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I was considering writing some more discussion posts, but am not sure if people would find them valuable. Possible ideas:

1) In light of the relatively recent discussion of the value of history in social engineering, a summary of Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945 in order to have a proper case study for whether learning history is a reasonable effort improvement for those trying to raise the sanity line.

2) A post on hyperlexis - the idea that modern society has too much law.

3) Law: Real World Hidden Complexity of Wishes. This post would be useful for showing skeptics why hidden complexity of wishes is an intractable problem. Also, it might help to bring a different discipline's perspective on the problem.

4) A followup to Please Don't Fight the Hypothetical called "When to Fight the Hypothetical"

Thoughts? Suggestions?


I'd be interested in 1-3. But hope to see crunchy facts, not just a restatement of widely shared beliefs with weak evidence.

First. (One of the few situations where this is a reasonable comment to make. :P )
I would be most interested in nearly all of these but most of all law.
I am quite interested in both law and history, and ran into some things that might be worthy of LessWrong posts, but I don't have the level necessary to write them. So yes, I would find 1, 2 and 3 valuable.
I'm interested in idea 2. If you write about it, I'm especially interested in what you think we should do about it.
I am very interested in the first, third and fourth posts. The second pattern-matches to things I have read in libertarian/traditionalist blogs, but if you have interesting things to say that are novel and unideological, I would be interested too.
I would very much like the second and first posts.
I'd be interested in 4.
Third point, preference elicitation. If someone with background in law read some neuroscience, or do a little research connecting the two camps and post, will be helpful.

I've been reading stuff by philospher Wolfgang Spohn. His recent decision theory stuff (like Dependency equilibria and the causal structure of decision and game situations or Reversing 30 years of discussion: why causal decision theorists should one-box) is kind of cool. Like TDT, he talks about rational agents deciding on the basis of "reflexive entangled decision situations" and like UDT he proposes that agents should decide to follow the decisions they would have made in "earlier situations". It's not quite LW style reductionism, but it's close-ish, and it increases my estimation that LW decision theory would be well recieved in academia (after a little self promotion).

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I stumbled on Spohn's "Reversing 30 years..." today via Choice & Inference, and it looks to me like the single most LW-relevant decision theory paper I've ever seen in a mainstream journal. Have you stumbled on any other good finds recently?
Thank you for posting this! What led you to it, or how did you find it?
I just dig through google scholar till I find something good. The first paper cites "Conditioning and Intervening" by Meek and Glymour, which I looked at recently, so maybe that's how. I can also get to it by searching for "decision theory" within papers citing Pearl's "Causality" (though it's a few pages in). Also, I think Ledwig mentioned Spohn's older stuff in her dissertation on Newcomb's problem. Kind of hard to reconstruct search paths.
Makes sense. Thanks.

Perhaps of some interest to the Moldbug enthusiasts here is the Examining Idealism series recently written by James_G on his blog.

  • Part 1. No real need to read this if you recall most of what you read on Unqualified Reservations, still a good and not too long overview.
  • Part 2. Some neuroscience speculation and research --- into leftism and rightism (mind-killer warning, especially for people who self-identify as right wing).
  • Part 3. Agency fiction, mind projection fallacy, TDT, morality, religion and how they relate to Idealism.
  • Beyond moral anti-realism. Argues for Hedonic Utilitarianism and develops the concept of eminent self. Cute doodles on ways to think about morality (example). Good criticism of his ideas by "O" in the comment section.
Yes, yes, I've often heard that Fear is the essential conservative emotion, but I think that "conservative sentiment" and "right-wing sentiment" are very different things in this regard. Because a commited leftist/liberal (in Moldbug's description), one who even bases their identity on "Egalitarianism" and "Fairness" and "Justice" and such abstractions, might at the same time be driven by fear a lot, be averse to change, etc. It's just that a belief in the goodness of "Progress" is piggy-backed on top of those leftist abstractions in Western tradition. But one does not in fact imply the other at all. Case in point: Orwell was very leftist yet very culturally and emotionally conservative, and Glenn Beck is right-wing but definitely gushes about how great "progress" (with social innovation and upheaval) would be, if only the Left released their monopoly on it. "Progressivism is not about Progress", as Hanson would put it. And Neo-Reaction is not the extreme branch of conservatism.

Paul Krugman's hilarious predictions about the Internet / technology ca. 1998:

The growth of the Internet will slow drastically, as the flaw in "Metcalfe's law"--which states that the number of potential connections in a network is proportional to the square of the number of participants--becomes apparent: most people have nothing to say to each other! By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet's impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine's.

Is anyone else watching the CERN announcement? I came in just when he said something about five standard deviations and everyone started clapping. Has Eliezer lost his bet? A boson has been found at 125.3 (+-) 0.6 GeV at 4.9 sigma.

What CERN announcement?
About the Higgs boson: http://webcast.web.cern.ch/webcast/play_higgs_alternative.html
5.0 sigma observation from ATLAS. The discovery is officially announced.
Higgs day! Wohoo! Fist pumping and tap-dancing may be in order. Big day for Big Science.
Good to know I'm not the only one who did a little dance of joy!
Well, Hawking paid up.

Plenty of Room At The Top

Feynman once said there's Plenty of room at the bottom (nanotechnology). In the context of human genetics, it's clear there's plenty of room at the top -- possibly as much as +30 SDs based on existing variance in the human population!


Finally, regarding the +30 SD number, one could reason in a completely different way. Since only 10 billion or so humans have ever lived, and there are probably many many more distinct genotypes/phenotypes (e.g., 2^(many thousands) based just on gene variants), it is unlikely that the already real

... (read more)
Could you or someone explain what exactly this means? My interpretation is that he's estimating based on the number of ways you can rearrange existing genes floating around in the aggregate human genome that it is possible for humans to exist who are 30 standard deviations smarter than average. This violates my heuristic that one should avoid extrapolating far outside the domain of actual data. This is very interesting, please tell me if I'm misunderstanding something.
That was my understanding as well. As discussed in the comments, SDs/IQs are just percentiles - ordinal, not cardinal -, so it's not obvious what 30 SDs would translate to. If Einstein is 15 SDS out, maybe 30 SDs just means you are a physics genius like him but also a little bit wittier than he was.
15 SDs out is less than 10^-50. There's only been about 10^11 people. In all probability Einstein wasn't even the smartest of them.
Yes, I believe Hsu made that exact comparison in the comments.

