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44 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:52 PM

If you take up weight training, two things will happen: you will get stronger, and you will feel stronger.

The second of these wears off. (Source: personal experience.) Eventually, you do not notice all the time, how easy it is to carry this rucksack! how easy it is to jog up the stairs! But, assuming you keep up the training, the strength does not wear off. You continue to be stronger than you were, you continue to lift heavy things more easily.

Strength can be objectively measured. Go to the gym and see how much weight you can lift in the various exercises. That is how strong you are. How would you measure the feeling of strength? Ask "how strong do you feel today?", on a Likert scale of 1 to 5?

For the person who takes up weight training, that might go from a 3 to a 5 in the first few weeks, then fade back to a 3 as they become accustomed to their strength and do not especially notice it whenever they address a physical task. Without the objective measure, one might think that there was a "strength set point" that no amount of exercise can shift, a "strength treadmill" that defeats any attempt to become stronger. But there is no such thing.

Is this phenomenon a sufficient explanation of the supposed hedonic treadmill? Is the supposed treadmill a delusion based on the use of a false measure?

There is no objective measure of happiness, as there is of strength, only a subjective report on a Likert scale. The World Database of Happiness lists 2692 measures of happiness. Virtually all of them (2551 by my count) are self-reports on Likert scales, and almost all of the exceptions are reports on Likert scales by people examining the people whose happiness is being assessed.

This is an excellent analogy. I think, however, that your (tentative) conclusion is unwarranted.

The question is, what is the “objective” fact that we would want to measure, in the case of happiness? Does it make sense to say that while the self-report-based instruments only measure how happy you feel, what we would actually like to (but don’t know how to) measure is how happy you actually are (by analogy with the strength example)?

But this seems somewhat absurd, doesn’t it? Why?

Because (it seems to me) “happiness” already refers to a subjective phenomenon. “How happy you are” just means “how happy you feel”. There is no underlying objective phenomenon—or, to be more precise, the subjective phenomenon is the objective phenomenon. How happy people feel, is actually what we are trying to measure.

(Now, self-report-based instruments actually are problematic for measuring that, but for different reasons.)

And now, the devil’s-advocate position.

Clearly, it makes no sense to say that someone is mistaken about how happy they feel. However, it does not seem (obviously) mistaken to suppose that someone might be mistaken about how happy they feel relative to how happy it is possible for them to feel.

Now, this can (it seems to me) take two forms: the interpersonal, and the diachronic. The former first:

Consider someone who has never had anything truly unfortunate happen to them in their lives; the worst event he can recall is when his boyfriend dumped him, in middle school. Our protagonist is also blessed with perfectly normal brain chemistry, and does not suffer from any depressive disorders, etc.

Now suppose we ask this fortunate fellow how happy he feels, on a scale of 1 to 5. “3, I guess,” he answers—thinking to himself that his life has been going ok lately, but it could be worse (that boyfriend thing), but then again it could be better (like the time his friends surprised him with a birthday trip to Disney Land on the same day that he got his dream job).

Meanwhile, his twin brother (they were separated at birth and don’t know each other) has lived an almost identical life, except that several years ago he had a terrifying brush with cancer—which, however, is now in full remission, and has been for some time. His life is otherwise going about as well as his twin’s. When we ask this brother how happy he is, he tells us “5”—not because he’s happier than his twin, but because his baseline for comparison is something much, much worse.

The diachronic form, meanwhile, is essentially the same thing, only the two people we’re comparing are the same person at different times—whose baselines are different, because people’s memories of past experiences deceive them (in many ways that are quite well-documented).

Clearly, it makes no sense to say that someone is mistaken about how happy they feel.

Presumably it does make sense to anyone who has ever said that someone is "out of touch with their feelings". I can't see myself ever using that expression, but it is a thing that people say. It is a claim that the person spoken of is mistaken about what they are feeling.

Because (it seems to me) “happiness” already refers to a subjective phenomenon. “How happy you are” just means “how happy you feel”. There is no underlying objective phenomenon—or, to be more precise, the subjective phenomenon is the objective phenomenon. How happy people feel, is actually what we are trying to measure.

I disagree with this. That the word "happy" refers only to a subjective phenomenon, and there does not seem to be a word ready to hand for an objective counterpart, are just accidents of English lexicalisation. But there is such a word, borrowed from the ancients: "eudaimonia". Opinions differ on what constitutes the eudaimonic life, but given a view on that, one could measure it, and by means less superficial than asking "how happy do you feel?"

Indeed, other things that people measure go some way to doing this. Surveys of political freedom, oppression, prosperity, access to education, high culture, fulfilling work, poverty, etc. address various aspects of human flourishing.

