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…the question does sometimes haunt me, as to whether in the alternative Everett branches of Earth, we could identify a distinct cluster of “successful” Earths, and we’re not in it.

This Failing Earth, Eliezer Yudkowsky


Does anyone else wonder similar things about the EA/rationality scene? If we could scan across Tegmark III, would we see large clusters of nearby Earths that have rationality & EA communities that embarrass us and lay bare our own low standards?

Over a year later, I stand by this sentiment. I think this thought experiment is important and underrated.

Important but frustrating rationalist skill: getting halfway through a comment and then deleting it because you realized it was wrong

<comment deleted by author>

I have a strong anti-Twitter attitude. I will now charge rent from this attitude in the form of anticipated experiences.

My attitude:

Twitter is psychotoxic. That is to say, it has a negative influence on one’s mood, habits, personality, reasoning ability, and so on. Using twitter causes people to practice mental behaviors that are corrosive to clear thinking and agency both immediately and longer-term. The easy availability of bite-sized content is eroding people's ability to read longer-form content like blog sequences or books. Twitter deserves the same condemnation that the 24h news cycle gets and much more. I believe that if far fewer people used Twitter, my life would be noticeably better.

I feel my attention being tugged at by the Twitterverse even when I have been away from it for a long time (weeks or longer). This is in part a sensible worry--Twitter does have noticeable effects on the world, and I wish I could do something.

This is a hackneyed pattern, but: Twitter is the 21st century’s tobacco. It is an addictive, next-gen intoxicant.

On a podcast, I heard some guy recommend that you “don’t let Twitter be the background music of your life. When you’re hanging out with your ... (read more)

4Matt Goldenberg
I get a lot from twitter, including several great relationships, thousands of dollars in sales, and a steady stream of new ideas.  I'd venture that there are good and bad ways to use twitter like there are good and bad ways to use nicotine.
2Gordon Seidoh Worley
This is also my experience of Twitter. Strangely it's not how I experience Facebook, which I like and find I feel better after checking in on my friends, but I know plenty of people seem to have the same reaction to Facebook you and I have to Twitter.
I don't use Twitter, so I can't make a comparison, but how difficult it is to create your own bubble? My guess would be that being okay with Facebook is related to how strong your bubble is. At least in my experience, I mostly get angry when I get a view outside my bubble. The insanity of average internet user (weighted by how much they write online) is terrifying.

When i’m walking around through my daily life, it helps me to think of myself as a character in a cyberpunk weirdtopia.

  • Phone anxiety ruining my nature walk? Yeah that’s cyberpunk, even if it wasn't anticipated by Neuromancer.
  • Strolling over to the donut shop for a nice pastry...amid a bungled global health crisis of disputed origin? Yup, that sure counts.
  • Detouring down a beautifully verdant neighborhood, past a consecution of strident culture war yard signs, presumably influenced in some part by foreign psyops like the IRA? Definitely cyberpunk.
  • Scratching my head over the risks of cryptocurrency hodling vs the risks of pandemic-driven inflation? Cyberpunk af.

Hiro Protagonist, the protagonist of Snow Crash wouldn’t complain about these things; he would go on a sassy, sciencey, poetic monologue about it and appreciate it all for what it was.

I'm looking through some of the posts tagged Practical. I notice that a lot of them, especially the older ones, seem overoptimistic in similar ways. Here are a few of my particular thoughts:

  1. Daily interventions need to be usable by busy, tired zombies. Or else they will only be usable by people who already have well-balanced lives (or people with hypomania or something). 
  2. Closely related, sometimes people omit cost-benefit analysis entirely, as if their practical intervention pays for itself immediately. Even when an analysis is included, I think it often underrates trivial inconveniences and willpower costs. Some of these things sound so easy and simple, and yet if I'm tired after a day of work, it can feel like a major imposition to defy my automatic, low-effort habits. And it's not just me, when I see the people around me trying out new life hacks, I can often feel the resentment radiating off of them that they have to spend a week's worth of their discretionary willpower on a small expected gain.
  3. I perceive some complacency about resource budgeting, specifically around resource sinks that are optimized against you. It is my guess that if you show someone a way to save time on
... (read more)
I think Everyday Systems is pretty good on this axis.

