Comment by tlhonmey on Evaporative Cooling of Group Beliefs · 2021-01-19T18:47:33.442Z · LW · GW

As I recall that particular religion was originally created so that its founder could sell "blessed" wheat seed at a premium because he'd been sued so many times over false claims that his wheat produced a higher yield than the common variety (It was, actually the same variety and there was demonstrably no difference.)

He soon discovered that running a cult was more profitable.

Comment by tlhonmey on Uncritical Supercriticality · 2021-01-19T18:06:43.582Z · LW · GW

It's not a hard line.  Most welfare states tax some people more and some less, some industries more and some less.  All in an attempt to shape society as they see fit.

The difference between that and just declaring outright ownership of the means of production is merely a matter of degree.

Comment by tlhonmey on Uncritical Supercriticality · 2021-01-19T18:00:18.988Z · LW · GW

Of course not.  Because that's not what defines Communism.  Communism is government ownership of the means of production.

What you're describing is "post scarcity".  We've already achieved it in some areas.  There's enough surplus clothing to last for several decades if we quit making more tomorrow for instance.  Most likely when we get out to generally post scarcity the means of production will be individually owned, but it's so easy to produce so much that nobody will care all that much about careful tracking of its disposition.

Comment by tlhonmey on Affective Death Spirals · 2021-01-14T17:02:17.351Z · LW · GW

At the same time though, not calculating a value until something actually needs it is exactly the kind of efficiency hack one would really want to implement if they were going to simulate an entire universe...

So if we are in some level of sub-reality that would make it much more likely that the model is correct, even if there's no way for us to actually test it...

So from a practical point of view, it comes down entirely to which model lets us most effectively predict things.  Since that's what we actually care about.  I'll take a collection of "parlour tricks" that can tell me things about the future with high confidence over a provably self-consistent system that is wrong more often.

Comment by tlhonmey on The Affect Heuristic · 2021-01-12T21:14:45.448Z · LW · GW

Even if you can't keep picking until you've gotten all the reds, there may be some number of draws where the probability of drawing more than one from the jar with more reds exceeds the loss of probability from them being a smaller portion of the total.

But it depends on exactly what the rules are.

In terms of our reflexes...  The lower levels of consciousness often aren't particularly good at math, so they probably just use a rough count.

Comment by tlhonmey on Have the lockdowns been worth it? · 2021-01-12T20:12:21.345Z · LW · GW

I mean, a lot of it I think has to do with the lockdown rules being fairly obviously being written by the dumbest people in the room.

As a couple of examples, here where I am they shut down all "nonessential" jobs and it rapidly became clear that they had no idea what was actually essential and no idea what actually spread the virus.  Specifically:

Automotive repair shops were shut down entirely for months.  It's as if they had no conception that all those "essential" transport jobs to get food back to the stores actually have to do vehicle maintenance.  It wasn't until shipping started to take a hit that they actually listened to complaints.

"non-essential" rural workers taking advantage of the down time to catch up on maintenance were having jack-booted thugs show up on their property (in the middle of nowhere, with no workers who didn't live on-premises) and order them to cease working and go sit inside their homes because somehow that would make everyone safer.  Never mind that these people's only possible exposure would have been coming directly from the aforementioned jackboots.

Logging and mining operations that go  weeks on end with little to no outside contact ordered to shut down and send all their people home, despite the fact that those people were almost certainly at less risk of exposure working in a remote region than back in the city or town.

I expect it'll be less an anti-lockdown backlash than an anti-idiot backlash.  But people may have a hard time differentiating the two.

Comment by tlhonmey on Have the lockdowns been worth it? · 2021-01-12T19:55:22.726Z · LW · GW

The other problem is that a super-strict lockdown tight enough to actually stop the virus in this manner would likely have a higher mortality rate than the virus.  COVID spreads like mad, but it's hit to average life expectancy seems to be pretty small.

Comment by tlhonmey on Have the lockdowns been worth it? · 2021-01-12T19:27:33.781Z · LW · GW

Building on your statement that many of the affected will be hard to reach with aid payments: some study on just what amount of government redistribution is actually helpful might also be in order.  Redistribution may solve the immediately obvious problems of people being suddenly unemployed, but it also slows the economy's ability to adapt to the significantly changed environment.  So there's undoubtedly a crossover point where it hurts more than it helps in the long run.

