Comment by brian_macker on Cynicism in Ev-Psych (and Econ?) · 2009-02-13T03:00:54.000Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW


"Seemingly irrational action is rational, that is, has an aim. To appraise it as irrational, the appraiser merely imposes some other external source of value."-Michael Rozeff

If and individual spends their life hunting for Bigfoot they are acting rationally as far as economics goes. The are taking action with a goal in mind.

Economics can't and shouldn't make value judgments about goal directed actions.

Economics (even particular schools of economic) have specialized terms that do NOT mean the same thing as common usage.

There's nothing charming about quarks and yet the term "charm" is used in physics.

" We want the simplest explanation that accounts for the data." We want the best theory in a Popperian sense. One measure is simplicity but another measure of that is the theory that explains the most. Austrian business cycle theory explains many aspects of the business cycle that other theories do not. It can explain stagflation for instance whereas Keynesian theory cannot. It explains why commodity prices rise more than average price increases. Etc.

Comment by brian_macker on Cynicism in Ev-Psych (and Econ?) · 2009-02-12T13:38:17.000Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Psychology (evolutionary or otherwise) seems to be merging with economics already"

Yes, and that's unfortunate because emotion is not all that important to understanding the business cycle. There is a perfectly good explanation that shows that an economy made of quite rational agents [in the economic sense] will generate the business cycle. Not only does it explain the cycle itself but particular aspects of the cycle.

Emotive economic theories are not new. To believe that the business cycle is due to "animal spirits" like Keynes did is wrong and will lead to bad solutions. It's like believing that loosing altitude on your plane is due to gremlins on the underbelly weighing it down and therefore the best way to deal with it is to rub them off by flying even lower over some trees.

We've set up an economic system that is based on a banking pyramid scheme and of course people become excited as they falsely believe they are raking in real earning based on asset appreciation. Then of course they get upset and panic with the fraud becomes apparent later. Those are effects, not causes.

I wouldn't mind moving on to the emotional aspects of the business cycle if they were recognized for what they are, effects not causes. Also if there was an understanding that rational in the economic sense and emotive in the psychological sense are orthogonal concepts. One can be a rational economic actor and be emotive also. I really don't see how there is much difference in behavior between an rational non-emotive actor and a rational emotive actor in the economy and in response to the business cycle.

After all it is rational to buy stocks as they rise and sell them as they fall. It is rational to respond to the government setting interest rates below market by borrowing.

One thing about rational actors is that the are not presumed omniscient. They can be tricked by sophisticated pyramid schemes like fractional reserve banking. In fact it's such a sophisticated scheme that most economists, let alone most people, don't recognize how it is fraudulent, and why it leads to boom then bust.

BTW, in the economic sense the non-rational actors are what we would call the insane. The term rational actor is suppose to cover every sane person.

Comment by brian_macker on Normal Ending: Last Tears (6/8) · 2009-02-05T02:02:57.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Why did the SuperHappies adopt the Babyeater's ethics? I thought that they exterminated them."

They only exterminated the one ship so that it wouldn't blow up the star.

Comment by brian_macker on Three Worlds Decide (5/8) · 2009-02-05T00:39:00.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

For gosh sakes Faré it's only a story.

Comment by brian_macker on Three Worlds Decide (5/8) · 2009-02-04T03:50:00.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I misread it just as Anonymous Coward did. I thought they killed the Babyeaters and head back on their (the Babyeaters) star line. Thus I thought AC's first solution was perfect. I also liked AC's second solution.

Comment by brian_macker on Worse Than Random · 2008-11-18T00:09:00.000Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"Sorry if I was overly brusque in my response."
No, I don't believe you are sorry. I think you have a particular view on economics that colors your questions. You're looking for some angle to justify those beliefs. It's quite clear that the Austrians are correct about what is occuring right now.

"Because for the moment a simple "classical economics + power law of random fluctuations (possibly giving way somewhat to a gaussian distribution for rare events)" seems a much more economical theory fitting the data ..."

Really? The "classical economics" was abandoned long ago by mainstream economists. Therefore I'm not sure what you mean by it. Since there is no school of economics that has any way of predicting prices that even somewhat fit I'm thinking that your just rationalizing here. Since prices, from the standpoint of ignorance, already looks gaussian it seems that almost any old theory could make this claim you are making. Doesn't really provide a means to test between one theory and the next.

Why should I be satisified with a theory that claims to predict prices, but can't, and only "fits" if one assumes that it's wrong by a gaussian corrective value? Meanwhile it has no explanatory value, and very often is not only counterintuitive but self contradictory?

That's a way to falsify a theory, self-contradiction, that many schools of economics completely ignore. The "liquidity trap" being an example of this kind of crazy thinking. Failing to have a proper theory some schools of economics are forced to accept what is obviously a ridiculous and self contradictory explanation of events. They drop fallacies like a chicken it a factory farm. Krugman for example actually believes in the brokent window fallacy in addition to the "liquidity trap" fallacy.

It's quite clear what is going to happen next with the economy. I personally predicted that the Fed was going to take the actions it is now taking back in 2003, choose inflation. Their backs are against the wall for prior stupid actions and now they have choosen to inflate. They increased the base money supply over the past two months at a rate of 341%. I laugh at the people who think they can just "mop this up later". Mop it up with what, their credibility? They are figuratively in the position of someone trying to pull themselves up by grabbing their bootstraps.

Comment by brian_macker on Worse Than Random · 2008-11-13T01:54:47.000Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

"'Emergence';, in this instance, is an empty buzzword.

Buzzword in this instance is a buzzword. This sentence is merely an assertion. I read that article before I wrote my argument. The phrase, "emergent behavior" and the word "emergence" have a specific meaning and it isn't about giving a "mysterious answer to a mysterious queston".

