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By now the Trolley Problem is well known amongst moral philosophers and LessWrong readers. In brief, there's a trolley hurtling down the tracks. The dastardly villain Snidely Whiplash has tied five people to the tracks. You have only seconds to act. You can save the five people by throwing a switch and transferring the trolley to another track. However the evil villain has tied a sixth person to the alternate track. Should you throw the switch?
When first presented with this problem, almost everyone answers yes. Sacrifice the one to save five. It's not a very hard choice.
Now comes the hard question. There is no switch or alternate track. The trolley is still coming down the tracks, and there are still five people tied to it. You are instead standing on a bridge over the tracks. Next to you is a fat man. If you push the man onto the tracks, the trolley car will hit him and derail, saving the five people; but the fat man will die. Do you push him?
This is a really hard problem. Most people say no, they don't push. But really what is the difference here? In both scenarios you are choosing to take one life in order to save five. It's a net gain of four lives. Especially if you call yourself a utilitarian, as many folks here do, how can you not push? If you do push, how will you feel about that choice afterwards?
Try not to Kobayashi Maru this question, at least not yet. I know you can criticize the scenario and find it unrealistic. For instance, you may say you won't push because the man might fight back, and you'd both fall but not till after the trolley had passed so everyone dies. So imagine the fat man in a wheelchair, so he can be lightly rolled off the bridge. And if you're too socially constrained to consider hurting a handicapped person, maybe the five people tied to the tracks are also in wheelchairs. If you think that being pushed off a bridge is more terrifying than being hit by a train, suppose the fat man is thoroughly anesthetized. Yes, this is an unrealistic thought experiment; but please play along for now.
Have your answer? Good. Now comes the third, final, and hardest question; especially for anybody who said they'd push the fat man. There is still no switch or alternate track. The trolley is still coming down the tracks, and there are still five people tied to it. You are still standing on a bridge over the tracks. But this time you're alone and the only way to stop the train is by jumping in front of it yourself. Do you jump? If you said yes, you would push the fat man; but you won't jump. Why?
Do you have a moral obligation to jump in front of the train? If you have a moral obligation to push someone else, don't you have a moral obligation to sacrifice yourself as well? or if you won't sacrifice yourself, how can you justify sacrificing someone else? Is it morally more right to push someone else than jump yourself? I'd argue the opposite...
Realistically you may not be able to bring yourself to jump. It's not exactly a moral decision. You're just not that brave. You accept that it's right for you to jump, and accept that you're not that moral. Fine. Now imagine someone is standing next to you, a skinny athletic person who's too small to stop the train themselves but strong enough to push you over into the path of the trolley. Do you still think the correct answer to the trolley problem is to push?
If we take it seriously, this is a hard problem. The best answer I know is Rawlsianism. You pick your answer in ignorance of who you'll be in the problem. You don't know whether you're the pusher, the pushed, or one of the people tied to the tracks. In this case, the answer is easy: push! There's a 6/7 chance you'll survive so the selfish and utilitarian answers converge.
We can play other variants. For instance, suppose Snidely kidnaps you and says "Tomorrow I'm going to flip a coin. Heads I'll put you on the tracks with 4 other people (and put a different person on the bridge next to the pusher). Tails I'll put you on the bridge next to a pusher." Should the pusher push? Actually that's an easy one because you don't know where you'll end up so you might as well save the four extra people in both scenarios. Your expected value is the same and everyone else's is increased by pushing.
Now imagine Snidely says instead he'll roll a die. If it comes up 1-5, he puts six people including you on the track. If it comes up 6, he lets you go and puts the other five people on the track. However if you agree to be tied to the track without a roll, without even a chance of escape, he'll let the other five people go. What now? Suppose he rolls two dice and they both have to come up 6 for you to go free; but he'll still let everyone else go if you agree. Will you save the other five people at the cost of a 1/36 chance of saving your own life? How about three dice? four? How many dice must Snidely roll before you think the chance of saving your own life is outweighed by the certainty of saving five others?
Do you have your answers? Are you prepared to defend them? Good. Comment away, and you can even Kobayashi Maru the scenario or criticize the excessively contrived hypotheticals I've posed here. But be forewarned, in part 2 I'm going to show you an actual, non-hypothetical scenario where this problem becomes very real; indeed a situation I know many LessWrong readers are facing right now; and yes, it's a matter of life and death.
Update: It now occurs to me that the scenario can be tightened up considerably. Forget the bridge and the fat man. They're irrelevant details. Case 1 is as before. 5 people on one track, 1 on another. Pull the switch to save the 5 and kill the 1. Still not a hard problem.
Case 2: same as before, except this time you are standing next to the one person tied to the track who will be hit by the trolley if you throw the switch. And they are conscious, can talk to you, and see what you're doing. No one else will know what you did. Does this change your answer, and if so why?
Case 3: same as before, except this time you are the one person tied to the track who will be hit by the trolley if you throw the switch.
