Comment by byrnema on Theological Epistemology · 2015-05-08T12:50:21.915Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

what observation can distinguish those which actually are loving?

I think, evidence that the universe was designed with some degree of attention to our well-being. If the universe is unexpectedly kind to us, or if we are especially well taken care of, would be evidence of a loving God.

I'm conflicted about which universe we're in. Things could certainly be worse, but it's also not very good. Is life more tolerable to us than we'd expect by random chance?

But for sure, just look at outcome. It only muddles to consider intention for three reasons:

(1) it is the outcome that we're concerned with, "pretending" versus "sincere" has no meaning if there's no distinguishing effect on observation

(2) asking about pretending is really asking about whether the evidence could be 'tricking' us; it is always a possibility that the evidence leads us to the wrong conclusion with some probability, or that induction over time doesn't apply

(2) even if the creator is non-sentient, we can still ask if the universe is 'us-loving' or not

Comment by byrnema on Open thread, 25-31 August 2014 · 2014-08-30T16:00:03.507Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

True. I linked the article as an example of the idealistic journalist, one that is disappointed that his motives are distrusted by the public.

Comment by byrnema on Open thread, 25-31 August 2014 · 2014-08-29T16:21:43.776Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Your comment is well-received. I'm continuing to to think about it and what this means for finding reliable media sources.

My impression of journalists has always been that they would be fairly idealistic about information and communicating that information to be attracted to their profession. I also imagine that their goals are constantly antagonized by the goals of their bosses, that do want to make money, and probably it is the case that the most successful sell-out or find a good trade-off that is not entirely ideal for them or the critical reader.

I'll link this article by Michael Volkmann, a disillusioned journalist.

Comment by byrnema on Open thread, 25-31 August 2014 · 2014-08-26T16:00:44.622Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I might need some recalibration, but I'm not sure.

I research topics of interest in the media, and I feel frustrated, angry and annoyed about the half-truths and misleading statements that I encounter frequently. The problem is not the feelings, but whether I am 'wrong'. I figure there are two ways that I might be wrong:

(i) Maybe I'm wrong about these half-truths and misleading statements not being necessary. Maybe authors have already considered telling the facts straight and that didn't get the best message out.

(ii) Maybe I'm actually wrong about whether these are half-truths or really all that misleading. Maybe I am focused on questions of fact and the meanings of particular phrases that are overly subtle.

The reason why I think I might need re-calibration is because I don't consider it likely that I am much less pragmatic, smarter or more accurate than all these writers I am critical of (some of them, inevitably, but not all of them -- also these issues are not that difficult intellectually).

Here are some concrete examples, all regarding my latest interest in the Ebola outbreak:

  • Harvard poll: Most recently, the HSPH-SSRS poll with headlines, "Poll finds US lack knowledge about ebola" or, "Many Americans harbor unfounded fears about Ebola". But when you look at the poll questions, they ask whether Americans are "concerned" about the risk, not what they believe the risk to be, and whether they think Ebola is spread 'easily'. The poll didn't appear to be about American's knowledge of Ebola, but how they felt about the knowledge they had. The question about whether Ebola transmits easily especially irks me, since everyone knows (don't they??) that whether something is 'easy' is subjective?

  • "Bush meat": I've seen many places that people need to stop consuming bush meat in outbreak areas (for example). I don't know that much about how Ebola is spreading through this route, but wouldn't it be the job of the media and epidemiologists to report on the rate of transmission from eating bats (I think there has only been one ground zero patient in West Africa who potentially contracted Ebola from a bat) and weigh this with the role of local meat as an important food source (again, don't know, media to blame)? Just telling people to stop eating would be ridiculous, hopefully it's not so extreme. Also, what about cooking rather than drying local meat sources? This seems a very good example of the media unable to nuance a message in a reasonable way, but I allow I could be wrong.

  • Media reports "Ebola Continues to spread in Nigeria" when the increase in Ebola cases were at that time due to contact with the same person and had already been in quarantine. This seemed to hype up the outbreak when in fact the Nigerians were successfully containing it. Perhaps this is an example of being too particular and over-analyzing something subtle?

  • Ever using the phrase 'in the air' to describe how Ebola does or doesn't transmit, because this is a phrase that can mean completely different things to anyone using or hearing the phrase. Ebola is not airborne but can transmit within coughing distance.

  • The apparent internal inconsistency of a case of Ebola might come to the US, but an outbreak cannot happen here. Some relative risk numbers would be helpful here.

All of these examples upset me to various degrees since I feel like it is evidence that people -- even writers and the scientists they are quoting -- are unable to think critically and message coherently about issues. How should I update my view so that I am less surprised, less argumentative or less crazy-pedantic-fringe person?

Comment by byrnema on Open thread, August 4 - 10, 2014 · 2014-08-15T16:07:46.257Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A person infected with Ebola is very contagious during the period they are showing symptoms. The CDC recommends casual contact and droplet precautions.

