This post focuses on greenhouse gas concentrations. Since the causal model is (greenhouse gas concentrations) → (temperature plus the other stuff you mention), I figure the highest-leverage way to solve climate change is to lower greenhouse gas concentrations.
Proving something does not exist is a highly problematic exercise.
No, for any hypothesis H, it’s on average equally “problematic” to believe its probability is 1% as it is to believe its probability is 99%.
All I asked Stephanie to do is ground her term “God”. Terms like “space” are easily groundable in hundreds of ways.
For example for “space”: I can use my eyes to estimate the distance between people standing in a field. If the people then seem to be trying their hardest to run toward each other, I expect to observe a minimum amount of time before I’ll see their distances hit near-zero, proportional to the distance apart they are.
If tomorrow there were no space, one way I could distinguish that alternate reality from current reality is by observing the above grounding getting falsified.
>> I don’t even know where to begin imagining what a lack of objective reality looks like
Well. Now you have stumbled upon another standard fallacy, argument from the failure of imagination. If you look up various non-realist epistemologies, it could be a good start.
Of course, I wasn’t trying to argue the claim, I was just reporting my experience.
Placebo effects area a real thing. If one truly takes Bob’s grounding then it is not obvious that it is factually incorrect. If “dark matter” means “whatever causes this expansion” then “whatever causes this healing” probably hits a whole bunch of aspects of reality.
But if we’re being honest with each other, we both know that Bob’s grounding is factually incorrect, right? It’s not trivial to lay out the justification for this knowledge that we both possess, it requires training in epistemology and Occam’s razor. But a helpful intuition pump is Marshall Brain’s question: Why won’t God heal amputees? This kind of thought experiment shows the placebo effect to be a better hypothesis than Bob’s God.
In your example of an unfairly-written dialogue, when Slider says at the end “Seems contradictory and crazy”, it feels like the most unfair part is when you don’t let Aaron respond one more time. I think the single next line of dialogue would be very revealing:
Aaron: Here’s a precise mathematical definition of “wave” that I think you’ll agree is coherent and even intuitive, but doesn’t have any “medium”. Light waves are similarly mathematical objects that we can call waves without reference to a medium. Where’s the contradiction in that?
If you think that I have written a dialogue where you can add just one line of dialogue to make a big difference to the reader’s takeaway, feel free to demonstrate it, because I consider this to be a sign of an unfairly-written dialogue.
You claim that my questions to Stephanie were overly vague, but if that were the case, then Stephanie could simply say “The way your questions are constructed seems vague and confusing to me. I’m confused what you’re specifically trying to ask me.” But that wouldn’t fit in the dialogue because my questions weren’t the source of vagueness; Stephanie’s confusion was the source of vagueness.
The patience of discussion-liron runs out pretty fast and is likely because of preconceptions that “higher purpose” is likely to be empty.
I purposely designed a dialogue where Stephanie really is pure belief-in-belief. I think this accurately represents most people in these kinds of discussions. I could write a longer dialogue where I give Stephanie more opportunity to have subtle coherent beliefs reveal themselves, but given who her character is, they won’t.
In your analogy with a dialogue about Stephanie-the-many-worlds-believer, I would expect Stephanie to sharply steer the discussion in the direction of Occam’s razor and epistemology, if she knew what she was talking about. Similarly, she could have sharply steered somewhere if she had a coherent meaning about believing in God beyond trivial belief-in-belief.
I would like to see shminux challenge addressed here.
Sure, see that thread.
Let’s pick another faith based case—or even the atheist position (which I would argue is just as much about faith as the religious persons). I agree with the position that rationality leads not to no belief (in god or some other position) but an agnostic position.
Ok, I think you’re asking me to ground my atheism-belief, like why am I not agnostic?
Since I don’t think that you think I should be agnostic about e.g. Helios, I would ask you to first clarify your question by putting forth a specific hypothesis that you think I should be agnostic rather than atheist about.
If you want an example, I’ve pointed out multiple times that privileging the model of objective reality (the map/territory distinction) over other models is one of those ubiquitous beliefs.
Ya I was hoping for an example, thanks :)
Now that you have read this sentence, pause for a moment and notice your emotions about it. Really, take a few seconds. List them.
My first emotion was “Come on, you want to challenge objective reality? That’s a quality belief that’s table stakes for almost all productive discussions we can have!”
Then I thought, “Okay fine, no problem, I’m mature and introspective enough to do this rationality exercise, I don’t want to be a hypocrite to change others’ minds about religion without allowing my own mind to be changed by the same sound methods, plus anyway this community will probably love me if I do by chance have a big fundamental mind change on this topic, so I don’t care much if I do or not, although it’ll become a more time-consuming exercise to have such an epiphany.”
Then I thought, “Okay but I don’t even know where to begin imagining what a lack of objective reality looks like, it just feels like confusion, similar to when I try to imagine e.g. a non-reductionist universe with ontologically fundamental mental entities.”
Now compare it with the emotions a devout person would feel when told that God is just a belief. If you are honest with yourself, then you are likely to admit that there is little difference. … So, if you have never demolished your own deeply held belief, and went through the emotional anguish of reframing your views unflinchingly, you are not qualified to advise others how to do it.