Folks here are being refreshingly honest. I don't think anyone has yet said they would throw the switch in case 3, and most of us (myself included) are simply admitting we're not that brave/altruistic/suicidal (assuming the five people on the other track are not our friends or family). So let's make it a little easier. Suppose in case 3 someone else, not you, is tied to the track but can reach the switch. What now?
Update 2: Case 4: As in case 3, you are tied to the track, five other unrelated people are tied to the opposite track, and you have access to a switch that will cause the trolley to change tracks. However now the trolley is initially aimed at you. The five people on the other track are safe unless you throw the switch. Is there a difference between throwing the switch in this case, and not throwing the switch in Case 3?
This case also raises the interesting question of legality. If there are any lawyers in the room, do you think a person who throws the switch in case 4--that is, saves themselves at the cost of five other lives--could be convicted of a crime? (Of course, the answer to this one may vary with jurisdiction.) Are there any actual precedents of cases like this?
Weekly LW Meetups: Austin, Atlanta, Buffalo, Cambridge MA, Durham, Los Angeles, Munich, New York, Pittsburgh, Washington DC
This summary was posted to LW main on May 3rd. The following week's summary is here.
There are upcoming irregularly scheduled Less Wrong meetups in:
- Munich Meetup: 04 May 2013 03:00PM
- Durham/RTLW HPMoR discussion, ch. 61-63: 04 May 2013 12:30PM
- (Pittsburgh) Big Gaming Fun 6: A New Beginning!: 05 May 2013 01:00PM
- Washington DC fun and games meetup: 05 May 2013 03:00PM
- Buffalo LW Sunday Meetup: 05 May 2013 04:00PM
- (Los Angeles) Group Decision Making (the good, the bad, and the confusion of welfare economics): 08 May 2013 07:00PM
- Atlanta Lesswrong: Cryonics FAQ & Signing up Party!: 10 May 2013 07:00PM
- Moscow, Rationality and Media: 12 May 2013 04:00PM
- Atlanta Lesswrong's May Meetup: The Rationality of Social Relationships, Friendship, Love, and Family.: 17 May 2013 07:00PM
- Brussels meetup: 18 May 2013 01:00PM
- Bratislava lesswrong meetup III: 20 May 2013 06:30PM
- Berlin Social Meetup: 15 June 2013 05:00PM
The following meetups take place in cities with regularly scheduled meetups, but involve a change in time or location, special meeting content, or simply a helpful reminder about the meetup:
- Austin, TX: 04 May 2019 01:30PM
- [New York] Effective Altruism (Outdoor!) Dinner Discussion: 04 May 2013 05:00PM
- [Cambridge MA] How To Do Everything: 05 May 2013 02:00PM
- Vienna meetup #3: 18 May 2013 04:00PM
Locations with regularly scheduled meetups: Austin, Berkeley, Cambridge, MA, Cambridge UK, Madison WI, Melbourne, Mountain View, New York, Ohio, Portland, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Toronto, Vienna, Waterloo, and West Los Angeles. There's also a 24/7 online study hall for coworking LWers.
Returned to original title, for the good reasons given here
There was a recent post in Discussion which at time of this writing held staggering 454 commentaries, which inclined me to write an evolutionary psychology and social endocrinology derived post on courtship, and Mating Intelligence, to share some readings on recent discussions and evidence coming from those areas. I've been meaning to do this for a while, and a much longer version could have been written, with more specific case studies and citations and an academic outlook, yet I find this abridged personal version more adequate for Lesswrong. In no area more disclaimers are desirable than when speaking about evolutionary drives for mating. It touches emotions, gender issues, morality, societal standards, and it speaks of topics that make people shy, embarrassed, angry and happy on a weekly basis, so I'll begin with a few paragraphs of disclaimers.
I'll try to avoid saying anything that I can remember having read in a Pick Up Artist book, and focus on using less known mating biases to help straight women and men find what they look for in different contexts. This post won't work well for same-gender seduction. If you object irrevocably to evolutionary psychology, just so stories, etc... I suggest you refrain from commenting, and also reading, why bother?
Words of caution on reading people (me included) talking about evolutionary psychology, specially when applied to current people: Suspicious about whether there is good evidence for it? Read this first, then if you want Eliezer on the evolutionary-cognitive difference, and this if your feminist taste buds activate negatively. If you never heard of Evolutionary Psychology (which includes 8 different bodies of data to draw from), check also an Introduction with Dawkins and Buss.
When I say "A guy does D when G happens" please read: "There are statistically significant, or theoretically significant reasons from social endocrinology, or social and evolutionary psychology to believe that under circumstances broadly similar to G, human males, on average, will be inclined towards behaving in manners broadly similar to the D way. Also, most tests are made with western human males, tests are less than 40 years old, subject to publication bias, and sometimes done by people who don't understand math well enough to do their statistics homework, they have not been replicated several times, and they are less homogenous than physics, because psychology is more complex than physics."
If you couldn't care less for theory, and just want the advice, go to the Advice Session.
Thusfar in Evolutionary Psychology it seems that our genes come equipped with two designs that become activated through environmental cues to think about mating.