Strongly suspect more of us should be taking this advice.

I do take that advice, and it works pretty well. One of the great things about being alive now is that most famous people you respect have written something that you can read. Adam Smith is famous for The Wealth of Nations, and you can buy your own copy for cheap or download it for free. Why read about it when you could read it? Similarly, Feynman is an awesome physicist and great teacher, why learn physics from someone else when you could learn it from him? Well, it turns out that there's actually some pretty good reasons, sometimes. The Wealth of Nations is actually a great read that I do recommend to anyone interested in economics, but my copy is a thousand pages, with another hundred of appendices and indices, and that is a lot of time to spend on a book. Similarly, although Smith lays down the concepts well, there has been progress in basic microeconomics in the last two hundred years, and so it seems like it should be read along with an introductory textbook. A lot of other 'classics' are really not well written- Das Kapital, for example, is not a work I would recommend without heavy disclaimers about Marx's explanatory style. (Basically, until the third time he describes something his description will be missing critical details, without mention that those details are missing.) EY recommended at one point reading textbooks about settled science, and that seems like a strong plan- especially with some original classics mixed in for flavor and extra depth. I have Quantum Mechanics books written by Griffiths and Dirac, among others- and I like the Griffiths one a lot more, even thought Dirac was one of the guys that invented this stuff, because Griffiths is much more skilled at education. But it's still worth cracking open the Dirac book a few times.

I'm looking to exchange Skype or equivalent with fellow rationalists. It's very hard to find rationalists in real life. My purpose is mainly to exchange information (apparently many of my questions aren't Google-able), but also to try out certain psychological tests/questions (many of them are invented by me) and see how well they score, to test my hypotheses.

I would be very interested in a regular Skype meetup or equivalent.
My Skype is velizar.hristov, my Facebook is Velizar Hristov (I'm in the LW group), my email is 8lackened(at)gmail(dоt)com. I'll be happy to get contacted by anyone from LessWrong. I don't know why I didn't give them in my earlier post. Also, don't worry about keeping any social rules, for which there is no rational reason to exist. I saw there was a thread indicating a high number of aspies among rationalists. I might even have some interesting information to share about Asperger Syndrome.

A wasp smaller than an amoeba

Polilov found that M.mymaripenne has one of the smallest nervous systems of any insect, consisting of just 7,400 neurons. For comparison, the common housefly has 340,000 and the honeybee has 850,000. And yet, with a hundred times fewer neurons, the wasp can fly, search for food, and find the right places to lay its eggs.

On top of that Polilov found that over 95 per cent of the wasps’s neurons don’t have a nucleus. The nucleus is the command centre of a cell, the structure that sits in the middle and hoards a precious cache of

... (read more)

Does anybody here know anything about hypnosis, especially academic research? In this post Armok_GoB posted an interesting link. Especially notable is the video of a hypnotist convincing strangers on the street to give him their wallets, supposedly with a 66% success rate.

It seems like a potentially very important area of research, and could be highly relevant to CFAR's goals.

I know a thing or two about hypnosis and the academic research on it ("interesting link" points to a post on my blog ). There are definitely large, tasty, and low hanging fruit to be found - and the results generalize well to "non hypnosis" (whatever that means). There are relatively few smart minds pushing these boundaries, so the marginal impact of another one could be big. If you (or anyone else) want to chat about it, PM me and we can do google chat or skype or something.
I will probably take you up on that offer at some point, but first I'd just like some suggestions for good overviews of the field. I saw your resources page, but I haven't followed the links much yet. What I am most interested in is well-designed experiments demonstrating surprising outcomes. For example, I've seen stage hypnotists put up an "invisible wall" that hypnotized subjects cannot cross, and then offer them large amounts of money if they can cross it, which they are then unable to do. This seems huge, and directly contradicts what I often hear (even from the stage hypnotists themselves), that "hypnosis can't make anybody do what they don't already want to do." Has this been studied in academia? What I'm most interested in right now, more than models and theorizing about possible mechanisms, is just lots of data from well-designed experiments, showing what hypnosis can and cannot do under what circumstances. Ideally this data would be from peer-reviewed studies rather than tv shows.
You may want to have a chat with jimmy.
Brings this to mind.
Seconding this, It's a field I'm pretty interested in. Would appreciate a reply to this post also replying to this comment so I can get notified.
Could I have one too?
Same, please.

PZ Myers on why he thinks preserving brains is not presently possible, similar to kalla724's notes on the subject. (He does brain preservation in the course of his own work, on zebrafish.)

And that’s another thing: what the heck is going to be recorded? You need to measure the epigenetic state of every nucleus, the distribution of highly specific, low copy number molecules in every dendritic spine, the state of molecules in flux along transport pathways, and the precise concentration of all ions in every single compartment. Does anyone have a fixation met

... (read more)

Is it time for another welcome thread? The current one says 2012, but it has over 1200 comments on it, largely due to the infamous infanticide discussion.

Turns out the religious are less prone to emotionally inconsistent decision-making than atheists.

More precisely, their self-reports say so.

If you haven't seen what-if.xkcd.com, you really should check it out.

Anyone who knows what these two pictures are and where they come from? Nemesis is doing some I think not very accurate critique of LessWrong on the Swedish Skeptics internet forum. It is in Swedish, and sorry, I have not time to translate into English. But though I do not know, I suspect that Nemesis have not the pictures them by himself but found them somewhere. If anyone knows I would be glad to know. (If someone should know already and recogises them, I do not ask anyone to spend significant time on it.)