New Year’s resolution for 2021: get better at Relinquishment, the Second Virtue.
I’ve already unlocked the power of writing down controversial opinions in private, and even though it's not specifically meant to be a relinquishment exercise, I’m eager to exploit it as one. I’m also eager to try out more tools that make relinquishment easier. I might look for ways to make Leaving a Line of Retreat less effortful and more efficient. Recommendations welcome.

A prairie is qualitatively different than a billiard table or an asteroid belt: If you tried to use basic kinematics and free body diagrams to describe a prairie ecosystem, you would find that most of the interesting action was left unexplained. To handwave away air resistance and viscosity is to handwave away all the birds. To handwave away friction is to handwave away basically every other mobile life form. And I think it only gets worse if you move from a prairie to a rainforest--floating spores, flying snakes, geckos, soft but breakable eggs, all manne... (read more)

"Put simply: inconsistency between words and actions is no big deal. Why should your best estimate about good strategies be anchored to what you're already doing? The anti-hypocrisy norm seems to implicitly assume we're already perfect; it leaves no room for people who are in the process of trying to improve."  — Abram Demski, Hufflepuff Cynicism on Hypocrisy "With 'unlimited power' you have no need to crush your enemies. You have no moral defense if you treat your enemies with less than the utmost consideration.  With 'unlimited power' you cannot plead the necessity of monitoring or restraining others so that they do not rebel against you. If you do such a thing, you are simply a tyrant who enjoys power, and not a defender of the people.  Unlimited power removes a lot of moral defenses, really. You can't say 'But I had to.' You can't say 'Well, I wanted to help, but I couldn't.' The only excuse for not helping is if you shouldn't, which is harder to establish.  You cannot take refuge in the necessity of anything - that is the meaning of unlimited power."  — Eliezer Yudkowsky, Not Taking Over the World

For Winter Solstice, I recommend listening to the album "Soon It Will Be Cold Enough to Build Fires" by Emancipator.

Particularly, "Father King" and "Anthem". For me personally, "Father King" is the solstice song.

After having listened to "Soon it Will be Cold Enough" about 7 times, I must say I agree. I like "Good Knight", "Anthem", and "When I Go" most. "When I Go" is very solsticy because of the repeating words "When I go, I will be long gone" which I think is about death. There is "The Darkest Evening of the Year" which, I guess, is exactly about the winter solstice. P.s. "Father King" is not a part of "Soon it Will be Cold Enough", so I've never listened to it. Will try now.

In measuring and communicating about the temperature of objects, humans can clearly and unambiguously benchmark things like daily highs and lows, fevers, snow, space heaters, refrigerators, a cup of tea, and the wind chill factor. We can place thermometers and thereby say which things are hotter than others, and by how much. Daily highs can overlap with fevers, but neither can boil your tea.

But then I challenge myself to estimate how hot a campfire is, and I'm totally stuck.

It feels like there are no human-sensible relationships once you're talking a... (read more)

Off the top of my head I can definitely sort these into tiers. I don't know any numbers though other than 2700K for incandescent filaments and like 600F for self-cleaning ovens.

solar flares (these are made of plasma and go very fast, so they're very hot)
welding torches (hottest combustion temperatures, much above this everything is plasma)
incandescent filaments, volcano, boiling point of lead, fighter jet exhaust (most things melt and glow white or yellow, normal combustion)
campfires, Venus, self-cleaning ovens (most things don't melt and glow reddish or not at all)

No idea where to put fulgerites or Chernobyl because I don't know what happens to things there. But you can definitely make inferences like:

