Tag Archives: eliezer-yudkowsky

The Virtues of Rationality

The name Eliez­er Yudkowsky imme­di­ately con­jours in my mind the word ration­al­ity (thanks to his addict­ive piece of fan fiction, Harry Pot­ter and the Meth­ods of Ration­al­ity). On a recent vis­it to his site, this con­nec­tion has now be strengthened after I saw his excel­lent essay on the twelve vir­tues of ration­al­ity:

  1. Curi­os­ity: A burn­ing itch to know is high­er than a sol­emn vow to pur­sue truth.
  2. Relin­quish­ment: Do not flinch from exper­i­ences that might des­troy your beliefs.
  3. Light­ness: Sur­render to the truth as quickly as you can.
  4. Even­ness: You are not a hypo­thes­is, you are the judge. There­fore do not seek to argue for one side or anoth­er.
  5. Argu­ment: In argu­ment strive for exact hon­esty, for the sake of oth­ers and also your­self […]Do not think that fair­ness to all sides means bal­an­cing your­self evenly between pos­i­tions; truth is not handed out in equal por­tions before the start of a debate.
  6. Empir­i­cism: Always know which dif­fer­ence of exper­i­ence you argue about.
  7. Sim­pli­city: When you pro­fess a huge belief with many details, each addi­tion­al detail is anoth­er chance for the belief to be wrong.
  8. Humil­ity: To be humble is to take spe­cif­ic actions in anti­cip­a­tion of your own errors.
  9. Per­fec­tion­ism: The more errors you cor­rect in your­self, the more you notice.
  10. Pre­ci­sion: More can be said about a single apple than about all the apples in the world. The nar­row­est state­ments slice deep­est.
  11. Schol­ar­ship: Each field that you con­sume makes you lar­ger.
  12. The Void

I believe that the ninth vir­tue, per­fec­tion­ism, is the most eleg­ant and I implore you to read the full essay if only to read that descrip­tion in full (and, I guess, to dis­cov­er what The Void is). How­ever the elev­enth vir­tue of ration­al­ity, schol­ar­ship, almost per­fectly describes why I write here and may go some way to explain­ing my diverse read­ing habits:

Study many sci­ences and absorb their power as your own. Each field that you con­sume makes you lar­ger. If you swal­low enough sci­ences the gaps between them will dimin­ish and your know­ledge will become a uni­fied whole. If you are glut­ton­ous you will become vaster than moun­tains. It is espe­cially import­ant to eat math and sci­ence which impinges upon ration­al­ity: Evol­u­tion­ary psy­cho­logy, heur­ist­ics and biases, social psy­cho­logy, prob­ab­il­ity the­ory, decision the­ory. But these can­not be the only fields you study. The Art must have a pur­pose oth­er than itself, or it col­lapses into infin­ite recur­sion.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

The First Law of Fan­fic­tion states that every change which strengthens the prot­ag­on­ists requires a cor­res­pond­ing worsen­ing of their chal­lenges. […] stor­ies are about con­flict; a hero too strong for their con­flict is no longer in tense, heart-pound­ing dif­fi­culty. […]

The Ration­al­ist Fan­fic­tion Prin­ciple states that ration­al­ity is not magic; being ration­al does not require magic­al poten­tial or roy­al blood­lines or even amaz­ing gad­gets, and the prin­ciples of ration­al­ity work for under­stand­able reas­ons.

That’s Eliez­er Yudkowsky in an intro­duc­tion to his acclaimed Harry Pot­ter fan fiction, Harry Pot­ter and the Meth­ods of Ration­al­ity.

The piece of “seri­al fic­tion” looks at cog­nit­ive sci­ence and ration­al­ity in a Harry Pot­ter-type world where Harry, hav­ing been raised by a sci­ent­ist step­fath­er, is a ration­al­ist, enter­ing the wiz­ard­ing world “armed with Enlight­en­ment ideals and the exper­i­ment­al spir­it.”

Cur­rently 63 chapters long–including chapters such as A Day of Very Low Prob­ab­il­ity, The Stan­ford Pris­on Exper­i­ment, The Unknown and the Unknow­able and Title Redac­ted, Part I–the Meth­ods is a fant­ast­ic read.

