Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Meetup : Utrecht: Game theory

1 Philip_W 25 October 2014 09:09AM

Discussion article for the meetup : Utrecht: Game theory

WHEN: 16 November 2014 03:00:00PM (+0200)

WHERE: Film Café Oskar, Slachtstraat 5, Utrecht

We have biweekly meetups in a pub in Utrecht, near Central Station. For details, please look on meetup.com which is supposed to be up to date. http://www.meetup.com/LWEANL/events/215180412/

Discussion article for the meetup : Utrecht: Game theory

Weekly LW Meetups

2 FrankAdamek 25 October 2014 12:46AM

Meetup : The Design Process

1 Anders_H 24 October 2014 03:37AM

Discussion article for the meetup : The Design Process

WHEN: 29 October 2014 07:00:00PM (-0400)

WHERE: 98 Elm Street Somerville MA

Ben Sancetta, a mechanical engineer, will discuss the process of designing a new product, such as when it's appropriate to do testing, get user feedback, or list product requirements. Following this, we'll have a discussion of our own processes for designing new things. Cambridge/Boston-area Less Wrong Wednesday meetups are once a month on the last Wednesday at 7pm at Citadel (98 Elm St Apt 1 Somerville, near Porter Square). All other meetups are on Sundays. Our default schedule is as follows: —Phase 1: Arrival, greetings, unstructured conversation. —Phase 2: The headline event. This starts promptly at 7:30pm, and lasts 30-60 minutes. —Phase 3: Further discussion. We'll explore the ideas raised in phase 2, often in smaller groups.

Discussion article for the meetup : The Design Process

2014 Less Wrong Census/Survey

38 Yvain 23 October 2014 12:48AM

It's that time of year again.

If you are reading this post and self-identify as a LWer, then you are the target population for the Less Wrong Census/Survey. Please take it. Doesn't matter if you don't post much. Doesn't matter if you're a lurker. Take the survey.

This year's census contains a "main survey" that should take about ten or fifteen minutes, as well as a bunch of "extra credit questions". You may do the extra credit questions if you want. You may skip all the extra credit questions if you want. They're pretty long and not all of them are very interesting. But it is very important that you not put off doing the survey or not do the survey at all because you're intimidated by the extra credit questions.

It also contains a chance at winning a MONETARY REWARD at the bottom. You do not need to fill in all the extra credit questions to get the MONETARY REWARD, just make an honest stab at as much of the survey as you can.

Please make things easier for my computer and by extension me by reading all the instructions and by answering any text questions in the simplest and most obvious possible way. For example, if it asks you "What language do you speak?" please answer "English" instead of "I speak English" or "It's English" or "English since I live in Canada" or "English (US)" or anything else. This will help me sort responses quickly and easily. Likewise, if a question asks for a number, please answer with a number such as "4", rather than "four".

The planned closing date for the survey is Friday, November 14. Instead of putting the survey off and then forgetting to do it, why not fill it out right now?

Okay! Enough preliminaries! Time to take the...

***

2014 Less Wrong Census/Survey

***

Thanks to everyone who suggested questions and ideas for the 2014 Less Wrong Census/Survey. I regret I was unable to take all of your suggestions into account, because of some limitations in Google Docs, concern about survey length, and contradictions/duplications among suggestions. The current survey is a mess and requires serious shortening and possibly a hard and fast rule that it will never get longer than it is right now.

By ancient tradition, if you take the survey you may comment saying you have done so here, and people will upvote you and you will get karma.

Meetup : Washington, D.C.: Create and Complete

1 RobinZ 22 October 2014 10:54PM

Discussion article for the meetup : Washington, D.C.: Create and Complete

WHEN: 26 October 2014 03:00:00PM (-0400)

WHERE: National Portrait Gallery

We will be meeting in the Luce Foundation Center of the National Portrait Gallery (from lobby at 8th and F St entrance - across the courtyard from the 8th and G St entrance - take circular staircase or elevators to the third floor, turn right, proceed to end of hall) to work on personal projects and offer each other assistance and moral support as we do so.

Anyone who has a planned or incomplete project that they want to spend time working on is encouraged to bring any materials or equipment they would need for it to the meetup. Bear in mind that power outlets are in limited supply.

Gathering time will be from 3:00 to 3:30, as usual. From 3:30 to 4:00 (plus or minus), anyone may take a turn to describe what they brought to work on and/or ways that other attendees can help them finish (e.g. "an excuse to do this instead of Minecraft", "people to keep me company", "explaining quantum chromodynamics"). The rest of the meetup will be set aside for working, helping, and quiet side conversations.

While no-one is required to work on their own projects or anyone else's, and those who do are not required to finish any projects at the meetup, please remember that this is a time set aside for Getting Things Done and be considerate of your fellow attendees. If you have unanticipated issues, let us know.

