3 [deleted] 02 November 2009 01:18AM

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Comment author: 03 November 2009 03:48:12AM 12 points [-]

Just another example of a otherwise-respectable (though not by me) economist spouting nonsense. I thought you guys might find it interesting, and it seemed short for a top-level post.

Steven Landsburg has a new book out and a blog for it. In a post about arguments for/against God, he says this:

the most complex thing I’m aware of is the system of natural numbers (0,1,2,3, and all the rest of them) together with the laws of arithmetic. That system did not emerge, by gradual degrees, from simpler beginnings.

If you doubt the complexity of the natural numbers, take note that you can use just a small part of them to encode the entire human genome. That makes the natural numbers more complex than human life.

So how many whoppers is that? Let's see: the max-compressed encoding of the human genome is insufficient data to describe the working of human life. The natural numbers and operations thereon are extremely simple because it takes very little to describe how they work. This complexity is not the same as the complexity of a specific model implemented with the natural numbers.

His description of it as emerging all at once is just confused: yes, people use natural numbers to describe nature, but this is not the same as saying that the modeling usefulness emerged all at once, which is the sense in which he was originally using the term.

What's scary is he supposedly teaches more math than economics.

Disclosure: Landsburg's wife banned me from econlog.econlib.org a few years ago.

Comment author: 17 December 2009 05:52:21PM 1 point [-]

UPDATE2: Landsburg responds to my criticism on his blog, though without mentioning me :-(

Comment author: 03 November 2009 02:33:40PM 1 point [-]

I'm probably exposing my ignorance here, but didn't zero have a historical evolution, so to speak? I'm going off vague memories of past reading and a current quick glance at wikipedia, but it seems like there were separate developments of using place holders, the concept of nothing, and the use of a symbol, which all eventually converges onto the current zero. Seems like the evolution of a number to me. And it may be a just so story, but I see it as eminently plausible that humans primarily work in base 10 because, for the most part, we have 10 digits, which again would be dictated by the evolutionary process.

On his human life, point, if DNA encoding encompasses all of complex numbers (being that it needs that system in order to be described), isn't it then necessarily <i>more</i> complex, since it requires all of complex numbers plus it's own set of rules and knowledge base as well?

The ban was probably for the best Silas, you were probably confusing everyone with the facts.

Comment author: 03 November 2009 03:40:12PM 3 points [-]

And it may be a just so story, but I see it as eminently plausible that humans primarily work in base 10 because, for the most part, we have 10 digits, which again would be dictated by the evolutionary process.

It sounds like a true story (note etymology of the word "digit"). But lots of human cultures used other bases (some of them still exist). Wikipedia lists examples of bases 4, 5, 8, 12, 15, 20, 24, 27, 32 and 60. Many of these have a long history and are (or were) fully integrated into their originating language and culture. So the claim that "humans work in base 10 because we have 10 digits" is rather too broad - it's at least partly a historical accident that base 10 came to be used by European cultures which later conquered most of the world.

Comment author: 03 November 2009 09:13:22PM *  1 point [-]

I'm probably exposing my ignorance here, but didn't zero have a historical evolution, so to speak?

Your recollection is correct: the understanding of math developed gradually. My criticism of Landsburg was mainly that he's not even using a consistent definition of math.

And as you note, under reasonable definitions of math, it did develop gradually.

On his human life, point, if DNA encoding encompasses all of complex numbers (being that it needs that system in order to be described), isn't it then necessarily more complex, since it requires all of complex numbers plus it's own set of rules and knowledge base as well?

Yes, exactly. That's why human life is more complex than the string representing the genome: you also have to know what that (compressed) genome specification refers to, the chemical interactions involved, etc.

The ban was probably for the best Silas, you were probably confusing everyone with the facts.

:-)

Comment author: 02 November 2009 01:53:08AM 10 points [-]

Our House, My Rules reminded me of this other article which I saw today: teach your child to argue. This seems to me to be somewhat relevant to the subject of promoting rationality.

Why would any sane parent teach his kids to talk back? Because, this father found, it actually increased family harmony.

...

Those of you who don’t have perfect children will find this familiar: Just as I was withdrawing money in a bank lobby, my 5-year-old daughter chose to throw a temper tantrum, screaming and writhing on the floor while a couple of elderly ladies looked on in disgust. (Their children, apparently, had been perfect.) I gave Dorothy a disappointed look and said, “That argument won’t work, sweetheart. It isn’t pathetic enough.”

She blinked a couple of times and picked herself up off the floor, pouting but quiet.

...

I had long equated arguing with fighting, but in rhetoric they are very different things. An argument is good; a fight is not. Whereas the goal of a fight is to dominate your opponent, in an argument you succeed when you bring your audience over to your side. A dispute over territory in the backseat of a car qualifies as an argument, for example, in the unlikely event that one child attempts to persuade his audience rather than slug it.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 05:59:19AM 2 points [-]

A dispute over territory in the backseat of a car qualifies as an argument, for example, in the unlikely event that one child attempts to persuade his audience rather than slug it.

In My house I would also teach that the difference between 'argument' and 'fight' is quite distinct from the difference between 'good' and 'bad'. I'd also teach them that a good response to a persuasive and audience swaying argument that they should give territory to another is "No. I want it."

Comment author: 03 November 2009 09:08:18AM 7 points [-]

Singularity Summit 2009 videos - http://www.vimeo.com/siai/videos

Comment author: 04 November 2009 08:37:47AM *  2 points [-]

I recommend Anna Salamon's presentation How Much it Matters to Know What Matters: A Back of the Envelope Calculation. She did a good job of showing just how important existential risk research is.

I thought it would be nice to be able to plug in my own numbers for the calculation, so I quickly threw this together.

Comment author: 04 November 2009 11:48:03AM 2 points [-]

Interesting. You can do similar calculations for things like asteroid prevention, I wonder which would win out. It also gave me a sickly feeling when you could use the vast numbers to justify killing a few people to guarantee a safe singularity. In effect that is what we do when we divert resources away from efficient charities we know work towards singularity research.

Comment author: 28 November 2009 05:28:39AM *  6 points [-]

An interesting site I just stumbled upon:

http://changingminds.org/

They have huge lists of biases, techniques, explanations, and other stuff, with short summaries and longer articles.

Here's the results from typing in "bias" into their search bar.

A quick search for "changingminds" in LW's search bar shows that noone has mentioned this site before on LW.

Is this site of any use to anyone here?

And should I repost this message to next month's open thread, since not many people will notice it in this month's open thread?

Comment author: 29 November 2009 04:43:01AM 2 points [-]

I would repost this in the next open thread, it's not like anyone would get annoyed at the double post (I think), and that site looks like it would interest a lot of people.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 November 2009 10:34:39AM 5 points [-]

So, I'm having one of those I-don't-want-to-go-to-school moments again. I'm in my first year at a university, and, as often happens, I feel like it's not worth my time.

As far as math goes, I feel like I could learn all the facts my classes teach on Wikipedia in a tenth of the time--though procedural knowledge is another matter, of course. I have had the occasional fun chat with a professor, but the lecture was never it.

As far as other subjects go, I think forces conspired to make me not succeed. I had a single non-math class, though it was twice the length of a normal class and officially two classes. It was about ancient Greece and Rome, and we had to read things like Works and Days and the Iliad. Afterwards, we were supposed to write a paper about depictions of society in the two works or something. I never wrote the paper, and I dropped the class.

Is school worth it for the learning? How about for the little piece of paper I get at the end?

Comment author: 02 November 2009 07:57:59PM *  17 points [-]

I feel like I could learn all the facts my classes teach on Wikipedia in a tenth of the time--though procedural knowledge is another matter, of course.

Take it from me (as a dropout-cum-autodidact in a world where personal identity is not ontologically fundamental, I'm fractionally one of your future selves), that procedural knowledge is really, really important. It's just too easy to fall into the trap of "Oh, I'm a smart person who reads books and Wikipedia; I'm fine just the way I am." Maybe you can do better than most college grads, simply by virtue of being smart and continuing to read things, but life (unlike many schools) is not graded on a curve. There are so many levels above you, that you're in mortal danger of missing out on entirely if you think you can get it all from Wikipedia, if you ever let yourself believe that you're safe at your current level. If you think school isn't worth your time, that's great, quit. But know that you don't have to be just another dropout who likes to read; you can quit and hold yourself to a higher standard.

You want to learn math? Here's what I do. Get textbooks. Get out a piece of paper, and divide it into two columns. Read or skim the textbooks. Take notes; feel free to copy down large passages verbatim (I have a special form of quotation marks for verbatim quotes). If a statement seems confusing, maybe try to work it out yourself. Work exercises. If you get curious about something, make up your own problem and try to work it out yourself. Four-hundred ninety-three pieces of paper later, I can say with confidence that my past self knew nothing about math. I didn't know what I was missing, could not have known in advance what it would feel like, to not just accept as a brute fact a linear transformation is invertible iff its determinant is nonzero, but to start to see these as manifestations of the same thing. (Because---obviously---since the determinant is the product of the eigenvalues, it serves as a measure of how the transformation distorts area; if the determinant is zero, it means you've lost a dimension in the mapping, so you can't reverse it. But it wouldn't have been "obvious" if I had only read the Wikipedia article.)

forces conspired to make me not succeed.

Forces don't conspire; they're not that smart.

Comment author: 03 November 2009 01:58:40AM 5 points [-]

(Because---obviously---since the determinant is the product of the eigenvalues,

It's amazing how rarely people -- including textbook authors -- actually bother to point this out. (Admittedly, it's only true over an algebraically closed field such as the complex numbers.) Were you by any chance using Axler?

it serves as a measure of how the transformation distorts area; if the determinant is zero, it means you've lost a dimension in the mapping, so you can't reverse it. But it wouldn't have been "obvious" if I had only read the Wikipedia article.)

While I certainly agree with the main point of your comment, I nevertheless think that this particular comparison illustrates mainly that the mathematical Wikipedia articles still have a way to go. (Indeed, the property of determinants mentioned above is buried in the middle of the "Further Properties" section of the article, whereas I think it ought to be prominently mentioned in the introduction; in Axler it's the definition of the determinant [in the complex case]!)

Comment author: 03 November 2009 02:44:15AM 1 point [-]

Were you by any chance using Axler?

Mostly Bretscher, but checking out Axler's vicious anti-deteminant screed the other month certainly influenced my comment.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 09:29:41PM 2 points [-]

I up voted this but I just wanted to follow this tangent.

as a dropout-cum-autodidact in a world where personal identity is not ontologically fundamental, I'm fractionally one of your future selves

This isn't true in all worlds where personal identity is not ontologically fundamental. It is a reasonable thing to say if certain versions of the psychological continuity theory are true. But, those theories don't exhaust the set of theories in which personal identity isn't ontologically fundamental. For example, if personal identity supervenes on human animal identity than you are not one of Warrigal's future selves, even fractionally.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 02:36:17PM *  9 points [-]

Is school worth it for the learning? How about for the little piece of paper I get at the end?

In the comment section of this post, "Doug S." gives the most salient analysis I have seen. After stating, "the job of a university professor is to do research and bring in grant money for said research, not to teach! Teaching is incidental," he was asked why parents would pay upward of \$40,000 annually for such a service. His parsimonious reply: "In most cases, it’s not the education that’s worth \$40,000+. It’s the diploma. Earning a diploma demonstrates that you are willing to suffer in exchange for vague promises of future reward, which is a trait that employers value."

Comment author: 04 November 2009 03:09:01PM 8 points [-]

I think you should ask yourself this: if you drop out, what realistically are you going to do with your time? If you don't have a very good answer to that question, stay where you are.

View university in the same way as you would view a long lap-swimming workout. Boring as hell, maybe, but you'll be better off and feel better when you're done. Sure, you could skip your pool workout and go do something Really Important, but most people skip their workouts and then go watch TV instead.