  • ~everything melts in a welding torch, but incandescent filaments don't melt because if they got close they would break. So welding torch > incandescent filaments
  • incandescent filaments > Venus because we sent cameras to Venus in the 1970s, the cameras didn't immediately melt, and not everything was glowing bright yellow in the pictures
9Carl Feynman
You can get a visceral understanding of high degrees of heat.  You just need real-life experience with it.  I’ve done some metalworking, a lot of which is delicate control of high temperatures.  By looking at the black-body glow of the metal you’re working with, you can grok how hot it is.  I know that annealing brass (just barely pink) is substantially cooler than melting silver solder (well into the red), or that steel gets soft (orange) well before it melts (white hot).  I don’t know the actual numerical values of any of those. I still have no feeling for temperatures between boiling water and the onset of glowing, though, so I don’t know whether cooking phenolic resin is hotter or colder than melting lead.  Both of them are hotter than boiling water, but not hot enough to glow.
Fire temperature can be computed from the fire's color.
I wonder what other qualities or continuums are analogous to this?  Hearing doesn't seem to be the same in that unlike heat it scales up logarithmically (what is the scale between perceived temperature and the actual energy per part?). Nor does colour partly because we perceive colour through the combination of Red, Green (to which we are most sensitive) and Blue (to which we are least sensitive), although if you think about light as a narrow window of electromagnetic radiation then perhaps there is some comparison to be made between gamma rays and fight jet exhausts, and Terrestrial Radio signals to liquid nitrogen for example. What about distance? I'm thinking in particularly about how in English use Deixis words like "here", "there" (and in the past: "hither", "thither", and "yonder") - I wonder if nomadic peoples have a more nuanced even if non-numeric standardized way of describing proximity which is very anthropic in measurement? "1,000 miles" is not a tangible distance to consider.
2Carl Feynman
The imaginary nomad in my head would describe 1,000 miles as “sixteen days ride.”  That‘s humanly comprehensible.     An American would say “Day and a half drive, if you’re not pushing it.  You could do it in one day, if you’re in a hurry or have more than one driver.”
What's interesting about those examples is the domestication of the Horse and the mass production of the motor vehicle have changed the (intuitive?) intelligibility of distance, perhaps in a way that is not comparable to our interpretation of heat? But also that both are measured in days which implies rest and sleep.
Would I somehow feel this problem less acutely if I had never been taught Fahrenheit, Celcius, or Kelvin; and instead been told everything in terms of gigabytes per nanojoule? I guess probably not. Inconvenient conversions are not preventing me from figuring out the relations and benchmarks I'm interested in.

Scott Alexander says "Ezra Klein is great. I know a lot of people throw shade on him for founding Vox. But as Van Gogh said about God creating the world, 'We must not hold it against Him; only a master could make such a mistake'. Ezra is a master[...]"

I've never deliberately perused Klein's output, but I've been fairly...repelled by what little I've seen. But that was some pretty glowing praise from Scott; I must be missing something. Googling "what is ezra klein's best writing" isn't very enlight... (read more)


Foregone mutually beneficial trades sometimes provide value in the form of plausible deniability. 

If a subculture started trying to remove barriers to trade, for example by popularizing cheerful prices, this might have the downside of making plausible deniability more expensive. On net that might be good or bad (or weird), but either way I think it's an underrated effect (because I also think that the prevalence and load-bearing functions of plausible deniability are also underrated). People have prospects and opportunity costs, often largely comprisi... (read more)

I'm planting this flag right here and now: the phenomena of social class (putatively distinct from economic class) is very broad, very deep, and anti-inductive. For these reasons, no no one really knows what's going on or has anything close to the full picture. As a rough heuristic, the more well-known and easily changed a class stereotype is, the more likely it is to be out of date. 

I followed a link to an article about how Facebook was used to facilitate a genocide in Myanmar. I got a few paragraphs into it and then thought, "Wait, the New York Times is telling me a scandalous but murky story about Big Tech and world events...and I’m just condensing that as 'known facts of public record.' Isn’t this Gell-Mann amnesia?"

So then I felt myself searching for reasons why the NYT could be trusted more about this kind of thing, but found it difficult to come up with a single specific reason that I actually believed. So then I supposed that i... (read more)

Sometimes helps with us politics. For international news I have at times delved into the GDELT data set but that's lot of work.

News headlines have measurable, harmful effects on people so I never want them to be shown to me without my explicit consent. But YouTube does not have an option to permanently disable the Breaking News section.

