[Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis 2021-03-08T15:22:22.626Z
Alex Irpan: "My AI Timelines Have Sped Up" 2020-08-19T16:23:25.348Z
Property as Coordination Minimization 2020-08-04T19:24:15.759Z
Rereading Atlas Shrugged 2020-07-28T18:54:45.272Z
A reply to Agnes Callard 2020-06-28T03:25:27.378Z
Public Positions and Private Guts 2020-06-26T23:00:52.838Z
How alienated should you be? 2020-06-14T15:55:24.043Z
Outperforming the human Atari benchmark 2020-03-31T19:33:46.355Z
Mod Notice about Election Discussion 2020-01-29T01:35:53.947Z
Circling as Cousin to Rationality 2020-01-01T01:16:42.727Z
Self and No-Self 2019-12-29T06:15:50.192Z
T-Shaped Organizations 2019-12-16T23:48:13.101Z
ialdabaoth is banned 2019-12-13T06:34:41.756Z
The Bus Ticket Theory of Genius 2019-11-23T22:12:17.966Z
Vaniver's Shortform 2019-10-06T19:34:49.931Z
Vaniver's View on Factored Cognition 2019-08-23T02:54:00.915Z
Conversation on forecasting with Vaniver and Ozzie Gooen 2019-07-30T11:16:58.633Z
Commentary On "The Abolition of Man" 2019-07-15T18:56:27.295Z
Is there a guide to 'Problems that are too fast to Google'? 2019-06-17T05:04:39.613Z
Steelmanning Divination 2019-06-05T22:53:54.615Z
Public Positions and Private Guts 2018-10-11T19:38:25.567Z
Maps of Meaning: Abridged and Translated 2018-10-11T00:27:20.974Z
Compact vs. Wide Models 2018-07-16T04:09:10.075Z
Thoughts on AI Safety via Debate 2018-05-09T19:46:00.417Z
Turning 30 2018-05-08T05:37:45.001Z
My confusions with Paul's Agenda 2018-04-20T17:24:13.466Z
LW Migration Announcement 2018-03-22T02:18:19.892Z
LW Migration Announcement 2018-03-22T02:17:13.927Z
Leaving beta: Voting on moving to 2018-03-11T23:40:26.663Z
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LW 2.0 Open Beta Live 2017-09-21T01:15:53.341Z
LW 2.0 Open Beta starts 9/20 2017-09-15T02:57:10.729Z
Pair Debug to Understand, not Fix 2017-06-21T23:25:40.480Z
Don't Shoot the Messenger 2017-04-19T22:14:45.585Z
The Quaker and the Parselmouth 2017-01-20T21:24:12.010Z
Announcement: Intelligence in Literature Prize 2017-01-04T20:07:50.745Z
Community needs, individual needs, and a model of adult development 2016-12-17T00:18:17.718Z
Contra Robinson on Schooling 2016-12-02T19:05:13.922Z
Downvotes temporarily disabled 2016-12-01T17:31:41.763Z
Articles in Main 2016-11-29T21:35:17.618Z
Linkposts now live! 2016-09-28T15:13:19.542Z
Yudkowsky's Guide to Writing Intelligent Characters 2016-09-28T14:36:48.583Z
Meetup : Welcome Scott Aaronson to Texas 2016-07-25T01:27:43.908Z
Happy Notice Your Surprise Day! 2016-04-01T13:02:33.530Z
Posting to Main currently disabled 2016-02-19T03:55:08.370Z
Upcoming LW Changes 2016-02-03T05:34:34.472Z
LessWrong 2.0 2015-12-09T18:59:37.232Z
Meetup : Austin, TX - Petrov Day Celebration 2015-09-15T00:36:13.593Z
Conceptual Specialization of Labor Enables Precision 2015-06-08T02:11:20.991Z
Rationality Quotes Thread May 2015 2015-05-01T14:31:04.391Z


Comment by Vaniver on The Point of Trade · 2021-06-24T17:30:25.479Z · LW · GW

Interestingly, I think this is pretty obviously stated in The Wealth of Nations; Chapter 1 identifies division of labor as the cause of capital accumulation, Chapter 2 identifies trade as the cause of division of labor, and Chapter 3 identifies the size of the market as a limiter on specialization.

This is... actually sort of surprising that now I have two examples of economic concepts which are really better explained by Adam Smith than they are by modern textbooks (the other is supply and demand), and this makes me even more glad that I read The Wealth of Nations in high school before I had come across any modern textbooks.

Comment by Vaniver on Reply to Nate Soares on Dolphins · 2021-06-18T21:19:55.277Z · LW · GW

Some notes with my mod hat on:

While it seems to me like you're trying to protect an important pole of coherency and consistency here, I think this comment as well as some features of the OP (to a lesser extent) overstep some important bounds and make it quite tricky to have a productive conversation, in a way that I would like to both discourage and advise against. I worry that you're imputing positions stronger than people are holding, and thus creating more disagreement than exists, and raising the emotional stakes of that disagreement more than seems necessary to continue the conversation.

I would rather not perpetuate an escalatory dynamic where you think you need to make a bigger and bigger fuss in order to get responses, in a way that can be reminiscent of 'trapped priors'; it seems to me like the conversation in this thread could have been basically as effective at challenging So8res's position and provoking elaboration with much less strain on your part, and yet when I imagine being in your shoes this encounter probably feels like an example of the success of this approach.

Concretely, in this case, I think you're exasperated about humor and shitposting in a way that isn't justified and is failing to credit the ways in which people are responding to your bids for increased seriousness and abstraction. The standard you seem to be imposing is not "please respond to seriousness with seriousness" but the much stronger "please never joke in public about something I take very seriously", which seems like a pretty drastic standard, and one I would mildly warn against trying to enforce on LW.

(On the object level, I agree with Ben Pace that you are right that the about-face on this example deserves explanation, but my sense is that the explanation is satisfactory; the take that I'd summarize as 'there's a paraphyletic grouping that pretends to obviousness that it does not possess on closer examination' seems sensible enough, tho I am interested in disagreements you have with that take.)

I applaud your earlier decision to have a friend review a draft before posting it, since I think this is the sort of behavior that leads to more intellectual progress and less mutual misunderstanding. In that spirit, I'd be happy to review any further comments you want to make in this conversation, in the hopes of having it go a bit better.

Comment by Vaniver on Reply to Nate Soares on Dolphins · 2021-06-16T18:33:21.593Z · LW · GW

So, I'm not a biologist. I don't think Eliezer is much of a biologist either. A thing that I learned in the last ten years, which maybe Nate and Eliezer learned in the same time, idk, is that different aquatic animals are more distantly related than one might have thought. For example, let's take the list from 2008. When I go on Wikipedia and try to find an appropriate scientific name for each and stick it into to try to figure out when their most recent common ancestor was, I get the following estimates:

Salmon and Guppies: 206 MYA
Trout and Guppies: 206 MYA
Dolphins and Guppies: 435 MYA
Sharks and Guppies: 473 MYA
Jellyfish and Guppies: 824 MYA
Algae and Guppies: 1496 MYA

That is, if you're going to start removing things from the list because of how distantly related they are, sharks go first; Chondrichthyes is just as weird a member of Chordata as Mammalia is, from the perspective of Actinopterygii

The trouble with defending the 2008 classification is not that it's phylogenetics, it's that, as far as I can tell, it's bad phylogenetics. And so you end up requiring mental gymnastics in order to exclude dolphins because their most recent common ancestor is too far back while including sharks whose most recent common ancestor is even further back. The pedant's position ("I know that dolphins are mammals instead of fish!") doesn't hold up under either the useful definition ("dolphins are aquatic animals tho") or the phylogenist's definition ("mammals are chordata tho, which is what you should mean when you say 'fish'.").

Comment by Vaniver on Reply to Nate Soares on Dolphins · 2021-06-16T18:01:33.684Z · LW · GW

I can't speak for So8res, but I'm bothered by something like... privileging one particular frame for reasons of fashion or class rather than efficiency? The sort of thing where you leave hazards around as tests, so that people can see who stumbles on them and who gracefully avoids them. I'm not opposed to tests in general, I just wish they'd be more efficient.

Like, the old meaning of fish was "fully aquatic animal", which seems like the right sort of definition for a four-letter word (remember, words are supposed to encode information cheaply), and saying "actually we've reserved that four-letter word for this tiny slice of its former domain" seems like a weird choice (comparable to the 'true bug' definition).

Comment by Vaniver on [Prediction] What war between the USA and China would look like in 2050 · 2021-05-28T20:38:46.518Z · LW · GW

I'm thinking about Weimar Germany to Nazi Germany, or (the reverse) Imperial Japan to Solid-State Electronics Japan.

