If it's worth saying, but not worth its own post (even in Discussion), then it goes here.

New Comment
460 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

A simple reframe that helped jumpstart my creativity:

My cookie dough froze in the fridge, so I couldn't pry it out of the bowl to carry with me to bake at a party. I tried to get it out, but didn't succeed, and had basically resigned myself to schlepping the bowl on the metro.

But then I paused and posed the question to myself: "If something important depended on me getting this dough out, what would I try?"

I immediately covered the top of the bowl, ran the base under lukewarm to warm water, popped it out, wrapped it up, and went on my way.

After reading the third paragraph, I had already decided to post the following similar story:

It snowed a few weeks ago and my car was stuck in the driveway. Parts of the wheels had gotten ice/snow kind of frozen/compacted around them. I was breaking up the ice with one of those things you use to break up ice, but a lot of it was too hard and a lot of it was underneath the car and I couldn't get to it. I was pretty close to being late to work. So I thought "I need to make some kind of desperate rationalist effort here, what would HPJEV do?". And I sat and thought about it for five minutes, and I got a big tub, filled it with hot water, and poured it around the wheels. This melted/softened enough of the compacted ice that I was able to break up the rest and make it to work on time.

Then I read your fourth paragraph and saw your story was also about hot water.

I don't know if there's some kind of moral to this episode, like that the most rational solution to a problem always involves hot water, but I guess I'll raise it a little higher on my list of things to think about in various situations.

I don't know if there's some kind of moral to this episode, like that the most rational solution to a problem always involves hot water...

Well, Hufflepuff bones aren't always available.


But if they were, you could try using them as levers.

Duh, hot water helps when something's frozen.
This made me laugh out loud a lot. I never expect that in a thread on Less Wrong. It was charming.
A little water holds a lot of heat, comparitively.

The Doctrine of Academic Freedom, Let’s give up on academic freedom in favor of justice from the Harvard Crimson

No academic question is ever “free” from political realities. If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of “academic freedom”?

Instead, I would like to propose a more rigorous standard: one of “academic justice.” When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.

This already describes the reality on the ground, though to see it announced explicitly as a good and noble goal, by the upcoming generation, is disturbing. And people like Steven Pinker let are getting old. I'm now updating my trust for the conclusions of academic institutions and culture when they happen to coincide with their political biases downward further.

When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.

By the way, this is stupid even from the "we only care about the 'good' people (women, black, trans, etc.)" viewpoint, because the consequences sometimes look like this:

1) Someone suggests there could be biological differences between men and women. Angry screams, research abandoned.

2) Medical research done on volunteers (the expendable males) finds a new cure.

3) It appears that the cure works better for men, and may be even harmful for women (because it was never tested on women separately, and no one even dared to suggest it should be). Angry screams again -- unfortunately no reflection of what actually happened; instead the usual scapegoat blamed again.

More meta lessons for the LW audience: The world is entangled, you can't conveniently split it into separate magisteria. If you decide to remove a part of reality from your model, you don't know how much it will cost you: because to properly estimate the cost of X you need to have X in your model.

A side note to your otherwise excellent comment:

"we only care about the 'good' people (women, black, trans, etc.)"

As someone from the other side of the fence, I should warn you that your model of how liberals think about social justice seems to be subtly but significantly flawed. My experience is that virtually no liberals talk or (as far as I can tell) think in terms of "good" vs. "bad" people, or more generally in terms of people's intrinsic moral worth. A more accurate model would probably be something like "we should only be helping the standard 'oppressed' people (women, black, trans, etc.)". The main difference being that real liberals are far more likely to think in terms of combating social forces than in terms of rewarding people based on their merit.

My model of how liberals think, based on teaching at a left wing college, is that liberals find "politically incorrect" views disgusting.

liberals find "politically incorrect" views disgusting.

I would guess this approach is much more female than male.

I do teach at a women's college.

I thought the research was that liberals didn't have purity axis of morality (Haidt, is it?).

Haidt's claim is that liberals rely on purity/sacredness relatively less often, but it's still there. Some of the earlier work on the purity axis put heavy emphasis on sex or sin. Since then, Haidt has acknowledged that the difference between liberals and conservatives might even out if you add food or environmental concerns to purity.

Yeah, environmentalist attitudes towards e.g. GMOs and nuclear power look awfully purity-minded to me. I'm not sure whether I want to count environmentalism/Green thought as part of the mainline Left, though; it's certainly not central to it, and seems to be its own thing in a lot of ways.

(Cladistically speaking it's definitely not. But cladistics can get you in trouble when you're looking at political movements.)

Maybe it's about rationalization. The same feeling could be expressed by one person as: "this is a heresy" (because "heresy" is their party's official boo light) and by another person as: "this could harm people" (because "harming people" is their party's official boo light). But in fact both people just feel the idea is repulsive to them, but can't quickly explain why.
I think this could be generalized into a model with predictions: If we suppose that it's easier to get people to nominally than actually abandon one of Haidt's moral axes (from Wikipedia, to save people some lookups: Care/harm, Fairness/cheating, Liberty/oppression, Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, and Sanctity/degradation), we should expect that people who disclaim one of the axes will find ways to relabel violations of that axis to make it sound like it's violating a professed axis. To be specific, if you have a group that officially disclaims the fairness/cheating axis, I expect they'll be quick to explain how cheating is a form of harm. Or drop the care/harm axis, and we'll probably hear about how harm is a form of oppression. And so forth.
Related: Fake Morality
Yes, but I don't believe it. As a test, imagine someone offers to give $1 billion to a city if it makes one public water fountain white's only. I bet most liberals would be horrified at the idea of the city accepting the offer.
I imagine that most people in the US would find such a transaction rather unnerving, regardless of political leanings, so this is not a good test of liberal views. Do you have a better example of a correlation between valuing political correctness and liberal views?
Hate speech. The liberal response to what Larry Summers said about women and math seems motivated by disgust.
I don't think it matters of it's racial. The general principle of having someone try to buy out a government's espoused moral principles sounds Very Bad. The reasoning is that if the government can be bought once, it can be bought twice, and thus it can be bought in general and is in the control of moneyed donors rather than the voting populace, proof by induction on the naturals -- so to speak.
Lobbyists and their money already have massive influence over governments. Plus, whether it's a good or bad idea, my claim is that most liberals would find the idea disgusting.
Haidt acknowledges that liberals feel disgust at racism and that this falls under purity/sacredness (explicitly listing it in a somewhat older article on Table 1, pg 59). His claim is that liberals rely on the purity/sacredness scale relatively more often, not that they never engage it. Still, in your example, I'd expect the typical reaction to be anger at a fairness violation rather than disgust.
But since the harm is trivial, no one is being treated unfairly absent disgust considerations.
You're familiar with the idea of anthropomorphization, right? Well, by analogy to that, I would call what you did here "rationalistomorphization," a word I wish was added to LessWrong jargon. This reaction needs only scope insensitivity to explain, you don't need to invoke purity. Though I actually agree with you that liberals have a disgust moral center.
How so?
If you are told a billion dollars hasn't been taxed from people in a city, how many people getting to keep a thousand dollars (say) do you imagine? Probably not a million of them. How many hours not worked, or small things that they buy do you imagine? Probably not any. But now that I think about it, I'd rather have an extra thousand dollars than be able to drink at a particular drinking fountain. But I don't think fairness the morality center is necessarily fairness over differing amounts of harm. It could be differing over social status. You could have an inflated sense of fairness, so that you cared much more than the underlying difference in what people get.
Economics being what it is, this is evidence that your hypothetical segregationist throwback is expecting to get more than a billion dollars of value out of the deal. That doesn't quite establish that someone's trying to screw the city, but it does gesture pretty emphatically in that direction; actual political sentiments hardly enter into it, except insofar as they provide exploitable tensions. (If I were the mayor, I'd take the money and then build the fountain as part of a practical exhibit in a civil rights museum.)
Since "politically incorrect" in this context basically means "most views that liberals disagree with", it's hardly surprising that they're repulsed by views in that category.
That still doesn't explain why they can't disagree with a view in a civil manner.

Most people, independent of political faction, can't have civil political disagreements. This effect tends to be exacerbated when they are surrounded by like-minded people and mitigated when they are surrounded by political opponents. Conservatives in elite academic environments are usually in the latter category, so I do think they will tend to be more civil in political disagreements than their liberal counterparts. However, I suspect that this situation would be reversed in, say, a military environment, although I have no experience with the military.

You could look at Fox News, where conservative contributors are generally far more bombastic and partisan than their liberal counterparts. Many liberals allege that Fox News deliberately hires milquetoast liberals in order to make liberalism look bad, but I don't think we need to posit a top-down agenda to explain the "Fox News liberal" phenomenon. It's simply the case that people are much less comfortable expressing their political views vigorously when they see themselves as being in enemy territory, especially if they need to make a home in that territory, rather than just briefly visiting it.

There's a difference between being bombastic and declaring that you're opponents shouldn't have the right to express their opinion.
Are you claiming that there is a significant proportion of liberals who declare that their opponents have no right to express their opinion? I'm pretty sure that's false.
Maybe not a significant portion, but it happens more often than you might think. On the other hand, I highly doubt that this kind of disruptive rhetorical behavior is more common on one side of the left-right spectrum than on the other.

My model is that it's: "we want to help everyone who is suffering" but also: "the only real suffering is the suffering according to our definitions".

Or more precisely: "the suffering according to our definitions influences millions of people, and anything you said (assuming you are not lying, which is kinda dubious, considering you are not one of us) is merely one specific weird exception, which might be an interesting footnote in an academic debate, but... sorry, limited resources".

I understand that with given model of reality, this is the right thing to do. But unfortunately, the model seems to suffer horribly from double-counting the evidence for it and treating everything else (including the whole science, if necessary) as an enemy soldier. A galaxy-sized affective death spiral. -- On the other hand, this is my impression mostly from the internet debates, and the internet debates usually show the darker side of humanity, in any direction, because the evaporative cooling is so much easier there.

(Off-topic: Heh, I feel I'm linking Sequences better than a Jehovah's Witness could quote the Bible. If anyone gets a cultish vibe from this, let me note tha... (read more)

Okay, your model is better than I thought. Sorry for nitpicking your hyperbole :-)
It's good to sometimes say the obvious things explicitly. (Also, some other person could have said the same thing non-hyperbolically.)
Cultish? No, it's how you signal that you're a rationalist and your readers are rationalists, and they should therefore actually consider what you're saying, rather than dismissing you as some kind of mainstream Traditionally Rational idiot with a snide recitation of "Bro, do you even Bayes?"
I don't think he's surprised to hear that claim. How would you distinguish the hypotheses? Perhaps you should hold the question in mind for a week as you think as a liberal and listen to liberals.

By the way, here is a recent example of just such a bad consequence for women. Basic summery:

1) Latest extreme sport added to olympics.

2) The playing field and obstacles will be the same for men and women; otherwise, it would be sexist and besides its cheaper to only build one arena. (We will of avoid thinking about why we have separate women's and men's competitions.)

3) Women wind up playing on the area designed for men and frequently get seriously injured at much higher rates.

Thoughts about having leagues/categories based on measured potential rather than male/female?
1) How do you reliably measure potential? You could have leagues based on ability (similar to the way major/minor league baseball works today). But notice that no one cares about the minors. 2) You do realize the practical effect of this in most sports would be that all the levels above amateur would be massively male dominated? 3) In more violent sports you'd have to deal with the cultural taboo against male on female violence. (You could eliminate that taboo, but somehow I'd don't think the feminists would be happy with that outcome.) 4) The feminists are likely to cry bloody sexism over (2) and (3) above.
You can't reliably measure potential, though there's been some work on genes and sports. Weight (and possibly height) classes would be a start. Not the gender issue, but I think there should be an anti-dehydration standard for sports with weight classes.

I think "from the Harvard Crimson" is a misleading description.

One of their undergraduate columnists had a very silly column. Undergraduates do that sometimes. Speaking as a former student newspaper columnist, often these columns are a low priority for the authors, and they're thrown together in a hurry the night before they're due. The column might not even represent what the author would think upon reflection, let alone what the editorial board of the Crimson as a whole believes. So I wouldn't read too much into this.

(For non-US readers: The Harvard Crimson is the student-produced newspaper of Harvard University. The editors and writers are generally undergraduates and they don't reflect any sort of institutional viewpoint.)

8Lucia Quirke
9 years later, in Nature: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-022-01443-2
Well, the observation is that the Crimson is willing to print crazy left-leaning articles. They are certainly not willing to print crazy right-leaning articles. Or even non-crazy right-leaning articles. That tells you something about the overall sociopolitical climate at the university.

They are certainly not willing to print... even non-crazy right-leaning articles.

That's not really true. Several of their contributors lean right. A few of one of these contributors' articles:

Now it is certainly true that conservative writers are the minority, just as conservatives are a minority in the college as a whole. But the Crimson doesn't discriminate on the basis of political orientation when approving writers.

I feel like those articles are very weak counterevidence to my argument. They're more like token, limp-wristed right-leaning contributions that the Crimson has to trot out every now and then to give the impression that they're impartial.
Are you sure they don't? I can tell you from personal experience that their peer papers, the Cornell Sun and the Daily Princetonian definitely have some right wing cranks to offset the left-wing ones. For the Sun in particular, I think the political spectrum of opinion columnists was a pretty fair proxy for the campus as a whole. And every so often there's a barnburner of an opinion piece in the Prince about how premarital sex is the devil's work.

announced explicitly as a good and noble goal, by the upcoming generation

Undergrad publications print the craziest shit imaginable and sometimes even mean it. I wouldn't expect them to "think" the same way a few years after graduation, though.

