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I want to talk about democracy.

I do so here because I don't think this is mind-killing. And I sure feel some rational debate about it would be educational, for me mostly, since there are so many great minds here and... I will come clean, I think democracy isn't that great, considering this how is it possible that I am but ignorant? Or possibly evil. But before I can explain why I think as I do, I need to see why people think it is great. Who knows, maybe I've missed something vital? Or maybe people don't like democracy already but they believe that they do. Or maybe I'm wrong about how popular such doubts are on this site, beyond a small but assuredly not tiny minority.

Now obviously there are doubts and doubts. Saying that democracy as it is in the West has problems, but only because it isn't true democracy, isn't what I mean by "doubting democracy" at all. To give an analogy I see this as like doubting communism by saying that what we are doing clearly isn't true communism, this is why the 5 year plan has failed comrades! Those darn counter-revolutionary forces sabotaging us! Those darn undemocratic influences subverting our... (read more)

I've been wondering-- there seems to be a fair number of LessWrongians who are revolted by democracy, and I've never been sure why. Would you or anyone else be interested in explaining why democracy seems like an obviously bad idea to you? I can understand not approving of government in general, but democracies (which I'm going to tentatively define as governments where a noticeable proportion of elections have surprising enough results to be worth betting on) seem to have less awful failure modes than a lot of other sorts of governments.
Is this really key feature? Lots of elections considered perfectly democratic are more or less predictable. I mean you do have places like Norway or Japan where the same party kept winning for decades in a row. Once you knew who the party leader was before the election you would also usually know who the PM will be. Who will ascend in the Chinese Communist Party next is if anything less predictable than if say Obama will be re-elected. Also the conclaves often produce surprising choices for the Pope and they are elections, but I don't think most people consider the Vatican to be a democracy.
Fair enough. It was a tentative definition. Another angle is PJ O'Rourkes idea that societies which are good to live in have rule of law. Unfortunately, I don't have convenient access to his description (if he's got one) of rule of law. It would be in Eat the Rich.
Rule of law and democracy are not at all the same thing. They are probably related -- hard to have meaningful elections without reliable laws about them, for instance. But it's necessary to explain that connection more carefully -- and find out which ways the causality goes -- before you can argue for democracy on the basis of it promoting rule of law. There are many examples of non-democratic governments that have reliable, predictable, and reasonably even-handed legal process. (Imperial France under Napoleon or Napoleon III had this reputation, as did Rome under the good emperors. Singapore is a modern example.) There are also plausible examples of democracies that don't have reliable legal systems, I suspect. I'm not sure I would have said that Ancient Athens had "rule of law" as we understand it, for instance.
But why Because I think "democratic" is an applause light. Indeed the ur example of an applause light. People go as far as to often think of it as having intrinsic value! Indeed I think Western civilization has had an affective death spiral around democracy. I think we systematically overestimated how good democracy is partially because of the following reasons: 1. We cherry pick what counts as democracy and especially what a failed democracy is, why do we so seldom consider the aftermath of a failed democracy (think Weimar republic )? The badness of Communism is more often talked about in the context of the mess it left in former Communist countries after collapse than in the context of the millions of lives it lost. Why not talk about democracy that way every now and then? I mean sure ideally you don't want your car to crash. But if your car does crash you do hope it has been designed to make crashes as survivable as possible. 2. Wealthy countries with well educated citizens tend to be democracies. Wealthy countries with well educated citizens also tend to have high rates of obesity. Clearly obesity is less bad than starvation and democracy is less bad than Communism, but is this really something to brag about? 3. Because it says it is and most of us grew up in it. Children will believe in God just because they are told by their parents, imagine what they will believe if told by not only their parents, and perhaps priests but teachers too! Democracy is viewed as the only legitimate kind of government by Western thinkers. This stifles possible innovation in government. Democracy is also by far the most popular kind of government (who would have thought that popular government would be a popular concept?). Also if democracy is indeed the best form of government tried so far, maybe by analysing it we can come up with something even better? Isn't this argument for democracy merely a Burkean conservative one in nature ? LW dismisses those out of hand so often,
I think analysis of "democracy" would be more clear if we differentiated process from substance. In relation to your viewpoint, I think Churchill's quote is best understood as: Substitute Universal Suffrage elections for [particular process] and Idealized relationship of governed to government for [substantive result] and voila - Churchill's quote. Just to be clear, the idealized relationship that Churchill is aiming for is the one I've called consent-of-the-governed. My point is that you haven't precisely articulated whether your argument is (1) the substantive goal is inappropriate for some reason, or (2) the process selected is unlikely to lead to that goal. For example, the American Civil War can plausibly be considered a failure of the democratic process. But it can also be considered a success at improving the relationship of governed to government by changing the rules so that more humans were treated as citizens. If Lincoln had been absolute monarch (and accepted as such), I think the Civil War would have been less bloody even if Lincoln had attempted to achieve the same results that the Union actually achieved in history. (which weren't precisely the aims that historical Lincoln actually articulated).
