Comment by bgaesop on Moral Weight Doesn't Accrue Linearly · 2019-04-24T22:01:30.752Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My position is "chickens have non-zero moral value, and moral value is not linearly additive." That is, any additional chicken suffering is bad, any additional chicken having a pleasant life is good, and the total moral value of all chickens as the number of chickens approaches infinity is something like 1/3rd of a human

Comment by bgaesop on Moral Weight Doesn't Accrue Linearly · 2019-04-24T22:00:03.476Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For anyone who does think that both 1) chickens have non-zero moral value, and 2) moral value is linearly additive, are you willing to bite the bullet that there exist a number of chickens such that it would be better to cause that many chickens to continue to exist at the expense of wiping out all other sentient life forever? This seems so obviously false and also so obviously the first thing to think of when considering 1 and 2 that I am confused there exist folks who accept 1 and 2

Comment by bgaesop on Moral Weight Doesn't Accrue Linearly · 2019-04-24T21:57:43.210Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Replace "you" with "the hypothetical you who is attempting to convince hypothetical me they exist", then

Comment by bgaesop on Moral Weight Doesn't Accrue Linearly · 2019-04-24T00:00:06.418Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

>What is the mugging here?

I'm not sure what the other-galaxy-elephants mugging is, but my anti-Pascal's-mugging defenses are set to defend me against muggings I do not entirely understand. In real life, I think that the mugging is "and therefore it is immoral of you to eat chickens."

>Why are they "my elephants"?

You're the one who made them up and/or is claiming they exist.

Comment by bgaesop on Moral Weight Doesn't Accrue Linearly · 2019-04-23T23:09:18.479Z · score: 2 (3 votes) · LW · GW
When people consider it worse for a species to go from 1000 to 0 members, I think it's mostly due to aesthetic value (people value the existence of a species, independent of the individuals), and because of option value

Yes, these are among the reasons why moral value is not linearly additive. I agree.

People would probably also find it tragic for plants to go extinct (and do find languages going extinct tragic), despite these having no neurons at all.

Indeed, things other than neurons have value.

I personally reject this for animals, though, for the same reasons that I reject it for humans.

Really? You consider it to be equivalently bad for there to be a plague that kills 100,000 humans in a world with a population of 100,000 than in a world with a population of 7,000,000,000?

Comment by bgaesop on Moral Weight Doesn't Accrue Linearly · 2019-04-23T23:06:19.548Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

My reply to all of those is "I do not believe you. This sounds like an attempt at something akin to Pascal's Mugging. I do not take your imaginary elephants into consideration for the same reason I do not apply moral weight to large numbers of fictional elephants in a novel."

Moral Weight Doesn't Accrue Linearly

2019-04-23T22:14:37.880Z · score: 13 (6 votes)
Comment by bgaesop on 2013 Less Wrong Census/Survey · 2013-11-22T09:31:29.392Z · score: 23 (23 votes) · LW · GW

Several of these questions are poorly phrased. For instance, the supernatural and god questions, as phrased, imply that the god chance should be less than the chance of supernatural anything existing. However, I think (and would like to be able to express) that there is a very small (0), chance of ghosts or wizards, but only a small (1) chance of there being some sort of intelligent being which created the universe-for instance, the simulation hypothesis, which I would consider a subset of the god hypothesis.

Comment by bgaesop on Course recommendations for Friendliness researchers · 2013-01-09T15:57:38.021Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting list. Minor typo: "This is where you get to study computing at it's most theoretical," the "it's" should read "its".

Comment by bgaesop on Meetup : Melbourne social meetup · 2012-11-10T00:36:10.345Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I have started a boardgame company whose first game is up on kickstarter at the moment. I'm going to bring the no-art, largely hand written copy that was made for playtesting.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/sixpencegames/the-6p-card-game-of-victorian-combat

Comment by bgaesop on Why We Can't Take Expected Value Estimates Literally (Even When They're Unbiased) · 2011-08-22T08:16:12.613Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Working with an unnamed group of x-risk-cognizant people that LW hasn't heard of, in a way unrelated to their setting up a non-profit.

Could you tell us about them?

Comment by bgaesop on The "Intuitions" Behind "Utilitarianism" · 2011-08-22T07:32:51.603Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

if the disutility of an air molecule slamming into your eye were 1 over Graham's number, enough air pressure to kill you would have negligible disutility.

Yes, this seems like a good argument that we can't add up disutility for things like "being bumped into by particle type X" linearly. In fact, it seems like having 1, or even (whatever large number I breathe in a day) molecules of air bumping into me is a good thing, and so we can't just talk about things like "the disutility of being bumped into by kinds of particles".

If your utility function ceases to correspond to utility at extreme values, isn't it more of an approximation of utility than actual utility?

Yeah, of course. Why, do you know of some way to accurately access someone's actually-existing Utility Function in a way that doesn't just produce an approximation of an idealization of how ape brains work? Because me, I'm sitting over here using an ape brain to model itself, and this particular ape doesn't even really expect to leave this planet or encounter or affect more than a few billion people, much less 3^^^3. So it's totally fine using something accurate to a few significant figures, trying to minimize errors that would have noticeable effects on these scales.

