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Book summary: Unlocking the Emotional Brain

Memory Reconsolidation has perhaps been the most useful concept I've learned in the past 3 years.  I've used it in running workshops, coaching sessions, and for my own benefit.

As far as I can tell, this is the best introduction to Memory Reconsolidation available on the internet, and having a single place that I can link people to to explain the concept is highly valuable.

12 Rules for Life

I strongly disagree. It seems to assume that everything is read as often as it's written which is not true. The best writing is written once and read millions or billions of times. Maybe it should be write 1/100th or 1/1000th of what you read. (But even this assumes that what you're writing is worthwhile, which for lots of people I think is not true).

Matt Goldenberg's Short Form Feed

How do you nominate a post for the 2019 review.  When I click on "Nominations" I only see posts that were already nominated.  When I go to a posts page to make a comment, I don't see any obvious way to make it a nomination.

Are index funds still a good investment?

Some other things which I didn't mention here, but really are somewhat important stories

1/ Active trading (as opposed to active investing). Market making, stat arb, etc

2/ The rise of private investments. There's a decent case that the best listed companies get taken private, leaving the public markets with only the very largest companies which no-one can take private, and the companies which no private equity firms want to take public

3/ Semi-active investing / factor investing. I find it quite hard to ignore the evidence that there are factors which outperform broad market indices (Momentum, Value, Large Cap, Low Vol, etc). Should you misweight your investment away from cap-weights to capture some of this additional value?

Are index funds still a good investment?


TL;DR In my opinion, yes, still a good investment, if only because the alternative is not great

I think there's several things to tease out:

1/ What do we mean by "Index Funds"? Are we talking about the platonic global cap-weighted fund which owns the entire investible universe? Are we talking about country specific cap-weighted funds? Sector specific? Cap-weighted but only the biggest n (S&P500, etc)? Cap-weighted, but also only if they meet certain governance / financial standards?

I find it quite hard to find fault with the platonic ideal of an index fund (although I will attempt to talk latter a little about some issues with it). Unfortunately, it's pretty much impossible to create for any number of reasons.

There are definitely potential issues with individual indices.

a/ Index inclusion - it's clear that being added / removed from the index can have massive impact on a company's valuation. Recent examples include Tesla and [these guys front running index inclusion](

b/ Governance - as more and more of stocks are owned by non-voting, passive owners it's easier for management to get away with shadier dealings

c/ Anti-competitiveness - [Matt Levine has written extensively about this idea]( I don't take it too seriously, and I don't think it harms investors as much as the broader market

d/ Missing the "good" investments - if assets revalue when they join an index, you are definitely missing out if all you are doing is buying the index. (At which point the assets will already have revalued). I think there is a similar phenomenon here related to where stocks are listed. The same stock can trade at vastly different valuations based on the stock market which its listed on. (Not at the same time, I mean here re-listing can be a big catalyst for stock price growth).

2/ What if index funds are overvalued in general?

"if index funds were overvalued, the active traders should make a killing on that inefficiency"

I don't think this is quite right. If our platonic index funds are overvalued then the entire market is overvalued and there's not really anything you can do about that as an active trader. (Except perhaps bet that it's going to go down, and that's a very tough bet to make). If you think that individual index funds are overvalued, that's still a tough trade, since you have to wait for company cash flows to prove you right, and you might be waiting a long time / find yourself squeezed out by weight of money long before then.

3/ What are our alternatives?

Perhaps this is a lack of imagination on my part, but I see roughly 7 areas where you can "invest" your capital. (Separate from "using capital as collateral for running a trading strategy").

a/ Cash
b/ Equities
c/ Real Estate
d/ Bonds
e/ Commodities
f/ Precious metals 
g/ Cryptocurrencies

There's a case (I think best made by Mike Green) which suggests the world is divided into "Cash" and "Non-Cash" (which we can proxy with equities and bonds) and that the use of index funds is causing the amount of cash held in the world to decline which causes non-cash assets to revalue higher and higher (especially when valued in cash terms). I don't think this story is completely true (I don't think all buyers of index funds are entirely price insensitive) but I think it has enough merit which is worth thinking about.

My general view is from an asset allocation point of view there is very little to encourage bonds, commodities, precious metals and crypto. (Safe) bonds have negative real yields. Hoarding commodities seems to have little utility so why should it have positive returns. Gold / Precious metals / Crypto only seems to derive it's value from some sort of Keynesian beauty contest which I feel I have no edge in so I tend to steer clear. That said, I still think it's worthwhile holding some of all of them if only to benefit from their lack of correlation, store of value properties which enable you to rebalance.

So we're left with Equities and Real Estate. I'm going to dump real estate into equities on the grounds that you can hold real estate via REITs, but I think RE has properties much more similar to inflation linked bonds than companies.

The next question, now we've established our asset allocation, is "How do I own my equities?". Again (lack of imagination on my part) I see roughly two choices here: Own index funds. Buy individual stocks.

Owning index funds has a lot to recommend it - cheap, easy to do, getting information from the whole market etc

Buying individual stocks has a lot of problems - how do you find them? how do you value them? what makes you think you're better at it than the market at large?  

My general advice to people who can't solve those problems is "Own Index Funds".

12 Rules for Life

Not sure if there is interest in discussing these. If so, I'm quite curious about #6. What is the reason for this and do other people have strong feelings about it?

Where do (did?) stable, cooperative institutions come from?

The Cost of Communication covers a very similar argument in a lot more detail, particularly with stronger grounding in memetic theory:

The basic argument of this post has 4 main components:

  1. Memetic Immune Systems: Just like there is a biological immune system for viruses, there may be a memetic immune system that decides which ideas, a.k.a. memes, are adopted by the individual. This memetic immune system would not select for “good” or true ideas. It would select for ideas that are beneficial to the carrier’s germline.
  2. Increased Memetic Competition Selects for Attention-Grabbing Memes: Memes spread via attention; it is a resource they require and compete for (Chielens, 2002). Increasing our ability to communicate with each other means that memes can spread more easily, by definition. Increasing the ability of memes to propagate means they have to compete with a wider range of memes for the same attention budget. This selects for more and more competitive and attention-capturing memes. The selection for competitive memes can produce very dangerous ideas that are successful in spreading despite being negatively correlated with humanity’s well-being. Also discussed in this sub-section is the effect increased communication bandwidth seems to have had on social media addiction and local news organisations: not good.
  3. Memetic Kin Selection and the Emergence of Groups: Memes are unlike biological genes in that they can rapidly signal their presence in a carrier. Therefore, they can take moment-to-moment advantage of relative levels of perceived memes in the local population to adopt their spreading strategy. This leads to some interesting behaviours, e.g. in-group/out-group dynamics, preference falsification, mobs of non-genetically-related individuals, etc.
  4. The Problem of Critical Density and the Evil Triad: Some memes are detrimental to the well-being of the general population. In other words, they are “bad” ideas, negatively correlated with humanity’s well-being. For a subset of those memes, it takes time to figure out why they are bad and for competing memes to emerge. However, because of the ability of memes to coordinate with copies of themselves (Point 3), memes can reach a critical density in a population. At that point, arguing against them becomes very difficult, e.g. you are arguing against a mob, against dogma, etc. As such, in the case of dangerous memes reaching critical density, the speed at which memes can spread may pose a public health risk. Additionally, if these memes spread via polarization, then arguing against them can be ineffective. To combat these kinds of “Evil Triad” memes, it may be that memetic social distancing, i.e. reduced communication between individuals, would be a successful strategy.
How We Failed COVID-19

This is a very important topic and question, but I fear that you generalize too much and your assessment of Western politicians' understanding lacks subtlety.  In particular, my opinion is that the obviously good strategies were just not politically feasible. In the beginning of the pandemic, I used to treat arguments of the form "The successful strategy of country A is just not possible in country B" as defeatism and status-quo bias, but I  now believe that the South Korean model is indeed not possible in Western democratic countries. This can be seen by creative and smart initiatives of some Western countries that nevertheless failed.

