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Meetup : Rationality Meetup Vienna

0 AnnaLeptikon 30 October 2014 10:08AM

Discussion article for the meetup : Rationality Meetup Vienna

WHEN: 22 November 2014 03:00:00PM (+0100)

WHERE: Kaisermühlenstraße 24/2, 1220 Wien

agenda: - maybe go on with the goal setting and planning for the future - It's time for another open mic session - so please think about 30 minutes topics to offer :)

location: When arriving by U2 or Schnellbahn train: get out at station Stadlau take the exit towards Kaisermühlenstraße and simply cross the street the meetup is in the modern looking, greenish building right in front of your nose :) Important: Google maps doesn't recognise the address and hence shows the wrong location... !Important Notice! Since our usual room on the ground floor has already been booked by someone else, we will have our meetup in the room on the fourth floor (the same room we moved to last time after complications arose).

Note from Andreas: Since this room is not accessible from the ground floor, you need to actually get into the building this time and for that there will be two options: 1) He will try to keep the front door open between 14:45 and 15:15, so you can simply enter and take the elevator to the fourth floor (directions with picture will follow soon) 2) Should the door be closed/locked for any reason or should you be late/early, you can simply call him on his cellphone and he comes and let you in. His number is: +43 660 4856778 (so much for anonymity ... )

Discussion article for the meetup : Rationality Meetup Vienna

Meetup : Bath, UK: Agreement, practical meetups, and report from last meetup

0 KnaveOfAllTrades 30 October 2014 09:24AM

Discussion article for the meetup : Bath, UK: Agreement, practical meetups, and report from last meetup

WHEN: 02 November 2014 02:00:00PM (+0000)

WHERE: 5-10 James St W, Avon, Bath BA1 2BX

Bath, UK will be having its second meetup this Sunday 2nd November at 14:00 in the King of Wessex, which is a Wetherspoons pub in the city. I shall wait at least ninety minutes (i.e. until 15:30) for the first arrivals.

I'll put a sheet featuring a paperclip and saying 'Less Wrong' on the table so you know you've found us. Make sure you venture into the pub, since there's no guarantee our table will be near the door.

In case you need to contact me (e.g. if the venue is unexpectedly busy and we have to move elsewhere and you can't find us), my mobile number is the product 3 x 3 x 23 x 97 x 375127, preceded by a zero (so eleven digits total).

We have a Facebook group.

At the start we'll chat for a bit, then move onto an agreement exercise: Unlike last meetup, where we made predictions for our own PredictionBook accounts somewhat independently without necessarily sharing all our information, this time we shall try to reach consensus in our probabilities and then see how our consensus is calibrated, by means of a single PredictionBook account for the meetup group.

After that, we shall discuss ideas for future meetups and activities. In particular, we shall discuss how we can move forward with practical meetups and instrumental rationality, and how to balance this with discussion and 'abstract' or epistemic stuff.

====Previous meetup (2014-10-19 Sunday)====

It went well. There was me, someone who tagged along with me, someone from Bristol, and someone from Bradford-on-Avon. I think everyone had arrived by 14:30, and we probably stayed until 17:30 or 18:00. (We stayed long enough that we all got something to eat in the pub.)

We got to know each other a bit then did 15 predictions. The previous night, I had prepared a list of prompts for things to make predictions about, ranging from things where I thought we might have very high (or low) confidences, to things where I expected that most of the attendees would be basically indifferent (e.g. whether an even or odd number of elements have been observed, whether the density of water is above or below 1kg per liter, etc.).

We skipped some of the ambiguous prompts, and for a couple we had to sort of figure out what we'd use to judge the prediction midway through. I'd state the prompt, then where necessary we'd pin it down into something we could judge objectively enough. There might be some brief discussion, but we weren't trying to share all our information. I would type in (but not submit or write my probability for) the final wording of the prediction on PredictionBook. At a suitable point, when everyone understood what we were predicting and how it would be judged, I would give 90 seconds for everyone to stop communicating and log their final probabilities. I'd then type in my probability and create the prediction on Predictionbook, then we'd go round stating the probability we'd written down.

