Reading Yudkowsky, part 62

by Luke Muehlhauser on August 3, 2011 in Eliezer Yudkowsky,Resources,Reviews

AI researcher Eliezer Yudkowsky is something of an expert at human rationality, and at teaching it to others. His hundreds of posts at Less Wrong are a treasure trove for those who want to improve their own rationality. As such, I’m reading all of them, chronologically.

I suspect some of my readers want to “level up” their rationality, too. So I’m keeping a diary of my Yudkowsky reading. Feel free to follow along.

His 658th post is Formative Youth, which calls us to acknowledge how powerfully formative our childhood years are – continued in Tell Your Rationalist Origin Story and The Most Important Thing You LearnedThat You’d Tell All Your Friends. Next: Markets are Anti-Inductive.

There are a few posts resulting from the move from Overcoming Bias to Less Wrong: 1, 2, 3.

At this point in Less Wrong history, others other than Yudkowsky begin to make contributions, for example Robin Hanson with Test Your Rationality. But, for the purposes of this series, I will stick to Yudkowsky’s posts on Less Wrong.

The next few substantive posts (mixed in with news posts: 1, 2, 3, 4) are:

Next begins The Craft and the Community sequence, with Raising the Sanity Waterline and A Sense That More is Possible. Epistemic Viciousness celebrates an excellent essay by that title.

Next, Eliezer discusses Schools Proliferating Without Evidence in psychology, though of course the problem is even worse in philosophy! How to halt the problem? Maybe pay attention to 3 Levels of Rationality Verification.

What Do We Mean by “Rationality”? discusses the difference between epistemic rationality and instrumental rationality. (Comments page.)

Next is The Pascal’s Wager Fallacy Fallacy:

And the one said, “Isn’t that a form of Pascal’s Wager?”

I’m going to call this the Pascal’s Wager Fallacy Fallacy.

You see it all the time in discussion of cryonics.  The one says, “If cryonics works, then the payoff could be, say, at least a thousand additional years of life.”  And the other one says, “Isn’t that a form of Pascal’s Wager?”

The original problem with Pascal’s Wager is not that the purported payoff is large. This is not where the flaw in the reasoning comes from.  That is not the problematic step.  The problem with Pascal’s original Wager is that the probability is exponentially tiny (in the complexity of the Christian God) and that equally large tiny probabilities offer opposite payoffs for the same action (the Muslim God will damn you for believing in the Christian God).

However, what we have here is the term “Pascal’s Wager” being applied solely because the payoff being considered is large – the reasoning being perceptually recognized as an instance of “the Pascal’s Wager fallacy” as soon as someone mentions a big payoff – without any attention being given to whether the probabilities are in fact small or whether counterbalancing anti-payoffs exist.

Next, a call to find Rationalist Fiction. On this same theme of the rationalist community is Why Our Kind Can’t Cooperate and Tolerate Tolerance.

You’re Calling *Who* a Cult Leader? laughs at the fact that many consider Eliezer Yudkowsky and Paul Graham cult leaders. Next is a bloggingheads on religion. On Things That Are Awesome tries to analyze awesomeness. Hyakujo’s Fox is a Zen koan.

The Sacred Mundane argues that religion twists the experience of sacredness.

Back to The Craft and the Community sequence:

Next are two excellent posts on rationalist charity, which are summed up nicely in their titles:

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Lex Mentis August 3, 2011 at 11:19 am

When is the next podcast going to be released? Does anyone know?

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Luke Muehlhauser August 3, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Les Mentis,

Morality podcast or Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot?

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Lex Mentis August 4, 2011 at 7:58 am

Huh, I didn’t know there were two. I was referring to the Pale Blue Dot podcast, though.

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Adam August 4, 2011 at 2:33 pm

I agree with Wrath. It’s a sh– topic. But, wrath luke has stated this is just his personal blog and if users are interested in this topic that’s just a bonus. His already stated this blog is taking a different turn, might as well leave. I just check back every now and then to see if theirs any difference.

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wallowinmaya August 6, 2011 at 7:43 am

Wrath, some folks don’t give a flying f— about your opinion.

