Open thread, Jan. 26 - Feb. 1, 2015

by Gondolinian1 min read26th Jan 2015431 comments


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Natural experiments: I've been trying a new acne wash for the past 6 months, and although I felt like it was working, I wasn't sure. Then, the other day when I was applying it to my back, my partner noticed there was an area I wasn't reaching. In fact, there was an entire line on my back where I wasn't stretching enough to get the wash on. This line coincided exactly with a line of acne, while the rest of my back was clear.

Now I know the wash works for me.


5[anonymous]6yDo you mind sharing the brand and product name, for others?
4falenas1086yI've been using this benzol peroxide wash. []

Strong statement from Bill Gates on machine superintelligence as an x-risk, on today's Reddit AMA:

I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence. First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don't understand why some people are not concerned.

5savedpass6y"It seems pretty egocentric while we still have malaria and TB for rich people to fund things so they can live longer. It would be nice to live longer though I admit."
1cursed6yI like Bill's EA tendencies.
0Dirac_Delta6yBy that line of reasoning, we should not be funding space exploration and etc. either... (I take his comment to mean that we should not be funding life extension research because it is egocentric.)

Sometimes when one learns something it makes many other things "click" by making them all make sense in a broader framework. Moreover, when this happens I will be astounded I hadn't learned about the thing in the first place. One very memorable such occasion is when I learned about categories and how many different mathematical structures could be thought of in that context. Do people have other examples where they have been "Wow. That makes so much sense. Why didn't anyone previously say that?"

Basic game theory: Nash equilibriums and the idea of evolutionary game theory.

An unbelievable number of human problems map onto the property that a particular Nash equilibrium or evolutionarily stable strategy isn't guaranteed to be socially desirable (or even Pareto-efficient, or even when compared only to other Nash equilibrium).

Likewise, you really can't do non-trivial consequentialist reasoning without accounting for the impact of your proposed strategy on the strategies of other agents.

Once you've seen the patterns, you can avoid painstakingly deriving or arguing for the general picture over and over again, which probably consumes about a third of all policy and ethics debate. And more critically, you can avoid missing the importance of interlocking strategies in cases where it does matter: Another third of public debate is reserved for wondering why people are acting in the way that the actions of other people encourage them to act; or for helpfully suggesting that some group should move unilaterally along a moral gradient, and then blindly assuming that this will lead to a happier equilibrium once everything adjusts.


1) The idea of constructing things out of axioms. This is probably old hat to everyone here, but I was clumsily groping towards how to describe a bunch of philosophical intuitions I had, and then I was learning math proofs and understood that any "universe" can be described in terms of a set of statements, and suddenly I understood what finally lay at the end of every chain of why?s and had the words to talk about a bunch of philosophical ideas...not to mention finally understanding what math is, why it's not mysterious if physics is counterintuitive, and so on. (Previously I had thought of "axioms" as"assumptions", rather than building blocks.). Afterwards, I felt a little cheated, because it is a concept much simpler than algebra and it ought to have been taught in grade school.

2) Something more specialized: I managed to get a B.S. in neuroscience without knowing about the thalamus. I mean, knew the word and I knew approximately where it was and what it did, but I did not know that it was the hub for everything. (By which I mean, nearly every connection is either cortico-cortico or cortico-thalamic). After graduation, I was involved in a project whe... (read more)

7SolveIt6yThis is a pet peeve of mine, Axioms as assumptions (or self-evident truths) seem to be a very prevalent mode of thinking in educated people not exposed to much formal maths.
7Lumifer6yWhat's wrong with treating axioms as assumptions?
9SolveIt6yWell, it's hard to articulate. There's of course nothing wrong with assumptions per se, since axioms indeed are assumptions, my peeve is with the baggage that comes with it. People say things like "what if the assumptions are wrong?", or "I don't think that axiom is clearly true", or "In the end you can't prove that your axioms are true". These questions would be legitimate if the goal were physical truth, or a self-justifying absolute system of knowledge or whatever, but in the context of mathematics, we're not so interested in the content of the assumptions as we are in the structure we can get out of them. In my experience, this kind of thing happens most often when philosophically inclined people talk about things like the Peano axioms, where it's possible to think we're discussing some ideal entity that exists independently of thought, and disappears when people are exposed to, say, the vector space axioms, or some set of axioms of set theory, where it becomes clear that axioms aren't descriptions but definitions. Actually, you can ignore everything I've said above, I've figured out precisely what I have a problem with. It's the popular conception of axioms as descriptive rather than prescriptive. Which, I suppose OP was also talking about when they mentioned building blocks as opposed to assumptions.
0Lumifer6yThat's a valid question in a slightly different formulation: "what if we pick a different set of assumptions?" But that, on the other hand, is pretty stupid. Well, normally you want your axioms to be descriptive. If you're interested in reality, you would really prefer your assumptions/axioms to match reality in some useful way. I'll grant that math is not particularly interested in reality and so tends to go off on exploratory expeditions where reality is seen as irrelevant. Usually it turns out to be true, but sometimes the mathematicians find a new (and useful) way of looking at reality and so the expedition does loop back to the real. But that's a peculiarity of math. Outside of that (as well as some other things like philosophy and literary criticism :-D) I will argue that you do want axioms to be descriptive.
6Ishaan6yI don't think it's "wrong" in the sense of "incorrect"... it's just that if you don't also realize that axioms are arbitrarily constructed "universes" and that all math takes place in the context of said fictional "universes", you kind of miss the deeper point. Thinking of them as assumptions is a simple way to teach them to beginners, but that's a set of training wheels that aught to be removed sooner rather than later, especially if you are using axioms for math. And , handy side effect, your intuition for epistemology gets better when you realize that. (In my opinion).
2Lumifer6yWell, they are a set of assumptions on the basis of which you proceed forward. Starting with a different set will land you in a different world built on different assumptions. But I see it as a characteristic of assumptions in general, I still don't see what's so special about axioms.
6Kindly6yWhen you assume the parallel postulate, for example, you are restricting your attention to the class of models of geometry in which the parallel postulate holds. I don't think that's a useful way of thinking about other kinds of assumptions such as "the sun will rise tomorrow" or "the intended audience for this comment will be able to understand written English". (At least for me, I think that the critical axiom-related insight was the difference between a set of axioms and a model of those axioms.)
2Lumifer6yWhat is useful depends on your goals. The difference is still not clear to me -- e.g. by assuming that "the intended audience for this comment will be able to understand written English" you are restricting your attention to the class of situations in which people to whom you address your comment can understand English.
4Ishaan6yWhen your goal is to do good mathematics (or good epistemology, but that's a separate discussion) you really want to do that "restrict your attention" thing. Human intuition is to treat assumptions as part of a greater sistem. "It's raining" is one assumption, but you can also implicitly assume a bunch of other things, like rain is wet., to arrive at statements like "it's raining => wet". This gets problematic in math. If I tell you axioms "A=B" and "B=C", you might reasonably think "A=C"...but you just implicitly assumed that = followed the transitive property. This is all well and good for superficial maths, but in deeper maths you need to very carefully define "=" and its properties. You have to strip your mind bare of everything but the axioms you laid down. It's mostly about getting in the habit of imagining the universe as completely nothing until the axioms are introduced. No implicit beliefs about how things aught to work. All must be explicitly stated. That's why it's helpful to have the psychology of "putting building blocks in an empty space" rather than "carving assumptions out of an existing space". I mean, that's not the only way of thinking about it, of course. Some think of it as an infinite number of "universes" and then a given axiom "pins down" a subset of those, and I guess that's closer to "assumption" psychology. It's just a way of thinking, you can choose what you like. The real important thing is to realize that it's not just about making operations that conserve truth values..,that all the mathematical statements are arbitrarily constructed. That's the thing I didn't fully grasp before...I thought it was just about "suppose this is true, then that would be true". I thought 1+1=2 was a "fact about the actual universe" rather than a "tautology" - and I didn't quite grasp the distinction between those two terms. Until I broke free of this limitation, I wasn't able to think thoughts like "how would geometry be if the parallel postulate is
1Lumifer6yI think I see what you mean. I would probably describe it not as a difference in the properties of axioms/assumptions themselves, but rather a difference in the way they are used and manipulated, a difference in the context. I do not recall a realization similar to yours, however, perhaps because thinking in counterfactuals and following the chain of consequences comes easy to me. "Sure, let's assume A, it will lead to B, B will cause C, C is likely to trigger D which, in turn, will force F. Now you have F and is that what you expected when you wanted A?" -- this kind of structure is typical for my arguments. But yes, I understand what you mean by blocks in empty space.
3Ishaan6yI don't think this is really the same skill as following counterfactuals and logical chains and judging internal consistency. Maybe the "parallel postulate" counterfactual was a bad example. It's more the difference between "Logic allows you to determine what the implications of assumptions are, and that's useful when you want to figure out which arguments and suppositions are valid" (This is where your example about counterfactuals and logical chains comes in) [1] and "Axioms construct / pin down universes. Our own universe is (hopefully) describable as a set of axioms". (This is where my example about building blocks comes in) [2] And that's a good way of bridging [1] and [2].
0Lumifer6yI am not too happy with the word "universe" here because it conflates the map and the territory. I don't think the territory -- "our own universe", aka the reality -- is describable as a set of axioms. I'll accept that you can start with a set of axioms and build a coherent, internally consistent map, but the question of whether that map corresponds to anything in reality is open.
1Ishaan6yI very strongly do. I think the universe is describable by math. I think there exist one or more sets of statements that can describe the observable universe in its entirety. I can't imagine the alternative, actually. What would that even be like? That's actually the only fundamental and unprovable point that I take on faith, from which my entire philosophy and epistemology blossoms. ("Unprovable" and "faith" because it relies on you to buy into the idea of "proof" and "logic" in the first place, and that's circular) I don't necessarily think we can find such a set of axioms. mind you. I can't guarantee that there are a finite number of statements required, or that the human mind is necessarily is capable of producing/comprehending said statements, or even that any mind stuck within the constraints of the universe itself is capable. (I suppose you can take issue with the use of the word "describable" at this point). But I do think the statements exist, in some platonic sense, and that if we buy into logic we can at least know that they exist even if we can't know them directly. (In the same sense that we can often know whether or not a solution exists even if it's impossible to find) No "universally compelling arguments in math and science" applies here: I can't really prove it to you, but I think anyone who believes in a lawful, logical universe will come around to agree after thinking about it long enough.
1JoshuaZ6yWhat if it requires an infinite set of statements to specify? Consider the hypothetical of a universe where there are no elementary particles but each stage is made up of something still simpler. Or consider something like the Standard Model but where the constants are non-computable. Would either of these fit what you are talking about?
2Ishaan6yYes, that would fit in what I am talking about. I have a bad habit of constantly editing posts as I write, so you might have seen my post before I wrote this part. Such a universe wouldn't even necessarily be "complicated". A single infinite random binary string requires an infinitely long statement to fully describe (but we can at least partially pin it down by finitely describing a multiverse of random binary strings)
1JoshuaZ6yYes, thank you, I don't think that was there when I read it. I'm not sure then that the statement that universe runs on math at that point has any degree of meaning.
2Ishaan6yIt seems self evident once you get it, but it's not obvious. In the general population you get these people who say "well, if it's all just atoms, whats the point"? They don't realize that everything has to run on logic regardless of whether the underlying phenomenon is atoms or souls or whatever. (Or at least, they don't agree. I shouldn't say "realize" because the whole thing rests on circular arguments.) It also provides sort of ontological grounding onto which further rigor can be built. It's nice to know what we mean when we say we are looking for "truth".
0Lumifer6yInteresting. We seem to have a surprisingly low-level (in the sense of "basic") disagreement. A couple of questions. Does your view imply that the universe is deterministic? And if "I can't guarantee ... even that any mind stuck within the constraints of the universe itself is capable" then I am not sure what does your position actually mean. Existing "in some platonic sense" is a very weak claim, much weaker than "the universe runs on math" (and, by implication, nothing else).
1Ishaan6yNo, randomness is a thing. Practically, it means we'll never run into logical contradictions in the territory. Theoretically, it means we will never encounter a phenomenon that in theory (in a platonic sense) cannot be fully described. In practice, we might not be able to come up with a complete description. In a platonic sense, the territory must have at least one (or more) maps that totally describes it, but these maps may or may not be within the space of maps that minds stuck within the constraints of said territory can create. As the only claim that I've been taking on faith and the foundation for all that follows, it is meant to be a weak claim. I'm trying to whittle down the principles I must take on faith before forming a useful philosophy to as small a base as possible, and this is where I am at right now. Descartes's base was "I think before I am", and from there he develops everything else he believes. My base is "things are logical" (which further expands into "all things have descriptions which don't contain contradictions")
0Lumifer6yMaps require a mind, a consciousness of some sort. Handwaving towards "platonic sense" doesn't really solve the issue -- are you really willing to accept Plato's views of the world, his universals? The problem is that, as stated, this claim (a) could never be decided; and (b) has no practical consequences whatsoever.
2Ishaan6yThink of it this way: Godel's incompleteness theorem demonstrates there will always be statements about the natural numbers that are true, but that are unprovable within the system. It's perfectly okay for us to talk about those hypothetical statements as existing in the "platonic" sense, even though we might never really have them in the grasps of our minds and notebooks. Similarly, it's okay for us to talk about a space of maps even while knowing we can't necessarily generate every map in that space due to constraints on us that might exist. I haven't actually read any Plato, so I might be misusing the term. I'm just using the word "platonic" to describe the entire space of maps, including the ungraspable ones. "Platonic" is merely to distinguish those things from things that actually exist in the territory. part a) I endorse Dxu's defense of what I said, and see my reply to him for my objections to what he said. part b) I disagree in principle with the idea that the validity of things depends on practical consequences, However, the whole point here is to create a starting point from which the rest of everything can be derived, and the rest of everything does have practical consequences (it may be fair to say that there is no practical reason to derive them from a small starting point, but that is questioning the practicality of philosophy in general)
0Lumifer6ySo, you're talking about things you can, basically, imagine. In which sense do "ungraspable maps" exist, but herds of rainbow unicorns gallivanting on clouds do not? I concur with your disagreement :-) but here we have TWO things: (1) unprovable and unfalsifiable; and (2) of no practical consequences. Consider the claim that there is God, He created the universe, but then left forever. The same two things could be said of this claim as well.
0Ishaan6yYes, all the logically consistent systems we can imagine, and more. (See the Godel analogy above for "and more".) You...can't imagine logically coherent systems with rainbow unicorns on clouds? Keep in mind, we're making distinctions between "real tangible reality" and "the space of logically coherent systems". Your ad-absurdum works by using the word "exist" to confound those two, in a "tree falls in the forest" sort of manner. I specifically used the word "platonic" hoping to separate those ideas. It's merely an inconvenience of language that we don't have the words to distinguish the tautological "reality" and "existence" of 1+1=2 from the reality of "look, there's a thing over there". People say "in Integers, there exists an odd number between every even number" but it's not that sort of "existence".
1dxu6yReally? If I wrote a physics engine in, let's say, Java, is that not a(n approximate) map of physical reality? I would say so. Yet the physics engine isn't conscious. It doesn't have a mind. In fact, the simulation isn't even dependent on its substrate--I could save the bytecode and run it on any machine that has the JVM installed. Moreover, the program is entirely reducible to a series of abstract (Platonic) mathematical statements, no substrates required at all, and hence no "minds" or "consciousness" required either In what sense is the physics engine described above not a map? Hence, I assume, Ishaan's use of the word "faith". In practice, it means we will never find something in the territory that is logically contradictory. (Not that we're likely to find such a thing in the first place, of course, but if we did, it would falsify Ishaan's claim, so it's not unfalsifiable, though it is untestable. Seeing that Ishaan has stated that he/she is taking this claim "on faith", though, I can't see that untestability is a big issue here.) Personally, I disagree with Ishaan's approach of taking anything on faith, even logic itself []. That being said, if you really need to take something on faith, I have trouble thinking of a better claim to do so with than the claim that "everything has a logical description".
1Ishaan6yLet me unpack "faith" a little bit, then, because it's not like regular faith. I only use the word "faith" because it's the closest word I know to what I mean. I agree with the postmodern / nihilist / Lesswrong's idea of "no universally compelling arguments" in morality, math, and science. Everything that comes out of my mind is a property of how my mind is constructed. When I say that I take logic "on faith", what I'm really saying is that I have no way to justify it, other than that human minds run that way (insert disclaimers about, yes, I know human minds don't actually run that way) I don't have a word to describe this, the sense that I'm ultimately going to follow my morality and my cognitive algorithm even while accepting that is not and cannot be justification for them outside my own mind. (I kinda want to call this "epistemic particularism" to draw an analogy from political particularism, but google says that term is already in use and I haven't read about it so I am not sure whether or not it means what I want to use it for. I think it does, though.) I think there would exist a way to logically describe the universe Eliezer would find himself in. I disagree with Eliezer here. If the people in this universe want to use "2", "3", and "+" to describe what is happening to them, then their "3" does not have the same meaning as our "3" We are referring to something with integer properties, and they are referring to something with other properties. I think Wittgenstein would have a few choice words for Eliezer here (although I've only read summaries of his thoughts, I think he's basically saying what I'm saying). I don't think Eliezer should be interpreted as admitting that the territory might be illogical. I think he just made a mistake concerning what definitions are. (I'm not saying your interpretation is unreasonable. I'm saying that the fact that your interpretation is reasonable is a clue that Eliezer made a logical error somewhere, and this is the
0g_pepper6yTrue, but it was written by someone with a conscious mind (you), just as a map drawn on paper by a cartographer was drawn by someone with a mind.
0Lumifer6yAn interesting question. No, I am not sure I want to define maps this way. Would you, for example, consider the distribution of ecosystems on Earth to be a map of the climate? I tend to think of maps as representations and these require an agent. I don't understand what this means -- logic is in the mind. Can you give me an example that's guaranteed to be not a misunderstanding? By a "misunderstanding" I mean something like the initial reaction to the double-slit experiment: there is a logical contradiction, the electron goes through one slit, but it goes through both slits.
1Ishaan6yYou can never perceive red and not perceive red simultaneously, but if you could, that would embody a logical contradiction in the territory. (Tree falls in the forest" type word play doesn't count) That is not a contradiction in the evidence, that is simply a falsification of a prior hypothesis (as well as a violation of human physical intuition). However, If you were to insist upon retaining your old model of the universe after seeing the results of the experiment, then you would have a contradiction within your view of reality (which must accommodate both your previous beliefs and the new evidence) This is the sort of thing I meant when I said earlier in the thread that the insight I'm referring to here is what led me to realize that there is nothing particularly odd about intuition-violating physics. There's no reason the axioms of the universe need to be intuitive - they need only be logically consistent. But, it's good that you brought up this example: I think Eliezer's example that Dxu linked, with 2+2=3, is similar to the double slit experiment - it's violating prior intuitions and hypothesis about the world, not violating logic.
0Lumifer6yI don't understand. Perception happens in the mind, I don't see anything unusual about the ability to screw up a mind (via drugs, etc) to the extent that it thinks it perceives red and does not perceive red simultaneously. Why would that imply a "logical contradiction in the territory"?
0Ishaan6yI'm not talking about it thinks it perceives red even when it doesn't perceive red - that's "tree falls in the forest" thinking. I'm talking about simultaneously thinking you perceive red and not thinking your perceive red. But yes - you could screw up a mind sufficiently such that it thinks it's perceiving red and not perceiving red simultaneously. Such a mind isn't following the normal rules (and the rules of logic and so on arise from the rules of the mind in the first place, so of course you could sufficiently destroy or disable a mind such that it no longer things that way - there's no deeper justification, so you are forced to trust the normal mental process to some degree...that's what the "no universally compelling arguments and therefore you just have to yourself" spiel I was giving higher in the thread stems from).
0Lumifer6yBut you said "that would embody a logical contradiction in the territory" and that doesn't seem to be so any more. My original question, if you recall, was for an example of something -- anything -- that would be falsify your theory.
0Ishaan6yI guess I bite the bullet, there is no real falsifying here? I did say you have to take it on faith to an extent because there is no other way. It's a foundational premise for building an epistemic structure, not a theory as such. Anyhow, I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing anymore. If you don't accept that the universe follows a certain logic, the idea of "falsifying" has no foundation anyway.
0Kindly6yWell, I was thinking that in those other cases, you consider the other possibility (e.g., that nobody who reads my comment will understand it) and dismiss it as unlikely or unimportant. It doesn't even make sense to ask "but what if it turns out that the parallel postulate doesn't actually hold after all?" Am I explaining myself any better?
0Lumifer6yIs my reply [] to Ishaan helpful?
0[anonymous]6yIt's not very amenable to teaching.
2Lumifer6yThe grandparent said "prevalent mode of thinking in educated people" -- what's convenient for teaching is not very relevant here.
6passive_fist6yAbout that, how would you evaluate the state of the typical undergrad neuroscience curriculum today and how relevant it is to modern knowledge about the organization and workings of the brain?
5Ishaan6yHmm I think the undergraduate curriculum is good enough to get the average college student up to a level where they are comfortable reading and understanding a scientific paper in biology even if they start out with only a very rudimentary knowledge of science coming in. You spend the first 3 years kind of learning the basic fundamentals of biology, like how evolution and cells and hormones and neurons work, and I think for Lesswrong's demographic that sort of thing is general knowledge so most of y'all could skip it without any major issues. I found these courses challenging because of the amount of stuff to memorize, but I am not sure I found them useful. I kind of wish I could have replaced some of those introductory courses with work in computer science or a stronger biochem/chem foundation, because I already knew about evolution and mitochondria and that sort of thing. The last 2 years, for me, were quite useful. In these upper level classes, professors in a given sub-specialty would select primary literature which was important to their field, and it would be discussed in depth. What you learn will largely depend on what the professor is passionate about. There are also classes where many different researchers come in and present their work, and one ends up picking up many little threads from that which can later be pursued at leisure. Despite already being comfortable with primary literature in neuroscience and psychology before joining these classes, I still found them very useful because of the specific content of the work I was exposed to. Many of these courses were technically graduate courses, but it is standard for undergraduates to attend them. Overall, I think if you are generally comfortable reading scientiic papers in biology, bachelors-degree level neuroscience is not an extremely difficult subject for a motivated autodidact to acquire without formal coursework (assuming you have access to all the major scientific journals). The coursework i
1Pfft6yWell, algebra is also not taught in grade school. Considering Piaget's theory of cognitive development, with abstract thought only getting in place in the teens, I wonder if maybe it's not possible to teach it until middle/high school, even if its simple once the cognitive machinery is activated...
3Ishaan6yI might have misused the term - I thought up to 8th grade and perhaps even 12th grade was "grade school"? I got my sister to think algebraically with non-geometrical problems, and then apply that successfully to a novel geometrical problem with perimeters and volume when she was 10...but she wasn't able to retain it after a week. Later on when she learned it in school at an older age, she did retain it. I suspect attentional control is the limiting factor, rather than abstract thought. But you're right, this should be tested. She's technically not a teen yet so next time she has a long holiday of free time I'll see if she can learn about basic logical properties and set theory. (It seems way easier than the graphs simultaneous linear equations she's doing right now, so I am optimistic).
3Pfft6yI see. I'm used to it being a synonym for primary school [], but according to Wikipedia, that's apparently ambiguous or incorrect. I agree that trying to teach it and seeing what happens is the way to go. :) Although I guess there is probably a lot of individual variation, so a school curriculum based on what works for your sister might also not generalize.
4Ishaan6yThis is true. It would just be a test case for whether pre-teens can learn these concepts. If I was designing a hypothetical curriculum, I wouldn't use high-sounding words like "axiom". It would just be - "Here is a rule. Is this allowed? Is this allowed? If this is a rule, then does it mean that that must be a rule? Why? Can this and that both be rules in the same game? Why not?" Framing it as a question of consistent tautology, inconsistent contradiction as opposed to "right" and "wrong" in the sense that science or history is right or wrong. And "breaking" the rules, just to instill the idea that they are all arbitrary rules, nothing special. "What if "+" meant this instead of what it usually means?" And maybe classical logic, taught in the same style that we teach algebra. (I really think [A=>B <=> ~B=>~A]? is comparable to [y+x=z <=> y=z-x]? in difficulty) with just a brief introduction to one or two examples of non-classical logic in later grades, to hammer in the point about the arbitrariness of it. I'd encourage people to treat it more like a set of games and puzzles rather than a set of facts to learn. ...and after that's done, just continue teaching math as usual. I'm not proposing a radical re-haul of everything. It's not about a question of complex abstract thought- it's just a matter of casual awareness, that math is just a game we make, and sometimes we make our math games match the actual world. (Although, if I had my way entirely, it would probably be part of a general "philosophy" class which started maybe around 5th or 6th grade.) (I'm not actually suggesting implementing this in schools yet, of course, since most teachers haven't been trained to think this way despite it not being difficult, and I haven't even tested it yet. Just sketching castles in the sky.)

