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Comment by tmgerbich on How to deal with someone in a LessWrong meeting being creepy · 2012-09-08T23:39:56.448Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Updating one's unconsciously regulated social behavior is impossible in the general case, and in most of the desirable >concrete cases too.

I don't see why that should necessarily be the case. It would simply require specifying the desired behavior and bringing it into the realm of the conscious until the new behavior is learned.

For example, if I were able to realize that a major barrier to my social communication is my lack of eye contact, I could make a deliberate effort to always make eye contact when having conversations. Ideally this behavior would eventually become internalized, but even if it didn't there's no actual reason why I couldn't keep it up for the rest of my life.

Comment by tmgerbich on How to deal with someone in a LessWrong meeting being creepy · 2012-09-08T23:36:34.931Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

What motivation do people with social skills and those norms have to help those with less social skills? >Because unless there's something in it for them they're not doing it. Many of the kind of people who have >social skills find hanging out with the kind of people who don't actively unpleasant.

I would say that if the people with the high social skills have the option of removing the people with low social skills from the group then there is little/no incentive to help them beyond perhaps altruism.

But in many situations these mixed groups are forced, and teaching the people with low social skills to interact according to the understood cultural rules can make them more pleasant company. So if you're continually forced into an environment with someone, improving their social skills can be of direct benefit to you. Examples would include a coworker in a team work environment, a family member or in-law, the roommate or significant other of a valuable friendship, etc.

Comment by tmgerbich on How to deal with someone in a LessWrong meeting being creepy · 2012-09-08T23:27:41.518Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

There is a deep, bad problem with "if you can't read cues, go fuck yourself".

I'm not fine with there being nothing you can do given unclear cues. The cost of two people who wanted to hug not >hugging is negligible; the cost of someone being unable of social interaction until someone comes to clue them in >is not.

I don't think that's what I was intending to get at. If you can't read the cues about the appropriateness of a particular course of action then it is advisable to wait until you can ask someone more informed for information about how to act in a future similar situation.

But that doesn't mean you have to stand there and not participate. For example, let's say you and I are talking and I'm telling you a story about how something in my immediate environment is causing me to think of something that caused me personal distress in the past. Now for the sake of the example, let's say that you and I have met a couple times but are not close friends. During the interaction I shift my body to close out the rest of the room and increase the intimacy and exclusivity content of the private conversation between the two of us. Perhaps I even visibly deflate while telling the story, shifting my posture convey a decrease in confidence and happiness.

This is a situation where it might be appropriate to give someone a hug. But if you're not comfortable reading the cues at the time to determine if this is that kind of situation then I would advise you NOT to ask me right then. Because even though on the surface it may seem as though I have given all the right signals to convey that I would welcome physical comfort, I have not told you anything about the number of other people in the room, the style of clothing being worn by the conversationalists, the presence or absence of mind-altering substances, the relationship statuses of the conversationalists, etc. There are many other factors that could influence whether or not a hug is appropriate here.

And yes, I recognize that in this situation asking "Can I give you a hug" may work out, depending on how "creepily" you ask (and that's a whole different topic, but body language while asking makes a HUGE difference). But most likely I would find it off-putting and it would increase my desire to removal myself from the situation, because this person has just demonstrated either a lack of understanding or a disregard for the general rules of social interaction in my society.

The thing is, not asking about a hug does not close you off to other alternatives that are much lower risk. For example, you could share a similar story from your personal history. You could voice an offer to listen further if I want to talk more about it. You can ask if I would be more comfortable leaving a situation that I have already indicated is in someway unpleasant to me. And while I recognize that each of those actions could be inappropriate depending on the specifics of a given situation, they are much lower risk. And if you're unsure, defaulting to the lower risk interaction option is generally preferable. Plus, like I said, you can always recount the situation later on LessWrong and ask if in the future given those parameters a hug would have been ok.

Comment by tmgerbich on How to deal with someone in a LessWrong meeting being creepy · 2012-09-08T12:12:04.679Z · score: 1 (17 votes) · LW · GW

It would be really good to have a definition that had some shreds of objectivity to it.