I'm not even sure if the article is serious or just a linkbait. Going more meta: I think the students should have the right to fire professors whose political opinions they dislike. The customer is always right. The problem is separating the "customer" aspects of the situation from the "non-customer" aspects, so the customer does not exercise more rights than they should have as a customer. For example in teaching, the student is a customer; in research they are not. Therefore students should have a right to prevent professors from teaching; not necessary university-wide, because other students may have different preferences; they should just have a right to avoid their lessons. But students shouldn't have a right to prevent professors from doing research. As a logical consequence, teaching and research should be separated. Because it seems that having the same person doing both research and teaching is a good idea for various reasons, I would just make both parts optional (and if the professor does less of one part, they have to do more of the other part). The idea is: students saying "I don't want to hear this" shouldn't affect research. Although the students should have a right not to hear what they don't want to hear. And the university should have a right to choose how much of this "not hearing" is acceptable with getting a diploma there; again, each university should be freee to chose differently.
Harvard isn't primarily funded by tuition. The large majority of students receive some aid, and most receive a lot of aid. The real customers are the alumni who build up the endowment. And those people are quite effectively represented in institutional governance, via the board of trustees ("the Harvard Corporation"). I'm also not sure quite how you would envision changing things. The students are perfectly free to take whatever courses and attend whatever lectures they want. However, if they want a Harvard degree, they need to meet the requirements of the College and of their department, and that might mean passing a required course with a professor the student dislikes. I can't quite picture a "customer is always right" university. I could imagine a system in which a university has no degree requirements that a student would find objectionable, but I don't think the students would want or benefit from such a thing. Part of the signaling value of a degree is that subject experts are attesting that the student has acquired a breadth and depth of knowledge.
That's pretty easy -- imagine a fourth-rate university the only interest of which is extracting as much money from students (and the federal government) as they can.
Yes, fair enough. I was being hyperbolic about "can't imagine" -- I should have said, "a university run purely for the preferences of the students would be very far from modern American universities, which are accountable to accreditors and donors, and which have a long tradition of faculty governance.."
Faint memory-- weren't medieval French universities run by students? I think they hired the professors.
I believe you're thinking of medieval Italian universities.
I would put it much more simply: students have a right to refuse to attend lecture, and professors have a right to give students a failing grade for doing so. And employers and grad-schools have a right to filter for students who actually learned something at school. Thus, everything adds up to normality.
Well, googling the author suggests she is serious.
On the other hand, the most-upvoted comments on the article are encouraging. :)
Ironically enough, it's somewhat surprising that The Crimson didn't censor this article, as it was bound to attract negative press. I'm hoping the fact that this is just an opinion piece, and that the article is currently in circulation on the internet as an example of what's wrong with academia, and that all the comments are opposed to it, is a sign that this is just the internet bringing the worst things to my attention, and that such thinking will never actually be reflected in any formal policy...if not, I've got some updating to do.
Well, in many ways what this article describes is already the informal policy in many places. Also, a lot of the bad ideas currently implemented in universities started out as widely mocked editorials and proposals, for example, the currant moral panic about rapists with its ever widening definition of "rape" and "sexual harassment" and its ever shrinking protections for the accused started out as widely mocked proposals.

LWers may find this interesting: someone may've finally figured out how to build a fully distributed prediction market (including distributed judging) on top of blockchains, dubbing it 'Truthcoin'.

The key idea is how judgment of a prediction market is carried out: holders of truthcoins submit encrypted votes 1/0 on every outstanding market, and rather than a simple majority vote, they're weighted by how well they mirror the overall consensus (across all markets they voted on) and paid out a share of trading fees based on that weight. This punishes deviation from the majority and reminds me of Bayesian truth serum.

Clever. I haven't been too impressed with the Bitcoin betting sites I've seen too far (some of them like Bets of Bitcoin are just atrocious), but this seems like a fully decentralized design. The problem is it's so complex that I don't see anyone implementing it anytime soon.

It seems to be a straightforward way to implement a new altcoin. If someone pays 200,000$ for two man years of programmer time to implement this and then makes 10 million$ with the altcoin that seems to me like a valid business model.
Wouldn't evil people farm consensus karma via specifically constructed bets?
Hm, how would that work? If you make 1000 nonsense markets and the majority of people refuse to vote on your nonsense bets, then their votes are recorded as 0.5s/neutrals, and you can't diverge from them without being punished, which eliminates any gain from 'good karma' (and if you likewise are neutral, you've spent a lot of money for no particular point).
After actually reading some of the pdf, I feel that any possible objections as simple as the one I used there have already been accounted for. Disregard me.
Though prediction markets have their potential problems, this could be the first in a long series of ever better decentralised prediction markets. I wonder what the legalities will be, similar to how Intrade got into trouble with the US government over regulations regarding commodity derivatives.
Who do you sue? :)
There is always someone to sue. Maybe the SEC argues that anyone who runs the client is offering services that need a licence.
Then it will be hidden behind Tor.
Maybe the SEC argues that running the TOR client is probable cause. (Several iterations of "But what if" later...) Maybe someone rules that encrypted or obfuscated communication is probable cause. (I don't think this is likely, I just wanted to skip to the end of this line of thinking) ...actually, I wonder if anyone's tried to engineer a distributed steganographic cryptocurrency.

I just want to thank all of you, as both individuals, and as a community, for being a decent place for discourse. In the last few months, I've been actively engaging with Less Wrong more frequently. Prior to that, I mostly tried asking for opinions on an issue I wanted analyzed on my Facebook. On Facebook, there has been typically been one person writing something like 'ha, this is a strange question! [insert terrible joke'here]. Other than that, radio silence.

On Less Wrong, typical responses are people not thinking I'm weird because I want to analyze stuff outside of the classroom, or question things outside of a meeting dedicated to airing one's skepticism. On Less Wrong, typical responses to my queries are correcting me directly, without beating around the bush, or fearing of offending me. All of you ask me to clarify my thinking when it's confused. When you cannot provide an academic citation, you seem to try to extract what most relevant information you can from the anecdotes from your personal experiences. I find this greatly refreshing.

I created this open thread to ask a specific question, and then I asked some more. Even just from this open thread, the gratification I recei... (read more)

Many people I know report having much lower-quality experiences on Facebook than mine. The algorithm for improving the quality of the Facebook experience is fairly straightforward: if someone posts content you don't want to see, hide them. If someone makes comments on your statuses you don't want, unfriend them. Repeat. At some point you may need to find new friends, or at least follows.

I've lost 30 pounds since September 17th, 2013*. Interestingly, I've noticed doing so caused me to lose a lot of faith in LW.

In the midst of my diet, discussion in the comments on this series of posts confounded me. I'm no expert on nutrition or dieting(I do know perhaps more than the average person), but my sense is that I encountered a higher noise-to-signal ratio on the subject here at LW than anywhere else I've looked. There seemed to be all sorts of discussion about everything other than the simple math behind weight loss. Lots of super fascinating stuff—but much of it missing the point, I thought.

I learned a few interesting things during the discussion—which I always seem to do here. But in terms of providing a boost to my instrumental rationality, it didn't help at all. In fact, it's possible LW had a negative impact on my ability to win at dieting and weight management.

I notice this got me wondering about LW's views and discussions about many other things that I know very little about. I feel myself asking "How could I rationally believe LW knows what they are talking about in regard to the Singularity, UFAI, etc. if they seem to spin their wheels so badly on a discus... (read more)

Consider the following story:

I was feeling a little blue. I looked at the psychiatric literature, and they were saying all this weird stuff about neurotrophic factors and cognitive-behavioral therapy. But then that night I had dinner with some friends, went to the gym for an hour, and sure enough I felt a lot better afterwards!

I would have at least three qualms with such an attitude:

First, there are different kinds of low mood. Some differences are obvious; some people are less depressed than others, or depressed for much shorter time periods. But it could also be that there are no visible differences between two people, but that for hidden reasons one person's depression will respond to some quick exercise and social activity, and another person's won't.

Second, even interventions that are known to always work can be hard to task-ify. Exercise is indeed often a very effective treatment for depression, but when you tell a depressed person "just go and exercise", they usually won't do that because they're too depressed. Having a good social support network can be helpful in depression, but depressed people can be unable to make friends because deep down they assume ever... (read more)

Last I heard, the popular science theory about why it's easier to lose weight than to keep it off is that appetite increases rather than that metabolism slows. Have you heard anything else that looks plausible?
As you would probably imagine, there is a bit of both, though it seems like the hunger portion is more important. Intuitively, any change in metabolic rate is very easily overshadowed in magnitude by increases or decreases in the amount of food eaten. This is why exercising to "burn calories" is ineffective as a means of weight loss. One tall glass of orange juice is equivalent to ~10-15% of your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) or to ~30 minutes on a treadmill. This turned out a lot longer than I expected, but hopefully it will be useful to some people. There are two primary hormones involved in hunger and weight management, Ghrelin and Leptin, with Leptin being arguably more important because of all of its downstream effects and because it is the one we can control with diet and exercise interventions: (One important thing to know here is that the important thing is the level of hormonal "Activity", not the absolute levels of the hormone. Activity is made up of two factors: How much of the hormone you have and sensitivity to that hormone. For example, obese people with chronically high blood sugar are usually insulin resistant. They have high levels of insulin, but it doesn't do its job properly because they have low sensitivity to insulin. This is caused by chronically high levels of the hormone.) 1. Ghrelin: Secreted by adipose (fat) tissue, increases hunger. Ghrelin is "entrained" by your eating habits which is why you usually get hungry at about the same time each day. People who are used to eating breakfast feel hungry if they don't, because your body releases Ghrelin when you expect to eat. More fat tissue leads to higher Ghrelin levels on average. (More fat => more hungry) Ghrelin is not known to have "resistance" associated with it. 2. Leptin: Also secreted by adipose (fat) tissue, decreases hunger. Leptin is also entrained by meal patterns, so having a regular eating schedule is likely effective in controlling excess eating. Low leptin leads to both an i
It is quite clear that people's set points change over their lifetime -- great many people are trim in their 20s and then succumb to the middle-age spread in their 40s. Looks like one can make an argument that in many (but not all) people their set points drift upwards as they age, at least until the 60s when some revert to losing weight, and not only muscle mass but fat as well. The interesting question, of course, is whether one can "reset" one's set point to what it was in the 20s. Any comments (or links) on how low-carb diets in general and ketosis in particular affect leptin?
Right, I mean by specific interventions. For example, dieting down to very low body fat and then maintaining it does not appear to increase leptin sensitivity (much) beyond that of a normal-weight person, nor does exercise. As far as ketosis and leptin goes, This study indicates that carbohydrate overfeeding increases leptin and energy expenditure, while fat overfeeding does not. This suggests that eating carbohydrates naturally causes you to get full, while fat does not, which is inline with research on satiety and macronutrients. (Keep in mind that fructose is not metabolized like a normal carbohydrate and has different effects on leptin and so may not cause the leptin increase or induce satiety.) This study indicates that ketosis blunts ghrelin release even in a caloric deficit which could be the reason that people on ketogenic diets (or doing intermittent fasts, which is a fat-burning state) report lower hunger levels. In this situation, leptin is lower which probably reduces metabolic rate a bit (probably not hugely significant), but its effect on hunger is probably balanced out by the change in ghrelin. If you are doing a ketogenic or low carb diet, if you reach a plateau with weight loss, it could be because your leptin is too low. Doing a carb refeed with glucose (which includes starches), but not fructose, could be beneficial.
Interesting. So this implies that lower hunger in calorie-deficit ketosis is due to low ghrelin which more than compensates for lower leptin... And yes, carb refeeds (usually weekly) are a component of many low-carb diets.
How long is long enough to increase leptin sensitivity? Anecdotally, people who keep weight off say it requires constant attention, not that they develop a lower set point.
This is correct. That's what I meant by "That means that if your set-point is higher than the weight you've dieted to, your naturally regulated food intake will lead to slowly gaining weight again up to your set point." If your set-point is higher than your weight, then you will still gain weight back if you're not careful. Once your leptin system is restored to healthy function though, your body is better at regulating its weight. Weight gain at this point is likely to be slow and gradual rather than the rapid "rebound" weight gain that many dieters get if they completely stop their diet without allowing for this system to recover first. Also, since eating a lot makes your produce leptin, if your body is now sensitive to that signal, it will naturally make you less hungry for a little while, whereas if you're leptin resistant, you feel hungry even when you've had enough. This is the benefit. That means that if you follow sensible lifestyle-diet practices even when you're done with the intense diet phase, you can greatly slow or prevent weight regain. That would be things such as eating whole foods instead of processed foods, fruits and vegetables for fiber, and limit sugar (fructose is the real culprit) and alcohol consumption. This one probably varies a lot with the individual. Also, keep in mind that there are different levels of leptin resistance, so recovery follows a curve. From anecdotal reports, it seems that some people can see significant improvement in 4-6 weeks with most people getting significant improvement within 3 months. I think it's likely that improvements will continue for 6 months to a year depending on the individual.
I like the analogy, because I can personally relate to depression. I don't know that it is a great one, though. We know very well how to cause weight loss. It's a calorie deficit issue, and we could force it to occur. That is, we can will weight loss. It has not been my experience that people can will happiness—not even for a short time. They can (sometimes) will themselves to be productive, and smile, and go to work, and even drudge through exercise. But willing happiness is not a possibility I am aware of. It isn't my argument that we should "force" weight loss, only that we can. We should be as sciency as we can be in order to come up with more convenient and reasonable ways to help be lose weight. I gamified it. I used some LW-ish principles. Questions: * I assume you do not consider depression a choice. That is, depressed people cannot chose to become undepressed. They may choose to engage in behaviors that alleviate depression, but certain people are so severely depressed that they cannot summon the will to even engage in the depression-alleviate behaviors. Is this an accurate summary? * If someone's caloric balance were 100% controlled so that they had a 300 kcal daily deficit, what would happen to that persons weight over the course of 30 days? 90 days? 1 year? What would happen to their appetite? Metabolism? BMI? Assume they are given a careful balance adequate nutrients. Assume they are given freedom to exercise and be active to their heart's content. An exact 300 kcal deficit is alwasy 100% enforced. What would result?

I think you've rescued the rule that depressive people can't just decide to feel happy. But by your theory, they should still be able to go to work, maintain all their relationships, and otherwise behave exactly like a non-depressed person in every way. In practice this seems very hard for depressed people and a lot of the burden of depression is effects from not being able to do this. The metaphor that just as this is a hard problem and worthy of scientific attention, so weight loss can be a hard problem and worthy of scientific attention still holds.

But why stick with depression? I could just as easily move to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Can't they just "force" not washing their hands too often? Or social phobia - can't they just "force" themselves to go out and socialize when appropriate?

