Thanks to everyone who took the 2013 Less Wrong Census/Survey. Extra thanks to Ozy, who helped me out with the data processing and statistics work, and to everyone who suggested questions.

This year's results are below. Some of them may make more sense in the context of the original survey questions, which can be seen here. Please do not try to take the survey as it is over and your results will not be counted.

Part I. Population

1636 people answered the survey.

Compare this to 1195 people last year, and 1090 people the year before that. It would seem the site is growing, but we do have to consider that each survey lasted a different amount of time; for example, last survey lasted 23 days, but this survey lasted 40.

However, almost everyone who takes the survey takes it in the first few weeks it is available. 1506 of the respondents answered within the first 23 days, proving that even if the survey ran the same length as last year's, there would still have been growth.
As we will see lower down, growth is smooth across all categories of users (lurkers, commenters, posters) EXCEPT people who have posted to Main, the number of which remains nearly the same from year to year.

We continue to have very high turnover - only 40% of respondents this year say they also took the survey last year.

II. Categorical Data

Female: 161, 9.8%
Male: 1453, 88.8%
Other: 1, 0.1%
Did not answer: 21, 1.3%

[[Ozy is disappointed that we've lost 50% of our intersex readers.]]

F (cisgender): 140, 8.6%
F (transgender MtF): 20, 1.2%
M (cisgender): 1401, 85.6%
M (transgender FtM): 5, 0.3%
Other: 49, 3%
Did not answer: 21, 1.3%

Asexual: 47, 2.9%
Bisexual: 188, 12.2%
Heterosexual: 1287, 78.7%
Homosexual: 45, 2.8%
Other: 39, 2.4%
Did not answer: 19, 1.2%

Prefer monogamous: 829, 50.7%
Prefer polyamorous: 234, 14.3%
Other: 32, 2.0%
Uncertain/no preference: 520, 31.8%
Did not answer: 21, 1.3%

0: 797, 48.7%
1: 728, 44.5%
2: 66, 4.0%
3: 21, 1.3%
4: 1, .1%
6: 3, .2%
Did not answer: 20, 1.2%

Married: 304, 18.6%
Relationship: 473, 28.9%
Single: 840, 51.3%

Looking for more relationship partners: 617, 37.7%
Not looking for more relationship partners: 993, 60.7%
Did not answer: 26, 1.6%

Yes: 53, 3.3%
I didn't meet them through the community but they're part of the community now: 66, 4.0%
No: 1482, 90.5%
Did not answer: 35, 2.1%

United States: 895, 54.7%
United Kingdom: 144, 8.8%
Canada: 107, 6.5%
Australia: 69, 4.2%
Germany: 68, 4.2%
Finland: 35, 2.1%
Russia: 22, 1.3%
New Zealand: 20, 1.2%
Israel: 17, 1.0%
France: 16, 1.0%
Poland: 16, 1.0%

Finland: 1/154,685.
New Zealand: 1/221,650.
Canada: 1/325,981.
Australia: 1/328,659.
United States: 1/350,726
United Kingdom: 1/439,097
Israel: 1/465,176.
Germany: 1/1,204,264.
Poland: 1/2,408,750.
France: 1/4,106,250.
Russia: 1/6,522,727

Asian (East Asian): 60, 3.7%
Asian (Indian subcontinent): 37, 2.3%
Black: 11, .7%
Middle Eastern: 9, .6%
White (Hispanic): 73, 4.5%
White (non-Hispanic): 1373, 83.9%
Other: 51, 3.1%
Did not answer: 22, 1.3%

Academics (teaching): 77, 4.7%
For-profit work: 552, 33.7%
Government work: 55, 3.4%
Independently wealthy: 14, .9%
Non-profit work: 46, 2.8%
Self-employed: 103, 6.3%
Student: 661, 40.4%
Unemployed: 105, 6.4%
Did not answer: 23, 1.4%

Art: 27, 1.7%
Biology: 26, 1.6%
Business: 44, 2.7%
Computers (AI): 47, 2.9%
Computers (other academic computer science): 107, 6.5%
Computers (practical): 505, 30.9%
Engineering: 128, 7.8%
Finance/economics: 92, 5.6%
Law: 36, 2.2%
Mathematics: 139, 8.5%
Medicine: 31, 1.9%
Neuroscience: 13, .8%
Philosophy: 41, 2.5%
Physics: 92, 5.6%
Psychology: 34, 2.1%
Statistics: 23, 1.4%
Other hard science: 31, 1.9%
Other social science: 43, 2.6%
Other: 139, 8.5%
Did not answer: 38, 2.3%

None: 84, 5.1%
High school: 444, 27.1%
2 year degree: 68, 4.2%
Bachelor's: 554, 33.9%
Master's: 323, 19.7%
MD/JD/other professional degree: 31, 2.0%
PhD.: 90, 5.5%
Other: 22, 1.3%
Did not answer: 19, 1.2%

Communist: 11, .7%
Conservative: 64, 3.9%
Liberal: 580, 35.5%
Libertarian: 437, 26.7%
Socialist: 502, 30.7%
Did not answer: 42, 2.6%

Anarchist: 52, 3.2%
Conservative: 16, 1.0%
Futarchist: 42, 2.6%
Left-libertarian: 142, 8.7%
Liberal: 5
Moderate: 53, 3.2%
Pragmatist: 110, 6.7%
Progressive: 206, 12.6%
Reactionary: 40, 2.4%
Social democrat: 154, 9.5%
Socialist: 135, 8.2%
Did not answer: 26.2%

[[All answers with more than 1% of the Less Wrong population included. Other answers which made Ozy giggle included "are any of you kings?! why do you CARE?!", "Exclusionary: you are entitled to an opinion on nuclear power when you know how much of your power is nuclear", "having-well-founded-opinions-is-really-hard-ist", "kleptocrat", "pirate", and "SPECIAL FUCKING SNOWFLAKE."]]

Democratic Party: 226, 13.8%
Libertarian Party: 31, 1.9%
Republican Party: 58, 3.5%
Other third party: 19, 1.2%
Not registered: 447, 27.3%
Did not answer or non-American: 856, 52.3%

Yes: 936, 57.2%
No: 450, 27.5%
My country doesn't hold elections: 2, 0.1%
Did not answer: 249, 15.2%

Agnostic: 165, 10.1%
Atheist and not spiritual: 1163, 71.1%
Atheist but spiritual: 132, 8.1%
Deist/pantheist/etc.: 36, 2.2%
Lukewarm theist: 53, 3.2%
Committed theist 64, 3.9%

Buddhist: 22, 1.3%
Christian (Catholic): 44, 2.7%
Christian (Protestant): 56, 3.4%
Jewish: 31, 1.9%
Mixed/Other: 21, 1.3%
Unitarian Universalist or similar: 25, 1.5%

[[This includes all religions with more than 1% of Less Wrongers. Minority religions include Dzogchen, Daoism, various sorts of Paganism, Simulationist, a very confused secular humanist, Kopmist, Discordian, and a Cultus Deorum Romanum practitioner whom Ozy wants to be friends with.]]

Agnostic: 129, 11.6%
Atheist and not spiritual: 225, 13.8%
Atheist but spiritual: 73, 4.5%
Committed theist: 423, 25.9%
Deist/pantheist, etc.: 42, 2.6%
Lukewarm theist: 563, 34.4%
Mixed/other: 97, 5.9%
Did not answer: 24, 1.5%

Bahai: 3, 0.2%
Buddhist: 13, .8%
Christian (Catholic): 418, 25.6%
Christian (Mormon): 38, 2.3%
Christian (Protestant): 631, 38.4%
Christian (Quaker): 7, 0.4%
Christian (Unitarian Universalist or similar): 32, 2.0%
Christian (other non-Protestant): 99, 6.1%
Christian (unknown): 3, 0.2%
Eckankar: 1, 0.1%
Hindu: 29, 1.8%
Jewish: 136, 8.3%
Muslim: 12, 0.7%
Native American Spiritualist: 1, 0.1%
Mixed/Other: 85, 5.3%
Sikhism: 1, 0.1%
Traditional Chinese: 11, .7%
Wiccan: 1, 0.1%
None: 8, 0.4%
Did not answer: 107, 6.7%

Accept/lean towards consequentialism: 1049, 64.1%
Accept/lean towards deontology: 77, 4.7%
Accept/lean towards virtue ethics: 197, 12.0%
Other/no answer: 276, 16.9%
Did not answer: 37, 2.3%

0: 1414, 86.4%
1: 77, 4.7%
2: 90, 5.5%
3: 25, 1.5%
4: 7, 0.4%
5: 1, 0.1%
6: 2, 0.1%
Did not answer: 20, 1.2%

Have no children, don't want any: 506, 31.3%
Have no children, uncertain if want them: 472, 29.2%
Have no children, want children: 431, 26.7%
Have no children, didn't answer: 5, 0.3%
Have children, don't want more: 124, 7.6%
Have children, uncertain if want more: 25, 1.5%
Have children, want more: 53, 3.2%

Right: 1256, 76.6%
Left: 145, 9.5%
Ambidextrous: 36, 2.2%
Not sure: 7, 0.4%
Did not answer: 182, 11.1%

Lurker (no account): 584, 35.7%
Lurker (account) 221, 13.5%
Poster (comment, no post): 495, 30.3%
Poster (Discussion, not Main): 221, 12.9%
Poster (Main): 103, 6.3%

Never knew they existed: 119, 7.3%
Knew they existed, didn't look at them: 48, 2.9%
~25% of the Sequences: 200, 12.2%
~50% of the Sequences: 271, 16.6%
~75% of the Sequences: 225, 13.8%
All the Sequences: 419, 25.6%
Did not answer: 24, 1.5%

No: 1134, 69.3%
Yes, once or a few times: 307, 18.8%
Yes, regularly: 159, 9.7%

No: 272, 16.6%
Started it, haven't finished: 255, 15.6%
Yes, all of it: 912, 55.7%

Yes, a full workshop: 105, 6.4%
A class but not a full-day workshop: 40, 2.4%
No: 1446, 88.3%
Did not answer: 46, 2.8%

Yes, all the time: 94, 5.7%
Yes, sometimes: 179, 10.9%
No: 1316, 80.4%
Did not answer: 48, 2.9%

No: 1201, 73.4%
Yes: 213, 13.0%
Did not answer: 223, 13.6%

Never heard of them: 363, 22.2%
No,  but I've heard of them: 495, 30.2%
Yes, in the past: 328, 20%
Yes, currently: 219, 13.4%
Did not answer: 232, 14.2%

Yes: 638, 39.0%
No: 784, 47.9%
Did not answer: 215, 13.1%

English: 1009, 67.8%
German: 58, 3.6%
Finnish: 29, 1.8%
Russian: 25, 1.6%
French: 17, 1.0%
Dutch: 16, 1.0%
Did not answer: 15.2%

[[This includes all answers that more than 1% of respondents chose. Other languages include Urdu, both Czech and Slovakian, Latvian, and Love.]]

I don't want to start my own business: 617, 37.7%
I am considering starting my own business: 474, 29.0%
I plan to start my own business: 113, 6.9%
I've already started my own business: 156, 9.5%
Did not answer: 277, 16.9%

Yes: 468, 28.6%
No: 883, 53.9%
Did not answer: 286, 17.5%

Alone: 348, 21.3%
With family: 420, 25.7%
With partner/spouse: 400, 24.4%
With roommates: 450, 27.5%
Did not answer: 19, 1.3%

No: 646, 39.5%
No, only because I'm not allowed: 157, 9.6%
Yes, 609, 37.2%
Did not answer: 225, 13.7%

Pandemic (bioengineered): 374, 22.8%
Environmental collapse including global warming: 251, 15.3%
Unfriendly AI: 233, 14.2%
Nuclear war: 210, 12.8%
Pandemic (natural) 145, 8.8%
Economic/political collapse: 175, 1, 10.7%
Asteroid strike: 65, 3.9%
Nanotech/grey goo: 57, 3.5%
Didn't answer: 99, 6.0%

Never thought about it / don't understand it: 69, 4.2%
No, and don't want to: 414, 25.3%
No, still considering: 636, 38.9%
No, would like to: 265, 16.2%
No, would like to, but it's unavailable: 119, 7.3%
Yes: 66, 4.0%
Didn't answer: 68, 4.2%

Don't understand/prefer not to answer: 92, 5.6%
Not sure: 103, 6.3%
One box: 1036, 63.3%
Two box: 119, 7.3%
Did not answer: 287, 17.5%

Yes: 177, 10.8%
No: 1219, 74.5%
Did not answer: 241, 14.7%

Been here since it started in the Overcoming Bias days: 285, 17.4%
Referred by a friend: 241, 14.7%
Referred by a search engine: 148, 9.0%
Referred by HPMOR: 400, 24.4%
Referred by a link on another blog: 373, 22.8%
Referred by a school course: 1, .1%
Other: 160, 9.8%
Did not answer: 29, 1.9%

Common Sense Atheism: 33
Slate Star Codex: 20
Hacker News: 18
Reddit: 18
TVTropes: 13
Y Combinator: 11
Gwern: 9
RationalWiki: 8
Marginal Revolution: 7
Unequally Yoked: 6
Armed and Dangerous: 5
Shtetl Optimized: 5
Econlog: 4
StumbleUpon: 4 4
Accelerating Future: 3
Stares at the World: 3
xkcd: 3
David Brin: 2
Freethoughtblogs: 2
Felicifia: 2
Givewell: 2 2
Patri Friedman: 2
Popehat: 2
Overcoming Bias: 2
Scientiststhesis: 2
Scott Young: 2 2
TalkOrigins: 2
Tumblr: 2

[[This includes all sources with  more than one referral; needless to say there was a long tail]]

III. Numeric Data

(in the form mean + stdev (1st quartile, 2nd quartile, 3rd quartile) [n = number responding]))

Age: 27.4 + 8.5 (22, 25, 31) [n = 1558]
Height: 176.6 cm + 16.6 (173, 178, 183) [n = 1267]

Karma Score: 504 + 2085 (0, 0, 100) [n = 1438]
Time in community: 2.62 years + 1.84 (1, 2, 4) [n = 1443]
Time on LW: 13.25 minutes/day + 20.97 (2, 10, 15) [n = 1457]

IQ: 138.2 + 13.6 (130, 138, 145) [n = 506]
SAT out of 1600: 1474 + 114 (1410, 1490, 1560) [n = 411]
SAT out of 2400: 2207 + 161 (2130, 2240, 2330) [n = 333]
ACT out of 36: 32.8 + 2.5 (32, 33, 35) [n = 265]

P(Aliens in observable universe): 74.3 + 32.7 (60, 90, 99) [n = 1496]
P(Aliens in Milky Way): 44.9 + 38.2 (5, 40, 85) [n = 1482]
P(Supernatural): 7.7 + 22 (0E-9, .000055, 1) [n = 1484]
P(God): 9.1 + 22.9 (0E-11, .01, 3) [n = 1490]
P(Religion): 5.6 + 19.6 (0E-11, 0E-11, .5) [n = 1497]
P(Cryonics): 22.8 + 28 (2, 10, 33) [n = 1500]  
P(AntiAgathics): 27.6 + 31.2 (2, 10, 50) [n = 1493]
P(Simulation): 24.1 + 28.9 (1, 10, 50) [n = 1400]
P(ManyWorlds): 50 + 29.8 (25, 50, 75) [n = 1373]
P(Warming): 80.7 + 25.2 (75, 90, 98) [n = 1509]
P(Global catastrophic risk): 72.9 + 25.41 (60, 80, 95) [n = 1502]
Singularity year: 1.67E +11 + 4.089E+12 (2060, 2090, 2150) [n = 1195]

[[Of course, this question was hopelessly screwed up by people who insisted on filling the whole answer field with 9s, or other such nonsense. I went back and eliminated all outliers - answers with more than 4 digits or answers in the past - which changed the results to: 2150 + 226 (2060, 2089, 2150)]]

Yearly Income: $73,226 +423,310 (10,000, 37,000, 80,000) [n = 910]
Yearly Charity: $1181.16 + 6037.77 (0, 50, 400) [n = 1231]
Yearly Charity to MIRI/CFAR: $307.18 + 4205.37 (0, 0, 0) [n = 1191]
Yearly Charity to X-risk (excluding MIRI or CFAR): $6.34 + 55.89 (0, 0, 0) [n = 1150]

Number of Languages: 1.49 + .8 (1, 1, 2) [n = 1345]
Older Siblings: 0.5 + 0.9 (0, 0, 1) [n = 1366]
Time Online/Week: 42.7 hours + 24.8 (25, 40, 60) [n = 1292]
Time Watching TV/Week: 4.2 hours + 5.7 (0, 2, 5) [n = 1316]

[[The next nine questions ask respondents to rate how favorable they are to the political idea or movement above on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being "not at all favorable" and 5 being "very favorable". You can see the exact wordings of the questions on the survey.]]

