Basic Mindsets 2020-06-06T00:44:58.188Z
Order and Chaos 2019-11-28T21:27:22.979Z
The Foundational Toolbox for Life: Introduction 2019-06-22T06:11:59.497Z
Ia! Ia! Extradimensional Cephalopod Nafl'fhtagn! 2018-11-17T23:00:05.983Z
AI Goal Alignment Entry: How to Teach a Computer to Love 2018-01-01T03:37:23.626Z


Comment by ExCeph on Secular Solstice Online (Americas) · 2020-12-16T06:59:12.048Z · LW · GW

Logistics page here for those like me who didn't check the main page:

Comment by ExCeph on Basic Mindsets · 2020-06-08T04:06:17.498Z · LW · GW

1. Ah, now I see. Yes, removing assumptions is one good way to direct one's use of synthesis mindset. It helps with exploring the possibilities.

2. Organization can gather information efficiently, but integrating it all and catching contradictions is normally a job more suited for analysis. It's still possible to combine the two. That can end up forming strategy or something similar, or it could be viewed as using the mindsets separately to support each other.

Does that make sense?

Comment by ExCeph on Basic Mindsets · 2020-06-06T23:04:03.851Z · LW · GW

Thanks for the input!

1. You mean we can fiddle with the explicit assumptions we use with synthesis mindset? That can help, but to get the full benefit of synthesis I find it's often better to let go of explicit assumptions, and then apply other mindsets with those explicit assumptions to the results yielded by synthesis.

Otherwise our explicit assumptions may cause synthesis to miss hypotheses that ultimately point us in a helpful direction, even though the hypothesis itself violates the explicit assumptions. Sometimes the issue is that we make too many assumptions and need to remove some of them, and practicing synthesis is a good way to do that. Does that address your point?

2. I'm not sure what you mean by replacing the goal of 'utility' with information. Can you please elaborate on that?

3. Fixed, thanks. Not sure how the goats got in there, but I'll check the latch on the gate.

4. That's encouraging. I'll stand by for more feedback. Glad you liked it!

Comment by ExCeph on Order and Chaos · 2019-11-29T19:58:13.766Z · LW · GW

I confess, your comment surprised me by calling for a different epistemic standard than I figured this article required. I had to unpack and address several issues, listed below.

  1. I can make a bibliography from the links I’ve already included, if it would help.
  2. Are there any specific assertions in this article that you think call for more evidence to support them over the alternatives?
  3. This article is meant to build the foundation for explaining the concepts that we'll be working with in the next article. After that article, we'll mostly be using those concepts instead. Those will be supported by your own observations of how people learn different skills with varying degrees of difficulty.
  4. I didn't know how much of the theory I was building on would be taken as a given in this community, so I decided to just post and see what wasn't already part of the general LW paradigm. I’d like to hear from more people before I make any judgment calls.
  5. These ideas at this point in the sequence are not intended to make new predictions that would require the introduction of new evidence. They are intended to help the reader more clearly and efficiently conceptualize the information they already have. This article asserts that some ideas are conceptually distinct from each other and others aren’t, which is not an empirical issue. The technical terms I introduce in the article are a condensation and consolidation of existing ideas, so that people can more easily process and apply new information. I predict that as I continue to explain the paradigms I’ve developed, they will be consistent with each other and with empirical evidence, and that the reader will develop a more elegant perspective which will allow them to apply their knowledge more effectively. It may be that I need to make that more clear in future articles.
  6. In order to think effectively, there are many concepts we can and must learn and apply without relying on the scientific establishment to do experiments for us.

Does that all make sense? I'll work on framing future articles so that it's clear when they are making empirical predictions from evidence and when they are presenting a concept as being better than other concepts at carving reality at its joints.

Comment by ExCeph on The Foundational Toolbox for Life: Introduction · 2019-06-23T07:23:22.129Z · LW · GW

Practice with different example problems is indeed important for helping people internalize the principles behind the skills they're learning. However, just being exposed to these problems doesn't always mean a person figures out what those principles are. Lack of understanding of the principles usually means a person finds it difficult to learn the skill and even more difficult to branch out to similar skills.

