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An acquaintance recently started a FB post with “I feel like the entire world has gone mad.”

My acquaintance was maybe being a bit humorous; nevertheless, I was reminded of this old joke:

As a senior citizen was driving down the freeway, his car phone rang. Answering, he heard his wife's voice urgently warning him, "Herman, I just heard on the news that there's a car going the wrong way on 280. Please be careful!"

”Hell," said Herman, "It's not just one car. It's hundreds of them!"

I guess it’s my impression that a lot of people have the “I feel large chunks of the world have gone mad” thing going, who didn’t have it going before (or not this much or this intensely). (On many sides, and not just about the Blue/Red Trump/Biden thing.) I am curious whether this matches others’ impressions. (Or if anyone has studies/polls/etc. that might help with this.)

Separately but relatedly, I would like to be on record as predicting that the amount of this (of people feeling that large numbers of people are totally batshit on lots of issues) is going to continue increasing across the next several years. And is going to spread further beyond a single axis of politicization, to happen almost everywhere.

I’m very open to bets on this topic, if anybody has a suitable operationalization.

I’m also interested in thinking on what happens next, if a very large increase of this sort does occur.

I haven't had this feeling; to me the world might feel less mad now than it used to, but that's probably more of a function of "Kaj coming to understand the internal logic in the actions that previously felt mad" than any real change in the world itself.

I also haven't noticed more people having the world-madness feeling now than before, though I feel like a lot of people have always had that feeling, so I expect that I wouldn't notice a large increase even if one did exist.

There’s a lot I want to try to tell LessWrong about.  A lot of models, perceptions, thoughts, patterns of thinking.  It’s been growing and growing for me over the last several years.

A lot of the barrier to me posting it has been that I am (mostly unendorsedly) averse to publishing drafts that’re worse than my existing blog posts, or that may not make sense to people, or that talk about some things without having yet talked about other things that I care more about, or etc.  This aversion seems basically mistaken to me because “trial and error, with lower standards for writing things at all” is probably the fastest way I can figure out how to make sense about any given thing, really.  So I’ll be trying to lower my standards for what to publish (we’ll see how successful I am or am not about that), and I’ll be leaving this note as a placeholder to try to feel a bit less awkward about that.  Also, unless explicitly noted otherwise, none of my posts speak for CFAR or its staff or anyone else other than me.

That sounds awesome! I have similar feelings. This is how I think about it. I don't feel great about this as a way of explaining it, but perhaps it'd be useful.

Think about posts as forming some sort of spectrum. On one end (let's say the right side) you've got something like a book. The ideas have been refined. The author spent a ton of time researching it, coming up with great examples, revising it, doing user testing on people, having professional editors look at it, etc. Next to a book maybe you've got something like an academic journal article. Next to that maybe an essay, or a blog post where a lot of effort has been put into it.

Then on the other end of the spectrum (left side) you've got maybe notes that are scribbled on the back of a napkin. Just the raw seeds of an idea. Then maybe after that you take that napkin home with you and expand a bit about those thoughts in a personal journal, but still very informal and unrefined. Then maybe you text a friend about it. Then maybe you email another friend. Then maybe posting on eg. the LW shortform. See, there's a spectrum.

If you buy that there is this spectrum, which I think is pretty self-evident, it begs the question of how well we (LW? Rationality community? Society?) are doing at providing a platform for people at various points along that spectrum. I think that LW does a good job in the vicinity of "well researched blog post", but for the sorts of things at the left side of the spectrum, I don't really feel like LW addresses it. And I think that it is a cultural problem, not a technical one. We have things like Shortform, Open Thread, and various Slack and Discord groups. It's just that, at least IME, people don't use it for things that are on the left side of the spectrum, and thus it feels uncomfortable if you are doing things on left side of the spectrum, even if eg. the Personal Blog Posts are explicitly intended for "left side of the spectrum" types of thoughts.

So bringing this back full circle, seeing these sorts of not-fully-formed thoughts from you (Anna) is not only something I'd like to see for the more ground/object level value of those posts, but also because I think it'd push things in the right direction culturally.

I missed this comment when it first went up.

FYI this problem is also part of what shortform is for – you can get half-formed ideas out there, and then if they turn out to be pretty-close-to-publishable-as-top-level-post you can repost them. (Oliver used to do some publishing of his thoughts via shortform, and then later republish them as posts)

This is one of my bottlenecks on posting, so I'm hoping maybe someone will share thoughts on it that I might find useful:

I keep being torn between trying to write posts about things I have more-or-less understood already (which I therefore more-or-less know how to write up), and posts about things I presently care a lot about coming to a better understanding of (but where my thoughts are not so organized yet, and so trying to write about it involves much much use of the backspace, and ~80% of the time leads to me realizing the concepts are wrong, and going back to the drawing board).

