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This post is shameless bragging:

I donated two days of pay to the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative. As always, this is incredibly easy to do. If you would like to do so, here is a link:

Should we listen to music? This seems like a high-value thing to think about.* Some considerations:

  • Music masks distractions. But we can get the same effect through alternatives such as white noise, calming environmental noise, or ambient social noise.

  • Music creates distractions. It causes interruptions. It forces us to switch our attention between tasks. For instance, listening to music while driving increases the risk of accidents.

  • We seem to enjoy listening to music. Anecdotally, when I've gone on "music fasts", music starts to sound much better and I develop cravings for music. This may indicate that this is a treadmill system, such that listening to music does not produce lasting improvements in mood. (That is, if enjoyment stems from relative change in quality/quantity of music and not from absolute quality/quantity, then we likely cannot obtain a lasting benefit.)

  • Frequency of music-listening correlates (.18) with conscientiousness. I'd guess the causation's in the wrong direction, though.

  • Listening to random music (e.g. a multi-genre playlist on shuffle) will randomize emotion and mindstate. Entropic influences on sorta-optimized things (e.g. mindstate) are u

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I went through the literature on background music in September 2012; here is a dump of 38 paper references. Abstracts can be found by searching here and I can provide full texts on request.

Six papers that I starred in my reference manager (with links to full texts):

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Get RescueTime or something similar and flip a coin every day to decide whether or not to listen to music. After a while patterns might emerge.

Wait, where did "randomizes" come from? The study you link and the standard view says that music can induce specific emotions. The point of the study is that emotions induced by music can carry over into other areas, which suggests we might optimize when we use specific types of music. The study you link about music and accidents also suggests specific music decreased risks. All the papers I'm immediately seeing on Google Scholar suggest there is no association between background music and studying effectiveness, or if there is, it's only negative for those that don't usually study to music. If that's accurate, either people are already fairly aware of whether music distracts them, they would adapt to it given time, or they don't know what kinds of music are effective for them due to lack of experience.
When I listen to music, I usually do so by putting a long multi-genre playlist on shuffle. That's what I was thinking of when I wrote that; I'll edit it. Listening to music selected to induce specific emotions seems like it could be useful. For instance, for motivation, it might be useful to play a long epic music mix.
Alright, that makes more sense. Random music can randomize emotional state, just like random drugs can randomize physical state. Personally, I listen to a single artist at a time.
Music is one of the primary joys and pleasures in my life. It is not optional for me.

Yeah. I may not feel as strongly as you about this, but I still feel music is something intrinsically valuable to me. At least something about is is, and I haven't yet found a better substitute for it. If I stop listening to music entirely, I feel like the world is a bit more devoid of value to me. It might make sense to talk about this for those who don't feel strongly about the matter, but for me personally this starts to drift into the Straw Vulcan territory.

If you're just looking to maximize pleasure, perhaps you should schedule music fasts.
Obligatory link: This not only includes noises like white, it also has soundscapes and music/noise hybrid things and a suprisingly effective isochronic generator.
Related only indirectly: for me, pink noise seems to work much more effectively in masking distractions than white noise, to the point that I can tolerate a much higher volume.
One distinction that might matter here is between instrumental music and music with lyrics. Anecdotally, I think lyric-free music, as background music, distracts me less, and I've tried to remember to listen to e.g. instrumental jazz or prog rock when I want to hear music while studying something.
I don't really think that randomizing the the right word. Certain music has certain emotional effects on me. If I want to feel those effects I can play the music. Certain Bachata music brings to my mind the emotions that I felt during dancing Bachata to those songs. Before dancing Bachata music did nothing for me.
Interesting question I have yet never seen. Sounds obvious in hindsight, but all good questions are.
Very well noticed. Music takes a lot of our time and attention (and a bit of money) for giving a bit of pleasure (and very little information). Music used to give lots of (but seldom) pleasure and associate this with social situations you had an impact on. I listen to music only if I am in the mood for it. If the music I want to hear matches the feelings I have. But this happens only a few times a month. I like music (thus not being one of the 5% who can't) but I'm quite choosy and my preference doesn't align with popular trends. I think listening to it all the time is a waste of time and depreciates the value of the music (makes it everyday; nothing has a chance to stand out and do make an impact). If you have time to kill I'd recommend listening to audio books instead. Not only stories (though there are some that contain valuable concepts esp. for younger listeners; I'd love to see an HPMoR audiobook). But maybe you can spend your time even better. Music is one more domain of human preferrence that has been 'subverted' by our society. From whatever origin through a socially well-integrated function of bringing people together and increase social exchange it's major remaining effect (measured by person-time spent) is to direct attention into the sphere of music meaning and economics (what sounds good, who likes what, how to sell/buy and play it). This actually reduces chances of social interaction because everybody in the bus/train/street is listening to (or reading) something. And you can't relate to that. But maybe that is a compensation for the masses of online-interactions that you have instead (which are less personal though).
Another consideration: earworms. I find getting a song stuck in my head to be somewhat aversive. Edgar Allan Poe puts it this way:
It takes about a minute for something bad to annoy me. It takes multiple days for something good to annoy me.

App Academy has been discussed here before and several Less Wrongers have attended (such as ChrisHallquist, Solvent, Curiouskid, and Jack).

I am considering attending myself during the summer and am soliciting advice pertaining to (i) maximing my chance of being accepted to the program and (ii) maximing the value I get out of my time in the program given that I am accepted. Thanks in advance.

EDIT: I ended up applying and just completed the first coding test. Wasn't too difficult. They give you 45 minutes, but I only needed < 20.

EDIT2: I have reached the interview stage. Thanks everyone for the help!

EDIT3: Finished the interview. Now awaiting AA's decision.

EDIT4: Yet another interview scheduled...this time with Kush Patel.

EDIT5: Got an acceptance e-mail. Decision time...

EDIT6: Am attending the August cohort in San Francisco.

I work at App Academy, and I'm very happy to discuss App Academy and other coding bootcamps with anyone who wants to talk about them with me.

I have previously Skyped LWers to help them prepare for the interview.

Contact me at if interested (or in comments here).

Maximizing your chances of getting accepted: Not sure what to tell you. It's mostly about the coding questions, and the coding questions aren't that hard—"implement bubble sort" was one of the harder ones I got. At least, I don't think that's hard, but some people would struggle to do that. Some people "get" coding, some don't, and it seems to be hard to move people from one category to another. Maximizing value given that you are accepted: Listen to Ned. I think that was the main piece of advice people from our cohort gave people in the incoming cohort. Really. Ned, the lead instructor, knows what he's doing, and really cares about the students who go through App Academy. And he's seen what has worked or not worked for people in the past. (I might also add, based on personal experience, "don't get cocky about the assessments." Also "get enough sleep," and should you end up in a winter cohort, "if you go home for Christmas, fly back a day earlier than necessary.")
Hey Jayson. What's your programming background?
I've got one year of a CS-program under my belt (so, basically some maths and Java) and am currently teaching myself Ruby via online tutorials.
Chris covered a lot of things. Re getting accepted, I think you'll be okay. You're ahead of where I was and I can tell you're smart. Do the prep work they give you, do some project Euler problems. I don't think you have to do the challenges in Ruby, but knowing at least one language well will help. If you are accepted I strongly recommend a) Going to SF, not NY. The job market is better and I suspect the instruction is as well. B) If you don't mind too much: stay at App Academy (2016 edit: they no longer allow this). It isn't comfortable but you'll greatly benefit from being around other people learning web development all the time and it will keep you from slacking off. Remember that this isn't college. You don't get a certificate or degree. So the point isn't to get through the program. The point is to learn as much as you possibly can while you're there. Also, If you're still on the edge about doing it, I strongly recommend it. App Academy easily had a bigger beneficial impact on my life than anything else I've done. Let me know if you have any specific questions.
Hey there, I'm mid application process. (They're having me do the prep work as part of the application). Anyways,,, I'm confused about that. App Academy has housing/dorms? I didn't see anything about that. Or did I misunderstand what you meant?
Hey. You might have had this question answered already but just in case: they don't have housing or dorms. But they do have room and allow you to put up a cot or inflatable mattress and sleep there for the duration.
Yeah, found that out during the final interview. Sadly, found out several days ago they rejected me, so it's sort of moot now.
Yikes. Any idea why?
Not sure. They don't actually tell you that.
I'm a current student who started two weeks ago on Monday. I'd be happy to talk as well.
Hey. I'm doing App Academy this summer, so I can't tell you about the program, but I can give you my thoughts on the interview. Based on what you said in the comments above, it sounds like we have somewhat similar backgrounds. The interview was mostly pretty simple code problems. If you felt like you knew what you were doing in your cs classes and that you were keeping up with the other students, you'll probably be able to handle these. Just make sure you're comfortable with the ruby needed to do the practice problems. Good luck!