The second is from the facetious (and sometimes hilarious) Eliezer Yudkowsky Facts thread. The original is here. Another important LW picture is here: http://lesswrong.com/lw/di/bayesian_cabaret/adn

There seems to be a PHP Singularity. (Yeah.)

I was recently thinking about this: (1) PHP is a horrible, horrible, horrible language, but (2) many people use it anyway. It means it does some things right (at least for the given set of people), but it also does so many things wrong. Switching to Perl, Ruby or Python is apparently not seen as a good choice by the PHP users, because those languages miss... something. (Perhaps a simplicity for a total newbie, e.g. not having to think about libraries, etc.)

In my opinion, the good solution would be to make a new l... (read more)

For a few months in 2004 I did a brief stint as a PHP developer. It's on a few older versions of my CV, which has been thoroughly crawled by recruitment agents. Since then I have regularly received speculative emails from recruiters trying to fill PHP developer positions, sometimes as many as 20 a week. They all pay a lot less than I could earn elsewhere, so I ignore them, but there is definitely massive industry demand for low-mid level PHP developers, at least in the UK. I suspect this might be something to do with how PHP requires a whole bunch of orbital skills before you can really be effective with it, and if you have those skills, you can probably do something more useful with them than code in PHP.
Outside view: I would suspect that many of the advantages of PHP stem from design choices that seem stupid to you.
This needs to be examined feature by feature. For example I feel pretty sure that it is a wrong choice to give a very long name "htmlspecialchars" to a function that should be used very often by people who mix their code with page design (most of PHP users). Abbreviating that to "html" would be an improvement. Inconsistent function naming, such as "isset" but "is_null"; "strlen", "strpos" but "str_repeat", "str_strip" also does not provide an advantage. For the new language I would use one of those choices (but silently support the other one as a synonym, for former PHP users).
Is that the only function that starts with "html"? Is "html" a common variable name? I agree that this is a stupid design choice.
There are two functions starting with html: "htmlentities" and "htmlspecialchars". They do almost the same thing. Variables in PHP must start with $, so it could be only "$html". There is no possible conflict. By the way, I think this language design choice is good... well, I would hate to see it in my favourite language, but for a typical PHP user it is probably good that something prevents possible conflicts between variables and other things (functions, keywords, class names). Some things in PHP can be defended as "better for beginners", especially for people who actually never want to learn programming beyond using the google-copy-paste pattern. But some things are just pure stupidity, and those should be fixed. And I don't expect that the authors of PHP will ever fix them; they just seem to make more stupid choices in every new version.
There is Python Server Pages which uses <% ... %> to delimit Python code, but is otherwise very similar to PHP. Using this gives you all of the Python language & standard lib so it satisfies most of the requirements. However, it should be noted that the PHP nature of mixing logic and templates is (mostly) an antipattern.
A language where whitespace is syntactically significant, used in HTML tags? How do I know whether action2 is also part of the if block or not; and how do I write the other version? Yes, but beginners want it, because it has the smallest overhead for trivial projects. Later, when they learn more, they can separate the logic and templates. Here is a code that leads to antipatterns, but is nice to have -- if you fix it, it will look much more difficult.
I've never used psp, but the documentation page seems to indicate what happens with indentation. It looks like it would be parsed as: <p> if condition: ....<b> action1 </b> action2 </p> I have no idea how to get either "proper" behaviour, and I'm not in a position to experiment, but I'm sure it's possible (that would be a fairly large omission). Yes, I agree that it is good for beginners; I was merely mentioning that point.
Why is it an antipattern?
Designing a HTML page can be complicated, especially if client requires complicated things, animations and other effects, pixel precision, and compatibility with older browsers. Also the page may contain non-trivial JavaScript code. Mix it up with PHP code (or Java code), and you get something very complicated. If you do some change in design, it may break the code. If you do some change in code, it may break the design. In a larger team you can have one person who is HTML expert but not a programmer (or a very bad programmer), and a coder who is not a HTML expert. If you make them both edit the same page, it is unpleasant for both of them. Unfortunately, things like this are done very often. I often see it in Java web development. In theory, you have all the tools you need, so you don't have to put any Java code in the JSP files. (There are special tags for "if then else" and "for each", which is all you need in most templates.) But most people do it anyway, just because they can and it's the fastest way to write it, but then it is horrible to maintain. You get clean design by separating different aspects of the work. If one file is reading from the database, second file processes the data, and third file formats the data in nice HTML, that's good. If lines 1-46, 67-78, 89-123, 150-176, 189-235 format the data in HTML, the lines 46-65, 124-128 read from database, and the lines 66, 79-88, 129-149 process the data, that's bad, because it's difficult to read. And if something is difficult to read, many problems follow automatically; it's difficult to find bugs, it's difficult to make changes. Even if I write a simple PHP file, I always put code in the first part and design in the second part, clearly separated. With a larger project, it must be two different files.
There are few reasons, e.g. these questions. But as an incomplete summary, it means your templates are language independent and it enforces a style of coding and application design that is easier to test and maintain. (This isn't to say that logicful templates are never appropriate: for quick hacks and prototyping they are perfect!)

libertarian crackers

This post probably only makes sense if you have noticed the pattern that societies with high rates of consanguineous marriage tend to also be clannish societies and are familiar with recent evidence that shows rapid human evolution in the past few thousand years.

I take that back as well. I am not consistent about this policy, so no response.

After reading this forum for some time, I finally realized that I'm not the only one who finds the standard linkage between romantic relationship and ownership weird. I recall that the statements like "s/he is mine" or "I'm yours" have been baffling me for as long as I can remember, yet most people consider them perfectly normal. A few posts by the regulars, both polys and "monos" show that I'm not alone.

I finished reading Left in the Dark by Gynn & Wright and have posted a review. Summary: it's seriously junk science. If you want a fun read, stick with Julian Jaynes.


It's been asked before, but has anyone found any useful online information regarding The Alexander Technique to improve posture and reduce overall stress and tension in the body?

