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March 01, 2009

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Only Box B seems win-win to me. either I get a million dollars or I proved the predictor wrong (which should be good enough to get me on talk shows and a book deal).
I did it again. I matched your response to my set of expected misunderstandings based on surface similarity, and initially dismissed it, before realizing what you'd actually said.

Clever. :)

Oops. I thought you meant "only box A". Which wouldn't get you a million dollars. And isn't allowed by the game.

Irrational and emotional are NOT the same. Although I must admit, many people, esp religious, conflate them.

As I've posted repeatedly above, I am trying to show that, IF YOU BELIEVE RATIONALITY SHOULD WIN THE NEWCOMB PROBLEM because rationality always wins in real life

Is this even what "Rational agents should WIN" means? I read it as a normative statement, roughly "don't worry about your ritual of cognition except insofar as it works or doesn't", not an empirical prediction.

the "Augustine paradox" is at least as plausible as the Newcomb paradox

The literal version of either is very unlikely, but the Newcomb paradox resembles the (common) single-shot prisoners' dilemma; is the Augustine paradox similarly analogous to anything?

The literal version of either is very unlikely, but the Newcomb paradox resembles the (common) single-shot prisoners' dilemma; is the Augustine paradox similarly analogous to anything?
I don't think so.

But the single-shot PD isn't regarded as a paradox. No one says "A rational agent should get the maximum payoff in the PD." So I don't think it matters.

Clever. :)
Oops. I thought you meant "only box A". Which wouldn't get you a million dollars. And isn't allowed by the game.
Oops. What you actually said was more clever than that. I misinterpreted the same simple comment twice. :P

Phil, I am sorry that you are frustrated that no one is responding to your main point. I found a bunch of issues you raised more interesting than the one you are concerned with. I am happy to endorse your view that an a priori belief that rationality will solve the Newcomb Paradox is unjustified.

I want to continue on your claims about christian theology. Some people don't care about this. Coll. I have two reasons for caring.

1. I think the mental hardware that supports animosity between religious groups is still present in people who don't espouse a religion. Becoming an atheist doesn't rid you of the stuff that makes irish catholics and protestants hate each other. I think a lot of people at OB display the same sort of hostility that we see in community conflicts, as part of the Atheist Tribe against the Believer Tribe. One way that manifests itself is in inaccurately ascribing silly beliefs to the Other. I believe you that you are not intending to attack christianity. I do think you are falsely claiming they have a belief they don't. I think showing that you are making that error is valuable to update this community's beliefs about the infallibility of their own beliefs about other groups.

2. We have a perfect example of differing empirical beliefs. You say "evangelicals think X." Frelkins and I say, "no they think Not X." We are each making implicit arguments about how to go about the task of finding which claim is accurate. I think it is an interesting exercise to try to reach agreemnt on that.

You started by saying, "All conservative variants of Christianity teach, in one way or another, that your eternal fate depends on your state in the last moment of your life."

I said, no they don't, and gave what I think the actual beliefs of various conservative christian subgroups. You were not convinced.

Frelkins also said your claim was innacurate, and he made the better move of quoting the bible verses that evangelicals rely on in their arguments with catholics to support a view inconsistent with your claim. You were still not convinced.

I asked you to provide some supporting quotation or citiation that supports your view. You didn't. As Eliezer's Super Happies would say, "If you do not give us that information, we will take into account the fact that you do not with us to know it." If you were able to successfully do that, that would resolve at least one part of our dispute, namely that there are at least some conservative christians, not all, that take your view. You can still make that move at any time if you are able.

Instead you simply stated that "I was a fundamentalist evangelical Christian for about 15 years. I know what I'm talking about, in great depth." The reason this is unconvincing is that many other people have personal experience of those churches, and came to a directly opposite conclusion than you. Frelkins and me are two of them. More generally, I think appeals to personal experience tend to be unconvincing because they are not testable or replicable. Though I am happy to accept that you know many things about evangelical christians accurately, I think this is not one of them.

So, how to reach agreement. I think when we have an empirical disagreement the thing to do is to jointly design a test that will resolve it. When the empirical disagreement about the subjective beliefs of others, asking them is probably the best we can do.

