Deconstructing Eli: A Final Cautionary Note

From: Jeff Bone (
Date: Sun Dec 09 2001 - 13:30:24 MST

"Eliezer S. Yudkowsky" wrote:

> The problem is that ultimate physical limits are very sensitive to the
> eighteenth decimal place.


Some are, some aren't. Consider the implications of the cosmological constant.

> Alcubierre warp is "some likelihood" of (non)violation. So is Van Den
> Broeck warp. So are wormholes, and Tipler cylinders. The point is not
> that these specific methods are likely to be workable, but rather that the
> fact that modern-day physicists can even attempt to produce this plethora
> of workarounds should demonstrate that the character of the laws
> themselves may not be so absolutely mathematically inviolable as commonly
> thought; or at least such inviolability is not as obvious as commonly
> thought.

And again, there's a big difference between phenomenological and epistemological / mathematical
laws. As we dive down into the fine structure of spacetime, we find that the phenomenological and
the epistemological blur. (HUP, for example.) This is why I'm much more willing to believe that
things which work at a very large scale (e.g., GR) or in a complex fashion are much more likely to
have specific phenomenological loopholes -wrt- their implications than things which work at a very
fine scale or in a very simple fashion. Most physicists I know have no qualms at all talking
about how much more credibility they place in predictions from the Standard Model than in
predictions from GR, for instance.


I'm not saying you are incorrect about any of your assertions, just that it's sloppy to assume (as
you have above) that the availability of some speculative loopholes in some (classes of)
currently- accepted physical laws implies there will similarly significant loopholes in all
(classes of) currently- accepted physical laws.

> I don't trust human conceptions
> about "logic" because past experience has shown that the universe often
> defies our intuitive conception of logic.


(Modulo your trust in your own conceptions, of course.) Well, I think that about wraps things
up; if the results of our best efforts to use mathematical (logical) reasoning to discuss various
issues cannot be trusted simply because human conceptions of "logic" are invalid, then we're
done. I'll proceed to parse through the rest of this and bat away objections, but Eli --- you
just shot yourself in the foot -wrt- ever again having a "rational" conversation with a skeptic.
:-( And I'm not even a skeptic, I'm a believer playing devil's advocate.

> Shades of "Jupiter's moons are
> not visible to the naked eye, and therefore can have no influence on the
> earth, and therefore would be useless, and therefore do not exist", as the
> Aristotelians said to Galileo.

This is a complete red herring. It isn't even loosely analogous to anything I've said.

BTW, Aristotle lived around the mid-300s BC; Galileo's life spanned the 16th and 17th centuries.
While some of his opponents may have studied Aristotle, I doubt that many would have identified
themselves as "Aristotelians." His opponents were Church officials (in particular, Inquisitors)
and the point of view they subscribed to which Galileo ran afoul of was known as "Ptolemaic"
cosmology, not Aristotlean. But that's all splitting hairs.

> A monotonically improving model of *what*?

Observed behavior. That is, the Standard Model and other ancillary but mostly-consistent models
generate predictions that can be (and) compared with experimental observations. Scientific Method
101. The net result of this is a monotonically-increasing predictive ability from physical law,
and the accuracy of predictions in some areas is increasing at a much higher rate than accuracy of
predictions in other areas.

> Given that my own sentience

There's an assumption. ;-)

> is a product of the laws of physics, and was a
> product of the laws of physics long before humanity ever started coughing
> up physicists, I don't need to be a Platonist to assert the existence of a
> physics that predates humanity.

But you do have to be a Platonist to assert a *laws* of physics that predate humanity. Physics
itself is behavior, interaction, relations. Any one model may be better or worse than some other
model; our job as scientists is to produce and refine models that over time generate predictions
about the things that happen so that we may "understand" the universe. This process, however,
does not in any way "reify" our "laws" of physics. And only a physicist who's an admitted
Platonist will tell you otherwise. ;-)

BTW, to your corresponding earlier accusation that I'm a Platonist: feh! I don't believe that
"The Truth is Out There," as you seem to; I believe that "The Truth is In There." Let's get our
philosophical history straight: to the extent that you are a Platonist or harbor Platonist memes,
I am to a similar level an Epicurean. :-) And this kind of argument is appropriate --- indeed
traditional --- between Platonists and Epicureans.