I think it’s awesome that Luke writes about Yudkowsky and rationality.

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noen August 7, 2011 at 10:17 am

“(the Muslim God will damn you for believing in the Christian God)”

Both Muslims and Christians, and Jews, worship the same god. Jesus is a revered religious figure in Islam, he’s a prophet. Many Muslims observe Christmas.

His argument that he can’t possibly be a cult leader because the same accusations have been made against Paul Graham is remarkably poor. His argument is that Paul Graham has been unjustly accused because:

1) Paul Graham has written a word or two about rationality.
2) Paul Graham does not ask his readers for donations.
3. Paul Graham is not dabbling in mad-science-grade AI.
4) Paul Graham is not trying to save the world.

That is a fallacious argument. Based on this admittedly quick assessment I have little confidence that Paul Graham is someone I should pay attention to.

“Next, Eliezer discusses Schools Proliferating Without Evidence in psychology, though of course the problem is even worse in philosophy!”

As we can see in the comments he is quickly shown how wrong his assessment is. CBT, the most prominent psycho-therapeutic modality around today, has copious clinical evidence in it’s favor.

I was also unaware that philosophy belongs among the empirical sciences. I’ve been laboring under the impression that philosophy is just people getting together and engaging in rational debate. I am equally surprised to learn that scientific facts, what is in fact the case, has anything to say about values, what human primates on Earth believe other primates ought to do and how they should behave.

I’m not seeing much rationality here. But he seems very erudite and professional and I’m glad that Luke no longer buys into outright cranks like Alonzo Fyfe. So… it appears at least some progress has been made.

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noen August 7, 2011 at 10:28 am

“I have little confidence that Paul Graham is someone I should pay attention to.”

Should of course read “I have little confidence that Eliezer Yudkowsky is someone I should pay attention to.” Though I think I can include Paul Graham as well.

This does not bode well:

“Yudkowsky did not attend high school and is an autodidact with no formal education in artificial intelligence. He claims not to operate within the academic system.” [...] “Yudkowsky has not authored any peer reviewed papers. He has written several works of science fiction and other fiction.”

My “suspected cranks” radar has just emitted a ping.

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Ryan M August 7, 2011 at 10:48 am

Noen,

The lack of education and association with academic system is troubling. But in the case of education we can see that some people have lacked education and turned out to be complete geniuses and done very important things in their desired fields. Saul Kripke comes to mind.

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noen August 7, 2011 at 11:25 am

“some people have lacked education and turned out to be complete geniuses”

Hence my use of the phrase “suspected”.

“Saul Kripke comes to mind.”

Really?

“He is a professor emeritus at Princeton and teaches as a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center. ” [...] “After graduating from high school in 1958, Kripke attended Harvard University and graduated summa cum laude obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. During his sophomore year at Harvard, Kripke taught a graduate-level logic course at nearby MIT. Upon graduation (1962) he received a Fulbright Fellowship, and in 1963 was appointed to the Society of Fellows.”

That’s an interesting argument you have there. It took me literally 10 seconds to refute your claim. Where do you get your information from? There seems to be a lot of group think going on in certain New Atheist circles these days.

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anon August 7, 2011 at 11:33 am

Neon, I agree with you. But why target Ryan M with all that snark? He made a point. He did it in a nice and unsnarky way. You made a counterpoint. Why do it with snark? Why not just make your point in a nice way?

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noen August 7, 2011 at 1:28 pm

“But why target Ryan M with all that snark? ”

I don’t see where I used sarcasm. It really did take me seconds to double check the claim made and I really do think the Atheists I encounter on the internet suffer from various forms of group think.

This post is supposedly about “readers [who] want to “level up” their rationality”. I see no evidence of that in the links to Eliezer Yudkowsky nor in subsequent comments. In my opinion the New Atheist movement, which most online atheists strongly identify with, cannot pass even the most cursory analysis. In my opinion the New Atheist debate with religion has as much substance to it as Gameboy vs Nintendo fanboi-ism.

Have you not noticed? You’ve lost John Stewart. He thinks you’re just assholes.

