Posts did we now get cold fusion to work or what? 2013-05-25T13:09:46.948Z
Studying Psychology - Which path should I take to best help our cause? Suggestions please. 2011-11-23T19:52:10.551Z
Self-improving AGI: Is a confrontational or a secretive approach favorable? 2011-07-11T15:29:43.279Z


Comment by Friendly-HI on Link: That Time a Guy Tried to Build a Utopia for Mice and it all Went to Hell · 2019-01-23T15:09:38.573Z · LW · GW

Possible explanation: After a certain point of population growth the mice cannot keep track of all the individuals in their group (i.e. in the enclosure) and in nature this would usually result in a non-violent split of the population into two groups that go their own way. But with nowhere to go the mice created smaller subgroups that couldn't go anywhere yet still tried to maintain their own territory, mates etc. which led to conflict.

This would be analogous to humans having the mental capacity to keep up relations with something like 150 to 300 people. If primitive hunter gatherers grew beyond that limit it would result in the exodus of some part of that population into a new group that went elsewhere, probably mainly to retain group cohesion but in part also because the resources needed for survival at any one place were limited. The main reasons why we have not descended into intra-tribe violence once we started to live in permanent settlements and larger villages are probably social innovations as well as recognizing and sharing the benefits of larger scale village structures. Both these things seem to be beyond mouse brains.

Just brainstorming here.

Comment by Friendly-HI on P: 0 <= P <= 1 · 2017-09-02T14:43:50.330Z · LW · GW

I'm tempted to agree with DragonGod on a weaker form (or phrasing) of the "I exist" proposition:

I would defend the proposition that my feeling of subjective experience (independent of whether or not I am mistaken about literally everything I think and believe) really does exist with a probability of 1. And even if my entire experience was just a dream or simulated on some computer inside a universe where 2+2=3 actually holds true, the existence of my subjective experience (as opposed to whatever "I" might mean) seems beyond any possible doubt.

Even if every single one of my senses and my entire map of reality (even including the concept of reality itself) was entirely mistaken in every possible aspect, there would still be such a thing as having/being my subjective experience. It's the one and only true axiom in this world that I think we can assign P=1 to.

Especially if you don't conceive of the word "exist" as meaning "is a thing within the base level of reality as opposed to a simulation."

Comment by Friendly-HI on Doing a big survey on work, stress, and productivity. Feedback / anything you're curious about? · 2017-08-31T17:11:46.798Z · LW · GW

Background: My wife and I are both studying psychology, I'm doing my M.Sc. she does a very similar study on health risks at the workplace (an adaptive one, if general questions are answered "unfavorably" (i.e. indicator a health risk at the workplace is present), then a handful of more in-depth related questions to pinpoint the exact problem are given.

I didn't take the test yet, but just by reading ChristianKI's objections/suggestions (with which I agree) you need to really clarify the questions.

Here's a helpful piece of advice I've been given: Don't think about if the question is understandable, ask yourself if there is any chance at all that it could possibly be misunderstood by someone somewhere and change it as often as you need until that is no longer the case.

Comment by Friendly-HI on Is life worth living? · 2017-08-31T15:24:37.853Z · LW · GW

I don't actually think people want to die. I think people think they want to die.

When I have this discussion I often try to paint this scenario: It's easy for you to say you'd want to die now, but imagine for a moment that you live in a future where two of your three neighbors already got their life extension treatment and felt super young, vitalized and healthy again, while you're pushing 60 and you notice how you're slowly falling apart. Many celebrities do it routinely, and eventually even some of your closest family members become convinced and get the treatment as well and some of them even keep pushing you on why the hell you haven't done it yet. If you were not making this decision in some theoretical vacuum but inside some actually plausible social context, I don't think you would possibly choose to just die while everyone else around you is having fun or begging you with tears in their eyes to not be a fucking traditionalist moron about this imagined non-issue.

Usually a lot of people then switch gears into justifying how its probably not possible anyway instead of actually engaging that particular argument and I shift gears into ending the conversation. They'll do it anyway - I know it, you know it and maybe they know it too now.

Comment by Friendly-HI on Is life worth living? · 2017-08-30T20:09:05.656Z · LW · GW

Agreed, there does seem to be no practical difference for the you-in-bed. But that feature seems to be the whole point of this scenario, so I think pointing that out is just a form of debasing the thought-experiment (which also ends with the sentence "if you were forced to pick", I might add).

Initially I thought I'd pick #2. My life was kind of fine enough, so I'd rather prefer to give a copy of me the privilege of experiencing my life than not.

However, assuming world#take2 is populated by "real people" (aka. complete simulations, not just some p-zombie Truman show shenanigans with fake "people outputs" who lack subjective experience) the question really becomes something else: Does the "video-clip" that was your life contain enough fun-for-you-and-others to outweigh the suffering of all the real/perfectly simulated people that would be re-living their existences alongside you? Kind of makes me tend strongly towards #1 just to get it over and done with, there's just still too much shit happening in this world. Just to be safe in order to not commit atrocities for a bit of mediocre hedonistic fun it is #1 for me. Life's fun but who needs it.

Comment by Friendly-HI on [deleted post] 2017-08-30T19:52:39.397Z

This entire thing is super confused. A lot of complexity and assumptions are hidden inside your words, seemingly without you even realizing it.

The whole point of using a formal language is that IF your premises / axioms are correct, AND you only use logically allowed operations, THEN what comes out at the tail end should equal truth. However, you are really just talking with letters acting as placeholders for what could just as well be simply more words:

Committing on A's part, causes B to commit to defect (and vice versa). committing leads to outcomes ranked 3rd and 4th in their preferences. As A and B are rational, they do not commit.

What does "commit" mean?

As A is not committing, A's strategy is either predict(B) or !predict(B).

What could it even mean to not commit and !predict(B)? How is not predicting B just another way of committing to defect/collaborate?

If A predicts B will defect, A can cooperate or defect. If A predicts B will cooperate, A can cooperate or defect, Vice versa.

They can cooperate or defect whether or not they predict or don't predict each other, because that is all they can do anyway so this statement has zero information content.

The above assignment is circular and self-referential. If A and/or B tried to simulate it, it leads to a non terminating recursion of the simulations.

What makes you possibly say that with such confidence at this point in all this confusion?

You should google "cargo cult science" by Feynman, because It seems like there is also such a thing as cargo cult rationality and frankly I think you're doing it. I'm not trying to be mean and it's not like I could do these kind of mental gymnastics better than you but you can't do it it either yet and the sooner you realize it the better for you.

Comment by Friendly-HI on Emotional labour · 2017-08-26T01:30:07.648Z · LW · GW

With your cancer event - how could you be sure that the partner would not want to talk about it or be involved in the situation?

She was under a lot of stress due to an ungodly amount of near simultaneous university exams and under high pressure of failing her course if she didn't ace all of them (luckily she pulled through). She had also lost her father to cancer about a year before this event and was still suffering the effects. In fact, with the death of her father she had lost both her parents and next to her brother I'm her "only real family" and we had been together for about five years at that point.

My prediction of how she would have reacted to the possibility of me having cancer was that she would not have been able to focus on her studies and exams very well, possibly fail an education she had invested years of her life and a huge sum of money into and generally have an unbelievably miserable time during the weeks until anything conclusive about the lump would have been found. I on the other hand was actually fairly fine during the whole affair and didn't even have trouble falling asleep. Either it was going to kill me or not, and if there was something I could do then I'd do whatever it takes, but I was not going to lose sleep over something that to me felt maybe like a 40 - 60% chance of it being cancer or nothing. A rational / stoic mindset about differentiation what you can and what you cannot control in your life and the knowledge to clearly separate those two helped me a lot with that I think.

To me it was not even remotely an option to tell her, I did what I think any good partner should have done in the situation I described above: Suck it up and don't let anything show. When I eventually told her afterwards she did get somewhat mad about it but conceded it was the right decision...

How could I even face myself in the mirror today if I had simply told her about it and she had failed her education as a result of it - especially after it turned out to be nothing (though even if it was cancer I think the same would apply)? I think I did precisely the right thing, what she would have wanted was irrelevant, the only person who really had "a choice" in this scenario was me.

