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My experiments with nootropics continue. A few days ago, I started taking sulbutiamine (350mg/day), a synthetic analog of thiamine which differs in that it crosses the blood-brain barrier more readily. The effects were immediate, positive, and extremely dramatic - on an entirely different order of magnitude than I expected, and probably the largest single improvement to my subjective well being I have ever experienced. A feeling of mental fatigue and not wanting to do stuff - a feeling that leads to spending lots of time on blogs, playing video games and otherwise killing time suboptimally (though not necessarily the only such feeling) - just up and vanished overnight. This was something that I had identified as a major problem, and believed to be purely psychological in nature, but was, in fact, entirely biochemical. On the first day I took sulbutiamine, I felt significantly better, worked three hours longer than normal, and went to the gym (which would previously have been entirely out of character for me).

That said, I do have a concrete reason to believe that this effect is atypical. Specifically, I believe I was deficient in thiamine; I believe this because I'm a type 1 diabeti... (read more)


Oh, in other news, the FDA is apparently going after piracetam; reports that it's been ordered to cease selling piracetam and is frantically trying to get rid of its stock. See

That is infuriating! The fools!
This puts Robin Hanson's criticism of the FDA in a new perspective for me.
They blew it up! They blew it all up! Goddamn them to hell! (Wrong allusion?)
Yikes! Hits close to home for me! I had actually ordered bulk piracetam about a week ago, in an order with two other supplements. When the shipment arrived, the piracetam wasn't in it, and it had a note saying it was out of stock and I wouldn't be charged for it, but I'd be informed when it was available again. I thought it was strange at first, since they wouldn't have taken the order if they weren't able to reserve a unit for my order. (This isn't fractional reserve banking, folks!) But that explanation makes a lot more sense. If only I had placed the order a few days earlier...
Just-in-time techniques always struck me as being very close to fractional reserve banking, actually... Anyway, elsewhere in that Reddit page, users mention that other nootropics seem to be getting harder to find lately like choline and huperzine-a. (I tried huperzine-a and wasn't impressed, but I kind of need the choline to go with any piracetam.)
Strange. My local grocery store with a health food/supplement aisle just started stocking a choline/inositol blend (saw it for the first time two days ago). I previously got the choline in a different supplement section, from a product called LipoTrim.
I noticed that a lot of the reviews were complaining about the taste - were you using it in its raw form, or putting it into capsules?
I put it in capsules. Besides getting around the taste, it's also much more convenient that way; rather than having to measure and prepare some every day, I can sit down and prepare a month's worth of capsules in 30 minutes. The more different supplements you take, the more important it is to do it this way.
Have you considered buying or selling capsules? It seems unlikely that this is something you should do yourself, but only for yourself. Also, before you said that you filled 10 capsules per minute. Do you take 10 capsules per day? Do you mix piracetam and choline in a single capsule?
I've considered buying capsules, but decided to get powder instead because it's cheaper and allows more flexibility if I change dosage or decide to pre-mix stuff. I couldn't sell the capsules I make because I don't measure them precisely enough (they vary by +/-10% or so). I currently take 5 capsules day - two of piracetam, two of choline citrate, and one of sulbutiamine. Putting together capsules sounds hard, but it's actually quite easy. You get empty gel caps, which come as two unequally sized pieces that fit together tightly enough to stay in place but loosely enough to pull apart. Take the pieces of the capsule apart, pack some powder into the larger piece, put them together, and drop it on a scale. If it's within acceptable range, drop it in the 'done' container, otherwise open it back up and add some or remove some. After a dozen or so, you get the hang of it and can hit a 10% tolerance pretty consistently on the first time. Wear latex gloves so the gel caps won't stick to your fingers and you don't get hair and sweat in the powder tub. (Edit: the discrepancy between my saying a month's worth of capsules in 30 minutes, and a rate of 10/minute, is due to setup and cleanup time; and neither of these numbers was precise to more than a factor of 2.)
If it's good enough for you, it may be good enough for customers; it's just a different niche. It may also be an illegal niche. ETA: flexibility is a good reason.
I'm not speaking for Jim but I note that I find mixing the racetams with the choline source convenient. It allows for simply adjusting the dose while keeping the same ratio.
With nootropics, everything tastes bad. I dissolve my stuff in hot water when I make tea, and wash it down with the latter. It didn't taste worse than just piracetam+choline, FWIW - that's foul enough to mask pretty much any taste.
1otto renger5y
homemade capsules is a good idea,I used to buy some capsules and filler machines from a Chinese supplier.
Very interesting — thanks for the information. I'm trying piracetam right now, but this also sounds like something I'd like to try. I have similar problems with mental fatigue and low motivation... unfortunately, I don't yet have even a vague sense of the biochemical basis for my issues (my symptoms match chronic fatigue, but it seems like its causal structure is not well-understood anyway). But it's worth a try, I suppose. Are you taking this and the piracetam at the same time, or did you stop the piracetam to try this?
Both at the same time. (I have no particular reason to think they interact, I'm just following the strategy of changing only one thing at a time.) I hope sulbutiamine works for you; but if it doesn't, don't give up, it just means the biochemical issue is somewhere else, and there are many more safe things to try.
I tried both ways. They didn't seem to interfere or interact.
While re-reading the reports here for summary in my personal drugs file, it suddenly occurred to me that your experience with sulbutiamine might be on the level of pica & iron deficiency, and so worth mentioning or linking as a comment in .
That's quite interesting. I recently finished up my own 30g supply of sulbutiamine, and while I thought that it does work roughly on the level of piracetam without choline supplementation, I wasn't hugely impressed. But I am not diabetic nor do I match any of the descriptions of beriberi in Wikipedia. (Didn't last me 85 days, however. 200mg strikes me as a pretty small dose.)
1Johannes C. Mayer6mo
It seems that Benfotiamine (none of the other tiamines are over the counter in Germany) had a similar effect on me. I feel a lot better now, whereas before I would feel constantly tired. Before I felt like I could not do anything most of the time without taking stimulants. Now my default is probably more than 50% towards what I felt like on a medium stimulant dose. I did try a lot of interventions in the same time period, so I am not sure how much Benfotiamin contributed on its own, but I expect it to contribute between 25-65% of the positive effects. I also figured out that I am borderline diabetic, which is evidence in favor of Benfotiamine being very significant.
Thanks for the reminder regarding sulbutiamine. That stuff is fantastic! I'll add that sulbutiamine is one of the nootropics that is absolutely foul tasting!

Bridging the Chasm between Two Cultures: A former New Age author writes about slowly coming to realize New Age is mostly bunk and that the skeptic community actually might have a good idea about keeping people from messing themselves up. Also about how hard it is to open a genuine dialogue with the New Age culture, which has set up pretty formidable defenses to perpetuate itself.

Hah, was just coming here to post this. This article sort of meanders, but it's definitely worth skimming at least for the following two paragraphs:

One of the biggest falsehoods I've encountered is that skeptics can't tolerate mystery, while New Age people can. This is completely wrong, because it is actually the people in my culture who can't handle mystery—not even a tiny bit of it. Everything in my New Age culture comes complete with an answer, a reason, and a source. Every action, emotion, health symptom, dream, accident, birth, death, or idea here has a direct link to the influence of the stars, chi, past lives, ancestors, energy fields, interdimensional beings, enneagrams, devas, fairies, spirit guides, angels, aliens, karma, God, or the Goddess.

We love to say that we embrace mystery in the New Age culture, but that’s a cultural conceit and it’s utterly wrong. In actual fact, we have no tolerance whatsoever for mystery. Everything from the smallest individual action to the largest movements in the evolution of the planet has a specific metaphysical or mystical cause. In my opinion, this incapacity to tolerate mystery is a direct result of my culture’s disavowal of the intellect. One of the most frightening things about attaining the capacity to think skeptically and critically is that so many things don't have clear answers. Critical thinkers and skeptics don't create answers just to manage their anxiety.

Excellent article, thanks for the link! Let's keep in mind that she also wrote about how inflammatory and combative language is counterproductive, and the need to communicate with people in ways they have some chance of understanding.
What she said wasn't that simple-- she also talks about trying to get her ideas across while being completely inoffensive, and having them not noticed at all. When we're talking about a call to change deeply held premises, getting some chance of being understood is quite a hard problem.

Can't decide? With the Universe Splitter iPhone app, you can do both! The app queries a random number generator in Switzerland which releases a single photon into a half-silvered mirror, meaning that according to MWI each outcome is seen in one branch of the forking Universe. I particularly love the chart of your forking decisions so far.

With an endorsement from E8 surfer dude!
If all you want is single bits from a quantum random number generator, you can use this script.

I'm looking for something that I hope exists:

Some kind of internet forum that caters to the same crowd as LW (scientifically literate, interested in technology, roughly atheist or rationalist) but is just a place to chat about a variety of topics. I like the crowd here but sometimes it would be nice to talk more casually about stuff other than the stated purpose of this blog.

Any options?

8Document14y fits that description somewhat, for values of "casually" that allow for copious swearing punctuating most disagreements. I haven't posted there, but Kaj Sotala posts as Xuenay (apologies no apologies for stalking). Examples of threads on LW-related topics: * Logic Fallacy reference thread Mk. 2 * The Singularity in Sci-Fi (haven't read) * Robots Learn How to Lie * Mini-FAQ on Artificial Intelligence (the thread that properly introduced me to SIAI) * This derailment about Three Worlds Collide * Rationality (short) * And the Winner for Most Probable God is... Azathoth? * Transhumanism: is it viable? (Edited after first upvote; later edited again to add a link.)
This is something I'd very much like as well. If you find anything, let me know. xkcd forums can be pretty good, though I haven't been on there in a while.
If all else fails, we can make one of our own.
I was thinking the same thing.
I honestly keep hoping that subreddits will be implemented here sometime soon. Yes, "off-topic" discussion technically doesn't fit the stated purpose of the site, but the alternative of having LWers interested in having off-topic discussion having to migrate off-site to some other discussion forum seems ridiculous to me.
Pharyngula. More atheist than rational, and more biology than technology, but it is definitely a community. It is a blog, but has an interesting feature called the endless thread which is kind of "collective stream of consciousness". Check it out. And also look at other offerings in the science blogosphere. [Edit:supplied link.]
I would not suggest Pharyngula for this purpose. The endless thread is fun but the rationality level there is not very high. It is higher than that of a random internet forum but I suspect that many LWians would become quickly annoyed at the level at which arguments are treated as soldiers.
Agreed. Myers himself is way too political, and basically not nice. If anybody ever calls him on that, they get an insane level of vitriol and accusations stopping just short of being in league with the Vatican.
Truth, bro. It is pretty rowdy.

What fosters a sense of camaraderie or hatred for a machine? Or: How users learned to stop worrying and love Clippy

I recommend reading the article-- I didn't realize people could be recruited that easily.

I’m not sure whether the satanic ritual abuse and similar prosecutions of the 80s/90s have ever been discussed on LW in any detail (I couldn’t find anything with a few google searches), but some of the failures of rationality in those cases seem to fit into the subject matter here.

For those unfamiliar with these cases, a sort of panic swept through many parts of the United States (and later other countries) resulting in a number of prosecutions of alleged satanic ritual abuse or other extensive conspiracies involving sexual abuse, despite, in almost all cases, virtually no physical evidence that such abuse occurred. Lack of physical evidence, of course, does not always mean that a crime has not occurred, but given the particular types of allegations made, it was not credible in most cases that no physical evidence would exist. It is hard to choose the most outrageous example, but this one is pretty remarkable:

Gerald [Amirault], it was alleged, had plunged a wide-blade butcher knife into the rectum of a 4-year-old boy, which he then had trouble removing. When a teacher in the school saw him in action with the knife, she asked him what he was doing, and then told him not to do it

... (read more)
My father was a forensic psychiatrist heavily involved in some of these cases, testifying for the defense of the accused. The moral panic phenomenon is real and complex, but there's a more basic failure of rationality underlying the whole movement which was the false belief in the inherent veracity of children. Apparently juries (and judges alike) took the testimony of children at face value. The problem was that investigative techniques of the social workers invariably elicited the desired reactions in the children. In law you have the concept of leading the witness, but that doesn't apply for investigations of child abuse. The children are taken away from their parents and basically locked up with the investigators until they tell them what they want to hear. It wasn't even necessarily deliberate - from what I understand in many cases the social workers just had a complete lack of understanding of how they were conditioning the children to fabricate complex and in many cases outright ridiculous stories. Its amazing how similar the whole scare was to historical accounts of the witch trials. Although as far as I know, in the recent scare nobody was put to death (but I could even be wrong about that, and certainly incalculable damage was done nonetheless).

Having a dog in the room made subjects 30% less likely to defect in Prisoner's Dilemma (article; sample size 52 people in groups of 4).

This changes my views on pet ownership completely.

Excellent link. A particularly noteworthy excerpt:

[Q:] I assume that most people in these jobs aren't actually trying to convict innocent people. So how does such misconduct come about?

