BloggingHeads Hanson & Wilkinson

My BloggingHeads discussion with Will Wilkinson was posted today.  We talked about overcoming bias, cryonics, social status, self-deception, disagreement, and more.  I obviously need a better camera setup and more reliable phone line.  Oddly I guess, an hour seems a short time to talk – I could enjoy going on like that for a whole day.

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  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    Very interesting. I think you’re the public intellectual whose public thinking is most similar to my (private) own.
    1. I recommend you do this weekly, for overcomingbias, and put it on youtube. Discussions with whoever you want to interview, for at least 40 minutes, taking live questions (for example through IM) and put it on youtube. The overall fresh weekly video and audio content of this quality is still surprisingly rare.

  • Tim Tyler

    Using video is great – thanks for the effort. My 2p:

    4 times out of 5 when I see the “rationists should not knowingly disagree” point being made, too little is made of the fact that they might have different priors – this time was no exception.

    Robin – in common with many other transhumanists – seems irationally interested in personal immortality to me. Many people in the community seem to identify with their brains – instead of their genes. This type of thing would not be favoured by evolution. Evolution would predict that organisms give their material resources to their offspring or relatives on their death – and not waste them on brain-pickling schemes. This is in fact what most people do. So, why does Robin think this behaviour is puzzling? – and what goals cause him to behave differently?

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Tim, visit a hospital, find some eighty year olds, and ask them if they wouldn’t rather die and leave resources to their offspring, instead of spending so much on that hospital visit.

  • eric falkenstein

    Bloggingheads.tv is great when you are doing computer busy work. Very enjoyable.

    I have some questions, which you might have answered:
    1) I thought the intracellular damage from frozen water makes the current method of freezing tissue not effective. Basically, most of the cells rupture.
    2) What do you think of the Aragones et al piece “Fact Free Learning’ (AER, downloadable here http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=460203), as an explanation of why one can rationally agree to disagree? They say there are basically too many potential theories operative, to really reverse engineer the crux of the disagreement.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Eric, if one hopes for uploading, one needs only hope that the relevant structural info is preserved, not that the system will simply self-boot upon warming. And look here for compute limits and disagreement.

  • http://michaelgr.com/ M756738463

    “Robin – in common with many other transhumanists – seems irationally interested in personal immortality to me. Many people in the community seem to identify with their brains – instead of their genes.”

    As Dawkins would say, natural selection is an explanation of how nature works. It doesn’t mean that we should construct human society on its principles (in fact, most people are clearly against social darwinism).

    We are something different from our genes, and there’s nothing irrational about caring about our own well-being and survival.

    Aubrey de Grey hits it right on when he says that as long as people think that death caused by aging is inevitable, they’ll find ways to rationalize it as a “good” or “desirable” thing. As soon as we can show that it doesn’t have to be inevitable, people will realize that the downsides to immortality are way smaller than the downsides caused by all the suffering of aging. We’re already living WAY longer than people a few centuries ago, and rare are those who say it’s a bad thing. Even if you live 1,000 years, you still live it one day at a time, and if on that day you are healthy and reasonably happy, you’ll want to wake up the next day. I doubt even 2,000-year olds will wish for debilitating disease.

  • Person

    Tim,

    I would say that evolution predicts both the passing of material possessions and “brain-pickling schemes.” During a person’s life time up until their death, there is a constant transmission of personally held memes that get passed on to their offspring.

  • http://www.allancrossman.com Allan Crossman

    Tim, I don’t know if you’re actually arguing that it’s rational to care about the survival of our genes. If you are, I heartily recommend The Robot’s Rebellion by Keith Stanovich.

    Accepting things like evolutionary psychology does not mean that we should just go along with the drives our genes give us. Sometimes what’s good for our genes and what’s good for us are at odds. I think it was Dawkins who said “tell your genes to go jump in a lake.”

    (But forgive me if I’ve misread your intended meaning.)

    Evolution would predict that organisms give their material resources to their offspring or relatives on their death – and not waste them on brain-pickling schemes.

