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Here's a little example of prisoner's dilemma that I just thought up, which shows how mass media might contribute to modern loneliness:

Let's assume that everyone has a fixed budget of attention and empathy. Empathizing with imaginary Harry Potter gives you 1 point of utility. Empathizing with your neighbor gives them 10 points of utility, but doesn't give you anything, because your neighbor isn't as interesting as Harry Potter. So everyone empathizes with Harry Potter instead of their neighbor, and everyone is lonely.

Does that sound right? What can society do to get out of that trap?

I suspect that Dunbar's number includes fictional characters and people you don't know in person but have many information about them (celebrities, politicians). In the past people also had a few examples in this category, for example Jesus, or the local king, but that is at least an order of magnitude less than all current movie characters, celebrities, and politicians people are familiar with. Also, watching someone on TV is a stronger stimulus than merely hearing or reading about them. So it seems to me quite likely that modern media consume our "empathy points". (And the clickbait media make it even worse, because they burn all kinds of "giving-a-shit points" like a wildfire.) A solution is spending time offline with other people (doing something else than watching media). Because people are not automatically strategic, someone has to organize an event and invite others. LW meetups, former classmates meeting at a cafe every Thursday, etc.
Never come across this idea before. Not yet sure if I agree or disagree. I will have to think about it. (Dunbar's' is approximate anyway which makes it harder to quantify.)
That's a good way to put it. I've found a Reddit comment that describes another related problem: Spending time offline is probably part of the solution.
So, anyone wants to disconnect and settle for those in the immediate vicinity? Anyone? ...anyone?
It's not either-or; you could also decide to spend only 50% of your free time online, and 50% in the meatspace. It's just more tempting to spend 100% of the free time online. Except those few moments when you would appreciate a company in meatspace, but everyone is too busy on Reddit.
YMMV, as usual, but no, not for me.
Since this is a prisoner's dilemma, the solution won't be based on unilateral cooperation.
I don't think it's a prisoner's dilemma. I don't want to disconnect and settle regardless of what people around me do.
That's funny. That's my meme. Give a shit points. Only so much give a shit to go around.
Consider how old and universal story-telling is. Humans felt empathy for fictional characters since forever.
Fair point. But did the media always draw such a big proportion of the attention we could've spent on each other?
It's not a media issue. Think about how much empathy and attention did Jesus and his army of saints consume X-) But generally speaking, I don't buy the "empathizing with your neighbor gives them 10 points of utility, but doesn't give you anything" assertion. That's not how human interaction works.
As a fictional example of a prisoner's dilemma, it sounds fine. Solutions are the same as all PDs: out-of-game enforcement (social norms or the like), superrationality, repeated interactions and tit-for-tat, or accept the equilibrium. As a description of actual choices made by individuals, no. Your assumptions and your reward scoring are nowhere near reasonable.
This is a bad assumption. I could spend more time empathizing than I do -- for example, when I chose to read a nonfiction book, I am likely to emphasize less than when I read a fictional tear-jerker. Moreover, the media spends a lot of time trying to increase your attention and empathy budget, getting you very engaged (attentive and empathetic) to their characters, whether these be fictional or political personages or whatever. Anytime that you stay up late watching Football (rather than go to sleep) you have increased your attention and empathy for that day. However, it is true that TV and internet have strong money-making incentives for gaming your attention and empathy, and your neighbors probably don't. So on the A&E market, it is reasonable to expect that large powerful players will often outperform small local players. The fact that the market is flexible rather than fixed is probably a factor that makes it worse.
Individuals can form pseudonymous groups and collaborate to perform tasks that they would be unable to perform as individuals while attributing the completion of the tasks to their collective pseudonymous identities, a la the Bourbaki group. The groups allow socialization and the identities allow admiration.

"Scientists Announce HGP-Write, Project to Synthesize the Human Genome":

The publication occurred on Thursday by the journal Science.