Note the following description of (casual) contact:

Casual contact is defined as a) being within approximately 3 feet (1 meter) or within the room or care area for a prolonged period of time (e.g., healthcare personnel, household members) while not wearing recommended personal protective equipment (i.e., droplet and contact precautions–see Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations); or b) having direct brief contact (e.g., shaking hands) with an EVD case while not wearing recommended personal protective equipment (i.e., droplet and contact precautions–see Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations). At this time, brief interactions, such as walking by a person or moving through a hospital, do not constitute casual contact.

(Much more contagious than an STD.)

But Lumifer is also correct. People without symptoms are not contagious, and people with symptoms are conspicuous (e.g. Patrick Sawyer was very conspicuous when he infected staff and healthcare workers in Nigeria) and unlikely to be ambulatory. The probability of a given person in West Africa being infected is very small (2000 cases divided by approximately 20 million people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia) and the probability of a given person outside this area being infected is truly negligible. If we cannot contain the virus in the area, there will be a lot of time between the observation of a burning 'ember' (or 10 or 20) and any change in these probabilities -- plenty of time to handle and douse out any further hotspots that form.

The worst case scenario in my mind is that it continues unchecked in West Africa or takes hold in more underdeveloped countries. This scenario would mean more unacceptable suffering and would also mean the outbreak gets harder and harder to squash and contain, increasing the risk to all countries.

We need to douse it while it is relatively small -- I feel so frustrated when I hear there are hospitals in these regions without supplies such as protective gear. What is the problem? Rich countries should be dropping supplies already.

Comment by byrnema on Open thread, August 4 - 10, 2014 · 2014-08-10T15:51:58.695Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry, realized I don't feel comfortable commenting on such a high-profile topic. Will wait a few minutes and then delete this comment (just to make sure there are no replies.)

Comment by byrnema on Why the tails come apart · 2014-07-30T15:55:06.635Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't believe we disagree on anything. For example, I agree with this:

If you have equal numbers at +4 and +3 and +2, then most of the +4 still may not be the best, but the best is likely to be +4.

Are you talking about relative sample sizes, or absolute?

By 'plenty of points'... I was imagining that we are taking a finite sample from a theoretically infinite population. A person decides on a density that represents 'plenty of points' and then keeps adding to the sample until they have that density up to a certain specified sd.

Comment by byrnema on Why the tails come apart · 2014-07-27T09:42:41.792Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting post. Well thought out, with an original angle.

In the direction of constructive feedback, consider that the concept of sample size -- while it seems to help with the heuristic explanation -- likely just muddies the water. (We'd still have the effect even if there were plenty of points at all values.)

For example, suppose there were so many people with extreme height some of them also had extreme agility (with infinite sample size, we'd even reliably have that the best players we're also the tallest.) So: some of the tallest people are also the best basketball players. However, as you argued, most of the tallest won't be the most agile also, so most of the tallest are not the best (contrary to what would be predicted by their height alone).

In contrast, if average height correlates with average basketball ability, the other necessary condition for a basketball player with average height to have average ability is to have average agility -- but this is easy to satisfy. So most people with average height fit the prediction of average ability.

Likewise, the shortest people aren't likely to have the lowest agility, so the correlation prediction fails at that tail too.

Some of the 'math' is that it is easy to be average in all variables ( say, (.65)^n where n is the number of variables) but the probability of being standard deviations extreme in all variables is hard (say, (.05)^n to be in the top 5 percent.) Other math can be used to find the theoretic shape for these assumptions (e. g., is it an ellipse?).

Comment by byrnema on Too good to be true · 2014-07-14T18:54:39.208Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I see. I was confused for a while, but in the hypothetical examples I was considering, a link between MMR and autism might be missed (a false negative with 5% probability) but isn't going to found unless it was there (low false positive). Then Vanviver explains, above, that the canonical null-hypothesis framework assumes that random chance will make it look like there is an effect with some probability -- so it is the false positive rate you can tune with your sample size.

I marginally understand this. For example, I can't really zoom out and see why you can't define your test so that the false positive rate is low instead. That's OK. I do understand your example and see that it is relevant for the null-hypothesis framework. (My background in statistics is not strong and I do not have much time to dedicate to this right now.)

Comment by byrnema on Too good to be true · 2014-07-13T03:04:11.789Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

(I realize I'm confused about something and am thinking it through for a moment.)

Comment by byrnema on Too good to be true · 2014-07-13T00:58:47.223Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

OK, that sounds straightforward.

How does one know that the 60 studies are these? (rather then the others (e.g., that were designed to show an effect with 95% probability, but failed to do so and thus got a negative result)).

Comment by byrnema on Too good to be true · 2014-07-12T23:58:32.071Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Another way of asking my question, perhaps more clearly, is: how do we know if the 60 considered studies were testing the hypothesis that there was a link or the hypothesis that there was not a link?

