3478 karmaJoined May 2015


The first object-level issue the author talks about is whether the brain is close to the Landaeur limit.  No particular issue is cited, only that somebody else claimed a lot of authority and claimed I was wrong about something, what exactly is not shown.

The brain obviously cannot be operating near the Landaeur limit.  Thousands of neurotransmitter molecules and thousands of ions need to be pumped back to their original places after each synaptic flash.  Each of these is a thermodynamically irreversible operation and it staggers the imagination that every ion pumped en masse back out of some long axon or dendrite, after ions flooded en masse into it to propagate electrical depolarization, is part of a well-designed informational algorithm that could not be simplified.  Any calculation saying that biology is operating close to the Landaeur limit has reached a face-value absurdity.

Of course, this may not seem to address anything, since OP failed to state what I was putatively wrong about and admits to not understanding it themselves; I can't refute what isn't shown.

The first substantive criticism OP claims to understand theirself is on Zombies.

I say:

Your "zombie", in the philosophical usage of the term, is putatively a being that is exactly like you in every respect—identical behavior, identical speech, identical brain; every atom and quark in exactly the same position, moving according to the same causal laws of motion—except that your zombie is not conscious.

The author would have you believe this is a ludicrous straw position.

I invite anyone to simply read the opening paragraphs of the SEP encyclopedia entry on P-zombies:

If zombies are to be counterexamples to physicalism, it is not enough for them to be behaviorally and functionally like normal human beings: plenty of physicalists accept that merely behavioral or functional duplicates of ourselves might lack qualia. Zombies must be like normal human beings in all physical respects, and they must have the physical properties that physicalists suppose we have. This requires them to be subject to the causal closure of the physical, which is why their supposed lack of consciousness is a challenge to physicalism. If instead they were to be conceived of as creatures whose behavior could not be explained physically, physicalists would have no reason to bother with the idea: there is plenty of evidence that, as epiphenomenalists hold, our movements actually are explicable in physical terms (see e.g. Papineau 2002).

This is a debate that has gone on for very long in philosophy.  I'd say it's gone on too long.

But whether or not particular thought experiments, by seeming metaphysically possible, license other conclusions about metaphysics, is exactly the entire substance.  The base thought experiment is not or should not be in dispute: it's a being whose physics duplicate the physics of a human being including the causal closure of what is said to be 'physics', i.e., all of the causes of behavior are included into the p-zombie.  Some people go on at fantastic length from this to say that it demonstrates the possibility of an extra consciousness that they call "epiphenomenal", and some say that it demonstrates the possibility of a nonphysical consciousness that they don't call "epiphenomenal", but it's my position that somewhere along the way of a long argument they have dropped the ball on the original thought experiment; whatever they call "consciousness" that isn't in the supposed p-zombie, it can't be among the causes of why we talk about consciousness, or why our verbally reportable stream of thought talks about consciousness, etc, because the zombie behaves outwardly like we do and also includes the minimal closure of the causes of that physical behavior.

The author of the above post has misrepresented what my zombies argument was about.  It's not that I think philosophers openly claim that p-zombies demonstrate epiphenomenalism; it's that I think philosophers are confused about what this thought experiment demonstrates.

The author having been shown to be wrong on the first points addressed, which I chose in order rather than selectively sampling, I hope you accept this as obvious evidence that the rest would be no better if you looked into them in detail or I responded in detail.  For a post claiming to show that I'm often grossly wrong, actual quotes from me, with linked context and dates attached, are remarkably thin on the ground.

You will mark that in this comment I first respond to a substantive point and show it to be mistaken before I make any general criticism of the author; which can then be supported by that previously shown, initial, first-thing, object-level point.  You will find every post of the Less Wrong sequences written the same way.

As the entire post violates basic rules of epistemic conduct by opening with a series of not-yet-supported personal attacks, I will not be responding to the rest in detail.  I'm sad about how anything containing such an egregious violation of basic epistemic conduct got this upvoted, and wonder about sockpuppet accounts or alternatively a downfall of EA.  The relevant principle of epistemic good conduct seems to me straightforward: if you've got to make personal attacks (and sometimes you do), make them after presenting your object-level points that support those personal attacks.  This shouldn't be a difficult rule to follow, or follow much better than this; and violating it this hugely and explicitly is sufficiently bad news that people should've been wary about this post and hesitated to upvote it for that reason alone.

Somehow I never thought about it that way.  Point conceded.

The analogy survives and if anything becomes more meaningful, but is now harder to explain to a general audience:  After training humans exclusively on inclusive genetic fitness, with a correlation in the outer environment to high-calorie foods, humans ended up preferring something that didn't exist in the ancestral environment, lacks correlations to micronutrients that were reliably in ample supply in the ancestral environment and didn't need to be optimized over, has some resemblance to things that were important/scarce like the taste of sugar and salt and fat (if the sugar hasn't been replaced with allulose), but where it ultimately depends on properties like "the ice cream is cold rather than melted" that don't match to anything obvious at a surface glance about the ancestral environment; and on the whole, the thing that starts to max out human tastebuds seems almost impossible to have called in advance by any simple means.