In contrast, asking people "how happy do you feel?" seems frivolous. Why do we want to know this? Why do people want to measure it?

I have seen a good friend in tears one day and cheerful the next. How "happy" were they at either point? What could one do with the answer to such a question?

A more extreme version of the interpersonal is that (one might suppose) you could have two (otherwise*) identical universes such that in the first Bob answers "3" and in the second Bob answers "5", where both Bob's feel (currently) the same way (largely*), but a) used different reference points within their life, or b) focus on different things - perhaps in universe 1 Bob thinks or says "my life could be better - 3", but in universe 2 Bob thinks or says "my life could be worse** - 5'.

*This might require some assumptions about Bob, that don't necessarily apply to everyone.

**Perhaps in universe 2, it occurs to Bob that he's never had cancer, or anything of similar magnitude.

Strong upvote for the quality of the explanation of this idea.

Perhaps also related: gratitude journalling, as a way of avoiding habituating to your general circumstances and seeing yourself within a larger perspective. Cf. the traditional advice to "count your blessings".

Both of these have positivity bias built in, though, so maybe just journalling would make for a more accurate awareness of the state and progress of one's soul.

Hello LW,

I am mremre, friend at university reccomended me hpmor some time ago and I really liked it. I briefly skimmed through forum when my search for music textbook broght me here and got interested enough to sign up. I study mathematics, among my other interests are: go, music, AI.


My name is really Leigh - leggi was a nickname created by technology but bestowed on me by good friends and somehow it seems appropriate to use it here.

I've been reading the HP series - it's made me laugh out loud a few times but now that I've realised how many chapters there are I thought I should introduce myself because I've my own drum to beat...

I have a theory (well technically a hypothesis but theory sounds better in the title!) and I'm here for feedback on my upcoming posts - please think "tear to shreds".

I'm not sure where the line between knowledge and belief lies, but I really really think I am so lesswrong about this than I've ever been about anything so it'd be nice to have others really consider what I'm suggesting.

A bit of anatomy to start, but it will expand so anyone out there anatomists/medics/people in pain/anyone who moves/is curious?

I haven't understood many of the posts I've looked at - rather different topics to what I've encountered in life. I was a veterinary surgeon, so that's my background.

College motto "strive for perfection", my motto now "better done than perfect" so at least this post's a start!

Right well that's it. I've published my first post. I've been going round in circles trying to sort the last section and quite frankly I've had enough.....

I thought I'd get it done in a week, it's now been 15 days and since it turns out I have a motto (never knew until I typed it!) I'm gonna just publish and see what happens.


Thanks for reading....

My second post: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/pXmztcFqiAHX5J8JF/the-main-muscles-of-movement-dynamic-alignment-and-balance

It should be of interest to anyone with a body who isn't aiming to upload themselves onto some sort of neural net in the next 6 months or so.... I want to say positronic brain but I watched too much Trek in my youth!

In summary, the 5 (paired left and right) muscles to focus on:

Pelvic floor "Base"

Rectus abdominis "Line".

Gluteus maximus.

Rectus femoris.


Learn to work with these muscles and use your body better. Feel what I mean.

I do consider anatomy an important topic that's very neglected. It's a topic where people can publish papers that seem to rediscover muscles that were known 100 years ago.

I agree anatomy is an important topic. We've all got bodies. Although wonder for how long that will statement still hold true!

I had a look at the links.  The abstract of the paper doesn't mention the origin of the muscle (as far as I can see)  so I go-ogle imaged "tensor of the vastus intermedius" and "articularis genus".     One is at the top of the femur the other at the distal end, so they don't appear to be the same muscle.

I struggle to read anatomical descriptions. Pictures and palpation  - a much better way to learn human anatomy in my opinion. (If I could be so bothered I'd commission pyjamas to teach anatomy.)

I'm hopefully close to finishing the anatomy I want to share, I'm aiming for easily understandable rather than overly detailed.    

I'm currently working on the most logical order of presentation for the sections of my hypothesis, working from anatomical "facts" to my thoughts and conclusions which is an interesting experiment in itself.

Okay, they might a a different muscles but that makes the quadriceps have six parts while most people think it has four part.

The quadriceps femoris is a label for a group of muscles. The rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius and vastus medialis. The four largest muscles at the front of the thigh sharing a common insertion.

To include the tensor of the vastus intermedius and articularis genus in a description of some form, then:

  • the anterior thigh muscles could be called the "hexiceps"
  • these smaller muscles could be described as accessories to the quadriceps

Most anatomy is simplified in some way. Delineations and groupings are made to aid learning and understanding, and the focus tends to be on the larger muscles, or those prone to pain, but musculo-fasico-skeletal anatomy tends to blend into adjacent structures much more than is generally appreciated so it is unsurprising that smaller muscles are not of common knowledge.