Some of the prompts were intentionally underspecified. For example, the first prediction was about Wladimir Klitschko's mass. In that case we each independently (to avoid priming) wrote down a figure (after explaining who he is, of course). Then we took the usual mean of the figures to obtain a 'wisdom of crowds' estimate and used that as the mass for the prediction.

(If you're worried that averaging the guesses would lead everyone to put 50% probability on the proposition, then you can shift by some amount to encourage more extreme confidences. But remember that it's still useful to test calibration at the 50% level!)

That was one of the cases where we had to decide partway through how we were going to judge the prediction, since we realised his mass would fluctuate a lot depending on e.g. whether he'd cut weight for a weigh-in. We agreed that if Google gave a unique figure and it seemed plausible, then we'd go with that. I'm not certain, but I don't think we actually shifted the average in this case, and the mean of our initial guesses turned out to be exactly correct (110kg).

In some cases, where the initial estimates varied wildly, I suggested we use a 'logarithmic average', i.e. use the exponential of the mean of the logarithms of the estimates, i.e. exp(arithmetic_mean(log(estimates)).

Then we'd check the prediction and I'd mark it Right or Wrong accordingly on Predictionbook. When they got home, the others marked the prediction Unknown, then put in the probability they'd made a note of, then re-mark the prediction as Right or Wrong as before.

I had my laptop and used the pub's Wi-Fi to create the predictions on PredictionBook with my estimate. The others made a note of their probabilities. After each prediction, we checked the prediction and I marked it Right or Wrong on PredictionBook accordingly. When they got home, each of the others who attended then marked the prediction Unknown, then submitted their probability from earlier, then re-marked the Prediction as Right or Wrong.

Discussion article for the meetup : Bath, UK: Agreement, practical meetups, and report from last meetup

Meetup : Atlanta Beginning of November Meetup - Rationality

0 Adele_L 30 October 2014 03:53AM

Discussion article for the meetup : Atlanta Beginning of November Meetup - Rationality

WHEN: 01 November 2014 07:00:00PM (-0400)

WHERE: 2388 Lawrenceville Hwy. Unit L

It's easy to care about "The Truth." In fact, very many people do, despite disagreeing drastically on what exactly "The Truth" is. That's why it is important to not only care about truth, but algorithms which can reliably increase the correspondence between the map and the territory.

Recommended reading: <http://lesswrong.com/lw/eta/rationality_appreciating_cognitive_algorithms/>

We will have snacks and games!

Note: please park in spots marked 'Visitor'. There are plenty by the beginning of the complex. Also there will be cats present.

Hope to see you there!

Discussion article for the meetup : Atlanta Beginning of November Meetup - Rationality

Meetup : Canberra: Econ 101 and its Discontents

0 DanielFilan 29 October 2014 12:11PM

Discussion article for the meetup : Canberra: Econ 101 and its Discontents

WHEN: 08 November 2014 06:00:00PM (+1100)

WHERE: 108 North Road, Acton, ACT

Nick will explain one of the most basic concepts in economics, the demand and supply curves, and how they interact to determine the price and quantity of goods produced. Then he will present a post-Keynesian critique of the demand and supply curve model that argues that demand curves can be any shape and that the supply curve can't be determined. The meta lesson will be in practicing reacting to new evidence against pre-existing beliefs, and comparing different models of reality. As always, vegan snacks will be provided.

General meetup info:

  • If you use Facebook, please join our group.
  • Structured meetups are held on the second Saturday and fourth Friday of each month from 6 pm until late in the CSIT building, room N101.

