Posts

The Real Rules Have No Exceptions 2019-07-23T03:38:45.992Z · score: 103 (53 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: 81 (21 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 What are some unpopular (non-normative) opinions that you hold? · 2019-10-24T01:10:02.961Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As per my other comment—is it the “public” part that you feel is critical here, or the “online” part, or are they both separately necessary (and if so—are they together sufficient? … though this is a much trickier question, of course).

Comment by saidachmiz on What are some unpopular (non-normative) opinions that you hold? · 2019-10-24T01:08:44.801Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There’s a false dilemma there, though. “In-person conversation” and “online public forum” are surely not the only possibilities. At the very least, “private online forum” is another option, yes?

Comment by saidachmiz on What are some unpopular (non-normative) opinions that you hold? · 2019-10-23T23:23:00.958Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If none of the smart se­ri­ous peo­ple can do it be­cause we’re ter­rified that the me­dia (or Twit­ter, or /​r/​SneerClub) can’t tell the differ­ence be­tween us and Stu­art An­der­son, then we’re dead.

The cynical hypothesis is that the media (or Twitter, or /r/SneerClub) fundamentally do not care about the difference between us and Stuart Anderson, and even if they can tell the difference, it doesn’t matter.

But more importantly—

… if there is to be such a thing as an art of ra­tio­nal­ity, the smart se­ri­ous ver­sion of the dis­cus­sion … needs to hap­pen some­where.

Suppose you were asked to briefly describe what such a place (which would, by construction, not be Less Wrong) would be like—what would you say?

Comment by saidachmiz on What are some unpopular (non-normative) opinions that you hold? · 2019-10-23T23:11:49.195Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed, but this time, for God’s sake do not publish the submissions until you’re done collecting them!

Comment by saidachmiz on What are some unpopular (non-normative) opinions that you hold? · 2019-10-23T18:03:55.915Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks!

Looking at that list, it’s certainly not composed entirely of countries that are “notoriously terrible” (e.g., Singapore, Israel, Estonia, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, are all, I am given to understand, quite nice)… but the list is clearly skewed toward countries I very much would not want to live in, much more so than the list of countries without conscription.

Comment by saidachmiz on What are some unpopular (non-normative) opinions that you hold? · 2019-10-23T17:14:47.182Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How do you propose to separate the effects of argumentative techniques from the effects of “the overarching reasons why someone who already subscribes to a contrarian position might have been persuaded by it in the first place”? That is, how would you correct for this clearly quite serious confounding factor?

Comment by saidachmiz on What are some unpopular (non-normative) opinions that you hold? · 2019-10-23T17:13:27.037Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

No such speculation is necessary; you need only to, you know, read the page, to see that the list is simply a list of countries with national service, period—whether compulsory or voluntary.

Comment by saidachmiz on Chris_Leong's Shortform · 2019-10-23T13:36:37.651Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW · GW

IANAM[1], but intuitively it seems to me that an exception ought to be made (given the basic idea of Marxist theory) for individuals who own means of production the use of which, however, does not involve any labor but their own.

So in the case of the village cobbler, sure, he owns the means of production, but he’s the only one mixing his labor with the use of those tools. Clearly, he can’t be exploiting anyone. Should the cobbler take on an assistant (continuing my intuitive take on the theory), said assistant would presumably have to now receive some suitable share in the ownership of the workshop/tools/etc., and in the profits from the business (rather than merely being paid a wage), as any other arrangement would constitute alienation from the fruits of his (the assistant’s) labor.

On this interpretation, there does not here seem to be any contradiction or inconsistency in the theory. (I make no comment, of course, on the theory’s overall plausibility, which is a different matter entirely.)


  1. I Am Not A Marxist. ↩︎

Comment by saidachmiz on What are some unpopular (non-normative) opinions that you hold? · 2019-10-22T23:50:11.830Z · score: 8 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I understand your quite sensible reluctance to set before yourself the task of making and proclaiming a judgment on the truth of each of your chosen “contrarian claims”. Unfortunately, this means that you’re excluding a big chunk of hypothesis space for reasons of convenience and not on any principled basis, which means that your entire investigation is fundamentally of questionable epistemic value.

Suppose you do your investigation and you conclude that the reason that highly educated people are attracted to your chosen “contrarian claims” for reason X (where X is something that has nothing to do with said claims’ truth values). Now suppose I read your findings, and I say to you: “You say the reason educated people are attracted to these claims is reason X; but I think actually the reason is that these claims are true. What steps did you take to rule out this alternate explanation, and on what basis do you judge said explanation to be less plausible than your provided explanation (which invokes reason X)?”

You would have no answer for me, isn’t that so? You could only say “I took no such steps; and I can make no such judgment.”

And given this, why should anyone take your proffered explanation seriously—whatever that explanation might be?

Comment by saidachmiz on What are some unpopular (non-normative) opinions that you hold? · 2019-10-22T23:31:00.223Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

That list includes the United States, so it clearly can’t be a list of countries with mandatory national service.

