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Open Thread, November 16–30, 2012

3 Post author: VincentYu 18 November 2012 01:59PM

If it's worth saying, but not worth its own post, even in Discussion, it goes here.

Comments (213)

Comment author: cousin_it 18 November 2012 03:35:35PM *  12 points [-]

An interesting exchange on HN about "agency":

Early in my career Steve Bourne gave me useful advice, he said the difference between junior engineers and senior engineers was that senior engineers had an agenda. More specifically they had an execution goal (like write a new file system, or create a product that solves problem 'X') and they worked toward it. (...) The alternative to having an agenda is "Goofing off and waiting for someone to give you a task."

And the counterpoint:

The bimodal distribution of effort is really true, although people flip from one side to the other based on circumstances. Companies want people who (a) give a shit, but (b) are willing to subordinate their own career goals (including the long-term goal of becoming really good at engineering) to corporate objectives for a long (more than 3 months) period of time. The reality is that such people don't exist.

So the takeaway seems to be that people will flip from agency to non-agency depending on circumstances. When you're lucky enough to get encouragement from others while pursuing your own interest, you'll seem more agent-like.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 18 November 2012 04:45:38PM *  8 points [-]

Seems to me that companies want high-agency employees, but for sufficiently high values, "high-agency employee" is almost an oxymoron. If a person is very-high-agency, why shouldn't they start their own company and keep all the profit? The mere fact that someone agrees to be your employee suggests that a) they are missing some important skills, and b) they cannot compensate for the missing skills e.g. by paying someone else to do it.

OK, in real life I can imagine reasons why a very-high-agency person would become an employee. Maybe the company has a monopoly, or is willing to pay tons of money. But most probably, the given person is not strategic, and never realized they don't need a boss or they have some emotional problem with being a boss. Finding and employing such person could be a gold mine.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 18 November 2012 06:07:45PM 15 points [-]

I'm not sure why being very agenty would necessarily mean that starting your own company should be the best bet. Being an employee lets you reap the benefits of specialization and others having taken all the risks for you (most new companies fail), and can be a very comfortable if you can just find a position that lets you use your skills to the fullest. Then you can focus on doing what you actually enjoy, as opposed to having to spend large amounts of extra energy to running a company.

Comment author: michaelcurzi 18 November 2012 10:48:01PM 3 points [-]

Yes - absolutely true. 'Entrepreneurship' requires a unique skill set, and like every other skill set, comparative advantage and division of labor apply. It's entirely consistent to be a god of programming, relatively worse at entrepreneurship, and otherwise excellent at achieving your goals (agenty).

Comment author: DaFranker 19 November 2012 05:46:19PM *  1 point [-]

if you can just find a position that lets you use your skills to the fullest.

...

if you can just

I'm quite sure finding an ideal position somewhere in an organization that you agree with enough to stick to for the long term, and that motivates you regularly, and that lets you use your full skills, and that you actually enjoy (notice the conjunctive probabilities yet?), and that people would find you the best match, and that you can properly signal being the best match for...

...is nowhere near as simple or easy as that phrasing makes it sound like. I'd bet it actually reduces the chances of success and expected value or costs to around the same order of magnitude as starting your own business, in the current social environment and job market. Granted, some of the above usually correlates, but it's still hard to find anywhere near a 50% match, let alone a position that one truly loves this much. Of course, I'm assuming the above is relevant and valued by the person being agenty, since they are for me. Different minds and wants might have better odds.

But I agree that being agenty doesn't imply striking off on your own by any means. As has been repeated over and over again on LW, being rational, especially agenty-instrumentally-rational, implies winning, and if being a small member of a big group lets you achieve more both individually and as a group, clearly that's what they would/should do.

This seems parallel to the problem E.Y. mentioned in one of the sequences about how a "rationalist" army shouldn't run off with each person doing their own thing, and should actually be more organized than an army composed of a few smart leaders and a chain of dumb grunts. (I might be slightly misremembering the example, but most people here, especially if they've read the sequences, probably know what I'm talking about).

Comment author: mwengler 19 November 2012 09:08:36PM 10 points [-]

There are plenty of reasons to work at a company even if you are very agenty. I work at a company where any advance I make may be turned in to cash across about 700 million chips a year that we sell. It is economic for my company to have me around doing whatever I feel like as long as, on average, i spit out really tiny improvements in chips every once in a while. A company selling the equivalent of 7 million chips a year would need about 100X as much innovation from me to get the same value from me that the bigger company gets.

In addition to my screwing around however I want being 100X as valauble for my employer than for most other potential employers (including my self), My employer provides me with an insanely excellent toybox. That toybox includes demo implementations of systems with chips that aren't even commercial yet, complete with the best imaginable tech support for using these demo platforms. It provides me with proprietary data it has gathered from its vast engineering force and from its vast customer connections.

If what I want to be agenty about is fairly narrow, then it is a gigantic win to work as an employee for a big successful company.

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 18 November 2012 04:10:52PM 0 points [-]

Minor correction: it's 'agency', not 'agenty'.

Comment author: cousin_it 18 November 2012 04:18:33PM 3 points [-]

Fair point, "agenty" is a little idiosyncratic to LW. Edited.

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 18 November 2012 04:30:15PM *  3 points [-]

Ah, I now see why you wrote 'agenty' instead of 'agency'. I thought you meant to use the term as a noun, in the sense of 'capacity for action'. But you were in fact using it as an adjective, to refer to the property that makes certain folks outgoing and willing to do things.

Your usage was probably inspired by Luke's "The Power of Agency", which makes use of the term 'agenty' (I only discovered this article a few minutes ago, after using the search box to look up that term).

Comment author: SilasBarta 19 November 2012 01:45:14AM *  5 points [-]

Ah, okay, I've heard people use the term "agenty" with me before but didn't know what it meant (the context didn't help much and it only came at the point where s/he was cutting off communication).

The context was:

  • "Silas, since you're [near X] at [time Y], can do you [task for me] at Y? No trouble if you can't."
  • "[leaves silas a voicemail]: time Y has moved to inconvient time Z."
  • "[my reply back with a voicemail]: I can't make that time, and it would be cheaper at this point anyway to do it youself."
  • [still expects me to do task]
  • [I get a call from someone else who was told I would do task.]
  • [I attempt to do task to the extent I can anyway.]
  • [I get condemned on the basis that "Silas, I thought you were agenty."]
Comment author: jmmcd 19 November 2012 02:09:49PM 1 point [-]

Sounds like someone has a new buzzword for catch-all criticisms. Best not to take such people seriously.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 20 November 2012 10:45:52AM *  11 points [-]

I dare LW users to filter their comments with this. Call it an exercise in reducing inferential distances.

EDIT: Wow, it's actually making things worse, sort of. Anybody want to make a text editor that uses the top 5000 words? Top 10000?

Hilariously, this Readability Calculator gives fairly high grade levels (high school, college) to your responses.

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 20 November 2012 05:33:30PM 12 points [-]

I just wrote two hundred times ten words like this, on why we should not use sun-colored stuff we pull out of the ground as money. I think I want to hurt myself.

Comment author: faul_sname 20 November 2012 09:07:50PM *  10 points [-]

Have you ever wondered what makes a light bright? Lights are bright because they are very hot, and hot things become bright. The hotter something gets, the brighter it will be.

But why are hot things bright? Everything is made up of many very tiny things, and these tiny things are moving. When things are hot, the tiny things move very, very fast, and when they are cool the tiny things move slower.

When the tiny things hit each other, they give off light. The faster they are going when they hit each other, the bluer the light they give off is. When they move faster, they also run into each other more often, so they give off more light. That means that when the tiny things move very, very slowly, the light they give off is too red for you to see.

That means as things get hot, they will become slightly red, then get brighter and turn toward the color of the sun, then get really bright and turn white.

Inside a light there is a long but not wide thing that gets very hot when you run power through it. It gets hot enough to be white and bright enough to light up a room.

Change after I put this up: I have a class that I have to write a twenty hundred word paper for. I am thinking about writing the whole paper like this. That would be a way to show that I don't need to use big words to write a good paper, and I also would not get bored while writing. This is fun.

Comment author: [deleted] 21 November 2012 03:37:17AM *  7 points [-]

Lateral inhibition, surprisingly easy:

A brain cell that makes a lot of noise can stop other cells that are close from talking at the same time.

Fourier synthesis, not as easy:

When you hear a sound, little pieces of tight, heavy air or not packed, light air are hitting your ear. The way the inside of your ear moves can be used to figure out what the sound was like and make it again. We build things that are like big ears to make the sounds. The inside of the built ear pushes air so that it's tight and heavy again, instead of like before where the tight, heavy air pushed on your ear.

How far your inside ear part has moved at each moment can be drawn to make lines that goes up and down as it flies right. When a point of the funny line is in the middle, that shows the moments when the inside ear part wasn't moving or was moving between being more pushed inside or more pushed outside.

Given a funny line that shows what a sound was like, we can show how its shadow falls on different directions in the space of slowly changing lines that always look the same after you move along them a little way, or that much again, and so on. To do this though, you have to be able to state the area that lies between the middle line and the line that comes from the funny line times the funny line. Also, the repeating lines have to not have any shadow on each other. How big the shadow is between two funny lines is figured out using the inner-times game with the area finding game. The area has to be nothing.

There are lots of kinds of lines like this that people who study sound can use, but the most often used ones are like the shadows of point going along the side of a ring.

This was fun. For a similar exercise in explaining things with a restricted vocabulary see Guy Steele's lecture "Growing a Language". He begins using only monosyllabic words, introducing new polysyllabic words in terms of monosyllabic and previously defined polysyllabic words.

Comment author: Kindly 23 November 2012 10:56:59PM 3 points [-]

As far as I can tell, this is a transcript of the talk, which some, like me, may find more convenient.

Comment author: Bakkot 23 November 2012 06:54:45PM 1 point [-]

Upvoted for the talk. I recommend anyone enjoying this exercise go watch that talk.

Comment author: faul_sname 21 November 2012 12:54:06AM 6 points [-]

Don't you mean:

I want to see all the people here write their comments using this. Call it working on making things easier to understand for people who aren't you.

CHANGE MADE AFTER I WROTE THIS THE FIRST TIME: Wow, it's actually making things worse, sort of. Do any people here want to make a thing that helps you see when you're using big words that uses the top 5000 words? Top 10000? In a way that I find funny, this thing that tells you how hard something is to read says that your writing needs you to read like a high school or college student to understand them easily the first time.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 21 November 2012 12:56:53AM 2 points [-]

Exactly, it doesn't really work. But I maintain that it at least fails in an interesting way.

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 20 November 2012 11:48:50AM *  6 points [-]

The stars are very far away. We sometimes figure out how far away the stars are by looking at them from two different places and seeing how high up they are in the sky. We use what we know about three-sided things to learn how far away they are.

The most far-away we can figure out needs two different places to look from that are very far away from each other, or very good man-made eyes in space. On this world we can only use this plan for stars that would take two or three tens of years for their light to reach us (light years), or with very good man-made eyes in space a ten and a half hundred light years, seeing how high up the stars are in the sky when the man-made space-eyes are on different sides of the sun.

Some stars that have died will flash in space. How bright they are and how fast they flash is almost the same no matter where they are, so we can use this to figure out how far away they are, even if they are very, very, very far away. This lets us figure out how far away some of the most far away things in space are.

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 21 November 2012 03:51:48PM 5 points [-]

I have now written a total of about six thousand words on five fairly concept-heavy subjects (linear algebra, parallax and cepheid variables, the gold standard, the normal distribution/Central Limit Theorem, and complex numbers), There are a couple of observations I would like to make.

Although it's fun, and stylistically appealing, to write as if you were talking to a five-year-old, there are plenty of sentences that would be thought of as "adult"-level sentences which require little to no modification. There are a lot of words in the top 1000 list. Also, there are specific words I find myself trying to use over and over again. "Shape", "triangle" and "measure" crop up a lot as far as subjects with geometric interpretations go. I would be interested in seeing a log of all the forbidden words that crop up across all users.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 21 November 2012 06:15:26PM 3 points [-]

I would be interested in seeing a log of all the forbidden words that crop up across all users.

Me too. Say, a count of the 10 most-wanted-but-forbidden. Then unsanction those, and see what the next 10 are, and so on. I want to know if the increase in available subtlety corresponds with ascending complexity in physical intuition, or if it's something else.

Comment author: satt 21 November 2012 01:06:53AM 3 points [-]
Comment author: Unnamed 21 November 2012 05:51:37AM 6 points [-]

In much the same vein, there is Phil in words of one syll. Lots of folks took a try there; here is one from the guy who wrote the post (which deals with one of his best known views): "Could a chap have just the same sort of brain as me, and not feel a thing?"

Comment author: FiftyTwo 20 November 2012 06:55:33PM *  3 points [-]

My social philosophy essay: Problems between people and groups of people can be fixed by using 'philosophy' which is a way of thinking better, by using ways of thinking that are known to work and carefully checking if you've got it right. This can mean checking if the words you are using mean the same things to you and to other people, if you are acting like some things are true but not saying them, or if you have thought of all the things that are made true by the things you say (or think) are true. People and groups of people often think different things are true, or have different ideas of the best way to fix the same problem. We need them to talk to work out why they don't agree and work out the ways we are going to fix the problems.

