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Knowledge is not just digital abstraction layers

Financial status: This is independent research. I welcome financial support to make further posts like this possible.

Epistemic status: This is in-progress thinking.

This post is part of a sequence on the accumulation of knowledge. Our goal is to articulate what it means for knowledge to accumulate within a physical system.

The challenge is this: given a closed physical system, if I point to a region and tell you that knowledge is accumulating in this region, how would you test my claim? What are the physical characteristics of the accumulation of knowledge? We do not take some agent as the fundamental starting point but instead take a mechanistic physical system as the starting point, and look for a definition of knowledge at the level...

This is a linkpost for an entry in my Substack newsletter at . In this entry, we announce a new arXiv preprint, "Shall we count the living or the dead".  This preprint builds on my earlier work that has previously been discussed on Less Wrong, and which led to a response first on Less Wrong and later in the European Journal of Epidemiology by Carlos Cinelli and Judea Pearl.

The Substack entry contains a link to an animated video on YouTube, which explains a simplified version of the argument

There is a serious underlying causal model difference here that cannot be addressed in a purely statistical manner.

The video proposes a model in which some fraction of the population have baseline allergies (yielding a 1% baseline allergic reaction rate over the course of the study), and independently from that the treatment causes allergic reactions in some fraction of people (just over 1% during the same period). If this model is universally correct, then the argument is reasonable.

Do we know that the side effects are independent in this way? It seems to... (read more)

2JenniferRM6hThanks! My next question was whether this was "just pedagogy and communication to help people avoid dumb calculation mistakes" or a real and substantive issue, and then I watched the video... And it is nice that the video is only 4:51 seconds long and works "just as well" on 2X... And... I think basically the claim is NOT just pedagogical, but substantive, but it was hard to notice. I've swirled your content around, and in doing so I feel like I've removed the stats confusion and turned it around so it sharpens the way the core question is about physical reality and modeling intuitions... Here is an alternative abstract that I offer for your use (as is, or with edits) if you want it <3 Does this seem like a friendly proposal (friendly to you, not friendly to the field, of course) for a better abstract, that focuses on a concrete example while pushing as hard as possible on the central substantive issue? I admit: peer reviewers would probably object to this. Also I did intentionally "punch it up" more than might be justified in hopes that you'll object in an informative way here and now. My abstract is PROBABLY WRONG (one example: I know your figure 1 is not a pearlian model) but I hope it is wrong in the way a bold sketch is less accurate than a more painterly depiction, while still being useful to figure out what the central message can or should be.
2ChristianKl4hEven if the doctor could run all the tests they desire on the patient, the orginal study that said 1% of the control group and 2% on the real drug does not contain information about what pre-disposing allergy factors the patients in the trial had.
2ChristianKl8hHaving cost/benefit in mind is not enough. If you don't use a heuristic like the one Anders writes about, you need either causal models or something like prediction-based medicine which gives you a way to decide which of two algorithms for decision making is better by looking at the Briers score (or a similar statistic).


We discuss the doomsday argument, and look at various approaches taken to analyze observation selection effects, namely SSA and SIA. We conclude that the SSA is unsatisfying, and show that the SIA is isomorphic to a version of bayesianism.

An entity undergoing a subjective experience should reason as if they are randomly selected from the distribution of all possible entities undergoing that exact same subjective experience.

We apply the principle to various scenarios, and conclude that whilst the SSA and SIA are wildly different in theory they are equivalent in practice assuming we live in a multiverse.

The Doomsday Argument

Are you gonna drop the bomb or not?

A doomsday argument attempts to predict the chance that humanity will survive a given length of time based purely on the number of people...

1River6hI think that that first bayes equation in the SSA section is supposed to be something more like this: (.5 x 10^-24) / (.5 x 10^-24 + .5 x 10^-11) = 10^-13 (sorry I don't know how to enter equations here). The errors are that that first exponent in the numerator should be -24, not -11, and the answer is just 10^-13 or 1 x 10^-13, not 1 - 10^-13.

That was meant to be the chance of P2, not P1. Fixed now, thanks!

In the West, or at least in my home country (Switzerland), we have ample vaccine supply, and are - at the moment - controlling Covid more or less fine.

I read of urges to provide vaccines to poor countries where even health workers could not get vaccinated due to lack of vaccines. And I interpret e.g. the WTO talks about a Covid Vaccine patent waiver* as suggesting that there is really an absolute production shortage.

So: is does half-young and healthy me taking the vaccine - while the vulnerable in my country, and most of my peers too, have received the seemingly highly effective vaccine - essentially steal away two doses that might otherwise have ended up at places where they are very urgently needed?

The other side is not using that reasoning.

Social theory. Geopolitics. Power. New videos every week.

Recently I launched a YouTube channel. This channel provides another medium in which to share my thoughts, as well as a place to access recordings of my talks and interviews.

New content

The first several videos dive into my thoughts on institutions, history, and modern society.

  • Silicon Valley Was Wrong: The Internet Centralized Society It is commonly claimed that the Internet has been a decentralizing force for society, providing more power to individuals who can wield the new technology. This theme is ubiquitous within hacker culture and the cyberpunk literary genre, for example. However, today we find precisely the opposite: the Internet has, on the whole, been a centralizing force for society. A few large media companies have massive influence over public discourse as well


If I wanted an opinion piece I would turn on the TV.



I had a browse of your video selection and there is an overwhelming focus on American conservatism. 

I didn't want to blindly judge so I watched the one on functional institutions.


-Personal assertions without research or evidence.

-Institutions are bad/broken. No suggestions on resolution, no comparative analysis.

-Fixation on the smartest people and self-bootstrapping.


I expected better from the Less Wrong community. I want to see Analysis backed up by evidence.

