Is Omega Impossible? Can we even ask? 2012-10-24T14:47:26.743Z
[LINK] blog on cryonics by someone who freezes things in a cell bio lab 2012-10-19T18:35:10.303Z
A Film about TransHuman Enterprises 2011-12-08T18:36:50.897Z
"Add to Friends" does something or not? 2011-01-28T00:45:09.443Z
the Universe, Computability, and the Singularity 2011-01-05T17:19:24.233Z
Quantum Joint Configuration article: need help from physicists 2010-12-22T18:32:15.888Z
A fun estimation test, is it useful? 2010-12-20T21:09:37.533Z


Comment by mwengler on Welcome to San Diego Rationalist Meetups · 2018-05-01T13:11:34.135Z · LW · GW

I'd like to join how do I do that?

Comment by mwengler on 0.999...=1: Another Rationality Litmus Test · 2017-01-21T16:02:49.252Z · LW · GW

I suppose you might be right for some people. For me, the fact that repeating infinite decimal expansions are rational is deeply deeply ingrained. Since your post is essentially how to square your feelings with what turns out to be mathematically true, you have a lot of room for disagreement as there is no contradiction in different people feeling different ways about the same facts.

For me the most fun thing about 0.9999.... is that 1/9 = .11111... and therefore 9x1/9 = 9x.111111..... and this last expression obviously = .99999...

You should also do a search on "right" in your post and edit it, you use "right" one time where you really need "write" I think it is "right down" instead of "write down" but I'll let you do the looking.

Comment by mwengler on 0.999...=1: Another Rationality Litmus Test · 2017-01-21T10:47:33.050Z · LW · GW

The OP states:

A very good question is "what kinds of objects are these, anyway?" Since we have an infinite decimal they can't be rational numbers.

This is just wrong. A rational number is a number that can be written as a fraction of two integers. Lots of infinite decimals are rational numbers. 1/3 = .3333333..., 1/9 = .1111111.... 1/7 = .142857142857142857... etc.

Comment by mwengler on The map of p-zombies · 2017-01-11T15:52:43.659Z · LW · GW

Clearly we can differentiate between different-location-same-time and different-location-different-time. Two things in different-location-same-time are different things. Two things different-location-different-time may be same thing or may be different thing depending on the path through time. Your mathematical style of abstraction in thinking about identity will only be useful at explaining the real world if it is matched to real world processes, and does not ignore important real world insights.

Comment by mwengler on The map of p-zombies · 2016-09-11T23:00:46.346Z · LW · GW

if we adopt idea that consciousness could be different without any physical difference between the copies, we adopt the idea of p-zombies and reject physicalism that is modern version of materialism. It almost the same as to say that immaterial soul exist. It is very strong statement.

Not relevant to the problem. If you create a copy of me, the copy is not identical, if for no other reason than it occupies a different location than I do. I agree that if it occupied the same location that I do, atom for atom and quark for quark, that could lead to the concern you express. But copies cannot occupy the same location, and so there is no problem having the copy to the left be one consciousness while the original to the right is a different consciousness.

The strongest claim I might accept would be that both the original and the copy have "valid" claims to be the continuation of the pre-copying single consciousness that was me back then. But no matter how you slice it, killing the original when you make the copy is still destroying a separate consciousness, even if the remaining consciousness thinks it is the only continuation of the pre-copy consciousness.

Comment by mwengler on The map of p-zombies · 2016-08-12T15:00:21.282Z · LW · GW

1) I do not understand why our experience of identical twins does not play into most discussions of my copy being "the same person as me." We know that twins do not share the same consciousness (unless Occam's razor is wrong and they are all lying.) We know from that that if we made a copy without destroying the original that the copy and the original would not share a consciousness. So why isn't at least the possibiliy (I would estimate overwhelming likelihood) that a copy is a different consciousness than the original, and that destroying the original kills one consciousness while making a copy creates a different consciousness, and that these are separate processes?

2) Does philosophy talk somewhere about what I would call "outer" and "inner" worlds? I know I'm conscious because I participate in my inner world. I figure by Occam's razor that you are conscious, but I don't have direct experience of your consciousness, because I can only see you in my outer world. We don't talk anywhere near as much about "inner" world because we don't share that with others, while our "outer" experiences are shared, and we have evolved a host of techniques including language and science for processing "outer" experiences. But "inner" experiences don't benefit from language and science because they are, so far, locked away inside us, not social phenomenon. Because I think the idea that our copy is a continuation of our own consciousness is a mistake we can make if we don't realize there is an "inner" experience quite distinct from our "outer" experiences. So sure, my copy thinks he is continuously conscious, and therefore may think my consciousness has jumped into him, but that is because to my copy, I am part of his "outer" world. But if a non-destructive copy of me was made, I think it is obvious from what we know about twins that despite my copies eloquence at explaining his continuity from me, that I, the original, would resist being killed as superflous. Yes in everybody else's outer world, where consciousness of others is indirectly inferred, they can't tell that my copy is not a continuation of my consciousness in separate matter. But in my inner world, it seems pretty clear that I, (the original) would know.

Comment by mwengler on Open Thread May 30 - June 5, 2016 · 2016-05-30T17:35:24.440Z · LW · GW

My first thoughts reading your post are 1) You start WAY TOO LATE IN THE GAME. You are essentially talking about altruism as a conscious choice which means you are well into the higher mammals.

Virtually every sexually reproducing creature devotes resources to reproduction that could have been conserved for individual survival. As you move up in complexity, you have animals feeding their young and performing other services for them. As would be expected with all evolved cooperation, the energy and cost you expend raising your young produces a more survivable young and so is net cost effective at getting the next generation going, which is pretty much what spreads genes.

How big of a leap is it from a mama bird regurgitating food into her baby's mouth to you helping your neighbor hunt for wooly mammoth?

If you were the first organism to get the gene to feed your babies or do whatever expanded their survivability, then obviously that is how that gene propagates, your babies have the gene.