[A:] I think what happens is that prosecutors and police think they've got the right guy, and consequently they think it's OK to cut corners or control the game a little bit to make sure he's convicted.

This is the same phenomenon that is responsible for most scientific scandals: people cheat when they think they have the right answer.

It illustrates why proper methods really ought to be sacrosanct even when you're sure.

The welcome thread is about to hit 500 comments, which means that the newer comments might start being hidden for new users. Would it be a good thing if I started a new welcome thread?

While I'm at it, I'd like to add some links to posts I think are especially good and interesting for new readers.

OK, I'm seeing some quick approval. I've been looking back through LW for posts and wiki articles that would be interesting/provocative for new readers, and don't require the entirety of the sequences. Here's my list right now: * Newcomb's Problem and Regret of Rationality * The True Prisoner's Dilemma * How to Convince Me that 2 + 2 = 3 * The Least Convenient Possible World * The Apologist and the Revolutionary * Your Intuitions are Not Magic * The Third Alternative * Lawful Uncertainty * The Domain of Your Utility Function * The Allais Paradox (with two followups) * We Change Our Minds Less Often Than We Think * The Tragedy of Group Selectionism And from the wiki: * Near/Far thinking * Shut Up and Multiply * Evolutionary Psychology * Cryonics * Religion What should I add? What, if anything, should I subtract?
Due to heavy personal history bias: That Alien Message. I would take out anything that involves weird stuff regarding dead people, but that might be better A/B tested or surveyed. My own expectation is that hitting readers with the crazy topics right away is bad and a turn-off while it is better to give out useful and interesting things in the beginning that are relatable right away. [Edit: important missing word added]
Corrected. I meant cryonics, and some of the applications of 'shut up and multiply'.
Ah. As you can see on the page itself, I decided to leave out the wiki links (for basically the same reasons you mentioned.) I'll add That Alien Message.

A couple of viewquakes at my end.

I was really pleased when the Soviet Union went down-- I thought people there would self-organize and things would get a lot better.

This didn't happen.

I'm still more libertarian than anything else, but I've come to believe that libertarianism doesn't include a sense of process. It's a theory of static conditions, and doesn't have enough about how people actually get to doing things.

The economic crisis of 2007 was another viewquake for me. I literally went around for a couple of months muttering about how I had no idea it (the economy) was so fragile. A real estate bust was predictable, but I had no idea a real estate bust could take so much with it. Of course, neither did a bunch of other people who were much better paid and educated to understand such things, but I don't find that entirely consoling.

This gets back to libertarianism and process, I think. Protections against fraud don't just happen. They need to be maintained, whether by government or otherwise.


The economic crisis of 2007 was another viewquake for me. I literally went around for a couple of months muttering about how I had no idea it (the economy) was so fragile. A real estate bust was predictable, but I had no idea a real estate bust could take so much with it.

That depends on what exactly you mean by "the economy" being fragile. Most of it is actually extremely resilient to all sorts of disasters and destructive policies; if it weren't so, the modern civilization would have collapsed long ago. However, one critically unstable part is the present financial system, which is indeed an awful house of cards inherently prone to catastrophic collapses. Shocks such as the bursting of the housing bubble get their destructive potential exactly because their effect is amplified by the inherent instabilities of the financial system.

Moldbug's article "Maturity Transformation Considered Harmful" is probably the best explanation of the root causes of this problem that I've seen.

Sometimes I think the only kind of libertarianism that makes sense is what I'd call "tragic libertarianism." There is no magic market fairy. Awful things are going to happen to people. Poverty, crime, illness, and war. The libertarian part is that our ability to alleviate suffering through the government is limited. The tragic part is that this is not good news.
There's another tragic bit-- some of what government does makes things worse. There's no magic government fairy that guarantees good (or even non-horrible) results just because a government is doing something.
Yes, exactly.

I'm considering starting a Math QA Thread at the toplevel, due to recent discussions about the lack of widespread math understanding on LW. What do you say?

Here is all the math you need to know to understand most of LW (correct me if I'm wrong): * The Khan Academy (For the basics.) * A Guide to Bayes’ Theorem – A few links (Just this might do too.) I'm working through all of it right now. Not very far yet though. You might want to add computer science and basic programming knowledge too.
Some people, including me, can get away with knowing much less and just figuring stuff out as we go along. I'm not sure if anyone can learn this ability, but for me personally it wasn't inborn and I know exactly how I acquired it. Working through one math topic properly at school over a couple years taught me all the skills needed to fill any gaps I encountered afterwards. University was a breeze after that. The method of study was this: we built one topic (real analysis) up from the ground floor (axiomatization of the reals), receiving only the axioms and proving all theorems by working through carefully constructed problem sets. An adult could probably condense this process into several months. It doesn't sound like much fun - it's extremely grueling intellectual work of the sort most people never even attempt - but when you're done, you'll never be afraid of math again.
I had to figure out ALL myself, without the help of anyone in meatspace. I'm lacking any formal education that be worth mentioning. The very language I'm writing in right now is almost completely self-taught. It took me half a decade to get here, irrespective of my problems. That is, most of the time I haven't been learning anything but merely pondering what is the right thing to do in the first place. Only now I've gathered enough material, intention and the basic tools to tackle my lack of formal education.
Ok, you might add some logic and set theory as well if you want to grasp the comments. Although some comment threads go much further than that.
I'm not sure that people necessarily know what questions they need to ask, or even that they need to ask. A math Q&A seems like a good idea, but it would be a better idea if there were some "the math you need for LW" posts first. There was a very nice piece here (possibly a quote) on how to think about math problems-- no more that a few paragraphs long. It was about how to break things down and the sorts of persistence needed. Anyone remember it?
I have been wanting something like this on LW for quite awhile, but wasn't sure it was on topic. With your linked post in mind, however, I think this is a good idea, and I, for one, would be an active participant.

[Originally posted this in the first August 2010 Open Thread instead of this Part 2; oops]

I've been wanting to change my username for a while, and have heard from a few other people who do too, but I can see how this could be a bit confusing if someone with a well-established identity changes their username. (Furthermore, at LW meetups, when I've told people my username, a couple of people have said that they didn't remember specific things I've posted here, but had some generally positive affect associated with the name "ata". I would not want t... (read more)

Your username reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite South Park episodes (slightly NSFW).

I've been thinking more and more about web startups recently (I'm nearing the end of grad school and am contemplating whether a life in academia is for me). I'm no stranger to absurd 100 hour weeks, love technology, and most of all love solving problems, especially if it involves making a new tool. Academia and startups are both pretty good matches for those specs.

Searching the great wisdom of the web suggests that a good startup should be two people, and that the best candidate for a cofounder is someone you've known for a while. From my own perspective, ... (read more)

If you weren't already aware, Hacker News has a lot of discussion about startups.
Great community. I like the discussion there in general. Most of the people have a great innate rationality, even when it isn't as dissected and methodical as it is here.
Funny, the NYC Meetup (today) is going to touch on this topic ('cause I've been thinking about it). It's one of the "ways rationalists can make money", IMO.
I agree, it does seem like a great untapped potential for a rationalist community. The obvious question is, does being a rationalist make you a better founder of a startup? Or, more relevant here, does being a rationalist of LessWrong stripes make you a better founder? When it comes to programming prowess, I doubt rationality confers much benefit. But when it comes to the psychological steel needed to forge a startup: dealing with uncertainty, sunk costs, investors, founder feuds, etc... I think a black belt in rationality could be a hell of a weapon!
BTW, we having this discussion here:
I think dealing with uncertainty is key. I think Frank Knight formulated the idea that this is where the greatest returns are; I feel that this is something rationalists should be better than average at. I also think this should give advantage to rationalists in areas other than startups, though startups definitely come to mind.

Quick question about time: Is a time difference the same thing as the minimal energy-weighted configuration-space distance?

That is among the most difficult 'quick questions' I have ever seen.
I meant 'quick' in the sense of 'relating to the nature of quickness'.
Will a correct answer to this question give you significant help toward maximizing the number of paperclips in the universe?
I have no idea.

IMO, the quality of comments on Overcoming Bias has diminished significantly since Less Wrong started up. This was true almost from the beginning, but the situation has really spiraled out of control more recently.

I gave up reading the comments regularly last year, but once a week or so, I peek at the comments and they are atrociously bad (and almost uniformly negative). The great majority seem unwilling to even engage with Robin Hanson's arguments and instead rely on shaming techniques.

So what gives? Why is the comment quality so much higher on LW than on... (read more)

I wasn't reading OB before LW existed, but if you look there now, it's immediately apparent that the topics represented on the front page are much, much, much more interesting to the average casual reader than the ones on LW's front page. I wouldn't be surprised if the commenters tended to be less invested and less focused as a result. (EDIT: I shouldn't say the "average casual reader," since that must mean something different to everyone. I clarified what I meant below in response to katydee; I think OB appeals to a large audience of interested laymen who like accessible, smart writing on a variety of topics, but who aren't very interested in a lot of LW's denser and more academic discussion.)
I suppose I'm not the average casual reader, but here's my comparison-- Less Wrong front page: -Occam efficiency/rationality games-- low interest -Strategies for confronting existential risk-- high interest -Potential biases in evolutionary psychology-- mid-level interest -Taking ideas seriously-- extremely high interest -Various community threads-- low/mid interest -Quick explanations of rationality techniques-- extremely high interest -Conflicts within the mind-- mid/high interest Overcoming Bias front page: -Personality trait effects on romantic relationships-- minimal interest -Status and reproduction-- minimal interest -Flaws with medicine- mid-level interest -False virginity-- no interest beyond "it exists" -(In)efficiency of free parking-- minimal interest -Strategies for influencing the future-- high interest -Reproductive ethics-- minimal interest -Economic debate-- minimal interest Only two of the Overcoming Bias articles were interesting to me at all; only one was strongly interesting, and it was also short. Less Wrong seemed, at least to me, to have better/more interesting topics than Overcoming Bias, which might be why it has better/more interesting discussions.
I totally agree with you; that's why I'm here! But personally, I know a lot of fairly smart, moderately well-educated people who just aren't very interested in a life of the mind. They don't get a lot out of studying philosophy and math, they read a little but not a lot, they don't seek intellectual self-improvement, and they aren't terribly introspective. However, they all have a passing interest in current events, technology, economics, and social issues; the stuff you'd find in the New Yorker or Harper's, or on news aggregators. Hanson's writing on these topics is exactly the sort of thing that appeals to that demographic, whereas Less Wrong is just not.
I certainly find Hanson's anecdotes far more useful when socialising with people that have interested in hearing surprising stories about human behaviour (ie. most of the people I bother socialising with). The ability to drop sound bites is, after all, the primary purpose of keeping 'informed' in general.
It seems unusual that people would have a passing interest in technical issues in economics but not psychology.
Hmm, you seem to be seeing a totally different OB "front page" to me. Where are you seeing those articles? edit: nevermind, I thought this was the current open thread. I didn't see that it was from 2010.
7Eliezer Yudkowsky14y
I remember there being lots of bad comments on the old OB, and I think that putting a karma system in place, and requiring registration, helped an awful lot.
I expect that was the biggest reason. When I started following OB it basically was Eliezer's blog. Sure, occasionally Robin would post a quote and an interpretation but that was really just 'intermission break' entertainment. I do note that comments here have been said to have reduced in quality. That is probably true and is somewhat related to lacking a stream of EY posts and also because there aren't many other prominent posters (like Yvain, Roko, Wei, etc.) posting on the more fascinating topics. (At least, fascinating to me.)
lol, yeah, that's the impression I got in the OB days. When there was discussion about renaming the site, I half-seriously thought it should be called "Eliezer Yudkowsky and the backup squad" :-P Oh man, just you wait! I'm almost done with one. Here's the title and summary: Title: Morality as Parfitian-filtered Decision Theory? (Alternate title: Morality as Anthropic Acausal Optimization?) Summary: Situations like the Parfit's Hitchhiker problem select for a certain kind of mind: specifically, one that recognizes that an action can be optimal, in a self-interested sense, even if it can no longer cause any future benefit. A mind that can identify such actions might place them in a different category which enables it to perform them, in defiance of the (futureward) consequentialist concerns that normally need to motivate it. Our evolutionary history has put us through such "Parfitian filters", and the corresponding actions, viewed from the inside, feel like "the right thing to do"; we are unconvinced by arguments that point out the lack of a future benefit -- or our estimates of the magnitude of what future benefits do exist is skewed upward. Therein lies the origin of our moral intuitions, as well as the basis for creating the category "morality" in the first place.
I know I've been mentioning Good and Real constantly since I read it, but this sounds a bit like the account of human decision theory (morality) in G&R...
I've made about six different 3-paragraph posts about G&R in the past three weeks, so I think you're safe ;-) And yes, it does draw heavily on Drescher's account of the overlap between "morality" and "acting as if recognizing subjunctive acausal means-end links" (which I hope to abbreviate to SAMEL without provoking a riot).
Anyone know how to do linked footnotes? Where you have a link that jumps to the bottom and one at the bottom that jumps back to the point in the text? I suppose I could just do [1], [2], etc., but I figure that would annoy people.
I'm looking forward to that one! I can't guarantee that I'll agree with all of it (it will depend on how strong you make some of the claims in the middle) but I can tell I'll be engaged either way. My first impression from the titles was that the 'Alternative' one was far better. But on reflection it sounds like the first title would be more accurate.
That sounds like a follow-up or generalization of your blog post on Parfit's Hitchhiker and intellectual property. I look forward to it!
Who, in particular, said the comments have reduced in quality? Your post seems weasel-wordy to me as it currently stands.
rhollerith_dot_com is one. I don't think I am being excessively controversial here. Ebbs and flows of post content are inevitable and even just looking at the voting trends in the post list. There is little shame in such a variation... it is a good sign that people are busy doing real work! Perhaps, but it was also polite. I did not (and still am not) providing the explicit link because I don't see it necessary to direct people to the surrounding context. The context represents a situation that was later shown to be a success story in personal development but at that time reflected negatively.
In the OB days, I mainly read it because of EY. Maybe others did too. I'm surprised that OB still wins in the usage stats.
I don't follow OB, but your comment sent me over there to look around. What I saw was a lot of criticism from feminists regarding posts by Robin that had a strong anti-feminist odor to them. I also saw some posts on less controversial subjects that drew almost no comments at all. So the natural presumption is that those feminist commentors are not regulars, but rather were attracted to OB when a post relevant to their core interests got syndicated somewhere. If that is what you are talking about then ... Well, sure, a registration system might have repelled some of the commentors. If Robin really wants to insulate himself from feedback in this way, it might work. But I rather doubt that he is the kind of person to exclaim "OMG, we have wymin commenting here! Who let them in?". I hope his regulars aren't either. Some comments on topics like this are emotive. Admittedly, you can't really engage with them. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't at least read them, count them, and try to learn something from their sheer existence, if not from their logic.
That isn't what I was talking about. I was talking about a general impression I've gotten over the last year. Robin's recent posts have received an Instalanche, so they're hardly representative.
Absolutely. OB posts are worth a read occasionally but the comments are not. And here I include even comments (not posts) by Robin himself. The way Robin replies does, I suggest, contribute to who is willing or interested in commenting there. Status interferes rather drastically with the ability of prominent figures to engage usefully in a public forum. By public forum I refer to the generic meaning not electronic adoption. It is often the case that hecklers wishing to shame and express outrage are the only ones who consider it worthwhile to show up. For my part if I was particularly keen on discussing a topic from OB I would consider bringing it up on the open thread on LW.