Comment by saidachmiz on What are some unpopular (non-normative) opinions that you hold? · 2019-10-22T22:48:55.322Z · score: 27 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I’m not concerned about the truth value of these contrarian positions, just why they appear appealing to certain kinds of people (and if that’s experimentally testable).

This seems a very odd way of approaching the question. Surely the truth value of any given position has something to do with how appealing it is?

At the very least, you’ve got to examine—even if only to rule out!—the obvious explanation: that more highly educated people are better at discerning truth, and that “contrarian” positions appeal to such people to the extent that they are more correct than the “mainstream” views in each case. How can you hope to have any kind of a sensible answer to your question if you ignore the issue of the truth of any given position?

EDIT: And since we’re on the topic—doesn’t it seem likely that a position is more likely to have “compelling arguments” for it… if it’s true? That seems like it should influence your conclusion somehow, doesn’t it?

Comment by saidachmiz on What are some unpopular (non-normative) opinions that you hold? · 2019-10-22T21:32:17.552Z · score: 16 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I am currently conducting research on the seductive appeal of contrarian positions, particularly among intellectuals.

[Emphasis mine]

I just want to note that the bolded phrasing is really quite tendentious. I hope you’re not actually taking the perspective on contrarian positions that this sentence implies… if you are, then you’re starting from a severely biased perspective, which can hardly bode well for the validity of your research.

Comment by saidachmiz on What are some unpopular (non-normative) opinions that you hold? · 2019-10-22T21:27:37.961Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Is… is that a contrarian idea?

I was not aware of the negation of this claim being a mainstream view. Who is advocating for mandatory national service?!

Comment by saidachmiz on Implementing an Idea-Management System · 2019-10-22T03:11:26.919Z · score: 10 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I consider even negative feedback from potential users or customers to be very helpful, especially if it lets me see their first impressions.

As do I—but I did notice it felt quite different for you to do this in a public forum (and that it was followed by you encouraging others to not try the tool), rather than by responding to our onboarding email as every other user has so far.

We’ve got about 50 users in our slack channel discussing bugs, feature requests and updates. Very happy to send you an invite if you’re interested.

I consider it very valuable—and (to use the local jargon) prosocial—that pjeby posted his feedback publicly. It allowed others (like me) to benefit, both by reading some valuable user responses to a potentially interesting tool (which responses and feedback are useful to my current and future endeavors), and by getting info about Roam (which I otherwise wouldn’t get, except as filtered and released by you, the product’s creators).

Conversely, siloing user/developer interaction in a private Slack channel is… not prosocial.

Comment by saidachmiz on Why Are So Many Rationalists Polyamorous? · 2019-10-21T17:05:26.827Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW · GW

overcoming intuitions

I absolutely hate this phrase and everything it represents.

Very much seconded!

Comment by saidachmiz on A simple sketch of how realism became unpopular · 2019-10-21T12:15:14.027Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

And now, a substantive response:

When Chalmers claims to have “direct” epistemic access to certain facts, the proper response is to provide the arguments for doubting that claim, not to play a verbal sleight-of-hand like Dennett’s (1991, emphasis added):

You are not authoritative about what is happening in you, but only about what seems to be happening in you, and we are giving you total, dictatorial authority over the account of how it seems to you, about what it is like to be you. And if you complain that some parts of how it seems to you are ineffable, we heterophenomenologists will grant that too. What better grounds could we have for believing that you are unable to describe something than that (1) you don’t describe it, and (2) confess that you cannot? Of course you might be lying, but we’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

It’s intellectually dishonest of Dennett to use the word “ineffable” here to slide between the propositions “I’m unable to describe my experience” and “my experience isn’t translatable in principle”, as it is to slide between Nagel’s term of art “what it’s like to be you” and “how it seems to you”.

First of all, how in the world could you possibly know that your experience isn’t translatable in principle? That you can’t describe it—that you of course can know. But what additional meaning can it even have, to say that you can’t describe it, and on top of that, it “isn’t translatable in principle”? What does that even mean?

As far as I can tell, Dennett isn’t sliding between anything. There’s just the one meaning: you can’t describe some experience you’re having.

Secondly, it’s not clear that this paragraph is a response to claims about having “‘direct’ epistemic access to certain facts”. (I’d have to reread Consciousness Explained to see the context, but as quoted it seems a bit of a non sequitur.)

… it’s logically rude to conceal your cruxes, pretend that your method is perfectly neutral and ecumenical, and let the “scientificness” of your proposed methodology do the rhetorical pushing and pulling.

I confess I don’t really have much idea what you’re saying here. What’s Dennett concealing, exactly…?

but indeed can’t ever (without telepathy etc., or maybe not even then) be shown to another person, or perceived by another person, to be the case, that there are further facts revealed by introspection that can’t be translated into words.

There’s a version of this claim I agree with (since I’m a physicalist), but the version here is too strong. First, I want to note again that this is equating group epistemology with individual epistemology.

I wasn’t talking about group epistemology here at all, much less equating it with anything.

But even from a group’s perspective, it’s perfectly possible for “facts revealed by introspection that can’t be translated into words” to be transmitted between people; just provide someone with the verbal prompts (or other environmental stimuli) that will cause them to experience and notice the same introspective data in their own brains.

