Comment by Adirian on Changing the Definition of Science · 2008-05-20T00:12:18.000Z · LW · GW

Your high-capacity Einstein would come to the conclusion, left to those parameters, that the picture never changes. The pattern for that is infinitely stronger, thinking so quickly, than any of the smaller patterns within. Indeed, processing the same information so many times, it will encounter information miscopies nigh-infinitely more often than it encounters a change in the data itself - because, after all, a quantum computer will be operating on information storage mechanisms sensitive enough to be altered by a microwave oven a mile away.

You have a severe bootstrapping problem which you're ignoring - thought requires subject. Consciousness requires something to be conscious of. You can't design a consciousness and throw things for it to be conscious of after the fact. You have to start with the webcam and build up to the mind - otherwise the bits flowing in are meaningless. No amount of pattern recognition will give meaning to patterns.

Comment by Adirian on Bell's Theorem: No EPR "Reality" · 2008-05-05T00:23:08.000Z · LW · GW

I think you read something which left out something; Belle's Theorem disproved "neo-realism," which is the idea that there was a classical-physics explanation, i/e, with real particles with real properties. It's the model EPR was trying to assert over the Copenhagen interpretation - and that, indeed, was its only purpose, and I find it odd that you bring that thought experiment up out of the context of its intent.

Well, actually, Everette's Many-Worlds actually repermits classical physics within its confines, and hence real particles, as do other superdimensional interpretations - within his model, you're still permitted all the trappings of classical physics. (As they break an assumption of normality in Belle's Theorem, namely, that there is only one universe, or in the case of superdimensionality, that the universe doesn't extend in other directions we can only detect abstractly.)

Comment by Adirian on Decoherence as Projection · 2008-05-04T01:41:48.000Z · LW · GW

Eliezer -

"Information" in this case is the properties; my apologies, I am loose with language. The properties were transformed - and, in the case of a splitting beam, with a 1-1 function. The properties were "lost" when they were split - they weren't the same as they were before. But they weren't irrecoverably lost. (At least close enough for testing; you may have medium degradation, i/e, property attenuation, depending upon the quality of the crystals and the intermediate material provided it isn't in a vacuum.)

To irrecoverably lose properties, you need a non 1-1 function - which is exactly what we had when we sent them through the filter rather than the splitter.

Comment by Adirian on Decoherence as Projection · 2008-05-03T08:13:42.000Z · LW · GW

The fundamental descriptive mathematics are known - the interpretations are still debated. As has been the case for nearly a century now, and I don't see that changing anytime in the immediate future. And if you recombine all four sets of split beams, then there isn't anything interesting going on there, either; half still goes through, same as before, and predictably so. That is, if you direct one polarization one direction, and another in another, and then recombine them - and there's the snag, see. You can't combine them without re-emitting both of them; you're performing an additional operation which is generating/modifying information. You aren't reproducing lost information; you're generating new information which is equivalent to the lost information.

For the fundamental physics to be known, they must be falsifiable, and have passed that test. This is not the case. The mathematics are passing with flying colors, of course - nobody is entirely sure what the mathematics mean, however. (Everybody thinks they do, though.)

Comment by Adirian on Decoherence as Projection · 2008-05-02T21:36:03.000Z · LW · GW

There is, of course, a fairly simple alternative solution, dealing with "real" particles; the photons coming out of the filters are not the photons that went in. Photons don't travel through the sheet; the energy is absorbed, and the properties of individual components of energy determine what happens next. The properties of some chunks of energy cause similarly-propertied energy to be re-emitted on the other side. It's not that the photons have mysteriously lost the information about their "spin" in the middle sheet - it's that we're dealing with new photons with new property sets, which are being re-emitted with the emission properties of the second sheet, rather than the first.

With this interpretation, the phenomenon makes perfect sense, and the old textbooks are right - after a fashion - that the second measurement destroyed the information that the first measurement generated.

Comment by Adirian on No Individual Particles · 2008-04-18T23:08:55.000Z · LW · GW

"Well, it's physics, and physics is math, and you've got to come to terms with thinking in pure mathematical objects."

  • Physics is modeled as math - physics and math are not the same thing. Math is a functionally complete descriptive language - but it is not a definitive one. Newton's laws were mathematically perfect, it was the physical things that they incorrectly represented which ultimately broke their backs. Newton's laws also had perfect predictive power over everything in their realm - the macroscopic - for more than a century, before we developed instruments finely tuned enough to detect their inaccuracies.

