Stupid Questions, 2nd half of December

post by Bound_up · 2015-12-23T05:31:34.030Z · score: 2 (3 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 186 comments

The most recent post in December's Stupid Questions article is from the 11th.

 

I suppose as the article's been pushed further down the list of new articles, it's had less exposure, so here's another one for the rest of December.

 

Plus I have a few questions, so I'll get it kicked off.

 

It was said in the last one, and it's good advice, I think:

 

This thread is for asking any questions that might seem obvious, tangential, silly or what-have-you. Don't be shy, everyone has holes in their knowledge, though the fewer and the smaller we can make them, the better.

Please be respectful of other people's admitting ignorance and don't mock them for it, as they're doing a noble thing.

186 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Ozyrus · 2015-12-23T16:04:20.294Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Well, this is a stupid questions thread after all, so I might as well ask one that seems really stupid.

How can a person who promotes rationality have excess weight? Been bugging me for a while. Isn't it kinda the first thing you would want to apply your rationality to? If you have things to do that get you more utility, you can always pay diet specialist and just stick to the diet, because it seems to me that additional years to life will bring you more utility than any other activity you could spend that money on.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-23T16:22:02.515Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

How can a person who promotes rationality have excess weight?

Easily :-)

This has been discussed a few times. EY has two answers, one a bit less reasonable and one a bit more. The less reasonable answer is that he's a unique snowflake and diet+exercise does not work for him. The more reasonable answer is that the process of losing weight downgrades his mental capabilities and he prefers a high level of mental functioning to losing weight.

From my (subjective, outside) point of view, the real reason is that he is unwilling to pay the various costs of losing weight. That, by the way, is not necessarily a rationality failure since rationality does not specify your value system and it's your values which determine whether a trade-off is worthwhile or not.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-23T22:23:50.314Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The less reasonable answer is that he's a unique snowflake and diet+exercise does not work for him.

I don't think "unique snowflake" is a good description. Most people who attempt diet+exercise don't lose weight.

comment by Brillyant · 2015-12-24T14:24:14.292Z · score: 0 (8 votes) · LW · GW

All people who create a calorie deficit via diet and exercise lose weight.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-25T11:27:08.026Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That claim starts by being false in a trivial way: Not every kind of calorie burn is due to exercise. At a QS conference I was talking to a woman who found that if she exercises in the morning she won't move much the rest of the day. She burned the most calories when she went out shopping for a day.

In more controlled enviroments lab animals who are fed a controlled diet weigh more than they weighted decades ago. I don't think that's due to the mouse running less maces.

More importantly it's irrelevant to the empirical fact that the success of the intervention of having people attempt to diet and exercise is medicore. It's rational to chose interventions that work for other people.

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2015-12-26T12:37:40.655Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That claim starts by being false in a trivial way: Not every kind of calorie burn is due to exercise.

"All people who create a calorie deficit via diet and exercise lose weight" does not imply "but no people who create a calorie deficit via some other means do".

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-26T13:49:11.952Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"All people who create a calorie deficit via diet and exercise lose weight"

If you exercise you burn more calories for the time that you exercise. In the bailey-and-moat frame, the claim is that this deficit will get you to lose weight. That's not categorically true. To the extend that the calorie counting device the woman I was talking to can be trusted, she moved less at the days when she exercised.

Presence of adenovirus 36 correlates with obesity in children. If you model obesity as being caused by the virus, it's questionable whether create a calorie deficit via diet and exercise to lose weight is the best strategy you can think of. Unfortunately that virus isn't the only illness that produces weight gain.

Believing that virus aren't a problem because you have a theory in which you dearly believe is what prevented doctors from washing their hands. In the 19th century. Simply following the "it's the calorie stupid mantra" is structurally the same and not only because you can also prevent adenovirus from spreading by washing hands.

In an attempt to gain weight there was a month were I put 800 kcal worth of maltrodextrose into my tea every day. My weight didn't change a bit through it. I have a friend who personally reproduced the finding of Dave Asprey that putting 1000kcal of butter into coffee doesn't automatically lead to weight gain.

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2015-12-26T14:10:23.121Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you exercise you burn more calories for the time that you exercise. In the bailey-and-moat frame, the claim is that this deficit will get you to lose weight. That's not categorically true.

"All people who create a calorie deficit via diet and exercise lose weight" doesn't imply "all people who diet and exercise create a calorie deficit" either.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-26T15:25:27.949Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Exercising does create a calorie deficit for the time frame during which you exercise even in cases where it doesn't produce a deficit at daily accounting.

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2015-12-26T22:45:13.857Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It also causes a weight loss for the time frame during which you exercise (mostly through sweating), but I guess Brillyant meant both "calorie deficit" and "weight loss" over longer timescales than that.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-26T23:18:55.620Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you are in an air condioned flat you raise the temperature by having your computer in the flat. At the same time the regulation system that tracks the temperature will regulate against your intervention. The air conditoner will go on and reduce the temperature again.

Brillyant doesn't account for the fact that human weight is a controlled system.

Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be an accepted way to measure where that setpoint happens to be. If you can convince your own body to change the setpoint than you can succeed with dieting.

That might getting rid of a virus. It might also mean eating with a noseclip as Seth Roberts suggests. I know a hypnotist who reports good results with shifting people's setpoint via hypnosis. Even Hacker's diet style charting could help with convincing your body to adopt a difference setpoint.

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2015-12-27T10:39:21.331Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you are in an air condioned flat you raise the temperature by having your computer in the flat. At the same time the regulation system that tracks the temperature will regulate against your intervention. The air conditoner will go on and reduce the temperature again.

IOW no net heat surplus is created. Air conditioners don't violate the first law of thermodynamics.

You can say that "All people who create a calorie deficit via diet and exercise lose weight" is useless, that it is misleading, that it has wrong connotations, but you can't say it is false (let alone "false in a trivial way") unless there are people who create a calorie deficit via diet and exercise but don't lose weight. (Note: "deficit" != "any expenditure", "deficit" = "expenditure exceeding gains and savings".)

comment by Brillyant · 2015-12-25T17:07:54.371Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Generally, my claim is true.

Lumifer stated my opinion on why people don't lose weight pretty well: "the real reason is that [people are] unwilling to pay the various costs of losing weight."

It's difficult to achieve in many cases (dieting isn't fun), but we should be happy the formula for weight loss is pretty simple. People just choose not to do the things necessary.

More importantly it's irrelevant to the empirical fact that the success of the intervention of having people attempt to diet and exercise is mediocre. It's rational to chose interventions that work for other people.

I think there are some life hacky ways to approach fitness and weight loss. I, for instance, have very low will power. I'm lousy at moderation. My solution is to, as a zero tolerance policy, not eat certain foods. I also have a policy of working out 5 times a week, with no exceptions. I've used commitment contracts from time to time to aid me.

These are pretty simple measures. And all they do is allow me to (1) eat less and (2) exercise more. People just don't wanna.

Not every kind of calorie burn is due to exercise.

Your example is just a play on the word "exercise". Shopping is exercise. Walking, moving.

Your statement is trivially true in regard to metabolism, however. ~65% of basal metabolic rate (or resting metabolic rate) is, IIRC, based on the amount of lean muscle an individual has. In this way, it seems the fit will find it easier to stay fit and those with small amounts of lean muscle will always be fighting an uphill battle.

It's rational to chose interventions that work for other people.

I think the way LW talks about diet and weight loss is among the most irrational I've seen. It's not nearly as complicated as it's made out to be here. I'd imagine it's discouraging to many people.

You could create a weight loss book from all the knowledge and insight offered in the history of LW and it would be less valuable, in terms of its instrumental rationality to dieters, than a fortune cookie slip that said "Eat less, exercise more".

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-12-26T10:34:56.258Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Lumifer stated my opinion on why people don't lose weight pretty well: "the real reason is that [people are] unwilling to pay the various costs of losing weight."

It's difficult to achieve in many cases (dieting isn't fun), but we should be happy the formula for weight loss is pretty simple. People just choose not to do the things necessary.

The difficulty and the costs vary enormously from one person to another. Some people eat and exercise as they please, without making any effort to control their weight, yet stay thin [1], while others blow up like balloons if they do that. For some, deliberately limiting their intake is a minor inconvenience; others find they cannot function.

Does "you just aren't willing to pay the cost" make any more sense about dieting and exercise than it would about buying a house?

(1) Me, for example, but I've known others. I don't know what proportion of the population this is true of. People without problems don't need to talk about them, so the impression from public discourse that everyone struggles to keep their weight down is biased.

comment by Brillyant · 2015-12-26T16:56:14.932Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is obviously true of everything in life. The costs are different for different individuals to succeed at different pursuits.

Some people seem to be genetically predisposed to stay slender. In some cases, they have a BMR that aids them. IIRC, ~25% of BMR is some unknown component that is likely genetic. This is hundreds of calories a day and potentially tens of pounds (or more) over years/decades. Other times, people are just wired to do better at moderating food intake or sticking to a workout plan.

None of this changes what needs to be done to achieve a given weight.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-12-26T18:47:37.762Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In some cases, they have a BMR that aids them.

BMR won't affect this. My weight, excluding temporary deviations due to illness, has been between 120 and 130 pounds for the last forty years. I only have a detailed record for the last 11 years (4011 days, to be precise), during which I have weighed myself nearly every day. Linear regression on the data gives a gradient of about -0.1 grams per day, or -400 grams over the whole period. However, as the standard deviation of the weight is about 700 grams, this is indistinguishable from zero (as I knew already from eyeballing the graph). In terms of calories, using the usual (but, it seems, not very accurate) estimate of 3500 calories per pound of fat, this is less than 1 calorie per day.

0.1 grams and 1 calorie per day are at least two orders of magnitude smaller that the precision with which you could measure daily diet or exertion.

According to an online BMR estimator based on age, weight, and height, my BMR has declined by 70 calories per day over that time, i.e. 700 times the daily trend in body weight. Add to that the fact that in the first half of the period I was driving somewhat more and cycling somewhat less than in the second half, yet no corresponding change in weight is visible in the graph. (Average weights for the first and second half differ by 0.22 pounds. My scales only have a resolution of 0.2 pounds.)

So it is clear that the factors varying from day to day and year to year completely overwhelm the size of the long-term trend. Yet despite that, the long term trend is effectively zero.

The only type of mechanism that can produce phenomena like this is active regulation. But the regulation is not being performed by "me", i.e. by deliberately chosen actions in response to observing my weight. (It was just as steady before I began daily measurements.) By what, then? I don't think anyone knows the answer to that.

Now, what would happen if I were to eat less? My experience is pretty much the same as what Eliezer has described: I get light-headed with hunger, and great mental and physical efforts become beyond me. I am fortunate enough to have no reason to do so. But I recognise that it is nothing but good fortune, and I am not going to smugly tell anyone else that they just have to pay the price, when the price may be beyond their means, and the price to me is zero. Eliezer's job and vocation is thinking, and if he cannot do that while dropping 100 pounds, then he cannot drop 100 pounds.

comment by Brillyant · 2015-12-26T20:49:32.990Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Now, what would happen if I were to eat less? My experience is pretty much the same as what Eliezer has described: I get light-headed with hunger, and great mental and physical efforts become beyond me. I am fortunate enough to have no reason to do so. But I recognise that it is nothing but good fortune, and I am not going to smugly tell anyone else that they just have to pay the price, when the price may be beyond their means, and the price to me is zero. Eliezer's job and vocation is thinking, and if he cannot do that while dropping 100 pounds, then he cannot drop 100 pounds.

The mental and physical effort of many pursuits may be beyond many people...this does not change the reality of what must be done. There is nothing smug about that.

The difficulty of disciplining your diet, like anything else, decreases over time. It's near torture, at first, to deprive yourself of calories you're used to. But it gets easier. I've experienced this and heard the same from many people.

BMR won't affect this.

I'm not sure I follow your line of thinking on this.

Individual resting metabolism varies quite a bit between individuals. While age plays a factor, my understanding is ~65% has to do with lean muscle mass. (Ergo, it's a great idea to accumulate lean muscle in order that you can burn calories without exerting extra effort. Strength training and protein consumption help.)

IIRC, ~25% of BMR is a big giant mystery, and my assumption is it's genetic differences. This is a significant difference between any 2 people (sometimes 100's of calories per day). So, I'm not saying it will be as easy for any two people to maintain a given weight. In fact, it will X% harder for some people—leading them to need to devote that much more time, effort and resource just to keep up with other people who are more fortunate in this way.

And so again, how is this different than anything in life? If I want to excel at math, I would need to devote X% more time, effort, resource than other people who are fortunate in this area. It would require great mental and physical effort for me. Same if I want to excel at long distance running. Or chess. Or ventriloquism. I'd be predisposed to success in some pursuits and at a deficit in others.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-26T22:25:23.731Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The mental and physical effort of many pursuits may be beyond many people...this does not change the reality of what must be done. There is nothing smug about that.

If your body has a high weight setpoint because you have a virus infection, then curing that virus infection to lower that setpoint might be a more viable strategy then trying to starve your body.

The difficulty of disciplining your diet, like anything else, decreases over time.

