Epistemological Implications of a Reduction of Theoretical Implausibility to Cognitive Dissonance 2017-07-25T01:29:32.006Z · score: 0 (0 votes)
Pascal's Mugging Solved 2014-05-27T03:28:08.719Z · score: 0 (25 votes)
The concept of belief and the nature of abstraction 2014-03-31T20:14:02.315Z · score: 4 (11 votes)
Buridan's ass and the psychological origins of objective probability 2013-03-30T09:43:38.902Z · score: 2 (32 votes)
Infinitesimals: Another argument against actual infinite sets 2013-01-26T03:04:52.269Z · score: -21 (58 votes)


Comment by common_law on Rationality Quotes Thread January 2016 · 2016-01-27T22:51:14.364Z · score: -5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

But it's also obvious that Thomas is no legal genius. (Unlike, say, Scalia, who I actually abhor more, probably for that reason). Why no black legal geniuses, theoretical physicists, abstract mathematicians, or analytic philosophers? This is more telling than fishing about in the superior range, which, even on the assumptions, is only as rare as falling in the general population's very-superior range.

Comment by common_law on Rationality Quotes Thread December 2015 · 2015-12-12T04:57:58.993Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Looking for mental information in individual neuronal firing patterns is looking at the wrong level of scale and at the wrong kind of physical manifestation. As in other statistical dynamical regularities, there are a vast number of microstates (i.e., network activity patterns) that can constitute the same ghloal attractor, and a vast numbmer of trajectories of microstate-to-microstate changes that will tend to converge to a common attractor. But it is the final quasi-regular network-level dynamic, like a melody played by a million-instrument orchestra, that is the medium of mental information. - Terrence W. Deacon, Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter, pp. 516 - 517.

Comment by common_law on Words per person year and intellectual rigor · 2015-09-07T20:48:12.333Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Elaborate or detailed are characteristics neither necessary nor sufficient for rigor. The first describe characteristics of the theory; the second of the argument for the theory. To say a theory is rigorous is neither more or less than to say it is well argued (with particular emphasis on the argument's tightness).

Whether Freud and Marx argued well may be hard to agree on when we examine their arguments. [Agreement or disagreement on conclusions have a way of grossly interfering with evaluation of argument, with the added complication that evaluation must be relative to a historical state of play.] And we ignore what could be called holes in Einstein and Darwin because the theories are the consensus - holes like the absence of the Mendelian mechanism in Darwin or the (still-unresolved, at least philosophically) problem of infinities in general relativity. [I'm sure that's controversial, however.]

But I would suggest that a theories that have sustained the agreement of even a large minority of serious intellectuals and academics for more than a century should be presumed rigorous. Rigor is what establishes lasting intellectual success. It is what primarily defines whether a work is "impressive" (to use Robin Hanson's as-always useful term).

On the other hand, I agree that third-rate minds use formulaic methods to generate a huge number of publications, and by their nature, such works will never be rigorous (or lastingly impressive).

Comment by common_law on Words per person year and intellectual rigor · 2015-09-04T03:54:12.011Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You've drawn a significant distinction, but I don't think degree of rigor defines it. I'm not sufficiently familiar with many of these thinkers to assess their rigorousness, but I am familiar with several, the ones who would often be deemed most important: Einstein, Darwin on the side you describe as rigorous; Freud and Marx on the side you describe as less rigorous. I can't agree that Freud and Marx are less rigorous. Marx makes a argument for his theory of capitalism in three tightly reasoned volumes of capital, none of the arguments formulaic. Freud develops the basics of his psychology in "The Interpretation of Dreams," a rigorous study of numerous dreams, his own and his patients, extracting principles of dream interpretation.

Let me offer an alternative hypothesis. The distinction doesn't regard rigor but rather elegance. Einstein and Darwin developed elegant explanations; Freud and Marx developed systems of insights, supported by argument and evidence, but less reducible to a central, crisp insight. I haven't considered a term for the latter, but for the moment, I'll call them systematic theories.

An elegant theory must be accepted as a whole or not at all. A systematic theory contains numerous insights that despite their integration can often be separated from one another, one idea accepted and another rejected.