The authors of the proposal said that the ability to fabricate huge stretches of DNA would allow for numerous scientific and medical advances. It might be possible to make organisms resistant to all viruses, for instance, or make pig organs suitable for transplant into people.

The project, which will be run by a new nonprofit organization called the Center of Excellence for Engineering Biology, will seek to raise $1

... (read more)
The main big thing to come from such a thing would be cheaper synthesis of long pieces of DNA. God I want that. The last three months in the lab would've been so much less painful. I'm mostly with the guy from Ginkgo Bioworks arguing that the ability to make tens of kilobases at a time is most interesting - chromosome sized DNA chunks are damn hard to move in and out of eukaryotic cells reliably.

It's almost three months since a mysterious benefactor offered to donate to MIRI but insisted on doing it through other LW members contacted via private messsages.

So, I'm curious... Did anyone cooperate? Is there a story to share?

Yes; I hear that he's the second largest donor to MIRI this year, and I've been working with him successfully on esports betting (with half of the proceeds earmarked for MIRI). I don't know if anyone has taken him up on the match offer.

Huh. I would have bet at strong odds against this.
He didn't contact me. I feel cheated.

Something I and my local group of conversational partners noticed (I don't have a better word for it) over the weekend: Greek philosophy was a matter of law; Theseus' Ship had tax consequences, and shifting conventions in philosophy had legal ramifications. Greek philosophy was argued in court; Sophists were lawyers who were paid to argue your case, and would argue any side whatsoever, as that was what they were paid to do. Socrates had to die, not because he was annoying important people (which he was), but because he insisted on a "pure" phi... (read more)

Nope. You continue to be wrong.

You are mostly familiar with Graeco-Roman mythology and less familiar with the literature of that period. But that literature certainly existed and I don't know on which basis do you make assertions about "most of their stories".

Take Apuleius' Golden Ass -- a story about the misadventures of a man who (spoilers!) manages to turn himself into a donkey. You think most people took it as true?

In any case, which characters are fictional is irrelevant to the original issue of spending empathy. What matters is whether the ... (read more)

To fellow victims of chronic pain: do you ever despair about the future, knowing your pain might never end? If so, how do you deal with it?

I've made it a schelling point to never end it all. To leave open the possibility of suicide seems too dangerous to me, too alluring. But I'm still afraid that one day I might try. Do any of you ever feel like this?

I would like to know how others deal with this, as I'm only doing so-so.

