Tim Cook vs Freedom

Tim Cook is gay. He decided to tell the world and use it as an opportunity to campaign against freedom – while invoking the names of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. Cook writes:
The world has changed so much since I was a kid. America is moving toward marriage equality, and the public figures who have bravely come out have helped change perceptions and made our culture more tolerant. Still, there are laws on the books in a majority of states that allow employers to fire people based solely on their sexual orientation. There are many places where landlords can evict tenants for being gay, or where we can be barred from visiting sick partners and sharing in their legacies. Countless people, particularly kids, face fear and abuse every day because of their sexual orientation.
In context, it's clear he's saying it's bad that people can be fired or evicted for being gay.

Cook opposes free trade. He opposes freedom of association. If I don't want to hire someone, with my money, isn't that an issue of freedom of association? Isn't it an issue of freedom not to spend my money on things I don't want? (And isn't it the same issue if I have hiring authority as a proxy for someone else?)

An employer should be able to fire people for no reason at all. Cook wants to make a list of government-approved and governemnt-disapproved reasons for firing, so that we can live in a totalitarian country.

Cook doesn't want a free market where landlords use whatever criteria they deem best for deciding who to rent to. He wants the government to step in and control privately owned buildings. I advocate people interacting only for freely chosen mutual benefit, when they voluntarily want to. Cook advocates that I not be allowed to think for myself about homosexuality issues (is homosexuality so simple there's no room for diversity of opinion?). Cook wants his intolerance of some opinions to be enforced by the government, using guns if necessary.

Cook doesn't want free choice and free thought. He doesn't want freedom. He wants the government to decide how people should act, and make them. He's an authoritarian who wants to force his vision of utopia on everyone else, even though we don't want it.

And Cook is so blind to issues like freedom that it doesn't occur to him to comment on them. He doesn't bother trying to tell us how he isn't destroying freedom. He's so immersed in authoritarian thinking that he doesn't see any legitimate concerns about freedom. He hasn't noticed the issue of freedom and figured out a way to get what he wants while preserving freedom. Freedom isn't on his mind. Diversity of thought isn't on his mind. He's busy demanding "tolerance" of what's already tolerated (tolerance doesn't require liking something or trading with someone), but doesn't consider his own intolerance.

And all this is being said in a tone of moral righteousness. By attacking the American value of freedom, he thinks he's a moral crusader, standing up for justice. Cook values his privacy, but he thought trying to destroy the future of civilization was just so important he had to sacrifice his privacy for the cause.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Aubrey de Grey Discussion, 14

I discussed epistemology and cryonics with Aubrey de Grey via email. Click here to find the rest of the discussion. Yellow quotes are from Aubrey de Grey, with permission. Bluegreen is me, red is other.
If all you do is partial CR and have two non-refuted options, then they have equal status and should be given equal probability.

When you talk about amounts of sureness, you are introducing something that is neither CR nor dice rolling.
I think you answer this with this:
A reason "strong refutation" seems to make sense is because of something else. Often what we care about is a set of similar ideas, not a single idea. A refutation can binary refute some ideas in a set, and not others. In other words: criticisms that refute many variants of an idea along with it seem "strong”.
That’s basically what I do. I agree with all you go on to say about closeness of variants etc, but I see exploration of variants (and choice of how much to explore variants) as coming down to a sequence of dice-rolls (or, well, coin-flips, since we’re discussing binary choices).
I don't know what this means. I don't think you mean you judge which variants are true, individually, by coin flip.

Maybe the context is only variants you don't have a criticism of. But if several won their coin flips, but are incompatible, then what? So I'm not clear on what you're saying to do.


Also, are you saying that amount of sureness, or claims criticisms are strong or weak (you quote me explaining how what matters is which set of ideas a criticism does or doesn't refute), play no role in what you do? Only CR + randomness?
Also, if you felt 95% sure that X was a better approach than Y – perhaps a lot better – would you really want to roll dice and risk having to do Y, against your better judgment? That doesn't make sense to me.
It makes sense if we remember that the choice I’m actually talking about is not between X and Y, but between X, Y and continuing to ruminate. If I’ve decided to stop ruminating because X feels sufficiently far ahead of Y in the wiseness stakes, then I could just have a policy of always going with X, but I could equally step back and acknowledge that curtailing the rumination constitutes dice-rolling by proxy and just go ahead and do the actual dice-roll so as to feel more honest about my process. I think that makes fine sense.
I think you're talking about rolling dice meaning taking risks in life - which I have no objection to. Whereas I was talking about rolling dice specifically as a decision making procedure for making choices. And that was in context of making an argument which may not be worth looking up at this point, but there you have a clarification if you want.

To try to get at one of the important issues, when and why would you assign X a higher percent (aka strength, plausibility, justification, etc) than Y or than ruminating more? Why would the percents ever be unequal? I say either you have a criticism of an option (so don't do that option), or you don't (so don't raise or lower any percents from neutral). What specifically is it that you think lets you usefully and correctly raise and lower percents for ideas in your decision making process?

I think your answer is you judge positive arguments (and criticisms) in a non-binary way by how "solid" arguments are. These solidity judgments are made arbitrarily, and combined into an overall score arbitrarily. Your defense of arbitrariness, rather than clearly explained methods, is that better isn't possible. If that's right, can you indicate specifically what aspects of CR you consider sometimes impossible, in what kinds of situations, and why it's impossible?

(Most of the time you used the word "subjective" rather than "arbitrary". If you think there's some big difference, please explain. What I see is a clear departure from objectivity, rationality and CR.)
The ways to deal with fallibilism
Do you mean something different here than “fallibility”?
I meant fallibilism, but now that you point it out I agree "fallibility" is a clearer word choice.
are doing your best with your current knowledge (nothing special), and also specifically having methods of thinking which are designed to be very good at finding and correcting mistakes.
Sure - and that’s what I claim I do (and also what I claim you in fact do, even though you don’t think you do).
I do claim to do this. Do you think it's somehow incompatible with CR?

I do have some different ideas than you about what it entails. E.g. I think that it never entails acting on a refuted idea (refuted in the actor's current understanding). And never entails acting on one idea over another merely because of an arbitrary feeling that that idea is better.
You've acknowledged your approach having some flaws, but think it's good enough anyway. That seems contrary to the spirit of mistake correction, which works best when every mistake found is taken very seriously.
Oh no, not at all - my engagement in this discussion is precisely to test my belief that my approach is good enough.
Yes, but you're arguing for the acceptance of those flaws as good enough.
I realize you also think something like one can't do better (so they aren't really flaws since better isn't achievable). That's a dangerous kind of claim though, and also important enough that if it was true and well understood, then there ought be books and papers explaining it to everyone's satisfaction and addressing all the counter-arguments. (But those books and papers do not exist.)
Not really, because hardly anyone thinks what you think. If CR were a widely-held position, there would indeed be such books and papers, but as far as I understand it CR is held only by you, Deutsch and Popper (I restrict myself, of course, to people who have written anything on the topic for public consumption), and Popper’s adherence to it is not widely recognised. Am I wrong about that?
I think wrong. Popper is widely recognized as advocating CR, a term he coined. And there are other Critical Rationalists, for example:

http://www.amazon.com/Critical-Rationalism-Metaphy...

This two volume CR book has essays by maybe 40 people.

CR is fairly well known among scientists. Example friendly familiar people include Feynman, Wheeler, Einstein, Medawar.

And there's other people like Alan Forrester ( http://conjecturesandrefutations.com ).

I in no way think that ideas should get hearings according to how many famous or academic people think they deserve hearings. But CR would pass that test.


I wonder if you're being thrown off because what I'm discussing includes some refinements to CR? If the replies to CR addressed it as Popper originally wrote it, that would be understandable.

But there are no quality criticisms of unmodified-CR (except by its advocates who wish to refine it). There's a total lack of any reasonable literature addressing Popper's epistemology by his opponents, and meanwhile people carry on with ideas contradicting what Popper explained.

I wonder also if you're overestimating the differences between unmodified CR and what I've been explaining. They're tiny if you use the differences between CR and Justificationism as a baseline. Like how the difference between Mac and Windows is tiny compared to the difference between a computer and a lightbulb.


Even if Popper didn't exist, any known flaws to be accepted with Justificationism ought to be carefully documented by people in the field. They should write clear explanations about why they think better is impossible in those cases, and why not to do research trying for better since it's bound to fail in ways they already understand, and the precise limits for what we're stuck with, and how to mitigate the problems. I don't think anything good along these lines exists either.
Since we agreed some time ago that mathematical proofs are a field in which pure CR has a particularly good chance of being useful,
I consider CR equally useful in all fields. Substitute "CR" for "reason" in these sentences – which is my perspective – and you may see why.
Sorry, misunderstanding - what I meant was “Since mathematical proofs are a field in which I have less of a problem with a pure CR approach than with most fields, because expert consensus nearly always turns out to be rather rapidly achieved”
I don't think lack of expert consensus in a field is problematic for CR or somehow reduces the CR purity available to an individual.

