Director of Research at PAISRI
I’m not sure if this is quite it, but it does get at the “acausal trade” framing often taken when discussing these issues.
This sort of framing has been useful to me. In particular, I often think in terms of what kind of interface am I offering for people to interact with me via the clothes I wear, the way I talk, etc. as in what sort of options are salient to them. Although there can be issues with changing this interface if you are identified with it (the way you look is part of your personal identity rather than a fact of the world that you control), even without that ability to fluidly change your interface just knowing it’s there can be helpful for making sense of, say, why people treat you the way they do.
Personality quizzes are fake frameworks that help us understand ourselves.
What-character-from-show-X-are-you quizzes, astrology, and personality categorization instruments (think Big-5, Myers-Briggs, Magic the Gathering colors, etc.) are perennially popular. I think a good question is to ask, why do humans seem to like this stuff so much that even fairly skeptical folks tend to object not to categorization but that the categorization of any particular system is bad?
My stab at an answer: humans are really confused about themselves, and are interested in things that seem to have even a little explanatory power to help them become less confused about who they are. Metaphorically, this is like if we lived in a world without proper mirrors, and people got really excited about anything moderately reflective because it let them see themselves, if only a little.
On this view, these kinds of things, while perhaps not very scientific, are useful to folks because they help them understand themselves. This is not to say we can totally rehabilitate all such systems, since often they perform their categorization by mechanisms with very weak causal links that may not even rise above the level of noise (*cough* astrology *cough*), nor that we should be satisfied with personality assessments that involve lots of conflation and don’t resolve much confusion, but on the whole we should be happy that these things exist because they help us see our psyches in the absence of proper mental mirrors.
(FWIW, I do think there is a way to polish you mind into a mirror that can see itself and that I have managed to do this to some extent, but that’s a bit besides the point I want to make here.)
Oh, I definitely experience this even with things that are not professional. For example, I’m not very musically talented, and haven’t done much other than sing badly in the shower and at karaoke since I left high school. I have little things around I could play with to get better, like a harmonica, but I just don’t have fun engaging in the play of exploring the instrument, and I think part of this is because I’m not already good enough to feel like I’m having fun. There’s this kind of subtle way curiosity and play get stopped for me when it feels too hard or like my play will only pay off far down the road.
Maybe this is the right choice ultimately, but it’s hard to know since curiosity and the related notion of play seem to valuable in their own right much of the time.
Yep. Having worked both as a mathematician and a programmer, the idea of objectivity and clear feedback loops starts to disappear as the complexity amps up and you move away from the learning environment. It’s not unusual to discover incorrect proofs out on the fringes of mathematical research that have not yet become part of the cannon, nor is it uncommon (in fact, it’s very common) to find running production systems where the code works by accident due to some strange unexpected confluence of events.
I somewhat hopeful that this is right, but I’m also not so confident that I feel like we can ignore the risks of GPT-N.
For example, this post makes the argument that, because of GPT’s design and learning mechanism, we need not worry about it coming up with significantly novel things or outperforming humans because it’s optimizing for imitating existing human writing, not saying true things. On the other hand, it’s managing to do powerful things it wasn’t trained for, like solve math equations we have no reason to believe it saw in the training set or write code hasn’t seen before, which makes it possible that even if GPT-N isn’t trained to say true things and isn’t really capable of more than humans are, doesn’t mean it might not function like a Hansonian em and still be dangerous by simply doing what humans can do, only much faster.
I really like your examples in this post, and it made me think of a tangential but ultimately related issue.
I feel like there’s long been something like two camps in the AI safety space: the people who think it’s very hard to make AI safe and the people who think it’s very very hard like threading a needle from 10 miles away using hand-made binoculars and a long stick (yes, there’s a third camp that thinks it will be easy, but they aren’t really in the AI safety conversation due to selection effects). And I suspect some of this difference is in how much purposed example failure scenarios feel likely and realistic to them. Being myself in the latter camp, I sometimes find I hard to articulate why I think this, and often want better, more evocative examples. Thus I was happy to read your examples because I think they achieve a level of evocativeness that I at least often find hard to create.