Abortion: 4.4 + 1 (4, 5, 5) [n = 1350]
Immigration: 4.1 + 1 (3, 4, 5) [n = 1322]
Basic Income: 3.8 + 1.2 (3, 4, 5) [n = 1289]
Taxes: 3.1 + 1.3 (2, 3, 4) [n = 1296]
Feminism: 3.8 + 1.2 (3, 4, 5) [n = 1329]
Social Justice: 3.6 + 1.3 (3, 4, 5) [n = 1263]
Minimum Wage: 3.2 + 1.4 (2, 3, 4) [n = 1290]
Great Stagnation: 2.3 + 1 (2, 2, 3) [n = 1273]
Human Biodiversity: 2.7 + 1.2 (2, 3, 4) [n = 1305]

IV. Bivariate Correlations

Ozy ran bivariate correlations between all the numerical data and recorded all correlations that were significant at the .001 level in order to maximize the chance that these are genuine results. The format is variable/variable: Pearson correlation (n). Yvain is not hugely on board with the idea of running correlations between everything and seeing what sticks, but will grudgingly publish the results because of the very high bar for significance (p < .001 on ~800 correlations suggests < 1 spurious result) and because he doesn't want to have to do it himself.

Less Political:
SAT score (1600)/SAT score (2400): .835 (56)
Charity/MIRI and CFAR donations: .730 (1193)
SAT score out of 2400/ACT score: .673 (111)
SAT score out of 1600/ACT score: .544 (102)
Number of children/age: .507 (1607)
P(Cryonics)/P(AntiAgathics): .489 (1515)
SAT score out of 1600/IQ: .369 (173)
MIRI and CFAR donations/XRisk donations: .284 (1178)
Number of children/ACT score: -.279 (269)
Income/charity: .269 (884)
Charity/Xrisk charity: .262 (1161)
P(Cryonics)/P(Simulation): .256 (1419)
P(AntiAgathics)/P(Simulation): .253 (1418)
Number of current partners/age: .238 (1607) 
Number of children/SAT score (2400): -.223 (345)
Number of current partners/number of children: .205 (1612)
SAT score out of 1600/age: -.194 (422)
Charity/age: .175 (1259)
Time on Less Wrong/IQ: -.164 (492)
P(Warming)/P(GlobalCatastrophicRisk): .156 (1522)
Number of current partners/IQ: .155 (521)
P(Simulation)/age: -.153 (1420)
Immigration/P(ManyWorlds): .150 (1195)
Income/age: .150 (930)
P(Cryonics)/age: -.148 (1521)
Income/children: .145 (931)
P(God)/P(Simulation): .142 (1409)
Number of children/P(Aliens): .140 (1523)
P(AntiAgathics)/Hours Online: .138 (1277)
Number of current partners/karma score: .137 (1470)
Abortion/P(ManyWorlds): .122 (1215)
Feminism/Xrisk charity donations: -.122 (1104)
P(AntiAgathics)/P(ManyWorlds) .118 (1381)
P(Cryonics)/P(ManyWorlds): .117 (1387)
Karma score/Great Stagnation: .114 (1202)
Hours online/P(simulation): .114 (1199)
P(Cryonics)/Hours Online: .113 (1279)
P(AntiAgathics)/Great Stagnation: -.111 (1259)
Basic income/hours online: .111 (1200)
P(GlobalCatastrophicRisk)/Great Stagnation: -.110 (1270)
Age/X risk charity donations: .109 (1176)
P(AntiAgathics)/P(GlobalCatastrophicRisk): -.109 (1513)
Time on Less Wrong/age: -.108 (1491)
P(AntiAgathics)/Human Biodiversity: .104 (1286)
Immigration/Hours Online: .104 (1226)
P(Simulation)/P(GlobalCatastrophicRisk): -.103 (1421)
P(Supernatural)/height: -.101 (1232)
P(GlobalCatastrophicRisk)/height: .101 (1249)
Number of children/hours online: -.099 (1321)
P(AntiAgathics)/age: -.097 (1514)
Karma score/time on LW: .096 (1404)

This year for the first time P(Aliens) and P(Aliens2) are entirely uncorrelated with each other. Time in Community, Time on LW, and IQ are not correlated with anything particularly interesting, suggesting all three fail to change people's views.

Results we find amusing: high-IQ and high-karma people have more romantic partners, suggesting that those are attractive traits. There is definitely a Cryonics/Antiagathics/Simulation/Many Worlds cluster of weird beliefs, which younger people and people who spend more time online are slightly more likely to have - weirdly, that cluster seems slightly less likely to believe in global catastrophic risk. Older people and people with more children have more romantic partners (it'd be interesting to see if that holds true for the polyamorous). People who believe in anti-agathics and global catastrophic risk are less likely to believe in a great stagnation (presumably because both of the above rely on inventions). People who spend more time on Less Wrong have lower IQs. Height is, bizarrely, correlated with belief in the supernatural and global catastrophic risk.

All political viewpoints are correlated with each other in pretty much exactly the way one would expect. They are also correlated with one's level of belief in God, the supernatural, and religion. There are minor correlations with some of the beliefs and number of partners (presumably because polyamory), number of children, and number of languages spoken. We are doing terribly at avoiding Blue/Green politics, people.

More Political:
P(Supernatural)/P(God): .736 (1496)
P(Supernatural)/P(Religion): .667 (1492)
Minimum wage/taxes: .649 (1299)
P(God)/P(Religion): .631 (1496)
Feminism/social justice: .619 (1293)
Social justice/minimum wage: .508 (1262)
P(Supernatural)/abortion: -.469 (1309)
Taxes/basic income: .463 (1285)
P(God)/abortion: -.461 (1310)
Social justice/taxes: .456 (1267)
P(Religion)/abortion: -.413
Basic income/minimum wage: .392 (1283)
Feminism/taxes: .391 (1318)
Feminism/minimum wage: .391 (1312)
Feminism/human biodiversity: -.365 (1331)
Immigration/feminism: .355 (1336)
P(Warming)/taxes: .340 (1292)
Basic income/social justice: .311 (1270)
Immigration/social justice: .307 (1275)
P(Warming)/feminism: .294 (1323)
Immigration/human biodiversity: -.292 (1313)
P(Warming)/basic income: .290 (1287)
Social justice/human biodiversity: -.289 (1281)
Basic income/feminism: .284 (1313)
Human biodiversity/minimum wage: -.273 (1293)
P(Warming)/social justice: .271 (1261)
P(Warming)/minimum wage: .262 (1284)
Human biodiversity/taxes: -.251 (1270).
Abortion/feminism: .239 (1356)
Abortion/social justice: .220 (1292)
P(Warming)/immigration: .215 (1315)
Abortion/immigration: .211 (1353)
P(Warming)/abortion: .192 (1340)
Immigration/taxes: .186 (1322)
Basic income/taxes: .174 (1249)
Abortion/taxes: .170 (1328)
Abortion/minimum wage: .169 (1317)
P(warming)/human biodiversity: -.168 (1301)
Abortion/basic income: .168 (1314)
Immigration/Great Stagnation: -.163 (1281)
P(God)/feminism: -.159 (1294)
P(Supernatural)/feminism: -.158 (1292)
Human biodiversity/Great Stagnation: .152 (1287)
Social justice/Great Stagnation: -.135 (1242)
Number of languages/taxes: -.133 (1242)
P(God)/P(Warming): -.132 (1491)
P(Supernatural)/immigration: -.131 (1284)
P(Religion)immigration: -.129 (1296)
P(God)/immigration: -.127 (1286)
P(Supernatural)/P(Warming): -.125 (1487)
P(Supernatural)/social justice: -.125 (1227)
P(God)/taxes: -.145
Minimum wage/Great Stagnation: -124 (1269)
Immigration/minimum wage: .122 (1308)
Great Stagnation/taxes: -.121 (1270)
P(Religion)/P(Warming): -.113 (1505)
P(Supernatural)/taxes: -.113 (1265)
Feminism/Great Stagnation: -.112 (1295)
Number of children/abortion: -.112 (1386)
P(Religion)/basic income: -.108 (1296)
Number of current partners/feminism: .108 (1364)
Basic income/human biodiversity: -.106 (1301)
P(God)/Basic Income: -.105 (1255)
Number of current partners/basic income: .105 (1320)
Human biodiversity/number of languages: .103 (1253)
Number of children/basic income: -.099 (1322)
Number of children/P(Warming): -.091 (1535)

V. Hypothesis Testing

A. Do people in the effective altruism movement donate more money to charity? Do they donate a higher percent of their income to charity? Are they just generally more altruistic people?

1265 people told us how much they give to charity; of those, 450 gave nothing. On average, effective altruists (n = 412) donated $2503 to charity, and other people (n = 853) donated $523  - obviously a significant result. Effective altruists gave on average $800 to MIRI or CFAR, whereas others gave $53. Effective altruists gave on average $16 to other x-risk related charities; others gave only $2.

In order to calculate percent donated I divided charity donations by income in the 947  people helpful enough to give me both numbers. Of those 947, 602 donated nothing to charity, and so had a percent donated of 0. At the other extreme, three  people donated 50% of their (substantial) incomes to charity, and 55 people donated at least 10%. I don't want to draw any conclusions about the community from this because the people who provided both their income numbers and their charity numbers are a highly self-selected sample.

303 effective altruists donated, on average, 3.5% of their income to charity, compared to 645 others who donated, on average, 1% of their income to charity. A small but significant (p < .001) victory for the effective altruism movement.

But are they more compassionate people in general? After throwing out the people who said they wanted to give blood but couldn't for one or another reason, I got 1255 survey respondents giving me an unambiguous answer (yes or no) about whether they'd ever given blood. I found that 51% of effective altruists had given blood compared to 47% of others - a difference which did not reach statistical significance.

Finally, at the end of the survey I had a question offering respondents a chance to cooperate (raising the value of a potential monetary prize to be given out by raffle to a random respondent) or defect (decreasing the value of the prize, but increasing their own chance of winning the raffle). 73% of effective altruists cooperated compared to 70% of others - an insignificant difference.

Conclusion: effective altruists give more money to charity, both absolutely and as a percent of income, but are no more likely (or perhaps only slightly more likely) to be compassionate in other ways.

B. Can we finally resolve this IQ controversy that comes up every year?

The story so far - our first survey in 2009 found an average IQ of 146. Everyone said this was stupid, no community could possibly have that high an average IQ, it was just people lying and/or reporting results from horrible Internet IQ tests.
Although IQ fell somewhat the next few years - to 140 in 2011 and 139 in 2012 - people continued to complain. So in 2012 we started asking for SAT and ACT scores, which are known to correlate well with IQ and are much harder to get wrong. These scores confirmed the 139 IQ result on the 2012 test. But people still objected that something must be up.

This year our IQ has fallen further to 138 (no Flynn Effect for us!) but for the first time we asked people to describe the IQ test they used to get the number. So I took a subset of the people with the most unimpeachable IQ tests - ones taken after the age of 15 (when IQ is more stable), and from a seemingly reputable source. I counted a source as reputable either if it name-dropped a specific scientifically validated IQ test (like WAIS or Raven's Progressive Matrices), if it was performed by a reputable institution (a school, a hospital, or a psychologist), or if it was a Mensa exam proctored by a Mensa official.

This subgroup of 101 people with very reputable IQ tests had an average IQ of 139 - exactly the same as the average among survey respondents as a whole.

I don't know for sure that Mensa is on the level, so I tried again deleting everyone who took a Mensa test - leaving just the people who could name-drop a well-known test or who knew it was administered by a psychologist in an official setting. This caused a precipitous drop all the way down to 138.

The IQ numbers have time and time again answered every challenge raised against them and should be presumed accurate.

C. Can we predict who does or doesn't cooperate on prisoner's dilemmas?

As mentioned above, I included a prisoner's dilemma type question in the survey, offering people the chance to make a little money by screwing all the other survey respondents over.

Tendency to cooperate on the prisoner's dilemma was most highly correlated with items in the general leftist political cluster identified by Ozy above. It was most notable for support for feminism, with which it had a correlation of .15, significant at the p < .01 level, and minimum wage, with which it had a correlation of .09, also significant at p < .01. It was also significantly correlated with belief that other people would cooperate on the same question.

I compared two possible explanations for this result. First, leftists are starry-eyed idealists who believe everyone can just get along - therefore, they expected other people to cooperate more, which made them want to cooperate more. Or, second, most Less Wrongers are white, male, and upper class, meaning that support for leftist values - which often favor nonwhites, women, and the lower class - is itself a symbol of self-sacrifce and altruism which one would expect to correlate with a question testing self-sacrifice and altruism.

I tested the "starry-eyed idealist" hypothesis by checking whether leftists were more likely to believe other people would cooperate. They were not - the correlation was not significant at any level.

I tested the "self-sacrifice" hypothesis by testing whether the feminism correlation went away in women. For women, supporting feminism is presumably not a sign of willingness to self-sacrifice to help an out-group, so we would expect the correlation to disappear.

In the all-female sample, the correlation between feminism and PD cooperation shrunk from .15 to a puny .04, whereas the correlation between the minimum wage and PD was previously .09 and stayed exactly the same at .09. This provides some small level of support for the hypothesis that the leftist correlation with PD cooperation represents a willingness to self-sacrifice in a population who are not themselves helped by leftist values.

(on the other hand, neither leftists nor cooperators were more likely to give money to charity, so if this is true it's a very selective form of self-sacrifice)

VI. Monetary Prize

1389 people answered the prize question at the bottom. 71.6% of these [n = 995] cooperated; 28.4% [n = 394] defected.
The prize goes to a person whose two word phrase begins with "eponymous". If this person posts below (or PMs or emails me) the second word in their phrase, I will give them $60 * 71.6%, or about $43. I can pay to a PayPal account, a charity of their choice that takes online donations, or a snail-mail address via check.

VII. Calibration Questions

The population of Europe, according to designated arbiter Wikipedia, is 739 million people.

People were really really bad at giving their answers in millions. I got numbers anywhere from 3 (really? three million people in Europe?) to 3 billion (3 million billion people = 3 quadrillion). I assume some people thought they were answering in billions, others in thousands, and other people thought they were giving a straight answer in number of individuals.

My original plan was to just adjust these to make them fit, but this quickly encountered some pitfalls. Suppose someone wrote 1 million (as one person did). Could I fairly guess they meant 100 million, even though there's really no way to guess that from the text itself? 1 billion? Maybe they just thought there were really one million people in Europe?

If I was too aggressive correcting these, everyone would get close to the right answer not because they were smart, but because I had corrected their answers. If I wasn't aggressive enough, I would end up with some guy who answered 3 quadrillion Europeans totally distorting the mean.

I ended up deleting 40 answers that suggested there were less than ten million or more than eight billion Europeans, on the grounds that people probably weren't really that far off so it was probably some kind of data entry error, and correcting everyone who entered a reasonable answer in individuals to answer in millions as the question asked.

The remaining 1457 people who can either follow simple directions or at least fail to follow them in a predictable way estimated an average European population in millions of 601 + 35.6 (380, 500, 750).

Respondents were told to aim for within 10% of the real value, which means they wanted between 665 million and 812 million. 18.7% of people [n = 272] got within that window.

I divided people up into calibration brackets of [0,5], [6,15], [16, 25] and so on. The following are what percent of people in each bracket were right.

[0,5]: 7.7%
[6,15]: 12.4%
[16,25]: 15.1%
[26,35]: 18.4%
[36,45]: 20.6%
[46,55]: 15.4%
[56,65]: 16.5%
[66,75]: 21.2%
[76,85]: 36.4%
[86,95]: 48.6%
[96,100]: 100%

Among people who should know better (those who have read all or most of the Sequences and have > 500 karma, a group of 162 people)

[0,5]: 0
[6,15]: 17.4%
[16,25]: 25.6%
[26,35]: 16.7%
[36,45]: 26.7%
[46,55]: 25%
[56,65]: 0%
[66,75]: 8.3%
[76,85]: 40%
[86,95]: 66.6%
[96,100]: 66.6%

Clearly, the people who should know better don't.

This graph represents your performance relative to ideal performance. Dipping below the blue ideal line represents overconfidence; rising above it represents underconfidence. With few exceptions you were very overconfident. Note that there were so few "elite" LWers at certain levels that the graph becomes very noisy and probably isn't representing much; that huge drop at 60 represents like two or three people. The orange "typical LWer" line is much more robust.