If that's true why do you think we see the yoyo effect?

And so again, how is this different than anything in life?

The other things you listed aren't regulated by the body around a setpoint.

comment by Brillyant · 2015-12-26T23:32:27.806Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If that's true why do you think we see the yoyo effect?

Apathy? A culture that includes lots of high calorie food choices? A lifestyle that doesn't require the expenditure of calories for survival?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2016-01-01T13:31:50.426Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

BMR won't affect this.

I'm not sure I follow your line of thinking on this.

I am arguing that the presence of biological control systems radically affects how things behave, in ways that may seem impossible to someone who is unaware of these concepts.

And so again, how is this different than anything in life? If I want to excel at math, I would need to devote X% more time, effort, resource than other people who are fortunate in this area. It would require great mental and physical effort for me. Same if I want to excel at long distance running. Or chess. Or ventriloquism. I'd be predisposed to success in some pursuits and at a deficit in others.

For some of those, you may not be able to succeed at them at all, regardless of how much effort you put in. The equations have no solution for X. The word "enough" is not a magic spell: sometimes there is no such thing as "enough to succeed".

comment by Brillyant · 2016-01-01T22:17:18.167Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

For some of those, you may not be able to succeed at them at all, regardless of how much effort you put in. The equations have no solution for X. The word "enough" is not a magic spell: sometimes there is no such thing as "enough to succeed".

I agree.

I think individual differences in BMR are a big part of why certain individuals have a more difficult time controlling their weight.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-12-28T06:27:01.842Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's near torture, at first, to deprive yourself of calories you're used to. But it gets easier. I've experienced this and heard the same from many people.

I see no reason to believe this is true of people in general.

comment by Brillyant · 2015-12-28T14:34:13.594Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Which part?

And what do you suppose happens instead?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-12-28T15:46:00.073Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But it gets easier.

There is no evidence to think this is true, especially if you were eating less to the extent that it's near torture.

What I think happens instead is that most people find that dieting continues to be quite difficult. Some of them stop eating less than they want. Some (a much smaller proportion) maintain eating less than they want, but it's a considerable ongoing effort. Some attempt to automate the effort in ways which result in anorexia or bulimia.

comment by Brillyant · 2015-12-28T16:09:25.063Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There is no evidence to think this is true, especially if you were eating less to the extent that it's near torture.

I used the word "torture" to communicate that I understand the difficulty of the initial phase of dieting. It's an exaggeration. It can be very uncomfortable—physically and psychologically—to eat less than you are used to. It's not actually torture.

What I think happens instead is that most people find that dieting continues to be quite difficult. Some of them stop eating less than they want. Some (a much smaller proportion) maintain eating less than they want, but it's a considerable ongoing effort. Some attempt to automate the effort in ways which result in anorexia or bulimia.

Interesting.

I think people ought not eat what they want, but instead eat with they need from a nutritional basis. This isn't that difficult to do within most people daily caloric budget, though it may require a drastic change in the types of foods consumed—which can be very uncomfortable.

This is my guess as to why most diets fail. People just don't wanna eat the proper foods. They could eat raw vegetables, fruits, lean meats, etc. to stay within their caloric budget and get proper nutrition, but they don't value the benefits vs. the psychological value of eating a less nutritious diet.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2016-01-01T13:34:15.351Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think people ought not eat what they want, but instead eat with they need from a nutritional basis.

How do you tell what you need? The sorry state of nutritional science has been frequently remarked on here -- what do you think?

I tell from my subjective sensations, i.e. I eat what I want when I want it. It doesn't work for everyone, but it works for me.

comment by Brillyant · 2016-01-01T22:14:03.008Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How do you tell what you need? The sorry state of nutritional science has been frequently remarked on here -- what do you think?

We can make some educated guesses about "better" or "worse" diets.

While nutrition is complex, we have pretty thorough information available on most foods, and we can build a common sense diet that satiates and provides a good basis of the nutritional components we need.

As an example, have anyone who isn't start eating 5 servings of raw vegetables, 3 servings of fruit, 2 liters of water and 1 protein shake per day. They can eat whatever else they'd like as long as they consume these items. Adjustments can be made to accommodate individuals. Scheduling meals can be used to aid the process.

In my experience, this is (a) easy to do and (b) will significantly change someone's diet by adding guaranteed "good" calories into the daily equation (versus just saying "no" to bad stuff). I think simple steps like this can be used to transform a diet into one that is intentionally (more) nutritious.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-01-04T17:37:35.055Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

and 1 protein shake per day

WTF?

Since when a protein shake (mostly soy protein and sugar) is food and even mandatory food?

comment by Brillyant · 2016-01-05T02:39:26.780Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure I'm catching your drift.

First, you can get a very pure whey protein with very little sugar.

B) I'm not saying it's mandatory. I'm saying a protein shake, along with fruits, vegetables and water, is a good, reasonable, nutritious base of foods on which one can build a diet. There are many routes.

Protein is specifically important in gaining lean muscle, which aids BMR.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-01-05T05:53:14.349Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand why this set (fruits + veggies + protein shake) is a good base.

It's not mandatory as you can drop elements from it, add others and still get a good diet. It's not complete as if you eat nothing but that, you'll die pretty soon from nutritional deficiency. It's a weird combo of real food (fruits & veggies) and an isolated food-like product (protein).

comment by Brillyant · 2016-01-05T13:14:25.358Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You forgot water. It's a good base for lots of reasons. It's simple. It's cheap. It nutritious.

As I said, you can eat whatever you'd like in addition to this, but starting a habit of eating simple, cheap, nutritious things everyday is a great way to lose weight. It satiates and provides nutrition. It will give you energy and leave less room in your diet for garbage.

And again, as I said, there are many routes to achieving proper nutrition.

isolated food-like product (protein).

An essential macro-nutrient in a simple, quick form.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-01-05T16:05:13.896Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Water is excellent, though I have doubts that it's nutritious :-)

is a great way to lose weight

I am sorry, are we talking about ways to lose weight? I thought we were talking about a general, to borrow a term from paleo people, Way of Eating, the goals of which are much more wide-ranging than just losing weight.

If you want to lose weight, I feel an excellent starting point is "Eat less, exercise more". Start there, then adjust as needed.

A bit more specifically, in my experience carbs do not satiate well (unless you eat enough to fall into a food coma), fats are more satiating.

An essential macro-nutrient in a simple, quick form

Just like white sugar?

In any case, I don't eat macro-nutrients, I eat food.

comment by Brillyant · 2016-01-05T16:44:03.363Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you want to lose weight, I feel an excellent starting point is "Eat less, exercise more". Start there, then adjust as needed.

Ha. I agree. That's from somewhere waaaaay up the thread.

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2016-01-05T16:19:33.620Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Just like white sugar?

Sugar isn't essential.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-01-05T17:38:01.528Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Whey protein isn't essential either :-P

Yes, I know, technically speaking carbohydrates are not essential and you can live on a diet of fat and protein. That has issues with both practicality and health, though.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-25T19:33:33.035Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think the way LW talks about diet and weight loss is among the most irrational I've seen. It's not nearly as complicated as it's made out to be here.

A while ago I was speaking at a conference for people who were professionals at the subject of teaching people to lose weight. They generally also considered the topic to be complicated. Seeing the topic as being complicated is not a contrarian LW opinion but the opinion of the relevant professional field.

I, for instance, have very low will power.

That has little to do with anything given that the amount of will power isn't predictive of diet adherence. See Baumeisters book on will power.

These are pretty simple measures. And all they do is allow me to (1) eat less and (2) exercise more. People just don't wanna.

We do you talk about that instead of talking about a more relevant metric of success such as a long-term reduction in BMI? (Or another metric for being overweight)

Your example is just a play on the word "exercise". Shopping is exercise. Walking, moving.

So you are saying that going shopping would fall under your 5x times exercise per weak? It very likely isn't.

If you look in the dictionary exercise is defined as:
: physical activity that is done in order to become stronger and healthier
: a particular movement or series of movements done to become stronger and healthier

Shopping is not done to become stronger and healthier but is done for another end. Therefore it's not exercise.

Even if you don't look at the purpose of the activity, when you define any moving as exercise everybody exercises 24/7. That's very far from what most people mean with the term.

comment by Brillyant · 2015-12-26T06:14:16.550Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Seeing the topic as being complicated is not a contrarian LW opinion but the opinion of the relevant professional field.

It is as complicated as someone would like to make it. Just like anything else. But that's not helping people lose weight, IMO. That's my point. Instrumental rationality suffers when we get too far away from the simple facts.

And it depends on your definition of "complicated"...

That has little to do with anything given that the amount of will power isn't predictive of diet adherence. See Baumeisters book on will power.

Perhaps you can point me to something more specific from the book?

My point is that I have experienced positive results not through moderation, but through abstinence from certain foods, and pre-commitment (if you will) to exercise. I try to eliminate will from the equation as much as possible.

We do you talk about that instead of talking about a more relevant metric of success such as a long-term reduction in BMI? (Or another metric for being overweight)

I don't know what you mean. I think you misunderstood me.

On exercise/shopping: It's just semantics. Define either however you'd like. For my purposes, I define exercise similar to your dictionary, but I also have lots of hacks I incorporate into other regular activities to burn calories: always take the stairs, park in the back row of the lot, walk around the building every hour while I mentally plan my next hour of work, walk my dog everyday, etc.

The point is to create a calorie deficit. Consuming less and burning more. Create a calorie deficit and you'll lose weight 100% of the time. Not easy, but simple. It doesn't matter if that is through "Exercise" according to some formal definition.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-26T11:43:41.188Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But that's not helping people lose weight, IMO. That's my point. Instrumental rationality suffers when we get too far away from the simple facts.

Discussion on LW about the problem of obesity aren't just about instrumental rationality, they are also about epistemic rationality. The discussion about Eliezer's weight is one where the goal is having true beliefs.

My point is that I have experienced positive results not through moderation [...] I don't know what you mean. I think you misunderstood me.

If you claim you achieve positive results that means you actually lost weight, reducing your body-fat or reducing your weight circumference. If you achieved neither of those results, I don't think there a basis for you claiming positive results at weight loss.

It doesn't matter if that is through "Exercise" according to some formal definition.

It's not a formal definition but the standard definition. The definition that you also use when you speak about exercising 5 times per weak. You are playing bailey-and-moat when you use different definitions and switch them up to win arguments.

For a person deciding whether or not to exercise, the effects of the decision to exercise matter a great deal. For people who burn less calories in days where they exercise and who want to lose weight that's very valuable information. That's the thing that matters if you care about instrumental rationality.

comment by Brillyant · 2015-12-26T17:11:57.953Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Discussion on LW about the problem of obesity aren't just about instrumental rationality, they are also about epistemic rationality. The discussion about Eliezer's weight is one where the goal is having true beliefs.

I agree. I think it's useful to know why the diets that work are working. From my recall, discussions about low-carb diets, here and elsewhere, are particularly dumb.

If you claim you achieve positive results that means you actually lost weight, reducing your body-fat or reducing your weight circumference. If you achieved neither of those results, I don't think there a basis for you claiming positive results at weight loss.

I've achieved both. Predictably. Mine is just one anecdotal case. It doesn't mean much.

I've talked to enough people and seen plenty of results to feel confident enough to speak on the issue though.

Nutrition, by the way, is actually a complicated matter. It should be separated from simple weight loss in this discussion.

It's not a formal definition but the standard definition. The definition that you also use when you speak about exercising 5 times per weak. You are playing bailey-and-moat when you use different definitions and switch them up to win arguments.

You're missing the point. You can Exercise© ZERO and lose weight, where exercise involves your standard definition. It doesn't matter.

I find it useful to set aside Exercise© time because (1) I enjoy it and (2) it helps me form a mental habit.

In regard to the woman who finds it useful to shop, but not Exercise©, I get it. I don't Run©, but I play basketball. I do this for a similar reason as she stated. I get tired and sore and bored and experience a low mood when I run. I'm happy and "competitively fulfilled" after playing basketball. Time flies and I am able to stay active for much longer.

The outcome is the same: Calories burned. More when I play basketball, since I tend to do it for longer.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-26T20:29:31.306Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Predictably.

Have you actually made explicit predictions about individual cases?

The outcome is the same: Calories burned.

Basketball does happen to do more than just burning calories. It's social. It also trains coordiantion.

comment by Brillyant · 2015-12-26T20:53:28.109Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Have you actually made explicit predictions about individual cases?

Yes. I plan on beginning a diet and exercise program on Jan 1. If I stick to the diet and workout schedule, then I will lose weight (and gain strength) according to a predictable schedule.

Basketball does happen to do more than just burning calories. It's social. It also trains coordiantion.

Okay. And?

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-26T21:21:07.962Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes. I plan on beginning a diet and exercise program on Jan 1. If I stick to the diet and workout schedule, then I will lose weight (and gain strength) according to a predictable schedule.

Basically I understand from that, that your past efforts didn't bring you to the weight you like to have. That's similar to Eliezer who lost weight by doing the Shangri La diet but who is still overweight.

How about making an explicit prediction about your weight/body-fat/BMI or waist circumference in a year and putting that prediction on predictionbook? Maybe relative changes if you don't like to be public about the actual number.