You mention that the government holds the following misconception: 

It's fine to hover just below the point where hospitals get overwhelmed - it's not important to bring down the number of active cases as low as possible

However, the German government is perfectly aware of the meaning of exponential spread, here is chancellor Angela Merkel explaining what R means and why a value of 1.1 would be too high. 

While hand-washing was an important recommendation in the beginning here as well, our public health messaging has been focused for some time now on droplet and aerosol transmission. School and university classrooms are often required to be ventilated at regular intervals (which for most schools is not doable, but that's a different topic). Hand sanitizer is also much easier to implement than any ventilation measure in Winter.

You also invoke the risk society thesis, but this would apply to Asian countries as well, which were able to contain the virus.    

In addition, I think "the summer success in Western countries was not due to measures but due too weather effects" is far too strong a claim. European countries had a decent contact tracing system and cancelled mass events, while the US did not have the first part and had far worse numbers in summer.


Why the South Korean model would not work in the West: 

South Korea did contact tracing very well, with huge invasions of privacy like checking CCTV data, publishing the whereabouts of infected individuals and using credit card transaction history. In the US and the UK contact tracers are happy if contacted individuals pick up their phone at all. It's paradoxical, but it seems to me that Western populations would rather accept a wrecked economy, restriction of movement AND hundred  thousands of deaths than a temporary surveillance program. 

I believe that Japan 

Examples of Non-Asian countries with smart but failed initiatives:

As far as I can tell, there has only been one Western country to try to eradicate the virus, namely Israel which implemented very tight border control policies and a mobile phone surveillance initiative very early.  However, my impression is that cooperation of the populace is just not high enough, which is why a second lockdown had to be imposed.   

A to me pretty saddening case is the initiative of the Slovak government to test its entire working age population through cheap antigen tests.  Testing was semi voluntary, with the other option being mandatory quarantine. New infection numbers fell very rapidly, but because the testing was done in  parallel with a partial lockdown it's not exactly easy to determine causality. However, since many other European countries with similar lockdowns have at best a flattened curve it seems very likely that mass testing was a great idea which is why it's copied now in parts of England, Austria and Italy.  Despite the large success and subsequent reopening, another round of mass testing has been postponed indefinitely, mostly because the mandatory quarantine got many voters angry and popularity of the government has been waning rapidly.


So in conclusion, many smart policies are much harder to implement in Western countries and may actually reflect the preference of the population, and that our current situation is not because of governments "[...] making some silly errors, not updating their information, and not thinking through the long-term effects. " 

However, there was/is room for fairly cheap wins  through scientific and regulatory adaptation. This post is already too long, but briefly put the failure seems to be in those two areas. Despite strong theoretical justifications, no country (AFAIK) has so far approved at home, cheap antigen testing. 

alkjash's Shortform

Interesting perspective!  As someone who came to CFAR from the perspective of "ooh, another self-help bootcamp to try" I'm highly interested in these sorts of comparisons.

I'm curious in what medium you tried Tony Robbins.  I've never gone to a workshop of his, but my own experience with his books and audio programs is maybe only a 10% improvement.  I haven't found neuro-associative conditioning to be that effective, and found the motivation from his programs to be fleeting.  It's possible that having grown up on NLP, I'd internalized a lot of his best ideas already.

I'm also surprised that you call CFAR astronomically memetically safe.  In my experience, there's a big memetic danger of CFAR, which is that it tends to make people overly cautious of Jordan Peterson/Tony Robbins style "just do it" advice.  It emphasizes gentle yin style congruency advice to such an extent that it innoculates people against other effective forms of self-improvement.  Much of this is the CFAR advice combined with the general CFAR culture of course, and not just the lessons.

Are index funds still a good investment?

Good point and indeed indexing played a prominent role in the late 90s tech boom; it was a broad market phenomenon, in contrast to the idea that it was a micro-speculative frenzy contained to things like zero-revenue IPOs.

However, here I’ll expand on the meta-contrarian “bubble” point and offer that the dot com boom was not a case of markets gone haywire. I think we had a case for real technological prospects coupled with a market buying into the expectation that the Greenspan Fed was capable of providing nominal stability over the long-term.

It perhaps serves as a positive case study as to why some economists bang the drum so strongly for nominal GDP-level targeting. With expectations of nominal stability, the hurdle to invest in high-risk, long time-horizon projects, is greatly reduced. This can effectively yoink away much of the equity risk premium and could justify the high valuations and low expected forward returns to equity that marked the 1999-2000 period.

I’ll caveat by saying that this is currently just my working model of the late-90s, but it perhaps offers the deliciously contrarian view that managers just blindly dumping money into tech indices were actually not ‘uniformed flow’, even if they weren’t fully cognizant of the incentives they were responding to at the time

The Parable of Predict-O-Matic

This is a rather clever parable which explains serious AI alignment problems in an entertaining form that doesn't detract from the substance.

Evolution of Modularity

I liked this post for talking about how evolution produces modularity (contrary to what is often said in this community!). This is something I suspected myself but it's nice to see it explained clearly, with backing evidence.

Book Review: The Secret Of Our Success

This is a good review of an intriguing thesis about human culture, with a bunch of neat factoids. The thesis has some major flaws IMO, but it is a useful perspective to know.

Reframing the evolutionary benefit of sex

This post gives an elegant explanation of the evolutionary benefit of sexual reproduction that was new to me, at least. I like it, although I also wish some expert added their thoughts.

How can I bet on short timelines?

Don't know of a venture capital fund like that, but there's apparently a "Rise of the Robots" ETF.

How We Failed COVID-19

These are all good points! They remind me of the "Swiss Cheese Model" in regards to COVID. No single solution is 100% effective, but combine enough layers and there won't be any 'holes' in the strategy anymore. 

How We Failed COVID-19

I fully agree that there is a strong lack of proper communication with the public! If all/most citizens have a decent grasp of the "COVID basics" and best practices, ending the pandemic would be a lot easier. 

Except for general information about the virus itself, there should also be some kind of "weather forecast" about the prevalence of the virus in your local vicinity. AFAIK, South Korea was very strong in this regard, at least at the start of the pandemic. Citizens received local reports of how many cases were confirmed in their area. 

Straight-edge Warning Against Physical Intimacy

The problem is that it's not accurate here as while a trans man has the hormones in their blood they don't produce them (or at least not all of them).

What Would Advanced Social Technology Look Like?

Kind of. I have not seen anything that you could validly call engineering. More like tinkering. There is not enough hard science/math behind it. 

How We Failed COVID-19

Democracies seem to select leaders who are good talkers, but the selectivity for actual competence looks to be very weak. This is not a surprise; it has been commented on for millennia. Have a look at how ancient Athens got into the disastrous invasion of Sicily which ultimately led to its defeat by Sparta for example. 

Having done polling and talked to average voters it seems to me a miracle that sometimes half-decent leaders gets up. So an incompetent response is expected.

Some things not often mentioned with Taiwan's response to the coronavirus 2 pandemic.

1. They are not a member of the WHO and thus were not misled by their very bad advice early.

2. They had experienced SARS1 and thus did not believe the CCP's misrepresentations of the situation this time around. 

3. Their government seems to be trusted by the population as to competence and as to having good intentions. By contrast from my times in the US, the populace seem to regard the government as a bunch of lying thieves. This makes it much easier for Taiwan to get cooperation. 

4. Quarantine of arrivals was strictly and competently enforced. 

5. Face masks were made mandatory. While annoying to wear, they do not prevent most business and commercial activities.

6. Checking of people at entrances to work, shops, transport, schools etc. Those with suspicious symptoms or a high temperature are sent home. Many have pointed out, irrelevantly, that this is not an accurate test for coronavirus. But it excludes a high percentage of the infected and, with face masks, helps get the R0 infectivity under 1.

7. Some high risk establishments like "hostess bars" were closed, though most businesses remained open and the economy only fell slightly. 

8, Contact tracing was indeed well done and helpful but modeling suggests it is not enough on its own. You need to get infectivity down and keep from importing cases as much as possible. 

Are index funds still a good investment?

