Eliezer Yudkowsky Is a Fraud

Eliezer Yudkowsky tweeted:

EY:

What on Earth is up with the people replying "billionaires don't have real money, just stocks they can't easily sell" to the anti-billionaire stuff? It's an insanely straw reply and there are much much better replies.

DL:

What would be a much better reply to give to someone who thinks for example that Elon Musk is hoarding $100bn in his bank account?

EY:

A better reply should address the core issue whether there is net social good from saying billionaires can't have or keep wealth: eg demotivating next Steves from creating Apple, no Gates vaccine funding, Musk not doing Tesla after selling Paypal.

Eliezer Yudkowsky (EY) frequently brings up names (e.g. Feynman or Jaynes) of smart people involved with science, rationality or sci-fi. He does this throughout RAZ. He communicates that he's read them, he's well-read, he's learned from them, he has intelligent commentary related to stuff they wrote, etc. He presents himself as someone who can report to you, his reader, about what those books and people are like. (He mostly brings up people he likes, but he also sometimes presents himself as knowledgeable about people he's unfriendly to, like Karl Popper and Ayn Rand, who he knows little about and misrepresents.)

EY is a liar who can't be trusted. In his tweets, he reveals that he brings up names while knowing basically nothing about them.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were not motivated by getting super rich. Their personalities are pretty well known. I guess EY never read any of the biographies and hasn't had conversations about them with knowledgeable people. Or maybe he doesn't connect what he reads to what he says. (I provide some brief, example evidence at the end of this post in which Jobs tells Ellison "You don’t need any more money." EY is really blatantly wrong.)

EY brings up Jobs and Wozniak ("Steves") to make his assertions sound concrete, empirical and connected to reality. Actually he's doing egregious armchair philosophizing and using counter examples as examples.

Someone who does this can't be trusted whenever they bring up other names either. It shows a policy of dishonesty: either carelessness and incompetence (while dishonestly presenting himself as a careful, effective thinker) or outright lying about his knowledge.

There are other problems with the tweets, too. For example, EY is calling people insane instead of arguing his case. And EY is straw manning the argument about billionaires having stocks not cash – while complaining about others straw manning. Billionaires have most of their wealth in capital goods, not consumption goods (that's the short, better version of the argument he mangled), and that's a more important issue than the incentives that EY brings up. EY also routinely presents himself as well-versed in economics but seems unable to connect concepts like accumulation of capital increasing the productivity of labor, or eating the seed corn, to this topic.

Some people think billionaires consume huge amounts of wealth – e.g. billions of dollars per year – in the form of luxuries or other consumption goods. Responding to a range of anti-billionaire viewpoints, including that one, by saying basically "They need all that money so they're incentivized to build companies." is horribly wrong. They don't consume anywhere near that much wealth per year. EY comes off as justifying them doing something they don't do that would actually merit concern if they somehow did it.

If Jeff Bezos were building a million statues of himself, that'd be spending billions of dollars on luxuries/consumption instead of production. That'd actually somewhat harm our society's capital accumulation and would merit some concern and consideration. But – crucial fact – the real world looks nothing like that. EY sounds like he's conceding that that's actually happening instead of correcting people about reality, and he's also claiming it's obviously fine because rich people love their statues, yachts and sushi so much that it's what inspires them to make companies. (It's debateable, and there are upsides, but it's not obviously fine.)


Steve Jobs is the authorized biography by Walter Isaacson. It says (context: Steve didn't want to do a hostile takeover of Apple) (my italics):

“You know, Larry [Ellison], I think I’ve found a way for me to get back into Apple and get control of it without you having to buy it,” Jobs said as they walked along the shore. Ellison recalled, “He explained his strategy, which was getting Apple to buy NeXT, then he would go on the board and be one step away from being CEO.” Ellison thought that Jobs was missing a key point. “But Steve, there’s one thing I don’t understand,” he said. “If we don’t buy the company, how can we make any money?” It was a reminder of how different their desires were. Jobs put his hand on Ellison’s left shoulder, pulled him so close that their noses almost touched, and said, “Larry, this is why it’s really important that I’m your friend. You don’t need any more money.

Ellison recalled that his own answer was almost a whine: “Well, I may not need the money, but why should some fund manager at Fidelity get the money? Why should someone else get it? Why shouldn’t it be us?”

“I think if I went back to Apple, and I didn’t own any of Apple, and you didn’t own any of Apple, I’d have the moral high ground,” Jobs replied.

“Steve, that’s really expensive real estate, this moral high ground,” said Ellison. “Look, Steve, you’re my best friend, and Apple is your company. I’ll do whatever you want.”

(Note that Ellison, too, despite having a more money-desiring attitude, didn't actually prioritize money. He might be the richest man in the world today if he'd invested heavily in Steve Jobs' Apple, but he put friendship first.)


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (3)

Learning Updates Thread

If you want to learn philosophy or rational thinking, you need to do some stuff on a regular basis. Read books, write notes, write outlines, write articles, write journaling, study stuff, have discussions, etc.

I suggest you write a short, weekly update. How did your week go? What did you do? Did you make progress on your goals? (Figure out some goals and write them down. If in doubt, talk about it or read and watch a wide variety of things.) Do you want to make any changes going forward? Sharing this update is optional. You could do it like journaling.

Write a longer, monthly update. Reflect more on how learning is going, what's working or not working, whether you should adjust any goals or stop or start any projects, what got done or not, etc.

Sharing monthly updates is recommended. If you don't share monthly updates or explain why not, I will not regard you as actually trying to learn philosophy.

I think it'd be best if a bunch of people shared monthly updates at the same time. So let's use the first of the month. Post them below. Put the month and your name in the title field when posting a monthly update, and leave the title blank for anything else, so the monthly updates stand out more.

Posting on your own website and sharing a link here is fine too. With the link, include at least one paragraph of text with some summary and some info to interest people in clicking the link.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (25)

Mathematical Inconsistency in Solomonoff Induction?

I posted this on Less Wrong 10 days ago. At the end, I summarize the answer they gave.


What counts as a hypothesis for Solomonoff induction? The general impression I’ve gotten in various places is “a hypothesis can be anything (that you could write down)”. But I don’t think that’s quite it. E.g. evidence can be written down but is treated separately. I think a hypothesis is more like a computer program that outputs predictions about what evidence will or will not be observed.

If X and Y are hypotheses, then is “X and Y” a hypothesis? “not X”? “X or Y?” If not, why not, and where can I read a clear explanation of the rules and exclusions for Solomonoff hypotheses?

If using logic operators with hypotheses does yield other hypotheses, then I’m curious about a potential problem. When hypotheses are related, we can consider what their probabilities should be in more than one way. The results should always be consistent.

For example, suppose you have no evidence yet. And suppose X and Y are independent. Then you can calculate the probability of P(X or Y) in terms of the probability of P(X) and P(Y). You can also calculate the probability of all three based on their length (that’s the Solomonoff prior). These should always match but I don’t think they do.

The non-normalized probability of X is 1/2^len(X).

So you get:

P(X or Y) = 1/2^len(X) + 1/2^len(Y) - 1/2^(len(X)+len(Y))

and we also know:

P(X or Y) = 1/2^len(X or Y)

since the left hand sides are the same, that means the right hand sides should be equal, by simple substitution:

1/2^len(X or Y) = 1/2^len(X) + 1/2^len(Y) - 1/2^(len(X)+len(Y))

Which has to hold for any X and Y.

We can select X and Y to be the same length and to minimize compression gains when they’re both present, so len(X or Y) should be approximately 2len(X). I’m assuming a basis, or choice of X and Y, such that “or” is very cheap relative to X and Y, hence I approximated it to zero. Then we have:

1/2^2len(X) = 1/2^len(X) + 1/2^len(X) - 1/2^2len(X)

which simplifies to:

1/2^2len(X) = 1/2^len(X)

Which is false (since len(X) isn’t 0). And using a different approximation of len(X or Y) like 1.5len(X), 2.5len(X) or even len(X) wouldn’t make the math work.

So Solomonoff induction is inconsistent. So I assume there’s something I don’t know. What? (My best guess so far, mentioned above, is limits on what is a hypothesis.)

Also here’s a quick intuitive explanation to help explain what’s going on with the math: P(X) is both shorter and less probable than P(X or Y). Think about what you’re doing when you craft a hypotheses. You can add bits (length) to a hypothesis to exclude stuff. In that case, more bits (more length) means lower prior probability, and that makes sense, because the hypothesis is compatible with fewer things from the set of all logically possible things. But you can also add bits (length) to a hypothesis to add alternatives. It could be this or that or a third thing. That makes hypotheses longer but more likely rather than less likely. Also, speaking more generally, the Solomonoff prior probabilities are assigned according to length with no regard for consistency amongst themselves, so its unsurprising that they’re inconsistent unless the hypotheses are limited in such a way that they have no significant relationships with each other that would have to be consistent, which sounds hard to achieve and I haven’t seen any rules specified for achieving that (note that there are other ways to find relationships between hypotheses besides the one I used above, e.g. looking for subsets).


Less Wrong's answer, in my understanding, is that in Solomonoff Induction a "hypothesis" must make positive predictions like "X will happen". Probabilistic positive predictions – assigning probabilities to different specific outcomes – can also work. Saying X or Y will happen is not a valid hypothesis, nor is saying X won't happen.

This is a very standard trick by so-called scholars. They take a regular English word (here "hypothesis") and define it as a technical term with a drastically different meaning. This isn't clearly explained anywhere and lots of people are misled. It's also done with e.g. "heritability".

Solomonoff Induction is just sequence prediction. Take a data sequence as input, then predict the next thing in the sequence via some algorithm. (And do it with all the algorithms and see which do better and are shorter.) It's aspiring to be the oracle in The Fabric of Reality but worse.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (5)

Use RSS to Subscribe to Blogs

RSS feeds let you get updates when a website has new stuff. You can subscribe to sites you're interested in and then get notifications about new material instead of checking for it yourself. This works especially well with sites that don't update often.

You should subscribe to my feeds:

You need an RSS Reader app. I like Vienna, a free open source Mac app. There are many others, e.g. BazQux is a web app that my friend likes.