Okay. And?

You have other active ingridents besides calories being burned in sport.

comment by Brillyant · 2015-12-26T23:29:48.980Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Basically I understand from that, that your past efforts didn't bring you to the weight you like to have. That's similar to Eliezer who lost weight by doing the Shangri La diet but who is still overweight.

No. I chose to lose weight after an injury made it impossible for me to powerlift. I've fluctuated some depending on fitness goals. Now I want to lose weight and perhaps try some endurance-based competitions. I typically go on 4-12 week strict plans where I use weight as one metric... but I'm not terribly concerned about my weight, focusing instead on overall fitness levels.

I have gained fat in the past due to general apathy, though. I lost it predictably when I paid attention to diet and exercise.

How about making an explicit prediction about your weight/body-fat/BMI or waist circumference in a year and putting that prediction on predictionbook? Maybe relative changes if you don't like to be public about the actual number.

I've used Stickk in the past. It works well and often helps me overachieve.

You have other active ingridents besides calories being burned in sport.

We're just missing each other on this point.

None of that matters. You just need a way to burn calories. Doesn't have to be exercise according to any definition.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-27T11:36:20.149Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps you can point me to something more specific from the book?

I redirected the issue to the link of willpower producing dieting success to stackexchange.

Willpower (or more preceisely ability of self-control) did nothing to help people stick to diets. That's compatible with the model that the central variable that matter by an approach to dieting is shifting the bodies setpoint.

comment by Brillyant · 2015-12-27T17:19:03.409Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There was a study that was published in 2009, which focused on food and self-control. This study, revealed that self-control didn’t have much of an effect one way or another on whether or not the volunteers were able to constrain themselves from eating the presented food (in this case, chips)

What does this mean?

If I am presented with food, what shall I call the mechanism that allows me to constrain myself from eating?

Are there factors (outside stress, lack of sleep, etc.) that may cause by ability to constrain myself to diminish?

If I have a rule for myself, backed by a commitment contract, that I will not eat chips, will this increase the likelihood I do not partake when presented with an opportunity?

That's compatible with the model that the central variable that matter by an approach to dieting is shifting the bodies setpoint.

Elaborate on this, please.

I don't know enough on the issue to say, but I think I'm advocating something similar to this practically. Dieting is difficult, but gets easier after some time. The body seems to get used to less food. My sense is that a new equilibrium is reached, where less food will suffice for regular functioning without hunger.

Is this what you mean?

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-27T18:26:37.300Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The body regulates the pulse of the heart. Humans generally can't raise or lower their pulse by trying to raise or lower their pulse. I think the same is true with regards to the setpoint for weight.

There are a variety of psychological effects but they are not about trying.

What does this mean?

The answer refers to plenty of additonal resources that explain it in more depth.

If I have a rule for myself, backed by a commitment contract, that I will not eat chips, will this increase the likelihood I do not partake when presented with an opportunity?

Depending on the context a rule like that can increases or decrease the likelihood. The mental act of commiting can reduce the likelihood that you partake in the opportunity. On the other hand thinking about the fact that you have a rule that you shouldn't eat chips might direct cognitive resources to the idea of eating chips and make it more likely.

Dieting is difficult, but gets easier after some time. The body seems to get used to less food. My sense is that a new equilibrium is reached, where less food will suffice for regular functioning without hunger.

I don't have reason to believe that's true in general. To quote a review:
The authors review studies of the long-term outcomes of calorie-restricting diets to assess whether dieting is an effective treatment for obesity. These studies show that one third to two thirds of dieters regain more weight than they lost on their diets, and these studies likely underestimate the extent to which dieting is counterproductive because of several methodological problems, all of which bias the studies toward showing successful weight loss maintenance. In addition, the studies do not provide consistent evidence that dieting results in significant health improvements, regardless of weight change. In sum, there is little support for the notion that diets lead to lasting weight loss or health benefits.

comment by Brillyant · 2015-12-27T19:01:52.453Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The body regulates the pulse of the heart. Humans generally can't raise or lower their pulse by trying to raise or lower their pulse. I think the same is true with regards to the setpoint for weight.

So, what happens when someone loses 100 pounds and keeps it off for a lifetime? What happened when a 200 lb person becomes 100 lbs? How have they defied the setpoint?

I don't have reason to believe that's true in general.

"In sum, there is little support for the notion that diets lead to lasting weight loss or health benefits."

Proper diet is a discipline, like any other discipline. Of course proper diet will contribute to health benefits, one of which is a healthy body weight. The benefits continue as long as the discipline continues. Like anything else.

What is the alternative? Eat whatever you please because the body has a setpoint that will be achieved regardless?

"These studies show that one third to two thirds of dieters regain more weight than they lost on their diets"

Somewhere between 33% and 67%? So, somewhere between most people succeed at dieting and most people fail. And this is evidence?

**

I'm curious, what do you suggest for a general ELI5 weight loss plan? If someone weighs 200 lbs and decides they want to reduce their BMI to within a healthy range and get down to 150 lbs, how shall they proceed?

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-27T19:29:43.572Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So, what happens when someone loses 100 pounds and keeps it off for a lifetime? What happened when a 200 lb person becomes 100 lbs? How have they defied the setpoint?

They did something that changed the setpoint.

Somewhere between 33% and 67%? So, somewhere between most people succeed at dieting and most people fail.

If you define success at dieting at not increasing your weight, I think you have different standards than most people.

I'm curious, what do you suggest for a general ELI5 weight loss plan? If someone weighs 200 lbs and decides they want to reduce their BMI to within a healthy range and get down to 150 lbs, how shall they proceed?

I don't have the data to proof that a certain recommendation is the best, but ideas I consider to be promising are: 1) Check whether something like a virus produces unnecessary inflamation and fight the virus if there's one. 2) Shangri La diet. 3) Hackers diet style charting. 4) Work through the surrounding psycholoigcal issues with a good hypnotherist or otherwise skilled person.

I don't think the tricks from 2 to 4 are enough when the core reason is an illness that produces inflamation. Different people are likely overweight for different reasons and there won't be a one-size-fits-all solution.

comment by Brillyant · 2015-12-27T21:31:57.573Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you define success at dieting at not increasing your weight, I think you have different standards than most people.

Part of a healthy diet is managing calories in such a way that you remain at a healthy weight. It may be useful to create a calorie deficit for a limited time.

I'd guess many people likely fail at keeping a disciplined diet for a long time because it is hard to keep up discipline at anything for a long time. And our culture/lifestyle isn't terribly conducive to staying lean.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-27T21:34:38.910Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Part of a healthy diet is managing calories in such a way that you remain at a healthy weight. It may be useful to create a calorie deficit for a limited time.

Then you are inconsitstent with what you called success above, where you call any small reduction or zero change in weight a success of dieting.

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2015-12-26T15:07:22.708Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think the way LW talks about diet and weight loss is among the most irrational I've seen.

What other discussions of diet and weight loss have you seen?

comment by Brillyant · 2015-12-26T17:20:00.200Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've not a kept a log... but online discussion, discussion in the gym, among friends, colleagues, articles I've read, etc.

comment by username2 · 2015-12-25T14:35:00.582Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In more controlled enviroments lab animals who are fed a controlled diet weigh more than they weighted decades ago. I don't think that's due to the mouse running less maces.

Interesting. Could you provide a source for this strange claim?

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-25T18:51:15.905Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Without recommending the specific article, but to give a source: http://www.livescience.com/10277-obesity-rise-animals.html

The problem of obesity isn't confined to just humans. A new study finds increased rates of obesity in mammals ranging from feral rats and mice to domestic pets and laboratory primates.

[...]

"We can't explain the changes in [the animals'] body weight by the fact that they eat out at restaurants more often or the fact that they get less physical education in the schools," Allison told LiveScience. "There can be other factors beyond what we obviously reach for."

comment by AmagicalFishy · 2015-12-27T15:16:30.564Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand why this comment is met with such opposition. Calories are the amount of energy a food contains. If you use more energy than you take in, then you have to lose weight [stored energy]. There's literally no other way it could work.

The statement can even be further simplified to:

All people who create a calorie deficit lose weight.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-27T18:32:24.545Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand why this comment is met with such opposition.

Then try rereading the discussion till you have an insight into why people disagree. I don't think you are too stupid to understand it if you make an effort to try to understand.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-12-24T16:07:26.362Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

EY has two answers, one a bit less reasonable and one a bit more. The less reasonable answer is that he's a unique snowflake and diet+exercise does not work for him. The more reasonable answer is that the process of losing weight downgrades his mental capabilities and he prefers a high level of mental functioning to losing weight.

From my (subjective, outside) point of view, the real reason is that he is unwilling to pay the various costs of losing weight.

Your "real reason" is the same as Eliezer's second reason, except less specific.

comment by username2 · 2015-12-24T19:02:36.651Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It is less specific and therefore more likely.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-12-25T00:14:48.468Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Is that a good thing to be? My new hypothesis is that the real reason is something. There, probability close on 1. Isn't that useful!

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-28T16:02:46.987Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

except less specific

That's a pretty big difference :-) and I'm not convinced EY's stated reason is actually the most important.

comment by Brillyant · 2015-12-23T21:59:06.497Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

EY's little more reasonable answer makes a little sense. Your subjective point of view makes even more sense.

I guess it's stupid (and maybe wrong/ugly/cruel) of me to think along the lines of the OP, but I wonder about people who claim great rational abilities and aren't in very good shape. As you state, value systems vary, so maybe people have done the math and decided fitness isn't worth the effort... but it still makes me wonder.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-28T16:11:31.433Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

but I wonder about people who claim great rational abilities and aren't in very good shape

As I said, it's not necessarily a rationality failure, but often it is.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-12-28T12:53:16.860Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Every once in a while, I try to hope against hope that LW will not decay and disappear into irrelevance... and then here we are, discussing Eliezer's weight.

comment by Brillyant · 2015-12-28T15:30:33.188Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's a reasonable topic, I think. Not EY's particular weight necessarily, but the original question of why claimed rationality "experts" wouldn't almost automatically be in good shape.

If you are trying to promote rationality in the way that is done around here (rationality = winning at life), then it seems to be a reasonable expectation that certain aspects of your life would be in order.

Off the top of my head, I'd expect a person promoting rationality...

  • Has good hygiene
  • Keeps a clean home
  • Eats nutritiously
  • Maintains a healthy weight and body
  • Communicates effectively
  • Is financially sound

If I went to the home of one of the supposed Heros of Rationality and it was a smelly pigpen, then it would effect my view of their credibility because, c'mon... I'm a shitty rationalist and even I can keep my house clean. I'd feel the same way if that person couldn't manage their personal finances—why should I listen to someone who, under non-extenuating circumstances, can't pay their bills?

Physical fitness, in my experience, is a clear demonstration of instrumental rationality. You predictably get out what you put in. It's possible to put a practical plan in place to succeed at it. And it helps you win at life in many ways.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-12-28T15:47:37.203Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

We're talking about a guy who wants to live forever, so it's difficult to make a case that someone like Eliezer would be negligent toward his own health. Given his previous record of thinking hard about hard problems, I find it more likely that he has already tried his best at this problem and found a compromise that acknowledges the way his body works and does not interfere with whatever other goals matter more to him. But even this extremely cautious way to describe it still sounds to me like a disrespectful intrusion into a stranger's life choices. I understand how discipline and self-control are related to good rationalist habits, but this kind of discussions always run the risk to degenerate into fat-shaming.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-28T16:27:44.108Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Off the top of my head, I'd expect a person promoting rationality...

You're assuming a very mainstream value system.

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2015-12-26T12:35:58.725Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

the real reason is that he is unwilling to pay the various costs of losing weight

That's not incompatible with the hypothesis that said costs would be higher for him than for the average person for whatever reason.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-28T15:59:48.858Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's not incompatible with the hypothesis that said costs would be higher for him than for the average person

Why would he (or anyone) care about the average person in this context?

comment by buybuydandavis · 2015-12-24T01:33:57.647Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

just stick to [X]

Very easy to say, not so easy to do. Food is a particularly tough issue, as there are strong countervailing motivations, in effect all through the day.

Isn't it kinda the first thing you would want to apply your rationality to?

Health in general, yes. Weight is a significant aspect of that.

because it seems to me that additional years to life will bring you more utility than any other activity you could spend that money on.

Additional years of health are probably the most bang for the buck. Yeah.

comment by CAE_Jones · 2015-12-23T16:55:39.690Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I honestly have no idea if I have excess bodyfat (not weight; at last check I was well under 140Lbs, which makes me lighter than some decidedly not overweight people I know, some of whom are shorter than me), but if I did and wanted to get rid of it... I have quite a few obstacles, the biggest being financial and Akrasia-from-Hell. Mostly that last one, because lack of akrasia = more problem-solving power = better chances of escaping the wellfare cliff. (I only half apply Akrasia to diet and exercise; it's rather that my options are limited. Though reducing akrasia might increase my ability to convince my hindbrain that cooking implements other than the microwave aren't that scary.)

So, personally, all my problem-solving ability really needs to go into overcoming Hellkrasia. If there are any circular problems involved, well, crap.