For example, Mises can and does give a complete and non-mysterious explaination of how the business cycle is a result of fractional reserve banking. Likewise, he can explain how market prices arise, and why markets clear at the market price. All in a very reductionist fashion.

"Imagination" also seems likely to be an empty buzzword, ..."

No, it's has the same exact meaning as in "Creationist lack the imagination to understand how evolution works." or "Behe, lacking the imagination to understand how eyes arose proposes the concept of irreducible complexity".

"Markets do not allocate resources anywhere near optimally, and sometimes they do even worse than committees of bureaucrats; the bureaucrats, for instance, may increase utility by allocating more resources to poor people on grounds of higher marginal utility per dollar per person."

I didn't use the word "optimally" anywhere in my comment. I said it "solved the problem of resource allocation."

The rest of you statement is just a bald assertion. In fact, "allocating resources optimally", is an ill defined concept. Allocated optimally in reference to what value system? The very concept of thinking you can make a utility function in the way you construct it is absurd, and ignores factors of that wealth redistribution that would harm the very poor it was suppose to help. Actual real world experimentation with redistributive systems like communism have shown it to be a bust.

Your statement is true in the same sense that it is possible by brownian motion for an elephant to fly. Markets are analogous to distributed supercomputers where each individual participates as a processor and prices are the signaling mechanisms between the processors. If you mess with those signals you get predictable results, depending on what you do and what kind of price you mess with.

"If you think you know more than Bernanke, then why haven't you become rich by making better-than-expected bets?"

Wow, you assume a lot. Firstly, my mother was a sharecropper, and my father a poorly paid college professor. I paid my own way through college. So it's not like I had a big nest egg to invest.

I did however predict the surge in sliver prices. I did converted my IRA to bullion. I did quadruple my investment in four years.

Besides, it's not the position of my theory that you get rich by understanding economics. That's your ridiculous claim. Did you apply that theory to Greenspan or Bernanke? Why in the world aren't all these economists retired rich? I mean that's your theory, right?

Comment by brian_macker on Worse Than Random · 2008-11-13T01:09:33.000Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Stuart Armstrong ,

"By 'comprehend the emergent behavior' do you mean that you have a vague intuitive feel for this, or that you have the equations relating interest rates to other factors, along with enough mathematical theory to make specific quantitative predictions?"

If I believe that a individual or committee cannot determine a market price other than by actually observing one then why on earth do you think I am claiming to be able to "make specific quantitative predictions?"

Those economists that make the mistake of thinking they can make a killing in the market are notoriously bad at it. Greenspan being an example.

Austrian theory holds that you cannot make the kind of quantitative predictions you expect to. So when you can predictibly and consistently make quantitative predictions on your economic theory then you can prove Austrian theory wrong.

"If you (or people like you who "comprehend the emergent behavior") did not make a lot of money out of the current crisis, then your statement is wrong."

Not at all. One can predict that the actions of say, Mugabe in Zimbabwe, would be an economic disaster without being able to capitalize on it.

"Explanations after the fact are simply stories."

But the explainations were given before the fact. Austrian theory exists as a model and it predicts certain outcomes given certain actions.

In the theory, below market interest rates result in low savings, overborrowing, trade deficits, asset inflation, and market bubbles. Everything that has been occuring makes sense in light of the theory.

BTW, that theory predicted the Great Depression before the fact, and this crash before the fact. It also predicted the existence of stagflation before the fact.

Likewise it predicts that the current actions of the Fed if continued are going to lead to inflation, all other things being equal.

The current crisis was caused by fractional reserve banking and monetary inflation and the current solutions being proposed and acted on by the likes of Krugman are to inject more money. These are precisely the wrong things to do.

Interest rates are prices like any other. It's well understood that when you put a price ceiling on a good that you get shortages as consumers try to consume more at the lower price and producers produce less. That is exactly what we are experiencing now, a shortage of capital due to a price ceiling on interest rates. This is a simple case of trying to violate economic law and being stung by it.

Austrian theory has more to say on the matter in that this kind of monetary inflation causes misallocation of resources but I'll refrain from writing a long article. It isn't at all about "vague intuitive" feelings either. It consists of clear, understandable mechanisms by which each result can be deduced from the model.

Comment by brian_macker on Worse Than Random · 2008-11-12T03:50:07.000Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW · GW
Or you may have heard people talking about "emergence" as if it could explain complex, functional orders. People will say that the function of an ant colony emerges - as if, starting from ants that had been selected only to function as solitary individuals, the ants got together in a group for the first time and the ant colony popped right out. But ant colonies have been selected on as colonies by evolution. Optimization didn't just magically happen when the ants came together.

I don't think the point of stressing emergence is to explain via the conjuring of magic. The point is to counter the idea that something as simple and stupid as ants couldn't possibly do something complex other than by magic. It's people’s lack of appreciation for emergent behavior that is the problem. They see the simple but can't understand how to get the complex out of it. They then believe that there must be some intelligent force behind the emergent behavior.

We are currently living through a crisis that is in large part due to this lack of appreciation for emergent behavior. Not only people in general but trained economists, even Nobel laureates like Paul Krugman, lack the imagination to understand the emergent behavior of free monetary systems. Lacking the belief that such systems could actually operate without some outside intelligence in control they set up central planning agencies like the Fed. Then like any central planning agency trying to control a market it will fail, precisely because the emergent behavior of the market is more powerful, more intelligent, in solving the problem of resource allocation than any committee.

Even with all the evidence staring them in the face they will still not grasp their mistake. It's obvious to those who comprehend the emergent behavior that interest rates have been set way below market rates, for too long, and that is the cause of the current crisis. The committee made the mistake of thinking it could use general price signals directly to decide on the price signal for interest rates. Price stability, keeping inflation within certain bounds was believed to be the control metric to follow. Unfortunately "the market" was trying to deflate prices due to productivity increases caused by the Reagan/Thatcher revolution. Holding prices steady (to slight inflation) was contrary to market forces and therefore the wrong move.