With that distinction, it can readily be explained why systematic theorists produce a greater total bulk of work. It takes more words, and more working through, to explain a system than an elegant principle.

Comment by common_law on Is Scott Alexander bad at math? · 2015-05-16T21:01:16.482Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Aesthetic ability as such hasn't been extracted as a cognitive ability factor. My guess would be that it's mainly explained by g and the temperamental factor of openness to experience. (I don't know what the empirical data is on this subject, but I think some immersion in the factor-analytic data would prove rewarding.)

[Added.] On aesthetic sense: the late R.B. Cattell (psychologist) devised an IQ test based on which jokes were preferred.

[Added.2] I'm wondering if you're not misinterpreting your personal experience. You say your IQ is only LW-average. You also say you have a nonverbal learning disability; but that would render any score you obtained on an IQ test a substantial underestimate. I'm inclined to think what you're calling aesthetic ability (in your case, at least) is just intelligence beyond what the uninterpreted scores say.

Comment by common_law on Innate Mathematical Ability · 2015-03-01T05:03:46.497Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What's your basis for concluding that verbal-reasoning ability is an important component of mathematical ability—particularly important in more theoretical areas of math?

The research that I recall showed little influence of verbal reasoning on high-level math ability, verbal ability certainly being correlated with math ability but the correlation almost entirely accounted for by g (or R). There's some evidence that spatio-visual ability, rather unimportant for mathematical literacy (as measured by SAT-M, GRE-Q), becomes significant at higher levels of achievement. But from what I've seen, the factor that emerged most distinctive for excellent mathematicians (distinguishing them from other fields also demanding high g) isn't g itself, but rather cognitive speed. Talented mathematicians are mentally quick.

Comment by common_law on The Hostile Arguer · 2014-11-27T23:07:57.155Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

You should question your unstated but fundamental premise: one should avoid arguments with "hostile arguers."

A person who argues to convince rather than to understand harms himself, but from his interlocutor's standpoint, dealing with his arguments can be just as challenging and enlightening as arguing with someone more "intellectually honest."

Whether an argument is worthwhile depends primarily on the competence of the arguments presented, which isn't strongly related to the sincerity of the arguer.

Comment by common_law on The Truth and Instrumental Rationality · 2014-11-01T22:07:10.015Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, I think you're wrong in thinking that LW doctrine doesn't dictate heightened scrutiny of the deployment of self-deception. At the same time, I think you're wrong to think false beliefs can seldom be quarantined, compartmentalization being a widely employed defense mechanism. (Cf., any liberal theist.)

Everyone feels a tug toward the pure truth, away from pure instrumental rationalism. You're mistake (and LW's), I think, is to incorporate truth into instrumental rationality (without really having a cogent rationale, given the reality of compartmentalization). The real defect in instrumental rationalism is that no person of integrity can take it to heart. "Values" are of two kinds: biological givens and acquired tendencies that restrict the operation of those givens (instinct and restraint). The drive for instrumental rationality is a biological given; epistemic rationality is a restraint intellectuals apply to their instrumental rationality. It is ethical in character, whereas instrumental rationality is not; and it is a seductive confusion to moralize it.

For intellectuals, the businessman's "winner" ethos--the evaluative subordination of epistemic rationality to instrumentality--is an invitation to functional psychopathy.

Comment by common_law on Power and difficulty · 2014-10-26T02:59:53.980Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see how your argument gains from attributing the hard-work bias to stories. (For one thing, you still have to explain why stories express this bias—unless you think it's culturally adventitious.)

The bias seems to me to be a particular case of the fair-world bias and perhaps also the "more is better" heuristic. It seems like you are positing a new bias unnecessarily. (That doesn't detract from the value of describing this particular variant.)

Comment by common_law on Applications of logical uncertainty · 2014-10-19T22:21:00.425Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Philosophically, I want to know how you calculate the rational degree of belief in every proposition.

If you automatically assign the axioms an actually unobtainable certainty, you don't get the rational degree of belief in every proposition, as the set of "propositions" includes those not conditioned on the axioms.

