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Author Topic: Killian Reads Fantasy, or, "The last post in this sub forum was 4 months ago"  (Read 9127 times)
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gridflay
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« Reply #30 on: January 09, 2016, 02:24:36 PM »

Fair enough. I'd think more along the lines of Schopenhauer than Nietzsche in that sense of the book then; he placed higher value on compassion as an ethical marker, which might align more closely with the Oankali's meta-species form of extreme kin selection. But I'd agree that Nietzsche's idea of "Dionysian nature" applies pretty well, too. In some ways, the Oankali/human hybrid seems almost eusocial; I'm not sure any major names in the philosophy biz have proposed such a thing (I mean socio-culturally, not just in the sense of, like, Marxist labor theory). I could be wrong about that.

Funny how dry this all sounds when we're being all hoity-toity analytical about it. When Butler writes, it's so organic, informed as it is by her own lived experiences with sex and race and community fissures. I miss her more now.
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Killian
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« Reply #31 on: January 10, 2016, 08:21:11 PM »

Oh, I'll be a boring old fart soon enough, but I'll take advantage of my tall, good looks, and amazing hair while it lasts. Science fiction is in general a very dry read, and I'm not convinced that literature has reached a golden age in any of its forms. Shakespeare's words are hindered by Pharisitic institutions that would have stifled him, and I hear he's a more fluent read in other languages. Translation lets people trim the bloat or something.

I really can't wait for most of the races to mix, so that people with half East Yazhou, half South Mahaadveepeey looks run around the planet, screaming like maniacs, throwing confetti. Maybe white people will shut up about dark skinned people being marginal. Maybe the new dominant race will be as bad or worse.

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gridflay
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« Reply #32 on: January 12, 2016, 06:10:04 PM »

Oh, I'll be a boring old fart soon enough...

Oh, it's the best! You get to shout whippersnappers off your lawn, and people stop expecting you to wear pants all the time. I'm telling you, they really are the golden years.
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AlexanderRM
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« Reply #33 on: January 18, 2016, 01:07:43 AM »

Sorry about my reply getting overly long. I think I should probably cut out bits, but then I'd just wind up writing even more stuff to replace it and I've already spent way too long on this.

There's a running theme in their writing that indicates a belief that reality can be interpreted from first principles via thought experiment. I happen find this idea to be really, seriously incorrect (an awful lot of science is completely non-intuitive).
It's possible we've read drastically different portions (apparently Eleizer's "sequences" alone are longer than the Lord of the Rings), but I've seen several posts by him explicitly identifying and calling out this very tendency- it's where I heard the phrase "it isn't possible to produce an accurate map of a city while sitting in your living room with your eyes closed", although I can't recall which essay that was because Google turns it up as being used 3-4 different times.
In general the whole community is strongly pro-empiricism (since the central concept is that the human brain is really messed up in ways we don't realize, so even if it were possible to figure things out by introspection at all, with no ability to check out wrong results it's almost guaranteed to go terribly). Likewise science being completely non-intuitive is a pretty big thing in LW, as for example it was pretty much the central point of "an alien god", which is based entirely on noticing traits of various organisms to inform ideas about how they originated.


I actually found LW through a blog discussion on free will; I haven't read their other philo work much, not enough to speak to its quality. But the free will stuff is simply uninformed by data. This article introduces a few of the major ideas in the field: http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110831/full/477023a.html
There's a big, general problem here that there's no agreed-upon definition of "free will". The definition side of the dispute isn't actually about the state of reality in any way, so there's no way for empirical evidence to actually inform it. This is particularly true in this case because people who say things like "Free Will doesn't exist" almost always have it as an uncategory- a concept defined such that it's conceptually impossible for it to exist: As I pointed out previously, "physics is deterministic so free will doesn't exist"/"physics is random so free will doesn't exist"*. The definitional dispute is thus the only actual dispute; empirical claims are red herrings because there's no possible empirical evidence we could find that would cause people to go "yep, free will exists".

(Incidentally, I don't know what blog discussion on free will you were reading, but thou art physics is the main Yudkowsky one I've read, and is fully aware of neuroscience research saying things like that. It does a decent job of explaining the brain-failure that leads people to think "does free will exist?" is a question about how the universe works, and it's also a reasonable example of the general practice of dissolving questions, better than I'm able to convey; I still need to resist slipping into "let's discuss how to define free will". Unfortunately it doesn't explicitly explain about definitional vs. empirical questions in as many words, which is why I didn't just link it immediately.)