A public service announcement.

If you only rarely peek out from underneath your rock and don't know about Heartbleed you should bother to find out. Additional info e.g. here. A pretty basic tool to check servers is here.

Notable vulnerable services were, for example, Gmail and Yahoo Mail.

List of affected sites with recommendations on which to change your password. Unfortunately, you should also probably change any other sites on which you use the same password.

It's a good time to do an Expected Utility calculation!

if you think that: p(having your accounts compromised) ( pain if accounts are compromised) > 1 (inconvenience of changing passwords), then change em!

Also, might be a good opportunity for you to start using a password manager like LastPass

Before you change the password, though, make sure that the website patched the vuln and got a new certificate as private keys were one of those things potentially leaked. Changing the password for a site which didn't patch and get a new cert is worse than useless.
Absolutely right. The list I posted shows which have been patched as well. Thanks for pointing that out.
Please help with this calculation. pain and inconvenience are individual, but probability (for the non-famous who aren't targetted specifically) is probably similar for many of us. Let's take gmail to be specific: * have you changed your gmail password in response to this flaw [pollid:664] * what is your current probability estimate that your gmail account was compromised by this flaw in a way that would cause you pain [pollid:665]
I changed passwords on gmail, but what I'm wondering is why I haven't seen a single announcement on any of the sites I log in to about the issue, including gmail, and others that third party sites have listed as vulnerable.
I have friends who do security at Google, and they explicitly told me "we don't think the company was vulnerable and you don't need to change your GMail password." So as near as I can tell, the third-party sites and Google, inc, disagree about whether Google is vulnerable here.
I checked my Gmail login locations after I heard about Heartbleed and saw one location that was obviously not anywhere I had been in the last month. So based on that information I assumed that Gmail was compromised and changed my password.
How often do you check your login locations?
It checks for you, by the way, and will block an attempt and notify you if it looks suspicious. This happened to me earlier this month. Interestingly, that happened 4 days after the vulnerable OpenSSL version was released and my Gmail password is basically the only the one which I do not reuse anywhere and I don't know how anyone could have gotten it... Still more likely to have been a keylogger or something.
Google said the same to the press.
Um. Google said: (emphasis mine) The fact that patches were needed pretty much says that the services mentioned were vulnerable.
Context: I want to give some insight as to why I (and others) voted for "not changing password, not very worried" and as to why the company is not telling everybody to change password immediately. I agree that the fact that patches were needed does imply that they were running the bad OpenSSL versions. The company is saying, on the record, that people do not need to change passwords. And this matches what I am hearing informally from friends who work there. Is it good hygiene to change passwords? Yes. Given two-factor authentication and perfect forward secrecy, it might not be super critical though.
Let me ask an important question: how does Google know? A successful Heartbleed attack leaves no traces unless you're logging all the packets you received in pretty ridiculous detail. Bruce Schneier says: "At this point, the probability is close to one that every target has had its private keys extracted by multiple intelligence agencies." I consider his opinions to be credible. Update: Bloomberg says: "The U.S. National Security Agency knew for at least two years about a flaw in the way that many websites send sensitive information, now dubbed the Heartbleed bug, and regularly used it to gather critical intelligence, two people familiar with the matter said."
Yes. The NSA isn't a threat I worry about, since I figure they could get my stuff via a demand to Google, if they wanted it. I am primarily worried about non-government-aided criminals. See Steve Bellovin's analysis for why this isn't so suitable an attack for that class of adversary.
And look what your own link says: "There's one password you should change nevertheless: your email password." Besides, Bellovin is talking about what he calls the most serious case -- leakage of crypto keys. If the attackers snarfed your password, they don't need to sniff, mitm, or redirect your traffic.
I was going to wait until I get a message from Google, since I have 2-step verification enabled. I don't see how heartbleed could compromise it. Except of course for application-specific passwords.
I changed my password, but not solely due to the flaw - it was more a straw that broke the camel's back as I was using a password good enough for just email but not good enough for the master key to all my online (and banking) activity.

Inspired by economical lolcats, I guess we should have some rationality lolcats. Here are a few quick ideas:

Two big cats next to each other, a third smaller cat in front of them or hiding somewhere aside. "Consider the third alternative"

One cat standing on hind legs, other cat crouching. "If P(H|E) > P(H) ... then P(H|~E) < P(H)"

Cat examining a computer mouse. "Iz mouse 'by definishun' ... still can't eat"

Cat ripping apart paper boxes. "Stop compartmentalizing"

Cat ripping apart a map. "The map is not the territory"

Cat riding a vacuum cleaner ... something about Friendly AI.

Kittens riding a dog. "Burdensome details"

Cat looking suspiciously at a whirlpool in a bathtub. "Resist the affective spiral"

Or simply a picture of some smart cat (cat with glasses?) and some applause-light texts, like "All your Bayes are belong to us"

I am not sure what is the proper procedure for creating these; specifically whether there is some good source of legally available cat images. What is the correct font to use, and whether there are some tools for conveniently adding texts to pictures. Anyone has experience with this?

There are lots of lolcat builders out there, but this is the only one I've used: You're on your own for legally available images, though. I think the community consensus is that it doesn't matter because parody or whatever, which is not a legitimate legal defense, but I don't think anybody's been sued yet.

The builder seems great. Thousands of cat pictures!

3Ben Pace10y
I don't know what lolcats are, although I have seen Internet memes, and in the few moments I spent looking at the cat pictures, I did get some ideas... Edit: Added ones I couldn't earlier, because other site wasn't working.
I love the marshmallow maximizer! Perhaps it could serve as an educational example about how an Unfriendly AI might exploit our psychological weaknesses to make us accept horrible outcomes. :D
I don't have a rationality point, but I like the grumpy cat "joy in the merely real" one.
In the US it is a legitimate legal defense. YMMV in your jurisdiction.
Right, sorry, that wasn't clear: parody is a defense, but I doubt it would work in this case because you're not parodying the material you used, you're just creating a funny derived work.
This meme is at least a decade old. If we're going to do rationality memes, we should do something more relevant...
Does using lolcats actually impede understanding of the message or anything like that? 'Recency' is not a terminal value.

Does anyone else here have bizarre/hacky writing habits?

I discovered Amphetype, a learn-to-type application that allows you to type passages from anything that you get as a text file. But I've started to use it to randomly sample excerpts from my own writing. The process of re-typing it word for word makes me actually re-process it, mentally speaking, and I often find myself compelled to actually re-write something upon having re-typed it.

Something similar that I've had positive results with is to print out a draft, open a new file, and make myself transcribe the new draft to a new file.

I used to alternate between paper and computer for each draft for this reason. I don't do it much because it requires quite a bit of time, but typing and retyping this way might be faster without losing much of the benefit.
One time when I had a particularly large amount of biochemistry facts to study for a test the next morning I thought it might help my memory if I kept re-transcribing them, rephrasing them completely each time. I did well on the test, but not above my usual performance (then again, it was over more material than usual). I never tried this again; it was never necessary... but I am kind of curious if it really works.
On a Mac, you can make the computer read your writing aloud: highlight the text, right-click and select 'Speech'. (Hat Tip: Kevin Simler) Also, reading my writing out loud for myself---varying the tempo, varying the emphasis and so on---helps me understand its perceived impact. Thanks for the tip about re-typing your writing.
Oooh, thanks for mentioning. I think I'll try this when I finish my first draft.

Are there any listings of rationalist houses and/or Less Wrong users looking for an apartment?

If not, do you guys think it should be a feature that is added to IMO, it's something that has the potential to improve a lot of lives, and doesn't take that much effort to implement. So ROI-wise, it seems like something worthy of doing.