Comment by byrnema on Too good to be true · 2014-07-12T23:45:28.906Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Which 5%?

No, that 5% is the probability of a false positive, [...]

No, "that" 5% is the probability from my cooked-up example, which was the probability of a false-negative.

You're saying (and Phil says also in several places) that in his example the 5% is the probability of a false positive. I don't disagree, a priori, but I would like to know, how do we know this? This is a necessary component of the full argument that seems to be missing so far.

Comment by byrnema on Too good to be true · 2014-07-12T02:44:32.505Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think that it's necessarily suspicious in that, a priori, I wouldn't have a problem with 60 tests all being negative even though they're all only 95% confident.

The reason being, depending on the nature of the test, the probability of a false negative might indeed be 5% while the probability of a false positive could be tiny. Suppose this is indeed the case and let's consider the two cases that the true answer is either 'positive' or 'negative'.

(A) if the true conclusion is 'positive', any test can yield a negative with 5% probability. (this test will be reported as a negative with 95% confidence, though one would expect most tests to yield the positive conclusion.)

(B) if the true conclusion is 'negative', any test that yields a negative will still be reported with the 95% confidence because of the possibility of case (A). Though if it is case (B), we should not expect any positive conclusion, even over 60 tests, because the false-positive rate is so low.

I have no idea if this lack of symmetry is the case for the set of MMR and autism studies. (It probably isn't -- so I apologize that I am probably accomplishing nothing but making it more difficult to argue what is likely a true intuition.)

But it is easy to think of an example where this asymmetry would apply: consider that you are searching for someone that you know well in a crowd, but you are not sure they are there. Consider a test to be looking for them over a 15 minute period, and you estimate that if they are there, you are likely to find them during that 15 minute period with 95% probability. Suppose they are there but you don't find them in 15 minutes -- that is a false negative with 5% probability. Supopse they are not there and you do not find them -- you again say they are not there with 95% probability. But in this case where they are not there, even if you have 60 people looking for them over 15 minutes, no one will find them because the probability of a false positive is pretty much zero.

(I do see where you addressed false positives versus false negatives in several places, so this explanation was not for you specifically since I know you are familiar with this. But it is not so clear which is which in these studies from the top, and it is fleshing this out that will ultimately make the argument more difficult, but more water-tight.)

Comment by byrnema on In favour of terseness · 2014-03-26T20:55:19.090Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I preferred to count down since I would like to keep track of how many comments remain until I've successfully met my commitment. If I had just wanted to accumulate an unspecified number, I would have counted up.

…any particular reason why you asked?

Comment by byrnema on In favour of terseness · 2014-03-19T01:39:16.774Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the feedback. I'll keep track of my 50 comments more unobtrusively. (Comment #47.)

Comment by byrnema on My book: Simulating Dennett - This Wednesday in Sao Paulo · 2014-03-18T00:12:28.647Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This is one of the strangest posts I have ever read on Less Wrong..

50 comments 50 words or less. #48

Comment by byrnema on Academia as a career option, its social value, and alternatives · 2014-03-10T21:31:21.066Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Depending on opportunities in your field, academia may provide favorable amounts of freedom, job security and impact. However, for the quintessential academic, academia is not a calculated optimization but a personality type:

It’s awesome to be supported while you learn and think, if that’s what you wanted to do anyway.

50 comments 50 words or less. #49

Comment by byrnema on In favour of terseness · 2014-03-10T21:03:59.698Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I had already noticed I needed to adjust in this direction. I'm going to try being more concise and see how it goes.

Specifically, 50 words or less for 50 comments. (#50)

Comment by byrnema on How my math skills improved dramatically · 2014-03-07T16:01:33.764Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I appreciate your responses, thanks. My perspective on understanding a concept was a bit different -- once a concept is owned, I thought, you apply it everywhere and are confused and startled when it doesn't apply. But especially in considering this example I see your point about the difficulty in understanding the concept fully and consistently applying it.

Volume conservation is something we learn through experience that is true -- it's not logically required, and there are probably some interesting materials that violate it at any level of interpretation. But there is an associated abstract concept -- that number of things might be conserved as you move them around -- that we might measure comprehension of.

There are different levels at which this concept can be understood. It can be understood that it works for discrete objects: this number of things staying the same always works for things like blocks, but not for fluids, which flow together, so the child might initially carve reality in this way. Eventually volume conservation can be applied to something abstract like unit squares of volume, which liquids do satisfy.

Now that I see that the concept isn't logically required (it's a fact about everyday reality we learn through experience) and that there are a couple stages, I'm really skeptical that there is a physical module dedicated to this concept.

So I've updated. I don't believe there are physical/neurological developments associated with particular concepts. (Abstract reasoning ability may increase over time, and may require particular neurological advancements, but these developments would not be tied with understanding particular concepts.)

