The Best Comments Ever

by Grognor1 min read18th Mar 201220 comments

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Intellectual Progress via LessWrongSite Meta
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Of the title of this discussion post, we already have an approximation in the most voted-for lists for Main and Discussion. There are many problems with this metric, however, a subset of which are:

  • Both sections are cluttered. The top comments for Main are full of rationality quotes (which are better accessed elsewhere), and the top comments for Discussion are full of polls. (Can we please have a non-stupid way of putting polls in comments?)
  • Both sections are biased by exposure. A comment that a lot of people see generally gets more karma than comments which not many people see. As Less Wrong's growth rate increases, and as time goes by, this will increasingly bias these sections toward newer comments. Also, comments made by well-known LWers will be seen more often and correspondingly upvoted more.
  • Joke comments oftentimes get a lot more comments than insightful comments.
  • Entire threads can have weird voting patterns that don't match quality.
  • These sections list number of upvotes, so extremely controversial comments appear in between unanimously good ones. (May not actually be a problem at all.)
  • People use karma as behavior reinforcers, so comments like "I'll transcribe this" get lots of votes.
  • Dozens more little things I won't try to list
So instead of lists of comments that made a lot of Less Wrong accounts go "eh, have a karma", let's have a list of Less Wrong comments that are so good you'll never forget them, and you wish you could do more than merely upvote.
This list will have its own problems, like being biased toward memorable comments, but I hope the two lists will complement each other and whatever's missing isn't terribly important.
I got the idea from a note about how "Discussion is better than Main, comments are better than Discussion" because social norms prevent certain types of Main post from being made.
Anyway, here are some proposed rules, of which all but the first two are mere suggestions:
  • Don't post your own comments.
  • Don't post more than one comment in this thread. If you find more other-person comments you want to add, edit yours to include them.
  • Say why you think the comment is good, even if it's only a line.
  • Bonus points for finding  very old  comments, or those from threads that got very little exposure.
  • No joke comments or comments that solely quote people.
  • Don't retrieve your comment from the list of top comments.

I like my idea. Let's see how well it works.

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25 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 11:00 PM
New Comment

Here are all the LW comments I have bookmarked at del.icio.us/porejide, aside from the one I took from Grognor below. This is probably overkill for a single comment.

1) This comment by Mitchell Porter, for the idea of looking into the time before there was algebra, seeing how it was invented, and using that as an outside view for our current difficult problems (like consciousness).

2) This comment by Eliezer, which I found interesting because it responded to a critique of Bayes Cosmo Shalizi which I also found persuasive, leaving me in a (typical) state of not knowing what to believe.

3) Yvain's comment preceding his post on slippery slopes and Schelling points; this was useful for my thinking about both of those topics.

4) PO8's comment about early detection of cancer and whether the purported benefits could be a selection bias. This is an interesting idea and I intend to look into it further when I get more time.

5) Luke M's comment that the best way to convert someone is to be cool, likeable, and generally sarcastic about the idea you want them to change. Makes sense -- most do not respond well to wordy arguments.

6) Vladimir M's comment that non-mathy pop-physics is unlikely to lead to real insight. I tentatively agree but would like to see some actual data.

7) Carl Shulman's comment on how a normal prior distribution for charity effectiveness does not map well to reality. This doubles as a demonstration of how difficult Bayesian computations can be and an interesting quantitative look at charity.

8) Yvain's comment, which I feel bad re-posting because it is ironic and I'm growing increasingly annoyed with irony, but I include for completeness and because it makes a useful point through its irony.

9) Eugine Nier's comment that it's more important for your beliefs to be correct than consistent. He also gives an example of a situation in which there can be a trade-off between the two. I found this useful because I often am biased towards consistency. I made an Anki flashcard based on this comment.

10) jimrandomh's comment that "drugs" are not a natural category. Useful on both the object (people talk about "drugs" often) and meta (people talk about non-natural categories as if they were natural categories often) levels.

11) komponisto's comment that "I said I was apathetic. I didn't say I was ignorant." I just thought this was clever. Doesn't seem as good in hindsight. But maybe I'm biased by the relatively low upvotes.

