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October 04, 2008

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I don't think that even Buddhism allows that.
Depends on the version of Buddhism and who you ask... but yes, even the utter destruction of the mind.

Of course, 'utter destruction' is not a well-defined term. Depending on who you ask, nothing in Buddhism is ever actually destroyed. Or in the Dust hypothesis, or the Library of Babel... the existence of the mind never ends, because we've never beaten our wives in the first place.

I live with this awareness.

Summary: "Bad things happen, which proves God doesn't exist." Same old argument that atheists have thrown around for hundreds, probably thousands, of years. The standard rebuttal is that evil is Man's own fault, for abusing free will. You don't have to agree, but at least quit pretending that you've *proven* anything.

"Conway's Life has been proven Turing-complete, so it would be possible to build a sentient being in the Life universe"

Bit of a leap in logic here, no?

"In sober historical fact", clear minds could already see in 1919 that the absurdity of the Treaty of Versailles (with its total ignorance of economic realities, and entirely fueled by hate and revenge) was preparing the next war -- each person (in both nominally winning and nominally defeated countries) being put in such unendurable situations that "he listens to whatever instruction of hope, illusion or revenge is carried to him on the air".

This was J.M. Keynes writing in 1919, when A. Hitler was working as a police spy for the Rechswehr, infiltrating a tiny party then named DAP (and only later renamed to NDA); Keynes' dire warnings had nothing specifically to do with this "irrelevant" individual, which he had no doubt never even heard about -- there were plenty of other matches ready to set fire to a tinderbox world, after all; for examle, at that time, Benito Mussolini was a much more prominent figure, a well known and controversial journalist, and had just founded the "Fasci Nazionali di Combattimento".

So your claim, that believing the European errors in 1919 made another great war extremely likely, "is an unreasonable belief", is absurd. You weaken your interesting general argument by trying to support it with such tripe; "inevitable" is always an overbid, but to opine that the situation in 1919 made another great war all too likely within a generation, quite independently of what individuals would be leading the various countries involved, is perfectly reasonable.

Keynes's strong and lucid prose could not make a difference in 1919 (even though his book was a best-seller and may have influenced British and American policies, France was too dead-set in its hate and thirst for revenge) -- but over a quarter of a century later, his ideas prevailed: after a brief attempt to de-industrialize Germany and push it back to a pastoral state (which he had already argued against in '19), ironically shortly after Keynes' death, the Marshall Plan was passed (in rough outline, what Keynes was advocating in '19...) -- and we *didn't* get yet another great european war after that.

Without Hitler, but with Versailles and without any decent reconstruction plan after the Great War, another such great war WAS extremely likely -- it could have differed in uncountable details and even in strategic outline, from the events as they actually unfolded, just like the way a forest fire in dry and thick woods can unfold in many ways that differ in detail... but what exact match or spark lights the fire is in a sense a detail -- the dry and flame-prone nature of the woods makes a conflagration far too likely to avoid it by removing one specific match, or spark: there will be other sparks or matches to play a similar role.

The claim isn't that Germany would have been perfectly fine, and would never have started a war or done anything else extreme. And the claim is not that Hitler trashed a country that was ticking along happily.

The claim is that the history of the twentieth century would have gone substantially differently. World War II might not have happened. The tremendous role that Hitler's idiosyncrasies played in directing events, doesn't seem to leave much rational room for determinism here.

Reminds me of this: "Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead."

But my question would be: Is the universe of cause and effect really so less safe than the universe of God? At least in this universe, someone who has an evil whim is limited by the laws of cause and effect, e.g. Hitler had to build tanks first, which gave the allies time to prepare. In that other universe, Supreme Being decides he's bored with us and zap we're gone, no rules he has to follow to achieve that outcome.

So why is relying on the goodness of God safer than relying on the inexorability of cause and effect?

Given how widespread white nationalism is in America, (i.e. it's a common phenomenon) and how intimately tied to fascism it is, I think that there's a substantial chance that the leader that would have taken Hitler's place would have shared his predilection for ethnic cleansing, even if not world domination.

"I don't think that even Buddhism allows that."

Remove whatever cultural or personal contextual trappings you find draped over a particular expression of Buddhism, and you'll find it very clear that Buddhism does "allow" that, or more precisely, un-asks that question.

As you chip away at unfounded beliefs, including the belief in an essential self (however defined), or the belief that there can be a "problem to solved" independent of a context for its specification, you may arrive at the realization of a view of the world flipped inside-out, with everything working just as before, less a few paradoxes.