Good point about the Weimar Republic as an example of failure mode of democracy. I'm not sure whether it's germaine that part of the failure was it ceasing to be a democracy. Any other examples? For what it's worth, I think of the failure mode of Communism as being partly the mass murder, and even in countries where there wasn't mass murder, the impoverishment and oppression of citizens. A sidetrack: Are there any sound generalizations about differences between communist countries which had genocide, and those which didn't?
Here you go: My comment on it.
What is a failure mode? Are you seeking examples of bad outcomes and bad behavior in democracies, or something more specific? What are some examples of communist countries that have not engaged in mass murder? In Cuba and Nepal the death tolls haven't been so dramatic by Cambodian standards. Are there other tame examples?
Is the Cultural Revolution in China an example of mass murder? I learned that there was lots of oppression, suffering, and starvation. But deaths were not an intended result, only a byproduct that the ruling elite didn't care to prevent. By contrast, Stalin's starving of the Kulaks was intended to cause death. Regardless, the Cultural Revolution doesn't reflect well on communism.
This question is so startling to me I'm not sure I understand it.
There are things as morally wrong as mass murder that don't qualify as mass murder.
I think you should read the article you linked to all the way through; starvation is not the only kind of violence that occurred. If someone dies during or as a consequence of your torturing them, it is standard to say you've committed murder even if your intentions were non-lethal, right? (I think it is too generous to grant such good intentions in this case, but irrelevant). If you torture ten thousand people and one hundred of them die, you have committed mass murder. This kind of mass murder was common throughout 20th century communist china, routine during the cultural revolution. There were some events during the CR on an even more enormous scale, in tibet and inner mongolia.
http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2010/09/the-institutional-causes-of-chinas-great-famine-1959-61.html pointed to an interesting paper on that topic. I read it, but I don't know enough about China to really evaluate it. But nevertheless, I have a hard time reconciling the observations with non-incompetence explanations:
See also Tthe Great Leap Forward. I'd say they count-- if a system doesn't allow for quickly changing (or better, preventing) policies which cause death on a grand scale, there's something wrong with the system.
Something very wrong - yes. Mass murder - ?? Edit to add: On reflection, the Great Leap Forward is a lot more like Stalin and the Kulaks than the unedited version of this comment might suggest.
Most of Eastern Europe, I think.
OK communist Yugoslavia is a more important example than communist Nepal. But you're not counting the soviet union as eastern europe? Non-soviet eastern europe is not unrepresented on wikipedia's digest of communist mass killings.
I'm not listing the Soviet Union as Eastern Europe. The Wikipedia page lists mass murder in East Germany and Bulgaria as disputed, but it seems that things were generally worse than I thought.
It always comes down to which politician can trick the most voters using their native biases. Even in an idealized setting where all voters were educated and all educated were voters, they'd still be humans with all the tribalism and biases that implies.
The traditional critique of democracy is that it leads to what we moderns would call class warfare, demosclerosis, and political corruption (by political corruption, I mean the regulatory state, spawned by Olsonian multiplication of special interests). All of this stuff used to be called the social war, named after the Roman civil wars leading to Sulla's reforms. To check theory against observation, compare Britain from the restoration to the mid nineteenth century, with Britain from the mid nineteenth century to the present. Restoration Britain founded the scientific, technological, and industrial revolutions. British merchant adventurers went forth as mobile bandits, and settled down as stationary bandits, creating what was later called the British empire. Democratic Britain has been downhill from there. If Cecil Rhodes or Lord Garnet was around, you can imagine what they would think of the present state of Britain.
I don't think I'm revolted by democracy. I do currently disbelieve in democracy. But I said I wanted to talk about democracy not that I have proof that it sucks more than anything else ever. I don't think I've so far strawmaned how polite educated opinion thinks a particular brand of democracy should work (though I'll admit I'm not done).
