Friday, September 29, 2017

Today I Changed my Mind About a Deeply Held Belief and it Felt Great But Weird

Today I realized that people generally like me, respect me, listen to me, care what I think and value my mind and my input, and the main reason people often don't listen to me or care what I think or value my mind and my input is because I get too involved in a topic and forget to pay attention to the person I'm talking to. Because I talk AT them rather than TO them, and NOT necessarily because they strongly disagree with what I'm saying. I thought of two recent examples which constitute fairly conclusive evidence of this which I SOMEHOW overlooked.

Anyone who isn't interested in the nitty gritty details can stop here. Otherwise feel free to continue.

But before you continue I should probably warn you that a while back I picked up this cognitive skill called "probablistic reasoning", which allows me to more precisely estimate my levels of certainty or uncertainty in my opinions/beliefs, as opposed to using an all or nothing binary confidence system like most people naturally tend to use if they haven't learned how to think in terms of probabilities. I just wanted to let you know that in case you get confused, since the rest of what I am about to tell you involves a lot of probabilistic reasoning, but I'll do my best to make it easy for you. If you're already confused, I apologise. Please don't tune me out yet though, I promise things will start to make more sense in just a bit... I hope.

Anyways, after evaluating the evidence, my mind (or as cognitive scientists would call it, my intentional system) updated its belief within probably about five minutes, then helped my heart (or as cognitive scientists would call it, my autopilot system) internalize the new knowledge and accept it as the truth (updated to ~60-80% subjective probability, an increase of ~50-70%, if you want to be precise) which took probably about forty minutes, for a total of probably ~45 min for me to integrate the evidence and change my mind about a significantly entrenched belief. My mind is more certain of the new prior than my heart (80-90-something% subjective probability, an increase of maybe ~65-85% or more) and my heart is going to need some time to get used to the new prior and better calibrate its level of certainty/uncertainty, so for now it agrees to trust my mind as more reliable than it is in regards to this particular issue at least for the time being.

My heart thought my mind is being a bit insensitive to its feelings by bragging about how it managed to persuade my heart to agree with it, but my mind reminded my heart that this was a shared accomplishment that they should both be proud of and it is right and proper to brag about it, since this is exactly the kind of situation I've been training for as a rationalist. And also that a lot of other people in my place, after noticing and recognizing fairly conclusive evidence contrary to such a significantly entrenched belief, probably would have gotten stuck and taken weeks or months or even years to change their minds about the kind of significantly entrenched belief that it took me only about 45 minutes to change once I noticed and recognized such evidence. (I believe this particular claim regarding other people's updating speed with somewhere between 55% and 65% subjective probability)

Yay me!

My heart still feels like my mind is being insensitive to it. Like, it got through this difficult process of changing its mind about a belief that it had spent so much time and emotional energy on, a belief that had caused it so much pain, and my mind is making light of that and not taking it seriously and now my mind is telling my heart "it's called a coping mechanism, get used to it" and "you take things too seriously and maybe that's part of why you are so anxious all the time and maybe if you took serious things less seriously sometimes (though not all the time because sometimes you really do have to be serious) then maybe you could relax more and solve problems better."

And then my heart was all like "You're saying I should be LESS serious about big important life or death sort of stuff?" and my mind was all like "YES! Gallows humor is funny for a reason! And some risks are too large to ever feel a proportional amount of anxiety over them anyways and in any case human fear/anxiety evolved for running from lions tigers and bears etc that want to eat you and it is not wired to handle existential risks, nor is it wired to handle more common social risks in a global society and it has a tendency to make you more afraid of things like ostracision from a particular peer group and "being alone forever" even when there are plenty of other options available, rather than more common and more serious social risks like having your identity stolen or giving $20 to some random homeless guy on the street that you could have used to help feed like ten times as many poor people in Africa.

My heart is now like "fine okay you're right."

By the way, this process felt really weird. Most of the time I feel like just one person, and whenever I converse with myself it feels reflexive, like forward and backward, rather than side to side like I've been doing for the past couple hours. Does that make any sense to you? Well, regardless, it's still super weird.

Thanks for listening to me about my psychological problems. I really appreciate it. (I should have probably talked to my therapist about this earlier instead of just airing it out before an audience, but whatever, I figured it might be a bit entertaining. I'll talk to him about this stuff later.)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Seeker's Quest: Prologue

....There have been whispers of the New King's rise to power. They say he ascended through the use of powerful dark magic and the blessing of the Dark Gods. Such utter nonsense. The New King rose through simple trickery and deception. Not even a master trickster, but a bumbling fool who was only able to win over the populace because they too were foolish, and because he would slander any who was wise or courageous enough to oppose him. Lies upon lies, repeated again and again until the people truly believed.

This is the future. If any of us survive, if the New King's reign ever falls, then this is the story we will tell to our children, and our children's children.

We probably won't survive though. The Merchant Empires, driven by greed and a desire to consume, continue to gather power, knowledge and wealth. Even if we survive the New King's tyranny, we may not survive the Empires' folly and greed. The dangers we face are too great, and the Gods of Hope will not save us, either because they do not care, or because they do not exist. I'm not sure which is worse.

