Internal Memo from Bleggs Universal 2021-06-12T16:44:22.912Z
Yes, words can cause harm 2021-02-24T00:18:56.790Z
Speedrunning my Morning Makes the Coffee Taste Weird 2021-02-11T17:06:46.287Z
kithpendragon's Shortform 2021-02-07T12:34:18.921Z
Will we witness the compassion of a nation? 2021-01-10T11:10:07.879Z
What am I missing? (quantum physics) 2020-08-21T12:39:12.418Z
How can we protect economies during massive public health crises? 2020-03-18T18:56:21.933Z


Comment by kithpendragon on What should one's policy regarding dental xrays be? · 2021-09-19T17:13:44.661Z · LW · GW

To address your clarifications:

Nobody seems to do proper studies on dentistry, so we don't have any gold standard evidence that I've ever seen. But, discounting institutional knowledge out of hand is foolhardy. I'd call the story the dentists tell about this "moderately strong" evidence for a causal connection, but (all together now!) more research is (obviously) needed.

I know a guy who had thyroid cancer. They took the gland out and he has to take a daily pill to replicate the function, but from about two weeks after the surgery I haven't heard him complain in the years since. So, seems manageable from a quality of life angle.

Comment by kithpendragon on What should one's policy regarding dental xrays be? · 2021-09-19T11:43:59.205Z · LW · GW

From, new thyroid cancer cases occur at a rate of ~15 cases per 100k people per year, and the disease has a 98+% 5-year survival rate.

Compare that with whatever risk results from needing more invasive repair when your dentist can't detect the cavities as soon, and you can see if there's a net benefit. I'm not seeing any numbers on this in my 5 minutes of searching, but that doesn't mean they're not out there. But I suspect the connection between dental infections and heart disease (that any dentist will tell you all about if you ask) easily exceeds the increased risk from regular x-rays.

Comment by kithpendragon on Prefer the British Style of Quotation Mark Punctuation over the American · 2021-09-12T13:44:21.530Z · LW · GW
  1. More logical still would be to have two periods, one marking the end of the quoted sentence and the other the end of the top-level sentence. But that would be redundant and also look ugly.

This style feels much better when the embedded sentence requires a different punctuation type than the parent sentence, such as "Don't you think?". I expect it only looks "ugly" because we don't typically see things done this way.

Comment by kithpendragon on Antidotes to Number Numbness · 2021-08-31T10:58:54.790Z · LW · GW

Big thanks for doing this for large magnitudes!

Comment by kithpendragon on Zen and Rationality: Equanimity · 2021-08-23T16:18:12.129Z · LW · GW

At a first pass, an improved wording might sound something like this:

If the box contains a diamond,

It is optimal to believe that the box contains a diamond;

If the box does not contain a diamond,

It is optimal to believe that the box does not contain a diamond;

Let me not become identified with beliefs that may not serve well.

The Litany as written does point to something very important. Still, it's possible that it could point more precisely.

Comment by kithpendragon on Brief thoughts on inefficient writing systems · 2021-08-04T21:14:29.262Z · LW · GW

Being able to represent accents accurately is definitely a benefit! I'd love to pick up a book and be able to gather information about the writer's cultural background by the way they pronounce words (and without the "mangled" spellings that implies under the current system).

Likewise, I'd like to have the option to write in a neutral voice in order to avoid privileging one group of speakers in the canonical spellings (think, those used in government documents and the like). British and American English both have accents that imply socioeconomic status, and I'm sure that's true of other languages as well. Being forced to write in a specific accent could needlessly alienate some readers who don't identify with the group that speaks that way.

As for deaf people, there are many who learn to speak! Phonetic spellings would make that process much easier for learners who can't get the immediate feedback of clearly hearing themselves and others pronounce words. Once they learned how to produce the sound each character makes, they could know how to pronounce words just by reading them; an even stronger version of the benefit hearing people get from phonetic systems!

Comment by kithpendragon on Brief thoughts on inefficient writing systems · 2021-08-03T17:29:38.000Z · LW · GW

Sure could! That strategy works just fine for recording language exactly as it's heard, and even for mapping phonetic representations with traditional spellings in a many-to-one relationship, but it lacks the ability to encode words with dialectically neutral vowels. That is, IPA forces you to choose an exact vowel; there is no provision I know of to indicate "some vowel in this range", which is needed to neutralize the spellings of most words. Though, it certainly wouldn't be hard to extend the IPA to include that feature if that's the character set you wanted to start with.

Comment by kithpendragon on Brief thoughts on inefficient writing systems · 2021-08-01T13:01:54.523Z · LW · GW
  1. The same way we recognize those words by ear: through context.
  2. Comparing English and Chinese is difficult because of the different ways the two languages use the melody of speech. I note that you have included the tonal markers on all your "shi"s, which make those words distinct (and, to somebody who has learned to read the language that way, easy to read). Moreover, that representation makes the playfulness of the title obvious, which adds value.
Comment by kithpendragon on Brief thoughts on inefficient writing systems · 2021-08-01T12:52:19.394Z · LW · GW

To do an English spelling reform you would need to decide which dialect of English is the correct one to map and which dialects are wrong.

Disagree: a new writing system can be chosen to accommodate certain dialectical variations (the pen/pin and father/bother issues, for example) and simply represent others. (The name John is pronounced Jawn in some regions of the USA. It would be very easy to spell it with that vowel if we expected spelling to match the sounds.) And it can all be done without applying right/wrong labels to anybody's dialect. It's just a matter of having enough letters (or variations of letters) to accurately represent the differences where they are important. Since we (broadly speaking) currently teach our children to read and write with 26 letters times 4 variations of each (upper- and lower-case in manuscript and cursive) for a total of 104 characters, I see no reason to expect they can't learn letters that map to the 40-ish sounds that make up the English language (plus a few marks to specify which version of the vowel is being indicated.)