The wisdom of "adult" problem-solving is not so much about knowing the "right" answers and methods, but about increasingly effective knowledge of what *doesn't* work. And from the point of view of any necessarily subjective agent in an increasingly uncertain world, that's all there ever was or is.

Certainty is always a special case.

By the way, I should clarify that my total disagreement with your thesis on WW2 being single-handedly caused by A. Hitler does in no way imply disagreement with your more general thesis. In general I do believe the "until comes steam-engine-time" theory -- that many macro-scale circumstances must be present to create a favorable environment for some revolutionary change; to a lesser degree, I also do think that _mostly_, when the macro-environment is ripe, one of the many sparks and matches (that are going off all the time, but normally fizz out because the environment is NOT ripe) will tend to start the blaze. But there's nothing "inevitable" here: these are probabilistic, Bayesian beliefs, not "blind faith" on my part. One can look at all available detail and information about each historical situation and come to opine that this or that one follows or deviates from the theory. I just happen to think that WW2 is a particularly blatant example where the theory was followed (as Keynes could already dimly see it coming in '19, and he was NOT the only writer of the time to think that way...!); another equally blatant example is Roman history in the late Republic and early Empire -- yes, many exceptional individuals shaped the details of the events as they unfolded, but the nearly-relentless march of the colossus away from a mostly-oligarchic Republic and "inevitably" towards a progressively stronger Principate looms much larger than any of these individuals, even fabled ones like Caesar and Octavian.

But for example I'm inclined to think of more important roles for individuals in other historically famous cases -- such as Alexander, or Napoleon. The general circumstances at the time of their accessions to power were no doubt a necessary condition for their military successes, but it's far from clear to me that they were anywhere close to *sufficient*: e.g., without a Bonaparte, it does seem quite possible to me that the French Revolution might have played itself out, for example, into a mostly-oligarchic Republic (with occasional democratic and demagogic streaks, just like Rome's), without foreign expansionism (or, not much), without anywhere like the 20 years of continuous wars that in fact took place, and eventually settling into a "stable" state (or, as stable as anything ever is in European history;-). And I do quite fancy well-written, well-researched "alternate history" fiction, such as Turtledove's, so I'd love to read a novel about what happens in 1812 to the fledgling USA if the British are free to entirely concentrate on that war, not distracted by Napoleon's last hurrahs in their backyard, because Napoleon was never around...;-) [To revisit "what if Hitler had never been born", btw, if you also like alternate history fiction, Stephen Fry's "Making History" can be recommended;-)]

After Napoleon, France was brought back to the closest status to pre-Revolutionary that the Powers could achieve -- and ("inevitably" one might say;-) 15 years later the Ancien Regime crumbled again; however, that time it gave birth somewhat peacefully to a bourgeois-dominated constitutional monarchy (with no aggressive foreign adventures, except towards hopefully-lucrative colonies). Just like the fact that following Keynes' 1919 advice in 1947 did produce lasting peace offers some support to Keynes' original contention, so the fact that no other "strong-man" emerged to grab the reins in 1830 offers some support to the theory that there way nothing "inevitable" about a military strong man taking power in 1799 -- that, had a military and political genius not been around and greedy for power in '99, France might well have evolved along different and more peaceful lines as it later did in '30. Of course, one can argue endlessly about counterfactuals... but should have better support before trying to paint a disagreement with oneself as "absurd"!-)

BTW, in terms of human death and suffering (although definitely not in terms of "sheer evil" in modern ethical conception), the 16 years of Napoleon's power were (in proportion to the population at the time) quite comparable to, or higher than, Hitler's 12; so, switching from Hitler to Napoleon as your example would not necessarily weaken it in this sense.

I thought I already knew all this, but this post has made me realize that I've still, deep down, been thinking as you describe - that the universe can't be *that* unfair, and that the future isn't *really* at risk. I guess the world seems like a bit scarier of a place now, but I'm sure I'll go back to being distracted by day-to-day life in short order ;).

As for cryonics, I'm a little interested, but right now I have too many doubts about it and not enough spare money to go out and sign up immediately.

With all the sci fi brought up here, I think we are familiar with Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act.


Ian C., that is half the philosophy of Epicurus in a nutshell: there are no gods, there is no afterlife, so the worst case scenario is not subject to the whims of petulant deities.