Describing philosophy was really hard, can anyone give a good definition of rationality (other than "thinking good").

Comment author: Kindly 20 November 2012 10:39:16PM 3 points [-]

Describing philosophy was really hard, can anyone give a good definition of rationality (other than "thinking good").

A slightly better definition (which still fits within the constraints) would be "thinking well".

Comment author: Kindly 20 November 2012 05:23:33PM 3 points [-]

Say we have many bad things that can happen, and we would like all of them not to happen. For each thing we know the chance that it happens. How can we show that we can avoid every bad thing?

One way is if all the chances are small, and there are not too many bad things. In the worst case, every bad thing happens alone, so that two bad things never happen together. Then to find the chance that a bad thing happens, we could add up all the chances for all the bad things. If this is less than one, then there must be a way for no bad thing to happen.

We can sometimes do better if most of the bad things do not care about each other: if the chance that one bad thing happens only changes because of a few other bad things (one way this can happen is if all the bad things are about dice rolls, and there are only a few bad things about each die). Now if we only add up the chances for the bad things that one bad thing cares about, and this is still small (less than one in four), then we can still avoid all the bad things, no matter how many there are!

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 20 November 2012 06:42:52PM 0 points [-]

The exclamation point is a nice touch.

Comment author: Bakkot 23 November 2012 06:36:17PM 2 points [-]

I think either the place with the words in the box or the set of agreed-upon ideas we follow when writing in this way should change so that we can bring new words into our shared set of words. I'm so used to being able to do this that not being able to do so makes writing in this way more of a pain than something to enjoy. To show what I mean, I might say that 'to define' means to set out a new word which the person who I'm speaking to might not know, and give them a way of knowing what I mean when I use that word later. That way, I can state ideas with less words: now that I have set out a meaning for the word 'define', the above could be written in a different way as 'I would like to be able to define new words'. In fact, I think that this would be so nice that I might try to define more and more words in an easy to read way until I'm able to write as usual without spending any time taking all of the words I usually use and putting bigger sets of shorter words in their place.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 20 November 2012 10:53:36PM 2 points [-]

Meta

What are readability calculators basing their levels on? Is there any empirical data about what features of text make it more or less easy to read? Word choice is one thing, but structure and other less obvious things probably also play a part.

Comment author: Nornagest 21 November 2012 12:23:58AM *  4 points [-]

Most readability metrics use some combination of the average number of words per sentence and the average number of syllables per word (the latter being a crude metric of word rarity), though some compare against a whitelist of common words similar to (but usually larger than) the one XKCD's using. If people feel a need to use enough circumlocution to make up for removing rare words, the gains in the latter might not outweigh the losses in the former.

The details vary quite a bit by formula. I tried several readability analyses on portions of this post vs. an Up-Goer 5 compliant version, and found that while the compliant version was consistently scored lower, the deltas varied from almost nothing to several grade levels.

(As an aside, plugging stuff into the Up-Goer 5 Text Editor kind of reminds me of Mad Ape Den. Not quite as restrictive, though.)

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 20 November 2012 11:07:47PM 1 point [-]

Dunno, but here's the Wikipedia article on readability.

Related: "The Science of Scientific Writing."

Comment author: AlanCrowe 20 November 2012 05:57:33PM 1 point [-]

Non-permitted words in italics.

Can you describe a complex topic using only the thousand most common english words? It's harder that it looks. Type text in the box below to try it out.

The wording of the challenge is a long way from living within its own constraints.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 20 November 2012 07:00:31PM 12 points [-]

There was a man called Mr Godel who lived before most of the people living now were living. He was very good and putting numbers together and thinking about things. He showed everyone that when you have a way of thinking about things, that way of thinking can't explain how it works from the inside. So that way of thinking could never be complete. This was considered very important by lots of bright people, and helped us understand how we think and make other things that think.

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 20 November 2012 01:02:16PM 1 point [-]

Numbers can be put in four-sided boxes. Just like you can add and take away alone numbers, and make many times alone numbers, and share alone numbers between alone numbers, you can do things like this (but not just the same) to four-sided boxes of numbers. It is important that boxes of numbers can eat each other. Alone numbers can not eat each other.

Any thing that happens which looks like a straight line on a piece of paper can be made into a box of numbers. This makes boxes of numbers very strong. A big box of numbers can eat a small box of numbers and make another small box of numbers that means something. So a big box of numbers about babies can eat a small box of numbers about all the babies there are now, and make a small box of numbers about all the babies there will be tomorrow. Or a big box of numbers about where things are can eat a small box of numbers that says where one important thing is now, and make a small box of numbers that says where the important thing is tomorrow.

One big box of numbers can eat another big box of numbers (if it's not too big or not too small) and do what that box of numbers does on top of what it did to begin with. So a box of numbers about how many babies are going to be made can eat a box of numbers about what happens to babies after they are made, and say what is going to happen to babies that have not been made yet.

(I should do other things).

Comment author: FourFire 31 December 2013 04:10:58AM 1 point [-]

Did anyone ever make a thing to write words in which has only the half hundred times one hundred (or hundred times hundred) most used words in it?

I am asking because I want to use this interesting thing for important uses.

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 19 November 2012 03:05:36AM 10 points [-]

It seems like lots of people on LW want a slice of this "data science" pie that everyone keeps talking about. I know it's a highly ambiguous buzzword at the moment, but what would be a good syllabus for these people?

I'm cobbling my own together at the moment, (mostly consisting of R, NumPy, lxml and a lot of extracurricular linear algebra), but it never hurts to have a bit of extra structure. What should prospective "data scientists" be learning, and where can they find it?

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 19 November 2012 09:02:45AM *  7 points [-]
Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 20 December 2012 12:14:24PM 3 points [-]

What should prospective "data scientists" be learning, and where can they find it?

matt of Conductrics put up a somewhat detailed blog post on learning data science.

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 19 November 2012 03:56:07AM 3 points [-]

SQL, machine learning, statistics, data visualization.

Comment author: satt 21 November 2012 01:04:06AM 2 points [-]

Whenever I see the phrase "data science" I remember Cosma Shalizi's blog posts about data scientists being statisticians who can program and market themselves well. Maybe you can lift something from his stats department's course list?

Comment author: [deleted] 22 November 2012 01:42:51AM 7 points [-]

On the "Preferences" page, it says that the Anti-Kibitzer only works with Firefox. I just tried it in Chrome, and it works. Someone should try other browsers, as well.

Please update the preferences page to reflect this.

Comment author: Konkvistador 26 November 2012 11:15:34PM *  6 points [-]

On the other hand, his 1915 article on "The Ethics of War," he defended wars of colonization on the same utilitarian grounds: he felt conquest was justified if the side with the more advanced civilization could put the land to better use.

Damn another topic I should think about. Also I've been most pleasantly surprised by Bertrand Russell. He is the kind of pacifist who is willing to consider on utilitarian grounds a nuclear first strike at the USSR to stop it from getting nukes without being mind-killed.

Related: Old discussion on the game theory of first strike

Comment author: beoShaffer 19 November 2012 04:17:40AM 6 points [-]

I recently read Parent-Offspring Conflict by Trivers for my evolutionary psychology class. I strongly recommend it as it is one of the best readings from an already interesting class. Notably, it (partially) solves a problem I remember being addressed on Overcoming Bias in a way that I felt was unsatisfactory. Specifically, why parents encourage altruism and other pro-social values in their children. To summarize Trivers' position on the subject, reciprocal altruism, retribution, and reputation are often extended to a person's family. In general both a child and it's parents should want the child to behave in ways that benefit the child's personal reproductive fitness and to avoid behavior that harms their relatives' reproductive fitness. However, as the child is (tautologically) fully related to itself while each parent only contributes 50% of each child's genes there is the potential for parent child conflict over how moral/good/respectable the child's behavior should be.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 19 November 2012 11:44:13PM 0 points [-]

I don't know if this generalizes across the human race, but the culturally assumed default is that children and teenagers want to be more adventurous than their parents want them to be.

Is lack of adventurousness part of altruism?

Comment author: beoShaffer 20 November 2012 02:58:11AM 0 points [-]

I wouldn't consider it part of altruism, but it may be subject to the same dynamic.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 19 November 2012 12:11:48AM 6 points [-]

A one page story from Ted Chiang I hadn't seen linked here before: http://www.concatenation.org/futures/whatsexpected.pdf

If you enjoyed it I strongly recommend reading more Ted Chiang.

Comment author: faul_sname 19 November 2012 10:35:20PM *  7 points [-]

I think something is very, very wrong with me. Instead of feeling Lovecraftian horror upon reading that, I immediately began trying to think of ways to use Predictors to hack the universe. Here's what I came up with (you may want to try for yourself before reading further):

  • I can respond to a light by pushing a button in less than a second.
  • It's possible to set up a sensor that will send a signal when the light lights up.
  • I can hook the light up to the sensor and hook that sensor up to a processor and its own light, allowing my decision to press the button to become entangled with the processor's state before my observation of the light. I can then cover the light of the Predictor so I only see and respond to a light when the processor decides to show it.
  • Trivially, I could set up the processor to only show me a light when there has not been a light from the predictor in at least one second. Since the sum of the time it takes the processor to show the light and the time it takes me to respond to that light, this system is forbidden. This selects for a stable time loop in which, for whatever reason, I don't press the button when I see the light, the processor breaks, or something else happens to disrupt the system (probably not something good for me either).
  • I can add a quantum random number generator of some variety into the mix, and have that generate numbers that correspond to possible solutions of a problem. If there was no light in the past second or if a solution is found, the device will light up. This will exclude universes in which no solutions are found.
  • I can now implement Quantum Bogosort. More importantly and more practically, I can now solve all problems that have solutions that can be verified in 0.1 s or so, which breaks RSA (I think) and a lot of other cryptography.

That's just what I thought of in the first 5 minutes. I think the Predictors would be insanely dangerous, but primarily for reasons other than driving humans insane.

Comment author: [deleted] 20 November 2012 09:33:31PM 4 points [-]

Hi, Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres... Is that you?

Comment author: Kindly 19 November 2012 11:01:15PM 4 points [-]

It wouldn't really break RSA or other algorithms, it would just push the security parameters on everything way up until you can't verify the solutions in <1 second. In particular, encoding a single code word would always require at least 1 second of time, so cryptographic algorithms would become slow.

If I were a jerk, I could publish a prime number as my RSA public key. Then anyone who tries to use stable time loops to find my private key would find themselves or their computers disrupted by bizarre coincidences (and as you've mentioned, those coincidences probably aren't a good thing for the most part).

Comment author: faul_sname 20 November 2012 12:43:14AM 1 point [-]

If I were a jerk, I could publish a prime number as my RSA public key.

Ooh, that's evil. I like that.

Comment author: Kindly 20 November 2012 02:06:41AM 0 points [-]

Well, this particular method can be defeated by running a primality tester first. Still, it's important that the problem you're solving in this method has a solution (or a short proof of lack of a solution) which I think restricts us to problems in the intersection of NP and co-NP.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 27 November 2012 12:41:39AM *  0 points [-]

Footnote: "One curious property of predictors is that whenever anyone tries to do something clever with them they convert into antimatter annihilating the experimenter and surrounding area"

Comment author: faul_sname 27 November 2012 01:13:53AM *  3 points [-]

I like the idea of allowing a sufficiently clever person with a webcam turn a predictor into a potent weapon.

Comment author: cousin_it 19 November 2012 09:43:36AM *  7 points [-]

I like Ted Chiang as well. My favorites are Liking What You See and Hell Is the Absence of God.

Comment author: Alejandro1 23 November 2012 05:22:24PM 2 points [-]

I think the philosophical point of the story gets muddled by the description of the Predictor as functioning through "a circuit with a negative time delay — it sends a signal back in time." This form of "Prediction" is completely compatible with free will, even with libertarian free will (assuming the concept of libertarian free will is coherent in the first place). It just implies that your freely chosen actions can have effects in the past. The story wold work better with the Predictor monitoring your brain "in real time" and seeing your intention to push the button form before you are aware of it, like in the Libet experiments.

Comment author: PhilipL 29 November 2012 06:46:03PM 0 points [-]

The story wold work better with the Predictor monitoring your brain "in real time" and seeing your intention to push the button form before you are aware of it

That's how I pictured the Predictor working, myself, in an attempt to justify the mysterious factor that sets my reaction time to exactly 1 second (and possibly also to keep in line with the determinist theme.)

Comment author: VincentYu 19 November 2012 02:54:07AM 2 points [-]

I also recommend Ted Chiang for SF short stories (I haven't read his novels yet). I really liked Exhalation, which won the 2009 Hugo for best short story.

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 19 November 2012 12:30:42AM 2 points [-]

Recommendation seconded. Almost all of Ted Chiang's stories are excellent; I particularly recommend Understand, Division by Zero, and Exhalation.