Upcoming Meetups:

  • Nov. 2: Fun & Games (bring games, play games, converse, socialize, or any combination thereof)
  • Nov. 9: Anime & Manga Discussion (freeform topical discussion)
  • Nov. 16: Mini Talks (short lectures by attendees on random subjects)

Discussion article for the meetup : Washington, D.C.: Create and Complete

Meetup : East Coast Solstice Megameetup

3 Raemon 22 October 2014 07:01PM

Discussion article for the meetup : East Coast Solstice Megameetup

WHEN: 20 December 2014 03:00:00PM (-0700)

WHERE: 851 Park Place, Brooklyn NY 11216

The weekend of December 20th will be the East Coast Solstice Megameetup. Rationalists and EA folk are invited to visit our group-house, Highgarden. We can provide crash space Friday night through Sunday night, although you're encouraged to fill out this form so we know how many people to expect:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1QRjjZwklXtPEFNZrSPKjvb2_n8_ytOy5N6ry_lGedro/viewform

Official activities begin at 2:00pm on Saturday, with an unconference running for 2 hours. At 7:00pm there'll be the Solstice concert. Tickets are still available on the kickstarter (ending 4:00pm on Sunday), here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/244974495/secular-solstice-2014

Discussion article for the meetup : East Coast Solstice Megameetup

Meetup : Saint Petersburg meetup - "the lonely one"

1 efim 22 October 2014 06:20PM

Discussion article for the meetup : Saint Petersburg meetup - "the lonely one"

WHEN: 31 October 2014 08:00:00PM (+0400)

WHERE: Россия, Санкт-Петербург, Московский пр. 65,

We are resuming our bi-weekly schedule, even if I'm sitting at the meetups all by myself reading math papers!

Now very nice free venue is available thanks to its owner. It's a sports club, directions in the vk group (https://vk.com/c9h13no3ru). Please notify my if it's unavailable for someone without registration.

The plan is to try exercises on lonely dissent (from hpmor) if there is enough people (>=5).

Otherwise - unstructured talk/self-education on topics that are of interest for everyone.

It will last for at least 2 - 2,5 hours. You can reach me by phone - +7-(911)-843-56-44 or mail: efim.wool@gmail.com or vk: vk.com/timetravel.

Efim.

P.S. I will now give meetup different names in advance just for fun.

Discussion article for the meetup : Saint Petersburg meetup - "the lonely one"

Power and difficulty

19 undermind 22 October 2014 05:22AM

A specific bias that Lesswrongers may often get from fiction[1] is the idea that power is proportional to difficulty.  The more power something gives you, the harder it should be to get, right?

A mediocre student becomes a powerful mage through her terrible self-sacrifice and years of studying obscure scrolls. Even within the spells she can cast, the truly world-altering ones are those that demand the most laborious preparation, the most precise gestures, and the longest and most incomprehensible stream of syllables. A monk makes an arduous journey to ancient temples and learns secret techniques of spiritual oneness and/or martial asskickery, which require great dedication and self-knowledge. Otherwise, it would be cheating. The whole process of leveling up, of adding ever-increasing modifiers to die rolls, is based on the premise that power comes to those who do difficult things. And it's failsafe - no matter what you put your skill points in, you become better at something. It's a training montage, or a Hero's journey. As with other fictional evidence, these are not "just stories" -- they are powerful cultural narratives. This kind of narrative shapes moral choices[2] and identity. So where do we see this reflected in less obviously fictional contexts?

There's the rags-to-riches story -- the immigrant who came with nothing, but by dint of hard work, now owns a business. University engineering programs are notoriously tough, because you are gaining the ability to do a lot of things (and for signalling reasons). A writer got to where she is today because she wrote and revised and submitted and revised draft after draft after draft.

 

In every case, there is assumed to be a direct causal link between difficulty and power. Here, these are loosely defined. Roughly, "power" means "ability to have your way", and "difficulty" is "amount of work & sacrifice required." These can be translated into units of social influence - a.k.a money -- and investment, a.k.a. time, or money. In many cases, power is set by supply and demand -- nobody needs a wizard if they can all cast their own spells, and a doctor can command much higher prices if they're the only one in town. The power of royalty or other birthright follows a similar pattern - it's not "difficult", but it is scarce -- only a very few people have it, and it's close to impossible for others to get it.

Each individual gets to choose what difficult things they will try to do. Some will have longer or shorter payoffs, but each choice will have some return. And since power (partly) depends on everybody else's choices, neoclassical economics says that individuals' choices collectively determine a single market rate for the return on difficulty. So anything you do that's difficult should have the same payoff.

 

Anything equally difficult should have equal payoff. Apparently. Clearly, this is not the world we live in. Admittedly, there were some pretty questionable assumptions along the way, but it's almost-kind-of-reasonable to conclude that, if you just generalize from the fictional evidence. (Consider RPGs: They're designed to be balanced. Leveling up any class will get you to advance in power at a more-or-less equal rate.)

 

So how does reality differ from this fictional evidence? One direction is trivial: it's easy to find examples where what's difficult is not particularly powerful.