If you're trying to convince anybody here, you're going to fail, because you start by assuming the very mathematical models which they challenge - asserting repeatedly that particles have no definition, and therefore particles have no definition, is an advancement towards nowhere. If you're trying to enlighten people, you do so from the perspective of one biased in favour of a particular mathematical model.

I can't prove my position, but I generally favour a variant of multiverse theory in which the uncertainty principle is the result of consciousness. That is, the human mind as a conscious entity is a functional quantum computer, and the uncertainty principle is a result of that, rather than a fundamental property of the universe. (The uncertainty is not about what state the particle is in, but what spectrum of probability space the mind inhabits, and thus what spectrum of particle states the mind observes.)

You'll notice that this is a functionally equivalent interpretation. Which is the problem with quantum mechanics - the mathematics describe something, but interpretation is, for now, still up in the air.

You'll also notice that this interpretation suggests that a 'slice' of probability space produces a universe of zombies. But a slice of probability space as an independent structure is no less ridiculous in this model than a slice of 2D space taken out of our "normal" three dimensions when treated independently.

Comment by Adirian on Can You Prove Two Particles Are Identical? · 2008-04-17T00:46:00.000Z · LW · GW

Will - field theory is pretty good, yup, although...

We're basically at the same point in physics we were a little more than a century ago. Back then, there were two major camps - the atomicists, and the energists. The energists' position was essentially that everything was made of energy, the atomicists' position was that there were these tiny particles we hadn't seen yet, but they were in fact real.

Now, at the time, both camps had equally valid positions, although the energists had the stronger support - but there was a very interesting distinction between the two. If the energists were right, we were in a position where we knew all the basic rules of the universe, and it was just a matter of sorting out a few weird details. If the atomicists were right, there was a LOT of stuff we didn't know yet.

The atomicists, as history will back me, were right, and physics went right on trucking. Well, actually, that isn't quite correct - the atomicists were mostly right; the particles they thought existed weren't quite what we found. We did indeed find the particles, but not the fundamental indivisible particles much of their camp had been expecting. A few years later, the roles were reversed; the atomicist position had some smaller particles, and everything, except for a few weird details, was sorted out. (One can say something of the amazing predictive power of quantum physics - well, it wasn't any more remarkable than the amazing predictive power of Newtonian physics.) And the energists owned the next age, although not quite the way they had ever expected.

We've reached that same point again today. The atomicists for the most part no longer believe in an atomic (indivisible) particle, but the fundamentals are otherwise the same; if the energists are right, then we basically know all the basic principles of physics, and it is just a matter of sorting out a few really weird details. Meanwhile, you have the atomicists, now called neo-realists, inspired by the late giants Einstein and Feynman, finding some curious approaches to handling those few weird details - although pushed into a much harder corner this time by Bell's theorem. Third time is the charm, I suppose?

Anybody who is proposing we know all the fundamentals of a field should arouse your instant suspicions - this is a hubris from which men have fallen every time they've mounted it. It's a very seductive idea to those who chase order. It is also a mindkiller.

Comment by Adirian on Can You Prove Two Particles Are Identical? · 2008-04-16T21:33:00.000Z · LW · GW

Will -

The reasoning is better understood in terms of in wave mechanics; if the particle states diverged in the least, then the cancellation wouldn't be complete, and the experimental results would differ.

That is, they must be identical, not indistinguishable, for wave cancellation to operate. (sin-1(sin(x) +.0000000000001) isn't x.

However, again, this depends upon a particular mathematical definition of the particles - in particular, a model which has already defined that particles have no discrete existence. Eliezer is by far my favorite author here, but he has a consistent fault in confusing mathematical descriptions with mathematical definitions. That is, he seems to believe a model which accurately describes and even predicts behavior must be the "correct" model.

Equivalence is not correctness. To put it in programming terms, two functions which return the same result are equivalent - you can describe one function with the other. But you cannot define the behavior of one by the other, because they may operate by completely different processes to arrive at the same result.

You also can't make inferences, by looking at the algorithm of one, as to what data is acceptable input to both, if it's not data you have the capability of putting in. In terms of programming, this is like saying a blackbox text algorithm can't operate Unicode input because the equivalent function you've written can't, and your operating system only has ASCII installed. In terms of the argument, this is saying the universe can't have particles because the mathematical model you utilize will throw up non-numbers if you do (not that this is any special behavior in a field of physics where the canceling out of infinities is a regular exercise), and you don't have a universe where you know particles exist to compare ours to.

