Posts

The Real Rules Have No Exceptions 2019-07-23T03:38:45.992Z · score: 107 (56 votes)
What is this new (?) Less Wrong feature? (“hidden related question”) 2019-05-15T23:51:16.319Z · score: 13 (4 votes)
History of LessWrong: Some Data Graphics 2018-11-16T07:07:15.501Z · score: 71 (23 votes)
New GreaterWrong feature: image zoom + image slideshows 2018-11-04T07:34:44.907Z · score: 39 (9 votes)
New GreaterWrong feature: anti-kibitzer (hides post/comment author names and karma values) 2018-10-19T21:03:22.649Z · score: 47 (14 votes)
Separate comments feeds for different post listings views? 2018-10-02T16:07:22.942Z · score: 14 (6 votes)
GreaterWrong—new theme and many enhancements 2018-10-01T07:22:01.788Z · score: 38 (9 votes)
Archiving link posts? 2018-09-08T05:45:53.349Z · score: 56 (19 votes)
Shared interests vs. collective interests 2018-05-28T22:06:50.911Z · score: 21 (11 votes)
GreaterWrong—even more new features & enhancements 2018-05-28T05:08:31.236Z · score: 64 (14 votes)
Everything I ever needed to know, I learned from World of Warcraft: Incentives and rewards 2018-05-07T06:44:47.775Z · score: 33 (12 votes)
Everything I ever needed to know, I learned from World of Warcraft: Goodhart’s law 2018-05-03T16:33:50.002Z · score: 83 (23 votes)
GreaterWrong—more new features & enhancements 2018-04-07T20:41:14.357Z · score: 23 (6 votes)
GreaterWrong—several new features & enhancements 2018-03-27T02:36:59.741Z · score: 44 (10 votes)
Key lime pie and the methods of rationality 2018-03-22T06:25:35.193Z · score: 59 (16 votes)
A new, better way to read the Sequences 2017-06-04T05:10:09.886Z · score: 19 (17 votes)
Cargo Cult Language 2012-02-05T21:32:56.631Z · score: 1 (32 votes)

Comments

Comment by saidachmiz on On hiding the source of knowledge · 2020-01-26T06:22:47.837Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Jessica’s very unusual use of the word ‘intuition’ is responsible for the confusion here, I think.

99% confidence on the basis of intuition[common_usage] alone is indeed religion (or whatever).

99% confidence on the basis of intuition[Jessica’s_usage] seems unproblematic.

Comment by saidachmiz on On hiding the source of knowledge · 2020-01-26T06:20:43.277Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Alright, fair enough, this is certainly… something (that is, you have answered my question of “what do you mean by ‘intuition’”, though I am not sure what I’d call this thing you’re describing or even that it’s a single, monolithic phenomenon)… but it’s not at all what people usually mean when they talk about ‘intuition’.

This revelation makes your post very confusing and hard to parse! (What’s more, it seems like you actually use ‘intuition’ in your post in several different ways, making it even more confusing.) I will have to reread the post carefully, but I can say that I no longer have any clear idea what you are saying in it (whereas before I did—though, clearly, that impression was mistaken).

Comment by saidachmiz on On hiding the source of knowledge · 2020-01-26T05:46:45.655Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The intuition is, then, crystalized in the form of Benzene, which chemists already know intuitively. If they had only abstract, non-intuitive knowledge of the form of Benzene, they would have difficulty mapping such knowledge to e.g. spacial diagrams.

It seems to me that your are using the word “intuitively” in a very unusual way, here. I would certainly not describe chemists’ knowledge of benzene’s form as “intuitive”… can you say more about what you mean by this term?

Comment by saidachmiz on Whipped Cream vs Fancy Butter · 2020-01-21T03:10:32.648Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hotel Bar is a cheap brand.

Comment by saidachmiz on Whipped Cream vs Fancy Butter · 2020-01-21T02:44:14.618Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Differences in composition are about more than just a couple of % more or less fat by weight. The texture and taste of Hotel Bar butter is quite different from that of Land O’Lakes, etc.

Comment by saidachmiz on Whipped Cream vs Fancy Butter · 2020-01-21T02:33:28.343Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

We’ll put our eggbeater in the dishwasher. It’s stainless steel and it seems fine.

The eggbeater in the image you use in your post appears to have wooden parts (the handle).

needing to get the hand mixer out and assemble it

Well, where you store your hand mixer is obviously up to you; if you use it often, keep it in a convenient place—just as with the eggbeater. As for assembly, it takes mere seconds.

Comment by saidachmiz on Whipped Cream vs Fancy Butter · 2020-01-21T02:14:59.920Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A wire whisk is easier to wash. You can put it in your dishwasher, for example, or fully immerse it to soak, etc., without worrying about water damage to any components.

EDIT: But yes, the way I described is definitely slower than using an eggbeater. My actual preferred solution for making whipped cream is to use an electric hand mixer, which is faster than either manual option.

Comment by saidachmiz on Whipped Cream vs Fancy Butter · 2020-01-21T02:13:49.481Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You can keep butter in your fridge for weeks and it will stay fresh enough to use. (If you’re fussy you can scrape off a thin layer of slightly-oxidized butter from the surface.) You can’t do that with cream.

Yes, you absolutely can do this with cream. Cream doesn’t go bad for quite some time—it can easily keep for 2 or 3 weeks, even longer. (In fact, I have never seen cream go bad—though I haven’t deliberately tested it, the point is that your cream accidentally going bad is very unlikely.)

Comment by saidachmiz on Whipped Cream vs Fancy Butter · 2020-01-21T02:11:26.775Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Note, however, that in the case of cobbler or pie, you can reduce the sugar in the dessert itself, compensate partly by sweetening your whipped cream, and thereby achieve both a reduction in total sugar content, and a more complex flavor profile.

