Some criticisms of polling 2020-10-25T18:45:10.523Z
Is there a scientific method? Physics, Biology and Beyond 2019-12-05T16:50:01.105Z
Searle’s Chinese Room and the Meaning of Meaning 2019-08-06T04:09:25.824Z
Occam's Razor: In need of sharpening? 2019-08-01T13:36:09.780Z


Comment by Jimdrix_Hendri on Finite Factored Sets · 2021-05-27T13:48:25.760Z · LW · GW

Cool topic!
Here are some critiques on part 1 of your presentation: Short Combinatorial Talk

1 Colour coding slides by content is a nifty idea. I hadn't seen this before. Unfortunately, even with as little as five headings it is difficult to recall the correspondence between colours and content. Why not try something else. Maybe a designation in the upper right hand corner of each slide?

2. That looks like an interesting diagram on slide 4. Why didn't you explain it?

3. You tend to introduce succinct definitions first, motivating examples later. This worked all right for the fairly simple concepts on page 4, but you started to lose your audience once you reached factorisations on page 5. (By the you get to the bottom of page 5 your audience is becoming anxious you may never introduce any examples and we are starting to feel lost). So, why not reverse the order? Work through an example (page 6), then formalise the notion into a definition? Then, spend some time illustrating how the definition matches the intuitive concept.

4. Slides 4 and 5 contain too much material. Best split each into two slides.

Thanks a lot for your presentation. I am enjoying it!  

Comment by Jimdrix_Hendri on Some criticisms of polling · 2020-10-27T23:52:54.512Z · LW · GW

Thanks, betulaster, 

Since you address "how likely meeting a certain politically charged event would be", I assume your question is focussed on what I've called "Polling 2", which concerns itself with predicting future events. These tend to be less politically charged than than "Polling 1", but I agree you are right in pointing out the need to relativise respondents answers. People who identify strongly with a cause, especially if they are not used to dealing with probability, might confuse a question about an event likelihood with the strength of their allegiance. Thus "How likely do you think the Dodgers are to win the World Series?" might be met with "I'd bet my life on it", which is not very helpful for computing statistics :-)

The best way to put the matter into quantitative terms may be to ask the interviewee what odds he would give in a bet on the event occuring. It may seem redundant, but I would also ask the odds they'd give on a non-occurence. (People's grasp on probability is shaky, so overdeterminining their perception helps to reduce error). 

You will notice that for Polling 1 type questions I avoided the natural step of asking people to say how much money it would take to get them to change their mind. For one thing, it would be tasteless to appear to be offering money to get someone to change a vote (for instance). Another reason is that people's perceptions of money vary widely, injecting a confounding variable. The rather convoluted question I came up with to assess an interviewee's resistance to chance of intent has the disadvantage of generating a discreet (non-continuous) answer. and I worry it might also confuse some interviewees, but at least it makes a quantification in terms of a comparable quantity. 

Comment by Jimdrix_Hendri on Is there a scientific method? Physics, Biology and Beyond · 2019-12-10T01:50:03.982Z · LW · GW

You make a good point, namely that my article would be improved with an example. I don't have one at hand, although I think this behaviour comes up rather frequently in attacks on climate change deniers. I'll see what I can do to find an example.

Perhaps I should write an article about the more general problem of journalists and politicians selectively using specious, (often pseudo-) scientific claims to attack their opponents? This originates mostly from the left. The right has long since accepted the idea that science arguments will always be against them, and whenever they hear "the scientific method.." they know they are about to be knocked in the head, and mentially prepare some ad hominem attack against some straw man figure of a scientist.

I don't doubt the right could summon the intellectual resources to challenge instances of sciencism. Only it would all go over the heads of the average voter. Such is the level of and the motivating forces behind our political discourse.

Sometimes I feel sympathy for Plato's critique of democracy.

