Comment by michael_rooney on Crisis of Faith · 2008-10-11T09:57:02.000Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

A lot of truths in EY's post. Though I also agree with Hopefully Anon's observations -- as is so often the case, Eliezer reminds me of Descartes -- brilliant, mathematical, uncowed by dogma, has his finger on the most important problems, is aware of how terrifyingly daunting those problems are, thinks he has a universal method to solve those problems.

Comment by michael_rooney on Against Modal Logics · 2008-08-30T01:24:32.000Z · score: 11 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Eliezer, I don't think your comments would slight sensible philosophers, since many professional philosophers themselves make comparable or more biting criticisms about the discipline (Rorty, Dennett, Unger, now the experimental philosophy movement, et al., going back to the positivists, and, if you like, the Pyrrhonists and atomists). I'm afraid not only have philosophers already written extensively on meta-ethics, but they've also generated an extensive literature on anti-philosophy. They've been there, done that -- too! I think Tyrell McAllister is quite right to say that since philosophy largely consists of folks who can't agree on the most workable models, your functional interests will tend to be frustrated by philosophy. Like your estimable hero Dick Feynman (who, according to Len Mlodinow, averred that "philosophy is bullshit"), it'd be better for you simply to get on with your tasks at hand, and not expect much help from philosophy -- to find the worthwhile stuff you'd have to become one. Maybe you can do that after the FAI builds you an immortal corporeal form.

Comment by michael_rooney on Zen and the Art of Rationality · 2007-12-24T06:42:13.000Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW
but where is the equivalent statement by a (seventeenth-century) Western philosopher?

Descartes, ca. 1628:

Rules for the Direction of the Mind

Rule One The aim of our studies should be to direct the mind with a view to forming true and sound judgments about whatever comes before it.

[...] We have reason to propose this as our very first rule, since what makes us stray from the correct way of seeking the truth is chiefly our ignoring the general end of universal wisdom and directing our studies towards some particular ends. I do not mean vile and despicable ends such as empty glory or base gain [...] I have in mind, rather, respectable and commendable ends, for these are often more subtly misleading....


We ought to read the writings of the ancients, for it is of great advantage to be able to make use of the labors of so many men. We should do so both in order to learn what truths have already been discovered and also to be informed about the points which remain to be worked out in the various disciplines. But at the same time there is a considerable danger that if we study these works too closely traces of their errors will infect us and cling to us against our will and despite our precautions.


Comment by michael_rooney on An Alien God · 2007-11-02T20:58:39.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Eliezer, I grasp the obvious utility of probability -- I pay for a variety of insurance policies, after all. But there are many claims (many of which you share with us on a daily basis) that you treat as having a probability of 1. About those claims, I find your assertion that you do not "believe" them to be a purely verbal distinction.

Comment by michael_rooney on An Alien God · 2007-11-02T18:40:09.000Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Eliezer said:

I'm a Bayesian. I assign probabilities, not "believe". I penalize hypotheses by their unshared complexity and update based on evidence. If probabilities come out even, then I don't "suspend judgment", I judge that the probabilities are even, and plan accordingly.

For an avowed admirer of Orwell's famous essay on English, I am surprised to see you resort to distinctions without differences. Whatever you call it (n.b. the euphemism "judge" in the last sentence quoted above), you draw a line between some claims you work with and your motor cortex acts on, and other claims you don't. That is, in plain English, you believe some claims are true and others are false.

Comment by michael_rooney on Do We Believe Everything We're Told? · 2007-10-11T01:53:20.000Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Did you just believe that Descartes was modeling "cognitive-process flow" because some psychologist told you so? Or is possible that Descartes was, y'know, prescribing how rationalists should approach belief, rather than how we generally do?

Comment by michael_rooney on Doublethink (Choosing to be Biased) · 2007-09-16T07:25:15.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You know, self-deception has attracted some inquiry already.

Comment by michael_rooney on Applause Lights · 2007-09-12T00:04:13.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Rather than just "applause lights", sloganeering often is a cue to group-identification. Cf. postmodern text generators.

Comment by michael_rooney on Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions · 2007-08-27T15:26:57.000Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This post reads rather like a pastiche of Dan Dennett (on consciousness and free will).

Comment by michael_rooney on Semantic Stopsigns · 2007-08-24T23:53:19.000Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Eliezer: "How could anyone not notice this?"

Because the human brain -- like many simpler programs -- generally finds basic beliefs more practical than an infinite regress?

Comment by michael_rooney on Making Beliefs Pay Rent (in Anticipated Experiences) · 2007-07-29T18:14:09.000Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Elizer, your post above strikes me, at least, as a restatement of verificationism: roughly, the view that the truth of a claim is the set of observations that it predicts. While this view enjoyed considerable popularity in the first part of the last century (and has notable antecedents going back into the early 18th century), it faces considerable conceptual hurdles, all of which have been extensively discussed in philosophical circles. One of the most prominent (and noteworthy in light of some of your other views) is the conflict between verificationism and scientific realism: that is, the presumption that science is more than mere data-predictive modeling, but the discovery of how the world really is. See also here and here.

