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Meta: LW Policy: When to prohibit Alice from replying to Bob's arguments?

-3 SilasBarta 12 September 2012 03:29AM

In light of recent (and potential) events, I wanted to start a discussion here about a certain method of handling conflicts on this site's discussion threads, and hopefully form a consensus on when to use the measure described in the title.  Even if the discussion has no impact on site policy ("executive veto"), I hope administrators will at least clarify when such a measure will be used, and for what reason.

I also don't want to taint or "anchor" the discussion by offering hypothetical situations or arguments for one position or another.  Rather, I simply want to ask: Under what conditions should a specific poster, "Alice" be prohibited from replying directly to the arguments in a post/comment made by another poster, "Bob"?  (Note: this is referring specifically to replies to ideas and arguments Bob has advanced, not general comments about Bob the person, which should probably go under much closer scrutiny because of the risk of incivility.)

Please offer your ideas and thoughts here on when this measure should be used.

Peter Thiel warns of upcoming (and current) stagnation

24 SilasBarta 04 October 2011 05:30PM

SIAI benefactor and VC Peter Thiel has an excellent article at National Review about the stagnating progress of science and technology, which he attributes to poorly-grounded political opposition, widespread scientific illiteracy, and overspecialized, insular scientific fields.  He warns that this stagnation will undermine the growth that past policies have relied on.

Noteworthy excerpts (bold added by me):

In relation to concerns expressed here about evaluating scientific field soundness:

When any given field takes half a lifetime of study to master, who can compare and contrast and properly weight the rate of progress in nanotechnology and cryptography and superstring theory and 610 other disciplines? Indeed, how do we even know whether the so-called scientists are not just lawmakers and politicians in disguise, as some conservatives suspect in fields as disparate as climate change, evolutionary biology, and embryonic-stem-cell research, and as I have come to suspect in almost all fields? [!!! -- SB]

Grave indictors:

Looking forward, we see far fewer blockbuster drugs in the pipeline — perhaps because of the intransigence of the FDA, perhaps because of the fecklessness of today’s biological scientists, and perhaps because of the incredible complexity of human biology. In the next three years, the large pharmaceutical companies will lose approximately one-third of their current revenue stream as patents expire, so, in a perverse yet understandable response, they have begun the wholesale liquidation of the research departments that have borne so little fruit in the last decade and a half. [...]

The single most important economic development in recent times has been the broad stagnation of real wages and incomes since 1973, the year when oil prices quadrupled. To a first approximation, the progress in computers and the failure in energy appear to have roughly canceled each other out. Like Alice in the Red Queen’s race, we (and our computers) have been forced to run faster and faster to stay in the same place.

Taken at face value, the economic numbers suggest that the notion of breathtaking and across-the-board progress is far from the mark. If one believes the economic data, then one must reject the optimism of the scientific establishment. Indeed, if one shares the widely held view that the U.S. government may have understated the true rate of inflation — perhaps by ignoring the runaway inflation in government itself, notably in education and health care (where much higher spending has yielded no improvement in the former and only modest improvement in the latter) — then one may be inclined to take gold prices seriously and conclude that real incomes have fared even worse than the official data indicate. [...]

College graduates did better, and high-school graduates did worse. But both became worse off in the years after 2000, especially when one includes the rapidly escalating costs of college.[...]

The current crisis of housing and financial leverage contains many hidden links to broader questions concerning long-term progress in science and technology. On one hand, the lack of easy progress makes leverage more dangerous, because when something goes wrong, macroeconomic growth cannot offer a salve; time will not cure liquidity or solvency problems in a world where little grows or improves with time.

HT: MarginalRevolution

[link] Apostles' Creed = Tsuyoku Naritai???

-3 SilasBarta 23 August 2011 02:49PM

Background: Apostles' Creed, Tsuyoku Naritai

Related to: A Parable on Obsolete Ideologies

Just something I thought I might add to the annals of cases where someone tries to re-interpret an old religious text to mean something more acceptable to the modern ear, in contradiction to what most people (especially its contemporaries) think the texts mean.  And this is not some random person, but Gene Callahan, who makes sure you understand he holds a doctorate in philosophy, and pretty much makes a career out of defending this and anti-reductionist views in general.  Here's the post:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth...
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God...
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life..."

