# FCCC

Karma: 26
• Can you help me paint a specific mental picture of a driver being exploited by Uber?

I’ve had similar “exploitation” arguments with people:

“Commodification” and “dehumanization” don’t mean anything unless you can point to their concrete effects.

I think your way of handling it is much, much better than how I’ve handled it. It comes across as less adversarial while still making the other person do the work of explaining themselves better. I’ve found that small tricks like this can completely flip a conversation from dysfunctional to effective. I’ll have to remember to use your suggestion.

• Damn. This formalism is similar to one I developed (except I did it much later) for determining when a goal is good or not. Did Eliezer come up with those four pieces himself or is this based on someone else’s work?

• Agreed. The best prediction would have been to assign Biden 100% credence. A defence of their position might say that “Given the information 538 had at the time, the best possible prediction machine would have less certainty than Nate”, but this is too hard to prove, and it’s inconsistent with the fact that Nate is a calibrated forecaster who (as far as I know) consistently beats the market.

• And this year too. I agree about the small sample size if we’re just asking “Who will be president?” We should use every one of 538′s predictions that could have been used to make a bet in a liquid betting market.

If a profitable set of Kelly/​Markowitz bets (under all election orderings) has a worse Brier score than the market’s Brier score, I’d be more interested in the profit of the bets, since we’re talking about betting money.

• Here’s what would make me question Nate’s credibility: If we look at the 538′s former projections and compare them to the betting markets prior to election, make Kelly bets, and lose money.[1] Note that 538 can be on the wrong side of the market some of the time and still be profitable.

Saying Nate lacks enough credibility when he is well calibrated and on the right side of the market doesn’t make any sense and seems like an extreme case of hindsight bias. For example, you use the 2016 election to undermine 538′s credibility, but (if I recall correctly) 538′s forecast gave Trump a greater chance than the market’s odds implied, so if you bet based on 538′s forecast you would have bet on Trump and made money. I could be remembering wrong, so if someone links this data, they’d get an upvote from me.

1. Looking at all orderings of elections ↩︎

• You’d have to point me to one of my sentences that you disagree with, since I don’t think I’ve made that mistake.

Perhaps you think the only true fact about the universe is the whole universe itself, so in that case, talking about the “rules in the source code of the universe” wouldn’t make sense. I’m having to guess here, since you haven’t stated your disagreement. But if that is the case, you’d be assuming something about the nature of the universe. I only said that the universe might innately contain rules.

• When I’m as sure as I can be about something, I won’t use qualifiers. For my areas of interest, I’ll try to get to this stage, which has the added benefit of making my language more concise. If you’re unsure, you should qualify, but if you qualify a lot, why are you talking? (However, for some question domains, things can’t be known, like predicting election outcomes, in which case, it’s fine to get on a soapbox and qualify.) It’s a mistake to cut out your qualifiers if you haven’t done the hard work of figuring out all the details.

Of course, qualifiers should be common because people talk about stuff they don’t know all the time, and they want you to engage with them. It’d be a bit weird to say “I don’t know” and then walk away for 99 percent of your interactions. In these situations, I’ll try to include qualifiers. Sometimes I’ll forget, and state something as if it were a fact only to be categorically shown to be wrong two seconds later. I hate this. So, for me, qualifiers are worth it. But even if you’re not embarrassed when the truth is literally the exact opposite of what you just said, qualifiers are good. They help you delineate between what you know to be true and what you think is true, which is useful for your own thinking. They also communicate your actual beliefs.

Even better than this binary distinction is using credences.

• Formally, we often model causation as the action of one thing implying another, and we might formalize this with mathematical notation like to mean some event or thing causes some other event or thing to happen.

