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Comment by alexgieg on Chinese History · 2021-05-13T20:04:34.990Z · LW · GW

I wouldn't say that Confucianism is a religion.

If we go for a very technical take, the term "religion" refers only to Christianity. That's because the term was adopted during the Reformation era, and later expanded during the Enlightenment, to make some sense of what was going on between the different Nation States going for this or that version of Christianity, and then by contrasting all of those takes with the novel alternatives of Deism, Agnosticism, Atheism, of political power grounded on the people vs. on God etc., all the while "back porting" it to the question of the earlier disputes between Christendom's (the original term) original great schism and earlier heresies, and between those as a whole vs. Judaism, Islam, and so-called Paganism. As such, any attempt of extending it to anything beyond primarily Christianity internal disputes, and secondarily Abrahamic disputes, is fraught with complications, since one's operating more on the basis of analogies than on a strictly defined conceptual axis. For more details, check Catholic philosopher Edward Feser's blog post What is religion?

Given that, taking Confucianism to be a religion, or taking it not to be a religion, are both arguably valid, since it comes down to which aspects one's emphasizing and deemphasizing in their analogical approach.

Now, I consider Confucianism a religion because it had and has a priesthood, rites, temples, and presented itself as a continuation and development of ancient Chinese beliefs. Confucius himself, for instance, was a well regarded and accomplished expert in the art of ritual animal sacrifices, and it'd be very odd to try and disengage his religious piety from his intellectual work, when both in fact complement each other. It'd be akin to thinking of the Neoplatonic philosophers, and Neoplatonism, as non-religious despite many of them being pious worshippers of several Greek deities, deities who in turn can be taken to be as abstract as Confucianism's Tian. In fact, the very Physis referred to by the scholar mentioned in the Wikipedia article was a duly worshipped primordial goddess in the Orphic tradition in Greece.

Other polytheistic and/or ancestor-worshipping belief systems have similar traits. In fact, in the set of human belief systems, it's modern Western ones that stand out as somewhat weird -- or rather WEIRD -- in their sharp distinction between secular and religious spheres of influence and action. Most everyone else doesn't do that. Hence, maybe it'd be more accurate to say neither that Confucianism is a religion, nor that Confucianism isn't a religion, but rather that Confucianism, Neoplatonism, Hinduism and others are all holistic paths (that they're "daos"), and that both Western religions and non-religions alike are, all of them, so many daos.

Comment by alexgieg on [Letter] Re: Advice for High School · 2021-05-13T13:38:11.876Z · LW · GW

The difference between someone with an IQ of 115 and someone with an IQ of 175 is four standard deviations. Four standard deviations is huge. It is equal to the difference between a PhD in science and someone hovering on the edge of an intellectual disability.

I'd be careful with this kind of comparison. IQ numbers and SDs may look like cardinal measurements, but they're actually an ordinal hierarchical system. What one can say is that someone with IQ n+1 is "smarter than" someone with IQ n, who in turn is "smarter than" someone with IQ n-1. But there's no way, for now, to convert that in a cardinality.

Hence, in an absolute sense of literal, actual intelligence, the difference in between an IQ 175 and an IQ 115 may be either greater or smaller than the difference in intelligence between an IQ 115 and an IQ 55. My personal hunch is that it's much smaller, although, evidently, I have no way to back that up.

Comment by alexgieg on Chinese History · 2021-05-13T13:17:54.599Z · LW · GW

Chinese religions were never exported mostly because of their lack of use in governance.

That's quite incorrect. In addition to my reply above to ChristianKI, I'll add that Confucianism has been exported all around Asia precisely because of its use in governance, having historically resulted in extensive political changes in the Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese governments of old.

Comment by alexgieg on Chinese History · 2021-05-13T13:12:10.766Z · LW · GW

The Chinese fight Catholicism this way precisely because Catholism is politic in a way that their homegrown religions weren't.

Confucianism is extremely political. If I remember right, when an emperor's government began to severely fail, their priests practiced rites to determine whether they had lost the Mandate of Heaven and a new emperor should be chosen, opening the way for religiously-legitimated rebellions to replace the distrusted dynasty.

This influence of religion on politics in part explains the reason the CCP is always so worried about, and ruthless towards, any religion that deviates from its ideology du jour.

Comment by alexgieg on Why I Work on Ads · 2021-05-04T19:35:41.534Z · LW · GW

When you switch to a paywall model, you have to accept that you're going to lose a large portion of your readers, which means you need to charge the remaining ones a lot more, no?

Yes, but no.

Technically there's no direct derivation from costs to price charged. The costs involved in you providing a good or service let's call it Vmin, determine a lower boundary, so that if you cannot charge below that you're operating at a loss and won't provide that service, instead opting to do something else. On the other extreme, your potentials customers' maximum ability to pay (in aggregate), let's call it Vmax, which in turn is bounded by their income, determine how much you can charge them. The price, V, that you're effectively going to charge, is between Vmin and Vmax.

Customers will do what they can to push V towards Vmin. You, on the contrary, will do what you can to push V towards Vmax. In the end, V ends up somewhere in the middle, so that Vmin < V < Vmax. Therefore, my prior is that a charge of $20/month for such a service is much closer to Vmax than it is to Vmin, for the sole reason this is the incentive playing on the provider's side.

Be as it may, I neither accept lying, biased, and dark-pattern exploiting ads, nor do I have a high enough income to justify paying more than a few dollars per month, in aggregate, for the sites I read. Solving this equation is something site owners, together, should work into. If there's no solution and the end result is less of those specific contents, well, I derive marginal utility from having access to that content, so if it goes missing, shrugs.

Comment by alexgieg on Why I Work on Ads · 2021-05-04T16:22:24.151Z · LW · GW

I'll describe the problems I have with online advertising, both for me and in general:

a) For me personally:

  • I'm a philosopher by formation, and I work in a very technical area, so I have as my focus of interest two things: truth, and data. Modern ads have neither.

If a manufacturer wants to get me interested in anything, at all, I want specs front and first. No fluff, no emotional appeal, no aesthetic considerations. Hard data. If an ad has any of these, and none of the form, I not only ignore it, but I develop a very strong negative bias towards the brand, to the point the more ads I see for anything lacking factual rigor, the more opposed I become to ever buying it, or from it, if it's an ad to develop brand awareness. These, in particular, made me quite aware of brands not to purchase from.

  • They very, very, very rarely have anything to do with my interests.

In the past they used to be a tiny little bit more relevant, back when ads were based on the contents of the page itself, since if I was interested in reading that topic I was interested in that topic. Then it's changed to my former topics of interest, meaning not on what I'm actually interested right now, and thus became even more irrelevant than they already were.

I think that, over a period of maybe 3 years, I've seen one ad that was relevant to my interests. It was for a classic music streaming service. It got me to the point of actually opening their website. Alas, it was too expensive and I didn't subscribe. But that was it.

  • When they hit close, they're for things I already purchased.

When I decide to purchase something, my procedure is systematic. I seek reviews of things in that category, I visit technical sites with specs for the top 5 to 10 items I found that roughly match my interest to see which ones fit, I narrow down my choices to 3 items, then I compare their prices at price searching sites, and buy the one that provides the best return per dollar. Ad tracking machine learning is very dumb and, not understanding I already purchased the item (usually the same day I began searching), causes ads to start offering me the very same item, for days on end, which is useless both for me as well as for everyone else involved.

b) In general:

  • Ads exploit cognitive biases.

As a philosopher first, and a rationalist second, I strive to get rid of cognitive biases in myself, and try to elevate others out of them. Hence, ads that aren't strictly data-driven and factual exist in the opposite side to mine in this moral axis.

  • Sites showing ads exploit dark patterns.

The same thing, except from the side of those showing ads.

All of that said, there was a time I didn't mind ads. It was that narrow period of a few years in which Google distributed only textual ads, and had rules about sensible places to put them at. When they changed direction I began using ad blockers, and whenever I stop using them the end result is so obnoxious I promptly go back to using them.

Now, in regards to:

c) Alternatives:

  • Paywalls and micropayments.

Values for paywalls are, simply put, nonsensical. There's no way the ads I would have seen in a site over a period of one month would have generated $20 for the site, so trying to charge me $20/month is a no start. I could see paying $1 for the right to read a number of articles from that site, let's say, 100 articles at a $0.01 per article, which would be more than enough for several months (provided it was tied into my upvoting the article after having read it precisely so as to discourage clickbaity content-free nonsense that tried to waste my time), but that's about it.

How that would be implemented in practice is a matter for browser manufacturers to solve. I imagine they will do so eventually as adblocking becomes more and more pervasive, as this doesn't seem to be a particularly difficult problem to fix.

  • Curated ads.

There's one category of ads I don't mind: curated ads by site owners, in which they themselves evaluate every ad show in their site for truthfulness, adequacy, and taste, and they themselves host and provide them.

These are rare nowadays, but it's the one kind of ad I don't block. It's basically the kind of ad one would find in printed magazines and printed newspapers, except that online.

These are my 2 cents on the subject.

Comment by alexgieg on Can you improve IQ by practicing IQ tests? · 2021-04-29T14:59:20.491Z · LW · GW

Whether or not something "is" known to work or to fail often determines whether you "ought" to do it.

