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Guidelines for Upvoting and Downvoting?

6 Sable 06 May 2015 11:51AM

I've only recently joined the LessWrong community, and I've been having a blast reading through posts and making the occasional comment.  So far, I've received a few karma points, and I’m pretty sure I’m more proud of them than of all the work I did in high school put together.

My question is simple, and aimed a little more towards the veterans of LessWrong:

What are the guidelines for upvoting and downvoting?  What makes a comment good, and what makes one bad?  Is there somewhere I can go to find this out (I've looked, but there doesn't seem to be a guide on LessWrong already up.  On the other hand, I lose my glasses while wearing them, so…)

Additionally, why do I sometimes see discussion posts with many comments but few upvotes, and others with many upvotes but few comments?  If a post is worth commenting on, isn't it worth upvoting?  I feel as though my map is missing a few pages here.

Not only would having a clear discussion of this help me review the comments of others better, it would also help me understand what I’m being reinforced for on each of my comments, so I can alter my behaviors accordingly.


I want to help keep this a well-kept garden, but I’m struggling to figure out how to trim the hedges.

Is there a list of cognitive illusions?

2 DonaldMcIntyre 06 May 2015 04:25AM

After I posted my great idea that "Determinism Is Just A Special Case Of Randomness" because "if not I don't see how there could be free will in a deterministic universe" I was positively guided by the LW community to read the Free Will Sequence so I am learning more about our biases and how we build illusions like free will and randomness in our minds.

But I don't see a list on LW or Wikipedia of a list of cognitive illusions and I think it would be great to have one of those just as it is useful for many people to visit the List Of Cognitive Biases page as a study reference or even to use in day to day life.

I think these are some cognitive illusions that are normally discussed as such:

- Free will

- Randomness/probability

- Time

- Money

There must be many more, but I don't find a list with summaries and that would great (to help me avoid writing posts like my "great idea" above!).


Saying "Everyone Is Biased" May Create Bias

5 JQuinton 05 May 2015 03:31PM

It looks like telling people "everyone is biased" might make people not want to change their behavior to overcome their biases:

In initial experiments, participants were simply asked to rate a particular group, such as women, on a series of stereotypical characteristics, which for women were: warm, family-oriented and (less) career-focused. Beforehand, half of the participants were told that "the vast majority of people have stereotypical preconceptions." Compared to those given no messages, these participants produced more stereotypical ratings, whether about women, older people or the obese.

Another experiment used a richer measure of stereotyping – the amount of clichés used by participants in their written account of an older person’s typical day. This time, those participants warned before writing that “Everyone Stereotypes” were more biased in their writings than those given no message; in contrast, those told that stereotyping was very rare were the least clichéd of all. Another experiment even showed that hearing the “Everyone Stereotypes” message led men to negotiate more aggressively with women, resulting in poorer outcomes for the women.

The authors suggest that telling participants that everyone is biased makes being biased seem like not much of a big deal. If everyone is doing it, then it's not wrong for me to do it as well. However, it looks like the solution to the problem presented here is to give a little white lie that will prompt people to overcome their biases:

A further experiment suggests a possible solution. In line with the other studies, men given the "Everyone Stereotypes" message were less likely to hire a hypothetical female job candidate who was assertive in arguing for higher compensation. But other men told that everyone tries to overcome their stereotypes were fairer than those who received no information at all. The participants were adjusting their behaviour to fit the group norms, but this time in a virtuous direction.

On desiring subjective states (post 3 of 3)

6 torekp 05 May 2015 02:16AM

Carol puts her left hand in a bucket of hot water, and lets it acclimate for a few minutes.  Meanwhile her right hand is acclimating to a bucket of ice water.  Then she plunges both hands into a bucket of lukewarm water.  The lukewarm water feels very different to her two hands.  To the left hand, it feels very chilly.  To the right hand, it feels very hot.  When asked to tell the temperature of the lukewarm water without looking at the thermocouple readout, she doesn't know.  Asked to guess, she's off by a considerable margin.


Next Carol flips the thermocouple readout to face her (as shown), and practices.  Using different lukewarm water temperatures of 10-35 C, she gets a feel for how hot-adapted and cold-adapted hands respond to the various middling temperatures.  Now she makes a guess - starting with a random hand, then moving the other one and revising the guess if necessary - each time before looking at the thermocouple.  What will happen?  I haven't done the experiment, but human performance on similar perceptual learning tasks suggests that she will get quite good at it.

We bring Carol a bucket of 20 C water (without telling) and let her adapt her hands first as usual.  "What do you think the temperature is?" we ask.  She moves her cold hand first.  "Feels like about 20," she says.  Hot hand follows.  "Yup, feels like 20."

"Wait," we ask. "You said feels-like-20 for both hands.  Does this mean the bucket no longer feels different to your two different hands, like it did when you started?"

