Posts

Money creation and debt 2020-08-12T20:30:42.321Z
Superintelligence and physical law 2016-08-04T18:49:19.145Z
Scope sensitivity? 2015-07-16T14:03:31.933Z
Types of recursion 2013-09-04T17:48:55.709Z
David Brooks from the NY Times writes on earning-to-give 2013-06-04T15:15:26.992Z
Cryonics priors 2013-01-20T22:08:58.582Z

Comments

Comment by AnthonyC on How can there be a godless moral world ? · 2021-06-22T13:10:42.214Z · LW · GW

"Philosophical arguments, explanations that the world is not moral, better definitions of morality, they're all nice but in the end, you won't convince me that a monkey birthed a human.
If I am making a mistake in believing that you believe that the monkey birthed a human, I want to know what that mistake is in order to learn about evolution."

Based on this I have to conclude that @gilch was right about the importance of starting with epistemic rationality, and going from there. Practice on the easier problems before you tackle the hard ones, for the same reason that catechism and Sunday school generally teach children and recent converts the nice parables and ignore Job and other complex and harsh passages until much later.

Whether or not you believe it actually happened that way, if you don't understand how humans and apes could have arisen from a common ancestor over the past 5 million years or so, if you don't understand how all life on Earth could have originated from some of the first strands of self-replicating RNA billions of years ago, if it isn't clear how human moral instincts could have arisen via biological evolution for millions of years living in hunter-gatherer bands or how our ideas about those instincts could have been honed into modern forms by millennia of cultural evolution living in agricultural and pastoral communities, then you haven't understood the concept of evolution and aren't ready to explore the question of morality in a godless world. 

There are many good places to start. Mine was the Sequences, before they became this book. There are lots of other options that will appeal more or less to different people and be easier or harder for you to enjoy reading and stick with. Learn as much as you can about everything that interests you, and as much as is useful about everything that does not. Go forth and study.

When you are ready, maybe don't start with your own faith. Read about Legal Systems Very Different from Ours, and how law relates to different religious and metaphysical and social systems. Read about what meaning is, isn't, can be, and can't be, from a metarational perspective. Then think about the questions you asked here. We'll all be here to talk then or answer questions you have along the way.

Comment by AnthonyC on How can there be a godless moral world ? · 2021-06-21T23:33:40.908Z · LW · GW

That's true, good point, though I have a hard time interpreting "there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" as referring to the plants being burned and not people being hurt.

Comment by AnthonyC on How can there be a godless moral world ? · 2021-06-21T20:49:47.843Z · LW · GW

I think the whole point is that by your worldview, what you think and feel and claim to know are irrelevant. You have no agency in choosing what to believe about what is good, should God choose to tell you. You talk about "the real God," but every Abrahamic religions agrees that God is ineffable and unknowable in almost all ways no matter how much gets revealed through prophets and messiahs and saints and miracles.

The Bible gives plenty of examples of God lying, deceiving, betting, changing his mind. I don't know how much you're coming at this from a fundamentalist viewpoint (Bible as literally God's words, as opposed to human interpretation of divine revelation). But if the Bible is literally God's words, then since it is internally inconsistent, it cannot be used as a reliable source of moral rules (as Shakespeare said, the devil can quote scripture to suit his purposes), only best guesses. If it is human interpretation, then we should assign its passages as much credibility as we assign any other interpretation of weird phenomena experienced by the ancients: not much, since we readily discount their views on almost everything else regarding the nature of this universe. Either way, we're left in a world where even if he does decide it, God hasn't actually given us a way to know what is or isn't good. We have to guess, and be rewarded or damned forever in response to the quality of our guesses, but we have to do it while deliberately not using the faculties we use to determine everything else in life about what is true.

Comment by AnthonyC on How can there be a godless moral world ? · 2021-06-21T20:36:01.680Z · LW · GW

I would add to pay close attention to the part about God hardening Pharoah's heart in order to ensure that he will refuse to let Moses' people go. God deliberately ensures the course of events that leads to the genocide of the newborns.

Also, the story of the fall from Eden starts from the premise that before the fall, man was incapable of knowing good from evil. Which, if God decides which is which, means man was incapable of knowing he was supposed to obey God. Then man disobeys god, and all humanity forever must suffer for it, because God said so. This isn't a God that wants people not to suffer, it is one who sets things up so that great suffering is inevitable.

Comment by AnthonyC on How can there be a godless moral world ? · 2021-06-21T20:29:33.377Z · LW · GW

I realize Hell as commonly understand in recent centuries doesn't really show up in the Bible, but I suggest reading Psalm 58, and then reading the part of St. Augustine's Summa Theologiae where he discusses how the blessed will rejoice in the suffering of the wicked. 

If hell isn't as bad as actual torture, then the Parable of the Weeds in Matthew 13 must be both very metaphorical and very exaggerated. I highly doubt a priest would want the faithful to discount other parables so much - we don't interpret the Good Samaritan's story to mean "Helping people is great and all, but really is mostly supererogatory." That kind of thinking is something that St Francis of Assisi railed against, and that the camel/eye of a needle metaphor warns against.

Also, going back to St Augustine, he believed in Purgatory, which I assume would be less bad or at least no worse than Hell in some sense(s) other than just temporal, and said of the cleansing fires of purgatory that "yet will that fire be more grievous than anything that man can suffer in this life whatsoever."

Hell as the absence of God reads like Limbo from Dante's inferno, or like the Hell CS Lewis describes. If you know of any premodern account of Hell that aligns with this view, let me know. Otherwise, what you're discussing is a modern change to Christian doctrine, which if valid means either God lied to the early church, or changed his mind, or he takes Matthew 16:19 very seriously. In the first two cases God proves himself untrustworthy as a lawgiver (though we already knew that from many cases where God deceives people, sometimes to terrible effect), while the latter case would imply God turned the duty of establishing morality over to mankind.