How’s that working out for ya? (snark alert!)

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anon August 7, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Have you not noticed? You’ve lost John Stewart. He thinks you’re just assholes.

How’s that working out for ya? (snark alert!)

Hey. I’m not a new athiest. I’m not an athiest at all.

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Ryan M August 7, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Noen, I should have been clear. Kripke only has a bachelors in mathematics, yet at the age of 17 he was making advanced claims in modal logic and was offered to teach at Harvard. Even with just a BA, he has done far more than what a lot of philosopher’s could hope to do with a PHD. His level of education is rather low, that is why I brought him up.

Also, why did you bring up new atheists? Are you implying that I’m a new atheist? If so, I cannot see what would justifying you in saying I am one. Please provide me with evidence to show that it was reasonable for you to believe that I am a new atheist, or that my claim about education is somehow related to new atheism.

If you were raped by a new atheist, you can just tell us and vent. Don’t worry, we’re listening, stop being so mad.

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Ryan M August 7, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Hey.I’m not a new athiest.I’m not an athiest at all.

Noen use to go on a lot of semi philosophy based websites and just attack new atheists, or accuse people of being new atheists without good reason to. Here is Noen’s gimmick: 1. Go onto atheist or theist website. 2. Go on rants about new atheists. 3. Talk about how atheists are stupid, and agnostics are superior. 4. Accuse responders of being new atheists. 5. Continue being mad about new atheists. 6. Mention John Searle as being an awesome philosopher but never bash him for his new atheistish views on theism and religion, and then avoid the charges of hypocrisy.

I bet Noen’s posts might actually reflect what Noen thinks. But I find it hard to take her (It has been implied that Noen is female) seriously when all she seems to want to do is bash new atheists, rant about agnosticism, and accuse others of being new atheists. If you want a civil conversation, I don’t think you will get one from Noen.

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noen August 7, 2011 at 4:18 pm

“His level of education is rather low, that is why I brought him up. ” — But his level of education isn’t low. He’s a full professor with a published history. Eliezer Yudkowsky has none of the accomplishments that Kripke had at 17. But we’re getting lost in the forest. None of this is important. What is important it that Yudkowsky’s lack of an academic education and publishing record makes me suspicious. It certainly doesn’t imply that he is wrong, I doubt he is when it comes to established facts. It just makes me skeptical.

The purpose of higher education isn’t to saw off the top of your head and fill it with facts. Professors and schools who do that cheat their students and create glib and superficial pseudo-intellectuals. The function of higher ed is to lift you up and make you a better human being. This is done by challenging you and confronting you with contrary people and ideas. By making you uncomfortable with your own natural biases and prejudices. That is how we grow intellectually.

Of course none of this means Yudkowsky is intellectually immature, only that there is an increased likelyhood. I haven’t even read much about him other than a couple of the links given here. But what I have read doesn’t bode well, in my opinion. We will see.

“Also, why did you bring up new atheists?”

I assume that on an atheist’s blog where I have had many debates in the past about atheism and that has an atheist themed podcast, that most of the common taters (heh) are in fact atheists. I am sorry if my assumtion was wrong but on the other hand I don’t recal saying you are an atheist. Only that I had doubts about Yudkowsky and have a poor opinion of atheists generally. You would do well to not personalize everything people write in comments as necessarily being about you.

“If you were raped by a new atheist, you can just tell us and vent.”

I was, in a sense. I have had the honor of being on the receiving end of the superior atheist morality first hand. I’ve had my full name, address, phone number and personal relationships published on a prominent atheist blog because I had the gall to argue, and argue well, against atheists. I’m a woman and they called me every vile and filthy name they could think of and that was just for starters. Then they got *personal*.

I’m agnostic but I don’t accept the current dominant paradigms promulgated by atheism, that atheists have no beliefs whatsoever, that religion is a universal evil and so on. Today’s atheists have just taken the pig of Scientism, smeared lipstick on it and made sweet sweet love to it. To me it’s still a pig covered in shit but to each his own.