Not at all. Knowing that doing X causes Y only informs that if you want result Y, the way to achieve that is by doing X. It doesn't tell you whether Y is desirable or not.

Hence, if a society wants maximum productive efficiency, and allocating more resources to their most intelligent members is the most effective way to achieve that, then yes, allocating more resources for them, and less for less gifted individuals, is the way to go. On the flip side, if a society wants, let's say, to maximize equality of outcomes among its members, then they'll completely ignore that means, and look for the method that will provide that outcome.

The decision about the "ought", then, is what truly determines which "is" will be chosen, not the other way around.

Comment by alexgieg on Can you improve IQ by practicing IQ tests? · 2021-04-29T14:44:46.347Z · LW · GW

Not really. Currently IQ distribution is defined as a Gaussian, so if tests are made correctly and the proper transformation is applied the shape of the curve, for a large enough population, will literally be a Gaussian "by definition". Check this answer on Stack Exchange for details and references:

Now, evidently, for smaller sub-samples of the population the shape will vary.

Comment by alexgieg on Can you improve IQ by practicing IQ tests? · 2021-04-29T00:03:10.351Z · LW · GW

I often wonder how many of our characteristics are truly innate, and not just learned or trained.

In the case of IQ this has been well established. There's some variance due to nurture, but the bulk of it is nature. For example, very young children adopted by high IQ couples, and raised with a focus on intellectual matters, still demonstrate an IQ much closer to that of their lower-IQ biological mother than to that of their adoptive parents.

This isn't to say that being raised by high IQ parents has no consequences. These children learn several personal and cultural skills in an environment that nurtures their abilities, and therefore manage to, for example, obtain a bachelor's degree with a much higher likelihood than average for for their origin groups, meaning their Big 5 "Conscientiousness" trait did grow remarkably.

In terms of their raw IQ, though, other than the increase due to better nutrition, no, nurture has no effect, unfortunately.

An argument for nature undercuts the idea that education and good opportunities should be made available to everyone.

Not really. And "is" doesn't determine an "ought". It can easily be argued, to the contrary, that precisely because low IQ individuals need more institutional support compared to high IQ individuals, they should receive a much better tailored education and much better vocational opportunities, as high IQ individuals are much more likely to solve what they need solved on their own without, or with bare minimum, external aid.

Comment by alexgieg on Can you improve IQ by practicing IQ tests? · 2021-04-28T15:36:43.336Z · LW · GW

AFAIK, most don't prepare at all since there isn't much at stake.

Very few companies hire based on high IQ, when they do it's usually because the problems the employee will have to deal with are highly mathematical and/or logical in nature and a person with a low (real) IQ would do really poorly in that, and in any case they still require candidates to have specific skills, which are more determinant than the IQ. And when such companies do take IQ in consideration, they usually do so not by requiring an official score, but by making candidates go through aptitude tests and puzzles, then checking how they scored in those. Very few go for a fully certified score, and when they do, they have requirements such that they may well also require a full personality evaluation, meaning a full Big 5 assessment.

On the flip side, there are jobs that have a maximum IQ score requirement, and don't hire people above that, the reasoning being that anyone with an IQ higher than that would get utterly bored at that job and leave it on the first opportunity, thus wasting the company's time and training investment. So they provide a test and if you get too good a score on it you're let go.

Hence, if one were to try gaming the score, one would either end up in a job with such extreme mathematical and logical thinking requirements they would end up constantly mentally exhausted and leave, unable to cope with spending so much mental energy (and this is measurable, brain scans of high IQ individuals show their brains do very energy expenditure when dealing with complex tasks that, for average IQ individuals, cause their brains to flare up in a storm of long, constant, intense activity). Or, on the other extreme, would put them in a job with such low requirements for their abilities that it'd make them feel miserable until they in fact jumped ship for something more stimulating.

Now, one important thing to keep in mind is that IQ scores aren't absolute values, they're relative values based on how a population answers tests, and it follows a Gaussian distribution.

If a test has 100 questions, and 50% of those taking it get less than 60 questions right, and the other 50% get more than 60 questions right, then IQ 100 is defined as "getting 60 questions right". If in 20 years the same test has 50% of those taking it getting less than 70 questions right, and the other 50% getting more than 70 questions right, then IQ 100 is redefined as "getting 70 questions right". Hence, IQ 100 is always the average of a population.

Then, for numbers above and below 100, every 'n' points (usually 15) are defined as "one standard deviation". Since the distribution is Gaussian, this means that IQ 85 (1 standard deviation below the mean) is defined as whatever number of questions 84.1% of respondents get right; IQ 100 (the mean) is the number of questions the aforementioned 50% of respondents get right; IQ 115 (1 standard deviation above the mean) as the number of questions only the top 15.9% of respondents get right; IQ 130 (2 standard deviations above the mean) as the number of questions only the top 2.3% of respondents get right; IQ 145 (3 standard deviations) as the number of questions only the top 0.2% of respondents get right; and so on and so forth, in both directions.

This means that, if people began gaming the score, the shape of the curve would change into a distorted Gaussian, introducing a perceptible skew that could be calculated following standard statistical procedures, which in turn would prompt a renormalization of the test so that it would track averages and standard deviations correctly once again, rendering any such effort a one time stunt.

Comment by alexgieg on Can you improve IQ by practicing IQ tests? · 2021-04-28T12:12:35.115Z · LW · GW

Is the IQ test fundamentally different from a school test?

Yes. It measures an intrinsic ability, not a learned skill. I'll make an analogy:

Suppose there was an "athletic ability" measurement score calibrated so that it can gauge, via a set of physical tests, the athletic potential of individuals. It's devised so that a population with no specific training can take it, and the result correlates with, for example, how fast a person will be able to run if they dedicate themselves to short range training full time.

This limit, notice, is genetic. Your genes determine the structure and interconnection of your skeleton, muscles, nerves etc. and how well they all respond to diet, training regimen, stimulants, and other external factors. Hence, every person will have a range of running speed that goes from their speed when running without any specific training, let's call this speed A, all the way up to their maximum genetically determined potential, let's call this speed B.

The "athletic ability" scoring then, taking into account several factors tested, including your current, untrained running speed, will give you a number that, when you look at a table constructed after test with thousands of other individuals, show that your maximum speed, if you dedicate yourself completely to developing your running potential, will be B.

Now, suppose an individual, for some reason, trains day and night at short range running before taking the "athletic ability" test. Maybe they're a teen with parents who insist they excel at the test due to, let's say, the potential to get tuition fee reductions in college. Or maybe they have a parent who's an running champion and they want to impress them, be up to their standards, or whatever. They thus decide to look at how the test is applied, does everything to nail it, and so, when the day comes, they take the test -- in which, among other things, they run at their current speed P --, and as a result obtain a much higher score than they would have gotten otherwise. According this score, when they look at the statistical table of maximum short range running speeds, it tells them that if they begin training full time (which assumes they aren't already training) their maximum speed B will be Q! Amazing!

So, our fictional teen continues their training as much as they can, full time, doing everything optimally! And now, years later, at the very top of their performance, their maximum speed is... Q? No. It's a little bit above P, but nowhere near Q. Why? Because the test wasn't devised for people who were already training, much less for people trying to game it. They gamed the test, got a higher score than they would have gotten otherwise, but their maximum genetically determined potential speed is what it is. Gaming the test won't change their true maximum speed B no matter how much they try to skew it.

Now, suppose everyone began gaming the "athletic ability" test so that the table of maximum speeds B in light of scores didn't correlate anymore, what would happen? Well, psychologists would analyze the new trend. They'd look at current full time professional short range runners, the scores they obtained in their "athletic ability" test when they took it a few years before, and develop a new table with updated maximum speeds B for "athletic score" abilities, so that both numbers began correlating again.

That's how IQ works.

A high IQ person, let's say, someone with a IQ 140, can instantly grasp novel, complex abstract concepts in a field they never studied before after barely glancing at it and hearing it explained to them one time in a summed up form that took 15 minutes to provide, and then get a 9.0 on a test without having studied it again in between. A person with an IQ 100, in contrast, might require a full class on the topic, several hours or even days of study at home, and lots of reading, to manage the same 9.0 in the same test.

If the later had gamed the IQ test so that their official score also were 140, that wouldn't have changed the outcome of this scenario. They'd still have had to take the full class, study several hours to days at home, and do lots of reading, to get that 9.0, while the "not-gamed" IQ 140 person still required a mere 15 minutes of hearing about the topic once to score that 9.0. And, had the "not-gamed" IQ 140 decided to get a 10.0 with honors, they'd have needed to study the topic further for maybe 3 hours, they just didn't care enough to bother.

Comment by alexgieg on Can you improve IQ by practicing IQ tests? · 2021-04-27T19:10:20.334Z · LW · GW

Roughly speaking, the IQ score measures one's ability to recognize patterns, so it isn't a direct measurement of intelligence per se, but of an ability that correlates strongly with several other abilities that people associate with the much fuzzier concept of intelligence.

If you practice for IQ tests, you're going to become better at detecting the specific kinds of patterns used in IQ tests, but then your IQ score will correlate less with your general pattern-recognition ability, and in turn with those other traits, so at some point your score will stop reflecting your general intelligence.