*For some clear examples which also go back to the original SF/fantasy theme, try reading "Please don't tell me how the story ends" by Thomas D. Davis, and Singleton by Greg Egan, although I hate to ruin Singleton by referencing it just to point out that Egan's philosophy is bad. The first story has a person being horrified at the idea that their actions are totally predictable, the second has someone horrified at the idea that their actions are totally random. There was another short story that got the same idea across in a single short story and pointed it out explicitly- about an angel asking God to grant humans free will, and God proposes various different laws for determining the humans' actions, with the angel being horrified at everything- but I unfortunately can't remember the name ATM.





The Wiki description of Butler's novels is awful! I mean, it's not exactly inaccurate, but yeah, those books sound terrible! Heh. They're good because of the way the characters are written; it's an exploration of both humanity and first contact through the eyes of believable, clever, but not at all informed protagonists. There's no super-competent, figures everything out Mary Sue characters here. They read like actual, normal people, and their encounters are all the more real for it.
Your description of having not at all informed protagonists does sound cool or at least interesting. I'm slightly reminded of... I think Rendezvous with Rama, although it's been maybe a year and a half since I read that, which had what might be similar given that I don't know exactly what the situation is in Butler's novels. The main thing I remember isn't explicitly that, but the "who needs a plot when you can have gradual exploration and exposition?" thing, which was the review which convinced me to read it


@ Killain- your description of Butler's novels definitely made them sound interesting. Unfortunately it also convinced me that I personally probably wouldn't enjoy them (it's hard to put it in words, but... no, I really can't put it into words well, sorry), but then, a well-done summary should in fact turn off people who wouldn't be interested in the subject matter.
(...actually, thinking further trying to figure out why I expect not to enjoy them has made me want to check out the novels just so I can test whether that prediction is accurate, plus I suppose there's a fair chance I will in fact like them- at the very least I doubt I'd actively dislike reading the books. If I do so I should probably try to put my feelings into words better so I can remember my prediction when I check if it was true. I probably won't get around to it though, unless I happen to find them at my town library or if they're on the internet for free.)
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Killian
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« Reply #34 on: January 18, 2016, 09:23:11 AM »

I didn't think Butler would interest me either, but the extremely polished lucidity of her prose and narration reigned me in. Also, I hate Patrick Rothfuss and his fiction, and yet his writing has a similarly engrossing effect. I'm waiting for the third book just for a conclusion, that ugly ginger. If Butler's writing is meant to absorb you, it'll absorb you.
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Neil Tathers
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« Reply #35 on: January 20, 2016, 08:25:44 PM »

KILLIAN!
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gridflay
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« Reply #36 on: January 21, 2016, 06:17:47 PM »

In general the whole community is strongly pro-empiricism (since the central concept is that the human brain is really messed up in ways we don't realize, so even if it were possible to figure things out by introspection at all, with no ability to check out wrong results it's almost guaranteed to go terribly). Likewise science being completely non-intuitive is a pretty big thing in LW, as for example it was pretty much the central point of "an alien god", which is based entirely on noticing traits of various organisms to inform ideas about how they originated.

Ugh, that again. I'm sorry, but that "alien god" essay reads like a mediocre high school biology term paper. This is exactly what I meant by "uninformed by data." It's ignorant of any process beyond a naive misunderstanding of Darwinian selection; it doesn't even engage with Mendelian inheritance, yet the Hardy-Weinberg principle has been known since 1908. This is just bad science. A few howlers:

"For rattles to grow on rattlesnake tails, rattle-growing genes must become more and more frequent in each successive generation." This is false, e.g., balancing selection.

"Genes for constructing (incrementally better) rattles, must have somehow ended up more frequent in the rattlesnake gene pool, because of the rattle." Also wrong, according to neutral theory.

"There's no outside force deciding which genes ought to be promoted. Whatever happens, happens because of the genes themselves." This is not remotely true. Environmental fitness pressures (outside forces!) interacting with phenotypes (not genes!) produce selection- which, in itself, isn't the basis of evolution anyway.

"The main point is that the gene's effect must cause copies of that gene to become more frequent in the next generation." This is completely false. The main driver of genome development is drift (or possibly HGT, in some bacteria).

