Comment by mtraven on Politics is the Mind-Killer · 2015-07-09T22:44:17.997Z · LW · GW

No offense taken.

BTW I have written quite a bit since 2007(!) on the relationship of rationalism and politics, see here for a starting pont.

Comment by mtraven on Politics is the Mind-Killer · 2015-05-19T04:27:43.720Z · LW · GW

Probably make some snarky remark about how people who think they are free of politics are in reality in the grip of one of the more deadly forms of it.

Comment by mtraven on Teaching Introspection · 2011-08-01T17:59:44.162Z · LW · GW

After posting that I felt even more unsure about my assertion about Buddhism and introspection than I had indicated, so did some's some support from an actual Buddhist, though I'm guessing there is a wide variety of opinion on this question.

Comment by mtraven on Teaching Introspection · 2011-08-01T17:46:55.963Z · LW · GW

I exaggerated a bit. The points I was trying to make: we can only weakly introspect; the term "introspection" is misleading (I think "reflection", mentioned by another commenter, is better); we are in a strong sense strangers to ourselves, and our apparent ability to introspect is misleading.

I am only a dabbler in meditation and Buddhism, but I think an actual Buddhist would NOT characterize meditation as introspection. The point of it is not to have a self more aware of itself, but to reveal the illusory nature of the self (I'm sure that is a drastic oversimplification, at best).

Comment by mtraven on Teaching Introspection · 2011-08-01T02:54:20.660Z · LW · GW

I think you miss the point of the linked article, which is not that we are "not very good" at introspection, but that introspection is literally impossible. We don't have any better access to our own brain processes than we do to a random persons. We don't have little instruments hooked up to our internal mental mechanisms telling us what's going on. I fear that people who think they do are somewhat fooling themselves.

That doesn't mean we can't have models of ourselves, or think about how the brain works, or notice patterns of mental behavior and make up better explanations for them, and get better at that. But I think calling it introspection is misleading and begs the question, as it conjures up images of a magic eye that can be turned inward. We don't have those.

Comment by mtraven on The benefits of madness: A positive account of arationality · 2011-04-26T03:56:30.360Z · LW · GW

Great post, a very lucid account of your experiences, thank you.

As it happens I was just contemplating writing something along the lines of "mysticism for rationalists", but I think you may have it covered.

Comment by mtraven on Rationality Quotes: April 2011 · 2011-04-06T02:44:57.087Z · LW · GW

Well, I deliberately left out the source because I didn't think it would play well in this Peoria of thought -- it's from his book of essays Farewell to Reason. Link to gbooks with some context.

Comment by mtraven on Rationality Quotes: April 2011 · 2011-04-04T22:26:26.219Z · LW · GW

The best education consists in immunizing people against systematic attempts at education.

-- Paul Feyerabend

Comment by mtraven on Philosophy: A Diseased Discipline · 2011-04-02T01:19:24.628Z · LW · GW

Right, and I'm asking you what you think that "something else" is.

Hell, how would I know? Let's say "thinking" for the sake of argument.

I'd also re-assert my challenge to you: if philosophy's arguments don't rest on some evidence of some kind, what distinguishes it from nonsense/fiction?

People think it makes sense.

"Definitions may be given in this way of any field where a body of definite knowledge exists. But philosophy cannot be so defined. Any definition is controversial and already embodies a philosophic attitude. The only way to find out what philosophy is, is to do philosophy." -- Bertrand Russell

Comment by mtraven on Philosophy: A Diseased Discipline · 2011-04-01T04:10:42.542Z · LW · GW

I'm not at all a fan of Hegel, and Heidegger I don't really understand, but I linked to a paper that describes the interaction of Heideggerian philosophy and AI which might answer your question.

I still think you don't have your categories straight. Philosophy does not make "claims" that are proved or disproved by evidence (although there is a relatively new subfield called "experimental philosophy"). Think of it as providing alternate points of view.

To illustrate: your idea that the only valid utterances are those that are supported by empirical evidence is a philosophy. That philosophy itself can't be supported by empirical evidence; it rests on something else.

Comment by mtraven on Philosophy: A Diseased Discipline · 2011-03-31T03:26:01.402Z · LW · GW

"Often people who dismiss philosophy end up going over the same ground philosophers trode hundreds or thousands of years ago."