Comment by AnthonyC on How can there be a godless moral world ? · 2021-06-21T14:25:28.059Z · LW · GW

It isn't clear from your post how the existence of God relates to the world being moral. It could be:

  1. God decides what is moral, and only god's decisions on the matter count, either because of some inherent property of divinity or your definition of morality or because of consequences God imposes
  2. God has no choice in what is or isn't moral, god's nature or the definition of morality predetermine that, but god somehow makes it real, or meaningful, or existent in the world
  3. God created a world in accordance with whatever morality is, and a non-god-created world wouldn't have been , and so would be vanishingly unlikely to have moral value

I've mostly come across the first line of thinking in the past, not exclusively, but enough that I'll assume it here. Let's try a least-convenient-possible-world thought experiment. As you requested, let's assume there exists exactly one God. This weekend, a joyful chorus rings out from the sky, and a beam of light shines down onto each and every human, young and old, and an angel appears before each of us and pronounces that God wants to reveal the true divine commandments to the people of Earth, which we have forgotten. (If you want to add more conditions to make the evidence more convincing that this experience is genuine and not aliens or delusions or drugs or something, be my guest). Actually, God says, the Aztecs were the people that originally received the true revelation, the world was made through divine sacrifice, human sacrifice is needed to pay the debt, and we have a lot of accrued debt we haven't been paying off, so make with the pyramid-building and heart-removing and live-flaying.  God gives no details on the afterlife, if any, or on what happens if we fail to carry out these orders.

What's your next move?

If you believe such a scenario is impossible, that God couldn't do such a thing, then God lacks the freedom to choose the moral law. How, then, could that law depend on God's existence?

If you believe God simply wouldn't do such a thing, why not? I don't know of any religion whose gods don't demand some form of unpleasant sacrifice from their followers, so what precludes this one, given that God has freedom of choice?

If you experienced this and did believe God had made such a revelation, and so did everyone else, would you obey? Would you expect and want others to obey? Is that the world you want to live in? 

My own opinion is that in this world, I would have a moral duty to defy this order, and if possible, overthrow and replace God, because this one isn't worthy of my worship or obedience. But I can only say that because I reject the premise that whatever is moral has no dependance on what any particular God wants.

Comment by AnthonyC on Are bread crusts healthier? · 2021-06-21T13:45:17.443Z · LW · GW

What kind of roll was it? And do you, personally, like the crust or crumb of said type of roll better? What about when you were a kid?

Over the past two years I've cut most of the more industrially refined oils, grains, sugars, and salt, as well as added natural and artificial flavors. Within a few months my taste buds shifted in several ways, and a lot of popular (in the US) foods I used to like now taste bland, off, unbalanced, or fake to me. It made me realize how much more, in the past, we could trust our sense of taste to tell us what was good for us. And as much as we try to follow the research on what humans know about good nutrition, it's really hard to find good advice that's actually useful and actionable. Bodies are complicated, there are a lot of variables, and the outcomes we really care about are ones that we sum up over a whole lifetime, not the ones we can easily and quickly measure.

So if the bread thought is about unpleasantness and virtue, I think it's probably cultural. Maybe something like that was once adaptive in a world of scarce good food, maybe it originated in all the diet crazes of the last few generations, maybe it comes from various bits of religious history. But it's also true in general that we get more calories from cooked food than raw food, so I wouldn't be terribly surprised if there's a mental link between more burnt-->more cooked--> more nutritious coming from that way as well, though that's pure just-so speculation from me.

That said, I do think there's real value (for health, physical and mental) in having a varied diet, and part of what we do when we feed kids is train them to accept variety and learn to enjoy variety so they can feed themselves a healthy diet later in life. At first we feed them a bland nutrient-rich fluid , then simple purees, and gradually shift away from that to new flavors and textures.

Comment by AnthonyC on There is no No Evidence · 2021-05-20T12:09:56.625Z · LW · GW

Yes, but I think making the distinction that way is going to be much harder for many people outside this community. I know very few people who don't read this website who even have any sort of probabilistic conception of "evidence" and "belief," and I have had (very conventionally well educated in STEM fields) people get angry at me for talking about things that way.

We are familiar with the ideas of rational evidence, scientific evidence, legal evidence, and so on, screening off some types of evidence for certain purposes, but most people aren't, at least not explicitly, and as far as I can tell have no idea that that's what our societal institutions are doing or why. 

Comment by AnthonyC on [deleted post] 2021-05-18T10:47:19.497Z

I expect any private business that implemented surge pricing on things like food without government backing would face serious repercussions - social and legal. Most people have no understanding of, or interest in, economics, and hate surge pricing, and see at as price gouging. Being in some sense wrong about it is irrelevant - the accusations, and public pressure, and possible legal defense costs if the gouging accusations make it that far, would get most businesses to back down.

Also: not everyone has much choice about when they shop. I know at my local supermarkets the residents of nearby assisted living facilities and senior centers get bussed in once or twice a week at fixed times - a vulnerable population on fixed incomes. They, as well as people working multiple jobs juggling child care and public transit schedules, have the least choice and the least spare resources to pay higher prices. 

That said, I think free delivery (or at least curbside pickup) will be commonplace long before the next pandemic. I doubt Amazon will stop with just Whole Foods for groceries, and others will need to follow suit. Covid is already accelerating this trend.

Comment by AnthonyC on [deleted post] 2021-05-18T10:34:46.756Z

I second that we don't really care about the flu. Setting aside the question of how much of a mistake that is, I'd just point to that we simply haven't tried to throw extra money at, and remove regulatory barriers from, using mRNA tech to make a better flu vaccine that can be rapidly updated without needing to predict what strains will be common, months in advance, and may be able to include a lot more strains at once. We still haven't committed to doing that or even made any significant public noises about it, now that we have so much more data on how well mRNA vaccines work.

That said: I hear Moderna is hoping to combine an annual flu vaccine with a covid booster, which is a great idea, but I hope that won't be the only option for either. I stopped getting the conventional flu vaccine after about 20 consecutive years where I was sick for about 10 days after doing so. Since then (and before that) I've gotten the flu and, for me at least, the actual flu's symptoms tend to be less severe than that. Covid has not given me confidence in Moderna's and Pfizer's ability or interest in properly calibrating dosing to minimize unnecessary vaccine side effects.

Comment by AnthonyC on Vaccine Rollout as Wheeled-Luggage Problem · 2021-05-15T02:03:42.627Z · LW · GW

"First, we need to consider planning and regulation failures prior to 2020. What failures of planning and regulation prevented us from setting up sufficient emergency vaccine production capacity before COVID-19 emerged? Could we have had a global network of pandemic vaccine factories on standby back in 2015?"

I am of the opinion that such failures are more than sufficient, given that there have been successful human trials for mRNA vaccines (for cancer immunotherapy, mostly, AFAICT as a layman) dating back to the early 2000s, and even more so to the early 2010s. The fact that designing the Moderna vaccine took two days and could be scaled up in a matter of months once it became clear that the vaccine would work and get used implies that all the critical technical and production problems already had known solutions. It would require a very large coincidence for there to have been very significant problems that just happened to get solved or become solvable within a few months of the first pandemic of this scale in generations.

