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Peter_Hurford comments on Open Thread #40 - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 11 July 2018 01:51:52AM 1 point [-]

I recently played two different video games with heavy time-travel elements. One of the games heavily implied that choosing differently made small differences for a little while but ultimately didn't matter in the grand scheme of things. The other game heavily implied that even the smallest of changes could butterfly effect into dramatically different changes. I kind of find both intuitions plausible so I'm just pretty confused about how confused I should be.

I wish there was a way to empirically test this, other than with time travel.

Comment author: Milan_Griffes 11 July 2018 04:12:44AM 1 point [-]

A lot of big events of in my life have had pretty in-the-moment-trivial-seeming things in the causal chains leading up to them. (And the big events appear contingent on the trivial-seeming parts of the chain.)

I think this is the case for a lot of stuff in my friends' lives as well, and appears to happen a lot in history too.

It's not the far future, but the experience of regularly having trivial-seeming things turn out to be important later on has built my intuition here.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 16 July 2018 12:47:29AM 0 points [-]

It's surely true that trivial-seeming events sometimes end up being pivotal. But it sounds like you are making a much stronger claim: That there's no signal whatsoever and it's all noise. I think this is pretty unlikely. Humans evolved intelligence because the world has predictable aspects to it. Using science, we've managed to document regularities in how the world works. It's true that as you move "up the stack", say from physics to macroeconomics, you see the signal decrease and the noise increase. But the claim that there are no regularities whatsoever seems like a really strong claim that needs a lot more justification.

Anyway, insofar as this is relevant to EA, I tend to agree with Dwight Eisenhower: Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

Comment author: Milan_Griffes 16 July 2018 03:20:02PM *  0 points [-]

...you are making a much stronger claim: That there's no signal whatsoever and it's all noise. I think this is pretty unlikely.

I'm making the claim that with regard to the far future, it's mostly noise and very little signal.

I think there's some signal re: the far future. E.g. probably true that fewer nuclear weapons on the planet today is better for very distant outcomes.

But I don't think most things are like this re: the far future.

I think the signal:noise ratio is much better in other domains.


Humans evolved intelligence because the world has predictable aspects to it.

I don't know very much about evolution, but I suspect that humans evolved the ability to make accurate predictions on short time horizons (i.e. 40 years or less).