See the paper on the Heideggerian critique of AI I posted earlier.

The notion that we have Platonic a priori knowledge looks pretty silly without a great deal of massaging as we learn more about the mechanism of brain development.

Oh? I would think that one of the lessons of neuroscience is that we are in fact hardwired for a great many things.

The language in impenatrable because they have nothing to say.

How do you know? That is, what evidence other than your lack of understanding do you have for this?

Comment by mtraven on Philosophy: A Diseased Discipline · 2011-03-31T01:06:33.099Z · LW · GW

I think you are making a category error. If something makes claims about phenomena that can be proved/disproved with evidence in the world, it's science, not philosophy.

So the question is whether philosophy's position as meta to science and everything else can provide utility. I've found it useful, YMMV.

BTW here is the latest round of Heideggerian critique of AI (pdf) which, again, you may or may not find useful.

Comment by mtraven on Philosophy: A Diseased Discipline · 2011-03-29T16:57:18.827Z · LW · GW

A few points:

  • Philisophy is (by definition, more or less) meta to everything else. By its nature, it has to question everything, including things that here seem to be unuqestionable, such as rationality and reductionism. The elevation of these into unquestionable dogma creates a somewhat cult-like environment.

  • Often people who dismiss philosophy end up going over the same ground philosophers trode hundreds or thousands of years ago. That's one reason philosophers emphasize the history of ideas so much. It's probably a mistake to think you are so smart you will avoid all the pitfalls they've already fallen into.

  • I agree with the linked post of Eliezer's that much of analytic philosophy (and AI) is mostly just slapping formal terms over unexamined everyday ideas, which is why I find most of it bores me to tears.

  • Continental philosophy, on the other hand, if you can manage to make sense of it, actually can provide new perspectives on the world, and in that sense is worthwhile. Don't assume that just because you can't understand it, it doesn't have anything to say. Complaining because they use what seems like an impenetrable language is about on the level of an American traveling to Europe and complaining that the people there don't speak English. That said, Sturgeon's law definitely applies, perhaps at the 99% level.

  • I'm recomending Bruno Latour to everyone these days. He's a French sociologist of science and philosopher, and if you can get past the very French style of abstraction he uses, he can be mind-blowing in the manner described above.

Comment by mtraven on Were atoms real? · 2010-12-09T01:21:08.168Z · LW · GW

Allow me to link to this post on the social construction of Santa Claus

Comment by mtraven on Call for Volunteers: Rationalists with Non-Traditional Skills · 2010-11-03T05:12:07.823Z · LW · GW

This is a guy who calls for the assassination of politicians on his blog. I'm not sure you want him on your side, for both tactical and ethical reasons. Not to mention that an easy resort to violence doesn't really suggest rationalism, but YMMV.

Comment by mtraven on Slava! · 2010-10-08T20:41:01.275Z · LW · GW

What a great post. Of course, I like it because it undermines the very reason most of you are here. Basically people aren't all that rational, they require something to praise, something to devote themselves to. You guys are trying to make "reason" be the object of devotion, but it's not a great fit to the mental slot (and it's been tried before).

One other note: the advantage of having your praise-object be something remote and universal (like God, or the Tsar (pretty remote for most Rus)) is that if your are expressing your allegiance to Lord Alfred and Lord Bob is in the next town over, Lords Alfred and Bob and their followers might have to have a war to determine who is indeed the deserving one. There's some kind of dynamics going on that favors larger-scale objects of worship and larger-scale social alliances.

Comment by mtraven on Is it rational to be religious? Simulations are required for answer. · 2010-08-12T21:27:11.023Z · LW · GW

This post is based on the (very common) mistake of equating religious practice and religious faith. Religion is only incidentally about what you believe; the more important components are community and ritual practice. From that perspective, it is a lot easier to believe that religion can be beneficial. What you think about the Trinity, for instance, is less important than the fact that you go to Mass and see other members of your community there and engage in these bizarre activities together.

There is an enormous blindspot about society in the libertarian/rationalist community, of which the above is just one manifestation.