The academic research (e.g. Santa Fe institute work referenced in Jarrod Wilcox's "Investing by the Numbers", an excellent book for LessWrong-ish people), suggests that while truly passive indexers do not cause problems directly, they can cause problems in other ways. 

They tend to amplify the effects of momentum players and price insensitive growth-oriented traders for example. In sufficient numbers they can therefore indirectly destabilize the market.

When they are not really indexers but picking sectors to "index" in, they certainly can add to the chaos.

Are index funds still a good investment?

Throughout the last decade (or last 15 years, really), FAANG stocks (and QQQ) have consistently overperformed the market/index funds

True but you conveniently cut off the dot com crash, in which the NASDAQ QQQ crashed from 107 to 23 (79%) while the S&P500 only fell about 43%. In finance beware the selective "well chosen" example. 

From the 2000 top that is a return of only about 5% per annum compound. 

Are index funds still a good investment?

markets are likely quite robust even to large amounts of so-called 'uniformed flow'

I don't agree and would be interested in evidence for this. Have a look at what happened in 1999-2000 and see if you still think this. Investors moved en masse into hot tech funds, many "index" funds. The fund managers were to a large degree helpless as they had to follow fund mandates. Fund managers who stood aside as the madness grew lost funds under management rapidly.

"Indexing" is not actually indexing if you don't own the whole market. That would include stocks, bonds and real estate in proportion to market value. You could start with an all world index fund like this and add an international fond fund and some get exposure to real estate all over the world (most REITs are more bond-like than real estate like).

If you are, say, in the S&P 500 only or over-weighted to the NASDAQ you are not indexing. 

Are index funds still a good investment?

Passive investors own the same proportion of each stock (to a first approximation).  Therefore the remaining stocks, which are held by active investors, also consist of the same proportion of every stock. So if stocks go down then this will reduce the value of the stocks held by the average active investor by the same amount as those of passive investors.

If you think stocks will go down across the market then the only way to avoid your investments going down is to not own stocks.

Book review: WEIRDest People

I agree, Peter, that  in many ways the western nations have been more individualistic than others. I have explored this in my recent book The Awakening, A History of the Western Mind AD500-1700, published in the UK with a US edition coming from Knopf under the title The Reopening of the Western Mind. This is precisely why i bought Henrich's book when it came out in the UK! As my title suggests I am concerned with the rise of the individual mind. I would argue that it lies in the relationship between an intellectual elite and the classical sources- so from 1400 onwards. This is why I like Mokyr's approach (see another of my comments) which links a cultural elite to influencing the Industrial Revolution. 

I was immensely disappointed by The Weirdest People. The first time i read it I was mildly interested and kept on going, the second time I got very irritated by the poor editing, the imprecise terminology and above all, his complete ignorance of European history (which was obvious from the first reading). Because it is so poorly organised (did he not have an editor?) it is hard to see the weaknesses, but I now realise that he did not know that the Roman empire existed and that many of the changes he attributes to the Church (the break-up of cousin marriages and communal landholdings) had already been in effect during the long centuries of Roman rule. There is very little evidence that anyone took much notice of the consanguinity rules anyway. ( I have searched for this but can only find one article on the nobles of the tenth to eleventh century where there was some acquiescence but unlike the mass of the population they were mobile and so could marry out.) While one can see a transmission of culture across the European elite (using Latin as a common language) over time, there is no evidence that it extended beyond this elite. It is true that the Protestant areas of Europe ( I wonder whether Henrich knew of the persistence of Catholicism over much of Europe- France, Spain, Italy, Bavaria,etc. as he seems to attribute much of WEIRDness to Protestantism but this would only have affected part of Europe) encouraged the reading of the Bible but this hardly compares with those who had access to the rich resources of the classical world.

We shall see whether the whole argument on which this book depends unravels as better historians than I come in contact with it. It certainly does not deserve to be seen as a major academic work.

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

I really really love this initiative. Reading LW in book form is just better for me. Online I get distracted and I read stuff as procrastination instead of deliberate effort. I've read the first two books of the sequences and HPMOR on Kindle and the experience is not even comparable with reading with a browser.

Book Review: The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions

This post does a (probably) decent job of summarizing Kuhn's concept of paradigm shifts. I find paradigm shifts a useful way of thinking about the aggregation of evidence in complex domains.

Pain is not the unit of Effort

I'm exploring a practice of what I'll call "peer preview," trying to assess the value a post provides to its audience, what other valuable projects could emerge from it, and how it might be viewed a year from now.

This post is extremely popular right now, and based on that alone I'd give it a 50% chance of being selected as one of the top 15 posts of 2020.

However, it's primarily a piece of life advice or introspection, rather than an account of social dynamics that influence our decisions or experiences. It's also not actionable - it mostly tells you how not to think, and suggests that we should prefer happiness to misery, ceterus paribus. Its focus on the inner world aligns it with Cheat to Win, My attempt to explain Looking, insight meditation, and enlightenment in non-mysterious terms, Making yourself small, and Noticing the Taste of Lotus, none of which were selected as part of the "top 15 posts of 2018," despite having very high karma.

Most of the "top 15 posts of 2018" were about the outer world: social dynamics, communication, explanations of institutions or formal ideas, or sweeping analyses of some macro trend.

The conjecture that a year's distance makes posts dealing with the "inner world" lose their luster has face validity. It's just a hard subject to deal with, or use to make predictions about the world.

For that reason, I'm assigning a 5% probability that this post is selected as one of the "top 15 posts of 2020." That's not meant to devalue this post. It's just an empirical prediction of how it will be viewed later.

I actually think this specific topic of "inner world" thoughts is so extraordinarily prominent that we have to ask why highly educated Westerners are continuing to make themselves miserable despite almost all life advice givers consistently saying that they should focus on being happy and healthy first?

I have never been seriously told "no pain, no gain," or encouraged to view pain tolerance as a virtue. Showing pain was an occasion to question whether I was making fundamentally wrong life choices, to the extent that I would hide pain that was an ordinary consequence of challenges or imperfect decision-making in order to avoid the additional irritation of misplaced concern. Even in situations where nothing can be done about a source of discomfort, it is the expected default that everyone involved will agree that "we should make a change," even when no better option is apparent.

My guess is that if people deal with a lot of misery, it's not because they prefer it or think it's instrumentally useful.

One alternative explanation is that people pursuing accomplishment are usually in the midst of a learning process. Trying to refine it to the point of "doing it right" would actually be harder than pushing through the pain to get the basics before refining the details.

For example, I'm currently in the midst of a journey into grad school. I am taking lots of hard classes, working, doing applications, and trying to maintain relationships in the midst of a pandemic. Sometimes, I miss sleep. Sometimes, I fritter away my free time playing online chess. Sometimes, I eat take 'n' bake pizza several days in a row. Sometimes, I feel really frustrated with my classes.

The way I see it is that I've never tried to do this before. I'm in the midst of figuring out how to balance and accomplish all of life's demands. If I made "be happy on a day to day basis" my top priority, I think it would be extremely hard to also accomplish my career goals. Instead, I put my career goals first, and aim to have as much happiness as possible within the pressures that puts on me. Sometimes, that amount is "not very much." But I hope that it will grow with time.

In other words, "sometimes, people trade pleasure in the moment for long-term meaning or investment, and fail to get both because it's a harder task to be happy and successful than to just be happy or just be successful."

Overall, I think that it's hard to imagine this post being very generative. I actually worry that the force of its writing might even confuse people, who may be temporarily influenced to think that they themselves have a problem with valorizing pain, when in fact they do not.

This post is still a good piece of writing. The examples are forceful, the conclusion is true, and some commenters seem to find value in it. It clearly is meaningful to the author. So I am glad it exists, while having qualms about its generativity or lasting value to others.

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

Thank you :) We don't currently offer orders to Russia, even though I'd like to. My current understanding (Habryka can correct me if I'm wrong) is that Stripe doesn't let us take payment from Russia. However, when the product is up on, I think you'll be able to purchase it there.

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

Books are amazing! Will it be possible to ship pre-orders to Russia? It is not in the list currently

DanielFilan's Shortform Feed

Blog post request: a summary of all the UFO stuff and what odds I should put on alien visitations of earth.