Sure, you don't need a model that works at the extremes - but when a model does hold for extreme values, that's generally a good sign for the accuracy of the model.

Yes, I agree. Given that your model is failing at these extreme values and telling you to torture people instead of blink, I think that's a bad sign for your model.

doesn't that assign higher impact to five seconds of pain for a twenty-year old who will die at 40 than to a twenty-year old who will die at 120? Does that make sense?

Yeah, absolutely, I definitely agree with that.

Comment by bgaesop on The 5-Second Level · 2011-08-09T22:25:22.674Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's true. But that's a reason to not investigate and not read this thread and not think about the subject at all, not a reason to reply in this thread that the idea is unlikely, much less to declare it unlikely.

If your reaction to reading about the truther idea is "the value of knowing the facts about this issue, whatever they are, is rather low, and it would be time consuming to learn them, so I don't care" that is A-OK. If your reaction is "the value of knowing the facts about this issue, whatever they are, is rather low, and it would be time consuming to learn them, therefore I am not going to update whatsoever on this issue and will ignore the evidence I know is available and yet still have a strong, high-confidence belief on it" then that seems kind of silly to me.

Does that make sense? Do you agree, or not? This is not an issue I feel very strongly about, but value of information is something I've been thinking about more recently and so I think that hearing others' opinions on it would be useful. At the very least, worth the time to read them :) Amusing link, by the way.

Comment by bgaesop on The 5-Second Level · 2011-07-28T17:30:41.122Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The explosives theory involves a conspiracy

So does the traditional explanation.

The explosives theory can be and is used to score political points

So is the traditional explanation. War in Iraq, anyone?

Explosive-theory advocates seem to prefer videos to text, which raises the time cost I have to pay to investigate it

This is a very silly reason to reject an idea.

Comment by bgaesop on Optimal Philanthropy for Human Beings · 2011-07-26T08:00:04.380Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't downvote you,

Thanks! I upvoted you.

but what you're saying is essentially "if you accept our tribe is the most awesome and smartest, then it makes sense to donate to our tribal charity". Which is something every single group would say, in slight variation.

Well yeah; that's why you should examine the evidence and not just do what everyone else does. So let's look at the beliefs of all the Singularitarians on LW as evidence. What would we expect to see if LW is just an arbitrary tribe that picked a random cause to glom around? I suspect we would see that not many people in the world, and particularly not high-status people and organizations, would pay attention to the Singularity. I predict that everyone on LW would donate money to SIAI and shun people who don't donate or belittle SIAI.

Now what would we see if LW is in fact a group of high-quality rationalists and the world, in general, is too blinded by various biases to think rationally about low-probability, high-impact events? Well, most people, including high-status people (but perhaps not some academics) wouldn't talk about it. People on LW would donate money to SIAI because they did the calculation and decided it was the highest expected value. And they would probably shun the people who disagree, because they're still humans.

Those two situations look awfully similar to me. My point is, I certainly don't think that you can use LW's enthusiasm about SIAI compared to the general public as a strike against LW or SIAI.

Here's results chart for various asteroid tracking efforts. Catalina Sky Survey seems to be doing most of the work these days, and you can probably donate to University of Arizona and have that money go to CSS somehow. I'm not really following this too closely, I'm mostly glad that some people are doing something here.

I'm not finding anything there indicating that they're hurting for funding, but perhaps I'm missing it.

Comment by bgaesop on Optimal Philanthropy for Human Beings · 2011-07-26T00:59:00.611Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So it's just an awfully convenient coincidence that the charity to donate to best display trial affiliations to lesswrong crowd, and the charity to donate to best save the world just happens to be the same one? What a one in a billion chance!

No, that's not it at all. If, as people here like to believe (and may or may not be true), the LWers are very rational and good at picking things that have very high expected value as things to start or donate to, then it makes sense that one of them (Eliezer) would create an organization that would have a very high expected value to have exist (SIAI) and the rest of the people here would donate to it. If that is the case, that SIAI is the best charity to donate to in terms of expected value (which it may or may not be), then it would also be the best charity to best donate to in order to display tribal affiliations (which it definitely is). So if you accept that people on LW are more rational than average, then them donating so much to SIAI should be taken as weak evidence that SIAI is a really good charity to donate to.

you can make some real difference by supporting asteroid tracking programs.

I was under the impression that those already had sufficient resources? Could you link to some more information on this subject, please? I agree that asteroids are a more obviously important issue than the Singularity.

Comment by bgaesop on Teachable Rationality Skills · 2011-05-30T05:44:15.680Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Exercise: Improvisatory dance. In my opinion, improvising is more useful than specific styles of dance (salsa, swing, waltz). Most people do not dance specific dances in common social interactions unless the social event is based around that dance. If you are at a club, you can pop and lock, b-boy, robot, liquid&digits, krump, while everyone around you does something else. Also, it's easier and more obvious to be better at improvisatory dance than the people around you.

I have found that attempting to teach others to dance in literal language doesn't work as well as using metaphorical, poetic, woo-filled language. That said, as a specific exercise: feel the energy in your torso and each of your limbs. Feel your connection to the earth beneath you-actually feel the sensation of your feet touching the ground-what parts are touching? The heel, balls, toes, pay attention to it specifically. Direct your focus and weight either towards or away from the parts of your body you find yourself noticing. Feel the energy in your limbs again, and let some of it out, to float in front of you: snap it out, or gently wave it, or pull or push or whatever your body intuits. Then move the now-floating ball of energy around, and let it move you around.