Comment by saidachmiz on Whipped Cream vs Fancy Butter · 2020-01-21T02:09:43.572Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But there’s rarely any advantage to fancy butter in baking either

Indeed there is; the difference is not primarily the flavor, but the composition.

Comment by saidachmiz on Whipped Cream vs Fancy Butter · 2020-01-21T01:22:42.624Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

True enough!

Your first comment implied that it’s the annoyance of cleaning the eggbeater, specifically, that was problematic; hence my reply. (Your actual concern is clear now, of course, though my suggestion may perhaps still benefit others.)

Comment by saidachmiz on Whipped Cream vs Fancy Butter · 2020-01-21T01:11:59.634Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The supermarket sells various kinds of fancy butter, but why don’t people eat whipped cream instead … I’m sure I’m missing something

In addition to what has been already said, another thing you’re missing is that butter isn’t only used by simply eating it; it’s also used in cooking and baking. In the latter case especially, the whey in the cream will ruin almost any recipe where you attempt a direct substitution of whipped cream for butter.

Comment by saidachmiz on Whipped Cream vs Fancy Butter · 2020-01-21T01:08:12.651Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Cream still has some whey in it, and whipping it just suspends it, where fully churning or overwhipping it separates it out so the remainder is purer fat

One interesting thing you can do in order to separate the whey from the fat in cream is (something very much like) freeze-distillation.

There is a cold spot in my refrigerator (not the freezer!) where the ambient temperature is approximately 25 °F. If I put a carton of heavy cream there, in several days the contents will have largely separated—there will be a solid chunk of milkfat, and some liquid whey.

Having drained the whey, I can then beat the milkfat with an electric mixer. This causes the remainder of the whey to separate out (due to centrifugal force); after draining this remnant whey, I am left with butter.

Comment by saidachmiz on Whipped Cream vs Fancy Butter · 2020-01-21T00:53:46.946Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The advice in this post is based on very flawed assumptions, but if you’re inclined to take it anyway (or to do something else in this vein), then note that there’s an easier way than using such a complex contraption as an eggbeater.

You will need the following:

  1. 2-cup-capacity Pyrex measuring cup (image).

  2. Large wire whisk (image).

Pour no more than 3/4 cup cream into Pyrex measuring cup. Hold whisk vertically, with its business end fully immersed in the cream, and with the handle between the palms of your hands. Move your hands back and forth vigorously, so as to roll the whisk between your palms.

This will whip the cream, in relatively short order (though not as quickly as if you used an electric hand mixer).

Comment by saidachmiz on Whipped Cream vs Fancy Butter · 2020-01-21T00:48:15.022Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Alternatively, maybe people think whipped cream has to have sugar in it? This one is simple: whipped cream should not have sugar in it. If you’re eating whipped cream on something sweet it doesn’t need sugar because the other thing is sweet, while if you’re having it on something savory it doesn’t need sugar because that would taste funny.

This is false. You forgot about an entire basic flavor: sour.

Obvious counterexample to your claim: whipped cream on berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc.). Do the berries taste sweet? No, not really (even the sweeter cultivars / crops don’t contain enough sugar to be “dessert”-level sweet). Are the berries “savory”? No. Does sweet whipped cream “taste funny” on berries? No, it tastes exactly perfect.

(Other examples in the same vein: Key lime pie; blueberry/peach cobbler—recall that it’s usually served with either sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream—which is certainly sweet.)

Comment by saidachmiz on Why Do You Keep Having This Problem? · 2020-01-20T21:19:11.892Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

… the situation was so disheartening that in my memory of it I mentally substituted something more palatable!

(Fixed, thanks.)

Comment by saidachmiz on Why Do You Keep Having This Problem? · 2020-01-20T21:05:54.770Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This phenomenon is very familiar to me as a UX designer, because it often makes bugs or design flaws way, way more difficult to learn about than should (one would naively imagine) be the case.

Specifically: suppose I release some piece of software, which has some bug, or usability flaw, etc.; and suppose this problem does not manifest for me, in my own testing, but does manifest for many other users, on a regular basis. One might expect that a flood of complaints, bug reports, angry tweets, irate emails, etc., would nigh-instantly alert me to the problem’s existence… but instead there is naught but silence, and I remain blissfully unaware that there’s anything wrong.

Then some time passes, and—by sheer accident!—I discover that large numbers of users have been living with this problem for weeks or months or (horror!) years, and just haven’t said anything… because they’re used to technology just… not working very well, or having bugs, etc.; and so they shrug and treat it as “one of those things”, and do some workaround, or just tolerate the problem, and never consider that, actually, there is something wrong with this picture, and that it is possible for this problem (indeed, most such problems) to not exist, and that complaining might yield results.

As they say—many such cases! (Here, for example, is gwern tweeting about a case when a website he built had 460,000 unique visitors before word got to him before he realized, after checking personally, that the layout was broken on mobile devices!)

EDIT: Corrected the gwern anecdote—it was even worse than I remembered.

Comment by saidachmiz on Why Do You Keep Having This Problem? · 2020-01-20T20:46:40.978Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · LW · GW

A relevant old comment of mine. (Dagon’s point is similar to half of what I say there.)

EDIT: This other old comment is also relevant.

Comment by saidachmiz on Moloch Hasn’t Won · 2020-01-18T01:01:36.250Z · score: 10 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Are you saying that you, personally, were confused about whether Zvi (or Scott) does, or does not, support slavery? Is that actually something that you were unsure whether you had understood properly?

Comment by saidachmiz on Bay Solstice 2019 Retrospective · 2020-01-17T09:30:58.404Z · score: 23 (10 votes) · LW · GW

That was excellent, and I quite enjoyed watching it. I’m not going to spoil it for anyone who’s not seen yet, of course, but I just want to say:

Well done, Eliezer!