Seems kind of silly now. Though there was some precedent with some motor development concepts (e.g., movements while learning to walk) being neurologically pre-programmed.

This seems an appropriate place to observe that while watching my children develop from very immature neurological systems (little voluntary control, jerky, spasmodic movements that are cute but characteristic of very young babies) to older babies that could look around and start learning to move themselves, I was amazed by how much didn't seem to be pre-programmed and I wondered how well babies could adapt to different realities (e.g., weightlessness or different physics in simulated realities). Our plasticity in that regard, if my impression is correct, seems amazing. Evolution had no reason to select for that. Unless it is also associated with later plasticity for learning new motor skills, and new mental concepts.

Comment by byrnema on How my math skills improved dramatically · 2014-03-07T02:20:44.830Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Were you precocious?

Comment by byrnema on How my math skills improved dramatically · 2014-03-07T02:16:44.228Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that while not exactly 'volume conservation', this addresses the exact same skill.

If the child gave a good explanation for a problem, there was only a 43 percent chance of his advancing the same explanation when later confronted with the identical problem.

Would you interpret this as meaning the children had not acquired the concept, after all? It seems that if the child actually truly understands the concept that moving things around doesn't change their number, then they wouldn't be inconsistent. (Or is the study demonstrating what I found unintuitive, that children can grasp and then forget a concept?)

Comment by byrnema on How my math skills improved dramatically · 2014-03-06T21:32:35.788Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What I summarize from the above is that educators have decided that Piaget's theory is not helpful for deciding 'developmentally appropriate practice'. Perhaps because the transitions from one stage to another are fuzzy and overlapping, or because students of a particular age group are not necessarily in step. Furthermore, understanding of a concept is 'multi-dimensional' and there are many ways to approach it, and many ways for a child to think about it, rather than a unique pathway, so that a student might seem more or less advanced depending on how you ask the question.

I think the real nail in the coffin would be if a young child does not understand a particular concept (say, volume conservation) and it is found that you can teach them this concept before they are supposed to be developmentally ready. This because I think the crux of Piaget's theory is that certain concepts are physically possible only after a corresponding physical development?

Comment by byrnema on How my math skills improved dramatically · 2014-03-06T15:39:37.007Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The basic capability for formal operations sets in much earlier.

I think it depends. The wikipedia page says that the onset is between 11 and 20 years or so.

My aptitude in mathematics was a bit above average when I was 11 years old. Maybe I had already met the criterion for the formal operation stage, despite not doing well in math the first couple years of high school. But something significant happened when I was 17, and it seemed to be a qualitative change in the way I understood mathematics. I also seemed to be developed the ability to excel in Algebra (with motivated effort) later than my peers. Perhaps it wasn't a specific stage identified by Piaget, but it felt physical/neurological.

I do think Piaget is considered outdated. He might have gotten some of the details wrong or its not the whole story. (For example, I'm skeptical that babies ever lack object permanence.) Nevertheless, Piaget is likely correct that certain concepts develop in stages that are timed with physical development.

Comment by byrnema on How my math skills improved dramatically · 2014-03-06T00:26:24.672Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW


When something very similar happened to me (failing Algebra in 9th grade, aptitude suddenly surfacing in 11th), I also thought motivation was really important, but I also noticed my brain working differently. Algebra went from being semi-confused symbol manipulation to understanding what a variable was actually about.

In a simultaneous psychology course, I learned about Piaget's "formal operational stage" and that's what I attributed it to. I think it happens when you're 17 or 18. (Consider/compare with also this data point). So I agreed, it felt like it was a physical difference in development. What do you think of this as an explanatory hypothesis? (Any way to tell them apart?)

Comment by byrnema on Is IQ what we actually need to know? · 2014-02-27T06:06:01.797Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I though the cartoon was a good example. The tiger convinced the boy that he was smarter than he actually was, with smooth talking.

Comment by byrnema on Is IQ what we actually need to know? · 2014-02-27T05:25:29.601Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It seems you are using 'seeming smart' as interchangeable with 'convincing' or 'persuasive'?

However, these are quite independent. Someone can easily convince me of something, without my thinking they are more intelligent than I am, and without convincing me that they are more intelligent than they are.

Consider a 'smooth talker'. I think people generally recognize that these smooth-talkers are more likable and persuasive on any topic, but there is no necessary correlation with having a higher IQ. In fiction, there are extreme examples like Forest Gump (low IQ, very smooth) and innumerable moderate examples like Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters. Whereas intelligent characters are often portrayed, though not always, as not very persuasive.

...Smooth-talkers and scammers will often break-down defenses by signaling equal intelligence when they actually have higher intelligence.

In the example you gave, how do we know Velikovsky wasn't very intelligent? (We do know he had the ability to write very well, to make a false history seem true.) My question isn't that he is or wasn't intelligent, but whether his deception of Yvain was due to Yvain over-estimating his intelligence.

