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Open Thread, August 2010-- part 2

3 Post author: NancyLebovitz 09 August 2010 11:18PM

This thread is for the discussion of Less Wrong topics that have not appeared in recent posts. If a discussion gets unwieldy, celebrate by turning it into a top-level post.

Comments (369)

Comment author: jimrandomh 29 August 2010 02:23:31PM *  20 points [-]

My experiments with nootropics continue. A few days ago, I started taking sulbutiamine (350mg/day), a synthetic analog of thiamine which differs in that it crosses the blood-brain barrier more readily. The effects were immediate, positive, and extremely dramatic - on an entirely different order of magnitude than I expected, and probably the largest single improvement to my subjective well being I have ever experienced. A feeling of mental fatigue and not wanting to do stuff - a feeling that leads to spending lots of time on blogs, playing video games and otherwise killing time suboptimally (though not necessarily the only such feeling) - just up and vanished overnight. This was something that I had identified as a major problem, and believed to be purely psychological in nature, but was, in fact, entirely biochemical. On the first day I took sulbutiamine, I felt significantly better, worked three hours longer than normal, and went to the gym (which would previously have been entirely out of character for me).

That said, I do have a concrete reason to believe that this effect is atypical. Specifically, I believe I was deficient in thiamine; I believe this because I'm a type 1 diabetic, and according to the research reported in this article, that means my body uses up thiamine at a greatly increased rate; I was only getting the RDA of thiamine from a standard multivitamin; and the problems I had seem to match the symptoms of minor thiamine deficiency pretty well.

That said, searching the internet finds people without thiamine deficiencies who also benefited from sulbutiamine, albeit to a lesser degree. And trying sulbutiamine is safe (no credible reports of adverse effects ever) and cheap ($17 for an 85-day supply as bulk powder), so I recommend it.

Comment author: gwern 01 September 2010 02:32:39AM 10 points [-]

Oh, in other news, the FDA is apparently going after piracetam; smartpowders.com reports that it's been ordered to cease selling piracetam and is frantically trying to get rid of its stock. See

Comment author: wedrifid 02 September 2010 12:04:11AM 5 points [-]

Oh, in other news, the FDA is apparently going after piracetam; smartpowders.com reports that it's been ordered to cease selling piracetam and is frantically trying to get rid of its stock. See

That is infuriating! The fools!

Comment author: [deleted] 15 September 2010 07:36:23PM *  4 points [-]

This puts Robin Hanson's criticism of the FDA in a new perspective for me.

Comment author: gwern 02 September 2010 12:50:14PM 3 points [-]

They blew it up! They blew it all up! Goddamn them to hell!

(Wrong allusion?)

Comment author: SilasBarta 01 September 2010 02:55:21AM 1 point [-]

Yikes! Hits close to home for me! I had actually ordered bulk piracetam about a week ago, in an order with two other supplements. When the shipment arrived, the piracetam wasn't in it, and it had a note saying it was out of stock and I wouldn't be charged for it, but I'd be informed when it was available again.

I thought it was strange at first, since they wouldn't have taken the order if they weren't able to reserve a unit for my order. (This isn't fractional reserve banking, folks!) But that explanation makes a lot more sense. If only I had placed the order a few days earlier...

Comment author: gwern 01 September 2010 01:00:10PM 2 points [-]

(This isn't fractional reserve banking, folks!)

Just-in-time techniques always struck me as being very close to fractional reserve banking, actually...

Anyway, elsewhere in that Reddit page, users mention that other nootropics seem to be getting harder to find lately like choline and huperzine-a. (I tried huperzine-a and wasn't impressed, but I kind of need the choline to go with any piracetam.)

Comment author: ata 30 August 2010 05:17:21PM *  4 points [-]

Very interesting — thanks for the information. I'm trying piracetam right now, but this also sounds like something I'd like to try. I have similar problems with mental fatigue and low motivation... unfortunately, I don't yet have even a vague sense of the biochemical basis for my issues (my symptoms match chronic fatigue, but it seems like its causal structure is not well-understood anyway). But it's worth a try, I suppose.

Are you taking this and the piracetam at the same time, or did you stop the piracetam to try this?

Comment author: jimrandomh 30 August 2010 05:58:04PM 3 points [-]

Both at the same time. (I have no particular reason to think they interact, I'm just following the strategy of changing only one thing at a time.) I hope sulbutiamine works for you; but if it doesn't, don't give up, it just means the biochemical issue is somewhere else, and there are many more safe things to try.

Comment author: gwern 30 August 2010 05:53:30PM 3 points [-]

I tried both ways. They didn't seem to interfere or interact.

Comment author: pjeby 30 August 2010 03:53:03PM 4 points [-]

($17 for an 85-day supply as bulk powder)

I noticed that a lot of the reviews were complaining about the taste - were you using it in its raw form, or putting it into capsules?

Comment author: jimrandomh 30 August 2010 06:07:29PM 5 points [-]

I put it in capsules. Besides getting around the taste, it's also much more convenient that way; rather than having to measure and prepare some every day, I can sit down and prepare a month's worth of capsules in 30 minutes. The more different supplements you take, the more important it is to do it this way.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 01 September 2010 11:34:14PM 1 point [-]

I can sit down and prepare a month's worth of capsules in 30 minutes.

Have you considered buying or selling capsules? It seems unlikely that this is something you should do yourself, but only for yourself.

Also, before you said that you filled 10 capsules per minute. Do you take 10 capsules per day? Do you mix piracetam and choline in a single capsule?

Comment author: jimrandomh 02 September 2010 01:05:55AM *  2 points [-]

I've considered buying capsules, but decided to get powder instead because it's cheaper and allows more flexibility if I change dosage or decide to pre-mix stuff. I couldn't sell the capsules I make because I don't measure them precisely enough (they vary by +/-10% or so). I currently take 5 capsules day - two of piracetam, two of choline citrate, and one of sulbutiamine.

Putting together capsules sounds hard, but it's actually quite easy. You get empty gel caps, which come as two unequally sized pieces that fit together tightly enough to stay in place but loosely enough to pull apart. Take the pieces of the capsule apart, pack some powder into the larger piece, put them together, and drop it on a scale. If it's within acceptable range, drop it in the 'done' container, otherwise open it back up and add some or remove some. After a dozen or so, you get the hang of it and can hit a 10% tolerance pretty consistently on the first time. Wear latex gloves so the gel caps won't stick to your fingers and you don't get hair and sweat in the powder tub.

(Edit: the discrepancy between my saying a month's worth of capsules in 30 minutes, and a rate of 10/minute, is due to setup and cleanup time; and neither of these numbers was precise to more than a factor of 2.)

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 02 September 2010 02:09:16AM *  2 points [-]

I couldn't sell the capsules I make because I don't measure them precisely enough (they vary by +/-10% or so).

If it's good enough for you, it may be good enough for customers; it's just a different niche. It may also be an illegal niche.

ETA: flexibility is a good reason.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 September 2010 12:02:04AM 1 point [-]

Also, before you said that you filled 10 capsules per minute. Do you take 10 capsules per day? Do you mix piracetam and choline in a single capsule?

I'm not speaking for Jim but I note that I find mixing the racetams with the choline source convenient. It allows for simply adjusting the dose while keeping the same ratio.

Comment author: gwern 30 August 2010 05:54:52PM 3 points [-]

With nootropics, everything tastes bad. I dissolve my stuff in hot water when I make tea, and wash it down with the latter. It didn't taste worse than just piracetam+choline, FWIW - that's foul enough to mask pretty much any taste.

Comment author: gwern 30 August 2010 05:52:34PM 3 points [-]

That's quite interesting. I recently finished up my own 30g supply of sulbutiamine, and while I thought that it does work roughly on the level of piracetam without choline supplementation, I wasn't hugely impressed. But I am not diabetic nor do I match any of the descriptions of beriberi in Wikipedia.

(Didn't last me 85 days, however. 200mg strikes me as a pretty small dose.)

Comment author: gwern 22 September 2010 03:12:53PM 2 points [-]

While re-reading the reports here for summary in my personal drugs file, it suddenly occurred to me that your experience with sulbutiamine might be on the level of pica & iron deficiency, and so worth mentioning or linking as a comment in http://lesswrong.com/lw/15w/experiential_pica/ .

Comment author: ciphergoth 17 August 2010 12:01:54PM 14 points [-]

Can't decide? With the Universe Splitter iPhone app, you can do both! The app queries a random number generator in Switzerland which releases a single photon into a half-silvered mirror, meaning that according to MWI each outcome is seen in one branch of the forking Universe. I particularly love the chart of your forking decisions so far.

Comment author: cousin_it 25 August 2010 09:20:36PM *  2 points [-]

With an endorsement from E8 surfer dude!

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 10 August 2010 07:18:26AM *  14 points [-]

Bridging the Chasm between Two Cultures: A former New Age author writes about slowly coming to realize New Age is mostly bunk and that the skeptic community actually might have a good idea about keeping people from messing themselves up. Also about how hard it is to open a genuine dialogue with the New Age culture, which has set up pretty formidable defenses to perpetuate itself.

Comment author: nhamann 10 August 2010 07:57:59AM 16 points [-]

Hah, was just coming here to post this. This article sort of meanders, but it's definitely worth skimming at least for the following two paragraphs:

One of the biggest falsehoods I've encountered is that skeptics can't tolerate mystery, while New Age people can. This is completely wrong, because it is actually the people in my culture who can't handle mystery—not even a tiny bit of it. Everything in my New Age culture comes complete with an answer, a reason, and a source. Every action, emotion, health symptom, dream, accident, birth, death, or idea here has a direct link to the influence of the stars, chi, past lives, ancestors, energy fields, interdimensional beings, enneagrams, devas, fairies, spirit guides, angels, aliens, karma, God, or the Goddess.

We love to say that we embrace mystery in the New Age culture, but that’s a cultural conceit and it’s utterly wrong. In actual fact, we have no tolerance whatsoever for mystery. Everything from the smallest individual action to the largest movements in the evolution of the planet has a specific metaphysical or mystical cause. In my opinion, this incapacity to tolerate mystery is a direct result of my culture’s disavowal of the intellect. One of the most frightening things about attaining the capacity to think skeptically and critically is that so many things don't have clear answers. Critical thinkers and skeptics don't create answers just to manage their anxiety.

Comment author: rwallace 10 August 2010 01:04:55PM 3 points [-]

Excellent article, thanks for the link! Let's keep in mind that she also wrote about how inflammatory and combative language is counterproductive, and the need to communicate with people in ways they have some chance of understanding.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 10 August 2010 03:52:07PM 3 points [-]

What she said wasn't that simple-- she also talks about trying to get her ideas across while being completely inoffensive, and having them not noticed at all. When we're talking about a call to change deeply held premises, getting some chance of being understood is quite a hard problem.

Comment author: jimrandomh 18 August 2010 11:43:58PM 11 points [-]

Having a dog in the room made subjects 30% less likely to defect in Prisoner's Dilemma (article; sample size 52 people in groups of 4).

This changes my views on pet ownership completely.

Comment author: [deleted] 15 August 2010 07:26:51PM 11 points [-]

I'm looking for something that I hope exists:

Some kind of internet forum that caters to the same crowd as LW (scientifically literate, interested in technology, roughly atheist or rationalist) but is just a place to chat about a variety of topics. I like the crowd here but sometimes it would be nice to talk more casually about stuff other than the stated purpose of this blog.

Any options?

Comment author: Document 16 August 2010 05:19:01AM *  5 points [-]

Stardestroyer.net fits that description somewhat, for values of "casually" that allow for copious swearing punctuating most disagreements. I haven't posted there, but Kaj Sotala posts as Xuenay (<s>apologies</s> no apologies for stalking).

Examples of threads on LW-related topics:

(Edited after first upvote; later edited again to add a link.)

Comment author: nhamann 17 August 2010 05:13:46AM 3 points [-]

I honestly keep hoping that subreddits will be implemented here sometime soon. Yes, "off-topic" discussion technically doesn't fit the stated purpose of the site, but the alternative of having LWers interested in having off-topic discussion having to migrate off-site to some other discussion forum seems ridiculous to me.