Consider this claim from a recent SSC book review contest entrant, describing the Bretton Woods arrangement:

The deal offered benefits not only to England, France, and the Allies, but also to Japan and Germany that they couldn’t have even hoped to achieve had they won the war. 6

6 Apparently Germany and Japan would have found it to be unbelievable. “The primary reason Germany and Japan had launched World War II in the first place was to gain greater access to resources and markets. Germany wanted the agricultural output of Poland, the capital of the Low Countries, the coal of Central Europe, and the markets of France. Japan coveted the manpower and markets of China and the resources of Southeast Asia. Now that they had been thoroughly defeated, the Americans were offering them economic access far beyond their wildest prewar longings: risk-free access to ample resources and bottomless markets a half a world away. And “all” it would cost them was accepting a security guarantee that was better than anything they could ever have achieved by themselves.” 

It seems to me there are positional status questions--is China just a participant in America's world, or is it the Middle Kingdom?--but I think it's hard to see a situation where China is better off annexing countries to be recalcitrant provinces rather than just trading with them while they're American allies and protectorates. (Like, it's really not obvious that China is better off with a conquered Korea than it is with a neighboring Korea.)

Comment by Vaniver on Quotes from Moral Mazes · 2021-05-25T16:26:15.081Z · LW · GW

They wrote a book about it, the Science of Success.

Comment by Vaniver on The Argument For Spoilers · 2021-05-21T14:49:57.203Z · LW · GW

I think it's pretty easy to separate things I've recommended to people as "better spoiled" or "better unspoiled"; so long as my threshold / reason for thinking this is sufficiently similar to abramdemski's, then I should be able to freely spoil for him the art that I think can be spoiled with only minor costs (compared to freely spoiling all art).

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-05-17T05:08:03.591Z · LW · GW

Episode 50: Tillich and Barfield

Then I pointed to somebody whose work, also deriving from Heidegger, integrates aspects of all of these together in kind of a profound way. Tillich is deeply influenced and aware of what he calls 'depth psychology', the kind of psychology in Jung, he of course is deeply aware of Heidegger. I don't think that Tillich was aware of Corbin, but he is deeply aware of the symbol in an imaginal instead of a merely imaginary way.

Tillich takes the meaning crisis seriously, he writes perhaps his most well-known (and I think it's a masterpiece) book, The Courage to Be, as a response to the meaning crisis. Like Jung and Corbin, and for very related reasons, he's deeply critical of literalism and fundamentalism throughout, but he takes it deeper. As I mentioned, he really deepens it in terms of Heidegger's critique of ontotheology and he comes critical of literalism and fundamentalism as forms of idolatry in which we are attempting to have rather than become.

So there's some excellent books on the relationship between Jung and Tillich, a series of ongoing work by John Dourley; I recommend two books to you, The Psyche as Sacrament which I tweeted about in my book recommendations, I would also recommend his later book, Paul Tillich, Carl Jung, and the Recovery of Religion, but make no mistake, Dourley is not talking about a recovery in a nostalgic sense. He writes another book called A Strategy for a Loss of Faith where he is trying to get beyond classical theism. So I recommend Dourley's work as a comprehensive way of bringing about a deep dialog and a kind of integration between Jung and Tillich.

Tillich sees the main response to the meaning crisis, and here's how Tillich is not just theorizing: he is trying to give us guidance on how to live. Let's remember that this really matters, because you know, the way Tillich resisted the Nazis. What Tillich talks about in The Courage to Be is *courage*, now he's careful to note that this is a kind of existential courage that ultimately allows us to confront and overcome meaninglessness in its depth, but also to more practically respond to perverted response to the meaning crisis itself, like Nazism and its gnostic nightmare.

This process of encouragement--now, he is like Aristotle, he's not talking about something as simple as just bravery (facing danger) or fortitude (the ability to endure), no, for Tillich courage is a virture. There's something of wisdom in courage. Courage involves within it that central feature of wisdom, which is seeing through illusion into reality. The brave person face danger, but that's all we can say about them. The person with fortitude endures difficulty, but that's all we can say about them. The courageous person sees through the illusion and the distortion of fear or distress to what is truly good and acts accordingly.

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-05-13T15:19:05.930Z · LW · GW

Episode 49: Corbin and Jung

So last time we looked in depth at Corbin and Jung and tried to draw very deeply the notion of the relationship to the sacred second self. I launched into a sort of mutual criticism between Corbin and Jung and brought in some Buber along the way.

The summary at the beginning of the next episode pretty quickly shifts to new material, so here's the key quote according to me:

Freud has a Newtonian machine hydraulic model of the psyche. Jung ultimately rejects that; Jung replaces the hydraulic metaphor with an organic metaphor. He sees the psyche as a self-organizing dynamical system, ultimately as an autopoetic being, so he sees the psyche as going through a complex process of self-organization, and that you have to understand individuation as this kind of organic self-organizing process that you neither make nor receive but you participate in.

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-05-12T15:39:18.248Z · LW · GW

Episode 48: Corbin and the Divine Double

So last time we followed Heidegger into the depths, where we encountered Eckhart and this non-teleological relatiosnhip to the play of being. That led us very directly into Corbin, and Corbin's core argument that gnosis (as we've been using it), the ability to engage in this serious play, relates centrally to the imagination. 

But Corbin is making use of this term in a new way; he makes a distinction between the imaginary (which is how we typically use the word "the imagination" and mental images in my head that are only subjection and have no objective reality) and the imaginal (which mediates between the abstract intelligible world and the concrete sensible world, and transjects between the subjective and the objective). All this mediation is not done statically, but a mutual affordance is done, and an ongoing transformative transframing, and that the symbol captures all of this.

Then I wanted to bring out Corbin's core symbol, and it's a core symbol that relates directly to gnosis. Because in gnosis (transformative participatory knowing), and this goes to the heart of Heidegger's notion of design, the being whose being is in question. We have to see self-knowledge and knowledge of the world as inextricably bound up together in order to do that; we are purusing Corbin's central symbol, the angel.

Which, of course, is immediately off-putting to many people including myself. But I've been trying to get a way of articulating how Corbin is incorporating both Heidegger and Persian Sufism, Neoplatonic Sufism into this understanding of the symbol, and I recommend that we take a look at the historical work showing how throughout the ancient Mediterranean world, and up and through the Hellenistic period and beyond, up until about the 5th century of the common era, there's the pursuit of the divine double. The idea is one that is deeply transgressive of our cultural cognitive grammar of decadent Romanticism, where we are born with our true self that merely needs to express itself (a la Rousseau), and that the core virtue is authenticity, which is being true to the true self that you have, that you possess. Rather than, for example, a Socratic model in which the true self is something towards which you are constantly aspiring.

The transgressive mythology is that the self that I have now is not my true self. My true self is my divine double; this is something that is superlative to me, it is bound to me, it is my double. It is bound to me but is is superlative to me; it is both me and not me. It's me as I'm meant to be, as I should be, and that the existential project is not one of expressing a self that you have but of transcending to become a self that is ecstatically ahead of you in an important way.

Then I pointed out that for many of you this would still be "okay, I get the transgression, but I still find this notion of a divine double unpalatable." Maybe for some of you you don't, but nevertheless I think there's something important to asking the question "why did so many people for so long believe in this aspirational process?". This takes us back into work that was core to the discussion I made about gnosis, and it has a resounding impact at various places throughout this series, which is L.A. Paul's work on transformative experience, and then somebody who's from the same school, influenced by Paul while having a different view as Paul, her transformations are more like insight: Agnes Callard's notion of aspiration is much more developmental, but I argue they can be (I think) readily reconciled together if you see development as a linked sequence of insights to bring about qualitative change in your competence.

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-05-12T04:03:09.037Z · LW · GW

Episode 47: Heidegger

So last time we were trying to understand Heidegger's work as a prophet (in the Old Testament sense) of the meaning crisis. We took a look at this notion of "the thing beyond itself" and "realness" as simultaneously the shining into our framing and the withdrawing beyond our framing in a deeply interpenetrating manner. We took a look at this deeper notion of truth--not truth as correctness, but truth as aletheia, that which grounds the agent-arena relationship in attunement and allows us the potential to remember being by getting into an attunement with its simultaneous disclosure and withdrawal.

But we can forget that; we can get into a profound kind of modal confusion and this is the history of metaphysics as the emergence of nihilism. We can forget the being mode, we can get trapped into the having mode in which the metaphysics is a propositional project of trying to just use truth as correctness, and we misunderstand being as a particular being. We try to capture the unlimitedness aspect of being, but we only do it at the limit (which Heidegger is deeply critical of). So we understand being in terms of a Supreme Being, a being at the limit, and beyond the limit. This is ontotheology; we understand God as the Supreme Being and this is deeply enmeshed (for Heidegger) with nihilism, because this ontotheology, this version of theology from classical traditional theism, this way of understanding being gets us into the deep forgetfulness and modal confusion that is the hallmark of nihilism.