To increase your intelligence as a whole you'd have to become better at recognizing more and more complex patterns in general, and not only for when you're focusing on problems, but on the automatic, as a passive ability. That would require quite a lot of cerebral plasticity, which is something adults almost universally lack.

Now, having a great pattern recognition, and by extension a high IQ score, by itself, doesn't suffice to say someone is actually intelligent in a broad sense, because when one is very good at detecting very hard-to-perceive patterns (hard to perceive for the majority), they also become very good at detecting patterns that aren't there at all. For example, conspiracy theorists -- the kind who creates conspiracy theories, not mere followers -- are usually very high IQ individuals whose pattern-recognition went in quite wrong directions. Hence, a high IQ is, at best, a very raw measure of one's cognitive potential, more than one's cognitive execution. This one does require training to be turned into something actually able to accomplish great things.

Be as it may, there have been some studies on what does increase the average IQ scores for populations at large. The main factor, above everything else, is better nutrition during infancy. That helps the brain to develop without hindrances, resulting in most of those children, when they grow, being able to recognize much more patterns than peers of theirs who were malnourished in their first years. That one factor cannot be compensated for later in life. And on top of that, access to excellent education in a stable environment during one's formative years also helps with a few extra points.

Finally, it should be noted that the effects of IQ scores are better understood (because easier to study) for lower IQs than for higher IQs. For lower IQs there are lots of correlations with anti-social behavior, criminality, impulsiveness, mental illnesses etc. For higher IQs there are correlations with mathematical prowess and having better incomes, probably because we live in a society that values professions requiring pattern recognition (engineering, law, finance, programming, anything requiring complex strategizing etc.), but not much beyond that.

Comment by alexgieg on What weird beliefs do you have? · 2021-04-15T17:55:38.528Z · LW · GW

One way to look at this is in focusing on what purpose money serves.

Suppose you do something for someone, and that person pays you a $1 bill. What does it mean, to have that $1 bill in your hands? After all, concretely speaking, it doesn't serve for much. It's a small piece of generic printed paper, so you can use it for same general purpose any piece of paper with something printed on it serves.

However, it has attached to a formal "possibility of" a future something, as you can eventually exchange it for something else, be it a good or a service. Hence, at its core that $1 bill is a contract, or more specifically, a promise.

Hence, when you do something and receive $1, you're exchanging that work for a promise. And, conversely, someone else is promising you a future reward in exchange for you doing something now. And, evidently, such promises themselves can be exchanged, such as when one exchanges one country's currency for another's.

Notice then that debt, in aggregate, works in a very similar way. When a credit agencies you owe money to negotiates that debt of yours with another, they're exchanging promises between themselves, tied to something eventually happening, namely, you providing them many $1 promise bills in exchange for a return of the big promise letter with your signature one of them is carrying. And thus, similarly, at higher layers, until the much higher one of debts hold by countries, which also are exchanged around.

Hence, at that very high level the movement of debts around is a form of money. Rather than moving around packs of first-order promises, aka, stored currency, they move around wide blocks of second or third-order promises, tied to their whole countries doing this or that in the negotiated time frame.

This is why holding countries to having a positive cash flow doesn't make much sense. I mean, it does make some sense, in that handing out blocks of "small promises" simplifies many things. But it also makes other movements more complex, as using debt, that is, "big promises", can be a very effective tool to move things faster when done carefully.

Comment by alexgieg on What weird beliefs do you have? · 2021-04-15T16:30:12.988Z · LW · GW

There is an objective measure, but it's content free. In the 1960's psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg noticed any moral opinion, irrespective of the direction it went (for or against something), always fits into one of six different patterns, one more cognitively complex than the other, all of them organized into a hierarchical sequence individuals pass through in order as their cognitive abilities develop, which he called stages of moral development. This theory of his was then determined to be psychometrically sound, and to provide reproducible results.

Field studies all over the world since then have shown the six stages in an adult population follow a Normal distribution, with some limited variance due to culture and ethnicity, but not much. In other words, when an individual reaches full maturity, by their mid-30's or so, they've usually arrived at the maximum stage they'll be stuck with for life, which suggests there are genetic and/or environmental causes for this cognitive limitation.

Hence, while what someone will consider "right" or "wrong" isn't determined by the stage they're in (those are influenced by group affiliation, culture, personal history, formal education, and many other factors), how they go about reasoning about moral decisions does indeed follow objectively measureable patterns.

Comment by alexgieg on What weird beliefs do you have? · 2021-04-14T17:56:33.040Z · LW · GW

True, and I do think that'd be quite exciting. My point is that humanity not being able to develop the option of, e.g., reloading a backup of oneself, or several then merging the results into a new integrated self, would be limiting. I do enjoy science fiction dealing on those topics after all, from Friendship is Optimal all the way to Iain M. Bank's Culture series, passing through Star Trek's endless transporter accidents, I find the idea of "identity as data" quite appealing. Having it tied to some kind of substratum is comparatively a kinda meh proposition, even if said substratum were to be shown to have quite interesting properties in other respects.

Comment by alexgieg on What weird beliefs do you have? · 2021-04-14T15:47:56.283Z · LW · GW

Yes, but that would (does?) also means a strict limit in how much cognitive abilities, including emotional amplitude, can be engineered. Neural engineering would has as its task improving a human body's brain up to that limit, but not beyond, as after a point it would be (is?) incompatible with "human souls".

So, the first-order news would be good, in that 42 billion or so human souls would be intact (barring something able to kill souls). The second-order news, however, is that the trillions to quadrillions of human beings that will still come to exist will all be, well, basically this, just spread around. So, for me, if those quadrillions of future human beings could have been orders or magnitude more at the price of all human beings so far existing not having a continuity into that future, the utility thus gained would also be orders of magnitude higher.

Comment by alexgieg on What weird beliefs do you have? · 2021-04-14T13:18:29.910Z · LW · GW

I believe in "supernatural phenomena" due to many anecdotal experiences I personally had. I do acknowledge they may all be me incorrectly evaluating ordinary natural phenomena or mental processes due to psychological quirks of mine. Hence, I make a constant effort to no let them interfere in anything I'm dealing with that has clear scientific consensus and/or hard data, or in my ethical, social, and political standings, preferring to keep both sides well separated. In short, to use LW terminology, I willfully compartmentalize.

However, I do not believe in separate magisteria. I'm confident that eventually either the mechanisms behind those experiences I have had will be well known, solving the confusion in a definite way, or those phenomena will be consistently observed, studied, scientifically understood, incorporated into physics, and turned into useful technologies.

Funnily, I'd have preferred not to have had those experiences, as I really like transhumanism and its projected future possibilities, such as cryonics-based resurrection, cognitive reengineering, uploading, mind splitting/remerging/backing up/restoring, and others, all of which becomes from extremely unlikely to impossible if what I've experienced is real. As such I don't see these, all things considered, as a net positive.

Comment by alexgieg on [Book Review] Destiny Disrupted · 2021-04-07T00:59:52.263Z · LW · GW

Original Islam, or whatever survives of it in the approved version of the Quran and the Hadith, was indeed impressive. Alas, once Quranic hermeneutics settled on the "abrogation method", rather than adopting the much more productive "harmonization method", so that verses such as "there is no compulsion in religion" were simply considered as not applying anymore because of newer verses, the potential for things going badly became a permanent fixture, always on the ready to cause problems.

I like it how modern, liberal Islamic scholars are trying to undo that mistake by going the harmonization way. Too bad they're a tiny minority, and that they're opposing millennia of traditions built on top of the very opposite take.

Comment by alexgieg on Blue is Arbitrary · 2021-03-20T15:18:46.787Z · LW · GW

The color blue has other interesting associations too. You mention it as the color of the future, but in English it's also the color of sadness. In fact, notice how future-blue is quite frequently a color associated with emotionless machines, sterile broken utopias, oppressive orderliness, coldness, and similar unpleasantnesses. Due to movie making's need for visual contrast this also resulted in the color of chaos, happiness, warmth, and life becoming orange, even if it hadn't that association before (I don't know whether it did).

Curiously, here in Brazil there's some association between blue and happiness, not of the effusive kind, more that of a calm contentment. The lyrics for a famous song by Brazilian soul singer Tim Maia puts it so (my translation):

Blue as the color of the sea
Tim Maia
  
"Ah! If the whole world could hear me
I have much to tell
Saying that I learned
And in life
We must understand
That one is born to suffer
While the other laughs
  
But who suffers
Always must seek
At least come to find
A reason to live
To see in life some motivation
To dream
To have a dream wholly blue
Blue as the color of the sea
  
But who suffers
Always must seek
At least come to find
A reason to live
To see in life some motivation
To dream
To have a dream wholly blue
Blue as the color of the sea"
Comment by alexgieg on Useless knowledge; why people resist education improvement · 2021-02-27T12:56:10.805Z · LW · GW

I'm confused by this reply. I said that much in my first paragraph, and I provided the second as an analogy to better illustrate the first. I even said as much, informing at its opening it's an analogy.

