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HOWTO: Screw Up The LessWrong Survey and Bring Great Shame To Your Family

25 ingres 08 October 2017 03:43AM

Let's talk about the LessWrong Survey.

First and foremost, if you took the survey and hit 'submit', your information was saved and you don't have to take it again.

Your data is safe, nobody took it or anything it's not like that. If you took the survey and hit the submit button, this post isn't for you.

For the rest of you, I'll put it plainly: I screwed up.

This LessWrong Survey had the lowest turnout since Scott's original survey in 2009. I'll admit I'm not entirely sure why that is, but I have a hunch and most of the footprints lead back to me. The causes I can finger seem to be the diaspora, poor software, poor advertising, and excessive length.

The Diaspora

As it stands, this years LessWrong survey got about 300 completed responses. This can be compared with the previous one in 2016 which got over 1600. I think one critical difference between this survey and the last was its name. Last year the survey focused on figuring out where the 'Diaspora' was and what venues had gotten users now that LessWrong was sort of the walking dead. It accomplished that well I think, and part of the reason why is I titled it the LessWrong Diaspora Survey. That magic word got far off venues to promote it even when I hadn't asked them to. The survey was posted by Scott Alexander, Ozy Frantz, and others to their respective blogs and pretty much everyone 'involved in LessWrong' to one degree or another felt like it was meant for them to take. By contrast, this survey was focused on LessWrong's recovery and revitalization, so I dropped the word Diaspora from it and this seemed to have caused a ton of confusion. Many people I interviewed to ask why they hadn't taken the survey flat out told me that even though they were sitting in a chatroom dedicated to SSC, and they'd read the sequences, the survey wasn't about them because they had no affiliation with LessWrong. Certainly that wasn't the intent I was trying to communicate.

Poor Software

When I first did the survey in 2016, taking over from Scott I faced a fairly simple problem: How do I want to host the survey? I could do it the way Scott had done it, using Google Forms as a survey engine, but this made me wary for a few reasons. One was that I didn't really have a Google account set up that I'd feel comfortable hosting the survey from, another was that I had been unimpressed with what I'd seen from the Google Forms software up to that point in terms of keeping data sanitized on entry. More importantly, it kind of bothered me that I'd be basically handing your data over to Google. This dataset includes a large number of personal questions that I'm not sure most people want Google to have definitive answers on. Moreover I figured: Why the heck do I need Google for this anyway? This is essentially just a webform backed by a datastore, i.e some of the simplest networking technology known to man in 2016. But I didn't want to write it myself, didn't need to write it myself this is the sort of thing there should be a dozen good self hosted solutions for.

There should be, but there's really only LimeSurvey. If I had to give this post an alternate title, it would be "LimeSurvey: An anti endorsement".

I could go on for pages about what's wrong with LimeSurvey, but it can probably be summed up as "the software is bloated and resists customization". It's slow, it uses slick graphics but fails to entirely deliver on functionality, its inner workings are kind of baroque, it's the sort of thing I probably should have rejected on principle and written my own. However at that time the survey was incredibly overdue, so I felt it would be better to just get out something expedient since everyone was already waiting for it anyway. And the thing is, in 2016 it went well. We got over 3000 responses including both partial and complete. So walking away from that victory and going into 2017, I didn't really think too hard about the choice to continue using it.

A couple of things changed between 2016 and our running the survey in 2017:

Hosting - My hosting provider, a single individual who sets up strong networking architectures in his basement, had gotten a lot busier since 2016 and wasn't immediately available to handle any issues. The 2016 survey had a number of birthing pains, and his dedicated attention was part of the reason why we were able to make it go at all. Since he wasn't here this time, I was more on my own in fixing things.

Myself - I had also gotten a lot busier since 2016. I didn't have nearly as much slack as I did the last time I did it. So I was sort of relying on having done the whole process in 2016 to insulate me from opening the thing up to a bunch of problems.

Both of these would prove disastrous, as when I started the survey this time it was slow, it had a variety of bugs and issues I had only limited time to fix, and the issues just kept coming, even more than in 2016 like it had decided now when I truly didn't have the energy to spare was when things should break down. These mostly weren't show stopping bugs though, they were minor annoyances. But every minor annoyance reduced turnout, and I was slowly bleeding through the pool of potential respondents by leaving them unfixed.