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

Sounds quite cool!

There are quite a lot of interesting things, but it's hard to read less wrong as there are just so many links, and finding what to read next is computationally very costly. A book solve the problem! I may imagine buying the ebook version just for having this order simplifying the reading decision.

One question: do you have any plan to make an audiobook of it? I listen more than I read, and would really love to listen to it, assuming that some texts can be understood without the drawings. I assume that some textes from Scott Alexander may already exists in audio thanks to SSC podcast. A LW Best-Of podcast, similar to SSC podcast and to the RAIFTZ audiobook would be extremly wonderful.

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

I would be quite surprised if we ran out before the book is up on Amazon. The primary reason to preorder is either if you want to support us by helping us plan and adjust various plans based on demand, or if you want to make sure you get the books before Christmas. 

We have been selling faster than I expected though (we made a print run of 1000 books and have sold 270 today), so there is some chance my estimate here is wrong, but overall I still only assign around 10% to us running out at all.

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

These look amazing! I'm really blown away by the designs. I know it's early days, but do you think there will likely be stock left after preorders are filled? I generally don't like preordering things, but I will likely buy a copy once it's on sale unless there's an unforeseen quality issue, so if there won't be stock left then I'd like to just preorder.

Also, I took a look at the sample chapter and noticed a possible typographical error: on the 8th line of text on the back cover, it looks like there's two spaces between "blog" and "devoted". Same on line 12 between "essays" and "of". I might just be seeing things though.

Book Review: 'History Has Begun: The Birth of a New America' by Bruno Maçães

The support provided in the book is purely anecdotal (along the lines of what I discussed above) and doesn't really discuss any other models. The alternative explantions I discuss such as re-religiofication due to material conditions are not mentioned in the book, which is wrote in a somewhat impressionistic manner.

Book review: WEIRDest People

Hmm, I would have assumed that gentile Christians just never followed the practice (just like they didn't keep kosher or follow other Old Testament laws), and (fairly naturally) saw it as conflicting with monogamy.

Am I mistaken -- was levirate marriage actually ever widely practiced in the Western Christian church?

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

I think a "Nth annual" is a good thing. It will be on the Amazon page (still not fully sure what the series title will be, by default something like "Best of LessWrong"), and of course we will have a section on the site that will organize the books in order, after we released more than one. But having each individual book be prominently stand-alone seems pretty important to me, and also having a prominent series title for the first book, or book set, in a series seems also kind of unnecessary to me. If we've done three of those, then maybe there is a benefit that people get from knowing what series it is part of, but for the first one, the info seems really unnecessary for the vast majority of readers. 

I also don't want to commit us too hard to doing a book every year. Like, I know we want to do a book for this year's (2019) review, but I really don't know yet whether we will do one for next year, and also the book for this year's review might look so totally different that putting them in a series doesn't really make sense. Starting a whole series title and then abandoning it seems pretty bad to me, if you don't even know whether it will have more than two entries.

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

Other timeless but year-of-publication restricted anthologies like "Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror" and  "Year's Best Science Writing"  have either "Nth annual" or [year the entries were published] prominently on the title.  This is an established convention. The problems of "what the hell book did I read that in?", "Finding the books on Amazon" and "Have I read this already? Who's to say." seem much bigger to me than a fraction of the audience that hasn't picked up that convention AND will be blocked from reading by it.

Logistics for the 2020 online Secular Solstice celebration

Yeah, I expect Chromium-based browsers will have a good chance of just working, but we will have no resource margin for properly testing anything but Chrome. (I also sort of expect that the kind of person who uses an uncommon browser will be the kind of person to try it anyway.)

Book review: WEIRDest People

It seems like there should be a significant reputation cost to the reversal, since it needed to be widely understood.

I'd expect arbitary exploration to be averse to conspicuous costs. Whereas planned strategies can be plausibly motivated by a vision of inheriting valuable land from widows who have less pressure to leave the land to kin in their wills.

Straight-edge Warning Against Physical Intimacy

Glad you enjoyed it, and it's good to meet another straight-edge here (although you don't seem to full identify with the term, which is ok! I'm not sure I do either).

I heard of the strategy of masturbating before going on a date before, but I mostly heard it as an advice to be less nervous (somehow). Your advice seems sensible, although I'm not sure how effective it would be, in that it would release a ton of hormones that make you happy right before meeting someone, and could alter your vision of them. I really don't know haha, just saying there are probably a lot of unknowns unknowns here (and I'm not sure how much they're worth figuring out).

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

That said, if you plan on releasing them on yearly intervals later I'd imagine some restriction might be necessary. Or, it could be that whenever a few topics seem to have come full circle or be in a good place for a book, you publish a book focused on those topics. 

Yeah, it's mostly that I don't know of a great alternative mechanism for the Review. The Schelling nature of doing a review thing at the end of the year seems pretty strong, and having a year as the natural unit of review also seems really intuitive and nice. 

I do think there is a good chance we are going to release some other books that are not part of the review cycle that are more centered around specific topics. But I really don't know yet how to fit them into all of this, and whether they are part of the same series, or their branding, or whether they are going to happen at all. 

It's very possible that there's kind of a "free pass" for the first 1-3 years, if this is a repeating thing, and then you could start adding the year. It's not that big a deal if there are just 2-3 of these, but I imagine it will get to be annoying if there are 5+ (and by that time it will be more obvious if it's an issue or not)

Yeah, I actually agree with this. Amazon has a field for "Series Title" that I want to fill in, of which this would be Vol. 1. Some obvious candidates for the series title are "Best of LessWrong" and "The LessWrong Review". I don't think there is much benefit to emphasizing a series title in the first entry of a series very much, but I think it makes sense to emphasize them more in future years, where they start actually doing anything. I still wouldn't want to put the year into the title, because if we are usually going to release these 1.5-2 years afterward, people are inevitably going to get really confused about when the books were released.

Straight-edge Warning Against Physical Intimacy

Agreed. And a trans man who doesn't take hormone would also be affected similarly. I think saying man/woman or male/female is a bit inaccurate in this context because of that (also because not everyone means the same thing when they say male/female; some refer to a biological reality, so having certain genitalia, and some give it the same meaning as man and woman, so a gender identity). I prefer to use a term that is both accurate and unambiguous (+ that encompasses the other realities I mentioned in my former comment, like intersex people and such), even if that means a lengthier sentence.

Straight-edge Warning Against Physical Intimacy

I didn't know about these numbers for PCOS, that's good to know.

I'm note sure what you mean by specific intersex condition; afaik, intersex people can have all sorts of combinations of sex attributes (they can have a vagina and XY chromosomes for instance, or a vagina and internal testicles, and so on; one of those variables would be their level of hormones). Another specific reason someone with a vagina would produce predominantly testosterone is if they're a trans man on hormone replacement therapy.

What I mean by predominantly is that they would produce more testosterone than estrogen (or the other way around); since cis women are more sensitive to the effects of hormones produced when having sex because they produce more estrogen, is it my understanding that the same would be true of someone who produces predominantly estrogen, regardless of their gender.

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

Just want to flag that I like the idea of topic-specific books, perhaps with an additional author to help rewrite things and make them consistent and clean. It's especially enticing if you can find labor to do it that doesn't have a high opportunity cost for other LessWrong style things. 

The LessWrong 2019 Review

One of the pernicious issues with word-dillution is that often when people try to use a word to mean things, they're... kinda meaning those things "aspirationally." Where, yes part of my original goal with the Review absolutely included Research Debt. But indeed there's a decent chance it won't succeed at that goal. (But, I do intend to put in a fair amount of optimization pressure towards making it succeed)

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

+1 for being able to be open about small disagreements like this online :)

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

Thanks for the reasoning here. I also don't want to detract people from purchasing these books, I imagine if people really wanted they could write the dates on them manually. 

