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Comment author: Yvain 15 May 2009 11:06:13AM *  132 points [-]

This is a beautiful example of politics at work.

Cheerios claims on its box that it can "lower your cholesterol four percent in six weeks". This is false. It is based on a "study" sponsored by General Mills where subjects took more than half their daily calories from Cheerios (apparently they ate nothing but Cheerios for two of their three daily meals). No one eating Cheerios in anything resembling a normal way would get close to this effect; therefore, it is false and misleading advertising. If General Mills wants to market Cheerios as a drug, it needs to meet the normal standards for drug evidence, and it doesn't.

So far, so good. Either you approve of the FDA's decision and think it's important to hold cereal companies to a high level of accuracy, or you think they should relax their standards and allow more leeway to food advertisers. Either one would be a legitimate response. But look at what happens:

A few sources correctly title the story, eg "Cheerios Aren't A Drug, FDA Says". The majority choose to go the other way and title it something more inflammatory like "Popular Cereal Is A Drug, US Food Watchdog Says", which is of course the opposite of what it said. It's the inflammatory outrageous headlines that get put on blogs and Reddit (now reworded further to "WTF? FDA says Cheerios are a drug")

Then all the usual suspects take the mistitled blown-out-of-proportion story and look to see whether or not this supports their preferred political narrative. For example:

Independent Institute (a libertarian think tank):

"The Obama administration blunders onward in its “progressive” (i.e., authoritarian) absurdities."

Freedom News Blitz ("The News Freedom Lovers Devour"):

"Do you get the feeling that since we are experiencing a severe recession, the Food and Drug Administration is running out of honest businesses to harass and persecute?...Certainly, it appears the old virtues of free enterprise, hard work, self-discipline, saving money, weighing the short-term consequences against the long-term consequences, etc. are unpalatable to the vast majority of people. So they allow the false promises of politicians, civic leaders and pseudo-intellectuals to mislead them.

So yes, we went from "please don't use poorly designed made-up studies to make spurious medical claims" to "hard work is unpalatable to the vast majority of people" in two steps. Remarkable, ne?

And then the media goes into one of its periodic vicious feedback loops and started reporting on the reporting, adding a little more liberal bent at each pass. From Reuters, here's Cheerios, Cereal of Liberty. The article starts with "Disputes over food-label claims are always political" and quickly moves onto "But the current, insane iteration of the American right has walked several steps past the crazy line...For them, wholesome, "American" foods are a-OK. Eurocommie foods are right out."

Three steps and now we're at "Eurocommie."

In the last phase of the decline from "reasonable question about cholesterol lowering properties of cereal" to "complete proof humankind as a species is doomed", someone opens the floodgates to Mordor and a horde of semi-human blog commenters swarm out, ready to add their "opinion" to the "discussion". From here and here:

"Ha - I guess the makers of the liver corroding, memory erasing cholesterol drugs, must have whined about this to their best friends, (the guys they pay off to legalize these poisons) the FDA."

"Sorry mister.g but you folks are delusional in the USA. You buy into everything and I mean everything. That is why you are the sickest, poorest industrialized economy going and you can inject GOLD into dog poop but it will still be dog poop. If you think it's worth eating to get to that golden nugget in the center you go right ahead. Unbelievable."

"Unapproved though (non-Obama worship) is not approved by your government overlords. Americas are too stupid to understand what is a cereal and what is a drug. You will be eliminated."

Four steps from "Don't lie about cholesterol on your cereal box, please," to "Obama will kill everyone who disagrees with him."

In response to That Magical Click
Comment author: pjeby 20 January 2010 06:34:15PM 130 points [-]

My best guess is that clickiness has something to do with failure to compartmentalize - missing, or failing to use, the mental gear that lets human beings believe two contradictory things at the same time. Clicky people would tend to be people who take all of their beliefs at face value.

One of the things that I've noticed about this is that most people do not expect to understand things. For most people, the universe is a mysterious place filled with random events beyond their ability to comprehend or control. Think "guessing the teacher's password", but not just in school or knowledge, but about everything.

Such people have no problem with the idea of magic, because everything is magic to them, even science.