Causation is not so easy to model. I have a job that requires a degree. This implies that I have a degree. But my having this job did not cause me to have a degree (to clarify, perhaps the expectation of gaining such a job caused me to get the degree, but not the job itself). From ET Jaynes, after a similar example:

This example shows also that the major premise, ‘if A then B’ expresses B only as a logical consequence of A; and not necessarily a causal physical consequence, which could be effective only at a later time. The rain at 10 am is not the physical cause of the clouds at 9:45 am. Nevertheless, the proper logical connection is not in the uncertain causal direction (clouds ⇒ rain), but rather (rain ⇒ clouds), which is certain, although noncausal. We emphasize at the outset that we are concerned here with logical connections, because some discussions and applications of inference have fallen into serious error through failure to see the distinction between logical implication and physical causation. The distinction is analyzed in some depth by Simon and Rescher (1966), who note that all attempts to interpret implication as expressing physical causation founder on the lack of contraposition expressed by the second syllogism (1.2). That is, if we tried to interpret the major premise as ‘A is the physical cause of B’, then we would hardly be able to accept that ‘not-B is the physical cause of not-A’. In Chapter 3 we shall see that attempts to interpret plausible inferences in terms of physical causation fare no better.

Judea Pearl is supposedly working on defining causation, though I know little of it. I think he talks abut “backwards causation” and the examples of it that I’ve heard (if I recall correctly) sound like they confuse the job with the expectation of the job. Maybe causation is an incoherent idea.

This means that there’s no aspect of the territory that is causality. There’s no A, there’s no B, there’s no ⟹, there’s just “is”.

Here’s how I think of it: I have sensory data coming in (what I see and hear and so on), and every word I associate with that data is an abstraction that seems to match with a useful pattern within the data (e.g. “I’m looking at a table”). So I think we kind of agree with the “There’s no A or B” (the table is not fundamentally part of the universe, it’s my model of some collection of actual universe “stuff”[1]), though I would phrase it in a way in which people might think we disagree. I think it still makes sense to talk about A or B (tables are real), it’s just that statements like “A is true” become a lot more slippery (but not in a “Everybody has their own truth, man” way). And this is the case, as you say, even at the level of atoms, though our sensory data is intermediated with other high-tech tools (e.g. electron microscopes or whatever).

Where I think we disagree is “there’s no ⟹”. Maybe there isn’t. But the universe apparently follows some rules. The laws that physicists found may be implications of these rules, but they might be the rules themselves. For the sake of analogy, the “code” that the universe runs on might contain “matter/​energy cannot be created or destroyed”, and I think it’s fair to consider this to be part of the universe (though whether we can establish that a rule is actually in the code is another matter). The rules might also contain something about causation.

Anyway, great post.

1. Strictly speaking, it’s not even that, it’s a model of my experiences, which is a filtered and somewhat distorted version of the actual universe. ↩︎

• 22 Oct 2020 1:07 UTC
0 points
in reply to: Rudi C’s comment

True, but the value is to them.

Yes, and not just in this case. Value is always to some individual: There is no value outside of someone’s brain. When we say “value to society”, that’s shorthand for “the aggregation of the value inside every individual’s head”.

Money measures some of the value inside people’s heads: You pay $20 for a shirt, and I can tell that you value the shirt by at least$20. When I go for a walk, I’m not paying anyone, but that doesn’t mean the value is \$0.

• This is partially right, but missing an important part of the picture. If your level of analysis is too narrow, you won’t evaluate the trade-offs.

When one consideration is brought up, it’s as if it “cancels” the other.

And this is one problem that typically follows: You’re implicitly giving equal weight to every positive and negative point. If I gain a candy bar by stealing from a shop, it’s not a neutral act just because there’s one positive and one negative (i.e. positive for me, negative for the owner). Different effects have different weights.

And there doesn’t need to be an “overall goodness” of the job that would be anything else than just the combination of those two facts.

Rather than pick a limited number of factors, a better question is “Would the timeline in which I got this job be better than the timeline in which I did not” (which accounts for every factor). On this front, there is an “overall goodness”, for example “The average utility at any given point in time over the age of the universe”. You have to make a decision, so you have to weigh the trade-offs against each other into a single rule. This is true whether or not it’s acknowledged.