The only solutions to this I know of are:

  1. Contort my usage by never opening the main page of YouTube
  2. Use uBlock with a custom filter to get rid of the news section.
  3. Stop using YouTube

I consider this to be psychotoxic design, plain and simple. The next time I need an example of tech companies doing something bad, I will have to reach no further than this.

YouTube does have a "Don't recommend channel" button. Judicious use of this option, plus not clicking on news, can dramatically reduce the quantity of news displayed.
Where does this Breaking News section appear? Is this a horror inflicted only on those poor souls that log in?

Schank’s law: “Because people understand by finding in their memories the closest possible match to what they are hearing and use that match as the basis of comprehension, any new idea will be treated as a variant of something the listener has already thought of or heard. Agreement with a new idea means a listener has already had a similar thought and well appreciates that the speaker has recognized his idea. Disagreement means the opposite. Really new ideas are incomprehensible. The good news is that for some people, failure to comprehend is the beginning of understanding. For most, of course, it is the beginning of dismissal.”


What good thing happens if you read The Sequences?

  • You see repeated examples of rigorous thought about slippery topics, very deliberately setting up the seductive cached answers and then swerving away from them.
  • Exposure to a lot of carefully applied Transhumanism. Mostly in Fun Theory but also sprinkled throughout. The transhumanism is sincere and often emotionally charged, not just smug philosophical gotchas.
  • The concepts & jargon are really useful. Yeah, jargon has its downsides, no doubt, but it is still overwhelmingly net positive.
  • A thorough ar
... (read more)

Sometimes I scroll social media (because I am yet weak) and I see rationalists raising Concerns about various news topics and current events.

Here’s a list of concerns and potential actions, including those I see as inadequate.

... (read more)

Alright, you lost the double-crux. Now go ahead and bite these bullets. There you g--nope. Oh nonononono ahahahaha no. I'm not handing them to you. No, I'm going to hold them out and you're going to munch on them out of my hand like a docile horse.
There we go, much better.

Double cruxes aren't supposed to be something you win or lose, as I understand it - a double crux is a collaborative effort to help both parties arrive at a better understanding of the truth. It's problematic when admitting that you're wrong, and changing your mind is called "losing"
-1Eli Tyre
Strong agree. People can loose debates, but debate != Double Crux.
I will note that I'm surprised that this currently stands at negative karma (-1) [edit: now it's not anymore]

Point well taken that technological development and global dominance were achieved by human cultures, not individual humans. But I claim that it is obviously a case of motivated reasoning to treat this as a powerful blow against the arguments for fast takeoff. A human-level AI (able to complete any cognitive task at least as well as you) is a foom risk unless it has specific additional handicaps. These might include:
- For some reason it needs to sleep for a long time every night.
- Its progress gets periodically erased due to random misfortune or enemy acti... (read more)

My understanding is that smart human engineers fail to make capability-increasing edits to the "brains" of current AI systems. If the AI brains remain the same style, I don't think they'll be easier to edit when they're human level.

There are things I would buy if they existed. Is there any better way to signal this to potential sellers, other than tweeting it and hoping they hear? Is there some reason to believe that sellers are already gauging demand so completely that they wouldn't start selling these things even if I could get through to them? 

I've seen a few people run the thought experiment where one imagines the best life a historical person could live, and/or the most good they could do. There are several variants, and you can tune which cheat codes they are given. People seem to get different answers, and this has me pretty curious.

  • Eliezer said in the sequences that maybe all this rationality stuff just wouldn't help a 14th century peasant at all, unless they were given explicit formulas from the future. (See also, the Chronophone of Archimedes.)
  • I've heard people ask why the industrial revo
... (read more)

In this shortform post I will pontificate about some sentiments I sometimes see on twitter. It feels important for me to say, but I can't promise that it will be a good use of any readers' time.

The Fourth Virtue of Rationality is Evenness. One who wishes to believe says, “Does the evidence permit me to believe?” One who wishes to disbelieve asks, “Does the evidence force me to believe?” Beware lest you place huge burdens of proof only on propositions you dislike, and then defend yourself by saying: “But it is good to be skeptical.” If you attend only to fa

... (read more)
Note that Eliezer is saying that evenness is a "fellowship cue", not that he is very even.
Now this is more like it.

