Re: Transformative Experience ch. 3

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Who's up for a reading group reading group? First up: this post.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-19-15 8:40 PM
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I think that's what most of us are already doing. How many people are actually reading the book?


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 07-19-15 8:53 PM
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2: I feel like I may be the only one.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 07-19-15 9:10 PM
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Excellent summary, Heebie, I've only read part of Ben's notes. I think that adding the distinction between hard and easy decisions is useful -- and makes me think differently about the vampire example. Part of what's odd about that is that our uncertainty is so large that we don't even know whether it's a hard or easy decision and in that way it doesn't map well to most life decision.

However, I'm not reading the book, so I'd be curious what Josh thinks . . .


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-19-15 9:43 PM
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3: other than me, LB, Thorn, heebie, helpy-chalk, etc?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-19-15 9:59 PM
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1: I hadn't quite realized the length of this post. I only wrote half as much as last week! :/


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-19-15 10:06 PM
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5: we'll see which of you sticks it out til the end.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 07-19-15 10:17 PM
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neb would have written us a short post, but he didn't have the time.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 07-19-15 10:18 PM
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That's not far wrong, actually.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-19-15 10:31 PM
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neb would have written us a short post, but he didn't have the time masturbated a lot as a kid.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 07-19-15 10:55 PM
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7: I only have a chapter and a half more, so the chances seem good that I'll catch up with you soon. I had more to say last week and may finally manage now that I'll be at work rather than on vacation and mobile.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 1:35 AM
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I am curious of the word count of the post vs. the chapter.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 3:35 AM
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I remain frustrated by this chapter. Repeatedly, Paul defines normatively rational decisionmaking as assessing the best expected value of the outcomes, and then dismisses evidence of expected value other than subjective cognitive modelling based on direct experience as obviously worthless (no better than astrology in one case). The comparative usefulness of different kinds of evidence of expected value seems to me to be key to the point she's making, but to be resting mostly on flat assertion rather than argument.

Also, I'm still confused about what she's arguing toward. This chapter could be summarized, as far as I can tell, with: "Here are some real world examples where I can convincingly show that however you're going to make your decision, it's not going to be on the basis of cognitive modelling of your future subjective value of the various experiences, because you don't have the necessary first-hand experiences to do it that way." At which point, okay, I'm with her that far, but what's the goal? I feel like a bad reader (and I'm sure I am a bad reader of philosophy) but also as though she's failing to communicate her point.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 5:13 AM
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Finally, a specific point of confusion:

...the problem of how to rationally decide between the preferences of the pre-change self and the (potentially) post-changed self. Standard decision theory holds that the rational decision-maker must choose in order to maximize her expected value given her current preferences. Adopting some sort of higher-order preference to prefer the preferences of the later self might give you the result you want in this case, but it is not a rule that can be followed in a principled manner.

This sounds like something obviously idiotic, and while I'm sure the idiotic thing is not what's meant, I'm not clear on how to draw the line between the idiotic thing and something sensible.

For example: When I lived in Samoa (I did mention that I used to live in Samoa?) I spent months knitting myself a giant Irish fisherman's sweater out of some beautiful undyed grey wool (that is, sheared off grey sheep). In the weather where I was knitting, wearing that thing would have been a nightmare. I put hundreds of hours of labor into it because, although my then-current preferences were to wear as little as possible, I believed the preferences of my later, New-York-winter resident self, would be to wear heavy sweaters. That kind of decision can't be irrational, even though it considers future rather than current preferences.

If you say "No, no, you remember winter and you're a person whose preferences are to wear sweaters in the winter, even if it's not winter where you are then," I suggest that I might have fallen for one of the Samoan teachers at the school where I worked (let's call him Peniamina after a particularly attractive acquaintance of mine there), and we could have planned for him to come home with me. Peniamina would have been essentially Ordinary Mary in terms of experience of cold weather -- I could tell him about it, but he would have had no subjective experience of it. If he knit himself a repulsively heavy and hot (under Samoan conditions) sweater in preparation for going back to the US with me, would that be irrational under standard decision theory? That seems both ridiculous, and to be what the quoted text states.