This clearly won’t do; how will you ever know that the verbal prompts (or etc.) are causing the other person to experience, much less to notice, the same “introspective data” in their brain as you experienced and noticed in yours? (How exactly do you even guarantee comparability? What does “same” even mean, across individuals? People vary, you know; and it seems fairly likely even from what we know now, that capacity to experience certain things is present to widely varying degrees in people…)

Why, there are entire reams of philosophy dedicated to precisely this very thorny challenge! (Google “spectrum inversion” sometime…) And in fact I once saw this principle play out in my own life. A musically inclined friend of mine was attempting to teach me the basics of music theory. When his initial explanations got nowhere, we opened someone’s laptop and loaded up a website where you could click buttons and play certain chords or combinations of tones. My friend clicked some buttons, played some chords, and asked me to describe what I heard, which I did… only to see my friend react with astonishment, because what I heard and what he heard turned out to be quite different. (As we later discovered, I have some interesting deficiencies/abnormalities in auditory processing, having to do, inter alia, with ability to perceive pitch.)

Now, how do you propose to cause me to experience “the same introspective data” that my friend experiences when he hears the tones and chords in question—or vice versa? What stimuli, exactly, shall you use—and how would you discover what they might be? What function, precisely, reliably maps arbitrary (stimulus X, individual A) pairs to (stimulus Y, individual B) pairs, such that the “introspective data” that is experienced (and noticed) as a result is the “same” in both cases of a set? And having on hand a candidate such function, how exactly would you ever verify that it is really the desired thing?

If that’s too vague, consider this scenario as an analogy: …

I find such fanciful analogies almost uniformly uninformative, and this one, I’m afraid, is no exception. Even if I were to stretch my brain to imagine this sort of scenario (which is not easy), and carefully consider its implications (which is quite challenging), and take the further step of drawing a conclusion about whether the given hypothetical would indeed work as you say (in which I would have quite low confidence), nevertheless it would still be entirely unclear whether, and how, the analogy mapped back to our actual world, and whether any of the reasoning and the conclusion still held. Best to avoid such things.

Indeed it’s not even clear how you’d demonstrate to yourself that what your introspection reveals is real.

You can update upward or downward about the reliability of your introspection (either in general, or in particular respects), in the same way you can update upward or downward about the reliability of your sensory perception. E.g., different introspective experiences or faculties can contradict each other, suggest their own unreliability (“I’m introspecting that this all feels like bullshit...”), or contradict other evidence sources.

What if there is no “contradiction”, as such? Surely it’s possible for introspection to be deficient or entirely misleading even so? In any case, if introspection is corrigible by comparison with “other evidence sources” (by which you presumably mean, sense data, and experimental and various other observational information acquired via sense data, etc.), then you can hardly be said to have “‘direct’ epistemic access” to anything via said introspection…

Comment by saidachmiz on Implementing an Idea-Management System · 2019-10-21T00:59:19.134Z · score: 15 (9 votes) · LW · GW

As another software developer and entrepreneur, I consider even negative feedback from potential users or customers to be very helpful, especially if it lets me see their first impressions. That kind of information is something money can’t buy, even from a dedicated UX tester… and most people won’t take the time to give it to you. They’ll just move on.

I thought about just moving on yesterday. And then I thought, “eh, true first-impression UX feedback is valuable, I’m sure they’ll appreciate a write-up.”

As a UX designer and developer myself, I want to thank you for taking the time to write this. I find that even reading feedback about other people’s work, from someone who has considerable experience with the problem domain, is very valuable. (The notes about how you use existing tools, and what parts of Roam you found valuable, are useful info in particular, since I have quite a bit of interest in wiki systems myself.) So your effort expended on the grandparent didn’t go to waste!

Comment by saidachmiz on Implementing an Idea-Management System · 2019-10-21T00:54:05.242Z · score: 10 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This is an outstanding example of how not to respond to user feedback.

Comment by saidachmiz on A simple sketch of how realism became unpopular · 2019-10-20T06:43:19.007Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What does “indisputably” mean here in Bayesian terms? A Bayesian’s epistemology is grounded in what evidence that individual has access to, not in what disputes they can win.

Ok… before I respond with anything else, I want to note that this is hardly a reasonable response. “Indisputably” is a word that has several related usages, and while indeed one of them is something sort of like “you won’t actually win any actual debates if you try to take the opposite position”, do you really think the most plausible way to interpret what I said is to assume that that is the usage I had in mind? Especially after I wrote:

I don’t read Dennett as referring to social acceptability or “norms of science” (except insofar as those norms are taken to constitute epistemic best practices from a personal standpoint, which I think Dennett does assume to some degree—but no more than is, in my view, warranted).

So it should be clear that I’m not talking about winning debates, or social acceptability, or any such peripheral nonsense. I am, and have been throughout this discussion, talking about epistemology. Do I really need to scrupulously eschew such (in theory ambiguous but in practice straightforward) turns of phrase like “indisputably”, lest I be treated to a lecture on Bayesian epistemology?