The problem with this is that there is no objectivity. It's not just about the behavior, or the "perpetrator", or the "victim". It's the intersection of all of them and it's basically dependent on how the "victim" interprets certain aspects of the "perpetrator's" behavior- which is hugely biased by the personal characteristics of the "perpetrator". A hot guy walking up to a girl in a bar is flattering. An ugly guy doing the exact same thing is creepy. A confident guy using a line is an segue to flirtation. A nervous guy using the exact same line is creepy.

This makes it really difficult to teach people to not be creepy by telling them specific actions to take or not take. Much more useful would be a guide with certain tests that people could put out there to gauge the "temperature" of social situations before committing to a course of action.

Comment by tmgerbich on How to deal with someone in a LessWrong meeting being creepy · 2012-09-08T12:00:59.650Z · score: 15 (25 votes) · LW · GW

Ask first. Always. For everything. Really.

I'm going to disagree with this. Honestly, straight up asking can be even more creepy in a lot of situations. For example if you ask, "Can I give you a hug?", you've double creeped me out.

First, you violated my boundaries because we're not hugging friends yet if ever. Second, you violated my social norms by not reading our friendship hug level from the vibe of our conversation and my body language. You're right that I may not actually tell you "no" because it is more difficult to opt-out, but that doesn't make it less creepy.

There are some situations where asking is appropriate, but most of the time I would say if the social cues aren't clear err on the side of caution and later on ask a buddy who's good at that stuff what was going on in that situation and if you made the right call. Asking for stuff just tacks awkward onto creepy.

Comment by tmgerbich on Stupid Questions Open Thread Round 4 · 2012-08-28T07:41:03.736Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm a bit late on this, obviously, but I've had a question that I've always felt was a bit too nonsensical (and no doubt addressed somewhere in the sequences that I haven't found) to bring up but it kinda bugs me.

Do we have any ideas/guesses/starting points about whether or not "self-awareness" is some kind of weird quirk of our biology and evolution or if would be be an inevitable consequence of any general AI?

I realize that's not a super clear definition- I guess I'm talking about that feeling of "existing is going on here" and you can't take it away- even if it turned out that all the evidence I thought I was getting was really just artificial stimulation of a culture of neurons, even if I'm just a whole brain emulation on some computer, even if I'm really locked up in a psych ward somewhere on antipsychotics? Because my first-hand experience of existing is irrefutable evidence for existence, even if I'm completely wrong about everything besides that?

Since I assume that basically everything about me has a physical correlate, I assume there's some section of my brain that's responsible for processing that. I imagine it would be useful to have awareness of myself in order to simulate future situations, etc- building models in our heads is something human brains seem quite good at. So could an AI be built without that? Obviously it would have access to its own source code and such... but do we have any information on whether self-awareness/sense of self is just a trick our brains play on us and an accident of evolution or whether that would be a basic feature of basically any general AI?

Sorry if this question doesn't really make sense!

Comment by tmgerbich on Conjunction Fallacy · 2011-04-27T20:31:56.481Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So, I tried each of these tests before I saw the answers, and I got them all correct- but I think the only reason that I got them correct is because I saw the statements together. With the exception of the dice-rolling, If you had asked me to rate the probabilities of different events occurring with sufficient time in between for the events to become decoupled in my mind, I suspect the absolute probabilities I would given would be in a different order from how I ordered them when I had access to all of them at once. Having the coupled events listed independently forced me to think of each event separately and then combine them rather than trying to just guess the probability of both of a joint event.

But I'm not sure if that's the same problem- it might be more related to how inconsistent people really are when they try to make predictions.

Comment by tmgerbich on Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010-2011) · 2011-04-26T13:24:14.428Z · score: 28 (28 votes) · LW · GW

Hello Less Wrong!

I was on facebook and I saw a wall post about the fanfiction Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. I haven't read fanfiction much since I was a kid, but the title was intriguing, so I clicked on it and started reading. The ideas were interesting enough that I went to the author's page and it brought me here.

Anyways, I'm a 22 year old female person. I'm graduating from college in 2 weeks with a chemistry major and I have no real plans, so it makes posting about my life situation a little awkward right now. I'll probably be heading back to the Chicagoland area and trying to find a job, I guess.

I can already tell that this site is going to wreak havoc on my ability to finish up all my projects, study for finals, and hang out with my friends. I just spent a couple hours reading randomly around and I can tell I've barely scratched the surface on the content. But after I almost died laughing at the post about the sheep and the pebbles I was hooked. Really, I just want to be a freshman again so I can spend my time staying up all night thinking and talking and puzzling things out with EZmode classes and no real responsibilities.