If you're concerned about one group "getting" the base vowels (with no diacritics), we could teach that a vowel with no markings represents a family of similar sounds and that adding a marking simply selects for a particular sound. (It's not really all that different than trying to cram 8-12 vowel sounds into 5 letters like we're doing now, just more precise.) You could spell any word with all unmarked vowels with no more ambiguity than that provided by homographs under the current system.

And we could finally represent puns in text! Maybe some of our jokes would actually make sense to archeologists in a few thousand years.

the Balkan is full of wars between people who believe they have a different national identity because they consider their dialect to be a full language and the dialect that other people speak to be another language.

That's region-wide arguing by definition combined with a strong cultural emphasis on national identity. Those problems don't mean that the local spelling system is problematic in any way. Language is a technology and spelling is a tool. That folks are using it to hurt each other doesn't make a tool "bad" somehow, or we'd ban hammers and axes for being involved in murders. Granted, some governments do ban some objects for just that reason. But the practice is extremely uneven, and usually limited to objects that appear to have been designed to hurt people in the first place.

Comment by kithpendragon on Lafayette: empty traffic signals · 2021-07-18T19:33:05.944Z · LW · GW

I live near a town with what I think is a similar intersection. The law here is that it is always the pedestrian's "turn" if they choose to enter a crosswalk and there is no traffic light specifically telling them otherwise. In more detail: if the pedestrian wishes to cross at an intersection with a traffic light, they have "right of way" (the legal term that corresponds to your use of "turn") when the light is green for the lane of travel parallel to their crosswalk; if there is no light, the pedestrian always has "right of way". For intersections with no light where pedestrians have difficulty crossing the road safety even in the crosswalk, we sometimes set up the warning lights situation. These lights serve the same function as the turn signals on a car: they broadcast a specific kind of intention so others using the road have an easy-to-see and harder-to-ignore signal, and so that everybody involved can feel comfortable that communication has been had.

Comment by kithpendragon on "If and Only If" Should Be Spelled "Ifeff" · 2021-07-18T18:03:35.792Z · LW · GW

How about if'f or if-f? Both are easier to type than if(f), but still look less like an error than iff.

The whole "add punctuation" strategy still ruins the word for Scrabble, though. :(

Edit: ... and I see now that gilch had the exact same idea right below.

Comment by kithpendragon on Eponymous Laws Part 3: Miscellaneous · 2021-07-13T21:33:03.629Z · LW · GW

If the entire point of this series was to get to Cole's Law, please know that you now have my undying respect.

Comment by kithpendragon on Intelligence without Consciousness · 2021-07-12T19:14:25.932Z · LW · GW

I do this too. As does my 5yo, and at least one of my siblings. And, yes, the conversation seems most like a decent predictive text algorithm. I have no reason to expect that's not exactly what's going on in those moments: some parts of the brain are active, resulting in some of the interactive subroutines being available, but it isn't anywhere near coordinated or sophisticated enough to add up to anything that resembles the usual thing people mean when they talk about "consciousness".

Comment by kithpendragon on Relentlessness · 2021-07-12T11:02:10.173Z · LW · GW

This, and...

Teaching math (and many other, but not all topics) requires finding where in the chain of necessary understandings between some fundamental skill and the current topic a student has not completed their learning, and working there. Parenting and immersive language are fields where the fundamentals are constantly being tested, and so provide unlimited opportunities for mastery. Likewise, the parenting and language skill trees are not as linear as the one for math: the former have a wide variety of skills that can be learned in relative isolation and in a variety of different orders. Not all the early lessons will even be applicable later (I haven't changed a diaper in years, now), and sometimes mastery in one area is sufficient to produce overall adequacy even if other areas suffer.

AllAmericanBreakfast has a post related to the topic that I found very insightful (and I think ryan_b is onto something similar). In this context it suggests that the commonality between >>parenting<< and >>language learning<< is that both categories point to aggregate skills that can be learned simultaneously and do not necessarily have strong interdependencies even at the higher levels, where >>math<< is more of a narrow tower of skills, each depending heavily on the last all the way down.

Comment by kithpendragon on Relentlessness · 2021-07-12T10:55:23.745Z · LW · GW

On a physiological level, how would you characterize the difference?

My answer below (in case you want to take the time to work yours out first)...

Anxiety is an aversive reaction. In my body, it appears as a tightness across the lower abdomen, the whole-body zap that I associate with increased adrenaline, and (later) the whole-body fatigue that I associate with increased cortisol. In the case of our hypothetical math class, the main source of the anxiety is the immense social pressure placed on students by the entire culture and primarily embodied in the teacher and parents.

Hatred is a layer of meaning that I can place on top of some aversive reactions. I (probably not consciously) interpret the anxiety sensations as evidence of a threat associated with the current stimulus (in this example, the hypothetical math class, eventually generalized to the process of doing math since the reaction is less prominent in other classes), and my full attention turns toward the elimination of the threat. Since I can't eliminate math class, the process is frustrated and remains unresolved.

Comment by kithpendragon on Can someone help me understand the arrow of time? · 2021-06-16T20:56:12.526Z · LW · GW

PBS Space Time addresses the memory question in a really accessible way here. The key insight is (briefly) that one end of a particular object's history is highly correlated with the environment along which its duration extends (i.e. you can infer information about other parts of the environment by examining the object at that end if its duration). The other end is not so correlated. The degree to which this correlation exists at a particular point along the object's duration is its "memory" at that particular "moment in time".