An anecdote: once, when I still worked as software developer/department manager in a corporation, my boss was congratulating me on a million dollar project (revenue, not cost) that my team had just turned in precisely on time with no crises.

Well, not congratulating me, exactly. He was saying, "wow, that turned out really well", and I felt oddly uncomfortable. After getting off the phone, I realized a day or so later that he was talking about it like it was luck, like, "wow, what nice weather we had."

So I called him back and had a little chat about it. The idea that the project had succeeded because I designed it that way had not occurred to him, and the idea that I had done it by the way I negotiated the requirements in the first place -- as opposed to heroic efforts during the project -- was quite an eye opener for him.

Fortunately, he (and his boss) were "clicky" enough in other areas (i.e., they didn't believe computers were magic, for example) that I was able to make the math of what I was doing click for them at that "teachable moment".

Unfortunately, most people, in most areas of their lives treat everything as magic. They're not used to being able to understand or control anything but the simplest of things, so it doesn't occur to them to even try. Instead, they just go along with whatever everybody else is thinking or doing.

For such (most) people, reality is social, rather than something you understand/ control.

(Side note: I find myself often trying to find a way to express grasp/control as a pair, because really the two are the same. If you really grasp something, you should be able to control it, at least in principle.)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 10 September 2010 03:48:04AM 126 points [-]

Have I ever remarked on how completely ridiculous it is to ask high school students to decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives and give them nearly no support in doing so?

Support like, say, spending a day apiece watching twenty different jobs and then another week at their top three choices, with salary charts and projections and probabilities of graduating that subject given their test scores? The more so considering this is a central allocation question for the entire economy?

Comment author: Rain 03 August 2010 12:56:46AM 127 points [-]

Personally, I've been hearing all my life about the Serious Philosophical Issues posed by life extension, and my attitude has always been that I'm willing to grapple with those issues for as many centuries as it takes.

-- Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Comment author: PhilGoetz 23 March 2009 12:04:52PM *  121 points [-]
  • If you put Eliezer Yudkowsky in a box, the rest of the universe is in a state of quantum superposition until you open it again.
  • Eliezer Yudkowsky can prove it's not butter.
  • If you say Eliezer Yudkowsky's name 3 times out loud, it prevents anything magical from happening.
Comment author: [deleted] 02 May 2013 03:48:24AM *  110 points [-]

"The spatial anomaly has interacted with the tachyonic radiation in the nebula, it's interfering with our sensors. It's impossible to get a reading."

"There's no time - we'll have to take the ship straight through it!"

"Captain, I advise against this course of action. I have calculated the odds against our surviving such an action at three thousand, seven hundred and forty-five to one."

"Damn the odds, we've got to try... wait a second. Where, exactly, did you get that number from?"

"I hardly think this is the time for-"

"No. No, fuck you, this is exactly the time. The fate of the galaxy is at stake. Trillions of lives are hanging in the balance. You just pulled four significant digits out of your ass, I want to see you show your goddamn work."

"Well, I used the actuarial data from the past fifty years, relating to known cases of ships passing through nebulae that are interacting with spatial anomalies. There have been approximately two million such incidents reported, with only five hundred and forty-two incidents in which the ship in question survived intact."

"And did you at all take into account that ship building technology has improved over the past fifty years, and that ours is not necessarily an average ship?"

"Indeed I did, Captain. I weighted the cases differently based on how recent they were, and how close the ship in question was in build to our own. For example, one of the incidents with a happy ending was forty-seven years ago, but their ship was a model roughly five times our size. As such, I counted the incident as having twenty-four percent of the relevance of a standard case."

"But what of our ship's moxie? Can you take determination and drive and the human spirit into account?"

"As a matter of fact I can, Captain. In our three-year history together, I have observed that both you and this ship manage to beat the odds with a measurable regularity. To be exact, we tend to succeed twenty-four point five percent more often than the statistics would otherwise indicate - and, in fact, that number jumps to twenty-nine point two percent specifically in cases where I state the odds against our success to three significant digits or greater. I have already taken that supposedly 'unknowable' factor into account with my calculations."

"And you expect me to believe that you've memorized all these case studies and performed this ridiculously complicated calculation in your head within the course of a normal conversation?"