Comment by Friendly-HI on Emotional labour · 2017-08-25T19:17:12.144Z · LW · GW

Two counter-examples involving my SO in cases where we both chose option 1 and both felt it was the correct decision.

Event + option 1: I became aware I was pregnant with your child right before you left in order to visit your parents over the Christmas and New Year holidays. I kept it from you during all of your vacation because I knew it would screw up your whole stay with your parents and friends. I predicted you'd prefer to deal with it later and in person.

Event + option 1: I (not known to be paranoid about personal health) found a very suspicious lump in a very suspicious place in my body. I immediately went to get it checked, but since I predicted you'd be extremely worried about me I did not tell you about it until after my second check-up months later, so you would not have to worry about losing me to cancer like you recently did one of your parents.

We agree that in both cases these were good decisions, but those are rather extreme cases with a very high emotional cost to the other person compared to breaking a vase or something in the low range of suffering.

My suspicion: Preferring option 2 over option 1 across all applicable cases seems too generalized and wrong. I suspect there is a point of magnitude in emotional cost to another person, after which you might also feel that option 1 would be preferred by both parties - what do you think?

Another real-world-example I'm personally familiar with that feels very related to this one, but without the intention to ever let the emotionally impacted person actually know (i.e. direct lying) is this situation: Dear god-fearing bed-ridden grandma, your poor son died peacefully of a heart attack. (As opposed to slit his wrists in the bathroom while drunk).

Comment by Friendly-HI on Post ridiculous munchkin ideas! · 2015-03-29T15:52:03.240Z · LW · GW

Could very well be true. But it leaves open the curious question what on earth I would be looking for in the ex-eastern block ;)

Comment by Friendly-HI on Welcome to Less Wrong! (7th thread, December 2014) · 2014-12-26T11:53:47.919Z · LW · GW

Be honest, do you really actually fear cringing when you re-read your stuff months or years from now? Sounds to me like an invented reason to mask a much more plausible fear: Looking foolish in front of others by saying foolish things. Well in case you do make a fool of yourself you always have the option of admitting "back then I was foolish in saying that and I have changed my mind because of X". In this communuty being able to do that is usually accompanied with a slight status gain rather than severe status punishment and ridicule, so no need to worry about that.

Comment by Friendly-HI on Breaking the vicious cycle · 2014-11-25T21:59:30.858Z · LW · GW

I don't believe that competent mental health professionals actually exist

Ouch shots fired. How the success rate of CBT looks like depends heavily what exactly the mental health problem is. "Curing" or rather alleviating many kinds of phobias via cognitive behavior therapy has a really excellent success rate for example.

Comment by Friendly-HI on “And that’s okay": accepting and owning reality · 2014-08-04T11:03:08.604Z · LW · GW

Thanks for the response, that was an interesting read.

As for perfectionism - In retrospect I think it was a huge drag on my own well-being and social relationships but helpful in getting things done. I am much less of a perfectionist nowadays and that has improved my life in many ways at the cost of making me somewhat less effective when it comes to work. Perfectionism for me wasn't just about my work but also about myself and others - seeing the imperfections and trying to iron them out. A pattern of perception if you will that didn't see the good things about myself and others and predominantly focused on optimizing the negatives. I feel much better now after changing that pattern of perception, so I was interested in how you thought of it - also outside of work.

Comment by Friendly-HI on August 2014 Media Thread · 2014-08-03T00:53:28.928Z · LW · GW

Someone with moderator/admin rights should be able to delete it entirely - if anyone with those rights passes by here then please do so. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Comment by Friendly-HI on August 2014 Media Thread · 2014-08-02T15:35:00.565Z · LW · GW there a time limit before that happens? Because my button is gone now yet it wasn't replaced by another button, it just says "Retracted" where the button was beforehand and the word is not clickable either.

Comment by Friendly-HI on August 2014 Media Thread · 2014-08-02T15:03:48.790Z · LW · GW

Oh no I cocked that one up. I wanted to copy-paste this under "Meta", as audio-books aren't listed yet. I thought to retract this post meant to delete it entirely. Captain?

Comment by Friendly-HI on August 2014 Media Thread · 2014-08-02T14:59:38.533Z · LW · GW

I am (still) listening to an audio-book called "Command and Control" by Eric Schlosser. It's mainly dealing with a Titan II missile incident in the US. I know the Stanislav Petrov and Vasili Arkhipov incidents, but very little about just how badly America managed her own stockpile. I was prepared this would send a few shivers down my spine and I was not disappointed.

What I don't like about it is that first and foremost it's written in a way to tell a gripping story, so the juicy information is embedded in a narrative that spends too much time describing things I don't care about. It jumps around too much, it cuts just like a movie - the overarching plot is the Titan II incident and the narrative jumps back and forth from this red thread to how the first bomb was built and tested, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, how the bombers worked, how Eisenhower saw it, how Kennedy saw it, how the safety and failsafe mechanisms were slowly developed and added, how NATO became the dumping ground for missiles that were just about as likely to blow up somewhere you didn't want as they were to hit anywhere close to a Soviet target...

I'm not quite finished with it yet but I mainly enjoyed listening so far and learned quite a deal despite the suboptimal "story-presentation". Also I can only recommend audio-books in general, they are really good while you have to do tedious chores that require more working with your hands than with your head.

Comment by Friendly-HI on Confused as to usefulness of 'consciousness' as a concept · 2014-07-30T17:20:56.085Z · LW · GW

Hmm, you're right I did a lousy or non-existant job of refuting that idea. Okay let's try a thought experiment then. Your brain got instantly-frozen close to absolute zero and could be thawed in such a way that you'd be alive after say 100 years of being completely frozen and perfectly preserved. I think it's fair to say here your brain "stopped working" altogether during that time, while the world outside changed. Would you really expect your subjective experience to end at the moment of freezing, while some kind of new or different subjective experience suddenly starts its existence at the time of being thawed?

If you wouldn't expect your subjective experience to end at that point, then how is it possibly any different from a perfect copy of yourself assuming you truly accept reductionism? In other words yes, for that reason and others I would expect to open MY eyes and resume MY subjective experience after being perfectly preserved in the form of stone tablets for 20 million years. It sounds strange even to me I confess, but if reductionist assumptions are true then I must accept this, my intuitions that this is not the case are just a consequence of how I model and think of my own identity. This is something I've grappled with for a few years now and at the beginning I came up with tons of clever reasons why it "wouldn't really be me" but no, reason trumps intuition on this one. Also yes, destructive teleportation is a kind of "death" you don't notice, but its also one you don't care about because next thing you open your eyes an everything is okay you are just somewhere else, nothing else is different. That's the idea behind the drunk analogy, it would be the same experience minus the hangover.

Comment by Friendly-HI on Confused as to usefulness of 'consciousness' as a concept · 2014-07-30T10:02:27.135Z · LW · GW

If you accept reductionism, which you really should, then a copy of your brain is a copy of your mind. I submit you don't actually care about the interconnected causal process when you're conscious or asleep. You probably couldn't if you tried really hard, what does it even matter? You couldn't even tell if that causal connection "was broken" or not.

People get drunk and wake up in some place without recollection how they got there and their life doesn't seem particularly unworthy afterwards, though they should go easier on the liquor. The supposed problem you feel so strongly about is merely a conceptual problem, a quirk of how your mind models people and identities, not one rooted in reality. It's all just a consequence of how you model reality in your mind and then your mind comes up with clever ideas how "being causally interconnected during sleep" somehow matters. You model yourself and the copy of yourself as two separate and distinct entities in your mind and apply all the same rules and intuitions you usually apply to any other mind that isn't you. But those intuitions are misplaced in in this novel and very different situation where that other mind is literally you in every way you care about. Which is fine because you are and you will be separated in space and perhaps also in time, so it really makes sense modeling two instances of yourself, or at least to try. If you imagine to kill yourself and your copy goes on it really somehow fells like "I die and some impostor who isn't me -or at least doesn't continue my own subjective experience- lives on and my unique own inner subjective experience will be extinguished and I'll miss out on the rest of it because someone else has internal experiences but that's not me". That's just a quirk of how we tend model other minds and other people, nothing more, All the dozens of clever reasons people tend to come up with to somehow show how they won't be able to continue their internal experience as their own copy hold no merit, it's all just an outgrowth of that really deeply rooted intuition based on how we model ourselves and other people.

