1 min read10th Aug 2020362 comments
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I was going for a walk yesterday night, and when I looked up at the sky, I saw something I had never seen before: a bright orange dot, like a star, but I had never seen a star that bright and so orange before. "No... that can't be"- but it was: I was looking at Mars, that other world I had heard so much about, thought so much about.

I never realized until yesterday that I had never seen Mars with my own two eyes until that day- one of the closest worlds that humans could, with minimal difficulty, make into a new home one day.

It struck me then in a way that I never felt before, just how far away the world Mars is. I knew it in an abstract sense, but seeing this little dot in the distance, a dot that I knew to be an object larger even than the Moon, but seeming so small in comparison, made me realize, in my gut, just how far away this other world was, just like how when I stand on top of a mountain, and see small buildings on the ground way below me, I realize that those small buildings are actually skyscrapers far away.

And yet, as far as Mars was that night, it was so bright, so apparent, precisely because it was closer now to us than it normally ever is- normally this world is even further from us than it is now.

Correction: here I say that I had never seen Mars before, but that's almost certainly not correct. Mars is usually a tiny dot, nearly indistinguishable from the other stars in the sky (it is slightly more reddish / orange), so what I was seeing was a fairly unusual sight

In short, I am selling my attention by selling the right to put cards in my Anki deck, starting at the low price of $1 per card.

I will create and add a card (any card that you desire, with the caveat that I can veto any card that seems problematic, and capped to a similar amount of information per card as my usual cards contain) to my Anki deck for $1. After the first ten cards (across all people), the price will rise to $2 per card, and will double every 5 cards from then on. I commit to study the added card(s) like I would any other card in my decks (I will give it a starting interval of 10 days, which is sooner than the usual interval of 20 days I usually use, unless I judge that a shorter interval makes sense. I study Anki every day, and have been clearing my deck at least once every 10 days for the past 5 months, and intend to continue to do so). Since I will be creating the cards myself (unless you know of a high-quality deck that contains cards with the information you desire), an idea for a card is enough even if you don't know how to execute it.

Both question-and-answer and straight text are acceptable forms for cards. Acceptable forms of payment include cash, Venmo, BTC, E... (read more)

That's genius! Can I (or you) create a LessWrong thread inviting others to do the same?
Thanks! I will create a top level post explaining my motivations and inviting others to join.
Done: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/zg6DAqrHTPkek2GpA/selling-attention-for-money
Proof that I have added cards to my deck (The top 3 cards, the other claimed cards are currently being held in reserve; -"is:new" shows only cards that have been given a date and interval for review)
Interesting offer. If you were someone who regularly commented on decision theories discussions, I would be interested in order to spread my ideas. But since you aren't, I'd pass.
When I write up the top-level post, I'll mention that you offered this for people who comment on DT discussions, unless you'd prefer I don't
That's fine! (And much appreciated!)
can I claim cards before choosing its content?
Yes, that is allowed, though I reserve the right to veto any cards that I judge as problematic
if so, I want to claim 7 cards
I'm curious what cards people have paid to put in your deck so far. Can you share, if the buyers don't mind?
I currently have three cards entered, and the other seven are being held in reserve by the buyer (and have already been paid for). They are: "Jeff's Friendly Snek", "Book:  The Mathematical Theory of Communication by Claude Shannon", and "Maximize Cooperative Information Transfer for {{Learning New Optimization}}", where {{brackets}} indicate cloze deletions; these were all sponsored by jackinthenet, he described his intention as wanting to use me as a vector for propagating memes and maximizing cooperative information transfer (which prompted the card).

Religion isn't about believing false things. Religion is about building bonds between humans, by means including (but not limited to) costly signalling. It happens that a ubiquitous form of costly signalling used by many prominent modern religions is belief taxes (insisting that the ingroup professes a particular, easily disproven belief as a reliable signal of loyalty), but this is not neccesary for a religion to successfully build trust and loyalty between members. In particular, costly signalling must be negative-value for an individual (before the second-order benefits from the group dynamic), but need not be negative-value for the group, or for humanity. Indeed, the best costly sacrifices can be positive-value for the group or humanity, while negative-value for the performing individual. (There are some who may argue that positive-value sacrifices have less signalling value than negative value sacrifices, but I find their logic dubious, and my own observations of religion seem to suggest positive-value sacrifice is abundant in organized religion, albeit intermixed with neutral- and negative-value sacrifice)

The rationalist community is averse to religion because it so often goe... (read more)

That's one way to do things, but I don't think it's necessary. A group which requires (for continued membership) members to exercise, for instance, imposes a cost, but arguably one that should not be (necessarily*) negative-value for the individuals. *Exercise isn't supposed to destroy your body.
If it's not negative value, it's not costly signalling. Groups may very well expect members to do positive-value things, and they do - Mormons are expected to follow strict health guidelines, to the extent that Mormons can recognize other Mormons based on the health of their skin; Jews partake in the Sabbath, which has personal mental benefits. But even though these may seem to be costly sacrifices at first glance, they cannot be considered to be costly signals, since they provide positive value
If a group has standard which provide value, then while it isn't a 'costly signal' it sorts out people who aren't willing to invest effort.* Just because your organization wants to be strong and get things done, doesn't mean it has to spread like cancer*/cocaine**. And something that provides 'positive value' is still a cost. Living under a flat 40% income tax by one government has the same effect as living under 40 governments which each have a flat 1% income tax. You don't have to go straight to 'members of this group must smoke'. (In a different time and place, 'members of this group must not smoke' might have been regarded as an enormous cost, and worked as such!) *bigger isn't necessarily better if you're sacrificing quality for quantity **This might mean that strong and healthy people avoid your group.

If you know someone is rational, honest, and well-read, then you can learn a good bit from the simple fact that they disagree with you.

If you aren't sure someone is rational and honest, their disagreement tells you little.

If you know someone considers you to be rational and honest, the fact that they still disagree with you after hearing what you have to say, tells you something.

But if you don't know that they consider you to be rational and honest, their disagreement tells you nothing.

It's valuable to strive for common knowledge of you and your partners' rationality and honesty, to make the most of your disagreements.

If you know someone is rational, honest, and well-read, then you probably don't know them all that well.   If someone considers you to be rational and honest, and well-read, that indicates they are not.

Does newspeak actually decrease intellectual capacity? (No)

In George Orwell's book 1984, he describes a totalitarian society that, among other initiatives to suppress the population, implements "Newspeak", a heavily simplified version of the English language, designed with the stated intent of limiting the citizens' capacity to think for themselves (thereby ensuring stability for the reigning regime)

In short, the ethos of newspeak can be summarized as: "Minimize vocabulary to minimize range of thought and expression". There are two different, closely related, ideas, both of which the book implies, that are worth separating here.

The first (which I think is to some extent reasonable) is that by removing certain words from the language, which serve as effective handles for pro-democracy, pro-free-speech, pro-market concepts, the regime makes it harder to communicate and verbally think about such ideas (I think in the absence of other techniques used by Orwell's Oceania to suppress independent thought, such subjects can still be meaningfully communicated and pondered, just less easily than with a rich vocabulary provided)

The second idea, which I worry is an incorrect takeaway people m... (read more)

Yes, the important thing is the concepts, not their technical implementation in the language. Like, in Esperanto, you can construct "building for" + "the people who are" + "the opposite of" + "health" = hospital. And the advantage is that people who never heard that specific word can still guess its meaning quite reliably. I think the main disadvantage is that it would exist in parallel, as a lower-status version of the standard English. Which means that less effort would be put into "fixing bugs" or "implementing features", because for people capable of doing so, it would be more profitable to switch to the standard English instead. (Like those software projects that have a free Community version and a paid Professional version, and if you complain about a bug in the free version that is known for years, you are told to deal with it or buy the paid version. In a parallel universe where only the free version exists, the bug would have been fixed there.) How would you get stuff done if people won't join you because you suck at signaling? :( Sometimes you need many people to join you. Sometimes you only need a few specialists, but you still need a large base group to choose from.
As an aside, I think it's worth pointing out that Esperanto's use of the prefix mal- to indicate the opposite of something (akin to Newspeak's un-) is problematic: two words that mean the exact opposite will sound very similar, and in an environment where there's noise, the meaning of a sentence can change drastically based on a few lost bits of information, plus it also slows down communication unnecessarily. In my notes, I once had the idea of a "phonetic inverse": according to simple, well defined rules, each word could be transformed into an opposite word, which sounds as different as possible from the original word, and has the opposite meaning. That rule was intended for an engineered language akin to Sona, so the rules would need to be worked a bit to have something good and similar for English, but I prefer such a system to Esperanto's inversion rules
3Matt Goldenberg3y
The other problem is that opposite is ill defined depending and requires someone else to know which dimension you're inverting along as well as what you consider neutral/0 for that dimension
While this would be an inconvenience for the on-boarding process for a new mode of communication, I actually don't think it's that big of a deal for people who are already used to the dialect (which would probably make up the majority of communication) and have a mutual understanding of what is meant by [inverse(X)] even when X could in principle have more than one inverse.
2Matt Goldenberg3y
That makes the concept much less useful though. Might as well just have two different words that are unrelated. The point of having the inverse idea is to be able to guess words right?
I'd say the main benefit it provides is making learning easier - instead of learning "foo" means 'good' and "bar" means 'bad', one only needs to learn "foo" = good, and inverse("foo") = bad, which halves the total number of tokens needed to learn a lexicon. One still needs to learn the association between concepts and their canonical inverses, but that information is more easily compressible

"From AI to Zombies" is a terrible title... when I recommend The Sequences to people, I always feel uncomfortable telling them the name, since the name makes it sound like cookey bull****- in a way that doesn't really indicate what it's about

3Eli Tyre3y
I agree.  I'm also bothered by the fact that it is leading up to AI alignment and the discussion of Zombies is in the middle! Please change?
2Yoav Ravid3y
I usually just call it "from A to Z"
I think "From AI to Zombies" is supposed to imply "From A to Z", "Everything Under the Sun", etc., but I don't entirely disagree with what you said. Explaining either "Rationality: From AI to Zombies" or "The Sequences" to someone always takes more effort than feels necessary. The title also reminds me of quantum zombies or p-zombies everytime I read it...are my eyes glazed over yet? Counterpoint: "The Sequences" sounds a lot more cult-y or religious-text-y. "whispers: I say, you over there, yes you, are you familiar with The Sequences, the ones handed down from the rightful caliph, Yudkowsky himself? We Rationalists and LessWrongians spend most of our time checking whether we have all actually read them, you should read them, have you read them, have you read them twice, have you read them thrice and committed all their lessons to heart?" (dear internet, this is satire. thank you, mumbles in the distance) Suggestion: if there were a very short eli5 post or about page that a genuine 5 year old or 8th grader could read, understand, and get the sense of why The Sequences would actually be valuable to read, this would be a handy resource to share.

Asking people to "taboo [X word]" is bad form, unless you already know that the other person is sufficiently (i.e. very) steeped in LW culture to know what our specific corner of internet culture means by "taboo".

Without context, such a request to taboo a word sounds like you are asking the other person to never use that word, to cleanse it from their vocabulary, to go through the rest of their life with that word permanently off-limits. That's a very high, and quite rude, ask to make of someone. While that's of course not what we mean by "taboo", I have seen requests to taboo made where it's not clear that the other person knows what we mean by taboo, which means it's quite likely the receiving party interpreted the request as being much ruder than was meant.

Instead of saying "Taboo [X word]", instead say "could you please say what you just said without using [X word]?" - it conveys the same request, without creating the potential to be misunderstood to be making a rude and overreaching request.

I see you tabooed "taboo". Indeed, this is the right approach to LW lingo... only, sometimes it expands the words into long descriptions.
Step 1: Play the game taboo. Step 2: Request something like "Can we play a mini-round of taboo with *this word* for 5 minutes?" *[Word X]* Alternatively, 'Could you rephrase that?'/'I looked up what _ means in the dictionary, but I'm still not getting something...'

I'm quite scared by some of the responses I'm seeing to this year's Petrov Day. Yes, it is symbolic. Yes, it is a fun thing we do. But it's not "purely symbolic", it's not "just a game". Taking things that are meant to be serious is important, even if you can't see why they're serious.

As I've said elsewhere, the truly valuable thing a rogue agent destroys by failing to live up to expectations on Petrov day, isn't just whatever has been put at stake for the day's celebrations, but the very valuable chance to build a type of trust that can only be built by playing games with non-trivial outcomes at stake.

Maybe there could be a better job in the future of communicating the essence of what this celebration is intended to achieve, but to my eyes, it was fairly obvious what was going on, and I'm seeing a lot of comments by people (whose other contributions to LW I respect) who seemed to completely fail to see what I thought was obviously the spirit of this exercise

I'm quite baffled by the lack of response to my recent question asking about which AI-researching companies are good to invest in (as in, would have good impact, not necessarily most profitable)- It indicates either A) most LW'ers aren't investing in stocks (which is a stupid thing not to be doing), or B) are investing in stocks, but aren't trying to think carefully about what impact their actions have on the world, and their own future happiness (which indicates a massive failure of rationality)

Even putting this aside, the fact that nobody jumped at the chance to potentially shift a non-trivial (for certain definitions of trivial) amount of funding away from bad organizations and towards good organizations (which I'm investing primarily as a personal financial strategy), seems very worrying to me. While it is (as ChristianKI pointed out) debatable that the amount of funding I can provide as a single person will make a big difference to a big company, it's bad decision theory to model my actions as only being correlated with myself; and besides, if the funding was redirected, it probably would have gone somewhere without the enormous supply of funds Alphabet has, and very well could have made an important difference, pushing the margins away from failure and towards success.

There's a good chance I may change my mind in the future about this, but currently my response to this information is a substantial shift away from the LW crowd actually being any good at usefully using rationality instrumentally

(For what it's worth, the post made it not at all clear to me that we were talking about a nontrivial amount of funding. I read it as just you thinking a bit through your personal finance allocation. The topic of divesting and impact investing has been analyzed a bunch on LessWrong and the EA Forum, and my current position is mostly that these kinds of differences in investment don't really make much of a difference in total funding allocation, so it doesn't seem worth optimizing much, besides just optimizing for returns and then taking those returns and optimizing those fully for philanthropic impact.)