Probably the best example is substance abuse - can't people just "force" themselves not to drink alcohol? And yet not only do therapy-type interventions like Alcoholics Anonymous appear to work, but purely biological interventions like Vivitrol seem to work as well. I am pretty happy that these exist and the more of them people can think up for weight loss, the ... (read more)

I think you missed my point, or I threw it by you poorly. I don't think they "should", I think they sometimes can. I sometimes can, and though I know from LW that not all minds are alike, it's safe to assume I'm also not wholly unique in my depression. As you go on to point out, there is some baseline threshold for which people cannot will themselves out of depression or other psychological issues, just as there are weight loss diets and exercise programs they cannot succeed at. To your analogy of the marathon: There is a right answer to whether you can run X miles in Y minutes and not physically injure yourself. I'd imagine the majority of people never come close to knowing that answer because they do not posses the ability to refrain from rationalizing themselves out of the optimal result as discomfort begins during their run. I'm aware that I'm personally really bad at this—my first .5 mile I'm telling myself I'm Usain Bolt; by mile 2 I'm coming up with manifold reasons to stop pushing. No doubt some are good and rational reasons, but others are bullshit that I need only train my mind to recognize as such in order to push through and be successful. That's not really what I was asking. Maybe I asked poorly. Can you instead imagine a scenario where a controlled calorie deficit was administered to a person where they received a balanced diet with all the nutrients they needed? 300 kcal was arbitrary. Pick any number. Isn't there some number that would be negligible in terms of the utility of its nutritional value and yet provide a calories deficient sufficient to lead to weight loss? My point was that depression seems to have no such scenario. You cannot engineer a situation to "make" people be happy. Without excess food, or alcohol, you cannot get to obesity or alcohol addiction, right? Depression has no such outside variable.

I think you missed my point, or I threw it by you poorly. I don't think they "should", I think they sometimes can. I sometimes can, and though I know from LW that not all minds are alike, it's safe to assume I'm also not wholly unique in my depression.

I agree that they sometimes can. I also agree people can sometimes lose weight. As far as I was concerned, our disagreement here (if one exists) isn't about whether it's possible in some cases.

Are you willing to agree to a statement like:

"Weight loss is possible in some cases, and in fact very easy in some cases. In other cases it is very hard, bordering in impossible given the marathon-analogy definition of impossible below. This can be negated by heroic measures like locking them in a room where excess food is unavailable and ignoring their appetite and distress, but in the real world you cannot do this. Because of these difficult cases, it is useful to explore the science behind weight loss and come up with more effective strategies.

If so, we agree, but then I'm confused why you were criticizing the Less Wrongers in your original statement. If you don't agree, please let me know which part we disagree about.

To y

... (read more)
Yes, basically. Though I don't know if I like the inclusion of "real" world. It isn't possible to deprive people of excess calories in the practical world, but calories math and weight loss are, as far as I know, a physical law in the real universe. Since this thread became longer and more involved than I thought, I should go back and find a few examples from the discussion I mention in my original post. Generally, the discussion seemed to be over-complicating a simple issue. Forgive me if I mentioned this to you already, but I see two distinct discussions in regard to weight loss: * 1 - The causal mechanisms that lead to losing weight. * 2 - Executing a rational plan with those causal mechanisms in mind. In my view (I'll look for examples), the issues were conflated, with 1 receiving the majority of debate. I don't think 1 is in need of debate, and I now wonder if people were just looking for a way to hack the causal mechanisms because dieting via 2 is super hard. I sincerely empathize. With depression, I feel sometimes like people try to suggest all sorts of 2-styled help to me, for instance. They sort of come across like, "Just choose these different behaviors and it will alleviate your depression". In that way, they are telling folks with depression they believe it to be a choice. Even though I hate it, they are kind of correct. I can't currently do anything to change the causal mechanisms that lead to obesity or depression. I'd like to, but I can't. I gotta do 2 to feel happy. If I can't, I'm gonna be sad, no matter much I pretend I can change 1. I do think there are hacks for 2. And I'm 100% in favor of exploring them. As I said before, I used many tricks to help my will and motivation while dieting. But if you want to lose weight, you have to create a calorie deficit. As you go on to say, the body will used stored calories if you don't eat enough. Living that calorie deficit (dieting) can blow. It blew for me. But it was a trade off in order that I

I agree that trying to avoid all pain can be a failure mode. But insisting that pain needs to be plowed through can also be a failure mode.

The advice "You should run a marathon by continuing to run even if it hurts" might perhaps be useful as part of a package of different interventions to a runner who's hit some kind of a motivational wall.

But in other situations it is completely inappropriate. For example, suppose a certain runner has a broken leg, but you don't know this and he can't communicate it to you. He just says "It really really hurts when I run!" And you just answer "Well, you need to run through the pain!"

This is an unreasonable request. If you were more clueful, you might make a suggestion like "You should go to a doctor, wait for your broken leg to heal, and then try running later."

And if enough people have broken legs, then promoting the advice "You should run a marathon by continuing to run even when it hurts" is bad advice. Even if we assume that people are still capable of running on broken legs and will not collapse, you are generalizing from your own example to assume that the pain they suffer will be minimal a... (read more)

I think some of the fat people who starved to death were suffering from mineral deficiencies.
In that case the interesting question is whether these people who will literally starve to death before losing fat are exceedingly rare metabolic freaks, nothing more than medical curiosities? If their prevalence is in single digits per million they are just a red herring in the discussion of obesity. I suspect that for pretty much any generally accepted and valid health advice there is some exotic medical condition which makes following this advice a horribly wrong thing for that particular individual. In general, I think it's highly useful to state that being in energy deficit through (usually) eating less or (less usually) spending more is the only way to lose weight outside of surgery. That's not the final word on the topic, but it should be the first. Otherwise you get equivalents of alcoholics who believe they'll fix their dependency by avoiding one particular kind of alcohol and drinking some other kind. Yes, there are different ways to maintain energy deficit. In some cases you can just bulldoze through on willpower (or sufficient motivation). In some cases your personal biochemistry will be cooperative and in other cases it will not. Sometimes adjusting your hormonal and metabolic balance will do wonders, sometimes it will do nothing. People are different. It's complicated :-/
People have literally died of that mistake, so there might be some reason to want to avoid making it-- like tracking what' actually happening to people's bodies when they're trying to lose weight. Also, disorders tend to exist in a range of intensity, so that's another reason to keep track of the effects of dieting-- even if people whose bodies don't release energy from fat enough to avoid death are very rare, people who who have a lot of difficulty with losing fat shouldn't be assumed to be lying, and may be losing more muscle mass than is good for them.
Of that mistake? Links, please, to cases where people actually bothered to control their electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, and other essentials -- they just denied themselves calories and died from starvation still weighting a few hundred pounds. "Have a lot of difficulty with" and "biochemically cannot" are very different things. A lot of people have difficulty with losing fat -- this does not imply that they cannot do it, only that they are unwilling or incapable of paying the price to do it. Alternatively they may be accumulating more fat than is good for them. As a practical matter I am not a big fan of using weight as the target variable. I much prefer either the body fat % or getting naked in front of a full-length mirror.
Of course. I use the broken leg while trying to run analogy to describe people's advice to "just keep functioning" during deep depressive bouts. Can you provide an estimate to the % of the population this applies to? My understanding is that individual metabolism varies pretty significantly from person to person. From my recall, something like 25%-30% of BMR is derived from some unknown variable, probably just genetic pre-disposition. If that is the case, then it is true that some people are much better—no credit to them or their will—at losing weight. Person A and B could live identical lives from a caloric balance standpoint, one ending up obese while the other is trim and fit. This is a very useful thing for people to know. Skinny people and obese people might not be doing anything differently in terms of lifestyl, willpower, motivation, etc. I like spreading that idea, because skinny people can act superior and shame obese people for "failing", and the data suggest that can be bullshit. However, if you are pre-disposed according to the 25-30% mystery BMR to not have a fast enough metabolism to stay skinny in a culture that so cherishes it, then there is not necessarily much you can do about it other than just (a) eat less or (b) exercise more. Come up with smart 2 ideas, sure. But there is no escaping the reality of 1, and nature has put you at a X% disatvantage in the "staying skinny" dept. (Nature does the same to those with depression in the "staying happy" dept. or those with OCD in the "staying calm and avoiding obsessive thinking" dept. I know first hand.) I don't think low carb diets work for the pseudo-scientific reasons that propenents say they do. I think it is nothing more than calorie control. Look at Atkins. Consider it in light of the average, carb-loaded American diet. If you quit carbs, you create a calorie deficit for very practical reasons. Pretending something mystical is taking place is silly and leads to bad ideas about the nature of
I feel you're underappreciating the changes ketosis forces upon your body. See, for example, this and this.
From the second article: Do you have a guess as to what the overall effect ketosis has on weight loss? If I maximize the effect, what % can I increase the efficiency of my diet?
I don't have proper data, just anecdata -- suitable for WAGs (wild-ass guesses) but not much more. What do you mean by that? Besides, being in long-term ketosis tends to lead to many consequences unconnected with weight loss or gain. See e.g. here for some discussion. Anecdotally many people who's been on VLC diets for a year or so tend to develop problems that go away when they add a bit of glucose (=carbs) to their intake.
*googles* For the first couple seconds that sounded very silly to me, then I realized it's pretty much the same as what I'm doing right now.
I did something of a similar simple nature a couple years back. I removed soda, alcohol, fast food and anything resembling dessert for 1 year. I also I added 1 liter of water, 1 raw fruit and 1 raw vegetable to my diet, following this very strictly. (I ate a lot of roma tomatos like apples over the sink late at night before bed to honor the diet...) I wish I would have tracked my body fat% because I believe it was very effective... and relatively easy to keep the diet.
http://skepchick.org/2014/02/the-female-athlete-triad-not-as-fun-as-it-sounds/ Women trying to do the right thing by underfeeding themselves, and being more vulnerable to injury as a result.

For what it's worth, weight loss and related topics are one of the things that I might describe as unconventionally political: not aligned with any of the standard Blue-Green axes, but nonetheless identity-entangled enough that getting useful information out of them is unusually difficult. (Also in this category: relationship advice, file sharing, hardcore vs. casual within gaming, romantic status of fictional characters, ponies.)

I have an acquaintance whose every third Facebook update is about types of food you should or shouldn't eat for whatever reason. She's not into fitness or dietary ethics (vegetarianism, sustainability, etc.), and the only possible reasons I can think of for her to opine over diet so much are (a) it gives her secret superpowers she's not allowed to talk about, or (b) she has a really strong orthogonally-political affiliation based around food.

"How could I rationally believe LW knows what they are talking about in regard to the Singularity, UFAI, etc. if they seem to spin their wheels so badly on a discussion about something as simple as weight loss?"

Dieting is one of many topics discussed on this forum where the level of discourse is hardly above dilettante. Applied rationality and AGI friendliness research is done by several people full-time, which brings the discussion quality up in these areas, mostly. So it would not be fair to judge those by the averages. Everything else is probably subreddit-level, only more polite and on-topic.

Sure. That makes really good sense. But couldn't it also be said that dieting is pretty simple subject matter? (It also happens to be a pretty integral part of life—so it makes sense for people interested in "winning" and optimizing their rationality to have a solid understanding of how to maintain a top-flight diet.) It's hard for me to grasp how people could be at "subreddit-level" understanding af something that is so simple while making such bold assertions about hyper-complex stuff in the cosmologically distant future. With no disrespect, your reply reads to me a bit like this: "You can't expect a graduate-level philosophy professor to know how to long divide...it's not his area of expertise."

Dieting is anything but simple. It is still an open problem. Human body and mind is an extremely complicated system. What works for one person doesn't work for another. Eliezer put in some significant time into figuring out his weight issues, to no avail, and is apparently desperate enough to resort to some extreme measures, like consuming home-made gloop. Many people are lucky to be able to maintain a healthy weight with only a few simple tweaks, and you might be one of them. If you want a more fair comparison, "You can't expect a graduate-level philosophy professor to know how to design a multi-threaded operating system". No, that's not quite enough. "...how to solve an unsolved millennium problem" is closer.

I agree. Any complex problem can be made to appear simple if you look at it from the right perspective. For a lot of people, it's very tempting to oversimplify the problem of dieting down to something like "eat less move more!"
I think we have a misunderstanding in regard to the definiton of "simple". Likely my fault for adding this aside: I'm not saying actually executing a good diet is easy. I'm saying understanding what needs to be done to lose weight is simple. Consuming fewer calories is very challenging—it can lead to fatigue, mood changes, etc., etc. Likewise, exercising consistently is easier said than done. Add to that that some people have slow metabolisms, the fat-shaming that overweight people deal with in many cultures, the availabity of superstimulus foods everywhere. Maintain a healthy weight isn't easy. But the fundamental causal mechanism at play is very simple.

But the fundamental causal mechanism at play is very simple.

Sure, calories in vs calories out... Except it is not helpful when you cannot effectively control one or both without reducing the real or perceived quality of life to the level where people refuse to exercise this control. This is where most diets eventually fail. And you seem to agree with that, while still maintaining that "understanding what needs to be done to lose weight is simple", where it is anything but, since it includes understanding of the actual doable actions one has to perform and still enjoy life. And this all-important understanding is sorely lacking in a general case.


[...]something as simple as weight loss?"

Weight loss isn't as simple as you think.

Sure it's all about burning more than you eat, but for a lot of people "just eat less and exercise more!" isn't advice they can follow. You seem to have "lucked out" on that front.

The far more interesting and useful question is "what factors determine how easy it is to eat less and exercise more?". This is where it gets nontrivial. You can't even narrow it down to one field of study. I've known people to have success from just changing their diet (not all in the same way) as well as others who have had success from psychological shifts - and one from surgery.

I don't consider LW to be the experts on how to lose weight either, but that doesn't signal incompetence to me. Finding the flaws in the current set of visible "solutions" is much easier than finding your own better solution or even grasping the underlying mechanisms that explain the value and limitations of different approaches. So if you have a group of people who are good at spotting sloppy thinking who spend a few minutes of their day analyzing things for fun, of course you're going to see a very critical literature review rather than a unanimously supported "winner". Even if there were such a thing in the territory waiting to be found (I suspect there isn't), then you wouldn't expect anyone on LW to find it unless they were motivated to really study it.

Yes, and no. There are significant differences between some individuals' BMR. And some people are just better at managing will power. And some likely people experience much greater physiological responses to food than others. In those ways, you're exactly right. I'm apparently wired to be able to white knuckle my way to a successful ~6 week diet where some others cannot. But that wasn't really the thrust of the argument in the discussion I linked. Rather, it was all sorts of back and forth about the viability of popular dieting methods. I agree dieting isn't easy to do for all sorts of reasons. But it is simple. And that seemed to be completely lost on a group of people that are way smarter than me. It made me think twice about LW's views on all sorts of things that aren't easy or simple.

I agree dieting isn't easy to do for all sorts of reasons. But it is simple. And that seemed to be completely lost on a group of people that are way smarter than me.