There is one other question that gets at the same idea of overconfidence. 651 people were willing to give valid 90% confidence interval on what percent of people would cooperate (this is my fault; I only added this question about halfway through the survey once I realized it would be interesting to investigate). I deleted four for giving extremely high outliers like 9999% which threw off the results, leaving 647 valid answers. The average confidence interval was [28.3, 72.0], which just BARELY contains the correct answer of 71.6%. Of the 647 of you, only 346 (53.5%) gave 90% confidence intervals that included the correct answer!

Last year I complained about horrible performance on calibration questions, but we all decided it was probably just a fluke caused by a particularly weird question. This year's results suggest that was no fluke and that we haven't even learned to overcome the one bias that we can measure super-well and which is most easily trained away. Disappointment!

VIII. Public Data

There's still a lot more to be done with this survey. User:Unnamed has promised to analyze the "Extra Credit: CFAR Questions" section (not included in this post), but so far no one has looked at the "Extra Credit: Questions From Sarah" section, which I didn't really know what to do with. And of course this is most complete survey yet for seeking classic findings like "People who disagree with me about politics are stupid and evil".

1480 people - over 90% of the total - kindly allowed me to make their survey data public. I have included all their information except the timestamp (which would make tracking pretty easy) including their secret passphrases (by far the most interesting part of this exercise was seeing what unusual two word phrases people could come up with on short notice).

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Next survey, I'd be interested in seeing statistics involving:

  • Recreational drug use
  • Quantified Self-related activities
  • Social media use
  • Self-perceived physical attractiveness on the 1-10 scale
  • Self-perceived holistic attractiveness on the 1-10 scale
  • Personal computer's operating system

Excellent write-up and I look forward to next year's.

I'd like:

  • Estimated average self-perceived physical attractiveness in the community
  • Estimated average self-perceived holistic attractiveness in the community

Oh, we are really self-serving elitist overconfident pricks, aren't we?

How do you expect anybody to be able to answer that and what does it even mean? First, what community, exactly? Second, average - over what?
I think he means the people who take the survey. If you ask in the survey for the self-perceived physical attractiveness you can ask in the same survey for the estimated average of all survey takers.
I think Acidmind means we should ask people their self-perceived attractiveness, and then ask them to estimate the average that will be given by all people taking the survey.
While I don't remember the precise level, I would note that there are studies suggesting a rather surprisingly low level of correlation between self perceived attractiveness and attractiveness as perceived by others, and if we could induce a sufficient sample of participants to submit images of themselves to be rated by others (possibly in a context where they would not themselves find out the rating they received,) I think the comparison of those two values would be much more interesting than self-perceived attractiveness alone.
That's kind of the idea. I'm more interested in correlations involving self-perceived attractiveness, particularly the holistic one, than correlations involving measured physical attractiveness. It's a nice proxy for self-esteem. Anonymity is a bit of a problem, though I suppose a pool of people that are as likely as your average human to know anyone who uses LW could be wrangled with some effort.
I'd be interested in seeing how the relationship among less wrong users between self perceived attractiveness and attractiveness as perceived by others compares to the relationship in the general population.
I thought quite a bit about this and couldn't decide on many good questions. The Anki question is sort of a result of this desire. I thought of asking about pedometer usage such as Fitbit/Nike Plus etc but I'm not sure if the amount of people is enough to warrant the question. Which specific questions would you want? By what metric? Total time investment? Few people can give you an accurate answer to that question. Asking good questions isn't easy. I personally don't think that term is very meaningful. I do have hotornot pictures that scored a 9, but what does that mean? The last time I used tinder I click through a lot of female images and very few liked me back. But I haven't yet isolated factors or know about average success rates for guy's using Tinder. There interested in not gathering data that would cause someone to admit criminal behavior. A person might be findable if you know there stances on a few questions. There also the issue of possible outsiders being able to say: "30% of LW participants are criminals!" I agree, that would be nice question.
Quantified Self examples: * Have you attempted and stuck with the recording of personal data for >1 month for any reason? (Y/N) * If so, did you find it useful? (Y/N) Social media example: * How many hours per week do you think you spend on social media? Asking about self-perceived attractiveness tells us little about how attractive a person is, but quite a bit about how they see themselves, and I want to learn how that's correlated with answers to all these other questions. Maybe the recreational drug use question(s) could be stripped from the public data?
Having a calendar with time of when you do what actions is recording of personal data and for most people for timeframes longer than a month. Anyone who uses Anki gets automated backround data recording of how many minutes per day he uses Anki.
I might be willing to call either of those self-quantifying activities. Definitely the first one, if you actually put most activities you do on there rather than just the ones that aren't habit or important enough to definitely not forget. I think the question could be modified to capture the intent. Let's see...
That sounds like a good question. Hopefully we remember when the time comes up.
As far as I'm aware - and correct me if I'm wrong - drug use is not a crime (and by extension admitting past drug use isn't either). Possession, operating a vehicle under the influence, etc, are all crimes, but actually having used drugs isn't a criminal act. The current survey (hell, the IQ section alone) gives them more ammunition than they could possibly expend, I feel.
What the problem with someone external writing an article about how LW is a group who thinks they are high IQ?
The same problem you presumably have with someone external writing an article about how LW is a group of criminals: it makes us look bad. You might not agree with self-proclaimed high IQ being a social negative, but most of the world does.
So? Fuck 'em.
Excellent in-group signalling but terrible public relations move.
We don't need or want to signal friendliness to absolutely everyone. We want to carefully choose what kind of filters and how many filters we apply to people who might be interested in our community. Every filter comes with a cost in that it reduces our growth, and must be justified through increasing the quality of our discussions. However, filter not at all, and you might as well just step out onto the street and talk to strangers. Personally, I am all for filtering out the "punish for not putting modesty before facts" attitude. Both because I find it irritating, and because it drives away boastful awesome people, and I like substantiated boasting and the people who do it. In other words, "Yeah, fuck 'em."
So is admitting to being an atheist, for example. Optimizing for public relations is rarely a good move.
That's a lot more culture specific.
I would also say exactly the same thing with “recreational drug use” replacing “high IQ”.
True, though a notable difference is that recreational drug use is illegal in many jurisdictions.
I don't think the goal of LW is to be socially approval for the average person. On the one hand it's to grow people who might want to participate in LW. The fact that LW has many smart people in it, could draw the right people into LW. On the other hand it's to further the agenda of CFAR, MIRI and FHI. I don't think the world listens less to a programmer who wants to warn about the dangers of UFAI when the programmer proclaims that he's smart. It's very hard for me to see a media article that wouldn't describe CFAR as a bunch of people who think they are smart. If you write the advancement of rationality on your bannar, that something that everyone is to assume anyway. Having polled IQ data doesn't do further damage.
Mostly, of people who proclaim IQ of, say, 150 or higher, over 9 out of 10 times it's going to be because of some kind of issue such as narcissism. The funniest aspect of self declared bayesianism is that "bayesians" never imagine that it could be applied to what they say (and go on fuming about punishments and status games and reflexes whenever it is).
Emphasis mine. Alternatively, those Bayesians with social graces aren't available, because they don't do anything ridiculous enough to remember.
Fair enough, albeit social graces in that case would imply good understanding of how other people process evidence, which would make self-labeling as "bayesian" seem very silly.
Imagine that 1% of the population have high IQs (and will claim so) and 10% of the population are narcissistic, and half of those like to claim they have high IQ. The Bayseian calculation would be P(high IQ|claim high IQ) = P(claim high IQ|high IQ) P(high IQ) divided by P(claim high IQ|high IQ) P(high IQ) + P(claim high IQ|narcissism) P(narcissism) = (1.00 0.01) / (1.00 0.01 + 0.5 0.10) = 1/6. You can quibble about the exact figures, but private_messaging is correct here. Because narcissism is relatively common, the claim of having high IQ is very weak evidence for having high IQ but very strong evidence for being narcissistic. (Although it's stronger evidence for high IQ in a community where high IQ is more common.)
Indeed, I think you're way overestimating P(claim high IQ|high IQ).
To clarify, it's still as strong of evidence of having high IQ as a statement can be, it is just not strong enough to overcome the low prior. Then there's the issue that - I do not know about the US but it seems fairly uncommon to have taken a professionally administered IQ test here, whenever you are smart or not. It may be that LW has an unusually high percentage of people who took such a test.
If you replace "smart" with "used drugs recreationally" you might see my point?
Actually I don't think that rationality (as the CFAR mission) has much to do with using drugs recreationally it does have something to do with being smart. You could have a CFAR that experiments with various mind altering substances to see which of those improve rationality. That's not the CFAR that we have. I did a lot of QS PR. That means having a 2 hour interview where the journalist might pick 30 seconds of phrases that come on TV. I wouldn't have had any issue in that context of playing into a nerd stereotype. On the other hand I wouldn't have said something that fits QS users into the stereotype of drug users.
Fair enough; drug use is a lot more public relations damaging than self-proclaimed high IQ.
Depends of how loudly you self-proclaim it. It's not as we had a mensa banner on the frontpage or something.
And the same goes for recreational drug-use, no? If it's just in the survey like IQ is and we don't have a banner proclaiming it, the argument that it might make us look bad doesn't hold any water.
It makes it easy to portray LW as a bunch of out-of-touch nerds?

"I'm part of a community, you live in a bubble, he's out of touch."

How does having a high IQ means someone is out-of-touch? Yes, people can argue that LW is a bunch of nerds, but I don't think that's much of a problem. If we get a newsarticles about how smart nerds think that unfriendly AI is a big risk for humanity, I don't think the fact that those smart nerds think that they are high IQ is a problem. It's different for arguing criminality or for arguing being delusional because of drug use.
There is a stereotype -- at least in the United States -- of nerds believing that high intelligence entitles them to claim insight and moral purity beyond their actual abilities, and implicitly of their inevitable downfall and the triumph of good old-fashioned common sense. We risk pattern-matching to this stereotype in any case, thanks to bandying about unusual ethical considerations in academic language, but talking up our own intelligence doesn't help at all. It isn't having high IQ, in other words, so much as talking about it.
I can't see how you could structure LW in a way that someone who wants to talk about LW as a bunch of nerds can't do so. You don't need a statistic about the average IQ of LW to do so. Gathering the IQ data doesn't bring up anything that wasn't there before. The basilisk episode is a lot more useful if you want to argue that LW is a group of out of touch nerds. See rationalwiki.
If one is known for using drugs, then every unusual claim he makes is dismissed as a literal pipe dream. It is a huge blow to authority.
How do you use a drug without possessing it at some point? Isn't admitting use of drugs a fortiori an admission of possession of drugs?
I'd also like to see time spent per day meditating, or other form of mental training
How would you word the question?
* Are you Ask or Guess culture?

I'm not culture.

In some social circles I might behave in one way, in others another way. In different situations I act differently depending on how strongly I want to communicate a demand.

Good point. It might not even make sense to ask "Which culture of social interaction do you feel most at home with, Ask or Guess?".

Repeating complaints from last year:

So in 2012 we started asking for SAT and ACT scores, which are known to correlate well with IQ and are much harder to get wrong. These scores confirmed the 139 IQ result on the 2012 test.

The 2012 estimate from SATs was about 128, since the 1994 renorming destroyed the old relationship between the SAT and IQ. Our average SAT (on 1600) was again about 1470, which again maps to less than 130, but not by much. (And, again, self-reported average probably overestimates actual population average.)

Last year I complained about horrible performance on calibration questions, but we all decided it was probably just a fluke caused by a particularly weird question. This year's results suggest that was no fluke and that we haven't even learned to overcome the one bias that we can measure super-well and which is most easily trained away. Disappointment!

I still think you're asking this question in a way that's particularly hard for people to get right. (The issue isn't the fact you ask about, but what sort of answers you look for.)

You've clearly got an error in your calibration chart; you can't have 2 out of 3 elite LWers be right in the [95,100] categor... (read more)

It's very interesting that the same mistake was boldly made again this year... I guess this mistake is sort of self reinforcing due to the uncannily perfect equality between mean IQ and what's incorrectly estimated from the SAT scores.
Actually, I just ran the numbers on the SAT2400 and they're closer; the average percentile predicted from that is 99th, which corresponds to about 135.
For non-Americans, what's the difference between SAT 2400 and SAT 1600 ? Averaging sat scores is a little iffy because, given a cut-off, they won't have Gaussian distribution. Also, given imperfect correlation it is unclear how one should convert the scores. If I pick someone with SAT in top 1% I shouldn't expect IQ in the top 1% because of regression towards the mean. (Granted I can expect both scores to be closer if I were picking by some third factor influencing both). It'd be interesting to compare frequency of advanced degrees with the scores, for people old enough to have advanced degrees.
The SAT used to have only two sections, with a maximum of 800 points each, for a total of 1600 (the worst possible score, IIRC, was 200 on each for 400). At some point after I graduated high school, they added a 3rd 800 point section (I think it might be an essay), so the maximum score went from 1600 to 2400.
Yes, it's a timed essay.
The correlation is the slope of the regression line in coordinates normalised to unit standard deviations. Assuming (for mere convenience) a bivariate normal distribution, let F be the cumulative distribution function of the unit normal distribution, with inverse invF. If someone is at the 1-p level of the SAT distribution (in the example p=0.01) then the level to guess they are at in the IQ distribution (or anything else correlated with SAT) is q = F(c invF(p)). For p=0.01, here are a few illustrative values: c 0.0000 0.1000 0.2000 0.3000 0.4000 0.5000 0.6000 0.7000 0.8000 0.9000 1.0000 q 0.5000 0.4080 0.3209 0.2426 0.1760 0.1224 0.0814 0.0517 0.0314 0.0181 0.0100 The standard deviation of the IQ value, conditional on the SAT value, is the unconditional standard deviation multiplied by c' = sqrt(1-c^2). The q values for 1 standard deviation above and below are therefore given by qlo = F(-c' + c invF(p)) and qhi = F(c' + c invF(p)). qlo 0.1587 0.1098 0.0742 0.0493 0.0324 0.0212 0.0141 0.0096 0.0069 0.0057 0.0100 qhi 0.8413 0.7771 0.6966 0.6010 0.4944 0.3832 0.2757 0.1803 0.1036 0.0487 0.0100
There are subtleties though. E.g. if we take some programming contest finalists / winners, and take their IQ scores, those are regressed towards the mean from their programming contest performance. Their other abilities will be regressed towards the mean from the same height, not from IQ. This might explain the dramatic cognitive skill disparity between, say, Mensa and some professional group of same IQs.
2210 was 98th percentile in 2013. But it was 99th in 2007. I haven't seen an SAT-IQ comparison site I trust. This one listed on gwern's website for example seems wrong.
If I remember correctly, I did SAT->percentile->average, rather than SAT->average->percentile; the first method should lead to a higher estimate if the tail is negative (which I think it is). [edit]Over here is the work and source for that particular method- turns out I did SAT->average->percentile to get that result, with a slightly different table, and I guess I didn't report the average percentile that I calculated (which you had to rely on interpolation for anyway). It's only accurate up to 1994.
2Scott Alexander
One reason SAT1600 and SAT2400 scores may differ is that some of the SAT1600 scores might in fact have come from before the 1994 renorming. Have you tried doing pre-1994 and post-1994 scores separately (guessing when someone took the SAT based on age?)
SAT1600 scores by age: Average SAT for LWers 30 and under (217 total): 1491. (27 1600s.) Average SAT for LWers 31 to 35 (74 total): 1462.7 (9 1600s.) Average SAT for LWers 36 and older (81 total): 1437. (One 1600, by someone who's 56.) I'm pretty sure the 36 and above are all the older SAT, suspect the middle group contains both, and pretty confident the younger group is mostly the newer SAT. The strong majority comes from the post 1995 test, and the scores don't seem to have changed by all that much in nominal terms.
Which creates another question, why do the SAT 2400 and SAT 1600 differ so much?
4Scott Alexander
According to Vaniver's data downthread, SAT taken only from LWers older than 36 (taking the old SAT) predicts 140 IQ. I can't calculate the IQ of LWers younger than 36 because I can't find a site I trust to predict IQ from new SAT. The only ones I get give absurd results like average SAT 1491 implies average IQ 151.

The IQ numbers have time and time again answered every challenge raised against them and should be presumed accurate.

What if the people who have taken IQ tests are on average smarter than the people who haven't? My impression is that people mostly take IQ tests when they're somewhat extreme: either low and trying to qualify for assistive services or high and trying to get "gifted" treatment. If we figure lesswrong draws mostly from the high end, then we should expect the IQ among test-takers to be higher than what we would get if we tested random people who had not previously been tested.

