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rastilin comments on Scientific Self-Help: The State of Our Knowledge - Less Wrong

138 Post author: lukeprog 20 January 2011 08:44PM

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Comment author: rastilin 24 January 2011 06:29:33AM 3 points [-]

You might be interested to know that Style says roughly one out of twenty people who start to learn PUA reach a high level of skill.

I personally agree with Martin however; especially in relation to diets. Diets DO work, they are just difficult to implement, changing your lifestyle often is; that applies to exercise, studying a new language or anything that requires a large time investment before you see payoffs. The math comparison is especially appropriate. In this way PUA is no different from any other self improvement course that you might decide to undertake.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 24 January 2011 03:47:39PM 4 points [-]

Diets DO work

That depends on what you mean by "work". If your intent is to improve your life through achieving some goal, but the side effects of a strategy cause a net cost in quality of life even if the intermediate goal is achieved, then I'd say that the method doesn't work.

Comment author: datadataeverywhere 25 January 2011 03:22:11AM 1 point [-]

That's two ways beside the point. They work by the most reasonable and common definition, and often do so without causing a net cost in quality of life. Even if diets don't suit a majority of people, they work, unlike reciting the alphabet backwards before you go to sleep.

Furthermore, if a procedure, perfectly applied, yield no significant results with 99% of the population, but clearly is effective upon the remaining 1%, it's not a sham. It might not be the most efficient procedure if you can't distinguish who it will work with beforehand, but it still works. Even if diet's aren't in such a category, the point that something can be should be accepted, and your argument should be focused on the strongest possible case.

Comment author: wedrifid 25 January 2011 04:15:27AM 2 points [-]

That's two ways beside the point. They work by the most reasonable and common definition

Bear in mind that a diet only 'works' if you actually successfully keep to them in the long term. Only a minority of people stick to diets in the long term. That's where choosing diets based on convenience and ease of compliance becomes more important than raw effectiveness.

Comment author: datadataeverywhere 25 January 2011 04:51:14AM 1 point [-]

Bear in mind that science only 'works' if you actually successfully use it over the long term. Only a minority of people stick to science in the long term. That's where choosing knowledge-gathering techniques based on convenience and ease of compliance becomes more important than raw effectiveness.

I see your point (which is valid), but mine is that the cost of using a method does not reduce the effectiveness of that method, just the number of people who apply it. One might say that it is too costly to uniformly apply science, diets or PUA, but that's a different statement than saying that they don't work.

Comment author: wedrifid 25 January 2011 05:29:15AM 0 points [-]

I thought your reference to conventional 'works' was a valid reply to Nancy's "but maybe it will also make you sad or otherwise have external costs" point. Convention would call that 'works' even though naturally it is a cost to consider. (For yet another 'although' I expect people who find a diet that works in the mid to long term to also enjoy improved experience in other aspects of life so I don't think there is much of a balance to be had there at all.)

What I would not agree with is the complete exclusion of psychological considerations from deciding whether a diet 'works' or not. For example for a bare minimum 'diet' I would argue that "have a breakfast including at least 30g of protein within 30m of waking up" works far more effectively than "eat 10% less". This is just based on how humans work at a psychological and physiological level.

I actually consider science to be a good analogy to go by and not at all as the ad absurdum imply. 'Science' is the application of various traditional rules and limits upon rational thinking that discard all sorts of reasoning that is valid for the purpose of avoiding some of the more drastic human failure modes and biases. By limiting evidence and officially sanctioned persuasion via some formulaic rules it makes it somewhat harder for money, politics and ego to sabotage epistemic progress. (Unfortunately it is still not hard enough).

Comment author: rastilin 25 January 2011 12:05:49AM 0 points [-]

What if your intent is to lose weight? You're pre-defining "work" for the benefit of your argument.

Comment author: MartinB 24 January 2011 07:29:46AM 2 points [-]

A good place to deconstruct my own argument.

The math comparison lacks in one important piece: Math is clearly defined, and has standard textbooks. If you ask around for recommendations on how to learn math you get similar responses, and will end up learning similar things - up to a certain degree. There is only one type of math! In general people agree on what math is, and what not.