Comment by saidachmiz on Reality-Revealing and Reality-Masking Puzzles · 2020-01-17T09:15:30.329Z · score: 15 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with this, based on my experience.

At least one reason for it seems straightforward, though. Whether something is important is a judgment that you have to make, and it’s not an easy one; it’s certainly not obvious what things are important, and you can’t ever be totally certain that you’ve judged importance correctly (and importance of things can change over time, etc.). On the other hand, whether something is interesting (to you!) is just a fact, available to you directly; it’s possible to deceive yourself about whether something’s interesting to you, but not easy… certainly the default is that you just know whether you find something interesting or not.

In other words, self-deception about what’s important is just structurally much more likely than self-deception about what’s interesting.

Comment by saidachmiz on Go F*** Someone · 2020-01-16T21:14:55.607Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I am fairly sure it’s criticism (and I agree with it).

Comment by saidachmiz on Implementing an Idea-Management System · 2020-01-16T09:11:49.719Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

PmWiki has these features.

Comment by saidachmiz on Moral uncertainty vs related concepts · 2020-01-16T01:40:54.367Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But if part of your feelings are premised on being suspicious of non-naturalistic moral realism, then perhaps the post you’ll find most useful will be the one on what moral uncertainty can mean for antirealists and subjectivists, which should hopefully be out early next week.

That’s certainly a big part of it (see my reply to sibling comment for more). It’s not all of it, though. I listed some questions in my initial comment asking for an explanation of what moral realism is; I’ll want to revisit them (as well as a couple of others that’ve occurred to me), once the entire sequence (or, at least, this upcoming post you mention) is posted.

(I guess one way of putting this is that the explanation will unfold gradually, and really we’re talking about something a bit more like a cluster of related ideas rather than one neat simple crisp thing—it’s not that I’ve been holding the explanation of that one neat simple crisp thing back from readers so far!)

Certainly understandable.

Although—if, indeed, the term is used in different ways by different people (as seems likely enough), then perhaps it might make sense, instead of trying to explain “moral uncertainty”, rather to clearly separate the concepts labeled by this term into distinct buckets, and explain them separately.

Then again, it’s hard for me to judge any of these explanations too confidently, given, as you say, the “unfolding” dynamic… we will see, I suppose, what I think of the whole thing, when it’s all posted!

Comment by saidachmiz on Moral uncertainty vs related concepts · 2020-01-16T01:34:32.404Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

… it seems hard for me to even imagine what it would mean for non-naturalistic moral realism to be true, and thus very unlikely that it is true …

This is my view also (except that I would probably drop even the “non-naturalistic” qualifier; I’m unsure of this, because I haven’t seen this term used consistently in the literature… what is your preferred reference for what is meant by “naturalistic” vs. “non-naturalistic” moral realism?).

… but it seems worth acting as if it’s true anyway. (I’m not sure if this reasoning actually makes sense—I plan to write a post about it later.)

I would like to read such a post, certainly. I find your comment here interesting, because there’s a version of this sort of view (“worth acting as if it’s true anyway”) that I find to be possibly reasonable—but it’s not one I’d ever describe as a “Pascal’s wager”! So perhaps you mean something else by it, which difference / conceptual collision seems worth exploring.

In any case, I agree that clarifying the terms as they are used is worthwhile. (Although one caveat is that if a term / concept is incoherent, there is an upper limit to how much clarity can be achieved in discerning how the term is used! But even in this case, the attempt is worthy.)

(If [moral realism doesn’t make sense], we can still have a coherent concept that we call “moral uncertainty”, along the lines of what coherent extrapolated volition is about, but it seems to me—though I could be wrong—to be something substantively different.)

This, too, seems worth writing about!

Comment by saidachmiz on Moral uncertainty vs related concepts · 2020-01-15T16:54:54.338Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This is a valuable post, certainly, and I appreciate you writing it—it lays out some (clearly very relevant) ideas in a straightforward way.

That said, most of this seems to be predicated on “moral uncertainty” being a coherent concept—and, of course, it is (so far, in the sequence) an unexplained one.[1] So, I am not yet quite sure what I think of the substantive points you describe/mention.

Some of the other concepts here seem to me to be questionable (not necessarily incoherent, just… not obviously coherent) for much the same reasons that “moral uncertainty” is. I will refrain from commenting on that in detail, for now, but may come back to it later (contingent on what I think about “moral uncertainty” itself, once I see it explained).

In any case, thank you for taking the time to write these posts!


  1. I know that comes in the next post; I haven’t read it yet, but will shortly. I’m merely commenting as I go along. ↩︎

Comment by saidachmiz on How has the cost of clothing insulation changed since 1970 in the USA? · 2020-01-13T12:31:24.471Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Instead of a VPN, you can use Tor Browser for this. I just tried it, and though it may take a few relaunches, Tor Browser will eventually connect via an exit node in a non-EU country, and you’ll be able to visit the site. (It does also work fine for me without Tor, of course, as I am in the U.S.)

EDIT: As for the “too many requests” thing, that’s an artifact of gwern’s link-preview-generating setup; this is one of the occasional failure modes. Nothing terribly special going on there—the feature is still a bit experimental, is all, and has the occasional kink. No doubt gwern will fix this one soon.

Comment by saidachmiz on Preliminary thoughts on moral weight · 2020-01-13T08:09:45.010Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I see it strongly as asking the wrong questions with the wrong moral frameworks, and using it to justify abominable conclusions and priorities, and ultimately the betrayal of humanity itself—even if people who talk like this don’t write the last line of their arguments, it’s not like the rest of us don’t notice it. I don’t have any idea what to say to someone who writes ‘if I was told one pig was more important morally than one human I would not be surprised.’

Entirely seconded; this is my reaction also.