So, how do you confine the claim in the quoted text -- that only your current preferences may be considered in standard decision theory -- to clarify the sweater situation?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 5:28 AM
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(The sweater never came close to fitting. Twenty years later, it's the right size for one of Sally's classmates, who has it now.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 5:34 AM
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Oh, better example than the sweater.

A child deciding whether to do homework or watch Youtube videos. The child currently prefers to watch videos, but is aware that the transformed entity she will become in the future, an adult, will probably be happier (to oversimplify, will probably have a more pleasant work life) if she will have had an academic career based on consistent homework-doing. Is it irrational for the child to consider the preferences of her transformed future self? Because if so, rationality seems overrated.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 5:40 AM
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Sally goes to school with a giant Irish fisherman?


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 5:42 AM
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A stocky Dominican kid who gets cold in the winters. The sleeves are still way too long, but with them rolled up, the body fits.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 5:44 AM
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14-16: the answer I know, that might be more mathematical of an answer than the one Paul would give, is temporal difference learning. So you estimate the value of future actions to your present self by discounting them by some amount related to how distant they are in the future. So your present actions are evaluated based on the weighted sum of all the value you wil get from those actions over whatever indefinite time horizon you are considering. (The wikipedia page, which gets pretty quickly into the math, is here.) Where it gets sticky (mathematically, but also I think Paul would say philosophically) is where you can't assume that your value function will remain (basically) fixed. I don't actually know this, and as ever am not speaking for the author of a book I have not read, but it wouldn't surprise me if what Paul meant is that a value estimation where you have a nonlinear interaction between the action and the value function does not have a closed form solution, and could easily be the kind of nonlinear equation where coming up with even a plausible estimate is impossible.

There's pretty good reason to talk about temporal difference learning (or something like it) as an algorithmic process when you're talking about decision-making by human actors; there is a famous (and genuinely amazing) paper that claimed that dopamine signalling in the reward system of the brain constitutes the reward prediction error term in the equations for TD-learning.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 6:12 AM
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Googling around a bit this paper seems to say what I suspected:

As stated previously, convergence of TD(X) has only been proved for linear networks and linearly independent sets of input patterns. In the more general case, the algorithm may not converge even to a locally optimal solution, let alone to a globally optimal solution.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 6:17 AM
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Anyhow I think there's a relatively intuitive way to think about it, too: when you are deciding whether or not to take an action, if you're trying to estimate its value you have to in some way integrate over the rest of your life after taking that action. So it's not about whether it's going to be worth it immediately or worth it in exactly one month but whether it'll be worth it in general. But if an action changes have you value actions that themselves change how you value actions that themselves change how you value actions, it seems like coming up with a principled estimate of value over any non-trivial span of time is going to be comibinatorially implausible.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 6:27 AM
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It's pretty easy to bite the bullet and just claim any experience is transformative. Even if you accept this algorithmic decision making model, the transformational aspect is surely somewhere on a spectrum.


Posted by: conflated | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 6:27 AM
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I got to the Afterword! Does that count as finishing the book?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 6:29 AM
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I thought a lot more about the first two chapters because I had to write about them, but two of the examples that occurred to me don't seem to be adequately covered by her explanations. (I'm also running on way more caffeine and sleep, but these are old thoughts and at least seemed to make sense at the time.)

I have a friend who's in the process of gender transition, which involves taking a lot of estrogen and other hormones that change some of the things that need to be changed but other things also. My friend went into the process attracted to women and hopes to come out of the process with the same attraction (though it previously would have been considered straight and will now be lesbian) but knows that some people who go through transitions end up with different sexual orientations than they might have expected. That uncertainty was one strike against transition, but other elements made it worthwhile. And I do think this is a situation where the "vampires" are able to talk pretty honestly to potential vampires about the pluses and minuses, with the understanding that every story is different.