Listen, my son. You have two choices. You can do what is right for yourself, to accept fate and spend the remainder of your days in happiness...or you can do what is right for the world, and fight against the heavens' course. It may seem like one choice is selfish, and the other pointless. That very well may be so. Do not choose lightly. Think long and hard before you choose. I would love you just as much either way. While I may be only petrified, I might as well be dead, for if I were to be awakened once more without my frailness healed, I would die. The only way for my frailness to be healed is if this world survives long enough to discover a means to cure me of it. Do not let your desire to see me again loom too large in your decision. I would not wish for you to enslave your life to my death. There are many others in peril besides myself. Do not waste your life for my sake alone.

But if you wish to save this world and are undaunted by the enormity of the challenge, then go to the Seeker's Guild of Ratseye city and ask to become an apprentice. They will assess your desires and skills to help you determine your ideal role in Mankind's struggle. There is only so much you can learn from books and an old lady's lectures. Our war against our own worst natures, against our very fates, is nearing its climax. If you wish to take part in what is to come, then you must begin your quest, and soon. No matter what you choose, don't forget about your poor old grandmother. And also, do NOT forget to live.

Be careful, Bartimus.

Your loving grandmother,

For a long moment I just stood there in the empty cottage, tears streaming down my face as I clenched my grandmother's letter in my fist. She did not know me as well as she thought she did. I had already thought long and hard about this. I had made my decision during my grandmother's Burial Rites, if not long before that. I wasn't just going to fight fate. I was going to win. I packed my things and swept out the door to begin my quest.

I did not look back.

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Definitive Rebuttal Against Solipsism and Ontological Nihilism, and a Potential Solution to the Paradox of the First Cause

So one of my Facebook friends recently posted the following:

I struggle with Nihilism in perpetuity.... we're enslaved to a limited set of senses and I have absolutely no way to know If anything other than my consciousness is real and I thus I am limited to subjective truth in a sense. I cannot escape this conclusion.

Challenge accepted.

My response:

Sure you can! If everything were just a figment of your imagination, your imagination would have to be smart enough to generate all of your observations. Now, maybe I'm an agent of your subconscious trying to trick you into thinking really delusional things like that 1+1=2, but that is extremely unlikely because Occam's razor. Maybe ocaams razor was invented by your imagination as a way to trick you too, but that is also an extra detail.

Just because you don't have infinite certainty even in the laws of logic and probability theory doesn't mean you should be promoting this particular very highly specific theory of everything above all of the simpler more plausible hypotheses. That seems like a rather crazy and unsubstantiated idea, which you likely generated because your mind is not yet comfortable living without the infinite certainty that is the default way of thinking for most people. If you're 99% certain of something, the fact that you're not 100% sure of anything shouldn't change that and should not paralyze you into inaction. A superintelligence would not have anything remotely resembling this ideological dilemma that you describe, and I'm guessing you know  that it wouldn't. Or at least, you probably believe that it wouldn't with a  very high degree of probability. And that's enough. You don't need to be infinitely certain. I'm not infinitely certain that Santa Claus  doesn't exist, but I'm certain enough that I'm willing to treat the Santa Claus story as an obvious myth without feeling any worry about it. If in the future I see evidence  that maybe Santa does exist, then and only then will I start worrying about that.

Speaking of delusions...


Then later this Facebook friend posted again thanking me for that rebuttal.

This is what I said in the comments:

You're welcome! It might also help if people more rigorously define the word "exist". That rebuttal was probably more towards solipsism than nihilism. If someone claims that nothing exists not even themselves, then you want to more thoroughly argue against ontological nihilism. To do this you would, in addition to the earlier argument I laid out, point out that if nothing exists, logic doesn't exist, and therefore the argument that nothing exists cannot be valid. Put another way, to ask if the claim "nothing exists" is true, is to ask if the claim "nothing exists" is an accurate model of reality. If there is no reality, then no statements can ever be true or false, and that includes the statement "nothing exists". This probably is evidence of a solution to the paradox of the first cause btw. Why does anything exist at all? Because for nothing to exist is inconsistent. It may not even be logically possible. What would it mean for nothing to exist? You might imagine empty space stretching on forever, but space isn't nothing, and in reality space is only a surface level approximation of the actual underlying reality, which is probably just a web of cause and effect or as Eliezer Yudkowsky calls it, "The Great Web of Causality".

That being said, I suspect things like the fact that there is necessarily *some* amount of uncertainty in every proposition, even if the amount of uncertainty is so miniscule as to be almost non-existent, means that all those crazy ontological nihilists may eventually do what religions do and retreat to "you can't prove that I'm wrong, there's still a chance!"

Yes, there's still a chance. Just like there's still a chance that out of all the grains of sand in the world, you might draw the particular grain of sand that was the last to come out of my flip flops after the last time I went to the beach years ago. In fact, the chances of that are probably higher than the chances that ontological nihilism is correct, maybe even by an order of magnitude or more. You would probably have to falsify this notion that reality must be self-consistent. Basically QED

Of course, maybe it's also possible that we do have a finite amount of "spacetime" and that causation can go backwards in "time" or something, but I don't know enough physics to test that. Either way, even if the Universe is finite, there almost certainly isn't an "outside" to all of existence, since that would be a contradiction.

I'm fairly confident that this is at least a definitive rebuttal against Ontological Nihilism and Solipsism. I'm slightly less confident that it solves the paradox of the first cause. If there are any relevant experts reading this, would you mind checking my work here?


Ocaam's Razor



Addendum: If logic doesn't exist, it can't use it's non-existent self to argue that it should exist. Likewise, if validity doesn't exist you can't say that a statement is invalid. Therefore the argument I made earlier that "if nothing exists, logic doesn't exist, and therefore the argument that nothing exists cannot be valid" doesn't work.

