Comment author: itaibn 18 October 2017 11:35:55AM 0 points [-]

I don't see any high-value interventions here. Simply pointing out a problem people have been aware of for millenia will not help anyone.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 18 October 2017 03:22:04PM 1 point [-]

There seem to be a lot of leads that could help us figure out the high-value interventions, though: i) knowledge about what causes it and what has contributed to changes of it over time ii) research directions that could help further improve our understanding of what causes it / what doesn't cause it iii) various interventions which already seem like they work in a small-scale setting, though it's still unclear how they might be scaled up (e.g. something like Crucial Conversations is basically about increasing trust and safety in one-to-one and small-group conversations) iv) and of course psychology in general is full of interesting ideas for improving mental health and well-being that haven't been rigorously tested, which also suggests that v) any meta-work that would improve psychology's research practices would also be even more valuable than we previously thought.

As for the "pointing out a problem people have been aware of for millenia", well, people have been aware of global poverty for millenia too. Then we got science and randomized controlled trials and all the stuff that EAs like, and got better at fixing the problem. Time to start looking at how we could apply our improved understanding of this old problem, to fixing it.

Comment author: DavidMoss 17 October 2017 08:11:04PM *  3 points [-]

Feelings of safety or threat seem to play a lot into feelings of tribalism: if you perceive (correctly or incorrectly) that a group Y is out to get you and that they are a real threat to you, then you will react much more aggressively to any claims that might be read as supporting Y.

This sounds roughly supported by Karen Stenner's work in The Authoritarian Dynamic which argues that "political intolerance, moral intolerance and punitiveness" are increased by perceived levels of threat.

Your comments about increasing happiness and comfort are particularly striking in light of this opinionated description (from a review) of the different groups (based on interviews):

Authoritarians tended to be closed-minded, unintelligent, lacking in self-confidence, unhappy, unfriendly, unsophisticated, inarticulate, and generally unappealing. Libertarians tended toward the opposite; they seemed happy, gregarious, relaxed, warm, open, thoughtful, eloquent, and humble.

That said I am sceptical prime facie that any positive psychology interventions would be powerful enough at producing these effects to be warranted on these grounds.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 18 October 2017 03:12:41PM 1 point [-]

Thanks for the reference! That sounds valuable.

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Anti-tribalism and positive mental health as high-value cause areas

(cross-posted from my blog ) I think that tribalism is one of the biggest problems with humanity today, and that even small reductions of it could cause a massive boost to well-being. By tribalism, I basically mean the phenomenon where arguments and actions are primarily evaluated based on who makes... Read More
Comment author: MikeJohnson 25 July 2017 05:36:44PM *  2 points [-]

Functionalism seems internally consistent (although perhaps too radically skeptical). However, in my view it also seems to lead to some flavor of moral nihilism; consciousness anti-realism makes suffering realism difficult/complicated.

If you had a precise enough theory about the functional role and source of suffering, then this would be a functionalist theory that specified objective criteria for the presence of suffering.

I think whether suffering is a 'natural kind' is prior to this analysis: e.g., to precisely/objectively explain the functional role and source of something, it needs to have a precise/crisp/objective existence.

I've always assumed that anyone who has thought seriously about philosophy of mind has acknowledged that functionalism has major deficiencies and is at best our "least wrong" placeholder theory until somebody comes up with something better.)

Part of my reason for writing this critique is to argue that functionalism isn't a useful theory of mind, because it doesn't do what we need theories of mind to do (adjudicate disagreements in a principled way, especially in novel contexts).

If it is a placeholder, then I think the question becomes, "what would 'something better' look like, and what would count as evidence that something is better? I'd love to get your (and FRI's) input here.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 25 July 2017 11:17:19PM *  1 point [-]

I think whether suffering is a 'natural kind' is prior to this analysis: e.g., to precisely/objectively explain the functional role and source of something, it needs to have a precise/crisp/objective existence.

I take this as meaning that you agree that accepting functionalism is orthogonal to the question of whether suffering is "real" or not?

If it is a placeholder, then I think the question becomes, "what would 'something better' look like, and what would count as evidence that something is better?