Also still on vampires, I've used a lot of antidepressants and similar psych medications in my day and I know that I was prone to extreme side effects. I still talk to my friends about what they're taking and what their experiences are, but I know that I have to temper my own expectations while trying not to do so to the point where I set up some negative placebo effect.

I'm not making sense at this point, I think, so I'll stop.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 6:33 AM
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My understanding is that for Paul it is important that it is possible for a person to make life decisions in a way that is both subjective and rational. If it's not subjective, than you could just as well let a computer decide what you should do. And it won't really be your own personal life. And if it's not rational, than what's the point of being the rational animal?

This is an odd perspective on life for me.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 6:35 AM
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Not going to read this book, but to get Heideggerian: the phenomenology of how we project our own possibilities into the future seems a lot closer to the way we evaluate other people than it does the weighing of utilities: we find x, y, or z person admirable not through making a judgment about the the character of their subjective experiences, but on the basis of the style with which they are in the world and engage with it. We do something similar when we are trying on different future identities (vampire, father, etc.). The angst is more over our uncertainty about whether we can authentically and competently fill the role than it is about whether we'll like the sensations that come from authentically and competently filling it (though obviously those two things aren't completely unrelated).


Posted by: Criminally Bulgur | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 6:43 AM
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(or, like, empirical study, blech)

God, neb, you're such a philosopher.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 6:45 AM
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25 etc: I thought Paul's point there was that you couldn't make a rational decision about your life without including subjective inputs. Which makes sense to me. Even though it may be a great restaurant, with a famous chef, and your friends love it, if you know you don't like salmon, that's a pretty meaningful piece of subjective data to include when choosing whether to eat at Jenny Salmon's House of Salmon.


Posted by: conflated | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 6:48 AM
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26: if I'm reading you right, you are weighing in strongly on the "theory-theory" side of the "theory-theory" vs. "simulation" self-knowledge/theory of mind debate. Which is fine, and probably contitutes a reasonably good rejoinder to Paul's premise, but it's not a premise that is uncontested, and -- without knowing the philosophy -- there's reasonably good psychological and neuroscientific evidence that episodic simulation plays some role in both social judgments of others and imaginative reasoning about one's own future.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 6:50 AM
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Uh, incidentally, the famous and genuinely amazing paper I meant to link to in 19 is "A Neural Substrate of Prediction and Reward" by Schultz, Dayan & Montague, not the several other articles that for some reason got included in that pdf.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 6:52 AM
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Confession: I did not see the point of much of this chapter. Is it meant to be the previous chapter, applied?

I think this chapter would have benefited from hitting ten quick examples rather than three in-depth examples. The amount of detail seemed incredibly superfluous. And there were no lose-lose decisions, yet I bet plenty of transformative decisions feel like they are lose-lose at the time.

It would have been better to share with us the mystery algorithm for deftly making quick work of these decisions, and then go through the ten, contrasting the old crappy method with the new, deft method.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 7:16 AM
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31: Philosophy written as a high school or undergrad maths textbook.


Posted by: conflated | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 7:22 AM
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23: given that it's half as long as the rest of the book, no.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 7:23 AM
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25: the complete insistence on rational decision making as the only (or the best) way of making decisions did strike me as one of the great unaddressed assumptions of the book. Particularly since she spends so much time tearing it down.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 7:26 AM
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Is she tearing it down? That is, is she heading for 'rational decisionmaking can't be done in these circumstances, so here's what rational people do instead', or 'rational decisionmaking can't be done in these circumstances, we're just fucked.' I'm pretty sure it's the first, not the second, but she kind of circles around it rather that hitting the point squarely.

[Also, I don't think she's exactly tearing down rational decisionmaking, she's tearing down rational decisionmaking powered by cognitive simulation. Which she kind of equates with rational decisionmaking at times, but she also draws a distinction at times.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 7:32 AM
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I don't think the cochlear implant example is so bad. It is definitely tranformative. The fact that it is about another person we can only speculatively or analogically guess the future experience of evokes this idea of the future self as also kind of unknowable and other.