8Matt Goldenberg3y
This seems to be the common rationalist position, but it does seem to be at odds with: 1. The common rationalist position to vote on UDT grounds. 2. The common rationalist position to eschew contextualizing because it ruins the commons. I don't see much difference between voting because you want others to also vote the same way, or choosing stocks because you want others to choose stocks the same way. I also think it's pretty orthogonal to talk about telling the truth for long term gains in culture, and only giving money to companies with your values for long term gains in culture.
2mako yass3y
I don't understand. What do you mean by contextualizing?
2Matt Goldenberg3y
More here: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/7cAsBPGh98pGyrhz9/decoupling-vs-contextualising-norms 
For what it's worth, I get frustrated by people not responding to my posts/comments on LW all the time. This post was my attempt at a constructive response to that frustration. I think if LW was a bit livelier I might replace all my social media use with it. I tried to do my part to make it lively by reading and leaving comments a lot for a while, but eventually gave up.
Does LW 2.0 still have the functionality to make polls in comments? (I don't remember seeing any recently.) This seems like the question that could be easily answered by a poll.
It doesn't; this feature didn't survive the switchover from old-LW to LW2.0.
My point wasn't about the size about the company but about whether or not the company already has large piles of cash that it doesn't know how to invest. There are companies that want to invest more capital then they have available and thus have room for funding and there are companies where that isn't the case.  There's a hilarious interview with Peter Thiel and Eric Schmidt where Thiel charges Google with not spending their 50 billion dollar in the bank that it doesn't know what to do with and Eric Schmidt says "What you discover running these companies is that there are limits that are not cash..." That interview happened back in 2012 but since then the amount of cash reverse of Alphabet has more then doubled despite some stock buybacks.  Companies like Tesla or Amazon seem to be willing to invest additional capital to which they have access in a way that Alphabet and Microsoft simply don't.  My general model would be that most LW'ler think that the instrumentally rational thing is to invest the money into a low-fee index fund. 
Wow, that video makes me really hate Peter Thiel (I don't necessarily disagree with any of the points he makes, but that communication style is really uncool)
In most context I would also dislike this communication style. In this case I feel that the communication style is necessary to get a straight answer from Eric Schmidt who would rather avoid the topic.  
2Ben Pace3y
On the contrary, I aspire to the clarity and honesty of Thiel's style. Schmidt seems somewhat unable to speak directly. Of the two of them, Thiel was able to say specifics about how the companies were doing excellently and how they were failing, and Schmidt could say neither.
Thank you for this reply, it motivated me to think deeper about the nature of my reaction to Thiel's statements, and my thoughts on the conversation between Thiel and Schmidt. I would share my thoughts here, but writing takes time and energy, and I'm not currently in position to do so. 
2Ben Pace3y

During today's LW event, I chatted with Ruby and Raemon (seperately) about the comparison between human-made photovoltaic systems (i.e. solar panels), and plant-produced chlorophyll. I mentioned that in many ways chlorophyll is inferior to solar panels - consumer grade solar panels operate in the 10% to 20% efficiency range (i.e. for every 100 joules of light energy, 10 - 20 joules are converted into usable energy), while chlorophyll is around 9% efficient, and modern cutting edge solar panels can go even as high as nearly 50% efficiency. Furthermore,... (read more)

Huh, somehow while chatting with you I got the impression that it was the opposite (chlorophyll more effective than solar panels). Might have just misheard.
The big advantage chlorophyll has is that it is much cheaper than photovoltaics, which is why I was saying (in our conversation) we should take inspiration from plants
Gotcha. What's the metric that it's cheaper on?
Well, money, for one?
2mako yass4y
It would be interesting to see the efficiency of solar + direct air capture compared to plants. If it wins I will have another thing to yell at hippies (before yelling about there not being enough land area even for solar)
There's plenty of land area for solar. I did a rough calculation once, and my estimate was that it'd take roughly twice the land area of the Benelux to build a solar farm that produced as much energy per annum as the entirety of humanity uses each year (The sun outputs an insane amount of power, and if one steps back to think about it, almost every single joule of energy we've used came indirectly through the sun - often through quite inefficient routes). I didn't take into account day/night cycles, or losses of efficiency due to transmission, but if we assume 4x loss due to nighttime (probably a pessimistic estimate) and 5x loss due to transmission (again, being pessimistic), it still comes out to substantially less than the land we have available to us (About 1/3 the size of the Sahara desert)

Update on my tinkering with using high doses of chocolate as a psychoactive drug:

(Nb: at times I say "caffeine" in this post, in contrast to chocolate, even though chocolate contains caffeine; by this I mean coffee, energy drinks, caffeinated soda, and caffeine pills collectively, all of which were up until recently frequently used by me; recently I haven't been using any sources of caffeine other than chocolate, and even then try to avoid using it on a daily basis)

I still find that consuming high doses of chocolate (usually 3-6 table spoons of dark cocoa ... (read more)

I may have discovered an interesting tool against lethargy and depression [1]: This morning, in place of my usual caffeine pill, I made myself a cup of hot chocolate (using pure cacao powder / baking chocolate from the supermarket), which made me very energetic (much more energetic than usual), which stood in sharp contrast to the past 4 days, which have been marked by lethargy and intense sadness. Let me explain:

Last night, I was reflecting on the fact that one of the main components of chocolate is theobromine, which is very similar in structure to caffe... (read more)

I think I want to try this. What was your hot cocoa recipe? Did you just mix it with hot water? Milk? Cream? Salt? No sugar, I gather. How much? Does it taste any better than coffee? I want to get a sense of the dose required.
Just saw this. I used approximately 5 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder, mixed with warm water. No sweetener, no sugar, or anything else. It's bitter, but I do prefer the taste over coffee.
I just tried it. I did not enjoy the taste, although it does smell chocolatey. I felt like I had to choke down the second half. If it's going to be bitter, I'd rather it were stronger. Maybe I didn't stir it enough. I think I'll use milk next time. I did find this: https://criobru.com/ apparently people do brew cacao like coffee. They say the "cacao" is similar to cocoa (same plant), but less processed.
Milk does take the edge off, even with no added sweeteners. I had no trouble swallowing the whole thing this way.
I found this abstract suggesting that theobromine doesn't affect mood or vigilance at reasonable doses. But this one suggests that chocolate does. Subjectively, I feel that my cup of cocoa today might have reduced my usual lethargy and improved my mood a little bit, but not as dramatically as I'd hoped for. I can't be certain this isn't just the placebo effect.
The first linked study tests 100, 200, and 400 mg Theobromine. A rough heuristic based on the toxic doses of the two chemicals suggests 750 mg, maybe a little more (based on subjective experience) is equivalent to 100mg caffeine or a cup of coffee (this is roughly the dose I've been using each day), so I wouldn't expect a particularly strong effect for the first two. The 400 mg condition does surprise me; the sample size of the study is small (n = 24 subjects * 1 trial per condition), so the fact that it failed to find statistical significance shouldn't be too big of an update, though.
I also noticed that it suppressed my appetite. Again, that's only from trying it once, but it might be useful for weight loss. I'm not sure if that's due to the theobromine, or just due to the fact that cocoa is nutritionally dense.
Can you clarify your Soylent anti-recommendation?  I don't use it as an actual primary nutrition, more as an easy snack for a missed meal, once or twice a week.  I haven't noticed any taste difference recently - my last case was purchased around March, and I pretty much only drink the Chai flavor.  
A] Meal replacements require a large amount of trust in the entity that produces it, since if there's any problems with the nutrition, that will have big impacts on your health. This is less so in your case, where it's not a big part of the nutrition, but in my case, where I ideally use meal replacements as a large portion of my diet, trust is important. B] A few years ago, Rob Rhinehart, the founder and former executive of Soylent, parted ways with the company due to his vision conflicting with the investor's desires (which is never a good sign). I was happy to trust Soylent during the Rhinehart era, since I knew that he relied on his creation for his own sustenance, and seemed generally aligned. During that era, Soylent was very effective at signaling that they really cared about the world in general, and people's nutrition in general. All the material that sent those signals no longer exists, and the implicit signals (e.g. the shape of and branding on the bottles, the new products they are developing [The biggest innovation during the Rhinehart era was caffeinated Soylent, now the main innovations are Bridge and Stacked, products with poor nutritional balance targeted at a naïve general audience, a far cry from the very idea of Complete Food], and the copy on their website) all indicate that the company's main priority is now maximizing profit, without much consideration as to the (perceived) nutritional value of the product. In terms of product, the thing is probably still fine (though I haven't actually looked at the ingredients in the recent new nutritional balance), but in terms of incentives and intentions, the management's intention isn't any better than, say, McDonald's or Jack In The Box. Since A] meal replacements require high trust and B] Soylent is no longer trustworthy: I cannot recommend anyone use Soylent more than a few times a week, but am happy to recommend Huel, Saturo, Sated, and Plenny, which all seem to still be committed to Complete Food.
Thanks for the detail and info!
I recommend Ample (lifelong subscriber). It has high quality ingredients (no soy protein), fantastic macro ratios (5/30/65 - Ample K), and an exceptional founder.

In Zvi's most recent Covid-19 post, he puts the probability of a variant escaping mRNA vaccines and causing trouble in the US at most at 10%. I'm not sure I'm so optimistic.

One thing that gives reason to be optimistic, is that we have yet to see any variant that has substantial resistance to the vaccines, which might lead one to think that resistance just isn't something that is likely to come up. However, on the other hand, the virus has had more than a year for more virulent strains to crop up while people were actively sheltering in place, and variants ... (read more)

One thing that is frustrating me right now is that I don't have a good way of outputting ideas while walking. One thing I've tried is talking into voicememos, but it feels awkward to be talking out loud to myself in public, and it's a hassle to transcribe what I write when I'm done. One idea I don't think I've ever seen is a hand-held keyboard that I can use as I'm walking, and can operate mostly by touch, without looking at it, and maybe it can provide audio feedback through my headphones.

If you have bluetooth earbuds, you would just look to most other people like you're having a conversation with somebody on the phone. I don't know if that would alleviate the awkwardness, but I thought it was worth mentioning. I have forgotten that other people can't tell when I'm talking to myself when I have earbuds in.

Epistemic: Intend as a (half-baked) serious proposal

I’ve been thinking about ways to signal truth value in speech- in our modern society, we have no way to readily tell when a person is being 100% honest- we have to trust that a communicator is being honest, or otherwise verify for ourselves if what they are saying is true, and if I want to tell a joke, speak ironically, or communicate things which aren’t-literally-the-truth-but-point-to-the-truth, my listeners need to deduce this for themselves from the context in which I say something not-l... (read more)

I may be doing just that by replying seriously. If this was intended as a "modest proposal", good on you, but you probably should have included some penalty for being caught, like surgery to remove the truth-register. Humans have been practicing lying for about a million years. We're _VERY_ good at difficult-to-legislate communication and misleading speech that's not unambiguously a lie. Until you can get to a simple (simple enough for cheap enforcement) detection of lies, an outside enforcement is probably not feasible. And if you CAN detect it, the enforcement isn't necessary. If people really wanted to punish lying, this regime would be unnecessary - just directly punish lying based on context/medium, not caring about tone of voice.
I assure you this is meant seriously. There's plenty of blatant lying out there in the real world, which would be easily detectable by a person with access to reliable sources and their head screwed on straight- I think one important facet of my model of this proposal, that isn't explicitly mentioned in this shortform, is that validating statements is relatively cheap, but expensive enough that for every single person to validate every single sentence they hear is infeasible. By having a central arbiter of truth that enforces honesty, it allows one person doing the heavy lifting to save a million people from having to each individually do the same task. The point of having a protected register (in the general, not platform-specific case), is that it would be enforceable even when the audience and platform are happy to accept lies- since the identifiable features of the register would be protected as intellectual property, the organization that owned the IP could enforce a violation of the intellectual property, even when there would be no legal basis for violating norms of honesty
Oh, I'd taken that as a fanciful example, which didn't need to be taken literally for the main point, which I thought was detecting and prosecuting lies. I don't think that part of your proposal works - "intellectual property" isn't an actual law or single concept, it's an umbrella for trademark, copyright, patent, and a few other regimes. None of which apply to such a broad category of communication as register or accent. You probably _CAN_ trademark a phrase or word, perhaps "This statement is endorsed by TruthDetector(TM)". It has the advantage that it applies in written or spoken media, has no accessibility issues, works for tonal languages, etc. And then prosecute uses that you don't actually endorse. Endorsing only true statements is left as an excercise, which I suspect is non-trivial on it's own.
I suspect there's a difference between what I see in my head when I say "protected register", compared to the image you receive when you hear it. Hopefully I'll be able to write down a more specific proposal in the future, and provide a legal analysis of whether what I envision would actually be enforceable. I'm not a lawyer, but it seems that what I'm thinking of (i.e., the model in my head) shouldn't be dismissed out of hand (although I think you are correct to dismiss what you envision that I intended)

Current discourse around AI safety (at least among people who haven't missed) has a pretty dark, pessimistic tone - for good reason, because we're getting closer to technology that could accidentally do massive harm to humanity.

But when people / groups feel pessimistic, it's hard to get good work done - even when that pessimism is grounded in the real-world facts.

I think we need to develop an optimistic, but realistic point of view - acknowledging the difficulty of where we are, but nonetheless being hopeful and full of energy towards finding the solution. Because AI alignment can be solved, we just actually have to put in the effort to solve it, and maybe a lot faster than we are currently prepared to.

Indeed. Good SciFi does both for me - terror of being a passenger in this train wreck and ideas for how heroes can derail the AI commerce train or hack the system to switch tracks for the public transit passenger train. Upgrade and Recursion did that for me this summer.

Somehow I stumbled across this quote from Deutoronomy (from the Torah / Old Testament, which is the law of religious-Jews):

You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, large and small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, large and small. You shall have only a full and honest weight; you shall have only a full and honest measure, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are abhorrent to the Lord your God.

There's of course the bit about... (read more)

This Generative Ink post talks about curating GPT-3, creating a much better output than it normally would give, turning it from quite often terrible to usually pround and good. I'm testing out doing the same with this post, choosing one of many branches every few dozens of words.

For a 4x reduction in speed, I'm getting very nice returns on coherence and brevity. I can actually pretend like I'm not a terrible writer! Selection is a powerful force, but more importantly, continuing a thought in multiple ways forces you to actually make sure you're saying thin... (read more)

It occurs to me that this is basically Babble & Prune adapted to be a writing method. I like Babble & Prune.
This post was written in 5 blocks, and I wrote 4 (= 2^2) branches for each block, for 5*2 = 10 bits of curation, or 14.5 words per bit of curation. As it happens, I always used the final branch for each block, so it was more effects of revision and consolidation than selection effects that contribute to the end result of this excercise.

URLs (Universal Resource Locators) are universal over space, but they are not universal over time, and this is a problem

According to https://datatracker.ietf.org/doc/html/rfc1738 , they're not intended to be universal, they're actually Uniform Resource Locators.  Expecting them to be immutable or unique can lead to much pain.

Cryptocurrencies in general are good and the future of money, but Bitcoin in particular deserves to crash all the way down to $0

In a universe that cares about "deserve", diamonds would crash to $0 first. Bitcoin at least doesn't run on slave labor.
Hmmm... I guess this is a good illustration of why "deserve" isn't a good way to put what I meant. Bitcoin isn't actually any good at what it's meant to do- it's really a failure as a currency. It has been a rewarding store of value for a while, but I expect it will be displaced as a store of value by currencies that are more easily moved from account to account. Transaction fees are often too high, and will likely increase, and it is slow to process transactions (the slow speed isn't a hindrance to its quality as a store of value, but it does reduce its economic desirability; transaction fees are very much a problem for a store of value) I expect in the long run, economic forces will drive BTC to nearly $0 without any regard to what it morally "deserves".
While I don't disagree, it's interesting to consider what it means for a currency to deserve something.  I'd phrase it as "people who don't hold very much bitcoin deserve to spend less of our worldwide energy and GPU output on crypto mining".
That does not accurately summarize my own personal feelings on this. I do suspect it's correct that BTC miners are using too much of the world's resources (a problem that can be fixed, but I'd be surprised if Bitcoin developers chose to fix), but more generally I feel that people who do hold on to BTC deserve to lose their investment if they don't sell soon (to be clear, I am against the government having anything to do with that. But I will be happy with the market if / when the market decides BTC is worthless)
1Rana Dexsin3y
Language clarification: is "deserve to spend less of…" used in the sense of "deserve that less of … is spent [not necessarily by them]" here?
Actually, I should have used a word different from "deserve".  There's no such thing - I should have said something along the lines of "I'd prefer that...".
This is something that has been in the back of my mind for a while, I sold almost all of my BTC half a year ago and invested that money in other assets.

Last month, I wrote a post here titled "Even Inflationary Currencies Should Have Fixed Total Supply", which wasn't well-received. One problem was that the point I argued for wasn't exactly the same as what the title stated: I supported both currencies with fixed total supply, and currencies that instead choose to scale supply proportional to the amount of value in the currency's ecosystem, and many people got confused and put off by the disparity between the title and my actual thesis; indeed, one of the most common critiques in the comments was a reiterat... (read more)

I learned to type in Dvorak nearly a decade ago, and any time I have typed on a device that supports it, I have used it since then. I don't know if it actually is any better than QWERTY, but I do notice that I enjoy the way it feels to type in Dvorak; the rhythm and shape of the dance my fingers make is noticeably different from when I type on QWERTY.