What something better would look like - if I knew that, I'd be busy writing a paper about it. :-) That seems to be a part of the problem - everyone (that I know of) agrees that functionalism is deeply unsatisfactory, but very few people seem to have any clue of what a better theory might look like. Off the top of my head, I'd like such a theory to at least be able to offer some insight into what exactly is conscious, and not have the issue where you can hypothesize all kinds of weird computations (like Aaronson did in your quote) and be left confused about which of them are conscious and which are not, and why. (roughly, my desiderata are similar to Luke Muehlhauser's)

Comment author: SoerenMind  (EA Profile) 25 July 2017 11:15:43AM 0 points [-]

I see quite a bunch of relevant cognitive science work these days, e.g. this: http://saxelab.mit.edu/resources/papers/Kleiman-Weiner.etal.2017.pdf

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 25 July 2017 01:10:42PM 0 points [-]

That's super-neat! Thanks.

Comment author: MikeJohnson 23 July 2017 08:57:34PM 2 points [-]

My sense that MIRI and FHI are fairly strong believers in functionalism, based on reading various pieces on LessWrong, personal conversation with people who work there, and 'revealed preference' research directions. OpenPhil may be more of a stretch to categorize in this way; I'm going off what I recall of Holden's debate on AI risk, some limited personal interactions with people that work there, and Luke Muehlhauser's report (he was up-front about his assumptions on this).

Of course it's harder to pin down what people at these organizations believe than it is in Brian's case, since Brian writes a great deal about his views.

So to my knowledge, this statement is essentially correct, although there may be definitional & epistemological quibbles.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 25 July 2017 11:01:35AM *  3 points [-]

Wait, are you equating "functionalism" with "doesn't believe suffering can be meaningfully defined"? I thought your criticism was mostly about the latter; I don't think it's automatically implied by the former. If you had a precise enough theory about the functional role and source of suffering, then this would be a functionalist theory that specified objective criteria for the presence of suffering.

(You could reasonably argue that it doesn't look likely that functionalism will provide such a theory, but then I've always assumed that anyone who has thought seriously about philosophy of mind has acknowledged that functionalism has major deficiencies and is at best our "least wrong" placeholder theory until somebody comes up with something better.)

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 22 July 2017 08:22:05AM 1 point [-]

Another discussion and definition of autonomy, by philosopher John Danaher:

Many books and articles have been written on the concept of ‘autonomy’. Generations of philosophers have painstakingly identified necessary and sufficient conditions for its attainment, subjected those conditions to revision and critique, scrapped their original accounts, started again, given up and argued that the concept is devoid of meaning, and so on. I cannot hope to do justice to the richness of the literature on this topic here. Still, it’s important to have at least a rough and ready conception of what autonomy is and the most general (and hopefully least contentious) conditions needed for its attainment.

I have said this before, but I like Joseph Raz’s general account. Like most people, he thinks that an autonomous agent is one who is, in some meaningful sense, the author of their own lives. In order for this to happen, he says that three conditions must be met:

Rationality condition: The agent must have goals/ends and must be able to use their reason to plan the means to achieve those goals/ends.

Optionality condition: The agent must have an adequate range of options from which to choose their goals and their means.

Independence condition: The agent must be free from external coercion and manipulation when choosing and exercising their rationality.

I have mentioned before that you can view these as ‘threshold conditions’, i.e. conditions that simply have to be met in order for an agent to be autonomous, or you can have a slightly more complex view, taking them to define a three dimensional space in which autonomy resides. In other words, you can argue that an agent can have more or less rationality, more or less optionality, and more or less independence. The conditions are satisfied in degrees. This means that agents can be more or less autonomous, and the same overall level of autonomy can be achieved through different combinations of the relevant degrees of satisfaction of the conditions. That’s the view I tend to favour. I think there possibly is a minimum threshold for each condition that must be satisfied in order for an agent to count as autonomous, but I suspect that the cases in which this threshold is not met are pretty stark. The more complicated cases, and the ones that really keep us up at night, arise when someone scores high on one of the conditions but low on another. Are they autonomous or not? There may not be a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to that question.