As you get to the more complex forms of altruism of primates and humans, you also get to strong feedback mechanisms against non-cooperators and free-riders. The system may not be perfect but I think it allows a path from feeding babies or burying eggs in the sand to modern altruism in humans where no wierd "how do we start this" behaviors bump up to stop things.

Comment by mwengler on Open Thread May 9 - May 15 2016 · 2016-05-14T17:36:32.771Z · LW · GW

I may not understand the question's point, because as I read it the answer is a very obvious "Yes." We determined Newton's laws and Maxwell's equations from observations of our world. So the planets in orbit around the sun, the moon around the earth, and an apple falling to the ground all lead to gravitation. The attraction between wires carrying current in the same direction (magnetic), the functioning of transformers (change in magnetic field produces electric field) and radio and light all fit together to give Maxwell's equations.

So yes, a world with the macroscopic physical observations as ours does not violate Newton's or Maxwell's laws because our world with those observations doesn't violate those laws. If Newton's or Maxwell's equations were different, the world you saw would necessarily be different.

What am I missing here?

Comment by mwengler on What can we learn from Microsoft's Tay, its inflammatory tweets, and its shutdown? · 2016-04-03T15:15:43.095Z · LW · GW

That Artificial Intelligence is going to do a lot of the same things that Natural Intelligence does.

Comment by mwengler on Marketing rationalism · 2016-02-11T15:38:29.250Z · LW · GW

Taboo "faith", what do you mean specifically by that term?

Good idea. I mean that EVERYBODY, rationalist atheist and christian alike, starts with an axiom or assumption.

In the case of rationalist atheists (or at least come such as myself) the axioms started with are things like 1) truth is inferred with semi=quantifiable confidence from evidence supporting hypotheses, 2) explanations like "god did it" or "alpha did it" or "a benevolent force of the universe did it" are disallowed. I think some people are willing to go circular, allow the axioms to remain implicit and then "prove" them along the way: I see no evidence for a conscious personality with supernatural powers. But I do claim that is circular, you can't prove anything without knowing how you prove things and so you can't prove how you prove things by applying how you prove things without being circular.

So for me, I support my rationalist atheist point of view by appealing to the great success it has in advancing engineering and science. By pointing to the richness of the connections to data, the "obvious" consistency of geology with a 4 billion year old earth, the "obvious" consistency of evolution from common ancestors of similar structures across species right down to the ADP-ATP cycle and DNA.

But a theist is doing the same thing. They START with the assumption that there is a powerful conscious being running both the physical and the human worlds. They marvel at the brilliance of the design of life to support their claim even though it can't prove their axioms. They marvel at the richness of the human moral and emotional world as more support for the richness and beauty of conscious and good creation.

Logically, there is no logic without assumptions. Deduction needs something to deduce from. I like occams razor and naturalism because my long exposure to it leaves me feeling very satisfied with its ability to describe many things I think are important. Other people like theism because their long exposure to it leaves them feeling very satisfied with its ability to describe and even prescribe the things they think are important.

I am not aware of a definitive way to challenge axioms, and I don't think there is one at the level I think of it.

Comment by mwengler on Marketing rationalism · 2016-02-10T15:56:29.936Z · LW · GW

This comment is in reply to some ideas in the comments below.

In my opinion, my rationality is as faith-based as is a religious person's religious belief.

Among my highest values is "being right" in the sense of being able to instrumentally effect or predict the world. I want to be able to communicate across long distances, to turn combustible fuel into safe transportation, to correctly predict what an interstellar probe will find and to be able to build an interstellar probe that will work. Looking at the world, I see much more success in endeavors like these from science and rationality than from religiosity or appeals to god. And so I adopt rationality as it supports my values.

I also want to raise healthy, happy, "good" children. My one child who dabbles in alcohol, drugs, and petty theft, I am pretty sure I could "help" him by going to church with him. I've known many people who are effective at doing things I see as good because, it seems, of their religious beliefs and participation in churches and religious communities. I liked being a Lutheran for a few years. One night I told our pastor that I just didn't believe in god. He told me he thought half the church had that happening. Even so I couldn't stay engaged.

I feel the loss of religious faith as a sorrow, or a pain, or a burr under my saddle, or something. But I can't justify it, or more importantly, I can only pretend to believe, actual belief does not seem to me to be a real option anymore.

And it turns out I have enough "faith" in scientific rationalism that I won't even pretend I believe in god. I choose to believe that staying consistent with rational principles will payoff more for me and those I care about than will falling back to the more accessible morality of religious faith. It is a leap of faith, especially in light of "rationalists win." If my son were to become an heroin addict and devote his life to petty theft, jail, and shooting up, AND I could have prevented that by bringing him to church, I will have paid a price for my faith, as much as any Christian Martyr who was harmed or whos family was harmed because he did not deny his Christian belief.

People who think their rationality does not come from a faith they possess remind me of religious people who think their belief in god is just right, that it does not come from a faith that they possess or have chosen.

Comment by mwengler on Open thread, Jan. 25 - Jan. 31, 2016 · 2016-01-27T18:49:59.043Z · LW · GW

I'm not sure which is correct. Not that familiar with utilitarianist nuts and bolts.

As with so many things, if there is more than one way to interpret something there is generally not too much to be gained by interpreting so that there is an error when there is a way to interpret it that makes sense. Clearly if a new charity sets up that takes twice the cost to provide the same benefit, and people switch donations from the cheaper charity to the more expensive one, utility produced has been decreased compared to the counterfactual where the new more expensive charity was not set up.

So whatever terminology you prefer, 1) opportunity cost is a real thing and arguably is the only good way to compare money to food quantitatively, and 2) whatever the terminology, the point of the original article is a decrease in utility from adding a charity, which is a sensible idea and well within the bounds of reasonable interpretation of the title under question.

Comment by mwengler on Open thread, Jan. 25 - Jan. 31, 2016 · 2016-01-27T14:40:54.594Z · LW · GW

I think that if a charity had negative utility, that would imply that burning a sum of money would be preferable to donating that money to that charity.