In any case, you draw an important point. Philosophy isn't a set of axioms, and in fact doesn't have one. Rather, it's a set of problems. Philosophers, specially the major ones, ask questions no one asked before, and then try to answer them, in the process drawing even more questions. Since they're usually the very first person to have asked that question, the answer they tentatively provide to their own question is a prototype solution, the very first attempt at solving a problem no one even knew was a problem until then, which usually makes of them bad answers. But irrespective of their answers being bad or (rarely) good, the questions themselves remain, continuously prompting new and more refined answers. Until, eventually, sometimes, an actual definite answer is reached. But that takes centuries, or even millennia.

Sometimes the Philosopher is running out of time and doesn't even try to answer their questions, they just write them down for posterity. As in many other things, Aristotle is also the very first case of this. He wrote a book composed entirely of questions he was curious about but had no idea whatsoever how to answer. It took the development of the modern scientific method, itself based directly and indirectly on many of the ideas he developed, for those to begin being answered, and even so it still took the development of modern biology, and then that of the modern evolutionary synthesis, for many of those questions of his to be answered for real. I've seen an estimate that so far about 20% of this book was answered. Give it a few more centuries and the remaining 80% will be too. Probably.

So, it's in this sense these five philosophers are foundational: in the proper sense of Philosophy being about the questions. Their questions build upon each other, prompting new tentative solutions, which in turn prompt new questions, and so on and so forth, in a process through which every new generation of philosophers and non-philosophers alike try all over again to answer them, both the old questions as well as the newly developed ones.

PS: By the way, it'd be extremely weird for anyone to consider Plato and Aristotle "axiomatic" given they provide diametrically opposed answers whenever they answer the same question. Whatever one affirms, the other denies, and the other way around. I doubt anyone would be able to draw, taking both together, any shared belief between them, much less any agreed-upon axiom.

Comment by alexgieg on Useless knowledge; why people resist education improvement · 2021-02-26T20:31:53.193Z · LW · GW

In regards to Plato and Aristotle, they're taught because they're foundational. They provided the initial points and counterpoints to almost all, if not literally all, Philosophical fields, to the point many consider everything ever wrote by any Philosopher as comments for, against, or overcoming something either posited. Hence, if you don't know them, and proceed to more recent Philosophers, you end up missing a lot of the context upon which their more modern arguments are based, as well as risk failing to understand the criticisms levied against these arguments which in turn are based on alternate update path tracking back to either Plato or Aristotle.

For an analogy then, we might say Plato and Aristotle correspond respectively to the arithmetic and geometry of Philosophy. And then Descartes to its algebra, Kant to its calculus, and Hegel to its hyperbolic geometries. Everything is built atop one or more of these five, and requires knowing their ideas to be properly understood, which is why one's expected to have at least some familiarity, if not with all of them, with their core ideas, in this same order of relevance.

PS: "The Republic" isn't a proposal for an actual system of government, it's an analogy for the internal working of a person's psyche according what was known at the time. It uses the analogy of the individual psyche as a city and of different public roles for different mental functions, somewhat akin to what the animated movie "Inside Out" did. If you're interested in Plato's actual political philosophy the book to read is "The Laws", in which he discusses different systems of laws, with a particular focus on the pros, cons, and differences between the Athenian and Spartan systems, and considerations on how to construct sets of laws for polities.

Comment by alexgieg on [deleted post] 2021-02-17T20:42:03.785Z

Wait, this AGI is just wearing a person as a sock-puppet/love-interest?

It might be worse. Vi might be a meatbop from Rudy Rucker's Ware Tetralogy, which would make of Caesar also the first cheeseball. Hmm...

Comment by alexgieg on Chinese History · 2021-02-16T15:43:19.827Z · LW · GW

I'd like to suggest adding three more bits of information for every answer:

  1. The year(s) every conflict happened;
  2. What percentage of global population those numbers represented at the time;
  3. The rate of deaths caused by the conflict as deaths per 100k people per year.

This would make the ranking feel more relevant and informative.

Comment by alexgieg on Wordtune review · 2021-01-26T16:02:09.516Z · LW · GW

I see one potential use for this: anonymity. There are models able to fingerprint writing styles which can then be used to pinpoint a specific unknown individual as the author behind a set of unrelated texts, and then deanonymize them if they wrote something out there under their real identity. This tool, or a similar one, could therefore change one's style into a somewhat generic one that would be much harder, maybe even impossible, for style fingerprinting to work, specially if the weights used could be randomized for every sentence to make it essentially unfeasible to reverse the process in order to obtain the original.

Comment by alexgieg on Revelation and mathematics · 2021-01-25T20:24:50.766Z · LW · GW

If all I have to do to /reach enlightenment/attain nirvana/understand the nature of God/ is to read a few sentences, why not readily give them to everyone?

Well, technically because it'd be meaningless. The typical analogy is with telling a born-blind person that "seeing the color red is like feeling warmth, and seeing the color blue is like feeling cold". They grasp the words, they get the analogy, they build some very, very fuzzy mental model of what you might be talking about, but they definitely didn't see anything red or blue (or anything at all) by having merely heard the sentence.

The assumption, then, is that at least some people (not all) have the possibility of developing, through careful, directed practice, the ability to perceive things beyond the ordinary senses. Not out of nowhere, but because the potential is already there, it just needs work. Once they do, they'll also notice the "something" that was given that weird name, "red", by those who noticed it before. And now that they too have the "knowledge" of what "red" is, they can begin talking with other "red-perceivers" about mindbogglingly esoteric unintelligible things such as "shades of red", "pigments", "the color wheel", "the RGB standard", "visible colors that don't exist in the electromagnetic spectrum" etc., whatever those might be, and refining them further.

So, it isn't that you cannot have access to the sentences. In fact, you can find plenty of very detailed descriptions of what "Emptiness", "Nirvana", "Buddha Nature" and the like are. But they are all, for those without the actual "knowledge" (perception) of them, just so many variations of "red is warm".

Comment by alexgieg on [Book Review] The Chrysanthemum and the Sword · 2021-01-23T21:50:28.543Z · LW · GW

I'd say it's the reverse.

See, in 1192, when Shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo removed the political power from the Imperial House without declaring himself Emperor, this established the first full separation of Church and State in known History, with the Shoguns having political power but no spiritual authority, and Emperor having, as head priests -- of what would later become State Shinto, but that back in the day was merely the Shinto of the Imperial House --, spiritual authority but no political power. This separation of powers happened circa 500 years before European Philosophers began to think about its mere possibility, and lasted for almost 800 years, ending when the Meiji Restoration, informed by the worst of then current Western ideas, ended it.

Additionally, the Meiji Restoration forcefully ended the natural flow of Japanese religiosity by adopting an also-Westernized view of different religions as necessarily holding independent worldviews -- think Catholicism vs. Protestantism vs. Judaism vs. Islam vs. Sikhism etc., as read through the lens of European colonial powers --, and in sequence decreeing the forced un-merging of Buddhism and Shinto -- and also, indirectly, of Daoism, declared "superstitious" and therefore forbidden rather than merely forcefully-separated, also under the auspices of then novel Western ideas.

Those two traits, the Shogunate-based style of "traditional secularism", and the widespread flow of Ryobu-style religious syncretisms and Shugendo, were the most traditionally Japanese things the Meiji Restoration eliminated.

And afterwards, still under the influence of Westerners, this time Christian missionaries who derisively referred to Shinto as "not even a religion" due to its (amazing, IMHO) peculiarities that make of it an exact opposite of what Westerners expects any religion to be, plus the novel ideas that developed into Fascism, the Imperial House decided to convert Shinto into an obligatory cultural ideology while affirming its commitment to religious freedom, after all, since Westerners said it wasn't a religion, requiring adherence to it didn't violate freedom of religion.

These four aspects, and a few more, were all antithetical to the traditional Japanese mindset, and all driven by the Imperial House in an effort to equal itself to European powers (and then to US power). And, ironic as it may seem, it was precisely the American occupation post-WW2 which restored them. With the US, and the US-imposed Constitution, Japan saw: the Emperor reduced into a simple religious authority, as was the pre-Meiji Restoration tradition; saw Secularism restored; saw religious freedom and syncretisms once again allowed; saw Shinto's status as an actual religion, rather than as a mere ideology, restored; and things moving on as they might have weren't for Meiji Restoration's despairing attempts at turning Japan into a copycat of Western colonial powers.

Comment by alexgieg on Reflections on "Psycho-Pass" · 2021-01-22T20:53:12.518Z · LW · GW

In the case of Star Wars, that's only the movies. The old Expanded Universe content gives villains and anti-heroes much better grounding, to the point many times you think the Sith are in the right and the Jedi in the wrong, and at some other time you think they really are only two sides of the same single coin thrown into a much vaster context.

For an excellent example of this check the YouTube video: The Philosophy of Kreia: A Critical Examination of Star Wars. It's a 2-hours long rigorous analysis of the philosophical outlook of the aforementioned Kreia, a key character from the "Knight of the Old Republic" video-game series. She's ex-Sith, still on the dark side, and mentor to the protagonist.

Comment by alexgieg on [Book Review] The Chrysanthemum and the Sword · 2021-01-22T17:10:58.511Z · LW · GW

There's an inaccuracy in this. By 1946 Japan was, if not fully, then way over half Westernized, as the process of Westernization actually began almost a century earlier, in 1853, with Japans forced reopening by the US navy, and then actively from 1868 onwards with the Meiji Restoration.