If you really don’t like “indisputably”, substitute any of the following, according to preference:

  • plainly
  • manifestly
  • obviously
  • clearly
  • certainly
  • indubitably
  • incontrovertibly
  • with nigh-perfect certainty

… etc., etc.

Comment by saidachmiz on A simple sketch of how realism became unpopular · 2019-10-19T22:31:52.262Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I confess I have trouble imagining this, but it doesn’t seem contradictory, so, fair enough, I take your point.

Comment by saidachmiz on A simple sketch of how realism became unpopular · 2019-10-19T21:51:19.660Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

We can imagine a weird alien race (or alien AI) that has extremely flawed sensory faculties, and very good introspection. A race like that might be able to bootstrap to good science, via leveraging their introspection to spot systematic ways in which their sensory faculties fail, and sift out the few bits of reliable information about their environments.

I don’t think I can imagine this, actually. It seems to me to be somewhat incoherent. How exactly would this race “spot systematic ways in which their sensory faculties fail”? After all, introspection does no good when it comes to correcting errors of perception of the external world…

Or am I misunderstanding your point…?

Comment by saidachmiz on A simple sketch of how realism became unpopular · 2019-10-19T21:49:39.517Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don’t read Dennett as referring to social acceptability or “norms of science” (except insofar as those norms are taken to constitute epistemic best practices from a personal standpoint, which I think Dennett does assume to some degree—but no more than is, in my view, warranted).

a more honest approach would say “yeah, in principle introspective arguments are totally admissible, they just have to do a bit more work than usual because we’re giving them a lower prior (for reasons X, Y, Z)”

Sure. Heterophenomenology is that “more work”. Introspective arguments are admissible; they’re admissible as heterophenomenological evidence.

It is indisputably the case that Chalmers, for instance, makes arguments along the lines of “there are further facts revealed by introspection that can’t be translated into words”. But it is not only not indisputably the case, but indeed can’t ever (without telepathy etc., or maybe not even then) be shown to another person, or perceived by another person, to be the case, that there are further facts revealed by introspection that can’t be translated into words.

Indeed it’s not even clear how you’d demonstrate to yourself that what your introspection reveals is real. Certainly you’re welcome to “take introspection’s word for it”—but then you don’t need science of any kind. That I experience what I experience, seems to me to need no demonstration or proof; how can it be false, after all? Even in principle? But then what use is arguing whether a Bayesian approach to demonstrating this not-in-need-of-demonstration fact is best, or some other approach? Clearly, whatever heterophenomenology (or any other method of investigation) might be concerned with, it’s not that.

But now I’m just reiterating Dennett’s arguments. I guess what I’m saying is, I think your responses to Dennett are mostly mis-aimed. I think the rebuttals are already contained in what he’s written on the subject.

Comment by saidachmiz on A simple sketch of how realism became unpopular · 2019-10-19T19:32:31.775Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The general idea that introspection is never admissible as evidence. It’s fine if you want to verbally categorize introspective evidence as ‘unscientific’ in order to distinguish it from other kinds of evidence, and there are some reasonable grounds for skepticism about how strong many kinds of introspective evidence are. But evidence is still evidence; a Bayesian shouldn’t discard evidence just because it’s hard to share with other agents.

I find that Dennett’s heterophenomenology squares this circle, fully as much as it can be squared in the absence of actual telepathy (or comparable tech).

Comment by saidachmiz on Repairing Yudkowsky's anti-zombie argument · 2019-10-18T20:36:25.800Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

“One man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens.”

Comment by saidachmiz on No Really, Why Aren't Rationalists Winning? · 2019-10-17T03:57:11.085Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Ac­tu­ally, no, I ex­plic­itly want both 1 and 2. Merely be­ing more X than me doesn’t help me nearly as much as be­ing both more X and also always on the look­out for ways to be even more X, be­cause they can give me poin­t­ers and keep up with me when I catch up.

What I meant by #2 is “a crowd of people who are trying to be more X, but who, currently, aren’t any more X than you (or indeed very X at all, in the grand scheme of things)”, not that they’re already very X but are trying to be even more X.

EDIT:

Se­condly, all shounen quips aside, it’s ac­tu­ally not that hard to tell when some­one is merely pre­tend­ing to be more X.

Empirically, it seems rather hard, in fact.

Well, either that, or a whole lot of people seem to have some reason for pretending not to be able to tell…

Comment by saidachmiz on No Really, Why Aren't Rationalists Winning? · 2019-10-17T02:38:43.983Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You’re equivocating between the following:

  1. To become more X, find a crowd of people who are more X.
  2. To become more X, find a crowd of people who are trying to be more X.

Perhaps #1 works. But what is actually happening is #2.

… or at least, that’s what we might charitably hope is happening. But actually instead what often happens is:

  1. To become more X, find a crowd of people who are pretending to try to be more X.

And that definitely doesn’t work.