There are lots of reasons expert consensus isn't reached. Because they don't use CR. Because they are more interested in promotions and reputation than truth. Because they're irrational. Because they are judging the situation with different evidence and ideas, and it's not worth the transaction costs to share everything so they can agree, since there's no pressing need for them to agree.

What's the problem for CR with consensus-low fields?
This is a general CR approach: do something with no proof it will work, no solidity, no feeling of confidence (or if you do feel confidence, it doesn't matter, ignore it). Instead, watch out for problems, and deal with them as they are found.
Again, I can’t discern any difference in practice between that and what I already do.
Can you discern a difference between it and what most people do or say they do?
I don’t think our disparate conclusions with regard to the merits of signing up with Alcor arise from you doing the above and me doing something different; I think they arise from our having different criteria for what constitutes a problem. And I don’t think this method allows a determination of which criterion for what constitutes a problem is correct, because each justifies itself: by your criteria, your criteria are correct, and by mine, mine are. (I mentioned this bistability before; I’ve gone back to your answer - Sept 27 - and I don’t understand why it’s an answer.)
Criteria for what is a problem are themselves ideas which can be critically discussed.

Self-justifying ideas which block criticism from all routes are a general category of idea which can be (easily) criticized. They're bad because they block critical discussion, progress, and the possibility of correction if they're mistaken.
And here is a different answer: You cannot mitigate all the infinite risks that are logically possible. You can't do anything about the "anything is possible" risk, or the general risks inherent in fallibility. What you can do is think of specific categories of risks, and methods to mitigate those categories. Then because you're dealing with a known risk category, and known mitigation methods – not the infinite unknown – you can have some understanding of how big the downsides involved are and the effectiveness of time spent on mitigation. Then, considering other things you could work on, you can make resource allocation decisions.
Same answer - I maintain that that’s what I already do.
Do you maintain that what I've described is somehow not pure CR? The context I was addressing included e.g.:
It seems to me that the existence of cases where people can be wrong for a long time constitutes a very powerful refutation of the practicality of pure CR, since it means one cannot refute the argument that there is a refutation one hasn’t yet thought of.
You were presenting a criticism of CR, and when I talked about how to handle the issues, you've now said stuff along the lines of that's what you already do, indicating some agreement. Are you then withdrawing that criticism of CR? If so, do you think it's just you specifically who does CR (for this particular issue), or most people?

Or more precisely, the issue isn't really whether people do CR - everyone does. It's whether they *say* they do CR, whether they understand what they are doing, and whether they do it badly due to epistemological confusion.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Aubrey de Grey Discussion, 13

I discussed epistemology and cryonics with Aubrey de Grey via email. Click here to find the rest of the discussion. Yellow quotes are from Aubrey de Grey, with permission. Bluegreen is me, red is other.
So here’s an interesting example of what I mean. I woke up this morning and realised that there is indeed a rather strong refutation of my binary chop argument below, namely “don’t bother, just use X+Y - one doesn’t need to take exactly the minimum amount of time needed, only enough".
I object to the concept of a "strong refutation". I don't think there are degrees or quantities of refutation.

A reason "strong refutation" seems to make sense is because of something else. Often what we care about is a set of similar ideas, not a single idea. A refutation can binary refute some ideas in a set, and not others. In other words: criticisms that refute many variants of an idea along with it seem "strong".

People have some ability to guess whether it will be easy or hard to proceed by finding a workable close variant of the criticized idea. And they may not understand in detail what's going on, so it can seem like a hunch, and be referred in terms of strong or weak criticism.

But:

- Refuting more or fewer variant ideas is different than degrees of strength. Sometimes the differences matter.

- Hunches only have value when actually there's some reasonable underlying process being done that someone doesn't know how to put into words. Like this. And it's better to know what's going on so one can know when it will fail, and try to improve one's approach.

- People can only kinda estimate the prospects for CLOSE variants handling the criticism and continuing on similar to before. This gives NO indication of what may happen with less close variants.

- This stuff is pretty misleading because either you're aware of a variant idea that isn't refuted, or you aren't. And you can't actually know in advance how well variants you aren't aware of will work.
But consider: yesterday I came up with the binary chop argument and it intuitively felt solid enough that I thought I’d spent enough time looking for refutations of it by the time I sent the email. I was wrong - and for sure I’ve been wrong in the same way many times in the past. But was I wrong to be sure enough of my argument to send the email? I’d say no. That’s because, as I understand your definition of a refutation, I can’t actually fix on a finite Y, because however large I choose Y to be I can always refute it by a pretty meaningful argument, namely by reference to past times when I (or indeed whole communities) have been wrong for a long time.
There are never any guarantees of being correct. Feeling sure is worthless, and no amount of that can make you less fallible.

We should actually basically expect all our ideas to be incorrect and one day be superseded. We're only at the BEGINNING of infinity.

The ways to deal with fallibilism are doing your best with your current knowledge (nothing special), and also specifically having methods of thinking which are designed to be very good at finding and correcting mistakes.

You've acknowledged your approach having some flaws, but think it's good enough anyway. That seems contrary to the spirit of mistake correction, which works best when every mistake found is taken very seriously.

I realize you also think something like one can't do better (so they aren't really flaws since better isn't achievable). That's a dangerous kind of claim though, and also important enough that if it was true and well understood, then there ought be books and papers explaining it to everyone's satisfaction and addressing all the counter-arguments. (But those books and papers do not exist.)
Since we agreed some time ago that mathematical proofs are a field in which pure CR has a particularly good chance of being useful,
I consider CR equally useful in all fields. Substitute "CR" for "reason" in these sentences – which is my perspective – and you may see why.
I direct you to the example of the “Lion and Man” problem, which was incorrectly “solved” for 25 years. It seems to me that the existence of cases where people can be wrong for a long time constitutes a very powerful refutation of the practicality of pure CR, since it means one cannot refute the argument that there is a refutation one hasn’t yet thought of. Thus, we can only answer “yes stop now” in finite time to "Have I done enough effort? Should I do more effort or stop now?” if we’ve already made a quantitative (non-boolean), and indeed subjective and arbitrary, decision as to how much risk we’re willing to take that there is such a refutation.
The possibility of being mistaken is not an argument to consider thinking about an issue indefinitely and never act. And the risk of being mistaken, and consequences, are basically always unknown.

What one needs to do is come up with a method of allocating time, with an explanation of how it works and WHY it's good, and some understanding of what it should accomplish. Then one can watch out for problems, keep an ear open for better approaches known to others, and in either case consider changes to one's method.

This is a general CR approach: do something with no proof it will work, no solidity, no feeling of confidence (or if you do feel confidence, it doesn't matter, ignore it). Instead, watch out for problems, and deal with them as they are found.


And here is a different answer: You cannot mitigate all the infinite risks that are logically possible. You can't do anything about the "anything is possible" risk, or the general risks inherent in fallibility. What you can do is think of specific categories of risks, and methods to mitigate those categories. Then because you're dealing with a known risk category, and known mitigation methods – not the infinite unknown – you can have some understanding of how big the downsides involved are and the effectiveness of time spent on mitigation. Then, considering other things you could work on, you can make resource allocation decisions.

It's only partially understood risks that can be mitigated against, and it's that partial understanding that allows judging what mitigation is worthwhile.

Continue reading the next part of the discussion.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Aubrey de Grey Discussion, 12

I discussed epistemology and cryonics with Aubrey de Grey via email. Click here to find the rest of the discussion. Yellow quotes are from Aubrey de Grey, with permission. Bluegreen is me, red is other.
Just mentioning a quantity in some way doesn't contradict CR.
Fully agreed - but:
The question is, "Have I done enough effort? Should I do more effort or stop now?" That is a boolean question.
Not really, because the answer is a continuum. If X effort is not enough and X+Y effort is enough, then maybe X+Y/2 effort is enough and maybe it isn’t. And, oh dear, one can continue that binary chop forever, which takes infinite time because each step takes finite time. I claim there’s no way to short-circuit that that uses only yes/no questions.
"Is infinite precision useful here? yes/no."

"Is one decimal enough precision for solving the problem we're trying to solve? yes/no"

You don't have to use only yes/no questions, but they play a key role. After these two above, you might use some method to figure out the answer to adequate precision. Then there'd be some more yes/no questions:

"Was that method we used a correct method to use here?"

"Is this answer we got actually the answer that method should arrive at, or did we follow the method wrong?"

