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Open Thread: March 4 - 10

3 Post author: Coscott 04 March 2014 03:55AM

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

Comments (389)

Comment author: D_Malik 05 March 2014 10:03:22AM *  18 points [-]

Covert conditioning is an interesting variant of operant conditioning where, instead of using an external stimulus to modify someone's behaviors, you just have them imagine themselves doing things and then receiving rewards or punishments. For instance, an alcoholic could imagine drinking alcohol and then immediately feeling nauseated. Or a student could imagine deciding to do his homework and then suddenly winning a million dollars.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure whether covert conditioning works. The linked Wikipedia article doesn't really give much evidence. If covert conditioning works, it seems like it could be very useful, especially in situations where ordinary reinforcement techniques are hard to use. For instance, one could easily reinforce sociability, which is hard to reinforce through ordinary methods because you don't want to look weird in public. Or one could train oneself to avoid unhealthy food by imagining that it makes one nauseated, precluding the need for actual emetics.

(Not going anywhere in particular with this, just curious what people's thoughts are.)

Comment author: AndekN 08 March 2014 11:03:04AM 8 points [-]

I attended a fire preparedness course, and the instructor told us that actual fire evacuation drills were not necessary. It was enough just to spend a couple of minutes vividly imagining what we would do in case of a fire. Our chances of surviving would greatly increase if we imagined the situation in advance. Unfortunately he gave no references to that claim.

Comment author: ChristianKl 09 March 2014 12:43:36PM 1 point [-]

Yesterday at the Lesswrong Berlin meetup I taught a technique for dealing with emotions. On of the things I learned from the experience is that it's hard to get people in the LW crowd to strongly associate emotions through bringing up memories.

Or a student could imagine deciding to do his homework and then suddenly winning a million dollars.

That's a bad idea. Most people are not motivated to engage in actions that make them win a million dollars. It's outside of their comfort zone to just win a million dollar. It requires people to update their self identity in a non trivial way to win a million dollars. You want to imagine situations that feel good but that are easily accessible.

Using tricks with mental imaginary is a large part of what hypnosis is about.

Changing sociability in a lasting way isn't easy because we have had strong conditioning about what to feel in the past.

Even through my German vocabulary is bigger and it's my native language I'm frequently more let go in social interaction when they are in English because I learned to speak English socially with people in environments that have generally an upbeat vibe like Toastmasters while I spoke a lot of German in my life in situations like school where I behaved socially inwardly.

If I can get someone in a deep enough trance in hypnosis then I can attach an emotion to a well defined behavior. The emotion will come up the next time the behavior is triggered.

If it's something like sociability and the person gets often negative feedback in social situations then the emotional trigger will burn out and soon lose it's effect.

I personally consider implementing negative emotional responses to be dark, but if anyone who comes to the LW Europe Community Camp in Berlin wants a 1-on-1 hypnosis 30 minutes experience to associate a positive emotion to an experience just approach me. As far as I understand there going to be lots of unsheduled time at the weekend.

Comment author: Slackson 09 March 2014 09:50:17AM 0 points [-]

How well does operant conditioning work where there's a perceived causal link compared to when there is not?

Comment author: ChristianKl 09 March 2014 12:45:24PM 0 points [-]

I think a stable causal link helps to stabilize the conditioning against changes over time but it's not required to get emotional responses.

Comment author: Brillyant 06 March 2014 05:22:06PM 15 points [-]

Of the 12 most recent posts in 'Discussion', nine are 'Meetup' related and one is a meta-level discussion about producing LW courses.

Is LW imploding into some sort of self-impressed death spiral? Where is the new non-LW meta content? Am I way off, or has the quality of posts significantly diminished over time here?

I'm curious to know what others think.

Comment author: Coscott 06 March 2014 07:18:41PM 11 points [-]

I have noticed waves of insightful posts inspired by other insightful posts, followed by periods where nobody thinks of anything important to say, so we are dominated by meetup posts. I think for me, there has been a greater density of interesting in the previous 2 months, than there was in the 6 months before that.

Comment author: gjm 06 March 2014 05:55:59PM 5 points [-]

There are two possible mechanisms that could produce a predominance of meetup posts over interesting new content: an explosion of meetup posts, or a dearth of interesting new content.

There are frequent complaints about how the meetup posts swamp everything else. I'm not sure whether anyone's come up with a convincing way to solve the problem and offered to implement it.

My impression is that there is less interesting stuff on LW than there used to be, partly because a small number of particularly high-quality contributors have moved elsewhere or run out of new things they want to say. Two obvious examples: Eliezer (more or less completely stopped; presumably he's working on some combination of saving the world and writing Harry Potter fanfiction) and Yvain (has no more time for blogging on account of being an overworked junior doctor; also blogging, more than ever but at slatestarcodex.com rather than LW).

Another explanation for the shortage of interesting new things: saying interesting new things is hard and more and more of the things people might want to say have already been said.

Comment author: Brillyant 06 March 2014 07:16:22PM 5 points [-]

I'd agree that EY's stuff makes up a big chunk of the best of LW and Slatesarcodex is cool.

I'm speculating if LW has run it's course, at least quality content wise?

At some critical mass, it seems to me the content won't matter all that much in most groups. LW can function as it's own meetup.com where rationalists and/or Harry Potter fans can come to meet like minds.

It kind of reminds me of my time in church—it becomes not-that-important if all the doctrinal stuff is true because everybody benefits from the social construct in place as a distant result of once caring deeply about the doctrinal stuff.

Comment author: moridinamael 07 March 2014 03:56:27PM 4 points [-]

Well, (moridinamael hemmed and hawed, debated whether to open his big dumb mouth) there have also been a few huge disaster-threads recently that really damaged my personal affect regarding this community. When everybody in The Rationality Club (tm) starts acting like children, defect-defecting on each other and statusmongering and basically looking indistinguishable from my Facebook feed, one begins to feel that a Rubicon has been unknowingly crossed somewhere. It reduces my unconscious impulse to contribute; it reduces my expectation that my contributions will be received in the generous spirit that I feel they would have been received in, oh, two or three years ago.

I hate writing posts like this, mainly because I hate complaining without suggesting solutions, so I will end with a solution: let's be more generous to each other. To each others' arguments and possible meanings. To the moods we might have been in when we wrote the posts we wrote; users aren't bad people, they just have bad days. (Fundamental Attribution Error should be in bold at the bottom of the Reply button.)

Maybe we wouldn't all feel the need to hide in the Open Thread if we were nicer to each other.

Comment author: Brillyant 07 March 2014 05:43:32PM 4 points [-]

Interesting.

Let's be more generous to each other. To each others' arguments and possible meanings.

I don't know that I'm for this. I like the sentiment. But I've recently noticed the aspect that I enjoy about LW (when it is at is best) is it's relatively cold, irrational indifference.

In my regular world, which is not filled with scholars or even particular rational people, everyone seems phony, flattering and patronizing. It's very Facebook-y.

I love having a place to go to find a rational take on things. I often search LW for discussion on things I'm interested in.

Maybe you are right that the style of engagement has devolved and that has caused—or at least contributed to—lower quality content.

Didn't the latest poll indicate numbers are up year-over-year? Perhaps quantity of users is diluting the quality of the content?

Comment author: moridinamael 07 March 2014 06:22:41PM 2 points [-]

You extend to me quite a bit of courtesy here, and your tone is very generous although you disagree with me. I seem to see a lot of posts these days that skip the courtesy (which is necessary for productive discourse, rationality is about winning, etc.) and start with "You're wrong" and then proceed from there with middle fingers raised. I do think most of these are relative newcomers, as you say.

Any post trying to say something complex is bound to have multiple valid interpretations. This is just a fact of communication and the difficulty of expressing ideas using language. The truth of this is borne out by the fact that multiple commenters responding to the same post will interpret the original post differently. So, it is not so radical, I think, for me to suggest that we wait to say "I disagree!" or "You're wrong!" until after we've first said "Let me make sure I understand what it is you're saying."

Comment author: Brillyant 07 March 2014 08:04:04PM 1 point [-]

I'd agree there can be a great deal of courtesy-skipping here. It slapped me in the face at first.

Then I got used it. And it forced me to get smarter, and to be more careful about what I said and how I chose to say it. I'm grateful for LW in that it forced me out of some lazy communication habits. I'm still lazy in my communication, but LW helps to the extent I engage with intention.

Perhaps some of it is just a style issue? Or that social awareness of courtesy tends not to go hand-in-hand with brute IQ and technical genius?

Anyway, you make good points (and, to evidence those good points, it basically true that I quite telling people they made good points on LW some time ago as it seemed to violate the often kurt decorum. :)

Comment author: PECOS-9 08 March 2014 03:58:43AM 1 point [-]

there have also been a few huge disaster-threads recently that really damaged my personal affect regarding this community. When everybody in The Rationality Club (tm) starts acting like children, defect-defecting on each other and statusmongering and basically looking indistinguishable from my Facebook feed

I'm curious, which threads are you referring to?

Comment author: moridinamael 08 March 2014 04:28:52PM *  2 points [-]

I found a lot of behavior in the White Lies thread to be disappointing, not in content but in tone and how people were treating each other. I think it affected me so much that I've been reading other threads recently with a bad taste in my mouth, because I frankly can't point to any other threads and say "this one was also a nightmare" but it just feels like the level of civility across the community took a big hit, or maybe my faith took the hit and it's coloring my reading.

Comment author: Randy_M 07 March 2014 11:20:11PM 2 points [-]

Personally I find usually more interesting material in the open threads than the discussion area or the main. I take this to mean I am at least somewhat outside of the core target audience of the site.

Comment author: Slackson 06 March 2014 08:32:29PM 2 points [-]

More meetup posts clutter Discussion (which is kinda bad) but mean that people are actually going to meetup groups (which is kinda awesome). Maybe frame a meetup post not as a trivial inconvenience, but evidence that rationalists are meeting in person and having cool discussions and working on their lives instead of hanging around in Less Wrong.

When there's a lot of interesting content here, sometimes people ask why we're all sticking around talking about talking about rationality instead of doing stuff out in the world.

Comment author: aubrey 07 March 2014 02:38:03PM 8 points [-]

I have had a ridiculous munchkin idea. My idea is to hold a pencil in your teeth to increase productivity.

There are some reasons to believe that being happy makes you more productive, rather (just?) than the other way round. This research is quite new. This does not mean it is wrong, but it is not replicated well. If it is true, you can make yourself more productive by making yourself happier.

Forced smiling may make you feel happier. It is hard to force smile when you are not happy. It is even harder to do work and force smile at the same time. When I try this, I forget to force smile.

There are some reasons to believe that holding a pencil in your teeth makes you happier. This research is very old. This does not mean it is wrong, but it is not replicated well.

I have just had this idea. It seems to be widely known as an idea to make you happy, but not to make you productive. I have not yet time to test it for a long period. Short-term results are that I feel silly. I do not want to do this in the office. However, I am smiling because the idea is fun. In my subjective opinion this makes me more productive.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 07 March 2014 05:17:09PM *  2 points [-]

This is absolutely awesome!

There are some reasons to believe that being happy makes you more productive, rather (just?) than the other way round.

I believe this strongly. Coincidentally, today I was reflecting on my past life-optimization attempts, and seems like the most frequent reason for failure was that at the beginning the idea of the new change made me happy, but after some time I stopped being happy, and then it became difficult to overcome obstacles and I gave up. So I decided that when I try something new in the future, an important task will be to keep myself happy about the project. Even if it means something stupid, like dancing a few minutes before I start the task, or something similar.

Holding a pencil in your teeth could achieve the same thing, just more simply.

(I am not sure what will be the long-term consequences for your teeth. If you keep your mouth partially open for long periods of time, it may change the chemical environment. Maybe try a short pencil or something, so you can keep your mouth closed. And maybe use some pencil-shaped thing without graphite.)

Comment author: aubrey 08 March 2014 07:06:48AM 3 points [-]

I am happy my idea made you happy!

Maybe try a short pencil or something, so you can keep your mouth closed.

I do not think this will work. The theory is that holding the pencil in your teeth contracts the same muscles you use to smile (zygomaticus major, risorius). If you can keep your mouth closed, these muscles will not be affected in the same way. I think any other object that is long enough should work. I use a mechanical pencil.

Comment author: tut 09 March 2014 03:22:44PM 1 point [-]

Maybe try a short pencil or something, so you can keep your mouth closed.

The instruction in the experiment aubrey refers to is to hold the pencil with your teeth without touching it with your lips. Holding the pencil with your lips without touching it with your teeth got the opposite result.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 09 March 2014 06:50:58PM 0 points [-]

Considering how awkward that is, that's not surprising.

Comment author: tut 09 March 2014 03:40:53PM *  0 points [-]

There is also some reason to believe that smiling stops making you happy if you force a smile too often.

Bus drivers are expected to smile at costumers. Some days that doesn't come without effort. Bus drivers use two strategies to solve that: force a smile and think about something that makes them smile. On days when a driver used mostly the first strategy their mood tended to get worse, while when they used the second it got brighter.

Comment author: lucidian 05 March 2014 03:47:38AM 8 points [-]

Cog sci question about how words are organized in our minds.

So, I'm a native English speaker, and for the last ~1.5 years, I've been studying Finnish as a second language. I was making very slow progress on vocabulary, though, so a couple days ago I downloaded Anki and moved all my vocab lists over to there. These vocab lists basically just contained random words I had encountered on the internet and felt like writing down; a lot of them were for abstract concepts and random things that probably won't come up in conversation, like "archipelago" (the Finnish word is "saaristo", if anyone cares). Anyway, the point is that I am not trying to learn the vocabulary in any sensible order, I'm just shoving random words into my brain.

While studying today, I noticed that I was having a lot more trouble with certain words than with others, and I started to wonder why, and what implications this has for how words are organized in our minds, and whether anyone has done studies on this.

For instance, there seemed to be a lot of "hash collisions": vocabulary words that I kept confusing with one another. Some of these were clearly phonetic: hai (shark) and kai (probably). Another phonetic pair: toivottaa (to wish) and taivuttaa (to inflect a word). Some were a combination of phonetic and semantic: virhe (error), vihje (hint), vaihe (phase, stage), and vika (fault). Some of them I have no idea why I kept confusing: kertautua (to recur) and kuvastaa (to mirror, to reflect).

There were also a few words that I just had inordinate amounts of trouble remembering, and I don't know why: eksyä (to get lost), ehtiä (to arrive in time), löytää (to find), kyllästys (saturation), sisältää (to include), arvata (to guess). Aside from the last one, all of these have the letter ä in them, so maybe that has something to do with it. Also, the first two words don't have a single English verb as an equivalent.

There were also some words that were easier than I expected: vankkuri (wagon), saaristo (archipelago), and some more that I don't remember now because they quickly vanished from my deck. Both of these words are unusual but concrete concepts.

Do different people struggle with the same words when learning a language? Are some Finnish words just inherently "easy" or "hard" for English speakers to learn? If it's different for each person, how does the ease of learning certain words relate to a person's life experiences, interests, common thoughts, etc.?

What do hash collisions tell us about how words are organized in our minds? Can they tell us anything about the features we might be using to recognize words? For instance, English speakers often seem to have trouble remembering and distinguishing Chinese names; they all seem to "sound the same". Why does this happen? Here's a hypothesis: when we hear a word, based on its features, it is mapped to a specific part of a learned phonetic space before being used to access semantic content. Presumably we would learn this phonetic space to maximize the distance between words in a language, since the farther apart words are, the less chance they have of accessing the wrong semantic content. Maybe certain Finnish words sound the same to me because they map to nearby regions of my phonetic space, but a speaker of some other language wouldn't confuse these particular words because they'd have a different phonetic space? I'm just speculating wildly here.

I'd be interested to hear everyone else's vocab-learning experiences and crazy hypotheses for what's going on. Also, does anyone know any actual research that's been done on this stuff?

Comment author: whales 05 March 2014 04:41:23AM 8 points [-]

These are interesting questions. I think the keyword you want for "hash collisions" is interference. Here's a more helpful overview from an education perspective: Learning Vocabulary in Lexical Sets: Dangers and Guidelines (2000). It mostly talks about semantic interference, but it mentions some other work on similar-sounding and similar-looking words.

Comment author: lucidian 05 March 2014 04:52:40AM 2 points [-]

Thanks!

Comment author: TheOtherDave 05 March 2014 05:29:01AM 5 points [-]

You may find "linguistic cohort"a useful search phrase.

When I studied linguistics back in the 80s it was a popular way of thinking about lexical retrieval. E.g., a cohort model might explain collisions between "kertautua" and "kuvastaa" by observing that they share an initial-sound, final-sound, and (I think?) number of syllables, all of which are lexical search keys. (Put another way: it's easy to list words that start with "k", words that end with "a", and three-syllable words.)

That said, I remember thinknig at the time that it was kind of vacuous. (After all, it's also easy to list words with "v" in the middle somewhere.)

Comment author: primality 11 March 2014 10:16:37AM 3 points [-]

I find that making up mnemonics works well to combat interference. They don't have to be good mnemonics for this to work.