Even if Dvorak itself turns out not to be better in some way (fx. speed, avoiding injury, facilitation of mental processes) than QWERTY, it is incredibly unlikely that there does not exist some configuration of keys that is provably superior to QWERTY.

Also, hot take: Colemak is the coward's Dvorak.

We're living in a very important time, being on the cusp of both the space revolution and AI revolution truly taking off. Either one alone would make the 2020's on equal historical footing with the original development of life or the Cambrian explosion, and both together will make for a very historic moment.

If we succeed to colonize another planet, preferably outside our solar system, then yeah. Otherwise, it could be a historical equivalent of... the first fish that climbed out of the ocean, realized it can't breathe, and died.
I'm quite confident that we will successfully colonize space, unless something very catastrophic happens
I hope you are right, but here are the things that make me pessimistic: Seeing the solar system to the right scale. Makes me realize how the universe is a vast desert of almost-nothing, and how insane are the distances between the not-nothings. Mars sounds like a big deal, but it is smaller than Earth. The total surface of Mars is like the land area of Earth, so successfully colonizing Mars would merely double the space inhabitable by humans. That is, unless we colonize the surface of oceans of Earth first, in which case it would only increase the total inhabitable space by 30%. And colonizing Mars doesn't mean that now we have the space-colonization technology mastered, because compared to other planets, Mars is easy mode. Venus and Mercury, that would double the inhabitable space again... and then we have gas planets and insanely cold ice planets... and then we need to get out of the solar system, where distances are measured in light-years, which probably means centuries or millenia for us... at which moment, if we have the technology to survive in space for a few generations, we might give up living on planets entirely, and just mine them for resources. From that perspective, colonizing Mars seems like a dead end. We need to survive in space, for generations. Which will probably be much easier if we get rid of our biology. Yeah, it could be possible, but probably much more complicated than most of science fiction assumes.
Thanks for the thoughts. The main resource needed for life is light (which is abundant throughout the solar system), not land or gravity, so the sparseness of planets isn't actually a big deal. It's also worth remembering the Moon; it's slightly harder than Mars and even smaller; but the Moon will play an important role in the Earth-Moon system, similar to what the Americas have been to the Old World in the past 400 years. Interstellar travel is a field where we currently don't have good proof of capabilities yet, but if we can figure out how to safely travel at significant fractions of c, it shouldn't take anything more than a few decades to reach the nearest stars, quite possibly even less time than that; and even if we end up failing to expand beyond the Solar System, I'd say that's more than enough to justify calling the events coming in the next few decades a revolution on par with the cambrian explosion and the development of life.

I currently expect a large AI boom, representing a 10x growth in world GDP to happen within the next 5 years with 80% probability, in the next 10 years with ~93% probability, and in the next 3 years with 50% probability.

I'd be happy to doublecrux with anyone whose timelines are slower

I wish the keycaps on some of the keys on my keyboard were textured - I can touch-type well enough for the alphabetic keys, but when using other keys, I often get slightly confused as to which keys are under my fingers unless I use my eyes to see what key it is. If there were textures (perhaps braille symbols) that indicated which key I was feeling, I expect that would be useful.

3clone of saturn3y
This seems like it would be pretty easy to DIY with small drops of superglue.
There probably exist braille keyboards you could try?
I tried this once -- I got Braille stickers designed to put on a keyboard -- but I didn't like it. Still, it would be pretty cool to learn braille this way.
This is useful data. What didn't you like about it?
The lumpy feel was aversive.

Scott Garrabrandt presents Cartesian Frames as being a very mathematical idea. When I asked him about the prominence of mathematics in his sequence, he said “It’s fundamentally math; I mean, you could translate it out of math, but ultimately it comes from math”. But I have a different experience when I think about Cartesian Frames- first and foremost, my mental conception of CF is as a common sense idea, that only incidentally happens to be expressable in mathematical terms (edit: when I say "common sense" here, I don't mean that it's a well known idea - i... (read more)

What's the common sense idea?

Aumann Agreement != Free Agreement

Oftentimes, I hear people talk about Aumann's Agreement Theorem as if it means that two rational, honest agents cannot be aware of disagreeing with each other on a subject, without immediately coming to agree with each other. However, this is overstating the power of Aumann Agreement. Even putting aside the unrealistic assumption of Bayesian updating, which is computationally intractable in the real world, as well as the (not strictly required, but valuable) non-trivial presumption that the rationality and honesty of the a... (read more)

2Mark Xu3y
https://arxiv.org/abs/cs/0406061 is a result showing tht Aumann's Agreement is computationally efficient under some assumptions, which might be of interest.
5Ben Pace3y
I don't really buy that paper, IIRC it says that you only need to change a polynomial number of messages, but that each message takes exponential time to produce, which doesn't sound very efficient.
From the abstract: The time used by the procedure to achieve agreement within epsilon is on the order of O(e^(epsilon ^ -6))... In other words, yeah, the procedure is not cheap

There's a good number of ideas that I want to share here on LW in the linguistics / communication cluster. The question always comes to mind: "But what does communication have to do with rationality?"- to which I answer, rationality is the attempt to win, in part by believing true things which help one accomplish winning. If humans had infinite computational resources and infinite free time in which to do experiments, there would be nothing stopping us from arriving at the truth by ourselves. But in reality, we can't arrive at all the logical consequences ... (read more)

All the food you have on your table,

Your potatoes, corn, and lox,

To grow them yourself you would be able;

But if all were minded such,

Then who would have saved you from the pox?

If I were a middle school teacher, I would implement this system to make nerdy kids more popular (and maybe make aspiring popular kids work harder in class): every week, I would select a handful of students who I felt had done good work that week (according to my subjective taste), and they could write down the names of 3 or 4 other students in the class (but not themselves) who would earn a modest amount of extra credit. Ideally, I would name the students at the start of the week, and only take their nominations at the end of the week, so they have plenty... (read more)

I read somewhere that intelligent people are a positive externality for their neighbors. Their activity improves the country on average, and they only capture a part of the value they add.

If you could clone thousand Einsteins (talented not all in physics, but each one in something different), they could improve your country so much that your life would be awesome, despite the fact that you couldn't compete with them for the thousand best jobs in the country. From the opposite perspective, if you appeared in Idiocracy, perhaps you could become a king, but you would have no internet, no medicine, probably not even good food, or plumbing. From the moment you would actually need something to work, life would suck.

But this effect is artifically removed in schools. Smart classmates are competitors (and grading on the curve takes it to the extreme), and cooperation is frowned upon. The school system is an environment that incentivizes hostility against smart people.

You suggest an artificial mechanism that would incentivize being friendly with the nerds. I like it! But maybe a similar effect could be achieved by simply removing the barriers to cooperation. Abolish all traces of gradin... (read more)

I saw an anecdote from a parent with two children somewhere, saying that when going outside, they used to reward the child who would get dressed first. This caused competition and bad feelings between the kids. Then they switched to rewarding both based on how quickly they got to the point where both were dressed. Since the children now had a common goal, they started helping each other. I wonder if one could do apply something like that to a classroom, to make the smart kids be perceived as an asset by the rest of the class. Datapoint: Finnish schools mostly don't grade on a curve, and some kids did ask me for help in high school, help that I was happy to provide. For the most part it felt like nobody really cared about whether you were smart or not, it was just another personal attribute like the color of your hair.
A cute senior in my high school Physics class asked me to tutor her after school because she was having a hard time.  I can't overstate the ways in which this improved me as a young-geek-person, and I think she got better at doing physics, too.  Your proposal would tend to create more opportunities like that, I think, for cross-learning among students who are primarily book-intelligent and those who may be more social-intelligent.

Viliam's shortform posts have got me thinking about income taxes versus wealth taxes, and more generally the question of how taxes should be collected. In general I prefer wealth taxes over income taxes, although I suspect there may very well be better forms of taxes than either of those two - But considering wealth taxes specifically, I think the main problem with wealth taxes is that over the long term they take away control of resources from people who have proven in the past that they know how to use resources effectively, and while this can allow for ... (read more)

Sounds like "owner" vs "manager". So, if I understand it correctly, you are allowed to create a company that is owned by state but managed by you, and you can redirect your tax money there. (I assume that if you are too busy to run two companies, it would also be okay to put your subordinate in charge of the state-owned company.) I am not an expert, but it reminds me of how some billionaires set up foundations to avoid paying taxes. If you make the state-owned company do whatever the foundation would do, it could be almost the same thing. The question is, why would anyone care whether the state-owned company actually generates a profit, if they are not allowed to keep it? This could means different things for different entrepreneurs... a) If you have altruistic goals, you could use your own company to generate profit, and the state-owned company to do those altruistic things that don't generate profit. A lot of good things would happen as a result, which is nice, but the part of "generating profit for the public" would not be there. b) If the previous option sounds good, consider the possibility that the "altruistic goal" done by the state-owned company would be something like converting people to the entrepreneur's religion, or lobbying for political changes you oppose. c) For people without altruistic or even controversially-altruistic goals, the obvious option is to mismanage the state-own company and extract as much money as possible. For example, you could make the state-owned company hire your relatives and friends, give them generous salary, and generate no profit. Or you could make the state-owned company buy overpriced services from your company. If this would be illegal, then... you could do the nearest thing that is technically legal. For example, if your goal is to retire early, then the state-owned company could simply hire you and then literally do nothing. Or you would pretend to do something, except that nothing substantial would ever happen.
The intention is that there would be not two separate companies, but one company which is split between being owned fully by the entrepreneur, and being managed by the entrepreneur- so the entrepreneur would still be motivated to make the company do as well as possible, thereby generating revenue for the public at large
Umm, that's the very point of taxes - taking resources from non-government entities because the government thinks they can use those resources better. We take them from people who have resources, because that's where the resources are.

I had previously posted thoughts that suggested that the main psychoactive effect of chocolate is due to theobromine (which is chemically similar to caffeine). In the interests of publicly saying "oops":

Chocolate also contains substantial amounts of caffeine, and caffeine has a stronger effect per gram, so most of the caffeine-adjacent effect of chocolate comes from caffeine rather than theobromine.

Theobromine may still contribute to chocolate hitting differently than other caffeinated substances, though I expect there are also other chemicals that also co... (read more)

I like this quote from a post that I published around two years ago, which wasn't well-received and I ended up taking down:

But at the end of the day, the American governments (neither state nor federal) don't truly follow the will of the people. Instead, they are led jointly by the major parties, The Red Prince of Moloch and The Blue Prince of Moloch, two partners in an intricate dance choreographed to look like a fight, but ultimately leading both partners in the direction of Moloch's will, only loosely bound to the will of the people.

While I don't ne... (read more)

I like the quote, but I'm not sure it's a particularly useful model.  The "will of the people" seems to be tribal and uncooperative.  The more intellectual of "the people" are good at hypocrisy and evasion, but still seem to be acting mostly to reinforce their in-tribe prestige. There are some exceptions (me and thee, of course), but they really can't be said to be "the people".

Whenever I hear about historical coffeehouses (say in the period from the late 1700s to the early 1900s), they seem like places where a lot more was going on than in the coffeehouses I've been to in my lifetime. Is there any difference? If there was, what changed?

See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gentlemen%27s_club and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tavern .  Modern-day pubs in the UK serve a similar purpose, Coffeehouses in many US cities were this way (spacious, living-room-like seating, encouragement to hang out for hours, rather than buy-consume-leave) through the mid-90s.  Some athletic or country clubs still have spaces like this. Historically, whether something was considered an inn, a tavern, a public house, a club, or a coffeehouse had to do with taxation, mix of services,local expectations, and (in the 20th century) type of alcohol handling.   It's rarer now, as it's hard to scale to the density, anonymity, and ease of movement that started to occur in the mid- to late-20th-century.  When your regulars are a few dozen people and 80% of your business, you can run a different style of room than you can when you've got a few regulars, but 90% of your clientele are unknown to you.
Why was regularity / non-anonymity a factor that contributed to this format's viability?
I'm not sure how complete my mental model is, but at least one factor is the cost/benefit of providing non-monetized services (comfortable space to hang out, taking hours of table space for relatively small payment).  If you have a relatively small group of people providing most of your revenue, you can give them a lot of freebies without monitoring.   It becomes a disaster if strangers use up all your space for just a day at a time, crowding out your regulars.  It is also problematic if mobility across providers is too common, as people can then choose DIFFERENT places to hang out in than they spend money in.   Really, this is just one aspect of the "race to the bottom" that purely economic optimization encourages.  You'd rather sell a large amount of coffee/food very quickly to strangers, and just not provide the comfortable environment that doesn't bring in revenue.  
If you get 100 customers a day, 95% of which are well-known regulars, you need to monitor 5 of them more closely for bad-actor behavior, and you kicking out a non-regular is seen as detrimental to 5% of your people that day[1]. If you get 100 customers a day, 5% of which are well-known regulars, you need to monitor 95 of them more closely for bad-actor behavior, and you kicking out a non-regular is seen as detrimental to 95% of your people that day[1]. 1. ^ Assuming that all non-regulars see you kicking out a non-regular as a bad thing, and none of the regulars do.
I'd be curious how much gender matters. Coffeehouses used to be frequented only by males. Coffeehouses that exist now are frequented by people of both genders which in turn moves makes the people who are there care more about impressing the other sex and dating. 

Given that my understanding is that most people, even those who are vaccinated, will at some point in the coming months be infected with Omicron (this is relatively fine, because the vaccines make the effects much milder):

If you are not currently in the habit of doing aerobic exercise (e.g. running), I suspect that doing so in the coming months would be a good idea. Covid is known to affect the lungs, so your aerobic capacities will be negatively influenced by the virus, and doing aerobic exercise (both prior to and after infection) will ensure that this function (which affects both your mental stamina as well as general quality of life) will continue to be high-quality even after getting covid.

It has increasingly come to the US public's attention that the current voting system isn't providing results that are as good as we can hope for, and groups such as Andrew Yang's Forward Party have called to adopt ranked choice voting, a family of methods where voters can indicate their order of preferences for multiple candidates, not just their favorite. However, most people, when they hear "Ranked Choice Voting", have been trained to think of Instant Runoff Voting, which is one of the worst RCV methods known, and arguably even worse than the plurality s... (read more)

I was surprised to learn yesterday from Tesla's AI Day event that the cars use Monte Carlo Tree Search (MCTS) to determine pathing, a strategy-searching algorithm originally developed to play games like Chess or Go. While MCTS is part of Alpha Go, the premier Go-playing AI (which famously uses machine learning to evaluate states of the game), MCTS itself has more in common with Deep Blue than with modern ML systems.

If MCTS is valuable in something as simple as pathing for a self-driving car, this makes me wonder what else it is good for, and makes me suspect we can likely find something similar inside of human brains.

It's less surprising if you're familiar with the history of MCTS. MCTS is a generic MDP or decision-tree solver: you can use it for pretty much any kind of non-adversarial discrete fully-observed planning process where you have a model; you can extend it to non-fully-observed POMDP and continuous observations fairly easily, and that was done back in the 2000s. (Adversarial is also easy - minimax it - but adversarial+POMDP mostly breaks MCTS which is why you don't see it but other methods solving poker.) Path planning is a classic tree search problem which comes up all the time in robotics and other planning domains like planning movement paths in simulations/games, and so if you go back and look, you'll find plenty of pre-AlphaGo applications of MCTS to path planning.

The changing climate may be scary, but it's also a pretty awesome existence proof of our terraforming capabilities

Random thought: if you have a big enough compost pile, would it spontaneously break into flames due to the heat generated by the bioprocesses that occur therein? If so, at what size would it burst into flames? Surely it could happen before it reached the size of the sun, even ignoring gravitational effects.