Comment by mtraven on Five-minute rationality techniques · 2010-08-11T04:48:03.015Z · LW · GW

Here's the exact opposite advice. I wouldn't even bother posting it here except it's from one of the major rationalists of the 20th century:

"In studying a philosopher, the right attitude is neither reverence nor contempt, but first a kind of hypothetical sympathy, until it is possible to know what it feels like to believe in his theories, and only then a revival of the critical attitude, which should resemble, as far as possible, the state of mind of a person abandoning opinions which he has hitherto held.... Two things are to be remembered: that a man whose opinions and theories are worth studying may be presumed to have had some intelligence, but that no man is likely to have arrived at complete and final truth on any subject whatever. When an intelligent man expresses a view which seems to us obviously absurd, we should not attempt to prove that it is somehow true, but we should try to understand how it ever came to seem true. This exercise of historical and psychological imagination at once enlarges the scope of our thinking, and helps us to realize how foolish many of our own cherished prejudices will seem to an age which has a different temper of mind." -- Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy

Comment by mtraven on The Shabbos goy · 2010-03-29T00:18:12.824Z · LW · GW

The fact that people aren't jumping in to compete with lower-costs journals makes me suspect that it isn't that easy. But it's still not at all obvious why academic journals cost so much.

Huh? People are most certainly jumping in with zero-cost (to read) journals such as PLoS and others. The open-access publishing movement is not obscure and I'm surprise to see that people here aren't aware of them.

The reason existing journals cost so much is that publishers can charge monopoly rents based on their ownership of a high-status imprint. That game is not going to last very much longer, IMO.

Comment by mtraven on The Shabbos goy · 2010-03-29T00:12:00.075Z · LW · GW

The Amazon example doesn't seem to be that illustrative of the concept you are trying to get across, mostly because the reason academic institutions don't sell computation is that they aren't set up for it, not that commerce is considered evil. They have no problem charging for other services, such as tuition.

Here's a better one: police, military, and government in general. Everyone in that role has slightly different moral codes than the rest of us, in that they are able to legitimately employ violence in various forms, and for the most part we are willing to cede that role to them. The government is our shabbos goy, although too often a master rather than servant.

Comment by mtraven on Open Thread: November 2009 · 2009-11-17T08:35:37.080Z · LW · GW

Yes, probably it deserves a top-level post, or going outside of this community and advertsing more widely.

Comment by mtraven on Open Thread: November 2009 · 2009-11-04T19:41:34.457Z · LW · GW

How many people here would be interested in forming a virtual book study group, to work through Jaynes ?

Yes! I've been wanting a virtual place to help me learn probabilistic reasoning in general; a group focued on Jaynes would be a good start.

Comment by mtraven on Our House, My Rules · 2009-11-04T18:05:32.935Z · LW · GW

I think discussions like this are useless unless "child" is qualified by the age of child you are talking about. Children of different ages have vastly different cognitive capacities and what is suitable for one age is not for another. Think about children at ages 0, 5, 10, 15, and 20 (to take arbitrary ranges). The line about "my house that I allow you to live in" is something I might conceivably use in an argument with a surly 15-year-old, who is at the point where they need to start thinking about leading an independent life, but it would seem like an incredibly cruel thing to say to a 10-year-old, and would probably just be meaningless noise to a 5-year-old.

Comment by mtraven on Our House, My Rules · 2009-11-04T17:53:43.612Z · LW · GW

There is a movement called Taking Children Seriously that advocates that a parent should never deploy arbitrary authority, but always reason a child into doing what they ought to do. I think they are nuts, but some people I respect respect them, and it might appeal to rationalists. They are somehow based on Popperian epistemology.

In a related vein I just made a Facebook page for the Association of Anarchist Parents, an organization that I have envisioned ever since my own kids were old enough to have wills of their own.

Comment by mtraven on Why You're Stuck in a Narrative · 2009-08-04T18:33:35.184Z · LW · GW

Telling yourself that you are struggling to free yourself from narrative is of course itself a narrative. There's no escape.

Although one of the distinguishing things about this community is its willingness to use heroic metaphors for this struggle, imagine themselves as martial artists, etc.

An alternative is to embrace the narrative nature of intelligence. See here for some efforts to do that.

