How to Help Save the World

by Luke Muehlhauser on August 25, 2011 in News

If you think it’s a good idea for me to spend my days doing under-funded research needed to save the world, you have the opportunity to say so here: Help Fund Lukeprog at MIRI.

Also, MIRI offers a flexible schedule that is ideal for allowing me to continue to make progress on my naturalism website project, which is the thing that is holding up the return of a currently shelved passion of mine, Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot.

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{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Zeb August 25, 2011 at 6:01 am

I am not joking, I would donate to a fund to take Luke away from the MIRI and fund his pursuit of at least a bachelor’s degree of his choice at a major university, as long as it includes at least a minor in Phil. Rel. and a promise to blog the experience. Not that I could donate enough money to make that in any way a tempting offer, I just A) feel real creeped out but this tendency to reject academics and burrow deeper into a community of like minded autodidacts and B) miss Luke’s awesome ability to dissect and communicate Phil. Rel. literature and topics. Oh, also I think Singularity is bullshit, but I’m not going to get into that here, that’s just why I will not donate to MIRI and would be glad to see Luke move on to other pursuits.

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AndrewR August 25, 2011 at 6:30 am

On the other hand I support and sympathise with Luke’s desire to do something more
practical with his time than explain Reformed Epistomology to us plebs. I’ll be sending some Paypal bucks his way in appreciation.

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Adito August 25, 2011 at 8:49 am

This is awesome, I’d donate if I could but the fall semester is coming up quick and I’ve got no cash : (. Right know all I can say is that I wish you luck, your career has been interesting to follow and that shows no signs of slowing down.

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The Singularity is Within August 25, 2011 at 11:11 am

Wait – we are funding the creation of Eliezer 2.0?
We are to fund another autodidact without a college degree who will then try and tell PhDs how they are wrong? And then will refuse to publish in peer reviewed academic journals by other PhDs?

I dunno. ;)

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Josh August 25, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Luke,

Congrats on LW putting you up for funding.

Really, I think a part of your funding should go toward a few last philosophy debates. Your Metaethics series on LW has me convinced that you have dissolved and/or solved many big problems in ethics.

This is why I think LW should sponsor you to debate guys like Derek Parfit and Simon Blackburn. Your ethical theorizing can greatly trouble those two. I think you would show that their views can’t pay rent when it comes to ethics.

Additionally you and W.L. Craig should have a go at it. Why not have LW sponsor you to defeat the nearly invincible Craig? You know how to beat him – this would be the perfect swan song for your interest in philosophy of religion.

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cl August 25, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Wake up, people. Wake up...

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cl August 25, 2011 at 6:54 pm

From Luke’s Crash Course in the Neuroscience of Human Motivation:

Folk psychology posits that we humans have beliefs and desires, and that we are motivated to do what we believe will fulfill our desires.

So wait; are you finally admitting that desirism is just folk psychology rewashed? This seems like a development we should have heard more about at CSA. Are you ever going to post a conclusion to all the desirism business? Or, is that just another thing kinda left hangin’??

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Ryan August 25, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Hey Luke,

I actually don’t care about the singularity institute due to a distrust of bizarre idea charity over third world charity promoted by givewell.org (as many hypotheticals as a person may use, I still trust empirical justification and easily perceived benefit a lot more than theory and value present utils over the possibility of future utils… though I am not very focused on the issue of a singularity because of a cognitive filter I use on bizarre seeming ideas), and while you seem like a cool guy, I don’t just give out money to strangers on that basis alone.

Could you give us a better idea of how this move will improve your production of interesting ideas compared to not being a fellow? I admit that you write interesting articles, and this has a non-zero value to me, so I can justify this to myself as an entertainment/educational value.(just like I can justify buying the occasional book) So, while you did a good job on lesswrong, could you just hammer in the matter of the marginal value we’d personally get from you being a singularity fellow? I think it may justify contribution, but I really just want it clear.

Best regards,

Ryan

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DMNP August 25, 2011 at 9:40 pm

This is why I think LW should sponsor you to debate guys like Derek Parfit and Simon Blackburn. Your ethical theorizing can greatly trouble those two. I think you would show that their views can’t pay rent when it comes to ethics.