Comment author: simplicio 16 August 2010 01:18:45AM *  3 points [-]

This is something I'd very much like as well. If you find anything, let me know. xkcd forums can be pretty good, though I haven't been on there in a while.

Comment author: katydee 16 August 2010 01:55:33AM 5 points [-]

If all else fails, we can make one of our own.

Comment author: simplicio 16 August 2010 02:10:51AM 2 points [-]

I was thinking the same thing.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 10 August 2010 04:03:34PM 10 points [-]

A couple of viewquakes at my end.

I was really pleased when the Soviet Union went down-- I thought people there would self-organize and things would get a lot better.

This didn't happen.

I'm still more libertarian than anything else, but I've come to believe that libertarianism doesn't include a sense of process. It's a theory of static conditions, and doesn't have enough about how people actually get to doing things.

The economic crisis of 2007 was another viewquake for me. I literally went around for a couple of months muttering about how I had no idea it (the economy) was so fragile. A real estate bust was predictable, but I had no idea a real estate bust could take so much with it. Of course, neither did a bunch of other people who were much better paid and educated to understand such things, but I don't find that entirely consoling.

This gets back to libertarianism and process, I think. Protections against fraud don't just happen. They need to be maintained, whether by government or otherwise.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 11 August 2010 04:55:17AM *  8 points [-]


The economic crisis of 2007 was another viewquake for me. I literally went around for a couple of months muttering about how I had no idea it (the economy) was so fragile. A real estate bust was predictable, but I had no idea a real estate bust could take so much with it.

That depends on what exactly you mean by "the economy" being fragile. Most of it is actually extremely resilient to all sorts of disasters and destructive policies; if it weren't so, the modern civilization would have collapsed long ago. However, one critically unstable part is the present financial system, which is indeed an awful house of cards inherently prone to catastrophic collapses. Shocks such as the bursting of the housing bubble get their destructive potential exactly because their effect is amplified by the inherent instabilities of the financial system.

Moldbug's article "Maturity Transformation Considered Harmful" is probably the best explanation of the root causes of this problem that I've seen.

Comment author: [deleted] 11 August 2010 11:59:40AM 6 points [-]

Sometimes I think the only kind of libertarianism that makes sense is what I'd call "tragic libertarianism." There is no magic market fairy. Awful things are going to happen to people. Poverty, crime, illness, and war. The libertarian part is that our ability to alleviate suffering through the government is limited. The tragic part is that this is not good news.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 August 2010 02:08:51PM 3 points [-]

There's another tragic bit-- some of what government does makes things worse. There's no magic government fairy that guarantees good (or even non-horrible) results just because a government is doing something.

Comment author: thepokeduck 29 August 2010 08:18:03AM 9 points [-]

What fosters a sense of camaraderie or hatred for a machine? Or: How users learned to stop worrying and love Clippy


Comment author: NancyLebovitz 29 August 2010 09:42:27AM 2 points [-]

I recommend reading the article-- I didn't realize people could be recruited that easily.

Comment author: cousin_it 14 August 2010 12:10:36PM *  8 points [-]

I'm considering starting a Math QA Thread at the toplevel, due to recent discussions about the lack of widespread math understanding on LW. What do you say?

Comment author: XiXiDu 14 August 2010 02:25:30PM *  3 points [-]

Here is all the math you need to know to understand most of LW (correct me if I'm wrong):

I'm working through all of it right now. Not very far yet though.

You might want to add computer science and basic programming knowledge too.

Comment author: cousin_it 14 August 2010 04:06:18PM *  4 points [-]

Some people, including me, can get away with knowing much less and just figuring stuff out as we go along. I'm not sure if anyone can learn this ability, but for me personally it wasn't inborn and I know exactly how I acquired it. Working through one math topic properly at school over a couple years taught me all the skills needed to fill any gaps I encountered afterwards. University was a breeze after that.

The method of study was this: we built one topic (real analysis) up from the ground floor (axiomatization of the reals), receiving only the axioms and proving all theorems by working through carefully constructed problem sets. An adult could probably condense this process into several months. It doesn't sound like much fun - it's extremely grueling intellectual work of the sort most people never even attempt - but when you're done, you'll never be afraid of math again.

Comment author: XiXiDu 14 August 2010 04:28:25PM 4 points [-]

I had to figure out ALL myself, without the help of anyone in meatspace. I'm lacking any formal education that be worth mentioning. The very language I'm writing in right now is almost completely self-taught. It took me half a decade to get here, irrespective of my problems. That is, most of the time I haven't been learning anything but merely pondering what is the right thing to do in the first place. Only now I've gathered enough material, intention and the basic tools to tackle my lack of formal education.

Comment author: XiXiDu 14 August 2010 02:31:47PM 1 point [-]

Ok, you might add some logic and set theory as well if you want to grasp the comments. Although some comment threads go much further than that.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 14 August 2010 01:56:09PM 2 points [-]

I'm not sure that people necessarily know what questions they need to ask, or even that they need to ask.

A math Q&A seems like a good idea, but it would be a better idea if there were some "the math you need for LW" posts first.

There was a very nice piece here (possibly a quote) on how to think about math problems-- no more that a few paragraphs long. It was about how to break things down and the sorts of persistence needed. Anyone remember it?

Comment author: orthonormal 10 August 2010 07:37:38PM 8 points [-]

The welcome thread is about to hit 500 comments, which means that the newer comments might start being hidden for new users. Would it be a good thing if I started a new welcome thread?

While I'm at it, I'd like to add some links to posts I think are especially good and interesting for new readers.

Comment author: orthonormal 10 August 2010 09:57:29PM 3 points [-]

OK, I'm seeing some quick approval. I've been looking back through LW for posts and wiki articles that would be interesting/provocative for new readers, and don't require the entirety of the sequences. Here's my list right now:

* Newcomb's Problem and Regret of Rationality
* The True Prisoner's Dilemma
* How to Convince Me that 2 + 2 = 3
* The Least Convenient Possible World
* The Apologist and the Revolutionary
* Your Intuitions are Not Magic
* The Third Alternative
* Lawful Uncertainty
* The Domain of Your Utility Function
* The Allais Paradox (with two followups)
* We Change Our Minds Less Often Than We Think
* The Tragedy of Group Selectionism

And from the wiki:

* Near/Far thinking
* Shut Up and Multiply
* Evolutionary Psychology
* Cryonics
* Religion

What should I add? What, if anything, should I subtract?

Comment author: MartinB 12 August 2010 07:52:32PM *  2 points [-]

Due to heavy personal history bias: That Alien Message.

I would take out anything that involves weird stuff regarding dead people, but that might be better A/B tested or surveyed. My own expectation is that hitting readers with the crazy topics right away is bad and a turn-off while it is better to give out useful and interesting things in the beginning that are relatable right away. [Edit: important missing word added]

Comment author: mattnewport 31 August 2010 06:47:55PM 7 points [-]
Comment author: komponisto 31 August 2010 07:00:35PM *  9 points [-]

Excellent link. A particularly noteworthy excerpt:

[Q:] I assume that most people in these jobs aren't actually trying to convict innocent people. So how does such misconduct come about?

[A:] I think what happens is that prosecutors and police think they've got the right guy, and consequently they think it's OK to cut corners or control the game a little bit to make sure he's convicted.

This is the same phenomenon that is responsible for most scientific scandals: people cheat when they think they have the right answer.

It illustrates why proper methods really ought to be sacrosanct even when you're sure.

Comment author: Airedale 19 August 2010 10:00:01PM *  7 points [-]

I’m not sure whether the satanic ritual abuse and similar prosecutions of the 80s/90s have ever been discussed on LW in any detail (I couldn’t find anything with a few google searches), but some of the failures of rationality in those cases seem to fit into the subject matter here.

For those unfamiliar with these cases, a sort of panic swept through many parts of the United States (and later other countries) resulting in a number of prosecutions of alleged satanic ritual abuse or other extensive conspiracies involving sexual abuse, despite, in almost all cases, virtually no physical evidence that such abuse occurred. Lack of physical evidence, of course, does not always mean that a crime has not occurred, but given the particular types of allegations made, it was not credible in most cases that no physical evidence would exist. It is hard to choose the most outrageous example, but this one is pretty remarkable:

Gerald [Amirault], it was alleged, had plunged a wide-blade butcher knife into the rectum of a 4-year-old boy, which he then had trouble removing. When a teacher in the school saw him in action with the knife, she asked him what he was doing, and then told him not to do it again, a child said. On this testimony, Gerald was convicted of a rape which had, miraculously, left no mark or other injury.

Moreover, there were all sorts of serious problems with the highly suggestive techniques used in questioning the children to elicit the accusations of abuse. If one is inclined to be charitable to the investigators, some of the problems with the interviews could be chalked up to lack of understanding at the time of how problematic these techniques were, but the stories are pretty damning. A short description of the sorts of techniques can be found in this Wiki entry on one of the most prominent prosecutions, that involving the McMartin preschool.

Many, although by no means all, of the defendants in these sorts of cases have since been exonerated. I am posting this comment because a defendant in one of the cases, Jesse Friedman (one of the subjects of the documentary film Capturing the Friedmans), is in the news because of a recent federal appellate court decision (pdf), which denied relief to Friedman, but noted:

While the law may require us to deny relief in this case, it does not compel us to do so without voicing some concern regarding the process by which the petitioner’s conviction was obtained.

For anyone who would like a brief overview of the problems with these sorts of prosecutions, the court’s opinion linked above has a relatively concise but informative discussion at pp. 18-23. For anyone interested in a book length treatment, I also recommend No Crueler Tyrannies by Dorothy Rabinowitz. Tons of info on the Internet as well, of course.

Comment author: jacob_cannell 24 August 2010 09:21:47AM 2 points [-]

My father was a forensic psychiatrist heavily involved in some of these cases, testifying for the defense of the accused. The moral panic phenomenon is real and complex, but there's a more basic failure of rationality underlying the whole movement which was the false belief in the inherent veracity of children.

Apparently juries (and judges alike) took the testimony of children at face value. The problem was that investigative techniques of the social workers invariably elicited the desired reactions in the children. In law you have the concept of leading the witness, but that doesn't apply for investigations of child abuse. The children are taken away from their parents and basically locked up with the investigators until they tell them what they want to hear. It wasn't even necessarily deliberate - from what I understand in many cases the social workers just had a complete lack of understanding of how they were conditioning the children to fabricate complex and in many cases outright ridiculous stories. Its amazing how similar the whole scare was to historical accounts of the witch trials. Although as far as I know, in the recent scare nobody was put to death (but I could even be wrong about that, and certainly incalculable damage was done nonetheless).

Comment author: timtyler 10 August 2010 08:23:28PM *  7 points [-]
Comment author: Jordan 10 August 2010 08:22:37PM 7 points [-]

I've been thinking more and more about web startups recently (I'm nearing the end of grad school and am contemplating whether a life in academia is for me). I'm no stranger to absurd 100 hour weeks, love technology, and most of all love solving problems, especially if it involves making a new tool. Academia and startups are both pretty good matches for those specs.

Searching the great wisdom of the web suggests that a good startup should be two people, and that the best candidate for a cofounder is someone you've known for a while. From my own perspective, I'd love to have a cofounder that was rational and open minded, hence LessWrong as a potential source.

I'm not pitching a startup idea here. What I'm pitching is promiscuous intellectual philandering. I'd like to shoot the shit about random tech ideas, gossip about other startups, and in general just see if I click with anyone here strongly enough to at some point consider buddying up to take on the world.

Thoughts on how best to do this? What's the internet equivalent of speed dating for finding startup cofounders? Maybe the best way is to just attend more LessWrong meetups?

Comment author: curiousepic 17 August 2010 08:10:05PM 3 points [-]

If you weren't already aware, Hacker News http://news.ycombinator.com/ has a lot of discussion about startups.

Comment author: Jordan 18 August 2010 04:41:48AM 2 points [-]

Great community. I like the discussion there in general. Most of the people have a great innate rationality, even when it isn't as dissected and methodical as it is here.

Comment author: xamdam 17 August 2010 08:15:05PM 1 point [-]

Funny, the NYC Meetup (today) is going to touch on this topic ('cause I've been thinking about it). It's one of the "ways rationalists can make money", IMO.

