11 Less Wrong Articles I Probably Will Never Have Time to Write

by lukeprog3 min read23rd Oct 201137 comments

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Practical
Personal Blog

There are many Less Wrong posts I'd like to write, but I'm starting to admit there are some of them I'll probably never get around to. I need to be doing other things. If anybody wants to write up the post ideas below, go for it! You may also want to announce you're working on one or more of them in the comments, to avoid duplicate work.

In no particular order...

  1. The Value of Information. Less Wrong still doesn't have a tutorial on how to do value of information calculations. If 5+ examples from common circumstances are included, I think this could be useful to many people. One classic example is that most people don't spend even 10 hours figuring out how they should spend several years of their life while getting a degree. [Update: Vaniver wrote this one.]
  2. Gamify Boring Tasks. The potato chip lady is a classic example of how to do this. I've got several of my own examples from my own life, and perhaps another author has their own. "Make it a game" is something my mother might advise for getting through boring tasks, and I didn't take this advice seriously until lots of scientific literature gave me the same advice. ('Flow' literature.) This is one tiny piece of How to Beat Procrastination that could be zoomed in on with its own post.
  3. Biases in Charity. We've all heard about scope insensitivity, but several other biases effect our charitable giving. This post could basically be a summary of this article, plus a few others from that same book. [Update: done by Kaj.]
  4. Motivational Externalism. One of the classic debates in metaethics/moral psychology is between motivation externalism and motivational internalism. This debate seems to be in the process of being resolved by neuroscience, in favor of motivational externalism. I have spoken with LWers who do not know this. Much of the case is laid out here, though there are more details to be gleaned from neuroeconomics.
  5. The Dr. Evil Problem. Less Wrong has spent much discussion on the sleeping beauty problem (due largely to Adam Elga). A similar problem in decision theory / probability theory that may be worth discussing is Elga's "Dr. Evil Problem," discussed here and here.
  6. Hedonomics. Hedonomics is a particular way of combining decision research and happiness research, and has implications for scientific self-help. A beginning review is here. The field could be summarized for Less Wrong.
  7. Thinking Too Little or Thinking Too Much. Thinking errors can result both from thinking too little (heuristics and biases) and from thinking too much (overzealous decision analysis). It would be useful to have some heuristics available to recognize which type of thinking error is likely under which circumstances, as discussed by Ariely & Norton (2010).
  8. How to be a Happy Consumer. There is a ton of research on how to spend money in ways that actually make you happy, recently reviewed here. This could be summarized for Less Wrong.
  9. Informal Fallacies as Errors in Bayesian Reasoning. Just as science errs or succeeds as it agrees with probability theory, informal fallacies are justified only in so far as they agree with Bayes. A recent summary of this is here. [Update: done by Kaj.]
  10. Close-Call Counterfactuals. This is one of the biases I don't think has been discussed on Less Wrong yet. Summary. [Update: done by Kaj.]
  11. Make Better Decisions with UnBBayes. UnBBayes is a fairly mature, actively developed cross-platform decision network software. It would be useful to have a tutorial on how Less Wrongers can use it to make better (important) decisions, like these video tutorials but with better real-life examples.

 

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I'll start drafting a Value of Information post. (Time to put those decision theory classes to work!)

Competition is encouraged; just send me a note / comment here if you're also drafting one so I'll get the impetus to write faster/better.

Post finished. I didn't expect it to take me a month, but am glad I finished it by that milestone, at least.

I'll start working on a Biases in Charity post. Just like Vaniver, I encourage competition.

I finished my post; if you want to have yours done by a month, you've got 3 more days.

This seemed like the sort of post worth bumping and seeing what the current state of each of these were. How many of these got written and which still seem useful?

I would be especially interested in seeing The Value of Information. UnBBayes also, maybe -- I don't know how useful it would be from glancing at it.

I think I can summarize hedonomics right here: Most people spend too much time optimizing for the acquisition of more objects and not enough optimizing their use of objects they already have (where objects can be anything we want not just physical items).

ex: "If only I was better looking!"

economics: acquire more of the properties that make you attractive to other people

hedonomics: are you maximizing your looks given your current resources?