"Yes. With all due respect to your species, I am not human. While I freely admit that you do have greater insight into fields such as emotion, interpersonal relations, and spirituality than I do, in the fields of memory and calculation, I am capable of feats that would be quite simply impossible for you. Furthermore, if I may be perfectly frank, the entire purpose of my presence on the bridge is to provide insights such as these to help facilitate your command decisions. If you're not going to heed my advice, why am I even here?"

"Mm. And we're still sitting at three thousand seven hundred to one against?"

"Three thousand, seven hundred and forty five to one."

"Well, shit. Well, let's go around, then."

The Vulcan your Vulcan could sound like if he wasn't made of straw, I guess? Link

Comment author: PlaidX 03 October 2010 05:09:52AM *  103 points [-]

Flying saucers are real. They are likely not nuts-and-bolts spacecrafts, but they are actual physical things, the product of a superior science, and under the control of unknown entities. (95%)

Please note that this comment has been upvoted because the members of lesswrong widely DISAGREE with it. See here for details.

In response to Applause Lights
Comment author: Ray 11 September 2007 06:45:08PM 108 points [-]

You have, I think, come upon the essence of modern political speeches.

Comment author: Yvain 03 November 2011 11:22:05PM *  100 points [-]

This is a terrible debate and you should all feel bad for having it. Now let me join in.

The research on this topic is split into "completely useless" and "mostly useless". In the former category we have studies that, with a straight face, purport to show that women like nice guys by asking women to self-report on their preferences. To illuminate just how silly this is, consider the mirror case of asking men "So, do you like witty charming girls with good personalities, or supermodels with big breasts?" When this was actually done, men rated "physical attractiveness" only their 22nd most important criterion for a mate - number one was "sincerity", and number nineteen was "good manners". And yet there are no websites where you can spend $9.95 per month to stream videos of well-mannered girls asking men to please pass the salad fork, and there are no spinster apartments full of broken-hearted supermodels who just didn't have enough sincerity. So self-reports are right out.

Other-reports may be slightly less silly. Herold and Milhausen, 1999, found that 56% of university women believed that women in general were more likely to date jerks than nice guys. But although women may have less emotional investment in the issue than men, their opinions are still just opinions.

The few studies that earn the coveted accolade of "only mostly useless" are those that try to analyze actual behavior. Bogart and Fisher typify a group of studies that show that good predictors of a man's number of sexual partners include disinhibitedness, high testosterone levels, "hypermasculinity", "sensation seeking", antisocial personality, and extraversion. Meston et al typify a separate group of studies on sex and the Big Five traits when she says that "agreeableness was the most consistent predictor of behavior...disagreeable men and women were more likely to have had sexual intercourse and with a greater number of partners than agreeable men and women. Nonvirgins of both sexes were more likely to be calculating, stubborn, and arrogant in their interpersonal behavior than virgins. Neuroticism predicted sexual experience in males only; timid, unassertive men were less sexually experienced than emotionally stable men...the above findings were all statistically significant at p<.01"

These studies certainly show that jerkishness is associated with high number of sexual partners, but they're not quite a victory for the "nice guys finish last" camp for a couple of reasons. First, men seem to come off almost as bad as women do. Second, there's no reason to think that any particular "nice" woman will like jerks; many of the findings could be explained by disagreeable men hooking up with disagreeable women, disagreeing with them about things (as they do) and then breaking up and hooking up with other disagreeable women, while the agreeable people form stable pair bonds. Boom - disagreeable people showing more sexual partners than agreeable people.

I find more interesting the literature about intelligence and sexual partners. In high-schoolers, each extra IQ point increases chance of virginity by 2.7% for males and 1.7% by females. 87% of 19-year old US college students have had sex, yet only 65% of MIT graduate students have had sex. There's conflicting research about whether this reflects lower sex drive in these people or less sexual success; it's probably a combination of both. See linked article for more information.

The basic summary of the research seems to be that smart, agreeable people complaining that they have less sex than their stupid, disagreeable counterparts are probably right, and that this phenomenon occurs both in men and women but is a little more common in men.

