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Cedric and Bertrand want to see a movie. Bertrand wants to see Muscled Duded Blow Stuff Up. Cedric wants to see Quiet Remembrances: Time as Allegory. There's also Middlebrow Space Fantasy. They are rational but not selfish - they care about the other's happiness as much as their own. What should they see?

They decide to write down how much pleasure each movie would provide them:

Bertrand Cedric
Muscled Dudes 8 2
Quiet Remembrances 1 7
Middlebrow 6 5

Since Middlebrow provides the most total pleasure, they see Middlebrow.

The puppy offer

A few months later, they are walking in the ... (Read more)

2Dagon41mThe puppy example seems pretty simple. Nonexistent things don't have preferences, so that cell in the table is "n/a". This is the same result as if you just ignored the heisenpuppy's value, but it wouldn't have to be (for instance, 14+2+5 > 10+10, so even if cedric only liked dogs a tiny amount, it'd be a net benefit to bring the dog into existence, but wouldn't be if the dog's happiness were unconsidered). The rat king is similar to [] , but would be much stronger if you show the marginal decision, without the implication that if rats have a litter, that decision will continue to apply to all rats, regardless of situation. Say, there's 100 rats that are marginally happy because there's just enough food. Should they add 1 to their population? I think the simulator is too far removed from decisions we actually make. It's not a very good intuition pump because we don't have instinctive answers to question. Alternately, it's just an empirical question - try both and see which one is better. Your realistic examples are not extrapolate-able from the simple examples. Chickens hinges on weighting, not on existential ethics. There are very few people who claim it's correct because it's best for the chickens (though some will argue that it is better for the chickens, that's not their motivation). There are lots who argue that human pleasure is far more important than chicken suffering. The parenthood question is murky because of massive externalities, and a fallacy in your premises - the impact on others (even excluding the potential child) is greater than on the parent. Also, nobody's all that utilitarian - in real decisions, people prioritize themselves.

Can you clarify which answer you believe is the correct one in the puppy example? Or, even better, the current utility for the dog in the "yes puppy" example is 5. Can you clarify for what values you believe it is correct to have or not have the puppy?

Click here to participate. Entries must be submitted on October 18th, 2020 or earlier.

Entry is now closed.

In 2017, Zvi posted an exciting story about The Darwin Game, a variation of iterated prisoner's dilemma.

I will run my own version of the game in the week following October 18th, 2020. You do not have to know how to program in order to participate. I will code simple bots for non-programmers. If you do know how to program then you may create your own complicated bot.

Here are the rules. Changes from Zvi's original game are in brackets [like this].

For the first round, each player gets 100

... (Read more)

The parent comment comes from a private conversation between me and philh in which I conveyed erroneous information. The mistake is my fault—not philh's. A line such as foo = 'bar' is legal in some contexts. A line which uses the global namespace to preserve information between class instances is illegal.

1Multicore30mThat does revise down my expectations of winning, but my bot having run thousands of times on someone else's computer and not crashing (or failing the clone check?) is good to hear. Maybe I'm overestimating the snowball effects of an early pool. If the late game has everyone cooperating with everyone else, your matches with others are only giving a tiny bit fewer points than matches against your copies.
2philh34mI confess I'm a bit confused, I thought in our PM conversation I was fairly explicit that that's what I was asking about, and you were fairly explicit that it was forbidden? It's not a big deal - even if this was forbidden I'd think it would be totally fine not to disqualify simon, and I still don't actually expect it to have been useful for me.
2lsusr11mIn my private conversation with you (philh) I stated "Writing variables to the global namespace is forbidden." I then doubled down on the error "Yes. All data must be saved in a class instance." I apologize for the error. What I meant was that using the global namespace to get around information restrictions is illegal but that writing constants to the global namespace in a way that does not get around information restrictions is fine.