Basic chemistry. I hated chemistry the first 2-3 of years of high school (UK; I don't know if it's taught differently elsewhere). It was all about laundry lists of chemicals, their apparently random properties, and mixing them according to haphazard instructions with results that very occasionally corresponded approximately with what we were informed they should be. We were sort of shown the periodic table, of course, but not really enlightened as to what it all meant. I found it boring and pointless. I hated memorising the properties and relationships of the chemicals we were supposed to know about.

Then, all of a sudden (I think right at the start of year 10), they told us about electron shells. There was rhyme! There was reason! There were underlying, and actually rather enthralling and beautiful, explanations! The periodic table made SO MUCH SENSE. It was too late for me... I had already pretty much solidified in my dislike of chemistry, and had decided not to take an excessive amount of science at GCSE because similar (though less obvious) things had happened in biology and physics, too. But at least I did get that small set of revelations. Why on earth they didn't explain it to us like that right from the start, I have no idea. I would have loved it.

9Luke_A_Somers6yElectron shells didn't really make sense to me without having taken quantum mechanics. I mean, I understood that they were there, but I didn't have a clue why they ought to take on any particular shape.
7Emily6yYeah, of course I also had no idea about the next layer down of explanation. But just having one layer seemed so much preferable to having none! It was the awareness that chemistry was dealing with a system, rather than a collection of boring facts, that made the difference to me.
9Dahlen6yHuh. Electron shells were one of the first things they taught us in our first-ever chemistry class, and to a 13-year-old I have to say they don't make much sense. I mean yeah, they shed some light upon the periodic properties of the table of elements, most of us could get that at that age, but man was it a pain in the ass to do the computations for them. Then again maybe someone else would have reacted differently to exposure to the same info at the same age; maybe there's nothing that could make me in particular like chemistry. Well into college, I still have to take chemistry-like classes, and I still hate them.
7gjm6yI took A-level chemistry (= last two years of high school in the UK, ages ~16-18) and while indeed we learned a bit about electron shells and all that, I still found it really frustrating for similar reasons. The thing I remember hating most was a category of question that was pretty much guaranteed to be in the exams. It went like this: "Describe and explain how property P varies across the elements down column C of the periodic table". And the answer was always this: "As we go down column C of the periodic table, characteristic A increases, which tends to increase property P, while characteristic B decreases, which tends to decrease property P." followed by some explanation of how (e.g.) the effect of A predominates to begin with but B is more important for the later elements, so that property P increases and then decreases. Or B always predominates, so property P just decreases. Or some other arbitrary fact about how A and B interact that you couldn't possibly work out using A-level chemistry. So it was a big exercise in fake explanations. Really, you just had to learn what property P does as you go down column C of the periodic table, and then to answer these questions you also had to be able to trot out these descriptions of the underlying phenomena that do nothing at all to help you determine the answer to the questions. The underlying problem here is that chemistry is really quantum mechanics, and figuring out these questions from first principles is way beyond what high-school students can do.
7sixes_and_sevens6yI seem to have had a different A-Level experience from you (1998-2000). There was a certain amount of learn-this-trend-by-rote, but I would easily class A-Level chemistry (which I didn't even do that well in) as one of the most practicably useful subject choices I've taken. There's a bunch of stuff I know which my other similarly-educated peers don't, and which I attribute to A-Level chemistry. Some of it is everyday stuff about which paint and glue and cleaning products are appropriate for which purpose. Some of it is useful for reasoning about topical scientific claims, such as biofuels, pharmaceuticals or nutrition. I even have a control case for this, in that my sister and I studied all the same subjects, only she took electronics at A-Level over chemistry. When one of us says something "obvious" which the other person doesn't recognise as such, we have a pretty good idea where it came from.
2gjm6yJust to be clear, I didn't make any comment on how useful A-level chemistry in the UK is (or was in ~1986-1988 when I took it). Only on the annoying pseudo-explanations I had to learn to give. (I expect there are useful things that I know only because I studied chemistry at school, but it's hard to be sure because by now I've learned a lot of other things and forgotten a lot of what I learned at school.)
4Emily6yYeah, you're never going to get fully to the bottom of things in a high school class. But it really does help when the curriculum at least tries to point you in the right direction!
5Ishaan6yThinking only of shells works for simple reactions, but has anyone ever had a "click" for organic chemistry reactions? Orbitals and shells are the only part of O-Chem that ever made sense to seems like all my friends who "get it" are just practicing their butts off until they arrive at an intuition which isn't amenable to simple rule-based explanations (they seem to know the answers but can't always articulate why). I'd really like it if organic chemistry made systematic sense.
3Pfft6yI've never taken chemistry beyond high school, but my impression is that even at university level it involves large amounts of memorization. Like, we know that there is an underlying model, because chemistry is a special case of physics, but in practice using that model to make predictions is computationally unfeasible.
6Antisuji6ySchmidhuber []'s formulation of curiosity and interestingness as a (possibly the) human learning algorithm. Now when someone says "that's interesting" I gain information about the situation, where previously I interpreted it purely as an expression of an emotion. I still see it primarily about emotion, but now understand the whys of the emotional response: it's what (part of) our learning algorithm feels like from the inside. There are some interesting signaling implications as well.
6Dorikka6yI would be wary of concluding too much from phatic statements. "That's interesting" is more likely to be a phatic utterance than not in some contexts/with some people
5Username6yDirect link [] to the page on the theory. That's really interesting! (ha!) I recommend reading the full page for good examples, but here's a summary:
5Punoxysm6yI used to be frustrated by the idea that my nation's stated principles were often undermined by its historical actions. Then I realized that this is true of every nation, everywhere at all times. Same with politicians, public figures, parents, companies, myself, etc. Hypocritical actions happen all the time, and it is a victory when their severity and frequency is tempered. At the same time, justifications for those hypocritical actions abound. The key is not to take them at face value or reject them completely, but remember with humility that your favored group makes the same excuses at varying levels of validity. So now I can empathize much more easily when people try to defend apparently hypocritical and reprehensible behavior. Even if I AM better than they are, I'm not qualitatively better, and its disingenuous to try to argue as if I am. This realization leads to a more pragmatic, more fact-and-context-sensitive approach to real-world conflicts of values.
3Princess_Stargirl6yBryan Caplan's "Myth of the Rational Voter" and "Mises, Bastiat, Public Choice and Public Policy."
5MrMind6yThe titles seem promising, but what concepts or insights did they brought about? Or why should I read them, if I had spare time?
3passive_fist6yI had many of these while reading Jaynes.
1[anonymous]6yLearning about Simon Wordley's concept of Wordley mapping. Connected a ton of concepts like different management styles, Crossing the Chasm, the Gartner hype cycle, commoditization, and more.
6Antisuji6yThis [], I assume? (It took me a few tries to find it since first I typed in the name wrong and then it turns out it's "Wardley" with an 'a'.) Is the video on that page a good introduction?
2[anonymous]6yDamn, I had the "a" then changed it cause it looked wrong ' The video is a decent introduction. however, if you'd like to learn how to actually use them, a great resource is this free book: [] , which was compiled from Simon Wardley's blog, takes you step by step through understanding the process, creating them, and using them to create a coherent business strategy. If you have time for it, his entire blog is worth a look: []

I seem to recall that some Democrat and Republican donors have agreed not to give to their respective parties, but rather to charity, on the condition that their opponents do the same. Does anyone know about this? Mine and Google's combined efforts have been fruitless. Seems a very nice idea that could be used much more widely to re-distribute resources away from zero-sum games to games with joint interests.