This is much easier to explain in person when you can see me doing it. I was originally inspired to dance by this TED talk by the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, which is also where I got some of what I wrote above (the rest I got from my own experience and from the improvisation and choreography class I just took). If you enjoy this kind of dance, you will love the LXD web show

Comment by bgaesop on Teachable Rationality Skills · 2011-05-30T05:12:48.836Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Suggested exercise: guess what time it is, then check a clock. Guess how long it's been since you last checked the clock, ie not only "it is 4:30" but also "it is 35 minutes since I last checked the time (at 3:55)"

Comment by bgaesop on Suffering as attention-allocational conflict · 2011-05-22T10:20:56.201Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And here I thought using this as a pain management technique only worked because I'm masochistic! It actually is genuinely fascinating to learn this is common to people who don't share that trait. Though, actually, come to think of it, you never explicitly said whether you do or not. If it's not prying, are you?

Comment by bgaesop on So You've Changed Your Mind · 2011-04-30T19:15:48.738Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I noted with satisfaction that I believe that following my "sacred beliefs" is in contradiction with following "animal urges" like enjoying myself or morality

Could you expound upon this?

Comment by bgaesop on Epistle to the New York Less Wrongians · 2011-04-23T18:47:30.751Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not saying everyone wins equally, just that everybody wins.

I really hope that this is the case, but I don't think that it is. I think that the difference between the hypothetical socialist and libertarian are more dramatic than the difference between a Big-Ender and a Little-Ender. Consider this situation:

All of humanity consists of 100 people, starting at utility 10, and a random one of them is given this choice: either keep things the way they are (everyone has 10 utilons, total of 1000) or one person, at random, is given 990 utilons while everyone else loses 9, so one person will have 1000, and everyone else will have 1, for a total of 1099~11 per person. The expected utility of the latter option is higher than the first so every rational being must pick the latter, right? Though I've learned a lot since that conversation and I no longer would make the same points, I still think that an equitable distribution of utility is better than an unequal one. Many people genuinely think it is a wonderful thing to make it so that the world is highly stratified, that there are a whole lot of people who lose in order to have a few people who really, really win. There are also a whole lot of people who genuinely think it is worth sacrificing some amount of "progress" (by which I mean technological innovation, cheapness of consumer goods, whatever) in order to have people's lives be more equitable. I lie closer to the second camp, but I haven't pounded my tentstakes into the ground, and even if I have, I certainly haven't laid a brick-and-mortar foundation, so I can uproot fairly quickly. I understand the logic that comes to the former conclusion; I think it just starts from different premises than the people who come to the latter (though of course there are crazies who come to both but that goes without saying). It does seem to me, however, that the two actually are fundamentally irreconcilable in very important ways. I hope I'm wrong about that, but it really seems like I'm not...

edit: Certainly arguments like "ought gay people/mixed race couples be allowed to get married" seem more like arguments about egg-peeling, and so your strategy hopefully would work there

Comment by bgaesop on Epistle to the New York Less Wrongians · 2011-04-23T11:39:31.775Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I agree it's annoying and probably a problem, but I think there's still less groupthink than on most forums I've seen. I do agree that it can definitely be frustrating; I have a post I want to write up on the value of starting things sooner rather than later, and I was all set to start typing it up back when I had 19 karma (you need 20 to make a full post), but then I started posting in this thread, and my karma score drifted back down to a single digit. It's doubly frustrating because I can't tell if people legitimately think my posts there are without merit or if they're just using it as an agree/disagree button. If they do think my posts are terrible no one has said as such.

Comment by bgaesop on Are Your Enemies Innately Evil? · 2011-04-23T10:00:08.503Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I just remembered the obvious point that I had been forgettig this whole time. Your position seems to me to be basically the position the article we're both commenting on is directly arguing is a silly, untenable one to take.

Comment by bgaesop on Are Your Enemies Innately Evil? · 2011-04-23T09:21:21.946Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

There is a problem with arguments of the form, "The leader of that group clearly doesn't 'really' believe his own rhetoric he's just saying that because it resonates with his followers." This implies that their followers actually believe that stuff, otherwise there would be no point in the leaders' saying it. But you've just admitted that there exist people who really believe that stuff, why is it so absurd for the leader to be one of those people?

My mistake, wedrifid is correct, I turned my thought into a sentence poorly.

You're still self-anchoring. You observe that they want to kill people, so you try to imagine under what conditions you would be willing to kill people.

I admit to not having considered this bias on this subject. That said, I don't think that this bias is affecting me very significantly here, and I think that because of the direction I approached my current position from: I arrived at it after moving from somewhere near where you are currently. I will consider the possibility that my position is affected by this bias, however. The manner in which I am doing so right now is to reread the wikipedia page that I just linked and follow several of the citations. It seems that the consensus is that perceived western aggression against Muslims and Islam is one of the prime motivators--which would then include what I said, and also perceived aggression against Islam specifically. So a mixture of what we've both been saying.

