational banks and oil companies aren't left or right. There corporatist if you want to use a word.

On the other hand neither yourself no myself have stakes into what happens in the conflict in the Ukraine, so in some sense we can be more balanced. A random sampling of LW opinions is likely to be more balanced than a random sampling of CFR articles.

When seeking to get a reasonable picture it's always good to know the interests of the source you are reading.

comment by iarwain1 · 2014-03-06T16:07:36.710Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not referring to their recommendations, just their coverage. I was not aware of their funding sources, and I never heard of Joe Biden being a member. The primary reason I had the impression they were relatively balanced is because I've tried to detect a slant to their reports (whether by leaving out some information or by reporting it in a slanted way), but I have been unable to do so. Of course, that could just be because I don't know enough or am not perceptive enough to detect the slant.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-06T17:06:00.196Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

They intent to inform readers in the US policy by giving them useful information about what's going on in the world.

They don't pretend to be balanced. Neither does the Economist for that matter. Both use language like "We think XY should happen."

In US culture there the strange idea that being a good news source is about having no interests and weighing all views equally.

Often the people who are deeply informed on a topic do have interests. That doesn't mean that you should ignore them but it's worth to keep in mind those interests when you read them.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2014-03-06T17:26:00.492Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Why do you care? Sure, these events might kill us, but do you expect them to influence your decisions?

What do you mean by "deep"? In one comment you contrast it to propaganda, but in another you mention the possibility of slanted deep coverage. You asked for a chart of who's who. BBC gives one. Is this shallow? But don't you need to start shallow? Do you predict that Ilya will give a radically different one?

What is your assessment of what happened in Egypt?

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-07T00:54:20.170Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Why do you care? Sure, these events might kill us, but do you expect them to influence your decisions?

Two years ago I sat in the audience of the Chaos Computer Congress when Julian Assange said that he got a leaked "North Pole"-confidental report with a list of persons who don't get Christmas presents if they don't do anything to advance politics in the right direction the common year. He handed out a bunch of codes so that everyone who got a code sort of new that he had to do something to get off the list.

I personally made a decision against actively working at Wikileaks or similar causes. I have more private information about myself in the public domain than would be wise if I would make those kinds of political moves myself. I still like to be one of the people who can hold a political conversation on the level that created a project like Wikileaks.

As a community of smart people I don't think it's useful to give up politics completely.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2014-03-07T01:21:00.157Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't mean to imply that you shouldn't care about any politics, just that this topic sounds like gossip, not an attempt to "advance politics in the right direction."

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-03-07T10:08:53.386Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't this the worst argument in the world? I don't think this topic is anywhere near the central element of the set "gossip". Gossip is if we talk about the Kardashians.


It's politics, though.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2014-03-07T16:42:39.835Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Gossip has two meanings. One meaning is talking about people you know. That is real political coalition-building. The other is celebrity gossip, where you fool yourself into thinking that you are doing politics.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-03-07T17:20:57.083Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

I am sorry, but world politics is just not the same as gossip.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-07T01:40:33.100Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What the BBC writes could be classified as gossip. I don't really disagree on that point.

Reading articles that are really intended to inform about the crisis in the Ukraine is however not gossip. To me it's a major political event. I also live in Europe so it's more important to me as it would be if I would live in the US.

I think that if you want to advance politics in the right direction you first have to understand the playing field. That means understanding major events.

I however won't judge anybody who thinks that dealing with politics isn't worth his time because he doesn't see an effect on his actions.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-07T00:13:27.502Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You asked for a chart of who's who. BBC gives one. Is this shallow?

The BBC one contains no single oligarch. That's a significant decision.

Sergej Aksjonow who's the premier of Crimea and who declared that he commands the fleet, police and the interior ministry that's stationed on Crimea doesn't make it into the BBC's list of major players.

From a propaganda standpoint framing the major players that way makes sense. Western powers don't want that the democratically elected premier of Crimea has power.

If you read the CFR reporting you find talk about how the US thinks Europe wasn't investing enough effort into funding protestors of the old Ukranian regime. That's useful information for understanding the who's who. The CIA was more interested in getting rid of the old Ukranian regime than European actors.

It's the kind of information that the audience of the Western foreign policy community who reads CFR to inform themselves of the conflict needs. The CFR wants to inform the Western foreign policy community to have them make decisions in the interests of the Western foreign policy community and that means that they actually have to communicate the who's who more accurately.

What is your assessment of what happened in Egypt?

The military has the power in Egypt. In contrast to a country like the US the Egyptian military controls large parts of the Egyptian economy. Certain policies of opening up Egypt to international investors and making life for international investors easier go against the business interests of the Egyptian military. They see themselves as nationalists.

When the revolution came around they allowed Mubarak to fall and didn't shoot and protesters because they didn't like Mubarak.

When it turned out that the brotherhood government wasn't what they wanted the military took power themselves and did shoot at protesters. That surprised people who believed the narrative that Western media told, but it shouldn't have surprised anyone who paid attention.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-07T21:03:03.609Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Another story about how the BBC engages into propaganda that's not about information the viewer:

http://stevecoast.com/2014/03/02/ukrainian-maps-and-the-lies-they-tell/

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-03-11T11:07:46.998Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

An article just out in PlosONE could have been called "Don't Panic!", but is actually the more sober "Humans Optimize Decision-Making by Delaying Decision Onset".

The task they set their human subjects was to detect the direction of drift of random dot patterns against a background of interfering cues, asking them either to maximise speed or to maximise accuracy. I've not read their model building and model fitting, but their conclusion is in the title. Subjects got better accuracy by waiting to see what was there before deciding what to do.

I'm reminded of the classical advice "festina lente". "Optimize decision-making by delaying decision onset" doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-03-09T14:30:09.382Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Would it be possible to help with keeping an AI boxed by building a goal of staying in the box into it?

comment by Coscott · 2014-03-09T20:13:45.337Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How do you define "staying in the box." Whatever definition you use, the AI will likely find a way to get out of the box while satisfying your definition.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-03-09T19:33:25.038Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

...and hope that AI doesn't get an idea that the safest way of staying in the box is to destroy the outside world. Or just kill all humans, because as long as humans exist, there is a decent chance someone will make a copy of the AI and try to run it on their own computer (i.e. outside of the original box).

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-03-10T01:37:52.223Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting-- the failure mode that occurred to me is a paper-clipper which is designed to prefer virtual paper clips, so it turns the earth/the solar system/ the lightcone into computronium to run virtual paperclips.

If defining stay in the box is that hard, I'm not feeling hopeful about the possibility of defining protect humans.

comment by CronoDAS · 2014-03-08T10:06:04.309Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Not sure where else to ask this...

What's the practical downside to setting my router's wireless security setting to WPA2 TKIP + AES instead of WPA2 AES only? I know that TKIP has a known exploit, but I have some old hardware (specifically, a PSP) that doesn't support WPA2 AES encryption. What does the exploit let someone actually do?

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-09T09:15:14.092Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you don't get your answer here another good place might be the information security stackexchange.

comment by CronoDAS · 2014-03-10T04:23:17.441Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My impression from the various sources I skimmed is that attacks on WPA-TKIP let you decrypt packets in transmission but not access the network itself. I don't know if that's correct or not.

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-03-08T03:04:17.916Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

CCC and I were talking on another thread, and I responded to his comment, on the topic of religion. Rather than derail the original conversation, we decided to continue it here.

Here's the main point of my response, just for reference (original here):

I find your post very interesting, because I tend to respond almost exactly the same way when someone asks me why I'm an atheist. ... Anyway, I find it really curious that we can disagree so completely while employing seemingly identical lines of reasoning.

So, CCC, here are a couple things that I'm curious about:

  • You said that it would take "massively convincing evidence" to get you to change your position. Does this mean that you already have a massive amount of evidence for your position, or that you have an incredibly strong prior, or perhaps both ?
  • You also said that " there are parts of the Bible that are not intended to be taken literally". What process do you use to determine which parts were intended to be taken literally, and which weren't ?
comment by CCC · 2014-03-08T04:37:22.154Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

You said that it would take "massively convincing evidence" to get you to change your position. Does this mean that you already have a massive amount of evidence for your position, or that you have an incredibly strong prior, or perhaps both?

I started with merely a reasonably strong prior (above 50%), and found some non-massive amount of evidence to reinforce it.

However, should I find evidence that contradicts my position, there will be a number of possible explanations. First is that the evidence is a true sign that my position is incorrect; second is that the evidence has been presented in such a way as to be more convincing than it really is; third is that the evidence has been faked, by a particularly aggressive militant atheist. (There may be further possibilities as well, but let us consider these three for the moment).

Now, this is a subject of great importance. One of the reasons why it is of great importance is the question of the afterlife (specifically, whether it exists or not). Since it is a subject of such great importance, it is of equal importance that I take caution when updating. Specifically, I must take particular care to avoid deliberate attempts at deception. In order to do this, I must first evaluate any evidence I recieve to see what the odds are that it could have been produced, or selected, in a deliberate effort to pull the wool over my eyes.

I know that aggressive militant athiests exist. I know that there are people out there, convinced that God does not exist, who will go to great effort - including subterfuge and deliberate deception - to convince others of this view. Such people have a clear motive for elaborate deceptions.

In order to pass the bar for being considered 'massively convincing' evidence, the evidence must pass the following test: it must be more likely that the evidence is a true sign that God does not exist, than it is that the evidence has been either faked or cherry-picked in order to support the atheist hypothesis.

You also said that " there are parts of the Bible that are not intended to be taken literally". What process do you use to determine which parts were intended to be taken literally, and which weren't ?

It is the same process as I use to determine whether a given piece of writing is fiction or non-fiction. I consider, given what little I know of history, and what I know of fiction, and what I know of human nature, and come to a decision on whether it is more probable that a given incident happened as described, or whether it is more likely that a given incident originated in someone's imagination.

Consider, for example, the book of Job. This is a clear example of something not intended to be taken literally.

To summarise; a righteous and holy man (Job) has vast amounts of wealth. The Devil proposes that he is only righteous and holy because this give him vast material wealth, and God permits the Devil to test this hypothesis. Job promptly loses his wealth, his children, his health. Three of his friends turn up and make long, wordy speeches about how Job must have sinned, in order to attract such disaster; Job himself maintains his innocence. Finally, God himself turns up and makes a long, wordy speech about his great power; Job more-or-less throws himself on God's mercy, and then God chastises Job's friends; Job ends up with more wealth than ever before.

There are several indications throughout the Book of Job that it is intended as a work of fiction. First of all, there are the long, wordy speeches; far longer and wordier than anyone would normally use when conversing among friends, but very appropriate to (say) a stage production in front of an audience. Secondly, there are many references to Jewish legends of the time (which have to be explained in footnotes in modern bibles). Thirdly, the means by which Job discovers his original loss of wealth - three servants arrive, each explaining how some disaster overtook some part of Job's property and only he survived to come and tell Job - is eminently suitable for a low-budget stage production (one merely needs three actors to arrive and say their lines). Fourthly, aside from a bit of narration at the start and finish, everything happens in one location, and it's a location easily reproducible on stage (outside, sitting in the dirt). Fifthly, despite the complexity of the speeches, the moral is very simple ('bad things can happen to good people').

So, for these reasons and others, I consider it more likely that Job was not meant to be taken literally than it is that the incidents described in Job happened as described. Despite that, the moral of Job - that bad things can happen to good people, and thus that people with bad luck are not necessarily evil - is important.

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-03-10T08:32:42.266Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I started with merely a reasonably strong prior (above 50%)

Why is your prior so strong ? Is this due to the usual somewhat arbitrary combination of your genetics and upbringing -- which, IMO, is where most of our priors come from -- or is there some other reason ?

I know that there are people out there, convinced that God does not exist, who will go to great effort - including subterfuge and deliberate deception - to convince others of this view.

Hmm, well, I hope you don't see me as one of those people.

That said, once again, both of us take a similar line of reasoning to arrive at opposite conclusions. All of the evidence for the existence of gods (of any kind) that I have ever seen was either faked for a profit (weeping statues, faith healing, etc.), hearsay (friend of a friend of a cousin who heard about this one time...), or unfalsifiable ("god acts in mysterious ways"). What's worse, many phenomena that have been historically attributed to direct intervention by gods -- such as thunder, lightning, living tissue, formation of planets, rainbows, volcanic eruptions, disease, etc. -- have since then been explained in terms of purely natural mechanisms. This leads me to believe that future acts of god(s) would likewise be reduced.

That said, I am not sure I understand this part correctly:

...the evidence must pass the following test: it must be more likely that the evidence is a true sign that God does not exist, than it is that the evidence has been either faked or cherry-picked...

Isn't this a little like trying to prove a negative ? If you posit the existence of an incredibly powerful and mysterious entity -- be it a god, or an AI, or a Matrix Lord, or whatever -- then how can I prove to you that any given phenomenon was not caused by him (it/them/etc.) ? What criteria do you use to judge whether any given event was caused by the god, or by some perfectly natural mechanism (the exact nature of which may or may not be known to you).

It is the same process as I use to determine whether a given piece of writing is fiction or non-fiction. I consider, given what little I know of history, and what I know of fiction, and what I know of human nature...

Hmm, I think I do disagree with you on something (other than our conclusions, that is). When I consider a piece of writing, I consider all the things that you mention, but I also compare the setting and the events in the book to those in the real world.

Thus, for example, if I were to read a story that is written in the style of a news report, about perfectly ordinary people who live in modern-day San Francisco, behave in ways consistent with human nature, and fight vampires -- then I would still discount the story as fiction, because I am quite certain that vampires don't exist (given the total lack of evidence for them). The same applies to elves, magic users, alien visitors, etc.

That said, I am still not clear about your own approach. From my perspective, the vast majority of the Old and New testaments is written in the same way as the Book of Job, with the possible exception of commandments ("thou shalt not do X" / "thou must do Y") and the infamous "begats" in Chronicles.

Presumably, you would disagree, so could you perhaps contrast Job with some other passage, which you do take to be literal ?

comment by CCC · 2014-03-11T05:19:11.750Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Why is your prior so strong ? Is this due to the usual somewhat arbitrary combination of your genetics and upbringing -- which, IMO, is where most of our priors come from -- or is there some other reason ?

Virtually entirely due to my upbringing.

Hmm, well, I hope you don't see me as one of those people.

No, I don't see you as one of those people. Such people are to atheism as militant fundamentalists are to any religion; they're there, they're outspoken, they won't listen to anyone who disagrees with them, and they're fortunately very rare.

All of the evidence for the existence of gods (of any kind) that I have ever seen was either faked for a profit (weeping statues, faith healing, etc.), hearsay (friend of a friend of a cousin who heard about this one time...), or unfalsifiable ("god acts in mysterious ways"). What's worse, many phenomena that have been historically attributed to direct intervention by gods -- such as thunder, lightning, living tissue, formation of planets, rainbows, volcanic eruptions, disease, etc. -- have since then been explained in terms of purely natural mechanisms. This leads me to believe that future acts of god(s) would likewise be reduced.

I've given a bit of thought to the idea of proving the existence of miracles in a laboratory setting. It runs into a few problems.

For a start, let's divide miracles into two types; the once-off miracle, which happens only once and cannot be reproduced under laboratory conditions, and the repeatable miracle, which happens every time the right conditions are in place.

For obvious reasons, the once-off miracle is not suitable; since it cannot be reproduced, it cannot be used in a scientific context to show more than coincidence.

So let us then consider the repeatable miracle. For the purposes of discussion, I will pick out one potential example; let us say that all fires refuse to burn any orphan. This would be reproducible in a laboratory, and it would be clearly miraculous, by our current understanding of science.

Now, let us consider a world where no fire had ever burnt an orphan. How would it differ from our world? Well, there are a few obvious ways - almost all firemen would be orphans, it would be possible to prove a parent's death by checking if their children are burnt by a candle flame, and some psychopaths would kill their own parents to become fireproof.

And scientists would struggle to find a mechanism for the fireproofness of orphans. Sooner or later, someone would suggest something that sounded vaguely believable... and it would be tested. If it fails the test, then someone else will suggest something else, and so on. The history of science is full of theories that later turned out to be false - phlogiston, luminiferous aether - and were replaced by better theories. In this case, the theory would be wrong (since it's direct divine influence saving all the orphans) - but unless it could be disproved, it would be accepted (and if it could be disproved, it would be replaced).

Either way, the laboratory tests wouldn't say 'miracle'.

If you posit the existence of an incredibly powerful and mysterious entity -- be it a god, or an AI, or a Matrix Lord, or whatever -- then how can I prove to you that any given phenomenon was not caused by him (it/them/etc.) ?

Quite honestly, I haven't the faintest idea. Trying to prove the non-existence of God is exactly like proving a negative, because it is a negative.

What criteria do you use to judge whether any given event was caused by the god, or by some perfectly natural mechanism (the exact nature of which may or may not be known to you).

All perfectly natural mechanisms were set in place by God as well.

Hmm, I think I do disagree with you on something (other than our conclusions, that is). When I consider a piece of writing, I consider all the things that you mention, but I also compare the setting and the events in the book to those in the real world.

Thus, for example, if I were to read a story that is written in the style of a news report, about perfectly ordinary people who live in modern-day San Francisco, behave in ways consistent with human nature, and fight vampires -- then I would still discount the story as fiction, because I am quite certain that vampires don't exist (given the total lack of evidence for them). The same applies to elves, magic users, alien visitors, etc.

That said, I am still not clear about your own approach. From my perspective, the vast majority of the Old and New testaments is written in the same way as the Book of Job, with the possible exception of commandments ("thou shalt not do X" / "thou must do Y") and the infamous "begats" in Chronicles.

Presumably, you would disagree, so could you perhaps contrast Job with some other passage, which you do take to be literal ?

The infamous 'begats' in Chronicles have a problem, in that they assume that Adam and Eve were real (that's where the biblical literalists get their 'the Earth is six thousand years old' from; counting generations and making some assumptions about how long people live).

As for literal; that's a very high bar to meet. I often hear (and even make) statements which are intended to communicate a true fact, but which are not literally true; and even in court, eye-witness statements may and often do conflict on minor details.

So, given that I hold it to the bar of 'eye-witness statement' or, in parts, 'hearsay' rather than to the higher bar of 'every last literal word perfectly true', I shall present to you the four Gospels as an example

comment by Nornagest · 2014-03-11T21:05:51.542Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

For a start, let's divide miracles into two types; the once-off miracle, which happens only once and cannot be reproduced under laboratory conditions, and the repeatable miracle, which happens every time the right conditions are in place.

I can see a couple of issues with this formulation, defining a miracle for the moment as a suspension of natural law by divine fiat. First, while a one-time miracle presumably wouldn't be reproducible under laboratory conditions, most miracles that I can think of would leave an inconsistency with known physical law and could be analyzed by working backwards from the available evidence. Some would be more obvious or easier to evaluate than others; if the face of the Virgin Mary appeared in my cornflakes one morning, I'd have only until they got soggy to publicize the event, but if a volcanic eruption in Luzon generated a pyroclastic cloud that scoured the rest of a town down to bedrock but left every board of a flimsy wooden church unharmed, there's still plenty of lahar sediments to analyze. You don't need to grow evidence in a Petri dish for it to be real science.

(Though it's worth mentioning here that lots of religions, plus Charles Fort, allege odd phenomena. Incorrupt corpses are alleged for a number of Catholic saints, for example, and the corpses in question certainly look less corrupt than I'd expect them to be, but they also show up among Buddhist monks.)