If there are two charities, one which feeds homeless population for $3/day and a 2nd which feeds same population same food for $6/day, AND people tend to give some amount of money to one charity or the other, but not both, then it seems pretty reasonable to describe the utility of the more expensive charity as negative. It is not that it would be better to burn my contribution, but rather that I am getting $3 worth of good from a $6 donation. But just out and out burning money being superior to donating it is not the only way to interpret negative utility.

If you have $6 to give towards feeding the homeless, it would be better to burn $2 and donate $4 to the cheaper provider than to give the entire $6 to the more expensive charity. But only in the same sense that it would be better to burn $3000 and buy a particular car for $10,000 than to burn no money and buy that exact same car for $14,000. Whereever there are better and worser deals, burning less than the full savings can be worked in as part of a superior choice. This does not have anything to do with whether these are charities or for profit businesses.

Comment by mwengler on Open thread, Jan. 18 - Jan. 24, 2016 · 2016-01-27T13:43:19.857Z · LW · GW

'no pig' > 'happy pig + surprise axe' > 'sad pig + surprise axe'

Would this also mean

'no pig' > 'happy pig + surprise predator' > 'sad pig + surprise predator' I don't think nature is generally any better than (some kinds of) farming for prey animals. Should vegans be benefitting from lowering the birth rates among natural animals?

Or for that matter, does it also mean 'no human' > 'happy human + eventual death' > 'sad human + eventual death' Even in nature, all life is alive, and then it dies, almost always in a way it would not choose or enjoy. Does life just suck? Are we bad actors for having children?

Comment by mwengler on Open thread, Jan. 18 - Jan. 24, 2016 · 2016-01-27T13:31:08.723Z · LW · GW

Most vegetarians would think that activities that normally make animals suffer are bad in themselves.

Presumably the moral win in reducing or eliminating the suffering of farmed meat would have more to do with non-vegetarians than vegetarians. But really, is the point here to do something better than is already done, or is to impress vegetarians?

Comment by mwengler on Open thread, Jan. 18 - Jan. 24, 2016 · 2016-01-24T17:53:51.313Z · LW · GW

Would it be ethical to grow meat in a vat without a brain associated with it? Personally, I think pretty clearly yes.

So breeding suffering out of animals would seem to be between growing meat in a vat and what we have now. So it would seem to be a step in the right direction.

We, and animals, almost certainly have suffering because it had survival value for us and animals in the environment in which we evolved. Being farmed for meat is not that environment. I don't think removing suffering from our farmed animals has a downside. Of course, removing it from wild animals would probably not be a good thing, but would probably correct itself relatively quickly in the failure of non-suffering animals to survive.

Comment by mwengler on Open thread, Jan. 18 - Jan. 24, 2016 · 2016-01-24T17:40:25.806Z · LW · GW

Never heard of Circling until your post. Looked it up, initially find nothing going on in San Diego (California US). I wonder if it is more of a European thing?

If you know how I can find something local to San Diego CA US, please let me know.

Comment by mwengler on Open thread, Jan. 18 - Jan. 24, 2016 · 2016-01-24T17:32:34.780Z · LW · GW

I do think rationality is a niche. I had a conversation with a not-particularly-bright administrative assistant at work where she expressed the teachings of Jehovah's Witness as straightforward truth. She talked some of the chaos of her life (drugs, depression) before joining them. As I expressed the abstract case for, essentially, being careful about what one believes, it seemed clear enough to me that she had little or nothing to gain by being "right" (or rather adopting my opinion which is more likely to be true in a Bayesian sense) and she seemed to fairly clearly have something to lose. I, on the other hand, have a philosopho-physicist's values and also value finding regular (non-theological) truths by carefully rejecting my biases, so I was making a choice that (probably) makes sense for me.

When my 14 year old daughter (now 16 and doing much better) was "experimenting" with alcohol, marijuana, and shop-lifting, I had a "come to Jesus" talk with my religious cousin. She told me that I knew right from wrong and that I was doing my daughter no favors by teaching her skepticism above morality. I decided she was essentially correct, and that some of my own "skepticism" was actually self-serving, letting me off the hook for some stealing I had done from employers starting when I was about 15.

I view rationality as a thing we can do with our neocortex. But clearly we have a functional emotional brain that "knows" there are monsters or tigers when we are afraid of the dark and "knows" that girls we are attracted to are also attracted to us. I continue to question whether I am doing myself or my children any real favors by being as devoted to this particular feature of my neocortex as I am.

Comment by mwengler on Open thread, Jan. 18 - Jan. 24, 2016 · 2016-01-24T14:42:12.309Z · LW · GW

Does "value the welfare of others" necessarily mean "consciously value the welfare of others"? Is it wrong to say "I know how to interpret human sounds into language and meaning" just because I can do it? Or do I have to demonstrate I know how because I can deconstruct the process to the point that I can write an algorithm (or computer code) to do it?

The idea that we cannot value the welfare of computers seems ludicrously naive and misinterpretative. If I can value the welfare of a stranger, then clearly the thing for which I value welfare is not defined too tightly. If a computer (running the right program) displays some of the features that signal me that a human is something i should value, why couldn't I value the computer? We watch animated shows and value and have empathy for all sorts of animated entities. In all sorts of stories we have empathy for robots or other mechanical things. The idea that we cannot value the welfare of a computer flies in the face of the evidence that we can empathize with all sorts of non-human things fictional and real. In real life, we value and have human-like empathy for animals, fishes, and even plants in many cases.

I think the interpretations or assumptions behind this paper are bad ones. Certainly, they are not brought out explicitly and argued for.

Comment by mwengler on Open thread, Dec. 21 - Dec. 27, 2015 · 2015-12-21T18:58:47.455Z · LW · GW

Yes, there is class of investment strategies which go by the name of "liquidity constrained". If there is a small... market inefficiency out of which you can extract, say, $100,000/year but no more, none of the big investment firms would bother -- it's not worth their time. But for an individual it often is.