Comment author: Jordan 18 August 2010 04:51:56AM 1 point [-]

I agree, it does seem like a great untapped potential for a rationalist community. The obvious question is, does being a rationalist make you a better founder of a startup? Or, more relevant here, does being a rationalist of LessWrong stripes make you a better founder?

When it comes to programming prowess, I doubt rationality confers much benefit. But when it comes to the psychological steel needed to forge a startup: dealing with uncertainty, sunk costs, investors, founder feuds, etc... I think a black belt in rationality could be a hell of a weapon!

Comment author: ata 17 August 2010 05:11:44AM *  6 points [-]

[Originally posted this in the first August 2010 Open Thread instead of this Part 2; oops]

I've been wanting to change my username for a while, and have heard from a few other people who do too, but I can see how this could be a bit confusing if someone with a well-established identity changes their username. (Furthermore, at LW meetups, when I've told people my username, a couple of people have said that they didn't remember specific things I've posted here, but had some generally positive affect associated with the name "ata". I would not want to lose that affect!) So I propose the following: Add a "Display name" field to the Preferences page on LW; if you put something in there, then this name would be shown on your user page and your posts and comments, next to your username. (Perhaps something like "ata (Adam Atlas)" — or the other way around? Comments and suggestions are welcome.)

I'm willing to code this if there's support for it and if the administrators deem it acceptable.

Comment author: jimrandomh 15 August 2010 10:57:00PM *  6 points [-]

I recently started taking piracetam, a safe and unregulated (in the US) nootropic drug that improves memory. The effect (at a dose of 1.5g/day) was much stronger than I anticipated; I expected the difference to be small enough to leave me wondering whether it was mere placebo effect, but it has actually made a very noticeable difference in the amount of detail that gets committed to my long-term memory.

It is also very cheap, especially if you buy it as a bulk powder. Note that when taking piracetam, you also need to take something with choline in it. I bought piracetam and choline citrate as bulk powders, along with a bag of empty gelatin capsules and a scale. (Both piracetam and choline citrate taste extremely vile, so the gel caps are necessary. Assembling your own capsules is not hard, and can be done at a rate of approximately 10/minute with a tolerance of +/- 10% once you get the hang of it.)

I strongly recommend that anyone who has not tried piracetam stop procrastinating and order some. Yes, people have done placebo-controlled studies. No, there are not any rare but dangerous side effects. Taking piracetam is an unambiguous win if you want to learn and remember things.

Comment author: katydee 15 August 2010 11:30:34PM 3 points [-]

Two questions:

-How much does it cost?
-How soon do you start becoming desensitized to it, if at all?

Comment author: jimrandomh 16 August 2010 12:50:18AM 4 points [-]

How much does it cost?

I ordered from here at a price of $46 for 500g each of piracetam and choline citrate, plus $10 for gel caps and $20 for a scale (which is independently useful).

How soon do you start becoming desensitized to it, if at all?

I could not find any reported instances of desensitization to piracetam, so I don't think it's an issue.

I'm trying out nootropics, adding them one at a time. Next on my list to try is sulbutiamine; I've seen claims that it prevents mental fatigue, and it too has basically zero side-effect risks. Also on my list to try are lion's mane, aniracetam, l-tyrosine and fish oil. All of these are unregulated in the US.

I also use adrafinil, which greatly improves my focus. However, it's more expensive and it can't be used continuously without extra health risks, so I only use it occasionally rather than as part of my daily regimen. (There's an expensive and prescription-only related drug, modafinil, which can be used continuously.)

Comment author: katydee 16 August 2010 01:16:01AM 2 points [-]

Sounds good. Be sure to report back once you test out the others-- nootropics are very interesting to me, and I think generally useful to the community as well.

Comment author: rabidchicken 17 August 2010 03:59:16AM 6 points [-]

First, the results of a wikipedia check: "There is very little data on piracetam's effect on healthy people, with most studies focusing on those with seizures, dementia, concussions, or other neurological problems." which seems to decrease the assurance of safety for everyday use. But otherwise, most of the sources appear to agree with your advertising. I too would like to see memory tests for these drugs, but preferably in a large and random sample of people, with a control group given a placebo, and another control group taking the tests with no aid of any kind. As well as a long term test to check for diminishing effectiveness or side effects. With my memory, I would pay a considerable amount to improve it, but first I want to see a wide scale efficiency test.

Comment author: wedrifid 17 August 2010 06:36:27AM 5 points [-]

I too would like to see memory tests for these drugs, but preferably in a large and random sample of people, with a control group given a placebo, and another control group taking the tests with no aid of any kind.

Working on it. Give me a few years.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 17 August 2010 04:54:53AM *  5 points [-]

With my memory, I would pay a considerable amount to improve it, but first I want to see a wide scale efficiency test.

Why? Given the low cost and risk of trying it out, the high possible benefits, and the high probability that results will depend on individual genetic or other variations and so will not reach significance in any study, wouldn't the reasonable thing be to try it yourself, even if the wide-scale test had already concluded it had no effect?

Comment author: rabidchicken 17 August 2010 06:05:11AM 0 points [-]

Using your logic, I would be forced to try a large proportion of all drugs ever made. My motivation to buy this drug is close to my motivation to buy every other miracle drug out there, I want more third party tests of each one so I can make a more informed decision of where to spend my money, instead of experimenting on hundreds per month. Also, it does not have a DIN number in Canada, so I would need to import it.

Comment author: gwern 30 August 2010 05:56:41PM 5 points [-]

A large proportion of drugs ever made have been claimed to improve memory and have a long history of null-results for side-effects and positive results for mental improvement?


Comment author: Cyan 16 August 2010 12:47:02AM *  2 points [-]

Question: did you find that it leads to faster grokking (beyond the effects of improvement of raw recall ability)?

Comment author: jimrandomh 16 August 2010 12:56:46AM 1 point [-]

I don't know, but I think it's just memory. This is almost impossible to self-test, since there's a wide variance in problem difficulty and no way to estimate difficulty except by speed of grokking itself.

Comment author: ata 18 August 2010 07:08:10AM *  5 points [-]

Quick question — I know that Eliezer considers all of his pre-2002 writings to be obsolete. GISAI and CFAI were last updated in 2001 but are still available on the SIAI website and are not accompanied by any kind of obsolescence notice (and are referred to by some later publications, if I recall correctly). Are they an exception, or are they considered completely obsolete as well? (And does "obsolete" mean "not even worth reading", or merely "outdated and probably wrong in many instances"?)

Comment author: PhilGoetz 17 August 2010 04:50:12AM 5 points [-]

Is there a post dealing with the conflict between the common LW belief that there are no moral absolutes, and that it's okay to make current values permanent; and the belief that we have made moral progress by giving up stoning adulterers, slavery, recreational torture, and so on?

Comment author: ata 17 August 2010 05:03:58AM *  1 point [-]

the conflict between the common LW belief that there are no moral absolutes, and that it's okay to make current values permanent

I'm not sure that both of those are common LW beliefs (at least common in the same people at the same time), but I don't see any conflict there. If there are no moral absolutes, then making current values permanent is just as good as letting them evolve as they usually do.

Who here advocates making current values permanent?

Comment author: Clippy 12 August 2010 01:09:11PM 5 points [-]

Quick question about time: Is a time difference the same thing as the minimal energy-weighted configuration-space distance?

Comment author: wedrifid 12 August 2010 02:35:50PM 2 points [-]

That is among the most difficult 'quick questions' I have ever seen.

Comment author: Clippy 12 August 2010 05:38:41PM 7 points [-]

I meant 'quick' in the sense of 'relating to the nature of quickness'.

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 17 August 2010 06:51:40PM *  4 points [-]

A HN post mocks Kurzweil for claiming the length of the brain's "program" is mostly due to the part of the genome that affects it. This was discussed here lately. How much more information is in the ontogenic environment, then?

The top rated comment makes extravagant unsupported claims about the brain being a quantum computer. This drives home what I already knew: many highly rated HN comments are of negligible quality.

PZ Myers:

We cannot derive the brain from the protein sequences underlying it; the sequences are insufficient, as well, because the nature of their expression is dependent on the environment and the history of a few hundred billion cells, each plugging along interdependently. We haven't even solved the sequence-to-protein-folding problem, which is an essential first step to executing Kurzweil's clueless algorithm. And we have absolutely no way to calculate in principle all the possible interactions and functions of a single protein with the tens of thousands of other proteins in the cell!

(PZ Myers wrongly accuses Kurzweil of claiming he or others will simulate a human brain aided in large part by the sequenced genome, by 2020).

Kurzweil's denial - thanks Furcas - answers my question this way: only a small portion of the information in the brain's initial layout is due to the epigenetic pre-birth environment (although the evidence behind this belief wasn't detailed).

Comment author: Furcas 24 August 2010 02:14:58AM *  4 points [-]

Kurzweil claims he or others will simulate a human brain aided in large part by the sequenced genome, by 2020.

No he doesn't.

Comment author: ocr-fork 18 August 2010 05:38:32AM *  3 points [-]

How much more information is in the ontogenic environment, then?

Off the top of my head:

  1. The laws of physics

  2. 9 months in the womb

  3. The rest of your organs. (maybe)

  4. Your entire childhood...

These are barriers developing Kurzweil's simulator in the first place, NOT to implementing it in as few lines of code as possible. A brain simulating machine might easily fit in a million lines of code, and it could be written by 2020 if the singularity happens first, but not by involving actual proteins . That's idiotic.

Comment author: gwern 13 August 2010 07:34:03AM 4 points [-]

"But it’s better for us not to know the kinds of sacrifices the professional-grade athlete has made to get so very good at one particular thing.
Oh, we’ll invoke lush clichés about the lonely heroism of Olympic athletes, the pain and analgesia of football, the early rising and hours of practice and restricted diets, the preflight celibacy, et cetera. But the actual facts of the sacrifices repel us when we see them: basketball geniuses who cannot read, sprinters who dope themselves, defensive tackles who shoot up with bovine hormones until they collapse or explode.
We prefer not to consider closely the shockingly vapid and primitive comments uttered by athletes in postcontest interviews or to consider what impoverishments in one’s mental life would allow people actually to think the way great athletes seem to think. Note the way “up close and personal” profiles of professional athletes strain so hard to find evidence of a rounded human life -- outside interests and activities, values beyond the sport.
We ignore what’s obvious, that most of this straining is farce. It’s farce because the realities of top-level athletics today require an early and total commitment to one area of excellence. An ascetic focus. A subsumption of almost all other features of human life to one chosen talent and pursuit. A consent to live in a world that, like a child’s world, is very small."

--David Foster Wallace, "The String Theory", July 1996 Esquire

I thought of Robin Hanson and ems as I read this:

"Joyce is, in other words, a complete man, though in a grotesquely limited way. But he wants more. He wants to be the best, to have his name known, to hold professional trophies over his head as he patiently turns in all four directions for the media. He wants this and will pay to have it -- to pursue it, let it define him -- and will pay up with the regretless cheer of a man for whom issues of choice became irrelevant a long time ago. Already, for Joyce, at twenty-two, it’s too late for anything else; he’s invested too much, is in too deep. I think he’s both lucky and unlucky. He will say he is happy and mean it. Wish him well."

Comment author: [deleted] 12 August 2010 01:35:44PM 4 points [-]

Informal poll to ensure I'm not generalizing from one example:

How frequently do you find yourself able to remember how you feel about something, but unable to remember what produced the feeling in the first place (ie: you remember you hate steve but can't remember why)?

It seems like this is a cognitive shortcut, giving us access only to the "answer" that's already been computed (how to act vis-a-vis steve) instead of wasting energy and working memory re-accessing all the data and re-performing the calculation.

Comment author: kodos96 13 August 2010 06:44:33AM *  3 points [-]

How frequently do you find yourself able to remember how you feel about something, but unable to remember what produced the feeling in the first place (ie: you remember you hate steve but can't remember why)?

I do this constantly. In fact, I do it a lot right here on LW - in reading comment threads, I see a comment by a certain user and have either a positive or negative reaction to the username, based on previous comments of theirs I've read, despite having no recollection of what those comments actually were

I'm not quite sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

Comment author: gwern 13 August 2010 07:31:37AM 2 points [-]

I don't do this on LessWrong, but that may be because I don't care enough about LW, and the stakes are too low.