I tend to read up on potential cures that may come in the future. Even ones that are far off or unlikely. Hope is a valuable coping mechanism. I busy myself with tracking the parameters in my life that make me feel good or bad. I take care to track the things that make me feel good and I don't have a "Pain Journal" but rather a "Thriving Journal". The semantic distinction changes my attitude toward the process. I consistently pursue every currently available medical treatment. This is part of keeping a positive mindset. I try to fully and mindfully appreciate the good days. I hope you have good days, or at least better days, to focus on. On the worst days, I try to reflect on the fact that a better day will come around eventually. Maybe tomorrow, even! I assiduously avoid letting myself dwell or ruminate on "how much my life sucks" in such terms. I focus more on how I'm doing pretty well, considering. I've learned that getting into a depression about it just makes everything a billion times worse. Call it stoicism or whatever, it's more like a mindset that depressive thinking is an addictive drug that I know I can't risk taking a single hit of or I'll be addicted. Suicide is not really an option that bears much thought when you consider that literally tomorrow somebody could come out with the cure to whatever ails you. You never know. And once you're finally cured, physical pain that's in the past is not really real anymore.
Hmm, a Thriving Journal seems like a good idea. Thanks for mentioning it. It makes sense. I do try avoiding thoughts like 'my life sucks' or things like that because of the reasons you said. Its just that every so often, I get fall into a negative feedback loop. Which is not very fun. One 'hope' I recently acquired is being able to lucid dream. It seems like you can avoid feeling pain in lucid dreaming, so its something I'm working towards. Any one tried something along those lines.
Just to elaborate, I noticed a long time ago that when I was grading every day with a 1-10 pain rating, it made everything seem extremely dismal, especially since almost no day was ever scored "zero". Recasting this so that I also took note of when I was feeling really great (even if it was just in the morning, etc.) allowed me to see a more balanced and realistic picture of my state. Sure, avoiding negative feedback loops is easier said than done. Sometimes things are just that bad. All I can say is that I seem to have cultivated a reflexive, aversive reaction to ruminating. I'm almost more scared of ruminating, and the places that leads, than I am scared of pain. I don't know if this is a psychologically healthy stance, but it keeps my thoughts mostly in a place that I like. I do not seem to have the knack for lucid dreaming, but I have used meditation to some minor success.
I think it is. My own life is pretty good, actually, but I could easily talk myself into a depression if I didn't try and avoid ruminating as much as possible. "Don't believe everything you think"—I learned that here on LW, and that alone is easily worth all the time I've spent on this site.
There are herbs that can encourage lucid dreaming. I've experimented a bit with hyssop flower, also known as ezov, but it didn't change my experience of dreaming much, except I woke up feeling like I had been sorting things through and having insights in my sleep. I didn't recall what I had figured out, but I had the feeling of figuring things out. But I could lucid dream before I started taking it, though I don't do it often, and I remember my dreams often and write them down. Keeping pen and paper by the bed and writing down dreams can be a way to start if you want to work up to lucid dreaming. I don't usually feel pain while dreaming, but I sometimes wake up from too much pain, so that is not always the case. Many years ago, I did some meditation techniques to shut off pain when I was severely ill, and it worked for a little while, the technique was successful and I didn't feel pain. But then I moved around and lived my life as if the pain weren't there and I ended up hurting myself, and being in a worse condition than before. The pain had been stopping me from doing things that my body couldn't handle. So, I've been reluctant to mess with the pain signalling system since then. I guess I'm telling you these stories because neither lucid dreaming, nor shutting off feeling the pain were answers for me. But that's me. Different people have different experiences and different bodies, which makes exploring these options not something that one can outsource, and anecdotes and stories are not reliable guides.
That is a good point. Still, it would be nice if I could do such things when I really need to. Would you mind sharing the techniques you used?
I learned techniques for lucid dreaming and dealing with pain from what was called at the time the Silva Method course, taught by Marilou Seavey and Gerald Seavey. I also sometimes use a Tibetan Buddhist technique called tonglen, explained by Pema Chodron in her book When Things Fall Apart. The Silva Method used to be a collection of useful techniques taught in a secular context. However, at some point after I took the course, the organization that coordinated the Silva Method courses became more religious. So a lot of people who were teaching the Silva Method courses and who weren't happy with the religious direction the organization was taking continued to teach the techniques, but called their courses by different names. Marilou and Gerald Seavey have a website. They travel to various places around the world to give workshops, and it looks like their focus has shifted to NLP and coaching. However, it looks like they still teach a Silva-Method-like course, and that they are calling it Essential Mind Power Training. http://mindbridgetraining.com/nlp-training/essential-mind-power-training Here is another pair of former Silva Method instructors, who call their course Dynamind http://www.scienceofhappiness.com/page1/index.html Jose Silva, who came up with the Silva Method, wrote some books, but they are not a very good introduction to or explanation of the techniques. The workshops are superior. I'm glad I learned those techniques, and also a bunch of others, including the ones to help memorizing long lists of things, from the workshop. However, these techniques may not be the best way to do lucid dreaming, or deal with pain, or the various other things taught in the course. I haven't done a comparison with other techniques for lucid dreaming from other traditions, for example. There may be superior ones out there. I'm telling you the way I learned how to do it, since you asked, but I'm not saying it's the best way to learn it. At the workshop, I feel like the
Did you look at https://www.painscience.com/? That site had info that cured nasty chronic pain of mine that lasted >1 year. This tutorial in particular was extremely helpful: https://www.painscience.com/tutorials/trigger-points.php To answer your original question: when I was dealing with chronic pain, I had issues with deep despair similar to what you describe. My chronic pain left me unemployed, and I was constantly in fear of doing things that would aggravate my condition and set back the (very slow and variable) progress it was making in resolving itself. Definitely an extremely miserable period. Thoughts I had that I found helpful and I'll pass on to you: I decided there were basically 2 strategies for dealing with the pain I had: cure and mitigation. Cure refers to finding a way to roll back the root cause of the problem and return to being my pain-free self. Mitigation refers to accepting the pain and finding ways to work around it (for me--finding a job that doesn't require me to make use of my hands at all, and probably doing a lot more meditation). I decided that it was best to focus on 1 strategy at a time, and that I should focus on the "cure" strategy for at least several years before switching to "mitigation". (What's a few years when I had decades left to live?) I realized that any given "cure" had a pretty low probability of working out, and being in a state of deep despair was extremely non-conducive to trying things that individually had a small probability of working out. This observation was helpful for recalibrating my intuition, and I resolved to make the "list of things I had tried" as long as I could possibly make it. I also resolved to do more of a breadth-first search than a depth-first search, at least at first--I didn't want something that would gradually fix my pain over the course of many months in a way that I would need careful journaling to observe--I wanted a technique that would help things noticeably, that I could use at any tim