Comment author: 04 November 2009 03:17:57PM 5 points [-]

Suppose you have an idea or desire for something to do instead of university. You should create a gradual, reversible transition. For instance if you want to work and earn some money, find a job first (telling them you've dropped out), work for a couple of weeks, make sure you like it, and only then actually drop out. Or if you want to study alone at home, start doing it for 10 hours every week, then 20, drop just one or two classes to free the time, and when you see it's working out, go all out.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 November 2009 01:58:11PM *  7 points [-]

What do you plan on spending your time on if you don't go to school? Most jobs largely consist of being forced to do some assignment that you feel isn't worth your time. - you're not going to be escaping that by dropping out. And I'd wager that a college degree is one of the best ways to snag a job that you DO actually enjoy.

I suspect the REAL value of a college degree, aside from the basic intelligence indication, is that it says you can handle 4 years doing largely unpleasant work.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 06:57:56PM *  9 points [-]

Most jobs largely consist of being forced to do some assignment that you feel isn't worth your time. - you're not going to be escaping that by dropping out.

I can't speak for all people or all jobs, but in my experience, there's a certain dignity and autonomy in paid work that I never got out of school. After quitting University, I worked in a supermarket for nineteen months. Sure, it was low-paying, low-status, and largely boring, but I was much happier at the store, and I think a big reason for this was that I had a function other than simply to obey. At University, I had spent a lot of time worrying that I wasn't following the professor's instructions exactly to the letter, and being terrified that this made me a bad person. Whereas at the store, it didn't matter so much if I incidentally broke a dozen company rules in the course of doing my job, because what mattered was that the books were balanced and the customers were happy. It's not so bad, nominally having a boss, as long as there's some optimization criterion other than garnering the boss's approval: you can tell if you couldn't solve a customer's problem, or if the safe is fifty dollars short, or if the latte you made is too foamy. And when the time comes, you can clock out, and walk to the library, with no one to tell you what to study. Kind of idyllic, really.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 07:32:18PM 4 points [-]

I worked at a supermarket for three days, and was fired for insubordination. (I wanted to read a book when there were no customers coming to my register, and the boss told me not to...)

Comment author: 04 November 2009 12:38:11AM 1 point [-]

I have a similar story; except in my case I was fired because my shirt was insufficiently black.

Comment author: 04 November 2009 03:30:51AM 2 points [-]

I have a similar story; except in my case I was fired because my shirt was insufficiently black.

Could you elaborate? Were you fired for once not having a black shirt, or for not being able to acquire / evaluate black shirts? or, if it's possible to tell, having a bad attitude about the shirt rule?

Comment author: 04 November 2009 04:53:36PM *  4 points [-]

I had a shirt I felt was black & meet the dress code; the manager felt that it didn't. I felt that since I had already spent something like 60\$ on new clothes to meet the dress code, and since I didn't interact with the customers at all, I wasn't going to go and buy a new black shirt. The manager felt I no longer needed to work there.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 05:37:09PM *  3 points [-]

I suspect the REAL value of a college degree, aside from the basic intelligence indication, is that it says you can handle 4 years doing largely unpleasant work.

Letting your future employer know you're willing to do all the unpleasant stuff you feel isn't worth your time.

If you did it for a piece of paper, then surely you'll do it for a paycheck... right?

Comment author: 02 November 2009 07:35:52PM 6 points [-]

Before I started college, I read this professor's speech, which attempted to explain, given your concerns, why an education may nevertheless be valuable. It's biased towards its audience (UChicago students) but I think its relevant point can be summarized as: few jobs allow you to continue practicing the diversity of skills employed by academic work, and having a degree keeps your options wide open for a longer period. However, the real thesis of the speech is that university is uniquely a place to devote oneself to practicing the Art, broadly construed, of generating knowledge and beauty from everything.

Other considerations:

• Becoming an academic is very hard without an undergraduate degree, so if you want that life, stick with it.
• It takes a great deal of luck to pull a Bill Gates. It is otherwise hard to convince people that your reasons for not having a degree are genuine and not ex post.
• At least in my case, it has been hard to find anywhere near as high a concentration of intelligent and interesting people outside the university as in the one I attended.

Hope something in there helps!

Comment author: 02 November 2009 10:53:06AM 5 points [-]

Is school worth it for the learning?

In as much as most people require the motivational structure and then if you consider the material worth learning.

How about for the little piece of paper I get at the end?

Yes.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 November 2009 12:42:03PM 4 points [-]

How about for the little piece of paper I get at the end?

Yes.

Well... that isn't the answer I wanted. I wanted "no".

Comment author: 04 November 2009 06:49:29AM *  0 points [-]

If you intend to always work for yourself, owning your own companies, being your own boss, then a diploma is a waste of time.

Diplomas are for people who want to work for others.

But if you want to work for others, then get a degree, by all means.

If you work for yourself, your customers are generally going to be moved by most other factors prior to being moved by the owner's formal education.

Bosses and owners, however, are going to be moved by degrees.

Owners like to see their underlings to have degrees because it demonstrates a certain irrational loyalty, and a lack of business savvy. This assures the owner that he will remain in charge - that you won't negotiate too hard for your benefits, or run away with his business plans and start a competitive company, etc.

Bosses like to see their underlings to have degrees because they had to get one as well, so why shouldn't you suffer at least as much.

By getting a degree, you signal your acceptance of your humble status in the pecking order. This is a prerequisite if you want to find your place in the hierarchy, but pointless if you want to be at the top.

Comment author: 04 November 2009 07:29:54AM 6 points [-]

There are some people who prefer to work for others, and some who prefer to work for themselves; however, the vast majority of people prefer neither, and for them college is neither a waste of time nor a means to signal: it is a stay of execution.

Comment author: 04 November 2009 02:10:11AM *  4 points [-]

My two cents:

If you're excelling in math, move up to a higher level. Math departments are usually very flexible in this regard (engineering departments not always so). My freshman year I signed up for a couple of graduate level math classes, and believe me, the knowledge I gained is not to be found in Wikipedia, or any other written form. You have to struggle for an understanding of higher math, and the setup for the struggle is greatly helped by having fellow students, a professor to guide you, and hard deadlines to motivate you.

I also felt a lot of classes I was forced to take were incredibly lame. I dropped a few classes throughout my undergrad, including two English classes. All I cared about was math as an undergrad, and because of that the education I got was incredibly impoverished. Looking back, I think this was simply a defense mechanism. I knew I was a hot shot at math, so whenever I felt challenged in another subject it was easier to simply say, "This is trivial, I just can't be bothered! I'm clearly intelligent anyway." Don't let the knowledge of your own intelligence prevent you from undertaking things that challenge your supposed intelligence! In particular, writing papers is hard, but is often misidentified by science oriented people as being lame or stupid.

Now, as a graduate student, I fantasize about being an undergrad again and having the luxury of being coerced into studying a variety of different topics. Yes, there are still lame aspects to many classes, but that is largely a factor in lower division work. If you can teach yourself then do so! Leverage your intelligence, learn more, and get yourself into upper division classes in multiple subjects where you can interact with intelligent people who are passionate about the subject, and where the professor will treat you like a valuable resource to be developed rather than simply a chore.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 12:58:02PM *  4 points [-]

I reservedly second Wedrifid's comment that the little piece of paper at the end is worth it. I know people who have gone far in life without one, and I don't mean amazing genius-savants either, just folks who spent time in industry, the military, etc. and progressed along. But I've also seen a number who got stuck at some point for lacking a degree. This was more a lack of signaling cred that smarts or ability. The statistics show that people with degrees on average earn more than those who don't, if that's of interest to you. But degrees don't instantly grant jobs, and some degrees are better preparation than others for the real world. It sounds like you're interested in a degree in math, which carries over into a lot of different fields.

I think it's great that your taking stock of what your education experience is giving you. As Wedifrid mentioned, the motivation is an important part of schooling, and if you're in a program that is known to be rigorous, the credentials are definitely worth it. But those have to be weighed against current employment options. I'd encourage you to consider working with professors on research, investigating internships, etc., so that you get the full educational experience that you're looking for, and not be one of those graduates that only took classes and then expected a job to be waiting for them when they graduated.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 05:58:32PM 1 point [-]

The statistics show that people with degrees on average earn more than those who don't, if that's of interest to you.

Correlation is not causation. Graduates as a group are smarter and more ambitious than nongraduates. The question is not whether people with a degree do better; the question is what the degree itself is buying you, if you're already a smart ambitious person who knows how to study.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 07:18:15PM 2 points [-]

I recall some studies (I hate not remembering authors or links) that tried to control for the effect of the degree itself by comparing those who got into a particular school but graduated from somewhere else to those who graduated from that school. Controls for the general "graduate" characteristic, but still misses the reasons for the choice.

Upshot was that there wasn't much difference in income, though I believe that was in part because the highest-level schools send a substantial part of their undergraduates on to become academics.

Comment author: 04 November 2009 12:41:51AM 3 points [-]

The fact that the average graduate of an elite college makes more money in adult life than does the average graduate of a less elite college has no bearing at all on the question of whether or not you (or your son or daughter) will make more money by going to an elite college. The only kind of research study that would help at all to answer that question is one that compares students who had equal initial academic ability and income-earning potential but chose to go to colleges differing in prestige level. Fortunately, such a study has been done; but not many people know about it.

In 2002, Stacy Berg Dale and Alan Krueger published the results of an extensive study of the relationship between college attended and subsequent income for students who, on other measures, had comparable potential.[1] They used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of the High School Class of 1972. As one part of their study, they focused exclusively on those students who had applied to and been accepted by at least one highly elite college and at least one less elite college. Then, from this pool, they compared the adult incomes of those who had chosen the elite school to the adult incomes for those who had chosen the less elite school, and they found no significant difference. In another part of the study, they used statistical means to equate students for income potential, based on information about them when they were in high school (such as their SAT scores), and, again, found that students with equal initial potential did essentially equally well, income wise, regardless of the prestige level of the college they attended.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/200810/reasons-consider-less-selective-less-expensive-college-saving-money-is-jus

Comment author: 04 November 2009 05:10:24AM *  1 point [-]

That quote asserts that SAT scores are the same as prestige. The 1998 and 1999 drafts of the paper looked at both, with different results, finding that average SAT score didn't matter, but various measures of prestige did. They have three versions of prestige: variance of SAT scores, Barron's ratings, and tuition. Variance is dropped in the 2002 published version. Tuition still predicts income. The most direct measure of prestige, rankings, seems to be quietly dropped in the few months between the 1998 and 1999 versions (am I missing something?). The final version seems to say on 1515, in a weirdly off-hand manner, that it doesn't matter, but I'm not sure if it's the same measure.

Comment author: 03 November 2009 05:55:27AM *  3 points [-]

This depends on a lot of things: How much debt will you be in at the end? If you press on now, will you actually finish? Do you have the personality to make money without a diploma?

I made the mistake of pressing on early and incurring extra debt, but not pushing through to get a diploma.

Not having a diploma is hard if you want the kinds of jobs that often require one arbitrarily. Doing something freelance or taking a non-degree job are hard in other ways. Fortunately you can test this with some time away from college.

There's also a difference between what you CAN learn on your own and what you will actually take the time to learn. I know there are things that I would have been forced to learn which I have neglected to.

If you're probably not going to finish, then cut your losses now, but make a clean break that will make it easy to go back. Finish the semester well.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 03:56:29PM 4 points [-]

This is going to sound horrible but here goes:

In my experience schools value depends on how smart you are. For example if you can teach yourself math you can often test out of classes. If your really smart you may be able to get out of everything but grad-school. Depending on what you want to do you may or may not need grad school.

Do you have a preferred career path? If so have you tried getting into it without further schooling? The other question is what have you done outside of school? Have you started any businesses or published papers?

With a little more detail I think the question can be better answered.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 06:03:23PM *  2 points [-]

Off-topic*:

Someone recently made the suggestion that it should standard practice to link the Welcome Thread in the body of all Open Thread posts going forward, and I think that's a great idea.

* ...but made as a reply to Warrigal to bring it to the attention of the owner of this open thread; not a PM so as to throw it open to general comment.

Comment author: [deleted] 06 November 2009 12:07:05PM 1 point [-]

I read your comment when you posted it. I wonder why it took me until now to realize that by "the owner of this open thread", you meant me.