An analysis based on the actually non-Westernized Japan of the Feudal era would produce quite different results.

Comment by alexgieg on Praying to God · 2021-01-22T13:04:57.146Z · LW · GW

Undeniably the desire to follow the group is strong.

The study about cognitive stages points that they're much stronger than a desire. They're the way a person's brain is wired at every point of their development. Someone at a stage 'n' literally feels, perceives and interacts the world that way. They may know, by descriptions from others, or, if they have a very high IQ, through observation of patterns in others, that others feel, perceive and interact with the world in different ways, but this is, for them, merely a piece of data, not something they can act upon, except for one instance: that of trying hard to grow into the stage immediately above one's own. But there's no guarantee of success in this, as it seems there are biological limitations to this. It'd be like trying hard to grow another 5 IQ points: unless you already have some untapped potential to do this, it simply isn't possible.

What is the relevance in the context of teaching rationality and scientific skepticism?

This teaching would need to be split into at least 4 different layers: a new one for high IQ individuals at stage 2; another for individuals at stage 3; another for those at stage 4; and finally the current one, which is more appropriate for individuals at stage 5 -- which, incidentally, is the stage most rationalists are at, hence their bias in producing content mostly appropriate and convincing to others at their own stage.

(...) in effect trying to teach science and rationality is just trying to change the status quo of the group.

That's precisely why it's ineffective. Stages 5 and 6 comprise about 6% of the population. Therefore, even if current rationality teaching methods were perfectly effective, reaching and influencing all of its target audience, that'd mean a world with 6% of actual rationalists. Plus a varying contingent of stages 2 to 4 non-actually-rationalists "groupthink-influenced" by those rationalists in an indirect, ad hoc manner, rather than through actual rationality training and adoption, since such a direct approach, targeted at those stages, their strengths and weaknesses, is neither available, nor being pursued.

Comment by alexgieg on Praying to God · 2021-01-22T01:52:54.059Z · LW · GW

Here are two abstracts from the References section in the link I provided. These, plus the other papers referenced, probably suffice to establish the basis upon which I inferred, although I'm open to suggestions for other, maybe better, ways to generalize it:

"This paper presents the results of a 20-year longitudinal study of moral judgment development. The study represents an attempt to document the basic assumptions of Kohlberg's cognitive-developmental theory of moral judgment. Subjects were 58 boys aged 10, 13, and 16 at time 1 and were approximately equally divided at each age by social class and sociometric status. Sociometric and socioeconomic groups were equalized for intelligence. The study included six testing times-the original interview and five follow-up interviews administered at 3-4-year intervals. At each testing time subjects were individually interviewed on their judgments about nine hypothetical moral dilemmas. Interviews were stage scored according to Forms A, B, and C of the Standard Issue Scoring Manual. All scoring was done blind by individual dilemma. Data are presented on test-retest, alternate form, and interrater reliability for Standard Issue Scoring. Validity of the instrument is discussed. It was found that subjects proceeded through the developmental stages in the hypothesized sequence. No subject skipped a stage in the sequence and only 4% (6) of the adjacent testing times showed downward stage change. This percentage was less than downward change on test-retest data. Moral judgment interviews also showed a high degree of internal consistency in stage scores assigned with the great majority of the interviews receiving all their scores at two adjacent stages. Factor analyses by dilemma and moral issue showed a single general moral stage factor. Moral judgment was found to be positively correlated with age, socio-economic status, IQ, and education. Stage scores in childhood were significantly correlated with adulthood scores. The results of this study were interpreted as being consistent with a cognitive-developmental stage model. Subjects seemed to use a coherent structural orientation in thinking about a variety of moral dilemmas. Their thinking developed in a regular sequence of stages, neither skipping a stage nor reverting to use of a prior stage. The Standard Issue Scoring System was found to be reliable, and it was concluded that it provides a valid measure of Kohlberg's moral judgment stages."

-- Colby, Anne; Gibbs, J.; Lieberman, M.; Kohlberg, L. (1983). A Longitudinal Study of Moral Judgment: A Monograph for the Society of Research in Child Development. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-99932-7-870-2.

"Several issues concerning Gilligan's model of moral orientations and Kohlberg's models of moral stages and moral orientations were examined in a longitudinal study with 233 subjects (from 78 families) who ranged in age from 5 to 63 years. They participated in 2 identical interviews separated by a 2-year interval. In each interview, they discussed hypothetical dilemmas and a personally generated real-life dilemma, which were scored for both moral stage and moral orientation (both Gilligan's and Kohlberg's typologies). Results revealed few violations of the stage sequence over the longitudinal interval, supporting Kohlberg's moral stage model. Sex differences were almost completely absent for both Gilligan's and Kohlberg's moral orientations, although there were clear developmental trends. Hypothetical and real-life dilemmas elicited different moral orientations, especially in terms of Kohlberg's typology. The interrelations between the 2 models of moral orientations were generally weak, indicating that they are not synonymous."

-- Walker, Lawrence, J. (February 1989). A longitudinal study of moral reasoning. Child Development. 60 (1): 157–166. doi:10.2307/1131081. JSTOR 1131081. PMID 2702866.

Kohlberg's developmental stages theory is one of the most tested, subjected to falsification attempts, and well corroborated psychological theories of the last 60 years. Knowing it, and how the stages are distributed (among adults it follows a normal distribution), provides a solid auxiliary reference point to, e.g., reasonings based on IQ distribution, and what it implies for rationality efforts and related subject areas.

Now, I don't actually know whether Sagan, Feynman, Dawkins, or Hawkins incorporated the results of modern, well supported Neo-Piagetian studies such as Kohlberg's in their own psycho-social models and proposal. Maybe they did, and those results are already accounted for in their reasoning. But if they didn't, then I think we may think of those proposals as lacking key information and, by extension, effectiveness.

Comment by alexgieg on Praying to God · 2021-01-22T00:30:26.889Z · LW · GW

That's a noble ideal, but it doesn't fit with the data we have. Groupthink isn't an option, it's a necessary developmental stage almost everyone goes through, those who don't being those who're stuck at a pre-groupthinking cognitive developmental stage. Overcoming groupthink, in turn, requires not only nurture, but also nature, as it seems to require the brain to have the potential for post-groupthink reasoning, which in turn can then be realized.

For information on these numbers, and the studies on it, I suggest you begin by the best experimentally supported of the family of Neo-Piagetian psychological theories, Lawrence Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development, then branch from it. Those will provide you a more solid base on which better fit most of Sagan's hope, and on what needs done around it for it to, someday, become actually viable.

Comment by alexgieg on Praying to God · 2021-01-21T13:00:29.274Z · LW · GW

Scientific literacy and rationality increase the probability your actions will be successful and offer you the highest chance of escaping poverty. The same can be said for moments of intense conflict requiring quick action; having better models of reality increase your chance of success.

About rationality and better models of reality increasing chances of success, I'd say this depends on the person's psychological profile. For those with the appropriate traits, yes, it does increase chances of success, but for those with a strong tendency to develop depression or anxiety, or who already suffer from personality disorders, they may prove indifferent, or even detrimental.

Additionally, there may be cognitive-developmental pre-requisites for becoming actually able to use reason and accurate models productively. For example, someone at the, so to speak, "groupthink" stage of their cognitive development, such as most teens, and about a third of all adults, and possessing average IQ, tend to function well only in the direction their in-group points towards, and, as studies based on Kohlberg's "moral reasoning scale" have confirmed, tend to think of social orientation of higher levels as idealized but unworkable in practice. This means that, for those individuals, we'd need to figure out a way to speed up their cognitive development before they're able to make use of rationality tools and more accurate models.

These considerations may point out how and why mechanisms such as the just world hypothesis, optimism, hope, and their mix into religious models, arose and became evolutionary successful: because they allow a large contingent of people to be productive despite the way reality actually is.

This also implies that the most rational thing to do, in light of this model, would be to harvest this mechanism and optimize it towards more effectiveness, developing a set of groupthinks that provide for more effectiveness and also better fulfill different sets of psychological traits compared to the groupthinks that developed naturally over time and were selected for.

Comment by alexgieg on Praying to God · 2021-01-19T16:07:57.049Z · LW · GW

I can relate to these experiences, both your grandpa's and yours. In my case, who helped was Guanyin (觀音). I think it evident thought that our presence on this specific community puts us more alongside jñāna than bhakti, no? Therefore, writing in such an oblique way, to convey experiences more than concepts, particularly on non-fictional texts, is hardly going to be helpful. Rather, what might prove helpful would be unpacking precisely those details you don't want to talk about. This would certainly prove challenging, along many different axes, but it's the kind of challenge that provides for growth.

Comment by alexgieg on In Defense of Twitter's Decision to Ban Trump · 2021-01-12T00:14:58.153Z · LW · GW

I think sticking to a strictly literal interpretation of the 1st amendment is problematic for the reason that the politically and economically powerful seek, almost by virtue (or vice) of their positions, to always amass more power. Paraphrasing Gilmore's widely know quote, the powerful interpret power-limiting rules as damage, and route around them. And since full free speech is a strong way to limit the power of the powerful, in all cases in which either laws make it hard or even impossible to censor, or public perception make it politically unfeasible to censor, we may expect those in power to seek means to achieve as much censorship as materially possible through as many indirect means as possible.

