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Comment author: [deleted] 04 May 2015 11:50:22AM *  22 points [-]

I am not sure for how many people it is true, but my own bad-at-mathness is largely about being bad at reading really terse, dense, succint text, because my mind is used to verbose text and thus filtering out half of it or not really paying close attention.

I hate the living guts out of notation, Greek variables or single-letter variables. Even the Bayes theorem is too terse, succint, too information-dense for me. I find it painful that in something like P(B|A) all three bloody letters mean a different thing. It is just too zipped. I would far more prefer something more natural langauge like Probability( If-True (Event1), Event2) (this looks like a software code - and for a reason).

This is actually a virtue when writing programs, I am never the guy who uses single letter variables, my programs are always like MarginPercentage = DivideWODivZeroError((SalesAmount-CostAmount), SalesAmount) * 100. So never too succint, clearly readable.

Let's stick to the Bayer Theorem. My brain is screaming don't give me P, A, B. Give me "proper words" like Probability, Event1, and Event2. So that my mind can read "Pro...", then zone out and rest while reading "bability" and turn back on again with the next word.

This is basically the inability to focus really 100%, needing the "fillers", the low information density of natural language text for allowing my brain to zone out and rest for fractions of a second, of finding too dense, too terse notation, where losing a single letter means not understanding the problem.

This is largely a redudancy problem. Natural language is redundant, you can say "probably" as "prolly" and people still understand it - so your mind can zone out during reading half of a text and you still get its meaning. Math notation is highly not redundant, miss one single tiny itty bitty letter and you don't understand a proof.

So I guess I could be better at math if there was an inflated, more redudant, not single-letter-variables, more natural language like version of it.

I guess programming fills that gap well.

I figure Scott does not like terse, dense notation either, however he seems to be good at doing the work of inflating it to something more readable for himself.

I guess I am not reinventing warm water here. There is probably a reason why a programmer would more likely write Probability(If-True(Event1), Event2) than P(A|B) - this is more understandable for many people. I guess it should be part of math education to learn to cope with the denser, terser, less redundant second notation. I guess my teachers did not really manage to impart that to me.

In response to comment by [deleted] on Is Scott Alexander bad at math?
Comment author: pure-awesome 08 May 2015 06:23:22PM 1 point [-]

I find that what helps for me is re-writing maths as I'm learning it.

When I glance at an equation or formula (especially an unfamiliar one), I usually can't take it in because my mind is trying to glance it all at once. I have to force myself to scan it slowly, either by re-writing it, writing out its definition, or by (holding a ruler under it) and scanning one symbol at a time.

Then again, I'm currently studying a postgraduate degree in maths and I'm not someone who's ever considered themselves 'bad at math'.

Comment author: [deleted] 08 May 2015 03:45:33PM 12 points [-]

I de-converted from Christianity just a few months ago. Prayer is probably what I miss most. We learned that God always hears our prayers and answers in the way that is best for us, even if the answer isn't always "yes".

In general, I'm independent, I trust my own reasoning, and I like to be in control and make decisions. Yet, even for me, it felt REALLY GOOD to believe someone all-knowing and all-loving was in control. To believe that whatever happened was part of some perfect plan that I just wasn't smart enough to understand.

In response to comment by [deleted] on Rationality Quotes Thread May 2015
Comment author: pure-awesome 08 May 2015 06:14:01PM 1 point [-]

This comment resonates with me. I am also a Christian-turned-Atheist.

When something bad happens, or I feel in danger, or I don't know what to do, usually I want to send up a prayer. Then I have to catch myself and remember that yeah, that's not going to help.

Comment author: Sophronius 14 April 2015 10:20:28AM *  1 point [-]

This is an extremely important lesson and I am grateful that you are trying to teach it.

In my experience it is almost impossible to actually succeed in teaching it, because you are fighting against human nature, but I appreciate it nonetheless.

(A few objections based on personal taste: Too flowery, does not get to the point fast enough, last paragraph teaches false lesson on cleverness)

Comment author: pure-awesome 29 April 2015 08:31:18PM 1 point [-]

last paragraph teaches false lesson on cleverness

What exactly do you believe the false lesson to be and why do you think it's false?

I interpreted it as meaning one should take into account your prior for whether someone with a gambling machine is telling the truth about how the machine works.