Don't even get me started on epigenetic effects. It's like the guy never studied evolutionary biology beyond the10th grade, but considers himself an expert, and it's all so clear to him. He's correct that it's a directionless process, but he's arrived at a huge number of demonstrably false conclusions on the way by not engaging with the data. He may, as you indicate, decry this practice in places, but he seems to do it an awful lot for all that.

I read most of his "free will" tagged posts when I first ran across them. A dozen and a half short essays? Not sure. But I was unimpressed with the "you are asking the wrong question" business. It's all well and good to discuss the scope of a question, but to claim that the reference frame is obvious is... obviously false.

"empirical claims are red herrings because there's no possible empirical evidence we could find that would cause people to go 'yep, free will exists'."

Nonsense. The neuroscience findings I'm referring to are the ones that strongly indicate the problem with the consciousness timeline. Decisions appear to be made before the conscious mind is capable of being aware of them. I'm not sure why any exhaustive definition of free will is necessary to see this as an answer, assuming the experiments are reliable. If, in fact, the opposite had been found- conscious thought preceeding choice followed by action, we'd conclude the need for something like (if not identical to) a "ghost in the machine." There's no need to reduce the problem to physics; consequently, claims of physicalist reductionism are irrelevant. The bits about consciousness as algorithm are lifted largely from Hofstadter's Golden Braid, which is definitely worth a read!

I think it's probably true that physical determinism answers the philosophical question, if in an unsatisfying way (I am a B-Theorist, after all), but it bugs me when people write things like "Since free will is about as easy as a philosophical problem in reductionism can get, while still appearing 'impossible' to at least some philosophers, it makes a good exercise for aspiring reductionists." The arrogance of that statement is a huge red flag, and when I see it coupled with garbage like that "alien god" mess, I conclude that he's a very smart guy in need of an education. I was a smart kid that knew everything too, and my teachers were fools. Took me a long time to grow out of that. Still working on it, actually.

As for Butler, your instinct is probably right. But at least add it to the "later on" list, the first book, maybe. She's a much better writer than Killian and I have given her credit for! I don't know Patrick Rothfuss, but I do love me a ginger...

edited to fix typos and declare my affinity for gingers
« Last Edit: January 21, 2016, 06:26:43 PM by gridflay » Logged
AlexanderRM
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« Reply #37 on: January 22, 2016, 07:05:14 AM »

(I'm trying to avoid replying with full arguments, because I'm noticing that I'm actually not that big a fan of Yudkowsky- I had a fairly negative affect about him even a year an a half ago when I first discovered the sequences, and it's gotten moreso since- but I seem to find myself drawn to "defending" him whenever criticism comes up, so this probably isn't an effective way either to check problems with the stuff I've absorbed from his essays.
I guess the solution is probably to read other authors with different opinions on the same subjects, which I'm already doing to some extent. Do you know any separate authors with similar stuff- especially getting into the idea that the human brain is far worse at some things than we intuitively realize?)


@ the evolution part- Neutral Theory is pretty interesting and I hadn't heard about it before.
Could you confirm- the main takeaway I get from "an alien god" is "optimization processes don't automatically do what's best by human values (except when designed by humans or the like)"- although I definitely knew this in some form before reading it, mostly it's that it drives the point home strongly and the poetic description of them as eldritch abominations. That conclusion isn't flatly contradicted by evidence in evolutionary biology, correct?


Nonsense. The neuroscience findings I'm referring to are the ones that strongly indicate the problem with the consciousness timeline. Decisions appear to be made before the conscious mind is capable of being aware of them. I'm not sure why any exhaustive definition of free will is necessary to see this as an answer, assuming the experiments are reliable. If, in fact, the opposite had been found- conscious thought preceeding choice followed by action, we'd conclude the need for something like (if not identical to) a "ghost in the machine." There's no need to reduce the problem to physics; consequently, claims of physicalist reductionism are irrelevant.
Ah, sorry- I read that article as being of either the "we don't control our actions, physics does" or "we don't control our actions, our brains do" variety, both of which are simple misunderstandings. If the claim is something like "free will is entirely physically possible, but in human brains the conscious mind doesn't control our actions, the subconscious does and the conscious mind justifies this afterward", that's 100% an empirical question. It also feels sufficiently different from what philosophers talk about when they say "free will" that it'd probably be better to use a different term for it.


it bugs me when people write things like "Since free will is about as easy as a philosophical problem in reductionism can get, while still appearing 'impossible' to at least some philosophers, it makes a good exercise for aspiring reductionists." The arrogance of that statement is a huge red flag [...]
Personally, I recall actually finding that refreshing after my college philosophy club and a couple other contexts, where there was some degree of the attitude of "these are really interesting ideas that should be discussed thoroughly over the next two thousand years", and at least a few discussions of confusing nonsense (fortunately there's only one actual postmodernist in the group). Yudkowsky does tend to come off as arrogant a lot though, and usually gives a sense of "human beings are super irrational, but I've fixed this problem"- which is better than "everyone but me is insane, but I'm definitely not" or "my ideological opponents are insane, but my side is totally not" but still not perfect. (I'm much more into the "harm reduction" side of the "rationalist" community at present.)



