Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bayesian 'Reasoning' vs. Judgment

Right, so what is the prior probability that a baby dying is worse than an adult woman dying?

How would you even start to collect such a statistic?

The purpose of Bayesian Reasoning is, ultimately, to make decisions. Beyond even its issues coming from being derived from an existing framework, the problem is that, even if priors can be calculated, all reasoning begins and ends at human judgment and human values. Bayesian calculations are just something that can make the middle part easier. I strongly suspect Reverend Bayes would have been the first one to tell the modern Bayesian this. (Would have replaced the concept 'human values' with 'divinity,' though.)

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Specifically, hardcore, chronic homelessness.

After having read that, I thought about homeless people for a while. Then, I decided that at the first opportunity I would talk to one. So I did.

People seem to have an instinct about me. I was sitting in the bus station waiting for an intercity bus, and he walked in. Tall man. Not stringy but not too meaty. Scruffy as you'd expect. The kind of hands that get called 'ham.' He made a beeline for me.

I tried to talk to him for a bit. According to plan, when he asked for money I obliged, in an attempt to gain goodwill. Fifty cents.

It was like speaking to a robot, a wind-up thing that reacted almost at random to my queries...unless the subject was money. His fuzzy incoherence was suddenly pierced by the subject; he talked almost like a normal. And my plan worked; he felt the need to continue the exchange while hugging me. I didn't object. He clearly didn't know any better.

But not with me. I was unable to get him to attend to me at all except when he decided to call me a 'good guy' or something. Instead he tried to panhandle the rest of the room. Now it was more like talking to a television.

I know he was sober. They only panhandle when sober, because the point is to get drunk, and they stop for a while when they reach their goal, if for no other reason than that they're busy passing out.

I've met people who had more mental cohesion when stoned out of their minds than this man was when stone cold sober. If it wasn't about money, he couldn't focus. In any real sense, he didn't have a human mind anymore.

The drink - or whatever it was that put him on the street - had drained his soul. He was already dead in every meaningful way.

I couldn't help wondering, where was this man's family? What tragedy befell him that he's now living on the street now? Why hasn't anyone just scooped him and up and kept him away from the booze? What happened to his parents? Does he have children? Siblings? What do they think of him?

I tried asking him.

These people are not really people anymore. The reason we generally don't interfere with the lives of other adults is that they're responsible for their actions, and since we don't want our responsibility taken from us, we don't take it from others. However, the chronically homeless are not responsible anymore. They're not on the street by choice, or because they're lazy.

"We also believe that the distribution of social benefits should not be arbitrary."

They're on the street because they're dead inside. That's why treating them for efficiency isn't arbitrary. The only ways to stop these people from acting like beasts, from harming themselves, from costing our social services millions of dollars, is to kill them or take away their 'freedom.' Institutionalize the chronically homeless.

Go on, try it yourself. Talk to a bum.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Code_of_Laws AND ~Code_of_Laws

Curiously, it appears my laws are circular. Here's theft:

"Every one commits theft who fraudulently and without colour of right takes, or fraudulently and without colour of right converts to his use or to the use of another person, anything, whether animate or inanimate, with intent"

So if you lie or don't have the right to take something, you don't have the right to take it. The code refrains from defining who actually has rights, and who does not, notwithstanding a few oddities like this one:

"No person commits theft by reason only that he takes, for the purpose of exploration or scientific investigation, a specimen of ore or mineral from land that is not enclosed and is not occupied or worked as a mine, quarry or digging."

So geologist definitely aren't thieves. (And a mining company will probably let you take a pebble or two if you ask nicely.)

Err. Hmm. So about that lying stuff...

"Every one who, by deceit, falsehood or other fraudulent means, whether or not it is a false pretence within the meaning of this Act, defrauds the public or any person, whether ascertained or not, of any property, money or valuable security or any service"

Committing fraud by fraudulent means. Nice. Was there an alternative about committing fraud without deceit or fraud?

But surely, the murder code will be more stringent?

"Culpable homicide is murder
(a) where the person who causes the death of a human being"

That's...that's actually pretty reasonable.

I wonder where they screw it up. Emphasis mine:

"(b) where a person, meaning to cause death to a human being or meaning to cause him bodily harm that he knows is likely to cause his death, and being reckless whether death ensues or not, by accident or mistake causes death to another human being, notwithstanding that he does not mean to cause death or bodily harm to that human being;"

"Yes I'd like to be tried under section 229(b)...yes, the one that's a contradiction."

The next is just amusing. Perhaps there's an obscure legal reason for this:

"(c) where a person, for an unlawful object, does anything that he knows or ought to know is likely to cause death, and thereby causes death to a human being, notwithstanding that he desires to effect his object without causing death or bodily harm to any human being."

So if I, for a lawful object, go ahead and kill someone, it's A-okay, as long as my goal was compatible with keeping them alive? I somehow doubt that would fly in court, and yet...

Even more amusingly, the code explicitly exempts effecting an execution by false evidence. Canada has no death penalty, and indeed if we did the executioner does not appear to have their own exemption.

But, actually, I've been taking you for a bit of a ride. There's a problem I've overlooked:

"(5) A person commits culpable homicide when he causes the death of a human being,
(a) by means of an unlawful act;
(b) by criminal negligence;
(c) by causing that human being, by threats or fear of violence or by deception, to do anything that causes his death; or
(d) by wilfully frightening that human being, in the case of a child or sick person."

All the listed punishments are for murder. All murders are special cases of culpable homicide. Culpable homicide is this special kind of homicide: unlawful homicide.

Progressive. Outlawing unlawful homicide. What will they come up with next? I guess the executioner doesn't really need their own exception.

My motivation for looking up this was the libertarian and anarchist bon mot "taxation is theft." I'd assumed there would be specific exemptions for taxation, but I found that the whole code is meaningless. Reality is more interesting than radical philosophies, it turns out.

I find this puzzling since many of the code's details go to great lengths to be logically rigorous. It would actually be beautiful, if the whole thing wasn't flying on dreams. I don't demand that the code justify itself entirely - it never actually states that it is outlawing crimes, never states that crimes are wrong, and never states who will hand down punishments, nor that these punishments are mandatory, and I don't expect it to do any of this. All logic must start at axioms, and while it's nice if they're explicit, I don't expect lawyers to follow philosophical best practise. I'm naturally too lazy to look up the precedents, and perhaps there's actual statements of 'doing X is fraud' there, but even if so, that just means the code itself is dead weight.

I have trouble imagining that the courts never use the code, though. (I could only find Supreme Court records, and they would never have a reason to cite basic code. They did, as expected, cite precedent often, and occasionally legislative act.) Since it is impossible that they use the actual logical content of the code, they must be reading something into it.

Ultimately, it's not the code but the attitude of the people who support and execute the system. I don't know who these people actually are, in practice, other than I know it isn't who we're told it is. The last thing I have difficulty with is how these people can be simultaneously responsible, and allow the code to remain like this. As it is, formal reality and actual reality cannot converge, which usually means that formal spirit and informal spirit will continue to diverge.

Monday, December 7, 2009

References to Hume's Ought

My youngest memory of the phenomenon:

"Our form of government and efforts at "emancipation" cannot change the fundamental fact of their existence (there is no way to get to "ought".)"

I often see similar constructions, all error. My apologies, but Hume never proved his is-ought distinction, he simply pointed out many instances of people failing to derive is from ought.

Additionally, it turns out I have a counter-proof.

Assume something has value. Intrinsically, avoiding or preventing this thing results in a less valuable world.

Actually that's a false start, which I'm leaving in to help steer you into the right frame of mind.

Imagine the world has no intrinsic value - that the world 'value' is actually meaningless. (Nihilism is true.)

Imagine the world does in fact have some contingent quantity of value in it - positive or negative.

We must prefer the latter world. The former world renders even our preferences meaningless; it cannot be preferred (or preferred against). In other words, this is another species of Cogito: by our having values, the world is imbued has value...even if our values somehow turn out to be inconsistent.

'Ought' is defined thusly; it is better to do what we ought to do, than not. The world we ought to work toward is more valuable than the world we ought not to.

The problem is not that 'oughts' may not be refined from 'is,' but only in defining 'value' and working out what it picks out.

Now I'm going to perform a check. Famous, prestigious philosopher, John Searle also tackles the is-ought problem. Can he (by proxy) refute my analysis?

Searle says that institutions, which require rules to exist at all, bind the participants by the rules. (Elaborated here, as Searle is not part of the internet generation and hasn't spoken for himself online.)

"For example, when it is my turn to bat I am obligated to step up to the plate." Or, you could fail to continue to play baseball by violating this rule. This is the twofold problem with Searle's analysis. Yes, to perpetuate the baseball game, one is required to adhere to the rules of baseball, but at no point is one obligated, by this analysis, to perpetuate baseball.