Knowing this is becoming mainstream. The state of the art term is Mating Intelligence, and it has these two canonical modes that can be activated, depending on factors as diverse as being informed that X is leaving town in two days, and detecting X's level of testosterone, accounting for his height and status, and calculating whether his genes are worth more or less than his future company. If you choose to read the linked books, then you'll delve in this much deeper than I have, so stop reading this, and write a post of your own afterwards.
I'll list some main misconceptions, then suggest how to use either the misconceptions, or the theory mentioned while explaining them to optimize for whatever you want from the opposite gender individuals at a particular moment.
Misconception 1: Guys do Short-term, Girls do Long-term, unless they don't have this option.
This is false. Guys are very frequently pair bonded, most times even before women are, both have oxytocin levels going up after sex, and both have high levels of oxytocin during relationships. Girls only have less frequent causal intercourse because it is hard to find males worthy of the 2 year raising a baby period, or in the case in which they are pair-bonded already, because of the risk of the cuckolded "father" leaving, fighting her, or recognizing the baby ain't his. Obviously, no one's brain has managed to completely catch up with condoms and open relationships yet.
Misconception 2: Women go for the bad guys (if I remember my American Pie's correctly, also called jocks in US) and good guys, nerds, and conventionals are left last.
'Bad guys' is a popular name for high testosterone, risk taking, little routine individuals. And indeed when a woman's short-term mating intelligence program is activated, which happens particularly when she is ovulating and young (even when she's close married/relationshiped) she does exhibit a preference for such types. When optimizing for long-term partners, the reverse is true.
Misconception 3: Guys just go for looks, Girls just go for status.
Toned down reality: Guys in short-term mating mode go for looks, Girls in long-term mating mode care substantially for the difference between lower than average status and average status, then marginal utility decreases and more status is defeated by other desirable traits.
Women in short-term mode do not optimize for status, they'll take a bus-boy who shows through size, melanin, symmetry and chin that he survived local pathogens despite his high testoterone, she's after resistant genes, not resources. Men in long term mode still optimize for looks, but not that much, kindness and emotional stability take over when marginal returns for more beauty start subsiziding.
Misconception 4: When genders optimize for Status, Status=Money.
Unlike all known primate and cetacean species, Humans daily deal with being high, low, and medium status in different hierarchical situations. This should be as obvious as not to be worth mentioning, but sadly there are strong media incentives, and for some reason I don't understand well strong reasons within English and American culture to pretend that women go for status, status=money, therefore women go for money, and men should make more money. It may be a selection effect, the societies that financially took over the world believed that being financially powerful was the best way to get laid, or marry. It may just be that marketing these things together (using sexy women to sell cars) created a long-term pavlovian association. Fact is that it unfortunately happened, and people believe it, despite it being false. Women who begin believing it sometimes force themselves into doing it even more.
Status has no universal measure. If you met someone in Basketball team, status will be how good that person is plus their game attitude. If in a class at university, maybe it will be how well spoken the person is in the relevant topic. Status can be how much food the person usually shares with groups, or how much they can ask for others without being very apologetic. It can be how many women sleep with a man, or how many he can afford to reject. It can be how many purses a woman has, or how she can show thrift and a sense of belonging to a community that identifies as anti-consumerist. Some minds assign status based on location of birth, race, hair color etc... (In my city, Japanese women, all the 400.000, are commonly assumed to be high status). Finally, men do optimize for the trait people think as status, explained below, in long-term mates.
Even in the case where status plays the largest role, women when activating long-term reasoning, status is only one factor out of four multiplicants that are important for the same reason, and detected, in a prospective male mate:
Kindness*Dependability*(Ambition-Age)*Status = How many resources a man is expected to share with you and your hypothetical kids.
And this does not even begin to account for any physical trait, nor intelligence, humour, energy levels etc... If you take one thing out of this text, take this: Make your beliefs about what status is pay rent. Test if status is what people think it is, or something that only roughly correlates with that. Sophisticate your status modules, they may have been corrupted.
Misconception 5: Once you learn what your mind is doing when it selects mates, you should make it get better at that.
Let's begin by reaffirming the obvious: We live in a world that has nothing to do with savannahs where our minds spent a long time. We can access thousands, if not millions of people, during a lifetime. We have condoms and contraceptives. We live in an era of abundance compared to any other time in history, and in societies so large, that the moral norms constraining what "everyone will know" do not apply anymore.
So the last thing you want to do is to make your mind really sharp and accurate when judging a potential mate through its natural algorithms. What you want to do, to the extent that it is possible, is to override your algorithms with something that is better, and better is one of these two things:
1) Increasing your likelihood of mating with the individual (or class of individuals) you want to mate with in a matched time-horizon (long if you want long, for instance).
2) Enlarging the scope of individuals you want to mate with to include more people you actually do, will or can get to know.
To give better advice, I'll first mention general advice anyone can use, and then specific advice for the four quadrants. For those who will say this is the Dark Arts, I say it would be if we lived in a Savannah without condoms, heating, medicine, houses or internets. Now it looks to me more like causing one-self, and one's beloved, to be more epistemically rational.