Then there's the idea that miracles might show signs of agency, i.e. be directed at some goal; God's motives in the context of Christianity are of course famously ineffable, but the miracles alleged in the Bible do show certain patterns (protection of the innocent or of a chosen people; glorification of God; etc.) and we might reasonably expect these to continue. We can pick these out with statistical methods: if preachers of one particular sect are indistinguishable from those of another in terms of habits and demographics and there's enough of both to make a good sample, but the rate of lethal accidents for one is zero, that's certainly suggestive.

Finally, many alleged miracles are persistent in time but limited in space: Lourdes water, weeping statues. These leave an inconsistency that's laboratory testable (many have been tested, generally with negative results) but wouldn't be factored into models of physical law, or which at least would lead to much less elegant physics than we observe.

comment by CCC · 2014-03-12T09:55:55.636Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

First, while a one-time miracle presumably wouldn't be reproducible under laboratory conditions, most miracles that I can think of would leave an inconsistency with known physical law and could be analyzed by working backwards from the available evidence.

That is an excellent point, and some analyses of the sort have been done. The Shroud of Turin being a famous example (conclusion: radiocarbon dating suggests it was likely from a thousand years or so too late, but it's not yet quite clear how it was made; lots of argument and disagreement). Another, perhaps a little less well-known, would be the Miracle of Lanciano

Though it's worth mentioning here that lots of religions, plus Charles Fort, allege odd phenomena.

It's not impossible that God might respond equally to anyone who fulfills a certain list of criteria, regardless of what religion the person follows. A devout Buddhist may have as much chance of leaving an incorrupt corpse as a devout Catholic.

...which leads, of course, to the immediate question of what the relevant criteria are. I don't know. I have a few guesses, but they're speculative.

Then there's the idea that miracles might show signs of agency

This is an excellent point. However; in order to detect the agency, it would be necessary to have some idea of the goal. Considering that omniscience and omnipotence are often considered divine attributes, the best idea that we can have for the goal is to consider that what is happening is what was intended; but that quickly becomes a circular argument, because it is trivially clear that if what is happening is what was intended, then it was successful.

if preachers of one particular sect are indistinguishable from those of another in terms of habits and demographics and there's enough of both to make a good sample, but the rate of lethal accidents for one is zero, that's certainly suggestive.

It would be very suggestive and, quite honestly, a little worrying. It would imply that there was nothing worthwhile in the preachers of one sect, and at the same time, that none of the preachers of the the sect joined for selfish motives (such as, for example, immunity to fatal accidents) and don't really care about doing their duties correctly.

Finally, many alleged miracles are persistent in time but limited in space: Lourdes water, weeping statues. These leave an inconsistency that's laboratory testable (many have been tested, generally with negative results) but wouldn't be factored into models of physical law, or which at least would lead to much less elegant physics than we observe.

That is true. I guess that would fall under laboratory-testable. I imagine a number of them would be faked, or turn out to be a one-in-a-billion statistical fluke - the genuine ones may get lost in the noise.

comment by Desrtopa · 2014-03-15T02:30:43.097Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's not impossible that God might respond equally to anyone who fulfills a certain list of criteria, regardless of what religion the person follows. A devout Buddhist may have as much chance of leaving an incorrupt corpse as a devout Catholic.

On the other hand, it's also quite possible that the phenomenon of incorrupt corpses occurs regardless of the virtues of the individuals in question, but then corpses of the particularly virtuous are held up as examples of divine grace, while the incorrupt corpses of ordinary people, not being seen as evidence of anything in particular, are ignored.

You mentioned before the possibility of militant atheists cherrypicking evidence to support their position. This is certainly a consideration that has to be accounted for, but so is the possibility that the evidence favoring religion only appears compelling because it is cherrypicked. This also occurs to a considerable extent with nigh-certainty. Consider, for example, the healing miracles of Lourdes, which Nornagest mentioned above, which have made it an international pilgrimage destination, despite the fact that statistical analyses of the recovery rates of pilgrims do not suggest that the location has any particular healing power. Counting every unexplained recovery, while not counting the nonrecoveries, can create the appearance of persistent miracles.

Hard-to-explain things happen all the time, and we're much more likely to notice them if they seem indicative of something important to us than if they don't.

comment by CCC · 2014-03-16T04:19:20.506Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

On the other hand, it's also quite possible that the phenomenon of incorrupt corpses occurs regardless of the virtues of the individuals in question, but then corpses of the particularly virtuous are held up as examples of divine grace, while the incorrupt corpses of ordinary people, not being seen as evidence of anything in particular, are ignored.

That is also a possibility. And it can be tested for; if it is true, then the percentage of incorrupt corpses should be constant whether the people were virtuous before dying or whether they were legally executed for crimes committed (and not later exonerated by, say, DNA evidence).

...I have no idea what the results of actually checking that would be, but it would certainly be interesting.

You mentioned before the possibility of militant atheists cherrypicking evidence to support their position. This is certainly a consideration that has to be accounted for, but so is the possibility that the evidence favoring religion only appears compelling because it is cherrypicked. This also occurs to a considerable extent with nigh-certainty.

That is a very strong possibility that must be borne in mind, yes.

Consider, for example, the healing miracles of Lourdes, which Nornagest mentioned above, which have made it an international pilgrimage destination, despite the fact that statistical analyses of the recovery rates of pilgrims do not suggest that the location has any particular healing power. Counting every unexplained recovery, while not counting the nonrecoveries, can create the appearance of persistent miracles.

From the Wikipedia article on Lourdes:

An estimated 200 million people have visited the shrine since 1860,[4] and the Roman Catholic Church has officially recognised 69 healings considered miraculous. Cures are examined using Church criteria for authenticity and authentic miracle healing with no physical or psychological basis other than the healing power of the water.[5]

Both references were retrieved on 5 May 2009, though the second was dated 21 October 2003. There we have a rate; 69 miraculous cures, out of 200 million people (and any number of non-miraculous cures as well, of course).

If there is nothing to Lourdes, then this should be similar to the number of miraculous cures among a random sampling of 200 million people with various illnesses.

(Sixty-nine out of two hundred million is low enough to give the appearance of statistical noise; that's odds of close to one in three milllion)

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-03-11T19:53:44.759Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Virtually entirely due to my upbringing.

Makes sense. This may not be a fair question to ask, but do you believe that, given all available evidence, you'd still be a theist if your prior was a bit lower -- say, about 50% ?

Regarding miracles, I think you and I mean different things by the term.

Both of the kinds of miracles you described sound fairly mundane to me. The first kind is basically a rare unexplained occurrence; these happen every day, and, given what we now know of statistics, it would in fact be quite odd if they did not occur. For example, last week I was filling up my car and saw that my odometer read "123455"; that was neat, but I wouldn't call it miraculous.

The second kind of miracle sounds like a natural law to me, just like gravity or heat transfer or something. You say that "all perfectly natural mechanisms were set in place by God as well"; does this mean that pretty much everything that happens is a miracle ? Doesn't that rather dilute the word "miracle" to the point where it just means, "stuff that happens" ?

So, given that I hold it to the bar of 'eye-witness statement' or, in parts, 'hearsay' rather than to the higher bar of 'every last literal word perfectly true', I shall present to you the four Gospels as an example

Huh, that's odd. When I read the Gospels, I get the same exact impression as the one you described regarding the book of Job. The Gospels basically consist of a thin plot that serves to hold together several tangentially related morality tales, as well as monologues by the main character which are explicitly meant to be metaphorical (involving olive trees, donkeys, and such, borrowing some tropes from Aesop's fables). Jesus does some fantastical things in the book, but these always serve to illustrate some moral lesson or another; in this, he is pretty similar to other characters in the Bible who summon bears, survive inside whales, etc.

So, could you contrast the two stories (the Gospels, or perhaps some specific passage from the New Testament, vs. Job), to illustrate why you believe that one is mostly fiction, and the other mostly fact ?

comment by CCC · 2014-03-12T10:18:44.368Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Makes sense. This may not be a fair question to ask, but do you believe that, given all available evidence, you'd still be a theist if your prior was a bit lower -- say, about 50% ?

I cannot say for sure. I'd like to say 'yes'... but too much of my history would need to change for that to be true. I can't say anything for certain about that counterfactual me.

Regarding miracles, I think you and I mean different things by the term.

Both of the kinds of miracles you described sound fairly mundane to me. The first kind is basically a rare unexplained occurrence; these happen every day

Yes, but some are mere coincidences, like your odometer; while others appear to subvert the natural order, like the Sun doing a dance.

The second kind of miracle sounds like a natural law to me, just like gravity or heat transfer or something.

Yes, that was more-or-less my point.

You say that "all perfectly natural mechanisms were set in place by God as well"; does this mean that pretty much everything that happens is a miracle ? Doesn't that rather dilute the word "miracle" to the point where it just means, "stuff that happens" ?

I'd say that any kind of natural law is exactly as miraculous as a permanently-repeatable miracle. I don't really think that dilutes the work 'miracle' all that much; after all, some pretty amazing stuff happens on a continual basis. (It may inflate the phrase 'stuff that happens' somewhat; but when one considers all that goes into stuff happening, it can be pretty impressive in any case).

So, could you contrast the two stories (the Gospels, or perhaps some specific passage from the New Testament, vs. Job), to illustrate why you believe that one is mostly fiction, and the other mostly fact ?

Hmmm.

For Job, I shall pick out Job chapters 4 and 5; a very long, wordy speech by one speaker. Note that this is framed as being one of Job's friends, taking to Job after Job has lost everything and moaned about it a bit. Completely overblown. I can't imagine anyone speaking like that in a conversation.

Compare this passage from the Gospel of John (specifically, John 18:28-19:16); wherein Jesus is taken before Pilate by a mob who want to have him killed; what people say here is a lot shorter and more to-the-point. It's easier to see Pilate as a civil servant who just really doesn't want anything to do with this mess that's been thrown on his lap; his reactions seem far more plausible than Job's friends' speeches.

comment by JQuinton · 2014-03-12T14:05:58.358Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For Job, I shall pick out Job chapters 4 and 5; a very long, wordy speech by one speaker. Note that this is framed as being one of Job's friends, taking to Job after Job has lost everything and moaned about it a bit. Completely overblown. I can't imagine anyone speaking like that in a conversation.

Jesus has a similar overblown speech spanning multiple chapters in John (14-18)

Compare this passage from the Gospel of John (specifically, John 18:28-19:16); wherein Jesus is taken before Pilate by a mob who want to have him killed; what people say here is a lot shorter and more to-the-point. It's easier to see Pilate as a civil servant who just really doesn't want anything to do with this mess that's been thrown on his lap; his reactions seem far more plausible than Job's friends' speeches.

Just FYI, Pilate's behavior in the Gospels is almost completely at odds with how he's described in literature that's actually contemporary with when Pilate lived. Pilate in the Gospels is depicted as a patient, if not a slightly annoyed, judge of character. Only succumbing to executing Jesus because he doesn't want a riot to start. Pilate depicted by Philo (who was writing when Pilate was still alive) describes Pilate as stubborn, inflexible, greedy, impatient, executing multiple people without trials, and has no qualms about ignoring the will of Jewish mobs. Pilate is actually relieved of his duty because he was such a corrupt prefect.

Also, Barabbas, the character that the Jews want released in Jesus' stead: His name "Barabbas" literally means "son of the father" which just so happens to be Jesus' identity. Not only would Pilate not have acquiesced to releasing a (presumably) convicted criminal to appease a Jewish crowd, but there was no tradition of letting a prisoner go during Passover.

The whole trial scene with Pilate is exceedingly improbable if one knows the history of the time period, even if Pilate uses more to the point wording; that is easily fabricated.

comment by CCC · 2014-03-13T07:43:19.670Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Jesus has a similar overblown speech spanning multiple chapters in John (14-18)

It's a long speech, yes, and spans multiple chapters; but it's not the sort of overblown verbiage one finds in Job. The speeches in Job are long not because they have a lot to say, but because they insist on saying everything in the most drawn-out and overdone way possible; each entire speech could probably be replaced by two or three sentences easily. It would be a lot harder to replace Jesus' speech in John 14-17 with a similarly few short phrases.

Just FYI, Pilate's behavior in the Gospels is almost completely at odds with how he's described in literature that's actually contemporary with when Pilate lived.

Okay, I've followed up your link, and I don't think it backs up your claim as completely as you seem to assume it does. (That's aside from the fact that people are complex beings, and often do unexpected things.) I hadn't really looked into other sources on Pilate before reading your comment, so this is just sortof off the top of my head.

So, the picture I get of Pilate from your link is of someone who really doesn't like the Jews, and is quite willing to set his soldiers on them - even to the point of enticing a Jewish crowd to form in a place where he can arrange disguised soldiers in its midst, so that his disguised troops can cut up the nearby protestors. He has no qualms about sentencing people to death and really, really doesn't like to change his mind.

So. Imagine a person like that, and then imagine that this Jewish mob turns up on his doorstep, all unexpected, clamouring to have this man put to death. Pilate may not have qualms about sentencing a man to death; but a stubborn and inflexible man who doesn't like the Jewish mob isn't going to want to give them what they want. No, he's going to want to deny them out of sheer contrariness; he's going to look for a way to get this guy out of his hair, alive, so that he can go back and bother the Jews more.

And then, of course, there's the data point that he often turns against the mob. But he's human; one man against a mob tends to go really badly for the one man, and he knows that. He doesn't turn against the mob on his own - he turns against the mob when he's backed up by enough soldiers. As in the example where he had the soldiers disguise themselves to join the mob, this takes planning. This takes forethought. This takes knowing that the mob is going to be there. In advance. A mob that turns up entirely unannounced, while Pilate's busy with other stuff and perhaps some of his soldiers are on leave, is another matter entirely; that calls for defusing them now, and punishing them later, when there's been time to plan it out. And hey, this mob gets defused by simply having this one Jewish guy killed. Not optimal, but better than a riot that the troops aren't quite ready to deal with...

Not only would Pilate not have acquiesced to releasing a (presumably) convicted criminal to appease a Jewish crowd, but there was no tradition of letting a prisoner go during Passover.

Given the picture you've painted, as a corrupt prefect, he might well release some minor brigand who'd only preyed on the peasants and left anyone with soldiers alone.

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-03-13T04:04:20.147Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I cannot say for sure. I'd like to say 'yes'... but too much of my history would need to change for that to be true.

Yeah, that's probably what I'd say, too.

Yes, but some are mere coincidences, like your odometer; while others appear to subvert the natural order, like the Sun doing a dance.

How do you know which is which; and how do you know when the natural order has truly been subverted ? For example, I personally don't know much about that dancing sun event, but the fact that (according to Wikipedia, at least) it has not been recorded by any cameras or other instruments leads me to believe that human psychology, rather than divine intervention, was responsible.

That said, in your estimation, approximately how many miracles of that kind are occurring on Earth per year ?

after all, some pretty amazing stuff happens on a continual basis

Agreed. So, when we talk about miracles, let's stick to unusual acts of divine intervention.

Compare this passage from the Gospel of John ...

In addition to what JQuinton said, I'd like to add that, while the New Testament definitely contains more action than Job, it's still pretty much full of parables, sermons, and long-winded speeches; for example, such as the one directly preceeding the passage you quoted -- and that's not even the longest one. I agree that the supporting characters are a bit more lifelike in the New Testament -- but then, it's also a much longer book, so there are more pages available to flesh them out.

Furthermore, there are many other works of literature with even better writing; for example, the Odyssey, Moby Dick, or, more recently, Harry Potter. Presumably, you don't believe that these works describe real events; but if so, why not ?

comment by CCC · 2014-03-13T08:39:06.853Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How do you know which is which; and how do you know when the natural order has truly been subverted ?

Well, first you have to know what the natural order is. And that requires the help of the physicists and other scientists.

What a scientist cannot explain may or may not be a subversion of the natural order. (What a scientist can explain may or may not also be a subversion of the natural order - some scientists can be trapped into providing justifications for incorrect versions of events - but it's still a useful filtering tool) Or it may be a thing that the physicist will have to update his model of physics to explain.

...it's not an easy question.

For example, I personally don't know much about that dancing sun event, but the fact that (according to Wikipedia, at least) it has not been recorded by any cameras or other instruments leads me to believe that human psychology, rather than divine intervention, was responsible.

That's not impossible. (I don't know much about it either; it was linked from the wikipedia article on 'miracle').

That said, in your estimation, approximately how many miracles of that kind are occurring on Earth per year ?

Ummm... if I had to guess... I'd guess less than one. I wouldn't venture a guess as to how much less than one, though.

Agreed. So, when we talk about miracles, let's stick to unusual acts of divine intervention.

Defining whether a given event is or is not an unusual act of divine intervention may be tricky; but fair enough, let's go with that definition for the moment.

Furthermore, there are many other works of literature with even better writing; for example, the Odyssey, Moby Dick, or, more recently, Harry Potter. Presumably, you don't believe that these works describe real events; but if so, why not ?

You're right; nothing that's written in the Gospels can raise it to a status of higher than 'plausible'. Many clear works of fiction also reach the status of 'plausible'; in order to reach the higher status of 'probably true', one needs a certain amount of external verification.

I find a good deal of that external verification in the fact that a number of people, in whom I place a great deal of trust, and at least some of whom are known to be better at identifying truth than I am, have told me that it is true.

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-03-17T23:42:17.494Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What a scientist cannot explain may or may not be a subversion of the natural order. ... it's not an easy question.

Ok, I admit that science is hard. But about you ? How do you, personally, know what's a subversion of the natural order and what isn't ?

That's not impossible.

Which possibility do you think is more likely in this case: genuine miracle, or mass confirmation bias ? That's why I'd like you to clarify this:

I wouldn't venture a guess as to how much less than one, though.

Well, can you put a ballpark figure on it ? Do miracles happen (on average) once a year ? Once a century ? Once a millennium ? Once per the lifetime of our Universe ?

I find a good deal of that external verification in the fact that a number of people, in whom I place a great deal of trust, and at least some of whom are known to be better at identifying truth than I am, have told me that it is true.

I think this is another difference between our methods; and I must confess that I find your approach quite weird. This doesn't automatically mean that it's wrong, of course; in fact, many theists (including C.S.Lewis) advocate it, so there might be something to it. I just don't see what.

The big difference between your approach and mine is that you seem to be entirely discounting empirical evidence; or, if not discounting it, then trivializing it at the very least. So, for example, if a trusted friend told you that he was fishing in the pond behind his house and caught a Great White shark; and if all of your friends confirmed this; then you'd accept that as true. I, on the other hand, would ask to see the shark.

The reason for this is not that I'm some sort of a hateful, un-trusting person (or rather, that's not the only reason, heh); but because we have mountains and mountains of data on sharks, and all of it tells us that they are incredibly unlikely to show up in ponds, and are also quite strong and thus nearly impossible to catch using an ordinary fishing line. Compared to this overwhelming pile of evidence, the testimony of a few people does not suffice to turn the tide of my belief.

So, is there a reason why you value empirical evidence as little as you do ? Alternatively, did I completely misunderstand your position ?

comment by CCC · 2014-03-18T08:10:55.220Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ok, I admit that science is hard. But about you ? How do you, personally, know what's a subversion of the natural order and what isn't ?

I have at least as much difficulty as the hypothetical scientist. Possibly slightly more difficulty, because the hypothetical scientist will know more science than I do.

Which possibility do you think is more likely in this case: genuine miracle, or mass confirmation bias ?

Insufficient data for a firm conclusion.