In one situation, baseball continues - the bat is swung, the ball is hit or not. In the other, baseball ceases, at least momentarily, perhaps people are angry, or confused. So what? Can we really say, objectively, that one is better than the other? (Hint: maybe.) Let's say you choose not to step up to the plate, for no reason other than that you just realized there's no ought here, and people are angry. Even on pure intuition, is that really so bad? Again: so what?

There will be consequences to each action, and again, so what? Say they find your behaviour so contrary you're off the team, despite it being a casual league. It's not important; baseball is not something anyone can prove you ought to do, nor is it necessary to define pissing people off as 'wrong' to persuade an agent to avoid doing it.

I will ignore the second problem - that from this account, there is no direct link between institutional rules and the definition of 'ought.' Even without this, the oughtness of baseball must be inherited from the more fundamental level, which Searle attempted to circumvent.

"Don't be Evil"

A promise made in ignorance.

I wistfully imagine a day when it's just known that our present companies are evil due to institutional evils, due to emergent evils, and not because some cackling bastard plans to take over the world.

Google can no more avoid these institutional situations than any other corporation. It was never possible that they'd follow their motto. We should let the journalists alone with their fauxtrage when we or they see Google's latest fall from grace.

Still, this site is called Accepting Ignorance, which includes me accepting that of course Google's "Don't Be Evil" will be taken seriously.

Atheists on Consciousness

"But defenders of religion like [Kathryn] Lofton and Karen Armstrong and the not-quite-pro-religion-but-getting-there types like Terry Eagleton invariably attack atheists for their lack of charm, style, empathy and another nebulous quality (I think of it as *mysterianism*) which keeps them from fully appreciating the true nature of religion."

Mysterianism, eh?

Only problem is that this 'nebulous quality,' does, in fact, exist. I think that confirms it; these atheists have the mental equivalent to colourblindness. Indeed, why would their from-scratch philosophy have to account for all facets of my experience?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Kids and Kuriosity

"A child's never-ending "whys" aren't meant to exasperate parents, scientists say. Rather, the kiddy queries are genuine attempts at getting at the truth, and tots respond better to some answers than others."
I'm so glad scientists have been able to join us on planet Earth.

Still, I do wonder why parents are exasperated by tot's questions. It seems counter-productive to bar your own child from your knowledge.

The reason questions exasperate people is because it is a form of challenge, like a staring contest. Being challenged for the sake of challenge, especially when you're busy, is exasperating. Small children cannot credibly challenge you, which should, in theory, short-circuit the exasperation mechanism, just like how some people find threats from children, no matter how strident, adorable instead of scary. ("I'm gunna punch you till you fall down!" *Scowl*)

The other reason for exasperation is to avoid acknowledging that the askee doesn't have the answer. I think this is in play, as children are excellent epistemologists and can find logical holes without trying. Humans are born to use the Socratic method on their parents. Parents don't usually respond well.

But even this I find puzzling, as I can't find a reason to not just tell the kid you don't know.

There's no apparent reason question-asking should be annoying, and yet....

"Past research from the early to mid 1900s on child development had suggested that young children were only aware of temporal relationships between two events and couldn't differentiate cause from effect until about 7 or 8 years of age. More recent work has suggested otherwise, that as early as age 3 children get causality."

Never forget that scientists often use their skills to act as stupid as possible. Anyone with kids will immediately think, "They must have not had children!" and be able to cite chapter and verse on their kids getting causality. This is a mistake; they likely did have children. I'd guess the story goes as thus: at home, their personal observations aren't science and thus poor evidence, but their personal observations during a study at work are scientific, and thus good evidence.

(This gets ironic if you read the comments on the other study just linked. I can easily understand the source of the above misperception.)

If I were a journalist I would say it's "frightening" that people like this are in charge of the education system. Calling the status quo frightening seems off. It's certainly depressing, though.

You may note that the science is getting better. Indeed it is, but nobody ever thinks to wait 20-50 years to properly verify a scientific finding before acting on it, despite the massive number of errors, like this one, freely admitted. (Or, you know, find a faster verification method, like logic.)

Incidentally, children as young as zero understand causality, you just don't yet know how to produce a statistically significant study showing this. Causality is innate the human brain - and to many nonhuman brains, for that matter.
"Lacking from such studies are kids' reactions to the information they get to their causal questions. "
A scientist failed at study design? Shocking. You'd almost think that universities don't demand courses on epistemology of their Ph.Ds.

I have no reason to believe the above quote is accurate. It certainly isn't precise. However, if it is right: told you so. You might wonder if the scientists have kids, I wonder if they have brains. They must be using them for something else.

Are the current crop of scientists less determined to be stupid, or are they just playing to my preconceptions better, being closer to my age? Ahh, questions....

"Results showed kids were more than twice as likely to re-ask their question after a non-explanation compared with a real answer. And when they did get an explanation, which was about 37 percent of the time, they were more than four times as likely to reply with a follow-up inquiry as if they had received a non-explanatory response."

First let me re-write that last part. "Kids ask [presumably meaningful] follow up questions to meaningful answers four times as often as to non-answers." I think that's what they're trying to say, but I'm not exactly sure how you ask a follow-up question to a non-answer unless you already know the answer. Given the ignorance on display, I also have to mention kids aren't sophisticated enough to ask questions they already know the answer to, and regardless have far too many questions to which they don't know the answer to bother with the former.

Incidentally, I wonder why parents hate their kids so much. Answer about a third of their questions? Do you want them to be educated, or not?

So, when they were highly curious and receptive, you answered about a third of their questions, and then you wonder why they don't listen to you as a teenager? Sorry bub, it's too late by then, you've already told them they can't rely on you for information.

How do you react if someone who won't answer your queries suddenly turns around and starts trying to dictate how you act?

At least there's no institution that supposedly gets paid based on its ability to teach parents to parent well, so lapses aren't anybody's fault, per se.
"Preliminary results from a separate new study of Frazier's suggest there is such a thing as too much information in a response. "It seems like kids might have an optimal level of detail they're interested in," Frazier said."
Again, I welcome you to planet Earth, journalists'-representation-of-Frazier. On Earth, you see, we pitch answers to children at their level of understanding. What do you do on your own planet?

For an example of the education system (shockingly) getting it right, when teaching addition, we don't start with the Peano axioms. We start with apples, and how if you have two apples in one basket and three in another, you have five total. Similarly, when teaching exponents, we don't do the full definition that allows x0 to be obviously one, but instead say, "exponents are repeated multiplication (which is repeated addition)." These statements are not fully correct, but kids understand when we later tell them that the simple things they learned earlier were not complete.

Plus, if they get into the habit of asking their parents and guardians when they're curious, if one notices a hole in their understanding, they'll ask you about it. Which makes me wonder whether odd behaviours like watering plants with coke could be largely prevented by answering questions consistently.

From a comment;
"Maybe when their whys get you riled up it becomes a game, but it's initially to learn."
If you allow your children to get one over on you, they enjoy it, and it starts Pavlovian conditioning. (Small children do not consciously plan these things.) That's why it's important to figure out why the questions are exasperating, and use the knowledge to short-circuit the exasperation.

As a bonus, letting your kids exasperate you can help you do this, because if you watch yourself carefully during the exasperation, you can figure out why it exasperates you. Often, this knowledge alone will alleviate the condition, without actually needing to act on it in any intentional way, albeit I've yet to try it on this particular example, and regardless my experience may or not mirror yours in particulars. At the very least, it will help you to understand when to stop the question flow - and to do it consciously and openly, before you actually become exasperated. If you want to do this, remember to stop a few questions short, because when you say, "That's enough questions for now," they will ask "Why?" and it would be nice if you could give them an answer.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bayesian 'Reasoning' and Fallacies

That the process of rational reasoning works cannot be justified by reason. The simplest way of looking at why I have to use scare quotes on Bayesian 'reasoning' is that it attempts to justify itself. Why would anyone hold up Bayesian thinking as better than regular thinking? Because they think it's a good idea - they come to the conclusion that Bayesian conclusions are better than their regular conclusions.


Bayesian reasoning pre-supposes regular reasoning, and further supposes that it can be reasonably justified, which puts Bayesian reasoning entirely inside regular reasoning. Indeed, Bayes worked out and proved his theorem as a special case with existing tools in an existing framework, just like all mathematical theorems.

While boring to do so, I must disclaim that I do use simple Bayesian kinds of inference, though it seems I've just found the natural Bayesian network in the brain and I use it - I don't ever actually do the Bayes theorem calculation.

If you haven't considered it deeply before, there's an introduction I can recommend, both for showcasing the advantages of Bayes' theorem, and diving with both feet into many of the associated fallacies.

Tribes, Grass, and Rain

As lethal as my single point is, were I Bayesian Bicurious, I would find it unsatisfying.[1] The rest of this section is illustration. The goal is that each point will also be fatal, but be a special case of the overall error.

