Comment by minusdash on Beyond Statistics 101 · 2015-06-27T12:32:25.712Z · LW · GW

I'm not talking about back and forth between true and false, but between two explanations. You can have a multimodal probability distribution and two distant modes are about equally probable, and when you update, sometimes one is larger and sometimes the other. Of course one doesn't need to choose a point estimate (maximum a posteriori), the distribution itself should ideally be believed in its entirety. But just as you can't see the rabbit-duck as simultaneously 50% rabbit and 50% duck, one sometimes switches between different explanations, similarly to an MCMC sampling procedure.

I don't want to argue this too much because it's largely a preference of style and culture. I think the discussions are very repetitive and it's an illusion that there is much to be learned by spending so much time thinking meta.

Anyway, I evaporate from the site for now.

Comment by minusdash on Beyond Statistics 101 · 2015-06-27T01:46:24.724Z · LW · GW

I don't really understand what you mean about math academia. Those references would be appreciated.

Comment by minusdash on Beyond Statistics 101 · 2015-06-26T22:20:44.586Z · LW · GW

Those are indeed impressive things you did. I agree very much with your post from 2010. But the fact that many people have this initial impression shows that something is wrong. What makes it look like a "twilight zone"? Why don't I feel the same symptoms for example on Scott Alexander's Slate Star Codex blog?

Another thing I could pinpoint is that I don't want to identify as a "rationalist", I don't want to be any -ist. It seems like a tactic to make people identify with a group and swallow "the whole package". (I also don't think people should identify as atheist either.)

Comment by minusdash on Beyond Statistics 101 · 2015-06-26T21:45:15.817Z · LW · GW

I prefer public discussions. First, I'm a computer science student who took courses in machine learning, AI, wrote theses in these areas (nothing exceptional), I enjoy books like Thinking Fast and Slow, Black Swan, Pinker, Dawkins, Dennett, Ramachandran etc. So the topics discussed here are also interesting to me. But the atmosphere seems quite closed and turning inwards.

I feel similarities to reddit's Red Pill community. Previously "ignorant" people feel the community has opened a new world to them, they lived in darkness before, but now they found the "Way" ("Bayescraft") and all this stuff is becoming an identity for them.

Sorry if it's offensive, but I feel as if many people had no success in the "real world" matters and invented a fiction where they are the heroes by having joined some great organization much higher above the general public, who are just irrational automata still living in the dark.

I dislike the heavy use of insider terminology that make communication with "outsiders" about these ideas quite hard because you get used to referring to these things by the in-group terms, so you get kind of isolated from your real-life friends as you feel "they won't understand, they'd have to read so much". When actually many of the concepts are not all that new and could be phrased in a way that the "uninitiated" can also get it.

There are too many cross references in posts and it keeps you busy with the site longer than necessary. It seems that people try to prove they know some concept by using the jargon and including links to them. Instead, I'd prefer authors who actively try to minimize the need for links and jargon.

I also find the posts quite redundant. They seem to be reiterations of the same patterns in very long prose with people's stories intertwined with the ideas, instead of striving for clarity and conciseness. Much of it feels a lot like self-help for people with derailed lives who try to engineer their life (back) to success. I may be wrong but I get a depressed vibe from reading the site too long. It may also be because there is no lighthearted humor or in-jokes or "fun" or self-irony at all. Maybe because the members are just like that in general (perhaps due to mental differences, like being on the autism spectrum, I'm not a psychiatrist).

I can see that people here are really smart and the comments are often very reasonable. And it makes me wonder why they'd regard a single person such as Yudkowsky in such high esteem as compared to established book authors or academics or industry people in these areas. I know there has been much discussion about cultishness, and I think it goes a lot deeper than surface issues. LessWrong seems to be quite isolated and distrusting towards the mainstream. Many people seem to have read stuff first from Yudkowsky, who often does not reference earlier works that basically state the same stuff, so people get the impression that all or most of the ideas in "The Sequences" come from him. I was quite disappointed several times when I found the same ideas in mainstream books. The Sequences often depict the whole outside world as dumber than it is (straw man tactics, etc).