Of course, we could perhaps remember the being mode, and this is what Corbin (following Heidegger) talks about as gnosis.

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-05-12T03:55:26.255Z · LW · GW

Episode 46: Conclusion and the Prophets of the Meaning Crisis

Last time I finished the discussion of wisdom and connected it to enlightenment and argued for the wise cultivation of enlightenment as our deepest kind of existential response to the meaning crisis, a way in which we can awaken from the meaning crisis. I then wanted to put that scientific model of spirituality (for lack of a better phrase) into discourse with some of the central prophets of the meaning crisis. I'm using the word prophet as it's used in the Old Testament; I'm talking about individuals who were crucial for articulating the advent and helping to propose or promise a response to the meaning crisis. I put a diagram on the board in which Heidegger played a central role; there's many connections in there that I'll point out that I will not be able to fully address, because the people are there insofar as they help us articulate the response, not to be examined for their own sake.

I mentioned the work of Nishida and Nishitani in the Kyoto School; I will talk briefly about Nishitani here but I won't be able to go into that in depth. I do intend to pursue this later in another series I'm putting together (I'm putting together a couple of series to follow this one) and I would like to do a series that will include work on the Kyoto School that I've entitled The God Beyond God, in which we look at all of these great non-theistic thinkers within both Eastern and Western traditions, and things like the Kyoto School that tried to bridge between them. So I will have to neglect (to some degree) the Kyoto School in this series but I promise to follow it up more deeply in another series.

The first 45 lectures have been, to some extent, "how did we get here, and where is here anyway?", and these remaining five lectures are something like "what do other people think about being here?" This episode mostly touches on Husserl (who doesn't really make it into the summary at the beginning of the next episode).

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-05-09T05:13:31.199Z · LW · GW

Fixed, thanks!

Comment by Vaniver on MIRI location optimization (and related topics) discussion · 2021-05-09T05:09:25.592Z · LW · GW

I think Singapore is very high on my "city to do finance in" list and not very high on my "naturey place to do thinking in" list, and as pointed out the LGBTQ acceptance is probably low enough to dissuade some people from going there.

Comment by Vaniver on MIRI location optimization (and related topics) discussion · 2021-05-09T05:04:04.365Z · LW · GW

"Better grocery stores than other places I've lived" - Where have you lived, if you don't mind my asking?

Austin is the home of Whole Foods, and the typical mainstream grocery store is HEB, which was prepping for COVID in January 2020; Central Market is also pretty good?

I think people who really like Berkeley Bowl might not find something exactly similar, but I think they will find things that are adequate replacements.

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-05-07T17:48:27.440Z · LW · GW

Episode 45: The Nature of Wisdom

So last time I tried to draw together all the other theories (I don't just mean the psychological theories, although they're the most salient right now, but also the philosophical theories) into an account of wisdom. I presented a model to you, a theory of wisdom developed by myself and Leo Ferraro from 2013, in which we are enhancing inferential processing through active open-mindedness, enhancing insightful processing through mindfulness, we're enhancing the capacity for internalization by internalizing the sage, and cultivating sophrosyne by our salience landscape naturally organizing away from self-deception and tempts us towards the truth (or at least what's true, good, and perhaps beautiful; that's perhaps a better way of putting it).

That coordinates the propositional knowing associated with inference, the procedural knowing associated with insight, the perspectival knowing associated with internalization together. That is directed towards realizing sophrosyne and that can help cultivate a more moral existence, the connection to virtue, mastery (in the sense of coping and caring), and meaning in life.

Of course, one of the criticisms I made was that the notion of meaning in life there was too simplistic, and it needs to be integrated with a much more developed account that's already in the literature. I'm contributing to that by work I'm doing with others on meaning in life; I pointed out that the Vervaeke-Ferraro model is missing participatory knowing, it's missing (or at least I think it misrepresents /misaligns) the relationship between the kinds of knowing. Understanding is missing, transformative experiences are missing, aspiration is missing, gnosis is missing, so all of these things need to be deeply integrated together.

I tried to suggest the beginnings of an account of how we turn basic understanding, which is to grasp the relevance of our knowledge, into profound understanding by integrating the account of understanding with the account of possibilities, so that profound understanding is the generation of plausibility by having convergence onto a contextually sensitive optimal grip that is transformatively transferrable in a highly effective manner in many different problem finding, formulating, and solving in many different domains.

I also brought out the idea that in addition to inspiration (this is a term I'm giving for more sudden insight-laden transformative experience), you can have what Callard calls aspiration, that's more incremental, it still can't be solved in an inferential decision-theoretic fashion (she agrees with Paul on that). She does argue though (and I agree with this argument) that aspiration must be considered a form of rationality which she calls 'proleptic rationality' because you're going to get into a performative contradiction: if my aspiration for rationality and my love of wisdom are not themselves rational processes, I'm kind of in trouble in my model of rationality.

Given all of that philosophy, what's missing (as I argued) is an extensive psychology of aspiration. I know one of my colleagues Juensung Kim is working on exactly that problem, and he's of course doing it in connection with a psychology of wisdom. I did suggest to you that we could see one of Callard's ideas of how we do this: we create something that's double-faced (I argued, ultimately symbolic, having aspects of gnosis in it) that allows us to make the leap, even if it's an incremental one, from who we are now and what we value now to the place where I've acquired some new thing that I value for its own sake. We used the example of music appreciation.

I think the 'summary' portion of the next lecture goes out to about 8 minutes, but I'm cutting it off at about 5, in part because there's a lot of tying together / elaborating / concluding to it.

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-05-06T15:47:03.904Z · LW · GW

Episode 44: Theories of Wisdom

Last time we finished up looking at Baltes and Saudinger and made some criticisms that led into important criticisms made by Monica Ardelt. Then we looked into Ardelt's theory and the way it brought in an important distinction about not just having a good theory of wisdom, but the process of becoming a wise person, and then the emphasis on 'what are the features of a wise person?' as opposed to 'what are some of the central claims made by a theory of wisdom?'. Then we talked about how Monika insightfully brings together the cognitive, the reflective, and the affective.

I pointed out how we've got relevance realization grasping the significance (at least the cognitive directly because of the invocation of Kekes). I would also point out that I think that's at least implicit in the reflective machinery, and there's deep potential connection there with both perspectival knowing and the cultivation of rationality (at least perspectival rationality), and the affective ties to agape (which I've already argued has very important connections to relevance realization). That afford Ardelt's theory a powerful way of connecting wisdom to meaning in life as something different from connecting wisdom to virtue, and that's a very important thing to do.

We still noted some criticisms, largely it's still a product theory, it doesn't have an independent account of foolishness and a processing theory of how one becomes wise. In that sense it's not picking up as well as it could the philosophical heritage given to us by people like Socrates and Plato and Aristotle and Marcus Aurelius and so on.

We then took a look at the theory of Sternberg, just an extremely pivotal figure in the cognitive science of wisdom. I pointed out his ideas about adopting, shaping, and selecting are clearly ideas about relevance realization; he invokes implicit processing, tacit knowledge you know in order to bring understanding in that intuitive grasping of the significance of information (I think that's what he's implying). We talked about how he involves a balancing of interests, and there's the intrapersonal (how you're connected to yourself), the interpersonal (how you're connected to other people), and the extrapersonal (how you're connected to the world). So that's (at least implicitly) important connections to meaning in life in the way we've been talking about throughout this course. He invokes balance throughout, and I tried to make a good case that you should see that as optimization and directly relevant therefore to accounts of optimization of processing that we discussed with connection to relevance realization.

There were some issues I had with Sternberg; the idea that all wise people, all of this machinery is directed towards the common good, that strikes me as anachronistic. I think a less contentious claim would be that it's directed towards virtue and meaning in life for oneself and others in some unspecified way. There was also the invocation of values as affecting or constraining the whole process; again it was unclear to me what this is. There's an ambiguity here, it could be the relatively trivial claim that the wise person is being regulated by normativity--you know, by considerations what's true and good and beautiful--and that would be definitional (and therefore relatively trivial) because wisdom is a normative term or it could be that specific values are being invoked here, but if that's the case they should be specifically stated and justified for why those ones are chosen, and explicitly explain how those specific values make an impact on specific aspects of the machinery. So that's all sort of missing and needs to be addressed. It's ultimately a product theory, not a process theory. Sternberg does have a theory of foolishness, but it's not independently generated and it doesn't really pick up on the centrality of seeing through illusion and into reality.

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-05-05T20:32:29.250Z · LW · GW

Yep. 0.8 is retest correlation among adults.

Do you happen to remember the source for this? I'm having trouble finding any studies that seem to bear directly on the question.