ROI-wise, the best first move seems to write a comment on Open Thread, asking: "Are there any rationalist houses with free capacity? Alternatively, are there any LessWrong users looking for an appartment (please write the locality)?" If you get answers, you can put them in wiki afterwards. If you don't get answers... then making the wiki page would probably accomplish nothing.
0Adam Zerner10y
So you think that the likelihood of people posting in the WIki is low enough that it needs to be tested in Open Thread first? Even so, what's the downside to making a Wiki? I suspect that people would be more willing to post there than the Open Thread because the Wiki seems more "legit" and posting there is more likely to be useful, whereas posting to the small Open Thread post may be seen as fruitless (for it to be useful, it really needs a critical mass of people, and it's more likely to get that with the WIki).
There now exists a wiki page for this:
I don't think it really needs a new feature. We already have a Wiki. The problem is more about organising the information.
0Adam Zerner10y
Could you link to it? I can't find it.
0Adam Zerner10y
I don't see any listing of rationality houses or people looking for apartments there.
But there space where you could put that information. There no need to have a new feature. The Wiki feature is perfectly fine to store information about rationality houses. There no need to ask for permission to create a Wiki page that lists that kind of information.
0Adam Zerner10y
I'd like to make a Wiki page of people looking for a roommate who is also a Less Wrong user. However I can't create new pages because I'm a new user. Do you know how I could get approval or something to make the page?
Hi Adam, I created the page for you:
0Adam Zerner10y
Thanks! I suspect that "rationalist houses" should be more clearly distinguished from "apartments" though.
0Adam Zerner10y
Oh ok, I understand what you mean now.

What's so special about HPMoR?

Some people seem to think that it is more than just a decent read: that it genre-breaking, that it transcends the rules of ordinary fiction. Some people change their life-pattern after reading HPMoR. Why?

For some context on who is asking this question: I've read 400 pages or more of HPMoR; as well as pretty much everything else that Eliezer has written.

I can't speak for others, but I love HPMoR. I honestly believe it's one of the best pieces of fiction I've ever read, so I'll try to describe my own reasons.

  1. Tropes and Plot Devices: I've read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy and HPMoR avoids a lot of the downfalls of the genre such as dei ex machina, whiny/angsty heroes, and phleboninum/unobtainium. Eliezer is familiar enough with common tropes that he does a great job of applying them in the right contexts, subverting them interestingly, and sometimes calling them out and making fun of them directly.

  2. The First Law of Rationalist Fiction: Roughly, that characters should succeed by thinking in understandable, imitable ways, not by inexplicable powers or opaque "bursts of insight" that don't really explain anything. After hearing this ideal stated outright and seeing it in practice, a lot of other fiction I've read (and, unfortunately, written) seems a lot less satisfying. Eliezer does a fantastic job at giving a look into the characters' minds and letting you follow their thought patterns. This makes it even more satisfying when they succeed and even more crushing when they fail.

  3. Application of the Sequences: As someo

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I'm also somewhat confused by this. I love HPMoR and actively recommend it to friends, but to the extent Eliezer's April Fools' confession can be taken literally, characterizing it as "you-don't-have-a-word genre" and coming from "an entirely different literary tradition" seems a stretch.

Some hypotheses:

  1. Baseline expectations for Harry Potter fanfic are so low that when it turns out well, it seems much more stunning than it does relative to a broader reference class of fiction.
  2. Didactic fiction is nothing new, but high quality didactic fiction is an incredibly impressive accomplishment.
  3. The scientific content happens to align incredibly well with some readers' interests, making it genre-breaking in the same way The Hunt for Red October was for technical details of submarines. If you are into that specific field, it feels world-shatteringly good. For puns about hydras and ordinals, HPMoR is the only game in town, but that's ultimately a sparse audience.
  4. There is a genuine gap in fiction that is both light-hearted and serious in places which Eliezer managed to fill. Pratchett is funny and can make great satirical points, but doesn't have the same dramatic tension. Works that otherwise get the dramatic stakes right tend to steer clear of being light-hearted and inspirational. HPMoR is genre-breaking for roughly the same reasons Adventure Time gets the same accolades.

One more hypothesis after reading other comments:

HPMoR is a new genre where every major character either has no character flaws or is capable of rapid growth. In other words, the diametric opposite of Hamlet, Anna Karenina, or The Corrections. Rather than "rationalist fiction", a better term would be "paragon fiction". Characters have rich and conflicting motives so life isn't a walk in the park despite their strengths. Still everyone acts completely unrealistically relative to life-as-we-know-it by never doing something dumb or against their interests. Virtues aren't merely labels and obstacles don't automatically dissolve, so readers could learn to emulate these paragons through observation.

This actually does seem at odds with the western canon, and off-hand I can't think of anything else that might be described in this way. Perhaps something like Hikaru No Go? Though I haven't read them, maybe Walter Jon Williams' Aristoi or Ian Banks' Culture series?

The Culture books tend to star people on the margins of the eponymous Culture: disaffected citizens, spies, mercenaries, people from other involved (and usually more conservative) civilizations. They almost always have serious character flaws (a number of them are out-and-out assholes) and while character development does occur, generally toward Culture values, it's not usually dramatic. On the other hand, the culture itself, and the AI entities that run it, are presented as having few to no flaws from the narrative's perspective. While the characters are often critical of it, it's fairly clear where the author's sympathies lie. They're not rationalist fiction in the sense that Methods is, or even in the sense that Asimov's Foundation books are. They do make for a decent stab at eutopia from a socially liberal soft-transhumanist perspective, though not an especially radical one.
Atlas Shrugged comes to mind.
Hmm... Atlas Shrugged does have (ostensible) paragons. Rand's idea of Romanticism as portraying "the world as it should be" seems to match up: "What Romantic art offers is not moral rules, not an explicit didactic message, but the image of a moral person—i.e., the concretized abstraction of a moral ideal." (source) Rand's antagonists do tend to be all flaws and no virtues though.
Everyone in that book acts nearly completely diametrically opposed to their interests were they in the real world.
Characters act against their own interests in HPMoR... and in Hikaru no Go, for that matter. Just, you get to see why they're doing it so it seems more reasonable at the time. Which is of course how it seems to them. We're just used to characters doing things that don't seem like good ideas at the time in other works.
I have not read HPMoR (or have a particularly strong desire to), but if this sentence is true, then HPMoR is shitty literature with a particular TVTropes name. ---------------------------------------- How many people over 35 enjoyed HPMoR?

It's one of the only fictional works I can read without having to constantly ignore obvious things the protagonists should be doing. It's really, really funny.

It's fun and absurd and complicated and fulfills the inner need to overanalyze that a lot of geeky people like myself have. Me and a bunch of friends in college were reading it as it came out and speculating wildly on what would happen next, especially about motives, and especially around Azkaban. But it was just a popular fanfic with an absurd hilarious premise that we liked (and that would occasionally lead to me oversleeping and missing the first half hour of my astrobiology class). Another work of comparable interest that had quite a similar effect on several of my friends around the same time was Homestuck. Nowdays we have nearly completely lost interest. Partially because we have learned of the existence of people who take it too seriously / have changed their life-pattern after reading it which adds an ugh effect and partially because it's become rather overdone / takes itself too seriously. My interest in it that remains has changed from fun to morbid fascination.
Really? Are you sure it's not simply that it's barely updating anymore? I ask because the first two reasons you give are pretty poor reasons, and the second two... well, most of these developments seem to follow pretty directly from what went before.
I can't speak for everybody, but some of us are judging it by comparison to other fanfiction instead of other fiction generally. I'd agree that HPMoR doesn't stack up against good Sanderson or Pratchettt, say, but judged in the reference class of fanfiction it's pretty extraordinary.
That it's top-quality for its field (fanfic). That it has an active proselytising fanbase. That some of said fanbase, it's the first thing they like that much that they've seen.
And, for some, the only thing.
Basically, kids who don't know much about an area will imprint upon the first thing they like that much.
shrugs. I'm not that willing to deny people's own preferences. It's entirely possible that it's the thing they'll derive the most enjoyment from reading, or close.
One more thing-- it's got is tremendous emotional range and intensity.
One of the first things that I tell people is that it's the most powerful story that I've ever read. I've never cried or laughed as hard as during HPMoR.
For some context: I got hooked on HPMoR because of its humor in the early chapters, and some then-mind-blowing characters, ideas and plot twists in the first half. That's how I ended up on this forum way back when. However, the story has gotten darker, more preachy and short on comic relief in the last half. This is pretty standard for multi-volume works and is probably intentional, but I still miss Comed-tea, soul-eating Tracey and frolicking woodland creatures. HPMoR is "more than just a decent read" because it is a well-designed and successfully implemented device to gently introduce new people to the ideas of rationality and transhumanism. In that it is similar to what Atlas Shrugged did for Objectivism. It also helps that the story has no obvious plot holes and idiot balls. Probably after lurking or participating here, not just after HPMoR.
I wasn't aware that people have been changing their "life-pattern" after reading it. Are there any examples?
I think that some MIRI researchers, or at least active community members, originally encountered the LW/MIRI memeplex through HPMoR. Also, I met someone who said he was formerly very religious and is now an atheist. He said that he was brought into the LW world through HPMoR and HPMoR seemed to still be the main focus of his interests inside this memeplex. Though I can't say that HPMoR was the only cause of his shift of attitudes or even the main one, it apparently had an important role.. So, it does seem that HPMoR has some strong effects on some people.
I think it's main effect is as a gateway to studying rationality.
Yes, but some people praise the book itself as utterly exceptional. Atlas Shrugged may introduce people to Objectivism, but even the fanatics who praise the ideas in it don't praise it as literature.