On Wikipedia, though, there are at least 10 editors who, when I see their name come up on my watchlist, I briefly freeze up with a combination of fear, disgust, and anger.

Comment author: kodos96 13 August 2010 07:43:02AM 2 points [-]

Just curious: why do you consider LW to be lower stakes than wikipedia?

Comment author: gwern 13 August 2010 08:06:52AM 6 points [-]

Fewer deletions. On Wikipedia, I have to fight tooth and nail for some things just to remain (and I often fail; I'm still a little bitter about the off-handed deletion of the Man-Faye article a few days ago); on LW, deletion of stuff is so rare that it's a major event when Eliezer deletes an article.

Comment author: rabidchicken 17 August 2010 05:07:41AM 1 point [-]

I would say that most people I know easily fit this heuristic, but I almost never employ it, based on the way I remember people. When I have been in a conflict with someone, I can recall a categorized list of every thing I dislike about them, and a few fights we have had quite easily, and vice versa for people I like. What this means essentially is... I have a very hard time remaining angry / happy with people, because it requires constant use of resources, and it also seems to effect my ability to remember meeting people at all. Since I store memories of other people using events instead of descriptions if I have never had a particularly eventful interaction with someone, remembering their names or any other info is almost impossible.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 16 August 2010 12:24:13AM 1 point [-]

Occasional but rare. I have more of a problem where I have some feeling some reason and then find out I was wrong about that reason and then need to make effort to adjust my feelings to fit the data. But I generally remember the cause for my feelings. The only exception is that occasionally I'll vaguely remember that some approach to a problem doesn't work at all but won't remember why (it generally turns out that I spent a few days at some point in the past trying to use that method to solve something and got negative results showing that the method wasn't very useful.)

Comment author: [deleted] 14 August 2010 02:55:01PM 1 point [-]

Yes -- and I agree that it's probably a cognitive shortcut, because it's also something that happens with purely conceptual ideas. I'll forget the definition of a word, but remember whether it's basically a positive or negative notion. Yay/Boo is surprisingly efficient shorthand for describing anything.

Comment author: xamdam 11 August 2010 02:31:03PM 4 points [-]

Jaron Laier is at it again: The First Church of Robotics

Besides piling up his usual fuzzy opinions about AI Jaron claims, and I cannot imagine that this was done out of sheer ignorance, that "This helps explain the allure of a place like the Singularity University. The influential Silicon Valley institution preaches a story that goes like this: one day in the not-so-distant future, the Internet will suddenly coalesce into a super-intelligent A.I., infinitely smarter than any of us individually and all of us combined"; I cannot imagine that this is the Singularity University's official position, it's really just too stupid.

I understand SingU is not SIAI, but there is some affiliation and I hope someone speaks up for them.

Comment author: thomblake 11 August 2010 03:03:54AM 4 points [-]

I assume this is relevant enough to post in the open thread, though it may be old news to some of you. There is a purported proof that P!=NP. A wiki collecting discussion and links to discussions, as well as links to the paper draft, is here.

Comment author: James_Miller 10 August 2010 12:24:54AM *  4 points [-]

I bet a good way to improve your rationality is to attempt to learn from the writings of smart, highly articulate people, whom you consider morally evil, and who often use emotional language to mock people like yourself. So, for example, feminists could read Roissy and liberals could read Ann Coulter.

http://roissy.wordpress.com/ http://www.anncoulter.com/

Comment author: [deleted] 10 August 2010 12:39:31PM 7 points [-]

I've done exactly this. Read Roissy, read far-right sites (though not Coulter specifically.) Basically sought out the experience of having my feelings hurt, in the interest of curiosity.

I learned a few things from the experience. First, they have a few good points (my politics have changed over time). Second, they are not right about everything just because they are mean and nasty and make me feel bad, and in fact sometimes right-wingers and anti-feminists display flaws in reasoning. And, third, I learned how to deal better with emotional antagonism itself: I don't bother seeking out excuses to be offended any more, but I do protect myself by avoiding people who directly insult me.

Comment author: orthonormal 10 August 2010 03:39:12PM 6 points [-]

I think this norm would do poorly in practice, because people would seek out antagonists they unconsciously knew would be flawed, rather than those who actually scare them.

A much better idea, I think, is the following:

  1. Find someone who appears intelligent to you but is very ideologically different.
  2. Offer to read a book of their choice if they read a book of your choice.
  3. Give them a book you think will challenge them.

I'd suggest, however, that you not give the other person someone who will constantly mock their position, because usually this will only further polarize them away from you. Exposing oneself to good contrary arguments, not ridicule, is the way for human beings to update.

Comment author: grouchymusicologist 10 August 2010 02:22:45AM 6 points [-]

You'll have to expand on this before I could agree. My inclination is to think quite the opposite. That is, when I read people who more or less articulately use highly emotion-button-pushing language to mock people like me, it puts my defenses up and makes me try to justify my beliefs, rationality be damned. Was this not pretty much the thrust of Politics is the Mind-Killer? If I were, to adopt a wild hypothetical, a conservative, I would probably say nearly anything to defend myself -- whether publicly or in my own mind -- against the kind of mockery I'd get on a daily basis from Paul Krugman's blog (Krugman chosen as example per mattnewport). Rationality-wise, that is not the position I want to be trying to put myself in. Rather, I want to seek out reasoned, relatively "cool" (as opposed to emotionally "hot") expressions of opposing viewpoints and try to approach them open-mindedly, trying to modify my positions if warranted.

I mean, am I missing something?

Comment author: James_Miller 10 August 2010 03:18:15AM 2 points [-]

"If I were, to adopt a wild hypothetical, a conservative, I would probably say nearly anything to defend myself -- whether publicly or in my own mind -- against the kind of mockery I'd get on a daily basis from Paul Krugman's blog"

Yes, most people would do this, so the rationality challenge would be to fight against it. Think of it as special-forces-intensity rationality training.

Comment author: orthonormal 10 August 2010 03:44:43PM 6 points [-]

Not everything that is difficult is thereby good training. It's easier to withstand getting punched in the gut if you're in good physical shape, but I wouldn't suggest trying to get in shape by having someone punch you repeatedly in the gut.

(Indeed, at some point of martial arts training it's useful to learn how to take a punch, but this training has to be done carefully and sparingly. You don't become stronger by rupturing your spleen.)

Comment author: Oligopsony 10 August 2010 02:33:49AM 4 points [-]

It's probably good to have a mix. I get something distinct from reading people like Roissy or Sailer, whose basic values are totally divorced from my own. I get something else from Eliezer or Will Wilkinson, who derive different policy preferences from values that are similar to mine.

There's something liberating about evil analysis, and I think it's that it's audaciousness allows you to put down mental blinders that would be on guard againstmore plausible threats to your ideological integrity. And a nice thing about values changing over time is that the classics are full of this stuff. Reading, say, Schmidt is like reading political philosophy from Mars, and that's something you should experience regularly. Any similar recommendations?

Comment author: grouchymusicologist 10 August 2010 02:41:43AM 4 points [-]

Upvoted. From my reply you'll see that I agree it's probably good to seek out, as you say, those "whose basic values are totally divorced from [one's'] own." But can you say more about James Miller's original contention that you should specifically be seeking out that which is designed to piss you off? That's where it seems to me that his idea goes just totally wrong. How is this going to do anything except encourage you to retreat into tribalism?

Comment author: James_Miller 10 August 2010 03:22:21AM 2 points [-]

If you know that doing X will " encourage you to retreat into tribalism" then doing X gives you a great opportunity to fight against your irrational instincts.

Comment author: Oligopsony 10 August 2010 03:03:22AM 2 points [-]

Well, there is the aesthetic appreciation of polemic for its own sake, but that's not going to make you more rational.

I think the most obvious answer, though, is that it can inure you a bit to connotative sneers. Aversion to this kind of insult is likely one of the major things keeping you from absorbing novel information!

One way to do this very quickly - you shouldn't, of course, select your politics for such trivial advantages, but if you do, take advantage of it - is to become evil yourself, relative to the majority's values. There are certain groups an attack upon which constitutes an applause line in the mainstream. If you identify as a communist or fascist or Islamist or other Designated Antagonist Group, you can either take the (obviously epistemically disastrous) route of only reading your comrades, or you can keep relying on mainstream institutional sources of information that insult you, and thereby thicken your skin. (Empirical prediction: hard {left|right}ists are more likely to read mainstream {conservatives|liberals} than are mainstream {liberals|conservatives}.)

(An alternate strategy this suggests, if your beliefs are, alas, pedestrian, is to "identify" with some completely ridiculous normative outlook, like negative utilitarianism or something. Let everyone's viewpoint offend you until "this viewpoint offends!" no longer functions as a curiosity stopper.)

Comment author: grouchymusicologist 10 August 2010 03:00:30AM *  3 points [-]

Further to this. Let's plot political discourse along two axes: substantive (x axis: -disagree to +agree) and rhetorical (y axis: -"cool"/reasoned to +"hot"/emotional). Oligopsony states that it is valuable to engage with those on the left-hand side of the graph (people who disagree with you), without any particular sense that special dangers are posed by the upper left-hand quadrant. (Oligopsony says reading so-and-so is "like reading political philosophy from Mars, and that's something you should experience regularly" -- regardless of the particular emotional relationship you are going to have with that Martian political philosophy as a function of the way in which it's presented.) My view (following on, I think, PitM-K -- and in sharp disagreement with James Miller's original post in this thread) is that the upper half of the graph, and particularly the upper left-hand quadrant, is danger territory, because of the likelihood you are going to retreat into tribalism as your views are mocked.

Comment author: wedrifid 15 August 2010 05:33:00AM 3 points [-]

I would accept that bet. In my experience exposure to such writings mostly serves to produce contempt. Contempt is one emotion that seems to have a purely deleterious effect on thinking. Anger, fear, sadness, anxiety and depression all provide at least some positive effects on thinking in the right circumstances but contempt... nothing.

Comment author: Emile 11 August 2010 11:51:43AM *  2 points [-]

I've been trying to do roughly that, though focusing more on the "smart and highly articulate" aspect and dropping "emotional mockery". When I read someone taking cheap shots at a position I might hold, I mostly find the writer childish and annoying, I don't see how reading more of that would improve my rationality. It doesn't really hurt my feelings, unlike some commenters here, so I guess different people need to be prodded in different ways.

For smart and articulate writers with a rationalist vibe, I would recommend Mencius Moldbug (posts are articulate but unfortunately quite long; advocates monarchy, colonialism and slavery) and Noam Chomsky. Any recommendations of smart, articulate and "extreme" writers whose views are far from those two?

Comment author: SilasBarta 12 August 2010 08:07:42PM 3 points [-]

For smart and articulate writers with a rationalist vibe, I would recommend Mencius Moldbug (posts are articulate ...

I'll have to disagree, at least to the extent that this is taken as a positive attribute. I find his posts to be rambling and cutesy, which may correspond to articulate. But most people here have the kind of mind that prefers "get to the point" writing, which he fails at.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 11 August 2010 01:27:32PM *  3 points [-]

When I read someone taking cheap shots at a position I might hold, I mostly find the writer childish and annoying, I don't see how reading more of that would improve my rationality.

I have the same reaction to someone taking cheap shots, period. It doesn't matter whether they're arguing something I agree with, disagree with, or don't care about. It just lowers my opinion of the writer.

Comment author: gwern 11 August 2010 01:19:50PM *  3 points [-]

I think Moldbug is far away from any living thinker you could name. And he'd probably tell you so himself.

(FWIW, I think Moldbug is usually wrong, through a combination of confirmation bias and reversed stupidity, although I'm still open on Austrian economics in general.)

Comment author: cata 14 August 2010 03:30:12PM *  4 points [-]

I have a very hard time evaluating Moldbug's claims, due to my lack of background in the relevant history, but holy shit, do I ever enjoy reading his posts.

The crowd here may be very interested in watching him debate Robin Hanson about futarchy before an audience at the 2010 Foresight conference. Moldbug seems to be a bit quicker with the pen than in person.

Moldbug's initial post that spurred the argument is here; it's very moldbuggy, so the summary, as far as my understanding goes, is like this: Futarchy is exposed to corrupt manipulators, decision markets can't correctly express comparisons between multiple competing policies, many potential participants are incapable of making rational actions on the market, and it's impossible to test whether it's doing a good job.