There’s a “book-style” PDF avail­able, ePUB and MOBI ver­sions for those on e‑readers, and a great TV Tropes entry. You can find more resources on the unof­fi­cial homepage, hpmor.com.

Although listen to Eliez­er when he says “This fic is widely con­sidered to have really hit its stride start­ing at around Chapter 5. If you still don’t like it after Chapter 10, give up”.

via Hack­er News

The 50th Law

Power is great­er than hap­pi­ness, con­tends Robert Greene in an online dis­cus­sion with Eliez­er Yudkowsky about Fear, Power and Mor­tal­ity (qual­ity sum­mary there­of), as hap­pi­ness is fleet­ing and unre­mit­ting.

Also dis­cussed in this con­ver­sa­tion is strategist Robert Greene’s latest book, The 50th Law: 10 Les­sons in Fear­less­ness, which is the res­ult of an unlikely col­lab­or­a­tion with hip hop artist 50 Cent (Curtis Jack­son).

Ini­tially (very) scep­tic­al of such a col­lab­or­a­tion (hip hop and its cul­ture is com­pletely ali­en to my tastes), I’ve heard The 50th Law called a “hip hop bible” and a “how-to for apply­ing The 48 Laws of Power” and so had to look deep­er.

With the life of Curtis Jack­son as the nar­rat­ive, the book looks at “how to suc­ceed in life and work based on a single prin­ciple: fear noth­ing”. Based on the text of the chapter head­ings, there’s an ebook intro­duc­tion avail­able on Slide­share that gives you a good idea of what the book is like.

I found the fol­low­ing excerpts rather inspir­ing on mul­tiple levels and wanted to share them:

On self-reli­ance:

When you work for oth­ers, you are at their mercy. They own your work; they own you. Your cre­at­ive spir­it is squashed. What keeps you in such pos­i­tions is a fear of hav­ing to sink or swim on your own. Instead you should have a great­er fear of what will hap­pen to you if you remain depend­ent on oth­ers for power. Your goal in every man­euver in life must be own­er­ship, work­ing the corner for your­self. When it is yours, it is yours to lose – you are more motiv­ated, more cre­at­ive, more alive. The ulti­mate power in life is to be com­pletely self-reli­ant, com­pletely your­self.

On oppor­tunism:

Your lack of resources can be an advant­age, for­cing you to be more invent­ive with the little that you have. […] Do not let fears make you wait for a bet­ter moment or become con­ser­vat­ive. If there are cir­cum­stances you can­not con­trol, make the best of them. It is the ulti­mate alchemy to trans­form all such neg­at­ives into advant­ages and power.

On cal­cu­lated momentum:

In the present there is con­stant change and so much we can­not con­trol. If you try to micro­man­age it all, you lose even great­er con­trol in the long run.

On con­nec­tion:

Most people think first of what they want to express or make, then find the audi­ence for their idea. You must work the oppos­ite angle, think­ing first of the pub­lic. You need to keep your focus on their chan­ging needs, the trends that are wash­ing through them.

On mas­tery:

To [build the found­a­tions for some­thing that can con­tin­ue to expand], you will have to serve an appren­tice­ship. You must learn early on to endure the hours of prac­tice and drudgery, know­ing that in the end all of that time will trans­late into a high­er pleas­ure – mas­tery of a craft and of your­self.

Thanks, Ryan

Planning for the Worst Case Scenario

Eliez­er Yudkowsky on plan­ning for the abyssal.

Nev­er mind hind­sight on the real-estate bubble – there are lots of things that could poten­tially trig­ger fin­an­cial catastrophes.  I’m will­ing to bet the Amer­ic­an gov­ern­ment knows what it will do in terms of imme­di­ate res­cue oper­a­tions if an atom­ic bomb goes off in San Francisco.  But if the US gov­ern­ment had any advance idea of under which cir­cum­stances it would nation­al­ize Fan­nie Mae or guar­an­tee Bear Ste­arns’s coun­ter­parties, this plan was not very much in evid­ence as vari­ous gov­ern­ment offi­cials gave every appear­ance of try­ing to fig­ure everything out on the fly. […]

It’s ques­tion­able wheth­er the gov­ern­ment should be in the pos­i­tion of try­ing to fore­cast the abyss – to put a prob­ab­il­ity on fin­an­cial melt­down in any giv­en year due to any giv­en cause.  But advance abyssal plan­ning isn’t about the prob­ab­il­ity, as it would be in investing.  It’s about the pos­sib­il­ity.  If you can real­ist­ic­ally ima­gine glob­al fin­an­cial melt­downs of vari­ous types being pos­sible, there’s no excuse for not war-gam­ing them.  If your brain does­n’t lit­er­ally cease to exist upon facing sys­tem­ic melt­downs at the time, you ought to be able to ima­gine plaus­ible sys­tem­ic melt­downs in advance.