Example: I noticed I kept mixing up the Spanish words aquí (here) and allí (there). I then made up the mnemonic that aquí has a "k" sound so it's close, and allí contains l's so it's long away. A few days later, I encounter the word "allí". My thinking then goes "That's either here or there, I keep confusing those" -> "oh yeah, I made up a mnemonic" -> "allí means there".

I wonder how well this method would work for others.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 11 March 2014 04:37:55PM 1 point [-]

This is generally how I memorize the bits of scripts that are from my perspective arbitrary. It doesn't even need much of a connection to the text itself.

E.g., one line I had trouble with was "Come, sirs", which I kept paraphrasing as any of a dozen phrases that basically mean the same thing, until I associated it with brothels for knights. Now my cue comes along, I know I'm leading a group of people elsewhere, a bunch of competing ways to say that get activated, the brothels for knights concept gets activated along with them, it reinforces "come sirs" and that's what I say.

Comment author: ChristianKl 05 March 2014 09:16:20AM *  5 points [-]

For instance, there seemed to be a lot of "hash collisions": vocabulary words that I kept confusing with one another. Some of these were clearly phonetic: hai (shark) and kai (probably).

That problem is called memory interference. I think reading Wozniaks 20 rules, gives you a good elementary understanding of concepts like that.

In general there doesn't seem to be a good way to predict memory interference in advance.

When faced with apparent interference I usually make a card specifically for the interference:

Front: (kai / hai) -> shark
Back: hai

Front: (kai / hai) -> probably
Back: kai

Comment author: Emile 05 March 2014 08:52:48AM 2 points [-]

I tend to think of this in terms of compression: you can use various compression schemes to store english words in fewer bits, but that will make you store foreign words in more bits. For example, you could order letters by frequency and represent frequent letters with fewer bits. You can do the same with groups of letters (e.g. "thing" = "th" + "ing", both very frequent combinations in English), or take advantage of conditional probabilities ('t' much more likely to be followed by 'h' than 'n') to squeeze a few more bits of compression. Similarly, if a westerner wanted to describe the Chinese character 語 without any prior knowledge of Chinese, the description would be very long, but a Chinese speaker would describe it as "the key for speech, and a five above a mouth".

This is just another way of describing what you call phonetic space.

Simple issues of frequency makes learners see words as "closer" than native speakers do, another problem is when the "phonetic space" of one language has more(or different) dimensions than those of another; e.g. many people find it hard to learn words when the distinction between voiced and unvoiced "th" is important, or when the tone of a syllable also carries meaning (as in Chinese). The Chinese words for "mother", "insult" and "horse" all sound like exactly the same word, "ma", to non-Chinese speakers.

Comment author: ChristianKl 08 March 2014 11:26:37AM 7 points [-]

How do you use librarians? College libraries seems to pay money to employee qualified librarians. Being a student myself that means I sort of have access to them as a resource but never really used them for help.

Did anyone here used the librarians at his local university to find information that he otherwise wouldn't have found or had other good experiences with librarians?

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 08 March 2014 03:58:43PM 2 points [-]

Try asking the librarians what they can do for you, even if you don't bring a specific project to ask about.

Comment author: mwengler 09 March 2014 04:01:33PM 0 points [-]

The librarians at the company I work for will produce reports on topics you ask them about by compiling results from data bases. It is actually quite useful and would take a lot of learning for the non-librarian to produce.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 07 March 2014 06:48:38PM 7 points [-]

Inefficient altruism-- knitting sweaters for penguins-- I welcome evo psych explanations for the desire to knit.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 09 March 2014 02:28:45PM 6 points [-]

I suggest substituting "knitting unwanted sweaters for penguins" for "raising money for rare diseases in cute puppies" because the sweater thing actually happened, research into rare diseases of cute puppies might pay off in understanding other diseases, and at least for me "rare diseases in cute puppies" has a nasty pattern match to sneering at rare diseases in people, cuteness, and puppies.

Comment author: tut 16 March 2014 08:54:10AM 0 points [-]

Hmm... There are people wastefully knitting sweaters for penguins, and there are penguin chicks freezing to death every time it rains. Would it be possible to get those people to knit wool sweaters for the penguin chicks?

Comment author: JoshuaZ 04 March 2014 05:57:17AM 7 points [-]

A new paper by Lenny Susskind discusses the black hole firewall problem and suggests that the computations necessary to actually create the standard paradoxical situation are computationally intractable. Paper here, discussion by Scott Aaronson here.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 09 March 2014 07:43:16PM 5 points [-]

Translating the article Entropy, and Short Codes, there is a part where Eliezer writes about how words for categories are created, and (if I understand that correctly) the most frequently used categories are likely to get the shortest words.

The specific examples are: "furniture", "chair", "recliner". The shortest one is "chair", because that one is most frequently used in speech. Word "recliner" is too specific, it refers to a rare set of objects, so people will use it rarely. On the other hand, "furniture" is too general; people will usually want to be more specific than that, so people will use this word also rarely.

Unfortunately, this example does not work completely well in Slovak translation. I am curious about other languages. Please give me examples, and also the number of syllables (which is sometimes not completely obvious for those who don't speak the language). Use the same order of words (from most general to most narrow) as in the English example. Here are the data I already have:

English: furniture (3), chair (1), recliner (3)

Slovak: nábytok (3), stolička (3), sklápacie kreslo (5)

Comment author: primality 11 March 2014 10:29:27AM 4 points [-]

Danish: møbel (2), stol (1), lænestol (3)

Furniture is countable in Danish, so the word I wrote means "piece of furniture".

It's actually really weird that furniture is uncountable in English. Most other uncountable nouns make sense - you can't really count how many milks you have. I wonder how it came to be that something so tangible is uncountable in English?

Comment author: Lumifer 11 March 2014 04:09:04PM 2 points [-]

It's not unusual for category nouns to be uncountable precisely because they are category nouns. For example, "clothing", "food", "cutlery", etc.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 11 March 2014 03:55:59PM *  1 point [-]

It's probably uncountable in English because the original meaning was the "act of furnishing."

and yet the closely related word "furnishings" is always plural.

Comment author: Squark 09 March 2014 09:06:35PM *  4 points [-]

Hebrew: רהיט s(2), כסא s(2), כורסה s(2 - closer to "armchair")

Russian: мебель (2), стул (1), кресло (2 - closer to "armchair")

Notes:

  • Modern Hebrew was strongly affected by its artificial revival due to Eliezer Ben-Yehuda so it might violate "evolutionary" laws.

  • The Hebrew word for "furniture" I wrote is singular i.e. corresponds to "a piece of furniture" in English. Plural is רהיטים which has 3 syllables.

  • In both languages I don't know a word for "recliner" as opposed to "armchair". It is probably possible to use some 2 word combination like in Slovak.

Comment author: NoSuchPlace 10 March 2014 10:50:55PM 0 points [-]

German: Möbel (2) Stuhl (1) Liege (2)

Comment author: iarwain1 07 March 2014 08:58:14PM *  5 points [-]

I just discovered libgen.org, but I don't know anything about it. Is it legal? Looks like I can download full-text copies of copyrighted books, so I don't see how it could be legal.

Comment author: gwern 07 March 2014 11:29:44PM 5 points [-]

Totally illegal. Damn useful though.

Comment author: chaosmage 06 March 2014 09:00:12AM 5 points [-]

One area of my life I'd like to optimize is my cleaning. What I have is habits I picked up from others, what I want is knowledge of which tasks have which effects, so I can focus on what makes sense and leave out steps that are just a waste of time.

Anybody have a good source for that?

I'm aware that a good solution would be to hand everything over to a cleaning person. But if I do that, I'd still want to know what exactly I want to pay for.

Comment author: Brillyant 06 March 2014 05:43:13PM 5 points [-]

A (perhaps obvious) tactic that has worked for me:

Clean one thing per day - Dust an end table, wipe off the TV screen, vaccuum the hallway. Tasks that take 30 seconds to 5 minutes to complete help curb the temptation to procrastinate. Plus, cleaning can be infectous—dusting one end table can turn into two; vacuuming a hallway can lead to vacuuming a whole floor of your home, etc. (Note: I've found the " Just One Thing A Day Method" to be helpful in cleaning my house, changing my diet to be more healthy, getting rid of clutter over time, adding productive habits at work, etc.)

The effect I've observed is that my house stays clean—my roommate even says I'm "too clean"—but I feel as if I'm devoting very little time to "house cleaning".

One thing worth considering in your search is how different peoples' definition of "clean" is. Their is a wide spectrum in preferences, and I'd imagine that matters a great deal based on what you are after.

Comment author: [deleted] 11 March 2014 10:11:42AM 1 point [-]

Organizing is investment cleaning. It takes a lot more time in the beginning (it will even look WORSE mid-project), but once you have a place for everything it is SO much quicker and easier to put everything in its place. If your area isn't organized, then you have to think about each think you pick up or clean. Where does this go? Where should I put it? Once you've organized, cleaning is a simple process of putting things back where they belong.

Some heuristics: Things you use frequently should be easy to get to, and easy to put away. For example put your most frequent coat on a hook, not hanger. You want to have shelf space and or a canvas box that is currently empty, to use for future miscellaneous items. Don't be hesitant to just get rid of things.

Re: Picking Up- The number one most important thing to take care of is trash/garbage. Pick it up, put it in a bag, take it out. Do not let it accumulate. This leads to smells and contributes most to a feeling of "grossness". Kitty litter also falls under this category. Number two thing to pick up is clothes. They go in a hamper. For people on this site, number three is probably books. Clothes and books both have the quality of being large, often strewn about, and easy to pick up.

Comment author: Squark 04 March 2014 08:05:54PM 5 points [-]

How to delete pages in the wiki? This looks like spam: http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Young_Rap_God_Kills_Eminem_Remix_By_Token

Comment author: jaime2000 05 March 2014 07:09:21AM 11 points [-]

I want to use computers without being exposed to the internet. I haven't been able to find a lot of practical information about this. I would appreciate the LessWrong hivemind's thoughts on this matter.

My current plan is something like have no internet access at home, record internet tasks on a todo list, go to a library once per week and do them (sample tasks include downloading fanfic reading material for the week, sending e-mails, downloading new versions of programs, checking my bank accounts, etc...). Lack of torrents is something I'll just have to live with. I'm also thinking of switching my phone to a Nokia 106, which has no internet access. There's a neat trick where you can get e-mails as text messages, which should be enough to deal with emergencies. I'll make sure to avoid careers which involve prolonged interaction with internet-capable machines, such as programming. Is teaching math safe?

I dread the day when wireless internet becomes omnipresent. It's a horrible, horrible supertimuli.

Comment author: D_Malik 05 March 2014 08:15:01AM *  5 points [-]

If you want to have absolutely no exposure to the iternet, this should be easy to accomplish by sabotaging the tools your computer uses to access the internet. If you're on Ubuntu, you can do this easily by going into /sbin and removing dhclient, and possibly if* and iw*. To get those back you'd need a liveCD, and to get a liveCD you'd need an internet connection.

I used that solution for a couple months and it worked well. But I often do have legitimate uses for the internet. So you could use something like LeechBlock to block unproductive websites but retain internet access. Unfortunately, LeechBlock and similar solutions are easy to circumvent.

So I built a system to flexibly manage internet access restrictions in a way that is very difficult to circumvent. The code is here, but it's hard to use without a tutorial, and I haven't written a tutorial yet - I'm planning to, but it might take me another month or two. Essentially, you have two user accounts on your computer. The one is a "controller" administrator account, while the other is a "requester" non-administrator account. Most of the time, you are in the requester account, and you do not have access to the controller account; the controller account's password is randomized and hidden from you by the system. You can issue requests to the controller account; an example of a request is "give me access to the controller account". These requests take some time to be enacted, which prevents precommitment-breaking. The controller account restricts the requester account's internet use by filtering packets and blocking certain domains. Again, this code will be hard to use until I write a tutorial/readme, which I'll probably do in a month or two.

Comment author: CAE_Jones 05 March 2014 07:25:22AM 4 points [-]

Seconded!

Currently, my plan is to not get internet at home, and to rely on public places such as libraries/Starbux/etc whenever necessary.

I don't currently have a Smartphone, but am pretty convinced that there are way too many advantages to having an iPhone as a blind introvert to avoid one forever (Android accessibility is too weak to rely upon at present). I am worried about how to make this work without having the constant temptation of 24/7 internet access hanging over my head (I don't really know how any of the data plans work / what extremely useful apps require an internet connection / etc).

(I also don't know if any of my neighbors would have unsecured wi-fi, or if the signal would be strong enough to access from home. At my parents' house, the wi-fi from across the street is strong enough and unsecure enough that my laptop connects automatically if nothing else is available.)

Comment author: iarwain1 06 March 2014 12:52:22AM *  2 points [-]

I've used Internet Lock effectively in the past. Presumably there's some way around it but it sounds like you're like me and don't know enough to find out what that way is.

Currently I do use internet, but with severe filtering restrictions using both K9 and Microsoft Family Safety. So for example, I couldn't follow the link you provided to explain your goals, because K9 blocked it. My wife has the password to both programs, which she makes sure I don't find out. She also carefully monitors what I do online (at my request - plus I told her what types of things to call me out on) using SpectorPro. So yes, that means she'll see what I'm writing now - hi dear! Obviously this wouldn't work without a good partner.

I don't have a smartphone, and neither does my wife. I'm a student, so perhaps that doesn't count, but my wife's a database / software consultant, and she gets along just fine without one. Again, that's not getting rid of the internet, just the smartphone.

I know several people who don't have internet access in their homes, and several who don't even have computers. They work in positions where they don't need to take computer-related work home with them, so any computer / internet use they have is at work. By the way, that's the most effective way to do it - just ditch the computer entirely if at all possible. If it wasn't for the fact that I need it for studying I'd do it myself.

Comment author: Lumifer 05 March 2014 04:46:50PM 2 points [-]

I want to use computers without being exposed to the internet.

Why is this a problem? Drip some epoxy into your physical Ethernet port, break off the Wi-Fi antenna, delete the network drivers from your system...

Comment author: Dagon 05 March 2014 09:22:52AM 2 points [-]

Can you unpack this goal a little for me? Is your desire to constrain your future self from some activities, or something more subtle? Is this an exploration of a possiblity to see what effect it'll have, or a plan to solve a specific problem that you've identified?

Your last few sentences makes me think this is more like performance art than any rational goal-driven decision. If you're planning to arrange your life around this, I suspect you simply can't live in an urban setting. Teaching math isn't safe, you will be surrounded by people who don't share your phobia. Farmhand may or may not be safe.

Comment author: jaime2000 05 March 2014 10:04:28AM *  4 points [-]

This is the next step in a series of escalating steps I have taken to try to fix a worsening problem. I understand that from your perspective this probably looks like a very drastic action taken for no adequately explained reason, but I think of it as a very proportionate response adopted after lesser options have been exhausted.

As for my goal... let's just say I find this passage very familiar, except instead of "day" it's "days", or perhaps "weeks":

Opening Safari is an actively destructive decision. I am asking that consciousness be taken away from me. Like the lost time between leaving a party drunk and materializing somehow at your front door, the internet robs you of a day you can visit recursively or even remember.

Could you elaborate on why you think teaching math in a city might not be safe but being a farmhand in the country might be? If every city starts installing open WiFi networks you might be right, but right now it seems to me that creating an internet-less place at home should be enough (I'm glad routers are now coming locked by default, with long-ass alphanumeric passwords).

Comment author: Dagon 05 March 2014 11:46:13AM 3 points [-]

Simple part first: yes, I claim that every city has or will soon have near-ubiquitous internet access. If you need to deny your future self the ability to choose to use the internet easily, you won't be able to live in a city. Further, surrounding yourself with internet users is going to prove much harder to resist than surrounding yourself with a non-technical, somewhat isolated community.

Harder part: I don't know what you've tried already (and specifically: get professional psychological assistance, which often requires that you try multiple providers until you find one you trust). This level of avoidance (where you're considering careers based on availability) seems way more than you should undertake via self-diagnosis only.

Comment author: jaime2000 05 March 2014 05:57:07PM *  2 points [-]

Simple part first: yes, I claim that every city has or will soon have near-ubiquitous internet access. If you need to deny your future self the ability to choose to use the internet easily, you won't be able to live in a city. Further, surrounding yourself with internet users is going to prove much harder to resist than surrounding yourself with a non-technical, somewhat isolated community.

Like I said, I fear for the future. There are some ideas which would help even in a future full of free Wi-Fi connections (I've been toying with the idea of buying an 5th generation iMac, which was the last model of iMacs not to include a built-in WiFi antenna, and installing Windows on it; or I could just pay some IT dude to physically rip the internal antenna from a new laptop machine), but if it reaches the point of a free internet terminal in every room or something like that, then yes, I may well have to flee first world cities. That said, we aren't there yet, so I might as well take advantage of cities while I can.

Harder part: I don't know what you've tried already (and specifically: get professional psychological assistance, which often requires that you try multiple providers until you find one you trust). This level of avoidance (where you're considering careers based on availability) seems way more than you should undertake via self-diagnosis only.