Comment by saidachmiz on Firming Up Not-Lying Around Its Edge-Cases Is Less Broadly Useful Than One Might Initially Think · 2020-01-13T08:04:59.277Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For me the answer is no, I don’t believe it’s ethically mandatory to share all information I know to everyone if they happen to ask the right question.

Note that this is an answer to a considerably narrower question than the one I asked.

That having been said, I think at least some of what you mentioned / described was relevant. In any case, given your answer, the answer to the broader question must necessarily also be “no”.

So, what I wonder now is whether anyone is willing to take, and defend, the opposite view: that it is ethically mandatory at all times to behave as if you know all the information which, in fact, you know. (It is, I know, an odd—or, at least, oddly formulated—ethical principle. And yet it seems to me that it directly connected to the subject of the OP…)

Comment by saidachmiz on Firming Up Not-Lying Around Its Edge-Cases Is Less Broadly Useful Than One Might Initially Think · 2020-01-13T07:20:38.556Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The point of me positing the puzzle is for you (or anyone who cares to tackle this) to say what your chosen / preferred / ideal ethics answers to this; or, alternatively or additionally, what your moral intuitions say about this (and if your ethics, or your moral intuitions, or both, say nothing to this, then that too is an interesting and important fact). And the point of the puzzle itself is that the answer isn’t necessarily obvious.

“Do what your ethics says you should do” is therefore a non-answer.

If the point of solving the puzzle is to better understand the concept “ethics in relation to truth-acting” then I don’t think I’ve added much by the Nazi example or the games & performances ones.

I agree.

Comment by saidachmiz on Firming Up Not-Lying Around Its Edge-Cases Is Less Broadly Useful Than One Might Initially Think · 2020-01-13T06:16:04.009Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No, that is not the sort of thing I have in mind. Exclude games, performances, and similar things where you are (by consent of all involved) playing a role or otherwise “bracketing” your utterances within an artificial context, and consider the question again.

Comment by saidachmiz on Biases: An Introduction · 2020-01-10T09:59:17.635Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed. I made the same point elsewhere, and furthermore concluded that the claim that the subjects were succumbing to base rate neglect is not well-supported by the source material. (In fact, even the conclusion that “librarian” is the wrong answer is not supported by the cited sources!)

Comment by saidachmiz on Circling as Cousin to Rationality · 2020-01-10T04:26:05.808Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This generates the hypothesis that Circling would resolve many conflicts by knocking out the root misunderstanding generating them …

So, wait. Have you ever used Circling to resolve conflicts? Or, seen it used this way? Or, know anyone (whose word you trust) who has used it this way?

Comment by saidachmiz on Meta-discussion from "Circling as Cousin to Rationality" · 2020-01-09T23:28:32.173Z · score: 1 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Even though it’s a costless signal.

But of course it’s not costless.

In the case of “please”, it’s certainly very close to being costless—almost indistinguishable, really. This is because “please” is a very, very common signal of politeness—so common as to be universally understood, and not just in our culture but in many others. Many people say “please” reflexively. It still costs something, but very little.

But the sorts of disclaimers we’re talking about cost much more. They cost time to type (and energy, and stress on one’s hands, etc.). They cost cognitive effort—the need to recall just what sorts of disclaimers and reassurances are required, in this particular community, with its particular, idiosyncratic ideas about what constitutes politeness. They cost yet more effort, to figure out which of those norms apply in this case, and how to navigate this particular situation—what aspects of one’s question may be perceived as a “social attack”, and what meaningless words, precisely, one must use to defuse that perception. None of these things are costless.

And, as you say, there’s a treadmill. If it’s mandatory to say these things, then they mean nothing. And if it’s mandatory for me (only) to say these things, then they mean nothing coming from me. (Rather, they don’t mean the things they say, and instead only mean “I am complying with the necessary formalities …” etc.)

EDIT: I listed costs to the writer, but in my haste I entirely forgot what is probably an even more important point: that there is a cost to the reader, of such disclaimers and reassurances! Just look at every proposed modification to my original comment, that has been put forth in this giant comment thread. Each one makes a comment of two short sentences (short enough to have fit into a tweet, even before the doubling of Twitter’s character limit) balloon to at least thrice that length, if not much more—and the density of information / insight / message plummets! This wastes the time of every reader—in aggregate, a cost orders of magnitude more severe than the costs to the writer.

I think you’re the single user on LW who’s earned the most epistemic “benefit of the doubt”. That is, if literally any other user were to write in the style you write, I think it would be epistemically correct to give more probability to it being a social attack than it is for you.

Thank you for the kind words. I am not sure if I quite deserve this praise, but if I do, it is certainly my intention to continue deserving it.

That the term is central to the argument is obvious once the question is asked.

I don’t think this is true, either. Someone might ask this question about a term that isn’t central, perhaps just because they’re curious about a tangent.

To be clear, I meant that this is obvious in this case, not necessarily in the general case.

Comment by saidachmiz on Circling as Cousin to Rationality · 2020-01-09T19:34:53.183Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Habitual action creates expectations (especially in informal contexts, like interactions between family members). This is a perfectly ordinary thing. If (as you suggest at the start of the comment) Bob also understands this fact, then there’s nothing unusual here at all; Bob has created an expectation that he’ll be coming on Friday, and he knows this, and he then violates this expectation. This is a betrayal, especially given that it’s his mother we’re talking about, and given (as you say) that this matters to her (and that Bob knows this, too).

Now, the expectation isn’t very firm, and the betrayal isn’t very severe. Like I said before, there are degrees of this thing. But the situation isn’t of a different kind. So why call Alice’s feelings irrational?

It seems to me that this isn’t at all an example of the given extensional definition.