Another thing is that discussion is often too meta (or meta-meta). There is discussion on Bayes theorem and math principles but no actual detailed, worked out stuff. Very little actual programming for example. I'd expect people to create github projects, IPython notebooks to show some examples of what they are talking about. Much of the meta-meta-discussion is very opinion-based because there is no immediate feedback about whether someone is wrong or right. It's hard to test such hypotheses. For example, in this post I would have expected an example dataset and showing how PCA can uncover something surprising. Otherwise it's just floating out there although it matches nicely with the pattern that "some math concept gave me insight that refined my rationality". I'm not sure, maybe these "rationality improvements" are sometimes illusions.

I also don't get why the rationality stuff is intermixed with friendly AI and cryonics and transhumanism. I just don't see why these belong that much together. I find them too speculative and detached from the "real world" to be the central ideas. I realize they are important, but their prevalence could also be explained as "escapism" and it promotes the discussion of untestable meta things that I mentioned above, never having to face reality. There is much talk about what evidence is but not much talk that actually presents evidence.

I needed to develop a sort of immunity against topics like acausal trade that I can't fully specify how they are wrong, but they feel wrong and are hard to translate to practical testable statements, and it just messes with my head in the wrong way.

And of course there is also that secrecy around and hiding of "certain things".

That's it. This place may just not be for me, which is fine. People can have their communities in the way they want. You just asked for elaboration.

Comment by minusdash on Beyond Statistics 101 · 2015-06-26T19:46:35.827Z · LW · GW

PCA doesn't tell much about causality though. It just gives you a "natural" coordinate system where the variables are not linearly correlated.

Comment by minusdash on Beyond Statistics 101 · 2015-06-26T19:24:29.674Z · LW · GW

What do you mean by getting surprised by PCAs? Say you have some data, you compute the principal components (eigenvectors of the covariance matrix) and the corresponding eigenvalues. Were you surprised that a few principal components were enough to explain a large percentage of the variance of the data? Or were you surprised about what those vectors were?

I think this is not really PCA or even dimensionality reduction specific. It's simply the idea of latent variables. You could gain the same intuition from studying probabilistic graphical models, for example generative models.

Comment by minusdash on Beyond Statistics 101 · 2015-06-26T19:14:26.644Z · LW · GW

You asked about emotional stuff so here is my perspective. I have extremely weird feelings about this whole forum that may affect my writing style. My view is constantly popping back and forth between different views, like in the rabbit-duck gestalt image. On one hand I often see interesting and very good arguments, but on the other hand I see tons of red flags popping up. I feel that I need to maintain extreme mental efforts to stay "sane" here. Maybe I should refrain from commenting. It's a pity because I'm generally very interested in the topics discussed here, but the tone and the underlying ideology is pushing me away. On the other hand I feel an urge to check out the posts despite this effect. I'm not sure what aspect of certain forums have this psychological effect on my thinking, but I've felt it on various reddit communities as well.

Comment by minusdash on Beyond Statistics 101 · 2015-06-26T15:29:36.887Z · LW · GW

Qualitative day-to-day dimensionality reduction sounds like woo to me. Not a bit more convincing than quantum woo (Deepak Chopra et al.). Whatever you're doing, it's surely not like doing SVD on a data matrix or eigen-decomposition on the covariance matrix of your observations.

Of course, you can often identify motivations behind people's actions. A lot of psychology is basically trying to uncover these motivations. Basically an intentional interpretation and a theory of mind are examples of dimensionality reduction in some sense. Instead of explaining behavior by reasoning about receptors and neurons, you imagine a conscious agent with beliefs, desires and intentions. You could also link it to data compression (dimensionality reduction is a sort of lossy data compression). But I wouldn't say I'm using advanced data compression algorithms when playing with my dog. It just sounds pretentious and shows a desperate need to signal smartness.

So, what is the evidence that you are consciously doing something similar to PCA in social life? Do you write down variables and numbers, or how can I imagine qualitative dimensionality reduction. How is it different from somebody just getting an opinion intuitively and then justifying it with afterwards?

Comment by minusdash on Beyond Statistics 101 · 2015-06-26T14:43:42.453Z · LW · GW

"impression that more advanced statistics is technical elaboration that doesn't offer major additional insights"

Why did you have this impression?