Quick question — I know that Eliezer considers all of his pre-2002 writings to be obsolete. GISAI and CFAI were last updated in 2001 but are still available on the SIAI website and are not accompanied by any kind of obsolescence notice (and are referred to by some later publications, if I recall correctly). Are they an exception, or are they considered completely obsolete as well? (And does "obsolete" mean "not even worth reading", or merely "outdated and probably wrong in many instances"?)

Is there a post dealing with the conflict between the common LW belief that there are no moral absolutes, and that it's okay to make current values permanent; and the belief that we have made moral progress by giving up stoning adulterers, slavery, recreational torture, and so on?

I'm not sure that both of those are common LW beliefs (at least common in the same people at the same time), but I don't see any conflict there. If there are no moral absolutes, then making current values permanent is just as good as letting them evolve as they usually do. Who here advocates making current values permanent?
Replace "making current values permanent" with CEV jargon on extrapolating volition into future minds within a trajectory determined by current human values. (The CEV program still needs to demonstrate that means something different from "making current values permanent". Details depend, among other things, on how or whether you split values up into terminal and instrumental values.)
It certainly explicitly claims not to be doing that - see: "2. Encapsulate moral growth." -

I recently started taking piracetam, a safe and unregulated (in the US) nootropic drug that improves memory. The effect (at a dose of 1.5g/day) was much stronger than I anticipated; I expected the difference to be small enough to leave me wondering whether it was mere placebo effect, but it has actually made a very noticeable difference in the amount of detail that gets committed to my long-term memory.

It is also very cheap, especially if you buy it as a bulk powder. Note that when taking piracetam, you also need to take something with choline in it. I bo... (read more)

Two questions: -How much does it cost? -How soon do you start becoming desensitized to it, if at all?
I ordered from here at a price of $46 for 500g each of piracetam and choline citrate, plus $10 for gel caps and $20 for a scale (which is independently useful). I could not find any reported instances of desensitization to piracetam, so I don't think it's an issue. I'm trying out nootropics, adding them one at a time. Next on my list to try is sulbutiamine; I've seen claims that it prevents mental fatigue, and it too has basically zero side-effect risks. Also on my list to try are lion's mane, aniracetam, l-tyrosine and fish oil. All of these are unregulated in the US. I also use adrafinil, which greatly improves my focus. However, it's more expensive and it can't be used continuously without extra health risks, so I only use it occasionally rather than as part of my daily regimen. (There's an expensive and prescription-only related drug, modafinil, which can be used continuously.)
Sounds good. Be sure to report back once you test out the others-- nootropics are very interesting to me, and I think generally useful to the community as well.
First, the results of a wikipedia check: "There is very little data on piracetam's effect on healthy people, with most studies focusing on those with seizures, dementia, concussions, or other neurological problems." which seems to decrease the assurance of safety for everyday use. But otherwise, most of the sources appear to agree with your advertising. I too would like to see memory tests for these drugs, but preferably in a large and random sample of people, with a control group given a placebo, and another control group taking the tests with no aid of any kind. As well as a long term test to check for diminishing effectiveness or side effects. With my memory, I would pay a considerable amount to improve it, but first I want to see a wide scale efficiency test.
Why? Given the low cost and risk of trying it out, the high possible benefits, and the high probability that results will depend on individual genetic or other variations and so will not reach significance in any study, wouldn't the reasonable thing be to try it yourself, even if the wide-scale test had already concluded it had no effect?
Using your logic, I would be forced to try a large proportion of all drugs ever made. My motivation to buy this drug is close to my motivation to buy every other miracle drug out there, I want more third party tests of each one so I can make a more informed decision of where to spend my money, instead of experimenting on hundreds per month. Also, it does not have a DIN number in Canada, so I would need to import it.
A large proportion of drugs ever made have been claimed to improve memory and have a long history of null-results for side-effects and positive results for mental improvement? Indeed.
Working on it. Give me a few years.
Question: did you find that it leads to faster grokking (beyond the effects of improvement of raw recall ability)?
I don't know, but I think it's just memory. This is almost impossible to self-test, since there's a wide variance in problem difficulty and no way to estimate difficulty except by speed of grokking itself.

"But it’s better for us not to know the kinds of sacrifices the professional-grade athlete has made to get so very good at one particular thing.
Oh, we’ll invoke lush clichés about the lonely heroism of Olympic athletes, the pain and analgesia of football, the early rising and hours of practice and restricted diets, the preflight celibacy, et cetera. But the actual facts of the sacrifices repel us when we see them: basketball geniuses who cannot read, sprinters who dope themselves, defensive tackles who shoot up with bovine hormones until they collaps

... (read more)

Jaron Laier is at it again: The First Church of Robotics

Besides piling up his usual fuzzy opinions about AI Jaron claims, and I cannot imagine that this was done out of sheer ignorance, that "This helps explain the allure of a place like the Singularity University. The influential Silicon Valley institution preaches a story that goes like this: one day in the not-so-distant future, the Internet will suddenly coalesce into a super-intelligent A.I., infinitely smarter than any of us individually and all of us combined"; I cannot imagine that this ... (read more)

Seconded. I think SingU is stupid, but whatever its faults, that isn't one of them, and it would be bad if this image spilled onto SIAI. I'm kind of upset too, because I was just reading Jaron Lanier's recent book, which is the biggest dose of sanity I've seen on issues I care about in a long time.

I bet a good way to improve your rationality is to attempt to learn from the writings of smart, highly articulate people, whom you consider morally evil, and who often use emotional language to mock people like yourself. So, for example, feminists could read Roissy and liberals could read Ann Coulter.