The IQ Question read: "Please give the score you got on your most recent PROFESSIONAL, SCIENTIFIC IQ test - no Internet tests, please! All tests should have the standard average of 100 and stdev of 15."

Among the subset of people making their data public (n=1480), 32% (472) put an answer here. Those 472 reports average 138, in line with past numbers. But 32% is low enough that we're pretty vulnerable to selection bias.

(I've never taken an IQ test, and left this question blank.)

What if the people who have taken IQ tests are on average smarter than the people who haven't? My impression is that people mostly take IQ tests when they're somewhat extreme: either low and trying to qualify for assistive services or high and trying to get "gifted" treatment. If we figure lesswrong draws mostly from the high end, then we should expect the IQ among test-takers to be higher than what we would get if we tested random people who had not previously been tested.

This sounds plausible, but from looking at the data, I don't think this is happening in our sample. In particular, if this were the case, then we would expect the SAT scores of those who did not submit IQ data to be different from those who did submit IQ data. I ran an Anderson–Darling test on each of the following pairs of distributions:

  • SAT out of 2400 for those who submitted IQ data (n = 89) vs SAT out of 2400 for those who did not submit IQ data (n = 230)
  • SAT out of 1600 for those who submitted IQ data (n = 155) vs SAT out of 1600 for those who did not submit IQ data (n = 217)

The p-values came out as 0.477 and 0.436 respectively, which means that the Anderson–Darling test was unable to disting... (read more)

Thanks for digging into this! Looks like the selection bias isn't significant.
The large majority of LessWrongers in the USA have however also provided their SAT scores, and those are also very high values (from what little I know of SATs)...

The large majority of LessWrongers in the USA have however also provided their SAT scores, and those are also very high values (from what little I know of SATs)...

The reported SAT numbers are very high, but the reported IQ scores are extremely high. The mean reported SAT score, if received on the modern 1600 test, corresponds to an IQ in the upper 120s, not the upper 130s. The mean reported SAT2400 score was 2207, which corresponds to 99th but not 99.5th percentile. 99th percentile is an IQ of 135, which suggests that the self-reports may not be that off compared to the SAT self-reports.

Some of us took the SAT before 1995, so it's hard to disentangle those scores. A pre-1995 1474 would be at 99.9x percentile, in line with an IQ score around 150-155. If you really want to compare, you should probably assume anyone age 38 or older took the old test and use the recentering adjustment for them. I'm also not sure how well the SAT distinguishes at the high end. It's apparently good enough for some high IQ societies, who are willing to use the tests for certification. I was shown my results and I had about 25 points off perfect per question marked wrong. So the distinction between 1475 and 1600 on my test would probably be about 5 total questions. I don't remember any questions that required reasoning I considered difficult at the time. The difference between my score and one 100 points above or below might say as much about diligence or proofreading as intelligence. Admittedly, the variance due to non-g factors should mostly cancel in a population the size of this survey, and is likely to be a feature of almost any IQ test. That said, the 1995 score adjustment would have to be taken into account before using it as a proxy for IQ.
Conversion is a very tricky matter, because the correlation is much less than 1 ( 0.369 in the survey, apparently). With correlation less than 1, regression towards the mean comes into play, so the predicted IQ from perfect SAT is actually not that high (someone posted coefficients in a parallel discussion), and predicted SAT from very high IQ is likewise not that awesome. The reason the figures seem rather strange, is that they imply some kind of extreme filtering by IQ here. The negative correlation between time here and IQ suggest that the content is not acting as much of a filter, or is acting as a filter in the opposite direction.
Well, alternatively old-timers feel it's more important to accurately estimate their IQ, and new-comers feel it's more important to be impressive. There also might not be an effect that needs explaining: I haven't looked at a scatterplot of IQ by time in community or karma yet for this year; last year, there were a handful of low-karma people who reported massive IQs, and once you removed those outliers the correlation mostly vanished.
You still need to explain how the population ended up so extremely filtered. Without the rest of the survey, one might imagine that various unusual beliefs here are something that's only very smart people can see as correct and so only very smart people agree and join, but the survey has shown that said unusual beliefs weren't correlated with self reported IQ or SAT score.
The Wikipedia article states that those are percentiles of test-takers, not the population as a whole. What percentage of seniors take the SAT? I tried googling, but I could not find the figure. My first thought is that most people who don't take the SAT don't intend to go to college and are likely to be below the mean reported SAT score, but then I realized that a non-negligible subset of those people must have taken only the ACT as their admission exam.
I don't have solid numbers myself, but percentile of test-takers should underestimate percentile of population. However, there is regression to the mean to take into account, as well as that many people take the SAT multiple times and report the most favorable score, both of which suggest that score on test should overestimate IQ, and I'm fudging it by treating those two as if they cancel out.
Don't most people who report IQ scores do the same thing if they have taken multiple tests?
Possibly. My suspicion is that less people have taken multiple professional IQ tests (I've only taken one professional one) than multiple SATs (I think I took it three times, at various ages). I score significantly better on the Raven's subtest than on other subtests, and so my score was significantly higher than my professional IQ test last year- but this year I only reported the professional one, because that was all that was asked for. (I might not be representative.)
Not if they followed the survey instructions, which asked for only the scores from the most recent professional IQ test they took.

The second word in the winning secret phrase is pony (chosen because you can't spell the former without the latter); I'll accept the prize money via PayPal to main att zackmdavis daht net.

(As I recall, I chose to Defect after looking at the output of one call to Python's random.random() and seeing a high number, probably point-eight-something. But I shouldn't get credit for following my proposed procedure (which turned out to be wrong anyway) because I don't remember deciding beforehand that I was definitely using a "result > 0.8 means Defect" convention (when "result < 0.2 means Defect" is just as natural). I think I would have chosen Cooperate if the random number had come up less than 0.8, but I haven't actually observed the nearby possible world where it did, so it's at least possible that I was rationalizing.)

(Also, I'm sorry for being bad at reading; I don't actually think there are seven hundred trillion people in Europe.)

When I heard about Yvain's PD contest, I flipped a coin. I vowed that if it came up heads, I would Paypal the winner $200 (on top of their winnings), and if it came up tails I would ask them for the prize money they won. It came up tails. YOUR MOVE. (No, not really. But somebody here SHOULD have made such a commitment.)

Hey, it's not too late: if you should have made such a commitment, then the mere fact that you didn't actually do so shouldn't stop you now. Go ahead, flip a coin; if it comes up heads, you pay me $200; if it comes up tails, I'll ask Yvain to give you the $42.96.

8Eliezer Yudkowsky
...I don't think this is a very wise offer to make on the Internet unless the "coin" is somewhere you can both see it.
Yes, of course I thought of that when considering my reply, but in this particular context (where we're considering counterfactual dealmaking presumably because the idea of pulling such a stunt in real life is amusing), I thought it was more in the spirit of things to be trusting. As you know, Newcomblike arguments still go through when Omega is merely a very good and very honest predictor rather than a perfect one, and my prior beliefs about reasonably-well-known Less Wrongers make me willing to bet that Simplicio probably isn't going to lie in order to scam me out of forty-three dollars. (If it wasn't already obvious, my offer was extended to Simplicio only and for the specified amounts only.)
Nevermind - I thought I'd found a site that would flip a coin and save the result with a timestamp. Why hasn't anybody made this yet?

Precommitment is a solved problem which doesn't need a trusted website. For example, simplicio could've released a hash precommitment (made using a local hash utility like sha512sum) to Yvain after taking the survey and just now unveiled that input, if he was serious about the counterfactual.

(He would also want to replace the 'flip a coin' with eg. 'total number of survey participants was odd'.)

You can even still easily do a verifiable coin flip now. For example, you could pick a commonly observable future event like a property of a Bitcoin block 24 hours from now, or you could both post a hash precommitment of a random bit, then when both are posted, each releases the chosen bit, verifies the other's hash, and XOR the 2 bits to choose the winner.

2Paul Crowley
No need for Bitcoin etc; one side commits to a bit, then the other side calls heads or tails, and they win if the call was correct.
They have - they're known as "dice rollers", because they're usually used for rolling dice in play-by-post RPGs. For example.
Em, I don't actually like those odds all that much, thanks!

Yvain - Next year, please include a question asking if the person taking the survey uses PredictionBook. I'd be curious to see if these people are better calibrated.

Maybe ask them how many predictions they have made so we can see if using it more makes you better.
Probably a good idea-- I use PredictionBook for casual entertainment, not as a serious effort at self-calibration.

Thanks for doing this!

Results from previous years: 2009 2011 2012

Yvain is not hugely on board with the idea of running correlations between everything and seeing what sticks, but will grudgingly publish the results because of the very high bar for significance (p < .001 on ~800 correlations suggests < 1 spurious result) and because he doesn't want to have to do it himself.

The standard way to fix this is to run them on half the data only and then test their predictive power on the other half. This eliminates almost all spurious correlations.

Does that actually work better than just setting a higher bar for significance? My gut says that data is data and chopping it up cleverly can't work magic.

Cross validation is actually hugely useful for predictive models. For a simple correlation like this, it's less of a big deal. But if you are fitting a local linearly weighted regression line for instance, chopping the data up is absolutely standard operating procedure.

How do you decide for how high to hang your bar for significance? It very hard to estimate how high you have to hang it depending on how you go fishing in your data. The advantage of the two step procedure is that you are completely free to fish how you want in the first step. There are even cases where you might want a three step procedure.
Alternatively, Bonferroni correction.

That's roughly what Yvain did, by taking into consideration the number of correlations tested when setting the significance level.


Hypothesis: the predictions on the population of Europe are bimodal, split between people thinking of geographical Europe (739M) vs people thinking of the EU (508M). I'm going to go check the data and report back.

I've cleaned up the data and put it here. Here's a "sideways cumulative density function", showing all guesses from lowest to highest: There were a lot of guesses of "500" but that might just be because 500 is a nice round number. There were more people guessing within 50 of 508M (165) than in the 100-wide regions immediately above or below (126 within 50 of 408, 88 within 50 of 608) and more people guessing within 50 of 739 (107) than in the 100-wide regions immediately above or below (91 within 50 of 639, 85 within 50 of 839). Here's a histogram that shows this, but in order to actually see a dip between the 508ish numbers and 739ish numbers the bucketing needs to group those into separate categories with another category in between, so I don't trust this very much: If someone knows how to make an actual probability density function chart that would be better, because it wouldn't be sensitive to these arbitrary divisions on where to place the histogram boundaries.

Here is a kernel density estimate of the "true" distribution, with bootstrapped) pointwise 95% confidence bands from 999 resamples:

It looks plausibly bimodal, though one might want to construct a suitable hypothesis test for unimodality versus multimodality. Unfortunately, as you noted, we cannot distinguish between the hypothesis that the bimodality is due to rounding (at 500 M) versus the hypothesis that the bimodality is due to ambiguity between Europe and the EU. This holds even if a hypothesis test rejects a unimodal model, but if anyone is still interested in testing for unimodality, I suggest considering Efron and Tibshirani's approach using the bootstrap.

Edit: Updated the plot. I switched from adaptive bandwidth to fixed bandwidth (because it seems to achieve higher efficiency), so parts of what I wrote below are no longer relevant—I've put these parts in square brackets.

Plot notes: [The adaptive bandwidth was achieved with Mathematica's built-in "Adaptive" option for SmoothKernelDistribution, which is horribly documented; I think it uses the same algorithm as 'akj' in R's quantreg package.] A Gaussian kernel was used with the bandwidth set according to ... (read more)

As one datapoint I went with Europe as EU so it's plausible others did too
Same here.
Me too, at least sort of - I just had a number stored in my brain that I associated with "Europe." Turned out it was EU only, although I didn't have any confusion about the question - I thought I was answering for all of Europe.
I also interpreted Europe as EU, although I was about 20% off that as well.
The misinterpretation of the survey's meaning of "Europe" as "EU" is itself a failure as significant as wrongly estimating its population... so it's not as if it excuses people who got it wrong and yet neither sought for clarification, nor took the possibility of misinterpretation into account when giving their confidence ratios...

You might as well ask, "Who is the president of America?" and then follow up with, "Ha ha got you! America is a continent, you meant USA."

I don't think you're making the argument that Yvain deliberately wanted to trick people into giving a wrong answer -- so I really don't see your analogy as illuminating anything. It was a question. People answered it wrongly whether by making a wrong estimation of the answer, or by making a wrong estimation of the meaning of the question. Both are failures -- and why should we consider the latter failure as any less significant than the former? EDIT TO ADD: Mind you, reading the excel of the answers it seems I'm among the people who gave an answer in individuals when the question was asking number in millions. So it's not as if I didn't also have a failure in answering -- and yet I do consider that one a less significant failure. Perhaps I'm just being hypocritical in this though.
Confirm. ;) (Nope, I didn't misinterpret it as EU.) Even if people recognized the ambiguity, it's not obvious that one should go for an intermediate answer rather than putting all one's eggs in one basket by guessing which was meant. If I were taking the survey and saw that ambiguity, I'd probably be confused for a bit, then realize I was taking longer than I'd semi-committed to taking, answer make a snap judgement, and move on.
The continent is basically never called just “America” in modern English (except in the phrases “North America” and “South America”), it's “the Americas”.
Its also not obvious that people who went with the EU interpretation were incorrect. Language is contextual, if we were to parse the Times, Guardian, BBC, etc over the past year and see how the word "Europe" is actually used, it might be the land mass, or it might be the EU. Certainly one usage will have been more common than the other, but its not obvious to me which one it will have been. That said, if I had noticed the ambiguity and not auto parsed it as EU, I probably would have expected the typical American to use Europe as land mass and since I think Yvain is American that's what I should have gone with. On the other other hand, the goal of the question is to gauge numerical calibration, not to gauge language parsing. If someone thought they were answering about the EU, and picked a 90% confidence interval that did in fact include the population of the EU that gives different information about the quantity we are trying to measure then if someone thinks Europe means the continent including Russia and picks a 90% confidence interval that does not include the population of the landmass. Remember this is not a quiz in school to see if someone gets "the right answer" this is a tool that's intended to measure something.
Yvain explicitly said "Wikipedia's Europe page".
Which users could not double-check because they might see the population numbers.
But they should expect the Wikipedia page to refer to the continent.


Hah, my score almost doubled from last year.


Not sure how much sense it makes to take the arithmetic mean of probabilities when the odds vary over many orders of magnitude. If the average is, say, 30%, then it hardly matters whether someone answers 1% or .000001%. Also, it hardly matters whether someone answers 99% or 99.99999%.

I guess the natural way to deal with this would be to average (i.e., take the arithmetic mean of) the order of magnitude of the odds (i.e., log[p/(1-p)], p someone's answer). Using this method, it would make a difference whether someone is "pretty certain" or "extremely certain" that a certain statement is true or false.

Does anyone know what the standard way for dealing with this issue is?

Yeah, log odds sounds like a good way to do it. Aggregating estimates is hard because peoples' estimates aren't independent, but averaging log odds will at least do better than averaging probabilities.
Use medians and percentiles instead of means and standard deviations.

Thanks for taking the time to conduct and then analyze this survey!

What surprised me:

  • Average IQ seemed insane to me. Thanks for dealing extensively with that objection.
  • Time online per week seems plausible from personal experience, but I didn't expect the average to be so high.
  • The overconfidence data hurts, but as someone pointed out in the comments, it's hard to ask a question which isn't misunderstood.

What disappointed me:

  • Even I was disappointed by the correlations between P(significant man-made global warming) vs. e.g. taxation/feminism/etc. Most other correlations were between values, but this one was between one's values and an empirical question. Truly Blue/Green. On the topic of politics in general, see below.
  • People, use spaced repetition! It's been studied academically and been shown to work brilliantly; it's really easy to incorporate in your daily life in comparison to most other LW material etc... Well, I'm comparatively disappointed with these numbers, though I assume they are still far higher than in most other communities.

And a comment at the end:

"We are doing terribly at avoiding Blue/Green politics, people."

Given that LW explicitly tries to e... (read more)

Average IQ seemed insane to me.

To me it has always sounded right. I'm MENSA-level (at least according to the test the local MENSA association gave me) and LessWrong is the first forum I ever encountered where I've considered myself below-average -- where I've found not just one or two but several people who can think faster and deeper than me.

Same for me.
Below average or simply not exceptional? I'm certainly not exceptional here but I don't think I'm particularly below average. I suppose it depends on how you weight the average.

Average IQ seemed insane to me. Thanks for dealing extensively with that objection.