Interestingly the rectus femoris is the only one of the quadriceps femoris muscles that attaches to the pelvis - the only one to cross both hip and knee joints, and in my mind should be considered as the guide muscle for the rest of the quads.

For the sake of completeness (at least in my head!),

here is my third post:


Following on from the 'main muscles of movement' and the midline anatomical markers for alignment, consider what you experience when thinking about the position, motion and balance of your body - your sense of proprioception.

Hello, lw!

I'm brand new here having found my way from a link on Beeminder's blog after reading posts on akrasia and another post outlining their (now long past) launch announcement which was hugely benefited by this community at the time. A handful of posts read on lw later, I went ahead and signed up, and now I'm here saying hello!

I am picking up the core readings (from the FAQ) and only just a few chapters into Map and Territory. That's where I am focusing my reading efforts before diving too far into posts.

The community's draw on me stems beyond its general orbit around rationality - I'm also interested in the implications and its informative observations of a person's thought process and decision-making that I've been blind to for multiple reasons. I've only recently been diagnosed as having ADHD and am working backwards from this moment and have realized what I've missed in understanding myself and, as importantly, what observations of this reality have more significance than I originally attributed.

After doing some searching around the forum (do we refer to this site as a forum though its much more?) I have found there are other folks who sought out relief from procrastination and distraction, and I'm left without a sequence I think is most relevant.

Can anyone share a sequence or jumping off point that they found helpful to improve their commitments & follow-through in the midst of distraction?

I'll be working on a sequence addressing procrastination starting Monday.

Excellent, I will keep an eye out for its publication.


I'm not aware of a single sequence on those topics, but you might like to start with these "Akrasia Tactics Reviews" posts which link to different interventions/tricks and where people have reported their efficacy for them.

Akrasia Tactics Review

Akrasia Tactics Review 2: The Akrasia Strikes Back

Akrasia Tactics Review 3: The Return of the Akrasia

There have of course been many more posts on Akrasia since then, I'd advise using search (also Google search for "LessWrong Akrasia" for a different algorithm) to hunt around. Sorry about the lack of single Sequence.

An idea I've been thinking about is creating a LW Index (like a book's index, but for the site's content, very similar to tagging) where you could look up Akrasia and find all relevant posts sorted/filtered, etc. as one pleases. This would help retain easy access to our past store of knowledge.

Searching is my go-to - I have found a number of quality posts on the site already but I had not been dialing in on Akrasia specifically as I was falling down the rabbit hole of new-and-interesting-topics, I'll see if a handful of keywords appended help with turning up more!

An index with community suggested/moderated categorization would be an interesting and helpful addition - granted, I've not been here very long to say that there's not something filling that role well enough already.

Thanks for the tips, links, and the warm welcome Ruby!

I might as well post a monthly update on my doing things that might be useful for me doing AI safety.

I decided to just continue with what I was doing last year before I got distracted, and learn analysis, from Tao's Analysis I, on the grounds that it's maths which is important to know and that I will climb the skill tree analysis -> topology -> these fixed point exercises. Have done chapters 5, 6 and 7.

My question on what it would be most useful for me to be doing remains if anyone has any input.

My guess is that taking an ML coursera course is the best next step (or perhaps a ML course taught at your university, if that's a viable option).

More speculatively, it might be a good idea to read a research agenda (e.g. Concrete Problems in AI Safety, the Embedded Agency Sequence), dig into sections that seem interesting, and figure out what you need to know to understand the content and the cited papers. But this probably won't work until you understand the basics of ML (for things like CPAIS) or mathematical logic and Bayesian decision theory (for things like the embedded agency sequence).

A colleague notes:

  • an into deep learning course will be useful even once you've taken the coursera course
  • this textbook is mathematically oriented and good (although I can't vouch for that personally)
  • depth-first search from research agendas seems infeasible for someone without machine learning experience, with the exception of MIRI's agent foundations agenda

When people talk about the efficient market hypothesis, the usual takeaway is that you should invest in index funds. The idea with the efficient market hypothesis is that stocks are already close to being priced perfectly, so it doesn't make sense to pay someone to pick stocks for you.

However, there's another possible takeaway that I haven't ever heard: Because stocks are already close to being priced perfectly, it doesn't matter which stocks you buy. Even if you're relatively uninformed about the markets, you might as well play the market and buy stocks at random, or based on vague intuitions, or whatever. Because stocks are close to being priced perfectly, on average you will do about as well as the market does.