"No!" she replies.  "Are you crazy?  It still feels very different subjectively; I've just learned to see past that to identify the actual temperature."

In addition to reports on the external world, we perceive some internal states that typically (but not invariably) can serve as signals about our environment.  Let's tentatively call these states Subjectively Identified Aspects of Perception (SIAPs).  Even though these states aren't strictly necessary to know what's going on in the environment - Carol's example shows that the sensation felt by one hand isn't necessary to know that the water is 20 C, because the other hand knows this via a different sensation - they still matter to us.  As Eliezer notes:

If I claim to value art for its own sake, then would I value art that no one ever saw?  A screensaver running in a closed room, producing beautiful pictures that no one ever saw?  I'd have to say no.  I can't think of any completely lifeless object that I would value as an end, not just a means.  That would be like valuing ice cream as an end in itself, apart from anyone eating it.  Everything I value, that I can think of, involves people and their experiences somewhere along the line.

The best way I can put it, is that my moral intuition appears to require both the objective and subjective component to grant full value.

Subjectivity matters.  (I am not implying that Eliezer would agree with anything else I say about subjectivity.)

Why would evolution build beings that sense their internal states?  Why not just have the organism know the objective facts of survival and reproduction, and be done with it?  One thought is that it is just easier to build a brain that does both, rather than one that focuses relentlessly on objective facts.  But another is that this separation of sense-data into "subjective" and "objective" might help us learn to overcome certain sorts of perceptual illusion - as Carol does, above.  And yet another is that some internal states might be extremely good indicators and promoters of survival or reproduction - like pain, or feelings of erotic love.  This last hypothesis could explain why we value some subjective aspects so much, too.

Different SIAPs can lead to the same intelligent behavioral performance, such as identifying 20 degree C water.  But that doesn't mean Carol has to value the two routes to successful temperature-telling equally.  And, if someone proposed to give her radically different, previously unknown, subjectively identifiable aspects of experience, as new routes to the kinds of knowledge she gets from perception, she might reasonably balk.  Especially if this were to apply to all the senses.  And if the subjectively identifiable aspects of desire and emotion (SIADs, SIAEs) were also to be replaced, she might reasonably balk much harder.  She might reasonably doubt that the survivor of this process would be her, or even human, in any sense meaningful to her.

Would it be possible to have an intelligent being whose cognition of the world is mediated by no SIAPs?  I suspect not, if that being is well-designed.  See above on "why would evolution build beings that sense internal states."

If you've read all 3 posts, you've probably gotten the point of the Gasoline Gal story by now.  But let me go through some of the mappings from source to target in that analogy.  A car that, when you take it on a tour, accelerates well, handles nicely, makes the right amount of noise, and so on - one that passes the touring test (groan) - is like a being that can identify objective facts in its environment.  An internal combustion engine is like Carol's subjective cold-sensation in her left hand - one way among others to bring about the externally-observable behavior.  (By "externally observable" I mean "without looking under the hood".)  In Carol's case, that behavior is identifying 20 C water.  In the engine's case, it's the acceleration of the car.  Note that in neither case is this internal factor causally inert.  If you take it away and don't replace it with anything, or even if you replace it with something that doesn't fit, the useful external behavior will be severely impaired.  The mere fact that you can, with a lot of other re-working, replace an internal combustion engine with a fuel cell, does not even begin to show that the engine does nothing.

And Gasoline Gal's passion for internal combustion engines is like my - and I dare say most people's - attachment to the subjective internal aspects of perception and emotion that we know and love.  The words and concepts we use for these things - pain, passion, elation, for some easier examples - refer to the actual processes in human beings that drive the related behavior.  (Regarding which, neurology has more to learn.)  As I mentioned in my last post, a desire can form with a particular referent based on early experience, and remain focused on that event-type permanently.  If one constructs radically different processes that achieve similar external results, analogous to the fuel cell driven car, one gets radically different subjectivity - which we can only denote by pointing simultaneously to both the "under the hood" construction of these new beings, and the behavior associated with their SIAPs, together.

Needless to say, this complicates uploading.

One more thing: are SIAPs qualia?  A substantial minority of philosophers, or maybe a plurality, uses "qualia" in a sufficiently similar way that I could probably use that word here.  But another substantial minority loads it with additional baggage.  And that leads to pointless misunderstandings, pigeonholing, and straw men.  Hence, "SIAPs".  But feel free to use "qualia" in the comments if you're more comfortable with that term, bearing my caveats in mind.

