This thread is for asking any questions that might seem obvious, tangential, silly or what-have-you. Don't be shy, everyone has holes in their knowledge, though the fewer and the smaller we can make them, the better.

Please be respectful of other people's admitting ignorance and don't mock them for it, as they're doing a noble thing.

To any future monthly posters of SQ threads, please remember to add the "stupid_questions" tag.

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Can I donate to MIRI with Chinese currency, RMB? If so, do I just use the paypal option? Is there an account number can send the money to?

I've tried asking the MIRI facebook page, they've seen my message, but given no response.

Is there someone I can talk to about this?

If you pay through PayPal, PayPal will do the currency conversion for you, but will charge a fee (I don't know what the fee for the conversion would be in your case, but it is based on the international interbank exchange rates). Since you pay the exchange fee, I don't think MIRI minds at all if you use the PayPal service. You might be able to get a better exchange rate through your local bank, but then you are still stuck on how to make the actual money transfer.

The Donate page recommends emailing . If that doesn't get you a response in a week ask again and I'll put more effort into getting an answer for you.


The most successful companies in recent years: was human intuition or was it analytics driving them?

When I see predictive learning algorithms, they seem to be able to predict '0.3' or '0.4' on a good day. I don't know machine learning, I'm just a regular scientist.

But, I also here these miracle claims like 'AI that can diagnose better than doctors'. So, I'm not sure whether I should bother learning all this kind of data science stuff.

When should I use my intuition, and when should I opt for predictive analytics?

For important decisions it makes sense to mix both.

I would like more signaling opportunities related to rationality. Specifically, I recently searched for a logo indicating that I was open to Crocker's rules, and could not find one.

This seems like a significant failure. Perhaps particularly so given that there are multiple logos allowing you to indicate, for example, that you are an atheist, despite the fact that this is usually not generally a very useful thing to signal, and may be inappropriate in the workplace.

I'm not sure if this is me being obsessive about iconography, or if there is any sort of real interest in rationality-related icons. In either case, I'm not volunteering to design anything myself, but I would appreciate a typical-mind check.

Kind of reminds me of a discussion of making a utilitarian emblem on We never really settled on anything, but I think the best one was Σ☺.

I saw this recently, and immediately thought it must have something to do with rationality:

But it was actually the symbol for mental health services.

Do any of you do anything nontraditional to improve your health/longevity? What I'm thinking about is radical lifestyle changes, such as using dozens of supplements like Kurzweil or mixing one's lunch out of raw ingredients like Bostrom, or avoiding all car travel and similar stuff, not exercise.

I don't know if this counts as nontraditional or not, but I do intermittent fasting (which, in my case, should promote longevity through the intermediate step of helping me keep off weight) and take CoQ10 daily.


For what it's worth, I recommend CoQ10 supplementation to anyone I know on statin drugs (they interfere with its recycling, although you get at least some from literally anything you eat that was once alive) and am occasionally surprised that this is not standard practice given the biochemistry involved.

The tone of its Wikipedia page is strongly against its usefulness.


Yeah, I suspect it only really makes a difference if you're dealing with another issue or stressor on top of the statins. I've seen studies indicating that yes it doesn't change much in day to day life but that it increases the cardiovascular benefits of aerobic exercise in the population on statins, and anecdotally (DANGER! DANGER!) it made a sudden large difference in energy level and strength for a family member knocked for a loop by chemotherapy who had resumed their statins after completing treatment.

Somatics training. In my particular case the Danis Bois Method / Perceptive Pedagogy.

It seems to me that if you buy a stock, you could come out arbitrarily well-off, but your losses are limited to the amount you put in. But if you short, your payoffs are limited to the current price, and your losses could be arbitrarily big, until you run out of money.

Is this accurate? If so, it feels like an important asymmetry that I haven't absorbed from the "stock markets 101" type things that I've occasionally read. What effects does it have on markets, if any? (Running my mouth off, I'd speculate that it makes people less inclined to bet on a bubble popping, which in turn would prolong bubbles.) Are there symmetrical ways to bet a stock will rise/fall?

On the internet, but especially on the HPMOR subrreddit, I find notations such as "Canon!Harry" or "Vampire!Durkon" or "HPMOR!Quirrell". Does the exclamation mark simply stand for a space, or does it have additional meaning? And more importantly, where does the notation come from? Where was it invented?

Wow, I would have never guessed that.

It started in X-Files fandom, which is way too late for it to be bang paths. This claims that it started as Action! Mulder, where the ! was specific to the particular modifier, but people don't have a source for that example.

Your link says

exclamation mark (sometimes called a "bang") between two words denotes a trait!character relationship between them

and "Canon!Harry" or "HPMOR!Quirrell" is not trait!character, it's world!character which maps to bang paths very well.

Besides, the tendrils of old hacker culture burrow deep into the fabric of memespace... 8-)

Incidentally, the magma computer algebra system uses ! for casting. This is possibly related.

Yes, the fact that the trait usage came first is evidence against the bang-path theory.

If I value my health a fair bit more than most and am a transhumanist, when should I bother to get second opinions before having dental work done?