An alternative explanation might be that the "weightloss = energy output - energy intake" model is so simple that all the people involved in the discussion already understand it, consider it obvious and trivial, and have moved on to discussing harder questions.

Perhaps. Though from my recall that was not the case.
-- Eliezer Yudkowsky So yes, dieting is simple!
Back and forth should be expected in a realm where the studies are terrible and different methodologies seem to yield vastly different results for people based on unknown parameter differences between them.
As a stats / machine learning person, a lot of the "Bayesian statistics" talk around here is pretty cringe-inducing. My impresion is that physicists probably feel similarly about "many-worlds" discussions. I think LessWrong unfortunately causes people to believe that being a dilettante is enough to merit a confident opinion on a subject.
One of the most annoying things to me about Eliezer is how much is writing style is bombastic and hyperconfident and how it's encouraged here to talk like that despite the entire point of probabilistic reasoning being to NEVER be 100 percent certain of things.
Well it seems there's a lot more to weight loss than simple math. I should add that from an outside perspective, there is a pretty good chance you will re-gain the weight you lost. Anyway, I agree with you that the discourse about obesity/weight loss/etc. is not much better here than in other places. I think part of the problem is that low-carb dieting is almost like a religious issue for some people. I suspect another part of the problem is that self-deception seems to play a role in obesity/overweight. Last, there are a large number of poor thinkers who post here (as in most places); arguably a subject like weight loss which is very easy to have an opinion on is a magnet for them. Somewhat, yes. I wrote a blog post called "Is Lesswrong More Wrong" a while back.
Since your injury was in the neck (generally highly enervated tissue) and it was serious enough to forbid weightlifting, I assume it was quite painful. What painkillers did you take? This is relevant because many painkillers (including Tramadol, a standard medication for herniated disks) greatly reduce appetite, and the after-effects can linger for weeks after you stop taking them.
Aleve & Advil. No painkillers.
Both are pain medications, specifically non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which upset the gastrointestinal tract and are known to cause appetite loss. I'm not saying you didn't make an effort, but that you had help you were not aware of.
There's a risk of those side effects. That doesn't mean they're caused reliably enough for you to make the conclusion he definitely had help. Lists of side effects don't mean much without probabilities. If they're caused reliably and you can provide the data I'm interested.
I don't have probabilities: Appetite loss does not (usually) require intervention, so it is not considered an adverse drug reaction and will generally not need to be listed. But it is reasonable the fairly mild effect of appetite loss will occur more often the serious gastrointestinal problems that the first link describes as the main group of adverse drug reactions of this group of substances.
The fact that you managed to lose weight in a way where you wish it weren't the case, doesn't mean much for the people who are intentionally trying to lower their weight. I would also add that information about direct weight numbers doesn't tell the whole story. What was your BMI before and after?
I don't have any body composition data, though it would be interesting to know. I was a serious powerlifter before my injury, and I'd imagine I've lost a not insignificant amount of muscle mass over the past 4 or 5 months. And I should have been clearer about my story: I was injured at the beginning of October when I weighed in the ~195-198 lb range. I didn't eat much for a couple weeks due to the pain and inconvenience, then I ate like shit until Jan 1 when I weighed (a much fluffier, by my estimation) ~185-187 lbs. As of mid-February (now) I weigh ~168-169 lbs. I very intentionally started focusing on losing "junk" weight as of Jan 1, so it might just be easier to say I lost ~15-18 lbs in ~6 weeks doing nothing more than (a) limiting calories & (b) adding consistent exercise.
I would guess that you know how tall you are. That means you should be able to calculate BMI. Basically you had a significant injury and then lost weight but you think that the fact that your body reacts to being seriously injured has nothing directly to do with your body physiology changing. But even if that's not the casual mechanism seriously insuring oneself that one feels enough pain and inconvenience to reduce the amount of food that one eats is not a viable strategy for other people to copy.
BMI was 28.4 October 1, 2013 & 24.1 today. (Sorry, never really use BMI. I'd be more interested to know my bodyfat %, etc.) As for the rest of your comment, you're actually further driving home the point I'm trying to make about LW. I just said this: The simplest answer is that I ate less and exercised more. I created a calorie deficit. Period. It is, of course, possible that there are other causal mechanisms at play. But I don't think the evidence supports that. If I eat more this week, I'll gain weight. If I do 25% more treadmill work over the next two weeks, I'll lose weight. Sometimes there are deep, complicated, casual mechanisms at play. LW is full of minds that can imagine and decribe those in detail at a level that is amazing to me. But some stuff is simple.
As noted elsewhere, this is a bit of an oversimplification. It's like saying "If you want to build a nuclear bomb, use high explosives to compress a core of plutonium into a critical volume. Period." or "If you want to fix your alcoholism problem, just stop drinking alcohol. Period." In other words, you are glossing over the very difficult and complex problems involved in successful weight loss. I daresay the flaw in your thinking is the assumption that there is unitary control in your brain, i.e. that you can control yourself just like you can control your character in a video game and simply enter the command for "consume fewer calories." Based on my informal investigation into the matter, I am convinced that there are competing aspects to the brain which share control over the body. And that it's impossible for one part to be in control all of the time. This is a big problem for dieting because if you are fat, you probably have an inner fattie who doesn't care one whit about fitness or counting calories, he just wants to consume potato chips without regards to future consequences. And if he takes control for just a few minutes here and there, it can easily ruin your diet. To my mind, this is the essential problem of dieting -- how to organize the competing factions within your brain so that your body receives instructions consistent with healthy eating nearly 100% of the time.
I understand. There seem to be two issues. * 1 - Finding instrumentally rational ways to execute a successful diet according to the causal mechanisms that lead to weight loss. * 2 - The causal mechanisms that lead to weight loss. It isn't my argument that #1 is easy. I'm only saying #2 is simple. From my recall, the discussion I originally linked was making #2 very complicated. This was, I think, to the detriment of anyone interested in actually losing weight. Gamify it, meditate, medicate, operate -- whatever works for you to do #1, 'cuz it is SO OBVIOUSLY HARD. But obfuscating the simplicity of #2 in the process is not helpful, which is my view of what was happenning in the discussion I linked.
I do agree that the distinction you draw can get muddied. But look at it this way: Suppose there is a problem which consists of two sub-parts - one of which is simple and one of which is complicated. If there is an in-depth discussion of the problem, it is reasonable to expect that discussion to focus on the more complicated sub-problem. If someone wanders in and says that people are missing the point, then he himself is kind of missing the point. The other thing to consider is that there does exist some evidence relating (1) to (2). For example, some people claim to have an easier time restricting their eating if they shift their diet away from carbohydrates. One could call this the Weak Carbs Hypothesis. Some people claim that if you simply eliminate refined carbohydrates (whatever that means) from your diet, you will naturally restrict your calories enough to become and stay thin. One might call this the Strong Carbs Hypothesis. I personally believe in what might be called the Junk Food Hypothesis.
If this is what happened, I'd have said nothing. What I observed was a discussion of 2 as if it were not really simple. 1 is a very useful conversation. My guess is that, generally, people want to talk about 2 because 1 is the hard part of dieting. If there is someway to hack 2, then you don't need to worry about 1. In my understanding, there isn't a way to hack 2. But the discussion swirling around the articles on Taubes seemed to be advocating some ideas that seemed bogus and pseudo-scientifc to me, but I trusted LWers on account of the fact they tend to be smarter than I. Since losing weight (rather simply, and by ignoring all the noice I heard here) I've noticed my confidence in LW is lower. This still is a 1 issue to me. I have dieting tricks I use too. But they aren't somehow negating the simple calorie math that determines weight loss. As far as carbs, my assumption (that I now feel stronger than ever about) is that carb-restriction diets "work" because Western diets tend to have lots of carbs in them and people are so accustomed. If you make a rule saying you'll not eat carbs, you'd be hard-pressed to come up with enough calories eating non-carb stuff to not lose weight. I mean, if someone is eating 60-65% of their caloric intake in carbs and then they quit carbs, they'll lose weight. If someone drinks a 6-back of beer a day and then quits, they'll lose weight on account of consuming fewer calories. But we don't call this the No Beer Diet and pretend something magical is occuring like we do with Atkins and other low carb diets.
Would you mind linking to an example so I can understand what you are talking about? That may very well be the case. I myself am pretty skeptical of low carb dieting. At a minimum, it does not appear to be the "silver bullet" which some people have claimed it to be.
You're right to have low confidence in our winning-ness. If we were winning so hard, why would we be so often theorizing about what it takes to win? Reading and writing well means never having to admit that you didn't do any research before weighing in.
Do you understand why people in science like placebo controlled trials? It's because understanding causal mechanisms is hard. There are a lot of people who try really hard to develop programs that are effective at inducing weightloss in a broad public and they fail. If weightloss is really simple then why don't we have programs that show effective results in clinical trials?
Because it is hard to actually execute diets. You're conflating two issues now. There are exceptions, but people will lose weight very predictably if food intake and exercise is 100% controlled. Dieting "theory" is all about helping people stick to the plans that engage the causal mechanisms that science already has informed us will work.
Assuming Brillyant didn't become any taller or any shorter during that time, isn't the change in BMI just the change in weight times a constant?
I'm not sure if I'm reading your footnote correctly -- are you saying you lost 15 of the 30 pounds while eating poorly and lying around? Was it lost muscle from not weightlifting?
I'm down 20 pounds— as of today— since Jan 1 I was injured in ~Oct 1 of last year and lost ~11 lbs from that time until Jan 1, 2014. From my recall, I ate very little for the first few weeks after my injury. Then, I ate fast food and other junk a lot until Jan 1. One other note: I was intentionally eating 3250-3750 cals (and 300+ grams of protein) a day prior to getting injured. I was training to break a powerlifting record, so I was trying to add muscle. My general thought is that my metabolism was a damned furnace when I got injured. Combined with the lack of eating resulting from the pain of the injury, I lost weight quickly in the first 2-3 weeks. Then I "fluffed" up a bit via fast food and beer in time for Jan 1. Then I cut 20lbs in 7 weeks using nothing other than a treadmill and limiting calorie intake.
Ah, thanks for the clarification.
I really need to finish my post on practical body recomposition. The quality of information about this topic is very low on this website, and I feel like I could positively contribute.
I lost around 40 pounds using low carb methods. Should this make me less confident in anything you say when you promote other ways to lose weight?
Congratulations. I think there's some support for the idea of trying to lose weight slowly, without cutting caloric intake too much more than it takes to see some progress (tricky when to see it you have to average over several days, or, for women, a month)
Low carb method = less calories. That was the point that strangely failed to prevail in the discussion of the post series I linked. Avoid fatty foods diet, avoid carbs diet, don't snack diet, etc. all = less calories "method".
That explains why when I tried cutting calories I had headaches and tiredness constantly and no weight loss but somehow magically was able to cut calories once I decided to cut carbs OH WAIT NO IT DOESN'T. Even if you're correct that the way the diet works is by functionally cutting calories, SOMETHING is needed to explain why it works better for people than trying to cut calories. don't pretend it's the same thing.
Wait, does the opposite of an "avoid fatty foods diet" also = a less calories "method"?
I think the argument is that avoid anything ends up being less calories.

Some Bayesian thoughts on the classic mystery genre, prompted by watching on Netflix episodes of the Poirot series with David Suchet (which is really excellent by the way).

A common pattern in classic mystery stories is that there is a an obvious suspect, who had clear motive, means and opportunity for the crime (perhaps there is also some physical evidence against him/her). However, there is one piece of evidence that is unexplainable if the obvious person did it: a little clue unaccounted for, or perhaps a seemingly inconsequential lie or inconsistency in a witness' testimony. The Great Detective insists that no detail should be ignored, that the true explanation should account for all the clues. He eventually finds the true solution, which perfectly explains all the evidence, and usually involves a complicated plot by someone else committing the crime in such a way to get an airtight alibi, or to frame the first suspect, or both.

In Bayesian terms, the obvious solution has high prior probability P(H), and high P(E|H) for all components of E except for one or two apparently minor ones. The true solution, by contrast, has very high probability P(E|H) for all components of E. It is a... (read more)

8Eliezer Yudkowsky
The question then becomes how this trope should properly be averted in rationalist fiction. (Besides the HPMOR approach.)
What is the HPMOR approach? Having so many characters be super-intelligent plotters, so that the prior probability that the explanation for something involves a complicated plot is much higher than in real life?
“The concept of 'evidence' had something of a different meaning, when you were dealing with someone who had declared themselves to play the game at 'one level higher than you'.” --Chapter 86 ETA I was referring to my pet suspect for the hidden hand (who's clever enough to play Dumbledore and Quirrell against each other and leaves scant evidence of her existence). But I think Eliezer was referring to Defense Professor having a high prior and being Voldemort: “The Potions Master said dryly, "The Defense Professor is always a suspect, Mr. Potter. You will notice a trend, given time.” --Chapter 79
My guess is one possible aversion is 'have the protagonist be mind-altered so the obvious clues don't add up', which is one of the leading theories for 'why hasn't Harry figured out yet that Quirrel is Voldemort even though people were figuring that out by like ch20?'
Well, part of it is that Quirrel is Voldemort in canon, which is significant evidence that Harry doesn't have.
There's tons of evidence in-universe; even if he shouldn't suspect by chapter 20, then by ch100 the failure has become impossible. (And I recall that knowing about canon was actually a problem for a lot of people: "surely it can't be that obvious? Eliezer would never take such an obvious tack!")
I personally feel unsure what the Defense Professor wants, if he's the Dark Lord Tom. My tentative guess is, nsgre gur Qrzragbe snvyrq gb shysvyy gur cebcurpl, ur qrpvqrq gung nal fbyhgvba rkprcg qverpgyl 'pbeehcgvat' Uneel gb funer uvf tbnyf jbhyq whfg oevat n arj fcryy vagb rkvfgrapr. Guvf zvtug rkcynva jul ur qbrfa'g whfg qebc n ebpx ba Uneel be fgnaq nfvqr sbe gur pragnhe, bapr ur fgnegf gb ernyyl srne arj fcryyf. Guvf ulcbgurfvf vapernfrf gur punapr gung Gbz unf tvira Uneel'f arj cneragf n gvzr-qrynlrq vyyarff (gung bayl ur pna erzbir) be bgurejvfr chg gurz va Obk N nf n onpxhc. Fb V'q orggre or evtug nobhg gur Qrnguyl Unyybjf nf jryy.
Reality doesn't work that way. In reality most solutions don't explain every clues that you find. A lot of clues are just random noise.
Yes, that was part of my point too. Maximizing P(E|H) at the expense of P(H) is much less likely (in real life) to give you a true solution than maximizing P(H|E) with Bayes, even if some components of P(E|H) are not particularly high (which is normal in real life).
They almost always end with the actual murderer being accused and then immediately getting angry and confessing thereby giving them the only actual hard evidence that could ever be used in a conviction. It's convenient that way. (See, for an extreme example, one of the episodes of the recent season 3 of Sherlock.)
Of course these stories also make crime look more difficult than it is, so they serve a useful purpose that probably outweighs the misrepresentation of real detective work.
I'm not sure. The criminal is always caught, but only because of a genius Great Detective; the regular police are usually portrayed as incompetent, at least in the true classics of the genre (Conan Doyle, early Christie). Modern shows like CSI might be a case where your statement applies better.