One of her other books is on causation. I wonder if she thinks about time travel a lot.


Posted by: conflated | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 7:36 AM
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24: A friend of mine who transitioned went into it a straight low libido male and came out a bisexual horndog woman. Hormones are some powerful stuff and seem to vary a lot in their impact on people.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 7:39 AM
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Haven't read the book, not following the discussion, but did notice that the author's name is misspelled in this post.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 7:41 AM
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34: I'm interested to hear what might be superior approach to rational decision making. Not being snarky, just curious.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 7:42 AM
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The child currently prefers to watch videos, but is aware that the transformed entity she will become in the future, an adult, will probably be happier (to oversimplify, will probably have a more pleasant work life) if she will have had an academic career based on consistent homework-doing. Is it irrational for the child to consider the preferences of her transformed future self?

I think this would fall under the rubric of currently having preferences about your future self. I don't think that merely desiring to be motivated by long-term concerns means you're already motivated by them, but it's certainly possible to currently be motivated by long-term concerns in ways that go against your more viscerally felt preferences.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 7:47 AM
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What's the difference between that and having the general preference that your future self be happy by its own standards -- such as, perhaps, being happily photophobic and hemophagic?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 7:49 AM
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25: the complete insistence on rational decision making as the only (or the best) way of making decisions did strike me as one of the great unaddressed assumptions of the book.

Why be rational?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 7:49 AM
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Which, to finish my thought, seems like exactly what Paul says can't be applied in a principled manner.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 7:50 AM
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41: that general preference seems too empty to be action-guiding? But if it reduces to the preference to have a happy life, then, again, someone could currently prefer indolently playing videogames to doing homework but also, now, desire to have later opportunities believed to be associated with present academic success or discipline and choose to forgo videogames now for these perhaps less well defined things in the future.

One might also strongly desire a marshmallow now over no marshmallow now, but take the dispreferred, no-marshmallow option because you recognize that it will lead to two marshmallows down the road.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 7:55 AM
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Oh look, a shift between "one" and "you".


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 7:57 AM
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(The paper linked in 42 is really more "why have your house in order as regards means and ends or coherence, etc" than "why decide in blah blah way" but w/e)


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 7:59 AM
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That seems perfectly reasonable for me, I just can't distinguish between that position and the one Paul rejects as irrational -- applying the preferences of one's future self.

If I, now, look into the future and believe I can choose between being a moderately discontented human, whose pleasures are things I enjoy now, or a very happy vampire, all of whose pleasures are things that I would now find unpleasant, but that my possible future vampire self would love, why is it irrational to evaluate that outcome on the basis of the expected preferences of my possible future vampire self?

Just the fact that I don't have access to those preferences through cognitive simulation? If so, neither does the homework/video child, so if one's irrational the other is.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 8:00 AM
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It occurs to me that there's actually a very famous example of the rationality of making a decision by taking your future self's predicted preferences into account, even though those preferences will be based on an experience you haven't had and couldn't possibly know the subjective character of.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 8:22 AM
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31: Philosophy written as a high school or undergrad maths textbook.

I wonder how much of this chapter was at the insistence of an editor to make it more palatable to a mainstream audience.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 8:22 AM
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29: I don't know much about the psychological literature on theory of mind or what's going under the hood. I was just trying to make a claim about the phenomenology of the decision making: when we "model" some future role we might adopt, what we care about isn't as much what we're likely to feel or like as a result of adopting the role, but (a) whether we appreciate the things adopting that role makes happen in the world and (b) whether we feel adequate to the task of adopting it. With respect to (b), what we're likely to feel and like as a result of successfully adopting the role is relevant, but it's only a component.

It may well be that I'm wrong on the phenomenology, or that the phenomenology is a smokescreen for an unconscious utility calculus, or that none of this is relevant to what she's saying in the book.


