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Comment by panic_lobster on Open thread, 16-22 June 2014 · 2014-06-18T12:45:06.378Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

So you are saying that the competition wouldn't be any fun if everyone believed that one particular team winning was the only acceptable outcome - it would defeat the purpose of the competition (fun) and devalue it to the point that there would no longer be any difference in utility anyway. That's basically the categorical imperative (if everyone broke their promises, there would be no such thing as promising, so the whole concept breaks down and so the rule makes no sense) Is that what you are getting at?

The problem is that not everyone does believe that Brazil should win. So I don't think we have a good solution for an individual utilitarian reasoner in a world in which most people do not think the same way.

Comment by panic_lobster on Open thread, 16-22 June 2014 · 2014-06-18T12:09:41.929Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Are utilitarians theoretically obligated to prefer that Brazil win the world cup? Consider: of the 32 participating countries, only the USA has a larger population, but the central place of soccer in Brazilian culture, and their status as hosts mean that they have more at stake in this competition. So total utility would probably be maximized by a Brazil win.

These considerations would seem to make rooting for any other team immoral from a strict utilitarian perspective. This exposes some things I find problematic about utilitarianism. For example, I also have the intuition that it is okay for people to support their own team, even if that teams victory would make hundreds of millions of Brazilians unhappy. If you are a utilitarian player playing against Brazil, are you doing something morally wrong by trying to win? This seems absurd, but I can't see how to escape this conclusion.

Comment by panic_lobster on AALWA: Ask any LessWronger anything · 2014-01-13T08:04:13.513Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Why do you believe that there are god-like beings that interact with humans? How confident are you that this is the case?

Comment by panic_lobster on The best 15 words · 2013-10-21T05:19:54.481Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Positivism: "Anything that can't be verified is meaningless". This can't be verified. So Positivism is meaningless / false.

Comment by panic_lobster on Rationality Quotes October 2013 · 2013-10-12T01:21:25.244Z · score: 0 (12 votes) · LW · GW

The needs of the many...outweigh...the needs of the few."

-Mr Spock, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Comment by panic_lobster on Rationality Quotes October 2013 · 2013-10-10T05:58:21.925Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

There is also a fair bit of continuity between the two--he retains one of the main theses of his earlier work: that much of our confusion about so called 'philosophical problems' is caused by people abusing language.

Comment by panic_lobster on Rationality Quotes October 2013 · 2013-10-10T05:35:03.068Z · score: 10 (16 votes) · LW · GW

The reason that testability is not enough is that prediction is not, and cannot be, the purpose of science. Consider an audience watching a conjuring trick. The problem facing them has much the same logic as a scientific problem. Although in nature there is no conjurer trying to deceive us intentionally, we can be mystified in both cases for essentially the same reason: appearances are not self-explanatory. If the explanation of a conjuring trick were evident in its appearance, there would be no trick. If the explanations of physical phenomena were evident in their appearance, empiricism would be true and there would be no need for science as we know it. The problem is not to predict the trick's appearance. I may, for instance predict that if a conjurer seems to place various balls under various cups, those cups will later appear to be empty; and I may predict that if the conjurer appears to saw someone in half, that person will later appear on stage unharmed. Those are testable predictions. I may experience many conjuring shows and see my predictions vindicated every time. But that does not even address, let alone solve, the problem of how the trick works. Solving it requires an explanation: a statement of the reality which accounts for the trick's appearance.

David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity

Comment by panic_lobster on Rationality Quotes October 2013 · 2013-10-10T05:17:51.446Z · score: 3 (9 votes) · LW · GW

What makes a mind powerful--indeed, what makes a mind conscious--is not what it is made of, or how big it is, but what it can do. Can it concentrate? Can it be distracted? Can it recall earlier events? Can it keep track of several different things at once? Which features of its own current activities can it notice or monitor? When such questions as these are answered, we will know everything we need to know about those minds in order to answer the morally important questions. These answers will capture everything we want to know about the concept of consciousness, except the idea of whether, as one author has recently said, "the mental lights would be out" in such a creature. But that is just a bad idea--in spite of its popularity. (...) For suppose that we have answered all the other questions about the mind of some creature, and now some philosophers claim that we still don't know the answer to that all-important question, Is the mental light on--yes or no? Why would either answer be important? We are owed an answer to this question, before we need to take their question seriously.