I've seen you mention trigger point therapy before. It's something I do, and it helps to a degree, but it has not had made a large change in my quality of life. The rest seems worthwhile. Thank you for that.
I would guess then that you either * Suffer mainly from trigger points, but you're treating the wrong ones/haven't found effective treatment methods * Suffer from some other condition that's causing trigger points in your muscles as a downstream effect One thing that might give you a clue is to figure out just how bad your trigger points are. You won't have a point of reference yourself, so I'd suggest visiting a few massage therapists and asking them after your massage whether you seem tighter than a typical client and where your worst tightness is. If your trigger points are very bad, or you have significant tightness/pain even in areas that aren't close to your head, I'd update some in the direction of them representing the core of your problem. If trigger points are your primary issue, then keep in mind they can require quite a lot of creative investigation to treat effectively. For example, my current hypothesis is that the eyestrain issues I struggled with a few months ago were caused in part by the following chain: morton's foot -> trigger points in my soleus -> trigger points in my jaw muscles -> trigger points in my upper sternocleidomastoid -> trigger points in my eye muscles. It sounds weird, but when I spend a day walking around with inserts in my shoes to correct for the Morton's Foot, my eyes feel like they're loosening up when I lie down to sleep at the end of the day. I recommend thoroughly reading the perpetuating factors chapter on every trigger point book you can get your hands on. Part of the reason I recommend SAMe is that one of the perpetuating factors that's been identified for trigger point problems is folate deficiency, but some people (like me) have MTHFR mutations that interfere with folate motabolism, and SAMe helps get around that. (Getting 23andme can help you determine if you're also an undermethylator.) Make yourself the world's foremost expert on trigger points (and any other field of research that seems helpful for your pai
I have chronic back pian. Yes. This is a common problem: look up 'pain catastrophising'. Then: Learn specific evidence-based strategies to deal with anxiety (relaxation techniques) and cognitive distortions like catastrophising (cognitive therapies).
Pain catastrophising seems like a bad thing. So are you saying that trying the reverse is a good thing? Do you know any strategies that you can recommend? I was recommended cognitive behaviour therapy because I've tried almost all medications. I'm guessing that its something like what you're talking about.
Yes, decastrophising pain is a good thing based on empirical evidence and my personal experience. Yes, cognitive behavioural therapy is a type of cognitive therapy. When administered correctly it will help. There are also useful resources on the web. I recommend this strategy. I can provide other strategies depending specifically on your etiology. In addition, mere insight in the psychological interactions with somatic symptoms like pain gives you an edge in recovery over many chronic pain sufferers. You are a smart man to have asked this question. I was not so smart, and suffered for a long time before having this ideas shoved in my face when attending a university lecture on the topic. And yes, I used to feel suicidal constantly and made some attempts. Now I very rarely feel suicidal. Pain was a big contributor to my mental illness. Can you describe what pharmacological therapiies you were prescribed and the nature of your pain, if you don't mind? If you are concerned about privacy I will respect that since it could be identifying information (feel free to pm me). If you have symptoms in areas I have either formal research expertise and/or personal experience (usually they're the same areas) then I would love to help. I am not a health care professional, do note, but a researcher. The reason I offer is that given what I can formulate about your case based on what you've said (chronic pain, pharmacotherapy treatment resistant, CBT offered afterwards rather than concurrently, and where are rehabilitation exercises?) your treatment team may not be operating in alignment with what I understand as best practice. Now, that may be inavavoidable since I don't read clinical guidelines, and it may simply be that researchers like me have to do more translational research, or it could be that you have a bad physio/gp/whoever and should get a second opinion so you don't suffer. Also, I avoid going into too much depth about my specific research expertise here on LW because
Thanks for the help! I have chronic migraines. In my case it means a constant headache with a powerful migraine every few days. In terms of medication, I've tried: Triptans & NSAIDs as pain relief; Propanalol, Amitriptyline, Topiramate and an Ocipital Nerve block as preventation. I've tried Magnesium as a supplement, which I'd hear helped others. Then there's stuff like acupuncture, trigger points and one or two things I can't remember the name of. Botox is an option, but one that's met with resistance in my family. That's it I think. I really appreciate the advice.
Oh, I actually have next to no knowledge of migraines! Haha, some of my advice may before may even be irrelevant now, because I assumed it was pain in the sense of musculoskeletal or peripheral neuropathic type pain!
When the pain gets intense, it helps to remind myself "Not all days are as bad as this." It can feel overwhelming in the moment, and it distorts the view of the future. So I remind myself of that too. "What I'm experiencing right now is a distorted view of the future. So I'm not going to make any major decisions based on it." It can be hard to look forward to the future when I'm not enjoying the present, when it's so awful, and there's no known path or plan to make thing better. It can be extremely frustrating to just endure. It can feel so futile and pointless. When I have a better day later, I notice and point it out to myself and remember the worse day when it felt like I wouldn't have anything to look forward to, and am glad that I stayed alive long enough to experience it. And then I can remember that little conversation with myself when it gets intensely worse again, even though I don't recapture the good feeling at that time. Suicide can seem pretty attractive under conditions of intense pain. Thoughts of suicide can be something like a valve, or an escape fantasy, or a fantasy of having an off switch for the pain. Repetitive thoughts can be related to exhaustion or illness. I think a lot of these thoughts and feelings can have a physiological basis, and are not necessarily something to identify with. They are probably pretty good at signaling "something is wrong" but not very good at "this is an accurate and complete picture of my desires". Paying attention to what you physically did just before the thoughts sometimes could lead to insights.

