Commentary on Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Meta-ethics – Math is Subjunctively Objective

This article continues my criticism of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s meta-ethics sequence on the Less-Wrong wiki, the first being my criticism of his article on fairness.  Yudkowsky’s point here is to explore the potential foundations of logic and math, specifically by ruling out the human mind.

This article of Yudkowsky’s focuses primarily on the contrast between objective math and subjective perception.  Math, because it relies entirely on formal logic, is an objective framework.  That means that the concepts of math can be communicated accurately and completely, without losing any detail.  The mathematical statement, 2+3 = 5, which Yudkowsky uses frequently as an example, means the same thing to me as it does to him.

If, however, one were to perceive one of the numbers differently, or perhaps, one were to perceive the application of a rule differently, as a mistake, then they would have a different and wrong understanding of the equation.  Specifically, Yudkowsky suggests that a neutrino flying through our brain might alter our memory and therefore our perception of the event.

Obviously, math could not rely on the Human brain for its foundation for objectivity, because people make mathematical mistakes all the time.  Yudkowsky proposes some strained examples here with neutrinos, but people really do make math mistakes all the time.  That is why we have students practice so much with math homework.  Even with that, they will continue to make even simple mistakes throughout their life.

Instead, math’s objectivity is founded in logic, though that does not help Yudkowsky out very much.  Logic, then, is founded in the universe being logically consistent.  That means that effects must follow naturally from causes and that the effects are predictable from a set of causes within some reasonable expectations.  While we may be able to observe that our universe seems to be logically consistent, it is not clear that that is a necessary condition for a universe or something that we should expect.  R.C. Sproul often points out that the ancient Greeks believed in a pantheon of Gods who eagerly interfered in human affairs.  Because their Gods were un-observable and they were expected to have such a profound effect on almost everything major, it would have been nearly impossible to separate the effects of the Gods from those of natural causes.

Similarly, quantum mechanics is inherently unpredictable, though its unpredictability does not seem to undermine the predictability of the universe as a whole.  The point here is that naturalism is also potentially unpredictable, even after we have cast aside the gods of the Greeks.  If the entire universe acted like quantum mechanics, it might be impossible to apply logic, at least practically.

Oddly enough, Christianity claims that God created a logically consistent universe because he is a logical being.  He created it so that we could observe it and understand it.  While he may act supernaturally in a way that is not visible to our senses, he does so in a logically consistent way.  The miracles described in the Bible may not have been consistent with our physical laws of nature, though they were always consistent with God’s nature and were not arbitrary.  Even then, they would have been exceptions and easily excluded from scientific analysis.

In the end, Yudkowsky is forced to assume the objectivity of math, logic, and a logically consistent universe, with no foundation for doing so.  Alternatively, one can assume the Christian God or another god with similar properties.  This necessary foundation of logic is actually considered a proof of God by Christians.  Meanwhile, atheists consider the possibility that God might violate his own physical laws through a miracle a strong argument against even considering a God, at least when performing science.  They are left without an alternative explanation here though and are comfortable leaving it as an assumption.

Posted in Eliezer Yudkowsky, morality, philosophy | Leave a comment

How to Fix John Allison’s Bad Machinery

John Allison’s webcomic Bad Machinery is not doing well. This is rather normal compared to thousand’s of other webcomics, most of which also do pretty poorly. Bad Machinery is actually doing rather well compared to most of them. But, John Allison is a veteran webcomic author and artist and Bad Machinery should be doing much better, given his obvious talents and the amount of work he puts into it.

What are the problems? John Allison has publicly mentioned problems with readers not enjoying it and low reader numbers on his blog. Meanwhile, reviewer and long time John Allison fan, El Santo, criticized Bad Machinery for not living up to the high standards set by Scary Go Round. I myself have noticed a difference as well and agree heartily with El Santo’s review. As Scary Go Round is one of my favorite webcomics, I want to offer up my own opinions on the problems plaguing the new comic.