I'm curious how others navigate this, or for general advice.

For me, I only do the former post when I want to really nail something and put loads of work into it (e.g. my common knowledge post).

I do the latter kind when I’ve just thought about a thing for a while and I feel like I got somewhere good. I don’t aim to write a perfect piece on it, I aim to write like I would explain my thinking in conversation. I typically can write such posts in ~2hrs (e.g. my environment post), and that seems worth publishing to me, and then time to move on with my thoughts.

posts about things I presently care a lot about coming to a better understanding of (but where my thoughts are not so organized yet, and so trying to write about it involves much much use of the backspace, and ~80% of the time leads to me realizing the concepts are wrong, and going back to the drawing board).

This is something that I've been thinking about. Currently I sense that the overwhelming majority of people are hesitant to write about ideas that are in this exploratory phase. But collaboration at the exploratory phase is important! I suspect that the main way this collaboration currently happens is that people text their friends, but I feel like we can do better than that.

I'm not exactly sure how. I think it's largely a social problem. Ie. people need to feel like it is ok to post early stage exploratory thoughts that are likely to have problems. And the way to get to that point is probably to see other (high status) members of the community doing so. There's a chicken-egg problem there, but it could probably be bootstrapped by just convincing a critical mass of people to just do it.

I should point out that the LessWrong team has tried to solve this problem with the shortform and by making personal blog posts a thing that is very babble-y. I think that is failing though because the social convention hasn't changed, and the social convention is the crux of the problem.

Another possibility is that this type of exploratory conversation just doesn't happen "in public". It needs to happen in small, tight nit groups no larger than, say, four people. In which case it would be an interesting idea for eg. LessWrong to connect people and form such groups, that are limited in size and have the explicit goal of being for discussing exploratory ideas.

Edit: A big reason why I'm excited about the possibility of (drastically) improving this exploratory phase is because of how high a level of action it is. It should trickle down and have positive effects in many places. In theory.

Not the question you asked, but... is it possible to somehow make your writing easier, and then you perhaps wouldn't have to choose between writing X or Y, because you could just write both?

For example, not sure how much time you spend writing and editing, but maybe you could just record yourself talking and writing on blackboard, and then someone else (willing to donate their time) could transcribe it, and then you would just do the final editing and submit the thing?

trying to write about it involves much much use of the backspace

There is no backspace if you talk. What would you do if the same thing happened to you during a lecture? Maybe say "oops, I was wrong about this, because..." -- but this also can be included in the text. The entire wrong part could then be given a heading like "my first (unsuccessful) attempt", which would make the reader less confused.

I post all exploration/babble in LessWrong.

For things I am more confident about and I want to push or get more serious feedback on I post it in the Alignment Forum or the Effective Altruism Forum.

For example, when I started thinking about forecast aggregation I posted my unpolished thoughts here [1].

Now that I have grown more confident in my understanding I have been posting in the EA Forum [2].

This is not a hard rule, but I found the heuristic useful. My reasoning is something like:

  • LessWrong is a good place for wild speculation. I feel more likely to be called out on bullshit that does not make sense in a constructive way.
  • The EA Forum / Alignment Forum is less lenient of jargon and bullshit, plus it has a more consistent quality of content. It forces me to be more precise and rigourous.



If you get covid (which many of my friends seem to be doing lately), and your sole goal is to minimize risk of long-term symptoms, is it best to take paxlovid right away, or with a delay?

My current low-confidence guess is that it is best with a delay of ~2 days post symptoms.  Would love critique/comments, since many here will face this sometime this year.

Basic reasoning: anecdotally, "covid rebound" seems extremely common among those who get paxlovid right away, probably also worse among those who get paxlovid right away.  Paxlovid prevents viral replication but does not destroy the virus already in your body.  With a delay, your own immune system learns to do this, else not as much.

Data and discussion:

I just read this tweet, which claims that the author's nieces and nephews (who are teenagers) think that Helen Keller probably didn't exist, based on basically not believing things they can't directly verify. (The author seems to think this is a common thing for today's American teenagers.)

This is more extreme than I would have predicted, although in a direction I would have predicted. I have no idea if this is in fact true and common (vs made-up/exaggerated and/or uncommon.) Is there anyone here who knows some American teenagers (or other teenagers, really) and is willing to ask them about this for me?