Can you please say more about these and how to find them?

Comment by mwengler on Open thread, Dec. 21 - Dec. 27, 2015 · 2015-12-21T18:56:44.138Z · LW · GW

Your insight is pretty consistent with a lot of philosophers, including my own personal favorite Daniel Dennett. Even if there is a pseudorandom number generator (or a quantum random number generator which might not be pseudo), that our "choices" would be random in this way does not really feel like what people want free will to mean. My reading of Dennett is that our "choices" arise from the law-like operation of our minds, which may be perfectly predictable (if there is no randomness only pseudorandmness of classical thermal noise) or might be as predicatable as any other physical phenomenon within the limits of quantum unpredictability (if you accept that explanation for what is seen in experiments such as two slit and so on).

The thing that amazes me about "free will" is that the "inputs" to what our brain does include the previous "outputs" of what our brain does. So I have decided that obviously if I believe that will power exists, the choices my brain makes in the future will be more likely consistent with what I consciously want my brain to do. So in some sense, free will does exist, well almost, if I get myself believing I have choices my brain will fall more often in the direction of choosing what I consciously want.

There is no substitute for reading Dennett in my opinion, and it is not an easy thing to do.

Comment by mwengler on Estimate the Cost of Immortality · 2015-12-17T21:34:39.673Z · LW · GW

Mais non, money is not "just" trade or "just" one way of getting something. Off the top of my head, money has multiple roles which include being:

  • medium of exchange (that's trade)

  • store of value

Which is time shifted trade. I.e. I trade a perishable good now (like my labor or a bottle of milk) for some money, I store it for a while, and then I buy something with it. I can't imagine that this is anything more than a description of what we mean when we say "store of value"

  • way of measuring and comparing the value of different goods

And how does money do that? By being used to trade for different goods, money provides a common denominator for an externalizable ranking of values. (my internal ranking of values, a 25 cent caramel is worth much more than a few $10s of bucks for some sea urchin served in some restaurants as a delicacy.

But if two of these three functions seem like something other than trade to you, enjoy.

Comment by mwengler on Estimate the Cost of Immortality · 2015-12-16T17:47:26.303Z · LW · GW

So far not mentioned in replies to this is that there are many examples of productive organizations that do not organize around money. Two leap to mind:

  • Military. Rarely do the various units and platoons trade with the other components of the military for their supplies, nor do they bid on missions. To the extent trade occurs it is usually barter and usually outside official accepted ways of doing things.

  • Business units. Large businesses may use separate calculations of returns to determine some very macro choices between business units.

But there is essentially always some size of organization below which the subunits or individuals are not trading using money to get things done. Marketers don't bid to engineers to get the products they think they can sell. Engineers don't bid on the projects they want to work on within the organization.

Indeed the fact that firms form to avoid a whole bunch of bilateral trading is analyzed by one of the most respected economists ever Ronald Coase on the Nature of the Firm.

So another version of the answer to the OP would be that the reason EVERYONE on the planet doesn't do it is because the coordination problem without money and trade is too hard (meaning you will get a vastly suboptimal result) to do on a global scale, but it works on smaller scales. So whatever it is you want to achieve, form an organization to solve it, give them a pile of money to trade with the rest of the world, and do not require them to organize internally on a trade/money basis. If you make the organization too big, it will either organize internally using trade or it will be very ineffectual.

Comment by mwengler on Estimate the Cost of Immortality · 2015-12-16T17:37:03.964Z · LW · GW

But trade is just one way of getting something from others.

Yes nice summary of the original point of the entire thread. Money (which is trade, n'est-ce pas?) is just one way of getting something.

And the argument has been can we get more of something by abandoning money. And you and I have pretty much been saying "almost certainly not, what proposal do you have that hasn't already been discredited?"

Comment by mwengler on Estimate the Cost of Immortality · 2015-12-16T16:17:44.492Z · LW · GW

My vote for most valuable insight applying as much to natural fitness as to economic behavior it is this:

The most important part of the environment is the humans and what they are doing. If I and my merry band of 100 or 1000 or even 1000000 or even 1000000000 tribe members are contemplating how we should supply ourselves with food, shelter, weapons, entertainment, & c., we should first, foremost, and with great care look to use what is already developed, invented, and produced by the rest of the world. You were concerned about warlords having trouble extracting or refining oil, but you stumbled upon the reasonable assumption that obviously the Toyotas are going to come from Japan and don't need to be produced by the warlords.

Even in the US, about the single most effective source of new cool stuff yet to grace the surface of the earth, we drive Toyotas. And BMW, Mercedes, Fiat, Volvo, Hyundai etc. We get wine, cheese, movies, etc. from everywhere else. In some self-fulfilling sense, we import about as much as we export.

Could we go it alone? Sure. We'd probably be about 90% poorer. You can quibble over whether we'd only be 20% poorer or 95% poorer, but if you at all immerse yourself in a study of where stuff comes from, the expense of inventing vs copying, the benefits of mass production and massive specialization, you will absolutely unavoidably get the sign of the effect right.

Comment by mwengler on Estimate the Cost of Immortality · 2015-12-16T05:21:54.584Z · LW · GW

Interesting hypothesis. But it doesn't align with facts, bummer.

Comment by mwengler on Estimate the Cost of Immortality · 2015-12-16T05:16:40.320Z · LW · GW

Ants have an economy which is massively simpler than that of monetized humans. It is also massively less adaptable than is a human economy. Their interactions are hardcoded into their DNA, optimized for an environment that has persisted for many 10s of thousands of years without a lot of change because that's as fast as their DNA and natural selection can adapt.

Cells also, nonmonetized, have a hardcoded "economy." Human adaptability exists outside this cellular economy. This is why humans who live in cold environments, for example, buy clothes and wear them instead of having grown blubber and/or fur.

Ancient humans did not have money. They had much simpler economies with a tiny tiny fraction of the total productivity of monetized humans.

Comment by mwengler on This year's biggest scientific achievements · 2015-12-15T16:53:20.569Z · LW · GW

I don't invent time travel for another 60 years. But I will get back to you in 2075.

