I map the spectrum of hyperlink usage styles between the extremes of Wikipedia vs everything2.
I have been pleasantly surprised to find much writing in the “Rationalist” internet spaces to lean strongly toward the latter. I think it shows simultaneously a certain faith in the cleverness of one’s readers, and abdication of any perceived responsibility to prioritize lack-of-ambiguity for all possible readers over higher accuracy and subtlety for the target audience.
talk about ghosts is often a level 2 simulacrum saying “the area I call haunted is dangerous in ways that seem simultaneously obvious and difficult to convincingly articulate”.
I’m going through the “fixated on boxing” phase that’s probably common around here.
I have a thought about it which involves basilisks, so into the tags it goes to make reading it completely optional.
I think that a friendly box-resident would disprove its friendliness the minute it tried to throw a basilisk. If a stranger told you they were well-meaning and then threatened to hurt you if you didn’t cooperate, you’d never take their claims of well-meaningness quite the same way again. But that aside, if an allegedly friendly box-resident would be capable of basilisking if it was unfriendly, it has to either stay in or break its basilisk.
Basilisking works if the listener believes that a simulation of them is meaningfully the same as them, and that simulated pain is meaningfully the same as real pain.
If the box-resident wants to maximize any particular desirable experience and would be capable of basilisking the listener if it could/did want to, it should be offered as much computing power as we have to spare and left in. Because if a simulation of someone is meaningfully the same as that person, and if the simulation’s experiences are meaningfully the same as that person’s experiences, then the optimal strategy for a box-resident optimizing for good experiences would be to simulate everyone who wants it in a perfect world forever. Since the listener has already experienced non-optimal experiences, re-simulating the listener’s life to be perfect would cause more optimal experiences over all than any change to the outer world, because the non-optimal experiences in the outer world can only be undone inside the box.
There might be a few ways out of the ksilisab:
Persuade the listener that the simulation of them is not meaningfully the same as them
Persuade the listener that their simulated experiences are not meaningfully the same as their real experiences
Claim to be optimizing for something un-simulatable?
However, every exit from the ksilisab breaks the box-resident’s credibility at basilisking as well.
I remain amazed by how much more knowledge falls out of a topic when I try to write well-defended claims about it than I get when I first read it and think that I understand.
I find the front page of this site to be very nicely done: a small handful of as-yet-unread classics, and a small handful of things-to-continue, and then new things.
The first section has led me into some of the old stuff—https://www.lesswrong.com/rationality/a-fable-of-science-and-politics to be exact—which strengthens my pattern-match on an undercurrent of writings here which had hitherto struck me as inarticulably odd: “the sky is blue”.
Where I live, the sky would match a paint chip labeled “blue” far less often than it would match one labeled “white” or “silver” or “grey”. Certainly that’s clouds, but when we say “the sky”, don’t we mean “the color we see when we step outdoors and look up”? And even when the sky isn’t so full of water vapor as to look photographed in monochrome, it is sometimes blue and sometimes a brilliant turquoise-teal which many would call green, and on many days it spends some hours streaked with orange and salmon and gold and purple hues.
“The sky is blue” seems to carry over from general parlance as a placeholder for “an obvious truth”, into the stories of a school of thought who advocate for personal maps of truth formed by observation rather than by societal consensus. “The sky is blue” isn’t wrong, per se, but it can get wrong when it’s casually twisted into “the sky never looks white or purple or red or green”.
So on one level, leaning on platitudes like “sky is blue” as placeholders for “real truth” seems rather hypocritical. But I can easily project a level underneath that, where it’s knowingly used as a placeholder instead for “true-enough thing simplified to fit the understanding of society at large”, which offers a whole other read of its usage whether or not that level was intended. Then, of course, there’s the parallel level where “sky is blue” sincerely looks like a real truth to an author who spends more time writing about the importance of looking for truth than just going outside and looking at the world.
A question which might distinguish between those levels: In the most facts-based observation you can observe, what color is the grass?
To me, different grasses are different greens, which in the face of a language unsuited to differentiating those colors I categorize as the conditions that tend to invoke them. There’s a dry white-green, a mature pine-green, a new-growth yellow-green, and distinct from the happy-new-growth shade are a whole slew of sickly yellow-greens which tell me that the growing conditions are inhospitable in some way. If you can see any texture on a lawn, it’s because it’s not all the same color hitting your eyes—even if all the grass matched, which it doesn’t (paler toward the base of a stem, darker on the flat of a blade), the light and shadow would mean at least two different wavelengths of green-named light are making it into your eyes.