Comment by saidachmiz on Maybe Lying Doesn't Exist · 2019-10-16T00:43:19.028Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed, I agree that it would be more challenging for us, and I have some thoughts about why that would be and how to mitigate it. That said, I think the most productive and actionable way to make progress on this is to look into the relevant legal standards: what standards are applied in criminal proceedings (in the U.S.? elsewhere?) to “should have known”? to cases of civil liability? contract law? corporate law? etc. By looking at what constraints these sorts of situations place on people, and what epistemic obligations are assumed, we can get some insight into how our needs might be similar and/or different, compared to those contexts, which should give us ideas on how to formulate the relevant norms.

Comment by saidachmiz on Maybe Lying Doesn't Exist · 2019-10-15T08:43:30.375Z · score: 9 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This is an excellent point. The more relevant boundary seems like the one we usually refer to with the phrase “should have known”—and indeed this is more or less the notion that the courts use.

The question, then, is: do we have a satisfying account of “should have known”? If so: can we describe it sensibly and concisely? If not: can we formulate one?

Comment by saidachmiz on Maybe Lying Doesn't Exist · 2019-10-14T16:32:45.742Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW · GW

As an example, consider the word “crime”, and more specifically the question of defining which things should be crimes. When discussing whether something might be a crime, people often bring in considerations like “lying is bad, but it shouldn’t be a crime, because that would have worse consequences than it being legal”; and it would seem clearly wrong to me not to.

This is a bad example, because whether something is a crime is, in fact, fully determined by whether “we” (in the sense of “we, as a society, expressing our will through legislation, etc.”) decide to label it a ‘crime’. There is no “fact of the matter” about whether something “is a crime”, beyond that.

Therefore “lying is bad, but it shouldn’t be a crime, because that would have worse consequences than it being legal” is a statement of an entirely different kind from “we shouldn’t call this ‘lying’, because that would have bad consequences”. In the former case, if we decide that lying isn’t a crime, then it is not, in fact, a crime—we actually cause reality to change by that decision, such that the facts of the matter now fully align with the new usage. In the latter case, however, it’s very different; there is a fact of the matter, regardless of how we talk about it.

Comment by saidachmiz on Open & Welcome Thread - October 2019 · 2019-10-13T22:15:03.355Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That’s an interesting (and amusing) point—I didn’t even think of that when reading it! (I was too busy shaking my head at the basic absurdity of the analogy: what human playwright, when writing a play, would accidentally have one of their main characters turn into a plant or a stellar object or any such thing? If we take the analogy at face value, doesn’t it show that type checking is manifestly unnecessary if your code is being written by humans…?)

Comment by saidachmiz on For progress to be by accumulation and not by random walk, read great books · 2019-10-13T20:49:01.440Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It is not even necessary to write one; such tools already exist (search for “broken link” on that page).

Comment by saidachmiz on Open & Welcome Thread - October 2019 · 2019-10-13T20:45:04.352Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For what it’s worth, I tried reading that (I’d seen it recommended elsewhere, and this latest mention reminded me to give it a try).

I haven’t quite given up yet, but it’s not looking good. I found the preface to be thoroughly unconvincing as an argument for why I (a “working programmer”, as Milewski puts it) would want to learn category theory; and the next chapter (the Introduction) seems to be packed with some of the most absurd analogies I have ever seen, anywhere. (One of which is outright insulting—what, so the reason we need static type systems is that programmers are nothing more than monkeys, hitting keys at random, and with static typing, that randomly generated code will not compile if it’s wrong? But I am not a monkey; how does this logic apply to a human being who is capable of thought, and who writes code with a purpose and according to a design? Answer: it doesn’t.)

I will report back when I’ve read more (or finally given up), I suppose…

Comment by saidachmiz on Rent Needs to Decrease · 2019-10-12T18:47:26.186Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My goal isn’t to be closer to the middle of things than other people, I want to be near my friends and near my work.

What exactly do you think “things” are, if not your friends and your work?

Everyone wants to be close to their friends and their work; that’s precisely the “gravity” that moses was talking about.

Comment by saidachmiz on A simple sketch of how realism became unpopular · 2019-10-12T18:43:26.509Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW · GW

See also: “What is Wrong with Our Thoughts”.

Comment by saidachmiz on Kenshō · 2019-10-12T14:31:35.708Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The au­thor didn’t tell you en­light­en­ment is a tool.

Yes, he did. Several times, in fact, among which is a comment sibling to your own.

If you don’t get it, there’s no cake to show you.

The OP explicitly claimed that there’s cake and that he has already shown it (without elaborating). See linked comment.

Comment by saidachmiz on Categories: models of models · 2019-10-09T17:55:34.220Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Conceptual question:

In real life, i.e., when dealing with the physical world, there are usually many ways to generalize any given thing or phenomenon.

For example, a tomato is a fruit, but it’s also a vegetable; that is, it belongs to a botanical grouping, but also to a culinary grouping. Neither classification is more ‘real’ or ‘true’ than the other[1]; and indeed there are many other possible categories within which we can put tomatoes (red things, throwable things, round things, soft things, etc.).

Is this also the case in category theory? That is: for anything which we might be tempted to generalize with the aid of category theory, are there multiple ways to generalize it, dictated only by convenience and preference? Or, is there necessary some single canonical generalization for any given mathematical… thing? If the former: how and by what criteria are generalizations selected? If the latter: what pitfalls does this create when using real-world-based analogies to understand category theory?