People wake up from year long comas and if you were to wake up from one you wouldn't go: "oh no I'm suddenly not me anymore, I lost track of my causal interconnectedness because I stopped paying attention". The fact that your brain is the result of causal things doesn't mean "causal interconnectedness" carries any kind of actually valuable information your copy would somehow miss, or to be precise that you would miss. In fact this kind of information is lost all the time, there is nothing that keeps track of it, information about our causal past gets lost all the time as entropy increases. Eventually the universe will face its slow heat death and there will be no information about the causal chains of the past remaining at all. In the end there is maximum entropy and minimum information. It's happening right now all around us, we're moving towards it and information about the causal past is being lost everywhere as we speak.

Comment by Friendly-HI on “And that’s okay": accepting and owning reality · 2014-07-29T22:13:33.976Z · LW · GW

Maybe it was, looking at that 50000€/y number solipsist quotes. In Germany you earn barely half of that before tax.

But that's not at all the main reason why I ask to be perfectly honest. I remember Swimmer portraying herself as having some form of social anxieties so this job strikes me as a particularly counterintuitive choice.

Comment by Friendly-HI on “And that’s okay": accepting and owning reality · 2014-07-29T21:12:56.306Z · LW · GW

Yes but the question is why do they want to? :)

I've worked in elderly care myself a long time ago when I was around 15 years old, which I imagine is quite comparable to being a nurse but I've found the work to be very hard both physically and emotionally (a lot of suffering and occasionally death to deal with). In fact it inspired me to do better in school just to not have to do work this hard for what back then I envisioned being "the rest of my life".

In Germany you either finish school with after 9, 10 or 12 (back then 13) years and you could only study at a University (without jumping through hoops) after attaining your 12/13 year school diploma. I was in the 10-year school type and working in elderly care was pretty much the type of work I might have to do if I left school after 10 years. My grades improved and I switched schools after 10 years and did another 3 just to "escape" hard work like that.

Comment by Friendly-HI on “And that’s okay": accepting and owning reality · 2014-07-29T20:39:33.841Z · LW · GW

I get it. Makes sense, actually now that you point it out I think I've also seen this phrase employed as a "pseudo-compliment". Rest assured that it wasn't intended that way.

Comment by Friendly-HI on “And that’s okay": accepting and owning reality · 2014-07-29T20:16:43.532Z · LW · GW

...I don't understand how that part is insulting. I don't use smart as a weak form of intelligent if that's what you mean, exactly the opposite in fact. I'm sorry maybe I'm losing some finer point of the English language as I'm not a native speaker, but I would really like you, or someone, to try to explain how that part could possibly be interpreted as insulting because I honestly don't see it.

Edit: I'm also not implying that it's work unworthy or anything at all, I'm honestly just genuinely curious why she chose that profession because where I'm from it's a respected job because people know (or imagine to know) how hard the work is, but simultaneously it's also a job that's very much at the bottom of the food chain in terms of pay and status. I'm simply curious why she chose it.

Comment by Friendly-HI on “And that’s okay": accepting and owning reality · 2014-07-29T18:06:39.565Z · LW · GW

I feel almost ashamed for asking that question, partly because it's quite impolite and inappropriate to ask a question like that (at least outside of LW) and maybe also because it might betray some kind of deeply rooted egghead-elitism on my part that I still can't quite manage shake off, but I simply can't resist this attempt to satisfy my raging curiosity: What's the reason why someone as smart as you chooses to become a nurse?

Also: Do you think of your perfectionism as largely useful, largely a hindrance, or kind-of-a-mixed-bag?

Comment by Friendly-HI on Confused as to usefulness of 'consciousness' as a concept · 2014-07-29T15:32:42.642Z · LW · GW

[Part 2]

If I drive a car (especially on known routes) my "auto-pilot" takes over sometimes. I stop at a red light but my mind is primarily focused on visually modeling the buttocks of my girlfriend in various undergarments or none at all. Am I actually "aware" of having stopped at the red light? Probably I was as much"aware" of the red light as a cheetah is aware of eating the carcass of a gazelle. Interestingly my mind seems capable of visually modeling buttocks in my mind's eye and reading real visual cues like red lights and habitually react to them - all at the same time. It seems I was more aware of my internal visual modeling than of the external visual cue however. In a sense I was aware of both, yet I'm not sure I was "self-aware" at any point, because whatever that means I feel like being self-aware in that situation would actually result in me going "Jesus I should pay more attention to driving, I can still enjoy that buttocks in real life once I actually managed to arrive home unharmed".

So what's self-awareness then? I suppose I use that term to mean something roughly like: "thoughts that include a model of myself while modeling a part of reality on-the-fly based on current sensual input". If my mind is predominantly preoccupied with "daydreaming" aka. creating and playing with a visual or sensual model that is based on manipulating memories rather than real sensual inputs, I don't feel like the term "self-awareness" should apply here even if that daydreaming encompasses a mental model of myself slapping a booty or whatever.

That's surely still quite ill-defined and far from maximum usefulness but whenever I'm tempted to use the word self-aware I seem to roughly think of something like that definition. So if we were to use "consciousness" as a synonym for self-awareness (which I'm not a fan of, but quite some people seem to be), maybe my attempt at a definition is a start to get toward something more useful and includes at least some of the "mental features" we seem to care about like "model of oneself" and "interpreting sensory input to create a model of reality".

The problem is that rats can construct models of reality as well, and these models outlive sensual inputs as well, which is pretty clear from experiments that put rats in mazes. They are stuck for some time in that maze without any exit and any rewards present but during that time they learn the layout of that maze even if it's empty and even though they are not externally rewarded for doing so. Once you drop a treat in that maze the rats who were able to wander around the maze beforehand know exactly how to get there as fast as possible, while rats new to that particular maze do not ("cognitive revolution" in psychology). Presumably their rat-mind also features some kind of model of themselves, presumably one that mainly features their body not so much their mind.

So to make the concept of self-awareness and perhaps consciousness more useful maybe what we really care about in the end is a mind being able to feature a model of its own mind (and thus what we call "ourselves").

This is quite interesting... young children and for example gorillas who were taught to communicate in sign language seem to lack a fully developed "theory of mind". Meaning it seems they can't conceive of the possibility that other minds contain things theirs does not... well kind of. If they do model other minds, they seem to model them a lot like copies of their own mind, or perhaps just slightly altered copies. Gorillas that can communicate in sign language are perfectly capable of answering questions about i.e. their mood... implying self-awareness that goes somewhat beyond just recognizing their physical reflection in a mirror but also being aware of their own feelings aka. internal experiences. But they never ever seem to get the brilliant idea of asking you a question, presumably because they can't conceive of the possibility that you know something they don't. Perhaps here we can draw a sensible line that differentiates between the terms self-awareness and consciousness, where the latter includes the ability to make complex models of the models contained in minds other than your own. I want to stress the word complex, as it doesn't seem like Gorillas feature no theory of mind, just some kind of more primitive version. It seems they model other minds as versions of their own minds in different states aided by mirror-neurons. Actually upon reflection it's not so clear humans do it all that differently, seeing how prone we are to anthropomorphism. You know what I'm talking about if you gained new insights from "Three Worlds Collide" - it seems hard to conceive of nonhuman minds and sometimes you end up with real nonsense like King-Kong falling in love with a tiny female human because she has the "universally recognized property" called "beautiful". Also I sometimes catch myself implicitly modeling other human minds in terms of "like me except for x, y, and z".

So maybe the reason why Gorillas don't ask questions isn't really because they lack a theory of mind, but only that this theory of mind does not include the model of reality of that particular mind they try to model. They seem quite capable when it comes to modeling the emotional states and needs of other minds, but they just seem to lack the insight that those minds also contain different perspectives on reality. Maybe that is what the term consciousness should describe... being able to create a model of a mind other than your own including that mind having a different model of reality than your own. Yeah I think this is it...