• Let’s say Trump actually had a 50% chance of winning last time

What do you mean by this? That human behaviour is non-deterministic? Or that, given the publicly available information at the time, the best guess was 50 percent? If the latter, it’s easy to get a better credence after the event happened. Look at Nate’s track record. An event that he gives an percent chance happens pretty damn close to percent of the time. You could’ve just as easily said he underestimates the winners when he got it “right” (i.e. he said > 50 percent chance), and therefore Biden has an even higher chance of winning.

• 19 Oct 2020 4:11 UTC
1 point
in reply to: Rudi C’s comment

I do think that an infant is not worth much except their sentimental value to their family.

All meaning is in our heads. That doesn’t make that meaning any less real. If someone places a lot of meaning on their infant dying, then the infant had a lot of value. If you want to put a dollar value on it, then you can ask the family how much they would pay to bring their child back to life. I would expect most people would pay a lot.

• Bad neural nets worked okay under the training set. With a distributional shift, you could see the weaknesses of their models.

I think most beliefs are the mode of what a person hears. You ask me whether someone is for or against abortion, I’ll ask you what their parents and friends believe, then I’ll bet on the most common belief within that group. So when “the Earth is flat” enters the conversation, and people’s reason for believing the Earth isn’t flat is basically “It’s the only statement I’ve heard on the topic”, they might not have a robust way to determine what is true. Most people can’t state necessary conditions for evolution in an arbitrary system. I’d wager most people who believe in evolution can’t explain why monkeys still exist.

So when the rug of apparent consensus is pulled out from under the feet of everyone, quite a few will fall over.

# A Model of Ra­tional Policy: When Is a Goal “Good”?

10 Oct 2020 17:05 UTC
2 points
• 8 Oct 2020 0:33 UTC
2 points

This is almost entirely driven by decreases in infant mortality. The article specifically cites the scenario of a mother giving birth while still carrying their last would probably have abandoned that child. Life expectancy for those that reached adulthood was nearly 70, roughly the same as world average now.

I have wondered how that factored into life expectancy. This is a good point.

The quote you snip says that the rich in agricultural societies live better than the underclass in those same societies, not better than hunter-gatherer societies.

Incorrect, that quote is ambiguous about whether they are better off compared to pre-agriculture. However, he also says

Thus with the advent of agriculture the elite became better off, but most people became worse off.

Which is important to match with his classing of most of the U.S. as “elite”. He’s explicitly saying that if you live in the U.S. today, you are probably better off. That’s why I said his argument rests on the poorer countries staying poor.

How are you defining “poor” and why is it bad? How can one argue that people who only need to work ~15 hours per week are “poor”. That is far richer than most the world today. The absence of gold or iPhones says nothing about the human condition.

Poverty is obviously a continuum and relative to the context. But my definition is that poorer people have fewer choices, including what goods they can attain, and including how many hours they work. You can live without all the technology and entertainment today if you want. For that life, 15 hours of work per week can be enough if you have a spouse that does the same. (Minimum wage in Australia is enough for that.) If you’re a medium-income earner, you can work half of that. Though, admittedly, if you are a middle-income earner probably can’t find a job that lets you work that much. But you can retire earlier having done less “total lifetime work”. I imagine pre-agricultural people work well into old age.

The anthropological evidence (mostly observation of present day hunter-gatherer groups) indicates that hunter-gatherer groups have high levels of gender equality.

That’s surprising to me, and shifts me towards that conclusion.

This is a different question entirely, evaluating the world as a whole instead of the average individual experience. It’s quite possible that the increase in quantity of life that has arisen is or will become “worth it”.

It’s not the original question, but is it relevant: Assuming that people were better off back then, what should we do about it today? The answer: nothing.

You’ve changed my view quite a bit, but I’d still easily prefer to live now (albeit in a rich country).

• 7 Oct 2020 12:08 UTC
3 points

“Life expectancy at birth in the pre-agricultural community was about twenty-six years,” says Armelagos, “but in the post-agricultural community it was nineteen years...