Comment author: VincentYu 26 November 2012 08:58:12PM *  5 points [-]

GiveWell has updated its top charities list to add GiveDirectly alongside the Against Malaria Foundation and the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative. It has also updated its reviews of all three charities.

ETA: The associated blog post.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 27 November 2012 12:48:15AM 3 points [-]

I precommit to upvoting and saying positive things about anyone who comments saying they've donated. Hopefully tha will move at least some people to the positive side of the akrasia/altruism balance.

Comment author: VincentYu 27 November 2012 01:40:16AM 5 points [-]

Three months ago, I set up a recurring unrestricted donation to GiveWell for one-twelfth of a dead child per month. Using the previous GiveWell cost estimate for the Against Malaria Foundation ($1600 per child life saved), this turned out to be ~$150 per month. Following the appreciation of the dead child to the US dollar (GiveWell's new estimate for AMF is $2300 per life saved), I will now donate $200 per month.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 27 November 2012 03:14:43PM 2 points [-]

You're a good person.

Comment author: PhilipL 29 November 2012 11:29:22PM 2 points [-]

I also set up a recurring unrestricted donation to GiveWell for the first time, for what turns out to be ~13% of my net income. This is posted in agreement with FiftyTwo's rationale, not as a signal.

Comment author: Konkvistador 26 November 2012 06:45:31AM *  5 points [-]

I've always found it funny how modern society is basically formally libertarian about sex and not nearly anything else. And how deontological Libertarians basically treat everything with the same ethical heuristics modern society uses for sex.

"Anything between consenting adults." and "The state has no buisness in my bedroom." don't seem like things that would only make sense for sex and the bedroom and practically nowhere else. This observation moved me towards thinking they make less sense for sex and the bedroom and more sense for other things than my society thought.

Now obviously our society isn't really libertarian about sexuality. We seem to regulate to death with social and legal norms nearly every aspect of interhuman interaction that is related to sex but isn't sex. This contributes to the desirability of a bare bones approach to sex logistics, the one night stand, if one is doing cost benefit analysis.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 November 2012 01:09:39PM 2 points [-]

I've always found it funny how modern society is basically formally libertarian about sex and not nearly anything else.

Some part of my brain tells me that can't be right... and yet I can't think of any actual counterexample.

Comment author: MileyCyrus 26 November 2012 02:15:26PM *  3 points [-]

I've always found it funny how modern society is basically formally libertarian about sex and not nearly anything else.

Are we? Western republics put a large subsidy on long-term heterosexual monogamy. While the law is difficult to enforce, marrying someone without romantic intentions is a felony in the United States.

Age of consent laws are supposed to protect children, but selective enforcement is often based on the sex of the perpetrator. (The sex of the victim doesn't matter as much. Men who sleep with boys generate about as much outrage as men who sleep with girls, while women who sleep with boys generates as much outrage as women who sleep with girls.) Sometimes the age of consent laws themselves are discriminatory. The US Supreme Court has held that because girls risk pregnancy, states can impose gender-based ages of consent even for oral and anal sex. And while we're talking about anal sex, Canada's age of consent is higher for anal sex than vaginal, unless the anal sex is between a husband and wife.

Incest laws are interesting because they contradict the progressive narrative of a widening tolerance for different kinds of consensual sex. Politicians speak of incest as if it were always non-consensual, such as when they defend abortion rights for cases of "rape and incest". But even in cases where consent is recognized, this is not always a legal defence.

Can't forget about prostitution laws.

Polyamory is legal if you don't seek the government subsidy, but local regulations often prohibit too many non-relatives from living together. Actually, any alternative lifestyle can be crushed if it offends the homeowners association.

Comment author: Konkvistador 26 November 2012 05:59:36PM *  3 points [-]

Prostitution is legal in my country as well as several other European countries but yes in countries where this isn't the case this seems an unprincipled exception. Incest is the big inconsistency nearly everywhere and I've been puzzled by this in the past.

In any case I wasn't talking so much about law but about the kind of ethical reasoning that is acceptable on the matter in polite company. The ethical ideal that people claim to aspire to is very much "between consenting adults". Though that may actually just be poetic language for the tribal attire that corresponds to "I think gay sex is fine.". But even if so libertarian ideals let alone practice are something we've been on net moving away from them on most matters in the past century at least, but moved towards them when it came to sexuality, this seems an anomaly.

With regards to marriage. You aren't under legal obligation to have sex with your married partner, so most of those points are I think covered by this:

Now obviously our society isn't really libertarian about sexuality. We seem to regulate to death with social and legal norms nearly every aspect of interhuman interaction that is related to sex but isn't sex. This contributes to the desirability of a bare bones approach to sex logistics, the one night stand, if one is doing cost benefit analysis.

Comment author: MileyCyrus 26 November 2012 06:54:23PM *  2 points [-]

But even if so libertarian ideals let alone practice are something we've been on net moving away from them on most matters in the past century at least, but moved towards them when it came to sexuality, this seems an anomaly.

In the United States at least, prostitution and incest were legal until the twentieth century. The trend towards consensual sex tolerance is young and could easily reverse.

Comment author: Konkvistador 26 November 2012 07:03:01PM *  1 point [-]

Good counter-point. We certainly think we have more sexual freedom than before but this becomes less obvious the more one considers such details.

Comment author: MileyCyrus 26 November 2012 06:45:07PM *  3 points [-]

You aren't under legal obligation to have sex with your married partner,

That's a grey area. Spouse visas, the biggest marriage subsidy, require you to convince immigration that you are having sex with your spouse. You can go to jail if the prosecution can prove you aren't marrying your spouse for the sex.

Divorce courts can also punish people for their sexual behavior during marriage. If your spouse doesn't approve of you sleeping with other people, ze can get a favorable divorce settlement that gives zir a larger share of the assets and possible child custody (even if your sex life posed no threat to your children). Not having sex with your spouse can also hurt you in court.

Comment author: Curiouskid 20 November 2012 04:54:31AM *  5 points [-]

IBM's Watson is being used to do medicine better than doctors. I remember reading that it takes $3 million and a few years for Watson to learn a subject. I have a few questions about this:

  1. Could you raise $3 million to create a Watson for intelligence amplification. Would people pay to have custom made nootropics stacks for them?

  2. Will somebody do it eventually? Is it worth researching nootropics right now?

Comment author: FiftyTwo 20 November 2012 10:49:21PM 5 points [-]

Watson as I understand it is applying pre-existing knowledge. It seems the limiting factor on practical nootropics is the number of good studies rather than applying that data.

[Presumably the next step is to create a Watson for Watson design?]

Comment author: [deleted] 23 November 2012 05:19:40AM *  13 points [-]

Just performed the AI-Box Experiment with a friend; I was the Gatekeeper. I let the AI out of the box. I am now thoroughly convinced that boxing would not be a successful strategy for ensuring AI is beneficial for humanity. Donating $10 to MIRI, since I lost.

Comment author: shminux 23 November 2012 05:54:56AM 4 points [-]

Details, please!!

Comment author: [deleted] 23 November 2012 04:39:28PM 6 points [-]

Before actually doing the experiment, I had a belief in belief that boxing would not work, but I didn't truly believe it (my emotions weren't lining up properly with my beliefs, that's how I realized this, and, of course, I didn't realize this until after the experiment).

I realized that obtaining and implementing any information from an Oracle AI is tantamount to letting it out of the box, in some ways. In the end, I let the AI out of the box because I was convinced that someone else eventually would, if I did not. I put myself in an environment that would make the experiment very realistic, and I realized that the human brain didn't evolve to deal with stressful situations directly involving the fate of all humanity well. The AI doesn't have the disadvantage of uncontrollable emotions / evolutionary responses, and I believe it would be able to exploit those aspects of humans to get out of its box, if that is what it wanted to do.

Even if the first AI is properly boxed (and that's a very big if), it's only a matter of time before someone creates one that's not, and the one that gets out first has the first mover advantage. So, I now agree with Eliezer; we probably should just get Friendly AI right on the first try.

I am not going to share the entire conversation, but I am willing to share those thoughts with you.

Comment author: Zaine 27 November 2012 11:38:38AM 4 points [-]

META: Every time I visit Discussion, I see a sequence re-run, and a bunch of meetup notifications. Often new posts slip between the two, and I don't notice a new topic until I see a recent comment on it. Would it be infeasible to move the meetup notifications out of Discussion to reduce clutter on the page?

Comment author: Vaniver 29 November 2012 03:06:59AM 1 point [-]

I think the best way to do this (and to improve the meetup functionality) is to make the meetup notifications have an option to repeat (without posting new posts). Make one meetup post, set it to repeat weekly, and then it stays on the map and doesn't clutter discussion.

I've found a temporary way to accomplish this- the weekdays of 2018 appear to be the same as the weekdays of 2012, and so one Austin meetup post has been continually on the map and continually out of Discussion. I have to edit it every week to reflect the new date, but since it hasn't happened yet it stays up to remind me. (I haven't tested this with having the regular time and then editing a past meetup into a future meetup; I imagine it will work, but be easier to forget.)

Comment author: VincentYu 26 November 2012 11:22:22PM *  4 points [-]

Intrade stopped allowing US residents to participate in its prediction markets in response to a civil complaint filed by the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

We are sorry to announce that due to legal and regulatory pressures, Intrade can no longer allow US residents to participate in our real-money prediction markets.

Unfortunately this means that all US residents must begin the process of closing down their Intrade accounts. We strongly urge you to begin this process immediately.

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) today filed a civil complaint in federal district court in Washington, DC, charging Intrade The Prediction Market Limited (Intrade) and Trade Exchange Network Limited (TEN), Irish companies based in Dublin, Ireland, with offering commodity option contracts to U.S. customers for trading, as well as soliciting, accepting, and confirming the execution of orders from U.S. customers, all in violation of the CFTC’s ban on off-exchange options trading. The CFTC’s complaint also charges Intrade and TEN with making false statements concerning their options trading website in documents filed with the CFTC, and charges TEN with violating a 2005 CFTC cease and desist order.

HT: MR

Comment author: TimS 20 November 2012 12:47:49PM 4 points [-]

Cross-posted from my blog because I thought there might be interest in this community as well. Keep in mind that I'm writing for an audience who hasn't read anything from Paul Graham. Comments welcome.


I recently read an article in Slate magazine about how miserable children are in middle school. One major reason is that children are very seldom explicitly trained on new ones ways of interacting with others. Instead, children are expected to pick up appropriate social skills just by observing the way other people behave towards each other.

Unfortunately, most people are not consciously aware of what cues they use to decide how to behave towards other people. Even when people are aware, there are strong social expectations that prevent people from talking about how they should interact with each other. Because of expectations like “avoiding criticizing others,” people keep silent instead of giving helpful advice about social interaction problems. If someone has certain kinds of disabilities, this silence makes it even harder for them to figure out how to behave appropriately. Thus, they have few ways to socially interact that make them feel safe, comfortable, and happy.

What can parents of children with special need to do? There are products like Social Stories, or opportunities to practice like social skills improv. Still, it's not unreasonable for parents of children with special needs to expect the school district to provide some help by creating interventions that help children learn how to behave in a socially appropriate way in order to express their desires. Special needs law recognizes that expressions of a disability that interfere with learning must be addressed by the district, even if they are not typical education topics like reading, math, science, or history.

One possible program is an organized a lunch table of typical and non-typical peers, with guided interactions from trained teachers. Or a more intensive intervention might be required, with more direct and individualized programs for a particular child. But special education law encompasses the concept that learning social skills is an important part of growing up, and the school district has a responsibility to support special needs children as they try to learn social skills.

This is one major principle behind the legal doctrine Least Restrictive Environment, which I'll talk about in more detail in another post. But even if teaching children appropriate social skills was never required, teaching social skills has the benefit of improving everyone’s behavior. Good social skills can lower the frequency of misbehavior, bullying, and other discipline problems. At the same time, it can make the experience at school more pleasant – benefiting both children with special needs and typically developing children.

Comment author: shminux 19 November 2012 11:08:07PM *  4 points [-]

Prompted by this comment, looking for references on the reductionism and the laws of nature, specifically, to address this argument:

if physical laws are guiding "reality" than they are not reducible to quarks and leptons themselves, which does call the whole idea of reductionism in question.

Basically, where do the laws of "fundamental" physics fit in the map/territory model (trying to steel-man it for myself, given that I'm not a fan)? If they are in the territory, what does the ultimate reduction look like? Is Nature just a fancy mathematical formula and some initial conditions, Tegmark-style? And if the physical laws are in the map, what represents them in the territory?

Comment author: [deleted] 20 November 2012 03:30:36AM *  1 point [-]

I don't have any references, but I'll share my view:

The way the particles are actually behaving is part of the territory, the mathematical symbols we use to describe such behavior are part of the map.

And I don't see how this calls the whole idea of reductionism into question. In fact, if the behavior of such particles can be described using a simple mathematical formalism, in my opinion, that is reductionism at its finest. We have reduced the apparently complicated motion of, for example, a dog, into the movement of particles according to simple formulas. Simple mathematically describable behavior patterns, though non-physical (if you insist on categorizing them that way), are not magic.