I find the idea that I am supposed to consult with a "professional" before making drastic changes to my life a little creepy. However, if this doesn't work, I will seriously start to consider the use of psychiatric medication, which will necessitate talking to a shrink.

Comment author: Dagon 06 March 2014 08:29:31AM 1 point [-]

I find the idea that I am supposed to consult with a "professional" before making drastic changes to my life a little creepy.

Yeah, it is a bit creepy. For some types of changes (those that are related to common, diagnosable behavioral problems), it can still be incredibly valuable.

Comment author: savageorange 06 March 2014 02:20:31AM 1 point [-]

Simple part first: yes, I claim that every city has or will soon have near-ubiquitous internet access. If you need to deny your future self the ability to choose to use the internet easily, you won't be able to live in a city.

One doesn't follow from the other.

Take out any built-in wifi hardware; get a usb wireless module. These are tiny enough that you can employ almost any security/inconvenience measure on them. Decide which security/inconvenience measures are appropriate. Done.

Comment author: Dagon 06 March 2014 08:26:48AM 2 points [-]

I suspect I'm taking jaime2000's situation a little more seriously than perhaps I should. If one is considering rearranging one's life around this for many years, that's not a matter of a little inconvenience or simple "prevent devices I own/carry from internetting". It's a matter of "don't associate with people who aren't supportive, and deny myself access to kiosks, public wifi, borrowed tablets, etc."

If your concern is that you'll end up on the street offering sexual favors for a glance a wikipedia, having a net nanny on your computer at home isn't sufficient.

Now, it may not be that it's a harmful serious addiction that he or she is facing, and the original post was overstated. Identifying the underlying problem is necessary before suggesting technological band-aids.

Comment author: trist 05 March 2014 01:42:38PM 1 point [-]

Most teaching jobs around here involve significant use of internet capable machines for grading, communication with other teachers and administration, and increasingly communication with students. Mathematics is probably more resistant to online teaching materials than most subjects though, and you may be able to find a school that eschews such things.

Comment author: DaFranker 04 March 2014 03:24:28PM *  4 points [-]

Quantum Mechanics as Classical Physics, by Charles Sebens. It's described as yet another new QM interpretation, firmly many-worlds and no collapse, with no gooey "the wave function is real" and some sort of effort, if I read correctly, to put back the wave-function in its place as a description rather than a mysterious fundamental essence. Not in quite those exact words, but that does seem to be the author's attitude IMO.

Sounds interesting and very much in line with LW-style reductionist thinking, and agrees a bit too much with my own worldviews and preconceptions. Which is why I'm very much craving a harsh batch of criticism and analysis on this from someone who can actually read and understand the thing, unlike me. If anyone knows where I could find such, or would be kind enough to the world at large to produce one, that'd be appreciated.

Comment author: shminux 04 March 2014 05:12:08PM *  1 point [-]

My ad hominem argument of the day: the author is in the philosophy department... figures...

Comment author: DaFranker 14 March 2014 01:03:07PM *  1 point [-]

I've retracted my (epistemically unhealthy) previous responses about great physics discoveries. I'd say "oops" as per the LW tradition, but when I look back on what I wrote all I see is a rather shameful display of cognitive dissonance. There's no mere "oops" there, but plain old full-blown contrarian, academic-hipster biases. Sorry.

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 11 March 2014 03:17:24PM *  1 point [-]

Peter Spirtes is in a philosophy department too.


"It's too bad all the people who know how to do philosophy are too busy driving taxicabs or cutting hair."

Comment author: hegemonicon 04 March 2014 03:15:18PM 4 points [-]

Lately I've been wondering about telescope resolving power, and physical limits on the size of features we can see at interstellar distances.

I know about the diffraction limit, which (by my quick and dirty math) seems to imply a telescope on the order of a kilometer in size could resolve objects several meters across, but I imagine it's actually more complicated than that. Does anyone know a good source of information on the topic?

Comment author: spxtr 05 March 2014 05:43:34AM *  1 point [-]

Any introduction to astronomy textbook will help you out. I used BOB.

Instead of having huge individual telescopes which run into issues {How do you keep the mirror clean? What shape do you make it? How do you deal with the atmosphere (Adaptive optics are hard enough for small telescopes)? Constructing a telescope this large in space would be fantastically difficult and expensive.}, you can do interferometry. The largest telescopes these days run into the tens of meters, see E-ELT.

Comment author: rocurley 04 March 2014 05:12:59PM 1 point [-]

Not sure I've got a good source for you, but if you use the Rayleigh criterion you get that you can just about make out earth-sized objects using visible light at 4 ly. You could use much higher energy photons (better resolution from lower wavelength), but this gives you other problems. Anything beyond visible light won't make it through the atmosphere (1 km is a BIG thing to put into space), and x and gamma rays are really hard to build optics for.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 10 March 2014 12:08:35PM 0 points [-]

Yeah, if you want to build a space telescope 1km in diameter, you'd better build it out of local materials.

Comment author: Coscott 04 March 2014 04:11:00AM *  7 points [-]

I am getting married in less than a month, and I just realized that the wedding is probably the Schelling point event of my life. Therefore, if I were to make a commitment to change something about myself, now is probably the time to do it. It seems to me that If I want to make a short term resolution to change something about myself, I should start on New Years Day, so that I can have that extra push of being able to say "I have not done X this year." However, If I want to make a long term change, the best time to do it is probably the wedding, since it is probably the Schelling point of events in my life.

So what are some useful commitments I can make in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?

One idea is to get a "Precommitment Journal", and commit to follow anything that I write down in there, but in that case, I have technically followed everything I have written in that non-existent journal, so that commitment does not really need a Schelling point start date.

Comment author: moridinamael 04 March 2014 02:58:02PM *  7 points [-]

If having children is in the plan, I will comment that having kids has been much more Schellingy than getting married was, and any life-changes I didn't have solidly cemented before having kids damned sure weren't going to be made after having them.

One thing I'm glad I did was make a habit of trying to write fiction a few times a week before the kids came along - basically, selfishly carve out some me-time - because now I'm still able to maintain this habit with two babies.

Comment author: XFrequentist 04 March 2014 03:38:20PM 3 points [-]

I'm experiencing this now (with about six months still on the clock). Anything you wish you'd implemented pre-kids?

Comment author: tgb 04 March 2014 12:58:32PM *  4 points [-]

Let me just state some obvious ones: * Exercise * Saving money * Eating well * Anki * Anything in the longevity guide * Practicing a new skill (eg: musical instrument, cooking, a sport or hobby) * Learn how to make bulleted lists in this system, why isn't this working? * Overcoming an annoying habit like biting nails * Meditating regularly

Comment author: [deleted] 04 March 2014 02:57:01PM *  1 point [-]
  • Learn to manage stress well...?

Btw, you need to start a new line every time you make a bullet point.

Comment author: Emile 04 March 2014 04:37:41PM 4 points [-]

Btw, you need to start a new line every time you make a bullet point.

No, you need to leave a blank line before the first item of the list (the items of the list can be linked)

  • like
  • this
Comment author: tgb 06 March 2014 03:57:35AM 1 point [-]

Ah... thanks.

Comment author: Metus 04 March 2014 02:12:20PM *  1 point [-]

Learn how to make bulleted lists in this system, why isn't this working?

Make two newlines before starting the list.

  • Like this it works
  • There has to be new line after the dot above and a newline immediately after that.
Comment author: [deleted] 04 March 2014 08:39:38PM *  9 points [-]

I would say the big one to start is Family Traditions, and the like. Ideas:

  • A weekly or bi-weekly date night where you go do something different (no dinner-and-a-movie.)

  • If you don't usually have a "Family Dinner", make one day of the week a "Family Dinner" night.

  • Weekly or monthly get-together where you can hash out plans, see what's been problematic, hopefully correct things before they lead to arguments, etc

  • The yearly traditions such as: having a jar where you write down all the awesome things that happened on slips of paper, and read the paper on New Years, various holiday traditions, or yearly vacations, or whatnot

Comment author: chaosmage 04 March 2014 11:11:28AM 8 points [-]

Your future spouse can answer this better than we can.

Comment author: shminux 04 March 2014 05:15:01PM *  -2 points [-]

If you are anything like the majority of married men, you will be told what to change about yourself, in what direction and by how much. [Yes, this is tongue in cheek]

Comment author: gjm 04 March 2014 05:17:13PM *  -2 points [-]

And then won't change any of those things.

[EDITED to add: Of course this is an unfair and inaccurate overgeneralization. Just like the parent comment.]

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 05 March 2014 09:31:22AM 2 points [-]

And then won't change any of those things.

Which is probably a good strategy. Not optimal, but better on average than blindly following the advice.

People are sometimes bad in predicting what will make them react which way. If you marry someone, at least you know your current set of trait made you attractive to them, and made them want to spend their time with you. There is no such guarantee for the proposed new set of traits.

Typical failure: In far mode it seems like a good idea that a man should have more ambition, and do what he can to progress on the carreer ladder. But that has some side effects, such as working longer hours, more stress, less attention to what happens at home; even some personality changes. And that is often resented in near mode, and sometimes leads to a divorce.

(I'm currently reading "Why Men Are the Way They Are" by Warren Farrell, and there one man describes his story of following all the advice people around him gave him... finishing with: I worked really hard to become a person whom everyone hates, including myself.)

Comment author: pianoforte611 04 March 2014 11:25:56PM 1 point [-]

Start a a good feelings journal or a relationship journal. Being positive and specific boosts your mood and satisfaction with the relationship.

Comment author: witzvo 09 March 2014 10:39:14PM 3 points [-]

A new study in mice (popular article) establishes that elevated levels of fatty tissue cause cognitive deficits in mice with potential significance for humans suffering from obesity or diabetes. They hypothesize that the mechanism of action involves the inflammatory cytokine interleukin 1 beta. Interventions that restored cognitive function included exercise, liposuction, and intra-hippocampal delivery of IL1 receptor antagonist (IL1ra).

Comment author: moridinamael 07 March 2014 02:47:42PM *  3 points [-]

I have created an anonymous feedback form for myself, totally ripping off Luke's in both concept and style:

Here is the link to the form.

While I don't have the stature, karma, popularity, or cohesive base of posts that Luke (or gwern) has, what I do have is a desire to improve and a feeling that I need more forms of feedback than a metaphorical mirror.

Comment author: ChristianKl 06 March 2014 12:37:56PM 3 points [-]

The recent events in the Ukraine seem important. Till now I haven't come across a good article that describes the background of the event in detail. Can anyone provide me a good link?

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 06 March 2014 02:21:37PM *  9 points [-]

It is difficult to get good info on the English-speaking internet. I have been following the Russian-speaking Internet + I have personal contacts (I was born in the Crimea, and raised in Odessa). I am happy to answer questions.


edit: the outside view of this reminds me of the European middle ages. Much of European politics was dominated by the conflict between France (a unified autocratic state), and the Holy Roman Empire (a highly decentralized "superstate" but dominant in central Europe). France was often able to exploit the decentralization of the HRE, and the lack of effective political power of the Hapsburg emperor to get its way, even though a unified HRE would easily defeat it. In fact, one of the stated foreign policy goals of France was to keep the HRE divided, which was accomplished by siding with individual german princes against the Hapsburg emperor (and doing scandalous things like allying with the Ottoman empire, which was a muslim state).

The EU is a kind of modern, liberal HRE, and is having the same difficulties solving coordination problems.

Comment author: ChristianKl 06 March 2014 03:29:06PM 3 points [-]

A who's who chart with the power players would be a good start.

But it's hard to ask the right questions without having a background. I would have never asked whether the Egyptian military has a problem with Mubarak following Washington consensus policies. Yet it's something very important for understanding why they allowed the mob to remove Mubarak from power. It's also the kind of thing that you don't get to read in Western mainstream media.

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 08 March 2014 05:17:18PM *  2 points [-]

By the way, I am not avoiding this question, I simply have no useful information to give you.

The non-obvious part is the Ukrainian government. I can say that Russia is not entirely incorrect when it claims there are radical elements there, but I do not think these elements form anywhere near the dominant majority (a similar situation with iffy radical elements often happens in parlamentary democracies).

The issue also is that Russia uses "fascist" as a rather flexible label. For example, the "Nashi" ("Ours") youth group:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nashi_(youth_movement%29 http://www.nashi.su/

is called an "anti-fascist" youth organization, but is precisely the opposite (heavy shades of Hitler youth).

Comment author: XiXiDu 06 March 2014 03:07:09PM *  3 points [-]

I have been following the Russian-speaking Internet + I have personal contacts (I was born in the Crimea, and raised in Odessa). I am happy to answer questions.

What are the top reasons people provide when asked why they want to join the EU or the Russian Federation?

How strong is the correlation between the language people speak and their desire to either strengthen the ties with Russia or the EU?

Do people living in the Crimea mostly listen to Russian media or also Ukrainian and western media?

Did at any point, since the crisis started, Russian people in the Crimea seriously feared for their lives/safety?

How is the relation between Russian people in the Crimea and Crimean Tatars?

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 06 March 2014 05:45:35PM *  9 points [-]

What are the top reasons people provide when asked why they want to join the EU or the Russian Federation?

Because Ukraine is fairly large, it has complicated demographics (both ethnically and in terms of opinion).

The educated middle class in Ukraine understands that Ukraine inherited weak (in the sense of huge corruption drag on everything) Soviet institutions, feels a sense of shame because of this, and wants to modernize institutions using western Europe (and e.g. Poland) as an example to follow. I think the main push to join EU is this (obviously people also want to do well economically, but I think pride/shame has a lot to do with this as well). I think Russo-sphere is a profoundly dysfunctional and "third world" place in many respects. For example, here is a (russian-speaking, but pictures speak for themselves) url showing what some hospitals look like in Russia (w/ some comparison to how the elite live): http://lj-editors.livejournal.com/393747.html

The intelligentsia (both in Ukraine and Russia) is ashamed and deeply critical of Putin. Many Russian members of intelligentsia are ashamed to be Russian right now. There are anti-war protesters in Russia that are getting jailed.

It is also true that there is a segment of the population in Ukraine that does not like Russians (and Jews!), and some of these folks are fairly radical, and further some of these folks were involved in the February revolution. Some of these folks view http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stepan_Bandera as a folk hero, although he has a negative status in Russia as a Nazi collaborator (the worst thing you could be in Russia). "Banderan" is a typical slur/catchall used against radical nationalist Ukrainians. These folks have motivations that are obvious.

It is also true that there are a lot of Russians/Russian speaking people living in the Ukraine, and when Ukraine obtained independence it started making moves that made this group unhappy (e.g. mandating Ukrainian for official use, and for education). There is a (racist) perception among some Russians that the Ukrainian language is a kind of "village dialect" of Russian, and not a real language (which is of course preposterous). Some of these folks worry about that an independent, Europe-oriented Ukraine will suppress Russian language and culture, and for this reason may prefer a more Russia-oriented stance.

Further, some (generally older) folks (Russian or not) share Putin's view that the breakup of USSR diminished Russia's place in the world, and for this reason prefer a stronger "USSR sphere" which would include Ukraine staying in Russia's sphere.


How strong is the correlation between the language people speak and their desire to either strengthen the ties with Russia or the EU?

I hope the above answered some of this. I think Putin's invasion showed his true colors, and radicalized Ukrainians against Putin's Russia. For example, in Donetsk (eastern "russian" part of Ukraine), the pro-Ukraine demonstrations are now vastly larger than anti-Ukraine. Odessa had very large pro-Ukraine demonstrations (some say largest in Odessa history).


Do people living in the Crimea mostly listen to Russian media or also Ukrainian and western media?

I do not have the information to answer this. I know independent Russian-speaking news sites are under continuous DDOS attack from Russia (but generally are handling it well, and are staying up). There is a huge activity of pro-kremlin 50-centers ("Kremlinbots" as they are called) on all major news media sites with comments.

The internet (especially social media) is making it far easier to get reasonable news quickly, despite disruption attempts from Russia.


Did at any point, since the crisis started, Russian people in the Crimea seriously feared for their lives/safety?

I would find troops with guns milling around and military tech scary. The point of the invasion is to pass a referendum in Crimea to join Russia under the barrel of a gun. I do not think the Crimeans were genuinely worried about the Russian spetsnaz, e.g. opening fire on them. However, military units in the Crimea who are loyal to Kiev are under tremendous pressure/siege to surrender. Some Ukrainian personnel were wounded with non-lethal stuff the Russians are using (e.g. flash grenades).


How is the relation between Russian people in the Crimea and Crimean Tatars?

What follows is conventional history (e.g. don't need me for this, but providing as a reference):

There is a lot of bad blood between Crimean tatars and russians for historical reasons. The tatars are a turkish people that migrated with the mongols and were a part of the Horde (original connotation of "Yurt"/"Orda", meaning a nomadic tent) that conquered Rus (what we call "mongols", russians call "mongol-tatars".) When the original Horde fell apart, the Crimean tatars had a Khanate that included Crimea and most of southern Ukraine, and were allied with the Ottomans. Tatars were a heavily oppressed minority during Tsarist Russian days, and were relocated from the Crimea to central Asia by Stalin around the time of the second war due to the same worries that led to japanese-american internment.