This seems to me like a genuinely more useful definition of what consciousness is, because it includes distinguishing features of minds you could actually test with meaningful results as outcomes. At some point children start to riddle you with questions but for gorillas capable of sign language that point just doesn't seem to arrive. The kinds of "questions" they ask are more along the lines of "Can I I get X" or maybe rather "I want you to give me permission to do X".

Naturally not everyone can be happy with that definition because they really, really want to be able to say "my dog was unconscious when we visited the vet, but then it regained consciousness when it woke up", but I submit usefulness should trump habits of speech. Also I can totally conceive of other minds putting forth even more detailed and useful definitions of what the term consciousness should describe, so define away.

Comment by Friendly-HI on Confused as to usefulness of 'consciousness' as a concept · 2014-07-29T15:31:42.638Z · LW · GW

[Part 1]

I like this post, I also doubt there is much coherence let alone usefulness to be found in most of the currently prevailing concepts of what consciousness is.

I prefer to think of words and the definitions of those words as micro-models of reality that can be evaluated in terms of their usefulness, especially in building more complex models capable of predictions. As in your excellent example of gender, words and definitions basically just carve complex features of reality into manageable chunks at the cost of losing information - there is a trade-off and getting it right enhances the usefulness of words and the concepts behind them. In 99.9% of cases the concept of biological gender is perfectly applicable to everyday life and totally a "good enough" model of reality, as long as you have the insight that hermaphrodites are actually also a real thing. In a case where you have to deal with one, the correct reaction is to adopt a more complex model of reality instead of trying to fit a complex reality into a model that is designed to compress information into categories with some inevitable information loss. Biological gender is a really good high-level model of reality, because it draws its imaginary line in an area where very few exceptions actually exist in reality. It's an especially sharp distinction if you think of biological gender as having testiclular/ovarial(?) tissue, but in very rare instances this model will still miss to encompass rare special cases where the complexity of reality defies your model. "Mental gender" seems to be a rather different yet in most cases more useful everyday concept of gender, because we usually care more about creating models of other peoples' minds than about whether or not they have testicular or ovarian tissues - outside of curiosity or medical context. The lesson here is that your model of reality will always fall short no matter where you draw the line (at least at "higher levels" of reality, "low-level" models of atoms or particles are much more precise and unambiguous, than models of "higher-level" things like "persons" (When exactly does a fetus become a person?) or "societies" (are two people a society? How about eight?) and I'm quite sure any models of whatever "consciousness" is face the same problem).

In other words I think it's better to think of models/maps in terms of their usefulness, not in terms of right or wrong. In my opinion the job of a model is to make something understandable and more predictable, the job of a model is not to "reflect reality as closely as possible", especially of complex higher-level things. The "perfect model" in the latter sense would essentially be a perfect carbon copy of a real thing and tells you exactly as much -or as little- as the thing you're trying to model already does anyway. The usefulness of a model lies in compacting information enough to become understandable while also predicting outcomes better than competing models.

If you accept that notion, the question really becomes how should the term consciousness be defined to be useful and describe / differentiate something we actually care about. So we'd like to represent a part of reality we care about in a way that compresses information while retaining a high level of usefulness - meaning we can understand it but without cutting away vital parts and ideally in terms of being able to make predictions if we were to integrate the concept of consciousness into models with the potential to predict outcomes.

So which part of reality should the term consciousness try to model in order to be useful? I find it highly problematic and close to maximum uselessness to think of consciousness as some kind of continuum on which we rank information processing in living things/agents. Some people actually really think of consciousness as rocks having 0, bacteria having perhaps 0.001, bees having 0.01, rats having 0.1, dogs maybe 0.2, humans perhaps 0.5. Maximum uselessness I would argue as it tells you nothing. Why not just substitute consciousness with some notion of "maximum calculations per second" then and reserve the term consciousness for something we actually care about instead of wasting such a nice word on something we don't really care so much about - and more importantly on something we can already express with other words and concepts like "information processing".

What's funny about consciousness is that no one really agrees what exactly the definition should be but somehow everyone agrees that it's really really important. Why do we care so much about something we seemingly know close to nothing about? Seriously though why do we?

Look at all those hilarious "quantum consciousness" or "become more conscious" concepts peddled by the self-help industry complex. Possessing consciousness seems really high status nowadays, unlike say... all those lousy low-status life forms like frogs and bees and mice. The idea that somehow you can improve your consciousness seems very appealing, because if insects and birds have little or none of that thing called consciousness, and people surely have some of that thing called consciousness, then logically if I can get more of that awesome "consciousness" than my neighbor I'm superior than him in just the same way I'm superior to a frog. Really, self-help opened my eyes to how unconsciously I lived my life once and nowadays I feel strongly about helping all those low-consciousness people realize their full potential and I do my best to help them become more conscious beings...

It sounds ridiculous but couldn't that be part of why consciousness is so damn important to us even if he have no clue what exactly it is? I may have no idea what that consciousness is but somehow I really insist that I have it, I mean if everyone else says s/he has it I surely have it too, can't be left out. Whatever consciousness is, we usually agree that bacteria doesn't have it and we do so it must be important if some kinds of life have it and others don't.

Okay let's get serious again. What distinct features of minds exactly do we actually explicitly (and perhaps implicitly) care about, when we usually attempt employ that murky concept of consciousness? Hmm... well if we care about it, we might gain insight into what exactly it is we care about by thinking about which specific situations make us choose to employ that word and maybe from there we can distill why we seem to care so much.

Well whatever consciousness means, most people agree the concept of awareness seems highly related or somehow relevant to it. Consciousness is often used as a synonym for self-awareness, but what on earth is that exactly? (And why would we ever need two words for the exact same thing?) For some people it means having "internal experiences", for others "being aware of having internal experiences", which doesn't quite seem to be the same thing from where I stand... but where do these intuitions about something I seemingly know nothing about come from? Probably personal experiences...

Sometimes I read a paragraph and my mind stars wandering and daydreaming until I snap out of it and think to myself "Jesus I was totally gone for a second where was I again?" I realize my eyes are at the bottom of the paragraph already and it seems like I semi-remember that they kept wandering over the letters and words as if I was actually reading them... without being aware. And moreover my mind reawakening seems to have been triggered by arriving at the end of that paragraph and going "now what?", seemingly out of habit because I usually stop at the end of a paragraph and consider if I actually "got" what I read there. And sure enough upon rereading the paragraph, it seems very familiar to me... but I was not at all sure whether I read it or not just a few seconds ago, and I'd say whatever the word "self-aware" means shouldn't really include that experience (or non-experience?) I just described. But did I lack "awareness" or just "self-awareness" in that example? Hmm...

Comment by Friendly-HI on On Terminal Goals and Virtue Ethics · 2014-06-19T01:32:35.182Z · LW · GW

The problem with the signaling hypothesis is that in everyday life there is essentially no observation you could possibly make that could disprove it. What is that? This guy is not actually signaling right now? No way, he's really just signaling that he is so über-cool that he doesn't even need to signal to anyone. Wait there's not even anyone else in the room? Well through this behavior he is signaling to himself how cool he is to make him believe it even more.

Guess the only way to find out is if we can actually identify "the signaling circuit" and make functional brain scans. I would actually expect signaling to explain an obscene amount of human behavior... but really everything? As I said I can't think of any possible observation outside of functional brain scans we could potentially make that could have the potential to disprove the signaling hypothesis of human behavior. (A brain scan where we actually know what we are looking at and where we are measuring the right construct obviously).

Comment by Friendly-HI on On Terminal Goals and Virtue Ethics · 2014-06-18T15:55:08.881Z · LW · GW

Interesting thought but surely the answer is no. If I take the word "knowledge" in this context to mean having a model that reasonably depicts reality in its contextually relevant features, then the same model of what the word "insane" in this specific instance depicts two very different albeit related brain patterns.

