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Weekly LW Meetups

2 FrankAdamek 19 December 2014 05:17PM

Meetup : Washington, D.C.: Fun & Games

1 RobinZ 19 December 2014 04:56AM

Discussion article for the meetup : Washington, D.C.: Fun & Games

WHEN: 21 December 2014 03:00:00PM (-0500)

WHERE: National Portrait Gallery

We will be meeting in the Kogod Courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery (8th and F Sts or 8th and G Sts NW, go straight past the information desk from either entrance) to hang out, play games, and engage in fun conversation.

Note: Feel free to send an email to the Google Group - lesswrong-dc - if you have a game you wish to recruit people to play in advance. This is especially useful for games that take 3+ hours, as you would want to start playing by 3:30 to be sure of finishing by 7:00.

Upcoming meetups:

  • Dec. 28: Tentatively canceled for the holidays. Edit: An announcement is planned on Monday, Dec. 22 whether a meetup will be scheduled after all.
  • Jan. 4: Meta Meetup (discuss Less Wrong DC: what you like, what you want, what you'd change, &c.)

Discussion article for the meetup : Washington, D.C.: Fun & Games

Meetup : Moscow Meetup: biology, CBT and something mysterious

1 berekuk 18 December 2014 03:48PM

Discussion article for the meetup : Moscow Meetup: biology, CBT and something mysterious

WHEN: 22 December 2014 02:00:00PM (+0300)

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

Here's our plan: evolutionary origins of morality metaphilosophy, real world metaethics and some other strange things CBT (how to kill yourself by psychology). And maybe something about Stanovich model. Details and schedule: https://lesswrong-ru.hackpad.com/-21--A2k7ZUcyXyW 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. This time we'll be at Extropolis building, door is on the left from the archway. Here is a guide how to get to Yandex: 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 or can't find the entrance. 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: biology, CBT and something mysterious

Understanding Agency

-1 gworley 17 December 2014 06:35AM

I used to get frustrated with myself. I'd say existential risk was an important problem or that I wanted to live an awesome life, but then I took no action to mitigate existential risks or make my life more awesome. For a long time I had no good way to explain this, often blaming it on things like akrasia, but in late 2011 I changed. I started acting to make the world have more of what I valued in it.

I've spent a lot of the past year trying to understand what happened and how I might tell other people about it. I would probably still be searching for the right framing if not for a party a few months ago. There, Malcolm Ocean and Ethan Dickinson introduced me to Constructive Development Theory, also known as Subject-Object Theory, a cognitive development theory first described by Robert Kegan et al.. Since then I've been ruminating on the idea, and after reading Malcolm's introduction to constructive development, I realize that constructive development is the concept I need to explain my 2011 mind-shift.

In short, in late 2011 I started to spend more of my time thinking at constructive development level 4 than 3, and level 4 thinking is the minimum required to stand a real chance of making the world the way you want it.

Since that sounds like utter nonsense without context, go read Malcolm's article on constructive development. Right now. Go do it. I'll still be here when you're done. Don't even bother trying to go any further until you have read it.

In fact, you should also read the links he links before you come back, and maybe do a little research on your own, because I'm not going to bother explaining constructive development theory here: I'm just going to use it.

Before we continue, one more warning. If you're not already doing most of your thinking at least half-way along the 3 to 4 transition (which I will hereon refer to as reaching 4/3), you will probably also not fully understand what I've written below because that's unfortunately also about how far along you have to be before constructive development theory makes intuitive sense to most people. I know that sounds like an excuse so I can say whatever I want, but before reaching 4/3 people tend to find constructive development theory confusing and probably not useful, and this is admittedly a weakness. My intentions must therefore be naturally limited to convincing other folks who have reached 4/3 that constructive development theory is useful for understanding what makes them different and suggests how they can help others attain a similar level of cognitive development.

Once you reach 4/3 it becomes possible to reliably apply abstract concepts to satisfy your values because you now have the ability to spend most of your time thinking about yourself from a sufficiently distant outside view that you can manipulate the concept of "you" in a way that allows you to figure out how to apply said concepts. Since that's a bit abstract, let's see what that looks like with an example.