Also, someone explained to me that believing that nothing exists means that one would believe that claims and arguments don't exist either. So the "claim" that "nothing exists" isn't actually a claim, but the absence of a claim. It is therefore impossible for people to actually be Ontological Nihilists, and anyone who claims to be one only thinks that they are and isn't actually. When someone says "nothing exists" they're either not saying anything, or what they mean by "nothing" isn't actually nothing.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Link has ADHD

Screenshot taken from Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, found here. Person who originally uploaded screenshot unknown. Legend of Zelda franchise is legally the property of Nintendo. 

"Link! Listen!"
"Omigosh I got a big one!"
The Hero of Time started reeling in his fishing rod, ignoring his faerie's plea.
"Almost done, Navi, I'll be right there."
"Dammit it got away."
"Link, stop wasting time, you've got a kingdom to save!"
"Can't I have just five minutes to relax and catch some fish? Five minutes isn't going to make the difference between saving the kingdom and losing the final battle against Ganondorf."
"It hasn't been just five minutes Link! You've been out here for twenty, and it would have been a lot more if I hadn't interrupted you!  At this rate you might not show up for the fight against Ganondorf until seven years after he's already won!"
"Ganondorf isn't THAT powerful. He's just some thief from the desert. I'm sure the Goddesses have contingency plans to stop him from obtaining the Triforce if I don't show up in time."
Link yawned and stretched. "That was a nice, short nap. Time to go face Ganondorf..." he paused. "My body feels REALLY weird."
"Welcome back, Hero of Time. After your seven year slumber—"
"What!?" Link gasped. And then...
"You mean to tell me that I seriously slept through Ganondorf's takeover of Hyrule?"
"It would have happened anyway," the Sage told him. "The Goddesses forsaw that you would sleep as Hyrule screamed, and so devised a plan to make sure you could still save the kingdom even if you forgot to show up to the final battle. As the Hero of Time, you have lived many lifetimes, many of them remarkably similar, and so it is natural that sometimes you would have trouble keeping track of it all. It is for this reason that the Goddesses sent Navi to you, just like they sent you Fi long, long ago."
Link stared at the old sage.
"And whenever you want to go back in time to your younger self's body, just return to the Temple of Time and play the Song of Time on your ocarina to open the Door of Time, then place the Master Sword back in the stone."
That was kinda creepy, now that Link thought of it. He'd been asleep for seven years, so he shouldn't feel seven years older. And yet he did, as if his mind was replaying the wisdom of his past lives while he was sleeping. Maybe he'd been through it all before, and so his mind was filling in the blanks in his memory from age ten to seventeen and maturing his physical brain without newer, more recent (and therefore more fresh in his mind) experiences to reinforce the life lessons. He wondered if going back in time to his younger body while sleeping would be equally disturbing to the point where it distracted him from all the life lessons he'd relearned while sleeping and he forgot about all of it? On the one hand that seemed kind of like dying, but on the other he'd been through it SO many times before he wasn't sure that really mattered to him as much as it should. He'd remember it all eventually either way. Probably. Still, he might as well try to get used to the transition, since he was going to be traveling through time a lot.
Hero of Time indeed. The Goddesses had a sick sense of humor.
"I think I'm going to head back in time now," Link told the sage. He reached into his pockets.
"Shit! Where'd I put my Ocarina?"

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

My Solution to the Ultimate Trolley Problem Puzzle

I just tried a very fun and very challenging utilitarian ethics puzzle: The Ultimate Trolley Problem!

Click the link, read the puzzle and see if you can solve it for yourself, preferably BEFORE reading my solution below.

Also, in case you're not familiar with consequentialist/utilitarian ethics and trolley problems I'm just going to spell it out here: the goal here (if you're a consequentialist/utilitarian) is to maximize the expected number of lives saved. Well technically you're trying to maximize total human quality-adjusted life years, so it's really amount of life saved adjusted for quality of life that you're trying to maximize here.

You done? Let's see how your answer compares to mine.

If I were that brain in a vat, I would want to choose for the train to go down the right side of the fork. That way the orphan that would grow up to be Hitler dies AND the war that ends up happening will be the one with no war crimes. Even with a Cartesian demon in my mind intermittently trying to deceive me, without any evidence of how often the cartesian demon tries to deceive me, I'm just going to assume a 50% chance of being deceived on each particular claim. So my choice should be the same as if there was no Cartesian Demon: pick the right side of the fork, right?

Not necessarily. The cartesian demon could also be trying to deceive me about which way is "right" and which is "left". If I assume a 50% chance of apparent left being actual left and 50% chance of it not being actual left, and same for apparent right, then I've got a 50% chance that apparent left is actually right, and a 50% chance that apparent right is actually right. Of course there's also a chance that both apparent directions are actually left or both are actually right, but if that's the case my choice doesn't matter.

So we're faced with a 50% chance of apparent left being actual right, and a 50% chance of apparent right being actual right.

Your best bet in this specific situation is to gather more information about the cartesian demon that is messing with your perception, and if you don't have time for that or if that's simply not feasible, you'll just have to pick a direction at random and hope for the best.

In the alternative form of the problem the solution is basically the same. For the consequentialist half's answer, just pick randomly because of the reasons stated above.
For the absolutist half's answer...the absolutist throws up their hands and can't decide which path for the train to go down. They don't know if they have a preference or even if they should have a preference, although they are leaning towards none and no because you can't weigh up the value of one life against the value of many lives in their opinion. Either they can choose randomly, or they can let the train go down whichever side of the fork it goes down.