  1. Recall that taxonomic classifications aren’t written in the heavens somewhere, but are merely a useful way for humans to classify organisms (namely, by putting them into groups arranged by common descent). This is useful for various reasons, but by no means unambiguous or necessary, nor dictated by reality—as “in truth there are only atoms and the void.” ↩︎

Comment by saidachmiz on Categories: models of models · 2019-10-09T16:07:44.546Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For example, say you want to grow new kinds of fruit that have never existed. Having a concept of fruit is necessary to conceiving of that idea. Life’s not going to give you examples of fruit that have never existed! You have to explore the conceptual space of all fruit.

It’s not, actually. See this old comment of mine:

Note that under this interpretation, no “general” or “extended” version of the concept is ever created (the template is anonymous, and is discarded as soon as it “goes out of scope”—which is to say, as soon as it has been used to create the new concept). There is thus no need to ask the questions of what this new, “general”/“extended” concept means, to what else it may or may not apply, how to differentiate between uses of it and any specific version, etc.

Comment by saidachmiz on Artifact: What Went Wrong? · 2019-10-09T01:56:18.689Z · score: 14 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Artifact … had generally positive reviews.

Well… perhaps in some places. The only things I read about Artifact were your own posts, and… this Penny Arcade newspost. It… wasn’t positive.

And what that review (and the linked strip) noted was precisely the extraordinary complexity and incomprehensibility that you talk about in the first section. So, at the very least, one major commentator of the gaming scene predicted failure, for a reason which, now, in retrospect, you take to be one of the actual reasons for the failure that did indeed happen.

This suggests that the answer to “what went wrong” is (at least in part): “exactly what people said would go wrong, right from the start”.

The follow-up question, then, is “why did the people in charge of this thing not think that this would be a problem”? I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts on this.

Comment by saidachmiz on The sentence structure of mathematics · 2019-10-08T00:16:24.340Z · score: 13 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I was tentatively excited about this series, but I have to be honest: I am dismayed by this post.

So now you understand objects and morphisms

… I really, really don’t.

You are (unless I’m grossly misunderstanding) analogizing category theory to grammar. Your analogy starts with some examples of sentences; then provides an intuitive, common-sense explanation of the common parts of speech, in non-technical terms; and also provides the technical terms. This is perfectly sensible, and is easy to follow.

Then, to make use of the analogy, you introduce the mathematical analogues… but this time, you don’t provide any examples, nor any intuitive generalizations of the examples (because there are none to generalize)… you simply introduce the technical terms, assert that they analogize, and declare that understanding has been conveyed. But that doesn’t work at all!

To elaborate:

It turns out that mathematics is pretty much just nouns and verbs at its simplest—just like how, if you read between the lines a bit, any English sentence can be boiled down to its nouns and verbs.

What are some examples of this? What are some things in mathematics which are “nouns” and “verbs”? I don’t have any intuition for this (as I certainly do for English sentences, which clearly deal with things, and actions that people take, etc.).

In mathematics, a noun is called an object.

So we’re talking about… what, exactly? Numbers? Digits? Variables? Functions? Expressions? Equations? Operators? Symbols? All of the above? None of the above? Some of the above?

A verb is called a morphism or arrow.

Again… what are examples of “morphisms” or “arrows”? Like, actual examples, not “examples” by analogy to English sentences?

p:AB

Ditto. If this is the generalization, what are some specific examples?


I very much hope that you can address these troubles… otherwise, if I can’t understand even the very basic first concepts, there doesn’t seem to be much hope of understanding anything else!

Comment by saidachmiz on What do the baby eaters tell us about ethics? · 2019-10-07T08:18:14.426Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The pink-dotted ball exists!

How do you know? What even makes you think that “the pink-dotted ball exists”? How did you come to believe this? “What do you think you know, and how do you think you know it?”

Notice that in life, unlike in chess, there is no agreed-upon metric for how well you’ve done. It’s not just that we don’t agree on which rule maximizes the expected score at game’s end; we also don’t agree just what exactly constitutes the ‘score’! (For that matter, we don’t even agree on what constitutes “game’s end”…)

In other words, suppose you somehow find the one ball with a pink dot on it. “Eureka!”, you shout, grabbing the ball and turning it around, “Look! The pink dot!”

Whereupon your friend Alice looks at the ball you’re holding and says “Eh? That dot isn’t pink at all. What, are you blind or something? It’s clearly orange.” And your other friend, Bob, asks, confused, “Why are we looking for a pink dot, anyway? It’s a green triangle we should be looking for, isn’t it?”

And so on. In short, ethics (and metaethics) is actually much, much harder than you make it out to be. In fact, it’s about as hard as looking for the proverbial black cat in the dark room…

Comment by saidachmiz on What do the baby eaters tell us about ethics? · 2019-10-07T07:56:44.055Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed.