Despite the bad blood, the sides mostly kept to themselves, and the situation resembled typical ethnic tensions found in many other places (e.g. nowhere close to genocide).

Comment author: Will_Newsome 30 May 2014 09:25:15PM *  1 point [-]

I have been following the Russian-speaking Internet + I have personal contacts (I was born in the Crimea, and raised in Odessa). I am happy to answer questions.

My girlfriend was born in Odessa, has family there, all pure-blood Ashkenazi. I've heard that Russian control of Ukraine would be better for Ukrainian Jews. It's not a precise claim, but do you think it's accurate?

Comment author: private_messaging 16 June 2014 06:41:00AM *  0 points [-]

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:W7a815ys0XwJ:usa.mfa.gov.ua/en/press-center/news/24185-mi-uvichnimo-pamjaty-gerojiv-ochistivshi-nashu-zemlyu-vid-nechistiarsenij-jacenyuk-u-spivchutti-ridnim-i-blizykim-zagiblih-vojiniv-u-lugansyku+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk

before the cache updates, quote:

“They lost their lives because they defended men and women, children and the elderly who found themselves in a situation facing a threat to be killed by invaders and sponsored by them subhumans. First, we will commemorate the heroes by wiping out those who killed them and then by cleaning our land from the evil”

That's the prime minister. From Ukrainian embassy website. Those who speak Russian don't have to wait for such things to be translated to English.

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 31 May 2014 06:37:46PM *  0 points [-]

Ukrainians are quite anti-semitic, but so are russians. Probably given this, an autocratic asshole with an interest in appearing photogenic would seem like a better deal. Historically persecuted minorities do worse under weakened centralization.

Though if your choices are such that Putin is a better idea, then it seems to me that the correct response for an Odessan jew is to move to Brooklyn (?).

Comment author: Lumifer 30 May 2014 11:42:52PM 0 points [-]

I've heard that Russian control of Ukraine would be better for Ukrainian Jews.

Given this, doesn't look likely.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 31 May 2014 05:04:50AM *  1 point [-]

Well Masha Gessen is not necessarily the most trustworthy source on these matters.

Comment author: ChristianKl 09 March 2014 08:01:38PM *  0 points [-]

After reading a bit, I got a decent question: Who does Victor Pinchuk happen to be in your opinion?

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 11 March 2014 03:13:34PM 1 point [-]

This is a good question! Very rich folks like Victor Pinchuk in that part of the world are hard to know well. I am guessing he covertly supported the February revolution, and probably has ties with the new government.

Comment author: ChristianKl 11 March 2014 03:42:52PM 0 points [-]

The thing that I don't quite understand is why someone who's financial interests are about selling pipes to Russian companies will found the Yalta European Strategy to increase ties between the EU and the Ukraine?

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 11 March 2014 05:37:17PM *  1 point [-]

While this is an interesting conversation to have, I should point out that I no longer claim any sort of special knowledge due to being from that part of the world, or being able to read Russian language news. This is the sort of question you need a highly paid analyst for.


Pinchuk seems smart (I have read an interview of his). I think he basically realizes people like him do best in the long run in a legally stable environment, which means EU and not Russia. The issue with Russia is very weak institutions, that is a government of men and not laws. Bad for business (though well connected people can become very rich in such an environment, crucially they cannot reliably count on staying rich, or free, or alive).

Comment author: ChristianKl 11 March 2014 10:39:16PM 1 point [-]

This is the sort of question you need a highly paid analyst for.

To me it seems like a straightforward question. Russian mainstream media probably won't ask it but there might be good blogs who do.

As far as I understand the situation at the moment and please correct me if I got something wrong or missed something important:

The EU proposed an association agreement last year that would have integrated the Ukraine into military exercises with EU countries and that would prevented the Ukraine from having a trade free agreement with Russia.

The Ukrainian president Yanukovych said no. Then the Yalta group headed by Pinchuk got angry. Europe didn't wanted to do that much about it but the US was willing to spend 5 billion to buy a revolution to switch the regime of Yanukovych with one that would accept the association agreement.

From an EU perspective, we have enough trouble on our own supporting countries like Greece but there are still US policy makers who believe in cold war containment, so they choose to play strongly. Figures like George Soros are willing to fund related courses.

Pinchuk made his money with selling pipes but owns 1/3 of the Ukrainians media. For a while he was in parliament but he thinks he can do more working outside of it. He also made Time 100 most influential people once, his company was the first to go to Davos. He knows the US people, he signed Bill Gates pledge. He does a lot to combat AIDS but a lot of his charitable donations go into building civil society organisations that serve his political ends which happens to get the Ukraine into EU.

Forbes description of Pinchuk during the crisis:

He wasn’t just a passive spectator. “We were on the phone constantly–with businessmen, with politicians, with our Western and Eastern friends, discussing what all of us could do.”

Other interesting information from the article:

Pinchuk’s fortune is tied to trade with Russia. Lest he forget that, Vladimir Putin’s regime recently imposed crippling tariffs on his core asset, the steel tube company Interpipe.

Recently is an interesting word. Having a date would be nice to understand the timeline of events better.

It seems very much like someone overplayed their hand. They gave weapons to facists that aren't really nice. They didn't anticipate that the Crimerian government rather wants Crimeria to be part of Russia than of the Ukraine. The didn't anticipate that Russia can just move in and take Crimeria.

Given what happened in Georgia that seems stupid on the part of the US but it's the US. The alternative is that Pinchuk was angry at Russia for the tariffs and therefore gave the US bad intel about Crimeria to get them into play.

Comment author: Fossegrimen 06 March 2014 02:28:41PM 1 point [-]
Comment author: Viliam_Bur 05 March 2014 11:51:24AM *  5 points [-]

In the previous Open Thread NancyLebovitz posted an article about the living-Biblically-for-one-year guy deciding to try living one year rationally. Alicorn noticed that the article was from 2008, so the project was probably cancelled.

However, I was thinking... if someone tried to do this, what would be the best way to do it. (It's easy to imagine wrong ways: Hollywood rationality, etc.) We can assume that the person trying this experiment is not among the most rational people in the world, because they would already be too busy optimizing the universe, and wouldn't have a year of time to spend on such experiment. Also, they would probably already be living pretty rationally, so there would be no big change in their life, and therefore not an interesting report. (Although the participation in the experiment might create some extra incentive to behave rationally more consistently.) On the other hand, too irrational person would not be able to perform the task successfully. So, let's assume that the experimental person is... maybe an average LW reader, or someone generally LW-compatible who haven't found the website yet. (This also assumes that the LW model of rationality is approximately correct. Well, without this assumption it doesn't make much sense to discuss the best strategy here.)

So... let's suppose we have a volunteer who says: "I will try living the next year as rationally as possible, of course within my limits, so give me an advice about how to do it best. (In exchange I promise to keep logs, diaries, and publish the whole story, which could create some popularity for LW and CFAR.)" What advice would we give them?

A good meta-advice would be to keep a feedback loop with other aspiring rationalists. Not just take some initial advice, go away, return after one year with the report and risk getting a "you completely misunderstood it" reaction. Instead they should keep in contact; the question is merely how frequent and how detailed would the optimum contact be, to avoid wasting too much time in web discussions. I could imagine: asking specific difficult questions whenever necessary, and writing a detailed report every month, with the plans for the following months, so people on LW could comment on the strategy. Of course even this decision could be consulted on LW.

Now this feels a bit like cheating. Are we trying to test what one person can achieve during a year of living rationally, or are we using a LW hive-mind to optimize the person? In other words, would the results of the experiment speak about the benefits of rationality on one person, or about benefits of having a LW hive-mind available? Uhm... maybe there is actually no difference there? I mean, it is rational to use the best tools available. Virtue of scholarship, optimizing our social environment, munchkin attitude, etc. For a munchkin, there is no such thing as "cheating"; there is only more or less winning. -- But the important question is what is the goal of this experiment. Is it optimizing the one person's life? Or is it describing a strategy that dozens of other people may follow? Because if too many people decide to follow it, the LW hive-mind may be unable to provide a quality advice to all of them. On the other hand, such an event might motivate the LW hive-mind to become stronger and invent more efficient ways of supporting the aspiring rationalists. -- Uhm... I guess some forms of cheating should be prohibited. For example, if a poor person volunteers for the project, and some people from LW will send them money, and then they would rationalize it as winning by being rational even if the person does nothing else smart. ("What? In their situation it was rational to volunteer for the rationality experiment and ask people for money. It was a strategy that successfully increased their utility, and rationality by definition is winning.") On the other hand, if the person asks LW members for an expert advice in a domain they didn't study, I think that is completely fair; that is what they could (and perhaps should) have done even without the experiment. So, some kinds of support feel okay, other kinds feel not. Maybe the proper question is: Imagine that after successfully publishing the report, the next day 1000 more people would want to try using the same strategy. Would we feel that this contributed to our goal of raising the sanity waterline?

I also think that this kind of experiment would be fun, which is probably the main reason why I describe it; but as a side effect, if successful, it could be a great marketing material. What do you think? Is this "try one year of living most rationally with the support of LW hive-mind" experiment a good idea? Is anyone interested in being a volunteer? Are enough people interested in supporting them? (If yes, maybe we could launch the project on April 1st, the Fools' Day, because it's about all of us being less foolish, isn't it?)

Submitting...

Comment author: RichardKennaway 06 March 2014 01:49:42PM 1 point [-]

I think this is an excellent project, so excellent that I have to ask, why are we not (if indeed we are not) already doing this, all the time?

Weight-watcher groups are watching their weight all the time, not just meeting to talk about it. People meeting to help each other learn a foreign language are learning that language the rest of the time, at least, for as many hours a day as they find useful. University students make studying a full-time job (the ones that are serious). Rationality is supposed to be applicable to everything; every moment is an opportunity for practice.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 06 March 2014 03:46:52PM 1 point [-]

You mentioned specific groups which try to reach a specific goal. That's great, on the level of individual goals. But we also need to go more meta. The foreign language group will not tell you to stop learning the language if your life situation changes so that the original purpose of learning the language is no longer valid; or if simply a better opportunity appears and it would be rational to move your limited resources from the language towards something else. Also, if you already haven't decided to study a specific language, the group will not find you and explore with you whether starting learning the language would be a good idea for you.

A rationalist group could help with this. We could already provide this support to each other; on meetups, on skype, on mailing lists. Some of us already use our good friends for this purpose; but the problem is that these friends are not always LW-style rationalists, so sometimes we only get their "cached thoughts" as an advice. Also, some people may use a psychologist; not necessarily as a source of rational advice, but as someone to listen and reflect on obvious irrationalities.

So, I think many of us are already using somewhat similar solutions, but either they were not consciously optimized, or they were optimized only for a partial goal.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 06 March 2014 12:39:19PM 1 point [-]

Bad idea if you just go "live rationally", imo. I predict it'd end up either as mostly useless cargo-cult behavior by a sufficiently incompetent-and-unaware-of-it participant, going crazy and frustrated trying to apply not yet processed for daily human consumption raw heuristics and biases research to everyday living 24/7, or doing the general wise living thing that smart people with life experience often already do to the best of their ability but which you can't really impart in an instruction manual very well without having the "smart" and "life experience" parts covered.

Might be salvageable if you narrowed it down a bit. Live rationally to what end? Not having a clear idea of what my goals are is the first problem that comes to my mind when looking at this. I don't see why "my goals are doing exactly what I already do day in, day out, so I've already been living rationally all this time, thank you very much" would necessarily be incoherent for example. So maybe go for success for society-wide measuring sticks, like impressive performace in standardised education and good income? A lot of people are doing that, but I'm not seeing terribly much sentiment here for people trying to maximize their earning potential and professional placement as the end goal in life, though some do consider it instumentally.

So maybe say the goal is to live the good life. Only it seems that the good life consists of goals that are often not quite accessible to the conscious mind and methods to search pursue them that can be quite elaborate and often need to be improvised on the spot.

Not to be all bleak and obscurantist though, there is the Wissner-Gross entropy thing, which is a quite interesting idea for an universal goal heuristic, something like "maneuver to maximize your decision space". Also pretty squarely in the not yet ready for human consumption, will drive you crazy if you try to naively apply it 24/7 bin. And if you could actually codify how well someone's satisfying a goal like that you'd probably be getting a PhD and a research job at Google, not running a forum challenge.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 06 March 2014 03:31:00PM *  1 point [-]

The participant could be observed by the LW community; something like a reality show. The costs of observation would have to be weighted, but I imagine the volunteer would provide:

A short log every day. Such as: "Learned 30 new words with Anki. Met with a friend and discussed our plans; seems interested, but we didn't agree on anything specific. Exercise. Wrote two pages of my thesis, the last one needs a rewrite. Spent 3 hours on internet." Not too detailed, not to waste too much time, but detailed enough to provide an idea about progress. (The log would be outside of LW, to reduce the volunteer's temptation to procrastinate here.)

A plan every week: What do I want to achieve; what needs to be done. Something like a GTD plan with "next actions". What could go wrong, and how will I react. What do I want to avoid, and how. -- At the end of the week: A summary, what happened as expected, what was different, what lessons can be taken. -- The LW hive mind would discuss this, and the volunteer can decide to follow their suggestions.

Every month: A comment-sized report in LW Group Rationality Diary; for the same reason other people write there: to encourage each other.

going crazy and frustrated trying to apply not yet processed for daily human consumption raw heuristics and biases research to everyday living 24/7

In this case I would recommend giving feedback: "I'm trying to do this, and it drives me crazy. Any advice? I spent thinking five minutes about it, and here are my ideas: X, Y, Z."

or doing the general wise living thing that smart people with life experience often already do to the best of their ability

This could probably be solved by making a prediction at the beginning of the project. The volunteer would list the changes in the previous years, successes and failures, and interpolate: "Using my previous years as an outside view, I predict that if I didn't participate in this experiment, I would probably do A, B, C." At the end of the project, the actual outcomes can be compared with the prediction.

Live rationally to what end? Not having a clear idea of what my goals are is the first problem that comes to my mind when looking at this.

Sure. The goals would be stated by the volunteer, either from the beginning, or at least at the end of the first month.

I don't see why "my goals are doing exactly what I already do day in, day out, so I've already been living rationally all this time, thank you very much" would necessarily be incoherent for example.

It's perfectly okay. It just does not make sense to participate in the experiment for this specific person. The experiment is meant for people who are not in this situation.

Instead of trying to do the perfect thing immediately, I would recommend continuous improvement. Find the most painful problems, and fix them first. Find the obvious mistakes, and do better (not best, just better). Progress towards your current goals, but when you realize they were mistaken, improve them. If you think you couldn't do a big change, start with doing small changes; and once in a while reconsider your beliefs about the big change. The goal is not to be perfect, but to keep improving.

If at the end you are significantly better than a prediction based on your past, that's a success. If as a side effect we get better experimental data, or if you can rewrite and publish your logs as an e-book to make extra money and do an advertisement for CFAR, that's even better. If you inspire dozen other people, and if most of them also become significantly better than the predictions based on their pasts; and if the improvement is still there even after the end of experiments; that would be completely awesome.

The decision of what is "better" is of course individual, but I hope there would be strong correlation. (On the other hand, I would expect different opinions on what is "best".)

Comment author: Ritalin 04 March 2014 11:29:00PM *  5 points [-]

You know, I wonder if anyone ever made a Fault Tree Analysis of Romance. Specifically, of all the things that could and did go wrong in their previous romantic history. All the causality chains. One could argue that romantic failures have as huge an impact on the economy as the most disastrous industrial accidents, and that this is a field worth researching.

Comment author: TakisMichel 06 March 2014 04:35:38AM *  3 points [-]

Unless you post an example fault tree analysis with this software (say, as an image), all this PUA/Anti-PUA/Meta-PUA/Game/Whatever conversation is highly unlikely to be productive.

Edit: I want to make it clear that I'm excited with what you could come up with, and how you could formalize yours and existing/others theories on relationships. You could definitely bring conversations on relationships to a higher level.

Comment author: Ritalin 06 March 2014 10:46:10AM 1 point [-]

I haven't haod much practice. I'll need a day or two to find my references, get familiar with the software, and plot something up.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 05 March 2014 03:00:28AM -2 points [-]

I believe it's called PUA.

Comment author: CellBioGuy 05 March 2014 03:06:42AM 2 points [-]

That has nothing to do with romance.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 05 March 2014 09:35:36AM *  -1 points [-]

It's what remains of romance when you remove the mystery (i.e. stop worshiping your own ignorance).

Comment author: Ritalin 05 March 2014 12:33:02PM *  9 points [-]

As a long-time student of PUA, I call bullcrap on that one. PUA is, in general, highly manipulative and unethical. It also says nothing about:

  • how to maintain a good relationship
  • how to break-up in good terms or
  • how to recover from a break-up, especially a bad one.