I second that.

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Bret August 25, 2011 at 11:04 pm

If MIRI is needing funding, then they should pursue avenues which would potentially get them the most money.
First, the Less Wrong community should strive to be taken more seriously, and not appear as such a “fringe” cause. (I do not personally have this attitude towards them.) But honestly, to those who are not familiar with the percieved existential risks that MIRI is concerned with, the whole idea can seem too far out there. And again, maximizing funds means maximizing the amount of people and organizations that take the issue seriously.
How do we determine if the science someone is pursuing is legit? There certainly are alot of ways, but the fact that there is an absence of peer reviewed literature coming out of Less Wrong, and Yudkowski in particular absolutely hurts your cause! I don’t know if it is due to a sense of urgency or if you think you can rise above current science but I don’t blame people for not taking it seriously. The PR surrounding Less Wrong is substandard. No peer review, autodidacticism, and requests for money set off alarm bells.
Regardless of the content on Less Wrong, which I find to be brilliant. You guys are fooling yourselves if you don’t “jump through the hoops”, in my opinion. So much potential support will remain perpetually untapped. It comes off as arrogant to act as if MIRI doesn’t need to do the things other science does to achieve legitimacy. And maybe it isn’t even about the untapped money out there, it is about the untapped minds who reject you because of the alarm bells going off. Just look at some of the things you yourself posted regarding “Mediocre Scientists” a few days ago.

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Durango August 25, 2011 at 11:18 pm

No peer review, autodidacticism, and requests for money set off alarm bells.

Bingo. Plus the fact that many in the LW community will BOAST about such qualities makes it worse.

LW = Some pretty decent content but a pretty horrible PR image.

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mojo.rhythm August 26, 2011 at 1:04 am

Cl,

So wait; are you finally admitting that desirism is just folk psychology rewashed? This seems like a development we should have heard more about at CSA. Are you ever going to post a conclusion to all the desirism business? Or, is that just another thing kinda left hangin’??

I’m kinda surprised you don’t know that desirism uses the traditional belief-desire-intention model of psychology. And that Luke has always thought folk psych would be rejected and replaced with a more precise, explanatory model of human behavior. This belief is shared, incidentally, by Alonzo.

Remember that Luke has said (time and time again): the most devastating objection to Desirism is that desires do not exist. Ironically, when he made this claim about a year ago, you pooh-poohed it as childish word games and semantics, and not worthy of serious consideration. Have you changed your mind about this?

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Mark M. August 26, 2011 at 1:49 am

I think cl’s point was that if Luke doesn’t believe that desires exist then he can’t advocate I moral system that depends on the existence of desires.

On another note, I can’t help but notice the declining quality of this blog.I’ve been reading it for two years and I used to refrain from commenting because I didn’t think I could contribute to the high level discussions that took place. Frankly, I was intimidated by the level of knowledge displayed by both sides of the debate. Now I just think Eliezer Yudkowsky has seriously fucked up the mind of someone who could have made a great philosopher, or anything else for that matter.

Finally, to echo concerns above, I’d consider funding the MIRI or Less Wrong if they produced peer reviewed research and played by the same rules as any other scientific body. For now, I’ll stick to Oxfam and the like.

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Ryan M August 26, 2011 at 1:52 am

Lets not debate about desirism or anything here, that debate is a little annoying to see taking up comments.

Anyways, have Lesswrong posters ever debated the worthiness of taking their work to their peers for review? I’ll give it a look on the actual site after this comment, but if someone knowledgeable of Lesswrong could tell me now I’d like that.

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soupsayer August 26, 2011 at 2:04 am

Isn’t it Yud’s intent for LW and MIRI to have at least partially separate identities?

LW being the haven for Yud’s unique brand of “rationality”, while the other’s primary focus is “building Friendly AI”. I think Yud has said that if the fate of humanity wasn’t a dire, eminent apocalypse (AI+++ intelligence explosion), he would spend all of his time teaching us “rationality”.

While MIRI seems to be the entity seeking the funding, Yud’s post seems to imply that the funds would be used for both outfits. Is MIRI actively working on actual coding of algorithms or software now, or is all theoretical and research? I’ve read about the “software bottleneck” for even AI, so I suppose any funding now would be used for the same sort of output we see currently from LW/MIRI, and maybe some administrative expenses.