If I say these words, what do I mean? I am asserting that I have some secret knowledge that others do not? Do I believe these things like I believe it will rain tonight?

No, I asserting that, by meditating on these symbols, I believe I will come to understand better what I now know only through a glass darkly.

I believe that I may understand.

I suggested that this is not what most people mean when they say the Creed, but (surprise) the comment was deleted.

(Yes I know Tsuyoku Naritai is not quite the same as Callahan's interpretation, but it's the closest short LW term for the general idea.)

I can't see comments anymore -- what was recently changed?

7 SilasBarta 05 August 2011 04:16PM

I can't see the comments under posts anymore.  This just started happening in the last day or so.  (If I know a comment is there, I can still see it in the "recent comments" section.)  I'm using IE8 at work (CORRECTION: IE7), where a lot of stuff is blocked for security reasons, but not in a way that kept me from seeing comments until recently.

What changes were recently made to the site that would cause this?  It would be really nice to undo those.

Btw, I won't be able to see the replies to this post unless I find them under "recent comments", so ... if you want more specifics about how it looks on my end, you'll probably have to PM me.

Cryonics facility coming to Texas?

14 SilasBarta 28 June 2011 02:51PM

It seems that the non-profit Stasis Foundation is planning to build a cryopreservation "castle" (dubbed the "Timeship") in the San Antonio area.  My parents pointed me to this article, which was carried in the Austin American-Statesman.  I can't find a site for the Stasis Foundation; (here's the Google search and here's the Timeship propaganda page).  The article discusses the effort in the context of a potential loss of tax exemption for not moving the project forward in a timely manner.

So is anyone familiar with this group?  What advantages do they seek by having this facility that can't be achieved with existing cryonics non-profits?

General Bitcoin discussion thread (June 2011)

4 SilasBarta 10 June 2011 11:21PM

We've started a habit of creating periodic Bitcoin threads to confine discussion thereof to those threads and prevent excessive proliferation of Bitcoin topics in the discussion section.  Here is a link to the last one, which links the other discussions.  Lot's to talk about, and another bounce in Bitcoin's value (up to 33 then down to 24), so share your links and thoughts!

[LINKs] Bitcoin hits mainstream; intelligent technical critique

8 SilasBarta 19 May 2011 06:30PM

Annie Lowrey discusses Bitcoin in Slate.  No clear thesis, but important that it gets attention there.  She gives a general overview, with emphasis on its benefits to fringe elements on society, and gives quick attack at the end.  The attack seems misinformed, but it links to something more interesting, specifically...

A technical critique by Victor Grishchenko, PhD, who was mentioned here in the context of causal trees.  He describes a few problems he sees with Bitcoin:

1) Asymmetry favors attackers, in that it takes a lot more effort to check for double spending than to attempt a double-spend, eventually requiring "supernodes" that have disproportionate influence over the network.

2) It needs to continuously spend spend cycles to stay free from attackers.  He then describes an attack I don't quite understand that involves holding on to a discovered block and then broadcasting it at just the right time

3) It doesn't compare well against existing systems in terms of privacy, speed, or transaction cost.  (I found this questionable because the system he's comparing it to is still subject to warrants, and Bitcoin takes significantly less time -- 1 hour or so -- to ensure a transaction than the wiring transfers Grishchenko discribes.)

Finally, he credits Bitcoin in being advantageous similarly to Bittorrent: the latter was clumsy and complicated compared to regular downloading, but could perform well enough in a niche niche to force change in the broader markets.

Cryptanalysis as Epistemology? (paging cryptonerds)

11 SilasBarta 06 April 2011 07:06PM

Short version: Why can't cryptanalysis methods be carried over to science, which looks like a trivial problem by comparison, since nature doesn't intelligently remove patterns from our observations?  Or are these methods already carried over?

Long version: Okay, I was going to spell this all out with a lot of text, but it started ballooning, so I'm just going to put it in chart form.