Moving from research to my own observations, I do think there are a lot of really kind, decent, shy, nerdy men who can't find anyone who will love them because they radiate submissiveness and non-assertiveness, and women don't find this attractive. Most women do find dominant, high-testosterone people attractive, and dominance and testosterone are risk factors for jerkishness, but not at all the same thing and women can't be blamed for liking people with these admittedly attractive characteristics.

There are also a lot of really kind, decent, shy, nerdy women who can't find anyone who will love them because they're not very pretty. Men can't be blamed for liking people they find attractive either, but this is also sad.

But although these two situations are both sad, at the risk of being preachy I will say one thing. When a girl is charming and kind but not so conventionally attractive, and men avoid her, and this makes her sad...well, imagine telling her that only ugly people would think that, and since she's ugly she doesn't deserve a man, and she probably just wants to use him for his money anyway because of course ugly women can't genuinely want love in the same way anyone else would (...that would be unfair!) This would be somewhere between bullying and full on emotional abuse, the sort of thing that would earn you a special place in Hell.

Whereas when men make the same complaint, that they are nice and compassionate but not so good at projecting dominance, there is a very large contingent of people, getting quite a lot of respect and validation from the parts of society that should know better, who immediately leap out to do their best to make them feel miserable - to tell that they don't deserve a relationship, that they're probably creeps who are only in it for the sex and that if they were a real man they'd stop whining about being "entitled to sex".

EDIT: But see qualification here

Comment author: ata 10 March 2010 05:44:43PM *  101 points [-]

(Photoshopped version of this photo.)

The scale of intelligent minds

Comment author: pengvado 07 December 2012 02:46:21AM *  100 points [-]

I donated 20,000$ now, in addition to 110,000$ earlier this year.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 16 April 2011 01:50:28AM *  96 points [-]

Yvain:

The offender, for eir part, should stop offending as soon as ey realizes that the amount of pain eir actions cause is greater than the amount of annoyance it would take to avoid the offending action, even if ey can't understand why it would cause any pain at all.

In a world where people make decisions according to this principle, one has the incentive to self-modify into a utility monster who feels enormous suffering at any actions of other people one dislikes for whatever reason. And indeed, we can see this happening to some extent: when people take unreasonable offense and create drama to gain concessions, their feelings are usually quite sincere.

You say, "pretending to be offended for personal gain is... less common in reality than it is in people's imaginations." That is indeed true, but only because people have the ability to whip themselves into a very sincere feeling of offense given the incentive to do so. Although sincere, these feelings will usually subside if they realize that nothing's to be gained.

Comment author: Yvain 22 March 2009 09:07:07PM *  91 points [-]

Ooh, this is fun.

Robert Aumann has proven that ideal Bayesians cannot disagree with Eliezer Yudkowsky.
Eliezer Yudkowsky can make AIs Friendly by glaring at them.
Angering Eliezer Yudkowsky is a global existential risk
Eliezer Yudkowsky thought he was wrong one time, but he was mistaken.
Eliezer Yudkowsky predicts Omega's actions with 100% accuracy
An AI programmed to maximize utility will tile the Universe with tiny copies of Eliezer Yudkowksy.

In response to The Wannabe Rational
Comment author: Gavin 16 January 2010 01:36:06AM *  97 points [-]

MrHen leaned back in his chair.

It had taken hours to write, but it was flawless. Everything was there: complete deference to the community’s beliefs, politely asking permission to join, admission of guilt. With one post, the tenor of LessWrong had been changed. Religion would join politics and picking up women as forbidden topics.

It would only be later that they would realize what had happened. When rationality became restricted by politeness, that would be when he would begin offering arguments that weakened atheist resolve. And he would have defenders, primed by this pitch-perfect post. Once he was made an honorary member of the “in” group, there is much greater leeway. They had already mentally committed to defend him here, the later details would be immaterial.

After the first online conversion, there would be anger. But at least some would defend him, harkening back to this one post. “It’s okay to be irrational,” they would say, “we’re all irrational about some things.” Oh, the luminaries would never fall. Eliezer, Robin, YVain, Gavin—they were far too strong. But there were those who longed to go back to the warm embrace of belief. Those just emerging from their shells, into the harsh glare of the real. And MrHen, with his equivocating, his rational irrationality—he would lead the way back. Always with the proper respect. A little flattery, a little bowing and scraping, these things go further than one might think in the “rational” world.