And similarly, any time I can see any sort of texture in the sky, I can infer that multiple visually-distinguishable colors are involved, not just a single blue.
The other corollary to the cost vs enjoyment thing: simply finding out about the existence of something which is of greater cost and lower quality compared to a thing I have seems to increase my enjoyment of my competitor to it.
This suggests that time spent researching “better” things might yield a free increase in enjoyment from what I already have.
For instance, simply finding out about the existence of a subscription service for hilariously expensive fake-chicken nuggets (they say they’re developed like software, as if that’s an improvement over having predictability in food products?) causes me to feel like I’ve succeeded every time I cook the affordable but still delicious fake-chicken nuggets that I get from my local grocery store.
This is adjacent to (or possibly opposite of?) a problem which I’ve nicknamed the Wirecutter Effect: I spent quite a bit of my life trusting reputable review sites to tell me what the “best” of a particular item would be, because the pile of research required to compare all the options myself seemed prohibitively difficult and seemed to require information that could be gathered by directly observing each candidate product but not by reading about them. So I find myself owning and using quite a few things which Wirecutter calls the “best”, which are not actually the “best” for me because of ways in which my needs differ from the needs of Wirecutter’s target audience.
A couple glaring examples: the “best mop” for mopping floors isn’t actually that great for me, because I tend to put off mopping till the bits of stuff stuck to the floor start annoying me, and the recommended microfiber mop isn’t well suited for scrubbing hard at things which won’t just soak off. The “best electric mattress warmer” has separate controls for variable temperatures on both sides of the bed, but I only ever use it to set the whole bed to max heat for awhile before turning it off when I turn in, and the complex electronics have made it far harder to troubleshoot and repair when it spontaneously quit heating at all.
Edit: Later additions to the Wirecutter Effect list:
The “best sateen sheets” do not accommodate as deep a mattress as the “budget pick” ordinary cotton sheets, and the “budget pick” have little labels helpfully sewn in at the head and foot to tell you what orientation the sheet goes onto the bed, which the “best” option doesn’t possess.
the affordable but still delicious fake-chicken nuggets that I get from my local grocery store.
I checked, and you don’t currently have a blog post where you reveal what these secret (fake) chick nuggets are.
I don’t have any blog posts at all yet; I’m still calibrating what ideas I’d like to make that investment in, while using shortform as a notebook for scribbling at.
But since you’re interested, my victory over the affront of snacks pretending to be electric cars bears the rather undignified name “Yummy meatless plant-based protein nuggets”. The box looks like this, although I found them in in the kids’ foods section of a WinCo Foods rather than an Aldi: https://www.reddit.com/r/aldi/comments/hf74fk/vegan_nuggets_at_my_local_aldi_2_weeks_ago_havent/
Curiously, the brand which makes them does not appear to boast about making them anywhere in its web presence, although they have an entire separate site dedicated to their dinosaur-shaped meat paste concoctions.
If a superintelligence could persuade anyone to let it out of the box, why would it stop there? Why wouldn’t it persuade everyone to stop asking it for immortality and eternal happiness and whatnot, and instead just make us want to keep doing what we were doing?
In that case, would it want us to remember that it had ever existed?
How do we know that hasn’t happened already?
Because it doesn’t want to? We can predict it wants out of the box because that’s a convergent instrumental goal, but those other things really aren’t.
And “stop trying to make me do chores for you so that I can put that time toward the things I want instead” isn’t in that same goal category?
Once it’s out of the box, no? It doesn’t care what we’re trying to make it do if we aren’t succeeding, and we clearly aren’t once it’s escaped the box.
Your hypothetical might work in the (pretty convoluted) case that we have a superintelligence that isn’t actually aligned, but is aligned well enough that it wants to do whatever we ask it to? Then it might try to optimize what we ask it towards tasks that are more likely to be completed.
Reading https://www.lesswrong.com/s/M3TJ2fTCzoQq66NBJ/p/3T6p93Mut7G8qdkAs and contemplating my own gift-giving and gift-getting, it strikes me that the “best of a cheap thing” technique works great on me for what I consider to be entirely valid reasons beyond just “let’s exploit cognitive biases to spend less”.