> The sun shone for billions of years before we discovered fusion, or so the
> current evidence indicates; I don't believe that this evidence was
> retrospectively invented by the universe to cover its tracks when we
> discovered fusion. And even if the evidence was retrospectively invented,
> there would be still higher laws, governing the rules by which universes
> were brought into correspondence with explanations.

Yawn, again we're off in red herring land. Nothing I have said was intended to or should (on
critical examination) imply that I subscribe to any of the ridiculous points of view that Eli is
ascribing to me here.

> > But the only arguments you've given for long-term probability of disproof are
> > methodologically inconsistent with the arguments you've bought into elsewhere to weight the
> > probability of Singularity, as illustrated above!
> Only if you think that "Moore's Law is likely to continue for the next ten
> years" should be analogized to "no effective workaround to the second law
> of thermodynamics will be discovered over the next ten billion years".


You're having a scaling problem. You have to consider Moore's Law relative to the history of
human existance, then consider the observable implications of 2LT relative to the current age of
the universe. And BTW, I'm not speaking of Moore's Law in its strict form, I believe that in
order to justify prediction of Singularity you must, as Kurzweil does, look for a Moore's Law-like
principle operating throughout the age of humanity. Point being, normalize your scales. Point
noted for the future, when arguing with Eli be sure to be explicit about appropriate scaling
considerations. ;-)

> Yep, 180-degree opposition here... when I look at C, I hear the universe
> speaking, and it says: "There is no such thing as simultaneity; the speed
> of light isn't just a speed limit, it's built into the nature of
> causality." When I look at the second law of thermodynamics, I see an
> emergent statistical phenomenon, an effect of the laws of physics, and not
> a structuring cause of the laws of physics. Perhaps I am wrong.

And perhaps I am wrong. I'm not an opponent of GR --- I think it's a great theory at appropriate
scales --- I just think it's much more likely to have loopholes than "bottom-up" theories.

> But
> unless you have a physics degree you've been concealing, and I'm pretty
> sure you would have mentioned it by now, both of us are simply listing
> which laws of physics we like and dislike based on their character...
> rather a silly activity, really.

ELI DROPS THE BALL #5, #6, #7:

Now really, Eli. You of all people should know that it doesn't take a degree to make significant
advances in a field --- which we are certainly not doing here ;-) --- or even fruitfully discuss a
topic intelligenty. I *REALLY* don't think you want to make *that* argument on pain of hypocrisy.

Second, this is another good example of failed reasoning. You assume --- perhaps because
introspection reveals that this is true of you --- that we are both selecting and listing laws
base on some preferential subjective criteria. Your selection criteria need not be mine. I.e.

"Jeff doesn't have a physics degree" --> both of us are simply listing favorite laws

doesn't make sense on many dimensions. Why should my degree or lack thereof effect the process by
which *you* are engaging in this discussion? Why should it impact *my* criteria? Is the
implication that only a degreed person can have selection criteria other than an apparently
baseless emotional "like" or "dislike?" Etc. etc. etc. Muddy thinking, wrapped up with a pat
value judgement intended to devalue the whole endeavor: "rather a silly activity, really."

> > Here's a gedankenexperiment. If we were to decide between the two following scenarios,
> > which would we choose: a Friendly SI and successors that or capable of carrying the
> > entirety of pre-Singularity humanity for the next 10^20 years in idyllic bliss but unable to
> > escape some eventual catastrophe (due to resource allocations on achieving individual
> > satisfaction vs. other considerations which ensure longevity and security) or a Friendly SI
> > and successors that are capable of eventually building a post-Human society that experiences
> > subjective infinite time, at the cost of some (perhaps large) amount of involuntary pain,
> > suffering, or termination for some (perhaps large) portion of immediately pre-Singularity
> > humanity? I don't know which is preferable, and I have no bias one way or the other ---
> > though I think the conversation is definitely worth having. ? I indeed believe that the
> > choices we make now can impact such things; the "moral" bias we provide to the first AIs is
> > very likely to determine which outcomes are possible.
> If it's a decision predicated on the truth of physical law, then what a
> Friendly AI requires is the ability to make the correct decision based on
> the truth as known to it at that time.