Additionally, when your feelings of attraction run so high you can barely speak, when your misery is so great you cannot sleep, when your thoughts keep intrusively going back to your beloved, "removing the mystery and not worshipping your own ignorance" helps about as much as knowing medicine and physiology while drunk off your ass; it doesn't change the fact that you're drunk, it doesn't mitigate the alcohol's effects, and your judgement is perturbed enough that you might not even be able to use your knowledge.

That's why, for being drunk as well as for being in love, you take your precautions in advance.

Comment author: bogus 05 March 2014 10:10:29PM *  4 points [-]

Um, I'll have to call BS on all of these points. First of all, whether "PUA is, in general, highly manipulative and unethical" is simply not a meaningful question. However, many people find PUA to be extremely beneficial, quite independently of any such manipulation - and one key reason for this is that PUA does address these issues quite effectively, specifically through 'inner game', i.e. romance-oriented mindhacks.

For instance, if you are highly attracted to someone, a PUA might encourage you to meditate on how known biases such as the affect heuristic and the halo effect might influence your perception of the person you are attracted to. While this may not directly affect your attraction to that person, it will nonetheless allow you to behave more rationally and improve your overall outlook in romantic matters.

Comment author: polymathwannabe 05 March 2014 02:46:34PM 0 points [-]

PUA techniques are unabashed realpolitik. It's horrible between nation states, and horrible between individuals.

Comment author: ChristianKl 05 March 2014 12:04:38AM 1 point [-]

If you focus your attention on trying to prevent all kinds of error to happen, you are likely going to act needy and romance won't work well. A highly optimized process might get a pickup guy laid but it doesn't produce a real connection.

Good romance is about enjoying the time you spent together instead of optimizing all the actions that you take while you are together to achieve some future goal.

While dancing Salsa or Bachata I can produce pretty strong intimacy fast, by being in the moment. If I however dance really intimately with a woman whom I just meet I often get inside my head and think whether what I'm doing is alright and about the consequences of my actions. That in turn messes up the whole interaction because I'm not acting based what I'm feeling in the moment anymore and that's going to feel strange to the woman.

Being vulnerable is also important for romance and drawing fault trees doesn't help you to get into a state when you are vulnerable and can allow yourself to be touched on a emotional level by the other person.

Comment author: Ritalin 05 March 2014 02:05:44AM *  9 points [-]

Well, yeah, but I don't mean "seduction methods", I mean basic discipline, among which are ethics and forethought. Such as "Don't cheat on a partner. If you're going to cheat on a partner anyway, don't lie to the other partner about having the first partner's consent. If you're going to lie to the other partner anyway, for god's sake don't leave them drunk and alone together. " "Don't do things that you'll later feel the need to keep secret" also sounds to me like very sound general advice. "Don't put yourself into a situation in which you're likely to do something you'll later regret ." (such as getting intoxicated on whatever, without a sober party you absolutely trust to watch your back).

You know, the relationship equivalent to "never, under any circumstances, point a gun at anything you don't want dead", or "don't even try heroin, and if you're going to do so anyway, lie on your side, not your back", or "do not fuck with the IRS". Or don't piss on an electric fence. Or even "don't run with scissors" and "put your seatbelt on" and book your flights in advance and study your materials every day rather than cram for the exam.

You know, basic stuff. Stuff that, if Harry heard you doing, you know he'd think "You EEEEDIOT!" with a consternated voice. Stuff that would make Quirrell think "Humans never fail to live down to my expectations." That kind of stuff.

Comment author: ChristianKl 05 March 2014 09:00:18AM 1 point [-]

Well, yeah, but I don't mean "seduction methods", I mean basic discipline, among which are ethics and forethought.

My idea of ethics is different from following a process that avoids errors that make other people dislike you. Act ethically for it's own sake and not because it's a technique to influence your partner into staying in a relationship with you.

I think people who act ethically in order to get other people to like them are generally untrustworthy, because you don't know what they will do when put in a emotional charged situation which they haven't analysed beforehand. I rather interact with someone with a strongly developed system of ethics even if that system differs from my own.

Comment author: Ritalin 05 March 2014 12:29:13PM 8 points [-]

It's not a matter of getting people to like you, it's a matter of preventing people from getting hurt. Lovesickness and heartache are, in my experience, among the worst, most devastating pains the world can offer.

Comment author: Brillyant 05 March 2014 05:02:12PM 3 points [-]

I share your feeling that breakups, and all things related, suck. And I like your idea of coming up with best practices for avoiding as much heartache as possible. But I'm unsure about the practicality here.

It is my experience that love involves high-level risk necessarily, and by it's nature.

I just saw a Terence Malick flim this past weekend (To the Wonder) and a quote from the movie comes to mind "The one who loves less is the one who is stronger".

My general thought is that this is opposed to everything of which LW is in favor. That is, love is not a rational move, since it (by a definion I'd accept) requires self-sacrifice for the good of another.

(Note: Not that LWers are selfish, per se. Only that love which chooses another person winning big while you open yourself up to lose hard is antithetical to most of the sentiment I see here.)

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 05 March 2014 05:28:01PM *  9 points [-]

My general thought is that this is opposed to everything of which LW is in favor. That is, love is not a rational move, since it (by a definion I'd accept) requires self-sacrifice for the good of another.

Dedicating resources to one thing that you want means that you can't dedicate them to another thing that you want. Wanting to make someone happy isn't different from any of the other things that you want.

Comment author: blacktrance 05 March 2014 06:37:13PM 4 points [-]

That is, love is not a rational move, since it (by a definion I'd accept) requires self-sacrifice for the good of another.

Love makes/recognizes another person's good part of your good, so, depending on the magnitude, it isn't self-sacrifice to give up some other parts of your good to increase that of your loved one's.

Comment author: Brillyant 05 March 2014 08:15:35PM 3 points [-]

If love were as simple as this, that would be great.

As Ritalin said:

...it's a matter of preventing people from getting hurt. Lovesickness and heartache are, in my experience, among the worst, most devastating pains the world can offer.

"Love" requires that you risk the "devastating pain", I think. You may hold back, or engage principles that mitigate the heartache you feel when a relationship ends—to an extent this is fine, as recklessness is not good—but the risk or devastating pain is inherent in "love", as I'd define it.

Of course, if you find a relationship where both parties are always happy and healthy and pinging each other's fuzzy/utilon meters, then good for you. Life, in my experience, is a bit more dynamic and challenging than that.

I like the idea of coming up with disciplines to protect those who you love from heartache whould things not work out, but love is risky. It just is.

Comment author: Ritalin 05 March 2014 05:12:16PM 2 points [-]

Love makes the other's welfare a win state. It is the ultimate incentive to cooperate.

Comment author: ChristianKl 05 March 2014 11:44:36PM *  1 point [-]

You can follow the ethical principle of always telling the truth, you can also follow the principle of telling white lies whenever that will make the other person feel better.

If you are consistent and the other person can expect you to follow your principles they won't ask you for opinion if the truth will hurt them and you have the policy to always tell the truth.

If you don't have principles and sometimes tell the truth and sometimes tell white lies, it's however much harder for the other person to interact with you to avoid getting hurt.

When driving and there are pedestrians who want to cross the street, you have two valid choices. Stop and let them pass the street before you or continue driving with your speed. When I started taking driving lessons I got the idea of going the middle way of driving slower. That was stupid. It doesn't provide the pedestrians with valid information that they can use to adapt their behavior towards myself.

Hurt feelings often come from people expecting something which doesn't happen. If you follow some codex of ethics and the other person understands which codex of ethics you follow, they won't be in much emotional pain if you act in according with that codex because they can expect you to do so.

it's a matter of preventing people from getting hurt.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I don't think that focusing on preventing other people from getting hurt is good for a loving relationship.

In the past I also found it very condescending when other people thought that they should make the decisions about risk getting hurt for me. Give me all the information that I need to make a decision but in the end it's my own decision if I want to risk getting hurt.

Comment author: TakisMichel 05 March 2014 06:21:43AM *  0 points [-]

So, principles instead of methods. Like this? I'm not sure universal, empirically-validated game exists. With one relationship, it isn't usually as simple as 'this caused this'. With multiple, you might be able to pick out correlations and hypothesize causation. The best you can do is gather everyone's stories, create theories, test them, see what sticks, and then use blog/forum archives to write handbooks for people seeking general relationship advice. This has obviously been done many times, focusing on sex, long term relationship, marriage, family, and religious family.

I don't think it makes any sense to model a relationship as "a system with subsystem and component failures". Doing so successfully would probably be human-level AI-complete.

Comment author: Ritalin 05 March 2014 12:51:32PM 1 point [-]

The closer you follow the letter of these commandments, the easier you will find and keep real, true unconditional love and happiness in your life.

That's just sickening. Also, it's a list of attitudes, ways to manipulate your lover into being obsessed with you, mostly by exploiting the addictive effect of "unreliable reward".

Comment author: TakisMichel 05 March 2014 07:36:32PM 1 point [-]

I'm surprised that as a "longtime PUA student" you haven't come across that before, and even more surprised that you'd describe it like that, unless you recently had a huge change of heart regarding PUA/game stuff.

Regardless of ethics, I think something like what I linked would work better for most people (for creating a good, hurt-free relationship) than an overly-complicated fault tree analysis. (I'm still confused about the practicality of such a tree, can you give a small example?)

Comment author: Ritalin 05 March 2014 08:08:18PM *  1 point [-]

I already did; look at the whole thread.

And my change of heart over PUA was a long and painful disillusion after the original discovery. I'm not a Pachinko machine; if I have to keep my partner addicted, obsessed, and insecure, it hurts me. When I have to refrain from showering my beloved with affection and kindness, it tears me apart. The kind of shit PUA suggest is something I am incapable of doing with someone I truly care about. And as for someone I don't care about, those do not make it to my bed. I only f--k when I I give a f--k. I tried the alternative, and it found it disgusting and hollow.

Comment author: bogus 05 March 2014 10:22:04PM 1 point [-]

if I have to keep my partner addicted, obsessed, and insecure, it hurts me.

You should note that PUA does not advocate this, at least not necessarily. There is an extremely broad spectrum between "trying to keep your partner insecure and obsessed with you" and "boring them to death until they up and leave you for someone else". Many of the posts on Chateau Heartiste seem to be written in an over-the-top way for the sake of stirring up controversy; he is far from being representative of all of seduction/'PUA'.

Comment author: Ritalin 05 March 2014 10:43:59PM 0 points [-]

All I ever see of PUA is around this tone. The art as it is commonly understood and practised is a method to pick up chicks and get laid, not an ethos to build satisfying, durable relationships. If you compare it to actual martial arts, I see a lot of Krav Maga and very little Aikido.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 06 March 2014 09:15:43AM 3 points [-]

There are probably some parts you have missed.

Also, remember the Sturgeon's law.

Comment author: ChristianKl 05 March 2014 09:01:38AM 1 point [-]

So, principles instead of methods. Like this?

That website is a PUA website, so probably not what Ritalin is looking for.

Comment author: Ritalin 05 March 2014 07:30:31PM 1 point [-]

More importantly, I couldn't follow that advice if I tried. I don't think it's even possible to do that if you're actually in love with someone.

Comment author: miekw 06 March 2014 12:17:08PM 1 point [-]

Even if it genuinely made the object of your love happier?

The essence of all persuasion, manipulation, whatever you call it, is giving others what they want; sometimes knowing what they want better than they themselves.

If they are as cold and calculatingly manipulative as you imply, most people who do PUA would almost definitely have no problem being kind, committing and caring towards women if that worked, i.e. made women happy to be with you.

Comment author: Lumifer 06 March 2014 03:48:06PM 2 points [-]

The essence of all persuasion, manipulation, whatever you call it, is giving others what they want;

Not at all. Consider the standard FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) -- it is manipulation, it is clearly not giving the subject what it wants.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 06 March 2014 05:54:26PM 1 point [-]

This seems like a dictionary dispute.

In one sense, a con-man who sells you a fake medicine to treat a serious affliction is "giving you what you want". After all, you willingly paid for the medicine, and — not knowing that it is fake, and expecting it is a real cure — you believe that you are better off than before the exchange. You feel better having bought it; in the moment, you are glad to have bought it.

But in another sense, he is not "giving you what you want", because your goal in buying the medicine was to get a cure for the affliction, and fake medicine won't do that. Once you find out that you have been defrauded, you are not glad any more, but probably angry or indignant at being deceived. Not very many people would react to discovering that they have been cheated, by fondly recalling how nice it felt to believe that they would be cured.

Comment author: Ritalin 06 March 2014 11:14:36AM *  1 point [-]

EDIT: A friend just shared an interesting Wikipedia page with me. I can already see that those rules require several caveats.

Comment author: Metus 05 March 2014 12:55:21AM 1 point [-]

I am sure a proper analysis of the impact of relationship problems on the life of the average person in terms of happiness, well-being or some other similar quantity will put this near or at the top of the list in the Western world.

Though seeing as exercising and eating properly are similar in magnitude - I assume - but people are still not doing it gives me little confidence.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 11 March 2014 11:07:46AM *  2 points [-]

An article just out in PlosONE could have been called "Don't Panic!", but is actually the more sober "Humans Optimize Decision-Making by Delaying Decision Onset".

The task they set their human subjects was to detect the direction of drift of random dot patterns against a background of interfering cues, asking them either to maximise speed or to maximise accuracy. I've not read their model building and model fitting, but their conclusion is in the title. Subjects got better accuracy by waiting to see what was there before deciding what to do.

I'm reminded of the classical advice "festina lente". "Optimize decision-making by delaying decision onset" doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 09 March 2014 02:30:09PM 2 points [-]

Would it be possible to help with keeping an AI boxed by building a goal of staying in the box into it?

Comment author: Coscott 09 March 2014 08:13:45PM 1 point [-]

How do you define "staying in the box." Whatever definition you use, the AI will likely find a way to get out of the box while satisfying your definition.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 09 March 2014 07:33:25PM 1 point [-]

...and hope that AI doesn't get an idea that the safest way of staying in the box is to destroy the outside world. Or just kill all humans, because as long as humans exist, there is a decent chance someone will make a copy of the AI and try to run it on their own computer (i.e. outside of the original box).

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 10 March 2014 01:37:52AM 0 points [-]

Interesting-- the failure mode that occurred to me is a paper-clipper which is designed to prefer virtual paper clips, so it turns the earth/the solar system/ the lightcone into computronium to run virtual paperclips.

If defining stay in the box is that hard, I'm not feeling hopeful about the possibility of defining protect humans.

Comment author: CronoDAS 08 March 2014 10:06:04AM 2 points [-]

Not sure where else to ask this...

What's the practical downside to setting my router's wireless security setting to WPA2 TKIP + AES instead of WPA2 AES only? I know that TKIP has a known exploit, but I have some old hardware (specifically, a PSP) that doesn't support WPA2 AES encryption. What does the exploit let someone actually do?

Comment author: ChristianKl 09 March 2014 09:15:14AM 0 points [-]

If you don't get your answer here another good place might be the information security stackexchange.

Comment author: Bugmaster 08 March 2014 03:04:17AM *  2 points [-]

CCC and I were talking on another thread, and I responded to his comment, on the topic of religion. Rather than derail the original conversation, we decided to continue it here.

Here's the main point of my response, just for reference (original here):

I find your post very interesting, because I tend to respond almost exactly the same way when someone asks me why I'm an atheist. ... Anyway, I find it really curious that we can disagree so completely while employing seemingly identical lines of reasoning.

So, CCC, here are a couple things that I'm curious about:

  • You said that it would take "massively convincing evidence" to get you to change your position. Does this mean that you already have a massive amount of evidence for your position, or that you have an incredibly strong prior, or perhaps both ?
  • You also said that " there are parts of the Bible that are not intended to be taken literally". What process do you use to determine which parts were intended to be taken literally, and which weren't ?
Comment author: CCC 08 March 2014 04:37:22AM *  4 points [-]

You said that it would take "massively convincing evidence" to get you to change your position. Does this mean that you already have a massive amount of evidence for your position, or that you have an incredibly strong prior, or perhaps both?

I started with merely a reasonably strong prior (above 50%), and found some non-massive amount of evidence to reinforce it.

However, should I find evidence that contradicts my position, there will be a number of possible explanations. First is that the evidence is a true sign that my position is incorrect; second is that the evidence has been presented in such a way as to be more convincing than it really is; third is that the evidence has been faked, by a particularly aggressive militant atheist. (There may be further possibilities as well, but let us consider these three for the moment).

Now, this is a subject of great importance. One of the reasons why it is of great importance is the question of the afterlife (specifically, whether it exists or not). Since it is a subject of such great importance, it is of equal importance that I take caution when updating. Specifically, I must take particular care to avoid deliberate attempts at deception. In order to do this, I must first evaluate any evidence I recieve to see what the odds are that it could have been produced, or selected, in a deliberate effort to pull the wool over my eyes.

I know that aggressive militant athiests exist. I know that there are people out there, convinced that God does not exist, who will go to great effort - including subterfuge and deliberate deception - to convince others of this view. Such people have a clear motive for elaborate deceptions.