The straw that finally broke the camels back for me was when I woke up to find that this message was being shown to most users coming to take the survey:

Message Shown To Survey Respondents Telling Them Their Responses 'cannot be saved'.

"Your responses cannot be saved"? This error meant for when someone had messed up cookies was telling users a vicious lie: That the survey wasn't working right now and there was no point in them taking it.

Looking at this in horror and outrage, after encountering problem after problem mixed with low turnout, I finally pulled the plug.

Poor Advertising

As one email to me mentioned, the 2017 survey didn't even get promoted to the main section of the LessWrong website. This time there were no links from Scott Alexander, nor the myriad small stakeholders that made it work last time. I'm not blaming them or anything, but as a consequence many people who I interviewed to ask about why they hadn't taken the survey had not even heard it existed. Certainly this had to have been significantly responsible for reduced turnout compared to last time.

Excessive Length

Of all the things people complained about when I interviewed them on why they hadn't taken the survey, this was easily the most common response. "It's too long."

This year I made the mistake of moving back to a single page format. The problem with a single page format is that it makes it clear to respondents just how long the survey really is. It's simply too long to expect most people to complete it. And before I start getting suggestions for it in the comments, the problem isn't actually that it needs to be shortened, per se. The problem is that to investigate every question we might want to know about the community, it really needs to be broken into more than one survey. Especially when there are stakeholders involved who would like to see a particular section added to satisfy some questions they have.

Right now I'm exploring the possibility of setting up a site similar to yourmorals so that the survey can be effectively broken up and hosted in a way where users can sign in and take different portions of it at their leisure. Further gamification could be added to help make it a little more fun for people. Which leads into...

The Survey Is Too Much Work For One Person

What we need isn't a guardian of the survey, it's really more like a survey committee. I would be perfectly willing (and plan to) chair such a committee, but I frankly need help. Writing the survey, hosting it without flaws, theming it so that it looks nice, writing any new code or web things so that we can host it without bugs, comprehensively analyzing the thing, it's a damn lot of work to do it right and so far I've kind of been relying on the generosity of my friends for it. If there are other people who really care about the survey and my ability to do it, consider this my recruiting call for you to come and help. You can mail me here on LessWrong, post in the comments, or email me at jd@fortforecast.com. If that's something you would be interested in I could really use the assistance.

What Now?

Honestly? I'm not sure. The way I see it my options look something like:

Call It A Day And Analyze What I've Got - N=300 is nothing to sneeze at, theoretically I could just call this whole thing a wash and move on to analysis.

Try And Perform An Emergency Migration - For example, I could try and set this up again on Google Forms. Having investigated that option, there's no 'import' button on Google forms so the survey would need to be reentered manually for all hundred-and-a-half questions.

Fix Some Of The Errors In LimeSurvey And Try Again On Different Hosting - I considered doing this too, but it seemed to me like the software was so clunky that there was simply no reasonable expectation this wouldn't happen again. LimeSurvey also has poor separation between being able to edit the survey and view the survey results, I couldn't delegate the work to someone else because that could theoretically violate users privacy.

These seem to me like the only things that are possible for this survey cycle, at any rate an extension of time would be required for another round. In the long run I would like to organize a project to write a new software from scratch that fixes these issues and gives us a site multiple stakeholders can submit surveys to which might be too niche to include in the current LessWrong Survey format.

I'm welcome to other suggestions in the comments, consider this my SOS.


2017 LessWrong Survey

21 ingres 13 September 2017 06:26AM

The 2017 LessWrong Survey is here! This year we're interested in community response to the LessWrong 2.0 initiative. I've also gone through and fixed as many bugs as I could find reported on the last survey, and reintroduced items that were missing from the 2016 edition. Furthermore new items have been introduced in multiple sections and some cut in others to make room. You can now export your survey results after finishing by choosing the 'print my results' option on the page displayed after submission. The survey will run from today until the 15th of October.

You can take the survey below, thanks for your time. (It's back in single page format, please allow some seconds for it to load):

Click here to take the survey

Request For Collaboration

1 DragonGod 28 August 2017 11:05PM

I want to work on a paper: "The Information Theoretic Conception of Personhood". My philosophy is shit though, so I am interested in a coauthor. Someone who has the relevant philosophical knowledge to let the paper stand the tests of academic rigour.

DM me if you're willing to help.