Sorry for the off-topic, but I see this a lot in LessWrong (as a casual reader). People seem to focus on textual, deep-sounding, wow-inducing expositions, but often dislike the technicalities, getting hands dirty with actually understanding calculations, equations, formulas, details of algorithms etc (calculations that don't tickle those wow-receptors that we all have). As if these were merely some minor additions over the really important big picture view. As I see it this movement seems to try to build up a new backbone of knowledge from scratch. But doing this they repeat the mistakes of the past philosophers. For example going for the "deep", outlook-transforming texts that often give a delusional feeling of "oh now I understand the whole world". It's easy to have wow-moments without actually having understood something new.

So yes, PCA is useful and most statistics and maths and computer science is useful for understanding stuff. But then you swing to the other extreme and say "ideas from advanced statistics are essential for reasoning about the world, even on a day-to-day level". Tell me how exactly you're planning to use PCA day-to-day? I think you may mean you want to use some "insight" that you gained from it. But I'm not sure what that would be. It seems to be a cartoonish distortion that makes it fit into an ideology.

Anyway, mainstream machine learning is very useful. And it's usually much more intricate and complicated than to be able to produce a deep everyday insight out of it. I think the sooner you lose the need for everything to resonate deeply or have a concise insightful summary, the better.

Comment by minusdash on Open Thread, Jun. 22 - Jun. 28, 2015 · 2015-06-23T22:38:17.302Z · LW · GW

It can still be evidence-based, just on a larger budget. I mean, you can get higher quality examinations, like MRI and CT even if the public insurance couldn't afford it. Just because they wouldn't do it by default and only do it for your money doesn't mean it's not evidence based. Evidence-based medicine doesn't say that this person needs/doesn't need this treatment/examination, it gives a risk/benefit/cost analysis. The final decision also depends on the budget.

Comment by minusdash on Autism, or early isolation? · 2015-06-23T17:17:03.662Z · LW · GW

This may be a case of ignoring people who are bad in both intellectual and physical things. Those people are just not salient, the same way as people think smart people are ugly and beautiful people are dumb. It may simply be that the ugly and dumb people go unnoticed. This is Berkson's paradox: Even if A and B are independent, they are dependent conditioned on (A or B).

Comment by minusdash on Open Thread, Jun. 22 - Jun. 28, 2015 · 2015-06-23T16:38:28.088Z · LW · GW

I'd say an expert in any field has better intuitions (hidden, unverbalized knowledge) than what they can express in words or numbers. Therefore, I'd assume that the decision that it's not worth doing the examination should take priority over the numerical estimate that he made up after you asked.

It may be better to ask the odds in such cases, like 1 to 10,000 or 1 to a million. Anyway, it's really hard to express our intuitive, expert-knowledge in such numbers. They all just look like "big numbers".

Another problem is that nobody is willing to put a dollar value on your life. Any such value would make you upset (maybe you are the exception, but most people probably would). Say the examination costs $100 (just an example). Then if he's 99.95% sure you aren't sick, and 0.05% sure you are dying and sends you home, then he (rather your insurance) values your life at less than $200,000. This is a very rough estimation, but it seems in the right ballpark for what a general stranger's life seems to be valued by the whole population. Of course it all depends on how much insurance you pay, how expensive the biopsy is etc. Maybe you are right that you deserve to be examined for your money, maybe not. But people tend to avoid this sort of discussion because it is very emotionally-loaded. So we mainly mumble around the topic.

People are dying all the time out of poverty, waiting on waiting lists, not having insurance, not being able to pay for medicaments. But of course people who have more money can override this by buying better medical care. Depending on the country there are legal and not-so-legal methods to get better healthcare. You could buy a better package legally, put some cash in the doctor's coat, etc.

You need to consider that the people who'd do your biopsy can do other things as well, for example work on someone's biopsy who has a chance of 1% of dying instead of your 0.05% (assuming this figure is meaningful and not just a forced, uncalibrated guess).

If you confronted your doctor with these things, he'd probably prefer to just revoke that probability estimate and just say his expert opinion is that you don't need the biopsy, end of story. It would be very hard for you to argue with this.