Many apps will let you import RSS feeds instead of adding them all yourself. Download my subscriptions to import. After importing, you can delete whatever you don't want.

You should also sign up for my free email newsletter. I'll send you around one email every two weeks.

Most blogs and similar sites have RSS feeds. Usually you can use their home page and the RSS app will find the correct feed URL for you. You can also subscribe to a YouTube channel or podcast.

Don't rely on getting all your info from social media sites. Don't just read whatever's in your Facebook, Twitter or Reddit feed. Choose and subscribe to some sites yourself.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)

Clarifying My Beliefs

This post will clarify a few of my ideas that people have concerns or misunderstandings about.

Politics

Freedom and Capitalism

I want a small government with limited power. The proper function of government is protect people against force – e.g. military, cops, courts. I want a society with tons of freedom including economic freedom (which is what “capitalism” actually means). See my essay liberalism. I’m not necessarily opposed to all anarchist ideas (though most are awful), but I think we should aim for minimal government and try that for a while before thinking we know in advance what further reforms would be a good idea.

I respect thinkers like Ludwig von Mises and Ayn Rand. I do not respect lots of their followers or the people commonly associated with them (e.g. I disagree with Hayek, Rothbard, most libertarians and most Objectivists). I also disagree with most Republicans and most Democrats.

In general I like individual thinkers, not groups.

I think political philosophy and economics are more important than politics. By politics I mean stuff like current events, news and election issues. Current political issues include abortion, gun control, immigration, racism, feminism, rent control, tax policy, government-run healthcare and environmentalist policies. People should learn how to think effectively about general principles before trying to debate those specific controversies.

People are partially right to complain about corporations and Wall Street. Many of their arguments are incorrect, but there is shady, unfair, exploitive stuff going on. But the problem is mostly government involvement in the economy and lack of economic freedom. For example, the main source of monopolies is government laws that make it harder to compete with existing companies, e.g. by increasing barriers to entry.

Trump

I like Donald Trump better than Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden. I think Trump has moderate political views and likes America. I disagree with his protectionist economic ideas (like tariffs and trade wars), though I do agree with his intuition that there’s some problem related to trade with China and that some sort of action should be taken. I think Trump screwed up by hiring a bunch of establishment Republicans and he handled coronavirus badly.

I appreciate that Trump is somewhat, partially challenging the ruling elite class of journalists, media pundits, unelected political influencers, professors, politicized non-profits, lobbyists, bankers, administrators and bureaucrats. Most politicians in both parties are part of that elite which is oppressing and ripping off the American people (the middle and lower classes, and the wealthy people without friends in high places).

Tribalism

Most people bring a tribalist, follower mindset to politics. They cheer for their team, just like sports. They’re super biased. They don’t understand the other side(s) very well. They don’t rationally study or debate the issues.

This doesn’t mean each tribe is equally right or wrong. Currently, I agree with Republicans more than Democrats. That’s despite being an atheist and growing up in a Democrat family in a heavily Democrat area. I do disagree with lots of Republican ideas.

Immigration

Immigration has been used for decades to try to dilute Western civilization by bringing in people who think in other ways and have other values. Western countries have been doing a bad job of standing up for their values and assimilating immigrants. There are ongoing debates about whether Western values are worth standing up for. While this debate is ongoing, I think immigration should be slowed way down. I don’t think bringing in immigrants who agree with you, and vote for your tribe, is a legitimate way to resolve a debate.

I don’t think white people have a monopoly on Western values. I don’t think genetics are destiny. I know many other people who criticize immigration are racist in some way (that doesn’t merit all the tribalist hatred they’re receiving, which often comes from people who are even more racist). They think there are race-related IQ genes and that there is such thing as a biological “human nature” which is controlled by genes and therefore can vary by race. I have a strong “left wing” position – shared by right winger Ayn Rand – that ideas and culture are what matter, not biology. (On a related note, I think gender roles are socially constructed, but I don’t believe some of the other ideas commonly associated with that claim. While males and females biologically differ in some physical characteristics, I don’t think biology is the cause of observed mental differences like personality traits or math success.)

I disagree with many economic arguments against immigration. In a capitalist society, immigrants don’t drive down wages. That’s because, as the workforce gets larger and wages go down, it’s easier to start a business (because you can hire employees more cheaply), so more businesses get started, which pushes wages back up. However, currently US regulations are hostile to starting new businesses. When it’s a huge burden to start a business and hire people, then immigration can drive wages down. But “they took our jobs” is a bad argument.

I think the USA should screen immigrants better. Instead of letting so many immigrants in by lottery or extended family ties (including birthright citizenship granted to babies born here by tourists), I think immigrants should be admitted more based on having American values and being ready and able to do productive work. Although I think IQ tests (and the concept of IQ itself) are highly flawed and culturally biased, I think they’d be better than nothing for an immigration screening method. English language proficiency tests would also help.

Identity Politics

I’m opposed to identity politics. I think we should stop looking at people’s skin color, rather than doing affirmative action or having race-based groups like “Black Lives Matter”. I want a more color blind approach.

I do not think racism, sexism, homophobia, white privilege, etc., are solved issues. There are significant problems there (by both Democrats and Republicans). The current activism – like riots and cancel culture – is making things worse and is making it harder to reform anything.

PUA

Lots of “pickup artists” are idiots. Sometimes their idiocy crosses the line into assault. People like Good Looking Loser, Russel Hartley and RooshV are awful.

In 1994, the alt.seduction.fast (ASF) discussion group was started on Usenet. Some people there figured out some good ideas about how dating and social dynamics work. Of course some people there were dumb, too. Representatives of that group, which I respect, include:

It was a discussion community. Many people participated productively and there are archives of ideas people liked, e.g. Classic PUA Writings. Many of them also went out and met people in person. They weren’t just armchair philosophers.

The ASF people aren’t perfect but I think they have some genuine knowledge. They managed to analyze, describe and understand social dynamics in ways that other groups haven’t. This information is useful for all members of our culture, male or female, in order to better understand the unwritten rules of our society. And although the ASF focus relates to dating, many of the social dynamics principles apply to other social situations too.

Other so-called pickup artists vary. Some learned a lot from the ASF crowd or participated in those discussions. Others didn’t and are usually clueless. Some of the ASF knowledge has spread elsewhere but it’s often mixed up with bad ideas too. The “red pill”, “mgtow (men going their own way)”, “MRA (men’s rights advocates)” and “manosphere” groups often have some ASF knowledge mixed in along with some of their own bad ideas.

Because so many fakers try to sell their pickup artist advice (advice that doesn’t work and is often offensive), the ASF people pretty much stopped using the terms “pickup artist” and “PUA”. I’ve been using the term “PUA” anyway but I’ll consider calling them the ASF community or specifying individuals in order to reduce confusion.

Claims about how our culture works are not claims that it should be that way. I’m not in favor of social climbing, promiscuity or pandering to whatever other people want. I’m also against lying to or tricking women (or anyone). The ASF people, contrary to some of the attacks on them, are more anti-lying than the typical person.

FI Members

There are no senior members of FI who have been around a while (years), learned FI well, and who make good role models. Don’t try to copy anyone or assume they’re good and you should try to be like them.

I don’t endorse anyone’s learning behavior, and I certainly don’t endorse their lecturing behavior. Some newer members have potential (and older members could change) but none have established themselves as doing a great job.

Don’t try to copy me either. That will lead to cargo culting. You have to learn things yourself and follow your own judgment. I’m too different in too many ways. You should expect to misunderstand me a lot, not to be able to do what you think I do and have it work in your own life situation.

Being a Discord moderator is not an endorsement of someone’s ideas. Being in a video with me or having a guest post on curi.us is not an endorsement of a person in general.

On a related note, I think everyone but me should be posting anonymously. (Because of cancel culture. And by posting anonymously I mean use something that isn't your real name or connected to your real name.) I’d prefer to be anonymous myself. I think it’s way too late for me to change (and maybe too hard to stay anonymous when e.g. selling stuff, meeting people IRL, and developing a reputation as a public intellectual) but everyone else should go anonymous. What’s the benefit of using your real name?

Twitter

I’m going to stop posting on Twitter in general. Most of what I posted was just retweets without me writing anything. I dislike Upvotes and Likes in general (pointless) but I found retweets ok (shows stuff to my friends/fans) and tried them for a while. Retweets were not endorsements. I never treated Twitter like a discussion forum or serious place. I will continue to read Twitter because I like a few people there. I’m going to stop retweeting because Twitter has an awful, tribalist political culture which I don’t want to contribute to. Plus Twitter shadowbanned me and is part of the cancel culture which is trying to suppress right wing speech.

I think FI people like Khaaan and Justin are tribalist tweeters who don’t understand the other side(s) of the debate well. That doesn’t stop them from being right or sharing good info over 50% of the time. But they ought to learn how to think rationally instead of doing so much politics. Even if they were going to do politics stuff, their approach is basically unproductive because they’re so biased for their tribe.

Offensive Comments

I’m not careful about what I say all the time. I don’t believe in political correctness. I think misunderstandings will happen whatever you do and it’s not worth the effort to walk on eggshells around everyone. Better if people mostly have thick skins rather than police their own speech.

If you dislike something I say, you can ask about it or criticize it. (Try to understand what it is before attacking it, please.) We might disagree. If so, I’ll have a thought-out position that you can hopefully respect, even if I didn’t explain it all upfront. I can’t preemptively explain everything I think every time I mention a topic. People can ask questions or read my writing to find out more.

I often disagree with all mainstream positions on a topic in some way. When disagreeing with one view, I don’t always communicate what I think about all the other positions. This leads to misunderstandings because people assume if you criticize one tribe then you must be part of an opposing tribe.

Lots of “jokes” reveal genuine racism or other bigotry. Speech is meaningful. I’m open to rational questions and criticism – I won’t just automatically dismiss issues as minor. But please try not to assume what I think and don’t begin the conversation in an adversarial way.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (45)

Social Maneuvering

People prefer giving orders to taking them. They prefer granting permission (or not) to having to ask permission. They prefer questioning others over being questioned. They prefer more pressure on others to answer to them, and less pressure on themselves to answer to others.