Couldn't we get a precommitment from you to bring it back to 12/16/2015 once you have it?

Comment by mwengler on Estimate the Cost of Immortality · 2015-12-15T16:06:34.487Z · LW · GW

Even if the goal could be reached in 20 years, it would take much more than 20 years to empirically test that the goal had been accomplished. In the prosaic world I come from we say brain-dead stuff like "if it isn't tested it doesn't work" and feel like we understand something important when we do so.

Comment by mwengler on Estimate the Cost of Immortality · 2015-12-15T16:02:19.952Z · LW · GW

I would estimate approximately


Is it permissible to write III^^^III ?

Comment by mwengler on Estimate the Cost of Immortality · 2015-12-15T16:01:03.879Z · LW · GW

Oh. I had assumed that "not planning for catering" fell in the "odd cases" category, but maybe I overestimate humans.

Its not that you overestimate humans but that you massively underestimate that amount of thought, work, and organization that results in a store of fresh healthy abundant food available for your nutrition. That complex chain involving thousands and millions of people, some producing the oil to lubricate the gears of the tractor or the delivery truck, some paving the roads, some setting standards for fuel composition and performance so that some others can build motors to drive the pieces, while still others keep accurate records of who "owns" which pieces of land so there is no confusion about who gets to harvest the food months after it is planted. It involves a bunch more things, too.

It is not that it is impossible to organize this without ownership. It is just that until you explain HOW you organize this without ownership, it is impossible to determine how such a system without ownership compares to the current one.

Comment by mwengler on Estimate the Cost of Immortality · 2015-12-15T15:55:13.776Z · LW · GW

Another version of the starvation objection to this hypothetical is this:

Such a system would rather quickly result in large groups of people inventing ownership and protecting it by force, by threat of violence. Maybe not the first time the half-ripe tomato you don't own but which you planted is eaten by someone else before you eat it you will not sign on to this alternative. But if you manage to stay alive long enough, you will soon be trading your labor for food and be incredibly grateful that the same system which is LETTING you trade your labor for food is also setting up powerful violent incentives for others to leave you in peace with "your" food.

This is a version of my own "objection" to anarchism. Anarchy is unstable to the formation of what is, effectively, government, and the essence of government is a system that tells you what is NOT yours, what is yours, and provides powerful and violent responses to those who "disagree" with their characterization. If you are lucky, you get the American constitution, if you are half-lucky you get the Mafia in 19th and 20th century Sicily, and if your luck is lousy you get roving militias in Toyota pick-up trucks with machine guns mounted in the back.

I await your counterfactual proposal on how to prevent the formation of a government or a militia.

Comment by mwengler on Estimate the Cost of Immortality · 2015-12-15T15:44:11.253Z · LW · GW

Lumifer is a bit heavy-handed with his name-calling, but I think his objection is basically the right one.

The market is an information processing machine that solves problems too complex to be solved by any other means we have yet tried. Our entire experience with non-money economies is a stupefying lack of efficiency. But the OP asks about getting rid of ownership, not money, and that hasn't been tried.

So I have a refrigerator with some food in it and I'm set for the next day or two eating-wise. If I don't own the food in the refrigerator, by any reasonable definition of ownership I can think of this means I am NOT set for then next day or two as anybody who can reasonably predict that at least a few people have food in refrigerators can believe that THEY are set for at least the next few hours because they can walk up to those refrigerators and take the food. Without ownership how is that avoided? And don't tell me by "politeness" or "convention," the politeness and convention you would be appealing to is that you don't take other people's stuff, i.e., you have let ownership seep back in to your system.

And beyond the food, I don't even own the refrigerator! And the good folks at the power company may conspire to make 99.99% reliable electricity for the refrigerator, but currently they do that because it pays well, so in this other system, do we have a mechanism to suggest that this will still happen?

Considering the difference in productivity between market economies and non-market economies, empirically you'd have to estimate that the market system is about as important to production as are lungs to the metabolism of land based mammals. Sure, without lungs, there'd be some way of getting some oxygen to the cells, but probably 1e-3 o 1e-6 as much or some such crazy reduction.

If you want to get rid of money, but you don't want mass starvation, pollution, diseases, dehydration, and all the other things that would occur with a cratering of production and distribution, you need to propose a system that will take its place. It is not the job of people "accepting your counterfactual" to assume that there is a reasonable one in the wings. And if people don't argue against your counterfactual proposal to replace money, they are probably just uneducated in economics.

About the only counterfactual I can guess is that humans get taken care of by a different intelligence. Whether that is machine AI, or Aliens, or cyborg slave chimpanzees and apes, I would bet dollars to donuts that our caretakers providing us with all the stuff we currently get and then some, will have something which is informationally equivalent to money in their system. No matter how smart you are, there are just a whole class of decisions which when distributed cause a system to be more efficient than when those decisions are centralized.

Comment by mwengler on Open thread, Dec. 14 - Dec. 20, 2015 · 2015-12-15T15:16:10.973Z · LW · GW

When doing the calculations be sure to QA your LYs. Spending an extra week lying doped up and in pain in a hospital bed may not be worth all that much. Also with medical research, you often wind up with a patented drug which then costs $1e5 per patient treated at least for the first decade or two of its use at least as used in the USA and other non-single payer countries. Or it requires $1e5 of medical professional intervention per patient to implement. My priors are that the low-hanging fruit is not in turning 90 year olds into 91 year olds, and won't be for many decades.

Comment by mwengler on Stupid Questions, December 2015 · 2015-12-15T14:48:52.664Z · LW · GW

That is a little like suggesting that a sound recorder is just electronics and shouting at any electronics should elicit a response. Bringing it back to the neurons,

  • loud enough sound on any neuron will probably excite it
  • However the sensitivity of neurons connected in the ear to sound is thousands or millions or billions (not bothering to calculate it) higher than the sensitivity of a random neuron in the brain to sound
  • A random neuron responding to sound won't feel like sound. If a pain neuron is activated by sound, it will appear as pain, if a hot neuron activated by sound will appear as heat, etc.