Bad Machinery is John Allison’s third webcomic. The first one was called Bobbins and took a year or two of lame jokes and horrible art before it hit its swing. Scary Go Round was the second webcomic and took place in the same universe as Bobbins. Most of the characters returned, a few left, and one changed his last name. Scary Go Round added a slight fantastic element, including monsters, alternate dimensions, and other supernatural oddities in occasional stories. The supernatural element itself, however was never the drive behind the story. Both Bobbins and Scary Go Round focused much more on conflicts between characters as the central conflict.

In Bad Machinery, John Allison kept the same universe as Bobbins and Scary Go Round but made the supernatural the new drive. He still tries to develop relationships between the characters as side plots. Also, while he kept the same universe, he moved several fan favorite characters out of town, and is focusing much more on side characters who were previously younger siblings. Even Erin Winters, who was a fan favorite in Scary Go Round, is the younger sister of the even more popular main character Shelly Winters. Just to make it clear, John Allison made some major changes to his formula which were probably a much more significant change than moving from Bobbins to Scary Go Round.

In Disruption terms, I think that John Allison is “cramming” his kid’s mystery story idea into a Bobbins / Scary Go Round formula. The problem is that Bobbins / Scary Go Round are built around relationship conflict (man vs. man) while mystery stories focus more on observation (man vs. nature). John Allison knows relationship conflicts very well and still builds them into the story. Because they don’t drive the plot anymore, however, they feel empty because they never build up to the climaxes that his other comics did. Meanwhile, he drops his clues for the mystery plot heavy handedly. The conclusions are obvious and spelled out and are usually uncovered by events outside of the student’s control.

In normal mystery stories, the clues are subtle and the conclusions are only revealed later on in the story as they combine with other clues and the characters discuss their progress. The significance of a few clues are kept hidden until the final reveal. Meanwhile, some clues are added which point to other solutions to the mystery under other interpretations of the facts. The main characters usually have special powers of observation, investigation, and interpretation which allow them to understand the situation better than the innocents surrounding them and depending on their skills.

Combining that plot heavy structure into the existing Bobbins / Scary Go Round relationship driven formula would make the story lines too long and unwieldy, or diverge in other ways. It would be like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Rather than trying to fix it, he needs to take another approach.

In order to keep momentum, John Allison should probably write some more Scary Go Round spin-offs and short stories. During a break from Bad Machinery, he wrote a short called “Giant Days” featuring one of the popular characters that he moved away before starting Bad Machinery. It went over very well and showed that he still had his magic. This is only a short term fix, however, as Scary Go Round felt very complete and was rightfully put to rest.

In order to replace Scary Go Round and Bad Machinery, John Allison needs to experiment in a fresh format without the baggage of Scary Go Round or Bad Machinery. This would keep him from cramming his new story ideas into his old frameworks and allow him to expand his universe without just rebooting Scary Go Round again. He actually already does this on his blog, A Hundred Dance Moves Per Second. Many of his experiments there already get plenty of approval and could be turned into short stories as experiments for future comics.

There is a potential problem of resolving a conflict between what you want to do and what your fans want you to do. If you only do what you want to do, then nobody cares. If you only do what your fans want you to do, then your final result will have too many compromises to be enjoyable to anyone. The solution is to find something that both you and the fans like without too many compromises. Creating prototypes tends to be a great strategy for managing this process because they are simpler and easier to change.

On this post, Writer’s Block, John mentioned that his favorite part about writing comics is developing the relationships between characters. While I love his jokes, it is the relationships that makes the jokes funny. I really hope that John figures out how to fix these problems so I can get back to enjoying his brilliant comics like I did before.

Posted in disruption, John Allison, literary analysis, webcomics | 4 Comments

Commentary on Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Metaethics – Fairness

I am interested in Christian Apologetics, philosophy, as well as atheist equivalents for Christian frameworks. In particular, Atheist moral frameworks are a lot of fun to read through, if just to criticize them. One of my Atheist friends suggested that I look at this series by Eliezer Yudkowsky on the Lesswrong Wiki. Lesswrong seems to have a vibrant community very willing to call out mistakes on a post and would do a decent job of peer review.

