Prediction Markets Don't Reveal The Territory 2019-10-12T23:54:23.693Z · score: 7 (6 votes)
10 Good Things about Antifragile: a positivist book review 2019-04-27T18:22:16.665Z · score: 21 (10 votes)
No Safe AI and Creating Optionality 2019-04-17T14:08:41.843Z · score: 7 (6 votes)
Can an AI Have Feelings? or that satisfying crunch when you throw Alexa against a wall 2019-02-23T17:48:46.837Z · score: 9 (4 votes)
"The Unbiased Map" 2019-01-27T19:08:10.051Z · score: 15 (9 votes)
We Agree: Speeches All Around! 2018-06-14T17:53:23.918Z · score: 41 (17 votes)


Comment by johnburidan on Prediction markets for internet points? · 2019-10-27T22:48:25.460Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For subsidy creation would it work to have a market czar (I mean board of directors) who awards additional points for active participation in questions they are most interested in? I suppose you could also just have a timer which just subsidizes low activity markets to increase their activity, but maybe that would create too many externalities...

Comment by johnburidan on Prediction Markets Don't Reveal The Territory · 2019-10-18T21:10:43.809Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Your points are well-taken. And thanks for pointing out the ambiguity about what problems can be overcome. I will clarify that to something more like "problems like x and y can be overcome by subsidizing markets and ensuring the right incentives are in place for the right types of information to be brought to light."

I had already retitled this section in my doc (much expanded and clarified) 'Do Prediction Markets Help Reveal The Map?' which is a much more exact title, I think.

I am curious about what you mean by create 'a collective map', if you mean achieve localized shared understanding of the world, individual fields of inquiry do it with some success. But if you mean to create collective knowledge broad enough that 95% of people share the same models of reality, you are right, forget it. There's just too much difference among the way communities think.

As for the 14th c. John Buridan, the interesting thing about him is that he refused to join one of the schools and instead remained an Arts Master all his life, specializing in philosophy and the application of logic to resolve endless disputes in different subjects. At the time people were expected to join one the religious orders and become a Doctor of Theology. He carved out a more neutral space away from those disputations and refined the use logic to tackle problems in natural philosophy and psychology.

Comment by johnburidan on Prediction Markets Don't Reveal The Territory · 2019-10-18T20:32:59.875Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Good point. But it is not just a cost problem. My conjecture in the above comment is that conditional markets are more prone to market failure because the structure of conditional questions decreases the pool of people who can participate.

I need more examples of conditional markets in action to figure out what the greatest causes of market failure are for conditional markets.

Comment by johnburidan on Planned Power Outages · 2019-10-14T20:47:54.269Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

And yes, our society is woefully unprepared to go more than two hours without power. I really think we should be prepared for five days at all times (not that I am, but just saying). To prepare for such things would be massively expensive and radically change communities if they had to undergo regular stress tests lasting 12 hours or so.

Comment by johnburidan on Planned Power Outages · 2019-10-14T20:43:52.283Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You will be disappointed to learn that the electric companies all around the United States have little incentive to care about their poles leading to residential areas, because those areas use half as much power as industrial customers. So outages of a few hours after every thunderstorm are pretty common in Midwestern cities.

Comment by johnburidan on Prediction Markets Don't Reveal The Territory · 2019-10-13T16:57:22.561Z · score: 2 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Very good and helpful! These strategies can make prediction markets *super effective*, however getting a working prediction market on conditional statements increases the difficulty of creating a sufficiently liquid market. There exists a difficult to resolve tension between optimizing for market efficiency and optimizing for "gear discovery."

People who want to use markets do need to be wary of this problem.

Comment by johnburidan on Prediction Markets Don't Reveal The Territory · 2019-10-13T13:20:21.395Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Could you say more? Do you mean a prediction market can be on conditional statements?

Comment by johnburidan on [Link] Tools for thought (Matuschak & Nielson) · 2019-10-05T13:54:18.667Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, digital books offer far greater potential for visualization! Books do not offer a way to play with the inputs and outputs of models, and maybe one day even online academic papers will allow us to play with the data more. I look forward to the day when modeling tools are simple enough to use that even humanities people will have no problem creating them to illustrate a point. Although, Excel really is quite good!

Maybe it's part of their excitement for their own research that Andy claims books are a bad medium for learning.

Comment by johnburidan on 10 Good Things about Antifragile: a positivist book review · 2019-10-05T04:32:50.372Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

On schools: I agree that it would be interesting to have many types of schools. However, it doesn't seem like an ecosystem that could work. Schools don't have strong feedback mechanisms, and for there to be different types of schools there needs to be different types of communities that these schools are serving. The current model of schools is not merely a top-down imposition, but is the evolved form the school given a larger social system.

There can only be different types of schools, when we form communities with different sets of needs.

Charter, Private, and Public schools are usually very similar. Sometimes schools do something interesting with their curriculum... usually not though. I think the place to look for different types of education are Special Education, Gifted Education, Online Learning, Homeschooling, Boarding School, and Hybrid schools. Each of these form themselves to serve a particular kind of people.

