By “meme” I mean Dawkins’ original definition. A meme is just any idea to which Darwinian selection forces apply. For example, a good idea will be gradually stripped of nuance and accuracy as it passes through the communication network, and eventually becomes dumb.
We’ve built a bunch of tools for instant mind-to-mind communication, with built in features that amplify communiques that are short, simple and emotional. Over the last ten years an increasingly large fraction of all interpersonal communication has passed through these “dumbpass filter” communication systems. This process has systematically favored memes that are stupid. When everyone around you appears to be stupid, it makes you stupid. Even if you aren’t on these communication platforms, your friends are, and their brains are being filled up with finely-honed, evolutionarily optimized stupidity.
Not sure that I disagree with you at all on any specific point.
It’s just that “Considering the possibility that a technological fix will not be available” actually looks like staring down the barrel of a civilizational gun. There is no clever policy solution that dodges the bullet.
If you impose a large carbon tax, or other effective global policy of austerity that reduces fossil fuel use without replacing that energy somehow, you’re just making the whole world poor, as our electricity, food, transportation and medical bills go up above even their currently barely affordable levels, and the growth of the developing world is completely halted, and probably reversed. If your reason for imposing a carbon tax is not “to incentivize tech development” but instead “punish people for using energy”, then people will revolt. There were riots in France because of a relatively modest gasoline tax. An actual across-the-board policy implementation of “austerity” in some form would either be repealed quickly, would lead to civilizational collapse and mass death, or both. If you impose a small carbon tax (or some other token gesture at austerity and conservation) it will simply not be adequate to address the issue. It will at best impose a very slight damping on the growth function. This is what I mean when I say there is no practical policy proposal that addresses the problem. It is technology, or death. If you know of a plan that persuasively and quantitatively argues otherwise, I’d love to see it.
Epistemic status: You asked, so I’m answering, though I’m open to having my mind changed on several details if my assumptions turn out to be wrong. I probably wouldn’t have written something like this without prompting. If it’s relevant, I’m the author of at least one paper commissioned by the EPA on climate-related concerns.
I don’t like the branding of “Fighting Climate Change” and would like to see less of it. The actual goal is providing energy to sustain the survival and flourishing of 7.8+ billion people, fueling a technologically advanced global civilization, while simultaneously reducing the negative externalities of energy generation. In other words, we’re faced with a multi-dimensional optimization problem, while the rhetoric of “Fighting Climate Change” almost universally only addresses the last dimension, reducing externalities. Currently 80% of worldwide energy comes from fossil fuels and only 5% comes from renewables. So, simplistically, renewables need to generate 16x as much energy as they do right now. This number is “not so bad” if you assume that technology will continue to develop, putting renewables on an exponential curve, and “pretty bad” if you assume that renewables continue to be implemented at about the current rate.
And we need more energy generating capacity than we have now. A lot more. Current energy generation capacity only really provides a high standard of living for a small percentage of the world population. Everybody wants to lift Africa out of poverty, but nobody seems interested in asking many new power plants that will require. These power plants will be built with whatever technology is cheapest. We cannot dictate policy in power plant construction in the developing world; all we can do is try to make sure that better technologies exist when those plants are built.
I have seen no realistic policy proposal that meaningfully addresses climate change through austerity (voluntary reduced consumption) or increased energy usage efficiency. These sorts of things can help on the margins, but any actual solution will involve technology development. Direct carbon capture is also a possible target for technological breakthrough.
It’s pretty cool, but hardly a slam-dunk rejoinder if the whole issue in question is whether having a 3rd of 4th child is discontinuously costly due to sedan width.
Personally, I just ended up buying a minivan.
It qualifies as a trivial inconvenience. We had to essentially buy three new car seats when we had our third, because the two that we were using for the first two kids took up too much space, and needed to be replaced with thinner versions.
It does seem like having four children would pose more serious difficulties, since you can no longer fit four young children in a sedan no matter what you do.
I’m writing an effortpost on this general topic but wanted to gauge reactions to the following thoughts, so I can tweak my approach.
I was first introduced to rationality about ten years ago and have been a reasonably dedicated practitioner of this discipline that whole time. The first few years saw me making a lot of bad choices. I was in the Valley of Bad Rationality; I didn’t have experience with these powerful tools, and I made a number of mistakes.
My own mistakes had a lot to do with overconfidence in my ability to model and navigate complex situations. My ability to model and understand myself was particularly lacking.
