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The Importance of Sidekicks

116 Swimmer963 08 January 2015 11:21PM

[Reposted from my personal blog.]

Mindspace is wide and deep. “People are different” is a truism, but even knowing this, it’s still easy to underestimate.

I spent much of my initial engagement with the rationality community feeling weird and different. I appreciated the principle and project of rationality as things that were deeply important to me; I was pretty pro-self improvement, and kept tsuyoku naritai as my motto for several years. But the rationality community, the people who shared this interest of mine, often seemed baffled by my values and desires. I wasn’t ambitious, and had a hard time wanting to be. I had a hard time wanting to be anything other than a nurse.

It wasn’t until this August that I convinced myself that this wasn’t a failure in my rationality, but rather a difference in my basic drives. It’s around then, in the aftermath of the 2014 CFAR alumni reunion, that I wrote the following post.

I don’t believe in life-changing insights (that happen to me), but I think I’ve had one–it’s been two weeks and I’m still thinking about it, thus it seems fairly safe to say I did.

At a CFAR Monday test session, Anna was talking about the idea of having an “aura of destiny”–it’s hard to fully convey what she meant and I’m not sure I get it fully, but something like seeing yourself as you’ll be in 25 years once you’ve saved the world and accomplished a ton of awesome things. She added that your aura of destiny had to be in line with your sense of personal aesthetic, to feel “you.”

I mentioned to Kenzi that I felt stuck on this because I was pretty sure that the combination of ambition and being the locus of control that “aura of destiny” conveyed to me was against my sense of personal aesthetic.

Kenzi said, approximately [I don't remember her exact words]: “What if your aura of destiny didn’t have to be those things? What if you could be like…Samwise, from Lord of the Rings? You’re competent, but most importantly, you’re *loyal* to Frodo. You’re the reason that the hero succeeds.”

I guess this isn’t true for most people–Kenzi said she didn’t want to keep thinking of other characters who were like this because she would get so insulted if someone kept comparing her to people’s sidekicks–but it feels like now I know what I am.

So. I’m Samwise. If you earn my loyalty, by convincing me that what you’re working on is valuable and that you’re the person who should be doing it, I’ll stick by you whatever it takes, and I’ll *make sure* you succeed. I don’t have a Frodo right now. But I’m looking for one.

It then turned out that quite a lot of other people recognized this, so I shifted from “this is a weird thing about me” to “this is one basic personality type, out of many.” Notably, Brienne wrote the following comment:

Sidekick” doesn’t *quite* fit my aesthetic, but it’s extremely close, and I feel it in certain moods. Most of the time, I think of myself more as what TV tropes would call a “dragon”. Like the Witch-king of Angmar, if we’re sticking of LOTR. Or Bellatrix Black. Or Darth Vader. (It’s not my fault people aren’t willing to give the good guys dragons in literature.)

For me, finding someone who shared my values, who was smart and rational enough for me to trust him, and who was in a much better position to actually accomplish what I most cared about than I imagined myself ever being, was the best thing that could have happened to me.

She also gave me what’s maybe one of the best and most moving compliments I’ve ever received.

In Australia, something about the way you interacted with people suggested to me that you help people in a completely free way, joyfully, because it fulfills you to serve those you care about, and not because you want something from them… I was able to relax around you, and ask for your support when I needed it while I worked on my classes. It was really lovely… The other surprising thing was that you seemed to act that way with everyone. You weren’t “on” all the time, but when you were, everybody around you got the benefit. I’d never recognized in anyone I’d met a more diffuse service impulse, like the whole human race might be your master. So I suddenly felt like I understood nurses and other people in similar service roles for the first time.

Sarah Constantin, who according to a mutual friend is one of the most loyal people who exists, chimed in with some nuance to the Frodo/Samwise dynamic: “Sam isn’t blindly loyal to Frodo. He makes sure the mission succeeds even when Frodo is fucking it up. He stands up to Frodo. And that’s important too.”

Kate Donovan, who also seems to share this basic psychological makeup, added “I have a strong preference for making the lives of the lead heroes better, and very little interest in ever being one.”

Meanwhile, there were doubts from others who didn’t feel this way. The “we need heroes, the world needs heroes” narrative is especially strong in the rationalist community. And typical mind fallacy abounds. It seems easy to assume that if someone wants to be a support character, it’s because they’re insecure–that really, if they believed in themselves, they would aim for protagonist.

I don’t think this is true. As Kenzi pointed out: “The other thing I felt like was important about Samwise is that his self-efficacy around his particular mission wasn’t a detriment to his aura of destiny – he did have insecurities around his ability to do this thing – to stand by Frodo – but even if he’d somehow not had them, he still would have been Samwise – like that kind of self-efficacy would have made his essence *more* distilled, not less.”

Brienne added: “Becoming the hero would be a personal tragedy, even though it would be a triumph for the world if it happened because I surpassed him, or discovered he was fundamentally wrong.”

Why write this post?

Usually, “this is a true and interesting thing about humans” is enough of a reason for me to write something. But I’ve got a lot of other reasons, this time.

I suspect that the rationality community, with its “hero” focus, drives away many people who are like me in this sense. I’ve thought about walking away from it, for basically that reason. I could stay in Ottawa and be a nurse for forty years; it would fulfil all my most basic emotional needs, and no one would try to change me. Because oh boy, have people tried to do that. It’s really hard to be someone who just wants to please others, and to be told, basically, that you’re not good enough–and that you owe it to the world to turn yourself ambitious, strategic, Slytherin.

Firstly, this is mean regardless. Secondly, it’s not true.

Samwise was important. So was Frodo, of course. But Frodo needed Samwise. Heroes need sidekicks. They can function without them, but function a lot better with them. Maybe it’s true that there aren’t enough heroes trying to save the world. But there sure as hell aren’t enough sidekicks trying to help them. And there especially aren’t enough talented, competent, awesome sidekicks.

If you’re reading this post, and it resonates with you… Especially if you’re someone who has felt unappreciated and alienated for being different… I have something to tell you. You count. You. Fucking. Count. You’re needed, even if the heroes don’t realize it yet. (Seriously, heroes, you should be more strategic about looking for awesome sidekicks. AFAIK only Nick Bostrom is doing it.) This community could use more of you. Pretty much every community could use more of you.

I’d like, someday, to live in a culture that doesn’t shame this way of being. As Brienne points out, “Society likes *selfless* people, who help everybody equally, sure. It’s socially acceptable to be a nurse, for example. Complete loyalty and devotion to “the hero”, though, makes people think of brainwashing, and I’m not sure what else exactly but bad things.” (And not all subsets of society even accept nursing as a Valid Life Choice.) I’d like to live in a world where an aspiring Samwise can find role models; where he sees awesome, successful people and can say, “yes, I want to grow up to be that.”