Comment by Adirian on Can You Prove Two Particles Are Identical? · 2008-04-16T04:21:00.000Z · LW · GW

"But the "electrons" we see today, would still be computed as amplitude flows between simulated configuration"

- Eliezer, the argument being posted against you is that the MODEL could be wrong. Remember, it's a mathematical model - it describes, it doesn't define.

Remember, there are quite a few models of quantum physics that describe the behavior of quantum "particles" - and that presumes on the particles' very existence. It is quite possible to invent a model which describes physics perfectly but which omits the existence of electrons, photons, and other quantum particles, as nothing more than artifacts of interaction between particle's fields. (The math gets ugly in a way that is reminiscent of the models of universal motion which pushed a geocentric model, but the models can still function descriptively.)

There are currently a dozen mathematical models which accurately describe quantum physics - predictive behavior is nonexistent for a couple of them (generally the more obviously taoist-nonsense), but curiously correlative among the others.

Superdimensional models, such as those derived from Hilbert space, can be defined to both permit and to deny individual particles; it depends upon the assumptions you put in. You're assuming special cases for "normal" dimensions; i/e, that the additional n to infinity dimensions don't behave exactly the same way our usual four (three and a half) dimensions operate.

If you remove special behavior from the extra dimensions - permit particles to move on them, rather than have characteristics defined on them (phase space) - then you can derive an interference model which exactly parallels that which a configuration space will generate, without defeating individuality of particles in the process, similar in nature to multiverse theory. (Although you end up with some other curiousities as a result - i/e, wave behavior must be defined as rotation against an arbitrary pair of additional dimensions.)

In other words, your proof makes the assumption that the mathematical model IS the universe, rather than merely describing it. And remember that any finite set of data can be described by an infinite set of formulas; that is, we can never be certain that a mathematical model is "the one." This is a mathematical - not a philosophical, as you imply - limitation.

(Or, in other words - the universe doesn't have to be a lie for the sun to turn into chocolate cake - you'll still have a finite data set, you can still write formulas which will describe the transformation behavior.)

Comment by Adirian on Searching for Bayes-Structure · 2008-03-01T16:39:31.000Z · LW · GW

"Bayes-language can represent statements with very small probabilities, but then, of course, they will be assigned very small probabilities. You cannot assign a probability of .1% to the Sun rising without fudging the evidence (or fudging the priors, as Eli pointed out)."

  • Yes you can. You can have insufficient evidence. (Your probability "assignment" will have very low probability of being correct, but the assignment itself could still easily by .1%.)

"So much for begging the question. Please do a calculation, using the theorems of Bayes (or theorems derived from Bayesian theorems), which gives an incorrect number given correct numbers as input."

  • How about this as a counterchallenge - produce a correct number, any correct number at all, as it relates to the actual universe.

Incorrect numbers are generated constantly using probabilistic methods - they're eliminated or refined as more evidence comes along.

"Using mathematics to describe the universe goes all the way back to Ptolemy. It isn't going away anytime soon."

  • If you're going to address a single statement, you should really pay attention to context.

"Ah, here we have found one who does not comprehend the beauty of math. Alas, it is beyond my ability to impart such wisdom in a blog comment. Just drive down to your local university campus and start taking math classes- you'll get it eventually."

  • Beauty is truth, truth beauty? If you're going to argue reality you'll have to do better than the aesthetic value of mathematics.

"Neither GR nor QED requires a coordinate system of any sort. This is, admittedly, hard to wrap your head around, especially without going into the math. To name a simple example, it is mathematically impossible to cover the surface of a sphere (or, by topological extension, any closed surface) with a single coordinate system without creating a singularity. Needless to say, this does not mean that there must be some point on Earth where numbers go to infinity."

  • Everything requires a coordinate system. For every value that HAS a value, there is an axis upon which its values are calculated. It might be a very simple boolean axis, and it might be a more complex one, representing a logarithmic function. But if a value has value, that value will be stored in some sort of mathematic concept space.

"We can predict that they won't violate the earlier ones."

  • No, we can't.

"You simply flip the sign on the gravitational constant G. No geometric transformations required."

  • Which is utterly irrelevant to the point I was making. Yes, there are simpler transformations, and less lossy ones in many cases. But the point was that any model can represent the universe, not that all are equally messy.
Comment by Adirian on Searching for Bayes-Structure · 2008-02-29T22:54:27.000Z · LW · GW

Tom -

"Obviously, you can't rewrite the laws of math with C. But a C program can produce obviously incorrect statements, such as "2 + 2 = 5". There is, on average, one bug in every ten lines of C code."