Anyways. I'm pretty excited about getting through the material on here. I love learning to understand how other people think, and how that helps them reach the conclusions that they reach. It's always terrifying when I realize that someone has posited an argument or a scenario that challenges my interpretation or understanding of the universe in a way that I can't easily refute- especially when I can't refute it because I realize they're right and I'm not.

Oddly enough, one of the scariest experiences of my life was when someone told me about the Monty Hall problem- two goats one car. A friend explained the scenario and asked me if I would switch doors. I jokingly replied that I probably wouldn't, since I was clearly already lucky enough to miss the goat once, I shouldn't start questioning my decision now. The friend told me that I was being irrational and that by switching, I would have a better chance of picking the car. I remember being scornful and insisting that the placement of the goat occurred prior to my choosing a door, and revealing one of the other doors could have no impact on the reality of what prize had already been placed behind what door. The friend finally gave up and told me to go look it up.

I looked up the problem and the explanation, and it sent me into a bit of a tailspin. As soon as I read the sentence that explained that by switching, I would end up with the car 2/3 of the time as opposed to 1/3 of the time, I felt my intuitive ideas being uprooted and turned on their head. As soon as it clicked, I thought of 4 or 5 other ways to think about the problem and get the right answer- and of course it was the right answer, because it made logical and intuitive sense. But then thinking back to how sure I had been just 10 minutes ago that my other instincts had been correct was horrifying.

Remembering how completely comfortable and secure I had felt in my initial reasoning was so jarring because it now seemed so obviously counter-intuitive. I'm usually very comfortable refining my ideas in light of new ones, incorporating new frameworks and modifying the way I understand things. But that comfortableness derives from the fact that I'm not actually that attached to many of my ideas. When I was in high school, my physics teacher stressed the importance of understanding that the things we were studying were not the true nature of reality. They represented a way of modeling phenomena that we could observe and quantify, but they were not reality, and different models were useful for different things. Similarly, I usually try to keep in mind that the majority of the time, the understanding I have of things is going to be imperfect and incomplete, because of course I don't have access to all the information necessary to make the perfect model. It followed that I should strive to be as adept as possible at incorporating new information into my model of understanding the universe whenever possible without resisting because I had some attachment to my preexisting ideas.

But the the case of the Monty Hall problem, I was confident that I understood the whole problem already. It seemed like my friend was trying to confuse my basic understanding of reality with a mathematical wording trick. Coming to an understanding of how deeply flawed my reasoning and intuition had been was exhilarating and terrifying. It was also probably at least a bit dramatized by the caffeine haze I was in at the time.

I think I still have a lot of ideas and ways of thinking that aren't quite rational. I can find inconsistencies in my understanding of the world. I know that a lot of them are grounded in my emotional attachment to certain ways of thinking that I have in common with people with whom I identify. I'm afraid if I really think about certain things, I'll come to conclusions that I either have to deliberately ignore or accept at the cost of giving up my ability to ignore certain truths in order to favor my personal attachments (Sorry that sentences was convoluted- I can't think of a better way to phrase it at 8 AM when I've been up all night).

Sometimes I'm legitimately afraid I might drive myself crazy by thinking. Even in college I have a hard time finding people who really want to talk about a lot of the things I think about. My roommate is the most wonderfully patient person in the world- she sits for hours and listens while I spout ideas and fears about all kinds of physics and philosophy and everything in between. And even though she can follow most everything (sometimes it takes some explaining), she doesn't even really find it very interesting. But there are times when I'm seriously concerned that I could go out of my head just from thinking and getting too close to my own horizon of imponderability and trying to conclude something or anything.

So yeah. I'm not quite sure if that's quite what we're supposed to do with introduction posts. In retrospect, I think I probably took way too long to drag out a rather boring story that could have been summarized in a few sentences and confided enough fears and weirdness to be off-putting and possibly discredited as a rationalist. Anyways… I've put off biochem proposals for hours reading here and now writing this, so I'm going to stick with it instead of redoing the whole thing and running out of time and failing to graduate. Props if you got through it all. Hopefully by the time I'm done here I'll be sophisticated enough to say all this in a few concise sentences. Is eliminating excess rambling part of rationality? But yeah- I've never really read other people's ideas about all these topics, and I'm kind of pumped about it. If I can understand even a bit of what y'all are talking about and figure out how to be a little less wrong I'll be a happy camper.