Storytelling, in the sense of telling a story that all the participants acknowledge to be false

That's a very weird concept of a "story".

is actually remarkably recent

Like ancient Greece and Rome are "remarkably recent"?


The alleged scientific concensus of the irrationality of violent discipline against children

Could research on corporal punishment in the home be misleading due to confounding by genetic factors or other methodological issues?

While doing research on this topic I found very interesting WP: talk, sections with someone making objections, and getting the most effective diplomatic replies I have every seen. Very impressive. here it is.

Worried your worry is untreatable?

Last night I started to wonder: Did I only try SSRI’s for depression (I tried antipsychotics an... (read more)

The obvious question: Which way does the correlation go? One possible explanation is "cheating will make you unhappy, e.g. because it will ruin your relationship", other possible explanation is "people who are already unhappy in their relationship are more likely to cheat". Again, the obvious question is: Does this control for the time spent making money? One possible explanation is "people are actually not influenced by the money you have when they consider whether to choose you as a sexual partner", other possible explanation is "the more time you spend at work making money, the more money you have, but the less time you have for finding and maintaining sexual relations".
Untreatable and the average primary-care physician can't effectively treat it are two different categories. We also don't have an incentive system whereby those who can effectively treat actually get to treat. Medicine is rewarded on a cost-plus basis instead of being payed by the outcome.