However, if we can explicitly articulate those principles in a way people can understand, such as illustrating them with analogies or stories, then people have the foundation to actually get the benefits from the practice problems.

For example, let's say you see numbers being sorted into Category A or Category B. Even with a large set of data, if you have no mathematical education, you could spend a great deal of effort without figuring out what rule is being used to determine which category a number belongs in. You wouldn't be able to predict the category of a given number. To succeed, you would have to derive concepts like square numbers or prime numbers from scratch, which would take most people longer than they're willing or able to spend. However, if you're already educated on such concepts, you have tools to help you form hypotheses and mental models much more easily.

The objective here is to provide a basic conceptual framework for at least being aware of all aspects of all types of problems, not just easily quantifiable ones like math problems. If you can put bounds on them, you are better equipped to develop more advanced and specific skills to investigate and address them.

And yes, experiments on the method's effectiveness may be very difficult to design and run. I tend to measure effectiveness by whether people can grasp concepts they couldn't before, and whether they can apply those concepts with practice to solve problems they couldn't before. That's proof of concept enough for me to work on scaling it up.

Does that answer your question?

Comment by ExCeph on Should rationality be a movement? · 2019-06-22T06:32:53.086Z · LW · GW

With finesse, it's possible to combine the techniques of truth-seeking with friendliness and empathy so that the techniques work even when the person you're talking to doesn't know them. That's a good way to demonstrate the effectiveness of truth-seeking techniques.

It's easiest to use such finesse on the individual level, but if you can identify general concepts which help you understand and create emotional safety for larger groups of people, you can scale it up. Values conversations require at least one of the parties involved to have an understanding of value-space, so they can recognize and show respect for how other people prioritize different values even as they introduce alternative priority ordering. Building a vocabulary for understanding value-space to enable productive values conversations on the global scale is one of my latest projects.

Comment by ExCeph on Ia! Ia! Extradimensional Cephalopod Nafl'fhtagn! · 2018-11-19T04:14:33.205Z · LW · GW

Yes, that's exactly what I meant, and that's a great clarification. I do prefer looking at the long-term expected utility of a decision, as a sort of Epicurean ideal. (I'm still working on being able to resist the motivation of relaxation, though.)

Comment by ExCeph on Ia! Ia! Extradimensional Cephalopod Nafl'fhtagn! · 2018-11-18T04:33:08.156Z · LW · GW

The specific attributes I was referring to in that sentence are three out of what I call the four primary attributes:

  • Initiative (describes how much one relies on environmental conditions to prompt one to start pursuing a goal)
  • Resilience (describes how much one relies on environmental conditions to allow one to continue pursuing a goal)
  • Mobility (describes how rapidly one can effectively change the parameters of one's efforts)
  • Intensity (describes how far one can continue pushing the effects of one's efforts)

I had only been using intensity since I didn't know about the others and didn't develop them naturally. Since combined they are stronger than the sum of them separately, I was stuck at less than 25% of my theoretical maximum effectiveness.

The deep differences in worldview that you refer to are something that I've noticed as well. The different mindsets people use inform what aspects of the world they are aware of, but when those awarenesses doesn't overlap enough, conflict seems almost inevitable.

I agree that knowing our utility functions is also important. For one thing, it helps with planning. For another, it lets us resist being controlled by our motivations, which can happen if we get too attached to them, or if we are only responsive to one or two of them. (That may have been what you meant by "exercising agency"?) "Eschatology" is an interesting way of phrasing that. It puts me in mind of the fundamental liabilities that threaten all goals. I wish we taught people growing up how to both accept and manage those liabilities.

I'll be writing a sequence elaborating on all of these concepts, which I've been applying in order to become more capable.