People try to figure out how to achieve these things. This begins in early childhood when they discover that their parents have social (and physical) power over them. Then they have to answer to their teachers, to babysitters, to the parents at a friend’s house they’re visiting, to adult relatives, and more.

They find at the peer level that some people get what they want more, are listened to more, are respected more, and so on. Doing better with peers is realistically achievable in the short term.

They find they look weak when they’re insecure, needy, unconfident, reactive, seeking approval from others, acting like a follower not a leader, etc. They learn how to act to get others to put in more effort than they do, to have people come to them, to get approval while looking like you aren’t trying to get approval, to hide their effort, to make comments highlighting others’ weaknesses without being considered an aggressor, to recognize and follow trends a little on the early side. They learn to hide weakness and ignorance. They learn to be dishonest. Some things are not even really considered dishonest, socially, they’re just normal. But they aren’t how a scientist thinks. A scientist volunteers relevant info in pursuit of truth instead of looking for opportunities to withhold unfavorable info. And in short, doing anything less than an idealized scientist would is dishonest to some extent.

People discover there are both formal and informal social power structures. Being a teacher, parent or boss is a formal position. It’s an explicit label. The leader of a group of friends is an informal position. There’s no contract or clear rules. It can just change as opinions change.

Sometimes formal and informal social power have a mismatch. A general may not have the respect of the soldiers he gives orders to. A boss may struggle to get his subordinates to listen to him – formally he’s in charge but informally people don’t see him that way.

Mismatches aren’t terribly common. People whose informal social power is significantly below their formal position often get replaced. More often, people don’t get positions in the first place if they don’t have an appropriate informal social status. Mismatches are often caused by giving out positions due to favoritism instead of merit, e.g. getting a position for one’s child who didn’t (socially) earn it (and often didn’t earn it on objective world merit, like knowledge and skill, either). Sometimes mismatches develop over time – things started out OK but a person lost respect or got undermined or something over time. Status can be unstable. People often get promotions to positions they’re expected to probably be able to handle, but there’s no guarantee and it doesn’t always work out.

However, mismatches are extremely common when no one cares what the subordinates think or want. If the subordinates are there voluntarily – e.g. customers or people who could get a different job or transfer to a different division in the company – it puts pressure against mismatches. However, when the subordinates are children, prison inmates, involuntary psychiatry patients, or the elderly in an old folks home, then the people in power may be hated by their subordinates and stay in power anyway. This is also a big problem with the government and its citizens – there is some accountability but generally not enough.

Anyway, people learn how to behave so they do well in terms of informal social status. There are incentives and benefits there, and it’s also one of the main things that leads to gaining and keeping formal social status.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)

Social Dialog with Analysis

Communications and actions have two main interpretations: social and objective.

Objective interpretations look at the literal meaning. They use rational and scientific analysis. They try to avoid logical errors. They aim to account for all the evidence and contradict none. They don’t judge the truth of ideas by the attributes of the person who thought of or communicated the idea.

Social interpretations consider the speaker or actor in relation to other people. What is he trying to do to or get from others? How does the action/communication affect the status of the actor and others? Is someone being needy or reactive? Is someone showing weakness? Is someone socially attacking someone else? Is someone becoming more or less connected with something high or low status (e.g. tribe allegiance signals).

Social interpretations are allowed to focus on some evidence and ignore or contradict other evidence. They can be illogical and unscientific. Some evidence is impolite to use or mention. Some conclusions are jumped to on a basis like “since the social meaning of that action/communication is so strong and obvious, you must have done it intentionally and chosen that social meaning on purpose, no matter what you say about a misunderstanding or that you were focusing on an objective goal.”

Example (try to read hyper literally, and look at this really logically, in order to understand Sue’s perspective):

Joe: I don’t understand what you said.
Sue: What are you planning to do about that?
Joe: I just asked you to explain.
Sue: You didn’t make a request or ask a question.
Joe: I just did. wtf!

Joe is focused on the social world while Sue is in objective, logical mode. Joe expects that, when he speaks, Sue will guess what he wants from her and why he said it. Joe takes this for granted so much that he doesn’t notice the difference between him asking for something explicitly or via hints – he uses hints and thinks he asked. Sue thinks Joe’s statements provide information and that it isn’t her job to read Joe’s mind. Mind reading always runs into a bunch of ambiguity that’s hard to make guesses about, and the whole point of a conversation is for people to communicate their ideas themselves.

The conversation can easily get worse. Let’s continue it:

Sue: Quote?
Joe: “I don’t understand what you said.”

This is actually somewhat unrealistic. People like Joe often won’t quote at all or will misquote. Often they ambiguously explain which message like “the statement we’re talking about” or “the message that starts with ‘I’”. Sometimes they say that asking for quotes is unreasonable or unnecessary, or they stop replying. But let’s not get distracted by those problems.

Sue: Is that an imperative or interrogative sentence?
Joe: No.
Sue: What are the verb and grammatical subject?
Joe: “do understand” and “I”.

These are atypically accurate and patient grammar answers by Joe. Things could have gotten a lot worse here. They’re atypical because they’re objective-mode answers, not social-mode answers.

The social-mode meaning of “Is that an imperative or interrogative sentence?” is that Sue is acting like a teacher and putting Joe in an inferior student role. Sue asks the questions and Joe has the role of being questioned. Sue can initiate things of her choice and Joe has to react to Sue’s whims. She’s pushing this kind of framing on the situation. So typically someone like Joe will avoid answering the question in order to deny and push back against that framing. He’ll try to get Sue answering his questions or otherwise establish social power over her. He’ll avoid compliance on purpose. He might say something especially sophisticated to try to prove how grown up he is. He’ll think Sue is calling him dumb by asking him a fairly basic grammar question about the sort of thing he was supposed to have learned in school over 10 years ago.

Sue: So isn’t it a declarative statement about yourself?
Joe: You knew what I meant.

This doesn’t answer Sue’s question. It’s also asking for mind reading. It’s the sort of thing that only works with similar people. It’s a reasonable guess about most people from Joe’s subculture (they knew what he wanted and are being difficult on purpose), though there’s evidence throughout that Sue has a pretty different perspective on the world than Joe and genuinely found it problematic to assume instead of relying on communication. Joe’s attitude makes conversation very hard with people very different from himself. It’s bad at engaging with other frameworks or points of view.

Asking multiple questions in a row amplifies the teacher/student dynamic. That increases the pressure on Joe to break out of it. Sue isn’t thinking about the social meaning of what she says, so she doesn’t control it, but Joe keeps looking for it and reacting to it. If Sue were to consider the social meaning of each of her statements before saying it, she’d find it much harder to converse. Like if asking clarifying questions is socially aggressive (both in a “you answer to me” sense and a “you were unclear” accusation sense), what should she do to fix it? You can’t just skip clarifying questions in general. And how many are needed is out of her control. Sue can try to minimize the number of clarifying questions Joe needs to ask her, but it’s up to Joe to minimize how many Sue needs to ask him.

Sue: I thought I did. I thought you were providing information about the state of your understanding.
Joe: I was asking for help.
Sue: But that isn’t what your words mean. Why don’t you use standard English to say what you mean?

Joe feels highly insulted. But from an objective perspective, it’s a reasonable thing to be wondering and talking about. Joe literally says X and then acts like he’d communicated Y. Why not just say what he means?

Joe: Why don’t you just put two and two together?

Joe doesn’t ask the question, asks a counter-question that’s socially insulting to Sue (it implies she’s being dumber than like a 4 year old who can’t add 2+2 correctly)

Sue: There are dozens of reasonable ways to proceed given the information you provided. That’s why I asked which one you were planning.

Even with such an insulting question that wasn’t meant to be answered, Sue still takes it at face value and tries to explain the answer.

Joe: Why won’t you just tell me what you meant?
Sue: You haven’t asked me to.

Again Sue immediately answers Joe’s question. She’s responsive and still operating with good will. She doesn’t care about who is reacting to who and how it looks for social power. And Joe’s tilted (since Sue’s first or second message in the example dialog) but Sue isn’t.

Joe: I just did.
Sue: When?
Joe: Right now. I just asked.
Sue: Quote?
Joe: “Why won’t you just tell me what you meant?”
Sue: I answered that question.

This is similar to how the dialog started. Things haven’t been sorted out. Even though Sue explained her perspective earlier, Joe still isn’t taking it into account and adjusting his communications and expectations. Sue, meanwhile, doesn’t know what to change to make things work better. She knows she’s logically right. She thinks Joe ought to try discussing in a way that isn’t logically wrong and that it’s easier to have conversations which build on that foundation. If Joe doesn’t have the skill to do that, he should try to learn it and ask for help instead of trying to have a conversation he’s incapable of handling productively.

Joe: After all this, I can’t get any answers out of you. Goodbye forever.

Objectively, Sue did answer all of Joe’s questions and was responsive to all direct, explicit requests. But Sue kept ignoring the social world meanings of both Joe’s and her own words.

In the social world, direct requests are often too pushy. People often phrase statements as questions to weaken them (“That is a dog?” which is expressing some uncertainty and making it easier for the person to disagree or confirm) and questions as statements (“I wonder if that’s a dog.” which is asking if the other person thinks it’s a dog).