Comment by common_law on Applications of logical uncertainty · 2014-10-18T23:15:27.568Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What about the problem that if you admit that logical propositions are only probable, you must admit that the foundations of decision theory and Bayesian inference are only probable (and treat them accordingly)? Doesn't this leave you unable to complete a deduction because of a vicious regress?

Comment by common_law on Confound it! Correlation is (usually) not causation! But why not? · 2014-07-25T18:02:34.572Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

A critical mistake in the lead analysis is false assumption: where there is a causal relation between two variables, they will be correlated. This ignores that causes often cancel out. (Of course, not perfectly, but enough to make raw correlation a generally poor guide to causality.

I think you have a fundamentally mistaken epistemology, gwern: you don't see that correlations only support causality when they are predicted by a causal theory.

Comment by common_law on Confound it! Correlation is (usually) not causation! But why not? · 2014-07-10T20:16:08.021Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

“how else could this correlation happen if there’s no causal connection between A & B‽”

The main way to correct for this bias toward seeing causation where there is only correlation follows from this introspection: be more imaginative about how it could happen (other than by direct causation).

[The causation bias (does it have a name?) seems to express the availability bias. So, the corrective is to increase the availability of the other possibilities.]

Comment by common_law on Willpower Depletion vs Willpower Distraction · 2014-06-06T17:35:47.795Z · score: -6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

You link ego depletion (willpower depletion and decision fatigue alternative terms) to working memory, based on neuroscientists refusal to reify the former. But you neglect that, neuroscientists would deny that working memory is "a thing."

The psychological findings are robust. That the first-proposed physiological explanation is dubious doesn't disqualify the phenomena.

The opponent process theory in mentioned in the wikipedia article is promising.

Who says willpower limitations are a function of limited capacity? This is something of an engineer's favored explanation. A better explanation is probably rooted in evolutionary psychology rather than inherent capacity limitations. We evolved with opponent processes governing control and gratification.

Attributing willpower depletion to "distraction" isn't an explanation. Distraction probably has causal relevance, but it isn't a magic wand to wave away psychological findings.

The OP is amateurish.

Comment by common_law on Pascal's Mugging Solved · 2014-05-31T23:29:28.018Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I intended nothing more than to solve the literal interpretation. This isn't my beaten path. I don't intend more on the subject besides speculation about why an essentially trivial problem of "literal interpretation" has resisted articulation.

Comment by common_law on Pascal's Mugging Solved · 2014-05-31T18:26:54.094Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think you'll find the argument is clear without any formalization if you recognize that it is NOT the usual claim that confidence goes down. Rather, it's that the confidence falls below its contrary.

In philH's terms, you're engaging in pattern matching rather than taking the argument on its own terms.

Comment by common_law on Pascal's Mugging Solved · 2014-05-31T18:24:58.323Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What you're ignoring is the comparison probability. See philH's comment.

Comment by common_law on Pascal's Mugging Solved · 2014-05-27T18:34:08.504Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's accurate. But it's crucial, of course, to see why P(C) comes to dominate P(B), and I think this is what most commenters have missed. (But maybe I'm wrong about that; maybe its because of pattern matching.) As the threat increases, P(C) comes to dominate P(B) because the threat, when large enough, is evidence against the threatened event occurring.

Comment by common_law on Pascal's Mugging Solved · 2014-05-27T17:34:50.442Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That is [it is assumed that] the only plausible reason to state a meganumber class high utility is to beat someone elses number.

It's the only reason that doesn't cancel out because it's the only one about which we have any knowledge. The higher the number, the more likely it is that the mugger is playing the "pick the highest number" game. You can imagine scenarios in which picking the highest number has some unknown significance, they cancel out, in the same way as Pascal's God is canceled by the possibility of contrary gods.

Also why what the mugger says have anythinhg to do how big of a threat the conversation is?

Same question (formally) as why should failure to confirm a theory be evidence against it.

Comment by common_law on Pascal's Mugging Solved · 2014-05-27T17:14:48.693Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What you present is the basic fallacy of Pascal's Mugging: treating the probability of B and of C as independent the fact that a threat of given magnitude is made.

Your formalism, in other words, doesn't model the argument. The basic point is that Pascal Mugging can be solved by the same logic as succeeds with Pascal's wager. Pascal ignored that believing in god A was instrumentally rational by ignoring that there might, with equal consequences, be a god B instead who hated people who worshiped god A.