This Ethics series is called the Metaethics series and focuses on what ethics could be developed in a naturalistic universe (without a God or other Supernatural beings) or by a “friendly AI” interested in acting morally. If the premise was properly constructed and analyzed, it might even be interesting within a Christian ethical framework. Unfortunately, he seems to make a bunch of logical mistakes, all of which the commenters point out I believe. I will focus first on the low hanging fruit of logical mistakes and develop some more complex responses when I get some feedback and understand the sequence better.

For this post, I am going to focus on his concept of fairness, The Bedrock of Fairness. He frames his concept of fairness within a popular situation of dividing up a pie. Each of the participants should receive a fair slice of the pie, but they disagree over what would be a fair way to divide it up. For situations where the pie can be divided into pieces of any size (at least any size less than or equal too) the whole pie and where all the participants have equal shares in the pie, there are known solutions for handling this to the satisfaction of everyone involved.

Unfortunately, in real world circumstances, those conditions are not guaranteed. Indeed, in the example, it is not even clear what their shares in the pie are. Also, since their valuation is subjective, they run into plenty of other problems in deciding fairness in other situations.

The real problem that I see, however, is that Eliezer’s foundation of fairness is based on the wrong principles. I propose that fairness should instead be based on free exchange between parties. If both parties agree to an exchange of goods and / or services without being forced, blackmailed, or extorted, then the exchange is fair. But how does this help with the pie example?

The reason that the shares and distribution of the pie was so uncertain was that they waited until they wanted to split it before deciding how to split it. If they had agreed on a means of distribution when they acquired the pie, then they would have considered that when offering their equivalent goods in exchange. If the pie was a gift, then the party giving the gift would have probably either specified a means of distribution or assumed a common popular means would be used.

What about situations where we deal with other people without an obvious prior establishment of ownership? For instance, services are not acquired formally as property and neither is time. However, services usually are acquired through some training and most people go through some level of training throughout our lives, even if that is childhood discipline. Under my property rights fairness framework, the fair use of our time and exchange of goods and services would depend on the intent of how they were to be used when they were given to us.

This would quickly become a very complex framework if not for two principles. The first is that the parties in many of these exchanges do not care that the goods will be used fairly after the exchange. Secondly and perhaps more importantly is that higher authorities prescription for fairness override lower authorities. For instance, if a martial artist received different moral instruction from a junior student and a senior student, he should prefer the moral instruction from the senior student, unless of course an even higher authority supercedes him. This would prevent parties to an exchange from having to honor prescriptions from an exchange made with an enemy or prescriptions which were clearly bad.

From a Christian perspective, God is both the ultimate authority and everything comes from him in some way. Therefore, in any exchange, we would need to consider his prescriptions for using what he has given us so that we take care of it and act fairly with other people.

Posted in Eliezer Yudkowsky, fairness, morality, philosophy | Leave a comment

Introduction to Personalities, Relationships, and Socionics

Among my many hobbies, one of them is figuring out people’s personalities and how they compare with other friends of mine. One of the most popular personality typing systems, Meyers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), is reasonably good for this type of discussion. 

Another, much less popular system, is Socionics. It is kind of like a cousin to MBTI in that they both have 16 different personality types and the types roughly match up to each other. There are some disagreements however, and you need to be extremely careful when transitioning between the two. Socionics also has some special additions which make it especially nice for comparing personalities.

Some popular Socionics websites include:
Socionics Wiki – This is usually my first source for looking up information
Socioniko – a more difficult to use but more authoritative source of information
I will be referencing these throughout the post.

The biggest difference between MBTI and Socionics is that rather than focusing on 4 dichotomies for classifying types, Socionics focuses on just two of those dichotomies but expands their definitions. It can be defined in terms of 4 dichotomies as well, but the different approach makes it much more useful.