Some background, I was interested in AI before the hype, back when neural networks were just an impractical curiosity in our textbooks.  I went through an undergrad in Cognitive Science and decided that there was something to the idea of connectionist bottom up AI having tremendous untapped potential because I saw the working example of the human mind.  So I embarked on a Masters in Computer Science focused on ML and eventually graduated at just about the perfect time (2014) to jump into industry and make a splash.  It helped that I'd been ambitious and tried to create crazy thi... (Read more)

1snog toddgrass30mDavid Roodman was fired from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for his poor office politics skillS. He’s my greatest role model so you’re in good company. He talks about it on his 80k interview, iirc.
2Answer by ryan_b1hI notice you have the following: * Long-term concern about the problem * A relevant background in several dimensions * Some time on your hands Sounds to me like an excellent opportunity to firm up your analysis of the risks. With this, you can make a much more informed decision about whether to tackle the problem head on. Also this: I am far from the expert on the subject, but rigorous and safe toy models in code demonstrating any of the things which we discuss seem like they would be very useful.
3Answer by meadComposition2hWith the field still making its way into the industry, I am surprised that a Master's degree in CS and good work experience is unable to help you land a job. Is there something else that is missing about why this is happening to you? On a related note, your experience and advice in handling corporate politics rationally would be very beneficial to the industry community here if you are open to sharing it!

I have been able to land interviews at a rate of about 8/65 or 12% of the positions I apply to.  My main assumption is that the timing of COVID-19 is bad, and I'm also only looking at positions in my geographical area of Toronto.  It's also possible that I was overconfident early on and didn't prep enough for the interviews I got, which often involved general coding challenges that depended on data structures and algorithms that I hadn't studied since undergrad, as well as ML fundamentals for things like PCA that I hadn't touched in a long time a... (read more)

Cross-posted, as always, from Putanumonit.

Rats v. Plague

The Rationality community was never particularly focused on medicine or epidemiology. And yet, we basically got everything about COVID-19 right and did so months ahead of the majority of government officials, journalists, and supposed experts.

We started discussing the virus and raising the alarm in private back in January. By late February, as American health officials were almost unanimously downplaying the threat, we wrote posts on taking the disease seriously, buying masks, and preparing for quarantine.

Throughout March, the CDC was tel... (Read more)

1Sherrinford10mIs "some of us" more than Wei Dai? Because it seems to me that only Wei Dai is mentioned as an example but it is implied that more people profited - not only by you, but in general when I see that claim.

(I know of 1-2 other examples.)

3snog toddgrass20mThanks for this well researched comment. I believe you that the experts rationalize their behavior like so. The problem is that underselling a growing emergency was a terrible advocacy plan. Maybe it covered their asses, but it screwed over their stakeholders by giving us less time to prepare. Their argument really proves too much. For example, the Wuhan provincial government could also use it to justify the disastrous coverup.
4Jacobian2hYes, really smart domain experts were smarter and earlier but, as you said, they mostly kept it to themselves. Indeed, the first rationalists picked up COVID worry from private or unpublicized communication with domain experts, did the math and sanity checks, and started spreading the word. We did well on COVID not by outsmarting domain experts, but by coordinating publicly on what domain experts (especially any with government affiliations) kept private.
The lawn I used to pass on my way to work

(Of course, this isn't any serious question.)

I used to walk to my job along a small park area. It is not fenced off, but there are these strange teeth-like posts around it to keep out cars in the rush hours. I liked to watch the plants and how they changed, knowing I'd spend the rest of the day inside.

The sun had not risen high, and the shadows of the posts were long and stark on the lawn on that morning in late October; the air was still crisp, there was a nip in it, even though it promised to be a warm day.

What colour were the shadows?

2kithpendragon3hI'd never have guessed snow. It's been too long since I've seen snow before late December or early January! Well done :)
1Mary Chernyshenko1hThank you :) It was frost, we rarely get snow so early. I stood there and watched it evaporate in real time :) I didn't have a camera on me then, so the photo is recent (and taken much later in the day).

What a beautiful experience that must have been!

3Mary Chernyshenko8hYes, they were! Not perfectly so, and greener towards the ends, but white enough to stop me on that morning.