They do have an impressive list of donors including a lot of high profile people in the technology sector. So, it’s not just all science fiction fans and nerds with the complete harry potter lunchbox collection.

Anyway, if Luke wants it, I hope he gets it. LW/MIRI are still fringe enough so as not to be too very scary, and it is not the sort of thing that any grass roots groups are going to start a tea party over, so who cares if they tread water for a few decades. I think Yud will find a way to hire him either way, as Luke is too valuable for them to send packing – since Luke really believes this stuff, which is a huge advantage to them.

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cl August 26, 2011 at 9:08 am

mojo.rhythm,

I’m kinda surprised you don’t know that desirism uses the traditional belief-desire-intention model of psychology.

I’m kinda surprised at the assumptions you make. Assertion does not entail resolution. I’m familiar with the assertion that desirism “uses the traditional belief-desire-intention model of psychology.” In your own words, what, exactly, does that mean? Perhaps you can elaborate on the perceived discrepancy between the assertion and my statement?

Remember that Luke has said (time and time again): the most devastating objection to Desirism is that desires do not exist. Ironically, when he made this claim about a year ago, you pooh-poohed it as childish word games and semantics, and not worthy of serious consideration. Have you changed your mind about this?

Yeah, “remember,” as if I somehow forgot, as opposed to strongly disagree. C’mon. It is semantics. It doesn’t matter what we word use to describe human neuronal patterns. Undeniably, as Luke points out in the crash course, “There are these things called ‘humans’ on planet Earth. They undergo metabolism and cell growth. They produce waste. They maintain homeostasis. They reproduce. They move. They communicate.” And, these people have neuronal patterns. So, “desires might not exist” isn’t even a valid concern. Luke and Fyfe could just change the name of their “theory” to “neuronal pattern” -ism. Personally, I like “Fyfism” best.

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cl August 26, 2011 at 9:18 am

Mark M,

Lets not debate about desirism or anything here, that debate is a little annoying to see taking up comments.

Don’t worry, I’ve given up on the pipe dream that reasoned objections can cause Luke any concern, so, unless mojo.rhythm wants to pursue the issue, I have nothing else to say that hasn’t already been echoed by literally dozens of capable commenters. Personally, while I think this is a free blog and we should be able to say whatever we want whether it annoys certain people or not, I’m even open to pursuing the desirism issue in another thread — just so you don’t get annoyed, Ryan M.

I think cl’s point was that if Luke doesn’t believe that desires exist then he can’t advocate I moral system that depends on the existence of desires.

No, that wasn’t what I was getting at.

On another note, I can’t help but notice the declining quality of this blog.

Join the long line! What frustrates me is, I suspect Luke doesn’t even care. I suspect he tells himself something like, “Oh, some people are just pissed off because I don’t talk about (a)theism anymore, but I’ve dissolved that conflict. I’ve found the truth and now it’s time to save the world.” IOW, I suspect he’s completely immune to the majority of criticisms, and I suspect that at least part of that is due his pre-existing overconfidence, now vitiated by his infatuation with the Yud. Luke’s still searching for a savior, and I often ponder the implications of that.

Now I just think Eliezer Yudkowsky has seriously fucked up the mind of someone who could have made a great philosopher, or anything else for that matter.

Well, I don’t think Yudkowsky caused this, because I endorse the view that we are each responsible for our own actions and choices, but I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment you’ve expressed. I would just phrase it differently. Christ and Fyfe are now off Luke’s cross, but it appears the “savior-vacuum” still pumps full throttle.

Another commenter wrote,

We are to fund another autodidact without a college degree who will then try and tell PhDs how they are wrong? And then will refuse to publish in peer reviewed academic journals by other PhDs?

Amen to that, and I’ll add: Who argues a position just enough to present the appearance of dissolution, then declares said position a “settled issue” while heaps of valid objections and counterarguments go ignored? Who flagrantly disregards the advice of peer-reviewed professionals who play by the rules and are actually doing the hard work [cf. Marcel Brass on the Libet data]? Who goes from uber-Christian to Miles Dyson in three short years? Who shrinks back from legitimate objections and counterarguments directly related to the “settled issues” at the core of the MIRI agenda? Who exempts himself and his fellow Lesswrongians* from the rules that real scientists have followed for decades, while ironically denigrating theists who do the same?