Well, near as I can tell, your model boils down to "they secretly have to same world-view as I do, and the difference in their rhetoric is because it resonates with their audience".

I don't think that they are attempting to inspire a proletarian revolt across nations. I don't think that they are attempting to engage in a class struggle pitting the poor against the rich. I do think that they perceive themselves and their fellow Muslims as being the victims of exploitation by Westerners, and I think that they perceive a number of dimensions to that exploitation: military, economic, and cultural; perhaps more. Military is fairly obvious. Economic is what I was talking about, I mentioned it specifically because we were discussing the attacks on the World Trade Center. Cultural is what you are talking about. I believe that while it is an important portion of their motivation, it is not the primary piece. Unfortunately their rhetoric focuses on that issue largely (though by no means entirely) which gives an inflated view of its importance.

They observe that the Islamic world isn't as powerful as it was in its glory days. Furthermore, the West and the United States in particular is influencing their culture in ways they don't like. Solving this problem requires a model of how the world works. Well, the model they turn to is one based on Islam.

It might be that we are saying similar things with rather different vocabularies. When you say that the Islamic world isn't as powerful as it was in its glory days, does that include what I talk about when I say they're being economically exploited? For instance, instead of a wealthy semi-equitable (or perhaps merely remembered as such) Caliphate, they are frequently poor or highly segmented populations dependent on natural resource exportation? Where does reaction to the West's military operations fit into your model? That certainly seems to be one of the motivating forces most commonly cited by terrorists themselves.


Out of curiosity, have you been downvoting me? I've been upvoting you. I ask because I notice that every time I post in this thread my karma goes down, and though I do realize it's a silly thing to care about, for some reason I do. Something about human brains enjoying watching numbers go up, I suppose. It's particularly frustrating because I am enjoying the discussion, but seeing that number going down makes me feel like my participation is unwanted (which I am assuming is not the case, but who knows, maybe it is).

Comment by bgaesop on Are Your Enemies Innately Evil? · 2011-04-23T08:38:44.158Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, definitely. I meant it that way, but what I actually wrote down is different, I'll correct it. Thanks for saying this.

Comment by bgaesop on Epistle to the New York Less Wrongians · 2011-04-23T06:56:41.165Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I've been having some sort of half-formed thoughts recently that this has brought back into my foreground that I'm curious to see other people's thoughts on.

It seems to me that the likelihood is quite high that there are people on here who have inherently competing utility functions (these examples were chosen merely because they are fairly common, directly competing, not obviously insane sets of motivations. I intend no value judgment on either of them). Thus, making one of the people whose utility function is dramatically different from yours more rational could be an extremely counterproductive move for you to make in terms of satisfying your own utility function. Imagine a libertarian rationalist accidentally training a socialist guerilla, who goes on to be very successful at fulfilling his own utility function, and thus dramatically harmful to his teacher's. Or perhaps more realistically, a socialist teacher trains a libertarian who goes on to found a company that does business in the Third World in a way that the teacher disapproves of.

How would we avoid this? Should we avoid this?

A few months I ago I was roundly, and rightly, rebuked for suggesting that rationality will lead you to certain political positions. On the other hand, people have also presented the idea that being rational will lead you to value various "instrumental ethics" I believe was the term? I can't find the article right now, unfortunately. Do you (this is directed at everyone) believe that simply by making people more rational, we'll make them more likely to do things we approve of, in the sense that they further our utility functions?

Comment by bgaesop on Are Your Enemies Innately Evil? · 2011-04-23T06:25:32.073Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

No, not the only one, but if one were to ask them why they picked the targets they did, they'd describe it religious terms (talking about infidels, jihad and the great Satan) not in Marxist terms (i.e., economic oppression).

Just as an aside, "economic oppression" isn't a uniquely Marxist term, nor am I even aware of a specific Marxist definition of it. Are you thinking of "economic exploitation", perhaps? The latter means the difference between the amount of wealth generated by labour and the amount that labourer is paid.

I am pretty darn thoroughly convinced (though of course I am open to changing my mind) that the idea "religion made them do it!" is overly simplistic. I used to hold the position you do, but over the course of several years of examining the issue, I have come to the conclusion that the use of religious terminology and phrasing and all the general trappings of Islam are, while perhaps truly believed, are for the most part merely a rhetorical device constructed to take maximum advantage of the society they are recruiting, living, and (typically) acting in. I'm hesitant to say this next sentence, politics being the mind killer and all that, but I shall anyways (I have noticed I am in a hole. Hypothesis: if I dig long enough I'll get to China!). Osama bin Laden talks about "defeating the Great Satan for the glory of Allah and Mohammed (pbuh)" for the same reason George Walker Bush talked about "spreading Freedom and Democracy": because it resonates with his intended audience, convinces them that he has similar thought-processes to them and is representative of their interests, or at the very least their team, not because he (edit: necessarily) believed that that was what he was doing.

In fact judging by the fact that most of the hijackers were from wealthy families, I'd guess they didn't really care about the economic dimension except as part of a general attitude that our decadence is sinful and is spreading to the middle east.