With only 500 people responding to the IQ question, it is entirely possible that this is simply a selection effect. I.e. only people with high IQ test themselves or report their score while lower IQ people keep quiet.

Even I was disappointed by the correlations between P(significant man-made global warming) vs. e.g. taxation/feminism/etc. Most other correlations were between values, but this one was between one's values and an empirical question. Truly Blue/Green.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with this. You are assuming that feminism is purely a matter of personal preference, incorrectly I feel. If you reduce feminism to simply asking "should women have the right to vote" then you should in fact find a correlation between that and "is there such a thing as global warming", because the correct answer in each case is yes.

Not saying I am necessarily in favour of modern day feminism, but it does bother me that people simply assume that social issues are independent of fact. This sounds like "everyone is entitled to their opinion" nonsense to me.

What I find more s... (read more)

I've heard GMOs described as the left equivalent for global warming-- maybe there should be a question about GMOs on next survey.

While we're here, there may be questions about animal testing, alternative medicine, gun control, euthanasia, and marijuana legalization. (I'm not saying that the left is wrong about all of these.)
I object to GMOs, but I object to GMOs not because of fears that they may be unnoticed health hazards, but rather because they are often used to apply DRM and patents to food, and applying DRM and patents to food has the disadvantages of applying DRM and patents to computer software. Except it's much worse since 1) you can do without World of Warcraft, but you can't do without food, and 2) traditional methods of producing food involve copying and organisms used for food normally copy themselves.
ISTR I've read farmers have preferred to buy seeds from specialized companies rather than planting their own from the previous harvest since decades before the first commercial GMO was introduced.
Yes, but they wouldn't be sued out of existence IF they had to keep their own.
Good point.
It seems that should make you object to certain aspects of the Western legal system. Given your reasoning I don't understand why you object to GMOs but don't object on the same grounds to, say, music and videos which gave us DMCA, etc.
I object to DRM and patents on entertainment as well. (You can't actually patent music and videos, but software is subject to software patents and I do object to those.) If you're asking why I don't object to entertainment as a class, it's because of practical considerations--there is quite a bit of entertainment without DRM, small scale infringers are much harder to catch for entertainment, much entertainment is not patented, and while entertainment is copyrighted, it does not normally copy itself and copying is not a routine part of how one uses it in the same way that producing and saving seeds is of using seeds. Furthermore, pretty much all GMO organisms are produced by large companies who encourage DRM and patents. There are plenty of producers of entertainment who have no interest in such things, even if they do end up using DVDs with CSS.
What do you think of golden rice?
I don't object to it except insofar as it's used as a loss leader for companies' other GMO products which are subject to DRM and patents.
Is it, though? I did a quick fact check on this, and found this article which seems to say it is more split down the middle (for as much as US politicians are representative, anyway). It also highlights political divides for other topics. It's a pity that some people here are so anti-politics (not entirely unjustified, but still). I think polling people here on issues which are traditionally right or left wing but which have clear-cut correct answers to them would make for quite a nice test of rationality.
Are you quite sure about that? Any examples outside of young earth / creationists?
Am I sure that some political questions have clear cut answers? Well, yes... of course. Just because someone points at a factual question and says "that's political!" doesn't magically cause that question to fall into a special subcategory of questions that can never be answered. That just seems really obvious to me. It's much harder to give examples that everyone here will agree on of course, and which won't cause another of those stupid block-downvoting sprees, but I can give it a try: -My school gym teacher once tried to tell me that there is literally no difference between boys and girls except for what's between their legs. I have heard similar claims from gender studies classes. That counts as obviously false, surely? -A guy in college tried to convince me that literally any child could be raised to be Mozart. More generally, the whole "blank slate" notion where people claim that genes don't matter at all. Can we all agree that this is false? Regardless of whether you see yourself as left or right or up or down? -Women should be allowed to apply for the same jobs as men. Surely even people who think that women are less intelligent than men on average should agree with this? Even though in the past it was a hot-button issue? -People should be allowed to do in their bedroom whatever they want as long as it doesn't harm anyone. Is this contentious? It shouldn't be. Do you agree that the above list gives some examples of political questions that every rational person should nonetheless agree with?

Do you agree that the above list gives some examples of political questions that every rational person should nonetheless agree with?

No, I don't. To explain why, let me point out that you list of four questions neatly divides into two halves.

Your first two questions are empirically testable questions about what reality is. As such they are answerable by the usual scienc-y means and a rational person will have to accept the answers.

Your last two questions are value-based questions about what should be. They are not answerable by science and the answers are culturally determined. It is perfectly possible to be very rational and at the same time believe that, say, homosexuality is a great evil.

Rationality does not determine values.