I said I felt Luke was becoming “reckless and dangerous” in another thread, and I meant it.

*Nah, there’s no cultish aspects to LW whatsoever.

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Ajay August 26, 2011 at 11:02 am

We were doing such a good job of ignoring cl, but then some of you had to go and feed the troll…

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Thomas August 26, 2011 at 11:46 am

“We were doing such a good job of ignoring cl, but then some of you had to go and feed the troll…”

Pfff come on… If you don´t have anything reasonable to say to him, then don´t say anything.

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Disappointed August 26, 2011 at 12:10 pm

We were doing such a good job of ignoring cl, but then some of you had to go and feed the troll…

Dude, cl has been providing more substance on here than Luke has lately. cl at least demands and provides evidence and arguments.
Luke gave up arguments a few months ago.

Also, look at the LW crowd – some of them are noticing Luke’s unwillingness to engage in arguments and evidence. Follow the link above about funding Luke and notice how Silas Barta just hands Luke his rear and Luke…responds with silence.

Luke is a decent fellow – but he kinda lost touch a while ago.

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cl August 26, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Ajay,

We were doing such a good job of ignoring cl, but then some of you had to go and feed the troll…

Really? You call this a good job of ignoring me? I hate to be redundant, but… what world do you live in? Why don’t you quit whining and say something that relates to any of the arguments? Why don’t you quit pulling the fundie tactic of demonizing dissenters and say something relevant?

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cl August 26, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Of course, comments that are “too critical” get “voted down” by the rest of the congregation of “LessWrongians,” such that a casual observer might not see all of Silas’ comments:

I actually have no interest in supporting your research. Every time I ask a clarifying question of any of your claims, you get extremely defensive and fail to answer it, which suggests a poor understaning of what you’re trying to present results on. Also, every piece of advice I’ve followed falls woefully short of what you claim it does, and I don’t seem to be alone here (on either point). I think your contributions are overrated. [Silas, to Luke]

Sounds all too familiar, doesn’t it?

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Ryan M August 26, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Cl,

Oh, how nice of you!

To the others, I share your skepticism regarding funding non peer reviewed work. It seems to me that some other people (I.e. Discovery Institute) have claimed to not fit in with the general peer reviewers. I wonder if Luke or others at Lesswrong might be looking for some special pleading for their case, or perhaps they have legitimately good reasons to refuse peer review while others such as the Discovery Institute do not. But I don’t know, I a list of questions for Luke to answer would be nice (Although I can imagine that this might a laughable dream to some people).

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Jake de Backer August 26, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Honestly. WTF happened to this site…

J.

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Ortega August 26, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Honestly. WTF happened to this site…J.

The Yud did.

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epistememe August 26, 2011 at 8:33 pm

I think Luke has made a wise decision in pursuing another path. With his intellect and communication skills, not to mention discipline, I think continuing on this site would be a waisted effort for the most part. What is left to be said about theism. It is a failed endeavor not worthy of a bright mind. Yes, It would be helpful to have such a talented person as Luke in our battles against ignorance and superstition, but what a waist that would be of his skills. It helps but doesn’t require much of an intellect to see the fallacious nature of theism. Christianity fails at a pretty low level intellectually. Most religious people’s level of understanding of religious concepts could be refuted by the average high school student only moderately versed in counter-apologetics. Having Luke spend his time refuting xtian dogma is like bringing a rocket launcher to a knife fight, simply overkill. Yes, there are always the WLCs of this world, but their ilk can be fairly easily dispatched with not much more effort either. It is pretty much a war on attrition now. The internet and free access to information, the exposure to different culturures and ideas through globalization and many other similar trends will mean the long-term decline in theism. It will still be with us for a long time, but its power will be muted.
Science will help with theism’s demise. We will eventually have a much better understanding of our mind and how false beliefs are formed and kept. Technology will also have an important roll. When more an more of the specialness of our consciousness is replicated in a machine we will eventually have to face the fact that we are a machine, a wonderfully marvelous machine, but still a machine.
To get back to the discussion at hand. I have been around academics for much of my life. I understand everyone’s desire to see some published, peer-reviewed work from the MIRI. I think this is a valid request. As for getting credentials, either Luke or Eliazer, I don’t see that as as much of a concern. But it will make it much harder for them to publish in a respected journal. I trust with their intellect they will find a way….hopefully soon. Long story short. Luke I chipped in a Benjamin.