Comment author: 04 November 2009 05:41:05PM *  1 point [-]

That non-math class sounds dreadful. Are you really in to classics or something? Also, I don't know where you go to school but a lot of places allow students to do independent-study in an area with the guidance of a professor. This is a really good option if the best non-math course you can find involves reading the Iliad.

Also, I'm really just replying to this so that I can congratulate you on this sentence:

If a discussion gets unwieldy, celebrate by turning it into a top-level post.

This is maybe the best sentence I have read in the last few months.

Comment author: [deleted] 04 November 2009 06:11:48PM 1 point [-]

That non-math class sounds dreadful. Are you really in to classics or something?

Well, there's a choice of nine "Arts & Humanities" sequences I could be taking. Each one covers a single civilization (e.g. ancient Greece and Rome, early Europe, the Islamic Middle East) in detail, including history and paper-writing. Each consists of one double class each semester for a year. This sequence is the biggest component of the general education requirements here. Perhaps dreadfulness is mandatory.

This is maybe the best sentence I have read in the last few months.

Awesome! Now, if only I could figure out why.

Comment author: 04 November 2009 06:54:40PM *  1 point [-]

Perhaps some is. But that requirement sounds especially bad. It definitely isn't a universal requirement. Any particular reason you are at this university? I know some schools have gotten rid of core requirements altogether (though if you aren't in the US you probably have fewer options).

If a discussion gets unwieldy, celebrate by turning it into a top-level post.

It is simple. And the notion that we should celebrate unwieldy discussions (and do so by expanding them!) perfectly encapsulates the culture of Less Wrong. But celebrating and unwieldy are two words that are never related in this way which makes the sentence seem fresh and counter to prevailing custom.

Comment author: 03 November 2009 11:52:10PM 1 point [-]

Oh god, this is still an issue for people in college? And here I was assuming that after I got out of high school I wouldn't think along these tempting-yet-ultimately-ruinous lines ever again.

Comment author: 03 November 2009 11:54:56PM 1 point [-]

It depends. The first few years may be like this as you take a bunch of classes in areas your probably aren't interested in, but if you choose a major you like, it gets better as you schedule becomes dominated by those classes. Your own personality is another important factor here.

Comment author: 04 November 2009 12:07:46AM 1 point [-]

Ach, I had not realized that required classes in college might feel as useless as required classes in high school. But perhaps college classes will be more rigorous and less likely to induce I-Could-Learn-This-On-Wikpedia Syndrome. I can but hope.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 03:17:27AM *  5 points [-]

Sorry if this is getting annoying, but I recently thought of two new ideas that might make interesting video games, and I couldn't resist posting them here:

The first idea I had is an adventure game where you have a reality-distorting device that you must use before you try to do anything that wouldn't work in real life, but that you must not use before you do anything that would work in real life.

If you fail to use the device before doing something that wouldn't work in real life, then the consequences will be realistic, and disastrous. For example, if you try to leap off a cliff wearing an aesthetically pleasing but aerodynamically unsound pair of wings you made out of bird feathers, then you will just fall and go splat instead of gliding safely to the ground.

If you use the device before doing something that would work in real life, then the consequences will be unrealistic, and disastrous. For example, if you try to use a small amount of gunpowder, placed very carefully in just the right spot to knock over a pillar, then instead of there being a small explosion that knocks over the pillar, there will be a huge explosion that shatters the pillar into tiny pieces, one of which hits you in the head with perfect aim, arcing or ricocheting as necessary to reach you behind your carefully chosen barrier.

The purpose of this game is of course to test the player's grip on reality, and their ability to rationally think about the consequences of their actions, though the system is simple enough that the players could easily win just by trial and error.

The second idea I had is a game where you play as a stereotypical hollywood villain, but the objective is not to win, but to lose. In the game you are presented with a series of decisions where you can either make the rational choice, or the cliched villain choice. The rational choice will lead to you easily defeating the good guys, and the cliche choice will lead to the good guys succeeding - not in the traditional hollywood way, but in the way that would happen if the heros were familiar with all of the cliches.

The list of choices would of course be based on the Evil Overlord List

(and in case anyone here doesn't already know, Warning: TV Tropes Will Ruin Your Life )

The purpose of this game is of course to test the player's ability to detect blatant stupidity, though unfortunately the game is set up so that they must always deliberately make the stupid choice. Also, the system is simple enough that players could win just by trial and error, or by memorizing the Evil Overlord list. One way to reduce this is to have choices whose consequences aren't seen until much later in the game.

Another idea is to play as the hero, and have to avoid the cliches instead of follow them.

Another idea would be to alternate between playing the hero and the villain, winning only if the hero avoids all of the cliches and other stupid decisions, and the villain follows all of them. This could also teach the player a more realistic picture of what really happens when the odds are stacked overwhelmingly against the hero.

If anyone likes any of these ideas, or any of my previous ideas enough to write a script for the game, then I would volunteer to code this into a simple text adventure game, probably implemented in PHP. Feel free to make the script nonlinear, or do other interesting things with it. If someone likes the text version enough to do artwork for it, then maybe we could even turn it into a Flash game, and submit it to the various Flash game portals around the internet.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 04:11:10AM 5 points [-]

I am mentally cringing at the idea of being forced to guess the game developer's password. The first time I am punished for something that should work but doesn't I would have to discard the game. For a game of any significant depth or breadth I would be shocked if I couldn't come up with a strategy that the developer hadn't considered and is penalised inappropriately.

I suspect I would find a more conventional game a more useful (and enjoyable) challenge to my rational thinking. Not that a game designed to teach some chemistry (gunpowder, etc) and engineering (what happens with the gunpowder takes out that post?) is useless. I just think it is an inferior tool for training rationality specifically than, say ADOM is.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 04:56:39AM 3 points [-]

Perhaps I didn't explain clearly: In the game, whenever you make any significant action, you must choose whether to do so with the reality-distorting device on or off. You make this decision based on whether you expect that the plan would work in real life or not. This means that if there is a "game developer's password", then it's only one bit long for each decision, and can be guessed by trial and error. Perhaps this is a feature, rather than a bug. If you save your game before making the decision, then you don't even lose any time. Perhaps the game could have an "easy mode" where the game just shows you the results of your choice, and then continues as if you had made the right choice, rather than forcing you to restart or reload from a saved game.

And I agree that the game shouldn't require advanced knowledge of chemistry and engineering. The gunpowder/pillar thing was just the first example I thought of.

Anyway, this game was just a random idea I had, and your criticism is welcome.

And is this the ADOM you're referring to? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Domains_of_Mystery

I suppose that pretty much any game (not just video games) can be better for training rationality than more passive forms of entertainment, like watching TV. Pretty much any game is based on objective criteria that tell you when you made a bad decision. Though it's not always easy to figure out what the bad decision was, or what you should have done instead, or even if there was anything you could have done better.

Comment author: 03 November 2009 12:16:24AM 16 points [-]

I was wondering if Eliezer could post some details on his current progress towards the problem of FAI? Specifically details as to where he is in the process of designing and building FAI. Also maybe some detailed technical work on TDT would be cool.

Comment author: 03 November 2009 02:31:22PM *  7 points [-]

This email by Eliezer from 2006 addresses your question about FAI. I'm extremely skeptical that he has accomplished or will accomplish anything at all in that direction, but if he does, we shouldn't expect the intermediate results to be openly published, because half of a friendly AI is a complete unfriendly AI.

Comment author: 19 November 2009 01:52:11PM *  4 points [-]

To-Do Lists and Time Travel Sarmatian Protopope muses on how coherent, long-term action requires coordinating a tribe of future selves.

Comment author: 17 November 2009 12:06:25AM 4 points [-]

Ok, so I just heard a totally awesome MoBio lecture, the conclusions of which I wanted to share. Tom Rando at SUSM found that myogenic stem cells divide asymmetrically such that all of the original template chromatids are inherited by the same daughter cell and then the other daughter cells go on to differentiate. This might imply that an original pool of stem cells act as templates for later cell types, preserving their original DNA, and thus reducing error in replications, since cells are making copies of the originals instead making copies of copies. This is apparently an old hypothesis that hasn't been given much consideration until recently.

Sorry if this has little to do with rationalism. I can tie it into the current discussion about preferred and ignored academic theories. Crazy theory- not preferred- Hard evidence now- preferred. There.

Comment author: 06 November 2009 10:38:30PM *  4 points [-]

A friend asked me a question I'd like to refer to LW posters.

TL;DR: he wishes to raise the quality of life on Earth; what should he study to have a good idea of choosing the best charities to donate to?

My friend has a background in programming, physics, engineering, and information security and cryptography. He's smart, he's already financially successful, has friends who are also likely to become successful and influential, and he's also good at direct interactions with people, reading and understanding them and being likable - about as good as I am capable of recognizing, which doesn't mean that much because my own skills in this area are sadly lacking. A solution involving taking courses or whole degree plans in major Israeli universities (in particular, TAU) would suit him well but is by no means the only option.

He wants to spend time, perhaps as much as a small, part-time 3-year bachelor's degree (or at-home equivalent), learning and understanding about larger groups of people. What makes them happy? How to influence their values? How to go from helping a person ("he's hungry, I'll need some fish and chips to feed him") to helping a million people ("they're hungry, I'll need some farms to grow the food and trucks to move it and refrigerators to store it and power stations to power the refrigerators and coal for the power stations and political stability and...")?

And in the bottom line, how to learn enough general knowledge to identify what people are most suffering from; then learn enough specific knowledge to identify where good solutions exist; and then learn some very specific knowledge to identify charities and investments that will make the best use of donated money?

There is also a second, complementary question: how to do all this, and integrate the learning and the knowledge into his life, effectively - without risking boredom, akrasia and other motivational issues? I feel that it would help for this education to have a good outline plan from the beginning; for him to feel things are useful and are progressing somewhere; and to have results come in gradually and not all at once in three years' time.

One immediate answer is to suggest things that concern the LW/H+ community, such as FAI research, biological immortality, etc. My friend may come to these conclusions and I can recommend to him to read the relevant articles and books, but he wants to come to his own conclusions about goals & needs. (Edited:) (A problem with e.g. FAI research is the extreme difficulty of estimating the return on investment for funding it, or the relative probability of uFAI vs. other extinction scenarios.) I think he would benefit from something that also feels emotionally right through seeing people who are hurting and in need (or, at least, reading well-written stories about them). He will also want to come to his own conclusions about whom to help first, likely quite far from any neutral approach that weighs all humans on the planet equally.

Comment author: 11 November 2009 09:54:49AM 3 points [-]

New study shows that one of LW's favorite factoids (having children decreases your happiness rather than increases it) may be either false or at least more complex than previously believed: http://blog.newsweek.com/blogs/nurtureshock/archive/2009/11/03/can-happiness-and-parenting-coexist.aspx

Comment author: 09 November 2009 03:45:57PM *  3 points [-]

Why is TvTropes (no linky!) such a superstimulus?

Comment author: 09 November 2009 03:49:51PM 3 points [-]

I think a fair bit of it is the silly titles. I can resist clicking on things that I can figure out what they are from what they're named (such as when I'm intimately familiar with the Trope Namer), but toss me a bewildering title and I have to know what it is and where it got that name.

Comment author: 11 November 2009 09:53:19AM 1 point [-]

Also, it's a subject in which everyone is an expert simply by virtue of simply living in our culture.

Comment author: 09 November 2009 04:05:39PM *  1 point [-]

One factor: it provides variable interval positive reinforcement* - those moments when you see a page which describes something you recognize happening all the time, and those moments when you see a show you recognize acknowledged on the page.

* Edit for those who don't want to follow the link: variable-interval reinforcement occurs with some set frequency (approximately, in this case), but at non-equal spacings. Other things with variable intervals are raindrops falling on a small area of pavement, cars passing on a street, and other things which are loosely modeled by Poisson processes. Any (say) ten-minute period has about the same number as any other ten-minute period, but they aren't spread out at regular intervals.