Comment by johnburidan on [Link] Tools for thought (Matuschak & Nielson) · 2019-10-05T04:14:37.632Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW


Comment by johnburidan on [Link] Tools for thought (Matuschak & Nielson) · 2019-10-04T13:08:19.976Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I like Andy's idea that there is a whole world of mnemonic products which have yet to be explored. And I am glad to see the insight on what is wrong with the emotional story telling of standard MOOCs. There is definitely work in the area of learning tools to be done. He's convinced me that we can create far better learning tools without needing big technological breakthroughs. The wonders are already here.

One issue I have is his idea that the medium of content should be mnemonically based. This bothers me because I presume that if your content is really good, professionals and experts will read it as well. And since the way that they read is different from the manner of a novice, they should be able to ignore and not be interrupted or slowed by tools designed for novices.

Last month, I wrote an essay which started as a rebuttal to Matuschak's "Why Books Don't Work," on r/ssc. In the end, I didn't directly address his article, but instead explained how books in their most developed form are excellent learning tools.

Comment by johnburidan on What are we assuming about utility functions? · 2019-10-02T21:18:53.166Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Good post with good questions:

Side analogy concerning CEV:

I have been thinking about interpretation convergence the past few days, since a friend (a medievalist) mentioned to me the other day that medieval scholastics underestimated the diversity of routes human cognition can take when thinking about a problem. They assumed that all reasonable people would converge, given enough time and resources, on the same truths and judgments.

He points out this is why early protestants felt comfortable advocating reading the Bible alone without either authorities to govern interpretations or an interpretive apparatus, such as a tradition or formal method. Turns out, Christians differed on interpretation.

Now what's interesting about this, is that the assumption of interpretation convergence was held so widely for so long. This indicates to me that value convergence relies upon a shared cognitive processing styles. It might be possible then for two AIs to considers a utility function V, but process its significance differently, depending on how they process the rest of the global state.

Comment by johnburidan on The Zettelkasten Method · 2019-09-28T19:13:35.521Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I am an avid bullet-journaler, and while I don't expect to try Zettelkasten, I will start using one of the methods described here to make my bullet journals easier to navigate.

Research and Writing is only half of what I use my bullet journal for, but this causes notes on the same topic to spread over many pages. If I give a number to that topic, then I will be able to continue that topic throughout my journals by just adding a "dot-number." If page 21 is notes on formal models in business and I know that I will be making more notes on that same topic later. I can call Formal Models in Business 21.1, and the next time I broach the subject on page 33, I can label the page "Formal Models in Business 21.2" etc. This will allow my Table of Contents to indicate related ideas.

Thanks for the elucidation!

Comment by johnburidan on Meetups as Institutions for Intellectual Progress · 2019-09-23T20:56:37.708Z · score: 14 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Well said! Good thoughts. Since, you bring this up at the same time as I have been thinking about it, I feel obligated to add my current thoughts now, even though they are as yet not fully developed.

I also just started reading Walter Isaacson's biography of Ben Franklin and have been reading a few article about the so-called "Republic of Letters" which existed outside of the academy, made real scientific progress, and was contributed to by both academics and enthusiasts alike. Here are some of the dynamics that seemed to make the Republic of Letters and the British clubs work:

1) a drive to invite promising people to the group, even if they are not up-to-speed yet.

2) those personal, friendly invitations go to up and coming writers and thinkers who still have enough slack in their time to join a new community. People at the beginning of their career are the life of an organization.

3) an expectation that members not just observe but also write, share, and present essays, and host occasional focused discussions.

Comment by johnburidan on 10 Good Things about Antifragile: a positivist book review · 2019-04-28T19:51:11.088Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Antifragile systems do exist. The ecosystem of restaurants quickly respond to demands, many go under within 5 years, but some survive. At the individual level, the restaurants are fragile, but the system of restaurants is antifragile and not going anywhere barring a major catastrophe. True, one cannot be antifragile to everything. Nonetheless, one can determine what types of disasters a system is antifragile to.

If all restaurants were run by the government, either that system would collapse or it would be some hell-hole equilibrium of high-costs and low quality.

Your point about large centralized states is well-taken, though.

Comment by johnburidan on Can an AI Have Feelings? or that satisfying crunch when you throw Alexa against a wall · 2019-04-07T03:12:51.489Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you assume that emotions are type of evaluation that cause fast task switching, then it makes sense to say your battlefield AI has a fear emotion. But if emotion is NOT a type of computational task, then it is ONLY by analogy that your battlefield AI has "fear."

This matters because if emotions like fear are not identifiable with a specific subjective experience, then the brain state of fear is not equivalent to the feeling of fear, which seems bizarre to say (Cf. Kripke "Naming and Necessity" p.126).