Women, be confident: If you are a woman, be more confident, way more confident, when approaching a guy, don't be aggressive, just safe, you mind is tuned with who knows how many trigger devices that may make you afraid of a no, of being thought of as slutty, of losing face, and of the guy not raising your kids. Discount for all that, twice. Don't do it if everyone really will know, or if you actually want kids from that guy.
Use your best horizon features: If you have a trait that the other gender optimizes for more in short-term, lure them by acting short-term, even if later you'll attempt to raise their oxytocin to the long-term point. If you have goods and ills on both time horizons, switch back and forth until you grasp what they want.
Discount for population size: There are two ways of doing that, one is to reason to yourself "I may not be as attractive as Natalie Portman or Brad Pitt, but our minds are tuned to trying to get the best few achievable mates out of a group of 100-1000, not of hundreds of millions, so I do stand a very good chance" The other is nearly opposite: "I may think that I should only marry a prince, or sleep with Iron Man, but in fact my world is much smaller than this, and my mind will be totally okay to mate with Adam, that cool guy."
Be hedonistic: For men and women alike, the main way evolution got us into intercourse was by making it fun. The reasons it got us out are related to unlikelihood of leaving great-grandchildren, energy waste, disease, and lowered status. Of those, only a subset of lowered status is still significant in a world full of condoms. Other than women when aiming at long-term only, everyone is completely under-calibrated for sex, since we substantially reduced the risks without reducing the hedonic benefits nearly as much.
Use fetishes and peculiarities: There are things each particular person is attracted to more than everyone else (for me that's freckles, red/orange/blue/purple hair, upper back, and short women). Use that in your favour, less competition, as simple as that.
Go places: There are better and worse places to find mates. Short-terming males (a temporary condition in which any male may find himself, not a kind of male) abound in dancing clubs, military facilities and sports areas, not to mention OkCupid. Long-terming females (same) abound on courses and classes of yoga, dancing, cooking, languages, etc... Long-terming males usually have more of a routine, so are more frequent on saturdays and fridays than on a tuesday late evening, they'll be more frequent wherever no one naturally would go to find a one night stand, or in groups that are preselected for strong emotions (low thresholds for falling in love) Short-terming females may exist in dancing clubs, bars and other related areas, but are very high value due to comparative scarcity when in these areas, someone looking for them is better off in groups with a small majority of women, where social tension and hierarchies don't scale up in either gender.
Note: The advice is about things you should do in addition to what you naturally tend to do in those situations, you already have the algorithms, and should just improve calibration, unless when explicited, the suggestion is not to substitute what you naturally tend to do, or this would be a book all by itself explaining 4 kinds of human courtship.
For Long-terming Men: Stop freaking out about financial status. Find a place where you are among the great ones in something, specially kindness, dependability, physical constitution, and symmetry which guys think of less frequently than Successful startups or Tennis worldchampions. If you are hot, use short-term, women are particularly more prone to switching from short to long-term. Get a dog, show you are able and willing to take care of something unspeakably cute and adorable. Be ambitious in your projects, show passion. While ambitious and passionate, also make sure she realizes (truly) that you notice things about her no one else does, find out her values, talk about shared ones, and be non aggressively curious about all of them. Show her kindness in small gestures that need not cost a lot, such as time consuming hand-made presents. Test OkCupid and see if it works for you. Memorize details about her personality, assure her you can be loving specifically to her. Postpone sex a little bit. May sound hard, but is a reliable indicator that you won't change her for the next that quickly. Rationally override any emotion you may have regarding her sexual behavior, show you are not agressive and jealous, thus making her "(be) (a)lieve unconsciously" that you will not kill her in an assault of hatred when she sleeps with hypothetical another man whose child will never exist and get some years of schooling from you. If you think you can tell the wheat from the chaff, separate the PUA stuff that works for long-term, if not, read softer confidence/influence/seduction material. Use oxytocin inducing media (TV series and romantic movies). Rest assured, there are more women looking for long-term men than the opposite, aid the odds by going places. Show sympathy, kindness (to others as well) and dependability whenever you can.