Simply put the brain pattern (wiring + process) that makes the person think they are Nero is a different though surely related physical object than the brain pattern that depicts what that person thinks "Nero being insane" might actually manifest like in terms of beliefs and behaviors. In light of the context we can say the person doesn't have any knowledge about being insane, since that person's knowledge does not include (or take seriously) the belief that depicts the presumably correct reality/model of that person not actually being Nero.

Put even simpler we use the same concept/word to model two related but fundamentally different things. Does that person have knowledge about being insane? It's the tree and the sound problem, the word insane is describing two fundamentally different things yet wrongfully taken to mean the same. I'd claim any reasonable concept of the word insane results in you concluding that that person does not have knowledge about being insane in the sense that is contextually relevant in this scenario, while the person might have actually roughly true knowledge about how Nero might have been insane and how that manifested itself. But those are two different things and the latter is not the contextually relevant knowledge about insanity here.

Comment by Friendly-HI on Torture vs. Dust Specks · 2014-05-27T13:11:52.963Z · LW · GW

Well too bad he didn't wait a year longer then ;). I think preferring torture is the wrong answer for the same reason that I think universal health-care is a good idea. The financial cost of serious illness and injury is distributed over the taxpaying population so no single individual has to deal with a spike in medical costs ruining their life. And I think it's still the correct moral choice regardless of whether universal health-care happens to be more expensive or not.

Analogous I think the exact same applies to dust vs torture. I don't think the correct moral choice is about minimizing the total area under the pain-curve at all, it's about avoiding severe pain-spikes for any given individual even at the cost of having a larger area under the curve. I don't think "shut up and multiply" applies here in it's simplistic conception in the way it might apply in the scenario where you have to choose whether 400 people live for sure or 500 people live with .9 probability (and die with .1 probability).

Irrespective of the former however, the thought experiment is a bit problematic because it's more complex than apparent at first, if we really take it seriously. Eliezer said the dust-specks are "barely noticed", but being conscious or aware of something isn't an either-or thing, awareness falls on a continuum so whatever "pain" the dust-specks causes has to be multiplied by how aware the person really is. If someone is tortured that person is presumably very aware of the physical and emotional pain.

Other possible consequences like lasting damage or social repercussions not counting, I don't really care all that much about any kind of pain that happens to me while I'm not aware of it. I could probably figure out whether or not pain is actually registered in my brain during having my upcoming operation under anesthesia, but the fact that I won't bother tells me very clearly, that awareness of pain is an important weight we have to multiply in some fashion with the actual pain-registration in the brain.

That's just an additional consideration though, even if we simplify it and imagine the pain is directly comparable and has no difference in quality at all, while the total quantity of pain is excessively higher in the dust-scenario compared to the torture-scenario, it changes nothing about my current choice.

So what does that tell me about the relationship between utility and morality? I don't accept that morality is just about the total lump sums of utility and disutility, I think we also have to consider the distribution of those in any given population. Why is that I ask myself and my brain offers the following answer to this question:

If I was the only agent in the entire universe and had to pick torture vs dust for myself (and obviously if I was immortal/ had a long enough life to experience all those dust specks), I would still prefer the larger area under the curve over the pain-spike, even if I assume direct comparability of the two kinds of pain. I suspect the reason for this choice is a type of time-discounting my brain does, I'd rather suffer a little pain every day for a trillion years than a big spike for 50 years. Considering that briefly speaking utility is (or at least I think should be defined as) a thing that only results from the interaction of minds and environments, my mind and its workings are definitely part of the equation that says what has utility and what doesn't. And my mind wants to suffer low disutility evenly distributed over a long time-period rather than suffer great disutility for a 50 year spike (assuming a trillion-year lifetime).

Comment by Friendly-HI on Reasons for being rational · 2013-12-12T20:42:58.799Z · LW · GW

Hi again.

I thought It's about time I replied to this topic. I've seen the response(s) earlier but didn't feel like responding at the time and unfortunately forgot all about it afterwards - up until now.

It seems to me there is a major point I should make.

According to this definition of "stereotype" ( I would claim they are unavoidable and useful cognitive tools for categorizing and streamlining our internal map of the world, including other people. They are not to be confused with "prejudices", which include an affective judgement.

So me believing that most Italians like spaghetti and eat it more often than people of other nationality or origin is a stereotype. For me this is not an affective judegement because I could(n't) care less about spaghetti or whether someone is Italian or not. I would however be more surprised if an Italian told me he does not like spaghetti, than if a Russian told me likewise. Furthermore this stereotype may or may not be true, as in principle it is a claim about what reality is like - in this case the average food preferences of a certein group.

A prejudice on the other hand may be for example that Americans are on average less rational and less well educated than average central Europeans. If this view carried an affective judement it would be a prejudice, which is essentially a hybrid of a stereotype and an attached affective judgement. Personally I actually do believe this to be the case, but I do not know if it really is a prejudice or a stereotype on my part, since I don't really "feel" traces of affective judement wrapped into this belief. For me it is simply a simplified model of a huge group.

I admit to having this stereotype, and as far as I can tell it mainly results from me occasionally watching American news programs (several of which would be unthinkable to exist on this side of the pond, although standards seem to be falling) and watching TV programs like the Colbert Report or many years ago "Real Time with Bill Maher". I also read several statistics (like percentage of atheists, or prevalence of certein irrational non-religious beliefs etc. etc.) that roughly confirm my internal model of what an "average American" (whatever that is ecactly) believes, behaves like and thinks like.

Personally I'm not even sure this belief qualifies as a prejudice on my part, since it may be nothing more than a simple stereotype, since I cannot discern a "negative affective sting". For me this view is simply consistent with the data I know of and the things I experienced through the media it may or may not be true, but I certainly do not "hate" Americans and I sure don't waste time on ranting about "those impossible Americans".

If I know absolutely nothing more about a person other than the fact that he or she is American, what happens in my brain is that I correct the probability that said person is less well ducated, more religious, and has "republican" views upwards, because of some data I am aware of. Again this may or may not be true.

On the other hand I happen to know some statistical data on the religious views of Swedes as well, which is probably not true because it places the number of atheists at roughly 60-80% (I would rather estime something like 40% atheists with another 30-40% "believing in some metaphysical notions").

If you just grant me the axiom, that Americans are more religious then Swedes, we can play through this hypothetical situation: If you set up an experiment where you tell me I have to spend an hour conversing with a) a completely random American or b) a random Swede, that is an easy decision for me. However, that does of course not mean that I indiscriminately dislike every American I meet, because of no other reason than their country of origin which would be ridiculous. Americans also don't have to "prove themselves more" than Swedes do.

I'm perfectly aware that not every American -and in fact not even a single one- fits my stereotype of "the average American". And of course I'm also perfectly aware of a multitude brilliant people and inventions that are of "US-origin". Maybe it is just a case of the worst parts being the most salient.

So why write all this? It's obviously an analogy to my stereotypes of women and my internal model of what "they" like to converse about. In spite of what I wrote it doesn't actually matter to me if someone is American or not, because I -tada- update on incoming evidence and once I have an actual person in front of me that happens to be American he or she gets taken out of the drawer labeled "what I think an average American is like" and gets "promoted" into the category labelled "things I know ad beleive about James Smith", which includes a free and nearly effortless upgrade to a more complex and custom model of who that person is.

Same goes for women, I start out from my stereotype -or bayesian prior- (where else should I start from?) and update on the "evidence" as it rolls in. Not every conversation with every woman I meet is about the fluffy emotional stuff, if I pick up on signals that indicate she is interested in talking about "heavy" stuff then that's where I'll go. If I met you in real life, my prior/stereotype of you aka. "Swimmer963" looks different than the grossly oversimplified one that only says "women" on the drawer.

It's still a crude stereotype but hey you gotta start somewhere, right?

Comment by Friendly-HI on did we now get cold fusion to work or what? · 2013-06-17T17:04:03.316Z · LW · GW

I have made a terrible mistake judgement-wise by posting this topic in the fashion I did.

The situation was like this:

I've been at the librabry, studying for an exam when I took a not unusual 10-minute procrastination break to surf whe web. I went onto (a website that collects the newest articles from a wide variety of "rationalist" websites of varying quality including LW), where an article about the mentioned paper was one of the most recent ones.