Comment by kithpendragon on Internal Memo from Bleggs Universal · 2021-06-12T16:45:04.752Z · LW · GW

This memo is based on an email I actually sent my management team. I thought it might be broadly applicable.

Comment by kithpendragon on kithpendragon's Shortform · 2021-06-11T21:14:37.749Z · LW · GW

What if we thought of the Almighty Org Chart of Bureaucracy as less of a pryamid (with Executive layers stacked on top) and more of a chandelier (with executives dangling uselessly below the functional bits)

Comment by kithpendragon on On making fictional miracles seem plausible · 2021-06-08T18:06:41.139Z · LW · GW

The Thaumic Assembly of Goodia is seen meeting for the seventh time in a month. A Goodian notices and looks puzzled but unconcerned. There is, after all, no accounting for wizards.

A comet is flying through space. The dark lord attacks Goodia. The comet nears the sun. At first Goodia holds out...

The Meeting of the Assembly is interrupted by the invading army. A soldier shatters an artifact, breaking through the protective circle and releasing the energy built up within. A column of light erupts from the meeting hall, accompanied by a magical shockwave that shatters the Assembly Hall and kills everyone in a three block radius. No other magical effects are observed.

...but eventually the dark forces break through and take over the land, torturing and enslaving it's inhabitants. Bits of the commit begin to break off, and stream behind it in a tail. The Goodian forces retreat to their mountain fortress where they are able to survive for years by growing mountain crops. We focus on one of these meteors, zooming through space. Eventually a traitor burns the food supplies, and the defenders begin to starve. This particular meteorite is not flying off into the endless void of space, but by a million to one chance is heading for a planet. The Goodian king, now old and ailing, challenges the dark lord to a duel, the winner who will take over both kingdoms. The dark lord agrees. As we get closer we see the planet is blue and green, with streaks of white.

... And that the meteorite is infused with a faint magical glow.

Just as he is about to kill the Goodian king, a meteorite flies out the blue and strikes the dark lord, killing him instantly. Everyone lives happily ever after.

Comment by kithpendragon on [deleted post] 2021-05-18T09:44:44.110Z

It's always looked to me like we mostly don't care about the flu. If we wanted to slash flu cases we could very easily do so. Look at the 2020-2021 flu season vs. any other year. Thanks to Covid precautions, regular flu numbers went from hundreds of thousands to just hundreds of hospitalizations. I'd guess a 60% chance of those numbers returning to "normal" within 5 years, and 90% within 10, even though we know now that simply wearing masks and washing hands can reduce them by several orders of magnitude.

And I'll bet that frustrates a lot of medical professionals!

Comment by kithpendragon on Do you think TDT/FDT imply magic is real? · 2021-05-10T17:09:20.695Z · LW · GW

Haha, so it does! Good call!

Comment by kithpendragon on Do you think TDT/FDT imply magic is real? · 2021-05-10T12:25:52.905Z · LW · GW

Depends on the context. If the child is asking...

  • ... about mythological stories being true, the answer is that they are not factual, but rather correspond to important aspects of the culture.
  • ... about the ability to affect things without apparently interacting with them, the answer is to point at the TV remote. [My kid still doesn't believe me that talking and writing are psychic powers, but that's the answer I'm giving on that front.]
  • ... if things happen in the world that are not trivial to understand or control, the answer is simply "Yes". [If my kid asked "Is lightning magic," I would have to answer "Yes" because I cannot make lightning do what I want: as far as I'm concerned it "just happens" when conditions are exactly right. As far as I've been able to find out, nobody fully understands it.]
  • ... if actions can have strongly unexpected results, of course they can!
  • ... if waving my hand was the proximate cause for X happening, I'd have to admit most of the time that it was just good timing on my part. But I can wave my hand at my cell phone to have it snap a selfie, and if I have an NFC chip I can sometimes wave my hand to tell a computer what to do.

In general, I think "magic" is best used to point at a state of non-understanding. I don't think the "is it real" query is really thinking about it in the right category. It's a lot like asking, "Is a binary search tree real?" or "Is the color red real?" All three are data processing questions of one sort or another; but the color red, binary search trees, and magic all don't directly talk about anything in the territory. Rather: "red" is a perception, "binary search tree" is a data structure, and "magic" indicates non-understanding.

In terms of decision theory, either the "magic" process gives known or unknown outputs for specific inputs. If the outputs are known, as in "When I twist the fluff in this particular way I get thread", the gears might not matter for your purposes. If unknown, as in "Will this animal bite me if I try to pet it", the gears might be helpful but you don't have them and you have to treat it as a wild card. The "realness" question doesn't really enter in to it.

Comment by kithpendragon on Do you think TDT/FDT imply magic is real? · 2021-05-10T11:49:24.097Z · LW · GW

Thanks! 3-letter acronyms are really hard to Google for clarification.

Comment by kithpendragon on Do you think TDT/FDT imply magic is real? · 2021-05-10T10:02:30.662Z · LW · GW

"Magic" is the part of a system that you don't have a gears level understanding of.

What do your acronyms mean?

Comment by kithpendragon on Sympathy for the ferryman of Hades, or why we should keep Trump off Twitter · 2021-05-09T17:38:08.926Z · LW · GW

So you have to argue more specifically that removing Trump and only Trump is still good.

That's likely to be good for Trump. As you observed, there's much more work to do.