Here is what I see as the mapping from cryptography to science (or epistemology in general).  I want to know what goes in the "???" spot, and why it hasn't been used for any natural phenomenon less complex than the most complex broken cipher.  (Sorry, couldn't figure out how to center it.)


EDIT: Removed "(cipher known)" requirement on 2nd- and 3rd-to-last rows because the scientific analog can be searching for either natural laws or constants.

First Waco, Texas LW Meetup, 4/09, 1PM

15 SilasBarta 06 April 2011 03:13PM

Real-world Newcomb-like Problems

14 SilasBarta 25 March 2011 08:44PM

Elaboration of: A point I’ve made before.


Summary: I phrase a variety of realistic dilemmas so as to show how they’re similar to Newcomb’s problem.


Problem: Many LW readers don't understand why we bother talking about obviously-unrealistic situations like Counterfactual Mugging or Newcomb's problem.  Here I'm going to put them in the context of realistic dilemmas, identifying the common thread, so that the parallels are clear and you can see how Counterfactual Mugging et al. are actually highlighting relevant aspects of real-world problems -- even though they may do it unrealistically.


The common thread across all the Newcomblike problems I will list is this: "You would not be in a position to enjoy a larger benefit unless you would cause [1] a harm to yourself within particular outcome branches (including bad ones)."  Keep in mind that a “benefit” can include probabilistic ones (so that you don’t always get the benefit by having this propensity).  Also, many of the relationships listed exist because your decisions are correlated with others’.


Without further ado, here is a list of both real and theoretical situations, in rough order from most to least "real-world"ish:


Natural selection: You would not exist as an evolution-constructed mind unless you would be willing to cause the spreading of your genes at the expense of your life and leisure. (I elaborate here.)


Expensive punishment: You would not be in the position of enjoying a crime level this low unless you would cause a net loss to yourself to punish crimes when they do happen.  (My recent comments on the matter.)


"Mutually assured destruction" tactics: You would not be in the position of having a peaceful enemy unless you would cause destruction of both yourself and the enemy in those cases where the enemy attacks.


Voting: You would not be in a polity where humans (rather than "lizards") rule over you unless you would cause yourself to endure the costs of voting despite the slim chance of influencing the outcome.


Lying: You would not be in the position where your statements influence others’ beliefs unless you would be willing state true things that are sub-optimal to you for others to believe. (Kant/Categorical Imperative name-check)


Cheating on tests: You would not be in the position to reap the (larger) gains of being able to communicate your ability unless you would forgo the benefits of an artificially-high score.  (Kant/Categorical Imperative name-check)


Shoplifting: You would not be in the position where merchants offer goods of this quality, with this low of a markup and this level of security lenience unless you would pass up the opportunity to shoplift even when you could get away with it, or at least have incorrect beliefs about the success probability that lead you to act this way.  (Controversial -- see previous discussion.)


Hazing/abuse cycles: You would not be in the position to be unhazed/unabused (as often) by earlier generations unless you would forgo the satisfaction of abusing later generations when you had been abused.


Akrasia/addiction: You would not be addiction- and bad habit-free unless you would cause the pain of not feeding the habit during the existence-moments when you do have addictions and bad habits.


Absent-Minded Driver: You would not ever have the opportunity to take the correct exit unless you would sometimes drive past it.


Parfit's Hitchhiker: You would not be in the position of surviving the desert unless you would cause the loss of money to pay the rescuer.


Newcomb's problem: You would not be in the position of Box #2 being filled unless you would forgo the contents of Box #1.


Newcomb's problem with transparent boxes: Ditto, except that Box #2 isn't always filled.


Prisoner's Dilemma: You would not be in the position of having a cooperating partner unless you would cause the diminished "expected prison avoidance" by cooperating yourself.


Counterfactual Mugging: You would not ever be in the position of receiving lots of free money unless you would cause yourself to lose less money in those cases where you lose the coin flip.


[1] “Cause” is used here in the technical sense, which requires the effect to be either in the future, or, in timeless formalisms, a descendent of the minimal set (in a Bayesian network) that screens off knowledge about the effect.  In the parlance of Newcomb’s problem, it may feel intuitive to say that “one-boxing causes Box #2 to be filled”, but this is not correct in the technical sense.

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