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

Comment author: hairyfigment 12 January 2017 01:04:45AM 1 point [-]

She does eventually give an example of what she says she's talking about - one example from Facebook, when she claimed to be seeing a pattern in many statements. Before that she objects to the standard use of the English word "promise," in exactly the way we would expect from an autistic person who has no ability to understand normal humans. Of course this is also consistent with a dishonest writer trying to manipulate autistic readers for some reason. I assume she will welcome this criticism.

(Seriously, I objected to her Ra post because the last thing humanity needs is more demonology; but even I didn't expect her to urge "mistrusting Something that speaks through them," like they're actually the pawns of demons. "Something" is very wrong with this post.)

The presence of a charlatan like Gleb around EA is indeed disturbing. I seem to recall people suggesting they were slow to condemn him because EA people need data to believe anything, and lack any central authority who could declare him anathema.

Comment author: sarahconstantin 12 January 2017 07:01:10AM 2 points [-]

Hi, I wrote the post.

I think that it's actually fine for me to use spooky/mystical language to describe human behavior. I'm trying to hint very broadly at subjective impressions, and provoke readers to see the same things I do. I have the rough sense of something spooky going on in the zeitgeist, and I want to evoke that spooky feeling in my readers, so that some of them might say "I see it too." That's exactly the right use case for magical thinking.

There are degrees of certainty in making accusations. If you have hard evidence that somebody did a seriously bad thing, then that's one kind of situation. I'm not making any of those kinds of claims. (There was hard evidence that Gleb did a seriously bad thing, but that's not original to me, and that was dealt with before.)

What I'm doing is more like the sort of thing that goes on when, say, a journalist/blogger might accuse EA of being a movement full of "nerdy white males" and insinuating that this is associated with certain stereotypical biases, and maybe pulling a quote or two to support the claim. It's a "hey, this smells funny" kind of deal. It's about pattern-matching and raising suspicion and smearing it around a bit.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 22 December 2016 09:01:02PM *  3 points [-]

A surprising number of 'spiritual practices' have turned out to stimulate the vagus nerve/affect its baseline tone. This is also probably one of the pathways by which cardiovascular conditioning affects health (vagus nerve innervates the heart). I had thought that the vagus nerve also innervates the diaphragm, which would explain how breathing exercises could affect it, but it turns out that's the phrenic nerve.

Comment author: sarahconstantin 03 January 2017 08:33:41PM 1 point [-]

Deep breathing does stimulate the vagus nerve though, if I understand correctly. How much the heart rate changes after a period of deep breathing is a standard test of vagal nerve function. People with autonomic dysfunction can't slow their heart rate through deep breathing.

[Link] Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation

3 sarahconstantin 28 December 2016 06:26PM
Comment author: sarahconstantin 22 December 2016 04:09:37AM 2 points [-]

What's the best way to have people indicate probability distributions? It has to be easy enough to not cut down on participation unduly.

My first guess would be asking people to state their 95% confidence intervals and pretend that the distribution is normal. Other possibilities: ask people to bet on binary events at various odds; ask people to drag-and-drop a probability curve; ask a short sequence of frequentist-language questions to get at intuition ("if you tried this 10 times, how many times would you expect the positive outcome?" "if you tried this ten times, would you expect one example to reach a score of at least X?")

Bioelectronic medicine: a very brief overview

10 sarahconstantin 22 December 2016 04:03AM

Drugs that affect the nervous system get administered systemically.  It's easy to imagine that we could do much more if we could stimulate one nerve at a time, and in patterns designed to have particular effects on the body.

"Neural coding" can detect the nerve impulses that indicate that a paralyzed person intends to move a limb, and build prosthetics that respond to the mind the way a real limb would.  A company called BrainGate is already making these.  You can see a paralyzed person using a robotic arm with her mind here.