One sentence thesis of the paper: "I am my information".

Some conclusions: A simulation of me is me.


I have no idea of the length, but I want to flesh the paper to be something that meets the standards of Academia.

Requesting Questions For A 2017 LessWrong Survey

6 ingres 09 April 2017 12:48AM

It's been twelve months since the last LessWrong Survey, which means we're due for a new one. But before I can put out a new survey in earnest, I feel obligated to solicit questions from community members and check in on any ideas that might be floating around for what we should ask.

The basic format of the thread isn't too complex, just pitch questions. For best chances of inclusion, however, it's best to include:

  • A short cost/benefit analysis of including the question. Keep in mind that some questions are too invasive or embarrassing to be reasonably included. Other questions might leak too many bits. There is limited survey space and some items might be too marginal to include at the cost of others.
  • An example of a useful analysis that could be done with this question(s), especially interesting analysis in concert with other questions. eg. It's best to start with a larger question like "how does parental religious denomination affect the cohorts current religion?" and then translate that into concrete questions about religion.
  • Some idea of how the question can be done without using write-ins. Unfortunately write-in questions add massive amounts of man-hours to the total analysis time for a survey and make it harder to get out a final product when all is said and done.

The last survey included 148 questions; some sections will not be repeated in the 2017 survey, which gives us an estimate about our question budget. I would prefer to not go over 150 questions, and if at all possible come in at many fewer than that. Removed sections are:

  • The Basilisk section on the last survey provided adequate information on the phenomena it was surveying, and I do not currently plan to include it again on the 2017 survey. This frees up six questions.
  • The LessWrong Feedback portion of the last survey also adequately provided information, and I would prefer to replace it on the 2017 survey with a section measuring the site's recovery, if any. This frees up 19 questions.

I also plan to do significant reform to multiple portions of the survey. I'm particularly interested in making changes to:

  • The politics section. In particular I would like to update the questions about feelings on political issues with new entries and overhaul some of the options on various questions.
  • I handled the calibration section poorly last year, and would like to replace it this year with an easily scored set of questions. To be more specific, a good calibration section should:
    • Good calibration questions should be fermi estimable with no more than a standard 5th grade education. They should not rely on particular hidden knowledge or overly specific information. eg. "Who wrote the foundation novels?" is a terrible calibration question and "What is the height of the Eiffel Tower in meters within a multiple of 1.5?" is decent.
    • Good calibration questions should have a measurable distance component, so that even if an answer is wrong (as the vast majority of answers will be) it can still be scored.
    • A measure of distance should get proportionately smaller the closer an answer is to being correct and proportionately larger the further it is from being correct.
    • It should be easily (or at least sanely) calculable by programmatic methods.
  • The probabilities section is probably due for some revision, I know in previous years I haven't even answered it because I found the wording of some questions too confusing to even consider.

So for maximum chances of inclusion, it would be best to keep these proposed reforms in mind with your suggestions.

(Note: If you have suggestions on questions to eliminate, I'd be glad to hear those too.)

LessWrong Help Desk - free paper downloads and more (2014)

30 jsalvatier 16 January 2014 05:51AM

Over the last year, VincentYu, gwern and others have provided many papers for the LessWrong community (87% success rate in 2012) through previous help desk threads. We originally intended to provide editing, research and general troubleshooting help, but article downloads are by far the most requested service.

If you're doing a LessWrong relevant project we want to help you. If you need help accessing a journal article or academic book chapter, we can get it for you. If you need some research or writing help, we can help there too.

Turnaround times for articles published in the last 20 years or so is usually less than a day. Older articles often take a couple days.

Please make new article requests in the comment section of this thread.

If you would like to help out with finding papers, please monitor this thread for requests. If you want to monitor via RSS like I do, many RSS readers will give you the comment feed if you give it the URL for this thread (or use this link directly). 

If you have some special skills you want to volunteer, mention them in the comment section.

Help Reform A Philosophy Curriculum

22 JonathanLivengood 08 December 2012 10:45PM

A couple of days ago, Luke posted a recommendation for reforming how philosophy is taught. My department at the University of Illinois is in the midst of some potentially large-scale changes.* Hence, now seems to be a great time to think about concrete steps towards reforming or partially reforming the curriculum in an actual philosophy department. I would appreciate some help thinking through how to make changes that will (a) improve the philosophy education of our undergraduates, (b) recruit and retain better students, (c) improve faculty experiences with teaching philosophy, and (d) be salable to the rest of the philosophy faculty. To some extent, this post is me thinking out loud through what I want to say to my department's curriculum committee (probably in January).