..Can you think of an example (a fictional one might be easiest) where a deception (or even any conflict) was actually about someone overestimating someone's intelligence?

Comment by byrnema on Is IQ what we actually need to know? · 2014-02-27T04:11:40.654Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Fluidly using the right jargon, and signaling that you 'know stuff' without sounding like you're trying hard too show that you know stuff, requires a fair amount of intelligence. (Incidentally, an inability to maintain a natural flow of conversation when someone knows a lot of stuff is one way highly intelligent people reveal that their social acuity is not that high. Their IQ may be extremely high, but a five minute interview can often easily identify these things.)

A certain degree of being articulate and appropriately assertive can be trained – I think I see this happen in the military. However, I don't think it's a fake signal, I think this training really results in greater general intelligence, or greater ability to succeed in any case.

Comment by byrnema on Is IQ what we actually need to know? · 2014-02-27T03:46:05.220Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The outside view is very good to apply, especially in this case where there hasn't been much independent validation and lots of opportunity for confirmation bias. However, I would and do generally trust the assessment someone else makes about the intelligence of someone else. (With the exception of any assessments based on politics or tribe affiliation.) I guess I agree with the OP that intelligence is fairly straightforward to estimate with secondary signals.

I'm not familiar with any charlatans or scammers being successful by pretending to be smarter than they were. People pretending to be smarter than they are, are usually pretty transparent. I suspect this is just availability bias, though, do you have any examples in mind?

Comment by byrnema on Is IQ what we actually need to know? · 2014-02-26T22:52:12.801Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I find that I don't agree with this comment, though perhaps if I thought about it more I would..

I often categorize people as 10-points-smarter-than-me, 20-points-smarter-than-me, etc, just naturally as I go about my day, and I'm (currently) fairly confident of my evaluations.

Sometimes I can get a pretty good estimate by speaking with someone for 5 minutes -- but I'm aware this is heavily weighted towards verbal acuity, which is just one dimension. A high verbal acuity for me is a marker of high IQ, though average verbal acuity is not strong evidence either way. (I also understand someone can have very high verbal skills while missing some others, so there is an upper bound to what I can predict.) I'm recently studying signs of high social acuity, and I think I'm getting more perceptive at noticing and distinguishing levels that are one or two levels above mine.

Someone that is relatively deficient in one of these parameters can recognize higher levels by evaluating in hind-site how effective and original a particular solution, choice of words or behavior was. It's much easier to judge a behavior than come up with the best behavior yourself. For example, during a meeting I'll realize that someone is manipulating me or others very well. It's much easier to recognize that manipulation that to recreate it. Though it does take some compensatory experience -- since recognizing these manipulations can be as subtle as realizing that a awkward situation has been avoided or people feel better about something that you would have predicted, and determining the intention of the manipulation, and whether it was deliberate or accidental, makes the computation more noisy.

The main way that I judge an IQ higher than mine is if they are faster or more clear on something I've already thought about (this translates to slight increases in IQ) or can succeed at things that I cannot do well or cannot do at all (this is where someone would be at least a level ahead). For example, I'm fairly good at solving problems, and working within a given frame, but I am not very good at choosing problems, because I'm not very strong in selecting frames -- this is a higher order cognitive skill I cannot do well, and no amount of time will increase my success very much. Thus I seek out mentors that are "10 or 20 points above me" to help me with that bit... I consider myself to be 'borrowing' their IQ points for a very short amount of time, so that I can then go and work on a problem within the way they've chosen to frame it. (Again, while I'm not as good at picking a frame, I feel like I am competent at evaluating whether my problem can be well solved within one.)

What I find curious is how people successfully model people of higher IQ in fiction. For example, the doctor in House seems very witty. Is he modeled by someone at least that witty? Likewise with Sherlock Holmes. I realize that the scenarios are contrived, so that the intelligence is mostly illusory, but how intelligent must one be to write a story that convinces someone, say, more intelligent than themselves watching a film that the film is about someone vastly more intelligent than them?

Comment by byrnema on Identity and Death · 2014-02-19T14:17:37.599Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So it's like the same algorithm operating on different data?

To be clear, just the part about feeling like I'm "me". I think it would feel very different to be an alien, but I expect I would feel the same way about being myself.

On some level of abstraction this is both trivial and meaningless: at the bottom we all are just "particles following the same laws of physics"

I agree about the triviality. Especially for the thesis that we all share one consciousness -- that we are all a physical computation is both obvious and meaningless (everything is a physical computation) but it also means it doesn't matter if that particular computation is displaced in space or time or copied -- there's nothing unique that doesn't get carried over (if it's true that all our senses of self are essentially the same computation).

Comment by byrnema on Identity and Death · 2014-02-19T10:36:17.873Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What exactly it means to "feel the same" in this context? The same memories? No. The same plans? No. The same emotions? No.