I think your essay should clearly articulate where you disagree with the democracy consensus. You discuss tragedy-of-the-commons and state-of-nature arguments, but those are about whether to have government or anarchy, not what form the government should take. That is, a competent absolute monarchy could avoid both problems pretty easily. If that isn't what you intend to discuss, I recommend removing it from the essay. I see the seeds of two distinct arguments against democracy in the essay at this point. First, you might be challenging the idea that what is best for "the People" is best for "the Nation." I think I've read prior comments where you challenge the coherence of the concept consent-of-the-governed, but I'm not sure that this is the argument that you intend make here. If it is, pedantic-Tim says that consent-of-the-governed is a wider concept than democracy, so you should acknowledge your intent to refer to things like the justifications for the Glorious Revolution, which I wouldn't call "democratic." For reference, this is where my disagreements with Moldbug are located. Alternatively, you could be arguing for the "public choice"/"interest group politics" failure mode of democratic governments. That is a specific critique of the previous point, but I think it should be handled distinctly. For example, it is a quite different from the "who counts as part of the people"/Patrician vs. Plebian debates that lurked within the debates about Landowner Suffrage v. Universal Manhood Suffrage v. Universal Suffrage. If this specific critique is your intended topic, I suggest you lay out some of the argument for why you think this failure mode is highly-likely/inevitable. I understand that the argument that this failure mode is not inevitable is laced with "No-True-Scotsman" issues, but it would still illustrate your thinking if you explained why you think that this is the most worrisome failure mode. ---------------------------------------- To the extent that yo
Oh its just half an essay at this point. I was still describing how the idealized version of this government supposedly works. Maybe no government is better than democratic government, but I do think you have a point. I will assume few people will for now question that we need some kind of government, I will remove it from this essay. Overall, I must admit you seem to have a very good idea of where I was going to develop some of my arguments based on (it seems to me at least) not so much data. Considering that in the part of the essay written so far I just wanted to accurately if informally describe educated opinion on how this kind of democracy should work, would you say that I've failed and that I'm making a straw man? Or where the hints and foreshadowing not problematic in this regard?
Your articulation of the argument for democracy is strongly flavored with "I come not to praise Caesar, but to bury him" - and we know how that turned out. Particularly your comment: Also, you write much less formally in that paragraph than the proceeding ones. I think you have correctly described the gesturing a thoughtful reader of the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal would make to defend the concept of representational democracy. But such a figure is at least somewhat aware of the problems of public choice and special interests, even if that person is not sufficiently concerned by them to abandon the concept of democracy. Regarding consent-of-the-governed, I'm not sure what the idealized man-on-the street thinks of the problem - but I don't see this quote: as aimed at that issue.
Thanks for the feedback! I will then keep the contents of the paragraph similar but cut some of the jokes and try to make my tone a bit more formal. I didn't intend to touch on that yet.
Oh its just half an essay at this point. I was still describing how the idealized version of this government supposedly works.
Stepping back for a second, if you don't mind, to the meta-details surrounding this argument. 1) Theoretical democracy, fixed country democracy, or multiple-country semi-coherent abstraction? As you've pointed out, in order to avoid endless no-scotsmanning, from the onset we have to make a choice as to whether we want to discuss a theoretical democratic framework, the democracy of a single historical country, or whether we want to discuss the abstract correlations between several different democracies -- or any combination thereof, or something I haven't thought of. My thoughts on this matter are thus: it would be very hard, if not implausible, for a discussion on theoretical democracy to turn out well. It seems to me far too easy to state a theoretical model and then privately consider one's own political condition. Trying to draw an inference from theoretical to historical would be invalid in either direction. If one takes a specific example, it would seem to me that such a discussion would devolve into the Americans implicitly assuming the properties of American democracy generalize well enough to whatever hapless central European state one ultimately picks. You've already laid out why picking the states would be non-helpful. Separate from this sociological issue, we also have the trouble of deciding which properties of Centralistan are essential and which are accidental. If one instead tries to list some loose "essential" properties of a democracy abstracted from a previously-constructed list of democracies, we still have the essential/accidental problem. Perhaps the Americans will think of the States at any rate, and it's just not something that can be avoided. 2) Standards of debate This just isn't going to work if it's considered acceptable to make potshots at various countries and nationalities. 3) Historicity EY once recommended that if politics needs to be discussed, one should stick with examples so historical that the participants are not invest
I was aiming for European parliamentary democracy, implicitly more on the non-Monarchical ones (Parliamentary Republics ) as educated people in practice believe they should work and how they do work (belief in belief about what is happening and how they should work is trickier). I agree. Pentagonese isn't a nationality (I hope). I think that's the only one I made (besides Scotsmen, but there aren't any true Scotesmen anyway). Yes the historical gap is too vast. I was hoping that since I willl describe Parlimentary Democracy in Central European cultural context Americans will have an easier time thinking about it calmly than they would if I criticized their own particular system, even if I was attacking the same key points! I however don't think criticism of democracy is that mind-killing for most, for the reasons CaveJohnson described. But maybe if this essay gets done particularly well the realization that democracy is actually and seriously being questioned might kill some minds. Maybe I should take advice on talking about politics more seriously than I did originally. I tried to limit this by defining casual usage of the term to a very small set of seemingly decently run countries that share noticeable similarities in government stricture.