Group rationality diary, May 5th - 23rd

6 philh 04 May 2015 11:59PM

This is the public group rationality diary for May 5 - 23, 2015. It's a place to record and chat about it if you have done, or are actively doing, things like:

  • Established a useful new habit

  • Obtained new evidence that made you change your mind about some belief

  • Decided to behave in a different way in some set of situations

  • Optimized some part of a common routine or cached behavior

  • Consciously changed your emotions or affect with respect to something

  • Consciously pursued new valuable information about something that could make a big difference in your life

  • Learned something new about your beliefs, behavior, or life that surprised you

  • Tried doing any of the above and failed

Or anything else interesting which you want to share, so that other people can think about it, and perhaps be inspired to take action themselves. Try to include enough details so that everyone can use each other's experiences to learn about what tends to work out, and what doesn't tend to work out.

Archive of previous rationality diaries

Note to future posters: no one is in charge of posting these threads. If it's time for a new thread, and you want a new thread, just create it. It should run for about two weeks, finish on a saturday, and have the 'group_rationality_diary' tag.

Is Scott Alexander bad at math?

15 JonahSinick 04 May 2015 05:11AM

This post is a third installment to the sequence that I started with The Truth About Mathematical Ability and Innate Mathematical Ability. I begin to discuss the role of aesthetics in math. 

There was strong interest in the first two posts in my sequence, and I apologize for the long delay. The reason for it is that I've accumulated hundreds of pages of relevant material in draft form, and have struggled with how to organize such a large body of material. I still don't know what's best, but since people have been asking, I decided to continue posting on the subject, even if I don't have my thoughts as organized as I'd like. I'd greatly welcome and appreciate any comments, but I won't have time to respond to them individually, because I already have my hands full with putting my hundreds of pages of writing in public form.

continue reading »

Calling all Nigerian rationalists and effective altruists

19 oge 03 May 2015 10:31PM

I'm in Lagos, Nigeria till the end of May and I'd like to hold a LessWrong/EA meetup while I'm here. If you'll ever be in the country in the future (or in the subcontinent), please get in touch so we can coordinate a meetup. I'd also appreciate being put in contact with any Nigerians who may not regularly read this list.

My e-mail address is oge@nnadi.org. I hope to hear from you.

Open Thread, May 4 - May 10, 2015

2 Gondolinian 04 May 2015 12:06AM

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

Notes for future OT posters:

1. Please add the 'open_thread' tag.

2. Check if there is an active Open Thread before posting a new one. (Immediately before; refresh the list-of-threads page before posting.)

3. Open Threads should be posted in Discussion, and not Main.

4. Open Threads should start on Monday, and end on Sunday.

Gasoline Gal looks under the hood (post 1 of 3)

4 torekp 03 May 2015 08:15PM

"Hi," said Galaxy, "Are you Fuller Chen?  I'm here to see your 2018 Chevy SS.  Is it still for sale?"

"Sure," Fuller replied, "let me open the garage door for you." [Garage door opens.]  "What's your name?"

"I'm Galaxy, but everyone calls me Gal."  Galaxy walked around the car.  "Looks great.  Not a scratch or a blemish."

"Would you like to take it for a test drive?" Fuller asked, opening the passenger door for himself and reaching the key out to her.

"Yes, thanks," said Galaxy.  She adjusted her seat and mirrors, then started the car and eased it out of the garage and onto the residential street.  "Wow, this car is really quiet.  Is it a hybrid?  I didn't think they made a hybrid."

"Nope, not a hybrid," Fuller answered.  His smile made her think there was a joke in there somewhere.

She took it onto the main road and put the pedal to the metal.  The response was rapid and forceful - and eerily quiet.  "This car is too quiet," Galaxy objected.  "What's going on here?"  She slammed on the brakes and pulled into an empty parking lot.

"It's a fuel cell!" Fuller announced.  "Pop the hood, and take a look!  Retrofitted it myself.  It's a labor of love, but I need to cash in all my major assets for my business start-up.  That's why I'm letting it go at the price of an ordinary SS.  And as you have seen, the performance is equal to or better than any conventional engine."

Galaxy looked under the hood.  It sure did look like a fuel cell.  "We have a problem," Galaxy warned, "I admit, I am impressed with the performance, but ... I'm looking for a car with an internal combustion engine.  I need to hear the roar of the engine, feel the vibrations, and know that I'm being propelled by something that's literally exploding."

"Oh, if it's a roar you want, the car already has a speaker to generate noise for pedestrian safety," said Fuller.  "I could modify it to make the same audible sounds as a traditional internal combustion engine."

"No, listen:  my nickname is Gasoline Gal.  I grew up working in my father's auto repair shop.  I was the engine specialist.  Internal combustion is what I know and love.  It's what I want.  Not a simulacrum, but an actual internal combustion engine."

"But I can make this car behave the same as perceived from inside the cockpit as well as from outside the car.  You mentioned the vibrations of a regular engine.  It would be a simple matter to add a vibrating cam or two.  I tell you what, I'll make those modifications for free and you can test it by taking it on a tour.  If you can't tell the difference from the driver's seat, buy the car."