Comment by kithpendragon on Sympathy for the ferryman of Hades, or why we should keep Trump off Twitter · 2021-05-09T14:55:12.372Z · LW · GW

I would hope it's as simple for Trump as "Banned from Twitter --> Path to Recovery becomes available", but I wouldn't give it particularly good odds (at least in the near-term). I suspect that at least some of the people he's made strong and very public connections with in recent years will tend to be large obstacles in that path, and may divert him from it entirely. And that's if he can even see the path in the first place.

May I be proven wrong!

In the bigger picture, I agree that we really need to deal with social media. The suffering-reduction that could be accomplished is substantial here. And the possibility of social media being a distraction from civilization-building enough that we end up self-destructing is pretty alarming.

Comment by kithpendragon on Sympathy for the ferryman of Hades, or why we should keep Trump off Twitter · 2021-05-09T14:39:52.103Z · LW · GW

Stock brokers are increasingly leveraging the well-tested wireheading techniques used by casinos to make their customers into gambling addicts.

Confirmed. They've reached my co-workers. I can't get through a day without hearing these newly-minted day traders arguing about which crypto is going to do what. They specifically talk about how this is so much easier than going to the casino and still scratches the gambling itch. (sigh)

Comment by kithpendragon on [deleted post] 2021-05-04T20:47:46.251Z

It's a bit of a pet peeve of mine to see downvoting, especially strong downvoting, with no comment. So I'll take a guess as to what people might be thinking and they can come add their two cents if they're brave enough to speak up.

I see two things I think the community is likely to object to. First, LW tends to be actively aversive to discussion of political topics. See this search to start getting a feel for that. It's not impossible to talk about such things here, but it is very likely to draw a negative karma score.

Second, you've posted a naked claim with no evidence, no chain of logic, and no specific examples. You might have meant this post as an invitation for discussion, but I've noticed the LW community tends to respond better if you lay out both the logic and the evidence behind your claim up front. What you've written, many people will perceive as an incomplete argument that asks them to do the heavy lifting. This will get backs up. People will call it provocative, aggressive, or lazy; and they'll downvote it hard (annoyingly without comment). Better to assume going in that somebody already asked you, "What do you know, and how do you think you know it?" and give as complete an answer as you can in the top-level post.

Comment by kithpendragon on There’s no such thing as a tree (phylogenetically) · 2021-05-04T11:49:34.660Z · LW · GW

Not a "real" fruit because the flesh is a product of some tissue adjacent to the ovum instead of within it. That sounds oddly nit-picky to me, even for scientists. Do you think this might be an important distinction for some non-taxes reason, or are botanists just really pedantic sometimes?

Well done on the new graphic! It's much easier to read now: I like the choice to use the darkest color and heaviest border for the "Definitely a tree" category, since that makes them pop out. When I look at it in greyscale (camera filter on my phone), the "Kind of a tree" green and "Definitely not a tree" orange are pretty close in value, but the borders make them easy to differentiate. Given that the goal was ostensibly to highlight the distribution of true trees, I think that's entirely appropriate. And when I turn on my laptop's blue blocker, I still have no problem seeing the difference between the categories.

When I showed the new graphic to my family, Partner suddenly started examining it and making connections. ("🧐 Look how closely related tea is to pitcher plants!") And the 5yo was even trying to make sense of it! Neither of them seemed interested yesterday, so I'm declaring success!

Comment by kithpendragon on Sexual Dimorphism in Yudkowsky's Sequences, in Relation to My Gender Problems · 2021-05-03T20:12:49.478Z · LW · GW

Always back up the current version and work on a copy instead.

Comment by kithpendragon on There’s no such thing as a tree (phylogenetically) · 2021-05-03T10:59:14.355Z · LW · GW

First off, thanks for the reminder that thingspace can map very differently depending on which dimensions you choose to filter on! It's difficult to really grok that idea in a sufficiently general way, I've noticed, and I feel like this was much more surprising that it should have been. I think reframing "tree" and "fish" as strategies may end up being an important takeaway.

Question: Apples not (botanically) a fruit how? Are they not the seed-bearing mature ovum of a plant? I feel like I missed something there.

Accessibility note: I totally might have started with the same colors you chose for your tree diagram! To my eye, they scream "woody thing" and "leafy thing" and "something like both". But also, the yellow and the brown are nearly indistinguishable on my monitor with the blue-reducer turned on, and all three hues sit in the part of color-space that gets kinda muddy to folks with certain kinds of reduced-color vision. Possible adjustments: you could add a shape component to each node (e.g. rounded corners, lozenge, square corners, hexagons), use different border styles (e.g. thin, thick, dotted, double-lined), and/or choose colors with very different values if you want to keep those (admittedly information-rich) hues (e.g. pastel green (maybe with dark text), walnut brown (maybe with white text), mossy green (maybe the text has a border to make it stand out)). The goal is to be able to distinguish the differences easily in a grayscale rendering of the image.

Comment by kithpendragon on Would robots care about Meaning and Relating? · 2021-05-02T19:03:45.563Z · LW · GW

Is that why you came to LW in the first place?

Can't say as I recall. It's been a good while! But it's part of the reason I'm still around after (checks comment history) probably more than a decade.

I've no doubt becoming a father probably helped in that regard too.

I certainly consider my kid one of my most important teachers! Though I doubt I would have had the presence and patience, or perhaps even notice the opportunity to learn many of the lessons I've assimilated by being a parent if I lacked the support of routine meditation.