Comment by johnburidan on "The Unbiased Map" · 2019-01-28T02:21:17.704Z · score: 12 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I am working through questions about paradigms and historiography right now. These questions drove me to write this creative speech. I went from, "Is there such a thing in history as 'just the facts?'" and from there I went to is there anything in cartography as "just the facts." This reductio ab absurdum I hope shows that maps are used for different purposes, and there are better and worse maps for different purposes. We are looking for maps which fit our purposes. The right maps for the right purposes.

According to the line of reasoning in the reductio, there is no map which is "just the facts" without also being "all the facts" and thus becoming the territory itself.

What does this say about the craft of history? I don't know.

Comment by johnburidan on We Agree: Speeches All Around! · 2018-06-14T22:08:35.966Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This could be the case, but only in specific political circumstances.

Only a self-deluded person would think that praising the decision after it was made would gain them influence among their peers who just talked about and made the decision. He would be noticed as Fred the weird-colleague-who-doesn't-talk-during-discussion-but-only-at-the-very-end-once-we've-decided-on-things.

Also, your alternative hypothesis, doesn't seem to account for everyone in the decision group doing it with no further audience, which is the situation I'm talking about.

Comment by johnburidan on Guardians of Ayn Rand · 2016-12-14T18:08:37.990Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW


There is a distinction (and I think a good one) between canonicity and fixed ideas.

I think it is always good, adding nuance and historical depth to one's thought, to read the Canon in any subject area. My library science hero Peter Briscoe characterizes a subject area's canon saying " in general half the knowledge in any given subject is contained in or two dozen groundbreaking or synthesizing works," (pg. 11). The value of reading these "canonical" works is not that they are the dogmas YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE, but that these are the ideas you have to engage with, these are the people you need to understand, reading x, y, and z is fundamental to your engaging in conversation with this community of scholars.

The Sequences, hate some or love some, are part of the Canon around here.

Canonicity causes fixed ideas only in so far as it focuses the conversation and methodology. Responses to a certain idea "will naturally tend towards a certain, limited range of positions (like, either bodies can be infinitely divided, or not - and in the latter case one is an atomist)," (Rule 1 for History of Philosophy, Peter Adamson).

Briscoe's little book "Reading the Map of Knowledge" is, to me, canonical reading for being a rationalist. If you're interested, it's like 6 bucks.

Comment by johnburidan on Less Wrong lacks direction · 2015-06-05T04:36:09.693Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think the site as a whole needs a "new" direction. It needs continued conversation, new sub-projects, and for the members to engage with the community.

Less Wrong has developed its own conventions for argument, reference points for logic, and traditions of interpretation of certain philosophical, computational, and every day problems. The arguments all occur within a framework which implicitly furnishes the members with a certain standard of thinking and living (which we don't always live up to).

Maybe what you really want is for people in the community to find a place where they can excel and contribute more. What we need most is to continue to develop ways people can contribute. Not force the generation of projects from above.

Comment by johnburidan on Less Wrong lacks direction · 2015-06-05T04:35:12.208Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW


Comment by johnburidan on Why the culture of exercise/fitness is broken and how to fix it · 2015-05-16T02:41:24.799Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

For some reason, I notice certain people, myself included, crave a certain amount of manual labor. Better prefab stuff would be great, however, you still need someone to install the stuff. And just mixing instant concrete and laying a small foundation is enough to make me feel like I'm a contributing member to the physical infrastructure of society. Despite my belief in specialization, I still want for myself what you called 'Mastery.'

Comment by johnburidan on Why the culture of exercise/fitness is broken and how to fix it · 2015-05-11T17:24:05.077Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Just so you know, I think a lot of people (or maybe its just me) use competition in a wide sense, e.g. I would consider casual basketball a competition simply because there is a winner. But the motivation for playing in the first place isn't winning, the desire is, as you say, to be actively getting better at some exercise-sport with your peers.

Yeah, I guess that's true about manual labor. It burns calories, keeps you fit-ish, but doesn't build muscle (except for bailing hay, to hell with hay). Although, I would feel a lot more manly if I could restore a bathroom competently.

Comment by johnburidan on Why the culture of exercise/fitness is broken and how to fix it · 2015-05-10T02:28:29.792Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Good article pulling the covers from a cultural blind spot. We do obsess over exercise as though it were something you set out to do, instead of something that is part of an activity. The logic of sports has always been more appealing to me: drive to compete and do well leads to desire to hone specific skills that will unable success in the particular context of that sport. What's exercise... can you even win that game?

You never took a turn in this article towards manual labor. I hope to hear your thoughts on gardening, home improvement, and volunteer work as they relate to exercise. What 'household/handyman' activities meet the exercise threshold, or are there any?

