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January 18, 2009


Are you sure this isn't the Eliezer concept of boring, instead of the human concept? There seem to be quite a few humans who are happy to keep winning using the same approach day after day year after year. They keep getting paid well, getting social status, money, sex, etc. To the extent they want novelty it is because such novelty is a sign of social status - a new car every year, a new girl every month, a promotion every two years, etc. It is not because they expect or want to learn something from it.

Perhaps consistent with Robin's comment, I don't see any reason not to "collapse ... into orgasmium," at least after our other utilitarian obligations (e.g., preventing suffering by others in the multiverse) are completed.

An appropriate post : I've come to find EY's posts very boring. Subtle, intelligent, all that, sure. A mind far finer than my own, sure. But it never gets anywhere, never goes anywhere. He spends so much time posting he's clearly not moving AI forward. His book is still out of sight, two years down the line.
I can understand the main thrust of his posts, and the comments, if I invest enough, my intelligence and knowledge are just about up to that. But why bother ? It's sterile. Boredom = sterility.
As for Robin's comment, which is pertinent and bears on the real world of lived emotions, the connection is that boredom is not a result of what you are doing, it's a result of what you're not doing. Think about it.

Interest in previously boring (due to repetition) things regenerates over time. Eating strawberries every six months may not be as good as the first time (although nostalgia may make it better), but it's not obvious that it declines in utility.

We may also actively value non-boredom in some mid-level contexts, e.g. in sexual fidelity, or for desires that we consider central to our identity/narratives.

Cool stuff. It's philosophy for our present times. I like all the cultural references.

I wonder what kinds of boredom, unfamiliar to us resource-limited kind, do billionaires suffer from. It seems it's the same things all over and over again, only on a different scale - probably the closest to the boredom experienced widely in the Culture.

Science, it seems, is ultimately the only reliable escape from boredom. Until everything is solved - any estimation when we might call the project called 'Science' "Done!"?

"All science is either physics or stamp collecting."
-Ernest Rutherford

I always think of boredom as the chorus of brain agents crying out that 'whatever you are doing right now, it has not recently helped ME to achieve MY goals'. Boredom is the emotional reward circuit to keep us rotating contributions towards our various desired goals. It also applies even if we are working on a specific goal, but not making progress.

I think as we age our goals get fewer, narrower and a bit less vocal about needing pleasing, thus boredom recedes. In particular, we accept fewer goals that are novel, which means the goals we do have tend to be more practical with existing known methods of achieving them such that we are more often making progress.

Robin, I suspect that despite how it may look from a high level, the lives of most of the people you refer to probably do differ enough from year to year that they will in fact have new experiences and learn something new, and that they would in fact find it unbearable if their world were so static as to come even a little close to being video game repetitive.

That said, I would agree that many people seem not to act day-to-day as if they put a premium on Eliezer-style novelty, but that seems like it could be better explained by Eliezer's boredom being a FAR value than by the concept being specific to Eliezer :-)

My Greek Philosophy professor claims that Americans invented boredom.

I'm not sure breathing needs a special exclusion from boredom, for the same reasons people don't get bored from jumping in Mario: we don't get bored with something if it's only a mean to something else.

This blog post talks about that a bit.

You could also say that you only get bored with conscious activities, and that breathing is unconscious, just as jumping is in mario. I'm not sure which explanation is the best way of putting things "not boring because unconscious" and "not boring because it's a means to a goal".

But anyway, those explanations seem to fit reality closer than "Things so extremely low-level, or with such a small volume of possibilities, that you couldn't avoid repeating them even if you tried; but which are required to support other non-boring activities." (I don't think "low-level" and "small volume of possibilities" are necessary conditions. Some pretty high-level and complex things like driving a car can still be non-boring if it's unconscious / used with another goal in mind.

... and if you consider the class of "subconscious activities done in order to reach another goal", you'll see that if covers both "low-level" stuff like breathing, and "high-level" stuff like thinking (or at least, the mechanics of thinking - retrieving memories, updating beliefs, etc.). So you get one category instead of two.

You can't just be "intelligent over and over", because discovery and insight are essentially random processes. You can't just *find* insight, you have to look for it, in the same way that evolution searches the option space.

Yes, you can always have better heuristics or search algorithms. But those heuristics are not *themselves* intelligence. And there are always new heuristics to discover...

So, I don't think mere insight into the process of intelligence would allow you to be bored, since the *things to be discovered* by intelligence would still be "out there" rather than "in here", if you get my drift. And it's those subjects of discovery that are the intended targets of novelty and interest, anyway.

Robin, do they eat the same foods every day? Drive to the same places every day? Buy the same things every time they shop? Have sex in the same position every time? Watch the same movie each time they go to the theater? Since you're standing back, you see them at a level of abstraction from which their life looks mostly "the same" to you, but I doubt they're playing the same level of the same video game over and over again "every time they sit at the computer".