Free markets are emergent behavior. It is quite amazing that complex coordination can operate on such simple principles without some central agency. The fact that it works better than any central agency could is even more amazing, to most people. Once you understand it then it's not so amazing but it is very difficult to understand. Ben Bernanke doesn't understand and Alan Greenspan didn't understand before him. Emergent behavior is non-magic masquerading as magic.

So emergent behavior is a useful concept when you know what it's about. It's a bias checker.

Comment by brian_macker on Complexity and Intelligence · 2008-11-11T04:16:00.000Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No, sexual selection does not determine which mutations occur. It's merely a reinforcing feedback loop that is actually considered an example of how evolution can run off the rails, so to speak.

Sure females might by accident happen to pick a feature in males that might prove adaptive. Unfortunately for your argument it is not based on prediction, but is happenstance. Even were the "correct" feature choosen initially there is then the tendency of sexual selection to over select for the feature merely because other females find the feature attractive.

So it might be that slightly longer horns might be more adaptive in fighting off predators. However once females start mating with males based on horn lenght for the sake of horn length then they just keep getting longer to the point of detriment to the survival of the males. This is quite obviously a very bad example of prediction. Again, it's all in retrospect, and if no mutations happen to occur in the direction of longer horns then no matter how much females want longer horns it isn't happening.

Furthermore, sexual selection operates in reverse on the females and that's why it also gets out of hand. Mutations that happen to drive females brains to desire longer horns even more will tend to make them more likely bear sons that are attractive to other females. No prediction here, just a run away process that ends up being limited by the ability of males to suffer under their oversize horns.

Notice that there is no mechanims here for the female preferences to invent new mutations for either longer horns or increased preference for longer horns. If a female happens to have an extra heavy fetish for long horns that was environmentally driven that cannot and will not cause any mutation that she could pass on to her offspring to make them have the same level of passion for long horns.

It's the genes that build the female brain to prefer long horns in the first place, and not some inductive process in the brain that generated the preference. By definition there must be preexisting gene or the trait wouldn't be heritable and by definition sexual selection could NOT occur.

The Balwin effect is merely the believe that socially passed behaviors can lead to fixation of genetic traits. Perfectly possible and again it has nothing to do with prediction. Genetic fixation could only occur given the random creation of the correct mutations, plus a static environment with regard to the trait in question. This really is no different than geneticially mediated behavioral changes driving changes in other traits and behavior.

Once plants took to growing on land by minor adaptations to say drying then selection pressures on other traits change. Traits like tall stems to overshadow competitors on land are selected for. That's not predictive. The new selective pressures are merely the result of the change in habitat. The adaptation to drying didn't "predict" that longer stems would be needed, nor did it generate the mutations for longer stems.

Likewise a behavioral change of say a fish hunting on land like the mud skipper will naturally lead to new selective pressures on other traits like, ability to withstand sun, or drying, or whatever. That doesn't mean that the fish behaviorially deciding to hunt further ashore in any way predicted the need for the other traits, nor does it mean that it's brain created new mutations that were stuffed back into the genome. It's perfectly possible that the random process of mutations just never produces the proper mutations to allow that mud skipper to fully adapt to the land.

The mutations are the random guesses as to what might work and are entirely unintentional. In fact if you've read Dawkins there is selective pressure against mutation. Those random mistakes however allow natural selection to explore haphazardly through different body plans and sometimes things go in the right direction, and sometimes not.

Even if females liked males with bigger brains as evidenced by say singing. That doesn't neccesarily mean that males spending lots of time singing, and females listening to that singing is predictive of anything. Big brains are just one more trait and it might be that the selective pressures in the environment are actually changing in a way that is selecting for smaller brains just as sexual selection is operating in the opposite direction. Rich food sources needed to supprot big brains might be decreasing over time as the habitat becomes more arid. In which case extinction is a likely outcome.

Which is another lesson I think you need to learn from biologists. You seem to believe in some kind of inherent "progress" to all this. That's not the case. It's perfectly possible for organisms to be subjected to selective pressures that move them to what most people would see as regression. That's why there are so many "backwards" parasites from what are more "advanced" lineages. Often in animals that have brains that predict.

Many a species with a predictive brain has walked the path down specialization to extinction.

Comment by brian_macker on Complexity and Intelligence · 2008-11-09T23:08:00.000Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW


The problem is that there is no mechanism in the process of natural selection for stuffing that foresight generated by brains back into the genome. Learn all you want but it isn't passed onto you kids via your genes. That's the rub. That's why natural selection is blind to the future. The idea that natural selection is blind is perfectly accurate.

That's also true for the small minority of organisms on the planet that actually have brains that predict the future. So I am talking about the instance of natural selection operating on this planet. Your idea is not a valid notion even when restricted to down to the minority instance of human evolution. I gave you that specific example of humans in the last comment.

We do not predict the future via natural selection, and our predictions about the future do not become translated into a form which can be transmitted via the genome for future selection. Natural selection can only select with hindsight. It can only select after a prediction works and only on the genes that produced the predictor and not the prediction.

BTW, the leaf fall that trees perform is a kind of prediction. It wasn't generated by induction, or foresight. It was generated by simple pruning, falsification of bad hypothesis (mutations) on whether and when to drop leaves. Natural selection produced an organism that does prediction without doing any prediction on it's own.

Comment by brian_macker on Complexity and Intelligence · 2008-11-09T21:02:00.000Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
"Since the dolphin has evolved flippers would you therefore say that “natural selection operates on flippers?"

"Yes - provided we were talking about a process that included dolphin evolution."