In order to pass the bar for being considered 'massively convincing' evidence, the evidence must pass the following test: it must be more likely that the evidence is a true sign that God does not exist, than it is that the evidence has been either faked or cherry-picked in order to support the atheist hypothesis.

You also said that " there are parts of the Bible that are not intended to be taken literally". What process do you use to determine which parts were intended to be taken literally, and which weren't ?

It is the same process as I use to determine whether a given piece of writing is fiction or non-fiction. I consider, given what little I know of history, and what I know of fiction, and what I know of human nature, and come to a decision on whether it is more probable that a given incident happened as described, or whether it is more likely that a given incident originated in someone's imagination.

Consider, for example, the book of Job. This is a clear example of something not intended to be taken literally.

To summarise; a righteous and holy man (Job) has vast amounts of wealth. The Devil proposes that he is only righteous and holy because this give him vast material wealth, and God permits the Devil to test this hypothesis. Job promptly loses his wealth, his children, his health. Three of his friends turn up and make long, wordy speeches about how Job must have sinned, in order to attract such disaster; Job himself maintains his innocence. Finally, God himself turns up and makes a long, wordy speech about his great power; Job more-or-less throws himself on God's mercy, and then God chastises Job's friends; Job ends up with more wealth than ever before.

There are several indications throughout the Book of Job that it is intended as a work of fiction. First of all, there are the long, wordy speeches; far longer and wordier than anyone would normally use when conversing among friends, but very appropriate to (say) a stage production in front of an audience. Secondly, there are many references to Jewish legends of the time (which have to be explained in footnotes in modern bibles). Thirdly, the means by which Job discovers his original loss of wealth - three servants arrive, each explaining how some disaster overtook some part of Job's property and only he survived to come and tell Job - is eminently suitable for a low-budget stage production (one merely needs three actors to arrive and say their lines). Fourthly, aside from a bit of narration at the start and finish, everything happens in one location, and it's a location easily reproducible on stage (outside, sitting in the dirt). Fifthly, despite the complexity of the speeches, the moral is very simple ('bad things can happen to good people').

So, for these reasons and others, I consider it more likely that Job was not meant to be taken literally than it is that the incidents described in Job happened as described. Despite that, the moral of Job - that bad things can happen to good people, and thus that people with bad luck are not necessarily evil - is important.

Comment author: Bugmaster 10 March 2014 08:32:42AM 0 points [-]

I started with merely a reasonably strong prior (above 50%)

Why is your prior so strong ? Is this due to the usual somewhat arbitrary combination of your genetics and upbringing -- which, IMO, is where most of our priors come from -- or is there some other reason ?

I know that there are people out there, convinced that God does not exist, who will go to great effort - including subterfuge and deliberate deception - to convince others of this view.

Hmm, well, I hope you don't see me as one of those people.

That said, once again, both of us take a similar line of reasoning to arrive at opposite conclusions. All of the evidence for the existence of gods (of any kind) that I have ever seen was either faked for a profit (weeping statues, faith healing, etc.), hearsay (friend of a friend of a cousin who heard about this one time...), or unfalsifiable ("god acts in mysterious ways"). What's worse, many phenomena that have been historically attributed to direct intervention by gods -- such as thunder, lightning, living tissue, formation of planets, rainbows, volcanic eruptions, disease, etc. -- have since then been explained in terms of purely natural mechanisms. This leads me to believe that future acts of god(s) would likewise be reduced.

That said, I am not sure I understand this part correctly:

...the evidence must pass the following test: it must be more likely that the evidence is a true sign that God does not exist, than it is that the evidence has been either faked or cherry-picked...

Isn't this a little like trying to prove a negative ? If you posit the existence of an incredibly powerful and mysterious entity -- be it a god, or an AI, or a Matrix Lord, or whatever -- then how can I prove to you that any given phenomenon was not caused by him (it/them/etc.) ? What criteria do you use to judge whether any given event was caused by the god, or by some perfectly natural mechanism (the exact nature of which may or may not be known to you).

It is the same process as I use to determine whether a given piece of writing is fiction or non-fiction. I consider, given what little I know of history, and what I know of fiction, and what I know of human nature...

Hmm, I think I do disagree with you on something (other than our conclusions, that is). When I consider a piece of writing, I consider all the things that you mention, but I also compare the setting and the events in the book to those in the real world.

Thus, for example, if I were to read a story that is written in the style of a news report, about perfectly ordinary people who live in modern-day San Francisco, behave in ways consistent with human nature, and fight vampires -- then I would still discount the story as fiction, because I am quite certain that vampires don't exist (given the total lack of evidence for them). The same applies to elves, magic users, alien visitors, etc.

That said, I am still not clear about your own approach. From my perspective, the vast majority of the Old and New testaments is written in the same way as the Book of Job, with the possible exception of commandments ("thou shalt not do X" / "thou must do Y") and the infamous "begats" in Chronicles.

Presumably, you would disagree, so could you perhaps contrast Job with some other passage, which you do take to be literal ?

Comment author: CCC 11 March 2014 05:19:11AM *  1 point [-]

Why is your prior so strong ? Is this due to the usual somewhat arbitrary combination of your genetics and upbringing -- which, IMO, is where most of our priors come from -- or is there some other reason ?

Virtually entirely due to my upbringing.

Hmm, well, I hope you don't see me as one of those people.

No, I don't see you as one of those people. Such people are to atheism as militant fundamentalists are to any religion; they're there, they're outspoken, they won't listen to anyone who disagrees with them, and they're fortunately very rare.

All of the evidence for the existence of gods (of any kind) that I have ever seen was either faked for a profit (weeping statues, faith healing, etc.), hearsay (friend of a friend of a cousin who heard about this one time...), or unfalsifiable ("god acts in mysterious ways"). What's worse, many phenomena that have been historically attributed to direct intervention by gods -- such as thunder, lightning, living tissue, formation of planets, rainbows, volcanic eruptions, disease, etc. -- have since then been explained in terms of purely natural mechanisms. This leads me to believe that future acts of god(s) would likewise be reduced.

I've given a bit of thought to the idea of proving the existence of miracles in a laboratory setting. It runs into a few problems.

For a start, let's divide miracles into two types; the once-off miracle, which happens only once and cannot be reproduced under laboratory conditions, and the repeatable miracle, which happens every time the right conditions are in place.

For obvious reasons, the once-off miracle is not suitable; since it cannot be reproduced, it cannot be used in a scientific context to show more than coincidence.

So let us then consider the repeatable miracle. For the purposes of discussion, I will pick out one potential example; let us say that all fires refuse to burn any orphan. This would be reproducible in a laboratory, and it would be clearly miraculous, by our current understanding of science.

Now, let us consider a world where no fire had ever burnt an orphan. How would it differ from our world? Well, there are a few obvious ways - almost all firemen would be orphans, it would be possible to prove a parent's death by checking if their children are burnt by a candle flame, and some psychopaths would kill their own parents to become fireproof.

And scientists would struggle to find a mechanism for the fireproofness of orphans. Sooner or later, someone would suggest something that sounded vaguely believable... and it would be tested. If it fails the test, then someone else will suggest something else, and so on. The history of science is full of theories that later turned out to be false - phlogiston, luminiferous aether - and were replaced by better theories. In this case, the theory would be wrong (since it's direct divine influence saving all the orphans) - but unless it could be disproved, it would be accepted (and if it could be disproved, it would be replaced).

Either way, the laboratory tests wouldn't say 'miracle'.

If you posit the existence of an incredibly powerful and mysterious entity -- be it a god, or an AI, or a Matrix Lord, or whatever -- then how can I prove to you that any given phenomenon was not caused by him (it/them/etc.) ?

Quite honestly, I haven't the faintest idea. Trying to prove the non-existence of God is exactly like proving a negative, because it is a negative.

What criteria do you use to judge whether any given event was caused by the god, or by some perfectly natural mechanism (the exact nature of which may or may not be known to you).

All perfectly natural mechanisms were set in place by God as well.

Hmm, I think I do disagree with you on something (other than our conclusions, that is). When I consider a piece of writing, I consider all the things that you mention, but I also compare the setting and the events in the book to those in the real world.

Thus, for example, if I were to read a story that is written in the style of a news report, about perfectly ordinary people who live in modern-day San Francisco, behave in ways consistent with human nature, and fight vampires -- then I would still discount the story as fiction, because I am quite certain that vampires don't exist (given the total lack of evidence for them). The same applies to elves, magic users, alien visitors, etc.

That said, I am still not clear about your own approach. From my perspective, the vast majority of the Old and New testaments is written in the same way as the Book of Job, with the possible exception of commandments ("thou shalt not do X" / "thou must do Y") and the infamous "begats" in Chronicles.

Presumably, you would disagree, so could you perhaps contrast Job with some other passage, which you do take to be literal ?

The infamous 'begats' in Chronicles have a problem, in that they assume that Adam and Eve were real (that's where the biblical literalists get their 'the Earth is six thousand years old' from; counting generations and making some assumptions about how long people live).

As for literal; that's a very high bar to meet. I often hear (and even make) statements which are intended to communicate a true fact, but which are not literally true; and even in court, eye-witness statements may and often do conflict on minor details.

So, given that I hold it to the bar of 'eye-witness statement' or, in parts, 'hearsay' rather than to the higher bar of 'every last literal word perfectly true', I shall present to you the four Gospels as an example

Comment author: Nornagest 11 March 2014 09:05:51PM *  4 points [-]

For a start, let's divide miracles into two types; the once-off miracle, which happens only once and cannot be reproduced under laboratory conditions, and the repeatable miracle, which happens every time the right conditions are in place.

I can see a couple of issues with this formulation, defining a miracle for the moment as a suspension of natural law by divine fiat. First, while a one-time miracle presumably wouldn't be reproducible under laboratory conditions, most miracles that I can think of would leave an inconsistency with known physical law and could be analyzed by working backwards from the available evidence. Some would be more obvious or easier to evaluate than others; if the face of the Virgin Mary appeared in my cornflakes one morning, I'd have only until they got soggy to publicize the event, but if a volcanic eruption in Luzon generated a pyroclastic cloud that scoured the rest of a town down to bedrock but left every board of a flimsy wooden church unharmed, there's still plenty of lahar sediments to analyze. You don't need to grow evidence in a Petri dish for it to be real science.

(Though it's worth mentioning here that lots of religions, plus Charles Fort, allege odd phenomena. Incorrupt corpses are alleged for a number of Catholic saints, for example, and the corpses in question certainly look less corrupt than I'd expect them to be, but they also show up among Buddhist monks.)

Then there's the idea that miracles might show signs of agency, i.e. be directed at some goal; God's motives in the context of Christianity are of course famously ineffable, but the miracles alleged in the Bible do show certain patterns (protection of the innocent or of a chosen people; glorification of God; etc.) and we might reasonably expect these to continue. We can pick these out with statistical methods: if preachers of one particular sect are indistinguishable from those of another in terms of habits and demographics and there's enough of both to make a good sample, but the rate of lethal accidents for one is zero, that's certainly suggestive.

Finally, many alleged miracles are persistent in time but limited in space: Lourdes water, weeping statues. These leave an inconsistency that's laboratory testable (many have been tested, generally with negative results) but wouldn't be factored into models of physical law, or which at least would lead to much less elegant physics than we observe.

Comment author: CCC 12 March 2014 09:55:55AM 0 points [-]

First, while a one-time miracle presumably wouldn't be reproducible under laboratory conditions, most miracles that I can think of would leave an inconsistency with known physical law and could be analyzed by working backwards from the available evidence.

That is an excellent point, and some analyses of the sort have been done. The Shroud of Turin being a famous example (conclusion: radiocarbon dating suggests it was likely from a thousand years or so too late, but it's not yet quite clear how it was made; lots of argument and disagreement). Another, perhaps a little less well-known, would be the Miracle of Lanciano

Though it's worth mentioning here that lots of religions, plus Charles Fort, allege odd phenomena.

It's not impossible that God might respond equally to anyone who fulfills a certain list of criteria, regardless of what religion the person follows. A devout Buddhist may have as much chance of leaving an incorrupt corpse as a devout Catholic.

...which leads, of course, to the immediate question of what the relevant criteria are. I don't know. I have a few guesses, but they're speculative.

Then there's the idea that miracles might show signs of agency

This is an excellent point. However; in order to detect the agency, it would be necessary to have some idea of the goal. Considering that omniscience and omnipotence are often considered divine attributes, the best idea that we can have for the goal is to consider that what is happening is what was intended; but that quickly becomes a circular argument, because it is trivially clear that if what is happening is what was intended, then it was successful.

if preachers of one particular sect are indistinguishable from those of another in terms of habits and demographics and there's enough of both to make a good sample, but the rate of lethal accidents for one is zero, that's certainly suggestive.

It would be very suggestive and, quite honestly, a little worrying. It would imply that there was nothing worthwhile in the preachers of one sect, and at the same time, that none of the preachers of the the sect joined for selfish motives (such as, for example, immunity to fatal accidents) and don't really care about doing their duties correctly.

Finally, many alleged miracles are persistent in time but limited in space: Lourdes water, weeping statues. These leave an inconsistency that's laboratory testable (many have been tested, generally with negative results) but wouldn't be factored into models of physical law, or which at least would lead to much less elegant physics than we observe.

That is true. I guess that would fall under laboratory-testable. I imagine a number of them would be faked, or turn out to be a one-in-a-billion statistical fluke - the genuine ones may get lost in the noise.

Comment author: Desrtopa 15 March 2014 02:30:43AM 0 points [-]

It's not impossible that God might respond equally to anyone who fulfills a certain list of criteria, regardless of what religion the person follows. A devout Buddhist may have as much chance of leaving an incorrupt corpse as a devout Catholic.

On the other hand, it's also quite possible that the phenomenon of incorrupt corpses occurs regardless of the virtues of the individuals in question, but then corpses of the particularly virtuous are held up as examples of divine grace, while the incorrupt corpses of ordinary people, not being seen as evidence of anything in particular, are ignored.

You mentioned before the possibility of militant atheists cherrypicking evidence to support their position. This is certainly a consideration that has to be accounted for, but so is the possibility that the evidence favoring religion only appears compelling because it is cherrypicked. This also occurs to a considerable extent with nigh-certainty. Consider, for example, the healing miracles of Lourdes, which Nornagest mentioned above, which have made it an international pilgrimage destination, despite the fact that statistical analyses of the recovery rates of pilgrims do not suggest that the location has any particular healing power. Counting every unexplained recovery, while not counting the nonrecoveries, can create the appearance of persistent miracles.

Hard-to-explain things happen all the time, and we're much more likely to notice them if they seem indicative of something important to us than if they don't.

Comment author: CCC 16 March 2014 04:19:20AM 0 points [-]

On the other hand, it's also quite possible that the phenomenon of incorrupt corpses occurs regardless of the virtues of the individuals in question, but then corpses of the particularly virtuous are held up as examples of divine grace, while the incorrupt corpses of ordinary people, not being seen as evidence of anything in particular, are ignored.

That is also a possibility. And it can be tested for; if it is true, then the percentage of incorrupt corpses should be constant whether the people were virtuous before dying or whether they were legally executed for crimes committed (and not later exonerated by, say, DNA evidence).

...I have no idea what the results of actually checking that would be, but it would certainly be interesting.

You mentioned before the possibility of militant atheists cherrypicking evidence to support their position. This is certainly a consideration that has to be accounted for, but so is the possibility that the evidence favoring religion only appears compelling because it is cherrypicked. This also occurs to a considerable extent with nigh-certainty.

That is a very strong possibility that must be borne in mind, yes.

Consider, for example, the healing miracles of Lourdes, which Nornagest mentioned above, which have made it an international pilgrimage destination, despite the fact that statistical analyses of the recovery rates of pilgrims do not suggest that the location has any particular healing power. Counting every unexplained recovery, while not counting the nonrecoveries, can create the appearance of persistent miracles.

From the Wikipedia article on Lourdes:

An estimated 200 million people have visited the shrine since 1860,[4] and the Roman Catholic Church has officially recognised 69 healings considered miraculous. Cures are examined using Church criteria for authenticity and authentic miracle healing with no physical or psychological basis other than the healing power of the water.[5]

Both references were retrieved on 5 May 2009, though the second was dated 21 October 2003. There we have a rate; 69 miraculous cures, out of 200 million people (and any number of non-miraculous cures as well, of course).

If there is nothing to Lourdes, then this should be similar to the number of miraculous cures among a random sampling of 200 million people with various illnesses.

(Sixty-nine out of two hundred million is low enough to give the appearance of statistical noise; that's odds of close to one in three milllion)

Comment author: Bugmaster 11 March 2014 07:53:44PM 3 points [-]

Virtually entirely due to my upbringing.

Makes sense. This may not be a fair question to ask, but do you believe that, given all available evidence, you'd still be a theist if your prior was a bit lower -- say, about 50% ?

Regarding miracles, I think you and I mean different things by the term.

Both of the kinds of miracles you described sound fairly mundane to me. The first kind is basically a rare unexplained occurrence; these happen every day, and, given what we now know of statistics, it would in fact be quite odd if they did not occur. For example, last week I was filling up my car and saw that my odometer read "123455"; that was neat, but I wouldn't call it miraculous.