I think the distinction relies on a naive understanding of economics, but it is nonetheless a good heuristic in general to ask that sort of question.

The "Dr. Evil problem" is pretty straightfoward as anthropics goes. Equivalent situations are already discussed in various places on LW. On the other hand, I don't know if we've had a basic "here's how anthropics looks as probability theory" post. I may do that.

Could you clarify? Which posts are you referring to?

If you do write that article, I'd be very interested to read it.

So Eliezer's articles related to The Anthropic Trilemma and Boltzmann Brains basically treat the "Dr. Evil" problem as an easy introduction to harder problems. Katja Grace also has some really good articles on anthropic reasoning, some here and some on her own blog.

I'm having trouble seeing the relevance of either of those posts. Elga's article is about static self-locating belief, i.e., which of two individuals I should believe myself to currently be. Eliezer seems only to be questioning the coherence of dynamic self-locating belief, i.e., which individual I should believe to be my future self. And I'm not presently sure how the Boltzmann Brain post touches on this at all.

This is me making a public commitment to get #'s 6 or 8 done within the next 3 months, one of which will be my first post to LessWrong.

Please mark in the text when you link to PDFs - thanks!

Just out of curiosity, why?

They're more of an investment to read - I won't want to read them on my phone, or open them in another tab just for a quick glance, I'll want to click on them only if I am setting aside time to read them.

So... nobody wants to try writing the 'Informal Fallacies as Errors in Bayesian Reasoning' post?

But that paper is so badass!

[-][anonymous]10y 2

I spent a few hours last night read through the material and writing down some general ideas. However, I soon felt like I was "faking it" when it came to the math. That was a red light for me to stop. I don't think I understand enough of the mathematics to explain it well. I wanted to say this asap so I don't prevent anyone else from tackling a problem they think I'm already working on.

Instead, if no one else has already written it, I may turn my attention to the post on Motivational Externalism. That also a topic I'm interested in, as well as one that is less math-intensive. Is that topic still open, Luke?

Thanks for posting this notice.

As for motivational externalism: as far as I know, nobody is developing that post. Go for it! If you need help, I'm happy to point you to the right review articles, but I probably can't help more than that. The review article I link to above is the best starting place.

[-][anonymous]10y 3

You're welcome.

Thanks for the encouragement! I'm reading the review article you linked to right now. I'm also reading your advice on writing. (Must. Remember. Short. Sentences.)

I understand that your ability to help is limited. You're a very busy guy doing very important work. And I don't say that to blow smoke.

But when you have the time, I'd definitely appreciate if you could point me toward the right review articles.

I'll wait for you to finish the one review article above, and then ask me questions.

[-][anonymous]10y 1

I finished the review article Schroeder et al. (2010). Based on it, this is my sketch of my tentative outline:

  • Give a brief account of motivation. Humean vs. anti-Humean theories
  • Describe the open questions in moral psychology about motivation.
  • Explicate the four views of moral motivation. Which are internalist? Externalist?
  • Pose for each view the different experiences we should anticipate if it is true.
  • Delve into the neuroscience and describe the relevant structure of the brain.
  • Compare our anticipated experiences with the evidence from neuroscience.
  • Show which views are more probable based on the evidence. Show which are less.

I have many questions. But for now. I'll restrain myself to the three most important ones.

Does this outline reflect what you had in mind? I read that this topic is necessary for your Metaethics sequence. I want to save you the time of writing this yourself so you can focus on topics I can't. Division of labor and such. In order for that to work, I need to make sure that I'm targeting the specific questions you would have otherwise had to address.

How in-depth should I get with the neuroscience? I want to aim low with my explanations. Illusion of transparency, large inferential gaps, etc. But I'm not sure how low is too low. Are they any useful heuristics for approximating when I need to go less in-depth? More in-depth?

The textbook Schroeder et al. (2010) uses as their primary reference for neuroscience is at least 10 years old. Are there other resources with more recent information I should be aware of? Any specific pieces of information that would be useful?

The outline looks perfect! And yes, the main problem with that article is that it is out of date with the neuroscience. I would begin instead with Neuroscience of Human Motivation and the sources it cites, and also Neuroscience of Preference and Choice, if you can get your hands on it.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

Sounds great! Thanks for the quick response.