But no, I don't think there is a reasonable regulatory and planning framework that would have vaccine factories "on standby" in case of a pandemic. That would be very inefficient. Rather, I think a better regulatory and planning framework would have long since approved and scaled up at least a few and possibly many mRNA vaccines/other therapeutics, such that the factories that were already in use and operating profitably could be quickly repurposed or duplicated. This version of Earth would already have established protocols for testing and approving mRNA therapeutics, reducing the hand-wringing CYA antics of our regulatory agencies in the face of what outsiders saw as clear evidence of safety and efficacy. It would also have already built public trust and awareness of mRNA therapeutics, reducing hesitancy in much of the population. 

Personally I really don't care whether the world-as-it-was-in-January-2020 could have developed a vaccine more than a couple of months faster given better emergency regulatory changes or government funding or whatever. The correct solution to a pandemic is to have a better designed our regulatory infrastructure, and the innovation culture built around it, going back decades. We could have recognized that the FDA correctly declined to approve thalidomide in the 1960s instead of ignoring that and adding new hurdles for subsequent drugs. We could have learned from the AIDS crisis that it really doesn't matter what group first suffers from a disease. We could have not thrown away the already-developed well-regarded pandemic playbook the US developed within the past decade.

Comment by AnthonyC on Is driving worth the risk? · 2021-05-15T01:01:03.258Z · LW · GW

The standard $10M figure is not about the value of a life. I don't value my or any other human life at $X/yr,. I value them much more than that. What I don't and can't do (individually, or for everyone as a collective) is try to spend much more than that on preserving them, because the limiting factor isn't intrinsic value it's resource availability. I'm not going to pretend my life is anything close to an optimal arrangement of my resources for preserving said life, but even if it were, I don't think I'd get as far as "never drive" by the time I ran out of money. 

Comment by AnthonyC on Convict Conditioning Book Review · 2021-04-10T13:36:17.401Z · LW · GW

On the shoulder squat; I agree with you. I can do that no problem, since I was a kid, but many people can't. I know several yoga teachers who have completely removed shoulder pose from their routines for that reason.

Comment by AnthonyC on Monastery and Throne · 2021-04-09T15:46:51.425Z · LW · GW

Yeah, I totally left that part out. I don't remember the specific situation, but it had to do with starting from a base assumption of factors like institutional inadequacy meaning I expect lots of seriously suboptimal decisions that lead to bad results that no one wanted, and public figures often being incompetent at their supposed jobs because they're picked by selection criteria force them to optimize for something way different from the supposed job requirements, and everyone just constantly talking past each other without even trying to really understand the other side (either due to ignorance, lack of interest, or various forms of group identity signaling).

For context, on an individual level, she's vastly better than me at intuiting what other people are thinking and how they're likely to act. And she does understand the social psychology of groups of people very well. She just doesn't instinctively consider politics in terms of the dynamics and evolution of systems.

Also note: after years of grappling with ideas like that, I've gotten much closer to not always being depressed by this kind of thing, or seeing it as an inescapable trap (and trying, whenever possible, to focus on the side of "Wow, look what we managed to accomplish anyway!"). But it definitely had that effect on me for a long time.

Comment by AnthonyC on Preventing overcharging by prosecutors · 2021-04-08T22:54:30.619Z · LW · GW

On those points I completely agree.

Comment by AnthonyC on Covid 4/1: Vaccine Passports · 2021-04-08T22:53:39.340Z · LW · GW

I agree. I'm not sure if I said otherwise anywhere, but if I did, it was a mistake. I do not support enforcing any kind of vaccine passport. I might, if the vaccine rollout were much slower than it currently is and there were an institution I trusted enough to roll out and enforce one thoughtfully enough. But as things are in the US, we're approaching the point where anyone who wants a vaccine is allowed to get one. To me that means that within a month or two, it mostly stops being a valid argument that the unvaccinated-by-choice are putting anyone but themselves at risk, unless they're working directly with vulnerable and un-vaccinatable populations.

Comment by AnthonyC on Monastery and Throne · 2021-04-08T22:18:53.764Z · LW · GW

This explanation of the experience of Rationalist vs non-Rationalist thinking accurately describes a lot of my experiences in recent years. The following are the first examples that come to mind, of interactions with very smart people, good at thinking, who don't identify with the Rationalist community.

Something my wife last month: "Is this how you think about politics all the time? No wonder you're depressed."

Something I told a coworker two years ago: "Most people really, truly aren't consequentialists. They don't do things because they expect a certain outcome, they do them because that's what's customary in that situation in their community, full stop. That results in behavior that looks like they're implementing something like separate magisteria for each context."

Something I told a different coworker three years ago: "Most people don't actually know how to think. They do something that superficially looks like thinking, but isn't."

Something I told yet another coworker four years ago, "The client asked me X, which is the wrong question for what they're trying to accomplish, but it's his boss that made him ask it, and he's not socially allowed to challenge it, so I answered Y, which hopefully will trickle back in a way that gets the message across about what they actually need to ask, which is Z." Result: they came back and asked Z a few months later. Note: this is dangerously close to trying to "nudge the public" and I'd much prefer to have have to do things like that.

Comment by AnthonyC on Is there any plausible mechanisms for why taking an mRNA vaccine might be undesirable for a young healthy adult? · 2021-04-08T20:24:21.759Z · LW · GW

I'm not a biologist, and bodies are complicated enough that I'd like an answer to this too.

 

But to a first glance from a layman: I have a hard time understanding what mechanisms there might be, especially age-dependent ones. The sugars, salts, acids, and stabilizers all either occur naturally in the body or have been used medically long enough to have their risk profiles known. I don't know about the specific lipids used, can't comment there. mRNA only survives in the body for a matter of hours, after that what's present is just the proteins you made from the mRNA, which should work the same way as identical viral-derived proteins would, generating an immune response by the same mechanism.

Comment by AnthonyC on Preventing overcharging by prosecutors · 2021-04-08T15:00:23.068Z · LW · GW

It takes a lot of effort to understand all the evidence that goes into all the cases where a prosecutor charges people to evaluate the prosecutor. If you have the prosecutor summarize the strength of the evidence that evaluation gets easier.