I've also heard that parliamentary democracies work better if there's a size requirement for parties-- otherwise tiny minority opinions get too much influence.
I believe this is mostly only a problem (and therefore the size requirement is only a solution) in countries with proportional representation. Britain's system of first-past-the-post by district seems to work well in encouraging the formation of a few large stable parties.
Parliamentary republics aren't necessarily democracies.
European ones currently are.
Oh, I see what you mean.
Thank you for your response, since it is a response to a draft I suggest any direct comments quote the text they are referring to?
I'd reply as I think Thomas Sowell would, with his standard question "compared to what?" Compared to what is democracy a poor form of government? Sure, sugar gum drop trees won't spontaneously spring out of the earth when people get the vote. Nor is the vote an automatic cure for your aunt's gout. And there are plenty of failure modes. The particular ones you show from European parliamentary democracy are not surprising to me, as an American with a preference for the constitutional republic we nominally have here. The key difference seems to be attitude toward government. In the US originally, and to some degree in pockets still, the federal government, and government in general, is seen as empowered with authority to secure your rights. Not positive rights to the fruits of the labor of others, but negative rights against abuse from others. From the Declaration of Independence: This model of government does not include a "goodness generating machine" as one of the deliverables. Government exists to protect your "inalienable rights", such as life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. It is not a happiness generating machine, which will fedex you monthly packages of happiness, it is a machine to protect your freedom, leaving you free to live your life and pursue happiness. You are the happiness generating machine; it is the freedom protecting machine. This model has it's own failure modes, such as when much of the populace starts wanting the government to be a "goodness generating machine". And it's not a perfect machine even in a society of people who support it for it's original purpose. Inevitably, those controlling the levers will exercise that power for their own interests, while the general population will have both limited knowledge and incentive to properly watch over them. "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." That's an expensive price, suffering from free rider problems, so we should always expect some abuse of the system. Wah wah wah! I can't h
I agree with this criticism, yet I find it ironic that what I think is the strongest argument in favour of democracy is a fundamentally small c conservative one. Modern society (unwisely in my opinion) doesn't let such arguments stop it from changing things. Yet when it comes to democracy someone just bringing up a quote by Churchill is enough to dispel all doubts. I don't think having government be a goodness generating machine is a good idea. I start here with an argument for setting up a democracy as one as someone who thinks this would work would present it. Hence the draft, before proceeding to critique it I wanted to make sure I was attacking a steel man of moderate social democracy the currently reigning Western ideology. Looking from the outside it seems pretty obvious the US government is expected to be a goodness generating machine. This is especially true among the classes engaged in opinion making, let alone among the kinds of people who actually make up the USG and run the country. It also seems obvious democratic means will not change or restore it into an effective guardian of negative rights. Recall what I said: Goodness generation is also the standard rationalization for the existence of everything from the department of education to an army geared for foreign intervention. For a reason, democracy basically is early stage socialism. Plato and Aristotle didn't think much of democracy because of this. And we know from previous patients that early stage always gives way to late stages eventually, sometimes in a matter of months or years like in the case of the Russian revolution, sometimes decades and even centuries as is the case with the American one. What does the "pro-freedom" or negative rights camp have? A few internet blogs and think thanks? Recall that even on lesswrong the Libertarian position is called "far right". This is not an accident. In a democracy wealth redistribution with the pretext of higher goals is how elections are won. Eve
No way, the Provisional Government wasn't overthrown because it stuck to negative-rights-based policies and didn't offer anything more - it was overthrown because it was too high-handed/spineless in Petrograd politics, carried on with a massively loathed war which stirred up the unrest in the first place, flirted with both the socialists and the right while not aligning itself with either... And the Russian Empire already had a bit of local self-government + public welfare and wealth and land redistribution going. Those welfare programs - preceded by things like Zubatov's trade union experiment, - were launched precisely because the government wanted to quell revolutionary sentiment in the wake of 1905!
Up voted. I will take your word and consider myself corrected for now, since the Russian Revolution is on my list of things to study in the future. The quick and dirty assessment I used was "a regime that is formally a liberal parliamentary democracy becomes communism" when picking the example. I didn't however mean to imply it was just a guardian of negative rights, just that social democratic and socialist ideologies are strong attractors in democracies because they work like power pumps. This is why I called democracy early stage socialism. I'm farm from being alone in this view, many socialists basically think true democracy is socialism. The whole social democratic ideology was founded on this idea of step by step reforms towards socialism via democracy and that democracy will inevitably lead to it, so no need for violent revolution.