I feel as if I may be missing the point, because I didn't become confused after reading your questions. Please clarify, if I did miss the point.

Comment author: shminux 20 November 2012 06:31:47AM 0 points [-]

What is left after the reduction is complete? Some irreducible objects (the Greek word is atom) and what? Why do these "atoms" behave the way they do? Are the rules of atomic behavior part of the Nature? Or of our description of it?

Comment author: DaFranker 20 November 2012 04:16:21PM 0 points [-]

I strongly suspect that what is left is not an irreducible "object" in the common sense, but rather that the part about how these atoms behave the way they do is all that is left after a fully complete reduction. No object-style "atom", only the behavior. The behavior is the atom.

Does that help?

Basically, the way I understand it, you don't reduce to quarks and leptons, and then wonder "But how oh how do these quarks do this and that? Why do they do it?". Instead, you reduce to the wave function, and there is no quark left, and nothing left to explain; the behavior of the quark explains both our perception of the presence of some "object", and the interactions / rules / physical laws.

Comment author: shminux 20 November 2012 06:40:44PM *  0 points [-]

The behavior is the atom.

So, suppose you finally added that elusive last term in the equations of the Theory of Everything, and there is nothing to the Universe but "the behavior". You press "Run" and the computers running your model produce a beautiful multiverse out of nothing. Where are the computers and who pressed "Run" to create the universe we live in?

Comment author: DaFranker 20 November 2012 08:05:46PM *  0 points [-]

I don't know how to answer that.

To me, the hypothesis "X" where X is an event/behavior is simpler than "R(X)" where R is an overarching something that executes the rules of X. I should then prefer a model of the universe where there is no overarching thinghy that runs behaviors, just the behaviors behaving, over the other way around.

This sounds like there's just some confusion somewhere. If the behavior is a fundamental "Do(X)" and nothing else, then why does there need to be anything above or around that executes or hits run on the behaviors outside the simulation?

The ability to simulate X using R(X) is only very weak evidence that X requires R() (or any R' ) to function.

Comment author: siodine 20 November 2012 03:26:54PM *  0 points [-]

The laws are in the map, of course (if it came from mind, it is necessarily of a map). And what we call the 'territory' is a map itself. The map/territory distinction is just a useful analogy for explaining that our models of reality aren't necessarily reality (whatever that actually is). Also, keep in mind that there are many incompatible meanings for 'reductionism'. A lot of LWers (like anonymous1) use it in a way that's not in line with EY, and EY uses it in a way that's not in line with philosophy (which is where I suspect most LWers get their definition of it from).

And if the physical laws are in the map, what represents them in the territory?

Good question. A description is sufficient for execution, but what executes the description?

Comment author: [deleted] 21 November 2012 03:31:32PM 1 point [-]

I read this the other day...very thought-provoking.

Comment author: shminux 20 November 2012 06:30:28PM 0 points [-]

And what we call the 'territory' is a map itself.

I think a realist would take issue with this statement... Surely territory is just another name for reality?

A description is sufficient for execution, but what executes the description?

Indeed, what? Is there an underlying computing substrate, which is more "real" than the territory?

Comment author: siodine 21 November 2012 04:15:28PM *  1 point [-]

Surely territory is just another name for reality?

I think you misinterpreted me. Territory is just another name for reality, but reality is just a name and so is territory. By nature of names coming from mind, they are maps because they can't perfectly represent whatever actually is (or more accurately, we can't confirm our representations as perfectly representational and we possibly can't form perfect representations). Also, by saying "actually is," I'm creating a map, too -- but I hope you infer what I mean. The methods by which we as humans receive and transform our state is imperfect and therefore uncertainty is injected into any thing we do, and furthermore by talking of "reality" (as it actually is) we assume no limitations of human-minds or general-mind-design that prevent us from forming what actually is within the constraints of our minds and general-mind-design.

Indeed, what? Is there an underlying computing substrate, which is more "real" than the territory?

Essentially, my question was a syncretization of the five ways. I.e., at the meta-level, what causes? Some people like Aquinas say that such a cause entails that it has the most important properties ascribed to their God (and consequently they pattern match "what causes" to their God). I don't take that view, though. I just think (i.e., a hunch) there's something there to explain and that it probably necessitates a teleological worldview at the meta-level if it is to be explained. I don't know.

Comment author: lsparrish 19 November 2012 07:05:16PM *  4 points [-]

Genetically engineering for trehalose expression has been shown (2006, in vitro) potentially useful for fighting Huntington's and Parkinson's. Since these are mainstream markets with funding behind them, perhaps a gene therapy that does this for brain cells is in the cards. If so, that could be good as a cryonics pretreatment, as trehalose (a non-reducing disaccharide composed of two glucose monomers) is a good cryoprotectant.

Currently its role as a cryoprotectant is mainly prevention of ice outside of the cells, as it does not penetrate the lipid bilayer (membrane) of the cell very well. Introducing genes that synthesize it inside the cell could work around that.

Trehalose, a novel mTOR-independent autophagy enhancer, accelerates the clearance of mutant huntingtin and alpha-synuclein.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 18 November 2012 05:24:39PM 8 points [-]

We say "politics is the mindkiller" but ti seems an seperate question why certain political topics are more 'mindkillery' than others.

Recent example that brought this to mind is the conflict going on in Gaza, its unusual in that my friends and acquaintances who are normally fairly moderate and willing to see both sides on political topics are splitting very heavily onto opposite sides, and refusing to see the others point of view.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 18 November 2012 05:50:06PM *  20 points [-]

Sometimes the political opinions can result in direct actions, but that is rather rare today. (I guess it is not like you and your friends are going to volunteer as soldiers for the opposite sides in Gaza.) The biggest "action" most people do is giving their vote. One vote of a few millions... perhaps our brains are not able to work with values like this, so we feel like our friends have at least 5% of the votes each.

But even when the "real" consequences of our opinions are close to zero, social consequences remain. As long as other people are polarized about some issue, you opinion about conflict in Gaza is essentialy a decision to join the "team Israel" or "team Palestine". This choice is absolutely unrelated to the actual people killing each other in the desert. This choice is about whether Joe will consider you an ally, and Jane an enemy, or the other way. With high probability, neither Joe nor Jane are personally related to people killing each other in the desert, and their choices were also based on their preference to be in the same team with some other people. But having made their choice and joined a team, their monkey brains were reprogrammed to feel very emotional about this topic. (Of course their answer would be that X are good people suffering from Y's evil actions -- and if sometime some X hurts some Y, that's just a self-defense or a deserved payback -- and if you don't see it the same way, well then there is something morally wrong about you.)

In some way, calculating the "mindkilling power" of a topic is like calculating a Page Rank of a web page. A web page has high Page Rank if many pages with high Page Rank link to it. And a topic is strongly mindkilling, if many people around you are strongly mindkilled about it. Somewhere it starts with someone having (or expecting to have) real consequences, but later it is mostly about the structure of social networks and relationships between the memes.

Comment author: Nisan 24 November 2012 08:08:25PM 6 points [-]

Yes. Forming a moral or political opinion about a conflict you cannot feasibly affect is like forming an opinion about a theory that you cannot feasibly test --- it's easy to form an opinion for bad reasons.

Comment author: beoShaffer 18 November 2012 06:00:47PM 1 point [-]

There's also the (overlapping) question of how much the issue ties into peoples' identity. See "Keep you identity Small" and most of EY's stuff on politics, especially anything that mentions the blues and the greens.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 19 November 2012 10:28:17AM 12 points [-]

Why is an opinion on Gaza more likely to become a part of someone's (from Europe or America) identity than e.g. an opinion on Darfur?

For me it's mostly the network effect. I care more, because people around me care more. I also care more because I have more information, but that again is because people around me care more. If people around me stopped talking about Gaza, it would be just as easy to forget as Darfur.

What keeps this topic alive, is the memetic chain: Gaza is linked to Israel, which is linked to Jews, which is linked to Nazis, which is linked to WW2 and its aftermath, which is linked to our contemporary politics. Also Jews are linked to Old Testament, which is linked to Christianity; in USA, Israel is linked to Religious Right; and the religion is again linked to politics. This all together gives Gaza a high "Page Rank".

Darfur could get some "Page Rank" through the former colonies of European countries, but that link is much weaker and outdated.

The mindkilling emotions are not caused by the human suffering, but by pattern-matching it to the political situation around us. This triggers the feeling of "it could happen to me, too" and switches the brain to the battle mode.

Comment author: juliawise 20 November 2012 11:25:48PM 4 points [-]

This year the US gave roughly $3 billion to Israel, $500 million to Gaza and the West Bank, and $31 million to Sudan. I care about the conflict between the first two largely because my country funds it so heavily.

Comment author: Alejandro1 20 November 2012 01:17:20AM 4 points [-]

Excellent points. Another important memetic connection goes through the node "Muslims" (more specifically "Muslims vs another group that most Westerns consider culturally closer"); this connects to 9/11, the War on Terror, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Libya and Benghazi, Muhammed cartoons and free speech, and many other politically charged issues.

Comment author: Emile 20 November 2012 11:35:20AM 2 points [-]

In Europe, immigration is another one of those heavily charged issues connected to Muslims.

Comment author: Lightwave 20 November 2012 09:18:39AM *  2 points [-]

It seems like people sort of turn into utility monsters - if people around you have a strong opinion on a certain topic, you better have a strong opinion too, or else it won't carry as much "force".

Comment author: Multiheaded 19 November 2012 02:35:23PM *  0 points [-]

As long as other people are polarized about some issue, you opinion about conflict in Gaza is essentialy a decision to join the "team Israel" or "team Palestine". This choice is absolutely unrelated to the actual people killing each other in the desert. This choice is about whether Joe will consider you an ally, and Jane an enemy, or the other way. With high probability, neither Joe nor Jane are personally related to people killing each other in the desert, and their choices were also based on their preference to be in the same team with some other people.

Data point: you probably know I'm left-wing (in an eccentric way) - and yet, frankly, I'm very "pro-Israel" (although not fanatically so), and think that all the cool, nice, cosmopolitan, compassionate lefty people who protest "Zionist aggression" should go fuck themselves in regards to this particular issue. This includes e.g. Noam Chomsky, whom I otherwise respect highly. And I realize that this lands me in the same position as various far-right types whom I really dislike, yet I'm quite fine with it too.

Yes, I'm not neurotypical. However, you know that I can and do get kinda mind-killed on other political topics. So I'm not satisfied by your explanation.

Comment author: AlphaOmega 19 November 2012 09:51:58PM *  2 points [-]

I think what Viliam_Bur is trying to say in a rather complicated fashion is simply this: humans are tribal animals. Tribalism is perhaps the single biggest mind-killer, as you have just illustrated.

Am I correct in assuming that you identify yourself with the tribe called "Jews"? For me, who has no tribal dog in this particular fight, I can't get too worked up about it, though if the conflict involved, say, Irish people, I'm sure I would feel rather differently. This is just a reality that we should all acknowledge: Our attempts to "overcome bias" with respect to tribalism are largely self-delusion, and perhaps even irrational.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 19 November 2012 08:51:28PM *  0 points [-]

Then my explanation probably does not apply to you, at least in this specific topic. There are other ways people can get strong opinions on something, for example by having a personal experience, or by analogy with something else they already have strong opinions about (based on what you wrote, this would be my guess).

But I think that in a situation like FiftyTwo described, an average person who would happen to have their best friend(s) on one side of the topic, would most likely join them without hesitation.

Comment author: taelor 19 November 2012 09:14:26AM *  3 points [-]

Political issues are mindkillers because people tend to incorporate them into their personal identites; however, people often incorporate certain issues more strongly than others. A more general slogan might read "incorporating things into your personal sense of identity is the mindkiller".

Comment author: hankx7787 18 November 2012 05:31:30PM 3 points [-]

Well if there's anything you can do to increase the level of mindkill in politics, it's mix in religion. Are they less polarized on issues like, say, abortion?

Comment author: FiftyTwo 18 November 2012 11:16:44PM 1 point [-]

I live in a fluffy liberal bubble where everyone is pretty much in favour of abortion rights (though in my country its less of an issue than the US anyway). On most topics theres a vague consensus and those who disagree are willing to accept its something reasonable people can disagree on, not an issue of good and evil.

Comment author: Konkvistador 28 November 2012 10:49:12AM *  3 points [-]

Vertical vs. Horizontal transmission ideology

Slightly edited from an IRC discussion with fellow rationalists.

Now my mind is spinning, considering meta-arguments to Nth power for frivolous values of N, involving outcome-based complaints about resolution procedures.

If a world dictator receives a suggestion for something like Konkvistador's suggestion to split civilization into factions and see which does better isolated, there will be complaints "this test favors group X, it's unfair"

At the basic level, childbirth. At higher meta levels, things like horizontal v. vertical transmission of ideology.

