Everyone hates Facebook. It records all your private data, it screws with the order of your timeline, it works to be as addictive and time-wasting as possible. So why don’t we just stop using Facebook? More to the point, why doesn’t some entrepreneur create a much better social network which doesn’t do any of those things, and then we all switch to her site, and she becomes really rich, and we’re all happy?
The obvious answer: all our friends are on Facebook. We want to be where our friends are. None of us expect our friends to leave, so we all stay. Even if every single one of our friends hated Facebook, none of us would have common knowledge that we would all leave at once; it’s hard to organize a mass exodus.
This is Scott’s example of what Yudkowsky calls in his new book Inadequate Equilibria. Another excerpt from Scott’s review:
The Inside View is when you weigh the evidence around something, and go with whatever side’s evidence seems most compelling. The Outside View is when you notice that you feel like you’re right, but most people in the same situation as you are wrong. So you reject your intuitive feelings of rightness and assume you are probably wrong too.
…Eliezer warns that overuse of the Outside View can prevent you from having any kind of meaningful opinion at all.
1. By the time this post goes up, I will have finished the book (recall that I typically schedule posts two or more days in advance). When I finish it, I am likely to write a long review.
2. The book is worth your time and your money.
3. I believe that Yudkowsky describes a real problem. Rather than call it “inadequate equilibria,” I would use a term popular in mathematical economics, “local optimum.” A group can find itself at a local optimum that is not the global optimum. It remains stuck at the local optimum because it resists going downhill to eventually go uphill.
Yudkowsky is focused on what I would call an intellectual local optimum. That is, it is possible for people to be stuck in a set of beliefs (leading to actions) that are difficult to discard but far from the global optimum. This is the way David Colander and Roland Kupers describe the state of economic thinking in their book Complexity Economics, which I described as
highly ambitious, always stimulating, and often frustrating.
I expect to say the same thing about Inadequate Equilibria. It is even more frustrating.
[UPDATE: I did indeed finish the book. I am glad that it stimulated me to think about the topic and to write an essay. But I think that you will find my essay on the topic will be more concise and more helpful than the book itself. I expect to have the essay up later this week on Medium.]