Career, Physics and Goals (was: Artificial General Intelligence Speculations)

I would definitely be curious to know what you think a persuasive argument would look like here. How can I objectively evaluate my own memories in situations like this?

I’m still planning to do more with this math error correction stuff by the way. I’m still convinced it’s a good idea and I’m not stuck, I just have to actually get around to putting in real effort.

I was confused by this last message, so I went back and read the context (which I pasted above).

To summarize it:

Elliot said (this is the bolded sentence lmf was referring to):

This is an example of what it means to choose to focus effort elsewhere instead of on philosophy.

lmf replied:

I read the bolded sentence as you saying that I chose to focus effort on rage posting rather than philosophy.

Elliot replied:

Your plan, discussed earlier, is to focus effort primarily on physics, not on rage posting.

So, in Elliot’s original (bolded) sentence, the “elsewhere” he was talking about was physics.

The sentence was:

This is an example of what it means to choose to focus effort elsewhere instead of on philosophy.

So, in lmf’s case, he meant: This is an example of what it means to choose to focus effort on physics instead of on philosophy.

lmf read Elliot’s last message differently than I did: when Elliot said lmf was choosing to focus on physics, lmf substituted “physics” in for “philosophy” in the original (bold) sentence. But I think “physics” was meant as the “elsewhere”.

This is just my reading of the words as they are written, with no insight into what Elliot actually meant. I am curious if lmf disagrees with my reading.

You’re ambiguously and indirectly asking for free mentoring, but specifically about the conversation threads that you select which I think won’t be productive (because they’re local details not underlying causes). You’re not pursuing approaches that I think would be productive. You selecting topics, against my better judgment, is incompatible with mentoring.

This kind of thing also doesn’t work within a peer debate/discussion framework because, in that context, you have to suggest ways to proceed that are reasonable from both people’s perspectives. You have to think of something that would make progress both if person A was right and also if, instead, person B was right. You need a plan that takes into account both of those scenarios. But you have been unreceptive to my plans of that nature and have tried to steer conversations to stuff that I’ve explained are not productive from my point of view or if I’m right about what the situation is. (If you don’t already know this, and have experience doing it, and have a ton of other background knowledge, that’s incompatible with a peer context. If I have to guide you about it, then that looks more like teaching you stuff than interacting with a peer.)

For example, I wrote this and your replies, besides their other problems, basically ignored the main thing I was saying which was about what I thought would and wouldn’t work to make progress.

You’re lost but I don’t think dealing with this local detail would solve any underlying problems.

The issue is primarily interpretation, not memory, but this isn’t the right issue to deal with.

I broadly read the main thing you were saying in the post as saying that I (and/or @alanforr ) should be learning more philosophy and working on automatizing more relevant conversation skills. I agree (insofar as the comment was directed towards me; I won’t speak for Alan).

The main part of the post being kind of obvious to me (since I’ve seen you make the point elsewhere and your explanations make sense), I focused on a less central part of your post, the part where you said the conversation is “too disorganized.” I guess I assumed you meant something like it’s too disorganized to be a productive conversation. I disagreed (and still disagree), so I explained why and asked you for clarification. It was also an essential thing to address, given that I wanted to continue the thread: If the thread is truly “too disorganized,” why would I bother continuing it?

I am indeed lost. I think you used way too many pronouns in your original paragraph. I’ve tried to fill them in in several different ways (including anon’s suggestion), and none of the ways of filling them in result in a thought that makes sense to me.

I’ll actually try giving arguments, instead of just assuming they aren’t good enough.

I’ll start with an argument that’s an elaboration on this:

I specifically remember writing the second comment to make the first comment sound more friendly and deferential. How could I accidentally be snarky and aggressive in my 2nd comment, when my explicit purpose in writing the 2nd comment was to make sure my first comment wasn’t misinterpreted as aggressive? It basically seems impossible to me. What’s your theory of how that could have happened?

You’re basically (and ambiguously – just after I tried raising the issue of this sort of ambiguity, and you didn’t respond) asking me, again, to have the conversation of your choosing, and answer/explain/teach the issues you choose – while ignoring my explanation about why I don’t think that will be productive. I don’t want to get caught up in these sorts of local details. I don’t want to proceed in a way where, if I’m right about what’s going on and what the answers are, then I’m wasting my time and not getting value.

In my own experience, when I notice that I am consciously trying to sound friendly, I take that as a potential clue that I am in fact not being friendly. Generally if you are trying to sound friendly, it is because some part of you is irritated or angry or not friendly in some way.