Posted by: Criminally Bulgur | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 8:26 AM
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48: Is that Odysseus and the Sirens? Slightly different because the decision is not to accommodate the future preferences, but to make it impossible for them to be satisfied.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 8:27 AM
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That seems perfectly reasonable for me, I just can't distinguish between that position and the one Paul rejects as irrational -- applying the preferences of one's future self.

Well, actually, in two ways.

First, if as in my way of taking your example, it's just a bit of self-restraint based on your present belief that doing this kind of thing is important, then it's not really about what your future self will prefer, in any interesting way that I can tell. It's like deciding to forgo luxuries despite your fabulous BigLaw salary so you can pay off your debts faster, e.g.; it's not because you're thinking "my future self will sure enjoy being able to indulge without worrying!" (or needn't be); it's because even though you now prefer fancy scotch to no booze, you also now think the best thing overall for you to do is get out of debt.

Second, if it's something like "in the future it will be easier if I have such and such preferences" so you set out to acquire them, that strikes me as quite different from "in the future I will or might have such and such preferences" so you act now in ways that will make satisfying them later easier. I think that if you really thought it would be easier for you to get by as a vampire then that would be an argument in favor of becoming one, but it's not one that's based on what it's like to have vampiric preferences.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 8:28 AM
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51: yes it is and I realize that, but it's still based on them.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 8:29 AM
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Oh look I have to go to work and actually should have left ten minutes ago.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 8:29 AM
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Here's another example which is not tackled: whether or not to cheat on your spouse. Not a serial cheater debating on a tryst, but an unhappy marriage, and a specific other person with whom the married person has really bonded.

This one is laden with so much hormones, planning, fear, avoidance of marital problems, and so on, but also "will I regret this/or regret not doing this?"

There are so many more interesting examples than the chosen ones!


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 8:32 AM
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52.first: You're missing the child/adult transition, which, while unchosen and involuntary, seems to be as transformative as anything else we've considered. The 'better life' the adult who has worked hard and done well in school will have might easily not be particularly attractive to the kid deciding to do her homework: there are a lot of specifically adult pleasures that might leave a kid cold. So there's not just delayed gratification of a consistent set of preferences (one marshmallow now versus two later), but a choice to delay gratification now to satisfy the preferences of a future self who likes different things than you now like.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 8:33 AM
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In a way shaping your preferences so that your work life will be easier is a thing you undertake because you'd like to be able to do something, and a thing you accomplish through a training regimen. I don't think you start and maintain such a regimen voluntarily unless you already care, to some extent, about having the desired ability. Even "I personally don't give a shit about being able to work hard on not particularly interesting tasks but later on I might change my mind, so I'll get started now" strikes me as somewhat paradoxical: it seems to be the statement of someone who's already on the way to giving a shit, in fact. (Maybe I have to retract my claim that Elster was speaking falsely, but the high level of abstraction of his claim still makes me suspicious.)


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 8:35 AM
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the child/adult transition, which, while unchosen and involuntary, seems to be as transformative as anything else we've considered.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 8:37 AM
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The 'better life' the adult who has worked hard and done well in school will have might easily not be particularly attractive to the kid deciding to do her homework

In that case I do think that the decision to do her homework is kind of bats. "You mean I could be a total loser square? Great, sign me up!".


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 8:37 AM
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I actually did deliberately ramp down my video game playing in high school.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 8:39 AM
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59: Nah, think of a good, trusting kid. "Boy, the life adults who worked hard in school have doesn't look particularly attractive to me. They work eight hours a day in boring offices, when they have fun they're doing things like drinking (I've tasted alcohol and I don't like it) and talking for hours about boring stuff. On the other hand, my parents tell me they're happy, and if I work hard in school I'll be happy like them -- I'll have that kind of life but I'll enjoy it -- and if I don't I'll have an adult life I'll enjoy less. I'm flying blind here, relying on the testimony of people who have been through a change I have not yet undergone, but I'll trust them and do my math homework on that basis."

That doesn't seem bats at all to me -- that seems like normal kid decisionmaking.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 8:42 AM
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You're missing the child/adult transition, which, while unchosen and involuntary, seems to be as transformative as anything else we've considered.