How Things Stand Right Now

In this section, I will try to lay out the situation as I see it right now.

First, we have the following problem: philosophy courses that we offer are not sufficiently gated. In the mathematics department at my university, you can't take mathematical logic until you've taken a course called Fundamental Mathematics, which looks to be a class about proof techniques, mathematical induction, etc. And you can't take that until you've taken the second semester of calculus. Computer science, economics, physics, and most every other science curriculum works like this. If you want to take advanced courses, you have to pass through the gates of less advanced courses, which (theoretically, at least) prepare you for the material covered in the more advanced course.

By contrast, in the philosophy department, you may take a senior-level (400 at my school) course after taking a freshman-level (100 at my school) introduction to philosophy. The result is that students who take our 400-level courses are typically unprepared. At least, that has been my experience. (Shockingly, many students taking 400-level classes then complain that they were expected to know things about philosophy!) A big part of the problem here is that we do not presently have enough faculty to cover intermediate-level courses on a regular enough basis, and let's be honest, faculty members don't usually want to teach lower-level courses anyway.

Second, we have the following resource: our department currently has strong and growing connections with several world-class science or science-related departments. We have cross-appointed faculty and/or cross-listed courses with mathematics, linguistics, psychology, and physics, all of which are very strong departments. We have philosophy graduate students who do research and teach courses in these disciplines as well. And I am hoping to expand our connections to include computer science and statistics. I think there ought to be a good way to make use of these resources.

Rather than trying to reform the entire philosophy curriculum all at once, I want to focus first on our logic offerings. What we have now is the following mess.

  • 102 -- Introduction to Logic: A critical thinking course almost never taught by a faculty member.
  • 103 -- Quantitative Introduction to Logic: An introductory formal logic course taught by me about half the time
  • 202 -- Symbolic Logic: A basic symbolic logic course (unclear in how it is different from 103 except in that it is completely restricted to deductive logic)
  • 307 -- Elements of Semantics and Pragmatics: Cross-listed with linguistics
  • 407 -- Logic and Linguistics: Cross-listed with linguistics
  • 453 -- Formal Logic and Philosophy: An extension of 202 but with emphasis on philosophical issues
  • 454 -- Advanced Symbolic Logic: Basically, a math logic course covering completeness, compactness, Lowenheim-Skolem, incompleteness, and undecidability

The only pre-requisite for 453 and 454 is 202, and 202 has no pre-requisites at all; the pre-req for 407 is 307, and 307 depends on a 100-level linguistics course or (more commonly) consent of the instructor. We also have a 400-level philosophy of mathematics course. Along with these, the mathematics department has a 400-level mathematical logic course and a 400-level course on set theory and topology, neither of which is currently cross-listed, but both of which, I think, should be cross-listed as philosophy courses, which would also raise the bar for the philosophy students interested in logic by requiring that they take the calculus sequence and the fundamentals course.

On the defects side, I think we have poor use of gating and spotty coverage of even deductive logic. For example, we have no courses on modal logics, we have no courses on intuitionist/constructivist logic, we have no courses on relevance logic, we have no courses on more exotic logics, we have no courses on set theory or category theory, and we have no courses on computation. We get sort of close to the last two in 453/454, and we might address them more directly by cross-listing with mathematics. But as it is, we do not do those things. And we have a huge gaping hole where inductive logic, probability theory, statistics, causal inference, and so on should be. On an individual level, that hole could be filled somewhat by taking courses in statistics; however, that is not quite the same as having courses available on confirmation theory or inductive logics.


So, now you know the basic situation ... what to do?

Below are some specific recommendations that I want to make to my department's curriculum committee. I would really appreciate input on how to refine my recommendations, how to make them more palatable, and so on.