Video of the debate is here: http://vimeo.com/9262193

Moldbug's followup: http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2010/01/hanson-moldbug-debate.html

Hanson's followup: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2010/01/my-moldbug-debate.html

Comment author: cousin_it 12 August 2010 09:51:43AM *  2 points [-]

I'm kinda torn about Moldbug. His political arguments look shaky, but whenever he hits a topic I happen to know really well, he's completely right. (1, 2) Then again, he has credentials in CS but not history/economy/poli-sci, so the halo effect may be unjustified. Many smart people say dumb things when they go outside their field.

Comment author: SilasBarta 12 August 2010 08:00:42PM 2 points [-]

That just shows he got two easy questions right. When he spells out his general philosophy, which I had criticized before, you see just how anti-rational his epistemology is. You're just seeing a broken clock at noon.

By the way, anyone know if "Mencius Moldbug" is his real name? It sounds so fake.

Comment author: gwern 15 August 2010 09:47:31AM 1 point [-]

He states that it's a pseudonym. (It's actually quite a clever one - unique, and conveys a lot about him.)

"I may be a pseudonym, but more prominent folks like Sailer, Auster and Mangan aren't."

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 15 August 2010 10:03:56AM 1 point [-]

MM's name combines the pseudonyms he previously used as a commenter in two separate blogging realms (HBD and finance).

Comment author: kodos96 14 August 2010 08:29:46PM 2 points [-]

advocates monarchy, colonialism and slavery

Slavery? I'm certainly not defending Moldbug, but if he advocated slavery, I must have missed that post. Do you have a link?

Comment author: gwern 14 August 2010 08:43:52PM *  1 point [-]

See http://www.google.com/search?num=100&q=slavery%20site%3Aunqualified-reservations.blogspot.com%2F

(I part ways with Rothbard here. While hereditary slavery is more debatable, I don't have a problem at all with selling yourself into slavery. For me, a contract is an enforceable promise; removing my option to make enforceable promises cannot benefit me. If you don't want to make the promise, don't sign the contract. And promising to be your faithful servant so long as you and I shall live is a perfectly normal, legitimate, and (in a sane world) common sort of promise.)

I admit it: I am a pronomian. I endorse the nomos without condition. Fortunately, I do not have to endorse hereditary slavery, because any restoration of the nomos begins with the present state of possession, and at present there are no hereditary slaves. However, if you want to sell yourself and your children into slavery, I don't believe it is my business to object. Try and strike a hard bargain, at least. (A slightly weakened form of pronomianism, perhaps more palatable in this day and age, might include mandatory emancipation at twenty-one.)

And there is, of course, http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2009_03_01_archive.html which cannot be excerpted and done proper justice.

Comment author: kodos96 14 August 2010 08:52:10PM 2 points [-]

Hrmmmm... haven't read the second link yet, but that first excerpt is.... well.... yeah. The selling yourself into slavery part is basically unobjectionable (to a libertarian), but selling your children into slavery.......

I think Moldbug's positions seem to be derived not so much from reversed stupidity as reversed PC.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 10 August 2010 12:35:36AM 2 points [-]

Who should conservatives read?

Comment author: cata 10 August 2010 02:07:01AM 3 points [-]

Glenn Greenwald!

Comment author: [deleted] 10 August 2010 03:42:42PM *  2 points [-]

Paul Krugman's a good example, because he goes on the offensive, but he's not quite offensive enough. For good, juicy ad hominems, read SLOG (the blog of the Seattle Stranger) or Feministe.

How to offend a conservative is an interesting question. I think it should be easy to offend (or upset or disgust) a traditional social conservative, with simple sexual shock value. It's harder for me to think of ways to offend an economic conservative. The closest thing I can think of is stereotyping libertarians as weirdo losers.

Comment author: Craig_Heldreth 16 August 2010 01:07:24AM *  1 point [-]

This is a special case of a well known process in social science circles since at least the 1950's: role playing. It became popular after the work of Fritz Perls (a psychotherapist who started out in drama), who would have the patient do things such as play their mother or father (or tyrannical trauma family character of choice) to try and broaden their understanding of their life story and memory. It can be a very powerful technique. I have been in group psychotherapy sessions where people scream, bawl, and many other visceral responses get displayed.

In 1983 Robert Anton Wilson published a book, Prometheus Unbound which was ostensibly a self-help book for making your thinking more rational, specifically for destroying dogmas. This book is little more than one recipe after another for exercises of this type; for example, be a neo-Nazi for a week.

The mechanics is to learn by exposing yourself to that great universe of unknown-unknowns. My personal experience is sometimes they can be helpful, but it is really hard to know beforehand if they will be worth the time. I have benefited from some of these things; I have wasted time doing some.

Comment author: Morendil 29 August 2010 10:01:50PM *  3 points [-]

A quick probability math question.

Consider a population of blobs, initially comprising N individual blobs. Each individual blob independently has a probability p of reproducing, just once, spawning exactly one new blob. The next generation (an expected N*p individuals) has the same probability for each individual to spawn one new blob, and so on. Eventually the process will stop, with a total blob population of P.

The question is about the probability distribution for P, given N and p. Is this a well-known probability distribution? If so, which? Even if not, are there things that can be said about it which are mathematically obvious? (Not obvious to me, obviously. I'd be interested in which gaps in my math education I'm revealing by even asking these questions.)

Comment author: Wei_Dai 29 August 2010 10:20:18PM 7 points [-]

Here's my solution. The descendants of each initial blob spawn independently of descendants of other initial blobs, so this is a sum of N independent distributions. The number of descendants of one initial blob is obviously the geometric distribution. Googling "sum of independent geometric distributions" gives Negative binomial distribution as the answer.

Comment author: RobinZ 30 August 2010 12:39:51AM 1 point [-]

Agreed - there are never more than N breeding blobs, each success increases P by one, and each failure reduces the remaining number of breeding blobs by one. Essentially, if r = N, X = P-N.

Comment author: Perplexed 29 August 2010 10:32:42PM 1 point [-]

After G generations, each blob has a probability q=p^G of having a descendant. So, it seems to me that P will be distributed as a binomial with q and N as parameters.

Comment author: FAWS 29 August 2010 10:51:14PM 2 points [-]

The blobs don't reproduce with probability p in any given generation, they reproduce with probability p ever. The scenario doesn't require generations in the sense you seem to be thinking of, it could all happen within 1 second, or a first generation blob might reproduce after the highest generation blob that reproduces has already done so.

Comment author: Perplexed 29 August 2010 11:38:47PM 3 points [-]

Oh, ok. I thought the blobs died each generation. A shrinking population. Instead they go into nursing homes. A growing population which stabilizes once everyone is geriatric.

Got it. Wei pretty clearly has the solution. Negative Binomial distribution

The negative binomial distribution is a discrete probability distribution of the number of successes in a sequence of Bernoulli trials before a specified (non-random) number r of failures occurs.

Pretty damned obvious, actually, that (P-N) is distributed as a negative binomial where r is set to N; failure = failure to reproduce; success = birth.

Comment author: gwern 26 August 2010 11:16:23AM 3 points [-]

Last open thread I linked a Wired article on a argument-diagram software called ACH being open-sourced.

It's now available: http://competinghypotheses.org/

(PHP, apparently. Blech!)

Comment author: JoshuaZ 17 August 2010 02:21:35AM 3 points [-]

I'm thinking of signing up for cryonics. However, one point that is strongly holding me back is that cryonics seems to require signing up for a DNR (Do not resuscitate). However, if there's a chance at resuscitation I'd like all attempts to be made and only have cryonics used when it is clear that the other attempts to keep me alive will fail. I'm not sure that this is easily specifiable with current legal settings and how cryonics is currently set up. I'd appreciate input on this matter.

Comment author: Alicorn 17 August 2010 02:25:26AM 3 points [-]

cryonics seems to require signing up for a DNR

What did you read that makes it seem this way? I haven't run into this before.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 17 August 2010 02:38:44AM 2 points [-]

A variety of places mention it. Alcor mentions it here. Cryonics.org discusses the need for some form of DNR although the details don't seem to be very clear there. Another one that discusses it is this article which makes the point that repeated attempts at resuscitation can lead to additional brain damage although at least from the material I've read I get the impression that as long as it doesn't delay cryopreservation by more than an hour or two that shouldn't be an issue.

Comment author: AngryParsley 17 August 2010 04:01:47AM *  3 points [-]

You don't have to sign a DNR or objection to autopsy to get cryonics. The autopsy objection is recommended, but not required. It looks like Alcor wants terminally ill people to sign a DNR, not typical healthy people.

I've signed a religious objection to autopsy (California doesn't seem to allow an atheistic objection to autopsy), but never has a DNR been mentioned to me by anyone at Alcor.

Comment author: wedrifid 17 August 2010 04:46:40AM 3 points [-]

California doesn't seem to allow an atheistic objection to autopsy

Which just a tad ironic. Atheists are people who consider the physical state of their brain to be all that is 'them'. Most religious people assume their immortal soul has traipsed off some place, a paradise or at the very least a brand spanking new (possibly animalian) body.

Comment author: thomblake 16 August 2010 08:04:33PM *  3 points [-]

File under "Less Wrong will rot your brain":

At my day job, I had to come up with and code an algorithm which assigned numbers to a list of items according to a list of sometimes-conflicting rules. For example, I'd have a list of 24 things that would have to be given the numbers 1-3 (to split them up into groups) according to some crazy rules.

The first algorithm I came up with was:

  1. model each rule as a utility function over dollars
  2. instantiate an ideally rational agent for each rule, which used the rule as its utility function.
  3. give each agent a number of dollars (changing the amount of money they have is one way to change the weighting of the rules during conflicts)
  4. let them negotiate until some equilibrium is reached.

Of course, I did not try to implement this algorithm. Rather, I ended up solving the problem (mostly) using about 100 lines of perl and no AI.

Comment author: rabidchicken 17 August 2010 04:06:20AM 2 points [-]

This is what happens to me whenever I start to write a difficult program in C++, start by building a innovative system which solves the problems with minimal intervention on my part, and then eventually set up a cludge using heuristics which get the same thing done in a fraction of the time.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 14 August 2010 04:11:51PM 3 points [-]

Pattern matching, signalling:

Way back when MSNBC used to do 6 hour stints with lawyers doing the color commentary on the court case of the day, I was a regular doing the defense side. Once an hour, we would be expected to sit at a desk and do a five minute stint, me and whoever was doing the "former prosecutor" job that day. Our five minutes would consist of two questions, each taking up about 90 seconds including some mischaracterization of the nature of the legal issue, and concluding with the words "how do you feel?" We had ten seconds to respond before the talking head turned elsewhere.

One slow day caught up with us. The "former prosecutor" and I got bored playing cards, waiting for our next stint, and there was absolutely nothing worthwhile to say on the case du jour. We had just finished our stint with Ashley Banfield (back when she was blond and didn't wear her "interested" glasses), and some unknown kid in a peculiar Caribbean-green-colored shirt was the next hour's anchor. We decided to goof with the kid by switching sides. I would take the prosecutor side and the former prosecutor would pretend to be the defense.

The anchor, Rick Sanchez, was very nice and solicitous, as they sat us at our desk, and we nodded nicely back, knowing that there would be someone else we didn't know there in an hour. He ran through his question and we responded. Just backward. Rick didn't skip a beat, and we filled our five minutes like good little lawyers. Just backward. Nobody, not Sanchez, not a producer, nobody, even noticed. Our sound bites were good. Our time was filled. And everybody was happy. It meant absolutely nothing.

Link from The Agitator.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 13 August 2010 06:26:23PM 3 points [-]

Possible new barriers to Moore's Law where small chips won't have enough power to use the maximum transistor density they have available. The article also discusses how other apparent barriers (such as leaky gates) have been overcome in the past including this amusing line:

“The number of people predicting the end of Moore’s Law doubles every two years,” quips the Scandinavian Tryggve Fossum.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 13 August 2010 06:17:30PM 3 points [-]

Problems with high stakes, low quality testing

The percentage of students falling below some arbitrary cutoff is a bad statistic to use for management purposes. (Again, this is Statistical QA 101 stuff.) It throws away information. Worse, it creates perverse incentives, encouraging schools to concentrate on the students performing at around the cut-off level and to neglect both those too far below the threshold to have a chance of catching up and those comfortably above it.