Comment by Jimdrix_Hendri on Is there a scientific method? Physics, Biology and Beyond · 2019-12-06T16:39:23.127Z · LW · GW

But this is not what is done. Instead, journalists write, pretty much universally, about "the scientific method", which is supposed to be an iterative procedure made up of observation, hypothesising and testing. This raises two questions:

1) Why don't journalists instead write about the life or physical or social science method? I suppose this is one of the widespread misunderstandings about science. There is also a gross public misperception about the validity that can be to attribute to scientific results. It is true that some of these points are subject to disagreement among philosophers of science, but I think all would agree that the public notions, upheld by journalists, is lazy, naive and incorrect.

2) You could also say, Ok, so there are multiple approaches taken in the various scientific disciplines. But what is wrong with iterative application of observation, hypothesising and testing as a truth finding method? Well, I'd argue, this isn't a method at all. Instead it's a description. I.e., it is not an approach that can be set into operation to uncover the truth.

In case that is confusing, I'll make the point in another way. Let's say you are interviewing the manager of a sports team and you ask him what is his strategy for defeating another team. Suppose he were to answer: "My strategy is to outscore my opponent". This is not a strategy at all. It is merely a restatement of the victory condition.

Comment by Jimdrix_Hendri on Circling · 2019-12-05T19:01:25.176Z · LW · GW

Hey unreal!

I came to your article never having heard of circling before, and your first iteration at describing put me into the mind: "well, it's just another name for a party". But later you explained how the group gives explicit attention to feelings, especially feelings of the moment. This bring to mind and experience I would like to share with you.

I typically operate in a very masculine oriented environment and I've sometimes heard women complain they find the approaches taken, say, to reaching a decision, are unnatural for them. This worried me. I'm a man and I'm aware of the danger that as a member of the dominant group I might have uncritically accepted the standard approach as the only viable approach. But I didn't really understand the complaint until years later, upon finding myself in an all female environment. How different the woman's way of dealing with problems! Whereas the male approach is to present possible solutions, weighing their likely impact in terms of company objectives, the women hardly confronted the problem at all. Instead they spoke at great length about their feelings; then closed discussion (seemingly without resolution) by performing some joint activity reinforcing group solidarity.

At first, this feminine approach struck me as childish. But then, I began considering the drawbacks of the approach I had been used to. The masculine approach eschewed any discussion of personal feelings: possible solutions were supposed to be judged solely against the criteria of company objectives, although what really went on was a competition to disguise personal interests in the cover of company goals. At the end of the discussion some approach would be agreed upon. But, since the selection was determined by power, it was rarely the best either from either the company or personal standpoints. And, inevitably, there would be losers who, by the ethos of the group were forbidden from expressing their feelings. No thought at all was given to group solidarity, and the participants left the meeting bitter or intent on "getting even" next time.

So now, which of these two approaches is really the most childish?

The impression I get from your article of circling is that it is aimed at correcting some of the defects of what I have been calling the masculine approach to decision making. Not everyone needs this equally (my woman's group certainly didn't) but for some people, if they went into it with an open mind, could certainly benefit.

As for how a group can best reach business decisions, I see advantages in combining the two approaches. We need the rationality of what I've been calling the masculine approach, but (in the masculine environment) it should be up to the leader to explicitly adopt behaviours enforcing the notion that personal feelings are a legitimate concern for expression and consideration as part of the chosen solution.

Comment by Jimdrix_Hendri on The Virtue of Silence · 2019-12-05T18:05:27.767Z · LW · GW

Hmm. I suppose the NY Times could run a column on the ethics of open discussion of violating medical confidentiality. No?

Certainly this sequence can be continued. With each new meta-iteration we are further removed from the original issue but might hope to benefit (?) from the silence-equivalent effect of increased incomprehensibility.

Comment by Jimdrix_Hendri on Intellectual Hipsters and Meta-Contrarianism · 2019-09-21T12:06:23.373Z · LW · GW

1. The average IQ of visitors to this site is 145 squared? Impressive!

2. Are you trying to be subtly meta-contrarian with your idiosyncratic orthography, or are you just really glad to see me?

Comment by Jimdrix_Hendri on Why so much variance in human intelligence? · 2019-09-14T15:06:30.508Z · LW · GW
the question I want to ask about is what is it about humans, culture and brains that allows for such high variance within the species, that isn't true about mice and chimps?