    I don’t see that it would. In the environment of evolutionary adaptedness, your possessions would naturally pass to your spouse or family, wouldn’t they? Evolution wouldn’t need to give you a conscious desire to make this happen, would it?

  • Tim Tyler

    Re: Tim, visit a hospital, find some eighty year olds, and ask them if they wouldn’t rather die and leave resources to their offspring, instead of spending so much on that hospital visit.

    A biased sample – those people have already decided to go to the hospital. There are other sick elderly people out there – who think that their time has come, that they are a burden on their relatives and loved ones, and who just want death to make a clean job of it. Those people are less likely to be found around those medical professionals whose job is to draw things out.

    Re: Richard Dawkins‘ proposed rebellion:

    Dawkins may say: “We alone on earth have the power to rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators” and “if selfish genes are Frankensteins and all life is their monster, it is only we that can complete the fable by turning against our creators”, but his personal rebellion is rather subdued – witness: Juliet Emma Dawkins.

    Re: what is rational behaviour – it is rational to behave rationally in the service of your goals. Rationality is not concerned with what those goals are – that’s a different issue.

  • Unknown

    Tim Tyler: “his personal rebellion is rather subdued”

    That may be, but some of us are in total rebellion.

  • Tim Tyler

    Re: “The Robot’s Rebellion” – I’m unimpressed. It’s more “horror” at nature a-la Dawkins. I do not find Darwinism horrifying, and simply claiming that it is is hardly going to convince me. If Keith Stanovich wants to be indifferent to the fate of his genes, though, that’s fine with me.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/simon112/ simon

    Towards the end Robin said that disagreements are associated with different estimated probabilities. I think this may not be all that generally true.

    As I’ve pointed out before, it seems people usually argue in order to move the listener’s opinion in the “right” direction rather than to give the listener as accurate as possible a picture of the speaker’s views. But which way is the “right” direction? Since all parties involved are doing the same thing, the speaker doesn’t know what the listener’s probability estimate is and can’t choose the direction based on that. The speaker might instead use:

    1. What direction the listener seems to support (this would help explain why people tend to seem to have “binary” views)

    2. What actions the listener seems to support among the actions whose desirability is affected by the dispute in question

    3. Directions supported on related questions

    4. This is pretty much off the top of my head, so you can probably think of more

    Anyway, in situations where #2 is important, different people with the same probability estimates might argue in different directions based on different moral opinions on the desirability of the actions.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Simon I agree discussants often do not try to give listeners as accurate as possible a picture of the speaker’s views. But I don’t see how this contradicts my claim that when people perceive a disagreement, we can describe that via a probability between their views.

    Tim, most sick eighty year olds do use expensive hospitals, but only one in a million folks on Earth has signed up for cryonics. This difference is the puzzle I pondered.

  • http://www.allancrossman.com Allan Crossman

    I do not find Darwinism horrifying, and simply claiming that it is is hardly going to convince me. If Keith Stanovich wants to be indifferent to the fate of his genes, though, that’s fine with me.

    The question is, why would you be anything other than indifferent? What possible reason can you have to care about the fate of these little sequences of nucleotides?

  • http://michaelgr.com/ M347653

    “A biased sample – those people have already decided to go to the hospital. There are other sick elderly people out there – who think that their time has come, that they are a burden on their relatives and loved ones, and who just want death to make a clean job of it. Those people are less likely to be found around those medical professionals whose job is to draw things out.”

    Yes, but if they weren’t frail and decrepit, would they still think “their time has come”? How many people who are in good health and have bodies like 30-year olds think “their time has come”? The only thing that makes people think that aging is good is because they think it’s inevitable, and the only reason people who are old would want to die is because their bodies and minds are failing them. There’s no such thing as a person in good health who dies of old age simply because the clock runs out; it’s always your body failing you.

    That’s the whole point of curing aging. Decoupling old age from senescence and frailty.