Comment by michael_rooney on Knowing About Biases Can Hurt People · 2007-04-08T00:13:32.000Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I have to bet on every possible claim I (or any sentient entity capable of propositional attitudes in the universe) might entertain as a belief? That is highly implausible as a descriptive claim. Consider the claim "Xinwei has string in his pockets" (where Xinwei is a Chinese male I've never met). I have no choice but to assign probability to that claim? And all other claims, from "language is the house of being" to "a proof for Goldbach's conjecture will be found by an unaided human mind"? If Eliezer offers me a million dollars to bet on someone's pocket-contents, then, yes, if the utility is right, I will calculate probabilities, meager though my access to evidence may be. But that is not life. The null action may be an action, but lack of belief is not a belief. "I've never thought about it" is not equivalent to "it's false" or "it's very improbable".

(Did Neanderthals assign probabilities, or was it a module that emerged at about the same time as the FOXP gene? Or did it have to wait until the invention of games of chance in western Europe? Is someone who refuses to bet on anything for religious reasons ipso facto irrational?)

And you don't take the belief "2 + 2 = 4" as having probability of 1? Nor "2 + 2 = 5" as 0?

I'm off, out of ISP range for a day, so I won't reply for a bit. Cheers.

Comment by michael_rooney on Knowing About Biases Can Hurt People · 2007-04-07T17:11:15.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

By "suspending judgment" I mean neither accepting a claim as true, nor rejecting it as false. Claims about the probability of a given claim being true, helpful as they may be in many cases, are distinct from the claim itself. So, pdf, when you say "The proper attitude towards the claim "Rooney has string in his pockets" is that it has about an X% chance of being true", where X is unknown, I don't see how this is materially different from saying "I don't know if Rooney has string in his pockets", which is to say that you are (for the moment at least) suspending judgment about whether the claim (call it 'string') is true or false. And where X is estimated (on the basis of some hypothetical evidence) to be (say) .4, what is the proper attitude toward 'string'? Saying "'string' has a 40% chance of being true" doesn't answer the question, it makes a different claim, assigning probability. In such situations, the rational course of action is to suspend judgment about 'string'. You may of course hold beliefs about the probability of 'string' being true and act on those beliefs accordingly (by placing real or hypothetical bets, etc.), but in such cases you're neither accepting nor rejecting 'string'.

Comment by michael_rooney on Knowing About Biases Can Hurt People · 2007-04-07T01:15:29.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Eliezer, I think we are misunderstanding each other, possibly merely about terminology.

When you (and pdf) say "reject", I am taking you to mean "regard as false". I may be mistaken about that.

I would hope that you don't mean that, for if so, your claim that "no evidence in favor -> almost always false" seems bound to lead to massive errors. For example, you have no evidence in favor of the claim "Rooney has string in his pockets". But you wouldn't on such grounds aver that such a claim is almost certainly false. The appropriate response would be to suspend judgment, i.e., to neither reject nor accept. Perhaps I am not understanding what counts as a suitably "complicated" belief.

As for Archimedes meeting Bell's theorem, perhaps it was too counter-factual an example. However, I wouldn't say it's comparable to the "high utility" of the winning lottery ticket: it the case of the lottery, the relevant probabilities are known. By contrast, Archimedes (supposing he were able to understand the theorem) would be ignorant of any evidence to confirm or disconfirm it. Thus I would hope that he would refrain from rejecting it, merely regarding it as a puzzling vision from Zeus, perhaps.

Comment by michael_rooney on Knowing About Biases Can Hurt People · 2007-04-06T20:35:39.000Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Eliezer, I agree that exactly even balances of evidence are rare. However, I would think suspending judgment to be rational in many situations where the balance of evidence is not exactly even. For example, if I roll a die, it would hardly be rational to believe "it will not come up 5 or 6", despite the balance of evidence being in favor of such a belief. If you are willing to make >50% the threshold of rational belief, you will hold numerous false and contradictory beliefs.

Also, I have some doubt about your claim that when "there is no evidence in favor of a complicated proposed belief, it is almost always correct to reject it". If you proposed a complicated belief of 20th century physics (say, Bell's theorem) to Archimedes, he would be right to say he has no evidence in its favor. Nonetheless, it would not be correct for Archimedes to conclude that Bell's theorem is therefore false.

Perhaps I am misunderstanding you.

Comment by michael_rooney on Knowing About Biases Can Hurt People · 2007-04-05T16:29:31.000Z · score: 23 (23 votes) · LW · GW

The error here is similar to one I see all the time in beginning philosophy students: when confronted with reasons to be skeptics, they instead become relativists. That is, where the rational conclusion is to suspend judgment about an issue, all too many people instead conclude that any judgment is as plausible as any other.