To start with, Bayes' theorem requires three pieces of information, (as you can see in La Wik) the prior probability of A, the same of B, and the probability of B given A. That scans as utter gibberish to me, so here's an example.

I'm going to use wet grass as evidence of rain. To calculate the probability it has rained if the grass is wet, p(A|B), (as opposed to the probability it's because someone has been washing their car) you need the probability the grass is wet in general, p(B), the probability it has rained in general, p(A), and the probability that the grass gets wet if it has rained, p(B|A). The probability p(B) can also be expressed like this: p(B|A)*p(A) + p(B|~A)*p(~A), which has applications when you don't know p(B) per se but you do know of a lot of possibilities that aren't rain - like car washing - that second part essentially reads, "the probability the grass gets wet from not-rain, times the probability it hasn't rained."

The first problem is that is an awful lot of probabilities to need. The second, more serious problem is that in a controversy, it is easy to the point of inevitability that these probabilities are going to be fudged.

Notice how this computation spirals out of control as more priors are added; p(A|BCDE), isn't too bad, as it's essentially just four of these calculations, but what if, say, C and D are also in dispute, and you need to calculate p(C|XY) as well, and so on? It rapidly becomes a hierarchy of tears, except maybe for a few specialists in the field of A-ology. You, poor schmuck layman, are forced to simply accept the probability calculations of expert A-ologists. (Oh wait, don't we already do this? Err...revolution where now?) To be fully 'rational,' apparently you need a multimillion research budget.

However, the second problem is the pernicious one. Take a moment and realize how ridiculous it is that water falls from the sky. What, do little leprechauns take it up there with buckets? And it just hangs around, ignoring gravity for a while, before it gets into the mood to hang around on the ground again? If it weren't so pervasive, and thus familiar and normalized, rain would be far more mysterious and mystical to stone-age humans than silly little volcanoes. I strongly recommend it - open a door or window next time it rains, and consider how bizarre it is this liquid is just falling willy nilly out of nowhere.

Right, in that frame of mind, let's insert a rain controversy - democracy in the stone age. One clan thinks that when the rain fairies alight on the ground, they leave behind drops on the grass. Another clan thinks that the grass fairies excrete water when it rains, basically to say 'hi,' like they do to greet the morning. These lead to different calculations of p(A|B) - how likely it is that it has rained if the grass is wet. (Through convoluted logic, most of the clans believing one or the other determines who gets to go yak hunting.)

The first clan is certainly less wrong, and they see that the chance of wet grass if it rains is 100%: p(B|A) = 1. The second clan is not about to go down without fighting; observing grass on a hot, dry day, (only slightly missing the actual end of the storm) they notice the grass is dry. They declare that the grass fairies were just unhappy that day, conclusively showing that p(B|A) is actually somewhat less than one. The first clan is outraged, "You were obviously wrong about the rain! There's no way it can rain without the grass getting wet!"

(Technically you're not supposed to ever use probabilities 1 or 0, because they break Bayes' theorem, something I'll detail further down.)

This conflict cannot be resolved by Bayesian reasoning. To work out p(B|A) requires p(A|B) - the very thing that was in dispute to begin with. It's one equation with two unknowns. This is an example of the general problem of assigning probabilities to various pieces of data; the assigned probability unavoidably depends on that non-Bayesian reasoning stuff Bayesians are trying to improve upon.

Note also that neither p(A) nor p(B) can even be properly collected by the clansmen. Their sample size is too small and the demands of hunting and gathering don't help. When our society attempts to probe questions at the limit of our understanding, we run into the same problem - plus, just like the clansmen, it is difficult to even know that our sample is somehow flawed.

In the end, the first clan was mostly from a warm, wet sub region, while the second clan's region had days that were significantly hotter and drier. Their error was not in their logical progression - the first thought that they could tell from the grass if it rained while they slept, the second realized that they couldn't tell for sure - but in how they tried to state their observations. Ultimately, both were right, and both were wrong. And, obviously, I should be the one who gets to go yak hunting.

This is just not compatible with how human reasoning naturally works. Setting aside true random events - for which Bayes' theorem undoubtedly works better than human reasoning - the actual probability of any hypothesis being true is either 0 or 1. (Within certain tolerances - otherwise all hypotheses are false, probability 0, because they're not exactly true.) Bayesians aside, all human reasoning reflects this by backing one horse above all others. Personally I find this handy, as for some reason once I've strongly stated the hypothesis that wins given my available information, I find it much easier to gather and remember related information, often poking holes in my own ideas within days.


Hot Hand Fallacy

So rather than focusing on how it might be true, (ironically, the best way to activate one's confirmation bias) let's turn this fallacy around and see what it might be useful for. (As inspired by a comment.)

How many fair rolls were there in the ancestral environment? Look at how much effort has to go into making fair dice and roulette wheels, and how much effort goes into certifying and inspecting them. Fair gambling is high tech; the stone age would never have seen a truly fair gamble.

However, look at the exact detail of people's beliefs about dice. A die that is giving up wins easily is likely to give up more wins, but each win deplete the die, making further wins less likely. I can't think of a place that kind of belief would have not been useful for a hunter-gatherer. Plants grow in patches. Animals need to find each other to breed. But, every time you actually bag a particularly juicy plant or animal, that's one less left to find.

Even setting that aside, I can bring up the issue of how random distributions actually look:

Random noise in 2d

(from here)

Notice that even if a plant is actually randomly distributed, it will still end up in clumps and veins. There will be hot spots and cold spots. Similarly, if animal activity is linked to weather, the good days and bad days will often occur in clumps. In general, if your hunting or gathering is going well, it is highly rational to expend some extra effort that day, because it will likely be rewarded more efficiently than usual.

The Base Rate Fallacy actually has a point, as these kinds of calculations come up almost exclusively in professional contexts. However...I can get them right, and it's not by trying Bayes' theorem. I instead use the physicist approach. "Probability is defined as the prevalence divided by the total population," I say to myself. Then, using this definition, I simply have to find the relevant numbers, which is straightforward as long as I understand their definitions. In the case linked, it's the number of homosexuals with the disease divided by everyone with the disease, and indeed they also dodge Bayes' theorem by doing the calculation explicitly.

Moreover, when I get the wrong, the reason is because I'm using shortcuts learned during probability classes in public school. I strongly suspect that a physician mis-estimating, say, the odds of a positive mammography to mean cancer, is being mislead by exactly the same training. The cure is not Bayesianism. The cure is to teach math properly.

Conjunction Fallacy

This is a fun one. First, I will forward a hypothesis as to why framing is important. It's because survey subjects will always read things into the question that aren't there, and survey designers not only have no idea what those things are, but are often ignorant that they need to design surveys to account for this. My source for this hypothesis is something I think every philosopher will empathize with; how long it took me to train myself to only read what was there, and not hallucinate all sorts of interesting random things, and subsequently ascribe them to the author.

With this in mind, between the possibilities,
  1. The United States will withdraw all troops from Iraq.
  2. The United States will withdraw all troops from Iraq and bomb Iranian nuclear facilities.
Why would survey subjects respond that #2 is more likely? I can think of myriad possibilities. Here's one: into option #1, they read, "will withdraw for no reason at all," while into #2 they read, "will withdraw because they want to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities." Both are narratives, but only the second makes any damn sense.

Here's another: in amateur introspectors, the positive feeling of reading a narrative and the positive feeling of high probability are not distinguishable, as they're quite similar.

Oh great Bayesian survey-writer, Accept your Ignorance. You have no idea what your surveys are actually testing, which kind of means more surveys will not help very much.

As below, I like testing things. Let's take these ideas for a spin.
"Is it more likely that Linda is a bank teller, or a bank teller and feminist?"
The average person will read that as,
  1. Linda is a bank teller and not a feminist.
  2. Linda is a bank teller and a feminist.
Oddly, they ascribe more likelihood to #2.

Why will they read it this way? Because that's how the average person talks. For me, it took quite a bit of mathematical education before I read 'x > 3' as what it means; x can be four, or ten, or a million, or 29 436 502 974, or infinity. Before that point, I read 'x is more than three' as meaning something like eight or so, but probably not beyond ten. As indeed, if you want to talk about things that are in the millions, you need to say, 'x is somewhere over a million.' If it's absolutely necessary to talk about things with a wide range, people say so explicitly, "The variable 'x' can vary widely, sometimes as low as four, but can reach heights vastly exceeding a billion." Further, what non-mathematical object has properties like that? Certainly, that quoted sentence is not one a journalist will ever have cause to use.

Note that you probably just made the exact error I'm detailing. 'have cause to use' does not mean it's the best option, only that it could be accurately used. I'm saying that a journalist will never cover a subject where this sentence will even be useful. (Point of prose: I could say that, but it doesn't seem any less likely to produce the same error, and is drier.)

These ideas spin well. Let's do it again.