My following queries are addressed to those who have experience using nicotine as a nootropic and/or have learned much about what taking nicotine as a nootropic is like. If you yourself don't match either of these descriptions, but have gained information from those who do, also please feel free to answer my queries. However, references, or citations, backing up the information you provide would be appreciated. If you're aware of another thread, or post, where my concerns, or questions, have previously been addressed, please let me know.

Gwern, appreciated on Less Wrong for the caliber of his analysis, makes the case for experimenting with using nicotine as a nootropic on an occasional basis. For the use of nicotine as a nootropic within the community which is Less Wrong, the most recent date for which I could find data on usage rates was the 2012 Less Wrong survey results:

NICOTINE (OTHER THAN SMOKING): Never used: 916, 77.4% Rarely use: 82, 6.9% 1x/month: 32, 2.7% Every day: 14, 1.2% No answer: 139, 11.7%

I haven't used nootropics other than caffeine in the past, but when I was first reading about the promise they might hold for improving my cognition in various ways I was impre... (read more)

I use an e-cigarette sometimes while working. I do not smoke. I feel like it does give a small lift at first, though re-dosing effects seem less pronounced than the first of the day. If I puff on it for too long, I feel like it actually gives a slight depressant effect. Overall, its pleasant and tastes good. I think most of the benefit comes from the fact that you're just a little bit "high" while working which makes it more enjoyable. They are definitely addicting.
Thanks for replying, TylerJay. Did you notice they became addictive immediately, or after a graduated period of use? If the latter, what was the frequency, or quantity, of your daily consumption of e-cigarettes? Is there anyway you believe one might be able to avoid addiction to e-cigarettes?
Over time. It's really subtle. You first notice it if you go away for a few days and don't bring it and you're like "Damn, I wish I brought my ecig." I've had it for a year and I routinely go a week without using it and I don't have any withdrawals. I just catch myself thinking about it sometimes. Yeah, don't smoke em. But in all seriousness (and since abstinence is boring and usually ineffective), your best bet is to get the low nicotine versions and only use it a little bit. If you feel like you took a puff or two and didn't get additionally stimulated, then stop smoking it and wait until the next day or wait a few hours. Take 1-2 week long breaks every once in a while as a status check and take note of the quiet little voice in your head. How many times does it bring up the ecig? If you find yourself needing more to feel the same buzz (or you just start going through them a lot faster), that's a sign to stop and take a nice long break. This is pretty generic good advice for any addictive substances and I've used it effectively with many.
I would recommend gum or lozenge instead of ecigarrete... the immediate effect of the ecigarette would seem to make addiction much more likely.
About a year ago, after reading the same Gwern piece, I bought a pack of 20 Nicorette 4mg nicotine mints. It was my intention to use them to try and hack my internal reward system to find a certain activity (solo jazz dance classes) intrinsically enjoyable. I've now achieved this, but I can't attest to the role of nicotine in the process, and in all likelihood I probably just learned to like solo jazz classes. I've occasionally used them as a generic stimulant. Here are some observations and comments that may be of use to you: * Of the original pack of 20, I still have about half a dozen left after nearly a year. A regular packet of Mentos wouldn't last a week. * They taste kind of foul. Not horrible, but if I weren't sucking one with an objective in mind, I'd probably spit it out. * I, personally, have a very poor ability to scrutinise my internal states. If I'm drunk, I don't feel drunk, but instead have to infer my state through my behaviour. 4mg of nicotine for a non-smoker is apparently quite a heavy dose, but I don't feel a "buzz" or any other subjective "come-on" experience. * I'm reasonably sure nicotine gives me a short-term boost to focus/attention (observed in dance classes and study sessions), but I can't rule out a placebo effect.
Probably so you don't develop an attachment to the nicotine gum. Looks like it works!
I believe I have a better ability to scrutinize my internal states. Like, when consuming alcohol, marijuana, or caffeine, more often than not I notice my subjective experience changing, i.e., I feel drunk/high/whatever. However, this might only be the case when I've taken greater, or stronger, doses of a given drug. If that is the case, it wouldn't be helpful. Perhaps if I have a history of needing to consume more of a drug for me to notice its affects, that could be net harmful, because I could be tempted to consume enough nicotine for me to notice its affects. By the time I've done that, it could already be that I've consumed too much. I imagine that would be bad for me because I might be more likely to develop, or experience, dependency effects, nausea, and other ill side effects of nicotine use, at higher doses. I'll keep that in mind if I elect to trial the use of some form of nicotine.
I've used 1-2mg of nicotine (via gum) a few of times a month for a couple years. I previously used it a few times a week for a few months before getting a methylphenidate prescription for ADD. There hasn't been any noticeable dependency, but I haven't had that with other drugs either. Using it, I feel more focused and more confident, in contrast to caffeine which tends to just leaves me jittery and methyphenidate which is better for focus but doesn't have the slight positive emotion boost. Delivered via gum, the half-life is short (an hour at most). That's not great for a day-to-day stimulant, but it's useful when I need something at 6pm and methylphenidate would interfere with my sleep. The primary downside is occasional nausea. Now I'm wondering if patches would be longer-lasting and less nausea-inducing.
Gwern noted in his analysis of nicotine that to overcome dependency effects, the user could cycle between different nootropics they use. For example, a three day cycle of nicotine, then caffeine, then modafanil, then repeat and start over with nicotine. Over the course of several months, I could trial different methods of consuming nicotine, i.e., patches, e-cigarettes, and gum. I would space each of these trials out over the course of several months because I wouldn't want each of the trials to be spaced too close together, and I wouldn't want to mess with my body by consuming too much nicotine anyway. As a protection against my subjective experience being useless, I would read more of Gwern's reviews on nootropics, and perhaps consult online nootropics communities on their methods for noting how they feel. Their could be trials I could run, or ways of taking notes, which would allow me to make the information gleaned in that regard more useful.
If you look at the relevant meta-analyses, the effect size estimates are quite modest, so much that most of nicotine's cognitive benefits won't be detectable by introspection. Given the lack of readily observable benefits and given the foul taste of the gum/lozenges, it can be challenging to maintain the habit. All this is in accord with my experience. I would expect that e-cigarettes are superior in this respect.
I'm closer to personally experimenting with nicotine, so I'd like to gloss over these meta-analyses. I can access academic, and medical, journals myself, but I don't know which ones to search in. In which journal can I find this citation? (please and thanks).
I've only read the one gwern mentions: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20414766
Small to medium-sized, yes (I assume you're referring to Heishman et al 2010). But modest compared to what? There aren't too many cheap legal stimulants with clean side-effect profiles we can use.
Oh, I agree. I meant modest compared to effects I expect to be detectable by casual introspection.
In my experience, the beneficial effects of nicotine are weak and short-lived. They appeared not to stack with caffeine and I prefer coffee to gum. I didn't experience any dependency effects, but neither have I from other drugs, so that may not be a reliable indicator. My friends look at me strange when I talk about nootropics, so none to compare with
I have never smoked, but I use nicotine gum occasionally. It feels like it gives me a slight "edge" when I need to concentrate better, and I definitely feel more of an effect than with typical caffeine doses (which I don't consume regularly either). I tend to chew the gums longer than regular chewing gums, but I feel no particular desire for them when, and actually tend to forget I have them.
I found that post pretty confusing. It turns out that it's about control of databases, and i think copyright is a red herring. He wants to run his program over all published papers and find problems with them. He needs permission of the publisher to do this. He claims that his interpretation of the boiler-plate license doesn't allow that. I think he's mistaken and that in any event he could get permission if he asked. What he really wants to do (from other posts on the blog), that he definitely couldn't get permission for, is to synthesize the literature into a database of chemicals; which the publishers won't allow because they do that by hand. Also, the title (which you didn't quote) is nonsense. There is no legal obstacle to the editor or referee using computers on new papers, which is the usual meaning of "referee." The problem there is getting the editor to try something new and to put in the necessary effort. Maybe it's easier for this guy to run his software on all papers ever written than to convince lots of editors to run it ahead of time, but difficulty is not a legal difficulty. Everyone would love it if these mistakes were caught in the refereeing process, rather than after the fact.
I think his post is effectively asking in a guess culture way. He wants that the publishers respond and say that their broad license doesn't limit what he's doing. Only the American Chemical Society (ACS) does that. The are also registered as a non-profit. The fact that they fight the advancement of science is a huge tragedy.
He explicitly mentions an Elsevier database as the reason that he's worried about mining Elsevier data. There is some of that in other posts on the blog. But that particular post is about images. He can't just click "agree" and do what he wants, but he has to explicitly ask them about every image project.
Couldn't he just publish the lists of errors anonymously?
If he gets the data through Elsevier's system, he isn't really anonymous. And if he wants to do the particular project of this post, he has to get images, which he can't do just by clicking "agree," but he would have to tell them what he was going to do with the images. What's going to happen is that people are going to pirate all journal articles, largely for other reasons. At that point, he can do his project; I don't know whether anonymously. But this is a delay and a lot of wasted effort duplicating existing databases and query infrastructure.
Probably yes. But that would be throwing away thousands of future citations -- the currency which these days determines how good a scientist is. :(
Ordinarily, publishing things grants you rewards on the order of the global significance of your work, as measured by its impact on the world of scientific papers. Should he be able to reap greater rewards by targeting the measure instead? (As the GM of a real world science game, I'd allow it, cause it's a neat idea. But if we actually try to refer to the global significance of your work...) This copyright stuff, evil as it may be in the general case, does seem to avert this kind of going meta. Of course, the real solution in this case is for him to anonymously publish that list of errors along with a hash value whose input he keeps to himself until legislation would have allowed him to non-anonymously publish the list. Optimal number of future citations (even better than if he simply waited for the legislation!) and optimal actual betterment of the world.

Given the importance of communication style in interpersonal relationships, I am looking to create an OkCupid question to determine if someone is an asker/teller or guesser. I'm having difficulty creating an unbiased question. Any way I've written the question makes ask/tell seem obviously better, e.g., here are two possibilities:

  1. When you want someone to do something for you, do you prefer to ask them directly or do you prefer to mention something related and expect that they infer what you want?

  2. Should your partner "just know" what you want without you ever saying so explicitly?

That perception might just be my own bias. Quite a few people I know would probably answer #2 as yes.

Unfortunately, this question probably won't be answered very often, so it's also useful to look for a proxy. Vaniver suggested a question about gifts when I mentioned this at a meetup, and I believe he meant the question "How often should your significant other buy you gifts, jewelry, or other things more expensive than, say, dinner, cards, or flowers?" This question is a reasonable proxy because many guessers I know seem to expect people to "just know" what sort of gifts ... (read more)


When you want someone to do something for you, do you prefer to ask them directly or do you prefer to mention something related and expect that they infer what you want?

You're gonna lose at least 20% of the OKC population and a much larger chunk of the general population with the complexity of your sentence structure and the use of words like "infer".

When you want something do you


And there's another problem - the real answer will usually be "it depends on the situation". So an even better question would be

How often do you drop hints about what you want, instead of asking directly?


(Even now, my real answer is "it depends on what system I think the person I am talking to uses". I'm not sure ask/tell is actually a property attributable to individual people...it's more a mode of group interaction)