4ike6yI found [] with the search terms "political donors redirect to charity" on Google. It doesn't appear to be active, possibly due to not getting FEC approval, though. Searching "repledge charity" gives several more articles on this. []
3Stefan_Schubert6yExcellent!!! Many thanks. :) Exactly what I was looking for.

I remember somewhere in the sequences EY mentioned that Bayesianism was a more general method of which the scientific method was merely a special case. Now I find this, Dempster-Shafer theory, which according to Wikipedia is an even more general method, of which Bayesianism is merely a special case.

Has this topic been given any treatment here?

7ike6y [] 11 results. That should get you started.

Someone here mentioned the idea that making objects very cold was a more plausible source of unexpected physics leading to extinction than high energy physics because high energy events occur in the atmosphere all the time whereas there's no reason to expect any non-artificial cause of temperatures in the millKelvin range. Does someone have a source for this observation? I'm writing a post where I'd like to attribute this properly.

9knb6yCool risks outside the envelope of nature? []
3JoshuaZ6yYes. Thank you.
3Manfred6yHm, that's an interesting idea. I don't think it's at all workable, though. You can't mess up a stable equilibrium by making it colder, so the only option I see for cool novel physics at low temps is a spontaneously broken symmetry. Which will then re-symmetrize as it heats up in a way that is much more guaranteed than heating something up and then cooling it down.
4JoshuaZ6yI agree that it doesn't seem likely: part of why I wanted it was not the specific scenario but the point that it isn't always obvious when we we are pushing the universe into configurations where material is not naturally in and don't appear in nature in any way.
3Gunnar_Zarncke6yI think it is interesting in so far as you not only create setups wiith very low temperature but also with very regular structures. Structures where quantum computing is possible and exploits the calculation power of reality. I think it's at least conceivable that this could trigger novel effects. Especially so if the universe it a simulation where this could cause things like stack-overflow :-)

On Sunday at 11 AM Eastern and 8 AM Pacific*, I will be playing a round of AI Box with a person who wishes to remain anonymous. I will be playing as AI, and my opponent will be playing as Gatekeeper (GK). The loser will pay the winner $25, and will also donate $25 to the winner's charity of choice. The outcome will be posted here, and maybe a write-up if the game was interesting. We will be using Tuxedage's ruleset with two clarifications:

  1. GK must read and make a reasonable effort to understand AI's text, but does not need to make an extraordinary effort to understand things such as heavily misspelled text or intricate theoretical arguments.
  2. The monetary amount will not be changed after the game is concluded.

The transcript will not be made public, sorry. We are looking for a neutral third party who will agree beforehand to read and verify the transcript. Preferably someone who has already played in many games, who will not have their experience ruined by reading someone else's transcript.

  • I habitually give the Eastern and Pacific times. This does not mean GK is in one of those two time zones.
2Punoxysm6yAI is the harder role, judging from past outcomes. I hope you prepare well enough to make it interesting for GK. I'm interested in doing AI Box as either role. How did you organize your round?
6wobster1096yI'll try hard! ^^ I went to a random forum somewhere and posted for an opponent. GK responded with an email address, and we worked out the details via email. We'll be holding our round in a secret, invite-only IRC channel. It looks like if you offer to play as AI, you'll have no trouble finding an opponent. Tuxedage said in one of his posts that there are 20 gatekeeper players for each AI player. However. . . since I encountered GK on a different forum, not LW, I insisted on having a third party interview GK. As a safety measure. I have known people who were vengeful or emotionally fragile, and I wanted to take no chances there.

I've been using LyX for preparing my doctoral dissertation and I'm amazed that such a complete and capable tool isn't more widely known and used. I can't imagine preparing scientific documents now with anything other than LyX, and I can't imagine that I used to use software like MS Word for this purpose. Anyone have any other examples of obscure but amazingly capable software?

6shminux6yI guess LyX must have improved a lot in the last few years. When I tried using it for my PhD thesis I had to give up after it refused to import classes and templates mandated by the university, and the documentation on how to deal with this issue was, well... open-sores level. I did use it to create a few snippets, later manually edited. It did not really save me any time. Re other obscure software, Total Commander is a great Windows file manager, similar to the Linux Midnight Commander.
6passive_fist6yIt seems weird that it would refuse to import templates, I've had no trouble with that at all. Even when templates use highly non-standard settings, you can still directly edit the LaTeX preamble in LyX, and done correctly that should take care of 99% of problems.
6emr6y(I hope this doesn't sound condescending) but do you mean Latex, or LyX specifically? Latex itself seems almost humorously field-dependent: everywhere in the hard sciences and nowhere in business.
2passive_fist6yLyX specifically.
5[anonymous]6y [] is a little known but amazingly useful knowledge modeling/ridiculously powerful mindmapping software.
9passive_fist6yMind-mapping is something that would seem to be highly relevant to the LW community. Personally, though, I find that the restriction to a tree structure is too limiting. Unless I've completely misunderstood how mind-mapping works.
6[anonymous]6yYou haven't, but that's what makes personalbrain so awesome. It doesn't limit you to the tree structure,anything can be a parent or child of anything else, and there's sideways "jump" connections that don't follow the parent child relation at all. Not to mention the ability to link to any file or website, take notes on each connection, and name the connections. It's an incredibly powerful piece of software.
0passive_fist6ySeems interesting, I'll have a look.
4kalium6yI was introduced to LaTeX via LyX as a freshman and found the interface very off-putting and confusing and forgot about the whole thing for years. When I found out I could just type a text file instead, run a few commands, and get the same gorgeous result, it was a revelation and I never went back to OpenOffice. Probably not news to anyone here, but learning to use a good text editor like vim or emacs is hugely useful and I wish I hadn't waited so long to do it. Git for version control is pretty great too.
2passive_fist6yFor me it was the exact opposite. I'd been using LaTeX for years before I discovered LyX. I can't imagine writing in raw LaTeX anymore. Especially, live math preview has become indispensable for me, as well as 'smart' label handling and intelligent handling of documents composed of multiple independent files (like chapters in a book).
4falenas1086yI am also a massive fan of Lyx. I'm only an undergrad physics major, but I'm in 2 classes where I have to submit moderately high level reports, and I'm working on a thesis. And I've only ever had to use one special format, which also happened to be the default format. So far, I've found documentation to be eh, but I haven't had too many problems where that was an issue yet. The biggest problem is that my knowledge of LaTeX is sorely lacking because I've been using Lyx for everything!
2gjm6yLyX fans: Do you have any comments on the relative merits of LyX and TeXmacs?

Are there any updates on when the Sequences e-book versions are going to be released? I'm planning a reread of some of the core material and might wait if the release is imminent.

5Rob Bensinger6yWe don't have an official release date yet, but it will most likely come out in March, before Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality ends.

In the spirit of admitting when I am wrong, I would like to say that when /u/Azathoth123/ said that schools were encouraging children to be gay and transsexual, I thought he was being paranoid. I thought that schools were preaching tolerance, and this had been misinterpreted.

I was wrong, and he was right

Also, the strategy of asking children whether any of their friends are trans is bizarre, because (a) if about 0.1% of adults are trans, then you really wouldn't expect any children to be trans unless the population of the school is gigantic, regardless of the school's attitude to tolerance and (b) children should not be discussing their friend's private secrets with strangers.

I have nothing against transexuals, and in fact they seem like obvious allies of transhumanists. But, unlike homosexuality, 'being trapped in the wrong body' clearly causes a lot of psychological distress - otherwise people wouldn't undergo serious surgery to correct it (although this is not necessarly true of people who don't identify as either gender). As long as there is a possibility that it has partially psychological roots (apparently twin studies show 62% heritability), priming people at a young age (1... (read more)

While it is good to acknowledge when one is wrong, this is hardly strong evidence. One has one school in one location making an allegation. There also seems to be a big leap between asking people if they know anyone trapped and pushing people to be gay or transsexual. (I agree though with your points in your second paragraph.)

I suppose that this is only an allegation at the moment, although other similar allegations about the same organisation pushing a left-wing agenda at the expense of education have been made, which makes the whole thing more plausible (plus there is Azathoth's original allegation).

Asking an adult if they know anyone who is trapped is ok. The problem is that asking a 10 year old primes them with a concept they would not previously have had. If there is some sort of train of thought one can go down, which ends with 'help I'm trapped in the wrong body' when they would otherwise not have had this problem, then you do not prompt them to start this train of thought. For mostly the same reason, you don't ask children "do your friends drink vodka?".

Essentially, its conceivably possible that the idea of transsexualism poses an information hazard to children.

the idea of transsexualism poses an information hazard to children

Of the same magnitude as the idea of drinking alcohol, shooting guns, or doing stupid things on video..?

I tend to think that in the age of internet-connected smartphones the concept of protecting children from information hazards is... quaint and counterproductive.

Having said that, I would interpret the events which led to this discussion as authorities attempting to shape the kids' value system which is a different and, probably, a more dangerous thing.

2skeptical_lurker6yDefinitely not! I would say that smartphones should have age filters on them, although I could equally say that in the internet age, the whole idea of sex education, gay or straight, is quaint and counterproductive. I also agree that the far bigger issue is whether political indoctrination (I'm trying to think of a more positive way to phrase this, but I can't) of this form is justified. The impression I got from the article is that this is partially a reaction against the growth of fundamentalist Islamism in schools, where state funded teacher were caught teaching small children certain things like "Hindus drink their god's piss". Clearly, forcing schools to teach children about how lesbians have sex is going to really annoy the Islamists (although its not obvious whether this will make the problem of Islamism better or worse), but to avoid discrimination the same thing has to apply to Christian schools. I suppose one could argue that enforcing certain cultural norms (e.g. the belief that all religions and sexual orientations are equally valid) is necessary to prevent society from breaking down into factions engaged in armed conflict with each other, which is far more important than any other issue we have discussed here. OTOH... well I certainly don't hold either hetrosexuality or cissexuality as terminal values (my argument was purely about avoiding suffering), but I think some people, such as Azathoth, do, and it does seem rather unfair that the state can declare that your values are wrong and demand that your children hold different values. I'm really not sure how to answer this.

I would say that smartphones should have age filters on them

I agree. We should encourage children to develop an interest in anonymous filter-dodging web access systems like Tor, securely encrypting their messages such that they can't be monitored for inappropriate language usage, and other related skills while they're still young.

1skeptical_lurker6yWhile your comment does amuse me enough for an upvote, I feel the need to point out that if the children do not have root access to the phone, then they can't install Tor. As I understand it, rooting a phone is not easy, and I suppose once they have reached the age when they are smart & patient enough to root a phone then they are probably mature enough to deal with the internet.
2ilzolende6yThanks, I wasn't aware of that. I've been able to download and run Tor from plenty of computer user accounts without administrator privileges, so I assumed that you could just download it to a (non-Apple) phone the same way.
1Lumifer6yWorks by an entirely standard method: download a file from the internet and follow instructions. Easy-peasy :-D
6JoshuaZ6yCan/should a school teach that different racial groups are morally the same? What about that slavery is wrong? What about "be kind to each other and share your toys"? Is the difference purely that more people disagree with one claim as opposed to the others?
8Lumifer6yLet's add to that list. Can/should a school teach that Kim Jong-un is the greatest human being who ever lived and that only his incessant efforts keep the people safe and prosperous? What about "it is the highest moral duty to immediately report all rule-breaking to the authorities"?
4skeptical_lurker6yI want logical positivist schools that only teach scientifically verifiable truths about objective reality :) But seriously, you make a good point. I think the number of people who agree with the claim is important, but there is perhaps a second issue in that some people claim that certain information can produce irreversible personality changes. If advocating homosexuality turned people gay (and shared environment does affect the prevalence of lesbians) then this causes a permanent hit to the utility function of a homophobe, whereas if some one wants their child not to share their toys ( because that's communism, maybe?) then the child could still change their mind after they leave school.
2Lumifer6yI would be opposed to the idea. Um, as opposed to Christians who drink their god's blood..? I am sorry, is the goal of the exercise to annoy Islamists..? 8-0 This historically has been argued A LOT. Pretty much every time the question of enforcing cultural norms came up. The funny thing is, those currently in power always argue that the cultural norms which help with keeping them on top are "necessary to prevent society from breaking down".
1skeptical_lurker6yReally, so children should be able to view extremely violent and other adult things? I'm guessing the fundamentalist Islamists were pretty scathing of Christianity too. I wouldn't be so bothered about adults saying that, but the important bits include 'taxpayer funded' and 'small children'. Also, communion is an actual part of Christianity, whereas I think "Hindus drink their god's piss" was just a complete fabrication. I really don't think most people seem to understand that annoying your political opponents serves no purpose and shuts down constructive dialogue. On second thoughts, I suppose the idea could be to annoy them enough so that the leave the country. Yes, it is an interestingly convenient coincidence isn't it?
7Nornagest6yI suspect this is pointing to the Hindu reverence for cattle, which tends to show up in weird ways in Hindu-Muslim disputes from that area. Milk is not urine, and cows aren't treated as gods per se, but it's an allegation that I could see Kevin Baconing its way out of the truth. I do know of one case of ceremonial consumption of urine, but it's not Hindu -- it's a Siberian entheogenic practice aimed at the still-psychoactive metabolites of compounds found in the A. muscaria mushroom, previously eaten by shamans.
1skeptical_lurker6yExactly right! An impressively accurate guess.
4Lumifer6yYes. And they do, by the way.
0skeptical_lurker6yI'm certainly aware that they do. Interestingly, most people arrested for child porn are teenagers sending other teenagers naked pictures.
2JoshuaZ6yCertainly those cases exist. Do you have a citation that most arrests are such cases?
0Lumifer6yWhich, of course, is another point of evidence towards the claim that the criminal justice system is FUBAR.
7falenas1086yThis entirely depends on which path the causality takes. Trans folks are much more depressed and tend to have much higher levels of mental illness than the general population.* Obviously, experiences are different for different people. But most trans people experience extreme discomfort in the gender roles they are expected to perform and have some form of gender dysphoria. I would expect these things to be present regardless if they knew that the label "trans" exists. If this is the reason for the higher rates of mental illness, then encouraging awareness of what trans is will let people do things to help fix some of these issues. However, if the causal path is that people become aware of the idea of being trans, then realize that they do not fit the gender they were assigned at birth, leading to higher rates of mental illness, that would be a different issue. Anecdotally, almost all the trans people I know have the experience of learning what being trans is, then having an "Oh! That's I'm feeling" moment. This would be evidence for the first method. (Side note: The term most trans people use is transgender rather than transexual, because it is the gender that is different. On a similar note, most trans people do not have the surgeries you were talking about.) *I am not counting gender identity disorder as a mental illness, both because I don't think it should be classified that way and because this statement would be pointless if I did.
2skeptical_lurker6yI think there is a third causal path, which goes: Thinking about being the opposite sex -> psychosomatic alteration of hormone levels during puberty-> structural differences in the brain -> transgender. I'm not saying this is plausible, or that I have evidence for it. This is not my field. But AFAIK I cannot rule it out. I would say that since transgender people are much more depressed, presumably due to being trapped in the wrong body (which, as we both mentioned, doesn't apply to all trans people) then GID is a mental illness because it causes depression and suffering. This doesn't mean that transgender people need to feel bad about being trans, because that will just make matters worse. I know people who are trans and I know people who suffering from other mental illnesses and I hope I'm not coming across as insensitive but I just don't see the point in mincing my words.
2falenas1086ySure, that path seems possible as well. Although some of the depression could be caused by that, it seems pretty likely that a large portion of it could also because by being treated by society as a gender they aren't, as well as more targeted transphobia. GLB people also have much higher rates of depression, which is probably for that reason and not some third link. Furthermore, I think we need to go back to diseased thinking about diseases. [] When we call something a mental illness, it's because we are trying to treat it in some way, or alleviate the effects. This is not something we want to do with trans people, the effects that we're talking about are all other mental illnesses that we do want to treat the symptoms of.
2skeptical_lurker6yI've heard trans people say that simply having breasts is really disturbing, enough to require unconfortable breast-binding. I've also heard a trans person say that they enjoy looking at themselves in the mirror, because they are turned on by their own body. Incidentally, are there separate words for 'non gender identifying transgender' and 'trapped in the wrong body transgender'? Anyway, clearly transphobia is going to make the problem worse. Well, sex reassignment surgery clearly is a treatment. And the picture isn't clear with certain other mental illnesses either (e.g. autism).
4falenas1086yI think what you are going for is non-binary/agender trans people vs. binary trans people. But, I'm not sure which distinction you're talking about. There are people who fit the classic "trapped in the wrong body," who have a clear idea of what body parts they would/wouldn't like (which could be anything from having a penis and breasts to no genitalia at all). There are other people who are completely fine with their physical body but are uncomfortable with the idea of identifying with the gender they were assigned at birth. If you're talking about that distinction, then people in the second category don't necessarily identify as agender or non-binary, and people in the first category don't always identify as a binary gender.
2skeptical_lurker6yWell, I had a transgender friend who said that at a trans meeting two types of people turned up: those that didn't strongly identify as either gender, and those that strongly identified as the gender opposite to their physical body. This is the distinction I am trying to describe. And "agender trans people" is quite a mouthful.
2falenas1086yYou can just say "non-binary people" or "agender people." In any case, binary and non-binary are the types you are talking about.
4Nornagest6yIt didn't reach this level of specificity, but I remember similar questions on an allegedly anonymous survey passed around when I was in middle school (age 11 or 12, don't remember which). Along with a number of questions about sex and illegal drug use. That was about when the War on Drugs and related moral panics were peaking, though.

