All of SebK's Comments + Replies

A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

Again, not evidence for anything, but seizures can apparently be incredibly blissful, so it all depends. STV proponents would probably say that depending on the subnetworks involved and the particular synchronicities in the firing patterns, it could be a pleasant seizure or an unpleasant one ...

3Holly_Elmore1moThey can be blissful or terrifying depending on where in the brain they occur. I thought is was pretty well understood that locality is what determines the experience, not harmonics of the seizure. Even if harmonics have something to do with it, I wouldn't say that experiences during seizures are evidence in favor of STV.
A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

Thanks Holly! I'm not advocating for STV, I'm just an interested layperson who's followed QRI's work for some time and felt frustrated with everyone here furiously talking past one another.

Is the claim that the symmetry is  the qualia of valence? How would symmetries and resonance be exempt from the hard problem any more than neuronal activation?

Yep – if I understand it correctly, the reasoning goes something like "there's nothing obviously special about biological neurons as a physical substrate, so maybe consciousness is fundamental to the universe ... (read more)

A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

I feel like your explanations are skipping a bunch of steps that would help folks understand where you're coming from. FWIW, here's how I make sense of STV:

  1. Neuroscience can tell us that some neurons light up when we eat chocolate, but it doesn't tell us what it is about the delicious experience of chocolate that makes it so wonderful. "This is what sugar looks like" and "this is the location of the reward center" are great descriptions of parts of the process, but they don't explain why certain patterns of neural activations feel a certain way.
  2. Everyone agr
... (read more)
5Holly_Elmore1moIt's also worth noting there are a number of reasons I'm skeptical of the attraction to symmetry. I think it's reasoning from aesthetics that we have very good and well-understood reasons (not realted to the nature of valence) to hold. And, if the claim is that the resonances are conveying the valence, highly synchronous or symmetrical states hold less information, so I'm skeptical that that would be a way of encoding valence. It's at best redundant as a way of storing information (at worst its a seizure, where too many neurons are recruited away from doing their job to doing the same thing at once).
8Holly_Elmore1moThis is an interesting summary, and was basically what I guessed STV was getting at, but this is a hypothesis, not a theory. The hypothesis is: what if there is content in the symmetry encoded in various brain states? I don't understand is how symmetry in brain readings is supposed to really explain valence better than, say, neurons firing brain areas involved in attraction/repulsion. Is the claim that the symmetry is the qualia of valence? How would symmetries and resonance be exempt from the hard problem any more than neuronal activation? > How compelling this feels (and just feels!) to investigate is something most readers won't appreciate unless they've experienced altered states of consciousness themselves. Do you think it should be compelling based on a trip? Is that real evidence? I'm not closed to the possibility in principle, but outside view it sounds like psychedelics just give you an attraction to certain shapes and ideas and give you a sense of insight. That might not be totally unrelated to a relevant observation about valence or qualia, but I don't see any reason to think pschedelics give you more direct access to the nature of our brains.
5MikeJohnson2moI really appreciate you putting it like this, and endorse everything you wrote. I think sometimes researchers can get too close to their topics and collapse many premises and steps together; they sometimes sort of ‘throw away the ladder’ that got them where they are, to paraphrase Wittgenstein. This can make it difficult to communicate to some audiences. My experience on the forum this week suggests this may have happened to me on this topic. I’m grateful for the help the community is offering on filling in the gaps.
A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

Hi Mike, I really enjoy your and Andrés's work, including STV, and I have to say I'm disappointed by how the ideas are presented here, and entirely unsurprised at the reaction they've elicited.

There's a world of a difference between saying "nobody knows what valence is made out of, so we're trying to see if we can find correlations with symmetries in imaging data" (weird but fascinating) and "There is an identity relationship between suffering and disharmony" (time cube). I know you're not time cube man, because I've read lots of other QRI output over the ... (read more)

9MikeJohnson2moHi Seb, I appreciate the honest feedback and kind frame. I can say that it’s difficult to write a short piece that will please a diverse audience, but that ducks the responsibility of the writer. You might be interested in my reply to Linch which notes that STV may be useful even if false; I would be surprised if it were false but it wouldn’t be an end to qualia research, merely a new interesting chapter. I spoke with the team today about data, and we just got a new batch this week we’re optimistic has exactly the properties we’re looking for (meditative cessations, all 8 jhanas in various orders, DTI along with the fMRI). We have a lot of people on our team page but to this point QRI has mostly been fueled by volunteer work (I paid myself my first paycheck this month, after nearly five years) so we don’t always have the resources to do everything we want to do as fast as we want to do it, but I’m optimistic we’ll have something to at least circulate privately within a few months.
[Linkpost] New Oxford Malaria Vaccine Shows ~75% Efficacy in Initial Trial with Infants

Incredible news.