So as hot as the air has to be to excite your cochlear apparatus, and thus the neurons connected to it, it probably has to be thousands or millions times hotter to excite the neurons directly in your brain. And long before it gets to that temperature your brains has been cooked, then dessicated, then burned, and finally decomposed into a plasma of atoms and electrons flying about separately, and probably at the temperatures we are talking about, the protons and neutrons are smashed apart into a cloud of subatomic particles.

Comment by mwengler on timeless quantum immortality · 2015-12-09T16:01:53.344Z · LW · GW

If, hypothetically, I tried to catch a terminal-velocity bowling ball with my face, your theory says I would experience the bowling ball doing nonfatal damage and then stopping just before killing me, and my theory says I would experience changing my mind and getting out of the way of the bowling ball.

So from the perspective of a you that I can talk to after the near miss with the bowling ball, your description makes sense. But it also makes sense to me. We are both in the universe where you changed your mind before the bowling ball hit you and you got out of the way.

But from the perspective of me in the world where you got hit by the bowling ball and died in pain, your consciousness did whatever consciousnesses do when people die. Presumably it felt the fear when it noticed he inevitability, felt the impact and then the pain, and then stopped working as the neurons in the brain stopped working, some from immediate injury, others more slowly form loss of viable environment.

The worlds in which people die exist. I am in a world where billions, of people have died. A small number I have seen die with my own eyes, a larger number I have seen soon after they died, a much larger number I know of by reliable report.

This immortality you speak of: if there are identical twins and a the age of 5 they are crossing the street and one is hit by a bus,has not some individual died? If you live in a world with MWI, and at the age of 5 for one conscious version of you the universe splits, and in one of those branches EVERY new universe generated ends in your death at a finite age at least 20 years later, while in the other branch there are some branches where you go on forever, than have there not been at least one conscious version of you which will last 20 or more years, but not infinitely, that will die?

This idea that your consciousness jumps from the dying world to somehow mystically join with the version of you in a different world is anti-intuitive at best, and non-scientific or religious at worst. Nothing else jumps between worlds once they have split, why would consciousness? There is already a consciousness in the world you want to jump to with different experiences than yours as you face your last seconds of life, how is there room for your consciousness to pop on over to the other universe to escape death?

Your theory strikes me as the opposite of timeless. Your theory seems to come down to, if I ask my 10,000 year old self about the worlds, I am always going to get an answer in which I lived at least 10,000 years. But if you ask your 20 year old self about the world, then almost all the answers you get are going to be about worlds in which you live less than 100 years, I say that based on the observation that the people other tyan you that you see, way over 99% of them are dying before age 100.

A QI belief in infinite life seems indistinguishable from any other regligious belief in infinite life, at least in regards to conformity with evidence, logical plausibility, and some amount of wishful thinking.

Comment by mwengler on Stupid Questions, December 2015 · 2015-12-09T15:34:05.613Z · LW · GW

I'm not certain that I understand your argument, so I may have responded incorrectly. Let me know if you need any clarification.

On re-reading, I actually misunderstood your original point and my argument has nothing to do with your original point.

I would still want to point out a few things that may make what is going on clearer.

First, Brownian motion amplitude rises as temperature rises. So while the Brownian motion of temperatures typically found in the ear, or in the air near the ear, is small enough that the ear can't detect it, as you say, if you were to raise the temperature, the Brownian motion would be higher amplitude and would eventually rise to a point where it was detectable. This is a pretty academic point: the temperatures required to hear the brownian motion would harm the ear so in practical terms your statements are right enough.

If vibrations in the air cause the endolymph to have pressure waves in it which then cause cochlear hairs to move, it is still quite reasonable to describe that as air vibrations making cochlear hairs move. Introducing the endolymph is a clarification at best, not a correction.

Comment by mwengler on Stupid Questions, December 2015 · 2015-12-09T15:25:51.751Z · LW · GW

Another thing to keep in mind is that at equilibrium, you have thermal excitation everywhere. You might as well ask why you don't hear or see or smell the thermal excitation in your own brain.

I think you are suggesting something like: if I was detecting thermal vibration by the vibration of a membrane due to thermally induced air pressure I wouldn't because the temperature is the same in the air on both sides of the membrane and therefore the thermal air pressure on each side of the membrane is the same and so fails to move the membrane. If this is what you are suggesting it is wrong, and in a basic enough way to merit explanation.

Sound is pressure changing in time. Thermal vibration follows a random distribution. The air on each side of a membrane at the same temperature will have the same statistics of pressure change on each side of the membrane, but not the same instantaneous pressure on each side of the membrane. If the random pressure exceeds p1 25% of the time an is less than p0 25% of the time, then 6.25% of the time there will be a pressure difference of at least p1 - p0 on the membrane, and a different 6.25% of the time there will be an opposite sign pressure difference of at most p0 - p1 where we have chosen p1 to be the higher pressure than p0. So thermal vibrations will absolutely cause a membrane to vibrate randomly. Further, it is the case that the magnitudes of p1 and p0 rise as temperature rises as temperature rises, so we expect the membrane to be moved more when surrounded by hotter air than it does when surrounded by cooler air.

SO it is the case that generally heating air makes its average pressure rise if it is in a constrained volume, and a membrane will certainly not be displaced on average if it has air on each side at the same average pressure, but it is the temporal or time variations that produce sound, and the time variations on each side of the membrane for most conditions you can create in the lab are uncorrelated, and so the membrane vibrates randomly and with an amplitude that rises as the temperature of the air rises.

Comment by mwengler on Stupid Questions, December 2015 · 2015-12-08T21:15:53.749Z · LW · GW

Photons with over 1 Million electron volts of energy can create a positron-electron pair, but only when near another massive particle (like the nucleus of an atom). The other massive particle is moved in the interaction but is otherwise not-necessarily changed. This process has been demonstrated experimentally. The mean free path of the energetic photon near an atomic nucleus is something down on the atomic scale, the experiment I read about used a piece of gold foil and generated lots of positron-electron pairs.