If you want a sufficient response to optimism, consider: is the probability that you will persist forever 1? If not, it is 0. If there is any probability of your annihilation, no matter how small, you will not survive for an infinite amount of time. That is what happens in an infinite amount of time: everything possible. If all your backup plans can fail at once, even at P=1/(3^^^3), that number will come of eventually with infinite trials.

What's the point of despair? There seems to be a given assumption in the original post that:

1) there is no protection, universe is allowed to be horrible --> 2)lets despair

But number 2 doesn't change 1 one bit. This is not a clever argument to disprove number 1. I'm just saying despair is pointless if it changes nothing. It's like when babies cry automatically when something isn't the way they like because they are programmed to by evolution because this reliably attracted the attention of adults. Despairing about the universe will not attract the attention of adults to make it better. We are the only adults, that's it. I would rather reason along the lines of:

1) there is no protection, universe is allowed to be horrible --> 2)what can I do to make it better

Agreed with everything else except the part where this is really sad news that's supposed to make us unhappy.

I don't understand the faith in cryonics.

In a Universe beyond the reach of God, who is to say that the first civilization technologically advanced enough to revive you will not be a "death gives meaning to life" theocracy which has a policy of reviving those who chose to attempt to escape death in order to submit them and their defrosted family members to 1000 years of unimaginable torture followed by execution?

Sure, there are many reasons to believe such a development is improbable. But you are still rolling those dice in a Universe beyond God's reach, are you not?

Of course you are. It's still a probability game. But Eliezer's contention is that the probabilities for cryonics look good. It's worth rolling the dice.

Yes very very bad things can happen for little reason. But of course we still want positive arguments to convince us to assign large probabilities to scenarios about which you want us to worry.

Where is this noirish Eliezer when he's writing about the existence of free will and non-relativist moral truths?

Don't get bored with the small shit. Cancers, heart disease, stroke, safety engineering, suicidal depression, neurodegenerations, improved cryonic tech. In the next few decades I'm probably going to see most of you die from that shit (and that's if I'm lucky enough to persist as an observer), when you could've done a lot more to prevent it, if you didn't get bored so easily of dealing with the basics.

Kip, the colors of rationality are crystal, mirror, and glass.

Robin, fair enough; but conversely no amount of argument will convince someone in zettai daijobu da yo mode.

For the benefit of those who haven't been following along with Overcoming Bias, I should note that I actually intend to fix the universe (or at least throw some padding atop my local region of it, as disclaimed above) - I'm not just complaining here.

"If you want a sufficient response to optimism, consider: is the probability that you will persist forever 1? If not, it is 0. If there is any probability of your annihilation, no matter how small, you will not survive for an infinite amount of time. That is what happens in an infinite amount of time: everything possible. If all your backup plans can fail at once, even at P=1/(3^^^3), that number will come of eventually with infinite trials."
Zubon, this seems to assume that the probabilities in different periods are independent. It could be that there is some process that allows the chance of obliteration to decline exponentially (it's easy enough to imagine a cellular automata world where this could be) with time, such that the total chance of destruction converges to a finite number. Of course, our universe's apparent physics seem to preclude such an outcome (the lightspeed limit, thermodynamics, etc), but I wouldn't assign a probability of zero to our existing as simulations in a universe with laws permitting such stability, or to (improbable) physics discoveries permitting such feats in our apparent universe.

Without Hitler it's likely Ludendorf would have been in charge and things would have been even worse. So perhaps we should be grateful for Hitler!

I gather there are some Orthodox Jews involved in Holocaust denial and were in Iran for that, but this post gets me to thinking that there should be more of them if they really believe in a benevolent and omnipotent God that won't allow sufficiently horrible things to happen.

How widespread is white nationalism in America? I would think it's one of the least popular things around, although perhaps I'm taking the Onion too seriously.

"The standard rebuttal is that evil is Man's own fault,"

There is no evil. There is neutrality. The universe isn't man's fault; it isn't anyone's fault.

I'm not at all saddened by these facts. My emotional state is unaltered. It's because I take them neutrally.

I've experienced severe pain enough to know that
A) Torture works. Really. It does. If you don't believe it, try it. It'll be a short lesson.
B) Pain is not such a big deal. It's just an avoid-this-at-all-cost -signal. Sure, I'm in agony, sure, I'd hate to remain in a situation where that signal doesn't go away, but it still is just a signal.

Perhaps as you look at some spot in the sky, they've already - neutrality allowing - tamed neutrality there; made it Friendly.

We've got a project to finish.