Opposing the mass confirmation bias hypothesis, are the claims that the water on the ground and on people's clothing was dried during the time; also apparently people 'miles away' (and thus unlikely to have been caught up in mass hysteria at the time) also reported having seen it.

Having said that, there is another explanation that occurs to me; the scene was described as the dancing sun appearing after a rainstorm, bursting through the clouds:

"As if like a bolt from the blue, the clouds were wrenched apart, and the sun at its zenith appeared in all its splendor."

If the clouds were thick enough, it may be hard to see the Sun; the bright light could have been... something else sufficiently hot and bright. (I do not know what, but there's room for a number of other hypotheses there).

I wouldn't venture a guess as to how much less than one, though.

Well, can you put a ballpark figure on it ? Do miracles happen (on average) once a year ? Once a century ? Once a millennium ? Once per the lifetime of our Universe ?

I am very poorly calibrated on such low frequencies, so take what I say here is highly speculative. (Also, the rate seems very variable, with several a year in the time of the Gospels, for example).

At a rough guess, I'd say possibly somewhere between once a year and once a century. Might be more, might be less.

I find a good deal of that external verification in the fact that a number of people, in whom I place a great deal of trust, and at least some of whom are known to be better at identifying truth than I am, have told me that it is true.

I think this is another difference between our methods; and I must confess that I find your approach quite weird. This doesn't automatically mean that it's wrong, of course; in fact, many theists (including C.S.Lewis) advocate it, so there might be something to it. I just don't see what.

Let me explain further, then, by means of an analogy. Consider the example you provide, of a trustworthy friend claiming to have found a great white shark in a nearby pond. For the sake of argument, I shall assume a rather large pond, in which a Great White could plausibly survive a day or two, but fed and drained by rivers too small for a Great White to swim along.

I shall further assume that you are aware that all your friends were on the fishing trip together (which you were unable to join due to a prior appointment).

Now, catching a Great White is a noteworthy accomplishment. If your friend were to accomplish this, it is reasonable to assign a high probability that he would tell you. Therefore, I assign the following:

P (Being told | Great White caught) = 0.95

It is also possible that your friends are collaborating on a prank, giving you an implausible story to see if they can convince you. If this is the case, they could have decided to do so while on the fishing trip, and laid out the necessary plans then. Exactly what probability you assign to this depends a lot on your friends; however, for the sake of argument, I shall assume that there's a 20% chance of this scenario.

P (Being told | No great white caught) = 0.2

Now, furthermore, there is no plausible way for a Great White to have ended up in the pond; and no plausible way to catch one with a simple fishing line. There are a variety of implausible but physically possible ways to accomplish both actions, though. So the prior probability of a Great White being caught is very low:

P (Great White caught) = 0.05

(possibly less than that, but let's go with that for the moment).

Thus, P(Being told) = P (Being told | Great White caught) P(Great White caught) + P (Being told | No great white caught) P(No great white caught) = (0.95 0.05) + (0.2 0.95) = 0.2375

Plugging this into Bayes, P(Great White caught | Being told) = P (Being told | Great White caught) P(Great White caught)/P(Being told) = (0.95 0.05)/0.2375 = 0.2

So, given certain assumptions about how trustworthy your friends are, etc., I find that the probability that they have indeed captured a Great White is higher if they tell you that they have than if they do not. Mind you, the prior probability for capturing a Great White is very low to begin with; the end result is still that it is more probable that they are lying than that they have captured a Great White, and you would be perfectly sensible to request further proof, in the form of the shark in question, before believing their claims.

So, is there a reason why you value empirical evidence as little as you do ? Alternatively, did I completely misunderstand your position ?

It's not that I completely discard empirical evidence; it's just that empirical evidence, one way or another, is somewhat rare in the case of this particular question, and thus I am forced to rely on what evidence I can find.

I have, on at least one occasion, observed some evidence; but it's the sort of evidence that doesn't communicate well and is rather unconvincing at one remove (I know it happened, because I remember it, but I have no proof other than my unsupported word).

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-03-19T07:25:46.227Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Insufficient data for a firm conclusion.

You yourself have said that the prior probability of a miracle occurring on any given day is relatively small, "somewhere between once a year and once a century". You also said that, if a miracle were to occur, you would likely be unable to recognize it as such: "I have at least as much difficulty as the hypothetical scientist. Possibly slightly more difficulty...". You also offered a plausible-sounding natural explanation for the event, and, as you mentioned, many other perfectly natural explanations exist. In addition, we have zero recorded evidence for this miracle, other than people's testimonies; whereas any other spectacular events (such as volcano eruptions or Justin Bieber sightings) are usually accompanied by plenty of recorded data (including news reports, cellphone footage, instrument telemetry, etc. etc.).

Given all of this, I'd argue that the probability of this particular event being a miracle is quite low -- even if we grant that a miracle-causing god of some sort does exist.

P (Great White caught) = 0.05

Whoa, whoa, wait a minute, 0.05 is huge ! It's about 460 times greater than your odds of dying in a car accident during any given year, assuming you live in the USA. And that's car accidents, which are pretty common events. Given that no recorded evidence of a backyard shark catch exists, I'd estimate its prior to be even lower. After all, meteorite strikes that damage people or property are extremely rare, and yet we do have recorded evidence of them happening, so pond sharks have got to be even more rare than that.

If we estimate the prior at something fairly optimistic, like 1 / 7e6 (meaning that we'd expect this rare event to happen to at least one person on any given day, seeing as there are 7e6 people on Earth), we still get a probability of something like 5.7e-7, which is about the same odds as winning the lottery (though I could be wrong, I don't know much about lotteries).

It's not that I completely discard empirical evidence; it's just that empirical evidence, one way or another, is somewhat rare in the case of this particular question...

Wouldn't this drive down the probability ? If I knew that people were catching great whites in ponds all the time, I'd be more likely to believe my friends when they told me they caught one, right ?

I have, on at least one occasion, observed some evidence; but it's the sort of evidence that doesn't communicate well and is rather unconvincing at one remove...

What makes you trust the evidence, then ?

If I went fishing in a pond one day, and caught what appears to be at first glance a great white shark, I wouldn't trust my initial impressions. I'd start looking for a hidden camera. And maybe get an MRI, just in case. Those probabilities apply to everyone, including myself. Would you not agree ?

comment by CCC · 2014-03-19T10:37:48.115Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You yourself have said that the prior probability of a miracle occurring on any given day is relatively small, "somewhere between once a year and once a century". You also said that, if a miracle were to occur, you would likely be unable to recognize it as such: "I have at least as much difficulty as the hypothetical scientist. Possibly slightly more difficulty...". You also offered a plausible-sounding natural explanation for the event, and, as you mentioned, many other perfectly natural explanations exist.

All true.

In addition, we have zero recorded evidence for this miracle, other than people's testimonies; whereas any other spectacular events (such as volcano eruptions or Justin Bieber sightings) are usually accompanied by plenty of recorded data (including news reports, cellphone footage, instrument telemetry, etc. etc.).

I would like to point out that, first of all, this occurred in 1917; there were no cellphones to take cellphone footage. And there were news reports at the time (there's a scan of at least one relevant newspaper page on the wikipedia page)

I don't think this detracts all that much from your point, but I felt I should point it out.

Given all of this, I'd argue that the probability of this particular event being a miracle is quite low -- even if we grant that a miracle-causing god of some sort does exist.

I expect that there are significantly more events claimed to be miracles than there are actual miracles. So, given as cursory a look over the available evidence as we've taken in this discussion, it would be sensible to assign a low probability to this incident having been a miracle, yes.

P (Great White caught) = 0.05

Whoa, whoa, wait a minute, 0.05 is huge !

You're right, it is really rather unreasonably large. (All of my assumed priors in my previous posts were multiples of 1/20, a level of granularity perhaps too coarse for this figure). However, I don't believe that detracts from the point I was making at all.

Consider: P(Being told) = P (Being told | Great White caught) P(Great White caught) + P (Being told | No great white caught) P(No great white caught)

Taking the previously assumed values of P (Being told | Great White caught) = 0.95 and P (Being told | No great white caught) = 0.2, and taking P(Great White caught) as 1e(-10), that gives P(Being told) = (0.95 1e(-10)) + (0.2 (1 - 1e(-10))) = 0.200000000075

Now, substituting these values in Bayes: P(Great White caught | Being told) = P (Being told | Great White caught) P(Great White caught)/P(Being told) = (0.95 1e(-10))/0.200000000075 = 0.00000000047499999982; or approximately 4.75e-10. While this is minute, it is still over four times larger than the probability that they had caught a Great White had they not yet told you; being told that they had caught a Great White is still evidence in favour of a Great White having been caught. (Though not enough to make it probable that a Great White had actually been caught).

Wouldn't this drive down the probability ? If I knew that people were catching great whites in ponds all the time, I'd be more likely to believe my friends when they told me they caught one, right ?

No, because the fact that great whites are not being caught in ponds all the time is evidence. It is very strong evidence for the hypothesis that great whites are not often found, or caught, in ponds.

When I say that empirical evidence is rare, I mean that many things can be adequately explained whether it is true that God exists or not. Therefore, those things do not act as evidence either for or against the hypothesis.

I have, on at least one occasion, observed some evidence; but it's the sort of evidence that doesn't communicate well and is rather unconvincing at one remove...

What makes you trust the evidence, then ?

If I went fishing in a pond one day, and caught what appears to be at first glance a great white shark, I wouldn't trust my initial impressions. I'd start looking for a hidden camera. And maybe get an MRI, just in case. Those probabilities apply to everyone, including myself. Would you not agree ?

Rather than continue to talk in hypotheticals, I think I'll take a moment to describe the incident in question (and I think you'll see why I say I expect you to be unconvinced by it).

I was waiting outside Church; I had been nearby for some other reason, and it would not be economical to go home before mass (as I would then have had to leave immediately again), but there was still some time to wait. Having planned for this eventuality, I had a book to read with me. (I should perhaps mention, at this point, that I am notorious among my close acquaintances for the difficulty of interrupting me in the middle of a good book).

A little way outside the church, there is a large crucifix set up. While I was reading, a man walked by and knelt at the crucifix in prayer. And, for a brief while, I felt this very strong sense of Presence... strong enough that I found myself unable to continue reading my book until it had gone.

And that's it. After a while, the man got up and walked away; the sense of Presence receded.

So, what makes me trust the evidence? I remember it; and I do not believe there was any way that any human could have faked that experience.

comment by Jiro · 2014-03-19T15:19:54.738Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The obvious explanation is a brain malfunction, not fakery by another human.

(I also suspect confirmation bias. If you had had the same experience without a man praying nearby, you wouldn't have decided that it proves that such experiences have nothing to do with prayer.)

But even ignoring that, plenty of Muslims and people of other religions have had similar experiences. Yet I doubt you believe that they were real. Since you believe that similar experiences by Muslims are not real, you obviously do believe that there are explanations other than the experience being real. Why not now, too?

comment by CCC · 2014-03-20T13:13:18.890Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The obvious explanation is a brain malfunction, not fakery by another human.

Possible; but I consider it an extremely low-probability possibility, for much the same reason as I consider the possibility that a given cloud I see in the sky is a hallucination has very low probability.

(I also suspect confirmation bias. If you had had the same experience without a man praying nearby, you wouldn't have decided that it proves that such experiences have nothing to do with prayer.)

No... but I do believe I would still have interpreted it as evidence for the existence of God.

But even ignoring that, plenty of Muslims and people of other religions have had similar experiences. Yet I doubt you believe that they were real.

Ah - be careful of assumptions. I see no reason why some of them might not have been real. I'm not sure that the details of what building one goes into for worship, or the wording of the sermons, are what's really important.

Consider Matthew 25:31-46, in which the Final Judgement is directly referenced, and the criteria under which that judgement will take place are given:

35 I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, 36 naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.

There's nothing in there about belonging to a specific religion; it's all about going out there and going good things for people.

So, given that there are Muslims who are good people and do good things, I see no reason why God wouldn't on occasion answer their prayers, on the same criteria (which are hard to find and may take as input information not available without omniscience) as He uses to respond to anyone else.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2014-03-20T15:51:16.403Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hm.
Backing up a little: what's your confidence that an arbitrarily selected perception is the result of processing signals from a distal stimulus that conforms in all significant ways to the perception?

comment by CCC · 2014-03-21T05:34:22.563Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Very very high. Short of strong evidence that a given perception is false (and not merely might be false), I tend to assume that all of my perceptions are caused by a distal stimulus that conforms in all significant ways to the perception in question (possibly filtered by intervening effects, e.g. dimmed if I am wearing sunglasses).

comment by TheOtherDave · 2014-03-21T13:15:01.489Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, yes, of course very very high.
And, sure, in practice we behave as though all our perceptions are like this, because treating any given one as though it isn't is typically unjustified.

I meant the question somewhat more precisely.

For example, out of 100,000 distinct perceptions, would you estimate the chance that at least one of those perceptions lacks a conforming distal stimulus as ~1? ~.1? ~.01? ~.00001? Other?

comment by CCC · 2014-03-22T13:07:46.754Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah. I see.

I'm afraid I can't really give you an answer at the level of precision you're asking for; I'm really not well calibrated for extimating extremely low probabilities. The best I can give you is "small enough as to be near indistinguishable from zero".

And I'm not entirely sure where I should put the upper bound of that category, either.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2014-03-22T22:38:54.656Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, let's approach it from the other direction, then. Would you say that the chance that I've experienced at least one perception not caused by processing signals from a distal stimulus that conforms in all significant ways to the perception within the last 12 months is indistinguishable from zero? Indistinguishable from one? Somewhere in between?

comment by CCC · 2014-03-23T17:04:00.044Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hmmm. Tricky.

  • There are substances that, when ingested or perhaps inhaled, will trigger hallucinations.
  • There are certain mental conditions which may trigger hallucinations.
  • Dreams might also count, given the wording you've used.

If I assume that you haven't ingested any hallucinogens, knowingly or not; and that you are mentally healthy, and not counting dreams, then I'd say it falls into the "small enough as to be near indistinguishable from zero" category. (If you have ingested hallucinogens, the probability shoots up; potentially quite a lot).

comment by TheOtherDave · 2014-03-23T18:31:35.853Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

OK, cool... that answers the question I was trying to get answered. Thank you.

comment by Jiro · 2014-03-20T15:00:39.552Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Possible; but I consider it an extremely low-probability possibility, for much the same reason as I consider the possibility that a given cloud I see in the sky is a hallucination has very low probability.

The possibility that a random cloud is a hallucination is low because clouds are well-studied and there is plenty of evidence for the existence of clouds--evidence of such a nature that anyone can see it. Furthermore, we know something about hallucinations--hallucinations don't cause random people to see random objects under random circumstances. A random cloud in the sky is not the type of thing that hallucinations typically make people see.

Your mystical experience was observable only by yourself, and was of a type which is known to be caused by brain malfunction.

So, given that there are Muslims who are good people and do good things, I see no reason why God wouldn't on occasion answer their prayers

But the more that different religions can do this, the less the meaning of the mystical experience. If God gives those experiences to people of all religions, then those experiences are no longer evidence for any particular religion. For all you know, the Muslim idea of God is the true one, the Christian one is false, and the Muslim God gives experiences to Christians in the same way you think that the Christian one gives experiences to Muslims. Maybe Christianity is really false, the pagans are right that there is a god and a goddess, and they give mystical experiences to Christians. Maybe some form of devil-worship is correct; I assume you believe that the Devil can't hand out mystical experiences, but if you are wrong about just that part, your experience could just as well come from the Devil.

comment by CCC · 2014-03-21T05:27:17.600Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If God gives those experiences to people of all religions, then those experiences are no longer evidence for any particular religion.

It simply suggests that the criteria that God uses, when deciding when to make His presence known, are not limited to the professed religion of the person in question. Exactly what those criteria are, is not fully clear; but any religion which helped to foster those criteria amongst its adherents would be at least partially correct, in its effects if not necessarily in its dogma.

I assume you believe that the Devil can't hand out mystical experiences

Why not? We're talking about the what may be second-most powerful entity in existence. (Mind you, there's a big difference between can and will; the existence of the Devil strongly implies the existence of God, and if the Devil is trying to discourage religion, then it would be counterproductive unless some other effects of said experience outweigh that risk.)

comment by Jiro · 2014-03-21T17:16:52.706Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It simply suggests that the criteria that God uses, when deciding when to make His presence known, are not limited to the professed religion of the person in question.

That sounds like you're agreeing with me. If God gives people mystical experiences no matter what their religion, mystical experiences are no good in showing that the religion is true. Of course this is a matter of degree. The wider the range of people get the experiences, the worse the experiences are at showing anything.

If beings other than God (such as the Devil) can give out mystical experiences, it's even worse. Mystical experiences not only don't show that the religion is true, they don't even show that "God exists" is true. At this point I don't see why you care that it's not just a brain malfunction, because even if it wasn't, you have no way to tell between an experience sent by God, one sent by the Devil, and there being a sorcerer on every block who occasionally pulls pranks by giving random people mystical experiences.

(As for why the Devil would want to do that? Maybe he knows that people interpret mystical experiences as evidence for their religion being true and he can incite religious conflict by giving people of opposing religions mystical experiences.)

comment by CCC · 2014-03-22T13:16:31.105Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That sounds like you're agreeing with me. If God gives people mystical experiences no matter what their religion, mystical experiences are no good in showing that the religion is true. Of course this is a matter of degree. The wider the range of people get the experiences, the worse the experiences are at showing anything.

It does not prevent said experiences from showing the existence of God, or from hinting at the criteria He finds important.

If beings other than God (such as the Devil) can give out mystical experiences, it's even worse. Mystical experiences not only don't show that the religion is true, they don't even show that "God exists" is true. At this point I don't see why you care that it's not just a brain malfunction, because even if it wasn't, you have no way to tell between an experience sent by God, one sent by the Devil, and there being a sorcerer on every block who occasionally pulls pranks by giving random people mystical experiences.

The devil is defined more-or-less by being in oppostion to God. If the devil exists, then so does God, pretty much.

And humans capable of pulling off a trick like that would almost certainly have been discovered by now if they were common.

comment by Jiro · 2014-03-22T16:57:07.859Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It does not prevent said experiences from showing the existence of God

The more different kinds of God you think can give out mystical experiences, the vaguer the "God" that those experiences demonstrate the existence of. If the Muslim version of God can send them, maybe it shows there's a God but he's not necessarily Christian. If polytheistic pagan gods can send them, maybe it shows that there's a God but he's not necessarily Christian and there isn't necessarily one of him either. You've ended up "proving" there's a God who has few attributes other than his name.

The devil is defined more-or-less by being in oppostion to God. If the devil exists, then so does God, pretty much.

That's just a matter of semantics. Maybe a devil-like being without a God can't strictly speaking be called the Devil, but whatever you call him, surely you believe that if the normal Devil can give out mystical experiences, so can that one, right?

And humans capable of pulling off a trick like that would almost certainly have been discovered by now if they were common

"Every block" is just an example. Suppose there were few but not no sorcerers in the world. Couldn't they produce mystical experiences that you could not tell from God-borne ones?

(And how do you explain the fact that people can take drugs that cause mystical experiences, get electrical shocks to their brain that trigger mystical experiences, and why some known mental illnesses are associated with mystical experiences? None of these things happen for seeing clouds except in passing.)

comment by CCC · 2014-03-23T17:11:02.535Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I find your comment very confusing. Might I suggest that we continue this discussion, after tabooing the words 'God' and 'Devil'?