For Long-terming Women: If you've been convinced by financial status gospel, stop freaking out about it. If you just account for the 4 factors in the equation above, you'll be way ahead of everyone within the gospel trance, then there are still all the other things you look for in a guy, which by themselves are very important. Sure, a classic indicator is how much other women in your social group like him, and, good as it is, it is defined in terms of competition, try to discount this one, after all, it is partially just made of a conformity bias, a bad bias to have when looking for a long-term mate. Be very nice and kind, and almost silly near the guy. The kinds of guys who are Long-terming most of the time are those who won't approach you that frequently. Also, older guys obviously have less chaos on in their minds and lives, so are more likely to want to settle down for a few years. Postpone sex in proportion to how much you suspect the guy is Short-terming. The importance of this cannot be overstated. By postponing sex (and sex alone) you make sure Short-termers still have a good reason to be around you until suddenly there is a hormonal overload and they fall in love with you (not that romantic, but mildly accurate), love's trigger is activated by many factors, when they sum above a threshold. The most malleable of these factors is time investment, give a guy mixed short long signals, and you'll increase likelihood of surpassing the threshold. Also, give known guys a second chance, many times your algorithms friendzoned (sorry for the term) them for reasons as silly as "he didn't touch me the first time we met, and I didn't feel his smell, because the table was wide" or "That day I was in Short-term mode and this other guy had more easily detectable attractive features, leaving John on the omega mental slot". Forget romantic comedies and princess tales where your role is passive. A man's love is actively conquered by a woman, you are the one who will fight dragons - frequently RPG dragons - for the guy in the beggining, not the opposite, the opposite comes later as a prize.
For Short-terming Guys: Read Pick Up Artist books, actually do the exercises, as in don't find excuses for why you can't, do them. Don't do anything that disgusts you morally, which may be nearly all of it, but do all the rest. Other than that?... Some few things, very few indeed, were left out of those books. Optimize more than anything for your fetishes and specific desires to avoid competition. Use mildly tense situations which can be confounded with arousal (narrow bridges get you more dates than wide bridges). Woman's attractiveness peaks at approximately 1,73cm 5 feet 8 inches, shorter women are more likely to have had less home stability and developmental stability when young, which triggers more frequent short-terming, looking for testosterone indicators (square chin, prominent forehead, and specially having a ring-finger longer than index-finger) also helps, and it is fun because you can claim to read hands and actually make good predictions out of it.
For Short-terming Girls: I'll start with easy stuff, and escalate quickly to extremely high probability even in tough cases, such as he's not on the mood, tired, really shy, or (you think) not excited. Quite likely the main obstacle is inside your mind, not your clothes, either fear of rejection, or fear of reputational cost or something else. Be confident. Few guys will reject a subtle, feminine, discrete and firm sex "offer" (notice how language itself puts it). Look at him, smile, touch him while you speak, look intensely at his mouth while slowly approaching, make sure to try do this where he is unlikely to be paying some reputational cost (not on his aunt's marriage). If feeling clumsy, mention you do. When short-terming, men really do optimize for looks, so decrease light levels, and avoid available-female company, like asking him out to check a bookstore, or to see a movie. Sit near him while touching him, cut the conversation at some point, kiss him (remember to do that where neither of you may get embarrassed with anyone else). Before, talk about sexuality naturally and imagetically, say how it is important to you to be embraced, desired, enticed, penetrated, transformed inside, and arise re-energized the next day to go back to your life. If you are sure he is short-terming, make yourself scarce by mentioning time constraints. Carry condoms and pick them up while making up if he is still hesitant whether you want sex or not. But be cozy and reassure him "It's okay" if it feels like he nervous. If you are confortable with that, use the web, there are tons of Short-terming guys, and if you feel embarassed to meet a man who would reject you, you are safeguarded by being filtered beforehand through your pictures and description or by the bang with friends app. On the web, be upfront about your intentions, and assure them you are not a scam/bot/adv. When almost there, if he is not excited, it is not because you are not attractive to him, don't be passive, slowly touch and rub his genital, quite likely he's just nervous and you are disputing against his sympathetic system, when you and the parasympathetic win, he'll be excited and relaxed, and the party is on. If you live in a large urban area, go to swing places alone or with acquaintances, not friends - nowhere else there will be that many guys willing to have sex right there, right now, and the necessary infrastructure for it, in a safe environment with security guards, other high-class women etc... to make sure you are not getting into trouble - In short, guarantee situations in which neither him nor you pay reputational costs, be active yet reassuring, lower light levels, avoid competition and make sure there is infrastructure for the act.
The saying goes that you can't achieve happiness by trying to be happy (thought you can if you optimize for happiness, i.e. by reading positive psychology and acting on it). To some extent, it is also true that a lot of what goes on during courtship does not take place while actively and consciously focusing on courtship. It is one thing to keep those misconceptions and advices in mind, and a whole different thing to be obsessed about them and use them as cognitive canonical maxims for behaving, the point of writing this is to help, if it stops being helpful, stop using it.
Edit: Scrambled sources:
This blog post on subject selection in study design seems like it might be interesting to folks.
From the post:
[C]linical trials often forbid enrollment by many patients who are treated in our health care system, including for example anyone who is over the age of 60, or has multiple medical conditions, or is on medications etc. This makes the clinical trial easier to conduct but it can also result in a research sample that is completely unlike real-world health care recipients. If for example a new medication has been FDA-approved based on a clinical trial that excluded anyone who was already taking another medication, any adverse medication interactions won’t come to light until patients start experiencing them in the health care system.