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-05-05T16:20:47.565Z · LW · GW

because IQ-tests are highly game-able

I'm not sure which claim this is, but I think in general the ability to game IQ tests is what they're trying to test. [Obviously tests that cover more subskills will be more robust than tests that cover fewer subskills, performance on test day can be impacted by various negative factors that some people are more able to avoid than others, etc., but I don't think this is that relevant for population-level comparisons.]

The retest correlation of IQ is only like 0.8 after 20 years! 

So, note that there are roughly three stages: childhood, early adulthood, and late adulthood. We know of lots of interventions that increase childhood IQ, and also of the 'fadeout' effect that the effect of those interventions are short-lived. I don't think there are that many that reliably affect adult IQ, and what we're interested in is the retest correlation of IQ among adults.

In adulthood, things definitely change: generally for the worse. People make a big distinction between 'fluid intelligence' and 'crystallized intelligence', where fluid intelligence declines with age and crystallized intelligence increases (older people learn more slowly but know more facts and have more skills). What would be interesting (to me, at least) are increases (or slower decreases) on non-age-adjusted IQ scores. Variability on 20-year retest correlation could pretty easily be caused by aging more or less slowly than one's cohort.

That's almost certainly much less than your retest correlation for basketball skills

Hard to say, actually; I think the instantaneous retest correlation is higher for IQ tests than it is for basketball skill tests (according to a quick glance at some studies), and I haven't yet found tests applied before and after an intervention (like a semester on a basketball team or w/e). We could get a better sense of this by looking at Elo scores over time for chessplayers, perhaps? [Chess is widely seen as trainable, and yet also has major 'inborn' variation that should show up in the statistics over time.]

We've even seen massive changes in population-wide IQ studies that correlate heavily with educational interventions in the form of the Flynn effect. 

Lynn is pretty sure it's not just education, as children before they enter school show the same sorts of improvements. This could, of course, still have education as an indirect cause, where (previous) education is intervening on the parents, and I personally would be surprised if education had no impact here, but I think it's probably quite small (on fluid intelligence, at least).

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-05-05T15:48:26.798Z · LW · GW

Episode 43: Wisdom and Virtue

So last time we took a look at the theory of Schwartz and Sharpe, which was an important theory for linking wisdom to virtue and positive psychology. We saw the deep connections between wisdom and the cultivation and practice of virtue. We made some criticisms of Schwartz and Sharpe; I argued that they should include sophia and not just phronesis (if you remember those, they were invoking Aristotle's two notions of wisdom and giving priority to phronesis; I think you need, as Aristotle argued, both sophia and phronesis in order to be virtuous).

I also argued that I thought their attempt to explain phronesis with expertise was confused, and we should put that aside. We took from that some ideas about the developmental aspect (that's of course central to Aristotle; remember he brought the developmental dimension to wisdom, how much wisdom is becoming a virtuous person). I think other things are lacking in the theory, and we'll come back to that.

There wasn't much discussion about the connection between wisdom and meaning in life but we then passed to taking a look at a theory that took very seriously the connection between wisdom and virtue, and this is the seminal theory work of Baltes and Staudinger. We took a look at the idea of the meta-heuristics pragmatic for orchestrating mind and virtue in excellence. They talked about the fundamental pragmatics of life; I pointed out to you that a way of making sense conjointly of the invocation of meta-heuristics and both senses of pragmatics is the idea that this capacity for relevance realization (obviously, improved in some fundamental way). I think there's integral connections between wisdom and intelligence via the notion of rationality that we've already been developing together. 

Then we took a look at the five criteria: there were clear indications of propositional knowledge, procedural knowledge, the contextualism I argued can best be seen as perspectival knowing, I argued against their notion of relativism and argued instead for humility and fallibilism (sorry, that was maybe too harsh; I think it's pretty clear that many of the seminal figures of wisdom, figures from the past, were not moral relativist or relativists in any way, so I strongly recommend replacing relativism with fallibilism and humility), and then finally the fifth criteria is that wisdom is applicable to domains in which there is uncertainty. Of course as I've already argued, a huge aspect of our life and our cognition (because of ill-definedness, combinatorial explosion, etc.) is strongly presupposing relevance realization.

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-05-04T21:03:30.801Z · LW · GW

The main bit of this episode that stuck with me was the reframing of growth mindset (see SSC's commentary on it). Roughly, Vervaeke's story is that the growth mindset studies are impressive (I think he's a little too credulous but w/e), but also the evidence that intelligence (in the sense of IQ) is fixed is quite strong, and so having growth mindset about it is untenable. [If there's a way to turn effort into having a higher g, we haven't found it, despite lots of looking.] But when we split cognition into intelligence and rationality, it seems pretty obvious that it's possible to turn effort into increased rationality, and growth mindset seems quite appropriate there.

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-05-04T20:40:23.622Z · LW · GW

Episode 42: Intelligence, Rationality, and Wisdom

So last time we took a look at the work of Stanovich and ideas coming out of the rationality debate. I tried to explicate the notion of 'need for cognition', talked a little bit more about problem finding and the generation of a problem nexus, and then also the affective component of that: wonder and curiosity and sort of balancing them off together.

Then we looked more specifically at Stanovich's theory of foolishness, which he calls dysrationalia. We looked at the idea of dual processing (S1 and S2) and the idea that what makes you foolish is S1's functioning (that makes you leap to conclusions) interferes with the inferential processing of S2. You leap to conclusions inappropriately, and that's what causes you to be biased in your processing, self-deceptive, foolish, etc., and then what active open-mindedness does is it foregrounds S2 and protects it from undue interference from S1.

That's all very good in a theoretical context, but we took a look at the work of Jacobs and Teasdale and said: but in a therapeutic context the opposite is the case! What you need is you need that machinery of leaping to work well, and we took a look at the work of Baker-Sennett and Ceci showing that cognitive leaping is actually very powerfully predictive of insight and that's what you need in therapy. You need powerful kinds of insight to break you out of the ways in which you're confronting existential entrapment, inertia, and ignorance. You cannot infer your way through transformative, qualitative change.

So I proposed (and Teasdale has also independently proposed this) that we need a cognitive style that foregrounds S1 (puts us into a state for triggering insight) and tends to background and constraint S2's processing, and that's mindfulness. We have evidence that mindfulness facilitates insight and mindfulness is also increasingly being incorporated into therapeutic settings precisely for its capacity to generate cognitive flexibility and afford insight. So we're noticing is that because the relationship between S1 and S2 is opponent instead of adversarial, we're going to need some higher-order way of coordinating these two cognitive styles, active open-mindedness and mindfulness, so that we can optimize the enhancement in rationality of the relevance realization that is at the core of our intelligence.

Note this idea: that how you are relating to your intelligence and applying your intelligence to itself, the degree to which you problematize your own intelligence and try to improve it, we can see that as rationality. Then I suggested to you that when I do this, when I recursively and reflectively use my rationality to enhance and optimize my rationality, perhaps by enhancing the relationship between the component styles of mindfulness and active open-mindedness, then I'm moving towards wisdom.

We took a look at that and in connection with this we took a look at the work of Dweck, and again making the argument that the way you relate to your higher cognitive processes (your meaning-making problem-solving capacity, not just the intellectual or information processing) is deeply existential. We saw the work on mindset and that the way you identify with your intelligence, the way you're framing how you're identifying with your intelligence, has a tremendous impact on your need for cognition, your problem-solving, your behavior, your proclivity towards deception, self-deception, etc.

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-05-03T17:00:41.042Z · LW · GW

A long summary (as is typical for 'multi-part' episodes; this is the second of three episodes on rationality, which is bridging to three episodes on wisdom). I think the rationality debate is mostly... old news, or something? It's nice to see the 'purely academic' version of it, but there aren't really any surprises, and Vervaeke is coming at it from a view that seems pretty close to "rationalists should win" to me. 

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-05-03T16:53:42.597Z · LW · GW

Episode 41: What is Rationality?

So last time we were taking an in-depth look at the work of Stanovich and rationality because we are building towards an account of wisdom, because that is deeply intertwined with the cultivation of enlightenment and (of course) with the cultivation of meaning. 

We noted that rationality is an existential issue. It's not just a matter of how we're processing information, it's something that's constitutive of our identity in important ways and our mode of being in the world (we'll come back to that again).

One of the core things we saw as we took a look at the rationality debate (in which Stanovich's work was situated) is that debate showed us a couple of important things: it showed us that rationality does not equal logicality and it does not equal intelligence, that debate also showed us that we need multiple competencies when we're talking about rationality. We need an inferential competency and we need an independent competency of control and then I propose to you how we could understand what that competency is, and what the normative theory is acting upon it: namely, insight / good problem formulation.