Most people who have had impact in the world have come from wealthy (or at least not working-class-poor) families, including probably every Socialist Revolutionary you've heard of (Marx, Engels, Lenin, Che, et cetera), not to mention almost every politico in general. If anything, being middle class (inasmuch as that term makes sense) makes you more likely to simultaneously see the degradation of the poor and have the education to see what (at least seem to you) like plausible explanations for it. And then if you're an engineer or what have you, you have access to abilities that can actually do something about this (build bombs, fly planes, whatever), or the funds to support yourself while you learn them, or whatever. The point is, being middle class is not likely to make you less politically aware and active than being poor, and it is likely to increase your free time and ability to do things politically, including but not limited to committing acts of terrorism.

I stand by my advice as good advice. If you want to successfully model others' behavior, you shouldn't assume they see the world the same way you do.

When phrased this way it seems much more like actual advice and much less like an insult. I'm not sure how much of this is my inference and how much is your implications, but it's kind of moot. No hard feelings are taken, hopefully none were intended. Friends? I certainly agree that I should not model their minds as being identical to mine, but given that I don't want to kill people, I'm already doing that at least to some degree.

That said, I think that you are being overly simplistic in your model of these people. Again I link to this page. Could you please explain, or link me to someone else who has, what makes you think that your model of their minds and motivations is more accurate than mine?

Comment by bgaesop on Offense versus harm minimization · 2011-04-23T05:55:06.863Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

"Our word" is the map, not the territory.

In the realm of social interaction, the territory you're navigating is made up of other people's maps.

However, that also includes members of said minorities who belive that from their merely being members of such groups they have rights or sensibilities others don't. They don't.

I'm not sure what you mean here. They do have extra sensibilities, in the sense that they're sensitive to things others aren't: you aren't hurt (or at least, not in the same way) by the words "nigger" or "queer", whereas they are. They do have extra rights, in the sense that, if they clearly present as queer, they can be more confident about being transparent in their motivations and intentions for using the word, and so can expect to be able to use it in more social situations without repercussions.

So to me the issue is transparency. If I as a straight white male somehow could achieve the same level of transparency regarding my goals and intentions, I should be able to use such words just like black gays. My scheme allows for that; yours doesn't.

I mostly agree with this. I see two problems with it. The first is that there are people who have had extremely negative experiences with the word in the past and thus hearing it from anyone, regardless of the intentions of the person saying it, would hurt them. But that's mostly been addressed by your point about transparency, and the rest is addressed by:

ETA: would you yourself "use ["queer"] with carte blanche in all social situations"?

No, I would not, excellent point. My second issue is, if you don't have any sort of nefarious intentions, what is motivating you to use the word, instead of another one? Are you in a rap battle for the fate of the universe and you absolutely must complete the rhyme "drank a beer, jigger of rum//man that queer nigger was dumb"?

*: At least in the way of the original haters

Keen observation.

Upon reading all of this conversation and thinking about this for several days, I have amended my policy to be more or less the same as yours. I now do not have a problem with people using those words if I, and everyone else present, has a very clear idea of what the person's intentions are. Upon reflection I believe that this is the policy I was actually basing my reactions on, yet it was not the one I was vocalizing. I am now curious as to why I was vocalizing the policy I was. Perhaps to increase my status among the minority I'm a part of? Hmm. I'll be thinking about this for a while.

....aaaand someone just walked by my room yelling "you're a nigger! A double nigger!"

Comment by bgaesop on Epistle to the New York Less Wrongians · 2011-04-23T05:33:26.746Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Unfortunately, much like on Reddit, I think that a lot of people (myself included, though I am working to correct this) treat the up/down buttons as though they were agree/disagree buttons

Comment by bgaesop on Epistle to the New York Less Wrongians · 2011-04-23T02:45:29.998Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I will parenthetically emphasize that every single useful mental technique I have ever developed over the course of my entire life has been developed in the course of trying to accomplish some particular real task and none of it is the result of me sitting around and thinking, "Hm, however shall I Improve Myself today?" I should advise a mindset in which making tremendous progress on fixing yourself doesn't merit much congratulation and only particular deeds actually accomplished are praised; and also that you always have some thing you're trying to do in the course of any particular project of self-improvement - a target real-world accomplishment to which your self-improvements are a means, not definable in terms of any personality quality unless it is weight loss or words output on a writing project or something else visible and measurable.

This section is a little confusing to me, so I'm going to lay out my thoughts on the subject in order to help myself organise them and to see what other people think.

I do attempt to improve myself by thinking "what shall I do to Improve Myself today?" Or rather, I spent several days coming up with plans as to how to improve myself, and now every day I ask myself "what's on the plan for how to Improve Myself today?" I'm also constantly revising the plan as I gain new information or think of new things. I'll give two examples. I'm revising the plan right now so that the next time I have a full day of free time, I shall spend it learning to solve a Rubik's Cube, because my brain considers "able-to-solve-Rubik's-Cubes" as high-status, and so I suspect that doing so shall be helpful in building my own success spiral. I thought this because I noticed that I was beginning a depressive death spiral. Due to my failure to get into graduate schools with funding, if you're curious (another part of the plan: admit embarrassing facts like that in order to eat away at the shame, so that my anger about them becomes cold, not hot, so that I can use it. [a third part of the plan: read Ender's Game. I have started, and 10 year old me is screaming across the decades "HOW DID WE NOT READ THIS WHEN WE WERE ME"]). Heh, got kind of sidetracked there, let me get back on topic.