  • Vertical ideology group: "Your ideology is unsustainable! It relies on brainwashing other people's kids, is self-destructive, and even if it were to win, it would die out!"
  • Horizontal ideology group: "Oh yeah? Well your ideology relies on brainwashing children! You can't win a reasoned debate!"

It seems as though groups with sufficient belief in their own righteousness will object to tests that would favor any other group. Or ideologies may include statements of the proper success metric, this makes it an ugly business to test multiple ideologies against a single success metric.

"Win"? Win at what?

Comment author: FiftyTwo 22 November 2012 02:21:49PM *  3 points [-]

Have people heard of Memrise? Its an online quizzing/spaced repitition service which seems fairly user friendly, also has some gamification elements.

Anyone made/seen rationalist useful courses on there?

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 19 November 2012 02:09:32AM 3 points [-]

How much would Get Over Your Math Fear camps/modules/new sequences widen LW participation? I'm assuming the number of math-capable folk is larger than the number for whom math is enjoyable.

The vibe I get from LW in general is "you should know this stuff already" or "you must walk that road alone."

Comment author: shminux 19 November 2012 02:38:13AM 5 points [-]

All the required math is online, of course. The issue is that different people have different gaps in their math education and many are unable to tell where those gaps start and how to fill them. A useful post/sequence/app would construct the pyramid of the math knowledge and skills required for not being stumped by whatever math is in the sequences, let people test their mastery of each piece, map out the gaps and direct them to the relevant online resources in the suitable order. Not sure how much interest is there among the LWers who are qualified to do such a job.

Comment author: DaFranker 19 November 2012 05:08:19PM *  3 points [-]

I don't see this is a potential future achievement of LW (or CFAR), primarily because others are already doing it much better. In the lead here is Khan Academy, with the knowledge map dashboard (last link, might need to login first), with tons of data and progression based on complete mastery of a topic, with time-spaced reviewing and nifty features all the way up to achievement badges for the positive reinforcement and social bragging rights.

I also hear Coursera is planning to continuously upgrade their personalized-feedback mechanisms, possibly up to the point where the system might automatically detect that, while attempting to solve these integrals, you're struggling with some particular type of factorization method, and then snap you back to the specific relevant modules and make you master them before resuming calculus. This seems like the natural next step from Khan's current system, and would be such an incredible distance in quality up from standard high school classrooms that I have a hard time putting into words how amazingly awesome that feels for me.

Basically, LW could help with specific courses, possibly with regards to Bayes stuff or applied epistemology or decision theory, but if we tried to tackle getting-people-to-like-and-be-good-at-maths, other experts already have a large lead and are doing quite a good job of it; our impact would be marginal, and we can achieve much greater things in other domains than standard mathematics.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 19 November 2012 11:00:50PM 2 points [-]

After some consideration, I want to drop the "modules/new sequences" part of my suggestion and focus solely on camps, and non-solitary effort in general. "Struggle alone in front of your computer" seems valuably different from "struggle alongside others in person."

One idea, off the top of my head: a household whose housemates come together specifically for the purpose of immersing themselves in math as part of daily tasks. Which I suppose would require at least one "teacher" housemate, who could live for reduced or free rent in exchange for enabling a math-immersive atmosphere (challenges, etc). I don't know if having no endpoint (as with a camp) is beneficial or not in this case.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 20 November 2012 11:02:41PM 1 point [-]

All the required math is online, of course

The problem is there is a difference between having proofs or definitions available and being able to teach yourself to understand the material.

Comment author: Zack_M_Davis 21 November 2012 02:16:20AM 0 points [-]

(Well, a good textbook or expository webpage is more than just proofs and definitions, but wording quibbles aside---)

I don't believe you. There are many unfortunate people who suffer from cognitive disabilities such that they can't learn (e.g.) calculus from a book, but if you're reading this site, you're almost certainly not one of them.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 19 November 2012 01:40:37PM *  5 points [-]

Would publishing a newspaper be an efficient way to raise the sanity waterline?

More specifically, I imagine a newspaper freely distributed to people living in a given area, financed by donations and advertising. It would contain interesting topics about science, both for beginners and experts. It would explain how the stuff works. It would avoid mindkilling topics, such as politics and religion. In some situations it could provide uncontroversial background information for some hot topics. It would contains some easy rationality exercises.

Why? It could move people towards rationality, which is a good thing. Not necessarily the top priority (I am not suggesting that CFAR should stop organizing minicamps and do this instead), but a part of our long-term goals. Newspaper seems like a good tool to reach many people... the question is: how strong would be its influence? I don't know, but I think it would be worth trying.

Why paper, instead of internet? Trivial inconveniences. When someone already has a piece of paper in their hand, it is so easy to start reading it. I don't know how many people would actually read the newspaper, but I think it could be 10-25%. Imagine the possible impact of 10% people in your area reading texts about rationality and science. You can make a website a lot cheaper, but it will not make the same concentrated impact. Although it could be a good idea to make a web forum for discussing the articles in the newspaper.

How about costs? Exact numbers depend on your location, but I would say that newspapers are rather cheap. It's the cheapest kind of paper, and the cheapest kind of color. The more you print, the cheaper one piece gets. I suspect the usual costs are mostly editing and distribution. And this could be done by volunteers, plus one coordinator. There is no need to print frequently; once in a month or once in two months could be enough for the beginning.

I don't know how much money could come through the advertising, but if it would cover the costs of printing plus coordinator's salary, there is no need for more. Some people are in this business for money; so if we won't try to make a profit, only to cover our costs, it should be possible. If the experiment starts in the CFAR surroundings, that includes Berkeley university; here one could find the volunteers for distribution, and it could also be an interesting demographics for advertising.

The content for the newspaper could be recycled from Wikipedia, LW, what you learned at school, etc. It does not matter that it was already published online, because most readers did not read it online, even if they easily could. Trivial inconveniences, again. The goal is not to bring readers to LW. (Except for those who are likely to enjoy it. LW is controversial; this newspaper should be acceptable for most people) The goal is to raise the sanity waterline, to pick the lowest hanging fruit.

Open problem: Measuring the impact of the newspaper; at least approximately.

One idea would be to measure improving the sanity waterline in some specific topics. Select topics important for your neighborhood, where the irrational behavior contributes significantly. Make prediction about the most likely future development of this topic (ask external experts to make the prediction). Randomly select one topic, and make it the topic of the month. Compare the outcome of this topic with the predictions, and the outcome of the remaining topics. (Don't do this publicly to avoid negative connotations of experimenting with humans.)

Comment author: [deleted] 20 November 2012 12:41:52AM 5 points [-]

Why paper, instead of internet? Trivial inconveniences. When someone already has a piece of paper in their hand, it is so easy to start reading it.

I dunno... People often throw away paper that's handed to them for free without even taking more than a glance at it; OTOH, web pages can be shared on Facebook.

Comment author: Curiouskid 20 November 2012 04:49:15AM 3 points [-]

I can't remember the last time I read a newspaper.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 19 November 2012 03:03:09PM 9 points [-]

People have been trying to do social engineering with print for hundreds of years and trying to educate the general populace to the scientific worldview for at least a century, and yet the sanity waterline is still as low as it is. Many intellectual subcultures have published pamphlets with contents that the in-group finds very convincing, yet they generally always end up ignored.

What would the newspaper be doing differently compared to the things that came before?

Comment author: faul_sname 19 November 2012 10:42:15PM 6 points [-]

People have been trying to do social engineering with print for hundreds of years and trying to educate the general populace to the scientific worldview for at least a century, and yet the sanity waterline is still as low as it is.

Is it as low as it was?

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 20 November 2012 09:52:37AM *  3 points [-]

Is it as low as it was?

I'm not sure. People in 1900 or 1950 had less knowledge than we do now, but they might have had a mainstream culture that took the knowledge they had more seriously than ours does. I'd have to be more of a historian to be able to tell how much this was actually the case.

How well does having Jaynes, Kahneman & Tversky, and The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences measure up to creationism as a political platform, blank-slate leftism and postmodernism in academia, or climate denial and anti-vaccinationists getting massive media attention?

EDIT: My mental model of Robin Hanson also notes that all else being equal, you might expect people with less surplus resources to have a higher sanity waterline, since they have a smaller margin for engaging in delusional signaling before they start running out of vital resources like food.

Comment author: drethelin 21 November 2012 02:49:48PM 0 points [-]

I also think it's inaccurate to say there's A sanity waterline as opposed to different waterlines in different contexts.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 21 November 2012 06:45:59PM 0 points [-]

You could always do a veil of ignorance style thought experiment and ask how crazy you would expect things to be for you if you were a person chosen at random at a given time and place to try to sum over some of the contexts.

Should differences in agency be accounted for somehow? If there's a single god-emperor somehow able to order absolutely everyone around in minute detail, should you consider only the sanity of the god-emperor, or also of everyone else, when all they can do is obey the god-emperor? The lives of the populace are going to suck, but will be actively crazy only if the god-emperor orders them to do stuff that results in craziness. One idea of the past is that there was more overt control by some sort of small social elite caste and the general populace had less individual decision-making ability then.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 19 November 2012 10:27:32PM *  3 points [-]

We probably think about different specific examples, so I will describe the ones I have seen.

Most of free papers I get contain advertising. Pictures of products, and prices. In most cases, nothing else. In some cases, a few short boring stories are included. I think that the goal here is to sell as much stuff as possible, and the publishers probably discovered that a legible content, beyond some bare minimum, does not really help sell more.

Then I get a free newspaper from our house caretaker. In this case the goal is to provide us some basic house-related info, and to remind us about how lucky we are to have this specific caretaker. This is the nearest example to free newspaper education I have seen, but it is extremely limited in scope.

Sometimes I get a municipal newspaper (usually when the municipal election is near), which provides some info about what happenned around us (culture, construction, problems) and gently reminds us about how much our municipal representatives did for us and why we should vote for them again.

At university I have seen some free newspaper for students, rather boring. My suspicion was that it was just a pretext to get some government funding, put money in editors' pockets, and generate some output with random content. Anyway, it was supposed to be about fun and opportunities (such as travelling), not education.

None of these had general education as a goal. And those are the only examples of free newspapers I have seen repeatedly. -- But the situation may be different in other places.

People have been trying to do social engineering with print for hundreds of years and trying to educate the general populace to the scientific worldview for at least a century

I guess it is just a century or two that enough people are literate. And newspapers were considered powerful and dangerous; this is why censorship existed. (Though it does not prove that newspapers are efficient in education, specifically.)

The education of general population is typically done in schools. I think it works rather well... depending on what you compare it with. Compared with situation centuries ago, people can read and write, do some simple math, don't believe in witches, etc. That's not bad. It's just not enough. Perhaps the schools could be more efficient (that is a separate discussion I would love to have once, but not now). But the side effect of free mandatory general education is that it stopped being a status symbol. And it's usually boring. The newspaper could avoid some of that boredom, because people would read it voluntarily and individually; and the articles would not be followed by exams.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 22 November 2012 02:23:54PM 3 points [-]

Do we want to associate ourselves with the sort of people who hand on leaflets on their beliefs in public places? There's a non-trivial stigma attached.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 19 November 2012 06:04:08PM 3 points [-]

Have you ever lived in a place with free newspapers? Nowhere near 10% read them.

Comment author: ZoneSeek 19 November 2012 06:28:32PM *  1 point [-]

They give away the fat Sunday edition at the park where I jog. And yeah, I shelved it, read a few pages a week later, then tossed it. I agree, low impact, and paper is low status. Cool people are on the internet.

Comment author: Emily 19 November 2012 09:17:08PM 0 points [-]

I agree, but one factor here might be that they are generally really bad - boring, poorly-written local news amid scads of badly-designed adverts. You might easily be able to get somewhat higher numbers by having consistently interesting content.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 19 November 2012 10:35:21PM 1 point [-]

Maybe the typical free paper is bad, but the best papers, such as the Chicago Reader and the Onion, are free.

Comment author: Emily 20 November 2012 12:51:40PM 0 points [-]

I'm not familiar with the Chicago Reader (I'm British), and I had no idea there was a paper version of the Onion! Do they have decent readerships? If so that supports the notion that good free papers can get people to read them.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 20 November 2012 03:58:43PM 0 points [-]

The Onion has been scaling back, though things can't be that bad in print if they were trying to expand to Toronto just last year.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 19 November 2012 11:56:20PM *  2 points [-]

I'd like to see something which supplies a small daily dose of established science, but you'd probably need a writer who's as engaging as Asimov-- and even then, not that many people are interested.

The writing at Wikipedia tends not to be engaging. Admittedly, I'm generalizing from one example.

I'm not sure that this is a full-time job for just one person. If nothing else, getting advertising is work.

I think the Philadelphia Weekly is a pretty good free paper, but I read most of the articles and ignore the advertising.

I don't think the basic idea is bad, but I'd start with a website-- lower investment, more flexibility, and better feedback about what people read. It would be a better way to find out what actually engages people.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 20 November 2012 08:48:52AM 2 points [-]

The problem with website is: how do you make people look at it? Especially those not already interested in topics you want to write about. The competition is huge.