12) Nominull's comment that "When promoting the truth, if you value the truth, it is wise to use especially those methods that rely on the truth being true. That way, if you have accidentally misidentified the truth, there is an automatic safety valve." I also made an Anki flashcard for this one.

13) Xachariah's comment deconstructing the phrase "how are you" in a way I still often think about when I hear that phrase.

14) Richard Kennaway's comment discussing the trade-offs to engaging in sexual relationships (i.e., lost time and energy for intellectual pursuits).

15) Konkvistador's comment quoting Peter Thiel saying that as soon as you starting discussing why something occurs, people start losing sight of whether it occurs. Useful rhetorically, depending on your goals.

16) Mitchell Porter's comment about how LW tropes might eventually find political expression, and what that would actually look like. This comment is truly a gem. "Look, politics isn't a game of hide and seek. Ideological groups have the cohesion that they do because membership in the group depends on openly espousing the ideology." I also made an Anki flashcard for this. This kind of comment makes me a bit sad that he appears to be spending much of his time on looking for the quantum correlates of consciousness, which does not make much sense to me. But from the perspective of "fund people, not projects", we should give him leeway.

17) Mitchell Porter's comment dismissing the idea of game theoretic equilibria between intelligences in disjoint worlds. I remember finding it profound when I read it.

18) taw's comment which contains an interesting history lesson on infanticide.

19) Eliezer's comment that you should deal with sunk costs by imagining that you were teleported into someone's life and thinking about what you would do differently if that were the case.

20) Mitchell Porter's comment speculating on what LW's role in history would be. Another gem. Not only was this informative, but I hadn't even thought on that kind of level before.

21) Will Newsome's comment. I forget why I tagged this, but looking back it has some very interesting bits about theism.

22) hegimonicon's comment that there is an "enormous gulf between finding out things on your own and being directed to them by a peer." It's somewhat counter-intuitive that in many cases your best way to convince someone of something is to suggest general lines of reasoning and let them figure out the specifics for themselves.

I hesitate to say this because I don't want to make her embarrassed or change her behavior too much... but whenever Nancy Lebovitz comments, especially when she recommends something to read, I pay attention. It is usually something that (1) I've never seen or heard before and (2) gives useful insight into things from common experience. From the perspective of Aumann updating (which should theoretically happen most productively with people who are well calibrated but have seen different stuff than you have) her posts are almost pure gold to me, and I keep thinking I should PM her and maybe try to figure out some way to spend N days or weeks talking about random subjects with her to get her thoughts on them. Given the constraints of time and resources (busy lives, opposite coasts, etc, etc) all I can say for certain is I'm happy that she's here and that her apropos comments are part of my informational environment on a semi-regular basis :-)

For reference, and because it seems right to mention, she has a blog called Input Junkie and an online button and bumper sticker business.

Above, I linked to her comment feed because it is interesting how regularly I am rewarded by tracking down things she refers to, but when I tried to think of something she linked to that still particularly stands out from ~15 months of distance as having caused cascading re-arrangements in my thinking it would be her comment referencing science fiction as appealing to the fantasy of political agency.

I always thought this comment was a great use of the outside view as applied to us. I don't think Mitchell Porter is right that we all think Less Wrong is much more important than it is, but it's quite necessary to remember that we are not the kings of philosophy, and probably nothing terribly world-shattering, either.

This comment by Vladimir Nesov instantly convinced me that he is entirely right. It's not that I thought he was wrong before, but that I had never much thought about it before and what he said was obviously true in retrospect. (An example of comparmentalization on my part, since I had already gained the same insight into selfhood/identity and 'continuous experiences'.)

I liked this comment because I enjoy self-aware pessimistic spins on things. I probably only remember it because it is not of the same category as most comments.

I thought this was a great idea.

This comment by lessdazed is a good summary or reformulation of the ethical injunctions mini-sequence.

ata's comment here summarizes how I feel about people tossing around the c-word with respect to Less Wrong without really anticipating the consequences of this action.