"Have we now gotten one answer we're happy with and have no criticism of? Can we, therefore, proceed with it?"
Plus, in the real world, at some point in that process one will in fact decide either that both the insufficiency of X and the sufficiency of X+Y are rebutted, or than neither of them is (which of the two depending on one’s standard for what constitutes a rebuttal) - which indeed terminates the binary chop, but not usefully for a pure-CR approach.
Rebuttals are useful because they have information about the topic of interest. What to do next would depend on what the rebuttals are. Typically they provide new leads. When they don't, that is itself notable and can even be thought of as a lead, e.g. one might learn, "This is much more mysterious than I previously thought, I'll have to look for a new way to approach it and use more precision" – which is a kind of lead.


The standard of a rebuttal, locally, is: does this flaw pointed out by criticism prevent the idea from solving the problem we're trying to solve? yes/no. If no, it's not a criticism IN CONTEXT of the problem being addressed.

But the full standard is much more complicated, because you may say, "Yes that idea will solve that problem. However it will cause these other problems, so don't do it." In other words, the context being considered may be expanded.
Why not roll dice to decide between those remaining ideas? That would be some CR, and timely. Do you think that's an equally good approach? Perhaps better because it eliminates bias.
Actually I’m fine with that (i.e., I recognise that the triage is functionally equivalent to that). In practice I only roll the dice when I think I’m sure enough that I know what the best answer is - so, roughly, I guess I would want to be rolling three dice and going one way if all of them come up six and the other way otherwise - but that’s still dice-rolling.
There's a big perspective gap here.

I had in mind rolling dice with equal probability for each result.

If all you do is partial CR and have two non-refuted options, then they have equal status and should be given equal probability.

When you talk about amounts of sureness, you are introducing something that is neither CR nor dice rolling.

Also, if you felt 95% sure that X was a better approach than Y – perhaps a lot better – would you really want to roll dice and risk having to do Y, against your better judgment? That doesn't make sense to me.

Continue reading the next part of the discussion.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Aubrey de Grey Discussion, 11

I discussed epistemology and cryonics with Aubrey de Grey via email. Click here to find the rest of the discussion. Yellow quotes are from Aubrey de Grey, with permission. Bluegreen is me, red is other.
I wouldn't draw a distinction there. If you don't know more criticisms, and resolved all the conflicts of ideas you know about, you're done, you resolved things. Whether you could potentially create more criticisms doesn't change that.
OK, of everything you’ve said so far that is the one that I find least able to accept. Thinking of things takes time - you aren’t disputing that. So, if at a given instant I have resolved all the conflicts I know about, but some of what I now think is really really new and I know I haven’t tried to refute it, how on earth can I be “done"?
As you say, you already know that you should make some effort to think critically about new ideas. So, you already have an idea that conflicts with the idea to declare yourself done immediately.

If you know a reason not to do something, that's an idea that conflicts with it.
Ah, but hang on: what do I actually know, there? You’re trying to make it sound boolean by referring to “some” effort, but actually the question is how much effort.
The question is, "Have I done enough effort? Should I do more effort or stop now?" That is a boolean question.

Just mentioning a quantity in some way doesn't contradict CR.
What I know is my past experience of how long it typically took to come up with a refutation of an idea that (before I tried refuting it) felt about as solid as the one I'm currently considering feels. That’s correlation, plain and simple. I’m solely going on my hunch of how solid what I already know feels, or converseiy how likely it is that if I put in a certain amount of time trying to refute what I think I will succeed. So it’s quantitative. I can never claim I’m “done” until I’ve put in what I feel is enough effort that putting in a lot more would still not bring forth a rebuttal. And that estimated amount of effort again comes from extrapolation from my past experience of how fast I come up with rebuttals.

To me, the above is so obvious a rebuttal
I think your rebuttal relies on CR being incompatible with dealing with any sort of quantity – a misconception I wasn't able to predict. Otherwise why would a statement of your approach be a rebuttal to CR?

It's specifically quantities of justification – of goodness of ideas – that CR is incompatible with.
of what you said that it makes no sense that you would not have come up with it yourself in the time it took you to write the email. That’s what I meant about your answers getting increasingly weak.
We have different worldviews, and this makes it hard to predict what you'll say. It's especially hard to predict replies I consider false. I could try to preemptively answer more things, but some won't be what you would have said, and longer emails have disadvantages.
I mean that it’s becoming easier and easier to come up with refutations of what you’re saying, and it seems to me that it’s becoming harder and harder for you to refute what I say - not that you’re finding it harder, but that the refutations you're giving are increasingly fragile. To my ear, they’re rapidly approaching the “that’s dumb, I disagree” level. And I don’t know what situation there would be that would make them sound like that to you too. You said earlier on that "It's hard to keep up meaningful criticism for long” and I said "That’s absolutely not my experience” - this is what I meant.
Justificationists always sneak in some an ad hoc, poorly specified, unstated-and-hidden-from-criticism version of CR into their thinking, which is why they are able to think at all.
This is what you were doing when saying you clarified that meant Aubreyism step 1 to include creative and critical thinking.
Yes, absolutely. I don’t think I know what pure justificationism is, but for sure I agree (as I have since the start of our exchange) that CR is a better way to proceed than just by hunches and correlations.

Proceed by which correlations? Why those instead of other ones? How do you get from "X correlates with Y [in Z context]" to "I will decide A over B or C [in context D]"? Are any explanations involved? I don't know the specifics of your approach to correlations.

We've discussed correlations some, but our perspectives on the matter are so different that it wasn't easy to create full mutual understanding. It'll take some more discussion. More on this below.
Thus, indeed Aubreyism is a hybrid between the two - it uses CR as a way to make decisions, but with a triage mechanism so that those decisions can be made in acceptable time. I’m fine with the idea that the triage part contributes no value in and of itself, because what it does do, instead, is allow the value from the CR part to manifest itself in real-world actions in a timely fashion.
Situation: you have 10 ideas, eliminate 5-8 with some CR tools, and run out of time to ponder.

You propose deciding between the remaining ideas with hunches. You say this is good because it's timely. You say the resulting value comes from CR + timeliness.

Why not roll dice to decide between those remaining ideas? That would be some CR, and timely. Do you think that's an equally good approach? Perhaps better because it eliminates bias.

I suspect you'll be unwilling to switch to dice. Meaning you believe the hunches have value other than timeliness. Contrary to your comments above.

What do you think?
More generally, going back to my assertion that you do in fact make decisions in just the same way I do, I claim that this subjective, quantitative, non-value-adding evaluation of how different two conflicting positions feel in their solidity, and thus of how much effort one should put into further rebutting each of them, is an absolutely unavoidable aspect of applying CR in a timely fashion.
In my view, I explained how CR can finish in time. At this point, I don't know clearly and specifically why you think that method doesn't work, and I'm not convinced you understand the method well enough to evaluate. Last email, I pointed out that some of your comments are too vague to be answerable. You didn't elaborate on those points.

Bigger picture, let's try to get some perspective.

Epistemology is COMPLEX. Communication between different perspectives is VERY HARD.

When people have very different ideas, misunderstandings happen constantly, and patient back-and-forth is needed to correct them. Things that are obvious in one perspective will need a lot of clarification to communicate to another perspective. An especially open minded and tolerant approach is needed.

We are doing well at this. We should be pleased. We've gotten somewhere. Most people attempting similar things fail spectacularly.

You understand where I'm coming from better now, and vice versa. We know outlines of each other's positions. And we have a much more specific idea of what we do and don't agree about. We've discovered timely CR is a key issue.

People get used to talking to similar people and expect conversations to proceed rapidly. Less has to be communicated, because only differences require much communication. People often omit some details, but the other guy with many shared premises fills in the blanks similarly. People also commonly gloss over disagreements to be polite.

So people often experience communication as easy. Then when it isn't, they can get frustrated and give up in the face of misunderstandings and disagreements.

And justificationism is super popular, so epistemology conversations often seem to go smoothly. Similar to how most regular people would smoothly agree with each other that death from aging is good. Then when confronted with SENS, problems start coming up in the discussion and they don't have the skills to deal with those problems.

Talking to people who think differently is valuable. Everyone has some blind spots and other mistakes, and similar people will share some of the same weaknesses. A different person, even if worse than you, could lack some of your weaknesses. Trading ideas between people with different perspectives is valuable. It's a little like comparative advantage from economics.

But the more different someone is, the more difficult communication is. Attitudes to discussion have to be adjusted.

We should be pleased to have a significant amount of successful communication already. But the initial differences were large. There's still a lot of room to understand each other better.

I think you haven't discussed some details so far (including literally not replying to some points) – and then are reaching tentative conclusions about them without full communication. That's fine for initial communication to get your viewpoint across. It works as a kind of feeling out stage. But you shouldn't expect too much from that method.

If you want to reach agreement, or understand CR more, we'll have to get into some of those details. We now have a better framework to do that.