Comment by mtraven on Applied Picoeconomics · 2009-06-18T22:08:44.129Z · LW · GW

This is a rather reductive approach to Ainslie. He's not writing a self-help book. The upshot of his view is not simply that people get distracted from long-term goals by short-term goals, but rather that the self emerges from the need to manage conflicts between a variety of internal goals. Fervid declarations like "I have but one Self, a timeless abstract optimization process to which this ape is but a horribly disfigured approximation" gets it exactly backwards. You don't have a Self, except as a hacked-together construct that helps your goals get along.

More discussion here and especially more in the links to bhyde's commentary.

Comment by mtraven on The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Truth About Morality and What To Do About It · 2009-06-13T00:29:10.883Z · LW · GW

Greene and Haidt have coauthored papers together, so I would guess they are aware of each other's work!

Comment by mtraven on Special Status Needs Special Support · 2009-05-05T16:32:13.005Z · LW · GW

Very good...celebreties are the secular gods of our age. And it is notable that phenomenon of "being famous for being famous" is widel acknowledged.

Comment by mtraven on Special Status Needs Special Support · 2009-05-05T07:23:25.122Z · LW · GW

The sacred is sacred not solely because of its inherent properties but because it just is -- that is, a group of people have for a multitude of reasons and historical contigencies focused on this text, place, or object and assigned it a special status. This doesn't make much rationalist sense -- it's just the way these sort of things work.

Comment by mtraven on The mind-killer · 2009-05-04T04:39:31.976Z · LW · GW

The arguments against voting are mostly puerile, and so is this one against political judgment. See here for an alternative view.

Comment by mtraven on Rational Me or We? · 2009-03-17T20:00:20.223Z · LW · GW

For whatever reason, the community here (so-called "rationalists") is heavily influenced by overly-individualistic ideologies (libertarianism, or in its more extreme forms, objectivism). This leads to ignoring entire realms of human phenomena (social cognition) and the people who have studied them (Vygotsky, sociologists of science, ethnomethodology). It's not that social approaches to cognition provide a magic bullet -- they just provide a very different perspective on how minds work. Imagine if you stop believing that beliefs are in the head and locate themselves in a community or institution. If interested, you could start with How Institutions Think by Mary Douglas.

Comment by mtraven on Closet survey #1 · 2009-03-15T05:35:57.136Z · LW · GW

There is no such thing as a free market.

Comment by mtraven on Closet survey #1 · 2009-03-15T05:34:49.816Z · LW · GW

Scientific materialism is overrated -- because the things we care about (like rationalism, or truth, or well-being) are not material things. The current theories for how ideas are implemented in the material world (such as AI) are grossly inadequate to the task.

Comment by mtraven on Raising the Sanity Waterline · 2009-03-12T07:35:04.650Z · LW · GW

The naivety and arrogance of this post is somewhat breathtaking. Religion is (or can be) primarily a set of practices and attitudes, not a collection of propositions, and is perfectly compatible with rationality. In any case, it is one of those things that humans do and efforts to get rid of it would seem doomed, as can be readily seen by the way people here (atheists, transhumanists, rationalists, etc) all create pseudo-religions to replace the ones they reject. Religion is a universal part of human nature; you can't be a good reasoner without understanding how humans work; so you must at least understand what religion is. You can start here

Comment by mtraven on Is it rational to take psilocybin? · 2009-03-07T21:46:49.241Z · LW · GW


The analogy with a trip to India is not a bad one. You can read all you like about India, but it won't be the same as actually going to Mumbai and experiencing it first-hand. Presumably nobody would claim to be an expert on India without visiting it, seeing as it isn't that hard, and while it is not without risks the experience is worth it.

Comment by mtraven on Is it rational to take psilocybin? · 2009-03-07T03:43:02.860Z · LW · GW

Suppose it made you less "emotional towards others". Then you could ignore all those nagging feelings that you ought to be performing charitable works and become a perfect personal utility maximizer.

I've heard cocaine is a pretty good drug for producing this sort of effect, but obviously it has other less desired effects as well. Perhaps some rich Randroid could fund an effort to develop a better anti-altruism drug.

Comment by mtraven on Is it rational to take psilocybin? · 2009-03-07T03:36:31.717Z · LW · GW

If you are at all interested in how the mind works, you ought to have at least a cursory exposure to psychedelics and other psychoactive drugs.