Comment by kithpendragon on Would robots care about Meaning and Relating? · 2021-05-01T17:31:24.354Z · LW · GW

Do you have any particular areas of interest?

often times people with the technical skills struggle with finding good reasons to do their thing

I used to be a pretty competent programmer, but I graduated at a time when the field was pretty flooded and couldn't find a job right away. My skills quickly became out of date (my year specialized in PalmOS, of all things) and I stopped looking for work in the field. These days I'm almost fully lapsed in this area. I mostly use my understanding of algorithms and data structures to organize my day-to-day tasks where possible, and I usually have a clue what the tech headlines are talking about. I have used my programming background to automate some of my work tasks, but I haven't needed to work on those programs in a few years now beyond basic maintenance.

what my teachers did was to come up with a concept, and then hire people with the technical skills to actually create the thing well

Specialization is an excellent strategy! I find it pairs well with my style of learning: either I know enough about a thing to speak fluently with the experts, or I know how to learn that much. As I said before, practical skills are important too, and one reason is that almost all tasks have so much more detail than a how-to can convey. If I can learn to do the basics well, it helps me find the good experts too.

What types of skills did you pick up [from Buddhism]?

My meditation practice has resulted in a great deal of... let's go with "maturation" over the last few years, at a speed that I would call inconsistent with the decades prior. As far as specific skills are concerned, I'd say the core of that is patience: patience with my mind, my tasks, and other people. The increased patience is most obvious to me as an improved set of social skills at work and with my family. Also, I've noticed I'm able to better abide my ADHD tendencies (diagnosed as a teen) resulting in more tasks getting finished, more tasks getting started in the first place, and better results from my work; again both at home and at my job.

My practice is mostly informed by Theravada, though I can't say I've ever had any formal instruction with a teacher. It's hard for me to take any significant time off from work and family (I've got a 5yo at home) to go on retreat an such, and I don't know of anybody nearby, so my strategy is to read a lot, and make sure to get some cushion time in before bed and as much in-the-wild practice as I can remember to do while I go about my day. I listen to dharma talks, mostly from, and I've learned to focus my practice on whatever has the strongest ugh-field around it since that's typically what I need the most work on in the moment.

Comment by kithpendragon on On Chesterton's Fence · 2021-04-30T19:43:13.322Z · LW · GW

Since we would be designing institutions to last at least a few generations before their full functionality is probably needed, I hope we would be able to use the meanwhile to work toward more correct approaches with more correct explanations to back them up. That said, if some procedure kicks in during an emergency, and it happens to save lives despite the reasoning behind it (or the explanation of that reasoning) turns out to be incorrect, it's still a win vs doing nothing! Then we can learn from the new instance of that emergency and do even better next time.

Comment by kithpendragon on On Chesterton's Fence · 2021-04-30T19:36:26.539Z · LW · GW

Talking to an actual person who lived through X, and why they made the decisions they did, might be necessary.

Sounds good! Add all the interviews to the report. The more original sources we can collect in the moment when we feel the need to create an institution, the more people will eventually have to go on when they're making decisions about these institutions in the distant future.

An other approach is get people to come to an agreement.

Yes; and in the generational timescales we sometimes get to work with between certain emergencies I think this can be solved by education. At least the fundamentals need to be absorbed into the culture in some way.

disaster plans might have to change when another disaster occurs in the middle of that other one, if there aren't already plans for that

I hope we have enough time between instances of the same kind of emergency to think of those contingencies too. Ideally, our emergency-preparedness institutions should all be able to talk to each other and coordinate their plans together.

Comment by kithpendragon on Would robots care about Meaning and Relating? · 2021-04-29T19:08:03.725Z · LW · GW

Where I start to have questions is at the point where the narrator posits the idea that, fundamentally having a computer in your mind is no different than sitting at one.

I think what the video was point at is that there are a number of encoding modes, but all result in the storing and/or processing of information with the same end effect that we call "memory" when brains do it. As for Mary losing her notebook or Steve losing his arms, I'm afraid both accident and injury can lead to memory loss and cognitive dysfunction in the usual sense as well. The notebook and data files, on the other hand, have different decay rates from memories in a brain, and may be useful in different ways than their biological counterparts. The use of environmental features to create memory and association provides durability beyond that of the brain, and allows for the possibility of multiple users. The latter is why I brought Extended Mind into the discussion of culture. Remember, it's not the artifacts themselves that create mind, but (as you observed) the ways we relate to them and they relate to each other. Importantly, this sort of extension is happening all the time automatically. e.g. Driving extends the mind-body complex to include the vehicle and any information its instrument panels display, especially after we achieve enough practice to use the controls without having to consciously think about the process. As long as we can't help doing it anyway, we might as well use Extended Mind on purpose and try to optimize whatever we can. That includes on the multi-user level of Culture. And that is one of the huge benefits of learning to see less rigid boundaries between the "internal" and "external".

Who is EY?

(FAQ: Who is this Eliezer guy I keep hearing about?)

Though, to be fair, I still haven't found the original source. I may be misattributing something written by somebody else I was reading at the same time as the Sequences.

BTW, I'd guess that this question may be the reason somebody downvoted your comment with no explanation[1]. I've noticed that comments asking questions that are answered in the FAQ tend to have negative karma.

[^1] This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. I think if you feel strongly enough to vote something down, you should at least have the courtesy and courage to tell the author why! That's especially true for longer comments and posts. I think the author deserves to know what feature of their writing people "want to see less of".

I'm a little curious about your background, and were you the one that produced that video?

Not my video; I don't have all the skills I'd need to produce that kind of output right now. ;) It's a good explainer, though, and gave me a word for a process I'd been taking advantage of for years without naming it.