Maybe I can’t have that world right away. But at least I know what I’m reaching for. I have a name for it. And I have a Frodo–Ruby and I are going to be working together from here on out. I have a reason not to walk away.


2014 Survey Results

82 Yvain 05 January 2015 07:36PM

Thanks to everyone who took the 2014 Less Wrong Census/Survey. Extra thanks to Ozy, who did a lot of the number crunching work.

This year's results are below. Some of them may make more sense in the context of the original survey questions, which can be seen here. Please do not try to take the survey as it is over and your results will not be counted.

I. Population

There were 1503 respondents over 27 days. The last survey got 1636 people over 40 days. The last four full days of the survey saw nineteen, six, and four responses, for an average of about ten. If we assume the next thirteen days had also gotten an average of ten responses - which is generous, since responses tend to trail off with time - then we would have gotten about as many people as the last survey. There is no good evidence here of a decline in population, although it is perhaps compatible with a very small decline.

II. Demographics

Sex
Female: 179, 11.9%
Male: 1311, 87.2%

Gender
F (cisgender): 150, 10.0%
F (transgender MtF): 24, 1.6%
M (cisgender): 1245, 82.8%
M (transgender FtM): 5, 0.3%
Other: 64, 4.3%

Sexual Orientation
Asexual: 59, 3.9%
Bisexual: 216, 14.4%
Heterosexual: 1133, 75.4%
Homosexual: 47, 3.1%
Other: 35, 2.3%

[This question was poorly worded and should have acknowledged that people can both be asexual and have a specific orientation; as a result it probably vastly undercounted our asexual readers]

Relationship Style
Prefer monogamous: 778, 51.8%
Prefer polyamorous: 227, 15.1%
Uncertain/no preference: 464, 30.9%
Other: 23, 1.5%

Number of Partners
0: 738, 49.1%
1: 674, 44.8%
2: 51, 3.4%
3: 17, 1.1%
4: 7, 0.5%
5: 1, 0.1%
Lots and lots: 3, 0.2%

Relationship Goals
Currently not looking for new partners: 648, 43.1%
Open to new partners: 467, 31.1%
Seeking more partners: 370, 24.6%

[22.2% of people who don’t have a partner aren’t looking for one.]


Relationship Status
Married: 274, 18.2%
Relationship: 424, 28.2%
Single: 788, 52.4%

[6.9% of single people have at least one partner; 1.8% have more than one.]

Living With
Alone: 345, 23.0%
With parents and/or guardians: 303, 20.2%
With partner and/or children: 411, 27.3%
With roommates: 428, 28.5%

Children
0: 1317, 81.6%
1: 66, 4.4%
2: 78, 5.2%
3: 17, 1.1%
4: 6, 0.4%
5: 3, 0.2%
6: 1, 0.1%
Lots and lots: 1, 0.1%

Want More Children?
Yes: 549, 36.1%
Uncertain: 426, 28.3%
No: 516, 34.3%

[418 of the people who don’t have children don’t want any, suggesting that the LW community is 27.8% childfree.]

Country
United States, 822, 54.7%
United Kingdom, 116, 7.7%
Canada, 88, 5.9%
Australia: 83, 5.5%
Germany, 62, 4.1%
Russia, 26, 1.7%
Finland, 20, 1.3%
New Zealand, 20, 1.3%
India, 17, 1.1%
Brazil: 15, 1.0%
France, 15, 1.0%
Israel, 15, 1.0%

Lesswrongers Per Capita
Finland: 1/271,950
New Zealand: 1/223,550
Australia: 1/278,674
United States: 1/358,390
Canada: 1/399,545
Israel: 1/537,266
United Kingdom: 1/552,586
Germany: 1/1,290,323
France: 1/ 4,402,000
Russia: 1/ 5,519,231
Brazil: 1/ 13,360,000
India: 1/ 73,647,058

Race
Asian (East Asian): 59. 3.9%
Asian (Indian subcontinent): 33, 2.2%
Black: 12. 0.8%
Hispanic: 32, 2.1%
Middle Eastern: 9, 0.6%
Other: 50, 3.3%
White (non-Hispanic): 1294, 86.1%

Work Status
Academic (teaching): 86, 5.7%
For-profit work: 492, 32.7%
Government work: 59, 3.9%
Homemaker: 8, 0.5%
Independently wealthy: 9, 0.6%
Nonprofit work: 58, 3.9%
Self-employed: 122, 5.8%
Student: 553, 36.8%
Unemployed: 103, 6.9%

Profession
Art: 22, 1.5%
Biology: 29, 1.9%
Business: 35, 4.0%
Computers (AI): 42, 2.8%
Computers (other academic): 106, 7.1%
Computers (practical): 477, 31.7%
Engineering: 104, 6.1%
Finance/Economics: 71, 4.7%
Law: 38, 2.5%
Mathematics: 121, 8.1%
Medicine: 32, 2.1%
Neuroscience: 18, 1.2%
Philosophy: 36, 2.4%
Physics: 65, 4.3%
Psychology: 31, 2.1%
Other: 157, 10.2%
Other “hard science”: 25, 1.7%
Other “social science”: 34, 2.3%

Degree
None: 74, 4.9%
High school: 347, 23.1%
2 year degree: 64, 4.3%
Bachelors: 555, 36.9%
Masters: 278, 18.5%
JD/MD/other professional degree: 44, 2.9%
PhD: 105, 7.0%
Other: 24, 1.4%

III. Mental Illness

535 answer “no” to all the mental illness questions. Upper bound: 64.4% of the LW population is mentally ill.
393 answer “yes” to at least one mental illness question. Lower bound: 26.1% of the LW population is mentally ill. Gosh, we have a lot of self-diagnosers.