"Consider a regular six-sided die with four green faces and two red faces. The die will be rolled 20 times and the sequences of greens (G) and reds (R) will be recorded. You are asked to select one sequence, from a set of three, and you will win $25 if the sequence you chose appears on successive rolls of the die. Please check the sequence of greens and reds on which you prefer to bet.


65% of the subjects chose sequence 2, which is most representative of the die, since the die is mostly green and sequence 2 contains the greatest proportion of green rolls. However, sequence 1 dominates sequence 2, because sequence 1 is strictly included in 2. 2 is 1 preceded by a G; that is, 2 is the conjunction of an initial G with 1. This clears up possible misunderstandings of "probability", since the goal was simply to get the $25." it doesn't? Again, I have no idea what the subjects are actually perceiving when they read those options, but it's almost certainly not strictly what's there.

Perhaps they're taking the examples as characteristic of a longer sequence.'s quite difficult to set aside one's general problem solving habits - which must work, or they'd be rapidly changed - just because some researcher is offering you $25. They may solve the problem this way: "What does the most probable sequence look like?" (In me, this part is involuntary.) They then compare the presented sequences to their ideal sequence. This is much, much faster and more efficient than actually solving the problem at hand. (Employers constantly complain that their employees can't follow directions, incidentally.) The gains from efficiency, in real life, outweigh the costs in efficacy. As a bonus, this interpretation post-dicts their responses. amateur introspectors, they're solving it by comparing the greenness feeling of the dice to the greenness feeling of the sequences. For some bizarre reason, this process works better with ratios than with precise numbers. This error is solvable with better math education; mine makes me accept that, oddly, my feelings don't perform math well, and that I have to do the calculation explicitly if I want a precise answer. Err, kind of like all logic.

Moreover, it's not even guaranteed they have an accurate definition of 'probability.' So...are we assuming people are born knowing what 'probability' actually means, and we just later learn the word for it? Are we assuming that, since everyone assumes their own reason is reliable, (as indeed you must) that the default assumption is that each person will assume they can accurately calculate probabilities? Before speculating at the assumptions of the subjects, it's kind of necessary to know the assumptions of the researchers.

While this section is largely made up of just-so stories, these plausible scenarios are not even acknowledged, let alone addressed, by Bayesian proponents.

Ironically, all these fallacies are the result of a Bayesian process. Evolution picks priors by chance, and then the priors are decremented by killing people holding the wrong ones. Literally, your possible ancestors who thought more 'rationally' all got killed. At the very least they got killed in the contest of baby counts - our actual ancestors were just better baby factories. While it may throw up some interesting bugs in a modern environment, are you really comfortable saying that all those people who died were right, and the ones who lived were wrong? So what...does that mean their rightness or wrongness was irrelevant at the time, or have humans, as a species, just been monumentally unlucky?

Bayesian Reasoning Tells Us About Ignorance

The standard thing to do when you have multiple possibilities and no further information is to assign equal possibilities to each one. Say I find my car is flattened, and the possibilities are bigfoot and alien landing site, but as apparently alien ships are foot-shaped, there's no way to tell the difference, and thus they get 50% each. I can sue bigfoot, but the alien landing means we're being invaded, so it matters to get it right.

From this, I can narrow my search - if I find no bigfoot scat, it's probably aliens, and if I find no green glowing alien exhaust, it's probably bigfoot. However, as additional possibilities accumulate - 33% each, 20%, 16%, and so on, the first effect it that it starts telling me more about my own mind than about the singular event that actually happened. The possibilities I come up with start being less about my smushed car and more about what sheet metal reminds me of, or even ideas I just happen to find evocative. (Heh heh.)

What is the probability of dark matter, given our gravitational lensing pictures of colliding galaxies? The converse, the probabily of not-dark-matter, given same, is basically a function of how many other theories you can come up with - as a Bayesian, you have to share out equal probabilities in the case of ignorance, and as you add more possibilities, dark matter starts out as a smaller and smaller piece of the pie, but the relative growth from the pictures is the same...

More importantly, as possibilities multiply, the odds that even one of them are like-correct drops. So it's not really 33-33-33, it's more like there's three possibilities, plus the possibility I have no idea what I'm talking about, so 20-20-20-40. As ignorance grows, the chance you don't even know enough to properly quantify your ignorance grows as well.

Our ignorance of dark matter is probably on par with the ancient Greeks' ignorance of regular matter. It turns out Democritus was less wrong about this, but even he was wrong all over the place. Similarly, the odds that dark matter is neither MACHOs nor WIMPs is pretty high.

So whenever I learn something new, I want to try it out. I'm going to try this one out on extra-terrestrial civilization.

A lot of people want to know if there's other intelligence out there.

Actually, SETI is kind of ironic, as they're so sure ETI is out there, it's hardly worth their time to actually find it - a bit like the first clan was so sure the grass has to be wet after rain.

But, looking around the universe, we don't see evidence of any engineered structures. Now, p(ETI|solar-scale engineering) equals pretty much one, but what about p(ETI|~solar-scale engineering)? Well, it's not like we produce any solar scale structures, but who knows what we'll be capable of the in the future?

So, err, precisely - who knows what we will be capable of a million years in the future? Who knows what we'll find worthwhile a million years in the future?

Going back to the original equation - so what's p(solar engineering) - the general odds of looking at a solar system and finding engineering there? What's p(aliens) - the general odds of looking at a planet and seeing complex life there? We can't even gather these numbers. Drawing in the many-possibilities thread, we don't even know if life has to look all carbony like we do or not. You can run spectrographic analysis on exoplanets that transit the star, and you might find both water vapour and methane in the atmosphere, but it doesn't tell you very much.

If you limit yourself to Bayesian reasoning, these undefineable numbers will remain so forever. Sure, you can define any hypothesis[2] of p(aliens) and p(~aliens) you want, such as 50% each, and revise p(aliens) downward every time you see a planet with no life on it, but you'll run into something of a barrier in knowing how much to revise it downward; calculating p(aliens|lifeless planet) uses p(lifeless planet|aliens) which is zero, and this zero reduces Bayes' theorem to the trivial 0=0. (This is why you're not supposed to use 1 or 0 as probabilities, but it's not like 0.0001 is much better, and indeed even how many zeros to put after the decimal is a judgement call in this case.) Without knowing beforehand the actual p(aliens) and p(~aliens) for a random planet, Bayes' theorem is powerless. In other words, you have to already know the answer to get the right answer.

The summation of this debacle is thus: are you a philosopher? No? Then, if you have a philosophical thing to say, you should Google 'philosophy forums' and pick one, then sign up and post, "Hey there good Mr. and Ms. philosophy dudes, does this make any bloody sense at all?" They'll generally reply, "No! And get off my lawn!" In addition, they'll be happy to tell you what you should be doing instead, as vetted by thousands of years of the smartest people on the planet. (On many issues, philosophy hasn't advanced beyond Aristotle because he got it right.) If that doesn't work, I understand professors are more than happy to answer the curiosity of the public - find one's email and email them. (At least, it works for me. If it doesn't for you, try a second philosopher.) I don't run around saying I know statistics better than you, so how about you do me the honour of not pretending you know philosophy better than I do?


[1] Actual Bayesians, I would guess, have roughly zero percent chance of being persuaded, p(open-mind-on-this-issue|Bayesian) -> 0.

[2] Hypotheses come, surprisingly enough, from outside Bayesian reasoning, even according to Bayesians. How one comes up with a good hypothesis is not addressed.

As an epistemologist, I almost always should avoid probability. That particular problem is a problem for ontologists.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

'States' of Matter

The scare quotes are there because the way to objectively define states of matter is by a discontinuity on a particular graph, and this discontinuity shows that there are dozens if not hundreds of states of matter. (Update: when someone says 'fourth' or 'fifth' state of matter found, you should laugh at them.)

Regardless, sand dynamics are actually quite pretty.

The problem the physicists are having is that they don't truly understand what a states of matter are - if I asked one "What is a 'liquid?'" they wouldn't have an answer that really defines a liquid. If they did, they could simply look at the sand dynamic equations and say, "Ah, this part looks like a liquid, and this part looks more like a solid," or see edge cases where some solid properties and some liquid properties are present simultaneously. Moreover, defining this thing would likely clarify what, exactly, a 'state' of matter actually is.

Do you also think that the way the falling sand grains bead up looks awfully similar to the way stars bead up together?

Friday, October 16, 2009

AI Found a Blog, Was Disappointed, But In an Interesting Way

I ran across a history blog ("Muhlberger's Early History") and I thought I should have a crack at evaluating it, as it would be nice to have a history source that isn't Mencius Moldbug.

It's an official university blog. Strike one; the primary goal of the blog is institutional brownie points, not truth. On the Obama prize, Muhlberger links approvingly to Daily Kos. Strike two; although everyone makes mistakes.

Then I ran across this:

"If you want to slam academia... don't need to go after advanced literary theory. In fact there are juicier and more important targets."