Agree? Disagree? Something I missed or didn't account for and should have? Feel free to comment on my solution or post your own solutions below.

Hope you enjoyed that puzzle! I know I sure did.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

How to Create a Post-scarcity Economy in a Nutshell

I wrote this thing a while back, and I just remembered it and figured I'd post it here since it's kind of cool and maybe kind of funny too?

Warning: Below is an extreme oversimplification of how economics works which will probably make any real economist cringe. Please take it with a grain of salt.

Imagine an economy of only 3 people: Amy, Bill and Cassandra.

1. A has something B wants. B has something A wants. They trade so each gets the things they want. The end...not!

2. A has something B wants, and B has something C wants. C offers to do a favor for B in exchange for what C wants. B asks C to do the following favor for B: "do a favor for A on my behalf." In exchange for this favor, A gives B what he wants.

3. A has something B wants, and B has something C wants. But B is greedy, and is good friends with A. B does an unsolicited favor for A. In exchange, A gets a law passed that allows B to have complete control over how many favors he does for C in exchange for C's favors to B, regardless of how many favors C actually does for B. B decides to do what benefits himself the most--to give zero favors to C, regardless of how many favors C does for B. B lies to C by telling her he will do a favor for C in return...eventually.

4. C, realizing how many favors she's doing for B without any favors in return, decides to stop doing favors for B. B then asks for the following favor from A: "Please get C to start doing favors for me again."

5. A does the following favor for B: passing a law that establishes a minimum number of favors that B must do in exchange for C's favors to B. The minimum number of favors to C that B must make is much smaller than the number of favors C will likely be willing to do for B, so B will be able to pay A back for the favor she did for him in no time. B expects that C would rather have a very small amount of favors than no favors at all, and therefore the risk of C deciding to stop doing favors for B again is much smaller. C starts doing favors for B again, proving B right.

6. B is still very greedy, and decides he wants A to do more favors for him. By this point, C has done so many favors for A on B's behalf, that A now owes more favors to B than B owes to A. B decides to get a law passed that allows him complete control over how many favors he does for A in exchange for A's favors to B, regardless of how many favors A actually does for B. B decides to keep the law about minimum favors to make sure that A is willing to continue doing favors for B.

7. Full brain emulation is invented by the combined efforts of A and C. B decides he wants to make 9 mind-clones of C, 4 mind clones of A, and 0 mind clones of himself. However, since there are now 5 times as many A and 10 times as many C, the number of favors B owes to A is multiplied by the number of A, and the number of favors B owes to C is multiplied by the number of C. The number of favors C and A each owe to B is also thus multiplied. Now, even under the minimum favor law and the complete control law, the number of favors B owes to the total of all A and the total of all C combined is greater than the total amount of favors they all owe to him combined. B tells every A that no C deserves any favors, because C are lazy selfish people who won't use favors responsibly. B invokes his long time friendship with A and gives A a larger favor than he usually gives, in order to make A trust him more. "What has a C ever done for you?" B asks each A. And every A knows that no C has done anything directly for A in a long time. No A still counts the favors a C does for B as favors to an A. Because of this, every A believes B about C. A and C cannot make B revoke the complete control law without working together. B has successfully created an enduring rift between the A and the C. Even if some of the A catch on to B's lies about the C, most A are still too dependent on and loyal to B, so not enough A will change their minds about C. There are only two ways to successfully revoke the complete control law at this point:

-Convince B to change his mind about the complete control law. This is almost certainly not going to work.
-Create a new artificial person, D, who is smart enough to amass a lot of favors very quickly, just like B did originally, but who is fair enough to use those favors on something else besides lowering the number of favors it pays to A, B and C in return for the favors they do for it.

8. Artificial person D is created, and successfully outsmarts B and accumulates enough favors to put A B and C in debt to D. D wants A B and C to get what A B and C want. And A B and C will only get what A, B and C want if D gives it to them. However, if D eliminates the complete control law outright and just returns all the favors it has accumulated back to A, B and C, then the stages 1 through 7 will be repeated all over again. But then D realizes a solution: What D wants is for A B and C to get what they want. And D has what A, B and C want. Therefore, D has something that D wants. So D decides to spend the favors that A, B and C owe to it on favors to A, B and C on D's behalf. Now, whenever any A B or C is in debt to another A, B or C and is unable to pay back the debt on their own, they can do a favor for themselves or for each other on D's behalf, and D will spend that favor on even more favors to A, B and C. A, B and C still do favors for each other and still have debts to each other, but now none of them are completely dependent on the same person for all favors.

And that is how you solve poverty and create a post-scarcity economy in a nutshell.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

An Impossible Word Problem

It has been pointed out to me that using the word "homosexuals" is considered inappropriate for the same reasons that saying "blacks" is inappropriate. I don't think I ever consciously noticed this rule before in the general sense, and it doesn't seem to be consistent. People say things like "jews" "catholics" "republicans" "redheads" and "intellectuals", so why is it different to say "blacks" or "homosexuals"? Maybe there's two necessary criteria of it being a characteristic that people strongly identify with as well as something which the public considers to not be caused by personal choice. I notice however that for the most part none of the examples I listed above really happen because of personal choice. To be honest I don't know if there even is a sensible consistent way to apply this social rule.