Here's what I propose: you provide the name and location of the church you attended for 15 years. That should only take you 10 seconds. I will contact the pastor and ask him to post a comment here, with enough identifying information to convince people that it is actually him.

The question is: Phil Goetz has claimed that "All conservative variants of Christianity teach, in one way or another, that your eternal fate depends on your state in the last moment of your life." Is that in fact the doctrine of your church?

I will post the whole of my email to him on the site, so people can check it for biasing influence on the subject.

I know Eliezer loves prediction markets. I am willing to bet you $100 that your former pastor says you are wrong. And we can make this a prediction market by taking side bets from others. I can cover anyone who wants to bet on Phil up to $10 per person, to a max of say 20 side bets. Maybe you could cover action from anyone who wants to bet on my view matching your cleric's. You can name different amounts if you want, and I will match yours if they are lower or not much higher.

So, the questions to you are:
Do you agree to my proposed test?
Do you propose a different test?
Are you willing to bet me?
Do others want to bet one way or the other?

David Ellis has some good posts that raise complex questions of moderating and mediating variables skewing results. I'll try to make a good rsponse to that later.

D Bachman, thanks. I love the questions you raise. I think there are great advantages to both rationality, and well-chosen irrationalities. But I don't think we have to choose between them, as the history of your a-bomb example shows. The US is both the most rationally capable, technologically advanced society in the world, and one of the most religious (I think we are #2 after India; but easily the most religious in the developed world). I don't think they are incompatible in the same societies or in the same individuals. The most brilliant scientist I know is also a total raving fundie. He firmly believes that god created the world in 4000BC, but he is a highly successful research oncologist. He clearly knows all about cell evolution, because he is so good at manipulating it, but that just goes into a different category in his brain. I think the big divide you notice between rationalists and people of faith is more tribal than cognitively necessary.

But maybe there is a problem thinking rationally about religion and also successfully believing. At least it is hard for me.

Billswift,
"irrational and emotional are not the same." Can you explain what you think the differences are?

Phil Goetz: "Yes. But I'm conducting a thought experiment. I don't mean it as an attack on Christianity. Tho I can see how it could be seen that way. "

i didn't read your post as an attack on Christianity (though i did pickup that you don't consider yourself Christian any longer). My point was that, the thought experiment, the paradox, as you phrased it was, "The optimal self-interested strategy is to act selfishly all your life, and then repent at the final moment" and that is wrong.

The optimal self-interested strategy isn't to act selfishly all your life, unless the end goal is simply avoiding hell. If your end goal is maximizing enjoyment in life, then living a righteous life is the optimal self-interested strategy.

the rest of your argument relied on that statement. and it is false, rationally speaking.


Sternhammer:

I get what you're trying to say, but i believe you misread Goetz. When Goetz saed, "All conservative variants of Christianity teach, in one way or another, that your eternal fate depends on your state in the last moment of your life", thats true. his followup statements, "If you live a nearly-flawless Christian life, but have a sinful thought ten minutes before dying and the priest has already left, you go to Hell. If you are sinful all your life but repent in your final minute, you go to Heaven", should be read as an either/or. Some evangelicals believe you can loose your salvation (typically you find this in the more charismatic denominations), just as he described in his first statement.

Either way, your fate does depend on your "state" in the last moment of your life. even if that "state" was decided 80 years ago or 5 minutes ago. Its true for the "once saved, always saved" crowd.

(i posted this... and it showed up. but the comments were different. then i signed in under my typekey username and my comment went away. so i'm reposting it. sorry if it got lost, or posted twice.)

Phil Goetz: "Yes. But I'm conducting a thought experiment. I don't mean it as an attack on Christianity. Tho I can see how it could be seen that way. "

i didn't read your post as an attack on Christianity (though i did pickup that you don't consider yourself Christian any longer). My point was that, the thought experiment, the paradox, as you phrased it was, "The optimal self-interested strategy is to act selfishly all your life, and then repent at the final moment" and that is wrong.

The optimal self-interested strategy isn't to act selfishly all your life, unless the end goal is simply avoiding hell. If your end goal is maximizing enjoyment in life, then living a righteous life is the optimal self-interested strategy.

the rest of your argument relied on that statement. and it is false, rationally speaking.