Pascal's Mugging ignores that giving to the mugger might cause the calamity threatened to be more likely if you accede to the mugger than if you don't. The point of inflection is that point where the mugger's making the claim becomes evidence against it rather than for it.

No commenters have engaged the argument!

Comment by common_law on Pascal's Mugging Solved · 2014-05-27T16:51:54.521Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You become less skeptical, but that doesn't affect the issue presented, which concerns only the evidential force of the claim itself.

If someone tears the sky asunder, you will be more inclined to believe the threat. But after a point of increasing threat, increasing it further should decrease your expectation.

Comment by common_law on Natural Rights as Impediment to Artificial Intelligence · 2014-04-01T21:15:06.314Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This essay makes a correct appraisal of Less Wrong thinking, but it denominates the position confusingly as "natural rights." The conventional designation is "moral realism," with "natural rights" denoting a specific deonotological view.

A more charitable reading than than provided by commenters would have understood that all the arguments invoked against natural rights (as well as the arguments attributing natural-rights thinking to Less Wrong) hold for other forms of moral realism, in particular utilitarianism/consequentialism. For an argument that utilitarianism is necessarily a form of moral realism (and other problems with utilitarianism) see "Utilitarianism twice fails".

In short, substitute "moral realism" for "natural rights."

Comment by common_law on Is my view contrarian? · 2014-03-31T18:48:00.072Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You're mistaken in applying the same standards to personal and deliberative decisions. The decision to enroll in cryonics is different in kind from the decision to promote safe AI for the public good. The first should be based on the belief that cryonics claims are true; the second should be based (ultimately) on the marginal value of advocacy in advancing the discussion. The failure to understand this distinction is a major failing in public rationality. For elaboration, see The distinct functions of belief and opinion.

Comment by common_law on How valuable is it to learn math deeply? · 2013-09-02T23:12:54.210Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

that's not how the subject is taught

Hope this isn't too off-topic, but I wonder if you have any ideas about why that is.

The main impediment to many far-mode thinkers learning hard (post-calculus) math is the drill and drudgery involved. If you're going to learn hard math, it seems you should, by all means, learn it deeply. That's not the obstacle. The obstacle is that to learn math deeply, you must first learn a lot of it rotely--at least the way it's taught.

In the far-distant past, when I was in school, learning elementary calculus meant rote drilling on techniques of solving integrals. Is this still the case? Is it inevitable, or is it the result of methods of education?

The main reason "smart people" avoid math isn't that they want to avoid depth; rather, what is, at least for some of them, drudgery. Math, more than any subject I know of, seems to require a very high level of sheer diligence to get to the point where you can start thinking about it deeply. Is this inevitable?

Comment by common_law on Biases of Intuitive and Logical Thinkers · 2013-08-20T01:26:51.314Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The reason for apparent anomalies is that "holistic" thinking can involve two different styles: pre-attentive thinking and far-mode thinking. That is, you can have cognition that could be described as holistic either by being unreflective (System 1) or by engaging in far-mode forms of reflection (System 2 offloads to System 1.) In Ulric Neisser's terms, what is being called "intuitive" might reflect distinctly deeper or distinctly shallower processing than what is called analytic. I sort this out in The deeper solution to the mystery of moralism.

You needn't buy my conclusions about morality to accept the analysis of modes as related to systems 1 and 2.

Comment by common_law on Being Half-Rational About Pascal's Wager is Even Worse · 2013-04-24T19:03:09.682Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Total karma isn't for you, it's for everyone else.

Producing correlated rather than independent judgments of post quality, with the well-known cascading effects. The "system" deliberately introduces what I call belief-opinion confusion

Comment by common_law on Being Half-Rational About Pascal's Wager is Even Worse · 2013-04-24T18:16:16.947Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

To Vladimir Nesov:

"A particularly unpopular posting" is not normally the issue, it's usually the systematic failure to respond to negative feedback, including by stopping to post in particular modes or at all.

I'm sorry: what's a "particular mode"? And what does stopping to post altogether have to do with multiple identities?