The post links to the article, published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Abstract for the publication:
Because they assign patients to treatment conditions, randomized clinical trials (RCTs) offer unparalleled internal validity for drawing inferences about the efficacy of a medical treatment. Whether such inferences can be generalized is not always clear because many RCTs enroll a low and unrepresentative proportion of all patients. The challenges of judging the clinical utility of clinical trial results are increased by poor reporting. The study by Gross et al of trials published in leading medical journals from 1999 through 2000 found that only 28% reported the proportion of screened patients who were enrolled. These deficiencies may have been ameliorated in the past decade because the CONSORT statement was revised in 2001 to require more complete information on the enrollment process in reports of clinical trials, and because many treatment research fields have been showing greater concern about generating knowledge that better informs clinical practice. Accordingly, the present study assessed the extent to which low enrollment rates are still characteristic of widely cited clinical trials, and whether reporting of enrollment information has improved.
This post is a bit of entertainment for scientifically inclined Harry Potter fans.
Time turner from the Harry Potter series (and from the Eliezer Yudkowsky's venerable HPMoR fanfic) is a very useful device if you have some unfinished business in the recent past, like attending an extra class or saving a friend from a certain death. However, General Relativity has a few words to say about them, and they are not very flattering. I will only address one issue here: Energy conservation. TL;DR: if you use a time turner to vanish into the past, those around you will see you blown to tiny bits of Merlin-knows-what, quickly disappearing from view. When you appear in the past, this explosion appears in reverse.
Before we get to the time turners, however, let us consider an aside.
Let us start with a common question: if the Sun stop shining this instant, when would we notice? The common answer: it takes light 8.5 minutes to travel the distance of 150,000,000 km between the Sun and the Earth, so that's how long it will take. This glosses over the issue of what does "this instant" mean exactly at two different points in space, which is not so trivial given the relativity of simultaneity in Special Relativity. It is easily patched up, however, once we fix a global frame of reference. The Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) is a natural one to use, and both the Earth and the Sun travel with a negligible fraction of the speed of light relative to the CMB. Anyway, the answer is still very close to 8.5 min.
Now another, deceptively similar question: if the Sun disappears this instant, how long before the Earth will stop orbiting the point where it used to be? The common answer: gravity travels with the speed of light, so also 8.5 min. This answer is obvious, simple and wrong. Yes, dead wrong. Why? because static gravity is not like light, it's more like electric field, only worse.
Let's first think of how you would make the Sun disappear. Maybe it turned into a black hole? Well, this would not really mean disappearance of gravity, the mass of the black hole will still be that of the Sun, and the Earth will happily (or unhappily, as the case may be) continue orbiting the Sun's corpse. So, in this case the answer is "it won't stop orbiting".
OK, so black hole was a bad example. How about a wormhole instead? You know, the evil Vogon-like aliens need to clear the room for a hyperspace bypass, and they build a wormhole from far away and suck all the matter in the Sun through it out of the way. What would happen then? There are a couple of hints: one is that from outside a wormhole is indistinguishable from a black hole, and the other is the Gauss Law. Both hints lead one to the same answer: just like with turning the Sun into a black hole, there is very little gravitational effect on the surrounding space. The rest of the now ex-Solar system will continue merrily on its way around the point where our Sun used to be.
An aside for those curious about the Gauss Law argument. The law in its integral form states that the flux of the gravitational field inward through any closed surface encompassing the Sun is proportional to the Sun's mass. To change the field, you need to remove some mass from inside this imaginary surface, by having it physically cross the surface. This last point may not be obvious, but it follows from General Relativity. Specifically, the Einstein's most misunderstood theory says that the spacetime curvature is determined by the (past and present) distribution of matter in spacetime. There are some exceptions, like the fixed-mass spherical objects, such as black holes and wormholes, which contains no matter, and gravitational radiation, which can carry away energy. But if you take a spherical object like the Sun and try to calculate what happens if you decrease its mass, General Relativity tells you that this mass has gone outward from the Sun in all directions in some form. It is not fussy about the form, as long as just the right amount of mass/energy has gone out.
Let me repeat for those who skipped the above paragraph: if you take the Sun and decrease its mass, the only way it can happen if this mass leaves the Sun outward and disappears into space. This happens all the time, of course, the Sun constantly loses its mass through radiation and solar wind, or in more drastic cases through Supernova explosions. Effects like this propagate no faster than light, of course. So they take forever to propagate all the way to infinity.
Now, back to the time turners. Hermione Granger might be but a small if incredibly studious girl, but she still has mass. If you were to peek at her using a time turner and disappear, her mass, small though it may be, still has to go some place, just like the disappearing Sun's mass had to go some place. The options are few: she can blow into tiny pieces flying past you, or disappear in a flash of brilliant light (and it takes a lot of light to carry away 50kg, what's with E=mc^2) . Basically, it will not be a pretty sight. What cannot happen is her simply vanishing, with no ill effects whatsoever. Well, it cannot happen if we are willing to keep Relativity around. Maybe we don't have to, what's with a certain deputy mistress turning into a cat and back, probably instantly changing her mass, with no ill effects on her or her surroundings. But if you give up on General Relativity, quite a few things will unravel, like all four Newton's laws.