This sounds like a feature, not a bug.
Not if you want the question to actually be accepted for use on the site.
Ah. For some reason I thought it was a freeform question to be put to those potentially interested. (I don't actually know anything about OKC)
Why do you say that? Is there some sort of downside to less educated or less intelligent people understanding the question? If you were just kidding, I would like to gently admonish you for making fun of a disadvantaged out-group...
Presumably the point of OKC questions is to find yourself a mate/partner/sex toy/etc. If you can filter out the stupidest part of OKC population right at the beginning, that's a win. I see absolutely nothing wrong with making fun of stupid people. And nerds. And a variety of ethnic groups. And pretty much everything.
That's an odd view. I'm presuming that you would see something wrong with, say, a popular kid in high school who made a habit of beating up disabled kids. But you see absolutely nothing wrong if the same person doesn't physically assault the kids but instead simply ridicules them publicly for being disabled? In both cases, it seems pretty clear that the bully is doing harm to the kids, although the nature of the harm differs. Could you clarify what the morally relevant distinction is between these two situations, why causing one form of harm is bad and the other isn't? It wouldn't just be a distinction that makes the second option less bad than the first option; it would be a distinction that makes the second option not bad at all, if I take your words literally. Or maybe I'm misinterpreting what you mean by "making fun"?
Yes, you do. I am not talking about power games, or domination/submission, or even simple malice. The opposite of "making fun of X" is "taking X very, very seriously". With a serious expression on one's face, according to the instructions and forms carefully collected in a three-ring binder, while being conscious of one's self-importance, and certainly not tolerating any deviation from the proper procedure or, God forbid, disrespect (of oneself, the proper procedure, and the three-ring binder).
They'll still answer the question,..they'll just answer it incorrectly and you'll throw noise into your data. OKC has many questions which are more direct proxies for intelligence. Which makes sense, since you're reactionary in your politics, and political correctness is seen as a lefty thing. I think this particular lefty value is fairly easy to defend though: Humor functions to ease tensions when everyone is in on the joke. Insults directed at an out-group who is not laughing and is hurt raises inter-group tensions. Discouraging members of your in group from insulting members of out groups is just a special case of encouraging cooperation over defection - something which is both pragmatic, and to me. intrinsically moral. TL:DR it's bad PR. Exceptions exist. If you're giving some sort of constructive criticism to an out-group, and your criticism takes the form of mildly insulting humor, that's okay - because once again, you're using humor as an outlet for tension rather than a conduit for it.
8-0 That's news to me. I think you're a bit too hasty to equate humor and insults. They are quite different. Humor also has more functions than just "ease tensions". And why should I care about PR?
I mean, this was just an offhand comment and not really a big deal, but you do really not think there's something at least a little bit counterproductive about a forum like Lesswrong being disdainful towards members of the general population?
No, I don't. First, I am not a forum. Second, counterproductive in pursuit of which goal? And third, I don't hold the general population in high regard.
? I was asking if you thought that the propagation of a certain dynamic between two cultures was unproductive. How is that related to whether or not you represent a forum? The pursuit of good, humanity getting along together as a cohesive whole and being happy, etc Why does that matter? You don't have to hold someone in high regard to care about them. "High regard" is a relative measure anyway, not an absolute one. It doesn't make sense to hold the general population in "high regard" because the general population is by definition average, whereas "high regard" is by definition reserved for those who are above average. Unless you meant "Regard" as "general concern for" ...in which case I have no answer, since that's a moral thing.
Because you start with me being disdainful and then switch to the issue of the forum being disdainful. That's pretty meaningless handwaving. Among other things, humanity has never been and does not look likely to become in the foreseeable future "a cohesive whole". This is a good thing. Because we are talking about "being disdainful" and "making fun of". That's not a discussion about caring, that's a discussion about holding in high regard or not. I am glad we agree :-P
I'd be interested to hear more about what your political views are. I, too, had gathered the impression from my interactions with you that you were at least reactionary-leaning.
I am not too fond of sticking labels onto myself. It's probably easier to answer this question in negatives. I'm not a liberal in the contemporary American sense. I am not a conservative. I'm not a neo-reactionary, though I'm sympathetic to and tend to cheer their skewering of sacred cows. On the other hand I have absolutely no desire to return to the imagined past of enlightened monarchy, benevolent aristocracy, and firmly established social order.
I thought that's what reaction is, essentially?...it seems "reactionary" as generally used refers to someone who counter-argues against prevailing ideas that are new and recently fashionable. I wasn't intending to imply that you cluster with moldbug or neo-reactionaries specifically.
"Reactionary" in the political context is primarily a derogatory term, usually meaning "a conservative I really don't like". Not to mention that sacred cows are skewered by revolutionaries much MUCH more often than by conservatives :-)
that's news to me. Reactionaries seem rather more self-consistent compared to conservatives. It's a matter of which sacred cows are being skewered - the old, established sacred cows or the young, upcoming, and popular ones.
There is no such thing as a young upcoming sacred cow. If it's young and upcoming it's not sacred.
I'm not so sure about that. The sacredness of an idea doesn't come from its longevity, it comes from attachment to memes that make it immune to criticism; if there are already a lot of those memes floating around in a subculture, and if the binding criteria are loose or inconsistently applied, new sacred cows can evolve rather quickly.
Do you have any examples in mind? It may be that we just have different connotations and associations for the words "sacred cow". I think the being a sacred cow implies more than just the social unacceptability of criticizing it, there must be, basically, a well-established tradition.
I'd rather not get into examples; too many of them are politically charged. But no, "sacred cow" doesn't necessarily connote long-established tradition to me. They're probably more likely in association with long-established traditions, since there you don't have to deal with a recent history of people challenging them. But an insular culture or a strong ideology can get past that hurdle.
Well, the view that homosexual relationships are just as acceptable as heterosexual relationships and that thus opposing gay marriage is evil, is an idea that has already managed to acquire sacred cow status despite not even being fully implemented yet.
Many of us have been implementing the acceptability of homosexual relationships for decades.
Um, civil unions, much less gay "marriage", have only been around for just over a decade.
That's true.
But in the last few years certain people on the Web have (ahem) reclaimed the term.
Right, but in the grandparent post Ishaan specifically said that moldbuggery is not what she means.
Okay, I should write a script or something preventing me from replying to a comment unless I've seen all of its ancestors, because just telling myself not to do so clearly doesn't work. :-)
("moldbuggery" is a great word)
I'd hedge in the 'all the time' and 'never' to include 'nearly' variants of each.
And I'd split the “Sometimes” into “Often” and “Rarely”, otherwise a supermajority of people would just pick the middle answer (and also, ISTM that “how often” questions on OKC usually have four possible answers).
Great comment. I think your latter question is excellent, though I'm not sure that "drop hints" is the best way to describe guessing. I'll think about what might be better.
You could further simplify it to "How often do you directly ask for what you want?" -Almost Never, I hate asking for things, - Sometimes bla bla bla, - Almost always, clear communication bla bla bla Also, some people take things really literally, so I'd take Luke_A_Somers' advice and add the "almost" hedges

Possibly insurmountable problem is that loads of people want to think that they are Tell or at least Ask but in practice they are actually Guess and you have no way of filtering for this. In my experience people are extremely bad at knowing "how they are" relative to other people.


Perhaps the questions should give concrete scenarios. Something like

Ann needed to visit Chicago to go to a conference, and asked her friend Beth "Can I stay in your apartment Mon through Wed". Beth answered, "no, it's too much trouble to have a houseguest". Was Beth unreasonable?


Your friend Ann send you an email saying, "I need to go to Chicago for a conference, can I stay with you in your apartment Mon through Wed?" Is this an inconsiderate request?

I suspect this works best if you avoid priming the test subjects on what they're going to be tested on, otherwise I think they will expend effort to seem extra-reasonable contra their natural impulse. But, yes, good idea, I was way too quick to call it an insurmountable problem.
I would use "Do you prefer to explain everything you want to your partner explicitly, or do you prefer that they infer some of your desires from your implicit suggestions?" as well as "Is it OK to turn down an explicit request by your partner if you're capable of fulfilling it but you don't want to?" I might also use the reversed versions: "Do you prefer to have everything explained to you explicitly, or do you prefer some things be left for you to infer from context?" and "Is it OK for your partner to turn down your explicit request if they're capable of fulfilling it but don't want to?"
I think you might need both variants because if I were to answer such questions, the response would not necessarily be symmetrical; * Is it OK to turn down an explicit request by your partner if you're capable of fulfilling it but you don't want to? - Not at all * Is it OK for your partner to turn down your explicit request if they're capable of fulfilling it but don't want to? - Of course (assuming reasonable requests)
Postel Culture FTW! ;-)
(nods) That's why I mentioned them; I think that kind of assymetry is common for a lot of people, especially those who were raised in a high-context (aka "Guess") culture but then migrated to a low-context (aka "Ask") culture.
I think you are making assumptions that might be hard justify: -people have the self-knowledge to answer this question effectively -people are not gaming the answer to seem appealing -people can accurately identify their preferences about what type of communication style works for them Don't mean to sound like a downer--I'm glad some people take this seriously. I think trying to produce questions like these is a good idea, I'm trying to point out some potential flaws to help.
I appreciate the help. These assumptions can be problematic, but they are problems for all online dating, not my specific question. In my experience, OkCupid question responses are not always accurate, but they are more than accurate enough to be useful.
I think what happens to be guessing depends a lot on the understanding that you have between two people. I don't really think in terms of acting in a way that get's another person to take a specific action. I focus more on giving the person all relevant information and expect the other person to take the action that maximizes utility. If I ask Alice to dance Salsa and she needs a break I don't want Alice to come dancing with me. I want Alice to act according to her feelings and take the break. I can ask Carol who might actually want to dance at that moment and ask Alice later. I can also spent some time meditating if there no woman who wants to dance at a particular moment around. I'm not attached to a particular action of another person. On the other hand if the person doesn't engage in an action that maximizes utility to make a point of signaling status or to punish that can annoy me. Depending on how well I know the position of the other person and how well I know what's right for myself I might just say what I feel or I might be very explicit about a possible solution. Shyness can also hold me back from sharing certain information. It can be hard to articulate deep feelings in an environment where that's not normal behavior. I'm still quite bad at talking about feelings in a Salsa environment where I might ask a woman to dance very directly but rely a lot on nonverbal signs to regulate the level of intimacy of a dance. Openly saying something to an attractive woman like: "It feels a bit strange when you dance closely with me because you are tense and don't relax the way I would expect you to if you enjoy dancing close." is very hard. If you hear me talk with my meditation teacher you probably would not understand what's said because the conversation heavily relies on implicit assumptions. On the other hand I have a hard time calling it guess culture because we both understand each other perfectly well. The whole idea of guessing assumes that there's doubt
This is more accurately described as the difference between high context and low context cultures. This might actually be some sort of precursor to ask vs. guess culture.
Ask this: "Name some things your partner can do to make you feel appreciated." If the person answers the question at all and does so in a useful way, that should tell you something about their communication style.
That would be a good way to determine someone's communication style, but unfortunately that question is too open ended for OkCupid. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the site. "Questions" on there refer to a set of questions with specific answers, exactly like those in this comment.
Ah, I see. So we're looking for a multiple choice question to test whether someone is willing to volunteer unsolicited information.

Arthur Chu was discussed here previously for his success with Jeopardy using careful scholarship to develop strategies that he knew had worked in the past for other people.

In the comments section here he makes a much more extreme case against LessWrong's policy of not censoring ideas than Apophemi did a while back. Frankly he scares me*. But on a more concrete note, he makes a number of claims I find disturbing:

1) Certain ideas/world-views (he targets Reaction and scientific racism) are evil and therefore must be opposed at all costs even if it means using dishonest arguments to defeat them.

2) The forces that oppose social justice (capitalism, systematic oppression) don't play nice, so in order to overcome those forces it is necessary to get your hands dirty as well.

3) Sitting around considering arguments that are evil (he really hates scientific racism) legitimizes them giving them power.

4) Carefully considering arguments accomplishes nothing in contrast to what social justice movement is doing which at least is making progress. Hence considering arguments is contrary to the idea of rationality as winning. (This seems extreme, I hope I am misreading him)

5) Under consequentialism, ... (read more)

I mean this literally, I am actually physically frightened.

Why are you physically frightened of a random Internet blowhard?

The clearest statement of Chu view (from the comment thread) seems to be: "As a very tentative general heuristic ... major ideologies that attempt to validate some form of the just-world fallacy should be terminated with extreme prejudice." He correctly names sexism ("Men have all the power because they're just better!") and racism ("Europeans have all the power because they're just better!") as examples. But the obvious problem is, if you buy the neo-reactionary model of how "the Cathedral" works, then social-justice progressivism is a clear-cut example of a massive just-world-fallacy in action! What's more, I'd hardly expect Moldbug or other neo-reactionaries to take the view that "the world is inherently fair" seriously, even as hidden, low-level implication. And whether Moldbug's worldview is right about the Cathedral is an empirical question that would seem to require serious, rational investigation, not just faith-based political commitment.
This is not just world fallacy, in fact for specific values of "better" these are empirical statements. Or would he (and/or you) consider statements along the lines of "I defeated him in the fight because I was stronger" an example of "just world fallacy". What about "being rational helps me achieve my goals"?
No, the "just world fallacy" is a belief that the world always reaches morally "fair" outcomes. So "better" here has to mean that they deserve such outcomes in a moral sense. My guess is that many people here would reject these claims and find them quite objectionable, but it's hard to deny that some followers of the Dark Enlightenment (albeit perhaps a minority) seem to be motivated by them. The just world fallacy (in addition to other biases, such as ingroup tribalism) provides one plausible explanation of this.
Ok, so which moral theory are we using to make that determination? Someone who behaves more rationally is more likely to achieve his goals. Do you consider this a "fair" or "unfair" outcome?
I suppose this does mean that no-one should believe any claims he makes before checking them first.
Frankly, he has my sympathies, and I say this speaking as one who is now officially and technically a fucking scientific racist, and is hating every minute of it. The increase in knowledge doesn't even seem worth the sacrifice; we're talking about differences in average IQ between 95, 105, 110, 115. For one such as I, who's got an IQ of 168, this degree of difference seems unimpressive, and, frankly, worth ignoring/not worth knowing. "You're telling me all these massive groups of people have these slight differences in average between them? About one standard deviation? Of what use could this information possibly be?" "Let's forbid entrance to my particular country to immigrants from the inferior races, namely, people of 'african' and 'hispanic' ancestry; it's cheaper than giving everyone an IQ test. Is this not a clever idea that advances my nation's interest and saves taxpayer money?" And then I sigh at the stupidity of people with high IQ's, myself included. Nevertheless, pianoforte, you're definitely overreacting. Do give your friend Arthur some references on Ethical Injunctions and remind him of our Litanies. Even if you did nothing, I do not expect Arthur, or any lesswronger for that matter, to present a level of threat worth having actual cold sweats over. Here's another argument you can give him; social justice seeks to achieve just ends, and to do so requires just means, an image of justice as well as a just system. To seek social justice is to seek righteousness, and to seek to be right; it demands that you be scrupulously rational. Since You Provably Can't Trust Yourself, you should not, cannot allow yourself to employ the methods of evil, of which irrationality, stupidity and incoherence are the very essence. Throughout my life, I have been in contact with all kinds of people who invested huge amounts of effort in struggling for the betterment of mankind, and, whenever they started thinking in martial terms, of Us Versus Them (see Robbers-Cave experi

The increase in knowledge doesn't even seem worth the sacrifice; we're talking about differences in average IQ between 95, 105, 110, 115. For one such as I, who's got an IQ of 168, this degree of difference seems unimpressive, and, frankly, worth ignoring/not worth knowing.

Come now, you know how normal distributions work. Small differences in means cause over-representation at the extreme ends of the scale. From your IQ I can predict a ~30-40% chance of you being Ashkenazi, despite them being a global minority, just because of a "slightly" higher mean of 110. This is an important thing.

(EDIT: This calculation uses sd=15, which may or may not be a baseless assumption)

Plus, maybe there's a reverse-"Level above mine" effect going on here. The difference between someone at 90 and someone at 110 might not seem big to you, but it might just be your provincialism talking.

(Agreed about the immigration rationalization though)

Come now, you know how normal distributions work. Small differences in means cause over-representation at the extreme ends of the scale. From your IQ I can predict a ~30-40% chance of you being Ashkenazi, despite them being a global minority, just because of a "slightly" higher mean of 110. This is an important thing.

I think we have to be careful with our mathematics here.

By definition IQ is distributed normally. But if we use this definition of IQ then we don't know how IQ is distributed within each population. In particular even if we assume each population is normal, we don't know they all have the same variance. So I think there's little we can say without looking at the data themselves (which I haven't done).