You might want to try http://alexandertechnique.com/ . I haven't looked at to much but it was linked to from http://web.eecs.umich.edu/~cscott/rsi.html#%23posture which was quite useful as a resource on repetitive strain injuries.
I have improved my posture a lot with the Alexander technique, I can heartily recommend it. No more shoulder pain! I'd recommend my teacher, but she's in Amsterdam...

In my recent reading, thought, and debates with Konkvistador I become more and more of the opinion that a highly refined and ethically grounded theocracy of some sort might indeed be the best solution ever to our political and social dilemmas. Expect the focus of my comments to turn from grappling with Neo-Reaction to exploring this possibility in the coming months.

Well, most people here actually do hope for a "direct theocracy" of FAI rule to turn out very well, so the "only" big leap of logic is to make the case for human institutions... (read more)

(By the way, if someone's just spree-downvoting me for any recent words rather than disliking this particular comment, please place your downvote here instead and remove it from the parent. Let's not confuse the public. If you do dislike the parent on its own merits, never mind.)
This request seems bizarre to me, like asking a mugger to please come back another day, as today is very inconvenient. Too bad we can't see upvotes/downvotes separately, to tell whether it worked.
Wow, thanks for honesty! ...you bastard.

Survival Kit

It seems to me that people are far too casual about one of the greatest personal threats, that of suddenly being translated into another world, era, or alternate history. This happens all the time. You walk around the horses in a little town near Berlin, in 1809, and you disappear (with a popping sound). You get hit by lightning, and suddenly you find yourself in Ostrogothic Italy or medieval Iceland. Some bruiser hits you on the head with a crowbar, and you wake up in Arthur’s England. While investigating reports of strange gases in an ab

... (read more)
Reminds me of the Time Traveler Essentials Print from the creator of Dinosaur Comics.

I'm looking for advice on specific insurance policies for the aspiring gambler/test-subject/would-be-immortal.

First question: Term or permanent? Term is far cheaper, but runs the risk of having zero return if I should have the misfortune to enjoy a long and happy life. I'm leaning towards term if only because the costs of brain-preservation seem to be unpredictable over any sustained period of time (scale, plastination, other technological advancements) and the value of a fixed-return permanent policy decreases over time due to inflation.

Second question: H... (read more)

I am also after exactly this information. A discussion thread may be in order.

Sanctuary by Gregory Cochran is a short post on the science fiction thought experiment of a planet with low rates of mutation.

Is there any way to do anthropic reasoning besides SIA and SSA? This includes anything you might call "not doing anthropic reasoning" as long as it isn't self-contradictory.

Yes. My post gives a somewhat muddled explanation of what I think the right way is. The key idea is that I treat "waking up in one of the possible worlds" as a new piece of information that tells you that the possibilities are now mutually exclusive, but doesn't tell you anything else.
I'm having a hard time understanding it. You seem to be saying that {T, Monday}, and {T, Tuesday} are either both true or both false before, but mutually exclusive after. If you mean them ever happening, they'd be both true or both false either way. If you mean them happening now, they'd be both false before and mutually exclusive after. Were you talking about the probability that they ever happen before the experiment, and the probability that they're happening now during? If so, you should mark that by calling them something like {T, Monday, Ever} and {T, Monday, Today}. Thus {T, Monday, Ever} and {T, Tuesday, Ever} are either both true or both false, but {T, Monday, Today} and {T, Tuesday, Today} can occur in any combination except both true. If you wake up the day before the experiment, you eliminate {T, Monday, Today}, {T, Tuesday Today} and {H, Monday, Today}. If you wake up during the experiment, you eliminate {T, Sunday, Today} and {H, Sunday, Today}. This looks like SIA. Am I missing something?
Haha, a downvote. Anyhow. You've hit one of the points I muddled before :D There are two different questions - "what day will I wake up" vs. "what day is it" basically. But there's an alternative: "what day will I wake (or have woken) up given that I just woke up?" Phrased like this, you can see how Sleeping Beauty's question can be produced by adding information to the question before the experiment. Anything that is "SIA" is also "SSA," since SIA can be produced by adding on more information. For example, take the distribution given by "you are an observer who is a human." If you use SSA correctly, you will take SSA's prior distribution (given by "you are an observer") and then update on it with "who is a human" to get the final distribution. If you use something more like SIA correctly, you'll just return your prior distribution (given by "you are an observer who is a human"). It's still possible to get into trouble if you start with SIA ("you are an observer who is a human who exists") and are not in fact a human. This is because you can add information, but the only way to take it away is to start over without SIA. The moral of this story is that, if the right answer to something includes SIA information ("you are a human who exists"), the disagreement cannot be "SIA vs. SSA," since starting with SSA would produce the right answer too, it just takes an extra step. At least one person is simply doing probability wrong (though it's always good to remember "Just because you two are arguing, doesn't mean one of you is right"). I do blame the labels "SIA" and "SSA" somewhat for this phenomenon, since labels sometimes mean people are excused from thinking.
No it's not. If you add on "you are an observer who is a human", you update with the universes with human observers being more likely. They do work the same if you use different priors. Namely: make universes with more people proportionally more likely in SSA, or less likely in SIA, and just use "conscious observer" as your reference class, and you'd get the same thing. I still don't see how your method works.
Probabilities come from information. So priors come from your starting information. Which information you label "starting" is completely arbitrary, however - you can't get different answers just by relabeling what you know. So any problem that you can look at from an SIA perspective, you can also take a step back and look at it from an SSA perspective - it just means labeling less information "starting" information.

I'd like to see more of these.

A believer, a skeptic and a rationalist walk into a séance.

During the séance, the believer heard voices. After the séance, the believer proclaims, “See! See! I heard voices! The spirit world exists: séances work!”

During the séance, the skeptic heard nothing. After the séance, the skeptic proclaims, “I have looked everywhere for evidence of spirits and it is obvious that the mystic has tricked you with cold reading. Quit this nonsense, there is nothing to see.”

During the séance, the rationalist heard nothing, but notices that ... (read more)


Looking for fashion advice

I've recently lost a lot of weight and need to buy new clothes. I'm particularly looking for fashionable, casual clothes. Something to portray the picture of a university student who has it together, is high status, but isn't uptight.

