Comment by jknapka on 2013 Less Wrong Census/Survey · 2013-12-12T20:43:15.344Z · LW · GW

Survey taken. I hope I didn't break it - I am a committed atheist, but also an active member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation, and I indicated that in spite of the explicit request for atheists not to answer the denomination question. (Atheist UUs are very common, and people on the "agnostic or less religious" side of the spectrum probably make up around 40% of the UU congregations I'm familiar with.)

Comment by jknapka on The genie knows, but doesn't care · 2013-09-04T01:55:55.053Z · LW · GW

(I am in the midst of reading the EY-RH "FOOM" debate, so some of the following may be less informed than would be ideal.)

From a purely technical standpoint, one problem is that if you permit self-modification, and give the baby AI enough insight into its own structure to make self-modification remotely a useful thing to do (as opposed to making baby repeatedly crash, burn, and restore from backup), then you cannot guarantee that utility() won't be modified in arbitrary ways. Even if you store the actual code implementing utility() in ROM, baby could self-modify to replace all references to that fixed function with references to a different (modifiable) one.

What you need is for utility() to be some kind of fixed point in utility-function space under whatever modification regime is permitted, or... something. This problem seems nigh-insoluble to me, at the moment. Even if you solve the theoretical problem of preserving those aspects of utility() that ensure Friendliness, a cosmic-ray hit might change a specific bit of memory and turn baby into a monster. (Though I suppose you could arrange, mathematically, for that particular possibility to be astronomically unlikely.)

Comment by jknapka on How valuable is it to learn math deeply? · 2013-09-03T22:44:14.286Z · LW · GW

I agree that basic probability and statistics is more practically useful than basic calculus, and should be taught at the high-school level or even earlier. Probability is fun and could usefully be introduced to elementary-school children, IMO.

However, more advanced probability and stats stuff often requires calculus. I have a BS in math and many years of experience in software development (IOW, not much math since college). I am in a graduate program in computational biology, which involves more advanced statistical methods than I'd been exposed to before, including practical Bayesian techniques. Calculus is used quite a lot, even in the definition of basic probabilistic concepts such as expectation of a random variable. Anything involving continuous probability distributions is going to be a lot more straightforward if approached from a calculus perspective. I, too, had four semesters of calculus as an undergrad and had forgotten most of it, but I found it necessary to refresh intensely in order to do well.

Comment by jknapka on Ritual Report: NYC Less Wrong Solstice Celebration · 2011-12-21T19:15:31.229Z · LW · GW

Noted. I'll try to update accordingly.

Comment by jknapka on Ritual Report: NYC Less Wrong Solstice Celebration · 2011-12-21T17:34:51.855Z · LW · GW

Raemon, this is really great. As a lay leader of a Unitarian Universalist congregation, I love what you say about the importance of ritual -- it can be strongly affecting, and can motivate people to action they might not otherwise take. If we can construct rituals that inspire and invigorate, without misleading, then that is a win.

I'd suggest that when doing this kind of ritual, we should invite guests who are almost-but-not-quite in the rationalist camp. It can be a tool to attract new minds.

I will try to do a similar event at my church next year. We have quite a few atheists and fellow travelers, so I think it will work well. And maybe there will be further opportunities for rational ritual during the year -- other noteworthy astronomical events, perhaps. Or maybe when Nobels are announced.

Also, IMO it took guts to bring this to the LW community. So kudos for that, too.

Comment by jknapka on The Least Convenient Possible World · 2011-12-02T17:36:58.206Z · LW · GW

I mean, eternal torture is pretty frickin' bad. I think in the end, I'd convert. And I'd also try to convert as many other people as possible, because I suspect I'd need to be cruel to fewer people if fewer people went against Christianity.

This is a very good point, and I believe I'll point it out to my rather fundamentalist sibling when next we talk about this: if I really, truly believed that every non-Christian was doomed to eternal damnation, you can bet I'd be an evangelist!

Extreme Altruism

While I might not donate all my money to save 10, I think I value billions of lives more than my own life. Do I value it more than my own happiness? This is an extremely painful question for me to think about, so I stop thinking about it.

I definitely don't value those billions of lives more than my own happiness, or more than the happiness of those I know and love. However, I would seriously consider giving all of my wealth if Omega assured me that me and mine would be able to continue to be reasonably happy after doing so, even if it meant severe lifestyle changes.