Citation, please?

I don't think most people understood Aesops fables to be about a real fox at the time they were written.

I remember LW discussions where a study was cited about how psychologists compare to lay people when they do counselling. Does anybody have a link?

This is definitely not that, but might be interesting for similar reasons: Scott Alexander's post called Scientific Freud.
I think I posted that. It's not hard to find the study - it's not counselling, it's CBT specifically.
Finding a study is always about finding the right keywords. I didn't find it with the keyboard that came to my mind. If you still remember the right keywords how about posting a link?
That's not always how you find a study. I map my ontology to wikipedia. The closest relevant top is the Dodo BIrd verdict on wikipedia. From a quick scan I couldn't find what I was looking for, but I'm somewhat confident it'll have the right leads. Also, I remember another study suggesting new psychologists were more effective at CBT than experienced ones. I would dig harder to find the study, but I reckon it's misleading in isolation anyway. The larger, wider body of evidence overwhelmingly suggests the biggest factor in therapeutic success in the 'therapeutic alliance', a relationship level factor, not the therapy itself, or the characteristics individually of the patient of clinician.

Deep learning and machine learning resource list.



What method of testing whether one is better at remembering things from hearing or from seeing would you recommend?

Why do you want to do the test? There was a lot of research that tried to show that students can be better taught by adapting to their learning styles. The general outcome of it, is that nobody demonstrated that adapting to learning styles helps.
I guess that answers my question. Thank you. Mostly for my kid and for tutoring the occasional student. For example, my kid prefers 'repairing' misspelled words (built from connected blocks) to simple reading or writing; I thought there could be other exploitable features.

Help request. I am looking for an article/posting that I once read, the topic of which was reasoning about continuums , like Less Wrong's Fallacy of Grey . I think I originally found the article through a link on Less Wrong but I have been unable to locate it. Any suggestions?

There are a few links on the wiki. If none of them is what you're after, could you possibly say a little more about what was in the article you're looking for? (Was it, e.g., making the same sort of point as Eliezer's "Fallacy of Gray", or disagreeing with it, or saying some completely different thing about "continuous thinking"?)
The article listed 8 or so common errors in reasoning about continuums. The article was rather clever in its use of categories and naming and also gave excellent examples. I want to use it as an aid in teaching/explaining rather than in self-learning.

I have a question, but I try to be careful about the virtue of silence. So I'll try to ask my question as a link :


Also, these ideas are still weird enough to win against his level of status, as I think the comments here show:



Some people believe that altruism has evolved through helping your relatives or through helping others to help you in return. I was thinking about it; on the surface the idea looks good -- if you already have this system in place, it is easy to see how it benefits those involved -- but that doesn't explain how the system could have appeared in the first place. Anyone knows the standard answer?

Imagine that you are literally the first organism who by random mutation achieved a gene for "helping those who help you". How specifically does this gene i... (read more)