First, we need to make the 100- and 200-level courses connect in a relevant way. I recommend entirely relabeling (and maybe even renumbering) 102 so that it is clear that it is a terminal, service course intended for non-majors. The course should stand to philosophy education as courses like Physics Made Easy stands to physics education. I further recommend making a relabeled (and maybe renumbered) version of 103 a pre-requisite for all 200-level logic courses. In terms of material covered, ideally 103 would introduce symbolic conventions (to be made as standard as possible across the curriculum), proof skills, and basic ideas in model theory, set theory, and probability theory. (I go back and forth between liking this idea, which fits closely with how I teach 103 now, and wanting to do something more like, deductive logic in the first half and confirmation theory in the second half with no formal exposure to set theory. The biggest barrier to the second approach is in formally developing confirmation theory without set theory.) Then 202 could do more meta-logic, go into more detail on model theory, go into more detail on set theory, or whatever.

Second, we need more courses covering inductive logic, probability theory, statistics, and so on. I recommend adding a 200-level course parallel to 202, which would cover some probability theory and some causal and statistical reasoning. Let's call this proposed course PHIL 204, since we don't offer anything under that number right now. I have in mind something slightly more advanced than CMU's Open Learning Initiative course here.

Third, I recommend expanding our 300-level course-offerings as follows. We need a second semester of inductive logic (etc.) that builds off of 204. And we need a course that does a simple survey of exotic logics, like modal logics, intuitionistic logic, relevance logic, free logic, etc. The 300-level survey of exotic logics need not be a pre-req for 400-level courses, provided the 400-level courses cover the same material that they have been covering. And that seems fine to me, although it might be in our long-term interests to drop our 454 in the event that we cross-list with mathematics on their math logic course. Depending on how their math logic course is taught, we might try to convince them that our 202 should satisfy the pre-req as effectively as their fundamentals course. (I don't know if that would be a hard sell or not.)

Fourth, I recommend cross-listing some courses with mathematics and statistics to get more regular coverage of the tools we want our students to have without necessarily having our faculty teach those courses all the time.


What Is The Goal Here?

I haven't spent any time in this write-up thinking about the goal(s) of logic education in philosophy. I am not sure whether it would be worth backing up to address this question or whether there is sufficient implicit agreement about the value and goals of logic to leave it alone. If you think I should be saying something about the place of logic in the overall curriculum or making an argument for teaching logic at all or making an argument for understanding logic broadly enough to get probability and statistics through the door, please tell me and make a suggestion about how to develop the heading.



*My department is currently much too small relative to the size of my university, but the powers that be have recently become receptive to our requests to expand (really, to replace a large number of retirements from the last five years). Hence, we are about to undergo an external review, which we hope will result in a plan for phased growth of the department to a little more than twice its current size by the end of the decade. (Yes, our numbers are seriously depleted!)

LessWrong help desk - free paper downloads and more

36 jsalvatier 07 October 2012 11:45PM

Over the last year, VincentYu, gwern, myself and others have provided 132 academic papers for the LessWrong community (out of 152 requests, a 87% success rate) through the Free research, editing and articles thread. We originally intended to provide editing, research and general troubleshooting help, but article downloads are by far the most requested service.

If you're doing a LessWrong relevant project we want to help you. If you need help accessing a journal article or academic book chapter, we can get it for you. If you need some research or writing help, we can help there too.

Turnaround times for articles published in the last 20 years or so is usually less than a day. Older articles often take a couple days.

Please make new article requests in the comment section of this thread.

If you would like to help out with finding papers, please monitor this thread for requests. If you want to monitor via RSS like I do, Google Reader will give you the comment feed if you give it the URL for this thread (or use this link directly). 

If you have some special skills you want to volunteer, mention them in the comment section.

Free research help, editing and article downloads for LessWrong

55 jsalvatier 06 September 2011 09:13PM

Update: Please use the most recent thread.

The LW Public Goods Team wants to encourage useful research projects (as well other kinds of projects) for the LW community. If you're interested in doing this kind of work, you might run into a problem that is best solved by good outside assistance. Without assistance you might get discouraged and stop working on the project or never even start it. We want to help you avoid that. Do you

  • Not know how to interpret a finding and want help figuring it out?
  • Need access to a particular paper and need someone with a library subscription to download it for you?
  • Need someone to edit your writing?
  • Not even know what you're having trouble with, but you know is that you're stuck and need someone to troubleshoot you?

Then, we want to help!

How do you request such help? For now, I think the best way is to post to the discussion section about your problem. That way other interested people can also provide help and be interested in your research. If you feel uncomfortable doing this, you may post to the public goods team mailing list (lw-public-goods-team@googlegroups.com) or if it's not too long after this was posted, post in the comments.