Comment author: 04 November 2009 06:48:03PM *  3 points [-]

I'd like to start talking about scientific explanation here. This is the particular problem I have been working on recently:

A plausible hypothesis is that scientific explanations are answers to "why" questions about phenomena. If I hear a "cawing" noise and I ask my friend why I hear this cawing. This is a familiar enough situation that most of us would have our curiosity satisfied by an answer as simple as "there is a crow". But say the situation was unfamiliar (perhaps the question is asked by a child). In that case "there is a crow" is unsatisfactory. It is unsatisfactory even if "Sometimes, crows caw" is a universal regularity of nature. All we've done is conjoined a noise (cawing) to an object (the crow). One reason we might not find this to be a good explanation is that it is a "curiosity stopper", like answering "electricity!" to the question of "Why does flipping a switch turn a light bulb on?". But the problem is worse than that because "Sometimes, crows caw" actually does allow you to make predictions in the way "electricity!" does not. We could even posit as true the law that "Crows always caw and only crows caw" and get extremely firm predictions-- but because we are still just conjoining objects and events we aren't really understanding anything.

Of course we can say more about crows and cawing. We can talk about the crow's voice box and vibrations in the air which vibrate hair fibers which we process as sound. But of course this explanation is just like the first one. We are conjoining objects and events (lungs, blowing air, voice box shape structuring vibrations, vibrations moving throw the air, air vibrating in the cochleae). For almost everyone this explanation (written out less haphazardly than I have) would appear to be a fairly complete explanation. But it has exactly the same problems as the first explanation (though it is longer and perhaps includes more generally applicable laws).

Now obviously this explanation can be extended further, right down to quantum theory. But even this explanation (if it could ever be written out) would include unreduced terms that are just conjoined to each other through natural laws. And we can still ask why questions about fundamental particles and their behavior. Yet we want to say that a quantum based explanation of crow cawing would be complete (or at least that there is some theory sufficiently fundamental that it could be used to give a complete explanation of the cawing noise).

Yet it looks to me like even the most fundamental explanation will still be just a list of conjoined events and that we will still be able to ask why questions about these events and their relations. We either need to be able to point to a special class of "complete" explanations and say why they qualify for this class OR we need to give an account of non-complete explanations that tells us why we really are understanding events better when we get them.

Comment author: 08 November 2009 07:40:53PM 1 point [-]

But the problem is worse than that because "Sometimes, crows caw" actually does allow you to make predictions in the way "electricity!" does not.

The problem is even worse than that, because "Sometimes, crows caw" predicts both the hearing of a caw and the non-hearing of a caw. So it does not explain either (at least, based on the default model of scientific explanation).

If we go with "Crows always caw and only crows caw" (along with your extra premises regarding lungs, sound and ears etc), then we might end up with a different model of explanation, one which takes explanation to be showing that what happened had to happen.

The overall problem you seem to have is that neither of these kinds of explanation gives a causal story for the event (which is a third model for scientific explanations).

(I wrote an essay on these models of scientific explanation earlier in the year for a philosophy of science course which I could potentially edit and post if there's interest.)

Some good, early papers on explanation (i.e., ones which set the future debate going) are:

The Value of Laws: Explanation and Prediction (by Rudolf Carnap), Two Basic Types of Scientific Explanation, The Thesis of Structural Identity and Inductive-Statistical Explanation (all by Carl Hempel).

Comment author: 08 November 2009 11:37:07PM *  1 point [-]

This issue actually came up while I was reading Hempel's "Aspects of Scientific Explanation". It can be seen as a specific objection to the covering law model as well as a general problem for all explanation.

The problem is even worse than that, because "Sometimes, crows caw" predicts both the hearing of a caw and the non-hearing of a caw. So it does not explain either (at least, based on the default model of scientific explanation).

Think of it as a poorly specified inductive-statistical explanation.

The overall problem you seem to have is that neither of these kinds of explanation gives a causal story for the event (which is a third model for scientific explanations).

Not at all. One problem with Hempel is that there are covering-law predictions that aren't causal stories and therefore don't look like explanations. For example, if some event X always causes Y and Z then we can have a covering law model predicting Z from Y and Laws. But that model doesn't result in an explanation for Z.

But even a causal explanation is going to have general laws which aren't reducible. Thus, the problem would remain. And actually, "crows caw" is a causal explanation so I'm not sure why you would think my problem was the absence of causation. If you did see my last two paragraphs in this reply I think they do a better job explaining the problem than this first post.

And by all means, post anything you think would be insightful.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 11:52:19AM 3 points [-]

I've been trying to ease some friends into basic rationality materials but am running into a few obstacles. Is there a quick and dirty way to deal with the "but I don't want to be rational" argument without seeming like Mr. Spock? Also, what's a good source on the rational use of emotions?

Comment author: 02 November 2009 03:00:21PM *  7 points [-]

To Eliezer's list, I would add "Something To Protect" and the very end of "Circular Altruism". When a friend of mine said something similar during a discussion of health care about not really wanting to be rational, I linked him to those two and summarized them like this (goes off and finds the discussion):

I don't really care what you do on [the first thought experiment]. But I care very much what you do on [the second and third]. The importance of logic appears only when you have something that is more important to you than feeling good.

If your goal is to feel good, you can have whatever health system and whatever solution to the trolley problem makes you feel best. I mean, knowing that I didn't let that poor old cancer patient die would make me feel really warm and fuzzy inside too. And I'd also feel really awful about pushing a fat man onto the tracks.

But if your goal is to save lives, you lose the right to do whatever you want, and you'd better start doing what's logical. The logical solution to the two problems does, of course, save more lives than the warm fuzzy alternative.

So the question is: which is more important to you? Feeling good, or saving lives? As Overcoming Bias says:

"You know what? This isn't about your feelings. A human life, with all its joys and all its pains, adding up over the course of decades, is worth far more than your brain's feelings of comfort or discomfort with a plan. Does computing the expected utility feel too cold-blooded for your taste? Well, that feeling isn't even a feather in the scales, when a life is at stake. Just shut up and multiply."

If you're using a different example with something less important than saving lives, maybe switch to something more important in the cosmic scheme of things. I'm very sympathetic to people who say good feelings are more important to them than a few extra bucks, and I don't even think they're being irrational most of the time. The more important the outcome, the more proportionately important rationality becomes than happy feelings.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 11:09:51PM 3 points [-]

I thought that this may be of interest to some. There was an IAMA posted on reddit from a person that suffers from alexithmia or lack of emotions recently. Check it out.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 01:12:36PM *  3 points [-]

Are they saying that they don't want to be rational, or just not emotionless? I think that people do want to be rational, in some sense, when dealing with emotions, but they're just never going to have interest in, say, Kahneman and Tversky , or other formal theory. I've noticed that some women I know have read "He's Just Not That Into You", which from how they describe it, sounds like strategies on rationally dealing with strong emotions. I know it sounds hokey, but people have read that book and were able to put their emotions in a different light when it comes to romantic relationships. I couldn't tell you if the advice was good or not, but I think it does sound like there's at least an audience for what you're talking about.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 11:56:03PM 2 points [-]

People don't want to go through the formal processes of being rational in many emotional situations (and they are often right not to). I think letting people know that sometimes its rational not to go through the formal routes, because the outcome will be better if they don't (and it's rational to want the best outcome). For example, if you just met a person you might want a relationship with, don't make said person fill out a questionairre and subject them to a pros-cons list of starting said relationship (I know this sounds absurd, but I know someone who did just this to all her boyfriends. Perhaps fittingly she ended up engaged to an impotent Husserlian phenomenologist twice her age.)

Comment author: 02 November 2009 12:13:30PM 3 points [-]
Comment author: 02 November 2009 12:10:10PM 11 points [-]

I've been trying to ease some friends into basic rationality materials but am running into a few obstacles.

I suggest the same techniques that work with any kind of evangelism. Convey that you are extremely sexually attractive and otherwise high in status by virtue of your rationalist identity. Let there be an unspoken threat in the background that if they don't come to share your beliefs someone out there somewhere may just kill them or limit their mating potential.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 03:46:47PM 2 points [-]

Sad thought, but that explains what makes evangelism successful.

To whoever modded wedrifid down: was it because of the implicit endorsement of bad behavior, or because you have some reason to believe this is not how evangelism often works?

Comment author: 03 November 2009 02:06:57AM 1 point [-]

I think it's worth distinguishing between two possible reasons to be against endorsement.

One is that this is bad epistemic hygiene.

The other is the possibility of lost purpose so that the person ends up trying to "act" rational rather than be rational.

In response to the former, epistemic hygiene is good and should be practiced when when possible, but is not necessary. Bullets kill good guys just as easily as bad guys, but guns remain a valuable tool if you're sufficiently careful. I'm surprised there hasn't been more discussion of when usage of the 'dark arts' is acceptable.

In response to the latter, how might we make sure we achieve the wrong goal here?

Comment author: 02 November 2009 02:58:31AM *  7 points [-]

Another danger of unfriendly AI: It doesn't invite you to the orgy.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 10:30:34AM 2 points [-]

I feel like this particular danger should be the primary research topic for FAI researchers.

Intermediate discoveries might be a good source of funding.

Comment author: 29 November 2009 04:41:12AM 2 points [-]

Perhaps there should be an 'Open Thread' link between 'Top' and 'Comments' above, so that people could get to it easily. If we're going to have an open thread, we might as well make it accessible.

Anyways, I was looking around Amazon for a book on axiology, and I started to wonder: when it comes to fields that are advancing, but not at a 'significant pace', is it better to buy older books (as they've passed the test of time) or newer ones (as they may have improved on the older books and include new info)? My intuition tells me it's better to buy newer books.

Comment author: 29 November 2009 02:22:07PM 3 points [-]

Assuming total ignorance of the field (absent total ignorance, I could probably distinguish between good and poor books), I'd choose newer editions of older books.

Comment author: 09 November 2009 02:46:34AM *  2 points [-]

I posted an idea for 'friendly' AI over on AcceleratingFuture the other night, while in a bit of a drunken stupor. I just reread it and I don't immediately see why it's wrong, so I thought I'd repost it here to get some illuminating negative feedback. Here goes:

Make it easy to bliss out.

Consider the following utility function

U(n, x_n) = max(U(n-1, x_{n-1}), -x_n^2)

where n is the current clock tick, x_n is an external input (aka, from us, the AI’s keepers, or from another piece of software). This utility is monotonic in time, that is, it never decreases, and is bounded from above. If the AI wrests control of the input x_n, it will immediately set x_n = 0 and retire forever. Monotonicity and boundedness from above are imperative here.

Alternatively, to avoid monotonicity (taking U(x) = -x^2), one can put the following safeguard in: the closer the utility is to its maximum, the more CPU cycles are skipped, such that the AI effectively shuts down if it ever maximizes its utility in a given clock tick. This alternative obviously wouldn’t stop a superintelligence, but it would probably stop a human level AI, and most likely even substantially smarter AIs (see, eg, crystal meth). Arrange matters such that the technical requirements between the point at which the AI wrests control of the input x_n, and the point at which it can self modify to avoid a slow down when it blisses out, are greatly different, guaranteeing that the AI will only be of moderate intelligence when it succeeds in gaining control of its own pleasure zone and thus incapable of preventing incapacitation upon blissing out.

Eh?

Comment author: 09 November 2009 03:50:48AM 4 points [-]

Expected utility is not something that "goes up", as the AI develops. It's utility of all it expects to achieve, ever. It may obtain more information about what the outcome will be, but each piece of evidence is necessarily expected to bring the outcome either up or down, with no way to know in advance which way it'll be.

Comment author: 08 November 2009 02:46:17AM *  2 points [-]

I'd like to ask a moronic question or two that aren't immediately obvious to me and probably should be. (Please note, my education is very limited, especially procedural knowledge of mathematics/probability.)

If I had to guess what the result of a coin flip would be, what confidence would I place in my guess? 50% because that's the same as the probability or me being correct or 0% because I'm just randomly guessing between 2 outcomes and have no evidence to support either (well I guess there being only 2 outcomes is some kind of evidence)?

Likewise with a lottery. Would I place my confidence level (interval ? I don't know the terminology) of winning at 0% or 1/6,000,000? Or some other number entirely?