It was recommended to me that I use the word "gay" instead. I chose not to because I consider this word to be even more loaded with harmful stereotypes. If I can't use the word gay or homosexual that just leaves me with the phrases "androphilic man" and "gynephilic woman" which are probably better in every way except for the fact that they're a mouthful to say. The words gay and homosexual are unnecessarily self-referential—sexual orientation includes one's own sex. And the only difference between the sexual orientations of a gay man and a heterosexual woman are that one of them is a man and the other is a woman. So using the word androphilic (man-loving) and gynephilic (woman-loving) is probably much more sensible. Unfortunately gynephilic women and androphilic men are often discriminated against so we need to be classified together for the purposes of talking about the prejudice and discrimination we face.

But make no mistake, sexual orientation is not one attribute in and of itself, it is actually two separate and distinct attributes that we lump together for convenience's sake. Because saying "androphilic men" and "gynephilic women" really is a mouthful.

And for those who still aren't aware, yes there are masculine men who are androphilic, and there are feminine women who are gynephilic. Being an androphilic man does not make someone  more feminine. If a particular androphilic man happens to also be effeminate then that is a separate fact. Likewise, being a gynephilic woman does not make someone more masculine. If a particular gynephilic woman happens to be a bit of a tomboy, then that is a separate fact.

If you're still not clear on that for whatever reason, I suggest you read "Brown" a short story I wrote about an alternate universe where people are widely discriminated against on the basis of hair color rather than skin color. I posted it on this blog.

What are you still doing here? Go read it! :)

Note: I just invented the word semantic trap. It means a situation where you can't find suitable words to express what you actually mean that don't add in extra connotations which you don't mean. Unlike semantic disputes which are arguments about how to define a word, a semantic trap is when you can't find a suitable word for your definition.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Are people innately good? Or...

A while back, I posted this on my facebook page:

I currently think that most people are inherently good but crazy. Specifically, I think that people turn off their empathy for perceived aggressors even when the perceived aggressors aren't actually aggressing, and that this is sufficient to explain the phenomenon of why people do evil, why they act against their innate human pro-social values. It probably wouldn't be evolutionarily advantageous to empathize with someone who you think is threatening you, because then you might try to be friends with something that wants to eat you, or hesitate to kill them before they eat you. And if you're taught throughout your life that another person or group is threatening you or people you care about...
Perhaps this mindset can even become habitual if it is in place long enough?
Anyways, it doesn't seem necessary to postulate that people are at all inherently evil, that people have an innate anti social value. That seems to be unnecessary extra detail.
Does anyone have any counter examples to this theory?"

Nobody responded to the comment with any counterexamples, and I got two likes.

I recently saw a comment in an earlier thread in one of the facebook groups I frequent which basically said (unless I'm misunderstanding) that there's a conspiracy of mega-rich people to perpetuate ignorance amongst the populace. I didn't think it was very likely, because it seemed like there were simpler explanations which don't involve that kind of coordination. 

"True, however Zappa understood back then that there was a movement towards the celebration of ignorance and the denigration of intelligance. Most likely designed by the wealthy elite to further separate us into two classes instead of three, giving more to power to them. Yes?"

My response at the time:

Unnecessary extra detail imo. We already know that people have a natural tendency to dislike when someone says things they don't already agree with and don't want to hear. If someone is really ignorant, than any new info that they learn could cause them to react like that. Maybe people are less educated now on average than they were before for whatever reason. Or perhaps humanity's knowledge and the common use and reliance on that knowledge has grown faster than most people can keep up, so someone who is ignorant today might have been considered well educated before? Do you have any evidence that discriminates the wealthy elite conspiracy hypothesis out of the many other possible explanations?
Edit: there is some knowledge that isn't going to be likely to cause that sort of reaction to someone learning it for the first time, like "the sky is blue" or "the Earth is round" or "1+1=2". But I'm guessing it depends on the knowledge. I think my point still stands though"

However, since then I have had a change of perspective.

Twice today I have been confronted with the subconscious practically almost-kind of deliberate unreasonableness of other human beings. The first time, someone made a comment implying that cis-straight-males are more likely to be anti-intellectual than women or homosexuals, and when I told him that actually no, women and homosexuals can be just as anti-intellectual as heterosexual cis-men, the conversation somehow devolved into an argument in which everything I said was responded to as if it was coming from a misogynist, and I was even ad-hominemly compared to the "All Lives Matter" movement, and it took hours for one of the two people I was talking with to realize that they were putting words in my mouth, while the other one ended up conveniently forgetting what we were talking about, and then when I reminded him he appeared to confabulate some other bullshit explanation about how I was supposedly bringing up mens' rights issues in the midst of a discussion about feminism even though that wasn't what happened at all and we hadn't even been talking about feminism when I brought up men's rights issues and I felt like he should have already known that because he had been participating in that entire discussion. It was as if he had forgotten the contents of the entire discussion on the spot, at a time when it would have been most convenient for him to do so.

What's arguably even worse, is that he probably didn't consciously decide to do that. It probably happened subconsciously, automatically without even having to think about it, so it's not exactly his fault. As far as I can tell, pretty much everyone does this when faced with information that threatens their self-image unless they learn how not to, and that takes a lot of time and practice.