PS: After seeing him in person last year in Colorado and speaking with him after the event at dinner, I think his true calling (once he is past his intellectual peak and declining…say 35ish) is public outreach and speaking, ala Dawkins, Harris, Dennett.

“Don’t undertake a project,” an oft-quoted Land maxim goes, “unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible.”

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JS August 27, 2011 at 6:51 am

Bingo. Plus the fact that many in the LW community will BOAST about such qualities makes it worse.

LW = Some pretty decent content but a pretty horrible PR image.

Inquiry for the person posting as “Durango” — do you live in Durango? If so I’d like to meet.

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Bob August 27, 2011 at 12:08 pm

No, I have to agree with ajay here. I don’t know if y’all are new, but even Luke ignores cl and he’s nice to everybody.

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Colin August 27, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Inquiry for the person posting as “Durango” — do you live in Durango? If so I’d like to meet.

This isn’t a bang site.

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Colin August 27, 2011 at 5:21 pm

This isn’t a bang site.

In fact, I think the amount of time on this site exponentially decreases the amount of bang in one’s life. I should know.

And I can use Bayescraft to prove that this phenomenon is worse by a factor of at least 20 for LessWrong nerds.

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joseph August 27, 2011 at 11:57 pm

@CL,
I understand many of your concerns about:
1) Lack of peer review
2) The voting system on LW hiding objections
3) Looking for your own, personal, Jesus

I’m confused about your statement:

” exempts himself and his fellow Lesswrongians* from the rules that real scientists have followed for decades”

In that reading your blog (on the meaningless nature of physicalism), I am unclear on how much you respect the rules that real scientists have folllowed for decades.

Of course, you could say you don’t at all (hyperbole on my part for the sake of clarity) but Luke should, as a physicalist to avoid hypocrisy.

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Bruno Coelho August 28, 2011 at 9:29 am

Luke, become a real philosopher or a scientist, and get out of this LW thing. Save the world is something to fight for, but the apparently risk of AI is questionable. If the creation of Friendly AI is ridiculous hard, then the prospect of solution is far.

Let admit that: practically all philosophy is useless. So what? The debate do not end, because skeptics exist in the history and they not exterminate speculative metaphysics or modal logic. Maybe you and Yud are right, and the Solomonoff/Kolmogorov/Bayes are the correct way to solve a problem, but don’t ask me for money, you’re are a bright person and can be more than that.

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Luke Muehlhauser August 28, 2011 at 9:44 am

mojo.rhythm,

Thanks for saying what I would have said to cl.

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cl August 28, 2011 at 11:31 am

Bob,

…even Luke ignores cl and he’s nice to everybody.

I believe that Luke ignores me because he can’t protect his claims from my criticisms. I think the cognitive dissonance is so strong that he’s now psychologically insulated himself. He could prove me wrong by protecting his claims from my criticisms. I don’t dislike Luke at all; he seems like a cordial fellow and I’ve never stooped to the level of outright name-calling that he has with me. I think it’s a bit immature of him to consistently ignore my criticisms. I get the feeling that Luke has a personal issue with me, and that’s fine, but I think it’s unfortunate for the pursuit of truth. I address people’s arguments whether I like them or not, and I think we all should.

mojo.rhythm,

What’s confusing you? Further, why the red herring? My opinion of the rules doesn’t matter. Luke is the one who preaches all that stuff about how we should buttress our claims with empirical evidence and argumentation, about how we should follow the evidence wherever it leads, about how we should esteem the conclusions of peer reviewed research, etc. To focus on my opinions of those imperatives is a red herring.

As an aside, I hold the rules in pretty high regard, but I don’t exalt them as gospel truth like many atheists. Scientists are often wrong. In fact, I wish we had a reliable count of wrong scientific claims vs. right ones. That would be interesting.