We then moved into what Stanovich saw as the missing pieces. If intelligence doesn't give us rationality, what's the missing pieces?  Two missing pieces, they overlap in some important ways: one is the notion he calls mindware (what I've called psychotechnology), the other is a cognitive style that he talked about, active open-mindedness (which he gets from Jonathan Baron) and this is the idea that what you should do is cultivate a sensitivity and an ongoing awareness of the presence and effect of cognitive biases in your cognitive behavior / your cognitive life, and to actively counteract them.

I pointed out that, unlike Stanovich who doesn't emphasize this as much, Jonathan Baron (who's the originator of this idea as a constitutive feature of rationality) points out that you can't do that too much, because if you try to override too many of your cognitive biases you of course will also be overriding them in their functioning as heuristics that help you avoid combinatorial explosions. So getting an optimal form of active open-mindedness rather than a maximal form of it is crucial to rationality. 

I want to just briefly stop here and be a little bit more precise about how I want to use this term. I've been using it throughout and I basically defined it by example and then through exemplification but I want to be a little bit clearer about it because it's going to be relevant as we go forward and talk about wisdom. So here's the definition I want to offer to try to clarify what I mean and how I'm using the term psychotechnology. As I said, I don't claim to be the originator of this idea but I am claiming that this is the particular slant I'm taking on the idea of psychotechnology. "The psychotechnology is a socially generated and standardized way of formatting, manipulating, and enhancing information processing that's readily internalizable into human cognition and that can be applied in a domain-general manner." That's crucial--it must extend and empower cognition in some reliable and extensive manner and be highly generalizable among people. Prototypical instances are literacy, numeracy, and graphing. So I just want to make it very clear that it's not just anything we use mentally will count as a psychotechnology, so the cognitive style of active open-mindedness will probably make use of psychotechnologies in order to help track bias but obviously Stanovich means something much more comprehensive; he means a set of skills, psychotechnologies, sensibilities, and sensitivities that will help you in a domain-general manner; note and actively respond to the presence of cognitive bias.

We can then ask what is it about people that, if intelligence is insufficient for this, what is it about people that is predictive of them acquiring [active open-mindedness]? Now, this is learnable, and we talked about the need for cognition as being an important predictor. So this is the degree to which you are motivated to go out and look for problems, you're trying to find, formulate, and solve problems. So in that sense you are generating your own instances of learning and problem-solving in a quite directed and comprehensive manner.

Comment by Vaniver on There’s no such thing as a tree (phylogenetically) · 2021-05-03T16:22:03.288Z · LW · GW

…Okay, not the most explainable, but you know wood? You know when you hold something in your hand, and it’s made of wood, and you can tell that? Yeah, that thing.

Missed chance to refer to this classic, imo.

Comment by Vaniver on Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think · 2021-05-01T23:18:20.720Z · LW · GW

Continuing the previous examples, I think there are old experiments to get animals to talk which are maybe why research into this area has been less than one might expect for a while (which are different from the examples given in the OP).

Comment by Vaniver on AMA: Paul Christiano, alignment researcher · 2021-04-30T22:43:31.058Z · LW · GW

Is "movies" a standin for "easily duplicated cultural products", or do you think movies in particular are underproduced?

Comment by Vaniver on Can you get AGI from a Transformer? · 2021-04-30T16:58:49.314Z · LW · GW

Ah, I now suspect that I misunderstood you as well earlier: you wanted your list to be an example of "what you mean by DNN-style calculations" but I maybe interpreted as "a list of things that are hard to do with DNNs". And under that reading, it seemed unfair because the difficulty that even high-quality DNNs have in doing simple arithmetic is mirrored by the difficulty that humans have in doing simple arithmetic.

Similarly, I agree with you that there are lots of things that seem very inefficient to implement via DNNs rather than directly (like MCTS, or simple arithmetic, or so on), but it wouldn't surprise me if it's not that difficult to have a DNN-ish architecture that can more easily implement MCTS than our current ones. The sorts of computations that you can implement with transformers are more complicated than the ones you could implement with convnets, which are more complicated than the ones you could implement with fully connected nets; obviously you can't gradient descent a fully connected net into a convnet, or a convnet into a transformer, but you can still train a transformer with gradient descent.

It's also not obvious to me that humans are doing the more sophisticated thinking 'the smart way' instead of 'the dumb way'. Suppose our planning algorithms are something like MCTS; is it 'coded in directly' like AlphaGo's, or is it more like a massive transformer that gradient-descented its way into doing something like MCTS? Well, for things like arithmetic and propositional logic, it seems pretty clearly done 'the dumb way', for things like planning and causal identification it feels more like an open question, and so I don't want to confidently assert that our brains are doing it the dumb way. My best guess is they have some good tricks, but won't be 'optimal' according to future engineers who understand all of this stuff.

Comment by Vaniver on Can you get AGI from a Transformer? · 2021-04-30T14:29:33.123Z · LW · GW

Do you think DNNs and human brains are doing essentially the same type of information processing? If not, how did you conclude "humans can't do those either"? Thanks!

Sorry for the late reply, but I was talking from personal experience. Multiplying matrices is hard! Even for extremely tiny ones, I was sped up tremendously by pencil and paper. It was much harder than driving a car, or recognizing whether a image depicts a dog or not. Given the underlying computational complexity of the various tasks, I can only conclude that I'm paying an exorbitant performance penalty for the matmul. (And I'm in the top few percentiles of calculation ability, so this isn't me being bad at it by human standards.)

The general version of this is Moravec's Paradox.


[edit] Also if you look at the best training I'm aware of to solve a simpler arithmetic problems (the mental abacus method), it too demonstrates this sort of exorbitant performance penalty. They're exapting the ability to do fine motions in 3d space to multiply and add!

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-04-30T14:22:26.580Z · LW · GW

So things are starting to come together.

In particular, I think this makes it a bit clearer on what he means by religio if it's explicitly contrasted with credo; differences in credo are primarily about different propositions that are asserted (i.e. you can tell what religion a person is by how they answer a multiple choice test), and differences in religio are more about different 'actions that are taken' in some broader way (i.e. you can tell what religion a person is by how they live their life).

In my understanding of Vervaeke's view, religions that used to be useful as worldviews and communities of practice for legitimating and encouraging individual growth fell apart (both in the sense that they are no longer seen as legitimate, and also I think because they are no longer doing the best at encouraging growth / anagoge). The first 'pseudoreligions' to form were the products of the overall historical trend towards systems and propositions: as Europe dispensed with the religio and kept the credo, we got a version of Christianity that dispensed with prayer and agape and kept around the doctrinal creeds and the crusades, to much suffering and regret.

So the thing that we need to do is restore the parts of religion focused on growth and improvement--not just individually, but also collectively. To the extent there are propositional beliefs, they are about facilitating the anagogic process rather than the ultimate end point.

Of course, a lot of this is how I think about rationality and Less Wrong and the associated community. Just like it might not make much sense to talk about 'bodybuilding enthusiasts' who don't build their bodies, it doesn't make much sense to talk about 'aspiring rationalists' who don't develop their habit of mind. There's a surrounding worldview that ascribes special importance to this--it's not just a hobby, and is much more like a 'way of life'. 

At CFAR workshops, one of the tips that we would often give people at the beginning was "we're going to teach you techniques, but the workshop isn't really about these specific skills; it's about the skill of developing techniques, of which these are examples," in a way that lines up exactly with Vervaeke's "meta-psychotechnology for the creating the ecology of psychotechnology."

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-04-30T14:02:03.329Z · LW · GW

Episode 40: Wisdom and Rationality

So we are pursuing the cognitive science of wisdom because wisdom has always been associated with meaning from the Axial Revolution onward. Wisdom is also important for the cultivation of enlightenment (the response to the perennial problems), it's also playing a central role in being able to interpret our scientific worldview in a way that allows us to respond to the historical forces, and so wisdom is very important.

We took a look (and continue to look at) McKee and Barber, and we saw their convergence argument that at the core of wisdom is the systematic seeing through of illusion and into what's real, and this is very much like "as the child is to the adult, the adult is to the sage", and then two other important aspects of it: that wisdom is much more with 'how you know' than 'what you know', which means how you come to know it and also how you interpret the knowledge, and that wisdom is therefore, in a related fashion, deeply perspectival and participatory, and that's why wisdom can be associated with an important form of pragmatic self-contradiction.

We then noted the connection with overcoming self-deception in a systematic fashion, and the emphasis of wisdom on the process rather than the products of knowing, and that both of those took us into the work of Stanovich. Because he famously argues that one of the hallmarks of rationality is valuing the process in addition to valuing the products of our cognition, and that took us also into the discussion of rationality.