As far as I’m concerned, the humans in the story would be entirely justified in treating the Superhappies as mortal enemies who constitute an existential threat to humanity, and against whom any amount of force may reasonably be applied to stop them from making good on their intentions toward us… and, likewise, the Babyeaters would be equally justified in treating the humans in the same way. It would be foolishness to the point of sheer insanity, for the Superhappies (or, respectively, the humans) to expect the humans (or, respectively, the Babyeaters) to respond otherwise. (Any engagement with negotiations, by each respective weaker party, should in such a case be understood only as appeasement, forced only by threat of brute force, and only as permanent and reliable as that threat.)

Since this is hardly a productive way for civilizations to interact with each other, the much more sensible thing to do is just to leave each other alone, and to interact on mutually consensual terms only—making no attempt to meddle in one another’s internal affairs.

Comment by saidachmiz on Dark Arts: Schopenhauer wrote The Book on How To Troll · 2019-10-05T07:27:25.810Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Here is the full text of The Art of Controversy, hosted on my wiki.

Comment by saidachmiz on Thoughts on the REACH Patreon · 2019-10-03T12:11:08.080Z · score: 17 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Relevant to my earlier comment is a fascinating essay by sociologist Theda Skocpol, called “The Narrowing of Civic Life” (h/t The Scholar’s Stage):

To understand the changes wrought by this sweeping civic reorganization, it is useful to consider the significant role these membership groups played in American life dating back at least a century. From the 1800s through the mid-1900s, countless churches and voluntary groups of all sizes needed volunteer leaders. Indeed, the country’s largest nation-spanning voluntary federations could have as many as 15,000 to 17,000 local chapters, each of which might need at least a dozen officers and committee leaders each year. Looking at the nation’s 20 largest voluntary federations alone in 1955, my colleagues and I estimate that some 3 percent to 5 percent of the adult population was serving in leadership roles—and that additional recruits would be needed each year.

[…]

This exposure to democracy in action wasn’t reserved for the elite alone. Many such organizations mixed social classes. There were plenty of opportunities for men and women from blue-collar and lower-level white-collar occupations to participate. And within the world of volunteerism, upward mobility was possible, as local activists got on leadership ladders toward responsibilities at district, state, and national levels.

Here we see a very strong confirmation of the intuition discussed in this comment thread—that “leadership qualities” are quite common, far more common than is, today, usually supposed. 3 to 5 percent of American adults were serving in leadership roles! Contemplate this amazing statistic—and then consider that this was not in any “ancestral environment”, but within living memory!

Comment by saidachmiz on Thoughts on the REACH Patreon · 2019-10-03T12:10:01.507Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Relevant to my earlier comment is a fascinating essay by sociologist Theda Skocpol, called “The Narrowing of Civic Life” (h/t The Scholar’s Stage):

To understand the changes wrought by this sweeping civic reorganization, it is useful to consider the significant role these membership groups played in American life dating back at least a century. From the 1800s through the mid-1900s, countless churches and voluntary groups of all sizes needed volunteer leaders. Indeed, the country’s largest nation-spanning voluntary federations could have as many as 15,000 to 17,000 local chapters, each of which might need at least a dozen officers and committee leaders each year. Looking at the nation’s 20 largest voluntary federations alone in 1955, my colleagues and I estimate that some 3 percent to 5 percent of the adult population was serving in leadership roles—and that additional recruits would be needed each year.

[…]

This exposure to democracy in action wasn’t reserved for the elite alone. Many such organizations mixed social classes. There were plenty of opportunities for men and women from blue-collar and lower-level white-collar occupations to participate. And within the world of volunteerism, upward mobility was possible, as local activists got on leadership ladders toward responsibilities at district, state, and national levels.

Here we see a very strong confirmation of the intuition discussed in this comment thread—that “leadership qualities” are quite common, far more common than is, today, usually supposed. 3 to 5 percent of American adults were serving in leadership roles! Contemplate this amazing statistic—and then consider that this was not in any “ancestral environment”, but within living memory!

Comment by saidachmiz on Thoughts on the REACH Patreon · 2019-10-03T12:09:30.108Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Relevant to my earlier comment is a fascinating essay by sociologist Theda Skocpol, called “The Narrowing of Civic Life” (h/t The Scholar’s Stage):

To understand the changes wrought by this sweeping civic reorganization, it is useful to consider the significant role these membership groups played in American life dating back at least a century. From the 1800s through the mid-1900s, countless churches and voluntary groups of all sizes needed volunteer leaders. Indeed, the country’s largest nation-spanning voluntary federations could have as many as 15,000 to 17,000 local chapters, each of which might need at least a dozen officers and committee leaders each year. Looking at the nation’s 20 largest voluntary federations alone in 1955, my colleagues and I estimate that some 3 percent to 5 percent of the adult population was serving in leadership roles—and that additional recruits would be needed each year.

[…]

This exposure to democracy in action wasn’t reserved for the elite alone. Many such organizations mixed social classes. There were plenty of opportunities for men and women from blue-collar and lower-level white-collar occupations to participate. And within the world of volunteerism, upward mobility was possible, as local activists got on leadership ladders toward responsibilities at district, state, and national levels.