Not that I expect most governments would pay any attention at all if somebody did work up a number or a formula, but being able to see which nations come closest to hitting it could be entertaining.

Comment by tlhonmey on We Change Our Minds Less Often Than We Think · 2021-01-12T17:51:22.039Z · LW · GW

On the other hand, of the people I know who have gotten divorced, refusal to admit mistakes seems to be one of the leading causes...

Comment by tlhonmey on Doublethink (Choosing to be Biased) · 2021-01-09T02:20:09.444Z · LW · GW

The other possibility, of course, is that the predisposition that causes some people to want to buy lottery tickets also causes some other behaviour that is more beneficial than the ticket-buying is harmful.  Evolution may eventually sort these two out, but changes that subtle can take a long time.

For example, having two copies of the mutation that causes sickle-cell anemia will almost inevitably kill you.  But having just one copy of that mutation makes you practically immune to malaria.  So in an environment where malaria is sufficiently prevalent the immunity of the lucky is a sufficient advantage to offset their higher proportion of dead children.

Comment by tlhonmey on Doublethink (Choosing to be Biased) · 2021-01-09T02:11:38.749Z · LW · GW

Those two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive though.  Only your own happiness really matters to you, but at the same time you are a finite being and so can't do everything for yourself.  So, on average, your best strategy is to recruit allies who are willing to help you attain happiness.

And while there may be short-term advantages to hurting others to benefit yourself, the best long-run strategy is to be the cause of as little suffering as possible because dishing out suffering makes other people less likely to help you with your own goals.

The fact that this strategy does sometimes spectacularly fail doesn't change the fact that it's your best bet.  At least until you get to be old enough that it's time to start cashing in favors because long-term investments are no longer likely to pay off.  And even then it still pays to not alienate your friends.

Comment by tlhonmey on Doublethink (Choosing to be Biased) · 2021-01-09T02:02:09.842Z · LW · GW

From a purely probabilistic point of view, laying aside personal skill at anything in particular, the odds of a randomly selected lottery player winning the jackpot are probably better than those of a randomly selected garage or dorm-room tinkerer being the next Jobs or Bezos.

So yeah, you probably can't breed out lottery-playing without also seriously damaging the entrepreneurial spirit.

Comment by tlhonmey on Covid 12/24: We’re F***ed, It’s Over · 2021-01-08T18:27:37.251Z · LW · GW

Don't forget there's another factor:  Coming down with COVID can easily take someone out of the workforce for a couple of weeks.

The essential workers may be at less risk of dying, but depending on how you define "essential" having a large portion of them down for the count could put quite a crimp in your ability to hand out vaccines.

Comment by tlhonmey on Covid 12/24: We’re F***ed, It’s Over · 2021-01-08T17:38:42.088Z · LW · GW

The big problem I see is that so many of the sources of information about what's going on have their own preferred solutions, and their own side-agendas that they're taking advantage of the crisis to push.

And that wouldn't be an inherent problem except that a lot of them have built up quite a history of telling any lie that seems convenient for getting people to do as they're told.

And then they wonder why even their more reasonable demands are met with skepticism and pushback.

Here where I live the lockdown rules are obviously nonsensical and arbitrary and designed to hurt certain demographics that have annoyed the governor in the past.  Meanwhile they just as obviously won't add much to stopping the spread beyond what people are already doing on their own.  Restaurants are only allowed to do takeout orders.  Stores have to limit themselves to a small portion of capacity.  But we're keeping the schools open...  Attendance is mandatory per the truancy laws.  And the teachers at the school aren't allowed to ask or talk about potential covid cases because that would be a HIPPA violation...  

Even if you assume the people in charge aren't malicious, in a lot of ways they're totally incompetent.  And on top of that they're dishonest, so even if what they suggest sounds like a good idea it takes a lot of effort to determine if they're actually basing it on the truth or not.

Yup.  We're doomed.  Either the virus will get us, or the panicking masses will submit to totalitarianism out of fear.  Doesn't matter which.  We're doomed.

Comment by tlhonmey on Covid 12/24: We’re F***ed, It’s Over · 2021-01-08T02:16:56.820Z · LW · GW

The market cares for individuals about as much as evolution does.

Yes.  Bezos can bid more for the meal than the hungry drifter.  Why is that the case?  It's because Bezos is instrumental to offering a useful service to literally billions of people and the drifter... isn't.