Stanovich is a good bridge because for him, the notions of rationality and ameliorating foolishness overlap very strongly, and we got into this notion (which I've been sort of comprehensively arguing throughout this course) that rationality has to do with the reliable and systematic overcoming of self-deception and the potential affording of flourishing by some process of optimization of achieving our goals, with the caveat that as we try to optimize we often change the goals that we are pursuing, one reason being that we come to more and more appreciate the value of the process as opposed to just the end result of the process. So in order to pursue that and to deepen our notion of rationality and thereby deepen our notion of wisdom (and of course wisdom has been associated with rationality from the beginning, Socrates and Plato and Aristotle), we took a look at the rationality debate.

I gave you three examples of many possible examples, experimental results that seem to show reliably: that people acknowledge and accept the authority of certain standards, principles of how they should reason, and yet they reliably fail to meet those standards. So one possible interpretation of that (not the only interpretation) is that most people are irrational in nature. As I pointed out, because rationality is existential and not just sort of abstractly theoretical, concluding that people are irrational has important implications for their moral status, their political status, their legal status, even their developmental status. So this is what I keep meaning when I am saying rationality is deeply existential; it is not just theoretical.

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-04-29T16:21:30.079Z · LW · GW

Episode 39: The Religion of No Religion

So last time I tried to make some tentative suggestions as to what this religion that's not a religion would look like, and how it can make use of an be integrated with an ecology of psychotechnologies for addressing the perennial problems and a cognitive-scientific worldview that can legitimate and situate the ecology of practices. Then I made some suggestions as to the relationship between credo and religio in our determination of our mythos and the issue of criterion-setting made again another argument for open-ended (in that sense gnostic) mythos, talked about a mythos that always puts the credo in service of the religio, and that is always directed towards the propositional being ultimately grounded in the participatory, and also affording the emergence up out of the participatory through the perspectival and procedural into the propositional.

I suggest some ways in which we might set up a way of engineering credo, something analogous to a wiki, and create a structure that is a distributed co-op structure facilitated by things like the internet. Again, I remind you I was not trying to offer anything definitive or set myself up in any kind of way; that is not what I want to do. I want to try to help facilitate the people who are already doing this so that they have ways of talking to each other, coordinating with each other, and facilitating each other's development and growth.

I then turned towards one of the culminating things we need to do taking up one of the deepest relationships that meaning has, the relationship between meaning and wisdom. We need wisdom because it's the meta-virtue for the virtues, and we need that in order to give the individual pole for the relationship with the collective creation and cultivation of the meta-psychotechnology for creating the ecology of psychotechnology. We also of course need wisdom before, during, and after the quest for enlightenment; the quest for a systematic and reliable response to the perennial problems.

I then proposed to look at the cognitive science of wisdom, and we did that by taking note of an important article that comes out after the first decade and a half of the resurgence of scientific interest in wisdom, and that's the article of McKee and Barber. They're doing something consonant with what we've been trying to do in this series; they're trying to (in a sense) salvage what we can from the philosophical theories, the legacy of the Axial Age of wisdom, and the psychological theories that were emerging at that time and then they set them into dialogue with each other, a process of reflective equilibrium trying to get a convergence between them. They argue that all of these theories (the philosophical and psychological theories) convergence on a central feature of wisdom, and then following work that I did with Leo Ferraro in 2013 we can sort of expand beyond the explicit thing to what we've also set alongside of their phrase.

So a central feature of wisdom is the systematic seeing through illusion and into reality (at least comparatively). So this, of course, is insight; a fundamental / systemic insight not just into a particular problem but into a family of problems. 

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-04-28T15:14:04.636Z · LW · GW

As someone used to '4E' referring to, say, 'fourth edition', that the third generation of cogsci is called 4E is a bit confusing. But it stands for Embodiment, Embedded, Enactive, Extended; that is, human cognition is shaped by human bodies, happens in the physical world, is an action, and is extended through interactions with the world and psychotechnologies. [Consider how having a pencil and paper extends thought.]

The main upshot of all of this (besides being more current science) is that it's a devastating response to Descartes. Actually the mind and body have a deep continuity between them; actually the mind and world have a deep continuity between them.


I should also note that the word 'emergent' shows up a lot, I think in a way that doesn't fall afoul of The Futility of Emergence; they're not saying "ok, intelligence is emergent, we're done here", they're saying something more like "ok, intelligence emerges from many smaller-scale interactions", in a way that clarifies what sort of aggregation is going on (contra Eliezer, I think there are things that aren't well-described by 'emergent', and so it is actually adding some bits).

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-04-28T14:53:01.704Z · LW · GW

Episode 38: Agape and 4E Cognitive Science

So last time I was making a proposal to you of how we could address the perennial problems, and I gave you a systematic set of things that could be cultivated in an integrated fashion for addressing perennial problems and then we saw how our attempts to ameliorate and alleviate the perennial problems interact with the historical forces and that we get the fundamental undermining of meaning in life and that problem set by Wolf and then I propose to you that there was a response to that in terms of the notion of Agape. Then I moved into directly addressing the historical forces, looking about for something like what the three orders did for us, and then I proposed to you that if we took a look at 4E cognitive science, third generation cogsci, and in particular some of the insights afforded by 4E cognitive science that were pointed out by Varela in his article, we can see a way in which we can get a worldview that strongly situates our meaning-making processes within it (legitimates it). 

We talked about how we can recover something like the nomological order and the normative order and how we can move to something post-narrative, an open-ended optimization that is seeking for a depth of realization rather than a historical combination. I proposed to you bringing with that whole project of responding to the historical forces a new notion from Goodenough's work on 'transcendence into' rather than 'transcendence above or beyond', and how that is resonant and consonant with the picture that we've been working on together. A couple things remain that are central; one of course is to give a cognitive scientific account of wisdom.

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-04-27T16:14:31.157Z · LW · GW

Episode 37: Reverse Engineering Enlightenment, Part 2

So last time we were taking a look at the perennial problems that are endemic to us precisely because of the functioning and structuring and development of our adaptive religio. The very processes that make us intelligently adaptive also make us vulnerable to self-deceptive, self-destructive behavior, and I propose to you that:

  • we can address parasitic processing with a counteractive dynamical system
  • we can address modal confusion by the cultivation of sati
  • we can address the reflectiveness gap by the the cultivation of flow
  • we can address absurdity by cultivating prajna
  • we can address anxiety by cultivating inner dialogue by internalizing the sage through a process of internalization and indwelling that allows us to identify with the sage
  • we can address the process of alienation through the cultivation of communitas

I mentioned to you some new sets of communal psychotechnologies that are emerging and people who are trying to develop thinking about how to make use of authentic relating, circling, or trying to break through our current cultural grammar to a form of authentic discourse and relating. So that's on offer.

We can respond to existential entrapment by the cultivation of gnosis, we can be empowered by a core capacity for realizing higher states of consciousness, so what you have is basically a higher state of consciousness that is empowering gnosis. That is of course sat within gnosis; as you remember I argued it has to be set within a proper ritual context. This is being used to cultivate and is being reflectively transformed by a counteractive dynamical system that is going to get you sets of practices for cultivating sati, cultivating flow, cultivating prajna, cultivating communitas, cultivating inner dialogue, etc.; when this is set in a wisdom framing so that comprehensively that person is developing interlocking sets of virtues for addressing self-deception and for affording self-optimization. This results in a reliable response, amelioration and alleviation of the perennial problems. 

I would say that's enlightenment, at least, you know, an enlightenment that I'm trying to reverse-engineer; the components can each ultimately be explained and understood by our best cognitive science. I believe I've given you reasons that we can rationally hope that what needs to be done is to still try to articulate wisdom from a scientific perspective, and of course that is one of the most exciting things that's happening right now, something that I am privileged to participate in.

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-04-26T18:19:36.561Z · LW · GW

The bit about relevance not being 'absolute' or 'essential' reminds me of Excluding the Supernatural; for a deity to be 'actually divine' instead of just 'really powerful' or w/e it needs to be intrinsically relevant. But, interestingly, I don't think this is a standard that's possible to hit, basically because of Vervaeke's critique!

For example, assume I set up hyper-Minecraft, where the villagers are basically emulated humans (and so able to think, do philosophy, etc.), and I sometimes log in and wander around the world, using my admin powers as I see fit. There's a way in which I am 'ontologically basic' from the perspective of those villagers--I'm a mental entity that's not reducible to within-universe nonmental entities. [And also I'm keyed into the laws of physics in a way that makes me immensely powerful, and so clearly relevant to their materialistic aims!]

But there's nothing stopping a Diogenes in this world from only asking me to just step out of their sunlight when I offer to grant them any wish. There's nothing stopping a Socrates from saying "sure, this Vaniver character can reshape the landscape at will, but actually being a god is about morality and truth instead of power."

Now, maybe it's a mistake for them to care about morality instead of power; maybe philosophy of this sort is selected against. But on whatever standard philosophy fails on, it can honestly report that it was aiming for a different standard. [Somehow this is reminding me of C.S. Lewis's claim that the most important sin is pride; basically, in this frame, the ability to choose something other than God's choice because of centering your standards instead of His standards.]