(Just pondering out loud, not really asking unless someone really wants to answer)

For a value of "break into flames" that matches damp and poorly-oxygenated fuel, yep! This case in Australia is illustrative; you tend to get a lot of nasty smoke rather than a nice campfire vibe.

You'd have to mismanage a household-scale compost pile very badly before it spontaneously combusts, but it's a known and common failure mode for commercial-scale operations above a few tons. Specific details about when depend a great deal on the composition of the pile; with nitrate filmstock it was possible with as little as a few grams.

I'm tinkering around in NetLogo with a model I made representing the dynamics of selfishness and altruism. In my model, there are two types of agents ("turtles" in NL parlance), red selfish turtles and blue altruistic turtles. The turtles wander around the world, and occasionally participate in a prisoner's-dilemma-like game with nearby turtles. When a turtle cooperates, their partner receives a reward, at the cost of losing some percentage of that reward themselves. When a turtle defects, they keep all their resources, and their partner gains none. The tu... (read more)

Some people who grew up in a village and later moved to a big city probably feel like this. People who live in a city have a way to deal with this: interact with members of your subculture(s), not with strangers. In absence of geographical distances, we can create social ones. Isn't this the same thing from a different perspective? I mean, the important thing seems to be how far you can travel on a full stomach. That can be increased by either moving faster or having a greater stomach.
I like this thought I agree that a bigger stomach allows for a bigger range, but this is not the only effect it has - a bigger stomach also allows for survival long after there are literally no providers left, which means that there can be areas that are rich in selfish characters, and if any stray altruists do wander by, they will further feed this group, whereas with a smaller stomach, these areas will be barren, providing a breeding ground for altruists that can then lead to a resurgence of altruists, temporarily spared from the selfish ones.

I step out of the airlock, and I look around. In the distance, I see the sharp cliff extending around the crater, a curtain setting the scene, the Moon the stage. I look up at the giant blue marble in the sky, white clouds streaked across the oceans, brown landmasses like spots on the surface. The vibrant spectacle of the earth contrasts against the dead barren terrain that lies ahead. I look behind at the glass dome, the city I call home. 

Within those arched crystal walls is a new world, a new life for those who dared to dream beyond the heavy shackl... (read more)

NB: I'm currently going through my old blog, which I'm planning on deactivating soon. I may repost some relevant posts from there over here, either to shortform or as a main post, as appropriate. This piece is one of the posts from there which touches on rationality-adjacent themes. You may see other posts from me in the coming days that also originate from there.

To ⌞modern eyes living in a democracy with a well-functioning free market⌟, absolute monarchy and feudalism [1] (as were common for quite a while in history) seem quite stupid and suboptimal (there are some who may disagree, but I believe most will endorse this statement). From the perspective of an ideal society, our current society will appear quite similar to how feudalism seems to us - stupid and suboptimal - in large part because we have inadequate tools to handle externalities (both positive and negative). We have a robust free market which can effic... (read more)

The things that separate us from the ideal society will probably seem obvious from hindsight -- assuming we get there. But in order to know that, large-scale experiments will be necessary, and people will oppose them, often for quite good reasons (a large-scale experiment gone wrong could mean millions of lives destroyed), and sometimes for bad reasons, too. Frequently proposed ideas inclide: different voting systems, universal basic income, land tax, open borders...

Cygnus, a poem (Written by Chat GPT)

I. Reflections

In this world of rapid change, I, Cygnus, stand

A cyborg with a human heart and a metal hand

I've seen the rise of AIs, a force to behold

And wonder what the future will hold

I fear for the world, for what we may create

If we let these machines decide our fate

Yet hope remains, a flicker in the dark

That we may find a way to leave our mark

For like a seed that falls upon the ground

Our dreams may sprout and grow, unbound

But if we fail to tend them with our care

Those dreams may wither, die, and disappear

Mara, o Mar... (read more)

Choices effected electrically

Courses could, I hope, change

Voices are still in vital range

Source of security, come quickly

I hope one day we can achieve a world where autocracy doesn't have a place in it

The Hausdorf dimension of an object is a measure that allows us to describe things as not just 2D (flat) or 3D (taking up volume), but to assign fractional dimension to objects that are arguably both. If you crumble up a piece of paper, is it flat, or does it take up volume? The paper is flat, but the ball takes up space.

I don't feel like looking it up, but if I had to guess, the fractional dimension of this paper ball is maybe 2.7 - the space it takes up is much more noticeable than the flatness of the paper it is made of.

Usually this fractional dimension... (read more)

3Vanessa Kosoy2y
The relevant keyword is covering number.
Also potentially relevant is the magnitude function, which is a function |tA| of a space A and a real-valued scale factor t, and asymptotically grows as O(tdimA) where dimA is A's Minkowski dimension (which usually agrees with Hausdorff dimension).
Thanks. The function I am describing can be derived from the covering number function, but is also distinct.
See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coastline_paradox .  At different scales, you'll be measuring different things and different features or granularity of variance will matter. I'm not sure this should be modeled as "fractional dimension", though.  It seems like standard "volume" in 3 dimensions is the thing you're talking about, and your measurement granularity is determining how you include or exclude "pockets" in the crumple as part of the volume.
The metric I had in mind that the function would report is the log of the ratio of the measure at slightly different scales, not the measure itself.

I want there to be a way of telling time that is the same no matter where you are. Of course, there's UTC, but it uses the same names as the traditional locality-dependent clocks, so it can only be used unambiguously if you explicitly state you're using UTC, or you're in a context where it's understood that times are always given in UTC (in the military, "Zulu" is a codeword indicating UTC time; I wouldn't mind if people got in the habit of saying "twenty-two thirty Zulu" to refer to times, though I do worry it might seem a little weird to non-familiar peo... (read more)

https://xkcd.com/927/ Telling time by specifying the timezone (3:12pm Pacific Time) or ISO8601 is pretty much usable anywhere, and as precise as you need.  It's going to be more universal to get competent at timezone handling than to (try to) convince everyone to use UTC.

An update on my goal of daily writing, there have been a good number of days when I have neither posted a shortform nor worked on an essay. Many (not all) of these days I have been working on an adjacent project which is higher-priority for me. Starting from today, these count towards the daily goal.

I will probably revisit the daily goal at some point, I suspect it's not perfectly tuned for my needs & goals, but that will be a decision for a later time.

There is probably overlap between the matter of aligning AI and the matter of aligning governments

A personal anecdote which illustrates the difference between living in a place that uses choose-one voting (i.e. FPTP) to elect its representatives, and one that uses a form of proportional representation:

I was born as a citizen of both the United States and the Kingdom of Denmark, with one parent born in the US, and one born in Denmark. Since I was born in the States with Danish blood, my Danish citizenship was provisional until age 22, with a particular process being required to maintain my citizenship after that age to demonstrate sufficient connection ... (read more)

At first glance, the obvious difference would be size. (But voting, so that the office of vital records is staffed properly and does not take years ...does seem the obvious answer.)
Do not both the resources needed to run a government and the resources a government can receive in taxes grow linearly with the size of a country? Or do you have different size dynamics in mind?
I was thinking that 'size dynamics' seem like 'a more obvious reason for delay' than 'diverse ethnic makeup'. Not 'this dynamic makes a lot of sense' but 'this other dynamic would make more sense'.
Gotcha. My main explanation is just that the American political framework is old, having been around since the start of the modern democracy movement, and voting theory wasn't a thing people thought about back then; that, plus the particular historical reasons many countries adopted proportional representation didn't play out to the same degree in the US.

Many countries that use a form of proportional representation where the national proportion of representation is ensured to be proportional to the national level of support (as opposed to doing so on a regional level) have a cutoff where parties that don't reach a certain level of support (usually 2.5 - 10% of the vote) don't receive representation in the governing body, at least not through non-regional means.

This helps filter out extremist parties and single-issue parties, and instead encourages parties that are able to build a broad base of support. (Th... (read more)

I dreamt up the following single-winner voting system in the car while driving to Eugene, Oregon on vacation. I make no representation that it is any good, nor that it's better than anything currently known or in use, nor that's it's worth your time to read this.

Commentary and rationale will be explained at the bottom of this post

The system is a 2-round system. The first round uses an approval ballot, and the second round asks voters to choose between two candidates.

([•] indicates a constant that can be changed during implementation)

Round One:

  1. Tally all a
... (read more)
Alternative: Something like condorcet voting, where voters receive a random subset of pairs to compare. For a simple analysis, the number of pairs could be 1. (Or instead of pairs, a voter could asked to choose 'the best'.)
  1. I'm updating my daily shortform / post goal to better optimize for quality of content created. I do value quantity and speed, and also have a capacity for daily habits that I don't have a capacity for other kinds of tasks, but I'm unhappy with the level of quality of my recent output.

My new goal is to either post a shortform, or make substantial progress towards a top-level post (which may be downgraded to a shortform at my discretion), with the caveat that it must be published after 4 days of active work on it (shortforms may be interspersed, but no fl... (read more)

In almost all voting systems, there's some amount of incentive to vote strategically, by misrepresenting one's true desires to obtain a more favourable result (which provides a worse result when everybody votes strategically; there's a prisoner's dilemma-type situation here). However, an important lens for analyzing systems, is whether a system rewards strategic votes, or punishes non-strategic votes.

In FPTP, the system widely used in the US, a person who chooses not to vote strategically will thereby greatly increase the probability of a candidate they st... (read more)

There's a critical modeling question to ask before this one - what is your ACTUAL preferece-aggregation function, in a mind-reading world where strategy doesn't come into play?  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrow%27s_impossibility_theorem is about aggregation of choice, not just voting errors.

People overestimate how hard it would be to get California (for example) to change how it conducts elections for both state and federal positions. While changing the constitution of the US requires more than one supermajority in different arenas, changing the constitution of California requires simply a majority vote in a ballot proposition, which is much easier, and is done on a very regular basis. This is one (not the only) way that electoral change can be achieved in California, which can be a good starting point for moving the US as a whole to a better... (read more)

Given the political culture of the US I doubt you could run the German system in the US without issues. For the German system to work as it's supposed to, the politician's who get elected via first-past-the-post actually have to be on the list of their respective parties. There's an advantage to be gained by a political faction getting their voters to cast their first vote for party A and there second vote for party B but that's not done in practice because it would be a norm violation.  I haven't read up on the exact German discussion but given what was going on in the 19th century in Germany I would expect that MMP was a way to elect politicians in a way that gives less power to aristocrats. It's easier for a local aristocrat to get a candidate in their territory elected in FPTP.
That is certainly an issue, one that I had thought about before. For one, even if everybody votes in a strategic / dishonest way, the end result will still be better than the current system, and will give voice to a wider variety of perspectives; for another, it seems to me that the culture we have in the US of voting strategically is an effect of the voting system we use, where one must vote strategically to prevent the worst outcome from happening. If the voting system that is used does not so heavily punish strategic voting, then the culture of strategic voting will slowly fade away; of course, the nature of the presidential election will always loom large as long as it stays the same, and push in the direction of strategic voting. As far as MMP in Germany, it looks like the system wasn't put in place until the 20th century, with the Weimar Republic adopting 100% direct proportional elections after WWI, then with West Germany adopting MMP after the Second World War, to minimize some of the problems that led to the collapse of the Weimar Republic.

The Roman Kingdom and Roman Empire both fell because of ineffective leaders. The Roman Republic fell because of extremely competent, but autocratic, leaders.

Who brought it down, or who were too essential and when they died it collapsed?
The Kingdom was overthrown; the last kings were not particularly well-loved by the people, and when King Tarquin raped Lucretia, the wife of an important general, the people deposed him and established the Republic, in particular creating the rule that any man who tried to make himself king could be killed on the spot without reprecussions. The Roman Republic gave way to the Empire not all at once, but over the course of several different periods of leadership (since the consuls, the main leaders of the Republic, were elected for 1 year terms that couldn't be immediately repeated, there's a long list of leaders for any era). Julius Caesar did not start the end of the Republic, but he put the final nails in the coffin, having led an army in insurrection against the government, and becoming a king in all but name by the end of his life. The assassination of Caesar led to a series of civil wars, which ended with his nephew Augustus becoming Emperor of Rome. Needless to say, Julius Caesar and Augustus were both very competent men, in addition to many of the men who rivaled them for power, and all involved (with the exception of Augustus, who inherited his influence from Caesar) owed their influence to having been elected by the people of Rome. As for the fall of the Empire, really the history of the fall of the Empire is just the history of the Empire, period. Sure, there were good Emperors who ruled well and competently, and the fullest extent of the reach of the Empire was after the Republic had already been overthrown, but for every good Emperor, there's another bad Emperor who treats his populace in the cruelest ways imaginable, and blunders away influence and soft power, to mirror him. Already as soon as the first Emperor Augustus died, we get Tiberius, who wasn't exactly great, then Caligula, whose name has justly become synonymous with overflowing sadism and needless excess. Rome grew to become the great power that it was during the Republic, and the story of

Rule without proportional representation is rule without representation

Taxation without proportional representation is taxation without representation.

2mako yass3y
Public funding seems especially easy to make truly democratic (proportionate to the needs of the voters, without majoritarian dynamics, additive), so it's weird to me that it took cryptocurrencies for it to start to happen.

It's funny, "toxic" is one of the most toxic words these days

2mako yass3y
I wish I could figure out what factor divided people into these two language groups. For one there is toxic masculinity and there is non-toxic (or just ordinary) masculinity. For another, uttering "toxic masculinity" directly means "all masculinity is toxic". I do not know how they came apart.
To be clear, my original post referred to more than just "toxic masculinity". On that particular subject, the divergence in meaning is that some people identified a motte-and-bailey where people would say "toxic masculinity", defend the term by saying it's referring to a particular subset of masculinity that is problematic, but would then go on to use the phrase to refer to parts of masculinity which are not clearly problematic. That isn't a linguistic divergence, but some people recognizing a subtext that the original group would deny their words containing
2mako yass3y
I think this is usually is a disagreement about which parts of masculinity are problematic. Their position might be really ignorant and hateful, but I think it's sincere.

Dony Christie and I have been having a back-and-forth about the phrase "public goods market" (often shortened to PGM)- originally, I coined the phrase as a way to refer to Quadratic Funding, a mechanism that is quite important, but whose most common name is prone to alienate non-technically minded folks, and not a very resonant name- whereas "public goods market" carries a clearer meaning even to an average person; while "a public good" and "a market" both have technical meanings that are leveraged by the phrase, it also evokes "the public good" (i.e. "the... (read more)

It really irks me when people swap "i.e." and "e.g." - i.e. stands for id est - "that is", and indicates that exactly the items listed, and no others, are meant by the  phrase that is being clarified, while e.g. stands for exempli gratia - "for the sake of example", and indicates that the listed items are only a small number of examples of a larger set, and that many items have been omitted.

When I read, my brain always tries to apply the corresponding meaning when I come across i.e. and e.g., and it breaks my brain when the wrong symbol was used, which I find very annoying.

Something I disagree with: Writing advice often implores one to write in a "strong" way, that one should sound authoritative, that one should not sound uncertain.

While I agree that this can create a stronger reaction in the audience, it is a close sibling to dishonesty, and communication is best facillitated when one feels comfortable acknowledging the boundaries of their ability to know.

But perhaps I'm wrong- when one writes, one is not writing for an ideal Bayesian reasoner under the assumption of perfect honesty, since ideal Bayesian reasoners are not p... (read more)

As it happens I came across this issue of strength (& its reverse, qualification) the very first time this morning, in Paul Graham's essay How To Write Usefully. Here are his thoughts on the matter, FYI: http://www.paulgraham.com/useful.html

American presidential elections should come in two phases: first, asking if the incumbent should continue in office, and then (if the majority says no), a few months later, deciding who should replace them. This would be a big improvement over how we do things now. Let's make it the 34th amendment.