On the other hand, if you are the kind of person who organizes their life around maximizing a utility function, then you probably shouldn't.

Comment by mtraven on Cynicism in Ev-Psych (and Econ?) · 2009-02-14T18:08:57.000Z · LW · GW

I can't help notice the unquestioned assumption that it is more virtuous to love someone for their mind than for their body. I assume that underlying this is that you love your own minds and despise your own bodies, or are at best indifferent to them.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Comment by mtraven on For The People Who Are Still Alive · 2008-12-14T20:30:36.000Z · LW · GW

I was going to make about the same objection steven makes -- if you take this stuff (MWI, anthropic principle, large universes) seriously as a guide to practical, everyday ethical decision-making, it seems to lead inexorably to nihilism -- no decision you make matters very much. That doesn't sound at all desireable, so my instinct is to suspect that there is something wrong either with the physics ideas, or (more likely) with the way they are being applied. But maybe not! Maybe nihilism is valid, but then why are we bothering to be rational or to do anything at all?

Scott Aaronson's objections might carry more weight:

But what could NP-hardness possibly have to do with the Anthropic Principle? Well, when I talked before about computational complexity, I forgot to tell you that there's at least one foolproof way to solve NP-complete problems in polynomial time. The method is this: first guess a solution at random, say by measuring electron spins. Then, if the solution is wrong, kill yourself! If you accept the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, then there's certainly some branch of the wavefunction where you guessed right, and that's the only branch where you're around to ask whether you guessed right! It's a wonder more people don't try this... Now, if you accept the NP Hardness Assumption (as I do), then you also believe that whatever else might be true of the Anthropic Principle, the previous two examples must have been incorrect uses of it. In other words, you now have a nontrivial constraint on anthropic theorizing: No application of the Anthropic Principle can be valid, if its validity would give us a means to solve NP-complete problems in polynomial time.
Comment by mtraven on Engelbart: Insufficiently Recursive · 2008-11-28T01:09:35.000Z · LW · GW

Google's internal facilities and processes seem to have something of the Ubertool about them. There's a famous quote going around: “Google uses Bayesian filtering the way Microsoft uses the if statement." Certainly they seem closer to taking over the world than anyone else.

Comment by mtraven on The Complete Idiot's Guide to Ad Hominem · 2008-11-26T04:57:03.000Z · LW · GW

Hm, I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the evidentiary reasoning version of ad hominem, something like "you seem to have a bad character, so I'm going to assign low weight to anything you say". I use this rule all the time. Ie, I'll give more weight to statements made in a reputable scientific journal than those on a Nazi website. This is not a valid argument againt anything on the Nazi website, just a rule that says not to pay too much attention to stuff found there, or at least seek independent verification from a more reputable source. There ought to be a fancy rhetorical term for this...there is for the opposite. Authority of sources is an important and under-described part of practical reason, and attacking the authority of a source is a pretty common form of argument that is quasi-ad-hominem but valid.

Comment by mtraven on Ask OB: Leaving the Fold · 2008-11-10T02:24:59.000Z · LW · GW

I'm not a Christian, never have been, and don't know what variety of it you are involved with, so may not be qualified to comment. But I would say rather than replace a simplistic (fundamentalist) religious belief system with an equally simplistic atheism, you might search for a version of religion or spirituality that is compatible with science and doesn't require counterfactual faith. Someone already mentioned the Friends, and this site may be a good place to start. There are several well-known scientists (Ken Miller, Francis Collins) who manage to reconcile science and Christian belief -- I don't know how that works exactly. You need to figure out why you feel the need to change your belief system, and which parts of it need to get discarded or modified. All I'm saying is that it isn't all or nothing.

Comment by mtraven on BHTV: Jaron Lanier and Yudkowsky · 2008-11-04T04:18:00.000Z · LW · GW

Yvain, nicely put.

Another kind of argument, which I'm not sure if Lanier was making but other people have, is that you can be a naturalist without being a reductionist, and you can be a reductionist without believing that computation is the right model for human brains. EY himself has pointed out that certain forms of symbolic AI are misleading, since naming your Lisp symbol UNDERSTAND does not mean you have implemented understanding. Lanier is making a similar but stronger case against computation in general.