    If the fight against aging was about an “eternal” life of living like a 80-year person lives right now, nobody would be interested.

  • http://paleohawk.wordpress.com dontlikewill

    “Goddammit”. I’d rather just have Robin Hanson talking by himself. Will Wilkinson gets on my nerves. A lot.

  • Tim Tyler

    Re: why do lots of sick eighty year olds use expensive hospitals, while only a few signed up for cryonics.

    I’ve given my resoning for few cryonics sign-ups. Why do old people spend money on expensive hospitals, rather than giving it to their relatives (assuming an inclusive fitness argument suggests that)? Probably many reasons: they are in the habit of surviving, and don’t know when it’s time to quit; they are old, and poorly equiped for making complex decisions; they are sick, and may not be behaving rationally; they are facing a situation which they are unfamiliar with, and so get confused; their genetic program gives them little guidance – because few of their ancesors died rich. Probably other reasons, also.

    Re: why care about preserving your genes – it’s an odd question. Because they built you to do that. Because that’s what all life does. Because a failure to do so means you are helping to map out the space of failed organisms, not the space of successful ones. Because few creatures want to see their potentially-immortal essences ground into the dust.

    Re: curing agingaging is not a disease. IMO, what we need to do is to create a hardware/software divide in organisms. Attempts to fix human aging strike me as a misguided waste of energy. But let’s not discuss “curing aging” here: that’s not a topic in Robin’s diavlog.

  • http://vox-nova.com Blackadder

    Towards the beginning of the diavlog, Prof. Hanson says something along the lines that if people were not biased they would never knowingly disagree. At the risk of revealing my ignorance on the subject, could someone explain why this is supposed to be so?

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    dontlike, to shine I really need a conversation partner.

    Black, start here.

  • http://michaelgr.com/ M2376534534

    “aging is not a disease.”

    Aging is the accumulation of metabolic damage which, over a certain threshold, causes pathologies. Diseases.

    If you fix that damage before it reaches that threshold, the pathologies won’t appear. You cure those diseases.

    Not so long ago, all humans died before those particular diseases could kill us, because other things killed us first. If you think aging is a good thing, why don’t you think those other things that killed us in our 20s and 30s were good things? And why isn’t it a bad thing for us to have overcome those?

    Now you can define “disease” in a way that excludes all that, I don’t care. Point is, aging is ghastly, causes suffering in the people who age and their loved ones, and wastes tremendous human potential. People should have a choice; if like you they think it’s fine, no prob. Don’t us the anti-aging therapies. But others like me will.

    Those interested in the subject should check Aubrey de Grey’s TED Talk, and if that piques their curiosity, get his book “Ending Aging”. Then make up your own mind after having read the arguments against aging.

  • kevin

    @Tim Tyler:

    Your justification for aging as adaptive is based on group selection, which as dawkins and others have pointed out, is very weak effect, since selfish individuals (so long as they can reproduce) will always subvert the group.

    Non-reproducing entities like infertile ants and bees can be adaptively altruistic since they are infertile and they protect their genes by serving the reproducing entities. (queen and drones)

  • Tim Tyler | http://timtyler.org/

    Re: Your justification for aging as adaptive is based on group selection

    That is not true – see the section of the essay starting:

    Antagonistic pleiotropy suggests that failure to turn off developmental processes may be partially responsible for senescence.

    The widely-accepted disposable soma theory suggests that aging is the result of an economic tradeoff between maintenance and reproduction. Maintenance processes are actively downregulated in favour of reproductive ones, due to their associated economic costs.

  • Recovering irrationalist

    What would be really interesting is a head-to-head like this between Robin and Eliezer, debating their major rationalist disagreements (such as disagreement between rationalists).

  • http://www.allancrossman.com Allan Crossman

    Re: why care about preserving your genes – it’s an odd question. Because they built you to do that. Because that’s what all life does. Because a failure to do so means you are helping to map out the space of failed organisms, not the space of successful ones. Because few creatures want to see their potentially-immortal essences ground into the dust.