I'll start out by rewriting my previous post under those same constraints:

That sounds like you're agreeing with me. If God gives people mystical experiences no matter what their religion, mystical experiences are no good in showing that the religion is true. Of course this is a matter of degree. The wider the range of people get the experiences, the worse the experiences are at showing anything.

It does not prevent said experiences from showing the existence of [an omnipotent, omniscient being], or from hinting at the criteria He finds important.

If beings other than God (such as the Devil) can give out mystical experiences, it's even worse. Mystical experiences not only don't show that the religion is true, they don't even show that "God exists" is true. At this point I don't see why you care that it's not just a brain malfunction, because even if it wasn't, you have no way to tell between an experience sent by God, one sent by the Devil, and there being a sorcerer on every block who occasionally pulls pranks by giving random people mystical experiences.

The [being opposing an omnipotent, omniscient being] is defined more-or-less by being in oppostion to [an omnipotent, omniscient being]. If the [being opposing an omnipotent, omniscient being] exists, then so does [said omnipotent, omniscient being], pretty much.

And humans capable of pulling off a trick like that would almost certainly have been discovered by now if they were common.

comment by Jiro · 2014-03-25T17:36:01.569Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I find your comment very confusing. Might I suggest that we continue this discussion, after tabooing the words 'God' and 'Devil'?

No, not unless the claim that you're making fits whatever words you use instead of "God" and "Devil". In order for it to work, you would have to assert that mystical experiences can come only from omnipotent, omniscient beings or other beings who share a cosmology, and from nobody else. I find that a very peculiar thing to claim.

I would think that, if they exist, pagan gods should be able to provide mystical experiences. Pagan gods aren't omnipotent and omniscient. A being that resembled the devil but didn't oppose anyone powerful could provide mystical experiences, and he wouldn't be omniscient, omnipotent, or in opposition to someone who is. Sorcerers aren't omniscient or omnipotent, yet they could make such experiences. And we know that brain stimulation, drugs, starvation, and mental illness can produce mystical experiences and they have nothing to do with omnipotence or omniscience.

And as for sorcerers being common, the argument doesn't depend on them being common, just on them existing. Rare sorcerers are equally a problem for the theory as common ones. There's also the possibility that sorcerers exist in a society that is intentionally kept hidden from discovery by the muggles. (And even then, who's to say that sorcerers haven't been discovered? They haven't been discovered in a reproducible way in a laboratory, but neither has God. They certainly have been discovered in the sense that an awful lot of people over a wide range of times and places were confident that they are real.)

comment by CCC · 2014-03-26T09:39:41.438Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In order for it to work, you would have to assert that mystical experiences can come only from omnipotent, omniscient beings or other beings who share a cosmology, and from nobody else. I find that a very peculiar thing to claim.

No, I simply need to assert that such experiences are more likely given the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent being than they are without the existence of such a being.

Consider, for example; if I find a drop of oil on my driveway one morning, I may conclude that my car has an oil leak. There are other ways that the oil may have got there; someone else may have parked in my driveway for a few hours overnight, and he may have an oil leak. Or a neighbour may have dripped some oil on my driveway as a prank.

The mere existence of alternate hypothesis is not, on its own, sufficient to show that a conclusion cannot be correct.

I would think that, if they exist, pagan gods should be able to provide mystical experiences.

Okay, since you're not tabooing 'god', I'm going to take a guess that you mean a very powerful and knowledgeable but neither omnipotent nor omniscient being which is part of a community of similarly powerful and knowledgeable beings, whose unified actions underlie the basic physics of the universe. Is that approximately correct?

If that is what you meant, then yes, you are correct; however, the chances that such beings exist is very small, because if a number of nearly-equally-powerful yet different beings were trying to run the physics of the universe, then we would almost certainly by now have spotted some areas of blatant disagreement between different beings; it would, in short, almost certainly be clearly impossible that a theory of everything could ever be produced. (If they never disagreed about anything ever, then are they really separate beings?)

A being that resembled the devil but didn't oppose anyone powerful could provide mystical experiences, and he wouldn't be omniscient, omnipotent, or in opposition to someone who is.

I'm guessing here (because I'm really not sure what you mean) that you mean a single powerful and knowledgeable but neither omnipotent nor omniscient being?

If so, then again, you're right. Such a being could provide such an experience.

And we know that brain stimulation, drugs, starvation, and mental illness can produce mystical experiences and they have nothing to do with omnipotence or omniscience.

Yes. And I know that I didn't have electrodes in my brain, I hadn't taken drugs, I wasn't starved, and I'm mentally healthy.

And as for sorcerers being common, the argument doesn't depend on them being common, just on them existing. Rare sorcerers are equally a problem for the theory as common ones.

True. The occasional rare sorceror who doesn't even know he's a sorceror would work. This would imply some circumstance, possibly some rare genetic mutation, which would permit some human brain to have a very direct effect on another human brain. If this could be controlled - even slightly - and if it worked on non-human brains as well, it could have a drastic positive effect on an organism's survival. If this were the case, I'd expect to see at least one type of mildly telepathic animal, exploiting this.

...I might not, of course. It might be that the 'sorcerors' are the first organism to exhibit this rare mutation.

comment by Jiro · 2014-03-26T14:31:03.454Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

if a number of nearly-equally-powerful yet different beings were trying to run the physics of the universe, then we would almost certainly by now have spotted some areas of blatant disagreement between different beings

And if there was a God, and there was a Devil who opposed him, we'd almost certainly have spotted some areas of disagreement between them. (You could claim that yes, we have spotted such things, but of course the same claim could be made for pagan gods.)

Also, pagan gods needn't necessarily run the physics of the universe in the sense of changing the cosmological constant.

I'd expect to see at least one type of mildly telepathic animal, exploiting this.

This would be true for certain types of psychic powers, but there are other things which can be done only by humans. Sorcerers with spellbooks have to be able to read, for instance, and even if you quibble about whether animals can read, they wouldn't be able to read well enough to use a spellbook.

I know that I didn't have electrodes in my brain, I hadn't taken drugs, I wasn't starved, and I'm mentally healthy.

The point is that mystical experiences are known to have physical causes other than the existence of a supernatural being. I would expect milder versions of those to occasionally produce mystical experiences too. Nobody may have put an electrode in your brain, but the brain is complex and can occasionally misfire by itself.

No, I simply need to assert that such experiences are more likely given the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent being than they are without the existence of such a being.

No, that's not enough. Given that this is lesswrong, I hope you are aware of Bayseianism. The extent to which an experience is evidence of a God compared to evidence of other things that produce mystical experiences depends on your priors.It may be that a God is more likely to produce a mystical experience than anything else, but the prior for the existence of God is low enough that a mystical experience is still most likely to have been caused by something other than God.

comment by CCC · 2014-03-27T10:20:05.988Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And if there was a God, and there was a Devil who opposed him, we'd almost certainly have spotted some areas of disagreement between them.

Only if they were roughly equal in power and ability. If God is so comparatively powerful that the Devil doesn't get to make changes to the laws of physics, then we wouldn't see any such disagreements (because physics as a whole is still then under control of one being)

Also, pagan gods needn't necessarily run the physics of the universe in the sense of changing the cosmological constant.

In that case, can you please explain to me what exactly you mean by the phrase 'pagan gods'?

No, that's not enough. Given that this is lesswrong, I hope you are aware of Bayseianism.

Yes, I am aware of Bayesianism.

The extent to which an experience is evidence of a God compared to evidence of other things that produce mystical experiences depends on your priors.It may be that a God is more likely to produce a mystical experience than anything else, but the prior for the existence of God is low enough that a mystical experience is still most likely to have been caused by something other than God.

My prior for the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient being was set pretty high; somewhere over 50%. Why do you claim that that prior has to be set "low enough that a mystical experience is still most likely to have been caused by something other than God"?

comment by Jiro · 2014-03-27T15:12:54.335Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If God is so comparatively powerful that the Devil doesn't get to make changes to the laws of physics, then we wouldn't see any such disagreements

I was thinking more of the Devil causing small-scale events like, oh, killing someone's child to tempt them into committing revenge, or sending people mystical experiences in order to increase religious strife. The Devil is commonly described as being able to do things like that and God doesn't stop him, for whatever reason. I don't care if the Devil can change the speed of light.

In that case, can you please explain to me what exactly you mean by the phrase 'pagan gods'?

A being who has powers other than those currently recognized by science, has an area of concern and a level of power over its area of concern that is relatively high in the hierarchy if applicable, and either was worshipped or is in a class of beings that is generally worshipped.

As defining words is difficult even for well-known concepts like "chair" I reserve the right to update this definition. (If a chair is defined as being for sitting, does that mean that a chair designed as a museum art exhibit is not a chair? You try to define it and end up with locutions like "is either meant for sitting, or has features that would be considered to be designed for sitting if it was intended for sitting".)

My prior for the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient being was set pretty high;

If you set your prior high enough, anything can become evidence for God, in which case your belief that given that prior a mystical experience is evidence for God is correct but uninteresting.

comment by CCC · 2014-03-28T12:01:12.731Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I was thinking more of the Devil causing small-scale events like, oh, killing someone's child to tempt them into committing revenge, or sending people mystical experiences in order to increase religious strife.

But that would leave physics down to a single Being, with a single agenda; so there wouldn't be signs of disagreement to be seen in the laws of physics themselves

In that case, can you please explain to me what exactly you mean by the phrase 'pagan gods'?

A being who has powers other than those currently recognized by science, has an area of concern and a level of power over its area of concern that is relatively high in the hierarchy if applicable, and either was worshipped or is in a class of beings that is generally worshipped.

Ah, I see. So it's a very powerful being, with that power limited (whether by force or by choice) to a single area of concern (or possibly to multiple areas of concern), capable of feats not explainable by current scientific theories, possibly but not necessarily with the power to alter physics directly?

Such a being could presumably create a mystical experience, yes. And if they are able to alter physics directly, then I would expect a messier physics; on the other hand, if they are [i]not[/i], then, though powerful, they are no less subject to the laws of physics than we are and would eventually be explained as science progresses towards a better understanding of the universe.

If you set your prior high enough, anything can become evidence for God, in which case your belief that given that prior a mystical experience is evidence for God is correct but uninteresting.

Not quite anything, no. And I have to be wary of anthropic reasoning.

No matter where my prior is set, though, I still consider such an experience evidence of the existence of God; in that it is more likely that I'd have the experience if God exists than if not. The only difference that the prior makes is in deciding whether or not the evidence is sufficient prove God's existence.

comment by Jiro · 2014-03-28T19:37:50.943Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand why you insist on wondering whether some being has the power to change the laws of physics. Giving someone a mystical experience doesn't change the laws of physics (at least not nontrivially--by some definitions anything a supernatural being does "changes the laws of physics"), and the fact that a devil-like being without an adversary, a pagan god, or a sorcerer could give you one doesn't mean they can change the laws of physics.

if they are [i]not[/i], then, though powerful, they are no less subject to the laws of physics than we are and would eventually be explained as science progresses towards a better understanding of the universe.

"Eventually" isn't now. You don't believe the Devil can change the laws of physics, yet surely you acknowledge that science has no understanding of him or his powers.

Why can't there be other types of beings like pagan gods or sorcerers, that science also doesn't yet understand yet (regardless of whether science might understand them sometime in the future)?

No matter where my prior is set, though, I still consider such an experience evidence of the existence of God; in that it is more likely that I'd have the experience if God exists than if not.

You presumably believe God created typhoid fever and that it is more likely we would see that if God existed than if he didn't. If all you mean is that mystical experiences are evidence for God in the same sense that typhoid fever is, then that falls under "true but uninteresting". On the other hand, if you believe that mystical experiences are evidence for God in some stronger sense than typhoid fever, please elaborate.

comment by CCC · 2014-03-31T13:29:37.827Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand why you insist on wondering whether some being has the power to change the laws of physics.

Because, from the start, I was presenting my experience as a piece of evidence in favour of the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent being; and 'omnipotent' involves, among other things, being able to alter physics.

Yes, it is possible to have a sense of presence without being able to change the laws of physics. But that's not the point.

Right now, I honestly think that you and I are having completely different arguments. I am trying to discuss the probability of existence of an omnipotent, omniscient being; while you, as far as I can tell, are simply trying to list off alternate explanations for something I once saw. And yes, they are valid alternate explanations, but that's not the point.

If, to take an analogy, I find a leaf on the ground (and assuming for the moment that I can't identify a tree by its leaves) then this would be evidence in favour of the hypothesis that there is an apple tree nearby. Listing other types of tree that the leaf could have come from does not change that.


You presumably believe God created typhoid fever and that it is more likely we would see that if God existed than if he didn't.

No; on the contrary, typhoid fever (along with virtually any other illness) is a side effect of the evolutionary process; as soon as a sufficiently large creature evolves, its body in turn forms a new environment in which other creatures (germs) can survive and grow. Illnesses, I'd think, would be almost certain to appear in any life-bearing world in the absence of God; and since I don't understand why they exist, I can't make the assumption that they must exist without engaging in circular reasoning. Which makes them weak evidence against the idea that God exists.

The experience I had in front of the church, on the other hand, is an experience that is very likely in a universe where an omnipotent, omniscient being exists; and seems very unlikely in a universe where that is false. Therefore, it is evidence in favour of the idea that such a being exists.

comment by Jiro · 2014-03-31T19:23:03.872Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The experience I had in front of the church, on the other hand, is an experience that is very likely in a universe where an omnipotent, omniscient being exists; and seems very unlikely in a universe where that is false

This is phrased in a subtly different way from how you phrased it before, because "seems very unlikely in a universe where that is false" isn't a conditional probability (even though you use it to find a conditional probability).

Given the way you phrased it this time, in order to say that mystical experiences are unlikely in a universe without God, you have to show that the list of other things that cause mystical experiences is unlikely in a universe without God.

I certainly don't agree that brain malfunctions are unlikely in a universe without God. In fact, I'd say that they are very likely, especially since we know that mystical experiences can be caused by purely physical processes. And I can't see any reason why according to your standards, pagan gods, devil-like beings, or sorcerers are unlikely.

comment by CCC · 2014-04-01T09:54:43.568Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is phrased in a subtly different way from how you phrased it before, because "seems very unlikely in a universe where that is false" isn't a conditional probability (even though you use it to find a conditional probability).

P(experience | no omnipotent, omniscient being) < P(experience | omnipotent, omniscient being)

...that's what my paragraph was trying to communicate.

Given the way you phrased it this time, in order to say that mystical experiences are unlikely in a universe without God, you have to show that the list of other things that cause mystical experiences is unlikely in a universe without God.

I merely need to show that the experience is more likely in a universe with God than in a universe without God.

I certainly don't agree that brain malfunctions are unlikely in a universe without God. In fact, I'd say that they are very likely

Let us consider the set of all possible universes in which brains develop through evolutionary means, without the aid of any external beings, omnipotent or otherwise. Now, the resultant brains will, in general, merely be sufficient to result in a creature with a high chance of having grandchildren. Non-debilitating brain malfunctions are not merely likely; I'd think that they're almost certain.

However, the effects of such malfunctions will be more-or-less random. One type of malfunction might cause the sufferer to temporarily perceive green as red and vice versa. Another might cause some form of synesthesia. Yet another might result in a sudden burst of emotion, such as rage or fear.

The odds that a malfunction will give someone the impression of an approaching Presence would be a lot lower than the odds of a random malfunction. And it is the odds of that specific malfunction that I expect to be fairly low; not the odds of brain malfunctions in general.

And I can't see any reason why according to your standards, pagan gods, devil-like beings, or sorcerers are unlikely.

In two cases, those are immaterial beings; if one type of immaterial being exists, that's weak evidence that another may also exist. So that implies that those two are marginally more likely in a universe that contains an omnipotent, omniscient being than in one that does not.

Aside from that very weak point, I see no reason to assume that any of those are more likely in either sort of universe. And if the probability of those are equal, and there is another potential source of mystical experiences in the universe with the omnipotent, omniscient being, then such an experience is weak evidence in favour of the existence of such a being.

comment by Jiro · 2014-04-01T15:17:19.212Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I merely need to show that the experience is more likely in a universe with God than in a universe without God.

P(experience | no omnipotent, omniscient being) < P(experience | omnipotent, omniscient being)

No, because you phrased it differently. "The experience I had in front of the church, on the other hand, is an experience that is very likely in a universe where an omnipotent, omniscient being exists; and seems very unlikely in a universe where that is false" amounts to "P (experience | God) is high && P(experience | no God) is low", not "P (experience | God) > P(experience | no God)".

However, the effects of such malfunctions will be more-or-less random.

Brain malfunctions are more likely to produce some effects than others. And mystical experiences are the sort of thing brain malfunctions are likely to produce. That's why people starve themselves and see mystical experiences, but they rarely starve themselves and start thinking they have 12 fingers. While you gave examples of other things brain malfunctions can produce, those are just other things which they are more likely than normal to produce; they don't mean that the chance of everything is equal.

that implies that those two are marginally more likely in a universe that contains an omnipotent, omniscient being than in one that does not

  1. Those things are only marginally more likely in a universe with a God if you believe all types of God are equally likely. It is my impression that you think a Biblical-type God is more likely.

  2. Even if they are more likely, this falls under "true but uninteresting". There are lots of things that are marginally more likely in a universe with God. Claiming that mystical experiences are evidence for God is only interesting if it's better evidence than those other things. Nobody says "I saw the Loch Ness Monster, so God is marginally more likely" (seeing the Loch Ness Monster implies that science, which says there is no such thing, can fail, and if science can fail, God is marginally more likely).

comment by CCC · 2014-04-03T10:03:43.381Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No, because you phrased it differently. "The experience I had in front of the church, on the other hand, is an experience that is very likely in a universe where an omnipotent, omniscient being exists; and seems very unlikely in a universe where that is false" amounts to "P (experience | God) is high && P(experience | no God) is low", not "P (experience | God) > P(experience | no God)".

Well, I do think that "P (experience | God) is high && P(experience | no God) is low". However, in order to take the experience as evidence for the existence of God, it is necessary only to show the weaker point that "P (experience | God) > P(experience | no God)"

Brain malfunctions are more likely to produce some effects than others.

True.

And mystical experiences are the sort of thing brain malfunctions are likely to produce.

For human brains as they exist in this universe, perhaps. But for every possible type of brain, as may exist in every possible type of universe?

I consider that unlikely. I could be wrong about that, of course. But remember, in order to consider the probability of brains being prone to that exact malfunction, one must consider the possibility of brains constructed very differently to the ones we have. And, quite honestly, that's such a wide and unexplored field that there's not much I can say about it at all...

Those things are only marginally more likely in a universe with a God if you believe all types of God are equally likely. It is my impression that you think a Biblical-type God is more likely.

No, not all types are equally likely. Yes, I do think that an omniscient, omnipotent being very probably exists.

"I saw the Loch Ness Monster, so God is marginally more likely" (seeing the Loch Ness Monster implies that science, which says there is no such thing, can fail, and if science can fail, God is marginally more likely).

...why on earth would the idea that 'science can fail' lead to 'God is marginally more likely'?

If an omnipotent, omniscient being exists, then it is reasonable to postulate that said being created our universe (or, at the very least, knew about it and didn't stop it from existing). If such a being created our universe, then it is reasonable to assume that it would have been created with some care; because most craftsmen take a lot of care in their work. A bit of observation shows that our universe runs on rules; and if those rules were created with care, then it is reasonable to assume that they will work, that there are not going to be any obvious seams visible in the rules.