Daniel Dennet, Kinds of Minds

Comment by panic_lobster on Rationality Quotes October 2013 · 2013-10-08T03:14:54.785Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

When philosophers use a word—"knowledge", "being", "object", "I", "proposition", "name"—and try to grasp the essence of the thing, one must always ask oneself: is the word ever actually used in this way in the language-game which is its original home?—What we do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use. You say to me: "You understand this expression, don't you? Well then—I am using it in the sense you are familiar with."— As if the sense were an atmosphere accompanying the word, which it carried with it into every kind of application.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations 116-117

Comment by panic_lobster on October Monthly Bragging Thread · 2013-10-05T05:39:47.932Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

... I really don't think my syntax is that unclear.

Comment by panic_lobster on October Monthly Bragging Thread · 2013-10-05T04:43:32.157Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Today I taught a bunch of 5th grade kids how to convert decimals into fractions and vice versa.

Comment by panic_lobster on Open thread, August 26 - September 1, 2013 · 2013-08-30T06:14:05.889Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks! I've read some of the stuff by Yvain but not these posts.

Comment by panic_lobster on Open thread, August 26 - September 1, 2013 · 2013-08-29T23:05:34.331Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Let me see if I can unpack this idea a bit more.

CEV is based on the idea that there is an algorithm that can look at the state of my brain, filter out various kinds of noise, and extrapolate what sort of desires and values I'd want to have if I lived in a kinder more benevolent society, wasn't subject to nearly as many serious cognitive biases, etc.

The problem I'm seeing is that the origin and meaning of terms like 'desire' and 'value' are in prescientific culture - folk psychology. they were created by people in absolute ignorance about how brains work, and it seems increasingly plausible that these concepts will be totally inadequate for any accurate scientific explanation of how brains produce human behaviour.

It seems to be common sense that desires and values and the like are indispensable theoretical posits simply because they are all we have. Our brains' extremely limited metacogntive abilities prevent us from modelling ourselves as brains, so our brains invent a kind of mythology to explain their behaviour, which is pure confabulation.

If these ideas are right, by asking CEV to consider folk psychological ideas like desires and values, we would be committing it to the existence of things that just aren't really present in our brain states in any objective sense.

In the worst case, running CEV might be somewhat analogous to asking the AI to use Aristotelian physics to build a better airplane.

What we perceive as the fragility and complexity of human based values might not map onto brain states at all - 'values' as we wish to conceive of them may not exist outside of narrative fiction and philosophy papers.

My recent thinking on these topics has been heavily influenced by the writings of Scott Bakker , Daniel Hutto and Peter Watts' Blindsight

I hope I'm wrong about this stuff, but I don't have the training to fully analyze and debunk these ideas by myself - if it's even possible. I hope LW and MIRI have some insights about these issues, because I am seriously troubled by the apparent implications for the future of humanity.

Comment by panic_lobster on Open thread, August 26 - September 1, 2013 · 2013-08-29T14:59:05.271Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Is Friendly AI or more specifically CEV predicated on Eliminative Materialism being false? To what extent is FAI predicated on folk psychological theories of mental content turning out to accurately reflect human neurobiology?

From the article:

Modern versions of eliminative materialism claim that our common-sense understanding of psychological states and processes is deeply mistaken and that some or all of our ordinary notions of mental states will have no home, at any level of analysis, in a sophisticated and accurate account of the mind. In other words, it is the view that certain common-sense mental states, such as beliefs and desires, do not exist.