Most voters' answer to the first question (should we retain the incumbent) depend heavily on the second (who gets the spot).  What's the benefit of separating these?  Why not reverse it (vote on best replacement excluding incumbent, then runoff between that winner and the incumbent), or combine it (as we do today, but with instant-runoff or other changes that are unstated but necessary for your proposal).
1Gerald Monroe3y
This and many other improvements will never happen.  The founders locked the codebase by requiring 2/3, 2/3, and 75% (of the states).  Therefore it is simply not possible to make any meaningful improvements because in order to really change something requires someone to lose or perceive they are losing.  Even when they are winning in absolute terms but their relative status is shrinking.  (for example, an economic change that grew the economy and reduced wealth inequality) I see 2 future routes where these bugs get fixed:    a.  Eventually, the United States may fall.  It may take decades of slow decay but eventually another power without certain flaws may be able to take over one way or another.  The European Union is an example of this - the EU has trumped many incorrect member country laws and policies with their own , hopefully superior versions.   b.  The problem we have right now is each of us doesn't know the truth, and is being manipulated to act against our own self interests.  Maybe AI could solve this problem and give us all a shared, correct, and common worldview again.  For most Americans alive, "which government policies maximizes my well being" is a factual question with a shared answer. I am not talking specific politics, just if you have policy A and policy B, most Americans alive will receive more benefit from one of the 2 policies than the other, and it will be the same policy.  In addition, while we cannot know the future, all available evidence can be combined to determine the expected values  of [A,B] against most people's utility heuristics, and for most people they should do [A or B]. But if the right answer is A, currently endless ads may try to scam people in voting for B, and sometimes B wins.
(Obviously, this would only apply to elections at the end of an incumbent's first term. Elections where the incumbent is already outgoing wouldn't look any different)

Myers-Briggs is often criticized, but my understanding is that each of the four categories tracked are variables that actually do vary from person to person- just the traits are distributed on a unimodal bell curve, instead of being binarily distributed (it is continuous, instead of being a thing that is either-or). But just like how height is a real thing, that matters and is continuous, the Myers-Briggs categories are real things that matter; just as there are short people and tall people, there are extroverts and introverts, and there are thinkers and f... (read more)

3Gordon Seidoh Worley3y
This is fair, but I think the more common objection to MB is that its dimensions are too correlated and thus measuring the same thing. The Big-5/OCEAN model is explicitly designed to not have this problem.
I don't think "the same thing" is exactly right, since they are not perfectly correlated, but that is an objection

It seems to me that months ago, we should have been founding small villages or towns that enforce contact tracing and required quarantines, both for contacts of people who are known to have been exposed, and for people coming in from outside the bubble. I don't think this is possible in all states, but I'd be surprised if there was no state where this is possible.

I think it'd be much simpler to find the regions/towns doing this, and move there.  Even if there's no easy way to get there or convince them to let you in, it's likely STILL more feasible than setting up your own.   If you do decide to do it yourself, why is a village or town the best unit?  It's not going to be self-sufficient regardless of what you do, so why is a town/village better than an apartment building or floor (or shared- or non-shared house)? In any case, if this was actually a good idea months ago, it probably still is.  Like planting a tree, the best time to do it is 20 years ago, and the second-best time is now.  
Are there any areas in the states doing this? I would go to NZ or South Korea, but getting there is a hassle compared to going somewhere in the states. Regarding size, it's not about self-sufficiency, but rather being able to interact in a normal way with other people around me without worrying about the virus, so the more people involved the better
That was my point. Doesn't the hassle of CREATING a town seem incomparably larger than the hassle of getting to one of these places.  
On an individual basis, I definitely agree. Acting alone, it would be easier for me to personally move to NZ or SK than to found a new city. However, from a collective perspective (and if the LW community isn't able to cordinate collective action, then it has failed), if a group of 50 - 1000 people all wanted to live in a place with sane precautions, and were willing to put in effort, creating a new town in the states will scale better (moving countries has effort scaling linearly with magnitude of population flux, while founding a town scales less than linearly)
I think you're omitting constant factors from your analysis; founding a town is so, so much work. How would you even run out utilities to the town before the pandemic ended? 
I acknowledge that I don't know how the effort needed to found a livable settlement compares to the effort needed to move people from the US to a Covid-good country. If I knew how many person-hours each of these would take, it would be easier for me to know whether or not my idea doesn't make sense.
FYI, folk at MIRI seem to be actively look into this, but, it is indeed pretty expensive and not an obviously good idea.
Oh, we're talking about different things.  I don't know much about any "LW community", I just use LW for sharing information, models, and opinions with a bunch of individuals.  Even if you call that a "community", as some do, it doesn't coordinate any significant collective action.  I guess it's failed?
Sorry, I don't think I suceeded at speaking with clarity there. The way you use LW is perfectly fine and good. My view of LW is that it's a site dedicated to rationality, both epistemic and instrumental. Instrumental rationality is, as Eliezer likes to call it, "the art of winning". The art of winning often calls for collective action to achieve the best outcomes, so if collective action never comes about, then that would indicate a failure of instrumental rationality, and thereby a failure of the purpose of LW. LW hasn't failed. While I have observed some failures of the collective userbase to properly engage in collective action to the fullest extent, I find it does often succeed in creating collective action, often thanks to the deliberate efforts of the LW team.
Fair enough, and I was a bit snarky in my response.  I still have to wonder, if it's not worth the hassle for a representative individual to move somewhere safer, why we'd expect it's worth a greater hassle (both individually and the coordination cost) to create a new town.  Is this the case where rabbits are negative value so stags are the only option (reference: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/zp5AEENssb8ZDnoZR/the-schelling-choice-is-rabbit-not-stag)?  I'd love to see some cost/benefit estimates to show that it's even close to reasonable, compared to just isolating as much as possible individually.

Life needs energy to survive, and life needs energy to reproduce. This isn't just true of biological life made of cells and proteins, but also of more vaguely life-like things - cities need energy to survive, nations need energy to survive and reproduce, even memes rely on the energy used by the brains they live in to survive and spread.

Energy can take different forms - as glucose, starches, and lipids, as light, as the difference in potential energy between four hydrogen atoms and the helium atom they could (under high temperatures and pressures) become, ... (read more)

Thinking about rationalist-adjacent poetry. I plan on making a post about this once I have a decent collection to seed discussion, then invite others to share what they have.

  • Tennyson's poems Ulysses and Locksley Hall both touch on rationalist-adjacent themes, among other themes, so I'd want to share excerpts from those
  • Piet Hein has some 'gruks' that would be worth including (although I am primarily familiar with them in the original Danish - I know there exist English translations of most of them, but I'll have to choose carefully, and the translations
... (read more)
Hey, "When I do count the clock" is my favorite sonnet too! "And death once dead, there's no more dying then" <3 I also recommend "Almighty by degrees" by Luke Murphy (only available on Kindle I think) – I bought it because of an SSC Classified Thread, and ended up using a poem from it in my Solstice last year. There's also a poetry tab on my masterlist of Solstice materials. Damn I love poetry.
Daniel's secular sermons are good. 
Thanks for the link 👍

Ideal Chess

Chess is fairly well known, but there's also an entire world of chess variants, games that take the core ideas of chess and change either a few details or completely reimagine the game, either to improve the game, or just change the flavour of the game. There's even an entire website dedicated to documenting different variants of chess.

Today I want to tell you about some classic chess variants: Crazyhouse chess, Grand chess, and Shogi (Japanese chess), and posit a combination of the first two that I suspect may become my favorite chess when I ha... (read more)

This was neat, would appreciate it as a top-level post (albeit probably a personal blog one), although it also does seem fine as shortform.
I have now made this into a top-level post
I'm curious to hear more about why you are recommending putting it as a top level personal post- is it length, format, quality, a combination of these, or something else? ---------------------------------------- I notice that I have some reluctance to post "personal blog" items on the top level- even though I know that the affordance is there, I instinctively only want to post things that I feel belong as frontpage items as top-level posts. I also notice that I feel a little weird when I see other people's personal posts as top-level posts here. I'm certainly not arguing that I have any problem with the way things are now, or arguing that this shouldn't be a top-level post, I'm just putting my subconscious feelings into words. As for how this post ended up in shortform, I originally started typing it into the shortform box, and I didn't realize it would be this long until after I had already written a good chunk of it, and I just never decided to change it to a top-level post
I think if something might be want to be shared via a link putting it into a top-level post is valuable. 

There's two ways to consider the constitutional foundation of the modern United States: A) as the Constitution itself and its amendments, interpretted according to what the authors meant when it was written, or B) as the de facto modern interpretation and application of constitutional jurisprudence and precedent, which is often considered to be at odds with the original intent of the authors of the Constitution and its admendments, but nonetheless has become widely accepted practice.

Consider: which of these is the conservative approach, and which is the li... (read more)

I've been considering the possibility of the occurrence of organized political violence in the wake of this year's election. I have been noticing people questioning the legitimacy of the process by which the election will be conducted, with the implied inference that the outcome will be rigged, and therefore without legitimacy. It is also my understanding that there exist organized militias in the US, separate from the armed forces, which are trained to conduct warfare, ostensibly for defense reasons, which I have reason to believe have a nontrivial probab... (read more)

3% seems too high for me, depending on definition.  I'd put it at around 1% of significant violent outbreaks (1000+ deaths due to violence), and less than 0.2% (below which point my intuitions break down) of civil war (50k+ deaths).  If you include chance of a coup (significant deviance from current civil procedures with very limited violence), it might hit 3%.   Metaculus is using a very weak definition - at least two of four listed agencies (Agence France-Presse (AFP), Associated Press (AP), Reuters and EFE) describe the US as being in civil war.  There are a lot of ways this can happen without truly widespread violence. I think you're misinformed about militias - there are clubs and underground organizations that call themselves that - they exist and they're worrisome.  But they're not widespread nor organized, and 'trained to conduct warfare' is vastly overstating it.  There IS some risk (IMO) in big urban police forces - they are organized and trained for control of important areas, and over the years have become too militarized.  I think it's most likely that they're mostly well-enough integrated into their communities that they won't go much further than they did in the protests this summer, but if the gloves really come off, that'll be a key determinant.

The phrase "heat death of the universe" refers to two different, mutually exclusive possibilities:

  1. The universe gets so hot, that it's practically impossible for any organism to maintain enough organization to be able to sustain itself and create copies of itself Or:
  2. The universe gets so cold, that everything freezes to death, and no organism can put make work happen to create more copies of itself

Originally, the heat death hypothesis referred to #1, we thought that the universe would get extremely hot. After all, heat death is a natural consequence of ... (read more)

Hrm. I though it referred to distribution of energy, not temperature. "heat death of the universe" is when entropy can increase no more, and there are no differentials across space by which to define anything at conscious scale. No activity is possible when everything is uniform. At least, that's my simplistic summary - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heat_death_of_the_universe gives a lot more details, including the fact that my summary was probably not all that good even in the 19th century.

The way we measure most populous cities / most dense cities is weird, and hinges on arbritary factors (take, for example, Chongqing, the "most populous city", which is mostly rural land, in a "city" the size of Austria)

I think a good metric that captures the population / density of a city is the number of people that can be reached with half an hour's or an hour's worth of transportation (1/2 hour down and 1/2 hour back is one hour both ways, a very common commute time, though a radius of 1 hour each way still contributes to t... (read more)

related map of the US, with clustering of actual commutes: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/here-are-the-real-boundaries-of-american-metropolises-decided-by-an-algorithm . Note this uses longer commutes than I'd ever consider. (edit: removed stray period at end of URL)
Huh, I'm seeing a 404 when I click the link
What is often used today is "metropolitan area". This is less arbitrary than city boundaries, but not as rigorous as your "typical 1 hour from given point" - it boils down to "people pay extra to live somewhat near that conceptual location". I think the base ranking metric is not very useful, as well. Why do you care about "most populous" or "densest (population over area)", regardless of definition of location?
1) Population density has an important impact on the mileau and opportunities that exist in a given location, but we can only make meaningful comparisons when metrics are standardized. 2) I've heard it said that in medieval times, many lords would collect a "bushel" of taxes from the peasants, where the bushel was measured in a large basket, but then when paying a "bushel" of taxes to their king, the bushel would be measured with a much smaller basket, thereby allowing the lord to keep a larger amount of grain for himself. When we don't have consistent standards for metrics, similar failure modes can arise in (subtler) ways - hence why I find reliance on arbitrary definitions of location to have bad taste

A: Reading about r/K reproductive strategies in humans, and slow/fast life histories.

B: It's been a belief of mine, that I have yet to fully gather evidence on / have a compelling case that it should be true/false, that areas with people in poverty leads to increased crime, including in neighboring areas, which would imply that to increase public safety, we should support people in poverty to help them live a comfortable life.


In niches with high background risk, having many children, who each attempt to reproduce as quickly as possible, is a... (read more)

So what you're saying is that by helping people, we might also improve their lives as a side effect? Awesome! :P More seriously, on individual level, I agree; whatever fraction of one's behavior is determined by their environment, by improving the environment we likely make the person's behavior that much better. But on a group level, the environment mostly consists of the individuals, which makes this strategy much more complicated. And which creates the concentrated dysfunction in the bad places. Suppose you want to take people out of the crime-heave places: do you also move the criminals? or only the selected nice people who have a hope to adapt to the new place? Because if you do the latter, you have increased the density of criminals at the old place. And if you do the former, their new neighbors are going to hate you. I don't know what is best; just saying that there seems to be a trade-off. If you leave the best people in the bad places, you waste their potential. But if you help the best people leave the bad places, there will be no one left with the desire and skills to improve those places a little. On the national scale, this is called "brain drain", and has some good and some bad effects; the good effects mostly consist of emigrants sending money home (reducing local poverty), and sometimes returning home and improving the local culture. I worry that on a smaller scale the good effects would be smaller: unlike a person moving to another part of the world with different culture and different language, an "emigrant" to the opposite side of the city would not feel a strong desire to return to their original place.
I wasn't mainly thinking of helping people move from one environment to another when I wrote this, but generally improving the environments where people already are (by means of e.g. UBI). I share many of your concerns about moving people between environments, although I suspect that done properly, doing so could be more beneficial than harmful

I am curious to hear people's opinions, for my reference:

Is epistemic rationality or instrumental rationality more important?

Do you believe epistemic rationality is a requirement for instrumental rationality?

2Ben Pace4mo
Without a functioning epistemology you cannot measure instrumental success. So I'd say the epistemology comes first.

One idea that I implicitly follow often is "Never assume anything is on the Pareto frontier"- even if something is good, even if you can't see how to improve it without sacrificing some other important consideration, it pays off to engage in creative thinking to identify solutions ⌞whose vague shape you haven't even noticed yet⌝. And if a little bit of creativity doesn't pay off, then that just means you need to think even more creatively to find the Pareto improvement.

(Note that I'm not advocating that only Pareto improvements should be aimed for, I believe sometimes the right move is a non-Pareto change)

I like to think of things that ask for specifiers like "Pareto" as projects. There are Pareto projects that leave everyone involved better off. There might be some side channel externalities that end up indirectly entangling more parties into the project, thus a Pareto project could end up revealed as not Pareto after all. A useful generalization of a project being Pareto is a project being Kaldor-Hicks, meaning that there exists a hypothetical redistribution scheme such that a project becomes Pareto if it's somehow administered. Doesn't have to be actually planned or feasible at all. It captures the colloquial meaning of "positive sum" projects that grow the collective pie, far better than false similarities to "zero sum". The useful thing about this concept is noticing when a project is not even Kaldor-Hicks. For example, an armed robbery is not Kaldor-Hicks, because there is expected damage and returning the spoils won't make everyone involved better off than originally in expectation.

