Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Comment author: christopherj 17 October 2013 08:33:25PM 5 points [-]

And that is an advantage of traditional moral systems -- because they have been around for so long, they have had opportunities to be tried and tested in various ways. It won't give adherents a long-term view, but it can be a similar effect. Think of it as, "I don't have to think out the consequences of this because other people have thought through similar problems over a thousand years, and came up with a rule that says I should do X." One would be foolish to totally disregard traditional morality simply because of it's occasional clash with the modern world. It would be like disregarding a "traditional" gene made by "stupid blind arbitrary evolution" because we think we have a better one made by a smarter system -- it might be a good idea to compare anyways.

Comment author: Ford 19 May 2016 04:46:44PM 1 point [-]

I tend to agree, but it depends on how something was tested. In "Darwinian Agriculture", I argue that testing by ability to persist is weaker than testing by competition against alternatives. Trees compete against each other, but forests don't. Societies often compete and their moral systems probably affect competitive success, but things are complicated by migration between societies, population growth (moral systems that work for bands of relatives may not work as well for modern nations), technological change (cooking pork), etc.

Comment author: dougclow 01 May 2014 11:03:01AM *  6 points [-]

One thing I should mention where I wasn't able to get a very good match between my own observations and mainstream science.

The Sun and the Moon are very, very close in their apparent diameter in the sky. They are almost exactly the same size. You can measure them yourself and compare, although this is a bit fiddly; I certainly got well within my own measurement errors, although those errors were large. However, you can verify it very easily and directly at the time of solar eclipses. They are so near in size that the wobbliness of the Moon's orbit means that sometimes the Sun is just-smaller than the Moon (when you get a total eclipse) and sometimes it is just-bigger (when you get an annular eclipse).

But they are very, very different in their actual size, and in their distance from the Earth. In Father Ted terms, the Moon is small and close; the Sun is large and far away. In rough terms, the Moon is 400,000 km away and 3,400 km across, and the Sun is 150m km away and 1.4m km across. You don't have to change any one of those four measurements much for them to be quite different apparent sizes from the Earth. Indeed, if you do the calculations (which I can personally attest to), if you go back far enough in time they weren't the same apparent size, and nor are they if you go forward a long way in to the future.

Why? Why this coincidence? And why is it only happening at just the times when humans are around to observe it?

So far as I know, we have no good theories apart from "it just happened to work out that way". This is pretty unsatisfying.

Comment author: Ford 14 July 2014 03:57:12PM 0 points [-]

There are so many possible coincidences, it would be surprising if none of them happened.

I observed 2012 transit of Venus, right on schedule.

Don't know an easy way to prove changing earth-moon distance, but changes in speed of earth's rotation can be seen as changes in number of days per year, visible in growth layers in fossil coral. Taking a magnifying glass to the right museum might allow individual verification.

Comment author: Ford 02 May 2014 09:38:30PM *  1 point [-]

Great post!

Evolution of antibiotic resistance is indeed fairly easy, but how about evolving something visibly different? Evolution of simple multicellularity from a unicellular ancestor is easier than you might think: http://www.snowflakeyeastlab.com/

If we can solve the earth-orbits-the-sun problem, we don't need to measure the parallax of stars accurately to show that they're really far away, which seems like an important scientific truth.

Comment author: Ford 02 May 2014 03:56:37PM *  17 points [-]

Since most of these would, if successful, result in an imperfect copy of yourself, rather than extending your own consciousness, you could include "have children." If you really want a perfect copy, rather than a genome enriched by a partner, then human cloning is closer to feasible than cryopreservation of adults. Cryopreservation of embryos actually works. I wonder if there would be a market for a service that promises to keep embryos frozen until life human expectancy reaches 110, say, then bring the embryo to life by whatever methods they are using then, sharing some of the trust fund with the foster parents.

Comment author: elharo 15 May 2013 10:19:20PM *  28 points [-]

Boring munchkin technique #2: invest in tax advantaged index funds with low fees. Specifically, in the following order:

  1. Max out your employer's matching contribution, if available. It is near impossible to beat an immediate 50% or 100% return, even if you have to borrow money in order to take advantage of this.

  2. Pay off credit card debt. Do not keep any high interest loans. Do not keep a revolving balance on credit cards.

  3. Depending on circumstances (e.g. if you lose your job, is moving back in with your parents an option?) have a few months of living expenses available in ready cash.

  4. Put as much money as you can afford into tax advantaged retirement accounts. In the U.S. that means 401K, 403b, IRA, SEP, etc.

  5. Allocate all your investments except possibly your emergency fund into low cost index funds. 1% fees are way too high. Vanguard has some good funds with fees as low as 0.1%.

I could say more, but that's the basics. Do that and you'll probably be in the 90th percentile or higher of successful investors. If folks are interested in hearing more, let me know; and I'll whip up a post on rational financial planning. If there's a lot of interest, it might even be worth a sequence.