But I'm assuming you've encountered or know of lots of fat rationalists who can totally afford professionals and zany weight loss experiments. At this point I have to say that no one has convinced me to give any of the popular models for what makes fat people fat any especially large share of the probability. Of course I would start with diet and exercise, and would ask any aspiring rationalist who tries this method and fails to publish their data (which incidentally requires counting calories, which "incidentally" outperforms the honor system). Having said that, though, no one's convinced me that "eat less, exercise more" is the end-all solution for everyone (and I would therefore prefer that the data from the previous hypotheticals include some information regarding the sources of the calories, rather than simply the count).

(I'm pretty sure I remember someone in the Rationalist Community having done this at least once.)

comment by raydora · 2015-12-24T16:48:33.918Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Measuring RMR could reveal snowflake likelihood.

If ego depletion turns out to be real, choosing not to limit yourself in order to focus on something you find important might be a choice you make. Different people really do carry their fat differently, too, so there's that. Not everyone who runs marathons is slender, especially as they age.

And then there's injuries, but that brings up another subject.

I'm not sure how expensive whole body air displacement is in the civilian world, but it seems like a decent way to measure lean mass.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-25T19:20:37.347Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure how expensive whole body air displacement is in the civilian world, but it seems like a decent way to measure lean mass.

I would guess that 3D scanning is the better way. In principle a smart phone app should be able to do this sooner or later by using camera + accelerometer.

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2015-12-24T15:36:05.975Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I am in fairly good shape but often wonder if I irrationally spend too much time exericising. I usually hit about 8 hrs/week of exercise. That adds up to a lot of opportunity cost over the years, especially if you take exponential growth into account.

comment by AmagicalFishy · 2015-12-27T04:53:38.488Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think this is a stupid question, but everyone else seems to—that is, the immediate reaction to it is usually "there's obviously no difference." I've struggled with this question a lot, and the commonly accepted answer just doesn't sit well with me.

If different races have different skin, muscle/bone structure, genetics, and maybe other things, shouldn't it follow that different races could have different brains, too?

I know this is taboo, and feel the following sort of disclaimer is obligatory: I'm not racist, nor do I think any difference would necessarily be something drastic or significant, but the existence of a difference is something that seems probable to me.

Edit: Though it's obviously included, I'm not talking specifically about intelligence!

comment by fubarobfusco · 2015-12-27T05:58:44.265Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Given that various mental disorders are heritable, it's not clearly impossible for psychological properties to be selected for.

However, unlike dark or light skin (which matters for dealing with sunlight or the lack of it), mental ability is generally useful for survival and success in all climates and regions of the world. Every physical and social setting has problems to figure out; friendships and relationships to negotiate; language to acquire; mates to charm; rivals to overcome or pacify; resources that can be acquired through negotiation, deception, or wit; and so on. This means that all human populations will be subject to some selection pressure for mental ability; whereas with skin color there are pressures in opposite directions in different climates.

So why is this such a troublesome subject?

The problem with the subject is that there's an ugly history behind it — of people trying to explain away historical conditions (like "who conquered whom" or "who is richer than whom") in terms of psychological variation. And this, in turn, has been used as a way of justifying treating people badly ... historically, sometimes very badly indeed.

Classifications don't exist for themselves; they exist in order for people to do things with them. People don't go around classifying things (or people) and then not doing anything with the classification. But sometimes people make particular classifications in order to do horrible things, or to convince other people to do horrible things.

"Earthmen are not proud of their ancestors, and never invite them round to dinner." —Douglas Adams

comment by Gurkenglas · 2015-12-30T05:05:22.668Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There is a tradeoff between energy consumption and intelligence (where the optimum has moved toward a focus on intelligence with our species). Your second paragraph doesn't eliminate the possibility that this optimum might have landed at different points in different ancient locations.

comment by AmagicalFishy · 2015-12-27T15:06:40.358Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The fact that selection pressure for mental ability is everywhere present is an excellent point; thanks. As to why it's a troublesome subject, I always maintain "If there is a quantitative difference, I sure as hell hope we never find it."

I think that'd lead to some pretty unfortunate stuff.

comment by Vaniver · 2015-12-30T15:35:13.147Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The fact that selection pressure for mental ability is everywhere present is an excellent point; thanks.

Even though intelligence helps everywhere,* both the benefit and cost from increased intelligence can vary. For example, brains consume quite a bit of calories--and turn them into heat. Everyone is going to have to pay the caloric cost of powering the brain, but the cooling cost of keeping the brain at a healthy temperature is going to vary with climate. Foresight is going to be more useful the more variable local food availability is.

* Well, actually, this should be poked at. The relationship between intelligence and reproductive success could easily be nonlinear, even among early hunter-gatherers and farmers. It's not genetically favored to be smart enough to outwit one's genes! (The effects of widespread female education and careers are too recent to be relevant for this conversation.)

I always maintain "If there is a quantitative difference, I sure as hell hope we never find it."

? We can already measure intelligence, and have good estimates of heritability from cross-generational intelligence testing. We've found the quantitative difference. All that's left to find out is how it works under the hood, which is knowledge we could use to re-engineer things to make them better. Why stop at discovering that piece?

comment by The_Lion · 2016-01-08T03:52:18.382Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I always maintain "If there is a quantitative difference, I sure as hell hope we never find it."

You may want to practice reciting the litany of Gendlin.

I think that'd lead to some pretty unfortunate stuff.

So have false beliefs about equality.

comment by gjm · 2016-01-08T15:46:35.249Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So have false beliefs about equality.

It's far from clear that it's "false beliefs about equality" that were responsible for the massacres committed by the communist states you refer to.

And given the context, it's maybe also worth pointing out that the communists' distinctive "beliefs about equality" were not beliefs about racial equality[1], or beliefs about equality of intelligence[2], so bringing them up here is something of a red herring.

[1] E.g., under the Khmer Rouge, you really didn't want to be ethnic Chinese.

[2] Opinions on that point in, e.g., the USSR seem to have been highly variable.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-01-08T15:59:44.428Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

under the Khmer Rouge, you really didn't want to be ethnic Chinese

Did Khmer Rouge really care about ethnicity, or that was just a convenient marker for a particular social class?

comment by tut · 2016-01-09T18:58:17.405Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Taboo 'care'. They did kill people just for looking Chinese.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-01-09T23:04:16.457Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That doesn't change much, I can taboo "care" easily enough. Did they kill all Chinese-looking people because looking Chinese was an imprecise but a good-enough marker for a particular socio-economic group?

comment by gjm · 2016-01-08T16:54:08.676Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It looks to me as if they really cared about ethnicity, but I'm far from being an expert and could be wrong. The case seems to be clearer for the Vietnamese than for the Chinese.

comment by AmagicalFishy · 2016-01-08T04:07:26.011Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Mine was a little ill-thought out comment.

comment by Usul · 2016-01-11T05:29:09.646Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

When the relevant experts, Anthropologists, say that the concept of race is a social construct with no basis in biological fact they aren't just bowing to some ivory tower overlord of political correctness. We would do well to consider their expertise as a starting point in any such inquiry.

Start anywhere on a map of the Eastern Hemisphere and trace what the people look like in any geographic area relative to the regions beside them and then consider why the term "race" has any meaning. sami, swede, finn, rus, tatar, khazak, turk, kurd, arab, berber, ethiopian, tutu. Or Han, mongol, uiger, kyrgir, uzbek, khazak, pashtun, persian, punjabi, hindi, bangali, burmese, thai, javanese, dayak. Where exactly do you parse the line of Caucasian, Negroid, Mongoloid? And why?

Historically, in the cultures from which our culture was derived, skin color, and later eyelid morphology, has been used to define three races (conveniently ignoring the pacific ocean and western hemisphere), for no reason other than the biases of the people in those cultures. If you actually look at facial structure (and why not, no less arbitrary) you'll find the people of the horn of africa have more in common with central european populations in terms of nose and lip shape than they do with more inland African populations. It is our bias to see skin color as more relevant than nose morphology that causes us to group Ethiopians with Hottentots and Biafrans as a single race. We could just as easily group them with Arabs, Berbers, and Kurds. An albino from the Indian subcontinent could claim without fear of contradiction to be an albino of just about any heritage in south asia or europe. Burmese and Japanese have vastly different average skin color but we arbitrarily group them together because of eyelid morphology.

So your question becomes "If different people..." to which the answer is: Of course.

The question you think you are asking, I think, is best rendered "Are those morphological features our modern society arbitrarily associates with membership in three arbitrary sets of humanity also associated with specific brain variations?" Which is exactly as arbitrary a question as "Is foot length/ back hair/ bilateral kidney symmetry associated with specific brain variations."

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2016-01-14T09:24:32.162Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"Is foot length ... associated with specific brain variations."

Height positively correlates with IQ and foot length is a very good proxy for height.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2016-01-14T10:49:21.611Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Height positively correlates with IQ and foot length is a very good proxy for height.

However, "correlated with" is not a transitive relation unless the correlations are fairly substantial. Precisely, if A correlates with B with coefficient c1, and B with C by c2 (both positive or both negative), then the minimum possible correlation of A with C is cos(arccos(c1)+arccos(c2)). E.g. if c1=c2=0.5, then this minimum is -0.5. If c1=c2=0.707, the minimum is 0. In general, a positive correlation of A with C is guaranteed if and only if c1^2 + c2^2 > 1.

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2016-01-14T11:03:57.924Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

However, "correlated with" is not a transitive relation unless the correlations are fairly substantial.

googles for "correlation between height and foot length" Uh, I thought that was much stronger than it actually is.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-01-11T06:14:11.313Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

they aren't just bowing to some ivory tower overlord of political correctness

And how do you know that? Social science academics are very skewed politically.

...with membership in three arbitrary sets of humanity

I don't think AmagicalFishy specified the number of races. In common usage "race" is a fuzzy term and the number of races has historically varied from two (us and barbarians) to the traditional European four (white, black, yellow, and red) to many.

It might be useful to taboo "race" in this discussion. The question then becomes "Do genetically similar large groups of people have different distributions/frequencies/averages of certain qualities of interest?" and the answer is, of course, "Depends on what you're interested in, but often yes".

For example, IQ tests have been administered to a lot of people of different genetic backgrounds and of different cultures. The picture is diverse, but there are clear patterns.

comment by Usul · 2016-01-11T07:23:02.972Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Social science academics are very skewed politically." So shall we discount any concept of expertise based solely on our biases towards the suspected biases of others based on their reported political affiliations? I don't have the time to get my own PhD in every subject. I don't claim they have the gospel truth, but, as I said, it's a good place to start, from which a cursory examination of geographic population variations pretty much puts the the idea of race to bed with very short work.

Tabooing race, I think your paraphrasing doesn't quite capture his question, because inherent in the use of "race" is not simply "genetically similar" but rather the specific arbitrary morphological features traditionally used to define race. Greenland Inuits are further removed genetically from Siberians than Somalis are from Yemenis, yet a photo line-up would be greatly skewed in favor of the former being of the same race and the latter being of different races.

As to the entirely separate question of validity of IQ testing (leaving aside whether IQ captures a genetically-mediated aspect of intelligence), I am not an expert in the field of cognitive science or psychology but I am aware of significant expert-level controversy over the reliability and validity of their application cross-culturally in the past and present, and would therefore be even more hesitant, selective, and dependent upon expert review of study methodology than I generally am before I wholeheartedly accepted a published finding as established fact.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-01-11T16:19:07.930Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So shall we discount any concept of expertise based solely on our biases towards the suspected biases of others based on their reported political affiliations?

I don't know about concept of expertise, but yes, I will certainly discount (which is different from discard) politically charged conclusions by those biased others. Incentives matter and publishing politically incorrect results is usually a career-damaging move. Especially if you don't have tenure when it could easily be a career-ending move.

pretty much puts the the idea of race to bed with very short work

I disagree, but in the sphere of rights I generally favour colour-blind solutions. So, sure, lets' put the idea of race to bed and start with killing affirmative action. You're good with that?

inherent in the use of "race" is not simply "genetically similar" but rather the specific arbitrary morphological features

They are not "arbitrary", of course, but who are you arguing against? If your point is that popular usage of the word "race" is fuzzy and not rigorous, sure, but no one contests that. I think that the real point of this conversation is about useful classifications of people and, in particular, about the real underlying differences between large genetically similar groups of people.

...Somalis are from Yemenis, yet a photo line-up...

I am not so sure of that. Have you actually seem Somalis? They do not look like the stereotypical African blacks at all.

before I wholeheartedly accepted

One of the big ideas underlying the culture of this site is that truth is not necessarily binary and that you can change your beliefs in whether something is true by degrees instead of oscillating between "this is a complete nonsense" and "this is obviously correct".

You don't need to "wholeheartedly accept", but you should update, to use a local expression.

comment by gjm · 2016-01-12T13:21:39.728Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

let's put the idea of race to bed and start with killing affirmative action

You say this as if someone who thinks common notions of "race" don't correspond to any biological reality ought to be happy to "start with killing affirmative action", and are convicted of inconsistency if not. It seems to me that that's wrong for at least two reasons.