In short, if God exists, then science (being a systematic attempt to discover those rules) should work.

comment by Jiro · 2014-04-03T18:24:18.212Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But remember, in order to consider the probability of brains being prone to that exact malfunction, one must consider the possibility of brains constructed very differently to the ones we have.

To figure out the odds of the existence of God based on you having a certain type of experience, you can't just ignore the knowledge about what kind of brain you have. If you do that, you're throwing out evidence that affects your conclusion. The type of brain you actually have is one where malfunctions produce mystical experiences more readily than they produce arbitrary other effects.

why on earth would the idea that 'science can fail' lead to 'God is marginally more likely'?... there are not going to be any obvious seams visible in the rules.

Yes, there would. If people normally disintegrate only when exposed to thousands of degrees of temperature, but God can disintegrate people whenever he wants, every time God stays hidden but disintegrates a person who is not hidden, that's a seam in the rules and science will not be able to explain that event.

comment by CCC · 2014-04-03T19:28:31.407Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

To figure out the odds of the existence of God based on you having a certain type of experience, you can't just ignore the knowledge about what kind of brain you have.

The figures that I am using to find P(God | experience) include P(experience | no God) and P(experience | God). P(experience | no God) must surely integrate over every possible universe in which there is no God, or else it will be P(experience | a specific universe), which is the wrong figure. Similarly, P(experience | God) must integrate over every universe in which an omnipotent, omniscient being exists; or else, once again, it is P(experience | specific universe), and is the wrong figure.

I'm trying to simplify the equation, for purposes of debate, to an update on exactly one piece of evidence. If we start including the specifics of the brain, then that opens up the question of P(God | human brain), which is an entire, and much bigger, debate on its own. And one that I have no intention of entering into with you; the inferential distance between us is simply too large, and I've been having enough trouble trying to communicate with you as it is.

Yes, there would. If people normally disintegrate only when exposed to thousands of degrees of temperature, but God can disintegrate people whenever he wants, every time God stays hidden but disintegrates a person who is not hidden, that's a seam in the rules and science will not be able to explain that event.

That's a very good point.

It's rather unlikely that it could be replicated under laboratory conditions, which would mean it's not an obvious seam... but yes, I see your point, it could be a bit of a seam. (Or it could be as-yet undiscovered physics of some sort, of course).

comment by Jiro · 2014-04-03T20:50:08.466Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm trying to simplify the equation, for purposes of debate, to an update on exactly one piece of evidence. If we start including the specifics of the brain, then that opens up the question of P(God | human brain), which is an entire, and much bigger, debate on its own.

You can't simplify that equation. If you simplify the equation that way it's only useful when figuring out if there is a god, given a creature of unknown type who has a mystical experience. You are not a creature of unknown type, and throwing out the information that you have a brain that is inordinately prone to malfunctions that produce mystical experiences will distort the answer.

It's like concluding there is a high probability that someone is insane because he thinks he's Napoleon, while discarding the information that he's ruling France in the year 1805. P(insane|claim Napoleon) is high, but P(insane|claim Napoleon && rules France in 1805)" is not high. Discarding this information is wrong.

comment by CCC · 2014-04-05T18:45:04.037Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you simplify the equation that way it's only useful when figuring out if there is a god, given a creature of unknown type who has a mystical experience.

That is exactly the point I was trying to make; that the fact that such an experience happened is a piece of evidence in favour of the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient being.

You are not a creature of unknown type, and throwing out the information that you have a brain that is inordinately prone to malfunctions that produce mystical experiences will distort the answer.

The trouble with this, if you start insisting that certain information cannot be left out, is that you are cherry-picking what information that is, and specifically selecting information that you believe leads to the conclusion that you want. I could probably name a dozen other pieces of information which support the idea that an omniscient, omnipotent being exists and insist on including them too (for example; consider P(God | intelligent life exists)).

If we start down this path, then we could both simply throw new pieces of information into the discussion again and again; it will take months, and it would lead absolutely nowhere.

It's like concluding there is a high probability that someone is insane because he thinks he's Napoleon, while discarding the information that he's ruling France in the year 1805. P(insane|claim Napoleon) is high, but P(insane|claim Napoleon && rules France in 1805)" is not high. Discarding this information is wrong.

I would like to refer you to a short story that discusses that point in greater detail.

In short, yes, P(insane | claims Napoleon) is high, and if I meet someone who tells me 'One of my ancestors claimed he was Napoleon' then I will consider it a high probability that that ancestor was insane.

comment by Jiro · 2014-04-06T17:42:59.959Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That is exactly the point I was trying to make; that the fact that such an experience happened is a piece of evidence in favour of the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient being.

The fact that such an experience happened, given no other information, may be evidence for God. But you have other information and are ignoring it.

Furthermore, even as evidence for God, it's only evidence in a very weak sense compared to typical cases where one speaks about something being evidence. It makes it more likely that there's a God, but it also makes it more likely that there is a pagan god, or a sorcerer, or an extraterrestrial with a mind-control ray.

The trouble with this, if you start insisting that certain information cannot be left out, is that you are cherry-picking what information that is

It's not cherry picking to refuse to discard information which affects the result by orders of magnitude more than the probability you're hoping to get from it. A mystical experience in a human brain is much better evidence for a brain malfunction than it is for God.

In short, yes, P(insane | claims Napoleon) is high, and if I meet someone who tells me 'One of my ancestors claimed he was Napoleon'

My scenario not only involves being in 1805, but also ruling France. If you use the information that someone is your ancestor (presumably from 1805), but you omit the information that he was ruling France then, you have still discarded relevant information and as a result will come up with a probability of insanity that is much too high.

comment by CCC · 2014-04-10T19:12:03.998Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The fact that such an experience happened, given no other information, may be evidence for God. But you have other information and are ignoring it.

sigh

Very well. If you insist that I not ignore information, then there is a lot more information that needs to be properly considered. Decades of experiences that need to be sorted and categorised. Hundreds of writings, ancient and modern; thousands of accounts, of one sort or another.

We'll just have to go through it all, piece by piece. Only the bits that are relevant, of course, but there's a lot that is relevant.

For a start, let me consider the probability of the existence of God, given the existence of brains (or any form of hardware capable of supporting intelligence in some or other form).

Where, just to be clear, I use the word 'God' to refer to any omniscient, omnipotent being.

So, what is P(God | Brains)?

According to Bayes' Theorem:

P(God | Brains) = P(Brains | God)*P(God)/P(Brains)

Of course, P(Brains) = P(Brains | God)P(God)+P(Brains | no God)P(no God).

Thus, a simple substitution gives:

P(God | Brains) = P(Brains | God)P(God)/[P(Brains | God)P(God)+P(Brains | no God)*P(no God)]

So. What is P(Brains | no God)?

For that, we need to consider the probability that a randomly chosen universe will contain brains, at some or other point in its history.

In order to do that, let us consider all possible universes.

Here, I start by considering the null universe; a universe that contains no matter. Since it contains no matter, it cannot contain brains.

Then, let us add a piece of matter; a single quark. this one-quark universe also cannot contain brains, as there is insufficient matter to form the brains.

I don't think it's sensible to consider different one-quark universes as different; no matter where the quark is, or how fast it is moving, it's just a coordinate transform to make it identical to any other one-quark universe.

Then, let us add a second quark. Now, it is sensible to differentiate between different two-quark universes, because there is a measurement that can change from one universe to another; and that is the distance between the two quarks. There is also another measurement that can change from one universe to another, and that is their relative velocity. However, it is not always clear whether two diffferent snapshots of two-quark universes are different universes, or the same universe at different times. Still, no brains are possible.

There are even more three-quark than two-quark universes; at a rough estimate, I'd say that the number of three-quark universes is half of the square of the number of two-quark universes. Still no brains.

Four-quark universes; here, I expect the total number of universes to be roughly x^3/6 where x is the number of two-quark universes.

For an N-quark universe, in general, I expect that the total number of possible universes would be roughly x^(N-1)/(N-1)!. This is an interesting function; it grows exponentially for low N, the rate of increase slows as N approaches x, and finally, when N exceeds x, the number of possible N-particle universes actually begins to drop. Of course, x is either infinite or at least very very large, so we can expect that most universes will have quite a lot of matter; more than enough to form brains.

Now, what are the odds of a universe which contains enough matter containing brains? Note that the universes under consideration here contain a number of quarks, in what is essentially a random configuration. All possible configurations are under consideration here, so at least some of them will have brains (in some cases, Boltzman brains; in other cases, brains with bodies and whole civilisations around them). However, since every possible random configuration is permitted, it would seem to me that a highly ordered set of particles, like a brain, must be relatively rare.

So, P(Brain | no God) seems like it should be fairly low.

Now, let us consider P(Brain | God). This time, we do not have to consider every possible universe; only those universes that could exist in the presence of an omniscient, omnipotent being. It seems likely that such a being will adjust any universe to His liking, and possibly create one if one does not exist.

It also seems quite probable, to me, that if a single intelligent being exists, then that being is quite likely to realise that he (or she) would like a conversation with someone else. Being omnipotent, it seems likely that God would create someone to talk with, and thus create brains.

So, it seems likely that P(Brains | God) is high.

Putting a high value for P(Brains | God) and a low value for P(Brains | no God) into the equation from earlier:

P(God | Brains) = P(Brains | God)P(God)/[P(Brains | God)P(God)+P(Brains | no God)*P(no God)]

...will produce the result that P(God | Brains) > P(God). This seems to be a fairly major effect.


A mystical experience in a human brain is much better evidence for a brain malfunction than it is for God.

Do you have any figures for the likelihood of such a brain malfunction? Or any form of data at all to back up this assertion?

My scenario not only involves being in 1805, but also ruling France.

Yes. That is quite a lot of bits of information; since it eliminates all but one of the people throughout all of history who thought they were Napoleon.

It's a bit like the difference between asking "what are the odds of getting a six on a fair die roll?" and "what are the odds that I got a six on the fair die I rolled on Thursday 10 April 2014 at 21:10?" - though the difference is a bit more pronounced, as I'm sure there were more than six people throughout history who claimed to be Napoleon.

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-03-21T04:26:38.836Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And there were news reports at the time (there's a scan of at least one relevant newspaper page on the wikipedia page)

Right, but there were no records of the event itself, just records of people's testimonies. This is somewhat... odd. When e.g. a volcano erupts there is usually tons of footage of the actual event. People can be mistaken, or they can lie; but it's hard to argue with a giant flaming mountain.

...being told that they had caught a Great White is still evidence in favour of a Great White having been caught.

Yes, but it's also evidence for any number of other, more likely events: that my friends are pulling a prank, that they are mistaken, that a prank has been pulled on them, etc. etc. We don't need to enumerate them all; what's important here is only the posterior probability. If it is minute, then the reasonable course of action is to say, "until I see that shark, I won't believe that you guys caught it, sorry". There's a huge difference between saying that, and saying, "even though the chances that you caught that shark are even smaller than the chances of a meteorite hitting me in the head anytime soon, I can't come up with a better explanation off the top of my head so I'll believe you, good job !".

You said,

When I say that empirical evidence is rare, I mean that many things can be adequately explained whether it is true that God exists or not.

But beliefs do not exist in a vacuum. Instead, they form a Bayesian network: pieces of evidence affect the posterior probabilities of some beliefs; those beliefs change the prior probabilities of other beliefs, and so on. And the problem with the proposition G, which means "a god of some kind exists", is that it's starting to look like for any piece of evidence E, P(G|E) is lower than P(x|E), where x is pretty much any other non-divine explanation; and there is a lot of other evidence that can raise P(x). This is what I was driving at earlier with my hypothetical Alpha-god.

So, is there any piece of evidence E for which P(G|E) is much higher than any alternatives ? Moses, presumably, got exactly such a piece of evidence in the form of a burning bush. We don't have that, however; what we've got is an ancient story about a guy who saw a burning bush, and experience tells us that ancient stories mostly can't be trusted -- or else we'd be forced to believe in Zeus, Shivah, the Jade Emperor, etc., possibly at the same time.

Rather than continue to talk in hypotheticals, I think I'll take a moment to describe the incident in question (and I think you'll see why I say I expect you to be unconvinced by it).

As you have anticipated, I am unconvinced by your report, but the question is, why are you convinced ? You say:

So, what makes me trust the evidence? I remember it; and I do not believe there was any way that any human could have faked that experience.

But these aren't the only possibilities. Even if you cannot come up with any others (such as a random brain malfunction, as Jiro points out), why is this experience sufficient to convince you that a miracle occurred -- given that, as you agreed above, the probability of such an event is minute ? Don't you want to see the actual shark, before making your conclusions ?

comment by CCC · 2014-03-21T06:41:01.495Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Right, but there were no records of the event itself, just records of people's testimonies. This is somewhat... odd. When e.g. a volcano erupts there is usually tons of footage of the actual event.

There appear to have been quite a few pictures - somewhat to my surprise. Most of them appear to be pictures of the crowd, rather than of the Sun... and, as with any google search, some appear to be unrelated.

Yes, but it's also evidence for any number of other, more likely events: that my friends are pulling a prank, that they are mistaken, that a prank has been pulled on them, etc. etc.

That is true.

We don't need to enumerate them all; what's important here is only the posterior probability. If it is minute, then the reasonable course of action is to say, "until I see that shark, I won't believe that you guys caught it, sorry". There's a huge difference between saying that, and saying, "even though the chances that you caught that shark are even smaller than the chances of a meteorite hitting me in the head anytime soon, I can't come up with a better explanation off the top of my head so I'll believe you, good job !"

But the posterior probability doesn't just depend on the evidence; it also depends on the prior probability. The prior probability assigned to the shark being caught is substantially lower than the prior probability I'd assigned to the existence of God. The analogy breaks down at the selection of priors.

And the problem with the proposition G, which means "a god of some kind exists", is that it's starting to look like for any piece of evidence E, P(G|E) is lower than P(x|E), where x is pretty much any other non-divine explanation; and there is a lot of other evidence that can raise P(x).

I suspect that this is a rather severe exaggeration. I can easily propose an infinite number of proposals for 'x' where 'x' is non-divine but where P(G|E)>P(x|E) for almost any E. My method for finding these proposals for 'x' would be to string together a number of randomly selected grammatically correct sentence starting with the word 'because'; this would result in a number of entirely nonsensical proposals. Similarly, I can randomly select evidences E, placing them before the 'because'.

I shall assume you meant, therefore, that "there exists at least one non-divine explanation 'x' for which P(x|E)>P(G|E) for any given evidence E".

So, is there any piece of evidence E for which P(G|E) is much higher than any alternatives ? Moses, presumably, got exactly such a piece of evidence in the form of a burning bush.

You've at least partially answered your own question; Moses saw the evidence in the burning bush. One particular monk saw the evidence in the Miracle of Lanciano. Several thousand people saw the evidence in the Miracle of the Sun. Doubting Thomas saw the evidence in the resurrected Jesus.

Lots of people saw evidence in first-hand observation of miracles.

We don't have that, however; what we've got is an ancient story about a guy who saw a burning bush, and experience tells us that ancient stories mostly can't be trusted -- or else we'd be forced to believe in Zeus, Shivah, the Jade Emperor, etc., possibly at the same time.

That's the trouble; as soon as you get to second-hand observation, the evidence is a whole lot less convincing. If you've set the prior for God's existence sufficiently low, then there isn't going to be enough second-hand evidence to alter that.

As you have anticipated, I am unconvinced by your report, but the question is, why are you convinced ? You say:

So, what makes me trust the evidence? I remember it; and I do not believe there was any way that any human could have faked that experience.

But these aren't the only possibilities. Even if you cannot come up with any others (such as a random brain malfunction, as Jiro points out), why is this experience sufficient to convince you that a miracle occurred -- given that, as you agreed above, the probability of such an event is minute ? Don't you want to see the actual shark, before making your conclusions ?

Because I did see the shark, to extend the metaphor. And then it swam away, on its own business.

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-03-24T21:15:20.392Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There appear to have been quite a few pictures - somewhat to my surprise. Most of them appear to be pictures of the crowd, rather than of the Sun...

Are there any photos (or preferably videos) of the event itself ? I'm looking for something along the lines of this -- although, admittedly, volcano eruptions are relatively mundane events by comparison.

The prior probability assigned to the shark being caught is substantially lower than the prior probability I'd assigned to the existence of God.

Ah, I see, that is interesting. What is the ballpark prior probability you place on the existence of God (or any other god, for that matter) ?

I shall assume you meant, therefore, that "there exists at least one non-divine explanation 'x' for which P(x|E)>P(G|E) for any given evidence E".

Yes, good call.

Lots of people saw evidence in first-hand observation of miracles.

It would be more accurate to say something like, "we have a lot of historical texts that describe people who claim to have seen miracles". The distinction is important, because we have a veritable deluge of such texts regarding all major religions, as well as more modern phenomena such as alien abductions, Bigfoot, etc. The problem with such second- and third-hand accounts are that they -- as you have pointed out -- are notoriously unreliable.

I do not believe that little gray aliens have ever visited Earth, despite the claims of many, many "abductees". Do you ? If not, why not, and what would it take to convince you ? You say:

Because I did see the shark, to extend the metaphor. And then it swam away, on its own business.

So, to recap: if someone told you about this shark, you would not believe him. Similarly, you do not believe that your shark story is convincing enough to convert another rational person to your belief. I think we are in agreement on these two points.

One thing I don't understand, though, is why are you convinced ? Do you believe yourself to be that much better -- orders of magnitude better -- at detecting the presence of sharks (or gods) than any other person ? If so, then for what reason ? But if not, then why are you privileging your own perceptions, given that they are no better than anyone else's ?

Think of all the alternative explanations you'd come up with if I told you, "guess what, I was abducted by little gray men from space yesterday". Do not these explanations also apply to yourself ?

comment by CCC · 2014-03-25T12:51:17.719Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Are there any photos (or preferably videos) of the event itself ? I'm looking for something along the lines of this -- although, admittedly, volcano eruptions are relatively mundane events by comparison.

There won't be videos; the event in question happened in 1917, and the earliest video cameras were apparently first used in the 1930s. And I'm not sure that anyone can get a halfway reasonable photo of a very bright light source using 1917 camera technology - which doesn't mean that no-one did, of course.

But if it doesn't turn up in a Google search, then I have no idea where else to look for such a picture; should one even exist.

The prior probability assigned to the shark being caught is substantially lower than the prior probability I'd assigned to the existence of God.

Ah, I see, that is interesting. What is the ballpark prior probability you place on the existence of God (or any other god, for that matter) ?

To the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent being, I'd assigned a prior probability of somewhere over 50%.

It would be more accurate to say something like, "we have a lot of historical texts that describe people who claim to have seen miracles"

An excellent point. Very well, then; lots of people claim to have seen evidence in first-hand observation of miracles.

I do not believe that little gray aliens have ever visited Earth, despite the claims of many, many "abductees". Do you ? If not, why not, and what would it take to convince you ?

I consider the prior probability that little gray aliens have ever visited Earth to be very small. Despite this, they have become sufficiently mimetic in modern culture that I would consider them a prime choice for hoaxsters; this, in turn, results in me sharply discounting second-hand accounts.

To convince me that aliens have visited Earth will require some piece of physical evidence; perhaps either something made from a material that can be proven not to have come from this planet (and considering what we can make, that might be a tough order) or some piece of technology not merely unavailable to humanity but significantly distant from what is available. I would not necessarily need to hold the evidence in my own hands; I would merely need to be convinced that said evidence exists (e.g. through news reports from reliable sources - 'Scientists Study Alien Technology').