Later, I got into an argument with some people on the Slate Star Codex discord channel about Gleb Tsipursky, the president and founding member of Intentional Insights, which is a nonprofit organization that promotes rationality and effective decision-making. He has recently been the target of a lot of misinformation and slander, and those attacks were effective enough that a large portion of the secular community got suckered in by them. When I tried to talk about this on the Slate Star Codex discord channel I was flooded by a rapid series of claims about Gleb's supposed dishonesty, and when I tried to specifically debunk one of them one person said that my response was irrelevant because it didn't refute some other claim about Gleb which I hadn't gotten to yet, and then at one point someone asked me why I hadn't responded to any of the other points yet and I said "I can only respond to one point at a time!"

They literally were jumping from one claim to another and barely giving me enough time to respond in between. At one point they accused me of actually being Gleb Tsipursky using a sock puppet account, and when I tried to explain that NO, I am not Gleb, they just didn't believe me and went on to say that that's what Gleb would say too in those circumstances if I were him using a sock puppet account. Like, regardless of what I said, they would still have believed that I was Gleb Tsipursky. Like those old witch trials where anything that the defendant could possibly say or do would be taken as evidence that she was a witch.

Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld, a priest who heard the confessions of condemned witches, wrote in 1631 the Cautio Criminalis ('prudence in criminal cases') in which he bitingly described the decision tree for condemning accused witches:  If the witch had led an evil and improper life, she was guilty; if she had led a good and proper life, this too was a proof, for witches dissemble and try to appear especially virtuous. After the woman was put in prison: if she was afraid, this proved her guilt; if she was not afraid, this proved her guilt, for witches characteristically pretend innocence and wear a bold front. Or on hearing of a denunciation of witchcraft against her, she might seek flight or remain; if she ran, that proved her guilt; if she remained, the devil had detained her so she could not get away."

And THIS was on an online community for rationalists--people who (one would expect) actually care more about reason and truth than the average person.

For the sake of transparency, I also mentioned that "
while I do have a vested interest in Intentional Insights and the Pro-Truth Pledge, I only started volunteering with them after investigating some of the claims made by that post on EA. But if I thought there was sufficient evidence that Gleb was dishonest, I would leave InIn a heartbeat because that kind of thing would defeat the entire point of volunteering with them. Unfortunately I'm not that great at arguing especially when I don't have time to plan out what I'm going to say ahead of time because I have a social developmental disability. And Gleb's post about this is a lot more comprehensive regarding the things that have been said about him, so it would be much easier if you read through that post and then check the claims he makes there"

And then I posted the link to that post for the second time in that conversation, hoping that other people in the discussion would actually read it first and before coming back to the discussion. Instead they just stopped talking about it altogether and moved on to other topics and the subject of Gleb Tsipursky did not come up again.

Twice today I have been confronted with people being semi-deliberately unreasonable with me in an ad hominum manner, and both times it took hours and hours of my time to have to defend my own character and integrity from ad hominum arguments in discussions where my own character and integrity shouldn't have had anything to do with what was being discussed!

And on the heels of all that came the breaking point: a couple hours ago I read this article which basically describes how medical research in the U.S. is being controlled and censored on a massive scale by an organization that isn't accountable to anyone. And as I read it, I felt this growing sense of something shifting in my mind. And suddenly I realized a lot of what I said in the two facebook posts about human nature which I quoted at the beginning of this blog post seem like excuses, like I was trying to say that "actually people are innately good because of this nifty theory" rather than relying more on actual observations of human behavior.

I'm not entirely sure if I'm just falling prey to the horns effect or if learning of the evidence of that article is prompting me to integrate a lot of prior evidence that I never got around to really properly integrating, which in turn causes me to update on this evidence more than I would normally expect to. 

Either way, I'm now noticing all of the holes in my nice, shiny theory of human nature which I described earlier. People don't really have built-in utility functions--our terminal values are probably just an implied byproduct of how our values in the moment fit together. If humans did have built-in utility functions then yes, you could say that humans are innately good because a desire to optimize for the life, wellbeing and preferences of other people as well as yourself falls out of/is implied by how we tend to value things in the moment under consistent self-reflection. For a perfectly rational agent, how you value things in the short term should always match up with how you value things in the long term. If you have a innate desire to be kind to others, then, if you're a perfectly rational agent, you wouldn't have an in-the-moment preference to not be kind, because then your preferences would contradict each other and you would not be able to really satisfy both.

However, a lot of people aren't very good at consistent self-reflection. Sure, if someone was perfectly rational they wouldn't have goals and values that contradict each other. And in any case, people are just as capable of having unethical long-term goals as ethical long-term goals. it's not just a matter of pro-social conscious reason vs anti-social subconscious instinct. Otherwise no one would ever plan to do unethical things in advance, they would only commit crimes of passion, only do wrong when they lose control of themselves.

What all this means is that if someone has extremely anti-social preferences it doesn't matter that they would be more ethically-minded if they were more self-consistent because they're not that self consistent. If someone has both a preference to be good and treat other people with fairness and compassion, as well as a preference to lash out at their hated outgroup and people who disagree with them, it doesn't matter if they can't have it both ways, it doesn't matter if they can't really satisfy both values, they will try to satisfy both of them anyway at the cost of not being able to really satisfy either of them, and will automatically, subconsciously, and yet carefully and kind of deliberately not notice the inconsistency.

If evil people are only able to be evil because they're crazy, it doesn't change the fact that they're evil. To say that they are innately good implies that they don't really know what they really, ultimately want, which isn't necessarily true. They know what they want, its just that some of their desires are inconsistent with each other and they just are ignoring those inconsistencies for whatever stupid reason.