I had 16 fillings done a month ago and my teeth mostly all still hurt, so I'm going to go back to the dentist and see what he says as soon as I can, but I'm not sure what he'll want to do to me, if anything. (I think fillings are supposed to stop hurting after a week or two). I like him, and I want to trust him, and finding a new dentist would be annoying, but it's so weird and scary that I just had that many fillings done, because... I've always gone to the dentist every 6 months for a cleaning, and I never had to get a filling before, even though I always got routine x-rays to check for cavities every year. I'm only 22. I think that the reason I had to have that many fillings done was because I'd been downing tons of cough drops which contained sucrose for several months, for the reason that my acid reflux had been upsetting my throat.

I guess that I'm really just reminded of my frailty by this experience, and of how easy it is for someone to get old or sick, or even die. Sorry I'm such a bucking mess right now (mentally and physically), and thanks for any suggestions.

Check with your doctor about the acid reflux and its effect on your teeth. I would guess that the reflux had a greater effect on your tooth decay than the cough drops. He might know enough to tell you whether or not your dentist is reacting to the problem effectively, and at the very least has a better grasp of the problem than any of us :-)

(Also, you should be seeing him anyway if reflux is a problem.)

I would guess that the reflux had a greater effect on your tooth decay than the cough drops.

I'm so scared. Yikes. I feel like I've tried everything short of surgery for my reflux. Although I've been on a PPI (a doc just switched me to an H2-class reflux med a few days ago, for whatever reason, so I'll try that for a bit) since I started taking the cough drops, so I'm guessing that that's been sucessfully raising the pH of my stomach, even if it hasn't done much else.

A possible partial solution, as far as your teeth go, would be to start chewing gum. Xylitol gum may be particularly effective, but failing that, sugar free gum is good. Chewing helps rinse your mouth with saliva (clearing reflux off of your teeth), keeps your mouth hydrated (dry mouth often accompanies reflux and is not good for oral hygiene), and helps control pH.

Plaque and pH

Xylitol gum

Googling will easily find more information, including less technical information if desired.

Good idea. I switched to xylitol mints about a month ago-- I find that I go through the gum much more quickly than I go through the mints, but I could switch to the gum if that was a superior choice.

I would guess that gum probably gets you salivating more and has a more even effect across your mouth, but that's just speculation on my part -- I've never used mints.

I had 16 fillings done a month ago and my teeth mostly all still hurt

I had more than my fair share of tooth fillings, and they usually hurt for a day or two. Later only if I expose them to heat or cold, such as drinking hot tea, biting an ice cream, or inhaling cold air with my mouth. (Also if I touch the filling with an aluminum fork.)

What you describe feels wrong. The sucrose doesn't seem like a good explanation for the remaining pain-- cavities take time, new ones don't appear overnight. ChristianKl asked about X-rays because of two other options: either the dentist didn't clean the tooth correctly and there is still something under the filling, or maybe your tooth has two cavities: one visible which was fixed, and one invisible (under the gum) which wasn't. But this seems unlikely to happen under 16 teeth at the same time.

On the other hand, a tooth pain is sometimes hard to localize. I had an experience that my tooth hurt, and it felt like the whole jaw hurts; yet when one tooth was fixed, the pain was gone. (Not sure why: maybe the source of pain was too close to a common nerve for all teeth?) So, maybe you have a problem with one tooth, and it feels like all of them hurt.

This is helpful, if scary. Thanks. It does seem unlikely that all 16 teeth would still be screwed up--pain localization failures seem more likely, but Im just going off of my intuition. I'm going back to the same guy who did all of my fillings ASAP to get things checked out again. (I wonder, if some number of my teeth weren't cleaned correctly, does that mean it's ok for me to keep seeing that dentist?)

In my experience different dentists care about very different things and to very different degrees. So if you changed dentists, I would not be surprised at all if the previous one said nothing needed to be done and a new one said you needed 16 fillings. But if it's the same dentist, that is a bit strange.

Yeah, I did just move, and change dentists. That's scary that dentists vary that much.


Same thing just happened to me. I did, however, switch to a dentist with far better equipment who was able to show me pictures of gaping problems in my molars and I had just spent 6 months dosing myself with diet coke to stay awake while writing up a paper for grad school, so it wasn't terribly shocking.

When I switched dentists three years ago, the new dentist claimed to have found several issues during initial check-in and also said that my wisdom teeth need to be torn out as soon as possible. So I have that experience as well. Although, since then, she never complained about anything even though my flossing routine worsened considerably.

Ok, I went in today, and the dentist says that I'm probably just grinding my teeth at night. I'll have him fit me for a night guard soon. I believe that that's at least part of the problem, and time will tell if he's right that that's the whole problem. (He did an x-Ray a month ago, before I had any of my fillings done, but not one this time. Also, my bite wasn't high.)