Depression
Yes, I was formally diagnosed: 273, 18.2%
Yes, I self-diagnosed: 383, 25.5%
No: 759, 50.5%

OCD
Yes, I was formally diagnosed: 30, 2.0%
Yes, I self-diagnosed: 76, 5.1%
No: 1306, 86.9%

Autism spectrum

Yes, I was formally diagnosed: 98, 6.5%
Yes, I self-diagnosed: 168, 11.2%
No: 1143, 76.0%

Bipolar

Yes, I was formally diagnosed: 33, 2.2%
Yes, I self-diagnosed: 49, 3.3%
No: 1327, 88.3%

Anxiety disorder
Yes, I was formally diagnosed: 139, 9.2%
Yes, I self-diagnosed: 237, 15.8%
No: 1033, 68.7%

BPD
Yes, I was formally diagnosed: 5, 0.3%
Yes, I self-diagnosed: 19, 1.3%
No: 1389, 92.4%

[Ozy says: RATIONALIST BPDERS COME BE MY FRIEND]

Schizophrenia
Yes, I was formally diagnosed: 7, 0.5%
Yes, I self-diagnosed: 7, 0.5%
No: 1397, 92.9%

IV. Politics, Religion, Ethics

Politics
Communist: 9, 0.6%
Conservative: 67, 4.5%
Liberal: 416, 27.7%
Libertarian: 379, 25.2%
Social Democratic: 585, 38.9%

[The big change this year was that we changed "Socialist" to "Social Democratic". Even though the description stayed the same, about eight points worth of Liberals switched to Social Democrats, apparently more willing to accept that label than "Socialist". The overall supergroups Libertarian vs. (Liberal, Social Democratic) vs. Conservative remain mostly unchanged.]

Politics (longform)
Anarchist: 40, 2.7%
Communist: 9, 0.6%
Conservative: 23, 1.9%
Futarchist: 41, 2.7%
Left-Libertarian: 192, 12.8%
Libertarian: 164, 10.9%
Moderate: 56, 3.7%
Neoreactionary: 29, 1.9%
Social Democrat: 162, 10.8%
Socialist: 89, 5.9%

[Amusing politics answers include anti-incumbentist, having-well-founded-opinions-is-hard-but-I’ve-come-to-recognize-the-pragmatism-of-socialism-I-don’t-know-ask-me-again-next-year, pirate, progressive social democratic environmental liberal isolationist freedom-fries loving pinko commie piece of shit, republic-ist aka read the federalist papers, romantic reconstructionist, social liberal fiscal agnostic, technoutopian anarchosocialist (with moderate snark), whatever it is that Scott is, and WHY ISN’T THERE AN OPTION FOR NONE SO I CAN SIGNAL MY OBVIOUS OBJECTIVITY WITH MINIMAL EFFORT. Ozy would like to point out to the authors of manifestos that no one will actually read their manifestos except zir, and they might want to consider posting them to their own blogs.]


American Parties
Democratic Party: 221, 14.7%
Republican Party: 55, 3.7%
Libertarian Party: 26, 1.7%
Other party: 16, 1.1%
No party: 415, 27.6%
Non-Americans who really like clicking buttons: 415, 27.6%

Voting

Yes: 881, 58.6%
No: 444, 29.5%
My country doesn’t hold elections: 5, 0.3%

Religion

Atheist and not spiritual: 1054, 70.1%
Atheist and spiritual: 150, 10.0%
Agnostic: 156, 10.4%
Lukewarm theist: 44, 2.9%
Deist/pantheist/etc.: 22,, 1.5%
Committed theist: 60, 4.0%

Religious Denomination
Christian (Protestant): 53, 3.5%
Mixed/Other: 32, 2.1%
Jewish: 31, 2.0%
Buddhist: 30, 2.0%
Christian (Catholic): 24, 1.6%
Unitarian Universalist or similar: 23, 1.5%

[Amusing denominations include anti-Molochist, CelestAI, cosmic engineers, Laziness, Thelema, Resimulation Theology, and Pythagorean. The Cultus Deorum Romanorum practitioner still needs to contact Ozy so they can be friends.]

Family Religion
Atheist and not spiritual: 213, 14.2%
Atheist and spiritual: 74, 4.9%
Agnostic: 154. 10.2%
Lukewarm theist: 541, 36.0%
Deist/Pantheist/etc.: 28, 1.9%
Committed theist: 388, 25.8%

Religious Background
Christian (Protestant): 580, 38.6%
Christian (Catholic): 378, 25.1%
Jewish: 141, 9.4%
Christian (other non-protestant): 88, 5.9%
Mixed/Other: 68, 4.5%
Unitarian Universalism or similar: 29, 1.9%
Christian (Mormon): 28, 1.9%
Hindu: 23, 1.5%’

Moral Views
Accept/lean towards consequentialism: 901, 60.0%
Accept/lean towards deontology: 50, 3.3%
Accept/lean towards natural law: 48, 3.2%
Accept/lean towards virtue ethics: 150, 10.0%
Accept/lean towards contractualism: 79, 5.3%
Other/no answer: 239, 15.9%

Meta-ethics
Constructivism: 474, 31.5%
Error theory: 60, 4.0%
Non-cognitivism: 129, 8.6%
Subjectivism: 324, 21.6%
Substantive realism: 209, 13.9%

V. Community Participation


Less Wrong Use
Lurker: 528, 35.1%
I’ve registered an account: 221, 14.7%
I’ve posted a comment: 419, 27.9%
I’ve posted in Discussion: 207, 13.8%
I’ve posted in Main: 102, 6.8%

Sequences
Never knew they existed until this moment: 106, 7.1%
Knew they existed, but never looked at them: 42, 2.8%
Some, but less than 25%: 270, 18.0%
About 25%: 181, 12.0%
About 50%: 209, 13.9%
About 75%: 242, 16.1%
All or almost all: 427, 28.4%

Meetups
Yes, regularly: 154, 10.2%
Yes, once or a few times: 325, 21.6%
No: 989, 65.8%

Community

Yes, all the time: 112, 7.5%
Yes, sometimes: 191, 12.7%
No: 1163, 77.4%

Romance
Yes: 82, 5.5%
I didn’t meet them through the community but they’re part of the community now: 79, 5.3%
No: 1310, 87.2%

CFAR Events
Yes, in 2014: 45, 3.0%
Yes, in 2013: 60, 4.0%
Both: 42, 2.8%
No: 1321, 87.9%

CFAR Workshop
Yes: 109, 7.3%
No: 1311, 87.2%

[A couple percent more people answered 'yes' to each of meetups, physical interactions, CFAR attendance, and romance this time around, suggesting the community is very very gradually becoming more IRL. In particular, the number of people meeting romantic partners through the community increased by almost 50% over last year.]

HPMOR
Yes: 897, 59.7%
Started but not finished: 224, 14.9%
No: 254, 16.9%

Referrals
Referred by a link: 464, 30.9%
HPMOR: 385, 25.6%
Been here since the Overcoming Bias days: 210, 14.0%
Referred by a friend: 199, 13.2%
Referred by a search engine: 114, 7.6%
Referred by other fiction: 17, 1.1%

[Amusing responses include “a rationalist that I follow on Tumblr”, “I’m a student of tribal cultishness”, and “It is difficult to recall details from the Before Time. Things were brighter, simpler, as in childhood or a dream. There has been much growth, change since then. But also loss. I can't remember where I found the link, is what I'm saying.”]