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-04-26T18:08:18.779Z · LW · GW

Your point about inexhaustibility rings true to me, and reminds me of a broader question about anagoge (for personal development), engineering (for technological development), and science (for understanding the physical world); is it actually an infinite staircase going up (or deeper, in the case of scientific theories), or is there 'completion' (in the sense that pretty quickly we'll be able to make the best possible spaceships, have the best possible wisdom, have the complete theory of everything, etc.)?

It feels really dangerous to have an orientation that presupposes growth, or puts all of the value on growth, in a universe that might actually be finite. But also it feels really dangerous to assume that you've grown all you can, and there's nothing more to do, when in fact you just don't see the next door!

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-04-26T17:43:39.135Z · LW · GW

Episode 36: Religio/Perennial Problems/Reverse Engineering Enlightenment

So last time we were taking a look at a proposal that we could understand that which causes the experience of sacredness in terms of a transjective inexhaustibility, a kind of deep anagoge between the 'no-thing-ness' of your ever evolving relevance realization and its mysterious depths and the 'no-thing-ness' of a reality that is ultimately combinatorially explosive and dynamically changing itself.

We can acknowledge the important role of the symbolic, the way it helps us to engage and activate the primordial aspects of religio and go through processes of re-exaptation, housing new emergent abilities so that as we're opening up the world we are also opening up ourselves in response to that. But I cautioned against confusing (your own or, at times, our collective) indispensability with any claims of metaphysical necessity or an absolute essence. That was part of a larger critique that relevance can't have an absolute essence, and therefore we shouldn't think of the sacred ultimately as a supernaturally endowed absolutely essential form of relevance.

So I then proposed to you that part of what we saw the experience of sacredness doing was helping to facilitate the higher order relevance realization, the meta-realization between homing us against domicide (the meta-assimilation) but also causing us to confront the numinous (the meta-accomodation) and the sacred is doing that.

I also propose that we needed to look at this more deeply; we needed to look at how the sacred helps us address perennial problems. That took us into opening up and becoming a little bit more analytic about the meaning crisis. There's two components to the meaning crisis: there are the historical factors which we traced in detail at the beginning of the first half of the series and an issue that we now need to focus on: the perennial problems. In some sense the experience of sacredness, the attempt to activate, accentuate, accelerate, articulate, and appreciate religio should address our perennial problems.

The perennial problems are of course perennial because the very machinery of religio that makes us adaptive also makes us perpetually vulnerable to self-deceptive self-destructive behavior. Most cultures cultivate an ecology of psychotechnologies, typically in the form of a religion, for addressing the perennial problems but that set of psychotechnologies has to be fitted into a legitimizing and sustaining worldview. In some sense, the psychotechnologies have to be integrated with sacredness.

Of course, what's happening for us is (and we'll come back to this in more detail) the historical factors have undermined the possibility for us, undermined the experience of sacredness, all of the ways in which we can cultivate an ecology of psychotechnologies for enhancing religio because we do not have a worldview within which the project of meaning-making, its self-transcendence, the cultivation of wisdom, the affordance of higher states of consciousness, the realization of gnosis: we do not have a worldview that legitimates or encourages that, and so people are forced (as I said) to cobble together in a dangerously autodidactic fashion their own personal responses to perennial problems without traditions, guidance, communities, well worked out / vetted / developed sets of practices. So that means they're often bereft when they face the perennial problems.

So responding to the meaning crisis has two components to it and that's why I call it awakening from the meaning crisis, because it has not only the response of trying to rearticulate a new worldview in which the projects of enhancing religio again gets validation, is properly situated, encouraged, faciliated, legitimated, etc. but also we need to understand what the set of practices, the ecology of psychotechnology would look like that would allow us to address the perennial problems. I'm proposing that the scientific account of relevance realization and religio (that I've already tried to give you some allusions to that, we're going to come back to it full-force) will give us a way of articulating a worldview in which we can resituate meaning-making and of course the linchpin of that argument is the idea that at the core of the meaning-making is relevance realization and relevance realization can be given a naturalistic explanation; one that hopefully still does full justice to the experience of sacredness.

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-04-23T16:59:59.941Z · LW · GW

So some quick refreshers on earlier concepts: Vervaeke thinks that humans are evolved, and that means lots and lots of 'exaptation', where something originally created for purpose A turns out to also be useful for purpose B, and develops to satisfy both purposes. The tongue is an example, of originally being useful for moving stuff around in the mouth (lots of animals have tongues that can do that) but then also being useful for speech, rather than creating a new speech organ from scratch (few animals that have tongues capable of speech, and this actually seems like the limiting factor in getting dogs to talk with us, for example). 

But exaptation doesn't just happen with body parts, it also happens cognitively. The thing that Vervaeke thinks the symbol is doing is giving us access to the 'history' of the thing, in a way that reminds me of UtEB and memory reconsolidation; rather than just going off the 'current sense of justice' or w/e the symbol of justice gives you a way to handle the parts of it and its justification all at once, making it easier to reflect on justice and change your mind about it / develop it in contact with more of your experience.

Anagoge is a sort of philosophical self-development / ascent towards the true/good.

Religio, is, uh, the parts of religion that relevance realization is related to? I'll figure out a better explanation at some point.

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-04-23T16:42:37.487Z · LW · GW

Episode 35: The Symbol, Sacredness, and the Sacred

So last time we were continuing our examination of the experience of sacredness (the Schirrmacher side of things) and I was trying to develop an account of what symbols are; at least, symbols insofar as they are distinct from signs. This is a way of trying to understand the role that symbols have in our understanding of sacredness.

So I was presenting to you the view that symbols are a participatory act, and that participation has a connection to the activation of a profound kind of metaphor. By activating that metaphor, we are reaching backwards through our exaptation and reactivating that material so that we can re-exapt our cognitive processes and re-experience, re-appreciate, re-see, re-understand some aspect of reality, and that re-exaptation makes the use of a symbol, a deeply participatory transformative thing that we do and that with a symbol we're activating all that reexaptive machinery in order to hold something in mind so that we can see more deeply into it, be more in contact with it.

Then I argued the point of that is ultimately to set up an anagogic expressway by which I am transformed so I can see through the symbol into reality, and so that reality can speak through the symbol to me, and that we get an angogic flow happening and I'm becoming deeply integrated, the world is become disclosed, and that mutual reciprocal realizing (feels deeply sort of like love), coupling to reality in a profound way. So symbols are in that sense designed to get me into a trajectory of transframing; they're designed to open up the world (in wonder) and also grow me so that I can be in that larger world.

That points to how symbols are ecstatic; they're participatory, they're integrative, they're complex, because they help to complexify me and disclose the complexity of the world in a coordinated fashion. Then I suggested to you that we understand symbols as mythos, that it's always a symbol and a story together and that the story points to the ritual and the ritual is also there because the mythos is always enacted if it's going to bring about the transformations that it wants to bring about (or that we want to use it to bring about). 

I think both of those are right--we can use mythos to activate, accelerate, articulate, and appreciate religio. Religio is inherently valuable to us so even that alone is going to be very valuable to us. In addition to the act of seriously playing, not only is it development of what we are, what we find intrinsically valuable (because it's constitutive of our ability to value anything else or anything we consider valuable because it's primordial), but relevance realization (which is at the heart of religio and I'm giving you an argument for that) is constituted to it, it is structured to function by being interested in itself, correcting itself, transcending itself, developing itself. So that's why we love the flow state; not only is it optimal in that it's getting us to be our best, we also find it to be an optimal experience because we're seriously playing with this intrinsically valuable machinery in a way that is constitutively intrinsically significant to us.

I propose that when we are using the symbol to get us to play with the machinery, the meta-assimilation the meta-accommodation of sacredness or at least the meta-assimilation, the meta-accommodation of the higher order relevance realization within sacredness, and that's what we deeply mean by the experience of sacredness.