The question “should people be allowed to do in their bedroom whatever they want as long as it doesn't harm [directly] anyone [else]?” (extra words added to address Vaniver's point) can be split into two: “which states of the world would allowing people to do in their bedroom etc. result in?”, and “which states of the world are good?” Now, it's been claimed that most disagreements about policies are about the former and all neurologically healthy people would agree about the latter if they thought about it clearly enough -- which would make Sophronius's claim below kind-of sort-of correct -- but I'm no longer sure of that.
First, I don't think this claim is true. Second, I'm not sure what "neurologically healthy" means. I know a lot of people I would call NOT neurotypical. And, of course, labeling people mentally sick for disagreeing with the society's prevailing mores was not rare in history.
This is what you are missing. The simple fact that someone disagrees does not mean they are mentally sick or have fundamentally different value systems. It could equally well mean that either they or the "prevailing social mores" are simply mistaken. People have been known to claim that 51 is a prime number, and not because they actually disagree about what makes a number prime, but just because they were confused at the time. It's not reasonable to take people's claims that "by 'should' I mean that X maximises utility for everyone" or "by 'should' I mean that I want X" at face value, because people don't have access to or actually use logical definitions of the everyday words they use, they "know it when they see it" instead.
No, I don't think I'm missing this piece. The claim is very general: ALL "neurologically healthy people". People can certainly be mistaken about matters of fact. So what? Of course not, the great majority of people are not utilitarians and have no interest in maximizing utility for everyone. In normal speech "should" doesn't mean anything like that.
If "should" has a meaning, then those two questions can be correctly and incorrectly answered with respect to the particular sense of "should" employed by Sophronius in the text. It would be more accurate to say that you can be very rational and still disapprove of homosexuality (as disapproval is an attitude, as opposed to a propositional statement).
Maybe. But that's a personal "should", specific to a particular individual and not binding on anyone else. Sophronius asserts that values (and so "should"s) can be right or wrong without specifying a referent, just unconditionally right or wrong the way physics laws work.
What does this mean, "not binding"? What is a personal "should"? Is that the same as a personal "blue"?
A personal "should" is "I should" -- as opposed to "everyone should". If I think I should, say, drink more, that "should" is not binding on anyone else.
But the original context was "we should". Sophronius obviously intended the sentence to refer to everyone. I don't see anything relative about his use of words.
Correct, and that's why I said
I'm struggling to figure out how to communicate the issue here. If you agree that what Sophronius intended to say was "everyone should" why would you describe it as a personal "should"? (And what does "binding on someone" even mean, anyway?)
Well, perhaps you should just express your point, provided you have one? Going in circles around the word "should" doesn't seem terribly useful.
Well, to me it's obvious that "People should be allowed to do in their bedroom whatever they want as long as it doesn't harm anyone." was a logical proposition, either true or false. And whether it's true or false has nothing to do with whether anyone else has the same terminal values as Sophronius. But you seem to disagree?
Do you mean it would be true or false for everyone? At all times? In all cultures and situations? In the same way "Sky is blue" is true?
But the sky isn't blue for everyone at all times in all situations!
Yes. Logical propositions are factually either true or false. It doesn't matter who is asking. In exactly the same way that "everyone p-should put pebbles into prime heaps" doesn't care who's asking, or indeed how "the sky is blue" doesn't care who's asking.
Well then, I disagree. Since I just did a whole circle of the mulberry bush with Sophronius I'm not inclined to do another round. Instead I'll just state my position. I think that statements which do not describe reality but instead speak of preferences, values, and "should"s are NOT "factually either true or false". They cannot be unconditionally true or false at all. Instead, they can be true or false conditional on the specified value system and if you specify a different value system, the true/false value may change. To rephrase it in a slightly different manner, value statements can consistent or inconsistent with some value system, and they also can be instrumentally rational or not in pursuit of some goals (and whether they are rational or not is conditional on the the particular goals). To get specific, "People should be allowed to do in their bedroom whatever they want as long as it doesn't harm anyone" is true within some value system and false within some other value systems. Both kinds of value systems exist. I see no basis for declaring one kind of value systems "factually right" and another kind "factually wrong". As a example consider a statement "The sum of the triangle's inner angles is 180 degrees". Is this true? In some geometries, yes, in others, no. This statement is not true unconditionally, to figure out whether it's true in some specific case you have to specify a particular geometry. And in some real-life geometries it is true and in other real-life geometries it is false.
Well, I'm not trying to say that some values are factual and others are imaginary. But when someone makes a "should" statement (makes a moral assertion), "should" refers to a particular predicate determined by their actual value system, as your value system determines your language. Thus when people talk of "you should do X" they aren't speaking of preferences or values, rather they are speaking of whatever it is their value system actually unfolds into. (The fact that we all use the same word, "should" to describe what could be many different concepts is, I think, justified by the notion that we mostly share the same values, so we are in fact talking about the same thing, but that's an empirical issue.) Hopefully this will help demonstrate my position. I would say that when being fully rigorous is it a type error to ask whether a sentence is true. Logical propositions have a truth value, but sentences are just strings of symbols. To turn "The sum of the triangle's inner angles is 180 degrees" into a logical proposition you need to know what is meant by "sum", "triangle", "inner angles", "180", "degrees" and indeed "is". As an example, if the sentence was uttered by Bob, and what he meant by "triangle" was a triangle in euclidean space, and by "is" he meant "is always" (universally quantified), then what he said is factually (unconditionally) true. But if he uttered the same sentence, in a language where "triangle" means a triangle in a hyperbolic space, or in a general space, then what he said would be unconditionally false. There's no contradiction here because in each case he said a different thing.
Value systems are themselves part of reality, as people already have values.
In this context I define reality as existing outside of people's minds. What exists solely within minds in not real.
Yes they are, but the same sentence can state different logical propositions depending on where, when and by whom it is uttered.
They can. But when a person utters a sentence, they generally intend to state the derelativized proposition indicated by the sentence in their language. When I say "P", I don't mean ""P" is a true sentence in all languages at all places", I mean P(current context). Which is why it's useless to say "I have a different definition of 'should'", because the original speaker wasn't talking about definitions, they were talking about whatever it is "should" actually refers to in their actual language. (I actually thought of mentioning that the sky isn't always blue in all situations, but decided not to.)
Well, if you should drink more because you're dehydrated, then you're right to say that not everyone is bound by that, but people in similar circumstances are (i.e. dehydrated, with no other reason not to drink). Or are you saying that there are ultimately personal shoulds?
Yes, of course there are.
'Of course' nothing, I find that answer totally shocking. Can you think of an example? Or can you explain how such shoulds are supposed to work? So far as I understand it, for every 'should' there is some list of reasons why. If two people have the same lists of reasons, then whatever binds one binds them both. So there's nothing personal about shoulds, except insofar as we rarely have all the same reasons to do or not do something.
Doesn't take much to shock you :-) Sure. Let's say there is a particular physical place (say, a specific big boulder on the shore of a lake) where I, for some reason, feel unusually calm, serene, and happy. It probably triggers some childhood memories and associations. I like this place. I should spend more time there. No two people are the same. Besides, the importance different people attach to the same reasons varies greatly. And, of course, to bind another with your "should" requires you to know this other very very well. To the degree I would argue is unattainable.
So say this place also makes me feel calm, serene, and happy. It also triggers in me some childhood memories and associations. I like the place. I also have (like you) no reasons not to go there. Lets say (however unlikely it might be) we have all the same reasons, and we weigh these reasons exactly the same. Nevertheless, it's not the case that I should spend more time there. Have I just told you a coherent story? So lets say you're very thirsty. Around you, there's plenty of perfectly potable water. And lets say I know you're not trying to be thirsty for some reason, but that you've just come back from a run. I think I'm in a position to say that you should drink the water. I don't need to know you very well to be sure of that. What am I getting wrong here?
That's a rather crucial part. I am asserting that not only two people will not have the same reasons and weight them exactly the same, but you also can't tell whether a person other than you has the same reasons and weights them exactly the same. You're basically saying "let's make an exact copy of you -- would your personal "shoulds" apply to that exact copy?" The answer is yes, but an exact copy of me does not exist and that's why my personal shoulds don't apply to other people. You can say, of course. But when I answer "no, I don't think so", is your "should" stronger than my "no"?
Ahh, okay, it looks like we are just misunderstanding one another. I originally asked you whether there are ultimately personal shoulds, and by this I meant that shoulds that are binding on me but not you for no reason other than you and I are numerically different people. But it seems to me your answer to this is in fact 'no', there are no such ultimately personal shoulds. All shoulds bind everyone subject to the reasons backing them up, it's just that those reasons rarely (if ever) coincide. Yes. You're wrong that you shouldn't drink. The only should on the table is my correct one. Your 'no' has no strength at all.
What's "numerically different"? And what did you mean by "ultimately", then? In reality all people are sufficiently different for my personal shoulds to apply only to me and not necessarily to anyone else. The set of other-than-me people to which my personal should must apply is empty. Is that insufficiently "ultimately"? I beg to disagree. Given that you have no idea about reasons that I might have for not drinking, I don't see why your "should" is correct. Speaking of which, how do you define "correct" in this situation, anyway? What makes you think that the end goals you imagine are actually the end goals that I am pursuing?
I just mean something like 'there are two of them, rather than one'. So they can have all the same (non-relational) properties, but not be the same thing because there are two of them. Well, that's an empirical claim, for which we'd need some empirical evidence. It's certainly possible that my personal 'should' could bind you too, since it's possible (however unlikely) that we could be subject to exactly the same reasons in exactly the same way. This is an important point, because it means that shoulds bind all and every person subject to the reasons that back them up. It may be true that people are subject to very different sets of reasons, such that in effect 'shoulds' only generally apply to one person. I think this empirical claim is false, but that's a bit beside the point. It's part of the hypothetical that I do know the relevant reasons and your aims: you're thirsty, there's plenty of water, and you're not trying to stay thirsty. Those are all the reasons (maybe the reality is never this simple, though I think it often is...again, that's an empirical question). Knowing those, my 'you should drink' is absolutely binding on you. I don't need to define 'correct'. You agree, I take it, that the above listed reasons can in principle be sufficient to determine that one should drink. That's all I mean by correct: that it's true to say 'if X, Y, Z, then you should drink'.
You really want evidence that there are no exact copies of me walking around..? No, I don't think it is possible. At this point it is fairly clear that we are not exact copies of each other :-D Nope, I don't think so. You keep on asserting, basically, that if you find a good set of reasons why I should do X and I cannot refute these reasons, I must do X. That is not true. I can easily tell you to go jump into the lake and not do X. And another crucial part -- no, you can not know all of my relevant reasons and my aims. We are different people and you don't have magical access to the machinations of my mind. Yes, you do need to define "correct". The reasons may or may not be sufficient -- you don't know. It does seem we have several very basic disagreements.
I deny the premise on which this is necessary: I think most people share the reasons for most of what they do most of the time. For example, when my friend and I come in from a run, we share reasons for drinking water. The 'should' that binds me, binds him equally. I think this is by far the most common state of affairs, the great complexity and variety of human psychology notwithstanding. The empirical question is whether our reasons for acting are in general very complicated or not. I think you do, since I'm sure you think it's possible that we are (in the relevant ways) identical. Improbable, to be sure. But possible.
I think I would describe it as you, being in similar situations, each formulate a personal "should" that happens to be pretty similar. But it's his own "should" which binds him, not yours.
But I don't suppose you would say this about answering a mathematical problem. If I conclude that six times three is eighteen, and you conclude similarly, isn't it the case that we've done 'the same problem' and come to 'the same answer'? Aren't we each subject to the same reasons, in trying to solve the problem? Or did each of us solve a personal math problem, and come to a personal answer that happens to be the same number?
In this particular case (math) we share the framework within which the problem is solved. The framework is unambiguous and assigns true or false values to particular answers. Same thing for testable statements about physical reality -- disagreements (between rational people) can be solved by the usual scientific methods. But preferences and values exist only inside minds and I'm asserting that each mind is unique. My preferences and values can be the same as yours but they don't have to be. In contrast, the physical reality is the same for everyone. Moreover, once we start talking about binding shoulds we enter the territory of such concepts as identity, autonomy, and power. Gets really complicated really fast :-/
I don't see how that's any different from most value judgements. All human beings have a basically common set of values, owing to our neurological and biological similarities. Granted, you probably can't advise me on whether or not to go to grad school, or run for office, but you can advice me to wear my seat belt or drink water after a run. That doesn't seem so different from math: math is also in our heads, it's also a space of widespread agreement and some limited disagreement in the hard cases. It may look like the Israeli's and the Palestinians just don't see eye to eye on practical matters, but remember how big the practical reasoning space is. Them truly not seeing eye to eye would be like the Palestinians demanding the end of settlements, and the Israelis demanding that Venus be bluer. I don't see why. There's no reason to infer from the fact that a 'should' binds someone that you can force them to obey it. Now, as to why it's a problem if your reasons for acting aren't sufficient to determine a 'should'. Suppose you hold that A, and that if A then B. You conclude from this that B. I also hold that A, and that if A then B. But I don't conclude that B. I say "Your conclusion doesn't bind me." B, I say, is 'true for you', but not 'true for me'. I explain that reasoning is personal, and that just because you draw a conclusion doesn't mean anyone else has to. If I'm right, however, it doesn't look like 'A, if A then B' is sufficient to conclude B for either of us, since B doesn't necessarily follow from these two premises. Some further thing is needed. What could this be? it can't be another premise (like, 'If you believe that A and that if A then B, conclude that B') because that just reproduces the problem. I'm not sure what you'd like to suggest here, but I worry that so long as, in general, reasons aren't sufficient to determine practical conclusions (our 'shoulds') then nothing could be. Acting would be basically irrational, in that you could never have
Nope. There is a common core and there is a lot of various non-core stuff. The non-core values can be wildly different. We're back to the same point: you can advise me, but if I say "no", is your advice stronger than my "no"? You think it is, I think not. The distinction between yourself and others is relevant here. You can easily determine whether a particular set of reasons is sufficient for you to act. However you can only guess whether the same set of reasons is sufficient for another to act. That's why self-shoulds work perfectly fine, but other-shoulds have only a probability of working. Sometimes this probability is low, sometimes it's high, but there's no guarantee.
What do you mean by 'stronger'? I think we all have free will: it's impossible, metaphysically, for me to force you to do anything. You always have a choice. But that doesn't mean I can't point out your obligations or advantage with more persuasive or rational force than you can deny them. It may be that you're so complicated an agent that I couldn't get a grip on what reasons are relevant to you (again, empirical question), but if, hypothetically speaking, I do have as good a grip on your reasons as you do, and if it follows from the reasons to which you are subject that you should do X, and you think you should do ~X, then I'm right and you're wrong and you should do X. But I cannot, morally speaking, coerce or threaten you into doing X. I cannot, metaphysically speaking, force you to do X. If that is what you mean by 'stronger', then we agree. My point is, you seem to be picking out a quantitative point: the degree of complexity is so great, that we cannot be subject to a common 'should'. Maybe! But the evidence seems to me not to support that quantitative claim. But aside from the quantitative claim, there's a different, orthogonal, qualitative claim: if we are subject to the same reasons, we are subject to the same 'should'. Setting aside the question of how complex our values and preferences are, do you agree with this claim? Remember, you might want to deny the antecedent of this conditional, but that doesn't entail that the conditional is false.
In the same sense we talked about it in the {grand}parent post. You said: continue We may. But there is no guarantee that we would. We have to be careful here. I understand "reasons" as, more or less, networks of causes and consequences. "Reasons" tell you what you should do to achieve something. But they don't tell you what to achieve -- that's the job of values and preferences -- and how to weight the different sides in a conflicting situation. Given this, no, same reasons don't give rise to the same "should"s because you need the same values and preferences as well.
So we have to figure out what a reason is. I took 'reasons' to be everything necessary and sufficient to conclude in a hypothetical or categorical imperative. So, the reasoning behind an action might look something like this: 1) I want an apple. 2) The store sells apples, for a price I'm willing to pay. 3) It's not too much trouble to get there. 4) I have no other reason not to go get some apples. C) I should get some apples from the store. My claim is just that (C) follows and is true of everyone for whom (1)-(4) is true. If (1)-(4) is true of you, but you reject (C), then you're wrong to do so. Just as anyone would be wrong to accept 'If P then Q' and 'P' but reject the conclusion 'Q'.
That's circular reasoning: if you define reasons as "everything necessary and sufficient", well, of course, if they don't conclude in an imperative they are not sufficient and so are not proper reasons :-/ In your example (4) is the weak spot. You're making a remarkable wide and strong claim -- one common in logical exercise but impossible to make in reality. There are always reasons pro and con and it all depends on how do you weight them. Consider any objection to your conclusion (C) (e.g. "Eh, I'm feel lazy now") -- any objection falls under (4) and so you can say that it doesn't apply. And we're back to the circle...
Not if I have independent reason to think that 'everything necessary and sufficient to conclude an imperative' is a reason, which I think I do. To be absolutely clear: the above is an empirical claim. Something for which we need evidence on the table. I'm indifferent to this claim, and it has no bearing on my point. My point is just this conditional: IF (1)-(4) are true of any individual, that individual cannot rationally reject (C). You might object to the antecedent (on the grounds that (4) is not a claim we can make in practice), but that's different from objecting to the conditional. If you don't object to the conditional, then I don't think we have any disagreement, except the empirical one. And on that score, I find you view very implausible, and neither of us is prepared to argue about it. So we can drop the empirical point.
That fails to include weighing of that against other considerations. If you're thirsty, there's plenty of water, and you're not trying to stay thirsty, you "should drink water" only if the other considerations don't mean that drinking water is a bad idea despite the fact that it would quench your thirst. And in order to know that someone's other considerations don't outweigh the benefit of drinking water, you need to know so much about the other person that that situation is pretty much never going to happen with any nontrivial "should".
By hypothesis, there are no other significant considerations. I think most of the time, people's rational considerations are about as simple as my hypothetical makes them out to be. Lumifer thinks they're generally much more complicated. That's an empirical debate that we probably can't settle. But there's also the question of whether or not 'shoulds' can be ultimately personal. Suppose two lotteries. The first is won when your name is drawn out of a hat. Only one name is drawn, and so there's only one possible winner. That's a 'personal' lottery. Now take an impersonal lottery, where you win if your chosen 20 digit number matches the one drawn by the lottery moderators. Supposing you win, it's just because your number matched theirs. Anyone whose number matched theirs would win, but it's very unlikely that there will be more than one winner (or even one). I'm saying that, leaving the empirical question aside, 'shoulds' bind us in the manner of an impersonal lottery. If we have a certain set of reasons, then they bind us, and they equally bind everyone who has that set of reasons (or something equivalent). Lumifer is saying (I think) that 'shoulds' bind us in the manner of the personal lottery. They apply to each of us personally, though it's possible that by coincidence two different shoulds have the same content and so it might look like one should binds two people. A consequence of Lumifer's view, it seems to me, is that a given set of reasons (where reasons are things that can apply equally to many individuals) is never sufficient to determine how we should act. This seems to me to be a very serious problem for the view.
Correct, I would agree to that. Why so?
We seem to disagree on a fundamental level. I reject your notion of a strict fact-value distinction: I posit to you that all statements are either reducible to factual matters or else they are meaningless as a matter of logical necessity. Rationality indeed does not determine values, in the same way that rationality does not determine cheese, but questions about morality and cheese should both be answered in a rational and factual manner all the same. If someone tells me that they grew up in a culture where they were taught that eating cheese is a sin, then I'm sorry to be so blunt about it (ok, not really) but their culture is stupid and wrong.
Interesting. That's a rather basic and low-level disagreement. So, let's take a look at Alice and Bob. Alice says "I like the color green! We should paint all the buildings in town green!". Bob says "I like the color blue! We should paint all the buildings in town blue!". Are these statements meaningless? Or are they reducible to factual matters? By the way, your position was quite popular historically. The Roman Catholic church was (and still is) a big proponent.
I cannot speak for Sophronius of course, but here is one possible answer. It may be that morality is "objective" in the sense that Eliezer tried to defend in the metaethics sequence. Roughly, when someone says X is good they mean that X is part of of a loosely defined set of things that make humans flourish, and by virtue of the psychological unity of mankind we can be reasonably confident that this is a more-or-less well-defined set and that if humans were perfectly informed and rational they would end up agreeing about which things are in it, as the CEV proposal assumes. Then we can confidently say that both Alice and Bob in your example are objectively mistaken (it is completely implausible that CEV is achieved by painting all buildings the color that Alice or Bob happens to like subjectively the most, as opposed to leaving the decision to the free market, or perhaps careful science-based urban planning done by a FAI). We can also confidently say that some real-world expressions of values (e.g. "Heretics should be burned at the stake", which was popular a few hundred years ago) are false. Others are more debatable. In particular, the last two examples in Sophronius' list are cases where I am reasonably confident that his answers are the correct ones, but not as close to 100%-epsilon probability as I am on the examples I gave above.
Well, I can't speak for other people but when I say "X is good" I mean nothing of that sort. I am pretty sure the majority of people on this planet don't think of "good" this way either. Nope, you can say. If your "we" includes me then no, "we" can't say that.
By "Then we can confidently say" I just meant "Assuming we accept the above analysis of morality, then we can confidently say…". I am not sure I accept it myself; I proposed it as a way one could believe that normative questions have objective answers without straying as far form the general LW worldview as being a Roman Catholic. By the way, the metaethical analysis I outlined does not require that people think consciously of something like CEV whenever they use the word "good". It is a proposed explication in the Carnapian sense of the folk concept of "good" in the same way that, say, VNM utility theory is an explication of "rational".
These statements are not meaningless. They are reducible to factual matters. "I like the colour blue" is a factual statement about Bob's preferences which are themselves reducible to the physical locations of atoms in the universe (specifically Bob's brain). Presumably Bob is correct in his assertion, but if I know Bob well enough I might point out that he absolutely detests everything that is the colour blue even though he honestly believes he likes the colour blue. The statement would be false in that case. Furthermore, the statement "We should paint all the buildings in town blue!" follows logically from his previous statement about his preferences regarding blueness. Certainly, the more people are found to prefer blueness over greenness, the more evidence this provides in favour of the claim "We should paint all the buildings in town blue!" which is itself reducible to "A large number of people including myself prefer for the buildings in this town to be blue, and I therefore favour painting them in this colour!" Contrast the above with the statement "I like blue, therefore we should all have cheese", which is also a should claim but which can be rejected as illogical. This should make it clear that should statements are not all equally valid, and that they are subject to logical rigour just like any other claim.
Let's introduce Charlie. "I think women should be barefoot and pregnant" is a factual statement about Charlie's preferences which are themselves reducible to the physical locations of atoms in the universe (specifically Charlie's brain). Futhermore, the statement "We should make sure women remain barefoot and pregnant" follows logically from Charlie's previous statement about his preferences regarding women. I would expect you to say that Charlie is factually wrong. In which way is he factually wrong and Bob isn't? The statement "We should paint all the buildings in town blue!" is not a claim in need of evidence. It is a command, an expression of what Bob thinks should happen. It has nothing to do with how many people think the same.