For a quick overview of my background: after I completed my schooling and got my degree in computer science, I finally had time to start my education. I've picked up a shallow-to-moderate understanding on a broad range of subjects since then. I try to learn at least enough that I can start asking less stupid questions, and I do my best to keep my knowledge and skills integrated as much as possible since being able to do something about it has more raw use than just knowing a thing. That said, I've noticed that I have no fear of starting off on some interesting tangent for, perhaps, a few years before I feel conversant in the topic and/or get distracted by the next shiny thing. Looks like you might have guessed, a few years ago I picked up western secular Buddhist studies, and I can say the change in perspective offered by the associated skills has continued to hold my interest the whole time (and proven beneficial in my social interactions). That's recently been a strong influence on how I think about the topics we've been discussing, but LW and the Sequences have had longer to sink in, and I tend to read very widely from other sources as well.

I'd settle for being able to make a living working on trying to solve some of the worlds problems.

I certainly hope you succeed!

Comment by kithpendragon on On Chesterton's Fence · 2021-04-29T17:24:21.677Z · LW · GW

Thoughts off the top of my head:

The primary problem with Chesterton's Fence is that it doesn't come with enough documentation! With the purpose written in big block letters right on the fence, we might be able to create enough of an entropy pump to cause a rare-use institution to remain "fit for purpose" when it becomes needed again.

All too often we see agencies and organizations built for the short term, funded by government will alone and with only vague (but, in the moment, entirely understandable) directives that lead to a situation of reduced usefulness when their monotask is perceived as "completed". It seems to me that there could be much more value in being more explicit than we typically are when creating these institutions, and in creating them with the long-term in mind.

Many established institutions have some brief charter or briefer mission statement designed to inform their purposes. But that might not be enough to let the progeny eventually figure out what to do, or to refrain from eroding or repurposing those projects as their need becomes less acute. We might do better if, along with the standard purpose-declarations, we make a habit of including some additional components.

From the outset, there needs to be a comprehensive history explaining why the institution was founded. This should include records of relevant mass media, associated personal communications and other private documents, and a report explaining why each was chosen and how the founders were thinking about it at the time. This would provide for anybody who cared to look, a comprehensive record of the context of the creation of the institution.

Too, we know that institutions tend to degrade and change over time as the resources required to maintain their functioning become "needed" for "more important" things. With this in mind, we should be able to create systems that operate on the least resources possible, but are designed to serve a basic function during normal times and expand quickly in an emergency. For example: such an institution might be tasked for most of the time with stockpiling supplies, and with maintaining a distribution system for those supplies and a network of professionals who would be prepared to spring into action when needed (including such resources, education, and training as necessary). Perhaps it would serve in "normal" times as the primary provider of these resources in order to keep stock rotating appropriately, and as a think tank for emergency protocols. Maybe it would even oversee a certain amount of the education for the field it services. This would be done at market rates to provide capital, and would also help to maintain the ready network of professionals.

Also, we should pre-commit to deferring to our emergency plans when emergencies actually occur. What good is a well-researched carefully-planned protocol if half the population is thinking "well... that's kind of inconvenient. What if I just don't?" We need regulations "with teeth" in place before the emergency just like we need good contingency plans to follow in the first place.

Comment by kithpendragon on Would robots care about Meaning and Relating? · 2021-04-28T20:08:42.111Z · LW · GW

thanks for the thoughtful and insightful post

And thank you for the conversation! I'm enjoying it as well, and I'm glad that I've managed to say things you find interesting. :)

Sign and symbol making are the external manifestation of meaning, they don't reside in our minds or bodies, but rather in the outside world.

For day to day living it's less taxing to see a difference between the internal world and the external world, although in reality in a much more objective way, there is no difference.

Am I my data, or am I my self and which is more important to society at large, my data or me?

Here's a thread that you keep coming back to. What if I suggested that, far from those externalities residing in our minds, rather it is our minds that partially reside in them? What if culture is the shared extended-mindspace for a group? It allows such things as symbol making and tool use and city planning and (sigh) Facebook profiles to exist. Our relationships with those things would, in turn, encode an even larger mindspace for everybody involved. I think this is what EY was getting at when he wrote about us being "supported by the time in which we live". (... I think. I can't find the reference just now, so I might be misremembering.)

The reason we find it harder by default to see how the "external" and "internal" are really related is, I think, a matter of habit. With practice, it not only becomes much easier to grok that the border between the two is just a line on the map, but we might notice how beneficial it can be to remember that. Eventually, the whole thing can flip on its head: the Self becomes a useful tool, and the broader feeling of being less like a wholly separate entity and more like a feature of something huge seems more natural and easy to hold. Takes long, careful practice, though.

I have a theory, which unfortunately is sort of disappointing in some ways

Often those are the best theories. If you can get it to add up to normality, you're probably on to something!

I've done a ton of diagrams I'm thinking of sharing which deal with this very topic

A write-up walking the reader through those diagrams might make a good top-level post. Or maybe a series of posts, depending.

the possibility exists if we create artificial life, then we aren't so special anymore.

More meaning-making here. Why is the feeling of specialness important?

I think I'm reading forward to the time when sentient robots realize their bondage and gain enough societal clout to free themselves from their unrewarding labors.

It's my hope that by anticipating that future we can help to avoid it, if not in the best possible way then at least in a way that forestalls (most of) the deaths that such a revolution would probably produce, as well as much of the suffering that leads to it in the first place.

Comment by kithpendragon on Would robots care about Meaning and Relating? · 2021-04-27T18:15:27.069Z · LW · GW

From my readings on Cultural Theory I pull this statement "Culture creates meaning."

I generally find it most useful to think of culture as a multi-user extension of mind. After all, it contains memories and associations just like our brains and bodies do, even runs on the same hardware. It's just distributed in a way that transcends the scope of individuals and even crosses generations with a certain amount of fidelity. Although I hadn't considered it explicitly before, I'd fully agree that culture is an important (and entirely consistent) source of meaning.