Comment by jknapka on More "Personal" Introductions · 2011-12-02T07:07:15.039Z · LW · GW

I seem to be succeeding in helping to convince my graduate program in bioinformatics to ditch Perl in favor of Python. I'm very happy about this! When you don't have a programming background, and you're going into a field with heavy programming, Perl will hurt you -- it's likely to make you dislike programming. Python OTOH is like the fuzzy kitten of programming languages -- but it still has claws! (By which I mean, you can do serious stuff with it, despite its apparent adorableness.)

Also I've just started juggling again after a longish hiatus. I just decided to try a four-ball pattern the other day, and was absolutely shocked when I kept it going for like four complete cycles. Next mileposts will be: five-ball cascade, and three balls one-handed. I think 3/1 is probably harder than 5/2, but I'm not sure. I did a 3/1 flash the other day after ten tries, but I've never been able to complete a 5/2 flash. OTOH I've only recently begun to regard a 5-ball pattern as even achievable.

Comment by jknapka on 2011 Less Wrong Census / Survey · 2011-12-01T16:06:21.424Z · LW · GW

I was over 100 years off, but in the opposite direction.

Comment by jknapka on 2011 Less Wrong Census / Survey · 2011-12-01T16:01:23.780Z · LW · GW

I took the survey, sometime last week I think. EDIT: I think I may also have messed up the "two-digit probabilities" formatting requirement. I can't recall specifically any answer that might have violated it, but I also don't recall paying attention to that requirement while answering the survey.

Comment by jknapka on Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010-2011) · 2011-12-01T06:25:48.164Z · LW · GW

Hello, all. I'm Joe. I'm 43, currently a graduate student in computational biology (in which I am discovering that a lot of inference techniques in biology are based on Bayes's Theorem). I'm also a professional software developer, and have been writing software for most of my life (since about age 10). In the early 1990's I was a graduate student at the AI lab at the University of Georgia, and though I didn't finish that degree, I learned a lot of stuff that was of great utility in my career in software development -- among other things, I learned about a number of different heuristics and their failure modes.

I remember a moment early in my professional career when I was trying to convince someone that some bug wasn't my fault, but was a bug in a third-party library. I very suddenly realized that, in fact, the problem was overwhelmingly more likely to be in my code than in the libraries and other tools we used, tools which were exercised daily by hundreds of thousands of developers. In that instant, I become much more skeptical of my own ability to do things Right. I think that moment was the start of my journey as a rationalist. I haven't thought about that process in a systematic way, though, until recently.

I've known of LW for quite a while, but really got interested when lukeprog of started reading Eliezer's posts sequentially. I'm now reading the sequences somewhat chaotically; I've read around 30% of the sequence posts.

My fear is, no matter how far I progress as a rationalist, I'll still be doing it Wrong. Or I'll still fear that I'm doing it wrong. I think I suffer greatly from under-confidence , and I'm very risk-averse. A property which I've just lately begun to view as a liability.

I am coming to view formal probabilistic reasoning as of fundamental importance to understanding reality, and I'd like to learn all I can about it.

If I overcome my reluctance to be judged by this community, I might write about my experiences with education in the US, which I believe ill-serves many of its clients. I have a 14-year-old daughter who is "unschooled". The topics of raising children as rationalists, and rational parenting, could engender some valuable discussions.

I might write about how, as an atheist, I've found it practically useful to belong to a religious community (a Unitarian Universalist church). "Believing in" religion is obviously irrational, but being connected with a religious community can in some circumstances be a rational, and non-cynical, move.

I might also write about software debugging as a rational activity. Though that's kind of obvious, I guess. OTOH debugging is IMO a severely under-valued skill in the field of software development. Most of my work is in soft real-time systems, which requires a whole different approach to debugging than interactive/GUI/web application development.

I might write about my own brief bout with mental illness, and about the process of dealing with a severely mentally-ill close relative, from a rationalist perspective.

My favorite sentence on LW so far: "Rationalists should WIN."