At any rate, yeah, my point is that Luke is highly inconsistent, in fact, willfully inconsistent, and this is part of what sustains my “reckless and dangerous” remark, especially given his newfound field of inquiry. In my opinion, anyone hoping to make any impact in the AI community ought to hold the rules in the highest possible regard, and Luke fails fairly badly in my opinion. The AI community is screwing with the future of the entire human race, and by any reasonable criteria the risk seems exponentially greater than the real risks posed by religion, young-Earth creationism, dualism, etc. Remember, this is the same Luke who admitted to willfully ignoring strong arguments against his position just a few short years ago. I think we’re fooling ourselves if we think a heavy dose of Phil. Rel. and Yudkowsky has cured that. Don’t you?

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epistememe August 28, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Don’t feed the troll, he’s fat enough.

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Colin August 28, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Bob,

…even Luke ignores cl and he’s nice to everybody.

I believe that Luke ignores me because he can’t protect his claims from my criticisms. I think the cognitive dissonance is so strong that he’s now psychologically insulated himself. He could prove me wrong by protecting his claims from my criticisms. I don’t dislike Luke at all; he seems like a cordial fellow and I’ve never stooped to the level of outright name-calling that he has with me. I think it’s a bit immature of him to consistently ignore my criticisms. I get the feeling that Luke has a personal issue with me, and that’s fine, but I think it’s unfortunate for the pursuit of truth. I address people’s arguments whether I like them or not, and I think we all should.

mojo.rhythm,

What’s confusing you? Further, why the red herring? My opinion of the rules doesn’t matter. Luke is the one who preaches all that stuff about how we should buttress our claims with empirical evidence and argumentation, about how we should follow the evidence wherever it lead

Does your name stand for “Craigslist”? You seem like the type of person who’d spend a lot of time on there.

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TK August 29, 2011 at 10:46 am

Wow, what a lot of complaining about a little dissent.

Personally, I cannot, in good conscience, support work for someone who throws little baby rationalist temper-tantrums in response to a perfectly good thought experiment:
http://pastebin.com/xgWbkr5s

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Johnson August 29, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Personally, I cannot, in good conscience, support work for someone who throws little baby rationalist temper-tantrums in response to a perfectly good thought experiment:
http://pastebin.com/xgWbkr5s

LOL. The Yud lost it. Maybe he should have used Bayes Theorem to determine whether staying calm in an internet thread would decrease the probability of people thinking him a tyrannical megalomaniac? I would think there is at least a 82.7776% probability of that being true.

And Lil’ Yud is supposed to be the paragon of calm rationality? Yeesh.

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RedShift August 29, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Wow, from atheism to… megalomania?

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cl August 30, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Wow, what a lot of complaining about a little dissent.

That’s all they’ve got. Whining and name-calling.

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Joel August 31, 2011 at 8:45 pm

To be honest Luke,

This sounds quite a bit like Pascal’s Wager to me.

Using ostensibly infinite benefit/good to argue for a particular course of action despite the infinitesimal chances involves.

1) As many other posters have pointed out, there are many other causes that bring about enormous good (e.g. nuclear non-proliferation advocacy) and are more certain besides (e.g. famine relief). I for one would much prefer to donate to medicins sans frontiers than to such an organization as MIRI.

2) You would have to argue the case for MIRI. I’ve been a long-time follower of this blog, and am very sympathetic to many of your positions (e.g. naturalized epistemology), but I find it hard to swallow quite a bit of Yudkowsky’s stuff. The AI bunch is a minority within science, and the strong AI (AGI) bunch are an even more extreme minority within that, and Yud’s lot are a less understood bunch given their position on the singularity (c.f. AGI conferences).

If your position is correct and so important, it is your job to make argue for it and make it known. Popularizing it as Dawkins popularized atheism; aruging for it in REAL scientific journals. By disrespecting peer-review and dismissing it, as Yud and many others from Less Wrong do, 1) your ideas, if right, will never gain current and 2) show it to be crack-shit as the discovery institute’s – which was completely ripped apart when actually examined by real scientists.

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woodchuck64 September 2, 2011 at 1:25 pm

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