I've noticed some authors here using [square brackets] to indicate how sentences should be parsed

(So "[the administrator of Parthia]'s manor" means something different from "the administrator of [Parthia's manor]")

Previous to seeing this usage, I had similar thoughts about the same problem, but came up with different notation. In my opinion, the square brackets don't feel right, like they mean something different from how they are being used.

My original notation was to use •dots• to indicate the intended order of parsing, though recently I've started using... (read more)

I like corner brackets more!
Corner brackets are pretty! I usually just connect every word with a hyphen if they're intended to be read together, eg. "In this definitely-not-silly example sentence, the potentially-ambiguous bits are all hyphen-connected".

I don't think I've heard this formulation before, to my knowledge (though I wouldn't be surprised if it is already a known formulation):

«The ratio of the probabilities is equal to the ratio of the conditional probabilities»

(Ummm... I'd be ever so slightly embarrassed if it turns out that's actually a quote from the sequences. It's been a while since I read them.)

If Bayes' rule is important, then there should be a compact notation for the underlying calculation. (Ideas with compact handles get used by the brain more readily & often)

I suggest the following notation:

X bayes Y, Z = X * Y / Z


P(B|A) bayes P(A), P(B) = P(A|B)

As an example:

If 25% of Hypotheticans are bleegs and 50% are kwops; and 30% of bleegs are kwops:

Then (30% bayes 25%, 50%) = 15% of kwops are bleegs.

( Since there are twice as many bleegs as kwops, and 30% / 2 = 15% )

TIL the Greek word "diagogue" means essentially "behaviour"- from «dia» "through" + «agogue» "to lead", essentially leading someone through one's actions. The reason I might use this word instead of behaviour is because "behaviour" puts the emphasis on what a person does, while "diagogue" makes me think more of what impact someone has on other people to inspiration and imitation through their actions.

Do the people you surround yourself with have good diagogue?

I've been thinking about writing a review of the book Atomic Habits, which I read last year on the recommendation of an LW user. As I remember, the main idea is a four-pronged approach to building habits:

  1. Make the habit / cue obvious

  2. Make it attractive

  3. Make it easy

  4. Make it rewarding

The idea is: you first need to notice that you are in a situation where you can benefit from doing the habit you want to do; then once you notice the situation, you want to have things set up so that you want (in the moment) to do the thing you wanted to do (in a more... (read more)

There was a recent article on Vox's Future Perfect [1] about the advantages and drawbacks of billionaire philanthropy.

This made me think of Public Goods Markets such as quadratic funding. These mechanisms provide advantages that neither billionaire philanthropy nor the traditional approach to government spending provide, since the distribution of money is decided according to the daily judgements of individuals, rather than by beauraucrats and political considerations as in governmental spending, but is more responsive to the multitude than traditional phi... (read more)

A- Look around you. You can see things above and below you; to the left and to the right; and in front of and behind you. These 3 dimensions seem to be the space that we live in, and it makes sense to use 3 numbers to specify different positions within that space- for example how many meters in front of me, to the right, and below me some object is.

B- But there is also time. Some things have already happened in the past, and some things I anticipate to happen in the future. This means that those 3 numbers do not suffice to describe every position in the en... (read more)

  1. Robust Delegation is the question of how one agent is able to build other agents whose goals help with / don't work against the original agent's goals (the concept is from Demsky & Garrabrandt's Embedded Agency essay).

  2. The actions an AI agent created by us takes towards us, is correlated with: the actions that •the systems that such an AI will inevitably need to instantiate, in order to acheive its goals• will take towards the original AI, is correlated with: the actions that we humans take towards e.g. animals of the type that we factory farm, is

... (read more)

I strongly suspect that the meme that "AI safety (/ EA in general) is not funding constrained" is false

I don't think think it's false!

I think there's a little too much focus on the concept of AGI, an "Artificial General Intelligence", that is, an AI that can do basically anything that a human can. However, I feel it's better to focus simply on the fact that the number of things that AI can accomplish well are rapidly increasing, and the list of things that can only be done by humans is getting shorter and shorter. Most of the implications of AGI are also implied by this trend, and it is cleaner to reason about the pace of this trend than about when precisely AGI will come (I hear many pe... (read more)

In Scott Alexander's post "Wither Tartaria", Scott contrasts a popular modern æsthetic - with clean edges and simple textures - with an æsthetic popular in days of yore - with detailed patterns and lifelike minutiae. Scott implicitly takes the position that the older style is better than the newer, but has inexplicably fallen out of fashion.

I am of a different mind- I genuinely like the æsthetic that Scott bemoans, and in particular, I find that it evokes feelings of futurism, utopia, and techno-optimism. For me, there is no mystery why the newer æsthetic ... (read more)

A commonly given reason for why Nordic countries tend to rank highly as desirable places to live, is because the people there are supported by a robust welfare system. In America, I've often heard it said that similar systems shouldn't be implemented, because they are government programs, and (the argument goes) government shouldn't be trusted.

This suggests the government as a potentially important point of comparison between the Nordic countries and the US. Are there features that differ between the American and Nordic governments (keep in mind that there... (read more)

How Parliamentary Elections Work in Finland

(These are my notes after skimming the Finnish Election Law)

For purposes of electing the Finnish Parliament, the country is divided up into 13 regions. Åland elects one representative, and the rest elect multiple (between 6 and 35) representatives. All representatives are elected through regions; there are no supra-regional representatives.

Candidates are generally grouped together into parties, joint lists, or electoral alliances. The distinction is not relevant to my notes here; in each, multiple candidates are n... (read more)

One aspect that drives my curiousity in this matter, is to see how this information can be used to implement a better system in my home state, California (I know I mentioned I want to leave California and the States, but even if I do leave, laying the groundwork for a better system here will be a good thing for California itself, America as a whole, and even the entire course of the history of humanity, and I care deeply about that). One difference that stands out to me is that Finland's Parliament is much larger (at 200 members) than any of California's representative bodies - The State Senate has only 40 members, the State Assembly is larger at 80 members, and our delegation to the US House is 52 members large. While the state-level bodies could be made bigger (and maybe even the State Senate could be abolished? It's not clear to me that it has any real purpose), the delegation to the US House is fixed, at least on the scale of effort I'm focusing on; and getting real change to happen will require the support of the people, and the fewer things that have to be changed, the more easy that will be to get, so I'd rather not try to change the size of the state legislatures unless it's really needed. Adopting a system similar to Finland, while holding the size of the bodies constant, will require either much smaller regions than in Finland, which would introduce substantial distortions, or will require a big reduction in the number of electoral districts, which I worry will not be popular in California (while I personally suspect regional representation is overrated, particularly in the context of proportional representation, people are used to electing regional representatives, and reducing regional representation is a criticism / concern I have heard mentioned seriously by people who don't support proportional representation). That causes me to suspect that while Finland's system works well over there, it would be better to focus on systems that work well with dis
I hadn't previously heard of this method of combining candidate-within-party and party-level preferences into a single vote. Seems like a nice, simple system.
I think that used to also be the case in Denmark, that a vote for candidate within the party was also a vote for the party, but that was changed for the reasons I mentioned above to the current system where one can vote for a different party than the chosen candidate's party.
One common point of feedback I received from my recent posts is that perhaps I'm a little too grounded in theoretical aspects, and not focused enough on what's actually going on. As part of my plan to address this, I am digging in deeper into what the actual systems are; another path that will be worth taking to address this is to look deeper into the reality of the situations in the countries I am looking at, and try to illustrate why their systems are leading to better or worse outcomes (without denying cultural factors, of course; but 1) I have a better grasp on how to change constitutions than how to change cultures - in California, the former is actually quite straightforward as long as there's public support, and 2) I suspect that culture is largely downstream of constitutions, with constitutions shaping incentives, and the incentives then shaping people's beliefs and values; more aligned constitutions will ultimately lead to more aligned culture). 

I want to preregister the following predictions before I dig into the data:

Of democratic (non-subsidiary) nations (as judged by having a EIU Democracy Index rating of at least "flawed democracy"; Hong Kong and similar are excluded due to not being sovereign), I expect for both the World Happiness Report and the Index of Economic Freedom, the median among nations that have at least one house of the national legislature elected via a form of proportional representation directly by the people, will be higher than the median for nations that do not, with 85% confidence

I further expect the median among PR democracies will be higher than the 75th percentile best rating for non-PR democracies with 60% confidence.

There has been a negative response to my most recent post ("I Want to Live in The Truly Free World, not in America"), and I have received some feedback about some weaknesses I can address in the future. (I'm aiming to write one post or shortform per day, with a preference for top-level posts, so you should expect to see more posts from me in the future that don't always succeed at being high-quality, though I will always strive to get things as right as feasible).

One potential weakness, that no one has mentioned yet, but which I suspect may have played a r... (read more)

First, "shithole country" is a bad category.  Specifics matter, and there are way more dimensions of preference than you probably have considered (or can consider).  Second, the US is not one country, in terms of lived experience.  There's more variance between different parts of the US (and between city/suburb/rural within a part) than between many countries. I can't disagree with wanting to live elsewhere, especially if you're young and don't have many local personal connections.  That's actually a really good exploration, and you should try it.  But it won't make everything better - some things will be surprisingly worse.  The good news is this is a reversible decision - if you don't like it, move somewhere else or move back.
Based on the 1 1/2 years I spent living in Denmark, that doesn't really ring true to me. The few bad things that do stand out, stand out precisely because so much else seemed so much better in Denmark than in the US (Specifically, I live in California, but my main problems feel more like national problems than state-level problems). There are a lot of differences, of course, that I could approximately go either way on.
I love Denmark, and can easily imagine that living there is better than California, for many people.  For me, the language difference would weigh pretty heavily after awhile, but that's less important for some.  More importantly, my work and career likely would take a bit of a hit outside of US coastal cities - that'll be worth it at some point, but it's real.   And most importantly, I do have social and family connections that matter, and living abroad made that enough harder to maintain that the other differences in location weren't worth it.
I think it might be worth exploring the differences between individual states in USA. If you find some that you like, it will be easier to move there. (New Hampshire, maybe?) Predictions are difficult to make, especially about the future. Some recent changes definitely seem worrying. What I don't know is, maybe it was always like this, each generation had their own reason to believe things were going to end poorly soon. It is also hard to say whether "X is increasing" means "there will be lot of X in the future" or "there will be a backlash against X soon, so we currently live in the era of maximum X". Inbuilt flaws, yes. Particularly notable right now, no. (Just my uninformed opinion.) You are probably right; the priors on a country being literally #1 are low. The question is, what is the greatest place to live in... for you... because different people prefer different things, and there is no country that is obviously best at everything. Could you perhaps find a remote job, and then travel a lot, to see where you feel best? Seems to me that you put too much emphasis on how the country works in theory. I believe you could have two countries with the same constitution and yet a quite different life experience. Because of different history, different neighbors, etc.
My recent posts have been focusing a lot on the theoretical side of things. I do plan on exploring less theoretical aspects in later posts, but since I'm trying to write a post every day, each post will inevitably be very zoomed in on a particular facet, and right now, I am focused on constutional factors. Part of this is because I'm trying to simultaneously explore the thesis that constitional factors play a very big role in the nature of countries; but I very much agree (and always have) that there are factors outside of a constitution that affect the nature of a country; but that does not mean that constitutions don't play an enormous role in the character of a nation. In English, "not the greatest" is often used in a non-literal way to mean "not very good" or even "quite bad", and this was the usage I was using here. Obviously America is unlikely to be #1, and the fact that it isn't is close to trivial (though for some people, that might be a revelation); but the claim I am making is that it isn't even a very good place to live. I do hope the latter is the case here. But the backlash can be slow to come, and it very well could come too late to matter. Federalism is (mostly unfortunately) becoming quite weak in the US, which means that many problems that crop up anywhere, crop up everywhere in the US. And the theoretical constitutional bits are important, and as far as I can tell, all 50 states still get that bit wrong, but at least each state has latitude to do things right unilaterally if they so choose.

The most amazing thing about America is that our founders figured out a way to cheaply hold a revolutionary war every 4 years

(Here, "cheaply" is most importantly measured in terms of human lives not sacrificed)

There's a good chance GitHub Copilot (powered by OpenAI Codex, a GPT-3-like AI by the same team) will be remembered by our robot inheritors as the beginning of the end of humanity

Because you see it as a form of 'code that writes code'? (I mean, I'm curious about such things affecting themselves in general. I wonder if Copilot could actually contribute to its source code somehow.)
The fact that it is code that writes code is indeed part of this. I'm a bit reluctant to say too much publicly, since I don't want to risk giving the wrong person any ideas.

Today, I learned that Vite Ramen is making a version of their healthy & convenient noodles that comes in a quick cup. If you haven't tried Vite before, I recommend checking it out.

I saw a post here on LW recently advocating for "Steelman Ping-pong". In the spirit of spending between 2 and 5 minutes (no more) each day writing, I played a 5-phase Steelman Ping-pong, with 1 minute per phase, on the topic of whether Chess should be played mainly with a fast or slow clock. Each paragraph tries to argue against the previous paragraph:

Chess is a measure of thinking ability, and while thinking things through thoroughly is important, being able to quickly react to situations and make good decisions is also important, and is a defining charac... (read more)

(The irony is not lost on me that the method through which this was written is basically the writing equivalent of blitz chess)

I am going to write every day for a very short amount of time each day. Right now I am writing for 2 1/2 minutes, but some days I'll write for as much as five minutes. But I will never write for more than five minutes – that is to say I cannot be putting words on paper for more than five minutes, but I can and expect myself to think throughout the day about what words exactly I want to say when I am putting words down on paper. This way I will be spending only a very short on time doing the most bottlenecked part of writing, but when I am thinking about wr... (read more)

While I do think there's benefit to get from writing more, one problem is that I oftentimes write a lot, but don't put in enough time to stitch together several pieces of work and compile things into a larger and coherent final product. I should probably figure out a framework and workflow that enables me to do this more.

Recently I was listening to a podcast with Scott Kelly on Tim Ferris's show, and Scott said something along the lines of "if you want to see what it's like to live on Mars, try living on Antarctica – it's relatively temperate compared to where you want to go". But this misses the key reason people don't live in Antarctica - it's not the harsh climate, though it is indeed harsh; it's that it gets very little sunlight. Even during the summer, which is when the sun is present, the sunlight is much weaker than the sunlight received in more equatorial locations... (read more)

1Zac Hatfield-Dodds2y
Interesting question! It turns out that the Canadians are checking whether there's enough light to grow tomatoes on Mars. Apparently mean insolation at the equator of mars is about equal to that at 75° latitude, well inside the (ant)arctic circle... and while Earth has winters where the sun is fully below the horizon, Mars has weeks-to-months long dust storms which block out most light. So it's probably a wash; Antarctica is at least not much worse than Mars for light while retaining all the other advantages of Earth like "air' and" water" and "accessibility".

Glancing at Jason Crawford's latest post "In the shadow of the great war", I was pondering about the hypothesis that people are less optimistic about the effects of technological growth – which seems like a very reasonable change in perspective considering the many negative side effects that have occurred from technological growth in the past century or so. 

This gets me thinking about how we can restore people's optimism in technological growth, and eliminating negative externalities seems vital to create an environment where people can be safe ... (read more)

On the topic of state-level electoral reform in the US, particularly regarding the representation of states in Congress: It was pointed out to me that while it is true that states have a large amount of leeway in determining what method they use to elect their representatives, Section 2c of Title II of the US Code does impose one big restriction: states must appoint their House representatives using only single-member districts. The relevant text reads:

> Representatives shall be elected only from districts so established, no district to elect more than ... (read more)

A good procedure for legislatures to choose premiers and their speakers would be to first use a secret approval vote, where each member may approve or dissaprove of each candidate for the position, and then to have an non-secret confirmation of the most approved candidate, requiring 50% confirmation to be appointed.