Therefore, it's important to look at this from a Consequentialist perspective and ask whether certain forms of speech are being effectively reduced thanks to coordination between private agents to actively reduce it, and if yes, ask a classic cui bono? If the the answer to this latest question is "those in power", then for all practical purposes there was censorship, even if it's a censorship that manages to carefully sidestep the legal definition.

This doesn't mean that Twitter banning Trump, or all the big tech players banning Parler, is itself wrong. It's right, but a right that comes from mixing two wrongs, as argued by Matt Stoller, a well known anti-trust researcher who writes extensively on the topic, on his recent article A Simple Thing Biden Can Do to Reset America, from which I quote these two paragraphs (it's well worth reading the article on its entirety, as well as the one linked in the quote):

My view is that what Parler is doing should be illegal, because it should be responsible on product liability terms for the known outcomes of its product, aka violence. This is exactly what I wrote when I discussed the problem of platforms like Grindr and Facebook fostering harm to users. But what Parler is doing is *not* illegal, because Section 230 means it has no obligation for what its product does. So we’re dealing with a legal product and there’s no legitimate grounds to remove it from key public infrastructure. Similarly, what these platforms did in removing Parler should be illegal, because they should have a public obligation to carry all customers engaging in legal activity on equal terms. But it’s not illegal, because there is no such obligation. These are private entities operating public rights of way, but they are not regulated as such.

In other words, we have what should be an illegal product barred in a way that should also be illegal, a sort of ‘two wrongs make a right’ situation. I say ‘sort of’ because letting this situation fester without righting our public policy will lead to authoritarianism and censorship. What we should have is the legal obligation for these platforms to carry all legal content, and a legal framework that makes business models fostering violence illegal. That way, we can make public choices about public problems, and political violence organized on public rights-of-way certain is a public problem.

Unless something like this is done so as untangle the two sides of the problem so that this outcome comes instead of two rights, there will always be the potential for a fully legal, fully 1st-amendment-respecting, "Great Firewall of America" to grow and evolve up to the point free speech will exist de jure, but not de facto. Conversely, if done right, that workaround would be closed, the risk itself ceasing, all the while the promotion of concretely damaging speech still being effectively curbed.

Comment by alexgieg on White Sphere Hypothesis · 2020-12-09T20:04:45.884Z · LW · GW

Three data points from which to infer a possible result for this thought experiment:

  1. AFAIK, feral children rescued after the age for developing language passed have extreme difficulty learning words and abstract concepts. Their vocabulary ends up limited to about 400 words, all about simple, concrete things, and they don't develop past that. This despite them having had several years of sensory stimulation.

  2. Some people who go into coma and remain conscious while unable to provide any feedback. Eventually their despair ends, and their minds settle into a dreamlike state that may last for years, during which they construct fantastical worlds, sometimes partially awakening due to some perceived external stimulus, followed by falling asleep again. Once they get out of the coma and back into a proper awakened state their memories of those imaginary events becomes fuzzy and fades.

  3. The human visual cortex requires movement as much as color for visual processing to function or even, I suspect, to develop. You may try this yourself: fix your sight on a single point devoid of any mobile stimulation, while managing to not move your eyes at all, and it'll shutdown, your field of vision filling with something akin to grayness irrespective of whatever it is your eyes are fixed on.

Your thought experiment seems to be a combination of all three. Such a mind would be incredibly crippled from a cognitive standpoint, and even if it managed to somehow developed something at all in that department (maybe the whiteness is imperfect so it caught on the smallish of variations?), it'd be in a permanent state of dreaming about the raw sensory input of "noise" (which is what pure whiteness is, maybe the closest to "nothing at all"), without any possibility of any abstractive mental counterpart to that one single sole raw sensory reference, as there's nothing to compare it to to draw distinctions.

Then, once you put it into any other environment it'd develop somehow, but by that point most of his neural pathways would have atrophied, so whatever this mind developed would be orders of magnitude simpler than a feral children could do. I imagine it'd be mostly in a vegetative state, simply empty.

Comment by alexgieg on Luna Lovegood and the Chamber of Secrets - Part 3 · 2020-12-02T14:10:06.527Z · LW · GW

This bit bothered me too, it's pretty out-of-character for them. I think they'd indulge her going over it once, but not twice or thrice, so it'd be better if @lsusr rewrote this chapter to add some reactions of theirs and some reason they'd accept it, and her managing to figure it out after that one single attempt.

One option might be her figuring out one smaller-ish thing at her first attempt, let's say, the Chamber of Secrets, making them excited. Then drop the second attempt, moving straight to the third attempt, where the two truly secret areas are revealed, and adding their reaction at this.

Comment by alexgieg on Luna Lovegood and the Chamber of Secrets - Part 3 · 2020-12-02T14:02:03.198Z · LW · GW

In parts 1 and 2 Luna is shown as being at the same time a paranoid conspiracy theorist[1], as well as a skeptic, and someone possessing, for whatever reason, a natural resistance to perception filters[2], all of these traits combining into making her into someone who questions everything and everyone, even if that questioning tends to look pretty random to everyone else. Therefore, it seems to me pretty reasonable for her to question the truthfulness of the map, as it looks a little bit too convenient, a little bit too easy, for a paranoid who takes to heart the notion the best place to hide is in plain sight, to accept. Those with that inclination tend to think "What better way to hide the top secrets if not by making available carefully curated lesser secrets that will redirect curious folk away from the truly important secrets?", witness QAnon, and therefore go after the presumed true secrets.

What's distinctive in this case is that Luna's paranoia is actually merited, and leads to the actual uncovering of actual deeper secrets behind the shallow, distraction secrets.


  1. Which fits with her canon counterpart. ↩︎

  2. It wouldn't surprise me if, differently from her canon counterpart, this Luna were able to see thestrals despite never having seen someone die. I'd like to suggest @lsusr to change chapter 1 slightly to refer to her mother as still alive. Those who remember from the books she's able to see thestrals because she saw her mother die in a magic accident will then wonder. ↩︎

Comment by alexgieg on Is libertarianism unsustainable? Why? · 2020-10-10T15:27:07.728Z · LW · GW

I'll provide a tentative answer that isn't supported by any scientific research I'm aware off, only my own observations as an autodidact History student, so take it with several grains of salt. With that disclaimer in place, here's a hypothesis I've been nurturing for a few years already.

My insight takes as its main premise the fact traditional societies have organized in a hierarchical pattern that, in its broad strokes, varies little between places and times. This structure usually has four main classes, sometimes less, sometimes more, but when the number varies its usually either because two of the four are considered as one, or because sub-types of one are distinguished as their own individual classes. Additionally, the means of access (or lack thereof) to those classes, aka class mobility, vary a lot, ranging from self-attribution, to rigid by-birth caste rules, and passing through lots of other options, including meritocratic-like assignment via standardized tests, as was and remains the practice in China. Myself, I look at these classes as a broad way of classifying people in light of their psychologically-motivated core goals.

The four classes are:

a) Those who seek power, with a strong will to rule others, and set the rules others must follow.

Someone with this psychological profile this doesn't care for wealth, although wealth may be come as a side-effect of their exercise of power.

They feel fine if they're poor but are obeyed.

Abstract and pure knowledge doesn't appeal to them, if they need to know something they ask a summary from those who know.

b) Those who seek wealth, with a strong will to take calculated risks if the payoff is worth it.

Someone with this psychological profile doesn't care for power, although power may be, for them, a means to wealth, and so they may go for it.

They feel fine if they're as wealthy as possible, and even more so if their risk taking pays off in the form of even more wealth.

Their take about knowledge is similar to that of "a".

c) Those who seek knowledge and/or wisdom, with a strong will to learn as much as possible.

Someone with this psychological profile doesn't care for either power or wealth and prefer to avoid dealing with those at all if possible, although in the real world it's unavoidable, so they face the need to deal with both the powerful and the wealth lest their pursuit of knowledge is hindered.

They feel fine if they're learning, and respected for their knowledge. This may come in the form of dogmatic knowledge (think a religious theologians or jurist) or in an open minded, contrarian way (the kind of intellectual the first would hate, and vice-versa).

When dealing with "a" or "b", they either work for them, or are persecuted by them, but rarely want to exercise either kind of power. If they do so, it's by necessity, as a means to secure their access to learning. Usually their power, if any, is indirect, by means of setting the stage within which both "a" and "b" think.

d) Those who seek stability and safety, with a strong will to resist anything that might imperil these.

Someone with this psychological profile doesn't care for holding power, and neither for the risk taking involved in pursuing great wealth. They seek a stable life, within the boundaries of socially accepted mores, and the knowledge they pursue is for the practical uses of their profession, or a hobby.

They feel fine when they're respected by their community, for their work, and feel the finest when things work exactly as they've always worked. Changes, particularly quick, broad changes, stress them out. Therefore, they're usually conservative, but not in an ideological way, in a practical way.

