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The True Rejection Challenge

43 Alicorn 27 June 2011 07:18AM

An exercise:

Name something that you do not do but should/wish you did/are told you ought, or that you do less than is normally recommended.  (For instance, "exercise" or "eat vegetables".)

Make an exhaustive list of your sufficient conditions for avoiding this thing.  (If you suspect that your list may be non-exhaustive, mention that in your comment.)

Precommit that: If someone comes up with a way to do the thing which doesn't have any of your listed problems, you will at least try it.  It counts if you come up with this response yourself upon making your list.

(Based on: Is That Your True Rejection?)

Edit to add: Kindly stick to the spirit of the exercise; if you have no advice in line with the exercise, this is not the place to offer it.  Do not drift into confrontational or abusive demands that people adjust their restrictions to suit your cached suggestion, and do not offer unsolicited other-optimizing.

To alleviate crowding, Armok_GoB has created a second thread for this challenge.


6 Alicorn 25 May 2011 04:43AM

There is probably some obvious solution to this puzzle, but it eludes me.  I'm not sure how to plug it into the equation for Bayes' Theorem.  And the situation described happened last August, so I'm probably not going to figure it out on my own.

There are two lightswitches next to each other, and they control two lights (which have no other switches connected to them).  I have used the switches a few times before, but don't occurrently recall which switch goes to which light, or whether the up or down position is the one that signifies off-ness.  One light is on, one light is off, and the switches are in different positions.  I want both lights off.  So I guess a switch, and I'm right.  What should be my credence be that my previous experience with this set of lightswitches helped me guess correctly, given that I felt like I was guessing at random (and would have had a 50% shot at being right were that the case)?  How much would this be different if I'd guessed wrong the first time?

Things That Shouldn't Need Pointing Out

28 Alicorn 21 April 2011 01:13AM

Today I learned that you can toast marshmallows in the oven.

By "learned", I mean "I read a recipe which included as a step toasting marshmallows in the oven".  I didn't have to try it out to realize that this would obviously work.  It was plain as soon as I heard the idea.  And it shouldn't have needed pointing out.  I know how ovens work.  I am familiar with the marshmallow species of food.  I love roasted marshmallows while hating them in most other forms and often occurrently lament the difficulty of arranging open flames over which one may safely toast them.  I routinely try new things in the kitchen to get results I want.

And yet I read it, and was surprised.  And so were the people I reported this finding to.  It needed pointing out.

What other facts need pointing out, although they are plain on inspection?  What is the pattern behind these facts and a good way to find more?

Mental Metadata

28 Alicorn 30 March 2011 03:07AM

Once when I was probably eleven-ish, I asked a friend of my family who had just gotten a new car, "What kind of car is it?"  He began to tell me the make and model and the interesting features of this particular vehicle.

I interrupted him, and said, "I meant, what color is it?"

This is just a mildly cute story about how little I knew or cared about cars at age eleven-ish, but it uncovers a communication issue that applies to people who are not eleven-ish anymore.  I should have just asked in the first place what color the car was, since that was what I wanted to know.  Asking what kind it was allowed a misunderstanding to creep into the interaction, since "kind" doesn't have a fixed meaning as regards cars and my interlocutor attached his own understanding of the question when he interpreted it.  I didn't correctly pin down the metadata of my question, so he didn't know what kind of answer I was looking for.

Garbled or missing metadata can cost time and cause fights, so I have developed a number of techniques to mitigate or eliminate it, both incoming and outgoing.  They're pretty simple to apply, and bringing them to bear early is very instrumentally useful both for social and informational reasons.

continue reading »

Sublimity vs. Youtube

23 Alicorn 18 March 2011 05:33AM

The torture vs. dust specks quandary is a canonical one to LW.  Off the top of my head, I can't remember anyone suggesting the reversal, one where the arguments taken by the hypothetical are positive and not negative.  I'm curious about how it affects people's intuitions.  I call it - as the title indicates - "Sublimity vs. Youtube1".

Suppose the impending existence of some person who is going to live to be fifty years old whatever you do2.  She is liable to live a life that zeroes out on a utility scale: mediocre ups and less than shattering downs, overall an unremarkable span.  But if you choose "sublimity", she's instead going to live a life that is truly sublime.  She will have a warm and happy childhood enriched by loving relationships, full of learning and wonder and growth; she will mature into a merrily successful adult, pursuing meaningful projects and having varied, challenging fun.  (For the sake of argument, suppose that the ripple effects of her sublime life as it affects others still lead to the math tallying up as +(1 sublime life), instead of +(1 sublime life)+(various lovely consequences).)