If the goal was to discuss a steel man of social democratic theory, it seems to me that you've done a reasonable job. But not being a social democrat, I don't know that my opinion should count for much. You disagree with the social democrats for some reason. You don't share some of their premises, so that what is steel as evaluated by your premises (or mine) is likely not so steely to them. I like your basic thrust, of first identifying what government is supposed (by them) to be for. I was actually meaning to ask this of the social democratic crowd in our next monthly politics thread. As I related, in the US we have a specific narrative of what government is for, grounded in the ideology, events, and documents of the creation of the country. I don't have a real sense of where Europeans get their answer to the question, "what is government for?". Should it be a goodness machine? I liked your explicit identification of it. That's starts sounding uncomfortably theocratic, because it is. But I haven't liked your using "democracy" as a short hand for the party platform of generic social democrats. Calling it Social Democracy would at least consistently make it clear that you mean a complex of procedures, programs, and values, and not just voting, which was my initial impression when I've seen you question democracy in the past. Unless you're really opposed to voting per se, your use of democracy as shorthand for social democracy easily leads to mistaking your views on voting, and is just unnecessarily unclear regardless. That's the thing. The news you get is filtered through European Social Democratic media perusing American Social Democratic media. That's the view you get from the outside. But those who control the centralized levers are hardly all of the country. You're not hearing what's said at churches, and picnics, and group emails, and talk radio, and small town newspapers. Many people hear these voices instead, and don't spend so much time listening to the
While the view may have made a comeback, the goals it seeks are growing more and more distant and politically difficult to acheive.
Joss Whedon strikes again. Just watched The Avengers last night. The movie started with various pontifications on freedom vs. submission to power.
I'm not sure I understand what question you are asking or what alternative you're comparing democracy to. Ultimately, a government is an organization that claims a right to compel obedience, and in practice, has the ability to compel. Some person or persons is ultimately going to be in charge of wielding that power. That means there has to be some means of choosing them. To be more concrete: a government needs a military or at least a national police force. Those forces work much better with a unified command structure, which means there needs to be some supreme authority that can ultimately direct the coercive machinery. In practice, it's not possible to completely constrain the government by law and custom: presidents and prime ministers (to say nothing of monarchs and party secretaries) routinely do things that would have been thought illegal, before they were done. So being head-of-government comes with authority and power, and is therefore going to be attractive to people who value such things. As a result, there will be many people who want to be in charge. Stable government requires having a reliable way to pick those leaders, that doesn't result in coups, civil wars, or chaos. Elections seem to work well for this. The competing systems am aware of rely on leaders picking their successors, having an oligarchy to pick the leaders, or some combination of the two. (China and the Roman Catholic Church fall into this broad model.) This alternate system can be very stable, but is bad at incorporating shifts in public opinion, and lacks the cathartic benefits of mass elections. It doesn't seem to work better in practice. It might be useful if you gave a succinct explanation for what you mean by "democracy". People use the word to describe just about every system in which the government is de facto elected on a regular basis by a large fraction of the population. That covers a lot of ground. It might be that you could do very much better than current parliamenta
This post was mostly about seeing if I'm getting the pro-democracy argument right.
As an American (immigrant from Eastern Europe, but that's not very relevant) I would find an argument against democracy based on who well it works in Eastern Europe about as relevant to American democracy, as someone on lesswrong would find an argument against rationality based on the mistakes Spock makes.
I was talking of Central not Eastern Europe. While Slovenia is indeed a former communist country, I focus far more on the states we have sought to model ourselves after (Germany, Scandinavia, ect.) that any deviations or imperfections we may have to them comparing ourselves by our standards. Also I suggest you check your assumptions, Slovenia is a developed country by nearly any ranking, and indeed one of the very much nicer parts of the planet to live in and according to international opinion and the estimates of various organizations one of the "more democratic" or "free" ones. I mean sure they could be wrong, indeed I do suspect they are biased. But if they are wrong then basically democratic societies (naturally America is apriori the golden standard of democracy ) seem to systematically mislead its citizens to what a democratic society is or isn't. That's a bad isn't it? And isn't the NYT and your own educated opinion often leaning towards such models? Aren't there many many people who criticze the US for supposedly not measuring up to the Liberal Democracies of Europe? I don't think they mean Spain or Italy or Ukraine. I do think they mean places like Germany or Austria or Finland. And those are just the places I'm going to talk about!