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 11 August 2010 08:29:25PM *  3 points [-]

This may be a stupid question, but...

There're a couple of psych effects we have evidence for. Specifically, we have evidence for a sort of consistency effect. For example (relevant to my question) there's apparently evidence for stuff like if someone ends up tending to do small favors for others or being nice to them/etc, they'll be willing to continue to do so, more easily willing to do bigger things later.

And there's also willpower/niceness "used up"ness effects, whereby apparently (as I understand it), one might do one nice thing then, feeling they "filled up their virtue quota" be nasty elsewhere. (ie, apparently one of the less obvious dangers of religion is you, say, go to church or whatever, and thus later in the day you don't even bother tipping (or tip poorly) when you go to a restaurant because you're "already virtuous" and thus don't have to do any more.)

How is it that we can simultaneously have evidence of these two things when they directly contradict each other? Or am I being totally stupid here?

(EDIT: just to clarify, I meant I was asking "How can it be that the sum total of evidence support both these positions when they seem to me to directly contradict each other?")

Comment author: FAWS 11 August 2010 08:43:47PM 3 points [-]

As fas as I understand they operate on different scales. "Used up" effects operate on much shorter time scales, and consistency effects (often?) operate on more specific things than general niceness.

Comment author: blogospheroid 11 August 2010 04:52:21AM 3 points [-]

I had a question. Other than Cryonics and PUA, what other "selfish" purposes might be pursued by an extreme rationalist that would not be done by common people?

On thinking on this for quite a while, one unusual thing I could think of was possibly, the entire expat movement, building businesses all across the world and protecting their wealth from multiple governments. I'm not sure if this might be classified as extreme rationality or just plain old rationality.

Switzerland seems to be a great place to start a cryonics setup as it is already a hub for people maintaining their wealth there. If cryonics was added, then your money and your life could be safe in switzerland.

Comment author: JanetK 12 August 2010 10:07:21AM 2 points [-]

I for one who appreciate people not using abbreviations that are not in the Wiki or someplace like that. I do not know what PUA is - so where do I go to find out?

Comment author: katydee 12 August 2010 10:28:09AM 2 points [-]

Google. (It stands for Pick-Up Artist)

Comment author: wedrifid 11 August 2010 11:48:29AM *  2 points [-]

I'm not sure if this might be classified as extreme rationality or just plain old rationality.

PUA probably fits the "plain old rationality" category too, including the "done by common people" part.

Comment author: apophenia 11 August 2010 03:50:06AM *  3 points [-]

Wanted ad: Hiring a personal manager

I will pay anyone I hire $50-$100 a month, or equivalent services if you prefer.

I've trying to overcome my natural laziness and get work done. For-fun project, profitable projects, SIAI-type research, academic homework -- I don't do much without a deadline, even projects that I want to do because they sound fun.

I want to hire a personal manager, basically to get on my case and tell/convince me to get stuff done. The ideal candidate would:

  • Be online. As much as possible. I'm mostly looking for 22-08 GMT (4pm-3am EST) right now, but I won't be working full-time much longer, and after that I'll be working irregular hours.
  • Have a solid grasp of rationality, which is why I'm posting on Less Wrong.
  • Accept wild swings in job description as we figure out what I'm actually looking for instead of what I've posted here.

Please do post something here as well for onlookers to see what's going on, but if you're interested PM, post, or email me contact information so we can get together real-time. My email is vanceza+lesswrong@gmail.com (I will take my email address down in a week or two).

Comment author: wedrifid 11 August 2010 12:07:03PM 2 points [-]

Good idea. I'll be interested to hear a report on how it works out!

Comment author: [deleted] 10 August 2010 05:22:40PM 3 points [-]

The Last Psychiatrist on a new study of the placebo effect.

I'm having trouble parsing his analysis (it seems disjointed) but the effect is interesting nonetheless.

Comment author: gaffa 10 August 2010 01:22:40PM 3 points [-]

Has anyone read, and could comment on, Scientific Reasoning: The Bayesian Approach by philosophers Howson and Urbach? To me it appears to be the major work on Bayes from within mainstream philosophy of science, but reviews are mixed and I can't really get a feel for its quality and whether it's worth reading.

Comment author: Sniffnoy 27 August 2010 12:08:13PM 2 points [-]

ETA: Ag, just before posting this I realized Hal Finney had already basically raised this same point on the original thread! Still, I think this expands on it a little...

You know, if Wei Dai's alien black box halting decider scenario were to occur, I'm not sure there is any level of black-box evidence that could convince me they were telling the truth. (Note: To make later things make sense, I'm going to assume the claim is that if the program halts, it actually tells you the output, not just that it halts.)

It's not so much that I'm committed to the Turing notion of computability - presumably opening the box should, if they're telling us the truth, allow us to learn this new Turing-uncomputable physics; the problem is that - without hypercomputers ourselves - we don't really have any way of verifying their claim in the first place. Of course the set of halting programs is semicomputable, so we can certainly verify its yes answers (if not quickly), but no answers can only be verified in the cases where we ourselves have precomputed the answer by proving it for that particular case (or family of cases). In short, we can verify that it's correct on the easy cases, but it's not clear why we should believe it's correct on the hard cases that we actually care about it on. In other words, we can only verify it by checking it against a precomputed list of our own, and ISTM that if we precomputed it, they could have done the same.

If you're not being careful, you could just say justify the claim with "induction", but even without the precomputed list idea, induction also supports the hypothesis that it simply runs programs for a fixed but really long time and then reports whether they've halted, which doesn't require anything uncomputable and so is more probable a priori. (The fact that Wei Dai said nothing about the computation time makes this a bit trickier, but presumably they may have computation far faster than us.)

Now if it just claimed, say, that it was only necessarily correct for programs using polynomial space, then we'd be in better shape, due to IP=PSPACE; even if we couldn't replicate its results very fast, we could at least verify them quickly. We could actually give it hard cases, that we can't do (quickly) by hand, and then verify that it got them right. (Except actually I'm brushing over some problems here - IIRC it's uncomputable to determine whether a program will use polynomial space in the first place, so while it presumably doesn't have a precomputed list of inputs for the different programs, it might well have a precomputed list of which programs below a certain length are polynomial-space in the first place! And then just run those much faster than we can. We could just make it an oracle for a single PSPACE-complete problem, but then of course there's nothing uncomputable going on so no there's no real problem in the first place; it could just be a really fast brute-force solver. This would allow us to verify quickly that they have much more advanced computers than us, that can solve PSPACE-complete problems in an instant, but that's not nearly as surprising. Not sure if there's any way to make this example really work as intended.)

When we test our own programs, we have some idea of what's in the black box - we have some idea how they work, and we are just verifying that we haven't screwed it up. And on those, since we have some idea of the algorithm, we can construct tricky test cases to check the parts that are most likely to screw it up. And even if we're verifying a program from someone untrustworthy, SFAICT this is based on inferring what ways the program probably works, or what ways that look right but don't work on hard cases someone may have come up with, or key steps it will probably rely on, or ways it might cheat, and writing test cases for those. Of course you can't rule out arbitrarily advanced cheats this way, but we have other evidence against those - they'd take up too much space, or they'd be even harder than doing it correctly. In the case of a halting oracle, the problem there is no point where it would seem that such a ridiculous cheat would be even harder than doing it correctly.

So until the black box is opened, I'm not sure that this is a good argument against the universal prior, though I suppose it does still argue that the universal prior + Bayes doesn't quite capture our intuitive notion of induction.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 27 August 2010 09:25:19PM *  3 points [-]

I'm not sure there is any level of black-box evidence that could convince me they were telling the truth.

I'm afraid I can't do much better at this point than to cite Harvey Friedman's position on this. (He posted his alien crystall ball scenario before I posted my alien black box, and obviously knows a lot more about this stuff than I do.)

I now come to the various deep questions - conceptually and technically - that arise when attempting to make "proofs" that the Crystal Ball from the hyperaliens is "the real thing" and that the information gleaned from its use is "proved".

I believe very strongly that rather subtle probabilistic arguments combined with rather clever TMs, will show, in various "rigorous" senses, that the Crystal Ball is the real thing (provided it is in fact the real thing).

Here are the relevant discussion threads on the Foundations of Mathematics mailing list:


In the case of a halting oracle, the problem there is no point where it would seem that such a ridiculous cheat would be even harder than doing it correctly.

Assuming the laws of physics actually does allow a halting oracle to be implemented, then at some point it would be easier to just implement it than to do these ridiculous cheats, right? As we rule out various possible cheats, that intuitively raises our credence that a halting oracle can be physically implemented, which contradicts the universal prior.

Comment author: ata 27 August 2010 04:38:27AM *  2 points [-]

Have advocates of the simulation argument actually argued for the possibility of ancestor simulations? It is a very counterintuitive idea, yet it seems to be invoked as though it is obviously possible. Aside from whatever probability we want to assign to the possibility that the future human race will discover strange previously-unknown laws of physics that make it more feasible, doesn't the idea of an ancestor simulation (a simulation of "the entire mental history of humankind") depend on having access to a huge amount of information that has presumably been permanently lost to entropy? Where is the future civilization expected to get all the mental structures needed to simulate the entire mental history of humankind (or a model of the early Earth implausibly precise enough that simulating it causes things to play out exactly as they really did)?

Comment author: [deleted] 26 August 2010 05:39:54AM 2 points [-]

I just read and liked "Pascal's mugging." It was written a few years ago, and the wiki is pretty spare. What's the state of the art on this problem?

Comment author: gwern 26 August 2010 11:10:54AM *  3 points [-]

I haven't seen much response to it. There's a reply in Analysis by Baumann who takes a cheap out by saying simply that one cannot provide the probability in advance, that it's 'extremely implausible'.

I have an unfinished essay where I argue that as presented the problem is asking for a uniform distribution over an infinity, so you cannot give the probability in advance, but I haven't yet come up with a convincing argument why you would want your probability to scale down in proportion as the mugger's offer scales up.

That is: it's easy to show that scaling disproportionately leads to another mugging. If you scale superlinearly, then the mugging can be broken up into an ensemble of offers that add to a mugging. If you scale sublinearly, you will refuse sensible offers that are broken up.

But I haven't come up with any deeper justification for linearly scaling other than 'this apparently arbitrary numeric procedure avoids 3 problems'. I've sort of given up on it, as you can see from the parlous state of my essay.

Comment author: Emily 24 August 2010 06:39:35PM 2 points [-]

Light entertainment: this hyperboleandahalf comic reminded me of some of the FAI discussions that go on in these parts.


Comment author: ata 21 August 2010 08:09:35PM *  2 points [-]

Apparently AGI, transhumanism, and the Singularity are a massive statist/corporate conspiracy, and there exists a vast "AGI Manhattan Project". Neat.

Comment author: ciphergoth 21 August 2010 08:29:51PM 1 point [-]

Looks like the Illuminati have deleted page 8, which I assume is where all the juciest stuff is!

Comment author: nhamann 17 August 2010 09:38:52PM *  2 points [-]

I just came across this article called "Thank God for the New Atheists," written by Michael Dowd, and I can't tell if his views are just twisted or if he is very subtly trying to convert religious folks into epistemic rationalists. Sample quotes include:

Religion Is About Right Relationship with Reality, Not the Supernatural


Because the New Atheists put their faith, their confidence, in an evidentially formed and continuously tested view of the world, these critics of religion are well positioned to see what’s real and what’s important today. It is thus time for religious people to listen to the New Atheists—and to listen as if they were speaking with God's voice, because in my view they are!


...we cannot understand religion and religious differences if we don’t understand how the human mind instinctually relationalizes—that is, personifies—reality.


God is still speaking, and facts are God’s native tongue—not Hebrew or Greek or King James English.

Ah, yes. The only way to true religious understanding is through science and realizing our anthropomorphic biases...uh, wait. What? This guy seems to be calling for a religion grounded in science and rationality, but then he says things like:

The bottom line is this: whenever we Christians slip into interpreting scripture literally, we belittle the Bible and dishonor God

So I'm confused. It makes me think that he's a crypto-rationalist trying to convert religious believers into rationalists. If that's true, it does seem like really effective strategy.