Or you can choose "Youtube", and 3^^^3 people who weren't doing much with some one-second period of their lives instead get to spend that second watching a brief, grainy, yet droll recording of a cat jumping into a box, which they find mildly entertaining.

Sublimity or Youtube?


1The choice in my variant scenario of "watching a Youtube video" rather than some small-but-romanticized pleasure ("having a butterfly land on your finger, then fly away", for instance) is deliberate.  Dust specks are really tiny, and there's not much automatic tendency to emotionally inflate them.  Hopefully Youtube videos are the reverse of that.

2I'm choosing to make it an alteration of a person who will exist either way to avoid questions about the utility of creating people, and for greater isomorphism with the "torture" option in the original.

Procedural Knowledge Gaps

126 Alicorn 08 February 2011 03:17AM

I am beginning to suspect that it is surprisingly common for intelligent, competent adults to somehow make it through the world for a few decades while missing some ordinary skill, like mailing a physical letter, folding a fitted sheet, depositing a check, or reading a bus schedule.  Since these tasks are often presented atomically - or, worse, embedded implicitly into other instructions - and it is often possible to get around the need for them, this ignorance is not self-correcting.  One can Google "how to deposit a check" and similar phrases, but the sorts of instructions that crop up are often misleading, rely on entangled and potentially similarly-deficient knowledge to be understandable, or are not so much instructions as they are tips and tricks and warnings for people who already know the basic procedure.  Asking other people is more effective because they can respond to requests for clarification (and physically pointing at stuff is useful too), but embarrassing, since lacking these skills as an adult is stigmatized.  (They are rarely even considered skills by people who have had them for a while.)

This seems like a bad situation.  And - if I am correct and gaps like these are common - then it is something of a collective action problem to handle gap-filling without undue social drama.  Supposedly, we're good at collective action problems, us rationalists, right?  So I propose a thread for the purpose here, with the stipulation that all replies to gap announcements are to be constructive attempts at conveying the relevant procedural knowledge.  No asking "how did you manage to be X years old without knowing that?" - if the gap-haver wishes to volunteer the information, that is fine, but asking is to be considered poor form.

(And yes, I have one.  It's this: how in the world do people go about the supposedly atomic action of investing in the stock market?  Here I am, sitting at my computer, and suppose I want a share of Apple - there isn't a button that says "Buy Our Stock" on their website.  There goes my one idea.  Where do I go and what do I do there?)

Luminosity (Twilight Fanfic) Discussion Thread 3

10 Alicorn 30 December 2010 02:37PM

This is a thread for discussing my luminous!Twilight fic, Luminosity (inferior mirror here), its sequel Radiance (inferior mirror), and related topics.

PDFs, to be updated as the fic updates, are available of Luminosity (other version) and Radiance.  (PDFs courtesy of anyareine).  Zack M Davis has created a mobi file of Radiance.

Initial discussion of the fic under a Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality thread is here.  The first dedicated threads: Part 1, Part 2.  See also the luminosity sequence which contains some of the concepts that the Luminosity fic is intended to illustrate.  (Disclaimer: in the fic, the needs of the story take precedence over the needs for didactic value where the two are in tension.)

Spoilers are OK to post without ROT-13 for canon, all of Book 1, and Radiance up to the current chapter.  Note which chapter (let's all use the numbering on my own webspace, rather than fanfiction.net, for consistency) you're about to spoil in your comment if it's big.  People who know extra stuff (my betas and people who have requested specific spoilers) should keep mum about unpublished information they have.  If you wish to join the ranks of the betas or the spoiled, contact me individually.

Miscellaneous links: TV Tropes page (I really really like it when new stuff appears there) and threadAutomatic Livejournal feed.

The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairy Tale of Economics

34 Alicorn 19 December 2010 02:05AM

Available in PDF here, the short story in question may appeal to LW readers for its approach of viewing more things than are customary in handy economic terms, and is a fine piece of fiction to boot.  The moneychanger protagonist gets out of several sticky situations by making desperate efforts, deploying the concepts of markets, revealed preferences, and wealth generation as he goes.

New Haven Meetup, Saturday, Dec. 11

5 Alicorn 06 December 2010 03:15PM

On Saturday, New Haven residents, people who live in other nearby assorted Havens, and anybody else who would like to trek out here are welcomed to a Less Wrong meetup in thomblake's and my home at noon(ish).  The address is thus:

173 Russo Ave Unit 406
East Haven, CT 06513

I will make food; if you plan to come and wish to submit food-related requests, say so.

Open Thread: July 2010, Part 2

6 Alicorn 09 July 2010 06:54AM

This thread is for the discussion of Less Wrong topics that have not appeared in recent posts. If a discussion gets unwieldy, celebrate by turning it into a top-level post.

July Part 1

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