More to the point, what is "responding to feedback"? Posting responses to disagreement? Surely you know that depresses "karma" further. Or is "responding to feedback" a euphemism for conforming one's opinion and conduct to the community?

Mr. Nesov, you want to be a scientist; why do you post in bureaucratese? Obfuscatory writing is both cause and symptom of wretched thinking.

Edit. Changed Nessov to Nesov.

Comment by common_law on Being Half-Rational About Pascal's Wager is Even Worse · 2013-04-24T01:17:19.806Z · score: -3 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Doesn't sockpuppetry occur when one poster uses another identity for deceitful purposes, usually to exaggerate his support or denigrate the quality of opposition? I think you have to consider the mens rea before accusing of sockpuppetry--unless you have a rule I haven't noticed against multiple identities. If Dmytry had been guilty of what lukeprog accused him (so cavalierly), Dmytry would have been engaging in sockpuppetry.

There are prudential reasons for having multiple identities. It's like the protection of incorporation: it limits damage. If one identity goes down in flames after a particularly unpopular posting, it doesn't exhaust my "karma" capital.

Comment by common_law on Being Half-Rational About Pascal's Wager is Even Worse · 2013-04-22T18:23:31.398Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Apology accepted, but I think it's Dmytry to whom you actually owe it: he's the one you recklessly accused of deceitful self-promotion.

Comment by common_law on Being Half-Rational About Pascal's Wager is Even Worse · 2013-04-22T01:53:44.460Z · score: 0 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Now there's an excellent example of rationality failure: I'm not Dmytry. Check my profile and my blogs.

Comment by common_law on Voting is like donating thousands of dollars to charity · 2012-11-21T02:09:43.238Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Here's a more germane objection: a single vote, in reality (as opposed to in "should universes") never truly comes even close to deciding an election. When the votes are close to a tie, the courts step in, as in Bush v. Gore. There are recounts and challenges. The power of connections and influence by judicial politics completely overwhelms the effect of a single vote.

Don't you think it perverse to derive the value of voting from the very high value of the outcome of an extraordinary event?

Comment by common_law on Voting is like donating thousands of dollars to charity · 2012-11-20T22:54:28.211Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I estimate that for most people, voting is worth a charitable donation of somewhere between $100 and $1.5 million. For me, the value came out to around $56,000.

You reason, I think, that since most everyone has better knowledge of the identity of the better candidate than chance, Chance (to reconstruct the argument) is the relevant criterion because, for your vote to be decisive, the other voters would have shown themselves (as a whole) to be indifferent between the two outcomes--I find that a convenient way to put it. In the only circumstance where your vote "matters," you can improve the group average if you can do better than 50%. And surely just about everybody thinks their political judgment superior to a coin flip!

But consider another thought experiment. Should a potential voter vote when he knows he is below average, simply because he can pick the better candidate better than chance? He should--only if the only point of voting is deciding a tie vote. But to the extent voting is for signaling the strength of factions rather than merely deciding binary outcomes, perhaps the below-average voter should abstain. There are a lot more compelling reasons not to vote than to worry about draws. Your analysis leaves them out.

Comment by common_law on Voting is like donating thousands of dollars to charity · 2012-11-20T22:30:26.424Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's just trivial that if voting is rational, political spending is even more rational. It's not germane to use political contributions in proxy for charitable contributions.

Comment by common_law on Firewalling the Optimal from the Rational · 2012-10-09T01:27:25.679Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Do you agree then that it is a potential explanation? If so, what's a more plausible one? It may limitations of my imagination, but I don't see one.

Comment by common_law on Skill: The Map is Not the Territory · 2012-10-08T01:18:40.084Z · score: 2 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Doing it because people have emotions is worthy of immense respect? Why?

Emotions are part of rational process, but you aren't rational in discussion when you're in the grip of a strong, immediate emotion. Since you have the advantage in an argument when you remain calm, it is worthy of respect to forgo that advantage and disengage.