So, to recap: if someone told you about this shark, you would not believe him.

This depends on my prior. For the existence of God, my prior is high enough that I would consider it plausible that he is telling the truth. For finding an actual shark in a lake fed and drained by small streams, my prior is far, far lower.

Similarly, you do not believe that your shark story is convincing enough to convert another rational person to your belief.

Yes, this is correct.

One thing I don't understand, though, is why are you convinced ?

Largely because I started with a very high prior. My very high prior was contingent on the word of my parents, and particularly of my father, a wise and intelligent man who is far better than me at telling true from false. He's not infallible, but if he says something is certainly true, then I consider that a good reason to set a high prior for that datum (before updating on any other available evidence, of course).

Think of all the alternative explanations you'd come up with if I told you, "guess what, I was abducted by little gray men from space yesterday". Do not these explanations also apply to yourself ?

Many of them do not. I know that I am not making up the story. I know that I am not lying. I know that I was not dreaming. I know that I had not received any major head injuries at around the same time. That covers the majority of the probability with regard to reasons why you might claim to have been abducted by little gray aliens.

As a first-hand observer, I can discount all of those explanations.

Also, my prior for the existence of little gray men from space is fairly low; which would lead to me assigning extra probability to the various 'lying' categories.

comment by Jiro · 2014-03-11T15:20:59.966Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If fires didn't burn orphans, it may be technically true that science couldn't prove it was caused by a God, but that's because science can't prove anything. Science certainly could rule out other explanations to the extent that a godlike being is pretty much the only reasonable possibility left. Science could discover that fires not burning orphans seemed to be a fundamental law of the universe that can't be explained in terms of other laws. And a fundamental law of the universe that operates in terms of complicated human conceptual categories like "orphan" is a miracle.

You seem to think that science could never prove this is a miracle because science would just keep coming up with other theories (that would eventually be disproven). If that was actually true, no scientist would be able to conclude that anything is a fundamental law of the universe at all, whether miraculous or non-miraculous, since the scientist would keep coming up with theories that explain the law in terms of something else. In fact, at some point the scientist will run out of likely theories and will only be able to come up with theories so unlikely that "this is not based on some other law" is more reasonable.

comment by CCC · 2014-03-12T09:19:40.285Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You seem to think that science could never prove this is a miracle because science would just keep coming up with other theories (that would eventually be disproven).

They might not eventually be disproven, or they might take a very long time to disprove. Consider; we know that both general relativity and quantum mechanics are very, very, very good at predicting the universe as we know it. We also know that they are mutually incompatible in certain very hard-to-test situations; they cannot both be true (and it is quite possible that neither, in their current form, is completely true). Yet neither has, to the best of my knowledge, been disproven.

If that was actually true, no scientist would be able to conclude that anything is a fundamental law of the universe at all, whether miraculous or non-miraculous, since the scientist would keep coming up with theories that explain the law in terms of something else.

Well, we don't actually have the fundamental laws of the universe yet. Once quantum gravity's been sorted out, then we might be there.

I'm not sure that I can expect anyone in my example counterfactual universe to have done any better than we've done in the real historical universe.

comment by Jiro · 2014-03-12T20:55:52.874Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, we don't actually have the fundamental laws of the universe yet.

We have laws that are relatively more fundamental than others, and my argument doesn't require that the law be fundamental in an absolute sense. If scientists discovered that orphans are fireproof, and ran out of explanations for why the category "orphans" is part of the rule, they would essentially have proven it's supernatural, even if, oh, they don't rule out the possibility that both orphans and priests are fireproof.

comment by CCC · 2014-03-13T07:44:43.007Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Why would they run out of explanations? All that leads to is "we don't know why yet, but we'll think of something".

And maybe trying to get funding for a bigger particle accelerator.

comment by Jiro · 2014-03-14T05:17:47.064Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Proving things to 100% certainty requires running out of explanations. Proving things to reasonable certainty only requires running out of reasonable explanations, and that's certainly possible. And the latter is all that people mean when they speak of science proving something--science never proves anything to 100% certainty anyway.

comment by CCC · 2014-03-14T07:58:59.972Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

We have the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics. We have time and space twisting around in order to preserve the constancy of the speed of light. We have subatomic particles whose position is an approximation if their velocity is known.

The bar for 'reasonable' in scientific endeavours is 'it led to a number of predictions and, when we did the experiments, the predictions turned out to be all correct'.

The disadvantage, from a scientific point of view, of the 'it was all a miracle' explanation is that it doesn't lead to much in the way of useful predictions which can be checked. This makes experimental verification somewhat tricky. I don't think a scientific theory can be considered reasonably certain without at least a little experimental verification (and simply repeating the observation that led to the development of the theory doesn't count, because any theory that attempts to explain that observation will explain it).

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-03-11T07:53:22.084Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

All perfectly natural mechanisms were set in place by God as well.

And the evidence for this is ... ?

comment by CCC · 2014-03-11T11:41:21.651Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And the evidence for this is ... ?

Very similar to the evidence for the existence of God in the first place. (In fact, it starts with that).

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-03-11T19:58:21.580Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In fact, it starts with that

Sorry, I'm not sure what you mean... what starts with what ?

comment by CCC · 2014-03-12T10:21:33.908Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe I should have expanded on that a little.

The evidence that all perfectly natural mechanisms were set in place by God relies on the existence of God in the first place. Should an omnipotent and omniscient being exist, it's trivial to show that the current universe must have at least avoided the disapproval of such a being; and it is quite possible that the universe was constructed or altered into its current form.

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-03-13T03:39:17.211Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The evidence that all perfectly natural mechanisms were set in place by God relies on the existence of God in the first place.

That sounds less like evidence and more like an assumption. You say:

Should an omnipotent and omniscient being exist, it's trivial to show that the current universe must have at least avoided the disapproval of such a being; and it is quite possible that the universe was constructed or altered into its current form.

I completely agree; however, I am not sure how you could get from "our Universe exists" to "an omni-being exists and takes notice of our Universe". I do agree that going the other way is pretty easy; but we are not omniscient, so we don't have that option.

comment by CCC · 2014-03-13T07:57:42.597Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not going from "our Universe exists" to "an omni-being exists and takes notice of our Universe". I'm going from "an omni-being exists and takes notice of our Universe" to "said being controls the universe".

I may not have been perfectly clear upthread, so let me try rephrasing and explicitly stating what I had been taking implicitly: If God exists, then all perfectly natural mechanisms were set in place by God.

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-03-15T05:48:13.531Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Understood; but this means that you can't look at any natural mechanisms and interpret them as evidence for the existence of a God. That would be circular reasoning.

comment by CCC · 2014-03-16T04:23:38.768Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, not merely on the basis of the existence of natural mechanisms at all; that would, yes, be circular reasoning.

comment by drethelin · 2014-03-11T06:20:28.475Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Insofar as scientists have disproved dozens of theories for why certain things happen, I don't see a reason why scientists wouldn't be able to conclude that god was doing the orphan thing. I don't think science in general is as die-hard atheist as you'd like to portray it. Remember that the many of the natural philosophers historically were in fact looking FOR evidence of god.

Plus it'd probably be a big tip-off that the only holy book with no factual errors also mentioned the orphans being fireproof thing.

comment by CCC · 2014-03-11T11:38:57.735Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Insofar as scientists have disproved dozens of theories for why certain things happen, I don't see a reason why scientists wouldn't be able to conclude that god was doing the orphan thing.

In the same way as scientists could conclude that God is directly responsible for the strong nuclear force?

While I don't deny that it could be advanced as a theory, I don't see how it could be tested. And I don't see a theory gaining much traction unless it can make falsifiable predictions.

Plus it'd probably be a big tip-off that the only holy book with no factual errors also mentioned the orphans being fireproof thing.

If orphans really were fireproof, I'd expect it to be mentioned, at least in passing, in most holy books. Mainly because orphans being fireproof is something that people will tend to notice.

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-03-11T19:57:12.823Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

While I don't deny that it could be advanced as a theory, I don't see how it could be tested.

If your hypothesis cannot be tested, then why does it even matter whether it's true or false ? Since you cannot -- by definition -- ever find out whether it is true, what's the point in believing or disbelieving in it ?

To put it another way, what's the difference between believing in a god who is so subtle that all of his actions are completely indistinguishable from inaction; and in not believing in any gods at all ?

comment by CCC · 2014-03-12T10:26:52.086Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If your hypothesis cannot be tested, then why does it even matter whether it's true or false ?

There's a difference between finding out whether something is true, and finding enough evidence to prove to my neighbour that that thing is true. Fishermen are notorious for exaggerated descriptions of the fish that got away; should I go fishing, and a fish get away, I have no doubt that few of my neighbours would believe my assertions with regard to the fish's size (even if I somehow managed to measure it before it escaped)

To put it another way, what's the difference between believing in a god who is so subtle that all of his actions are completely indistinguishable from inaction; and in not believing in any gods at all ?

Well, for one thing, it affects my actions in non-trivial ways. My actions affect other people, and they then affect other people... and so on, rippling out.

One difference, for example, is the fact that we are having this conversation in the first place.

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-03-13T03:34:37.222Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There's a difference between finding out whether something is true, and finding enough evidence to prove to my neighbour that that thing is true.

What's the difference ? I mean, obviously your neighbour could be entirely irrational and refuse to listen to anything you say. However, let's pretend instead that your neighbour is a rational, intelligent, and patient person... who also happens to be from Mars. He speaks English, but he doesn't really know all that much about our human culture. He does know about physics, though, since physics is the same on any planet.

So, you tell your Martian neighbour, "I believe that God is directly responsible for the strong nuclear force". Naturally, he asks you, "who is this God guy ?"; after you've explained that, he asks you, "ok, and why do you believe that ?". What's your answer ?

Well, for one thing, it affects my actions in non-trivial ways.

How so ? Let's say there exist two parallel worlds. In one world, a perfectly unfalsifiable god exists; all of his actions are indistinguishable from chance. This is our world; let's call it Alpha. The other world is called Beta, and it contains no gods at all. The two worlds are completely identical; except that, whenever something happens in Alpha, sometimes the god is responsible, and sometimes it just happens for mundane natural causes. When the same thing also happens in Beta, it's always due to mundane natural causes.

If you were somehow transported in your sleep from Alpha to Beta, how could you tell that this had occurred ? If you could tell, what would you do differently ?

comment by CCC · 2014-03-13T07:55:09.731Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What's the difference ? I mean, obviously your neighbour could be entirely irrational and refuse to listen to anything you say.

Let us say that I have gone fishing. I return from my fishing trip, and describe to my neighbour how I hooked a six-foot-long great white shark, but my fishing line snapped and it got away. Unfortunately, I failed to get a photograph or any other piece of hard evidence.

Assume that my neighbour is rational, intelligent, and patient. Would he be convinced by my account?

after you've explained that, he asks you, "ok, and why do you believe that ?". What's your answer ?

Short version; I started with a high prior, and certain experiences in my life have caused me to update that original prior in an upward direction.

This is our world; let's call it Alpha. The other world is called Beta, and it contains no gods at all. The two worlds are completely identical; except that, whenever something happens in Alpha, sometimes the god is responsible, and sometimes it just happens for mundane natural causes. When the same thing also happens in Beta, it's always due to mundane natural causes.

...hold on a minute. You are postulating that there is some way to set up the natural laws of a universe such that everything that God would want to do in Alpha happens anyway, even without direct involvement. Should that be the case, an omniscient being would know how to set up the physical laws in such a way; and an omnipotent being would be able to do that, and it would probably be much less effort than having to go back and fiddle with the universe every now and then.

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-03-15T05:46:34.435Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Assume that my neighbour is rational, intelligent, and patient. Would he be convinced by my account ?

No. Should he be ?

That said, one big difference (among many) between shark-fishing and religion, however, is that in the shark-fishing scenario you do have plenty of fairly unambiguous evidence for the shark's existence (despite failing to bring back any of it). Furthermore, the exercise is repeatable; you could go into the same waters, and attempt to find another shark. You could consult other fishermen, and look at the photographs of any sharks they may have caught. You could talk to marine biologists, and ask them how likely you were to catch a shark... etc., etc. You don't need to rely solely on your own thoughts or feelings; there is objective evidence that you can collect.

You are postulating that there is some way to set up the natural laws of a universe such that everything that God would want to do in Alpha happens anyway

Remember hat the stuff that Alpha's god does is indistinguishable from chance. Thus, for example, if I roll over 7 tiny pebbles on my way to work in Alpha, it could very well be that the 7th pebble was placed there by Alpha's god. I may not encounter that pebble in Beta; or I may encounter 8 pebbles. However, by definition, that 7th pebble (or lack thereof) will have no significant effect on anything.

Alpha's god could not, for example, affect the outcome of dice rolls so that the unrighteous sinners are less likely to roll 7s in games of chance; I mean, he could, but according to out scenario, he wouldn't.

That said, your scenario could be relevant as well. Given that we currently have no access to the Multiverse (assuming one exists), how would you distinguish a Universe that was created by a god who set everything up and then went away; from a Universe that arose due to purely undirected natural mechanisms ?

comment by CCC · 2014-03-16T04:47:37.613Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No. Should he be ?

No, he shouldn't.

You are right that there are a lot of differences between shark-fishing and religion; my point is merely that evidence which convinces one rational human being may yet be insufficient to convince another, when experienced by the first but merely communicated to the second.

You don't need to rely solely on your own thoughts or feelings; there is objective evidence that you can collect.

This is one thing that is not a difference between shark-fishing and religion. There is objective evidence that can be collected. Consider, for example, comparing the rate of the appearance of uncorrupted corpses between virtuous and nonvirtuous people; if virtuous people are more likely to leave uncorrupted corpses, then that's a bit of a hint.

Remember hat the stuff that Alpha's god does is indistinguishable from chance. Thus, for example, if I roll over 7 tiny pebbles on my way to work in Alpha, it could very well be that the 7th pebble was placed there by Alpha's god. I may not encounter that pebble in Beta; or I may encounter 8 pebbles. However, by definition, that 7th pebble (or lack thereof) will have no significant effect on anything.

Which raises the question of why put that seventh pebble there in the first place?

A lot of miracles are done with clear agency; most of Jesus' miracles, for example, were done with the clear purpose of proving his credentials as Son of God. Many other people performed miracles as signs of particular divine favour.

If, in Alpha, there exists a God who has a plan, then I would expect that the results of most miracles would tend to work towards the outcome of that plan. (Which would mean that it might be possible to detect agency in Alpha, if one knew what the plan was).

So, for example, if instead of a seventh pebble you drive over a nail, then have to go get your tyre patched, and at the tyre shop you meet someone and interact with him in some way that furthers Alpha's God's plans... then you might not be able to prove (or even notice) that it was a miracle, but the effect still makes Alpha divergent from Beta.

That said, your scenario could be relevant as well. Given that we currently have no access to the Multiverse (assuming one exists), how would you distinguish a Universe that was created by a god who set everything up and then went away; from a Universe that arose due to purely undirected natural mechanisms ?

Very tricky.

If an omniscient, omnipotent being exists, then He exists equally in all reachable universes. Therefore, either all universes have the same God ruling over them, or none do.

Which means that, whichever case is true, we only have examples of a single class of universe.

So. If God exists, then it is reasonable to assume that He has some plan for every universe. The plans may differ from universe to universe, or may be the same in every universe.

If I assume that there are similar plans for a number of universes, then it seems likely that there are psychologically similar beings existing in a number of universes; that is, they may look alien, but they will have understandable motivations (not necessarily immediately understandable).

So. I estimate the probability that non-human intelligent life (whether in this or another universe) has an understandable psychology is higher if God exists than if not.

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-03-17T23:58:05.517Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

evidence which convinces one rational human being may yet be insufficient to convince another, when experienced by the first but merely communicated to the second.

I agree, but then, how reliable are your own experiences ?

To use a rather trivial example, I have on numerous occasions woken up from sleep with an absolute, unshakable conviction that I was late for some critical appointment or other. I would then check the calendar, and see that the appointment either already happened several years in the past (along the lines of "attend college physics exam"); or was entirely imaginary (along the lines of "inspect warp core"). And yet, even at that very moment, I would still be experiencing a strong conviction that I need to go and take that test / inspect that warp core right now. How do you know whether your experiences are likewise confused ?

There is objective evidence that can be collected. Consider, for example, comparing the rate of the appearance of uncorrupted corpses between virtuous and nonvirtuous people; if virtuous people are more likely to leave uncorrupted corpses, then that's a bit of a hint.

As far as I know, corpses of virtuous people and those of iniquitous people decay at the same rate in our own Universe. Orphans aren't all that likely to be fireproof, either (although I'd expect a slightly higher proportion of orphans to have survived at least one fire, sadly). Multiple studies have failed to find any effect of intercessory prayer (by comparison with placebo). So, can you think of any reasonably unambiguous evidence for the existence of a god in our current Universe ?

Which would mean that it might be possible to detect agency in Alpha, if one knew what the plan was.

Let's assume that we don't know what the plan is (which, as far as I understand the Christian belief system, we do not). Would it still be possible to detect agency in Alpha ?

So. I estimate the probability that non-human intelligent life (whether in this or another universe) has an understandable psychology is higher if God exists than if not.

Right, that would be an interesting piece of evidence, but it's unobtainable for now. In addition, I would expect all intelligent life within our own Universe to have at least some similarities. We all live in the same cosmos, we all are subject to the same laws of physics, so it's reasonable to assume that our brains would evolve in functionally similar ways. That's pure speculation, though, since the only intelligent life we know of is our own.

comment by CCC · 2014-03-18T08:30:53.667Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree, but then, how reliable are your own experiences ?

I tend to assume that my own experiences are more reliable than second-hand data (people telling me about their experiences). This is largely because when I start questioning my own experiences, I quickly find myself questioning reality as a whole; whether anything that I observe actually exists or not.

I think that, in order to retain a functional relationship with reality, I have to assume that my memories and experiences are mostly true; that is, that the majority of them are true, and any contradictions in my memories are best resolved in the manner that results in the fewest of my memories being false.

While I don't experience convictions that I am late for imaginary appointments, as you do, I have on occasion woken up convinced that I am late for an important appointment which is due the following day, or late that evening. In such a case, I find that the conviction vanishes almost immediately on checking the time, and finding that the time for the appointment has not yet arrived.

As far as I know, corpses of virtuous people and those of iniquitous people decay at the same rate in our own Universe.

While this would certainly be the prediction of a hypothetical atheist physicist, I would like to ask; do you have any evidence to back up this assertion?

I do not know of a statistical study of rates of corruption in the bodies of (say) canonised saints versus people lawfully executed for criminal activity, but this is a study which could in theory have been completed.

So, can you think of any reasonably unambiguous evidence for the existence of a god in our current Universe ?

Nothing more convincing than the Miracle of Lanciano, which I'm pretty sure I've already mentioned.

Which would mean that it might be possible to detect agency in Alpha, if one knew what the plan was.

Let's assume that we don't know what the plan is (which, as far as I understand the Christian belief system, we do not). Would it still be possible to detect agency in Alpha ?

I don't know.

I can't think of any way, off the top of my head, to do it; but that doesn't mean it can't be done.

Right, that would be an interesting piece of evidence, but it's unobtainable for now.

I know. I don't think I can present any predictions that can be easily and rapidly checked, though; since I don't know the purpose of the universe.

And if very convincing evidence of God's existence was easy to find, then churches would present it for all the world to see; in much the same way as the Bible is presented for all the world to see.