The stores I've shopped at so far don't seem to have what I'm looking for. For example, most the shirts have pop cultural or "funny" graphics on them or are a billboard for a company. I'm more so looking for colorful but masculine shirts, something with an interesting design. I think I may ... (read more)

Fit is more important than design, though "graphic tees" are generally considered bad. My brother shops mainly at Goodwill and other thrift stores, and manages quite a wardrobe of good looking clothes. Anything that's a bit shabby he takes to a tailor for a fix up at a much cheaper price than buying the item new. Try a plain white polo and skinny jeans or slim fit chinos.

Look at this. Does it set off anybody else's quantum woo detector? And yet it's a course offered by a real university, as far as I can see.

There is a whole school of thought based on treating the dualistic quantum formalism (the one that alternates between unitary evolution of a state vector, and instantaneous projection of the vector onto a measurement basis) as a model of general cognition. I see it as deriving from two traditions in physics. First, I have to emphasize for the billionth time that in the original Copenhagen interpretation, the wavefunction or state vector is not a physical entity, it's not the objective state of anything, it has exactly the same sort of reality as a probability distribution. Sorry if you've heard this before, but the Sequences guarantee a steady supply of LW readers who think that the basic choice in making sense of QM is between "wavefunction is real and it collapses" and "wavefunction is real and it doesn't collapse". In the original Copenhagen interpretation, the wavefunction is not real, and the "collapse" is no different to the "collapse" of a probability distribution when you get new information. You have to understand this "epistemic" perspective on quantum mechanics, to understand the history I'm about to give. OK. So, there is a history of people trying to justify the quantum formalism as, in effect, a modification of ordinary probability theory which is appropriate for describing subatomic particles, because of some peculiarity of their relationship to us as observers. For example, the peculiarity might be that we always disturb them in trying to obtain information about their state. Or the peculiarity might be that precision regarding one physical property implies imprecision regarding a complementary physical property. Typically, these arguments will start with the abstract feature of subatomic particles, like "complementarity" or "nonseparability", and then they will try to logically derive the use of complex Hilbert spaces and noncommuting operators from this beginning. The other tradition in physics, which I see as having contributed, is the traditio

"I just flipped a fair coin. I decided, before I flipped the coin, that if it came up heads, I would ask you for $1000. And if it came up tails, I would give you $1,000,000 if and only if I predicted that you would give me $1000 if the coin had come up heads. The coin came up heads - can I have $1000?"

Obviously, the only reflectively consistent answer in this case is "Yes - here's the $1000", because if you're an agent who expects to encounter many problems like this in the future, you will self-modify to be the sort of agent who an

... (read more)
If that first agent (that answers no, then self-modifies to answer yes) had been in the situation where the coin had fell heads, then it would not have got the million dollars; whereas an agent that can "retroactively precommit" to answer yes would have got the million dollars. So having a "retroactively precommit" algorithm seems like a better choice than having a "answer what gets the biggest reward, and then self-modify for future cases" algorithm.
But we know that didn't happen. Why do we care about utility we know we can't obtain? For what goal is this a better choice? Utility generation?

Thinking Like a Behavioural Economist (dentist edition)

On incentives, professionals and unconscious bias.

Advertising is regulatory capture of the peer-to-peer reputation system.

Did you know that each country has a different sign language? And they are not similar, even if the spoken languages of the respective countries sound similar. From Wikipedia:

On the whole, sign languages are independent of oral languages and follow their own paths of development. For example, British Sign Language and American Sign Language are quite different and mutually unintelligible, even though the hearing people of Britain and America share the same oral language. [...] Similarly, countries which use a single oral language throughout may have two

... (read more)
There is a story that a British ambassador once suggested to his Chinese counterpart that China should adopt the Roman alphabet, because it is much easier for schoolchildren to learn than the thousands of Chinese characters. European children learn the alphabet in kindergarten, whereas Chinese students are still learning new characters throughout the years of their education. In response, the Chinese ambassador suggested that the peoples of Europe should all adopt the Chinese writing system. The "dialects" of Chinese are as dissimilar as Europe's various "languages", but their written form is largely mutually intelligible — so by adopting Chinese writing, all of Europe would have the advantage of easy international communication.
This story speaks about two different optimization criteria. If you optimize for having a small alphabet and easy "shape to sound conversion" for a given spoken language, then Roman alphabet or Cyrilics or Hangul is a good solution. (Although the English language succeeded in making the relation between shape and sound complicated.) If you optimize for having symbols with universal meaning, across different languages, then Chinese ideograms are a good solution. (But you have to choose: traditional or simplified.) I don't know what are the optimization criteria used for sign languages. Are you suggesting that e.g. American S.L. uses different optimization criteria than British S.L., which explains their differences?
Yes, but not in the way you mean. British Deaf kids learning BSL use the optimization criterion of communicating with the British Deaf community; American Deaf kids learning ASL use the optimization criterion of communicating with the American Deaf community. It's the same reason that French kids learn French and not Tagalog. Sign language isn't different from oral language that way. The story isn't just about two different optimization criteria. It's about two different fake optimization criteria. We don't actually select which language to learn (or teach to kids) based on features such as those that the ambassadors praise. We select which language to learn (or teach) based on what community we (or our kids) need to communicate with.

I Want a New Drug, blog post by Gregory Cochran on why big pharma has been fail for the past two decades.

Why are users long, nonsensical names editing their own wiki pages? Here and here are two recent examples, but I've noticed it for a couple weeks now.