Comment by common_law on The Useful Idea of Truth · 2012-10-07T23:47:52.753Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It's vogue to defend correspondence because 1) it sounds like common sense and 2) it signals rejection of largely discredited instrumentalism. But surely a correspondence theorist should have a theory of the nature of the correspondence. How does a proposition or a verbal string correspond to a state of reality? By virtue of what is it a correct description? We can state a metalinguistic relationship about "Snow is white," but how does this locution hook onto the actual world?

Correspondence theorists think this is a task for a philosophical theory of reference. (Such as in an account where "torekp" refers to you by virtue of the "christening event" of your creating the account and causal connections therefrom.) Deflationists are apt to say it is ultimately a technical problem in the psychology of language.

Comment by common_law on Firewalling the Optimal from the Rational · 2012-10-07T22:52:53.017Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

The feeling of 'People who agree with me on X also agree with me on completely unrelated Y' is awesome.

The halo effect may be awesome ... but it's deadly!

Comment by common_law on The Useful Idea of Truth · 2012-10-04T00:19:21.478Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Two quibbles that could turn out to be more than quibbles.

  1. The concept of truth you intend to defend isn't a correspondence theory--rather it's a deflationary theory, one in which truth has a purely metalinguistic role. It doesn't provide any account of the nature of any correspondence relationship that might exist between beliefs and reality. A correspondence theory, properly termed, uses a strong notion of reference to provide a philosophical account of how language ties to reality.

  2. You write:

Some pundits have panicked over the point that any judgment of truth - any comparison of belief to reality - takes place inside some particular person's mind; and indeed seems to just compare someone else's belief to your belief.

I'm inclined to think this is a straw man. (And if they're mere "pundits" and not philosophers why the concern with their silly opinion?) I think you should cite to the most respectable of these pundits or reconsider whether any pundits worth speaking of said this. The notion that reality--not just belief--determines experiments, might be useful to mention, but it doesn't answer any known argument, whether by philosopher or pundit.

Comment by common_law on Mandatory Secret Identities · 2012-09-30T18:28:18.248Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In my humble opinion, snarkiness is a form of rudeness, and we should dispense with it here.

Moreover, since we have a politeness norm, it isn't so clear that the interpretation you offer is charitable!

Comment by common_law on Mandatory Secret Identities · 2012-09-29T20:37:43.291Z · score: 5 (13 votes) · LW · GW

It's the most appropriate answer to a question that constitutes a rhetorical demand that the reader must generalize from fictional evidence. (Last four words hyperlinked.)

There was no demand to "generalize" from fictional evidence, except to recognize the theoretical possibility a sociopathic character who is indifferent to status concerns.

The intended question is whether such characters can exist and if so what's their diagnosis. Your response "fictional" would be reasonable if you went on to say, "that's a fiction; such a pathology doesn't exist in the real world." Or at least, "It's atypical" or "it's rare''; "sociopaths usually go for status." Or, to go with your revised approach, "psychopaths go for status as they perceive it, but it doesn't necessarily conform to what other people consider status." (This approach risks depriving "status" of any meaning beyond "narcissistic gratification.")

The answer, anyway, is that psychopaths have an exaggerated need to feel superior. When they fail at traditional status seeking, they shift their criteria away from what other people think. They have a sense of grandiosity, but this can have little to do with ordinary social status. Psychopaths are apt to be at both ends of the distribution with regard to seeking the ordinary markers of status.

Objectionable personal psychological interpretation removed at 2:38 p.m.

Comment by common_law on A Mathematical Explanation of Why Charity Donations Shouldn't Be Diversified · 2012-09-20T23:00:16.247Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Why would charities behave any differently than profit-making assets? Do you think that charities have less uncertainties?

The confusion concerns whose risk is relevant. When you invest in stocks, you want to minimize the risk to your assets. So, you will diversify your holdings.

When you contribute to charities, if rational you should (with the caveats others have mentioned) minimize the risk that a failing charity will prove crucial, not the risk that your individual contribution will be wasted. If you take a broad, utilitarian overview, you incorporate the need for diversified charities in your utility judgment. If charity a and b are equally likely to pay off but charity a is a lot smaller and should receive more contributions to avoid risk to whatever cause, then you take that into account at the time of deciding on a and b, leading you to contribute everything to a for the sake of diversification. (It's this dialectical twist that confuses people.)