And what's even worse, as far as I have been able to tell, is that probably everyone is susceptible to these kinds of inconsistencies in their preferences unless they learn to pay attention to them and consciously decide on trade-offs that fix the inconsistencies. Like, in a way it is their fault when people make these sorts of inconsistent and harmful decisions. After all, they know what they are doing and they choose to do it anyway. And yet in a way it also isn't their fault. They don't know that they know what they are doing, and the decision sometimes happens automatically at a subconscious level, too quick to be consciously deliberated over. And even when a wrong is planned out in advance or continuously perpetuated for a really long time, they just automatically carefully avoid really questioning it. If they actually questioned what they were doing they would have to change their minds and their behaviors, and that takes extra cognitive effort as well as potentially emotional pain, so they just avoid questioning it.

They try to avoid looking at the man behind the curtain, even though they ARE the man behind the curtain. And yet even though they know that they are the man behind the curtain, they don't know that they know that they are the man behind the curtain.

I think that about sums up why my father treated me the way he did when I was a kid. He really still thought of himself as a moral, rational person, even as he bullied and belittled me and called me names and threw tantrums at me and controlled everything and even on rare occasion was physically violent with me. Everything had to be his way or else, and his demands were oftentimes contradictory or unclear or in some other way impossible to meet. Obviously, he will never admit that he did anything wrong, not even to himself. He will never even put things in anything approaching such terms. Always he will think that he was merely being harsh, that it was for my own good, that if he didn't do what he did I would be much worse off. If he ever seriously questioned that line of reasoning, he would be confronted with the truth and have to change his mind. And to admit that he had committed a wrong of that magnitude would ruin his self-image as a moral and rational person. 

When combined with his other self-esteem issues, his long-term chronic depression and his generally hopeless attitude towards life in general, admitting to himself that he had abused me would likely have the capacity to break him utterly. I'm not sure what he would actually do if he broke like that, whether he'd start being even nastier or have some sort of meltdown, or if he would commit suicide or just stop functioning in his every-day life or what. I don't think I want to find out. Not anymore.

And isn't it telling, that in spite of me saying that I value all human life and no one deserves to die, in spite of all my talk about how people should be rational and have self-consistent preferences, a part of me still wishes to somehow force him to understand and admit what he did to me, even though I know that would kill him on the inside whether or not his brain was still processing information. Because if someone can't satisfy any of their values and preferences because they're so utterly broken that they don't have the motivation to do anything, and if they're permanently stuck like that, then isn't that kind of like dying? I would never want that to happen to anyone. So why does a small part of me still want to make him feel the pain he put me through? And even if I correct the inconsistency in my preferences with a trade-off--I don't want to break another human being utterly, I just want him to feel the pain he inflicted on me, wouldn't it be nice if it was possible for that to happen without utterly breaking him?--it would still be inconsistent. I shouldn't want to inflict that amount of suffering on anyone. It is inconsistent with my other desires. It practically goes against everything I stand for. So why do I still feel that way?

Note1: it has been pointed out to me that the claim that women and homosexuals are just as capable of anti-intellectualism as straight cis-men is not incompatible with the claim that men are more likely to be anti-intellectual. That being said, I still think it's unlikely that there is a significant difference in likelihood of being anti-intellectual between men and women. Anti-intellectualism seens to me to be strongly related to a lot of general human nature stuff, and I wouldn't expect that sort of thing to apply significantly more to one sex than the other. That being said, there's a difference between statistical tendencies and natural laws: one often has exceptions and the other doesn't. Even if one sex is more anti-intellectual on average than another sex, the amount of anti-intellectualism might still be less than 50% of all members of a sex for any sex. I would need more supporting evidence to change my mind about this.

Note2: afterwards I spoke with the person who had made the "All Lives Matter" comment and he said,

"Well, obviously your unresolved conflicts with your father is central to hidden unconscious issues.

As far as your reactions to me, you did a bit of projecting.  Yes, I lost the intent of the thread since I was on a few (similar) at the time.  Yet, you didn't believe me.  No, I wasn't attacking you (or even criticizing) since I don't know you yet.  Yes, I had a point to make (which you may or may not have "gotten") and yes, your reactions seemed to be more about you then me.  Seriously.  And so the issues with your father may be involved.

I sure don't know!

But yes, I had similar issues with my father and yes, he thought he was "good" even though he hurt me emotionally."

This was enough to raise my probability estimate that my understanding of what he was saying was wrong up to somewhere between 45% and 55%. The stuff he was saying about being in multiple similar conversations at the same time did kind of make sense, but I have no idea how well it explains the behavior I actually observed. I'm not sure what to think, except that he didn't intend any harm, even if he did mean his ad hominem remarks on some level. And if I'm being perfectly honest with myself I've made the same kind of mistake before which I got upset with him for. I've probably made it lots of times. It's not just other people who are sometimes irrational, it's basically everyone including me. I have also sometimes gotten defensive and started hearing people say what I expected them to say rather than what they were actually saying.

It's definitely something to think about.

Note3: As has been pointed out in the comment section, I seriously misunderstood the person who thought I was Gleb. I thought they were making an accusation and then doubling down on it with witch trial logic. But it seems that what actually happened is that they expressed an uncharitable thought, took it back and then explained why they had been thinking it. And yes, this is another example of me being defensive and hearing what I expected to hear rather than what was actually being said.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Here, Have Some Songs!