Comment by panic_lobster on Rationality Quotes August 2013 · 2013-08-23T06:41:20.968Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Faced with the task of extracting useful future out of our personal pasts, we organisms try to get something for free (or at least at bargain price): to find the laws of the world -- and if there aren't any, to find approximate laws of the world -- anything at all that will give us an edge. From some perspectives it appears utterly remarkable that we organisms get any purchase on nature at all. Is there any deep reason why nature should tip its hand, or reveal its regularities to casual inspection? Any useful future-producer is apt to be something of a trick -- a makeshift system that happens to work, more often than not, a lucky hit on a regularity in the world that can be tracked. Any such lucky anticipators Mother Nature stumbles over are bound to be prized, of course, if they improve an organism's edge.

--Daniel Dennet Consciousness Explained

Comment by panic_lobster on Rationality Quotes August 2013 · 2013-08-14T06:28:36.118Z · score: 14 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Karl Popper used to begin his lecture course on the philosophy of science by asking the students simply to 'observe'. Then he would wait in silence for one of them to ask what they were supposed to observe. [...] So he would explain to them that scientific observation is impossible without pre-existing knowledge about what to look at, what to look for, how to look, and how to interpret what one sees. And he would explain that, therefore, theory has to come first. It has to be conjectured, not derived.

David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity

Comment by panic_lobster on Who are some of the best writers in history? · 2013-08-13T05:07:05.974Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Cervantes, the author of the first modern novel, widely regarded as one of the best books ever written

It's worth emphasizing just how modern and readable this book is, especially considering it is contemporaneous with Shakespeare. If you get a modern English translation, you will be delighted. Cervantes really invented modern literature.

Comment by panic_lobster on More "Stupid" Questions · 2013-07-31T22:26:33.064Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

How do you pronounce 3^^^3?

Comment by panic_lobster on Open thread, July 23-29, 2013 · 2013-07-26T00:17:38.271Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Okay, I did it. http://lesswrong.com/lw/hvc/july_2013_media_thread/9glb

Comment by panic_lobster on July 2013 Media Thread · 2013-07-26T00:14:25.148Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't read very much fiction, but recently I've read

  • The Eternal Flame by Greg Egan - book two of his Orthogonal series, where he imagines life in a universe with different spacetime symmetries, where the velocity of light is a function of its wavelength. In this instalment, alien scientists on a generation ship try to discover the secrets of matter, and of their own biology, which will allow them to return home. There is a lot of focus on the scientific method and the character of physical law, and the treatment of the (made up) physics is much, much more rigorous and principled than earlier physics-centric Egan books like Schilds Ladder, Diaspora, or the dreadful Distress

  • Neuropath by Scott Bakker - a disturbing psychological thriller that explores a radical reductionistic view of the mind and consciousness. If you still think that consciousness is a some sort of unique, special phenomenon, an inevitable byproduct of intelligence, than this book may be for you.

Comment by panic_lobster on Open thread, July 23-29, 2013 · 2013-07-24T22:26:06.051Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not coincidentally, that is the next novel on my summer reading list.

Comment by panic_lobster on Open thread, July 23-29, 2013 · 2013-07-24T19:14:05.909Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Okay, I will be sure to do that next time - but I don't see a reason to start a second thread on Neuropath over there right now. If a mod wants to move this thread over there, that's cool.

Comment by panic_lobster on Open thread, July 23-29, 2013 · 2013-07-24T19:06:13.966Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Jryy gur fubpxvat vqrn va Arhebcngu vf gung bhe 'srryvatf' bs univat serr jvyy, bs univat zbeny vaghvgvbaf, bs orvat n fhowrpg jvgu 'dhnyvn' naq bs univat vagragvbanyvgl (cersreraprf, oryvrsf, tbnyf, rgp.) ner whfg xvaqf bs angheny nabfbtabfvnf, dhvexf bs irel fcrpvsvp naq sentvyr arhebculfvbybtvpny qrsvpvgf unaqrq gb hf ol ribyhgvbanel nppvqrag - naq gung rira fznyy inevngvbaf va zvaq qrfvta fcnpr jvyy bzvg gurfr guvatf pbzcyrgryl.