If your contribution is large enough relative to the distinctions between charities, then diversification makes sense but only because your contribution is sufficient to tip the objective balance concerning the desirable total contributions to the charities.

Comment by common_law on The raw-experience dogma: Dissolving the “qualia” problem · 2012-09-19T20:05:04.383Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The goal we like to aim for here in "dissolving" problems is not just to show that the question was wrongheaded, but thoroughly explain why we were motivated to ask the question in the first place. ¶ If qualia don't exist for anyone, what causes so many people to believe they exist and to describe them in such similar ways? Why does virtually everyone with a philosophical bent rediscover the "hard problem"

I think this objection applies to Dennett or Churchland's account but not to mine. The reason the qualia problem is compelling, on my account, is that we have an innate intuition of direct experience. There is indeed some mystery about why we have such an intuition when, on the analysis I provide, the intuition seems to serve no useful purpose, but the answer to that question lies in evolution.

The only answer to "why we were motivated to ask the question?" is the answer to "why did evolution equip us with this nonfunctional intuition?" What other question might you have in mind?

A suggested answer to the evolutionary question is contained in another essay, "The supposedly hard problem of consciousness and the nonexistence of sense data: Is your dog a conscious being?".

But I don't follow that "merely showing a problem is wrongheaded" would be tantamount to "just [rationalizing] it away." You would be justified in declining to count a showing of wrongheadedness as a complete dissolution, but that doesn't make a demonstration of wrongheadedness unsound. The reasonable response to such a showing is to conclude that there are no qualia and then to look for the answers to why they seem compelling.

Comment by common_law on The raw-experience dogma: Dissolving the “qualia” problem · 2012-09-18T22:18:44.367Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

we do all see roughly the same thing: we've got pretty much the same sensory organs & brains to process what is roughly the same data. It seems reasonable to expect that most members of a given species should experience roughly the same picture of the world.

To my disappointment, David Papineau concluded the same, but we can't compare differences in pictures of the world to differences in the brain structure or function because we can have only a single example of a "picture of the world." "Pretty much the same sensory organs & brains" is useless because of its vagueness.

So much for the first problem, at least in brief & from a pragmatic point of view. The skeptical philosopher must admit that this is a silly problem to demand a decisive answer to.

To the contrary, the qualia problem is exactly the sort of problem to which philosophy can provide a decisive answer. For example, that we can't frame the qualitative differences between persons conceptually should lead philosophers to doubt the coherence of the qualia concept.

Does perhaps the notion that innate concepts might be incoherent create confusion?

Comment by common_law on The raw-experience dogma: Dissolving the “qualia” problem · 2012-09-18T08:48:50.264Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The simplest explanation for the universe is that it doesn't exist. It's not popular, because the universe seems to exist. Explanations need to be adequate to the facts, not just simple... Since the inexpressibility of qualia can be accounted for given facts about the limited bandwidth of speech, it does not need to be accounted for all over again on the hypothesis that qualia don't exist.

But can the inexpressibility of qualia be accounted for by such facts as mentioned? That's the question, since the claim here is that the only supposed fact you have to support your belief that you experience qualia is your inability to doubt that you do. It's hard to see how that's a good reason.

Your claim to account for the ineffability of qualia based on expressive limitations is no different. No facts can tell you whether articulating qualia would exceed our expressive limitations because we have no measure of the expressive demands of a quale. The most you can say is that potential explanations might be available based on expressive limitations, despite our currently having no idea how to apply this concept to "experience."

Whereas the argument for matter is...?

Science. Human practice. Surely not "I just can't help believing that matter exists."

Comment by common_law on The raw-experience dogma: Dissolving the “qualia” problem · 2012-09-18T08:27:49.474Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The private-language problem ought to tell us that even if raw experiences exist, then we should not expect to have words to describe raw experience.

Wittgenstein's private-language argument, if sound, would obviate 2c. But 3b is based on Wittgenstein's account not being successful in explaining the absence of private language. It claims to be a solution to the private-language problem, recognizing that Wittgenstein was unsuccessful in solving it.

Comment by common_law on The raw-experience dogma: Dissolving the “qualia” problem · 2012-09-18T07:16:17.068Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

One can accept materialism while remaining agnostic about whether it can explain qualia, just like one can accept economics without necessarily requiring it to explain physics.

