Comment author: Buck 28 October 2017 12:06:41AM 8 points [-]

I might also prompt people to say what they didn't like with the other person's vote, rather than just voting anonymously (and snarkily) with karma points.

The problem is that this takes a lot of time, and people with good judgement are more likely to have a high opportunity cost of time; you want to make it as cheap as possible for people with good judgement to discourage bad comments; I think that the current downvoting system is working pretty well for that purpose. (One suggestion that's better than yours is to only allow a subset of people (perhaps those with over 500 karma) to downvote; Hacker News for example does this.)

Comment author: thebestwecan 28 October 2017 02:34:35PM 0 points [-]

Another (possibly bad, but want to put it out there) solution is to list names of people who downvoted. That of course has downsides, but it would have more accountability, especially when it comes to my suspicion that it's a few people doing a lot of the downvoting against certain people/ideas.

Another is to have downvotes 'cost' karma, e.g. if you have 500 total karma, that allows you to make 50 downvotes.

Comment author: Gregory_Lewis 27 October 2017 05:26:35PM 2 points [-]

I previously defended keeping down-votes, I confess I'm not so sure now.

A fairly common trait is people conflate some viewpoint independent metric of 'quality' with 'whether I like this person of the view they espouse'. I'm sure most users have voting patterns that line up with these predictors pretty strongly, although there is some residual signal from quality: I imagine a view where one has a pretty low threshold for upvoting stuff sympathetic to ones view, and a very high one for upvoting non-sympathetic, and vice versa for downvotes.

I'm not sure how the dynamic changes if you get rid of downvotes though. Assuredly there's a similar effect where people just refrain to upvote your stuff and slavishly upvote your opponents. There probably is some value in 'nuking' really low quality remarks to save everyone time. Unsure.

Comment author: thebestwecan 28 October 2017 02:18:19PM 0 points [-]

Yeah, I'm totally onboard with all of that, including the uncertainty.

My view on downvoting is less that we need to remove it, and more that the status quo is terrible and we should be trying really hard to fix it.

Comment author: Buck 27 October 2017 11:35:22PM 14 points [-]

Just for the record, I think this is a bad idea: I think it's costly for the community when people make bad arguments, and I think that the community is pretty good at recognizing and downvoting bad arguments where they appear, and I don't think it too often downvotes stuff it shouldn't.

Comment author: thebestwecan 28 October 2017 02:11:28PM *  0 points [-]

Yeah, I don't think downvotes are usually the best way of addressing bad arguments in the sense that someone is making a logical error, mistaken about an assumption, missing some evidence, etc. Like in this thread, I think that's leading to dogpiling, groupthink, and hostility in a way that outweighs the benefit of downvoting from flagging bad arguments when thoughtful people don't have time to flag them via a thoughtful comment.

I think downvotes are mostly just good for bad comments in the sense that someone is purposefully lying, relying on personal attacks instead of evidence, or otherwise not abiding by basic norms of civil discourse. In these cases, I don't think the downvoting comes off as nearly as hostile.

If you agree with that, then we must just disagree on whether examples (like my downvoted comment above) are bad arguments or bad comments. I think the community does pretty often downvote stuff it shouldn't.

Comment author: [deleted] 27 October 2017 10:21:26AM 13 points [-]

As a concrete suggestion, could someone make a stylish (or other) extension that hides upvote counts and usernames on the EA forum? I would be delighted to use it, and would encourage others to do so, too.

Comment author: thebestwecan 27 October 2017 01:28:20PM *  -2 points [-]

Another concrete suggestion: I think we should stop having downvotes on the EA Forum. I might be not appreciating some of the downsides of this change, but I think they are small compared to the big upside of mitigating the toxic/hostile/dogpiling/groupthink environment we currently seem to have.

When I've brought this up before, people liked the idea, but it never got discussed very thoroughly or implemented.

Edit: Even this comment seems to be downvoted due to disagreement. I don't think this is helpful.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 27 October 2017 10:29:09AM 2 points [-]

I'm really not sure why my comment was so heavily downvoted without explanation. I'm assuming people think discussion of inclusion issues is a terrible idea. Assuming that is what I've been downvoted for, that makes me feel disappointed in the online EA community and increases my belief this is a problem.

I tried to avoid things that have already been discussed heavily and publicly in the community

I think this may be part of the problem in this context. Some EAs seem to take the attitude (i'm exaggerating a bit for effect) that if there was a post on the internet about it once, it's been discussed. This itself is pretty unwelcoming and exclusive, and it penalises people who haven't been in the community for multiple or haven't spend many hours reading around internet posts. My subjective view is that this topic is under-discussed relative to how much I feel it should be discussed.