It seems cruel.  It is cruel.  But it's a cruel world we live in.  It is perfectly possible for preventing Bezos from being mildly "hangry" at an inopportune time to alleviate more suffering worldwide than preventing one shiftless vagrant from starving to death.

And that's not intuitively obvious because your social instincts are programmed for a world where you know everyone in your entire community personally and can see exactly what they're contributing with your own eyes.  

Set the situation in a small tribe where you're choosing between feeding the shaman who knows where the watering holes are and what food is safe to eat and is obviously critical to the survival of everyone,  or feeding the aged cripple who can barely walk unassisted and your social instincts will likely choose correctly.  You'll still be sad, but finite resources often means hard choices.

We use markets to decide things like this because they're the most efficient way we know of to deal with the scope of the calculation being far too big for our puny brains to handle all at once.  But that cuts us off from always being able to understand the why of the calculation result.  And so when the market hands down a result that is painful to look at we reflexively want to call it a "market failure" and "correct" it.

But there are consequences for doing that.  The fact that the immediate consequences of the market's choice are obvious and the long-term consequences of overriding that choice are invisible (except with great effort) doesn't mean that there are no costs.  There is no free lunch.  Every choice must be paid for.  While you might sometimes "beat the market" and spot the more-optimal solution just the sheer difference in data-crunching capability means that, most of the time, you're going to be wrong.  Even if the consequences don't hit for years.  Even if you've stopped paying attention by the time the piper comes around to collect his due.


At the end of the day what keeps the system running is that 98% of us are decent people who care about others, even strangers.  Jeff Bezos certainly could outbid the starving vagrant.  But, unless this were the last meal in the world, would he?  Likely not.  

And if he did I expect he could be easily persuaded to purchase a more normal meal for the fellow -- it's a trivial cost to him and most normal people would get a good feeling from doing it.  

And even if he didn't, in a full economy that high bid lowers the cost of another meal and encourages an increase in meal production, so that 2% of selfish people are still at least pulling their own weight.


It's not that a market always makes things perfect for everyone.  It's that, in the long run, it screws up less often that the other systems we currently know of.

Comment by tlhonmey on Update Yourself Incrementally · 2021-01-07T23:04:56.098Z · LW · GW

Information flowing both backward and forward through time is obviously useless to us since we perceive and move in only one direction.  It's not obviously nonsense.  Our perception moves forward through time, so it seems obvious to us that cause leads to effect.

However...  if, in fact, the effect precipitates the cause...  Or some feedback combination of both...  How would we actually be able to tell?  Our perception only computes in one direction so we always see the cause half of it first and then the effect.

If there were people reliable enough at passing information back to their past selves to beat random chance though I expect they would already have found a way to make use of it.

Comment by tlhonmey on Reversed Stupidity Is Not Intelligence · 2021-01-07T20:15:27.635Z · LW · GW

As an interesting phenomenon, I've noticed that when I question people in-depth about their beliefs on specific issues what they actually want is often seriously at odds with the political group to which they claim to adhere.

It's almost like political affiliations are tribal memberships and people engage in double-think to not risk those memberships even when having that membership doesn't form a coherent whole with the rest of their ideology.

To the extent which IQ actually matters, I've noticed two patterns:

Firstly, to a certain extent, those with higher IQ tend to spend more years of their life in school, and most schools have a very definite liberal or conservative culture and actively punish "wrongthink" to a certain degree.  So IQ correlation with political faction may be more indicative of the ratio between schools than anything else.

Secondly, once a person's IQ gets into the 130+ range you seem to start finding a higher fraction of people who really despise the stupidity and waste of primate social politics and so prefer consistency of internal logic over maintaining good tribal standing.  These people are actually interesting to talk to about politics because they're actually interested in what the facts are and in whether or not policy actually meets its goals.  Even when you disagree with their conclusions, you don't have to spend all your time pointing out the same contradictions again and again.

Comment by tlhonmey on Correspondence Bias · 2021-01-06T23:50:54.578Z · LW · GW

I have noticed that people are often quite sloppy about what questions they ask in addition to how they think about the answers.

I suspect when most people ask you why you want to save the world, what they really mean is, "Why do you devote so much effort to trying to save the world when your odds of success are so abysmally low that it may as well be considered impossible?  Don't you have more practical things to do with your time?"