I don't understand. Nothing in the article you linked to describes anyone

encouraging children to be gay and transsexual

and the article isn't about what schools do, or even about what one school does. It's about what some government inspectors are alleged to have done, and I think a little context might be in order.

This is about the inspection of Grindon Hall Christian School. I think it's clear that the inspectors were concerned that the school might be instilling hostility to, and/or ignorance of, various things that conservative Christians commonly disapprove of: other religions, homosexuality, transsexualism. So they asked pupils some questions intended to probe this.

The school has issued a complaint about those questions. (This is where the stuff in the Telegraph article comes from.) The inspection report, now it's out, is extremely negative.

If the complaint made by the school is perfectly accurate, then it does sound as if the probing was done quite insensitively. Tut tut, naughty inspectors. But it's worth noting that complaints of this sort -- especially when, as one might suspect here, they're made partly in self-defence -- are not always perfectly accurate. And, e.g., ... (read more)

1skeptical_lurker6yWell, saying that children should be taught how lesbians have sex is encouraging children to be gay. Unlike Azeroth123, I doubt this will cause the collapse of civilisation, so I'm not necessarly agreeing with him about the consequences or trying to morally condemn this. If government inspectors were asking these questions, it implies that this is supposed to be the norm for schools. While these two statements are logically distinct, most people don't communicate in a clear, precise manner, saying exactly what they mean without any subtly. Most people hint at things, and in this case I think the inference that "inspectors think the school should be celebrating festivals of other religions" is perhaps justified. This is a good point which I really shouldn't have overlooked. If encouraging children to be gay is a bit weird, then perhaps condemnation of homosexuality is equally weird, and actual abuse is appalling. This is all the more reason why inspectors asking kids to out their friends is awful. I'd like to make it absolutely clear that I'm not defending the school here. Rather then some people trying to get schools to promote prog values, and some people trying to promote conservative values, we should just keep politics out of schools, which means disbanding religious schools like this one.
5gjm6yJust like saying that children should be taught what words they use in France is encouraging children to be French? (We don't even know it's true that anyone said children should be taught how lesbians have sex. What we do know is that the school's headmaster claimed that a pupil claimed that an inspector asked them what lesbians do. It seems eminently possible that (1) the headmaster lied, (2) the headmaster misunderstood, (3) the pupil lied, (4) the pupil misunderstood, or (5) the inspector did ask that but not with the intention that's being assumed here. For instance, consider the following possible context. Pupil: "It shouldn't be allowed. What they do is disgusting and unnatural and forbidden by God." Inspector: "So what is it they do that's so disgusting?" I'm not sure I'd exactly approve of the inspector's question in this scenario, but its point wouldn't be that pupils ought to be taught all about lesbians' sex lives.) Quite true. But that doesn't license an inference from "inspectors asked whether there are any pupils who celebrate non-Christian religions' holidays" to "inspectors think the school should be celebrating non-Christian religions' holidays". (Other interpretations that seem more plausible to me: 1. They wanted to make a point about the fact that the school's teaching simply ignores the existence of other religions (this was one of the complaints in the inspection report, IIRC). 2. They wanted to find out something about the religious makeup of the school's pupil population, and didn't entirely trust the figures they were given by the school. 3. They wanted to identify pupils who might be adversely affected by the school's (allegedly) intolerant and narrow-minded ethos, so that they could talk to them and see whether there actually was a problem or not.) (If I were wanting to hint at such a thing in such a way, I would be asking not "do any of you celebrate any other festivals?" but "does the school celebrate any other festivals?".) Now, fo
3skeptical_lurker6yWell, at the very least I'd say its encouraging them to visit France. Admittedly, yes for some reason I took this article at face value, rather then assuming that everyone lies about everything all the time, which is generally a good assumption. If there are non-Christian pupils in the school, the obvious next step is to demand that their religious holidays are observed too. Its the tactic of taking it one step at a time. Demand that the school recognise other religions exist, then demand that they teach that the other religions are not evil, then that they are equally valid. Since a fundamental point of Christianity is that other religions are wrong (thou shall have no other god) or "put here by Satan to tempt us" (according the people from the Christian union at a perfectly normal university), then if they accede to the next demand then many people would say they are then Christian in name only. Demand that they acknowledge that some kids are not Christian. Then acknowledge that they are from other faiths. Then exempt them from religious services. Then allow them to hold their own religious services away from the other kids. Then get the school as a whole to celebrate other religion's festivals. Then try to stop people wishing each other a merry Christmas and instead say "Happy Holidays". I'm not trying to take the Christians' side - I think their religion is absurd. I'm trying to show that they are right to be afraid of the tactic where each step seems reasonable and tolerant, and then several steps down the line everything they value is gone. Some people do do this. Heard of Elevatorgate? A guy asked a girl if she fancied a cup of coffee. She realised that 'coffee' might be a euphemism for sex, and that rapists also want sex, and so asking her if she wants coffee was "a potential sexual assault". The absurdity would be funny if it hadn't torn the atheist & skeptics movement in half. Thing is, now the transphobes can launch a witch-hunt to see which ki
2gjm6yI really don't think we should be condemning people for doing something that could be followed by doing something else that could be followed by doing something else that would be bad. Not unless we have actual evidence that they intend the whole sequence. (I also remark that what you originally said was that schools are encouraging children to be gay and transsexual. We've come quite a way from there.) Maybe they are. But being afraid of something doesn't, at least in my value system nor in theirs if they haven't that bit about not bewaring false witness against other people, constitute sufficient reason to claim it's already happened. Yes, I have heard of it and I know enough about the story to know that your version of it is quite inaccurate. But that's not the point here. The point is that that kind of overreaction is silly and harmful, and it's what the school did in this case, and to my mind that means we should be cautious about trusting their account of what the inspectors did. Yes, that's a problem. For the avoidance of doubt, it's not my purpose to claim that the inspectors didn't do anything foolish or harmful. I am claiming only that your original characterization of the situation is wrong. Which I think you're not disputing at this point.
0skeptical_lurker6yI'm not condemning it, at most I'm saying the school's head teacher is right to condemn it from within his value system. I'm slightly torn here between saying I understand why people might draw a line in the sand to avoid being defeated one step at a time, and realising that this would make organisations really inflexible. Do you have a relatively short, unbiased version of elevatorgate you can link me to? But yes, I take your point, and given that the school is biased they can't be trusted here. Broadly speaking, yes. I mean, teaching children how lesbians have sex might have happened, and if it did then it might slightly increase the number of lesbians, but that's not nesscerly the intention. At the very least, I massively overstated the case.
4gjm6yahahahahahaha hahaha hahahaaaa. (On the substantive issues, I think we're basically done at this point.)
0skeptical_lurker6yAgreed on both points.
2Lumifer6ySo is this the situation where everything the Christians value is gone..? All that (except maybe for the last sentence) sounds perfectly reasonable to me. In fact, acknowledging that some kids are not Christian -- if, in fact, they are not -- seems to me like the first step away from insanity.
0alienist6yWell, their parents did choose to send them to a Christian school.
2Lumifer6y...yes, and?
0alienist6yPresumably that means they want their kids exposed to Christian values and Christian services.
0Lumifer6yAnd they are exposed. But if the kids are actually not Christian, recognizing that seems to me an entirely reasonable thing to do. And by the time kids want to hold their own religious services (presumably "kids" are teenagers at this point), the wishes of parents matter less.
0skeptical_lurker6yBy the standards of Christians living a few hundred years ago (and hardliners living today), the secularisation of Europe must look catastrophic. Hundreds of millions of people doomed to burn in eternal hellfire. This is probably because you are not a hardline conservative Christian. To them, the idea that there is an alternative to Christianity is an information hazard far worse then, say, Roko's Basilisk. The idea that you would present impressionable young children with an idea which, if adopted, results in them burning in hell is pure insanity in their eyes. Before I read the sequences and understood about 'beliefs as attire' and so forth, I was confused as to how any Abraham religion could possibly co-exist with any other religion.
0JoshuaZ6yUm, you do know that there are major versions of every one of the three major Abrahamic religions that don't believe in eternal suffering for non-believers? Similar remarks apply for the minor Abrahamic offshoots (although deciding which are their own offshoots is fuzzy). Moreover, there are also variations in at least one of those religions where there's enough pre-destination that most of this is rendered completely irrelevant.
0skeptical_lurker6yI'm certainly aware that there are many variants of these religions which believe wildly different things, but it was still my understanding that "eternal suffering for non-believers" was they most mainstream branch.
2Salemicus6y"Eternal suffering for non-believers" is non-mainstream in Islam. The mainstream position is that righteous Jews, Christians and Sabaeans will be OK. Pagans, however, are right out.
2Viliam_Bur6yUhm, this seems like saying that "eternal suffering for non-believers" is the mainstream position... it's just that People of the Book are not automatically included among the "non-believers".
2Salemicus6yThat's one way of looking at it, I suppose. I think "non-believers" normally means "people who don't believe in that religion." Remember the original question was - how can an Abrahamic religion co-exist with a different religion? These are clearly different religions. I do think I'm drawing a meaningful distinction in that Christians believe that the only way to heaven is through Jesus (John 14:6, perhaps the most famous verse in the NT) whereas Islam teaches that you don't have to be a Muslim to go to heaven.
2skeptical_lurker6yReally? So... out of the Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, the only one which teaches that non-believers burn in hell is the one based on Jesus' teachings of forgiveness. Why am I not that surprised.
3Lumifer6yIt's a bit more complicated. In Judaism there is basically no afterlife -- neither heaven nor hell. Christianity introduced the promise of eternal life but made it a carrot-and-stick deal -- bask in joy or burn in flames. Islam essentially went with Christianity's approach, but wrote in a grandfathering clause for "people of the Book" -- Jews and Christians -- who are seen as following more or less the right religion, just not the latest most-correct version updated by the final prophet (Muhammad). Pagans and atheists still burn.
2Salemicus6yMy understanding is that mainstream Christians think non-Christians can go to heaven as long as they didn't have the chance to become Christian - e.g. Moses, or some undiscovered Amazonian tribe - as long as they lived righteously. The mainstream Islamic position, however, is that Islam is really obvious, so even if you never heard of the prophet Mohammed you should still be able to work out most of the stuff based on reason alone (!) so you've got no excuse. So while Christians view Moses, Abraham, etc as precursors to Christianity, Islam views them as actually having been Muslim. For Muslims, the first Muslim was Adam (of Adam and Eve fame). So it's not that Jews, Christians and Sabaeans get grandfathered in for having the updated version. Rather, it's that they are still worshipping the right God, even though they've distorted his teachings and those of his prophets, which is surely pushing their luck. The "People of the Book" thing is way less tolerant than it sounds.
2gjm6yThat would be really weird given that so far as I can tell Muslims don't hold (e.g.) that all the prophets (Moses, Jesus, etc.) were aware of anything like the whole of Islam despite being actually on a mission from God. Does "most of the stuff" here mean something like "what Islam, Judaism and Christianity have in common"?
0Salemicus6yMuslims believe that the teachings of Moses, Jesus, etc were perverted by the Jews and Christians. In particular they definitely do believe that Moses taught the same things that Mohammed did - this is explicitly stated in the Qu'ran, which repeatedly treats Moses as a parallel for Mohammed. So the fact that the Biblical Moses isn't a Muslim is irrelevant - you have to go by the Qu'ranic Moses. That's why Hollywood films about Old Testament prophets are frequently censored in the Middle East, because they are telling 'inaccurate' (i.e. non-Qu'ranic) stories about Islamic prophets, see e.g. here [] and here [] .
2gjm6ySo I knew that Muslims believe that earlier prophets' teachings were compatible by Islam before they were corrupted by the Jews and Christians. Are you saying, beyond that, that they believe the earlier prophets actually had something like the whole of Muhammad's message, before Muhammad? That seems a little unlikely to me. (E.g., for sure Moses didn't have the Qur'an, and I wouldn't expect "There are vitally important things in the Qur'an that weren't known before it" to be controversial among Muslims. But I'm very willing to be corrected.)
0Salemicus6yI don't know exactly what the man-in-the-street believes, but yes, Islam teaches that they had something like the whole of the message. It also teaches that all of the prophets had the Torah, and indeed that the Torah and other earlier revealed scriptures talk about Mohammed. The special thing about the Qu'ran isn't that it's a unique account of God's word - supposedly God gave his word to mankind over and over, but mankind kept polluting it. The special thing about the Qu'ran is that it's the final and incorruptible version. You're right that it is an obviously silly belief, but I am not an expert as to how the contradictions are worked out. For example, did Adam teach the necessity of Hajj []? Surely no, because Abraham built the Ka'aba [], and he came later. But if Adam's religion was missing one of the pillars of Islam, then how was he a Muslim? But really it's no sillier than any manner of Christian doctrines that no-one remarks on.
0alienist6yWell, according to this [] article:
0alienist6yWell, Dante put the righteous pagans in Limbo (the 1st circle of hell). As for Isrealites, they got to heaven because they were followers of G-d after all.
0JoshuaZ6yThat's not really accurate. There are versions of Judaism which have no afterlife, but many classical forms of Judaism do have an afterlife. Part of the idea that Judaism doesn't have an afterlife is due to Christian misunderstandings because in Judaism the afterlife is just really, really not important. It is a much more this world focused religion. But most forms of Orthodox Judaism definitely believe in an afterlife where while the details may be fuzzy, there's a definite reward for the righteous and punishment for sin.
0Lumifer6yCan you provide some links? There is Sheol, sure, but I was under the impression that it's just a grey place where shades slowly wither away to nothing. But punishment for sinners and rewards for the righteous -- which branches believe in them? And is it a late Christian influence?
0JoshuaZ6ySure. See this summary of traditional beliefs []. Note that some movements or subsects are more explicit. For example, Chabad and most of the Chassidic sects have a much more "Christian" view of the afterlife, as you can see here [] . Sheol as depicted in the oldest parts of the Bible is something like that. It would however be a mistake to interpret the Old Testament/Tanach as having the same role in Judaism as the Bible does for Christianity. In many ways the Talmud is more important as a set of documents when it comes to theology. Almost all Orthodox Jews believe this in some form, and this does date back to the early sections of the Talmud (200-300 CEish). But the nature of such reward and punishment can vary, ranging from simple oblivion for the wicked, to a "heaven" like reward and a long purgatory, as well as possible reincarnation as a punishment for the wicked. Among Reform and Conservative movements there's much less of a belief in an afterlife, although individual beliefs may vary. Difficult to say. A lot of these ideas were floating around in the late Second Temple period so it is hard to tell exactly who was influencing whom and to what extent. Moreover, a lot of the written sources date to 200 CE or so which is already a lot later.
2Lumifer6yHm, interesting, updating... :-) Thanks for the links.
0JoshuaZ6yCertainly not for Judaism, even stringent forms of Orthodox Judaism. And not for the Bahai either. For the others the situation is more complicated.
0skeptical_lurker6yOk, well I know more about Christianity than Judaism and I assumed it was similar, but thanks for enlightening me.
0Lumifer6yI am not sure what is the point that you are making. There is a pretty diverse set of people commonly called extremists who think that the contemporary society is a catastrophe and is horribly bad. If such people decide to withdraw from the society, sure, no problems. If they decide to change, that is, "save" the society, they shouldn't be surprised to encounter resistance. What is it that you are complaining about?
0skeptical_lurker6yI'm not complaining. I think secularisation is a good thing. If anything, I'm trying to convey just how much values have changed, and I'm a little concerned about how they might change in the future, either by moving back to past religious values or by moving forward in some bizarre direction. You know the ideological turing test and the idea that you should only be able to argue against a position if you truly understand their point of view? Well, I think I can see these sort of issues from both an extreme libertarian and an extreme social conservative viewpoint and the contradiction is doing strange things to my brain. Also, I'm defending a statement Azeroth123 made (schools are encouraging kids to be gay - although I'm not so sure about this now) while not endorsing his conclusions, which also might make what I have written seem confusing or even contradictory. Similarly, I've mostly criticised the school inspectors, and yet I think its good that their actions are undermining Christian fundmentalism. This might make what I've written sound confusing, but at least I've defeated the halo effect.
3satt6yMaybe something of a tangent, but I'm not sure that's a coherent idea. I'd say schools are intrinsically political entities, working as they do on the assumption that corralling children into rooms, routinely against their consent, to teach them certain things is useful & necessary. (Not that I think that assumption is necessarily wrong!)
7Viliam_Bur6yI don't see the encouraging there, other than possible "medical student syndrome []". (When uncalibrated people hear "X suggests Y", they are prone to see tiny amounts of X and assume high probability of Y.) For example, a child with no realistic idea about what transsexuality means could mistake a thought "in this situation it would be (in far mode) better to be a boy/girl" for transsexuality; which could cause unnecessary turmoil. Yes, this seemed very wrong to me, too. Even if the idea of teaching about sexuality was to increase tolerance, outing someone is wrong, and it could also inspire bullies to expand their arsenal of labels for their classmates. But to put things in context, I still think the religious education is more harmful on the average, so it seems funny when people with cute ideas like "if you explore your sexuality, the sadistic omnipotent alpha male will torture you for eternity" complain about possible harm to children's sexuality caused by improper education.
2skeptical_lurker6yWell, they also wanted the school to teach how to have lesbian sex, which is certainly encouraging homosexuality. I'm not saying this is a bad thing though. The idea seems to be to counter homophobic religions by forcing them to teach how lesbians have sex. I think it would be a better idea just to shut the religious schools.
3Gunnar_Zarncke6yIf inducing trans and gay were that easy it would be as easy to cure it. It isn't. []. Trans is so incurable that despite the side-effects it is considered much easier to change the body than the mind. But I agree with your second paragraph. I'd say that there is such a thing as information hazard. You need anti-memes for such. And best before being exposed to the info-hazard. Kind like an innoculation. At least as a minor when you don't have a sufficiently general mindset to dispose with such ideas easily (stronger immune system).
3JoshuaZ6yI don't think this follows. While it is true that one expects that something like that should be true in general, we know that as far as sex and gender issues, weird things can happen. In particular, sexual fetishes can apparently arise from fairly innocuous stimuli and once in place are extremely difficult to remove.
2Gunnar_Zarncke6yAgreed. Seligman actually discusses fetishes and gives a convincing account. The problem being that the innocuous stimulus triggers a chain of repeated self-inforcement.
0DanielLC6yMy model is that there's a sliding scale of how you'd identify your gender, and there's strong social pressure to conform it with your sex. As a result, only people who strongly want to identify their gender otherwise will. Another way to think of it is that the reason it's so incurable is that society automatically cures all the easy and medium cases. There's instructions on LessWrong for how to become bisexual []. If it's that easy for a heterosexual person to become bisexual, shouldn't it be easy for a homosexual person to become bisexual? It's the same issue here.
-2alienist6yThat depends on the motivations and rationality of those doing the considering.
[-][anonymous]6y 10