PU as well as PD is a very broad, not clearly defined subject, that contains a mash-up of many other topics. It is contradictory. Done by amateurs who generally do not care about scientific results. You get advice that goes against those transported by the mainstream (which we on LW are somewhat used to in other contexts.) But you also find the statement that the subjects of your interest will generally give you bad advice and do not even know what works for them. As will your peers, your family, potential natural friends, the media, and anyone else who you could possibly ask. That makes for a very bad heuristic in regards to its truthfulness.

And then there is the annoying property of PD advice, that it is not only difficult to actually get, but that it also hurts. Sometimes we carry gaping holes that really hurt our social life, and no one has the guts to tell us, since they are afraid of a bad reaction.

One easy to understand example is trying to tell a colleague or friend that he needs to do something about his smell.

I am not aware of a safe way to navigate this. It would be interesting to see real scientists, or science minded people undertake this exploration. But there are way to many possibilities to have it go wrong.

PU does contain basilisks. So handle with care. And do not believe any one particular source completely.

Comment author: TobyBartels 25 January 2011 05:20:40AM *  4 points [-]

There is only one type of math! In general people agree on what math is, and what not.

The second sentence here is true, but the first one is false. There is mainstream math, and then there are alternatives. Of course, there are insane crackpot ideas, but there are also alternative forms of mathematics that are studied by serious researchers who earn tenure for it and prove valid theorems. Buzzwords to search for include "intuitionism", "constructive mathematics", "predicatvism", "finitism", and "nonclassical mathematics" generally.

This mostly only affects things from after the 19th century, however, so nothing significant about the mathematics that most people learn in school. Even going on to more advanced material, there is a very definite mainstream to follow, so this doesn't really affect your point; this is just a hobby horse of mine.

Comment author: MartinB 25 January 2011 05:55:09AM 0 points [-]

And Though shall get a geek point for it. I was kind of waiting for someone to point this out.

Comment author: TobyBartels 30 January 2011 03:34:56PM *  1 point [-]

And I should have mentioned "experimental mathematics", which is really different! This term can be interpreted in weak and strong ways; the former, in which experiments are a preliminary to proof, is normal, but the latter, in which massive computer-generated experimental results are accepted as a substitute for proof when proof seems unlikely, is different. The key point is that most true theorems that we can understand have no proofs that we can understand, a fact that can itself be proved (at least if if you use length of the text as a proxy for whether we can understand it).

Comment author: wedrifid 24 January 2011 07:59:10AM 3 points [-]

PU does contain basilisks.

Oooh, PU basilisks. Where? Show me!

Comment author: MartinB 24 January 2011 08:05:09AM 0 points [-]

Are you sure you want me to do that on a public forum? I do not want to have my account deleted for posting dangerous stuff.

Comment author: wedrifid 24 January 2011 08:09:27AM 1 point [-]

Then message me. The concept of a PU basilisk seems unlikely to me but still somewhat intriguing. The closest things I can imagine are in the form of disillusionment with ideals.

Comment author: Jack 24 January 2011 11:26:56PM 2 points [-]

It would be interesting to have a collection of basilisks somewhere, like an ammo dump for a mimetic war.

Comment author: wedrifid 25 January 2011 01:39:53AM 7 points [-]

It would be interesting to have a collection of basilisks somewhere, like an ammo dump for a mimetic war.

Absolutely! Maybe not on lesswrong, that might make some people cry. But I'd love to have a list somewhere else. And this can be considered an open request to send any basilisk spotted in the wild to me personally for examination.

I've yet to see a basilisk that was remotely intimidating to me. And would like to be able to further improve my resistance to exposure to new 'basilisks' while they are framed as basilisks so I am even less likely to be vulnerable to them in the wild.

A superintelligence would almost certainly be able to construct sentences that could hack my brain and damage it. Some humans could if they were able to put me in a suitable social or physical environment and ensure ongoing exposure (and environment and exposure are far more important than the abstract concepts conveyed). But things like "Roko's Basilisk" are just cute. You can tame them and keep them as pets. :)

Comment author: [deleted] 25 January 2011 04:27:51AM 2 points [-]

My perspective on this is very similar to yours. If you were sent any interesting PU basilisks, would you please forward them to me?