Comment by saidachmiz on Morality vs related concepts · 2020-01-09T09:52:12.447Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Excellent post. There is not much here to agree or disagree with—which, to be clear, is a compliment! Your explanations seem mostly to be consistent with what I’ve been taught and have read.

A couple of fairly minor notes:

“maximising” moral theories like classical utilitarianism claim that the only action one is permitted to take is the very best action, leaving no room for choosing the “prudentially best” action out of a range of “morally acceptable” actions

This accords with my own understanding, but I should note that I’ve seen utilitarians deny this. That is, the claim seemed to be (on the several occasions I’ve seen it made) that this is “not even wrong”, and misunderstands utilitarianism. I was not able to figure out just what the confusion was, so I can’t say much more than that; I only figured that this is worth noting. (I am not a utilitarian myself, to be clear.)

[stuff about axiology]

I found this part unsatisfying, but I don’t think it’s your fault. In fact I’ve always found the idea of axiology—the so-called “study of ‘value’”—to be rather confused. There is (it seems to me) a non-confused version which boils down to conceptual analysis of the concept of ‘value’, but this would be quite orthogonal to both morality and prudence (and everything else in this post). Anyhow, this is a digression, and I think mostly irrelevant to any points you intend to make.

I very much look forward to the next post!

Comment by saidachmiz on Circling as Cousin to Rationality · 2020-01-09T03:39:44.261Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I’m confused by this, because it seems to me to imply that I thought or argued that Circling was the tool you would use to determine how to resolve an issue. What gave you that impression?

Yes, that was inaccurate phrasing on my part, my apologies. I do stand by the idea I was trying to express, but am unsure how to concisely express it more accurately than I did… I will try again, in any case. So, here’s an example, from this very comment of yours:

I think [Circling] helps you understand conflicts, and that sometimes resolves them, and sometimes doesn’t.

So my question is: can Circling tell you “actually, what you need is not Circling but something else [like a (metaphorical) ‘court’]”? Or, to put it another way: when should you not use Circling, but instead use some ‘court-like’ approach?

My impression from your comments is that the answers given by the pro-Circling perspective are “no” and “never”, respectively. Now, if that impression is inaccurate—fair enough (but in that case I have further questions, concerning the meaning of the comments that gave me said impression). However, supposing that my impression is (at least mostly) accurate, then it does seem reasonable to say that Circling (if not the actual act of Circling, then the “pro-Circling perspective”, as I’ve been putting it) takes the function of determining what tool you should use (and answers “Circling, that’s what!” every time).

Or, to put it yet another way: are there situations of the same category as those which Circling is meant to handle (whether that be “interpersonal conflicts”, or any other kind of thing that you would assert Circling is appropriate for), but in which Circling is not appropriate, and a more ‘court-like’ method is better? If so, then: how do you determine this to be the case?


Now, all of this aside, and re: the rest of your comment: I confess I still do not know whether you think (and/or claim) that Circling is supposed to be used for object-level conflict resolution, or not. I think that this is important; in fact, I don’t know how much more progress can be made without getting clear on this point.

Comment by saidachmiz on Meta-discussion from "Circling as Cousin to Rationality" · 2020-01-09T00:53:26.213Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

And curious how Said would have felt about writing it, or something like it.

I have no idea why your proposed alternative version of my comment would be “less social-attack-y”. Of course, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why my actual comment would be “social-attack-y” in the first place, unless we assume something extremely unflattering about Vaniver (which I was not assuming) (but note that even in that scenario, your proposed edit seems to me to change nothing).

What’s more, I suspect that no possible version of my comment would change anything about this “perceived social attack” business.

In this, as in so many things, we can look for guidance to esteemed philosopher John Gabriel, who puts the matter concisely in this Penny Arcade strip:

Gabe: If all I could say was “nice,” I would mean it ironically.

Were someone else to write exactly the words I wrote in my original comment, they would not be perceived as a social attack; whereas if I write those words—or the words you suggest, or any other words whatsoever, so long as they contained the same semantic content at their core[1]—they will be perceived as a social attack. After all, I can say something different, but I cannot mean something different.

The fact is, either you think that asking what an author means by a word, or asking for examples of some phenomenon, is a social attack, or you don’t. If I ask a question along such lines, no reassurances, no disclaimers, will serve to signal anything but “I am complying with the necessary formalities in order to ask what I wish to ask”. If you think my question is a social attack without the disclaimers, then their addition will change nothing. It is the question, after all, that constitutes the social attack, if anything does—not the form, in other words, but the content.

Best to minimize such baroque signaling. There is a certain baseline of courtesy that ought to be observed, but it is mostly negative—no name-calling, no irrelevant personal attacks, etc. Almost anything beyond that only adds noise. Better to be clear and concise.

I do not think that anyone can argue that my comments violate any sensible standards of basic politeness or courtesy; beyond that, let the content stand on its own. If it’s viewed as a social attack, then that says quite a bit more about those who view it thus, than it does about my intentions (which, as any reasonable person can see, are free of any personal hostility). Trying to disguise the matter with elaborate disclaimers is pointless.


  1. Note that your proposed addition conveys no new information; everything within it is already entailed by the original comment and its context. That I can’t come up with any good guess about the meaning of the word is implicated by me asking the question in the first place. That the term is central to the argument is obvious once the question is asked. That we should avoid the illusion of transparency is little more than an applause light for a locally shared (and publicly known to be shared) value. ↩︎

Comment by saidachmiz on Circling as Cousin to Rationality · 2020-01-08T01:36:18.168Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I understood Said to mean something like “either Bob would think he had a convincing case that Alice betrayed him, or Bob would change his mind, and assuming Bob follows some standards of reasonableness, a Reasonable Observer would agree with Bob.”