I like Strange7's counter to Eliezer's unsupported assertion that Three Worlds Collide would make a terrible movie.

Vladimir_M's tautological observation here about the underachieving, low-status nature of this community.

Will Newsome coins the term "Roko algorithm". What a great term.

This entire thread is good for all sorts of reasons.

nyan_sandwich explains that you should either use your naive intuitions or calibrated mathematical models, and not some monstrous technical-seeming combination of the two. I thought it was a very good general point.

Costanza's comment here. Tragically underkarmaed.

MixedNuts on utilitarian blood temperatures.

This comment, which I shall refer to as Rayhawk's Wheel.

MrHen alleviates half of my guilt.

[-][anonymous]9y 0

I liked this comment because I enjoy self-aware pessimistic spins on things. I probably only remember it because it is not of the same category as most comments.

Violates the "no jokes" rule.

No cookies for you.

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[-][anonymous]9y 2

Violates the "no jokes" suggestion

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[-][anonymous]9y 0

Oops, somehow I just glanced over the bullet-points without reading the line right above. Sorry.

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This comment by Yvain showing via the Kerfuffle of the Anti-Cholesterol Cheerios how the hunt for news-clicks + mind-killing can get you from "Don't lie about cholesterol on your cereal box, please," to "Obama will kill everyone who disagrees with him." in just four easy steps.

The link disappeared, maybe because you left out "http://".

(I remember liking this comment too.)

Editted, thanks!

This comment in which gwern describes a 'hope function' - how, given a diffuse prediction of an event with known overall confidence, the confidence should change as specific opportunities for the event fail to occur.

META
Discuss this thread in replies to this comment.

The ratio of meta comments to object comments on this post is about twenty to one right now. That's a pretty good ratio but I think if we really tried we could push it up to 40:1.

It's an impractical idea for a thread. People may occasionally bookmark good articles, but (generalizing from my own example) they rarely bookmark good comments. So I'm not surprised that this thread was something of a failure.

So far. Once people know there's a place to put them, they could trickle in.

[-][anonymous]9y 0

You're right. Just in case a few others aren't willing to play along, though, I hereby declare that non-meta comments on this thread are banned.

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Don't post more than one comment in this thread. If you find more other-person comments you want to add, edit yours to include them.

I don't understand the rationale for this. It seems contrary to the usual practice in threads of this type, where items are separated in order to allow voting on them individually.

I don't understand the rationale for this. It seems contrary to the usual practice in threads of this type, where items are separated in order to allow voting on them individually.

I support your reasoning. There is no good reason to group by recommenter.

Mind you there is only one non-meta comment in the thread. It seems to have flopped for some reason.

New terms: hcomment for comments in this thread; o-comment for comments suggested by this thread.

What I figure is that if you like the o-comments, you can vote on them instead of the hcomments. I don't know if this is a good idea, since it multiplies the effect of selection bias, but I figure comments don't need two sets of karma scores. Talk about information cascades.

On the contrary, it seems to me that information cascades would be better avoided by separating out voting on the comments "where they occur" from voting on them as "nominees" in this thread.

I had assumed the purpose of this thread was to identify these comments so that they could be collected elsewhere (perhaps offsite) in a "List of Best LW Comments", ordered by how they score in this thread.

I prefer Grognor's way. Voting on comments in this thread should be based on the value added by comments in this thread. Basing voting on the value added by the original comments would just create an incentive for people to mass-repost the top comments feed.

Would be useful if people quoted or summarised each comment so you can understand the context of comments on it without clicking through.

Don't post your own comments.

Bah, that rules out my first 5 candidates.

[-][anonymous]9y 9

It also rules out how great this comment is (or could be, anyways).

Good idea for a thread. I have often thought that much important, insightful content is locked away in a deep comment threads that many LWers never see. In general, I think the current hierarchy is suboptimal for exposure of important content. Furthermore, past content should more often be revisited, updated and revised.

[-][anonymous]9y 0

Look what I found!

(I still edit my non-meta post in this thread from time to time. Also, I still wish more than three people used this thread for its intended purpose.)

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