That's true, but I think you're being very optimistic, both in the ability of defendants and defense council to ignore or evaluate information the other side in an adversarial system claims is their true opinion, and in the ability and interest of the public in properly evaluating the job performance of prosecutors in local elections based on actual data. I think both are possible, and would be very valuable, but can't be achieved without much deeper and broader reforms to make the underlying justice system more open, transparent, and trustworthy.

I don't think you can easily do a trial because it's a systematic intervention that needs to run a few years for people to adept to the new system before it leads it's provides most of it's benefits.

Sorry, I didn't mean a trial as an experiment, I meant literally running legal trials this way, where in general the prosecutor that tries a case is not the one that produces the conviction probability estimate. Then, grade each both on the accuracy of their assessments, and separately on their conviction rates in trials they prosecute. I'd say either the one trying the case or a separate third prosecutor should have final say on which charges to bring. I think this would eliminate a lot of the potential for perverse incentives.

Comment by AnthonyC on Is there a mu-like term that means something like "why is this any of my business?" · 2021-04-08T14:46:12.871Z · LW · GW

It's very hard to have a word for a concept that doesn't exist in the cultural milieu you share with your conversation partner. Here on LW it might be relatively easy, I'm sure we could coin one, and maybe we use it enough in our own circles and adjacent to those circles that it starts to trickle out. Words are paintbrushes, and all that.

For now I'm amused just imagining trying to explain the concept of "teleology of forming an opinion" to, say, some of my less inquisitive and curious aunts and uncles. I think (after the maximum amount of time I'd be able to sustain the conversation) they'd come away with something like "Oh, he's not really interested in current events, and has his head in the clouds thinking about abstract things I can't understand."

That said, I think a lot of the people I talk to would understand if I said, "I think having an opinion either way is a distraction, since I don't know enough to add anything that hasn't already been said, and in any case it's not something that I can affect or that affects me in any way. [This next sentence is one I would add, but may not apply to you, IDK] And since there are so many stories where similar things do happen, and others where they didn't but people think they did, I care a lot more about why the heck these kinds of things keep happening." Then the next time something comes up, like "What do you think about Meghan Markle?" or "What do you think should/will happen to each member of the Loughlin family?" you can say, "Remember what I said about Woody Allen? I feel the same way about this." You change the local culture by putting that idea into the air enough times that it becomes a concept you can point to.

Comment by AnthonyC on Preventing overcharging by prosecutors · 2021-04-07T11:28:59.254Z · LW · GW

that's not the issue my post is addressing. 

Sorry, then I think I made a bad assumption about why you were trying to solve the problem of overcharging. I added that at the end of my comment and probably shouldn't have. Still, it's not the reason I initially rejected the proposal. I honestly don't think your proposal actually solves the overcharging problem or would make plea deals much fairer.

Then when I'm in the court room my lawyer can ask the prosecutor "Why did you bring that case when you only think that there's a 10% chance that my client will be found guilty?" Journalists could write story "Prosecutor Smith brings a case against Joe to trial even so he only believes that there's a 10% chance that Joe would be convicted". 

Journalists could write that, true. But if we're relying on juries and voters to properly evaluate that kind of statistic as a reflection on the prosecutor's job performance or the case's merits, then hopefully they'll also understand that the data point is immaterial to the question of whether the defendant is guilty. I can be very confident a policeman is guilty of murder, or a politician is guilty of accepting a bribe, or a frat boy is guilty of rape, and still correctly believe the probability of conviction is low. I'm not sure how a court would regard such an argument, but to this layman it seems that to whatever extent the percentage is based on the evidence, giving the number as an additional data point is double-counting evidence (or a way of introducing information based on evidence not presented at trial or inadmissible at trial, which is just as bad or worse), and to whatever degree it is based on assumptions about the judge and jury's behavior and thinking, it's speculation.

Overall I'm very skeptical that the enforcement mechanism you proposed to incentivize prosecutors to be honest is anywhere near strong enough. It might be better to scale the prosecutor's pay to how well calibrated their estimates are, for those cases that make it to trial, with additional penalties like removal from office for being too far off. Or better yet, do a literal randomized trial where the prosecutor who offers the plea deal and makes the estimate is different from the prosecutor who goes to trial, and evaluate the former by accuracy and the latter by conviction rate. 

Comment by AnthonyC on Is there a mu-like term that means something like "why is this any of my business?" · 2021-04-06T14:22:32.574Z · LW · GW

"I haven't taken the time to look into it" can sometimes serve the role of redirecting the conversation, but doesn't convey the general sense of "It's a waste of both our time to even be discussing this."

In the specific case of Woody Allen, you could try something like, " I don't know if he's guilty, legally or morally, but either way I think the real problem is that we live in a society where it's likely enough to even be plausible." 

But yeah - I don't know of such a word or phrase. I think establishing one would be much easier in a community where most people were familiar with the kind of ideas in Politics is the Mind-Killer and Your Price for Joining. I say that because I think most people are viewing these kinds of discussions as being, not about the factual question but about tribal affiliation and group identity. In that context, just refusing to state an opinion either looks suspicious or like you're trying to seem wise and high status, like a judge.

Comment by AnthonyC on Preventing overcharging by prosecutors · 2021-04-06T14:02:40.784Z · LW · GW

How would prosecutors be trained and incentivized to make and report accurate predictions? Who would be funding the defense attorneys, especially overworked public defenders, to learn to properly evaluate prosecutor's claims? The US legal system already isn't exactly known for being honest today even in terms of things like rules about disclosing exculpatory evidence to the defense. Also, the famous saying about indicting a ham sandwich is anecdotal evidence about how much credit (grand) jurors give prosecutors' likelihood assessments in a pre-trial, non-adversarial environment, and I don't find it encouraging. 

Also, I understand that one of the big issues with plea deals is that it is often in a defendent's individual interest to plead guilty to a lesser charge they're innocent of, even if they're pretty sure they wouldn't be found guilty at trial, either because they're risk averse (not necessarily unreasonable when years of your life are on the line), or because the agreed-on punishment will be less than the time in jail, and cost in fees, they'd incur just by going to trial even if exonerated. Data on likelihood of conviction wouldn't help with that.

At a more basic level, I think this solves the wrong problem. If, as you say, it is in society's best interests to keep legal costs low, then it follows that there is little benefit to society from the larger penalties imposed by overcharging defendants. This suggests that the problem lies in the criminal code and sentencing guidelines, and that these need serious updating. 