I read Derek Lowe's post about it earlier today, and it only says that they're now going into Phase III. Knowing next to nothing about vaccine distribution or malaria, I wonder: if that 77% number holds up, what can we expect the next decade or two to look like, malaria-wise? Clearly 77% isn't quite 100%; will people risk it and forgo bed nets and antimalarials? How likely is it that boosters will be required every few years? How much will this cost? Etc. etc. Anyone care to share their informed guesses at how this will go?

Why I'm concerned about Giving Green

Giving Green should recommend donating to a portfolio of promising policy change and activism organizations.

As jackva points out, there is a thin line between effective advocacy for policy change (e.g. Clean Air Task Force) and the kind of activism that prevents conservative politicians from touching the climate file with a ten-foot pole, because their base sees it as a "leftist agenda" issue.

Anecdotally, I have met with the staffers of several deep-red, lukewarmist/denialist Republican senators to lobby for revenue-neutral carbon taxes (CCL is a great org... (read more)

The extreme cost-effectiveness of cell-based meat R&D

I really appreciate this work, but wonder about the magnitude of the uncertainty in your analysis. Would it be possible for you to convert your calculation into a Guesstimate sheet?

3Stijn1yI quickly made a guesstimate: https://www.getguesstimate.com/models/16723 [https://www.getguesstimate.com/models/16723] (you can also compare it with shaybenmoshe [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/users/shaybenmoshe]'s guesstimate below)
Climate Change Is Neglected By EA

That sounds right to me. (And Will, your drawbridge metaphor is wonderful.)

My impression is that there already is some grumbling about EA being too elitist/out-of-touch/non-diverse/arrogant/navel-gazing/etc., and discussions in the community about what can be done to fix that perception. Add to that Toby Ord's realization (in his well-marketed book) that hey, perhaps climate change is a bigger x-risk (if indirectly) than he had previously thought, and I think we have fertile ground for posts like this one. EA's attitude has already shifted once (... (read more)

Climate Change Is Neglected By EA

What a fantastic post. Thank you! Your frustration resonates strongly with me. I think the dismissive attitude towards climate issues may well be an enormous waste of goodwill towards EA concepts.

How many young/wealthy people stumble upon 80k/GiveWell/etc. with heartfelt enthusiasm for solving climate, The Big Issue Of Our Time, only to be snubbed? How many of them could significantly improve their career/giving plans if they received earnest help with climate-related cause prioritization, instead of ivory-tower lecturing about weirdo x-risks?

Can't we... (read more)

I am sympathetic to the PR angle (ditto for global poverty): lots of EAs, including me, got to longtermism via more conventional cause areas, and I'm nervous about pulling up that drawbridge. I'm not sure I'd be an EA today if I hadn't been able to get where I am in small steps.

The problem is that putting more emphasis on climate change requires people to spend a large fraction of their time on a cause area they believe is much less effective than something else they could be working on, and to be at least somewhat dishonest about why they're doing it. To

... (read more)
Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers
For those concerned about wild animals, such a quick rate of decline could give some reassurance (in addition to the theoretical arguments) that wild insect populations will be small in the long-run.

For those of us more active in other cause areas, could you clarify what you mean by this? Are you coming from an anti-natalist angle here, and is that the prevalent position in the wild animal community? What are the additional "theoretical arguments" for expecting small insect populations?

3RyanCarey2yWhat I mean is that working on wild animal welfare is less important if there are few animals, for any axiology.. Other theoretical arguments for expecting small insect populations: (i) in the long-run future most life would be on other planets, or in extreme cases, in simulations, where there would be little reason to bring insects, (ii) in the very long-run, there's little reason to think creating insects is the optimal way for people to use limited resources to fulfill their own preferences [http://reflectivedisequilibrium.blogspot.com/2012/03/are-pain-and-pleasure-equally-energy.html] .
New Report Claiming Understatement of Existential Climate Risk

Thanks for posting this. I am grateful they published this report, and I hope that their explicit reframing in terms of existential risk will get the EA community's attention.

The EA standpoint so far has been "lots of money is already being thrown at climate change, it's mostly a question of policy now". And that's true. Good ideas are out there: fee-and-dividend carbon pricing, Project Drawdown, etc.; all it takes is political will. Unfortunately, in my experience, many EAs take this to mean that climate change is an issue they c... (read more)