Blog Referrals
Slate Star Codex: 40, 2.6%
Reddit: 25, 1.6%
Common Sense Atheism: 21, 1.3%
Hacker News: 20, 1.3%
Gwern: 13, 1.0%

VI. Other Categorical Data

Cryonics Status
Don’t understand/never thought about it: 62, 4.1%
Don’t want to: 361, 24.0%
Considering it: 551, 36.7%
Haven’t gotten around to it: 272, 18.1%
Unavailable in my area: 126, 8.4%
Yes: 64, 4.3%

Type of Global Catastrophic Risk
Asteroid strike: 64, 4.3%
Economic/political collapse: 151, 10.0%
Environmental collapse: 218, 14.5%
Nanotech/grey goo: 47, 3.1%
Nuclear war: 239, 15.8%
Pandemic (bioengineered): 310, 20.6%
Pandemic (natural): 113. 7.5%
Unfriendly AI: 244, 16.2%

[Amusing answers include ennui/eaten by Internet, Friendly AI, “Greens so weaken the rich countries that barbarians conquer us”, and Tumblr.]

Effective Altruism (do you self-identify)
Yes: 422, 28.1%
No: 758, 50.4%

[Despite some impressive outreach by the EA community, numbers are largely the same as last year]


Effective Altruism (do you participate in community)
Yes: 191, 12.7%
No: 987, 65.7%

Vegetarian
Vegan: 31, 2.1%
Vegetarian: 114, 7.6%
Other meat restriction: 252, 16.8%
Omnivore: 848, 56.4%

Paleo Diet

Yes: 33, 2.2%
Sometimes: 209, 13.9%
No: 1111, 73.9%

Food Substitutes
Most of my calories: 8. 0.5%
Sometimes: 101, 6.7%
Tried: 196, 13.0%
No: 1052, 70.0%

Gender Default
I only identify with my birth gender by default: 681, 45.3%
I strongly identify with my birth gender: 586, 39.0%

Books
<5: 198, 13.2%
5 - 10: 384, 25.5%
10 - 20: 328, 21.8%
20 - 50: 264, 17.6%
50 - 100: 105, 7.0%
> 100: 49, 3.3%

Birth Month
Jan: 109, 7.3%
Feb: 90, 6.0%
Mar: 123, 8.2%
Apr: 126, 8.4%
Jun: 107, 7.1%
Jul: 109, 7.3%
Aug: 120, 8.0%
Sep: 94, 6.3%
Oct: 111, 7.4%
Nov: 102, 6.8%
Dec: 106, 7.1%

[Despite my hope of something turning up here, these results don't deviate from chance]

Handedness
Right: 1170, 77.8%
Left: 143, 9.5%
Ambidextrous: 37, 2.5%
Unsure: 12, 0.8%

Previous Surveys
Yes: 757, 50.7%
No:  598, 39.8%

Favorite Less Wrong Posts (all > 5 listed)
An Alien God: 11
Joy In The Merely Real: 7
Dissolving Questions About Disease: 7
Politics Is The Mind Killer: 6
That Alien Message: 6
A Fable Of Science And Politics: 6
Belief In Belief: 5
Generalizing From One Example: 5
Schelling Fences On Slippery Slopes: 5
Tsuyoku Naritai: 5

VII. Numeric Data

Age: 27.67 + 8.679 (22, 26, 31) [1490]
IQ: 138.25 + 15.936 (130.25, 139, 146) [472]
SAT out of 1600: 1470.74 + 113.114 (1410, 1490, 1560) [395]
SAT out of 2400: 2210.75 + 188.94 (2140, 2250, 2320) [310]
ACT out of 36: 32.56 + 2.483 (31, 33, 35) [244]
Time in Community: 2010.97 + 2.174 (2010, 2011, 2013) [1317]
Time on LW: 15.73 + 95.75 (2, 5, 15) [1366]
Karma Score: 555.73 + 2181.791 (0, 0, 155) [1335]

P Many Worlds: 47.64 + 30.132 (20, 50, 75) [1261]
P Aliens: 71.52 + 34.364 (50, 90, 99) [1393]
P Aliens (Galaxy): 41.2 + 38.405 (2, 30, 80) [1379]
P Supernatural: 6.68 + 20.271 (0, 0, 1) [1386]
P God: 8.26 + 21.088 (0, 0.01, 3) [1376]
P Religion: 4.99 + 18.068 (0, 0, 0.5) [1384]
P Cryonics: 22.34 + 27.274 (2, 10, 30) [1399]
P Anti-Agathics: 24.63 + 29.569 (1, 10, 40) [1390]
P Simulation 24.31 + 28.2 (1, 10, 50) [1320]
P Warming 81.73 + 24.224 (80, 90, 98) [1394]
P Global Catastrophic Risk 72.14 + 25.620 (55, 80, 90) [1394]
Singularity: 2143.44 + 356.643 (2060, 2090, 2150) [1177]

[The mean for this question is almost entirely dependent on which stupid responses we choose to delete as outliers; the median practically never changes]


Abortion: 4.38 + 1.032 (4, 5, 5) [1341]
Immigration: 4 + 1.078 (3, 4, 5) [1310]
Taxes : 3.14 + 1.212 (2, 3, 4) [1410] (from 1 - should be lower to 5 - should be higher)
Minimum Wage: 3.21 + 1.359 (2, 3, 4) [1298] (from 1 - should be lower to 5 - should be higher)
Feminism: 3.67 + 1.221 (3, 4, 5) [1332]
Social Justice: 3.15 + 1.385 (2, 3, 4) [1309]
Human Biodiversity: 2.93 + 1.201 (2, 3, 4) [1321]
Basic Income: 3.94 + 1.087 (3, 4, 5) [1314]
Great Stagnation: 2.33 + .959 (2, 2, 3) [1302]
MIRI Mission: 3.90 + 1.062 (3, 4, 5) [1412]
MIRI Effectiveness: 3.23 + .897 (3, 3, 4) [1336]

[Remember, all of these are asking you to rate your belief in/agreement with the concept on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (great)]