"Well, I promised myself I'd finish this before the sequel appeared in the shops, and the conclusion has been made, shall we say, somewhat easier by the fact that the burden of my conclusion - that there is something terribly, horribly wrong with the state of modern economics - has become somewhat of an open door to push against."

""When future generations ask the economics profession 'What were you doing while the great bubble built up ahead of the Second Great Depression?', and we have to reply 'Lots and lots of quirky little working papers about sumo wrestling and speed-dating', it is going to be really, really, fucking embarrassing""

Strike three was a critical. I was hoping for a...slightly...more substantial criticism. Even if this one is true, I would just respond, "What, that's it? That's your slamming of 'academia?'"

I'll accept the Democratic axiom for the moment. Further, I'll accept that scientists should determine public policy. Even given this, there's a serious mismatch between the conclusions of economics and policy. (And it seems slamming academia is getting trendy.) However, the above pretty clearly isn't it.

To clearly see why I say so, compare this paper to the above:

"Economists have been complaining about anti-market, anti-foreign, make-work, and pessimistic biases for centuries."
"At the government agency where I have worked and where agency lawyers and agency microeconomists interact with each other . . . the lawyers are often exasperated, not only by the frequency with which agency economists attack their proposals but also by the unanimity among the agency economists in their opposition. The lawyers tend to (incorrectly) attribute this opposition to failure to hire “a broad enough spectrum” of economists, and to beg the economists, if they can’t support the lawyers’ proposals, at least to give them “the best economic arguments” in favor of them. . . . The economists’ answer is typically something like, “There are no good economic arguments for your proposal.”"

I can come up with at least four possible reasons why economics papers are focusing on niche topics. The first is that they're tired of being ignored, and are focusing on topics which aren't farts in the wind. Second is that they already unanimously agree on all the serious topics, have already weighed in, are spending time on other things. Third, the layman has no idea how relevant these topics are (speed dating) as models for fundamental economic theories. Finally, Daniel Davies actually has no idea what economics papers are on, (he admits to not reading The Economist, presumably he can admit to ignorance of other things as well) and is therefore misrepresenting the field.

Naturally, none of these are addressed by Davies. The simplistic thought on display here is a typical feature of ignorance, often indulged in by smart people analyzing anything that isn't in their actual field of study. (Which is troubling, as his whole blog appears to be about economics.) I'm probably committing this exact error right now to some degree, although the difference is that I'm eager to rectify my ignorance.

As a bonus, now I know I'm right for skipping Freakonomics. ("The basic problem with the Freakonomics era was that the profession abandoned the study of production, consumption and exchange." If that's what Freakonomics is, say no more, I'll be over here...)


Notably the blog seems very light on actual history, although the pictures are quite nice. On the front page as of now, there are only two posts about actual early history, on the same topic, and both are teasers for other websites.

If you really want to study what's wrong in the state of Denmark, the first step is to divide economics into microeconomics and macroeconomics. The second is to realize that the Austrian school is legitimate, and you must deal with it, pro or con, if you want to be a real thinker on economics. Just from this you have a 2x2 matrix, 11, 10, 01, 00, and you need to figure out which one is true. The full matix of questions you need to answer is much bigger, of course, but this is a good start.

I could add tone/attitude to my little comparison; you may want to do so yourself.

Turns out Davids writes for Crooked Timber. Ouch, that must suck.

I should clarify that I don't have much issue with Daily Kos' ideas, however the attitude and general epistemological ability of the place are in the pits somewhere. I've seen the ideas put forward politely and coherently elsewhere, places where I can respectfully disagree (and yes I disagree) without being labelled a heretic and exiled. If you want to make Daily Kos' points, you should find those places and link to them instead, unless you want brownie points instead of debate. Daily Kos is awesome for brownie points.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living

Ah, a professional saying their profession is the most noble. But when a philosopher says it, it's reliable. Right? Right?

Insert laughter here...

However, philosophy is the best trade for the dilettante. If you want to walk into any workplace and immediately have something worthwhile to say, first learn philosophy. Then you'll know better than to try it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Democratic Essence - Followup

As a followup. Also contain power from first principles.

I ask myself; what is the president of America doing that's useful? What could he be doing? I have one interesting answer, but setting that aside...

For the most part,* he's just a figurehead. I found a blog once which, among other useful things, discussed all the productive things G.W. Bush tried to do. They were all shot down, of course, president or no president. Most republican presidents are like this, while the democratic presidents know better than to try anything. (The dem faction has workarounds anyway.) So they're not actually doing anything.

*(Let's say 70-80%)

But, constructing an imaginary polity where da Prez actually had power, what could they be doing? It turns out this requires a rather large perturbation - it's not like the president can just draft a law and sign it in. But, even going through that, it looks like the best thing the president could do would be to leave well enough alone. The existing over-regulation has kind of taken on a life of its own and the economy has grown over it like a mold. Trying to fix it now is just likely to make a mess.

And, aside from the economy's inherent structural flaws, such as factional reserve, which can't be fixed by a president anyway, it works pretty well. It's not like it needs a whole lot of messing with.

So, answer: the president should basically be sitting on their thumbs. (Again, say 70-80%.)

That figurehead position is exactly what the president should be, and very likely where the head of any country with a functioning high-tech economy would be. Ultimately the function of a modern head of state is just a coordination point - because discipline beats numbers every time, to the point where it hardly matters what everyone is coordinating on.

Which makes the obsession with who gets to fill that spot ironic. King, priest, dictator, elected official, doesn't matter, because your options are; sit on your thumbs, or make things worse. (Hello, North Korea!) And while military culling has been suppressed recently, every real war is a pissing contest - the one with the bigger economy wins. For instance, imagine South Korea's backers decided tomorrow to let South Korea mobilize and reunite the peninsula - what, exactly, is Kim Jong Il supposed to do about it? Throw pitchforks at their jets? Modulo some nukes, here, of course...but I suspect the necessary artful diplomacy would have already neutralized even those. And without his own backers, KJ would never have gotten nukes in the first place.

To try to check this answer, I'm going to look at power from first principles.

A person has power when they can influence the actions of another. Hierarchies start to form economically, with some kind of contract exchanging benefits for servitude of some scope.
Consider a stone age tribe, with some kind of primitive economy, such as barter or simply communism. Also assume that for some reason, there's an opening for tribal elder.

Someone who knows where the mammoths roam exchanges his knowledge for extra pointy things from the spear-knapper and more money from the cockleshell guy. They all go out and down a mammoth, and the three enjoy delicious mammoth steak; everyone benefits. Eventually, a couple more of the tribe crave meaty mammoth, and trade extra clothes and roots.
Eventually, though, the everyone knows where the mammoths roam, because they've been on so many hunts; mammoth-guy isn't really contributing anymore. So, let's say at the next generation, the son of spear-knapper realizes that he really doesn't need the son of mammoth-guy. He tries to get son of shell-guy to break with him so they can go mammoth hunting with the dead weight of mammoth-guy, and thus the labour can get a 'fairer' share of the fruits.

It doesn't work. Shell-guy is all like, "But if I go with you, I'll lose the extra clothes and roots." The same goes for the others; they would lose out on shells and clothes, and roots and shells. Individually, each has a positive motive to stay in the agreement, and mammoth-guy can use his existing agreement-wealth against any dissenter. In the end, spear-guy probably has to give up more spear points just to keep access to the in-group.

Yes, it does seem that if the children of everyone but mammoth-guy all stand up together and cast off mammoth-guy, the only real downside is that if mammoth-guy wasn't retarded, he will have stockpiled a bunch of points and shells, and so they will temporarily lose a store of capital. But even with four people, the necessary coordination is nontrivial, not to mention that overturning the existing agreement means that all have an opportunity and motive to squabble for advantage in the new agreement.

With thousands of people, it effectively becomes impossible. Historical revolutions originate from competing leaders, not anything resembling class consciousness.

So, power from first principles; it can form noncoercively, but once formed, its main advantages are those of a coordination point - it preempts conflict and imparts coordination - while breaking it reopens the conflict and requires even more coordination. It has both a positive and negative feedback promoting stability.

Moreover, a good leader can use their economic clout to channel their followers to more productive pursuits. If son of mammoth-guy is canny, he will specialize in being more of a merchant; while he still goes on hunts, his main pursuit is trading his stockpiled wealth for positive-sum labours by his followers. Given enough time, son of mammoth guy will be able to buy the whole tribe, and, most likely, even the tribe next door.

(This probably never happened - humans prefer to build up economies to make armies, and then simply conquer the next tribe over. All the kingdoms and nations we are familiar with were united by conquest; as a result, it's absurd to be against modern conquest.)

The president, no matter who they are, is pretty much in the same boat - they can't truly offer anything much of value as a person, and are instead interchangeable. However, the existence of -some- president is of great value. And while it is true that being president is pretty swank, providing incentive for people to take the job, in a modern economy there's lots of opportunity for nearly equally swank jobs elsewhere.