I have done at least one thing that I can think of that I actually did do by, on the day I did it, thinking "how shall I improve myself today?" It was to start exercising. If you'll indulge me, I'd like to share the specific bits of rational thinking I did. "Hey bgaesop, what we did the last time we wanted to exercise, and therefore the first thing you thought of when you thought 'how should I work out?' didn't seem to work so well. Furthermore, we've encountered credible evidence since then that that is a dumb way to work out. You have access to people who know how to exercise better than you do, through your fraternity. You should go ask them how to do so. We also know that we have a tendency to procrastinate and never start things that we can start at any time. Therefore, you should go ask your friends right now." As a result, I am now on a regular exercise schedule, doing free weights when I have access to a spotter, machines when I don't. I think that the key aspect of getting this to work was twofold: admitting that someone else knows more than me on the subject and I should ask them for help, which is an ability that does not come naturally to me and that I have been working on for quite a while, and second, going out and Getting Crap Done the moment I thought of it.

I think that, for me at least, putting a plan into motion as soon as you think of it, instead of procrastinating, is extremely helpful in terms of actually Getting Crap Done. Especially plans that have high initial willpower and shame etc costs compared to the costs of maintaining them. For example, it was much more embarrassing to go to the gym the first time, when I considered myself a scrawny nerd weakling walking into the jock's den, not having any idea what to do. After the first time going with my friends I was unafraid to go alone. Now that I've gone enough that I can actually see results on my body (which took astoundingly little time, seriously, like two weeks) I look forward to going. In fact, I'm going to go as soon as I post this comment. I've been putting it off all day, so this is an effective way of forcing myself to do that. You'll know I was lying if I comment on anything in the next 45 minutes or so :)

This combines well with the whole idea of having rationality be demonstrably awesome, because my body now looks better than it ever has in the past, including when I was expending more effort and time on a less intelligently put together workout program. By taking the extremely simple steps of "look at what people who know about this subject have to say, okay now find one of them to help you, okay now actually do what they said" worked wonders over my old method of "google until you find something fun and easy sounding that promises to work well." Upon writing this out, however, I am noticing how much what I did resembles simply appealing to authority instead of trying to figure out the answer myself. I could have sworn there was a specific post about learning from other people as opposed to discovering things yourself, but I can't find it at the moment--does anyone know what I'm thinking of? Regardless, since I certainly don't know and can't do everything, and I know that my inability to admit that (mainly to myself) has been one of my biggest impediments in life, I hope that everyone would agree that there's no harm in trying to learn from others.

Comment by bgaesop on Are Your Enemies Innately Evil? · 2011-04-18T01:15:06.067Z · score: 9 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I'd think the hijackers would refer to them as infidels.

Do you really, truly think that the only motivations in choosing to do an attack against America (heck, picking America as the target in the first place) and picking the WTC and Pentagon as the targets of that attack, was because the attackers were Muslim while the ones being attacked were not? If so, why have they not done similarly to all non-Muslim nations? Why not attack symbols or places of power of religion, rather than economics and the military?

Certainly religion is used as a framing device and recruitment tool; it's a powerful ingroup identifier. Especially when you have people doing the same on the opposite side of your fight.

Piece of advice: just because you see the world in purely Marxist terms, doesn't mean everyone else does.

That's not so much a piece of advice as a snipe at what you perceive to be the dialectic I'm using to interpret this. It seems to me that you didn't say that to enlighten me, but to reduce my status in the eyes of what you (and I) assume is a mostly capitalist readership.

Comment by bgaesop on Offense versus harm minimization · 2011-04-18T00:17:27.423Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My impression was that (around New England at least!) "queer" has been pretty thoroughly stripped of negative connotations. I'm sure things are different elsewhere.

Having never lived in New England I cannot comment from personal experience, and furthermore if I do live there in the future I'll be bringing my own emotional baggage with me, so I won't be able to judge even then. That said, I am very incredulous of this.

May I take a guess as to the social groups I suspect you've encountered this in? I guess that they are primarily white, male, or perhaps a good mixture of genders (but not overwhelmingly female), several of whom are not-straight, almost all of them are relatively highly educated, very lightly religious if at all, and most were not raised in industrial working class households. Is this accurate? What do you think the differences would be if you were, for example, among a group of poorly-educated factory workers who are devoutly Catholic?

But I really think that there's a huge difference between white supporters of racial equality and non-queer "allies" WRT their relationships with the respective groups in question.

I would be very curious for you to expound upon this.

Comment by bgaesop on Are Your Enemies Innately Evil? · 2011-04-18T00:12:25.712Z · score: 11 (17 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry for responding so late, but do you really think that this thought:

"My people are being oppressed, primarily economically. I can see that it is mostly Americans doing this. Peaceful protest tends to get me shot at. Clearly these Americans consider their profits more important than my and my people's lives; their actions are causing our suffering and deaths, they are aware of this, yet they continue to do so. Therefore, they are deliberately killing and ravaging my people, and so it is justified for me to kill them. Also, doing so may cause them to strike out in more obvious, militaristic ways, which will weaken their economy (punishing them) and make it more obvious to my fellows that, indeed, America is an extremely evil nation that must be opposed. Better to force them out in the open than let them continue oppressing us by subterfuge. Doing this will be very difficult, and will likely cost me my life, but the organization I just joined has offered to pay a good deal of money to my surviving family when/if I do die, and given that right now they're struggling to buy food because of those fucking Americans and their economic jackassery. Therefore, it is justified and indeed Justice for me to blow up their center of commerce, even at great personal sacrifice."