Comment by johnburidan on Theological Epistemology · 2015-05-06T01:28:09.044Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That is way of looking at the Summa made me chuckle. Aquinas was a theologian and did his duty toward the Church, I suppose. I tend to be very sympathetic towards certain medieval philosophers whom I believe didn't use their intelligence disingenuously. Peter Abelard wrote his entire ethics and metaphysics without any reference to religion as did certain other Jewish and Muslim philosophers who were in the business of showing how flimsy the arguments of others philosophers were, even if those arguments came to similar conclusions about the existence of God or the eternity of the universe. In Medieval Paris theological issues were left to theologians and philosophical issues to the Arts faculty. The Church and University exhorted people to stay within their respective fields and failure to do so would put one in danger of censure. Its an interesting tidbit.

Comment by johnburidan on Theological Epistemology · 2015-05-05T15:08:22.375Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You know of Edward Feser! God, I hate that guy (pun intended). If I didn't respect books so much, I would have torn many pages out of The Last Superstition. His expression of Scholasticism is absurdly simplistic. But you lay out what Feser would say very well. I don't find him an accurate expositor of Aquinas at all; he's ridiculously uncomfortable with ambiguity and so makes his arguments by fudging definitions and appealing to intuition. He's the opposite of a decent scholastic.

I would venture to say that the majority of medieval scholars don't do what Feser does with definitions. But Feser is afraid of secularism in a way I don't think medieval intellectuals were. Does that jive with your understanding of this stuff? I think the argument you made would be made today but would not have been accepted in the 13th C. on the grounds that although God is the source of the natural goals for different species, it does not follow that he personally loves particulars (Avicenna didn't even think God could know particulars).

I'm sorry we're talking about Scholasticism on LW...

Comment by johnburidan on Theological Epistemology · 2015-05-05T05:08:02.005Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In the best-case scenario, these spokesmen are able to come to the conclusion that God is not lacking in power and is incapable of deception using just logic and natural philosophy, aka science. Revelation isn't knowledge in the same way that philosophy and science provide knowledge. Revelation is knowledge gained by an act of the will, i.e, you just assent to it. The other types of knowledge are gained by human reason through the senses.

Many people throughout theological history have thought they could not only prove the existence of God, but also prove he has those qualities which we generally associate with God, like omnipresence, simplicity, and goodness. Many of these arguments do prove something, but generally not something we would consider a loving, personal God. For that you generally need a Holy Writ and Divine Inspiration.

In theological epistemology there is a logical impossibility for the Supreme Being to do something heinous. If the source of the inspiration is indeed God, you will not need to doubt its truth (you'd just do that assent thing). But what if the inspiration isn't from God, but a very powerful, invisible, and ineffable being that seems similar? Now we're cooking with oil. How would we know? Could you tell the difference?

Here's a digression.

Imagine a voice comes to you and says, "I want you to be the Father of my people. You will have a son even though your wife is wicked old." Then you discover that your wife is pregnant. You have a son! Later the voice comes again and says, "Kill your only-begotten son, even though you love him, in my name." When you go to kill your son, an angel of the same God stops you at the last moment, and your faith that the voice was not evil is vindicated (supposedly).

This is the ancient story of Abraham and Isaac in the Hebrew Bible. Abraham is the Father of all three monotheistic traditions today. Why did Abraham think the one God was speaking to him and not some demon? How is it that God can make what seems an unethical command? This is the subject of Kierkegaard's book, Fear and Trembling.

End of digression.

I think at a practical level, we have to reject the type of skepticism you are proposing. If we did live in such a world, there would be very little, if any, reliability in inductive reasoning, and we would have to radically doubt all knowledge that wasn't either tautological or reducible to non-contradiction. Imagine if the Abrahamic God did exist but wasn't God, just a powerful, deceiving spirit who has been working in the world, pretending to love it this entire time.

If observation is tampered with, you can't know for certain. If it isn't tampered with, you might accept something like, "there is an act of love which a pretending God couldn't fake." Choose your Schelling-point for true love vs. seeming love and go from there.

Comment by johnburidan on Theological Epistemology · 2015-05-05T03:05:04.281Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

There is some confusion here. Asking Less Wrong flavored questions using theological terms generally requires misusing the terms. This is unfortunate, because these questions are really interesting, but most us don't have the requisite understanding of theology to do it well (including myself obviously(although, I venture that I might know more than most(#nesting))). So, my answer will be really disappointing.

In the monotheistic theology of Islam (represented by Al-Farabi), Judaism (represented by Maimonides), and, Christianity (represented by Thomas Aquinas), when it is said that God is omnipotent, they are saying God is not lacking in power, not that God can actually will to do any particular action whatsoever. In this way God is restrained. For example, God cannot create a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it because that is not a logical possibility. Or as a mathematician once said, "Nonsense is nonsense, even if you say it about God."

To your question about a loving God's possibility to deceive. This is a tough question because it is several in one. Can God deceive, can God's nature be learned about through observation of the created universe, and can God deceive about his nature? The first two questions are contested within each faith tradition, the third question (which I think is most relevant here) third is not disputed by the three philosophers. They all would say, "No."