In this instance it might be better to try to measure intelligence on an absolute scale, and do your comparisons with that scale. I don't know how well that would go.

(I'm using the anonymous account (Username and password are "Username" and "password") since I just want to make a statistical point and not associate myself with scientific racism.)

Oh. I always assumed that was a pseudonymous account of one specific individual.
About 75% of the posts on this account from the past year are from one user (me). I can't decide on a good moniker for a username so I've been putting off creating a main account. But yes, feel free to use it as a throwaway.
One of the comments it made early on describes it as a "community throwaway account". Plus it has a super-stupid password.
Yeah that's the tricky part that I forgot to add, we don't know the variance. I used sd=15 but for all I know it could be smaller or larger. Edited to amend.

As it turns out, I'm a green-eyed, pale-skinned but tan-capable Arab from North Africa. I've got several uncles that look downright East Asian (round face, slanted eyes, pale-skinned), and another side of my family looks south-asian, and another looks downright black, and we have blue-eys blondes, an the traits skip generations and branches, and I find the whole notion of "race" to be laughably vague.

If, like in the US, you put a bunch of Scandinavians, Southwest Africans, and East Asians right next to each other, without miscegenation between their descendants, and with a very distinct social stratification between them, I can see how words like "Hispanic" might sound like they might be meaningful, but in lands like Brazil or Morocco where everyone got mixed with everyone and you got a kaleidoscope of phenotypes popping up in the most unexpected places, the "lines" start looking decidedly more blurry, and, in particular, no-one expects phenotype to be in any way correlated with personality traits, or intelligence, or competence.

And let us not get started on the whole notion of "Ashkenazi" from a genetic standpoint; in fact, the very result that they get the highest IQ results makes me place my bet on a nurture rather than nature cause for the discrepancy. I'm willing to bet actual money on this outcome.

Fair enough. I would still contest that the "nurture" component of these outcomes is smaller than is commonly suggested (Ashkenazim in particular) and that I too would bet money on it. (Also I'm sorry if I came off as rude before)
You didn't, as far as I am concerned. (How would we go about making such bets official?)
I don't know how exactly to translate two difference subjective probabilities to a bet structure, but before that we ought to agree on what exactly we're disagreeing over and what the correct answer would look like to determine who wins. I think that this would necessarily have to be a long-term thing - maybe the scientific consensus X years from now?
One reason why small differences in average IQ might matter are social amplifier models. The discussion in this paper talks about it a bit.
Um, as far as immigration. You may have noticed that some countries are much nicer places to live then others, i.e., some have low crime and highly functioning economies and others are poor crime filled hell-holes. Why is that? Is it that something about being north of the Rio Grande magically makes people more productive and less prone to commit violent crimes? <\sarcasm> The main reason is the people and culture of those countries. Thus if you import too many people from a different country, the pleasantness of the country to live will depend on the the nature of the new people. Notice that this argument assumes nothing about the role of nature versus nurture.
Well, if productivity and proneness to commit violent crimes depended only of nurture, the children of those people would resemble people from the country where they're growing up, rather than their parents, so the problem would only exist for first-generation immigrants.
This is only true if we enforce strict integration of immigrant families, but where there are large populations of immigrants they tend to form enclaves where their social circles consist of other immigrants. Hence little tokyo, chinatowns, and whatnot.
Most people are raised largely by their parents, so the parents would have a large effect on how the children are nurtured.
I took “nurture” to refer to socialization, and it turns out that parents are much less important than same-age peers (e.g. people who grow up in a different place than their parents did end up with the accent of the former), but I had forgotten that of course literal nurture also matters.
Both Koreas are ethnically and culturally the same. What makes one a SF near-utopia and the other a starving disgrace is the accident of having fallen within opposite spheres of influence during the Cold War and the subsequent development of radically different political systems. One could argue something similar happened with pre-unification Germany. I've read somewhere that the relative poverty in rural Southern Italy and wealth in industrial Northern Italy mirror the North-South dynamics of Reconstruction USA.
You seem to not know what culture means
In fairness to your criticism, I must say: That downvote did not come from me.
Yep, and I totally agree. The point I'm making is that with immigration we can afford to have more finely-grained selection criteria. Instead of a blanket ban on immigrants from third-world hellholes, we can at least choose the best ones.
Again, provided we are comfortable with disparate impact and all.
I would support such a policy, provided the criteria aren't easily gamable.
I had to read your comment about three times before it became clear to me that you're not talking about inborn racial inferiority. You might want to put that last sentence in bold or something.
Where did you get your IQ tested?
If you could erase your knowledge of racial IQ differences would you? Assume you also erase the specific urge to rediscover it later.
Why? Besides enabling my enemies to call me a racist in much the same way a segregationist would call MLK a criminal, it leaves me right where I started. The initial emotional turmoil is offset by the anecdote utility: "Would you believe that I was once talked into becoming a freaking racist? Me?" This goes straight on my "hilarious misadventures" files, right next to "almost drowned in a lake"' "fell in love with a one-night-stand, suffered horribly, now we're BFF's"' and "that one time I was slipped ecstacy".
well except without the mental anguish you seemed to have about it.
Water under the bridge.
Am I getting downvotes for my ability to get over my anguish in accepting inconvenient truths? Cause I don't know how else to interpret this.
Your holding these beliefs is not entirely in the past, and it doesn't seem like there's any reason to think the consequences of holding these beliefs are entirely in the past, making it impossible for you to have gotten over them.
I've gotten over my emotional distress over acquiring them, and am now dealing with them and the consequences of holding them in a more practical manner. The anguish is gone, replaced with mild annoyance.
So you don't like having low status true beliefs?

Eugine, at the risk of stating the obvious, I don't like that being known to have those true beliefs lowers my status and gets in the way of me doing good. I think it's unfair, and I find it frustrating.

If you haven't already, I'd suggest reading this Tim Wise essay. It isn't entirely compatible with modern-rationalist epistemology, notably in that Wise seems to reject (or at least resist) the idea that science has much to say about ethics. But Wise does make a strong case for distinguishing the possibility of biological racial differences from a defense of racial inequality.
I don't actually know him (I didn't comment on that thread), and I'm not claiming my fear is rational. Yes, the result of blinding yourself is that you run the risk of making the world worse and hurting people in the process, including the people that were trying to help. If you're unhappy with being a scientific racist (I hate that term - if it describes the way the world is then its just science) then maybe you should take a look at the other side of the debate. Then again, some people might accuse Kees Jan Kan of being racist for acknowledging the IQ differences, even if he argues against genetic causes. The knowledge matters because people have been trying for decades to equalize outcomes for different groups - in terms of achievement and crime. If this is not possible, and there are casualties in the cross fire (say teachers getting fired for not getting minorities to perform at the same level) then we need to change our approach. If you could acknowledge that the causes of violent crime are biological in nature and then suggest biological interventions (someone on LessWrong recently suggested fish pill oils to correct for micronutrient deficiencies), how many lives would be saved? How many people would be spared a life of crime? If you could acknowledge that culture problems and social multipliers have huge effects on adult criminality and success, and make policy decisions based on that (although this problem is very difficult) how many more lives could be saved? If the political climate only allows you to say that different outcomes are the result of the discriminatory schooling system, those nasty racists and the prejudiced authorities - then your interventions aren't going to work and there will be needless casualties. The knowledge certainly does matter.
For a moment there, I feared you'd speak of genetics and eugenics, but then if you mean something as prosai as dietetics, I can totally get behind that; I find it easy to believe that crappy food induces cranky mood (and that, in the US, crappy cheap food is remarkably deleterious). Is this not acknowledged? Nay, is this not common knowledge? Putting the full blame on them is as absurd as fully absolving them. What insane political climate do you live in, that you'd have to settle for either fallacy? I remain unconvinced that this is exactly the case, and, even though I can accept its provisional validity, with many caveats and reservations, I'm pretty sure the actual reality is more interesting than "blacks and latinos are born dumber, White-Jews and White-Asian nerds are born smarter, and White-Christians are born a little bit smarter than average". Assuming this particular piece of knowledge matters, what are we supposed to do about it? Be more forgiving of teachers' inability to enable black students to reach some average standard? Allocate Jewish and Asian kids less resources and demand that they meet higher standards? Should we treat kids differently, segregating them by race or by IQ? What practical use do we even have for scientific racism?

Assuming this particular piece of knowledge matters, what are we supposed to do about it? Be more forgiving of teachers' inability to enable black students to reach some average standard? Allocate Jewish and Asian kids less resources and demand that they meet higher standards? Should we treat kids differently, segregating them by race or by IQ? What practical use do we even have for scientific racism?

It's not even that we would need to use it, just that denying it would be harmful.

Without taking sides on the object-level debate of whether it's true or not, let me sketch out some ways that, if scientific racism were true, we would want to believe that it was true. In the spirit of not making this degenerate further, I'll ignore everything to do with eugenics, and with partisan issues like affirmative action.

(1) Racial differences tend to show up most starkly on IQ tests. This has led to the cultural trope that IQ is meaningless or biased or associated with racism. This has led to a culture in which it is unacceptable (borderline illegal depending on exactly how you do it) to use IQ tests in situations like employment interviews. But employers continue to want highly intelligent ... (read more)

The most convincing explanation I have heard for these problems is that inner cities massively overconcentrate lead, which is neurotoxic and causes crime/impulsivity. This is a highly solvable problem. But solving it would require us to say things like "the population of inner cities is neurologically disturbed", which would require discussing the problem, which is something that we have to prevent people from doing in order to discourage scientific racism.

The lead-crime link was brought to public attention by a prominent liberal journalist, writing in a prominent liberal/progressive magazine. As far as I'm aware, there was no huge outcry about this. In fact, the article was widely linked and praised in the liberal blogosphere. I am pretty sure that Drum and the editors at Mother Jones would denounce scientific racism quite vigorously if asked about it. So I think you are overestimating the "chilling effect" produced by a taboo against scientific racism.

"About 92% of pregnancies in the United Kingdom and Europe with a diagnosis of Down syndrome are terminated. In the United States termination rates are around 67%" Wikiepdia
So what would be the analogous behaviour w.r.t. races?
No analogy with respect to voluntary (via the mom) abortions, but one with many members of society being comfortable with significantly reducing the population size of the group.
Your comment seems to make many good points. However, I identified a few evident falsehoods in areas I know something about, which leads me to suspect a similar laxity with the truth in areas I know less about. For instance: If you want to practice law, you're best served by studying lab sciences, math, or government in undergrad. (Those are the undergraduate majors with the highest admittance rate to law school.) Then you go to law school, which is where you incur the goatloads of debt. The fact that you can't get admitted to the bar (in most of the U.S.) without going to law school is not a result of anyone's ideology about intelligence. This policy change was adopted explicitly by states in response to pressure by the American Bar Association beginning in the 1890s. IQ testing didn't even exist then. (And for what it's worth, scientific racism was at that time deemed progressive.)
Does this control for different average IQ (or SAT, if you prefer) among different majors?
Wait, what? Are you blaming the exorbitant cost of prestigious private education in the US, the crippling student debt system, and the unequal access to social advancement opportunity, on employers being unable to test prospective employees' IQ? I have to ask, are you pulling my leg here? Smarties and stupids hate each other because smarties blurt out inconvenient truths? "When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.", huh, Ignatius? Please source this. Give me the whole story. So Jensen was disproving scientific racism? Wow! Much enthusiasm! So keen! Iodine deficicency makes you stupid, among other horrible things, but I'd like a surce for excess iodine making you smarter. Now you completely lost me. What crime wave? Also, are you telling me intelligence prevents rather than enables crime? What kinds of crime? How is atheism a matter of IQ? This seems to make sense. I would have said I can't say I follow this reasoning. Well, in my experience race seems to be a vague and unreliable concept, mostly a tool of privileged groups to keep themselves apart from the rest (the asymmetrical One Drop Laws left me frankly aghast). Of course, if it is actually a useful heuristic in helping people, then by all means it should be used for that in the relevant context.
Wow. I was thinking of providing some sources for you since I assumed you were commenting in good faith, but then you pulled this little gem. So nope, I'm just going to downvote and snark.
Which one of us are you talking to, and how is either of us speaking in bad faith? It's okay to snark, but please be meaningful while you're at it.
For a more complete explanation of the theory, see Half Sigma here (warning: post is more racist and sarcastic than I would personally endorse) and Bryan Caplan's response here. Not sure what you're saying here, but it seems sufficiently sarcastic that I should reply. Suppose scientific racism is true. Presumably, smart people will figure this out. Some will have the social skills to stay quiet about it. What do you expect to happen to the rest of them? I will signal the overabundance of sources I could use for this fact by limiting myself to only ones with "Times" in the title. Here's New York Times, here's The Times of Higher Education, and here's the Los Angeles Times which adds the fact, previously unknown to me, that bomb squads had to open his mail. Sorry, typo. He found support for some aspects of it, nonsupport for other aspects of it, but was generally classified as a supporter. I wasn't claiming that excess iodine makes you smarter, just that deficiency makes you stupider (and so relieving that deficiency can raise IQ several points) The crime wave where probably all kinds of crime increased five to ten times from 1880 to 1980. Both More Right and Slate Star Codex have blogged about this recently. Low IQ is indeed a strong risk factor for crime. It isn't directly, but I expect that just as Less Wrong has an average IQ of 138, so most atheist groups will select from people with IQs at least a standard deviation above average. Race is, like all categories, a set of artificial discontinuous labels being forced upon natural continuous variation. On the other hand, the same sort of lossy-but-nonuseless generalizing ability that allows me to say "Black people are more likely to have so-called 'nappy' hair than white people" allows scientific racists to say "black people are more likely to have certain mental characteristics than white people". We could certainly improve accuracy further from there by better subdividing groups ("black people" becomes "Ban
ITYM “most atheist groups in the US”; I wouldn't assume the same to be true in northern Eurasia, for example.
Let's be perfectly honest here; If that was the meaning you were trying to convey, you could have phrased that better than "we could increase IQ five to ten points by iodizing salt!" I'll be some time before I can properly examine your sources. Until then, I bid you farewell for now.
I'm not sure that the whole story (but then again I've never been within a couple thousand miles of the US, so what do I know), but tuitions in the US are one order of magnitude more expensive than in continental Europe and this one is the only thing I've heard that even begins to explain that.
I think you overestimate people: read the comments here. This is a libertarian channel - even among the right there are those who think it is heresy to suggest that inequality is the result of anything other than discrimination. Also read this. Yep, its all the school's fault. Stop doing stupid things mostly. Policy usually works better when it is based on the way the world actually works. There are many policies that are compatible with acknowledging biological differences - and I would guess that most of them are better than what we have now. Stupid things include having race quotas in professional schools and AP classes, firing innocent teachers, the list goes on and on. Frankly the question gets asked a lot, but I don't know why. Its a lot like the Christian argument "Well if you don't believe in God then what? Are you going to murder people and start raping bunnies?". Its sort of a ridiculous question - there is an enormous diversity in ~Christianity*. ~Christianity is not a worldview. And ~egalitarianism is not a worldview either. *"~" means "not"
For starters we can stop concluding that an outcome that correlates with race means that the process was racially biased. In particular, eliminate affirmative action and disparate impact.
What's desperate impact? And not all affirmative action is racial. The kind I'm familiar with consists basically of scholarships for smart kids from poor families to go to prestigious schools and reach their full potential, regardless of racial background. And women's parity quotas, which are a clumsy-as-heck-policy that annoys everyone, women included. What kind are you familiar with?
In US political debates about affirmative action, the term usually is meant to imply an overt lower admissions or hiring standard for the group that the affirmative action is supposedly helping. Scholarships for smart kids from poor families are uncontroversial, and therefore don't come up much in political discourse.
Sorry, typo. I meant disparate. Good, I'm glad you see that this is a bad idea. The kind where universities admit unqualified minority kids in order to have a "diverse student body".
Do they get qualified along the way, or do they actually prove themselves to be persistently and irredeemably incompetent?
They tend to wind up dropping out.
Regardless of why this is so, wouldn't this outcome make the policy ineffectual and not worth continuing? Also why in the world did that comment get a down-vote? Is there someone here lurking, down-voting my posts on principle?
Yes, but if they were to admit the policy was ineffectual, they'd have to admit that there aren't as many qualified black students as white students and that would be racist and evil.
Doesn't that mean that the ones who don't drop out aren't that less ... than ... ?
That's an interesting moniker. So, you think that the humanity is divided into Whites and Blacks, it's just that there are White-Caucasians, White-Asians, etc...?
Hardly. I myself change colour all the time, depending on how much sun I get. But it would appear that the races "scientific racism" as I understand it classifies as smarter, are all of paler disposition overall; "whites" in the traditional sense, european jews, and east asians. Calling them all White-X is a way of drawing attention to this strange fact. Is there something about sunlight deprivation that sharpens the mind?
East Asians (and specifically Han Chinese) were never called White. No, but I suspect that the necessity to survive the winter led to increased evolutionary pressures.
Perhaps, on the other hand the places where civilizations first developed, i.e., Egypt, the Fertile Crescent, the Indus Valley, Central America, don't have harsh winters; I'm not sure about the Yellow River, but my brief Googling suggested their winters aren't that harsh either.

