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[Webbsida] Lesswrong.com - Refining the art of human rationality

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2012-06-04 00:09

[Webbsida] Lesswrong.com - Refining the art of human rationality

En underbar hemsida jag nyligen upptäckt, som innehåller texter om de saker som kan gå snett när människor tänker. Det mesta materialet är skrivet av AI-forskaren Eliezer Yudkowsky.



Efficient Charity: Do Unto Others...

The Roman historian Sallust said of Cato "He preferred to be good, rather than to seem so". The lawyer who quits a high-powered law firm to work at a nonprofit organization certainly seems like a good person. But if we define "good" as helping people, then the lawyer who stays at his law firm but donates the profit to charity is taking Cato's path of maximizing how much good he does, rather than how good he looks.

And this dichotomy between being and seeming good applies not only to looking good to others, but to ourselves. When we donate to charity, one incentive is the warm glow of a job well done. A lawyer who spends his day picking up litter will feel a sense of personal connection to his sacrifice and relive the memory of how nice he is every time he and his friends return to that beach. A lawyer who works overtime and donates the money online to starving orphans in Romania may never get that same warm glow. But concern with a warm glow is, at root, concern about seeming good rather than being good - albeit seeming good to yourself rather than to others. There's nothing wrong with donating to charity as a form of entertainment if it's what you want - giving money to the Art Fund may well be a quicker way to give yourself a warm feeling than seeing a romantic comedy at the cinema - but charity given by people who genuinely want to be good and not just to feel that way requires more forethought.


Guessing the Teacher's Password

There is an instinctive tendency to think that if a physicist says "light is made of waves", and the teacher says "What is light made of?", and the student says "Waves!", the student has made a true statement. That's only fair, right? We accept "waves" as a correct answer from the physicist; wouldn't it be unfair to reject it from the student? Surely, the answer "Waves!" is either true or false, right?

Which is one more bad habit to unlearn from school. Words do not have intrinsic definitions. If I hear the syllables "bea-ver" and think of a large rodent, that is a fact about my own state of mind, not a fact about the syllables "bea-ver". The sequence of syllables "made of waves" (or "because of heat conduction") is not a hypothesis, it is a pattern of vibrations traveling through the air, or ink on paper. It can associate to a hypothesis in someone's mind, but it is not, of itself, right or wrong. But in school, the teacher hands you a gold star for saying "made of waves", which must be the correct answer because the teacher heard a physicist emit the same sound-vibrations. Since verbal behavior (spoken or written) is what gets the gold star, students begin to think that verbal behavior has a truth-value. After all, either light is made of waves, or it isn't, right?

And this leads into an even worse habit. Suppose the teacher presents you with a confusing problem involving a metal plate next to a radiator; the far side feels warmer than the side next to the radiator. The teacher asks "Why?" If you say "I don't know", you have no chance of getting a gold star—it won't even count as class participation. But, during the current semester, this teacher has used the phrases "because of heat convection", "because of heat conduction", and "because of radiant heat". One of these is probably what the teacher wants. You say, "Eh, maybe because of heat conduction?"

This is not a hypothesis about the metal plate. This is not even a proper belief. It is an attempt to guess the teacher's password.


(Inlägget ändrat av rytger 2012-06-04 00:09:51)

Truthful words are not beautiful; beautiful words are not truthful. - Lao Tzu

2012-06-05 17:07
En annan rolig:

People go funny in the head when talking about politics. The evolutionary reasons for this are so obvious as to be worth belaboring: In the ancestral environment, politics was a matter of life and death. And sex, and wealth, and allies, and reputation... When, today, you get into an argument about whether "we" ought to raise the minimum wage, you're executing adaptations for an ancestral environment where being on the wrong side of the argument could get you killed. Being on the right side of the argument could let you kill your hated rival!

Politics is an extension of war by other means. Arguments are soldiers. Once you know which side you're on, you must support all arguments of that side, and attack all arguments that appear to favor the enemy side; otherwise it's like stabbing your soldiers in the back—providing aid and comfort to the enemy. People who would be level-headed about evenhandedly weighing all sides of an issue in their professional life as scientists, can suddenly turn into slogan-chanting zombies when there's a Blue or Green position on an issue.
Truthful words are not beautiful; beautiful words are not truthful. - Lao Tzu