Some arguments in favor of index funds:

  • By buying lots of stocks, your portfolio is less vulnerable to fluctuations in the price of particular stocks.

  • Save money on trading fees?

  • Save time and attention.

Some arguments in favor of buying individual stocks:

  • Buying individual stocks could act as rationality training, getting you in the habit of betting your beliefs and testing your predictions against reality.

  • It's entertaining.

  • If you have private information or insights that the market hasn't priced in (i.e. the efficient market hypothesis isn't completely true), you could beat an index fund. (Note that the efficient market hypothesis is a self-refuting prophecy.)

  • Due to the "no one ever got fired for buying IBM" principle, managing other peoples' money arguably incentivizes herd behavior over the long term. That suggests that markets could provide financial rewards for patient contrarians investing their own money, if most money being invested is other peoples' money.

Thoughts? Note: I don't think I would want individual stocks to comprise more than 10% of my portfolio.

(Disclaimer: I'm a financial professional, but I'm not anyone's investment advisor, much less yours.)

You mention diversity as an advantage because it reduces your risk, but this framing is missing the crucial point that you can transmute a portfolio that's 0.5x as risky as your baseline to one that returns twice as much as your baseline. (Wei_Dai mentions this, but obliquely.) The trick is to use leverage, which is not as hard to get (or as expensive, or as complicated) as you think.

To be explicit about it: if you increase the per-dollar riskiness of your portfolio without increasing the per-dollar expected value, then after you leverage it down until it's at the optimal level of risk for your utility function (which you were going to do, right?), you will have lower expected returns.

The relevant question is "how much lower?" (which is precisely to say "how much does it increase your per-dollar risk?"), which I answer in my response to Wei_Dai (nephew to this). The answer turns out to be "very little", but in order to get there, you have to be asking the right question first.

Another important takeaway from this observation is that there is no point in rebalancing a portfolio of stocks with any regularity, which makes hand-made stock portfolios almost as efficient (in hassle and expenses) as index ETFs. Rebalancing is only useful to keep it reasonably diversified and to get rid of stocks that risk reduced liquidity. This is how index ETFs fall short of the mark of what makes them a good idea: a better ETF should stop following a distribution of an index and only use an index as a catalogue of liquid stocks. Given how low TERs get in large funds, this doesn't really matter, and accountability/regulation is easier with keeping to the distribution from an index, but smaller funds could get lower TERs by following this strategy while retaining all benefits (except the crucial marketing benefit of being able to demonstrate how its performance keeps up with an index). For the same reason, cap weighted index ETFs are worse by being less diversified (which actually makes some index ETFs that hold a lot of stocks a bad choice), while equal-weight ETFs are worse by rebalancing all the time (to the point where they can't get a low TER at all).

Aside from that, a very low TER index (that's not too unbalanced due to cap-weighting) is more diversified than a hand-made portfolio with 30 stocks, without losing expected money, so one can use a bit more leverage with it to get a similar risk profile with a bit more expected money (leveraged ETFs are hard to judge, but one could make a portfolio that holds some non-leveraged index ETFs in a role similar to bonds in a conservative allocation, i.e. as lower-risk part, and some self-contained leveraged things in the rest of it).

There might also be tax benefits to how an index handles dividends, getting more expected money than the same stocks (not sure if this happens in the US, or how it depends on tax brackets). Similarly, stocks that pay no dividends might be better for a hand-made portfolio (and there is less hassle with receiving/reinvesting dividends or having to personally declare taxes for them if they are not automatically withheld higher in the chain in your jurisdiction).

you could beat an index fund

(Replying to the phrase, not its apparent meaning in context.) All liquid stocks give the same expected money as each other, and the same as all indices composed of them. Different distributions of stocks will have different actual outcomes, some greater than others. So of course one can beat an index in an actual outcome (this will happen exactly half the time). A single leveraged stock gives more expected money than any non-leveraged index fund (or any non-leveraged stock), yet makes a very poor investment, which illustrates that beating an index in expectation is also not what anyone's after.

Humans are very bad at making random decisions and the policy that you advocate has little to do with randomly buying stocks.

There's zero sum competition between traders (actually it's a bit negative sum, given that trading fees are involved). Some of those traders are hedge funds which complex computer models and highly payed analysts. Those hedge funds can make some money by taking the opposing trade from dumb market participants.

If you believe you have better knowledge about what the price of a stock should be then the hedge funds because you have private information/insights, then you might profit from entering the market. If you think you have worse information then them, you are likely on average losing money to them.