Sue: I don’t understand why people come to discussion forums when they clearly don’t have a basic grasp of English and logic, and they also aren’t aiming to learn those things. What they’re doing will never work.
Joe: wtf! Leave me alone.
Sue: I did. I didn’t expect you to return. I’m just post morteming my discussion and hoping someone else may have insight. This has nothing to do with you.
Joe: You’re flaming me and attacking my reputation.
Sue: I’m just analyzing public evidence. If I made an error you can point it out. I’m not trying to flame; I’m aiming for accuracy. If you don’t want people to think about what you say, don’t post it. If you want to look good when analyzed, improve your skill level. Now leave me in peace. I’ve got several more thoughts to post.
Joe: You have no right! I didn’t sign up to be treated this way!
Sue: People thinking about and discussing things you said is exactly what you signed up for when you posted them.
Joe: [Leaves and holds a long-lasting grudge.]
Sue: When he said “You knew what I meant.” I was tolerant, lenient and generous by letting him change topics in the middle of my grammar point. Right as I was getting to a conclusion he ignored my question, seemingly because he knew he was about to lose the debate. I wasn’t rewarded for being so helpful. He didn’t reciprocate with good will towards me. Maybe I would have been better off repeating my question until he answered it, or pointing out that he wasn’t answering.
Sue: I don’t understand how, after a long conversation about how he hadn’t made a particular request, he still didn’t get it enough to realize he still hadn’t actually made that request. Which new statement did he think constituted a request to explain something to him?
Sue: Does anyone understand why most people are like this? I have such good will but it never seems to be enough. On my initiative, I asked about his plans, thinking perhaps to help with them. My reward was that he derailed the conversation. And as usual he doesn’t want to discuss what went wrong. He did begin the process of clearing up misunderstandings, but he was creating new misunderstandings faster than we could resolve stuff. Why won’t people just calm down and use English in a simple, correct way? Why do they rush through conversations and make huge messes and then give up?
Sue: What is life like for such a person? Do none of his conversations work? What happens when two Joes talk? Is it pure chaos or does it seem to work, somehow? Maybe if they both say and want sufficiently stereotyped things they can stay on the same page with almost no communication, merely by assuming stereotypes.
Sue: Why is no one else talking? Is this a dead forum? Does no one here care about trying to understand how to have rational conversations with typical people? Don’t you guys run into problems like these and want to figure out what to do about them? Or are you all similar to Joe and hiding it with your silence?
Joe: [Reads all this and intensifies his grudge.]

It could easily go worse than this more quickly. But I wanted to draw it out a bit and show the ongoing perspective clashes.

The other people on the forum are more attuned to the social world than Sue.

Sue doesn’t think that attuning to the social world more herself will actually result in intellectual progress on topics like science, epistemology, AGI, etc. People need to think objectively to contribute to those topics anyway.

Routinely, people’s social status is inaccurate in some way. Then the truth threatens the status. What could Sue do when talking to people who need to admit weakness and try to learn some stuff but who prefer to dishonestly pretend to be better than they are and who don’t want Sue to speak the truth? What’s to be done with such people besides detecting and ignoring them (and maybe criticizing them if they’re public figures)?

Lots of people try to debate sorta like Sue but they aren’t actually very good at logic themselves. Joe has experience with that. He’s dealt with people who are mostly focused on social, and screw up logic, but they do some Sue stuff as an act. He assumes Sue is like that too. He doesn’t actually have the skill to judge whether Sue got anything wrong or not. But Joe thinks he does. So what happens is Joe will misunderstand something, think Sue made a mistake, and conclude that Sue isn’t as logical as she thinks she is. From Joe’s pov, Sue seems to be about as good at logic as Joe or worse – because whenever she uses superior skill there’s a good chance that Joe doesn’t get it, and when Joe doesn’t get it there’s a good chance that he attributes the error to Sue. (These things are not a matter of random chance. But if you look at many similar events, you’ll find sometimes it goes one way and sometimes the other. And it’s too hard to analyze the detailed causality.)

Most real discussions have a lot of intentional social by both parties. This is a stylized example that turns up the contrast between characters. Actually what sort of social counts as “intentional” is a tricky question. Most of it is automated in childhood. Most social by adults is done without conscious intention at the time they do it. So “I wasn’t trying to social you” is no defense – in the past you learned how to do that kind of social to people and practiced it until it was second nature. You’re responsible for that! This explains part of why people have trouble turning it off. And it explains why people assume that most social is intentional in the sense of there was an intent in the past when the person learned to do it. They aren’t doing it now randomly or accidentally. The main excuse is “autism” which is the most standard term for a person who didn’t learn, practice and automate a bunch of social dynamics (or somehow managed to stop and change), so then they might actually honestly not be playing the social game.

This is all complicated by the social rules of evidence. Lots of social dynamics are deniable even when everyone knows they were done on purpose. You did them right and people approve, so you’re allowed to get away with them rather than be called out for the social manipulations (if the call out is sufficiently socially savvy it can often work, but just a blunt, direct logic-focused callout doesn’t work). So it’s common that everyone knows social happened and it wasn’t an accident, but everyone pretends not to know.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (23)

Analyzing Quotes Objectively and Socially

stucchio and Mason

stucchio retweeted Mason writing:

"Everything can be free if we fire the people who stop you from stealing stuff" is apparently considered an NPR-worthy political innovation now, rather than the kind of brain fart an undergrad might mumble as they come to from major dental work https://twitter.com/_natalieescobar/status/1299018604327907328

There’s no substantial objective-world content here. Basically “I disagree with whatever is the actual thing behind my straw man characterization”. There’s no topical argument. It’s ~all social posturing. It’s making assertions about who is dumb and who should be associated with what group (and, by implication, with the social status of that group). NPR-worthy, brain fart, undergrad, mumble and being groggy from strong drugs are all social-meaning-charged things to bring up. The overall point is to attack the social status of NPR by associating it with low status stuff. Generally smart people like stuchhio (who remains on the small list of people whose tweets I read – I actually have a pretty high opinion of of him) approve of that tribalist social-political messaging enough to retweet it.

Yudkowsky

Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote on Less Wrong (no link because, contrary to what he says, someone did make the page inaccessible. I have documentation though.):

Post removed from main and discussion on grounds that I've never seen anything voted down that far before. Page will still be accessible to those who know the address.

The context is my 2011 LW post “The Conjunction Fallacy Does Not Exist”.

In RAZ, Yudkowsky repeatedly brings up subculture affiliations he has. He read lots of sci fi. He read 1984. He read Feynman. He also refers to “traditional rationality” which Feynman is a leader of. (Yudkowsky presents several of his ideas as improvements on traditional rationality. I think some of them are good points.) Feynman gets particular emphasis. I think he got some of his fans via this sort of subculture membership signaling and by referencing stuff they like.

I bring this up because Feynman has a book title "What Do You Care What Other People Think?": Further Adventures of a Curious Character. This is the sequel to the better known "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious Character.

Yudkowsky evidently does care what people think and has provided no indication that he’s aware that he’s contradicting one of his heroes, Feynman. He certainly doesn’t provide counter arguments to Feynman.

Downvotes are communications about what people think. Downvotes indicate dislike. They are not arguments. They aren’t reasons it’s bad. They’re just opinions. They’re like conclusions or assertions. Yudkowsky openly presents himself as taking action because of what people think. It’s also basically just openly saying “I use power to suppress unpopular ideas”. Yudkowsky also gave no argument himself, nor did he endorse/cite/link any argument he agreed with about the topic.

Yudkowsky is actually reasonably insightful about social hierarchies elsewhere, btw. But this quote shows that, in some major way, he doesn’t understand rationality and social dynamics.

Replies to my “Chains, Bottlenecks and Optimization”

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/Ze6PqJK2jnwnhcpnb/chains-bottlenecks-and-optimization

Dagon

I think I've given away over 20 copies of _The Goal_ by Goldratt, and recommended it to coworkers hundreds of times.

Objective meaning: I took the specified actions.

Social meaning: I like Goldratt. I’m aligned with him and his tribe. I have known about him for a long time and might merit early adopter credit. Your post didn’t teach me anything. Also, I’m a leader who takes initiative to influence my more sheep-like coworkers. I’m also rich enough to give away 20+ books.

Thanks for the chance to recommend it again - it's much more approachable than _Theory of Constraints_, and is more entertaining, while still conveying enough about his worldview to let you decide if you want the further precision and examples in his other books.

Objective meaning: I recommend The Goal.

Social meaning: I’m an expert judge of which Goldratt books to recommend to people, in what order, for what reasons. Although I’m so clever that I find The Goal a bit shallow, I think it’s good for other people who need to be kept entertained and it has enough serious content for them to get an introduction from. Then they can consider if they are up to the challenge of becoming wise like me, via further study, or not.

This is actually ridiculous. The Goal is the best known Goldratt book, it’s his best seller, it’s meant to be read first, and this is well known. Dagon is pretending to be providing expert judgment, but isn’t providing insight. And The Goal has tons of depth and content, and Dagon is slandering the book by condescending to it in this way. By bringing up Theory of Constraints, Dagon is signaling he reads and values less popular, less entertaining, less approachable non-novel Goldratt books.

It's important to recognize the limits of the chain metaphor - there is variance/uncertainty in the strength of a link (or capacity of a production step), and variance/uncertainty in alternate support for ideas (or alternate production paths).

Objective meaning (up to the dash): Goldratt’s chain idea, which is a major part of your post, is limited.

Social meaning (up to the dash): I’ve surpassed Goldratt and can look down on his stuff as limited. You’re a naive Goldratt newbie who is accepting whatever he says instead of going beyond Goldratt. Also calling chains a “metaphor” instead of “model” is a subtle attack to lower status. Metaphors aren’t heavyweight rationality (while models are, and it actually is a model). Also Dagon is implying that I failed to recognize limits that I should have recognized.

Objective meaning continued: There’s some sort of attempt at an argument here but it doesn’t actually make sense. Saying there is variance in two places is not a limitation of the chain model.

Social meaning continued: saying a bunch of overly wordy stuff that looks technical is bluffing and pretending he’s arguing seriously. Most people won’t know the difference.

Most real-world situations are more of a mesh or a circuit than a linear chain, and the analysis of bottlenecks and risks is a fun multidimensional calculation of forces applies and propagated through multiple links.

Objective meaning: Chains are wrong in most real world situations because those situations are meshes or circuits [both terms undefined]. No details are given about how he knows what’s common in real world situations. And he’s contradicting Goldratt who actually did argue his case and know math. (I also know more than enough math so far and Dagon never continued with enough substance to potentially strain either of our math skills sets).

Social meaning: I have fun doing multidimensional calculations. I’m better than you. If you knew math so well that it’s a fun game to you, maybe you could keep up with me. But if you could do that, you wouldn’t have written the post you wrote.