And given how biased our legal system is and has historically been, I believe a proposal based on conviction odds has basically the same problems as current AI tools for criminal sentencing and risk assessment. Large racial and economic biases, among other problems.

Edit to add: I do like the idea of giving defendents honest info about their likelihood of conviction if a case goes to trial. I'm extremely skeptical of the idea of having prosecutors provide that evidence, and wary of letting prosecutors, juries, or judges see it.

Comment by AnthonyC on Covid 4/1: Vaccine Passports · 2021-04-04T13:33:23.339Z · LW · GW

I realize this is going to be different for different people and in different places, but if you're in a place where mask compliance is high already, and rules are actually enforced, this isn't likely to be a thing. I mean, obviously it is to some degree, people get a negative test result (sometimes, too soon after exposure for it to even mean anything) and then see friends and family unmasked. But I don't think it's anywhere near significant enough to change my conclusion.

If that were likely to be a major problem, I'd think we should already be seeing large numbers of people who've recovered from covid refusing to wear masks in public. After all, that's much stronger evidence of not having covid, and not being able to catch it, than a negative test result is. Also, better messaging could help mitigate that, "Sometimes tests are wrong, so you can't treat a negative test as a guarantee, but even if you could, a mask helps protect both you and others, so you should wear one to help you stay negative."

Still: I don't mean for my list to be definitive. I was making examples based on my own assessments of the kind of reflection I'd need to see from major public health figures and institutions before I start trusting them to implement any policy that requires delicacy, nuance, precision, and care, to avoid causing significant harmful side effects.

Comment by AnthonyC on Covid 4/1: Vaccine Passports · 2021-04-02T15:54:01.443Z · LW · GW

Fully agreed on all counts. And the thing is, there are many things that government does competently (enough for the purposes I care about). Sometimes, when it isn't, I look at what happens and say, oh yeah, that's a train wreck, but I see how the decisions that lead to it made sense to the people involved even if they were competent and had the best of intentions. Other times, not so much.

Comment by AnthonyC on Covid 4/1: Vaccine Passports · 2021-04-02T13:08:08.512Z · LW · GW

Given the generalized lack of competency, understanding of reality, interest in any sort of nuance whatsoever, and so on, since the pandemic began... do you really believe any of the relevant institutions could or would choose to (and would successfully) implement any of the solutions you propose to those objections you believe are reasonable? I, for one, very much do not. And I don't just mean government institutions either. The failure of infectious disease experts at major universities to speak out in favor of saner policies, the shortsightedness of business and other groups pushing for premature (and selective) re-openings, those all play a role too, and I'm skeptical of them implementing their own policies requiring vaccination by employees or customers.

Granted, overcoming that objection of mine would be very easy. All it would take is for the CDC, FDA, and whichever governor or state legislature is proposing a vaccine passport rule to come forward with a (even partial) self-assessment listing what they got right, and what they got wrong, based on the information they had at the time, since last January, and a commitment to a timeline to produce a detailed plan for how they will do better in the future. I won't hold my breath. For example:

 

"We should have admitted from the beginning, that yes, obviously in any given situation masks don't increase your risk of getting sick and could reduce it, so people should wear one for anything they would do in public indoors anyway, but making it a policy requirement without any plan in place based on when and why it makes sense, like requiring masks outdoors in any place less crowded than a city center, is not likely going to be helpful."

"We should have discussed, from the beginning, the importance of ventilation indoors, and encouraged more open windows, HVAC system improvements, and spending as much time outdoors as feasible."

"We should have stated clearly, from the beginning, that we were going to make the best recommendations we could at any given moment, and that some of that will definitely change as we get more data, but until we get that data we won't know which ones."

"We should have initially recommended people disinfect things coming into their house or business as a possible transmission vector, and then updated when we found out that fomites weren't a major component of the pandemic beyond very high touch surfaces."

"We should have actually bothered to do even basic cost-benefit analyses when making decisions."

"We should have recommended everyone who can do so to take vitamin D, since the potential risks are so much lower than the potential rewards. Actually, we should have been doing that for a lot more people, for a long time, in most of the US."

'We should have approved OTC/at-home/prescriptionless tests, including new types like maybe that MIT over-the-phone AI tool, with way lower thresholds for accuracy and specificity, as soon as possible. False positives just lead to more caution/less risk-taking, and false negatives are no worse than no test. We can require stricter test modalities for more critical use cases, which can help in making sure capacity is more available for those."

"We should have committed 10x more funding to vaccine development right away, and done human trials as soon as possible."

"As soon as we had any indication what handful of vaccine initiatives were likely to succeed, we should have asked Congress to approve funding to pay companies to ramp up the necessary production capacity well in advance of their expected timeline for FDA approval, since it would cost dramatically less than we were spending on relief bills or losing from the restrictions in place."

 

Also: at this point we have a pretty good idea how long it'll take for everyone who wants a vaccine to have had ample opportunity to get one. Those people who do, will not die of covid once a few more weeks have passed. At that point it's not unreasonable to let others take their chances if they want to, if they judge their personal risk to be low enough, because they're no longer endangering anyone who didn't choose to be so endangered. So, a vaccine passport policy may make sense for... what, until late May at most? Is it really worth it to fight this battle on passports instead of focusing on campaigns to encourage people by touting all the positive benefits of these vaccines (and vaccines in general)?

I, for one, would like to come out of this pandemic into a world where people are generally impressed with how incredible the impact and potential of mRNA vaccines will be in the future. Not one where they're mostly associated in the public consciousness with polarizing political battles.

Comment by AnthonyC on Bureaucracy is a world of magic · 2021-03-30T11:47:57.749Z · LW · GW

I grew up on Long Island and agree that the ID points rules are hard for a lot of people to fulfill. If you're under 21, and have a birth certificate and social security card, then you just need your parents to say you are who you claim, though. That is, as long as they have ID.

Comment by AnthonyC on Bureaucracy is a world of magic · 2021-03-29T20:31:54.791Z · LW · GW

Yes, and I think that's kind of the point. 

Make it expensive to break or get around the rules, and most people will follow them (see Scott Alexander's review of the Legal Systems book, and ctrl+F "one crime a year"). If enough people are willing to pay the high price (in time, money, etc.) to go through the formal processes of getting around them, or of taking the risks involved in just breaking them, that's a strong signal to society that the rules need updating.

As far as trusting judges more than clerks (and appellate judges more still, etc.): Like any good magic system, you lock the really dangerous powers behind rituals that require significant sacrifices. Going to law school, cultivating a reputation for whatever virtues the local judge-selecting mechanism uses, accepting a lower salary than you'd potentially have as a lawyer, and so on.