In the more proximal part of this ten year period—say, in the last five years—I’ve actually gotten a lot better. And I got better, in my opinion, because I kept on thinking about the world in a fundamentally rationalist way. I kept making predictions, trying to understand what happened when my predictions went wrong, and updating both my world-model and my meta-model of how I should be thinking about predictions and models.
Centrally, I acquired an intuitive, gut level sense of how to think about situations where I could only see a certain angle, where I was either definitely or probably missing information, or situations involving human psychology. You could also classify another major improvement as being due generally to “actually multiplying probabilities semi-explicitly instead of handwaving”, e.g. it’s pretty unlikely that two things with independent 30% odds of being true, are both true. You could say through trial and error I came to understand why no wise person attempts a plan where more than one thing has to happen “as planned”.
I think if you had asked me at the 5 year mark if this rationality thing was all it was cracked up to be, I very well might have said that it had led me to make a lot of bad decisions and execute bad plans, but after 10 years, and especially the last year or three, it has started working for me in a way that it didn’t before.
FWIW I have come to similar conclusions along similar lines. I’ve said that I think human intelligence minus rat intelligence is probably easier to understand and implement than rat intelligence alone. Rat intelligence requires a long list of neural structures fine-tuned by natural selection, over tens of millions of years, to enable the rat to do very specific survival behaviors right out of the womb. How many individual fine-tuned behaviors? Hundreds? Thousands? Hard to say. Human intelligence, by contrast, cannot possibly be this fine tuned, because the same machinery lets us learn and predict almost arbitrarily different* domains.
I also think that recent results in machine learning have essentially proven the conjecture that moar compute regularly and reliably leads to moar performance, all things being equal. The human neocortical algorithm probably wouldn’t work very well if it were applied in a brain 100x smaller because, by its very nature, it requires massive amounts of parallel compute to work. In other words, the neocortex needs trillions of synapses to do what it does for much the same reason that GPT-3 can do things that GPT-2 can’t. Size matters, at least for this particular class of architectures.
*I think this is actually wrong—I don’t think we can learn arbitrarily domains, not even close. Humans are not general. Yann LeCun has repeatedly said this and I’m inclined to trust him. But I think that the human intelligence architecture might be general. It’s just that natural selection stopped seeing net fitness advantage at the current brain size.
I grew up in warm climates and tend to suffer a lot in cold weather. I moved to a colder climate a few years ago and discovered scarves. Wearing scarves eliminated 90% of this suffering. Scarves are not exactly a bold and novel invention, but people from warm climates may underestimate their power.
Scaling up testing seems to be critical. With easy, fast and ubiquitous testing, huge numbers of individuals could be tested as a matter of routine, and infected people could begin self-isolating before showing symptoms. With truly adequate testing policies, the goal of true “containment” could potentially be achieved, without the need to resort to complete economic lockdown, which causes its own devastating consequences in the long term.
Cheap, fast, free testing, possibly with an incentive to get tested regularly even if you don’t feel sick, could move us beyond flattening the curve and into actual containment.
Even a test with relatively poor accuracy helps, in terms of flattening the curve, provided it is widely distributed.
So I might phrase this as a set of questions:
Should I get tested, if testing is available?
How do we best institute wide-scale testing?
How do we most quickly enact wide-scale testing?
As my brother pointed out to me, arguments are not won in real time. Give them information in packets and calmly deal with objections as they come up, then disengage and let them process.
Perhaps there’s some obvious way in which I’m misunderstanding, but if10% of people contract the virus over a shortish time frame then won’t essentially everyone contract it eventually? Why would it reach a 10% penetration and then stop? Isn’t this like asking what happens if 10% of people contract influenza? Maybe in a given year your odds of getting the flu are X% but your odds of getting it once in 10 years are roughly 10*X%. Am I missing something that implies the virus will be corralled and gotten under control at a certain point?
Fantastic post; I’m still processing.
One bite-sized thought the occurs to me is that maybe this coupling of the Player and the Character is one of the many things accomplished by dreaming. The mind-system confabulates bizarre and complex scenarios, drawn in some sense from the distribution of possible but not highly probable sensory experiences. The Player provides an emotional reaction to these scenarios—you’re naked in school, you feel horrifying levels of embarrassment in the dream, and the Character learns to avoid situations like this one without ever having to directly experience it.