It’s screwy how Dagon presents himself as a Goldratt superfan expert and then immediately attacks Goldratt’s ideas.

Note: Dagon stopped replying without explanation shortly after this, even though he’d said how super interested in Goldratt stuff he is.

Donald Hobson

I think that ideas can have a bottleneck effect, but that isn't the only effect. Some ideas have disjunctive justifications.

Objective meaning: bottlenecks come up sometimes but not always. [No arguments about how often they come up, how important they are, etc.]

Social meaning: You neglected disjunctions and didn’t see the whole picture. I often run into people who don’t know fancy concepts like “disjunction”.

Note: Disjunction just means “or” and isn’t something that Goldratt or I had failed to consider.

Hobson then follows up with some math, socially implying that the problem is I’m not technical enough and if only I knew some math I’d have reached different conclusions. He postures about how clever he is and brings up resistors and science as brags.

I responded, including with math, and then Hobson did not respond.

TAG

What does that even mean?

Objective meaning: I don’t understand what you wrote.

Social meaning: You’re not making sense.

He did give more info about what his question was after this. But he led with this, on purpose. The “even” is a social attack – that word isn’t there to help with any objective meaning. It’s there to socially communicate that I’m surprisingly incoherent. It’d be a subtle social attack even without the “even”. He didn’t respond when I answered his question.

abramdemski

There is another case which your argument neglects, which can make weakest-link reasoning highly inaccurate, and which is less of a special case than a tie in link-strength.

Objective meaning: The argument in the OP is incomplete.

Social meaning: You missed something huge, which is not a special case, so your reasoning is highly inaccurate.

The way you are reasoning about systems of interconnected ideas is conjunctive: every individual thing needs to be true.

Objective meaning: Chain links have an “and” relationship.

Social meaning: You lack a basic understanding of the stuff you just said, so I’ll have to start really basic to try to educate you.

But some things are disjunctive: some one thing needs to be true.

Objective meaning: “or” exists. [no statement yet about how this is relevant]

Social meaning: You’re wrong because you’re an ignorant novice.

(Of course there are even more exotic logical connectives, such as implication or XOR, which are also used in everyday reasoning. But for now it will do to consider only conjunction and disjunction.)

Objective meaning: Other logic operators exist [no statement yet about how this is relevant].

Social meaning: I know about this like XOR, but you’re a beginner who doesn’t. I’ll let you save face a little by calling it “exotic”, but actually, in the eyes of everyone knowledgeable here, I’m insulting you by suggesting that for you XOR is exotic.

Note: He’s wrong, I know what XOR is (let alone OR). So did Goldratt. XOR is actually easy for me, and I’ve used it a lot and done much more advanced things too. He assumed I didn’t in order to socially attack me. He didn’t have adequate evidence to reach the conclusion that he reached; but by reaching it and speaking condescendingly, he implied that there was adequate evidence to judge me as an ignorant fool.

Perhaps the excess accuracy in probability theory makes it more powerful than necessary to do its job? Perhaps this helps it deal with variance? Perhaps it helps the idea apply for other jobs than the one it was meant for?

Objective meaning: Bringing up possibilities he thinks are worth considering.

Social meaning: Flaming me with some rather thin plausible deniability.

I skipped the middle of his post btw, which had other bad stuff.

johnswentworth

I really like what this post is trying to do. The idea is a valuable one. But this explanation could use some work - not just because inferential distances are large, but because the presentation itself is too abstract to clearly communicate the intended point. In particular, I'd strongly recommend walking through at least 2-3 concrete examples of bottlenecks in ideas.

This is an apparently friendly reply but he was lying. I wrote examples but he wouldn’t speak again.

There are hints in this text that he actually dislikes me and is being condescending, and that the praise in the first two sentences is fake. You can see some condescension in the post, e.g. in how he sets himself up like a mentor telling me what to do (and note the unnecessary “strongly” before “recommend”. And how does he know the idea is valuable when it’s not clearly communicated? And his denial re inferential distance is actually both unreasonable and aggressive. The “too abstract” and “could use some work” are also social attacks, and the “at least 2-3” is a social attack (it means do a lot) with a confused objective meaning (if you’re saying do >= X, why specify X as a range? you only need one number.)

The objective world meaning is roughly that he’s helping with some presentation and communication issues and wants a discussion of the great ideas. But it turns out, as we see from his following behavior, that wasn’t true. (Probably. Maybe he didn’t follow up for some other reason like he died of COVID. Well not that because you can check his posting history and see he’s still posting in other topics. But maybe he has Alzheimer’s and he forgot, and he knows that’s a risk so he keeps notes about stuff he wants to follow up on, but he had an iCloud syncing error and the note got deleted without him realizing it. There are other stories that I don’t have enough information to rule out, but I do have broad societal information about them being uncommon, and there are patterns across the behavior of many people.)

MakoYass

I posted in comments on different Less Wrong thread:

curi:

Are you interested in extended discussion about this, with a goal of reaching some conclusions about CR/LW differences, or do you know anyone who is?

MakoYass:

I am evidently interested in discussing it, but I am probably not the best person for it.

Objective meaning: I am interested. My answer to your question is “yes”. I have agreed to try to have a discussion, if you want to. However, be warned that I’m not very good at this.

Social meaning: The answer to your question is “no”. I won’t discuss with you. However, I’m not OK with being declared uninterested in this topic. I love this topic. How dare you even question my interest when you have evidence (“evidently”) that I am interested, which consists of me having posted about it. I’d have been dumb to post about something I’m not interested in, and you were an asshole to suggest I might be dumb like that.

Actual result: I replied in a friendly, accessible way attempting to begin a conversation, but he did not respond.

Concluding Thoughts

Conversations don’t go well when a substantial portion of what people say has a hostile (or even just significantly different) social (double) meaning.

It’s much worse when the social meaning is the primary thing people are talking about, as in all the LW replies I got above. It’s hard to get discussions where the objective meanings are more emphasized than the social ones. And all the replies I quoted re my Chains and Bottlenecks post were top level replies to my impersonal article. I hadn’t said anything to personally offend any of those people, but they all responded with social nastiness. (Those were all the top level replies. There were no decent ones.) Also it was my first post back after 3 years, so this wasn’t carrying over from prior discussion (afaik – possibly some of them were around years ago and remembered me. I know some people do remember me but they mentioned it. Actually TAG said later, elsewhere, to someone else, that he knew about me from being on unspecified Critical Rationalist forums in the past).

Even if you’re aware of social meanings, there are important objective meanings which are quite hard to say without getting offensive social meaning. This comes up with talking about errors people make, especially ones that reveal significant weaknesses in their knowledge. Talking objectively about methodology errors and what to do about them can also be highly offensive socially. Also objective, argued judgments of how good things are can be socially offensive, even if correct (actually it’s often worse if it’s correct and high quality – the harder to plausibly argue back, the worse it can be for the guy who’s wrong).

The main point was to give examples of how the same sentence can be read with an objective and a social meaning. This is what most discussions on rationalist forums where explicit knowledge of social status hierarchies is common look like to me. It comes up a fair amount on my own forums too (less often than at LW, but it’s a pretty big problem IMO).

Note: The examples in this post are not representative of the full spectrum of social behaviors. One of the many things missing is needy/chasing/reactive behavior where people signal their own low social status (low relative to the person they’re trying to please). Also, I could go into more detail on any particular example people want to discuss (this post isn’t meant as giving all the info/analysis, it’s a hybrid between some summary and some detail).


Update: Adding (on same day as original) a few things I forgot to say.

Audiences pick up on some of the social meanings (which ones, and how they see them, varies by person). They see you answer and not answer things. They think some should be answered and some are ignorable. They take some things as social answers that aren’t intended to be. They sometimes ignore literal/objective meanings of things. They judge. It affects audience reactions. And the perception of audience reactions affects what the actual participants do and say (including when they stop talking without explanation).

The people quoted could do less social meaning. They’re all amplifying the social. There’s some design there; it’s not an accident. It’s not that hard to be less social. But even if you try, it’s very hard to avoid any problematic social meanings, especially when you consider that different audience members will read stuff differently, according to different background knowledge, different assumptions about context, different misreadings and skipped words, etc.


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Baxter Praises Slavery

In the sci-fi novel Ring, Stephen Baxter wrote (my emphasis):

Lieserl had learned about the Qax. The Qax had originated as clusters of turbulent cells in the seas of a young planet. Because there were so few of them the Qax weren't naturally warlike -- individual life was far too precious to them. They were natural traders; the Qax worked with each other like independent corporations, in perfect competition. They had occupied Earth simply because it was so easy -- because they could. The only law governing the squabbling junior races of the Galaxy was, Lieserl realized, the iron rule of economics. The Qax enslaved mankind simply because it was an economically valid proposition. They had to learn the techniques of oppression from humans themselves. Fortunately for the Qax, human history wasn't short of object lessons.

This is explicitly claiming that slavery is economically beneficial, just like the 1619 project claims. There's something awful about how many people are fans of slavery. Immoral but practical!? No, it's immoral and impractical. Free trade is better at creating wealth. These people never read Mises or offer actual economic arguments.

People produce more (and do better thinking, which leads to e.g. scientific progress) when they aren't slaves or oppressed. And free trade avoids wasting resources on task masters, whips, chains, lasting resentment decades later, etc.

Baxter, by contrast, thinks that slavery is so great that it's worth learning how to oppress people in order to enslave them, even though all you knew how to do before was trade, and you'd already gotten very rich and powerful by trade.

BTW, in the story, the Qax ended up much worse off as a result of oppressing humanity. Lieserl is reviewing history and knows that outcome. Baxter's own story is a counter-example to his claim.

PS I liked the book. This was just one minor part.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

Forum Moderation Needs Anti-Bias Policies

Well-Kept Gardens Die By Pacifism by Eliezer Yudkowsky:

Good online communities die primarily by refusing to defend themselves.

Somewhere in the vastness of the Internet, it is happening even now. It was once a well-kept garden of intelligent discussion, where knowledgeable and interested folk came, attracted by the high quality of speech they saw ongoing. But into this garden comes a fool, and the level of discussion drops a little—or more than a little, if the fool is very prolific in their posting. (It is worse if the fool is just articulate enough that the former inhabitants of the garden feel obliged to respond, and correct misapprehensions—for then the fool dominates conversations.)