Is of equivalent sanity to this thought:

"I'm the reincarnation of Napoleon! Hibberty flibberty jibbit!"

Comment by bgaesop on Offense versus harm minimization · 2011-04-17T23:59:54.094Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Goshdarnit, I had you upvoted until you pulled the "our word" thing. That really irks me

Haha, the ironing is delicious. I was throwing that in there not because I typically find it offensive, but to draw attention to yet another detail that was perhaps overlooked. Not that Yvain did so, but since the topic is things that offend people, I thought it worth bringing up.

Hey, I'm bisexual. Suppose I declare that it's okay with me if Yvain uses the word "queer" to describe people who identify as queer. Then is it okay? I mean, it's my word, right? Can't I share it?

Do you have black friends who have decided that you can say "nigger"? It's the same issue, more or less.

My actual opinion on the subject varies greatly depending on the context. Is it a bunch of non-hetero people talking? Then sure, fire away. Is it a heterosexual that I know personally to be supportive of lgbtqetc rights, has positive opinions of other sexual orientations, et cetera, and the group they're with takes no offense at their use of it? Then sure, absolutely.

But what if it's a heterosexual that I don't know? Well, then it makes me a bit squicky. What if it's you and Yvain talking, and you've previously (before I arrived) said that it's okay for Yvain to say it? I show up, I don't know you're bisexual, Yvain does something that indicates he(?) is heterosexual, and then uses the word queer. I would be weirded out, feel significantly less comfortable, and depending on my prior mood, either push the issue or try to leave.

What if it's just some straight guys talking? Then it has exactly the same problems as a bunch of white people using the word "nigger" amongst themselves. Even more, because there are people who appear to outsiders' glances to be straight, but really aren't, whereas there are very few people who appear to be white but are actually black.

I think it is a very good general rule that if you are not part of a minority, you should not use words that have been specifically socioengineered to cause offense to that minority. White people shouldn't, in general, say "nigger" or "darkie", with rather few exceptions. Similarly, straight people shouldn't, in general, say "queer" or "faggot" or "dyke", with rather few exceptions.

So to actually answer your question, I would say that that makes it perfectly okay for Yvain to use in conversations between the two of you or between him and other people who have expressed the same sentiment as you. That does not make it okay for Yvain to then use that with carte blanche in all social situations.

Sorry for using you as the example, Yvain, when you haven't actually done any of the things we're discussing.

edit: I am quite curious about the downvotes I'm receiving. Could the people who are downvoting me please respond and say why, as Alicorn did? Probably not, since me editing this won't send you a notification, but I thought I'd ask. I would also be extremely curious to know the sexualities of the people who are upvoting Alicorn but not me, vice versa, both, or neither. As a separate question, does anyone know of a way, perhaps similar to Reddit Enhancement Suite, to see the number of upvotes and the number of downvotes, rather than just their sum?

Comment by bgaesop on Offense versus harm minimization · 2011-04-17T23:43:17.367Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

insofar as they want to be nice to me, gay people should avoid PDAs around me when it's not too inconvenient for them

It seems to me that encouraging this sort of behavior has many, much larger consequences that you either aren't thinking of or are deliberately omitting. Consider, for example, the closeted classmate of the gay couple, who knows that they are gay and takes a bit of strength from seeing them express their love publicly--it gives him hope that one day he can do the same. Upon the gay couple taking your advice, however, he sees that even people who proclaim themselves his ally (you) don't actually want him to be affectionate with people of his sex (this is by far the most common interpretation of your request, in my ample experience. Recall that in this framework your intention doesn't matter, merely its effects). On the contrary, he sees you and people like you punishing gay behavior and not doing the same to equivalent straight behavior (note that you don't request straights not to have PDAs, you merely think it OK for others to do so, and in an environment where gay PDAs have already been shot down as inappropriate, this is an extremely risky request for the closeted fellow to make). Thus, this heavily encourages people to remain closeted, which is a very harmful condition. So much moreso than being offended that I venture to say that I cannot think of an offense I would not inflict if it meant that a frightened, closeted queer* could come out without negative consequences.

Edit: I am leaving the following sentence here because it has provoked an interesting discussion, but please think of it as a separate post from the preceding one, as it seems to sharply change people's opinion of the rest of the post:

*similarly to nigger, this is our word, not yours, and so my use of it is not offensive, but if you were to use it in a way other than by quoting me, it would be

Comment by bgaesop on Offense versus harm minimization · 2011-04-17T23:07:37.001Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So I can raise the status of my group by becoming a frequent complainer and encouraging my fellows to do likewise?

Sure. See, for example, the rise in prominence of the Gnu Atheists (of which I am one).