And what about my point that, even more so than the tribal merchant-prince-elder, they should be sitting on their thumbs?
Beyond some critical point of wealth, mammoth-dude realizes that instead of waiting for spear-dude to rebel, he could simply pay off one faction to coerce even more extra payments from another. Ultimately this is shooting himself in the foot - the more negative sum games he plays, the more likely the next tribe over will build a better economy and simply trash his tribe one day. However, just like it's difficult for individual subjects to see that their long-term interest is probably served better by not following mammoth-dude, it is almost impossible (judging from history) for mammoth-dude to see past his own short term gain.

This is basically the only kind of game a president can play - take one faction (for example, the courts) and use it against another. They can't even merchant-prince the way mammoth-dude can, because there are literally thousands of people who know thousands more about how to make a buck, and they're already doing it.

Aside from the odd exception, there is only one thing a president need concern themselves with; making sure they aren't toppled, thus destroying the figurehead bonus.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

UR Commenty

Blogspot now hates long comments. This is actually a comment on UR. I suppose I should use more than comment-sophisticated formatting, but I won't. Lazy.

Hey... Finishing stuff you've started. Always worth points in my book.

Nifty, by the Greek Junta, I can just name myself Anarchist and call it a day.

"The envelope meaning the file. The junta kept records for hundreds of thousands of Greek citizens, who did anything to oppose their dictatorship."

A sign of weakness. When a child opposes me, I laugh and pat them on the head. It's cute, not threatening. It is an ideal target for patronizing behaviour.

"And what is true peace - but isichia, taxis kai asfalia?"

Of course it's better when you don't resist because you don't see a good reason to, rather than because they have a gun in your face.

For example: expulsion for long hair? Seriously? What, precisely, is that supposed to accomplish?

Political engineering is actually slightly harder than rocket science. This is simply because there are more components to deal with.

"Is it an aggressive act of defiance to refrain from voting - or does electoral participation constitute impermissible political intervention?"

Well, let me ask: have you stopped beating your wife? When only 'yes' and 'no' are permissible, and both are wrong, then you get to do whatever you want, and nobody can blame you for it.

Though more accurately... Voting isn't going to accomplish anything. The power structures are well insulated against that avenue, so it can't very well be interventionist to vote.

It makes for good blogging, but I think you'll have difficulty with this steel rule thing.

For example you can reduce to simply an acknowledgement of the facts; "Alrenous cannot influence USG. In other news, water wet." So why waste time trying?
Only I don't end up with existential difficulties regarding whether I should vote or not. I just note it makes me feel ill, and thus avoid it. Were it to become legally necessary - I understand Australia has done this - I would simply spoil my ballot.

While I'll need the other steps to fully put it in context, it also seems that the principle at hand either cannot be the steel rule or cannot be followed.

I disagree with basically everything USG does on a structural level - intellectually, this is phrased as 'opposing' it. Certainly, I'm not likely to act on it, because of the above fact, but it does put a certain tension into the idea of the steel rule.
Now the bit about not actually populating high office with yourself - that bit's interesting and deserves playing up.

Tut tut. I notice partway through there you drop the feminine pronoun. If you must insist on annoying a substantial part of your audience, at least be consistent about it. Personally, I approve - it shows an independent will. Ditto the mask thing. (I do nevertheless find both jarring.)

"It should be obvious that any responsible management will instantly shift USG to a posture of strict cultural neutrality, allowing both competing communities - Amerikaner and Brahmin - to live peacefully according to their own principles and preferences, and cleanly divesting both of their political aspirations."

The thing to do, which nobody seem to pick up on, is to prosecute crimes. If you murder someone, you get jail time or the ax. No, I don't care that it was a religious ritual. No, I don't care that you happen to have different skin colours and some attendant prejudice. "But we need to suppress cults!" ...or you could just prosecute fraud, and the cult ends up in jail regardless.

For another example, the Greek Junta. They can outlaw hippie symbols, like long hair...or they could just outlaw hippie actions, and a ton of people with long hair end up in jail regardless, but without wasting time on meaningless style choices.

Penultimately, it's pure hubris to assume you have any idea what the timeline of such action would be like. Seems to me like a popular get out of jail card - "Hey, this seems unlikely, so I'm going to say it'll take a long time!"
On the other hand someone probably needs to point out that Mencius is producing the plan so it can be debated and refined, not because he thinks he is actually getting it right on the first try.

So I clicked over to your progressive philosopher, to check out your modus operandi. At first I was glad that other people can work through this, because I definitely have no tolerance.

J. Holbo:
"And, by the by, I have not by word, implication or heavy hint accused McArdle of wanting poor people to die."

Let's test this assertion, shall we?

J. Holbo:
"Philosophically, there just isn't a case to be made against reform unless it's this simple one: if you don't have any money, you shouldn't be entitled to any medicine. McArdle is very indignant when people accuse her of indifference to the fate of the poor, but - honestly - if it isn't that, then it's nothing."


I wonder if Halbo is of the breed that believes his own lies, or not.

Two things of note. First, McArdle is also wrong, but at least she isn't deliberately using deceptive tactics.

Second, McArdle and Holbo think they're discussing philosophy, which is hilarious and a bit cute.

"It’s not enough to defend the principles of communism if what you get in practice is a nasty, murderous dictatorship every time."

Harbo responds:
"There is a big difference between the general consideration that something MAY go wrong and the knowledge that it WILL go wrong every time."

Hooray for tribalism. I can show how McArdle and Harbo are misrepresenting each other, but so what? Ultimately it misses the point, because recasting the entire thing as a tribal or sectarian spat immediately shows that it's exactly what they're doing. Slim to no philosophy will actually occur under those conditions. Ultimately, their positions are determined by in-groups, not thinking.

"Hee think you're thinking! So adorable. Look! Look at the little human! Okay, little human, say 'to each according to their needs.' Go on!"

This is what happens when you don't prioritize truth above everything else. It's nice that you're trying, but you won't actually get anywhere.

I don't, however, see the point of studying evil, in general. Study goodness, know goodness, and everything evil simply becomes obviously-so without any additional effort, whereas one can study evil all day without illuminating one iota of good.

Return to UR.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Stove; Kuhn; Cultural Narcissim

"It is not clear how accurately this represents Kuhn himself. Partly, this is because he just said, `Let’s do history, as it is so much more exciting than boring old logic.’ He does, it is true, state conclusions that seem to require such an argument, such as `There is, I think, no theory-independent way to reconstruct phrases like "really there"; the notion of a match between the ontology of a theory and its "real" counterpart in nature now strikes me as illusive in principle."

The response is contained in this statement; I cannot choose the consequences of my actions.

If my actions have been formed roughly in accordance with what's really there, the consequences will be as expected. Furthermore, were I to form my action in closer accordance, the consequences will become closer to what is expected. What I wish to understand is how an intelligent person can seriously entertain the following idea; that, were I to form my actions exactly in accordance with what's really there, that the consequences matching exactly to my expectations is somehow 'illusive in principle.'

There is a self; I can choose my actions. There is other; I cannot choose my action's consequences. Instead, I must learn of their consequences, and act accordingly; this thing which is learned is knowledge, regardless of any dilapidated definitions that have claimed to be of 'knowledge.'

That the interaction between self and other are not simple the way F=ma is simple does not mean that other is somehow illusory. Rather, it is far past the time our culture grew up and realized that 'Relativity' is a terrible name for E=mc2, and learn from its rigid reality instead of trying to legitimize something that boils down to philosophical narcissism.

Not that anything like that will happen: I'm just sayin.'

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Comments on an Evo Psych Primer

I can't figure out a good introduction, and I'm sure you can do without one.
"The brain is a physical system whose operation is governed solely by the laws of chemistry and physics. What does this mean? It means that all of your thoughts and hopes and dreams and feelings are produced by chemical reactions going on in your head (a sobering thought)."
This is untrue, but of course there's no way for them to know this. You may want to contemplate this and the idea of scientific arrogance next to each other.
"To say that the function of your brain is to generate behavior that is "appropriate" to your environmental circumstances is not saying much, unless you have some definition of what "appropriate" means. What counts as appropriate behavior? "Appropriate" has different meanings for different organisms."
Time to hawk my definition of life: life has goals. (Also time to use a word that isn't 'appropriate.') For a brain to produce intelligent reactions to the environment, it has to figure out first what an intelligent reaction is, explicitly or implicitly.*

*(Logically redundant. The human brain - specifically yours - is not strictly logical, so grammatically necessary.)

The main action of the brain is simply to aid the life-form in continuing to be able to pursue and defend goals. However, this is the action of every organ; typically an intelligent action is one that supports one of the sub-goals. So, instead of "'intelligent' has different meanings for different organisms," "different organisms pursue different goals."