And what if you’re wrong about who the fools are?

What if you’re biased?

Where are the error correction mechanisms? Where are the objective tests to check that you aren’t screwing up?

Where’s the transparency? The rule of law, not rule of man? Where are the checks and balances?

If all you’ve got (as the moderator) is “I trust my judgment” then you’re just like everyone else, including the fool.

If you add some methods to try to have good judgment and try not to be biased … that’s not enough. Trying really hard, but ultimately trusting yourself and just going by what makes sense to you … is not a good enough defense against bias. Bias is powerful enough to beat that.

If fundamentally you’re just assuming your biases are pretty small and manageable, you are a fool. We are all alike in our infinite ignorance. We’re at the beginning of infinity. We’re so lost and confused in so many ways. We have big errors. Really big errors. Some are society-wide. And when we suppress everything that seems really quite wrong to us, what we’re doing is suppressing outliers. Yeah negative outliers are more common than positive outliers. It’s easier to be wrong than right. But how do you avoid suppressing positive outliers?

There are mechanisms you can put in place to make it harder to act on whim, bias, irrationality, etc.

E.g. you can explain why you take moderator actions. And you can field questions about your actions and reply to criticism. You could reply to all such things, plus followups. If you won’t do that, that’s a cutoff where you’re blocking error correction. And what have you done to prevent this cutoff from protecting the biases you may have?

Yes defense mechanisms are needed. But why can’t they be efficient and reusable ways to address the arguments of everyone, including fools? And a resilient forum where people think for themselves about what to focus attention on. If people want curation, fine, no problem, post curated selections somewhere – and leave the open forum also in existence. Post weekly favorites or whatever for the readers who don’t want to find the good stuff themselves. The curated view on the forum doesn’t have to be the only view. You can have an open public space, and a walled garden, both. Or dozens of competing walled gardens with different curators (thought only a few would probably have the vast majority of the popularity). But that’s dangerous. The curators may be biased. They may curate mostly by social status, for example. They may not know they do that. They may not understand some of their own systematic biases.

You have to fundamentally stop assuming you’re right or probably right and take seriously that you need error correction mechanisms to keep yourself honest. You can’t trust your own integrity. Don’t bet your life or your forum on your own integrity.

Scientists don’t bet science on their own integrity. Integrity helps. Try to have it. But science isn’t like “ok well do your best with the experiment and if you have integrity it should work out ok”. Instead experiments are designed to work out ok even if the experimenters can’t be trusted. The mechanisms don’t have unlimited resilience. Egregious scientific fraud has to get caught by outsiders. The scientific method makes that easier to catch. It’s harder to fake your experiments when there are procedures to follow, documentation to provide, etc. Most people are trying to cheat without full conscious intention though, so that’s easier to deal with. Having a little bit of integrity is really helpful compared to none. And anti-bias mechanisms with transparency and stuff do put a leash on the bad faith cheaters.

Double blind makes it harder to cheat even if you want to. You can be really biased, and your bias can control you, but if you follow the rules of double blind then it’s much harder for you to bias the results.

Control groups don’t care if you’re biased. That’s a system which is hard to cheat without extreme blatantness like skipping the control group entirely and using fabricated data. And it’s hard to do that because of transparency. And even if you get away with it, your results won’t replicate.

You’re expected to write about sources of error. If you don’t, people will write them for you and be more wary of your claims. If you do, people will consider how severe the issues are. If you write them but try to bias them, you’ll have a harder time convincing people who don’t share your biases. And when you leave stuff out, people can notice and then it’s harder for you to answer critics by claiming you totally knew about that and took it into account already.

Even when everyone shares biases, methods like “make a hypotheses. write it down. plan an experiment to test it. write down what results will agree with or disagree with the hypotheses. test it. compare the results to the predictions.” are capable of correcting everyone. That kind of method makes it way harder to fool yourself. If you skip steps like writing things down as you go along, then it’s much easier to fool yourself.

Forums need the same thing. Write down rules in advance. Make the rules totally predictable so people can know in advance what violates them or not. Don’t rely on potentially-biased judgment.

And when you must use judgment at a forum, be like a damn scientist, publish results, talk about sources of error, answer your critics, answer all the questions and doubts, etc. Take that seriously. Discuss the matter to conclusion. At least don’t be and stay wrong if anyone in your community knows you’re wrong and will explain it.

If you can’t resolve discussions, fix that and consider that maybe you’re a bit of a fool. If you don’t know how to get to conclusions with your critics, or manage those discussions without just ignoring arguments without answering, you need better systems and shouldn’t be so high and mighty to proclaim who is a fool.

Ideally, let the fool defend himself, too, Don’t just let others defend him. Topic-limit him during that discussion if you must so he can’t participate in other discussions until it’s resolved.


Also in the article, EY says academia is a walled garden that keeps the fools out, so that’s why ppl are naive and don’t realize they need censors. And I’m like: Yeah that is exactly what academia is and it’s fucking awful there. And academia’s walls are 99% based on social status.

What is your forum doing to prevent social status bias from deciding who the fools are? What explicit policies does it have that could actually work in case that you, the moderators, are social status biased?

EY’s answer is basically “if the mods suck, the forum is fucked”. Just find other, better people to rule. What an awful answer. Seriously that’s his position:

Any community that really needs to question its moderators, that really seriously has abusive moderators, is probably not worth saving.

No! You need good systems, not sinless, unbiased moderators (nor mediocre moderators who aren’t all that bad and you just put up with their errors). It’s like: dear God we’re not going to get unbiased politicians; we need a government system that works anyway. Forums are the same thing. Write out laws in advance. Make new laws with a process. Anyone who doesn’t violate a law in a crystal clear way gets away with it. etc. Otherwise the moderators will have some sort of biases – doesn’t everyone? – and they’re going to oppress the people with other biases who are such a source of intellectual diversity. Broaden your horizons instead of getting rid of all your dissidents and misfits and outliers. God damn you, “overcoming bias” you say?

We know a lot about how to deal with bias, abuse, unfairness, etc. from our legal system and from science. Then people don’t apply those lessons when they have power over a forum.

I have seen rationalist communities die because they trusted their moderators too little.

Here—you must trust yourselves.

You don’t overcome your biases by trusting yourself.

Don’t be a skeptic. Don’t never reach any conclusions or judgments. Don’t be scared to act in your life. But don’t trust your moderation to be unbiased. Have layers and layers of safety valves that provide different opportunities for you to be corrected if you’re wrong or biased. Never trust yourself such that you don’t think you need any mechanisms to keep you honest.


The scientific method makes it harder to be wrong and stay wrong. We need stuff like that for running forums too.

The scientific method does not consider it adequate for scientists to read about how to be good scientists, think about it, discuss it, do their best, and trust themselves. That would be ridiculous.

And the laws have lots of protection against the errors and biases of the individuals who enforce them. E.g. police, judge, jury and executioner are all different people. At forums they’re usually all the same people, which means you need even more safety mechanisms of other types. And we write out clear, objective laws in advance – no retroactive crimes. And there are appeals. And defendants have rights and privileges that the judges have to respect, and that really is enforced in various ways. And we try to limit the discretion of judges to be biased or play favorites by making the law really clear about what they should do. We don’t do that perfectly but we try and it helps. And when we make laws, they are (or at least should be) pretty generic and based on general principles instead of targeting specific individuals or small groups – we want our laws to be relevant for future generations and different societal situations, rather than overly specific to deal some current events.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (20)

Analyzing Blackmail Being Illegal

Highlights from the Blackmail Debate (Robin Hanson vs Zvi Mowshowitz) by Ben Pace:

Here's my overview of their positions.

  • Zvi thinks that blackmail would incentivize a whole host of terrible actions, such as trying to trick people into norm violation, and people becoming intensely secretive even around their closest friends and family.
  • Robin thinks that blackmail is a weird rule, where you cannot ask for money to keep a secret, but the other person is allowed to offer it (e.g. people can offer you money if you sign an NDAs). This makes no sense and Robin is looking for any clear reason why making one side of this deal should be illegal.

Thoughts Before Reading More of the Post

there are practical problems. e.g. blackmailers may make additional demands later, and it’s hard to hold them to the original deal b/c if you bring up the deal for enforcement then your secret comes out

and ppl actively trying to get blackmail material is a problem, as Zvi says

NDAs are done preemptively which is different. you ask someone to agree to keep X secret as a condition of sharing X with him.

blackmail is someone who already knows X in advance and is now negotiating for potential secrecy.