That said - 

To better explain my intuitions here:

In 5 years from now, I care about whether the essays came out in 2018 or in 2017 if I am trying to find a particular one in a book, or recommend one to another person. Ordering is really simple to remember compared to other kinds of naming one could use. When going between different books the date is particularly relevant because names and concepts will change over time. I'd hope that 10 years from now much of the 2018 content will look antiquated and old. 

If you're just aiming for "timeless and good quality posts" (this sounds like the value proposition for the readers you are referring to), then I don't understand the need to only choose ones from 2018. Many good ones came out before 2018 that I imagine would be interesting to readers. That said, if you plan on releasing them on yearly intervals later I'd imagine some restriction might be necessary. Or, it could be that whenever a few topics seem to have come full circle or be in a good place for a book, you publish a book focused on those topics. 

I agree that "LessWrong Review 2018" sounds strange, but there are other phrases that could have with 2018 in them. Many Academic periodicals (including things like Philosophy, which are at least as timeless as LessWrong content) have yearly collections. With those I don't assume I need to read all of the old ones before reading the current year, that would take quite a while (it becomes more obvious after a few are out). I imagine the name could be something like, "LessWrong Highlighted Content: 2018" or "The Best of LessWrong: 2018". 

It's very possible that there's kind of a "free pass" for the first 1-3 years, if this is a repeating thing, and then you could start adding the year. It's not that big a deal if there are just 2-3 of these, but I imagine it will get to be annoying if there are 5+ (and by that time it will be more obvious if it's an issue or not)

How Much is Your Time Worth?

How much is your time worth if you're retired, a homemaker, a student, or otherwise not working for pay?

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

But, who cares in 5 years whether the essays came out in 2018 or in 2017? For people who want to just read the best that LessWrong has to offer, the year isn't that crucial. Indeed, if someone is considering buying one of our review books in 5 years, I really don't want them to think that they first have to buy the 2018 book before the 2019 book, or that the year is somehow super significant, or that the content was driven by some current events happening in that year. I want them to look at the title, the content, and the structure, and see which one they like best, judging the content and not the date. 

Our original title was "The LessWrong Review 2018" but then everyone we ran the name by thought that the book was released in 2018, and that was really confusing (If you call it the 2019 review, everything gets even worse, so that's also not an option). They also thought that the fact that the year is so pronounced means that the content is probably very time-sensitive, and so given that it is now two years later, the content is probably out of date. They also thought that they had to understand what the "LessWrong Review" is before they feel comfortable buying the book, because it sounds kinda technical and weird.

And then when we asked them about buying the 2019 Review book, they felt like they had to buy the 2018 book first, because there was a really strong implied order, and they weren't sure whether the books were building on each other. 

But when we just asked people what they felt if we said that we had put a lot of efforts curating the best essays on LessWrong. And this is one of those collections. Then they got the point of the book. And then we could mention in the secondary text that the way we curated this collection is via a whole cool fancy review process that they can learn more about if they want, but they don't have to, and all that they need to know is that these are some curated essays on LessWrong, organized by a number of themes, that can stand alone without needing to have read anything else. And I think that overall just gave people a much better model of the book than if we had emphasized the year super much.

The LessWrong 2019 Review

Thanks! That does make me feel a bit better about the annual reviews.

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

For the record I totally agree with you, but I lost that argument. :)

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

If the main thing that separates this book from the 2019 and 2020 books is that it's the collection of posts from 2018, it's counterintutive to me that that's not the prominent feature of the title here. Other "journals of the year" often make the year really prominent.

I feel like 5 years from now I'm going to have trouble remembering that "A Map That Reflects the Territory" refers to the 2018 edition, and some other equally elegant but abstract name refers to the 2019 edition. 

If you do go with really premium books especially, I'd recommend considering making the date the prominent bit. Honestly I expect to memorize the "lesswrong"ness from the branding (which is distinct), so the year seems like the most important part to me. 

That said, I feel like I'm not exactly in the target audience (generally don't prefer physical books), so it would come down to the preferences of others. 

I realize you've probably thought about this a lot and have reasons, just giving my 2 cents. 

Are index funds still a good investment?

3x funds track daily moves and thus underperform logterm. Better to use traditional leverage through Interactive Brokers.

The LessWrong 2019 Review

At least 3 people substantially rewrote their posts in the 2018 review, and my hope is that over time it becomes pretty common for there to be substantial rewriting. (albeit, two of those people were LessWrong team members)

But for what it's worth, here's the diff between the original version of my own post and the current version I wrote as a result of the review.

Logistics for the 2020 online Secular Solstice celebration

I believe chromium works. (I'd have to dig through some Facebook messenger chats to find the answer but I remember it coming up and pretty sure the answer was yes)

The LessWrong 2019 Review

I see, that wasn't clear from the post. In that case I am wondering if the 2018 review caused anyone to write better explanations or rewrite the existing posts. (It seems like the LessWrong 2018 Book just included the original posts without much rewriting, at least based on scanning the table of contents.)

My Fear Heuristic

I agree. Someone else should replicate my experiment. I give prior advance permission to self-promote the results in this comments section.

The LessWrong 2019 Review

Yes, sorry. The concrete mechanism by which I hope to address research debt is not the editing of essays, but the identification of essays that have good ideas and bad presentation, and encouraging other authors to write better new explanations for them, as well as more something like thorough rewrites of existing posts. 

The LessWrong 2019 Review

This is a minor point, but I am somewhat worried that the idea of research debt/research distillation seems to be getting diluted over time. The original article (which this post links to) says:

Distillation is also hard. It’s tempting to think of explaining an idea as just putting a layer of polish on it, but good explanations often involve transforming the idea. This kind of refinement of an idea can take just as much effort and deep understanding as the initial discovery.

I think the kind of cleanup and polish that is encouraged by the review process is insufficient to qualify as distillation (I know this post didn't use the word "distillation", but it does talk about research debt, and distillation is presented as the solution to debt in the original article), and to adequately deal with research debt.

There seems to be a pattern where a term is introduced first in a strong form, then it accumulates a lot of positive connotations, and that causes people to stretch the term to use it for things that don't quite qualify. I'm not confident that is what is happening here (it's hard to tell what happens in people's heads), but from the outside it's a bit worrying.

I actually made a similar comment a while ago about a different term.

Logistics for the 2020 online Secular Solstice celebration

only works in Chrome [...] please have Chrome downloaded

If it's not expensive to find out, what about Chromium (which is the same software but without Google's special proprietary additions)? (Maybe I shouldn't ask, because I do already have Chrome installed, but this might be relevant to some other Linux users.)

My Fear Heuristic

I'm exploring a practice of what I'll call "peer preview," trying to assess the value a post provides to its audience, what other valuable projects could emerge from it, and how it might be viewed a year from now.

There's a lot of advice and vivid descriptions of anxiety out there, and the benefits of overcoming it. But it's rare to get a quantitative perspective like this. The documentation seems like a lightweight technique with real potential benefits. I wonder if it's a common prescription.

It makes me wonder how many people who don't perceive themselves as neurotically timid or anxious have actually just managed to shield themselves from ever encountering anxious triggers. I can think of several things that seem anxiety-provoking, that might be a happy addition to my life, and which don't actually cause me anxiety because I so thoroughly avoid them. I can also see how a tacit part of many relationships is identifying what makes each other anxious, and securing tacit agreements that you will avoid those anxious triggers forever.

I'd be interested in writing about relationships that delves into the nuances of how to cultivate friendships and romantic relationships in which there's a conscious mutual understanding of that "anxiety avoidance" dynamic, and an explicit agreement to find ways to shift into a "do what scares us" paradigm.

I am 99% confident this will not be voted a "top 15 non-AI post of LW 2020" next year because it's so short and because the actionable advice is so private. But I appreciate the thoughts this brought up for me, and may try the journaling idea out. I will also be bringing up the "anxiety avoidance"/"do what scares us" paradigm idea with my partner, and I hope at the very least that an interesting conversation ensues. I think that this post could have benefitted from expansion to explore this "anxiety avoidance" paradigm in the context of tacit relationship agreements.

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

Hello it me. Status update is that we really had the best of intentions re: getting the last four volumes out in time for Christmas, but we hardcore failed, but progress is really happening! I swear! Christmas 2021!