This got me think­ing about plan­ning for our own abyss (be it employ­ment or health). Why don’t we have plans for the worst case scen­ario? After all, as the Fin­an­cial Times’ Tim Har­ford states, “[A] recently pub­lished research paper [shows] that most unem­ployed people are too cocky about their pro­spects of find­ing a new job. On aver­age, they expect sev­en weeks of unem­ploy­ment, but even­tu­ally endure 23 weeks. And this is using data from the mid-1990s, not reces­sion years”.

A case of the plan­ning fal­lacy?

Debating Cryonics

Cryo­n­ics: the low-tem­per­at­ure pre­ser­va­tion of humans and anim­als that can no longer be sus­tained by con­tem­por­ary medi­cine until resus­cit­a­tion may be pos­sible in the future.

When one dis­cusses cryonics, top­ics as diverse as futur­o­logy, medi­cine, tech­no­logy and philo­sophy are debated. A few weeks ago a num­ber of high–profile blog­gers, headed by the excel­lent Over­com­ing Bias, have been doing just that. Here are a few posts in the con­ver­sa­tion:

We Agree: Get Froze (Robin Hanson, Over­com­ing Bias)

Even with mod­ern anti-freezes, freez­ing does lots of dam­age, per­haps more than whatever else was going to kill you. But bod­ies frozen that cold basic­ally won’t change for mil­len­nia. […] Since most folks who die today have an intact brain until the rest of their body fails them, more likely than not most death vic­tims today could live on as (one or more) future ems. And if future folks learn to repair freez­ing dam­age plus whatever was killing vic­tims, vic­tims might live on as ordin­ary humans.

Cold Spouses (Bry­an Caplan, Lib­rary of Eco­nom­ics and Liberty)

One unpleas­ant issue in cryo­n­ics is the “hos­tile wife” phe­nomen­on. The authors of this art­icle know of a num­ber of high pro­file cryo­n­icists who need to hide their cryo­n­ics activ­it­ies from their wives and ex-high pro­file cryo­n­icists who had to choose between cryo­n­ics and their rela­tion­ship. We also know of men who would like to make cryo­n­ics arrange­ments but have not been able to do so because of res­ist­ance from their wives or girl­friend­s… As a res­ult, these men face cer­tain death as a con­sequence of their part­ner­’s hos­til­ity.

You Only Live Twice (Eliez­er Yudkowsky, Over­com­ing Bias)

Hated Because It Might Work (Robin Hanson, Over­com­ing Bias)

The Best Sen­tence I Read Yes­ter­day (Tyler Cowen, Mar­gin­al Revolu­tion)

[On cryo­n­ics] my cur­rent view is this: one’s atten­tion is extremely scarce and lim­ited, as are one’s affiliations.  Inso­far as you have the lux­ury of think­ing “big­ger thoughts,” those thoughts should be dir­ec­ted at help­ing oth­ers, not at help­ing one­self. […] Fur­ther­more the uni­verse (or mul­ti­verse) may be infin­ite, so in expec­ted value terms it seems my cop­ies and near-cop­ies are already enjoy­ing a kind of col­lect­ive immortality. […] What prob­ab­il­ity of future tor­ture would cause us to wish to die forever rather than be resurrected?  And should I there­fore be scared by the idea of an infin­ite universe?  Do Dar­wini­an selec­tion pres­sures – defined in the broad­est pos­sible way – sug­gest it is worth spend­ing energy on mak­ing entit­ies happy?  Or do most entit­ies end up as suf­fer­ing slaves?

Tyler on Cryo­n­ics (Robin Hanson, Over­com­ing Bias)