Comment by minusdash on Open Thread, Jun. 22 - Jun. 28, 2015 · 2015-06-23T15:52:34.232Z · LW · GW

Saying 99.9999% seems a mouthful. Would you have preferred an answer like this instead: :)

Comment by minusdash on MetaMed: Evidence-Based Healthcare · 2015-03-03T16:36:13.272Z · LW · GW

Yes I'm familiar with his most famous paper and what he says about medical research findings. Has he ever endorsed MetaMed in particular? If peer reviewed research finding are often false, how can MetaMed tell the difference without trying to replicate them? Different research papers use different assumptions, differently calibrated measurements, different subjects, it seems very hard to aggregate this in practice, although I'm not a medical researcher. Why should I believe that a company started by futurists and entrepreneurs would be up to this task? Where is the evidence for the actual efficacy of their particular methodology, as evaluated by independent third-parties?

Comment by minusdash on MetaMed: Evidence-Based Healthcare · 2015-03-03T15:07:22.413Z · LW · GW

Upon more reflection, I'm not able to defend my point and my thoughts are confused and therefore I'm gravitating towards the established and mainstream viewpoint that only licensed and authorized doctos should do doctor stuff. On uncertain territory it's better to stick to well-known landmarks. Since I'm not confident in my capability of a deep enough analysis of the pros and cons, I feel that the way to convince me would be to first convince people who are experts of the medical field and of the regulations, towards whom I already have an established chain of trust.

Comment by minusdash on MetaMed: Evidence-Based Healthcare · 2015-03-03T02:59:23.416Z · LW · GW

I just found Robin Hanson's critique and it's almost the same as my opinion.

My obsession over legally-professed is that it's a lot easier to give actionable options if there is no legal risk for doing so. Why won't they take all the legal risks of giving actual medical advice instead of just actionable options?

Comment by minusdash on MetaMed: Evidence-Based Healthcare · 2015-03-03T01:55:28.228Z · LW · GW

By spinoff I mean that this company takes medicine's research results and then say they can handle and aggregate it better than the doctors who are licensed to do exactly that and then they start to do at least a part of it (giving certain limited kinds of advice or certain limited kinds of health reports that aren't legally considered medical advice).

Playing with medicine is a dangerous field. For example this post induces distrust in legally-professed medicine at a time when "alternative medicine" is getting more and more popular (homeopathy, Chinese traditional "medicine", etc.). Dismissing experts and starting your own better version of the field without actually formally, academically challenging the status quo and showing how your method would be better, seems very wrong to me. They should go and reform medicine to be the way it should be (if it really is broken) from the inside and by taking the legal burden of giving out actual medical advice. If their method works, they should publish their superior results in peer-reviewed medical journals and get their methods into regular practice. Have they done such a thing? I couldn't find such a thing on their website.

They essentially say that they will give some non-medical advice but the real weight of potential legal ramifications still has to lie on the (according to this post) incompetent licensed medical professional. If he disagrees with the company, the patient may get angry for having wasted the money, so they may look for a licensed doctor who is willing to do the stuff that the company's literature review might indicate.

The way this post dismisses medical experts reminds me of the way Scientology dismisses psychiatry.

Do tell. Is it to make lawyers rich?

No, for patient safety.

(Certainly, MetaMed doesn't endanger patient safety by giving out reports that have to be acknowledged by a licensed doctor, but they make it look as if the doctor couldn't decide himself and needed external help. This in turn decreases the trust in medicine and could potentially increase the trust in all of the alternative crap like homeopathy and faith healing, too.)

It's somewhat like hiring legally-not-responsible people who'd keep telling civil engineers who are experts at bridge design how they should change stuff here and there and that they don't really know what they are doing.

Comment by minusdash on The mystery of pain and pleasure · 2015-03-03T01:23:04.185Z · LW · GW

Life, sin, disease, redness, maleness and indeed dogness "may" also be like electromagnetism. The English language may also be a fundamental part of the universe and maybe you could tell if "irregardless" or "wanna" are real English words by looking into a microscope or turning your telescope to certain parts of the sky, or maybe by looking at chicken intestines, who knows. I know some people think like this. Stuart Hameroff says that morality may be encoded into the universe at the Planck scale. So maybe that's where you should look for "good", maybe "pleasure" is there as well.