I'm flabbergasted by this response. There is nothing inherent about natural selection that is going to give you flippers. That's dependent on the environment, the mutations, and other factors. The process itself has no "flippers". It's a process that works fine without flippers, yet you insist that natural selection "operates on flippers" just because of a quite contengent possible outcome of that process.

Meanwhile even where flippers evolve they can also go extinct. The natural selection continues, was influenced by flipper existence at one point, but now is no longer influenced by flipper existence because all such animals are extinct. Natural selection was there all along, seems to operate just fine with or without flippers and yet you want to say that it "operates on flippers". Seems using your rather strange logic one would have to say that it "Doesn't operate on flippers" when there are none around.

Do you further claim that natural selection "operates on flippers" in the case of for example, chimps, just because in parallel there are dophins in the sea? How remote or close do these things have to be. If there is an alien on another planet with wingdings does that mean that one can say about Natural Selection while standing on Earth, "Natural Selection operates on wingdings?"

You see, to me, the term "operates on flippers" means that the flipper is an integral and mandatory requirement for the thing to work. Not something unneccesary and contengent. Otherwise, the list is endless and meaningless, and the definition pointless to saying exactly what Natural Selection is or isn't.

Boy, I can just imagine trying to teach a class of kids Natural Selection using your concept of "operates on" as a basis. This is so far out there I'm not even going to assume Yudkowski meant this in his original quote "natural selection operates on induction". I'm sure he'd reject this interpretation also. It would make his statement as profound as saying "natural selection operates on banana peels." and as silly.

Comment by brian_macker on Complexity and Intelligence · 2008-11-09T20:42:00.000Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW


Bayes? To paraphrase you, the philosophy of science has moved on a bit since the 1700s.

I've already read Yudkowsky's article. I'm familar with Bayes since high school which is thirty years ago. I was one of those kids who found it very easy to grasp. It's just a simple mathematical fact and certainly nothing to build a philosophy of science around.

Yudkowsky writes:

"What is the so-called Bayesian Revolution now sweeping through the sciences, which claims to subsume even the experimental method itself as a special case?"

Really? So the "experimental method" which by which I assume he means the "scientific method" boils down to a special case of what, a probability calculation?

Come on, how gullible do you think I am? So under this view scientists have been, all along, calculating probability frequencies based on observations and just picking the theory that had the highest probability. Heck that sounds easy. Guess I'll just write an scientist simulating AI program over the weekend with that. We'll just replace all the real scientists with Bayesian decision models.

So, according to this view, if I go back to and do some historical investigation on The Great Devonian Controversy I should find that the scientists involved were calculating and comparing notes on the probabilities they were getting on all the Bayesian calculations they were doing. Right?

This, besides being ludicrous, is just not how people reason, as admitted by Yudkowsky in the very same article:

"Bayesian reasoning is very counterintuitive. People do not employ Bayesian reasoning intuitively, find it very difficult to learn Bayesian reasoning when tutored, and rapidly forget Bayesian methods once the tutoring is over. This holds equally true for novice students and highly trained professionals in a field. Bayesian reasoning is apparently one of those things which, like quantum mechanics or the Wason Selection Test, is inherently difficult for humans to grasp with our built-in mental faculties."

As my other comment pointed out in a quote from your own article it's pretty clear that scientists do not choose to believe or not to believe based on calculating Bayes probabilities. They do no use Bayes for good reasons. Often they don't have any underlying probabilities and have unknown distributions, but furthermore most problems don't reduce to a Bayesian probability.

It's hard to imagine that Darwin did a explicit Bayesian calculation in order to choose his theory over Lamarckism, let alone come up with the theory in the first place. It's even harder to imagine that he did it implicitly in his mind when it is quite clear that a) "People do not employ Bayesian reasoning intuitively"
b) Bayes theorem only applies in special cases where you have known probabilities, and distributions.

In the Devonian Controversy no probabilities or distributions were known, no probability calculations done, and finally the winning hypothesis was NOT picked on the basis of greatest probability. There was no greatest probability and there was no winner. All competing hypotheses were rejected.

If intelligence and understanding of the natural world were just a matter of applying Bayesian logic don't you think that not just human brains, but brains in general would likely be selected for that already? We should be good at it, not bad.

The human brain has evolved lots of subunits that are good as solving lots of different kinds of problems. Heck, even crows seem to be able to count. We seem to be able to classify and model things as consistent or inconsistent, periodic, dangerous, slow, fast, level, slanted, near, far, etc. These are mental models or modules that are probably prefabricated. Yet we humans don't seem to have any prefabricated Bayesian deduction unit built in (by the way Bayes induction is based on deduction not induction, funny that). It's actually the other way round from what he wrote. Bayesian Induction is subsumed by a scientific method characterized by Popperian Falsification (actually pan-critical rationalism).

Don't be confused by the name. Popperian falsification is not merely about falsification any more than the Theory of Natural Selection is merely about "survival of the fittest". Popperian falsification is about holding beliefs tentatively and testing them. Thus one might hold as a belief that Bayesian Induction works. Although you will find that this induction is more about deducing from some assumed base probabilities. Probabilities that are founded on tentatively believing you did your measurements correctly. So on and so forth.

In his example there is plenty of room for falsification:

"1% of women at age forty who participate in routine screening have breast cancer. 80% of women with breast cancer will get positive mammographies. 9.6% of women without breast cancer will also get positive mammographies. A woman in this age group had a positive mammography in a routine screening. What is the probability that she actually has breast cancer?"

The above can be addressed from many Popperian angles. Are our assumptions correct? How did we come up with that number 1%. That could be falsified by pointing out that our sample was biased. Perhaps the women were lying about their ages. What measures were taken to verify their ages? Where did the 80% claim come from. Is that from a particular demographic that matches the woman we are talking about? So on and so forth.

It's not just a matter of plugging numbers into a Bayesian equation and the answer falls out. Yeah, you can use Bayesian logic to create a decision model. That doesn't mean you should believe or act on the result. It doesn't mean it's the primary method being used.