More parents might let their toddler get hit by a car if they could fix the toddler afterwards.

There are an awful lot of types of Buddhism. Some allow mind annihilation, and even claim that it should be our goal. Some strains of Epicurianism hold that mind annihilation is a) neutral, and b) better than what all the religions believed in. Some ancient religions seemed to believe in the same awful universal fate as quantum immortality believers do, e.g. eternal degeneration, progressively advanced Alzheimers forever more or less. Adam Smith suggests that this is what most people secretly believe in.

It would take quite a black swan tech to undo all the good from tech up to this point. UFAI probably wouldn't pass the test, since without tech humans would go extinct with a smaller total population of lives lived anyway. Hell worlds seem unlikely. 1984 or the Brave New World (roughly) are a bit more likely, but is it worse than extinction? I don't generally feel that way, though I'm not sure.

Good post, but how to deal with this information so that it is not so burdensome: Conway himself, upon creating The Game of Life, didn't believe that the cellular automaton could 'live' indefinitely, but was proven wrong shortly after his games creation by the discovery of the glider gun. We cannot assume that the cards were dealt perfectly and the universe or our existence is infinite, but we can hope that the pattern we have put down will continue to stand the test of time. Belief that we are impervious to extinction or that the universe will not ultimately implode leaving everything within no choice but to be squished into a single particle can only do us harm as we try to create new things and discover ways to transcend this existence. Hope that we will make it and that there is ultimately a way off of what may be a sinking ship is what keeps us going.

I don't understand why the end of the universe bugs people so much. I'll just be happy to make it to next decade, thanks very much. When my IQ rises a few thousand points, I'll consider things on a longer timescale.

Would Camus agree with you Eliezer?

What I don't understand is that we live on a planet, where we don't have all people with significant loose change

A) signing up for cryonics
B) super-saturating the coffers of life-extensionists, extinction-risk-reducers, and AGI developers.

Instead we currently live on a planet, where their combined (probably) trillions of currency units are doing nothing but bloating as 1s and 0s on hard drives.

Can someone explain why?

"What can a twelfth-century peasant do to save themselves from annihilation? Nothing."

She did something. She passed on a religious meme whose descendents have inspired me, in turn, to pass on the idea that we should engineer a world that can somehow reach backward to save her from annihilation. That may not prove possible, but some possibilities depend on us for their realization.

A Jewish prophet once wrote something like this: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." The Elijah meme has often turned my heart toward my ancestors, and I wonder whether we can eventually do something for them.

Unless we are already an improbable civilization, our probable future will be the civilization we would like to become only to the extent that such civilizations are already probable. The problem of evil is for the absolutely omnipotent God -- not for the progressing God.

Chad: if you seriously think that Turing-completeness does not imply the possibility of sentience, then you're definitely in the wrong place indeed.

And I do quite fancy well-written, well-researched "alternate history" fiction, such as Turtledove's, so I'd love to read a novel about what happens in 1812 to the fledgling USA if the British are free to entirely concentrate on that war, not distracted by Napoleon's last hurrahs in their backyard, because Napoleon was never around...

Nitpick:

The "War of 1812" was basically an offshoot of the larger Napoleonic Wars; Britain and France were both interfering with the shipping of "neutral" nations, such as the United States, in order to hurt their enemy. After France dropped its restrictions (on paper, at least), the United States became a lot less neutral, and James Madison and Congress eventually declared war on Britain. (Several years earlier, Jefferson, in response to the predations of the two warring European powers, got Congress to pass an Embargo Act that was to end foreign trade for the duration of the war, so as to keep the U.S. from getting involved. It didn't work out so well.)

In other words, without Napoleon, there probably wouldn't have been a War of 1812 at all.

What I don't understand is that we live on a planet, where we don't have all people with significant loose change

A) signing up for cryonics
B) super-saturating the coffers of life-extensionists, extinction-risk-reducers, and AGI developers.

Instead we currently live on a planet, where their combined (probably) trillions of currency units are doing nothing but bloating as 1s and 0s on hard drives.

Can someone explain why?

Many people believe in an afterlife... why sign up for cryonics when you're going to go to Heaven when you die?

I should note that I actually intend to fix the universe [...]

I was not aware that the universe was broken. If so, can we get a replacement instead? ;-)

It is a strange thing. I often feel the impulse to not believe that something would really be possible - usually when talking about existential risks - and I have to make a conscious effort to suppress that feeling, to remind myself that anything the laws of physics allow is possible. (And even then, I often don't succeed - or don't have the courage to entirely allow myself to succeed.)