Comment by ExCeph on On Doing the Improbable · 2018-10-30T03:36:59.946Z · LW · GW

You raise a good point about the multiple factors that go into motivation and why it's important to address as many of them as possible.

I'm having trouble interpreting your second paragraph, though. Do you mean that humanity has a coordination problem because there is a great deal of useful work that people are not incentivized to do? Or are you using "coordination problem" in another sense?

I'm skeptical of the idea that a solution is unlikely just because people haven't found it yet. There are thousands of problems that were only solved in the past few decades when the necessary tools were developed. Even now, most of humanity doesn't have an understanding of whatever psychological or sociological knowledge may help with implementing a solution to this type of problem. Those who might have such an understanding aren't yet in a position to implement it. It may just be that no one has succeeded in Doing the Impossible yet.

However, communities and community projects of varying types exist, and some have done so for millennia. That seems to me to serve as proof of concept on a smaller scale. Therefore, for some definitions of "coordinating mankind" I suspect the problem isn't quite as insurmountable as it may look at first. It seems worth some quality time to me.

Comment by ExCeph on On Doing the Improbable · 2018-10-28T23:37:14.219Z · LW · GW

I'm painfully familiar with the issue of lack of group participation, since I can't even get people to show up to a meetup.

Because of that, I've been doing research on identifying the factors contributing towards this issue and how to possibly mitigate them. I'm not sure if any of this will be new to you, but it might spark more discussion.
These are the first ideas that come to mind:

1. For people to be intrinsically motivated to do something, the process of working on it has to be fun or fulfilling.

2. Extrinsic motivation, as you say, requires either money or a reason to believe the effort will accomplish more than other uses of one's time would. If it's a long-term project, the problem of hyperbolic discounting may lead people to watch TV or [insert procrastination technique here] instead, even if they think the project is likely to succeed.

3. If people already have a habit of performing an activity, then it takes less effort for them to participate in similar activities and they demand less benefit from doing so. Identifying habits that are useful for the task you have in mind can be tricky if it's a complex issue, but successfully doing so can keep productivity consistent and reduce its mental cost.

4. Building a habit requires either intense and consistent motivation, or very small steps that build confidence. Again, though, identifying very small steps that still make for good productivity early on may be tricky.

5. If you have trouble getting people to start joining, it may be good to seek out early adopters to provide social proof. However, the social proof may only work for people who are familiar with those specific early adopters and who take cues from them. In that case, you may need to find some regular early adopters and then identify trendsetters in society (habitual early adopters from whom many people take their cues) you could get on board, after which their followers will consider participating. (Then the danger becomes making sure that the participants understand the project, but at least you have more people to choose from.)

6. It may help to remind people from time to time what they're working towards, even though everyone already knows. Being able to celebrate successes and take some time to review the vision can go quite a ways in relieving stress when people start to feel like their work isn't rewarding.

From item 1, if people think they can get a benefit from working on a project even if the project fails, they might be willing to participate. Socializing with project members and forming personal relationships with them may help in this respect, since they'll enjoy working with people. Alternatively, you could emphasize the skills they'll pick up along the way.

From item 4, I've been working on 'mini-habits" (a concept I got from Stephen Guise) to lower my own mental costs for doing things, and it seems to be working fairly well. Then the trick becomes getting enough buy-in (per item 5) so you can get other people started on those mini-habits.

There are probably some other factors I'm overlooking at the moment. Since I haven't been able to get results yet, I can't say for sure what will work, but I hope this provides a helpful starting point for framing the problem.

Comment by ExCeph on Is Rhetoric Worth Learning? · 2018-04-16T01:56:39.244Z · LW · GW

Currently, Difficult Conversations is the only book I recommend to literally all people, because it establishes the principles and practices of effective collaborative truth-seeking. If you want a good chance of persuading someone of something they are already opposed to, you have demonstrate that you understand their point of view and value their well-being. (On a similar note, I read Ender's Game in middle school and took to heart the idea of understanding your adversaries so well that you love them.)