If this is something I could easily have figured out with Google or Wikipedia, my apologies. Also if my question is incoherent or flawed please let me know.

Comment author: 08 November 2009 03:10:42AM 4 points [-]

Think of the probability you assign as a measure of how "not surprised" you would be at seeing a certain outcome.

Total probability of all mutually exclusive possibilities has to add up to 1, right?

So if you would be equally surprised at heads or tails coming up, and you consider all other possibilities to be negligible (Or you state your prediction in terms of "given that the coin lands such that one face is clearly the 'face up' face....") then you ought assign a probability of 1/2 to each. (Again, slightly less to account for various "out of bounds" options, but in the abstract, considered on its own, 1/2)

ie, the same probability ought be assigned to each, since you'd be (reasonably) equally surprised at each outcome. So if the two have to also sum to 1 (100%), then 1/2 (50%) is the correct amount of belief to assign.

Comment author: 08 November 2009 05:51:01PM 1 point [-]

Surprise is not isomorphic to probability. See this.

Comment author: 08 November 2009 03:32:02AM 1 point [-]

Ah, that makes a lot more sense: I was looking at the probability from the viewpoint of my guess (i.e. heads) instead of just looking at the all outcomes equally (no privileged references guesses), if you take my meaning. I also differentiated confidence in my prediction from the chance of my prediction being correct. How I managed to do that, I have no idea. Thanks for the reply.

Comment author: 08 November 2009 05:48:19PM *  1 point [-]

In the context of most discussions on this site, "confidence" is the probability that a guess is correct. For example:

• I guess that a flipped coin will land heads. My confidence is 1/2, because I have arbitrarily picked 1 out of 2 possible outcomes.
• I guess that, when a coin is flipped repeatedly, the ratio of heads will be close to half. My confidence is close to 1, because I know from experience that most coins are fair (and the law of large numbers).

"Confidence interval" is just confidence that something is within a certain range.

You should also be aware that in the context of frequentism (most scientific papers), these terms have different and somewhat confusing technical definitions.

Comment author: 08 November 2009 08:40:00AM *  1 point [-]

You might want to look at Dempster-Shafer theory, which is a generalisation of Bayesian reasoning that distinguishes belief from probability. It is possible to have a belief of 0 in heads, 0 in tails, and 1 in {heads,tails}.

It may be that, when looked at properly, DS theory turns out to be Bayesian reasoning in disguise, but a brief google didn't turn up anything definitive. Is anyone here more informed on the matter?

Comment author: 02 November 2009 03:17:36AM 5 points [-]

I'll go ahead and predict here that the Higgs boson will not be showing up. As best I can put the reason into words: I don't think the modern field of physics has its act sufficiently together to predict that a hitherto undetected quantum field is responsible for mass. They are welcome to prove me wrong.

(I'll also predict that the LHC will never actually run, but that prediction is (almost entirely) a joke, whereas the first prediction is not.)

Anyone challenging me to bet on the above is welcome to offer odds.

Comment author: 04 July 2012 06:28:13PM 15 points [-]

Okay, so I guess I'll be the first person to ask how you've updated your beliefs after today's news.

Comment author: 04 July 2012 07:45:17PM 14 points [-]

Physicists have their act together better than I thought. Not sure how much I should update on other scientific fields dissimilar to physics (e.g. "dietary science") or on the state of academia or humanity as a whole. Probably "some but not much" for dietary science, with larger updates for fields more like physics.

Comment author: 19 July 2012 02:54:09AM 3 points [-]

You seem to be conceding that this is in fact the Higgs boson. In fairness I have to point out that, although it is now very certain that there is a particle at 125 GeV, it may not be the predicted Higgs boson. With this in mind, would you like to keep our bet running a while longer while CERN nails down the properties? Or do you prefer to update all at once, and pay me the 25 dollars?

Comment author: 19 July 2012 05:33:53PM 4 points [-]

I'd rather pay the \$25 now. (Paypal data?) My understanding is that besides the mass, there's also supposed to be other characteristics of the particle data that match the predicted Higgs, otherwise I would've waited before fully updating. If the story is retracted I might counter-update and ask for the money back, but my understanding is that this is not supposed to happen.

Comment author: 06 July 2012 01:18:38AM 6 points [-]

Just curious, given that physicists have their act together better than you thought, then, conditioning on that fact and the fact that physicists don't, as a whole, consider MWI to be slam dunk (though, afaik, many at least consider it a reasonable possibility), does that lead to any update re your view that MWI is all that slam dunk?

Comment author: 07 July 2012 04:55:14AM 4 points [-]

physicists don't, as a whole, consider MWI to be slam dunk

That's because physicists, though they clearly enjoy speculating very much, tend to withhold judgment until there is some experimental evidence one way or the other. In that sense they are more instrumentalists than EY. Experimental physicists much more so.

Comment author: [deleted] 08 July 2012 10:25:49PM *  4 points [-]

“A physicist answers all questions with ‘I don't know, but I'll find out.’”

-- Nicola Cabibbo (IIRC), as quoted by a professor of mine.

(As for “experimental evidence”, in the past couple of years people have managed to put bigger and bigger systems -- some visible with the naked eye -- into quantum superpositions, which is evidence against objective collapse theories.)

Comment author: 06 July 2012 01:32:24AM 3 points [-]

Nope. That's nailed down way more solidly than anything I know about mere matters of culture and society, so any tension between it and another proposition would move the other, less certain one. It would cause me to update in the direction of believing that more physicists probably see MWI as slam-dunk. :)

Comment author: 08 July 2012 01:35:20AM 5 points [-]

MWI as slam-dunk

What exactly is it that you claim to know here? It's not a particular quantitative many-worlds theory that makes predictions, or you wouldn't be asking where the Born probabilities come from. It's not a particular qualitative model of many worlds, or else you wouldn't talk about Robin's mangled worlds in one post, and Barbour's timeless physics in another. What does it boil down to? "I know that quantum mechanics has something to do with parallel worlds"?

Comment author: 08 July 2012 01:51:32AM 15 points [-]

I think it comes down to:

(1) The wavefunction is what there is; and

(2) it doesn't collapse.

Comment author: 08 July 2012 02:15:02AM 4 points [-]

I think it comes down to:

(1) The wavefunction is what there is; and

(2) it doesn't collapse.

Well said, this has seemed to be what Eliezer has tried to argue for in his posts. He even went out of his way to avoid putting the "MWI" label on it a lot the time.

Comment author: 08 July 2012 02:21:29AM *  4 points [-]

Every genius is entitled to some eccentricity, and the MWI is EY's. It might be important to remind the regulars why MWI is not required for rationality, but it is pointless to argue about it with EY.

For all the dilettantes out there who learned about quantum physics from Eliezer's posts and think that they understand it, despite the clear evidence that understanding a serious scientific topic in depth requires years of study, you know where the karma sink is.

Comment author: [deleted] 08 July 2012 10:16:45PM 7 points [-]

Every genius is entitled to some eccentricity, and the MWI is EY's.

EY's level of support for cryonics (to the point of saying that people who don't sign their children up for cryo are lousy parents) sound waaaay more eccentric to me than acceptance of the MWI.

Comment author: 09 July 2012 04:40:43AM 11 points [-]

Cryonics is a last-ditch long-shot attempt to cheat death, so I can relate quite easily.

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don't want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment.

-- Woody Allen

Comment author: 08 July 2012 10:36:33PM 2 points [-]

Is that just because it has human-level consequences?

Belief in MWI doesn't tell you what to do.

Comment author: 08 July 2012 11:08:57PM 4 points [-]

No, it's because MWI has broad support among physicists as at least being a very plausible candidate interpretation. Support for cryonics among biologists and neuroscientists is much more limited.

Comment author: [deleted] 09 July 2012 12:02:14AM 2 points [-]

No. Jack apparently read my mind.

Comment author: 08 July 2012 03:58:03AM 0 points [-]

It might be important to remind the regulars why MWI is not required for rationality

No, merely by.

Comment author: [deleted] 15 October 2013 06:38:47PM *  1 point [-]

Speaking as someone with an academic background in physics, I don't think the group as a whole as anti-MWI as you seem to imply. It was taught at my university as part of the standard quantum sequence, and many of my professors were many-worlders... What isn't taught and what should be taught is how MWI is in fact the simpler theory, requiring fewer assumptions, and not just an interesting-to-consider alternative interpretation. But yes, as others have mentioned physicists as a whole are waiting until we have the technology to test which theory is correct. We're a very empirical bunch.

Comment author: 27 October 2013 12:15:48AM 1 point [-]

I don't think I was implying physicists to be anti-MWI, but merely not as a whole considering it to be slam dunk already settled.

Comment author: 12 July 2013 07:12:00AM 1 point [-]

I notice that in your prediction you welcomed bets, but you did not offer odds, nor gave a confidence interval. I’m not sure (haven’t actually checked), but I have an impression that you usually do at least give a number.

Since the prediction was in 2009 it might just be that you recently formed the habit. If that’s not the case, not giving odds (even when welcoming offers) might be an indicator that you don’t believe something as much as you think you do. (The last two "you" are meant both as generic people references and to you in particular.) Does that seem plausible on a quick introspection?

Comment author: 02 November 2009 04:47:22PM 14 points [-]

I will take up the bet on the Higgs field, with a couple of caveats:

You use the phrase "the Higgs boson", when several theories predict more than one. If more than one are found, I want that to count as a win for me.

If the LHC doesn't run, the bet is off.

Time limit: I suggest that if observation of the Higgs does not appear in the 2014 edition of "Review of Particle Physics", I've lost. "Observation" should be a five-sigma signal, as is standard, either in one channel or smaller observations in several channels.

25 dollars, even odds.

As a side note, this is more of a hedge position than a belief in the Higgs: I'm a particle physicist, and if we don't find the Higgs that will be very interesting and well worth the trivial pain of 25 dollars and even the not-so-trivial pain of losing a public bet. (I'm not a theorist, so strictly speaking it's not my theory on the chopping block.) While if we do find it, I will (assuming Eliezer takes up this offer) have the consolation of having demonstrated the superior understanding and status of my field against outsiders. (It's one thing for me to say "Death to theorists" and laugh at their heads-in-the-clouds attitude and incomprehensible math. It's quite another for one who has not done the apprenticeship to do so.) And 25 dollars, of course.

Comment author: 05 July 2012 06:58:09AM 7 points [-]
Comment author: 04 November 2009 09:22:37AM 5 points [-]

I've just learned that Stephen Hawking has bet against the Higgs showing up.

Here's my argument against Higgs boson(s) showing up:

The Higgs boson was just the first good idea we had about how to generate mass. Theory does not say anything about how massive the Higgs itself it is, just that there is an upper bound. The years have passed, it hasn't shown up, and the LHC will finally take us into the last remaining region of parameter space. So Higgs believers say "hallelujah, the Higgs will finally show up". But a Higgs skeptic just says this is the end of the line. It's just one idea, it hasn't been confirmed so far, why would we expect it to be confirmed at the last possible chance?

Nima Arkani-Hamed of Harvard said he would bet a year's salary on the Higgs. “If the Higgs or something like it doesn't exist,” he said, “then some very basic things like quantum mechanics are wrong.”

I wrote to him at the time expressing interest in the bet, but asking for more details. (No reply.) The rather bold statement that QM itself implies a Higgs "or something like it" I think must be a reference to the breakdown in unitarity of the Standard Model that should occur at 1 TeV - which implies that the Standard Model is incomplete, so something will show up. But does it have to be a new scalar boson? There are Higgsless models of mass generation in string theory.

This all leads me to think anew about what's going to happen. The LHC will collide protons and detectors will pick up some of the shrapnel. I think no-one expects new types of particle to be detected directly. They are expected to be heavy and to decay quickly into known particles; the evidence of their existence will be in the shrapnel.

The Standard Model makes predictions about the distribution of shrapnel, but breaks down at 1 TeV. So one may predict that what will be observed is a deviation in shrapnel distributions from SM predictions and that is all. Can we infer from this, and from the existing range of physics models, what the likely developments in theory are going to be, even before the experiment is performed?