Could use an editor or feedback of some kind for a planned series of articles on scarcity, optimization, and economics. Have first four articles written and know what the last article is supposed to say, and will be filling in the gaps for a while. Would like to start posting said articles when there is enough to keep up a steady schedule.

No knowledge of economics required, but would be helpful if you were pretty experienced with how the community likes information to be presented. Reply to this comment or send me a message, and let me know how I can send you the text of the articles.

5Alsadius6yI'd be able to help. Contact info sent by PM.
4AlexSchell6yContact info sent.

I read a book from a guy who writes many funny stories about animals (sorry, I don't remember his name now). He described how ZOOs often try to provide a lot of space for animals... which is actually bad for non-predators, because their instinct is to hide, and if they cannot hide, they have high levels of stress (even when nothing is attacking them at the moment), which harms their health. Instead, he recommended to give the animals a small place to hide, where they will feel safe.

Recently (after reading "Don't Shoot the Dog", which I strongly r... (read more)

8knb6yThere's some pretty compelling research [] that indicates most people dislike open office designs. It also seems to lower productivity. Which leads to the question of why so many companies use open office designs. My guess is that open offices make the company seem more cool/laid-back and less stodgy than cubicle farms. This might help to attract employees, even though it actually makes them less happy in the long-run.
4bramflakes6yThis is it, basically. You see it a lot in companies based on churning through employees rather than building up a stable longterm workforce. The open-plan spaces look hip and make newcomers feel like they're working in a Cool Modern Company, so they're more willing to endure the daily annoyances like half a dozen distracting conversations going on at once across the room. It doesn't matter that they eventually wear down under the realization that they are working in a Panopticon prison yard. In fact it's probably considered a feature instead of a bug - I can't think of a better way to make employees feel small and pressured to perform. Cubicle farms might seem like the prime example of drudgery, but at least you get your own little space and have an unexposed back.
2[anonymous]6yThere's a good deal of research on how open offices can increase creativity, through concepts like propinquity. An open office may point to the fact that they value innovation over productivity.
2knb6yThat's the usual argument. The Davis meta-analysis cited in that New Yorker article found that open offices hurt creativity, which is what I would expect from a more distracting environment. Anyway if there is any good counter-evidence I would like to see it.
2Douglas_Knight6yThe New Yorker claims that the 2011 Davis review (not meta-analysis) found that open offices hurt creativity, but I don't see that in in [] the paper [] . It only uses the word "creativity" twice, once citing Csikszentmihalyi, and once in the bibliography. If you have read the paper and claim that it does talk about creativity, can you suggest a better word to search for or give a more specific citation?
0knb6yI haven't read it, I was relying on the New Yorker's interpretation.
1Viliam_Bur6yMaybe this is the difference between the roles of "predator" and "prey". As a "prey", you hate open spaces. As a "predator", you love them. Guess who has the power to make the decision? The bosses are probably making the decisions that feel right to them, ignoring the research. And maybe the employees' ability to endure the increased stress is some kind of costly signalling. (Not sure what exactly is signalled here: loyalty? self-confidence? resistance to stress?)
7JoshuaZ6yWas the author Gerald Durrell? I don't remember him specifically talking about that issue but he wrote a lot of humorous books about his time as a naturalist and helping run zoos.
5BrassLion6yI am such a worker, and my immediate boss sits literally right behind me. It's mildly uncomfortable, but not really much more uncomfortable than a traditional set of cubicles. It helps that my boss doesn't care if I'm e.g. reading this site instead of working at any given time, as long as I get my work done overall. I estimate I would have about a 50% increase in work done if I had an office with a door, no increase if my boss was not in the same building and I had an open plan office, and no increase if I had traditional cubes (open plan offices really do make it easier to talk to people if you need to).
2gjm6yThe intended meaning of the poll is less than perfectly clear to me. Are you asking about (1) working in an open space where your boss is actually, literally, nearby and behind you all the time? Or about (2) working in an open space, full stop? (I work in an open-plan office. My boss is usually on another continent and when he's here the place where he usually sits doesn't give him direct sight of what I'm doing. I dislike open-plan offices, partly because of the feeling of being watched all the time and partly for other reasons, but it's at the "mildly uncomfortable" level. If my boss -- or anyone else, actually -- were actually sat behind me watching me work all day I'd rate it as "beyond horrible".) [EDITED to clarify meaning.]
2Viliam_Bur6yI wanted to ask about working in an open space where your boss is... let's say in the same room, somewhere where he can watch you all day long. Not necessarily immediately behind you; could be on the opposite side of the room; could be sideways. And of course sometimes he leaves the room for meetings etc., but his official sitting place is in the same room as yours, and he uses it almost every day for a few hours. And "boss" doesn't necessarily mean the owner of the company; simply someone who is above you in the hierarchy; someone who gives you commands and who could fire you or significantly contribute to getting you fired. So it's not a room full of equals.
2JoshuaZ6yI think you should clarify that in the original post. I interpreted it much more closely to what gjm labeled as (2) than (1), and voted mild accordingly. If I had realized the intended meaning I would have voted for horrible.
1bramflakes6yI could never work in an open-plan office. The entire idea is a nakedly aggressive intrusion into employees' personal space on the part of management.

An ancient extrasolar system with five sub-Earth-size planets

"To put that into perspective, by the time Earth formed, these five planets were already older than our planet is today."

9JoshuaZ6yI'm actually in the process of writing a discussion post on Great Filter issues that mentions this. It should be clear why this sort of thing should be pretty scary. Incidentally this is the paper in question []
5CellBioGuy6yI look forward to it!

A few day ago, I saw an interesting article on a site somewhat related to lesswrong. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to read it, so I bookmarked it.

Computer crashed, lost my last bookmarks and now I spent 2 hours trying to find this article, without luck. Here is the idea of the article, in a nutshell : we human are somewhat a king of learning machine, trying to build a model of the “reality”. In ML, overfitting means that in insisting too much on fitting the data, we actually get a worse out-of-sample performance (because we start to fit the modeling... (read more)

A self-improvement inquiry. I've got an irrational tendency to be too relaxed around other people; too sincere, transparent, and trusting. In general I'm very uninhibited and uncontrolled, and this goes to spectacular levels when I'm the slightest bit intoxicated. This has come back to bite me in more than one occasion.

I've had trouble finding documentation on how to improve on this. "Being too honest/sincere/open" doesn't seem like a common problem for people to have.

Other than Superintelligence and Global Catastrophic Risks what should I read to find out more about existential risk?

1JoshuaZ6y"X-Events:The Collapse of Everything" covers some similar ground but from a more popular perspective.
0Capla6yIs the author unaffiliated with LessWrong?
0JoshuaZ6yAs far as I am aware yes. Their framing, priorities and vocabulary all make me strongly believe so.

I still don't understand the apparently substantial difference between Frequentist and Bayesian reasoning. The subject was brought up again in a class I just attended—and I was still left with a distinct "... those... those aren't different things" feeling.

I am beginning to come to the conclusion that the whole "debate" is a case of Red vs. Blue nonsense. So far, whenever one tries to elaborate on a difference, it is done via some hypothetical anecdote, and said anecdote rarely amounts to anything outside of "Different people somet... (read more)