Once he was finally banned, and the conversions halted, the citizens of LessWrong would wonder what had driven him. Was it simply his own religious fervor? Or perhaps the old churches to weaken the growing rationalist community from within—perhaps he was in the employ of the Vatican or Salt Lake City, sent to curb a threat. But perhaps it was more sinister still. Perhaps, with his mission complete, MrHen would back to report back to his masters at the ‘chan, on the most epic trolling of all time.

They would never know, not for certain.

Comment author: gwern 24 July 2013 06:02:23PM 97 points [-]

The difficulty with supposing that automation is producing unemployment is that automation isn't new, so how can you use it to explain this new phenomenon of increasing long-term unemployment?

Clearly computers are exactly the same, and ought to be expected to have the same effects, as steam engines. Just look at horses, they're doing fine.

Now there's been a recession and the jobs aren't coming back (in the US and EU), even though NGDP has risen back to its previous level (at least in the US). If the problem is automation, and we didn't experience any sudden leap in automation in 2008, then why can't people get back at least the jobs they used to have, as they did in previous recessions? Something has gone wrong with the engine of reemployment...But this must mean something new and awful is happening to the processes of employment - it's not because the kind of automation that's happening today is different from automation in the 1990s, 1980s, 1920s, or 1870s; there were skilled jobs lost then, too. ...even I can see all sorts of changed circumstances which are much more plausible sources of novel employment dysfunction than the relatively steady progress of automation.

And there are also issues like labor hoarding and sticky wages/ratchets and tipping points and technologies reaching break-evens. Let me describe another plausible argument: "since computers and software have increased their usefulness smoothly albeit exponentially, we would see productivity gradually increase over time due to computers/software, and computers/software as so great that this would be obvious to the dimmest person using the most gross aggregate figures". This argument would be dead wrong, you would see essentially zero benefit from computers up to the '90s, and this massively counterintuitive and unexpected fact is dubbed the productivity paradox.

You don't even show that we didn't see this sort of abrupt jump in disemployment back then! For all you know, during the various panics and busts, there were huge disemployment effects as companies were forced or enabled to automate, but the people were able to switch sectors or find new jobs, which is the principle claim here.

Or to be less extreme, there are lots of businesses who'd take nearly-free employees at various occupations, if those employees could be hired literally at minimum wage and legal liability wasn't an issue.

Part of ZMP, as you should be aware, is that it's perfectly possible to have lots of humans who you would not hire at any wages at all, completely aside from the issue that the much-ballyhooed disemployment effects of minimum wage have been surprisingly hard to observe. For example, how many people would hire a black kid from the inner city to do their dishes for $0 an hour? Not many. How many would do so if they learned that like distressingly many such people, the kid in question has been convicted of some crime or other? I am guessing less than 100% of people would hire them. This is an obvious case where you would not hire someone at any price; ZMP simply extends this to say that there are many more such people.

We do not literally have nothing better for unemployed workers to do. Our civilization is not that advanced.

Sure we are. One video of an employee spitting in customer's food can go viral and do more damage to a chain's sales than that employee would earn for the chain in a hundred years. One person in an o-ring process can do an incredible amount of damage if they are only slightly subpar; to continue the NASA analogy, one loose bolt can cost $135 million, one young inexperienced technician can cost $200 million. Isolated examples? Well, just calculate the expected-value of reducing the number of such incidents by even 0.01%...

Many industries that would otherwise be accessible to relatively less skilled labor, have much higher barriers to entry now than in 1950. Taxi medallions, governments saving us from the terror of unlicensed haircuts, fees and regulatory burdens associated with new businesses - all things that could've plausibly changed between now and the previous four centuries.

What happened to your smoothness argument? It applies just as well to your libertarian examples here - better, actually, because many of your examples have origins in the Great Depression, for example, NYC taxi medallions in 1937.

Human beings, including employers, are very averse to downside risk, so this could plausibly be a major obstacle to reemployment.

What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Why doesn't this apply to firing people as well and fully explain how automation could be smoothly progressing while disemployment cyclical?