Comment by tlhonmey on But There's Still A Chance, Right? · 2021-01-06T20:34:44.951Z · LW · GW

Do note that there are lottery systems that it's  possible to game if you had sufficient funds to buy tickets and the jackpot has gone high enough.

For any system where people pick their own numbers, most people tend to pick numbers that are emotionally significant.  Birth dates and so-forth.  That seriously constrains the pool of numbers that will generate a winner.  Depending on the system, if the jackpot goes high enough it's possible to buy a large number of tickets that aren't part of the typical distribution of numbers people pick and have a reasonable chance of making back more than you spent.

Does take more than a dollar a week in capital outlay though.

Comment by tlhonmey on But There's Still A Chance, Right? · 2021-01-06T20:22:14.811Z · LW · GW

And that's kind of the problem with assigning importance to the argument.  If our universe is not, in fact, the top-level reality and has some kind of master controlling its every detail we necessarily only get to his influence to the extent that he wishes us to...

Natural selection molding creatures to match the universe?  We can see that happening pretty well.  

The universe itself being molded to produce a particular type of creature?  How exactly would we even be able to notice that?  

The only thing I can personally think of is that, in such a scenario, a universe where the inhabitants somehow developed the ability to more correctly divine the will of their creator from subtle clues and/or racial memory would be less likely to get mushed up and tossed in the wastepaper basket...

Or religion could be just a random side-effect of evolution that merely doesn't hurt us badly enough to offset the power of our brains...

Perhaps if we someday discover other, unrelated sapient life and it also has religion...  Still wouldn't be proof, but likely to be the most conclusive evidence we could get without either a time machine to go back and see where the old religions really started or some way to look at our universe from outside.

Comment by tlhonmey on But There's Still A Chance, Right? · 2021-01-06T19:53:31.990Z · LW · GW

Yes.  Of course I see a lot of the same kinds of weirdness in the low-level implementations of computer programs built with high-level code generators.

Whether our genome was created by a pre-existing intelligence using some kind of advanced creature creation software or arose entirely out of selection pressures over time is difficult to gather evidence on, let alone prove.  But from a computer programmer's point of view it's a pretty awe-inspiring system.  Major adaptability AND major stability AND self-assembling.  

It would be like finding five million lines of computer code stashed away that's capable of rewriting itself for piloting anything from a motorcycle to the space shuttle.  The fact that it's a giant ball of muddy spaghetti makes it hard to manipulate for your own purposes, but doesn't make the end result any less impressive.

Comment by tlhonmey on New Improved Lottery · 2021-01-06T19:36:37.768Z · LW · GW

"People are willing to pay; it must be valuable. The alternative is that consumers are making mistakes, and we all know that can’t happen."

It can actually be both.  Value is subjective, and the idea that consumers can't make mistakes is a gross oversimplification of the way the market selects against mistakes on average, in the long-run.

People are willing to pay for lottery tickets because the possibility of winning a pile of cash for a small investment makes them happier.  Whether or not that's a mistake depends on if there is some other opportunity they could spend their money on that would make them more happy than the lottery ticket.  To you and I it would seem obvious that there should be.  But both value and happiness are entirely subjective and gambling for entertainment isn't objectively worse than watching movies or playing computer games or commenting on rationality blogs.

There have been long-term (multiple years of selling tickets between drawings) lotteries in the past.  I don't know of any with randomized drawing times though, so that could be a fun innovation.  Pity there's a government monopoly on lotteries so nobody's allowed to try it...  Waiting for a particular block hash value on the Bitcoin chain or something publicly visible would be a good way to determine drawing time these days actually...  Would be pretty easy to set up with a little math.

Comment by tlhonmey on Tsuyoku vs. the Egalitarian Instinct · 2021-01-05T21:11:25.630Z · LW · GW

It depends a bit on the particular tribe.  They're not all the same.

And in a lot of cases you'll find that the extra status and social position afforded to males in these cultures is to offset the fact that, ultimately, they're considered to be expendable.  You find far more cultures where the males are expected to die bravely holding off the enemy so the women and children can escape than vice-versa.  You only keep them willing to do that by offering high status to the survivors.

Comment by tlhonmey on Tsuyoku Naritai! (I Want To Become Stronger) · 2021-01-05T20:47:54.082Z · LW · GW

The thing to keep in mind is that a perfectly efficient market is like an ideal gas.  It's a useful tool for thinking about what's likely to happen if you go messing with variables, but it basically never actually exists in nature.