Sternhammer:

I get what you're trying to say, but i believe you misread Goetz. When Goetz saed, "All conservative variants of Christianity teach, in one way or another, that your eternal fate depends on your state in the last moment of your life", thats true. his followup statements, "If you live a nearly-flawless Christian life, but have a sinful thought ten minutes before dying and the priest has already left, you go to Hell. If you are sinful all your life but repent in your final minute, you go to Heaven", should be read as an either/or. Some evangelicals believe you can loose your salvation (typically you find this in the more charismatic denominations), just as he described in his first statement.

Either way, your fate does depend on your "state" in the last moment of your life. even if that "state" was decided 80 years ago or 5 minutes ago. Its true for the "once saved, always saved" crowd.

sternhammer,

No, I don't want you bothering my ex-pastors. And I know perfectly well that you can get different answers from them depending on how you ask the question. I will not bet money on their rationality and logical consistence.

I already wrote, "The second part, that you go to heaven if you sincerely repent (and meet other conditions that may include confession, baptism, etc.) before dying, is taught by almost every Christian church, conservative, Catholic, Protestant, or otherwise. (The major exception is forms of predestination that teach that you can never know whether you are saved or not.) That is the only part that matters for this discussion."

I also explained some of the reasons behind my opinions on particular Catholic beliefs. And I referred, twice, to the episode of the thief on the cross as the explanation of why all Christians believe you can be saved at the end of your life regardless of how you have lived your life before that.

You seem unaware that what you are claiming, in light of what I have said, is that most Christian churches teach that you can still go to Hell even after you have sincerely repented. You keep repeating my first statement and ignoring all of my later clarifications and qualifications. You keep asking for responses I have already made. I can only conclude you have written a long impassioned response to me without reading what I said.

Phil,

I disagreed with one particular sentence you wrote, quoting it several times. At no point were you able to admit that you were wrong about that. I think you are hinting that you now know it is wrong. But I am not sure. Your post seems very oblique.

Perhaps you can clarify. Do you, now, believe as you earlier wrote, that:

"All conservative variants of Christianity teach, in one way or another, that your eternal fate depends on your state in the last moment of your life. If you live a nearly-flawless Christian life, but have a sinful thought ten minutes before dying and the priest has already left, you go to Hell."

Try to answer yes or no.

If no, then we have no argument.

I have read your last paragraph many times without understanding what you are saying. Please edit it for clarity. Are you talking about something I have claimed or something you have claimed?

And when you reject my proposed test as biased, despite my offering you the exact language I would use and your alleging no bias in that, perhaps you would consider offering a test of your own.

But not offering a test, and not offering supporting evidence that can be checked, would be very consistent with an effort to avoid detection of errors in your claims. I can't read your mind. But I spent years as a lawyer, and when a witness acts like that, it speaks louder than anything he says.

Nick Tarleton,
how is PD like Newcomb?
Newcomb seems much easier to me than PD.

Phil Goetz,
Lots of people responded before your hysterical outburst. I would have, too, if sternhammer hadn't hijacked the thread. Eliezer, in the very first comment, lays out his position quite clearly. In particular, he hints that he does believe that "A rational agent should get the maximum payoff in the PD." The absolute max is impossible from symmetry, but he has said elsewhere on OB that two transparent rational agents cooperate in a one-shot PD.

You seem to be upset that he didn't address the meaning of the slogan "rational agents should win." This is stupid to argue about. I endorse Nick Tarleton's version.

I disagreed with one particular sentence you wrote, quoting it several times. At no point were you able to admit that you were wrong about that.

sternhammer:Phil::Phil:Eliezer

@soulless:

- Intuitively insightful fools. Agents with no conscious attempt at rationality, but possessing an intuitive, meta-level understanding of the behaviors of other agents in their social environment, sufficient to work within the environment to obtain more optimal results.

Do you meant to suggest here that rationality requires consciousness or that an intuitive process that was provably optimal in all circumstances would not be a rational process? It sounds like it. If so, this seems problematic, as I hope the following thought experiment shows.

Consider two people whose brains are working on a complex problem (that doesn't require and isn't aided by consciousness of any form), with the only relevant difference between what the 2 brains are doing being that one has conscious awareness of (some of) what it is doing as it works on the problem. (If you think this is impossible in principle, please say why.) If they both reliably solve the problem optimally -- there is no other strategy of any kind that is superior to either one -- via an analogous sequence of steps and calculations, on what basis can you say that one is rational and the other is not?