I've recently been using habits to increase my productivity.
However, I've noticed a downside. If I start the day off by failing
my morning routine (wake up early, exercise) the entire rest
of the day is wasted since I feel off track.

Before habits I was much more flexible. Is there a way to avoid the mental state of
giving up when, for example, I wake up late?

G. Gordon Worley's answer is much more profound and perhaps more powerful but sounds like it could take some time to come to fruition. In the meantime: how about creating backup plans for the most common failure modes? For example, if I wake up late, then I will...

8Answer by G Gordon Worley III4hI don't know of a specific technique or anything simple to recommend, but I think I can say something useful nonetheless. I think there's a way schedules can loom large in human minds, shaping our experience of reality where we feel ourselves to be within the schedule, routine, or whatever you want to call it. It comes to feel familiar and we have expectations around what will happen now and next and that shapes our perception of each moment when we believe ourselves to be held by the schedule. Of course, the schedule doesn't really exist; it's a construct that exists only to the extent we believe in it, and therein lies the trick. Whether or not you feel flexible or if you feel like you've given up depends on your relationship to your expectations for what is going to happen. You can pay attention to the way this relationship forms in your mind, changes under different circumstances, and use that as a jumping off point for freeing yourself from feeling one way or another because you slept in or are keeping your routine. I wouldn't recommend trying to avoid giving up or anything like that, though. Rather, I'd suggest just noticing what happens when you keep or don't keep the schedule and let yourself evolve things from there without trying to force the situation. There's as much to learn from the feeling of giving up as there is from the feeling of flow, productivity, or success if you pay attention to it.

I have many posts that I want written but do not have time to write and I suspect there are other people that feel similarly. This post on the Solomonoff prior was one example, until I got fed up and just wrote it.

Please write one post idea per answer so they can be voted on seperately.

2Pattern2hWhat's remuneration delay?
3niplav2hHave you by any chance seen this []? (It's not published yet, but I read it a year ago and thought it was quite good, as far as I can judge such things).
3Mark Xu3hYes, but I like thinking of it as "body memory" because it is easier to conceptualize.
ryan_b's Shortform
8moShow Highlight
6mr-hire4hGwern covers a bit of research here on when spacing does and doesn't work: [] Personally I've found the biggest problem with spaced repetition for skills and habits is that it's contextless. Adding the context from multiple skills with different contexts makes it take way more time, and not having the context makes it next to useless for learning the skils.
2ryan_b4hCould you talk a bit more about this? My initial reaction is that I am almost exactly proposing additional value from using Anki to engage the skill sans context (in addition to whatever actual practice is happening with context). I review Gwern's post pretty much every time I resume the habit; it doesn't look like it has been evaluated in connection with physical skills. I suspect the likeliest difference is that the recall curve is going to be different from the practice curve for physical skills, and the curve for mental review of physical skills will probably be different again. These should be trivial to adjust if we knew what they were, but alas, I do not. Maybe I could pillage the sports performance research? Surely they do something like this.
4mr-hire3hIt is hard to find, but it's covered here: [] My take is pretty similar to cognitive skills: It works well for simple motor skills but not as well for complex skills. My experience is basically that this doesn't work. This seems to track with the research on skill transfer (which is almost always non-existent or has such a small effect that it can't be measured.)

Ah, the humiliation of using the wrong ctrl-f inputs! But of course it would be lower level.

Well that's reason enough to cap my investment in the notion; we'll stick to cheap experiments if the muse descends.

LessWrong was founded in 2009 and relaunched in 2018 with a new codebase and full-time team.

We are a community dedicated to improving our reasoning and decision-making. We seek to hold true beliefs and to be effective at accomplishing our goals. More generally, we work to develop and practice the art of human rationality.[1]

To that end, LessWrong is a place to 1) develop and train rationality, and 2) apply one’s rationality to real-world problems.

LessWrong serves these purposes with its library of rationality writings, community discussion forum, open questions research platform, and community... (Read more)

1Peter Bachman4hI came to a dead stop on these words, "We seek to hold true beliefs". Beliefs are beliefs. If they were true, they would be facts. Also, "and to be effective at accomplishing our goals". What rational person doesn't?