We use markets in real life not because they're perfect, but because, on average, they get a more correct answer more often and for less effort than any other system we know of.

Could there be something better?  Of course.  We just haven't discovered it yet.

Are there situations where, in hindsight, we can see that some other system would have performed better than a market?  Yup.  Hindsight's awesome that way.

Can we predict well in advance when to use some other system?  Not particularly.  And if we could then that ability would become part of the market, so the market would still be likely to perform better when used globally.


So yeah, markets can remain horribly inefficient for a long time under some circumstances.  Just remember that the same things that keep a market inefficient will likely also cause mistakes by other methods of calculation.  So when you switch away from the market you're basically going double-or-nothing and the odds generally aren't in your favor.

Comment by tlhonmey on The Simple Truth · 2020-12-15T03:30:09.624Z · LW · GW

Am I the only one who noticed that the bucket lost a pebble during the argument?  Poor sheep...

Comment by tlhonmey on "Science" as Curiosity-Stopper · 2020-12-15T03:03:27.029Z · LW · GW

I once chased down that "10% of your brain" business to see where it came from.  Turns out it was kind of a study.  A very old one.  Back when they were first figuring out what the brain was even for and had just figured out that nerves used electricity.  They tested how much of the brain was "used" by jabbing it with a electric probe and seeing if it made the "patient" twitch.  (obviously this was done on "incurably insane" patients that nobody would miss.)

Of course, we now know that the brain runs a lot more stuff than just major muscle groups.  But the 10% number persists in popular memory.

Comment by tlhonmey on Lawful Uncertainty · 2020-12-14T23:31:51.287Z · LW · GW

Indeed...  So does this count as weak evidence that our brains are built to outmaneuver other thinking creatures rather than purely random environmental phenomena? 

Comment by tlhonmey on Science as Attire · 2020-12-11T22:43:07.161Z · LW · GW

Yes...  The splitting has absolutely nothing to do with the process in the case of a corporation.  And there's no strict inheritance...  

But there is some similarity.  Corporations which have a good internal structure and culture are more likely to survive.  And they longer they survive the more likely they will be used as role models by other corporations.  So it's the same kind of feedback loop that drives natural selection, only with a very different set of constraints and able to access the processing power of more advanced computing machines than just DNA.

Comment by tlhonmey on Your Strength as a Rationalist · 2020-12-11T18:05:33.551Z · LW · GW

Reminds me of a family dinner where the topic of the credit union my grandparents had started came up.

According to my grandmother, the state auditor was a horribly sexist fellow.  He came and audited their books every single month, telling everyone who would listen that it was because he "didn't think a woman could be a successful credit union manager."

This, of course, got my new-agey aunts and cousins all up-in-arms about how horrible it was that that kind of sexism was allowed back in the 60s and 70s.  They really wanted to make sure everyone knew they didn't approve, so the conversation dragged on and on...

And about the time everyone was all thoroughly riled up and angry from the stories of the mean, vindictive things this auditor had done because the credit union was run by a woman my grandfather decided to get in on the ruckus and told his story about the auditor...

Seems like the very first time the auditor had come through, the auditor spent several hours going over the books and couldn't make it all balance correctly.  He was all-fired sure this brand new credit union was up to something shady.  Finally, my grandfather (who was the credit union accountant) leaned over his shoulder and pointed out the rookie math mistake the auditor had been making... repeatedly... until an hour past closing time and "could we please go home now?"

The auditor was horribly embarrassed, and stormed out in a huff.  And then proceeded to come back every single month for over twenty years trying to catch them in a mistake somewhere.

I don't know if my cousins learned anything from that story.  My grandfather's a quiet fellow.  They might not even have heard his side of it.  But I sure did.  See, in the 60s and 70s, the auditor coming out and saying, "I'm harassing you because you humiliated me and I want revenge" would have been totally unacceptable and likely would have gotten him dismissed.  But saying it was because he didn't trust a female manager?  That was a lie, but it was a socially acceptable reason for doing what he wanted to do for personal reasons anyway.

Makes me wonder just how much historic racism and sexism was simply people looking for a socially acceptable excuse to be jerks.  And since I don't think people's overall level of desire to be spiteful has changed much, I wonder what the excuses are today now that the "traditional" ones are no longer acceptable.