While I want to believe the vaccines to be safe, Gendlin's litany tells me that it's more important that whether they actually are and the ability to change one's mind is a key feature of a rationalist. Another thread links to a discussion on the Dark Horse Podcast between Steve Kirsch, Robert Malone and Bret Weinstein about issues with vaccine safety. My prior for Steve Kirsch before that video was that he was one of the people in the world who thought most effectively about how to deal with COVID-19 in 2020. I hold that belief because of his project, the COVID-19 Early Treatment Fund.

The Fund describes it's guiding principles as:

The world has to take a multipronged approach to tackling COVID-19. We should work to identify effective


Pfizer. First shot caused pain at the injection site that lasted about 24 hours. Second shot led to about twelve hours of what I would call moderately severe flu symptoms. Chills, exhaustion, headache (though one should note that the slightest breeze will give me a headache), brainfog. I basically slept all day, and woke up feeling fine the next morning.

10Vitor5hI've been having similar long-term symptoms. Palpitations, frequent headaches, chest aches / trouble breathing. Also constantly slightly congested. Started around 5 days after the first Pfizer shot, been going on for roughly 3 months now. It's hard to attribute definitely to the vaccine as I have other health issues that could explain most of these symptoms, and I'm also very out of shape right now. But the timing is very suspicious. It was really a very sudden worsening of my health, literally from one day to the next.
2ChristianKl4hHow was the first day after the shot?
1Vitor4h1st day: soreness in arm 2nd-3rd day: strong flu-like symptoms 4th day: feeling completely normal 5th day: start of what I described. I'll be happy to give more detail about my medical history in private.

One month ago I clumsily tried to persuade my 74-year-old father that Tucker Carlson is probably wrong about Covid vaccines killing 3000 people, and if not, my father should get the vaccine anyway because he is in a high-risk group.

Well, move over lab-leak discussion, because this video is a tad more explosive: it alleges an ongoing and almost systematic censorship of information about vaccine side-effects, and it manages to do so in a way that fails to trip my BS detectors. While the LessWrong community isn't known for its expertise in vaccine science and epidemiology, it's usually pretty good about separating the true from the false, so here I am to ask for your comments. While the video is extremely long, the most controversial claims come near the...

Blood clots are not independent from VEARS reports. VEARS reports are how the FDA gets the data about the Blood clots. 

The VEARS reports give them reports about many different kinds of issues and if there are many issues to look into and they are understaffed it's reasonable to put more attention on the blood clots issue then other issues given that blood clots in the brain are a serious issue. 

1CraigMichael6hI don't buy this. I got a hand out about the VAERS system, created and account and reported everything that happened (and I did have weird side effects).
1TAG6hThroughout the world?
2Dentin8hOne other thing to consider is that even small differences in replication rate might actually matter. Consider that it takes a week for the virus to really ramp up, and that's a large number of doubling periods. Even just getting a larger or smaller initial dose seems linked to how sick people get. Even a few percent difference may allow the immune system to stay ahead in the arms race, and result in a nonlinear change in death rate. Note that I'm not saying this happens; I'm saying that because this is an exponential growth attacker (the virus) versus and exponential growth responder (the immune system), even small differences in growth rates might have a large impact.

[Apologies in advance if I sound like I'm over-generalizing high-conscientiousness or low-conscientiousness people. This is mostly from my own experience, so I'm sure I'm wrong on some counts and may, in fact, be over-generalizing at times. Ohh, and also apologies to Mick Jaggar.]

Please allow me to introduce myself. I'm a man of mess and wile. I've been scoring around 20% (in trait conscientiousness on Big Five tests) for a long, long year, cut by many a sharp wire’s height.

At first glance, conscientiousness as a construct seems a bit like intelligence, in the sense that it would seem everyone would be better off with more of it. So, why would natural selection produce people like me who are very low in conscientiousness? Have I only escaped a Darwin...

4bfinn14hThis may be an obvious point, but low-conscientiousness people can freeride on the high-conscientiousness ones. Which is advantageous to the former. And as to why some (but not all) are highly conscientious, maybe it's down to the evolutionary psychology explanation for why some, but only some, people are obsessive checkers (an example of high conscientiousness): because in a prehistoric group, it's beneficial for one or two people to be inclined to e.g. check there are no tigers around, but there's little further value in everyone else doing so, and lots of lost value in other uses of their time. Also, low conscientiousness (e.g. laziness) in males is seen as unattractive by females, but as long as there are females who are unattractive for other reasons, presumably the latter will pair up with the former anyway for lack of available alternatives. So the laziness reproduces.

There's also a signaling explanation here. Low conscientiousness is only seen as unattractive when you're not good enough to pull it off. It's not cool to fail out of school because you were lazy, but it's cool to ace everything despite barely studying. So you get three groups of people,

  • The Actually Amazing - They are just better than everyone else and effortlessly excel. Very rare.
  • The Oxonian - They pretend everything comes to them naturally, but they secretly stay up late working.
  • The Grifter - Instead of faking the effortlessness, they fake the success.

&... (read more)

1CraigMichael13hYou say laziness, I say efficiently conserving energy.

In 2019 I had Megavitamin-B6 syndrome. I'm curious about the most common situation where people get it (chronic supplementation vs. acute overdose), and I have a hypothesis about how that may come about. Ideally, I'd like to see if it pans out in a model, and if it does maybe see if I can get some attention from interested biologists. But my background is in CS, not biology and I feel like I'd have a lot to learn. So anyone who would collaborate or just get me pointed in the right direction would be helpful. 

In short it seems the chronic supplementation does factor in, but it also seems that plenty of people supplement for a very long time (more than 2 years) and never have an issue,...