Facts are independent of beliefs, which is sort of their defining characteristic. But beliefs can be in alignment with the facts, or not; the goal is the former.

What rational person doesn't? 

None. But there are no such people in the strong sense, yet. This is the ambition of the project.

Thanks to Rebecca Gorman for co-developing this idea

On the 26th of September 1983, Stanislav Petrov observed the early warning satellites reporting the launch of five nuclear missiles towards the Soviet Union. He decided to disobey orders and not pass on the message to higher command, which could easily have resulted in a nuclear war (since the soviet nuclear position was "launch on warning").

Now, did Petrov have free will when he decided to save the world?

Maintaining free will when knowledge increases

I don't intend to go into the subtle philosophical debate on the nature of free will. See t... (Read more)

Like if I'm choosing which pair of shoes to buy, and I ask the AI for help, and no matter what preferences I had for shoes to begin with, I end up buying blue shoes, then I'm probably being manipulated.

Manipulation 101: tell people "We only have blue shoes in stock. Take it or leave it."

1adamShimi15hWhen do you plan on posting this? I'm interested in reading it
2TurnTrout8hIdeally within the next month!

Professional athletes are arguably the most publicly understood meritocracy around. There are public records of thousands of different attributes for each player. When athletes stop performing well, this is discussed at length by enthusiasts, and it's understood when they are kicked off their respective teams. The important stuff is out in the open. There's a culture of honest, open, and candid communication around meritocratic competence and value.

This isn't only valuable to help team decisions. It also helps data scientists learn which sorts of characteristics and records correlate best with... (Read more)

The point about proof generation is interesting. A general proof is equivalent to collapsing the scope of predictions covered by the proof; a method of generating strong evidence effectively setting a floor for future predictions.

A simple way to score this might be to keep adding to their prediction score every time a question is found to succumb to the proof. That being said, we could also consider the specific prediction separately from the transmissibility of the prediction method.

This might be worthwhile even with no change in the overall score; it feels obvious that we would like to be able to sort predictions by [people who have used proofs] or [people who generate evidence directly].

If it’s worth saying, but not worth its own post, here's a place to put it.

If you are new to LessWrong, here's the place to introduce yourself. Personal stories, anecdotes, or just general comments on how you found us and what you hope to get from the site and community are invited.

If you want to explore the community more, I recommend reading the Library, checking recent Curated posts, seeing if there are any meetups in your area, and checking out the Getting Started section of the LessWrong FAQ. If you want to orient to the content on the site, you can also check out the new Concepts section... (Read more)

There's a time-sensitive trading opportunity (probably lasting a few days), i.e., to short HTZ because it's experiencing an irrational spike in prices. See for details. Please only do this if you know what you're doing though, for example you understand that HTZ could spike up even more and the consequences of that if it were to happen and how to hedge against it. Also I'm not an investment advisor and this is not investment advice.

Economists say free trade is good because of "comparative advantage". But what is comparative advantage? Why is it good?

This is sometimes considered an arcane part of economics. (Wikipedia defines it using "autarky".) But it's really a very simple idea. Anyone can use it to understand the world and make decisions.

I Islands

you on an island

Say you live alone on an island.

Each week you gather and eat 10 coconuts and 10 bananas. It takes you five minutes to gather a coconut, and 10 minutes for a banana. Thus, you work 150 minutes per week.

You Need Time to gather one Time You Spend
Coconuts 10 5 minute
... (Read more)
1fraidykluofficer.com5hCan you give me a few examples? I'll list a few important industries: * Automotive * Construction * Electronics * Financials * Healthcare * Insurance * Internet * Oil and gas * Pharmaceutical * Retail * Telecommunications In each one of these, you'll find a bunch of big players. For example: * Automotive * Volkswagen (Germany) * Toyota (Japan) * Daimler (Germany) * Ford (US) * Honda (Japan) * General Motors (US) * Internet * Google * Facebook * Retail * Walmart * Amazon * Costco Even if you consider new entrants (such as Tesla) we are still talking about a few companies that dominate the industry. Can you list any important sector where we don't see consolidation?