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-04-22T19:21:32.120Z · LW · GW

So his core take on sacredness/horror/the numinous, as I understand it, is this:

  • Humans are limited and finite in a world that is much bigger than they are (both physically and conceptually).
  • An important part of existing in the world is 'having a grip on things'; I'm imagining, like, a climber on a cliff or a remora stuck onto a shark; it's not that you hold the world in your hands (as a thing smaller than you), but that you have control over your position, both resisting unwanted changes and making desired changes (at least in a limited way).
  • "The numinous" is that which is outside your ability to contain / understand, and is mostly on a dimension of 'power / glory' instead of morality. [More 'Lovecraftian elder gods' or 'forces of history that can't be stopped' or so on.]
  • He's pretty clear on what he means by 'horror'. It's "losing your grip on reality", and so more associated with madness/insanity than fear. [He distinguishes it from 'horror films', which he thinks are mostly about the fear of predation, and 'terror', which he sees as too linked to 'terrorism'; I observe that it reminds me a lot of 'body horror', which is about losing your grip on yourself, in some ways.]
  • I don't quite get what he's saying about sacredness. I think it's something like: there's a way in which the numinous is intrinsically horrifying because it involves something that you can't really come to grips with (you can't handle the cliff-as-a-whole even tho you can handle the cliff-as-many-handholds), but whether you experience this as 'horror' is mostly about whether or not you're overwhelmed. In horror, you have the experience of scrambling for purchase and not finding anything and this is overwhelming. Sacredness then is more like the 'good sort' of seeing beyond yourself, in a way where you at least have a handle on not having a handle on it (or something?).
  • Like, I'm thinking of Augustine's conception of the trinity, where he spent a long time trying to figure out this puzzle and then went "oh, this puzzle is beyond me", in a way that was... reassuring to him, somehow? "I will sooner draw all the water from the sea and empty it into this hole than you will succeed in penetrating the mystery of the Holy Trinity with your limited understanding." Vervaeke uses someone else's phrase, of "homing against horror", and the way that's landing here is something like "having accepted that this is too big to contain" instead of "being freaked out about this being too big to contain."

I think the overall move is something like: even if you grow as much as possible, there will still be things bigger than you; you need some way to handle that. But also there are things that are 'just within your reach'; the way you grow is by hanging out around them, doing serious play with them, and so on; so you need something that helps you come to grips with your limited size in a way that puts you in positions to grow bigger (instead of giving up on growth as 'impossible' because you can never be infinitely large).

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-04-22T17:00:48.422Z · LW · GW

Episode 34: Sacredness: Horror, Music, and the Symbol

Last time we were continuing our exploration of sacredness. I talked about that, in contrast to but also in concert with Geertz's notion of sacredness as 'homing us against horror', we have the proposal from Otto that sacredness puts us into contact with the numinous, which basically exposes us to what is horrifying (at least, the limits of us), because it has an aspect of awe, with a little bit more, which is to remind us. Humiliation, in the original sense of the word: to keep us humble, to give us humility, to remember that as we are feeling that sense of expansiveness with awe that we are precisely ultimately limited creatures. 

So I propose to you that these two opponent aspects of sacredness can be seen very readily within the light of the machinery of relevance realization, where the worldview attunement is a form of meta-meaning and therefore meta-assimilation (ultimately compression, integration, things fitting together). We get an opposite which is the meta-accommodation afforded by confronting the numinous in awe and, potentially, horror. We talked about how horror is about exactly the confrontation with that which demands from us unanswerable, unachievable accommodation.

So I propose to you that what sacredness is is to play with (seriously play with!) the machinery of relevance realization as found within the primordial aspects of religio, and that doing this would be deeply advantageous to us because it is so foundational to our agency, to the world as an arena for our action, to our capacities for self-transcendence, and so forth. But caught up with that, when I invoked music as an example of this, was the idea that we often do this serious play by engaging in symbolic behavior. So I'm putting 'the symbol' here as something that has the capacity to function both ways: it can bring us into meta-accommodation but of course it can also bring meta-assimilation. It can bridge between these two and it can go in both directions.

Comment by Vaniver on Updating the Lottery Ticket Hypothesis · 2021-04-22T04:08:38.502Z · LW · GW

That seems right, but also reminds me of the point that you need to randomly initialize your neural nets for gradient descent to work (because otherwise the gradients everywhere are the same). Like, in the randomly initialized net, each edge is going to be part of many subcircuits, both good and bad, and the gradient is basically "what's your relative contribution to good subcircuits vs. bad subcircuits?"

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-04-21T18:10:44.938Z · LW · GW

This is one of the less-edited transcripts; I often try to change it from one long sentence, which is appropriate for talks, to many smaller sentences and paragraphs, which reads better online; also I try to delete false starts and so on. I've been busier and putting less time into the editing, so some of the quality decrease from previous summaries is me.

I'm also becoming less confident that his 'reminders at the beginning of the next lecture' are the right summaries to use; they're much more "ok, here's where we were, now let's keep going" instead of "here's the main change from the last lecture, now let's look at the next topic in order." 

[There's also a big inferential distance problem here, where he's built up some jargon and summarizes his points in that jargon, which (of course) does not make the points any easier to transfer. Like, this really isn't a substitute for the lectures yet!]

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-04-21T15:52:07.548Z · LW · GW

Episode 33: The Spirituality of RR: Wonder/Awe/Mystery/Sacredness

So last time I tried to develop with you the side of the plausibility argument I'm making and tried to give an account of central features of human spirituality and to try not to use that term therefore in a vague indefinite way. I made an argument for how relevance realization can explain many of the facets that are found within the normal attribution of human spirituality and I proposed a term 'religio' to cover all of those aspects of spirituality that can be explained by the machinery of relevance realization.

Comment by Vaniver on Updating the Lottery Ticket Hypothesis · 2021-04-21T05:28:08.412Z · LW · GW

But this is what would be necessary for the "lottery ticket" intuition (i.e. training just picks out some pre-existing useful functionality) to work.

I don't think I agree, because of the many-to-many relationship between neurons and subcircuits.  Or, like, I think the standard of 'reliability' for this is very low. I don't have a great explanation / picture for this intuition, and so probably I should refine the picture to make sure it's real before leaning on it too much?

To be clear, I think I agree with your refinement as a more detailed picture of what's going on; I guess I just think you're overselling how wrong the naive version is?

Comment by Vaniver on Updating the Lottery Ticket Hypothesis · 2021-04-20T12:50:09.087Z · LW · GW

Unfortunately, the strongest forms of the hypothesis do not seem plausible - e.g. I doubt that today’s neural networks already contain dog-recognizing subcircuits at initialization.

I think there are papers showing exactly this, like Deconstructing Lottery Tickets and What is the Best Multi-Stage Architecture for Object Recognition?. Another paper, describing the second paper:

We also compare to random, untrained weights because Jarrett et al. (2009) showed — quite strikingly — that the combination of random convolutional filters, rectification, pooling, and local normalization can work almost as well as learned features. They reported this result on relatively small networks of two or three learned layers and on the smaller Caltech-101 dataset (Fei-Fei et al., 2004). It is natural to ask whether or not the nearly optimal performance of random filters they report carries over to a deeper network trained on a larger dataset.

(My interpretation of their results is 'yeah actually randomly initialized convs do pretty well on imagenet'; I remember coming across a paper that answer that question more exactly and getting a clearer 'yes' answer but I can't find it at the moment; I remember them freezing a conv architecture and then only training the fully connected net at the end.)

Why do you doubt this? Are you seeing a bunch of evidence that I'm not? Or are you imagining new architectures that people haven't done these tests for yet / have done these tests and the new architectures fail?

[Maybe your standards are higher than mine--in the DLT paper, they're able to get 65% performance on CIFAR-10 by just optimizing a binary mask on the randomly initialized parameters, which is ok but not good.]

Comment by Vaniver on [Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis · 2021-04-20T12:34:46.614Z · LW · GW

Episode 32: RR in the Brain, Insight, and Consciousness

Last time, I suppose I probably taxes your attention quite a bit; I tried to keep it as accessible and jargon-free as possible but we got into some of the nitty-gritty of how we could potentially give a naturalistic explanation of relevance realization and see it potentially being implemented in terms of self-organizing criticality and small world network formation in the brain, and that that in turn could help us to understand general intelligence, insight, and a lot of the functionality (and I'm even arguing a lot of the phenomenological aspects) of consciousness.

That gives us reason to believe that we may be able to use this machinery to elegantly explain a lot of the central features of human spirituality. We've already seen that this relevance realization is transjective, it's about our fundamental connectedness: connectedness to the world, connectedness of mind and body together, connectedness to other people (we'll have to come back to that); that relevance realization is always deeply affective, that at the core of relevance realization is a caring that is integral to your cognitive commitment of your precious cognitive metabolic and temporal resources; that we can see a lot of the stuff that Heidegger was talking about when he was trying to get us back to this primordial sense of meaning in the transjectivity of relevance realization, and that that interpretation of Heidegger via Dreyfus and our being in the world.

Comment by Vaniver on The Scout Mindset - read-along · 2021-04-19T18:32:24.297Z · LW · GW

While it's true that most complainers put hardly any effort in, the actual effort required to do what she suggests requires monastic dedication.

Yes, but also monks are real and you could actually become one if you tried?

Comment by Vaniver on The Scout Mindset - read-along · 2021-04-19T18:30:56.332Z · LW · GW

I think this is a reason why focusing on 'calibration' is sort of a mistake? Like, look, the thing it's doing is making the probabilities you say useful to other people / explicit EV calculations that you do yourself. It's one of the skills in the toolbox; you also want good concepts, you also want accuracy, and so on.