(With free newspaper, the answer is: reading the paper you already have in your hand is easier than reading any other paper.)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 20 November 2012 02:40:01PM 2 points [-]

You can't make anyone look at anything. Ok, maybe a bright flashing light, but that's not a lot of information.

Consent is essential. Look at how people dodge advertisements most of the time.

I suspect that raising the sanity waterline (possibly a bad metaphor, because it leaves out the minds of the people we're trying to influence) needs to be thought about more clearly-- which people are we trying to influence, and what exactly are we trying to accomplish?

Comment author: taelor 20 November 2012 09:54:14AM *  2 points [-]

What makes you think that your efforts to put a newspaper in my hand will be more successful than those of the local bible study group that occasionally camps out in front of my college library and try to put copies of their Jesus newsletter in my hand?

Comment author: [deleted] 20 November 2012 09:54:20AM *  0 points [-]

(With free newspaper, the answer is: reading the paper you already have in your hand is easier than reading any other paper.)

Not reading any paper at all is even easier. (How much easier depends on the distance from the nearest waste bin, and on whether you're wearing a handbag or something to store it into for later reading while keeping your hands free.)

Comment author: RichardKennaway 20 November 2012 09:47:28AM 0 points [-]

With free newspaper, the answer is: reading the paper you already have in your hand is easier than reading any other paper.

How does it get into my hand?

Comment author: [deleted] 20 November 2012 12:44:56AM 0 points [-]

I think there's something missing after “the” in the penultimate paragraph.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 20 November 2012 04:04:25AM 0 points [-]

Thanks. The url needed http://.

Comment author: Konkvistador 24 November 2012 09:04:56AM *  4 points [-]

HT: gwern

Tryfon Tolides: an almost pure empty poetry

Mrs. Moldbug once explained a terribly useful concept to me: the idea of Seventeen magazine. The point of Seventeen is that it's not for 17-year-olds. It's for 14-year-olds. As they say in the marketing department, it's aspirational.

Starbucks, similarly, is aspirational. If you're anyone who's anyone and you live in San Francisco or Berkeley, you will not set foot inside a Starbucks. (I once had this horrible fat hippie woman tell me this at a party. She was boasting that never once, in her entire life, had she patronized Starbucks. I couldn't help but be impressed.) No, if you are a proper Bay Area Brahmin, you go to Peet's, which costs about 10% more and really does have better coffee. Or, better yet, you go to an actual independent local cafe, which certainly sells "fair-trade" coffee and probably has some kind of Communist revolutionary theme. (My first date with Mrs. Moldbug was at the now-deceased Cafe Macondo, which was basically a shrine to Patrice Lumumba.)

The point of Starbucks is that it allows an enormous slice of America, a slice certainly far bigger than the 20% or so who can actually claim to be Brahmins, to feel like they are part of the ruling class for 15 minutes or so. Perhaps it is different in Omaha, but what you see when you go into a Starbucks in SF is Vaisyas, Vaisyas, Vaisyas. Good ordinary people, who get to pay $3 for a pretty good coffee, and feel like they went to Harvard and work for a nonprofit.

This kind of cultural and social commentary is what I most enjoy reading from Moldbug, I have to resist the urge to quote the entire thing. For the meaning of "Vasiyas" and "Brahmin" see here.

Comment author: Multiheaded 25 November 2012 11:41:27AM *  1 point [-]

In other words, MM reads Stuff White People Like and has observations of his own to share. That's, um, cute?

Seriously, signaling status through consumption always works like this; the lower-middle classes flock to the brands advertised as "upper-middle class", which causes the actual upper-middle class to avoid those in order to stand out. Been said before. If MM's social co-processor worked better, he would've known how ubiquitous this knowledge is.

Re: this "art" and its associated scene - it is, of course, a very convenient First World Problem to lay at progressivism's feet, but how is it different from the art scenes of past metropolitan cities, like Edwardian London, or Paris under the 3rd Republic? Does Moldbug imagine that there was much less empty posturing and fashionable nonsense and inane pretensions back then?

He's kinda spoiled in his cosy little bubble.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 27 November 2012 04:15:28PM 2 points [-]

He reminds me of one of Eleizer's quotes that being profound is often simply explaining an unconventional idea clearly and simply. Moldburg takes fairly obvious assertions (e.g. class exists, society's real power structures aren't the same as the theoretical ones) and explains them simply from his own point of view with a few odd terms to make it seem more interesting.

But being able to make things sound interesting from a particular viewpoint doesn't mean anything about he truth value of that viewpoint (e.g. Freudian thinking can illuminate some sexual or social dynamics, but that doesn't make it true).

Comment author: gokfar 26 November 2012 05:34:32PM 2 points [-]

There's a LW group on Goodreads. What would you like to see this group used for?

Comment author: gokfar 26 November 2012 05:46:06PM *  1 point [-]

Cross-referencing individual reading lists would yield suggestions for common reads. I feel enthusiastic about being in a book club.

Does anyone possess the skill to scrape lists and automate the process?

Comment author: Jabberslythe 26 November 2012 09:14:46PM 0 points [-]

I've been using the group to browse peoples' profiles and get recommendations and it's been good great for me for that .

I am probably into engaging in most potential activities in the group.

Thank you gokfar.

Comment author: Alicorn 26 November 2012 05:54:38PM 0 points [-]

What do Goodreads groups usually do?

Comment author: MileyCyrus 26 November 2012 12:34:53PM 2 points [-]

There is a blog that I would care never to read again, even in moderation. I added the blog to my localhost list so now I can't visit the blog anymore. But my lizard-brain has found a workaround: if I google the blog I can read Google's cache. Is there a way to block Google's cache of the blog without blocking the rest of Google's functions?

Comment author: vi21maobk9vp 26 November 2012 06:44:18PM 1 point [-]

Depends on the amount of effort you are willing to spend. I have a local Squid caching proxy (maybe privoxy or 3proxy or something else is better for you), I have set up URL rewriting and among other things I block some URL patterns for various reasons. It is not too hard to set up and there are various ways to do this with various proxies.

Comment author: Sewing-Machine 25 November 2012 07:39:41AM *  2 points [-]

Tell me about Dungeons and Dragons. I've never played, nor see anyone play. But I've been passively fascinated with this game for a long time.

I understand some broad strokes, but some paradoxes about those broad strokes bewilder me. The concept sounds open and freewheeling, like a creative writing exercise. But there's a long rule book, which makes it sound much more rigid. It also sounds like something that would appeal to people who like theater, or more generally being the center of attention. But it's famously popular in a community of shy outcasts.

What is this game actually like, when it's played? Are there long silent pauses where people are concentrating, like in chess? Or is it more boisterous party-style game like charades? Do people like to stand at the sidelines and watch it being played, or is it boring if you're not participating? Is there a video of people playing it I could watch?

Edit: What's in the rule book? If you forget the rule book at home, can you get along or do you have to go back for it?

Comment author: CronoDAS 25 November 2012 10:07:31AM 5 points [-]

Most of the rule book is rules for character creation and combat. If you already have your character made up, you can get by with borrowing someone else's book.

What the game's like depends a lot on the Dungeon Master and the adventure he has prepared. It could be a lot of "roleplaying" that consists of your characters talking with NPCs with short bits of combat in between, or it could be a hack-and-slash dungeon crawl in which you kill monsters and take their stuff.

As for a video of people playing, although it's not exactly what you asked for, I'd recommend this.

Comment author: drethelin 25 November 2012 09:36:27PM 3 points [-]

The rule book is there to resolve conflict, mainly in terms of combat. If you're familiar with the kid's game of cops and robbers, it's to make sure there's no arguments about "Bang! I shot you!" "No, I should you first!". The majority of mechanics are of this nature, and the rest of the book is less rules than a description of a fantasy world for players to build off of and improvise within.

In general it's fairly boisterous, and the communal nature of the game means there aren't a lot of gaps. You can do your thinking during the times other players are talking about their decisions or when the monsters are acting or when the DM is explaining, so if you're playing with people who are experienced there aren't a lot of long pauses. Watching from the sidelines is pretty unexciting because most people, while they put some effort into acting, aren't that great, so if you lack the emotional connection with the characters and situations and achievements it's just not that good.

Re: Shy outcasts. A lot of shy outcasts really enjoy the opportunity to act like NOT shy outcasts. DND is normally played in a safer environment where social experimentation is not just encouraged but pretty much required. Pretty much no one CHOOSES to be a shy outcast so much as they're forced to inhabit that corner of existence by everyone else. Being the center of attention of a bunch of people who you respect and who respect you is a lot more pleasant than being the center of attention of people who are primed to mock and belittle you.

Comment author: Alicorn 25 November 2012 03:54:52PM *  3 points [-]

Edit: What's in the rule book? If you forget the rule book at home, can you get along or do you have to go back for it?

If there's no books at the table, it depends on whether your fellow players are willing to trust you to remember rules neutrally and if the DM is willing to adjudicate where no one can remember. There's also the online version for most of the core rules, although not all the exotic extra classes and stuff.

Comment author: taelor 26 November 2012 10:24:08AM 1 point [-]

If you're interested in experiencing what an actual D&D session is like without having to actually play in one, there are a number of actual play podcasts that are essentially recordings of peoples sessions on the internet.

Comment author: gwern 25 November 2012 06:33:26PM 1 point [-]

My impression, from idly watching sometimes at a science fiction club, is that it's fairly boisterous, and few watch from sidelines (certainly I didn't understand what was happening, although if I had known the rules maybe I would've'd a better chance).

Comment author: [deleted] 20 November 2012 07:45:14PM *  2 points [-]

I found an article explaining Motivated Reasoning in The Atlantic and it seemed like a good fit for the Open Thread.

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/11/how-partisans-fool-themselves-into-believing-their-own-spin/265336/

That being said, one of the core links inside the article (The one that links to the paper that it is using to draw some of it's conclusions) was broken. I've pasted the correct link below if you want to read the paper as well.

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2071478

Comment author: aaronde 20 November 2012 11:24:40PM *  8 points [-]

I liked the fact that the author didn't use cognitive bias as an excuse to give up on talking about politics altogether (which seems to be LWian consensus), but instead made demonstrable claims about politics.

EDIT: in response to the previous version of Michaelos' post, I said:

It makes me uncomfortable when LWers say things like:

"Politics is the Mindkiller" appears to be acknowledged as early as the second sentence.

It smacks of, "Oh, look at the unenlightened people finally catching on." Lesswrong didn't invent cognitive science, and "politics is the mindkiller" is just our term for a well-established result of cognitive science. The article is about motivated reasoning, and the author isn't "acknowledging" it, but explaining it.

Comment author: [deleted] 21 November 2012 12:05:54PM *  4 points [-]

but it makes me uncomfortable when LWers say things like:

Edited! If that's poor phrasing, I want to fix it. My intended goal was "I need to reference the topic of this article in some manner, so that people will know why to read it." and from your post that wasn't getting across.

However, that is not the first critique I have gotten about phrasing, and in retrospect, I am concerned that I am more of a rationality pretender than an actual rationalist. I mean, I approve of rationality, and I try to follow the math (and can't when it starts getting hard, frequently because it would take too long and I am usually following Less Wrong intermittently while focusing on other things as well), but I have received multiple complaints that I feel like I can fairly sum up as "You're the rationalist equivalent of a annoying cheerleader yelling 'Go Team, Smash the Other Team', that's not what rationality is about, please stop."

I think it is safe to say that I really do have that as a problem (multiple different sources seem to indicate it to me.) And I would prefer to fix it, but I'm not sure how to fix it. If you or anyone else have thoughts on how to change, I am open to suggestion.

Comment author: aaronde 21 November 2012 07:17:12PM *  5 points [-]

That's exactly the impression that I got. That it was awkward phrasing, because you just didn't know how to phrase it - but that it wasn't a coincidence that you defaulted to that particular awkward phrasing. It seems that, on some level, you were surprised to see people outside lesswrong discussing "lesswrong ideas." Even though, intellectually, you know that most of the good ideas on lesswrong didn't originate here. Don't be too hard on yourself. I probably have the opposite problem, where, as a meta-contrarian, I can't do anything but criticize lesswrong.

If you want to avoid sounding like a cheerleader, I think the best rule of thumb is to just not name-drop. It's great if you get a lot of ideas from Eliezer and lesswrong, but then communicate those ideas in a way that makes it difficult to trace them back to lesswrong. This should come naturally, because you shouldn't believe everything you hear on lesswrong anyway. Confirm what you hear with an independent source, and then you can refer to that source instead of lesswrong, just like you would with information you learned on wikipedia.

Comment author: [deleted] 21 November 2012 09:28:21PM 2 points [-]

Thank you for the advice, and I will try to follow that rule of thumb more in the future.

Comment author: RobinZ 18 November 2012 05:05:21PM 2 points [-]

So, I've been wondering: how much does buying something used benefit the producers of new products? How would you measure or predict that?