Restaurants, car dealerships, spas and hair salons, construction, plumbers and electricians, doctors and lawyers. Every industry dominated by small businesses.

Even in some of the sectors you list - like automotive manufacturing - we haven't seen much net consolidation. We haven't seen a lot of new entrants, but's it's not like the number of car manufacturers is rapidly decreasing either. It's at an equilibrium, and that equilibrium has a lot more than just one company - which is not something you'd see if economic forces generally favored consolidation.

This is the third of three sets of fixed point exercises. The first post in this sequence is here, giving context.

Note: Questions 1-5 form a coherent sequence and questions 6-10 form a separate coherent sequence. You can jump between the sequences.

  1. Let be a complete metric space. A function is called a contraction if there exists a such that for all , . Show that if is a contraction, then for any , the sequence converges. Show further that it converges exponentially quickly (i.e. the distance between the th term and the limit point

... (Read more)

Ex5 (this is super ugly but I don't think it's worth polishing and it does work. All important ideas are in the first third of the proof, the rest just inelegantly resolves the details.)

We define our metric space as where is the set of probability distributions, and . Let and let , then can be computed as

where the last step holds because multiplying a vector with the state-transition matrix leaves the sum of entries unchanged.

... (read more)

Related to: Policy Debates Should Not Appear One-Sided

There is a well-known fable which runs thus:

“Driven by hunger, a fox tried to reach some grapes hanging high on the vine but was unable to, although he leaped with all his strength. As he went away, the fox remarked 'Oh, you aren't even ripe yet! I don't need any sour grapes.' People who speak disparagingly of things that they cannot attain would do well to apply this story to themselves.”

This gives rise to the common expression ‘sour grapes’, referring to a situation in which one incorrectly claims

... (Read more)

I believe you took a simple concept and then attempted to attribute it to ideas it was not meant to convey.

Previously about PredictIt this election cycle: Free Money at PredictIt: 2020 General Election

Free Money at PredictIt?

It is important, on occasion, to state the obvious, on the record, at the proper time.

The prediction (alternatively, read: gambling) markets on the 2020 Presidential Election increasingly do not make sense. 

In particular, their movements over time do not make any sense.

Nate Silver’s model at 538, which puts Trump at 12.5% or so, does not take into account the possibility of anyone taking extraordinary measures to distort who is physically able to vote or to have their... (Read more)

I doubt that kind of hidden information can affect PredictIt betting odds as it limits the amount each person can bet. 


There is bias or Zvi is reaching wrong conclusions with the same info.

3bpunk10hI started to sign up for Predictit and there was a note that any money deposited is charged a 5% withdrawal fee. Maybe that effects the odds since people who would be placing accurate bets factor the withdrawal fee into their potential winnings.
6philh10hSuper not an expert, saying it loud so I can be corrected if wrong: I don't think time value of money is the main thing here. The observed pattern seems to be that as the election draws closer, people get more information but the market stubbornly refuses to do so. If that pattern continues, then people get more edge as time goes on, meaning future bets will be more advantageous than current bets. If your strategy is something like "put $100 on Biden as long as I think his odds are more than 5% better than the market thinks" this might not make much difference; waiting only helps in case Biden's odds-according-to-you suddenly drop a lot. But if you're going to bet different amounts depending on the gap, then waiting also helps in case Biden's odds-according-to-you drop a little. (I think if they go up, you can just put more money in, so waiting hasn't gained you anything. But you have to have some probability that they drop.)
2philh10hThat might explain a recent sudden divergence. I don't think it explains the trend Zvi describes in the post.

There’s been a lot of discussion about whether the pandemic lockdowns have been worth it. However, much of the reasoning that we’ve seen has been very motivated and un-nuanced in a way that for us has distorted a lot of the information.

So this is not a thread for taking a position on that. This is a thread for raising individual considerations that are relevant for thinking about the question “Have the pandemic lockdowns, in general, been worth it?”