Memories, plans, emotions and even qualities of what it feels like to be a general or specific human are all aspects I would bundle with an identity's 'situation'. For example, in philosophies that assert there is 'one shared consciousness', they don't mean we all think the same thoughts or have the same plans.

Rather, there would be something in common with specifically the ways it feels on the inside to be an 'I', to be an observer looking out through all the details of their situation. There seems to be some sort of intuition (possibly false) that there is something qualitatively identical about any computation that results in feeling like you are person. (For example, it would feel different, and 'identity' would be different, if you instead were part of a hive mind, maybe.)

Exploiting this particular intuition, it can't possibly matter if you're copied and destroyed. The situational details are the same for a copy, and then the elusive second part ("identity") is identical for everyone, including adjacent copies, and so they are the same.

...looking at it from the other way, if someone didn't think a copy was identical, what part would be different? This thing is what I'm suggesting is the same for all persons.

Comment by byrnema on Identity and Death · 2014-02-18T23:08:43.109Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

To try steel-manning your perspective, if I'm not misrepresenting it, the idea is that every identity feels the same from the inside, it doesn't matter which one you have or which one is you.

I agree with this.

However (in response to Tenoke below) the situations of identities, and relationships between identities, do matter so it doesn't follow that you can change situations (or kill people) without creating value differences.

Comment by byrnema on I like simplicity, but not THAT much · 2014-02-18T04:58:50.714Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, I see you already considered this:

But I'd say that there's a small chance that maybe yes, and that if we understood the right kind of math, it would seem very obvious that not all intuitively possible human experiences are actually mathematically possible.

I think this is very likely, and in fact we don't need to compute what is possible ... What we experience is exactly what is mathematically possible.

Comment by byrnema on I like simplicity, but not THAT much · 2014-02-18T03:33:39.431Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So why is our world so orderly? There's a mathematically possible continuation of the world that you seem to be living in, where purple pumpkins are about to start falling from the sky. Or the light we observe coming in from outside our galaxy is suddenly replaced by white noise. Why don't you remember ever seeing anything as obviously disorderly as that?

Who says all of this is mathematically possible? I've read this idea before, and I think it's wrong.

First of all, I think it's very difficult to guess what is mathematically possible. We experience the universe at a level which is already extremely evolved. For example, I imagine that mathematically possibility resulted in an incredibly complex structure that eventually mapped to the rules of physics (string theory maybe, but certainly eventually quantum mechanics and then atoms, etc). Then the universe we experience is just the manifestation of that physics.

Secondly, another way to look at it, is that counter factual 'possibility' is not the same thing as mathematical possibility. For example I could have chosen not to compose this comment (counter-factually) but it wasn't actually possible that I wouldn't because I'm computing a program which -- certainly at this scale -- is deterministic.

Comment by byrnema on White Lies · 2014-02-09T22:31:21.576Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I also discovered I was like this as a teenager -- that I had an extremely malleable identity. I think it was related to being very empathetic -- I just accepted whichever world view the person I was speaking with came with, and I think in my case this might have been related to reading a lot growing up, so that it seemed that a large fraction of my total life experience were the different voices of the different authors that I had read. (Reading seems to require quickly assimilating the world view of whomever is first person.)

I also didn't make much distinction between something that could be true and something that was true. I don't know why this was. or if it is related to the first thing. But if I thought about a fact, and it didn't feel currently jarring with anything else readily in mind, it seemed just as true as anything else and I was likely to speak it. So a few times after a conversation, I would shake my head and wonder why I had just said something so absurdly untrue, as though I had believed it.

In my early twenties, I found I needed to create a fixed world view -- in fact, I felt like I was going crazy. Maybe I was, because different world views were colliding and I couldn't hold them separate when action was required (like choosing an actual job) rather than just idle conversation.

That's why I gravitated towards physical materialism. I needed something fixed, a territory behind all of these crazy maps. I think that the map that I have now is pretty good, and well-integrated with the territory, but it took 3-5 years. I'm still flexible with understanding other world views. For example, I was in a workshop a few days ago where we needed to defend different views, and I received one that was marginally morally reprehensible. I was the only one in my group able to defend it. (It wasn't such a useful skill there, I think most people just assumed I had that view, which is unfortunate, but I didn't mind -- if it was important to signal correctly at this workshop I would have lied and said I couldn't relate.)

Comment by byrnema on Rationalists Are Less Credulous But Better At Taking Ideas Seriously · 2014-01-22T22:06:22.197Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So that's what I am going to do. I actually ordered an external hard drive, and every few weeks I'll back up my hard drive. The whole thing (no decisions).

I also understand that I don't need to worry about versions -- the external hard drive just saves the latest version.

I also talked to a friend today and found out they backed their data regularly. I was surprised; didn't know regular people did this regularly.

Comment by byrnema on Rationalists Are Less Credulous But Better At Taking Ideas Seriously · 2014-01-22T22:00:12.278Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I understood (and my perspective changed quite a bit) as soon as I read about Miller's Law in the exchange you linked. I really like having a handle for the concept (for my own sake, its usefulness is curbed by not being well-known).