Writing a book is hard, and has a respectable payoff (depending on the quality of the book, publicity, etc.). Writing a book without using the letter "e", where the main character speaks only in palindromes, while typing in the dark with only your toes on a computer that's rigged to randomly switch letters around is much much more difficult, but other than perhaps gathering a small but freakishly devoted fanbase, it does not bring any more power/influence than writing any other book. It may be a sign that you are capable of more difficult things, and somebody may notice this and give you power, but this is indirect and unreliable. Similarly, writing a game in machine code or as a set of instructions for a Turing machine is certainly difficult, but also pretty dumb, and has no significant payoff beyond writing the game in a higher-level language. [Edit - thanks to TsviBT: This is assuming there already is a compiler and relevant modules. If you are first to create all of these, there might be quite a lot of benefit.]

On the other hand, some things are powerful, but not particularly difficult. On a purely physical level, this includes operating heavy machinery, or piloting drones. (I'm sure it's not easy, but the power output is immense). Conceptually, I think calculus comes in this category. It can provide a lot of insight into a lot of disparate phenomena (producing utility and its bastard cousin, money), but is not too much work to learn.

 

As instrumental rationalists, this is the territory we want to be in. We want to beat the market rate for turning effort into influence. So how do we do this?

This is a big, difficult question. I think it's a useful way to frame many of the goals of instrumental rationality. What major should I study? Is this relationship worthwhile? (Note: This may, if poorly applied, turn you into a terrible person. Don't apply it poorly.) What should I do in my spare time?

These questions are tough. But the examples of powerful-but-easy stuff suggest a useful principle: make use of what already exists. Calculus is powerful, but was only easy to learn because I'd already been learning math for a decade. Bulldozers are powerful, and the effort to get this power is minimal if all you have to do is climb in and drive. It's not so worthwhile, though, if you have to derive a design from first principles, mine the ore, invent metallurgy, make all the parts, and secure an oil supply first.

Similarly, if you're already a writer, writing a new book may gain you more influence than learning plumbing. And so on. This begins to suggest that we should not be too hasty to judge past investments as sunk costs. Your starting point matters in trying to find the closest available power boost. And as with any messy real-world problem, luck plays a major role, too.

 

Of course, there will always be some correlation between power and difficulty -- it's not that the classical economic view is wrong, there's just other factors at play. But to gain influence, you should in general be prepared to do difficult things. However, they should not be arbitrary difficult things -- they should be in areas you have specifically identified as having potential.

To make this more concrete, think of Methods!Harry. He strategically invests a lot of effort, usually at pretty good ratios -- the Gringotts money pump scheme, the True Patronus, his mixing of magic and science, and Partial Transfiguration.  Now that's some good fictional evidence.

 



[1] Any kind of fiction, but particularly fantasy, sci-fi, and neoclassical economics. All works of elegant beauty, with a more-or-less tenuous relationship to real life.

[2] Dehghani, M., Sachdeva, S., Ekhtiari, H., Gentner, D., Forbus, F. "The role of Cultural Narratives in Moral Decision Making." Proceedings of the 31th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. 2009. 

 

 

Meetup : Israel Less Wrong Meetup: Brains and Biology

2 Anatoly_Vorobey 21 October 2014 09:33PM

Discussion article for the meetup : Israel Less Wrong Meetup: Brains and Biology

WHEN: 23 October 2014 07:00:00PM (+0300)

WHERE: Google Tel-Aviv

We're going to have a meetup on Thursday, October 23rd at Google Israel's offices, Electra Tower, 98 Yigal Alon st., Tel Aviv.

We will have a two-part talk on brains and biology.

In the first part, Dan will talk about the biology behind brain plasticity. In the second part, Liran will follow up with existing brain-machine interfaces.

And then there's free discussion. The audience takes it away to wherever they (we) like.

We'll meet at the 29th floor of the building at 19:00. If you arrive and can't find your way around, call Anatoly who's hosting us at 054-245-1060. Email at avorobey@gmail.com also works.

See you there!

Discussion article for the meetup : Israel Less Wrong Meetup: Brains and Biology

Meetup : Moscow meetup: Quantum physics is fun

2 Alexander230 21 October 2014 06:18PM

Discussion article for the meetup : Moscow meetup: Quantum physics is fun

WHEN: 26 October 2014 03:00:00PM (+0400)

WHERE: Russia, Moscow, ulitsa L'va Tolstogo 16

Here's our plan:

  • Calibration excercise announce.
  • Temporal symmetry in quantum theory and/or philosophical problems of the modern quantum physics.
  • Structuring excercise in pairs/microgroups.
  • A talk about Chomsky and/or Pinker.

Details and schedule:

https://lesswrong-ru.hackpad.com/-26--ljrbZz2bAxa

Yudcoins, positive reinforcement and pizza will all be present. If you've been to our meetups, you know what I'm talking about, and if you didn't, the best way to find out is to come and see for yourself.

Info for newcomers: We gather in the Yandex office, you need the first revolving door under the archway. Here is a guide how to get there:

http://company.yandex.ru/contacts/redrose/

Try to come in time, we will allow latecomers to enter every 15 minutes. Call Slava or send him SMS at +7(926)313-96-42 if you're late. We start at 14:00 and stay until at least 19-20. Please pay attention that we only gather near the entrance and then come inside.

Discussion article for the meetup : Moscow meetup: Quantum physics is fun

View more: Next