Here we see a very strong confirmation of the intuition discussed in this comment thread—that “leadership qualities” are quite common, far more common than is, today, usually supposed. 3 to 5 percent of American adults were serving in leadership roles! Contemplate this amazing statistic—and then consider that this was not in any “ancestral environment”, but within living memory!

Comment by saidachmiz on The first step of rationality · 2019-09-30T20:07:25.801Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm, but is it really necessary to become an expert in… anything, really, much less anything so esoteric as meditation/enlightenment/whatever, in order to avoid doing any sexual misconduct? It seems like most people manage this without any great expertise at all…

Comment by saidachmiz on Honoring Petrov Day on LessWrong, in 2019 · 2019-09-27T23:08:34.753Z · score: 18 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I could note that reactive spite is game-theoretically correct; this is well-documented and surely familiar to everyone here.

But that would not be the important reason. In fact I take spitefulness to be a terminal value, and as a shard of godshatter which is absolutely critical to what humans are (and, importantly, what I take to be the ideal of what humans are and should be).

It is not always appropriate, of course; nor even usually, no. Someone who is spiteful all or most of the time, who is largely driven by spite in their lives—this is not a pleasant person to be around, and nor would I wish to be like this. But someone who is entirely devoid of spite—who does not even understand it, who has never felt it nor can imagine feeling spite—I must wonder whether such a one is fully human.

There is an old Soviet animated short, called “Baba Yaga Is Opposed” (which you may watch in its entirety on YouTube; link to first of three episodes; each is ~10 minutes).

The plot is: it’s the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. Misha the bear has been chosen as the event’s mascot. Baba Yaga—the legendary witch-crone of Russian folklore—is watching the announcement on TV. “Why him!” she exclaims; “why him and not me!” “The entire world is in favor!” proclaims the television announcer; whereupon the witch declares: “But Baba Yaga is opposed!”—and embarks on a mad scheme to kidnap Misha and … well, it’s not clear what her plan is, exactly; but hijinks predictably ensue.

After “Baba Yaga Is Opposed” was aired in the Soviet Union, the cartoon’s title passed into the vernacular, referring to someone who opposes something, or refuses something, for no reason but a contrarian nature; a refusal to conform, on general principles; in short—spite.

I think we need such people. I think that “Baba Yaga is opposed” is, at times, all that stands between humanity and utter catastrophe and horror; and, much more often, all that stands in the way of plans and schemes that threaten to make our lives more dull and grey. We need there to be, always, people who will simply not go along with our grand plans, no matter how well-intentioned; who refuse to conform, to participate, not from any specific principles, but simply because they don’t want to. We need to know that however reasonable our arguments, some people won’t agree with us, and nothing we can say will make them agree. We need to know that we will never be able to convince everyone or to get everyone to go along.

I fear to imagine what will happen on the day when there is no Baba Yaga to stubbornly and spitefully oppose our best-laid plans; and I can only hope that the stories are true, that say she is immortal.

Comment by saidachmiz on Honoring Petrov Day on LessWrong, in 2019 · 2019-09-27T14:04:36.194Z · score: 9 (6 votes) · LW · GW

All your reasons look like People Are Bad.

I disagree, FWIW. It seems to me that “desire for infamy” may be rolled into “people are bad”, but not the other two. I do not consider either personal antipathy nor spite to be necessarily negative qualities.

Comment by saidachmiz on Honoring Petrov Day on LessWrong, in 2019 · 2019-09-27T07:18:54.343Z · score: 23 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Well, it seems that no one has launched anything. However, skimming through the comments seems to indicate that this may at least partly be due to folks simply not having had enough time to coordinate any agreements about launching for some quid pro quo, or blackmail, or whatever. And, for that matter, not everyone has time to visit the site daily—I’d wager that at least some of the people who had launch codes, simply didn’t have time to go to Less Wrong all day, or forgot, etc.

Perhaps, next time, there can be more warning? Send out the launch codes a week in advance, let’s say (though maintain only a one-day window for actually using them).

That way, we can be more certain of whether the outcome was due entirely to trustworthiness, self-restraint, and a cooperative spirit, or whether it was instead due to indecisiveness and the limitations of people’s busy schedules.

Comment by saidachmiz on Honoring Petrov Day on LessWrong, in 2019 · 2019-09-27T03:17:29.289Z · score: 21 (14 votes) · LW · GW

In the comments of Ray’s post, Zvi asked the following question (about a variant where a cake gets destroyed):

I still don’t understand, in the context of the ceremony, what would cause anyone to push the button. Whether or not it would incinerate a cake, which would pretty much make you history’s greatest monster.

There are several obvious reasons why someone might push the button.

Reason one: spite. Pure, simple spite, nothing more. A very compelling reason, I assure you. (See also: “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”)

Reason two: desire for infamy. “History’s greatest monster” is much better (for many people) than being a nobody.

Reason three: personal antipathy for people who would be harmed.

I could think of more potential reasons, I suppose, but I think three examples are enough. Remember that being incapable of imagining why someone would do a bad thing, is a weakness and a failure. Strive to do better.