I don’t understand how my suggestion doesn’t make sense. It seemed reasonable to me, and made sense the way that I read it.

Okay, sorry. I should have made it less ambiguous what I was doing with those posts.

With this post, I was indeed asking for “mentoring” of a sort on a specific topic. I didn’t think it would conflict with other suggestions you’ve made about learning; to the contrary, I actually figured when I posted it that your “assertions are not arguments” comment might have been intended to get me to ask a question like the one I asked. (edit: to clarify, despite my intuition at the time when I asked it, I don’t think I had a very good reason to think it was a good question to ask, and I believe you when you say it’s not a good thing to focus on)

With the later post, I did not see myself as asking you to teach me things. In fact, I guess I was mostly hoping you would not respond, because it’s an unpleasant and boring topic to me, and it distracts from my other projects. I made the post because I take your accusation that I was being aggressive very seriously, I disagree vehemently with it, and I do not want there to be a shadow of a doubt about my position on the matter.

This might be true in normal situations, but the context for me is a bit weird, because since posting this not long ago, I have been paying a lot of conscious attention to whether or not I am feeling defensive / irritated / etc before I post.

Asking me a direct question, which you don’t want me to answer, is toxic. You asked me to spend my effort creating something of negative value to you, so instead of being thanked and appreciated if I answered, I would instead be treated even worse. You deny mistreating me in another way – but you don’t actually know how to or want to rationally discuss it, and you’re mistreating me now.

You’re right. I apologize for asking a question without making it clear that I didn’t truly want to discuss it. That’s a bad thing to do.

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Why did you ask a question if you didn’t want to discuss it and think that doing so is a bad thing to do?

Edit: Or do you think that the bad thing is not making it clear you didn’t want to discuss it rather than asking a question without wanting to discuss it?

The former is what I am apologizing for. I don’t think the latter action would be inherently bad.

At the time when I asked the question, I think I was not fully conscious of my motivations.

Ok.
Do you mean something like that one could ask a question to simply get some input?

I re-read it just now and ET’s original paragraph makes perfect sense to me (with your replacement). I don’t remember what my confusion was.

Well I think there are lots of ways to ask a question without wanting to discuss it that could be okay. E.g. questions which are obviously rhetorical, E.g. asking a question then saying afterwards “I don’t really want to talk about this anymore, I’m just writing this question here because it is what would need to be answered if we were to continue the debate about XYZ”

Ok. That makes sense.
Initially I thought ~ isn’t a rhetorical question of that sort a way to “get the last word” (i.e. some sort of social climbing way to scoring points). But I can think of scenarios where I don’t think the “social climbing” thing happens. E.g. if one is writing a book and states pretty much what you wrote “it is what would need to be answered” re this subject to make progress or something like that.

There’s a pattern where you argue with stuff fairly strongly/persistently and then concede later. From my point of view, you keep expecting to be right this time, and I think pointing out why you’re wrong this time will not fix any underlying issue so it’s not productive. Not remembering your confusion isn’t a good payoff for people talking to you or a good post-mortem. I’ve seen this pattern with lots of other people over the years, so for me there’s a pattern of patterns.

My intuition is that a small number of demonstrations should convince people to focus on a different level of abstraction – like underlying methodology instead of specifics (another different approach would be to learn a bunch more stuff – make major improvements to one’s knowledge base). But my experience is that demonstrations – winning some of the arguments people are confident about, to their satisfaction, so that they concede – basically never result in this change of attitude. People keep wanting more debates about specifics and seem to think they’ll actually win this time despite no overhaul of their methodology or big learning project to know a bunch more than last time.

I don’t know a solution to this that works with people.

I think part of the difficulty is that what I say isn’t being understood very well. Communication is lossy. There are ongoing signs of this like misreadings that come up. So I don’t expect this message itself to be understood very well.

I think a bigger problem than misunderstandings is some sort of resistance to dealing with meta levels, root causes, indirection, methodology, complex multi-step approaches, etc. Most people seem to be broadly resistant to those topics, whereas I think they’re crucial. There seems to be something about this stuff that people dislike and actively don’t want, even though this stuff is important to success at lots of their own goals.

Another pattern I’ve seen a few times in the past is someone responding to the above problem/pattern (about repeatedly thinking you’re going to be right this time, when you’re not) by losing all confidence, trying to defer or concede about everything. That’s bad too, including because it prevents objections and disagreements from being stated, and ends discussions before enough learning happens.