At that point I made at least three faulty assumptions/ mistakes that were to some extent connected:

1) "It's the top post so this is actually news." (I think it was actually a week old at that point already).

2) "The article about the article does not point out any obvious flaws, and because it's linked on I assign some trust/probability that it's not complete garbage" (by far my worst irrational crime)

3) "I'll take a look on lesswrongs discussion board to find what people say about this topic because right now I haven't any time to really check out this paper myself. [...] Oh, there's no post yet in the discussion section, but since it's news (which it wasn't) that makes sense, so I guess I'll open the first topic to see what others think about this paper."

If I had realized that it was old news I would have taken the absence of discussion about this paper/topic in the discussion section as a vital hint. Bad choices and assumptions all along.

So right now I just hope people stop upvoting this and let it die in silence because more people who thinks this thread hasn't enough downvotes yet show up all the time ruin my karma yet further, which overall has been rather positive up until very recently. On the upside however I've learned a valuable lesson about lesswrong at the cost of some karma I wouldn't have learned otherwise.

Comment by Friendly-HI on did we now get cold fusion to work or what? · 2013-05-25T13:24:27.923Z · LW · GW

Thanks for the link, I recalled something about an Italian guy trying to pull something a few years back so I became suspicious by two of the four authors being Italian from the get-go, but other than that I just don't have any clue about whether or not cold fusion is actually doable.

I'll look into that tread right away, thanks for the heads up.

Comment by Friendly-HI on Post ridiculous munchkin ideas! · 2013-05-25T00:05:38.022Z · LW · GW

Islam, Catholocism and others approve, though they're vague about what happens once you run out of space or can no longer feed them. Sharp tongues may claim that has already happened.

Comment by Friendly-HI on Post ridiculous munchkin ideas! · 2013-05-24T22:58:31.226Z · LW · GW

...many people argue for (their) god by pointing out that they are often "feeling his presence" and since many claim to speak with him as well, maybe that's really just one form of tupla without the insight that it is actually a hallucination.

Surely that's not how most people experience belief, but I never really considered that some of them might actually carry around a vivid invisible (or visible for all I know) hallucination quite like that. Could explain why some of the really batshit crazy ones going on about how god constantly speaks to them manage to be quite so convincing.

From now on my two tulpa buddies will be Eliezer and an artificial intelligence engaged in constant conversation while I make toast, love, and take a shower. Too bad they'll never be smarter than me though.

Comment by Friendly-HI on Post ridiculous munchkin ideas! · 2013-05-24T22:12:52.671Z · LW · GW

I wouldn't know about magic cards, sorry.

Stamps would be my choice because they have many advantages over other types of collectibles. Magic cards may share many of the benefits stamps have over other collectibles considering the similar format, but stamps surely have special perks magic cards don't.

Stamps have the advantage, that they are the number 1 collectible in Germany and many other parts of Europe and they have been forever. Coins and other things don't come close in terms of how widely they are collected and the bigger the demand, the easier it is to monetize if you have a worthwhile collection that is interesting to the collector base. There are stamps which one can assume will be interesting for many decades to come - there is for example a deep fascination with the Third Reich so stamps that came from Germany and the occupied territories during that time are generally sought after. What's also interesting is "catastrophy mail", that is mail that was delivered on planes or zeppelins that were destroyed while the letters themselves could be salvaged from the wrecks.

There are many nieche topics that stamp collectors could choose to base their collection(s) on, which may indeed suffer from vaning interest over time in the collector base, but there are also some other topics that will probably remain interesting in the very long run and thus demand will always be there and fluctuate less than the demand for other topics.

I know that magic is huge but will it remain so for another fifty years? (Assuming the absence of apocalyptic scenarios). I'm quite sure stamps will be there because they are carrying historical information and are an integral part of the first "reliable" long distance communication technology humans managed to make work (apart from books perhaps, though they usually had no specific individual as recipient in mind and thus really are quite a different communication technology).

Comment by Friendly-HI on Post ridiculous munchkin ideas! · 2013-05-24T13:03:10.402Z · LW · GW

No I meant it like you interpreted it, "Timmy" and "Benny" are names that you would clearly associate with children rather than adults. And my impression is that Kevin is also in that category, though perhaps it's not as extreme a case as those two names. I never understood why parents would call their son Benny, why not officially call him Ben and use Benny in the family as long as he's a kid and doesn't mind?

No one ever heard of Benny the mighty conquerer or Benny the badass CEO. Benny is a cute name, not a serious name for a grown man. Kevin may be perceived differently in America, perhaps because the name is older there while in Germany it's indeed a rather new name...

...and oddly enough all the Kevins I remember from my old school years were always the class clown.

Comment by Friendly-HI on Post ridiculous munchkin ideas! · 2013-05-23T00:42:58.763Z · LW · GW

I'm from Germany, here they tax gains in stock trade with a higher rate and the government tried to extend this higher rate on trade with stamps and other "art" formats multiple times, but realized its unfeasible and for now gave up. Currently you pay a whopping 25% in taxes on capital gains over ~1000$ and have other substantial losses. A few years back it could even climb as high as 50% if you were unlucky. Also you don't pay any special taxes here if you simply sell your private collection.

I think the current US tax rate on capital gains is at 0% if you earn little, 15% if your income is in a "medium" range and it can climb to 20% if your wallet is really thick.

This is not based on any personal research but on what my father told me, yet seeing how much time he is (and especially has been) spending in this field, that he keeps up to date, and that generally speaking he is a reasonably smart man, I have no reason to doubt his expertise in this topic. Naturally he's enthusiastic about this but he wouldn't warp facts. Every time I visit I unsually tend to leave with more insight in this field than I really want to. He also keeps close track on how the value of his private collection rose over the past, how it still rises, and I know what the figures look like.

Back on track, I should have made the disclaimer that I'm not really familiar with US tax law. The main point I'm making here however is that it is a very safe long term investment that is practically guaranteed to pay out substantially more than what you buy it for in the long haul. This should hold true regardless of what country you're from.

Comment by Friendly-HI on Post ridiculous munchkin ideas! · 2013-05-22T15:51:07.124Z · LW · GW

If you have a reasonable ammount of money that you would like to save long-term and (potentially) remonetize 10+ years later on (for example for your retirement or whatever) then decide against playing the stock market (duh) or putting it in low interest bank accounts and buy the right stamps instead.

My dad is a passionate collector, but I have hardly any interst in collecting useless historical artefacts because I'm more interested in the future of humanity than its past. However even without any historical interest in the particular subject, stamps are an amazing thing to put your money into, because:

  • Few stamps ever fall significantly in value, some remain stagnant and most rise significantly over time. So having many rather than a few really valuable ones is good and in a timeframe of decades many individual stamps can easily double or triple their value.

  • They are very small, light and portable. Unlike most other art-objects you could potentially remonetize quickly. Much lighter than coins or anything else, really.

  • If you remonetize them, you don't pay extra taxes which you may have to pay for gains from playing the stock market. If there will be a tax on that at some Point in the future (which is unlikely for some reasons I won't get into), it can be easily avoided - illegally and probably legally as well.

  • You can remonetize them very, very quickly for a very good price by knowing the right person / auction house.

  • Unlike numbers on a bank account they are inflation proof.

  • No inheritance tax, your significant others will get all the dough if they remonetize it themselves.

The downsides are that you have to put some significant time into this topic to know what a good deal is, learn how the market and auction houses operate and to build a diverse or highly specialized and sought-after collection that is very likely to rise in value compared to other possible collections you could compile (which overall will almost certainly rise in value too, but maybe not as much as a collection you put some thought into).

Also you obviously need to keep them safe from theft and environmental hazards. (If you want to make the collection a one-time endeavor instead of an ongoing process, you can finish up your collection and put it in a small or medium safe deposit box in any bank.) Consider optimal storage conditions as well, since stamps are essentially made of fancy paper.

If none of this interests you, then at least take this advice: If you ever inherit a stamp collection, don't sell it on a flea market, inform yourself and sell it properly. Just recently a friend of my dad asked his advice on a collection he was about to sell for low double digits to learn that it was worth at least 20000$.

