Where do I disagree with Robin Hanson?

by on August 4, 2007 at 7:12 am in Philosophy | Permalink

This one is long enough and idiosyncratic enough to go under the fold...

A few days Robin wrote in the comments:

As you well know, I am sensitive to the fact that on facts people disagree too easily, and so I try to disagree reluctantly if at all. But this doesn’t apply to disagreements about styles or personal values. So I accept that we have different styles and place a differing value on overcoming bias. But if there are factual disagreements central to the position of mine you see yourself rebutting, then I would love to see those stated as clearly as possible. I won’t limit your word budget.

For background here is Robin’s home page

Of a randomly chosen three hundred persons, I am probably closer to Robin’s views than anyone else in the group.  It is also common at lunch that he and I gang up together on Bryan and Alex (can you guess on which issues?).  And I’m already on record as citing Robin as one of the most important thinkers of our day; keep that in mind throughout this discussion.  But we have many differences.  Here’s a non-exclusive list of my disagreements with Robin:

1. I see the chance of people becoming uploads — even within centuries — as less than one percent.  Apart from the technical issues (ever get a flat tire?), I think it is easier to graft greater intelligence and computational abilities onto already-existing biological beings.

2. I don’t think that futarchy — using betting markets to shape government policy — can succeed on anything but a very partial basis.  I stress the expressive function of democracy, and its ability to maintain public morale and cohesion, rather than the computational abilities of the system to find and implement the best policies.  I would bet against the future of futarchy, or its likelihood of succeeding were it in place.  Robin says "vote on values, bet on beliefs," but I don’t think values and beliefs can be so easily separated.

3. Robin is much more attached to the fact-value dichotomy than I am, and he is also more attached to seeing facts and theories, or facts and frameworks, as logically separable.  Robin therefore believes all meaningful claims can be stated very precisely in terms of basic facts.  This is his logical atomism.  Reread the comment from Robin at the top.  He suggests that our most important differences are simply those of "style," as though he might like frilly hats and I might carry a purse.

4. I see "overcoming laziness" or "overcoming fear" or even "overcoming inadequate love of Sichuan chili peppers" as often a more important problem than "overcoming bias."  Bias is one fault of many, and I believe Robin’s dislike of bias is indeed biased, more aesthetic than pragmatic.  Robin seems to admit this (above), but he is mentally downgrading this as a mere difference in tastes.  In reality the difference reflects our very distinct analytical engines; mine is more pluralistic.

5. Robin wrote: "If your head is cryogenically frozen today, you will be alive in 2100."  [In fairness to Robin he only seems to assign this sentence a truth probability of 5/14, under one reading of his presentation.]  I assign this a "p" of under one in ten thousand, basically for the reasons that a stupid person would give.

6. Robin thinks we could privatize all law; I don’t.  I believe some public goods require government provision and I think libertarian anarchy would devolve into either chaos or oppressive mafias.

7. Robin believes in the "many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics."  I don’t reject the possibility but I’ll accept the estimate of the professional community of the relevant experts and not raise my "p" or betting odds any higher than that.

Robin frequently and correctly asks disagreeing others to boil down disagreements to their fundamentals.  I would describe this difference as possible:

"Robin is very fond on powerful theories which invoke a very small number of basic elements and give those elements great force.  He likes to focus on one very central mechanism in seeking an explanation or developing policy advice.  Modern physics and Darwin hold too strong a sway in his underlying mental models.  He is also very fond of hypotheses involving the idea of a great transformation sometime in the future, and these transformations are often driven by the mechanism he has in mind.  I tend to see good social science explanations or proposals as intrinsically messy and complex and involving many different perspectives, not all of which can be reduced to a single common framework.  I know that many of my claims sound vague to Robin’s logical atomism, but I believe that, given our current state of knowledge, Robin is seeking a false precision and he is sometimes missing out on an important multiplicity of perspectives.  Many of his views should be more cautious."

8. I believe Robin does not agree that is the main difference between us.

Addendum: Here is Robin’s response.

Jacob Tomaw August 4, 2007 at 7:33 am

Is there a specific paper, article, or book where you address private law?