I've done exactly this. Read Roissy, read far-right sites (though not Coulter specifically.) Basically sought out the experience of having my feelings hurt, in the interest of curiosity. I learned a few things from the experience. First, they have a few good points (my politics have changed over time). Second, they are not right about everything just because they are mean and nasty and make me feel bad, and in fact sometimes right-wingers and anti-feminists display flaws in reasoning. And, third, I learned how to deal better with emotional antagonism itself: I don't bother seeking out excuses to be offended any more, but I do protect myself by avoiding people who directly insult me.
You'll have to expand on this before I could agree. My inclination is to think quite the opposite. That is, when I read people who more or less articulately use highly emotion-button-pushing language to mock people like me, it puts my defenses up and makes me try to justify my beliefs, rationality be damned. Was this not pretty much the thrust of Politics is the Mind-Killer? If I were, to adopt a wild hypothetical, a conservative, I would probably say nearly anything to defend myself -- whether publicly or in my own mind -- against the kind of mockery I'd get on a daily basis from Paul Krugman's blog (Krugman chosen as example per mattnewport). Rationality-wise, that is not the position I want to be trying to put myself in. Rather, I want to seek out reasoned, relatively "cool" (as opposed to emotionally "hot") expressions of opposing viewpoints and try to approach them open-mindedly, trying to modify my positions if warranted. I mean, am I missing something?
"If I were, to adopt a wild hypothetical, a conservative, I would probably say nearly anything to defend myself -- whether publicly or in my own mind -- against the kind of mockery I'd get on a daily basis from Paul Krugman's blog" Yes, most people would do this, so the rationality challenge would be to fight against it. Think of it as special-forces-intensity rationality training.
Not everything that is difficult is thereby good training. It's easier to withstand getting punched in the gut if you're in good physical shape, but I wouldn't suggest trying to get in shape by having someone punch you repeatedly in the gut. (Indeed, at some point of martial arts training it's useful to learn how to take a punch, but this training has to be done carefully and sparingly. You don't become stronger by rupturing your spleen.)
I think this norm would do poorly in practice, because people would seek out antagonists they unconsciously knew would be flawed, rather than those who actually scare them. A much better idea, I think, is the following: 1. Find someone who appears intelligent to you but is very ideologically different. 2. Offer to read a book of their choice if they read a book of your choice. 3. Give them a book you think will challenge them. I'd suggest, however, that you not give the other person someone who will constantly mock their position, because usually this will only further polarize them away from you. Exposing oneself to good contrary arguments, not ridicule, is the way for human beings to update.
It's probably good to have a mix. I get something distinct from reading people like Roissy or Sailer, whose basic values are totally divorced from my own. I get something else from Eliezer or Will Wilkinson, who derive different policy preferences from values that are similar to mine. There's something liberating about evil analysis, and I think it's that it's audaciousness allows you to put down mental blinders that would be on guard againstmore plausible threats to your ideological integrity. And a nice thing about values changing over time is that the classics are full of this stuff. Reading, say, Schmidt is like reading political philosophy from Mars, and that's something you should experience regularly. Any similar recommendations?
Upvoted. From my reply you'll see that I agree it's probably good to seek out, as you say, those "whose basic values are totally divorced from [one's'] own." But can you say more about James Miller's original contention that you should specifically be seeking out that which is designed to piss you off? That's where it seems to me that his idea goes just totally wrong. How is this going to do anything except encourage you to retreat into tribalism?
If you know that doing X will " encourage you to retreat into tribalism" then doing X gives you a great opportunity to fight against your irrational instincts.
Well, there is the aesthetic appreciation of polemic for its own sake, but that's not going to make you more rational. I think the most obvious answer, though, is that it can inure you a bit to connotative sneers. Aversion to this kind of insult is likely one of the major things keeping you from absorbing novel information! One way to do this very quickly - you shouldn't, of course, select your politics for such trivial advantages, but if you do, take advantage of it - is to become evil yourself, relative to the majority's values. There are certain groups an attack upon which constitutes an applause line in the mainstream. If you identify as a communist or fascist or Islamist or other Designated Antagonist Group, you can either take the (obviously epistemically disastrous) route of only reading your comrades, or you can keep relying on mainstream institutional sources of information that insult you, and thereby thicken your skin. (Empirical prediction: hard {left|right}ists are more likely to read mainstream {conservatives|liberals} than are mainstream {liberals|conservatives}.) (An alternate strategy this suggests, if your beliefs are, alas, pedestrian, is to "identify" with some completely ridiculous normative outlook, like negative utilitarianism or something. Let everyone's viewpoint offend you until "this viewpoint offends!" no longer functions as a curiosity stopper.)
Well, I understand your reasoning: you suggest that it's likely (or at least possible) that one's reaction in the face of rhetorically "hot" disagreement will be a built-up tolerance (immunity) for mockery, making one more able to extract substance and ignore affect. My belief is that that particular strength of character (which I admire when I see it, which is rarely) is infrequent relative to, as I keep calling it, a retreat into tribalism in the face of mockery of one's dearly-held beliefs. Hence my feeling that the upper-left quadrant of the graph I describe is not good breeding grounds for rationality. That isn't to suggest that we shouldn't do our best to self-modify such that that would no longer be the case, but it is hard to do and our efforts might be best spent elsewhere. Also worth considering is the hypothesis that the two axes of my graph aren't fully independent, but instead that "hot" expressions are correlated with substantively less rich and worthwhile viewpoints, because the richest and most worthwhile viewpoints wouldn't have much need to rely on affect. If this is true (and I think it is at least somewhat true), it would be another reason for avoiding rhetorically "hot" political viewpoints in general.
As my political beliefs have become more evil I've become much better at ignoring insults to my politics. I remain pretty thin-skinned individually, though, so it seems that whatever's moving me in this way is politics-specific. The healthiest reading space is probably all over the axis. Passion is not the opposite of reason, and there are pleasures to take in reading beyond the conveyance of mere information.
Further to this. Let's plot political discourse along two axes: substantive (x axis: -disagree to +agree) and rhetorical (y axis: -"cool"/reasoned to +"hot"/emotional). Oligopsony states that it is valuable to engage with those on the left-hand side of the graph (people who disagree with you), without any particular sense that special dangers are posed by the upper left-hand quadrant. (Oligopsony says reading so-and-so is "like reading political philosophy from Mars, and that's something you should experience regularly" -- regardless of the particular emotional relationship you are going to have with that Martian political philosophy as a function of the way in which it's presented.) My view (following on, I think, PitM-K -- and in sharp disagreement with James Miller's original post in this thread) is that the upper half of the graph, and particularly the upper left-hand quadrant, is danger territory, because of the likelihood you are going to retreat into tribalism as your views are mocked.
I like many aspects of Schmitt and he never produced any shock in me, unlike e.g. many bloggers who can be found 1-2 links away from Moldbug. In fact, many leftists have talked favourably about his reasoning if not his values.
Oligopsony: Please pardon my evident lack of erudition, but which Schmidt do you have in mind?
Carl, and upon looking it up it's Schmitt. So the lack of erudition is all mine.
Yes, I've heard of Schmitt. Paul Gottfried, who is one of my favorite contemporary political theorists, wrote a book about him. I plan to read at least some of Schmitt's original work before reading what Gottfried has to say about him, but I haven't gotten to it yet. Do you have any particular recommendations? If you want to read some political philosophy that's really out there by modern standards, try Joseph de Maistre. His staunch Catholicism will probably be off-putting to many people here, but a truly unbiased reader should understand that modern political writers are smuggling just as many unwarranted metaphysical assumptions into their work, except in much more devious ways. Also, although some of his arguments have been objectively falsified in the meantime, others have struck me as spot-on from the modern perspective of Darwinian insight into human nature and the humanity's practical political experiences from the last two centuries. (His brother Xavier is a minor classic of French literature, whom I warmly recommend for some fun reading.)
I would accept that bet. In my experience exposure to such writings mostly serves to produce contempt. Contempt is one emotion that seems to have a purely deleterious effect on thinking. Anger, fear, sadness, anxiety and depression all provide at least some positive effects on thinking in the right circumstances but contempt... nothing.
I've been trying to do roughly that, though focusing more on the "smart and highly articulate" aspect and dropping "emotional mockery". When I read someone taking cheap shots at a position I might hold, I mostly find the writer childish and annoying, I don't see how reading more of that would improve my rationality. It doesn't really hurt my feelings, unlike some commenters here, so I guess different people need to be prodded in different ways. For smart and articulate writers with a rationalist vibe, I would recommend Mencius Moldbug (posts are articulate but unfortunately quite long; advocates monarchy, colonialism and slavery) and Noam Chomsky. Any recommendations of smart, articulate and "extreme" writers whose views are far from those two?
I have the same reaction to someone taking cheap shots, period. It doesn't matter whether they're arguing something I agree with, disagree with, or don't care about. It just lowers my opinion of the writer.
Slavery? I'm certainly not defending Moldbug, but if he advocated slavery, I must have missed that post. Do you have a link?
See And there is, of course, which cannot be excerpted and done proper justice.
Hrmmmm... haven't read the second link yet, but that first excerpt is.... well.... yeah. The selling yourself into slavery part is basically unobjectionable (to a libertarian), but selling your children into slavery....... I think Moldbug's positions seem to be derived not so much from reversed stupidity as reversed PC.
I'll have to disagree, at least to the extent that this is taken as a positive attribute. I find his posts to be rambling and cutesy, which may correspond to articulate. But most people here have the kind of mind that prefers "get to the point" writing, which he fails at.
I think Moldbug is far away from any living thinker you could name. And he'd probably tell you so himself. (FWIW, I think Moldbug is usually wrong, through a combination of confirmation bias and reversed stupidity, although I'm still open on Austrian economics in general.)
I have a very hard time evaluating Moldbug's claims, due to my lack of background in the relevant history, but holy shit, do I ever enjoy reading his posts. The crowd here may be very interested in watching him debate Robin Hanson about futarchy before an audience at the 2010 Foresight conference. Moldbug seems to be a bit quicker with the pen than in person. Moldbug's initial post that spurred the argument is here; it's very moldbuggy, so the summary, as far as my understanding goes, is like this: Futarchy is exposed to corrupt manipulators, decision markets can't correctly express comparisons between multiple competing policies, many potential participants are incapable of making rational actions on the market, and it's impossible to test whether it's doing a good job. Video of the debate is here: Moldbug's followup: Hanson's followup:
I enjoy reading his posts too (when I have the time - not much, lately), but I wasn't very impressed by his debate with Robin Hanson - his arguments seemed to be mostly rehashing typical arguments against prediction markets that I'd heard before.
I was less than impressed by Hanson's response (in a comment) to
Yeah, that response didn't have much content, but I think that's pretty understandable considering that by that point in their debate, Moldbug had already revealed himself to be motivated by something other than rational objections to Hanson's ideas, and basically immune to evidence. In their video debate it became very clear that Moldbug's strategy was simply to hold Hanson's ideas to an impossibly high standard of evidence, hold his own ideas to an incredibly low standard of evidence, and then declare victory. So I can understand why Hanson might not have thought it was worth investing a lot more time in responding point by point.
I'm kinda torn about Moldbug. His political arguments look shaky, but whenever he hits a topic I happen to know really well, he's completely right. (1, 2) Then again, he has credentials in CS but not history/economy/poli-sci, so the halo effect may be unjustified. Many smart people say dumb things when they go outside their field.
That just shows he got two easy questions right. When he spells out his general philosophy, which I had criticized before, you see just how anti-rational his epistemology is. You're just seeing a broken clock at noon. By the way, anyone know if "Mencius Moldbug" is his real name? It sounds so fake.
He states that it's a pseudonym. (It's actually quite a clever one - unique, and conveys a lot about him.)
MM's name combines the pseudonyms he previously used as a commenter in two separate blogging realms (HBD and finance).
It's a pseudonym; he's said that himself, but I don't remember where.
I am about 80% confident that his real name is [redacted]
Publically revealing people trying to stay anonymous (though admittedly in his case, not very hard) is not very nice :P
Funny, I like CS too but his writings put me off in part; I particularly disliked his Nock language. It looks like a seriously crappy Lisp to me (and I like Haskell better).
Agreed, Nock was a neat puzzle, but not much more. I have no idea why he tried to oversell it so.
Nock was followed by Urbit, "functional programming from scratch", but that project doesn't seem to have gone anywhere, and it's not clear to me where there would be for it to go. His vision of "Martian code", "tiny and diamond-perfect" is still a castle in the air, the job of putting a foundation under it still undone. A criticism that I think applies to his politics as well. He does a fine destructive critique of the current state of things and how we got here, but is weak on what he would replace it by.
Probably, as lon as you restrict yourself to sane, articulate thinkers in the West. There are probably even more outlandish ideas in Japan, India, or the Islamic world. Come to think of it, it would probably be more instructive to read "non-westernized" intellectuals from India, Korean, Japan, China or the Islamic world, talking about the west. I think Moldbug recommended a medieval Japanese writer talking about his experience in America, but I can't find it right now.
Yukichi Fukuzawa. Only limited parts of his works are online (eg. in Google Books, very limited previews).
Why do you think MM has a rationalist vibe?. He doesn't talk about probability or heuristics/biases etc.
I would defend an (eviscerated) monarchy such as Canadians like me and other Commonwealthers have as being a social good, insofar as it's a rich & elegant tradition that's not very pernicious. Actual "off with his head" monarchy... nah. And if Prince Charles decides to flap his unelected gums too much when he accedes, you may see me change my tune. But at the moment I'm happy to be a subject of HM Queen Elizabeth.
Who should conservatives read?
Glenn Greenwald!
Paul Krugman's a good example, because he goes on the offensive, but he's not quite offensive enough. For good, juicy ad hominems, read SLOG (the blog of the Seattle Stranger) or Feministe. How to offend a conservative is an interesting question. I think it should be easy to offend (or upset or disgust) a traditional social conservative, with simple sexual shock value. It's harder for me to think of ways to offend an economic conservative. The closest thing I can think of is stereotyping libertarians as weirdo losers.
Advocate Marxism?
Paul Krugman?
My experience is that Paul Krugman is one of those people with whom you disagree at your peril.
If by "peril" you mean being censored from the comments section of his blog....
If you disagreed with him about long-term interest rates on T-bills, and you bet on that belief, you lost a lot of money.
And if you agreed with him about the housing market and bought any real estate a few years back, then you're probably underwater right now.
Even if you sold in 2006? I don't know if that link is gated or not.
The fact that he (partially) acknowledged the existence of the problem, once it was well underway, doesn't change the fact that he actively advocated the policies that caused the problem.
Should the Federal Reserve have refrained from lowering interest rates in 2001?
This is a special case of a well known process in social science circles since at least the 1950's: role playing. It became popular after the work of Fritz Perls (a psychotherapist who started out in drama), who would have the patient do things such as play their mother or father (or tyrannical trauma family character of choice) to try and broaden their understanding of their life story and memory. It can be a very powerful technique. I have been in group psychotherapy sessions where people scream, bawl, and many other visceral responses get displayed. In 1983 Robert Anton Wilson published a book, Prometheus Unbound which was ostensibly a self-help book for making your thinking more rational, specifically for destroying dogmas. This book is little more than one recipe after another for exercises of this type; for example, be a neo-Nazi for a week. The mechanics is to learn by exposing yourself to that great universe of unknown-unknowns. My personal experience is sometimes they can be helpful, but it is really hard to know beforehand if they will be worth the time. I have benefited from some of these things; I have wasted time doing some.
Ann Coulter's blog seems fixed-width and very narrow :-(

A HN post mocks Kurzweil for claiming the length of the brain's "program" is mostly due to the part of the genome that affects it. This was discussed here lately. How much more information is in the ontogenic environment, then?

The top rated comment makes extravagant unsupported claims about the brain being a quantum computer. This drives home what I already knew: many highly rated HN comments are of negligible quality.

PZ Myers:

We cannot derive the brain from the protein sequences underlying it; the sequences are insufficient, as well, becaus

... (read more)
No he doesn't.
Cool - were it not for your comment, I wouldn't have ever heard the correction.
Off the top of my head: 1. The laws of physics 2. 9 months in the womb 3. The rest of your organs. (maybe) 4. Your entire childhood... These are barriers developing Kurzweil's simulator in the first place, NOT to implementing it in as few lines of code as possible. A brain simulating machine might easily fit in a million lines of code, and it could be written by 2020 if the singularity happens first, but not by involving actual proteins . That's idiotic.

I'm thinking of signing up for cryonics. However, one point that is strongly holding me back is that cryonics seems to require signing up for a DNR (Do not resuscitate). However, if there's a chance at resuscitation I'd like all attempts to be made and only have cryonics used when it is clear that the other attempts to keep me alive will fail. I'm not sure that this is easily specifiable with current legal settings and how cryonics is currently set up. I'd appreciate input on this matter.

What did you read that makes it seem this way? I haven't run into this before.
A variety of places mention it. Alcor mentions it here. discusses the need for some form of DNR although the details don't seem to be very clear there. Another one that discusses it is this article which makes the point that repeated attempts at resuscitation can lead to additional brain damage although at least from the material I've read I get the impression that as long as it doesn't delay cryopreservation by more than an hour or two that shouldn't be an issue.
You don't have to sign a DNR or objection to autopsy to get cryonics. The autopsy objection is recommended, but not required. It looks like Alcor wants terminally ill people to sign a DNR, not typical healthy people. I've signed a religious objection to autopsy (California doesn't seem to allow an atheistic objection to autopsy), but never has a DNR been mentioned to me by anyone at Alcor.
Which just a tad ironic. Atheists are people who consider the physical state of their brain to be all that is 'them'. Most religious people assume their immortal soul has traipsed off some place, a paradise or at the very least a brand spanking new (possibly animalian) body.
Thanks. That helps clarify things.