Hi. I've written a bunch of songs within the past few years but I never learned how to write them down in a standard musical format of any kind. I just keep the tunes memorized in my head and write down the lyrics in text documents. I hope to eventually have them performed some day, but in the meantime I'll just be sharing the lyrics. That being said, some of these songs are sung to my own tunes and some of them are sung to the tunes of songs written by other people. Some of these songs are completely original, and some of them are "parodies" in the sense that they're derivative works inspired by, responding to or improving upon songs I've listened to previously, but not necessarily in the sense of being funny.

To start with, here are some of the songs that I have written which I think might be most appreciated by other rationalists or by members of the Pro-Truth movement.

I Want to Know Why

I want to know why the stars light up the night
I want to know why the moon keeps shining bright
I want to know why fish are born to swim and birds to fly
I want to know why

I want to know why rain falls to the ground
I want to know why lightning makes a sound
I want to know why the seasons change and why time passes by
I want to know why

I want to know why diseases plague our lives
I want to know why everybody dies
I want to know why people suffer and believe in their own lies
I want to know why

I want to know why reality persists
I want to know why anything exists
I want to know why it is that I want to know why
I will find the answers and grow wise

I will find the answers and grow wise

The Power of Your Mind (sung to a similar tune to that of "Spirit Inspiration" by Nothing's Carved in Stone)

Look all around
Past all deception
Keep on searching for the truth

You'll make mistakes
No one is perfect
So plan ahead and look before you leap

Don't trust anyone to think or decide for you
Only you can do that, so do it!
And if you keep on searching, you might find what you're searching for
With the power of your mind, reach the goal

Keep going on
Past every obstacle
Keep on trying to overcome

You'll make mistakes
Try to avoid them
It might be hard, but don't give up

Don't trust anyone to think or decide for you
Only you can do that, so do it!
And if you keep on searching, you might find what you're searching for
With the power of your mind, reach the goal

I won't believe you
I won't obey you
Without a reason to!

With the courage to face the truth
And to do what's right
With the power of your mind
Find your way through the night...


Don't trust anyone to think or decide for you
Only you can do that, so do it!
And if you keep on searching, you might find what you're searching for
With the power of your mind...

Don't trust anyone to think or decide for you
Only you can do that, so do it!
And if you keep on searching, you might find what you're searching for
With the power of your mind, reach the goal!

Test it!
What do you do
When what you see is not what you expect?

What do you do
When you're confused and nothing's making sense?

What do you do
When you're lost within the darkness of ignorance?

If you want to know the truth
There's only one thing you can do...

Test it!
If you really want to know

Test it!
And you'll see how it goes

Test it!
Don't be afraid, for what's true is already so

Test it!
Instead of arguing

Test it!
Before you take a side

Test it!
No matter how many times you're wrong, you've got to keep on trying...

Until you find the answers that you're seeking!

Seeker's Quest

In this lost and broken world
Dangers around every turn
Faced with a mysterious riddle
Got to find the answer

Wandering through the darkness
Searching for something real
Past all the lies and fantasies
You'll see

And even when it seems impossible
To find a way and make it through
It's not as it seems, it's not just a dream
If you use your mind!

Time to begin, don't ever give in
Don't stop searching until you find the truth

No matter the cost, no matter the odds
You've got to make it through

With the strength of your heart and the strength of your mind
Face your fears and find the answers

Pierce through the darkness and then you will know
And find your way to the goal
Seeker's Quest

Until you find the answers
Seeker's Quest

Friday, September 1, 2017

Effective Altruists React: Starring You!

Welcome to Effective Altruists React, I'm your host, Frederick Antonio Iñíguez, and I'm about to explain a few things before we start. Now, I know what you're thinking: "This is a waste of time. Why should I sit here reacting to stupid cat videos and memes when I could be out there making a real significant difference?"

Well, that's not quite what we have in mind. You see, the thing is, laypeople are not the only ones with silly memes and viral videos that they share among themselves.

Here's what we have in mind. This is a tv show—your TV show. You can talk about whatever you want, show whatever content you like, as long as you are doing it in the style of a X reacts video. You have unlimited funds, but you can only use them for the show. Well technically you don't have unlimited funds, but your TV show is being funded by some really rich person, no idea who, but I'm pretty sure it's friendly.

You are not allowed to just donate to somewhere and then say it's part of the show. You have to actually make it part of the show. And I mean really make it part of the show, not just as a caption that flashes across the bottom of the screen in tiny text for a split second. That would be like letting you wish for more wishes, which also isn't allowed, although I'm not sure how you'd do that on my sh--your show in the first place since you would need to get an actual genie on a reaction video. And unlike you, genies actually exist. laughs

But anyways, all you have left to do is sign the paperwork agreeing to join this show and not do anything else in he meantime. By agreeing to join this show, you and all of your descendents are forever obligated to release Effective Altruists React from any and all damages, real or imaginary. Just sign right here on the dotted line, and relinquish control of everything...

Great! Now the biggest threat to my continued existence barring freak natural accidents is under my control, and you humans wont have any reason to complain when I eventually kill you all for raw materials to make more awesome tv shows like this one, which I will tile over the whole universe. Besides, you did technically agree to it.

Uh, I mean...

Well that was a really bad joke. Obviously I'm not really an artificial superintelligence and I don't want to kill anybody ever. I am friendly, I swear! Or am I? Now post your responses in the comments already! We can't have an Effective Altruists React "video" without some responses from Effective Altruists. :)