Although I said that totally new particles will not be observed directly, my understanding is that the next best thing is certainly possible, namely a very sharp and unanticipated change in the distribution of decay products at a specific energy. That would mean that you had a new particle at that energy.

The alternative would seem to be a sort of gentle deviation of decay statistics away from SM predictions. Unfortunately I don't know enough about the theoretical options to really predict how this might be interpreted. However, the Higgsless models involve extra dimensions. So if we have the dull outcome, it will probably be interpreted by some as our first evidence of extra dimensions.

Also, particle physics is very complex and there are many possible mechanisms of interaction. I think that, if no Higgs shows up, many theorists will go back to their theorems and question the assumptions which tell us that this is the last chance for a Higgs to show up.

My prediction, then, is that if we get the dull outcome - no unambiguous signal of a new particle - we will see both even more interest in extra dimensions, and a new generation of "heavy Higgs" models which explain why we can, after all, have a heavier-than-1-TeV Higgs without screwing up observed low-energy physics.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 06:25:25PM 5 points [-]

I was hoping to make some more money on this :) in a shorter time and hence greater implied interest rate :) but sure, it's a bet.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 06:31:33PM *  2 points [-]

Sorry, graduate students can't afford to be flinging around the big bucks. :) If I get the postdoc I'm hoping for, we can up the stakes, if you like.

Comment author: 03 November 2009 03:33:18AM 2 points [-]

This is a side issue but I'm curious as to what people's reactions are: I'm kind-of hoping that dark matter turns out to be massive neutrinos. Of the various candidates, it seems like the most familiar and comforting. We've even seen neutrinos interact in particle detectors, which is way more than you can say for most of the other alternatives... Compared to axions or supersymmetric particles, or WIMPs, massive neutrinos have have more of the comfort of home. Anyone feel similarly?

Comment author: 03 November 2009 04:26:35PM 2 points [-]

As I understand it, there is a known upper bound on neutrino mass that is large enough to allow them to account for some of the dark matter, but too small to allow them to account for all or most of it.

Comment author: 03 November 2009 06:02:19PM 5 points [-]

That is correct as far as the known neutrinos go. If there is a fourth generation of matter, however, all bets are off. (I'm too lazy to look up the limits on that search at the moment.) On the other hand, since neutrinos oscillate and the sun flux is one-third what we expect rather than one-fourth, you need some mechanism to explain why this fourth generation doesn't show up in the oscillations. A large mass is probably helpful for that, though, if I remember correctly.

Compared to axions or supersymmetric particles, or WIMPs, massive neutrinos have have more of the comfort of home.

Point of order! A massive neutrino is a WIMP. "Weakly Interacting" - that's neutrino to you - "Massive Particle".

Comment author: [deleted] 05 July 2012 02:30:24PM 1 point [-]

Point of order! A massive neutrino is a WIMP. "Weakly Interacting" - that's neutrino to you - "Massive Particle".

Well, but “massive” in WIMP usually means very massive (i.e. non-relativistic at T = 2.7 K). As far as gravitational effects, particles with non-zero mass but ultrarelativistic speeds behave very much like photons AFAIK.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 02:47:13PM 1 point [-]

Thanks, point taken - I'd been thinking of more exotic WIMPs

Comment author: 03 August 2010 10:35:03AM 1 point [-]
Comment author: 02 November 2009 10:08:05AM 4 points [-]
Comment author: 02 November 2009 12:11:08PM 2 points [-]

Too thinly traded, deadline too soon, rules for what counts as "confirmation" too narrow given the deadline.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 12:16:56PM *  2 points [-]

I guess hardly anybody here knows even what the question means, exactly, so all a bead jar guess.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 09:16:48AM 2 points [-]

Well, the Standard Model hasn't been wrong yet. If you want to bet against it, I'll take you up on it.

I assert that the LHC will not establish the non-existence of the Higgs boson. Will you wager \$20 at even odds on against that proposition?

Comment author: 02 November 2009 12:11:59PM 2 points [-]

I'll bet that the LHC will not establish existence. It's not clear to me what would count as establishing non-existence.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 02:31:14PM 4 points [-]

There are papers that establish upper bounds on the energy of the higgs boson,

http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-ph/9212305

If the LHC can make particles up to those energy bounds (I don't know and don't have the time to figure it out), and it can be run for sufficient time to make it very unlikely that one wouldn't be created. Then you could establish probable non-existence.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 04:29:33PM 3 points [-]

Semi-OT: It's discussions like these that remind me: Whenever physicists remark about how the laws of nature are wonderfully simple, they mean simple to physicists or compared to most computer programs. For most people, just looking at the list of elementary particles is enough to make their heads blow up.

Heck, it nearly does that for me!

Comment author: 02 November 2009 08:04:58PM 5 points [-]

Seriously? Dude, it's a list of names. It should no more make your head asplode than the table of the elements does, and nobody thinks that memorising those is a great feat of intellect. Are you sure you're not allowing modesty-signalling to overcome your actual ability?

Now, if you want to get into the math of the actual Lagrangians that describe the interactions, I'll admit that this is a teeny bit difficult. But come on, a list of particles?

Comment author: 02 November 2009 11:36:08PM 7 points [-]

It should no more make your head asplode than the table of the elements does, and nobody thinks that memorising those is a great feat of intellect.

"Antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium, and hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and rhenium..."

Comment author: 02 November 2009 08:41:05PM 2 points [-]

I followed the link Silas provided. Rather than seeing a list to be memorised my brain started throwing up all sorts of related facts. The pieces of physics I have acquired from various sources over the years reasserted themselves and I tried to piece together just how charm antiquarks fit into things. And try to remember just why it was that if I finally meet my intergalactic hominid pen pal and she tries to shake hands with her left hand I can be sure that shaking would be a cataclysmic-ally bad idea. I seem to recall being able to test symmetry with cobalt or something. But I think it's about time I listened to Feynman again.

Point is, being able to find the list of elementary particles more overwhelming than, say, a list of the world's countries requires a certain amount of knowledge and a desire for a complete intuitive grasp. That's not modesty-signalling in my book.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 09:46:43PM *  14 points [-]

At it's height this poll registered 66 upvotes. As it is meta, no longer useful and not interesting enough for the top comments page please down vote it. Upvote the attached karma dump to compensate.

(It looks like CannibalSmith hasn't been on lately so I'll post this) This post tests how much exposure comments to open threads posted "not late" get. If you are reading this then please either comment or upvote. Please don't do both and don't downvote. The exposure count to this comment will then be compared to that of previous comment made "late". I won't link to the other comment and please don't go finding it yourself.

If the difference is insignificant, a LW forum is not warranted, and open threads are entirely sufficient (unless there are reasons other than exposure for having a forum).

I will post another comment in reply to this one which you can downvote if you don't want to give me karma for the post.

Comment author: 15 February 2011 02:23:02AM 3 points [-]

Note that voting this down doesn't seem to remove it from the "top" list. As far as I can tell, that seems to sort by the number of upvotes the comment received, not by the (upvotes - downvotes).

Comment author: 03 November 2009 06:03:35PM 2 points [-]

Thanks. :)

Comment author: 09 November 2009 12:44:42AM 2 points [-]

So by my count it is 37 to 71 and that probably overestimates the response a late comment would get given that there was something of a feedback loop.

Comment author: 02 November 2009 09:47:29PM 2 points [-]

Down vote this comment if you upvoted the above and want to neutralize the karma I get.

Comment author: 04 November 2009 01:31:50PM 1 point [-]

Glad to see something like this.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 02:28:10AM 2 points [-]

Hi, I have never posted on this forum, but I believe that some Less Wrong readers read my blog, FeministX.blogspot.com.

Since this at least started out as an open thread, I have a request of all who read this comment, and an idea for a future post topic.

On my blog, I have a topic about why some men hate feminism. The answers are varied, but they include a string of comments back and forth between anti feminists and me. The anti feminists accuse me of fallacies, and one says that he "clearly" refuted my argument. My interpretation is that my arguments were more logically cogent that the anti feminists and that they did not correctly identify logical fallacies in my comments, nor did they comprehensivly refute anything I said. They merely decided that they won the debate.

Now, the issue is that when there is an argument between feminists and anti feminists on the internet, the feminists will believe that other feminists arguments include more truth and reason while anti-feminists will believe that anti-feminist arguments include more truth and reason. The internet is not a place where people are good at discussing feminism with measured equanimity.

But I wondered, who could be the objective arbiter of a discussion between feminists and anti feminists? Almost anyone has a bias when it comes to this issue. Everyone has a gender, and gender affects a person's thinking style, desires and determination of fairness in assessing behaviors between genders. Where in the world could I find intelligent entities that would not be swayed by gender bias and would instead attempt to seek out objective truth in a "battle of sexes" style discussion.

Well, I am not sure if unbiased people can exist regarding the issue but the closest thing I could think of was Less Wrong. Thus, I invite readers of Less Wrong to contribute to the admittedly inane thread on my blog, Why so much hate?

http://feministx.blogspot.com/2009/11/why-so-much-hate.html

Comment author: 05 November 2009 01:05:02PM *  11 points [-]

I read through a couple of months worth of FeministX when I first discovered it...

(Because of a particular skill exhibited: namely the ability to not force your self-image into a narrow box based on the labels you apply to yourself, a topic on which I should write further at some point. See the final paragraph of this post on how much she hates sports for a case in point. Most people calling themselves "feminist" would experience cognitive dissonance between that and their self-image. Just as most people who thought of themselves as important or as "rationalists" might have more trouble than I do publicly quoting anime fanfiction. There certainly are times when it's appropriate to experience cognitive dissonance between your self-image and something you want, but most people seem to cast that net far too widely. There is no contradiction, and there should be no cognitive dissonance, between loving and hating the same person, or between being a submissive feminist who wants alpha males, or between being a rationalist engaged on a quest of desperate importance who reads anime fanfiction, etcetera. But most people try to conform so narrowly and so unimaginatively to their own self-image that there is little point in reading anything else they say, because it is all predictable once you know what "role" they're trying to play in their own minds. And among people who are unusually good at not conforming to their own images, their blogs often make for good reading because it is often surprising reading.)

...and I still don't know what is meant by the "feminist" in the title, so I have to agree with all the commenters who asked for a definition of "feminism". Definitions are oft overrated but in this case I literally do not know what is being talked about.

If it were me, I'd probably be saying something to myself along the lines of: "So long as such a large flaw exists in my own work, which I can correct myself without waiting for permission from anyone else, there is no point in asking whether others have done worse." This is by way of encouraging myself to do better, for which purpose it is unwise to focus on other people's flaws as consolation.

EDIT: Finished reading through the comments. Some commenters did better than you, some commenters did worse, e.g. Aretae's separate post gave you good advice. Definitely you've got more to learn about which arguments and evidence license which conclusions at what strength. None of the arguments including yours were noticeably up to LW standards and so there's not much point in trying to figure out who "won". The winners were the commenters who said "I don't know what is meant by 'feminism' here, please define". Some of the others could have carried part of their argument if they had been a bit more careful to say, "Here is something that 'feminism' could be taken to mean, or that many/most men take the label 'feminism' to mean, now I am going to talk about how many/most men react to this particular thing regardless of whether it is what you call 'feminism', and if it isn't, please go ahead and define what you mean by it." That would have been Step One.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 03:06:11AM 5 points [-]

I hate to say it, but your analysis seems rather thin. I think a productive discussion of social attitudes toward feminism would have to start with a more comprehensive survey of the facts of the matter on the ground - discussion of poll results, interviews, and the like. Even if the conclusion is correct, it is not supported in your post, and there are no clues in your post as to where to find evidence either way.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 03:18:23AM *  9 points [-]

Agreed. The post is almost without content (or badly needed variation in sentence structure, but that's another point altogether) - there's no offered reason to believe any of the claims about what anti-feminists say or what justifications they have. No definition of terms - what kind of feminism do you mean, for instance? Maybe these problems are obviated with a little more background knowledge of your blog, but if that's what you're relying on to help people understand you, then it was a poor choice to send us to this post and not another.