Problems with high stakes, low quality testing

The percentage of students falling below some arbitrary cutoff is a bad statistic to use for management purposes. (Again, this is Statistical QA 101 stuff.) It throws away information. Worse, it creates perverse incentives, encouraging schools to concentrate on the students performing at around the cut-off level and to neglect both those too far below the threshold to have a chance of catching up and those comfortably above it.

I assume this is relevant enough to post in the open thread, though it may be old news to some of you. There is a purported proof that P!=NP. A wiki collecting discussion and links to discussions, as well as links to the paper draft, is here.

Pattern matching, signalling:

Way back when MSNBC used to do 6 hour stints with lawyers doing the color commentary on the court case of the day, I was a regular doing the defense side. Once an hour, we would be expected to sit at a desk and do a five minute stint, me and whoever was doing the "former prosecutor" job that day. Our five minutes would consist of two questions, each taking up about 90 seconds including some mischaracterization of the nature of the legal issue, and concluding with the words "how do you feel?" We had ten

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Informal poll to ensure I'm not generalizing from one example:

How frequently do you find yourself able to remember how you feel about something, but unable to remember what produced the feeling in the first place (ie: you remember you hate steve but can't remember why)?

It seems like this is a cognitive shortcut, giving us access only to the "answer" that's already been computed (how to act vis-a-vis steve) instead of wasting energy and working memory re-accessing all the data and re-performing the calculation.

I don't do this on LessWrong, but that may be because I don't care enough about LW, and the stakes are too low. On Wikipedia, though, there are at least 10 editors who, when I see their name come up on my watchlist, I briefly freeze up with a combination of fear, disgust, and anger.
Just curious: why do you consider LW to be lower stakes than wikipedia?
Fewer deletions. On Wikipedia, I have to fight tooth and nail for some things just to remain (and I often fail; I'm still a little bitter about the off-handed deletion of the Man-Faye article a few days ago); on LW, deletion of stuff is so rare that it's a major event when Eliezer deletes an article.
I do this constantly. In fact, I do it a lot right here on LW - in reading comment threads, I see a comment by a certain user and have either a positive or negative reaction to the username, based on previous comments of theirs I've read, despite having no recollection of what those comments actually were I'm not quite sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.
Yes -- and I agree that it's probably a cognitive shortcut, because it's also something that happens with purely conceptual ideas. I'll forget the definition of a word, but remember whether it's basically a positive or negative notion. Yay/Boo is surprisingly efficient shorthand for describing anything.
I would say that most people I know easily fit this heuristic, but I almost never employ it, based on the way I remember people. When I have been in a conflict with someone, I can recall a categorized list of every thing I dislike about them, and a few fights we have had quite easily, and vice versa for people I like. What this means essentially is... I have a very hard time remaining angry / happy with people, because it requires constant use of resources, and it also seems to effect my ability to remember meeting people at all. Since I store memories of other people using events instead of descriptions if I have never had a particularly eventful interaction with someone, remembering their names or any other info is almost impossible.
Occasional but rare. I have more of a problem where I have some feeling some reason and then find out I was wrong about that reason and then need to make effort to adjust my feelings to fit the data. But I generally remember the cause for my feelings. The only exception is that occasionally I'll vaguely remember that some approach to a problem doesn't work at all but won't remember why (it generally turns out that I spent a few days at some point in the past trying to use that method to solve something and got negative results showing that the method wasn't very useful.)
This has happened to me but not often. There is a reason for it. Current thinking is that memories of events are retrieved by a process in the hippocampus (until the memories become substantially re-consolidated). Memories of strong emotional experiences are also retrieved by a process in the amygdala. They are not memories of events but just a link between the emotion and the object that caused it. In recent memories these are usually connected - If the amygdala retreives it prompts the hippocampus to do so also - if the hippocampus does the retreiving it triggers the amygdala. But the two processes can be disconnected for a particular memory pair. You see X and feel the memory of fear or anger but not the episodic memory of when and where you felt that emotion towards X. The amygdala retrieves but the hippocampus fails to.
Thanks - I appreciate the explanation.
1Paul Crowley14y
Yes, absolutely. Well, "hate" is too strong a word, but certainly it's hard to explain to other people: "I have a mental black mark against Steve's name, though I can't tell you why"...
All the time. Generally I only remember the cause of my dispositions if I feel it's important in itself. In the case of something like political beliefs I have a commitment to throwing out anything I can't justify through verbal reasoning and reference to fundamental values. With likes and dislikes - from those fundamental values to flavors of ice cream - I don't consider the path that got me there particularly important. Sometimes I need the justification for ulterior or social reasons. It doesn't particularly matter to me why I like the people I happen to like, but I try to examine them at least enough that I can give them substantive compliments when appropriate, even if this examination doesn't come naturally to me. Cynically, most "debate topics" are like this - you need the justificatory reasoning in order to engage in cocktail conversations.
Extremely rare, but I suspect I'm in the same boat as wedrifid in that I seem to have above-average memory.
Never. But I'm not typical.

This may be a stupid question, but...

There're a couple of psych effects we have evidence for. Specifically, we have evidence for a sort of consistency effect. For example (relevant to my question) there's apparently evidence for stuff like if someone ends up tending to do small favors for others or being nice to them/etc, they'll be willing to continue to do so, more easily willing to do bigger things later.

And there's also willpower/niceness "used up"ness effects, whereby apparently (as I understand it), one might do one nice thing then, feeling... (read more)

As fas as I understand they operate on different scales. "Used up" effects operate on much shorter time scales, and consistency effects (often?) operate on more specific things than general niceness.
Ah, if so, then thank you. (Huh, I'd thought consistency effects were supposed to work on short time scales too.)
The classic post says effects persist for two weeks, at least. So it would seem that the response curves of the two effects cross each other at one or two points. I'd be interested to see studies plotting them against each other; it is an interesting dichotomy.
Thanks. And yeah, that's a fair point and question. (Hrm... how exactly would one measure the response curves anyways in any quantitative way? ie, sure, "how many people respond after delay X vs delay Y, etc...", but any way to directly measure the strength of the effect rather than simply measuring when it "falls below measurability"?

I had a question. Other than Cryonics and PUA, what other "selfish" purposes might be pursued by an extreme rationalist that would not be done by common people?

On thinking on this for quite a while, one unusual thing I could think of was possibly, the entire expat movement, building businesses all across the world and protecting their wealth from multiple governments. I'm not sure if this might be classified as extreme rationality or just plain old rationality.

Switzerland seems to be a great place to start a cryonics setup as it is already a hub for people maintaining their wealth there. If cryonics was added, then your money and your life could be safe in switzerland.

I for one who appreciate people not using abbreviations that are not in the Wiki or someplace like that. I do not know what PUA is - so where do I go to find out?
Google. (It stands for Pick-Up Artist)
PUA probably fits the "plain old rationality" category too, including the "done by common people" part.

The Last Psychiatrist on a new study of the placebo effect.

I'm having trouble parsing his analysis (it seems disjointed) but the effect is interesting nonetheless.

Has anyone read, and could comment on, Scientific Reasoning: The Bayesian Approach by philosophers Howson and Urbach? To me it appears to be the major work on Bayes from within mainstream philosophy of science, but reviews are mixed and I can't really get a feel for its quality and whether it's worth reading.

A quick probability math question.

Consider a population of blobs, initially comprising N individual blobs. Each individual blob independently has a probability p of reproducing, just once, spawning exactly one new blob. The next generation (an expected N*p individuals) has the same probability for each individual to spawn one new blob, and so on. Eventually the process will stop, with a total blob population of P.

The question is about the probability distribution for P, given N and p. Is this a well-known probability distribution? If so, which? Even if not... (read more)

Here's my solution. The descendants of each initial blob spawn independently of descendants of other initial blobs, so this is a sum of N independent distributions. The number of descendants of one initial blob is obviously the geometric distribution. Googling "sum of independent geometric distributions" gives Negative binomial distribution as the answer.

Agreed - there are never more than N breeding blobs, each success increases P by one, and each failure reduces the remaining number of breeding blobs by one. Essentially, if r = N, X = P-N.
Thanks for answering several questions at once. :)
I don't think that's right. I don't have the math to show why yet, but my current working hunch says to make explicit your assumptions about whether the initial number of blobs, and the number of generations, are continuous or discrete, because the geometric distribution may not actually be right.
After G generations, each blob has a probability q=p^G of having a descendant. So, it seems to me that P will be distributed as a binomial with q and N as parameters.
The blobs don't reproduce with probability p in any given generation, they reproduce with probability p ever. The scenario doesn't require generations in the sense you seem to be thinking of, it could all happen within 1 second, or a first generation blob might reproduce after the highest generation blob that reproduces has already done so.
Oh, ok. I thought the blobs died each generation. A shrinking population. Instead they go into nursing homes. A growing population which stabilizes once everyone is geriatric. Got it. Wei pretty clearly has the solution. Negative Binomial distribution Pretty damned obvious, actually, that (P-N) is distributed as a negative binomial where r is set to N; failure = failure to reproduce; success = birth.
Offhand, I think you would also need to know the number of generations. I'll have to do some pen-and-paper work to work out what the distribution looks like.
Huh? Why? The expected number of blobs is given by N/(1-p), the number of actually realized generations is not a variable, it's determined by N, p and chance. I have no idea how the distribution looks, but the number of actual generations should be one of the things you have a distribution across, not an input.
Morendil said: Under your model, P=0 with frequency 1, so that doesn't make sense. I think the idea is to stop after a predetermined number of generations and see how many blobs are left. Edit: No, wait, I see what's going on. You're right.

ETA: Ag, just before posting this I realized Hal Finney had already basically raised this same point on the original thread! Still, I think this expands on it a little...

You know, if Wei Dai's alien black box halting decider scenario were to occur, I'm not sure there is any level of black-box evidence that could convince me they were telling the truth. (Note: To make later things make sense, I'm going to assume the claim is that if the program halts, it actually tells you the output, not just that it halts.)

It's not so much that I'm committed to the Turi... (read more)

4Wei Dai14y
I'm afraid I can't do much better at this point than to cite Harvey Friedman's position on this. (He posted his alien crystall ball scenario before I posted my alien black box, and obviously knows a lot more about this stuff than I do.) Here are the relevant discussion threads on the Foundations of Mathematics mailing list: * * ETA: Assuming the laws of physics actually does allow a halting oracle to be implemented, then at some point it would be easier to just implement it than to do these ridiculous cheats, right? As we rule out various possible cheats, that intuitively raises our credence that a halting oracle can be physically implemented, which contradicts the universal prior.
...having actually read those now, those threads didn't seem very helpful. :-/ Hm, indeed. Actually, it occurred to me after writing this that one thing to look at might be the size of the device, since there are, as far as we know, limits on how small you can make your computational units. No idea how you'd put that into action, though.
Huh? (15 minutes later) Now I know what I'll be reading for the rest of the week. Thanks!

Last open thread I linked a Wired article on a argument-diagram software called ACH being open-sourced.

It's now available:

(PHP, apparently. Blech!)

I came here to post this actually - seems like it would be extremely useful for countering confirmation bias.

I just read and liked "Pascal's mugging." It was written a few years ago, and the wiki is pretty spare. What's the state of the art on this problem?