So if you're interested, I think we may be able to focus the discussion much more, now that we have more of an outline established. To start with:

Do you think you have an argument that makes timely CR LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE, in general, for some category of situations? Just a yes or no is fine.

Continue reading the next part of the discussion.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Leftist Lying: The Issue is Never the Issue

From Take No Prisoners: The Battle Plan for Defeating the Left by David Horowitz, on leftist lying:
Dishonesty is endemic to the progressive cause because its radical goals cannot be admitted; the dishonesty is a cultural inheritance, instinctive and indispensable. It is no coincidence that Barack Obama, a born-and-bred leftist, is the most compulsive and brazen liar ever to occupy the White House. His true agenda is radical and unpalatable, and therefore he needs to lie about it. What other presidential candidate could have successfully explained away his close association for twenty years with an anti-American racist, Jeremiah Wright, and an anti-American terrorist, William Ayers? Who but the ignorant and the progressively blind could have believed him?

The radical sixties were something of an aberration in that its activists were uncharacteristically candid about their goals. A generation of “new leftists” was rebelling against its Stalinist parents, who had pretended to be liberals to hide their real beliefs and save their political skins. New leftists despised what they thought was the cowardice behind this camouflage. As a “New Left,” they were determined to say what they thought and blurt out their desires: “We want a revolution, and we want it now.” They were actually rather decent to warn others about what they intended. But when they revealed their goals, they set off alarms and therefore didn’t get very far.

Those who remained committed to leftist goals after the sixties learned from their experience. They learned to lie. The strategy of the lie became the new progressive gospel. It is what Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals is really about. Alinsky understood the mistake sixties radicals had made. His message at the time, and to the generations who came after, is easily summarized: Don’t telegraph your goals; infiltrate the Democratic Party and other liberal institutions and subvert them; treat moral principles as dispensable fictions; and never forget that your political agenda is not the achievement of this or that reform but political power to achieve the socialist goal. The issue is never the issue. The issue is always power—how to wring power out of the democratic process, how to turn the political process into an instrument of control, how to use that control to fundamentally transform the United States of America, which is exactly what Barack Obama, on the eve of his election, warned he would do.
I recommend the book.

Though it's important to mention, the scholarship is flawed. Justin brought this passage to my attention:
In the fifth year of Obama’s rule, forty-seven million Americans were on food stamps and a hundred million were receiving government handouts, while ninety-three million Americans of working age had given up on finding a job and left the work force.
The ninety-three million statistic is given without a source. I investigated a bit and I don't think it's accurate.

But I still think it's a great book.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bad Correlation Study

Here is a typical example of a bad correlation study. I've pointed out a couple flaws, which are typical.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC303970...
Chocolate Consumption is Inversely Associated with Prevalent Coronary Heart Disease: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Family Heart Study
These data suggest that consumption of chocolate is inversely related with prevalent CHD in a general population.
Of 4,679 individuals contacted, responses were obtained from 3,150 (67%)
So they started with a non-random sample. The two thirds of people who responded were not random.

This non-random sample they studied may have some attribute, X, much more than the general population. It may be chocolate+X interactions which offer health benefits. This is a way the study conclusions could be false.

They used a "food frequency questionnaire". So you get possibilities like: half the people reporting they didn't eat chocolate were lying (but very few of the people admitting to eating chocolate were lying). And liars overeat fat much more than non-liars, and this fat eating differential (not chocolate eating) is the cause of the study results. This is another way the study conclusions could be false.

They say they used "used generalized estimating equations", but do not provide the details. There could be an error there so that their conclusions are false.

They talk about controls:
adjusting for age, sex, family CHD risk group, energy intake, education, non-chocolate candy intake, linolenic acid intake, smoking, alcohol intake, exercise, and fruit and vegetables
As you can see, this is nothing like a complete list of every possible relevant factor. There are many things they did not control for. Some of those may have been important, so this could ruin their results.

And they don't provide details of how they controlled for these things. For example, take "education". Did they lump together high school graduates (with no college) as all having the same amount of education, without factoring in which high school they went to and how good it was? Whatever they did, there will be a level of imprecision in how they controlled for education, which may be problematic (and we don't know, because they don't tell us what they did).


This is just a small sample of the problems with studies like these.


People often reply something like, "Nothing's perfect, but aren't the studies pretty good indications anyway?" The answer is, if it's pretty good anyway, they ought to understand these weaknesses, write them down, and then write down why their results are pretty good indications anyway. Then that reasoning would be exposed to criticism. One shouldn't assume the many weaknesses of the research can be glossed over without actually writing them down, thoroughly, and writing down why it's OK, in full, and then seeing if there are criticisms of that analysis.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Anime Child Porn

John Grisham questioned the long prison sentences for viewing child porn online, especially when it's just like a 16 year old girl, not a 10 year old boy. People got really mad.

http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/16/showbiz/celebrity-ne...
After the uproar began, Grisham issued an apology.

"Anyone who harms a child for profit or pleasure, or who in any way participates in child pornography -- online or otherwise -- should be punished to the fullest extent of the law," the author said in a statement. "My comments made two days ago during an interview with the British newspaper The Telegraph were in no way intended to show sympathy for those convicted of sex crimes, especially the sexual molestation of children. I can think of nothing more despicable. I regret having made these comments, and apologize to all."
I am against sexually abusing children.

I've got a question. How do people see anime child porn?

Harming children is really bad. But no children are harmed with anime child porn (or with written stories).

(BTW I don't think you're helping a 17 year old, who has been sexually active for 5 years already, by making him/her wait an extra year before s/he begins his/her porn career. Which, like it or not, is a career some people choose. I don't think someone starting that career a year earlier – voluntarily for pay – would mean little children are being harmed and abused.)

I'm curious how people's views change with anime child porn instead of real child porn. In other words, is the thing they object to really the harm of children? Remove harm to children, and then it'd be OK with them?

Not completely OK. Most people disapprove of anime tentacle monster porn. It's not the standard, socially-legitimized sexual preference. That's fine. They disapprove. So what? It's legal and people don't care all that much about anime tentacle monster porn. It's not that big a deal.

So, is anime child porn disapproved of only like anime tentacle monster porn, or much more? How do most people see it?

My guess is it's much more disapproved of. I suspect a significant part of the objection to child porn is unrelated to harm to children, and is irrational. And then they do things like irrationally get mad at John Grisham (enough to pressure him into telling apologetic lies).

I also suspect people's reactions depend heavily on how you frame the issue. If you use the phrase "anime child porn", people will associate it with child porn and pedophiles. But if you say "animated porn with girls drawn to look 17", maybe they don't get so mad, since everyone knows that 17 year old girls are hot. That isn't considered a pedophile opinion. It's pretty normal to refer to them as "jailbait"! Some even do countdowns to celebrities becoming "fair game" (as a celebrity herself put it).

I think the issue is highly sensitive to wording because people have contradictory ideas about it. They "know" 17 year old girls are hot jailbait and desirable to have sex with, but at the same time they "know" that having sex with minors is an immoral crime. Small wording differences can remind people more about one or the other of these opinions.

What are your opinions of anime child porn and anime tentacle monster porn? And the age of consent being years after puberty? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Front Page Magazine Censors Comments

I posted the comment below at Front Page Magazine. It went in the moderation queue and then was soon deleted. Blog comment censorship is super lame.
What do you mean US fought Cold War "without equivocation"???

http://spectator.org/articles/38080/jimmy-carter-c...

In the immediate days after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in late December 1979, President Carter responded with shock and a sense of deep, palpable betrayal. After all, he and Leonid Brezhnev, just six months earlier, at the Vienna Summit, had literally hugged and kissed. Why would the Soviets do this?

...

The Democratic president had long lamented America's "inordinate fear of communism," from which he had hoped to unshackle the nation."

...

... 1978 press conference, "We want to be friends with the Soviets."

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Aubrey de Grey Discussion, 10

I discussed epistemology and cryonics with Aubrey de Grey via email. Click here to find the rest of the discussion. Yellow quotes are from Aubrey de Grey, with permission. Bluegreen is me, red is other.
I wouldn't draw a distinction there. If you don't know more criticisms, and resolved all the conflicts of ideas you know about, you're done, you resolved things. Whether you could potentially create more criticisms doesn't change that.
OK, of everything you’ve said so far that is the one that I find least able to accept. Thinking of things takes time - you aren’t disputing that. So, if at a given instant I have resolved all the conflicts I know about, but some of what I now think is really really new and I know I haven’t tried to refute it, how on earth can I be “done"?
As you say, you already know that you should make some effort to think critically about new ideas. So, you already have an idea that conflicts with the idea to declare yourself done immediately.