I don't think intuition ever gets this reliable, and so it is not rational for that reason, but if it could be so reliable (which seems possible in principle for domains that don't involve consciousness [e.g., anything a computer could do optimally], although even then, perhaps consciousness could be modeled 'intuitively' in a non-conscious manner), then it would be a form of rationality.

What would you call a state in which you have internalized the principles and rules for a domain of problems that you can now solve instantly without any conscious effort whatsoever? It sounds like a form of intuition to me. And yet, it's hard to say that the process was a form of rationality for the entire time that it required effort and was conscious, but that after you became so skilled at the intellectual tasks that they just began to happen automatically and effortlessly, the process suddenly became non-rational.

The details of planning, sinning, and Christianity are all irrelevant to the underlying point. I think the following is a simpler version of Phil's scenario that illustrates the point.

Let us suppose that God decides who goes to heaven and who goes to hell using the following rule: you go to heaven if and only if you have never been rational with respect to heaven or hell, otherwise you go to hell.

Obviously, a rational agent always loses this game, and non-rational agents always win.

I think that what scenarios like this show is that you can't say just "rationality always wins", or more carefully, "no strategy has a better expected outcome than rationality". Instead, you have to say that "no rationally chosen strategy has a better expected outcome than rationality", or "no strategy has a better expected outcome than rationality unless the game includes an a priori penalty against rationality".

This is consistent with the simple scenario above and Phil's scenario, both of which are forms of "you lose if you act rationally", but there is still a meaningful sense in which rationality always wins. Rationality can be beaten, but only when the game is rigged beforehand so that rationality cannot win.

sternhammer wrote:

Perhaps you can clarify. Do you, now, believe as you earlier wrote, that:

"All conservative variants of Christianity teach, in one way or another, that your eternal fate depends on your state in the last moment of your life. If you live a nearly-flawless Christian life, but have a sinful thought ten minutes before dying and the priest has already left, you go to Hell."

Try to answer yes or no.

No, I do not believe that entire sentence. Nor did I originally write that. Eliezer removed some qualifications that I had originally written to that sentence, perhaps because he thought them too wordy, and asked me to check if it was okay. I said that I thought this simplified version would cause people to raise irrelevant objections about purgatory and protestantism, but to go ahead with it anyway.

I repent of ever writing the original post. :| The point I wanted to make was not worth the time we have spent on it, even supposing that it got across.

you are forgiven :P

Thank you.

"As I've posted repeatedly above, I am trying to show that, IF YOU BELIEVE RATIONALITY SHOULD WIN THE NEWCOMB PROBLEM because rationality always wins in real life, THEN you should also believe that it will win in the Augustinian paradox, which, unlike the Newcomb problem, is believed by many people to be a real-life problem. If you're asking for a real-world, god-free situation (which may be the right thing to do), then you dismiss both paradoxes."

Phil: the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced we have to reject any formulation of the paradoxes in which the god or intelligence has certainty* about our decisions or reasons.

If we imagine that we and the god are both in a simulation, then doesn't the claim the god can be certain about whether our repentance was planned or 'genuine' imply that they (one program) can prove a nontrivial property about another (arbitrary) program? Which would seem to run afoul of Rice's Theorem/the Halting Problem.

There are a couple ways out of this that I see:

1) We can assume the god is or has access to, an oracle. This is explicitly unrealistic though, and I regard such an out as being as bad as saying 'imagine a universe where 1!=1; Wouldn't rationality really suck there?'.
2) We can assume that sentient programs are sufficiently restricted that Rice's theorem doesn't apply. That is, any sentient program is by definition restricted enough to be amenable to analysis. I don't see any a priori reason to believe this, though.
3) We can suggest that maybe we are provable-about by construction: the god or intelligence created us in such a way that they can prove our unfaithfulness or insincerity, that yes there are beings which the god couldn't be sure about, but tough luck - we aren't them and the god knows that. (This is similar to Eliezer's defense of proofs for FAIness - 'yeah, we can't prove friendliness over arbitrary AIs, but we're not interested in creating arbitrary AIs.') This doesn't work for the Newcomb paradox, but could for Augustine's god.

* And not just extremely high confidence

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