Can the art of influencing emotions be used for destructive purposes? Yes. It's certainly possible to play off of many humans' biases to get them to adopt positions that are arbitrarily chosen by an outside source, by presenting different perspectives of situations and associating different emotions with them. However, it is also possible to explore as many relevant aspects of a situation as possible, validate people's concerns, and have your concerns listened to in turn. Like any other tool it can be used to constructively get people to feel better about seeking the truth. Rhetoric allows you to reframe a situation and get people to go along with it. Some try to reframe a situation for selfish purposes, but you can still frame a situation as accurately as possible, and persuade people to accept and contribute to this reframing.

Here's a twist, though: rhetoric would still be important even if people were rational truth-seekers by default. You can't accurately and efficiently convey the relevant aspects of a situation or idea without rhetoric. The people listening to you will have to spend more energy than necessary to understand your meaning, because you don't know how to arrange your message in a logical order, with clear language.

You'd also be missing a quick method for getting people to start appreciating others' emotions different cultural frames of reference. Even putting them through a simulation wouldn't work as well; their own frame of reference (the Curse of Knowledge) would likely prevent or delay them from having an epiphany about the other person's paradigm. Sometimes you just need to spell things out, and for that, you need rhetoric and other communication skills.

Just because rhetoric isn't sufficient to seek truth doesn't mean it's not necessary. If we tossed out everything that can be used for destruction as well as for construction, we'd be facing the world naked.

Comment by ExCeph on AI Goal Alignment Entry: How to Teach a Computer to Love · 2018-01-03T01:56:47.072Z · LW · GW

How to actually construct the AI was not part of the scope of the essay request, as I understood it. My intention was to describe some conceptual building blocks that are necessary to adequately frame the problem. For example, I address how utility functions are generated in sapient beings, including both humans and AI. Additionally, that explanation works whether or not huge paradigms shifts occur.
No amount of technical understanding is going to substitute for an understanding of why we have utility functions in the first place, and what shapes they take. Rather than the tip of the iceberg, these ideas are supposed to be the foundation of the pyramid. I didn't write about my approach to the problems of external reference and model specification because they were not the subject of the call for ideas, but I can do so if you are interested.

Furthermore, at no point do I describe "programming" the AI to do anything--quite the opposite, actually. I address that when I rule out the concept of the 3 Laws. The idea is effectively to "raise" an AI in such a way as to instill the values we want it to have. Many concepts specific to humans don't apply to AIs, but many concepts specific to people do, and those are ones we'll need to be aware of. Apparently I was not clear enough on that point.

Comment by ExCeph on Announcing the AI Alignment Prize · 2018-01-01T03:41:35.749Z · LW · GW

Submitting this entry for your consideration: I'll email it as well. Your commitment to this call for ideas is much appreciated!

Comment by ExCeph on [deleted post] 2017-11-08T04:28:21.602Z

Based on my understanding of the wide variety of human thought, there are several basic mindsets which people use to address situations and deal with problems. Many people only use the handful that come naturally to them, and the mindsets dealing with abstract reasoning are some of the least common. Abstract reasoning requires differentiating and evaluating concepts, which are not skills most people feel the need to learn, since in most cases concepts are prepackaged for their consumption. Whether these packages represent reality in any useful way is another story...

To use your examples, planning one's day takes an awareness of resources, requirements, and opportunities; an ability to prioritize them; and the generation and comparison of various options. Some people find it difficult, but usually not because they don't already have all the concepts they need. It is certainly conscious thought, but it does not deal with the abstract. This is organization mindset.

Reacting to what one's friends say and do in social situations is usually one of two related mindsets: dealing with people similar to oneself takes intuition, and usually does not call for much imagination. Feeling out the paradigms and emotions of a less similar person requires a blend of both. That leads to an appreciation for differences, but doesn't help with hard rules.