A good philosophical definition makes everything obvious. Also note that the concept 'behaviour' easily generalizes to non-intelligent reactions like floral immune reactions...albeit the whole point of the word is to distinguish brain-reactions from the non-brain kind within biology.

"Realizing that the function of the brain is information-processing has allowed cognitive scientists to resolve (at least one version of) the mind/body problem. For cognitive scientists, brain and mind are terms that refer to the same system, which can be described in two complementary ways -- either in terms of its physical properties (the brain), or in terms of its information-processing operation (the mind)."

Scientific arrogance is negligible compared to philosophical arrogance.
Though the fault here is completely misunderstanding the mind/body problem. As far as philosophy is concerned, the information-processing is a physical property, which is probably why cogsci has found that their 'mind' and 'brain' are identical. On the other hand, note that Cosmides and Tooby acknowledge that this is only 'one version' of the problem.
"Principle 3. [...] In other words, our intuitions can deceive us."
I guess my intuition is just really good. When I examine my consciousness to ask how I see, it tells me that it doesn't know. Trying it again to make sure, I just found out it's practically impossible to even direct my awareness at the problem. I can think about what I'm seeing, or I can think about the thoughts these sights give me, but my mind's eye is blind to anything upstream or in between.

Your incompetence at epistemology can deceive you. Your consciousness rarely does.
This is basically religious dogma on the part of scientists - that your intuition is just about useless.
Generally this is because scientists refuse to relinquish their prejudices about what the intuition can do, and therefore cannot acknowledge its limitations and use it for what it is actually good for.

"A basic engineering principle is that the same machine is rarely capable of solving two different problems equally well. We have both screw drivers and saws because each solves a particular problem better than the other. Just imagine trying to cut planks of wood with a screw driver or to turn screws with a saw."

That's what is so amazing about general-purpose computers, actually. Essentially they're math machines, doing simple operations on binary numbers. And yet, they can solve basically any information problem. (Purpose-built circuits are more efficient in their domain, though.)

"To solve the adaptive problem of finding the right mate, our choices must be guided by qualitatively different standards than when choosing the right food, or the right habitat. Consequently, the brain must be composed of a large collection of circuits, with different circuits specialized for solving different problems."

And here's where the above fact comes in. No, it doesn't have to be, but it is more efficient. I suspect that when your general-purpose circuits can properly solve a problem according to some qualitative standard, it sends out the feeling we label 'understanding.' When you understand a goal, you can reason effectively around it. To understand, then, is to apply the proper meaning to various stimuli.

"You can think of each of these specialized circuits as a mini-computer that is dedicated to solving one problem. Such dedicated mini-computers are sometimes called modules. There is, then, a sense in which you can view the brain as a collection of dedicated mini-computers -- a collection of modules."

I have a math module. It sleeps most of the time and takes many seconds to boot up. From a standing start I can barely count. Once it's up, calculus is my bitch.

"(E.g., human color constancy mechanisms are calibrated to natural changes in terrestrial illumination; as a result, grass looks green at both high noon and sunset, even though the spectral properties of the light it reflects have changed dramatically.)"

Mine seem to be dramatically overpowered; it wasn't until nearly adulthood that I noticed that well-lit coloured objects throw colour stains onto nearby objects. It wasn't long after I found out that you can't see colour in the dark - by reading about it. I immediately went into a dark room and had trouble confirming it, because my brain automatically assigned everything a colour, though I suspect it would have been easier if I had a room that wasn't full of familiar objects. I rarely notice the colour of lighting unless I specifically attend to it. For example I had red curtains as a kid and it made my room red during the day when they were closed. I could only tell everything was red when I specifically asked myself about it.

So perhaps my intuition is deceiving me? Perhaps I just think I can see colour, but I'm just fooling myself...well, it's actually highly testable. If a light is turned on in dark/discoloured rooms, am I surprised by the revealed colour? It has happened, three or four times. The system is powerful but does like to guess at things it can't actually know.

"The more crib sheets a system has, the more problems it can solve. A brain equipped with a multiplicity of specialized inference engines will be able to generate sophisticated behavior that is sensitively tuned to its environment. In this view, the flexibility and power often attributed to content-independent algorithms is illusory. All else equal, a content-rich system will be able to infer more than a content-poor one."

Philosophically, I've found the best way of looking at this is that the brain learns things both through the senses, in single organisms, and through evolution, across ancestry. Even with the crib sheets, logical reasoning is necessary to produce true inferences, which means that the privileged hypotheses are essentially just innate lessons.

This transforms the last statement into "Systems with more knowledge can infer more." Good philosophy tends to make everything obvious.

What I'm trying to say here is that if a philosophy is being obtuse, it's probably because it's bad philosophy and you can ignore it as a source of truth. At worst you skip inefficient learning. In general, really, the job of being understood falls mostly to the speaker or writer.

"Having no crib sheets, there is little they can deduce about a domain; having no privileged hypotheses, there is little they can induce before their operation is hijacked by combinatorial explosion."

I guess this answers a question I've had; how did I learn philosophy? I certainly wasn't taught, and I didn't read anything specifically calling itself philosophy. I did, however, read a lot and I paid attention.
The above statement is identical to one I made last post. ("...if-then") Good philosophy ignores evidence until the final stages, because otherwise you get combinatorial explosion. Instead, work from assumptions and simply check later if these assumptions make any sense.

"Machines limited to executing Bayes's rule, modus ponens, and other "rational" procedures derived from mathematics or logic are computationally weak compared to the system outlined above (Tooby and Cosmides, 1992)."

Fascinating that they think this. (BTW, check: compare the rate toddlers learn words to the rate of incoming information. I found the ratio is gargantuan.) Generalize the concept 'machine;' now, science is a machine. So, this idea reflects back; science needs intuition. 'Scientific' findings can indeed be very interesting and very powerful, but for the most part the reach of science is limited. This is the basic reason I keep pointing out this particular flawed dogma in science culture. Until scientists recognize this, there will remain two kinds of scientists; the ones that keep using the data to support things it doesn't actually say (nutritional science), and the scientists who refuse to believe that we can find truth unless some data tells us so first. (New atheists. Also anti-historian sentiment: "Many of these accusations revolve around the idea that we cannot prove anything about the past, so evolutionary claims cannot be verified.")

"experts can solve problems faster and more efficiently than novices because they already know a lot about the problem domain."

Very good. It's more that experts can solve problems at all, though.

"In other words, our modern skulls house a stone age mind."

Evolution can happen much faster than this phrase implies. Civilization has certianly impacted the stone-age template. If nothing else, look at lactose tolerance. Small adaptations are no less likely in the brain.

"For this reason, evolutionary psychology is relentlessly past-oriented."

All knowledge is past oriented. The whole point is to use the past, which we can see, to understand the future, which we can't see without using the past.

"The premises that underlie these debates are flawed, yet they are so deeply entrenched that many people have difficulty seeing that there are other ways to think about these issues."

Cosmides and Tooby are really doing a good job, overall.

After reading this, I'd have to say that I have an EP hypothesis. Specifically, that all humans are endowed with not one but at least two general-purpose learning and reasoning architectures. I call them the 'rational logic system' and the 'emotional logic system' simply because of the way they appear to present results. Basically, one is "I think that" and the other is "I feel like." The first can solve math problems. The second seems primarily interested in causation, using correlation to try to detect it.

I can't think of a good conclusion either, and I think you can do without one. In fact, make up your own, because it will be tailored to you.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Apparently Honesty is Grace, not Will

From here referencing this.

Practising lying makes it harder to not lie when it's in your interest, while practising honesty, especially if you truly believe lying is evil, makes it harder and harder to lie even when it is in your material interest.

It's true that if you were not tempted you don't exercise virtue. However, this is meaningless to outside observers, who can only tell that some people they can trust, and some people they can't. To us outside your mind, your virtue is in the results, not in what you went through to obtain them. Just as if I have a sandwich, the taste is not affected by whether you traipsed across the Himalayas to deliver it to me or whether it was tossed together in the back room. The language, and thus the definition of 'virtue' records what is measurable, rather than trying for epistemic purity.

Don't forget to factor in the effects of culture and genetics, predisposition, brain plasticity, and so on. A single snapshot does not a philosophy make. Again, scientists are very good at gathering data - ontology. Their epistemology is worse than no epistemology at all, however.

Also, it's almost certain that Jesus is based off a real person who, in retelling, accreted various traits from various endemic myths. Basically, given that some people don't have to resist temptation, and given infinite versions of our world, most of them will contain an almost totally 'pure' person at some point in history. We have two on record - Jesus and Buddha. Aside from this one fact, the rest of what we know about them is probably about as accurate as the other stuff we know about individuals from two millennia ago. There's actually a whole essay here, so I'm going onto the next section.

There is a bridge between the first two links, which says basically what I would say about the technical aspects of the study. Then it goes onto the following.

