The Craft and the Community: Post 25 – 27

25. My Way

More gender-talk. Yudkowsky’s style of rationality is distinctively male cause, um, he himself is male.

I say all this because I want to convey this important idea, that there is the Way and my Way, the pure (or perhaps shared) thing at the center, and the many paths we take there from wherever we started out….

…Even so, you should be aware that I have radioed back my description of the single central shape and the path I took to get closer.  If there are parts that are visibly male, then there are probably other parts—perhaps harder to identify—that are tightly bound to growing up with Orthodox Jewish parents, or (cough) certain other unusual features of my life.

26. The Sin of Underconfidence

There are three great besetting sins of rationalists in particular, and the third of these is underconfidence.  Michael Vassar regularly accuses me of this sin, which makes him unique among the entire population of the Earth.

Haha, that’s probably true.

When subjects know about a bias or are warned about a bias, overcorrection is not unheard of as an experimental result.  That’s what makes a lot of cognitive subtasks so troublesome—you know you’re biased but you’re not sure how much, and you don’t know if you’re correcting enough—and so perhaps you ought to correct a little more, and then a little more, but is that enough?  Or have you, perhaps, far overshot?  Are you now perhaps worse off than if you hadn’t tried any correction?

You contemplate the matter, feeling more and more lost, and the very task of estimation begins to feel increasingly futile…

And when it comes to the particular questions of confidence, overconfidence, and underconfidence—being interpreted now in the broader sense, not just calibrated confidence intervals—then there is a natural tendency to cast overconfidence as the sin of pride, out of that other list which never warned against the improper use of humility or the abuse of doubt.  To place yourself too high—to overreach your proper place—to think too much of yourself—to put yourself forward—to put down your fellows by implicit comparison—and the consequences of humiliation and being cast down, perhaps publicly—are these not loathesome and fearsome things?

My scores on PredictionBook indicate that I’m overconfident. And contra Yudkowsky, I also believe that overconfidence is more dangerous and “sinful” than underconfidence. Sure, you may miss some opportunities and don’t grow and learn as fast as you could, but it’s better to drive a bit longer than to crash and burn, so to speak.

Maybe even more important: PR matters. Modesty is good, arrogance is bad for your image. Of course, being underconfident in public, while being overconfident in private reeks of double-think – no wait, it is double-think.

Whatever, I try to err on the side of underconfidence. Not least because, so far I’ve changed my mind so often and therefore the Outside View simply demands that I assign low probabilities to many of my current beliefs.

27. Well-Kept Gardens Die By Pacifism

Very relevant post in light of the recent discussions on LessWrong about exclusiveness vs. inclusiveness.

Good online communities die primarily by refusing to defend themselves.

Somewhere in the vastness of the Internet, it is happening even now.  It was once a well-kept garden of intelligent discussion, where knowledgeable and interested folk came, attracted by the high quality of speech they saw ongoing.  But into this garden comes a fool, and the level of discussion drops a little—or more than a little, if the fool is very prolific in their posting.  (It is worse if the fool is just articulate enough that the former inhabitants of the garden feel obliged to respond, and correct misapprehensions—for then the fool dominates conversations.)

So the garden is tainted now, and it is less fun to play in; the old inhabitants, already invested there, will stay, but they are that much less likely to attract new blood.  Or if there are new members, their quality also has gone down.

Then another fool joins, and the two fools begin talking to each other, and at that point some of the old members, those with the highest standards and the best opportunities elsewhere, leave…

That’s admittedly a good point, but still – it feels a bit censorshippy and cultish.

However, when I think about my university it seems like Yudkowsky is right. I just don’t go to lectures in which the prof asks too many questions and allows too much discussion. The niveau just goes through the floor and you can’t stand listening to all the nonsense spouted by your fellow students.

(OTOH, I also don’t go to lectures where nobody talks aside from the prof…)

Anyway, why does Yudkowsky favor stricter communities?

…Maybe it’s because I grew up on the Internet in places where there was always a sysop, and so I take for granted that whoever runs the server has certain responsibilities.  Maybe I understand on a gut level that the opposite of censorship is not academia but 4chan (which probably still has mechanisms to prevent spam).  Maybe because I grew up in that wide open space where the freedom that mattered was the freedom to choose a well-kept garden that you liked and that liked you, as if you actually could find a country with good laws.

He concludes with some remarks on karma and voting-behavior:

…I really do honestly think that if you want to downvote a comment that seems low-quality… and yet you hesitate, wondering if maybe you’re downvoting just because you disagree with the conclusion or dislike the author… feeling nervous that someone watching you might accuse you of groupthink or echo-chamber-ism or (gasp!) censorship… then nine times of ten, I bet, nine times out of ten at least,it is a comment that really is low-quality.

You have the downvote.  Use it or USENET.

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