They deserve sympathy, but also they must be stopped/avoided/distrusted.

This sentiment is common and I wish there was a common and compact way to express it. Notice the dissonance if the conjunction "but" is swapped out for "and".

1Bruce Lewis
Sympathize with them, but also with those affected by them.

I assume that the whole flat earth thing will lose its contrarian luster and fall out of style in the next few years. But suppose that's wrong. How soon until there are significant numbers of flat-earther kids enrolling in kindergarten? Will they be like existing fringe religious minorities? Will they mostly be homeschooled? My real best guess is that flat-earthers don't have kids so this won't happen.

Some smart, scrupulous, rational news junkie should write a periodical report on the state of anti-epistemology. I sort of worry that memeplexes, including a... (read more)

As a result the book lacks an intellectual vision. It’s just highly competent in a slick, oversocialized way where little true personality comes out. If the book were a person it’d be like many of the people I met at the elite business school where I briefly studied: smooth, well-oiled bundles of overly appropriate behaviors seemingly dictated by the situation rather than emerging from a strong underlying personality.

(from this Everything Studies post)

I want there to be at least 10 more John Nersts out there. Writing, influencing, telling it like it is.... (read more)

Which book?
The post talks about this book, I assume the first paragraph is supposed to be a quote.
Yeah, it was. Fixed.

Ice cream for breakfast with coffee grounds stirred in. Try it.

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply
I'm not sure I get it.  Do you re-freeze the ice-cream after melting to incorporate the grounds?  Is it actually necessary to eat the coffee grounds, or is a good coffee concentrate (3x strength cold-brew, for instance) sufficient?  Does it matter that it's breakfast, as opposed to a later pick-me-up treat?  I occasionally have, and highly recommend, an affogato (double-shot of espresso over a scoop of vanilla gelato).  I've not tried it at breakfast (I generally look for a little more protein and less carbs first-thing), and at first glance I wouldn't expect it to be improved by eating the coffee grounds with it.
I just stirred the grounds in really hard so it was softened but not too melty. It's probably not something you would want if you also wouldn't want a sugary, creamy coffee.

Talk is cheap. No wait, talk is free. Actually, sometimes talk is cheaper than free--holding your tongue can cost willpower or reputation or understanding.

When you ask an older person, "what do you wish you had known when you were my age?" I think their answer is in large part determined by your framing and phrasing of the question.

Increasing specificity seems to help when people are prone to overly broad answers. "What major mistake were you making in your 30s that you stopped making by your 40s?"
Changing the subject to a different person seems to help too. "What did [some other person] do really right? What is something they think of as a major personal triumph which is better explained by luck?"
Framing qu... (read more)

Let's start a new trend where you refuse to speak to journalists unless they can guarantee that the final publication will contain a link to your side of the story.

If you can be replaced by someone else, I am almost certain the journalist will simply find another target. But if the article is going to be about you... this could be interesting. Even if they asked other people to give them quotes about you, I believe there is still the norm of asking you for a quote. And "add this link" seems like a reasonably simple request that would be difficult to deniably refuse. "Mike asked us to include a 20-character URL in the article, but that would go completely against our journalist independence and integrity, so we had to refuse this blackmail" sounds kinda stupid. (You definitely should make the link short and simple.) I would still expect some passive-aggressive reaction; at the very least, making the link unclickable, but probably also making a typo in it. "We honestly tried to follow his silly request, but hey, mistakes happen."

In our scary new memetic fitness landscape, I think I’ve started to develop a default skepticism toward pith and sass. These days, the pithier and sassier something is, the more likely it is to trigger my deception alarms.

When something 240 characters or less sounds really good, it is increasingly likely that this is because it evolved to sound good to me, rather than because it has any deep wholesomeness.

Interestingly, for me, pith and sass have always been suspect.  It's only recently that my skepticism of longer, more factual-appearing (but even if true, very often cherry-picked and misleading) posts and articles has started to catch up. I believe a default skepticism toward all group and mass communication is appropriate.