Comment by AnthonyC on Bureaucracy is a world of magic · 2021-03-29T16:35:26.495Z · LW · GW

I'm in the middle of reading Sapiens, and there is a passage near the beginning that is about pretty much exactly this. Lawyers, judges, businessmen, and bureaucrats are powerful sorcerers, whose power comes from having completed certain rituals and having learned esoteric knowledge, whose stories are much stranger than those of a tribal shaman, and who have real power because we all agree to (at least pretend to) believe them. He uses the example of Peugeot, and asks in what sense a company exists. Well, some people spoke and inscribed certain spells with the right paper and ink, and presented them in special places to other sorcerers, and the company came into being, even though it had no physical body. Its owners could fire every employee, its customers could scrap every product, and a natural disaster could wipe out every factory and office, and the company would still exist. But if the sorcerers file certain forms and make certain arguments in the right way, it would cease to exist, even though all the people and products and assets are otherwise unchanged.

 

Sufficiently self-aware and genre-savvy lawyers know this, but I've yet to meet a bureaucrat who acknowledges it. At my own closing on my house, my lawyer commented that every form and step were there because someone, at some point, did something they shouldn't, and the form is to make it simpler to reduce or prevent  it from happening a lot anymore. This sent me down a bit of a rabbit hole learning about the history of deeds and title, and legal fictions, which was kinda fun.

 

And if you haven't yet read Legal Systems Very Different from our Own (draft version online for free), I strongly recommend it.

Comment by AnthonyC on Why is COVID reinfection rate still so uncertain. · 2021-03-28T20:14:57.529Z · LW · GW

I'm a little unclear on the biology, but its that just a matter of scarcity, or also a matter of expecting a stronger reaction/more side effects? I would think if having had covid gives you more protection than having gotten the first shot of a vaccine, then your reaction on getting a vaccine is likely to be stronger, and waiting might be valuable even just on that basis?

Comment by AnthonyC on Six-Door Cars · 2021-03-22T18:27:49.282Z · LW · GW

In most situations where people need more seats, those seats are primarily for kids, not the people buying the vehicle or other adults, and that makes the issue of every row having its own doors less important. Your kids just get used to climbing over and around things, and it's no big deal. The people consistently buying vehicles for more adults are mainly fleets buying vans and limos.

Also: I know you mentioned this in the original post in terms of car vs SUV, but adding length, doors, and weight will drop fuel efficiency, which may cause legal issues. Maybe not in the US, IDK, but car company platforms are global, and other countries have much stricter standards. This may make it just not worth it for what they expect the market size to be.

I wouldn't be too surprised if we started seeing vehicles like that in the 2030s though, once self-driving vehicles become common enough (I still think it's unlikely, just much less unlikely). People and companies have been talking for a long time about how much design freedom not needing a driver gives you, and how you can make reconfigurable interiors. Since it's likely that ridesharing and other fleet vehicles will make up a larger proportion of cars in an autonomous vehicle world, it's much more feasible to have a few vehicles around for less common use cases. Last-mile delivery automation product developers have come up with a lot of concepts that include vehicles with multiple independently locking compartments; it's very plausible a six door vehicle of some sort could reuse such a platform.

Comment by AnthonyC on Six-Door Cars · 2021-03-22T18:14:43.471Z · LW · GW

I recently switched from a crossover SUV (Nissan Rogue Sport) to a pickup (Sierra 2500 with crew cab and 8' bed). It is about 22 ft long, and yes, it is both harder to park and usually unable to fit fully in a standard parking spot. It overhangs by only about 2 ft usually, though, so if it really is feasible to make a six door vehicle that is about 200" long, it would still fit.

Comment by AnthonyC on Why is rhetoric taboo among rationalists? · 2021-03-20T01:21:07.747Z · LW · GW

In that case I'm assuming CFAR is only applying these ideas to people who want to be so modified? That seems dramatically less problematic.

Comment by AnthonyC on Asking questions to fulfill expectations · 2021-03-20T01:16:49.944Z · LW · GW

Maybe I'm being naive, but I think teachers know that and judge that having such a designated question space is still worthwhile for when there are real questions (instead of expecting students to interrupt the flow of a lecture, which many won't do and which may be disruptive, or them not asking at all and just being confused), and worst case they get asked to rephrase or repeat things they already said, which isn't a bad thing anyway. And once in a while a question might lead to an interesting discussion.

Comment by AnthonyC on On Changing Minds That Aren't Mine, and The Instinct to Surrender. · 2021-03-14T00:44:22.781Z · LW · GW

My take is that no, you can't change someone else's mind. Only they can. And a debate won't do it except maybe in exceptional circumstances, like where they're already very close to doing so and choose to initiate a debate hoping to be convinced. Also, as the adage says, you can't argue someone out of a position they weren't argued into.

That said, in my experience, if you choose the right people, with whom you have the right kind of relationships, you can plant seeds that occasionally grow into mind changes over time. You can help people who want to learn more to become the kind of person that can think more effectively.

Comment by AnthonyC on Animal faces · 2021-03-11T11:35:29.515Z · LW · GW

I think it might be useful to draw a boundary between dogs, whom humans have selectively bred for a long time including for their ability to communicate with us and vice versa, and other animals. Also, for dogs I'd mostly omit looking at their mouths (except for open/closed and how so) since the mouth shape is mostly fixed. They express more with their eyes and where they direct their attention. And with the rest of their bodies, of course.  

I do agree that in general it's important to distinguish when someone or something just has a face shaped a certain way, vs. when they're making a facial expression. IRL that might be a matter of movement? As in, we  don't hold a single expression without moving, which is a significant clue.

I'd also draw a boundary between mammals and non-mammals, I might be able to tell a few things from a bird's behavior, like if it's afraid, but not from just a picture of its face.

Comment by AnthonyC on Privacy vs proof of character · 2021-02-28T13:48:04.085Z · LW · GW

At least as of right now, that case only applies in New Hampshire, and I wouldn't be surprised if other courts found differently, or if an even slightly different wording or legislative reasoning for a similar law would have been upheld. So no, in much of the country it still is not legal to photograph your ballot, no matter that future court cases might rule the laws prohibiting it to be unconstitutional.