"In any case, for thousands of years philosophers have speculated whether humans are innately good or bad, from Rosseau and Hobbes to Xun Zi and Mencius. The time for speculation is over, as experimental philosophers are looking into the empirical distribution of human moral intuition, as opposed to surveying the reflections of their philosophically oriented colleagues."

Note this interesting trick; without coming right out and saying so, and thus losing plausible deniability, Razib dismisses all reflective philosophy as 'speculation.' Strictly speaking, Razib is just calling out philosophers for their distain of evidence, noting the dearth of such. But, to any fluent English So, I'm going to take it apart and blow up the pieces.

The philosophers who were wrong made two mistakes; insufficient evidence, or errors in reasoning resulting from a lack of an objective test to weed out these errors. As expected, someone with worse-than-zero epistemological skill cannot see the value in epistemology.

Like good math, good philosophy states if-then. If certain assumptions are true, then a certain result is true. This provides four benefits; first, you don't have to wait for the evidence, but can go to work immediately; second, it makes it easy to check for errors, as you don't have to worry immediately about matching the model to reality, only to its own rules; third, it makes it easy to check to see if it does match reality, as the assumptions are all right there; and finally, when contradictory evidence comes in, you don't have to work from scratch, but can modify the existing structure. Here, let me demonstrate: if and when Razib can produce this paragraph or an equivalent by himself, then he may be able to rationally evaluate contributions by Hobbes and Mencius. My main nontrivial assumption is that if you can produce the paragraph you understand it, and that if you understand the principles you can apply them.

The upshot is that evidence is entirely post-hoc to philosophy. The truth of the if-then structures is completely independent of which particular if is actually true. Philosophy is just the art of discovering new structures of if-then, though admittedly most human philosophers prefer to cleave to ones that stand a chance of having applications.

There's also a final source of error: the definition of 'innately good.' As above, it may mean, for instance, 'likely to be trustworthy, all things equal' or it may mean 'not likely to be tempted in the first place, all things equal.' If this discussion is anything like every other discussion I've looked into, this point is a source of massive confusion in communication.

Perhaps, for instance, there is some non-lying moral situation where all people are tempted, and practise makes no difference. How do you reconcile this with an overarching 'innately good,' knowing that the lying situation is so complicated? And there are four situations, two for 'most people are trustworthy' being true or false, and the same binary pair for this second situation. Only one situation, where both are false, is clearly 'innately bad.'

If you take thousands of years of thought by some of the smartest people ever, and reduce it to a single poorly defined umbrella idea, it seems kind of useless. All I can say is that I'm glad ignorance is fond of flaunting itself.

Also amusing is that he goes on to mention the exact thing I mentioned earlier; brain plasticity. The off-the-cuff dismissal of philosophy has no place in the article from a flow standpoint, from a factual standpoint, or from a competence standpoint. It's just insulting for the sake of being insulting, althought it may also be some inner circle cheerleading.

So, with this in mind, let's see if a further example hold up.
"Intelligent people will also perhaps fine-tune their model of how "free will" works, though much of this research will be irrelevant to the majority."
Intelligent people will realize that they can't define free will and thus can't possibly have any idea how it works. Also note that Razib has put himself into an 'intelligent' inner circle. (You're epistemologically allowed to guess about free will, but only if you realize all you have are guesses.)

I do have one question; what would a "one moral sense" be when it is at home?

So, congratulations, everyone is wrong. Accept your Ignorance.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Blogger is Experimenting on Their Live Servers

Update: This post is now a part of Some of My Mistakes.

Again. As opposed to, say, test servers. This blog post is a workaround.

It's also a proof that Democracy is an inherent contradiction.


It's fun to watch someone flail around trying to define Democracy. (Communism too.) Due to this, I usually have to derive my own.

Seriously, if I use this particular definition, I don't even have to do any work.

Democracy = rights, some liberties, separation of powers and separation of church and state. Also has a constitution that guarantees independent courts.

Well, constitutions don't guarantee anything in any practical sense. Case closed.

But cuz I like overkill...

Elections can be held without electing anything of consequence.

If you want to guarantee human rights, the first item on the agenda is to abolish Democracy. It doesn't matter who you are, you don't get to say how I run my life unless you have a contract with my signature or seal saying that you do. Rule by majority is an inherent violation of the human right.

Ditto independent courts. Separation of powers immediately entangles them with the political arena, exposing them to strong pressure to either submit or be submitted to.

So I'm going to go back to demos kratos and say, okay, the people rule.

Sovereignty, ownership of the geographical area which corresponds to a jurisdiction, is owned by the stakeholders, the people affected, by this jurisdiction.

I'm going to accept that the majority have this right as an axiom. Clearly, if you have a bunch of people, with different opinions, but one outcome must be applied to all of them, the best way to maximize value is to match the opinions of the most people as closely as possible. Hence, demos kratos automatically means majority rule.

I'm going to accept that the majority are allowed to appoint a steward to run the thing for them.

So the majority are appointing someone to tell them what to do.

Right, TGGP, I'm hiring you to be my master.

Or...err...not, as that doesn't make any sense. Who's in charge, here? Do you get to tell me I cannot fire you?
What about unpleasant orders? The canonical example being to clean my room - perhaps to cut down on insect infestations. I decide I don't like that and fire you, defeating the whole purpose.

Circular authority collapses. The whole exercise is absurdity incarnate.

So I'm going to toss out the idea that they can appoint a steward. As any venture founded in contradiction, you can pretend to do it, but in reality it will be something very different and painfully corrupt. All Republics are automatically evil.

So, pure Democracy or bust.

The first problem is that now we're flying the space shuttle by ballot box. Imagine the Apollo XIII mission, except before the astronauts could do anything, they had to run an election across all three hundred million Americans...after all, they paid for it.

We're lucky the free market can run itself. Soviet Russia had much less support and had a nice controlled flight into terrain.

There's more, naturally; some of the Apollo XIII repairs and manoeuvres would accrue prestige to various factions, resulting in objective-outcome-independent decision making. The astronauts are quite fucked.

But, as I'm a philosopher, I find it much more damning to find a logical contradiction.

Telling yourself what to do is even more absurd than hiring someone to tell you what to do. The majority is just going to do what it was going to do anyway. They will legalize all their favourite pastimes, criminalize everything they find disgusting, and institutionalize every bias and misconception they have.

The only people affected are the minority...everyone else.

Again, I can instantly slay Democracy here by the standards of 'modern Democracy,' by invoking the rights of the minority. But that is too easy, so I'm going to throw out the idea of rights entirely. (It also narrows down the source of the contradiction.)

Instead: Democracy is the enslavement of the minority by the majority. The full scope of people ruled by Democracy have exactly no say in how they are ruled. Their opinions, freely voiced or not, are tossed aside. Their votes are meaningless. Their 'possessions' are held due to the sufferance of the majority.

Democracy is the ultimate in disenfranchisement. Oh and incidentally most people get to run around with their heads cut off. I'm sorry - like chickens with their heads cut off. I got the idea that they're chaotic and the fact that they have no qualification to rule mixed together in my head. (Not only that, no desire to learn to wield their power.)

This state of pure chaos is the closest you can get to approximating rule by the people. Insofar as your average Democracy isn't this, it isn't even trying to be Democracy, isn't even attempting to put legitimacy to votes, and is contravening majority rule.

Democracy is, in short, the opposite of what it is supposed to be. It is the rule by nobody at all. Democracy is the definition of pure chaos. As each successive definition has attempted to tame this rabid 800-pound gorilla, it simply gives me more and more ways to show that third stage rabies cannot be cured.

For example,
"Even though there is no specific, universally accepted definition of 'democracy', there are two principles that any definition of democracy includes. The first principle is that all citizens, not invested with the power to govern, have equal access to power and the second that all citizens enjoy legitimized freedoms and liberties."
By definition, any citizen who might benefit from power does not have access to it. Without gutting majority rule, and thus abandoning any pretence of Democracy, just under most citizens do not enjoy any legitimate freedoms or liberties. Simultaneously, the majority are all like, "Yay, I'm free from myself, I have liberty from my tyranny!"

The idea that the people affected by rule should have a say in how they're ruled is a very feel good idea. Unfortunately, it is impossible.

I'd like to finish off with a thought I've had basically forever but never seen anywhere else.

The actual point of Democratic ideology is that anyone can be president. People looked at the world and found that not only were their lives largely controlled by others for others' benefit, but that there was never any legal way that they could have been masters of their own destiny. While acknowledging that someone had to rule, (I reject this) they realized even basic fairness required that everyone at least have some shot at the top job.

And that's it. That's the point. That, if you were being misruled or exploited, at least to have the opportunity to do a better job by doing it yourself.

Again, this essential point just goes to show that Democracy is the first thing to get rid of if this is the outcome you want. This goal, as with the feminist movement, was immediately hijacked by cruel, mendacious power seekers. (You can see me contort trying not to say 'evil' because I know you don't accept the concept.) Attempts at Democracy turned out to be extremely useful to these people.

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