Comment by bgaesop on Ability to react · 2011-04-09T23:21:29.256Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Shazbot. Some experimentation is called for. I recently did something similar but not quite as impressive on a freshly waxed(?) floor, and it worked fairly well with no noise.

Comment by bgaesop on Ability to react · 2011-04-07T20:39:45.223Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Certainly. What is it? Also, more importantly, what is the optimal amount of moisture that produces minimum squeaking?

Comment by bgaesop on Ability to react · 2011-04-05T22:33:34.686Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Are you saying more moisture causes sound, or less?

Comment by bgaesop on Are Your Enemies Innately Evil? · 2011-04-05T21:59:28.369Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Some Dude, since when is war profitable?

Since there existed private military contractors, or before that, since there existed spoils of war?

Comment by bgaesop on Are Your Enemies Innately Evil? · 2011-04-05T21:53:01.766Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

One difference stands out: the 9/11 attacks included attacks on two large buildings packed with thousands of innocent civilians, with no obvious connection to any military installation

The 9/11 hijackers would no doubt not refer to the inhabitants of the World Trade Center as innocent civilians, but as economic oppressors. There is a reason they targeted both the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, after all.

Comment by bgaesop on Ability to react · 2011-02-24T20:39:20.835Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm doing both. I was in a performance last week, my part was an improv. It was me, two other dancers, and three musicians: a guy on sax, a guy on xylophone, and a gal on the piano. All six of us were improvising, taking turns leading, following, &c. It was pretty cool.

Comment by bgaesop on Ability to react · 2011-02-20T22:01:03.929Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think this is that odd. I'm similar; I have only just started getting formal dance training this semester, but my body intuits cool looking ways to move, that I then have difficulty remembering perfectly. I'm very much in the same boat as johnwentsworth, but because of my inability to remember prechoreographed moves, I only do improvisational dancing.

For example, one time I was dancing in heavy boots on a linoleum floor and I did a slide, moving several feet along the floor without picking up my boots (and also without making that annoying squicky sound). The guy next to me said "whoah that was really cool, do that again" and much to my chagrin I couldn't, and haven't been able to since.

Comment by bgaesop on Ability to react · 2011-02-20T21:55:02.938Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Have you considered taking improvisational dance classes? They teach a variety of exercises (not in the strength-training sense, in the gaining skills sense), improv prompts, and things like that that help you to feel intuitively what to do next. I'm guessing it won't help you do salsa, but it will help you go to a club and impress folks--and just enjoy dancing more.

Comment by bgaesop on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-09T03:25:42.089Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I have pretty high confidence this is not true. I have tried using each for the other and neither works as well

Comment by bgaesop on The Best Textbooks on Every Subject · 2011-01-19T08:31:22.239Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I would like to request a book on Game Theory. I went to my school's library and grabbed every book I could find, and so I have Introduction to Game Theory by Peter Morris, Game Theory 2nd Edition by Guillermo Owen, Game Theory and Strategy by Philip Straffin, Game Theory and Politics by Steven Brams, Handbook of Game Theory with Economic Applications edited by Aumann and Hart, Game Theory and Economic Modeling by David Kreps, and Gaming the Vote by William Poundstone because I also like voting theory.

My brief glances make Game Theory and Strategy look like a fun, low level read that I'll probably start with to whet my appetite for the subject. Introduction to Game Theory looks like a good, well written intro textbook, but it was written in 1940 and was only updated once in 1994, and I would hope something new would have happened in that time. Game Theory 2nd Edition looks like a good, moderately modern (1982) and incredibly boring book. The others look worse.

I'll read at least portions of all of them and at least two or three completely unless somebody suggests anything. If no one does before I read them I'll post an update.

Comment by bgaesop on The Best Textbooks on Every Subject · 2011-01-17T23:25:45.518Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I have put it on hold at my school's library. Thanks! I'll try to post a review once I read it, if I can find an appropriate space and time.

Comment by bgaesop on Circular Altruism · 2011-01-17T22:41:59.742Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the explanation of risk averseness.

Posting in that thread where people are providing textbook recommendations with a request for that specific recommendation might make sense. I know of nowhere else to check.

I just checked the front page after posting that reply and did just that

Comment by bgaesop on The Best Textbooks on Every Subject · 2011-01-17T20:10:21.580Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I would like to request a recommendation for a text that introduces one to Utilitarianism.

Comment by bgaesop on Circular Altruism · 2011-01-17T19:52:02.120Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You are denying people the ability to calculate expected utility, which VNM says they must use in making decisions!

Could you go more into what exactly risk-averse means? I am under the impression it means that they are unwilling to take certain bets, even though the bet increases their expected utility, if the odds are low enough that they will not gain the expected utility, which is more or less what I was trying to say there. Again, the reason I would not play even a fair lottery.

Ask someone else.

Okay. I'll try to respond to certain posts on the subject and see what people recommend. Is there a place here to just ask for recommended reading on various subjects? It seems like it would probably be wasteful and ineffective to make a new post asking for that advice.

Comment by bgaesop on Rational Repentance · 2011-01-17T19:46:11.952Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Good point. One interesting thing you can do is advocate for or attempt to participate in a revolution: the odds may be very low of succeeding, but the payoff of successfully succeeding could be almost arbitrarily large, and so the expected utility of doing so could be tremendous.