Also don't forget the other side of the time turner action: Hermione appearing out of thin air just before walking into her extra class. The above process has to happen in reverse: an amount of matter equivalent to her mass has to travel inwards out of nowhere and coalesce into a person. Where did this matter come from? How did it form before collapsing into a person? How did it know that it would need to time its arrival into a certain point perfectly with whatever time turner will have been set to? That's some hard-core magic right there. Also, suck it, the Second law of Thermodynamics.
So, let me summarize: mass cannot just disappear, it has to spread out. mass cannot just appear, it has to coalesce. Thus time turners cannot be used inconspicuously, everyone around would be well aware of one's use, assuming they survive it. Actually, it probably cannot be used at all without breaking General Relativity and/or Thermodynamics. But hey, that's what magic is for.
EDIT: this post currently sits at -2 karma with 6 downvotes. I'd appreciate if any of the people who thought "I want less of this" explicate their logic to me, so I can do better next time.
EDIT2: OK, no one replied to my request... I'm guessing that some of you guys just quietly hate me :)
There are some topics I'd like to see more LW posts on, but I feel underqualified to post about them relative to my estimate of the most qualified LWer on the topic. I would guess that I am not the only one. I would further guess that there are some LWers who are really knowledgeable about various topics and might like to write about one of them but are unsure which one to choose.
If my guesses are right, these people should be made aware of each other. In this thread, please comment with a request for a LW post (Discussion or Main) on a particular topic. Please upvote such a comment if you would also like to see such a post, and comment on such a comment if you plan on writing such a post. If you leave a writing-plan comment, please edit it once you actually write the post and link to the post so as to avoid duplication of effort in the future.
Let's see what happens!
Edit: it just occurred to me that it might also be reasonable to comment indicating what topics you'd be interested in writing about and then asking people to tell you which ones they'd like you to write about the most. So try that too!
Like Eliezer, I "do my best thinking into a keyboard." It starts with a burning itch to figure something out. I collect ideas and arguments and evidence and sources. I arrange them, tweak them, criticize them. I explain it all in my own words so I can understand it better. By then it is nearly something that others would want to read, so I clean it up and publish, say, How to Beat Procrastination. I write essays in the original sense of the word: "attempts."
This time, I'm trying to figure out something we might call "tacit rationality" (c.f. tacit knowledge).
I tried and failed to write a good post about tacit rationality, so I wrote a bad post instead — one that is basically a patchwork of somewhat-related musings on explicit and tacit rationality. Therefore I'm posting this article to LW Discussion. I hope the ensuing discussion ends up leading somewhere with more clarity and usefulness.
Three methods for training rationality
Which of these three options do you think will train rationality (i.e. systematized winning, or "winning-rationality") most effectively?
- Spend one year reading and re-reading The Sequences, studying the math and cognitive science of rationality, and discussing rationality online and at Less Wrong meetups.
- Attend a CFAR workshop, then spend the next year practicing those skills and other rationality habits every week.
- Run a startup or small business for one year.
Option 1 seems to be pretty effective at training people to talk intelligently about rationality (let's call that "talking-rationality"), and it seems to inoculate people against some common philosophical mistakes.
We don't yet have any examples of someone doing Option 2 (the first CFAR workshop was May 2012), but I'd expect Option 2 — if actually executed — to result in more winning-rationality than Option 1, and also a modicum of talking-rationality.
What about Option 3? Unlike Option 2 or especially Option 1, I'd expect it to train almost no ability to talk intelligently about rationality. But I would expect it to result in relatively good winning-rationality, due to its tight feedback loops.
Talking-rationality and winning-rationality can come apart
I've come to believe... that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you.
Oprah isn't known for being a rational thinker. She is a known peddler of pseudoscience, and she attributes her success (in part) to allowing "the energy of the universe" to lead her.
Yet she must be doing something right. Oprah is a true rags-to-riches story. Born in Mississippi to an unwed teenage housemaid, she was so poor she wore dresses made of potato sacks. She was molested by a cousin, an uncle, and a family friend. She became pregnant at age 14.
But in high school she became an honors student, won oratory contests and a beauty pageant, and was hired by a local radio station to report the news. She became the youngest-ever news anchor at Nashville's WLAC-TV, then hosted several shows in Baltimore, then moved to Chicago and within months her own talk show shot from last place to first place in the ratings there. Shortly afterward her show went national. She also produced and starred in several TV shows, was nominated for an Oscar for her role in a Steven Spielberg movie, launched her own TV cable network and her own magazine (the "most successful startup ever in the [magazine] industry" according to Fortune), and became the world's first female black billionaire.
I'd like to suggest that Oprah's climb probably didn't come merely through inborn talent, hard work, and luck. To get from potato sack dresses to the Forbes billionaire list, Oprah had to make thousands of pretty good decisions. She had to make pretty accurate guesses about the likely consequences of various actions she could take. When she was wrong, she had to correct course fairly quickly. In short, she had to be fairly rational, at least in some domains of her life.