Income: 54129.37 + 66818.904 (10,000, 30,800, 80,000) [923]
Charity: 1996.76 + 9492.71 (0, 100, 800) [1009]
MIRI/CFAR: 511.61 + 5516.608 (0, 0, 0) [1011]
XRisk: 62.50 + 575.260 (0, 0, 0) [980]
Older siblings: 0.51 + .914 (0, 0, 1) [1332]
Younger siblings: 1.08 + 1.127 (0, 1, 1) [1349]
Height: 178.06 + 11.767 (173, 179, 184) [1236]
Hours Online: 43.44 + 25.452 (25, 40, 60) [1221]
Bem Sex Role Masculinity: 42.54 + 9.670 (36, 42, 49) [1032]
Bem Sex Role Femininity: 42.68 + 9.754 (36, 43, 50) [1031]
Right Hand: .97 + 0.67 (.94, .97, 1.00)
Left Hand: .97 + .048 (.94, .97, 1.00)

VIII. Fishing Expeditions

[correlations, in descending order]

SAT Scores out of 1600/SAT Scores out of 2400 .844 (59)
P Supernatural/P God .697 (1365)
Feminism/Social Justice .671 (1299)
P God/P Religion .669 (1367)
P Supernatural/P Religion .631 (1372)
Charity Donations/MIRI and CFAR Donations .619 (985)
P Aliens/P Aliens 2 .607 (1376)
Taxes/Minimum Wage .587 (1287)
SAT Score out of 2400/ACT Score .575 (89)
Age/Number of Children .506 (1480)
P Cryonics/P Anti-Agathics .484 (1385)
SAT Score out of 1600/ACT Score .480 (81)
Minimum Wage/Social Justice .456 (1267)
Taxes/Social Justice .427 (1281)
Taxes/Feminism .414 (1299)
MIRI Mission/MIRI Effectiveness .395 (1331)
P Warming/Taxes .385 (1261)
Taxes/Basic Income .383 (1285)
Minimum Wage/Feminism .378 (1286)
P God/Abortion -.378 (1266)
Immigration/Feminism .365 (1296)
P Supernatural/Abortion -.362 (1276)
Feminism/Human Biodiversity -.360 (1306)
MIRI and CFAR Donations/Other XRisk Charity Donations .345 (973)
Social Justice/Human Biodiversity -.341 (1288)
P Religion/Abortion -.326 (1275)
P Warming/Minimum Wage .324 (1248)
Minimum Wage/Basic Income .312 (1276)
P Warming/Basic Income .306 (1260)
Immigration/Social Justice .294 (1278)
P Anti-Agathics/MIRI Mission .293 (1351)
P Warming/Feminism .285 (1281)
P Many Worlds/P Anti-Agathics .276 (1245)
Social Justice/Femininity .267 (990)
Minimum Wage/Human Biodiversity -.264 (1274)
Immigration/Human Biodiversity -.263 (1286)
P Many Worlds/MIRI Mission .263 (1233)
P Aliens/P Warming .262 (1365)
P Warming/Social Justice .257 (1262)
Taxes/Human Biodiversity -.252 (1291)
Social Justice/Basic Income .251 (1281)
Feminism/Femininity .250 (1003)
Older Siblings/Younger Siblings -.243 (1321)
Charity Donations/Other XRisk Charity Donations .240 (957
P Anti-Agathics/P Simulation .238 (1312)
Abortion/Minimum Wage .229 (1293)
Feminism/Basic Income .227 (1297)
Abortion/Feminism .226 (1321)
P Cryonics/MIRI Mission .223 (1360)
Immigration/Basic Income .208 (1279)
P Many Worlds/P Cryonics .202 (1251)
Number of Current Partners/Femininity: .202 (1029)
P Warming/Immigration .202 (1260)
P Warming/Abortion .201 (1289)
Abortion/Taxes .198 (1304)
Age/P Simulation .197 (1313)
Political Interest/Masculinity .194 (1011)
P Cryonics/MIRI Effectiveness .191 (1285)
Abortion/Social Justice .191 (1301)
P Simulation/MIRI Mission .188 (1290)
P Many Worlds/P Warming .188 (1240)
Age/Number of Current Partners .184 (1480)
P Anti-Agathics/MIRI Effectiveness .183 (1277)
P Many Worlds/P Simulation .181 (1211)
Abortion/Immigration .181 (1304)
Number of Current Partners/Number of Children .180 (1484)
P Cryonics/P Simulation .174 (1315)
P Global Catastrophic Risk/MIRI Mission -.174 (1359)
Minimum Wage/Femininity .171 (981)
Abortion/Basic Income .170 (1302)
Age/P Cryonics -.165 (1391)
Immigration/Taxes .165 (1293)
P Warming/Human Biodiversity -.163 (1271)
P Aliens 2/Warming .160 (1353)
Abortion/Younger Siblings -.155 (1292)
P Religion/Meditate .155 (1189)
Feminism/Masculinity -.155 (1004)
Immigration/Femininity .155 (988)
P Supernatural/Basic Income -.153 (1246)
P Supernatural/P Warming -.152 (1361)
Number of Current Partners/Karma Score .152 (1332)
P Many Worlds/MIRI Effectiveness .152 (1181)
Age/MIRI Mission -.150 (1404)
P Religion/P Warming -.150 (1358)
P Religion/Basic Income -.146 (1245)
P God/Basic Income -.146 (1237)
Human Biodiversity/Femininity -.145 (999)
P God/P Warming -.144 (1351)
Taxes/Femininity .142 (987)
Number of Children/Younger Siblings .138 (1343)
Number of Current Partners/Masculinity: .137 (1030)
P Many Worlds/P God -.137 (1232)
Age/Charity Donations .133 (1002)
P Anti-Agathics/P Global Catastrophic Risk -.132 (1373)
P Warming/Masculinity -.132 (992)
P Global Catastrophic Risk/MIRI and CFAR Donations -.132 (982)
P Supernatural/Singularity .131 (1148)
God/Taxes -.130 (1240)
Age/P Anti-Agathics -.128 (1382)
P Aliens/Taxes .127(1258)
Feminism/Great Stagnation -.127 (1287)
P Many Worlds/P Supernatural -.127 (1241)
P Aliens/Abortion .126 (1284)
P Anti-Agathics/Great Stagnation -.126 (1248)
P Anti-Agathics/P Warming .125 (1370)
Age/P Aliens .124 (1386)
P Aliens/Minimum Wage .124 (1245)
P Aliens/P Global Catastrophic Risk .122 (1363)
Age/MIRI Effectiveness -.122 (1328)
Age/P Supernatural .120 (1370)
P Supernatural/MIRI Mission -.119 (1345)
P Many Worlds/P Religion -.119 (1238)
P Religion/MIRI Mission -.118 (1344)
Political Interest/Social Justice .118 (1304)
P Anti-Agathics/MIRI and CFAR Donations .118 (976)
Human Biodiversity/Basic Income -.115 (1262)
P Many Worlds/Abortion .115 (1166)
Age/Karma Score .114 (1327)
P Aliens/Feminism .114 (1277)
P Many Worlds/P Global Catastrophic Risk -.114 (1243)
Political Interest/Femininity .113 (1010)
Number of Children/P Simulation -.112 (1317)
P Religion/Younger Siblings .112 (1275)
P Supernatural/Taxes -.112 (1248)
Age/Masculinity .112 (1027)
Political Interest/Taxes .111 (1305)
P God/P Simulation .110 (1296)
P Many Worlds/Basic Income .110 (1139)
P Supernatural/Younger Siblings .109 (1274)
P Simulation/Basic Income .109 (1195)
Age/P Aliens 2 .107 (1371)
MIRI Mission/Basic Income .107 (1279)
Age/Great Stagnation .107 (1295)
P Many Worlds/P Aliens .107 (1253)
Number of Current Partners/Social Justice .106 (1304)
Human Biodiversity/Great Stagnation .105 (1285)
Number of Children/Abortion -.104 (1337)
Number of Current Partners/P Cryonics -.102 (1396)
MIRI Mission/Abortion .102 (1305)
Immigration/Great Stagnation -.101 (1269)
Age/Political Interest .100 (1339)
P Global Catastrophic Risk/Political Interest .099 (1295)
P Aliens/P Religion -.099 (1357)
P God/MIRI Mission -.098 (1335)
P Aliens/P Simulation .098 (1308)
Number of Current Partners/Immigration .098 (1305)
P God/Political Interest .098 (1274)
P Warming/P Global Catastrophic Risk .096 (1377)