A fair number of diseases that don't seem "neurological", like rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis, can actually be treated by stimulating the vagus nerve.  The nervous system is tightly associated with the immune and endocrine systems, which is probably why autoimmune diseases are so associated with psychiatric comorbidities; it also means that the nervous system might be an angle towards treating autoimmune diseases. There is a "cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway", involving the vagus nerve, which inactivates macrophages when they're exposed to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and thus lessens the immune response.  Turning this pathway on electronically is thus a prospective treatment for autoimmune or inflammatory diseases.  Vagus nerve stimulation has been tested and found successful in rheumatoid arthritis patients, in rat models of inflammatory bowel disease, and in dog experiments on chronic heart failure; vagus nerve activity mediates pancreatitis in mice; and vagus nerve stimulation attenuates the inflammatory response (cytokine release and shock) to the bacterial poison endotoxin.

Here is a detailed roadmap from this Nature article about the research that would need to be done to make bioelectronic medicine a reality. 

We'd need much more detailed maps of where exactly nerves innervate various organs and which neurotransmitters they use; we'd need to record patterns of neural activity to detect which nerve signals modulate which diseases and experimentally determine causal relationships between neural signals and organ functions; we'd need to build small electronic interfaces (cuffs and chips) for use on peripheral nerves; we'd need lots of improvements in small-scale and non-invasive sensor technology (optogenetics, neural dust, ultrasound and electromagnetic imaging); and we'd need better tools for real-time, quantitative measurements of hormone and neurotransmitter release from nerves and organs.

A lot of this seems to clearly need hardware and software engineers, and signal-processing/image-processing/machine-learning people, in addition to traditional biologists and doctors. In the general case, neural modulation of organ function is Big Science in the way brain mapping or genomics is. You need to know where the nerves are, and what they're doing, in real time.  This is likely going to need specialized software which outpaces what labs are currently capable of.

Google is already on this; they recently announced a partnership with GlaxoSmithKline called Galvani Bioelectronics and they seem to be hiring.  

Theodore Berger, the scientist who created the first neural memory implant , has cofounded a company, Kernel, to develop neural prostheses for cognitive function.

Bioelectronics seems potentially important not just for disease treatment today, but for more speculative goals like brain uploads or intelligence enhancement.  It's a locally useful step along the path of understanding what the brain is actually doing, at a finer-grained level than the connectome alone can indicate, which may very well be relevant to AI.

It's tricky for non-academic software people (like myself and many LessWrong readers) to get involved in biomedical technology, but I predict that this is going to be one of the opportunities that needs us most, and if you're interested, it's worth watching this space to see when it gets out of the stage of university labs and DARPA projects and into commercialization.

Feature Wish List for LessWrong

11 sarahconstantin 17 December 2016 09:10PM

Efforts are underway to replace the old LessWrong codebase. This is a thread to solicit people's ideas and requests for features or changes to the LessWrong website.  What would make discussion quality better?

[Link] The Gunas: A Model for Mental States

5 sarahconstantin 17 December 2016 12:39AM
Comment author: sarahconstantin 17 December 2016 12:37:33AM 2 points [-]

Easier is not always better!

This post seems to take "this style is engaging and that style is boring" as, in itself, reason to prefer the fun style over the dull style. It isn't!

Comment author: sarahconstantin 17 December 2016 12:33:03AM 1 point [-]

It seems like the startup 3Scan is working on 3d reconstruction of tissue structure from pathology images, which is relevant to your second example.

Comment author: sarahconstantin 17 December 2016 12:29:51AM 5 points [-]

I think this is probably true, and if true, is good news: as our community ages, if it manages to keep together, we'll automatically get the "elder statesmen" who are ready to do generativity or guardianship.

In the meantime, it means that explicit community management, with funding and official status, needs to get attention.

By default, people's youthful friend groups drift apart when they hit their late twenties or early thirties. I don't think this necessarily has to happen. Part of it is the modern American (not universal!) nuclear-family structure, which says that thirty-something couples have to take care of children on their own without help from an extended family or friends, and that singles and marrieds, parents and childless, must live in physically distant locations and never spend time together. I think things like group housing, homeschool or daycare community centers, and child-friendly social events can mitigate the problem of divisions between parents and non-parents.

View more: Next