But anyway, research into electromagnetism was done using the scientific method, which means that the hypothesis had to produce predictions that were tested and replicated numerous times. What sort of experiment would you envision for testing something about "inherently pleasurable" arrangements of atoms? Would the atoms make you feel warm and fuzzy inside when you look at them? Or would you try to put that pattern into different living creatures and see if they react with their normal joyful reactions?

Comment by minusdash on MetaMed: Evidence-Based Healthcare · 2015-03-03T01:02:04.417Z · LW · GW

What this company is doing might indirectly lead to very dangerous situations. They are promoting an anti-establishment, private, non-supervised spinoff version of medicine, where they don't give medical advice but give advice on how to try getting treated by medical professionals. By this they are creating distrust in mainstream medicine and this blog post is helping them in their dismissal of medicine as practiced in legally supervised hospitals and medical establishments, since this post lists studies which show that medicine is "bad" but shows no studies about whether MetaMed is any better. There is a reason why healthcare professionals have to go through certain legal procedures before they are allowed to give medical advice.

MetaMed is not a licensed healthcare provider. ALL INFORMATION AND CONTENT IS PROVIDED FOR GENERAL INFORMATIONAL AND EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND IS NOT MEANT TO BE AND IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL ADVICE, DIAGNOSIS OR TREATMENT PROVIDED BY A PHYSICIAN OR OTHER QUALIFIED AND LICENSED HEALTHCARE, CLINICAL OR MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL PURSUANT TO PERSONAL IN-PERSON EXAMINATION AND PROFESSIONAL CONSULTATION. The information and content is neither intended to dictate what constitutes reasonable, appropriate or best care for any given health issue, nor is it intended to be used as a substitute for the independent judgment of a physician or other healthcare professional for any given health issue.

I find this absolutely shocking and reading the endorsement of this company on this website makes me seriously reconsider what is going on around here.

Comment by minusdash on The mystery of pain and pleasure · 2015-03-02T22:09:56.738Z · LW · GW

I don't like the expression "carve reality at the joints", I think it's very vague and hard to verify if a concept carves it there or not. The best way I can imagine this is that you have lots of events or 'things' in some description space and you can notice some clusterings, and you pick those clusters as concepts. But a lot depends on which subspace you choose and on what scale you're working... 'Good' may form a cluster or may not, I just don't even know how you could give evidence either way. It's unclear how you could formalize this in practice.

My thoughts on pleasure and the concept of good is that your problem is that you're trying to discover the sharp edges of these categories, whereas concepts don't work like that. Take a look at this LW post and this one from Slatestarcodex. From the second one, the concept of a behemah/dag exists because fishing and hunting exist.

Try to make it clearer what you're trying to ask. "What is pleasure really?" is a useless question. You may ask "what is going on in my body when I feel pleasure?" or "how could I induce that state again?"

You seem to be looking for some mathematical description of the pattern of pleasure that would unify pleasure in humans and aliens with totally unknown properties (that may be based on fundamentally different chemistry or maybe instead of electomagnetism-based chemistry their processes work over the strong nuclear force or whatever). What do you really have in mind here? A formula, like a part of space giving off pulses at the rate of X and another part of space at 1 cm distance pulsating with rate Y?

You may just as well ask how we would detect alien life at all. And then I'd say "life" is a human concept, not a divine platonic object out there that you can go to and see what it really is. We even have edge cases here on Earth, like viruses or prions. But the importance of these sorts of questions disappears if you think about what you'd do with the answer. If it's "I just want to know how it really is, I can't imagine doing anything practical with the answer" then it's too vague to be answered.

Comment by minusdash on How to debate when authority is questioned, but really not needed? · 2015-03-02T20:55:16.904Z · LW · GW

Well, you need to decide if it's worth discussing further. Anonymous internet comment sections are often very low quality (tribalism, astroturfing, trolling etc.). If you think they are just trolling you, then ignore them. If you think they want to have a discussion, then you should defend your point or concede that you just stated a layman's opinion.

Comments don't have the space to put your own academic paper there defending what you claim.