  • That, of course, is a completely different statement. But then you are suggesting that Bayes-Language is incapable of representing a false statement - which is an obvious lie.


  • Yup. I see it. It's begging the point that I'm arguing - that the model is the universe.

"Then, of course, it is no longer Bayes-language. You cannot simply redefine math- every theorem is tangled up with every other theorem to produce a coherent system, which will give you exactly one correct answer to every question. See"

  • Yes, it is Bayes-language. Mathematics does NOT describe the universe, it describes mathematics - it is the variables which you input INTO the mathematics which make it describe a particular real-world situation. Mathematics is a modeling language no different from any other save in precision.

"It's perfectly possible to write a C program that inputs all the right data and generates garbage. You cannot write a Bayes program that inputs all the right data and generates garbage."

  • You're begging the point, and yes, you can. Others have put this eloquently enough, however.

"Every prediction that the laws of physics make has been tested over and over again (often to ten decimal places or more)."

  • You missed the point - we can't predict what the next law of physics we'll discover will be.

"The laws of physics do not require a coordinate system of any sort to function, although this admittedly requires some pretty fancy math to get at (see Gravitation, by Meisner, Wheeler and Thorne)."

  • That's very good, if not entirely accurate. All variables are variables on some coordinate system or another, after all, if not a spacial one. The coordinate systems are particular mathematical models.

"If I wrote a version of GR that made gravity repulsive instead of attractive (a perfectly valid thing to do, mathematically), it would not be accurate in describing the universe, as this universe does not make things fall up."

  • You didn't perform the appropriate transformations. They get quite nasty in this case, as your coordinate system would have to warp quite considerably in some fashion or another, but it can be done. As a very simple example, suppose a two-particle system, with the perspective as one of the particles; you then merely need to change the behavior of your measuring concept - say, light - to arrive in a time T inversely proportional to the distance. More complex systems with more complex variables would require exponentially more complex transformations to describe related concepts.
Comment by Adirian on Searching for Bayes-Structure · 2008-02-29T03:55:36.000Z · LW · GW

Tom - you can't write a C program that adds 2 and 2 and gets 5. You can write a C program that takes two and two, and produces five - through an entirely different algorithm than addition. And you're adding in an additional layer of model, besides - remember that 2 means absolutely nothing in the universe. "Two" is a concept within a particular mathematical model. You can choose the axioms for your model pretty much at will - the only question is how you have to twist the model to make it describe the universe.

And yes, I can write a program in Bayes-language that assigns a 1% probability to the Sun rising - simply by changing the definitions for these things, as you did when you wrote that you could write a C program that added 2 and 2 to get 5. It is the definitions - a form of axiom in themselves - that give meaning to the modeling language. Bayes-language can describe a universe completely contradictory to the one we live in, simply by using different definitions.

Bayes-language doesn't naturally describe the probability of the Sun rising, after all - you can't derive that probability from Bayes-language itself. You have to code in every meaningful variable, and their relationships to one another. This is no different from what you do in C.

And first, no, the laws of physics are provably no such thing - as we have no way to assign probability that we have a significant enough subset of those laws to be able to produce meaningful predictions of the laws of physics we don't yet know. And second, the laws of physics are equivalent to multiple contradictory coordinate systems. Any model can be, with the correct translations and transformations and definitions, accurate in describing the universe. That the universe behaves as a model might expect it to, therefore, says nothing about the universe, only about the model - and only as a model.

Comment by Adirian on Searching for Bayes-Structure · 2008-02-29T00:41:15.000Z · LW · GW

Eliezer - Bayesian theory is a model. It isn't the universe. This is where you will be losing most of your readers - yes, you can express anything in Bayesian terms. You can express anything in C, too - this doesn't mean the universe is a program, and it doesn't provide any fundamental insight into how the universe works.

Comment by Adirian on Guardians of Ayn Rand · 2007-12-19T01:19:37.000Z · LW · GW

Ayn Rand was wrong in many regards - and her epistemology came after the definition for her philosophy, and should certainly be discounted as rationalization and little more - but any half-rational Objectivist will recognize that the philosophy should be regarded objectively, and her quite subjective views of personal values should be taken with a grain of salt.

Incidentally, if you're interested in her as a character, you may want to read We The Living (Which she herself described as a philosophical autobiography) - there are several hints scattered throughout it that she always had a love affair with power, that it was not merely something that she developed later in her life.