Consider two persons in almost any given profession, but for salience let's choose teachers. Alice and Bob both value their students' learning highly and know many techniques that will successfully help their students learn. When Alice prepares for a class, she thinks mostly about the kind of teacher she needs to be in order to help her students learn. When Bob prepares for a class, he thinks mostly about what he needs to do in order to help his students learn. Both have the same goal, yet Alice is thinking mostly at level 4 while Bob is thinking mostly at level 3. Alice is trying to solve the problem of how to be a better teacher, while Bob is trying to solve the problem of how to teach better. Both are important, and Alice must also solve the problem of how to teach better, but she now views that problem as incidental to becoming a better teacher.

To complicate matters, Bob doesn't really understand that Alice is doing something different from him, nor does their colleague Carol, who spends most of her time thinking at level 2 and trying to solve the problem of how to better perform various teaching techniques. But Carol will believe she is doing the same thing as Alice and Bob, and Bob will believe he's doing the same thing as Alice (viz. thinking about how to be a better teacher) and if you try to explain this to Bob or Carol they will likely fail to appreciate that there is any real difference.

But the difference is important: at constructive development level 4, you can be the object of your own thoughts, not just the subject. At level 3 you can be the subject but not the object of your thinking, which can be incredibly frustrating, and at level 2 you can't even fully model yourself. So level 4 thinking is the minimum required to fully reason about yourself, which is why reaching 4/3 is an important inflection point in cognitive development.

If reaching 4/3 is important and actually explains different levels of achievement in satisfying values, we should find existing discussions of reaching 4/3 but with different terminology. Eliezer seems to obliquely get at something related to reaching 4/3 in his twelfth and last virtue of rationality. CFAR talks about core skill growth, which seems to include many things related to constructive development level 4 thinking. But most concretely, we see it around chapter 65 of HPMOR when other characters realize that Harry has gained agency, something talked about widely both within and outside the Less Wrong community.

But core skill growth and agency are opaque. When a person has agency we mean something like "they make their own decisions". But of course everyone trivially makes their own decisions: their brains are not directly controlled by some outside force, no matter the pressures placed upon them. What we really mean is something more like "they think, come to decisions about what to do, and then act on those decisions in ways that may be counter to the 'default' actions they would have otherwise taken". But for someone who lacks agency this is not very helpful because it frames agency like a property one either has or doesn't, not as a thought process that can be developed. Thinking of agency as a consequence of reaching 4/3 solves this problem. Similarly, understanding core skill growth as increasing time spent thinking at higher constructive development levels makes its meaning clearer.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, agency is the thing you need to make the world what you want. You can know many techniques for increasing productivity, forming friendships, earning trust, having fun, and otherwise better satisfying your values, but without agency you will be unable to reliably apply them. This makes reaching 4/3 the most important step in your cognitive development, and the faster you can get there the better off you will be.

The challenge now is to find ways of helping people constructively develop. I think we have already made some good strides here with comfort zone expansion exercises and framing rationality as the skills that help you better optimize the world for what you value, but I also think we can do better because I know many folks who have been part of the Less Wrong community for a long time yet have thus far won very little. I anticipate better progress is possible now, though, thanks to having a useful model for understanding the most fundamental aspect of becoming stronger.

Thanks to Ethan Dickinson for offering suggestions on an early draft.

Cross posted from my blog.

Using machine learning to predict romantic compatibility: empirical results

19 JonahSinick 17 December 2014 02:54AM


For many people, having a satisfying romantic relationship is one of the most important aspects of life. Over the past 10 years, online dating websites have gained traction, and dating websites have access to large amounts of data that could be used to build predictive models to achieve this goal. Such data is seldom public, but Columbia business school professors Ray Fisman and Sheena Iyengar compiled a rich and relevant data set for their paper Gender Differences in Mate Selection: Evidence From a Speed Dating Experiment. Their main results were:

Women put greater weight on the intelligence and the race of partner, while men respond more to physical attractiveness. Moreover, men do not value women’s intelligence or ambition when it exceeds their own. Also, we find that women exhibit a preference for men who grew up in affluent neighborhoods. Finally, male selectivity is invariant to group size, while female selectivity is strongly increasing in group size.