Comment by brian_macker on Complexity and Intelligence · 2008-11-09T15:37:00.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW


I think you are confusing an emergent property created by a system with how the system operates on its own. That architects draft blueprints that result in public housing projects that leads to forced living relationships that makes it hard to evict drug dealers doesn’t mean that the discipline of architecture runs on drug dealing. Even if that drug dealing impacts the architects.

You seem to have written some simulations of natural selection. In writing those algorithms did you have to code in the ability to predict? Of course not. Can natural selection operate without prediction? Yes! Can natural selection generate organisms that have the ability to predict without prediction being built into natural selection? Of course!

”Natural selection does not involve prediction if it acts on a system which does not make predictions. It does involve prediction when it acts on a system which does make predictions.”

Perhaps if I use a technique of substitution for this you will quickly grasp the confusion here between the process of natural evolution and the emergent property of “the ability to make predictions”. You are making a category error.

”Natural selection does not involve flippers if it acts on a system which does not make flippers. It does involve flippers when it acts on a system which does make flippers.”

Since the dolphin has evolved flippers would you therefore say that “natural selection operates on flippers?” That would be very misleading. One could also go to your web page and substitute pictures of flippers wherever you’ve draw in little brains and it would still make as much sense to those who understand evolution.

Of course, the existence of brains and flippers influence the direction evolution takes and so do asteroids collisions. That doesn’t mean that natural selection operates on the basis of asteroid hits. Asteroids aren’t the primary cause for the emergent order of life. The primary cause is also not predictive.

If from political events it was predictable that nuclear war was inevitable and imminent then, do you expect humans to experience a sudden increase in mutation of alleles increasing fitness towards nuclear survivability? Would you expect those alleles to also become more frequent in the population? All this merely because a brain somewhere predicted correctly that a nuclear event was about to happen?

Think what you are saying here. How natural selection works is well known. It works on differential survival of random mutations and on prediction and proactive behavior. Natural selection itself has no mechanism for making predictions or acting proactively.

Dawkins isn’t saying that evolution isn’t powerful. It is extremely powerful. What he’s saying is that that power is not due a conscious or unconscious ability to predict, or to act on prediction.

As for my rejection of Popper meaning that I support Kuhn: philosophy of science has moved on a bit since the 1960s.

I quote from your article:
"The most general problem confronting the Bayesian philosophy is that scientists tend not to use probabilities when evaluating their theories. Instead, they tend to evaluate them in terms of their empirical adequacy and their explanatory power. The problem is that explanatory worth is not illuminated in terms of probabilities, so the Bayesian outlook cannot explain this central feature of modern science."

No kidding, and that's a fatal flaw if you are claiming that scientists are choosing their theories primarily based on probability.

"Charles Darwin produced large volumes of intelligent and careful observations of animal habitat, form and behavior long before he developed his theory of species development by natural selection. It was no less science for that."

How that refutes Popper he doesn't say. Popper addressed such issues. Is this guy really so ill informed as to think that Popper wasn't aware that scientists collect data. Guess what, the religious do also, for example, lists of miracles.

"At best Popperian ideas muddy the waters and at worst they corrupt progress."

I say "How so, and what a load of baloney." Popper clarified a very important issue in the demarcation of science from non-science. Collecting data isn’t one of the things that demark science from non-science. The only reason the writer of this article would bring data collection up is if he were totally ignorant of Poppers theories.

One important lesson that should be learned to “overcome bias” is to understand the theory you are criticizing before you open your mouth.

"I have noticed that research councils increasingly require that research they support be 'hypothesis driven' "

Oh, so it's not so "1960s" is it?

Not sure how this is any kind of obstacle that would "muddy the waters" or "corrupt progress". Is that what it’s supposed to be an example of? Popper says that the fundamental process is a series of guesses and refutations of those guess. Your hypothesis can be anything including “I think that X is not random but caused by something else”. In which case you are free to go out and research anything you like.

This sounds more like a complaint that they can take other peoples money via taxes to pursue whatever they feel like with out some sort of justification. Boo, hoo.

”This is like commissioning a piece of fine furniture on the basis that it should be ‘chisel driven’.”

No, it’s like expecting to get science, not art, when you are paying for science, not art. If the author doesn’t want oversight then perhaps you should raise his own funds privately, or use his own money, instead of trying to divert tax money into his pet project.

I can see why some “scientists” are objecting to Popper, it’s cutting into their ability to pursue non-science on the public dole. Much of the anti-Popper backlash has been in the area of the social sciences where they’d like to pursue things in a more post-modernist way.

Not sure how the author, using his standards, would expect to reject a request by the Catholic Church for scientific research funds from the government in order to maintain lists of saints and miracles. That is if he rejects falsification as an important breakthrough in demarking science from non-science.

Oh, and I just now noticed this guy is from the "Department of Psychology". How's that for a prediction.

Comment by brian_macker on Complexity and Intelligence · 2008-11-08T15:16:00.000Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"It most certainly does - if we are talking about natural selection in evolution and nature."

Unfortunately, that has things backwards. Dawkins is exactly right when he says.

"Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind's eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker."

He's certainly an expert on the subject. As are Gould and the vast majority of evolutionary biologists. In fact, this is the first I've heard of this idea and you are linking to yourself as an authority. I chalk this up to your misunderstandings.

"organisms' belief that the sun will come up tomorrow "

Do organism's "believe" the sun will come up tomorrow? I'm not even sure I believe it in the inductionist sense. Nor did I even consider it as a belief as a child. It wasn't even something I considered. I certainly operated as if the sun would come up tomorrow but that doesn't mean I arrived at my behavior via inductivist belief.