Comment author: ocr-fork 18 August 2010 06:07:14AM 3 points [-]

Since that summer in Colorado, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens have all produced bestselling and highly controversial books—and I have read them all.

The bottom line is this: whenever we Christians slip into interpreting scripture literally, we belittle the Bible and dishonor God. Our best moral guidance comes from what God is revealing today through evidence, not from tradition or authority or old mythic stories.

The first sentence warns agains taking the Bible literally, but the next sentence insinuates that we don't even need it...

He's also written a book called "Thank God for Evolution," in which he sprays God all over science to make it more palatable to christians.

I dedicate this book to the glory of God. Not any "God" me may think about , speak about , believe in , or deny , but the one true God we all know and experience.

If he really is trying to deconvert people, I suspect it won't work. They won't take the final step from his pleasant , featureless god to no god, because the featureless one gives them a warm glow without any intellectual conflict.

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 13 August 2010 06:04:40PM 2 points [-]

What does Less Wrong know about the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator? My sense is that it's a useful model for some things, but I'm most interested in how useful it is for relationships. This site suggests that each personality type pair has a specific type of relationship, while this site only comments on what the ideal pair is for any given type. But the two sites disagree about what the ideal pairings are.

Comment author: ciphergoth 11 August 2010 10:25:44AM 2 points [-]

Just watched Tyler Cowen at TEDx Mid-Atlantic 2009-11-05 talking about how our love of stories misleads us. We talk about good-story bias on the Wiki.

Is there a way good-story bias could be experimentally verified?

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 13 August 2010 05:55:36PM 2 points [-]

late to the party? :)

Comment author: Alexandros 11 August 2010 01:02:03PM *  2 points [-]

Nice video. I am thinking that conjunction bias and hyperactive agency detectors are both linked to this 'story bias'. Of course religion milks this set for all it's worth.

Another question that came to me was whether telling children stories helps them or wires them up to keep thinking in terms of stories.

Comment author: timtyler 11 August 2010 11:16:59AM 0 points [-]

Tyler Cowen tells a nice story here.

Comment author: TobyBartels 11 August 2010 03:00:23AM *  2 points [-]

There's an article on rationality in Newsweek, with an emphasis on evo-psych explanations for irrationality. Especially: we evolved our reasoning skills not just to get at the truth, but also to win debates, and overconfidence is good for the latter.

There's nothing there that's new to readers of this blog, and the analysis is superficial (plus the writer makes an annoying but illustrative error while explaining why human intuition is poor at logic puzzles). But Newsweek is a large-circulation (second to Time) newsweekly in the U.S., so this is a pretty broad audience.

Perhaps this has been mentioned before, since it's been online for almost a week, but my parents' print copy was just delivered today, and that's what I read.

Comment author: b1shop 10 August 2010 11:29:49PM 2 points [-]

Value-sorting hypothetical:

If you had access to a time-machine and could transfer one piece of knowledge to an influential ancient (i.e. Plato), what would you tell him?

Something practical, like pasteurization, would almost certainly improve millions of lives, but it wouldn't necessarily produce people with values like ours. I can imagine a bishop claiming heat drives demons from milk.

Meta-knowledge, like a working understanding of the scientific method, might allow for thousands of other pasteurizations to be developed, or maybe it would remain unused throughout the Dark Ages.

Convincingly arguing for a philosophical conclusion, like materialism, might prevent the horror of the crusades, or maybe the now unaddressed emotional need for community would sooner be channeled into nationalism and hasten the coming of the world wars that terrorized the early 20th century.

Each side has its pluses and potential pitfalls. Which would you choose?

And should that therefore be the main thrust of your rationality-promoting conversations today?

Comment author: jimrandomh 10 August 2010 11:49:05PM 5 points [-]

If you had access to a time-machine and could transfer one piece of knowledge to an influential ancient (i.e. Plato), what would you tell him?

How to make a movable-type printing press. They'll figure out pasteurization and the scientific method on their own eventually, but without a press, they'll lose knowledge almost as fast as they gain it. And as an added bonus, it introduces the concept of mass production.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 12 August 2010 09:58:52PM 3 points [-]

How to make a movable-type printing press.

This requires a lot of work. I'm not sure that they had the metallurgy to do this. The antikythera mechanism suggests that the answer is yes. But the printing press as a whole requires a lot of different technologies to come to together. The screw press, without which moveable type is highly inefficient, was not around until around 100 CE or slightly earlier(I'm under the impression that late medieval versions were generally better and more efficient than Roman era screw presses but don't have a citation for that claim. If someone can confirm/refute this I'd appreciate it). You also need to explain how to make a matrix for printing (again, otherwise efficiency issues kill things badly). Also, one needs to introduce the idea of a book/codex. Prior to that, the use of scrolls and other writing systems make a printing press less practical. This is another innovation from the Roman period. So one could probably have success introducing a printing press around 150 or 200 CE but the chance of successful introduction drops drastically as one goes further back in time.

Jared Diamond has suggested that even if something approximating the Gutenberg press were introduced early on the lack of supporting technologies might make it difficult to catch on. This connects with objects like the Phaistos Disc which used a standardized form of printing around 1600 BCE but the technology did not apparently spread far (or if it did spread far has left no substantial remnants elsewhere and did not stay around).

Comment author: steven0461 10 August 2010 11:54:58PM 2 points [-]

We don't want them to advance quickly; we want them to advance with a low probability of screwing up permanently.

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 10 August 2010 06:10:08PM *  2 points [-]

After seeing the recent thread about proving Occam's razor (for which a better name would be Occam's prior), I thought I should add my own proof sketch:

Consider an alternative to Occam's prior such as "Favour complicated priors*". Now this prior isn't itself very complicated, it's about as simple as Occam's prior, and this makes it less likely, since it doesn't even support itself.

What I'm suggesting is that priors should be consistent under reflection. The prior "The 527th most complicated hypothesis is always true (probability=1)" must be false because it isn't the 527th most complicated prior.

So to find the correct prior you need to find a reflexive equilibrium where the probability given to each prior is equal to the average of the probabilities given to it by all the priors, weighted by how probable they are.

*This isn't a proper prior, but it's good enough for illustrative purposes.

Comment author: Emile 11 August 2010 10:24:23AM 2 points [-]

Amusing exercise: find a complexity measure and a N such that "the Nth most complex hypothesis is always true" is the Nth most complex prior :)

Comment author: cousin_it 11 August 2010 10:32:46AM *  1 point [-]

This makes you vulnerable to quining, like this:

Hypotheses that consist of ten words must have higher priors.

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 10 August 2010 05:13:14PM *  2 points [-]

I wish my long-term memory were better.

Am I losing out on opportunities to hold onto certain facts because I often rely on convenient electronic lookup? For instance, when programming I'll search for documentation on the web instead of first taking my best recollection as a guess (which, if wrong, will almost certainly be caught by the type checker). What's worse, I find myself relying on multi-monitor/window so I don't even need to temporarily remember anything :)

I'd like to hear any evidence/anecdotes in favor of:

  1. habits that might improve my general ability to remember and/or recall (I'd guess that having enough sleep (and low enough stress) matters, for example.)

  2. tricks for ensuring that particular bits of info are preferentially stored (As I mentioned, I imagine using a memory

  3. consolation - perhaps being more forgetful than many other smart people is a trade-off with different advantages (I doubt it, although I've heard that we do some useful selective forgetting when we sleep, and I'm glad I don't remember every malformed thought I have while asleep)

Comment author: wedrifid 10 August 2010 05:35:56PM 3 points [-]
  1. habits that might improve my general ability to remember and/or recall (I'd guess that having enough sleep (and low enough stress) matters, for example.)

You have two of the big ones. Add in exercise and diet. And add exercise again just in case you skipped it. With all the basics handled you can consider things like cognitive enhancers (ie. Aniracetam and choline supplementation).

  1. tricks for ensuring that particular bits of info are preferentially stored (As I mentioned, I imagine using a memory

Spaced Repetition .

  1. consolation - perhaps being more forgetful than many other smart people is a trade-off with different advantages (I doubt it, although I've heard that we do some useful selective forgetting when we sleep, and I'm glad I don't remember every malformed thought I have while asleep)

People spend an awful lot of time trying to forget things. A particularly strong memory exacerbates the effects of trauma. (If something particularly bad happens to you some day then smoke some weed to prevent memory consolidation.)

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 11 August 2010 04:21:42AM 2 points [-]

Thanks. I guess I'm just lazy and hope to remember things better without any explicit drilling.

I do exercise (but I'm nearly completely sedentary every other day; it's probably better to even out the activity).

I remember reading in the past week that the way exercise improves brain function is not merely by improving oxygen supply to the brain, but in some other interesting, measurable ways (unfortunately, that's as much as I can remember, but it seems like this from Wikipedia at least covers the category:

There are several possibilities for why exercise is good for the brain: increasing the blood and oxygen flow to the brain increasing growth factors that help create new nerve cells[28] and promote synaptic plasticity[29] increasing chemicals in the brain that help cognition, such as dopamine, glutamate, norepinephrine, and serotonin[30] Physical activity is thought to have other beneficial effects related to cognition as it increases levels of nerve growth factors, which support the survival and growth of a number of neuronal cells.[31]

Comment author: wedrifid 11 August 2010 05:43:01AM 2 points [-]

Exactly. Exercise is great stuff, particularly with the boost to neurogenesis!

Incidentally, the best forms of exercise (for this purpose) is activities which not only provide an intense cardiovascular workout but also rely on extensive motor coordination.

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 11 August 2010 08:38:49PM 2 points [-]

But if the increased neurogenesis is only for implementing motor skill learning, then it's not going to help me get better at Starcraft 2 (I mean, my research) - so what's the point? :)

I play piano for 10-60 min daily and imagine there's some benefit as well (surprisingly, it's also a mild cardiovascular workout once you can play hard enough repertoire).

Also, I read a little about choline; it seems likely that unless I'm dieting heavily, I'll get enough already. That is, there's no hard evidence of any benefit to taking more than necessary to maintain liver health - although it seems like up to 7x that dose also has no notable side effects).

Aniracetam looks interesting (but moderately expensive). Do you have any personal experience with it?

Comment author: CarlShulman 10 August 2010 04:33:15AM 2 points [-]

Gelernter on "machine rights," I didn't know his anti-AI consciousness views were tied in with Orthodox Judaism.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 10 August 2010 04:55:34AM *  3 points [-]

He's not exactly Orthodox. His views are a bit unique religiously and is connected to his politics in some strange ways. But he's made clear before that his negative views of AI come in a large part from his particular brand of theism before. See for example the section in his book "The Muse in the Machine" that consists of a fairly rambling theological argument that AI will never exist and is based mainly on quotes from the Bible and Talmud. Jeff Shallit wrote an interesting if slightly obnoxious commentary about how Gelernter's religion has impacted his thinking.

One curious thing is how rarely Gelernter touches on golems when discussing his religion and AI. I suspect this is because although the classical discussion of golems touches on many of the relevant issues (including discussion of whether golems have souls and whether people have ethical obligations to them), it probably comes across to him as too much like superstitious folklore that he doesn't like to think of as part of Judaism in a deep sense.

ETA: However, some of Gelernter's points have validity outside of any religious context. In particular, the point that acting badly to non-conscious entities will encourage people to act badly to conscious ones is valid outside any Talmudic framework. Disclaimer: I'm friends with one of Gelernter's sons and his niece so I may be a biased source.

Comment author: knb 19 August 2010 11:25:46PM 3 points [-]

IMO, the quality of comments on Overcoming Bias has diminished significantly since Less Wrong started up. This was true almost from the beginning, but the situation has really spiraled out of control more recently.

I gave up reading the comments regularly last year, but once a week or so, I peek at the comments and they are atrociously bad (and almost uniformly negative). The great majority seem unwilling to even engage with Robin Hanson's arguments and instead rely on shaming techniques.

So what gives? Why is the comment quality so much higher on LW than on OB? My first thought is karma, but OB didn't have karma when Eliezer Yudkowsky was posting, and the comments were pretty good back then. My best guess is that the good commenters were mostly Yudkowsky fans, and they left when EY left.