Some points to consider:

1. Has it been demonstrated that variations in intelligence is that much greater for humans than for mice or chimps? This may be true, but you didn't indicate any references.

Whereas I could imagine a test for chimp intelligence, and even timed maze experiments on mice, the concept of what we mean by intelligence becomes increasingly attenuated as we deal with ever simpler life forms; so that, at some point, and maybe even quite early, experts will begin disagreeing on what they are trying to measure.

2. Modern day humans have a big advantage not only over other animals, but also over our cognitively equivalent ancestors of 12+ thousand years ago. Thanks to the invention of culture, we pass knowledge to our offspring, meaning that knowledge can be accumulated from generation to generation. Variations in cognitive performance isn't only a consequence in variations in intelligence, but also reflects large differences in the quality of acculturation.

3. I wonder if your decision to compare interspecies variations in intelligence follows from a mistaken analogy. Consider, that intelligence is a human specialty. Other species have their own specialities. For instance, maybe we should be comparing variations in human intelligence with variations in the maximum speed of healthy, adult cheetahs. (I wonder, whether anyone has ever done this?)

4. The idea that we can assign a number to the variation in human intelligence is suspect. True, we can claim that the standard deviation in IQ is 15% of average IQ value. But it doesn't follow that a +1 sigma individual is 15% smarter than an average individual, because the IQ scale itself is arbitrary and intelligence has never been defined apart from performance on the test. To make the point in another way, 1-sigma variations in intelligence was arbitrarily set to 15 IQ points purely for convenience. We might just as well have set the mark at 900 IQ points. But that wouldn't mean that the +1-sigma individual was then ten times as intelligent as average.

Compare the situation with the cheetahs, where a statement like: "the ratio between the standard deviation in maximum running speeds and the average individual's maximum running speed is .15", really means something in terms of performance that can be measured with a metre and stopwatch.

What would be wanted to put IQ and maximum speed on par, would be credible results showing that a certain superiority in IQ is closely connected with a certain improved ability in raising fertile offspring to maturity, which is the definition of evolutionary success.

Comment by Jimdrix_Hendri on Schelling fences on slippery slopes · 2019-09-14T14:13:18.407Z · LW · GW

I think your idea about a Schelling point deserves further thought. But, why (and how) select the point arbitrarily? Why now presume that rational 100% Gandhi would perform an optimisation, according to his personal utility function, calculating the good the offered money could do against the harm done to the world by becoming less pacific?

Since you've already posited a third party, in your example, engaged to destroy Gandhi's prized possessions for deviations, why not just have Gandhi charge the man to shoot him as soon as he shows any sign of going on a murderous rampage? That sounds pretty 100%-Gandhi-like to me.

In fact, it is never hard to boost global utility by engaging an robot enforcer. The trick is to do without or, sometimes, to include the enforcer's own utility function (can he be subverted?) into the calculation!

Comment by Jimdrix_Hendri on Occam's Razor: In need of sharpening? · 2019-08-08T21:16:30.770Z · LW · GW

I have the impression that Solomonoff Induction provides a precise procedure to a very narrow set of problems with little practical applicability elsewhere.

How would you use Solomonoff Induction to choose between the two alternative theories mentioned in the article: one based on Newton's Force Laws, the other based on the principle of least action. (Both theories have the same range of validity and produce the identical results).

Comment by Jimdrix_Hendri on Occam's Razor: In need of sharpening? · 2019-08-06T01:20:50.015Z · LW · GW

HI Raemon,

I'm gratified to see my humble contribution receive attention, including from you. I'm learning. So thanks.

This is my first independent posting (I've commented before) and I didn't notice it appearing in the front page "latest posts". I understand you are a LW organisor. Can you help me understand the trigger criteria for an article to appear under "latest posts"? Thanks a lot! JH

Comment by Jimdrix_Hendri on Occam's Razor: In need of sharpening? · 2019-08-03T02:49:25.396Z · LW · GW

hi habryka,

It wasn't my purpose to open a discussion of interpretation of quantum mechanics. I only took this as an example.