Comment by minusdash on How to debate when authority is questioned, but really not needed? · 2015-03-02T11:32:27.893Z · LW · GW

They are right, I think. People don't have endless time to discuss things with everyone. You put a statement on the table. Now I look at it and superficially see that it's some sort of economics statement. Now should I waste my time examining your standpoint further? Can I expect to get well founded opinions from you? Will I profit from this exchange? If I can verify that you indeed have spent a long time thinking about economics and other people have considered your economy related thinking processes good enough to give you a diploma, then I can expect to get valuable opinions from you.

It's not sure, but one has to filter out all the cranks. Asking for qualifications is one way. There are thousands of unqualified people who have their own refutations of relativity, or false proofs of P!=NP etc. Should we really give equal time to all of these people, just because they might be onto something?

You seem to look at yourself from the inside and say well I'm an honest and smart guy, why won't they listen to me? But for them you're just a random guy, nobody can see your inner qualities that you think you possess. If you want to become better than a "random guy from the street", you need to provide some evidence that you're worth listening to.

People always treat you for how you appear to the outside. It's the same fallacy that people commit when they say "I want someone to love me for who I am inside, not for any of my attributes like my body type, job, money, sense of humor, intelligence, musical talent etc., but for the inner me". There's no inner you for us. Only what you do.

Comment by minusdash on Some Claims Are Just Too Extraordinary · 2015-03-02T11:17:50.095Z · LW · GW

Yes, exactly. Hallucinations and altered consciousness periods don't simply mean that your sane and usual rational mind is still there and it simply receives strange visual inputs as if you were enjoying a movie. Sometimes your very own thought processes are disturbed, it's not like a little rational homunculus can always remain skeptical. So if you then try to think about journals and science, it won't feel like a better alternative hypothesis. You will be genuinely confused and maybe imagine reading something in a journal that you didn't, or imagine that some conspiracy is out there and you're now uncovering it, etc. A real strong hallucination can be very very strong. Some on-the-fence atheists convert to a religion when they have some extreme experience of pleasure and bliss and feel that some miraculous event happened. They will know that religion is true, it will be the first and foremost truth they can imagine. It's really hard to imagine what it feels like to be someone else. Again, no rational homunculi pulling the string in our heads.

Comment by minusdash on The mystery of pain and pleasure · 2015-03-02T10:22:19.454Z · LW · GW

Good is a complex concept, not an irreducible basic constituent of the universe. It's deeply rooted in our human stuff like metabolism (food is good), reproduction (sex is good), social environment (having allies is good) etc. We can generalize from this and say that the general pattern of "good" things is that they tend to reinforce themselves. If you feel good, you'll strive to achive the same later. If you feel bad, you'll strive to avoid feeling that in the future. So if an experience makes more of it then it's good, otherwise it's bad.

Note that we could also ask: "Is there a general principle to be found with regard to which patterns within conscious systems innately feel like smelling a rose, or isn't there?" We could build rose smell detecting machines in various ways. How can you say that one is really having the experience of smelling it while another isn't?

Comment by minusdash on The mystery of pain and pleasure · 2015-03-02T10:07:02.689Z · LW · GW

I don't know how limited plasticity is. Speculation: maybe if we put on some color filter glasses that changes red with green or somehow mixes up the colors, then maybe even after a long time we'd still have the experience of the original red, even when looking at outside green material. Okay, let's say it's not plastic enough, we'd still feel an internal red qualia. But in what sense?

What if the brain would truly rewire to recognize plants and moldy fruit etc. in the presence of "red" perception and the original "green" pattern would feed into visceral avoidance of "green" liquids (blood) and would wire into the speech areas in such a way that nominal "green" sensation is extremely linked to the word "red" (for example as measured by these experiments where the words meaning colors are colored with different colors, for example the word blue written in yellow). In this case, how could we say that the person is still "seeing green" when presented with objectively red things? What would be our anticipation under this hypothesis?

Now, I think emotions are the same thing. Of course it could be that the brain architecture cannot rewire itself to start sweating and shouting and producing adrenaline in the presence of the previously pleasure associated pattern. Maybe the two modules are too far away or there is some other physical limitation. Then the question is pointless, it's about an impossible scenario. If the brain can't rewire itself then it still produces the old kind of behavior that is inconsisent with reality so it is observable (e.g. smiling when we would expect a normal person to should actually shout in pain).

