Comment by paulk on Search versus design · 2020-08-19T02:02:48.816Z · LW · GW

Also, on your description of designs factorizing into parts, maybe you already know this, but I wanted to highlight that often "factorization", even when neat, isn't just a straightforward decomposition into separate parts. For example, say you're designing a distributed system. You might have a kind of "vertical" decomposition into roles like leader and follower. But then also a "horizontal" decomposition into different kinds of data that get shared in different ways. The logic of roles and kinds of data might then interact, so that the algorithm is really conceptually two-dimensional.

(These kinds of issues make cognition harder to factorize)

Comment by paulk on Search versus design · 2020-08-19T01:48:58.461Z · LW · GW

Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Alex.

Thinking about how exactly design stories help create trust, I came upon what might be a useful distinction: whether the design is good according to the considerations known to the designer, vs. whether all relevant considerations are present. A good design story lets us check both of these. The first being false means the designer just did a bad job, or perhaps is hiding something. The second being false means there are actually just considerations the designer didn't know about -- for example because they live implicit in some other human's head -- and spelling things out in a story lets us recognize that, and correct it.

The latter use of stories lets you catch honest mistakes around issues that are unknown unknowns to you, but knowns for someone else. And when I think intuitively about trusting an AI -- or another human for that matter -- this is a big part of what I care about: beyond them being competent, and not actively deceiving me, I should also trust that they'll communicate with me enough to fill in all the blind spots they might have about me and the things I care about.

Comment by paulk on Degrees of Freedom · 2019-04-02T23:25:24.904Z · LW · GW

On the first, more philosophical part of your post: I think your notion of "freedom-as-arbitrariness" is actually also what allows for "freedom-as-optimization", in the following way.

Suppose I have an abstract set of choices. These can be instantiated in a concrete situation, which then carries its own set of considerations. When I go to do my optimizing in a given concrete situation, the more constrained or partisan my choice is in the abstract, the more difficult is my total optimization. Conversely, the freer, the more arbitrary the choice is in the abstract, the less constrained my optimization is in any concrete situation, and the better I can do.

For example, if I were hiring a programmer for a project, then (all else equal) I'd rather have someone who knew a variety of technologies and wasn't too strongly attached to any, so that they could simply use whatever the situation called for.

You could state this as system design principle: if you're designing a subsystem that's going to be doing something, but you don't really know what yet, optimize the subsystem for being able to potentially do anything (arbitrariness).

I feel there's much more to say along these lines about systems being well-factored (the pattern of concrete-abstract, as above, is a kind of factorization (as in lambda abstraction)), but I'm having trouble putting it into words at the moment.

Comment by paulk on Why do Contemplative Practitioners Make so Many Metaphysical Claims? · 2019-01-03T05:38:40.934Z · LW · GW

Cool. I've had one brief, spontaneous experience, while circling, of that sort of concept -> vision 'synaesthesia': seeing dark halos around people, that I think represented their anxiety and desire to avoid talking about certain things.

But I'd never imagined working deliberately with vision in that way.

Comment by paulk on Why do Contemplative Practitioners Make so Many Metaphysical Claims? · 2019-01-02T07:37:23.134Z · LW · GW

So is this a fair summary?

Contemplative practitioners sometimes have great psyche-refactoring experiences, "insights". But, when interpreting & integrating them, they fail to keep a strong enough epistemic distinction between their experience and the ultimate reality it arises from. And then they make crazy inferences about the nature of that ultimate reality.

Comment by paulk on Why do Contemplative Practitioners Make so Many Metaphysical Claims? · 2019-01-02T07:12:54.317Z · LW · GW
When this happens with parts of the network that are involved with the visual system, for instance, the visual field can actually dissolve into a bunch of vibrations temporarily as you refactor parts of the network related to extremely low level things like edge or motion detection (this is also where 'auras' come from imo)

Wow, I've never heard of this, and it sounds really interesting. Would you care to elaborate, on what kind of refactoring is going on, and what the resulting 'auras' are / mean?

Comment by paulk on Player vs. Character: A Two-Level Model of Ethics · 2018-12-16T09:08:11.282Z · LW · GW

You can get into some weird, loopy situations when people reflect enough to lift up the floorboards, infer some "player-level" motivations, and then go around talking or thinking about them at the "character level". Especially if they're lacking in tact or social sophistication. I remember as a kid being so confused about charitable giving -- because, doesn't everyone know that giving is basically just a way of trying to make yourself look good? And doesn't everyone know that that's Wrong? So shouldn't everyone just be doing charity anonymously or something?

Luckily, complex societies develop ways for handling different, potentially contradictory levels of meaning with grace and tact; and nobody listens too much to overly sincere children.

Comment by paulk on On Rationalist Solstice and Epistemic Caution · 2018-12-06T07:57:23.115Z · LW · GW

Yeah, I think costly signalling is definitely part of it. I think there's really several different things going on in the birthday example. One, the friend knows that you decided to spend the evening with them, so they can infer that you want to perform friendship, and/or anticipate having a good time with them, enough to make you decide that. This is the costly signalling part. But then there's also the stuff that actually happens at the party: talking, laughing together, etc. I think this is what actually accounts for most of the "feeling closer". (Or perhaps these two effects act on different levels of "feeling closer").

Anyway this is maybe getting unnecessarily analytical.

Comment by paulk on On Rationalist Solstice and Epistemic Caution · 2018-12-06T00:56:24.604Z · LW · GW
A ritual is about making a sacrifice to imbue a moment with symbolic power, and using that power to transform yourself.

I'm really curious where you're getting the sacrifice part from! Or how important you think it is. Because my experience with rituals doesn't generally include sacrificing anything; and the bits of sociology I've read about ritual (mostly Randall Collins' book Interaction Ritual Chains) don't mention it much. It does resonate with perhaps a western-magical perspective?

Comment by paulk on Conversational Cultures: Combat vs Nurture (V2) · 2018-11-11T03:28:55.147Z · LW · GW

Great essay!

Another aspect of this divide is about articulability. In a nurturing context, it's possible to bring something up before you can articulate it clearly, and even elicit help articulating it.

For example, "Something about <the proposal we're discussing> strikes me as contradictory -- like it's somehow not taking into account <X>?". And then the other person and I collaborate to figure out if and what exactly that contradiction is.

Or more informally, "There's something about this that feels uncomfortable to me". This can be very useful to express even when I can't say exactly what it is that I'm uncomfortable with, IF my conversation partner respects that, and doesn't dismiss what I'm saying because it's not precise enough.

In a combative context, on the other hand, this seems like a kind of interaction you just can't have (I may be wrong, I don't have much experience in them). Because there, inarticulateness just reads as your arguments being weak. And you don't want to run the risk of putting half-baked ideas out there and having them swatted down. So your only real choices are to figure out how to articulate things, by yourself, on the fly, or remain silent.

And that's too bad, because the edge of what can be articulated is IME the most interesting place to be.

(Gendlin's Focusing is an extreme example of being at the edge of what can be articulated, and in the paired version you have one person whose job is basically to be a nurturing & supportive presence.)