If you know a reason not to do something, that's an idea that conflicts with it.
That’s precisely what I previously called switching one’s brain off. Until one has given one’s brain a reasonable amount of time to come up with a refutation of a new concept, the debate is abundantly ongoing.

You make a good point about the cryonics example being sub-optimal because I’m the defender and you’re the critic. So, OK, let’s do as you suggest and switch (for now) to a topic where you’re the defender and I’m the critic. There is a readily available one: your approach to the formation of conclusions.
I see some problems with this choice:

Using an epistemology discussion as an example for itself adds complexity.

Using a topic where we disagree mixes demonstrating answering criticism with trying to persuade you.

Using a complex and large topic is harder.

I still will criticize justificationism because you still think it can create knowledge.



If I were to pick, I'd look for a simpler topic where we agree. For example, we both believe that death from aging and illness is bad. If SENS or cryonics succeeded, that would be a good thing not a bad thing.

I wonder if you think there's criticisms of this position which you don't have a refutation of? Some things you had to gloss over as "weak" arguments, rather than answer?

The idea that grass cures the common cold – or that this is a promising lead which should be studied in the near term – would also work. You gave an initial argument on this topic, but I replied criticizing it. You didn't then demonstrate your claimed ability to keep up arguments for a bad position indefinitely.
(Does it have a name?
Popper named it Critical Rationalism (CR).
- presumably something better than non-justificationism? I’m going to call it Elliotism for now, and my contrary position Aubreyism, since I have a feeling we’re both adopting positions that are special cases of whatever isms might already have been coined.) Let’s evaluate the validity of Elliotism using Elliotism.
What do you mean by "validity"? I'm guessing you mean justification.

To evaluate CR with CR, you would have to look at it with its own concepts like non-refutedness.
The present state of affairs is that I view Elliotism as incorrect - I think justificationism is flawed in an ideal world with infinite resources (especially time) but is all we have in the real world, whereas (as I understand it) Elliotism says that justificationism can be avoided and a purely boolean approach to refutation adopted, even in a resource-constrained world.
Yes, but, I think you've rejected or not understood important criticism of justificationism. You've tried to concede some points while not accepting their conclusions. So to clarify:

Justificationism is not a flawed but somewhat useful approach. It literally doesn't and can't create knowledge. All progress in all fields has come from other things.

Justificationists always sneak in some an ad hoc, poorly specified, unstated-and-hidden-from-criticism version of CR into their thinking, which is why they are able to think at all.

This is what you were doing when saying you clarified that meant Aubreyism step 1 to include creative and critical thinking.

So what you really do is some CR, then sometimes stop and ignore some criticisms. The justificationism in the remaining steps is an excuse that hides what's going on, but contributes no value.

Some more on this at the end.
I’ve articulated some rebuttals of Elliotism, and you’ve articulated a series of rebuttals of my rebuttals, but I’m finding them increasingly weak
"weak" is too vague to be answerable
- I’m no longer seeing them as reaching my threshold of “meaningful” (i.e. requiring a new rebuttal).
This is too vague to be answerable. What's the threshold, and which arguments don't meet it?
Rather, they seem only to reveal confusion on your part, such as elidin the difference between resolving a conflict of ideas and resolving a conflict of personalities, or ignoring what one knows
What who knows? I have not been ignoring things I know, so I'm unclear on what you're trying to get at.
about the time it typically takes to generate a rebuttal when there is one out there to be generated. I’ve mentioned these problems with Elliotism and I’m not satisfied with your replies. Does that mean I should consider the discussion to be over? Not according to Elliotism, because in your view you are still coming up with abundantly meaningful rebiuttals of my rebuttals, i.e. we’re nowhere near a win/win. But according to Aubreyism, I probably should, soon anyway, because I’ve given you a fair chance to come up with rebuttals that I find to be meaningful and you’ve tried and failed.
I don't know, specifically, what you're unsatisfied with.

It could help to focus on one criticism you think you're right about, and clarify what the problem is and why you think my reply doesn't solve it. Then go back and forth about it.


You mention two issues but without stating the criticism you believe is unanswered. This doesn't allow me to answer the issues.

1) You mention time for rebuttal creation. We discussed this. But at this point, I don't know what you think the problem is, how it refutes CR, and what was unsatisfactory about my explanations on the topic.

2) You mention the difference between conflicts of ideas and personalities. But I don't know what the criticism is.

Personalities consist of ideas, so in that sense there is no difference. I don't know what you would say about this – agree or disagree, and then reach what conclusion about CR.

But that's a literal answer which may be irrelevant.

I'm guessing your intended point is about the difference between getting people not to fight vs. actually making progress in a field like science. These are indeed very different. I'm aware of that and I don't know why you think it poses a problem for CR. With CR as with anything else, large breakthroughs aren't made at all times in every discussion. So what? The claim I've made is the possibility of acting only on non-refuted ideas.
Oh dear - we seem to have a bistable situation. Elliotism is valid if evaluated according to Elliotism, but Aubreyism is valid if evaluated according to Aubreyism. How are we supposed to get out of that?
One approach is looking at real world results. What methods were behind things we all agree were substantial knowledge creation? Popper has done some analysis of examples from the history of science.


Another approach is to ask a hard epistemology question like, "How can knowledge be created?" Then see how well the different proposed epistemologies deal with it.

CR has an answer to this, but justificationism doesn't.

CR's answer is that guesses and criticism works because it's evolution, complete with replication, variation and selection. How and why evolution is able to create knowledge is well understood and has books like The Selfish Gene about it, as well as being covered well in DD's books.

Justificationism claims to be an epistemology method capable of creating knowledge. It therefore ought to either explain

1) how it's evolution

or

2) what a different way knowledge can be created is, besides evolution, and how it uses that

If you can't do this, you should reject justificationism. Not as an imperfect but pragmatic approach, but as being completely ineffective and useless at creating any knowledge.

Continue reading the next part of the discussion.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Aubrey de Grey Discussion, 9

I discussed epistemology and cryonics with Aubrey de Grey via email. Click here to find the rest of the discussion. Yellow quotes are from Aubrey de Grey, with permission. Bluegreen is me, red is other.
Thanks. Hm. I’m sincerely trying my very hardest to understand what you’re saying about your own thought processes, but I’m not making much progress.
I understand. It's very hard. Neither DD nor Popper had much success explaining these things in their books. I mean the books are great, but hardly anyone has thoroughly been persuaded by those books that e.g. justificationism is false.

I'm trying to explain better than they did, but that's tough. It's something I've been working on for a long time, but I haven't yet figured out a way to do it dramatically more effectively than DD and Popper. I think correct epistemology is very important, so I keep working at it. But I'm not blaming you or losing patience or anything like that.
At this point I think where I’m getting stuck is that the differences between your and my descriptions of how you make decisions (and of how one ought to make decisions) mainly hinge on the distinction between (a) not having any further criticisms and (b) not choosing to spend further time coming up with further criticisms,
I think there's a misunderstanding here.

I wouldn't draw a distinction there. If you don't know more criticisms, and resolved all the conflicts of ideas you know about, you're done, you resolved things. Whether you could potentially create more criticisms doesn't change that.

The important thing is not to ignore (or act against) any criticisms (or ideas) that you do know about. Either ones you came up with, or someone told you.

If you do know about a conflict between two ideas, don't arbitrarily pick a side. Rationality requires you either resolve the conflict, or proceed in a way that's neutral regarding the unresolved conflict. This is always possible.

Does that summarize one of my big points more clearly?


In other words, when there's a disagreement, either figure out how to resolve it or how to work around it, but don't assume a conclusion while the debate is ongoing. (The relevant ongoing debate typically being the one in your own mind. This isn't a formula to let irrational confused people hold you up indefinitely. But details of how to deal with this aspect are complex and tricky.)



Secondarily it's also important to be open to criticism and new ideas. If the reason you don't know about a criticism is you buried your head in the sand, that's not OK. (This part is pretty uncontroversial as an ideal, though people often don't live up to it very well.)
and I claim that for most interesting questions that is a distinction that is very hard to make, because it’s almost always fairly easy to come up with a new criticism (and I don’t mean a content-free one like “that’s dumb”, I mean a substantive one). Now, you disagree - you say "It's hard to keep up meaningful criticism for long”. That’s absolutely not my experience. In fact I would go further: I think that the way our brains work is that exhaustion or distraction from what we objectively know we’d like to do is a phenomenon that we generally like to put out of our minds, because we wish it weren’t so, so it’s virtually impossible to know whether we have truly exhausted our potential supply of criticisms. I really, really like to know why I think what I think, so I feel I go further down these rabbit-holes than most people, but they’re still rabbit-holes.
I'm mainly concerned with actual criticisms and conflicts of ideas, not potential.