I'm going to summarize a really long arguments the best I can: since God is a self-caused simple being (having no parts and lacking in no quality), his intellect (it's an operation) can only be directed toward Truth and his will (it's his other operation) can only be directed toward the Good (which is love).

This argument requires that we agree that Truth and Goodness have a primary level of existence, whereas falsity and evil exist contingently on the existence of truth and goodness. Since God has no parts, he cannot be oriented towards the composite essences of falsity and evil.

This is definitely an unsatisfying solution for most of us. The major problem for us approaching Theological Epistemology, as I see it, is that we have to start by explaining what metaphysics we are willing to accept and what we aren't.

Comment by johnburidan on Discussion of Slate Star Codex: "Extremism in Thought Experiments is No Vice" · 2015-03-30T21:41:31.182Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with some provision. My counter-examples can be shown to lead to bad effects, but only in an ad hoc kind of way. I think the GRE cheater could potentially justify his/her actions by pointing toward other evils in society (like nepotism or it's-who-you-know-ism) that require him getting an edge on this allegedly stupid test in order to succeed in a world more interested in money, favors, and quantifying smarts, than it is in true intelligence. He may also counter that there is no "slot" he takes by doing as well as someone with "higher ability" if the ability measured is merely the ability to take the GRE, which our cheater contends it is. There is never an end to the litany of justifications, contingent realities, where a greater good is brought out, or a systematic evil exposed, etc. etc.

I mean what were these people thinking? I hesitate to wag my finger only to point out they are hurting other people by this behavior. Is that that is THE rational argument? Do you think demonstrating the second order effects are the most convincing way to demonstrate the wrongness of cheating? My reasons for not cheating aren't solely based on the effects my actions may, but not necessarily, have on others. I also desire to achieve the happiness that comes from excellence at something. As I mentioned above, I think you need both rationales.

Comment by johnburidan on Discussion of Slate Star Codex: "Extremism in Thought Experiments is No Vice" · 2015-03-30T18:01:08.189Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I have trouble seeing two things: It seems to me not all theists reject terminal values, for example, beatitude (transcendental happiness) for some theists is a terminal value, for others serving God is terminal (so to speak); and it also seems theism can be reconciled with Heidegger by being a terminal value itself freely chosen in order to save me from my geworfenheit.

"Save me from my geworfenheit" being a customary household phrase. :)

Comment by johnburidan on Discussion of Slate Star Codex: "Extremism in Thought Experiments is No Vice" · 2015-03-30T17:41:31.806Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Cheating and lying does not always devalue other people's happiness though. Cheating on the GRE doesn't obviously hurt other people. Lying (or misdirection) sometimes spares someone a painful truth or leaves them none the wiser. Like when a kid lies to his dad about where he was earlier this afternoon. These pretty simple counter-examples don't refute your point fully. I propose them because I think there is something lacking to say the only reason we can't cheat and lie our way to the good life is because it hurts other people's happiness. Sometimes it doesn't.

But cheating in Axis & Allies always separates the agent from the opportunity to gain the happiness that comes from being an excellent Axis & Allies player. I think this type of happiness must be part of your moral reasoning too.

Comment by johnburidan on Defeating the Villain · 2015-03-29T18:09:27.249Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, Nancy, Melkor was imprisoned once before by the Valar. They thought he had been rehabilitated and were mistaken; he destroyed the Two Trees of Valinor.

He will return in the end for Ragnorok called Dagor Dagorath. You are right, the outcomes cannot be known by us. I assume he will be vanquished totally, but Eru's creation is incomplete. Something unexpected may yet happen.

Comment by johnburidan on Some famous scientists who believed in a god · 2015-03-27T12:00:27.401Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This year's receiver of the Carl Sagan Award was a Jesuit Brother. I find it very funny, although I don't know if I should.

From what I understand .there are a lot of established and respectable scientists who are theists. Anyone could go on a treasure hunt for more, but it doesn't prove anything. It's just a numbers game.

Comment by johnburidan on Negative visualization, radical acceptance and stoicism · 2015-03-27T05:51:29.082Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Helping make more accurate predictions about the future by reducing the “X isn’t allowed to happen” effect (or, as Anna Salamon once put it, “putting X into the realm of the thinkable”).

This point, along with your larger module here, is something, I promote often and has helped me and my friends immensely! Just last night, a distressed friend called me and was having a panic attack about a guest-speaker he had invited to his college campus. He was worried this guest-speaker was going to do something morally questionable at another person's expense publicly and that would reflect badly on him and his organization. The speaker did just such a thing a little over a week ago at an Ivy League, so his fear has a rational trigger. My task was to 1) reinforce to him that he is easily smart enough to deal with these challenges and 2) that in the unlikely event of the worst happening he should be prepared. Eventually we got to imagining the worse case scenario, and he came up with a few precautions and fail-safes to protect himself and others.

I am very proud of him. Moral of the story: don't shut down, don't pigeon-hole yourself, think about what is within your power and what is not, prepare your mind and your world for the coming turbulence.

Comment by johnburidan on Defeating the Villain · 2015-03-27T05:04:53.937Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

You think that the Will of Melkor could be potentially un-corrupted? Though all evil in Arda is his doing, bitterness, greed, excessive heat, piercing cold, avaricious orcs, other creatures that lust for blood or power, and even darker things than this, that is not enough to despair of him? Aye, you don't yet realize what Morgoth is. He is pride and cruelty and rage. Morgoth's spirit cannot change, because it presumes the only worthwhile fact is its own continued self-expression. His cruelty wishes to wrench all that's beautiful and true in the world into darker purposes, to turn good intentions to bad ends. And his rage, oh, his rage is a starless cry of cosmic dismay that all the evils of the world are undone one by one.

Tell me not of the turning of Melkor, even now he is chained up on the other side of night, yet still whispering his will throughout Middle-Earth, and plotting to break the Gates and return again to destroy the Sun and the Moon and all living things. You are telling me that same guy who wants to tear down all the universe in supreme envy can be turned to work for Good?

This is Morgoth we are talking about, not Anakin Skywalker.

P.S. I take your point; but the Maiar and Valar do act indirectly in Middle-Earth, though creation is over as are the wars against Sauron and Ar-Pharazon. They do not just accept the the gradual decline of the world.

I will never relinquish my Sword of Fandom +10. :)

Comment by johnburidan on The Least Convenient Possible World · 2015-03-25T14:00:36.808Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

To Hollander:

When we create models, they are models of something other than your own mind's processes. Or are you a coherence theorist/ epistemological anarchist? I think that some models (of progress, of biology, of morality) are more true aka, less wrong. Their predictive power comes from the near-miraculous fact that the symbols we use for math and science can be manipulated and after the manipulation still work in the world! I am always in awe at this natural wonder. Logic, Nature, Beautiful.


Thanks for that link! It's really good, as is the previous post on his blog. I underestimate how metaphysically-light most atheisms are. Since I still believe in a knockout-fundamental-goodness in the universe that we model with morality, I might be more in Scott's camp.

Comment by johnburidan on The Least Convenient Possible World · 2015-03-25T05:28:49.498Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think Pascal's Wager and the God-Shaped Hole should get more play.

To your Pascal's Wager statement

Perhaps God values intellectual integrity so highly that He is prepared to reward honest atheists, but will punish anyone who practices a religion he does not truly believe simply for personal gain.

I don't think what you say is incommensurable with the Catholic position that what is most important to the Omega is that we pursue the best thing we know i.e. intellectual integrity along with charity. But perhaps I am wrong. You might know more about this than I do.

If God is Truth, then wouldn't it follow that rationality fills (or at least could fill) that God-shaped hole? This brings me to the second point you made.

I have never heard a Christian say there is a God-shaped whole inside me. But if there is it would be universe-sized! But I suppose I can be more generous with my interpretation. Christianity has a technical vocabulary too, but this isn't it. The theological way to say it would be something like, "A good life for a human being includes worship of God who is personal and just." That's simply what I imagine a serious Christian would say, right?

You said:

Omega comes along and tells you that sorry, the hole is exactly God-shaped, and anyone without a religion will lead a less-than-optimally-happy life.

What do you mean by happy? What would Omega mean by a "less than happy life?" The truth or doing something that you must do by virtue of knowing the truth will not always make you happy. Perhaps you don't feel like defending the truth today. A blissful life could be spent shopping in malls or donating to African countries or picking up litter. How are the types of happiness achieved in each act different? Or are they?

Comment by johnburidan on Request for Steelman: Non-correspondence concepts of truth · 2015-03-24T05:48:20.593Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Do you really believe the word truth should be stricken? In a deep discussion, of course, the word doesn't really get used since you should be arguing about either facts, methods, or concepts.

I don't think the focus of this discussion is not quid est veritas? but a more pressing social question, "How can we have a discussion about truths, when we disagree about what makes a proposition true?"

Could you explain the pragmatic theory of truth a bit for the community?

P.S. I used to think that certain words were useless, until I decided/realized (through Wittgenstein) that I don't get to decide such things (plus I am completely terrified that my English usage is insulated or inarticulate, so I try to use ordinary language as much as possible).

Comment by johnburidan on Request for Steelman: Non-correspondence concepts of truth · 2015-03-24T05:23:04.386Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Your optimism is heroic. I also don't think we should accept that the rest of humanity are morons, going to hell in a hand-basket. I subscribe to a bit from Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men, "I think the truth is always simple. It has pretty much got to be. It needs to be simple enough for a child to understand. Otherwise it'd be too late. By the time you figured it out it would be too late." I also think the main fundamentals of reality have to be like that. If they weren't we'd just have to despair over our fellow man.

Your understanding about academic philosophy is right on the mark; the coherence camp would not accept that a sentence can refer to mind-independent facts about the world. And Cormac's character Sheriff Ed Tom Bell has something to say about that too:

The stories gets passed on and the truth gets passed over. As the sayin goes. Which I reckon some would take as meanin that the truth cant compete. But I dont believe that. I think that when the lies are all told and forgot the truth will be there yet. It dont move about from place to place and it dont change from time to time. You cant corrupt it any more than you can salt salt. You cant corrupt it because that's what it is. It's the thing you're talkin about. I've heard it compared to the rock — maybe in the bible—and I wouldnt disagree with that. But it'll be here even when the rock is gone. I'm sure they's people would disagree with that. Quite a few, in fact. But I never could find out what any of them did believe.

I think one the most important propositions that is too often ignored in today's society is that reality is knowable, that discussion can be rational and not emotional, that opinions can be informed rather than uninformed, that arguments can be passionate without being belligerent, and that discomfort is a small price to pay for a little more truth in our lives.

Basically, if people don't believe in heartily defending the truth, then they are only ever paying lip service to the correspondence theory.

Comment by johnburidan on Learning by Doing · 2015-03-24T04:37:02.845Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with you. Projects can be superficial, showy, time-sinks, warm-fuzzy-feel-goods, or out-right meaningless soul drains. I have heard that project worship is a malignant disease in the education system and academia. Professors are assessed for tenure based on the quantity of projects completed, without a thought given to their ability to teach and hardly a glance at the actual merit of their projects. In k-12 schools, endless projects can cover up the lack of meaningful content in a curriculum.

On the other hand, projects seem wholly appropriate for demonstrating that you have a firm grasp of nodes A, B, C, and D. In fact, doesn't knowing that there is a project employing these concepts help many people pay closer attention since they have to imagine a concept's possible applications? However, the knowledge, not the project, must be the goal. When we make projects the goal, people bandy projects around to represent their alleged competence.

Practice doesn't make your knowledge complete. It reveals where your knowledge is lacking. There's a difference.

Comment by johnburidan on Fundamental Doubts · 2015-03-24T01:39:23.226Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I was chiding you, absolutely! But I will provide some context for my comments so that we can see where each other are coming from.

I did figure you were asking sincerely "exist" to be defined, but deny that the word in this context can be defined to any avail since it has a near tautological use. Things can exist in many ways: they can exist in the mind, or they can exist independent of the mind (mind-independent), or they can exist in the mind of God, or as a fact about the world. A thing can exist contingently or necessarily, a priori or a posteriori, as an analytic or a synthetic truth.

I was going to say that these technical terms don't really apply to the argument - that simple ordinary language reveals that there must be something for us to talk about anything. But on further reflection you are right. It is important to define in what way this something-that-must-exist exists.

However, I don't believe conventionally defining the word exist as you requested does anything more than "pass the buck" as you say to another term. I say that the meaning of a word is determined by how it is used. Sometimes an author or a community will be very specific about its use and it is a technical term.

Agreement about how to discuss language is key to continuing rational argument. It follows that we must agree about what it is we want when we ask for definitions too! My understanding generally comes from Wittgenstein (I highly recommend Ray Monk's biography on him!). This essay by David Foster Wallace is full of humor and, brilliant man that he is, explains quite a bit about linguistic theory in the process!

In sum, there is still room for discussion about what the phrase "something must exist" actually entails. I was too dismissive; I generally associate the quest to ever define with a fundamental misunderstanding about how language works.

Is it solipsistic in here or is it just me?!

Comment by johnburidan on Fundamental Doubts · 2015-03-21T23:35:50.021Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Lamest come back ever.

"To exist" is a verb used in sentences to refer to a thing's persistence in the universe. Exemplum gratiae, the loutish commentator above who persistently requests for definitions exists. :P

Agreement about the function of language is required for any discussion. But since most of us don't think language is reducible to atomic propositions, we have little choice but to rely on convention in most instances. ShardPhoenix is using Standard Written English. In our society, you must use Standard Written English to be credible or taken seriously.

dxu, are you taking ShardPhoenix seriously, are you trying to push the envelope, or are you testing the waters for absolute skepticism? I'm curious.

Comment by johnburidan on Psychological validity of the "Seven deadly sins"? · 2015-03-21T20:57:10.149Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's a pretty great explanation on how the Eastern Orthodox get to be so weird. When Church and State become really closely related both get pretty effed up. I like that you pointed out Byzantium was the continuation of the Roman Empire and thus had caesars/ basileoi and a pretty hierarchical social structure. Your byzantine history is spot on. I guess education didn't improve much since their monastic orders were into mystical theology.Thanks for the lesson!

The American Orthodox Churches are not nearly as weird and tend to be a little more intellectually sophisticated and democratic. One their best writers is David Bentley Hart. He's actually a pretty good thinker to wrestle with. If you, like me, prefer reading each factions best thinkers, I'd read some him.

I think there is always a distinction between the folk version of a religion and its intelligentsia. The same goes for all factions I assume. From capitalism and communism to Baptists and Democrats, there are always the ruddy followers and the intelligent skeptics.