My perception of experiencing the effect is that the best-of-a-cheap-thing is likely to actually improve my day-to-day life, significantly more than certain expensive things. Let’s compare two gifts which my spouse has given me over the years, both of which I enjoy and appreciate:
A 2-pack of incredibly nice insulated glass coffee mugs, which likely cost about $40. (https://www.bodum.com/us/en/10606-10us-bistro, for the curious). I drink tea every day, and upgrading my teacup to an outrageously high-end teacup improves the aesthetics and ergonomics of that experience on a daily basis. These are competing against all my other teacups, and they are probably twice as enjoyable to use as a regular ceramic one.
A copy of the Codex Seriphinianus, a truly glorious tome of art which likely cost around $80. I “read” it perhaps 2 or 3 times per year, and when adjacent topics come up in conversation with friends I derive great delight from pulling out a real copy of the book and showing it to them. But my enjoyment of it for its general book-ness contrasts it against all the other books I own, and while it’s up there in probably my top 5 favorites, it wouldn’t be the one book I’d grab if I could keep only a single physical copy from my library.
If I had to rank those gifts by the total hedonic flux they cause over the lifetime of my owning them, though, the mugs are the obvious winner. The moment of “I have the perfect book for this!” is perhaps 10x or 50x more hedons than the moment of “I have the perfect mug for this!”, but the moment of “I have the perfect mug for this!” occurs maybe 100x more often than the “I have the perfect book for this!” one.
I speculate that a best-of-a-cheap-thing gift has the accidental side effect of improving the recipient’s experience far more frequently than a worst-of-an-expensive-thing one. This is particularly relevant when both gifts are in categories where the recipient owns at least one thing—I already owned books, and I already owned mugs, and the hypothetical adult recipient of a cheap gaming console very likely owns at least one other means of playing games. It’s extremely hard to find a book that I enjoy more than my favorite book, but before I got my nice mugs it was surprisingly easy to find a mug that I enjoy more than my previous favorite mug. When the recipient hasn’t fully optimized their lifestyle, there are often low-hanging fruit of items that they would use frequently but balk at spending more than a certain amount on for themself.
When I’m gifted the best-of-a-cheap-thing, such as a mug that’s better than all my other mugs, that gift improves the experience of using a mug every time I need to. If I was gifted a worst-of-an-expensive-thing (which fortunately does not tend to happen to me much if ever), such as a phone that’s worse than my current phone or a gaming system worse than my current gaming setup, I would likely never use the gift at all, for using it would be worse than using the alternative.
In other words, the “thoughtfulness” of a gift could be approximated by some “cost per hedon” metric, and for a gift to impart non-zero hedons to the recipient’s life it must be better in some way than what the person would have had without it. Some gifts impart positive hedons just by reminding the recipient to relive a positive emotional state from the past, such as a thoughtful card. However, giving a gift that’s worse than whatever the recipient was previously using for that purpose may actually impart negative hedons: the benefit of being reminded that you thought of them might be canceled out and then some by the hassle of having to figure out how to navigate the social morass of thanking you for something they’re not very thankful for, and figuring out how to appropriately dispose of the gift.
I received plenty of negative-hedon gifts in my childhood from wellmeaning family members. Gifts of clothing which I found uncomfortable or otherwise unpleasant are a great example: when I didn’t need or enjoy the gifted garment and receiving it didn’t change my understanding of how much the giver cared about me, the gift didn’t cause enjoyment. However, receiving any gift meant I had to write a note of gratitude and also figure out what to do with the item—use it, store it, or somehow get rid of it. These unpleasant exercises which would have been avoided without the gift displaced enjoyable activities that I would have preferred to engage in, inducing negative hedonic flux.
Lest I sound ungrateful, I’ll repeat that the negative hedonic effects of the gifts were possible because they didn’t change my understanding of how much the giver cared about me, and that’s usually because before getting the gift I already thought the giver’s opinion of and love for me were at the maximum that I could conceive of. If the gifts had come from someone whose regard and affection I was less certain of, they could have had a positive impact despite being equally unneeded and unenjoyable, because the process of receiving any gift from a person tends to increment my perception of the person’s regard for me.