For me your modified argument still hits home, because I think of the evolutionary argument as one for plausibility without saying much about likelihood beyond more than epsilon. That the causal mechanism for the discontinuity may be different than originally thought, it doesn’t make the discontinuity go away, nor the possibility that a discontinuity might still arise.
Perhaps a subclass of “fear of pain”, I sometimes find my curiosity is stopped when I think about how much work it would be to get good at something. For example, let’s say it’s some new programming language or database I might work with, but I start looking and realize I’m going to have to spend what feels like a long time before I’m going to be able to do much with it, and even longer before I’ll be as expect at it as the things I’m already expert at.
Much more tempting to learn something more about the things I’m already good at so I can get even better at them than to learn something totally new so I can still not be very good at it, but at least now slightly less bad.
IANAL, but this sounds right to me. It’s fine if, say, the police hide out at a shop that is tempting and easy to rob and encourage the owner not to make their shop less tempting or easy to rob so that it can function as a “honeypot” that lets them nab people in the act of committing crimes. On the other hand, although the courts often decide that it’s not entrapment, undercover cops soliciting prostitutes or illegal drugs are much closer to being entrapment, because then the police are actively creating the demand for crime to supply.
Depending on how you feel about it, I’d say this suggests the main flaw in your idea, which is that it will be abused on the margin to catch people who otherwise would not have committed crimes, even if you try to circumscribe it such that the traps you can create are far from causing more marginal crime, because incentives will push for expansion of this power. At least, that would be the case in the US, because it already is.
I use Pocket to manage my reading. Google Keep, Evernote, and sending yourself emails with links seem like reasonable alternatives. There are some more specialized tools for academic reading, but that doesn’t sound like what would be useful to you here.
This feels highly related to Simulacra levels.
I thought about linking that, but decided against it because I feel like that’s mostly about rationalists getting confused about contextualization and needing a guide to understand it, especially confusion about the ways that people who care more about social reality than “physical” reality pay more attention to how other people will think about words rather than what the words nominally are agreed to mean, rather than about what what it means to think in a highly contextualized way. It’s somewhat adjacent, as a causal sibling of the phenomenon being asked about in this post.
If it’s merely about me preferring “contextualizing norms”, then I should be able to, in the context of a scientific study, be able to recognize that the context is such that I can basically just tell the truth.
Maybe it’s just your phrasing, but I feel like this is subtly missing what it means to contextualize by supposing you can create a context where something can be left out, like saying let me create a new set of everything that doesn’t include everything.
I confused by what you mean when you say “just tell the truth”. The only interpretation that comes to mind is one where you mean something like the contextualized perspective is not capable of saying anything true, and that seems insufficiently charitable.
I think contextualization allows something like understanding how the study intends for me to respond and using that to guess the teacher’s password, rather than falling for what I would consider the epistemic trap of thinking the study’s isolating perspective is the “real” one. Maybe that’s what you meant?
I don’t know of any research to point you to but just wanted to say I think you’re right we have reason to be suspect of the normative correctness of many irrationality results. It’s not that people aren’t ever “irrational” in various ways, but that sometimes what looks from the outside like irrationality is in fact a failure to isolate from context in a way that humans not trained in this skill can do well.
I seem to recall a post here a while back that made a point about how some people on tasks like this are strong contextualizers and you basically can’t get them to give the “rational” answer because they won’t or can’t treat it like mathematical variables where the content is irrelevant to the operation, but related to the ideas shared in this post.
My original Facebook post was just saying something like “yay private property” and expressing some dismay at how popular “boo private property” has become among some of my Facebook friends, and that I think the “boo” camp seems to be making arguments that are so far removed from the “yay” side that there’s not really a way to object or make a case for “yay”, sort of like people just have different intuitions about what property is that makes it very hard to do anything other than talk past each other. That points to needing a way to explain the basic intuition for why we should even have private property, strange as that may seem.
I agree that I don’t see a real distinction between personal and private/capital property. On the one hand I feel like this is an after-the-fact categorical distinction created to deal with intuitive objections people have to abolishing private property. On the other I feel like it’s an attempt to rehabilitate a forager notion of what property is private vs. communal, i.e. whatever you can carry on your back is yours, whatever you can’t is shared.