I found the study through Andrew Gelman’s blog, where he wrote:

What I really want to do with these data is what I suggested to Ray and Sheena several years ago when they first told me about the study: a multilevel model that allows preferences to vary by person, not just by sex. Multilevel modeling would definitely be useful here, since you have something like 10 binary observations and 6 parameters to estimate for each person.

Several months ago I decided to pursue a career in data science, and with a view toward building my skills, I worked to build a model to predict when an individual participant will express interest in seeing a given partner again. Along with the goal of learning, I had the dual intent of contributing knowledge that had the potential, however slight, to help people find satisfying romantic relationships.

It’s unlikely that what I did will have practical applications (as basic research seldom does), but I did learn a great deal about many things, most having to do with data science methodology in general, but also some about human behavior.

This is the first of a series of posts where I report on my findings. A linear narrative would degenerate to a sprawling blog post that would be of little interest to anybody but me. In this post, I’ll restrict focus to the question: how much predictive power can we get by estimating the generic selectivity and desirability of the people involved, without using information about the interactions between their traits?

I’ll ultimately go into the details of the methodology that I used, including discussion of statistical significance, the rationale for making the decisions that I did the, and links to relevant code, but here I’ll suppress technical detail in favor of relegating it to separate blog posts that might be of interest to a more specialized audience. In several places I speculate as to the meaning of the results. I’ve made efforts to subject my reasoning to cross checks, but haven’t gotten almost any external feedback yet, and I’d welcome counter considerations, alternative hypotheses, etc. I’m aware that there are places where claims that I make don’t logically follow from what precedes them, and I’m not so much looking for examples of this in general as much as I am instances where there’s a sizable probability that I’ve missed something that alters the bottom line conclusions.

continue reading »

New paper from MIRI: "Toward idealized decision theory"

22 So8res 16 December 2014 10:27PM

I'm pleased to announce a new paper from MIRI: Toward Idealized Decision Theory.


This paper motivates the study of decision theory as necessary for aligning smarter-than-human artificial systems with human interests. We discuss the shortcomings of two standard formulations of decision theory, and demonstrate that they cannot be used to describe an idealized decision procedure suitable for approximation by artificial systems. We then explore the notions of strategy selection and logical counterfactuals, two recent insights into decision theory that point the way toward promising paths for future research.

Following the Corrigibility paper, this is the second in a series of six papers motivating MIRI's active research areas. Also included in the series will be a technical agenda, which motivates all six research areas and describes the reasons why we have selected these topics in particular, and an annotated bibliography, which compiles a fair bit of related work. I plan to post one paper every week or two for the next few months.

I've decided to start with the decision theory paper, as it's one of the meatiest. This paper compiles and summarizes quite a bit of work on decision theory that was done right here on LessWrong. There is a lot more to be said on the subject of decision theory than can fit into a single paper, but I think this one does a fairly good job of describing why we're interested in the field and summarizing some recent work in the area. The introduction is copied below. Enjoy!

continue reading »

Meetup : Sandy, UT - Debugging

1 hamnox 16 December 2014 07:42PM

Discussion article for the meetup : Sandy, UT - Debugging

WHEN: 19 December 2014 12:00:30PM (-0700)

WHERE: 9425 S Riverside Dr. Sandy, UT

Make friends, learn skills, and build solutions!

Meetup is in the main building, you can just walk in. Agenda: Quick Definitions - What is Life Debugging? Brainstorm Bugs to work on

Skill 1: Surprise-o-Meter How surprised would you be if everything actually worked out perfectly? How surprised would you be if obstacle X derailed you?

Skill 2: Urge Propagation Half the battle is won If you can get your system-1 on board with your carefully-laid plans.

Strongly suspect Carrie, who leads our Thinking Fast and Slow book club, won't make this one, so that's on hiatus.

Idea for meetup shamelessly stolen from Katja

Discussion article for the meetup : Sandy, UT - Debugging

Kickstarting the audio version of the upcoming book "The Sequences"

26 Rick_from_Castify 16 December 2014 01:01AM

LessWrong is getting ready to release an actual book that covers most of the material found in the Sequences. 

There have been a few posts about it in the past, here are two: the title debate, content optimization.

We've been asked if we'd like to produce the audiobook version and the answer is yes. This is a large undertaking. The finished product will probably be over 35 hours of audio.