Similarly, I know plenty of business managers and entrepreneurs who have a steady track record of good decisions and wise judgments, and yet they are religious, or they commit basic errors in logic and probability when they talk about non-business subjects.
What's going on here? My guess is that successful entrepreneurs and business managers and other people must have pretty good tacit rationality, even if they aren't very proficient with the "rationality" concepts that Less Wrongers tend to discuss on a daily basis. Stated another way, successful businesspeople make fairly rational decisions and judgments, even though they may confabulate rather silly explanations for their success, and even though they don't understand the math or science of rationality well.
LWers can probably outperform Mark Zuckerberg on the CRT and the Berlin Numeracy Test, but Zuckerberg is laughing at them from atop a huge pile of utility.
Explicit and tacit rationality
Patri Friedman, in Self-Improvement or Shiny Distraction: Why Less Wrong is anti-Instrumental Rationality, reminded us that skill acquisition comes from deliberate practice, and reading LW is a "shiny distraction," not deliberate practice. He said a real rationality practice would look more like... well, what Patri describes is basically CFAR, though CFAR didn't exist at the time.
In response, and again long before CFAR existed, Anna Salamon wrote Goals for which Less Wrong does (and doesn't) help. Summary: Some domains provide rich, cheap feedback, so you don't need much LW-style rationality to become successful in those domains. But many of us have goals in domains that don't offer rapid feedback: e.g. whether to buy cryonics, which 40-year investments are safe, which metaethics to endorse. For this kind of thing you need LW-style rationality. (We could also state this as "Domains with rapid feedback train tacit rationality with respect to those domains, but for domains without rapid feedback you've got to do the best you can with LW-style "explicit rationality".)
The good news is that you should be able to combine explicit and tacit rationality. Explicit rationality can help you realize that you should force tight feedback loops into whichever domains you want to succeed in, so that you can have develop good intuitions about how to succeed in those domains. (See also: Lean Startup or Lean Nonprofit methods.)
Explicit rationality could also help you realize that the cognitive biases most-discussed in the literature aren't necessarily the ones you should focus on ameliorating, as Aaron Swartz wrote:
Cognitive biases cause people to make choices that are most obviously irrational, but not most importantly irrational... Since cognitive biases are the primary focus of research into rationality, rationality tests mostly measure how good you are at avoiding them... LW readers tend to be fairly good at avoiding cognitive biases... But there a whole series of much more important irrationalities that LWers suffer from. (Let's call them "practical biases" as opposed to "cognitive biases," even though both are ultimately practical and cognitive.)
...Rationality, properly understood, is in fact a predictor of success. Perhaps if LWers used success as their metric (as opposed to getting better at avoiding obvious mistakes), they might focus on their most important irrationalities (instead of their most obvious ones), which would lead them to be more rational and more successful.
Final scattered thoughts
- If someone is consistently winning, and not just because they have tons of wealth or fame, then maybe you should conclude they have pretty good tacit rationality even if their explicit rationality is terrible.
- The positive effects of tight feedback loops might trump the effects of explicit rationality training.
- Still, I suspect explicit rationality plus tight feedback loops could lead to the best results of all.
- I really hope we can develop a real rationality dojo.
- If you're reading this post, you're probably spending too much time reading Less Wrong, and too little time hacking your motivation system, learning social skills, and learning how to inject tight feedback loops into everything you can.
I'm sure most people here are familiar with http://www.scholarpedia.org , a well curated encyclopedia of scientific topics.
I recently came across http://examine.com/ which is a combination of encyclopedia and meta-analysis for supplements and cognitive enhancers. Given the popularity of the "Practical" section on http://www.gwern.net/ I think most of us would be interested in this information, and it's incredibly readable and well presented.
Can anyone suggest websites of similar quality? To be specific, I'm talking about
1) many searchable topics collected in one place
2) Well cited and in-depth reviews of literature and/or thorough meta-analyses
3) Adequate quality control. For example, all examine.com edits must pass two-man review team and Scholarpedia does decentralized peer review.
Topic or focus is not important, as long as there is a wealth of dense, high quality, **well cited** information. Suggestions?
This is an extension of a comment I made that I can't find and also a request for examples. It seems plausible that, when giving advice, many people optimize for deepness or punchiness of the advice rather than for actual practical value. There may be good reasons to do this - e.g. advice that sounds deep or punchy might be more likely to be listened to - but as a corollary, there could be valuable advice that people generally don't give because it doesn't sound deep or punchy. Let's call this boring advice.
An example that's been discussed on LW several times is "make checklists." Checklists are great. We should totally make checklists. But "make checklists" is not a deep or punchy thing to say. Other examples include "google things" and "exercise."
I would like people to use this thread to post other examples of boring advice. If you can, provide evidence and/or a plausible argument that your boring advice actually is useful, but I would prefer that you err on the side of boring but not necessarily useful in the name of more thoroughly searching a plausibly under-searched part of advicespace.
Upvotes on advice posted in this thread should be based on your estimate of the usefulness of the advice; in particular, please do not vote up advice just because it sounds deep or punchy.
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