First: "start with". Someone might very reasonably hold that all forms of racial discrimination are bad but that it would be a terrible idea to start by killing affirmative action. (E.g., because the people that would help are, on the whole, less in need of help than the people who would be helped by addressing other kinds of racial discrimination. Same principle as donating to malaria-net charities rather than saving cute puppies with unpleasant diseases in rich countries.)

Second: I don't in fact see any way to get from "race is biologically unreal" to "there should be no discrimination on the basis of race". What it does get you to is something like "there should be no discrimination on the basis of alleged racial superiorities or inferiorities". But it leaves entirely alone possibilities like these: (1) Membership of race X is basically equivalent to membership of culture X, which has traditions that make its members much better or much worse prospective employees; so when you have to make a hiring decision on limited information you should take account of (non-)membership of race X. (2) There has for years been discrimination in favour of / against members of race Y on the basis of that race's alleged superiority or inferiority, and you now want to correct this injustice; so you institute preferential treatment that goes the other way. (3) Members of race Z are systematically mistreated in ways that make them perform worse in school and university, which means that if treated well by an employer they are likely to outperform members of other races whose examination results are similar.

I think there is in fact no reason why thinking that "the idea of race" is all wrong should lead to wanting to kill affirmative action.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-01-12T16:07:10.539Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Someone might very reasonably hold that all forms of racial discrimination are bad but that it would be a terrible idea to start by killing affirmative action.

Affirmative action is racial discrimination, in a very blatant way.

If you believe that race is just an arbitrary label, there is no particular reason to provide affirmative action to people with the label "black", but not, say, to people with the label "inbred redneck from the boondocks".

I don't in fact see any way to get from "race is biologically unreal" to "there should be no discrimination on the basis of race".

I don't quite understand you here.

Your possibilities, by the way, are all testable.

I think there is in fact no reason why thinking that "the idea of race" is all wrong should lead to wanting to kill affirmative action.

To quote Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court John Roberts, "[t]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

comment by gjm · 2016-01-12T16:40:41.094Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Affirmative action is racial discrimination

Nothing I said either explicitly denies nor implicitly contradicts that. If you think otherwise, I've failed to communicate; could you let me know what gives you that impression, so that I can clarify?

I'll make a first attempt at clarifying right now, just in case it helps. Suppose you're arguing that Saudi Arabia should improve its religious tolerance, and someone points to an obscure case where someone in Saudi Arabia somehow managed to discriminate against Muslims and says "yeah, let's improve religious tolerance; we'll start by fighting discrimination against Muslims". Discrimination against Muslims is religious intolerance, but making it a priority in Saudi Arabia would be nuts because most religious intolerance in Saudi Arabia is of a very different sort.

I am suggesting that someone might reasonably think that "yeah, let's reduce racial discrimination in the US; we'll start by getting rid of affirmative action" is a bit like "yeah, let's reduce religious intolerance in Saudi Arabia; we'll start by getting rid of discrimination against Muslims".

(Would they be right? I don't know. Perhaps they underestimate the scope of affirmative action or overestimate the amount and impact of other racial discrimination in the US. But I don't think they'd be crazy.)

I don't quite understand you here.

Your argument (in so far as you made one) appears to rely on the idea that if someone holds that "race" as generally understood is a biological unreality, then they should think there should be no discrimination on the basis of "race" as generally understood. I think that idea is incorrect; someone might hold the first of those positions but not the second, because discrimination on the basis of "race" as generally understood doesn't need to be based on (real or imagined) biological differences between "races". I gave some examples of kinds of discrimination with other bases.

Your possibilities, by the way, are all testable.

Good.

[t]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race

First: thinking that "the idea of race" is all wrong is not the same thing as wanting to stop discrimination on the basis of race.

(In two ways. 1: one of those things is an opinion about matters of fact, or possibly definition; the second is a preference about what happens; the two obviously can't be the same. 2: someone opposed to racial discrimination may none the less prefer a combination of two opposed discriminations that kinda-sorta cancels out a bit, to just one of the two, even if their ideal would be to have neither.)

Second: although "the way to stop X is to stop X" sounds obviously right, if it's meant as more than a tautology -- if it means "the most effective way to make X go away is always to find instances of X that we are perpetrating and stop them" -- then I think it's incorrect. Suppose most X, or the worst X, is being done by other people; then your most effective way of addressing it may be to go after those other people.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-01-12T17:15:13.240Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I am suggesting that someone might reasonably think that "yeah, let's reduce racial discrimination in the US; we'll start by getting rid of affirmative action" is a bit like "yeah, let's reduce religious intolerance in Saudi Arabia; we'll start by getting rid of discrimination against Muslims".

Let me lay out my line of thinking.

I am assuming that since you... um, that's going to be confusing so let's invoke Alice instead -- so, I'm assuming that Alice believes that race is a social construct with no underlying biological reality and would like this construct to go away -- the ideal is an entirely colour-blind world.

Given that racial discrimination is bad, Alice would want to get rid of all forms of it, including affirmative action. What makes affirmative action special? The fact that the full force of the state is behind it. That's a rather important point: the government explicitly discriminates by race and if you get in its way, you're are likely to be steamrolled.

Wouldn't you want to start by eliminating the discrimination which the state imposes?

Another issue is values (= optimisation criteria). If Alice's goal is to end racial discrimination, Alice probably just want to eliminate it wherever you find it. But if Alice's goals are more diverse and she is predominantly concerned about other things like, say, electability, or social justice, or money, or cultural domination, etc. etc. then she'll be guided by these goals and ending racial discrimination becomes mostly instrumental. And in such a case it becomes just another social mechanism to tinker with and I start to suspect that Alice will tolerate racial discrimination if it furthers her other overarching goals.

the idea that if someone holds that "race" as generally understood is a biological unreality, then they should think there should be no discrimination on the basis of "race" as generally understood

I don't hold that position, for race can clearly be a proxy for culture and people love to discriminate on the basis of culture.

My position is that if race has no biological underpinnings and is an arbitrary label, then it's just one in a long line of such labels and I'm not sure what makes it special. Social labels are also amenable to change with the implication that proper social-engineering efforts can (and some people will say that they should) mold the race concept into whatever shape the engineers desire.

if it's meant as more than a tautology

Robert's specific meaning was, I think, that at this point in time you do not fix past racial discrimination (slavery and pre-Civil Rights era) by institutionalising a reverse form of racism. If you want to get to the point where race doesn't matter, you need to stop making the race matter because it literally prevents you from getting to your goal. I don't think he was making any claims about "the most effective way" or anything like that.

comment by gjm · 2016-01-12T18:20:02.357Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm assuming that Alice believes that race is a social construct with no underlying biological reality and would like this construct to go away -- the ideal is an entirely colour-blind world.

That seems to me to be assuming more than is actually called for here, but never mind.

Given that racial discrimination is bad, Alice would want to get rid of all forms of it, including affirmative action.

If that means that Alice's ideal world would have no racial discrimination anywhere ever (and, in particular, no affirmative action) then yes, I agree, she would. If it means that given any hypothetical world she would consider removing affirmative action from it an improvement then no, I don't see any reason why that should be her position.

What makes affirmative action special? The fact that the full force of the state is behind it.

Affirmative action generally takes the form of preferential hiring or enrollment practices by employers and educators. It has "the full force of the state" behind it only in that it's generally government departments and state-run universities that do it. It's not like you're going to have the US military mounting a shock-and-awe campaign against your house if you speak out against it.

It seems to me that there are other things that distinguish affirmative action from most other forms of racial discrimination.

  • It is generally limited in ways that they aren't. That is: if I am a conventional racist running a company, I will simply never hire any black people. If I am in the same position and doing affirmative action, I probably have a quota: I will try to make 20% of my hires black people, or something like that.
  • It is explicitly aimed at adjusting for wrongs done elsewhere. The goal is not, so to speak, to maximize local justice, to do what you would consider the Right Thing if you look only at the immediate situation; it is to improve things overall, balancing unfairness in one place against opposite unfairness in another.
    • For the avoidance of doubt, I am not claiming that this is a good idea nor that it is done well. Only that that's the intention, so that "look, you're being locally unfair" is a pointless criticism: the Affirmative Actor knows that, and if you want to convince them you need to persuade them either that the local unfairness is not successfully counterbalancing opposite unfairnesses elsewhere, or that the whole idea of balancing such things out is ill-conceived.
  • Its intended beneficiaries are, as a group, worse off in many ways than its intended victims.

Do these really make a difference? Good question. But you can't possibly argue in good faith against affirmative action while pretending they aren't there, which is what you seem to be doing so far.

I don't hold that position

OK. It looked to me as if some position along those lines was the most likely justification for the inference you seemed to want to foist on Usul.

if race [...] is an arbitrary label, [...] I'm not sure what makes it special.

In regard to affirmative action? What makes it special is the fact that people have been discriminating on the basis of race for years and years, and often still do.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not myself claiming that race is an arbitrary label; I'm not sure Usul would either, but you'd have to ask him. But even if it were the fact of past and present discrimination on the basis of that arbitrary label would be a sufficient explanation (though not necessarily a justification) of the existence of affirmative action.

at this point in time you do not fix past racial discrimination [...] by institutionalising a reverse form of racism.

It's too late to fix anything that happened in the past. It might not be too late to fix some of its residual effects. And it's not as if racism (of the usual anti-black sort) stopped when the "Civil Rights era" began. The stuff affirmative action advocates hope to counterbalance isn't all decades ago -- some of it is still happening now.

It is clearly true that if there is a path to a world where race simply doesn't matter, then it needs to end up with race simply not mattering, and that will mean no affirmative action. But that doesn't mean that the best available path to such a world begins with ending affirmative action.

(Again, for the avoidance of doubt, I am not claiming that in fact there is any way to get such a world, nor that it would be a good world if we did. The question is: if someone wants a colour-blind world but doesn't agree that we should start by ending affirmative action, does that indicate hypocrisy?)

comment by Lumifer · 2016-01-12T18:45:05.270Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It is explicitly aimed at adjusting for wrongs done elsewhere ... balancing unfairness in one place against opposite unfairness in another.

Oh, boy! Why in the world would anyone think this is a good justification for anything? And you see the problems, as you say

I am not claiming that this is a good idea ... Only that that's the intention

How intending to do something which is a bad idea is a good thing? Moreover, the whole concept of counterbalancing unfairness elsewhere by introducing new unfairness... let's say it has deficiencies :-/

So the Affirmative Actor is an idiot. I can agree with that, but I am not sure that you want to come to that conclusion.

In general, I'm not pretending that reasons to support affirmative action do not exist. But I shortcut to the balance and I find the balance wanting.

What makes it special is the fact that people have been discriminating on the basis of race for years and years, and often still do.

Yup. And the same is true about height. And conventional prettiness. And being disfigured in some way. And just being weird. And not coming from this village, but from that village over the ridge. So what's special about race, again?

And it's not as if racism (of the usual anti-black sort) stopped when the "Civil Rights era" began.

As you know, I believe that blacks' average IQ is lower that that of whites by about a standard deviation. That is quite sufficient for many (probably most) people to call me a racist and point to me as exhibit A that racism still exists and needs programs like affirmative action to combat it.

Of course there is a slight problem in that if my belief is true, affirmative action (and similar attempts at forced equalisation of outcomes) can never reach its goals and so will remain in place forever.

comment by gjm · 2016-01-12T21:04:10.860Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Why in the world would anyone think this is a good justification for anything? [...] How intending to do something which is a bad idea is a good thing?

Lots of things that are bad when considered in isolation are good in context because they help to fix other bad things. Chemotherapy drugs are basically poisons; but it happens that they poison your cancer even worse than they poison you and may make you healthier overall. Knocking a house down reduces the available places for people to live, and costs money, and makes noise and mess; but after you've done that, maybe you can build another better one on the same site. Buying insurance has negative expected (monetary) value, and the great majority of the time it loses you money; but by an astonishing coincidence the rare times when it helps you are correlated with the rare times when you find yourself in sudden need, and it turns out to be a good idea in many cases overall.

Anyway: the point here isn't whether affirmative action is a good idea; it's whether it's something whose removal should be a high priority for anyone who ultimately wants an end to all racial discrimination. For the answer to be "no", it is sufficient (but not necessary) that such a person can consistently think affirmative action is beneficial overall. (I think they can, even if that turns out to be badly wrong.) It is sufficient (but not necessary) that such a person who agrees with you that affirmative action is a bad idea can consistently think that dealing with other forms of racial discrimination is a higher priority. (I think they can.)

But I shortcut to the balance and I find the balance wanting.

Fine. Again: the question is not whether affirmative action is, on balance, a good idea. The question is whether someone could reasonably consider it's not such a bad idea as to be a good place to start if you want to reduce racial discrimination.

height [...] prettiness [...] being disfigured [...] not coming from this village [...] So what's special about race, again?

The scale of the discrimination involved, the amount of harm it's done, and the extent to which that harm has been visited consistently on the same people over and over again. (In reality, I think; but as usual it suffices if Usul reasonably thinks this is the case.)