I haven't seen much response to it. There's a reply in Analysis by Baumann who takes a cheap out by saying simply that one cannot provide the probability in advance, that it's 'extremely implausible'. I have an unfinished essay where I argue that as presented the problem is asking for a uniform distribution over an infinity, so you cannot give the probability in advance, but I haven't yet come up with a convincing argument why you would want your probability to scale down in proportion as the mugger's offer scales up. That is: it's easy to show that scaling disproportionately leads to another mugging. If you scale superlinearly, then the mugging can be broken up into an ensemble of offers that add to a mugging. If you scale sublinearly, you will refuse sensible offers that are broken up. But I haven't come up with any deeper justification for linearly scaling other than 'this apparently arbitrary numeric procedure avoids 3 problems'. I've sort of given up on it, as you can see from the parlous state of my essay.
Thanks. Here's my fresh and uneducated opinion. I see three kinds of answers to the mugging: 1. We're boned 2. Some kind of hack in the decision-making process 3. Some kind of hack in the mathematics 4. "Head on." That is, prove that the expected disutility of a given threat is bounded independent of the size of the threat. Here's my analysis in the sense of 4., tell me if I'm making a common mistake. We are worried that P(agent can do H amount of harm | agent threatens to do H amount of harm) times H can be arbitrarily large. As Tarleton pointed out in the 2007 post, any details beyond H about the scenario we're being threatened with is a distraction (right? That actually doesn't seem to be the implicit assumption of your draft, or of Hanson's comment, etc.) By Bayes the quantity in question is the same as P(threat | ability)/P(threat) x P(ability) x H Our hope is that we can prove this quantity is actually bounded independent of H (but of course not independent of the agent making the threat). I'll leave aside the fact that the probability that such a proof contains a mistake is certainly bounded below. P(threaten H) is the probability that a certain computer program (the agent making the threat) will give a certain output (the threat). My feeling about this number is that it is medium sized if H has low complexity (such as 3^^^3) and tiny if H has high complexity (such as some of the numbers within 10% of 3^^^3). That is, complex threats have more credibility. I'm comforted by the fact that, by the definition of complexity, it would take a long time for an agent to articulate his complex threat. So let's assume P(threaten H) is medium-sized, as in the original version where H = 3^^^3 x value of human not being tortured. It seems like wishful thinking that P(threat | ability) should shrink with H. Let's assume this is also medium sized and does not depend on H. So I think the question boils down to how fast P(agent can do H amount of harm) shrinks wit
As long as we're all chipping in, here's my take: (1) Even if the correct answer is to hand over the money, we should expect to feel an intuitive sense that doing so is the wrong answer. A credible threat to inflict that much disutility would never have happened in the ancestral environment, but false threats to do so have happened rather often. That being the case, the following is probably rationalization rather than rationality: (2) Consider the proposition that, at some point in my life, someone will try to Pascal's-mug me and actually back their threats up. In this case, I would still expect to receive a much larger number of false threats over the course of my lifetime. If I hand over all my money to the first mugger without proper verification, I won't be able to pay up when the real threat comes around.
I think that your (2) is a proof that handing over the money is the wrong answer. My understand is that the problem is whether this means that any AI that runs on the basic package that we sometimes envision hazily -- prior, (unbounded) utility function, algorithm for choosing based somehow on multiplying the former by the latter -- is boned.
I thought that my (2) was a proof that a prior-and-utility system will correctly decide to investigate the claim to see whether it's credible.
But what a prior-and-utility system means by "credible" is that the expected disutility is large. If a blackmailer can, at finite cost to itself, put our AI in a situation with arbitrarily high expected disutility, then our AI is boned.
Ah, you're worried about a blackmailer that can actually follow up on that threat. I would point out that humans usually pay ransoms, so it's not exactly making a different decision than we would in the same situation. Or, the AI might anticipate the problem and self-modify in advance to never submit to threats.
I'm worried about a blackmailer that can with positive probability follow up on that threat. Yes humans behave in the same way, at least according to economists. We pay ransoms when the probability of the threat being carried out, times the disutility that would result from the threat being carried out, is less than the ransom. The difference is that for human-scale threats, this expected disutility does seem to be bounded. That could mean one of at least two things: either the AI starts to work according to the rules of a (hitherto not conceived?) non-prior-and-utility system. Or the AI calibrates its prior and its utility function so that it doesn't submit to (some) threats. I think the question is whether something like the second idea can work.
No, see, that's different. If you're dealing with a blackmailer that might be able to carry out their threats, then you investigate whether they can or not. The blackmailer themselves might assist you with this, since it's in their interest to show that their threat is credible. Allow me to demonstrate: Give $100 to the EFF or I'll blow up the sun. Do you now assign a higher expected-value utility to giving $100 to the EFF, or to giving the same $100 instead to SIAI? If I blew up the moon as a warning shot, would that change your mind?
The result of such an investigation might raise or lower P(threat can be carried out). This doesn't change the shape of the question: can a blackmailer issue a threat with P(threat can be carried out) x U(threat is carried out) > H, for all H? Can it do so at cost to itself that is bounded independent of H? I refuse. According to economists, I have just revealed a preference: P(Pavitra can blow up the sun) x U(Sun) < U(100$) Yes. Now I have revealed P(Pavitra can blow up the sun | Pavitra has blown up the moon) x U(Sun) > U(100$)
My point is that U($100) is partially dependent on P(Mallory can blow up the sun) x U(Sun), for all values of Mallory and Sun such that Mallory is demanding $100 not to blow up the sun. If P(M_1 can heliocide) is large enough to matter, there's a very good chance that P(M_2 can heliocide) is too. Credible threats do not occur in a vacuum.
I don't understand your points, can you expand them? In my inequalities, P and U denoted my subjective probabilities and utilities, in case that wasn't clear.
The fact that probability and utility are subjective was perfectly clear to me. I don't know what else to say except to reiterate my original point, which I don't feel you're addressing:
It's not even clear to me that you disagree with me. I am proposing a formulation (not a solution!) of Pascal's mugging problem: if a mugger can issue threats of arbitrarily high expected disutility, then a priors-and-utilities AI is boned. (A little more precisely: then the mugger can extract an arbitrarily large amount of utils from the P-and-U AI.) Are you saying that this statement is false, or just that it leaves out an essential aspect of Pascal's mugging? Or something else?
I'm saying that this statement is false. The mugger needs also to somehow persuade the AI of the nonexistence of other muggers of similar credibility. In the real world, muggers usually accomplish this by raising their own credibility beyond the "omg i can blow up the sun" level, such as by brandishing a weapon.
OK let me be a little more careful. The expected disutility the AI associates to a threat is EU(threat) = P(threat will be carried out) x U(threat will be carried out) + P(threat will not be carried out) x U(threat will not be carried out) I think that the existence of other muggers with bigger weapons, or just of other dangers and opportunities generally, is accounted for in the second summand. Now does the formulation look OK to you?
That formulation seems to fail to distinguish (ransom paid)&(threat not carried out) from (ransom not paid)&(threat not carried out). There are two courses of actions being considered: pay ransom or don't pay ransom. That's completely unreadable. I need symbolic abbreviations. Then: (p.s.: We really need a preview feature.)
Why so much focus on future threats to the sun? Are you going to argue, by analogy with the prisoner's dilemma, that the iterated Pascal's mugging is easier to solve than the one-shot Pascal's mugging? I thought that, either by definition or as a simplifying assumption, EU(ransom paid & threat not carried out) = current utility - size of ransom, and that EU(ransom not paid & threat not carried out) = current utility.
My primary thesis is that the iterated Pascal's mugging is much more likely to approximate any given real-world situation than the one-shot Pascal's mugging, and that focusing on the latter is likely to lead by availability heuristic bias to people making bad decisions on important issues.
My primary thesis is that if you have programmed a purported god-like and friendly AI that you know will do poorly in one-shot Pascal's mugging, then you should not turn it on. Even if you know it will do well in other variations on Pascal's mugging. My secondary thesis comes from Polya: "If there's a problem that you can't solve, then there's a simpler problem that you can solve. Find it!" Solutions to, failed solutions to, and ideas about one-shot Pascal's mugging will illuminate features about iterated Pascal's mugging and also about many given real-world situations. ("One-shot", "iterated"...If these are even good names!)
I'm not persuaded that paying the ransom is doing poorly on the one-shot. And if it predictably does the wrong thing, in what sense is it Friendly?
Forget it. I'm just weirded out that you would respond to "here's a tentative formalization of a simple version of Pascal's mugging" with "even thinking about it is dangerous." I don't agree and I don't understand the mindset.
I don't mean to say that thinking about the one-shot is dangerous, only that grossly overemphasizing it relative to the iterated might be. I hear about the one-shot all the time, and the iterated not at all, and I think the iterated is more likely to come up than the one-shot, and I think the iterated is easier to solve than the one-shot, so in all I think it's completely reasonable for me to want to emphasize the iterated.
Granted! And tell me more.
The iterated has an easy-to-accept-intuitively solution: don't just randomly accept blackmail from anyone who offers it, but rather investigate first to see if they constitute a credible threat. The one-shot Pascal's Mugging, like most one-shot games discussed in game theory, has a harder-to-stomach dominant strategy: pay the ransom, because the mere claim, considered as Bayesian evidence, promotes the threat to much more likely than the reciprocal of its utility-magnitude.
I don't quite follow this. Assuming we're using one of the universal priors based on Turing machine enumerations, then an agent which consists of 3^^^3threat+noability is much shorter and much more likely than an agent which consists of ~.10*3^^^3threat+ability. The more complex the threat, the less space there is for executing it.
If I disagree, it's for a very minor reason, and with only a little confidence. (P(threat) is short for P(threat|no information about ability).) But you're saying the case for P(threaten H) being bounded below (and its reciprocal being bounded above) is even stronger than I thought, right? Another way to argue that P(threaten H) should be medium-sized: at least in real life, muggings have a time-limit. There are finitely many threats of a hundred words or less, and so our prior probability that we will one day receive such a threat is bounded below. Another way to argue that the real issue is P(ability H): our AI might single you out and compute P(gwern will do H harm) = P(gwern will do H harm | gwern can do H harm) x P(gwern can do H harm). It seems like you have an interest in convincing the AI that P(gwern can do H harm) x H is bounded above.
While raking, I think I finally thought of a proof that the before-offer-probability can't be known. The question is basically 'what fraction of all Turing machines making an offer (which is accepted) will then output a certain result?' We could rewrite this as 'what is the probability that a random Turing machine will output a certain result? We could then devise a rewriting of all those Turing machines into Turing machines that halt or not when their offer is accepted (eg. halting might = delivering, not halting = welshing on the deal. This is like Rice's theorem). Now we are asking 'what fraction of all these Turing machines will halt?' However, this is asking 'what is Chaitin's constant for this rewritten set of Turing machines?' and that is uncomputable! Since Turing machine-based agents are a subset of all agents that might try to employ Pascal's Mugging (even if we won't grant that agents must be Turing machines), the probability is at least partially uncomputable. A decision procedure which entails uncomputability is unacceptable, so we reject giving the probability in advance, and so our probability must be contingent on the offer's details (like its payoff). Thoughts?
7Wei Dai14y
I think Nesov is right, you've basically (re)discovered that the universal prior is uncomputable and thought that this result is related to Pascal's Mugging because you made the discovery while thinking about Pascal's Mugging. Pascal's Mugging seems to be more about the utility function having to be bounded in some way. You might be interested in this thread, where I talked about how a computable decision process might be able to use an uncomputable prior:
It seems to be an argument against possibility of making any decision, and hence not a valid argument about this particular decision. Under the same assumptions, you could in principle formalize any situation in this way. (The problem boils down to uncomputability of universal prior itself.) Besides, not making the decision is not an option, so you have to fall down to some default decision when you don't know how to choose, but where does this default come from?
I take it as an argument against making perfect decisions. If perfection is uncomputable, then any computable agent is not perfect in some way. The question is what imperfection do we want our agent to have? This might be the deep justification for choosing to scale probability by utility that I was looking for. Scaling linearly corresponds to being willing to lose a fixed amount to mugging, scaling superlinearly correspond to not willing to lose any genuine offer, scaling sublinearly corresponds to not being willing to ever be fooled. Or something like that. The details need some work.
In order to make a decision, we do not always need an exact probability: sometimes just knowing that a probability is less than, say, 0.5 is enough to determine the correct decision. So, even though an exact probability p may be incomputable, that doesn't mean that the truth value of the statement "p<0.1" can not be computed (for some particular case). And that computation may be all we need. That said, I'm not sure exactly how to interpret "A decision procedure which entails uncomputability is unacceptable." Unacceptable to whom? Do decision procedures have to be deterministic? To be algorithms? To be recursive? To be guaranteed to terminate in a finite time. To be guaranteed to terminate in a bounded time? To be guaranteed to terminate by the deadline for making a decision?
Alright, so you compute away and determine that the upper bound on Chaitin's constant for your needed formalism is 0.01. The mugger than multiplies his offering by 100, and proceeds to mug you, no? (After all, you don't know that the right probability isn't 0.01 and actually some smaller number.) This is pretty intuitive to me - a decision procedure which cannot be computed cannot make decisions, and a decision procedure which cannot make decisions cannot do anything. I mean, do you have any reason to think that the optimal, correct, decision theory is uncomputable?
I have no idea whether we are even talking about the same problem. (Probably not, since my thinking did not arise from raking). But you do seem to be suggesting that the multiplication by 100 does not alter the upper bound on the probability. As I read the wiki article on "Pascal's Mugging", Robin Hanson suggests that it does. Assuming, of course, that by "his offering" you mean the amount of disutility he threatens. And the multiplication by 100 does also affect the number (in this example 0.01) which I need to know whether p is less than. Which strikes me as the real point. This whole subject seems bizarre to me. Are we assuming that this mugger has Omega-like psy powers? Why? If not, how does my upper bound calculation and its timing have an effect on his "offer"? I seem to have walked into the middle of a conversation with no way from the context to guess what went before.

Apparently AGI, transhumanism, and the Singularity are a massive statist/corporate conspiracy, and there exists a vast "AGI Manhattan Project". Neat.