Outing myself as this friend, for what it’s worth I actually think the linked article about finance does make a case for private property in general, but it requires making a couple of additional inferential steps on your own to see it. This post makes a slightly different line of argument to support private property, and I also support it. I think there are many reasons why private property is a good coordination mechanism, and this is one of them.
I think you’re basically right, secular people are using self-help books to get one of the things that religious people get from their religions.
This isn’t the whole picture, though. Religion offers a lot beyond life advice and norm coordination. For many it also helps with finding meaning or purpose in life and with finding community. Self-help might touch on these a bit (things like processes for finding purpose or “a passion” and advice for how to make friends), but it doesn’t in itself offer the broader containers religions often provide to offer those things.
Put this way, self-help is a bit like just doing something in the space that religion covers with texts and talks, but not covering its other functions.
(None of this is to say that religions don’t sometimes do bad things, etc. etc., because I know someone will read my comment and be like “but what about this bad thing this religion did to me/others”. Or that you can’t live a fulfilling life without religion. But it’s worth admitting that for many people, myself included, religion serves an important role in their lives, and it’s worth considering how secular people meet those same needs that religious people meet via their religion.)
As a longtime baseball fan, one thing that excites me is that people are so hard up for sports that I’m seeing people who have been “meh” on baseball turning to it. I don’t know if this will persist, but on the margin it might produce some new/stronger baseball fans, though I think the situation would have to be pretty prolonged to return baseball to its pre-strike level of popularity.
This also makes me think some other games should be safe: cricket, tennis, golf, etc.. They might similarly see an uptick in interest in the US.
Thinking about it more, I think the laundry room might point to why this political system works in Switzerland and the loosely similar attempts at direct democracy in America arguably don’t.
So, for context, I grew up in Florida, and now split my time between Florida and California, technically residing in Florida but spending a lot of my time in California. Both places have some version of direct democracy. In Florida there’s a system of ballot measures that permits amendments to the state constitution by vote, but with some limitations (the wording gets reviewed and sometimes amendments get signatures to show up on the ballot but are worded in ways that courts rule are invalid, some kinds of changes are not allowed, etc.). In California there’s a more general system for referendums. Since I only vote in Florida I know that better, but I live with the consequences in California so I see that, too.
In both places the system is a mess. In California the deleterious effects of various propositions is well documented, so I won’t say much about it. In Florida, it’s similarly weird, and constantly puts the state in a position where it’s forced to violate the constitution. A great example of this is the 2002 class size amendment that put constitutional limits on how many students could be in a class, but provided no mechanism for funding this change, leaving that up to the legislature. Unsurprisingly, not enough money was coughed up at the state level, leaving school districts in a tough spot. The result was things like school districts strategically choosing to violate the constitution and pay fines because it was cheaper than complying with the law.
But that’s all just context, I’m really here to talk about laundry.
So, in American culture, I feel relatively safe in claiming that a supermajority of Americans would be put off at the idea that they would have to submit to communal authority of their fellow apartment dwellers. There’s something in the American ethos about people letting other people alone, especially if they are equals. The only person who can tell us what to do is someone we recognize as an authority.
Weirdly, though, Americans are pretty happy to submit to people they recognize as authorities. Like, they might grumble a bit about it, but current protests aside, people aren’t generally out in the streets over being asked to do things. They might make a lot of noise about it, but in the end they will either just do it or shut up about it and silently break the rules. Like, if my neighbors asked me to change how I did laundry, I’d likely not want to hear it. But if the landlord told me the rules, I’d at least say “okay, he has the right to make the rules”, and then either follow them or not but at least I would accept he was a valid person to tell me what to do, whereas I wouldn’t think my neighbor had any right to say anything.
And this difference in culture bubbles up. So it feels like if my fellow Americans say they want policy X or Y, that’s just their opinion. But if our elected officials say this is policy X or Y, well that’s how it us. Americans expect a hierarchical structure both in public and private spheres, and don’t want to listen to people who aren’t their superior. Thus, having put on my amateur sociologist hat, I’m lead to believe that direct democracy wouldn’t work in America without substantial cultural changes towards greater egalitarianism, noting that America seems to be a great example that you can be pro-freedom and not pro-equality.