Example from my own experience, the young ajay being compelled to attend Scottish country dancing lessons, much to his disgust:
"You'll be grateful you learned this when you're older!"
"Why?"
"Well, because it'll be useful. You'll be able to dance with girls."
"Why on earth would I want to dance with girls?"

Now, however, I can see their point.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 8:44 AM
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That works nicely.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 8:50 AM
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Seems pretty weird to me, actually, but perhaps your kids are unusually reflective and limited in their exposure to types of adult lives. I guess that may well be another instance of the putative problem but I've now lost the pint it was supposed to make anyway. (On phone, you see.) I also think it's fine for kids to have to take things on faith.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 8:52 AM
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63: it doesn't work at all; note "compulsory".


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 8:53 AM
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Hawaii has worked very hard on a list of all the different kinds of candy and junk food that she intends to buy in infinite quantities when she is an adult.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 8:54 AM
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I think we would regard a child learning to dance voluntarily, yet obviously hating it, in order to better be able to do something he also has no relish for, but has been told he will like later on, as having engaged in something other than ordinary kid decision making, and perhaps fit primarily for being a Wes Anderson character, but kind of creepy.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 8:56 AM
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65: But imagine a less charmingly recalcitrant young ajay, equally unable to see the appeal of dancing with girls, but savvy enough to notice that a majority of older boys and adult men like that sort of thing.

Would you call him irrational for suffering through dull lessons on the basis that they would plausibly make his adult self happy, in a way that looked unappealing to his current self? I would call a kid like that more rational than actual ajay.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 8:56 AM
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68 crossed with 67. Maybe that kid would be a weird kid, but I wouldn't call his weirdness irrationality.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 8:57 AM
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66: My brother once got himself a trip to McDonald's after my dad had told him that when he was an adult he could eat at McDonald's whenever he wanted to by replying "But Daaaaaaaaad, when I' a grown up I won't WANT to eat at McDonald's." And he grew up to be a vegetarian who indeed doesn't.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 8:58 AM
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68/69: yeah I also wouldn't. I just thought your original example could be neutralized.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:01 AM
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Once you make your decision (get pregnant, get the cochlear implant, get the divorce, etc) you start setting in motion all sorts of planning steps like LB is talking about, based on the advice of other people. "Lawyer up!" we all told Thorn.

This is all very abstract and complicated language to talk about the most elementary things, isn't it?
1. Delayed gratification is a thing.
2. The future is a mystery. (The present is a GIFT.)

I feel like I'm missing something about why this is a hard topic.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:01 AM
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by replying "But Daaaaaaaaad, when I' a grown up I won't WANT to eat at McDonald's."

Hawaii has said this exact thing to me in other conversations about candy. And I've teased her by saying that I'll be the generous grandma who gives her kids all the sugar cereal they could possibly want. (Hawaii's all-time favorite birthday/xmas gift is Fruit Loops from Mimi.)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:03 AM
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the child/adult transition, which, while unchosen and involuntary, seems to be as transformative as anything else we've considered.

I know, right?


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:03 AM
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The fact that the transition from childhood to adulthood is involuntary and inevitable strikes me as pretty darn important in terms of its use as a counterexample.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:08 AM
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No one is using it as a counterexample, except to point out that transformative and decisions don't actually intersect much.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:09 AM
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and inevitable

What if all your friends decided to jump off a cliff?


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:11 AM
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Like, most times you have transformative experiences such as are defined in the book, you don't make a decision about whether or not to have them? That seems... uncontroversial?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:11 AM
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77: I am curious -- with a curiosity that will probably remain unsated -- why "decdiing to commit suicide" isn't an example Paul addressed. I imagine there's a good reason.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:12 AM
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I'm using it as a counterexample to Paul's claim that it is not rational decisionmaking to consider the preferences of a future self with different preferences from one's current self.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:12 AM
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77: She mentions decisions that will lead to death as easily rejectable without needing to consider subjective experience.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:15 AM
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Yeah, but it anchors what it means to have a transformational experience. In the context of decision-making, it seems to keep getting watered down. A CEO decides on a merger and it affects tons of people! Seems to have the same elements as the cochlear implant example. Any time you exert lots of power you're making a transformational decision? I won't know what the temperament of my fourth child is like!