The bits about consciousness as algorithm are lifted largely from Hofstadter's Golden Braid, which is definitely worth a read!
I've heard about that before; I'll put it on my stuff to read.
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gridflay
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« Reply #38 on: January 22, 2016, 03:23:12 PM »

Heh. I'm doing the same thing, trying to be extra concise when we're both poking at ideas that kinda beg for a wall-o'-text approach! I think we've shown admirable restraint Wink

Neutral Theory is odd; it's a huge part of evolutionary biology, but seems somewhat unknown outside of specialists. I literally have no idea why that is, because it shouldn't be true at all. There's a good, short, non-technical page about it here (by Larry Moran, an excellent resource):
http://bioinfo.med.utoronto.ca/Evolution_by_Accident/Random_Genetic_Drift.html

To answer your question: optimization by selection doesn't know anything about better, is true. But it's not even really optimization, or even improvement, as such terms imply future utility; it's more like "this thing works better in this environment right now than the other slightly different versions of this thing currently available in this population." Selection doesn't know or care what next week will look like. There's no ladder by which things get "better," they just change in frequency over time as environment + chance allow. The variants that kinda suck less could be considered "optimized," since really unhelpful variations will be weeded out. The critical point the essay misses is that this optimization process isn't actually the main driver of evolution at all.

Selection allows fixation of advantageous alleles, but it has little to do with how those variations ebb and flow in the first place. That's (mainly) drift, according to neutral theory.

The free will stuff on LW does seem pretty hung up on the physics=brains thing, but yes, you're correct that I was promoting the neurophysiological idea that free will- in fact, consciousness itself- appears to be a post-hoc rationalization rather than an actual phenomenon. Which has the nifty effect of side-stepping the question of determinism with respect to choice, because no conscious choice is possible, even without determinism.

Your discussion group sounds better than most, actually! I find effective altruism fascinating (I'm assuming you've read some Peter Singer?). I'm an old, so while I am also a consequentialist I mostly hang with the old-skool Humanists. Philosophically, it's very sloppy stuff around the edges, but so is life, so I can work with that.

I'd recommend Dan Dennett's Consciousness Explained for one exploration of how our brains aren't any good at anything; I actually agree with some of Tom Nagel's criticisms of the book, but it's well written and it's important to read people you think are wrong when they're smarter than you. Anything by Steven Pinker is also worth a look.

And, oh my goodness, you must read Hofstadter! You, more than most people, will probably get a lot out of it. Especially the parts you don't agree with. I started with G.E.B., but I Am A Strange Loop is a more...concise version? I'm not sure it matters. Read both if you have time (and if you can make time, might as well read them in order).

edit: I think maybe I didn't directly answer your actual question about the "alien god" essay? Perhaps this then: things aren't designed, but they look like they are; he's right about that. Things look designed because they work ok in the environment we see them in. They work ok because trial and error threw out a ton of possible things, and the ones that didn't work at all died, and the ones that kinda work are present in frequencies that are more or less proportional to the degree with which they work efficiently. They appear to be "the best" or "optimized" only because better variations haven't popped up yet, often because they can't be derived from currently available starting material.
« Last Edit: January 22, 2016, 03:36:18 PM by gridflay » Logged
AlexanderRM
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« Reply #39 on: January 25, 2016, 11:59:29 PM »

The free will stuff on LW does seem pretty hung up on the physics=brains thing, but yes, you're correct that I was promoting the neurophysiological idea that free will- in fact, consciousness itself- appears to be a post-hoc rationalization rather than an actual phenomenon. Which has the nifty effect of side-stepping the question of determinism with respect to choice, because no conscious choice is possible, even without determinism.
I've actually encountered the same claim on LW/the LW diaspora, mostly from Yvain/Scott Alexander (ex. the blue-minimizing robot), which I think actually overstates the case. Consciousness clearly has some influence on our physical actions: for instance, we can express things we've previously thought by speaking or writing, and in the experiment they found out what the consciousness was thinking by asking the humans to report it.