Let's consider broadleaf trees dropping their leaves in the fall. Do they "believe" that winter will come? Did they arrive at that belief by "induction". Not if you understand evolution. There is absolutely no requirement for any kind of induction in order to get an organism, a plant, that drops it's leaves at the onset of winter. It's not a prediction but more analogous to the copying of an successful accident.

Every thing has a nature and will tend to behave according to that nature. That doesn't mean that the behavior being followed is necessarily held on the basis of induction. Every morning when I get out of bed I behave as if the floor will be there and has not magically transformed into a hoard of werewolves. That does not mean I decided by induction that the floor wasn't going to turn into werewolves. In fact, the possibility need not even cross my mind or any mind.

When trees drop their leaves in autumn they are behaving postdictively, not predictively. That postdictive behavior is not about classical induction, generating universals from observations.

Natural selection operated for a very long time before there were the kinds of brains that make predictions. Natural selection operates just fine without brains, without prediction and without induction.

Even in the case of artificial selection humans, in the past, have been highly restrained by what mutations nature doles out. I've bred animals and you can't just get to where you want to go. It would be great to breed a guppy that survives outdoors in the winter. My brain predicts that would be a best seller. However, it isn't happening via standard methods of breeding.

Now perhaps the brains will some day use their predictive capability to create something called genetic engineering and perhaps that will generate cold hardy guppys. However to label that "natural selection" is to misunderstand the definitions involved.

"Not even science works via Popper's theory of falsification."
Actually, it does. This is probably another area you don't fully comprehend. Kuhn was falsified long ago.

"A straw man AFAICT - nobody said "primarily" - and yes, organisms' belief that the sun will come up tomorrow shows that they are performing induction."

When you say that something "operates by induction" the word primarily is implicit. I was only making it explicit. Exposing the bias. Don't we want to overcome that?

Now I must stop commenting lest I transgress the limits. Your confusion requires much more verbiage than this but such is not allowed here. This policy tending to maintain the bias here in the direction of the blog owners.

Comment by brian_macker on Complexity and Intelligence · 2008-11-08T01:21:00.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Nice try Tyler. What individuals "do" does not define what natural selection does.

One could also say: "In practice, natural selection produces intelligent agents, who can predict, and then they make selective choices that affect who lives, who dies and who reproduces."

That does NOT mean that natural selection operates via a predictive process. Ask any good biologist and they will tell you than natural selection is not predictive. That's why species go extinct all the time.

Natural selection is a non-inductive proces that can produce individual organisms that can "do induction". The process of natural selection is "Trial and error" which is quite literally analogous to Poppers theory of falsification.

BTW, it is not at all clear the intelligent agent operates primarily using "induction" either. Induction is primarily useful in learning but that's only part of intelligence. Furthermore, even in the sub-function of learning it is not at all clear that induction is a primary algorithm. Clearly your brain needs to first model the world in order to classify observations in order to attribute them to anything. The induction itself is not primary. The model building capabilities themselves are the product of a non-inductive process.

Actually, seeing as how humans are so incredibly bad at Bayesian induction it's a wonder anyone believes that we use induction at all. One would think that if our primary systems work on Baysian induction we'd be able to somehow tap into that.

Try explaining to yourself how you do induction and you will see that even you don't do it in areas that you think you do. Do you really believe the sun comes up tomorrow because of induction? ... or do you have a mental model of how the sun operates that you contengently believe in? When you learn some new aspect about the sun do you try to devise a new mental model or do you just change the odds it operates one way or another. My brain certainly doesn't operate on odds.

Comment by brian_macker on Complexity and Intelligence · 2008-11-06T04:10:00.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"produced by inductive natural selection;"

Natural selection is not an inductive process.

Comment by brian_macker on Mirrors and Paintings · 2008-08-23T14:12:21.000Z · score: -3 (9 votes) · LW · GW


I vaguely remember from the last time I visited this site that you are in the inductivist camp. In several articles you seemed to express a deep belief in Bayesian reasoning.

I think that while you are an intelligent guy but I think your abandonment of falsification in favor of induction is one of your primary mistakes. Falsification subsumes induction. Popper wins over Bayes.

Any presumed inductivism has foundations in trial and error, and not the other way around. Poppers construction is so much more straightforward than this convoluted edifice you are creating.

Once you understand falsification there is no problem explaining why science isn’t based on “faith”. That’s because once you accept falsification as the basis for science it is clear that one is not using mere induction.

At this point I’m wondering if you are a full blown inductionist. Do you believe that my beliefs are founded upon induction? Do you believe that because you believe I have no way to avoid the use of induction? I had a long discussion once with an inductivist and for the life of me I couldn’t get him to understand the difference between being founded upon and using.

I don’t even believe that I am using induction in many of the cases where inductivists claim that I am. I don’t assume the floor will be there when I step out of bed in the morning because of induction, nor do I believe sun will rise tomorrow because of induction.

I believe those things because I have well tested models. Models about how wood behaves, and models about how objects behave. Often I don’t even believe what is purported to be my belief.

The question, “will the sun rise tomorrow” has a broader meaning than “The sun will rise on August 24, 2008” in this discussion. In fact, I don’t explicitly and specifically hold such beliefs in any sort of long term storage. I don’t have a buffer for whether the sun is going to rise on the 24th, the 25th, and so forth. I don’t have enough memory for that. Nor do I determine the values to place in each of those buffers by an algorithm of induction.

I only think the question refers to August the 24th with further clarification by the speaker. I think he means “how do we know the sun will keep rising” and not that the questioner had any particular concern about the 24th.

I did run into a guy at a park who asked me if I believed the world would end on December 21, 2012. I had no idea what he was on about till he mentioned something about the Mayan calendar.

So in fact, in this discussion, when we are talking about the question of “will the sun will rise tomorrow” we aren’t concerned about whether any single new observation will match priors we are concerned about the principles upon which the sun operates. We are talking models, not observations.