Apart from the issue of willfully not thinking of arguments you couldn't answer, or choosing not to hear them, then it's only the actual ideas you have that matter and need conflict resolution between them now.
I think the only promising-sounding way to resolve this (i.e. to determine how difficult it really is to keep up meaningful criticism - which will very probably entail gaining a better understanding of each other’s threshold of “meaningful”) is for us to work through a concrete example. Naturally I suggest we continue with cryonics.
I disagree with "only". But that's fine, sure.

Though, actually, I don't think cryonics is ideally suited because on cryonics I'm more in the role of critic, and you more in the role of defending against criticism.

But our epistemology disagreement is kind of along the lines of: I have higher standards. So when I'm in the role of critic, this will come off as: my criticism is picky and demands standards you think can't be met.

If we used a different topic where I have a lot of knowledge and positive claims exposed to criticism, it could more easily be you making criticisms as picky as you want – trying to demonstrate such picky criticisms can't be answered – and then me showing how to answer them.

What do you think?

I reply about cryonics below anyway.
Before that, though, I have a new issue with some of what you said in this latest reply. You seem to have created a massive loophole in your approach here:
- the more you use questions like this and temporarily exclude things due to resource limits, the easier it is to reach agreement. if it's different people, it goes to "since we disagree so much, let's go our separate ways".
I can’t for the life of me see how you can seriously view that as an epistemologically acceptable outcome. And yet, I claim that it is indeed necessary to say that in order to reach your claim that resource limitations are not fatal to the epistemologically respectable method you advocate. Agreeing to disagree is no different from saying “that’s dumb”, except insofar as the participants may have gained a better understanding of the issues (negligibly better, in most cases, I claim). This is particularly important because of the non-level-playing field issue - much more often than not, the two participants in a debate will have unequal resource limits, so one of them will need to quit before the other feels ready to quit, so going separate ways ends up as the only option.
I'm unclear on the problem. If people AGREE to leave each other alone, and act accordingly, then they have a mutually agreeable win/win outcome that neither of them has a criticism of. This resolves the conflict between them that they were trying to sort out.

This doesn't resolve the tough problems in the field – but they know that and aren't claiming otherwise. What their agreement resolves is the problems surrounding their immediate decision making about how to deal with each other.
OK, let’s get back to cryonics.
BTW, what is your explanation of why no one has written good explanations of why to sign up for cryonics anywhere? Why have they left it to you to write it, instead of merely link things?
I think what’s been written by Alcor is (in aggregate) a good explanation, and you’ve read it already, so I didn’t suggest you read it.
In aggregate, I think you will agree it contains flaws. I've pointed some out.

So what's needed to save it is some modifications. Some way to have a position similar to it, without the flaws.

But I've been unable to figure out a position like that. And I haven't found Alcor's material to be much help for doing this.


I'm also unclear on what you think the gist of Alcor's case is. What primary claims make up their argument that you think is good? I actually have very little concept of what you think their website says.

Do you think their website presents something like your argument below? That's not what I got from it.
The evidence you refer to is consistent with infinitely many positions, including ones that conclude not to sign up for cryo. Considering it evidence for a specific conclusion, instead of others it's equally consistent with, is some mix of 1) arbitrary 2) using unstated reasons

Why should a fact fully compatible with non-revivability be counted as "evidence for revivability"?
In most scientific fields, and certainly in almost all of biology, the totality of available evidence is consistent with infinitely many positions, including the position that eating grass cures the common cold.
yes
Thus, one doesn’t reject the position that eating grass cures the common cold on the basis of a boolean approach to available evidence - one does so on the basis, as you said, that the quality of explanations for why eating grass cures the common cold (i.e. refutations of the position that eating grasss does not cure the common cold) is inadequate - there are no “meaningful” such explanations.
i disagree and think one should approach the grass-cures-cold with specific criticisms, not vague quality/justification judgments. Examples below.
Let’s have a go. Grass contains huge numbers of phytochemicals that we have identified, and the limitations of breadth and depth of our investigations are such that we can be quite sure it also contains lots that we have not identified. Phytochemicals have many diverse properties, such as antioxidant properties, that are shared with compounds that are known to have therapeutic effects on the common cold. Kids occasionally eat grass, and they occasionally recover faster than average from the common cold, so in order to know whether grass cures the common cold we would need to survey the cases of this to determine whether the two were positively correlated, and no one has done this. I don’t claim that this is a meaningful refutation of the position that eating grass doesn’t cure the common cold, but I do claim that it is a meaningful refutation of the position that it’s not worth doing the experiment to determine whether eating grass cures the common cold. I don’t claim that it’s a persuasive refutation, but the only reason I have for distinguishing between persuasive and meaningful is probabilistic/justificationist: based on my subjective intuition, I think the chances of the experiment coming out on the side that grass indeed cures the common cold are too low to justify the resources needed to do the experiment. What am I missing?
This argument is fine in the sense of being unlike "that's dumb" with no reason given. It's "meaningful". To put it approximately but perhaps communicate effectively: I wasn't trying to exclude anything even 1% as reasonable as this.

But this passage makes several mistakes. Here are some criticisms:

It's suggesting resources be allocated to this. But it doesn't compare the value it thinks can be gained by this change in resource allocation to the value gained from current allocation. So it doesn't really actually argue its case and is vague about what specifically should be done.

It's too much of a "try this, it might work" approach. There are more promising leads. One way (of many) to get more promising leads is to think of a specific mechanism by which something could work which you don't know how to rule out given current evidence and arguments, and then test that.

Another mistake is looking for correlation itself, when the thing we actually care about is causation (we care whether eating grass CAUSES recovery from colds). A good project would try to determine causation. This could maybe involve looking at correlations, but there'd have to be an idea about what to usefully do with the correlation information if found.


Note BTW that all three of these criticisms use fairly general purpose ideas. They're mildly adapted from previous discussions of other topics. For that reason, it doesn't take much work to create them. And as one builds up a greater knowledge of general purpose criticisms, it gets harder to propose any ideas that pass initial criticism using already-known criticism techniques.
Back to cryonics.
Damage that's hard to see to the naked human eye is not "small" in the relevant sense. The argument is a trick where it gets people to accept the damage is small (physical size in irrelevant regular daily life context), and implies the damage is small (brain still works well).

Why use unaided human eye instead of microscope? It's a parochial approach going after the emotional appeal of what people can see at scale they are used to. Rather than note appearances can be deceiving and try to help the reader understand the underlying reality, it tries to exploit the deceptiveness of appearances.

And it doesn't attempt to explore issues like how much damage would have what consequences. But with no concept of what damage has what consequences, even a correct statement of the damage wouldn't get you anywhere in terms of understanding the consequences. (And it's the consequences like having one's mind still revivable, or being dead, that people care about.)
Sure, all agreed - but they are not making that mistake. It’s known that living systems have pretty impressive self-repair machinery, and that it tends to work better to repair physically smaller damage than physically larger damage. Therefore, even though we know perfectly well that damage too physically small to be seen with the naked eye could still be too much for revivability, we know that there is a whole category of damage that would indeed (probably) be too much and is absent,
ok
and that’s meaningful evidence.
Meaningful evidence – meaning what?

This evidence is consistent with many things, so if you want to bring it up you should give an explanation about what it means. It doesn't speak for itself.

Do you mean that of the infinitely many cryo-doesn't-work possibilities, an infinite subset have been ruled out? Yes. Do you mean that this raises the amount of remaining cryo-does-work possibilities relative to the cryo-doesn't-work possibilities? No, infinity doesn't work that way.
Plus, of course Alcor (and more importantly 21CM) have looked at vitrified tissue with microscopes and not seen appreciable damage
What do you mean "appreciable" and where do they provide this information? Aren't fractures appreciable damage?

How does this fit with Brian Wowk's comments, brought up earlier, about lots of damage? Do you think he was mistaken, or is this somehow compatible?
- but how much magnification is enough? If they were basing everything on 100X microscopic images, what would be your procedure for deciding whether or not to complain that they hadn’t looked at the EM level?
I'd ask WHY they didn't use EM level and see if I see something wrong with their answer. There ought to be an explanation, presumably already written down.

I'd hope the answer wasn't "lack of funds even though it's very important". That'd be a plausible but disappointing answer I could imagine getting.

Not using the best microscopes around would strike me as suspicious enough to ask a question about. But in that scenario, I wouldn't be surprised to find they had a reason I have no criticism of, and then I'd drop it. Advanced technology sometimes has drawbacks in some cases, rather than being universally the best option.
I can certainly provide (as Alcor do) positive evidence for how much damage is tolerable - but of course there are ways to refute it, but only if one views one’s refutations as meaningful. For example, we can look at the amount of variabiity in structure of the brain in non-demented elderly, and we can see big differences between people who are equally cognitively healthy - easily big enough to be seen without a microscope.
Damage and non-damage variation are different things. What is this comparison supposed to accomplish?