We need some new factor to explain why this wasn't true in 1950, and obvious candidates

No, the obvious candidate is the increasing skilledness and fragility of production as automation and precision and all-around technological sophistication increases. You want to know what manufacturing looks like in 2013, and not 1950? http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/01/making-it-in-america/308844/?single_page=true is as good a place to start as any.

A. Then it's odd to see so many news articles talking about AI killing jobs, when plain old non-AI computer programming and the Internet have affected many more jobs than that. The buyer ordering books over the Internet, the spreadsheet replacing the accountant - these processes are not strongly relying on the sort of algorithms that we would usually call 'AI' or 'machine learning' or 'robotics'.

Those were AI. "AI is whatever we don't know how to do yet", remember? Look at the MIT AI Lab, and what it and other AI places were doing in the '70s and '80s due to and to support their work: intranets, Internet, hypertext, interpreted languages with garbage collection, GUIs, single-person workstations, parallel processing, online chat and email, networking algorithms and on and son.

And then there's all the robotic warehouses which help online retailers like Amazon compete. Hm. I bet in a past era those warehouses would've been run using humans.

Even then, the total number of people driving cars for money would just be a small part of the total global economy; most humans are not paid to drive cars most of the time.

The trucking industry alone employs ~3% of the entire American population. That's not trivial by any means. And how many of those employees do you think are skilled operations research PhDs who can easily find employment elsewhere in logistics?

If we imagine that in future decades machine intelligence is slowly going past the equivalent of IQ 70, 80, 90, eating up more and more jobs along the way...

Q. Could we already be in this substitution regime -

A. No, no, a dozen times no, for the dozen reasons already mentioned. That sentence in Hanson's paper has nothing to do with what is going on right now.

Oh yeah? Alright, here's a kid with IQ 70. He can lift things under 40 pounds and put them where you tell him to. I'm afraid he can't read past a third-grade level, or anything like that. It's probably not a good idea to let him near any moving machinery either. Fortunately for you, he doesn't throw any violent temper tantrums and he doesn't steal - he's a sweet kid, willing to work. Just dumber than a stack of bricks. Take him down Main Street and see if anyone will hire him. How many job offers did he get?


More generally, Eliezer, you seem to completely fail to grapple with the real proponents of these ideas like Autor or Brynjolfsson or heck, even Cowen. What is the point of this 'anti-FAQ' if you aren't dealing with the actual arguments (never mind steelmen)?

Comment author: patrissimo 09 September 2010 06:55:22PM 95 points [-]

I'm disappointed at how few of these comments, particularly the highly-voted ones, are about proposed solutions, or at least proposed areas for research. My general concern about the LW community is that it seems much more interested in the fun of debating and analyzing biases, rather than the boring repetitive trial-and-error of correcting them.

Anna's post lays out a particular piece of poor performance which is of core strategic value to pretty much everyone - how to identify and achieve your goals - and which, according to me and many people and authors, can be greatly improved through study and practice. So I'm very frustrated by all the comments about the fact that we're just barely intelligent and debates about the intelligence of the general person. It's like if Eliezer posted about the potential for AI to kill us all and people debated how they would choose to kill us instead of how to stop it from happening.

Sorry, folks, but compared to the self-help/self-development community, Less Wrong is currently UTTERLY LOSING at self-improvement and life optimization. Go spend an hour reading Merlin Mann's site and you'll learn way more instrumental rationality than you do here. Or take a GTD class, or read a top-rated time-management book on Amazon.

Talking about biases is fun, working on them is hard. Do Less Wrongers want to have fun, or become super-powerful and take over (or at least save) the world? So far, as far as I can tell, LW is much worse than the Quantified Self & time/attention-management communities (Merlin Mann, Zen Habits, GTD) at practical self-improvement. Which is why I don't read it very often. When it becomes a rationality dojo instead of a club for people who like to geek out about biases, I'm in.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 02 February 2011 01:07:05AM 92 points [-]

At home there was a game that all the parents played with their children. It was called, What Did You See? Mara was about Dann’s age when she was first called into her father’s room one evening, where he sat in his big carved and coloured chair. He said to her, ‘And now we are going to play a game. What was the thing you liked best today?’