My point is something else entirely: scientists have been leaning very heavily on William of Occam for a long while now. But try to pin down what they mean by a the relative complexity of an explanation, and they shrug their shoulders.

It's not even the case that scientists disagree on which metric to apply. (That would just be normal business!) But, as far as I know, no one has made a serious effort to define a metric. Maybe because they can't?

A very unscientific behaviour indeed!

Comment by Jimdrix_Hendri on Occam's Razor: In need of sharpening? · 2019-08-03T02:41:37.616Z · LW · GW

Raemon, I understand your remark. But I've detected another problem. I've dropped the ball by posting my reply to the wrong remark. So, I'm going to have to do some cutting and pasting. Please bear with me.

The EY article really is super long (but interesting) and seems to go all over the place. I'd like to do habryka the courtesy of an answer reasonably promptly. I hope I'm not out of order by asking habryka for guidance about what is on his mind.

Comment by Jimdrix_Hendri on Occam's Razor: In need of sharpening? · 2019-08-03T02:24:54.408Z · LW · GW

The idea of counting postulates is attractive, but it harbours a problem which reminds me of a story. There once was an editor assigned to review an article. The editor was conscientious and raised 15 questions. But his boss thought this was too many and would only permit five questions. Now the editor cared about his points, so he kept them by generous application of the conjunctive: "and".

We could come up formal requirements to avoid anything as crude as the editor's behaviour. But, I think we'd still find that each postulate encapsulates many concepts, and that a fair comparison between competing theories should consider the relative complexity of the concepts as well. So, we are still far away from assigning each theory a numerical complexity score.

A more serious problem is that a postulate count differs from what we usually mean by complexity, which generally reflects in some sense the heterogeneity and volume of considerations that go into applying a theory. Ptolemy's and Newton's model of the solar system give similar results. It's true that Ptolemy's theory is more complex in its expression. But even if its expression were simpler, I'd still label Newton's theory simpler, since the Ptolemaic theory requires many more steps to apply.

Comment by Jimdrix_Hendri on Occam's Razor: In need of sharpening? · 2019-08-03T02:07:55.348Z · LW · GW

Help me out here, habryka.

I've read part way through the article. The first paragraph seemed to be carrying on a continuing conversation (John Searle comes to mind). Then it seemed to change direction abruptly, addressing a problem in mechanism design, namely how to assign payoffs so as to incentivise an agent in a certain game to be honest about his predictions.

These are interesting topics, but I struggle to see the relevance.

EY's article is also very long. I haven't read it to the end. Can you point out where to look or, better, summarise the point you were making?

Thanks a lot!

Comment by Jimdrix_Hendri on A Technical Explanation of Technical Explanation · 2019-08-03T01:56:45.817Z · LW · GW

EY writes:

the ordinary or colloquial way of speaking about degrees of belief, where someone might casually say, “I’m 98% certain that canola oil contains more omega-3 fats than olive oil.” What they really mean by this is that they feel 98% certain—there’s something like a little progress bar that measures the strength of the emotion of certainty, and this progress bar is 98% full. And the emotional progress bar probably wouldn’t be exactly 98% full, if we had some way to measure. The word “98%” is just a colloquial way of saying: “I’m almost but not entirely certain.”

I suspect something like this really is what most people have in mind when they speak about degrees of surety. But that is not to deny there is a simple, intuitive way one can interpret such sentences, and it isn't necessary to take a rocky detour to consider hypothetical repetitions of "similarly difficult questions".

What I mean when I say I am 98% sure in the oil question, is that I'd be equally indifferent about accepting either side of the bet about which oil has the greater omega-3 content providing I was given odds 98:2 (assuming risk neutrality).

Comment by Jimdrix_Hendri on Does it become easier, or harder, for the world to coordinate around not building AGI as time goes on? · 2019-08-01T12:44:57.594Z · LW · GW

Hi elityre, and thanks for responding.

I am no certainly no expert, but I do know there is legislation - both national and international - regulating to genetic research. Quick queries to Professor Google delivered two international agreements that appear relevant:

o Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the

o International Declaration on Human Genetic Data

Both are older documents which establish a kind of precedent for a basic framework for how national governments can cooperate to regulate a rapidly changing and critically dangerous technology.