"Atlas Shrugged is the greatest novel that has ever been written, in my judgment, so let's let it go at that."
— Nathaniel Branden, quoted in a 1971 interview in Reason magazine.

In some respects, it is. If you've always been put off by idiot balls or stupid moves or leaving exploits on the table or any number of other things, HPMoR scratches an itch that you've had all along.
I think those are two separate things - "it changed my life" and "It's exceptional literature" are different, although they're not uncorrelated.
Certainly. I'm interested in why people would say either of these things. From my reading, HPMoR is interesting and well-written, but it's hard to see why it would change someone's life or why someone would think it was an utterly new mold-breaking work of literature.
I think the main effect wrt the former is as a introduction to rationality and the Sequences
It is pretty good, and the plot picks up after Azkaban. I don't count myself among the rabid, but I do enjoy the mysteries. It's very densely plotted, which is fun.
As I am agreeing with your confusion I want to extend the question to why Eliezer's writing is seen as so great in general. For me it is just exhausting to read, especially since most of the articles can be summarised in a couple of sentences.
I'd be happy to see you do this. Maybe when we see what you think the two sentence version of every article is it'll be easy to talk about why you don't like what eliezer is doing.
That would require me reading all of the articles. We could meet at a middle ground with me trying to rewrite one of the smaller subsequences, like a handful of articles, and us evaluating the merits of this approach. Do you have any preferences?
Haven't you already read them if you know that they can be summarized in two sentences?
Thanks for those answers; but they don't quite explain * why some people are induced to change their life by it (perhaps only because it piques their interest for other material on LessWrong) * why some readers get more enthusiastic about it than about some excellent non-fanfic books. (These readers are mostly not part of a group that might put social pressure on them to become fans.) * why Eliezer has described his own work as "fictional literature from what looks like an entirely different literary tradition." (That's in the April Fool's post, but he has said similar things elsewhere. And though this bullet point could be explained as arrogance on the part of Eliezer, some comments I've seen suggest that many fans agree with him.)

why some people are induced to change their life by it (perhaps only because it piques their interest for other material on LessWrong)

I'm also kind of surprised by this but... actually how rare really is it for people to say "X caused me to change my life."

I do know for a fact that people have changed their lives based on canon Harry Potter, with hundreds of people becoming obsessed with different character pairings etc. So maybe it isn't too surprising that it would happen with HPMoR, at least to a few people.

A weird fact about humanity and mass society is that virtually anything that reaches a large enough audience will wind up with some obsessive fans. As an example, dozens of women pledged their undying devotion to Richard Ramirez, the "Night Stalker."

why Eliezer has described his own work as "fictional literature from what looks like an entirely different literary tradition."

Characters in HPMOR do things for rational reasons. Smart characters are smart and make their decisions based on careful thought instead of unexplained flashes of insight.

That not something that happens in normal fiction. If you think that's not new, which works of fiction do you consider to have the same quality?

why some people are induced to change their life by it (perhaps only because it piques their interest for other material on LessWrong)

Because HPMOR often has morals to teach.

There are a lot of atheists who are essentially like Harry's father. They wouldn't run experiments to test whether magic exist but simply assume that it doesn't exist and get angry with everyone who claims magic exists. By having a well written story they might update into the direction of empricism.

It teaches a version of science that about experiements and not about reading authoritative papers. That might raise in at least a few readers the question of why they aren't doing science in their lifes.

The narrative about taking heroic responsiblity is strong. ... (read more)

If I had to guess, I'd guess that it targets a particular kind of audience that most fiction isn't targeted at, and consequently appeals to that audience more than excellent other books targeted elsewhere.

* Because most fiction (including fanfics) doesn't include such explicit teachings that are applicable to one's life. Usually it's found in non-fiction, and didactic works of fiction usually must be subtle lest they be labeled "preachy". * The themes in and lessons of HPMOR are relatively uncommon in fiction. * Didactic fiction is a rarity in modern times, and writings that are both didactic and tell a story well are rarer still.
I just made the point on the /r/HPMOR subreddit that with most fiction, the author wants to share a story with you, but with some authors (for example, Yudkowsky or Stephenson), they have knowledge they want to share with you and their way of sharing is through story. I'm sure their are other authors who also do this, but they seem to be few and far between, making HPMOR one of the first works of that kind people may encounter.
Also, most authors who do want to show or teach something through their story tend to do it subtly and non-explicitly, perhaps because being open and explicit about a message is low-status.
I thought about it before I typed it out and I found that most authors do want to show or teach something, but that this is often something obvious. Harry Potter (canon) teaches us that Nazis are bad, that you shouldn't trust an oppressive government, that bureaucracies can be dangerous, that you shouldn't torture people... but when I read the novels (at the appropriate age, I grew up with them) I had already learned those lessons. What Anathem, Snow Crash and HPMOR taught me were things I wouldn't have picked up on my own.
It's interesting to note that HP canon is aimed at children/teens, and that books aimed at those demographics tend to be more open about teaching something. It would be interesting to consider how often fiction aimed at adults is didactic, and how open adult didactic fiction is about its message.
I'm not so sure about this. Didactic and polemic works are uncommon (though not unknown) in genre fiction, but they seem less so in literary fiction; George Orwell is the first writer that comes to mind, but he's by no means the last. I've even heard didactic content described as a prerequisite of literary quality, though I can't remember where at the moment.
It's been a while but why do you consider Orwell to be didactic. He makes political points but from what I remember from 1984 it's not really about decisions are made in daily life.
A work doesn't need to inform daily life in order to be didactic. 1984 is about the dynamics of totalitarianism, Animal Farm is a thinly fictionalized Russian Revolution, Down and Out in London and Paris is about class relations in Western Europe, and so forth -- but practically everything Orwell wrote was primarily meant to be instructive in some way.
Maybe I have too precise a definition, but I think "didactic" should mean giving advice, and not just information. Almost all fiction is about psychological insight, but that isn't directly practical. And I don't mean "practical" in a daily life way: the reason I don't count Animal Farm as didactic isn't because I'm not a Bolshevik, but because even if I were, it still wouldn't tell me how to change the course of the revolution.
By that definition nearly all serious fiction is didactic and there are plenty of people in the English department who find didactic elements in the rest. blacktrance used didactic to mean "teachings that are applicable to one's life". I don't think Orwell fits.
I wouldn't say "nearly all", but quite a lot of it, yes, and probably a larger fraction since 1945. That's the point. I don't think we should restrict the word to everyday living, but if we did, I could point to Hermann Hesse, Kurt Vonnegut, Ayn Rand, and plenty of others.
My experience with HPMoR has been to find a story that is a) dementedly funny, b) loaded with a pile of mysteries to keep you wondering about crazy theories late at night, c) internally consistent and well narrated, d) useful for indirectly teaching people about rational techniques. I was not aware of the number of rationalist novels circulating out there, and HPMoR was the first case I found of a fictional character explicitly defending my pet causes (empiricism, privileging experimentation, reductionism, atheism, the importance of SF in teaching creative thought). Among other effects, it naturally makes the reader want to know more about the author.
Very few books in any genre are as good at maintaining a constant and exciting level of interaction between interesting characters. Even some of the works that have HPJEV style characters like Miles Vorkosigan (who I love) tend to lean heavily on their central character. Harry Potter is extremely impportant to HPMOR but all his best scenes are interplays with draco, hermione and quirrel which involve back and forth interaction rather than simply domination.

An idea: a rationality hackathon.

From what I see, it seems like rationalists don't act on ideas often enough. To help people get the motivation to act on ideas, I sense that a hackathon would be effective. People would talk and group together to prototype different ideas, and at the end of the hackathon, participants would vote on the best ideas, and hopefully this would spark some action.

I guess what makes this different from the typical hackathon is:

1) Participants would be Less Wrong readers, or people part of other rationality-minded communities.

2) The goal would be to start things that are as beneficial as possible to the world (people at hackathons usually just want to build something "cool").