In addition to the Left/Right factor we had last year, this data seems to me to have an Agrees with the Sequences Factor-- the same people tend to believe in many-worlds, cryo, atheism, simulationism, MIRI’s mission and effectiveness, anti-agathics, etc. Weirdly, belief in global catastrophic risk is negatively correlated with most of the Agrees with Sequences things. Someone who actually knows how to do statistics should run a factor analysis on this data.

IX. Digit Ratios

After sanitizing the digit ratio numbers, the following correlations came up:

Digit ratio R hand was correlated with masculinity at a level of -0.180 p < 0.01
Digit ratio L hand was correlated with masculinity at a level of -0.181 p < 0.01
Digit ratio R hand was slightly correlated with femininity at a level of +0.116 p < 0.05

Holy #@!$ the feminism thing ACTUALLY HELD UP. There is a 0.144 correlation between right-handed digit ratio and feminism, p < 0.01. And an 0.112 correlation between left-handed digit ratio and feminism, p < 0.05.

The only other political position that correlates with digit ratio is immigration. There is a 0.138 correlation between left-handed digit ratio and believe in open borders p < 0.01, and an 0.111 correlation between right-handed digit ratio and belief in open borders, p < 0.05.

No digit correlation with abortion, taxes, minimum wage, social justice, human biodiversity, basic income, or great stagnation.

Okay, need to rule out that this is all confounded by gender. I ran a few analyses on men and women separately.

On men alone, the connection to masculinity holds up. Restricting sample size to men, left-handed digit ratio corresponds to masculinity with at -0.157, p < 0.01. Left handed at -0.134, p < 0.05. Right-handed correlates with femininity at 0.120, p < 0.05. The feminism correlation holds up. Restricting sample size to men, right-handed digit ratio correlates with feminism at a level of 0.149, p < 0.01. Left handed just barely fails to correlate. Both right and left correlate with immigration at 0.135, p < 0.05.

On women alone, the Bem masculinity correlation is the highest correlation we're going to get in this entire study. Right hand is -0.433, p < 0.01. Left hand is -0.299, p < 0.05. Femininity trends toward significance but doesn't get there. The feminism correlation trends toward significance but doesn't get there. In general there was too small a sample size of women to pick up anything but the most whopping effects.

Since digit ratio is related to testosterone and testosterone sometimes affects risk-taking, I wondered if it would correlate with any of the calibration answers. I selected people who had answered Calibration Question 5 incorrectly and ran an analysis to see if digit ratio was correlated with tendency to be more confident in the incorrect answer. No effect was found.

Other things that didn't correlate with digit ratio: IQ, SAT, number of current partners, tendency to work in mathematical professions.

...I still can't believe this actually worked. The finger-length/feminism connection ACTUALLY WORKED. What a world. What a world. Someone may want to double-check these results before I get too excited.

X. Calibration


There were ten calibration questions on this year's survey. Along with answers, they were:

1. What is the largest bone in the body? Femur
2. What state was President Obama born in? Hawaii
3. Off the coast of what country was the battle of Trafalgar fought? Spain
4. What Norse God was called the All-Father? Odin
5. Who won the 1936 Nobel Prize for his work in quantum physics? Heisenberg
6. Which planet has the highest density? Earth
7. Which Bible character was married to Rachel and Leah? Jacob
8. What organelle is called "the powerhouse of the cell"? Mitochondria
9. What country has the fourth-highest population? Indonesia
10. What is the best-selling computer game? Minecraft

I ran calibration scores for everybody based on how well they did on the ten calibration questions. These failed to correlate with IQ, SAT, LW karma, or any of the things you might expect to be measures of either intelligence or previous training in calibration; they didn't differ by gender, correlates of community membership, or any mental illness [deleted section about correlating with MWI and MIRI, this was an artifact].

Your answers looked like this:



The red line represents perfect calibration. Where answers dip below the line, it means you were overconfident; when they go above, it means you were underconfident.

It looks to me like everyone was horrendously underconfident on all the easy questions, and horrendously overconfident on all the hard questions. To give an example of how horrendous, people who were 50% sure of their answers to question 10 got it right only 13% of the time; people who were 100% sure only got it right 44% of the time. Obviously those numbers should be 50% and 100% respectively.

This builds upon results from previous surveys in which your calibration was also horrible. This is not a human universal - people who put even a small amount of training into calibration can become very well calibrated very quickly. This is a sign that most Less Wrongers continue to neglect the very basics of rationality and are incapable of judging how much evidence they have on a given issue. Veterans of the site do no better than newbies on this measure.

XI. Wrapping Up

To show my appreciation for everyone completing this survey, including the arduous digit ratio measurements, I have randomly chosen a person to receive a $30 monetary prize. That person is...the person using the public key "The World Is Quiet Here". If that person tells me their private key, I will give them $30.

I have removed 73 people who wished to remain private, deleted the Private Keys, and sanitized a very small amount of data. Aside from that, here are the raw survey results for your viewing and analyzing pleasure:

(as Excel)

(as SPSS)

(as CSV)

We Haven't Uploaded Worms

78 jkaufman 27 December 2014 11:44AM

In theory you can upload someone's mind onto a computer, allowing them to live forever as a digital form of consciousness, just like in the Johnny Depp film Transcendence.