I don't think we can view pleasure as simply existing inside the brain without considering the environment. Similarly, the motor cortex doesn't contain the actual information of what the limbs look like. It's a relay station. It only works because the muscles are where they are. You can't tell what a motor neuron controls unless you follow its axon and look at what muscle it is attached to. The neuron by itself isn't a representation of the muscle or that muscles movement. An emotional neural pattern is also only associated with that emotion to the extent that it results in certain responses and is triggered by certain stimuli. Things are not labeled up in the universe. Does the elephant feel like it's using its nose when it's lifting things up? Or does it rather feel like an arm? It isn't a productive line of thinking. If it quacks... It's like asking whether abortion is really a sin, whether "irregardless" is really an English word, whether a submarine can really swim.

When you replace the pattern but keep all behavior and physiological responses normal, then I'd say the person is having the usual emotions that we associate with the responses and behavior that we can observe. The problem isn't about what we anticipate but the fact that we are at edge cases that we haven't encountered yet and we don't have an intuitive idea of how we should interpret such a situation.

I think you should start smaller and slower. Try thinking about animals with simpler brains like worms, and what it means that it is having a certain sensation.

Comment by minusdash on The mystery of pain and pleasure · 2015-03-02T01:14:18.597Z · LW · GW

"what are the characteristic mathematics of (i.e., found disproportionally in) self-identified pleasurable brain states?"

Certain areas of the brain get more active and certain hormones get into the bloodstream. How does this help you out?

Comment by minusdash on The mystery of pain and pleasure · 2015-03-02T01:04:02.200Z · LW · GW

This all seems to be about the "qualia" problem. Take another example. How would you know if an alien was having the experience of seeing the color red? Well, you could show it red and see what changes. You could infer it from its behavior (for example if you trained it that red means food - if indeed the alien eats food).

Similarly you could tell that it's suffering when it does something to avoid an ongoing situation, and if later on it would very much prefer not to go under the same conditions ever again.

I don't think there is anything special about the actual mechanism and neural pattern that expresses pain or suffering in our brains. It's that pattern's relation to memories, sensory inputs and motor outputs that's important.

Probably you could even retrain the brain to consider a certain fixed brain stimulus to be pleasure even though it was previously associated with pain. It's like putting on those corrective glasses that turn the visual input by 180° and the brain can adapt to that situation and the person is feeling normal after some time.

Comment by minusdash on Conjunction Fallacy · 2015-02-23T21:36:16.072Z · LW · GW

There's also a linguistic issue here. The English "and" doesn't simply mean mathematical set theoretical conjunction in everyday speech. Indeed, without using words like "given" or "suppose" or a long phrase such as "if we already know that", we can't easily linguistically differentiate between P(Y | X) and P(Y, X).

"How likely is it that X happens and then Y happens?", "How likely is it that Y happens after X happened?", "How likely is it that event Y would follow event X?". All these are ambiguous in everyday speech. We aren't sure whether X has hypothetically already been observed or it's a free variable, too.

Comment by minusdash on Rational Home Buying · 2015-02-02T01:27:26.545Z · LW · GW

Or maybe it's just outrageous to ask for $40 when it's clearly possible to sell it for $20. So you kind of punish the shop that asks for $40 because you see them as dishonest and morally repulsive. Sometimes you also have to pay attention to what behavior you encourage with your actions. Not only the immediate dollar value.

Why don't Christmas tree sellers sell the last, leftover Christmas trees for much cheaper, right before Christmas? Because then lots of people would just wait until that time and then buy it cheap. If buyers know that the seller will rather throw out the goods to the thrash rather than sell them cheaper then they will just casually buy the tree knowing that the price is stable and it's all fair. Short-sighted optimization would tell the seller to just sell the leftovers cheaper rather than throw them away.

Similarly, you may want to "send a message" to the $40 shop that you will rather drive a lot than participate in such an outrageous deal.

Comment by minusdash on Nature: Red, in Truth and Qualia · 2015-01-24T19:27:07.132Z · LW · GW

Propositional knowledge and introspection may be analogous to running a virtual machine in user-space, in which you can instantiate the redness object. But that's not a redness object in the real (non-virtual) program. The "real" running program only has user-space objects that are required for the execution of the virtual machine (virtual registers, command objects, etc).