People have different ideas. It would unsurprising if this has significant physical consequences since ideas have to have physical form. Though we also can see non-microscopic differences in healthy hearts, lungs, skin, etc, so the easily visible brain differences don't necessarily mean more than those other differences.
You could say, ah, but all one is doing there is identifying changes that are not harmful - but that’s circular, in the absence of direct evidence as to whether the damage done by vitrification is harmful.
I'm unclear what you're saying would be circular, or how you'd answer my comments in the section right above. I think I didn't quite get your point here, unless my comments above address it.

To phrase this as a direct criticism, for the context of me being persuaded, the issues have to be clear to me, so things I find unclear won't work.

To succeed in this context, they have to be either modified to be clear to me (which I always try to do myself before objecting), or else there'd have to be auxiliary explanations, either about the specific subject, or about how to read and think better, so that I could then get the point.
Is that a refutation that you would view as meaningful? If so, what’s your re-refutation of it? And if not, why not?
Yes, meaningful. I think the bar there is real low. I just wanted to exclude complete non-engagement like a tape recorder could accomplish.

Some answers above. Plus this doesn't address some points I raised previously, but we can set those aside for now.

Continue reading the next part of the discussion.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Aubrey de Grey Discussion, 8

I discussed epistemology and cryonics with Aubrey de Grey via email. Click here to find the rest of the discussion. Yellow quotes are from Aubrey de Grey, with permission. Bluegreen is me, red is other.
Thanks again Elliot. I have several issues below, but they have a single common theme.
This approach involves no open-ended creative thinking and not actually answering many specific criticisms and arguments. Nor does it come up with an explanation of the best way to proceed. It does not create knowledge.
I was probably unclear on that: that’s part (most, in fact, for interesting cases) of step 1, i.e. "Gather, as best one can in the time one has decided to spend, all the arguments recommending either of the alternative courses of action.” I didn’t mean to imply that this would be restricted to pre-existing arguments. So in other words, yes actually, I did use exactly this method in my evaluation of Estep’s criticism of SENS, and in my reply I articulated some of the results of that evaluation, namely some refutations of elements of the criticism. Consider your position as a reader: why did you accept my rebuttal as the last word? Why didn’t you write to Estep to ask him for a more thorough re-rebuttal than TR gave him the option of? Answer (I claim): because you subjectively decided that my rebuttal was impressive ENOUGH that Estep PROBABLY wouldn’t have a persuasive re-rebuttal, so you chose not to allocate time to contacting him. Note the quantitative, as well as subjective, elements of what I claim was your process (and I claim it confidently, because I can’t think of any other process you could have used for deciding not to write to Estep).
It's interesting you specifically express confidence, and can't think of any other process. This description isn't close to how I approached the Estep debate.


First, your rebuttal wasn't important here. I had already decided Estep was wrong before reading your rebuttal. That was easy. His position was largely philosophy, rather than being about detailed scientific points that I might have difficulty evaluating. While reading his text, I thought of criticisms of his arguments.


Actually, rather than being particularly impressed, I disliked three aspects of your rebuttal. But these criticisms were tangents, and are standard parts of academic culture. If I'm right about them, they don't make SENS wrong or Estep right. 1) Complaining about Estep's invective and saying you'd take the high road, but then returning some invective. 2) What I consider an overly prestigious writing style, partly intended to impress. 3) Arguing some over who has how much scientific authority and what they think (rather than only discussing substantive issues directly).

My interest in your rebuttal wasn't to learn why Estep was wrong – which I already knew. Note I say why he was wrong (explanation) rather than considering who is more impressive (ugh). Instead, I read to see how closely your thinking and approach matched my own (if I found important differences, I'd be interested in why, at least one of us would have to be wrong in an important way), to see what passes for debate in these kinds of papers in your field, and to see if you'd say an important point I'd missed or a mistake.


The main reason I didn't write to Estep is because I don't think he wants to have a discussion with me. My usual policy is not to write to paper authors who don't include contact information in their papers.

Now that you brought it up, I tried google and didn't find contact info there either. I think discussion is unwelcome. I did find his email in the GRG archives, but that's no invitation.

I actually would be happy to talk to him, if he wanted to have a discussion. Like if Estep volunteered to answer questions and criticisms from me, I'd participate. I like to talk to a variety of people, even ones I consider very bad. I want to understand irrationality and psychology better. And it helps keep my ideas exposed to all kinds of criticism. And I don't get myself stuck in unwanted polite or boring conversation.


You're right that I wouldn't expect Estep to change my mind if we talked. This is because I guessed an understanding of what he's like, which I have no criticisms of and no non-refuted alternatives to. Not probability. But this is minor. I'd talk to him anyway, the issue is he doesn't want to.

And I didn't just leave this to my judgment. I exposed my view on this matter to criticism. I wrote about it in public and invited criticism from the best thinkers I've been able to gather (or anyone else). (BTW you'd be welcome to join my Fallible Ideas discussion group and my private group.)

I don't do more than this because I have explanations of why other activities are better to spend my time on, and I don't know a problem/criticism with my approach or an explanation of a better approach. And all of this is open to public criticism. And I've made a large ongoing effort to have ready access to high quality criticism.
There is no such thing as how epistemologically good an explanation is.
I don’t get this. You’ve been referring to good and bad explanations throughout this exchange. What have you been meaning by that, if not epistemologically good and bad? I know you are saying that there are only refuted or non-refuted explanations, but you must have been meaning something else by good and bad, since you’ve definitely been using those adjectives - and other ones, like “clear”, “explicit” etc - in an unambiguously quantitative rather than binary/boolean sense, e.g.:
I can see how that'd be confusing. It's an imprecise but convenient way to speak. Depending what you're doing, you only need limited precision, so it can be OK. And it'd take forever to elaborate on every point, it's better only to go into detail on points where someone thinks it's worthwhile to, for some reason.

My position is that all correct arguments can be converted or translated into more precise statements that strictly adhere to the boolean epistemology approach.

Speaking of amount of clarity is a high level concept that's sometimes precise enough. You can, when you want to, get into more precise lower level details like pointing out specific ambiguous phrases or unanswered questions about the writer's position.

Saying an explanation is good or bad (in some amount) can quickly communicate an approximate evaluation without covering the details. It's loose speaking rather than epistemology.
They actually do have basic explanations, e.g. I've read one of them saying that vitrified brains look pretty OK, not badly damaged, to the unaided human eye. The implication is damage that's hard to see is small, so cryopreservation works well. This is a bad argument, but it's the right type of thing. They need this type of thing, but better, before anyone should sign up.
If it’s the right type of thing, what’s “bad" about it?
It is the right type of thing, meaning: it involves explanation and argument.

"Bad" here was an imprecise way to refer to some arguments I didn't write out upfront.

Damage that's hard to see to the naked human eye is not "small" in the relevant sense. The argument is a trick where it gets people to accept the damage is small (physical size in irrelevant regular daily life context), and implies the damage is small (brain still works well).

Why use unaided human eye instead of microscope? It's a parochial approach going after the emotional appeal of what people can see at scale they are used to. Rather than note appearances can be deceiving and try to help the reader understand the underlying reality, it tries to exploit the deceptiveness of appearances.

And it doesn't attempt to explore issues like how much damage would have what consequences. But with no concept of what damage has what consequences, even a correct statement of the damage wouldn't get you anywhere in terms of understanding the consequences. (And it's the consequences like having one's mind still revivable, or being dead, that people care about.)
- and more to the point, how bad?
Refuted.
What is your argument for saying "They need this type of thing, but BETTER (quantitative…), before anyone should sign up”? How much better, and why?
It needs to be better to the point it isn't refuted. Because it's a bad idea to act on ideas with known flaws.

(There are some complications here like they don't actually know my criticism, the flaws aren't known to them. What is "refuted" in each person's judgment depends on their individual knowledge. That's a tangent I won't write about now.)
You can’t just say “non-refuted”, because you know as well as I do that any argument about anything interesting can be met with a counter-argument, which itself can be met, etc., unless one has decided in advance how to terminate the exchange.
No, I disagree!

It's hard to keep up meaningful criticism for long.

Yes someone can repeat "That's dumb, I disagree" forever. But a criticism, as I mean it, is an explanation of a flaw/mistake with something, and this kind of bad repetitive objection doesn't explain any mistakes.

I don't think you had this kind of repetition in mind, or you wouldn't have specified "about anything interesting". "That's dumb, I disagree" can be used on trivial topics just as well as interesting topics.

I think you're saying that substantive critical discussion doesn't terminate and keeps having good points indefinitely. Until you terminate it arbitrarily.

I think good points are hard to come by. What are "good" points here, specifically? Ones which aren't already refuted by pre-existing criticism.