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:16 AM
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80: so you are making the assumption that the children in question are as capable of rational decision-making as any adult?

I could sort of imagine a corrolary to her argument where you made the case that the -- fairly commonly accepted, if not inarguable -- inability of children to make rational decisions in the same fashion as adults was due in part to the upcoming, ineluctably transformative move into adulthood.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:16 AM
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More of 80: I mean, maybe it's rational to consider the preferences of a future self with different preferences if the change in preferences was involuntary, but not if the change in preferences was chosen? But I think I'd want to see an argument to that effect.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:16 AM
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82 to 79.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:16 AM
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81: huh. That sort of seems to undersell them! Presumably there are cases where it is possible to make a rational decision to die.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:17 AM
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85: really?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:17 AM
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85: to 78, maybe?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:18 AM
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An engineer I worked with would make a point of saying "This where people live who did not do well in school" to his kids when they drove through a depressed neighborhood. He was a piece of work along many political and cultural dimensions in an almost refreshingly childlike yet thoroughly evil way. Without revealing details I will note that his eldest irrevocably blew up dad's lifelong educational plans for him within a week of arriving at the chosen institution.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:18 AM
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87: Nope.
88: yep.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:19 AM
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83: Well, Paul has explicitly lampshaded the fact that even adults don't necessarily make rational decisions -- she's not talking about failures of rationality, she's talking about whether rationality is even possible in the given circumstances.

That said, I think a kid is probably somewhat less likely to be rational than an adult, but not incapable of it. Actual-ajay is a more plausible kid than Wes-Anderson-ajay, but the latter might possibly exist.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:19 AM
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91.2: I'm just saying, that seems like an assertion that could be strongly argued against -- at least in terms of the kind of rational decision-making at issue -- if you buy Paul's argument. It's a little circular, but if simulation-y rational decision-making requires access to your value system after the decision was made, then making decisions about your future as a kid are just per se not going to be rational under that definition. So it's not really a counter-example unless you have some independent way of showing that kids are capable of making rational decision-making as she defines it, right?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:21 AM
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"Lampshaded"? Man, I've spent too much time poking around TV Tropes.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:22 AM
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86: something something trolley something


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:25 AM
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She mentions decisions that will lead to death as easily rejectable without needing to consider subjective experience.

This seems like a massively unjustifiable leap to make.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:28 AM
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92; That's possible, but it seems more than a little circular. If you can by fiat say that no decision considering the preferences of a future self with different preferences is rational, then there's no arguing against it.

On the other hand, think of actual-ajay, in a counterfactual where his parents let him talk his way out of dance lessons, and his neighbor Wes-Anderson-ajay. Actual-ajay rationally consults his current preferences, talks his way out of dance lessons, and does something else Scottish instead (oatmeal? lochs? could be anything). Wes-Anderson-ajay learns to dance, despite neither enjoying the lessons nor yet finding the prospect of dancing with girls attractive.

Nonetheless, ten years down the road, actual-ajay is sulking by the punch bowl unhappily while Wes-Anderson-ajay is the belle of the ball. It seems like an impoverished definition of rationality that excludes a method of decisionmaking that reliably makes people who use it happy in the long run.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:28 AM
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86, 95: She doesn't focus on it -- what she said is probably more defensible than what I said. But it does get touched on.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:29 AM
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It was specifically being eaten or mauled by a shark, wasn't it? And the claim was that you don't need to have experienced that particular kind of thing to decide against it. Not dying in general (or so I seem to recall).