9Kindly6yThe whole thing is made more complicated by the debate between frequentist and Bayesian methods in statistics. (It obviously matters which you use even if you don't care what to believe about "what probability is", or don't see a difference.)
8IlyaShpitser6yThis debate is boring and old, people getting work done in ML/stats have long ago moved past it. My suggestion is to find something better to talk about: it's mostly wankery if people other than ML/stats people are talking.
2RichardKennaway6yWhat is it when it is ML/stats people who are talking? For example, it's a frequent theme at the blogs of Andrew Gelman and Deborah Mayo, and anyone teaching statistics has to deal with the issues.
5IlyaShpitser6yI teach statistics and I don't deal with the debate very much. Have you read the exchange started by Robins/Wasserman's missing data example here: [] What do you make of it? It is an argument against certain kinds of "Bayesian universality" people talk about (but it's not really the type of argument folks here have). Here they have a specific technical point to make.
3RichardKennaway6yIt will take a while to understand it, but by the end of section 3 I was wondering when the assumption that X is a binary string was going to be used. Not at all, so far. The space might as well have been defined as just a set of 2^d arbitrary things. So I anticipate that introducing a smoothness assumption on theta, foreshadowed at this point, won't help -- there is no structure for theta to be smooth with respect to. Surely this is why the only information about X that can be used to estimate Y is π(X)? That is the only information about X that is available, the way the problem is set up. More when I've studied the rest.
5IlyaShpitser6yThe binary thing isn't important, what's important is that there are real situations where likelihood based methods (including Bayes) don't work well (because by assumption there is only strong info on the part of the likelihood we aren't using in our functional, and the part of the likelihood we are using in our functional is very complicated). I think my point wasn't so much the technical specifics of that example, but rather that these are the types of B vs F arguments that actually have something to say, rather than going around and around in circles. I had a rephrase of this example using causal language somewhere on LW (if that will help, not sure if it will). Robins and Ritov have something of paper length, rather than blog post length if you are interested.
2AmagicalFishy6yWait, IlyaShipitser—I think you overestimate my knowledge of the field of statistics. From what it sounds like, there's an actual, quantitative difference between Bayesian and Frequentist methods. That is, in a given situation, the two will come to totally different results. Is this true? I should have made it more clear that I don't care about some abstract philosophical difference if said difference doesn't mean there are different results (because those differences usually come down to a nonsensical distinction [à la free will]). I was under the impression that there is a claim that some interpretation of the philosophy will fruit different results—but I was missing it, because everything I've been introduced to seems to give the same answer. Is it true that they're different methods that actually give different answers?
0DanielLC6yI think it's more that there are times when frequentists claim there isn't an answer. It's very common for statistical tests to talk about likelihood. The likelihood of a hypothesis given an experimental result is defined as the probability of the result given the hypothesis. If you want to know the probability of the hypothesis, you take the likelihood and multiply it by the prior probability. Frequentists deny that there always is a prior probability. As a result, they tend to just use the base rate as if it were a probability. Conflating the two is equivalent to the base rate fallacy.
0polymathwannabe6yEY believes [] so.
1RichardKennaway6yI think I'm beginning to see the problem for the Bayesian, although I not yet sure what the correct response to it is. I have some more or less rambling thoughts about it. It appears that the Bayesian is being supposed to start from a flat prior over the space of all possible thetas. This is a very large space (all possible strings of 2^100000 probabilities), almost all of which consists of thetas which are independent of pi. (ETA: Here I mistakenly took X to be a product of two-point sets {0,1}, when in fact it is a product of unit intervals [0,1]. I don't think this makes much difference to the argument though, or if it does, it would be best addressed by letting this one stand as is and discussing that case separately.) When theta is independent of pi, it seems to me that the Bayesian would simply take the average of sampled values of Y as an estimate of P(Y=1), and be very likely to get almost the same value as the frequentist. Indirectly observing a few values of theta (through the observed values of Y) gives no information about any other values of theta, because the prior was flat. This is why the likelihood calculated in the blog post contains almost no information about theta. Here is what seems to be to be a related problem. You will be presented with a series of some number of booleans, say 100. After each one, you are to guess the next. If your prior is a flat distribution over {0,1}^100, your prediction will be 50% each way at every stage, regardless of what the sequence so far has been, because all continuations are equally likely. It is impossible to learn from such a prior, which has built into it the belief that the past cannot predict the future. As noted in the blog post, smoothness of theta with respect to e.g. the metric structure of {0,1}^100000 doesn't help, because a sample of only 1000 from this space is overwhelmingly likely to consist of points that are all at a Manhattan distance of about 50000 from each other. No substantial extrapola
1IlyaShpitser6yYes the CODA paper is what I meant. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The right way out is to have a "weird" prior that mirrors frequentist behavior. Which, as the authors point out, is perfectly fine, but why bother? By the way Bayes can't use Horvitz-Thompson directly because it's not a likelihood based estimator, I think you have to somehow bake the entire thing into the prior. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The insight that lets you structure your B setup properly here is sort of coming from "the outside the problem," too.
0one_forward6yA note on notation - [0,1] with square brackets generally refers to the closed interval between 0 and 1. X is a continuous variable, not a boolean one.
1RichardKennaway6yActually, I should have been using curly brackets, as when I wrote (0,1) I meant the set with two elements, 0 and 1, which is what I had taken X to be a product of copies of, hence my obtaining 50000 as the expected Manhattan distance between any two members. I'll correct the post to make that clear. I think everything I said would still apply to the continuous case. If it doesn't, that would be better addressed with a separate comment.
0one_forward6yYeah, I don't think it makes much difference in high-dimensions. It's just more natural to talk about smoothness in the continuous case.
2polymathwannabe6yWhat "fundamental definition of probability" are you using?
0AmagicalFishy6yA quantitative thing that indicates how likely it is for an event to happen.
5Lumifer6yLet's say Alice and Bob are in two different rooms and can't see each other. Alice rolls a 6-sided die and looks at the outcome. Bob doesn't know the outcome, but knows that the die has been rolled. In your interpretation of the word "probability", can Bob talk about the probabilities of the different roll outcomes after Alice rolled?
0AmagicalFishy6yI'm having a hard time answering this question with "yes" or "no": The event in question is "Alice rolling a particular number on a 6-sided die." Bob, not knowing what Alice rolled, can talk about the probabilities associated with rolling a fair die many times, and base whatever decision he has to make from this probability (assuming that she is, in fact, using a fair die). Depending on the assumed complexity of the system (does he know that this is a loaded die?), he could convolute a bunch of other probabilities together to increase the chances that his decision is accurate. Yes... I guess? (Or, are you referring to something like: If Alice rolled a 5, then there is a 100% chance she rolled a 5?)
8Lumifer6yWell, the key point here is whether the word "probability" can be applied to things which already happened but you don't know what exactly happened. You said which implies that probabilities apply only to the future. The question is whether you can speak of probabilities as lack of knowledge about something which is already "fixed". Another issue is that in your definition you just shifted the burden of work to the word "likely". What does it mean that an event is "likely" or "not likely" to happen?
0emr6yEDIT: The neighboring comment here [], raises the same point (using the same type of example!). I wouldn't have posted this duplicate comment if I had caught this in time. I'm also confused about the debate. Isn't the "thing that hasn't happened yet" always an anticipated experience? (Even if we use a linguistic shorthand like "the dice roll is 6 with probability .5".) Suppose Alice tells Bob she has rolled the dice, but in reality she waits until after Bob has already done his calculations and secretly rolls the dice right before Bob walks in the room. Could Bob have any valid complaint about this? Once you translate into anticipated experiences of some observer in some situation, it seems like the difference between the two camps is about the general leniency with which we grant that the observer can make additional assumptions about their situation. But I don't see how you can opt out of assuming something: Any framing of the P("sun will rise tomorrow") problem has to implicitly specify a model, even if it's the infinite-coin-flip model.
0AmagicalFishy6ySorry, I didn't mean to imply that probabilities only apply to the future. Probabilities apply only to uncertainty. That is, given the same set of data, there should be no difference between event A happening, and you having to guess whether or not it happened, and event A not having happened yet—and you having to guess whether or not it will happen. When you say "apply a probability to something," I think: The only time event A happening matters is if it happening generated new data. In the Bob-Alice situation, Alice rolling a die in separate room gives zero information to Bob—so whether or not she already rolled it doesn't matter. Here are a couple of different situations to illustrate: A) Bob and Alice are in different rooms. Alice rolls the die and Bob has to guess the number she rolled. B) Bob has to guess the number that Alice's die will roll. Alice then rolls the die. C) Bob watches alice roll the die, but did not see the outcome. Bob must guess the number rolled. D) Bob is a supercomputer which can factor in every infinitesimal fact about how Alice rolls the die, and the die itself upon seeing the roll. Bob-the-supercomputer watches Alice roll the die, but did not see the outcome. In situations A, B, and C—whether or not Alice rolls the die before or after Bob's guess is irrelevant. It doesn't change anything about Bob's decison. For all intents and purposes, the questions "What did Alice roll?" and "What will Alice roll?" are exactly the same question. That is: We assume the system is simple enough that rolling a fair die is always the same. In situation D, the questions are different because there's different information available depending on whether or not Alice rolled already. That is, the assumption of a simple-system isn't there because Bob is able to see the complexity of the situation and make the exact same kind of decision. Alice having actually rolled the dice does matter. I don't quite understand your "likely or not likely" question. To t
3Lumifer6ySo, you are interpreting probabilities as subjective beliefs, then? That is a Bayesian, but not the frequentist approach. Having said that, it's useful to realize that the concept of probability has many different... aspects and in some situations it's better to concentrate on some particular aspects. For example if you're dealing with quality control and acceptable tolerances in an industrial mass production environment, I would guess that the frequentist aspect would be much more convenient to you than a Bayesian one :-) You may want to reformulate this, as otherwise there's lack of clarity with respect to the uncertainty about the event vs. the uncertainty about your probability for the event. But otherwise you're still saying that probabilities are subjective beliefs, right?
1[anonymous]6yMy best try: Frequentist statistics are built upon deductive logic; essentially a single hypothesis. They can be used for inductive logic (multiple hypotheses), but only at the more advanced levels which most people never learn. With Bayesian reasoning inductive logic is incorporated into the framework from the very beginning. This makes it harder to learn at first, but introduces fewer complications later on. Now math majors feel free to rip this explanation to shreds.
-1[anonymous]6yThey are the same thing. Gertrude Stein had it right: probability is probability is probability. It doesn't matter whether your interpretation is Bayesian or frequentist. The distinction between the two is simply how one chooses to apply probability: as a property of the world (frequentist) or as a description of our mental world-models (Bayesian). In either case the rules of probability are the same.
0Luke_A_Somers6yThis phrasing suggests that Bayesians can't accept quantum mechanics except via hidden variables. This is not the case.
2[anonymous]6yTaboo the word Bayesian. I was talking about the Bayesian interpretation of probability. An interpretation, not a category of person. Quantum mechanics without hidden variables uses the frequentist interpretation of probability. Sometimes in life we use probability in ways that are frequentist. Other times we use probability in ways that are Bayesian. This should not be alarming.
2Luke_A_Somers6yFair enough. The idea of calling QM 'frequentist' really stretches the reason for using that term under anything but an explicit collapse interpretation. Maybe it would be more of a third way - * Frequentism would be that the world is itself stochastic. * Fractionism would be that the world takes both paths and we will find ourselves in one. * Bayes gets to keep its definition.

I saw Ex Machina this weekend. The subject matter is very close to LWs interests and I enjoyed it a lot. My prior prediction that it's "AI box experiment: the movie" wasn't 100% accurate.

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For those that worry it's Hollywood, hence dumb I think you'... (read more)

7Sean_o_h6yScript/movie development was advised by CSER advisor and AI/neuroscience expert Murray Shanahan (Imperial). Haven't had time to go see it yet, but looking forward to it!
0Transfuturist6yI'm in the US; is there no hope but to wait until April?
4Sherincall6yOf course there is. The approach varies based on how much you are willing to pay, how you morally feel about doing something the studio does not want you to do and how risk averse you are. Based on those, the solution is anywhere between travelling to the UK and downloading it illegally.
0moreati6ySorry, I wasn't aware the US release is delayed vs the UK

A cool fact about the human brain is that the left and right hemispheres function as their own little worlds, each with their own things to worry about, but if you remove one half of someone’s brain, they can sometimes not only survive, but their remaining brain half can learn to do many of the other half’s previous jobs, allowing the person to live a normal life. That’s right—you could lose half of your brain and potentially function normally.

So say you have an identical twin sibling named Bob who developes a fatal brain defect. You decide to save him by

... (read more)
7CellBioGuy6yThey are mostly talking about the cortex, the outer wrinkled layer. Functionally, however, the cortex is completely useless without a whole suite of subcortical structures and actually only has something like 20% of your neurons. Its a part of the whole functional network, not the whole thing, though in mammals it expanded quite a bit and took on a lot of specialization. I dont know if theres such a thing as a 'generic' thalamus network vs 'your' thalamus network, sounds like a question for the connectomics researchers to get on. A lot of these things A - lie near or on the midline and have much less lateralization and more crosstalk, B - are absolutely vital if you say dont want parkinsonism or to fall into permanent slow wave sleep. Hemispherectomies generally go after the cortex and white matter sometimes taking some of the superficial subcortical stuff, in chunks. The results of such things are usually much more positive in young people of course. However, since you dont lose autobiographical memories from careful excision of brain parts it does indeed suggest that they're present and distributed throughout...
1adamzerner6yLet's assume that the information that makes you you is contained within a half cortext. What do you think the chances are that they'd be able to "figure the rest out"? Ie. integrate the half cortex with other parts (maybe biological, maybe mechanical).

I think in many professions you can categorize people as professionals or auteurs (insofar as anyone can ever be classified, binaries are false, yada yada).

Professionals as people ready to fit into the necessary role and execute the required duties. Professionals are happy with "good enough", are timely, work well with others, step back or bow out when necessary, don't defend their visions or ideas when the defense is unlikely to be listened to. Professionals compromise on ideas, conform in their behavior, and to some degree expect others to do t... (read more)

5RichardKennaway6yI can buy these as character sketches of two imaginary individuals, but are there actual clusters in peoplespace here? There's a huge amount of burdensome detail [] in them.
3Punoxysm6yIt's not burdensome detail; its a list of potential and correlated personality traits. You don't need the conjunction of all these traits to qualify. More details provide more places to relate to the broad illustration I'm trying to make. But I'll try to state the core elements that I want to be emphasized, so that it's clearer which details aren't as relevant. Professionals are more interested in achieving results, and do not have a specific attachment to a philosophy of process or decision-making to reach those results. Auteurs are very interested in process, and have strong opinions about how process and decision-making should be done. They are interested in results too, but they do not treat it as separate from process. And I'll add that like any supposed personality type, the dichotomy I'm trying to draw is fluid in time and context for any individual. But I think it's worth considering because it reflects a spectrum of the ways people handle their relationship with their work and with coworkers. Essentially, treat it as seriously as a personality test.
0RichardKennaway6yAh. That seriously. :)
0Punoxysm6yExactly. The world is complicated, apparently contradictory characteristics can co-inhabit the same person, and frameworks are frequently incorrect in proportion to their elegance, but people still think in frameworks and prototypes so I think these are two good prototypes.
4RichardKennaway6yLike Hogwarts houses? Star signs? MBTI? Enneagram? Keirsey Temperaments? Big 5? Oldham Personality Styles? Jungian Types? TA? PC/NPC? AD&D Character Classes? Four Humours? 7 Personality Types? 12 Guardian Spirits? I made one of those up. Other people made the rest of them up. And Google tells me the one I made up already exists. Where does Professional/Auteur come from?
2IlyaShpitser6yOne of these has pedigree! -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I agree that human typology is often noise. Not always though, it can be usefully predictive if it slices the pie well.
0Punoxysm6yYes! Like those. I think you're being a bit harsh though - the problem with personality tests and the like is not that the spectrums or clusters they point out don't reflect any human behavior ever at all, it's just that they assign a label to a person forever and try to sell it by self-fulfilling predictions ("Flurble type personalities are sometimes fastidious", "OMG I AM sometimes fastidious! this test gets me"). Professional/Auteur is a distinction slightly more specific than personality types, since it applies to how people work. It comes from the terminology of film, where directors range from hired-hands to fill a specific void in production to auteurs whose overriding priority is to produce the whole film as they envision it, whether this is convenient for the producer or not. Reading and listening to writers talk about their craft, it's also clear that there's a spectrum from those who embrace the commercial nature of the publishing industry and try hard to make that system work for them (by producing work in large volume, by consciously following trends, etc.) to those who care first and foremost about creating the artistic work they envisioned. In fact, meeting a deadline with something you're not entirely satisfied with vs. inconveniencing others to hone your work to perfection is a good example of diverging behavior between the two types. There are other things that informed my thinking like articles I'd read on entrepreneurs vs. executives, foxes vs. hedgehogs, etc. If I wanted to make this more scientific, I would focus on that workplace behavior aspect and define specific metrics for how the individual prioritizes operational and organization concerns vs. their own preferences and vision.
3Lumifer6yDo you think it's a circle? I can see the " irrationally obstinate and arrogant" bureaucrats and "aggressive conformers" at one junction, and I can see evangelist Eagle Scouts and perfectionist fixers at the other junction. Steve Jobs seems to be a classic second-junction type.
2BrassLion6yIt does seem like these are two mostly unrelated skills - leadership, teamwork, and time management on one hand, and vision, creativity, and drive on the other. They don't really oppose each other except in the general sense that both sets take a long time to learn to do well. There are enough examples of people that are both, or neither, that these don't seem to be a very useful way of carving up reality.
0Lumifer6yI think they do. Not in the "never shall they mix" kind of sense, but I would argue that these types form discernible separate clusters in the psychological space.
2gjm6yAnyone got any actual evidence one way or the other? (My own prejudices are in the direction of the two things genuinely being opposed, on handwavy grounds to do with creativity being partly a matter of having relatively inactive internal censors, which might be bad for efficiency on routine tasks. But I don't have much faith in those prejudices.)
1Punoxysm6yI was thinking 4 quadrant. Horizontal axis is competence, vertical axis is professional vs. auteur. Steve Jobs was something of an auteur who eventually began to really piss off the people he had once successfully led and inspired. After his return to Apple, he had clearly gained some more permanent teamwork and leadership skills, which is good, but was still pretty dogmatic about his vision and hard to argue with. The most competent end of the professional quadrant probably includes people more like Jamie Dimon, Jack Welch, or Mitt Romney. Professional CEOs who you could trust to administrate anything, who topped their classes (at least in Romney's case), but who don't necessarily stand for any big idea. This classification also corresponds to Foxes and Hedgehogs - Many Small Ideas vs. One Big Idea / Holistic vs. Grand Framework thinking. But it is not a true binary; people who have an obsessing vision can learn to play nice with others. People who naturally like to conform and administrate can learn to assert a bold vision. If Stanley Kubrick is the film example of an Auteur - an aggravating genius - and J.J. Abrams is the professional - reliable and talented but mercenary and flexible, there are still people like Martin Scorsese who people love to work with and who define new trends in their art. So maybe junction is a good way to think of it, but there are extraordinarily talented and important people who seem to have avoided learning from the other side too.
0dxu6yAs written, I'm skeptical of the claim that LW is more sympathetic to the so-called "Auteur"-perspective. The large amounts of productivity posts and discussions attest otherwise.
0Punoxysm6yYou may be right. Hackernews then. An avowed love of functional programming is a sure sign of an Auteur.

I have written a draft post on why prediction markets are confounded, and what implications this has for the feasibility of futarchy. I would very much appreciate any comments on the draft before I publish it. If anyone is willing to look at it, please send me a private message with your contact details. Thank you!

1solipsist6yIt was a good article, thank you!

Politics as entertainment

For many policy questions I normally foresee long term 'obvious' issues that will arise from them. However, I also believe in a Singularity of some sort in that same time frame. And when I re-frame the policy question as will this impact the Singularity or matter after the Singularity the answer is usually no to both.

Of course, there is always the chance of no Singularity but I don't give it much weight.

So my question is: Has anyone successfully moved beyond the policy questions (emotionally)? Follow up question: once you are bey... (read more)

6Punoxysm6yI just read a crapton of political news for a couple years until I was completely sick of it. I also kind of live in a bubble, in terms of economic security, such that most policy debates don't realistically impact me. High belief in a near singularity is unnecessary.
0is4junk6yOverdosing on politics to become desensitized is genius. However, I seem to have too high of tolerance for it. The singularity aspect is more of a personal inconsistency I need to address. I can't think that the long term stuff doesn't matter and have a strong opinion on the long term issues.
1[anonymous]6yI think I can pretty confidently say "yes." Well, emotions are still there, but I think they are more like the kinds of emotions a doctor might feel as he considers a cancer spreading through a patient and the tools they have to deal with it, not the sort of excitement politics in particular provokes. Well, you are free to do what you want at that point, but I think economists look at them as scientific questions, ones that are quite important, though often not as important as people seem to think. I am working on a series of articles about economics, and I would like one mini-series to be "How To Think About Policy" or something to that effect....
0CellBioGuy6yThis reminds me forcefully with some of the politics associated with apocalypitic rapture theology. "X doesn't matter, Jesus is coming."