I guess those users are spambots, and they probably try to add hyperlinks (not necessarily successfully). Not sure why they use long nonsensical names.
Yeah. You'd think they'd have sensible names, like all the other users on the site.
The only advantage of a such name is uniqueness (more precisely, a google-wide uniqueness), but why exactly is that an advantage? Perhaps to make it easier to track which sites were successfully attacked? For example 100 000 websites under attack, 100 000 silly user names; a month later an automated google search reveals which websites are insecure, and those are selected for a second wave of attack? For example, to avoid Google penalty for getting 100 000 links on the same day, the spammer could create accounts on 100 000 websites the same day, but only add 200 links a day from the attacked sites to their own websites. This was my first idea, but... why google for a unique username associated with a website, when you can just look at the given website to check whether the user's wiki page still exists? (Is the Google search perhaps more anonymous?)
Another advantage is reduced likelihood of name collisions (in this case meaning reduced likelihood of the account creation failing).
There is an added bonus that it is harder to link related attacks and find out which group is behind which wave. Also, there will always be some amount of legitimate users with random names - and any other easy to generate will-always-exist pattern would fall into collisions more often.
Relevant username? It seems that the spambots are learning at a geometric rate - I give them a few weeks before they go FOOM.
At least on LW proper, I have deliberately random username. I don't have LW wiki account, though, but if I ever find a maths article there that I would want to edit, I will use the same screen name. I didn't notice that I am a spambot (outside "Product Recommendation" at least).
I don't think they are actually editing the page, the message is just the page being automatically created when the account is registered. I believe there was a measure enacted recently that put an extra step (email confirmation) between registration and the ability to modify pages. This was because there was significant amounts of actual spam (not just spam accounts) being posted, which seems to have been entirely stopped. (ETA: and also requiring a captcha when inserting external links into a page, at least for new-ish users.)

I want to be able to dance at weddings and parties, but I don't know how to break this down into a sequence of learnable subskills. To pick just one step that's not obvious to non-musical me: how do I tell what kind of dance fits the music that is playing? Do any of you have advice on how to quickly achieve a minimum viable level of competence?


I'd recommend beginner swing lessons. You'll learn all the basic turns, the basics of leading, how to fit moves in to a basic step, how to time the dance to the music. Many places have an hour lesson followed by several hours of social dance for cheap.

Once you have these basic skills it's not too tough to learn new dances. Look up nightclub two step, that one works well with lots of types of music. I second blues dance lessons, though I don't really like blues. Learn basic jazz steps by looking up solo jazz routines and copying them.

+1 to swing dancing. Exercise, coordination, social interaction and fun.
Uh...I'm a London Lindy Hopper. Is it possible we've met?
Nope, I haven't done it since I lived in Melbourne :-)
A few questions: * Do you do any other activities requiring physical coordination, such as martial arts, sports, juggling, yoga, etc.? * What kinds of music do you enjoy listening to? Do any make you tap your feet or fingers? * You say you're non-musical. Can you readily identify the beat in a piece of music? Can you tell if a note is higher or lower than the previous one? * Do you find you learn better from directed instruction, or personal experimentation?
No. I enjoy many kinds of music, including pop music like Katy Perry and Carly Rae Jepsen. Sometimes. If there is no obvious bass, or if the pattern is not simple, I have difficulties. Yes. I don't know. I do learn most things by myself, but this does not mean that directed instruction would not be superior in some cases.

The good news is that most people (especially men) have absolutely no idea what they're doing on a dancefloor, so the bar for being seen as a good dancer by the general public is quite low. The bad news is that you can't think your way into being a good dancer, so you will have to practise.

The easiest way to develop dance skills is to take some sort of dance class. It doesn't really matter what kind, because they all involve the same transferrable meta-skills. If you're looking at developing improvised solo dancing skills, I'd recommend a solo vernacular dance style, like jazz, tap or hip-hop.

If you wanted to learn a partnered dance (and I wish everyone did, because it's great), you could look into one of the many varieties of partnered dance available. If that doesn't interest you, learning the mechanics of lead/follow would probably be a needless distraction.

If you don't want to attend a class for whatever reason, you have other options. The internet has a wealth of dance-related resources. This is the first in a long series of YouTube videos teaching the iconic dance to Michael Jackson's Thriller. Don't laugh. The instructor on the video takes you through warm-ups, exerc... (read more)

Lowest hanging fruit: You need to learn the difference between "1, 2, 3" and "everything else". As an example, find "Hijo de la Luna" on YouTube and listen to the song. This is an example of the "1, 2, 3" rhythm -- I hope you hear it, because I can't describe it well in text. Often in this type of music, the "1" is accompanied with a drum, or is otherwise louder. On this music, you can only dance some variant of Waltz, nothing else. You should learn it, because it probably will appear at weddings. For the "everything else" category, I can't really tell the difference between "1, 2, 3, 4" and "1, 2, 1, 2". For me, they are mostly compatible (all I need to know is that they are not "1, 2, 3"). Here I have a set of solutions, most universal among them are Jive and Foxtrot, and depending on the speed of the music, usually one of them can be used. (I simply try, and if the music is too fast so I am unable to move at the given speed, or if the music is too slow so the dance feels boring, I stop.) For ballroom dancing: I would recommend finding a lesson that includes Waltz, Jive, Foxtrot, and optionally some Latino dances. You don't need to learn much: cca 3 figures of each will be enough, and then practice, practice, practice. (Muscle memory needs time.) Dance with different girls. Focus on leading -- don't dance the figures in predetermined order, but choose them randomly and use your body to communicate the decision. This is very important, because it will allow you to dance with new partners; you can't expect to bring your dancing lessons partner everywhere.
I'm pretty uncoordinated, and I found that I learned a lot in one well-executed blues dance lesson. According to the teacher, "going limp" is an acceptable strategy for a follow out of eir depth. If you're female (or willing to issue a short explanation to prospective dance partners), you could pick up a few ballroom dances for different numbered beats with a couple lessons per, as a follow, and then let partners pick what's going to happen.
I'm male, unfortunately.

Can anyone recommend me any nootropics for raising concentration (executive functions, working memory) that are effective, legal in the UK, not too expensive, and without too much side effects? My concentration is quite bad, if that's relevant.