Bug Hunt 2

I'd like to win a Grammy one day. It's hard to not qualify that, or hem and haw, or excuse it. But honestly, I'd like to.

Not too many identity-related bugs came up for me, but maybe that's because I can't even see the things past my current identity. I'll be thinking about this more. 

Brainstorming around pica brought out a lot of bugs. I noticed sometimes it's easier to catch the pica than to fill the void that's left. Example: I play (real) guitar at a high level, but Guitar Hero is much more addicting in the short term, probably due to clear iterative improvement and overall lack of ambiguity - there is a clear thing to do; hit all the notes on the highest difficulty level. It's hard for me to figure out how to fulfill this need. Tracking pomodoros is the closest I've gotten to channeling this positively. 

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

Elaborating on Habryka's comment, the full tech stack is:

  • Photoshop for making covers and dealing with images
  • ObservableHQ for generating diagrams from data
  • Illustrator for making illustrations and retouching diagrams
  • InDesign for putting it all together into a book
Embedded Interactive Predictions on LessWrong

Currently requires the WYSIWYG editor. Sorry about that.

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

1. What software did you use to make the book? (I'm guessing some variant of LaTeX.)

The books were all designed in InDesign. Maybe one day we will have mastered LaTeX sufficiently to typeset a whole book like this, but today is not that day.

2. What inspired this project?

Here is a random shortform I wrote like two years ago. There I said: 

Printing more rationality books: I've been quite impressed with the success of the printed copies of R:A-Z and think we should invest resources into printing more of the other best writing that has been posted on LessWrong and the broad diaspora.

I think a Codex book would be amazing, but I think there also exists potential for printing smaller books on things like Slack/Sabbath/etc., and many other topics that have received a lot of other coverage over the years. I would also be really excited about printing HPMOR, though that has some copyright complications to it.

My current model is that there exist many people interested in rationality who don't like reading longform things on the internet and are much more likely to read things when they are in printed form. I also think there is a lot of value in organizing writing into book formats. There is also the benefit that the book now becomes a potential gift for someone else to read, which I think is a pretty common way ideas spread.

I have some plans to try to compile some book-length sequences of LessWrong content and see whether we can get things printed (obviously in coordination with the authors of the relevant pieces).

The goals of the book are of course also closely entangled with the goals of the review. I think having a physical book has a real finality to it that gives the annual reviews some real stake, and makes generally contributing to LessWrong feel more rewarding. 

3. Are there any plans to produce further volumes like these in future? And has anything like this been published previously (apart from Yudkowsky's Rationality book)?

We will publish another book like this for the 2019 Review. We also have some interest in curating some books more centered around specific topics on LessWrong. Ben has been playing around with the idea of a book on Slack. I am very excited about creating a really high-end version of the sequences, as well as a printed version of the Codex we have on the site, but none of these are definite.

I do not know of any super comparable projects to this. Someone recently compiled a bunch of SSC essays into a book, but that was much much lower effort, and misses crucial elements of the post, like all the images.

4. Do you plan to publish a "Best of the Best" collection - all-time bests, rather than best of that year? (I expect such a collection would exclude the Yudkowsky essays already published in his book.)

I am not sure. I have been playing with the idea of doing a "let's review the decade before 2018" review, where we activate our review infrastructure for everything written before 2018, excluding the original sequences, and maybe compile a book out of that, but that's all just in the early brainstorm stages. Maybe after we've done this for 10 years can we do a "let's review all the essays that were in the books and create a super-book".

How I Write

I'm exploring a practice of what I'll call "peer preview," trying to assess the value a post provides to its audience, what other valuable projects could emerge from it, and how it might be viewed a year from now.

I like that this is a piece specifically about how to do nonfiction, rationalist-sphere blogging. There's a few entries in that niche, but it could use a few more. The advice about pursuing paid gigs on Quillette and Ribbonfarm, and fleshing out ideas on Twitter, seems useful for the likely audience of this post (or at least to me, who hadn't considered those ideas). It's far more tractable than the vague standard advice of "build an audience." And the writing has some humor, detail, and a cartoon graph to leaven it.

If I imagine the potential of this sort of writing, it would be amazing if there was a "how to make friends and influence people with your blog" guide. What's the distribution of readership for articles on LW, Quillette, or Ribbonfarm? Do noteworthy public intellectuals read these blogs? Do they find themselves influenced by the ideas they find there?

Nonfiction writing advice isn't just about how to put words down; it's about how to shape a global conversation, perhaps on pressing matters. Teaching people how to do that more effectively seems helpful. I wish it were all organized in one place. I bet the number of truly high-quality articles and interviews on how to write a good nonfiction blog (or do a good "serious ideas" podcast a la Conversations With Tyler or Rationally Speaking) is small enough to not have already been gathered together, yet large enough to be worth the gathering.

In the future, I think that a literature review of top-notch "how to blog effectively" advice would be more valuable than another entry into the genre.

Along those lines, I'd love to see an interview or podcast conversation between two or more rationalist-sphere podcasters about how they choose guests, how they manage to get interviews with prominent people, prepare for their conversations, whether they find that those conversations tend to change their own minds or the minds of their guests, and so on.

My verifiable prediction is that a year from now, this post won't be voted one of the "top 15 posts not about AI" on the LW 2020 review (99% confidence).

However, I think that there's a good chance (> 75%) that it will be the tipping point for at least one reader to attempt to submit an article to a paid online publisher; and that this has a modest chance (< 5% confidence) of improving the average quality of online "left brain blogging" over the long run by encouraging them to write more and higher-quality work.

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

Alas, there is not. Though I think the third book is being released soon.

Total horse takeover

I have to wonder: was the title written first? Brilliant in either case.

Integrating the Lindy Effect

Say I'm deciding what to do with my time (not well-planned, although maybe it should be more deliberate). What's a quick heuristic for deciding what to do?

"Focus on timeless knowledge" is relatively simple to do, and it started to affect how I view a lot of things.

Why dive deep into trivia that teaches me nothing? Why play the video games I used to play a lot? Why consume junk media (which lsusr wrote another post about)? With a bit of argument, this post nudged me further and faster, in the direction of actually prioritizing what I do with my time.

Self-consciousness wants to make everything about itself

The phenomenon of people changing the subject to "Who is, or is not, Bad" is a very serious problem that prevents us from making intellectual progress on topics other than the question of who is Bad. (And actually, that topic as well.) It can be a serious problem even if the people who do it are not Bad!

Are index funds still a good investment?

80% of this game is showing up. (That's the Pareto principle, not an exact figure.) If you don't have a better plan for your money and have the means to ride out a portfolio drawdown for a year or three, then by all means, invest some of it in index funds. But you can do a lot better than that with a little more effort.

If you're concerned about a bubble, the correct move isn't to get out (or not get in), but to diversify and leverage down. If you're over-allocated when the bubble bursts, then you lose your shirt. Don't bet the farm. But if you always avoid bubbles, you miss all the gains when they inflate. And sometimes they can keep inflating for decades.

Many of the best investments have a returns distribution with a negative skew. They go up in price precisely because they're prone to crashing hard. That's the risk premium.

Investing is not about avoiding risk. It's about managing it. You want exposure to this skew risk so you can collect the premium for it. But you also have to be able to survive a drawdown. Kelly is the optimal balance, but it's hard to use it directly.

In practice, this means leveraging up for index funds most of the time, and adjusting the amount of leverage based on its risk. This can be hard to quantify, however, the most important factor for index funds is their volatility. (Volatility is certainly not the only kind of investment risk.) Unlike asset prices themselves, volatility is much more predictable.

I personally (at present) have a portfolio of mainly TQQQ, UGL, and TMF, plus cash (among a few other things that take more effort and knowledge to manage), which are 3x-leveraged Nasdaq-100, 2x gold, and 3x long-term treasury bond ETFs, respectively, which I can leverage back down (when necessary) by allocating more of the balance to cash. I frequently (at least monthly) adjust their weights based on their recent volatility to maintain fairly constant and equal volatility exposure to each. That means, for example, that my allocation in terms of dollars to TMF is about double that of my allocation to TQQQ, even though my allocation in terms of volatility exposure is about the same.