There is a line in the Talmud about how if one is busy planting a tree and someone comes to tell you the Messiah has come, you should finish planting the tree before you check it out.

I intend to publish several posts on the Effective Altruism Forum in the coming weeks. Some of these articles seem to me like they would be apply to topics of rationality, i.e., assessing options and possibilities well to make better decisions. So, this is an open call for reviewers for these various posts. For topics for which I have insufficient content or information, I'm seeking coauthors. Reply in a comment, or send me a private message, if you'd be interested in reviewing or providing feedback on the any of the following. Let me know what how I can s... (read more)

Are human ethics/morals just an evolutionary mess of incomplete and inconsistent heuristics? One idea I heard that made sense is that evolution for us was optimizing our emotions for long term 'fairness'. I got a sense of it when watching the monkey fairness experiment

My issue is with 'friendly ai'. If our ethics are inconsistent then we won't be choosing a good AI but instead the least bad one. A crap sandwich either way.

The worst part is that we will have to hurry to be the first to AI or some other culture will select the dominate AI.

1DanielLC6yEvolution is optimizing us for inclusive genetic fitness. Anything else is just a means to an end.
[-][anonymous]6y 3

Tried making a blog and it wouldn't let me because "karma". Drafts can't be publicly read either so this is the best I can do.

Can we please have a feature where I can opt to instead of going through user XYZ's posts, I can just see the title and choose the one I want (or was looking for?)

So it'll be like, instead of:

XYZ's posts






It'll be





Basically just like the sequences, where you have links to the posts themselves rather than the whole damn ... (read more)

0Vaniver6yThat does seem like an interesting feature! There are resources [] for [] making changes to the LW codebase, which are much more likely to result in an actual change than submitting a feature request [].
1[anonymous]6yInteresting isn't the correct way to describe it - it's simply functional, and in terms of bandwidth, more economical. Serves the machine and the people. Give your AI a shot of that! I could honestly try to implement it but I'm not sure I have the right skills to make it work beautifully - I place an emphasis on a job-well-done and I feel like I'd just make the site worse overall than someone who does have the technical aptitude to actually implement it. I hate being the UX guy and hope I could get better in this year. A honest question - has nobody ever thought of this before? Heh. Optimize everything except the site you learned rationality from? MIRI could make an AI paper about that! EDIT: I will do this anyway - a wise person who's also a programmer told me that if you have the right mindset interesting problems will find you so I'm definitely going to pull some hair in an attempt to do it. I just hope I'm not going to run into licensing issues, I'm going to release my heck of a hack in a freedom-respecting license, so if there's a problem, I'll just say Reddit sucks.
0ChristianKl6yThere are opportunity costs. Given the amount of traffic that LW has claiming that a certain new feature would be economical is a strong claim. It means that the resources wouldn't be spent elsewhere with a higher return.
0[anonymous]6yI have no numbers but I do wonder how many titles we can put in comparison to a title and text of an average post. Also, if you want another thing, I noticed the recent comments section only displays the beginning of it, while containing the whole comment that's practically inaccessible. I've no practical experience but in theory couldn't they only display x characters instead of the whole string?

It's worth estimating when existential risks are most likely to occur, as knowing this will influence planning. E.g. If existential risks are more likely to occur in the far future, it would probably be best to try to invest in capital now and donate later, but if they are more likely to occur in the near future, it would probably be best to donate now.

So, what's everyone's best estimates on when existential catastrophes are most likely to occur?

0JoshuaZ6yWithin the next 500 to 1000 years. After that point we will almost certainly have spread out far enough that any obvious Great Filters aspects would if they were the main cause of the Filter likely be observable astronomically.
0G0W516yI suppose existential risk will be highest in the next 30-100 years, as I this is the most probable period for AGI to come into existence, and after 100 years or so, there will probably be at least a few space colonies (There are even two companies currently planning to mine asteroids).
1JoshuaZ6yDoes not work. AGI is unlikely to be the Great Filter since expanding at less than light speed would be visible to us and expanding at close to light speed is unlikely. Note that if AGI is a serious existential threat then space colonies will not be sufficient to stop it. Colonization works well for nuclear war, nanotech problems, epidemics, some astronomical threats, but not artificial intelligence.
0G0W516yGood point about AGI probably not being the Great Filter. I didn't mean space colonization would prevent existential risks from AI though, just general threats. So, we've established that existential risks (ignoring heat death, if it counts as one) will very probably occur within 1000 years, but can we get more specific?

The BBC has an article about how Eric Horvitz (director of Microsoft Research's main lab) doesn't think AI poses a big threat to humanity.

Not a very high-quality article, though. A few paragraphs about how Horvitz thinks AI will be very useful and not dangerous, a few more paragraphs about how various other people think AI could pose a huge threat, a few kinda-irrelevant paragraphs about how Horvitz thinks AI might pose a bit of a threat to privacy or maybe help with it instead, the end.

Apparently Horvitz's comments are from a video he's made after getting... (read more)

Could someone get past the paywall for this?

It's a paper linking some commonly used prescription drugs to increased risk of dementia, and none of the popular press articles I've seen about it say how large the increased risk is.

7ike6y [] appears to have more info than the abstract.
2NancyLebovitz6yThank you. That was a lot easier to follow, and I might just make a habit.
8ike6yWhat I usually do when articles are paywalled is do a search for the full title in quotes (i.e. [] ), which got me to [], which linked to the nhs site. ( [] for when it's no longer on the front page). If the article is somewhere without a paywall, that will usually find it, and if not, I also check scholar and bing.
2Lumifer6yThe basic results, including how large the risk increase is, are in the abstract at your link: (TSDD is total standardized daily doses)

Sublinear pricing.

Many products are being sold that have substantial total production costs but very small marginal production costs, e.g. virtually all forms of digital entertainment, software, books (especially digital ones) etc.

Sellers of these products could set the product price such that the price for the (n+1)th instance of the product sold is cheaper than the price for the (n)th instance of the product sold.

They could choose a convergent series such that the total gains converge as the number of products sold grows large (e.g. price for nth item = ... (read more)

8passive_fist6yA psychological effect could be at play. If you pay $10 for a product and this causes the next person to pay $9 for it, it's an incentive against being the first to buy it. You would wait until others have bought it before buying. Or you might think the product is being priced unfairly and refuse to buy at all. It seems that to counter this, you'd need another psychological effect to compensate. Like, for instance, offering the first set of buyers 'freebies' that actually have zero or near-zero cost (like 'the first 1000 people get to enter a prize-giving draw!')
7CellBioGuy6yReminds me of kickstarter. [] is essentially trying to solve the same problem in a different way. Instead of changing the product price as more units are sold, they ask folks to finance its fixed component directly, using a game-theoretic mechanism that increases total contributions superlinearly as more people choose to contribute. (This boosts the effectiveness of any single user's contributions through a "matching" effect). However, there is no distinction between "earlier" vs. "later" contributors; they're all treated the same. The underlying goal is to generalize the successful assurance-contract mechanism to goods and services that do not have a well-defined 'threshold' of feasibility, especially services that must be funded continuously over time.
2Nornagest6yIt's an interesting idea but I'm not sure it has the psychology behind crowdfunding right. It seems to be constructed to minimize the risk donors carry in the event of a failed campaign, and to maximize the perceived leverage of small donations; but it does that at the expense of bragging rights and fine-grained control, which might make a lot of donors leery. I think you could probably tweak it to solve those problems, though. It also does nothing at all to solve the accountability issues of traditional crowdfunding, but that's a hard problem. I wouldn't even mention it if they hadn't brought it up in the introduction. (Also, that's some ugly-ass web design. I get that they're trying to go for the XKCD aesthetic, but it's... really not working.)
2bogus6yYes, crowdfunding is mostly based on trust, not accountability. But a service that's funded continuously over time (the model) ought to be inherently more accountable than a single campaign/project.
0Nornagest6yYeah, it's more accountable than Kickstarter funding, but not more accountable than Patreon funding.
2Lumifer6yI think it's been constructed to maximize democracy -- the crowdthink determines the flow of money. I can't tell if the author considers the inevitable snowballing to be a feature or a misfeature (or even realizes it will happen).
2Lumifer6yI don't think Snowdrift understands why communism failed (or economics in general).
0bogus6yNot sure how communism is relevant here.'s mechanism is entirely private and voluntary, and assuming that it works properly, it's incentive properties are superior to typical charities or governments.
2Lumifer6yTo quote from Snowdrift's site: . That remains to be seen. Its incentive properties are basically "winner take all". Maybe they should have called the project Snowball, not Snowdrift.
2bogus6yHow is this wrong? Kickstarter, IndieGogo and similar projects have boosted the funding of FLOSS software and CC artworks/educational works significantly. is simply an extension of that model. The 'winner take all' properties of are overstated. If you think a project is raising 'too much', you're free to compensate by reducing your stake, although this will nullify the incentive effect of your contribution. There is no way of escaping this - the same change in incentives happens on Kickstarter when "the goal" is reached. Here, the "goal" of contributions is fuzzy and entirely determined by funders' choices.
4Punoxysm6yI don't get what you're getting at. Pricing is a well-studied area. Price discrimination based on time and exclusivity of 'first editions' and the like is possible, but highly dependent on the market. Why would anyone be able to sell an item with a given pricing scheme like 1/n? If their competitor is undercutting them on the first item, they'll never get a chance to sell the latter ones. And besides there's no reason such a scheme would be profit-maximizing.
0Plasmon6yOn downloaded, digital goods, this would be simple. Please see the numerical example in this comment []
4Nornagest6yI think you could probably model Kickstarter as a sneaky version of this.
2Douglas_Knight6yKickstarter is really sneaky, because I tend to assume (and I assume everyone assumes) that the preorders will get a better price than the postorders. But the only time I used kickstarter final cost was lower than what I paid. I don't know if that it is typical. Probably one should charge more to preorders for price discrimination reasons: they are the principle fans. But that is a different reason.
2Lumifer6yKickstarter is an excellent example of how to monetize affective biases :-D
4IlyaShpitser6yKickstarter implements dominant assurance contracts, e.g. it solves a coordination problem and takes a cut for doing so. It's an example of doing well by doing good.
3Manfred6yFor the practical real-world analogue of this, look up price discrimination strategies. Anyhow, this doesn't work out very well for a number of reasons. In short antiprediction form, there's no particular reason why price discrimination should be monotonic in time, and so it almost certainly shouldn't.
2Slider6yOne could note that natural markets are going to this direction. For example steam has pretty reliably games appear on sale year or two after their release. Savvy consumers already know to wait if they can. This can get so bad taht early access games hit sales before they are released! I tired to bring this topic up at a LessWrong meeting I have been calling my thoughts on this direction as "contributionism". There is some additional even more radical suggestions. Instead of treating at each new sell as lesser amount, retroactively lower the price for already happened purchases (I am pretty sure they dont' mind). Otherwise there is this contention that if two customers are about to buy the product they try to make the other guy buy first so they get the cheaper price (which leads to a mexican standoff that chills selling). Also normally when a seller and a customer are negotiating for a price seller wants to make it high and the buyer wants it to go low. However if the seller fixes the total amount of money he wants form all of his products then the price negotiation is only about whether the buyers wants to opt in now that it is higher or later when it is lower. However if the price retroactively changes you are "ultimately" going to be spending the same amount of money. If you attach your money early you get earlier access and run the risk that the product never hits high sales numbers (ie that you do not get any returns on it). However the more people attach money the more the instant price lowers and more money is prone to flow in. This can also be leveraged to overcome a coordination problem. Even if the current instant price too much for you the seller can ask you how much you would honestly be willing to pay for it. (Answering this question too high will not cost you (too much) money). Then when the next customer that doesn't quite have enough buying willingness he might still promise the same level of sum of it. At some point that enough promisers have v
0BrassLion6y"One of the current economys problems is also that advertising and such creates otherwise frivoulous needs that prodeucts can be marketed for. " This is an excellent summation of a point that gets bandied about a lot in certain circles. Do you mind if I shamelessly steal this?
0Slider6yIt's all yours, my friend This is also a good counter point to how market does serve good, but good is made to serve the market. That is if you choose your nominal ultimate goals so that a spesific intrumental goal is the chosen method to archieve it, the nominally instrumental goal is your main objective. In that way sellers don't want to serve the customers needs they just want them to be okay on chipping in the money because they are perfectly satisfied on creating a new problem for the customers so that they can sell cures for them.
0Punoxysm6yThe decreasing price for prior buyers is an interesting notion. There are specific auction and pre-commitment and group-buying schemes that evoke certain behaviors, and there's room for a lot more start-ups and businesses taking advantage of these (blockchains and smart contracts in particular have a lot of potential). I don't think we'll ever get rid of marketing though.
2Lumifer6yWhy would the dynamic-price seller outcompete other sellers who are making more money? Besides, he would have the classic takeoff problem -- this first items would be (relatively) very expensive and nobody will buy them (the flat-price sellers are selling the same thing much cheaper).
0Slider6yBecause the parasite is drawing less blood from the host. While various pressures make seller go near the tipping point of economical viability usually the sales are a little past that. Ie there is some amount of the price could have been lower and the total amount of sales would have been the same. If customers would be offered this price they would prefer it to the original price. However such a venture will make 0 profit. In economic lecture i saw this pharsed in the way that there is some X amount of profit the company wants to make if it's profits will fall to x-1 it will voluntarily go out of business or change to a more lucrative business "no one will bother to do it as a charity". Usually this "bookkeeping profit" is actually included in the production costs so that 0 profit means the point where the firm still stays in business. The idea of competition comes that if X is the painthreshold for you and the current market price is X+20 you can sell at X+10 to be +10 on the confortable side. Ie the most modest greed will win.
0Plasmon6yI imagine the following: Suppose 2 movies have been produced, movie A by company A and movie B by company B. Suppose further that these movies target the same audience and are fungible, at least according to a large fraction of the audience. Both movies cost 500 000 dollars to make. Company A sells tickets for 10 dollars each, and hopes to get at least 100 000 customers in the first week, thereby getting 1000 000 dollars, thus making a net gain of 500 000 dollars. Company B precommits to selling tickets priced as 10 f(n) dollars, with f(n) defined as 1 / ( 1 + (n-1)/150000 ) , a slowly decreasing function. If they manage to sell 100 000 tickets, they get 766 240 dollars. Note that the first ticket also costs 10 dollars, the same as for company A. 200 000 undecided customers hear about this. If both movies had been 10 dollars, 100 000 would have gone to see movie A and 100 000 would have seen movie B. However, now, thanks to B's sublinear pricing, they all decide to see movie B. B gets 1270 000 dollars, A gets nothing. Wolfram alpha can actually plot this! neat! [{Sum%5B10+%2F+%28+1+%2B+%28n-1%29%2F150000+%29+%2C+{n%2C1%2Cm}%5D+%2C+10*m}+%2C+{m%2C1%2C100000}%5D]
4Nornagest6yThe movie industry actually does this, more or less. It's not a monotonic function, which makes analysis of it mathematically messy, but it's common (albeit less common now than twenty years ago) for films to be screened for a while in cheaper second-run theaters after their first, full-priced run; and then they go to video-on-demand services and DVD, which are cheaper still. Wouldn't surprise me if similar things happened with 3D projectors and other value-added bells and whistles, but I don't have any hard data.
2Punoxysm6yIf movie A sells for 9 dollars, people able to do a side-by-side comparison will never purchase movie B. Movie A will accrue 1.8 million dollars. I don't see what sublinear pricing has to do with it unless the audience is directly engaging in some collective buying scheme.
0DanielLC6yIf they have less gains, then in what way are they outcompeting other sellers? If they want to sell the most copies, they should just give them away, or better yet, pay people to take them.
0[anonymous]6yWhy would sellers doing this outcompete sellers who don't? Sellers reducing prices whenever they want, rather than precommitting to a set function, will have more information to base their prices on at the time they set each price, so I'd expect them to do better.