To help mitigate our risk we've decided to Kickstarter the audiobook.  This basically allows us to pre-sell it so we're not stuck with a large production cost and no revenue. 

The kickstarter campaign is here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1267969302/lesswrong-the-sequences-audiobook

If you haven't heard of us before we've already produced some sequences into audiobooks.  You can see them and listen to samples which are indicative of the audio quality here.

Meetup : London Social Meetup, 21/12/2014

-1 Tenoke 15 December 2014 11:54PM

Discussion article for the meetup : London Social Meetup, 21/12/2014

WHEN: 21 December 2014 02:00:00PM (+0000)

WHERE: Shakespeare's Head, Africa House, 64-68 Kingsway, London WC2B 6BG, UK-68 Kingsway, London WC2B 6BG, UK

LessWrong London is having another meetup this Sunday (21/12) at 2:00 PM. We are meeting at our usual venue - The Shakespeare's Head by Holborn tube station. There is no fixed topic of discussion nor is there anything planned so be prepared for anything. There will be a sign identifying us and if you have any problems feel free to contact me on 07425168803.

About London LessWrong:

We run this meetup almost every week; these days we tend to get in the region of 5-15 people in attendance. By default, meetups are just unstructured social discussion about whatever strikes our fancy: books we're reading, recent posts on LW/related blogs, logic puzzles, toilet usage statistics.... Sometimes we play The Resistance or other games. We usually finish around 7pm, give or take an hour, but people arrive and leave whenever suits them.

If you want more information about the meetup or anything else come by our google group or alternatively our facebook group.

Discussion article for the meetup : London Social Meetup, 21/12/2014

Welcome to Less Wrong! (7th thread, December 2014)

9 Gondolinian 15 December 2014 02:57AM
If you've recently joined the Less Wrong community, please leave a comment here and introduce yourself. We'd love to know who you are, what you're doing, what you value, how you came to identify as an aspiring rationalist or how you found us. You can skip right to that if you like; the rest of this post consists of a few things you might find helpful. More can be found at the FAQ.


A few notes about the site mechanics

To post your first comment, you must have carried out the e-mail confirmation: When you signed up to create your account, an e-mail was sent to the address you provided with a link that you need to follow to confirm your e-mail address. You must do this before you can post!

Less Wrong comments are threaded for easy following of multiple conversations. To respond to any comment, click the "Reply" link at the bottom of that comment's box. Within the comment box, links and formatting are achieved via Markdown syntax (you can click the "Help" link below the text box to bring up a primer).

You may have noticed that all the posts and comments on this site have buttons to vote them up or down, and all the users have "karma" scores which come from the sum of all their comments and posts. This immediate easy feedback mechanism helps keep arguments from turning into flamewars and helps make the best posts more visible; it's part of what makes discussions on Less Wrong look different from those anywhere else on the Internet.

However, it can feel really irritating to get downvoted, especially if one doesn't know why. It happens to all of us sometimes, and it's perfectly acceptable to ask for an explanation. (Sometimes it's the unwritten LW etiquette; we have different norms than other forums.) Take note when you're downvoted a lot on one topic, as it often means that several members of the community think you're missing an important point or making a mistake in reasoning— not just that they disagree with you! If you have any questions about karma or voting, please feel free to ask here.

Replies to your comments across the site, plus private messages from other users, will show up in your inbox. You can reach it via the little mail icon beneath your karma score on the upper right of most pages. When you have a new reply or message, it glows red. You can also click on any user's name to view all of their comments and posts.

It's definitely worth your time commenting on old posts; veteran users look through the recent comments thread quite often (there's a separate recent comments thread for the Discussion section, for whatever reason), and a conversation begun anywhere will pick up contributors that way.  There's also a succession of open comment threads for discussion of anything remotely related to rationality.

Discussions on Less Wrong tend to end differently than in most other forums; a surprising number end when one participant changes their mind, or when multiple people clarify their views enough and reach agreement. More commonly, though, people will just stop when they've better identified their deeper disagreements, or simply "tap out" of a discussion that's stopped being productive. (Seriously, you can just write "I'm tapping out of this thread.") This is absolutely OK, and it's one good way to avoid the flamewars that plague many sites.