A) Torture works. Really. It does. If you don't believe it, try it. It'll be a short lesson.

That depends on what you're trying to use it for. Torture is very good at getting people to do whatever they believe will stop the torture. For example, it's a good way to get people to confess to whatever you want them to confess to. Torture is a rather poor way to get people to tell you the truth when they have motive to lie and verification is difficult; they might as well just keep saying things at random until they say something that ends the torture.

Consequentialist: Is it a fair universe where the wealthy live forever and the poor die in the relative blink of an eye? It seems hard for our current society to look past that when setting public policy. This doesn't necessarily explain why there isn't more private money put to the purpose, but I think many of the intelligent and wealthy at the present time would see eternal life quests as a millennial long cliche of laughable selfishness and not in tune with leaving a respectable legacy.


...Can someone explain why?

Many people believe in an afterlife... why sign up for cryonics when you're going to go to Heaven when you die?

That's probably not the explanation, since there are many millions of atheists who heard about cryonics and/or extinction risks.
I figure the actual explanation is a combination of conformity, the bystander effect, the tendency to focus on short term problems, and the Silliness Factor.

I can only speak for myself on this, but wouldn't sign up for cryonics even if it were free, because I don't want to be revived in the future after I'm dead. (Given the choice, I would rather not have existed at all. However, although mine was not a life worth creating, my continued existence will do far less harm than my abrupt death.)

There's a corallary mystery category which most of you fall into: why are so few smart people fighting, even anonymously, against policy grounded in repugnancy bias that'll likely reduce their persistence odds? Where's the fight against a global ban on reproductive human cloning? Where's the fight to increase legal organ markets? Where's the defense of China's (and other illiberal nations)rights to use prisoners (including political prisoners) for medical experimentation? Until you square aware your own repugnancy bias based inaction, criticisms of that of the rest of population on topics like cryonics reads as incoherent to me as debating angels dancing on the heads of pins. My blog shouldn't be so anomolous in seeking to overcome repugnancy bias to maximize persistence odds. Where are the other anonymous advocates? Our reality is the Titanic -who want to go down with the ship for the sake of a genetic aesthetic -because your repugnancy bias memes are likely to only persist in the form of future generations if you choose to value it over your personal persistence odds.

To show that hellish scenarios are worth ignoring, you have to show not only that they're improbable, but also that they're improbable enough to overcome the factor (utility of oblivionish scenario - utility of hellish scenario)/(utility of heavenish scenario - utility of oblivionish scenario), which as far as I can tell could be anywhere between tiny and huge.

As for global totalitarian dictatorships, I doubt they'd last for more than millions of years without something happening to them.

HA,

"why are so few smart people fighting, even anonymously, against policy grounded in repugnancy bias that'll likely reduce their persistence odds?"
Here's a MSM citation of Gene Expression today:
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20081004.WORDS04//TPStory/Science

Steve Sailer is also widely read among conservative (and some other) elites, and there's a whole network of anonymous bloggers associated with him.

"Where's the fight against a global ban on reproductive human cloning?"
Such bans have been fought, primarily through alliance with those interested in preserving therapeutic cloning.

"Where's the fight to increase legal organ markets?"
Smart people can go to Iran, where legal markets already exist.

"Where's the defense of China's (and other illiberal nations)rights to use prisoners (including political prisoners) for medical experimentation?"
There are some defenses of such practices, but it's not obviously a high-return area to invest your energies in, given the alternatives. A more plausible route would be suggesting handy experiments to Chinese partners.

I can only speak for myself on this, but wouldn't sign up for cryonics even if it were free, because I don't want to be revived in the future after I'm dead.

I would probably sign up for cryonics if it were free, with a, "do not revive sticker" and detailed data about me so that future brain studiers would have another data point when trying to figure out how it all works.

I don't wish that I hadn't been born, but I figure I have a part to play a purpose that no one else seems to be doing. Once that has been done, then unless something I see need doing and is important and sufficiently left field for no one else to be doing, I'll just potter along doing random things until I die.

"I figure I have a part to play a purpose that no one else seems to be doing"

How do you figure that? Aren't you a materialist? Or do you just mean that you might find a niche to fill that would be satisfying and perhaps meaningful to someone? I'm having trouble finding a non-teleological interpretation of your comment.