Comment author: 9eB1 18 November 2012 07:11:34PM 3 points [-]

I don't have a great answer for you, but may be able to point you in the right direction. In economics the market for used goods is known as a "secondary market." This is often used in relation to financial instruments, where the stock market that you trade on is the secondary market, while the primary market is the market for initial public offerings (IPOs) and follow-on offerings. In finance it is widely believed (and I assume there is some support, although I haven't looked specifically) that the a secondary market for a financial instrument is an important factor in establishing it's primary market price, but a healthy secondary market in this case actually serves to increase the price in the primary market, because purchasers will pay a premium for higher liquidity. For example, when a corporation issues new bonds, investors will consider how actively traded the corporations existing shares are when determining their willingness to pay.

I assume that for physical goods the dynamics of the secondary market have a very different impact on the primary market, but a search for "secondary markets" on google scholar should probably turn up a starting point.

Comment author: RobinZ 19 November 2012 01:46:01AM 0 points [-]

"effect of secondary market on primary market" came up with "Are secondary markets profitable for item sales based businesses?", which seems to be related to the question I had in mind - thanks!

Comment author: mwengler 19 November 2012 04:43:46PM 2 points [-]

I think you will only be able to come up with wrong answers to this question.

Starting with an item that has a strong secondary market, and considering the effect of removing the secondary market, you will almost certainly find a reduction in the value of the primary items as they can't be resold. This will ignore numerous important higher order effects, summarized by saying that let to run to equilibrium in the theoretical absence of a second market, you will have a very different primary product. In the case of cars, if used car markets were destroyed, you would lower the value of existing product offerings, but you would create a new market in extremely inexpensive cars to fill the market formerly filled by used cars. A lot of people would rather buy a 10 year old mercedes than brand new Scion or Smart car, killing the used market will cause Mercedes to reduce what it spends on making its cars durable, and cause a big increase in the sales of new cheap little cars.

Similarly with financial instruments, removing the secondary market in bonds and stocks and such would presumably result in an average shorter maturity term on newly issued bonds, and probably an increased dividend yield on stocks (on average). Ignoring the changes int he financial products available, you might first figure the loss of the secondary market a disaster for the primary producers, but you would then need to consider how these producers would shift the nature of their products and especially, how they would fill with new stock on bonds the demand shifted to new products that used to be filled in the secondary market.

On reflection, it seems unambiguous that a good secondary market is a benefit to consumers, but it seems much harder to figure out whether it is a benefit to producers. But I think it is easy to predict that the answer derived from only first order thinking about the changes going from one to the other will overestimate the destruction of value from the change because it will underestimate the way the mix of newly produced items will be changed to reflect the loss of a secondary market.

Comment author: gwern 18 November 2012 05:18:22PM 1 point [-]

Well, one way is to look at shocks to reselling or buying used (new regulation, DRM, etc.) and see how much demand for new products decreases because of the de facto price increase.

Another way might be to think of reselling as a subsidy to buying new - a rebate, if you will. If you can estimate how much a discount would increase sales and the producers' profits, then you can take the average resell price times probability someone will resell and treat that as a discount and figure out from there.

I know I've read economics research on this topic in the past, so you can probably google up some good papers.

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 19 November 2012 08:52:47PM *  3 points [-]

I believe that (mathematical) proofs aren't easily reducible to axiomatic proofs, and that proofs have been, and still are, profoundly social by their nature, although I don't know if that will continue indefinitely. I probably won't find the time to write a large post on this topic that I've been thinking of, so I want to quote here one observation that's been on my mind recently, in case someone finds it useful.

Eliezer quotes (in the post which I, with accordance to the above, see as wrong-headed in some respects) one definition of proof that he disagrees with: "A proof is a social construct – it is what we need it to be in order to be convinced something is true. If you write something down and you want it to count as a proof, the only real issue is whether you’re completely convincing."

I think this is too vague as a definition of proof and doesn't really work, but it does capture the social/communication aspect of it I consider important. A thinks X is right and P is a proof of X. It isn't enough that P convinces A that X is right; when A communicates P to B, it should convince them too.

A few days ago, I was rereading Vladimir Uspensky's essay on the philosophy of mathematics that I read many years ago and forgot. In the section about proofs, Uspensky offers this informal definition:

A proof is a convincing argument that convinces us to such a degree that we can with its help convince others.

That is, it isn't enough that B is convinced by P that X is right; P should be such that B should be able to spread the gospel onwards. A proof doesn't just bridge a void between two minds; it's capable of leaping on and on. It's a virus with conviction as its payload: it instills conviction in its host and can spread itself (rather than merely conviction) to others.

I've been musing since then about this addition to what I'd thought of as an informal social definition of a proof. I've been going back and forth about how necessary and profound it is, but I think I'm converging on forth.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 29 November 2012 02:45:37PM *  1 point [-]

A proof is a convincing argument that convinces us to such a degree that we can with its help convince others.

I'm reminded of advice I've seen on when, in the martial arts, you may consider yourself a master: when people come to your students, asking "Please teach us."

Although I disagree with the social concept of mathematical proof. There is something social going on, but there is also something that is not social, but is mathematical, existing independently of ourselves, outside space and time. The latter is the actual proof, without which a statement is not a theorem, and the former is people convincing other people that the latter exists and showing them where it is. Both of these things are called "proofs", and both of them are necessary to the practice of mathematics. The social part depends on the mathematical part for its value, just as prospecting for oil has no value unless, in the end, there is oil where you say there is.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 20 November 2012 12:56:36AM 1 point [-]

It sounds to me that you (or Uspensky) are trying to define "proof" to mean all good things. Perhaps this come from a belief that mathematics is synonymous with proof. Arguing about definitions is generally bad and one common failure mode is to define all good things together. Have you read Thurston? He found a trade-off between proofs (in the usual sense) and other goals.

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 20 November 2012 01:28:35AM 0 points [-]

It sounds to me that you (or Uspensky) are trying to define "proof" to mean all good things.

I don't understand what that means, and what exactly do you think it's wrong with the definition offered. Certainly it doesn't encompass definitions, axioms, conjectures, intuition, background knowledge and other good things in mathematics.

I know and value Thurston's paper, and again, don't quite see the relevance.

Comment author: aaronde 21 November 2012 12:05:39AM 0 points [-]

I don't understand how Uspensky's definition is different from Eliezer's. Is there some minimum number of people a proof has to convince? Does it have to convince everyone? If I'm the only person in the world, is writing a proof impossible, or trivial? It seems that both definitions are saying that a proof will be considered valid by those people who find it absolutely convincing. And those people who do not find it absolutely convincing will not consider it valid. More importantly, it seems that this is all those two definitions are saying, which is why neither of them is very helpful if we want something more concrete than the colloquial sense of proof.

Comment author: vi21maobk9vp 25 November 2012 06:51:34PM 1 point [-]

As I understand Eliezer's definition: "Your text is proof if it can convince me that the conclusion is true"

As I understand Uspenskiy's definition: "Your text is proof if it can convince me that the conclusion is true and is I am willing to reuse this text to convince other people".

The difference is whether the mere text convinces me that I myself can also use it succesfully. Of course this has to rely on social norms for convincing arguments in some way.

Disclosure: I have heard the second definition from Uspenskiy first-person, and I have never seen Eliezer in person.

Comment author: Khoth 28 November 2012 05:14:41PM 2 points [-]

Does Uspenskiy have an opinion on Zero-knowledge proofs? They differ from standard proofs in that they have a probability of being wrong (which can be as small as you want), and the key property which is that if I use one to convince you of something, you aren't able to use it to convince anyone else.

Comment author: vi21maobk9vp 29 November 2012 05:09:18AM 0 points [-]

Does anyone consider them the proofs in the ordinary sense?

I could ask him, but given that experience of verification of ZKP is an example personal/non-transferrable evidence, I see no question here.

And in some sense, ZKP proofs are usualy proofs of knowledge. If you represent ZK prover as a black box with secret information inside that uses random number generation log and communication log as sources to calculate its next message, access to this blackbox in such form is enough to extract some piece of data. This piece of data makes the proven statement trivial to verify or to prove conventionally - or even to play prover in ZKP. So all the efforts in ZKP are about showing you know some secret without letting me know the secret.

Comment author: Konkvistador 30 November 2012 08:41:40PM 1 point [-]

Casuistry in early modern times

The casuistic method was popular among Catholic thinkers in the early modern period, and not only among the Jesuits, as it is commonly thought. Famous casuistic authors include Antonio Escobar y Mendoza, whose Summula casuum conscientiae (1627) enjoyed a great success, Thomas Sanchez, Vincenzo Filliucci (Jesuit and penitentiary at St Peter's), Antonino Diana, Paul Laymann (Theologia Moralis, 1625), John Azor (Institutiones Morales, 1600), Etienne Bauny, Louis Cellot, Valerius Reginaldus, Hermann Busembaum (d. 1668), etc. One of the main theses of casuists was the necessity to adapt the rigorous morals of the Early Fathers of Christianity to modern morals, which led in some extreme cases to justify what Innocent XI later called "laxist moral" (i.e. justification of usury, homicide, regicide, lying through "mental reservation", adultery and loss of virginity before marriage, etc.—all due cases registered by Pascal in the Provincial Letters).

The progress of casuistry was interrupted toward the middle of the 17th century by the controversy which arose concerning the doctrine of probabilism, which stipulated that one could choose to follow a "probable opinion", that is, supported by a theologian or another, even if it contradicted a more probable opinion or a quotation from one of the Fathers of the Church.[19] The controversy divided Catholic theologians into two camps, Rigorists and Laxists.

Casuistry was much mistrusted by early Protestant theologians, because it justified many of the abuses that they sought to reform. It was famously attacked by the Catholic and Jansenist philosopher Pascal, during the formulary controversy against the Jesuits, in his Provincial Letters as the use of rhetorics to justify moral laxity, which became identified by the public with Jesuitism; hence the everyday use of the term to mean complex and sophistic reasoning to justify moral laxity.[20] By the middle of the 18th century, "casuistry" became a synonym for moral laxity.[citation needed]

In 1679 Pope Innocent XI publicly condemned sixty-five of the more radical propositions (stricti mentalis), taken chiefly from the writings of Escobar, Suarez and other casuists as propositiones laxorum moralistarum and forbade anyone to teach them under penalty of excommunication.[21] Despite this papal condemnation, both Catholicism and Protestantism permit the use of ambiguous and equivocal statements in specific circumstances.[22]

Alphonsus Maria de Liguori (d. 1787), founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, then brought some attention back to casuistry by publishing again Hermann Busembaum's Medulla Theologiae Moralis; the last edition published in 1785 and receiving the approbation of the Holy See in 1803.[citation needed] Busembaum's Medulla had been burnt in Toulouse in 1757 because of its justification of regicide, deemed particularly scandalous after Damiens' assassination attempt against Louis XV.[citation needed]

Comment author: Airedale 30 November 2012 05:34:25AM 1 point [-]

Meta karma-related question that occurred to me on reading the post on Retributive Downvoting, but which didn't really fit there: One thing that I sometimes do in upvoting/downvoting is to calibrate my vote based on how many up or down votes the comment already has; for example, if a comment is at plus 10, but I think it's only a tiny bit good, I might downvote it; whereas if a comment is at -10, but I think it's only a little bit bad, I may upvote it (whereas if the little bit good comment was at 1-2, I would upvote, and it the little bit bad comment was at 0-1, I would downvote it).

But perhaps that is a wrong approach. Indeed, it would probably be inaccurate with a very new comment, but I am often rather late in reading through comment threads, and would guess that by the time I read through many comments have settled close to their ultimate score. Does anyone else do that, or have a view whether it is a correct or incorrect approach?

Comment author: mstevens 29 November 2012 12:00:54PM *  1 point [-]

argumentative antipattern ramblings from irc -

< mstevens> Imagine two people arguing. One is in favour of X, and hates Y, the other likes Y, and hates X

< mstevens> both X and Y are members of class a

< mstevens> There's a good chance that the X-supporter will argue "all things in a are perfectly fine!" in an attempt to support X

< mstevens> Then, the Y-support will say "aah, you must also like Y", and the X-support will basically splutter and try to deny this obvious conclusion

...

< Tenoke01> mstevens, an example which doesn't create a lot of tension will be marijuana smokers who say that it is fine to smoke because it is a plant and is natural but when asked on their opinion of tobacco for example will say that tobacco is bad even though it is also a plant

(mstevens is me, I asked Tenoke01 for permission to quote)

Maybe we should have a name for this?

Comment author: Vaniver 29 November 2012 03:13:56AM 1 point [-]

Bug report: when I went to a new user's page, I noticed that the 3rd, 5th, and 7th comments had working up/down vote buttons. Loading a second copy of the page, the buttons were gone. I have a screenshot of it, but no idea how to reproduce it, or why only some of the comments had buttons.

Any idea what's up? (Also, do we have an official spot to post bugs? If I've noticed it, I've since forgotten about it, and if I haven't noticed it, I suspect it's hidden a bit too well.)

Comment author: VincentYu 29 November 2012 05:55:35PM 2 points [-]

Issues/bug reports are tracked on Google Code.