At first she chattered: ‘I played with my cousin . . . I was out with Shera in the garden . . . I made a stone house.’ And then he had said, ‘Tell me about the house.’ And she said, ‘I made a house of the stones that come from the river bed.’ And he said, ‘Now tell me about the stones.’ And she said, ‘They were mostly smooth stones, but some were sharp and had different shapes.’ ‘Tell me what the stones looked like, what colour they were, what did they feel like.’

And by the time the game ended she knew why some stones were smooth and some sharp and why they were different colours, some cracked, some so small they were almost sand. She knew how rivers rolled stones along and how some of them came from far away. She knew that the river had once been twice as wide as it was now. There seemed no end to what she knew, and yet her father had not told her much, but kept asking questions so she found the answers in herself. Like, ‘Why do you think some stones are smooth and round and some still sharp?’ And she thought and replied, ‘Some have been in the water a long time, rubbing against other stones, and some have only just been broken off bigger stones.’ Every evening, either her father or her mother called her in for What Did You See? She loved it. During the day, playing outside or with her toys, alone or with other children, she found herself thinking, Now notice what you are doing, so you can tell them tonight what you saw.

She had thought that the game did not change; but then one evening she was there when her little brother was first asked, What Did You See? and she knew just how much the game had changed for her. Because now it was not just What Did You See? but: What were you thinking? What made you think that? Are you sure that thought is true?

When she became seven, not long ago, and it was time for school, she was in a room with about twenty children – all from her family or from the Big Family – and the teacher, her mother’s sister, said, ‘And now the game: What Did You See?’

Most of the children had played the game since they were tiny; but some had not, and they were pitied by the ones that had, for they did not notice much and were often silent when the others said, ‘I saw . . .’, whatever it was. Mara was at first upset that this game played with so many at once was simpler, more babyish, than when she was with her parents. It was like going right back to the earliest stages of the game: ‘What did you see?’ ‘I saw a bird.’ ‘What kind of a bird?’ ‘It was black and white and had a yellow beak.’ ‘What shape of beak? Why do you think the beak is shaped like that?’

Then she saw what she was supposed to be understanding: Why did one child see this and the other that? Why did it sometimes need several children to see everything about a stone or a bird or a person?

Doris Lessing, "Mara and Dann"

Comment author: dripgrind 29 July 2011 10:36:20PM 92 points [-]

Only on this site would you see perfectly ordinary charity fundraising techniques described as "dark arts", while in the next article over, the community laments the poor image of the concept of beheading corpses and then making them rise again.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 February 2011 11:05:20PM *  87 points [-]
  1. You have to put yourself in environments where you'll be able to interact with a lot of women. College is in a lot of ways set up perfectly for this: if you're not in college right now, consider joining a class or an activity group. Try to make it one where the gender balance will be in your favor. Book groups are one example--they're wildly tilted towards women (I suspect men just, you know, read books, and don't tend to see the value in sitting around sipping coffee and talking about reading books). But if you like girls who wear glasses, try finding a congenial book group. You'll probably be the only man.

    Even better than book groups, though, are dance classes. Swing and rockabilly aren't super trendy anymore, but the scenes still exist in a quieter way, and these classes are great for single men: a) they're filled mostly with women; b) dance is an inherently flirtatious activity, and the physical leading/following dynamic is one that many women find very sexy; c) even if you don't find a date in that class, you'll have learned an attractive skill, and you'll be able to participate in events that will introduce you to more women; and d) physical exercise is good for building both confidence and sexiness. Yoga classes might work too, or if you can find a martial arts practice that attracts significant numbers of women (maybe check out your local aikido classes?).

    The SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) is also a surprisingly good choice for geeks who want to hook up. Wearing princess dresses is enough of a draw for women that the gender balance, while tilted towards men, isn't too awful, and so many relationships get started in the context of SCA events that there's a joke about it. (The joke is that "SCA" actually stands for "Society for Consenting Adults.")

    There are of course singles bars or activities like speed-dating that are specifically designed to let you meet single women, so you could try those too. A lot of people find those environments stressful and frustrating, which is why I'd suggest finding a social scene that is not specifically about dating.