Comment by minusdash on Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions · 2015-01-20T17:18:38.586Z · LW · GW

Desiring a mysterious explantion is like wanting to be in a room with no people inside. Once you explain it it's not mysterious any more. The property depends on your actions: emptyness is destroyed by you entering, mysticism is destroyed by you explaining it. Just an alternative to the map-territory way of putting it

Comment by minusdash on An Introduction to Control Theory · 2015-01-20T04:43:41.438Z · LW · GW

Control theory is an actual, real engineering subject. Not only this self-help, psychology, wow, mind-blown, feel-good BS.

Comment by minusdash on The curse of identity · 2015-01-20T04:41:28.782Z · LW · GW

I guess you can't want to want stuff. When you genuinely want something (not prestige but an actual goal) you'll easily be in the "flow experience" and lose track of time and actually progress toward the goal without having to force yourself. Actually you have to force yourself to stop in order to sleep and eat because you'd just do this thing all day if you could! Find the thing where you slip into flow easily and do the most efficient thing that's at the same time quite similar to this activity.

Comment by minusdash on Bizarre Illusions · 2015-01-11T18:49:41.997Z · LW · GW

Somewhat related: I think we do have a 3D map of the environment even for things that we aren't looking at at the moment. For example I feel as if I had a device in my brain that keeps track of which people are in which parts of the house right now (or where some emotionally-loaded objects are). I don't have to exert conscious effort specifically for this.

Another thing: it's interesting to think about why we can see dots and lines and shapes at all. By this I mean, why do these low-level things reach our conscious awareness? You aren't consciously aware of your blood sugar level or hormone levels. You do feel a sort of aggregated well-being feeling consciously but the details don't reach the conscious level. It's a strange and bizarre thing to think about what vision could be like if our consciousness didn't have access to dots and shapes and colors style low-level image data and we only "felt" the gist of it, for example by only feeling our current 3D model in some way. (It could be similar to blindsight.)

One answer could be that our vision is so complicated that the unconscious parts just can't cope with it fully, they can't analyze it sufficiently, and conscious processes (evolutionarily recent brain parts) need access to the basic "pixel-data" like things as well.

But again, maybe when we intentionally try to look at specific dots (as if looking at pixels, interpreting the visual field as a screen), we maybe aren't really looking at the low-level input but rather a reconstruction. Maybe we are seeing lines, corners and other geometric primitives laid on top of one another, like an SVG image, not like a BMP image. Maybe we don't really have conscious access to the low-level visual signals, we just have access to a reconstruction.

I don't think neuroscience has found out these things already, but it should be possible to read off of connections of brain areas.

Comment by minusdash on Bizarre Illusions · 2015-01-11T15:11:32.380Z · LW · GW

I remember not really "getting" these illusions when I was a kid. I just didn't find them interesting, it looked too straightforward.

The idea of a "2D screen inside our head" is not our natural intuition. Before learning about these things, I just felt that I simply percieve the environment around me. I don't see a flat pixel grid in front of me when I walk around, I rather have a model of the environment that I continuously update and I percieve the objects "from where they are", just like I feel leg pain as if it were "in my leg", despite the fact that pain actually happens in the brain. I see objects where they are in the 3D model, not where they are on a virtual screen.

The screen and pixels analogy may be so prevalent in modern times because of the TV, photos or even earlier realistic paintings. But early art was not really realistic, which I think either shows they were

  • not skilled enough to draw realistic art with perspective distortions and shading, or
  • they didn't think of vision the way we do today, they were more focusing on the objects and their prototypical shapes, rather than their position in the visual field and the "actual colors".

The second explanation seems more plausible to me.

These illusions are only illusions if you take the "2D screen and pixels" view of vision. Now that view is also important for technological applications, and it's also biologically relevant (retina cells are sort-of pixels), I'm just saying it's not really an illusion against builtin intuition.

Comment by minusdash on Intellectual Hipsters and Meta-Contrarianism · 2015-01-03T01:42:31.230Z · LW · GW

That's a triad too: naive instinctive signaling / signaling-aware people disliking signaling / signaling is actually a useful and necessary thing.