– Defining human values for value learners

New paper: “Defining human values for value learners”

Any non-trivial system is going to be a set of approximations to cost/benefit over time.

What defines costs and benefits can itself be an evolving set, of increasingly more abstract notions (involving choices with increasing degrees of freedom), and always something of a pyramid, with distinctions coming from experience, then abstractions coming from distinctions in the first instance, then higher level abstractions coming from sets of abstractions (recurse to whatever depth is actually achieved – n=12 being as far as I have pushed things personally).

Evolution seems to have equipped us with base sets of systems in both the genetic and mimetic senses, and with sets of systems for consensus or arbitrage or domination depending on contexts, which contexts often include assessments of systems as to time pressure and danger present (a minimum functional set for most humans seems to be about 20, and numbers exceeding 100 do not seem that uncommon).

It seems that if these systems are sufficiently generalised, and if one is sufficiently persistent in application, that one can build any set of value functions, based upon the models one has assembled and the projections of probable costs and rewards over various time-scales (and associated probabilities) that are delivered.

There does not seem to be any possible way to formally constrain such an unbounded set of dimensions and probability estimates (the resulting n-dimensional probability topologies are simply too contextually sensitive, and minor differences in heuristic weightings have profound consequences). That one would even consider that such a thing might be possible seems to display a profound ignorance of the necessary consequences of complexity theory.

[followed by]

[This part stayed around for a few hours, and was then removed. Someone probably judged it off topic. Its not off topic, it is a detailed example of something exactly on topic. And the levels of abstraction involved might have been missed. Do not stop at one or two.]

The sentence “New experiences can change which states my emotions categorize as “likely to lead to reward,” and they can thereby modify which states I enjoy and desire” is very problematic.
The definitions of “enjoy” and “desire” can vary in such a way as to make an interpretation that is toward the more deeply abstract interpretation of the term “desire”, mean something almost the complete denial of a more literal interpretation of simple first order experiential determinants of the meanings of those terms.

As an example. 6 years ago when I was told that there was nothing known to medical science that could extend the probability of my survival, which was given as “might be dead in 6 weeks, median survival 5 months, and 2% make 2 years”, I accepted that the oncologist on the other side of the desk believed that.

By the end of the following day I had decided to do my own literature search and use my own background in biochemistry and probability to guide me through interpretations and possible alternative explanations of datasets. Within 3 weeks I had become convinced that there was a significant probability that I could alter that probability distribution by consistent application of a set of conditions that seemed from evidence to alter those probabilities.
There were a bunch of major strategies involved.
Prime amongst those was the Placebo effect, which seems to involve three quite separate sets of neurochemical mechanisms that can be generally categorised as stress responses, conditioned responses, and expectations (and of course all of these sets can influence each other).
Next was the effects of diets, and the myriad tiny influences of the thousands of different things that had been in our diet over most of our evolutionary history that are missing, and things that were missing that are now present. Prime amongst these is vitamin C, which seems to be involved in about 20 different metabolic pathways connected with immune system function, and is perhaps most strongly implicated through the HIF expression in the neutrophil – phagocyte interaction. So I went RAVE vegan, and high dose oral vit C – currently on 2 x 9g doses per day, and now 5 years clear of last tumours.

Part of going vegan, was overriding all food preferences, and eating foods that my taste buds were telling me ought to be discarded. It was over 4 months before I ate anything that was even vaguely palatable to my tastes (my tastes were adapting – slowly). Having the pure bloody minded determination to override such “desires” on the basis of interpretations of evidence sets that are not generally shared seems rather rare. Few others have managed it (and I have spoken to many over the last 5 years whom the medical system had similarly rejected and ejected).

So the term “desire” to me, probably has a very different set of meanings to most.
I see desires as thing determined largely by a mix of evolution over genetic and cultural time-scales modulated through personal experience sets. In my case, entirely irrelevant to the actual survival needs of the specific situation I found myself in.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see
This entry was posted in Brain Science, Ideas, Our Future and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comment and critique welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s