Neither of these numbers sound great. Living past 80 sounds a lot better to me. Why did pre-agricultural communities have early deaths compared to us if “the ills that you highlight all came about following the establishment of agricultural societies”? They had to die somehow.

Early farmers had health issues because they had a handful of crops and just ate those things. If you just eat corn and potatoes, you’ll die early. They didn’t have nutritional science. To say poor nutrition is a fundamental problem with farming is just incorrect. So I’ll concede agriculture made the average people worse off temporarily, but considering our life expectancy increases, I don’t see how you can say that the last few decades are still worse than hunter-gathers. In fact, he says as much:

Besides malnutrition, starvation, and epidemic diseases, farming helped bring another curse upon humanity: deep class divisions. Hunter-gatherers have little or no stored food, and no concentrated food sources, like an orchard or a herd of cows: they live off the wild plants and animals they obtain each day.

… [In agricultural societies, elites were healthier]

To people in rich countries like the U.S., it sounds ridiculous to extol the virtues of hunting and gathering. But Americans are an elite...

So people in rich countries are better off. Then the question becomes “Will the poor countries stay poor?” If they don’t, his whole argument is wrong. (Also the “Everyone’s poor, so there’s no inequality! Hurray!” argument is a bit strange.) I’ll bet that before China’s wealth increase, he would have said China would stay poor.

Women in agricultural societies were sometimes made beasts of burden. In New Guinea farming communities today I often see women staggering under loads of vegetables and firewood while the men walk empty-handed.

Why is he assuming that had those same people stayed hunter-gathers, they would treat their women better? It seems like a completely unwarranted assumption.

Some epidemic diseases, I’ll concede, have been brought to us by farming, indirectly through increased population and population density, and directly through the farming of animals.

You’re also neglecting the massive population increases that he discusses. An extra life worth living is a net gain. The associated decreases in average wellbeing haven’t held up because of better nutritional science and healthcare so there’s not even a “repugnant conclusion” trade-off.

• 7 Oct 2020 3:27 UTC
3 points

I agree that there are trade-offs between time periods but, for me, those trade-offs favour the present.

I did mention addictive innovations as negatives, but they can be handled. For example, I have to type in a long password every time before I can watch a Youtube video, which prevents me from mindlessly entering the website.

As for you not asking people for directions, you’re also talking to me (in text form, admittedly) probably from the other side of the world. And since we’re both on this website, we probably have a lot more in common than we would with a random person off the street.

Any advantage gained by technology is given back in pursuit of more. Faster transport leads to people being more spread out, not better connected.

Do people want faster transport? Yes. People then spread out because it’s a trade-off they want to make. It means they can retire earlier because they pay lower rental prices, and that’s more important than being a neighbour to as many friends as possible. By transitivity, this is an overall increase in wellbeing. It’s three steps forward and one step back, not one step forward and two steps back.

People can set bad goals that don’t make them happy when they achieve them. I think that’s what causes some people to want more and more. Because they are rarely actually satisfied. I suspect these people would have the same problem in earlier time periods (“Honey, the neighbours have a bigger grass hut than we do”), except they’d have a greater chance of dying from an infection. If you really want to, and you don’t think you’re permanently ruined modern technology, you can move to a less-industrialized society. They’re still around today. I’d note that the flow of immigration is away from those countries and towards more technologically advanced countries.

People of the past had terrible lives. Correct me if I’m wrong, but racial slavery was more common, witch trials were more common, war killed a greater proportion of the population, more people died from starvation or poor hygiene, religious and homosexual persecution was more common, child brides were more common, women were treated as second-class citizens (if they were citizens at all). To make a convincing case, you’d have to pick a specific time and place to live, show that it’s representative of “sometime between the end of the ice age and the first agricultural society”, and show, at the very least, that’s it’s not terrible time to live. Without that, you may be idealizing what it was actually like.