Comment author: Ford 21 May 2013 06:02:44PM 2 points [-]

Tax-deferred retirement accounts make sense if you expect your tax rate to be lower in retirement than now. I expect tax rates to increase, so would rather pay the tax now than when I take the money out. In US, Roth IRA allows that.

"Your Money or Your Life" is worth reading. Build up your savings and decrease your spending until earnings on savings equal spending. After that, you don't have to work for money. Worthwhile work still enhances health and happiness, though.

Robert Frank's books on economics make the point that relative income is more important than widely recognized. Two examples he may have missed: 1) it's not just how much education you have, but how it compares to the competition. So the best-educated get the best jobs, but that doesn't mean everyone would have a good job if everyone was better educated. 2) losing health insurance is a disaster if you are competing for health services with the insured. But if everyone loses health insurance (e.g., Medicare collapses), doctors will have to lower their fees.

Comment author: Ford 22 February 2013 07:59:14PM 1 point [-]

You might like the "simple practice cases" in my recently published book, Darwinian Agriculture. Has natural selection favored solar tracking by leaves because it increases photosynthesis, or because it decreases the photosynthesis of competitors? What sex ratio (in reindeer, say) is favored by natural selection, and what sex ratio maximizes meat production from a given amount of lichen? Why do rhizobial bacteria provide their legume hosts with nitrogen, if healthier plants will indirectly help other rhizobia infecting the same plant -- their most-likely competitors for the next host?

Comment author: Caledonian2 07 November 2007 02:19:12PM 0 points [-]

Obviously, selection on the level of the individual won't produce individual restraint in breeding. Individuals who reproduce unrestrainedly will, naturally, produce more offspring than individuals who restrain themselves.

Wrong. Sometimes quality, not quantity, matters. Which is why rabbits will abort and reabsorb fetuses when under stress, even though the reabsorption process has a significant chance of causing permanent infertility.

It's not about which organism produces the greatest number of offspring - although restricting fertility can sometimes lead to that - but the greatest number of surviving offspring. It's more complex than a madcap race to reproduce as rapidly and prolifically as possible.

Comment author: Ford 22 February 2013 07:33:15PM 0 points [-]

It's even a little trickier than that. If overall population is increasing then one offspring this year may lead to greater proportional representation in the gene pool than two offspring next year. What few people recognize is that the opposite can be true if the population is decreasing.

But I think the original post assumed "all else being equal", to allow focus on the main points.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 18 February 2013 07:53:27AM 1 point [-]

Fair enough.

One way to deal with this issue might be to make it clear that the discussion proceeds conditional on the correctness of their position on the controversial thing. Either side could do this.

Comment author: Ford 22 February 2013 07:23:55PM 0 points [-]

I think that only works if you say "even if that were true, which we don't need to discuss now, I would argue that..." It's much harder to get someone to accept "for the sake of argument" something they strongly disagree with.

For example, I would only accept "morality comes from the Bible" if I had a convincing Bible quote to make my point.

Comment author: olibain 20 February 2013 08:34:42PM 8 points [-]

I'm Robby Oliphant. I started a few months ago reading HP:MoR, which led me to the Sequences, which led me here about two weeks ago. So far I have read comments and discussions solely as a spectator. But finally, after developing my understanding and beginning on the path set forth by the sequences, I remain silent no more.

I am fresh out of high school, excited about life and plan to become a teacher, eventually. My short-term plans involve going out and doing missionary work for my church for the next two years. When I came head on against the problem of being a rationalist and a missionary for a theology, I took a step back and had a crisis of belief, not the first time, but this time I followed the prescribed method and came to a modified conclusion, though I still find it rational and advantageous to serve my 2 year mission.

I find some of this difficult, some of this intuitive and some of this neither difficult or intuitive, which is extremely frustrating, how something can appears simple but defy my efforts to intuitively work it. I will continue to work at it because rationality seems to be praiseworthy and useful. I hope to find the best evidence about theology here. I don't mean evidence for or against, just the evidence about the subject.

Comment author: Ford 20 February 2013 09:20:13PM 0 points [-]

You may find this story (a scientist dealing with evidence that conflicts with his religion) interesting.


In response to Helpless Individuals
Comment author: Ford 20 February 2013 09:12:17PM 4 points [-]

In addition to the emotional issues you raise, there's the question of thresholds and scalability. If the puppy program already exists, giving $10 will help more puppies. But, for many scientific research projects, there's no point in even starting with less than $100K in hand. That could be $10 each from 10,000 people. An easy decision, perhaps, for the 9999th person, but who wants to give the first $10?

Elsewhere I've suggested "Social Escrow" as a solution. You pledge a certain amount, contingent on enough other people doing so and perhaps on other objective criteria. "Send us two checks. We'll tear up both if not enough other people send checks. We'll tear up the second if the research doesn't meet kilometerstone X by date Y."

Kickstarter has some of these features, but doesn't seem to fund science.

View more: Next