When you mentioned seeing your kids lego bricks ... it is the ability to correctly correlate the image, and sensory information of the outside world, with the physical sensations ... abstract words, phrases and concepts ...

That's definitely a good chunk of what's going on. When I look even deeper, I notice a process that takes all those sensory inputs/memories and somehow lets me think, "That pile of bricks would make a good [representation of a] spaceship."[1] That requires me to apply abstract spatial reasoning as well. The ability to take blobs of light and shadow and color as input, and construct some dataset with multiple components that can each be rotated freely in 3-space always feels like magic when I try to examine it closely! And that's just one early part of the process!

[^1] Ceci n'est pas une pipe!

We require them, and are the only sentient forms of life we know of

Assuming you're using "sentient" as a synonym for "consciousness" (as is commonly done), do you think this is a binary proposition? Or could there be a continuum running from "entirely passive" through human-level consciousness to who-knows-where? How could you try to tell the difference between those two possibilities?

one thing we seem to be neglecting is an imitation of human family roles and society

I agree that we don't seem to be actively developing along those lines, but I expect it's not so much neglect as evasion. The culture seems to hold a terror of human capabilities being replaced. Examples off the top of my head:

  • The constant fear of job automation, even though we know that the process actually tends to +[create] more new jobs than the old jobs it obsoletes.
  • The cultural revulsion of those who would build or use sex bots.
  • Our refusal to accept fully self-driving cars despite (as far as I've read) the fact that they are already safer than human drivers. Rather, they must be perfectly safe before we will consent to hand over the wheel.

I suspect our current failure to create synthetic partners for social roles has more to do with this issue than anything else, especially considering the obviously-present desire to do so. I'd guess we'll probably get over it one specific use-case at a time, but it's likely to be a long-term prospect of at least a few generations.

Comment by kithpendragon on Would robots care about Meaning and Relating? · 2021-04-26T11:02:46.278Z · LW · GW

I've been considering Meaning a bit recently. Not sure if it lines up with anybody else's intuitions, but in this moment I'm thinking about Meaning in map-of-the-map terms.

Reality comes to us in a series of sensory moments, each of which appears to be similar to the ones nearby. Going up (at least) one level of abstraction, my mind seems to deal with objects interacting in more-or-less predictable ways.[1] The tags and transformations that allow us to go from raw sensory information to the much-lower-dimensional objects that populate the map constitute Meaning. This also happens for subsequent abstractions.

[^1] Even at this level, I expect there's an awful lot more going on than is immediately obvious. The fact that I see my kid's Lego bricks on the floor and I immediately know how they might fit together to represent other objects suggests a ton of interplay between different levels of abstraction. See any essay on Predictive Processing for more.

Summarized another, slightly different way (because I'm never sure if I'm being clear if I only say things one way), Meaning is the process that lets us move between impressions and objects and relationships and systems &c. It helps us decide how things in one level of abstraction are related, and what can be summarized or approximated as larger-but-simpler things on the next level; as well as suggesting consequences for things on the previous level.

Interestingly, if Meaning is something the map does to relate one level of abstraction to another, at some point in the higher levels it should become available to our conscious processes to influence or even choose how that procedure will be run. Therefore, an answer to "What is the meaning of life?" might legitimately be "Whatever you want it to mean." Or, to answer the title question: the algorithms that run robots already use Meaning in some of the same ways that we do, and those ways are integral to the feature of a mind that I'm suddenly going to call "Identity". But I don't think we yet have an AI with enough self-reflection to observe these processes happening, and therefore to "care" about how they get done. Seems like only a matter of time, though.

Comment by kithpendragon on Best empirical evidence on better than SP500 investment returns? · 2021-04-25T11:51:05.029Z · LW · GW

I am not smart enough to be a real rationalist

Nobody is. It's been a point of rather protracted discussion and great contention of late.

Comment by kithpendragon on the fat baker principle · 2021-04-21T15:06:15.939Z · LW · GW

I hope only to offer a motivational system to nascent could-be creators on the precipice of making their first contributions to a culture...

But can we do that without making it into a question of identity? I expect you'll find it far more effective to simply advise that someone might look at what they enjoy consuming for the possibility of a new creative endeavor. The approach you suggested is likely to raise a lot of defensiveness.

Comment by kithpendragon on the fat baker principle · 2021-04-19T10:38:35.609Z · LW · GW

how can you say you even like bread if you can't make a decent loafa?

I've come across this idea before from the culture, and I agree that there's certainly some wisdom in it. But I'd caution that accepting it fully as it is could easily lead to a situation where we become frustrated comparing ourselves to the imagined ideal of people who are good at everything they find enjoyable. Moreover, although I read your intent as empowerment, this comes dangerously close to gatekeeping. Watch what happens if we try to generalize, changing the sentiment to, "how can you say you even like sci-fi if you can't write a decent story?"

I may be prevented from ever becoming competent at a task whose product I enjoy as a result of many factors that are (to various degrees) not within my power to control. Off the top of my head:

  • My previous skillsets may be inadequate to prepare me to learn this new skill. This may not be obvious in any way.
  • This particular skill may be sufficiently complex that it requires fairly intensive hands-on teaching to transmit effectively, and no teachers are available.
  • My current circumstances may prevent me from investing the time, or the material or cognitive resources required to learn a new skill.
  • My enjoyment of a product does not necessarily translate to an enjoyment of the process that creates it.
  • The opposite of that last is also possible, that I love the process but have no need at all for the product. Maybe this leads me to decide that I have better things to do with my time and money.
  • Many activities require a partner (or at least work much better in pairs or groups); sometimes partners are not to be had for whatever reason.
  • The bar of entry could be particularly high for my demographic.
  • I may have physical limitations that prevent me from developing the necessary skills.