Discussion article for the meetup : Canberra: Econ 101 and its Discontents

Meetup : Columbus Rationality

0 Gleb_Tsipursky 29 October 2014 04:33AM

Discussion article for the meetup : Columbus Rationality

WHEN: 03 November 2014 08:30:00PM (-0400)

WHERE: 1550 Old Henderson Road Room 131, Columbus, OH

We meet every 1st and 3rd Monday at 7:30.


Discussion article for the meetup : Columbus Rationality

A discussion of heroic responsibility

18 Swimmer963 29 October 2014 04:22AM

[Originally posted to my personal blog, reposted here with edits.]


You could call it heroic responsibility, maybe,” Harry Potter said. “Not like the usual sort. It means that whatever happens, no matter what, it’s always your fault. Even if you tell Professor McGonagall, she’s not responsible for what happens, you are. Following the school rules isn’t an excuse, someone else being in charge isn’t an excuse, even trying your best isn’t an excuse. There just aren’t any excuses, you’ve got to get the job done no matter what.” Harry’s face tightened. “That’s why I say you’re not thinking responsibly, Hermione. Thinking that your job is done when you tell Professor McGonagall—that isn’t heroine thinking. Like Hannah being beat up is okay then, because it isn’t your fault anymore. Being a heroine means your job isn’t finished until you’ve done whatever it takes to protect the other girls, permanently.” In Harry’s voice was a touch of the steel he had acquired since the day Fawkes had been on his shoulder. “You can’t think as if just following the rules means you’ve done your duty. –HPMOR, chapter 75.

I like this concept. It counters a particular, common, harmful failure mode, and that it’s an amazingly useful thing for a lot of people to hear. I even think it was a useful thing for me to hear a year ago.

But... I’m not sure about this yet, and my thoughts about it are probably confused, but I think that there's a version of Heroic Responsibility that you can get from reading this description, that's maybe even the default outcome of reading this description, that's also a harmful failure mode. 

Something Impossible

A wrong way to think about heroic responsibility

I dealt with a situation at work a while back–May 2014 according to my journal. I had a patient for five consecutive days, and each day his condition was a little bit worse. Every day, I registered with the staff doctor my feeling that the current treatment was Not Working, and that maybe we ought to try something else. There were lots of complicated medical reasons why his decisions were constrained, and why ‘let’s wait and see’ was maybe the best decision, statistically speaking–that in a majority of possible worlds, waiting it out would lead to better outcomes than one of the potential more aggressive treatments, which came with side effects. And he wasn’t actually ignoring me; he would listen patiently to all my concerns. Nevertheless, he wasn’t the one watching the guy writhe around in bed, uncomfortable and delirious, for twelve hours every day, and I felt ignored, and I was pretty frustrated.

On day three or four, I was listening to Ray’s Solstice album on my break, and the song ‘Something Impossible’ came up. 

Bold attempts aren't enough, roads can't be paved with intentions...
You probably don’t even got what it takes,
But you better try anyway, for everyone's sake
And you won’t find the answer until you escape from the
Labyrinth of your conventions.
Its time to just shut up, and do the impossible.
Can’t walk away...
Gotta break off those shackles, and shake off those chains
Gotta make something impossible happen today... 
It hit me like a load of bricks–this whole thing was stupid and rationalists should win. So I spent my entire break talking on Gchat with one of my CFAR friends, trying to see if he could help me come up with a suggestion that the doctor would agree was good. This wasn’t something either of us were trained in, and having something to protect doesn't actually give you superpowers, and the one creative solution I came up with was worse than the status quo for several obvious reasons.

I went home on day four feeling totally drained and having asked to please have a different patient in the morning. I came in to find that the patient had nearly died in the middle of the night. (He was now intubated and sedated, which wasn’t great for him but made my life a hell of a lot easier.) We eventually transferred him to another hospital, and I spent a while feeling like I’d personally failed. 

I’m not sure whether or not this was a no-win scenario even in theory. But I don't think I, personally, could have done anything with greater positive expected value. There's a good reason why a doctor with 10 years of school and 20 years of ICU experience can override a newly graduated nurse's opinion. In most of the possible worlds, the doctor is right and I'm wrong. Pretty much the only thing that I could have done better would have been to care less–and thus be less frustrated and more emotionally available to comfort a guy who was having the worst week of his life. 