The more complex a project is, the less likely are people to complete it successfully. The more meta a project is, the less likely is the model of its usefulness correct. I expect a risk that people will vote on something very nebulous (more meta! more meta!) as the best idea, and at the end pretty much nothing measurable happens. To avoid going too much meta, I would recommend adding an artificial constraint, such as "we must be able to complete the whole thing in one week". Sure, this drastically limits how useful things you can do. On the other hand, it allows multiple iterations and feedback.
2Adam Zerner10y
Maybe there's a risk, but do you think it's big enough to make the Hackathon not worth doing? I think that people here are smart enough to Get Something Done. Hmm, maybe. 1) I think that if a private group wants to do something more future-oriented, they should be allowed. Maybe you could just restrict people that enter voting to be things that could be done in a certain time period. 2) "You have to have a useful version in x weeks" is probably better than "You have to have completed your project in x weeks".

A nice puzzle which I found in this Math Overflow page: Is there a position with a finite number of chess pieces on an infinite chessboard, such that White has a forced win in ω moves? The meaning of this is that White has a move such that, for every possible response of Black, White has a guaranteed checkmate in a number of moves bounded by a finite number N; but before Black's first move, we cannot put a bound on how large N might be.

The thread gives a solution, and also links to this paper, where higher ordinals and questions of computability in infinite chess are also considered.


Since one big problem with neural nets is their lack of analyzability, this geometric approach to deep learning neural networks seems probably useful.

It is very neat. There is no obvious way to apply these methods to nets with many hidden units (which means most useful deep learning nets). The visualization techniques are excellent though. It's a great blog post, and we'll see if it leads to some great research.

A career question, asked with EA aims in mind, that will hopefully be relevant to many other LW members.

I am considering CS research as a career path, probably in one of AI/ML/distributed systems. I'm currently working as a software developer and I have done extensive MOOC work to pick up a CS background in terms of coursework, but my undergraduate degree is in math and I have no published research.

If I decide that getting a PhD was worthwhile and wanted to apply to good programs, where would I start building my resume and skills? Independent research project? Sufficiently impressive projects within my current company? Should I just get a master's and see how that goes?

Alternately, is it possible to get involved with industry research without a PhD? What would such a career path look like?

Thoughts on any or all of the above questions, suggestions for people to talk to, etc. would be much appreciated.

How to Get into Grad School for Math, Engineering or Computer Science

This article proposes a plausible mathematical model for the subject perception of (long) time spans:

This is interesting for the following reasons:

  • It is general and robust to definitions of time perception in particular it doesn't rely on a specific measurement or definition of events.

  • It is analogous to model of perception of other stimuli.

  • The derived relationship suggests time perception being logarithmic with age and thus at age a time seems to proceed only at a rate o

... (read more)
And I think this points in the other direction- I think this suggests that 'a century is but a blink in the eye in the life of an elf' might actually be accurate. You throw some dwarves in the dungeon, then go about your normal routine, and then say 'oh, didn't we just capture some dwarves?' and it turns out that you've done your weekly routine a few thousand times since then. That is, if you're ten times as old, you only expect a tenth the number of 'new events' during the same period, and it's likely that anything faster would lead to a feeling of change happening too quickly. Hanson's talked a bit about minds (and thus ems) ossifying, which lines up with this- if you've been practicing a particular variety of corporate law for 300 years, you're probably very good at doing that law and not very good at picking up anything else.

This is not a Rationality Quote, but it might be about transhumanism if you squint. From a short Iron Man fanfic, Skybreak, cut for relevance:

He tells the recruits that technology will never replace them. He tells them that flight will always be there for them, that flight has to be there for them, because they are masters of the sky and what the hell were humans meant to do, except fly?

He knows men will never stop flying. Not because the machines will stop coming, because they won't. Not because the future's gonna step aside for him, because it won't.

... (read more)
It fits in a fanfic, but outside that it starts to look like generalizing from fictional evidence. We haven't seen what a supergenius did. We've only seen what a writer thinks a supergenius would do.
True; as evidence, it is fictional evidence. But it is a depiction of a category of positive outcome which, even if not inevitable, could be aimed for. It's making the difference between transhumanism and the robot economic takeover.

I am looking for resources related to meditation. I've made the same call before but this time I am aiming at checking the evidence more thoroughly.

I am particularly interested in 1. Decent studies in general 2. Information relating to the dangers of meditation 3. Resources that outline the differences between the different types of meditation

(no need to send me the wiki page on meditation research but if you are particularly impressed in a study there, that could be useful to me)

Here is a self-link to my meditation blog; this post has links to other posts: The blog is a mixture of personal experience, unscientific references, and cherry-picked peer-reviewed research. I specifically talk about the dangers of meditation, with included citations, but unfortunately it's all mixed in with other stuff. Here is one place to start:
The Relaxation Response focuses on the health effects of meditation. It doesn't cover too many different forms, but it has some good research on how a certain simple form of meditation affects your health. Very science-based, written by a doctor.
This is a good place to start for getting an idea about potential dangers of meditation.
That's an intersting article. I think a lot of the trouble of speaking of dangers of mediation is that we lack a coherent system about talking about different kinds of meditation. This paragraph is intersting. That not the kind of paradigm of the people from whom I learned meditation. At the moment I'm learning under the framework of perceptive padagogy of Danis Bois who's a French men. You might not get answers to every question in a way where you understand the answer but you are certainly not forbidden from asking anything. Sometimes the answer to: "Should I do A or B?". is "That's a good question. Take it with you in your next meditation." I haven't interact much with real Zen Buddhists but read them. It's my understanding that they have a concept of beginners mind that's about not declaring things to be holy but always being open for learning something new. Having already an idea of meditation I wouldn't shy away from staying a bit and learning the style of someone who considers some knowledge holy and forbidden from questioning. When you are a beginner I would recommend to stay away from such teachers. I would also stay away from people who tell you to renounce your bodily desires.
What type of meditation are you interested in?

I don't know whether this observation has been made before, (if it has, certainly more succintly), but I've noticed something about arguments with particularly irrational people (AGW deniers, Holocaust deniers, creationists, etc): The required length of each subsequent reply to explain why they're wrong grows exponentially with the length of the argument, while the irrational side can remain roughly constant. Entangled truths?

Does anyone know of a good secular Haggadah for Passover?

I have this one already.

I'm at that point in life where I have to make a lot of choices about my future life. I'm considering doing a double major in biochemistry and computer science. I find both of these topics to be fascinating, but I'm not sure if that's the most effective way to help the world. I am comfortable in my skills as an autodidact, and I find myself to be interested in comp sci, biochemistry, physics, and mathematics. I believe that regardless which I actually major in, I could learn any of the others quite well. I have a nagging voice in my head saying that I shou... (read more)


I have a nagging voice in my head saying that I shouldn't bother learning biochemistry, because it won't be useful in the long term because everything will be based on nanotech and we will all be uploads. Is that a valid point?

Keeping in mind the biases (EDIT: but also the expertise) that my username indicates, I would say that is nearly exactly backwards - modifications and engineering of biochemistry and biochemistry-type systems will actually occur (and already are) while what most people around here think of when they say 'nanotech' is a pipe dream. Biochemistry is the result of 4 gigayears of evolution showing the sorts of things that can actually be accomplished with atoms robustly rather than as expensive delicate one-off demonstrations and the most successful fine-scale engineering in the future will resemble it closely if not be it.

Maybe, some day. And as a "double major in biochemistry and computer science" you will be well positioned to help bring said nanotech from the realm of SciFi to reality. Certainly you have plenty of time, nothing as revolutionary is likely to happen in the next few years, and you will have your degree by then. I'd actually bet that "nanotech and uploads" are decades away, even being optimistic.
Hmm it seems obvious in retrospect, but it didn't occur to me that biochemistry would relate to nanotech. I suppose I compartmentalized "biological" from "super-cool high-tech stuff." Thank you very much for that point!
It seems likely we will have to learn more biochemistry to realize uploading.
No. Think about the timelines involved.
Thank you to those who commented here. It helped!
Nanotech without biochemistry won't be able to help anyone medically. That's like saying you don't need to know about biology because farming is all going to be done with machines these days. ALSO: Biochemistry and cell biology are the best existing examples we have of nanotech machines.
Biochemistry has tremendous world-saving potential. With both computer science and biochemistry in your arsenal, you could work in molecule modeling. The design and simulation of molecules is a key part of the development of new drugs and vaccines. Besides, we're running out of usable antibiotics. And as healthcare continues to prolong our working life years, we will need to improve our understanding of degenerative diseases like arthritis and Alzheimer's.
People with bio and algorithmic skills are in extremely high demand, but: (a) there might be a biotech bubble (b) it might be worthwhile to go after difficult to learn meta skills that help you learn other things more quickly (math, etc.), and just pickup whatever is in demand later.
This seems like the bottleneck question. Why don't you try to study that? After all, you should only prefer to be skilled and educated if you get this question right. If you get it wrong, it's either a matter of indifference, or actually better for everyone if you're as unskilled and uneducated as possible.