For my first emotion, sure, there’s little difference in the reaction between me and a God-believer. But for my subsequent introspection, I think I’m doing better and being more rational than most God-believers. That’s why I consider myself a pretty skilled rationalist! Perhaps I have something to show for spending thousands of hours reading LW posts?
I think I have the power to have crises of faith. FWIW, I realized I personally do “believe in God” in the sense that I believe Bostrom’s Simulation Hypothesis has more than a 50% chance of being true, and it’s a serviceable grounding of the term “God” to refer to an intelligence running the simulation—although it may just be alien teenagers or something, so I certainly don’t like bringing in the connotations of the word “God”, but it’s something right?
I agree, that’s why I put the UNFCCC in the “definite” category, because I think they’ve added an important definite piece to the overall solution, and I don’t think we should expect too much more out of them besides setting ballpark country-specific targets.
I know that’s what a lot of people refer to it as, but I felt that the word choice “worst case scenario” is a bit too optimistic-sounding about how low the probability is, because I believe modelers give it more than a 10% chance of being the outcome without a lot of climate removal/sequestration/reversal efforts.
Ah, if you have a relevant excerpt handy I’ll check it out. But ya Thiel’s book seems like an outlier in the space of contemporary writing about startups.
In that case, I would act like a scientist making observations of her mental model of reality, and file away “the cause of a lower probability that nerds in a basement will turn the world into paperclips” as part of a grounding of “God”. I would keep making observations and pull them together into a meaningful hypothesis, which would probably have the same epistemic status as Bob’s god Helios
A believer in God is an easy target
Yes, easy once armed with the tools of rationality.
LessWrong has the effect of gradually making people lose belief in God, and move beyond the whole frame of arguing about God to all kinds of interesting new framings and new arguments (e.g. simulation universes, decision theories, and AI alignment).
The goal of this post is to briefly encapsulate the typically longer experience of having LW dissolve “God” by asking what “God” specifically refers to in the mind of the believer.
Can you find a deep belief in something that you are holding and go through the same steps you outlined above for Stephanie?
I like to think that my deep beliefs all have specific referents to not be demolishable, so it’s hard for me to know where to start looking for one that doesn’t. Feel free to propose ideas. But if I don’t personally struggle with the weakness that I’m helping others overcome, that seems ok too.
Shopify announced today that they’re taking definite action on solving climate change by creating a $1-5M fund to buy carbon removal/sequestration at any price, which basically works as a prize.
So now Y Combinator is funding sequestration startups and Shopify is giving them a path to profitable return on investment. This is what a definite solution looks like.
Why is the UNFCCC and the Paris agreement under “definite” solutions? … It was all indefinite: they all agreed to somehow reduce emissions, without any definite vision.
Because at least having a world organization that sets per-country targets is what the start of a definite solution looks like.
On the other hand, personal behavior change like washing laundry in cold water is plenty specific and definite—the strategy says exactly what to do and has a simple cause-and-effect story from actions to results.
While the link “wash clothes > reduce your personal carbon footprint” is definite, my point is that the category of solutions that rely on the link “reduce your personal carbon footprint > solve carbon change” are indefinite.
I’m unimpressed with personal behavior change strategies for other reasons.
Nice, yeah me too
Same with offsetting: there’s an argument to be made that something is wrong with the strategy, but the problem is orthogonal to specificity/definiteness.
I still think it’s a problem of indefiniteness when people treat personal behavior change or personal carbon offsetting as part of a solution to the current crisis.
I feel like this sequence has been losing sight of the target … The central message of specificity would be more effectively conveyed if the examples clearly separated it from correctness.
I take your point, and I’ll probably go back after I finish the series and move out the content that’s less helpful to understanding specificity. I’d like the series to be a reference that people can link others to when they find themselves repeatedly asking the others to be more specific.
There’s another weak link in identifying “people paying for an indefinite solution to a problem” with “cultural norm shift”. Tesla’s master plan didn’t need to have any such “BS steps”. I prefer if we don’t have to start modeling the psychology of whether it helps society when people are kidding themselves in a certain way, instead of just definitely steering toward where we need to go.
Ya, well said. Here’s an idea for an initiative to improve coordination: educate voters that market forces work in everyone’s interest when economic policy internalizes externalities.
Hm I think that’s right but I’m not sure I understand your point. You seem to be introducing this plan/goal distinction but not making any new claim. I also don’t get the asterisk after “plan”.
You even identify the key point (“our economy lets everyone emit carbon for free”) without realizing that this implies replacement effects are very weak. Who will fly more if I fly less? In fact, since many industries have economies of scale, me flying less or eating less meat quite plausibly increases prices and decreases the carbon emissions of others.
It only has weak replacement effects in the “non-government-oversight model”. My claim is that if we’re in that model, then ROI of efforts toward coordination, or else end-runs like technological progress, dominates ROI of offsetting efforts.
But decreasing personal carbon footprint also has effects on cultural norms which can add up to larger political change.
That view is what I claim is indefinite and problematic.
That seems pretty important—even though, in general, it’s the type of thing that it’s very difficult to be specific about even for historical examples, let alone future ones. Dismissing these sort of effects feels very much like an example of the “valley of bad rationality”.
Well the crux is that I think you’re describing a situation (personal behavior change → cultural norm shift → meeting Paris Agreement target) that won’t actually happen, and specificity is a valuable tool to pinpoint why not.