[Epistemic status: I am not a financial advisor. I don't know your financial situation. For informational purposes only. You are responsible for your own money. Invest with due diligence. Also, read my other posts about this stuff.]

How I Write

Your article The Jordan Peterson Mask was among the first rationalist writings I read and helped introduce me to this community. Thank you for that.

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

This made me want to buy the hardcopy of RAZ. But I only see the first two books on amazon; is that right? Is there any status update on printing the other books of RAZ?

The Parable of Predict-O-Matic

This is a fun story that made me take self-fulfilling prophecies more seriously (as something that actually matters in the real world, rather than an exotic possibility).

alkjash's Shortform

Instrumental Rationality Mini-Retrospective

I promised several years ago to write a retrospective on Hammertime a year after it was released. I broke that promise but I wanted to take some time to do the work now, and to summarize my current beliefs about how much rationalist self-improvement affected my personal growth. I'd also like to estimate how it compares to other schools of self-improvement I've dabbled in.

First, I should mention that epistemic rationality has been directly useful in my career, although this is highly unlikely to generalize. At least three of the best papers I wrote in graduate school featured tricky applications of Bayes' Theorem. I was able to do from muscle memory certain calculations about conditional probability and expectation that might have taken weeks otherwise (if we figured them out at all). I attribute this ability in large part to reading the Sequences. YMMV if you don't work in or adjacent to probability theory. The rest of this review will ignore this relatively idiosyncratic improvement and focus on my beliefs about what is usually categorized as "instrumental rationality."

Over the last three years, I've seriously attempted the following "self-help schools of thought": CFAR applied rationality, therapy, Jordan Peterson, Tony Robbins. Insofar as numbers mean anything, in terms of personal progress in my life: CFAR is responsible for a ~100% improvement, therapy ~15%, Jordan Peterson ~40%, and Tony Robbins ~200%. Tony Robbins I encountered quite recently so the error bars are the biggest, and the effects have not yet had time to play out. As weak but verifiable evidence that the other three actually made an impact on my life, my publishing rate at least doubled since CFAR, the theorems have improved despite this. Also, I believe the quality of my writing has radically improved in these three years.

For a few more gears into these numbers:

CFAR is unique in that it (a) synthesizes the best bits of many other schools and couches it in language that is palatable to its target audience, (b) immerses you in practice in a way that any other immersive workshop does approximately equally well, but is nevertheless strong in a way regular practice and habit isn't, and (c) is astronomically memetically safe compared to the alternatives, due to deliberate choices like noting when models are "fake but useful but definitely fake."

Therapy can be hit-or-miss, the average-case scenario seems to be roughly that you pay a savvy friend armed with one or two CFAR techniques to listen and consciously apply that technique once a week. Still probably worth it.

Jordan Peterson was very useful as a charismatic psychology professor. His Youtube lectures seem to be the best available resources on the subject, and I don't believe there is a single other source that will get you the same level of understanding of the academic literature at the same cost in effort. What you get out of that abstract understanding will depend primarily on your general problem-solving ability. I don't believe there's anything remarkable about his self-improvement philosophy, although doing it will help (just because doing anything like this helps).

Tony Robbins is the best-in-class person at simultaneously blasting every part of your brain with charisma and motivation, and works for a general audience of homo sapiens (unlike CFAR). He is also extremely memetically dangerous - he knows all the buttons of the human brain that have been discovered and will push whichever ones it takes to effect the change he envisions. (For example, much of his technique rests on attaching positive meaning to suffering.) If it's any comfort, his intentions seem to be about as good as one can possibly expect for someone armed from adolescence with this superweapon. He is currently my leading candidate for "human best at getting out of the AI box." I do not believe I could have safely jumped into watching a bunch of his videos, learned a lot, and jumped back out, without much of the preparation and growth I got from the other sources listed above. 

What failure looks like

Students of Yudkowsky have long contemplated hard-takeoff scenarios where a single AI bootstraps itself to superintelligence from a world much like our own. This post is valuable for explaining how the intrinsic risks might play out in a soft-takeoff scenario where AI has already changed Society.

Part I is a dark mirror of Christiano's 2013 "Why Might the Future Be Good?": the whole economy "takes off", and the question is how humane-aligned does the system remain before it gets competent enough to lock in its values. ("Why might the future" says "Mostly", "What Failure Looks Like" pt. I says "Not".)

When I first read this post, I didn't feel like I "got" Part II, but now I think I do. (It's the classic "treacherous turn", but piecemeal across Society in different systems, rather than in a single seed superintelligence.)

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

The design looks great. Some questions

  1. What software did you use to make the book? (I'm guessing some variant of LaTeX.)
  2. What inspired this project? 
  3. Are there any plans to produce further volumes like these in future? And has anything like this been published previously (apart from Yudkowsky's Rationality book)?
  4. Do you plan to publish a "Best of the Best" collection - all-time bests, rather than best of that year? (I expect such a collection would exclude the Yudkowsky essays already published in his book.)
Is Rationalist Self-Improvement Real?

Nominating this post because it asks a very important question - it seems worth considering that rationalists should get out of self-improvement altogether and only focus on epistemics - and gives a balanced picture of the discourse. The section on akrasia seems particularly enlightening and possibly the crux on whether or not techniques work, though I still don't have too much clarity on this. This post also gives me the push necessary to write a long overdue retrospective on my CFAR and Hammertime experience.

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

Where does the money go? Is it being sold at cost, or is there surplus?

If money is being made, will it support: 1. The authors? 2. LW hosting costs? 3. LW-adjacent charities like MIRI? 4. The editors/compilers/LW moderators?

EDIT: Was answered over on /r/slatestarcodex. tldr: one print run has been paid for at a loss, any (unlikely) profits go to supporting the Lesswrong nonprofit organization.

Embedded Interactive Predictions on LessWrong

Is it possible to insert a question using the markdown editor, or does it require using the new editor?

What Would Advanced Social Technology Look Like?

Real Social Engineering. That's already been happening! Foucault describes the development from sovereign power to disciplinary power to governmentality. I expect the trend to continue.

How I Write

These are very helpful points. It's always interesting to see people's inner processes. Thanks for writing it!

How I Write

I recommend to all new writers to try and sell a pitch to an edited magazine

I'd be curious to hear more about this recommendation. I've written a few things that I think are good, but when I've considered the idea of submitting to an established outlet, it just feels obvious that there's no reason they should even be giving me the time of day. Do you recommend that I try it anyway, or is your recommendation more like, "write regularly for a few months, get some posts shared on social media, then try contacting editors"?

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

Yeah, Gumroad seems like the obvious choice. But I haven't looked into that yet, so we might end up going with something else.

Are index funds still a good investment?

tl;dr: YES. But it also depends what you mean by 'good investment'

First, we can look at the claim that passive investing is a 'bubble.' Among those calling "Bubble!", I see two separate groups making two slightly separate claims.

One group claims that incessant inflows of passive money are inflating prices of the largest stocks (AAPL, MSFT, GOOG etc.) which make up the largest part of cap-weighted indices such that they trade substantially away from an equilibrium fair value. 

I think these claims are quite dubious. Prices are set by the marginal trade, and although I know little of micro-structure/market-making, markets are likely quite robust even to large amounts of so-called 'uniformed flow'.  To claim that the presence of such flow--even if it may have grown quite substantially--is distorting prices of some of the most liquid and scrutinized securities in the world for years on-end, requires substantial evidence. For now I mostly see handwaving and pointing to all sorts of valuation metrics from this crowd, with relatively little to show for it beyond that. (Disclaimer: the meta-contrarian in me is also broadly skeptical of 'bubbles' as a general concept. I'm partial to ideas that posit that both the dot-com boom and housing boom of the late-90s/early 2000s were far from bubbles qua bubbles, but that's a separate discussion.)