If you want the old form of the analogy, "male humans scrolling Tumblr porn" works (2D images not present in ancestral environment, Coolidge effect superstimulated).  Hopefully I or somebody can think of a more general-audiences-friendly transparent example of a superstimulus than that one.

FYI:  IIRC/IIUC, Bryk is the one who made up the thing about my having a harem of submissive mathematicians whom I called my "math pets".   This is false; people sufficiently connected within the community will know that it is false, not least since it'd be widely known and I wouldn't have denied it if it were true.  I am not sure what to do about it simply, if someone's own epistemic location is such that my statements there are unknowable to them as being true.

It is known to me that Bryk has gone on repeating the "math pets" allegation, including to journalists, long after it should've been clear to her that it was not true.

My own understanding of proper procedure subsequent to this would be to treat Bryk as somebody having made a known false allegation, especially since I don't know of any corresponding later-verified/known-true allegations that she was first to bring forth; and that this implies we ought to cross everything alleged by Bryk off any such lists, unless there's independent witnesses for it, in which case we can consider those witnesses and also reconsider the future degree to which Bryk ought to (not) be considered as an evidential source.

(If I am recalling correctly that Jax started the "math pets" thing.)

IIRC, Jax is Bryk is the one who made up the "math pets" allegation against me, which hopefully everyone knows to be false.  I don't know anything about the state of the rest of the allegations against Michael, but if I'm recalling correctly that Jax is that particular known-false-accuser, we probably want to subtract anything from Jax and then evaluate the rest of the list.

The usual argument, which I think is entirely valid, and has been delivered by famouser and more famously reputable people if you don't want to trust me about it, was named the "Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect" by Richard Feynman.  Find something that you are really, truly an expert on.  Find an article in TIME Magazine about it.  Really take note of everything they get wrong.  Try finding somebody who isn't an expert and see what their takeaways from the article were - what picture of reality they derive without your own expertise to guide them in interpretation.

Then go find what you think is a pretty average blog post by an Internet expert on the same topic.

It is, alas, not something you can condense into a single webpage, because everybody has their own area of really solid expertise, even if it's something like "the history of Star Trek TOS" because their day job doesn't lead them into the same level of enthusiasm.  Maybe somebody should put together a set of three comparisons like that, from three different fields - but then the skeptics could worry it was all cherry-picked unusual bad examples, even if it hadn't been.

I will note that I do think that the great scientists of recent past generations have earned more of our respect than internationally famous journalistic publications, and those scientists did not speak kindly of their coverage of science - and that was before the era of clickbait, back when the likes of the New York Times kept to notably higher editorial standards.

I think you can talk to any famous respectable person in private, and ask them if there should be a great burden of skepticism about insinuating that a "major international publication" like TIME Magazine might be skewing the truth the way that Aella describes, and the famous respectable person (if they are willing to answer you at all) will tell you that you should not hold that much trust towards TIME Magazine.

I'd absolutely bring the same kind of skepticism.  I would refuse to read a TIME expose of supposed abuses within LDS, because I would expect it to take way too much work to figure out what kind of remote reality would lie behind the epstemic abuses that I'd expect TIME (or the New York Times or whoever) would devise.  If I thought I needed to know about it, I would poke around online until I found an essay written by somebody who sounded careful and evenhanded and didn't use language like journalists use, and there would then be a possibility that I was reading something with a near enough relation to reality that I could end up closer to the truth after having tried to do my own mental corrections.

I want to be very clear that this is not my condescending advice to Other People who I think are stupider than I am.  I think that I am not able to read coverage in the New York Times and successfully update in a more truthward direction, after compensating for what I think their biasing procedures are.  I think I just can't figure out the truth from that.  I don't think I'm that smart.  I avoid clicking through, and if it's an important matter I try to find a writeup elsewhere instead.

I've had worse experiences with coverage from professional journalists than I have from random bloggers.  My standard reply to a journalist who contacts me by email is "If you have something you actually want to know or understand, I will answer off-the-record; I am not providing any on-the-record quotes after past bad experiences."  Few ever follow up with actual questions.

A sincere-seeming online person with a blog can, any time they choose to, quote you accurately and in context, talk about the nuance, and just generally be truthful.  Professional journalists exist in a much stranger context that would require much longer than this comment to describe.

I mean the human tendency, not the EA tendency.  TIME does it because it's effective on their usual audience.  EAs, evidently, have not risen above that.

If you think there's an actual problem, I think the correct avenue is doing a real investigation and a real writeup.  Trying to "steelman" a media version of it, that is going to be incredibly and deliberately warped, adversarially targeted at exploiting the audience's underestimate of its warping by experienced adversaries, strikes me as a very wrong move.  And it's just legit hard to convey how very wrong of a move it is, if you've never been the subject of that kind of media misrepresentation in your personal direct experience, because you really do underestimate how bad it is until then.  Aella did.  I did.

I also attest that Aella is, if anything, severely underconveying the extent to which this central thesis is true.   It's really really hard to convey until you've lived that experience yourself.  I also don't know how to convey this to people who haven't lived through it.  My experience was also of having been warned about it, but not having integrated the warnings or really actually understood how bad the misrepresentation actually was in practice, until I lived through it. 

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