Does anyone here understand the exact relationship between near/far and system I/II? LessWrongers often seem to talk as if near is system I and far is system II, but Hanson says near is about logic and far is about intuition.

What? I've never seen this. Anyway it's wrong.
As one example, do you think that doing utilitarian calculations is near or far? Do you think that LessWrong thinks that doing utilitarian calculations is near or far?
Hm, it would seem to be neither; it's like, 'we can't actually think about these (far) things in near mode, so we'll use a mathematical approximation of near mode and see what that tells us'.
When you actually asked this, I came up with an answer similar to the below: I kept thinking this answer was terrible, so I didn't post it. Today I did for some reason.

I just finished a (poorly designed) ~3 month experiment with the Paleo Diet. I'm not sure what to do next. Does anyone have any requests for an n=1 trial of something having to do with bodily health/cognitive performance? Please, nothing that has a significant probability of doing massive harm to my mind/body.

I would like to know someone who tested the Uberman sleep schedule.
Have tried it twice, failed both times. Like Alex_Altair, I recognized problems and attempted to fix them, going so far as to have 24-hour surveillance during my second attempt to ensure that I wouldn't crash. The surveillance only lasted a week, and I started crashing as soon as I went off it. Typically, the transition period process is getting worse until you get better, and I just noticed getting worse. I strongly suspect that there's a biological flag which determines whether or not this can work for you, and it won't work for me.
I tested it four times. Each time I failed, figured out the reasons I failed, removed those reasons the next time, and failed again. I've concluded that it doesn't work, at least for me and my friend.
I maintained a semi-uberman sleep cycle for about 2 months during college (I was Alex_Altair's polyphasic-buddy, for my second attempt). I slept for ~3 hours a day during this time. We spread it out into four 30 minute naps. The transition period took 3 weeks for me (I believe Alex_Altair did not successfully transition, and we abandoned our team effort, but I continued on my own). I would sleep through my first class each day (approximately 50 minutes) and then maintain the sleep cycle properly for the rest of the day. I eventually screwed up sleeping on the weekend (by consciously choosing to oversleep) in a way that resonated the rest of the cycle until I wound up back in monophasic sleep. Would I do it again? If I had enough time to transition, and a schedule I could set myself, yes. It's probably been long enough since my previous attempt that it seems like a good idea to try again (where what I remember of the transition period is mostly tainted by nostalgia). My natural sleep cycle is somewhat stupid, desiring 10 hours of sleep a day and advancing independently of the earth's rotation, so reducing that to 3 hours a day and having it synchronized with the earth is a major benefit.
Have tried it. I don't think Uberman is workable for people with a normal SWS (deep sleep) requirement. "Everyman 3" (3 hour core, 3 20-minute naps) is probably doable by anyone who doesn't mind torpedoing their social life; I did that for > 6 months or so. EDIT: You can measure how much deep sleep you normally get with a Zeo.
Seems interesting, but I work a 10 hour shift, so the logistics of sleeping for 20 minutes every 4 hours isn't going to work. I'll look into it though and see if I can figure something out. Consider it under consideration.
also posting this comment on your blog: what does the data look like before you started the paleo diet? It's impossible to evaluate whether the paleo diet caused your weight loss or you were already on a downward trend without this information.
You are right, of course (apart from impossible being too strong a word). I replied here.

Marcus Hutter gets his singularity on in this recent paper titled Can Intelligence Explode?

Seen here:

Harvard psychologist and APS Fellow and Charter Member Ellen Langer observed similar rule-based behavior in a typical office setting. She had researchers ask if they could cut in line to use a copy machine. When they simply said, “Excuse me, may I use the copy machine?”, only 60 percent of the subjects complied. When the researchers gave a reason — “Excuse me, may I use the copy machine because I’m in a rush?” — 94 percent said yes. Langer tested this one more time with the phrase, “Excuse me, may I use the copy machine because I need to make s

... (read more)
Many results like those can be found in this book which I found very much superior to Cialdini's Influence.
The link doesn't seem to have anything to do with the quote. Is this some sort of metacommentary? ("People see a link and assume there is a good source"?) Edit: Probably meant to link here. (Google cache)

After discussion on irc, it has been proposed that a LW game of Nomic would be fun.

Anyone interested? I think an email game is the way to go.

I'm interested though more as an observer, for old times' sake. (I was an active Agora and FRC player for years.) Yay, yet another LW-spinoff mailing list. ISTM that anytime the LW community has to spin off a mailing list, that's another sign that there's something broken about the current forum implementation. There should be an easier way to spin off "subreddits" instead.
"Subreddits" were discussed here and you can see there some of the pros and cons. Personally, I would support subreddits. I've been involved in one or two spinoff mailing lists, and it seems a shame that the content of those posts is not available to all on the LW site, if they want to read through them.
I'd be quite happy to do things here, but there's no natural place for it and I suspect it'd be unpopular and considered "offtopic".
0Joshua Hobbes12y
I'm sort of interested depending on how much time/commitment is needed, and how much it'll spam my inbox.
I'm interested.
I'm interested.

Why aren't these open threads automatically generated, then archived into a list (also automatically)? The same could be said for the monthly quote threads and the Welcome to Less Wrong threads and the HPMoR threads. I don't understand.

And why aren't the special threads updated accordingly? For a community with a rather large proportion of coders, LW sure likes its caveman lifestyle.
It seems to me that both travel time and accidents are measured in human life minutes, and so if you count time spent driving as not living (or just half-living) then you could determine the speed limits that lead to most time spent alive, without bringing in any equivalence between human lives and dollars. There are a couple of confounding factors, though. In the US, speed limits were briefly at 55 mph, which was a terrible idea, and increasing the speed limits to 65-75 mph resulted in no significant change in traffic fatalities, mostly because they didn't result in many changes in driving habits. (The 85th percentile speed- what traffic engineers recommend you drive at- was often 15-20 mph above the speed limit in the 55 mph days. Now it's about the same, but only ~5 mph above the limit.) In some states, speed limit increases on safer interstates (while maintaining lower speed limits on more dangerous rural highways) led to improved safety, as more drivers used the interstates and more policing resources were spent on the dangerous roads (as police enforcement of traffic laws is primarily done for revenue generation). Another is flow. Excessive speed is involved in about a third of accidents, but driver inattention is involved in pretty much every accident. I would much rather be driving 90 mph and be fully engaged than be driving 60 mph and be zoning out, and so an autobahn-style policy of "drive whatever speed is appropriate for you" may be best for well-engineered and well-maintained roads (though there are other tradeoffs involved there).
I'll be very surprised if Konkvistador posted this to talk about the speed limits.
Mitchell was mocking the position that human lives and dollars can be interchanged. I believe in that position, but the actual suggestion made- the cost/benefit analysis- can be done without holding that position, and I figured it was better to describe that at length rather than just say Mitchell was strawmanning.