    Lastly, let all your friends know that you're interested in meeting women. Ask to be introduced to their friends who are single. This is how people used to meet each other and it is still an important avenue to keep open.

  2. You have to ask women out on dates. This part, I know, is hard, and I'm sorry to admit that many women don't even understand how hard it is. You will be rejected and it will suck every time, but this part is a numbers game. You just have to keep doing it until you find the girl who says "yes."

    The pre-reqs for asking a girl out are fewer than you might think. It's best if you have already been introduced and have interacted a bit in a friendly manner. When I say a bit, I really mean just that you've spoken a few times. It is far, far more common for geek guys to err wildly in the opposite direction. Don't do this. If you like her, ask her out, and make your intentions unambiguous. The sooner the better.

    If you're following my advice and meeting girls in activity classes, you would do this by approaching her just after one of the classes, maybe as she's getting her things together or as she's heading out the door. Make eye contact and smile. Start with a compliment that references the interactions you've had--"Hey, I've really been enjoying dancing with you [or "sparring with you," or, "I really liked what you said about the book"] and I wonder if I could take you out to a movie next week."

    Be really clear about the fact that you're asking her for a date. Try not to say something like "I wonder if you'd like to meet for coffee and talk " because she could interpret this as merely a friendly gesture on your part, and you don't want that. A lot of inexperienced guys think they should establish a friendship before they ask a girl out, but you really don't want to sink a lot of time and energy into a girl who is never going to see you "like that." (It is true that established friendships can make a wonderful basis for romance, but never, ever count on that happening.)

    Also, propose a specific activity and a specific time. Don't just say "I wonder if you'd go out with me some time" because a) it sounds a little desperate and b) a lot of women have trouble saying "no" directly (we're socialized not to). Leave her a face-saving way to refuse. If she says "I'd love to but I've been really busy with work/school/life recently," that means no. Move on. (If, on the other hand, she says "I'm going to Guatemala next week, but I'll be back by the end of the month, maybe then?" that means yes.)

Dealing with rejection: When you are rejected, try to be gracious about it, even if she is not. Like I said above, a lot of women truly do not understand how much gumption it takes to put yourself out there by making a pass. If she seems annoyed or condescending or whatever, try to shrug it off; just smile and say "okay, no problem" or something along those lines. Do the same thing if she says "I'd rather just be friends." (But for the love of Pete, do not spend a lot of effort trying to actually cultivate a friendship. Moooooove on.)

It does get easier the more you do it. Just remind yourself that it is a numbers game. The worst thing that can happen is not that you ask ten girls out and they all say no. The worst thing is that you ask ten girls, they say no, and then you stop asking. Because whether it was Girl #11 or Girl #83 who would've fallen head over heels for you, you'll never find her now. Keep looking to meet women, and keep asking them out; these are the two steps that lead to relationships.

Troubleshooting: If you do find that you are consistently rejected, there might be something going on with your self-presentation that is offputting to women. Make sure your basic hygiene is good: that you are wearing clean clothes that fit you, that your hair is cut and that you are clean-shaven. (Facial hair is Advanced Fashion for Men: if fashion is not your ballgame, just shave, trust me.) Ask your friends if there's anything going on with your looks or demeanor that might be getting in your way.

If you are overweight, start an exercise regimen, but do not wait until you are at your ideal weight to start asking women on dates. It is perfectly possible for big dudes to find love, they do it all the time. It IS more important to make sure that you wear flattering clothing that fits you well--a baggy, threadbare tee-shirt and Hawaiian shorts may not cut it. Use Google Images to find pictures of some of the heavier celebrities (like Sean Astin, or Seth Rogan before he slimmed down). Check out what they are/were wearing, and use those pictures as a style guide.

You may also be acting in ways that indicate you don't value yourself, which can make women (and other people in general) instinctively shy away. You will probably need the help of people who actually know you to diagnose these kinds of problems and help you fix them.

In general, though, from my observations, most geek guys are able to get dates so long as they go where the women are, and ask them out. The most common mistake by far is simply failing to execute one or both of these crucial steps.

Comment author: Yvain 22 March 2009 09:53:13PM *  84 points [-]

Eliezer Yudkowsky's map is more accurate than the territory.

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