In short, I fulfilled my responsibilities to my patient. Nurses have a lot of responsibilities to their patients, well specified in my years of schooling and in various documents published by the College of Nurses of Ontario. But nurses aren’t expected or supposed to take heroic responsibility for these things. 

I think that overall, given a system that runs on humans, that's a good thing.  

The Well-Functioning Gear

I feel like maybe the hospital is an emergent system that has the property of patient-healing, but I’d be surprised if any one part of it does.

Suppose I see an unusual result on my patient. I don’t know what it means, so I mention it to a specialist. The specialist, who doesn’t know anything about the patient beyond what I’ve told him, says to order a technetium scan. He has no idea what a technetium scan is or how it is performed, except that it’s the proper thing to do in this situation. A nurse is called to bring the patient to the scanner, but has no idea why. The scanning technician, who has only a vague idea why the scan is being done, does the scan and spits out a number, which ends up with me. I bring it to the specialist, who gives me a diagnosis and tells me to ask another specialist what the right medicine for that is. I ask the other specialist – who has only the sketchiest idea of the events leading up to the diagnosis – about the correct medicine, and she gives me a name and tells me to ask the pharmacist how to dose it. The pharmacist – who has only the vague outline of an idea who the patient is, what test he got, or what the diagnosis is – doses the medication. Then a nurse, who has no idea about any of this, gives the medication to the patient. Somehow, the system works and the patient improves.

Part of being an intern is adjusting to all of this, losing some of your delusions of heroism, getting used to the fact that you’re not going to be Dr. House, that you are at best going to be a very well-functioning gear in a vast machine that does often tedious but always valuable work. –Scott Alexander

The medical system does a hard thing, and it might not do it well, but it does it. There is too much complexity for any one person to have a grasp on it. There are dozens of mutually incomprehensible specialties. And the fact that [insert generic nurse here] doesn't have the faintest idea how to measure electrolytes in blood, or build an MRI machine, or even what's going on with the patient next door, is a feature, not a bug.

The medical system doesn’t run on exceptional people–it runs on average people, with predictably average levels of skill, slots in working memory, ability to notice things, ability to not be distracted thinking about their kid's problems at school, etc. And it doesn’t run under optimal conditions; it runs under average conditions. Which means working overtime at four am, short staffing, three patients in the ER waiting for ICU beds, etc. 

Sure, there are problems with the machine. The machine is inefficient. The machine doesn’t have all the correct incentives lined up. The machine does need fixing–but I would argue that from within the machine, as one of its parts, taking heroic responsibility for your own sphere of control isn’t the way to go about fixing the system.

As an [insert generic nurse here], my sphere of control is the four walls of my patient's room. Heroic responsibility for my patient would mean...well, optimizing for them. In the most extreme case, it might mean killing the itinerant stranger to obtain a compatible kidney. In the less extreme case, I spend all my time giving my patient great care, instead of helping the nurse in the room over, whose patient is much sicker. And then sometimes my patient will die, and there will be literally nothing I can do about it, their death was causally set in stone twenty-four hours before they came to the hospital. 

I kind of predict that the results of installing heroic responsibility as a virtue, among average humans under average conditions, would be a) everyone stepping on everyone else’s toes, and b) 99% of them quitting a year later.

Recursive Heroic Responsibility

If you're a gear in a machine, and you notice that the machine is broken, your options are a) be a really good gear, or b) take heroic responsibility for your sphere of control, and probably break something...but that's a false dichotomy. Humans are very flexible tools, and there are also infinite other options, including "step out of the machine, figure out who's in charge of this shit, and get it fixed." 