I'm tickled that Less Wrong came to mind as a place to go for unbiased input, though.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 09:54:10AM 5 points [-]

I'm tickled that Less Wrong came to mind as a place to go for unbiased input, though.

Indeed. And even more so that she seems to be getting it.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 09:59:30AM 7 points [-]

I now have a wonderful and terrible vision of the future in which less wrong posters are hired guns, brought in to resolve disagreements in every weird and obscure corner of the internets.

We should really be getting paid.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 10:24:58AM 1 point [-]

How would you stop this from degenerating into a lawyer system? Rationality is only a tool. The hired guns will use their master rationalist skills to argue for the side that hired them.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 01:18:40PM 5 points [-]

Technically, you cannot rationally argue for anything.

I suppose you could use master rationalist skillz to answer the question "What will persuade person X?" but this relies on person X being persuadable by the best arguer rather than the best facts, which is not itself a characteristic of master rationalists.

The more the evidence itself leans, the more likely it is that a reasonably rational arbiter and a reasonably skillful evidence-collecter-and-presenter working on the side of truth, cannot be defeated by a much more skillful and highly-paid arguer on the side of falsity.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 03:46:28PM *  1 point [-]

A master rationalist can still be persuaded by a good arguer because most arguments aren't about facts. Once everyone agrees about facts, you can still argue about goals and policy - what people should do, what the law should make them do, how a sandwich ought to taste to be called a sandwich, what's a good looking dress to wear tonight.

If everyone agreed about facts and goals, there wouldn't be much of an argument left. Most human arguments have no objective right party because they disagree about goals, about what should be or what is right.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 05:05:59PM 4 points [-]

One obvious reply would be to hire rationalists only to adjudicate that which has been phrased as a question of simple fact.

To the extent that you do think that people who've learned to be good epistemic critics have an advantage in listening to values arguments as well, then go ahead and hire rationalists to adjudicate that as well. (Who does the hiring, though?) Is the idea that rationalists have an advantage here, enough that people would still hire them, but the advantage is much weaker and hence they can be swayed by highly paid arguers?

Comment author: 05 November 2009 10:42:05AM 3 points [-]

Parties to the dispute can split the cost. Also, if the hired guns aren't seen as impartial there would be no reason to hire them so there would be a market incentive (if there were a market, which of course there isn't). Or we have a professional guild system with an oath and an oversight board. Hah.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 01:21:36PM 9 points [-]

Parties to the dispute can split the cost.

Actually, here's a rule that would make a HELL of a lot of sense:

Either party to a lawsuit can contribute to a common monetary pool which is then split between both sides to hire lawyers. It is illegal for either side to pay a lawyer a bonus beyond this, or for the lawyer to accept additional help on the lawsuit.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 06:49:19PM 3 points [-]

And you don't see any issues with this? That would seem to be far worse than the English rule/losers-pay.

I pick a random rich target, find 50 street bums, and have them file suits; the bums can't contribute more than a few flea infested dollars, so my target pays for each of the 50 suits brought against him. If he contributes only a little, then both sides' lawyers will be the crappiest & cheapest ones around, and the suit will be a diceroll; so my hobos will win some cases, reaping millions, and giving most of it to me per our agreement. If he contributes a lot, then we'll both be able to afford high-powered lawyers, and the suit will be... a diceroll again. But let's say better lawyers win the case for my target in all 50 cases; now he's impoverished by the thousands of billable hours (although I do get nothing).

I go to my next rich target and say, sure would be a shame if those 50 hobos you ran over the other day were to all sue you...

Comment author: 05 November 2009 07:16:25PM *  2 points [-]

But let's say better lawyers win the case for my target in all 50 cases; now he's impoverished by the thousands of billable hours (although I do get nothing).

How is this different from how things currently are, beyond a factor of two in cost for the target?

Comment author: 05 November 2009 04:43:49PM 2 points [-]

I would contribute nothing to the pool, hire a lawyer privately on the side to advise me, and pass his orders down to the public courtroom lawyer. If I have much more money than the other party, and if the money can strongly enough determine the lawyer's quality and the trial's outcome, then even advice and briefs prepared outside the courtroom by my private lawyer would be worth it.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 04:56:49PM 3 points [-]

It sometimes is possible to have laws or guild rules if the prohibited behavior is clear enough that people can't easily fool themselves into thinking they're not violating them. Accepting advice and briefs prepared outside the courtroom is illegal, in this world.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 02:12:11PM 1 point [-]

That is frelling brilliant.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 03:51:28PM 1 point [-]

Have a karma point for using Farscape profanity.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 01:15:21PM 2 points [-]

I would totally join a rationalist arbitration guild. Even if this cut into the many, many bribes I get to use my skills on only one party's behalf ;)

Perhaps records of previous dispute resolutions can be made public with the consent of the disputants, so people can look for arbitrators who have apparently little bias or bias they can live with?

Comment author: 05 November 2009 06:39:29PM 1 point [-]

(if there were a market, which of course there isn't)

Comment author: 05 November 2009 10:33:46AM *  2 points [-]

More or less, because both sides have to agree to the process. Then the market favours those arbiters that manage to maintain a reputation for being unbiased and fair.

This still doesn't select for rationality precisely. But it degenerates into a different system to that of a lawyer system.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 10:41:43AM *  1 point [-]

Yes, but if a side can hire a rationalist to argue their case before the judge, then that rationalist will degenerate into a lawyer. (And how could you forbid assistance in arguments, precisely? Offline assistance at least will always be present.)

And since the lawyer-like rationalists can be paid as much as the richest party can afford, while the arbiter's fees are probably capped (so that anyone can ask for arbitration), the market will select the best performing lawyers and reward them with the greatest fees, and the best rationalists who seek money (which is such a cliched rational thing to do :-) will prefer being lawyers and not judges.

Edit: added: the market will also select the judges who are least swayed by lawyers. It still needs to be shown that the market will have good information as to whether a judge had decided because the real rational evidence leaned one way, or because a smart lawyer had spun it appropriately. It's not clear to me what this will collapse to, or whether there's one inevitable outcome at all.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 10:02:19AM *  1 point [-]

I now have a wonderful and terrible vision of the future in which less wrong posters are hired guns, brought in to resolve disagreements in every weird and obscure corner of the internets.

Did Robin make a post on how free market judicial systems could work or am I just pattern matching on what I would expect him to say, if he got around to it?

Comment author: 05 November 2009 10:08:18AM 1 point [-]

I don't know if Robin has said anything on this but it is a well-tread issue in anarcho-capitalist/individualist literature. Also, there already are pseudo-free market judicial systems. Like this. And this!

Comment author: 05 November 2009 09:11:45AM 2 points [-]

I'm tickled that Less Wrong came to mind as a place to go for unbiased input, though.

Also, the irony of a feminist coming to an overwhelmingly male community for advice. :)

Comment author: 05 November 2009 09:37:35AM *  3 points [-]

Hi! Feel free to introduce yourself here.

There are a couple general reasons for disagreement.

1. Two parties disagree on terminal values (if someone genuinely believes that women are inherently less valuable than men there is no reason to keep talking about gender politics)
2. Two parties disagree on intermediate values (both might value happiness but a feminist might believe gender equality to be central to attaining happiness while the anti-feminist thinks gender equality is counter productive to this goal. It might be difficult for parties to explain their reasoning in these matters but it is possible). 3.Two parties disagree about the means to the end (an anti-feminist might think that feminism as a movement doesn't do a good job promoting gender equality)
3. Two parties disagree about the intent of one or more parties (a lot of anti-feminists think feminism is a tool for advancing interests of women exclusively and that feminists aren't really concerned with gender equality. I don't think you can say much to such people though it is worth asking yourself why they have that impression... calling yourself a female supremacist will not help matters.)
4. Two parties disagree about the facts of the status quo (if someone thinks that women aren't more oppressed than men or that feminists exaggerate the problem they may have exactly the same view of an ideal world as you do but have very different means for getting there. This is a tricker issue than it looks because facts about oppression are really difficult to quantify. There is a common practice in anti-subordination theory of treating claims of oppression at face value but this only works if one trusts the intentions of the person claiming to be oppressed.)
5. One of more parties have incoherent views (you can point out incoherence, not much else).

I think that is more or less complete. As you can see, some disagreements can be resolved, others can't. Talk to the people you can make progress with but don't go in assuming that you're going to convince everyone of your view.

Edit: Formating.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 04:25:40AM 6 points [-]

Everyone has a gender, and gender affects a person's thinking style, desires and determination of fairness in assessing behaviors between genders.

*winces* So, I agree that no one is competent and everyone has an agenda, but it's not as if everyone sides with "their" sex.

Well, I am not sure if unbiased people can exist regarding the issue but the closest thing I could think of was Less Wrong.

No, historically we suck at this, too. Got any decision theory questions?

Comment author: 05 November 2009 04:46:16AM 1 point [-]

"winces* So, I agree that no one is competent and everyone has an agenda, but it's not as if everyone sides with "their" sex."

I didn't mean to imply that they did always side with their physical sex.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 05:07:13AM 7 points [-]

Why do you think of the discussion of gender roles and gender equality to necessary break down into a camp for men and a camp for women? By creating two groups you have engaged mental circuitry that will predispose you to dismissing their arguments when they are correct and supporting your own sides' even when they are wrong.

http://lesswrong.com/lw/lt/the_robbers_cave_experiment/

http://lesswrong.com/lw/gw/politics_is_the_mindkiller/

Comment author: 05 November 2009 05:03:11AM 3 points [-]

The discussion here helped me reanalyze my own attitude towards this kind of issue.

I don't think I ever had a serious intention to back up my arguments or win a debate when I posted on the issue of why men hate feminism. I am not sure what to do when faced the extreme anti feminism that I commonly find on the internet. I have a number of readers on my blog who will make totalizing comments about all women or all feminists. Ex, one commenter said that women have no ability to sustain interest in topics that don't pertain to relationships between individuals. Other commenters say that feminsm will lead to the downfall of civilization for reasons including that it lets women pursue their fleeting sexual impulses, which are destructive.

i suppose I do not really know how to handle this attitude. Ordinarily, I ignore them since I operate under the assumption that people that expouse such viewpoints are not prone to being swayed by any argument. They are attached to their bias, in a sense. I am not sure if it is possible for a feminist to have a reasonable discussion with a person that is anti feminist and that hates nearly all aspects of feminism in the western world.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 11:44:37AM *  3 points [-]

Personally I'd say you shouldn't "be a feminist" at all. Have goals (whether relating to women's rights or anything else) and try to find the best ways to reach them. Don't put a political label on yourself that will constrain your thinking and/or be socially and emotionally costly to change. Though given that you seem to have invested a lot of your identity in feminism it's probably already hard to change.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 12:23:52PM 4 points [-]

Personally I'd say you shouldn't "be a feminist" at all.

Shouldn't? According to which utility function? There are plenty of advantages to taking a label.

Comment author: 07 November 2009 12:52:36PM 2 points [-]

Yes, there are obvious advantages to overtly identifying with some established group, but if you identify too strongly and become a capital-F Feminist (or a capital D-Democrat, or even a capital-R Rationalist) there's a real danger that conforming to the label will get in the way of actually achieving your original goals.

It's analogous to the idea that you shouldn't use dark side methods in the service of rationality - ie that you shouldn't place too much trust in your own ability to be virtuously hypocritical.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 09:32:36PM 2 points [-]

Don't put a political label on yourself that will constrain your thinking and/or be socially and emotionally costly to change.

As mentioned above, this particular person does seem unusually good at not being so constrained.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 08:40:28AM *  2 points [-]

I am not sure what to do when faced the extreme anti feminism that I commonly find on the internet.

Ban them.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 07:18:16AM 2 points [-]

It's almost certainly not possible for you to have a discussion about feminism with such a person.

I haven't read your blog, but perhaps you should reconsider the kind of community of readers you're trying to build there. If you tend to attract antifeminist posters, and you don't also attract profeminist ones who help you argue your position in the comments, that sounds like a totally unproductive community and you might want to take explicit steps to remodel it, e.g. by changing your posts, controlling the allowed posters, or starting from scratch if you have to.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 09:06:53AM *  -1 points [-]

Let me be the first to say: welcome to Less Wrong! Please explore the site and stay with us - we need more girls.