When dealing with "a" or "b", they tend to obey as long as they don't feel their safety and stability threatened. When dealing with "c", they tend to agree if what they're hearing fits with their worldview, or to disagree in varying degrees of incisiveness when what they're hearing challenges their worldview. They're accepting of change if and only if it's brought slowly, and only if there's a clear benefit for their safety and stability, or at the very least no downside for them and theirs.

These are the four classes/castes typically found in traditional societies all over the world. At least, those I read about do fit, with minor variations.

So, let's take this, assume these classes are invariant, meaning that no matter how much society changes there will always be people whose deep psychological profiles are such that they follow these four end-goals, and contrast that with Libertarianism.

i) For type-a individuals, Libertarianism is something they clearly don't want. A minarchist society is one in which their power is severely reduced, while what they seek is to maximize it.

This fits with your Elite Support Hypothesis.

ii) For type-b individuals, Libertarianism is an "it depends" proposition. They don't care much about the principles, but they do care about the consequences:

If Libertarianism is implemented in such a way that doesn't prevent unrestricted wealth growth, including monopolization efforts, then they're for it in that specific context.

If Libertarianism challenges their wealth-seeking and the payoff of their risk-taking, they're against it.

And even if they at first are for it, but later conditions change and suddenly Socialism becomes the way for them to grow their wealth, that's what they'll go for.

So, this both fits and doesn't fit with your Elite Support Hypothesis.

iii) For type-c individuals, being for or against Libertarianism is a matter of intellectual preference. Some are drawn to it, some aren't, some are disgusted by it. It depends on how it fits or doesn't fit their other intellectual interests and preferences, specially if Economics isn't their main field of study.

As a rule of thumb, I venture type-cs tend to be anti-Libertarian in practice because in a minarchist society there are way less possibilities of dedication to pure intellectual pursuits compared to scenarios in which the State funds them without requiring immediate practical applications to arise from that funding. Sure, some type-cs have interests so well aligned with those of type-bs in their business capacity that they will always easily find corporate R&D funding, but for the majority of type-cs it's either going for type-as good will (public-funded research, government grants); for type-bs prestige support (tenured positions in private universities, partisan-NGO/think tank positions etc.); for type-ds direct support (acting sage/priest, journalism, infotainment host etc.); or giving up and going for a soul-crushing type-b or type-d lifestyle.

So, this both fits and doesn't fit, but mostly fit, with both your Elite and Non-Elite Support Hypothesis, as type-cs may be one, the other, both, or none, depending on context.

iv) Finally, for type-d individuals, Libertarianism is a downright scary thing, as Libertarianism embraces constant change on a massive scale as a very positive value, which goes against type-ds seeing constant, big changes as a safety hazard full of the very risks that must be avoided.

This fits your Non-Elite Support Hypothesis.

In summary, I'd say Libertarianism is more likely to be preferred by type-bs, and opposed by types a, c and d.

As for other economic systems, they have different distributions. Taking into account the Economics schools I've studied at least a little about, this would result in this table, with "+", "-" and "0" meaning, respectively, "in favor of/advantageous to", "opposed/disadvantageous to", and "neutral/indifferent towards", and exclamations meaning "see below":

  1. Mainstream: A+, B+, C+, D0
  2. "Europeanism"(!): A+, B0, C+, D+
  3. Libertarianism: A-, B(!!), C-, D-
  4. Marxism: A+, B-, C+, D(!!!)
  5. Distributism(!!!!): A-, B-, C-, D+

(!) I group in this things like European-style Social Democracy, Northern-European countries' brand of Capitalistic Socialism, US-style Liberalism (known elsewhere as Social-Liberalism), German-style Ordoliberalism etc. Or, to put it another way, big State, big corporations, huge taxes, big welfare state.

(!!) "+" for the majority of small players, "-" for the big ones.

(!!!) "+" if it's already established, "-" if it isn't and it'd require major societal changes, "0" otherwise.

(!!!!) Disclaimer: my own preference.

I hope this helps, and I'm all ears (eyes) for criticisms.

EDIT: Replaced exclamation marks for asterisks, as Markdown was turning those into italics and bolds.

Comment by alexgieg on [deleted post] 2020-08-07T20:11:17.733Z

This is a form of censorship that would ordinarily be considered shameful in any community that held itself to any form of intellectual standards.

Actually, this is by design.

Comment by alexgieg on [deleted post] 2020-08-07T20:00:01.293Z

Organizing your data according to how weird it looks to you is not scientific.

Taboo the words "weird", "looks", "scientific", then restate your affirmation so we can actually understand what territory you're mapping.

That is all you need to know to understand what EHT and gjm did.

Any solution or counter-argument to a complex problem that begins with variants of "It's simple! Just..." is almost always, almost invariably, wrong.

Comment by alexgieg on [deleted post] 2020-08-07T13:35:45.810Z

Making such a simulation is exactly what gjm did and he inadvertently proved his thesis false.

You haven't shown this mathematically, only conceptually. This isn't enough. Do the calculation and present them.

The point of the post was to explain the root causes of the mistakes EHT and gjm are making, not to prove that they made a mistake by tying themselves in knots that prevented them from seeing what they'd done.

Unless you can provide specific counter-examples demonstrating your affirmations in practice, you aren't actually proving there are mistakes. If no mistake has been strictly demonstrated in the first place, there's no talking about root causes, for the very presence of mistakes still is, by this point, a speculative hypothesis, making any discussion about root causes a speculation on top of a speculation.

If the fact that mistakes were made isn't obvious to a reader, there isn't really much that anyone can say to help that person understand.

This is, at its core, pure math. Applied to physics, yes, but still math. As such, there's no need to appeal to subjective notions of obviousness (or lack thereof). All one needs to do in such a case is to provide the equations and parameters that result in one or more counter-examples. This will prove the presence of mistakes, at which point, yes, discussing their potential root causes becomes feasible.

Comment by alexgieg on [deleted post] 2020-08-07T13:03:45.623Z

If you want to prove your point, take that random noise image from your other post, and make it turn into a cat image by using the same algorithms and techniques the black hole photo crew used. Do this for two or three more perfectly random images becoming anything you want them to become. Explain precisely how you managed to make those specific algorithms turn random noise into pre-selected images, providing the specific parameters needed so that anyone can reproduce them. Then you'll have constructed the targeted counter-examples that'll provide the hard-evidencial basis for your conceptual criticism.

Until you do that, what you're providing is philosophical speculation. It may or may not be valid, but by itself it isn't enough.

Comment by alexgieg on The Illusion of Ethical Progress · 2020-06-29T14:55:36.064Z · LW · GW

Because if I do not follow a universal standard of ethics then my entire ethical system will be founded on nothing more than transient fashions.

Alas, you won't find that in mysticism, as mystics' ethics isn't universal either.

What I observed reading and listening to many mystics over the years is that, while their ethics did indeed change in a more or less similar way due to their mystical experiences, it didn't do so in a "big G" way, but rather only in a "little g" way. Basically, their experiences change their utility function in a very specific way: they end up believing that achieving those experiences is a value unto itself, that everyone should have them, and so they propose changes and tweaks to their pre-existing, culturally conditioned moral framework that, if applied at large, result in facilitating and encouraging more people to achieve mystical experiences.

Now, this isn't to say that having those experiences doesn't provide objective benefits. It seems to do, as it's been shown that people who've had them are in general calmer, more focused, less anxious etc. But that's a far cry from "understanding the universe". Mystical experiences don't provide for that, for if they did, mystics wouldn't all keep disagreeing with each other about how the universe works, which they definitely do, on most of everything.

Also, depending on how those tweaks to pre-existing moral norms are done, the end result sometimes can be worse than the original. For a remarkable example check Kelley L. Ross's article Zen and the Art of Divebombing, or The Dark Side of the Tao, which shows how incredibly wrong things can go in that area.

Comment by alexgieg on The Illusion of Ethical Progress · 2020-06-29T14:29:21.528Z · LW · GW

What I’ve known of religions certainly are contradictory maps.

Yes, but this is a separate issue. Indeed, mystical practices are very often religious and expressed through a conceptual framework based on theistic and supernatural ontologies, but they can be practiced without any of that, and still yield the same subjective experiences, which means these don't depend on those. In fact, mystics of different schools, while they agree one the validity of each other experiences, still usually argue about whose interpretation of those experience is right.

For example, while a Muslim mystic, a Yogi mystic, a Buddhist mystic, and a Neoplatonic mystic may all agree they experienced their self-identities stopping under such and such circumstances and restarting afterwards, the Muslim one, who interprets their experiences as "uniting with Allah", won't be keen on the Yogi one's interpretation of it as "dissolving in the Brahman Supreme", who in turn won't be keen on the Buddhist one interpreting it as "manifesting the Buddha Nature", who also won't be keen on the Neoplatonic one interpreting it as "ascending to the One", and so on and so forth.

So, while the experience may be shared, it doesn't actually offer any kind of concrete answer about what is really going on. This is where modern scientific approaches would, I suppose, provide something more concrete, specially if more skeptics were to practice those techniques to completion and then frame them within more down-to-earth notions.

Comment by alexgieg on The Illusion of Ethical Progress · 2020-06-28T23:58:41.026Z · LW · GW

Why do you think Occam's Razor favors the second perspective?