The best geography/climate to develop a civilization is not necessarily the best geography/climate to produce high intelligence. Early civilizations arose in places where agriculture was productive enough to generate significant surplus.

I would hardly consider places like the valley of the Congo or Australia or the Sahara to be evolutionarily soft.
Evolution can push development into different directions. Winters promote long-term thinking and planning. The Congo basin probably promotes resistance to parasites and infections....
I'm not sure about that. I don't have statistics, anecdotally dark skinned Indians appear to be comparable to East Asians.
Indians have very varied skin tones, ranging from the very very dark all the way to the very very pale.
By the way, do you have a rational argument for why we shouldn't speak of genetics and eugenics?
Generics are great. We need more of those. Patented drugs are way overpriced. As for eugenics, depends on what we're talking about. Is it "eugenics" as in "let's genome-test embryos for horrible congenital diseases" or is it "eugenics" as in "let's castrate every physically and mentally handicapped person whose disease is inheritable"? When I said "I feared you'd speak of genetics and eugenics", I meant "I feared that you'd suggest the latter as policy".
Unless you just stepped out of a time machine, I highly doubt that you are actually a scientific racist. You might be a race realist, but "scientific racism" specifically refers to the views one usually finds e.g. in 19th century and early 20th century sources, that were clearly plagued by massive ingroup/outgroup biases. Just because it had "scientific" in the name does not mean it was actually science-based in any real sense, any more than Karl Marx's socialism was.
"Race realism" is what proponents of the view call it. Opponents don't call it that, for obvious reasons. Many of them do actually refer to the view as "scientific racism".
So it's like rationalism in the Carthesian sense as opposed to the Yudkowskian? That's a relief. Now how do I stop people from confusing me with those balls back a measuring phrenologists?

Can one detect intelligence in retrospect?

Let me explain. Let's take the definition of an intelligent agent as an optimizer over possible futures, steering the world toward the preferred one. Now, suppose we look at the world after the optimizer is done. Only one of the many possible worlds, the one steered by the optimizer, is accessible to retrospection. Let's further assume that we have no access to the internals of the optimizer, only to the recorded history. In particular, we cannot rely on it having human-like goals and use pattern-matching to whatever a human would do.

Is there still enough data left to tell with high probability that an intelligent optimizer is at work, and not just a random process? If so, how would one determine that? If not, what hope do we have of detecting an alien intelligence?

Omohundro has a paper on instrumental goals that many/most intelligences would converge on. For instance, they would strive to model themselves, to expand their capabilities, to represent their goals in terms of utility functions, to protect their utility functions against change, etc. None of these are universally true because we can just posit a pathological intelligence whose terminal goal is to not do these things. (And to some extent e.g. humans do in fact behave pathologically like that.) We can say very little "optimizers over possible futures" in full generality, because that concept can be very broad if you define "optimizer" sufficiently broadly. Is a thermostat an intelligence, with the goal of achieving some temperature? Or consider a rock - we can see it as a mind with the goal of continuing its existence, and thus decides to be hard.
It seems that the paper discusses the inside view of intelligence, not the ways to detect one by its non-human-like artifacts. I agree that it is hard to tell an intelligence without pattern-matching it to humans, that's why I asked the question in the first place. But there hopefully should be at least some way to be convinced that a rock is not very intelligent, even if you can't put yourself in its crystalline shoes.
This is isomorphic to the problem (edit: not impossibility) of coming up with a fully mind-neutral definition of information entropy, is it not?
I am not familiar with it, feel free to link or explain...
I just edited the above comment, because I had forgotten about Kolmogrov complexity, and in particular how K-complexity varies only by a constant between turing-complete machines. That link should explain it pretty well; now that I remembered this I'm significantly less convinced that the problem is isomorphic.
Yes, at least some of the time. Evolution fits your definition and we know about that. So if you want examples of how to deduce the existence of an intelligence without knowing its goals ahead of time, you could look at the history of the discovery of evolution. Also, Eliezer has has written an essay which answers your question, you may want to look at that.
I don't see how Eliezer's criterion of stable negentropic artifacts can tell apart people (alive) from stars (not alive) (this is my go-to counterexample to the standard definitions of life).
I think that the idea is that somethings are very specific specifications, while others aren't. For example a star isn't a particularly unlikely configuration, take a large cloud of hydrogen and you'll get a star. However a human is a very narrow target in design space: taking a pile of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen is very unlikely to get you a human. Hence to explain stars we don't need posit the existence of a process with a lot of optimization power. However since since humans are a very unlikely configuration this suggests that the reason they exist is because of something with a lot of optimization power (that thing being evolution).
I see what you are saying, certainly humans are very unlikely to spontaneously form in space. On the other hand, humans are not at all rare on Earth and stars are very unlikely to spontaneously form there.
That's a very low bar for intelligence, it looks more like a definition of life. Most or all living creatures do this. Some pretty simple software would fit the bill, too.
Yes, the bar is set low intentionally. I would be pretty happy if we could tell if black-box life is detectable. Again, not relying on pattern-matching to the life on earth, such as DNA, oxygenation for energy, methane release, water presence, or whatever else NASA uses to detect life on Mars. Unless, of course one can prove that some of these are necessary for any life.
There's been quite a bit of speculation regarding alternative biochemistries; however, most of the popular ones seem to have various problems (most often low elemental abundance and inconvenient chemical properties). It's of course difficult to prove that all of them are impossible in a search space the size of the universe, though.
I found a watch upon the heath. Anyway, I think there are enough instrumental goals that even without human-like goals we should be able to recognize crafted tools like watches, hammers, and whatnot.
That's pattern-matching to humanity, something I explicitly asked not to rely upon. Unless you can show that instrumental goal convergence is inevitable and independent from terminal goal or value convergence. Can you?
I'm having trouble imagining what these terminal goals are that can be optimized toward without having at least some familiar instrumental goals such as timekeeping, attaching things to other things, or murdering entities. Can you give me some examples?
How do you know the hammer is crafted while the hammer fish isn't?
well one of them is alive and moves around on its own. A hammer is a technological artifact with no visible or even implied means of existing without being crafted. You can't observe baby hammers crafting each other out of raw material in nature.

Word of God: SMBC's Zach Weiner does indeed read Eliezer's work, if not this forum.

The latest SMBC is on the singularity, fun theory and simulations.

Liked it a lot. I've noticed that "already" seems to be a very important word in LW-related arguments and posts, i.e. if X were a good idea, people would already be doing it; if Y is a plausible end for the universe, it's probably happened already.
I'm sure you already (heh) know this, but I figured I would say this lest passer-by conclude that these two arguments are analogous instances of the same argument. They are not. "if X were a good idea, people would already be doing it" has a structure entirely different from that of "if Y is a plausible end for the universe, it's probably happened already." The former is reasoning about the optimization power of already-existing agents, while the latter uses intuitive anthropic reasoning based on the questionable premise that the universe tends to re-form after it is destroyed.

Mildly interesting challenge:

There is a new internet community game taking off called Twitch Plays Pokemon. The concept is simple: set up a server that takes the next properly formatted input ("up", "down", "a button") from a chat window, and apply it - in order, with no filtering - to a copy of Pokemon Red.

This is going about as well as can be expected, with 90,000 players, about a third of whom are actively attempting to impede progress.

So, a TDT style challenge: Beat the game in the shortest number of steps

  • If there are n
... (read more)

What do you mean by "communicate"? If I send a command, and you observe the result of that command on the game, we've communicated.

If that's allowed, the non-troll case is easy: Wait a random amount of time, then send a command. If yours was the first command to be sent, play the game. If someone else sends a command before you do, do nothing ever again.

Hm. Yeah, I don't think I can remove that communication channel without breaking the game entirely. So that makes the first exercise rather trivial.
8Scott Garrabrant
I have been checking in on this for the last few days. I do not think they will be able to make it through victory road. This would require them to get through a passage, where they have to go down once, then left 11 times, then up once without pressing down at any point along the way. If they make it through, they will have to solve a large number of boulder puzzles in a cave with lvl 40 wild pokemon, and if they die at any time, they have to go across the passage again. I did an estimate of how long I think it would take them to accomplish just walking across the passage once, based on how they did on similar passages in the past, and it came out to 50 years. This estimate was before they changed the system to some weird democracy system, which will likely help them.
Hm, that feels a bit long. How did you estimate that?
According to this it took 12 hours to execute a move that requires 8 rightward movements. If the "victory road" requires that they execute 13 moves correctly, and the time it takes grows exponentially with the number of steps (as a power of two), then it might be a reasonable ballpark to suggest it would take 12*2^(13-8) hours, which would be 16 days. Of course, this is an overestimate because assuming more than 50% of people are making the right move, it should grow as a power less than 2. Much less than 50 years I would expect, but then again I've never played Pokemon so could be missing some element here that changes the complexity.
2Scott Garrabrant
On second thought, I think it was a bad estimate. It is very dependent on how many of the people are trying to make them fail, and I really have no idea what that is. It is also very dependent on the lag. Here is the route in question. The problem is that there is lag, and a single down vote after they are on the passage makes them have to start over. Trolls and honest people who do not understand the strategy will be pressing down for a large part of the travel, so the likelihood of making it across will not be high. I think it would be generous to say that every time they mess up, it will take them 1 minute to get back to try again. 10 minutes seems more accurate to me. Most attempts will fail at the beginning, because they need the correct number of people to press down, and no more to get lined up with the ledge. Then the question becomes, can they get 11 lefts and an up before they get a down. You can see why 40% trolls and 20% trolls will change this estimate a lot. I do not think this matters that much though, because they changed the system, and the democracy system will make it a lot easier for this part.
Ah. The approach I was thinking of was to model it as a binomial or Poisson, infer the probability of success at each step by noting that it took 12 hours (or let's say, 720 tries) to have 8 successes in a row, and then calculate how many tries would be required to get 13 successes in a row. Unfortunately I wasn't sure how to go from '720 tries for 8 successes in a row' to 'probability of 1 success' and gave up there.
1Scott Garrabrant
the probability of one success is 720^(1/8), so it should take 720^(13/8) tries, which is about a month. However, the fact that they could line themselves up for the last one just by pressing up and down, and not risking having to start over will make a huge difference.
0Scott Garrabrant
They did a similar ledge, in about 8 hours, but that ledge was much easier, because you did not risk having to start over just by aligning yourself to get ready to cross it. It was also only length like 6 or 8.
I think if they got to that point, they would be very cautious about the very first down movement so as not to overshoot and it shouldn't be too bad from there.
Use the stream-of-commands as seen from the chat and the stream to estimate the delay between inputs now and results later. Generate a probable future state, given the current distribution of commands. Evaluate what distribution of commands maximizes positive results, and spam that distribution. The biggest time sink other than the program logic is creating pathing/scoring rules. I'd start with "how to successfully deposit the first pokemon in your party" - Markov chains is where you want to go.
Weird. Someone showed this to me just on Monday. I pointed out right away that the non-trolls will want to overlevel their team (if that's a thing, I dunno), to be safe against interference. Of course, trolls will be very effective at preventing you from getting far in menus (menu cancel spam) so you may be stuck with your starting pokemon or whatever for a long time. And heaven help you if the game requires you to go deep into a menu hierarchy to activate level up bonuses.
The problem is most definitely not being strong enough to fight the trainers they need to fight, it's getting to them in the first place. There are a lot ledges that you can only go one way on, and many of them lead from the end of a path right back to the beginning.
Maybe they could try something a little less finnicky? Final Fantasy 1, say, with a team of black belts?
2Scott Garrabrant
I think, at least before they changed it to democracy, trolls are much less of a problem than coordination problems between individuals who are legitimately trying.
The lag really hurts too. I'm not sure I could play any game on a reasonable timeframe with 30s delay