Assuming "should" is meant in a moral sense, we can say that "We should paint all the buildings in town blue!" is in fact a claim in need of evidence. Specifically, it says (to 2 decimal places) that we would all be better off / happier / flourish more if the buildings are painted blue. This is certainly true if it turns out the majority of the town really likes blue, so that they would be happier, but it does not entirely follow from Bob's claim that he likes blue—if the rest of the town really hated blue, then it would be reasonable to say that their discomfort outweighed his happiness. In this case he would be factually incorrect to say "We should paint all the buildings in town blue!". In contrast, you can treat "We should make sure women remain barefoot and pregnant" as a claim in need of evidence, and in this case we can establish it as false. Most obviously because the proposed situation would not be very good for women, and we shouldn't do something that harms half the human race unnecessarily.
Not at all and I don't see why would you assume a specific morality. Bob says "We should paint all the buildings in town blue!" to mean that it would make him happier and he doesn't care at all about what other people around think about the idea. Bob is not a utilitarian :-) Exactly the same thing -- Charlie is not a utilitarian either. He thinks he will be better off in the world where women are barefoot and pregnant.
But he says "We should" not "I want" because there is the implication that I should also paint the buildings blue. But if the only reason I should do so is because he wants me to, it raises the question of why I should do what he wants. And if he answers "You should do what I want because it's what I want", it's a tautology.
Imagine Vladimir Putin visiting a Russian village and declaring "We should paint all the buildings blue!" Suddenly "You should do what I want because it's what I want" is not a tautology any more but an excellent reason to get out your paint brush :-/
Putin has a way of adding his wants to my wants, through fear, bribes, or other incentives. But then the direct cause of my actions would be the fear/bribe/etc, not the simple fact that he wants it.
And what difference does that make?
Presumably, Bob doesn't have a way of making me care about what he wants (beyond the extent to which I care about what a generic stranger wants). If he were to pay me, that would be different, but he can't make me care simply because that's his preference. When he says "We should paint the buildings blue" he's saying "I want the buildings painted blue" and "You want the buildings painted blue", but if I don't want the buildings painted blue, he's wrong.
Why not? Much of interactions in a human society are precisely ways of making others care what someone wants. In any case, the original issue was whether Bob's preference for blue could be described as "correct" or "wrong". How exactly does Bob manage to get what he wants is neither here nor there. No, he is not saying that.
The original statement was "I like the color blue! We should paint all the buildings in town blue!" His preference for blue can neither be right nor wrong, but the second sentence is something that can be 'correct" or "wrong".
Without specifying a particular value system, no, it can not. Full circle back to the original.
There already is an existing value system - what Bob and I already value.
I think we're pretty close to someone declaring that egoism isn't a valid moral position, again.
I wonder if that someone will make the logical step to insisting that moral egoists should be reeducated to make them change to a "valid" moral position :-/
Charlie is, presumably, factually correct in that he thinks that he holds that view. However, while preferences regarding colour are well established, I am sceptical regarding the claim that this is an actual terminal preference that Charlie holds. It is possible that he finds pregnant barefeeted women attractive, in which case his statement gives valid information regarding his preferences which might be taken into account by others: In this case it is meaningful. Alternatively, if he were raised to think that this is a belief one ought to hold then the statement is merely signalling politics and is therefore of an entirely different nature. "I like blue and want the town to be painted blue" gives factual info regarding the universe. "Women ought to be pregnant because my church says so!" does not have the primary goal of providing info, it has the goal of pushing politics. Imagine a person holding a gun to your head and saying "You should give me your money". Regardless of his use of the word "should", he is making an implicit logical argument: 1) Giving me your money reduces your chances of getting shot by me 2) You presumably do not want to get shot 3) Therefore, you should give me your money If you respond to the man by saying that morality is relative, you are rather missing the point. I think you are missing the subtle hidden meanings of everyday discourse. Imagine Bob saying that the town should be painted blue. Then, someone else comes with arguments for why the town should not be painted Blue. Bob eventually agrees. "You are right", he says, "that was a dumb suggestion". The fact that exchanges like this happen all the time shows that Bob's statement is not just a meaningless expression, but rather a proposal relying on implicit arguments and claims. Specifically, it relies on enough people in the village sharing his preference for blue houses that the notion will be taken seriously. If Bob did not think this to be the case, he probably would not have
Okay, yeah, so belief in belief is a thing. We can profess opinions that we've been taught are virtuous to hold without deeply integrating them into our worldview; and that's probably increasingly common these days as traditional belief systems clank their way into some sort of partial conformity with mainstream secular ethics. But at the same time, we should not automatically assume that anyone professing traditional values -- or for that matter unusual nontraditional ones -- is doing so out of self-interest or a failure to integrate their ethics. Setting aside the issues with "terminal value" in a human context, it may well be that post-Enlightenment secular ethics are closer in some absolute sense to a human optimal, and that a single optimal exists. I'm even willing to say that there's evidence for that in the form of changing rates of violent crime, etc., although I'm sure the reactionaries in the audience will be quick to remind me of the technological and demographic factors with their fingers on the scale. But I don't think we can claim to have strong evidence for this, in view of the variety of ethical systems that have come before us and the generally poor empirical grounding of ethical philosophy. Until we do have that sort of evidence, I view the normative component of our ethics as fallible, and certainly not a good litmus test for general rationality.
On the contrary, I think it's quite reasonable to assume that somebody who bases their morality on religious background has not integrated these preferences and is simply confused. My objection here is mainly in case somebody brings up a more extreme example. In these ethical debates, somebody always (me this time, I guess) brings up the example of Islamic sub-groups who throw acid in the faces of their daughters. Somebody always ends up claiming that "well that's their culture, you know, you can't criticize that. Who are you to say that they are wrong to do so?". In that case, my reply would be that those people do not actually have a preference for disfigured daughters, they merely hold the belief that this is right as a result of their religion. This can be seen from the fact that the only people who do this hold more or less the same set of religious beliefs. And given that the only ones who hold that 'preference' do so as a result of a belief which is factually false, I think it's again reasonable to say: No, I do not respect their beliefs and their culture is wrong and stupid. The point is not so much whether there is one optimum, but rather that some cultures are better than others and that progress is in fact possible. If you agree with that, we have already closed most of the inferential distance between us. :)
Even if people don't have fully integrated beliefs in destructive policies, their beliefs can be integrated enough to lead to destructive behavior. The Muslims who throw acid in their daughters' faces may not have an absolute preference for disfigured daughters, but they may prefer disfigured daughters over being attacked by their neighbors for permitting their daughters more freedom than is locally acceptable-- or prefer to not be attacked by the imagined opinions (of other Muslims and/or of Allah) which they're carrying in their minds. Also, even though it may not be a terminal value, I'd say there are plenty of people who take pleasure in hurting people, and more who take pleasure in seeing other people hurt.
Agreed on each count.
There's some subtlety here. I believe that ethical propositions are ultimately reducible to physical facts (involving idealized preference satisfaction, although I don't think it'd be productive to dive into the metaethical rabbit hole here), and that cultures' moral systems can in principle be evaluated in those terms. So no, culture isn't a get-out-of-jail-free card. But that works both ways, and I think it's very likely that many of the products of modern secular ethics are as firmly tied to the culture they come from as would be, say, an injunction to stone people who wear robes woven from two fibers. We don't magically divorce ourselves from cultural influence when we stop paying attention to the alleged pronouncements of the big beardy dude in the sky. For these reasons I try to be cautious about -- though I wouldn't go so far as to say "skeptical of" -- claims of ethical progress in any particular domain. The other fork of this is stability of preference across individuals. I know I've been beating this drum pretty hard, but preference is complicated; among other things, preferences are nodes in a deeply nested system that includes a number of cultural feedback loops. We don't have any general way of looking at a preference and saying whether or not it's "true". We do have some good heuristics -- if a particular preference appears only in adherents of a certain religion, and their justification for it is "the Triple Goddess revealed it to us", it's probably fairly shallow -- but they're nowhere near good enough to evaluate every ethical proposition, especially if it's close to something generally thought of as a cultural universal. The Wikipedia page on acid throwing describes it as endemic to a number of African and Central and South Asian countries, along with a few outside those regions, with religious cultures ranging from Islam through Hinduism and Buddhism. You may be referring to some subset of acid attacks (the word "daughter" doesn't appear in the
Fair enough. I largely agree with your analysis: I agree that preferences are complicated, and I would even go as far as to say that they change a little every time we think about them. That does make things tricky for those who want to build a utopia for all mankind! However, in every day life I think objections on such an abstract level aren't so important. The important thing is that we can agree on the object level, e.g. sex is not actually sinful, regardless of how many people believe it is. Saying that sex is sinful is perhaps not factually wrong, but rather it belies a kind of fundamental confusion regarding the way reality works that puts it in the 'not even wrong' category. The fact that it's so hard for people to be logical about their moral beliefs is actually precisely why I think it's a good litmus test of rationality/clear thinking: If it were easy to get it right, it wouldn't be much of a test. Looking at that page I am still getting the impression that it's primarily Islamic cultures that do this, but I'll agree that calling it exclusively Islamic was wrong. Thanks for the correction :)
Given that you know absolutely nothing about Charlie, a player in a hypothetical scenario, I find your scepticism entirely unwarranted. Fighting the hypothetical won't get you very far. So, is Charlie factually wrong? On the basis of what would you determine that Charlie's belief is wrong and Bob's isn't? Why would I respond like that? What does the claim that morality is relative have to do with threats of bodily harm? In this context I don't care about the subtle hidden meanings. People who believe they know the Truth and have access to the Sole Factually Correct Set of Values tend to just kill others who disagree. Or at the very least marginalize them and make them third-class citizens. All in the name of the Glorious Future, of course.
Well, given that Charlie indeed genuinely holds that preference, then no he is not wrong to hold that preference. I don't even know what it would mean for a preference to be wrong. Rather, his preferences might conflict with preferences of others, who might object to this state of reality by calling it "wrong", which seems like the mind-projection fallacy to me. There is nothing mysterious about this. Similarly, the person in the original example of mine is not wrong to think men kissing each other is icky, but he IS wrong to conclude that there is therefore some universal moral rule that men kissing each other is bad. Again, just because rationality does not determine preferences, does not mean that logic and reason do not apply to morality! I believe you have pegged me quite wrongly, sir! I only care about truth, not Truth. And yes, I do have access to some truths, as of course do you. Saying that logic and reason apply to morality and that therefore all moral claims are not equally valid (they can be factually wrong or entirely nonsensical) is quite a far cry from heralding in the Third Reich. The article on Less Wrong regarding the proper use of doubt seems pertinent here.
I am confused. Did I misunderstand you or did you change your mind? Earlier you said that "should" kind of questions have single correct answers (which means that other answers are wrong). A "preference" is more or less the same thing as a "value" in this context, and you staked out a strong position: Since statements of facts can be correct or wrong and you said there is no "fact-value distinction", then values (and preferences) can be correct or wrong as well. However in the parent post you say If you have a coherent position in all this, I don't see it.
I think you misunderstood me. Of course I don't mean that the terms "facts" and "values" represent the same thing. Saying that a preference itself is wrong is nonsense in the same way that claiming that a piece of cheese is wrong is nonsensical. It's a category error. When I say I reject a strict fact-value dichotomy I mean that I reject the notion that statements regarding values should somehow be treated differently from statements regarding facts, in the same way that I reject the notion of faith inhabiting a separate magistrate from science (i.e. special pleading). So my position is that when someone makes a moral claim such as "don't murder", they better be able to reduce that to factual statements about reality or else they are talking nonsense. For example, "sex is sinful!" usually reduces to "I think my god doesn't like sex", which is nonsense because there is no such thing. On the other hand, if someone says "Stealing is bad!", that can be reduced to the claim that allowing theft is harmful to society (in a number of observable ways), which I would agree with. As such I am perfectly comfortable labelling some moral claims as valid and some as nonsense.
I don't see how this sentence is compatible with this sentence
I am distinguishing between X and statements regarding X. The statement "Cheese is wrong" is nonsensical. The statement "it's nonsensical to say cheese is wrong" is not nonsensical. Values and facts are not the same, but statements regarding values and facts should be treated the same way. Similarly: Faith and Science are not the same thing. Nonetheless, I reject the notion that claims based on faith should be treated any differently from scientific claims.
Do you also reject the notion that claims about mathematics and science should be treated differently?
In the general sense that all claims must abide by the usual requirements of validity and soundness of logic, sure. In fact, you might say that mathematics is really just a very pure form of logic, while science deals with more murky, more complicated matters. But the essential principle is the same: You better make sure that the output follows logically from the input, or else you're not doing it right.
My point is that what constitutes "validity" and "soundness of logic" differs between the two domains.
I think it's more likely he was misusing the word “literally”/wearing belief as attire (in technical terms, bullshitting) than he actually really believed that. After all I guess he could tell boys and girl apart without looking between their legs, couldn't he?
But you can always find harm if you allow for feelings of disgust, or take into account competition in sexual markets (i.e. if having sex with X is a substitute for having sex with Y then Y might be harmed if someone is allowed to have sex with X.)
Ok, that's a fair enough point. Sure, feelings do matter. However, I generally distinguish between genuine terminal preferences and mere surface emotions. The reason for this is that often it is easier/better to change your feelings than for other people to change their behaviour. For example, if I strongly dislike the name James Miller, you probably won't change your name to take my feelings into account. (At the risk of saying something political: This is the same reason I don't like political correctness very much. I feel that it allows people to frame political discourse purely by being offended.)
The standard reply to this is that many people hurt themselves by their choices, and that justifies intervention. (Even if we hastily add an "else" after "anyone," note that hurting yourself hurts anyone who cares about you, and thus the set of acts which harm no one is potentially empty.)
It's wrong on a biological level. From my physiology lecture: Woman blink twice as much as men. The have less water in their bodies. So you are claiming either: "Children are no people" or "Pedophilia should be legal". I don't think any of those claims has societal approval let alone is a clear-cut issue. But even if you switch the statement to the standard: "Consenting adults should be allowed to do in their bedroom whatever they want as long as it doesn't harm anyone" The phrases consenting (can someone with >1.0 promille alcohol consent?) and harm (emotional harm exists and not going tested for STD's and having unprotected sex has the potential to harm) are open to debate. The maximal effect of a strong cognitive intervention might very will bring the average person to Mozart levels. We know relatively little about doing strong intervention to improve human mental performance. But genes to matter. It depends on what roles. If a movie producer casts actors for a specific role, gender usually matters a big deal. A bit more controversial but I think there are cases where it's useful for men to come together in an environment where they don't have to signal stuff to females.
I'd expect them to assert that paedophilia does harm. That's the obvious resolution.
Court are not supposed to investigate whether the child is emotionally harmed by the experience but whether he or she is under a certain age threshold. You could certainly imagine a legal system where psychologists are always asked whether a given child is harmed by having sex instead of a legal system that makes the decision through an age criteria. I think a more reasonable argument for the age boundary isn't that every child gets harmed but that most get harmed and that having a law that forbids that behavior is preventing a lot of children from getting harmed. I don't think you are a bad person to arguing that we should have a system that focuses on the amount of harm done instead of focusing on an arbitrary age boundary but that's not the system we have that's backed by societal consensus. We also don't put anybody in prison for having sex with a 19-year old breaking her heart and watching as they commit suicide. We would judge a case like that as a tragedy but we wouldn't legally charge the responsible person with anything. The concept of consent is pretty important for our present system. Even in cases where no harm is done we take a breach of consent seriously.
Actually I'm under the impression that the ‘standard’ resolution is not about the “harm” part but about the “want” part: it's assumed that people below a certain age can't want sex, to the point that said age is called the age of consent and sex with people younger than that is called a term which suggests it's considered a subset of sex with people who don't want it. (I'm neither endorsing nor mocking this, just describing it.)
I think your impression is mistaken. Nope. It is assumed that people below a certain age cannot give informed consent. In other words, they are assumed to be not capable of good decisions and to be not responsible for the consequences. What they want is irrelevant. If you're below the appropriate age of consent, you cannot sign a valid contract, for example. Below the age of consent you basically lack the legal capacity to agree to something.
I assumed “want” to mean ‘consent’ in that sentence.
That's not what these words mean, not even close.
Well, I suppose Sophronius could argue that pedophilia should be legal, after all many things (especially related to sex) that were once socially unacceptable are now considered normal.
Even if he thinks that it should be legal, it's no position where it's likely that everyone will agree. Sophronius wanted to find examples where everyone can agree.
No, he was listing political, i.e., controversial, questions with clear cut answers. I don't know what Sophronius considers clear cut.
Really? Gives his history I think the answer is pretty clear that he's not the kind of person who's out to argue that legalizing pedophila is a clear cut issue. He also said something about wanting to avoid the kind of controversy that causes downvoting.
In all of these cases, the people breaking with the conclusion you presumably believe to be obvious often do so because they believe the existing research to be hopelessly corrupt. This is of course a rather extraordinary statement, and I'm pretty sure they'd be wrong about it (that is, as sure as I can be with a casual knowledge of each field and a decent grasp of statistics), but bad science isn't exactly unheard of. Given the right set of priors, I can see a rational person holding each of these opinions at least for a time. In the latter two, they might additionally have different standards for "should" than you're used to.
I'm not sure what you are trying to convince me of here. That people who disagree have reasons for disagreeing? Well of course they do, it's not like they disagree out of spite. The fact that they are right in their minds does not mean that they are in fact right. And yes, they might have a different definition for should. Doesn't matter. If you talk to someone who believes that men kissing each other is "just plain wrong", you'll inevitably find that they are confused, illogical and inconsistent about their beliefs and are irrational in general. Do you think that just because a statement involves the word "should", you can't say that they are wrong?
The question I was trying to answer wasn't whether they were right, it was whether a rational actor could hold those opinions. That has a lot less to do with factual accuracy and a lot more to do with internal consistency. As to the correctness of normative claims -- well, that's a fairly subtle question. Deontological claims are often entangled with factual ones (e.g. the existence-of-God thing), so that's at least one point of grounding, but even from a consequential perspective you need an optimization objective. Rational actors may disagree on exactly what that objective is, and reasonable-sounding objectives often lead to seriously counterintuitive prescriptions in some cases.
Oh, right, I see what you mean. Sure, people can disagree with each other without either being irrational: All that takes is for them to have different information. For example, one can rationally believe the earth is flat, depending on which time and place one grew up in. That does not change the fact that these questions have a correct answer though, and it should be pretty clear which the correct answers are in the above examples, even though you can never be 100% certain of course. The point remains that just because a question is political does not mean that all answers are equally valid. False equivalence and all that.
Including as basso singers? ;-) (As you worded your sentence, I would agree with it, but I would also add "But employers should be allowed to not hire them.")
I would have gone for "slavery is bad"
There is a question about it. It's the existential thread that's most feared among Lesswrongers. Bioengineered pandemics are a thread due to gene manipulated organisms. If that's not what you want to know, how would you word your question?
I took "bioengineered" to imply 'deliberately' and "pandemic" to imply 'contagious', and in any event fear of > 90% of humans dying by 2100 is far from the only possible reason to oppose GMOs.
I didn't advocate that it's the only reason. That's why I asked for a more precise question. If the tools that you need to genmanipulate organisms are widely available it's much easier to deliberately produce a pandemic. It's possible to make a bacteria immune to antibiotica by just giving them antibiotica and making not manipulating the genes directly. On the other hand I think that people fear bioengineered pandemics because they expect stronger capabilities in regards to manipulating organisms in the future.
My issue with GMOs is basically the same one Taleb describes in this quote.
"Time online per week seems plausible from personal experience, but I didn't expect the average to be so high." I personally spend an average of 50 hours a week online. That's because, by profession, I am a web-developer. The percentage of LessWrong members in IT is clearly higher than that of the average population. I postulate that the higher number of other IT geeks (who, like me, are also likely spending high numbers of hours online per week) is pushing up the average to a level that seems, to you, to be surprisingly high.
"The overconfidence data hurts, but as someone pointed out in the comments, it's hard to ask a question which isn't misunderstood." I interpreted this poor level of calibration more to the fact that it's easier to read about what you should be doing than to actually go and practice the skill and get better at it.
I'm one of the people who have never used spaced repetition, though I've heard of it. I don't doubt it works, but what do you actually need to remember nowadays? I'd probably use it if I was learning a new language (which I don't really plan to do anytime soon)... What other skills work nicely with spaced repetition? I just don't feel the need to remember things when I have google / wikipedia on my phone.
Isn't there anything you already know but wouldn't like to forget? SRS is for keeping your precious memory storage, not necessarily for learning new stuff. There are probably a lot of things that wouldn't even cross your mind to google if they were erased by time. Googling could also waste time compared to storing memories if you have to do it often enough (roughly 5 minutes in your lifetime per fact). In my experience anything you can write into brief flashcards. Some simple facts can work as handles for broader concepts once you've learned them. You could even record triggers for episodic memories that are important to you.
Yeah, that's pretty much the problem. Not really. I.e. there are stuff I know that would be inconvenient to forget, because I use this knowledge every day. But since I already use it every day, SR seems unnecessary. Things I don't use every day are not essential - the cost of looking them up is minuscule since it happens rarely. I suppose a plausible use case would be birth dates of family members, if I didn't have google calendar to remind me when needed. Edit: another use case that comes to mind would be names. I'm pretty bad with names (though I've recently begun to suspect that probably I'm as bad with remembering names as anyone else, I just fail to pay attention when people introduce themselves). But asking to take someone's picture 'so that I can put it on a flashcard' seems awkward. Facebook to the rescue, I guess? (though I don't really meet that many people, so again - possibly not worth the effort in maintaining such a system)
I don't know what you work on, but many fields include bodies of loosely connected facts that you could in principle look up, but which you'd be much more efficient if you just memorized. In programming this might mean functions in a particular library that you're working with (the C++ STL, for example). In chemistry, it might be organic reactions. The signs of medical conditions might be another example, or identities related to a particular branch of mathematics. SRS would be well suited to maintaining any of these bodies of knowledge.
I'm a software dev. Right. I guess I somewhat do 'spaced repetition' here, just by the fact that every time I interact with a particular library I'm reminded of its function. But that is incidental - I don't really care about remembering libraries that I don't use, and those that I use regularly I don't need SR to maintain. I suppose medical conditions looks more plausible as a use case - you really need to remember a large set of facts, any of which is actually used very rarely. But that still doesn't seem useful to me personally - I can think of no dataset that'd be worth the effort. I guess I should just assume I'm an outlier there, and simply keep SR in mind in case I ever find myself needing it.
I've used SRS to learn programming theory that I otherwise had trouble keeping straight in my head. I've made cards for design patterns, levels of database normalization, fiddly elements of C++ referencing syntax, etc.
Do you have your design pattern cards formatted in a way that are likely to be useful for other people?
They're mostly copy-and-pasted descriptions from wikipedia, tweaked with added info from Design Patterns. I'm not sure they'd be very useful to other people. I used them to help prepare for an interview, so when I was doing my cards I'd describe them out loud, then check the description, then pop open the book to clarify anything I wasn't sure on. edit: And I'd do the reverse, naming the pattern based on the description.