Yes, this is a reasonable portrayal. Facts being what they are, nevertheless the purpose of all such exercises is to determine future actions taken by people, so what we’re (mostly) actually talking about here is facts as represented in the minds of the people involved. (This is, of course, true of a very broad spectrum of situations—far broader than only “interpersonal conflict” or similar.)

Comment by saidachmiz on Circling as Cousin to Rationality · 2020-01-08T01:31:22.661Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Where my attention is going at the moment is not the sense-impressions, or the things themselves, but the machinery that turns the sense-impressions into models of the things, and the machinery that refines that modeling machinery.

Indeed this is also fascinating and worth investigating, but: is Circling supposed to be for resolving conflicts and other object-level situations, or is Circling supposed to be for investigating this meta-level “how does the machinery operate” stuff? I’ve seen pro-Circling folks, you included, appear to vacillate between these two perspectives. (Perhaps it can be used for both? This would be surprising, and would increase the improbability of the pro-Circling position, but certainly cannot be ruled out a priori.) In any case, it seems to me to be an exceedingly poor idea to try to do both of these things, simultaneously. These two purposes can only be at odds, and it seems to me that trying to combine them is likely to do serious harm to both goals.

A similar point has to do with this bit:

I hope it’s clear, but it’s worth saying, Circling is a lot like meditation, and very little like courts.

Perhaps so, but it seems to me that this is all the more reason why Circling is an inappropriate tool with which to determine whether what you need is meditation, or a court[1].

Like, given that Bob made the point, calling it ‘the’ point is probably legitimate, but it is interesting that in this situation Bob cares about this when Carl, put into the same situation, might not. The implication that I’m troubled by is the one where Bob is assuming a shared level of understanding or buy-in to their conception of where the importance is, while not seeing it as a choice out of many possible choices.

That Bob and Carl would react differently may indeed be interesting. But as far as the troubling implication goes… all I can say is that “who agreed to what, with whom, and when”, and “what were everyone’s expectations”, and so on, are also facts. If Bob’s understanding was not shared by Alice… that, too, is a fact. It is not an easy one to establish… but in that it is not alone. Alice may say “I genuinely didn’t know that we were supposed to have had this agreement, Bob”, and Bob may believe her, or not, and they can figure out how to proceed from there. Nevertheless the discussion is still about what happened, not about how everyone currently feels about what happened.


  1. Or, to be more precise, “something like a court”—that is, a stance where you take seriously that some accusation has been made, some alleged transgression, and attempt to determine the facts of the matter, etc. This need not be formal, of course, much less actually involve the legal system. ↩︎

Comment by saidachmiz on Circling as Cousin to Rationality · 2020-01-07T21:34:10.665Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

(Removed text that merely pointed out typos.)


One can say such things as you have said, about almost anything. A tree, after all, is only a meaning that people assign to certain collections of molecules (or quarks, or waves in the configuration space, etc.). Democritus: “By convention sweet is sweet, bitter is bitter, hot is hot, cold is cold, color is color; but in truth there are only atoms and the void.”

And we can ask these kinds of questions, too: is a palm a tree? Is a bonsai tree a tree? There are difficulties in categorizing; what of it? We know all about this.

Alice and Bob, we may imagine, agreed to various things. Some of the agreements were explicit; some, implicit, or assumed. Some of them were inherited from a larger social context. Perhaps Bob thought that an agreement existed, but Alice had no such notion. Perhaps Alice only claims this. We can investigate this; we can ask Alice, and ask Bob, what was said, and what was expected; we may believe their answers, or not. Bob (or Alice) may claim that any reasonable person would understand that such-and-such agreement had taken place; Alice (or Bob) may disagree; we may agree with the one, or with the other. Alice, or Bob, may come to see that they were wrong, and the other was right; or, they may not. Perhaps Bob concludes that Alice really didn’t think any obligation obtained, but also that Alice is so unreasonable and weird a person that she cannot be trusted, despite a lack of malice. And so on, and so forth. And, supposing that we do conclude that some betrayal has occurred, we (or Bob) may judge it to be relatively mild, and well within the bounds of what may be atoned for, and forgiven… or, instead, something terrible, from which a relationship cannot recover. There is a range of possibilities.

Nevertheless, we are still talking about what happened—about obligations, expectations, agreements, intent, responsibility, and actions taken—and not about how everyone currently feels about it!

And in many other cases, people might rationally agree “betrayal has not taken place”, and nonetheless feel a deep sense of having been betrayed.

I would need an example of this, before I could say for sure what I think of it. My suspicion is that, in such cases, I would say: “Bob has some issues to work through, if he has such irrational feelings”. Labeling feelings as ‘irrational’ isn’t something to do lightly; but if, indeed, the label applies, then the problem is of a very different kind, and should absolutely not be conflated with the question of what are the facts of the matter.

Comment by saidachmiz on Circling as Cousin to Rationality · 2020-01-07T20:54:26.845Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW · GW

But also it might be the case that Bob is less assertive because Bob doesn’t think his suffering matters, and so the only way he protects himself is by relying on abstract rules about concepts like “betrayal.” Then saying “don’t talk about the abstract rules, talk about the impact to you” makes Bob not say anything, because he’s ruled out caring about the impact to him and now he thinks the context has ruled out caring about the abstract rules.

No comment (for now, anyway) about the rest of what you write here… but the quoted part (which is a sentiment I have seen pro-Circling and pro-NVC and pro-similar-things folks express quite a few times) is something which seems to me to be taking a view of relationships, and people, which is deeply mistaken, insofar as it fails to correctly describe how many (perhaps, even most) people operate. To wit:

If Alice betrays me, the problem is not that this causes me suffering (though certainly it is likely to do so).

The problem is that Alice betrayed me.