Cbfguhznaf znl irel jryy unir ab 'rkcrevrapr bs dhnyvn' be bs 'serr jvyy' be rira bs orvat vagragvbany flfgrzf - naq guvf jbhyq or qhr abg gb cngubybtl ohg gb qrfvta hctenqrf bire gur jrgjner cebivqrq ol ribyhgvba. Fb ba guvf gurbel, gur cvpgher bs gur shgher tvira va Qvnfcben sbe vafgnapr, jurer cbfguhznaf unir svefg crefba crefcrpgvirf naq fhowrpgvivgl pbhyq or frra nf anviryl bcgvzvfgvp naguebcbzbecuvfz.

Comment by panic_lobster on Open thread, July 23-29, 2013 · 2013-07-24T13:40:31.110Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Just finished reading Neuropath by Scott Bakker. It deals with a radical vision of the reductionistic nature of consciousness, intentionality and personhood and now stands alongside Greg Egan's Permutation City and Diaspora as one of the most philosophically shocking books I have read.

I really don't recommend it to anyone who hasn't been very strongly innoculated against Existential Angst.

If Mitchell Porter has read it or is familiar with Bakker's ideas from other sources I'd be interested in hearing his thoughts, as the philsophy of Neuropath really challenges the credibility of any form of realism regarding qualia.

Comment by panic_lobster on Open Thread, May 1-14, 2013 · 2013-05-08T23:11:25.429Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

We can reasonably say that something has a "thinking life" if it functions as a state machine where 'states' correspond to abstract models of sensory data (patterns in external stimuli). The complexity of the possible mental states is correlated with the complexity (information content) of the sensory data that can be collected and incorporated into models.

A cat's brain can be reasonably interpreted as working this way. A nematode worm's 302 neurons probably can't. A plant's root system almost definitely can't.

Note that this concept of a "thinking life" or sentience is a much weaker and more inclusive than the concept of "personhood" or sapience.

Comment by panic_lobster on Open Thread, May 1-14, 2013 · 2013-05-03T01:26:16.072Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Has anyone here heard of Michael Marder and his "Plant Thinking" - there is this book being published by Columbia University which argues that plants need to be considered as subjects with ethical value, and as beings with "unique temporality, freedom, and material knowledge or wisdom." This is not satire. He is a research professor of philosophy at a European university.

http://www.amazon.ca/Plant-Thinking-A-Philosophy-Vegetal-Life/dp/0231161255 and here is a review http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/39002-plant-thinking-a-philosophy-of-vegetal-life/

I don't want to live on this planet anymore

Comment by panic_lobster on Rationality Quotes April 2013 · 2013-04-28T07:21:34.052Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Most of the propositions and questions to be found in philosophical works are not false but nonsensical. Consequently we cannot give any answer to questions of this kind, but can only point out that they are nonsensical. Most of the propositions and questions of philosophers arise from our failure to understand the logic of our language. [...] And it is not surprising that the deepest problems are in fact not problems at all.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1921

Comment by panic_lobster on Open Thread, April 1-15, 2013 · 2013-04-02T06:41:27.177Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Here is a blog which asserts that a global conspiracy of transhumanists controls the media and places subliminal messages in pop music such as the Black Eyed Peas music video "Imma Be" in order to persuade people to join the future hive-mind. It is remarkably lucid and articulate given the hysterical nature of the claim, and even includes a somewhat reasonable treatment of transhumanism.

http://vigilantcitizen.com/musicbusiness/transhumanism-psychological-warfare-and-b-e-p-s-imma-be/

Transhumanism is the name of a movement that claims to support the use of all forms of technology to improve human beings. It is far more than just a bunch of harmless and misguided techie nerds, dreaming of sci-fi movies and making robots. It is a highly organized and well financed movement that is extremely focused on subverting and replacing every aspect of what we are as human beings – including our physical biology, the individuality of our minds and purposes of our lives – and the replacement of all existing religious and spiritual beliefs with a new religion of their own – which is actually not new at all.

EDIT: I see this was previously posted back in 2010, but if you haven't witnessed this blog yet it is worth a look.

Comment by panic_lobster on Humor: GURPS Friendly AI · 2013-02-05T01:27:49.497Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It originally linked to This