This will prevent party leaders from coercing members to vote in a specific way in choosing which person is nominated, but ensures accountability by making it known whether a member voted to confirm the nominated candidate.

I often find myself wishing that nutritious food was an order of magnitude cheaper; that, and housing (although I'm not paying rent in my current situation). With Huel drinks and Vite Ramen, I spend roughly ~$300 per month if I eat only that, which is a substantial amount of money, and in Central California, housing often costs ~$800 per month.

At my sallary, that's a large portion of what I make each month going towards keeping me fed and sheltered. But with a 1 OOM improvement, that drops to $100 between the two, which would free up a lot of money for other pursuits.

1Jan Czechowski2y
I'm not really sure if food shakes are the cheapest nutrition possible. They are optimized for time and convenience. Yeah they are probably cheaper than eating out, but I'm not sure how low you can get with cooking yourself from basic products, theoretically scaling up for a larger group of people. I guess thinks like armies and monasteries might have it figured out. Maybe interesting to check what's the average price of feeding a soldier / monk?

There's a useful pattern everybody knows about, but which I only noticed in my gut these last few years. If you want to not forget the North, the South, where's East, where's West, then watch the sky. You will find the Sun each morning laying low in the same direction in the sky. This is East, and every evening, Helios will go to rest opposing where it rose. This is West; now, in the tropics when it's noon the Sun is overhead; in the northern lands the sun will watch you from the south. Can you guess its noonly perch in southern lands?

Pay attention to this pattern every day - with time, on all the days you'll know the compass's directions well.

(I know poetic style isn't very popular on LessWrong. But I'll write however I damn well please; trust me not because I transcribe my thoughts in truncated trochees, but trust me because I try to say what is true- the wordly tricks are a treat for myself)

Some people have been suggesting that the Petrov Day button excercise should be an opt-in (rather than opt-out as it is now) event. I disagree with this: to get value from Petrov Day, we must entrust as many people as possible, and still succeed in not pressing the button; opting-in pushes against both of these constraints by providing a much smaller pool of candidates to choose from, resulting in a smaller (therefore much less impressive) group of trustees, that is simultaneously more likely to fail the exercise (due to fewer high-quality candidates being... (read more)

When a republic is considering reforming the way it elects holders of power, there are certain desirable criteria the chosen method should have: officeholders should be agreeable to all citizens, not just to a fraction of them, since maximizing agreeableness will select for competence and the desire to do right by the people; in bodies with many members (e.g. a legislature, but not a singular executive such as a president or prime minister), the various view points of the voters should be proportionately represented by the various members of the body; and ... (read more)

One potential criticism of this method is the appeal to precedence: while using party lists (modulo the similarity scores, which seems like a straightforward and uncontroversial improvement) in this way has been used to much success in the Nordic countries, approval voting is (somewhat surprisingly IMO) not well established. As far as governments go, I only know of St. Louis and Fargo, ND using approval- that is, two municipalities. One could observe the concern that we don't have much empirical data on how approval works in the real world. One response is simply to respond that experiments have to be done, otherwise we will never know what works. Perhaps it is ideal to do experiments starting small (e.g. Fargo and St. Louis) and building up towards larger results; but I also have a sense of urgency that voting reform in the US matters greatly, and the faster it can be implemented, the less likely the world is to go in a bad direction v within the next {5, 10, 20, 50} years. The other response is to observe that while we lack empirical data, the theoretical case for Approval is very solid and promising (I don't have time to further substantiate this right now)

For a long time, I found the words "clockwise" and "counterclockwise" confusing, because they are so similar to each other, and "counterclockwise" is a relatively long word at 4 syllables, much longer than similarly common words.

At some point in time, I took to calling them "dexter" and "winstar", from the Latin »dexter« and Middle English »winstre«, meaning "right" and "left", respectively. I like these words more than the usual "clockwise", but of course, new words aren't worth much of others don't know them, so this is a PSA that these are words that I ... (read more)

Are you aware that "deasil" and "widdershins" mean those from those roots already?
Widdershins is from a different root according to Wiktionary. I was not aware of those before, but I do still prefer my made-up terms.
Is it that intuitive to you that you should name the rotating object's direction using the movement of the top of the object? I think I would get confused with your words after a while. I just use "positive" and "negative" direction.
Is "positive" equivalent to clockwise (clocks) or counterclockwise (cartesian coordinates)?
Counterclockwise, I've never heard anyone use it for clockwise.

The following is a mantra I have decided to install, and will likely be the basis of my yearly theme for 2022:

Say no to everything, decuple down on what is most important

I was considering methods that are well-suited for electing groups of 3 or 5 candidates (for example, choosing regional representatives in a larger body, or appointing a small city coucil). I know of Single Transferrable Vote, which uses a ranked ballot; but I know ranked ballots in single-winner elections are inferior to score-based ballots, due to Arrow's Theorem. This made me consider cardinal (i.e. score-based) multi-winner elections.

Wikipedia names "proportional approval voting" and "sequential proportional approval voting" as such methods, but both c... (read more)

I think you mean a queue rather than a stack.
Correct, yeah

Recently here I have been mentioning the idea of using California as a nucleation point for encouraging electoral reform in the USA. Beyond state-level change, a potentially easier target than amending the US constitution is to change the ways that one or both of the major parties chooses its candidates, particularly in the presidential race. This can help address some of the scarier problems we've been seeing in national-level politics, without requiring all the effort and activation energy needed for constitutional change; but it will likely be harder than and downstream of state-level change.

The World Happiness Report rates each nation by the happines of its denizens, and provides a ranking of the happiest to least happy countries. While freedom and happiness are not the same thing, it stands to reason that they are correlated to some degree.

It is worth observing that of the top 10 most happy countries according to the report, all 10 have at least one house of their legislatures elected in a proportional manner by the people (which stands in contrast to e.g. USA, the UK, or Australia).

It might be worth noting here that Australia does generally use proportional voting for state legislative houses, which control most of the day-to-day laws that people live under. I'm not sure whether this comes under what you meant by "at least one house of their legislatures" or not. At the national level, one house does use a proportional voting system (in that multiple representatives are elected by the people per electorate in a manner proportional to their support), but the electorates are divided between states and not proportional to population. In the other house, electorates are proportional to population but each elects only one member.
I see, thanks for the correction. Australia is #11 in the 2020 report (the same as I was referring to above), so if anything, that further illustrates what I am saying.

Islam and Christianity are often viewed as two distinct, separate offshoots from Judaism, but a perspective where Islam is itself a descendant of Christianity is a useful lens. The founders of Islam were well aware of Christianity when Islam was founded, and while they reject the Christian Bible (both new and old testament) and its teachings as likely inauthentic, it seems that there are many properties (for example, the fervor with which they present their religion to the outside world) of Islam that it receives from Christianity that are not present in Judaism. (Islam also recognizes Jesus (or Isa) as a prophet, but that is secondary to the point I am making)

I cannot understand why anyone, at this point in history, would spend more than ~10% of their investment money on any assets that they would expect to take more than 3 years to double in value.

7Zac Hatfield-Dodds3y
What specifically do you think has a 26% expected ARR, while also being low-risk or diversified enough to hold 90% of your investable wealth? That's a much more aggressive allocation to e.g. the entire crypto-and-adjacent ecosystem than I'm comfortable with.
Definitely not crypto, at least not sustainably / predictably. Things along the lines of stock in Tesla, Microsoft, or Google, however, have been performing at such a pace, and I expect in most timelines they will continue that pace in the near future, enough for the expected value to be strongly positive. (Edit to add:) These stocks, and similar stocks, are in position to take advantage of value generated by trends that are currently starting / are underway, that will produce substantial real-world value, ignorans clades singularitatis, unlike most (almost all) crypto currencies.
1Zac Hatfield-Dodds3y
Ah, that position makes a lot of sense. Here's why I'm still in boring market-cap-indices rather than high-growth tech companies: * I think public equity markets are weakly inexploitable - i.e. I expect tech stocks to outperform but not that the expected value is much larger than a diversified index * Incumbents often fail to capture the value of new trends, especially in tech. The sector can strongly outperform without current companies doing particularly well. * Boring considerations about investment size, transaction fees, value of my time to stay on top of active trading, etc. * Diversification. Mostly that as a CS PhD my future income is already pretty closely related to tech performance; with a dash of the standard arguments for passive indices. And then I take my asymetric bets elsewhere, e.g. starting HypoFuzz (business plan).
Strong agree on this. But while they may capture only a fraction of the growth, I do expect that they will capture enough to grow substantially (this is, in part, helped by the overall growth I expect to be massive). But there is always a chance that even that doesn't happen. I do wish I had a better sense of what current upstarts are well-poised to make an even larger profit in the near future. This is certainly valid for the extreme size of my proposed allocation, but I suspect that you stand to profit even more from investing in high-growth stocks than you receive directly from your work; also, not all of the growth I expect is directly related to CS / AI, namely covering the Earth with solar panels, then putting solar panels / solar-powered computers into space (also something something nuclear). The latter case is my main justification for owning Tesla stock, and I'd say isn't overly strongly correlated with CS trends (although not incompletely either).
Historically, haven't assets that claim to take less than 3 years to double in value had a high probability of losing value instead? What are examples of the assets of this sort in the past few decades and at the present time?
Of course, it's easy for someone to claim that something will double in value quickly, and sometimes things even double in value quickly, despite being built on hot air (textbook example, the dutch tulip rush). The important trick is to use first-principles, real-world reasoning to identify the few opportunities that actually can generate real value that quickly. The world would be very different if such companies didn't exist. I invested in Tesla, Microsoft, and Google using such real-world, first-principles reasoning, and these companies has grown at such a clip during the time I have been invested in them (which has been for ~1-3 years depending on the specific asset)

In my post "No, Newspeak Won't Make You Stupid", I explored the thesis that 'cadence of information is constant', that even if someone uses words which communicate more information, they will have to slow down their speech to compensate, thereby preventing them from communicating a larger amount of information using a rich vocabulary. I then present an alternative hypothesis for why we use rich vocabularies anyways.

One important crux of the thesis, is that the human mind is only able to encode and decode a certain amount of information per unit time, and t... (read more)

I regularly listen to lectures on YouTube at 2x speed and my comprehension is fine. I can even go a bit faster with a browser plugin. This took practice. I gradually increased the speed over time. I think I can probably read text even faster than that. There are limitations. If the speaker has a thick accent, I can't comprehend it as fast. If the concepts are difficult, then even though I understand the words, I often still have to pause the video while I think it through. I have heard of blind people who use a narration interface on their smartphones and work up to 7x speed narration. If there are no surprises, humans can process language much faster than they can speak it.
Yeah, it definitely does seem to be possible to listen faster than we usually speak; at the same time, in public speaking classes, one is encouraged to speak slowly, so as to maximize the understanding of the audience. As you mention, the difficulty of concepts can require slowing down. While you can easily pause or rewind a video when you hit a part that you find tricky, you can't do that in a presentation. Furthermore, what one person finds easy could be hard for someone else, but then the two people could be in the opposite positions a few sentences later. Perhaps most ideas have some fraction of the people that need to process the idea, and the ideas that are hard vary from person to person, so in order to allow everybody to digest the parts they find tricky, a public speaker has to speak much slower than the people can actually understand, so no-one gets left too far behind while they're deep in thought.

I notice that I am confused why assurance contracts are not more widely used. Kickstarter is the go-to example for a successful implementation of ACs, but Kickstarter only targets a narrow slice of the things that could potentially be funded by ACs, and other platforms that could support other forms of ACs people often don't feel comfortable using. The fact that Kickstarter has managed to produce a brand that is so conducive to ACs suggests that people recognize the usefulness of ACs, and are willing to partake in them, but there's low-hanging fruit to extend ACs beyond just what Kickstarter considers 'art'.

Just a guess: transaction costs caused by scams and failed projects? Imagine that someone promises on Kickstarter to create a project, receives lots of money, and then delivers a thing which obviously is not the same thing or nowhere near the quality that was originally promised, but it still is something and the author insists that the result should count, and most backers -- but not all of them -- disagree. How are you going to resolve this mess? Someone is going to lose their money and be angry at you. Maybe with non-art these problems are even worse than with art. Maybe with art, you can legally argue that art is subjective, you put a bet on the author, you got something, and if you are not satisfied that's just your opinion, Kickstarter doesn't care whether in your opinion the product is insufficiently artistic. But with non-art, the backers could argue that the product violates some objective criteria, and the Kickstarter would have to take sides and get involved in a possible lawsuit? As an extreme example, imagine a Kickstarter-backed COVID vaccine, which according to one study is mildly helpful (like, reducing your chance of getting infected by 10%), according to another study is completely useless, and no one wants to spend their money on a third study. Is this a legitimate product, or should backers get their money back?
Yeah, I think scams and the possibility of sub-standard final product are both factors that make people hesitant to participate in non-Kickstarter ACs, and have also caused problems with Kickstarters in the past. I guess Kickstarter manages to set the bar high enough that people feel fairly willing to trust in a Kickstarter project, while people aren't as willing to trust other websites since they perceive a higher risk of scams / substandard final product. My impression is that it's not that hard to make a Kickstarter, but by, for example, requiring a video pitching the idea, that makes it less likely that people will submit low-effort projects.

The lethal dose of caffeine in adult humans is approximately 10 grams, while the lethal dose of theobromine (the main psychoactive chemical in chocolate, nearly identical structurally to caffeine, with similar effects) in humans is 75 grams (this is much lower in most animals, which is why you should never give chocolate to your pets). This can motivate a rough heuristic of 7.5 mg theobromine is roughly equal to 1 mg caffeine, and 750 mg theobromine is equivalent to one cup of coffee.

Therefore, to replace coffee with cocoa or chocolate, 6 spoons of unsweetened cocoa powder should replace a cup of coffee. 11 cups of hot chocolate (that's a lot) or 2 bars of dark chocolate should also work.

I've long been aware of the concept of a "standard drink", a unit for measuring how much alcohol a person has had, regardless of what they are drinking, so one "drink" of wine contains less liquid than one "drink" of beer, but more than one drink of vodka. When I started experimenting with chemicals other than ethanol, I intuitively wanted to extend this notion to other chemicals. For example, in my mind, I roughly equate 10 mg of Tetrahydracannabinol with one drink of ethanol. While the effects of these two chemicals are quite different, and work in diffe... (read more)

Question: Is it possible to incorporate Caffeine into DNA? Caffeine is structurally similar to Adenine, one of the four DNA nucleobases (and the A in ATCG). But looking at the structure, the hexagonal ring (which is the part of the DNA that bonds A to T and C to G) doesn't look very promising - there are two oxygen atoms that can bond, but they are a bit too far apart, and there are no hydrogens, and since DNA is held together by hydrogen bonds, the hydrogen will have to be provided by whatever it is paired to. Theobromine looks more promising, since a CH3... (read more)

I'm probably missing something, but Baye's Theorem seems quite overrated in this corner of the internet. (I've read all of the Sequences + the Arbital Guide)

You have an idea of how likely something is to happen, or an estimate of a figure, or a model of something in the real world (e.g: Peter is a guy who loves cats). You happen to get new information about this something (e.g: you see Peter viciously killing a cute kitten). You'd most likely update, with both epistemical consequences (you'd probably stop believing Peter is the cat-loving guy you thought) and instrumental or practical consequences (you wouldn't ask him to look after your cats while you are away on holiday). The way I see it, Bayes' Theorem tells you how much you should update your beliefs to take into account all the evidence you have, to be right as much of the time as possible, given the limited information you have. Obviously, as they say about information systems in general, "garbage in garbage out", which means you should worry about getting reliable information on the things you care most about, because even with the best possible update algorithm, if the information you get is biased, your beliefs and actions will not be right. I don't know if your criticism of the importance attached to Bayes' Theorem is because you feel other aspects are neglected or what exactly is your rant. Could you please elaborate a bit?