As you go along in productive discussions, you build up criticisms of many things. Not just of specific points, but of whole categories of points. Some of the criticisms have "reach" as DD calls it. They have some level of generality, they apply to many things. As criticism builds up, it gets progressively harder to come up with new ideas which aren't already refuted by existing criticism.

The reason many discussions don't look like this in practice is because of irrationality and bad methods, rather than discussions having to be that way.
My fundamental problem remains: you haven’t given me a decision-making algorithm that terminates, or even usually terminates, in an amount of time that I can specify in advance.
It's a mistake to 100% rigidly specify time limits in advance. Reasoning for time limits should be open to criticism.

The closest to a flowchart I can give you is something like:

- think creatively etc, as discussed previously

- when nearing a resource limit (like time), start referring to this limit in arguments, to bring arbitration to a close. e.g. instead of "I disagree with that, and here's why in detail", a side might say, "I disagree with that, but we don't have time to get into it. Instead, here is what I propose that we may both find acceptable."

- as resources get tighter, it gets easier to please all sides. like, they may agree it's better to flip a coin than not to reach a decision by a certain deadline.

- reasonable sides understand their fallibility and don't want anyone to go along with something without persuasion. and they understand persuasion on some point can exceed a resource limit. so they actively PREFER to find mutually agreeable temporary measures for now, when appropriate, while working on persuasion more in the longer term as more resources are available

- sometimes things go smoothly. no problem. sometimes they don't. when they don't, there are specific techniques which can be used.

- specifically, one considers questions of the form, "Given the context - and specifically not reaching agreement on points X, Y and Z, but having agreement on A, B and C - what can be done that's mutually agreeable? What can be done on this issue with the limited agreement?"

- while working on this new question, if there are any sticking points, then a similar question can be asked adding those sticking points to the exclusion list.

- these questions reduce the complexity and difficulty of the arbitration as low as needed.

- the more you use questions like this and temporarily exclude things due to resource limits, the easier it is to reach agreement. if it's different people, it goes to "since we disagree so much, let's go our separate ways". the harder case is either when a person has conflicting ideas or two people are entangled (e.g. parent and child). but that still reaches outcomes like, "given we disagree so much, and we need a decision now, let's flip a coin". both sides can prefer that to any known alternatives, in which case it's a win/win outcome.

- but what if they don't agree to flip a coin over it? well, why not? this is fundamentally why a flowchart doesn't work. because people disagree about things for reasons, and you can't flowchart answers to those reasons.

- but basically sides will either agree to a coin flip (or some better default they know of), or else they will propose something they consider a better idea. a better idea while being reasonable – so like, something they think the other side could agree with, not something that'd take a great deal of persuasion involving currently-unavailable resources.

- if sides are unreasonable – e.g. try to sabotage things, or just want their initial preference no matter what – then any conflict resolution procedure can stall or fail. that's unavoidable.

- this doesn't terminate in predictable-in-advance time because sometimes everyone agrees that the deadline is less important than further arbitration, and prefers to allocate more resources. i don't think this is a problem. it can terminate quickly when that's a good idea. the only reason it won't terminate quickly is specifically because a side disagrees that terminating quickly is a good idea in this case. (and if that happens, there will be a reason in context, which may be right or wrong, and there is no one-size-fits-all flowchart answer to it, it matters what the reason is)
I have one. It’s not perfect - I accept all your criticisms of it, I think - but the single feature that it terminates in a reasonably predictable time (just how predictable is determined, of course, by how close together one chooses the two cutoff probabilities to be) is so important that I think the method is better than any alternative that doesn’t reliably terminate.

The thing is, I think you DO have an algorithm that reliably terminates, and that despite your protestations it is pretty much identical to mine. Look at this example for illustration:
Also we do have an explanation of why different experiments measuring the speed of light in a vacuum get the same answer. Because they measure the same thing. Just like different experiments measuring the size of my hand get the same answer. No big deal. The very concepts of different photons all being light, and of them all having the same speed, are explanatory ideas which make better sense out of the underlying reality.
Nonsense, because each measurement measures different photons, and we have no better explanation for all photons having the same speed than for all pigeons having the same mass. This is not trivial: indeed, I recall that Wheeler made quite a big deal out of the awfully similar question of the mass of the electron and proposed that there is in fact only one electron in the Universe. We have explicitly made the choice not to enquire further on the question.
If you go deeper, then yes I don't know everything about physics. There's some initial explanations about this stuff, but it's limited.

I'm unclear on why this is important. I don't study physics more because I prefer to do other things and I don't know of any criticisms/problems with my approach. Even if I did study physics all day, I still wouldn't know everything about it and would make choices about which things to enquire further about, because I couldn't do everything at once. I would think of an explanation for how I should approach the matter, adjust or rethink until no criticism, and do that.
Or this one:
Person wants to buy something but hesitates to part with their money. Thinks about how awesome it would be, changes mind, happily buys. Solved.
That only works with an additional step that comes just before “happily buys”, namely “switches brain off before remembering that one might soon change one’s mind back”. And, actually, another step that says “remembers that one is really good at not crying over spilt milk, i.e. once the money is spent one is happy to live with whatever regret one might later have”. And so on. I know you know this.
But I don't know it. I deny it.

I think switching off the brain and trying not to think of some issues, because one couldn't deal with the issues if he paid attention to them, is a really bad approach. It's choosing winners in an irrational way – instead of resolving the conflict of ideas, you're playing the role of an arbiter who only lets one side speak, then declares them the winner.

About spilt milk: Sometimes people think of that and it helps them happily buy something. But sometimes people don't. It's not required. There are many optional steps that people find useful, or not, depending on their specific circumstances.
But, yet, you were fine with just writing “Solved”! I conclude that you DO have a termination procedure in your algorithm, and moreover that it’s an indisputably vague and subjective and probabilistic and epistemologically hole-riddled one just like mine, and I don’t know why you’re having such trouble admitting it.
I don't concede because I disagree.

I think a rational non-hole-riddled epistemology is possible, and that I understand it.
Let’s get back to cryonics - largely because I am now somewhat invested in the goal of changing your mind about signing up, coupled of course with the equally legitimate converse goal of giving you a fair shot at changing mine.

Let’s start with the specific question I already referred to above:
They actually do have basic explanations, e.g. I've read one of them saying that vitrified brains look pretty OK, not badly damaged, to the unaided human eye. The implication is damage that's hard to see is small, so cryopreservation works well. This is a bad argument, but it's the right type of thing. They need this type of thing, but better, before anyone should sign up.
As this stands, as I just said, it is too vague to be amenable to refutation even in principle, i.e. it doesn’t meet your own epistemological standards, because it doesn’t incorporate any statement of (let alone any argument for) your criterion for how good that explanation needs to become.
my standard is: is there a criticism of it? not some criterion for how good.
As above, “non-refuted” doesn’t work, because that relies on consideration of (for example) how much time I choose to allocate to giving you refutations and how much you choose to allocate to giving me refutations, and I sense that that that’s a decidedly non-level playing field.
You mean, it's not a level playing field because I allocate more time to trying to get this issue right? Or at least to writing down my thinking, so that if I'm mistaken someone could tell me?

BTW, what is your explanation of why no one has written good explanations of why to sign up for cryonics anywhere? Why have they left it to you to write it, instead of merely link things?

(Good explanations to what standard? Your own. If stuff met your standards you'd link it instead of writing your own.)
My (unashamedly justificationist) starting-point is that the absence of gross damage feels like enough evidence for revivability to satisfy me that people should sign up.
The evidence you refer to is consistent with infinitely many positions, including ones that conclude not to sign up for cryo. Considering it evidence for a specific conclusion, instead of others it's equally consistent with, is some mix of 1) arbitrary 2) using unstated reasons

Why should a fact fully compatible with non-revivability be counted as "evidence for revivability"?
So let’s start with you amplifying your above statement, with a sense of what you WOULD view as a good enough (yes I said it) argument, to give me some goalposts to aim for.
The goalposts fundamentally are: I don't have further criticism.

This is hard because I have many criticisms. But there really have to be ways for me to get answers to all of them (though not all from you personally). Or else you'd be asking me to do something I have a reason not to do; you'd be asking me to just ignore my own judgment arbitrarily for no reason.

I also think you overestimate how problematic this is because you're used to debates that don't go anywhere, don't resolve anything, because of how terribly irrational most people are.

Another big factor is people who don't want to be persuaded. Rational persuasion is impossible with unwilling subjects. People always have to persuade themselves and fill in lots of details, you can't tell them everything and perfectly customize it all to their context and integrate it with all their other ideas. They have to play an active role, or any persuasion will be superficial.


Something that I'd see as a good starting place is explanations connecting different amounts of damage to consequences like being fine or dead, and quantifying the amount of damage Alcor and CI cause today.

Continue reading the next part of the discussion.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)