    I find this attitude bizarre. Your genes aren’t you. Having offspring doesn’t make you immortal.

  • http://www.allancrossman.com Allan Crossman

    I think this is quite important, so I want to examine your reasons to care about preserving your genes, one by one:

    1. Because they built you to do that.

    This makes it sound like you’ve no choice in the matter, as if you had an innate instinct to preserve them. But there’s no such instinct. There are instead various proxy instincts like surviving, eating, finding a mate, and so on.

    You can’t avoid having those proxy instincts, but making the leap to explicitly caring about your genes can only be a conscious choice.

    2. Because that’s what all life does.

    Why should you care about what all life does? You’re not obligated to do what other members of your class of entity are doing.

    3. Because a failure to do so means you are helping to map out the space of failed organisms, not the space of successful ones.

    This sounds like a strange sort of pride: if I don’t reproduce my DNA then I will have “failed” as a life form. But so what? This failure doesn’t affect me.

    4. Because few creatures want to see their potentially-immortal essences ground into the dust.

    It’s odd to see your genes as your “immortal essence” when so much of who you are is not innate but learnt, and when so much of what is innate is shared among all humans.

    If there’s a potentially immortal essence it’s the mind, but the only hope for preserving it is in the sort of technology that transhumanists are hopeful about.

  • josh

    I like Will Wilkinson, but I’d like to see a Robin Hanson and Tyler Cowen talking heads.

  • http://michaelgr.com Michael G.R.

    “What would be really interesting is a head-to-head like this between Robin and Eliezer,”

    I would like to second that. It doesn’t even need to be a debate. I’m sure just a chat would lead to interesting places.

  • Tim Tyler

    Re: I want to examine your reasons to care about preserving your genes, one by one

    Right. But the comments to Robin’s blog post are not really a good place. I have an essay on the topic. At least one of your questions is answered in its associated FAQ. Have you perused that?

    Re: Adaptation-Executers, not Fitness-Maximizers

    Have you read my comments to that blog post? If you have any criticism of them, perhaps present it there? Otherwise I am not clear on the point of citing it.

    Re: If there’s a potentially immortal essence it’s the mind

    Genetic information has lasted pretty well so far. Some may survive for extended periods yet. No mind has ever lasted more than a few hundred years.

    Re: the only hope for preserving it is in the sort of technology that transhumanists are hopeful about.

    Right – good luck with that. I give low odds of success for any individual human. IMHO, most of the information in the brains of most living humans that can’t escape via their mouth or fingers is extremely likely to die with them.

  • http://www.allancrossman.com Allan Crossman

    Yeah, I’m happy to continue the discussion on the other thread. One thing:

    [Allan]: If there’s a potentially immortal essence it’s the mind

    [Tim]: Genetic information has lasted pretty well so far.

    I meant an immortal essence of you. Your genes are “immortal” in a sense, but I don’t consider them the essence of you.

  • Tim Tyler

    I don’t consider my brain to be the “essence” of me. I do not think that I am my mind. Rather, my mind is a tool constructed by my genes to deal with variable environments.

    If the environment didn’t vary behaviour could be hard-wired in – and there would be no need or room for the mistakes of a trial-and-error-based learning system.

    If it is working correctly, the brain can be expected to compensate for unusual aspects of the environment, and still promote the underlying interests of the genes that constructed it – since its primary function in living systems is to do exactly that.

    As potentially-immortal essences go, the brain has pretty poor potential. The scope of the engineering project required to allow it to live forever is enormous – and it is not clear why people would devote much in the way of funds to it once we have AI.

    What do qualify as potentially-immortal essences are ideas. Most of these are not bound up with brains. They can already replicate themselves independently of the minds that originated them – and appear to be doing so in enormous numbers.

  • http://acceleratingfuture.com/steven steven

    I think online chat (IRC or similar) would be the ideal medium for this sort of thing. They used to do that at imminst.org, but that was with everyone talking to one guest instead of two guests talking to each other.