More reasoned critiques of computationalism from within the field have been produced by Rod Brooks, David Chapman, Phil Agre, Terry Winograd, Lucy Suchman, and others. I'd really recommend starting with them rather than revisiting the stale and ridiculous zombie argument and its relatives.

Comment by mtraven on BHTV: Jaron Lanier and Yudkowsky · 2008-11-02T18:39:27.000Z · LW · GW

@Max M: According to him, they should elect the candidate [Obama] that is looking to take a more top-down command and control position on the economy (unless he doesn't realize this is Obama's position, or thinks its not 'really' his position, or something to that effect).

Um, maybe you should give some backing for this statement, given that government spending has wildly increased under recent Republican administrations, and that John McCain promises even more expensive foreign wars, which translates to even more of the economy being spent on the non-productive, non-investment military, which is the very definition of a "top-down command and control" organization.

In short, there are not any libertarians running (well, there are, but none with a chance of winning), and Obama is arguably a better choice for those who have libertarian values.

Sorry to pollute the high-minded intellectual tone of this blog with current events, but believe it or not this stuff is important.

Perhaps more on-topic, the Republicans under Bush declared themselves to be separate from what they called the "reality-based community". I assume anyone in the orbit of Overcoming Bias would prefer to be on the side of the RBC.

Comment by mtraven on BHTV: Jaron Lanier and Yudkowsky · 2008-11-02T01:24:39.000Z · LW · GW

Eh, Lanier has some sound intuitions but his arguments supporting them seem confused. I am (naturally) more impressed with my own arguments against reductionism, some of which are collected here. My attempts to argue them around here have mostly come to naught though.

Also, you should read some Brian Cantwell Smith.

You owe it to yourself to take on the strongest arguments against your position as well as the weak ones. I don't know where my half-assed speculations fit in, but Smith is a serious thinker who, like you and Lanier, comes out of the computational world so you ought to at least be able to connect on some level.

Comment by mtraven on Which Parts Are "Me"? · 2008-10-23T04:42:00.000Z · LW · GW

Everything I am, is surely my brain; but I don't accept everything my brain does, as "me".
Such an awkwardly phrased and punctuated sentence is evidence of cognitive failure, or at least a hiccup. There's a fundamental mistake you are trying to paper over right at the start of this essay, which goes downhill from there.

Why are hardcore materialists, who presumably have no truck with Cartesian mind/body dualism, so eager to embrace brain/body dualism? Or software/hardware dualism?

So you start by restricting your self to your brain (at least, I think that's what that sentence means), and follow up by being obligated to lop off large chunks of that. Keep it up and you'll wind up as a ghost in the machine after all.

I'm afraid this seems like the opposite of Zen to me.

Comment by mtraven on Crisis of Faith · 2008-10-12T16:23:00.000Z · LW · GW

Religion is the classic example of a delusion that might be good for you. There is some evidence that being religious increases human happiness, or social cohesion. It's universality in human culture suggests that it has adaptive value.

Comment by mtraven on Crisis of Faith · 2008-10-11T07:32:08.000Z · LW · GW

"Try to think the thought that hurts the most."

This is exactly why I like to entertain religious thoughts. My background, training, and inclination are to be a thoroughgoing atheist materialist, so I find that trying to make sense of religious ideas is good mental exercise. Feel the burn!

In that vein, here is an audio recording of Robert Aumann on speaking on "The Personality of God".

Also, the more seriously religious had roughly the same idea, or maybe it's the opposite idea. The counterfactuality of religious ideas is part of their strength, apparently.

Comment by mtraven on Beyond the Reach of God · 2008-10-05T07:44:00.000Z · LW · GW

Eliezer, if that last comment was in response to mine it is a disappointingly obtuse misinterpretation which doesn't engage with any of the points I made. "Life" is worth something; that doesn't mean that striving for the infinite extension of individual lives should be a priority.

Comment by mtraven on Beyond the Reach of God · 2008-10-05T07:05:00.000Z · LW · GW

Oh, and while I'm stirring up the pot, let me just say that this statement made me laugh: "But members of Team Rational are not herd thinkers." Dude. Self-undermining much?