Anyway, using the three conditions we can formulate the following ‘autonomy principle’ or ‘autonomy test’:

Autonomy principle: An agent’s actions are more or less autonomous to the extent that they meet the (i) rationality condition; (ii) optionality condition and (iii) independence condition.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 21 July 2017 03:39:04PM 6 points [-]

What would you say are the philosophical or other premises that FRI does accept (or tends to assume in its work), which distinguishes it from other people/organizations working in a similar space such as MIRI, OpenAI, and QRI? Is it just something like "preventing suffering is the most important thing to work on (and the disjunction of assumptions that can lead to this conclusion)"?

It seems to me that a belief in anti-realism about consciousness explains a lot of Brian's (near) certainty about his values and hence his focus on suffering. People who are not so sure about consciousness anti-realism tend to be less certain about their values as a result, and hence don't focus on suffering as much. Does this seem right, and if so, can you explain what premises led you to work for FRI?

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 21 July 2017 07:54:03PM *  8 points [-]

Rather than put words in the mouths of other people at FRI, I'd rather let them personally answer which philosophical premises they accept and what motivates them, if they wish.

For me personally, I've just had, for a long time, the intuition that preventing extreme suffering is the most important priority. To the best that I can tell, much of this intuition can be traced to having suffered from depression and general feelings of crushing hopelessness for large parts of my life, and wanting to save anyone else from experiencing a similar (or worse!) magnitude of suffering. I seem to recall that I was less suffering-focused before I started getting depressed for the first time.

Since then, that intuition has been reinforced by reading up on other suffering-focused works; something like tranquilism feels like a sensible theory to me, especially given some of my own experiences with meditation which are generally compatible with the kind of theory of mind implied by tranquilism. That's something that has come later, though.

To clarify, none of this means that I would only value suffering prevention: I'd much rather see a universe-wide flourishing civilization full of minds in various states of bliss, than a dead and barren universe. My position is more of a prioritarian one: let's first take care of everyone who's experiencing enormous suffering, and make sure none of our descendants are going to be subject to that fate, before we start thinking about colonizing the rest of the universe and filling it with entirely new minds.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 20 July 2017 11:10:53PM *  10 points [-]

This looks sensible to me. I'd just quickly note that I'm not sure if it's quite accurate to describe this as "FRI's metaphysics", exactly - I work for FRI, but haven't been sold on the metaphysics that you're criticizing. In particular, I find myself skeptical of the premise "suffering is impossible to define objectively", which you largely focus on. (Though part of this may be simply because I haven't yet properly read/considered Brian's argument for it, so it's possible that I would change my mind about that.)

But in any case, I've currently got three papers in various stages of review, submission or preparation (that other FRI people have helped me with), and none of those papers presuppose this specific brand of metaphysics. There's a bunch of other work being done, too, which I know of and which I don't think presupposes it. So it doesn't feel quite accurate to me to suggest that the metaphysics would be holding back our progress, though of course there can be some research being carried out that's explicitly committed to this particular metaphysics.

(opinions in this comment purely mine, not an official FRI statement etc.)

Comment author: casebash 17 July 2017 03:18:35AM *  2 points [-]

A few thoughts:

  • If you believe that existential risk is literally the most important issue in the world and that we will be facing possible extinction events imminently, then it follows that we can't wait to develop a mass movement and that we need to find a way to make the small, exceptional group strategy work (although, we may also spread low-level EA, but not as our focus)
  • I suspect that most EAs would agree that spreading low-level EA is worthwhile. The first question is whether this should be the focus/a major focus (as noted above). The second question is whether this should occur within EA or be a spin-off/a set of spin-offs. For example, I would really like to see an Effective Environmentalism movement.
  • Some people take issue with the name Effective Altruism because it implies that everything else is Ineffective Altruism. Your suggestion might mitigate this to a certain extent, but we really need better names!
Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 17 July 2017 10:02:17AM 3 points [-]

I agree that if one thinks that x-risk is an immediate concern, then one should focus specifically on that now. This is explicitly a long-term strategy, so assumes that there will be a long term.

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