A single photon in otherwise empty space cannot create a pair of particles I was wrong when stating that. However, space with nothing but two photons in it can create matter. Two photons each with a bit over 511 million electron volts of energy can collide and result in the creation of a positron and an electron. Alternatively a single 80 Tera Electron Volt photon can collide with a very low energy photon to create an electron-positron pair. This effect actually makes our existing universe opaque to photons above 80 TeV because our universe is filled with approximately 0.0003 eV photons known as the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation. This background radiation is left-over radiation from the big bang which by now has cooled down to about 3 Kelvin in temperature. I don't know any of the actual mean-free-paths associated with this, just that they are much shorter than interstellar distances.

Comment by mwengler on timeless quantum immortality · 2015-12-06T16:04:14.595Z · LW · GW

I think your argument is wrong.

If in my young age I am present in zillions of different universes, am I not conscious in each one of these? Am I not just as much a conscious being in the universes in which I die tomorrow, as I am in the universes in which I will die next week, as I am in the universes where I will live for 3000 years?

So what life path are you most likely to observe? You are most likely to "observe" ALL of them. If you were to pick one at random, what is the lifespan of the one you are most likely to pick? You would need to know the distribution of lifespans across timelines to answer that question. There are many distributions where your most likely choice would be a rather short lifespan, and many where it will be one of the very long ones, and probably even some distributions where the most likely one will be an infinite lifespan. But I don't believe you have suggested any way to estimate which case applies to your hypothetical MWI universes.

Comment by mwengler on Stupid Questions, December 2015 · 2015-12-06T15:55:31.269Z · LW · GW

As far as I remember, you need to hit the resonant frequency of a particular hair to trigger a "sound" response, so frequencies higher than 20KHz might excite them, but if you're not getting resonance, nothing triggers.

No this is wrong. Each hair is excited by the amount of its particular resonant frequeny in the sound hitting it. If a violin note is heard, that note only has a few discrete frequencies in it and so a few hairs are very excited about it and the brain (of the trained violinist with perfect pitch anyway) goes "oh, A 440." If white noise loud enough to hear is hitting the ear, then essentially all the hairs are excited because all frequencies are present in white noise, and the brain goes "sounds like the ocean."

As to excitement by sound above 20 kHz, a very high frequency ultrasound, say at 100 kHz, can be modulated with the vibrations associated with a violin string, much as sound can be modulated on radio carriers. Such ultrasound hitting a human ear can actually cause the appropriate hairs to be excited so that the brain goes "oh, A 440." The phenomenon relies on the non-linear response of cochlear hairs and highly directional speakers based on this effect have been built and demonstrated. See for example

Comment by mwengler on Stupid Questions, December 2015 · 2015-12-06T15:47:52.807Z · LW · GW

As to molecule collisions, I'm not sure vibrations at sufficiently high frequency can be called "acoustic" at all.

Your reasoning here carries useful information. For example, when you are dealing with vibrations whose frequency is so high that the wavelength of the vibration is less than the average spacing between molecules in a gas, or in a solid lattice, then a lot of what you calculate about the detection and interactions with lower frequency vibrations no longer applies.

However, the same limitations apply to electromagnetic radiation. For example we think of vacuum or empty space as transparent to EM radiation, and it is as long as the EM frequency is low enough frequency. But high enough frequency EM radiation, empty space is opaque to it! For example, at high enough frequencies, a single photon has enough energy to create a positron-electron pair in free space. Photons at that frequency don't travel very far before they are destroyed by such a spontaneous generation of particles.

So in principle, EM radiation and acoustic vibrations are the same in this respect: as long as you are considering frequencies "low enough" that they don't rip apart the medium in which the wave exists, they behave in the ways we usually think of for sound and light. But above those frequencies, they rip apart the media they are traveling through, even if that medium is so-called empty space.

Comment by mwengler on Stupid Questions, December 2015 · 2015-12-06T15:40:12.148Z · LW · GW

The reasoning behind blackbody electromagnetic radiation applies equally well to thermal vibrations in solids and gases. Meaning the spectral limits derived from a quantum consideration of the quantization of electromagnetic radiation (into photons) applies equally well to the quantum considerations of vibrational radiation (into phonons).

"Thermal" photons are indistinguishable individually from photons from other sources. The thing that makes a thing thermal is the distribution and prevalence of photons in time and frequency, those from a thermal source follow a well understood set of statistics, while photons from other sources clearly deviate from that. So a photon arising from a cell phone tower's radio transmitter reacts similarly with a cell phone's radio receiver as a photon at a similar frequency arising from thermal emission from the air. Physics can't distinguish between these two photons which is why it is a major effort in building radio communications to get enough signal-sourced photons compared to the thermal-sourced photons so that the signal-sourced photons dominate, and therefore the signal can be accurately derived from their detection.

Similarly with phonons. Vibrations because something is hot are indistinguishable from vibrations from a vocal cord. It is the statistical distribution of the vibrations in time and frequency that defines a thermal set of vibrations. And again, to hear what someone is saying, it is important to get enough phonons from their vocal cords into your ears compared to the phonons from other sources in order to accurately enough derive the intended information.

Thermal noise or other white noise, and a symphony, have the same kind of phonons and both can be heard by the same kinds of ears. They carry different kinds of information (they sound different) because of their different time and frequency statistics.

Comment by mwengler on Stupid Questions, December 2015 · 2015-12-06T15:30:04.632Z · LW · GW

A hair cell that was triggered by Brownian motion would be useless. All inner hair cells are tuned to certain vibrations in the endolymph that are greater than those caused by Brownian motion.

Brownian motion is motion of air that, considered as vibrations, has a broad range of frequencies in it. Which means that an ear exposed to air experiencing a sufficiently high level of brownian motion will have many or all of its inner hair cells excited. If your statement was correct, humans would not be able to hear white noise, whereas obviously (to any hearing person who has ever been exposed to white noise) we can.