Small observation of mine. While watching out for sunk cost fallacy it's easy to go to far and assume that making the same spending is the rational thing. Imagine you bought TV and the way home you dropped it and it's destroyed beyond repair. Should you just go buy the same TV as the cost is sunk? Not neccesarily - when you were buying the TV the first time, you were richer by the price of the TV. Since you are now poorer, spending this much money might not be optimal for you.

2emr6yIn principle, absolutely. In practice, trying to fit many observed instances to to a curved utility-money curve will result in an implausibly sharp curve. So unless the TV purchase amounts to a large chunk of your income, this probably won't match the behavior. Rabin has a nice example of this for risk aversion [], showing that someone who wasn't happy taking a -100:110 coin flip due to a utility-money curve would have an irrationally large risk aversion for larger amounts.
2gjm6yIf the price of the TV is a small enough fraction of your wealth and there isn't any special circumstance that makes your utility depend in a weird way on wealth (e.g., there's a competition this weekend that you want to enter, it's only open to people who can demonstrate that their net wealth is at least $1M, and your net wealth is very close to $1M), then your decision to buy the TV shouldn't be altered by having lost it. Some TVs are quite expensive and most people aren't very wealthy, so this particular case might well be one in which being one TV's cost poorer really should change your decision. [EDITED to fix a trivial typo.]
[-][anonymous]6y 2

Does anybody here have a lot of knowledge in social psychology who has an opinion on the elaboration likelihood model (ELM)? The model appears to me to be tautological, but the sources I've looked at seem to indicate it's widely accepted. It feels to me as if the central route vs. peripheral route is determined essentially by whether the participant tells you it's central or peripheral and strong or weak arguments similarly are determined by the participant's opinion, and not any objective measure. The model throws off my BS detector, but I can't dismiss it when a lot of researchers specializing in this field seem to think very highly of it.

A useful guide to interpreting statistical significance numbers in published papers.

I said before that I was going through Lepore's Meaning and Argument. I was checking my answers for exercise 4.3 when I get to solution #27 and read:

Ambiguous. It is not the case that (John beats his wife because he loves her); because he loves her, it is not the case that John beats his wife.

To which I reply, "Whoaaaa." To be clear, problem #27 reads:

I don't think John will arrive until Tuesday.

which appears to be related to solution #28, and there are 30 problems and 31 solutions. Looks like they removed the problem but not the solution.

Tighten up, Lepore. (And Lepore's editor.)

The Intelligence was confined for security reasons. Eventually people became tempted that things might be much better off to have the Intelligence working in the real world outside of confinement. However people were also working on making the Intelligence safer. To evaluate whether the work was successful or whether it ever could be usefull a Gatekeeper was assigned. During their training the Gatekeeper was reminded that the Intelligence didn't think like he did. It's kind was known to be capable of cold blooded deception where humans like the Gatekeeper ... (read more)

4g_pepper6yAn unboxed AI is presumed to be an existential threat. Most human criminals are not.
0Slider6yPeople get killed by people let on parole. I guess it doesn't form a species wide threat. I am left pondering that if humans grew in danger would we box them accordingly strongly? I am thinking that on one hand event like 9/11 actually strip civil liberties effectively boxing people more strongly, so it seems it might actually be the case. The origin of a intelligence shouldn't bear that much on how potent it is. What is the argument again of thinking that AIs are orders of magnitudes more capable than humans?
2g_pepper6yNick Bostrom answers this at length in Superintelligence, which has been widely discussed on LW. Superintelligence is a well-researched, thought-provoking and engaging book; I recommend it. I don't think that I can give a very satisfactory summary of the argument in a short comment, however.
2polymathwannabe6yThe factors that are different in the AI scenario are: the AI can fake sanity more successfully than the parole board can detect insanity, the potential damage to society is much bigger, and once it's free, you can't arrest it again.
0Slider6yWouldn't also the temptation to use it to benefit counteract the risk-benefit analysis? We let cars take a good chunk of people annually, we are happy to drive our athmosphere out of it's capability to support us and we let nuclear stations be nearish us to potentially go boom (even after chernobyl). Are you saying that the prison wardens need to be on average comparable or higher intelligence to succesfully contain prisoners selectively (or some separate insanity detection skill)?

What value do you assign to your leisure time, when deciding if something is worth your time? For example, do I want to spend 2 hours building something or hire someone to do it. It feels incorrect to use my hourly pay, because if I save time on a Sunday, I'm not putting that time to work. I'm probably surfing the internet or going to the gym, the sort of things people generally do in leisure time. It has value to me, but not as much as an hour of work. What do you suggest?

Does anyone else love Curb Your Enthusiasm? I have a hypothesis that it's especially appealing to rationalists. The show points out a lot of stupid things about people/society, often times things that are mostly overlooked. I feel like rationalists are more likely to not overlook these things and to be able to relate to the show. To some extent anyway.

Example: stores should have one line instead of two. Clip. The benefits are that you don't feel the angst that you got on the wrong line and that you should switch. I guess the costs would be a) if the checko... (read more)

1Vaniver6ySo, this is a well-argued point in queuing. It's the most efficient at being FIFO, but it's not the most efficient space-wise, and it often requires a dedicated employee directing people to the right register. (If you're checked bags at an airport recently, you probably had a single queue leading to many servers.)

MW vs MIW mental models

A standard description of Multiple Worlds is that every time a particle can do more than one thing, the timeline branches into two, with the particle doing X in one new branch and Y in the other. This produces a mental model of a tree of timelines, in which any given person is copied into innumerable future branches. In some of those branches, they die; in a few, they happen to keep living. This can lead to a mental model of the self where it makes sense to say something like, "I expect to be alive a century from now in 5% of th... (read more)

3Vaniver6yAt first glance, the two seem mathematically equivalent to me, and I think the only conceivable difference between them has to do with normalization differences. (The 'number of worlds' in the denominator is different and evolves differently, but the 'fraction of worlds' where any physical statement is true should always be the same between the two.)
0DataPacRat6yIf you don't mind, could you go into a little more detail about the possible 'normalization differences' you mentioned?
0Vaniver6yI feel like the sibling comment gives some idea of that, but I'll try to explain it more. If you have a collection of worlds, in order to get their probabilistic expectations to line up with experiment you need conditional fractions to hold: conditioned on having been in world A, I am in world B after t time with probability .5 and in world C after t time with probability .5. But the number of worlds that look like B is not constrained by the model, and whether the worlds are stored as "A" or the group of ("AB", "AC") also seems unconstrained (the nonexistence of local variables [] is different; it just constrains what a "world" can mean). And so given the freedom over the number of worlds and how they're stored, you can come up with a number of different interpretations that look mathematically equivalent to me, which hopefully also means they're psychologically equivalent.
0Kindly6yWell, one way to interpret the first model (Multiple Worlds) is that if you have 17 equally-weighted worlds and one splits, you get 18 equally-weighted worlds. This leads to some weird bias towards worlds where many particles have the chance to do many different things. Anecdotally, it's also the way I was initially confused about all multiple-world models. Once you introduce enough mathematical detail to rule out this confusion, you give every world a weight. At this point, there is no longer a difference between "A world with weight 1 splitting into two worlds with weight 0.5" and "Two parallel worlds with weight 0.5 each diverging".
2Vaniver6yRight, but as you point out that's confused because the worlds need to be weighted for it to predict correctly.

I'm looking for a mathematical model for the prisoners dilemma that results in cooperation. Anyone know where I can find it?

7JoshuaZ6yCan you be more precise? Always cooperating in the prisoner's dilemma is not going to be optimal. Are you thinking of something like where each side is allowed to simulate the other? In that case, see here [].
2Cube6yI'm definitely looking for a system where agent can see the other, although just simulating doesn't seem robust enough. I don't understand all the terms here but the gist of it looks as if there isn't a solution that everyone finds satisfactory? As in, there's no agent program that properly matches human intuition? I would think that the best agent X would cooperate iff (Y cooperates if X cooperates). I didn't see that exactly.. I've tried solving it myself but I'm unsure of how to get past the recursive part. It looks like I may have to don a decent amount of research before I can properly formulize my thoughts on this. Thank you for the link.
2JoshuaZ6yEssentially this is an attempt to get past the recursion. The key issue is that one can't say "X would cooperate iff (Y cooperates if X cooperates)" because one needs to talk about provability of cooperation.
0BrassLion6yTo clarify, the definition of the prisoner's dilemma includes it being a one-time game where defecting generates more utility for the defector than cooperating, no matter what the other player chooses.
0satt6yOne example of a prisoner's dilemma resulting in cooperation is the infinitely/indefinitely repeating prisoner's dilemma [] (assuming the players don't discount the future too much). (The non-repeated, one-shot prisoner's dilemma never results in cooperation. As the game theorist Ken Binmore explains in several of his books, among them Natural Justice [], defection strongly dominates cooperation in the one-shot PD and it inexorably follows that a rational player never cooperates.)

I believe many philosophies and ideologies have hangups, obsessions, or parasitical beliefs that are unimportant to most of the beliefs in practice, and to living your life in concordance with the philosophy, yet which are somehow interpreted as central to the philosophy by some adherents, often because they fit elegantly into the theoretical groundings.

Christians have murdered each other over transubstantiation vs consubstantiation. Some strands of Libertarianism obsess over physical property. On this forum huge amounts of digital ink are spilled over Man... (read more)

Christians have murdered each other over transubstantiation vs consubstantiation. Some strands of Libertarianism obsess over physical property. On this forum huge amounts of digital ink are spilled over Many-Worlds Interpretation.

One of these is not the like the others. The first one is killing over something that likely doesn't exist. The others are a bit different from that. The second one is focusing on a coherent ideological issue with policy implications. The third one may have implications for decision theory and related issues. Note by the way that if the medieval Christian's theology is correct then the the first thing really is worth killing over: the risk of people getting it wrong is eternal hellfire. Similarly, if libertarianism in some sense is correct then figuring out what counts as property may be very important. Similar remarks about to MWI. The key issue here seems to be that you disagree with all these people about fundamental premises.

To live a Christian life, it could not matter less what you believe about the Eucharist.

The people in question would have vehemently and in fact violently disagreed. The only way this makes sense is if one adopts a version... (read more)

6RichardKennaway6yAsk an Orthodox priest about the filioque. Ask a Catholic about the Resurrection. Ask John C. Wright about, well, anything. Of course, you may not agree with their answers. The point is that their answers will have nothing to do with avoiding hellfire by reciting God's passwords (a typical misunderstanding by people unfamiliar with Christianity), and everything to do with how a right understanding of God and His relationship to Man leads us to rightly relate to each other in the world. St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:1-2 [] Aquinas []
6JoshuaZ6yBut not all Christians believe that, as demonstrated by the Reformation wars among other things. And while were at it, it is worth noting that among some evangelical Christians, especially those who emphasize the "sinners' prayer" it is very close to saying the right passwords. That people aren't focusing on the forms of Christianity that you are sympathetic with doesn't mean they don't understand Christianity.
3Punoxysm6yMy post is about dogmatism. Sometimes beliefs have implications but they are implications in the long-tail, or in the far-future. I would wager that most medieval Christians could not follow a medieval Christian theological debate about transubstantiation, and would not alter their behavior at all if they did. And eventually, Christians came to the consensus that this particular piece of dogma was not worth fighting over. Specifics of property are similarly irrelevant in a world so far from the the imagined world where these specific determine policy. Certainly, it should be an issue you put aside if you want to be an effective activist. I'm not saying nobody should think about these issues ever, just that they are a disproportionately argued-about issue. Similarly MWI just doesn't have an impact on any decision I make in my daily life apart from explaining quantum physics to other people, and never will. Can you think of a decision and action it could impact (I really would like to know an example!)? I'm not saying it's totally irrelevant or uninteresting, it's just disproportionately touted as a badge of rationalism, and disproportionately argued about. This argument can be applied to anything. Automotive knowledge, political knowledge, mathematical knowledge, cosmetics knowledge, fashion knowledge, etc. I think it's great to know things, especially when you actually do need to know them but also when you don't. But if some piece of knowledge is unimportant to determining your actions or most of them, I won't privilege it just because it has some cultural or theoretical role in some ideology.
1JoshuaZ6yA far future belief that effects heavily estimated utility are important. In the case of Christianity, the stakes are nothing less than eternity. So once you agree with the medieval Catholic that that's really what's at stake, the behavior makes sense. The primary issue isn't one of "dogma" but of disagreeing with their fundamental premises. True. So what? No, enough of them came to that conclusion that they stopped having large-scale wars of the same type. But note that that conclusion was essentially due to emotional issues (people being sick of it) and the general decline in religiosity which lead to a focus on other disagreements, especially those focusing on ideology or nationalism, and less belief that the issues genuinely mattered. And if one looks one still sees a minority of extremist Catholics and Protestants who think this was a mistake. Sure. Some people have argued that cryonics makes more sense in an MWI context. So if one is considering signing up that should matter. So, I agree that it is disappointingly touted as a badge of rationalism, but that conclusion is for essentially different reasons: I don't think the case for MWI is particularly strong given that we don't have any quantum mechanical version of GR. The reason why MWI makes sense as a badge if you think there's a strong case is because it would demonstrate a severe failing on the part of the physics community, what we normally think of as one of the most rational parts of the scientific community. It also functions as a badge because it shows an ability to accept a counterintuitive result even when that result is not being pushed by some tribal group (although I suspect that much of the belief here in MWI is tribal in the same way that other beliefs end up being tribal affiliation signals for other groups). Sure. All of those are important. Unfortunately, the universe is big and complicated and life is hard, so you need to prioritize. But that doesn't mean that they are unimportant: i
3polymathwannabe6yThere are more factors involved. I sympathize with Buddhist ethics, but don't believe in reincarnation, and still haven't solved the dissonance. Buddhist ethics can function very well without all the other added beliefs, but sections of scripture insist on the importance of believing in reincarnation in order to remember the need for ethics. This is a case where in my everyday life I can successfully ignore the belief I don't like, but I can't change the fact that it's still part of the package. To be a Catholic and ignore the doctrines concerning the Eucharist is a similar matter only if you don't mind being excommunicated. To very devoted Catholics, the risk of ignoring beliefs you don't like is too big. In these two scenarios, you can't modify the package: the less palatable parts are still there, like it or not. But there are other scenarios where you can modify it, with varying degrees of chance of success. If you live in Saudi Arabia, and are very happy with the laws there, but want your wife to drive her own car, you'd need to change the minds of a big enough number of authorities before they catch up with you and put you in jail for agitation. Now suppose you live in Texas and are pretty content with most of the laws, but don't like the death penalty. In that case, the rules of democracy give you some chance of changing the part of the system that you don't like, without (in theory) any risk to you personally.
0Punoxysm6yPerhaps a better way to say it is that these beliefs are irrelevant to the ideology-as-movement. That is, if you are a Christian missionary, details of transubstantiation are irrelevant to gathering more believers (or at least, are not going to strike the prospective recruits as more important). Likewise, MWI is not really that important for making the world more rational. So I was wrong to say they are not in some way important points of doctrine. What I should say is that they are points of doctrine that are unimportant to the movement and most of the externally-oriented goals of an organization dedicated to these ideologies.
1JoshuaZ6yWell no, that makes them unimportant up until the point where there are people with similar viewpoints that disagrees with you on that point. In both of the cases in question, that is part of the situation. In the case of transubstantiation for example there were other branches of Catholicism or Christianity that actively argued against it. In the case of MWI, there are people that argue that interpretations don't matter and I've encountered at least a few self-identified skeptics who consider MWI to be "unscientific". Ideas don't exist in vacuums; it would be the same mistake as if a Christian missionary assumed that anyone they are talking to has no prior exposure to Christianity at all.
4polymathwannabe6yEven before that, the debates on the nature of Christ were ground for successive mutual excommunications. Reading the arguments exchanged during that period is a continuous source of facepalms.