My first thoughts reading your post are 1) You start WAY TOO LATE IN THE GAME. You are essentially talking about altruism as a conscious choice which means you are well into the higher mammals. Virtually every sexually reproducing creature devotes resources to reproduction that could have been conserved for individual survival. As you move up in complexity, you have animals feeding their young and performing other services for them. As would be expected with all evolved cooperation, the energy and cost you expend raising your young produces a more survivable young and so is net cost effective at getting the next generation going, which is pretty much what spreads genes. How big of a leap is it from a mama bird regurgitating food into her baby's mouth to you helping your neighbor hunt for wooly mammoth? If you were the first organism to get the gene to feed your babies or do whatever expanded their survivability, then obviously that is how that gene propagates, your babies have the gene. As you get to the more complex forms of altruism of primates and humans, you also get to strong feedback mechanisms against non-cooperators and free-riders. The system may not be perfect but I think it allows a path from feeding babies or burying eggs in the sand to modern altruism in humans where no wierd "how do we start this" behaviors bump up to stop things.
If the immediate consequences of the genetic change in question aren't terribly deleterious then that first organism may very well have offspring, even without it conferring any particular advantage. And now those offspring do have siblings who share the gene. [EDITED to add: oops, saw Viliam's comment in Recent Comments and replied to it without noticing others had also done so making the same point.]
If you have a gene that makes you help you siblings, your offspring are reasonably likely to get it too, which benefits their siblings (also your offspring).
I feel like this increases the amount of lucky coincidence needed. Not only I have to randomly get the right mutation, but I also need to have many children (surviving to the age when they can help each other) for reasons completely unrelated to having the mutation. Actually, the mutation may be a bit harmful in the second step, because I may give some of my resources to my siblings instead of my children. Unfortunately, I am not familiar enough with mathematical models of evolution to evaluate how much this extra burden weighs against your hypothesis.
It seems to me that it doesn't weigh against it very much. A genetic change that causes a not-too-big increase in altruistic behaviour towards likely kin is unlikely to hurt your chances of survival and reproduction a lot. The first organism with the genetic change doesn't need to be exceptionally well supplied with offspring or anything. (Unless this is an r-selected species for which surviving at all is exceptionally lucky; in that case, it needs to be about as lucky as the bearer of any other not-too-dramatic genetic change has to be.)
Maybe it doesn't help when you're the only one, but that doesn't matter; your species is one that has multiple children, and the mutation was so small it occurred in multiple children? ... And if that's too high a complexity penalty, there could be an alternative: say it is a trait which got spread due to a resource boom in a population (the resource boom makes it likely for even disadvantaged mutations to survive), and then individuals with the trait managed to find each other and be more fit? ... Just conjecture, though.
Doesn't this suffer from a similar problem as group selection? Imagine that the first mutant gets lucky and has 20 children; 10 of them inherited the "help your siblings" genes, and 10 of them did not. Does this give an advantage to the nice children over the non-nice ones? Well, only in the next generation... but then again, some children in the next generation will have the gene and some will not... and this feels like there is always an immediate disadvantage that is supposed to get balanced by an advantage in the next generation, except that the next generation also has an immediate disadvantage... Uhm, let's reverse it. Imagine that everyone has the "help your siblings" gene, in the most simple version that makes them take a given fraction of their resources and distribute it indiscriminately among all siblings. Now we get one mutant that does not have this gene. Then, this mutant has an advantage over their siblings; the siblings give resources to mutant, not receiving anything in return. Yeah, the mutant is causing some damage to the siblings, reducing the success of their genes. But we don't care about genes in general here, only about the one specific "don't help your siblings" allele; and this allele clearly benefits from being a free-rider. And then it reproduces with some else, who is still an altruist, and again 50% of the mutant's children inherit the gene and get an advantage over their siblings. So we get the group-selectionist situations where families of nice individuals prosper better than mixed families, but within each mixed family the non-nice individuals prosper better. This would need a mathematical model, but I suspect that unless the families are small, geographically isolated, and therefore heavily interbreeding, the nice genes would lose to the non-nice genes.