But it's not just science fiction. Sure, scientists aren't anywhere near close to achieving such feat with humans (and even if they could, the ethics would be pretty fraught), but now an international team of researchers have managed to do just that with the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans.
  —Science Alert

Uploading an animal, even one as simple as c. elegans would be very impressive. Unfortunately, we're not there yet. What the people working on Open Worm have done instead is to build a working robot based on the c. elegans and show that it can do some things that the worm can do.

The c. elegans nematode has only 302 neurons, and each nematode has the same fixed pattern. We've known this pattern, or connectome, since 1986. [1] In a simple model, each neuron has a threshold and will fire if the weighted sum of its inputs is greater than that threshold. Which means knowing the connections isn't enough: we also need to know the weights and thresholds. Unfortunately, we haven't figured out a way to read these values off of real worms. Suzuki et. al. (2005) [2] ran a genetic algorithm to learn values for these parameters that would give a somewhat realistic worm and showed various wormlike behaviors in software. The recent stories about the Open Worm project have been for them doing something similar in hardware. [3]

To see why this isn't enough, consider that nematodes are capable of learning. Sasakura and Mori (2013) [5] provide a reasonable overview. For example, nematodes can learn that a certain temperature indicates food, and then seek out that temperature. They don't do this by growing new neurons or connections, they have to be updating their connection weights. All the existing worm simulations treat weights as fixed, which means they can't learn. They also don't read weights off of any individual worm, which means we can't talk about any specific worm as being uploaded.

If this doesn't count as uploading a worm, however, what would? Consider an experiment where someone trains one group of worms to respond to stimulus one way and another group to respond the other way. Both groups are then scanned and simulated on the computer. If the simulated worms responded to simulated stimulus the same way their physical versions had, that would be good progress. Additionally you would want to demonstrate that similar learning was possible in the simulated environment.

(In a 2011 post on what progress with nematodes might tell us about uploading humans I looked at some of this research before. Since then not much has changed with nematode simulation. Moore's law looks to be doing much worse in 2014 than it did in 2011, however, which makes the prospects for whole brain emulation substantially worse.)

I also posted this on my blog.


[1] The Structure of the Nervous System of the Nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, White et. al. (1986).

[2] A Model of Motor Control of the Nematode C. Elegans With Neuronal Circuits, Suzuki et. al. (2005).

[3] It looks like instead of learning weights Busbice just set them all to +1 (excitatory) and -1 (inhibitory). It's not clear to me how they knew which connections were which; my best guess is that they're using the "what happens to work" details from [2]. Their full writeup is [4].

[4] The Robotic Worm, Busbice (2014).

[5] Behavioral Plasticity, Learning, and Memory in C. Elegans, Sasakura and Mori (2013).

Attempted Telekinesis

76 AnnaSalamon 07 February 2015 06:53PM

Related to: Compartmentalization in epistemic and instrumental rationality; That other kind of status.

Summary:  I’d like to share some techniques that made a large difference for me, and for several other folks I shared them with.  They are techniques for reducing stress, social shame, and certain other kinds of “wasted effort”.  These techniques are less developed and rigorous than the techniques that CFAR teaches in our workshops -- for example, they currently only work for perhaps 1/3rd of the dozen or so people I’ve shared them with -- but they’ve made a large enough impact for that 1/3rd that I wanted to share them with the larger group.  I’ll share them through a sequence of stories and metaphors, because, for now, that is what I have.

continue reading »

CFAR in 2014: Continuing to climb out of the startup pit, heading toward a full prototype

56 AnnaSalamon 26 December 2014 03:33PM

Summary:  We outline CFAR’s purpose, our history in 2014, and our plans heading into 2015.

One of the reasons we’re publishing this review now is that we’ve just launched our annual matching fundraiser, and want to provide the information our prospective donors need for deciding. This is the best time of year to decide to donate to CFAR. Donations up to $120k will be matched until January 31.[1] 

To briefly preview: For the first three years of our existence, CFAR mostly focused on getting going. We followed the standard recommendation to build a ‘minimum viable product’, the CFAR workshops, that could test our ideas and generate some revenue. Coming into 2013, we had a workshop that people liked (9.3 average rating on “Are you glad you came?”; a more recent random survey showed 9.6 average rating on the same question 6-24 months later), which helped keep the lights on and gave us articulate, skeptical, serious learners to iterate on. At the same time, the workshops are not everything we would want in a CFAR prototype; it feels like the current core workshop does not stress-test most of our hopes for what CFAR can eventually do. The premise of CFAR is that we should be able to apply the modern understanding of cognition to improve people’s ability to (1) figure out the truth (2) be strategically effective (3) do good in the world. We have dreams of scaling up some particular kinds of sanity.  Our next goal is to build the minimum strategic product that more directly justifies CFAR’s claim to be an effective altruist project.[2]

continue reading »

The Truth About Mathematical Ability

52 JonahSinick 12 February 2015 01:29AM

There's widespread confusion about the nature of mathematical ability, for a variety of reasons:

  • Most people don't know what math is.
  • Most people don't know enough statistics to analyze the question properly.
  • Most mathematicians are not very metacognitive.
  • Very few people have more than a casual interest in the subject.

If the nature of mathematical ability were exclusively an object of intellectual interest, this would be relatively inconsequential. For example, many people are confused about Einstein’s theory of relativity, but this doesn’t have much of an impact on their lives. But in practice, people’s misconceptions about the nature of mathematical ability seriously interfere with their own ability to learn and do math, something that hurts them both professionally and emotionally.

I have a long standing interest in the subject, and I’ve found myself in the unusual position of being an expert. My experiences include:

  • Completing a PhD in pure math at University of Illinois.
  • Four years of teaching math at the high school and college levels (precalculus, calculus, multivariable calculus and linear algebra)
  • Personal encounters with some of the best mathematicians in the world, and a study of great mathematicians’ biographies.
  • A long history of working with mathematically gifted children: as a counselor at MathPath for three summers, through one-on-one tutoring, and as an instructor at Art of Problem Solving.
  • Studying the literature on IQ and papers from the Study of Exceptional Talent as a part of my work for Cognito Mentoring.
  • Training as a full-stack web developer at App Academy.
  • Doing a large scale data science project where I applied statistics and machine learning to make new discoveries in social psychology.