Zaphod: kind of funny, given the many foreign words in English - ennui, weltschmerz, melancholy etc.

Robin: It is not because they expect or want to learn something from it.

A major component of fun in video games is the emotional reward when the brain learnt something; that probably generalizes to why we find a lot of activities enjoyable, even though we might not label them as "learning" which is often associated to "memorizing useless facts because you're forced to".

What bores me is that we live in a binary universe. Sort of limits your options.

If most of us have a "terminal preference for a stream of mid-level novelty" those with ADD/ADHD find that unstimulating. They require a stream of high level novelty or, at least, a much faster stream of mid-level. See ADHD posts on ThePowerOfBoredom.com

Few people become bored with jumping in SMB because
1) becoming skilled at it is quite hard,
2) it's used to accomplish specific tasks and is quite useful in that context,
3) it's easier to become bored with the game as a whole than with that particular part of it.

the time when we gain enough experience to find all boring will be near to the time we can eliminate boredom as an emotion.

If you still wish to feel novelty you are free to wallow in ignorance; all will be new to you then. if you wish to move forward then remember self-modification to be an option.

Emile and Caledonian are right. Eliezer should've defined exceptions to boredom instead (and more simply) as "activities that work towards your goal". Those are exempt of boredom and can even be quite fun. No need to distinguish between high, low and mid-level.

The page at Lostgarden that Emile linked to is a bit long, so I'll try to summarize the proposed theory of fun, with some of my own conclusions:

You naturally find activities that provide you with valuable insights fun (the "aha!" moment, or "fun"). Tolerance to repetition (actually, finding a repetitive act "fun" as well) is roughly proportional to your expectation of how it will provide you with a future fun moment.

There are terminal fun moments. Driving a car is repetitive, but at high speeds adrenaline makes up for that. Seeing Mario jump for the first time is fun (you' found a way of impacting the world [the computer screen] through your own action). I'm sure you can think of other examples of activities chemically wired to being fun, of course ;)

Working in the financial business might be repetitive and boring (or at least it seems that way at first), but if it yields good paychecks, which give you the opportunity to buy nice things, gain social status, etc, you'll keep doing it.

Jumping in Mario is repetitive, and if jumping didn't do anything, you'd never touch that button again after 10 jumps (more or less). But early on it allows you to get to high platforms, which kinda "rekindles" the jumping activity, and the expectation that it will be useful in the future/yield more fun. Moving from platform to platform gets repetitive, unless it serves yet another purpose.

(The above is all described in Lostgarden and forms the basis of their theory of fun, and how to build a fun game. Following are some of my own conclusions.)

The highest goal of all is usually to "beat the game"/"explore the game world"/"have the highest score", and you set it upon yourself naturally. This is like the goal of jumping over a ledge, even if you don't know what's beyond it (in the Mario world). You ran out of goals so you're exploring, which usually means thinking up an "exploratory goal", ie, trying something new.

You can say that finding goals is fun in itself. If you start in a blank state, nothing will seem fun at first. You might as well just sit down and whither away! So a good strategy is to set yourself a modest goal (an exploratory goal), and the total fun had will be greater than the fun you assigned earlier to the goal in itself, which might be marginal. A more concrete example: The fun in reading "You win!" is marginal, but you play through Mario just to read those words. So I guess that the journey is more important than getting to the end.

Ben Goertzel's patternist philosophy of mind is suggestive here. It is boring when the same patterns repeat themselves. It's not about whether the pixels change or stay the same. It's about whether you can detect a unique pattern each time.

This may explain Eliezer's preference for the mid-level. If you are too specific, you don't see any patterns. If you are too general you miss many lower-level patterns. And also the balance between triviality and intractability of problems. If it's trivial you already have the pattern, if it is intractable you can't see any.

Intelligence may be the same algorithm each time it is applied, but as long as it generates/detects new patterns in the problems it encounters, there is no cause for boredom. Intelligent people get bored more quickly, because they can assimilate more patterns per unit time. But I like to think we all experience the same 'subjective novelty-time', so there is no need to make yourself stupid to extend your experience of novelty.

"it's easier to become bored with the game as a whole than with that particular part of it."

That has to do with our limited working memory capacity. When we conceive of "the game as a whole" we don't download the whole game into working memory. There is no space. Since the game really isn't in working memory, the conscious you does not detect any pattern. Playing the game though, is fun. Not because jumping in mario is instrumental to scoring points, but because arriving at a particular goal through particular means constitutes a pattern. Of course, mere permutations on fragments of the journey aren't as exciting techniques within strategies within stories because well, 'permutation of elements in a set' is a pretty common pattern...

What about detecting patterns in the clouds, in coincidences, in astrology, in pi, in the noise? Very quickly boring because when we go meta, we see there are no patterns linking these disparate atomic patterns.

So the recipe for interestingness is: objects, patterns, recursion. This is best demonstrated in axiomatic systems constructed by mathematicians. But it is also the same recipe with an interesting life in general.

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