I think that dreaming does this sort of thing in a general way, by simulating scenarios and using those simulations to propagate learning through the hierarchy, but in particular it would seem that viewing the mind in terms of Player/Character gives you a unique closed-loop situation that really bootstraps the ability of the Character to intuitively understand the Player’s wishes.
I would love to see an answer to or discussion of this question. The premise of the OP that large companies would be better off if split into much much smaller companies is a shocking and bold claim. If conglomeration and growth of large firms were a purely Molochian and net-negative proposition, then the world would look different than it does.
I’m reminded of the post Purchase Fuzzies and Utilons Separately.
The actual human motivation and decision system operates by something like “expected valence” where “valence” is determined by some complex and largely unconscious calculation. When you start asking questions about “meaning” it’s very easy to decouple your felt motivations (actually experienced and internally meaningful System-1-valid expected valence) from what you think your motivations ought to be (something like “utility maximization”, where “utility” is an abstracted, logical, System-2-valid rationalization). This is almost guaranteed to make you miserable, unless you’re lucky enough that your System-1 valence calculation happens to match your System-2 logical deduction of the correct utilitarian course.
Possible courses of action include:
1. Brute forcing it, just doing what System-2 calculates is correct. This will involve a lot of suffering, since your System-1 will be screaming bloody murder the whole time, and I think most people will simply fail to achieve this. They will break.
2. Retraining your System-1 to find different things intrinsically meaningful. This can also be painful because System-1 generally doesn’t enjoy being trained. Doing it slowly, and leveraging your social sphere to help warp reality for you, can help.
3. Giving up, basically. Determining that you’d rather just do things that don’t make you miserable, even if you’re being a bad utilitarian. This will cause ongoing low-level dissonance as you’re aware that System-2 has evaluated your actions as being suboptimal or even evil, but at least you can get out of bed in the morning and hold down a job.
There are probably other options. I think I basically tried option 1, collapsed into option 3, and then eventually found my people and stabilized into the slow glide of option 2.
The fact that utilitarianism is not only impossible for humans to execute but actually a potential cause of great internal suffering to even know about is probably not talked about enough.
For the record, I view the fact that I commented in the first place, and that I now feel compelled to defend my comment, as being Exhibit A of the thing that I’m whining about. We chimps feel compelled to get in on the action when the fabric of the tribe is threatened. Making the banning of a badguy the subject of a discussion rather than being an act of unremarked moderator fiat basically sucks everybody nearby into a vortex of social wagon-circling, signaling, and reading a bunch of links to figure out which chimps are on the good guy team and which chimps are on the bad guy team. It’s a significant cognitive burden to impose on people, a bit like an @everyone in a Discord channel, in that it draws attention and energy in vastly disproportionate scope relative to the value it provides.
If we were talking about something socio-emotionally neutral like changing the color scheme or something, cool, great, ask the community. I have no opinion on the color scheme, and I’m allowed to have no opinion on the color scheme. But if you ask me what my opinion is on Prominent Community Abuser, I can’t beg off. That’s not an allowed social move. Better not to ask, or if you’re going to ask, be aware of what you’re asking.
Sure, you can pull the “but we’re supposed to be Rationalists(tm)” card, as you do in your last paragraph, but the Rationalist community has pretty consistently failed to show any evidence of actually being superior, or even very good, at negotiating social blow-ups.
I wasn’t really intending to criticize the status quo. Social consensus has its place. I’m not sure moderation decisions like this one require social consensus.
If you’re looking for feedback …
On one level I appreciate this post as it provides delicious juicy social drama that my monkey brain craves and enjoys on a base, voyeuristic level. (I recognize this as being a moderately disgusting admission, considering the specific subject matter; but I’m also pretty confident that most people feel the same, deep down.) I also think there is a degree of value to understanding the thought processes behind community moderation, but I also think that value is mixed.
On another level, I would rather not know about this. I am fine with Less Wrong being moderated by a shadowy cabal. If the shadowy cabal starts making terrible moderation decisions, for example banning everyone who is insufficiently ideologically pure, or just going crazy in some general way, it’s not like there’s anything I can do about it anyway. The good/sane/reasonable moderator subjects their decisions to scrutiny, and thus stands to be perpetually criticized. The bad/evil moderator does whatever they want, doesn’t even try to open up a dialogue, and usually gets away with it.
Fundamentally you stand to gain little and lose much by making posts like this, and now I’ve spent my morning indulging myself reading up on drama that has not improved my life in any way.