Do you have a PDF copy of Neuroscience of Preference and Choice? If not, do you know anyone who may? Would it be appropriate for me to ask in the discussion section? I've searched online before, but I haven't been able to find a (free) electronic version.

I only have a Kindle copy. The first two chapters are the most important. You could email each author and ask for a pre-print copy of their chapter.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

I have a Kindle myself, so that's not a problem. If it's not an inconvenience, I'd appreciate it if you copied the file and sent it to me at:

(REDACTED)

If you can't, I'll email the authors for a pre-print copy.

Any update on this?

[-][anonymous]10y 0

The first post of the sequence is almost complete. In order to prevent procrastination, I'm giving myself a timeline of 24 hours to finish it. If I don't post it by 3 PM EST on 2/10/12, please downvote this comment until I do.

Apologies for the delay in writing the posts. A combination of holidays, akrasia, and large inferential gaps slowed my progress. Most of my economic reading comes from the Austrian school, so reading neuroeconomics has required me to also become more literate in neoclassical economics. (A subject I've otherwise avoided because of it's ability to mind kill me.)

Edit: The first post has been completed by the deadline. As such, please do not downvote this comment. Thanks!

Thanks for the update!

[-][anonymous]10y 0

You're welcome!

Giving myself that arbitrary deadline and penalty did motivate me. I finished writing and editing the first post within a few hours. The penultimate copy is here:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/81121556

If anyone has any suggestions or criticisms, please let me know ASAP. I'm now in the process of formatting the post for the main site. Then, onto the second post, which is much more content heavy.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

Actually, I would really love to write that! I've been looking really hard for said paper, assuming it had already been written by someone, somewhere. It is totally badass, and on a topic I'm really interested it.

To be honest, I'm just not sure if I have enough experience and information to write it, and to write it well. I'm willing to give it a shot, though. It's something important to try my hand at.

Do you (or anyone else) have any resources on hand that might be useful? Any advice? (On both the topic itself, and the writing process.)

lukeprog has done this sort of thing before, I think - but that "post" is not a post. It's a sequence!

I am trying to integrate fallacies as errors in Bayesian reasoning into the post I am writing on the principle of charity, the straw man fallacy, and the principle of humanity...it's a lot to think about, organize, and try to present coherently, and those three are a small subset of all the informal fallacies that there are.

[-][anonymous]10y 2

For what I'm aiming for, I don't think a sequence is necessary. A lot of the groundwork on Bayesianism has already been laid elsewhere, so I am able to restrict my discussion to the following areas:

  • What is traditionally meant by informal fallacies?
  • What are a few examples of these informal fallacies?
  • How can we express these allegedly fallacious lines of reasoning in Bayesian terms?
  • After expressing them in said terms, are any these informal fallacies actually fallacious?

If I narrow my scope to these questions, I think I can give a satisfactory overview of the answers in one post. A more thorough investigation (which I perceive that you are aiming for) is valuable and very well might need its own sequence.

But for now, I'm trying to aim very low. I hope that in the future, someone writing that more comprehensive post can say:

Hey! Remember that post PP wrote on informal fallacies as errors in Bayesian reasoning? I'm going to go much more in-depth than he did. Go read his post first as a primer so I don't have to re-tread covered ground, and then come back here for a more thorough analysis.

One of the classic debates in metaethics/moral psychology is between motivation externalism and motivational internalism. This debate seems to be in the process of being resolved by neuroscience, in favor of motivational externalism.

Moral motivation for humans is an empirical question, but no universally compelling arguments = externalism for minds-in-general, no? And internalism, not "objective morality", is the precise term we should be using for the spooky thing we don't believe in.

While we're listing stuff, one thing I'd like to do at some point would be to look at the literature on philosophical training and critical thinking ability (eg. as measured by the Watson-Glaser test). http://images.austhink.com/pdf/Claudia-Alvarez-thesis.pdf looks like it's the best current starting point.

EDIT: I wound up excerpting that thesis at length: http://lesswrong.com/lw/dhe/to_learn_critical_thinking_study_critical_thinking/

Thinking Too Little or Thinking Too Much.

I'm reading the linked article, how did you find that one?