As a child I remember just assuming the sun would rise. I don’t in fact remember any process of induction I went through to justify it. Of course that doesn’t mean my brain might not be operating via induction unbeknownst to me. The same could be said of animals. They two operate on the assumption that the sun will rise tomorrow.

They even have specific built in behaviors that are geared towards this. It’s pretty clear that where these assumption are encoded outside the brain, that the encoding was done by evolutionary processes and we know natural selection does not operate via induction.

What about the mental processes of animals. Must the fact that animals mentally operate on the presumption that “the sun will rise tomorrow” mean that they much have somewhere deep inside an inductive module to deal with the sun rising. I don’t think so. It isn’t even clear that they believe that they believe “the sun will rise tomorrow” either specifically or generally.

Even if they do it is not clear that induction plays a part in such a belief. It may be that natural selection has built up a many different possible mental models for operational possibilities and that observation is only used to classify things as fitting one of these predefined models.

Heck, I can even build new categories of models on the fly this way, this too on the basis of trial and error. A flexible mind finding that the behavior of some object in the real world does not quite fit one of the categories can take guesses at ways to tweak the model to better fit.

So it is not at all clear that anything has been foundationally been arrived at via induction.

In fact, if my memory serves me when I first inquired about the sun I was seeking a more sophisticated model. I knew I already had it categorized as the kind of object that behaved the same way as it did in the past, but was concerned that perhaps I was mistaken and that it might be categorized in some other way. Perhaps as something that doesn’t follow such a simple rule.

Now I’m not even sure I asked the question precisely as “will the sun rise tomorrow” but I do remember my mental transitions. At first I don’t remember even thinking about it. Later I modified my beliefs in various ways and I don’t recall in what order, or why. I came to understand the sun rose repetitively, on a schedule, etc.

I do remember certain specific transitions. Like the time I realized because of tweaking of other models that, in fact, the statement “The sun will rise tomorrow” taken generally is not true. That I know certainly came to mind when I learned the sun was going to burn out in six billion years. My model, in the sense I believed the “sun will rise tomorrow” meaning the next day would come on schedule, was wrong.

In my view, “things that act Bayesian” is just another model. Thus, I never found the argument that Bayes refutes Popper very compelling. Reading many of the articles linked off this one I see that you seem to be spinning your wheels. Popper covered the issue of justification much more satisfactorily than you have with your article,”">“Where Recursive Justification Hits Rock Bottom”.

The proper answer is that justification doesn’t hit rock bottom and that science isn’t about absolute proof. Science is about having tentative beliefs that are open to change given more information based on models that are open to falsification by whatever means.

Pursuing a foundationalist philosophical belief system is a fools errand once you understand that there is no base foundation to knowledge. The entire question of whether knowledge is based on faith vs. empiricism evaporates with this understanding. Proper knowledge is based on neither.

I could go on with this. I have thought these things through to a very great extent but I know you have a comment length restriction here and I’ve probably already violated it. That’s a shame because it limits the discussion and allows you to continue in your biases.

You are definitely on the wrong track here with your discussions on morality also. You are missing the fundamentality of natural selection in all this, both to constrain our creations and to how it arises. In my view, the Pebblesorters morality is already divorced from survival and therefore it should be of no concern to themselves whatever if their AI becomes uncontrollable, builds it’s own civilization, etc. Fish, in fact, do create piles of pebbles despite their beliefs and you expressed no belief on their part that they must destroy incorrectly piled pebbles created by nature. So why should they have moral cares if their AI wins independence and goes of and does the “wrong” thing.

For them to be concerned about the AI requires broader assumptions than you have made explicit in your assumption. Assumptions like feeling responsible for chains of events you have set in place. There are assumptions that are objectively required to even consider something a morality. Otherwise we have classified incorrectly. In fact, the pebble sorters are suffering from an obsessive delusion and not a true morality. Pebblesorting fails to fit even the most simplistic criteria for a morality.

Since I am limited in both length and quantity of posts and I don’t feel like splitting this into multiple posts over multiple articles. This is in response to many of your articles. Invisible Frameworks, Mirrors and Paintings, Pebblesorters, When Recursive Justification Hits Rock Bottom, etc.

I could post it on an older thread to be buried a hundred comments deep but that two isn’t a rational choice as I’d like people to actually see it. To see that this abandonment of falsification for induction is based on faulty reasoning. I’m concerned about this because I have been watching science become increasingly corrupted by politics over my lifetime and one of the main levers used to do this is the argument that real scientists don’t use falsification (while totally misunderstanding what the term means) but induction.

Comment by brian_macker on Changing the Definition of Science · 2008-05-22T07:00:16.000Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"First time you ever see an apple fall down, you observe the position goes as the square of time, .."

Well no actually you don't. Not unless you prebuild the system to know about time and squaring, etc. Have you no respect for evolution? Evolution is how you get to the point where you have semantics.

Comment by brian_macker on Changing the Definition of Science · 2008-05-22T06:54:53.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"Howson believes it is time to ditch Popper's notion of capturing the scientific process using deductive logic."

Another person who doesn't understand Popper. It's as if the guy believed cars were nothing but wheels. Deduction is only part of Poppers theory. The theory can in fact subsume just about any method (till it's shown not to work). It's really just disciplined evolution. It's certainly not merely about using deduction.

Comment by brian_macker on Evolutions Are Stupid (But Work Anyway) · 2008-04-06T15:23:25.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Depends on how you think about and define a 1% advantage. You are using the biological definition, which is that having the gene gives you 1% more offspring on average. If however my genes make me 1% faster than everyone else that is a 100% advantage in winning the race, which can lead to large advantage in reproductive success. In this way a gene that generates a minor performance advantage can spread rather quickly.

Comment by brian_macker on Angry Atoms · 2008-04-01T23:23:01.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Brian, the question is not why the senses feel the way they do, but why they feel like anything at all."