Is Moore's Law ending? 2 3

Moore’s law is no longer expected to deliver improved transistor cost scaling at or below the 20nm node...

For decades, semiconductor engineers have come to broad agreement about which technologies represented the best and most reliable scaling opportunities for future manufacturing...

If EUV and 450mm wafers don’t happen at 10nm, the “what happens next?” roadmap is a grab-bag of unresolved difficulties and potentially terrible economics.


Just wanted to say it is nice to see MIRI has a github presence -

Looking forward to seeing more.

I asked this in the last open thread and got no reply so here it is again:

Have there been any studies on how effective things like MOOCS and Khanacademy and so on are at teaching people?

It would be quite difficult for a researcher to conclude 'MOOC's are/are not effective' due to the flexibility of the grading mechanisms. In terms of 'passing' a MOOC , some courses offer easy multiple choice quiz's where you can submit several times, while others require peer reviewed essays or a calculation to 4 decimal places. To test the effectiveness of a course, you'd need to not only look at the course content / quizzes / exams, but also the student reviews to get an idea on how accurate/simplified the content testing actually is. As a single data point, my personal experience is that MOOC's are massively more effective for my learning style than any traditional course I have taken.
What's your retention like, 1, 6, 12 months after? The reason I ask is that I've noticed that the things I've "learned" on khanacademy and MOOCS stick far more poorly in my brain than traditional methods do, despite doing the provided exercises. Is this is quirk of my brain, or is it a problem with the exercises/instruction given?
What do you class as "traditional methods"? A big problem I've found with video lectures is the difficulty of looking things up afterwards. Text is much easier to refer back to, and it's after-the-fact repetition that helps things stick with me (and, by my understanding, with most people). I do find a lot of video lectures much "clickier" than text, though. Explaining something five ways is stylistically and editorially frowned upon in text, but is much more common in lecture format, so it increases the odds of having the subject explained in a way that suits me. (I also think the on-demand style of online video lectures makes it harder to remember them than if they were in a spaced, episodic format. By way of comparison, if I watch a box-set TV series in one marathon sitting, all the episodes will blur, and that will make it harder to remember exact sequences of events, or what occurred in proximity to what; if all the episodes are separated, they'll feel more self-contained, and I'll also have other surrounding events in my life to pin the memories on.) My MOOC successes have been ones that introduced me to subjects for which I subsequently got hold of several books, or ones that supplemented parallel study in a similar area.
In the flesh teachers. Yep, this is what I end up doing. Works pretty well for me.
On average, I would say my retention is slightly less than traditional methods and this is probably due to be the amount of time spent doing exercises. MOOC's are generally completed faster, and the number of required exercises/quizzes you do is overall less than a traditional course. Even with traditional courses, if I want to be able to do the stuff I've learned after it is over (and not just get the piece of paper), I work out a way to apply the learning in real life, such as a small programming project, or spend 10 minutes a day doing practicing maths. It is only after doing that that I considered I have nailed a topic.

Thought experiment. Imagine a machine that can create an identical set of atoms to the atoms that comprise a human's body. This machine is used to create a copy of you, and a copy of a second person, whom you have never met and know nothing about.

After the creation of the copy, 'you' will have no interaction with it. In fact, it's going to be placed into a space ship and fired into outer space, as is the copy of Person 2. Unfortunately, one spaceship is going to be very painful to be in. The other is going to be very pleasant. So a copy of you will experie... (read more)

I would care just slightly less than I would if my original body was sent instead (so I'd care a lot). (I put a high probability on something along the lines of pattern identity theory being 'correct')
I would care as much as I would about any two random human beings, plus caring points for personal acquaintance.
Quite a lot, but mostly out of fear of being wrong; I believe that identity is such that I will not wake up in the spaceship, and given that I'm correct I would care very little about the fate of that copy of me, but my beliefs about identity are based on strong intuitions that aren't soundly philosophically based and merely seem "obvious". I'd guess I care about 5% as much as I would care if I were to be placed in the spaceship, although "5% as much as if I was to be put in a torture-can and shot into space" is really abstract and I have no idea how to convert that to actual amounts of caring.
Pre copying I would care greatly. Post copying I would mourn my body doubles suffering or celebrate their joy mildly. From the future copy's and my experience we were once the same, so the present is invested in the well being of both. Post copy we have split and care for each other to the extent that kin and kind care for each other. For example consider a lottery you have a 50% chance to win, before the draw you are greatly invested in the outcome. after the outcome you barely give a thought to the alternate timeline you that could have won.
I think this turns you into a money pump. Pre-split there's some amount of money you will pay to have it be the other person experiencing pain rather than your double. Post-split you'll need less money given back to you to incentivise you to let it be your double rather than the other person.
I'm going to need to go back and brush up on the money pump concept. But for now I'm on boat that that would be mugging my body double as drethelin said. Wadavis v1.0 cares about all future versions of Wadavis. He accepts the deal and improves the life of the body double Wadavis v2.0. Wadavis v1.1 is the planetside post-copy of Wadavis v1.0, he accepts the second deal and reduces the quality of life of Wadavis v2.0. It is clear payout with no downside. Wadavis v1.1 is a jerk who denied Wadavis v2.0, who remember includes Wadavis v1.0 in their identity, agency over their own future. Wadavis v1.1 just mugged Wadavis v2.0 for the money Wadavis v1.0 paid for the better life. Now if Wadavis v1.0 was rational and cared for all future Wadavis versions. Would he cooperate (pay) if he knew Wadavis v1.1 would defect (take the second of option)? No, that would be foolish. So Wadavis v0.0 has precommitted to respect the rights and freedom of(cooperate with) all versions of Wadavis, eg. Not mug them of a luxury bought and paid for. Make sense?
Okay, that makes sense. So Wadavis v1.1 doesn't care much about Wadavis v2.0, but he acts like he cares a lot?
Thats right, but I want to double check our connotations. Acts feels like faking or intentional signalling, how about Wadavis v1.1 does not defect against kin and kind (other Wadavis versions in this case) so that future kin and kind will cooperate with him. Less a matter of acting and more a matter of those are the rules Wadavis follows while dealing with Wadavis, Home-team bot Cooperates with all other Home-team bots, even if defect has a higher payoff for the tempted version. Schelling fences and such. This all hinges on Wadavis v1.0 cooperating and having some sort of confidence that all future versions will cooperate. I think this is where is comes together, Wadavis v1.0 can simulate the behavior of future versions. If future versions cooperate, v1.0 cooperates. if future versions defect, v1.0 will defect and not invest in helping v2.0.
Yep. I didn't mean "act" as in "perform in a play" but as in "carry out an action".
That's not really a money pump, since you have to spend whatever resources it takes to create a bunch of clones and torture them.
The point isn't whether I (the pumper) make a profit, it's whether you (the pumpee) make a loss.
I the "money pump" needs to be imposed from the outside via threats it's no different than mugging.

Feyerabend's counterinduction and Bayesianism. Has anyone here thought about how these two views of science bear on each other?

What are the differences and similarities between fallibilism and Bayesianism?

If you look at the wikipedia page that describes fallibilism, the word probability doesn't directly appear. In the main body of the article. People like Pyrrho were practicing fallibilism long before the kind of math that you need to think about probabilities that you can multiple with each other got invented.
So the underlying philosophies are extremely similar if not the same even though the methods, largely due to practical problems (lack or presence of mathematical tools)?
The math is at the core of Bayesianism. It's part of the underlying philosophy.
There can be Bayesian evidence for non-falsifyable hypotheses. You might perhaps be interested in "Belief in the Implied Invisible "

Have LWers ever used Usenet? By that, I mean: connected to a NNTP server (not Google Groups) with a newsreader to read discussions and perhaps comment (not solely download movies & files).


Your age is:


I am curious about the age-distribution of Usenet use: I get the feeling that there is a very sharp fall in Usenet age such that all nerds who grew up in the '70s-'80s used Usenet, but nerd teens in the mid-'90s to now have zero usage of it except for a rare few who know it as a better BitTorrent.