The second kind of miracle sounds like a natural law to me, just like gravity or heat transfer or something. You say that "all perfectly natural mechanisms were set in place by God as well"; does this mean that pretty much everything that happens is a miracle ? Doesn't that rather dilute the word "miracle" to the point where it just means, "stuff that happens" ?

So, given that I hold it to the bar of 'eye-witness statement' or, in parts, 'hearsay' rather than to the higher bar of 'every last literal word perfectly true', I shall present to you the four Gospels as an example

Huh, that's odd. When I read the Gospels, I get the same exact impression as the one you described regarding the book of Job. The Gospels basically consist of a thin plot that serves to hold together several tangentially related morality tales, as well as monologues by the main character which are explicitly meant to be metaphorical (involving olive trees, donkeys, and such, borrowing some tropes from Aesop's fables). Jesus does some fantastical things in the book, but these always serve to illustrate some moral lesson or another; in this, he is pretty similar to other characters in the Bible who summon bears, survive inside whales, etc.

So, could you contrast the two stories (the Gospels, or perhaps some specific passage from the New Testament, vs. Job), to illustrate why you believe that one is mostly fiction, and the other mostly fact ?

Comment author: CCC 12 March 2014 10:18:44AM 0 points [-]

Makes sense. This may not be a fair question to ask, but do you believe that, given all available evidence, you'd still be a theist if your prior was a bit lower -- say, about 50% ?

I cannot say for sure. I'd like to say 'yes'... but too much of my history would need to change for that to be true. I can't say anything for certain about that counterfactual me.

Regarding miracles, I think you and I mean different things by the term.

Both of the kinds of miracles you described sound fairly mundane to me. The first kind is basically a rare unexplained occurrence; these happen every day

Yes, but some are mere coincidences, like your odometer; while others appear to subvert the natural order, like the Sun doing a dance.

The second kind of miracle sounds like a natural law to me, just like gravity or heat transfer or something.

Yes, that was more-or-less my point.

You say that "all perfectly natural mechanisms were set in place by God as well"; does this mean that pretty much everything that happens is a miracle ? Doesn't that rather dilute the word "miracle" to the point where it just means, "stuff that happens" ?

I'd say that any kind of natural law is exactly as miraculous as a permanently-repeatable miracle. I don't really think that dilutes the work 'miracle' all that much; after all, some pretty amazing stuff happens on a continual basis. (It may inflate the phrase 'stuff that happens' somewhat; but when one considers all that goes into stuff happening, it can be pretty impressive in any case).

So, could you contrast the two stories (the Gospels, or perhaps some specific passage from the New Testament, vs. Job), to illustrate why you believe that one is mostly fiction, and the other mostly fact ?

Hmmm.

For Job, I shall pick out Job chapters 4 and 5; a very long, wordy speech by one speaker. Note that this is framed as being one of Job's friends, taking to Job after Job has lost everything and moaned about it a bit. Completely overblown. I can't imagine anyone speaking like that in a conversation.

Compare this passage from the Gospel of John (specifically, John 18:28-19:16); wherein Jesus is taken before Pilate by a mob who want to have him killed; what people say here is a lot shorter and more to-the-point. It's easier to see Pilate as a civil servant who just really doesn't want anything to do with this mess that's been thrown on his lap; his reactions seem far more plausible than Job's friends' speeches.

Comment author: JQuinton 12 March 2014 02:05:58PM 2 points [-]

For Job, I shall pick out Job chapters 4 and 5; a very long, wordy speech by one speaker. Note that this is framed as being one of Job's friends, taking to Job after Job has lost everything and moaned about it a bit. Completely overblown. I can't imagine anyone speaking like that in a conversation.

Jesus has a similar overblown speech spanning multiple chapters in John (14-18)

Compare this passage from the Gospel of John (specifically, John 18:28-19:16); wherein Jesus is taken before Pilate by a mob who want to have him killed; what people say here is a lot shorter and more to-the-point. It's easier to see Pilate as a civil servant who just really doesn't want anything to do with this mess that's been thrown on his lap; his reactions seem far more plausible than Job's friends' speeches.

Just FYI, Pilate's behavior in the Gospels is almost completely at odds with how he's described in literature that's actually contemporary with when Pilate lived. Pilate in the Gospels is depicted as a patient, if not a slightly annoyed, judge of character. Only succumbing to executing Jesus because he doesn't want a riot to start. Pilate depicted by Philo (who was writing when Pilate was still alive) describes Pilate as stubborn, inflexible, greedy, impatient, executing multiple people without trials, and has no qualms about ignoring the will of Jewish mobs. Pilate is actually relieved of his duty because he was such a corrupt prefect.

Also, Barabbas, the character that the Jews want released in Jesus' stead: His name "Barabbas" literally means "son of the father" which just so happens to be Jesus' identity. Not only would Pilate not have acquiesced to releasing a (presumably) convicted criminal to appease a Jewish crowd, but there was no tradition of letting a prisoner go during Passover.

The whole trial scene with Pilate is exceedingly improbable if one knows the history of the time period, even if Pilate uses more to the point wording; that is easily fabricated.

Comment author: CCC 13 March 2014 07:43:19AM 0 points [-]

Jesus has a similar overblown speech spanning multiple chapters in John (14-18)

It's a long speech, yes, and spans multiple chapters; but it's not the sort of overblown verbiage one finds in Job. The speeches in Job are long not because they have a lot to say, but because they insist on saying everything in the most drawn-out and overdone way possible; each entire speech could probably be replaced by two or three sentences easily. It would be a lot harder to replace Jesus' speech in John 14-17 with a similarly few short phrases.

Just FYI, Pilate's behavior in the Gospels is almost completely at odds with how he's described in literature that's actually contemporary with when Pilate lived.

Okay, I've followed up your link, and I don't think it backs up your claim as completely as you seem to assume it does. (That's aside from the fact that people are complex beings, and often do unexpected things.) I hadn't really looked into other sources on Pilate before reading your comment, so this is just sortof off the top of my head.

So, the picture I get of Pilate from your link is of someone who really doesn't like the Jews, and is quite willing to set his soldiers on them - even to the point of enticing a Jewish crowd to form in a place where he can arrange disguised soldiers in its midst, so that his disguised troops can cut up the nearby protestors. He has no qualms about sentencing people to death and really, really doesn't like to change his mind.

So. Imagine a person like that, and then imagine that this Jewish mob turns up on his doorstep, all unexpected, clamouring to have this man put to death. Pilate may not have qualms about sentencing a man to death; but a stubborn and inflexible man who doesn't like the Jewish mob isn't going to want to give them what they want. No, he's going to want to deny them out of sheer contrariness; he's going to look for a way to get this guy out of his hair, alive, so that he can go back and bother the Jews more.

And then, of course, there's the data point that he often turns against the mob. But he's human; one man against a mob tends to go really badly for the one man, and he knows that. He doesn't turn against the mob on his own - he turns against the mob when he's backed up by enough soldiers. As in the example where he had the soldiers disguise themselves to join the mob, this takes planning. This takes forethought. This takes knowing that the mob is going to be there. In advance. A mob that turns up entirely unannounced, while Pilate's busy with other stuff and perhaps some of his soldiers are on leave, is another matter entirely; that calls for defusing them now, and punishing them later, when there's been time to plan it out. And hey, this mob gets defused by simply having this one Jewish guy killed. Not optimal, but better than a riot that the troops aren't quite ready to deal with...

Not only would Pilate not have acquiesced to releasing a (presumably) convicted criminal to appease a Jewish crowd, but there was no tradition of letting a prisoner go during Passover.

Given the picture you've painted, as a corrupt prefect, he might well release some minor brigand who'd only preyed on the peasants and left anyone with soldiers alone.

Comment author: Bugmaster 13 March 2014 04:04:20AM 0 points [-]

I cannot say for sure. I'd like to say 'yes'... but too much of my history would need to change for that to be true.

Yeah, that's probably what I'd say, too.

Yes, but some are mere coincidences, like your odometer; while others appear to subvert the natural order, like the Sun doing a dance.

How do you know which is which; and how do you know when the natural order has truly been subverted ? For example, I personally don't know much about that dancing sun event, but the fact that (according to Wikipedia, at least) it has not been recorded by any cameras or other instruments leads me to believe that human psychology, rather than divine intervention, was responsible.

That said, in your estimation, approximately how many miracles of that kind are occurring on Earth per year ?

after all, some pretty amazing stuff happens on a continual basis

Agreed. So, when we talk about miracles, let's stick to unusual acts of divine intervention.

Compare this passage from the Gospel of John ...

In addition to what JQuinton said, I'd like to add that, while the New Testament definitely contains more action than Job, it's still pretty much full of parables, sermons, and long-winded speeches; for example, such as the one directly preceeding the passage you quoted -- and that's not even the longest one. I agree that the supporting characters are a bit more lifelike in the New Testament -- but then, it's also a much longer book, so there are more pages available to flesh them out.

Furthermore, there are many other works of literature with even better writing; for example, the Odyssey, Moby Dick, or, more recently, Harry Potter. Presumably, you don't believe that these works describe real events; but if so, why not ?

Comment author: CCC 13 March 2014 08:39:06AM 0 points [-]

How do you know which is which; and how do you know when the natural order has truly been subverted ?

Well, first you have to know what the natural order is. And that requires the help of the physicists and other scientists.

What a scientist cannot explain may or may not be a subversion of the natural order. (What a scientist can explain may or may not also be a subversion of the natural order - some scientists can be trapped into providing justifications for incorrect versions of events - but it's still a useful filtering tool) Or it may be a thing that the physicist will have to update his model of physics to explain.

...it's not an easy question.

For example, I personally don't know much about that dancing sun event, but the fact that (according to Wikipedia, at least) it has not been recorded by any cameras or other instruments leads me to believe that human psychology, rather than divine intervention, was responsible.

That's not impossible. (I don't know much about it either; it was linked from the wikipedia article on 'miracle').

That said, in your estimation, approximately how many miracles of that kind are occurring on Earth per year ?

Ummm... if I had to guess... I'd guess less than one. I wouldn't venture a guess as to how much less than one, though.

Agreed. So, when we talk about miracles, let's stick to unusual acts of divine intervention.

Defining whether a given event is or is not an unusual act of divine intervention may be tricky; but fair enough, let's go with that definition for the moment.

Furthermore, there are many other works of literature with even better writing; for example, the Odyssey, Moby Dick, or, more recently, Harry Potter. Presumably, you don't believe that these works describe real events; but if so, why not ?

You're right; nothing that's written in the Gospels can raise it to a status of higher than 'plausible'. Many clear works of fiction also reach the status of 'plausible'; in order to reach the higher status of 'probably true', one needs a certain amount of external verification.

I find a good deal of that external verification in the fact that a number of people, in whom I place a great deal of trust, and at least some of whom are known to be better at identifying truth than I am, have told me that it is true.

Comment author: Bugmaster 17 March 2014 11:42:17PM 0 points [-]

What a scientist cannot explain may or may not be a subversion of the natural order. ... it's not an easy question.

Ok, I admit that science is hard. But about you ? How do you, personally, know what's a subversion of the natural order and what isn't ?

That's not impossible.

Which possibility do you think is more likely in this case: genuine miracle, or mass confirmation bias ? That's why I'd like you to clarify this:

I wouldn't venture a guess as to how much less than one, though.

Well, can you put a ballpark figure on it ? Do miracles happen (on average) once a year ? Once a century ? Once a millennium ? Once per the lifetime of our Universe ?

I find a good deal of that external verification in the fact that a number of people, in whom I place a great deal of trust, and at least some of whom are known to be better at identifying truth than I am, have told me that it is true.

I think this is another difference between our methods; and I must confess that I find your approach quite weird. This doesn't automatically mean that it's wrong, of course; in fact, many theists (including C.S.Lewis) advocate it, so there might be something to it. I just don't see what.

The big difference between your approach and mine is that you seem to be entirely discounting empirical evidence; or, if not discounting it, then trivializing it at the very least. So, for example, if a trusted friend told you that he was fishing in the pond behind his house and caught a Great White shark; and if all of your friends confirmed this; then you'd accept that as true. I, on the other hand, would ask to see the shark.

The reason for this is not that I'm some sort of a hateful, un-trusting person (or rather, that's not the only reason, heh); but because we have mountains and mountains of data on sharks, and all of it tells us that they are incredibly unlikely to show up in ponds, and are also quite strong and thus nearly impossible to catch using an ordinary fishing line. Compared to this overwhelming pile of evidence, the testimony of a few people does not suffice to turn the tide of my belief.

So, is there a reason why you value empirical evidence as little as you do ? Alternatively, did I completely misunderstand your position ?

Comment author: CCC 18 March 2014 08:10:55AM *  0 points [-]

Ok, I admit that science is hard. But about you ? How do you, personally, know what's a subversion of the natural order and what isn't ?

I have at least as much difficulty as the hypothetical scientist. Possibly slightly more difficulty, because the hypothetical scientist will know more science than I do.

Which possibility do you think is more likely in this case: genuine miracle, or mass confirmation bias ?

Insufficient data for a firm conclusion.

Opposing the mass confirmation bias hypothesis, are the claims that the water on the ground and on people's clothing was dried during the time; also apparently people 'miles away' (and thus unlikely to have been caught up in mass hysteria at the time) also reported having seen it.

Having said that, there is another explanation that occurs to me; the scene was described as the dancing sun appearing after a rainstorm, bursting through the clouds:

"As if like a bolt from the blue, the clouds were wrenched apart, and the sun at its zenith appeared in all its splendor."

If the clouds were thick enough, it may be hard to see the Sun; the bright light could have been... something else sufficiently hot and bright. (I do not know what, but there's room for a number of other hypotheses there).

I wouldn't venture a guess as to how much less than one, though.

Well, can you put a ballpark figure on it ? Do miracles happen (on average) once a year ? Once a century ? Once a millennium ? Once per the lifetime of our Universe ?

I am very poorly calibrated on such low frequencies, so take what I say here is highly speculative. (Also, the rate seems very variable, with several a year in the time of the Gospels, for example).

At a rough guess, I'd say possibly somewhere between once a year and once a century. Might be more, might be less.

I find a good deal of that external verification in the fact that a number of people, in whom I place a great deal of trust, and at least some of whom are known to be better at identifying truth than I am, have told me that it is true.

I think this is another difference between our methods; and I must confess that I find your approach quite weird. This doesn't automatically mean that it's wrong, of course; in fact, many theists (including C.S.Lewis) advocate it, so there might be something to it. I just don't see what.

Let me explain further, then, by means of an analogy. Consider the example you provide, of a trustworthy friend claiming to have found a great white shark in a nearby pond. For the sake of argument, I shall assume a rather large pond, in which a Great White could plausibly survive a day or two, but fed and drained by rivers too small for a Great White to swim along.

I shall further assume that you are aware that all your friends were on the fishing trip together (which you were unable to join due to a prior appointment).

Now, catching a Great White is a noteworthy accomplishment. If your friend were to accomplish this, it is reasonable to assign a high probability that he would tell you. Therefore, I assign the following:

P (Being told | Great White caught) = 0.95

It is also possible that your friends are collaborating on a prank, giving you an implausible story to see if they can convince you. If this is the case, they could have decided to do so while on the fishing trip, and laid out the necessary plans then. Exactly what probability you assign to this depends a lot on your friends; however, for the sake of argument, I shall assume that there's a 20% chance of this scenario.

P (Being told | No great white caught) = 0.2

Now, furthermore, there is no plausible way for a Great White to have ended up in the pond; and no plausible way to catch one with a simple fishing line. There are a variety of implausible but physically possible ways to accomplish both actions, though. So the prior probability of a Great White being caught is very low:

P (Great White caught) = 0.05

(possibly less than that, but let's go with that for the moment).

Thus, P(Being told) = P (Being told | Great White caught) * P(Great White caught) + P (Being told | No great white caught) * P(No great white caught) = (0.95 * 0.05) + (0.2 * 0.95) = 0.2375

Plugging this into Bayes, P(Great White caught | Being told) = P (Being told | Great White caught) * P(Great White caught)/P(Being told) = (0.95 * 0.05)/0.2375 = 0.2

So, given certain assumptions about how trustworthy your friends are, etc., I find that the probability that they have indeed captured a Great White is higher if they tell you that they have than if they do not. Mind you, the prior probability for capturing a Great White is very low to begin with; the end result is still that it is more probable that they are lying than that they have captured a Great White, and you would be perfectly sensible to request further proof, in the form of the shark in question, before believing their claims.

So, is there a reason why you value empirical evidence as little as you do ? Alternatively, did I completely misunderstand your position ?

It's not that I completely discard empirical evidence; it's just that empirical evidence, one way or another, is somewhat rare in the case of this particular question, and thus I am forced to rely on what evidence I can find.

I have, on at least one occasion, observed some evidence; but it's the sort of evidence that doesn't communicate well and is rather unconvincing at one remove (I know it happened, because I remember it, but I have no proof other than my unsupported word).