However, I don't know if anyone else shares my impression about OB commenter quality, so I may be completely misguided here.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 20 August 2010 12:48:52AM 5 points [-]

I remember there being lots of bad comments on the old OB, and I think that putting a karma system in place, and requiring registration, helped an awful lot.

Comment author: cata 20 August 2010 12:14:08AM *  7 points [-]

I wasn't reading OB before LW existed, but if you look there now, it's immediately apparent that the topics represented on the front page are much, much, much more interesting to the average casual reader than the ones on LW's front page. I wouldn't be surprised if the commenters tended to be less invested and less focused as a result.

(EDIT: I shouldn't say the "average casual reader," since that must mean something different to everyone. I clarified what I meant below in response to katydee; I think OB appeals to a large audience of interested laymen who like accessible, smart writing on a variety of topics, but who aren't very interested in a lot of LW's denser and more academic discussion.)

Comment author: katydee 20 August 2010 12:44:14AM *  2 points [-]

I suppose I'm not the average casual reader, but here's my comparison--

Less Wrong front page:
-Occam efficiency/rationality games-- low interest
-Strategies for confronting existential risk-- high interest
-Potential biases in evolutionary psychology-- mid-level interest
-Taking ideas seriously-- extremely high interest
-Various community threads-- low/mid interest
-Quick explanations of rationality techniques-- extremely high interest
-Conflicts within the mind-- mid/high interest

Overcoming Bias front page:
-Personality trait effects on romantic relationships-- minimal interest
-Status and reproduction-- minimal interest
-Flaws with medicine- mid-level interest
-False virginity-- no interest beyond "it exists"
-(In)efficiency of free parking-- minimal interest
-Strategies for influencing the future-- high interest
-Reproductive ethics-- minimal interest
-Economic debate-- minimal interest

Only two of the Overcoming Bias articles were interesting to me at all; only one was strongly interesting, and it was also short. Less Wrong seemed, at least to me, to have better/more interesting topics than Overcoming Bias, which might be why it has better/more interesting discussions.

Comment author: cata 20 August 2010 01:07:31AM *  3 points [-]

I totally agree with you; that's why I'm here!

But personally, I know a lot of fairly smart, moderately well-educated people who just aren't very interested in a life of the mind. They don't get a lot out of studying philosophy and math, they read a little but not a lot, they don't seek intellectual self-improvement, and they aren't terribly introspective. However, they all have a passing interest in current events, technology, economics, and social issues; the stuff you'd find in the New Yorker or Harper's, or on news aggregators. Hanson's writing on these topics is exactly the sort of thing that appeals to that demographic, whereas Less Wrong is just not.

Comment author: wedrifid 20 August 2010 01:12:05AM *  5 points [-]

Hanson's writing on these topics is exactly the sort of thing that appeals to that demographic, whereas Less Wrong is just not.

I certainly find Hanson's anecdotes far more useful when socialising with people that have interested in hearing surprising stories about human behaviour (ie. most of the people I bother socialising with). The ability to drop sound bites is, after all, the primary purpose of keeping 'informed' in general.

Comment author: wedrifid 19 August 2010 11:53:11PM 3 points [-]

So what gives? Why is the comment quality so much higher on LW than on OB? My first thought is karma, but OB didn't have karma when Eliezer Yudkowsky was posting, and the comments were pretty good back then. My best guess is that the good commenters were mostly Yudkowsky fans, and they left when EY left.

I expect that was the biggest reason. When I started following OB it basically was Eliezer's blog. Sure, occasionally Robin would post a quote and an interpretation but that was really just 'intermission break' entertainment.

I do note that comments here have been said to have reduced in quality. That is probably true and is somewhat related to lacking a stream of EY posts and also because there aren't many other prominent posters (like Yvain, Roko, Wei, etc.) posting on the more fascinating topics. (At least, fascinating to me.)

Comment author: SilasBarta 20 August 2010 01:00:58AM 3 points [-]

I expect that was the biggest reason. When I started following OB it basically was Eliezer's blog. Sure, occasionally Robin would post a quote and an interpretation but that was really just 'intermission break' entertainment.

lol, yeah, that's the impression I got in the OB days. When there was discussion about renaming the site, I half-seriously thought it should be called "Eliezer Yudkowsky and the backup squad" :-P

I do note that comments here have been said to have reduced in quality. That is probably true and is somewhat related to lacking a stream of EY posts and also because there aren't many other prominent posters (like Yvain, Roko, Wei, etc.) posting on the more fascinating topics.

Oh man, just you wait! I'm almost done with one. Here's the title and summary:

Title: Morality as Parfitian-filtered Decision Theory? (Alternate title: Morality as Anthropic Acausal Optimization?)

Summary: Situations like the Parfit's Hitchhiker problem select for a certain kind of mind: specifically, one that recognizes that an action can be optimal, in a self-interested sense, even if it can no longer cause any future benefit. A mind that can identify such actions might place them in a different category which enables it to perform them, in defiance of the (futureward) consequentialist concerns that normally need to motivate it. Our evolutionary history has put us through such "Parfitian filters", and the corresponding actions, viewed from the inside, feel like "the right thing to do"; we are unconvinced by arguments that point out the lack of a future benefit -- or our estimates of the magnitude of what future benefits do exist is skewed upward. Therein lies the origin of our moral intuitions, as well as the basis for creating the category "morality" in the first place.

Comment author: orthonormal 20 August 2010 01:16:45AM 2 points [-]

I know I've been mentioning Good and Real constantly since I read it, but this sounds a bit like the account of human decision theory (morality) in G&R...

Comment author: SilasBarta 20 August 2010 01:46:45AM 2 points [-]

I've made about six different 3-paragraph posts about G&R in the past three weeks, so I think you're safe ;-)

And yes, it does draw heavily on Drescher's account of the overlap between "morality" and "acting as if recognizing subjunctive acausal means-end links" (which I hope to abbreviate to SAMEL without provoking a riot).

Comment author: SilasBarta 20 August 2010 02:22:16AM 1 point [-]

Anyone know how to do linked footnotes? Where you have a link that jumps to the bottom and one at the bottom that jumps back to the point in the text? I suppose I could just do [1], [2], etc., but I figure that would annoy people.

Comment author: wedrifid 20 August 2010 01:06:40AM *  2 points [-]

Oh man, just you wait!

I'm looking forward to that one! I can't guarantee that I'll agree with all of it (it will depend on how strong you make some of the claims in the middle) but I can tell I'll be engaged either way.

My first impression from the titles was that the 'Alternative' one was far better. But on reflection it sounds like the first title would be more accurate.

Comment author: SilasBarta 19 August 2010 11:46:11PM 2 points [-]

In the OB days, I mainly read it because of EY. Maybe others did too. I'm surprised that OB still wins in the usage stats.

Comment author: wedrifid 19 August 2010 11:45:13PM *  2 points [-]

However, I don't know if anyone else shares my impression about OB commenter quality, so I may be completely misguided here.

Absolutely. OB posts are worth a read occasionally but the comments are not. And here I include even comments (not posts) by Robin himself. The way Robin replies does, I suggest, contribute to who is willing or interested in commenting there. Status interferes rather drastically with the ability of prominent figures to engage usefully in a public forum. By public forum I refer to the generic meaning not electronic adoption. It is often the case that hecklers wishing to shame and express outrage are the only ones who consider it worthwhile to show up.

For my part if I was particularly keen on discussing a topic from OB I would consider bringing it up on the open thread on LW.

Comment author: Perplexed 20 August 2010 01:23:21AM 2 points [-]

I don't follow OB, but your comment sent me over there to look around. What I saw was a lot of criticism from feminists regarding posts by Robin that had a strong anti-feminist odor to them. I also saw some posts on less controversial subjects that drew almost no comments at all. So the natural presumption is that those feminist commentors are not regulars, but rather were attracted to OB when a post relevant to their core interests got syndicated somewhere. If that is what you are talking about then ...

Well, sure, a registration system might have repelled some of the commentors. If Robin really wants to insulate himself from feedback in this way, it might work. But I rather doubt that he is the kind of person to exclaim "OMG, we have wymin commenting here! Who let them in?". I hope his regulars aren't either.

Some comments on topics like this are emotive. Admittedly, you can't really engage with them. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't at least read them, count them, and try to learn something from their sheer existence, if not from their logic.

Comment author: knb 20 August 2010 03:15:48AM 1 point [-]

If that is what you are talking about then ...

That isn't what I was talking about. I was talking about a general impression I've gotten over the last year. Robin's recent posts have received an Instalanche, so they're hardly representative.

Comment author: Morendil 28 August 2010 10:40:40PM 2 points [-]

There are lots of other problems we should tackle, too! But presumably many of these are just symptoms of some deeper underlying problem. What is this deeper problem? I’ve been trying to figure that out for years. Is there any way to summarize what’s going on, or it is just a big complicated mess?

Here’s my attempt at a quick summary: the human race makes big decisions based on an economic model that ignores many negative externalities.

A ‘negative externality’ is, very roughly, a way in which my actions impose a cost on you, for which I don’t pay any price.

-- John Baez on saving the planet

Comment author: khafra 17 August 2010 05:53:17PM 1 point [-]

If this press release isn't overstating its case, AIXItl/other unFriendly bayesian superintelligence just got a lot closer.

Comment author: humpolec 30 August 2010 07:49:40PM *  1 point [-]

If I commit quantum suicide 10 times and live, does my estimate of MWI being true change? It seems like it should, but on the other hand it doesn't for an external observer with exactly the same data...

Comment author: Snowyowl 02 September 2010 01:17:20PM 3 points [-]

The anthropic principle gets in the way. If you play classical (i.e. non-quantum) Russian Roulette 10 times and live, you might conclude that there is some force protecting you from death. If you play classical Russian Roulette 10 times and die, you're not in a position to conclude anything much.

Comment author: humpolec 02 September 2010 07:02:18PM 1 point [-]

Good point, I missed that. So MWI seems to be even subjectively unconfirmable...

Comment author: wedrifid 02 September 2010 01:30:46PM *  1 point [-]

If I commit quantum suicide 10 times and live, does my estimate of MWI being true change? It seems like it should, but on the other hand it doesn't for an external observer with exactly the same data...

It makes no difference. You're either throwing away Everett branches or having a chance of throwing away everything. This experiment doesn't tell you which. You could, however, conclude that you're a damn fool. ;)

Comment author: PaulAlmond 30 August 2010 08:26:37PM 1 point [-]

Assuming MWI is true, I have doubts about the idea that repeated quantum suicide would prove to you that MWI is true, as many people seem to assume. It seems to me that we need to take into account the probability measure of observer moments, and at any time you should be surprised if you happen to find yourself experiencing a low-probability observer moment - just as surprised as if you had got into the observer moment in the "conventional" way of being lucky. I am not saying here that MWI is false, or that quantum suicide wouldn't "work" (in terms of you being able to be sure of continuity) - merely that it seems to me to present an issue of putting you into observer moments which have very low measure indeed.

If you ever find yourself in an extremely low-measure observer moment, rather than having MWI or the validity of the quantum suicide idea proved to you, it may be that it gives you reason to think that you are being tricked in some way - that you are not really in such a low-measure situation. This might mean that repeated quantum suicide, if it were valid, could be a threat to your mental health - by putting you into a situation which you can't rationally believe you are in!

Comment author: gwern 20 August 2010 08:14:31AM 1 point [-]

Has anyone tried or uses the Zeo Personal Sleep Coach (press coverage).

It's a sleep tracker - measuring light, REM, and deep sleep - which sounds useful for improving sleep which as we all know is extremely important to mental performance and learning and health. I'm thinking of getting one, but the $200 pricepoint is a little daunting.

Comment author: curiousepic 30 August 2010 08:27:57PM 2 points [-]

There is a $.99 iPhone App that does essentially the same thing using the phone's accelerometers, etc. called Sleep Cycle http://www.mdlabs.se/sleepcycle/ It definitely seems to have had a positive impact on my mornings. Less biometrics than the Zeo probably, but certainly more economical if you have an iPhone.

Comment author: Alexandros 18 August 2010 04:30:08PM 1 point [-]