I’ve thought about writing about the nature of mathematical ability for a long time, but there was a missing element: I myself had never done genuinely original and high quality mathematical research. After completing much of my data science project, I realized that this had changed. The experience sharpened my understanding of the issues.

This is a the first of a sequence of posts where I try to clarify the situation. My main point in this post is:

There are several different dimensions to mathematical ability. Common measures rarely assess all of these dimensions, and can paint a very incomplete picture of what somebody is capable of.

continue reading »

Announcing the Complice Less Wrong Study Hall

43 malcolmocean 02 March 2015 11:37PM

(If you're familiar with the backstory of the LWSH, you can skip to paragraph 5. If you just want the link to the chat, click here: LWSH on Complice)

The Less Wrong Study Hall was created as a tinychat room in March 2013, following Mqrius and ShannonFriedman's desire to create a virtual context for productivity. In retrospect, I think it's hilarious that a bunch of the comments ended up being a discussion of whether LW had the numbers to get a room that consistently had someone in it. The funny part is that they were based around the assumption that people would spend about 1h/day in it.

Once it was created, it was so effective that people started spending their entire day doing pomodoros (with 32minsWork+8minsBreak) in the LWSH and now often even stay logged in while doing chores away from their computers, just for cadence of focus and the sense of company. So there's almost always someone there, and often 5-10 people.

A week in, a call was put out for volunteers to program a replacement for the much-maligned tinychat. As it turns out though, video chat is a hard problem.

So nearly 2 years later, people are still using the tinychat.

But a few weeks ago, I discovered that you can embed the tinychat applet into an arbitrary page. I immediately set out to integrate LWSH into Complice, the productivity app I've been building for over a year, which counts many rationalists among its alpha & beta users.

The focal point of Complice is its today page, which consists of a list of everything you're planning to accomplish that day, colorized by goal. Plus a pomodoro timer. My habit for a long time has been to have this open next to LWSH. So what I basically did was integrate these two pages. On the left, you have a list of your own tasks. On the right, a list of other users in the room, with whatever task they're doing next. Then below all of that, the chatroom.

(Something important to note: I'm not planning to point existing Complice users, who may not be LWers, at the LW Study Hall. Any Complice user can create their own coworking room by going to complice.co/createroom)

With this integration, I've solved a couple of the core problems that people wanted addressed for the study hall:

  • an actual ding sound beyond people typing in the chat
  • synchronized pomodoro time visibility
  • pomos that automatically start, so breaks don't run over
  • Intentions — what am I working on this pomo?
  • a list of what other users are working on
  • the ability to show off how many pomos you've done
  • better welcoming & explanation of group norms

There are a couple other requested features that I can definitely solve but decided could come after this launch:

  • rooms with different pomodoro durations
  • member profiles
  • the ability to precommit to showing up at a certain time (just wait'll I connect with Beeminder ;) )

The following points were brought up in the Programming the LW Study Hall post or on the List of desired features on the github/nnmm/lwsh wiki, but can't be fixed without replacing tinychat:

  • efficient with respect to bandwidth and CPU
  • page layout with videos lined up down the left for use on the side of monitors
  • chat history
  • encryption
  • everything else that generally sucks about tinychat

It's also worth noting that if you were to think of the entirety of Complice as an addition to LWSH... well, it would definitely look like feature creep, but at any rate there would be several other notable improvements:

  • daily emails prompting you to decide what you're going to do that day
  • a historical record of what you've done, with guided weekly, monthly, and yearly reviews
  • optional accountability partner who gets emails with what you've done every day (the LWSH might be a great place to find partners!)
So, if you haven't clicked the link already, check out: complice.co/room/lesswrong

(This article posted to Main because that's where the rest of the LWSH posts are, and this represents a substantial update.)

How to learn soft skills

37 AnnaSalamon 07 February 2015 05:22AM

Acquiring some skills is mostly about deliberate, explicit information transfer.  For example, one might explicitly learn the capital of Missouri, or the number of miles one can drive before needing an oil change, or how to use the quadratic formula to solve quadratic equations.

For other skills, practitioners' skill rests largely on semi-conscious, non-explicit patterns of perception and action.  I have in mind here such skills as:

  • Managing your emotions and energy levels;
  • Building strong relationships;
  • Making robust plans;
  • Finding angles of attack on a mathematical problem;
  • Writing persuasively;
  • Thinking through charged subjects without bias;

and so on.  Experts in these skills will often be unable to accurately and explicitly describe how to do what they do, but they will be skilled nonetheless.

I'd like to share some thoughts on how to learn such "soft skills".

continue reading »

State of the Solstice 2014

35 Raemon 23 December 2014 06:18AM

This'll be the first of a collection of posts about the growing Secular Solstice. This post gives an overview of what happened this year. Future posts will explore what types of Solstice content resonates with which people, what I've learned about how Less Wrong culture intersects with other cultures, and updates I've made about ritual as it relates to individuals as well as movement building.


For the past three years, I've been spending the last several months of each year frantically writing songs, figuring out logistics, and promoting the New York Winter Solstice celebration for the Rationality and Secular communities in NYC.

This year... well, I did that too. But I also finally got to go a Solstice that I *wasn't* responsible for. I went to the Bay Area on December 13th, traveled straight from the airport to the dress rehearsal...

...and I found a community coming together to create something meaningful. I walked into the hall and found some 30 or so people, with some stringing together lights, some people tying decorations around candles, a choir singing together... it felt very much like a genuine holiday coming together in an organic fashion.

(There was some squabbling about how to best perform particular songs... but it felt *very* much to me like real holiday squabbling, whenever a family of creative people with strong opinions on things get together, and I found it surprisingly heartwarming)

continue reading »

An Introduction to Control Theory

33 Vaniver 19 January 2015 08:50PM

Behavior: The Control of Perception by William Powers applies control theory to psychology to develop a model of human intelligence that seems relevant to two of LW's primary interests: effective living for humans and value-preserving designs for artificial intelligence. It's been discussed on LW previously here, here, and here, as well as mentioned in Yvain's roundup of 5 years (and a week) of LW. I've found previous discussions unpersuasive for two reasons: first, they typically only have a short introduction to control theory and the mechanics of control systems, making it not quite obvious what specific modeling techniques they have in mind, and second, they often fail to communicate the differences between this model and competing models of intelligence. Even if you're not interested in its application to psychology, control theory is a widely applicable mathematical toolkit whose basics are simple and well worth knowing.

Because of the length of the material, I'll split it into three posts. In this post, I'll first give an introduction to that subject that's hopefully broadly accessible. The next post will explain the model Powers introduces in his book. In the last post, I'll provide commentary on the model and what I see as its implications, for both LW and AI.

continue reading »

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