Comment by tlhonmey on Your Rationality is My Business · 2020-10-17T19:14:13.871Z · LW · GW

He might have meant "lock them in the pillory but don't admit to knowing why."

Comment by tlhonmey on How to Convince Me That 2 + 2 = 3 · 2020-10-17T18:52:03.398Z · LW · GW

This one also seem apropos.

Comment by tlhonmey on How to Convince Me That 2 + 2 = 3 · 2020-10-17T08:31:32.814Z · LW · GW

Having seen that verse in several translations, it reads to me as a primitive admonition against belief in belief.  (Which matches up with his criticism of praying or fasting as a publicity stunt instead of because you actually hope to accomplish something.)

Consider:  If it were a point of Christian faith that a particular mountain should be torn down and cast into the sea, and people really believed in their religion instead of just believing that they believed... well...  Even with just picks and shovels there aren't many mountains that would survive the wrath of 2.3 billion people for very long.  And without careful study of the circumstances, it would seem like something of a miracle that some massive army of workers just spontaneously organized and did such a mighty task without there being a king or some other authority figure forcing them to do it.

Basically, lots of the things that ancient religions attributed to "God" or "The power of Faith" are very real phenomena that they simply couldn't explain, and the fact that we can now explain them (at least a little better) doesn't necessarily render the old practical advice on how to make use of them worthless.  There are often better sources for it that are more clearly stated for the modern mind, but there can also be some value to knowing that the thing you are studying has been known about since the dawn of recorded history and that your ancestors were not, in fact, total fools.

Comment by tlhonmey on The Proper Use of Humility · 2020-10-17T05:54:31.059Z · LW · GW

A big problem with trying to pull wisdom out of the bible and similar is that there is a whole pile of cultural context that is either gone, or requires large amounts of study to discover.

Like someone a thousand years from now who has somehow dug up an old blog post that strongly asserts that "The Cake is a Lie!" you're missing a massive portion of the story.  And you can justify almost anything you want to just by filling in the missing bits differently.

And this is before you even get into the biblical religions having all gone through historical phases where they deliberately filled in the cultural bits incorrectly for political reasons.

The best thing I've found to do with it is set God = Truth, and remember that someone's story being included isn't an assertion that they had everything right.  There's plenty of satire in there too.  Most of it exceedingly subtle.  Something about criticizing the powerful being a potential death sentence so they had to make it look like praise. But if you actually lay out the statements and evaluate them as a whole instead of individually it paints a different picture.  

Like when you suddenly realise that they're praising Solomon as being a great king by describing the grand temple and palace he built, but if you pay attention to the descriptions of each it seems that he not only built the palace out of grander, more expensive materials, he built it as a mirror of the temple with his throne room in place of the holy of holies...  And suddenly the description of the man's character takes on an entirely different tone if you know anything about what the relationship between God and the King was supposed to be.

And yet various branches of bible-based religions spent hundreds of years using Solomon as part of their description of a "Godly King".  Because it fit their political narrative and kept the peasants in line.

In short, Biblical stories are like any other repository of folk wisdom.  The only way to find the truth in there is if truth is what you're actually looking for and you don't stop until it makes coherent sense.  And this whole site is dedicated to showing all the ways in which human beings generally aren't actually looking for the truth...  So...  Good luck?

Comment by tlhonmey on The Proper Use of Humility · 2020-10-17T05:06:07.788Z · LW · GW

It occurs to me that Trinitarianism and similar are likely best explained as the theological equivalent of wave-particle duality.

Does light really sometimes behave like a particle and sometimes behave like a wave?  Probably not.  More likely there is some underlying, unified behaviour that we simply haven't figured out yet due to limited data and limited processing power.

Similarly, when trying to comprehend and describe an infinite...  something-that-has-intent, with a finite human mind and viewpoint as your only tool, there are likely going to be some similar bits of weirdness.  God in three persons?  More likely you have a "blind men and the elephant" situation.  Only this elephant is too big to ever see more than a tiny piece of it at a time, and too mobile to know for certain that you've found the same part of it to look at twice in a row.

So you could easily have a case where the Unitarians are technically more correct about the overall nature, but the Trinitarians have a better working description.