NDAs are commonly signed with no payment, or at least no direct payment for them (required with employment)

ppl sign NDAs b/c they want access to the info b/c they have an actual productive purpose for using that info themselves – often a business purpose like providing consulting advice about it or developing software related to it.

blackmailers commonly have no productive uses of the info.
their choices are roughly do nothing or hurt someone.

in cases where the blackmailer got the info legally and it isn’t e.g. copyrighted, and he isn’t lying (no fraud), it’s unclear where the initiation of force is if he shares it with the world. and if that’s not force, it’s hard to see how offering not to do it for money would be force.

it’s easy to see why this sort of thing is bad for society, at least in the sorts of scenarios typically associated with blackmail.

let’s consider an example. i see you in public with a woman. you kiss. i know you’re married. i don’t take any photos. i just witness it and then tell you that i’m going to (accurately and honestly) tell your wife unless you pay me $1000. if you pay once, i contractually agree to never use this again, even if I see you with that woman again. (i can ask for more money if i catch you with a different woman, though.)

i tried to keep it simple by having everything occur in public and avoiding photos/recordings. and i wouldn’t exaggerate to your wife, and you don’t think i would, so there isn’t an issue of fraud (tricking her, or you getting the impression that i’m threatening to say anything untrue or misleading to her).

damages ought to be big – much more than $1000 – if i tell your wife anyway or carelessly tell other people who spread the news. this can be a practical problem if i’m not wealthy enough to recover significant damages from. blackmailers are often hard to sue if they break contract. but in terms of principles, the contract excludes asking for additional payments or screwing you over anyway, and if i do that i’m now clearly guilty of initiating force.

why is this such a problem? because you’re doing something you don’t want your wife to know about. you’re lying to your wife and you want to get away with it. maybe we should blame you for the problematic situation, not me. if i keep my mouth shut, we still don’t get an OK situation. getting a good situation requires you changing your actions.

i think that’s a known idea. roughly: don’t do stuff that you could be blackmailed for.

in other words, if it’s worth $10,000 to you for no one to know you’re cheating on your wife, then don’t kiss other women in public, unless you don’t mind paying. (and if 50 people see you, and realize what’s going on, then you’re not going to be able to pay enough money to them all while staying under the limit of what the secret is worth to you; you’ll just have to accept you’re caught).

what’s hard about avoiding blackmailable actions?

there are lots of reasonable choices which society disapproves of. desire for privacy is often ok. this can happen even if you don’t lie to anyone. a simple example is you’re gay and don’t want people to know, though that generally involves some lying.

some things look bad but are ok if explained. but if the public is told, you won’t get a chance to immediately explain to everyone as soon as they get the info. e.g. maybe there is a photo of you with a young child. people might believe you’re a pedophile when actually you’re volunteering for the Big Brother charity. the photo is misleading because you were roleplaying an abduction scenario to help educate him. the photographer doesn’t even known, but instead of telling the public he goes to ask you for money … wait that’s not ok, he shouldn’t be asking for money to help cover up what he believes to be a crime. so let’s make the scenario milder, you’re just hugging him … well either that’s innocent or evidence of a crime so from either pov he shouldn’t be asking you for money (either he thinks it was fine so what is his threat exactly … to mislead the public? – or he thinks it suggests a crime so he shouldn’t cover it up).

There’s no positive duty to report crimes, but getting into a financial relationship to hide a crime (or what you think may be a crime) sounds rightly illegal. That’s like being hired by the criminal as a sort of accomplice. Note: It’s still bad if you’re paid with favors (services) instead of money.

OK so I want a scenario where it’s merely embarrassing, so being paid to help you hide it is ok. And the person being blackmailed hasn’t lied to anyone or done anything that’s actually bad. So I misjudge you as being a friend and tell you about my BDSM sex with my wife which I don’t want the public to know about. I didn’t think you were contractually bound not to tell; I just thought you were nice. I haven’t lied to the public about my sex life; I’ve just kept it private.

So you say you’ll post it on your blog unless I give you $100. You’d be doing this for the sole purpose of hurting me. But it seems to be within your rights to post it. And if it is, what’s wrong with offering a trade where you don’t do it in exchange for $100?

Normally trade is value for value. It’s supposed to be mutual benefit. Refraining from hurting me isn’t a service in the usual sense.

We could try to compare it to: I offer my neighbors $100 not to play music this weekend (it’s fine with headphones, I just don’t want my party disrupted). So now i’m paying for them not to do something. Why? Well they often play music with speakers. It’s something they gain value from. I want them to give it up so I compensate them.

We can imagine the reverse scenario in two ways. First, the neighbors come to me and say “I heard you have a party this weekend. We know our music often annoys you. We’ll be quiet all weekend for $100 if you want. Otherwise we’ll act normally.” Now compare this to scenario 2: The neighbors are normally quiet, hear about the party, and come say they will be louder than usual, just to disrupt your party, unless you pay $100 for quiet.

I think this is important. Paying someone to change their usual behavior and refrain from something is fine. The source of that behavior was to live their own life, not to hurt you. But if they are threatening to do a behavior for the purpose of hurting you, not to improve their own life, then something bad is going on. This is kinda hard for law to deal with though – it’s hard for courts to judge they aren’t playing loud music as a new hobby or whatever – though it becomes easier to judge if they approach you with the threat to play loud music unless you pay.

The purpose of political rights is to enable you to live your own life and have a good life. It’s not intended to give you any right to hurt others for no benefit to yourself (or to threaten to do that in order to demand money).

So I should reexamine first principles. Basically I have a right to control my body and, by extension, my property. I have freedom to live my life. But I don’t get to interfere with others. Interfering with other people’s body or property is initiation of force. In some cases, it’s hard to tell what counts as interference. Light and sound from my activities on my land often find their way onto my neighbor’s land and could annoy him (or could leak information that I don’t want him to have – and my first guess is I should need to take only reasonable precautions, and if he buys super high tech spying equipment then he’s doing something wrong despite only using it on the physical particles on his property). Tradition and law have to deal with stuff like sharing rivers, noise pollution, adding a tall building on my property that could block the view from your house, ugly stuff on my property being visible from your property, etc.

Part of how we deal with these things is by good faith and good will, not just by strictly defining what is force. It’s too hard to get along purely by saying what is force or not. That’s not enough to build up a good society. You need people who want to get along and mostly try to avoid conflict. Blackmail violates that.

Since blackmail is unnecessary to pursuing positive values in your own life, and undermines and attacks social harmony, I think it’s reasonable to make it illegal. This may change in the future when everything in public is getting recorded and posted online automatically and you’ll just need to be more careful in public or figure out some other way to deal with the situation, but for now it’s good that people generally don’t have to be too scared while in public (or while on their own property but inadvertently sending quite a bit of information (information from a physics perspective) off their property because they lack adequate technology to control that).

I do think we should be very careful about legitimizing laws that go beyond prohibiting force (including fraud and threat). The main danger of additional laws is they can restrict people’s freedom to have a good life, which this one doesn’t because I think the defining feature of blackmail is threatening to do something that isn’t part of pursuing your own values, it’s something you’d do just to hurt others. Laws against malice and tricky and dangerous in general but this looks OK to me. Trade should be for mutual benefit, not for “i found a way to harm you that doesn’t count as force; pay me not to do it”.

But fundamentally rights have a positive purpose to enable a good life and to resolve conflicts peacefully. The fundamental thing isn’t to ban certain actions like force. That’s a means to an end. So if someone finds a way to hurt people that isn’t banned (and IRL it is banned, but it isn’t clearly banned by the non-aggression principle), that looks to me like finding a hole in the rules while going against the purpose of the rules. Whereas if I thought the NAP (non-aggression principle, aka don’t initiate force) was primary, then I might think “technically doesn’t violate NAP, therefore good”. But I don’t see the NAP as a source of values or morality itself, directly.

I do think this merits more thought and analysis. I’m not fully satisfied yet. But I might be done anyway. This isn’t my main field and I have other things to do. Now I’ll read the debate highlights and see if I have any reason to change my mind already.

Thoughts After Reading the Rest of the Post

Hanson says legalizing blackmail could reduce affairs. So I guess the positive value of blackmail, in some cases, is trying to clean up society. I want to out people who cheat on their spouses to make a better world. That’s part of pursuing my values.

But if that’s really what I want, I can just do it. I wouldn’t be like “pay me to let you keep cheating on your wife”. I’d just get the info and share it. I’d try to get paid by the tabloids or by people who also value cleaning up the sexual morals of society.

So Hanson’s first claim, under “What's good about blackmail”, hasn’t changed my mind/analysis.

Zvi Mowshowitz: I believe that most of the time, most people are not, when they seek information, primarily looking to harm someone. They're primarily looking to benefit themselves, or benefit their friends or their allies in some way. Hurting someone else is mostly a side effect.

Robin Hanson: That's also true with blackmail. The main effect is the money, not the hurt. Their main motivation is to get the compensation.

This part stood out to me because it’s similar to some stuff I was talking about. I think seeking out and publishing info to pursue your own values is fine, but I take issue with doing it in order to threaten to harm someone. If you really want the info because you value it, try to get paid by other people who value it, rather than getting paid to hide the info that you value being public.

At the end they poll the audience re changing their mind. What about me? My initial opinion was blackmail sounds bad but I’m not that sure because it’s not clear how it initiates force. My updated opinion is that, due to my own analysis, I’m more confident that blackmail should be (stay) illegal. But if it came up in my life I’d want to do more analysis before acting (unless I didn’t have time to analyze, in which case I’d view blackmailing as bad and e.g. refrain from blackmailing someone even if I had no fear of getting in legal trouble for doing it).


View this post at Less Wrong.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (20)

Social Dynamics Discussion Highlights

This post contains highlights from my discussion at The Law of Least Effort Contributes to the Conjunction Fallacy on Less Wrong. The highlights are all about social dynamics.


I view LoLE [Law of Least Effort] as related to some other concepts such as reactivity and chasing. Chasing others (like seeking their attention) is low status, and reacting to others (more than they're reacting to you) is low status. Chasing and reacting are both types of effort. They don't strike me as privacy related. However, for LoLE only the appearance of effort counts (Chase's version), so to some approximation that means public effort, so you could connect it to privacy that way.


I think basically some effort isn't counted as effort. If you like doing it, it's not real work. Plus if it's hidden effort, it usually can't be entered into evidence in the court of public opinion, so it doesn't count. But my current understanding is that if 1) it counts as effort/work; and 2) you're socially allowed to bring it up then it lowers status. I see privacy as an important thing helping control (2) but effort itself, under those two conditions, as the thing seen as undesirable, bad, something you're presumed to try to avoid (so it's evidence of failure or lack of power, resources, helpers, etc), etc.


Maybe another important thing is how your work is.... oriented. I mean, are you doing X to impress someone specific (which would signal lower status), or are you doing X to impress people in general but each of them individually is unimportant? A woman doing her make-up, a man in the gym, a professor recording their lesson... is okay if they do it for the "world in general"; but if you learned they are actually doing all this work to impress one specific person, that would kinda devalue it. This is also related to optionality: is the professor required to make the video? is the make-up required for the woman's job?

You can also orient your work to a group, e.g. a subculture. As long as its a large enough group, this rounds to orienting to the world in general.

I think orienting to a single person can be OK if 1) it's reciprocated; and 2) they are high enough status. E.g. if I started making YouTube videos exclusively to impress Kanye West, that's bad if he ignores me, but looks good for me if he responds regularly (that'd put me as clearly lower status than him, but still high in society overall). Note that more realistically my videos would also oriented to Kanye fans, not just Kanye personally, and that's a large enough group for it to be OK.