Comment by Adirian on Evaporative Cooling of Group Beliefs · 2007-12-08T01:05:11.000Z · LW · GW

I've believed this was so for a long time, after reading about the Klu Klux Klan. Which, it is weird to think, was once a (for the time) moderate and respected political institution. After the Grand Dragon got caught in a sex scandal, membership dwindled rapidly, leaving a core of fanatics - with results that I think we're all quite familiar with.

I think the schism in Objectivism ended differently - because I don't think on the one hand you have the fanatics, but rather simply two groups, each of which ended up defining Objectivism differently. One treats Objectivism as a complete value set, by which every aspect of their lives can be defined. I don't think they're fanatics, but, rather individuals who already lived in agreement with that value set. And on the other hand are those whose value system has a different set of values, who treat Objectivism as an approach to thinking rather than the definition of it. The latter definition is best expressed in Atlas Shrugged and We The Living; the former is best expressed in The Fountainhead and her philosophical essays. It's a distinction in definition. I am, incidentally, of the latter persuasion - I consider myself an Objectivist, but disagree with Ayn Rand on the matter of values. (I, for example, reverse her logic - life is important because it is necessary to reason, rather than the other way around.)

Comment by Adirian on Affective Death Spirals · 2007-12-05T01:04:21.000Z · LW · GW

I didn't mean specifically, I meant on average. My apologies for the poor phrasing. Yes, any individual formula's odds of being correct can vary. (To deny this would be to deny Bayesian reasoning, and I think I might get mugged here if I tried that.)

Comment by Adirian on Affective Death Spirals · 2007-12-04T01:21:40.000Z · LW · GW

the fact that their agreement-about-observations was predictable in advance doesn't make it any less an agreement. (And if you're talking only about the parts of those theories that are "theories about the reasons why", bracketing all the agreements about what's observed and how to calculate it, then I don't think you are entitled to call the things that disagree completely "models for modern theoretical physics".)

  • It renders that agreement meaningless. If you curve-fit seven points, and come up with a thousand different formulas, the fact that each of these thousand formulas includes each of those seven points produces exactly no additional information. The fact of the matter is that we have discarded every formula which DIDN'T describe those points - that the remaining formulas do describe them tells us absolutely nothing about either the points or the relative value of the formulas with respect to one another.

At best, out of N formulas, each has a 1/N chance of being correct. (At worst, none of the formulas is correct.)

Comment by Adirian on Affective Death Spirals · 2007-12-04T01:12:39.000Z · LW · GW

Nick - that proof works fine for any of the neorealist models, in which Everett's model is, variably, placed. The problem is in interpretation. Remember that there is great disagreement in the Copenhagen models about where, exactly, waveform collapse happens - after all, if one treats the quantum measurement device itself as being in a quantum state, then 100% correlation may be acceptable. (Because the waveform state of the computer wasn't collapsed until the first and third measurements were examined together.)

The real problem here is that the Copenhagen models are effectively unscientific, since it is fundamentally impossible to disprove the concept that anything that is unmeasured is in an uncertain/undefined state. It's an intellectual parlour trick, and shouldn't be taken seriously.

Comment by Adirian on Affective Death Spirals · 2007-12-04T00:16:53.000Z · LW · GW

They agree about observations - but we already have the observations, so that doesn't mean much. Any theory worth thinking about isn't going to disagree about those observations, which, after all, they are created to explain. They disagree in every way it is meaningful that they, theories about the reason why, MAY disagree - in the reasons why. And extreme verificationists can go take a leap off a logical cliff when it comes to discussing differences in the reasons why something may be.

Comment by Adirian on Affective Death Spirals · 2007-12-03T23:25:24.000Z · LW · GW

Notably, regarding theoretical physics, there are at least nine models for modern theoretical physics, all of which can perfectly explain the empirical observations, and all of which are completely and totally contradictory to one another. (Okay, almost all of which. There are a few compatibilities scattered amongst them. Neorealism can work fine with the multiverse model, and there are a small handful of models which are derived from Bohr's interpretations and are semicompatible with one another.)

Comment by Adirian on The Halo Effect · 2007-12-03T23:15:04.000Z · LW · GW

Nate - that strategy can only work insofar as other groups aren't utilizing it, and to that extent, you will be punished through those groups hesitating to employ you in their capacities as clients and customers.