Comment author: jscn 25 April 2009 07:04:44AM 10 points [-]

I've always enjoyed Lewis Carroll's talk of maps:

"That's another thing we've learned from your Nation," said Mein Herr, "map-making. But we've carried it much further than you. What do you consider the largest map that would be really useful?"

"About six inches to the mile."

"Only six inches!" exclaimed Mein Herr. "We very soon got to six yards to the mile. Then we tried a hundred yards to the mile. And then came the grandest idea of all! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!"

"Have you used it much?" I enquired.

"It has never been spread out, yet," said Mein Herr: "the farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well.

From Sylvie and Bruno Concluded by Lewis Carroll, first published in 1893.

Comment author: pure-awesome 29 April 2015 06:42:06PM 2 points [-]

So much for "the map is not the territory", I guess.

Comment author: wedrifid 04 September 2013 01:39:15PM *  0 points [-]

I believe the basic format for using 'and' is: "I believe X is good, and it could be even better if you did Y".

That's a useful template and in some cases the advice goes as far as to explicitly advocate just replacing 'but' with 'and' even when it is barely grammatical. This may vary somewhat with the audience and I believe the claim that most typical humans will either not notice or care about the improved tone than the impaired syntax. Mind you the particularly logically minded will also not mind the arbitrary change since 'and' does technically fit correctly in every case that 'but' fits, albeit with rather different connotations.

Comment author: pure-awesome 17 September 2013 11:53:41AM *  1 point [-]

That's a useful template and in some cases the advice...

This may vary somewhat with the audience and I believe the claim...

Note, that I did notice the change. I do think that to facilitate proper understanding of a sentence, 'but' should be used slightly differently from 'and', even if both are technically correct.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 08 October 2011 11:06:51AM 5 points [-]

Describe a common situation where there is clearly more utility in stating x bluntly than stating x politely.

I guess it would be when you don't have enough skill to speak both politely and clearly. So your actual choice is just between "bluntly" and "inarticulately".

The long-term solution to this situation is to develop the necessary skill. But the person may misunderstand the nature of situation; s/he may not understand the it's the missing skill that causes this kind of dilemma.

Comment author: pure-awesome 04 September 2013 12:00:58AM *  0 points [-]

So, Viliam_Bur, do I understand correctly?

You are saying the major tradeoff isn't between:

  • Speak 'bluntly' in situation X
  • Speak 'politely' in situation X

It is between:

  • Speak 'bluntly' in every situation (default)
  • Invest effort to learn to speak more 'politely'

(The costs-benefit calculation is a long-term one performed over all potential situations, not a short-term one performed over each specific situation)

I agree; this makes sense to me.

In certain cases, bluntness can be useful. However, by this I mean it can be useful if you are able to let people be blunt to you. See Crocker's Rules and the related article on Radical Honesty.

If everyone in a certain social context operate on such a system (whether explicitly or implicitly), then there is some benefit to these people in terms of saving time and cognitive effort in the short term, and in the long term if they haven't yet spent time on developing 'politeness'.

Comment author: wedrifid 10 May 2013 12:52:00AM 2 points [-]

I believe the book even offered "and" (though I was reading the German translation of that book)

I remember reading 'and' too (English translation).

Comment author: pure-awesome 03 September 2013 11:38:01PM *  1 point [-]

I also recall reading 'and', if not in that book then in one on a similar topic.

I believe the basic format for using 'and' is: "I believe X is good, and it could be even better if you did Y".


  • "Your speech was good, but consider using more specific examples"
  • "Your speech was good. However, it could be improved with more specific examples."
  • "Your speech was good. Yet I think that using more specific examples would improve it."
  • "Your speech was good, and I think you could increase the impact even further if you also included more specific examples."

(Note: The one with 'yet' sounds a bit awkward to me, I'm not sure I know how to use it in this situation).

Sure the use of the word 'and' is neither neccessary nor sufficient to make the sentence more positive, but I think that (given a bit of practice) it naturally causes you to do so. Much the same as the word 'yet', but (I think) more strongly.

I could theoretically say "Your speech was good, but I think you could increase the impact even further if you also included more specific examples.", but using the word 'but' doesn't really force me to do so the way that using 'and' would, and doesn't come across as quite as supportive. The word 'but' actually sounds slightly wrong to me in this sentence.