In addition, I would expect all intelligent life within our own Universe to have at least some similarities. We all live in the same cosmos, we all are subject to the same laws of physics, so it's reasonable to assume that our brains would evolve in functionally similar ways.

In the same way as it's reasonable to assume that humans and centipedes, living in the same environment on the same planet, would evolve similar body structures?

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-03-19T07:49:27.071Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think that, in order to retain a functional relationship with reality, I have to assume that my memories and experiences are mostly true...

Given a specific memory or experience, how would you estimate the probability of it being true ?

While this would certainly be the prediction of a hypothetical atheist physicist, I would like to ask; do you have any evidence to back up this assertion?

No, but this seems highly likely, given what we know about basic biology (and we do know quite a lot, down to the molecular level). That said, if you are making the positive claim that corpses decay at different rates based on the morality of the deceased, then the burden of proof is on you, since your hypothesis is more complex than the null hypothesis.

Nothing more convincing than the Miracle of Lanciano, which I'm pretty sure I've already mentioned.

I am unfamiliar with this specific miracle, but Wikipedia says that it was reported to occur "around 700", and that at least one source confirms the items in question to consist of human tissue. I don't mean to sound too negative, but... is this really the best evidence for the existence of miracles that you've got ? If so, then shouldn't you be -- just for example -- a Hellinist instead of a Christian, given that we've found the entire city of Troy, which was described in the Iliad ? That's an entire city, after all, not just some blood globules...

And if very convincing evidence of God's existence was easy to find, then churches would present it for all the world to see...

Right, so it's starting to sound more and more that the Christian God is kind of like my hypothetical Alpha-god. He may exist, but the actions he takes are so subtle that no one has been able to detect them. By comparison, we are at the point now where we can detect individual neutrinos. Given this, I've got to go back to my original question: does it even matter whether such a god exists, if he has an even smaller effect on our affairs than neutrinos do ?

In the same way as it's reasonable to assume that humans and centipedes, living in the same environment on the same planet, would evolve similar body structures?

Yes, that's a pretty good analogy. Both organisms have respiratory and digestive systems; articulated legs for means of locomotion on hard surfaces; optical/chemical/tacticle/etc. sensors; and even sexual reproduction systems (which serve similar functions despite being mechanically very different).

Similarly, I would expect any kind of an intelligent life to have a similar grasp of concepts such as object permanence, causality, and communication (just to name a few off the top of my head). Of course, if these aliens have any kind of technology, then I'd expect them to have notions of e.g. physics and chemistry that are compatible with ours.

There are many kinds of limbs and skeletons and eyes in the world, but there's only one physics. Hydrogen is still hydrogen, even on Mars.

comment by CCC · 2014-03-19T10:58:59.908Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Given a specific memory or experience, how would you estimate the probability of it being true ?

If I detect no contradictions with other memories or experiences, I treat it as true until some evidence is provided to show that it may be false. I imagine that would count as a very high prior.

No, but this seems highly likely, given what we know about basic biology (and we do know quite a lot, down to the molecular level). That said, if you are making the positive claim that corpses decay at different rates based on the morality of the deceased, then the burden of proof is on you, since your hypothesis is more complex than the null hypothesis.

Pity.

Unfortunately, I can provide no data in support of the hypothesis, either. You're right about the burden of proof; but I don't think I'm quite ready to go around digging up dead bodies to try to produce a proper answer to this question just yet. And a quick and very cursory google search has failed to pick out anyone else who's tried.

I am unfamiliar with this specific miracle, but Wikipedia says that it was reported to occur "around 700", and that at least one source confirms the items in question to consist of human tissue. I don't mean to sound too negative, but... is this really the best evidence for the existence of miracles that you've got ?

It's the best that I can find in, oh, half a minute on Wikipedia. It's quite probably not the best that there is.

If so, then shouldn't you be -- just for example -- a Hellinist instead of a Christian, given that we've found the entire city of Troy, which was described in the Iliad ? That's an entire city, after all, not just some blood globules...

We also know where Egypt is. And Bethlehem. And Nazareth. All of which were placed mentioned in the Gospels (and in the case of Egypt, it's an entire country, not just a city). The existence of a place mentioned in ancient writing is, at best, very weak evidence that the writing is true.

The blood globules have nothing to do with my belief in Christianity. They're just the best evidence that I can find, in a very brief visit to Wikipedia, that at least one miracle occurred at some point in the past.

Right, so it's starting to sound more and more that the Christian God is kind of like my hypothetical Alpha-god. He may exist, but the actions he takes are so subtle that no one has been able to detect them.

No. Plenty of people claim to have been able to detect them; all the people who saw the Miracle of the Sun, for example. There may have been millions more people who could have detected His actions, had they just looked in the right place, but they didn't. (That was likely intentional; omniscience means knowing where people won't look for tampering, after all).

By comparison, we are at the point now where we can detect individual neutrinos. Given this, I've got to go back to my original question: does it even matter whether such a god exists, if he has an even smaller effect on our affairs than neutrinos do ?

Detectability is not necessary correlated with how much effect something has on our affairs.

In the same way as it's reasonable to assume that humans and centipedes, living in the same environment on the same planet, would evolve similar body structures?

Yes, that's a pretty good analogy. Both organisms have respiratory and digestive systems; articulated legs for means of locomotion on hard surfaces; optical/chemical/tacticle/etc. sensors; and even sexual reproduction systems (which serve similar functions despite being mechanically very different).

Similarly, I would expect any kind of an intelligent life to have a similar grasp of concepts such as object permanence, causality, and communication (just to name a few off the top of my head). Of course, if these aliens have any kind of technology, then I'd expect them to have notions of e.g. physics and chemistry that are compatible with ours.

...you make a very good point here.

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-03-20T22:06:52.902Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If I detect no contradictions with other memories or experiences

That's the same method I use, except that I also include other people's experiences. For example, I've personally never tried jumping off a bridge; but I am reluctant to try this, since, based on what I know of biology, physics, and, indeed, attempts to do so by other people, I know that the experience will likely be fatal.

I think that the main difference between you and me is that you place an extremely high level of confidence on your own experiences. Is that right ? If so, what is the reason ? After all, you are a regular human just like anyone else, so what is it that makes your experiences so much more reliable than those of other people ?

You're right about the burden of proof; but I don't think I'm quite ready to go around digging up dead bodies to try to produce a proper answer to this question just yet.

Since the burden of proof is on you; and since no evidence exists; are you not then compelled to disbelieve in the proposition ? By analogy, it is possible that I personally am immune to the effects of jumping off of a bridge, but, in the absence of evidence for this positive claim, I am forced to reject it (despite its obvious appeal).

They're just the best evidence that I can find, in a very brief visit to Wikipedia, that at least one miracle occurred at some point in the past.

What makes you think that the best explanation for all the fact is, in fact, "a miracle occurred", as opposed anything else ? Given that other events (honest mistakes, deliberate fraud, etc.) occur much more often than miracles (i.e., they have higher priors); and given that the evidence is compatible with all of these explanations; why do you keep the "miracle" explanation and discard the others ?

There may have been millions more people who could have detected His actions, had they just looked in the right place, but they didn't... That was likely intentional...

Wait, doesn't this support what I said ? It sounds like your God does indeed make his actions "so subtle that no one has been able to detect them" (as I put it originally), just like my hypothetical Alpha-God.

Detectability is not necessary correlated with how much effect something has on our affairs.

How can something be completely undetectable and yet have any effect on anything ? Effects are how we detect things.

comment by CCC · 2014-03-21T06:06:25.260Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's the same method I use, except that I also include other people's experiences. For example, I've personally never tried jumping off a bridge; but I am reluctant to try this, since, based on what I know of biology, physics, and, indeed, attempts to do so by other people, I know that the experience will likely be fatal.

At the moment I, too, am reluctant to try jumping off a bridge, for similar reasons. However, if I had jumped off a bridge and inexplicably survived, I would weigh that experience very heavily in future decisions with regard to whether or not to jump off bridges.

I don't ignore other people's reported experiences; I just consider my own experiences a far more reliable indicator of reality. This is partially because other people's experiences are by necessity incomplete; it's very hard for me to be sure that someone else has told me every detail that I would consider important about a given situation.

Since the burden of proof is on you; and since no evidence exists; are you not then compelled to disbelieve in the proposition ?

No. I am merely in no position to compel your belief in the proposition, and etiquette requires that I should not claim that the question is resolved in my favour. (Which it isn't). My options at this point are to either go out and gather evidence, or to drop the question entirely.

As I understand it, etiquette does permit you to assume that the question is resolved in favour of the null hypothesis; but without proof, you cannot compel my disbelief in the proposition.

What makes you think that the best explanation for all the fact is, in fact, "a miracle occurred", as opposed anything else ? Given that other events (honest mistakes, deliberate fraud, etc.) occur much more often than miracles (i.e., they have higher priors); and given that the evidence is compatible with all of these explanations; why do you keep the "miracle" explanation and discard the others ?

I don't discard all the others; I simply consider them less probable than the miracle hypothesis. And the reason for that is that a number of people whose job involves the investigation of miracles, and who have looked far more deeply into the matter than I have (and who would not benefit from incorrectly calling something a miracle and having it later revealedd as a mistake or a fraud) consider it a miracle. In short, I place my confidence in the hands of those I recognise as experts in the field.

That said experts were also largely members of the Catholic clergy does not diminish my confidence in their results, though it may affect yours.

There may have been millions more people who could have detected His actions, had they just looked in the right place, but they didn't... That was likely intentional...

Wait, doesn't this support what I said ? It sounds like your God does indeed make his actions "so subtle that no one has been able to detect them" (as I put it originally), just like my hypothetical Alpha-God.

No. Again, people have detected His actions. Consider Moses, for example; when Moses approached the burning bush, he detected God's actions.

Or consider the monk present at the Miracle of Lanciano; when he saw the bread and wine literally transform into flesh and blood, he detected God's actions.

Detectability is not necessary correlated with how much effect something has on our affairs.

How can something be completely undetectable and yet have any effect on anything ? Effects are how we detect things.

If it is completely undetectable by any means, then yes, it can have no effect. But something can be hard to detect while still having a great effect.

Consider, for example, a man living on a mountaintop. He finds it very easy to detect the stars; he sees them often. But they have little to no effect on him. On the other hand, he finds it very hard to detect the radioactivity of the rocks around him (he would need to go to the trouble of getting a geiger counter); but if the rocks are signifiantly radioactive, that could potentially have a very large long-term effect on him.

So, while I agree that something has to be detectable in order to have any effect (on the basis that it can be detected by its effect), it is nonetheless possible for something to be hard to detect while having a very large effect.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-04-07T11:02:16.365Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You also said that " there are parts of the Bible that are not intended to be taken literally". What process do you use to determine which parts were intended to be taken literally, and which weren't ?

Piping in a month later: originally, this is what the Talmud was for. It contains very precise and detailed debates on exactly what's literal, what's allegorical, and what's probably just metaphor for something that wasn't quite so miraculous when it really happened.

comment by ahbwramc · 2014-03-07T03:02:11.747Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Are links to your own blog posts encouraged/discouraged here? I wrote a piece that I don't think would be particularly appropriate for discussion, but might be of interest to some LW'ers. It's about honesty in advocating for fundamental physics research funding.

Anyway, here's the link.

comment by Coscott · 2014-03-07T07:08:40.749Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think they are encouraged, but as with all links, they should always be posted along with a summary/description.

comment by Dan_Moore · 2014-03-04T14:02:38.992Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Here is another puzzle.

Can you take ten points, forming the vertices of five convex quadrilaterals in three dimensions, such that every quadrilateral intersects each of the other four at a vertex? Solution

comment by DanielLC · 2014-03-04T18:21:00.520Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The problem is confusing.

Are you saying that each pair of quadrilaterals intersect at a mutual vertex and nowhere else, and that each vertex is common to exactly two quadrilaterals?

comment by Dan_Moore · 2014-03-04T18:41:00.450Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Are you saying that each pair of quadrilaterals intersect at a mutual vertex and nowhere else, and that each vertex is common to exactly two quadrilaterals?

Yes, exactly.

comment by Coscott · 2014-03-04T20:04:31.118Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I got it. Nice.

comment by Coscott · 2014-03-04T04:51:38.752Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Two more logic puzzles on my blog:

Using the three digits, 1, 2, and 3, each at most once, and the combining them using addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, exponentiation, square root, factorial, unary negation, digit concatenation, decimal point, vinculum, and parenthesis, construct all the positive integers from 1 to 30. (Digit concatenation and decimal points only allowed on the original 3 digits. You do not need a 0 before the decimal point.) Solution

Using the numbers 5 and 7, each twice, and the combining them using addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, exponentiation, square root, factorial, unary negation, and/or parenthesis, but no base 10 shenanigans like digit concatenation, come up with an expression which evaluates to 181. Solution

comment by ahbwramc · 2014-03-04T15:26:39.887Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I wasted a half hour of my morning, but I got all 30. Hardest for me was 19.

comment by Coscott · 2014-03-04T20:30:19.940Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Good Job

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-03-11T20:10:26.198Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Another method of immortality. Eterni.me will lifelog you, process the data with AI, and build a virtual you that will last forever. That's their advertising claim, anyway. The service has not yet launched, but they're accepting early signups.

How good would this have to be, for LWers to sign up in the hope of obtaining actual immortality, rather than merely an interactive, animated memorial to who they were? Bearing in mind whatever improvement in technology you expect between now and your deanimation.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-05T10:34:07.564Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Now that it no longer contains Rationality Quotes February 2014, my last-30-days karma is 75% positive, which is the lowest I can recall it ever being. I take this to indicate that I'm currently too mind-killed to contribute to Less Wrong productively.

In an attempt to remedy this, I will (as a Schelling point) give up commenting or posting on Less Wrong for Lent (defined as from today to 20 April, excluding Sundays, in whatever time zone I am at each given time).

comment by Dagon · 2014-03-05T12:57:18.554Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

It always amazes me how much weight people give to the very lossy signal that is karma. Please do report (on Sundays) whether you think this is helping, and with which goals.

Honestly, 75% positive seems pretty good to me. In fact, it seems better than my (current) 96%. If I'm not posting at least some things that people don't like, I'm probably posting too little generally, and not taking enough risks.

In an attempt to remedy this, I will reduce my threshold for commenting or posting each week until I'm at 75% positive karma, and then re-evaluate whether I like that level.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2014-03-05T17:31:18.288Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It amazes me how much a single downvote bothers people, yet how little attention they seem to pay to the cumulative measure given by %positive. You may be interested in Phil Goetz's take.

Your 30 day karma is at 96%, but your overall score is at 89%. Do you see a difference? Added: another way of saying it is 11% downvotes vs 4%: twice as many!

Note that %positive score is the percent of votes, not, say, percent of comments that end up positive. I think you should give more thought to what you should be optimizing for.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-09T17:31:58.270Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Please do report (on Sundays) whether you think this is helping, and with which goals.

It sure is helping with not spending inordinate amounts of time on Less Wrong, given the way I implemented it. (I LeechBlock'd LW on non-Sundays on my netbook and logged out of it on my phone.)

comment by Alejandro1 · 2014-03-05T17:49:02.144Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I have looked at your recent comments and, though you have participated in some potentially mindkilling discussions, you also have some downvotes that are completely inexplicable on that account. For example this comment and this comment were both downvoted at least once. I suspect therefore that your karma drop is due to having a mass-downvoting "enemy" as some others have complained of recently. (Though a piece of counter-evidence is that not all your comments have been downvoted, which is the usual M.O.)

comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-09T17:28:11.272Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I've noticed that sometimes when I argue about Certain Topics with a Particular Individual a few unrelated comments of mine get downvoted for no other apparent reason, but to a much smaller scale than some other people have complained about, so I just pretend to treat it as part of the usual noise of comments downvoted for no apparent reason.

(I'm not sure the downvote on my comment about How the Hippies Saved Physics is part of the same pattern: ChristianKl's reply was also downvoted, so I just chalk it to someone who disliked the book.)

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-03-04T21:38:07.241Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hi, long time lurker, new user. I was thinking about writing a post on how any potential AGI of human-level intelligence is likely to have a band of a few years before and after its creation where FOOM risks can be contained with care, and how this would be an especially fruitful period to deal with friendliness. Any posts/articles I should look at to avoid being too redundant?

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2014-03-05T15:07:39.743Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Intelligence Explosion Microeconomics discusses the kinds of open questions we'd need to answer in order to know whether or not there will be such a band.

Section 2.3. (and its subsections) of Responses to Catastrophic AGI Risk also discusses three different types of FOOM that might be possible: hardware overhang, speed explosion, and an intelligence explosion. Your argument should probably address all three.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-03-05T19:18:11.105Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks. I'll look over these.

Edit: It looks like section 4, AGI Containment, covers many of my thoughts and comes to a pretty similar conclusion: External constraints on AGI are an imperfect plan, but potentially valuable and complementary to other safety approaches.

comment by Strilanc · 2014-03-04T23:02:51.430Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There's a post somewhere about two entities discussing how evolution is optimizing so quickly, compared to how things were before. One of them tries to argue that brains will be even faster while the other scoffs that brains making machines with hundreds of moving parts in as little as a thousand years is absurd.

Of course it's an allegory for the next jump also having a massive time scale difference, with things that used to take years taking only minutes.

Unfortunately I can't find the post and I can't remember what it's called.

comment by Pfft · 2014-03-04T23:56:38.591Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Suprised by brains.

comment by Strilanc · 2014-03-05T01:11:37.099Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's it.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-03-04T23:39:49.874Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sounds kind of like "They're Made of Meat", though the context is different enough that I doubt that's what you're referring to.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-03-04T23:19:16.999Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I understand the notion, but think of it in terms of preventing a pandemic: There's a certain set of characteristics of a virus that would overwhelm virtually any attempt to prevent it from wiping out humanity. All existing viruses are pretty safely within the bounds of what our actual public health protocols can handle. On top of that, existing or hypothetical yet plausible protocols can prevent pandemics with viruses that have higher transmissibility, or higher mortality than anything previously experienced.

Realistically, a protocol to deal with AGI will be in a similar position. It will be distinctly "one-shot" but there's no reason it couldn't deal with a computer somewhat more intelligent than any existing human being.

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2014-03-04T23:14:18.015Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's probably in the Hanson-Yudkowsky FOOM debate. Maybe on OB?

comment by Strilanc · 2014-03-04T22:48:01.675Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You should read Eliezer's post That Alien Message.

Soon, confirmation comes in from high-orbiting telescopes (they have those) that the astronomical miracles do not seem as synchronized from outside Earth. Only Earth's telescopes see one star changing every second (1005 milliseconds, actually).

Almost the entire combined brainpower of Earth turns to analysis.

[...]

Three of their days, all told, since they began speaking to us. Half a billion years, for us.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-03-04T23:12:26.490Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Okay, I'll be addressing this pretty directly. I don't find it particularly convincing though.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-03-05T10:13:28.655Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Can you imagine something thinking 1000 times faster than a human? Not necessarily better or smarter, merely a human-level intelligence, only 1000 times faster.

We don't have any examples of this, because currently the only intelligence we know are humans, and human brains run on hardware with cca 200 Hz clock, so that puts a limit on how faster even the fastest thinking human can be compared with an average human.

The closest analogy are probably computer algorithms playing computer games that are computationally easier than chess, but still difficult for a human. Playing against such intelligence feels like: they react almost immediately, they never make a mistake, and they always exploit any of your mistakes. Imagine dealing with something with these properties in real life.