I believe the default interpretation of the question you asked is the interpretation that I had (that you were using the Socratic method). The reason for this being the default interpretation is that there is an obvious, intuitive answer. (This question was a good counter-argument, which is why I think it was up-voted.)

... to deflect this interpretation, your question could be worded to be less obvious, and allow more nuance. Perhaps, "If you could remain healthy indefinitely, do you expect you would ever choose to die?", or, "If you could remain healthy indefinitely, for which conditions would you ever choose to die?"

Comment by byrnema on Rationalists Are Less Credulous But Better At Taking Ideas Seriously · 2014-01-22T15:32:33.387Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm interested in the choices, and the factors that contribute to those choices, so I asked about them.

If you are specifically interested in the contexts of a person deciding that they do wish, or do not wish, to continue living in the current moment, then my comment wasn't relevant.

However, I interpreted your question as a Socratic challenge to realize that one values immortality because they do not wish to die in the present moment. (I think these are separate systems in some sense, perhaps far versus near).

Comment by byrnema on Rationalists Are Less Credulous But Better At Taking Ideas Seriously · 2014-01-22T04:42:55.142Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think this question is a good way to investigate feelings about immortality and death.

This is somewhat related to Yvain's post post about liking versus wanting / The Neuroscience of Pleasure.

While we're alive, we want to keep on living. I recall moments -- locked away for the moment, unreachable --when the idea of death caused feelings of intense terror. But one can also recognize an immutable biological component to this (immutable unless one is depressed or in pain, etc). To circumnavigate this immediate biological feeling about death, it is better to try and perceive, counter-factually, if you were already dead, would you care? I think it is interesting that the answers are different if we're discussing tomorrow, or 100 years from now, or 100 years ago. (Tut recently shared this quote from Mark Twain.)

Comment by byrnema on Rationalists Are Less Credulous But Better At Taking Ideas Seriously · 2014-01-22T04:17:40.749Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I have a Windows machine, but I know there are automatic back-up schedules that can be done. I just don't want to do it... I don't want to think about a complex automatic process or make decisions about scheduling. Trying to pinpoint why ... it feels messy and discontinuous and inconvenient, to keep saving iterations of all my old junk.

Comment by byrnema on Rationalists Are Less Credulous But Better At Taking Ideas Seriously · 2014-01-22T04:02:06.397Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

(This is a stream of consciousness where I explore why I haven't backed up my data. This proceeds in stages, with evolution to the next stage only because the writing of this comment forced me to keep going. Thus, it's a data point in response to this comment.)

Back up your data, people. It's so easy

Interesting. I have a very dense 'ugh field' around backing up my data, come to think of it. Based on this population of one, it has nothing to do with not trusting the salesperson, or not being aware that my hard drive is going to fail.

... in fact, I know my hard drive is about to fail (upon reboot I get those dooming system error messages that cycle, etc.) and has occurred to me several times I might want to back up my data. Yes, there's some important stuff I need to back up.

Maybe the hurdle is that most stuff on my computer is useless, and I don't want to prioritize the material. I just want it all there if I need it, so I wish my computer wouldn't break.

Since I know my computer is likely to break, or in case the power goes out or I accidentally close without saving, while working I save files electronically very frequently, and I make hard copies if there will be any pain within say -- 72 hours -- of losing a particular document. The pain of the loss of anything later than a few days is discounted. (Is that hyperbolic discounting? Or just akrasia, as another commenter suggested?)

But I do know I won't spend 20 minutes tomorrow investigating how to back up my hard drive. I know someone will say it is "easy", but there will instead be some obstacle that will mean my data won't actually get backed up and I'll have wasted my twenty minutes. Right?

... OK, fine. (sigh) Let's suppose my budget is $20 and 20 minutes. What should I do?

(reading online)

...OK, I buy a hard-drive, connect it with a USB, and drag and drop the files I want to save once the computer recognizes the device. Although I still need to determine which folders are worth saving, and this is a continuous, ongoing chore, there are some folders I know I need to save right away. I should go ahead and store those.

(I'll report back tomorrow whether this back-up actually happened.)

Comment by byrnema on Why I haven't signed up for cryonics · 2014-01-16T00:53:18.665Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm...I wonder to what extent emigrating a relative 'lot' has formed my ideas about identity. Especially when I was younger, I did not feel like my identity was very robust to abrupt and discordant changes, usually geographic, and just accepted that different parts of my life felt different.

I did enjoy change, exactly as an adventure, and I have no wish to end experience.

However, with a change as discontinuous as cryonics (over time and social networks), I find that I'm not attached to particular components of my identity (such as gender and profession and enjoying blogging on Less Wrong, etc) and in the end, there's not much left save the universal feeling of experience -- the sense of identity captured by any really good book, the feeling of a voice and a sympathetic perception.