You can't take responsibility for the individual case, but you can for the system-level problem, the long view, the one where people eat badly and don't exercise and at age fifty, morbidly obese with a page-long medical history, they end up as a slow-motion train wreck in an ICU somewhere. Like in poker, you play to win money–positive EV–not to win hands. Someone’s going to be the Minister of Health for Canada, and they’re likely to be in a position where taking heroic responsibility for the Canadian health care system makes things better. And probably the current Minister of Health isn’t being strategic, isn’t taking the level of responsibility that they could, and the concept of heroic responsibility would be the best thing for them to encounter.

So as an [insert generic nurse here], working in a small understaffed ICU, watching the endless slow-motion train wreck roll by...maybe the actual meta-level right thing to do is to leave, and become the freaking Minister of Health, or befriend the current one and introduce them to the concept of being strategic. 

But it's fairly obvious that that isn't the right action for all the nurses in that situation. I'm wary of advice that doesn't generalize. What's difference between the nurse who should leave in order to take meta-level responsibility, and the nurse who should stay because she's needed as a gear?

Heroic responsibility for average humans under average conditions

I can predict at least one thing that people will say in the comments, because I've heard it hundreds of times–that Swimmer963 is a clear example of someone who should leave nursing, take the meta-level responsibility, and do something higher impact for the usual. Because she's smart. Because she's rational. Whatever. 

Fine. This post isn't about me. Whether I like it or not, the concept of heroic responsibility is now a part of my value system, and I probably am going to leave nursing.

But what about the other nurses on my unit, the ones who are competent and motivated and curious and really care? Would familiarity with the concept of heroic responsibility help or hinder them in their work? Honestly, I predict that they would feel alienated, that they would assume I held a low opinion of them (which I don't, and I really don't want them to think that I do), and that they would flinch away and go back to the things that they were doing anyway, the role where they were comfortable–or that, if they did accept it, it would cause them to burn out. So as a consequentialist, I'm not going to tell them. 

And yeah, that bothers me. Because I'm not a special snowflake. Because I want to live in a world where rationality helps everyone. Because I feel like the reason they would react that was isn't because of anything about them as people, or because heroic responsibility is a bad thing, but because I'm not able to communicate to them what I mean. Maybe stupid reasons. Still bothers me. 

Meetup : Sydney Rationality Dojo - Focused-grit and TAPs

0 luminosity 28 October 2014 11:56PM

Discussion article for the meetup : Sydney Rationality Dojo - Focused-grit and TAPs

WHEN: 02 November 2014 04:00:00PM (+1100)

WHERE: Humanist House, 10 Shepherd St Chippendale

The next dojo will be run by our new CFAR alumnus Taryn, who will be talking about focused grit and trigger action planning. Now is a great time to come if you have been considered coming before but haven't yet made it!

Afterwards (6pm) there will be an optional group dinner for those who are interested.

Discussion article for the meetup : Sydney Rationality Dojo - Focused-grit and TAPs

Meetup : Urbana-Champaign: Fun and Games

1 Manfred 28 October 2014 08:00PM

Discussion article for the meetup : Urbana-Champaign: Fun and Games

WHEN: 02 November 2014 03:00:00PM (-0500)

WHERE: 206 S. Cedar St, Urbana IL

Come for the fun and games, stay for practicing meditation. Also: halloween-candy-based elocution exercises.

Discussion article for the meetup : Urbana-Champaign: Fun and Games

"Solving" selfishness for UDT

15 Stuart_Armstrong 27 October 2014 05:51PM

With many thanks to Beluga and lackofcheese.

When trying to decide between SIA and SSA, two anthropic probability theories, I concluded that the question of anthropic probability is badly posed and that it depends entirely on the values of the agents. When debating the issue of personal identity, I concluded that the question of personal identity is badly posed and depends entirely on the values of the agents. When the issue of selfishness in UDT came up recently, I concluded that the question of selfishness is...

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

continue reading »

2014 Less Wrong Census/Survey

61 Yvain 26 October 2014 06:05PM

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.

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