I personally commit to doing at least 3 hours a week of tasks like these for people doing LessWrong related projects (assuming demand for it; I'll be keeping a log) for at least the next month. Morendil has committed to doing at least an hour of this and atucker has promised to some as well.

Our goal is to find out whether this kind of help is effective and encourages people. If this kind of assistance turns out to be valuable, we'll continue to offer it.

If you would like to volunteer some time (a little or a lot), say so in the comments!

Job Search Advice

2 zntneo 04 June 2011 06:37AM

Some background about me. I currently live in seaside,ca. Have a bs in psychology and an A.A.S in information technology network administration. I currently am a cashier at a gas station but want to find a better job for many reasons. I want a job that will fulfill my high need for analytical thought(high in need for cognition if you know what that means) and problem solving and that hopefully maximizes the amount of time i can be with my wife (who is in the military and "works" 7-3. I am pretty new to the job search thing because i spent 6 years in college with the same job as basically a system admin. (note of worry about all jobs have already developed carpal tunnel and had surgery and my symptoms may be returning

also i'd like to add some interests of mine. During college I was active in my atheist group (after i became one) and have been a pretty big activist since starting college. I try to be as involved as i can think to be in the skeptical/atheist/lesswrong community. 

So my question is given this information what are the best methods/ resources to help me in my job search. What i have been doing is applying online using multiple job banks but have not even landed a interview for anything related to computers I tried looking my self but was overwhelmed by what seemed to be contradictory messages. Any help i can get will be appreciated.

Edit:Thanks to advice from nickernst i will break down the above to a more manageable set of questions


  1. what types of jobs will i enjoy that i would have a chance at given my background
  2. related to one is there anything i could add that would let me get a job that i will really love
  3. what jobs are avaiable to me
  4. what would you suggest for the "process" of job searching to increase the likelihood of interviews
  5. What are some common failure modes of people in the same situation?


Cryonics in Australia: How do you actually do it?

9 Maelin 13 March 2011 10:26AM

Today it struck me just how dumb it was to agree fully with the desirability of being signed up for cryonics and yet not be so. I may, in perfect honesty, also be procrastinating from a piece of uni work that I need to do by Tuesday, but I intend to get right back to it after posting this.

Last time I looked into signing up for cryonics I found it confusing and intimidating, which quickly built up to a level where I abandoned the quest. Now that I have a piece of assessment looming, it is time to do something about it.

But I don't really know where to start. What do you do to get signed up for cryonics? Join the Cryonics Association of Australia? There seems to be a requirement for membership of a US organisation too. You can either say "I have joined/intend to join a US cryonics organisation" and pay $1000, or say "I haven't joined/don't intend to join one" and pay $30, which is sufficiently confusing to make me conclude that I don't actually understood how this organisation works. There aren't any facilities in Australia AFAIK, and there is no indication of what the CAA actually does in the event of unexpected death. Plus, they haven't updated their website for over a year.

Do you skip the CAA, and just sign up with Alcor or someone else based in the US? I don't know which ones are good or bad, or even have any firm idea how to find out which ones are good or bad. How do you arrange transportation to the cryonics facility from another country? Do you need to pay for everything in advance? Life insurance seems to be the ticket, but how do you go about getting that? I live with my parents and the car I drive belongs to them, so I've never insured anything.

Is there anybody who knows, or has some ideas, about what I should be doing?

LW is to rationality as AIXI is to intelligence

2 XiXiDu 06 March 2011 08:24PM

Apparently LW does a great job on refining rationality and dissolving confusions. But is it helpful when it comes to anything apart from designing Friendly AI, apart from a purely academic treatment of rationality? I'm currently unable to benefit from what I have so far read on LW, it actually made me even more unproductive, to an extent that I get nothing done anymore. Let me explain...