What do you make of nicotine?
Another thing I found: [A]n adolescent who had smoked just one cigarette at age 11 was twice as likely to be a regular smoker at age 14 than those who had not tried a cigarette at age 11. This was true even for the kids who did not smoke again in the intervening years. Source. (Edited to include a bigger quote.)
How can the 14 year old be considered a 'regular smoker' when he hasn't smoked in three years?
I assume those were years in which he was 11, 12, and 13?
An implied floor(age) hadn't occured to me. I suppose that means that on average the 14 year olds in question would have 0.5 years in which to become a regular smoker. An... interesting... thing to measure. The ones that would be most likely to be smokers would then be those that are closer to 15 than 14.
That's not a very useful datapoint.
Sorry, my post kind of got messed up; the link is visible now.
I meant, first, it's about tobacco and not nicotine, and second, it's a longitudinal correlational study, not causal as your link immediately jumps to (it "creates" a vulnerability). is not nearly enough to claim you have screened off all possible variables and now you are entitled to infer causation. (And the claim is pretty dubious in the first claim: one cigarette does all that? Even stuff like heroin doesn't guarantee addiction after the first injection!) Going to the full text: If there is a causal effect, I like the social suggestion: Perfectly consistent with a 2:1 odds-ratio, fits with the elimination of the effect by mid-teens, and doesn't attribute implausible powers to tobacco.
One cigarette causes does cause permanent, observable-on-autopsy changes in rat brains...
Such as?
::did Googling:: ::retracts post::
Ha, I got the idea for nootropics from your dual n-back article in the first place. I'll certainly try some nicotine gums, but would that be strong? I'd like something strong, like Adderall, but I know that Adderall is illegal without prescription (damn stupid laws), and I will likely never be in the state of having an ADHD diagnosis.
The Adderall I used was apparently a lower dose than some people use and I haven't tried nicotine double-blinded yet (soon though!); with those caveats, my impression has been that 2mg of nicotine is somewhat weaker than the Adderall but without the more negative side-effects of 'tweaking'.
I suppose the risk of addiction is lower if it's taken in a non-inhaled form, but it's far from zero.
A good datapoint, thanks. I'll have to read it thoroughly later. (I'm not sure how important it is - if there is no transition to tobacco use, which was my principal concern from the start, is it really a problem? I know for a fact that I am addicted to caffeine and anyone who starts using caffeine will quite likely become addicted, but does that really bother anyone?)
Are you addicted, or just dependent? (Many drugs cause dependence without being addictive - anything that causes withdrawal symptoms causes dependence, and caffeine does cause withdrawal symptoms.)
There are many different definitions of addiction, so if you're really curious, you might want to specify which particular set of definitions for technical terms like 'dependence' or 'addiction' you're using.

I have some questions for people who think they believe in quantum worlds that split and join, and/or in "timeless physics".

Consider the sentence that you just read. The implication of such beliefs is that the person who started reading the sentence is not the same person who finished reading the sentence. According to the splitting quantum worlds idea, the person at the start would have split into many different people, who split into even more different people... by the time the sentence was finished. According to the timeless perspective, the... (read more)