Every answer to this thread should analyze a single belief that is relevant to whether pandemic lockdowns have been worth it, such as 

  • "No lock
... (Read more)
Answer by SDMOct 19, 20207

An important consideration is that the 'thing that the US, UK and China have been doing, and what Sweden didn’t', may not refer to anything. There are two meanings of 'lockdowns have not been worth it' - 'allow the natural herd immunity to happen and carry on as normal, accepting the direct health damage while saving the economy' or 'we shouldn't adopt legally mandatory measures to attempt to suppress the virus and instead adopt voluntary measures to attempt to suppress the virus'. The latter of these is the only correct way to interpret 'thing Sweden did ... (read more)

So you can now drag-and-drop images into comments. (Thanks, LessWrong dev team!) 

Hence, this post is an excuse to build a beautiful, inspiring, powerful — and primarily visual — comment section. 

Let's celebrate all that is great about the Art of Rationality, with images. 


  • Each answer must contain a picture. No links! 

It should be possible to just scroll through the comments and adore the artwork. There shouldn't be any need to click-through to other pages. (Think of it like a Pinterest board, if you've ever seen those.)

Adding text is fine, but consider doing it in... (Read more)

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the thing that feels most rationalist-y about SpaceX, which is the exercise of agency against civilizational inadequacy. Elon Musk looked at space travel and was like, 'that seems inadequate, I bet I could do it better.' And everyone said, 'you're crazy, that's impossible.' And Elon Musk didn't listen to them and now SpaceX is a leader in space flight.

4Kaj_Sotala9hNeat! This page [] has more works by the same artist.
4gjm9hAre the books that are visible in this picture actual parts of the library's catalogue, intended to be available for reading or borrowing, or are they just there for aesthetics? (It seems like it must be the latter, for at least some of them.)
1NunoSempere11hYou could also have a calendar which doesn't require that adjustment.

Judging from the upvotes, it seems like people are quite interested in my grandparents' failure to emigrate from Communist China before it was too late, so I thought I'd elaborate here with more details and for greater visibility. They were all actually supporters of the Communist Party at the beginning, and saw it as potential saviors/liberators of the Chinese people and nation. They were also treated well at the beginning - one of them (being one of few people in China with a higher education) was given a high official post, and another retained a manager position at the factory that he used... (Read more)

1frontier647hThis meme that the US had anything to do with Pinochet's coup has to stop. Your own Wikipedia link says that the US did not have anything to do with the coup, The CIA underwent efforts to destabilize Allende's regime in 1970 that were unsuccessful and only served to consolidate power around him as the Chilean people were not fond of the idea that foreigners were attempting to kill their president. Pinochet's coup however was an internal affair, he was not contacted by the CIA, he received no monetary or military assistance from the CIA, and the CIA actually made his job harder by trying to start a military coup and completely failing three years earlier. But you go beyond alleging mere US involvement and say that "The USA overthrew Chile's democratic government" as if the Chilean military was a branch of the US Armed Forces. That is false and completely out of line with reality.

I agree that "the USA overthrew Chile's government" seems like it goes too far. But your initial comment, objecting to the idea that the US had anything to do with Pinochet's coup, also seems like it goes too far.

A few excerpts from that same Wikipedia page:

After a review of recordings of telephone conversations between Nixon and Henry Kissinger, Robert Dallek concluded that both of them used the CIA to actively destabilize the Allende government. [...] In one particular conversation about the news of Allende's overthrow, Kissinger complains about the lack

... (read more)
4Dagon7hI draw a few more lessons from this (and from conversations with other survivors and escapees from horrific regimes): 6. Change is both gradual and terrifyingly fast - there is often months or years of buildup and warning, before weeks of crisis. 7. Terrifyingly fast is not instantaneous. It costs a lot, but one can get out if one actually believes the evidence in time.
2Viliam11hIn 1945 and the following years, Soviet Union took control over the Eastern Europe (Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, East Germany). Not sure how much democratic were the countries before this, but most likely less totalitarian than afterwards.
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