Thinking about the future doesn't require abstract reasoning, if it's just extrapolation based on past experiences, or wishful thinking blended from experiences and desires. Serious predictions, though, should have an understanding of causality, and for that, abstract thinking is necessary.

Mostly pattern-matchers make decisions based on what they think is supposed to happen in a situation, based in turn on past experiences or what they've heard, or seen on TV. They accept that things won't always work out for them, but they sometimes don't how to learn from their failures, or they learn an unbalanced lesson.

From a pattern-matcher's perspective, things just sort of happen. Sometimes they have very simple rules, although people disagree on what those rules are and mostly base their own opinion on personal experience and bias (but those who disagree are usually either obviously wrong or "just as right in their own way"). Other times things have complex and arcane rules, like magic. A person with a high "intelligence" (which is implicitly assumed to be a scalar) can make use of these rules to achieve impressive things, like Hollywood Hacking. With ill-defined limits and capabilities, such a person would be defeated either by simply taking out their hardware or by a rival hacker who is "better". The rules wouldn't mean much to the audience anyway, so they're glossed over or blurred beyond recognition.

Does that help with visualizing non-abstract thought?

Comment by ExCeph on [deleted post] 2017-11-07T04:42:31.942Z

Just to add some more examples, I frequently pick up on some of the following things in casual social situations:

  • Use of textbook biases and logical fallacies
  • Reliance on "common sense" or "obviousness"
  • Failure to recognized nuanced situations (false dichotomies)
  • Failing at other minds
  • Failure to recognize diminishing marginal returns
  • Failure to draw a distinction between the following concepts:
    • Correlation and causation
    • Description and norm (is and ought)
    • Fact and interpretation
    • Necessary and sufficient
    • Entertaining an idea and accepting it

What distinguishes someone who has not learned how to think abstractly isn't just that they make these mistakes, but that when you call them on it and explain the principle to them, they still don't know what their mistake means or how it could weaken their position in any way. A good counterexample or parable usually helps them see what they're overlooking, though.

Comment by ExCeph on [deleted post] 2017-11-05T17:07:25.242Z

I've been afraid that most people lack abstract reasoning for quite some time. Thank you for describing the phenomenon so clearly. However, I also fear that you may be underestimating its biggest consequence in your life.

I strongly suspect that the biggest consequence of people lacking abstract reasoning isn't that different methods are required to explain concepts to pattern-matching people, but rather that most of the systems and institutions around you have been designed by people who have or had poor abstract reasoning skills, and that this will continue to be the case unless something is done about it.

The further consequence is that these structures are only equipped to deal with situations that the designers could conceptualize, which is limited to their immediate experiences. Unprecedented situations, long-term or large-scale effects, or immediate effects that they simply have not yet learned to notice are all ignored for the purposes of design, and this results in problems that might have been avoided, maybe even easily, had abstract reasoning been applied towards the project. These sorts of problems are the bane of my existence.

Following from this, I advocate for teaching abstract reasoning, if possible, from an early age. (Ensuring that most people possess such thinking skills is my central life purposes for the foreseeable future.) I believe it is likely possible, but have not yet compiled evidence or a formal argument for its feasibility. At the very least, I believe it is worth a try, and have been working on a project to address the situation for some years now. For elaboration on why I believe it is important, I refer to my response to this post:

Comment by ExCeph on Yet another failed utopia · 2017-11-03T02:01:11.309Z · LW · GW

I strongly suspect that you cannot, with a feedback loop as you describe. If you measure discontent based on social media, suffering that does not get posted to social media effectively does not exist. The AI would need a way of somehow recognizing that the social media are only its window to the discontent that exists in the world beyond, which is what it is intended to minimize. Proverbially, it would need to be able to look at the moon rather than the finger pointing to it.

Comment by ExCeph on Leaders of Men · 2017-11-03T01:50:17.972Z · LW · GW

I would argue that for larger, more complex projects, it seems crucial to have basic proficiency in supporting skills as well as the core skills. It is not uncommon for a person with extreme skill in one area to fail or experience diminishing marginal returns on their skill, because it is necessary but not sufficient to succeed in their goal.