There's actually more than meets the eye here: look near the top of the page for the "WIKI", "DISCUSSION" and "SEQUENCES" links.
LW WIKI: This is our attempt to make searching by topic feasible, as well as to store information like common abbreviations and idioms. It's a good place to look if someone's speaking Greek to you.
LW DISCUSSION: This is a forum just like the top-level one, with two key differences: in the top-level forum, posts require the author to have 20 karma in order to publish, and any upvotes or downvotes on the post are multiplied by 10. Thus there's a lot more informal dialogue in the Discussion section, including some of the more fun conversations here.
SEQUENCES: A huge corpus of material mostly written by Eliezer Yudkowsky in his days of blogging at Overcoming Bias, before Less Wrong was started. Much of the discussion here will casually depend on or refer to ideas brought up in those posts, so reading them can really help with present discussions. Besides which, they're pretty engrossing in my opinion.

A few notes about the community

If you've come to Less Wrong to  discuss a particular topic, this thread would be a great place to start the conversation. By commenting here, and checking the responses, you'll probably get a good read on what, if anything, has already been said here on that topic, what's widely understood and what you might still need to take some time explaining.

If your welcome comment starts a huge discussion, then please move to the next step and create a LW Discussion post to continue the conversation; we can fit many more welcomes onto each thread if fewer of them sprout 400+ comments. (To do this: click "Create new article" in the upper right corner next to your username, then write the article, then at the bottom take the menu "Post to" and change it from "Drafts" to "Less Wrong Discussion". Then click "Submit". When you edit a published post, clicking "Save and continue" does correctly update the post.)

If you want to write a post about a LW-relevant topic, awesome! I highly recommend you submit your first post to Less Wrong Discussion; don't worry, you can later promote it from there to the main page if it's well-received. (It's much better to get some feedback before every vote counts for 10 karma—honestly, you don't know what you don't know about the community norms here.)

Alternatively, if you're still unsure where to submit a post, whether to submit it at all, would like some feedback before submitting, or want to gauge interest, you can ask / provide your draft / summarize your submission in the latest open comment thread. In fact, Open Threads are intended for anything 'worth saying, but not worth its own post', so please do dive in! Informally, there is also the unofficial Less Wrong IRC chat room, and you might also like to take a look at some of the other regular special threads; they're a great way to get involved with the community!

If you'd like to connect with other LWers in real life, we have  meetups  in various parts of the world. Check the wiki page for places with regular meetups, or the upcoming (irregular) meetups page. There's also a Facebook group. If you have your own blog or other online presence, please feel free to link it.

If English is not your first language, don't let that make you afraid to post or comment. You can get English help on Discussion- or Main-level posts by sending a PM to one of the following users (use the "send message" link on the upper right of their user page). Either put the text of the post in the PM, or just say that you'd like English help and you'll get a response with an email address.
* Normal_Anomaly
* Randaly
* shokwave
* Barry Cotter

A note for theists: you will find the Less Wrong community to be predominantly atheist, though not completely so, and most of us are genuinely respectful of religious people who keep the usual community norms. It's worth saying that we might think religion is off-topic in some places where you think it's on-topic, so be thoughtful about where and how you start explicitly talking about it; some of us are happy to talk about religion, some of us aren't interested. Bear in mind that many of us really, truly have given full consideration to theistic claims and found them to be false, so starting with the most common arguments is pretty likely just to annoy people. Anyhow, it's absolutely OK to mention that you're religious in your welcome post and to invite a discussion there.

A list of some posts that are pretty awesome

I recommend the major sequences to everybody, but I realize how daunting they look at first. So for purposes of immediate gratification, the following posts are particularly interesting/illuminating/provocative and don't require any previous reading:

More suggestions are welcome! Or just check out the top-rated posts from the history of Less Wrong. Most posts at +50 or more are well worth your time.

Welcome to Less Wrong, and we look forward to hearing from you throughout the site!


Once a post gets over 500 comments, the site stops showing them all by default. If this post has 500 comments and you have 20 karma, please do start the next welcome post; a new post is a good perennial way to encourage newcomers and lurkers to introduce themselves. (Step-by-step, foolproof instructions here; takes <180seconds.)

If there's anything I should add or update on this post (especially broken links), please send me a private message—I may not notice a comment on the post.

Finally, a big thank you to everyone that helped write this post via its predecessors!

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