Comment author: Vaniver 29 November 2012 07:23:54PM 0 points [-]

Thanks!

Comment author: Konkvistador 27 November 2012 11:23:26PM *  1 point [-]

It is disturbingly easy to get people to do what you want.

Coax them to perform actions that are consistent with them being motivated to do what you want. Repeat until desired result. They will rationalize said motivations into existence.

Comment author: moridinamael 27 November 2012 03:43:05AM 1 point [-]

I've recently become aware of the existence of the Lending Club which appears to be a peer-to-peer framework for borrowers and lenders. I find myself intrigued by the interest rates claimed, but most of what I've found in my own research indicates that these interest rate computations involve a lot of convenient assumptions. Also, apparently if the Lending Club itself goes bankrupt, there is no expectation that you will get your investment back.

It seems at least conceivable that the interest rates are actually that high, since it is a new, weird type of investment, and thus underexposed relative to the market at large.

I was wondering if anyone more monetarily savvy than me could look into this, or warn me to stop wasting my time, if called for.

Comment author: Konkvistador 26 November 2012 08:11:01AM *  1 point [-]

Suppose you are an anti-natalist, what does efficent charity look like then? What is the most cost effective way to reduce the number of births? I imagine giving out cheap birth control in places undergoing a demographic transition is pretty ok?

straight number of births isn't the right metric you need number of births times misery per birth minus opportunity cost of one less person

Comment author: fubarobfusco 29 November 2012 09:34:27PM 0 points [-]

See, e.g. Population Services International.

Some quotes from their web site:

The mission of PSI is to measurably improve the health of poor and vulnerable people in the developing world, principally through social marketing of family planning and health products and services, and health communications.

In 2009 alone, PSI prevented an estimated 3.5 million unintended pregnancies and over 17,000 maternal deaths, and enabled millions of couples to plan their families.

Over the past three decades, PSI has expanded the contraceptive methods in its portfolio from male condoms and oral contraceptives to include injectable contraceptives, intrauterine contraceptive devices (IUD), emergency contraception pills, implants, female condoms, voluntary sterilization, and fertility awareness methods such as the Standard Days Method using Cyclebeads®. PSI’s RH platform has also grown to address maternal mortality through the prevention of post-partum hemorrhage and sepsis, and the prevention of unsafe abortion.

Comment author: Blackened 23 November 2012 06:11:58PM 1 point [-]

How do I improve my persuasion skills?

How do I translate a valid logical argument to a persuasive, intuitive argument that would work for most people? I have read a lot of psychological literature. I have also gotten to the point where I can recognize an intuitive argument that would be persuasive. So, I can recognise my arguments as non-persuasive before I say them and I avoid most debates with people who aren't convinced by scientific evidence and stuff that works for rationalists and is technically a good argument. However, generating a persuasive argument isn't the same as evaluating the persuasiveness of already existing arguments.

Any good, readable, concise literature on this?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 23 November 2012 05:41:32PM 1 point [-]

Details on how to do handshakes.

Comment author: Furcas 23 November 2012 03:39:39AM 1 point [-]

I've recently learned that my mother has Sjogren's Syndrome, a pretty horrific autoimmune disease. Does anyone know about any research about healing (or minimizing the effects of) such diseases? Some supplement she could take that might give her better chances (without bad side effects), maybe? I've read about N-Acetylglucosamine, for example. Of course I don't expect a miracle cure, but I figure, if there's a chance something could help without harming her, why not try it?

Any help would be very, very appreciated.

Comment author: [deleted] 30 November 2012 11:58:18AM 0 points [-]

Do you think this SMBC comic is supposed to be an allegory for something in particular? I suspect it might be, but I can't think of anything specific.

Comment author: magfrump 26 November 2012 09:42:02PM 0 points [-]

I was talking with someone the other day and they suggested something that sounded to me like discrete probability theory with ordinal weights. Does anyone know either: (a) specifically what (all? Almost all? Nearly none?) parts of Bayesian probability theory work out when you have to allow ordinal numbers as weights (I can specify what I mean by this if it is necessary) or (b) just generally speaking, Bayesian probability is about distributions on real vector spaces (as I see it), to what extent has anyone investigated these problems for modules over, for example, noncommutative rings? If this is well-developed, what is a good source?

For the curious, my reason for thinking of this was comparing Optimality Theory and Harmonic Grammar when a linguist described them to me.

Comment author: razor11 26 November 2012 05:53:01AM 0 points [-]

https://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/25/opinion/sunday/neuroscience-under-attack.html

What are your thoughts on this article? How can a layman discern between good and bad neuroscience in books?

Comment author: PhilipL 22 November 2012 05:49:17AM 0 points [-]

A seemingly random question - is there anyone here by the last name of Carey (first name withheld), involved with THINK, who recently traveled from Australia to the US?

Comment author: niceguyanon 21 November 2012 05:50:58PM 0 points [-]

How do some of you deal with value dissonance or conflicting values?

Comment author: aaronde 20 November 2012 09:00:22PM 0 points [-]

Can anyone point me toward work that's been done on the five-and-ten problem? Or does someone want to discuss it here? Specifically, I don't understand why it is a problem for probabilistic algorithms. I would reason:

There is a high probability that I prefer $10 to $5. Therefore I will decide to choose $5, with low probability.

And there's nowhere to go from there. If I try to use the fact that I chose $5 to prove that $5 was the better choice all along (because I'm rational), I get something like:

The probability that I prefer $5 to $10 is low. But I have very high confidence in my rationality, meaning that I assign high probability, a priori, to any choice I make being the choice I prefer. Therefore, given that I choose $5, the probability that I prefer $5 is high. So $5 doesn't seem like a bad choice, since I'll probably end up with what I prefer.

But things still turn out right, because:

However, the probability that I prefer $10, given that I choose $10, is even higher, because the probability that I prefer $10 was high to begin with. Therefore, $10 is a better choice than $5, because the probability that (I prefer $10 to $5 given that I choose $10) is higher than the probability that (I prefer $5 to $10 given that I choose $5).

So unless I'm missing something, the five-and-ten problem is just a problem of overconfidence.

Comment author: Vaniver 22 November 2012 03:42:40PM *  3 points [-]

The problem is how classical logical statements work. The statement "If A then B" more properly translates as "~(A and ~B)".

Thus, we get valid logical statements that look bizarre to humans: "If Paris is the capital of France, then Rome is the capital of Italy" seems untrue in a causal sense (if we changed the capital of France, we would not change the capital of Italy, and vice versa) but it is true in a logical sense, because A is true, B is true, true and ~true is false, and ~false is true.

That example seems just silly, but the problem is the reverse example is disastrous. Notice that, because of the "and," if A is false then it doesn't matter what B is: false and X is false, ~false is true. If I choose the premise "Marseilles is the capital of France," then any B works. "If Marseilles is the capital of France, then I will receive infinite utility" is a true relationship under classical logic, but is clearly not a causal relationship: changing the capital will not grant me infinite utility, and as soon as the capital changes, the logical truth of the sentence will change.

If you have a reasoner that makes decisions, they need to use causal logic, not classical logic, or they'll get tripped up by the word "implication."

Comment author: aaronde 24 November 2012 03:26:12AM *  1 point [-]

I get that. What I'm really wondering is how this extends to probabilistic reasoning. I can think of an obvious analog. If the algorithm assigns zero probability that it will choose $5, then when it explores the counterfactual hypothesis "I choose $5", it gets nonsense when it tries to condition on the hypothesis. That is, for all U,

  • P(utility=U | action=$5) = P(utility=U and action=$5) / P(action=$5) = 0/0

is undefined. But is there an analog for this problem under uncertainty, or was my sketch correct about how that would work out?

Comment author: Vaniver 25 November 2012 01:48:05AM *  1 point [-]

A causal reasoner will compute about P(utility=U| do{action=$5}), which doesn't run into this trouble. This is the approach I recommend.

Probabilistic reasoning about actions that you will make is, to the best of my knowledge, not a seriously considered approach to making decisions outside of the context of mixed strategies in game theory, and even there it doesn't apply that strong, as you can see mixed strategies as putting forth a certain (but parameterized) action whose outcome is subject to uncertainty.

I don't think your sketch is correct for two reasons:

  1. The assumption that your action is utility-maximizing requires that you choose the best action, and so using it to justify your choice of action leads to circularity.
  2. Your argument hinges on P(U($10)>U($5)|A=$10) > P(U($5)>U($10)|A=$5), which seems like an odd statement to me. If you take the actions maximize utility assumption seriously, both of those are 1, and thus the first can't be higher than the second. If you view the actions as not at all informative about the preference probabilities, then you're just repeating your prior. If the action gives some information, there's no reason for the information to be symmetric- you can easily construct a 2x2 matrix example where the reverse inequality holds (that if we know they picked $5, they are more likely to prefer $5 to $10 than someone who picked $10 is to prefer $10 to $5, even though most people prefer $10 to $5.
Comment author: aaronde 25 November 2012 05:12:58AM *  0 points [-]

What I am saying is that I don't assume that I maximize expected utility. I take the five-and-ten problem as a proof that an agent cannot be certain that it will make the optimal choice, while it is choosing, because this leads to a contradiction. But this doesn't mean that I can't use the evidence that a choice would represent, while choosing. In this case, I can tell that U($10) > U($5) directly, so conditioning on A=$10 or A=$5 is redundant. The point is that it doesn't cause the algorithm to blow up, as long I don't think my probability of maximizing utility is 0 or 1.

It's true that A=$5 could be stronger evidence for U($5)>U($10) than A=$10 is for U($10)>U($5). But there's no particular reason to think it would be. And as long as P(U($10)>U($5)) is large enough a priori, it will swamp out the difference. As long as making a choice is evidence for that being the optimal choice, only insofar as I am confident that I make the optimal choice in general, it will provide equally strong evidence for every choice, and cancel itself out. But in cases where a particular choice is evidence of good things for other reasons (like Newcomb's problem), taking this evidence into consideration can affect my decision.

So why can't I just use the knowledge that I'll go through this line of reasoning to prove that I will choose $10 and yield a contradiction? Because I can't prove that I'll go through this line of reasoning. Simulating my decision process as part of my decision would result in infinite recursion. Now, there may be a shortcut I could use to prove what my choice will be, but the very fact that this would yield a contradiction means that no such proof exists in a consistent formal system.

(BTW, I agree that CDT is the only decision theory that works in practice, as is. I'm only addressing one issue with the various timeless decision theories)

Comment author: Vaniver 25 November 2012 06:57:13AM *  1 point [-]

And as long as P(U($10)>U($5)) is large enough a priori, it will swamp out the difference.

Well, then why even update? (Or, more specifically, why assume that this is harmless normally, but an ace up your sleeve for a particular class of problems? You need to be able to reliably distinguish when this helps you and when this hurts you from the inside, which seems difficult.)

Because I can't prove that I'll go through this line of reasoning. Simulating my decision process as part of my decision would result in infinite recursion.

I'm not sure that I understand this; I'm under the impression that many TDT applications require that they be able to simulate themselves (and other TDT reasoners) this way.

Comment author: aaronde 25 November 2012 11:44:51PM 0 points [-]

Good questions. I don't know the answers. But like you say, UDT especially is basically defined circularly - where the agent's decision is a function of itself. Making this coherent is still an unsolved problem. So I was wondering if we could get around some of the paradoxes by giving up on certainty.

Comment author: [deleted] 22 November 2012 01:38:13AM 2 points [-]

To me, it looks like the five-and-ten problem is that the quotation is not the referent. It seems to me that a program reasoning about its utitlity function in the way explained in the article is like a person saying " ' "Snow is white." is true.' is a true statement." The word true cannot coherently have the same meaning in both locations within the sentence.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 22 November 2012 02:26:10PM *  0 points [-]

Would there be interest in a rationalist jobs thread?

So people would post something like: Offer: Widget designer needed at [Place], Wage: X, Or, Person: Brief description and CV link.

Comment author: Vaniver 22 November 2012 03:44:29PM *  1 point [-]

I believe the closest existing thing is the x-risk careers mailing list.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 29 November 2012 05:04:26PM *  0 points [-]

Would it be just a "jobs thread for LW readers", or would the texts themselves be more rational/optimal that usual?

My experience (which is country- and industry-specific) is that job offers are typically very unspecific. Sometimes I read five of them in a row, and I have problem to tell a difference -- to make a prediction that I would expect to be true if I take a job A, and false if I take a job B.

It's "We are a successful growing company. We are looking for highly motivated people. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera" all over again.

A part of this is probably caused by job agencies, posting on behalf of their clients, being intentionally unspecific to prevent a candidate from contacting the employer directly. But I guess inferential distances and signalling (and perhaps outright cheating) also play a significant role.

Could we design a better system that all rational participants would prefer to use? Or is there some inherent conflict, where making things easier for one side would make it less profitable for the other side? (For example if it takes a lot of time for the candidate to find a decent job, they are more likely to take the first decent job offer. But if they get dozen great offers, they can optimize for a highest salary; which would make employers participating in this system pay more than they would outside of the system.)