2018 Review Discussion

[Link]Realism about rationality
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Epistemic status: trying to vaguely gesture at vague intuitions. A similar idea was explored here under the heading "the intelligibility of intelligence", although I hadn't seen it before writing this post.

There’s a mindset which is common in the rationalist community, which I call “realism about rationality” (the name being intended as a parallel to moral realism). I feel like my skepticism about agent foundations research is closely tied to my skepticism about this mindset, and so in this essay I try to articulate what it is.

Humans ascribe properties to e... (Read more)

4DanielFilan6hReviewI think it was important to have something like this post exist. However, I now think it's not fit for purpose. In this discussion thread [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/suxvE2ddnYMPJN9HD/realism-about-rationality#84BeiNaGyEgWckQrq] , rohinmshah, abramdemski and I end up spilling a lot of ink about a disagreement that ended up being at least partially because we took 'realism about rationality' to mean different things. rohinmshah thought that irrealism would mean that the theory of rationality was about as real as the theory of liberalism, abramdemski thought that irrealism would mean that the theory of rationality would be about as real as the theory of population genetics, and I leaned towards rohinmshah's position but also thought that it referred to something more akin to a mood than a proposition. I think that a better post would distinguish these three types of 'realism' and their consequences. However, I'm glad that this post sparked enough conversation for the better post to become real.
1DanielFilan6hFor what it's worth, I think I disagree with this even when "non-real" means "as real as the theory of liberalism". One example is companies - my understanding is that people have fake theories about how companies should be arranged, that these theories can be better or worse (and evaluated as so without looking at how their implementations turn out), that one can maybe learn these theories in business school, and that implementing them creates more valuable companies (at least in expectation). At the very least, my understanding is that providing management advice to companies in developing countries significantly raises their productivity, and found this study [https://www.nber.org/papers/w16658] to support this half-baked memory. (next paragraph is super political, but it's important to my point) I live in what I honestly, straightforwardly believe is the greatest country in the world [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States] (where greatness doesn't exactly mean 'moral goodness' but does imply the ability to support moral goodness - think some combination of wealth and geo-strategic dominance), whose government was founded after a long series of discussions about how best to use the state to secure individual liberty. If I think about other wealthy countries, it seems to me that ones whose governments built upon this tradition of the interaction between liberty and governance are over-represented (e.g. Switzerland, Singapore, Hong Kong). The theory of liberalism wasn't complete or real enough to build a perfect government, or even a government reliable enough to keep to its founding principles (see complaints American constitutionalists have about how things are done today), but it was something that can be built upon. At any rate, I think it's the case that the things that can be built off of these fake theories aren't reliable enough to satisfy a strict Yudkowsky-style security mindset [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/8gqrbnW758qjHFTrH/security-mindset-
2Rohin Shah3hOn the model proposed in this comment [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/suxvE2ddnYMPJN9HD/realism-about-rationality#YMNwHcPNPd4pDK7MR] , I think of these as examples of using things / abstractions / theories with imprecise predictions to reason about things that are "directly relevant". If I agreed with the political example (and while I wouldn't say that myself, it's within the realm of plausibility), I'd consider that a particularly impressive version of this.

I'm confused how my examples don't count as 'building on' the relevant theories - it sure seems like people reasoned in the relevant theories and then built things in the real world based on the results of that reasoning, and if that's true (and if the things in the real world actually successfully fulfilled their purpose), then I'd think that spending time and effort developing the relevant theories was worth it. This argument has some weak points (the US government is not highly reliable at preserving liberty, very few individual businesses are highly re

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