Comment author: thebestwecan 27 October 2017 01:20:53PM *  0 points [-]

I wouldn't concern yourself much with downvotes on this forum. People use downvotes for a lot more than the useful/not useful distinction they're designed for (most common other reason is to just signal against views they disagree with when they see an opening). I was recently talking to someone about what big improvements I'd like to see in the EA community's online discussion norms, and honestly if I could either remove bad comment behavior or remove bad liking/voting behavior, it'd actually be the latter.

To put it another way, though I'm still not sure exactly how to explain this, I think no downvotes and one thoughtful comment explaining why your comment is wrong (and no upvotes on that comment) should do more to change your mind than a large number of downvotes on your comment.

I'm really still in favor of just removing downvotes from this forum, since this issue has been so persistent over the years. I think there would be downsides, but the hostile/groupthink/dogpiling environment that the downvoting behavior facilitates is just really really terrible.

Comment author: lukeprog 28 June 2017 11:35:00PM 2 points [-]

My hope was that the Type A-ness / subjectivity of the concept of "consciousness" I'm using would be clear from section 2.3.1 and 2.3.2, and then I can write paragraphs like the one above about fruit fly consciousness, which refers back to the subjective notion of consciousness introduced in section 2.3.

But really, I just find it very cumbersome to write in detail and at length about consciousness in a way that allows every sentence containing consciousness words to clearly be subjective / Type A-style consciousness. It's similar to what I say in the report about fuzziness:

given that we currently lack such a detailed decomposition of “consciousness,” I reluctantly organize this report around the notion of “consciousness,” and I write about “which beings are conscious” and “which cognitive processes are conscious” and “when such-and-such cognitive processing becomes conscious,” while pleading with the reader to remember that I think the line between what is and isn’t “conscious” is extremely “fuzzy” (and as a consequence I also reject any clear-cut “Cartesian theater.”)

But then, throughout the report, I make liberal use of "normal" phrases about consciousness such as what's conscious vs. not-conscious, "becoming" conscious or not conscious, what's "in" consciousness or not, etc. It's just really cumbersome to write in any other way.

Another point is that, well, I'm not just a subjectivist / Type A theorist about consciousness, but about nearly everything. So why shouldn't we feel fine using more "normal" sentence structures to talk about consciousness, if we feel fine talking about "living things" and "mountains" and "sorting algorithms" and so on that way? I don't have any trouble talking about the likelihood that there's a mountain in such-and-such city, even though I think "mountain" is a layer of interpretation we cast upon the world.

Comment author: thebestwecan 29 June 2017 03:26:19PM *  2 points [-]

That pragmatic approach makes sense and helps me understand your view better. Thanks! I do feel like the consequences of suggesting objectivism for consciousness are more significant than for "living things," "mountains," and even terms that are themselves very important like "factory farming."

Consequences being things like (i) whether we get wrapped up in the ineffability/hard problem/etc. such that we get distracted from the key question (for subjectivists) of "What are the mental things we care about, and which beings have those?" and (ii) in the particular case of small minds (e.g. insects, simple reinforcement learners), whether we try to figure out their mental lives based on objectivist speculation (which, for subjectivists, is misguided) or force ourselves to decide what the mental things we care about are, and then thoughtfully evaluate small minds on that basis. I think evaluating small minds is where the objective/subjective difference really starts to matter.

Also, to a less extent, (iii) how much we listen to "expert" opinion outside of just people who are very familiar with the mental lives of the being in question, and (iv) unknown unknowns and keeping a norm of intellectual honesty, which seems to apply more to discussions of consciousness than of mountains/etc.

Comment author: lukeprog 28 June 2017 06:36:23PM 4 points [-]

I'm not sure what you mean by "objective definition" or "objectively correct answer," but I don't think I think of consciousness as being "objective" in your sense of the term.

The final question, for me, is "What should I care about?" I elaborate my "idealized" process for answering this question in section 6.1.2. Right now, my leading guess for what I'd conclude upon going through some approximation of that idealized process is that I'd care about beings with valenced conscious experience, albeit with different moral weights depending on a variety of other factors (early speculations in Appendix Z7).

But of course, I don't know quite what sense of "valenced conscious experience" I'd end up caring about upon undergoing my idealized process for making moral judgments, and the best I can do at this point is something like the definition by example (at least for the "consciousness" part) that I begin to elaborate in section 2.3.1.

Re: Type A physicalism, aka Type A materialism. As mentioned in section 2.3.2, I do think my current view is best thought of as "'type A materialism,' or perhaps toward the varieties of 'type Q' or 'type C' materialism that threaten to collapse into 'type A' materialism anyway…" (see the footnote after this phrase for explanations). One longer article that might help clarify how I think about "type A materialism" w.r.t. consciousness or other things is Mixed Reference: The Great Reductionist Project and its dependencies.

That said, I do think the "triviality" objection is a serious one (Ctrl+F the report for "triviality objection to functionalism"), and I haven't studied the issue enough to have a preferred answer for it, nor am I confident there will ever be a satisfying answer to it — at least, for the purposes of figuring out what I should care about. Brian wrote a helpful explainer on some of these issues: How to Interpret a Physical System as a Mind. I endorse many of the points he argues for there, though he and I end up with somewhat different intuitions about what we morally care about, as discussed in the notes from our conversation.