Do you have any personal experience with beings with consciousnesses that don't feel their own senses? Seems to me you should have some basis of comparison for assuming that senses shouldn't feel like anything at all.

Your senses don't feel like anything to me. Think that has anything to do with the fact that we don't share a brain?

Besides, you are in part wrong, the question has been precisely why the senses feel the way they do. Why is red "red" and blue "blue". Unfortunately, Robin removed my discussion of qualia and the indication to why the answer to "why" is more about engineering than philosophy.

Besides your question is now existential to the point where it can be asked of the material directly. Suppose we discover precisely "why we feel anything at all" and the answer is precisely because of properties of material things. Well then the question would not be considered closed by a philosopher. He'd just was why there are things at all.

That's four points.

Comment by brian_macker on Angry Atoms · 2008-04-01T23:06:55.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW


"There is nothing physical in common with these two activities, but surely they have something in common."

Having something in common is an easy hurdle. Pen and pencil is vastly more prone to error. You have to remember that when you conceptualize the similarities that doesn't mean the reality matches your conception. You might thing the counting of apples maps nicely onto the integers but it doesn't. Not for very large numbers. A pile of three apples maps nicely to the number three, but a pile of 1x10^34 apples would collapse into a black hole.

"You don't have to consider this mysterious if you don't want to. But it suggests to me that the reductionist way of looking at the world is, if not wrong, not that useful." Reductionism properly understood is but one tool in a toolkit, and one that has an extremely successful track record.

My position on this is very close to Dawkins.

"Reductionism is one of those words that makes me want to reach for my revolver. It means nothing. Or rather it means a whole lot of different things, but the only thing anybody knows about it is that it's bad, you're supposed to disapprove of it. (Dawkins)"

Remember we are talking here about your sentence: "Nonetheless, it is mysterious how physical systems with nothing physical in common can realize the same algorithm."

Why classify as "reductionist" my ability to directly understand what you find mysterious. I've got a degree in Computer Science so I damn well better understand why the same algorithms can run on different physical systems. In fact part of my job is designing such algorithms so they can run on physically different systems. An IBM mainframe, a Mac, and an Intel box are completely different physical systems even if you don't recognize that fact.

I also fully understand how pen and paper calculations and those done by a calculator or computer map onto each other. Thirty years ago computer time was far more valuable and access to time on computers was much less available. I had to actually write machine code with actual ones and zeros, and then hand simulate the running of those particular bytes on a computer. I did a respectable enough job to find bugs before I got shared time on the computer to actually run it. I understand precisely the mapping and why it works. Hell, I understand the electronics behind it.

The mystery evaporates with understanding.

Comment by brian_macker on Angry Atoms · 2008-04-01T22:31:49.000Z · score: 0 (1 votes) · LW · GW


You make it seem like my point was singular. There were lots of points. I'll carry on the discussion with Scott over at Distributed Republic blog.

You have an unusual comment policy that I wasn't aware of. Deleting comments merely on length is quite unusually with 50 megabytes of storage costing about a penny. I'd have had to repost that same long comment somewhere around 500 times before it would cost a cent.

Now that I have read your policy I will try to color inside the lines. So, no problem, email me the contents of the post and I'll copy it to Distributed Republic. If you've lost it, as is likely, no problem either as I'm a prolific writer.

Comment by brian_macker on Angry Atoms · 2008-04-01T09:35:31.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW


You made an important point in that scientists don't prove things in a foundationalist way. They aren't even attempting to do that and they have solved the problem of human fallibility, and the lack of any foundation to knowledge, by just accepting them as givens. Accepted as givens then the issue is how to deal with those facts. The answer is to come up with methodologies to reduce error.

Some philosophers get this, and some don't. Popper understood. My philosophy teacher didn't. I've noticed a correlation in my experience that the philosophers who don't get it tend to be in the camp of dualists and theologians. They use philosophy to try to discredit science.

I do however thing that the philosopher who do "get it" can come up with valuable tools. Tools for recognizing flaws in our deductions and arguments. So I don't think the disciple is completely void of value.

Comment by brian_macker on Angry Atoms · 2008-04-01T08:28:29.000Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW


I'm trying to understand why you're finding mystery where I see none.

"Nonetheless, it is mysterious how physical systems with nothing physical in common can realize the same algorithm."

Would you feel the same mystery in a playground where there were side by side swings, one made with rope and the other with chain?

Chain is not only made of completely different material, but is also flexible by a completely different mechanism than rope. Yet both are flexible and both can serve the purpose of making a swing.

The flexibility is emergent in both cases but a different levels. The flexibility of the rope is emergent at the molecular level, whereas the chain is flexible at the mechanical level.

"That suggests that the algorithm itself is not a physical thing, but something else."

In the sense that the flexibility is something else. However algorithms (especially running ones) and flexibility do not "exist" unconnected to the physical objects that exhibit them. Just like the other guy pointed out the number four doesn't exist by itself but can be instantiated in objects. Like a four having four tines.

Note in the above paragraph I was assuming a very big difference between an algorithm running on a computer, written on a piece of paper, or memorized by a student. Only an actually running algorithm is instantiated in an important way to your example. On paper it's only representation being used for communication.

When you flipped to speaking of "the algorithm" you were talking about it as a attribute. It's then very easy in English to equivocate between the two meanings of attribute, the conceptual and the reified. Flexibility as a concept is easily confused with flexibility as instantiated in a particular object. The concept resides in your head as a general model, while the actually flexibility of the object is physical. Well actually the concept in your head is physical also but in a completely different way.

Not sure what you find mysterious in all this. Something does or does not fit the model the concept describes. If it fits than it's behavior will be predicted by the model and will match any other object that fits. Flexible things flex. Things running the algorithm for addition do addition.