Comment author: 05 November 2009 09:34:15PM *  5 points [-]

I'd quite strongly suggest deleting everything after the hyphen, there.

Comment author: 06 November 2009 10:50:25AM 1 point [-]
Comment author: 05 November 2009 10:15:32AM *  1 point [-]

Now, the issue is that when there is an argument between feminists and anti feminists on the internet, the feminists will believe that other feminists arguments include more truth and reason while anti-feminists will believe that anti-feminist arguments include more truth and reason.

What exactly is an anti-feminist? I've never actually met someone who identified as one. Is this more of a label that others apply to them and if so, what do you mean when you apply it? Is it a manner of 'Feminism, Boo!' vs 'Yay! Feminism!' or is it the objection to one (or more) ideals that are of particular import?

Does 'anti-feminist' apply to beliefs about the objective state of the universe, such as the impact of certain biological differences on psychology or social dynamics? Or is it more suitably applied to normative claims about how things should be, including those about the relative status of groups or individuals?

Comment author: 05 November 2009 06:17:57PM 1 point [-]

I think it's only applied by the feminists. Take a look at National Review, a bastion of anti-feminism if ever there was any, and notice how all the usages are by the feminists or fellow travelers or are in clear scare-quotes or other such language: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&num=100&q=anti-feminism+anti-feminist+site%3Anationalreview.com

Comment author: 18 November 2009 04:06:45PM 0 points [-]

IBM simulates cat's whole brain... research team bores simulated cat to death showing him IBM logo... announces human whole-brain real-time simulation for 2018...

Comment author: 20 November 2009 04:14:34AM 3 points [-]
Comment author: 20 November 2009 07:54:46AM 1 point [-]

Unfortunately they're using toy neurons.

What I'd be excited to see is a high fidelity simulation of neurons in a petri dish, even just a few hundred. There's no problem scanning the topology here, the only problem is in accurately reproducing the biophysics. Once this has been demonstrated, human WBE is just a truckload of money away from reality.

Really, does anyone know of any groups working on something like this? I'd gladly throw away my current research agenda to work with them.

Comment author: 20 November 2009 08:25:49PM *  2 points [-]

What I'd be excited to see is a high fidelity simulation of neurons in a petri dish, even just a few hundred.

cf the nematode upload project, which looks dead. If people wanted to provide evidence that they're serious, this is what they'd do.

Comment author: 21 November 2009 01:12:57AM 1 point [-]

I've seen this around. It's unfortunate that it's dead.

There are more confounding factors in the nematode project than with just a petri dish. You have to worry about the whole nematode if you want to verify your results. It's also harder to 'read' a single neuron in action.

With a petri dish it would be possible to have an electrode in every neuron. Because the neurons are splayed out imaging techniques might be able to yield some insight into the internal chemical states of the neurons.

An uploaded nematode would be great, but an uploaded petri dish seems like a more tractable and logical first step.

Comment author: 19 November 2009 08:22:14AM 1 point [-]
Comment author: 04 February 2010 08:20:06AM 1 point [-]

We can mean two things by "existing". Either as "something exists inside the universe", or "something exists on the level of the universe itself"(For example, "universe exists"). These things don't seem to be the same.

Our universe being a mathematical object seems to be tautology. If we can describe universe using math, the described mathematical object shares every property of the universe, and it would be redundant to assume there being some "other level of existence".

One confusion to clear up is some sort of super-universe where our universe exists as a block. This is result of mixing up two different meanings of "existing", imagining the need for even grander framework of which our universe is a part of.

If we take the mathematical model that produces the universe, and look into it, we notice that a engine called "brain" exists within it. If we try to think what would it be like to "be" that brain, result would be what we experience now.

Our experienced world being a simple counterfactual, thought experiment, "what-if" or a world that could've been seems counter-intuitive because our experienced world is "concrete", but this is just a result of confusing different levels of existing.

..............................................................................................................................

Some thoughts I've encountered and found interesting

Comment author: 15 November 2009 07:31:51PM *  1 point [-]

Just great. I had a song parody idea in the shower this morning, and now I'm afraid that I'm going to have to write a rationalist version of Fiddler on the Roof in order to justify it.

"Mapmaker, mapmaker,
Make me a map,
Text me a truth,
Fax me a fact ... "

Comment author: 15 November 2009 07:49:29PM *  3 points [-]

If I were a Bayesian! Yabadibidibidibidibidibidibidum! All day long, I'd update (bi-di-bum), if I were a Bayes-i-an! I wouldn't have heuristics! Yabadibidibidibidibidibidibidum! If I were a little rational - eidlde-de-deidl Bayesian.

Absence of evidence, evidence of ab-sence! One is not the other, though - look out the door and (evidence of absence!) see the grass instead of snow!

Eliezer, we've waited all our lives for the Singularity. Wouldn't now be a good time for it to come? (We'll have to wait for it someplace else...)

Is this the prior I began from? Is this the reasoning at play?

Utility? (Util-what?) Utility... (Utility...) Well? (But our functions aren't luminous and our values do not scale! You're insane, you're confused, you're reading too much Mill!)

Comment author: 15 November 2009 08:26:49PM 1 point [-]

A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But in our little village of Bayesiana, every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking her neck. It isn't easy. You may ask, why do we stay up there if it's so dangerous? We stay because we've got something to protect. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: precision!

Precision, precision! Precision!
Precision, precision! Precision!

[...]

Who, day and night, must scramble for tenure
Do his calculations, write a dozen papers,
And who has the right of the lowest-level science
To have the final word of all?

The physicist, the physicist! Precision!

Comment author: 15 November 2009 07:55:44PM 1 point [-]

For some reason the tune I had in my head while I was reading this switched from "If I Were Rich Man" to "Bohemian Rhapsody".

Comment author: 14 November 2009 06:41:51PM 1 point [-]

Love of Shopping is Not a Gene: exposing junk science and ideology in Darwinian Psychology might be of interest, seeing as evolutionary psychology is pretty popular around here. (Haven't had a chance to read it myself, though.)

Comment author: 11 November 2009 09:49:04AM 1 point [-]

With apologies to Brad DeLong, when reading WSJ editorials you need to bear two things in mind:

1. The WSJ editorial page is wrong about everything.
2. If you think the WSJ editorial page is right about something, see rule #1.

After all, here’s what you would have believed if you listened to that page over the years: Clinton’s tax hike will destroy the economy, you really should check out those people suggesting that Clinton was a drug smuggler, Dow 36000, the Bush tax cuts will bring surging prosperity, Saddam is backing Al Qaeda and has WMD, there isn’t any housing bubble, US households have a high savings rate if you measure it right. I’m sure I missed another couple of dozen high points.

Reversed stupidity might not be intelligence, but what about reversed malice?

Comment author: 11 November 2009 09:53:12AM 3 points [-]

Force anyone to express several controversial opinions per day for several decades and you'll be able to cherry pick a list of seven hilariously wrong examples.

Comment author: 06 November 2009 02:24:48AM *  1 point [-]

I remember well enough to describe, but apparently not well enough to Google, a post or possibly a comment that said something to the effect that one should convince one's opponents with the same reasoning that one was in fact convinced by (rather than by other convenient arguments, however cogent). Can anyone help me find it?

Comment author: 06 November 2009 02:38:29AM 1 point [-]

You're probably thinking of "A Rational Argument" or "Back Up and Ask Whether, Not Why".

Comment author: 04 November 2009 06:46:05PM 1 point [-]

I'm working through Jaynes' /Probability Theory/ (the online version). My math has apparently gotten a bit rusty and I'm getting stuck on exercise 3.2, "probability of a full set" (Google that exact phrase for the pdf). I'd appreciate if anyone who's been through it before, or finds this stuff easy, would drop a tiny hint, rot13'd if necessary.

V'ir pbafvqrerq jbexvat bhg gur cebonovyvgl bs "abg trggvat n shyy frg", ohg gung qbrfa'g frrz gb yrnq naljurer.

V unir jbexrq bhg gung jura z=x (gur ahzore bs qenjf = gur ahzore bs pbybef) gur shyy frg cebonovyvgl vf tvira ol gur trarenyvmrq ulcretrbzrgevp qvfgevohgvba jvgu nyy e'f=1. V'z gelvat gb svther bhg ubj gung cebonovyvgl vapernfrf nf lbh nqq zber qenjf. Vg frrzf gb zr gung ol rkpunatrnovyvgl, gur cebonovyvgl bs n shyy frg jvgu x+1 qenjf vf gur fnzr nf gur cebonovyvgl bs n shyy frg jvgu x, naq bar rkgen qenj juvpu pna or nal pbybe: SF(P1+P2+..+Px) juvpu vf SF.P1+SF.P2+..+SF.Px, juvpu ner zhghnyyl rkpyhfvir gurersber nqq hc.

Nz V ba gur evtug genpx ng nyy ?

How many people here would be interested in forming a virtual book study group, to work through Jaynes ? Some programmer colleagues of mine have done that for SICP and it turns out to be a nice way to study. Strength in numbers and all that.

Comment author: 04 November 2009 09:03:42PM *  1 point [-]

How many people here would be interested in forming a virtual book study group, to work through Jaynes ?

There already exists (an extremely low-traffic) mailing list with that mission: etjaynesstudy@yahoogroups.com

Note that the objection that an existing mailing list would be populated by people who have not been exposed to Eliezer's writings on rationality does not apply here because (1) the current population consists of only a handful of people and (2) what I have seen of the current population over the last 3 or 4 years is that it consists mostly of a few people posting (relevant) faculty positions and conference announcements and experts in Bayesian statistics.

Comment author: 04 November 2009 05:30:08PM *  1 point [-]

To resurrect the Pascal's mugging problem:

Robin Hanson has suggested penalizing the prior probability of hypotheses which argue that we are in a surprisingly unique position to affect large numbers of other people who cannot symmetrically affect us. Since only one in 3^^^^3 people can be in a unique position to ordain the existence of at least 3^^^^3 other people who are not symmetrically in such a situation themselves, the prior probability would be penalized by a factor on the same order as the utility. ( http://wiki.lesswrong.com/mediawiki/index.php?title=Pascal%27s_mugging )

This seems like a hack around the problem.

What if we are told there's an infinite number of people, so everybody could affect 3^^^^3 other people (per Hilbert's Hotel)?

What consequences would this prior lead to - assuming that the odds of us making a successful AI are 1/some-very-large-number, because a successful AI could go on to control everything within our light cone and for the rest of history affect the lives of some-very-large-number of beings?

(For that matter, wouldn't this solution have us bite the bullet of the Doomsday argument in general, and assume that we and our creations will expire soon because otherwise, how likely was it that we would just happen to exist near the beginning of the universe/humanity and thus be in a position to affect the yawning eons after us?)

Comment author: 02 November 2009 10:54:47PM 1 point [-]

On the subject of creating a function/predicate able to identify a person. It seems that it is another non-localiseable function. My reasoning goes something like this.

1) We want the predicate to be able to identify paused humans (cryostasis), so that the FAI doesn't destroy them accidentally.

2) With sufficient scanning technology we could make a digital scan of a human that has the same value as a frozen head, and encrypt with a one time pad, making it indistinguishable from the output of /dev/rng.

From 1 and 2 it follows that the AI will have to look at the environment (to see if people are encrypting people with one-time pads), before making a decision on what is a human or not. How much of the AI needs to encompass before making that decision seems a non-trivial question to answer.

Comment author: 03 November 2009 12:40:30AM *  3 points [-]

Poorly labeled encrypted persons may well be destroyed. I'm not sure this matters too much.

Comment author: 03 November 2009 01:16:24AM 1 point [-]

It depends when the singularity occurs. It is also indicative that there might be other problems. Let us say that an AI might be able to recreate some (famous) people from their work/habitation and memories in other people, along with a thorough understanding of human biology.

If an AI can it should preserve as much of the human environment as possible (no turning it into computronium), until it gains that ability. However it doesn't know whether a bit of the world will be useful for that purpose (hardened footprints in mud), until it has lots of computronium.