2Paul Crowley14y
Looks like the Illuminati have deleted page 8, which I assume is where all the juciest stuff is!

I just came across this article called "Thank God for the New Atheists," written by Michael Dowd, and I can't tell if his views are just twisted or if he is very subtly trying to convert religious folks into epistemic rationalists. Sample quotes include:

Religion Is About Right Relationship with Reality, Not the Supernatural


Because the New Atheists put their faith, their confidence, in an evidentially formed and continuously tested view of the world, these critics of religion are well positioned to see what’s real and what’s important t

... (read more)
The first sentence warns agains taking the Bible literally, but the next sentence insinuates that we don't even need it... He's also written a book called "Thank God for Evolution," in which he sprays God all over science to make it more palatable to christians. If he really is trying to deconvert people, I suspect it won't work. They won't take the final step from his pleasant , featureless god to no god, because the featureless one gives them a warm glow without any intellectual conflict.

File under "Less Wrong will rot your brain":

At my day job, I had to come up with and code an algorithm which assigned numbers to a list of items according to a list of sometimes-conflicting rules. For example, I'd have a list of 24 things that would have to be given the numbers 1-3 (to split them up into groups) according to some crazy rules.

The first algorithm I came up with was:

  1. model each rule as a utility function over dollars
  2. instantiate an ideally rational agent for each rule, which used the rule as its utility function.
  3. give each agent a
... (read more)
This is what happens to me whenever I start to write a difficult program in C++, start by building a innovative system which solves the problems with minimal intervention on my part, and then eventually set up a cludge using heuristics which get the same thing done in a fraction of the time.
What was the application?

Possible new barriers to Moore's Law where small chips won't have enough power to use the maximum transistor density they have available. The article also discusses how other apparent barriers (such as leaky gates) have been overcome in the past including this amusing line:

“The number of people predicting the end of Moore’s Law doubles every two years,” quips the Scandinavian Tryggve Fossum.

What does Less Wrong know about the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator? My sense is that it's a useful model for some things, but I'm most interested in how useful it is for relationships. This site suggests that each personality type pair has a specific type of relationship, while this site only comments on what the ideal pair is for any given type. But the two sites disagree about what the ideal pairings are.

Personality Page is not mainstream Jungian; they seem to be of the opinion that sharing a dominant trait of opposite attitude is most beneficial. More mainstream MBTI sites will tend to agree with Socionics that completely opposite traits are the most complementary (for example Fe and Ti) but disagree on what of these traits correlate to a J or P. So if you go by the theory that J/P correlates to extroverted conscious traits (the MBTI position), INTP and ESFJ are complementary. If you go by the theory that J/P correlates to the dominant trait, INTJ is ESFJ's dual. Socionics sites tend to take this position. Note that while these letters should be completely exclusive for introverts, many of the introvert profiles seem to be the same (or suspiciously similar) between the systems, particularly with sensing types. So an (alleged) ISFP MBTI may actually be ISFP in Socionics. That would imply that someone is wrong/confused. Either the profiles are uselessly vague (Fourier effect, no better than astrology charts for identifying this particular feature), the traits aren't actually real emperical phenomena (Si1 is indistinguishable from Se2), or the traits are being defined differently (such that Si1 in system A is actually Se2 in system B). To confuse/complicate matters more, all the traits have various features in common with each other: S+T are pragmatic and "hard", T+N are theoretical/consequence-based, F+N are abstract and ideal, F+S are aesthetic and social, just as T+F are judging and S+N are perceiving. So profiles could have varying accuracy while describing surface aspects of real traits, yet not distinguishing them from each other well enough to be useful. Now, if just you want to use this to find a prospective spouse or best friend who is your dual type, and don't care so much about the theoretical correctness of who is what type, there's a work-around: Find someone who appears opposite on the first three letters, then see if they make you comfortable or no
But which view (if any) makes good predictions in the relationship department? EDIT: A quick survey of abstracts on google scholar suggests that marital satisfaction is not related to the MB personality types of the couples.
That is interesting. I would expect there to be some significant differences in relationship quality among MB types even if the types are only somewhat correlated (under the assumption that socionics is correct). One of the better sites on the topic is Rick DeLong's He says there is only roughly a 30% correlation between MBTI types and Socionics types. Boulakov is also skeptical of the validity of MBTI typings. Perhaps the correlation is not high enough to obtain meaningful results here. I will be updating my beliefs on the matter, as this implies most MBTI types are mistaken if socionics is valid. Honestly though, it really does look a lot like motivated cognition on part of socionists. I mean, they do have a coherently self-consistent theory but reference to external data points are suspiciously scarce. They seemingly start with the assumption (based on anecdotal observations of Augusta, socionics' founder, and others after her) that these relationship preferences between distinct types exist, find subjective validation, and then go from there to assert that the MBTI is just not accurate enough at determining the traits socionics is based on. So for example if two people who are claimed to be ISFp and ENTp (where lowercase p is "irrational") do not get along, Socionists will say the typing is invalid rather than that the theory is wrong. But if relationships are the only acid test of a typing, and relationships are the only thing predicted by the typing, it's turned into a vague "if you like these kinds of people you will like these kinds of people". However, it's not entirely hopeless because there are more specific predictions to to validate. As an example, given a valid ISFp/ENTp pair, socionics also predicts the ISFp will be a supervisor ("supervision transmitter" in DeLong's terms) for the INFj type, whereas ENTp will be the "request transmitter" or beneficiary for the INFj. So if you could design a set of experimental test situations where s
I think there are better models to use when considering relationships. I note that often such models are useful in as much as they serve to provide a language which can be used to describe intuitive associations that we pick up through observation. The King Warrior Magician Lover model is not terrible, being a formalisation of the 'opposites attract' conventional wisdom with consideration given to how different people relate on intellectual and emotional levels. As for MBTI, I have found it useful in some regards. I know, for example, that I can basically rule out relationships with anyone who comes in as a "J". I just find "J"s annoying ('judgemental' of me, I know!) Edit: The links you provide are... interesting. I must admit I have rather strong doubts about just how accurate those physical descriptions of various personality types are!
like? (I'm intrigued) Me too. There does seem to be some correlation between physical appearance and personality, but those details are rather burdensome.

Wanted ad: Hiring a personal manager

I will pay anyone I hire $50-$100 a month, or equivalent services if you prefer.

I've trying to overcome my natural laziness and get work done. For-fun project, profitable projects, SIAI-type research, academic homework -- I don't do much without a deadline, even projects that I want to do because they sound fun.

I want to hire a personal manager, basically to get on my case and tell/convince me to get stuff done. The ideal candidate would:

  • Be online. As much as possible. I'm mostly looking for 22-08 GMT (4pm-3am EST)
... (read more)
Good idea. I'll be interested to hear a report on how it works out!
I might also be interested, but I am fairly confident that Alicorn is more advanced than me, so I'll give her precedence. PM me or reply here if you guys can't work something out, though.
I may be interested. PMing contact info.

There's an article on rationality in Newsweek, with an emphasis on evo-psych explanations for irrationality. Especially: we evolved our reasoning skills not just to get at the truth, but also to win debates, and overconfidence is good for the latter.

There's nothing there that's new to readers of this blog, and the analysis is superficial (plus the writer makes an annoying but illustrative error while explaining why human intuition is poor at logic puzzles). But Newsweek is a large-circulation (second to Time) newsweekly in the U.S., so this is a pretty b... (read more)

Value-sorting hypothetical:

If you had access to a time-machine and could transfer one piece of knowledge to an influential ancient (i.e. Plato), what would you tell him?

Something practical, like pasteurization, would almost certainly improve millions of lives, but it wouldn't necessarily produce people with values like ours. I can imagine a bishop claiming heat drives demons from milk.

Meta-knowledge, like a working understanding of the scientific method, might allow for thousands of other pasteurizations to be developed, or maybe it would remain unused thr... (read more)

How to make a movable-type printing press. They'll figure out pasteurization and the scientific method on their own eventually, but without a press, they'll lose knowledge almost as fast as they gain it. And as an added bonus, it introduces the concept of mass production.
This requires a lot of work. I'm not sure that they had the metallurgy to do this. The antikythera mechanism suggests that the answer is yes. But the printing press as a whole requires a lot of different technologies to come to together. The screw press, without which moveable type is highly inefficient, was not around until around 100 CE or slightly earlier(I'm under the impression that late medieval versions were generally better and more efficient than Roman era screw presses but don't have a citation for that claim. If someone can confirm/refute this I'd appreciate it). You also need to explain how to make a matrix for printing (again, otherwise efficiency issues kill things badly). Also, one needs to introduce the idea of a book/codex. Prior to that, the use of scrolls and other writing systems make a printing press less practical. This is another innovation from the Roman period. So one could probably have success introducing a printing press around 150 or 200 CE but the chance of successful introduction drops drastically as one goes further back in time. Jared Diamond has suggested that even if something approximating the Gutenberg press were introduced early on the lack of supporting technologies might make it difficult to catch on. This connects with objects like the Phaistos Disc which used a standardized form of printing around 1600 BCE but the technology did not apparently spread far (or if it did spread far has left no substantial remnants elsewhere and did not stay around).
We don't want them to advance quickly; we want them to advance with a low probability of screwing up permanently.
I don't think screwing up permanently becomes a real concern until the invention of nuclear weapons, and that's such a long ways ahead of the starting point for this exercise that I don't think we can influence how it goes.
Surely we can have nontrivial influence both on variables relating to specific technologies like nukes, and on general variables along the lines of "caution about technology".
I like this answer a lot. This would change a lot of incentives for the better.
What counts for "one piece"? I'd like them to know enough math and rationality to be able to think sane thoughts, and explain the problem of Friendly AI, before technology is advanced enough to threaten.

After seeing the recent thread about proving Occam's razor (for which a better name would be Occam's prior), I thought I should add my own proof sketch:

Consider an alternative to Occam's prior such as "Favour complicated priors*". Now this prior isn't itself very complicated, it's about as simple as Occam's prior, and this makes it less likely, since it doesn't even support itself.

What I'm suggesting is that priors should be consistent under reflection. The prior "The 527th most complicated hypothesis is always true (probability=1)" mus... (read more)

Amusing exercise: find a complexity measure and a N such that "the Nth most complex hypothesis is always true" is the Nth most complex prior :)
:) Equivalently, can you write a function that takes a string and returns true iff the string is the same as the source code of the function? Anyone got some quining skills?
in Python: lambda s : (lambda src, s : (src.replace("CO"+"DE", src) == s))("lambda s : (lambda src, s : (src.replace(\"CO\"+\"DE\", src) == s))(\"CODE\", s)", s)'s probably possible to make a simpler one.
This makes you vulnerable to quining, like this: Hypotheses that consist of ten words must have higher priors.
I'm hoping that when the hypotheses are written in a well defined computer language, this problem doesn't crop up. (you would think that after reading GEB I would know better!) Of course there may be multiple fixed points or none at all, but it would be nice if there was exactly one.
Oh, no. Quines) are just as common in programming as they are in natural languages. Also see the diagonal lemma. I use self-referential sentences to prove theorems all the time, they're very common and can be used for a huge variety of purposes.

I wish my long-term memory were better.

Am I losing out on opportunities to hold onto certain facts because I often rely on convenient electronic lookup? For instance, when programming I'll search for documentation on the web instead of first taking my best recollection as a guess (which, if wrong, will almost certainly be caught by the type checker). What's worse, I find myself relying on multi-monitor/window so I don't even need to temporarily remember anything :)

I'd like to hear any evidence/anecdotes in favor of:

  1. habits that might improve my general

... (read more)
You have two of the big ones. Add in exercise and diet. And add exercise again just in case you skipped it. With all the basics handled you can consider things like cognitive enhancers (ie. Aniracetam and choline supplementation). Spaced Repetition . People spend an awful lot of time trying to forget things. A particularly strong memory exacerbates the effects of trauma. (If something particularly bad happens to you some day then smoke some weed to prevent memory consolidation.)
Thanks. I guess I'm just lazy and hope to remember things better without any explicit drilling. I do exercise (but I'm nearly completely sedentary every other day; it's probably better to even out the activity). I remember reading in the past week that the way exercise improves brain function is not merely by improving oxygen supply to the brain, but in some other interesting, measurable ways (unfortunately, that's as much as I can remember, but it seems like this from Wikipedia at least covers the category:
Exactly. Exercise is great stuff, particularly with the boost to neurogenesis! Incidentally, the best forms of exercise (for this purpose) is activities which not only provide an intense cardiovascular workout but also rely on extensive motor coordination.
But if the increased neurogenesis is only for implementing motor skill learning, then it's not going to help me get better at Starcraft 2 (I mean, my research) - so what's the point? :) I play piano for 10-60 min daily and imagine there's some benefit as well (surprisingly, it's also a mild cardiovascular workout once you can play hard enough repertoire). Also, I read a little about choline; it seems likely that unless I'm dieting heavily, I'll get enough already. That is, there's no hard evidence of any benefit to taking more than necessary to maintain liver health - although it seems like up to 7x that dose also has no notable side effects). Aniracetam looks interesting (but moderately expensive). Do you have any personal experience with it?
I don't think I expressed myself clearly. The effect I refer to is influence of a coordination based component to exercise on neurogenesis and not particularly on the benefits of such to motor skills. Crudely speaking, of the neurons formed from the BDNF released during exercise a greater fraction of them will stably integrate into the brain if extensive coordination is involved than if the exercise is 'boring'. I suspect, however, that a cardio workout combined with (ie. on the same day as) your piano practice will be at least as effective. That stuff does wonders! I included choline only because I mentioned Aniracetam. While the effects are hardly miraculous, Aniracetam (and the more basic Piracetam) do seem to have a positive effect on cognition and learning. Because the *racetams work by (among other things) boosting Acetylcholine people usually find that their choline reserves are strained. The effects of such depletion tends to be reported as 'head fog' or at least as a neutralisation of the positive benefits of the cognitive enhancement. Supplementing choline in proportion to racetam use is more or less standard practice. Using choline alone seems, as you noted, largely pointless. I have used it and my experiences were positive. I found it particularly useful in social situations, with improved verbal fluency. Unfortunately I cannot give much insight into how well it works for improving memory retention. Basically because my memory has always been far more powerful than I've ever required. It just isn't a bottle neck in my performance so my self report is largely useless.