That, directly, itself, is what’s wrong with the situation. There isn’t any way of re-framing things that will let you describe the problem with reference only to me—not by talking about my feelings, or my suffering, or my boundaries, or my expectations, etc., etc. None of these things would capture what is wrong with what happened, which is Alice’s betrayal.

Any attempt to describe this in terms of me only, is no more meaningful than saying “instead of saying ‘here is a tree’, say ‘I have sense-impressions that I perceive as representing a tree’”. Yes, we perceive the world through our senses, etc., but what we are interested in discussing aren’t the sense-impressions—we care about the things themselves.

It is possible, of course, that our senses may lead us astray. Perhaps we think there’s a tree but actually it’s only a mirage; that is, our sense-impressions are not veridical (and the beliefs which result from taking the sense-impressions at face value are false). But what we’re interested in is still the (alleged) tree itself, and whether it exists, and what it’s like, etc. Likewise, our feelings, beliefs, etc., may lead us astray; Bob’s belief that Alice betrayed him may be false; Bob’s feelings of betrayal may not be veridical. But what is at issue remains the (alleged) betrayal.

By all means, we can say “Bob, you think that Alice betrayed you, but consider that perhaps actually she didn’t?”. But any account of the situation, or any attempt to resolve the matter, that fails to refer primarily to the fact (or non-fact) of Alice’s betrayal will quite miss the point.

Comment by saidachmiz on Circling as Cousin to Rationality · 2020-01-06T23:11:48.800Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps. I am skeptical that these feelings can be distinguished in the way you say; how would you, for instance, differentiate between “I feel the absence of companionship” from “I feel lonely, and I think this is due to absence of companionship”—in other words, what you conceptualize as an affective state, could also be conceptualized as the combination of an affective state with a cognitive one, yes? But this is speculative; I do not insist on it (only on the fact that the answers to questions like this are not at all clear).

More to the point, however, is that supposing that the distinctions you describe are as they say they are, it nonetheless seems like quite a poor idea to refer to them using the same word that we also use to refer to an entirely external fact. The confusions that such terminological conflation leads to are obvious (and described, in part, in this comment thread), and can lead us into all sorts of error.

Comment by saidachmiz on Circling as Cousin to Rationality · 2020-01-06T23:05:40.076Z · score: 12 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I think that this perspective focuses entirely too much on people’s feelings about things, and not nearly enough on the facts of the matter. Consider the following alternative analysis, based on a simple enumeration of possibilities.

We start with Bob believing that Alice betrayed him. There are then two possibilities for the truth value of this belief; and, orthogonally, there are two[1] possibilities for how Bob chooses to proceed with his interaction with Alice. This yields a joint set of four scenarios:

  1. Alice betrayed Bob. Bob expresses his belief straightforwardly, saying: “Alice, you betrayed me”.

  2. Alice betrayed Bob. Bob uses the NVC-style[2] expression, saying: “I feel alone” (or something along these lines).

  3. Alice did not betray Bob. Bob behaves as in scenario (1).

  4. Alice did not betray Bob. Bob behaves as in scenario (2).

In scenario 1, Bob maintains his defenses, so to speak; he does not make himself vulnerable to further exploitation, abuse, etc. on Alice’s part. He curtails (though by no means entirely closes off) the possibility of reconciliation or understanding—but as we have stipulated that Alice did indeed betray Bob, this is fine; the onus to make a concerted effort to reconcile must be on Alice. No burden of understanding or forgiveness, nor even emotional vulnerability, ought to be imposed upon Bob, until and unless Alice takes serious steps toward making up for her misdeed. (In fact, supposing the betrayal to be sufficiently serious, Bob may never forgive or reconcile with Alice; and this is right and proper.)

In scenario 2, Bob lowers his defenses; he exposes vulnerability; he gives Alice information and openings with which to further exploit him. As Alice betrayed him once, she may well do so again; people who betray trusts, who exploit those close to them, rarely do so once. (Note that this consideration does not even depend on conscious ill intent on Alice’s part; betrayal by neglect or thoughtlessness changes this scenario not at all.) Bob invites further harm, and perhaps even worse harm than before. Any attempt at reconciliation assumes good faith from the counterparty, after all; but, by construction, such good faith is lacking in this scenario. Bob is making a grave, and potentially quite costly, mistake.

In scenario 3, Bob is harming a relationship which may be repaired. The worst case is that Alice, in turn, feels betrayed by the accusation, and that reconciliation is closed off, where otherwise it may have been possible. Yet the question of whether Alice betrayed Bob or not, is a question of fact; that the facts involved are facts about expectations, about communication having taken place (or not), about agreed-upon (or assumed) obligations, etc., makes them no less factual. Whether Alice did, or did not, betray Bob, may be discovered, and demonstrated, to any good-faith observer (mediator, counselor, etc.). Supposing (as we do, in this scenario) that Alice did not betray Bob, this fact may be established. If Bob is interested in repairing his relationship with Alice, and Alice likewise, this remains possible, though difficult—but the difficulty stems from Bob’s sense of betrayal, even assuming away any communication errors. Still, the worst case is bad—there can be no denying that.

In scenario 4, the interaction (presumably) proceeds smoothly; everyone’s hurt feelings are soothed; no one’s feelings are newly hurt. Alice and Bob reconcile and continue their relationship as before (and possibly even stronger than before).

The question, then, is: what is the relative weight that we should place on each of these scenarios? Do we disvalue (2) more than (3), or vice-versa—and how much more, the one than the other? How much do we value (4)?

These are not easy questions. They must be answered with attention to the particulars of a person’s situation—their personality, their social circle, etc.—and with the fact firmly in mind that such choices, if made repeatedly, compound, and form incentives for the actions of others, and signal various things to various sorts of people.