Comment by Friendly-HI on Post ridiculous munchkin ideas! · 2013-05-22T15:25:17.170Z · LW · GW

Not sure if I can recommend this suggestion, because for me exactly the opposite worked out fine.

I never used fitness crap lying around my home regularly but once I started paying for a gym membership there was no way I would just stay at home and pay for nothing.

In other words I used the sunken cost fallacy for my benefit.

Once I was more advanced it wasn't the money I spent on my membership that kept me going but knowing that I'll actually get weaker if I started to only go 2 times a week instead of keeping up my 3 times a week routine. So every time I didn't visit my full 3 days a week it felt like I essentially wasted a few of my last trips to the gym because I wouldn't see any progress and at the very best just keep my performance at a plateau.

I trained quite hard for 1,5 years and missed maybe 4 training sessions, until a knee injury from squatting with too much weight coupled with moving to a new location put a stop to my training days.

Comment by Friendly-HI on Post ridiculous munchkin ideas! · 2013-05-22T14:15:00.464Z · LW · GW

I'm German and would agree. Kevin not only sounds low Status but is also a name for kids, so it's even handicapped in more than one respect.

I've thought about adopting "Aaron Alexander Grey", the middle name being my father's first name and Grey being an adaptation of my current last name that probably no one except Germans could really hope to pronounce correctly. Also I don't want to stay in Germany so Aaron Alexander Grey is more of an attempt at a name that I imagine may be overall an internationally well recieved name. Thoughts?

By the way if you're a German citizen you can't just change your name unless you provide a good reason... like having idiot parents who decided Adolf is a proper first name for their child (way after WW2 mind you). If ever, I'll probably change my name once I become a Swedish citizen where you can do that kind of thing. Being Swedish (at least by citizenship) is probably also a very good signal internationally speaking. Better than German for sure.

Comment by Friendly-HI on Grigori Perelman refused prize because he knows "how to control the universe" · 2013-05-21T22:54:07.908Z · LW · GW

I'd expect it's much more likely that developing intelligence requires an evolutionary trade-off with other useful things

Sure, we can take that for granted seeing how we're not floating superbrains (yet) :D

it's more efficient to have some intelligent people, and that these factors drown out such a putative correlation in the evolutionary calculation.

Efficient to have some intelligent people? Efficient for whom?

Either this is a missunderstanding on my part, or alternatively I would recomment (re?)reading "The Selfish Gene". Because if the answer to who it is efficient for isn't "really, really close kin" I can't think of anything else that could be a valid answer. And how did the reproductive success of brothers and sisters benefit from having a highly intelligent nerd as a sibling?

EDIT: Actually I can think of another answer now that seems more plausible than the kin idea involving an evolutionarily stable strategy. But thinking it through that sounds quite implausible as well.

If we are talking about the evolutionary advantages of intelligence we are almost exclusively talking about the advantages that intelligence could possibly have for the reproductive success of the individual, not the society or the group (s)he's a part of.

The kind of intelligence that was probably most heavily selected for is social intelligence, aka. understanding, navigating and manipulating social relationships. The kind of nerd intelligence you witness in Perelman and around here seems to be an evolutionary by-product of that at best, because let's face it - highly intelligent nerds are weird outliers and rarely seem to posess high attractiveness to the opposite gender in a way that would be able to make their genes outcompete other spunk floating around in the gene-pool. That's why nerds didn't take over the gene-pool in the past, which is why we're still so stupid and overly concerned with all the "wrong" things.

In other words, if we're talking about the evolution of human intelligence, I think we're talking about a very narrow set of (mainly social) intelligence that evolved by being directly selected for, while general intelligence skills like mathematical prowess and rationality are more of a by-product that weren't ever directly selected for. (If anything I'd guess they were rather selected against).

Comment by Friendly-HI on Post ridiculous munchkin ideas! · 2013-05-21T22:11:18.505Z · LW · GW


Also, what he said:

The trick to resolve the apparent paradox, I think, is to keep a firm distinction between describing people and emotionally evaluating people and then understand that the idea is only about cutting out the latter.

Comment by Friendly-HI on Post ridiculous munchkin ideas! · 2013-05-16T16:59:03.109Z · LW · GW

I recall reading that one of the best predictors of reported happiness is how much a person tends to compare herself to others. (I'm fairly sure I got that from the book "The How of Happiness" by Sonja Lyubomirsky)

You can probably get a quick but decent estimate of where you are on that "comparison-tendency" scale by recalling if you ever feel a sting of jealousy or if it otherwise negatively impacts your mood, or initiates a mental comparison when you see that someone else is up to something really amazingly cool on facebook. How do you generally tend to feel when you see people who are better looking or richer, or <insert desirable characteristic that others have and you don't> ?

I compared myself a lot with others some years ago, but all it took for me to get rid of that nasty mind-habit was to become aware of it every time I was doing it, and realizing that its a stupid and unhealthy habit. Thinking back it probably took me somewhere between 4 and 6 months until this way of thinking became essentially extinct and ultimately even somewhat alien. And I'm happy to say that I'm much happier now, arguably in part because I kicked that habit of thought.

So if you're suffering from this bad habit as well, the way I got rid of it was by simply realizing that it's bad, noticing it when I was doing it and simply moving on. Over time the frequency decreased on its own. The happiest people apparently hardly even know what exactly is meant by "comparing themselves to someone else". Seeing someone who does better than them in any desirable area simply does not trigger any kind of negative emotions, or feelings of inadequacy whatsoever. The opposite in fact, they tend to feel glad for people who are doing well, even if those people are doing better than oneself is.

Comment by Friendly-HI on Defecting by Accident - A Flaw Common to Analytical People · 2013-05-09T21:53:17.474Z · LW · GW

Random Tip:

If you intend to criticize an idea, then I agree that it is socially productive to first point out something you liked about that idea, and if you didn't like its contents at all, then go with "I like that you brought up this topic/point, because I too find it important, however / yet I think..."

The magic words in the sentence above are "however" and "yet", the latter being superior. Notice how the same sentence would sound if I replaced "yet" with "but" to link the praise/concession with my criticism. "But" can (and often enough is) perceived in contexts like this as a harsh word, and is parsed as if anything you mentioned in the sentence beforehand is completely negated by this single word. The reason why it can feel this way is because many people actually use it in exactly this way. They say something and offer concessions or even praise, and then use the word "but" to really mean "I didn't actually mean any of what I just said, so here's what I actually think on this matter..."

I believe I picked up this simple trick from "How to Win Friends and Influence People" what must have been close to 10 years ago, and every time I'm about to use a "carrot and stick" sentence I remind myself to use "however" or "yet" instead of "but" to link them. I believe the book even offered "and" (though I was reading the German translation of that book) as a potential linking word, but I can't quite warm up to that and my intuition says it might actually even weird out your conversation partner.

If you use "but" the person you talk to is likely to assume a defensive role, whereas if you use "yet" it can feel more like an invitation for a joint venture to genuinely explore the topic.

Comment by Friendly-HI on Fermi Estimates · 2013-04-20T13:27:03.046Z · LW · GW

Fermi estimates can help you become more efficient in your day-to-day life, and give you increased confidence in the decisions you face. If you want to become proficient in making Fermi estimates, I recommend practicing them 30 minutes per day for three months. In that time, you should be able to make about (2 Fermis per day)×(90 days) = 180 Fermi estimates.

I'm not sure about this claim about day-to-day life. Maybe there are some lines of work where this skill could be useful, but in general it's quite rare in day-to-day life where you have to come up with quick estimates on the spot to make a sound descision. Many things can be looked up on the internet for a rather marginal time-cost nowadays. Often enough probably even less time, than it would actually take someone to calculate the guesstimate.

If a descision or statistic is important you, should take the time to actually just look it up, or if the information you are trying to guess is impossible to find online, you can at least look up some statistics that you can and should use to make your guess better. As you read above, just getting one estimate in a long line of reasoning wrong (especially where big numbers are concerned) can throw off your guess by a factor of 100 or 1000 and make it useless or even harmful.