It's worth noting that purely random decisions might be a bit better then index funds as index funds have to buy a lot of stock in predictable times four times each year and there needs to be a market maker that sells them the stocks and that can make a little bit of profit for being the market maker.

Because stocks are close to being priced perfectly, on average you will do about as well as the market does.

I think that's right, but the downside is that your portfolio will have greater volatility/risk for the same average performance, so you'll no longer be on the efficient frontier. However I don't have a good intuition about how costly this actually is in practice, if you only play with 10% of your portfolio.

If you have private information or insights that the market hasn’t priced in (i.e. the efficient market hypothesis isn’t completely true), you could beat an index fund.

I think the problem with this argument is that yes you can beat an index fund if you have private information or insights, but you also need to be no more biased than the people you're trading against, but they may actually be a lot less biased than you are, at least as far as stock trading is concerned, because they're professionals (hence selected for having less bias) and they've had a lot more chances to practice.

(I personally bought some individual stocks when I was younger for reasons similar to ones you list, but they mostly underperformed the market so I stopped.)

I don't have a good intuition about how costly this actually is in practice, if you only play with 10% of your portfolio.

tl;dr extremely little.

Here's some numbers I made up:

  • Let the market's single common factor explain 90% of the variance of each stock.
  • Let the remaining 10%s be idiosyncratic and independent.
  • Let stocks have equal volatility (and let all risk be described by volatility).

Now compare a portfolio that's $100 of each of a hundred stocks with one that's $90 of each of a hundred plus $1k of another stock. (I'll model each stock as 0.75 times the market factor plus 0.25 a same-variance idiosyncratic factor.) Compared to a $10k single-stock portfolio...

  • the equal-weighted portfolio has like
  • the shot-caller's portfolio has like

...for an increase in of 4.5 basis points. So, pretty negligible.

Even if the market's single factor explains only half of the variance of each stock, the increased risk of the shot-caller's portfolio is just 40 basis points ( vs ). In the extreme case where stocks are uncorrelated, the increased risk is +34.5%, though I think that that's unrealistically generous to the diversification strategy.

Since an increase in volatility-per-dollar of basis points means that you give up basis points of your expected returns, I'm going to say that this effect is negligible in the "10% of portfolio" setting.

I recently saw several episodes of Boss Baby: Back in Business, which is an animated series on Netflix, continuing the movie. It is fairly stupid, as you would expect from something done in the style of children's animated series.

But it also seems to be a pretty good example of writing children's picture books about corporate life and Moral Mazes.

I had one of my pilot students for the akrasia course I'm working on point out today that something I don't cover in my course is indecision. I used to have a bit of problem with that, but not enough to have sunk a lot of time into determining the qualia and mental moves related to defeating it.

Has anyone reading this gone from being really indecisive (and procrastinating because of it) to much more decisive? Or is currently working on making the switch I'd love to talk to you/model you.

As a bonus thank you, you'll of course get a free version of the course (along with all the guided meditations and audios) when it's complete.

I went from being indecisive and procrastinating to being much more decisive. The change happened while I was in the military, and there were two key developments. The first was constant exposure to situations where a decision needed to be made, and suffering the consequences when it wasn't; the second was a better understanding of the relationship between decisions and long-term objectives.

This doesn't map to civilian life perfectly. For example, I am as prone to procrastination as ever when it comes to luxury things or things I consider wasteful; it is really hard to make decisions that amount to setting money on fire for me, and luxuries are unnecessary so no decision is usually the best decision anyway.

There have also been some surprise benefits. The central insight for making sense of Army decisions is that the overriding priority is unity, which winds up meaning that the Army prefers successfully coordinating on a stupid thing to failing to coordinate on a smart one. A decision that leads to failed coordination is always bad. This has been extremely helpful in making sense of any kind of leadership activity, and most importantly is excellent practical guidance in terms of family.

Can we do a call about this?

Sure! Message me and we’ll schedule.


I am Akira, and I plan to build Friendly AI.

Will Lesswrong at some point have curated shortform posts? Furthermore, is such a feature desirable? I will leave this question here for discussion.

What I was thinking about doing was something like Scott Alexander "comment highlight" posts, where it might make sense to specifically say "here were particularly good shortform comments from the past week". Mostly haven't done it because it was a fair bit of activation effort.

There was a trend on the old LW that people were pushed to post in Discussion instead of Main and later in Open Threads instead of discussion because they wanted lower expected effort.

Adding features like curated shortform might mean more content that could be posted as proper post instead ends up in shortform.

It seems to me like it would make more sense if people who write valuable shortform content that's well received then write a proper post about the content then if the shortform version gets more exposure.

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