Materialism is a philosophy which claims the primacy of physics. A materialist can be either a reductionist or an eliminitivist about qualia.

The analogy to economics is bad because economics doesn't contend that economics is primary over physics, but materialism does contend that the physical is primary over the mental.

Comment by common_law on Fallacies of reification - the placebo effect · 2012-09-18T01:34:33.395Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Reification seems at work in the studies of the placebo effect for antidepressants. It's found that except for severe depressions, antidepressants may have "little or no greater benefit than placebo." The conclusion drawn is either that antidepressants aren't effective or placebos are effective, when the truth is that most depressions have a short-term course, and the placebo group's effects include the spontaneous remissions.

Comment by common_law on Why Are Individual IQ Differences OK? · 2012-09-07T21:10:38.650Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

If IQ tests are 'culturally biased', then we would expect the highest scoring group to share the same culture as the test writers.

This assumes that if a test is culture biased, it must be biased in favor of the culture as a whole. A test can be culture biased by hyper-valuing a set of skills prominent in one culture, even if that skill set is stronger in some other culture. If IQ is biased, say, toward "academic culture," even though this is a feature of "white U.S. culture" it may be even more a part of East Asian culture.

What I think your argument shows is that the tests aren't intentionally biased in favor of one culture specifically. In fact, the studies of early IQ testing shows there was intentional bias (not so much today), but rather than being in favor of the dominant culture, it was against the cultures of particular immigrants. (I'm speaking of the Army Alpha tests.)

Comment by common_law on Dealing with meta-discussion and the signal to noise ratio · 2012-09-04T23:03:17.554Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If I can try to get you to be more specific--was it perhaps something you recently learned about LW "culture"? Such as was contained in a recently published expose?

I was turned off too.

Comment by common_law on Article about LW: Faith, Hope, and Singularity: Entering the Matrix with New York’s Futurist Set · 2012-09-04T22:13:43.379Z · score: 1 (23 votes) · LW · GW

The article is obviously embarrassing to E.Y. If he didn't want to see this essay's Google rating improve, it wasn't about some general principle regarding "trolling." That's a pretty pathetic attempt at an excuse. It was something about this article. But what? Everyone thinks it's the "moral" aspect. That may be part of his worry: if so, it suggests that the SIAI/Less Wrong complex has a structure of levels--like say, Scientology--where the behavior of the more "conscious" is hidden from less-conscious followers.

But let me point out a specific revelation, not so prominent in the article but really more important for assessing SIAI and LW.

The messianic Mr. Yudkowsky also helped attract funding from his friend Peter Thiel, an early Facebook investor and noted libertarian billionaire whom Forbes pegs as the 303rd richest person in America. The Thiel Foundation, Mr. Thiel’s philanthropic group, has donated at least $1.1 million to SIAI, more than four times its next largest donor. (The nonprofit’s Form 990 from 2010 shows assets of $462,470.)

  1. How do more leftwing members of the SIAI establishment feel about building an organization funded by (to realists, read "controlled by") an ultrarightwing billionaire? (It raises questions like is the "politics is mindkiller" trope in place to avoid alienating Mr. Thiel, who would be unimpressed by the anti-libertarianism of a considerable minority on LW.)

  2. E.Y. has built a mystique about himself. Here's this self-schooled prodigy who has somehow managed to build a massive rationalist community and to preside over a half-million dollar nonprofit, living the good life of working only 4 hours per day (per LukeProg) and in that time, performing only tasks he likes to do, while being paid handsomely? It's a success story that's impressive. Even if you don't think E.Y. is a great philosopher, you have to admire him (at least the way Arnold Schwartzeneger once said he admired Hitler). It does the Yudkowsky myth no service to learn that he had the help of a billionaire, who almost singlehandedly funded his operations. If I've puzzled for years about the secret of E.Y. success, now I know it. He has a billionaire friend.

Caveat Unlike many others here, I don't like that there are billionaires. They've made a mockery of American politics, and their whimsical "charitable" support to intellectual factions will make a mockery of American intellectual life.