Do the PUAs really have a good model of an average human, or just a good model of a drunk woman who came to a nightclub wanting to get laid?

PUAs have evidence of efficacy. The best is hidden camera footage. The best footage that I’m aware of, in terms of confidence the girls aren’t actors, is Mystery’s VH1 show and the Cajun on Keys to the VIP. I believe RSD doesn’t use actors either and they have a lot of footage. I know some others have been caught faking footage.

My trusted friend bootcamped with Mystery and provided me with eyewitness accounts similar to various video footage. My friend also learned and used PUA successfully, experienced it working for him in varied situations … and avoids talking about PUA in public. He also observed other high profile PUAs in action IRL.

Some PUAs do daygame and other venues, not just nightclubs/parties. They have found the same general social principles apply, but adjustments are needed like lower energy approaches. Mystery, who learned nightclub style PUA initially, taught daygame on at least one episode of his TV show and his students quickly had some success.

PUAs have also demonstrated they’re effective at dealing with males. They can approach mixed-gender sets and befriend or tool the males. They’ve also shown effectiveness at befriending females who aren’t their target. Also standard PUA training advice is to approach 100 people on the street and talk with them. Learning how to have smalltalk conversations with anyone helps people be better PUAs, and also people who get good at PUA become more successful at those street conversations than they used to be.

I think these PUA Field Reports are mostly real stories, not lies. Narrator bias/misunderstandings and minor exaggerations are common. I think they’re overall more reliable than posts on r/relationships or r/AmITheAsshole, which I think also do provide useful evidence about what the world is like.

There are also notable points of convergence, e.g. Feynman told a story ("You Just Ask Them?” in Surely You’re Joking) in which he got some PUA type advice and found it immediately effective (after his previous failures), both in a bar setting and later with a “nice” girl in another setting.

everyone lives in a bubble

I generally agree but I also think there are some major areas of overlap between different subcultures. I think some principles apply pretty broadly, e.g. LoLE applies in the business world, in academia, in high school popularity contests, and for macho posturing like in the Top Gun movie. My beliefs about this use lots of evidence from varied sources (you can observe people doing social dynamics ~everywhere) but also do use significant interpretation and analysis of that evidence. There are also patterns in the conclusions I’ve observed other people reach and how e.g. their conclusion re PUA correlates with my opinion on whether they are a high quality thinker (which I judged on other topics first). I know someone with different philosophical views could reach different conclusions from the same data set. My basic answer to that is that I study rationality, I write about my ideas, and I’m publicly open to debate. If anyone knows a better method for getting accurate beliefs please tell me. I would also be happy pay for useful critical feedback if I knew any good way to arrange it.

Business is a good source of separate evidence about social dynamics because there are a bunch of books and other materials about the social dynamics of negotiating raises, hiring interviews, promotions, office politics, leadership, managing others, being a boss, sales, marketing, advertising, changing organizations from the bottom-up (passing on ideas to your boss, boss’s boss and even the CEO), etc. I’ve read a fair amount of that stuff but it’s not my main field (which is epistemology/rationality).

There are also non-PUA/MGTOW/etc relationship books with major convergence with PUA, e.g. The Passion Paradox (which has apparently been renamed The Passion Trap). I understand that to be a mainstream book:

About the Author
Dr. Dean C. Delis is a clinical psychologist, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, and a staff psychologist at the San Diego V.A. Medical Center. He has more than 100 professional publications and has served on the editorial boards of several scientific journals. He is a diplomate of the American Board of Professional Psychology and American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology.

The main idea of the book is similar to LoLE. Quoting my notes from 2005 (I think this is before I was familiar with PUA): “The main idea of the passion paradox is that the person who wants the relationship less is in control and secure, and therefore cares about the relationship less, while the one who wants it more is more needy and insecure. And that being in these roles can make people act worse, thus reinforcing the problems.”. I was not convinced by this at the time and also wrote: “I think passion paradox dynamics could happen sometimes, but that they need not, and that trying to analyse all relationships that way will often be misleading.” Now I have a much more AWALT view.

The entire community is selecting for people who have some kinds of problems with social interaction

I agree the PUA community is self-selected to mostly be non-naturals, especially the instructors, though there are a few exceptions. In other words, they do tend to attract nerdy types who have to explicitly learn about social rules.

Sometimes I even wonder whether I overestimate how much the grass is greener on the other side.

My considered opinion is that it’s not, and that blue pillers are broadly unhappy (to be fair, so are red pillers). I don’t think being good at social dynamics (via study or “naturally” (aka via early childhood study)) makes people happy. I think doing social dynamics effectively clashes with rationality and being less rational has all sorts of downstream negative consequences. (Some social dynamics is OK to do, I’m not advocating zero, but I think it’s pretty limited.)

I don’t think high status correlates well with happiness. Both for ultra high status like celebs, which causes various problems, and also for high status that doesn’t get you so much public attention.

I think rationality correlates with happiness better. I would expect to be wrong about that if I was wrong about which self-identified rational people are not actually rational (I try to spot fakers and bad thinking).

I think the people with the best chance to be happy are content and secure with their social status. In other words, they aren’t actively trying to climb higher socially and they don’t have to put much effort into maintaining their current social status. The point is that they aren’t putting much effort into social dynamics and focus most of their energy on other stuff.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Updating My Less Wrong Commenting Policy

I thought about how to use LW comments better and get along with people better. I wrote notes about it:

  • Write comments that would be appreciated by a new observer, who hasn’t read any of my previous stuff, hasn’t read the sequences, and only skimmed the post he’s commenting under.
  • Only reply to comments I actually think are good. If I see any signs of low quality, hostility, or social aggression, don’t reply.
  • Make it clear to people in my bio, and at the end of some posts, that I’m open to more discussion by request. I can change policies and be more responsive if asked.
  • Avoid meta discussion. Lots of LW people don’t like it. I think meta discussion is very important and valuable, but I can write it at my own forums.
  • I plan to have two clearly distinguished commenting modes. I think a middle ground between them causes trouble and I want to avoid that.
    • Mode one is anything goes, zero pressure to reply, drop anything on a total whim with no explanation. This mode will be my default and means I’ll be replying less than I was.
    • For these comments, I’ll try to make most of my comments standalone and interesting. That means only engaging with people who say something significant and worthwhile. Otherwise I can write a monologue “reply” (that doesn’t engage with specifics of what they said, just talks about the topic) or not reply.
      • A short answer like “Yes” is OK too because it won’t annoy any readers. People who don’t get value from it will know it’s contextual and won’t mind.
      • It’s important to be careful about comments which rely on context but don’t obviously do so. People can think those comments are meant to stand alone when they aren’t. So try to make comments really blatantly be minor followups or else offer standalone value.
    • Mode two is high effort discussion after some mutual agreement to try to use some sort of written rules. Examples of discussion policies that could be used:
      • Discussion to agreement or length 5 impasse chain. Agreement can be about the topic or agreeing to stop the discussion – any sort of agreement is fine.
      • Discussion until agreement or someone claims that they made an adequate case that the other person ought to be able to learn from and be corrected by. They believe their case would persuade a neutral, reasonable observer. Plus minimum two followups to address parting questions (like which text constitutes the adequate case, and isn’t the case inadequate due to not addressing questions X and Y that were already asked?) or potentially be persuaded to change their mind about ending there.
      • Discussion to agreement or to one stated impasse plus two followups to address final questions and have a brief window to potentially solve the impasse.
  • The discussion mode I do not want is a medium effort discussion following unwritten rules (particularly social hierarchy climbing related rules). I prefer either small or large discussion. Either anyone can leave at any moment with no negative judgments or we set up a more organized, serious discussion project. I don’t want to half-ass adding transaction costs and commitments into discussions. Do that as a big enough deal to agree on and write down some discussion rules and policies, or don’t do it and stick to anarchy. Unwritten rules suck so either use written rules or no rules.
  • I don’t trust people to be OK with no-commitment discussion, despite having recently been told by a several people that that’s how LW works. I think LW mostly works by medium commitment discussion where there are social pressures. I think people routinely are judged for not replying.
    • It’s hard to deal with because asking people if they want a serious discussion, in reply to their topical comment, gets negative responses. They don’t want to state what sort of discussion they want (zero commitment, medium commitment with unwritten rules, or more serious project with written rules). I take people’s general dislike of stating what rules they are playing by, or want me to play by, as a piece of evidence that it’s unwritten rules and medium commitment that are commonly desired. I don’t think people are usually really 100% fine with me ignoring them an unlimited number of times without explanation because, hey, no commitment and no request for anything different. I think they’ll see me as violating unwritten rules saying I should be somewhat responsive. (I personally wouldn’t mind explaining why I think someone’s comments are bad and why I don’t want to reply, but I think the LW forum generally does mind me doing that. If people want to know that they are welcome to ask me at my forum about particular cases from LW. But I don’t like being asked privately because I want my regular audience to be able to see my answers.)
    • Broadly if anyone has any problem with me, I hope they’ll state it or ask a direct question about it. I don’t expect it but I do prefer it. I know people often ask for such things and don’t mean it, but I have an 18 year track record of public discussion archives showing I actually mean it, and I run a discussion community where such things are normal. Posts like “Why did no one reply to this?” or “Why didn’t you reply to this?” are well within norms at my forums, and I do get asked meta questions like why I dealt with a discussion in a particular way.
    • I don’t plan to ask other people at LW direct questions about problems I have with them, or state the problems, unless they ask me to do that and I find the request convincing (e.g. I can’t find signs of dishonesty or incompetence). Even then, I might ask them to forum switch first because I think other people at LW could easily take that discussion out of context and mind it (the context being the convincing request).
  • I would like some discussions where we try to make an organized, serious effort to seek the truth, resolve some disagreements, etc. But that is not the LW norm. The LW norm is mostly a mix of small and medium discussions. OK. My solution is to make big discussions available by request and otherwise do small discussions. This should be acceptable for both me and others.

View this post at Less Wrong.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)