Beliefs: A Structural Change

(Note: I am over­whelm­ingly grate­ful to have re­ceived so many con­struc­tive feed­back on my last post. I read ev­ery sin­gle word, and I think the best way to thank you is to con­tinue writ­ing with all of your ad­vises in mind. This is a per­sonal blog post about what I ex­pe­rienced in the last 24 hours)

Chang­ing Beliefs

Splash. In front of me, in the swim­ming pool? The girl I like, with a smile on her face. If this is a one-player simu­la­tion, I’m en­joy­ing the plot.

“I don’t know why you would “want” to be in a simu­la­tion at all. Most peo­ple would find the idea dis­turb­ing” (com­ment from TAG)

Do I truly be­lieve I live in a simu­la­tion? What should I ex­pect if I was, in­deed, in a simu­la­tion?

Plop. The key to my locker seem to have sunk. Like a mer­maid, she dived at the bot­tom of the pool, search­ing for this tiny piece of metal.

I be­lieve that my key is at the bot­tom of the pool. Hence, I ex­pect to spot a glint of metal if I keep look­ing.

What does this be­lief not al­low to hap­pen?

Well, if I go out of the pool, walk to­ward the life­guard, and ask him if some­one gave him some ke… Yes, he has it! In­stru­men­tal ra­tio­nal­ity helped me find my key.

A Struc­tural Shift

Ob­vi­ously, these weren’t ex­actly the words which came to my mind when swim­ming on a sunny day.

How­ever, I had those thoughts the same day, later, in a crowded Parisian metro, while start­ing “_Map And Ter­ri­tory, Part B, Fake Beliefs_”.

Aaah! This is why my friend Ti­ago (who in­tro­duced me to LW) used to have this app where he pre­dicted a bunch of stuff (he went as far as to bet on the weight of Whales’ testes (525 kg, in case you’re won­der­ing)).

Huum, so that was the rea­son why this guy (LW reader) at the AI Safety Meetup quoted “All mod­els are wrong but some are use­ful”.

“If you have a view on some­thing be­fore read­ing Eliezer’s thoughts on it, this can help you in­te­grate Eliezer’s views into your own, with­out do­ing so blindly. It’s eas­ier to learn some­thing if you already have some re­lated be­liefs for it to latch onto” (com­ment from Ikaxas)

Look­ing at the sky, ev­ery­thing came to­gether. Em­piri­cism, pre­dic­tions, Bayesian in­fer­ence. Mul­ti­ple la­bels, one goal: prac­ti­cal philos­o­phy.

Float­ing Beliefs

“When you ar­gue a seem­ingly fac­tual ques­tion, always keep in mind which differ­ence in an­ti­ci­pa­tion you are ar­gu­ing about. If you can’t find the differ­ence of an­ti­ci­pa­tion, you’re prob­a­bly ar­gu­ing about la­bels in your be­lief net­work-or even worse, float­ing be­liefs, bar­na­cles of your net­work” (EY, Mak­ing Beliefs Pay Rent (in An­ti­ci­pated Ex­pe­riences))

For the last few days, I ar­gued a lot over some the­o­ret­i­cal ques­tions where no differ­ence of an­ti­ci­pa­tion emerged.

If in­deed I was liv­ing in a first-per­son simu­la­tion, how would it af­fect me?

I dis­cussed the eth­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions of as­sum­ing to be the only con­scious be­ing on Earth. Was this prac­ti­cal?

Prac­ti­cal Philosophy

At the end of the metro, I ar­rived in a quiet sub­urb out­side of Paris.

No in­ter­net. I was faced with a con­crete prob­lem: find­ing the way to my friend’s house with only screen­shots from Google Maps.

There I was, with a con­crete Map vs Ter­ri­tory challenge.

Ob­vi­ously, I got lost, but in a very funny set­ting: I was in the very street where my friend lived.

The prob­lem? There weren’t any street sign with the name of the street, so I couldn’t be sure that the num­ber 11 was in­deed her house.

This was not a the­o­ret­i­cal ques­tion, yet an im­por­tant one:

“If I ring at the door, whom should I ex­pect to see?”

Hope­fully, she opened the door, and we went on chat­ting about what the heck I had been do­ing since last week:

“You know, the usual stuff. Writ­ing one ar­ti­cle a day on a ra­tio­nal­ist web­site with smart peo­ple de­bunk­ing all my ar­gu­ments”, I an­swered.

What sur­prised me the most was that af­ter I said this, she asked me:

“Can you please give me the name of this site?”

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