To illustrate, I would be exceptionally interested in a really realistic book about someone being resuscitated from cryonics (I find books more immersive than movies), but I wouldn't feel that 'I' needed to be the main character of that book, and I would be very excited to discover that my recent experience as a human in the 21st century has been a simulation, preparing me in some way for revival tomorrow morning in a brave new a former Czech businessman.

Comment by byrnema on Why I haven't signed up for cryonics · 2014-01-15T22:55:39.845Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But I wanted to add ... if the daughter of the person from Ohio is also cryonicized and revived (somewhat randomly, I based my identities on the 118th and 88th patients at Alcor, though I don''t know what their professions were, and the 88th patient did have a daughter), I very much hope that the mother-daughter pair may be revived together. That, I think, would be a lot of fun to wake up together and find out what the new world is like.

Comment by byrnema on Why I haven't signed up for cryonics · 2014-01-15T22:51:28.011Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think you're going too far when saying it's "no different than any other", but I agree with the core idea - being revived without any of my social connections in an alien world would indeed significantly change "who I am".

Hmm..actually, you have a different point of view.

I feel like I would have the same identity even without my social connections; I would have the specific identity that I currently have if I was revived.

My point was more along the lines it doesn't matter which identity I happened to have -- mine or someone else's, it wouldn't matter.

Consider that you have a choice whether to be revived as a particular Czech business man or as a particular medical doctor from Ohio (assuming for the hypothetical, that there was some coherent way to map these identities to 'you'). How would you pick?

Maybe you would pick based on the values of your current identity, kilobug. However, that seems rather arbitrary as these aren't the values exactly of either the Czech business man or the doctor from Ohio. I imagine either one of them would be happy with being themselves.

Now throw your actual identity in the mix, so that you get to pick from the three. I feel that many people examine their intuition and feel they would prefer that they themselves are picked. However, I examine my intuition and I find I don't care. Is this really so strange?

Comment by byrnema on Why I haven't signed up for cryonics · 2014-01-13T17:28:41.014Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's neutral from a point of pleasure vs suffering for the dead person

It forgets opportunity costs. Dying deprive the person of all the future experience (s)he could have, so of a huge amount of pleasure (and potentially suffering too).

I feel like being revived in the future would be a new project I am not yet emotionally committed to.

I think I would be / will be very motivated to extend my life, but when it comes to expending effort to "come back", I realize I feel some relief with just letting my identity go.

The main reason behind this is that what gives my life value are my social connections, without them I am just another 'I', no different than any other. It seems just as well that there be another, independent birth than my own revival. One reason I feel this way is from reading books -- being the 'I' in the story always feels the same.

This would all of course change if my family was signing up.

Comment by byrnema on I Will Pay $500 To Anyone Who Can Convince Me To Cancel My Cryonics Subscription · 2014-01-12T08:12:05.592Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I meant a physical copy.

Would it make a difference, to you, if they rebuilt you in-situ, rather than adjacent?

But I just noticed this set of sentences, so I was incorrect to assume common ideas about identity:

In particular, I find questions about personal identity and consciousness of uploads made from preserved brains confusing,

Comment by byrnema on I Will Pay $500 To Anyone Who Can Convince Me To Cancel My Cryonics Subscription · 2014-01-12T03:04:00.147Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If it could be done, would you pay $500 for a copy of you to be created tomorrow in a similar but separate alternate reality?(Like an Everette branch that is somewhat close to ours, but faraway enough that you are not already in it?)

Given what we know about identity, etc., this is what you are buying.

Personally, I wouldn't pay five cents.

Unless people that you know and love are also signed up for cryonics? (In which case you ought to sign up, for lots of reasons including keeping them company and supporting their cause.)

Comment by byrnema on [Link] Consciousness as a State of Matter (Max Tegmark) · 2014-01-11T23:39:10.098Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, thanks. My interpretation was that he was saying that conscious minds do that particular carving, but your interpretation is that he proposes that particular carving for finding conscious minds – and other entity like objects. That makes more sense.

Comment by byrnema on [Link] Consciousness as a State of Matter (Max Tegmark) · 2014-01-11T17:05:21.105Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ok, that's a start, thanks. So is he suggesting that the way consciousness carves reality at the joints is special? which case, this carving must be done at the analysis stage, right, not at the perception stage? Because at the perception stage, our senses work just like other (non-conscious) sensors.

And then finally, if he is talking about the way the conscious mind carves reality at the joints, this is processing after we have all the data so why is quantum mechanics relevant? (I imagine that a creature could analyze sensory data in lots of different ways, for example a bee might use Fourier analysis for all I know, where we might use some sort of object identification criteria…)

It's fine if you don't know the answers to these questions, or they are too wrong to respond to.

Another way of asking my question is, since we evolved from non-conscious creatures, and the hardware is largely the same, where does using the wave function to carve reality at the joints come in?

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