The only problem here seems to be the incorrect application of English words and intuitions to more complicated physical propositions.
The main problem is that in a timeless universe, there is no time, therefore there is no change, therefore no thing can become another thing, therefore the person at the beginning of the sentence can't become the person at the end of the sentence. Maybe you have a timeless definition of person as a set of person-moments, and this allows you to nominally regard the person who started reading the sentence and the person who finished reading the sentence as parts of the same overall person. Nonetheless, the denial that time exists implies a denial that change exists, and this introduces a disjunction between successive person-moments that is metaphysically incredibly radical because it is so utterly in opposition to experience. It denies that one moment becomes the next moment; instead they're just neighbors in Platonia, or something. ETA: I've thought of another aspect of the strange implications of eliminating change from your model of reality. Not only is it an illusion to think that the present moment was previously a different one, it's also a mistake to think that the present moment ever ends. The next moment never arrives because that would require change. And another way to express my point about the person at the start of the sentence being different from the person at the end of the sentence, is that, if change is not real, then each moment is a separate center of subjectivity, rather than stages in the evolution of a single center of subjectivity. By a center of subjectivity I mean something that is a locus and an agent of subjective activity, especially reflective or higher-order thought in which mental states themselves become objects of awareness. Most of us may lack the combination of "luminosity" and articulateness required to talk about these matters with great precision, but hopefully you will agree that thought sometimes has the characteristic of consciously compounding on itself: one thought becomes part of the next thought which becomes part of
If I have a paper containing an arrow, it makes sense to say that here the arrow "begins" and here the arrow "ends", even if the paper is not changing in time, and our intuitions of "beginning" and "ending" are usually time-related. Similarly, in a timeless universe there is a "before" and "after", as if you imagine moments in space-time connected by tiny arrows. The universe is not moving, but a moment A is before a moment B because they are connected by such arrow, which means there is a mathematical relation between them. A person P2 at the end of reading a sentence is thus mathematically connected to a person P1 at the beginning of reading a sentence. This connection (together with million details about human physiology) means that the mind of P2 is similar to the mind of P1, with some sentence-related changes. Being connected by a time arrow is "becoming", and it implies similarity. Time exists inside of the universe. It does not exist for a hypothetical observer outside of the universe. We are people living inside of the universe, what's why it is so opposed to our experience. (However we have experience with books and movies, and the idea that the book itself does not change when we read it, is not opposed to our experience.) To be "just neighbors" they have to follow some mathematical laws (known inside of the universe as the laws of physics). They are not just two different things randomly put together. Those mathematical laws are what creates the time.
If I make a model of you using some lines on paper, I don't get to say that fundamentally you are just lines on paper, but that "inside the model" you're a real person. For the same reason, just because you can make a diagram of time that is not "made of time", doesn't mean you can say that the universe itself is timeless. In an early paper, Max Tegmark struggles to define his concept of possible worlds. He starts out by defining "formal systems" (page 5). There's lots of talk about letters, strings, rules. So wait, is he going to say that reality is made of letters? Well, no, he manages on the next page to get as far as talking about equivalence classes of formal systems, and then saying "When we speak of a mathematical structure, we will mean such an equivalence class, i.e., that structure which is independent of our way of describing it." This is still rather confused - he equates a mathematical structure with the set of all formal systems which describe the mathematical structure. So possible worlds still seem to be based in manipulations of letters, but now the possible world is something that mysteriously and platonically inhabits a manipulation of letters (and other letter-manipulations in the same class). The point is that for certain topics, the conceptual and notational system for reasoning about X tends to be substituted for X itself. Possible worlds are identified with formal systems that represent them, and time is identified with a sequence of imaginary arrows. I think the reason for the substitution is obvious: the properties of the representation are less elusive and easier to talk about, than the properties of the reality that they represent. It's easier to talk about rules for rewriting a string of symbols, or about chains of little arrows, than it is to talk about possibility and change.
Now I'm wondering: does the 'outside the universe view' come into contradiction with the whole thou art physics thing? How could our brains run an algorithm for a super-physical perspective?
I have almost no idea what to do with this observation, but I think there's a point of disanalogy between geometric and temporal continua, even if we take geometric continua to be 'directional'. Take a geometrical line from A to B. Here, we have a pair of limits and the extension between them. Now take a temporal continuum. But let's understand the temporal continuum as the time of some particular change. So a block of wood bleaches in the sun, going from dark to pale. The temporal continuum we're concerned with is the time that this change takes (say, one week). So suppose this temporal continuum also has two limits, C (at the beginning) and D (at the end of the change), and an extension between them. Geometrical continua needn't actually have minima and maxima, the 'line on a paper' is a case where they do. If this is so, then geometrical and temporal continua are in this sense analogous. But there's a problem with the idea that temporal continua have a minimum. Suppose C is an indivisible moment. Has any change been accomplished at C? If yes, then given that no change can be accomplished in a moment (since there is no temporal difference), there must be previous moment at which some change had been accomplished, and therefore C is not early enough to be the first moment of the change. If no change has been accomplished at C, then C is too early to be the first moment: it is not properly called part of the time of the change. So no matter what, the moment C cannot be the first moment of change. Nothing prevents us from having a last moment, but temporal continua (so long as they are considered the time of some particular change) cannot have a first moment. Temporal continua can have greatest lower bounds, but no actual minimum.
Well, I certainly possess the intuitive model of personal identity that you refer to here, which includes the idea that I am a unique entity which we can call a "person", distinct from all other entities at any given moment, and that I have an existence that extends throughout a region of time in a very specific way. And I agree that this intuitive model is in tension with the timeless model you refer to here, which includes the idea that I am a set of unique entities which we can call "person-moments", which are not only distinct from all other entities at any given moment but also distinct from all other entities at all other moments. That said, by the time I was introduced to the timeless model, I had long since reconciled myself to the fact that what I mean by "I" is an extremely variable and often inconsistent thing. This caused me some philosophical worry in my late teens, but eventually I got clear in my head that "I" is a symbol I manipulate, and that most of my intuitions about identity are based on manipulations of that symbol, and if there is any underlying unique distinct referent for that symbol (whether a person that changes, or a set of person-moments that are connected in some way, or an immortal soul that exists outside of time and space, or something else) it's nevertheless a mistake to attribute to that referent properties that are properly ascribed to the symbol. So, no, it doesn't much bother me that there are two models which imply different (even mutually exclusive) things about what "I" refers to. "I" refers to many different (even mutually exclusive) things. I'm cool with that.
I have the tree of subjective experience trails branching out in the direction of time's arrow as a working hypothesis for thinking about personal identity. I'm using it as a way to seemingly consistently model various uploading and teleporting thought experiments that otherwise seem to lead to incongruities when you start getting into things like Moravec Transfer. I feel like I really should get deeper into analyzing the part where the tree hypothesis assumes no fundamental connections wrt. subjective self from present states toward future states, and the interpretation that assumes a continuity of self consistent with everyday intuitions seems to assume one. (That would be a thing that gets cut if someone breaks your original body apart and replaces it with a perfect replica in the span of a nanosecond, but stays intact during normal waking hours. Jury's out on what happens when you fall asleep or flatline during a therapeutic coma.) Don't know enough physics to have an opinion on MWI versus collapse. Don't know even more physics to have an opinion on timelessness. The motivating problems for me are more of the Reasons and Persons sort of stuff. My answer to why I'm nevertheless experiencing the things happening right now is the somewhat unsatisfactory "because someone has to". It feels like a continuous stream of experience because that someone is always operating on memory-carrying brain state that encodes the previous experiences.

Not that I care about karma, but I've noticed that mine seems to hold steady at two thirds of the lowest top contributor.

Has anyone else noticed a stable karma ratio?


Does anyone have experience with Vector Marketing? Opinions online range from "fantastic" to "scam." I have an interview schedule with them tomorrow, and am trying to determine whether I should cancel. If it is a scam, it's certainly not worth my time.

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// Long comment, no new material, ends with an ill defined decision theory question. Feel free to collapse it and move on.

Player M is playing rounds of PD against increasingly interesting agents. Players swap source code and then return their decisions. The game payoff matrix takes sets of actions (consisting of "C"ooperates and "D"efects, one from each player), and returns payoffs for each player.

PD := (<D,D>, <D,C>, <C,D>, <C,C>) → (<1,1>, <3,0>, <0,3>, <2,2>)

is a set of actions, are... (read more)

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I'm looking into getting some MCT oil. Prices seem to vary widely on Amazon, and a brief search hasn't turned up any recommendations on a particular type to get. Should I just go with the cheapest, or are there other important factors to consider?


Shouldn't HPMOR have updated just now?

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What are people's views on the cow from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (as an ethical dilemma)? For those who haven’t read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the character is explained on wikipedia Ignoring the idea that vegetables don’t want to be eaten,

  • Would it be a good thing to breed such a cow? (If so, good in what sense/why?)
  • Would it be right/okay to eat such a cow if it existed?

My own opinion is that breeding such a cow is good because it replaces a non-sapient thing that will suffer being slaughtered with a sapient thing that is... (read more)