Another place to look would be the evolution of agreements on non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; especially in the early years, when the political and technological application of e.g. nuclear weapons was still in flux.

Hope this helps.

Comment by Jimdrix_Hendri on Does it become easier, or harder, for the world to coordinate around not building AGI as time goes on? · 2019-07-31T14:46:11.536Z · LW · GW

elityre makes a sincere effort to examination of the question from the ground up. But this overlooks the work that's already been done in similar fields. A lot of what has been accomplished with regard to applied genetic research is likely to be transferable, for instance.

More generally, formal methods of safety engineering can provide a useful framework, when adapted flexibly to reflect novel aspects of the question.

Comment by Jimdrix_Hendri on The Real Rules Have No Exceptions · 2019-07-24T21:32:04.566Z · LW · GW

One criterion for a procedure to be objective is that it can be carried out equally by anyone.

A procedure which includes a codicil: "Sometimes, I will step in and overturn the arrangement". Fails on three counts:

1 It fails to explicitly define the criteria for making interventions.

2 Nothing is said about the range of interventions that will be entertained.

3 It does not specify the means by which the type of intervention will be determined.

The name for this is dictat, and is almost always inappropriate and dangerous.

There are other ways of building in flexibility. For instance:

In cases many where the environment (causes) is very unpredictable, it is still possible to establish guidelines with reference to effects.

At the same time, the "rule" can explicitly state criteria for turning off the intervention, thereby reducing the risk that the intervention become a new normal.

Types of interventions can also be limited to a pre-existing list of alternatives, which can be criticised and vetted before the emergency is triggered.

Comment by Jimdrix_Hendri on Reason isn't magic · 2019-07-24T02:35:05.252Z · LW · GW

We should select comparisons aimed at the getting the best result, not to make things easy on ourselves:

What if the Europeans had thought: "Hmm. The natives are following a procedure we don't understand with regard to casava. Their explanation doesn't make sense according to our own outlook, but it is apparent that they have a lot of experience. It may pay to be prudent rather than disregarding their rituals as superstitions."

Had the Europeans taken this attitude, they may have discovered the toxicity of yucca, experimented with imitating the leaching procedure or, at least, have introduced it slowly, since reliance on a monoculture exposes a population to other risks as well. In either case, wouldn't the Africans likely have been better off?

In case this seems like a special case, consider the impact of the introduction of potatoes to Ireland. As for the long-term, unquantifiable dangers of introducing genetically modified species into the environment on a massive scale; only time will tell.

Comment by Jimdrix_Hendri on The Real Rules Have No Exceptions · 2019-07-24T02:10:40.656Z · LW · GW

A good rule is an objective procedure that can be apply to derive a response to any foreseeable situation.

A look-up table is not a rule, for the same reason that a detailed table of planetary ephemerides is not a substitute for the law of gravity.

Nostalgebrist's suggestion cannot be considered a rule at all. It is not objective.

In the realm of psychology and politics, rules gain legitimacy when they are adhered to over a long period of time and when they are seen to consistently protect against bad outcomes.

There is a case for flexible interpretation, but an agent who abandons rules too frequently, and with slight incentive will eventually lose confidence in his ability to abide by rules. This was only hinted at in the original post, but it is a point worth making explicit.

Comment by Jimdrix_Hendri on What Cost for Irrationality? · 2015-11-14T16:38:55.699Z · LW · GW

The example given for status quo bias is not necessarily indicative of impaired rationality. That are such things as hysteresis effects:

Consider the case of the family subject to frequent power outages. They will learn to adjust. This could be as simple as buying an alternative power source (generator). Or, perhaps they adopt their life to perform activities requiring no power whenever their is an outage. If you have already bought a generator, it might not be worth your while to pay a higher price for a more reliable power supply. Whereas the family accustomed to a stable supply faces capital cost associated with making an adjustment.

Comment by Jimdrix_Hendri on Break your habits: be more empirical · 2014-06-25T21:17:42.176Z · LW · GW

You might be interested to learn that there is a large literature devoted to quantifying this effect: