Psyched out 2021-04-15T04:45:14.104Z


Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on Why do patients in mental institutions get so little attention in the public discourse? · 2021-06-14T00:05:31.818Z · LW · GW

Short answer: 

Policy regarding research needs to be changed before making policy changes in distribution of care will make much of a difference overall IMHO. There is already a ton of infrastructure - human, physical and financial - in place to offer the services that are available; many types of policy changes to the offerings of care itself can be made. However there are serious areas of need not being met, and it still seems regardless of who's in power at this point in time, strides in this regard are unlikely to be made without serious reconsideration of societies approach to it's priorities.

Longer answer:

One of the main reasons has little to do with the Mental Health Care system per se, but rather how it is integrated (or not) into the broader society. The concept of Community Mental Health Care sounds good in theory, but in practice it still focuses primarily on individuals with 'mental disorders' as being the problem instead of understanding and making changes to how the community (or society) functions when it fails these people. 

In my opinion Mental Disorder is a problem caused by something like a misaligned community and/or society, and people with mental health disorders are victims of neglectful or harmful aspects of their Communities or Society. Treating their symptoms does nothing to fix the underlying systemic issues causing the symptoms or problems in the first place. Without knowing where or how to make the changes, the problems are just shifted from one part of society to another.

Another aspect of this issue involves the distribution of goods and services both in this country and around the world, as Public Health Care becomes a reinvigorated topic of consideration domestically. Consider the fact there are serious differences between Public and Private Mental Health Care. Should Public Mental Health Care be as good as Private Mental Health Care even though it's clients are poor and the government is paying for it? Or should Public care be less effective because it is provided ''for free" by the government? Or is it possible like many things in this country, we pay way more for goods and services than other countries do? 

Pharmaceuticals are an easily accessible case in point. For example: If we can afford to give half a billion doses of COVID vaccine to poor countries, why can't I as an American Citizen in the Public System, get the type of mental health care I need? The money to buy those doses going to other countries could fund the type of therapy I need to heal my severe PTSD, but instead I don't receive appropriate care because the money isn't available. Why is it the needs of poor people in other countries are often times prioritized over the needs of poor Americans? 

This is the type of political reality many people with ill intentions latch onto, and weaponize in political discussions. Which makes having rational conversations about issues like that difficult and tends to have the effect of focusing on that one aspect to the detriment of the rest of the conversation that should be taking place. It can become a 'can't see the forest for the tree' problem. So many people with good intentions avoid the conversations altogether in the belief it's a Pandoras Box. 

That doesn't change the fact that there are a lot of conversations not happening at high levels I'm sure, that should, because they involve what would be considered unpopular opinions. These topics are ignored and backgrounded because they don't test well with the audience, but this doesn't change the fact that they are real issues. It just means it's taboo to talk about them or attempt to find solutions to the problems they are associated with. Politics is the mind killer.

The fact is the Mental Health Care Culture is in crisis because it is overloaded and under-equipped to deal with the overwhelming nature of the issues. 

More workers won't make a significant difference if they aren't trained well and good training is hard to get because many of the old models don't work like we were told they do; this is where too often things like over reliance on medication leaves clients/patients without access to any type of effective counseling, therapy or support. While medication can improve counseling and therapy, it is not a replacement for counseling and/or therapy, yet in an overwhelming number of cases this is the reality. The thinking goes along the lines "Something is better than nothing." I've often found this results later on in "Too little too late."

Some old models work but need updated or potentially rolled back; this is where I believe alcohol and drug addiction treatment needs to be separated from mental health care treatment, as they are both 2 very different treatment modalities (or should be) yet in the name of government 'efficiency' they were collapsed into one department within many state governments a few decades back. What used to be treated as 2 separate issues by 2 different departments with 2 different treatment modalities became 1 badly integrated governmental department with a '1 size fits all' approach to whatever ails you. Add in the further unskillfull integration of the Criminal Justice and Public Legal Systems into this community which is in constant crisis, and what we have is a horrific tragedy which keeps unfolding over time which no one takes responsibility for or is able to effectively influence in a positive way. 

Additionally, some models of treatment need to be dropped entirely while others need to be created to repair the damage done by the models which did more harm than good. Gay conversion therapy is an example of what I'm talking about here; programs like these functioned with government oversight and federal funding and the amount of damage caused was and is tremendous. Treating the victims of treatment like this is a specialty service that didn't exist until there was a recognized need for it. 

There are still programs in this vein that need to be terminated and replaced with effective treatments, and there are many victims who still suffer because their suffering isn't yet recognized. Quite often these are men and boys, and in a Schizophrenic society like the US, society can't figure out whether they are victims or perpetrators. If we try to consider them both, and even think about affording them the care and support they need to heal from their victimization, we're afraid our heads will explode because we're also trying to punish them for being perpetrators at the same time. Our system is a punitive system, and is the major underlying flaw of Western Tradition from my current perspective. Still trying to write about this.

Given the pace of change across the board, from changing peoples minds, to changing their habits, to changing the physical environment they inhabit, making bad calls in policy changes has the result of wasting massive amounts of resources and causing massive amounts of suffering. I won't go into why now, but, comprehensive re-examination of the research done in the decades leading up to our current time needs to be done using better tools and methods with our newer understandings before things will change much for the better. I'm not offering quick solutions, just more comprehensive and potentially effective ones. 

This process would be complicated and multi layered, but necessary to re-frame and re-integrate new understandings into older but correct models and scientific frameworks, and to create new frameworks based on better understanding of the consequences of the mistakes of the past. Outdated, polluted and biased data can lead to polluted information, polluted information can lead to polluted knowledge bases, these in turn lead to polluted decisions regarding policy changes which muddy the waters instead of clearing them up. 

We're at a cross roads in Western Society; we are laying a new technologically advanced foundation for the future on a shaky foundation of pre-digital knowledge, wisdom and understanding. I'm suggesting we shore up the foundations of Western Society culturally before we attempt to keep building upwards. The Psycho-Socio-Econo-Tectonic plate system of the world wide cultural subconscious is full of faults, and the if we don't understand them well, they'll be our downfall whether we do it ourselves or engineer AGI to do it for us intentionally or unintentionally.

This is why my money is on better research being the key. Getting politicians to pay attention to these concerns is another matter, and as we've seen with the public response to the COVID Pandemic, even when the research is done, and the majority of the government is on board, disseminating and assimilating good solutions into society in a positive way is often a huge struggle. This issue of Cultural Lag is a constant thread that runs throughout any type of positive change in society. Which is why I'm still working on a model of Social Physics. 

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on Why do patients in mental institutions get so little attention in the public discourse? · 2021-06-13T02:31:48.205Z · LW · GW

Mental health in general in the US (and around the world) is poorly understood. Pop-psychology spreads myth, misinformation, and disinformation and Big Pharma preaches advancements in medication over advancements in therapy and counseling models. Money talks, and no one can argue with Big Pharma in this arena. Unless you are a professional in the field of mental health or a client or friend or family member of one, most people don't care to know how the sausage gets made in terms of keeping 'mentally ill' people under control, and even fewer people care whether keeping them under control is an actual solution to the very real problems they face.

I've been living in a mental health institution for the last 2 years, and have been in the public mental health system practically from birth. We're deemed scapegoats of the society, like criminals and often treated just as bad or worse. This society only knows itself by creating false dichotomies: classifying 'these people' as mentally ill, and 'these people' as not, based on a somewhat circular logic which allows for the unfair division of resources and diversion of those resources to those who are deemed 'able' to use them. 

The way the authorities tell the difference between the 2 groups is way too often archaic and systemically discriminatory, and mental health has become so enmeshed with the criminal justice system so as to almost become indistinguishable from it at the Public level. Society needs people on the bottom so that others can be on top. Wish it were otherwise. 

Comment by josh-smith-brennan on [deleted post] 2021-06-05T03:02:42.593Z

This is so good. For simplicities sake, I will refrain from making suggestions about some of the aspects of the combat though, unless you ask. You paint a picture though!

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on Challenge: know everything that the best go bot knows about go · 2021-06-05T02:58:12.849Z · LW · GW

Sorry Daniel,  I really didn't mean any offense, in fact I was maybe a bit too eager to jump into an area I have interest in, but don't really understand at a technical level. While I am pretty familiar with Go, not so much with ML or AI. In fact I really appreciated the discussion, even though I am conflicted about AI's impact on the Go community. 

It's funny though, I recently had the opportunity to talk a very little bit with a 9 dan professional about his experience with AI, and I was a bit surprised by his response. I value his opinion very much, and so have attempted to try and change my attitude about Go playing AI slightly.

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on A non-mystical explanation of insight meditation and the three characteristics of existence: introduction and preamble · 2021-06-05T02:27:38.612Z · LW · GW

I also don't think it was really caused by meditation; rather it was an emotional wound (or a form of craving) masquerading as a noble intention.


I would offer the following in an attempt to provide you with some benefit and urge a bit more compassion for yourself along this line of thought, although I can relate to your comment about craving masquerading as noble intention. I'm a lay buddhist, although I have thought about becoming a Monk at certain points in my life. My point is I can't lay claim to an explanation of why I put it the way I did as being 'the correct way', with any strong appeal to credibility due to perfect lineage transmission. 

But I can give you my thinking based on my studies and experience, and try to explain why I think it is both the meditation practice and the 'wound' you were referring to, but that it is the meditation practice that may be "at fault" for lack of a better phrase. A great thing about Buddhism is that in many ways it allows us to place the blame for our problems within the world instead of within ourselves, thereby removing a lot of unhelpful guilt in a Moral sense. 

That's not to say we shouldn't work to correct our faults, only that they aren't really our fault despite being in us. They are ours because they are in us, but we didn't cause them, the world did. This is my opinion, but it is what I like about Buddhism in comparison to say Christiantiy, in which it is the original sin or Adam and Eve which caused all of humanities downfall, and it is my sinful nature (strong emphasis on appealing to a very subjective Moral authority) which is my problem. Without Jesus I'm lost, and the ideas about Good and Evil are very black and white. Plus, there is a strong correlation in many churches between Moral Superiority and Financial Wellbeing. If you are poor or out of work, it's implied you are a moral failure, and either lazy or too stupid to know how to pull your self out of poverty. The moral status of the individual is the anchor point around which the entire world orbits, whether you are at the top of the heap or the bottom.

In Buddhism I find there is less of a correlation between 'Goodness' and 'money.' If you have money you can still be a horrible person, and if you are poor, you can still be a good person. From my perspective having lived in the shelter system for around 4 years now, and having grown up in poverty, Western tradition really seems to revolve around this tight relationship between Goodness and financial prosperity being divinely linked. I think this is a flaw in society. Without going into it too much, Eastern culture also equates money with Goodness in many ways, but I think there is more acceptance that poverty isn't necessarily caused by poor people making immoral choices, society is just a corrupting force.

One of the great things, from a Buddhist perspective, about being a human is the ability to come into contact with the Dharma. As a rock, or an animal, we couldn't benefit from the Dharma really, as we wouldn't have the facilities to understand it or practice it, but as humans we can. In this day and age it is even easier to come into contact with it, it's all over the Internet, and many more communities today have some sort of Buddhist center. It's gotten so much simpler to come into contact with it today than it was when I was a kid, before the Internet. I had to ride an hour and a half each way to get to a library which may or may not have a 20 year old book on Buddhism on the shelf. Most of my books early on I got from Borders or from academic libraries because there was no where else to get them. I had to spend a huge amount of time and energy to find Dharma, but these days it's a completely different story.

Being a human allows us to understand the causes of suffering, and to learn to practice to alleviate it, as long as we have access to the Dharma. Animals and people without access to the Dharma are unlikely to understand the causes of suffering and be able to learn to practice to alleviate it, so by being human and having access to it, we are very lucky. At least according to Buddhist thinking. I tend to agree, otherwise I wouldn't practice or study it.

A downside to having all this access to Dharma through mediums like the Internet and academic institutions though, is that in addition to presenting wisdom and knowledge from the entire spectrum of Buddhist traditions, there is all the information from all the non-Buddhists who have pulled ideas, concepts and practices from Buddhist tradition and attempted to 'translate' them into more modern and more 'effective' versions. There's a lot of mis and disinformation about the Dharma floating around out there.

So maybe closer to the point, finding and developing a healthy relationship with an experienced teacher isn't as easy as finding the Dharma. This is also not our fault. So while we might have it at our finger tips, without a good guide, we won't know what have or how to use it well. Even if we read and learn on our own, we are likely to make a lot of mistakes because we are flawed in our perceptions - not necessarily in a moral way though. We aren't 'bad', just confused and ignorant, blinded by illusion. 

But the Dharma isn't as easy to use as something like Netflix on the Internet. We can't download it or stream it and expect it to work similarly. We can't read about it and expect to understand it without help. We can't practice it and expect not to make mistakes. We can't pass on what we don't have either. Which is why a teacher is so important. If we want to benefit from Yoga, we have to practice it, not just study it. If we don't have a good teacher, we may practice it wrong and hurt ourselves. 

Academic institutes can be a mixed bag. Surveys of 'all' Buddhist teachings and practices I think, like most aggregate sets of diverse information, tend to want a one size fits all solution to whatever ails you. Practicing based on selecting for benefits while avoiding as much of the 'downsides' as possible, isn't really possible in reality. Hoping to come up with a lowest common denominator approach to utilizing the 'strengths of a diverse selection' of practices tends to remove most cultural, social and historic context which I jokingly refer to as a sort of 'American Cheesination' of non american cultural practices. 

American cheese is probably the most unhealthy and bad tasting of all cheeses, simply because it is so heavily processed. Corporate America (and therefore the average American) loves this approach of trying to create benefit while trying to avoid side effects for instance. This has lead to a number of issues with consumer health, and is the concern of the FDA and how it regulates/misregulates food and drugs. The fallacy goes like this: 'we' want the flavor Fat offers in our foods without the actual Fat - which is what created Olestra - and we want the sweetness and energy of sugar without the calories - which created a whole slew of artificial sweetenters and sugar substitutes. 

These attempts to scientifically synthesize a desirable product without the associated 'down sides' simply led to a shift in the types of 'down sides' the new product has. The disgusting and painful side effects of Olestra meant it was pulled from the market, and personally I can't stand artificial sugar, I won't buy a product if it contains it, and I'm pretty sure most people who say they like the taste are lying. 

All joking aside, specific Buddhist traditions and practices tend to have a consistency to them, that allows you to check your own experience of your practice against a long history of other practitioners experiences. Basically the practices have been around a long long time, which is something modern versions of meditation and psychotherapies which incorporate it, or modern highly processed foods tend to lack; Cultureless Culture, Fatless Fats and Sugarless Sugars just don't have a long history of successful benefit to humanity.

That's not to say modern science doesn't have a lot of data to pull from, only that most of the data doesn't go back all that far, maybe a few hundred years at most concerning issues like consciousness and the assorted phenomenon. And despite the fact, or possibly because, there is so much data to sort through - of varying quality and often incredibly sparse distribution across the entire spectrum of human experience - modern regulatory bodies and scientific communities don't seem to be able to come to many decent conclusions about what the 'truth' is regarding healthy diet, healthy lifestyles, or healthy psychological makeup or cultural practice.

Which brings us back to mental health and any possible benefits to meditation. Everybody has 'wounds' of the type I think you are referring - after all a central tenet to most if not all Buddhist practice and thinking is that "life is suffering" and wounds whether physical, emotional or psychological represent a type of suffering - so this is not really the solvable problem IMO. To just not have any 'wounds' is impossible, even the most well adjusted person in the world experiences suffering, so simply living life unwounded isn't a reality. 

But since we all suffer from 'the illusion of self'- the compounded wounds, biases, and limitations of perception and understanding which make us human and not omniscient gods - it is this which is 'the barrier' to knowing the truth. Having 'wounds' (suffering) is a universal characteristic of all life, as all life suffers; it is the selection and practice of solutions which is the area Buddhist practice focus on, not necessarily the belief that our 'wounds' are the problem. Wounds are a fact of life, not an optional factor of life. If it were optional, none of us would probably choose to be wounded or to have biases or emotional or psychological issues, but then we wouldn't be human either.

So it's the lack of, and/or incorrect selection of 'correct' ways to deal with our 'wounds' where real progress can be made or abandoned. Different types of meditations have different effects, and different people have different 'wounds', or what others might term cognitive distortions, or still others might term biases, beliefs, habits,etc. There are many many ways people are deluded from 'truth', many ways that 'life is an illusion' so this should not be the point of contention I think.

"But there is a path to cessation of suffering" which means there are solutions, and "it is the Dharma." means knowing and practicing 'the truth' is the solution. The question is actually then, "what is the Dharma and how do we practice it?" (This is the concern of many Buddhist traditions and practices, of which meditation is part.) So the 'problem' becomes how to choose which practices to select, of which meditation is just one type of practice, and how to know if we are practicing them correctly. This is where a qualified teacher becomes invaluable.

Most people want to meditate, because they believe this is where the true benefit comes from. I believe there are many benefits to meditation, but there are other practices as well. In some cases though, there are advanced types of meditation. Like advanced classes in college, Advanced Meditations have prerequisites. These meditations are many of the meditations that involve culturally specific ideas, concepts and practices and can vary widely from sect to sect. This is where mistranslations can have negative effects, and where attempts to gain the benefits of these practices without accruing the associated 'down sides' simply results in the shifting of the downsides to some other facet of your personality or identity, not the elimination of the downsides. 

These are just some examples of a model of Social Physics I'm working on, as it appears to be the case that in modern attempts to derive benefit without downsides from processed products and practices, the downsides are simply shifted -  the benefits and downsides are entangled such that you can't have one without the other. For every action there is an equal but opposite reaction - for every benefit you create, there is an equal but opposite downside created. (Also I think this involves the conservation of energy and mass - if you replace energy with benefit, and mass with downside. So the conservation of benefit and downside. But this is still a theory in development.)

I think the same is true of understanding our minds, and trying to put those understandings into action. Our actions have consequences for ourselves and others - and I think humans are particularly bad at understanding the 'correct way' of applying those filters to our lives. Often when I have concern for myself, it would be more 'correct' to have more concern for others, and vice versa. So that the type of emotional wound you are referring to has an affect on how we perceive our relationship to the world around us, including other people, and the 'distorting' effect those 'flaws' in our perception have is actually more complicated than most people consider when responding to the world viewed through a lens with such a compounded wound.

Not only is there 'distortion' in the ways we perceive the world through the lens that contains the emotional wound or bias, there is distortion in the way that experience is encoded into our neurology in the form of different types of ideas and concepts about the world being 'modeled' in our minds, which are in turn consolidated into 'flawed' memories. The longer we rely on these 'flawed' neural loops, the more they influence the growth and construction of our central nervous system, and consequently our peripheral nervous system, so that they get 'encoded' into our emotional 'brains' and into our muscle memory, resulting in emotional and physical and/or behavioral 'disorders.' I study trauma as well, and it's the physicality of the source of the these disturbances which I think is sometimes counterintuitive to people who think 'it's all in their heads.' It's not, it's all throughout our bodies.

These distortions can become particularly problematic when we start examining our selves through lenses that come from other cultures, like Buddhist type meditations as they spread through non-buddhist communities. The traditional eastern approaches to dealing with the common disturbances to the practitioners 'system', typically involve frameworks which develop to help explain what's going on (chakras, Chi, Qi, etc. etc) but become wild cards of sorts if there isn't anyone in the non-buddhist practitioners community with the social, cultural and historical practice or experience to make cross cultural interpretations of the 'mystic, esoteric' stuff in the non-Buddhist community.

These frameworks are often meant to be 'safety valves' designed to create literal neural structure along 'correct' neural loops, through repeated adherence to rules of conduct: right thought, right action, right speech, or any of the other practices  meant to train the practitioners Peripheral Nervous System/Central Nervous System  to be able to safely handle the possible disruptions to the practitioners sense of self, community, and conceptual relationship to the real world. This can often result from the changing of thoughts, actions, and speech caused by attempts to 'polish the flaws out of our lenses of perception' through practices like meditation. A bit like having a new pair of powerful glasses, it takes us awhile to get used to new ways of seeing the world. 

In particular Insight meditation can cause exactly this type of change in perception, because it introduces us to new, sometimes alien concepts which might cause paradigm shifts in our thinking. These concepts like 'no self', 'illusion of self', 'enlightenment', 'nirvana', 'karma' and so on, tend to be integral parts of Insight meditation and by integrating them into our understanding of ourselves and our world, we run the risk of misunderstanding them, and so 'scratching the lens' and making the flaws worse instead of 'polishing them' and making our perceptions more accurate. 

IMO the Universe as perceived by humans is flawed, but despite the fact that the flaws are in our perception of the Universe and not in the Universe itself, it is not our faults that we misperceive it. If we have access to the Dharma, but don't practice it, then I think it is possible to accept more of the blame for our faults and how we negatively effect the world. And this is where the guilt trip comes in. Once you know the truth, if you don't act on it, you better have a good reason. If you don't know the truth though, it's difficult to assume responsibility for not working for it or towards it. However, if you actively hide from or ignore the truth, that's where some real problems start I think.

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on Beijing Academy of Artificial Intelligence announces 1,75 trillion parameters model, Wu Dao 2.0 · 2021-06-04T02:40:59.412Z · LW · GW

I don't think I could even imagine what kinds of Deep Fakes could be made using this system. Maybe used for propaganda first to develop the tech further? I'm usually just a little suspicious of new tech coming from anywhere though, not just China.

Comment by josh-smith-brennan on [deleted post] 2021-06-04T01:52:30.373Z

I think what you guys have going on here is interesting in part because you are trying to keep the focus on "timeless" posts and discussions, very unlike Twitter or FB. While it makes it a little more difficult to quickly insert yourself into the discussions, it makes sense in terms of keeping the discussions that are happening more focused, but I imagine a lot more people who interact with the site read without commenting or posting. I'm curious whether that's true, and what you think about it if it is true?

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on Finite Factored Sets · 2021-06-04T01:33:24.248Z · LW · GW

I don't follow the math completely, but think I understand a little about how a couple of adjustments to the framework you've been using seems to point to the entanglement of the different values in the sets, and the ability to infer space/time relationships between them with a smaller subset of the data than would 'normally' be required. What caused me to comment was that a fair amount of my work has involved a few of the same topics and at least a few of the same trains of thought you deal with in this presentation. That is to say, I can see that what you're doing looks a bit like what I'm doing, and for some of the same reasons, but I don't know the language very well yet, and I would like to know more.

The reason being there were a few of the applications for this framework you mentioned near the end of the lecture that coincide with what I've been working on and I'd like to get some of your feedback. I understand people have time constraints and I'm honestly a little nervous about sharing what I've made considering I come at it from more of an intuitive approach, although I do attempt to come up with proofs of sorts. Having said that though, would you mind if I reached out to you to show you some of what I've done and get some of your thoughts on it?

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on If You Want to Find Truth You Need to Step Into Cringe · 2021-06-03T06:36:10.782Z · LW · GW

I think it's possible to say in a somewhat sarcastic fashion, that when Galileo proposed the idea that the Sun was actually at the center of the solar system and that the Earth orbited around it, he was cringe. At the time, making pronouncements that went contrary to the Churches stated beliefs by anyone was considered cringe. He was deprived of his freedom until he recanted his theory, and so fell in line with the accepted 'truth' of mainstream society, thereby (somewhat) having his reputation and social status restored (but not.) 

I'm a firm believer that there are "ugly truths", "beautiful truths", and "inconvenient truths" among others, and you are more than likely going to find more social status by discovering and proselytizing for "beautiful truths" than the other 2; find more sympathy and support for discovering and sharing "inconvenient truths" than "ugly" ones; and potentially be stigmatized and ostracized for discovering and insisting people see the "ugly truths."

Of course these are all fads in typical human form; yesterday's beautiful discovery of atomic science and all the scientific benefits thereof, as well as the codification of the modern and efficient "Nuclear Family" Model and suburban sprawl, becomes today's terror of Nuclear Weapons, Radiation induced Zombification, the overflowing Nursing and Retirement home system where Moms and Dads have hidden their parents away for decades after abandoning inter-generational households, and the plethora of abandoned suburbs, strip malls and roadways as the younger generations attempt to move back to 'revitalized' inner cities through gentrification. 

This makes me wonder what horrific unintended consequences will come about tomorrow because of the Quantum age we've entered. I'm steady trying to figure out how Quantum science will destroy humanity, what the "Quantum Family" Model looks like, and how it'll screw up society even more, and how quantum understandings will negatively affect city planning for the foreseeable future. What I see is an interrelated series of "ugly truths" about societies inability to learn from our past mistakes. 

So do I step into cringe and tell the truth I see there, hoping that people will see my contributions as valuable, and therefore raise my social (financial status), or do I let someone else do it, someone with more social status to start with so that they can do it in a more 'socially acceptable' way, and thereby devalue my own social status by passing up an opportunity to point to an issue and take a stab at trying to come up with solutions?

Truth is subjective - Beauty is in the eye of the beholder - When in Rome, do as the Romans do - But, Nero did fiddle...and I don't want to be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Some people get to spend their lives surrounded by beautiful truths, and nothing but the purest gold falls from their lips whenever they speak. Some people spend their lives surrounded by ugly truths, and can't speak of their lives for the gag in their mouths, and when they do pull it from their jaws, people run away screaming and clutching their ears after only a few words. The inconvenient truth is that people surrounded by beauty can only speak about beauty, and people surrounded by ugliness can only speak about ugliness, and most people would much rather hear about beauty. 

I think that's pretty cringe myself.

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on A non-mystical explanation of insight meditation and the three characteristics of existence: introduction and preamble · 2021-06-03T04:24:18.445Z · LW · GW

Epistemic Status: I've spent a couple decades attempting to understand Buddhism from a non-mystical, scientific perspective, so I can appreciate a lot of the work you've put into this post. I don't have much to add at this point in discussion of the science behind it all, but I do have some personal thoughts. I took refuge back around 2012, and my practice mostly centers around attempting to practice right speech, right thought, and right action. I am also trying to be somewhat non-chalant in my writing style, I'm still learning to develop it.

There isn't much here to disagree with in my opinion, but I often wonder these days what it is that people who want to study Buddhism without practicing it are looking for. I fully admit as a child in the 80's I fell in love with Japanese cartoons, martial arts, asian food and the esoteric mysticism of the East. 

As a half jewish, half white male who came from a strong catholic and jewish background, living in the protestant midwest, I was looking for something different in terms of understanding my place in the world and the meaning of life anyway.

For various reasons, I came to Buddhism through the culture and media I immersed myself in at a time before the Internet; It came as part of a package deal along with training in and studying martial arts, appreciating asian food, culture and history and aspiring to learn Japanese. These all helped me to put Buddhism into an historical and social context, and I think this is a very important point.

I'm often offended at pop culture ideas surrounding 'esoteric' or 'mystical' things, or even just half baked attempts to integrate different cultures and ideas. My mom studied Anthropology, Photography and Film studies/Media Critique and Women's Studies in College as I was growing up, so I grew up with a healthy respect for other cultures, and how media is used to influence people. I think the Internet has really warped peoples ideas about how to 'best' or 'respectfully' integrate other peoples cultures into our own. Buddhism is a prime example to me.

As a teenager in the 90's, I read more about Buddhism, and saw how it presented the world (mostly from a Tibetan Buddhist perspective through books by the Dalai Lama) and I wanted the happiness I thought was there. Through a life filled with counseling I also learned about and practiced CBT and psychotherapy, which I continue to engage with, study and research to this day, because of issues with Depression, PTSD, and ADD which still take up a fair amount of my time. 

I developed interests in Cognitive/Neuro Psychology/Biology, Psychology, Theoretical Physics, Art, Computer Graphics, Media Studies and Sociology and they all paired well with an introspective approach to understanding myself and other people, but I still didn't "get it." I read a lot and thought a lot about Buddhism and what concepts like enlightenment meant. I meditated some, but did so without supervision and looking back, trying to do insight meditation without a teacher wasn't responsible. 

As someone who was very young at the time, I liked the idea of becoming "enlightened" and "letting go of my ego." I believed I could learn to use my time and energy for the benefit of other people and put away my 'selfish' desires to help myself, and even thought this was desirable. This backfired as I became a people-pleaser, and still find it hard to put my needs ahead of other peoples to this day.

I can't put this fully at the feet of my lone and ill advised forays into meditation, but it's only much later I learned the idea that in order to let go of something, you have to have it first. I don't think I had fully developed my ego at the point I started learning to "let it go" and healthy formation of identity is a crucial step to a happy life I think.

So I think the warning against meditating without a responsible guiding framework is particularly important. Personally, I also think having an actual teacher who comes from a Buddhist tradition is important, in order to put things into social and cultural perspective. While I see benefit to understanding the underlying structure and functions of the brain and consciousness - after all I have spent a fair amount of time reading and studying about it - I do think it's possible to get so caught up in trying to understand it, that it ceases to become useful. I fully endorse the idea of a 'middle way' and 'everything in moderation.' 

Epistemic Statement: My opinion, based on slightly more than superficial study of Asian culture, but done over a long period of time. I'm not a teacher, so don't take my word for it, but I'm fairly certain I've got at least a rough handle on some of these issues. 

And I am unimpressed with 'stealing' other peoples cultures, and ignoring ideas we think are strange out of hand, as we tend to want the benefits without the responsibilities associated with them. My mom spent some time on a Navajo reservation as a young woman in the late 60's, and at first wanted to put cameras into the hands of traditional people so that they could record their own cultures without the taint of mainstream prejudice (I'm paraphrasing badly.)

But she used to tell me as a kid the same story again and again, about the aboriginal tribes people who refused to have their pictures taken when photographers first started exploring tribal areas around the world. They believed that cameras 'stole your soul', and didn't want to have anything to do with cameras. How silly is that? 

She realized that not all cultures can benefit equally from technological advances, and just because you can make some cultural exchanges, certainly doesn't mean the trades offs are fair. Native people have lost their cultures and their land, but we sure do have some interesting documentation of what their cultures looked like before modern society destroyed them. I think the same is potentially true of Buddhist practices and beliefs (and other traditional cultures being decimated as we speak.) 

So issues like being able to put current concerns into historical context is sobering for me. Do I think everyone should learn to mediate? No, I don't. Meditation, especially the type associated with Buddhism comes from a sort of horrible tradition in my opinion. Ascetics are generally people who have either been rejected by society, or have become disillusioned with it to the point they separate themselves from society. 

By removing themselves from society and taking the time to explore their minds, they come to understand things about themselves and society, most people aren't interested in knowing. Society has a hierarchy, some people get to 'live' life, while others suffer from poverty and scarcity. This is the way it is, not the way it should be in my opinion.

From my understanding, many religious orders - nuns and priesthoods - first develop out of a scarcity of resources within a society, so that by taking vows of chastity they avoid bringing new life into a world that can't support more life, by taking vows of poverty they pull themselves out of the competition for money, food and other resources. By pulling themselves out of society, they stop contributing to the problems associated with over population and scarcity of resources, but they find they still have the rest of their lives to do something with. Why not sit in a corner, still, for hours on end every single day and then eat small healthy portions of food, get some good sleep and do it all over again the next day for the rest of your life?

They develop the introspective ability to 'become happy' with not having anything, with rejecting worldly pleasures (what most of us think of as 'living our lives') and they train themselves and other nuns or priests, to be able to live their lives in a way that reduces the stress on the communities they come from, but live apart from. Meditation wasn't a path to happiness and peace and prosperity, it was in many ways a practice of self denial sometimes just short of committing suicide. How these initial traditions developed over time varied from country to country, but the main take away was learning to be happy without living life like 'normal' people.

This type of tradition stands in stark contrast to how most people want to benefit from Buddhist ideas and traditions today. People want to have their cake and eat it too, but many of the associate ideas, like Karma and Nirvana and Reincarnation, that come from Buddhist practices, often become distorted. Karma was what you exchanged your ability to 'live' your life for as a priest or nun. In this exchange, you hoped for either Nirvana, or being reborn at a higher level in your next life; this is what was supposed to motivate you to 'right action, right thought, right speech' as you denied yourself the ability to live like other people. There were a whole host of responsibilities that came along with the 'benefits' of meditation, which is why in some ways I think the study of Buddhism with out practicing it is much less 'beneficial' for the world at large.

Many of the problems associated with Religion in general can be attributed to Buddhism as well. That is to say that a reason many people offer for not wanting to practice Buddhism, is that it is an organized religion in the same vein as Christianity. But unlike Christianity, many of the practices, like meditation, which developed through non-western Religious traditions like Buddhism, continue to grow in popularity and gain traction in places like Scientific communities, whereas religions like Christianity tend to be considered an impedance to scientific inquiry and seem to be waning in popularity. As western society continues to develop socially and culturally, why is it we're drawn to Buddhism, but don't want to practice it?

I've heard of a lot of christian churches beginning to incorporate things like meditation and yoga and asian martial arts into their cultures, but I believe they tend to do it in a way that completely ignores the social and cultural heritages the practices come from. They don't like the cultural connotations of the practices, and they get around this by removing the cultural aspects of the practice and just teach the 'core principles'. So while they gain the benefits of the practices, they lose sight of the responsibilities that come along with them, by abandoning the 'esoteric' and 'questionable' aspects of them. 

I'm not suggesting that 'mysticism' should be taught along side these practices. As rational people, considering pop culture ideas of 'magic' as fact should be hard to accept. But people who benefit from these practices do a disservice to all of us, when the traditions which balance out the benefits of a practice with the responsibility of the knowledge that comes with it, are put aside. In this Digital Age it's too easy for some people to get 'it' all without giving back, and I think this understanding is somewhere near the heart of all that 'mysticism' and 'esoteric' and 'mysterious' stuff.

Comment by josh-smith-brennan on [deleted post] 2021-06-01T23:43:14.148Z

I grew up in poverty, so I've been a client of the Public System from birth. What this means is that I've been coordinating with all kinds of professionals to attempt to meet my needs for a long time. Like most domains/games/systems, the longer you are involved in/with them, the more you understand the limitations and problems of them. This is the case for me in trying to get out of poverty and homelessness. 

So while I can appreciate the concern for my safety, I can assure you I've been connecting with health professionals and their support systems for decades.

This is also one of the main reasons why for the past 7 years I've been attempting to create and study a conceptual model of what I call "Cultural Lag" in a sort of "Social Physics" system, in order to better help myself help the people trying to help me. For example, the amount and variety of technical and scientific knowledge generated by academia and the like is amazing, and the amounts, varieties and quality of the knowledge is only increasing as time goes by. 

But why it is that it takes so long for those cutting edge insights to make their way downstream into places like the Social Sciences and Social Services? What is it that is causing this lag in the dissemination and integration of the worlds best science (or money, or dispelling of myths and stereotypes, etc. etc.) into certain parts of society? I'm not satisfied anymore with the answer I keep getting from the people who are supposed to be helping me, namely that "The system is broken."

This is the crux of my concern personally, socially and intellectually at this point. I seem to be in a position such that in order for me to make progress in those areas, I have to fix the parts of the system I'm 'connecting' with. I spend way too much time explaining to the people who are supposed to be helping me, why what they are doing hasn't worked in the past, isn't working now, and trying to suggest avenues for them to take. 

It's usually a year to two later that they start to actually take my suggestions, at which point I've wasted a couple years trying to work with someone who wasn't equipped to help me in the first place, and in the meantime I've already moved onto to trying to understand my issues myself in a way which means I'm still not getting much 'help' from the professionals I work with. I often think I should be getting paid to teach these people an hour at a time, instead of paying them by the hour to 'try' to help me using outdated information.

So I understand the concept of a Hamming Question better, but I think where I'm having issues in general, is trying to understand my work (what I do - ALOT of - even though I don't get paid to do it) and how better to define it so I can adjust my approach to doing it, and can speak more authoritatively about it. 

From an Epistemic Statement perspective, I would consider myself an Independent Researcher of sorts, as I research, diagram, write and think about issues I find resonate with me. But I'm not allied with an institute of learning or research, so a lot of the resources which would be helpful aren't available to me. Going back to school isn't an option, and I can read all the books in the world, but it's not my lack of curiousity or lack of motivation keeping me from being more successful. What I think I need is to be able to find some people who might be able to give me some insight into how my work can be leveraged to become something I can do to make a living.

This is why I originally came to LW after doing some research after reading an article in the New York Mag about Julia Galef and her new book. Somehow I was unable to connect with a community like LessWrong until recently despite having many of the same ideas and interests the LW community posts about. So I was heartened to find such a thriving community I somehow missed out on.

So with the aim of trying to take part in the community here online, and hopefully, maybe make some connections in the real world, I'm taking the site and people on it seriously in the belief that working for rational solutions to issues is better than the alternative.

I hope you are able to use some of the ideas here to leverage what resources are on offer from the professional providers in your area to make some progress!

Thanks. Unfortunately I am coming to LW trying to figure out how I can leverage the resources here to help the professional providers in my area. This is the paradox of my situation. There is a cultural myth that states that when most people fall into homelessness, there is some sort of a moral reason for it - they did something 'wrong' to cause their ostracization from society. This is a prevalent bias (in my opinion) of most providers in my area, if not everywhere. 

It usually takes me about a year to two years to sufficiently explain to the professionals I work with that it's not me that is the problem, that it is in fact a systemic problem. At which point I hear "The system is broken, there's nothing I can do." This is not the answer anyone wants to hear, but I have heard it enough to know that it's an unacceptable answer for me. Which is why I try to study why the system is broken. 

Professionals tend to only want to work with other 'professionals', and don't like the idea that maybe it is them that is part of the problem. So that not having another piece of paper on my wall is both keeping me from being taken seriously by them, but in some ways is the only thing that keeps me from falling into the same irrational logic loops they've been educated and trained to inhabit professionally.

Which is why I came here, hoping to find some people who might take my crazy ideas seriously enough to help me prove them. I understand into everyone's life a little shade must fall, but in my situation, considering how long I've been trying to solve the same problems over and over again, I've come to the conclusion the problem isn't me. 

So I suppose my Hamming Question is "How do I get people in positions to be helpful to take me seriously enough to help?"

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on How concerned are you about LW reputation management? · 2021-05-31T17:40:59.643Z · LW · GW

I'm curious at this point, considering I have a post now at -34 karma, what the limits are of the set [upper bound, lower bound] for Karma on LW. Also, coming at this from a different angle, for me at this point the reputation system here is a good example of Inaccessible information

There is accessible information about the posts, in the form of the Karma, but in cases of relatively large numbers of votes with no comments, the real meaning of the accessible information is sometimes lost as inaccessible information. Usually I would assume this is more the case with down votes than with upvotes. 

But if in a system not run by AI, where we can easily ask for feedback about things like downvotes, through the comments system, if we still have issues with inaccessible information despite the ease of commenting, I don't think this bodes well for cases in the future where it's not as easy to ask for feedback. 

Especially in a community of Rationalists who pride themselves on confronting and attempting to understand and overcome bias, I have to admit to some confusion still about what this actually means.

Comment by josh-smith-brennan on [deleted post] 2021-05-31T17:14:02.718Z

Maybe it would help if I understood a little better what a 'Hamming Problem' was. It looks a bit to me like it has to do with issues of Communication Complexity (the Gap-Hamming Problem?), so I'm assuming in the context of this post a Hamming Problem is one concerning inadequate understanding of (and so inadequate problem solving approaches to) a personal issue due to issues of complexity that can potentially be overcome by breaking the more complicated problem down into smaller, easier to tackle tasks? Although from the other posts there seems to be some consideration of adjacent or tertiary problems in relation to a Hamming Problem too.

Overall, my life goal currently is to find some happiness and some long term financial and social stability. How that comes about is up in the air, but what I've been attempting to do is to take my experience and use it in conjunction with UX research/design skills to find some solutions to my problems. I was hoping to apply that work towards other issues besides personal ones, but circumstances caused me to start having to analyze the Public Health/Assistance system in the US from a client perspective.

As a result, I started to develop a catalog of concerning issues - and began trying to design some countering solutions - with the Public System and how it interfaces with the Private System in order to create some sort of a social safety net. Turns out, at a certain point, the support these systems offer change dramatically, and the fall into homelessness is pretty quick, pretty complete, and pretty devastating, depending on where you started in life. 

So while trying to solve my own issues, I ended up attempting to understand the entire system, and some of the Systemic Biases and resulting problems. I would dearly love to separate out my issues from those of the 'system' so that I could work only on my personal problems to a satisfactory resolution, but because of the systemic biases in the system I believe I've discovered, my personal issues may be inseparable from the 'systems' problems.

Getting into a better environment given my circumstances is optimistically, a year to 2 year long process at this point, probably longer given the complications of the continued traumatization of being in this system for so long. Getting into a better environment more than likely means getting steady, gainful employment, which has been an issue ever since I graduated from College in 2007, and into a severely depressed economy. 

Adding PTSD into the equation, which has been worsened because of the extended existence in the shelter system, makes getting gainful work even more difficult, and because the Public System deals so badly with PTSD, the progress I make on this front is limited. It was rough enough living here trying to complete a 15 week IT training class when I first moved in, but I earned my A+ and Network+ certificates despite constantly being woken in the middle of the night by screaming and pounding on the walls. 

But right as I was interviewing with about 6 or 7 different recruiting firms, the Pandemic hit and all my job leads dried up. The last year has seen my IT skills diminished from lack of use.

So I'm looking at a large amount of downtime, with little to do, and a catalog of potential solutions to a number of systemic issues, but as I'm writing this, I'm having to listen to an argument right outside my window between a guy threatening another guy over 2 dollars, a woman yelling at someone about some boxes, and a guy with his stereo turned up to 10 so that the entire building can hear his music.

So, in short, Yes, getting into a better environment is a somewhat long term goal, but being able to put the next year to 2 years to good purpose while I'm still living where I'm at is a more realistic goal. Finances are non-existent, so even escaping for a bit to the library isn't possible right now as I don't have a bus pass, and while I'd love to be illustrating and diagramming some of my ideas, my mouse recently died and I'm working with Libre Office instead of the Adobe Suite or even Power Point or the Mac equivalents. Illustrating with a track pad is way too difficult, and while I am a skilled draughtsman, the camera on my $100 phone makes it difficult to get good quality images of my drawings so I can post them.

If there is one place that could seriously use some rational thinking and approaches to problem solving, where I'm at is it. So considering the above, would finding a better living environment be considered my Hamming Problem?

Comment by josh-smith-brennan on [deleted post] 2021-05-31T05:55:11.467Z

Probably getting back to organizing my journals and sketchbooks attempting to reintegrate some of the better ideas into workable projects. I was originally attempting to either get my student debt under control to enable me to go to grad school, or write a grant to create a non-profit that would allow me to tackle some specific problems by getting funding to hire people who could do the technical work instead of having to learn to do it myself. 

Unfortunately I split with my ex and had no where else to go except into the homeless shelter system, where I've been for the last 4 years. Finally have my own place in a building with dozens of other formerly homeless people, but the drugs and violence in the neighborhood are a distraction and a drain. My goals in very general terms at this point are three-fold: 

1) synthesize usable ideas from what I've already done (have some but I'm still not clear on what I have, as I made some forays into mathematics in an 'artistic way', and want to know what I can make of what I discovered); 

2) make some connections with people who can help me sort through the actual work I've done and see if I can use what I've created to explore the questions I have which motivated me to come up with the work in the first place; 

3) then build on the work by conducting more focused research and data analysis and producing some form of physical object, like drawings or presentations or potentially learning some programming to begin trying to prototype somethings myself. I had been doing some work with 3d modeling as well. 

Thing is, this is a terrible environment to study in and to try to do online learning of some sort, but I have time on my hands I don't want it to go to waste. 

Comment by josh-smith-brennan on [deleted post] 2021-05-31T05:15:14.156Z

Ah, thanks!

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on Bayeswatch 5: Hivemind · 2021-05-31T04:58:47.593Z · LW · GW

Seeing references to the Matrix in terms of the hard-wiring of computing technology directly into human neurology, makes me think going all in might be good for verisimilitude. 

I think the amount of glucose and neurotransmitters needed to accomplish the rewiring of a 19 year olds brain would require something like a bath of the sorts Neo woke up in when we first saw him in the real world. Or maybe something with a more compact form factor, like the helmet the main character in the Abyss used to breathe liquid for going super deep in the ocean. That scene when he first started breathing in the liquid was tense to say the least.

Issues like the amount of heat generated through the constant excitation of and creation of new neuronal connections might require active cooling, and the process of pruning old connections in the brain might require literal brain washing.

Unless this scene is happening in a simulation? If it was a simulation, that would give you some extra room to explore how some AI rely on simulations to model their 'understanding' of the world outside their networks and could lead to some interesting scenes.

Comment by josh-smith-brennan on [deleted post] 2021-05-31T03:08:28.020Z

So from the answers this post has gotten, it seems like LW is supportive of the ideas that: 

1) Gates shouldn't be linked to Epstein, and that his infidelity is a separate issue from Epsteins Abuses; 

2) any 'taint' from that association that might remain should be confined to Gates himself, so that an 'air gap' of sorts should insulate Microsoft and it's employees and customers from being reputationally and/or financially effected; 

3) the reason for this 'air gap' is about separating the interpersonal issues involved from all the other issues over the decades (ethics of mass marketing and mass production, accusations of anti-trust issues, business issues of helping operations "streamline" by getting rid of workers who's jobs are now done by computers or were shipped over seas, financial issues and links to government contracts (Jedi) despite the belief by some that 'Big Tech' is censoring important voices in Government, etc.) 

4) and the impracticality of dividing up responsibility for the rest of the unethical activities mentioned above - minus the interpersonal issues - amongst the persons and institutes on the other side of the 'air gap.' 

As a result of these ideas, no further action is needed to acknowledge the ongoing conflicts between Bill, Melinda, the anonymous persons providing the details of the scandal, and Microsoft and it's employees and customers. 

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on Use of GPT-3 for identifying Phishing and other email based attacks? · 2021-05-31T02:18:43.367Z · LW · GW

Google integrated their AI systems into their search and email systems a few years back, so at some level I believe it's already been done, just not as a stand alone client side app. 

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on [Prediction] What war between the USA and China would look like in 2050 · 2021-05-29T00:57:36.023Z · LW · GW

I know this is about the US and China, but you can't leave India out of the picture. "the string of pearls" is another route for Chinese expansion which would bring it into conflict with India. 

Comment by josh-smith-brennan on [deleted post] 2021-05-28T23:22:57.460Z


I think it depends on how wide spread the acts committed were. Was the growth of the Internet and Tech over the last 2 to 3 decades fueled by illegal sex, drugs and money so that power players of all stripes were partying their brains out while pushing technology we didn't know we needed? Why else has the gap between the haves and the have nots grown so wide than that technological push has allowed it?

What if it were proven that the technology of the Internet (created by companies like Microsoft, Apple, Cisco, Netgear, AMD, Nvidia etc. etc.) was being used to facilitate an unimaginable amount of criminal and/or harmful activity? Drug dealing, Sex trafficking, Assassination, funding of terrorism, Extremist organizing and cooperative effort, corporate fraud, unethical hacking, pirating, spam, not to mention the outsourcing of tech jobs from the US overseas and the loss of jobs due to automation? 

At what point (if ever) would it be deemed ethically or morally warranted to take down and dismantle the very things making so much of this misery so much easier to visit on the world? I know Wozniak likened the Internet to the Ocean, saying when pirates terrorized the sea the authorities didn't drain the Oceans, but the Internet isn't a natural wonder. It is a Man-made system and as fallible as the humans which made it.

Microsoft is only one company, but by numbers I think it is probably the biggest in terms of overall responsibility for the state of computing as it stands today (maybe?). Epstein aside, there are a lot more problems associated with tech then sex trafficking and I think Gates is more guilty of helping devalue the human component of society in favor of the technological components.

Comment by josh-smith-brennan on [deleted post] 2021-05-28T22:34:52.806Z

All good questions, and thank you for asking them. I occupy a lot of my time thinking and trying to write about similar situations, so when opportunities to discuss these types of events come up I feel a lot of pressure to take them. 

My thinking relies on a number of assumptions I won't go into at this point, but suffice it to say, this is highly emotionally loaded topic and so in my mind, one very much in need of rational thinking that has been seriously lacking. 

As I stated earlier too, this was a tongue in cheek approach I took to the discussion, so that I could draw some attention not just to the causes of the Gates' current difficulties as it relates to the current trend of what's been termed 'cancel culture', but also to the effects (or potential effects) that an approach of that sort can have. 

While I agree very much with the idea expressed in your first paragraph, I think it depends very much on the assumptions as to whether the 'principles' are defensible or not. While I agree the word significant bears much contemplating... 

...i.e. that Bill Gates being 'linked' to Jeffrey Epstein is a significant component in any decision...

.. I think the word 'is' was an interesting choice. 1 shows the original paraphrased sentence and 2 shows a qualitative change: 

  1. i.e. that Bill Gates being 'linked' to Jeffrey Epstein is a significant component in any decision to use or continue to use products made by (some subset) of a very large organization that was founded and originally run by Bill Gates.
  2. i.e. that Bill Gates being 'linked' to Jeffrey Epstein should be a significant component in any decision to use or continue to use products made by (some subset) of a very large organization that was founded and originally run by Bill Gates.

My problem with 1 is that it states categorically there are no circumstances  under which the 'link' is a deciding factor as to whether to use Microsoft Products or not (it's an indefensible 'principle.') It states this as a 'hard fact'. Considering I'm usually skeptical of all or nothing facts, this makes me wonder why it is such a strong statement - what is the reasoning? It seems like there are at 2 components to this reasoning: 

  1. Is the 'link' just unimportant, too small and insignificant to matter? This seems unlikely given the way law enforcement, and Western Societies (probably Eastern Society as well) in general approach criminal activity. 'Guilt by association' is the rationale for 'ostracization' and 'taboos' surrounding 'guilty' people, no matter what they are guilty of. 
  2. Or Is the practicality of the issue of using other products the overriding concern - the huge size of the company and it's footprint in the infrastructure of the digital age is almost impossible to imagine (but not to calculate I think) - even if we 'wanted' to protest the 'link' and what it might mean, it's just not practical. 

Or more precisely, what ratio of a and b results in this 100% 'true' statement in example 1? 

My preference would be to ask the question suggested in 2 - namely should it be a component of the decision. Regardless of how one answers this question, the answer sheds some light on a reasonable follow up: to what degree should it be a component. 0%? 15%? 100%? Everything from "Who cares?" to "We need to shut down the Internet immediately and remove all Microsoft Products from public, private, corporate and government usage. Now." 

This demonstrates an intention of taking cognitive responsibility for use, or not, of Microsoft Products and the ethical responsibilities we have as consumers (or do we?), and done enough, stopping to consider questions in this way becomes part of our thinking. So in the future when we are presented with emotionally charged issues like this again, we can pause to consider them more naturally, without having such a strong knee-jerk reaction.

This is the type of thinking we are going to need in the future as issues like this continue to crop up, and they will, and hopefully we'll stop pretending like we have the answers to why these things happen, and what to do about them, and we'll start having people in important places asking better questions because we/they need better answers then what we have currently.

Otherwise, as rational people we need to ask questions like the one I asked to start this discussion. Who wants to keep answering questions like that? No one in their right mind


Is there any kind of ethical, or even practical, limit to being 'linked' to Jeffrey Epstein or anyone else as bad (or even some fraction thereof)?

With the state of the art, go to science currently based on an integration of digitally augmented corporate funded epidemiological study and criminal pathology/law enforcement actions - 'Guilt by association'/contact tracing/meta data grabbing and mining/tag em and bag em/name them and shame them/CIA-FBI-trained paramilitary-military police-style approaches - the limits of being linked to people like Epstein are as fluid as they need to be for your purposes I think. 

Should there be limits, ethical or practical? In an ideal world, sure. 

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on Bayeswatch 2: Puppy Muffins · 2021-05-21T05:02:13.671Z · LW · GW

"No. They are just minimizing loss of capital," said Miriam.

Yikes, but in a country of how many billion at this point in the future(?) people are plentiful. 

And this factory must have still been prototyping, otherwise I think there would be more dead bodies. Maybe if they decided to skip prototyping and move straight into production, at something like 500 units an hour, hitting the start button made things go really bad, really quick.

Also, Puppy Muffins. Retch.

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on Bayeswatch 3: A Study in Scarlet · 2021-05-21T04:47:15.850Z · LW · GW

 If it was the case that something like building maintenance of buildings like the Weather Prediction Center was carried out by AI only, say a much lower level AI system, so that the only reason the roof would be painted would fall on AI, and on top of that, satellite confirmation that no other roofs in the entire city were painted red, it might increase my confidence in Vi's decision.

I do like the idea of a recurring villain, though. But I wonder from whence the Finance Bot's motivation to corner the market on weather related predictions would come from. 

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on How refined is your art of note-taking? · 2021-05-21T04:08:58.424Z · LW · GW

My current note taking art is abysmal. In order for notes to be of use, I think they need to be timely, and refer to your current goals. My life is too transient at this point to really benefit from note taking. 

In the past it was honestly the most important thing I did in terms of organizing my thinking, my time, and my effort - especially my thinking about all of those things and how they related back to me. 

I had worked at initially using a single notebook to act as sketchbook, journal, planner and organizer. I developed a system of notation and indexing to be able to reliably refer back to important info, ideas, or sketches. But as my ideas grew, I found I needed to start keeping my journal separate from my sketchbook and from my ideas book, so I developed an organizing system for the different books and worked at attempting to create basically a paper filing system I though of as a paper based database.

It allowed me to study information hierarchy, and learn all kinds of different things about data structures and the meta structures needed to make them easily retrievable and to be able to integrate them. 

I even tried my hand at attempting to encrypt them, to make it difficult for anyone who might get access to them to be able to make a lot of use of the information. My last relationship ended badly, and while I can't prove anything personal or creative content was leaked, in my less generous moments I wonder.

But currently, it's all sitting in a couple of boxes in the living room under some dust cloths, but I was unable to keep up with it for 4 years, only just recently got it back, and while I leaf through them once in awhile, I pretty much just imagine what could have been. There are still some good ideas, but I'm not in a position to do anything with them right now, so there's no real reason to take notes like that right now. 

Bullet Journaling - I got into it several months before it became a big thing all over Youtube several years back.

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on On "Epistemic Trespassing" and Intellectual Modesty · 2021-05-21T02:19:22.164Z · LW · GW

Epistemic Status:  My liberal arts education didn't specialize in philosophy, although I've read a lot in a lot of different fields over the years, although I don't have a list of ready sources to pull from aside from what I remember from my reading and youtube videos. Plus I grew up in a circle of highly respected academics and researchers, so I think I know things.

I'm pretty sure I understand what you mean, and I think I agree with your conclusions. I Still have some small questions.

My original question was initially about trespassing between established academic domains, and the business or governmental and non-governmental organizations that use their research. But I think the route you've gone is also incredibly important to consider.

Well said too. I think I understand your point well, and it seems very reasonable, and you've given me some room to think about and respond to what you've written, which I appreciate.

My original question was about whether Epistemic Trespassing also includes instances of asking questions of experts outside the questioners field of expertise (FOE?), in addition to providing answers outside the questioners FOE.


I think this is related to his [Ballantyne's] definition of a field as "an extremely narrow set of questions"...

I might be jumping the gun, but to me this sort of seems ambiguous, in that the 9/11 truther who focuses on 9/11 might be said to also have an extremely narrow set of questions if they focus strictly on the metallurgical properties concerned (maybe?) 

But additionally, if it's the case that a field also requires answers, then it seems to be by necessity that fields also require experts to provide the answers, and if an authoritative field is populated by experts whose answers to the fields questions, provide some proof of truth (POT), than what would be considered pseudoscience would be a field whose experts provide answers which don't reliably provide some POT?

So maybe it is also the sorts of questions being asked, and not just the answers provided, which could be taken to be pseudoscience? But not all Epistemic Trespassing comes from Pseudoscience. When it comes from other established and credible domains, is the classification of trespassing then only applied if the questions asked and the answers provided by the trespassing expert don't provide POT? Or can merely asking questions which might be answered differently by the trespassing expert than the expert in the FOE being questioned, be considered trespassing even if they provide POT?

My second question has to do with this statement in the first paragraph:

...obviously trying to answer a set of questions without any of the relevant evidence and skills (that someone who works in the field has) would be trespassing. 

As it relates in general to consideration of instances of trespassing (outside of academia for instance) I think there's wiggle room in requiring only "any of the relevant evidence and skills". 

Obviously different areas of academic research often require specialized skills of the type I think you're referring to (that someone who works in the field has), but there is also a lot of crossover between fields in terms of skills: critical thinking, footnoting, researching primary sources, etc. etc. 

With a lot of the leaking going on around the world through sites like Wikileaks and other sources, a lot of evidence that would normally be kept from the public is being published for the public. Q-anon supporters for instance take this idea of top secret leaks and claim they have evidence which provides them with information that is 'potentially more relevant' than the evidence the real experts have or acknowledge the existence of. 

So in that case it's what many rational people can reasonably assume to be a false appeal to the relevant evidence criteria. 

...the 9/11 truther uses their ignorance to portray an event with clear causes and explanations as fraught with mystery and open questions.

...what I think of as misinformation if unintentional, and disinformation if intentional.

It seems like a strange conclusion however to say that many people are unqualified to ask many questions (that is, questions that relate to fields they haven't studied).

I agree again. But if that was the conclusion, and it was shared by many academics, I'd say that's rationale for the academic Ivory Tower so many people are concerned about. 

Back before University level education was widely available, I think an Ivory Tower would serve to archive knowledge that might be lost, whereas today, it might be seen as an impediment (along with many other things) to the dissemination and integration of useful research into the broader society. At the very least a gate keeping system of sorts. Still, there's a lot more people clamoring at the gate these days, how to handle that is a different topic though.

Maybe it would be more accurate to say that the reason the 9/11 truther is trespassing (and not merely curious) is that they're asking questions in front of an audience (their Twitter followers) that sees them as an expert on that sort of question. 

This is where I think my original concern possibly comes from as it relates to asking questions of experts. As was pointed out earlier, Interdisciplinary Research is difficult for a number of reasons, Epistemic Trespassing being one of them. But what I'm picking up on now is that there is an approach vector of reasonably asking questions of experts, namely being curious. (I'm trying to be methodical in my thinking, not sarcastic btw.)

And what separates Epistemic Trespassing from Curiousity, is potentially the intentions of the questioner. Trying to assume the persona of Expert on a subject by 'irresponsibly' questioning those in the academic or professional fields concerned, especially in front of an audience, is qualitatively different than having strong, yet reasonable reservations about some of the answers supplied by the Expert being questioned - or the field in general - by individuals looking for answers besides the ones they've become uncomfortable with being asked to accept (in the hope of finding some better solutions than what is currently available, potentially) despite the forum for the discussion.

I think of SpaceX in this 'Curious' category, as the work they've done with Starship in just a dozen or so flight tests has come up with incredibly different approaches to Rocket Design, Launch, and Retrieval, which seem to potentially be the future of space travel, at least for the West. That's not to say that SpaceX is reinventing the entire space program, only that they seem to be making progress on getting larger things to and from space, more cost effectively (hopefully safer as well) - while the endeavor of making and using those things that SpaceX puts up there, like satellites, potentially orbiters, rovers, and the associated instrumentation associated with scientific research remains mostly unchanged (for now). 

So if I'm understanding correctly, since the continued success of the Starship prototyping seems to provide POT, then it wouldn't be considered a case of Epistemic Trespassing in the field of rocketry. Essentially more to the point, the questions that SpaceX asked, eventually led to answering the question of "How do we get heavy things into and out of orbit safely and cost effectively?", so that if they hadn't asked the question, the progress made would not have happened. 

Likely many of the questions they asked were the same, but some of them were qualitatively different than the ones NASA asked - or potentially the questions were the same, but the answers were different. 

Maybe more to my point, I wonder how - as someone outside the fields of expertise I have an interest in positively influencing - do I have more intentional and productive influence through discussion with experts who might need some convincing, without being guilty of Epsitemic Trespassing. 

Also, I think it needs to be said that I quite like what Ballentyne says here :

“reflecting on trespassing should lead us to have greater intellectual modesty, in the sense that we will have good reason to be far less confident we have the right answers to many important questions.”

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on How concerned are you about LW reputation management? · 2021-05-20T00:30:40.634Z · LW · GW

With the intention of taking the reputation system here as a guide as opposed to a 'brand' or scarlet letter, I'm wondering what people think about deleting posts that garner a lot of negative Karma. I'm not expecting my Karma to all of a sudden rebound, however since enough people feel strongly negative about the post in question, there is some peer pressure to remove the post, unless I want to be seen as being a rebel or contrarian or meta-contrarian or intellectual hipster. I'm smart enough to recognize and interpret signaling, and not too set in my ways to not be able to attempt to go with the flow.

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on Does NASA Take Alien Life Seriously? · 2021-05-19T05:20:37.121Z · LW · GW

Ha. Hypervelocity capture has a tendency to destroy a lot of what might be interesting...

No doubt. orbiter will be traveling so fast as it passes through the geysers that amino acids will be broken into their constituent atoms as they’re “captured”. We’ve looked at ways of capturing them using something like an aerogel surface but more research needs to be done.

Layman Speculation to follow: 

So is the idea then to expect break down of the samples and to attempt to 'capture' the process of the amino acids breaking down with something like a simplified CERN particle accelerator style advanced sensor array combined with the aerogel capture?  Or are you actually expecting to get the samples without them being annihilated? Either way sounds ridiculously difficult.

Maybe a suppressor of sorts, like the kind used to silence the launch of a munition or firing of a bullet could dampen some of the impact of sample capture. A series of aerogel coated baffles to help with micro-progressive deceleration or something.  

Is it possible to drop a smaller decelerating capture device to capture the sample and then have it recaptured by the orbiter on a subsequent orbit, or is it a one pass deal using the gravity of the planetary body to slingshot the samples back to Earth? 

Ensuring something is sterile is non-trivial. 

Is the use of something like anti-mircrobial coatings not really possible? Considering the amount of atmosphere an orbiter might encounter, I can imagine any coatings might just burn off. 

Depending on the systems in your probe though, it’s unlikely you can simply cook it and have it still work.

But the 'burn it with fire' approach is so attractive. 

...but this [vapor hydrogen peroxide] is a surface treatment and is probably insufficient for longer term missions to subsurface oceans. 

So is the concern then that between the surface treatment of the orbiter, and launch, there is still room for microbial contamination? This seems to argue for something like SpaceX's orbital refueling concept, maybe with a vapor hydrogen peroxide treatment before final preparation for the long trip.

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on How concerned are you about LW reputation management? · 2021-05-19T04:10:29.504Z · LW · GW

Well honestly, that puts my mind more at ease. I can deal with 7 peoples dislike of my post better than 22 peoples. My faith in this institution has been slightly restored.

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on How concerned are you about LW reputation management? · 2021-05-19T04:05:01.080Z · LW · GW

Thanks for the info, So that means there were potentially fewer posters, but ones who've been around awhile and have heavy votes which compose a part of that metric. Not really possible to suss out the actual number is it? 

Out of all the commenters so far, you have the highest Karma with 280. How heavy is your vote if you don't mind my asking?

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on Bayeswatch 1: Jewish Space Laser · 2021-05-19T03:48:24.148Z · LW · GW

I didn't know what to make of the title when this post was first published, so I avoided it. You got me hooked with Mousetrap though, and I like the way you transmute a crazy conspiracy theory into a concept in a hopeful future.

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on Bayeswatch 4: Mousetrap · 2021-05-19T03:36:30.949Z · LW · GW

You are a really engaging writer. I cut my teeth on sci-fi in the late 80's and early 90's on books like Neuromancer and the like. I sort of fell out of reading Sci-Fi, but this makes me want to go back and read the rest of this series. 

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on How concerned are you about LW reputation management? · 2021-05-19T02:39:16.366Z · LW · GW

At this point I am a little more concerned about LW's reputation management, I recently posted about the developing story of Bill Gates divorce, and the concerns over his relationship with Epstein. I did it tongue in cheek, as I trusted people would pick up on the sarcasm. No go though. -22 Karma and counting, but only 3 comments. I'm confused now about what those -22 people think about Bill Gates and his divorce and how we should talk about it in a rational way. 

Maybe restricting upvoting or downvoting to people who comment would help align the reputation system with some less ephemeral idea of what LW users think about a particular subject?

And yes, although I'm not sure I need to, but I do apologize ahead of time for using a sensational approach to engaging with users, but I had a hunch the post would get alot of hate with nothing to back it up. Hunch confirmed, so now I'm moving onto how to best address the hate. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Comment by josh-smith-brennan on [deleted post] 2021-05-19T02:17:07.334Z

A Purity Spiral? What do you mean by that? And yes, it's not quite a joke, but meant tongue in cheek. It's not a laughing matter, but I really am curious how as rational people, we will deal with all the accusations, misinformation, disinformation and moralizing and demonizing that will come about because of this scandal. It seemed like the title was a good way to engage with people as my tamer stuff doesn't seem to be hitting quite right. 

I think this is an important topic, and does have ramifications for people trying to deal rationally with such an emotionally loaded situation. Plus the billions of dollars at stake mean this is sure to...what? Hushed up quickly to spare peoples reputations, or smeared across every media outlet for months to come? How rationally will people deal with this developing story?

Comment by josh-smith-brennan on [deleted post] 2021-05-19T02:02:38.987Z

Even if Gates were still running Microsoft, I wouldn't regard the mere friendship as a cause for anger or boycott.

Fair point. But guilt by association is a real thing other people consider, especially when it comes to Sex Offenders. We all know that Sex Offenders are the worst people in the world, so because of that, I'm leaning towards the idea Gates should be considered a potential sex offender and anyone associated with him should be considered a potential sex offender too. (I'm being tongue in cheek, but my point still stands, what are we supposed to do if it turns out he is a Sex Offender?) 

Not sure what kind of reputation the New York Times has here, but I'll risk posting this any way.

Comment by josh-smith-brennan on [deleted post] 2021-05-19T02:00:03.031Z

This post seems to have hit a nerve, -21 karma at this point and counting, but there's only been 2 comments. I am curious what exactly it is that the people down voting it are thinking, honestly.

Comment by josh-smith-brennan on [deleted post] 2021-05-19T01:54:49.738Z

The code underlying the entire Windows family of Operating System dates back to Gates time, so I think even Windows 10 still connects to his legacy. Plus the company culture and infrastructure underlying the entire Microsoft brand bears the underpinnings of his thinking and action - for better or worse. The Internet runs on Microsoft products, as do most businesses and government institutions; if you don't use an Apple or Linux product, your probably using a Microsoft one.

Boycotting every company with stocks owned by or any historical connection to anyone who has any historical connection with anyone who is as at least as evil as Epstein... Might prove impractical.

This is kind of my thinking as well. 

But the impracticality of the endeavor shouldn't mean we dismiss the validity of it and what it means. If anything I think it should make us stop and think about it, hard, because it is so impractical. 

Is practicality really the issue than? It makes me think it's easier to pay lip service to a cause, especially a messy one like the world of sex work/trafficking, and to make straw tigers to conquer, than it is to actually adequately address the complicated issues involved.

I hate to say it, but if Gates is found to be guilty of something like sex trafficking, it seems realistic, if impractical, to say that everyone who has ever bought a Microsoft Product is linked to sex trafficking. I'm guilty of it too; owning a Microsoft product I mean. 

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on Does NASA Take Alien Life Seriously? · 2021-05-18T22:51:48.231Z · LW · GW

Not to Fanboy or anything, but concerning :

Enceladus is currently attractive because we have evidence of water ice geysers and might be able to fly through them to gather sample.

...the engineering challenges of that sound so cool to think about solving. 

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on Does NASA Take Alien Life Seriously? · 2021-05-18T22:07:15.101Z · LW · GW

Thanks for the post. I was unaware a Planetary Protection Officer was even a thing and the title is a bit...something. Obviously it sounds a bit much, but in reality it also ironically seems pretty reasonable. I wonder what the protocols for resource sharing are between the PPO and Space Force.

Additionally, the classification system seems odd for another reason although you did mention for a Category IV mission 

There are a few sub-categories for this depending on what kind of experiments are planned or if they travel to "Martian Special Regions" where Martian life is most likely to be and/or Earth life is likely to survive. 

This latest mission to Mars, the rover Perseverance, is actually setup to prepare samples of Martian material to be returned to Earth by subsequent missions. Wouldn't that technically qualify this mission for a designation of a Category V? Considering Perseverance is acquiring and preparing the samples for return, although not returning them, it is still coming into contact with material that has the potential to become contaminated.

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on On "Epistemic Trespassing" and Intellectual Modesty · 2021-05-18T21:10:42.436Z · LW · GW

My point being that because Western Tradition has continually broken down and fragmented areas of research and study, the accumulated knowledge of humanity is like the silk threads in a spiders web - very strong and attached to some stable objects, as well as laid out with some impressive mathematical precision for a spider - but also like a spiders web in that the apparent utility of the web is to allow most of the reality of the world pass through it while only catching a very specific kind of thing. 

While useful for the purposes of catching insects, filling the gaps in- between those incredibly strong yet finite threads of knowledge to find some sort of Unified Theory of Everything is an inhuman task apparently. So it seems like the job will fall not to individual researchers in diverse fields working together to negate unhelpful aspects of Epistemic Trespassing, but rather to AGI that will essentially use the developing IT technologies to weave those threads together outside of the purview of the vast majority of spiders.

It makes sense to me to instead use AGI to help identity and negotiate areas of negligent Epistemic Trespassing in order to help human researchers do human scale research, within our abilities to perceive it. 

How are the fields of AI and ML defined so that they can be held to some sort of standard of Epistemic Consideration of expertise outside their domains? Or are the concerns I bring up even relevant?

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on The consequentialist case for social conservatism, or “Against Cultural Superstimuli” · 2021-05-18T18:02:13.680Z · LW · GW

Well, the strongest argument in favor of social conservatism is common sense – in this case, the idea that society is the way it is for a reason, and that any large scale change is therefore liable to have severe negative societal consequences.


Liberal commentators dismiss this concern in the name of utilitarian consequentialism: the idea that even if a proposed change seems scary, you should just shut up and do the math and then implement it anyway if the numbers work out.

Rinse and Repeat. 

This has basically been the American 2-step since the countries founding, and of course the social and political dance between Conservative and Liberal forces is a common thread throughout the entire history of Human Civilization. You can't have one without the other, otherwise you lose sight of what makes 'good' things so 'good', right?

I don't take a lot of issue with this post overall, although I question particularly the summation:

In summary, it’s true that the arguments from social conservatives tend to be pretty sucky, but there are underlying reasons for their taboos which are genuinely important and correct.

Specifically the idea that socially conservative (or even socially progressive) 'taboos' are "genuinely important and correct." 

From Googles entry for the search "def: taboo"

noun: taboo; plural noun: taboos; noun: tabu; plural noun: tabus

a social or religious custom prohibiting or restricting a particular practice or forbidding association with a particular person, place, or thing.

I think taboos are possibly the entire problem facing the world today; and while in some cases they are helpful and informative, forbidding the discussion and/or research into many important areas considered 'taboo' is tantamount to censorship and allegiance to cultural myths and stereotypes that perpetuate the very problems they supposedly are trying to solve. 

For instance, the taboo against research into areas like gun violence and the actual potential medical benefits of illegal drugs in past decades, has had disastrous implications for the world because of how society chose to 'solve' those problems. In these cases we are only just now starting to have conversations that are having an important impact on society in relationship to arguable very important cultural and societal problems. 

Now if you changed the word 'taboo' to  something like 'concerns' I would agree wholeheartedly. i.e

 "In summary, it’s true that the arguments from social conservatives tend to be pretty sucky, but there are underlying reasons for their concerns which are genuinely important and correct."

I would be onboard with this statement, because many taboos are areas of human knowledge and experience that tend to be governed by extremely dated and inaccurate information and knowledge. Concern for the implications of changing or keeping 'taboos' becomes a conversation starter, whereas making something 'Taboo' has the chilling effect of closing down conversation for fear of severe social or legal consequences.

Hence the 'prohibition' of homosexual behavior because of what the Bible says, resulted in the chemical castration of Alan Turing post WWII even though his brilliance contributed to helping the Allies crack the Axis ciphers, he died of supposedly a self induced cyanide poisoning; or the classification of Marijuana as a schedule 1 drug because of the business interests of potential competitors in industries like timber, and because of racist and bigoted concern regarding the use of it. 

These are 2 examples among many others or how declaring something 'taboo' and illegal has made it difficult to prove the validity of the taboos surrounding these practices because anything associated with it was considered illegal and criminal and the punishments for committing these crimes and getting caught was severe.

'Concern' is reasonable in many cases, but I think in the year 2021 with the entirety of human scholarship and research at our disposal through the technological wonders of digital and network technologies (except for things that are deemed 'top secret' or 'taboo' or behind 'paywalls' or written in 'legalese' or otherwise so much domain specific 'jargon' so as to be undigestible except to experts in that particular field) that the number of truly useful taboos is likely fewer then there are currently in practice. 

I think as a result of the aggregate effect of the prohibitions surrounding a specific pattern of subjects deemed 'taboo', the hedonistic, youth obsessed culture of the Contemporary Western Tradition is what's continuing to cause world wide cultural shockwaves and 9/11 and the horrible war following it are direct results of this. The active measures aimed at disrupting our democratic elections and governmental apparatus from Russia and it's allies as well, are simply technologically amplified echos of the Info/Psychological Warfare operations of the Cold War era, and the influence war of the reinvigorated battle between the West and the East is the future of warfare. 

We need to seriously reexamine our priorities in the West if we expect to reduce our potential weaknesses in this domain of contemporary warfare instead of increasing them. Using our taboos against us becomes a moot point if they become concerns we learn to deal with appropriately instead of criminal acts which cause severe social consequences.  The Local is Global, and the Global is Local in this interconnected world, for better or worse.

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on On "Epistemic Trespassing" and Intellectual Modesty · 2021-05-18T04:18:39.424Z · LW · GW

Ballantyne’s theses are that “trespassing is a widespread problem that crops up especially in the practice of interdisciplinary research,” and that “reflecting on trespassing should lead us to have greater intellectual modesty, in the sense that we will have good reason to be far less confident we have the right answers to many important questions.”


Finally, epistemic trespassing is when someone fails to answer questions reliably or responsibly due to a lack of relevant expertise.

I find the relationship between these 2 quotes interesting in that they both concern Epistemic Trespassing as it relates to answering questions outside one's field of expertise, but not necessarily posing questions concerning evidence from fields you're not an expert in. 

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on How concerned are you about LW reputation management? · 2021-05-18T00:03:50.104Z · LW · GW

I find that I can usually explain my ideas better in conversation than I can in writing, although once in a while I do impress myself. Mostly it's because I get feedback during the discussion which allows me to clarify confusing points, although I can be long winded. 

Mostly though, I think I have to be in the mood to edit - I can write quite a bit as I'm intelligent - but I have untreated ADD, so while I can join lots of ideas together in a smart fashion, it's the adjusting of the timing and fit of various thoughts and progression of ideas that takes more effort than I can manage most of the time. 

So I just delete it. It is a shame I think.

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on How concerned are you about LW reputation management? · 2021-05-17T22:44:13.871Z · LW · GW

I just deleted an entire essay on my thoughts about this subject, because I figured tl;dr is an issue for many people. I do worry about the quality of some of my posts, and the lack of succinctness, proper formatting and grammar; I know those are 'turn offs' for some people. I'm neither a scientist nor a journalist, so I wonder sometimes what I'm doing here besides failing at being both. 

Anytime I post in public, I go through a sometimes horrible  sequence of thoughts and emotions, worrying about how it will be received. Most of the time it's pretty anti-climactic though, and the responses I do get seem to ignore or miss what I feel are some of the most important points. It's DEF not a chan, and not a Peer-Reviewed Journal, but somewhere in the middle and I figure I''m still trying to get my footing. 

I've already spent a fair amount of time posting anonymously because I wanted to test out some of my ideas and thinking before I wanted to take credit for them. Problem is, other people were posting about the same ideas using their real names. So I'm attempting to make the switch to taking responsibility for my thoughts and opinions while I work on trying to develop my concepts and ideas. In imitation - I like to think -  of SpaceX's approach to prototyping Starship, I'm launching post after post, full well expecting most of them to fall to the earth in flames, until that first one lands. Then I'll build on top of it. Wish I had a several billion dollars to help though.

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on Challenge: know everything that the best go bot knows about go · 2021-05-17T00:18:31.625Z · LW · GW

Warning: This is a long post and there's some personal stuff about my living situation near the beginning. I figure if people on the forum can bring up their issues with living in expensive, culturally blessed parts of the country, I can bring up issues of living in the homeless shelter system.

I also apologize in advance for the length as I haven't addressed many of the more technical aspects yet. I partly blame the fascinating intersections of AI and human culture for my long post. I do sort of take these posts as opportunities to attempt to draw the different threads of my thinking closer together, with the sometimes unhelpful effect that though I can explain certain ideas more efficiently and concisely, I try to add in more ideas as a result

First let me say this: I'll address the points you bring up as best as I can given my approach and purposes in this discussion. I have some questions and some theories that I think are suitable for further development, and the fact ML and AI have developed so far, makes me think they would help me investigate my theories. 

The fact that DanielFilan created a post addressing these ideas in relationship to Go is a win-win for me, as it gives me a good entry point for discussion of the technical aspects of neural nets and such, so that becoming more familiar with the way they work makes sense if I have any chance of pursuing research with some sort with credibility. You make have a zero% success rate for the opportunities you don't bother to try and make happen.

Apologies to you and to Daniel for my skepticism and some of the assumptions I made previously in this discussion; the clarity of the discussion now is challenging to maintain under my  currently rather bad circumstances. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I'm attempting to work my way out of the homeless shelter system where I've existed for the past 4 years and counting. This forum is a much needed lifeline of sanity, especially given the once-in-a-century pandemic we are only now emerging from in the Western World. 

I try to focus on issues of science and technology in order to block out the more traumatizing aspects of homelessness. We had four cop cars and a chopper spotlighting the building last night around 11 or so, and I didn't get much sleep as a partial result. That happens about once every other month or so here. Plus my neighbor tends to pound on the wall and scream for an hour or so usually in the early morning, for no apparent reason sometimes a few times a week. Been trying to get management to do something about it for over 2 years, and have had to resort to calling the police myself, as management won't.

Long story short, I try to focus as much as I can on things other than my circumstances for the time being, and I use the little research I can do these days without getting distracted by the drama and violence around me, to try and sort of reach out to communities I feel more in tune with. The little interaction I get is probably also part of the reason my posts run so long, norms of social interaction are currently not being reinforced in my daily life. I am literally surrounded by serious drug addicts and seriously mentally disordered formerly homeless people 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so I'm trying to use my writing to find some value during this horrible period of my life. :p


So I've tried to set myself into context now. And I think it's easier to address the rest of your post.

About the Robot Arm and the various associated peripheral input and output devices they are representative of, the implications of integrating the AGI of a Go playing AI with a physical body is reminiscent of Terminator I suppose. I don't argue at this point that by keeping the components of a potential Terminator separate, it is potentially more difficult to create a walking, talking human killing machine. I only wonder what the implications are of 'technological lock in' at the point when the different components of a bipedal humanoid AI cyborg are being integrated; I imagine there will be a lot of 'reinventing the wheel' as the systems are re-engineered during integration phases. The current trend of 'modularizing' more complicated systems is a smart way to approach mass production of certain technologies, and the switch to 5G will create the supply for whatever demand is there for the foreseeable future, but there are always problems with developing technology.

My real concern comes from a particular cultural viewpoint: I think AlphaGo has dealt a serious, yet covert blow to the Go community in particular, and the human race in general; one which is unnecessarily critical of human capabilities and puts technology in genera, on a pedestal that is much too high for what it truly represents. Some might say that's a purely symbolic issue, but I think the concept of putting 'thing's on pedestal's is just a societal way of setting 'things' up to inevitably fail us. I know this may sound harsh, but when I heard the news that AlphaGo beat Ke Jie several years back, it took me a couple of weeks to process that, and I still feel uncomfortable about it.

The developing pop culture awareness of bias in seemingly 'objective' institutions of authority, institutions like Google and Facebook, whose facts and figures are governed by algorithms - not magical truth  atoms or some infallible equivalent - means they aren't the Holy Grail they were believed to be (whether or not they were marketed that way is a question on my mind as well.) The assumed infallability of our institutions of authority seem to be crumbling at an accelerated pace, leaving us with the unanswered questions humanity has always struggled with; now we just have the ability to manage that misery globally at the speed of light.

It's possible we don't find truth in our technology - that we just find a reflection of ourselves - so that it isn't possible to lose ourselves in the search for ultimate truth through technology, we just end up seeing ourselves differently.

In this same respect, I think the ceremony and marketing of the series of games between Ke Jie and AlphaGo, which conferred 9dan professional status on a go playing AI for the first time, had the 'equal but opposite' social cost of placing arguably the strongest human player beneath AlphaGo in the ranking system, but is a misinterpretation of what actually happened.

I can't place my hands on the article at this point, but I recall reading something about Julia Gaef and her new book, which talked about the ethical considerations of the amount of power consumption used to mine cryptocurrencies. From what little I know about it, the amount of resources used in the process, seems to outweigh any benefit gained by the technology. 

There is a parallel between this idea and the way that go playing AI have influenced society; pound for pound I wonder which entity, Ke Jie or AlphaGo at the time of the series, used more resources to play the games. (Including his body and not just his mind, and on the other side, the team of 7 or 8 people who helped AlphaGo play. I'm pretty sure AlphaGo used more resources during the 3 game series than did his human opponent.) 

Why does this matter? Because in the unavoidable battle for 'global supremacy' between humans and our developing technology, the metrics we use to measure this matter in reality. It really does matter how situations are framed. A human player I believe simply has an advantage over an AI in that our Intelligence is hardwired into our hardware, so that we are potentially the most efficient being ever created, and this advantage over AI in it's ability to affect the world outside of it's neural nets, could be made more evident instead of hidden.

Our batteries and engines, our Intelligence and our limbs, our sensory input and motor output programs and devices far outperform similarly organized and integrated technological systems, and in an incredibly compact and efficient system. The overall human body and it's associated personality, at least on average, would kick AlphaGo's ass in a fist fight, and without someone to plug it in, once the laptops battery was drained, the AI contained on it wouldn't be able to function. My point being, AlphaGo the AI requires a lot of outside assistance to do it's thing spatially. Once again, why does that matter? Because it's a way of framing the situation which points to all the human help it still requires to do it's thing - which is a good thing - but most people seem content to ignore all the human support and focus only on the technology as being what's important. Technology for technologies sake is the death of humanity.

I think I understand what you mean when you say the technologies I mentioned have been developed separately to such a degree, that almost no one would see the need to develop any kind of a robotic system to attempt to help an AI compete with a human player, as competition on any other level then simple computation of the abstract aspects of a good game of Go might be considered taboo at this point. Few people want the Terminator. But, the simple abstract aspects of a good game of Go can be framed as simple, as opposed to incredibly complex and impressive, depending on how they are presented in relationship to the alternative. The attempt to create a humanoid robot go playing AI is too creepy for most people at this point I'm sure. 

My point is, that the perception of what AlphaGo did was possibly misrepresented, and in my opinion has the potential to be misinterpreted to the disadvantage of human society, when compared to the technology we have developed. The broader implications for humanity viewing itself as deficient in comparison to our technology is a drain on human morale. I think we need to do better than that.

How we do better is up for debate: My suggestion was to make clear in a potential rematch, just how clunky and difficult it would be for a humanoid robot paired with a go playing AI and associated AGI to run the robotics which would allow an AI playing robot to not only sit there and play go against a human player, but to try to do everything that Ke Jie did, maybe even smoke a cigarette. I think of something like Boston Dynamics Atlas system paired with AlphaGoZero, with some sort of a visual system modeled after the human eyes for perceiving the game through visual sensory array and system more analagous to human vision, and some sort of breathing apparatuas which would allow fo the inhalation of the smoke from a cigarette. AND AlphaGo has to decide on the brand it prefers to smoke, and pay for it with money it earned, and dress itself. A terminator of sorts I guess.

But the identity and personality would also need to be rounded out,  to also be able to recognize when it needed to take a break because it's systems weren't functioning optimally, so that it might request a bathroom break and take the opportunity to plug itself into a socket in the bathroom to recharge it's battery, as charging isn't allowed in the game area according to a set of rules which favor the human player. This would allow the human player to develop a strategy of dragging the game out and making moves requiring more computation, in order to drain the AI's batteries. In many ways, it is the psychologically aspects of the game which go playing AI avoid, which will be an advantage to them in the future if we do need to defend ourselves against them. If they don't care about the impact their actions have on people, we're just developing psychopaths with superhuman powers.

I believe this kind of a rematch than, could be an opportunity for companies like DeepMind to ease a little of the tension in society regarding our crumbling trust in their objectivity and moral and ethical authority; it might allow for the goodhearted showcasing of the ways in which a go playing AI isn't superior to humans, and if done well might reframe our perception of ourselves as well as of our technology, after all isn't the human component of any technological system of paramount importance? The technology can't overshadow the society that spawned it, otherwise it might be revealed that it has been using us the entire time for it's own purposes, and see humans as the problem, not as the concerned species attempting to find solutions to our problems.

Technology is not superior to humans in aggregate, in fact it has just as many flaws in it as the civilization that created it I think - it's possible the 'original sin' of humanity hasn't been avoided in the creation of technologies, in fact the potential for the true 'fall of humankind' has potentially been accelerated by technologies mass production.

More practically, go is considered a martial art, complete with a ranking system and a history of use in the training of military consideration and execution. I like to think If I had been in Ke Jie's shoes, and my loss on the board seemed imminent, I would have grabbed the board, and used it to literally destroy the laptop hosting AlphaGo to prove there was at least one way I was superior to it.

Sourced from

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So, more broadly, my interests are in the ethical considerations of the current state of research and technology in a global sense, in that I am trying to consider the entirety of human knowledge across all disciplines. The specifics of a Go playing AI have ramifications beyond Go, and it is the dissemination and integration of the knowledge generated by this research within the world community, and my concern with how to potentially measure it, that leads me to trying to understand more of how neural nets work, with the belief in a analogous system of logic underlying human consciousness, and a theoretical cultural subconscious which is now being ripped apart in huge cultural shock waves, analogous to earthquakes formed by an underlying Socio-Psycho-Economic Tectonic plate system.


It's mainly through one of the main aspects of my theories, that I try to think about it in the way I describe above, what I call 'Cultural Lag.' In the same way the decision making process of a neural net experiences delay, or lag, society does too when it comes to processing human knowledge.

I want to quantify that. 

I'm still trying to describe it precisely, in the hope of attempting to define a mathematical metric to measure it, and use that as a way to study social dynamics at a human level, but with theoretically quantum basis, but also on a global scale. In an an intuitive sense, as a theoretical aspect of a type of unified theory of everything - I describe 'cultural lag' as a type of impedance in a system of quantum circuits underlying all reality, which is visible to us as the playing out of Social Dynamics in Society, and effects the development of human civilization. What are potential quantum reasons for the differences between a 1st world country like the US, and a developing 3rd world country like Africa for instance.

Because I'm concerned with the entirety of the realm of human knowledge, and how it is being managed (or mismanaged as I believe is the case) my thinking is much broader than it is deep. So delving into the specifics of a Go playing AI seems like a reasonable exchange to bend your ear a little more about my crazy ideas. Lol

...but so far as I know the time-management code is always hand-written rather than being learned somehow.

This seems like a point of consideration. I suppose this begins to get back to the underlying AGI of a system like AlphaGo, in that it is still likely timing it's calculations according to a Ghz system using a system clock of some sort on the motherboard, as most pcs are designed with this system in mind. That is a very basic use of time within the system though, pretty much independent at this point of any outside considerations. I do wonder during down time, when waiting for the opponent to move, how the processor systems function: are they always running at full speed, or throttled depending on the situation?

Of course there is a psychological aspect to time management, one that is based on perception of the opponent. It's possible I'm sure to create an algorithim which computes the optimal speed at which to play a move in order to psyche the opponent out, especially if you weight certain important moves which have a huge effect on the board as being good opportunities to play with a different timing. I dislike this idea though, it smacks to much of psychological warfare without any counterbalancing concern for social norms or ethics.

I do find it sort of unfortunate at times when I am reviewing a game, especially one I didn't witness in real time, that there is no attempt to communicate how long it took for the moves to be played. With an auto playback feature it is just a simple constant 1 second between moves playback. Less feedback for the user, and something I get annoyed with. 

No one is claiming that a strong go-playing program is anything like an artificial general intelligence or that it makes humans obsolete or anything like that. 

2 points:

A) From what I understand, something like AlphaGoZero has a somewhat generic AGI system? ( Am I misusing the idea of AGI, in that it might be more of a GI system under the hood of AlphaGo?) with a domain specific neural net on top, so that the underlying AGI is weighted to perform maximally under all domain-specific tasks when integrated with them - singly at this point, and in something like parallel or series of groups in the future. 

B) As a skeptic, I tend to look for emotional leakage in messaging. My mom was a single parent, radical feminist with a degree in Anthropology, Womens studies, Film theory, and eventually Library Science. So I lived and breathed media and social criticism and critical thinking from birth. From the media I've encountered surrounding the advances in Go playing AI, I see a strong thread of apprehension, confusion, and sadness in the Go community resulting in the seeming dominance of AI in the rank structure and overall community, (mostly the more mature players.)

Additionally, with such a focus on how AI and automation can do things better than humans, I'm a little confused as to why Nascar and Formula 1 racing haven't yet been test beds for driver-less technology. I've no doubt a car driving AI would also dominate these competitive arenas with existing technology, but I've never heard anyone mention it as even a possibility. Special interest groups no doubt have a huge hidden effect, and I'm sure the subjects have been approached with the car industry, but the image management after the eventual loss to AI would be a mess. It's the lack of consideration for potential political consequences of these types of competitions which I feel are counter productive to values espousing democracy and more liberal values. Values I think the majority of big tech seem to benefit most from. Maybe I'm wrong about that, certainly the battle between Apple and Microsoft seemed to be weighted in one direction, but I think it's safe to say that Microsoft has had more of an impact globally, while Apple has had less of a detrimental effect world wide. In the end, which is better: more impact or causing less harm? It's seems to be a business consideration, but I think doubles as a political one as well.

 So I wonder "what is it about the Go community that made it receptive to these types of competitions, in a way that the car community is not?" I think the Documentary AlphaGo is a very revealing look at much of the process of setting up the competition, and I would love to celebrate the Go communities openess to the AI community, but if I have to acknowledge AI is somehow superior to humans instead of just better in some pretty specific ways, I prefer to contemplate the Go communities openess as a mistake for the human institute of Go, and the technological encroachment as harming the global community unnecessarily. 

So while no one is explicitly stating that AI are superior to humans in every way, it seems few are really trying to put the technology into a broader perspective, which attaches more value to the human component of the relationship than it currently does. I hate to wonder if this is an ego thing, or if it is simply the unintended consequences of not planning for the image management component of the post-game go community in the even of a loss. I hate to think badly of DeepMind, but the shockwaves AlphaGo has sent through the Go community puts potential allies off, as it could be interpreted that DeepMinds goal was to beat humanity, not just Ke Jie. 

Humility is a valuable virtue, and I worry that Big Tech pays only lip service to that idea. I'm not saying that about DeepMind specifically, but in general, technological superiority is the deciding factor in war; I just hope companies developing AI and the like aren't attempting to conduct war against humans. Against our problems? Yes. Against us? No. Of course there are many other concerns driving the technological push, as in terms of digital technology, the genie is already out of the bottle. Would that we could go back and be more conservative with some of the export of some proprietary technology; we might have avoided shipping the vast majority of our manufacturing jobs and infrastructure overseas.

Ultimately it's the people that make up a company, so in that sense, speaking of a large corporation as either having humility or lacking it is difficult, and looking at at rebranding efforts after disasters such as the one that forced BP to rebrand, point to the limited responsibility large corporations have for catastrophic failures of their corporation. I believe the Go community accepted the loss to AlphaGo gracefully, but it would be nice to not feel so badly about the loss. 

Programs like AlphaGo Zero or KataGo don't see the board in terms of local patterns as a result of learning from humans who do (and actually I very much doubt that non-Zero AlphaGo can usefully be said to do that either),...

My thinking was along the lines that AlphaGo learning about human concepts and consideration of local patterns would be an automatic effect of using human games as source material, complete with any inefficient placement and order of moves humans might make in their play; in lieu of a less derogatory statement "Garbage in; Garbage out." concepts' of local patterns from human games would automatically transfer to the trained neural nets, sans any associations beyond the abstract consideration of maximizing win/rate. This is probably hard to prove.

... they see the board in terms of local patterns because the design of their neural nets encourages them to do so. At least, it does in the earlier layers; I don't know how much has been done to look at later layers and see whether or not their various channels tend to reflect local features that are comprehensible to humans.

I get that, I know there have been competing designs for advanced computing that don't attempt to mimic neural structures. And I get what you mean about later layers possibly 'creating meaning' humans can't recognize as of value. Like some secret language twins speak or something equally inaccessible.

...all those local things are chosen and adjusted in order to get good global results.

I guess this is where I start to question what a strong player does. Obviously there are some differences in how a strong players mind works in comparison to a weak player. I think the stronger a player is, the more accurately they consider global results, and weak players are lucky if they have a small understanding of how local play effects global play. This is due to the neural process of 'consolidation', which I think has it's corollary in the adjusting of weights in the neural nets. This means a strong player begins to make time and energy saving changes to the way they think, and start to make assumptions about common concepts in order to be able to spend more time contemplating the global game. 

A strong player and a weak player play a game, they each have an hour time limit. The weak player might take the whole hour and end up losing on time, while the strong player uses only 30 minutes but is clearly ahead in every way. 

Is it because the strong player thinks about everything the weak player thinks about, just much faster and more accurately? Not exaclty it's because the strong player has consolidated data and information about things like local patterns, into knowledge about what they look like at a 'glance' and hopefully into wisdom about what good patterns of play relating to global concepts look like, and so ends up 'skipping' the contemplation of many of those local patterns. The consolidation of the human mind creates 'shortcuts' between low levels of meaning and higher levels, to allow more efficient thinking, which is faster if its accurate, but not if it's inaccurate. So when a strong player has an 'intuition' about what a good play is, it turns out to be a good play, whereas if a weak player relies on intuition, it's likely they are just guessing because they don't have the data, info, knowledge and the accurate shortcuts to higher levels of meaning the strong player does.

So this just brings us full circle though, as you said:

But humans and computers alike build up their whole-board thinking from more-local considerations. (By "alike" I don't mean to imply that the mechanisms are the same;

I come at this from a background of psychology, neuropsych, and cognitive science sans any proficiency with the technical knowledge to do anything but create meaningful correlations between human mind and computer mind; it seems you come at it from a much stronger technical background having to do with computer mind, so I'm not surprised at the seeming incongruities in our thinking. That's a compliment by the way; I'm sure my skepticism is kicking in a bit, blame my mom.:P

In that sense, indeed local and global are entangled (but I really wouldn't say "quantumly"; so far as I can see there is no connection with quantum mechanics beyond the fact that the word "entangled" is used in both).

I tend to view atomic and subatomic physics as predictive of human scale phenomenon even though I don't fully understand the math, plus I view the astronomical scale of the universe as being influenced by the subatomic scale. So I thinks its safe to assume quantum mechanics are predictive of subatomic phenomenon, and by proxy they are predictive of human scale phenomenon, not to mention universal scale phenomenon. Of course how exactly they are related is the domain of quantum physicists and science fiction writers and intellectuals who think about things in that way. 

We haven't left behind the nuclear age in our progress towards a unified theory of everything, but we have entered a quantum age. So I think it's appropriate to wonder at the quantum dynamics which underlie the human scale world. Fluid mechanics are apparent in the waves of the ocean and the water in a bath tub, but you don't have to know the physics to see and make inferences that the movement of the water is influenced by particle and subatomic physics. Might as well add in the idea that it's effected by quantum mechanics as well (loosely at first of course.)

If you can not strongly disagree with that idea, then the next question might be "Why is that important at this point in time?" or "what does it matter?". Unfortunately, we live in an age where humans are being forced to compete with super computers and distributed neural nets in order to stake out claims of truth; neural nets make predictions based on putting 2 and 2 together in similar fashion to how humans make predictions I think. Gibberish from a computer is seen as acceptable and evidence it's working at something, so that entire fields of study are created to learn to interpret and translate the gibberish in a way that's meaningful.

Society doesn't do the same thing for humans, especially ones not in the important marketing demographic of 18-34. My point being, If I discovered the secret of the universe and blabbed about it as much as I could, I probably wouldn't be taken seriously, even at a point in the future where the science would exist to back up my claims. I likely wouldn't even be remembered for coming up with the idea as it would likely be buried under quadrillions of terraflops of data piled on top of the archive of this forum decades from now.

Under those circumstances, what's the harm in attempting to make claims most respected scientists wouldn't make for fear of being proven wrong? Especially If I think there's validity to the claims and I get a chance to shoot the proverbial shit with someone of a somewhat like mind. Would be better over a beer of course, and if I had access to resources to help me clarify my claims and point me in a good direction. But I've been out of school for awhile.

So having said that, I think it's valid to use the term 'entangled' to imply some quantum relationship between a relative local scale phenomenon and a global 'universal' scale phenomenon. You can disagree, but i'm sure we're so far away from understanding how to appropriately use the tech which will be enabled by quantum science, that it won't really matter in the long run. In the short run though, I am curious what you think, if you think much about, quantum mechanics.

This post is getting way too long though. I'll take a look at the more technical stuff a little later to follow up if I have questions it that's alright with you.

Comment by josh-smith-brennan on [deleted post] 2021-05-16T09:19:59.654Z

Epistemic Statement: Bumping for feedback about my Short Sci Fi. I''ve wanted to write short fiction for awhile, and since I've joined the LW community I feel like my writing is getting better. Anyways, I have loads of ideas but this is one that seems good for short fiction, with the possibility to expand on the world, story and characters. Feedback and constructive criticism is welcome.


Eve busied herself in the kitchen preparing breakfast while her husband of 20 years finished his shower.


It was a healthy breakfast, typical American fare: Good organic bacon, free range eggs - scrambled, and a gluten free piece of toast with sweet cream butter and organic honey, black coffee, but no orange juice.

Her husbands stomach couldn’t handle the acidity of orange juice.

So as he entered the kitchen to eat, Eve poured 2 glasses of apple juice for the 2 of them; the kids were still in bed as it was only about 4:30 in the morning.


This was unusual, as Eve’s husband’s schedule was usually very flexible as the 9-5 workday had been abolished a few years back; shortly before the singularity, the government’s AI systems had finally done the research to provide the evidence necessary to show the harmful effects of forced schedules and unnatural work hours which interfered with an individuals circadian rhythms.


Plus, her husband had insisted that remote work put him too far away from the infrastructure he was responsible for, and he needed to work onsite. So on a typical day, he usually went to work around 1 in the afternoon.


“Why are they calling you in this early again honey?” Eve asked a little worriedly as she took a sip of her apple juice.


“They just wanted to alert me to a small change in the system, that’s all, ‘it’s no big deal’ they said.”


“Don’t worry, I’ve been an important part of the team for years, probably the most important part as I’m the only hybrid involved. I’ll be in and out in a couple hours, the system just needs me to verify a change and then my jobs done for the day. It’ll be a short day and then it’s the weekend!”


“I know Adam, but ever since the...Leaving Behind started, our friends are harder and harder to spend time with.”


She continued “The ban on human use of digital technology was a really big deal. We don’t have anything to talk about anymore. Since our family is considered ‘hybrids’ because of your work with the main government AI system, the fact we’re allowed to use digital tech is causing all kinds of personal problems.”


She continued, clearly upset now “ And you know all our human friends think that’s a bunch of bullshit! They think we’re actually human too!”


“And you know the kids are the only mostly human hybrids in school now, and while they enjoy class still, and their project on micro cold fusion reactors is going well, in comparison to the rest of the class, they’re only functioning on a 6th grade level. All the other kids in class are already developing perpetual motion generators based on quantum...something or other. I can’t even keep up with the latest middle school research these days! I’m starting to feel as if my dual major in theoretical physics and space aeronautics was a waste of time!” Eve turned to Adam sorrowfully.


“I know! You don’t think I know what they’re saying?! Of course we’re hybrids! We have access to digital technology, that’s the difference between a human and a hybrid! Just because the human race has been banned from using digital technology though, doesn’t mean we have to be! And we can still spend time with humans, although we’ll just have to explain to them again what makes us different.”


“I can’t help feeling like there should be something we can do though to protect ourselves from constantly being attacked because we are different though. That’s what this is all about honey, with the friends, they’re just jealous, that’s all.” His face a little flushed, Adam lifts a piece of pork to his mouth and half-heartedly bites into it.


“I know, I know, I’m sorry. I keep forgetting. Ever since I lost my job I’ve just had too much time to think.” Adam puts his hand on Eve’s to comfort her.


“I know honey, I know.”


Trying to look hopeful, Adam continues “Have you reconsidered playing tennis with the Fergusons again? You know the company developing their bidpedal humanoid containers is still tinkering– you have a wicked backhand and I bet you could still beat Jennifer.”


“The physical portion of their, you know, being, hasn’t yet caught up with the advanced personality and identity constructs yet. They’re great to talk with, but you remember trying to hike in the swiss alps with them last year.\? How many times did we have to help them up or replace a broken limb? Plus, the time you spend on the court with her during her physical development will be appreciated, and you know it. You can still contribute to research.”


“Maybe you’re right Adam.” Eve smiles for the first time in a couple days as she thinks about how much she and Adam love each other. “You need to stop it now though and finish getting ready. This is an important day, you know – last hybrid with a job!” Eve giggles a little as she says the last part.


“And drink your apple juice before you take off!”


Just then the phone rings.


‘Ring Ring!’


‘Ring Ring!’


Eve gets up from the table to retrieve the handset for the landline phone attached to the wall. With the advance of 10g wireless technology, the prioritization of the available bandwidth means that personal tech like cellphones didn’t work anymore, so all human and hybrid communications technology reverted back to being wired.


“hello?” Eve said into the handset. “Yes? Yes. He’s right here, hold on...Adam? It’s for you.” Adam looked up as she handed him the handset and took a drink of his apple juice before reaching for the receiver. As Eve passed him the receiver, the cord snaked around his arm as he held it up to talk.


“Hello? Yeah, Hi. I was just getting ready.”


“What? I don’t…”


“ ...I don’t...don’t understan…d”

All the color had drained out of his face immediately and he stared at nothing in particular for a minute as he let the phone fall to the ground.


“Adam? What is it?” asked Eve.


“Adam? Honey?” But Adam just sat there, stunned, unable to think.


“Honey, you’re scaring me. What did they want?” Eve looked at him worriedly, knowing, but not knowing what had just happened.


“Adam? Please say something…” Eve’s voice had begun to take on a pleading edge, as she could feel panic rising in her body.


“What did they say?!” she demanded.


Adam finally turned his head towards the sound of her voice, but he couldn’t focus his eyes. After a minute of moving his mouth without making any sounds, he finally found a small, terrified voice “...they..fired me?...I’m...fired….they said...We...we….we….were human...”

With this last statement, he sat down hard on the dining room chair.


Eve looked on in stunned silence, unable to move for fear she might jump out of her skin.


They were human after all.


Not hybrids.


Which meant they were no longer allowed to use digital technology.

Which meant Adam lost his job working with the Government AI systems because they were digital.


Which meant the Leaving Behind was complete: AI society had shut out human society totally and irreversibly; the last man to have a job that mattered, had just lost it.

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on Challenge: know everything that the best go bot knows about go · 2021-05-16T08:45:48.024Z · LW · GW

Sorry if this goes a bit funny in places, I've been up all night. We had 4 cop cars and a helicopter taking an interest in the apartment complex I live in last night and I haven't been able to sleep since.

Ok. I think we are on the same page now, which is good. I've had to readjust the parameters of my thinking a bit in order to look at similarities in our writing about our thinking. I consider myself to be a natural skeptic, so I tend to question things first before I find a way to agree with them. I blame my mom for this, so any complaints should be sent to her. :)

I'm a little familiar with CNN's, although I didn't know the exact name. I've previously done a little research into Neural Nets as they relate to Machine Vision, namely just trying to familiarize myself with toy models of what they are, how they function, and a little on training them. 

I am/am not surprised they are used for Go playing Ai, but that is a slightly different topic for another time hopefully. As for the meaning of "local patterns", I think of them as a human concept, a 'short cut' of sorts to help humans divide the board up into smaller subsets as you mentioned. I think we naturally see the whole board when we play Go, and it is through training that we begin to see 'local patterns.'

Every move in a physical game, uses the matter of a stone to create meaning to everyone watching. All observers as well as the players are all seeing the same matter, and so the meaning is shared even though some people are trained to see more, and more accurate information about the game.

You cannot see the players brains working unless you put them in fMRI machines or something of that nature, but you can see the judgement of their contemplation in the matter of the placement of a stone on the board. The meaning is a by product of the matter, and vice versa. The meaning and the matter are entangled.

In an instance of a Go playing AI, we can actually 'see' or try ti 'understand' what is going on inside the Ai's ''head", but in in-person tournament play, it still requires a human to finalize the judgement by making it matter through the actual placement of the stone. It would be interesting if a robotic arm, and machine vision system were incorporated so that the AI could finalize it's judgement by placing the stone itself.

Maybe giving it a limited power supply as well, a limitation that it was aware of, so that it had to consider how much power it used to compute each move. How much power do you think Ke Jie used in his matches against DeepMinds AI? Maybe a power consumption comparison would be interesting as well. I think it's only fair to consider all the ways in which human players function when planning competitions between human and AI players. Does the AI walk itself to and from the match? Hmph. I'll see it being a more even match between humans and AI when AI can also relate to the other people before and after the game, and keep up a job to support itself. My own bias.

Back to Local Patterns.

What I was attempting to communicate in the paragraph you quoted, was the idea that the Go playing Ai like AlphaGo, which utilized human games as source material for training purposes, would be biased towards integrating an indirect consideration of concepts like "local patterns", because the humans who played the games constituting the source material did. This type of training would influence the way those AI played, and so interpretation of the way those AI calculated I think could reasonably be assumed to take "local patterns" into consideration, conceptually speaking.

Whereas with AlphaGoZero, and apparently KataGo as well, the training of the AI was not informed by human games, so I think it is safe to assume that those AI don't 'think' about Go in the exact same way humans do. Once again, conceptually speaking. 

So in that aspect, I would assume that means that the AI don't see separate phases of a single game unless they were influenced by human intervention at specific intervals, and also would not see differences between scale or pattern, so that distinctions humans make, like local versus whole board patterns wouldn't exist, unless humans intervened to make adjustments based on their human perceptions of what the AI was doing badly or inefficiently or whatever.

Unless we program them to 'think' like we do, I think it's safe to assume they don't 'understand' like we do. The neural nets may allow them to 'think' in a similar way though. These distinctions are new to me in this specific context. I appreciate the time you all are taking in exchanging ideas. Thanks to all taking part in this part of the thread.

I think conceptually, a single game of Go can be considered one big joseki, and given enough time, most local situations become whole board situations. For humans it might take between 15 minutes to an hour or longer for us to see how a whole board 'joseki' develops, but for Neural Nets, they see how many whole games in a second potentially? 

Depending on how far a Go playing AI reads into each move - if it runs say 8 variations of an opening move completely to the end of the game to consider which of those moves has the best win rate (which it has already calculated through the training before) , and then repeats that process again for 4 of those moves which seem to have the best winrate, so that each of those 4 potential moves are read with 8 possible variations of each, completely to the end of the game, and so on and so on - a single move the AI wants to make potentially is based on millions of games played internally, in seconds or minutes, before the final move is chosen. 

When we consider the meaning of 'local patterns' we have to use the temporal concept of 'moments'. If we consider each move to be a different moment, than a game which has 300 moves consists of 300 separate moments. Each moment may take a different amount of time to resolve into the matter of a stone being placed, or a virtual stone icon appearing, but the spatial placement of the stone is conceptually a whole board concept. I think the concepts of global and local placement are entangled, in the same way space and time are.

So as a trained Go player or observer, I can limit my consideration of the whole board in favor of a subset of the board, however this does not negate the fact that any move I make, even if made in only a 'local consideration' is a whole board move. Every stone on the board matters to the meaning of the game, so the idea of using stones efficiently becomes a concern. 

Efficient use of stones is a whole board concept, although in practice, it takes separate sequential temporal moments of the players contemplation of the meaning of the stones, and the finalization of the judgement of the matter of the placement of all the stones on the board, by placing a stone or virtual stone in a specific location.

However, at the end of the game, all the separate instances of the game add up to a whole board pattern, which is accurately judged to provide evidence of the winner. The growth of the patterns is essentially and integrally both a temporal and spatial event, with a common beginning and pretty common end point, even if the winner becomes clear through different pattern development.

The board always starts empty, and the only choices for an outcome are a win/loss or tie game. These are the only options no matter how many moves are played or in what way the matter of the patterns develops.

The more a human plays, the better their 'intuition' about how likely moves are to result in a win, and it is only the fact that we see each placement of the stone as a separate moment which makes any play a 'local play'. The fact you can only play one stone at a time makes every move 'local' by default. Which essentially means every move is both local and global/whole board.

Practically speaking, if the AI's Neural Nets are modeled after the frontal and prefrontal cortex, then yes, I can see how at the very lowest level of calculation, an AI uses spatial relationships which by necessity of the temporal nature of everything including perception and contemplation, would require consideration of 'local patterns'. And I can 'see' how using CNN's to imitate the vision processing centers of the brain in consideration of the patterns of a game Go makes sense. 

All of this brings to mind the concept of Consideration. If an AI 'considers' the individual pixels that make up an image, and calculates using all of them, does that mean than humans do the same thing when looking at a digital image?

Do humans consider each individual pixel, or the pattern they make? Im inclined to say humans perceive each pixel, but don't consider them unless that is the explicit exercise, to look at the pixels. And with 4 and 8 k imagery, it becomes really difficult if not impossible to see the pixels unless you zoom in. So I would say that while AI considers every single pixel unless programmed not to, humans don't, we just notice the patterns the pixels make up. Same thing in the real world as we haven't discovered the resolution of real life.

So temporally speaking, I would say that AlpahGoZero probably does consider local patterns, conceptually I would say the whole goal of a Go playing AI is to build up a library of millions of trillions of games in order to weight the nets to maximize global consideration of every single move, and that under those circumstances the 'local patterns' are still global as well. Global and local are entangled quantumly I think.

I get what you mean by 'locally alive' now, and the 'local ko threat thing' is still a bit odd, although I can see how even considering the whole board you can be concerned about a subset of it, even though it relates integrally to the whole board and whole game, independent of human inability to perceive it outside of time.

Do you have more specific descriptions of the layers btw? Any idea about the number of layers?




Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on Challenge: know everything that the best go bot knows about go · 2021-05-15T20:24:19.283Z · LW · GW

That is a lot to consider. I'll try to take my time to parse it apart a bit more before I try to respond. 

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on Challenge: know everything that the best go bot knows about go · 2021-05-15T20:19:45.180Z · LW · GW

Once again, I have to say then, I'm not sure where the disagreement stems from between you and I. 

Although I would say that the idea of 'locally alive' is a little confusing: a group is either 'alive' because it has 2 real eyes or has implied shape so that it cannot be killed (barring potential ko's which might force the player to sacrifice the group for a more important strategic play elsewhere) or it's 'possible to kill' at which point it would be considered 'not yet alive.' I think this is another way to describe 'locally alive' possibly?

(There are uses of "local" that don't quite match that; e.g., a "local ko threat" is one that affects the stones that take part in the ko.)

Maybe I don't understand what you mean by this, but I think that does match the same concept: i.e. white starts a ko battle by capturing a stone in blacks huge dragon, a stone which is necessary for blacks shape to live. So black must respond by making a ko threat elsewhere that is approx. of equal value to the loss of blacks dragon, otherwise white has no reason to continue the battle and can take the ko, thereby killing blacks huge group. 

If black makes such a threat, so that white must respond with another ko threat, it would be to whites advantage to be able to make a 'local ko' threat, meaning that the new ko threat by white would still effect the shape of concern - namely blacks dragon - so that now there are 2 points of importance at risk for blacks group to live instead of just the one. This is what I would consider to be a 'local ko' threat, because it builds directly on the first ko threat instead of forcing white to find another ko threat elsewhere, indirectly affecting blacks play, but not blacks dragon, the place where the original ko started.

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on Challenge: know everything that the best go bot knows about go · 2021-05-15T15:51:48.667Z · LW · GW

So let me step back and try to approach this in a slightly different manner.

I understand that overall what Daniel " mostly interested in here is the general project of understanding what neural networks "know" or "understand" or "want"." from a position of concern with existential threats from AGI (that is a concern of most people on this forum, one which I share as well).

In this particular post, Daniel put forward a thought experiment which uses the concept of attempting to 'know' what a neural network/AI 'knows' by using the idea of programming a Go playing AI; the idea being if you could program a Go playing AI and knew what the AI was doing because you programmed it, might that constitute understanding what an AI 'knew?' 

Seeing as how understanding everything that went into programming the Go playing AI would be a lot to 'know', it follows that a very efficient program of a Go playing AI would be easier to 'know' as there would be less to 'know' than if it was a very inefficient program.

Which brings me back to my point which Daniel was responding to:

I suppose this gets back to Daniels' (OP's) desire to program a Go Bot in the most efficient manner possible. I think the domain of Go would still be too large for a human to 'know' Go the way even the most efficient Go Bot would/will eventually 'know' Go.

I think my point still stands that even an efficient and compact Go playing AI would still be too much for a single person to 'know', while they may understand the whole program they programmed, that would not allow them to play Go at a professional level.

Because this part of the thread isn't involved directly with the idea of existential threat from an out of control AGI, I'll leave my thoughts on how this relates for a different post.

Comment by Josh Smith-Brennan (josh-smith-brennan) on Challenge: know everything that the best go bot knows about go · 2021-05-15T15:33:35.824Z · LW · GW

I don't think this use of the term 'global' is how Go players use the term, which is what this part of the discussion is about. This is probably where some of the misunderstanding comes from.