Comment author: Jiro 11 March 2014 03:20:59PM 2 points [-]

If fires didn't burn orphans, it may be technically true that science couldn't prove it was caused by a God, but that's because science can't prove anything. Science certainly could rule out other explanations to the extent that a godlike being is pretty much the only reasonable possibility left. Science could discover that fires not burning orphans seemed to be a fundamental law of the universe that can't be explained in terms of other laws. And a fundamental law of the universe that operates in terms of complicated human conceptual categories like "orphan" is a miracle.

You seem to think that science could never prove this is a miracle because science would just keep coming up with other theories (that would eventually be disproven). If that was actually true, no scientist would be able to conclude that anything is a fundamental law of the universe at all, whether miraculous or non-miraculous, since the scientist would keep coming up with theories that explain the law in terms of something else. In fact, at some point the scientist will run out of likely theories and will only be able to come up with theories so unlikely that "this is not based on some other law" is more reasonable.

Comment author: CCC 12 March 2014 09:19:40AM 0 points [-]

You seem to think that science could never prove this is a miracle because science would just keep coming up with other theories (that would eventually be disproven).

They might not eventually be disproven, or they might take a very long time to disprove. Consider; we know that both general relativity and quantum mechanics are very, very, very good at predicting the universe as we know it. We also know that they are mutually incompatible in certain very hard-to-test situations; they cannot both be true (and it is quite possible that neither, in their current form, is completely true). Yet neither has, to the best of my knowledge, been disproven.

If that was actually true, no scientist would be able to conclude that anything is a fundamental law of the universe at all, whether miraculous or non-miraculous, since the scientist would keep coming up with theories that explain the law in terms of something else.

Well, we don't actually have the fundamental laws of the universe yet. Once quantum gravity's been sorted out, then we might be there.

I'm not sure that I can expect anyone in my example counterfactual universe to have done any better than we've done in the real historical universe.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 11 March 2014 07:53:22AM 0 points [-]

All perfectly natural mechanisms were set in place by God as well.

And the evidence for this is ... ?

Comment author: CCC 11 March 2014 11:41:21AM 0 points [-]

And the evidence for this is ... ?

Very similar to the evidence for the existence of God in the first place. (In fact, it starts with that).

Comment author: Bugmaster 11 March 2014 07:58:21PM 0 points [-]

In fact, it starts with that

Sorry, I'm not sure what you mean... what starts with what ?

Comment author: CCC 12 March 2014 10:21:33AM *  0 points [-]

Maybe I should have expanded on that a little.

The evidence that all perfectly natural mechanisms were set in place by God relies on the existence of God in the first place. Should an omnipotent and omniscient being exist, it's trivial to show that the current universe must have at least avoided the disapproval of such a being; and it is quite possible that the universe was constructed or altered into its current form.

Comment author: Bugmaster 13 March 2014 03:39:17AM 0 points [-]

The evidence that all perfectly natural mechanisms were set in place by God relies on the existence of God in the first place.

That sounds less like evidence and more like an assumption. You say:

Should an omnipotent and omniscient being exist, it's trivial to show that the current universe must have at least avoided the disapproval of such a being; and it is quite possible that the universe was constructed or altered into its current form.

I completely agree; however, I am not sure how you could get from "our Universe exists" to "an omni-being exists and takes notice of our Universe". I do agree that going the other way is pretty easy; but we are not omniscient, so we don't have that option.

Comment author: CCC 13 March 2014 07:57:42AM 0 points [-]

I'm not going from "our Universe exists" to "an omni-being exists and takes notice of our Universe". I'm going from "an omni-being exists and takes notice of our Universe" to "said being controls the universe".

I may not have been perfectly clear upthread, so let me try rephrasing and explicitly stating what I had been taking implicitly: If God exists, then all perfectly natural mechanisms were set in place by God.

Comment author: drethelin 11 March 2014 06:20:28AM 0 points [-]

Insofar as scientists have disproved dozens of theories for why certain things happen, I don't see a reason why scientists wouldn't be able to conclude that god was doing the orphan thing. I don't think science in general is as die-hard atheist as you'd like to portray it. Remember that the many of the natural philosophers historically were in fact looking FOR evidence of god.

Plus it'd probably be a big tip-off that the only holy book with no factual errors also mentioned the orphans being fireproof thing.

Comment author: CCC 11 March 2014 11:38:57AM 0 points [-]

Insofar as scientists have disproved dozens of theories for why certain things happen, I don't see a reason why scientists wouldn't be able to conclude that god was doing the orphan thing.

In the same way as scientists could conclude that God is directly responsible for the strong nuclear force?

While I don't deny that it could be advanced as a theory, I don't see how it could be tested. And I don't see a theory gaining much traction unless it can make falsifiable predictions.

Plus it'd probably be a big tip-off that the only holy book with no factual errors also mentioned the orphans being fireproof thing.

If orphans really were fireproof, I'd expect it to be mentioned, at least in passing, in most holy books. Mainly because orphans being fireproof is something that people will tend to notice.

Comment author: Bugmaster 11 March 2014 07:57:12PM 1 point [-]

While I don't deny that it could be advanced as a theory, I don't see how it could be tested.

If your hypothesis cannot be tested, then why does it even matter whether it's true or false ? Since you cannot -- by definition -- ever find out whether it is true, what's the point in believing or disbelieving in it ?

To put it another way, what's the difference between believing in a god who is so subtle that all of his actions are completely indistinguishable from inaction; and in not believing in any gods at all ?

Comment author: CCC 12 March 2014 10:26:52AM 0 points [-]

If your hypothesis cannot be tested, then why does it even matter whether it's true or false ?

There's a difference between finding out whether something is true, and finding enough evidence to prove to my neighbour that that thing is true. Fishermen are notorious for exaggerated descriptions of the fish that got away; should I go fishing, and a fish get away, I have no doubt that few of my neighbours would believe my assertions with regard to the fish's size (even if I somehow managed to measure it before it escaped)

To put it another way, what's the difference between believing in a god who is so subtle that all of his actions are completely indistinguishable from inaction; and in not believing in any gods at all ?

Well, for one thing, it affects my actions in non-trivial ways. My actions affect other people, and they then affect other people... and so on, rippling out.

One difference, for example, is the fact that we are having this conversation in the first place.

Comment author: Bugmaster 13 March 2014 03:34:37AM 0 points [-]

There's a difference between finding out whether something is true, and finding enough evidence to prove to my neighbour that that thing is true.

What's the difference ? I mean, obviously your neighbour could be entirely irrational and refuse to listen to anything you say. However, let's pretend instead that your neighbour is a rational, intelligent, and patient person... who also happens to be from Mars. He speaks English, but he doesn't really know all that much about our human culture. He does know about physics, though, since physics is the same on any planet.

So, you tell your Martian neighbour, "I believe that God is directly responsible for the strong nuclear force". Naturally, he asks you, "who is this God guy ?"; after you've explained that, he asks you, "ok, and why do you believe that ?". What's your answer ?

Well, for one thing, it affects my actions in non-trivial ways.

How so ? Let's say there exist two parallel worlds. In one world, a perfectly unfalsifiable god exists; all of his actions are indistinguishable from chance. This is our world; let's call it Alpha. The other world is called Beta, and it contains no gods at all. The two worlds are completely identical; except that, whenever something happens in Alpha, sometimes the god is responsible, and sometimes it just happens for mundane natural causes. When the same thing also happens in Beta, it's always due to mundane natural causes.

If you were somehow transported in your sleep from Alpha to Beta, how could you tell that this had occurred ? If you could tell, what would you do differently ?

Comment author: CCC 13 March 2014 07:55:09AM 0 points [-]

What's the difference ? I mean, obviously your neighbour could be entirely irrational and refuse to listen to anything you say.

Let us say that I have gone fishing. I return from my fishing trip, and describe to my neighbour how I hooked a six-foot-long great white shark, but my fishing line snapped and it got away. Unfortunately, I failed to get a photograph or any other piece of hard evidence.

Assume that my neighbour is rational, intelligent, and patient. Would he be convinced by my account?

after you've explained that, he asks you, "ok, and why do you believe that ?". What's your answer ?

Short version; I started with a high prior, and certain experiences in my life have caused me to update that original prior in an upward direction.

This is our world; let's call it Alpha. The other world is called Beta, and it contains no gods at all. The two worlds are completely identical; except that, whenever something happens in Alpha, sometimes the god is responsible, and sometimes it just happens for mundane natural causes. When the same thing also happens in Beta, it's always due to mundane natural causes.

...hold on a minute. You are postulating that there is some way to set up the natural laws of a universe such that everything that God would want to do in Alpha happens anyway, even without direct involvement. Should that be the case, an omniscient being would know how to set up the physical laws in such a way; and an omnipotent being would be able to do that, and it would probably be much less effort than having to go back and fiddle with the universe every now and then.

Comment author: Dan_Moore 04 March 2014 02:02:38PM 2 points [-]

Here is another puzzle.

Can you take ten points, forming the vertices of five convex quadrilaterals in three dimensions, such that every quadrilateral intersects each of the other four at a vertex? Solution

Comment author: Coscott 04 March 2014 04:51:38AM *  2 points [-]

Two more logic puzzles on my blog:

Using the three digits, 1, 2, and 3, each at most once, and the combining them using addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, exponentiation, square root, factorial, unary negation, digit concatenation, decimal point, vinculum, and parenthesis, construct all the positive integers from 1 to 30. (Digit concatenation and decimal points only allowed on the original 3 digits. You do not need a 0 before the decimal point.) Solution

Using the numbers 5 and 7, each twice, and the combining them using addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, exponentiation, square root, factorial, unary negation, and/or parenthesis, but no base 10 shenanigans like digit concatenation, come up with an expression which evaluates to 181. Solution

Comment author: ahbwramc 04 March 2014 03:26:39PM 1 point [-]

Well, I wasted a half hour of my morning, but I got all 30. Hardest for me was 19.

Comment author: ahbwramc 07 March 2014 03:02:11AM 2 points [-]

Are links to your own blog posts encouraged/discouraged here? I wrote a piece that I don't think would be particularly appropriate for discussion, but might be of interest to some LW'ers. It's about honesty in advocating for fundamental physics research funding.

Anyway, here's the link.

Comment author: Coscott 07 March 2014 07:08:40AM 3 points [-]

I think they are encouraged, but as with all links, they should always be posted along with a summary/description.

Comment author: army1987 05 March 2014 10:34:07AM 1 point [-]

Now that it no longer contains Rationality Quotes February 2014, my last-30-days karma is 75% positive, which is the lowest I can recall it ever being. I take this to indicate that I'm currently too mind-killed to contribute to Less Wrong productively.

In an attempt to remedy this, I will (as a Schelling point) give up commenting or posting on Less Wrong for Lent (defined as from today to 20 April, excluding Sundays, in whatever time zone I am at each given time).

Comment author: Dagon 05 March 2014 12:57:18PM 8 points [-]

It always amazes me how much weight people give to the very lossy signal that is karma. Please do report (on Sundays) whether you think this is helping, and with which goals.

Honestly, 75% positive seems pretty good to me. In fact, it seems better than my (current) 96%. If I'm not posting at least some things that people don't like, I'm probably posting too little generally, and not taking enough risks.

In an attempt to remedy this, I will reduce my threshold for commenting or posting each week until I'm at 75% positive karma, and then re-evaluate whether I like that level.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 05 March 2014 05:31:18PM *  5 points [-]

It amazes me how much a single downvote bothers people, yet how little attention they seem to pay to the cumulative measure given by %positive. You may be interested in Phil Goetz's take.

Your 30 day karma is at 96%, but your overall score is at 89%. Do you see a difference? Added: another way of saying it is 11% downvotes vs 4%: twice as many!

Note that %positive score is the percent of votes, not, say, percent of comments that end up positive. I think you should give more thought to what you should be optimizing for.

Comment author: army1987 09 March 2014 05:31:58PM 0 points [-]

Please do report (on Sundays) whether you think this is helping, and with which goals.

It sure is helping with not spending inordinate amounts of time on Less Wrong, given the way I implemented it. (I LeechBlock'd LW on non-Sundays on my netbook and logged out of it on my phone.)

Comment author: Alejandro1 05 March 2014 05:49:02PM 3 points [-]

I have looked at your recent comments and, though you have participated in some potentially mindkilling discussions, you also have some downvotes that are completely inexplicable on that account. For example this comment and this comment were both downvoted at least once. I suspect therefore that your karma drop is due to having a mass-downvoting "enemy" as some others have complained of recently. (Though a piece of counter-evidence is that not all your comments have been downvoted, which is the usual M.O.)

Comment author: army1987 09 March 2014 05:28:11PM 1 point [-]

Yes, I've noticed that sometimes when I argue about Certain Topics with a Particular Individual a few unrelated comments of mine get downvoted for no other apparent reason, but to a much smaller scale than some other people have complained about, so I just pretend to treat it as part of the usual noise of comments downvoted for no apparent reason.

(I'm not sure the downvote on my comment about How the Hippies Saved Physics is part of the same pattern: ChristianKl's reply was also downvoted, so I just chalk it to someone who disliked the book.)

Comment author: itaibn0 07 March 2014 12:09:45AM *  -3 points [-]

I looked at the comments of private_messaging, and it looks like someone is mass downvoting him (I initially noticed this when I noticed this comment replying to me was downvoted for no obvious reason). I decided to experiment by giving him a compensatory mass upvote. So far I upvoted what is currently the first page of his comment history (from here to here in his comment history; amongst these this was already upvoted by me for independent reasons). However, it looks like the mass downvote went farther. I suggest anyone who agrees with me that private_message received a mass-downvote to continue for me the compensatory mass upvote and publicly declare which posts they upvoted to avoid double-counting. I also suggest that people say what they think about compensatory mass upvotes in general.

Comment author: Nornagest 07 March 2014 12:45:56AM *  7 points [-]

I'm uncomfortable with mass-upvoting people's comments even if they are known to have been mass-downvoted; it might make them feel slightly better, but it's difficult to figure out how much to compensate them (especially if the target has a contentious history with the site, as private_messaging does), and it weakens karma as a signal of a post's reception just as much as mass downvotes do.

If you believe individual comments to have been downvoted below their worth, by all means upvote them by way of compensation. But I wouldn't make a policy of it if I were you; if their karma's been pushed down enough to affect their posting privileges, I might tentatively endorse it as a patch, but that doesn't seem to be the case here.

Comment author: Squark 07 March 2014 12:13:49AM 2 points [-]

I don't understand why people care so much about Karma, especially effects they know are coming from a small number (1?) of serial downvoters.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 11 March 2014 08:10:26PM 1 point [-]

Another method of immortality. Eterni.me will lifelog you, process the data with AI, and build a virtual you that will last forever. That's their advertising claim, anyway. The service has not yet launched, but they're accepting early signups.

How good would this have to be, for LWers to sign up in the hope of obtaining actual immortality, rather than merely an interactive, animated memorial to who they were? Bearing in mind whatever improvement in technology you expect between now and your deanimation.

Comment author: Punoxysm 04 March 2014 09:38:07PM 1 point [-]

Hi, long time lurker, new user. I was thinking about writing a post on how any potential AGI of human-level intelligence is likely to have a band of a few years before and after its creation where FOOM risks can be contained with care, and how this would be an especially fruitful period to deal with friendliness. Any posts/articles I should look at to avoid being too redundant?

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 05 March 2014 03:07:39PM *  3 points [-]

Intelligence Explosion Microeconomics discusses the kinds of open questions we'd need to answer in order to know whether or not there will be such a band.

Section 2.3. (and its subsections) of Responses to Catastrophic AGI Risk also discusses three different types of FOOM that might be possible: hardware overhang, speed explosion, and an intelligence explosion. Your argument should probably address all three.

Comment author: Punoxysm 05 March 2014 07:18:11PM *  1 point [-]

Thanks. I'll look over these.

Edit: It looks like section 4, AGI Containment, covers many of my thoughts and comes to a pretty similar conclusion: External constraints on AGI are an imperfect plan, but potentially valuable and complementary to other safety approaches.

Comment author: Strilanc 04 March 2014 11:02:51PM *  1 point [-]

There's a post somewhere about two entities discussing how evolution is optimizing so quickly, compared to how things were before. One of them tries to argue that brains will be even faster while the other scoffs that brains making machines with hundreds of moving parts in as little as a thousand years is absurd.

Of course it's an allegory for the next jump also having a massive time scale difference, with things that used to take years taking only minutes.

Unfortunately I can't find the post and I can't remember what it's called.

Comment author: Pfft 04 March 2014 11:56:38PM 6 points [-]
Comment author: Strilanc 04 March 2014 10:48:01PM 1 point [-]

You should read Eliezer's post That Alien Message.

Soon, confirmation comes in from high-orbiting telescopes (they have those) that the astronomical miracles do not seem as synchronized from outside Earth. Only Earth's telescopes see one star changing every second (1005 milliseconds, actually).

Almost the entire combined brainpower of Earth turns to analysis.

[...]

Three of their days, all told, since they began speaking to us. Half a billion years, for us.