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:30 AM
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Actually-existing ajay fortuitously got out of dancing lessons that year by breaking his ankle the day before they were due to start. And next year he found that his preferences had changed to the extent that his parents seemed to have a point after all.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:35 AM
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What could be more Scottish than fortuitously breaking a bone?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:36 AM
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Lots of childless famous women who are seemingly quite rational.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:36 AM
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98: but most of us have experienced that kind of thing, though. We've all experienced pain due to bodily injury of some kind, and so we can rationally say that being mauled by a shark will involve a lot of pain and will therefore be unpleasant.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:36 AM
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We've all experienced pain due to bodily injury of some kind

I see a them developing.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:53 AM
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theme


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:56 AM
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98: This cries out for someone to develop a full blown argument that it's irrational to not want to be eaten or mauled by a shark.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 9:59 AM
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Oh and I'm now reminded of the time Lee asked my grandfather why he became an orthopedic surgeon, figuring he'd have some dramatic story of someone who made an impact on him as a child. Instead he sort of shrugged and said "Well, there was a war on and we all needed to do our part." I suspect there was more to the decision at the time, though.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 10:27 AM
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I'm curious whether she talks about religious conversion experience. Also, whether to take these six tabs of blotter.


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 10:30 AM
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107: religious conversion experiences are apparently the subject of a separate paper.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 10:44 AM
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Well, transformative religious experience. I don't know if it it's actually conversion experiences.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 10:44 AM
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Can someone do a bullet point executive summary of what the key takeaways from this book are? Based on skimming these threads it sounds like it's basically "yeah it's kind of true that you don't really know what it's like to have kids until you do." Is it supposedly interesting because that somehow matters for what the definition of "rationality" is? Also, how will this help me manage my business?


Posted by: Roberto Tigre | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 11:04 AM
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That's a paper I would be very interested in reading.

I joke about dropping acid but one of my first thoughts on reading the first thread was about taking psychedelics which seems to me a much better and, for many, relatable example of a transformative experience than whether to get your fangs on.

62 When I went to the beach the other day with my cow-orkers there was a very nice couple who went along with us who met Scottish country dancing. He's an environmental hydrological engineer from Canada and she's a retired teacher from the UK. They were newlyweds. I'm thinking I should take up Scottish country dancing. I may just luck out and snatch a petroleum engineer.


(either I'm a really shit speller or my spellchecker is fucking with me. Or both).


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 11:09 AM
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111.1 to 108


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 11:10 AM
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Also, how will this help me manage my business?

Best guess at what Tigger's business is: paleo relationship consulting service named "Eat Prey; Love."


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 11:12 AM
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nice couple who went along with us who met Scottish country dancing. He's an environmental hydrological engineer from Canada and she's a retired teacher from the UK.

Dude you're in a country where people wield Yatagans, hunt with falcons, and own megayachts? And this is what you dream of?


Posted by: Roberto Tigre | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 11:12 AM
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114 You don't know the half of it. I live just a couple of blocks away from a block long row of Bugatti/Lamborghini/Bentley/Maclaren dealerships.


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 11:25 AM
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110: I think coming up with a bullet point summary of the takeaways is genuinely hard. When I'm talking about being frustrated, I'm largely frustrated because let alone whether I am or am not persuaded by the arguments, I'm not sure what the arguments are exactly persuading me of.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 11:59 AM
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Also, how will this help me manage my business?

That question, at least, is easy.

It will not.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 12:01 PM
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117 -- well then, I'll just have to go back to the Who Moved My Cheese discussion group over at Unfogged: Business Edition.


Posted by: Roberto Tigre | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 12:05 PM
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118: That will actually hurt your business. It's all an elaborate cover up. Mice ate your cheese.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 12:13 PM
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Firing people is a transformative experience, and your company can't rationally evaluate what the experience will be like by mere simulation of future company preferences.


Posted by: conflated | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 4:41 PM
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118: www.unfogged.com/u/biz


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 07-20-15 4:53 PM
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One problem with LBs hypothetical Wes Anderson prodigy is that the model doesn't extend to a decision about how to handle a split consensus about his future.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-21-15 8:24 PM
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