I read Ender's Game for the first time last month [yes, it's fantastic, and yes, I'm an idiot for not reading it sooner]. I wasn't aware of the book's plot until then, so I had gone through 83 chapters of HPMOR without realising it paid homage to Ender's Game [let alone the extent to which it did so]. Are there references to other books [or films or other forms of media, I guess] which I might have missed?

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A new cool post on the West Hunters blog.

Get Smart

We are now at the point where we can realistically expect to see interventions that significantly increase human intelligence.


I should probably address one concern before I go further. Some people might worry that since natural selection optimizes traits, increasing human intelligence would naturally upset some balance, mess up some precise tradeoff, and so such attempts are foredoomed. Forgeddaboutit. The tradeoffs are optimized, all right, but for past environments, not the present. We have a lot

... (read more)

Kim Øyhus's website is pretty impressive and has some decent LW-resembling pages such as his absence of evidence is evidence of absence proof and his independent proof of many-worlds.

He even quotes Eliezer at the bottom of his homepage.

He also criticizes Barbour's The End of Time, but as I am not a physicist, nor have I read Barbour's book, I have no idea whether his criticisms are justified.

I have been extremely confused about why anthropics is treated the way it is, I am asking for clarification. I will first explain my current position:

There is no such thing as an "observer." The problem with anthropic reasoning is the same as the problem with the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, namely, it invokes non-real magical properties of human minds which I thought we had safely dissolved at this point.

Take your pick of the various anthropic assumptions. Each of them treats the "observer" as some kind of ontolog... (read more)

7Scott Alexander12y
So imagine that post-singularity scientists find evidence of a Parallel Earth, but aren't able to measure or observe it directly. After a bunch of work, they come up with a device that can interact with the parallel world, but only in a very specific way: it connects to the mind of a single intelligent life-form there, and transmits its thoughts and sensations back to you in a sort of "virtual reality". Only problem is they don't know how to aim it: as far as anyone knows, it samples randomly across all space and time when choosing its subject. Also, they only have enough funding to use the device once. So they aim it and they end up in the body of some guy. The tech level around him seems to be approximately medieval, and he seems to be speaking a Tocharian language. Unfortunately, just then some barbarians show up and kill him, and the device explodes. What information can we glean about Parallel Earth from this experiment? Well, we know that at least one person spoke Tocharian there in medieval times. But it's unlikely that just one person speaks Tocharian there - if one person spoke Tocharian, and everyone else speaks (let's say) Basque, then it would be hugely improbable that the random device would have chosen the one Tocharian speaker. Because our random sampling device chose a Tocharian speaker, we have some evidence that Tocharian is probably one of the more common languages on Parallel Earth. We can go even further. Our subject lived in medieval times, we live in post-singularity times and observe a galactic population of five hundred trillion. If Parallel Earth also experiences a singularity with a population of five hundred trillion, and we are genuinely selecting at random from everyone who ever lived, it would be extremely weird for our machine to randomly select one of the (let's say) 500 million people in ancient times as opposed to the 500 trillion people in post-singularity times: in fact, the chances are only (500 mil/500 tril) = (1/1 million).
I have two separate objections. 1) The first objection, which I hint at in my original post, is that the selection of a reference class of human beings seems to be selected specifically to make whatever point the anthropic reasoner is trying to make. Why don't I have an equal likelihood of being * any available 1.4 kg oblate lump of matter, including rocks and large jellyfish, or * any animal possessing more than 100 neurons, or * any human being who is aware of the concept of anthropic reasoning, or * any sentient being capable of self-awareness ... Obviously each of these reference classes generate completely different answers. You would guess that, e.g. for each reference class, * most 1.4 kg lumps of matter must be brains; or * that most animals possessing more than 100 neurons must be humans; or * that the concept of anthropic reasoning or the human race dies out pretty soon; or * that there must not be any other self-conscious life forms in the universe. In other words, there is no good reason to pretend that human consciousness works anything like a virtual-parallel-Earth device rather than being like any other conceivable reference class. 2) The second objection is, again, that the existence of "observers" in the first place is an illusion. You have a 100% likelihood of being you because you are identically you (minus some small increment allowing for insanity, etc.). We aren't souls injected into bodies from heaven. We are matter that thinks it has identity.
6Scott Alexander12y
Let me start with the second question, since I think I have a little more of a clue how to answer it. Anthropics doesn't really rely on you being you. You being you is just...I guess I could call it a convenient Schelling point. We've got to choose someone to do anthropics on. Suppose we chose Genghis Khan. We could say that Genghis was a conquering warlord, so therefore most people throughout history must be conquering warlords. But this would fail, because the only reason we selected Genghis Khan to begin with was that he was a conquering warlord. But this selection bias is inherent in anything we try. If we were to deliberately select some random peasant from Khan's era to do anthropics on, so that we avoided that first bias, we would be biasing ourselves towards peasants, biasing ourselves toward people who weren't important, biasing ourselves towards people from the past, and biasing ourselves to Earthlings. The fact that you are necessarily you is part of why anthropics works. If we were souls who chose bodies at the moment of birth, I couldn't condition on my own existence in 2012, because my soul might have been really excited at the prospect to go into one of those super-rare presingularity bodies. As it is, I know I have no selection bias in selecting myself with my specific characteristics, because I did not select myself or my personal characteristics. So I can look at those characteristics - white human male born in 1984 - and consider them a random sample of the characteristics of all people everywhere and everywhen, and do anthropics on them. The fact that the person who is a suitable random sample for anthropics also happens to be me is probably overemphasized, but I don't think it's that important. And I think this also goes part of the way to solving your first objection. We can't do anthropics on my brain as a representative sample of all 1.4 kg lumps of matter, because it's getting selected specifically as a 1.4 kg lump of matter that is espe
I'm skeptical of many of the conclusions of "anthropic" reasoning, but I don't think it can be rejected out of hand. "Cogito ergo sum" seems like a valid argument, after all.