Comment by Adirian on The Halo Effect · 2007-11-30T03:35:50.000Z · LW · GW

As Different says, but in regard to connections between perceived intelligence, and perceived honesty, to pick two particularly useful examples - the usefulness of either quality, in regard to your interactions with the individual, are dependent upon both. I/e, it isn't a great idea to trust what a not-too-bright individual tells you, even if he or she has never told a lie in their life, for the simple reason that they may not have the faculty to evaluate their statements. And the reverse might be true - particularly bright individuals may not be good candidates for trust, particularly on important issues, because they have great faculty for making value judgments about when it is most profitable to lie. Individuals at either extremes may not be good candidates for trust.

I had a long discussion with my brother on precisely the issue of attractiveness - in regard to banks. Banks are great examples because they spend immense quantities of money making themselves look respectable. So - would you trust your money to a bank that was going to spend some of it making itself look good? Or would you trust your money to a bank that doesn't care how it looks? A bank that cares about its reputation enough to spend massive amounts of money maintaining it isn't going to sacrifice that by stealing your relatively small sum - it is the better choice, presuming on the rationality of the bank. An individual who goes to great lengths to APPEAR competent is going to try to BE competent - someone who doesn't care whether or not they appear competent do not care whether you think they are competent, and hence, may not make an effort to be more competent as relates to you and your business. The better-groomed candidate, other things being equal, is the better choice, presuming upon that individual's rationality. (Particularly since the issue is reinforcing - clients and customers, after all, are making the same judgments.)

An individual who makes an effort to appear more attractive likely has a reason for doing so - they may care what other people think of them (which suggests they'll be nicer, when somebody is watching, at least), they may want to appear more competent (which suggests they'll be better at other things they do, presuming they follow similar levels of investment), and, presuming they DO have rational reasons for taking care of their appearance, they may simply be smarter than your average person. Naturally good looking people may be getting the benefits of biases we develop based on those who acquire appearances by effort - and may get points for honesty, as well, because they aren't attempting to "lie" about their appearance. (Which would be interesting, because it would mean naturally good-looking individuals gain more benefits than those who provided much of the bias incentive to begin with.)

Just some thoughts.

Comment by Adirian on Terminal Values and Instrumental Values · 2007-11-17T05:17:27.000Z · LW · GW

""Somewhat rational" does not mean "irrational". There are three different ways in which something can be said to be rational. (1) That reason can be applied to it. Duh, reason can be applied to everything. (2) That it's prosecuted by means of reason. Ethical thought sometimes proceeds by means of reason, and sometimes not. Hence, "somewhat rational". (3) That applying reason to it doesn't show up inconsistencies. Perhaps some people have (near enough) perfectly consistent ethical positions. Certainly most people don't. It's not unheard of for philosophers to advocate embracing that inconsistency. But generally there's some degree of consistency, and sufficiently gross inconsistencies can prompt revision. Hence, again, "somewhat rational"."

The second is the only situation by which somewhat rational makes sense, but was not the context of the argument, which was, after all, about moral systems, and not moral thoughts - as for the third, inconsistent consistency, I think you will agree, is not consistency at all.

Since we're having a conversation, I might hazard a suggestion that it is what you are saying that is giving me the impressions of what it is you think. And I stated my reasons in each case why I thought you were thinking as you were - if you wish to address me, address the reasons I gave, so I might know in what way I am failing to understand what it is you are attempting to communicate.

Comment by Adirian on Terminal Values and Instrumental Values · 2007-11-16T06:46:24.000Z · LW · GW

Our behavior is nothing more than the expression of our thoughts. If we behave as though something is a terminal value - we are doing nothing more than expressing our intents and regards, which is to say, we THINK of it as a terminal value. There is no distinction between physical action and mental thought, or between what is in our heads and what comes out of our mouths - our mind moves our muscles, and our thoughts direct our voice. There is no "actual thought" and - what? Nonactual thought? As if your body operated of its own will, acting against what your actual thoughts are. The mind is responsible for what the body does. I'm not eluding the distinction. I'm denying it.

Your language explains precisely why I said that you don't believe ethics is rational. Somewhat-rational means irrational - that is, something that is rational only some of the time it is, in fact, irrational. Either a thing is rational, and logic can reasonably and consistently be applied to it - or it isn't. There isn't "mathematical logic" and then "otherwise logic." Many have been going to great lengths to explain, among other things, how Bayesian Reasoning - derived entirely from a pretty little formula which is quite mathematical - is meaningful in daily thinking. There is just logic. It's the same logic in mathematics as it is in philosophy. It is only the axioms - the definitions - which vary.

Because axioms exist where rationality begins - that is their purpose. They are the definitions, the borders, from which rationality starts.