"No," Galaxy answered, "you're not getting it.  It's not about the behavior, it's about the underlying reality, the underlying cause.  I reject your test, and I insist on looking under the hood.  I love internal combustion engines.  Fuel cells are merely kinda cool."

"Is it about gasoline versus hydrogen?  Hydrogen is widely available nowadays.  I don't know why so many people are still prejudiced against it," said Fuller.

"No: it's not about the materials, it's about the internal processes.  And it's not that I'm against electrolytic energy conversion, it's that I'm wild about internal combustion."

"Hmm.  You came to love those engines by working with them and getting to know them.  Maybe if you worked with fuel cells, you could come to feel the same way about them," Fuller suggested.

"Maybe," Galaxy conceded, "but I'm not willing to wait and see.  I'm not looking for motivational reform.  I want what I want."

"But maybe your desire is irrational," Fuller suggested.  "Are you sure that driving an internal combustion powered car is really a terminal value for you?"

"Heck if I know!" Gasoline Gal answered. "But it is already clear that this car, despite its acceleration, reliability, style, and reasonable price, just doesn't do it for me.  I need to go find a good old-fashioned car to buy.  One with an actual internal combustion engine."

And the next day, she did.  She paid a little more and the acceleration was a tiny bit less, but the acceleration came from the right source.


The Question: Is there good reason to suppose that Gal's desire for internal combustion is irrational, and if so, where's her mistake?

The story is an analogue, along a narrow dimension, to my real subject.  I flirted with a horrific pun in there - bonus points for pointing it out - which reveals it.  But you might want to save the inevitable critique of the analogy for later.  I plan on two more posts.  In my next post I'll try to say something about the language (semantics) of desire; then in a third post I'll lay out the analogy.

Why capitalism?

5 Algon 03 May 2015 06:16PM

Note: I'm terrible at making up titles, and I think that the one I gave may give the wrong impression. If anyone has a suggestion on what I should change it to, it would be much appreciated.

As I've been reading articles on less wrong, it seems to me that there are hints of an underlying belief which states that not only is capitalism a good economic paradigm, it shall remain so. Now, I don't mean to say anything like 'Capitalism is Evil!' I think that capitalism can, and has, done a lot of good for humanity. 

However, I don't think that capitalism will be the best economic paradigm going into the future. I used to view capitalism as an inherent part of the society we currently live in, with no real economic competition.

I recently changed my views as a result of a book someone recommended to me 'The zero marginal cost society' by Jeremy Rifkin. In it, the author states that we are in the midst of a third industrial revolution as a result of a new energy/production and communications matrix i.e. renewable energies, 3-D printing and the internet.

The author claims that these three things will eventually bring their respective sectors marginal costs to zero. This is significant because of a 'contradiction at the heart of capitalism' (I'm not sure how to phrase this, so excuse me if I butcher it): competition is at the heart of capitalism, with companies constantly undercutting each other as a result of new technologies. These technological improvement allow a company to produce goods/services at a more attractive price whilst retaining a reasonable profit margin. As a result, we get better and better at producing things, and it lets us produce goods at ever decreasing costs. But what happens when the costs of producing something hit rock bottom? That is, they can go no lower.

3D printing presents a situation like this for a huge amount of industries, as all you really need to do is get some designs, plug in some feedstock and have a power source ready. The internet allows people to share their designs for almost zero cost, and renewable energies are on the rise, presenting the avenue of virtually free power. All that's left is the feedstock, and the cost of this is due to the difficulty of producing it. Once we have better robotics, you won't need anyone to mine/cultivate anything, and the whole thing becomes basically free.

And when you can get your goods, energy and communications for basically free, doesn't that undermine the whole capitalist system? Of course, the arguments presented in the book are much more comprehensive, and it details an alternative economic paradigm called the Commons. I'm just paraphrasing here.

Since my knowledge of economics is woefully inadequate, I was wondering if I've made some ridiculous blunder which everyone knows about on this site. Is there some fundamental reason why Jeremy Rifkin's is a crackpot and I'm a fool for listening to him? Or is it more subtle than that? I ask because I felt the arguments in the book pretty compelling, and I want some opinions from people who are much better suited to critiquing this sort of thing than I.

Here is a link to the download page for the essay titled 'The comedy of the Commons' which provides some of the arguments which convinced me: 


A lecture about the Commons itself:


And a paper (?) about governing the commons: 


And here is a link to the author's page, along with some links to articles about the book:



An article displaying some of the sheer potential of 3D printers, and how it has the potential to change society in a major way:


Edit: Drat! I forgot about the stupid questions thread. Should I delete this and repost it there? I mean, I hope to discuss this topic with others, so it seems suitable for the DISCUSSION board, but it may also be very stupid. Advice would be appreciated.

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