But herein lies the handwaving. That's tautological. "What's needed for the Friendly to make the
correct decision is the ability to make the correct decision based on what is known at the time."
Well tell me something I didn't know, Plato, that isn't specific to "Friendly" *or* "artificial"
intelligence. And here's the problem: "The Friendly can only make the decision based on what is
known at the time, and as I have asserted it's foolhardy to speculate about cosmological
eschatology at this time since we are obviously too stupid to have any durable models of the
universe that are likely to be accurate enough at that time-distance to inform present
decisions." Implication: it's therefore very unlikely that the Friendly can make a correct
decision. Yet we *might* (p > 0) be forcing the issue by some definition of Friendly or other.

> Even if you argue that our current model of
> physics will affect how we now make moral decisions that establish basic
> values (supergoals) which are then not dependent on physics, a Friendly AI
> with causal validity semantics would probably re-model the moral decision
> we would have made at this point as if we had had accurate knowledge of
> physics.

Explain the implications of the latter.

> > I'm not accusing you of that. I'm merely pointing out that it's very hard for humans to
> > accurately assess their priors and reason about things in a manner divorced from sentiment.
> I agree, it's very hard. But you have provided no evidence supporting the
> assertion that I am guilty of this flaw in any of the specific cases in
> question;

Well, okay then. After the first pass through this, I went back through the message and found
some representative examples of broken reasoning process, numbers 1-8 above. It's true that most
of them appear to be simple mistakes in reasoning rather than issues with priors or sentiment.
However, I know you to be someone who values and strives for rigor, and therefore I conclude that
it's likely that the issue isn't an inability to be rigorous but an impact on this ability due to
sentiment or emotional attachment to certain priors, clouding the ability to build a rigorous
argument in those contexts. Let's review the specific instances:

[1] Overly aggressive inductive argument, trivially invalidated by counterexample.
[2] Quantifier problem, invalid deduction.
[3] Eli throws logic out the window, rendering "rational discourse" untenable.
[4] Scaling problem.
[5] Probable hypocrisy.
[6] Invalid deduction.
[7] Unsupportable induction.
[8] Tautological argument.

And by the way, I have NO DOUBT that you could find EVEN MORE of these by dissecting one of my own
messages. That's not the point. ;-) ALL of us make similar mistakes all the time, and probably
at a much higher frequency than you do. But given that the entire future history of human-
originated intelligence *potentially* hangs in the balance -wrt- the validity of your reasoning
-wrt- the choices you make in creating "Friendliness," I'd say we all have a vested interest in
that validity. :-) "Twice as good" isn't good enough if better than that is possible, and *any*
tendency to discard, ignore, or wish away considerations from the best reasoning tools we have
(i.e., formal logic, etc.) is something of a concern. (If you read that last sentence carefully,
you'll note the sincere compliment: I assume that significantly better than twice as good as
average is possible and accessible to you.)

> It is an ad hominem. Just not an arbitrarily chosen, one-size-fits-all ad
> hominem. The phenomenon I'm referring to is the one where somebody
> says... "Hm... he thinks Y, which I don't like... he must believe this
> because he's an X. And if he's an X, he must also believe silly ideas A,
> B, and C. Boy, ABC sure are silly! That sure confirms he's an X! What a
> silly guy!" Meanwhile, I'm standing in some totally other corner of state
> space, metaphorically waving my arms and shouting: "I'm over here!"

I think you just described the phenomonology of your interaction with me, not the other way
around, pardner. :-)

> Asked for evidence for any of your assertions about flaws in my thinking,
> you point not to things I have said, but to things you think I might say,

This statement wasn't true before, and it's not true now: see above.

> generally with some statement along the lines of "You've said Y, which I
> suppose is logical, but Y is only a short distance from X, which is
> unacceptable..."

Apparently you don't believe in inductive logic in particular, and are suspicious of logical and
formal reasoning in general? That can't be true; as I've pointed out above, you've used
inductive reasoning in your own discourse, and sometimes poorly.

I'll go back to lurk mode for a while: while apparently the wampeter is open to such discussion,
it apparently makes the rest of the natives nasty and restless.


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