This says nothing about whether Theism as a whole is the most correct explanation for the observed phenomenon.  Just note that the "practical explanation that mistakenly comes to be thought of as the way things really are" is hardly limited to Theology, and I highly doubt theologians are  measurably more likely to commit this error than anyone else.  The very reason that you have to use placeholder tokens for thinking about concepts that can't fit in your brain all at once leaves you susceptible to occasionally forgetting that they're just placeholders.

Comment by tlhonmey on Say Not "Complexity" · 2020-10-16T19:41:20.742Z · LW · GW

In my work I additionally find it useful to break "magic" itself down into categories:

magic:  It's part of the tool's intended problem domain, but you can't use it this way without a thorough understanding of precisely how it functions.

black magic:  This is not part of the tool's intended problem domain, but your thorough understanding of both the problem and the tool's internals lets you use it for this.  (Playing music on a floppy drive for example)

voodoo:  It's not what the tool was made for, you don't know why or how it works, you have no idea what range of inputs will produce acceptable outputs.  You just know that having the clock open in the top right corner of your screen keeps your word processor from crashing...

The fact that there is no "real" magic reminds people that there is a rational explanation, and the categories convey information about how deep the pond is likely to be to anyone considering diving for answers.

Comment by tlhonmey on Semantic Stopsigns · 2020-10-16T16:48:34.734Z · LW · GW

In a couple of Paul Graham's essays about neural network computing he suggests that Semantic Stopsigns are a necessary part of the design for general-purpose, parallel-computing intelligences to keep them from getting stuck in infinite loops attempting to solve infeasibly large problems.

The key is learning to recognize it as an "overflow error" flag and not a "this problem is solved" flag.  Internally they feel almost the same.

Comment by tlhonmey on Science as Attire · 2020-10-16T02:19:04.999Z · LW · GW

Such an ability isn't even that ridiculous with proper grounding.  Brain cells seem to use an RNA-like molecule to transfer programming from one neuron to another.  Turning that into a way to make genetic changes at the speed of protein brains instead of at the speed of genetic evolution would be a big step, and very unlikely to come about without the assistance of some protein brains guiding the process, but once it was established it would be a large enough advantage that it would likely stick around.

So odds seem high that all the "mutants" are the descendants of some genetic engineering project somewhere.

Comment by tlhonmey on Religion's Claim to be Non-Disprovable · 2020-10-15T02:47:43.862Z · LW · GW

One thing I see is that people take the fact that some pieces of their religion are of a nature that can be neither proven nor disproven and assume that that absolves them from having to justify any of it.

Believing in a supernatural master of our universe isn't any more unreasonable than believing we live in a simulation instead of the top-level reality.  Neither supposition can be definitively shown to be true or false without access to an outside view of the universe itself.  That's not something we're likely to accomplish any time soon.

But does that automatically translate into your particular religion correctly ascertaining the will of any such master so strongly that you don't need to justify it somehow?

Insofar as some of the ancient religions were based on a search for the truth they can make reasonable starting points.  But many people take that ancient finger pointing toward the truth and instead of looking toward the shining city in the distance, shouldering their packs, and setting off to continue the journey, they sit down and suck on what's really just a road sign and tell themselves they're "glorying in its Majesty"...

Comment by tlhonmey on Religion's Claim to be Non-Disprovable · 2020-10-14T23:50:37.454Z · LW · GW

The events described in the account would be trivially easy to replicate if somebody managed to slip some calcium phosphide in among the altar stones.  Don't get so wrapped up in demonstrating your rational disbelief in the supernatural that you discount simple conjuring tricks.  ;-)

Comment by tlhonmey on Why Truth? · 2020-10-14T21:20:39.092Z · LW · GW

In the "Star Trek: Judgement Rites" game there's a spot where Spock gives ridiculously precise odds, and Kirk comments that they seem "better than usual."  Spock then clarifies that he has begun factoring Kirk's history of prevailing when the odds are against him into the calculations.

And do keep in mind that the audience doesn't necessarily see all the times that low-odds plans don't work out.

Comment by tlhonmey on Scope Insensitivity · 2020-10-14T18:03:43.627Z · LW · GW

I ran across a work of fiction that proposed an interesting hypothesis as to why we have some of this programming:


If you're a primitive tribesman, and something wipes out half your kin in a single incident, that's probably not something you can pick up your spear and hope to fight with any effectiveness.  But if it gets just one or two, that might be something you can take on and win.  And so as numbers grow larger we tend to grow numb to it and prefer avoidance over confrontation as a survival strategy.