The original 4 MBTI dichotomies are Thinking / Feeling, Intution / Sensing, Introversion / Extroversion, and Judging / Perceiving.
Socionics, when described using 4 dichotomies has the same Thinking / FeelingIntution / SensingIntroversion / Extroversion, set, but replaces Judging / Perceiving with Rational / Irrational.
Socionics can also be described using just Thinking / Feeling and Intution / Sensing, but splits each of them into Introverted and Extroverted versions. Each of these new versions is called an Information Element. When considering a person’s personality type, they get just 2 of the new Information Elements, one from each dichotomy. Also, they can’t both be Introverted or Extroverted Information Elements. They have to be one of each. In addition to the Extroversion / Introversion dichotomy, each of the Information Elements also corresponds to one side of the Rational / Irrational dichotomy. All of the Thinking / Feeling Information Elements correspond to Rational while all of the Intuition / Sensing Information Elements correspond to Irrational.

Taking all of the possible combinations of Information Elements and following those rules gives you 8 types. However, of the two information elements that a person has, one is dominant over the other. Considering both possibilities of dominance for each combination of information elements gives you the original 16 personality types. To translate back to the original 16, you just use the Introversion / Extroversion and Rational / Irrational type of the dominant Information Element. There is a one-to-one relationship between types, so you shouldn’t get confused.

Early on, people figured out that different Information Elements relate to each other in special ways. Extroverted Thinking relates best to Extroverted Thinking and Introverted Feeling. It finds Introverted Thinking confusing and Extroverted Feeling irritable. For tasks involving cooperation, they also found out people relate best to other people with the same part of the Rational / Irrational, so that they make decisions in the same way.
Here is a better explanation of Functional Analysis of Socionics Relationships.
Note that each shape corresponds to a different half of a dichotomy and the fill type corresponds to Introversion Extroversion.

When I say relate, I mean a couple different things. These relationships work regardless of sexual attraction or romantic interest, though that can help. They work logically the same between guys and girls, but still feel different. (Or maybe that’s because of sexual attraction?) Two people with a close Socionics relationship will exchange jokes, talk more easily, and be generally more comfortable around each other.

While I will get into the specifics later, Socionics has classified each of these relationships and many of them have very distinguishing characteristics. Many of the relationships between types are equivalent, so there are 14 classified relationships. This allows you to verify the types that for people by building a network of relationships, focusing on personalities and relationships that are more clearly discernible and using them to verify other personalities and relationships. In my experience, this all works pretty well, though I need to work on it quite a bit more.

Unfortunately, figuring out your own (and other peoples) personality type can be very difficult, especially if you’re new to this. The most common method uses a series of questions, but the questions are sometimes ambiguous or people answer what they want to be, not what they are. Another method uses the Socionics relationships to narrow down the possibilities, but that takes experience. One of the most interesting methods uses celebrities as examples, and you compare yourself to them. Sometimes, it is very difficult to show a celebrities personality because people often act very differently and unnaturally under the camera or in public.

I am planning on analyzing the personalities of popular fictional characters so that people can use them as a reference. I will focus especially on comic and book characters because they come from a single author. I will also consider Cartoon, video game, and other sources for characters. These characters tend to be more expressive than people in real life, so it is easier to recognize their facial expressions. Also, there are a lot of free webcomics I can use as references.

Why is this useful? The simplest use is that it helps you understand yourself and relationships with your friends. For people interested in falling in nerdfighterlike, they can filter out potentially bad matches or recognize a very good one without ever having to go on a date.

Probably the most fun use is analyzing the relationships of the fictional characters. This can help authors make sure that their characters stay in character and have sufficient variety. You can even match characters across series or torture a character with a mildly bad but still workable relationship.

On my next Socionics post, I’ll probably focus on a personality that I already have a bunch of examples for.

Posted in personality, relationships, shipping, Socionics | Leave a comment