Because assuming there's a larger territory means, within a reductionist perspective such as the one favored by LWers, assuming a larger set of first principles, while assuming it's an incorrect perception retains the same set of first principles. Hence, Occam's Razor favors the second alternative. But only as long as there's no further evidence for the first, at which point the likelihood for both hypothesis would slide accordingly.

Comment by alexgieg on The Illusion of Ethical Progress · 2020-06-28T23:54:20.830Z · LW · GW

There are "shared" phobias, and common types of paranoia. There are also beliefs many people share that have little to do with reality (...)

These analogies relate to surface similarities. Individual mystic schools provide methodologies that provide highly repeatable sets of results in a progressive sequence, and the ability for advanced 3rd party practitioners to evaluate said progression. If you enroll in one and follow the program you're almost guaranteed results, in the sequence that method delineates. Hence, even if these experiences don't correlate to something extrinsically real, they point to some interesting cognitive features that are little explored. At a minimum there's an entire area of "psychological engineering" waiting to be properly developed under those methods.

(...) the mystics are also influenced by each other.

True, but the practices at the earlier "grades" tend to be very different between different schools even if high level practitioners from different schools can easily dialogue with each other. For example, a high level mystic trained in the Isma'ilic method can at some sit down and talk with a high level mystic trained in the Advaita method, both having a quite productive discussion about their respective experiences while still rejecting each other beliefs, but when it comes to what beginners and mid-level practitioners of either school do in practice, there isn't little similarity. Any such influence then, if it does indeed trickle down from those high level discussions, happens at some meta level once or twice removed from the concrete practices.

Comment by alexgieg on The Illusion of Ethical Progress · 2020-06-28T20:17:13.943Z · LW · GW

I think that mental illness also follows structured patterns.

Yes, but not shared ones. To use LW's terminology, consider the map vs. territory distinction.

  • In a strictly objective scenario, all or almost all individuals agree that their respective maps agree with all others and correlate with the territory mostly the same way. At most individual maps differ in precision and resolution, but they all overlap in such a way that overlap is clear to most everyone.

  • In a purely subjective scenario, the opposite happens. Individual maps differ radically from each other, and hence either one map (or a set of overlapping maps) correlates with the territory, the other mutually contradictory maps not correlating to it, or in the extreme none of the maps correlates with the territory.

  • A subjectively objective scenario is an in between situation. You have a wide set of individuals from many different backgrounds who all share a set of clearly overlapping maps, differences between those individual maps also clearly being only in precision and resolution, as is the case in the strictly objective scenario. At the same time, however, this set of overlapping maps isn't shared with all/ almost all individuals.

From the perspective of mystics, the set of overlapping maps they share among themselves doesn't contradict the set of overlapping maps everyone else shares. They see theirs as the wider map of which everyone else's is a subset, and understand themselves and their techniques as means to access and map more of the territory, areas others usually don't draw into their own maps because they don't look that way often, or even don't look at it at all, and therefore these maps cover a smaller territory.

From the perspective of non-mystics though, the map mystics share among themselves correlates to nothing, as it's talking about a section of the territory that doesn't exist, there being nothing "there" to be mapped. Rather, at most mystic techniques activate some weird neurological pathways which, being present in all human brains, work similarly when active, and that would better explain the shared similarity among their maps than the supposition that there's a large section of the territory most everyone doesn't perceive unless they train to perceive it.

Occam's Razor favors this second take, but the shared nature of the map mystics hold remains intriguing, and there's always the possibility it may indeed refer to existing territory.

Comment by alexgieg on The Illusion of Ethical Progress · 2020-06-28T14:54:35.006Z · LW · GW

I think the OP is referring to the fact that, while mystical experiences are usually thought by non-practitioners as being random bouts of subjective insight with no objectivity at all, hence fundamentally little more than noise, that isn't actually the case. Mystical experiences follow structured patterns, which is why schools of mysticism develop over time with a well established progression system so that more advanced practitioners can evaluate and teach less advanced practitioners. Basically then, while all of those practitioners are having strictly subjective experiences, those experiences are similar enough they can be objectively discussed by, and worked upon, by those others who also have had close or similar enough ones, including those from outside that particular school.

This means those experiences are neither purely subjective, as is the case with someone suffering from schizophrenia or other mental illness, nor purely objective, in the sense of someone who knows nothing about electricity being able to use electric devices thus extrinsically validating the physics on which electrical engineering is based. Rather, they're in a category of their own, which for lack of a better term some call "subjectively objective".

The field of subjectively objective experiences is scarcely studied by modern science, which focus heavily on the other two. There are some initial efforts in that direction, with brain scans of mystics during deep meditation, that kind of thing, but those still focus much more heavily on the strictly objective side of things (what's physically going on in the brain) than on the specifics of the experiences. This happens, I think, because there aren't well developed and agreed upon hard scientific methodologies for dealing with problems that are impossible to study via double, much less triple, blindness. Rather, this category of problems isn't evaluable even via single blindness. To study it researchers would have to go "zero blind", becoming practitioners themselves and examining it from within, which so far is a huge no-no for anything evidence-based.

So, to go back to the OP, when he says mysticism can observe ethics in absolute terms, I infer they mean ethics itself is neither objective, nor subjective, but rather a subjectively objective field, hence why it can be evaluated only by means of mystical practices, which for now are still the only ones directly addressing this third category of problems.

Comment by alexgieg on Three Worlds Collide (0/8) · 2015-11-15T21:02:27.114Z · LW · GW

I asked a friend of mine to read the story. He's a reincarnationist and he liked it a lot, although he preferred the first ending to the second. He sent me an interesting commentary on the reasons for this preference, which I'm copying and pasting below. I guess the few reincarnationist observations he made won't be of much interest to most here, but the other considerations are very well worth the reading:

This is one of the most amazing and uplifting stories I have ever read – at least in the ending one scenario.

I am glad that the superhappies want to end the suffering of the babyeater children. Making them eat the children at an age before sentience is a solution that could be achieved in the present day, but uplifting the other species to not feel pain is an even more important solution in the case that these beings become sentient before expected.

The idea that the superhappies would adopt babyeating and force it into humanity was disturbing at first, but being a reincarnationist, I can actually relate to the radical shift of desires. In previous lives, I have eaten cockroaches and considered them delicious, but in this life with social conditioning, I consider the idea disturbing and disgusting. The superhappies have a method of instantaneously zapping that very repulsion away, so I don't understand why the people in the story are so resistant to this change knowing that after the zap they will have no disgust for this act, and will on some level desire it.

I have imagined myself in the position of an uplifted baby who in the very rare instance gains sentience before expected, and whether eaten whole or cut to pieces first, being slowly or quickly digested, without the ability to feel pain or fear, and without worldly experience to demonstrate that something was wrong, the experience of being eaten would be like falling asleep and would be thankfully, boring.

The process of being zapped by the superhappies from a normal human into an uplifted human comes across as fearful because the individual doesn't know how they are going to be afterward. The idea of removing so much fear instantly is itself a big change, which strangely causes fear. It is the same reason why people who suffer from anxiety are often afraid of taking medicine to remove their anxiety. Yet as scary as the moment of having these fears removed may be, most should be able to come to terms with it knowing that as soon as it's over, they will not fear again. For some it may be more comfortable to be sedated before being changed.

A philosophical argument could be made that the act of eating babies becomes pointlessly arbitrary at best, and that the other species shouldn't adopt it because it serves no purpose, but the fact is it does serve a purpose: to better relate to the babyeaters. In the last sections we see that the superhappies changed the design of their ship to better appeal to human and babyeater aesthetic. This raises the willingness of the two species to work with them. When the uplifting process is complete, all three species will be in many ways one species. I believe that when any one of the new super-species meets another alien race, the babyeating tradition will be removed from all of their societies to be replaced with some other aspect of the new species encountered because the meaning for its tradition will have been lost through history, but even if this doesn't happen the super-species will continue to change and grow without fear.

Fear is the resistance to change and the extent to which a person resists change is the extent to which a person fears it, or so sayeth the psychology books. Progress is rapid change for the better. After the uplifting the species will trust each other enough to share their scientific progress, while on a spiritual level, the beings within each society can exist happily through the progression of their lives. To a far deeper extent, if it should somehow happen that a spirit born from one species would find their incarnations in the bodies and societies of either of the other two species, that spirit would be just as happy and satisfied in that life as they would in their original species, which even for the superhappies and especially for the babyeaters would be a greater satisfaction than before the time of the three's contact, and that is beautiful.

Comment by alexgieg on xkcd on the AI box experiment · 2014-11-22T02:59:26.745Z · LW · GW

Let me chime in briefly. The way EY handles this issue tends to be bad as a rule. This is a blind spot in his otherwise brilliant, well, everything.

A recent example: a few months ago a bunch of members of the official Less Wrong group on Facebook were banished and blocked from viewing it without receiving a single warning. Several among them, myself included, had one thing in common: participation in threads about the Slate article.

I myself didn't care much about it. Participation in that group wasn't a huge part of my Facebook life, although admittedly it was informative. The point is just that doing things like these, and continuing to do things like these, accrete a bad reputation around EY.

It really amazes me he has so much difficulty calibrating for the Streisand Effect.