Comment by tmgerbich on Belief in Belief · 2011-04-26T10:51:55.716Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Wow. So, I'm basically brand new to this site. I've never taken a logic class and I've never read extensively on the subjects discussed here. So if I say something unbearably unsophisticated or naive, please direct me somewhere useful. But I do have a couple comments/questions about this post and some of the replies.

I don't think it's fair to completely discount prayer. When I was a young child, I asked my grandmother why I should bother praying, when God supposedly loved everyone the same and people praying for much more important things didn't get what they wanted all the time.

She told me that the idea is not to pray for things to happen or not happen. If I pray for my basketball team to win our game (or for my son to get well, or to win the lottery, or whatever) then based on how I interpret the results of my prayer I would be holding God accountable for me getting or not getting what I wanted. The point of praying, as she explained it, was to develop a relationship with God so I would be able to handle whatever situation I found myself in with grace. Even though we often structure our prayers as requests for things to happen, the important thing to keep in mind was how Jesus prayed in the garden before he was crucified. Even though he was scared of what was going to happen to him and he didn't want to go through with it, his prayer was "your will, not mine". He didn't pray for things to go his way, although he acknowledged in his prayers that he did have certain things that he wanted. The point of the prayer was not to avoid trials or fix their outcome, but to communicate with God for the strength and courage to hold fast to faith through trials.

Now, I'm certainly not citing my grandmother as a religious or theological expert. But that explanation made sense to me at the time, partially because I think you could probably that it would have the same benefit for people regardless of whether or not there was actually a God to correspond to the prayers, which jives well with how I believe in God.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding the post, but I think I have something like believing that I ought to believe in God, although I've always phrased it as choosing to believe in God. Even though I was raised Catholic, I never felt like I really "believed" it. For as long as I can remember, the idea of "belief" has made me incredible uncomfortable. Every time a TV show character asked "didn't you ever just believe something" I would cringe and wonder how anyone could possibly find such an experience valid when anyone else could have an alternate experience.

Secretly, I'm glad that I've never felt any kind of religious conviction. If I did, then I would have to prize my subjective experience over someone else's subjective experience. I'm quite aware that there are a multitude of people that have had very profound experiences that make them believe in one doctrine or another to the exclusion of all others, and that's something I can't really understand. Knowing that other people exist that feel equal conviction about different ideas of God with the same objective evidence makes it impossible for me to have any sort of belief in a specific God or scripture, at least at the level of someone who believes with enough conviction not to be perfectly comfortable with the idea that I'm wrong.

That said, I consider myself Catholic. I don't agree with all the doctrine and I don't think I could honestly say I think my religion is correct and other religions are wrong in any way that corresponds to an objective reality. But I choose to believe in this religion because what I do really believe deep down is that there is some higher order that gives meaningfulness to human life.

I consider it to be rather like the way I love my family- I don't objectively think that my family is the best family in the world, the particular subset of people most deserving of my love and affection. But they're my family, and I'll have no other. I can love them while still acknowledging that your love for your family is just as real as mine. Just because they're different experiences doesn't make them more or less valid- and just because it isn't tangible or falsifiable doesn't make it any less potent. Even so, I'm always curious if I'm really an atheist, or maybe an agnostic, since I don't really believe it beyond my conscious choice to believe it (and a bit of emotional attachment to my personal history with this specific religion).

Whew. That was a lot of words. Anyways, I'm sure that I've got plenty of logical and rational flaws and holes. Like I said, I'm basically brand new to all the ideas presented here, so I'm going to try and thrash my way through them and see what beliefs I still hold at the end.

Comment by tmgerbich on A Fable of Science and Politics · 2011-04-26T09:28:06.215Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

How about Gloop, who considers the possibility that the fact that the sky is blue now has no actual bearing on what the color of the sky might have been when the scraps of paper were written? He can entertain the possibility that the composition of the atmosphere might have changed during all the time people spent underground, so he establishes a laboratory to investigate if A) what particles were present in the air at the time the paper was written and B) if they were able to scatter blue or green light more efficiently?