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Posts Tagged ‘Eliezer Yudkowsky’

Newness

Eliezer has an unusual suggestion on how to spend New Year’s Day.

Sometime in the next week – January 1st if you have that available, or maybe January 3rd or 4th if the weekend is more convenient – I suggest you hold a New Day, where you don’t do anything old.

Don’t read any book you’ve read before.  Don’t read any author you’ve read before.  Don’t visit any website you’ve visited before.  Don’t play any game you’ve played before.  Don’t listen to familiar music that you already know you’ll like.  If you go on a walk, walk along a new path even if you have to drive to a different part of the city for your walk.  Don’t go to any restaurant you’ve been to before, order a dish that you haven’t had before.  Talk to new people (even if you have to find them in an IRC channel) about something you don’t spend much time discussing.

And most of all, if you become aware of yourself musing on any thought you’ve thunk before, then muse on something else.  Rehearse no old grievances, replay no old fantasies.

If it works, you could make it a holiday tradition, and do it every New Year.

I think it is a beautiful idea.

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Eliezer Yudkowsky writes:

One of the major surprises I received when I moved out of childhood into the real world, was the degree to which the world is stratified by genuine competence.

Now, yes, Steve Jurvetson is not just a randomly selected big-name venture capitalist.  He is a big-name VC who often shows up at transhumanist conferences.  But I am not drawing a line through just one data point.

I was invited once to a gathering of the mid-level power elite, where around half the attendees were “CEO of something” – mostly technology companies, but occasionally “something” was a public company or a sizable hedge fund.  I was expecting to be the youngest person there, but it turned out that my age wasn’t unusual – there were several accomplished individuals who were younger.  This was the point at which I realized that my child prodigy license had officially completely expired.

Now, admittedly, this was a closed conference run by people clueful enough to think “Let’s invite Eliezer Yudkowsky” even though I’m not a CEO.  So this was an incredibly cherry-picked sample.  Even so…

Even so, these people of the Power Elite were visibly much smarter than average mortals. In conversation they spoke quickly, sensibly, and by and large intelligently. When talk turned to deep and difficult topics, they understood faster, made fewer mistakes, were readier to adopt others’ suggestions.

No, even worse than that, much worse than that: these CEOs and CTOs and hedge-fund traders, these folk of the mid-level power elite, seemed happier and more alive.

This, I suspect, is one of those truths so horrible that you can’t talk about it in public.  This is something that reporters must not write about, when they visit gatherings of the power elite.

Because the last news your readers want to hear, is that this person who is wealthier than you, is also smarter, happier, and not a bad person morally.  Your reader would much rather read about how these folks are overworked to the bone or suffering from existential ennui.  Failing that, your readers want to hear how the upper echelons got there by cheating, or at least smarming their way to the top.  If you said anything as hideous as, “They seem more alive,” you’d get lynched.

Worth quoting, I think, especially in an era where much redistributionist logic stems from an assumption that money and ability have little relation.

We all have different goals in life, and some, like I, choose to do something out of love or reverence and perhaps a shot at greatness. In doing so, we often renounce the opportunity of doing something else that might have led to more money. However, it is important that we do not confuse this voluntary decision with some sort of moral superiority. There is nothing wrong with the fact that people with more money have better healthcare, better food, better recreation and better opportunities in life. Money may not be a perfect denomination, but it is the best that exists. And there is nothing more important, in these troubled days, to reaffirm the morality of a world that deals in it and rewards some more than others.

Let me end this post with an excerpt from a glorious passage by Ayn Rand, who expresses this idea more eloquently than I ever can.

To the glory of mankind, there was, for the first and only time in history, a COUNTRY OF MONEY—and I have no higher, more reverent tribute to pay to America, for this means: a country of reason, justice, freedom, production, achievement. For the first time, man’s mind and money were set free, and there were no fortunes-by-conquest, but only fortunes-by-work, and instead of swordsmen and slaves, there appeared the real maker of wealth, the greatest worker, the highest type of human being—the self-made man—the American industrialist.

If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose—because it contains all the others—the fact that they were the people who created the phrase ‘to MAKE money.’ No other language or nation had ever used these words before; men had always thought of wealth as a static quantity—to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted, or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created. The words ‘to make money’ hold the essence of human morality.

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“Once upon a time, there was a man who was convinced that he possessed a Great Idea.  Indeed, as the man thought upon the Great Idea more and more, he realized that it was not just a great idea, but the most wonderful idea ever. The Great Idea would unravel the mysteries of the universe, supersede the authority of the corrupt and error-ridden Establishment, confer nigh-magical powers upon its wielders, feed the hungry, heal the sick, make the whole world a better place, etc. etc. etc.

The man was Francis Bacon, his Great Idea was the scientific method, and he was the only crackpot in all history to claim that level of benefit to humanity and turn out to be completely right.”

Eliezer Yudkowsky

(Hat Tip: Sudeep Kamath)

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The posts on this blog are mostly socio-political commentary from a libertarian perspective which might lead regular readers (if any exist) to falsely conclude… 

It is almost 2 am now. Having spent the last two hours reading old posts on “Overcoming Bias” and other excellent blogs (some of which, like this one, I just discovered), I am fatigued. Yes, those things are important. Yet, if I were to make an informed guess, I’d predict that my degree of passion for political matters will one day become similar to those of EY who writes:

I started my career as a libertarian, and gradually became less political as I realized that (a) my opinions would end up making no difference to policy and (b) I had other fish to fry.

…that my biggest fish are reflected by what I blog about. But people are mortal, all political theories imperfect, all systems of government temporary. Isn’t is obvious then that math is of far greater value? 

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Earlier today, Eliezer Yudkowski wrote the final post of his long series of articles on the nature of morality which I had blogged about here.

Eliezer’s basic point, which I agree with, is that morality is subjectively objective. For more, go over to his blog. Be warned though, it will require time and effort.

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“The (top-billed) Libertarians are wrong, just like everyone else, but they are wrong in the right direction to correct several major problems.  When the country becomes too deregulated, I’ll let you know.”

 — Eliezer Yudkowsky

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Is morality just codified human preference? Or is it given and absolute? How are our notions of right and wrong related to our evolved psychology and semantics?

These are some of the difficult questions Eliezer Yudkowsky tackles in a series of posts that I feel compelled to link to. So, here they are. Do read them in the same order.

The articles are long and the arguments presented in the form of dialogues. Thus the reading takes some effort, which, however is amply rewarded. I should add Yudkowsky’s disclaimer that his own position on the matter is not represented by any of the parties depicted in these articles but will be elaborated in a follow-up post. 

It is probably fair to say that the linked articles contain no new revelations (at least none that I haven’t myself derived). However their greatness lies in the way the central arguments and rebuttals have been crystallised, presented and clarified. Looking forward to the next one!

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