Comment author: thebestwecan 28 June 2017 09:30:13PM *  2 points [-]

I think Tomasik's essay is a good explanation of objectivity in this context. The most relevant brief section.

Type-B physicalists maintain that consciousness is an actual property of the world that we observe and that is not merely conceptually described by structural/functional processing, even though it turns out a posteriori to be identical to certain kinds of structures or functional behavior.

If you're Type A, then presumably you don't think there's this sort of "not merely conceptually described" consciousness. My concern then is that some of your writing seems to not read like Type A writing, e.g. in your top answer in this AMA, you write:

I'll focus on the common fruit fly for concreteness. Before I began this investigation, I probably would've given fruit fly consciousness very low probability (perhaps <5%), and virtually all of that probability mass would've been coming from a perspective of "I really don't see how fruit flies could be conscious, but smart people who have studied the issue far more than I have seem to think it's plausible, so I guess I should also think it's at least a little plausible." Now, having studied consciousness a fair bit, I have more specific ideas about how it might turn out to be the case that fruit flies are conscious, even if I think they're relatively low probabilitiy, and of course I retain some degree of "and maybe my ideas about consciousness are wrong, and fruit flies are conscious via mechanisms that I don't currently find at all plausible." As reported in section 4.2, my current probability that fruit flies are conscious (as loosely defined in section 2.3.1 is 10%.

Speaking of consciousness in this way seems to imply there is an objective definition, but as I speculated above, maybe you think this manner of speaking is still justified given a Type A view. I don't think there's a great alternative to this for Type A folks, but what Tomasik does is just frequently qualifies that when he says something like 5% consciousness for fruit flies, it's only a subjective judgment, not a probability estimate of an objective fact about the world (like whether fruit flies have, say, theory of mind).

I do worry that this is a bad thing for advocating for small/simple-minded animals, given it makes people think "Oh, I can just assign 0% to fruit flies!" but I currently favor intellectual honesty/straightforwardness. I think the world would probably be a better place if Type B physicalism were true.

Makes sense about the triviality objection, and I appreciate that a lot of your writing like that paragraph does sound like Type A writing :)

Comment author: thebestwecan 28 June 2017 05:24:29PM *  4 points [-]

Thanks for doing this AMA. I'm curious for more information on your views about the objectivity of consciousness, e.g. Is there an objectively correct answer to the question "Is an insect conscious?" or does it just depend on what processes, materials, etc. we subjectively choose to use as the criteria for consciousness?

The Open Phil conversation notes with Brian Tomasik say:

Luke isn’t certain he endorses Type A physicalism as defined in that article, but he thinks his views are much closer to “Type A” physicalism than to “Type B” physicalism

(For readers, roughly speaking, Type A physicalism is the view that consciousness lacks an objective definition. Tomasik's well-known analogy is that there's no objective definition of a table, e.g. if you eat on a rock, is it a table? I would add that even if there's something we can objectively point to as our own consciousness (e.g. the common feature of the smell of a mushroom, the emotion of joy, seeing the color red), that doesn't give you an objective definition in the same way knowing one piece of wood on four legs is a table, or even having several examples, doesn't give you an objective definition of a table.)

However, in the report, you write as though there is an objective definition (e.g. in the "Consciousness, innocently defined" section), and I feel most readers of the report will get that impression, e.g. that there's an objective answer as to whether insects are conscious.

Could you elaborate on your view here and the reasoning behind it? Perhaps you do lean towards Type A (no objective definition), but think it's still useful to use common sense rhetoric that treats it as objective, and you don't think it's that harmful if people incorrectly lean towards Type B. Or you lean towards Type A, but think there's still enough likelihood of Type B that you focus on questions like "If Type B is true, then is an insect conscious?" and would just shorthand this as "Is an insect conscious?" because e.g. if Type A is true, then consciousness research is not that useful in your view.

Comment author: Andy_Schultz 26 June 2017 02:37:58PM 0 points [-]

In the linked Summary of Evidence document, in the section "Farmed animal vs. wild animals vs. general antispeciesism focus", some of the rankings in the grid do not match the explanations below. For example, under Scale, the grid has Farmed animal focus as rank 1, but the explanation below has General antispeciesism as rank 1.

Comment author: thebestwecan 26 June 2017 08:49:45PM *  0 points [-]

Thanks, Andy. That table had the values of the previous table for some reason. We updated the page.

Comment author: thebestwecan 14 June 2017 12:33:58PM 5 points [-]

I'd like to ask the people who downvoted this post to share their concerns in comments if possible. I know animal content tends to get downvoted by some people on the EA Forum, so this might just be another instance of that, rather than for more specific reasons.

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