Hmm, I'm not entirely sure. I can find old usenet comments - like my nethack YAFAP - from 2005 to 2008, but as far I can tell they were all made with Google Groups. I do vaguely recall using a newsreader, maybe trying to set up Thunderbird? It certainly would have been in character, "real men use newsreaders, and never top-post" kind of thing was a big part of the appeal. Possibly I could only get read-only access through whatever free provider I found. At the time, the communities discussing interactive fiction and roguelike games were still centered on usenet ( and* respectively) although iirc half the conversations were on the need to move on, to web forums or whatnot.
LessWrong tends to remind me more of usenet. Probably just due to the threaded comments. I'd happily read this site with a newsreader.
A belated analysis: hypothesis confirmed to my satisfaction - as expected, age is strongly related to Usenet-familiarity. (There's even a hint of a quick shift in the histograms.) # usenet <- read.csv("2015-02-26-lw-usenet.csv", header=FALSE) usenet2 <- data.frame(Usenet=usenet[1:67,]$V3, Age=usenet[68:134,]$V3) ## the default LW poll encoding is yes=0, no=1; this is very confusing, so let's reverse it usenet2$Usenet <- (usenet2$Usenet==0) wilcox.test(Age ~ Usenet, data=usenet2) # # Wilcoxon rank sum test with continuity correction # # data: Age by Usenet # W = 183.5, p-value = 3.893e-06 g <- glm(Usenet ~ Age, data=usenet2, family="binomial"); summary(g) # ...Coefficients: # Estimate Std. Error z value Pr(>|z|) # (Intercept) -7.33329350 1.93381008 -3.79215 0.00014935 # Age 0.24311715 0.06695693 3.63095 0.00028238 ## alternative plot: # with(usenet2, plot(Age,Usenet,xlab="Age",ylab="Probability of Usenet familiarity")) # curve(predict(g,data.frame(Age=x),type="resp"),add=TRUE) # points(usenet2$Age,fitted(g),pch=20) library(popbio) with(usenet2, logi.hist.plot(Age,Usenet,boxp=FALSE,type="hist",col="gray")) ## ## specific example: 51yo vs 20yo probabilities based on the model: predict(g, data.frame(Age=51), type="response") # 1 # 0.9937299491 predict(g, data.frame(Age=20), type="response") # 1 # 0.07791991187 (If anyone is curious, my original motive was wondering about Satoshi Nakamoto & Nick Szabo - both are familiar with and have used Usenet. We already know Szabo is old and very similar to LWers, so being Usenet-familiar turns out to be entirely ordinary as I guessed, but if Satoshi Nakamoto were a young college student as some people thought, then being Usenet-familiar is pretty surprising.)
I might have used it a bit but I voted "no" because I didn't use it in a significant amount to be able to say for sure that I used it.
Me, I used USENET a lot back in the late 1990s, mostly hanging out on Sad to say, my internet service provider back then was AOL. (The first newsgroup I tried reading was alt.barney.dinosaur.die.die.die...) My impression is that USENET died because it lacked reasonable spam prevention measures?
Spam started on Usenet. The Canter & Siegel visa spam! The anatomically correct chocolate heart! Ah, memories. So yes, a lot of it was overrun by spam for a while, but countermeasures were developed, and eventually the spam was brought down to the level we see today. My impression is that Usenet faded because blogging and web forums were invented, and most people voted with their feet. And then public access to the Internet exploded, the general public never even knew there was such a thing, and USENET faded into an obscure backwater of old-timers, which has probably contributed to it lingering on for as long as it has, under the benign neglect of Google and whatever sysadmins still run nntp servers. I've just looked into rec.arts.sf.fandom and it's still going, but I recognise nearly all of the posters' names, which implies that it's the same people as it was years ago, perhaps thinned by age. I've nothing against them, but I'm not going back. Is USENET still USENET, even? That is, are there still nntp servers propagating the messages to "thousands of machines throughout the entire civilized world"? Or does everyone go to Google Groups to use it? USENET developed as it did because of the technological and social environment of the time, and faded when that environment changed. No-one would invent it today, except in the form of a heavily decentralised and encrypted medium for secret discussion.
Yes, it's still possible to use Usenet independent of GG. For example, in the early 2000s, I was doing a lot of reading of early Web/Internet sociology, nerd culture, etc, got very curious about what Usenet was really like (I understood all the basics and a lot of details like scoring files, but there's nothing like using something to get a feel for it) and discovered my local ISP had a NNTP server up for a decent chunk of Usenet (the main omission being the bin hierarchy). A few hours of meddling with Thunderbird and later, mutt... It worked reasonably well and I understood why it was so dominant in its day, but spam was still a big problem compared to regular mailing lists and if my ISP didn't have a server up, I'm not sure how I would have gotten onto Usenet at all - there are few free servers these days. Still works pretty well for that. A fascinating example from 2005+:
Indeed. I regularly participate in some groups. While just a shadow of its former self, USENET (the text part, never mind the binary groups – those are much used for ahem, redistribution of multimedia content) is still alive and certain groups are rather vibrant. While the number of ISPs and universities that carry USENET declined almost to zero, several public news servers (aioe, ethernal-september) moved to fill this niche.
What's the relationship between Usenet and Google Groups nowadays? I thought that at some point Google rebadged much of Usenet forums as Google Groups?
It's something like that. As I understand it, Google Groups runs thousands of normal email mailing lists with no connection to Usenet, but it also offers a bidirectional gateway to Usenet - GG'll show Usenet posts that it can download or which it has copies of in its huge archive, and it'll let GG users post to Usenet as well.
So, basically, Google forked Usenet? X-)
'Extend, Embrace, Extinguish.'
For anyone who has never read USENET and is wondering what it was, I could say it was a completely decentralised collection of discussion forums in which every message posted was automatically replicated to every other participating machine, with nobody in charge of the whole thing, because before the web and broadband and instant global communications that was the only way you could implement a global discussion forum. But that isn't what it was. This is what it was. The technology is still there, still running, but like an aged relative with a glorious career now over, it's not what it was.
One sad minor consequence is that A Fire Upon The Deep is less funny and interesting now that most/all new readers will have no personal experience with Usenet.

(This was posted in the welcome thread, and I received a PM suggesting I post it here.)

I am looking for someone to help me with the Quantum Physics sequence. I have little background in physics and mathematics. For purposes of the sequence, you could probably consider me "intelligent but uninformed" or something like that.

To indicate the level on which I am having difficulties, take as an example the Configurations and Amplitude post.

  • I can do the algebra involved.
  • I found the articles linked in this comment helpful.
  • I understand the notion of c
... (read more)
What sort of help are you looking for? Do you have specific questions (like, do you want someone to explain the notion of amplitude) or are you looking for general resources on QM? If the latter, then I highly recommend Leonard Susskind's lectures on quantum mechanics from his "Theoretical Minimum" series, available here. Susskind does assume that you know calculus. If you don't, then I suggest that you familiarize yourself with calculus before attempting a technical understanding of QM. If you'd rather read than watch, the lectures are also available in book form, here.
I was looking for something more like the former. I do not know calculus, but I am convinced that I need to for a variety of reasons, so I have begun working my way through the Khan Academy materials. I had intended to leave the quantum physics materials aside until that project was complete, but I was heartened by Eliezer's insistence that one need only know algebra to grasp the sequence. Perhaps I just need to do calculus first, then work through a few books/lectures. Do you think this to be the case?
I don't recommend Eliezer's sequence as a first introduction to QM, at least not if you're interested in developing a reasonably deep understanding of the theory. If you want a minimal-math introduction, I think a better bet would be to check out the first few chapters of David Albert's Quantum Mechanics and Experience, illegally available in it's entirety here. I don't think Albert's book is an ideal introduction either, but I do think it does a better job than the sequence at getting the salient points across in simple language. Also, since you're interested in ontology, the latter half of Albert's book contains a pretty incisive analysis of various interpretations of QM (not just MWI). And here's an attempt at explaining quantum amplitudes: Let's start with classical configuration space, since you understand that. The possible states of a classical system are represented by individual points in its configuration space (well, technically, the configuration space doesn't give you the complete state of the system, because it leaves out information about velocities, but let's ignore that for now). In quantum mechanics, the configuration space looks just like classical configuration space, but its interpretation is very different. It's no longer true that the state of a quantum system is represented by an individual point in configuration space. The state of a quantum system is represented by a function on configuration space (the function has to satisfy certain other requirements in order to qualify as a bona fide representation of a quantum state, but ignore that detail also). So imagine your configuration space is only two-dimensional for now, and again imagine that we are only considering real-valued functions on configuration space. In that case, you could construct 3-D plots of the various functions that correspond to quantum states, with the x-y plane representing the configuration space and the z axis representing the value of the function. Here's an examp
(Sorry for the delay in response.) That is extremely helpful; it is just the kind of explanation I was looking for. I have begun working through some of the materials linked here, as well. Many thanks. Now that I am starting to piece the picture together, I need some time to mull over it and let my intuitions adjust to the ideas, but I may send you a message when I next get hung up on it.
If you have specific questions to ask, I'd be happy to answer them. "Amplitude" just refers to a complex number corresponding to a given point in configuration space. The Schrödinger equation specifies how the field of these complex numbers evolves over time. The probability of being in a particular configuration is proportional to the square of this amplitude. Does that help?
I recommend that you first read popular or semi-popular books written by experts in the field (Eliezer isn't one). One of the more recent and highly praised semi-popular books which addresses many points Eliezer tried to get across is ScottAaronson's Quantum Computing since Democritus. Free lecture notes are also available, but not as complete. The book has a complexity-theoretic bend, but you can skip the parts you find too boring or too hard. Other classic semi-popular QM books are also available, including the venerable Feynman lectures. That one explains amplitudes very well, but is light on various ontologies, like MWI.
While Aaronson's book is excellent, I suspect that someone who had trouble following Eliezer's posts will also have trouble following Aaronson's discussion of QM. It's not very neophyte-friendly.
Yeah, it requires effort, but, unlike Susskind's book, it has basically no calculus, just algebra and a tiny bit of some basic matrix addition and multiplication, as well as some very brief understanding of complex numbers, both of which can be learned in an afternoon by a person who has a solid grasp of precalc (grade 11-level math or so). Basically the same prereqs as for the QM sequence. Additionally, it touches on several very AGI-relevant points, like Godel incompleteness, anthropics, complexity and free will. And, while it talks favorably about MWI, it has none of the anti-rational MWI/Bayes propaganda and "eld science" bashing of the QM sequence.
Of course, it throws in some gratuitous anti-Bayesianism too - remember the chapter where anthropics (which no one agrees on or can formulate a sensible position on) refutes Bayesianism? Pick your poison...
I don't think he ever said anything about "refuting" Bayesianism, only that its application may depend on whether you believe SIA or SSA.
It is the ontology angle in which I am most interested, but I am not convinced that I can understand the ontology on even a basic level without understanding the math.