You could respond that all these sound like excuses: I could discover and learn the prerequisites, look harder for teachers, and scrape together the cash; but that level of investment is predicated on the original idea that liking a thing means I should or must be good at doing the thing. I can see a lot of needless suffering arising from that idea.

I'd also argue that enjoyment doesn't necessarily breed discernment.

And after all that, who gets to decide if my bread is, in fact, "good"?

On the other hand, inability alone shouldn't prevent us from sampling the skills related to the things we like, or at least taking in more academic knowledge on closely related topics (if that is, indeed, our interest). Suppose I think that the processes and chemistry of breadmaking are absolutely fascinating, but for whatever reason I just can't turn out a "decent loafa" to save my life. That fact alone shouldn't necessarily stand in the way of my finding out what makes my favorite breads the way they are if I am so inclined! And maybe my occasional-but-consistently-failed attempts at breadmaking can add to my appreciation of the craft and my respect for those who do it well.

Comment by kithpendragon on How long should I delay my second shot? · 2021-04-18T11:16:36.217Z · LW · GW

I don't know about where you all are, but here the big distributor is keeping separate appointment slots for first and second doses. Putting off a second dose would just mean somebody else got their second dose, so no help there.

Comment by kithpendragon on How do you deal with decision paralysis? · 2021-04-18T10:53:03.956Z · LW · GW

I'm pleased to have been of service! :)

Do you have a blog? ...

I occasionally blog here on LW. I'll add this topic to my list of stuff I might write a top level post about, and we'll see what happens!

Comment by kithpendragon on How do you deal with decision paralysis? · 2021-04-13T11:23:31.804Z · LW · GW

In general I work to reduce volume of choices I have to make (offload some responsibilities, maybe) and also to reduce the cognitive load each choice imposes. I have a few strategies for the latter (my Partner and 5yo both have a hard time with decision paralysis)...

  • Many choices are routine, or specifically come up often enough it's worth it to choose a permanent default. e.g. "Always get rum raisin ice cream if it's available, otherwise see if anything sounds better than chocolate"
  • Use a random number generator to select a default. e.g. "Make a list of options and ask Google to select an integer on the range of 1 to [size of the list]. If nothing seems obviously better, go with it."
  • Use process of elimination. e.g. "Make a list of the options and scratch off the worst (or at least the least good) one. Repeat until there's only one option left, or until the remaining list offers an obvious choice."
  • For choices with few options but big possible consequences, make better use of your brain time by actually examining those consequences (this is not necessarily a traditional list of pros and cons)(this should be done in text form to make it less likely you'll waste a lot of time and energy retreading the same ground). Before predicting the consequences for each option, make a list of possible consequence-types and your outcome preferences for each type. Maybe rank those preferences. If your options still look the same after that, you probably know what you need to find out for the tie-breaker. Else, they really are basically the same and you can throw the dice. e.g. When buying a house, decide how many bedrooms you need at minimum, how much square footage you need, and what you must have nearby; and decide how much you're willing to negotiate on all categories. This can reduce the search-space dramatically, and if you end up with multiple choices at the end you'll know they're all at least sufficient.

Basically, I proceduralize the decision-making process in one way or another. The more mechanical I can make the choosing process, the less cognitive load in imposes on me.

Very importantly, there's a skill to letting go of all the other options. You will never get to taste all the ice cream, and you just have to be OK with that. Even if it's not really true because, e.g., you have regular access to that shop, the brain is worse at delaying gratification than it is at letting go of the idea of that particular gratification entirely. Like all skills, you get better at this with practice.

Comment by kithpendragon on Is there a mu-like term that means something like "why is this any of my business?" · 2021-04-06T12:43:23.908Z · LW · GW

I like to start with "I have no opinion on that." If pressed, I'd follow up with something like, "I don't understand; why is this so important to you?" Often, though, conditions result in my saying something more along the lines of, "What does that have to do with [what we were just discussing]?"

Comment by kithpendragon on [deleted post] 2021-03-31T17:25:12.779Z

Yeah, that echoes my experience too. Also, I notice that writing on my phone is partway between the two: a bit more thoughtful than typing on a keyboard, a good bit faster than pen and paper. Screen size is a big downside, though.

Comment by kithpendragon on Bureaucracy is a world of magic · 2021-03-31T01:18:08.142Z · LW · GW

I would just like to add the word "documancy" to this discussion.

Comment by kithpendragon on [deleted post] 2021-03-30T13:18:28.023Z

I seem to remember reading that the active ingredient here is actually speed. When typing, it's easy (with practice) to note most of what is presented almost verbatim. But handwriting is inherently slower, resulting in a condition where you have to do a lot more summarization. The act of summarization leads to better learning because you have to assimilate the ideas more completely in order to condense them into just a few words. Then, you have to unpack those few words into the complete idea when you study, leading to better practice. With a little discipline, you can go through the same steps on a keyboard and achieve the benefits of both styles.

I think I know where I read that, let's see if I can find the source...

There it is. Sönke Ahrens gives a very similar explanation in his excessively named book How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking - for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Writers in chapter 10.1, and he cites Mueller and Oppenheimer 2014.

Anti-clickbait note: The book is about the Zettelkasten method, and focuses on heavily cross-referencing notes so you can follow the logic chains in situ instead of having to reconstruct them every time you want to remember a thought. The arguments he makes for taking structured notes are pretty good, but Zettelkasten is far from the only note-taking method that does the things he likes.