Comment by tlhonmey on Disguised Queries · 2019-01-04T01:20:55.762Z · LW · GW

Or they're not spelling out their evidence because it seems obvious to them and therefore (in their minds) should be obvious to you as well and need no explanation.

I know many Atheists for whom their belief in no god is indeed a religion. They arrived at their belief not through reason and weighing the evidence but through the same kind of blind acceptance of someone else's cached values that religionists engage in. They fall into the same traps of treating "arguments as soldiers" as do the religionists. They make the same kind of circular, bad arguments in favour of their own point of view. Since these people also tend to be the most vocal, militant Atheists they are the ones that vocal Theists run up against the most often. As a result Theists, upon encountering a rational Atheist are at least as perplexed as an Atheist encountering one of the rare, rational Theists and the two often end up talking past each other due to not realising that the assumed common frame of reference they're each trying to use for communication isn't actually common.

Comment by tlhonmey on The Parable of the Dagger · 2019-01-03T23:36:28.221Z · LW · GW

The jester should have seen this coming.

"Either both inscriptions are true, or both inscriptions are false."

If this statement is true then the second box must hold the key by the jester's reasoning. However if this statement is false then it doesn't require that the second statement be true. In his testing the jester negated only half of the statement at a time. If this statement is entirely false then it could simply mean that the true-false values of the statements on either box have no relationship to each other. Which did indeed turn out to be the case.

In other words: If the statement on the second box is false, then the statement on the first box claiming that the statements on the two boxes are in any way related is also false and the fact that both being false would cause a paradox if the first statement were true is not relevant.

The jester made the mistake of assuming "at least one of the statements is true" and confused validity and soundness, and therefore deserved to be stabbed.

Comment by tlhonmey on Lost Purposes · 2019-01-03T23:06:39.090Z · LW · GW

Interesting. It seems your early Jewish teachers were firmly stuck in the mindset that was one of the things Christianity originally arose to combat. (Not that Christians should feel too haughty about that since the vast majority of Christian sects fell right back into the same trap early on. I find it amusing that "The Lord's Prayer" is repeated by-rote in most sects when in-context it was given as an example of how you shouldn't waste your time with by-rote prayers...)

This is as opposed to the Jewish community in and around Salt Lake City in the early 1900s that my grandfather always told stories about. (Although I must admit the possibility that the stories were modified to better carry whatever principle he was trying to teach at the expense of strict conformance to history.) To them the best prayers were actions. Prayers-of-words were useful only insofar as they led to choosing the best prayers-of-action. If your neighbour's barn burns down you don't stand around muttering prayers that they'll be able to recover from the disaster any longer than it takes you to figure out who can contribute what -- and then you go out, build them a new barn and stock it for them. Prayers-of-words-you-don't-understand are worse than useless. They are a distraction that leads you in entirely the wrong direction. Prayers-of-words-that-don't-cause-action are empty and useless -- intermediate steps detached from their terminal goals. But we lazy humans are creatures of ritual and habit and pattern-matching. If we experience often enough a chain of events that starts with words and ends with desirable outcomes we eventually become tempted to think that all we need to do is start the chain and not give any thought to the middle steps. If every day at 4PM we take our keys and get in the car and drive to the store and buy some chocolate we may well find ourselves wandering the aisles aimlessly despite having heard about the chocolate-destroying-earthquake prior to having left the house. Because we weren't actually thinking about it.

"Things we do without thinking -- There's the real danger."

Comment by tlhonmey on Status Regulation and Anxious Underconfidence · 2018-07-20T07:03:24.441Z · LW · GW

Another potential reason for the disparity in social reaction to overconfidence vs underconfidence may be that, for primitive people, overconfidence would likely get one killed immediately when taking on too large a challenge while underconfidence would merely result in being hungry but usually living to find another opportunity later.

In the modern world very few of our challenges are of a nature where failure results in immediate death, but our brains are still wired as though we're debating the wisdom of leaping onto a mammoth's back. Being pack animals we are naturally inclined to curb the exuberance of others to avoid incurring fatality rates that would jeopardize the survival of the tribe, but most of us have a mis-calibrated scale due to never having had to take on significant, life-or-death decisions.