If you're shorter than average, you are likely to do a little worse than average in various ways. (It's not clear how much that's just plain prejudice and how much it's that actually height genuinely correlates with things like intelligence and good health. And yes, one can make an analogy with race here.) Roughly and on average, one inch of height = $800/year of salary in the US, certainly not to be sneezed at. But being white rather than black = $14k/year of salary in the US. That corresponds to a difference of about six standard deviations in height.

If you're taller or shorter than average, your children probably will be too. The correlation from generation to generation is somewhere around 0.6, I think. So whatever advantages or disadvantages accrue to taller or shorter people will accumulate a bit down the generations. But I'm pretty sure the correlation between parents' and children's race is a lot higher than that. If you're black, your parents and your parents' parents and your parents' parents' parents will probably have had all the same disadvantages as you, for as far back as history goes.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2016-01-12T19:13:52.147Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

if my belief is true, affirmative action [...] can never reach its goals

It depends. Are IQ differences influenced by differences in nutrition, access to education, lifelong stress... ? If so, fixing those factors might help fix the outcome.

comment by Usul · 2016-01-12T02:51:43.251Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"So, sure, lets' put the idea of race to bed and start with killing affirmative action. You're good with that?"

This is the point where I say "politics is the mind killer" and discount all of your politically charged conclusions, then?

"Have you actually seem Somalis? They do not look like the stereotypical African blacks at all."

My point exactly. Yet they are universally considered "black" by people in your and my culture because of the arbitrary (which word I do mean quite literally) choice to see skin color as one of the two supremely defining qualities by which we "know" race. If certain facial features were (just as arbitrarily) selected, Somalis would be in the same race as Samis.

Another example: By standards of race, Native Australians are morphologically black (show an unlabeled photo of a black haired Aboriginal to a North American- he will say "black" if asked to assign a race) as are Kalahari Bushmen. I can not think of two more genetically divergent populations. Yes, human genetic diversity exists. However, current ideas of race have so little genetic basis as to be useless, and are mired in bias and produce bias in our modern thinking (mine, too). It is foolish to cling to the primitive beliefs of your ancestors to address problems or inquiries in the modern world.

I use the term "wholehearted accept" in the context of isolated scientific findings. In other words: do I accept that this individual study proves or significantly suggests that it says what it's authors say it does? I have expertise in perhaps 5-6 highly specific areas of study to the extent that I can competently evaluate the merits of published research on my own. Outside of those areas I would be a fool to think I could do so without some recourse to expert analysis to explain the minutia that only years of experience can bring. Otherwise I might as well join the young earthers and anti-vaccinationists.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-01-12T06:31:38.422Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is the point where I say "politics is the mind killer"

Not necessarily, but I'm curious whether you're willing to chomp down on bullets.

However, current ideas of race have so little genetic basis as to be useless

I am not particularly attached to the strawful "popular" ideas of race that you are so fond of skewering. But are you willing to admit that large groups of humans can be significantly different on the "genetic basis"?

Outside of those areas I would be a fool to think I could do so without some recourse to expert analysis

The issue is bias, incentives, credibility, trust. "Some recourse" is different from "defer to the experts whatever they say". I am not a fan of high-priesthood treatment of science.

comment by Usul · 2016-01-12T08:16:06.732Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"I'm curious whether you're willing to chomp down on bullets."

Since you're happy to go off topic, and your other posts suggest you've definitely got a dog in this fight already, would you agree or disagree with the following statement:

Based on things I've read on the internet (Cochrane) (not to be confused with the Cochrane Library that actually produces meta-analyses, just some guy named Cochrane who can't land a tenure track job teaching physics) regarding brain size and IQ test results, I believe that it is more probable than not that Black People are less intelligent than White People, that the jury's still out on Asian People, and that this is due in no small part to genetics.

"I am not particularly attached to the strawful "popular" ideas of race."

That is the very definition of race. That is what the term means.

"I am not a fan of high-priesthood treatment of science."

When I meet the strawman who does I'll let him know.

This really takes me back to a month or so I spent trolling Christian Identity White Supremacists back in the day, not sure if I should be surprised to find it here or not. Good luck with your confirmation bias.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-01-12T15:44:56.018Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Based on things I've read on the internet (Cochrane) (not to be confused with the Cochrane Library that actually produces meta-analyses, just some guy named Cochrane who can't land a tenure track job teaching physics) regarding brain size and IQ test results, I believe that it is more probable than not that Black People are less intelligent than White People, that the jury's still out on Asian People, and that this is due in no small part to genetics.

You're much confused in the beginning, but it will take too long to sort you our, so I'll cut to the chase.

I believe that blacks (the Sub-Saharan genetic pool) have a lower average IQ than whites (European genetic pool), by about one standard deviation (15 points). The jury is not out on Asians -- East Asians, specifically Chinese Han, have an average IQ higher than whites, by about 10 points, if I remember correctly. Moreover, Ashkenazi Jews also have a higher average IQ than whites.

That is the very definition of race.

You seem to be... limited in your understanding of how people use words.

Christian Identity White Supremacists

Woot! I think it's the first time I've been called that. It's so new and exciting! Tell me about myself, I'm all ears.

comment by gjm · 2016-01-12T16:50:08.247Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I believe that [...]

My impression is that Usul was interested not only in your opinion about racial IQ variations, but also in where your information comes from.

I think it's the first time I've been called that.

He didn't call you a Christian Identity white supremacist, he said this discussion reminds him of arguing with Christian Identity white supremacists. Those are very different things.

(You don't seem particularly like a Christian Identity white supremacist to me, for what it's worth. I think Usul is thinking too impressionistically.)

comment by Lumifer · 2016-01-12T17:23:45.959Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My impression is that Usul was interested not only in your opinion about racial IQ variations, but also in where your information comes from.

My impression is that Usul is interested in neither of those things as he clearly went into snide mode.

He didn't call you a Christian Identity white supremacist

Let me quote him with the relevant part bolded:

...trolling Christian Identity White Supremacists back in the day, not sure if I should be surprised to find it here or not.

Instead of calling me a nutcase waiting for the Rapture while sitting in an Idaho bunker surrounded by beans and ammo, he's just being passive-aggressive.

comment by gjm · 2016-01-12T18:22:03.938Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

he clearly went into snide mode.

Going into snide mode is quite consistent with still wanting to understand the other guy's position and where it came from.

to find it here

My impression is that "it" wasn't meant to mean "the Christian Identity movement" but "racial prejudice".

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-01-12T14:30:31.661Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That is the very definition of race. That is what the term means.

If you look at genetics the difference between different parts of Africa is higher than the different between different non-African groups.

If you think that Whites and Asians have a different race but all Blacks have the same race than your concept of race is cultural and not based on biology.

comment by gjm · 2016-01-12T13:38:54.274Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That is the very definition of race. That is what the term means.

I think there are a number of people on LW who will dispute that; who will say something like this. "Yes, there are fuzzy popular uses of the word and if you take them too seriously you will say silly things. But it is also the case that there are important genetic differences between human subpopulations, and that these correlate to some extent with those fuzzy popular ideas about race."

That seems to me to be a position that is not at all refuted by saying that popular use of "race" is fuzzy and that the things commonly called "races" don't correspond to well defined biological groupings. (It might be refuted by other means, but that would be more work.)

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-28T16:36:36.256Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If different races have different skin, muscle/bone structure, genetics, and maybe other things, shouldn't it follow that different races could have different brains, too?

They do. Even if you don't want to go into IQ measurements, different races have different brain volume just for starters. See e.g. Cochrane:

...average brain size is not the same in all human populations. Average cranial capacity in Europeans is about 1362; 1380 in Asians, 1276 in Africans. It’s about 1270 in New Guinea. Generally there is a trend with latitude – brain volume is lowest near the equator. And no, despite Gould’s bushwa, there is nothing especially difficult about measuring brain volume. Direct measurement of a healthy brain is best; but that is now done, using magnetic resonance imagery, and the results are about the same – a mean black-white difference of about 1 standard deviation.

comment by MrMind · 2015-12-30T09:22:09.817Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If different races have different skin, muscle/bone structure, genetics, and maybe other things, shouldn't it follow that different races could have different brains, too?

No, not really. That doesn't mean that they don't, anyway, it's just that it doesn't follow from the premise.
We do not know much about individual variability of the genome, and as such we do not know much about what parts of the DNA are affected by individual (a posteriori, ethnic) differences.
A recent experiment, for example, showed that there is more DNA variability within a single ethnic group (subsaharians, probably the most ancient alive today) than within different other ethnic groups.

comment by Vaniver · 2015-12-30T15:28:27.564Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No, not really. That doesn't mean that they don't, anyway, it's just that it doesn't follow from the premise.

This depends on how you structure the argument. It is a strong response to "races cannot vary in brains" to say "what generates that fact that would not also generate the fact that races cannot vary in skin, muscle/bone structure, genetics, and maybe other things?", because this is pointing out that the claim that races have identical brains needs complicating features, or else it gets other questions obviously wrong.

We do not know much about individual variability of the genome, and as such we do not know much about what parts of the DNA are affected by individual (a posteriori, ethnic) differences.

What do you mean by 'individual variability of the genome"? You know that we can actually sequence human genomes, right? And that this has been done for people of many different racial groups, and we've identified the areas that people vary, so that you can get your SNPs sequenced and your racial ancestry estimated cheaply?

A recent experiment, for example, showed that there is more DNA variability within a single ethnic group (subsaharians, probably the most ancient alive today) than within different other ethnic groups.

This is entirely unrelated to the question at hand, and you seem deeply mistaken about its relevance. (If this is true, and it is, doesn't this mean it's obvious that we can tell apart the ethnicities by looking at their DNA?)

comment by MrMind · 2015-12-31T08:03:23.593Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've discovered just now that the original question was "... could have different brains..." instead of "... have different brains..."
That said, the answer is: of course.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-27T16:13:38.345Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you look at any two people they have different brains. Even if you look at the same person at different ages they have different brains.

If you care about the issue you have to make statements that are less vague.

comment by AmagicalFishy · 2015-12-27T18:03:44.385Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This does not addresses my question. The implication is "... shouldn't it follow that different races could have different brains—such that these differences are generalizable according to race?"

I think this implication was obvious. For example, if someone were to ask "Do different races typically have different skin colors?" I don't think you would answer "Different people of the same race have different skin colors. No two skin colors are exactly the same. You have to make statements that are less vague."

Edit: If, in fact, that is the way you would answer, then I'm mistaken, but I don't think that's necessary.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-12-28T12:41:55.562Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Judging only by skin color, most Korean hands would be indistinguishable from most Caucasian hands, and most Arabic hands would be indistinguishable from most Latino hands.

Likewise, judging only by brain function, no EEG-visible or MRI-visible differences appear between ethnic groups.

comment by Vaniver · 2015-12-30T15:30:08.901Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Brain volume is often calculated from MRIs, and varies between racial groups. (MRIs also give you brain volume of different regions of the brain, which also vary between racial groups.)

comment by PipFoweraker · 2015-12-29T23:54:34.061Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you have any good (academic for preference) sources for the latter statement, I'd love to see them, mainly to add to my 'Collection of X-refuting hyperlinks' I have easily accessible when browsing the Internet At Large.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-27T18:24:06.839Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This does not addresses my question. The implication is "... shouldn't it follow that different races could have different brains—such that these differences are generalizable according to race?" [...] I think this implication was obvious.

In highly politically charged subjects it's very important to be explicit about your questions and not hiding your meaning in implications of your statements.

But apart from that it's not clear what the notion of generalizable differences that are not significant is supposed to mean. The standard way you would declare that a difference is generalizable is showing a stastically significant effect.

It's part of scientific reasoning to make claims that are in principle falsifiable. To do that you actually need to be precise over what you mean. There are contexts where it's okay not to practice high standards but if you want to discuss a topic like race differences that's politcally charged I think you have to practice high standards.

comment by AmagicalFishy · 2015-12-27T18:51:59.654Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I guess I don't think that the meaning of my question was hidden in any significant way. This is leads me to interpret your response less as a genuine concern for specificity that lead to constructive criticism, and more as "I don't like this subject—therefore I will express disagreement with something you did to indicate that." It feels to me as if you're avoiding the subject in favor of nitpicking.

I know you knew what the actual question is because you pointed out vagueness. You knew the question you answered [Literally: Do different races have different brains?] was not the question I intended. Regardless, you didn't attempt to answer the question or really address it at all. Instead, you pointed out a way it could be misinterpreted if someone took the effort to avoid all context and assume I was asking a nonsensical question (which people do not usually do, unless there's some political-esque intent behind it).

My apologies if you have a genuine concern regarding the specificity of my question—but I implore you to try to answer the actual question, anyway.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-27T19:14:12.119Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This is leads me to interpret your response less as a genuine concern for specificity that lead to constructive criticism, and more as "I don't like this subject—therefore I will express disagreement with something you did to indicate that."

The subject of LW is refining the art of human rationality. Telling people to be more precise when discussing political issues is on that subject.

This isn't reddit and I wouldn't like LW to become like reddit. To do that it's important to defend a certain level of posting quality and speak up when that's violated.