What is clear from this analysis, however, is that the “NVC-style” approach absolutely does not dominate. There are quite common environments and contexts, in fact, where it is clearly dominated by the other.[3]


  1. Two within the context of the scenario, anyhow. Bob is of course free to do any number of other things, but those other options are not (currently) under discussion. ↩︎

  2. By this I only mean to refer to the sort of communication Vaniver endorses in his post and comments; I make no claim of knowing precisely what sort of formulations NVC would actually prescribe in such cases. ↩︎

  3. And it seems to me that many ‘rationalist’ communities constitute just such environments. ↩︎

Comment by saidachmiz on Circling as Cousin to Rationality · 2020-01-06T07:11:42.751Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed; “I feel alone” has different connotations than “I feel lonely”. Namely:

“I feel lonely” simply connotes “I have a certain mental/emotional state”.

“I feel alone” connotes “I feel lonely; also, I believe that I am alone (and that the latter is the cause of the former), but I don’t want to claim this outright—I prefer only to imply it, in a way that prevents anyone from asking whether that belief is true”.

Comment by saidachmiz on Underappreciated points about utility functions (of both sorts) · 2020-01-06T01:40:14.151Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, let’s say this: I will take some time (when I can, sometime within the next few days) to find some of the comments in question, but if it turns out that you do think that none of the claimed examples are sufficient, then I make no promises about engaging with the proposed “unraveling of real underlying terminal values” or what have you—that part I do think is unlikely to be productive (simply because there is usually not much to say in response to “no, these really are my preferences, despite any of these so-called ‘contradictions’, ‘incompatibilities’, ‘inconsistencies’, etc.”—in other words, preferences are, generally, prior to everything else[1]).

In the meantime, however, you might consider (for your own interest, if nothing else) looking into the existing (and quite considerable) literature on VNM axiom violations in the actual preferences of real-world humans. (The Wikipedia page on the VNM theorem should be a good place to start chasing links and citations for this.)


  1. This, of course, avoids the issue of higher-order preferences, which I acknowledge is an important complicating factor, but which I think ought to be dealt with as a special case, and with full awareness of what exactly is being dealt with. (Robin Hanson’s curve-fitting approach is the best framework I’ve seen for thinking about this sort of thing.) ↩︎

Comment by saidachmiz on Underappreciated points about utility functions (of both sorts) · 2020-01-06T00:26:43.771Z · score: 2 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Certainly I can do this (in fact, you can find several examples yourself by, as I said, looking through my comment history—but yes, I’m willing to dig them up for you).

But before I do, let me ask: what sorts of examples will satisfy you? After all, suppose I provide an example; you could then say: “ah, but actually this is not a VNM axiom violation, because these are not your real preferences—if you thought about it rationally, you would conclude that your real preferences should instead be so-and-so” (in a manner similar to what you wrote in your earlier comment). Then suppose I say “nope; I am unconvinced; these are definitely my real preferences and I refuse to budge on this—my preferences are not up for grabs, no matter what reasoning you adduce”. Then what? Would you, in such a case, accept my example as an existence proof of my claim? Or would you continue to defy the data?

Comment by saidachmiz on Circling as Cousin to Rationality · 2020-01-05T23:21:30.245Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Is this not handled by the word ‘lonely’? ‘Alone’ and ‘lonely’ are different, after all. “I feel lonely” seems to be the usual way to convey what you’re describing.

Comment by saidachmiz on Circling as Cousin to Rationality · 2020-01-05T23:18:27.298Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is an excellent, and very underappreciated, point.

Just to provide some terminology—the relevant term/concept is propositional attitude (Wikipedia page, SEP page). The error that Richard describes is that of mistakenly believing that ‘feel’ may coherently be understood as a propositional attitude (and that “I feel that …” may coherently be understood as a propositional attitude report), that is somehow different from ‘believe’ (and reports of beliefs). But of course this isn’t the case.

Comment by saidachmiz on Underappreciated points about utility functions (of both sorts) · 2020-01-05T20:07:34.274Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You are talking, here, about preferences that are intransitive.

The von Neumann–Morgenstern utility theorem specifies four axioms which an agent’s preferences must conform to, in order for said preferences to be formalizable as a utility function. Transitivity of preferences is one of these axioms.

However, the VNM theorem is just a formal mathematical result: it says that if, and only if, an agent’s preferences comply with these four axioms, then there exists (up to positive affine transformation) a utility function which describes these preferences.

The axioms are often described as rules that a “rational agent” must comply with, or as being axioms of “rationality”, etc., but this is a tendentious phrasing—one which is in no way implicit in the theorem (which, again, is only a formally proved result in mathematics), nor presupposed by the theorem. Whether compliance with the VNM axioms is normative (or, equivalently, whether it constitutes, or is required by, “rationality”) is thus an open question.

(Note that whether the actual preferences of existing agents (i.e., humans) comply with the VNM axioms is not an open question—we know that they do not.)

It may interest you to know that, of the four VNM axioms, transitivity is one which I (like you) find intuitively and obviously normative. I cannot see any good reason to have preferences that are intransitive upon reflection; this would be clearly irrational.

But there are three other axioms: independence, continuity, and completeness. I do not find any of those three to be obviously normative. In fact, there are good reasons to reject each of the three. And my actual preferences do indeed violate at least the independence and continuity axioms.

If you search through my comment history, you will find discussions of this topic dating back many years (the earliest, I think, would have been around 2011; the most recent, only a few months ago). My opinion has not materially shifted, over this period; in other words, my views on this have been stable under reflection.

Thus we have the situation I have been describing: my preferences are “inconsistent” in a certain formal sense (namely, they are not VNM-compliant), and thus cannot be represented with a utility function. This property of my preferences is stable under reflection, and furthermore, I endorse it as normative.


P.S.: There are certain other things in your comment which I disagree with, but, as far as I can tell, all are immaterial to the central point, so I am ignoring them.