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Ryan M August 7, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Noen I agree that his lack of publications is a problem. It might be hard to see if there are problems with your arguments if you do not let others critique them. However I don’t think that Kripke being a professor and writing publications means he is educated passed his bachelors. Surely the bachelors is his only formal education, and all else is simply outside experience and personal reading.

I will also agree about general internet atheists. If the proposition “God exists” is to be examined, I find that a lot of atheist on the internet (And outside) find that atheism is not a belief about the proposition, but a lack of one. But I find there to be at least 3 options (Belief that G, belief that ~G, neither belief that G or ~G (A person with the latter belief might find the truth value to be indeterminate for multiple reasons). If Atheism is the lacking of belief regarding G, then what do we call the belief that ~G? Well some call it atheism, and I suspect most people who use the term do that too. So since we want to avoid ambiguity, the belief that ~G and the lacking of belief regarding G cannot both be atheism.

I won’t be a dick to you anymore, because I still think you are pretty intelligent.

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anon August 7, 2011 at 6:26 pm

Hi Neon,

“If you were raped by a new atheist, you can just tell us and vent.”

I was, in a sense. I have had the honor of being on the receiving end of the superior atheist morality first hand. I’ve had my full name, address, phone number and personal relationships published on a prominent atheist blog because I had the gall to argue, and argue well, against atheists. I’m a woman and they called me every vile and filthy name they could think of and that was just for starters. Then they got *personal*.

I’m sorry to hear about that. You are right to be angry. You are also right that Yud-diddy is lame.

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noen August 7, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Ryan – “It might be hard to see if there are problems with your arguments if you do not let others critique them. ”

I don’t know how I would prevent you. My argument was that a lack of publication history and a lack of some kind of post high school education casts doubt.

“I won’t be a dick to you anymore”

I don’t think you have been in the first place.

“I find that a lot of atheist on the internet (And outside) find that atheism is not a belief about the proposition, but a lack of one.”

To which like you I also disagree. I agree with JJC Smart’s essay in the Stanford Encyc of Philosophy (easily found with google) that atheism is the denial that god exists. But just as I am dismissive of atheists who want to pretend they are pure and have no beliefs I am also dismissive of theists who think that the propositions of their belief system are scientific questions that have answers. I have no idea what the word god is supposed to even mean. But on the other hand I don’t then agree with the linguistic philosophers like Ayers who said that metaphysical statements that lack a referent are meaningless. Because in order to say that Ayers had to adopt verificationist notions (otherwise he couldn’t say metaphysical claims are without meaning). But claims cannot be verified, ask Popper how that worked out. So we are left with, I believe, a gap between what we can say and what we cannot. “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”. Wittgenstein was a bit of a mystic, I think he made a good point there.

Anon “You are right to be angry.”

I like to think I’m over that. I say it for it’s rhetorical effect. Internet atheists like to feign moral outrage at the supposed crimes of religion. Re-telling that unfortunate experience is my way of pre-emptively blocking that line of argument.

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Bret August 8, 2011 at 10:20 am

Les Mentis,

Morality podcast or Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot?

Both Luke. Are there gonna be new ones of either soon?

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Luke Muehlhauser August 8, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Bret,

Not sure.

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Scott August 10, 2011 at 8:56 am

Yudkowsky writes well on a vast array of topics, and is obviously very intelligent. I’ve never felt well enough read on any of the areas he comments on to have an opinion on his presentation, except one: I happen to have read a number of works by the philosopher David Chalmers, famous for being a mind dualist. When Yudkowsky started to write on the problem of consciousness, it became clear he hadn’t read Chalmers. There’s nothing wrong with not having read him–it’s a tiny niche in the knowledge of the world–but Yudkowsky went on to confidently declaim about the topic. He may have been right, he may have been wrong, I’m rather neutral on that, but what offended me was the willingness to feign authority without knowing the field. There were arguments Chalmers spent time responded to that Yudkowsky was happy to trot out as if they were fresh and unanswered–and I don’t think this was dishonest, only ignorant. Later Yudkowsky wrote a follow up specifically about Chalmers, seemingly, rather than having read his book on the topic, browsed it using Google Books.

I lost interest in the blog after that.

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