You have to know that I'm still in the process of acquiring a basic education. If I say basic, I mean basic. Since I got almost no formal education, what I do know (or know about) is largely on a very low level, yet I am plagued by problems that are themselves on a level that require the intellect and education of the folks here on LW. The problem with that is that I'm yet lacking most of the skills, tools and requisite know-how while the problems in question concern me as well. This often causes me to get stuck, I can't decide what to do. It also doesn't help much that I am the kind of person who is troubled by problems others probably don't even think about. An example from when I was much younger (around the age of 13) is when I was troubled by the fact that I could accidentally squash insects when walking over grass in our garden. Since I have never been a prodigy, far from it, it was kind of an unsolvable problem at that time, especially since I am unable to concentrate for very long and other similar problems are accumulating in my mind all the time. So what happened? After a time of paralysis and distress, as it happens often, I simply became reluctant and unwilling, angry at the world. I decided that it is not my fault that the world is designed like that and that I am not smart enough to solve the problem and do what is right. I finally managed to ignore it. But this happens all the time and the result is never satisfactory. This process too often ends in simply ignoring the problem or becoming unwilling to do anything at all. What I'm doing is not effective it seems, it already stole years of my life in which I could have learnt mathematics or other important things or done what I would have liked to do. You might wonder, shouldn't this insight cause me to ignore subsequent problems and just learn something or do what I want to do, do something that is more effective? Nope, it is exactly the kind of mantra that LW teaches that always makes me think about it rather than ignoring the problem and trying to reach my goals. Namely that the low probability of a certain event might be outweighed by the possible positive or negative 'utility' that the problem implies, especially ethical considerations. What could happen if I just ignore it, if I instead pursue another goal?

It's partly the choice that is killing me, do X or Y or continue thinking about either doing X or Y, or maybe search for some superior unknown unknown activity Z? For how long should I think about a decision and how long should I think about how long I should be thinking about it? Maybe the best analogy would be the browsing of Wikipedia on a subject that is unknown to you and over your head and clicking the first link to a page that explains a certain term you don't know just to repeat that process until you end up with 10 additional problems on an entry that is only vaguely relevant to the original problem you tried to solve. The problem is still there and you've to make the decision to ignore it, pursue it further or think about what to do. 

Recently I had blood vessel crack in my eye. Nothing to worry about, but I searched for it and became subsequently worried if something like that could happen in my brain too. It turned out that about 6 out of 100 people are predisposed for such brain aneurysms, especially people with high blood pressure. Now I might have a somewhat abnormal blood pressure and additional activity might make some blood vessel in my brain leak. Should I stop doing sports, should I even stop thinking too much because it increases the blood circulation in my brain (I noticed that I hear my blood flow when thinking too hard)? But how can I decide upon it without thinking? So I looked up on how to check if I was predisposed and it turned out that all tests are too risky. But maybe it would be rational to stop doing anything that could increase the blood pressure until there are less risky tests? And so I lost a few more days without accomplishing anything I wanted to accomplish. 

How I feel about LW

LW makes me aware of various problems and tells me about how important it is to do this or that but it doesn't provide the tools to choose my instrumental goals. Thanks to LW I learnt about Solomonoff induction. Great...fascinating! But wait, I also learnt that there is a slight problem: "the only problem with Solomonoff induction is that it is incomputable" Phew, thanks for wasting my time! See what I mean? I'm not saying that there is something wrong with what LW is doing, but people like me are missing some mid-level decision procedures on how to approach all the implications. I wish LW would also be teaching utilizable rationality skills by exemplifying the application of rationality to, and the dissolving of, real-life problems via the breakdown of decision procedures.

Take for example some of the top scoring posts. I intuitively understood them, agreed and upvoted them. My initial reaction was something along the lines of "wow great, those people think like me but are able to write down all I thought to be true." Yes, great, but that doesn't help me. I'm not a politician who's going to create a new policy for dealing with diseases. Even if I was, that post would be completely useless because it is utopic and not implementable. The same could be said about most other posts. Awesome but almost completely useless when it comes to living your life. 'Confidence levels inside and outside an argument' was an really enlightening post but only made me even more uncertain. If there is often no reason to assume very low probabilities then I'm still left with the very high risks of various possibilities, just that they suddenly became much more likely in some cases.

The problem with LW is that it tells me about those low probability high risk events. But I don't know enough to trust myself enough to overpower my gut feeling and my urge to do other things. I'd like to learn math etc., but maybe I should just work as baker or street builder to earn money to donate it to the SIAI? Maybe I should read the sequences to become more certain to be able to persuade myself? But maybe I should first learn some math to be able to read the sequences? But maybe I don't need that and would waste too much time learning math when I could earn money? And how do I know what math is important without reading the sequences? And what about what I really want to do, intuitively, should I just ignore that?