I just realised that 'banzai' translates to 'ten thousand years' and used to mean 'may live ten thousand years'. Could be repurposed as a transhumanist catchphrase.

Etiquette question: Should/how should one respond to 'old' comments or comment on 'old' posts, and what is a reasonable baseline for old as opposed to current?

I've been wanting to experience actually working with bayes nets and similar models for a while now; but too confused about where to get started and not quite motivated enough to find out. The Stanford Probabilistic Graphical Model course has held my hand through installing Octave and SAMIAM, and I'm getting more comfortable with the quantitative side of bayes. It's still in its first week, so I'd highly recommend jumping in to anyone in a similar position.


Could someone define "acausal trade" for me? I have read Drescher and LW pages on the topic.

As I understand it: We have agents A and B, possibly space/time separated so that no interaction is possible. A and B each can do something the other wants, and value that thing less than the other does -- This is the usual condition for trade.

However, A and B cannot count on the usual enforcement mechanisms to ensure cooperation, e.g. an expectation of future interactions or an outside enforcer.

A and B will cooperate because each knows that the other c... (read more)

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Rationality, knowledge and technology before science. Interesting take on scholarship and the history of science. A talk on the "Darwinian method" by Michael Vassar from the 2010 Singularity Summit.


I'm thinking about writing a post about "The evolution of social contracts" (looking at social contracts in the animal kingdom basically, might bring up some of Dennett's work on the evolution of morality) and/or a post about "Why pain do not imply suffering" (Some insight that neuroscience and pharmacology have provided that cast some light on the sensation of physical "pain"). But I would like to have someone look through the post(s) before I posting it, since English is not my fist languish and I happen to be a dyslectic. I would be very thankful if someone would care to do so.

I can; I PM'd you my email if you want a rereader; it's a topic that interests me.
Thanks, I'll let you know when I get it down on paper.

This (a pop-sci story about a study on creativity relating to inebriation and sleep deprivation) looked interesting, but didn't really seem to fit in with LessWrong's core interests, and the main study it references (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13546783.2011.625663) is behind a paywall.

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I'm sure I've seen at least one person on LessWrong -- perhaps Eliezer -- finding the idea abhorrent of giving oneself temporary brain damage by pouring chemicals like alcohol into their brain. Would this study (supposing it is as reported) change their mind?
"Damage" and "differing function" are two different things. You can increase your capacity for high-quality rational thought by increasing your blood glucose levels, which doesn't really seem qualitatively different from boosting your creative abilities by increasing your blood alcohol levels.
It would justify (if true) becoming drunk/sleep deprived when you want to try and solve what the article calls 'creative insight' problems, that is, problems that are usually solved in a flash of insight and not through deliberate, methodical process. One study (the one I linked to above) tested people at their 'least optimal time of day' (night owls in the morning) and found them to be more effective at solving these types of problems, and the other (which I neglected to link to before) is about inebriated students (BAC ~0.075) attempting to solve 'remote association tests' with word problems and found that, 'Intoxicated individuals solved more RAT items, in less time, and were more likely to perceive their solutions as the result of a sudden insight.'
What is it?
0Joshua Hobbes12y
Just an X-Ray Malfunction. But it seemed quite Transhuman-ish to me.