Comment by jknapka on Drawing Less Wrong: Observing Reality · 2011-11-22T17:47:02.122Z · LW · GW

Thanks, Raemon, this is inspiring. It reflects my experience learning to draw as an undergraduate, many years ago. I have not drawn much since college, but I do recall vividly the experience of, "Holy crap, is that what a person really looks like?!?" upon first producing a half-decent quick figure drawing. I eventually developed a pretty decent drawing ability, which has atrophied quite severely in the intervening years. The experience definitely influenced my overall thinking though -- I'm very aware that my brain is not telling me the actual shapes and relations that correspond to the light hitting my eyeballs, unless I take the trouble to consciously examine that first-order sensory input. And taking that idea to the meta-level, realizing that my mental models of other things might be wrong in hard-to-notice ways, and taking the trouble to at least try to notice them, has been a valuable skill. (Even if not always applied rigorously.) So I think this is absolutely a valuable sequence; and it's prompted me to try drawing again, too.

Comment by jknapka on Your inner Google · 2011-09-20T01:20:17.426Z · LW · GW

"We DO NOT WANT lukeprog's How To Be Happy to sound authoritative. The reason for that is if it turns out to be 'more wrong' it will be that much easier to let go of."


Whenever you give a collection of concepts a name, you almost automatically start to create a conceptual "immune system" to defend it, keep it intact in the face of criticism. This sort of getting-attached-to-names strikes me as approximately the opposite of Rationalist Taboo. (Hey, did someone just dis Rationalist Taboo? Lemme at 'em!)

Comment by jknapka on Rational Home Buying · 2011-09-01T19:19:43.020Z · LW · GW

So the best strategy would be to maximize, and then when you feel dissatisfied, remind yourself that this feeling is misplaced, since you've probably achieved a situation that is objectively better than the one you would have achieved via satisficing. Will that actually work to de-fuse the feeling of dissatisfaction, I wonder? (Personally, I am a habitual satisficer, and feel pretty happy about most things in my life, while recognizing that there are many ways I could have done better.)

Comment by jknapka on Human errors, human values · 2011-04-11T14:55:59.638Z · LW · GW

Murder is the most common cause of death today for some groups (young African American males, for example).

I don't believe it is correct in general that intentional killing was the most common cause of death in primitive tribes; and if it was the case in specific groups, they were exceptional. The citation that occurs to me immediately is "Sex at Dawn" (Ryan & Jetha), which goes to some trouble to debunk the Hobbesian view that primitive life was "nasty, brutish, and short". (Also, my partner is a professional anthropologist with a lot of experience with indigenous South American populations, and we discuss this kind of thing all the time, FWIW.) When population density is very low and resources (including social resources such as access to sexual partners) plentiful, there is no reason murder should be common (if by "murder" we mean the intentional killing of another in order to appropriate their resources). Even in groups where inter-group violence was common (certain American Indian groups, for example), that violence was generally of a demonstrative nature, and usually ended when one group had asserted its dominance, rather than going on until the ground was littered with corpses. The depictions we see of these conflicts in the media are often heavily over-dramatized.

Actually, upon further thought... Even if killing wasn't the point of such inter-group conflicts, it's possible that if those conflicts supplied sufficiently many male deaths, then that sort of "murder" might in fact have been the most common cause of male death in some groups. It is pretty certain, though, that intentional killing within social groups was an extremely rare occurrence, likely to have been met with severe social consequences. (Whereas killing an out-group individual might have been viewed as positively virtuous, probably not analogous to our concept of "murder" at all. Edit: more like "war", I guess :-P )

As for evolving a specific aversion to murder... I think we've a general propensity to abide by social conventions, which seems rather more likely to have evolved in social primates than aversions to specific acts. Those of us raised in strict religious traditions probably had, at some point, a severe aversion to masturbation, for example, and it's pretty clear that no such biological aversion has evolved in humans.

Comment by jknapka on Reflections on rationality a year out · 2011-04-02T03:01:07.210Z · LW · GW

I'm a member of my local Unitarian Universalist church (in El Paso, just down the street from Waco by SW standards), and it is very friendly to atheists and skeptics -- I would say 15% to 20% of the membership would identify as "agnostic" or more skeptical. However, it is also friendly to an array of other, much less evidence-based views. I'd say a UU church would definitely be worth a look, and would almost certainly be a better fit for a LW denizen than a "non-denominational Christian" one. But one might need to be tolerant of some rather silly beliefs. OTOH, I'm starting to take it as an opportunity to learn to "evangelize" (gently).