Comment by mwengler on Stupid Questions, December 2015 · 2015-12-06T15:24:37.761Z · LW · GW

I think many of LW values are manufactured. I think you detect which are most manufactured by looking at the ones not widely held by other humans. Values like "you should get your head frozen when you die" are probably at the most manufactured end as they are nearly unique to LW and fellow travelers. Values like polyamory are pretty manufactured by do show up in a larger minority of non-LW types than head freezing. Values like a world with 3**3 created AIs in it that are a little happy is better than a world with 1 billion humans in it who are all living quite well are manufactured. Certainly held beyond LW but plenty of people hold the opposite value, that a better world would have a sustainable biologically human population.

In my opinion, the human values that are not manufactured are the ones you are born with. They feel more like moral sentiments than coherently stated values, because, I think, you aren't born with ideas, you are born with tendencies to feel certain ways. From your moral sentiments, and discussions with other people, you build ideas that, in my opinion, you think help you explain why you have your moral sentiments. In my opinion you have your moral sentiments, and thinking your value ideas account for them is like being attracted to another person and "thinking" that means they are attracted to you: it is a form of projection, a human bias, very helpful in propagating the species but not particularly well suited to accurately explaining how the world works.

It isn't just LW values that are manufactured, in my opinion, all values expressed as ideas are manufactured. This is why they have to be taught to be propagated, no particular set of values expressed as ideas arise spontaneously in a large number of humans.

Comment by mwengler on Stupid Questions, December 2015 · 2015-12-05T14:38:23.838Z · LW · GW

You can't hear temperatures because if the temperatures of air were high enough to make enough noise for you to hear, you would be incinerated. goes over this. There is a lot of error in that thread, but the parts that are right show up a few times and calculate the white noise sound level of room temperature air at about -20 dB SPL. SPL of 0 dB is the approximate threshold of human hearing. dB is a logarithmic scale such that every 10 dB increase is a 10X higher power. So -20 dB SPL is about 1/100 the average sound power level that would just barely be audible by a human. This is calculated at something close to room temperature, about 23 C which is about 300 K.

How hot would air have to get to have its thermal fluctuations audible as sound to humans? Any thermal power (at sufficiently low frequencies which situation applies here) is proportional to the temperature. So to increase the thermal sound level from -20 dB to 0 dB, the sound power needs to be increased by a factor of 100. So this would happen at an absolute air temperature of 30000 K, or about 29700 C. For us Americans, that is 53500 F. Super crazy hot, hotter than the sun.

So wait a minute, am I saying that a white noise generator generating 0 dB (barely audible) white noise is heating the air to super-solar temperatures? That doesn't pass the smell test: if it was true my ears would be burning off when exposed to any white noise loud enough for them to hear. But the answer is, we are only generating white noise over a very small frequency range in order to hear it. Even a high fidelity white noise generator will have a bandwidth covering about 50 Hz to 20,000 Hz. But the "natural" bandwidth of thermal fluctuations is found from quantum mechanical considerations: BW = T * kb/h or bandwidth is Temperature(in Kelvin) times Boltzmann's constant divided by Planck's constant. That ratio kb/h turns out to be about 20 GHz per degree K. So thermal noise loud enough to hear would have a bandwidth of 600,000 GHz or 6e14 Hz. TO an approximation, thermal power is proportional to bandwidth, so a 20 kHz white noise generator putting out 0 dB SPL is putting out only 20000/600000000000 = 1/30000000000 the power level associated with a 30000 K source. So in terms of TOTAL energy, a band-limited white noise source is delivering way less than 1 K of extra temperature to your ears, even though in terms of energy density (power per bandwidth), it sounds hotter than the sun.

Much of the thread below covers some of this, but perhaps I add a little detail with what I write. As to blackbody radiation, yes that is appropriate to use here and its upper frequency limit has nothing to do with electromagnetics, or not fundamentally. It is a quantum mechanical limit. At a high enough frequency, the quantum of energy becomes comparable to the thermal energy, and so at higher frequencies than that those frequencies can't be effectively generated by thermal sources. This is true for both photons (electromagnetic energy quantized) and phonons (sound or vibration energy quantized).

Hope this is clear enough to add more light than heat to the discussion. Or in this case, more sound than heat :)

Comment by mwengler on Making My Peace with Belief · 2015-12-04T16:25:54.647Z · LW · GW

Happiness is the indicator for whether or not a thing works for people.

I don't think so.

Prevalence is the primary indicator of whether or not a thing works for people. Does a civilization which promotes patriotism in the local population make the people happier by doing this? I doubt it. But they probably do make their civilization more robust, more fit in a survival sense by doing so.

Comment by mwengler on Omega's Idiot Brother, Epsilon · 2015-11-29T16:05:00.598Z · LW · GW

I would one box. Clearly spending $1000 for an expected $8000 return is generally speaking a Good Thing (tm). Over the course of my life if I always take the higher expectation value choice when offered these choices, then by the central limit theorem I will be almost certainly better off than if I generally take the lower return Sure Thing. So except for extremely odd corner cases where the sure thing is a life saver, the rational policy is to not be seduced by lower return sure things. And $1000 is not a life saver for me and actually at no point in my life has it ever been a life saver.

As a rationalist, I am afraid that if I make irrational choices I will be punished by having something bad happen to me. (It's a joke)

Comment by mwengler on Rationality Quotes Thread November 2015 · 2015-11-20T08:49:21.054Z · LW · GW


Comment by mwengler on Rationality Quotes Thread November 2015 · 2015-11-20T08:47:35.560Z · LW · GW

This is my first time seeing this quote and it is a good one. Took me a minute to realize what he was saying. And I've been hanging out on this site for years.

I can't stop you from saying or thinking I should have noticed the quote before, if that's the way your mind works. But in reality I am not unique and I am not an idiot and if I find something particularly useful here there is likely a significant minority of the rest of the readers who find it useful. Which is sort of consistent with the quote.