"If you look at the rules for Conway's Game of Life (which is Turing-complete, so we can embed arbitrary computable physics in there), then the rules are really very simple. Cells with three living neighbors stay alive; cells with two neighbors stay the same, all other cells die. There isn't anything in there about only innocent people not being horribly tortured for indefinite periods."

While I of course I agree with the general sentiment of the post, I don't think this argument works. There is a relevant quote by John McCarthy:

"In the 1950s I thought that the smallest possible (symbol-state
product) universal Turing machine would tell something about the
nature of computation. Unfortunately, it didn't. Instead as simpler
universal machines were discovered, the proofs that they were
universal became more elaborate, and do did the encodings of
information." (http://cs.nyu.edu/pipermail/fom/2007-October/012141.html)

One might add that the existence of minimalistic universal machines tell us very little about the nature of metaphysics and morality also. The problem is that the encodings of information gets very elaborate: a sentient being implemented in Life would presumably take terabytes of initial state, and that state would be encoding some complicated rules for processing information, making inferences, etc etc. It is those rules that you need to look at to determine if the universe is perfectly unfair or not.

Who knows, perhaps there is a deep fundamental fact that it is not possible to implement sentient beings in a universe where the evaluation rules don't enforce fairness. Or, slightly more plausible, it could be impossible to implement sentient tyrants who don't feel a "shade of gloom" when considering what they've done.

Neither scenario sounds very plausible, of course. But in order to tell whether such fairness constraints exist or not, the 3 rules of Life itself are completely irrelevant. This can be easily seen, since the same higher level rules could be implemented on top of any other universal machine equally easily. So invoking them do not give us any more information.

Doug, Will: There is no fundamental difference between being revived after dying, waking up after going to sleep, or receiving neurotransmitter in a synapse after it was released. There is nothing special about 10^9 seconds as opposed to 10^4 seconds or 10^-4 seconds. Unless, of course, these times figure into your morality, but these are considerations far out of scope of ancestral environments humans evolved in. This is a care where unnatural category meets unnatural circumstances, so figuring out a correct answer is going to be difficult, and relying on intuitively reinforced judgment would be reckless.

"So invoking them do not give us any more information."

I do think we get a little: if such constraints exist, they are a property of the patterns themselves, and not a property of the low-level substrate on which they are implemented. If such a thing were true in this world, it would be a property of people and societies, not a metaphysical property. That rules out a lot of religion and magical thinking, and could be a useful heuristic.

What probability do you guys assign to the god hypothesis being true?

You can't 'fix the universe'. You can at most change the properties of small parts of reality -- and that can only be accomplished by accepting and acting in accordance to the nature of reality.

If you don't like the nature of reality, you'd better try to change what you like.

What probability do you guys assign to the god hypothesis being true?
Incoherent 'hypotheses' cannot be assigned a probability; they are, so to speak, "not even wrong".

I don't want to sign up for cryonics because I'm afraid I will be revived brain-damaged. But maybe others are worried they will have the social status of a freak in that future society.

Great post and discussion. Go Team Rational!

Eliezer, I think there's a slight inconsistency in your message. On the one hand, there are the posts like this, which can basically be summed up as: "Get off your asses, slackers, and go fix the world." This is a message worth repeating many times and in many different ways.

On the other hand are the "Chosen One" posts. These posts talk about the big gaps in human capabilities - the idea being that some people just have an indefinable "sparkliness" that gives them the power to do incredible things. I read these posts with uneasiness: while agreeing with the general drift, I think I would interpret the basic observations (e.g. CEOs really are smarter than most other people) in a different way.

The inconsistency is that on the one hand you're telling people to get up and go do something, because the future is uncertain and could be very, very good or very, very bad; but on the other hand you're essentially saying that if a person is not a Chosen One, there's not much he can really contribute.

So, what I'd like to see is a discussion of what the rank-and-file members of Team Rational should be doing to help (and I hope that involves more than donating lots of money to SIAI).

Also, we need a cool mascot, maybe zebras.

"So, what I'd like to see is a discussion of what the rank-and-file members of Team Rational should be doing to help (and I hope that involves more than donating lots of money to SIAI)."
How 'rank-and-file' are we talking here? With what skillset, interests, and level of motivation?

I don't know what Eliezer would say now, but I think I remember him or the SIAI saying at sometime in the past (several years ago) that the best way for someone to help who can't directly contribute is to generate money in the most efficient way they can and donate generously. Not very glamorous, no, but then there's not much glamor to go around.

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