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Cryonics and Pascal’s wager 2011-02-18T18:36:43.757Z · score: -3 (14 votes)

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Comment by timwi on 31 Laws of Fun · 2012-04-12T21:49:42.088Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Your post explains how the bible describes heaven. However, when I hear the phrase “Christian heaven” I tend to take it to mean “heaven as Christians today understand it”. You may well be right that the bible doesn’t directly imply that it includes singing hymns for the rest of eternity, but clearly it is widely imagined that way, otherwise we wouldn’t all have heard that idea.

Comment by timwi on Generalizing From One Example · 2012-03-26T01:24:11.658Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You seem to be using the word “experience” differently from what I understand it to mean. “To experience depression” to me would mean that you are in a depression for real. You seem to imply that you can “experience” it without actually being in it — what do you mean by that?

Note that it is not enough merely to imagine an experience. It is certainly possible to imagine oneself in a situation one has never actually been in — but the imagined experience would be a guess. It’s like imagining (assuming you are capable of visual imagery) an animal that you have never seen before from a vague description. You can only imagine what you’ve been told, but your mind fills in the details with guesses. This is probably exacerbated by the fact that you often get conflicting descriptions, because not all depressions are exactly the same.

So what do you mean when you say “I seem to be vastly above-average in my ability to perceive the world through alternate lenses”? If you believe there is more to it than just your mind making guesses, what makes you believe that?

Comment by timwi on Generalizing From One Example · 2012-03-26T00:23:16.737Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If a test in no way distinguishes between knowledge gained by different methods it has no right to call one method 'cheating', no matter what it may claim.

Surely by that argument there is no such thing as cheating. If I gained the knowledge necessary to pass the test by brekaing into the headmaster’s office and taking a photocopy of the questions and their answers before the exam, by your criterion that isn’t cheating.

Comment by timwi on Bayesianism in the face of unknowns · 2011-03-12T23:34:11.066Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That sounds pretty much the same as what I said above.

Comment by timwi on Bayesianism in the face of unknowns · 2011-03-12T22:46:27.705Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My take at it is basically this: average over all possible distributions until you have further evidence. (Preferably, let other people play the game first to gather the evidence at no cost to myself.)

If someone tells me a coin has an unknown binomial distribution, and we really genuinely don’t know anything about this distribution (not even the distribution of possible distributions), I take the set of all possible distributions and assume they are all equally likely. Since they are symmetric, the average is a 50:50 fair coin.

In your example, you throw not just one coin, but a different one each time. Differently put, the sequence of coins is a random variable whose distribution we don’t know. I therefore begin by assuming it is the average over all possible distributions, and within that average distribution, the distribution of first coins is symmetric, so its average is 50:50, so for the first coin toss I’ll assume that it’s a 50:50.

Say the first coin toss now comes out tails. This provides me with a slight piece of evidence that your set of unfair coins may be biased towards containing more tail-preferring coins than head-preferring coins. Therefore, I will assume that the second coin is more likely to be a tail-preferring coin than a head-preferring one. I’d have to do the maths to find out exactly how much my ante would change.

With each new coin toss, I learn more about the likelihood of each distribution of coins within the set of all possible distributions.

I suspect that the level of indirection can actually be safely removed and we can regard the whole thing as a single random binary digit generator with a single distribution, about which we initially don’t know anything and gradually build up evidence. I further suspect that if the distribution of coins is uniformly distributed, and therefore symmetric, the sequence of coin tosses is equivalent to a single, fair coin. Once again, someone would have to do the maths to prove whether this is actually equivalent.

Comment by timwi on Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions · 2011-03-10T01:03:37.835Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Am I the only one who, while reading this post, thought “why doesn’t the same apply to anything else we ever discover”?

Elan vital (and phlogiston and luminiferous aether etc.) were particles/substances/phenomena postulated to try to explain observations made. How are quarks, electrons and photons any different? Just because we recognise these as the best available theory today, I am not sure I understand how one is a curiosity-stopper any more than the other.

The real curiosity-stopper is the suggestion that something is forever beyond our understanding and that attempting to research it is destined to be futile. Your quote from Lord Kelvin exhibits this mentality, but only very slightly. Certainly a lot less than some of that stuff you hear from religious people who think God explains everything but is beyond our understanding. I think the history of science shows that this mentality is continually diminishing, and Lord Kelvin’s quote may simply be a transitional fossil.

I still see traces of this mentality today. Ask a cosmologist what happened in the first few seconds after the big bang and they might say the particle horizon makes it fundamentally impossible to see beyond the point where the universe became optically transparent. I think many people think similarly about consciousness — not because they think we can’t dissect the brain and figure out how it works, but rather because they think we will never be able to come up wtih a coherent, useful definition of the term that reasonably matches our intuition. I think each of these are curiosity-stoppers.

Comment by timwi on About the AI-Box experiment · 2011-02-21T20:47:30.716Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How can you know that it’s stupid to look at it before you’ve looked at it?

Comment by timwi on About the AI-Box experiment · 2011-02-21T20:45:16.987Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

No, it doesn’t rule it out. I can’t be rationally convinced of anything that went on in the chat until I see it.

Comment by timwi on Taboo Your Words · 2011-02-20T23:59:49.582Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

When I read the post, I immediately thought: just say “home-run”! — I’ve been playing taboo for a long time, I’ve occasionally elicited the correct response from the other players by saying just one or two words :)

Comment by timwi on Rationality Quotes: February 2011 · 2011-02-07T03:12:39.456Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

How do you define “illusion”? I think an illusion is a type of brain failure. An optical illusion is even more specific. Therefore, I think the term is wholly appropriate — and “brain failure”, while not at all inappropriate, is just unnecessarily vague.

Comment by timwi on How to Beat Procrastination · 2011-02-07T01:15:25.976Z · score: 24 (24 votes) · LW · GW

One obvious way to inject more value into a task is to reward yourself for completing it.

Research shows that this doesn’t work for most people (but maybe it does for you). The reason seems to be that most people normally go and get what they want if they can. In order to turn something that you can always have into a reward, you would have to suppress this. Instead of rewarding yourself, you end up punishing yourself.

To use your example, you are not bribing yourself with Pinkberry frozen yogurt at all; you know that you can have your Pinkberry frozen yogurt whenever you want. You are actually denying yourself the Pinkberry frozen yogurt until you’ve finished the task. After the completion of the task you just restore normality. Every time your subconscious asks you, “I want Pinkberry frozen yogurt, why am I doing this to myself?”, your conscious comes back saying “Because I need to motivate myself to do this task I hate.” You begin to associate the task with Pinkberry-frozen-yoghurt deprivation and you start hating the task even more. Motivation goes down.

Furthermore, there’s the side-effect of having Pinkberry frozen yogurt at a time when you would normally not actually want it. You only have it in order to “reward” yourself for that task. Having Pinkberry frozen yogurt now itself becomes a task! You run the risk of compromising your love for Pinkberry frozen yogurt by forcing it instead of letting it happen naturally. Before you know it, Pinkberry frozen yogurt is no longer a reward. As soon as you realise this, you stop having it after the task, then you stop having it altogether because you associate it with the task you hate, and then you hate the task even more for destroying your fondness for Pinkberry frozen yogurt. Motivation goes down.

The only times this “self-imposed reward” system works on me is when the reward is intrinsically unavailable until the task is completed. For example, you could reward yourself for doing the shopping by buying Pinkberry frozen yogurt. You can’t have it until you bought it. But for other tasks (like writing an essay), that doesn’t work.