After they finish doing the fillings, they file the new material down to fit your bite. You might recall them having you bite down on a piece of paper and then they'd sand away all the parts that were hitting. The more fillings that get done at once, the harder it is to get this done properly, I think. If certain parts of your filling or teeth are hitting before the other parts are when you bite down, or if they are otherwise not fitted well, it can cause pain throughout. (They are also more likely to fall out then)

Source: Personal experience with bad fillings.

Did the dentist do an X-ray?

Is there a button somewhere on this site that allows me to ignore certain posters?



The close button on your web browser window will allow you to ignore all posters, but otherwise no; LW has no filtering/blocking features.

I downvoted because, although you did answer the question, I thought the first half of your response was unnecessary snark -- making it sound like you'd prefer the questioner leave the site -- in response to a reasonable question about a feature that many sites do have. (Especially since it's a stupid questions thread.)


Thanks for explaining your downvote. I was not, as it happens, recommending that the questioner leave the site, nor expressing a preference that s/he do so. I just thought it was funny. The possibility of that misinterpretation did occur to me, but I didn't find it serious enough to worry about. Perhaps I was wrong; in any case, if WhyAsk happens to be reading this and took me to be saying "go away", I hope s/he will accept my apologies.

[EDITED to add: It looks like my comment is on +5-3, which suggests that probably at least two other people took it as hostile snarking. Oh well.]

Thanks for your answer.


You're welcome. (In the light of discussion elsewhere in the thread, I should maybe say explicitly that the first part of what I wrote was not intended to be any kind of suggestion that you go away.)

I find that often when I have a discussion with someone who isn't familiar with A Human's Guide to Words or Hayakawa's Language in Thought and Action, the conversation often ends prematurely because I can't seem to tactfully point out when someone is arguing over semantics or confusing the map for the territory. How do you guys approach a discussion where your partner seems to be making these types of errors?


I tend to say things like "I think most of our disagreement is about definitions of words rather than the actual facts" and try to express the underlying issue more explicitly.

The thing is that even when a disagreement seems to be about words, this very often also means that there are disagreeing motives; one persons either wants to accomplish something or to reach a certain conclusion, and thinks that such and such a definition will lend itself more easily to these goals. Meanwhile, the other person does not have these goals. The consequence is that at least one person may resist the clarification of meaning, because such a clarification will tend to impede his ends.

This is a very good observation. I think certainly the most useful application of the "map and territory" metaphor in my everyday life is that I am now able to make someone's implicit motivations (disguised in semantic disagreements) explicit and obvious to everyone involved.


If your discussion partner is actively impeding clarification because that furthers his goals, then your problem isn't his lack of familiarity with the metaphor of map and territory, and your real problem isn't clarification but helping get past his unhelpful motivations.


I'd like to brainstorm innovations for effective altruism. Is it possible to make a bitcoin fork that donates to Effective Altruism while you use it, while being otherwise equal to bitcoin other than in initial popularity?

I recall there being some altcoin that seeded itself with donations to charities, and Googling 'nonprofit altcoin' gives things like the Clean Water Coin. My guess is this idea sounds better than it is (note that the CWC has donated $2k, which I suspect is a low return on time so far).

In your opinion, what is the age and the average level of study of the users of LessWrong ?

We have a census that tells you the answer:

Thank you !

To the question, the average age is 27.6; the average level of study is a completed Bachelor's degree.

Auxiliary question - do we know if a 2015 survey is planned?

Apparently there are yearly surveys and I expect one. I expect the preparatory post soon.

I have read a bit about effective altruism, but none of the ideas seem very new. (Good, yes, but not new).

I know that I am probably missing some good ideas/concepts, because a lot of very intelligent people are thinking about EA. But all of the entry points to reading about EA review familiar ideas, and I don't have a good way to find any original ideas that might not be widely written about.

Have you come across any EA ideas that you found surprising, new, or interesting? Could you provide a summary and/or a link?

In the last decade the cool thing for a smart kid was to be a New Atheist. EA is an ideological framework that can fit into that slot. That's a big deal and it allows a group of different organisations to come together and profit from each other.

If you look at GiveWell, the idea of actually finding out the evidence of the effect of a donation is new. What's new is the depth towards which GiveWell researched other organisations.

Concerns over wild animal suffering are surprising/new elements of EA but they aren't central to the movement.

Do Bayesianists strongly believe that the Bayes' theorem accurately describes how the brain changes its latent variables in face of new data? It seems very unlikely to me that the brain keeps track of probability distributions and that they sum up to one. How do Bayesianists believe this works at the neuronal level?

The term you will want to use in your Google search is "Bayesian cognitive science". It's a huge field. But the short answer is, yes, the people in that field do assume that the brain does something that can be modelled as keeping and updating a probability distribution according to Bayes' rule. Much of it is computational-level modelling, i.e. rather removed from questions of implementation in the brain. A quick Google search did, however, find some papers on how to implement Bayesian inference in neural networks - though not necessarily linked to the brain. I'm sure some people do the latter sort of thing as well, though.

Search also for "Bayesian brain".

That said, being a statistical or philosophical Bayesian does not require one to believe this cognitive science hypothesis. If Bayesian cognitive science were soundly disproven tomorrow, would still stand in its entirety.