But as always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle can only be seen when considering multiple orthogonal factors, after which projecting onto a single dimension will throw out so much information as to be worse than useless.

“Well if I am the victim of a cult then they must have brainwashed me pretty well, because all of your reasons just sound like shallow insults to me."

This posted 4 times. This was the fourth time.

Thank you. I can't even delete the duplicates. Mods, please help. Devs, please add delete option.
Resolved - at least the first part :)

This posted 4 times. This was the second time.

Here are some thoughts about numeracy as compared to literacy. There is a tl;dr at the end.

The US supposedly has 95% literacy rate or higher. An 14yo english-speaker in the US is almost always an english-reader as well, and will not need much help interpreting an “out of service” sign or a table of business hours or a “Vote for Me” billboard. In fact, most people will instantaneously understand the message, without conscious effort--no need to look at individual letters and punctuation, nor any need to slowly sound it out. You just look, scan, and interpre... (read more)

Should I drink sardine juice instead of dumping it down the drain?


I eat sardines that are canned in water, not oil, because I care about my polyunsaturated fatty acid ratio. They're very unappetizing but from my inexpert skimming, they seem like one of the best options in terms of health. But I only eat most of the flesh incidentally, with the main objective being the fat. This is why I always buy fish that is unskinned, and in fact I would buy cans of fish skin if it were easy.

So on this basis, is it worth it for me to just go ahead and choke down the sardine water as well? ...or perhaps instead? It is visibly fatty.

I drink it or more precisely mix it with my bowl of beans and veggies.
Seems like you should at least try it once.
I remember reading that fish oil pills do not seem to have the same effect as actual fish. So maybe the oily water will also be less effective.

Uh oh, do you really leave the news playing in your living room all the time? Don't you know it's corrosive to your epistemics and agency? Plane crashes are overrated and chronic stress is underrated!

This is pretty much my default attitude, but...SSC once wrote that smoking possibly mitigates schizophrenia, and that "[t]his should be a warning to anyone who’s too quick to tell patients that their coping strategies are maladaptive."
News does have those downsides, just like smoking does cause cancer. But it's good to remember that load-bearing bugs are the r... (read more)

Insightful Articles about Politics

Slightly inspired by this post from Julia Galef. I've selected the following posts because they are insightful specifically at the meta-level.

What science fiction should I read? Any subgenre.

I ask because I'm rereading HPMOR and I just reread Eliezer's posts about memetic collapse and local validity. I kinda feel like I'm missing out, but I don't know where to look beyond googling "classic sci fi" or "sci fi cult hits". I like HPJEV as a protagonist and would like to see more of that sort. I'm probably going to reread Ender's Game next in order to scratch the itch a bit.

Here are my idiosyncratic preferences, in case it helps:
My top 5 stories probably include The Martian, Rendezvous with Ra... (read more)

Not exactly / only sci-fi, but Rational Reads is a good place to look if you liked HPMOR.
Greg Egan.

Don't yum my yuck. My disgust reactions are valid.

Ehn.  Especially for children, type-1 errors (false yuck) are far more common and problematic than type-2 errors (false yum).  Both certainly happen, but it's neither the case that taste is universal nor that individuals are always correct, even about their own best-interest eating.

The Lizardman Constant shows up in a poll from Tom Scott.

I wonder if the Lizardman Constant is actually constant. I could imagine it changing over time, hypothetically for the same reason that I hear more about Flat Earth theory today than I did 5 years ago. Maybe there ought to be a whole family of parameters--a family which includes unbelievably wacky and fringe but pre-existing theories like Lizardmen, as well as plausible-sounding but freshly fabricated ones like the North Dakota Crash. And it would be nice if they were given labels that are sticky whi... (read more)

When I allow myself to have inconsistencies in my beliefs and attitudes, I’m just using my brain the way it evolved to work. Accepting that I can’t untangle everything is necessary to make any progress.

When other people let themselves have inconsistencies, it is out of self-serving bias; it is anti-social and they ought to do better. Their persistence in trying to have it both ways causes excess harm.

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