I want opinions: Is Neal Stephenson's Anathem a work of rationalist fiction?

I think it is (I don't think it was written with the rationalist label in mind, it just meets the qualifying standards).

Science and the scientific method are core plot points Technology is central. There is a transhumanist theme. The main character is a scholar/scientist. He seems approximately realistic in his behavior and intellect. Maybe this makes him more of a traditional hero in the midst of far more rational and intelligent people than himself.

You could get more answers if you posted this to /r/rational, which is a subreddit entirely dedicated to rationalist and rationalist-esque fiction.

Harry Potter question:

Is there any good "Harry is evil, Voldemort is the good guy" fanfic?

There's the obvious "Harry appears to be about to destroy the universe; Voldemort might be trying to stop him" one. But I don't know any real answers to your question.
I did further research after I posted the question and found this: which is about Voldemort being good, and Harry being sort of neutral then converted to Voldemort's side. But it's not the ideal of what I was looking for.

From "Bayes' Theorem":

In front of you is a bookbag containing 1,000 poker chips. I started out with two such bookbags, one containing 700 red and 300 blue chips, the other containing 300 red and 700 blue. I flipped a fair coin to determine which bookbag to use, so your prior probability that the bookbag in front of you is the red bookbag is 50%. Now, you sample randomly, with replacement after each chip. In 12 samples, you get 8 reds and 4 blues. What is the probability that this is the predominantly red bag?

... a blue chip is exactly the

... (read more)
[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply
No, it looks perfectly fine to me; "8 reds and 4 blues" is the same evidence as "10 red and 6 blues", or for that matter, as "104 reds and 100 blues" (in that context) - what counts is the difference, not the ratio.
Surely that can't be correct. Intuitively, I would be pretty ready to bet that I know the correct bookbag if I pulled out 5 red chips and 1 blue. 97% seems a fine level of confidence. But if we get 1,000,004 red and 1,000,000 blues, I doubt I'd be so sure. It seems pretty obvious to me that you should be somewhere close to 50/50 because you're clearly getting random data. To say that you could be 97% confident is insane. I concede that you're getting screwed over by the multi-verse at that point, but there's got to be some accounting for ratio. There is no way that you should be equally confident in your guess regardless of if you receive ratios of 5:1, 10:6, 104:100, or 1000004:1000000.

What getting a ratio of 1000004:1000000 tells you is that you're looking at the wrong hypotheses.

If you know absolutely-for-sure (because God told you, and God never lies) that you have either a (700,300) bag or a (300,700) bag and are sampling whichever bag it is uniformly and independently, and the only question is which of those two situations you're in, then the evidence does indeed favour the (700,300) bag by the same amount as it would if your draws were (8,4) instead of (1000004,1000000).

But the probability of getting anything like those numbers in either case is incredibly tiny and long before getting to (1000004,1000000) you should have lost your faith in what God told you. Your bag contains some other numbers of chips, or you're drawing from it in some weirdly correlated way, or the devil is screwing with your actions or perceptions.

("Somewhere close to 50:50" is correct in the following sense: if you start with any sensible probability distribution over the number of chips in the bags that does allow something much nearer to equality, then Pr((700,300)) and Pr((300,700)) are far closer to one another than either is to Pr(somewhere nearer to equality) and the latter is what you should be focusing on because you clearly don't really have either (700,300) or (300,700).)

Maybe I should back up a bit. I agree that at 1000004:1000000, you're looking at the wrong hypothesis. But in the above example, 104:100, you're looking at the wrong hypothesis too. It's just that a factor of 10,000x makes it easier to spot. In fact, at 34:30 or even a fewer number of iterations, you're probably also getting the wrong hypothesis. A single percentage point of doubt gets blown up and multiplied, but that percentage point has to come from somewhere. It can't just spring forth from nothingness once you get to past 50 iterations. That means you can't be 96.6264% certain at the start, but just a little lower (Eliezer's pre-rounding certainty). The real question in my mind is when that 1% of doubt actually becomes a significant 5%->10%->20% that something's wrong. 8:4 feels fine. 104:100 feels overwhelming. But how much doubt am I supposed to feel at 10:6 or at 18:14? How do you even calculate that if there's no allowance in the original problem?
There should always, really, be "allowance in the original problem". Perhaps not explicitly factored in, but you should assign some nonzero probability to possibilities like "the experimenter lied to me", "I goofed in some crazy way", "I am being deceived by malevolent demons", etc. In practice, these wacky hypotheses may not occur to you until the evidence for them starts getting large, and you can decide at that point what prior probabilities you should have put on them. (Unfortunately it's easy to do that wrongly, e.g. because of hindsight bias.) As Douglas_Knight says, frequentist statistics is full of tests that will tell you when some otherwise plausible hypothesis (e.g., "these two samples are drawn from things with the same probability distribution") are incompatible with the data in particular (or not-so-particular) ways.
Frequentist tests are good here.
Yeah, that's why I added "(in that context)" - i.e. we are 100% sure that those two hypotheses are the only one. If there's even a 0.01% chance that the distribution could be 50% / 50% (as is likely in the real world), then that hypothesis is going to become way more likely.
There's actually some really cool math developed about situations like this one. Large deviation theory describes how occurrences like the 1,000,004 red / 1,000,000 blues one become unlikely at an exponential rate and how, conditioning on them occurring, information about the manner in which they occurred can be deduced. It's a sort of trivial conclusion in this case, but if we accept a principle of maximum entropy, we can be dead certain that any of the 2,000,004 red or blue draws looks marginally like a Bernoulli with 1,000,004:1,000,000 odds. That's just the likeliest way (outside of our setup being mistaken) of observing our extremely unlikely outcome.
Thanks a lot! Somehow I read something else than was actually written there, and repeated readings didn't help. When you wrote it using digits, I realized the confusion. (Specifically, it was: "eight and four" vs "sixteen and ten". Yeah, those words are there, but in a different context.)

Belief & double-blind randomized control group studies: response to IlyaShpitser

In a previous thread IlyaShpitser said >According to your blog, you don't believe in RCTs, right? What do you believe in?

This is part of the problem I'm trying to address. Belief/non-belief are inappropriate locutions to use in terms not only of the double-blind randomized control group method (DBRCGM), but of models and methods of science in general. "Belief in" a any scientific method is not even remotely relevant to science or the philosophy of science. ... (read more)

What are you actually trying to say here? And this is the wrong way to respond to someone: If you reply to someone they are notified and can continue the conversation, and the conversation is also confined to the specific subthread.