The second type of claim is more along the lines of  'passive flow has disrupted normal market functioning, particularly at a microstructure-level'. Here the claims are certainly both more speculative and more abstract. Claims here often appeal to complex-systems ideas, namely that certain feedback mechanisms will either cause a spectacular financial blow-up one day (killing passive by fire), or will drive markets to a permanent new equilibrium in which the Market Is Strictly Passive (killing active by ice). I'm not willing to entirely discount these ideas; however, the idea that active managers will be there to exploit potential passive-driven inefficiencies and bring markets back toward an equilibrium seems to be the more plausible base-case against which these more speculative theories have the burden to demonstrate superiority.

Here is where I will take a speculative turn myself and appeal to a macro-explanation of the passive phenomenon. Indeed, as others have pointed out, the last 10 years have been exceptionally strong for big tech stocks. Being long FAAMNG bettered just about every other macro trade out there in any asset class (save perhaps for being leveraged-and-perma-long German Bunds). 

Coming out of the 2008 crisis, we had extremely high equity risk premiums, coupled with central banks not quite sure how to deal with the ZLB, and indeed there is compelling evidence that monetary policy perennially leaned too tight in many developed economies for most of the post-08 period. What results is a low inflation, low nominal growth, low interest rate environment, with broad corporate balance-sheet de-leveraging, which is particularly favorable for such near-monopolies like FAAMG, with their stable & moderately growing cash flows of extended duration.

Now in terms of maxing out favorable risk/reward per unit time spent deciding an allocation, it still looks quite difficult to top passive. But that doesn't always mean a passive allocation to large-cap equities, 60/40 stocks/bonds, etc. will always be there to deliver.

My own (very speculative and tentative) view is that the next 5-10 years will not be nearly as strong for real equity returns as the last 5-10. For example, we have an FOMC that is taking active steps to commit to a more expansionary objective, at least attempting to make-up for undershoots in their 2% symmetric inflation target. However, the (current) level of discretion the FOMC appears to be favoring in terms of their reaction function has already lead some macro-historians to draw parallels to the 'stop-go' era of policy in the 1970s, which was a poor environment for financial assets of almost all types.

Intermediate-term, I think it's likely that the post-COVID macro environment will be characterized by high, but relatively unstable expectations of nominal growth, which would reverse many of the macro-tailwinds that benefitted FAANMG so greatly this past decade. Of course, this is LW, so if there also appears to be mounting evidence that we're about to transition to a new AI-driven mode of economic growth, a lot of this playbook gets tossed out the window :)

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

I think gumroad allows you to offer more than 1 format for download

What Would Advanced Social Technology Look Like?

I looked up the real example: cadzu means "x1 walks on surface x2 using limbs x3". I think I see your point. Lambda calculus (and close derivatives, like Haskell) seem to do fine with only unary functions. To be fair, the definition of any word is kind of arbitrary, but it seems more elegant to build these up from smaller pieces.

After studying Iverson's J (itself an APL derivative), I think one could make a good case for arity-2 verbs taking only a subject and object, with adverbs remaining unary. From briefly skimming parts of a Lojban crash course just now, it appears that the places are usually more regular than you give them credit for. They tend to go in the order subject, object, destination, origin, means, although not all verbs have all of these, which does seem confusing.

I also stumbled across Ithkuil, another conlang which seems to have that terseness quality I was looking for, as well as claiming to be a logical language. But it's so difficult that nobody speaks it fluently.

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

I am pretty sure that as soon as the book is up on Amazon, we can activate international shipping, and I think that should allow you to buy it. But I don't know the exact shipping charges we are going to run into for that, so we can't really be accepting pre-orders for that.

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

This seems great! Really hope it's going to be purchasable in South America soon

Risks from Learned Optimization: Introduction

As a preamble, I should note that I'm putting on my "critical reviewer" hat here. I'm not intentionally being negative -- I am reporting my inside-view beliefs on each question -- but as a general rule, I expect these to be biased negatively; someone looking at research from the outside doesn't have the same intuitions for its utility and so will usually inside-view underestimate its value.

This is also all things I'm saying with the benefit of hindsight, idk what I would have said at the time the sequence was published. I'm not trying to be "fair" to the sequence here, that is, I'm not considering what it would have been reasonable to believe at the time.

the paper overly focuses on models mechanistically implementing optimization

Yup, that's right.

I'm not sure what model of AI development it relies that you don't think is accurate

There seems to be an implicit model that when you do machine learning you get out a complicated mess of a neural net that is hard to interpret, but at its core it still is learning something akin to a program, and hence concepts like "explicit (mechanistic) search algorithm" are reasonable to expect. (Or at least, that this will be true for sufficiently intelligent AI systems.)

I don't think this model (implicit claim?) is correct. (For comparison, I also don't think this model would be correct if applied to human cognition.)

worse research topics you think it has tended to encourage

A couple of examples:

  • Attempting to create an example of a learned mechanistic search algorithm (I know of at least one proposal that was trying to do this)
  • Of your concrete experiments, I don't expect to learn anything of interest from the first two (they aren't the sort of thing that would generalize from small environments to large environments); I like the third; the fourth and fifth seem like interesting AI research but I don't think they'd shed light on mesa-optimization / inner alignment or its solutions.

I think this paper should make you more excited about directions like transparency and robustness and less excited about directions involving careful incentive/environment design

I agree with this. Maybe people have gotten more interested in transparency as a result of this paper? That seems plausible.

I'm imagining you're referring to things like this post,

Actually, not that one. This is more like "why are you working on reward learning -- even if you solved it we'd still be worried about mesa optimization". Possibly no one believes this, but I often feel like this implication is present. I don't have any concrete examples at the moment; it's possible that I'm imagining it where it doesn't exist, or that this is only a fact about how I interpret other people rather than what they actually believe.

How I Write

Do you have trouble writing for short periods of time, or do you have enough long chunks of free time that there's no use for small chunks?

If my life was so busy that I couldn't even find 4-5 hourlong chunks throughout the week I probably wouldn't blog at all. I sometimes write in 15-20 minute bits while in the office (remember those?) but almost every single post took a multi-hour chunk to come together.

Why are young, healthy people eager to take the Covid-19 vaccine?
Answer by ZianDec 03, 20203

Please don't forget that some young healthy people are essential workers who might not really have a choice about this.

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

Oops, turns out I didn't have the Stripe checkbox for "send confirmation emails for payments" activated. I activated it now and am going through and sending you all the receipts you should have received in the first place. In case any of you accidentally ordered twice because you didn't know whether your first payment went through, please ping me on Intercom and I will give you a refund immediately! :)

The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order

I think for now you just hit the 'buy' button again :) But will look into making it smoother.

How I Write

Thanks for the post. It's always interesting to learn more about how another writer works.

If you plan to write in long spells you can’t wait for the perfect day when you wake up full of energy with a clear schedule and a buzzing mind — that happens too rarely if at all.

This reminds me of this Bukowski poem:

air and light and time and space


"–you know, I’ve either had a family, a job,

something has always been in the


but now

I’ve sold my house, I’ve found this

place, a large studio, you should see the space and

the light.

for the first time in my life I’m going to have

a place and the time to



no baby, if you’re going to create

you’re going to create whether you work

16 hours a day in a coal mine


you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children

while you’re on


you’re going to create with part of your mind and your body blown


you’re going to create blind



you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your

back while

the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment,

flood and fire.


baby, air and light and time and space

have nothing to do with it

and don’t create anything

except maybe a longer life to find

new excuses



I sit down to write whenever I feel there’s even a small chance I’ll get into the writing zone and I have at least one hour free.

Personally, if I wait for a chunk of one hour, I'll have way more trouble finding the time. Whereas 20 minutes that way and 15 minutes this way can go a long way. Do you have trouble writing for short periods of time, or do you have enough long chunks of free time that there's no use for small chunks?

I think I believed in writer’s block when I was younger. One day I decided that it’s fake and it hasn’t materialized since. You can always just transcribe your internal monologue as it goes on in your head. Yes, it’s probably going to be bad, but now you’re dealing with the task of editing rather than with “writer’s block”.

My own solution for writer's block is to remind myself that first drafts are allowed to be shitty. That usually does the trick.

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