Also, this is one of those cases where the reasoning just feels bizarre to this non-lawyer. "Vote buying used to be rampant, so you banned showing people your ballot, and now you have no evidence of vote buying in the century since the ban was implemented, and only very indirect and weak recent evidence of attempts to buy votes, so you can't prove there's still a compelling government interest in restricting this form of political speech." AKA you had a compelling interest, succeeded in eliminating the problem, and therefore no longer have one. It's like saying you're only allowed to lock your door while there's a burglar inside, and have to unlock it once they leave.

Comment by AnthonyC on "New EA cause area: voting"; or, "what's wrong with this calculation?" · 2021-02-27T18:14:28.990Z · LW · GW

Possibly the UAE or another country where voting is limited to a smaller subset of the population?

Comment by AnthonyC on What does the FDA actually do between getting the trial results and having their meeting? · 2021-02-27T16:00:12.164Z · LW · GW

Fair enough, maybe it is a conspiracy theory, though to me it seems like the default adaption of what I would expect to happen. It's a good question regardless.

Also RE: pharma companies wanting their drugs approved faster: yes, they do, too slow lowered their ROI, but also limits their pool if competitors to those already prepared to navigate the approval process. They may not want it to be too fast either.

Comment by AnthonyC on A No-Nonsense Guide to Early Retirement · 2021-02-25T20:05:35.982Z · LW · GW

On the topic of housing: this is going to vary very widely from market to market and person to person, but I want to bring up a few points.

  1. A home is primarily a place to live, not an investment. Don't spend more on a home than you comfortably can just because you see it as an investment
  2. If you have skills to do repairs and improvements yourself, or can acquire such skills, this can let you buy much cheaper, and/or sell higher if you do so carefully and thoughtfully (buying something you like that most buyers in your area don't, or renovating in a way that will appeal to many buyers). 
  3. Leverage. On average home values in your area may only go up 3% a year or whatever (in my region it's been slightly higher since the time I bought in 2014, and much higher in 2020), but I bought my house with 5% down (20x leverage) at 3.5% interest. In addition, my mortgage + interest + PMI for the first 2 years + higher utilities was still less than I'd previously paid in rent for a two bedroom apartment, even before accounting for the equity I was building. By the end of year 3 I'd more than made up for the transaction costs of buying and (at some point) selling. Also, I had more space, no landlord, and no annual rent increases.
  4. Legal protections for owners in some states are different than those for renters. In my state, up to 500k in home value is protected from seizure if you declare bankruptcy, and from many types of liens. In some states, homeowners have their annual property tax increase capped.
  5. Capital gains: 250k (500k for a couple filing taxes jointly) is exempt from federal capital gains tax when you sell your primary residence. This may not matter if you're comparing to an IRA or 401k, but it matters when comparing to sales of investments in a normal brokerage account.
  6. Income taxes: In previous years the mortgage interest deduction made a difference to me of a few thousand dollars a year, but when they raised the standard deduction to over $12k/person and capped the deduction for state and local taxes, I stopped being able to benefit from this (I would still gain some benefit if I were single, or if I lived in a more expensive house, or if I had lots of other deductions I could claim). 

And on emergency funds: right now my emergency fund is smaller than I'd like, but I also have a low-interest HELOC I know I could borrow against if I needed to, without locking up as much cash (which matters to me because in the meantime I can use my cash to pay down other debts). I am planning, early next year, to sell the house and greatly reduce my fixed monthly expenses in order to pay off my remaining debts and start saving a lot more. Once I do so, I will need a significantly larger emergency fund than I have now.

Comment by AnthonyC on The Crux of Understanding Written Text - Text reading and inference · 2021-02-25T17:10:16.145Z · LW · GW

I'm not sure if this is what you're looking for, since its more at the level of data and psychology than neurology, but I'd strongly recommend reading A Human's Guide To Words. Most of your question - "How do humans understand what words mean?" - isn't specific to text, and applies just as much to spoken language, sign language, and any other form of symbolic communication that uses the brain's native language capabilities. 

At some level, language is always metaphor, where meanings are inferred by cache lookups searching only a few steps away in a very highly branched tree in concept-space. It has to be something like that. Poetry is just one or two more inferential steps removed from "literal" meanings, so we read it a little slower and still miss some of the richness of how all the concepts relate to each other.

I do wonder how much interpretation of written language specifically varies from person to person and language to language, but that's a separate question about how the brain relates written squiggles to the concepts it already has stored as "words." For me, I read aloud in my head, and thereby connect letters to spoken words. This... did not work for me when I was taking Mandarin classes and reading characters. Too many homophones. My teachers told me they never do this. For them, characters relate directly to words which have meaning, and spoken syllables relate to words which have meaning, but neither "are" the words. I don't know how common their experience is for anyone else speaking any language. I would be curious if deaf people reading English experience something similar, and if deaf people have an easier time learning to read character-based languages or less inflective languages. Or if illiterate people process homophones differently.

Comment by AnthonyC on What does the FDA actually do between getting the trial results and having their meeting? · 2021-02-25T16:52:31.974Z · LW · GW

Whatever else is going on... the FDA has never been graded on speed, and plenty of ink has been spilled in non-covid times about how many people die, and how many QALYs are lost, because of delays that make little difference to the eventual outcome, but look to the general public like Serious People Making Decisions Carefully. They permit themselves the time, and with it buy a mantel of authority in the public eye.

Also... looking at the VRBPAC online meeting calendar, it looks like they plan out their meetings several months in advance. I assume normally this is to ensure that members can align their schedules. Does anyone know how far in advance the seemingly-weeks-delayed-meetings were scheduled? Before or after the data from trials gets officially submitted? I'm wondering if they just have recurring meetings on the topic and wait to talk at the next one, or if their standard practice is to always schedule meetings at least a few weeks out for their own convenience, or what.

This past year we removed many but hardly all of the more useless regulatory barriers to testing and approval the vaccines. Is there any reason the FDA couldn't have been auditing the data and the trial process all along (other than "they're not set up to do that or aren't allowed to")? "We need weeks to confirm the data are authentic and check your math" just isn't plausible during a pandemic when there's no scientific reason that has to wait until the very end.

Comment by AnthonyC on What's your best alternate history utopia? · 2021-02-24T15:57:01.876Z · LW · GW

Starting in the 1960s, the neoclassical economists took certain conclusions and assumptions much more seriously. 

Milton Friedman's suggestion of a negative income tax became accepted best practice and led to a small but growing UBI throughout developed world. There was much less pushback against globalization, free trade, or automation, since everyone directly benefited from rising GDP.