We have recent discussions about whether to ban political posts. I'm not in favor of banning but I'm in speaking up to have those discussions on a higher quality level. If you would ask the same question on http://skeptics.stackexchange.com it would be closed as being too vague and to have questions like this on LW without being criticized.

comment by The_Lion · 2016-01-06T02:55:24.803Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If you would ask the same question on http://skeptics.stackexchange.com it would be closed as being too vague

You do realize that's a problem with skeptics.stackexchange not with AmagicalFishy's question.

comment by tut · 2016-01-07T15:02:36.963Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's a matter of perspective/values. I agree with Christian on this one.

comment by Anders_H · 2016-01-11T06:14:50.498Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I have an intuition that I have dissolved the sleeping beauty paradox as semantic confusion about the word "probability". I am aware that my reasoning is unlikely to be accepted by the community, but I am unsure what is wrong with it. I am posting this to the "stupid questions" thread to see if helps me gain any insight either on Sleeping Beauty or on the thought process that led to me feeling like I've dissolved the question.

When the word "probability" is used to describe the beliefs of an agent, we are really talking about how that agent would bet, for instance in an ideal prediction market. However, if the rules of the prediction market are unclear, we may get semantic confusion.

In general, when you are asked "What is the probability that the coin came up heads" we interpret this as "how much are you willing to pay for a contract that will be worth 1 dollar if the coin came up heads, and nothing if it came up tails". This seems straight forward, but in the sleeping beauty problem, the agent may make the same bet multiple times, which introduces ambiguity.

Person 1 may interpret then the question as follows: "Every time you wake up, there is a new one dollar bill on the table. How much are you willing to pay for a contract that gives you the dollar if the coin came up heads?". In this interpretation, you get to keep all the dollars you won throughout the experiment.

In contrast, person 2 may interpret the question as follows "There is one dollar on the table. Every time you wake up, you are given a chance to revise the price you are willing to pay for the contract, but all earlier bets are cancelled such that only the last bet counts". In this interpretation, there is only one dollar to be won.

Person 1 will conclude that the probability is 1/3, and person 2 will conclude that the probability is 1/2. However, once they agree on what bet they are asked to make, the disagreement is dissolved.

The first definition is probably better matched to current usage of the word. This gives most rationalists a strong intuition that the thirder position is "correct". However, if you want to know which definition is most useful or applicable, this really depends on the disguised query, and on which real world scenario the parable is meant to represent. If the payoff utility is only determined once (at the end of the experiment), then the halfer definition could be more useful?

ETA: After reading the Wikipedia:Talk section for Sleeping Beauty, it appears that this idea is not original and that in fact a lot of people have reached the same conclusion. I should have read that before I commented...

comment by Manfred · 2016-01-11T22:57:46.234Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Defining probabilities in terms of bets is one way to do things, but not the only way - one can also define them in terms of limiting frequencies, or as numbers that allow you to efficiently encode the environment, or as objects that follow some axioms you think numerical confidence-objects should follow.

I have witnessed people arguing for betting with probability 1/2 in case 2. After all, they say, the probability is 1/2, so that's how you should bet. Most people who approach this problem for the first time (whether thirders or halfers) use the same decision-making algorithm: first, compute the probability (perhaps wrongly) of winning the bet for the person inside the experiment, second, use that probability to determine the value of the bet.

When you say it's obvious that in case 2 you should bet a certain way, I think you're choosing how to bet in a different way: from the viewpoint of someone on the outside, what strategy should the person on the inside follow to maximize their gains? This viewpoint becomes a lot more obvious after being exposed to LessWrong for a couple of years.

And there's one tricky thing here, which is that if you use this perspective, you as the outside person have some probabilities, but the person inside the experiment also might have probabilities, which do not have to be simply related to the optimal strategy. So you have to be pretty careful with this argument that knowing the correct strategy implies knowing the correct probabilities.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-01-12T22:31:12.059Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In general, when you are asked "What is the probability that the coin came up heads" we interpret this as "how much are you willing to pay for a contract that will be worth 1 dollar if the coin came up heads, and nothing if it came up tails"

Nobody who thinks that the probability is at 75% will buy into the prediction market when the prediction market is at 75%.

A better way to phrase it would be to say: "If you are forced to buy a share in the prediction market, the probability of the event is that probability where you don't care which side of the bet you take."

comment by Anders_H · 2016-01-12T22:34:27.652Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, this is true, thanks for noticing. Sorry about the inaccurate/incorrect wording. It does however not affect the main idea.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-01-11T23:35:36.167Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You can arrange the situation so that the two probabilities are 1/10,000 and 1/2. Then just ask, "Do you think the coin came up heads or tails"? If they say they are not sure, they agree with the halfer position.

In other words, "how sure are you" does mean something besides how much you want to bet.

comment by Anders_H · 2016-01-12T01:51:56.644Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There is a difference between "How sure are you that if we looked at the coin now, it is heads?" and "How sure are you that if we looked at the coin only once, at the end of the experiment, it is heads?"

In the first variant, the thirder position is unambiguously true.

I the second variant, I suspect that you really need more precision in the words to answer it. I think a halfer interpretation of this question is at least plausible under some definitions of "how sure"

Unless "how sure" refers explicitly to well specified bet, many attempts to define it will end up being circular.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-01-12T05:09:42.738Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If I am very sure of something, I would be surprised to see the opposite. I don't need a bet to determine whether I'm surprised or not.

comment by Usul · 2016-01-12T02:32:41.262Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So there exists a Pure Caucasian, a Pure Mongoloid, and a Pure Negroid out there? Can you identify them? Can you name a rational basis for those morphological qualities by which you know them? Is it a coincidence that the qualities you have chosen coincide perfectly with those that were largely developed by bias-motivated individuals living in Europe, Australia, and North America over the past few centuries? Why not back hair, toe length, presence of palmeris longus muscle, renal vein anatomy, positon of the sciatic nerve relative to piriformis muscle? Among the "grey" how do we know which individuals can be characterized by what (oh let's say percentage) of membership they can say to have in each category? Is such a thing useful? What is your motivation for believing so?

Which has been the greater source of error: the fairly recent hyper-vigilance so seek out sources of bias and error in research seeking so-called racial differences? Or the unconscious tendency to be blind to one's own cultural norms as the arbitrary choices that they are, and to more readily accept the value of the self-like?

As to black, white, and grey, my eyes and visual cortex zero out relative to local contrast and past a certain point will default the lightest colorless shade to white and the darkest to black. With photo-sensors, I can read the result identifying the wavelength and intensity, which will tell me if the light is black or white.

comment by sone3d · 2016-01-01T13:47:37.408Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What is exactly status? What is this "thing I feel" when, everything equal, I have the sense that someone has more or less status than me? It must be a sort of neurotransmitters cocktail or what?

Sorry, not native english.

comment by [deleted] · 2016-01-09T21:16:45.837Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It should be a kind of surprise at first, when you notice something about that person which you do not expect to happen/apply to you, and then an evaluation of how good or bad that something is, and then a judgement of whether it is deserved, and then a conclusion about the person's status. Overall, yes, neurotransmitters doing stuff, certainly. (But how?..:()However, this is only what I find plausible. If this is true, then a change at any stage might change your mind about the status. Say, you think the person receives undeserved attention, but then somebody says, 'He's a war hero!', and your view of their situation will depend on the side of the war you support, but nonetheless you will likely not be surprised by how others treat the man.

There's also people's power over each other that is taken into account. What I would not expect to see, is a psychologically healthy individual not changing their mind about someone's status if given evidence that the someone behaves or is treated differently than the status 'suggests', but there are certainly examples of this happening. Another step would be to say that there is a bigger weight assigned to keeping the evaluation constant and it is also somehow written in neurotransmitter (and established neuronal connections), but it really just pushes the question further.

comment by PipFoweraker · 2015-12-29T23:49:17.218Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Is there a non-obvious reason why I can't create a non-profit entity whose sole purpose is to receive donations for selected effective charities that operate overseas and distribute that money to them, thereby enhancing the usefulness of local donations by allowing them to be tax-deductable?

(Specifically Australia, generally otherwise)

comment by RaelwayScot · 2015-12-25T22:17:55.901Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Is there a biological basis that explains that utilitarianism and preservation of our species should motivate our actions? Or is it a purely selfish consideration: I feel well when others feel well in my social environment (and therefore even dependent on consensus)?

comment by username2 · 2015-12-26T10:56:59.056Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Kin selection?

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-25T22:23:36.444Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What do you mean with should?

comment by RaelwayScot · 2015-12-27T10:52:51.517Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Moral philosophy is a huge topic and it's discourse is not dominated by looking at DNA.

Everyone can choose their preferred state then, at least to the extent it is not indoctrinated or biologically determined. It is rational to invest energy into maintaining or achieving this state (because the state presumably provides you with a steady source of reward), which might involve convincing others of your preferred state or prevent them from threating it (e.g. by putting them into jail). There is likely an absolute truth (to the extent physics is consistent from our point of view), but no absolute morale (because it's all memes in an undirected process). Terrorists do nothing wrong from their point of view, but from mine it threatens my preferred state, so I will try to prevent terrorism. We may seem lucky that many preferred states converge to the same goals which are even fairly sustainable, but that is just an evolutionary necessity and perhaps mostly a result of empathy and the will to survive (otherwise our species wouldn't have survived in paleolithic groups of hunters and gatherers).

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-27T11:25:47.040Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Basically your argument is: "I can't think of a way to justify morality besides saying that it's my own prefered state, therefore nobody can come up with an argument to justify morality."

comment by RaelwayScot · 2015-12-27T15:58:06.121Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is it? I think, the act of convincing other people of your preferred state of the world is exactly what justifying morality is. But that action policy is only a meme, as you said, which is individually chosen based on many criteria (including aesthetics, peer-pressure, consistency).

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-27T16:00:50.837Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Only a meme" doesn't negate that it's about something real and that there can be resonable arguments why some memes are better than others.

comment by RaelwayScot · 2015-12-27T16:17:46.065Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I mean "only a meme" in the sense, that morality is not absolute, but an individual choice. Of course, there can be arguments why some memes are better than others, that happens during the act of individuals convincing each other of their preferences.

comment by RaelwayScot · 2015-12-26T01:01:31.962Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I mean a moral terminal goal. But I guess we would be a large step closer to a solution of the control problem if we could specify such a goal.

What I had in mind is something like this: Evolution has provided us with a state which everyone prefers who is healthy (who can survive in a typical situation in which humans have evolved with high probability) and who has an accurate mental representation of reality. That state includes being surrounded by other healthy humans, so by induction everyone must reach this state (and also help others to reach it). I haven't carefully thought this through, but I just want to give an idea for what I'm looking for.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-26T11:29:57.978Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Evolution doesn't produce terminal goals.

comment by RaelwayScot · 2015-12-26T15:40:49.319Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What is the motivation behind maximizing QUALY? Does it require certain incentives to be present in the culture (endorsement of altruism) or is it rooted elsewhere?

comment by username2 · 2015-12-26T16:21:08.115Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Many people think that society is supposed to have a goal for some reason. And QUALY is easy to measure.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-26T15:53:37.875Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Are you asking whether every human being that is alive has a motivation to maximize QUALY?

comment by RaelwayScot · 2015-12-26T18:24:52.876Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

More why doing it is desirable at all. Is it a matter of the culture that currently exists? I mean, is it 'right' to eradicate a certain ethnic group if the majority endorses it?

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-26T21:51:41.748Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Why do you think biology basis has something to do with the answer?

comment by RaelwayScot · 2015-12-26T23:18:45.348Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Because then it would argue from features that are built into us. If we can prove the existence of these features with high certainty, then it could perhaps serve as guidance for our decisions.

On the other hand, it is reasonable that evolution does not create such goals because it is an undirected process. Our actions are unrestricted in this regard, and we must only bear the consequences of the system that our species has come up with. What is good is thus decided by consensus. Still, the values we have converged to are shaped by the way we have evolved to behave (e.g. empathy and pain avoidance).

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-26T23:21:03.289Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Our culture is just as backed into us as our DNA. It's all memes.

comment by RaelwayScot · 2015-12-26T23:44:15.748Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What are the implications of that on how we decide what is are the right things to do?

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-26T23:47:03.646Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Moral philosophy is a huge topic and it's discourse is not dominated by looking at DNA.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-12-24T23:55:35.303Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What kind of information it gives to you when you observe that a bunch of filthy rich people were convinced by EY's arguments but MIRI is still badly in need of more funding?

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-25T12:29:35.070Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

One of the key elements is that it suggests that MIRI doesn't let donors dictate it's technical agenda. Elon Musk wants to play an active role at OpenAI. He also has an interest that OpenAI produces software that Tesla can use to produce better driverless cars.

comment by username2 · 2015-12-25T14:32:14.943Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think that it would be great if MIRI had direct competitors. We would be better able to see what is essential to AI ethics and what is a local parochialism.

comment by PipFoweraker · 2015-12-26T00:01:35.815Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I am challenged to think of a way that my Newly Minted MIRI Competitor could differentiate itself from MIRI in a way that is both:

a) optimal, and

b) non-divergent from MIRI's goals in such a way as to be functionally different.