A closest analogy to a superhuman intelligence is probably a group of smart humans working together. They can follow different lines of thought at the same time, correct each other's mistakes, etc.

Also, there is a huge difference in computational power between a human, and a human with a pen and paper, if you give matematical tasks to both of them. There is also a difference between an educated human, and an educated human with access to internet.

Now imagine all of these advantages together. Imagine that you have a magical button, and when you press it, it teleports you to another dimension and leaves a clone of your body on your place. In the other dimension the time flows more slowly, so for each 3 seconds in our world, you get 1 hour of time there. In the other dimension, you have hundreds of loyal smart people at your service, experts in every possible discipline. They have a lot of books, analyses, and the internet access. (The internet connection is rather slow, because it connects to our world, but they have already downloaded and cached a lot of useful information, such as the whole Wikipedia, scientific articles, books, etc.) They have 1 hour to make the best advice about what your body should do during the next 3 seconds. Then you return to your body and do what they told you. To the person you interact with you seem like the smartest and nicest person ever, almost like a god, because you know everything that humans in general know, and you have the other person's personality completely analyzed. In the meantime, your army of experts in the other dimension keeps making plans, analyzing data, hacking computers all over the world, etc. (Hacking the computers gives you tons of money, secrets of other people, allows you to manipulate other people to fight your enemies, etc.) How long would it take you to take over a smaller country? If you could make dozens of fully cooperating copies of you, send each copy to a different country, how long would it take you to take over the whole world? If any copy is discovered and destroyed, you have enough other copies. If there is an internal conflict in the country, you can join all sides at the same time, so whoever wins, you get more power. You can have more copies on each side, so you can become the dictator of the country and his dozen super-ninja bodyguards and the leader of opposition and the opposition leader's most serious competitor and the director of the biggest pro-government newspaper and the best reporter for the newspaper and the director of the biggest anti-government newspaper... You can bribe most people, you can pay people to assassinate those that don't accept your bribes, you can participate in all internet discussions and manipulate them.

...and this is still limiting you to a magical human equivalent, only smarter, faster, with better mental tools, and capability to replicate. You could also do something else, e.g. create nanotechnology or just billions of insect-sized robots.

EDIT: Okay, the new AI would not gain all these abilities at the same time; specifically the ability to make its own clones. It would probably be made using very expensive hardware; hard to replicate directly. However, if it could understand itself better than humans, so it could be able to design a sufficiently efficient copy of itself using cheaper hardware... and it could hack some backing system and take their money... and it could send e-mails to dozens of different people in the world, sending them the money and asking them to buy the hardware and connect it to internet (and keep some part of the money for themselves)... the revolution has already started and is unlikely to be stopped. And this all can be done completely silently, without anyone of the creators of the original AI even noticing; there is no need to announce it to them. When humans notice something is wrong, it may be already too late.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-03-05T17:15:05.646Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Edit: I want to be clear that I think its fairly likely that SOME AI could do what's described above, and have absolute runaway capacity, but that it's likely the first few won't. Prototypes just don't work very well, in general. And yes, an AI is a bit different if it is self-modifying and intelligence comes closely tied with agency. But there's still tons of possibilities for an AI that is very unlikely to exponentially self-improve (consider an in silico brain simulation; hardware requirements and a fine-grained control over input and simulation speed would seem to make this pretty safe).


I find the story outlined above plausible, but not extremely probable, especially with regards to whatever the first AGI worth the name looks like. It will be smarter than people in some ways, but mostly dumber, or severely limited in some capacity. The architecture may be self-modifying, but it will be possible to monitor it to some degree, and also to prevent the system from having a full view of itself (in fact it is easier to prevent the system from having a complete view of itself than not).

The runaway scenario you outline is more likely if the AI is allowed to run rampant, which is why any attempt to build an AGI should include plenty of security protocols, completely orthogonal to any in-code attempts to enforce friendliness (you can't argue against redundancy when it comes to safety!). Sandbox the AI. Apart from a fixed initial store of information (could be as large as the whole web), let nothing get in or out except for some very low bandwidth channel (text, video). Make the barrier physical if necessary.

And have the whole thing run by paranoid bureaucrats. Treat the AI as dangerous if not contained. I'll elaborate more later, but while there certainly is a failure mode for any security protocol, that's not the same as saying that protocols aren't worth developing and valuable for a wide range of circumstances.

A prison can contain a prisoner smarter than the architect or any of the guards or wardens. Not one infinitely smarter, but there's definitely a margin of safety.

comment by NoSuchPlace · 2014-03-05T19:35:57.947Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

let nothing get in or out except for some very low bandwidth channel (text, video)

You may want to read this. Basically it is the scenario you describe, except for a smart human taking the place of an AI, and it turns out to be insufficient to contain the AI.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-03-05T21:12:11.517Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, I've seen this. It's pretty frustrating because of the secrecy. All I know is two guys let Yudkowsky out of the box.

But I think there are two reasons why that scenario is actually very favorable to the AI.

1) An AI that is a bit dumber than humans in all ways, dumber in some ways and smarter in others, or just a little bit smarter than humans can still teach you a lot about further AIs you'd want to builid, and it seems at least plausible that an AI that's 2xHuman intelligence will come along before one that's 1000x human intelligence. We want to get as much out of the 2x-10x AIs as possible before we try building, and IF it is possble to avoid accidentally making that 1000x AI before you can make sure it is safe, then there could be a point where you are dealing with 10x AIs and where you can do so safely.

So don't pit your engineer against an unboundedly transhuman AI. Pit your engineer against a slightly transhuman AI.

2) Security-wise, you can do a ton better than somebody who is just "really really sure they wouldn't let the AI out". You can have the AI talk only to people who literally cannot let the AI out, and on top of that ensure that everyone is briefed on the risks. Make sure that to the extent possible, letting the AI out is literally not an option. It is always an option to attempt to do so covertly, or to attempt to convince people to break self-imposed rules, sure, but how many prisoners in history have talked their way out of prison?

You can even tell people "Okay, we're never ever letting this AI out. It is a prototype and considered dangerous. But hard, diligent work with attention to safety protocols will ensure we can someday build a safe AI that will have every capacity and more that this one does, to the enormous benefit of humanity".

3) If you look at this answer and say "well you sound like you think you're that much better than the people who took the challenge and lost not even to a transhuman AI but to Yudkowsky" and you'd be a little right. But mostly I believe that if we ever face that actual situation, the challenge the AI faces will be more akin to trying to cause a nuclear weapon launch with a telephone; not just one person but an entire formidable physical and bureaucratic security apparatus will (or SHOULD) stand in the way.


There's also the issue of the political problem of FAI. You might not have a choice but to rely on less-than-desirable safety protocols because of external pressures. Say a genuinely feasible plan for AGI is developed that would take 2 years of research, while the most optimistic friendliness researchers doubt that the architecture could be made provably safe in sooner than 10. How will you confront the problem of convincing every lab in the world with sufficient resources to hold off for 10 years? Would that even be possible?

I guess we would have to look at the past and see how political and research institutions have behaved in the face of technologies with enormous potential but which were also known to pose a concrete existential risk (Yes I am talking about nuclear weapons).

comment by Lumifer · 2014-03-05T19:47:03.578Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

and it turns out to be insufficient to contain the AI

Did you just call Eliezer an AI..? X-D

comment by NoSuchPlace · 2014-03-05T21:02:11.061Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I could give a serious response to this about "AI" being stand in for "the person playing the AI" however other responses I could give:

  • I am firmly of the opinion that the distinction between artificial and natural is artificial.
comment by Lumifer · 2014-03-06T00:55:53.844Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, my comment was in the spirit of your second response :-)

comment by mwengler · 2014-03-09T15:59:11.929Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The question of "intelligent design" is subtler than theists or atheists make it.

Narrowly construed, intelligent design speaks specifically to the design of living intelligence on our planet. The intelligent design hypothesis is that intelligence existed before any of the design of living intelligence on earth took place and that the pre-existing intelligence participated in the design or creation of biological intelligence on earth. The uintelligent design hypothesis is that biological intelligence on earth arose without the participation of any prior existing intelligence.

In either case, we live in a universe which includes the possibility of intelligence. We do not speak as often as where the universe comes from as we do of the much easier question of what happened once it was here. What might the conditions be to produce a universe in which intelligence can arise, either because it is in the universe from the very start, as in most theism, or because things are lined up so that when the inevitable mechanistic processes of the universe proceed, intelligence is created?

By metaphor, consider a complex domino-toppling set-up with rube goldberg contraptions everywhere in it. If we look at this universe starting an attosecond after the finger pushing the first domino is out of frame, we would say that the evolution of this universe proceeds without intelligence. But I wonder, doesn't this rather miss the point of how this universe was set up so that when it proceeded following a simple set of rules which did not include intelligence it would present an intelligent message at the end?

So we live in a universe where intelligence exists, that much we know. And within the framework of intelligent design considered narrowly, it seems most likely that the biological intelligence we are aware of arose from the inevitable (read pre-determined or mechanistic) toppling of dominoes, one into the other, building structures mindlessly that came together mindlessly, that provided the ground in which more complex structures were built mindlessly etc etc until at some point minds appeared, mindlessly.

But how important is it, or in what way is it important that if we start the movie an attosecond after the big bang, the part of the whole thing that we can see that lead to the evolution of mind on earth proceeded mindlessly, if we have no idea about what was going on one attosecond BEFORE the big bang?


If you believe it is likely we are in a simulation, then you do believe in intelligent design preceding the push of the first domino to let the simulation proceed. Indeed, what is the difference between living a simulation vs living in a "real" universe? Both proceeed in law-determined fashion from a starting point that has a lot of structure and potential in it.


From another point of view, we can say the design of the Tesla S motor vehicle is by evolution not intelligent design, because it has arisen from the inevitable toppling of dominoes mindlessly since an attosecond after the big bang. That some of the complex patterns that happened just before the emergence of the Tesla S describe themselves both as minds and as the intelligent designers of the Tesla S seems besides the point in really understanding what is going on.

We live in a universe that has conscious intelligence in it. The theists claim intelligence came first, and then the material universe came about under the influence or direction or under something to do with the intelligent universe.

The atheists claim the material universe, WITHOUT intelligence came first, and then arose intelligence.

comment by Squark · 2014-03-09T21:19:02.998Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The real question is whether it is possible to formulate a predictive hypothesis which involves an intelligent creator which has lower Kolmogorov complexity than hypotheses without an intelligent creator. No religion has come close to formulating such a hypothesis. Of course it difficult (or even impossible) to prove there is no such hypothesis because of the uncomputability of Kolmogorov complexity.

Btw, there are models in which it makes sense to speak of "before the big bang", look up "eternal inflation".

comment by mwengler · 2014-03-10T19:07:52.811Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is it possible to formulate a predictive hypothesis which involves an intelligent creator of the Tesla S (a car) which has lower Kolmogorov complexity than hypotheses without an intelligent creator? All I see is the swirl of a complex bunch of chemicals building structures randomly that are chosen for persistence, and with fluctuating entropy such at there are numerous instances of fantastically complex structures that arise as part of this mindless drama. How is the Tesla S particularly less an effect of evolution than the nest of the bower bird or ants stroking aphids in their underground farms?

comment by Squark · 2014-03-11T22:14:22.192Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The Tesla S is an effect of evolution. But it was also created by an intelligent creator. A causal chain is allowed to have more than 2 nodes. The model of the universe as science understands it has low Kolmogorov complexity and involves an intelligent creator of Tesla S, but not an intelligent creator of h. sapiens.

comment by mwengler · 2014-03-11T23:07:33.735Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So then if an intelligence created the conditions for the big bang and then set it going, and the big banged universe proceeded mechanistically without intelligent intervention, and part of that proceeding was evolution, and (among other things) what came from evolution was our intelligence, then we would say that "intelligent design" is the wrong hypothesis for explaining evolution. Even if the original intelligence creating the conditions for the big bang had as a requirement for its design of the pre-big-bang conditions that the big banged universe would lead to the spontaneous development of intelligence.

That makes sense and is a reasonable distinction.

comment by bogus · 2014-03-11T23:44:15.209Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

then we would say that "intelligent design" is the wrong hypothesis for explaining evolution.

Yes, this is clearly not what "intelligent design" means. Even if you accept a version of the strong anthropic principle, in that "physical laws and/or initial conditions at the Big Bang are expressly constrained so as to promote the development of human-like intelligence", this is not at all the same as positing that evolutionary dynamics are irrelevant. In fact, such a difference could even affect your stance about physical laws more generally; for instance, if it turns out that evolution does not matter after all, this makes the Boltzmann brain paradox that much stronger, which in turns introduces other requirements, and so on.

comment by Coscott · 2014-03-09T20:19:24.313Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I asked about this atheist/simulation thing on an open thread several months ago.

What I came up with is that the most natural cluster of theism includes as part of the definition that the "simulator" is ontologically basic, and did not evolve into existence.

With that definition in mind, I am an atheist who is not willing to make the claim that our material universe came before any sort of intelligence.

comment by mwengler · 2014-03-10T19:10:38.275Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What I cam up with is that the most natural cluster of theism includes as part of the definition that the "simulator" is ontologically basic, and did not evolve into existence.

Interesting. Do you believe that the big bang evolved into existence? If so, from what or why do you believe it evolved in to existence? If not, how different are you from a theist since the material universe is for all intents and purposes the machine on which the simulation we live in is run on?

comment by Coscott · 2014-03-11T20:45:29.208Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I am using the world evolve very generally, in such a way that it should not be confused with biological evolution, but it is plausable to me that the universe evolved somehow without an intelligent simulator, but that is not the claim I was talking about.

It is also plausible that an intelligent simulator ran a simulation of our universe, but if so there would have to be some plausible reason for that simulator to exist. Evolving is a plausible reason. Just existing because he is god is not.

In practice this is very different from theism, in that it is probably best to continue on as though we were not a simulation, at least until we can figure out who our simulators are and need to use them to escape heat death or something.

comment by mwengler · 2014-03-11T23:18:38.706Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It is also plausible that an intelligent simulator ran a simulation of our universe, but if so there would have to be some plausible reason for that simulator to exist. Evolving is a plausible reason. Just existing because he is god is not.

Really? To me it seems just as ridiculous to require an infinite regress of finite causes one after the other as it does to finally get back to a first cause. I will happily admit that NEITHER of these choices makes any kind of intuitive sense to me, I consider that likely to be a defect of human reason which had no gain to be made by coming up with a way of dealing with such abstractions in the environment in which it evolved.

In practice this is very different from theism, in that it is probably best to continue on as though we were not a simulation, at least until we can figure out who our simulators are and need to use them to escape heat death or something.

Ah I love it! Engineering reason, things that don't change what is best for us to do are not worth sorting out. My intuition after stacking everything in that I've already thought about, read about, and discussed with others, is that we are not in a simulation. But unfortunately I don't know what that means. In some straightforward sense our universe is a distributed calculator of the time-evolution of all physical laws, known and unknown, and continues at every moment that i am aware of to update itself. So whether we call it a simulation or not, it is not at all clear to me that there is a real difference mechanistically between being in a simulation and not being in a simulation.

I wonder if I am in Omega's "human farm," his constructed toy that shows humans living for the amusement of Omega, just as humans have "ant farms" for our amusement and edification. I might as well just behave as though I am not in Omega's human farm, I'll never really know if I am anyway, and this is my life either way. It would be a shame wasting it being unhappy because I suspected it was all a bad joke.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-03-10T15:21:53.581Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This sounds too much like an anthropic argument, which reduces to tautology. We see ourselves in the universe because the universe contains us.

comment by mwengler · 2014-03-10T19:04:28.888Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A thing we know for sure about the universe is that we are in it. As far as that goes perhaps it is tautology. But the properties we observe about ourselves I don't believe are tautological, are they? Properties such as our conscious intelligence, there is nothing tautological about observing in myself that I have this, and that I am in the universe and that therefore the universe has this as part of it?

Further enhancing the question, how is it any more logical to assume a pre-existing material universe without any intelligence in it, and "observe" that intelligence arises in it without requiring intelligence to already be in it in any sense of those words, vs. presuming that there was a pre-existing intelligence universe from which a material universe arises, which is essentially the theist viewpoint? IF it has to be one of the other, if either intelligence or material has to come first, then to the extent humans can conclude anything from scientific observation, they can see evidence of a material universe going back 12, 14 billion years, but clear evidence of intelligence going back only a few hundred million years at best. But being the results of observations, would it break logic if observational science were to lift the veil of the big bang and peak back a second before the big bang and catch a glimpse of a thumb pushing over the first domino? Yes I describe it in anthropomorphic terms using thumbs and dominos, but I fail to see anything tautological in what I'm talking about. My prior is we would not see a thumb pushing over the first domino, but it is only a prior.

comment by shminux · 2014-03-05T19:24:02.333Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Inspired by a reddit thread... Given that vacuum is a pretty effective dehydrator, would it make sense to vacuum-mummify a body first before freezing it for cryopreservation?

comment by Lumifer · 2014-03-05T19:36:39.073Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Wouldn't the body liquids boil destroying all kinds of fine structures..?

comment by shminux · 2014-03-05T20:42:53.571Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

http://www.geoffreylandis.com/vacuum.html

comment by Lumifer · 2014-03-06T00:54:50.572Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Which points out that your blood wouldn't boil only while your heart is beating.

It also says "During this time, water vapor will form rapidly in the soft tissues and somewhat less rapidly in the venous blood. This evolution of water vapor will cause marked swelling of the body to perhaps twice its normal volume unless it is restrained by a pressure suit." Of course if the body is in a pressure suit there isn't much dehydration going on.

comment by V_V · 2014-03-05T23:20:47.738Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So you get even more denaturation and membrane distortion (and possibly rupture)?

comment by itaibn0 · 2014-03-07T00:09:45.571Z · score: -3 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I looked at the comments of private_messaging, and it looks like someone is mass downvoting him (I initially noticed this when I noticed this comment replying to me was downvoted for no obvious reason). I decided to experiment by giving him a compensatory mass upvote. So far I upvoted what is currently the first page of his comment history (from here to here in his comment history; amongst these this was already upvoted by me for independent reasons). However, it looks like the mass downvote went farther. I suggest anyone who agrees with me that private_message received a mass-downvote to continue for me the compensatory mass upvote and publicly declare which posts they upvoted to avoid double-counting. I also suggest that people say what they think about compensatory mass upvotes in general.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-03-07T00:45:56.820Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I'm uncomfortable with mass-upvoting people's comments even if they are known to have been mass-downvoted; it might make them feel slightly better, but it's difficult to figure out how much to compensate them (especially if the target has a contentious history with the site, as private_messaging does), and it weakens karma as a signal of a post's reception just as much as mass downvotes do.

If you believe individual comments to have been downvoted below their worth, by all means upvote them by way of compensation. But I wouldn't make a policy of it if I were you; if their karma's been pushed down enough to affect their posting privileges, I might tentatively endorse it as a patch, but that doesn't seem to be the case here.

comment by Squark · 2014-03-07T00:13:49.861Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand why people care so much about Karma, especially effects they know are coming from a small number (1?) of serial downvoters.

comment by itaibn0 · 2014-03-07T12:41:02.914Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Let me be more direct: Yes, it's not such a big deal.

comment by itaibn0 · 2014-03-07T00:33:02.881Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

For me it was just a response to the abstract "someone is being wronged", and I did not think about how great the stakes were when I did this. In addition, I'm experimenting with a new idea which may have possible objections, and "it's not that important anyways" as you indicate is one of them.