Comment by johnburidan on Welcome to Less Wrong! (7th thread, December 2014) · 2015-03-21T20:08:28.948Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Hi els!

I just wanted to welcome you and perhaps start a discussion. I have lurked around the Less Wrong boards for years (three, I think, recently made a new account because I forgot my username) and there is a lot of helpful and exciting discussion going on here and so long as you communicate clearly even dissenting opinions are valued.

You came from the jean-skirt Lutherans. I too came from a bubble, and I know it can be tough to find people around whom you feel comfortable talking about big questions like religion, metaphysics, and truth, and logic. But I believe once you start looking, you will find people who are curious about the world and want to increase their quality of life and mind too!

I don't think atheism leads to nihilism. An atheist doesn't have to be a strict materialist! For example, logic probably exists as part of the universe's fabric whether or not humans are thinking or even exist. Yet logic is not made of brain matter or any material. It is mind-independent. So are all the qualities that help people achieve their goals, such as courage, perseverance, honest self-reflection, charity, or whatever else. These are part of the human universe, even though they aren't essentially made of stuff. Well that's my perspective. And I, like the other guys and gals here, am always up to discuss these topics further and try to deepen our understanding and practice of rationality.

Hope you enjoy hanging around LW!


Comment by johnburidan on Best Explainers on Different Subjects · 2015-03-19T06:11:24.244Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Peter Briscoe's Reading the Map of Knowledge is a helpful short monograph on helping you optimize your learning and research into different fields. It is meant for librarians and lay people alike.

Comment by johnburidan on Psychological validity of the "Seven deadly sins"? · 2015-03-19T01:08:20.040Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The Seven Deadly Sins I believe are a helpful way to categorize certain qualities in ourselves that lead to being unsuccessful in one way or another. But with that in mind, I would like to emphasize that while many of our failings might be correlated with these vices, the categorization of the Seven Deadly Sins is not the most scientifically sophisticated method for self-analysis and correction. The concept of Seven Deadly Sins is not by itself prediction of future events nor a corrective regimen. The most common reasons people behave against their own interest is not that they have these seven deadly sins floating inside their minds, but that their impressions of the world are mistaken in some way and they repeatedly react to real-life-situations with anger, envy, sloth. It's these maladaptive impressions or schemas that cause repeated self-defeating emotional and cognitive patterns.

  • A schema is pervasive pattern of memories, emotions, and cognitions regarding oneself and others developed during adolescence and elaborated throughout one's lifetime. When these schemas get triggered by normal daily events and decisions we react in one of three ways: Acceptance of the Schema, Avoidance of the situation, or Overcompensation. In this model there are 18 maladaptive schemas and three ways to react.

  • Excessive feeling of guilt are counted as a sin in the Christian tradition. It is called 'scrupulosity' and considered an aspect of pride. But in cognitive psychology feelings of guilt may be part of a larger Defectiveness Schema or Failure Schema or Self-Sacrifice Schema.

  • The Seven Deadly Sins are part of a larger Christian system of virtues and vices and procedures for increasing the virtues and decreasing the deleterious effects of the vices. In order for something to really be a sin you need to know it's a sin and that it matters and intend it nonetheless. That's three levels. Medieval Christianity makes a useful distinction between grave sins and minor sins. So totally negligent stupidity by failing to live up to your intellectual potential through heavy use of drugs and purposeful rejection of learning would be grave, but a stupid mistake or failing to realize your wife needs some help with the laundry would be a minor sin at most. Through the process of sin taxonomy you know where you stand in relation to the goal. The ultimate goal of the Christian is to increase in charity and contemplation of truths. (Goal difference matters tremendously in assessing a system, and remember the system will never be able to account for these goals by itself!)

  • The Se7en model does not provide a multi-layered insight of how these sins have taken hold on us. How am I continually f*cking up? This is an important question; Se7en provides only a partial answer. It provides a system for classifying our sins and noticing situations where we find ourselves engaging in this poor behavior, but it doesn't offer much more advice than Stoic self-restraint/ grit and avoidance of those situations. The the clinical psychologist goes a step further and provides an overarching narrative to give a better understanding of how/why our failings and behavioral patterns are looping. This method provides more predicative power and more empirically testable hypotheses about how we got to this point than a taxonomy of previous incidents (a purely theoretical model) can provide.

Therapy (self-administered or professionally) tackles large systematic problems before tackling tiny failings (which are unpredictable or symptomatic). Tiny failings are much easier to overcome when our vision of ourselves and the world is closer to reality.

Further Reading: Schema Therapy by Jeff Young, The Screwtape Letters by Lewis, Reinventing Your Life by Jeff Young, The Inferno by Dante Alighieri. I believe these all provide insights into human frailty, something we all wish to overcome!

TL;DL The Seven Deadly Sins might be a useful taxonomy, but it is limited having little predictive power and no falsifiable hypotheses.

BTW, the Less Wrong posters are known for their insatiable lust.