Your siblings is not a reproductively isolated population (hopefully=)). The relevant question is if the helpers are more or less fit relative to the population as a whole. So in your example, where the helpers give up something and get back less, the gene goes extinct. But start instead of just zero-sum redistribution with something like that trust game where you send money through a slot and whatever amount you send the other guy gets triple. But it's multiplayer and simultaneous. So the helpers give up some amount, let's say x each and every family member gets three times what the average participant gave up. If half of the family members are helpers then everyone gets 3x/2. Which is more than x, so now the gene gives a fitness advantage.
Here is a toy model: Let's ignore the details of genetic reproduction, and simply assume that if both parents have a trait, all children have it; if no parent has a trait, no children have it; and if one parent has it, exactly 50% of children have it. Let's assume all families have the same size. (These are quite unrealistic assumptions to make calculation simple.) Let's suppose that being nice to all your siblings has a cost c (for example, if without reciprocation it would reduce your survival rate by 5%, then c = 0.05), and that being supported by all your siblings provides a benefit b (for example, if without helping any your siblings but being helped by all of them would increase your survival rate by 10%, then b = 0.10). We can assume 0 < c < b. So, the current generation contains a fraction p of adult individuals who have the sibling-helping trait. Let's assume they form pairs randomly (because the trait is so new they haven't developed its detectors yet). On average, there will be p^2 "helper-helper" families, 2×p×(1-p) "helper-nonhelper" families, and (1-p)^2 "nonhelper-nonhelper" families. In "nonhelper-nonhelper" families, children's survival rate will be 1 (the default survival rate before the helper mutation appeared). In "helper-helper" families, children's survival rate will be 1+b-c. In "helper-nonhelper" families, the 1/2 of helper children will have survival rate 1+b/2-c (they only get half the help, but pay the full cost), and the 1/2 of nonhelper children will have survival rate 1+b/2 (they get galf the help at no cost). Now all these values together have to be normalized to 1, to get the proportions in the next generation. Ugh, math... non-normalized next generation helpers = p^2 × (1+b-c) + 1/2 × 2×p×(1-p) × (1+b/2-c) = p + pb/2 - pc/2 + ppb/2 non-normalized next generation non-helpers = (1-p)^2 × 1 + 1/2 × 2×p×(1-p) × (1 + b/2) = 1 - p + pb/2 - ppb/2 next generation helpers ratio = (p + pb/2 - pc/2 + ppb/2) / (p + pb/2 - pc/2 + ppb/2 +
More broadly: consider genetic drift and the probability of reaching fixation. For neutral mutations, their probability of fixation is the rate at which they are introduced, and they will reach fixation at 4*population-size generations. For primate species, the population size is always pretty small, low hundreds of thousands or millions; generation turnover tends to be something like 10 years, and early primates can date back as much as 60 million years, so it can encompass a lot of drift. If we imagine that kin altruism is neutral until you have at least a few relatives and the relevant mutation keeps happening once in every few hundred thousand individuals, it's not at all unlikely that it will appear repeatedly and then drift up to the threshold where fitness gains start appearing, and then of course, now that it's no longer neutral, it'll be quickly selected for at the rate of its gain.
Not all information is encoded genetically. Many kinds of information have to be learned from the parents or from society.
Richard Dawkins' 1976 book The Selfish Gene contains, among other things, some interesting discussions about how many altruistic behaviors might have arisen through natural selection.
Even if being the first one to have that gene would make you have fewer children than average, (half of) your children will have the gene too and they would help each other and benefit from that and as a result you'd still have more grandchildren than average.
That's not how genes work. There isn't a single gene for "helping your siblings". Genes don't need to help the individual that carries it. Genes are as Richard Dawkins famously said selfish.
Technically true, but irrelevant in the scenario when there is yet only one organism having the gene. Kill the organism and the gene is gone.
It doesn't make sense to focus on only one organism. Natural selection is a stochastic process. Genes that don't help the only organism that carry it get doublicated all the time. A random gene on the Y chromosome of Genghis Khan that didn't have strong effects would now be carried by millions of people without the gene being responsible for it.
BTW, I was just browsing JSTOR and saw this: Life history, habitat saturation and the evolution of fecundity and survival altruism. S. Lion and S. Gandon, Evolution, v. 64 n. 6 (2010), pp. 1594-1606. If you would like to, I could relate the substance (it is a tiny bit inconvenient for me to do right now, or I would have.)
I suggest reading Henrich's book The Secret of our Success. It describes a path to increased altruism that doesn't depend on any interesting mutation. It involves selection pressures acting on culture.