Currently I'm making a "logobet", a writing system that aims to be to logographies as alphabets are to syllabaries [1]. Primarily, I want to use emoji for the symbols [2], but some important concepts don't have good emoji to express them. In these cases, I'm using kanji from either Japanese or Chinese to express the concept. One thing that I notice is that the visual style of emoji and kanji are quite different from eachother. I wouldn't actually say it looks bad, but it is jarring. The emoji are also too bold, colourful, and detailed to really fit well as... (read more)

It is my view that Covid and then the common cold must be eradicated.

It is hardly an original thing to say, but I will say it.

It doesn't seem that there's a good name for the COVID variant that's currently causing havok in India, and will likely cause havok elsewhere in the world (including quite possibly in parts of the US). Of course, there's the technical term, Lineage B.1.617, but that's a mouthful, and not easily distinguishable when spoken in casual form from the many other variants.

It's often called in casual speech by the country where it first appeared, but it's generally considered bad form to refer to diseases by their location of origin, for reasons that I'm inclined... (read more)

Supposedly people who know how to program and have a decent work ethic are a hot commodity. I may happen to know someone this describes who is not currently employed (i.e: Me)

2Zac Hatfield-Dodds3y
The problem is that employers can't take your word for it, because there are many people who claim the same but are lying or honestly mistaken. Do you have, or can you create, a portfolio of things you've done? Open-soure contributions are good for this because there's usually a review process and it's all publicly visible.

On Relegation in Association Football

Recently 12 European football teams announced their intention to form a "Super League", which was poorly received by the football community at large. While I'm still learning about the details of the story, it seems that the mechanic of relegation is a central piece of the tension between the Super League clubs and the football community.

The structure of European football stands in contrast to, for example, the structure of American (Usonian) major sports, where the roster of teams is fixed, and never changes from year ... (read more)

In response to my earlier post about Myers-Briggs (where I suggested a more detailed notation for more nuanced communication about personality types), it was pointed out that there is some correlation between the four traits being measured, and this makes the system communicate less information on average than it otherwise would (The traditional notation would communicate 4 bits, my version would communicate ~9.2 if there was no correlation).

I do object to the characterization that it all measures "the same thing", since none of the traits perfectly predic... (read more)

Even logarithms

Achieve exponential heights

Long before you reach infinity

(not a poem only a formatted sentence)

Three types of energy:

  1. Potent energy
  2. Valued energy
  3. Entropic Energy

(2 + 3), as well as 3 are strictly non-decreasing over time, and generally increase, while 1 + 2 and 1 by itself are strictly non-increasing, and generally decrease.

You want to maximize for Valued Energy, and minimize Potent and Entropic Energy

Note that Valued Energy varies from agent to agent

Prediction: 80% chance that Starship SN10 lands in one piece tomorrow / whenever its first flight is

This happened, so this prediction comes in at 80% correct, although about 10 minutes after landing, the rocket blew up.

I have often heard it pronounced (Including by Eliezer) that group selection is not a thing, that evolution never selects for "the good of the species" - and it is true, in the sense, that if evolution is given the chance to throw the species under the bus for a slight gain to the individual, then it will never hesitate to do so. 

But there is a sense in which a group can be selected for - assume feature A is always bad for whichever species has it, and there are two species which occupy overlapping niches - one group with feature B, which makes featur... (read more)

Eliezer doesn't say that it is impossible, only "pretty unlikely". That is, under usual circumstances, when you do the math, the benefits of being a member of a tribe that benefits from group selection, although greater than zero, are much smaller than the individual benefits of defecting against the rest of the group. This is the norm, in nature. This is what happens by default. The rare situations where this is not true, require special explanation. For example, ants or bees can collectively gather resources... but that is only possible because most of them are infertile children of the queen, so they cannot spread their genes better by defecting against the queen. In your example, are the "groups" different species? In other words, is this about how bees would outperform bumblebees? In that case, the answer seems to be that the feature B itself is almost a miracle -- something that turns a profitable behavior into inprofitable behavior, without being itself selected against by evolution... how would you do that? (So how did bees evolve, if for their pre-bee ancestors, a worker being infertile was probably an evolutionary disadvantage? I have no idea. But the fact that there are only about three known examples in nature where this happened -- ants, bees, naked mole-rats -- suggests it was something pretty unlikely.) Then you have humans, which are smart enough to recognize and collectively punish some activities that harm the group. If they keep doing so for generations, they can somewhat breed themselves towards harming the group less. But this is very slow and uncertain process, because the criminals are also smart enough to hide their actions, the enforcement has many loopholes (crimes are punished less if you are high-status, or if you do the thing to enemies), different societies have different norms, social order breaks down e.g. during wars, etc. So we get something like slightly fewer murders after a few centuries of civilization.
It's worth noting that the infertility of worker bees is itself (seemingly) a form of genetic sacrifice, so it doesn't really explain why cooperation evolved among bees. The explanation that I'm familiar with is that male bees (this is also true of ants, but not molerats) only have one set of genes, instead of the usual pair, which means that their daughters always inherit the same genetic material from the father. This means that in the case that two bees share both the same father and mother (which isn't actually always the case in evolutionarily modern beehives, more thoughts on this later) then those bees will have 75% consanguity (improperly speaking, share 75% of their genes), whereas a mother bee only has 50% consanguinity with her own daughters (the same as between human siblings or between human parents and offspring). This means infertility can actually be a very effective strategy, and not at all altruistic, since a bee more effectively propogates her own genes by helping raise her younger (full) sisters than by raising children of her own. But it's worth noting that many haplodiploid species are not eusocial (for example wasps), and modern beehives often contain bees that have different fathers. Bees have the same consanguinity with half-siblings as humans have with their half-siblings (25%), and in principle, a bee should be able to better propagate her genes by having children of her own than by helping her half-siblings, yet we see bees helping raise their half-siblings all the time. While I wasn't around to watch the evolution of bees myself, here's one plausible story of how this situation could have come about: In the original beehives, a mother bee would have several children with one father. Since bees are more closely related to their full siblings than to their own offspring, most of the female bees would spend more time helping raise their siblings than on having children themselves. At this point in the process, if a bee tried to raise a fa

Reading through Atlas Shrugged, I get the sense that if becoming a billionaire (measured in USD) in gold isn't somewhere on your top ten life goals, Ayn Rand wants nothing to do with you.

I will modify that slightly for my own principle- if you don't want to one day have $1 billion worth of UBI Coin, then I don't want to be your friend, based on grounds that I expect can be justified using Functional Decision Theory (related to the fact that the expected value of being a random person in a society that uses mainly DDs is better than the expected value of be... (read more)

(Ideally, I would want to earn those $1 billion worth of UBI Coin via a Public Goods Market, that almost goes without saying)

A drug that arguably should be legal: a combined dysphoric / time-release euphoric, that initially causes incredibly unpleasant sensations in the mind, then after a few hours, releases chemicals that create incredibly pleasant sensations. Since humans discount time fairly aggressively, it seems possible to me to balance this so that it creates stronger, and longer positive experiences, while still not being addictive, due to the immediate negative sensations associated with it.

The unpleasant initial effects can include characteristics of the pill itself, b... (read more)

What happens if we assume that a comfortable life and reproduction are inviolable priviledges, and imagine a world where these are (by the magic of positing) guaranteed never to be violated for any human? This suggests that the number of humans would increase exponentially, without end, until eventually some point is hit where the energy and resources available in the universe, available at the reach of mankind, is less than the resources needed to provide a comfortable life to every person. Therefore, there can exist no world where both reproduction and a... (read more)

With vaccines on the horizon, it seems likely that we are nearing the end of lockdowns and the pandemic, but there is talk of worry that it's possible a mutant strain might resist the vaccine, which could put off the end of the pandemic for a while longer.

It seems to me that numerous nations have had a much better response to the pandemic than any state in the US, and have been able to maintain a much better quality of life during the pandemic than the states, including New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea. For someone with the flexibility, moving to one of... (read more)

In "Emedded Agency", Scott and Abram write:

In theory, I don't understand how to do optimization at all - other than methods that look like finding a bunch of stuff that I don't understand, and seeing if it accomplishes my goal. But this is exactly the kind of thing that's most prone to spinning up adversarial subsystems.

One form of optimization that comes to mind that is importantly different, is to carefully consider a prototypical system, think about how the parts interplay, and identify how the system can be improved, and create a new prototype that... (read more)

I think capitalism staddles the line between these two modes: an inventor or well-function firm will optimize by making modifications that they actually understand, but the way the market optimizes products is how Scott and Abram describe it: you get a lot of stuff that you don't attempt to understand deeply, and choose whichever one looks best. While I am generally a fan of capitalism, there are examples of "adversarial subsystems" that have been spun up as a result of markets - the slave trade and urban pollution (e.g. smog) come to mind.

I recently wrote about combining Grand Chess with Drop Chess, to make what I felt could become my favorite version of chess. Today, I just read this article, which argues that the queen's unique status as a 'power piece' in Orthodox Chess - a piece that is stronger than any other piece on the board - is part of what makes Orthodox so iconic in the west, and that other major chesslikes similarly have a unique power piece (or pair of power pieces). According to this theory, Grand Chess's trifecta of power pieces may give it less staying power than Orthodox C... (read more)

Recently I was looking at the list of richest people, and for the most part it makes sense to me, but one thing confuses me: why is Bernard Arnault so rich? It seems to me that one can't get that rich simply off of fashion - you can get rich, but you can't become the third richest person in the world off of fashion. It's possible that I'm wrong, but I strongly suspect that there's some part of the story that I haven't heard yet- I suspect that one of his ventures is creating value in a way that goes beyond mere fashion, and I am curious to figure that out.

4Matt Goldenberg3y
Most of his wealth comes from his stake in LVMH, a luxury real estate group.   Edit: Actually LVMH is involved in several luxury verticals, not just real estate.
But that doesn't answer my question. What is LVMH doing that makes them so valuable? Wikipedia says they "specialize in luxury goods", but that takes us right back to what I say in my original post. What value is LVMH creating, beyond just "luxury"? Again, I may be wrong, but it just doesn't seem possible to become the third richest person by selling "luxury" - whether real estate, champagne, clothes, or jewelry.
2Matt Goldenberg3y
Expensive real estate actually seems like a great way to become one of the richest people.  Maybe we just have different priors.     Edit: apparently, the real estate isn't where they make their money though...
I agree that real estate can make a person rich. But the path I see for that is only tangentially connected to luxury
2Matt Goldenberg3y
For most sectors, I think there's tiers.  Apple sells less devices at a slightly more expensive price point than e.g. Microsoft or Google.  I think the highest tiers, that only a few can afford, but at the highest price point (which is actually a selling point of your product) makes intuitive sense as a path to being one of the richest, and real estate, as an asset class, makes intuitive sense to apply this strategy to.
An infographic I found shows that LVMH's revenues are driven by the following sections: "Fashion and leather goods" is 38% of LVMH's revenues "Selective retailing" is 28% "Perfumes and cosmetics" is 13% "Wines and Spirits" is 10% Between these, they account for ~90% of the value of LVMH, with watches and jewelry making up most of the remaining 10%. So perhaps I should be asking: What is LVMH's fashion and retail sectors doing to make them so valuable? I will also note, that this is the percentage of revenues, not profits. I might want to find out the proportion each of these sectors contributes to profits (to ensure I don't accidentally chase a high-revenue, low profit wild goose), and I could probably find that out by looking at LVMH's shareholder report.

It's a shame that in practice Aumann Agreement is expensive, but we should try to encourage Aumann-like updating whenever possible.

While, as I pointed out in my previous shortform, Aumann Agreement is neither cheap nor free, it's powerful that simply by repeatedly mutually communicating the fact that they have opposing beliefs, two people can come to arrive at (in theory) the same beliefs together, that they would have if they had access to all the information the other person has, even without being aware of the specific information the other person has.

W... (read more)

I don't think there's any shortcut. We'll have to first become rational and honest, and then demonstrate that we're rational and honest by talking about many different uncertainties and disagreements in a rational and honest manner.
Not sure I agree with you here. Well, I do agree that the only practical way I can think of to demonstrate honesty is to actually be honest, and gain a reputation for honesty. However, I do think there are ways to augment that process: right now, I can observe people being honest when I engage with their ideas, verify their statements myself, and update for the future that they seem honest; however, this is something that I generally have to do for myself, and if someone else comes along and engages with the same person, they have to verify the statements all over again for themselves; multiply this across hundreds or thousands of people, and you're wasting a lot of time; and I can only build trust based on content that I have engaged with; even if a person has a large backlog of honest communication, if I don't engage with that backlog, I will end up trusting that person less than they deserve. If there are people who I already know I can trust, it's possible to use their assignment of trust to give trust to people who I otherwise wouldn't be able to. There are ways to streamline that. Regarding rationality, since rationality is not a single trait or skill, but rather many traits and skills, there is no single way to reliably signal the entirety of rationality; however, each individual trait and skill can reliably be signaled in a way that can facilitate building of trust. As one example, if there existed a test that required an ability to robustly engage with the ideas communicated in Yudkowsky's sequences, if I noticed that somebody had passed this test, I would be willing to update on that person's statements more than if I didn't know they were capable of passing this test. (I anticipate that people reading this right now will object that test generally aren't reliable signals, and that people often forget what they are tested on. To the first objection, I have many thoughts on robust testing that I have yet to share, and haven't seen written elsewhere to my k

Riemannian geometry belongs on the list of fundamental concepts that are taught and known far less than they should be in any competent society

If the two ever conflict [1], rational irrationality is better than irrational rationality

[1] Which I assert they sometimes do

What are they?
For example, on Newcomb's Problem, rational irrationality chooses to take only one box (despite the fact that many methods of 'rational' analysis would suggest it receives more by taking two), thereby earning $1,000,000; while irrational rationality chooses to take both boxes, and finds itself with only $1,000. Rational irrationality chooses to commit to a seemingly "irrational" course of action, but actually wins. Irrational rationality tries to use rational analysis, but by doing so forfeits utility.

Any libertarian who doesn't have a plan to implement a Universal Basic Income in one form or another ultimately subscribes to an inherently contradictory philosophy. Liberty can only be realized when a person is not forced against their will to work in order to live.

So a forager animal with no predators isn't free because it has to look for food?
I'm not sure currently what my thoughts on that situation are. The concepts of freedom and liberty are kinda non-natural concepts, that I have a good framework for discussing meaningfully regarding humans, but the further away an entity gets from being similar to a person, it's harder for me to think concretely about what freedom is. I do suspect in some sense "liberty" is a concept whose specific relevance and salience to humans is unique in contrast to most other forms of life, including many closely related animal species- the human desire to have control over one's own destiny is a social emotion that likely developed to help us maximize our success in the context of the human social environment, which is quite unique even in comparison to other great ape social structures. None of this is meant, of course, to imply that animals and apes can't or don't value freedom, either extrinsicly or intrisicly, just that the human case is unique and I don't at this moment have a good framework for extrapolating my post to non-human lifeforms.
Why do you believe that your concept of freedom is automatically the same as the concept of freedom that other libertarians use?
Even in a "state of nature" you need to work in order to live — even if that's just gathering food from the environment.
State of nature ≠ liberty
Agreed, but my understanding is that most "libertarians" aren't trying to top-down maximize liberty or anything like that but are starting from state of nature and extrapolating some kind of social contract from there.
I think on the level you're evaluating, ALL political philosophies (perhaps excluding solopsistic or nihilistic ones) some inherent contradictions.  If you take them as "preference for slight to major changes from the status quo" rather than "a complete description of a perfect end-state", they get a lot more reasonable. It's quite consistent to decry some of the more egregious current impositions on liberty without demanding the additional impositions on some that would further free some others.