Between a person with core skills for a project and one with supporting skills, the person with core skills will get better results. However, between a person with core skills and one with core and supporting skills or subordinates with supporting skills, I predict the latter has a good chance of doing better on a complex project even if their core skills are not as strong.

In the baseball example, the core skill seems to be eliciting effort from the team, and the supporting skill would be optimizing the allocation of that effort. They may not be inherently "core" and "supporting", though: it may just be that eliciting effort seems sufficient for victory (and therefore "core") because few other coaches have it. (I don't follow baseball, so I don't know how true that is.) Once the environment changes and standards for effort are raised, the Red Queen's race begins again, and optimization for effort yields huge returns since everyone's team is putting for close to peak effort.

If supporting skills seem to interfere with the core skills due to conflicting priorities or methods, to me that just means that those who can balance the two and make them work together will see even better results.


Comment by ExCeph on Leave beliefs that don't constrain experience alone · 2017-11-03T01:37:53.127Z · LW · GW

Apologies in advance for the long response. Hopefully this will be worth the read.

I greatly appreciate your post because it challenges some of my own beliefs and made me reassess them. I agree that a person can get by in this world with bad epistemological hygiene. However, humans are animals that evolved to adapt behaviors for many environments. Getting by is cheap. The problem with poor epistemological hygiene (EH) isn't that a person can't get by. As I see it, there are three issues:

  1. The worse your EH is, the more your success is based on luck. If you're right, it's by accident, or you learn the hard way.
  2. Bad EH means bad predictions and therefore bad future-proofing. The world changes, and people are often clumsy to adapt, if they adapt at all.
  3. Though individual humans can survive, poor EH across all humanity leads to poor decisions that are made collectively but not deliberately (e.g. the tragedy of the commons, or cycles of political revolution), which hurt us all in ways that are hard to measure, either because they are gradual or because they require comparing to a counterfactual state of the world.

Most animal populations can survive with trial and error, natural selection, and no ability to destroy the world. I would prefer the standards for humanity to be higher. Thoughts?

Anecdote follows:

Coincidentally, I had a conversation at work today that culminated in the concept you describe as "less-examined beliefs that don't have to pay rent for you to happily contribute in the way you like". The people with whom I was speaking were successful members of society, so they fell into the uncanny valley for me when they started pushing the idea that everyone has their own truth. I'm not sure if it's better or worse that they didn't quite literally believe that, but didn't know how to better articulate what they actually believed.

Ultimately what I got them to agree to (I think) is that although everyone has irrefutable experiences, what they infer about the structure of the world from those experiences may be testably wrong. However, I personally will have no strong beliefs about the truth value of their hypothesis if I have too much conflicting evidence. However, I won't want to put much effort into testing the hypothesis unless my plans depend on it being true or false. It's murkier with normative beliefs, because when those become relevant, it's because they conflict with each other in an irreconcilable way, and it's much more difficult if not impossible to provide evidence that leads people to change their basic normative beliefs.

That said, I suspect that if we're not making plans that falsify each other's beliefs and conflict with each other's sense of right and wrong, we're probably stagnating as a civilization. That ties in with your idea of beliefs not being examined because they don't have to be. The great problem is that people aren't putting their beliefs in situations where they will either succeed or fail. To me, that's the true spirit of science.

For example, my objection to people believing in poltergeists (which is how the conversation started) isn't that they believe it. It's that they don't see the vast implications of a) transhumanism via ghost transformation, b) undetectable spies, c) remote projection of physical force, or d) possibly unlimited energy. They live as if none of those possibilities exist, which to me is a worse indictment of their beliefs than a lack of evidence, and an indictment of their education even if they're right about the ghosts. If people traced the implications of their beliefs, they could act more consistently on them and more easily falsify them. I strongly suspect that cultivating this habit would yield benefits on the individual and population level.