Incidentally, if you don't think ethics is like mathematical logic, and you've been reading and agreeing with anything Eliezer posts on the subject, you should take a foundations of mathematics course. He is going to great lengths to describe ethics in a way that is extremely mathematical, if the language has been stripped away for legibility. (For example, he explains infinite recursion, rather than using the word.) Which may, of course, be why he avoids the use of the word "axiom," and instead simply explains it. I'd also recommend a classical philosophy course - because the very FIELD of ethics is derived from precisely the thing you are suggesting is ridiculous, the search for mathematical, for logical, expressions of morality. The root of which I think it is clear is the value code upon which an individual builds their morality - a thing without rational value in itself, save as a definition, save as an axiom.

That is almost what I meant by axioms. Values. Terminal values, specifically. And also the basis of any individual's ethical code. The entire point of my post was linguistics - hence the sentence that axioms would be a simpler way of explaining terminal values. What I meant by "morality itself is a terminal value and an axiom," however, is akin to what you suggest - it is that if morality is treated as an irrational entity, as you seem want to do, then yes, absolutely everything someone thinks about right and wrong must be treated in a rational ethical system as an axiom. Which is, as you say, possibly true - but thoroughly worthless.

Comment by Adirian on Terminal Values and Instrumental Values · 2007-11-16T01:19:39.000Z · LW · GW

It is a terminal value, however - you are regarding B as something other than B, something other than a stage from which to get to C. To exactly the ends you permit your visceral reaction to the guns themselves shape your opinion, you are treating the abolition or freedom to use guns as an ends, rather than a means. (To reduce crime or promote freedom generally, respectively.) Remember that morality itself is the use of bias - on deciding between two ethical structures which is the better based on subjectively defined values - so to say that something is bias in a moral framework means that it is being treated as a moral axiom, a terminal value.

Your commentary means one of two things - either your don't believe ethics is a rational system to which logic can be applied, or you don't accept that axioms have a place in ethics. Addressing the latter, it is certain that they do, as in any rational system. At the very least you must accept the axioms of definition - among which will be those axioms, those values, by which you judge the merits of any given situation or course of action. "Death is bad" can be an axiom or a derived value - but in order to be derived, you must posit an axiom by which it can be derived, say, that "Thinking is good," and then reason from there, by stating, for example, that death stops the process of thinking. Which applies no matter which direction you come from - from the side of the axioms, trying to discover what situations are best, or from the side of the derived values, trying to figure out what axioms led to their derivation.

Regarding the latter argument - then you take ethics itself as a thing which cannot further be defined, and so claim that morality is itself the terminal value, the axiom. Which I don't think would be your position.

Comment by Adirian on Terminal Values and Instrumental Values · 2007-11-15T23:43:12.000Z · LW · GW

Terminal values sound, essentially, like moral axioms - they are, after all, terminal. (If they had a basis in a specific future, it would be a question of what, specifically, about that future is appealing - and that quality would, in turn, become a new terminal value.) When treating morality as a logical system, it would simplify your language in explaining yourself somewhat, I think, to describe them as such - particularly since once you have done so, Godel's theorem goes a long way towards explaining why you can't rationalize a conceptual terminal value down any further. (They are very interesting axioms, since we can only consistently treat them conceptually and as variables, but nevertheless axiomatic in nature.)

Speaking of people coming to think of B as a good thing itself, many of those in favour of banning guns treat gun abolition as a terminal value in its own right - challenging those in favour of gun freedoms to prove that guns reduce crime, rather than asserting that they increase it. That is, they treat the abolition of guns as a positive thing in its own right, and only the improvement of another positive thing, say, by reducing crime, can balance the inherent evil of permitting people to own guns.

Comment by Adirian on The Tragedy of Group Selectionism · 2007-11-08T05:10:59.000Z · LW · GW

You can alter the question slightly to permit a very limited form of group selection - you have to have completely isolated genomes, to start with, and a high level of mutative cost between the two groups. (I/e, mammalian versus octopus eyes - refinement guarantees the two groups can't crossover or mutate to adapt the other's characteristics.) If selective pressure favours one of the two characteristics, one group will be effectively "selected out."

The genetic variance doesn't even have to be defined - it could just be a selective tendency against. (I/e, groups for whom quality of children is more important than quantity may be more resistant to certain selective pressures, and vice versa - it isn't individual genes be selected upon in this case, it's the genome.)

So genomes, insofar as they may BE atomic, can be operated upon with selective pressure. Any atomic construct with reproductive capacity is subject to some form of evolution. It's simply much, much slower and rarer for larger constructs. (Because evolution on a smaller-construct form operates at such a high speed comparatively.)