Comment author: XiXiDu 13 June 2011 04:09:21PM *  17 points [-]

So please post (1) the one article that you think newcomers should read, to maximize the chance that they read more; and (2) articles you think should be in the first ten articles that a newcomer reads.

The order in which I would have liked to be introduced to Less Wrong (introduction, wisdom, insight, education, excitement, novelty, fun):


Wisdom & Insight


Excitement, Novelty, Fun


Comment author: pure-awesome 30 August 2013 10:19:20PM *  1 point [-]

I'm not sure Twelve Virtues of Rationality is the best place to start. To be honest, I was a bit confused reading it the first time, and it only made sense to me after I had spent some time on lesswrong getting used to Eliezer's writing-style.

For myself (as I know it was for many others), I got here via Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. I'd say it's a great place to start many people off, but perhaps not the majority. Along with that, what got me convinced to start reading lesswrong was my interest in biases and importantly being convinced that I, myself, am biased.

Thus I would propose one starts off with a single post about some bias, especially one that convinces the reader that this is not an abstract experiment involving random test-subjects. I think that Hindsight Devalues Science works excellently for this purpose, although it's obviously not written as an introductory essay.

Follow this up with some posts from Map And Territory, namely: What Do We Mean by Rationality, What is Evidence, and The Lens that Sees its Flaws, in that order, to give a basic introduction to what rationality actually is. This could be followed by one or two more posts from Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions, so why not start with the first two: Making Beliefs Pay Rent in Anticipated Experiences and Belief in Belief.

Now, you could finally digress to Twelve Virtues Of Rationality and then maybe try your hand at the whole Map and Territory Sequence (skipping over those posts you've already seen), alternatively you could finish reading the Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions sequence first.

After this, I no longer provide any advice as to reading order. You could choose to follow the order provided by XiXiDu above. I provide the following as one order which would at least do better than picking articles at random:

Finish reading Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions if you haven't already done so.

The whole mega-sequence of How to Actually Change Your Mind contains a lot of pretty important stuff, but will take a while to read.

The rest of Lesswrong. ;)


And then follow with either of:

Path a

Path b

Which concludes my recommendation.

Comment author: D_Malik 10 May 2013 01:27:19PM 27 points [-]

A tulpa is an "imaginary friend" (a vivid hallucination of an external consciousness) created through intense prolonged visualization/practice (about an hour a day for two months). People who claim to have created tulpas say that the hallucination looks and sounds realistic. Some claim that the tulpa can remember things they've consciously forgotten or is better than them at mental math.

Here's an FAQ, a list of guides and a subreddit.

Not sure whether this is actually possible (I'd guess it would be basically impossible for the 3% of people who are incapable of mental imagery, for instance); many people on the subreddit are unreliable, such as occult enthusiasts (who believe in magick and think that tulpas are more than just hallucinations) and 13-year-old boys.

If this is real, there's probably some way of using this to develop skills faster or become more productive.

Comment author: pure-awesome 02 August 2013 01:13:10AM *  2 points [-]

Relevant to this topic: Keith Johnstone's 'Masks'. It would be better to read the relevant section in his book "Impro" for the whole story (I got it at my university library) but this collection of quotes followed by this video should give enough of an introduction.

The idea is that while the people wear these masks, they are able to become a character with a personality different from the actor's original. The actor doesn't feel as if they are controlling the character. That being said, it doesn't happen immediately: It can take a few sessions for the actor to get the feel for the thing. The other thing is that the Masks usually have to learn to talk (albeit at an advanced pace) eventually taking on the vocabulary of their host. It's very interesting reading, to say the least.

Comment author: UnclGhost 04 June 2013 12:04:42AM 4 points [-]

I think I did mean to be sarcastic, since it doesn't seem to be actually affiliated with the publishers of Webster's dictionary and the design of the site looks generally sketchy, but coming back to my comment now, you make a good point.

Comment author: pure-awesome 04 June 2013 09:45:55AM *  3 points [-]

Ok, thanks for clarifying. It actually makes a lot more sense for you to be sarcastic and I read it that way at first. I only got confused once I started considering the non-sarcastic possibility.

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