Comment author: wedrifid 25 January 2011 04:44:38AM 3 points [-]

Being careful not to criticise what was sent to me (and by so doing discourage others) I don't think what I was sent fits the term 'basilisk'. Instead I got some well thought out considerations and potential pitfalls that people may fall into along a PUA journey. In fact I think people would appreciate them being spoken publicly. Rather than "things that will kill you just by looking at them" they are things that you are better off looking at so you can avoid falling into them. Obviously the exceptional case is the pessimistic person who is looking for excuses not to try - which is not an uncommon mindset.

I would not repost them here (that would be discourteous) but I suggest that if the author did post his thoughts publicly they would be well received (ie. would get an 8+karma rating if the comment was not buried too deeply to gain exposure.)

Comment author: Jack 25 January 2011 04:08:12AM 2 points [-]

I violently agree with all of this. Have you seen any basilisk-like ideas besides roko's? Roko's at least looks like a real basilisk until you think about it. Everything else I've seen doesn't come close to living up to the name.

Comment author: wedrifid 25 January 2011 04:34:32AM 2 points [-]

I violently agree with all of this.

'Violent agreement' seems to have been adopted for use in situations in which the participants have been arguing aggressively only to discover that they agree on the substantive issues. For a term that hasn't been hijacked as jargon I go with "vehemently". It has a more visceral feel to it too. :)

Have you seen any basilisk-like ideas besides roko's? Roko's at least looks like a real basilisk until you think about it. Everything else I've seen doesn't come close to living up to the name.

Roko's is the most interesting I've seen too. Although for some people a combination of Pascal's Wager and certain religious doctrines about children not being held accountable for their beliefs until a certain age would do it. Once again it is the ability to apply abstract reasoning while at the same time the naivety and weakness in following the rational conclusion correctly that would cause the problem.

Comment author: Jack 25 January 2011 05:07:42AM *  3 points [-]

Anyone have a really solid working definition for 'basilisk' as we use it here?

Although for some people a combination of Pascal's Wager and certain religious doctrines about children not being held accountable for their beliefs until a certain age would do it.

Am I supposed to be able to see it from just this? Assuming it's not the kind of thing that would hurt LW posters can you explain? Otherwise, pm it?

One interesting idea is that it seems plausible to create basilisks that only effect your memetic/cognitively different enemies- perhaps the only way to avoid the harm of the basilisk is to deconvert from your religion/ideology. A basilisk that only worked on, say, religious fundamentalists would be a really powerful weapon (I'm not suggesting that the basilisk be capable of killing anyone, necessarily).

Comment author: MartinB 25 January 2011 12:05:55AM 1 point [-]

No. It would be better to first develop defenses against them. Basilisks seem to only affect people of a certain mental capacity able to understand and process them. If you look up the Charles Langan interview, or his writings, or this Ted/Unabomba guy you see how really bright people can go wrong.

I would hate LW to contribute to that.

I want LWers and myself to not only have a realistic view of reality, but also be able to life in it and be happy and productive.

Comment author: Jack 25 January 2011 12:14:31AM 2 points [-]

I'm not sure how you develop defenses to Basilisks without know what they are. Unless we get lucky and there is a fully general countermeasure.

I was just talking about collecting them though- it's another question entirely whether or not the list should be public. One doesn't usually leave ammo dumps unlocked.

Comment author: wedrifid 25 January 2011 01:29:03AM 1 point [-]

Basilisks seem to only affect people of a certain mental capacity able to understand and process them.

And, probably more importantly, without certain other mental capacities that allow them to handle information appropriately.

Comment author: HughRistik 24 January 2011 08:12:42AM 0 points [-]

If you tell wedrifid privately, then you have to promise to tell me.

I have a few minor basilisks (not from PU alone, but from combining PU with psychometrics or feminism). Nothing so bad that I think it would make people want to ban me, but it might be disconcerting and depressing for many people, and some of it I'm still thinking through.

Comment author: wedrifid 24 January 2011 08:16:39AM 0 points [-]

combining PU with ... feminism

Did the two annihilate each other, destroying swathes of your cerebral cortex?

Comment author: wedrifid 24 January 2011 08:14:42AM 0 points [-]

If you tell wedrifid privately, then you have to promise to tell me.

Or I'll tell you. :)