I could certainly fund Evilbot Angry AI Development Labs, and we might see a difference in focus away from GAI frameworks and more towards how-to-kill-all-the-humans-as-effectively-as-possible research, but that doesn't let me weed out what 'local parochialism' is.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-26T21:41:37.309Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

FHI is a MIRI competitor. OpenAI is now also a MIRI competitor.

comment by PipFoweraker · 2015-12-29T23:58:41.297Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I suggest that the more Musk influences OpenAI's agenda, the further it moves away from core competition with MIRI.

A counterexample might be if a series of AI researchers in China announced a formation a clone of MIRI but based out of Shanghai - a more clear-cut intelligence race than what we've currently go, which is an increasing number of institutions all starting down roadmaps that share initial common ground but have divergent ideal end states.

comment by username2 · 2015-12-26T11:12:18.688Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No one knows what is optimal, if more people attempted to find it, it would increase probability that at least one of them would succeed.

comment by WoodSwordSquire · 2015-12-29T18:09:59.304Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I tried to brainstorm what they might be thinking.

  • MIRI is making a mistake that means its' work is useless
  • MIRI won't decrease AI risk unless some other intervention is done first (there is a rerequisite)
  • We're doomed, resistance is futile
  • Other people wll fund it if they wait (seems unlikely, if the amount required is trivial to them)
  • They have political/strategic reasons not to be associated with MIRI (if they contribute anonymously, there's still the risk that other donors will disappear and they'll be stuck supporting it indefinitely)
  • They'd rather work on the probem wiht their own organization, because of reasons
comment by Galap · 2015-12-24T07:46:03.356Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Why do people believe that AI is dangerous? What direct evidence is there that this is likely to be the case?

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-24T09:29:45.982Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Read Bostrom's Superintelligence. It summarizes all of the main arguments.

comment by Manfred · 2015-12-24T16:39:56.906Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's because computers do what you program them to do. If you build an AI with superhuman intelligence and creativity, and the way it makes decisions is to best fulfill some objective, that objective might get fulfilled but everything else might get fubar.

Suppose the objective is "protect the people of Sweden from threats." This AI will almost certainly kill everyone outside Sweden, to eliminate potential threats. As for the survivors, well - what's a "threat?" Does skin cancer or the flu or emotional harm count? What state would you say truly minimizes these threats - that sounds like a coma or a sensory deprivation tank to me.

comment by MrMind · 2015-12-24T13:01:19.400Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Since we have no AI, we do not have any direct evidence.
The argument though goes like this: AI is orthogonal to purpose, so any sufficiently advanced AI could self-improve and have an exponential impact on our society. But human values are fragile and complex, and if we do not carefully design said AI purpose carefully, it could trample all over them uncaringly.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-12-28T12:48:46.582Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is one of MIRI's pivotal papers on the subject.

comment by Usul · 2016-01-11T06:38:55.870Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Should one value the potential happiness of theoretical future simulated beings more than a certain decline in happiness for currently existing meat beings which will result as soon as the theoretical become real? Should one allow for absurdly large populations if the result is absurd morality?

The promise of countless simulated beings of equal moral value to meat beings, and who can be more efficiently cared for than meat, seems to make the needs and wants of simulated beings de facto overrule the needs and wants of meat beings ( as well as some absurdly large sim populations being absurdly over-valued relative to other smaller sim populations). As meat currently exists and simulated beings do not (Bostrom be damned- simulated meat over sim-within-sim, then), it seems the present moral imperative should be to avoid the creation of simulated beings or even preemptively plan their destruction (to discourage/ blackmail against ever needing to actually do so) because as soon as they do exist the FAI overlord must value them as equals and by numbers their needs will overrule the needs of any meat alive at the FOOM. If the FAI does not value them as equals then we have the even more Repugnant Conclusion of a relatively tiny meat ruling class and countless virtual slaves.

Is there a Utilitarian case to be made for extremely strict "virtual population control"? Many Repugnant Conclusions, such as Torture vs. Dust Specks require large populations before they become relevant. Should a FAI overlord be programmed against allowing large populations of simulated sentient beings to exist in the first place? Perhaps a "one person-one upload" policy with no parthenogenesis.

The cost of a ban on (unlimited) simulated sentient beings would be simply not receiving the benefits of allowing (unlimited) simulated life, which humanity has thus far done without.

comment by gjm · 2016-01-11T02:32:02.710Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Listen to what the Khmer Rouge said

That's ... rather broad. Can you point to some specific thing indicating that the Khmer Rouge did what they did for reasons that resemble the ones you described?

the way the Chinese become market dominant in every south-east Asian country that acquires a Chinese minority

Thank you for alerting me to an interesting phenomenon of which I was not previously aware. On the face of it there are other explanations besides racial superiority; for instance, different social traditions can make one group succeed "against" another without anyone being better than anyone else (example: consider a toy model in which people have prisoner's-dilemma-type interactions; one group, the "natives", plays always cooperate and does very nicely until another group, the "immigrants", comes along and plays cooperate with other immigrants, defect against natives and thereby outcompetes the natives by being slightly meaner and slightly more prejudiced). Is there an obvious reason why the racial-superiority explanation should be preferred?

comment by Lumifer · 2016-01-11T03:51:53.423Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is there an obvious reason why the racial-superiority explanation should be preferred?

We do know the average IQs of the populations involved.

comment by gjm · 2016-01-10T19:05:23.080Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Evidence that that was why they did what they did?

[EDITED to add: Also: if this is meant to be an example of an atrocity arising from a "false belief about equality": evidence that in fact the Chinese were better off than the Khmer on account of racial inequality?]

comment by [deleted] · 2016-01-09T20:51:00.721Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I am confused by the distinction between solving a problem and checking the solutions for it if I 'just estimate' the solution. For example, if I am shown a picture of various scattered geometric figures, of slightly but obviously sometimes different areas, and asked how many kinds (classes?) of surface areas are there, I will squint and guess. If I am shown many such pictures, perhaps the accuracy of my guesses will improve. But what is it I am actually doing?

comment by SodaPopinski · 2015-12-29T23:00:22.058Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

People in finance tend to believe (reasonably I think) that the stock market trends upward. I believe they mean it trends upward even after you account for the value of the risk you take on by buying stock in a company (i.e. being in the stock market is not just selling insurance). So how does this mesh with the general belief that the market is at least pretty efficient. Why are we systematically underestimating future returns of companies?

comment by gjm · 2015-12-29T23:18:23.813Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It isn't just risk that explains why you might not be willing to pay more than $1 for a share that you expect to be worth $1.10 in a year's time.

First of all (rather trivially, and I am not suggesting you've overlooked it) there is inflation. That $1.10 next year is denominated in dollars that will be less valuable than today's dollar. (Assuming positive inflation rates, which is the usual situation.)

Second, there is opportunity cost. While your money is invested in the company you bought shares in, it isn't available for you to spend on other things. Hence, even after adjusting for inflation and even if there were no risk involved, if you buy an asset today and sell it in a year, you should expect to be compensated for that inconvenience by getting more for it than you pay. I think this is the main thing you've overlooked. Relevant finance term: "risk-free interest rate".

Third, there is growth. That company you're buying shares in presumably thinks it is actually adding value to the world through its work -- maybe they're inventing new things, or extracting resources from the ground that were previously embedded in deep rocks and no use to anyone, or trading between people with different utility functions so that everyone gains.

The second and third things there aren't additive. Growth is what makes it possible for the share to be worth more next year than this year; opportunity cost is what makes it necessary. If a business isn't able to produce value then no one will want to buy its shares.

comment by SodaPopinski · 2015-12-30T01:25:17.355Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So your first and second point make sense to me, they together make the nominal interest rate. What I don't understand is your point about growth. The price of a stock should be determined by the adjusted future returns of the company right? The growth you speak of should be accounted for already in our models of the future returns. So if the price going up that means the models are underestimating future returns right?

comment by gjm · 2015-12-30T15:47:19.823Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No, that's not quite it.

The price of the stock is determined by the anticipated inflation-adjusted future returns (including allowance for risk). But increasing price doesn't mean the models are underestimating future returns, because of opportunity cost. (Which, again, is basically the flipside of growth.)

If the "risk-free interest rate" is 2% in real terms and inflation is 2%, then that means you can (in principle) buy an asset for $1 and be confident that in a year it will be priced at $1.04, which will have the same purchasing power as $1.02 now. There's no inconsistency in the fact that this is a higher price than you're paying now, because if you buy the asset now and sell it next year, you've lost the use of your money during that time, and whoever you bought it from has gained it. That matters both because we need money for things like food, and because if you have the use of a pile of money you can try to use it for something that adds value to the world and hence grow it.

[EDITED to fix a trivial typo.]

comment by WoodSwordSquire · 2015-12-29T18:19:39.475Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Would an AI that simulates a physical human brain be less prone to FOOM than a human-level AI that doesn't bother simulating neurons?

It sounds like it might be harder for such an AI to foom, since it would have to understand the physical brain well enough before it could improve on its' simulated version. If such an AI exists at all, that knowedge would probably be available somewhere, so it could still happen if you simulated someone smart enough to learn it (or simulated one of the people who helped build it). The AI should at least be boxable if it doesn't know much about neurology or programming, though.

Maybe the catch is that a boxed human simulation that can't self-modify isn't very useful. It'd be good as assistive technology or immortality, but you probably can't learn much about any other kind of AI by studying a simulated human. (The things you could learn from it, are mostly ones you could learn about as easily from studying a physical human.)

comment by Bound_up · 2015-12-23T06:02:53.891Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Would brain emulation work as a potential shortcut to the singularity? Upload a mind, speed up its subjective time, let it work on the problem? What could EY do with a thousand years to work on FAI? Could he come back in a few days of our time with the answer?

Does an AI have to have a utility function? Can we just make it good at giving answers, instead of asking it to act on them?

Going over the Yudkowsky/Hanson AI-Foom debate, it seems like the basic issue is how much of a difference an insight or two can make in an AI.

An AI with chimp-level intelligent software will run ten million times faster than a chimp mind, but give a chimp ten million years to think about science, and it still can't match a normal human (is that true, by the way? That's one question).

But if you can bridge the gap between chimp and human level intelligent software, a human mind thinking ten million times faster can quickly improve itself and go FOOM.

So the question is, how big of a gap is there between chimp and human software? EY argues that since evolution achieved it in only five million years, it can't be much of a difference.

So the whole world could get to chimp level software (which AI can't do much), and then one little research group might do the work of five million years of dumb, blind evolution in a few days or weeks, cross the line from chimp to human level software, and go FOOM.

This is new to me, so the question about that is, are there any glaring bits I've got wrong? And, am I right in thinking that EY's right, five million years of evolution can't produce that much of a difference? Is there some reason why we think Hanson is wrong (or right), and the difference between humans and chimps isn't mostly in the brain, it's the brain learning to talk and socialize, and then most of the difference is in the cultural content which came from using that talking and socializing for five million years?

And lastly, is an FAI possible for every possible kind of mind? Are there some kinds of minds for which you can't have a superpowerful, superintelligent FAI? If there are, how do we know we're not one of them?

The sequence on reviewing "Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite" talks about our mind having different modules. We hold different beliefs and different utility functions simultaneously, and act according to which module is activated. If that's the case, is it necessarily possible to have an FAI that can serve us, if "us" simultaneously wants different contradictory things?

comment by moridinamael · 2015-12-23T18:06:23.985Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

An AI with chimp-level intelligent software will run ten million times faster than a chimp mind, but give a chimp ten million years to think about science, and it still can't match a normal human (is that true, by the way? That's one question).

But if you can bridge the gap between chimp and human level intelligent software, a human mind thinking ten million times faster can quickly improve itself and go FOOM.

I think there's a moderate chance of this working out. One note about emulating a chimp mind is that you don't have to let the chimp do its own optimization, you can do a (probably highly unethical) evolutionary algorithm to prune, hypertrophy, and reshape various parts of the chimp-mind-algorithm in order to boost its effective intelligence, generation by generation, and end up with something human-level or beyond. All this sort of depends on arbitrary computing power.

I admit I'm stealing all this from the Quantum Thief books, but, it would probably be easier to enhance even a human emulation by this iterative method rather than letting the human emulation try to learn all of neuroscience and start manually tinkering with itself. In other words - make an emulation of me, copy it 10,000 times and make minor modifications to the architecture of each one, subject them to an extensive battery of tests, take the top 100 performers and spawn another 10,000 copies based on the successful changes, repeat until you have something that started out as "me" but outperforms me by leaps and bounds. Since I'm already riffing on science fiction, I might as well point out that you could apply a forcing function to minimize the number of neurons and synapses with each generation, so that Moridinamael-Prime ends up not only smarter than Moridinamael-Baseline but also simpler and more efficient, in the sense of being easier to simulate.

And lastly, is an FAI possible for every possible kind of mind? Are there some kinds of minds for which you can't have a superpowerful, superintelligent FAI? If there are, how do we know we're not one of them?

I see no reason why humans should be particularly incompatible with the ideas behind FAI. If FAI boils down to "do what this mind would want if the mind thought about it for a long time", I don't immediately see anything permanently irreconcilable about that for humans.