Comment by Adirian on Fake Selfishness · 2007-11-08T04:56:04.000Z · LW · GW

I must point out that "whenever they want to be nice to someone" entails a desire to be nice to someone. Your very phrase defines it as being in their interests to be nice to someone. Rationalization isn't even necessary here. You wanted to do something - you did it. Selfishness isn't that complicated.

My guess would be that this individual had read Atlas Shrugged and hadn't fully understood what selfish meant in the context. Ayn Rand was setting out to redefine the word, not to glorify the "old" meaning.

Comment by Adirian on Natural Selection's Speed Limit and Complexity Bound · 2007-11-06T04:30:00.000Z · LW · GW

First, there is the correct point that our mutation rate has been at a steady decline - the first couple of billion years had a much higher rate of data encoding than the last couple of billion years, of which, the former had a much higher.

Second, there is the point that a significant portion of pregnancies are failures - we could possibly double the rate of data encoding from that alone, presuming all of one of those bits is improvement on genetic repair and similar functionality. (Reducing mutation rates of critical genes.)

Third, multiple populations could encode multiple bits of data, if they are kept distinct except for a very small level of cross-breeding to keep both populations compliant. (That is, a low level of geographic isolation could, in sexually reproducing creatures, increase the number of gene pools to play with, although at a nonlinear rate - it wouldn't be a huge increase over a bit per half of population lost.)

Fourth, and finally, not only did you forget the first two billion years of evolution, you forgot DNA transfusion in its varying forms - which occurs occasionally in bacteria, whereby one can acquire the information encoded in another.

Comment by Adirian on Priming and Contamination · 2007-10-11T20:47:46.000Z · LW · GW

Which still doesn't say anything about the impact of priming on an individual's decision-making process regarding a matter they are well-informed on - because weak correlation is still better than no correlation.

Comment by Adirian on Priming and Contamination · 2007-10-10T20:03:20.000Z · LW · GW

Is it a statistical artifact, however, or a genuine intellectual one? That is, those who genuinely have no clue whatsoever in regard to the number of UN nations in Africa might take information about it as a weak sort of evidence - I don't know, so I'll go with a figure I've encountered that is associated with this question. Similarly, someone who is not familiar with pricing may see a "Limit 12" and believe, because of the presence of the sign, that the pricing - regardless of what it is, because they don't have comparative information - is extremely good.

Which is to say, your examples may come from subject-matter ignorance rather than priming, and conceptual priming may not be quite as contaminative as these studies suggest.

Comment by Adirian on No One Can Exempt You From Rationality's Laws · 2007-10-07T20:03:35.000Z · LW · GW

Jacob - going into detail about why atheists are evil, violent, pornography-loving, science-worshiping people doesn't disprove their worldview. (And I find it interesting that you claim that atheists go into science, rather than scientists choosing atheism - but then, you don't seem to know what science is, so this shouldn't surprise me.)

Incidentally, out of eight models for quantum mechanics, at least two continue to permit determinism, which, notably, is another thing you erroneously attribute to atheism. One, neo-realism, of which Einstein was a follower. The other, multiverse theory. One of many matters on which you get your facts entirely wrong.

Comment by Adirian on We Change Our Minds Less Often Than We Think · 2007-10-03T23:06:11.000Z · LW · GW

Not to argue, but to point out, that this is not necessarily a bad thing. It depends entirely on the basis of one's conclusion. Gut instincts are quite often correct about things we have no conscious evidence for - because our unconscious does have pretty good evidence filters. Which is one of the reasons I suggested rationalization is not necessarily a bad thing, as it can be used to construct a possible rational basis for conceptualizations developed without conscious thought, thus permitting us to judge the merit of those ideas.

Comment by Adirian on Rationalization · 2007-09-30T21:05:18.000Z · LW · GW

I find the linguistic distinction to be better than you relate - to rationalize something is to start with something that isn't rational. (As if it were rational, it wouldn't need to be rationalized - it's already there.)

That being said, rationalization in action isn't always bad, because we don't always have conscious understanding of the algorithm used to produce our conclusions. This would be like, to use your example, Einstein coming to the conclusion of relativity - and then attempting to understand how he got there. Rationalization in this case is a useful tool, as it is, in effect, an attempt to obtain the variables that originally went into the algorithm, perhaps to examine their validity.

If you already understand how you got to a conclusion which you are then attempting to bolster - if the evidence that is filtering evidence is being ignored - then it is precisely as bad as you say.