If your guess is important to an argument you're constructing on-the-fly, I think you could also take the time to just look it up. (If it's not an interview or some conversation which dictates, that using a smartphone would be unacceptable).

And if a descision or argument is not important enough to invest some time in a quick online search, then why bother in the first place? Sure, it's a cool skill to show off and it requires some rationality, but that doesn't mean it's truly useful. On the other hand maybe I'm just particularly unimaginative today and can't think of ways, how Fermi estimates could possibly improve my day-to-day life by a margin that would warrant the effort to get better at it.

Comment by Friendly-HI on The Importance of Self-Doubt · 2013-01-29T00:41:42.463Z · LW · GW

As of yet Eliezer's importance is just a stochastic variable yet to be realized, for all I know he could be killed in a car accident tomorrow or simply fail at his task of "saving the world" in numerous ways.

Up until now Vasili Arkhipov, Stanislav Petrov and a few other people I do not know the names of (including our earliest ancestors who managed to avoid being killed during their emigration out of Africa) trump Eliezer by a tiny margin of actually saving humanity -or at least civilization.

All that being said Eliezer is still pretty awesome by my standards. And he writes good fanfiction, too.

Comment by Friendly-HI on Assessing Kurzweil: the results · 2013-01-21T20:01:45.714Z · LW · GW

@ Everyone:

What are the most interesting and useful conclusions we can reasonably draw from this?

I'm not being facetious, it's just that after I've read this and most of the top rated comments I'm not sure what to draw from all of this. We have a rough estimate of how K. is doing in absolute terms, but not in relative terms because we're left without a baseline to compare him to. Chance or the "average predictions of the average human" can't be a meaningful baseline (for me) because I'm not going to use them as potential sources for my personal predictions/beliefs anyway. What actually interests me is how seriously I can take Kurzweil's predictions for the upcoming future (!) in comparison to other competent predictos. But how K. is doing in comparison to other predictors is very hard to judge because we simply can't standardise relatively vague predictions by different people in order to reasonably compare them.

So what I am left with is only that a bunch of random better-than-average informed people (regarding current technology) estimated that slightly less than one third of K's predictions came true, one third was hard to judge and consists of shades of grey somewhere between definitely true and definitely false, and one third was judged as plain false. So the only thing I really take away from this is that K. seems like a reasonably competent predictor in absolute terms, since any given prediction of his had roughly the same chance of leaning towards "true" as towards "false". Assuming he keeps this rate up for the upcoming decade(s) my ultimate takeaway for now is that he's at least worth reading for inspiration.

Also, I take away that his self-assessment of accuracy is probably either iffy at best or plain dishonest at worst. But to judge this point further I'd have to read his personal accounts on each of his predictions and the specific reasons why he apparently counted many of them as "essentially true", while most technophiles didn't.

Comment by Friendly-HI on 2012 Less Wrong Census/Survey · 2012-11-14T23:35:05.281Z · LW · GW

"The point I was making is that, when IQ is calculated by age group, that's evidence that there are raw score differentials between age groups."

Exactly, that is the point. Of course there is a certain age-related deterioration of intelligence, especially fluid intelligence. So even if he did the exact same test he already did decades ago, his raw score will surely be lower now than it was back then. Confusingly enough, he could still be said to be as "intelligent" as he was back then if his relative position within the IQ distribution hadn't changed. (Which if we were to believe his recent IQ-test, actually happened).

If any of this is confusing it's because IQ is a relative measurement. So if I were to say that he is as intelligent as he was decades ago in the context of an IQ test, that doesn't mean that he would solve the same proportion of tasks correctly, or that there wasn't any cognitive decline due to aging, but only that his relative position within the normal distribution of IQ scores hasn't changed.

IQ tests never measure absolute intelligence. Since IQ means intelligence -quotient-, you always compare a score to other scores, so it's not an absolute measure by definition - there is no absolute IQ test. I'm also not aware of any respectable existing test for absolute intelligence either, nor how exactly one might even look like, although I'm sure you could in principle construct one if you define the word intelligence in nonconfused terms that reflect actual reality, which seems like a monumental task.

If we picture the concept of absolute intelligence as some kind of optimal information process with certain well defined characteristics whose lower and upper bounds are only determined by the laws of physics, I'm afraid human intelligence will be hardly comparable to it in any really meaningful way. And more importantly, how could you even begin to make a reliable and valid measure of something like that in humans?

Comment by Friendly-HI on 2012 Less Wrong Census/Survey · 2012-11-13T10:04:52.729Z · LW · GW

As age progresses, we also see a natural shift of intelligence from "fluid" to "crystallized" intelligence. The first kind is fast, adaptable and more creative, good for problem-solving, learning new things and pattern-recognition. The second kind is concerned with facts and knowledge, but also implicit knowledge/skills like how to drive a car.

IQ tests really measure fluid intelligence, less so the crystallized kind. Some IQ tests have a few questions that probe your crystallized intelligence as well, like "What was the name of the ship Charles Darwin sailed on to the Galapagos islands?" (often with 4 answers to choose from). But usually you get very few questions like those, if any at all.

Those two "kinds" of intelligence aren't completely independent though, as one would expect your fluid intelligence has a high impact on your crystallized knowledge.

Comment by Friendly-HI on 2012 Less Wrong Census/Survey · 2012-11-09T15:07:02.071Z · LW · GW

Ideally your achieved IQ score is really a measure of your position within a normal distribution of IQ scores of your age group, where the mean (or peak) is standardized as 100 and one standard deviation equals 15 points. So an IQ of 130 is two Standard deviations above the mean and only ~ 2% of the people in your age group would be considered smarter than you.

I'm not sure age related decline factors into the decline of his IQ scores at all. That Hypothesis would only be true if the IQ-test he took was actually quite accurate and well-constructed, which would literally mean that in ~1955 only 0.05% of children in his age group were more intelligent than him and now something like 20% of ~65 year olds are more intelligent than him. Considering the stability of IQ it just doesn't seem very plausible, that age-related decline would have hit him much harder than the average old person.

The article I quoted offered an explanation that I find much more plausible. It's primary point wasn't that this is the doing of the Flynn-effect, but the following:

"When too many children are found in the upper ranges, the scores are adjusted to fit the theoretical curve.This swells the number of scores in the 120-130 range and depresses the IQ scores of the entire gifted population. The attempt to artificially force the distribution of giftedness into the normal curve results in the disappearance of 1 1/2 standard deviations of intelligence. With today's measuring devices, all IQ scores in the gifted range are most likely underestimates of ability."

Comment by Friendly-HI on 2012 Less Wrong Census/Survey · 2012-11-07T15:34:50.588Z · LW · GW

I would be careful with the interpretation of your results.

It is very uncommon to loose 46 points even over a whole lifetime, given the assumption that nothing bad happened to your brain. Intelligence is one of, if not even the most stable personality trait known to psychology. That is why losing more than two standard deviations without any apparent reason apart from ageing should be treated as a less likely explanation than either of the following ones:

You were compared to the wrong age group. An IQ of 100 is defined as the mean score for your age group. So if you were compared to people in their 20-30's that would easily explain the unfavorable result. Your test score needs to be compared to 68 year olds (or perhaps 65 to 70 year old people). It's quite safe to say however, that you got slower compared to your younger self and other young people for that matter.

Here is another explanation that may fit very nicely to your score pattern.

Excerpt: But a rather curious situation occurs when we examine the scores of gifted students on these various sets of norms. In 1960, a five-year-old achieving a mental age of 8.0 would have had an IQ score of 165. In 1972, that same raw score only yielded an IQ of 153, a difference of 12 points. Differences between the Stanford-Binet Revision IV, published in 1986, and the 1972 norms appear to be at least 13.5 points in the moderately gifted range (Thorndike, Hagen & Sattler, 1986), which would bring the same child's score down below 140. This is a loss of one IQ point per year from 1960 to 1986 for children in the gifted range. In this 26 year period, average students needed to obtain only 8 more points to make up for the average gains in intelligence of the general population, whereas gifted children needed to obtain over 25 more points to match previous scores

  • 1 1/2 standard deviations of IQ. This seems like an unreasonable demand.