Paying more attention to the risks of market failures leads to requirements that all companies buy generalized externality insurance. (This was inspired by Fall of Doc Future mentioning such a thing, but the mechanism I'm proposing is my own off-the-cuff spitballing). You pay an insurance premium, and any time someone can prove that an action you take imposes costs/harms on some group of people or companies, the insurer sets up a fund to pay out claims to them, and your premiums go up. Any time you can prove you are creating a positive externality for another firm, their insurance company pays yours and your premium goes down (or you get a rebate). I suspect this would be too complicated for individuals to carry such insurance, so the government acts as the insurer who pays for positive externalities that accrue to individuals instead of companies. This makes the overall system positive sum for companies that actively and effectively strive to make others' lives better.

By 2010, globally, compared to our world, rGDP per capita was 30% higher, carbon emissions per capita were 50% lower, average hours worked per lifetime were 20% lower (some people have shorter days or four day weeks, some have longer annual vacations, some have mini-retirements between jobs, some take off for 5-10 years to raise children). 

Schools and colleges (first private, then all) are forced to pay for the secondary effects of their own practices on children's mental health, and downstream effects on crime and poverty rates, and not just in their own districts, enabling efficient distribution of funds across geographies to optimize the societal benefits of education. 

Anyone who can prove that companies' practices lead to governments competing to provide corporate welfare forces said companies to pay it all back in premiums, eliminating the practice and letting communities reinvest their tax revenue in themselves instead.

Developing countries successfully obtain compensation for exploitative actions, leading to more humane and sustainable development and further accelerating the trends towards automation, resource efficiency, and dematerialization.

Comment by AnthonyC on What's your best alternate history utopia? · 2021-02-24T15:23:18.677Z · LW · GW

A large portion of the cost to build nuclear power plants is a function of regulation driven by those accidents. Build time (driven by regulatory and political hurdles, increasing from a few years in the 1960s to well over a decade in the 70s and 80s) increases the cost of financing the project and the complexity of the project tremendously. Also, there are the second order effects here a reduction in building nuclear plants drives reduced investment in funding and scaling improved designs, fewer people becoming nuclear engineers, and so on. There are a lot of designs out there with a lot of potential to be both cheaper and safer, but no one can build them.

See https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421516300106 for an analysis of nuclear plant cost trends globally from the 1950s to the early 2000s. 

Comment by AnthonyC on I’m a 19-year-old Terminal Patient. Medical Brain Preservation Should not be Difficult to Discuss or Adopt · 2021-02-24T14:54:53.756Z · LW · GW

You're not wrong, and I agree any path forward towards greater acceptance will need to be more targeted, but I also don't think that's a particularly realistic thing to ask of a 19 year old in the US today, terminally ill or not. He probably doesn't have and never had the opportunity to have his own job/savings/life insurance, which means he can't just go sign up for cryonics unless his parents support it and can pay for it. There are, in fact, a handful of organizations (government and private) in this country that mostly decide what counts as a medical treatment that insurance should cover, and they don't count cryonics. At the very least, I don't think it's unreasonable to call those organizations collectively a community or establishment for the sake of a blog post.

What actual action would you recommend this kid take, instead? Hire lobbyists with money he doesn't have, and hope they can enact targeted campaigns to promote change that might be realized long after his expected remaining lifespan? Start a GoFundMe to help him sign up for cryonics? 

Comment by AnthonyC on The Economics of Media · 2021-02-24T14:36:14.758Z · LW · GW

Two initial thoughts. First is about the saying the when you drive, you're not stuck in traffic, you are traffic. Nowadays, for the big outlets especially, you're not reporting the news, you are the news. At least in some ways and contexts. Things become news because you report them. This is hardly a new thought, it's been on this site for over 13 years, but it helps me to connect it to something I already have a short adage for.

Second, one part of my job involves analysis of news in a specific range of technical fields. Basically, to condense the news into a less-stupid version so others can get something useful out of it, even if that's just "You can safely ignore this and anything that looks like this.". With so many places re-posting identical press releases, it can be remarkably hard to find anything I could call an original source for any announcement. It's in each outlet's interest to make you want to go back to them instead of somewhere else, I get that, but it makes it more difficult to follow a story, or connect it to any other piece of information on the same topic.

Comment by AnthonyC on Book review: The Geography of Thought · 2021-02-24T12:44:10.023Z · LW · GW

This reminds me of a colleague who was invited to sit on a panel at a conference in South Korea a few years ago. He (being American) had no idea how much of a faux pas it would be to ask an actual unscripted question. It's still hard for me to understand, but this post helped.

Comment by AnthonyC on Bitcoin and ESG Investing · 2021-02-16T16:56:47.394Z · LW · GW

There are, at present, about 300-400k bitcoin transactions daily (~1.3e8/yr), as far as I can Google. That plus the 121 TWh/yr figure (1.2e11 kWh/yr) suggests almost 1 MWh electric per transaction. Retail, that's high tens to low hundreds of dollars worth of electricity.

Comment by AnthonyC on Semaglutide is cool, but no one wants to talk about b. animalis ssp. lactis? · 2021-02-16T03:05:32.012Z · LW · GW

So... all of this has just left me wondering why it hasn't been as much of a part of the weight loss discussion?

 

I'm not sure what level of discussion I should expect to find this at? I haven't heard of this strain before myself, and it sounds like the studies are few and very recent, so any kind of larger discussion is going to emerge gradually over the next, say, 10-30 years.

 

That said, almost every discussion on weight loss I've ever come across is either a really weak study, or strong claims made with very little support or explanation or underlying model, or woo. At this point I just start from the assumption that any article on weight loss outside a journal paper (and sometimes not even then) was likely written by an author and for an audience whose knowledge is basically truncated by what was commonly believed (not by experts, by the general public) when the USDA published its Food Pyramid, plus a handful of random "facts" they've picked up over the years.

Comment by AnthonyC on [deleted post] 2021-02-14T22:03:20.321Z

There is a big difference between the title and the post text: the word "you" vs "a."

For me, personally: yes, I think it was the right choice. For a generic unspecified "rationalist" - it depends on both them and their partner. There's nothing fundamentally wrong about valuing traditions and symbols that feel meaningful to you or your partner. In my case I found ways to layer multiple sources of meaning/symbolism without spending a lot (which is good, and something we both appreciate, for its own sake and because for various reasons the ring doesn't get worn much). That said, if it ever got stolen or destroyed or something, I don't think we'd replace it.