michael vassar August 4, 2007 at 8:16 am

Tyler:
1) Is that your probability prior before or after updating in response to Robin’s opinion? Also, does “even within centuries” equal “ever”? Is “centuries” longer or shorter than 50 years of the “accelerating change” that Kurzweil et. al believe in or 20 years of the “next growth mode” that Robin believes in?
2) Do you think that futarchy might be a good idea in some other culture if it isn’t in this one? Do you think that it could coordinate the actions of a large number of small democracies more effectively than, say, the current EU bureaucracy does?
3) As per recent Overcoming Bias threads, would using the term “anticipations” replacing “facts” help to reconcile you here?
4) I really really REALLY think that you disagree with not just Robin on this, but Brian Caplan as well. Also with, well, everyone who thinks that fundamentalist religion is a big problem, that communism was a big problem, etc. OTOH, if you mean with regard to one’s personal life satisfaction it may depend upon ones ambitions. I can at least agree that one would be better off being in the least biased 25% and in the least lazy 5% of the population than vice-versa, but I also think that you would be better off being in the least lazy 5% and the least biased 1% of the population than vice-versa. Fear seems to be deeply entangled with bias in most cases. I have no doubt at all that shifting the level of bias in society even a few percent is more personally valuable than shifting the laziness any amount
5) I would be skeptical of reasons that stupid people give in conflicts of opinion with smart people, even more than I would be skeptical of the stupid people’s conclusions. 5/14 seems like an excessively high probability to me, but I don’t think that you can rationally disagree about a concrete and easily testible empirical matter with a very smart person like Robin who knows more than you about a field than you do with a probability of 99.99%, or even 95%, without accusing them of some particular cognitive error. When you notice that an opinion correlates more strongly with intelligence as casually observed than any wrong opinion you can think of has since the Ether this is even more blatantly the case. When you then note that even a .001% chance that Robin is right would make it rational for you to do something socially abnormal by any plausible expected utility definition and discount rate you have REALLY good reason to suspect that the serious bias is on your end.
6) Might this depend upon the culture again? Russians seem likely to produce chaos and oppressive maffias with any system you give them, Swedes, maybe not so much.
7 and 8) I agree with you completely on this.

I’m slightly surprised that you didn’t bring up your essay about “how utopian should you be”. It seems to me that important unspoken disagreements (maybe not between you and Robin) may sometimes regard what sort of variables in a model can sensibly be taken as independent variables and what sorts are best taken as dependent variables.

I think that this type of disagreement is closely related to what Eliezer Yudkowsky calls “shock level”.

Michael Foody August 4, 2007 at 8:39 am

I think overcoming bias is important because I relative to others am very good at overcoming bias and people tend to inflate the value of those areas in which they excel in. Perhaps you believing overcoming laziness and fear is of high importance is built around your higher comparative ability in those endeavors. Or exactly the opposite.

Johan Richter August 4, 2007 at 9:58 am

I don’t think the relevant community of experts (which I guess would consist of philosofers and physicists) really have an opion about whether the many worlds interpretation is true. It is empirically indistinguishable from the other interpratations so whether you like it or not basically comes down to a matter of taste. At least thats what many experts would say. (Me not being an expert myself.)

steve August 4, 2007 at 10:55 am

Some eminent physicists who (as far as I can tell) believe(d) in MW: Feynman, Gell-Mann, Hawking, Steve Weinberg, Bryce DeWitt, David Deutsch, Sidney Coleman … In fact, I was told that Feynman and Gell-Mann each claim(ed) to have independently invented MW, without any knowledge of Everett!

http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2007/07/many-worlds-brief-guide-for-perplexed.html

On the other issues I think I’m closer to Tyler’s positions than to Robin’s…

Chi August 4, 2007 at 12:11 pm

I like Robin’s kind of atomism–I think a lot of things said in public discourse come from some hidden beliefs, and always try to pin down what these are. Mike Farrell of MASH came to talk at my university about the Death Penalty, and after an hour or two of unbalanced rhetoric, I approached him and determined that he held an almost religious conviction with preserving life. All well and good, but not something he mentioned when trying to stir up the masses.

Your book definitely expresses the view that bias can be ignored via self delusion / storylines, but from Robin’s defensive post a while ago I was expecting him to be made as a much bigger villain.

Paul N August 4, 2007 at 1:41 pm

Not to be annoying, but I agree with Tyler on every account.

Keith August 4, 2007 at 4:20 pm

I slightly agree with Robin on his futarchy concept, thought I don’t carry it as far as he does. I do think his rpediction market concepts can be very useful for overcoming insanity within organizations.

Acknowledging Tyler’s point, I suppose there exists some area beyond the “sweet spot” where you get so focused on acknowledging difficult challenges that you undermine the morale and spirit you need to overcome them. Maybe a certain degree of unrealistic optimism is necessary. But I just don’t think we’re anywhere near the area of acknowledging unpleasant truth and tradeoffs too much and too often. (At least not at a social level.)

Robin Hanson August 4, 2007 at 6:05 pm

I have written a post at Overcoming Bias responding to this one. Summary: I accept that we disagree on three sci/tech topics, but for the rest I don’t yet see that we actually disagree much, and I don’t accept most of the labels Tyler is applying to me.

jaim klein August 5, 2007 at 7:01 am

“overcoming inadequate love of Sichuan chili peppers”

what is this? a private joke? pls explain

Brad Hutchings August 5, 2007 at 8:52 pm

Tyler has baseball legend Ted Williams on his side.

josh August 6, 2007 at 1:26 pm

What’s difference between most governments and oppressive mafias? If you mean that libertarian anarchy would eventually evolve into something similar to what we call government, well that’s what has happened a thousand times over, isn’t it?

翻译公司 February 13, 2008 at 9:22 am

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