Gelernter on "machine rights," I didn't know his anti-AI consciousness views were tied in with Orthodox Judaism.

He's not exactly Orthodox. His views are a bit unique religiously and is connected to his politics in some strange ways. But he's made clear before that his negative views of AI come in a large part from his particular brand of theism before. See for example the section in his book "The Muse in the Machine" that consists of a fairly rambling theological argument that AI will never exist and is based mainly on quotes from the Bible and Talmud. Jeff Shallit wrote an interesting if slightly obnoxious commentary about how Gelernter's religion has impacted his thinking. One curious thing is how rarely Gelernter touches on golems when discussing his religion and AI. I suspect this is because although the classical discussion of golems touches on many of the relevant issues (including discussion of whether golems have souls and whether people have ethical obligations to them), it probably comes across to him as too much like superstitious folklore that he doesn't like to think of as part of Judaism in a deep sense. ETA: However, some of Gelernter's points have validity outside of any religious context. In particular, the point that acting badly to non-conscious entities will encourage people to act badly to conscious ones is valid outside any Talmudic framework. Disclaimer: I'm friends with one of Gelernter's sons and his niece so I may be a biased source.
Thanks for the info.

If I commit quantum suicide 10 times and live, does my estimate of MWI being true change? It seems like it should, but on the other hand it doesn't for an external observer with exactly the same data...

The anthropic principle gets in the way. If you play classical (i.e. non-quantum) Russian Roulette 10 times and live, you might conclude that there is some force protecting you from death. If you play classical Russian Roulette 10 times and die, you're not in a position to conclude anything much.
Good point, I missed that. So MWI seems to be even subjectively unconfirmable...
Yep. Until/unless our understanding of physics improves, we can't get any evidence for or against MWI. Our only reason for preferring it is that it sounds simple and thus should have lower prior. But it's a weird kind of "narrative simplicity", not mathematical (Kolmogorov) simplicity, because mathematically there's only one quantum mechanics and no interpretations. So I wonder why people care about MWI as anything more than an (admittedly very nice) intuition pump for studying QM.
5Wei Dai14y
MWI says (in part) that we don't have to make wave function collapse an integral part of the mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics. Since, historically, wave function collapse has been a part of the mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics, that seems sufficient reason to care about MWI.
I think you're equivocating on "mathematical formulation". We want theories to predict the future. The algorithm that assigns probabilities to your future observations is the same, and equally mysterious, across all interpretations. MWI does raise the tantalizing possibility that the Born rule might not be part of basic physics - that it might somehow emerge from a universe without it - but AFAIK this isn't settled yet.
It should be called the MWH (Hypothesis) - not the MWI (Interpretation). See: Q16 Is many-worlds (just) an interpretation?
It makes no difference. You're either throwing away Everett branches or having a chance of throwing away everything. This experiment doesn't tell you which. You could, however, conclude that you're a damn fool. ;)
Assuming MWI is true, I have doubts about the idea that repeated quantum suicide would prove to you that MWI is true, as many people seem to assume. It seems to me that we need to take into account the probability measure of observer moments, and at any time you should be surprised if you happen to find yourself experiencing a low-probability observer moment - just as surprised as if you had got into the observer moment in the "conventional" way of being lucky. I am not saying here that MWI is false, or that quantum suicide wouldn't "work" (in terms of you being able to be sure of continuity) - merely that it seems to me to present an issue of putting you into observer moments which have very low measure indeed. If you ever find yourself in an extremely low-measure observer moment, rather than having MWI or the validity of the quantum suicide idea proved to you, it may be that it gives you reason to think that you are being tricked in some way - that you are not really in such a low-measure situation. This might mean that repeated quantum suicide, if it were valid, could be a threat to your mental health - by putting you into a situation which you can't rationally believe you are in!
Quantum suicide would only have a low probability of causing you to observe an unlikely outcome, as should any event. The overwhelmingly likely outcome is that you just die.

There are lots of other problems we should tackle, too! But presumably many of these are just symptoms of some deeper underlying problem. What is this deeper problem? I’ve been trying to figure that out for years. Is there any way to summarize what’s going on, or it is just a big complicated mess?

Here’s my attempt at a quick summary: the human race makes big decisions based on an economic model that ignores many negative externalities.

A ‘negative externality’ is, very roughly, a way in which my actions impose a cost on you, for which I don’t pay any price.

-- John Baez on saving the planet


Have advocates of the simulation argument actually argued for the possibility of ancestor simulations? It is a very counterintuitive idea, yet it seems to be invoked as though it is obviously possible. Aside from whatever probability we want to assign to the possibility that the future human race will discover strange previously-unknown laws of physics that make it more feasible, doesn't the idea of an ancestor simulation (a simulation of "the entire mental history of humankind") depend on having access to a huge amount of information that has pr... (read more)

If things don't play out exactly as they really did, does the simulation argument lose any force?
Second the question. It's been a long time since I read Tipler, but as I recall, he claimed Omega would simulate all possible humans, not just all historically real ones.
Is Tipler / the Omega Point relevant to the simulation argument? I haven't seen him invoked in discussions thereof, and that idea (whatever its probability) seems to have a whole different set of implications, more along the lines of the confusing anthropic problems we have with Very Big Worlds and Boltzmann brains.
Relevant only to the extent that large scale simulation of the hypothetical past of the human species is a large enough (and/or pointless enough) task that it will require an Omega Point quantity of resources.
It does appear to depend on ancestor simulations being of the world's history as it actually happened, on the basis that if we end up making simulations of our own history, then we are probably in such a simulation run by an someone in an outer future version of our own world. You could argue for the same conclusion without requiring that, but it seems to me that it would end up being a completely different argument; at the very least, you'd have to figure out the general probability of some advanced civilization creating a simulation containing you, which is a lot harder when you aren't assuming that the civilization running the simulation used to actually contain you (and can somehow extrapolate backwards far enough to recover the information in your mind).
Maybe they are simulating me by mistake. Back in the "real world" I never existed. It is still the case that they simulating me. Edit: Actually, this response wasn't particularly responsive. Consider it withdrawn unless it contains virtues I don't currently see.
OK I buy it. To be fair, Bostrom's conclusion is either we're in a simulation, we're going to go extinct, or "(2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof)." You're saying that (2) is so plausible that the other alternatives are not interesting.
Sort of. I was really only intending to ask what the claimed justification is for believing in the possibility of ancestor simulations, not to argue that they are not possible; Bostrom is a careful enough philosopher that I would be surprised if he didn't explicitly justify this somewhere. But in the absence of any particular argument against my prior judgment of the feasibility of ancestor simulations (i.e. they'd require us to be able to extrapolate backwards in much greater detail than seems possible), then yes, I'd argue that (2) is the most likely if we do eventually reach posthumanity.

Light entertainment: this hyperboleandahalf comic reminded me of some of the FAI discussions that go on in these parts.

Has anyone tried or uses the Zeo Personal Sleep Coach (press coverage).

It's a sleep tracker - measuring light, REM, and deep sleep - which sounds useful for improving sleep which as we all know is extremely important to mental performance and learning and health. I'm thinking of getting one, but the $200 pricepoint is a little daunting.

There is a $.99 iPhone App that does essentially the same thing using the phone's accelerometers, etc. called Sleep Cycle It definitely seems to have had a positive impact on my mornings. Less biometrics than the Zeo probably, but certainly more economical if you have an iPhone.
I got a Zeo recently, but mainly to try to get answers to a question that isn't generally applicable (specifically, how blood sugar interacts with sleep). I don't really buy the validity of using an accelerometer as a proxy for sleep stage, but if your goal is just to get woken from light sleep rather than deep sleep, there's an Android app called Gentle Alarm that does that using a pre-alarm: a soft alarm sound played 30 minutes before your scheduled wake-up time which, in principle, will only wake you if were close to awake already.
Has the scheduled wakeup time worked? Of the Zeo functionalities, that sounds the most dubious to me.
0Wei Dai14y
Thanks. I found SleepSense, a similar sleep tracker application for Windows Mobile. And Smart Alarm for Android.

I just found a new blog that I'm going to follow:

This post is particularly interesting:

Just watched Tyler Cowen at TEDx Mid-Atlantic 2009-11-05 talking about how our love of stories misleads us. We talk about good-story bias on the Wiki.

Is there a way good-story bias could be experimentally verified?

late to the party? :)
Nice video. I am thinking that conjunction bias and hyperactive agency detectors are both linked to this 'story bias'. Of course religion milks this set for all it's worth. Another question that came to me was whether telling children stories helps them or wires them up to keep thinking in terms of stories.
Tyler Cowen tells a nice story here.
1Paul Crowley14y
As he points out.
A few posts down.

'But Dietrich is more concerned that companies will fail to analyze the petabytes of data they do collect. When she met with the pharmaceutical company about its portfolio management strategy, for instance, the executives explained how they allocated spending according to their estimates of how likely each project was to succeed. “I asked them if they ever checked to see how well the estimates matched their results,” she says. “They never had.”'

~Oops I did it again.~

~I trolled on Slashdot ~

~Got modded to 5~

Well, hey, at least this time they universally criticized me. The topic was about a species being discovered that was present earlier than they thought, and I said that this refutes evolution.

Since they universally argued with you, I assume that they assumed that you were joking. People who understand evolution often find it hard to believe that anybody could be as nuts as creationists actually are, so the default assumption tends to be that any sufficiently dumb comment is trolling.

If this press release isn't overstating its case, AIXItl/other unFriendly bayesian superintelligence just got a lot closer.

There was a question recently about whether neurons were like computers or something like that. I cannot find the comment although I replied at the time. Today I came across an article that may interest that questioner.


Reposted here instead of part 1, didn't realise part 2 had been started.

I don't understand why you should pay the $100 in a counterfactual mugging. Before you are visited by Omega, you would give the same probabilities to Omega and Nomega existing so you don't benefit from precommitting to pay the $100. However, when faced with Omega you're probability estimate for its existence becomes 1 (and Nomegas becomes something lower than 1).

Now what you do seems to rely on the probability that you give to Omega visiting you again. If this was 0, surely you wouldn'... (read more)

I think I've figured out the answer to my question. The related scenario: You're stuck in the desert without water (or money) and a car offers to give you a lift if, when you reach the town, you pay them money. But you're both perfectly rational so you know when you reach town, you would gain nothing by giving the person the money then. You say, "Yes" but they know you're lying and so drive off. If you use a decision theory which would have you give them the money once you reach town, you end up better off (ie. safely in town), even though the decision to give the money may seem stupid once you're in town. From the perspective of t = 2 (ie. after the event), giving up the money looks stupid, you're in town. But if you didn't follow that decision theory, you wouldn't be in town, so it is beneficial to follow that decision theory. Similarly, at t = 2 in the counterfactual mugging, giving up the money looks stupid. But if you didn't follow that decision theory, you would never have had the opportunity to win a lot more money. So once again, following a decision theory which involves you acting as if you precommitted is beneficial. So by that analysis: My mistake was asking what the beneficial action was at t = 2. Whereas, the actual question is, what's the beneficial decision theory to follow. Does my understanding seem correct?
Sounds right to me. I had actually written a blog post recently that explores the desert problem (aka Parfit's Hitchhiker) that you might be interested in. I think it also sheds some light on why humans (usually) obey a decision theory that would win on Parfit's Hitchhiker.

Are there any Less Wrong postings besides The Trouble With "Good" and (arguably) Circular Altruism which argue in favor of utilitarianism?