Incidentally, I'm strongly tempted to suggest some Scott Alexander essays- if you didn't like Yudkowsky because of his arrogance then he'd be perfect; he tends to constantly point out the flaws in his own arguments, steelman opposing arguments, things like that. A specific thing that comes to mind is a tendency to discuss statistics while actually trying to figure things out rather than bash his opponents (although he writes a fair amount of stuff bashing specific studies and the like as well, but ones on his own "side" as often as not). Also he doesn't spend much time talking about types of science he doesn't have professional training in (i.e. other than psychology). I could go on forever both enthusing on various positive points and qualifying with various flaws, so I'll just stop now and actually link stuff.
The main trouble is I have absolutely no idea what essay would be a good introduction... I'll just link this list here, most of which are excellent, and let you judge which topic(s) you'd be interested in (only exception- I'd suggest not starting with the "social justice" posts regardless of what one's opinion is on social justice, since that subject tends to send him into "someone is wrong on the internet" mode, although even those are pretty good and the "Top Posts" include some excellent ones).


I'd recommend Dan Dennett's Consciousness Explained for one exploration of how our brains aren't any good at anything; I actually agree with some of Tom Nagel's criticisms of the book, but it's well written and it's important to read people you think are wrong when they're smarter than you. Anything by Steven Pinker is also worth a look.

And, oh my goodness, you must read Hofstadter! You, more than most people, will probably get a lot out of it. Especially the parts you don't agree with. I started with G.E.B., but I Am A Strange Loop is a more...concise version? I'm not sure it matters. Read both if you have time (and if you can make time, might as well read them in order).
I'll put all of those on a list somewhere, although I don't sit down to read books too often since A: it requires acquiring the book and B: it involves sitting down for a fair period of time reading it- most of my reading on these subjects is done skimming the internet while I'm supposed to be doing homework (like I'm doing now). Still, if I get the chance I'll definitely try to read them.
« Last Edit: January 26, 2016, 12:05:14 AM by AlexanderRM » Logged

gridflay
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« Reply #40 on: January 26, 2016, 09:45:22 PM »

...
I'll just link this list here, most of which are excellent, and let you judge which topic(s) you'd be interested in (only exception- I'd suggest not starting with the "social justice" posts regardless of what one's opinion is on social justice, since that subject tends to send him into "someone is wrong on the internet" mode, although even those are pretty good and the "Top Posts" include some excellent ones)...

Yeah, there is some good stuff there, I've run across the site before. Chris Hallquist pops in there now and again, I read his blog sometimes (he's an effective altruism guy as well).

And do read Hoftstadter Wink
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Killian
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« Reply #41 on: January 27, 2016, 01:13:20 AM »

KILLIAN!

NEIL! I was bad mouthing you behind your back, but that's nothing new. Now I feel guilty. Hope you and the fam are doing well. Also, the Netflix thing. It wasn't a prank right?

Alex, If you haven't already, you might find Poundstone's 'The Recursive Universe' to be a good complementary read to GEB. It's ~200 pages, much shorter than GEB's 800 pages, and addresses the same main topic of recursion, more on the science side, less from a chop suey generis angle. While adding more pages to the read list could indeed add fire to the flame, I find switching valves between books to guard against reader burnout, as well as more insightful due to the ol' syncretic reading thing.

And as for you, the thus far quiet lurker, who in reading, may be confused or think the locals are tripping balls, may read John Carroll's 'An Introduction to Metaphysics', particularly chapters 3 (free will), and 7 (time). Avoid Inwagen's 'Metaphysics', who treats philosophy like a Nickelodeon cartoon. But take an admonition, for studying philosophy may make you unadmired by your loved ones, to the point where they may desire to throw sharp objects at you. I am now returning my nose to DM Armstrong's 'Universals', and am desperately trying to avoid rereading WWR2 and P&P.
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Neil Tathers
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« Reply #42 on: January 27, 2016, 01:39:40 AM »

Twas not a prank.  Just don't have the ability or bandwidth at the moment.
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Killian
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« Reply #43 on: January 27, 2016, 05:28:51 AM »

I only find zoanthropy ridiculous when it's puerile wish fulfillment, so I'll trust you on that one.
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