Other answers which made Ozy giggle [...] "pirate,"

Not necessarily a joke.

The link contains a typo, it links to a non-existing article on the/a Pirate part instead of the Pirate Party.
Fixed, thanks.

On average, effective altruists (n = 412) donated $2503 to charity, and other people (n = 853) donated $523 - obviously a significant result.

There could be some measurement bias here. I was on the fence about whether I should identify myself as an effective altruist, but I had just been reminded of the fact that I hadn't donated any money to charity in the last year, and decided that I probably shouldn't be identifying as an effective altruist myself despite having philosophical agreements with the movement.

1265 people told us how much they give to charity; of those, 450 gave nothing. ... In order to calculate percent donated I divided charity donations by income in the 947 people helpful enough to give me both numbers. Of those 947, 602 donated nothing to charity, and so had a percent donated of 0.

This is blasphemy against Saint Boole.

Did you mean Saint Boole? And whence the blasphemy?
1265 people are in group A. 947 are in group B, which is completely contained in A. Of all the people in group A, 450 satisfy property C, whereas this is true for 602 people in group B, all of whom are also in group A. 602 is larger than 450, so something has gone wrong.
Ahh, thank you.
Yes, thanks. Fixed. I endorse Vaniver's explanation of the blasphemy.

There's something strange about the analysis posted.

How is it that 100% of the general population with high (>96%) confidence got the correct answer, but only 66% of a subset of that population? Looking at the provided data, it looks like 3 out of 4 people (none with high Karma scores) who gave the highest confidence were right.

(Predictably, the remaining person with high confidence answered 500 million, which is almost the exact population of the European Union (or, in the popular parlance "Europe"). I almost made the same mistake, before realizing that a) "Europe" might be intended to include Russia, or part of Russia, plus other non-EU states and b) I don't know the population of those countries, and can't cover both bases. So in response, I kept the number and decreased my confidence value. Regrettably, 500 million can signify both tremendous confidence and very little confidence, which makes it hard to do an analysis of this effect.)

What if it was divided into (typical-lw) (elite-lw) not (typical-lw (elite-lw))? That is, disjoint sets not subsets.
0Scott Alexander
I think it's more likely that I accidentally did 95-100 inclusive for one and 95-100 exclusive for the other.

Passphrase: eponymous haha_nice_try_CHEATER

Well played :)

True, though they forgot to change the "You may make my anonymous survey data public (recommended)" to "You may make my ultimately highly unanonymous survey data public (not as highly recommended)".
It'd be easy enough to claim the prize anonymously, no?

Nice work Yvain and Ozy, and well done to Zack for winning the MONETARY REWARD.

I continue to be bad at estimating but well calibrated.

(Also, I'm sure that this doesn't harm the data to any significant degree but I appear to appear twice in the data, both rows 548 and 552 in the xls file, with row 548 being more complete.)

I expected that the second word in my passphrase would stay secret no matter what and the first word would only be revealed if I won the game.

Well, thank goodness I didn't pick anything too embarrassing.

Some thoughts on the correlations:

At first I saw that IQ seems to correlate with less children (a not uncommon observation):

Number of children/ACT score: -.279 (269)

Number of children/SAT score (2400): -.223 (345)

But then I noticed that number of children obviously correlate with age and age with IQ (somewhat):

Number of children/age: .507 (1607)

SAT score out of 1600/age: -.194 (422)

So it may be that older people just have lower IQ (Flynn effect).

Something to think about:

Time on Less Wrong/IQ: -.164 (492)

This can be read as smarter people stay shorter on LW. It seems to imply that over time LW will degrade in smarts. But it could also just mean that smarter people just turn over faster (thus also entering faster).

On the other hand most human endeavors tend toward the mean over time.

Time on Less Wrong/age: -.108 (1491)

Older people (like me ahem) either take longer to notice LW or the community is spreading from younger to older people slowly.

This made me laugh:

Number of current partners/karma score: .137 (1470)

Guess who does the voting :-)

In the data set older people have a significantly higher IQ than younger people. The effect however disappears if you start to control for whether someone lives in the US. US LW users are on average more intelligent and older.
"Time on Less Wrong/IQ: -.164 (492) This can be read as smarter people stay shorter on LW. It seems to imply that over time LW will degrade in smarts. But it could also just mean that smarter people just turn over faster (thus also entering faster)." Alternatively: higher IQ people can get the same amount of impact out of less reading-time on the site, and therefore do not need to spend as much time on the site
Wait, this means that reading less wrong makes you dumber! Hmmm, there was something about correlation and causation... but I don't remember it well. I must be spending too much time on less wrong.
The 1600 SAT was renormed in 1994, and scores afterwards are much higher (and not directly comparable) to scores before. As well, depending on how the 'null' is interpreted, the youngest are unlikely to have a SAT score out of 1600, because it switched to 2400 in 2005. The line between having a score out of 1600 or not is probably at about 22 years old.

I don't know if this is the LW hug or something but I'm having trouble downloading the xls. Also, will update with what the crap my passphrase actually means, because it's in Lojban and mildly entertaining IIRC.

EDIT: Felt like looking at some other entertaining passphrases. Included with comment.

sruta'ulor maftitnab {mine! scarf-fox magic-cakes!(probably that kind)}

Afgani-san Azerbai-chan {there... are no words}


do mlatu {a fellow lojbanist!}

lalxu daplu {and another?}

telephone fonxa {and another! please get in contact with me. please.}

xagfu'a ... (read more)

3Said Achmiz
Actual translation: INDESTRUCTIBLE UNION (It's from the national anthem of the U.S.S.R.)
I know that. I was commenting that the LWer was apparently not a Communist as one might expect, which I found slightly funny.
The following passphrases were repeated (two occurances each, the only entry that occured more than twice was the blank one): Bagel bites EFFulgent shackles Kissing bobbies mimsy borogoves SQUEAMISH OSSIFRAGE If we go case-insensitive, there was also 'No thanks' and 'no thanks'; and 'TWO WORD' and 'Two Word'. (The first three of those came next to each other, so they were probably just multiple entries.)
It is a datapoint that only one person apparently took up the offer of SQUEAMISH OSSIFRAGE
Possibly two; there's no guarantee the person who originally suggested it actually used it. I, on the other hand, am one of those two. The humor appealed to me.
I agree. This was clearly the object of furious guessing and second-guessing. :V
Yes, and this was why I did not include them.
You missed lalxu daplu.
So I did! Edited.

The links to the public data given at the end appear to be broken. They give internal links to Less Wrong instead of redirecting to Slate Star Codex. These links should work:

sav xls csv


It looks like lots of people put themselves as atheist, but still answered the religion question as Unitarian Universalist, in spite of the fact that the question said to answer your religion only if you are theist.

I was looking forward to data on how many LW people are UU, but I have no way of predicting how many people followed the rules as written for the question, and how many people followed the rules as (I think they were) intended.

We should make sure to word that question differently next year, so that people who identify as atheist and religious know to answer the question.

3Scott Garrabrant
It looks like Judaism and Buddhism might have had a similar problem.
This is why (ISTR) I treated 'some religion is more or less right' as a broader category than theism.

The IQ numbers have time and time again answered every challenge raised against them and should be presumed accurate.

N.B.: Average IQ drops to 135 when only considering tests administered at an adult age -- those "IQ 172 at age 7" entries shouldn't be taken as authoritative for adult IQ.

Unfriendly AI: 233, 14.2%

Nanotech/grey goo: 57, 3.5%

Could someone who voted for unfriendly AI explain how nanotech or biotech isn't much more of a risk than unfriendly AI (I'll assume MIRI's definition here)?

I ask this question because it seems to me that even given a technological singularity there should be enough time for "unfriendly humans" to use precursors to fully fledged artificial general intelligence (e.g. advanced tool AI) in order to solve nanotechnology or advanced biotech. Technologies which themselves will enable unfriendly huma... (read more)

Presumably many people fear a very rapid "hard takeoff" where the time from "interesting slightly-smarter-than-human AI experiment" to "full-blown technological singularity underway" is measured in at days (or less) rather than months or years.
The AI risk scenario that Eliezer Yudkowsky relatively often uses is that of the AI solving the protein folding problem. If you believe a "hard takeoff" to be probable, what reason is there to believe that the distance between a.) an AI capable of cracking that specific problem and b.) an AI triggering an intelligence explosion is too short for humans to do something similarly catastrophic as what the AI would have done with the resulting technological breakthrough? In other words, does the protein folding problem require AI to reach a level of sophistication that would allow humans, or the AI itself, within days or months, to reach the stages where it undergoes an intelligence explosion? How so?
My assumption is that the protein-folding problem is unimaginably easier than an AI doing recursive self-improvement without breaking itself. Admittedly, Eliezer is describing something harder than the usual interpretation of the protein-folding problem, but it still seems a lot less general than a program making itself more intelligent.
Is this question equivalent to "Is the protein-folding problem equivalently hard to the build-a-smarter-intelligence-than-I-am problem?" ? It seems like it ought to be, but I'm genuinely unsure, as the wording of your question kind of confuses me. If so, my answer would be that it depends on how intelligent I am, since I expect the second problem to get more difficult as I get more intelligent. If we're talking about the actual me... yeah, I don't have higher confidence either way.
It is mostly equivalent. Is it easier to design an AI that can solve one specific hard problem than an AI that can solve all hard problems? Expecting that only a fully-fledged artificial general intelligence is able to solve the protein-folding problem seems to be equivalent to believing the conjunction "an universal problem solver can solve the protein-folding problem" AND "an universal problem solver is easier to solve than the protein-folding problem". Are there good reasons to believe this? ETA: My perception is that people who believe unfriendly AI to come sooner than nanotechnology believe that it is easier to devise a computer algorithm to devise a computer algorithm to predict protein structures from their sequences rather than to directly devise a computer algorithm to predict protein structures from their sequences. This seems counter-intuitive.
Ah, this helps, thanks. For my own part, the idea that we might build tools better at algorithm-development than our own brains are doesn't seem counterintuitive at all... we build a lot of tools that are better than our own brains at a lot of things. Neither does it seem implausible that there exist problems that are solvable by algorithm-development, but whose solution requires algorithms that our brains aren't good enough algorithm-developers to develop algorithms to solve. So it seems reasonable enough that there are problems which we'll solve faster by developing algorithm-developers to solve them for us, than by trying to solve the problem itself. Whether protein-folding is one of those problems, I have absolutely no idea. But it sounds like your position isn't unique to protein-folding.
So you believe that many mathematical problems are too hard for humans to solve but that humans can solve all of mathematics? I already asked Timothy Gowers a similar question and I really don't understand how people can believe this. In order to create an artificial mathematician it is first necssary to discover, prove and encode the mathematics of discovering and proving non-arbitrary mathematics (i.e. to encode a formalization of the natural language goal “be as good as humans at mathematics”). This seems much more difficult than solving any single problem. And that's just mathematics... I do not disagree with this in theory. After all, evolution is an example of this. But it was not computationally simple for evolution to do so and it did do so by a bottom-up approach, piece by piece. To paraphrase your sentence: It seems reasonable that we can design an algorithm that can design algorithms that we are unable to design. This can only be true in the sense that this algorithm-design-algorithm would run faster on other computational substrates than human brains. I agree that this is possible. But are relevant algorithms in a class for which a speed advantage would be substantial? Again, in theory, all of this is fine. But how do you know that general algorithm design can be captured by an algorithm that a.) is simpler than most specific algorithms b.) whose execution is faster than that of evolution c.) which can locate useful algorithms within the infinite space of programs and d.) that humans will discover this algorithm? Some people here seem to be highly confident about this. How? ETA: Maybe this post better highlights the problems I see.
Why did you interview Gowers anyway? It's not like he has any domain knowledge in artificial intelligence.
He works on automatic theorem proving. In addition I was simply curious what a topnotch mathematician thinks about the whole subject.
All of mathematics? Dunno. I'm not even sure what that phrase refers to. But sure, there exist mathematical problems that humans can't solve unaided, but which can be solved by tools we create. In other words: you believe that if we take all possible mathematical problems and sort them by difficulty-to-humans, that one will turn out to be the most difficult? I don't mean to put words in your mouth here, I just want to make sure I understood you. If so... why do you believe that? Yes, that's a fair paraphrase. Nah, I'm not talking about speed. Can you clarify what you mean by "simpler" here? If you mean in some objective sense, like how many bits would be required to specify it in a maximally compressed form or some such thing, I don't claim that. If you mean easier for humans to develop... well, of course I don't know that, but it seems more plausible to me than the idea that human brains happen to be the optimal machine for developing algorithms. We have thus far done pretty good at this; evolution is slow. I don't expect that to change. Well, this is part of the problem specification. A tool for generating useless algorithms would be much easier to build. (shrug) Perhaps we won't. Perhaps we won't solve protein-folding, either. Can you quantify "highly confident" here? For example, what confidence do you consider appropriate for the idea that there exists at least one useful algorithm A, and at least one artificial algorithm-developer AD, such that it's easier for humans to develop AD than to develop A, and it's easier for AD to develop A than it is for humans to develop A?
If you want an artificial agent to solve problems for you then you need to somehow constrain it, since there are an infinite number of problems. In this sense it is easier to specify an AI to solve a single problem, such as the protein-folding problem, rather than all problems (whatever that means, supposedly "general intelligence"). The problem here is that goals and capabilities are not orthogonal. It is more difficult to design an AI that can play all possible games, and then tell it to play a certain game, than designing an AI to play a certain game in the first place. The information theoretic complexity of the code of a general problem solver constrained to solve a specific problem should be larger than the constrain itself. I assume here that the constrain is most of the work in getting an algorithm to do useful work. Which I like to exemplify by the difference between playing chess and doing mathematics. Both are rigorously defined activities, one of which has a clear and simple terminal goal, the other being infinite and thus hard to constrain. The more general the artificial algorithm-developer is, the less confident I am that it is easier to create than the specific algorithm itself.
I agree that specialized tools to perform particular tasks are easier to design than general-purpose tools. It follows that if I understand a problem well enough to know what tasks must be performed in order to solve that problem, it should be easier to solve that problem by designing specialized tools to perform those tasks, than by designing a general-purpose problem solver. I agree that the complexity of a general problem solver should be larger than that of whatever constrains it to work on a specific task. I agree that for a randomly selected algorithm A2, and a randomly selected artificial algorithm-developer AD2, the more general AD2 is the more likely it is that A2 is easier to develop than AD2.
What I meant is that if you have a very general and information theoretically simple problem solver, like evolution or AIXI, then in order to make it solve a specific problem you need a complex fitness function, respectively, in the case of AIXI, a substantial head start (the large multiplicative constant mentioned in Hutter's paper). When producing e.g. a chair, an AI will have to either know the specifications of the chair (such as its size or the material it is supposed to be made of) or else know how to choose a specification from an otherwise infinite set of possible specifications. Given a poorly designed fitness function, or the inability to refine its fitness function, an AI will either (a) not know what to do or (b) will not be able to converge on a qualitative solution, if at all, given limited computationally resources. In a sense it is therefore true that an universal problem solver is easier to design than any specialized expert system. But only if you ignore the constrain it takes to "focus" the universal problem solver sufficiently in order to make it solve the right problem efficiently. Which means that the time to develop the universal problem solver plus the time it takes to constrain it might be longer than to develop the specialized solver. Since constraining it means to already know a lot about the problem in question. ETA: Or take science as another example. Once you generated a hypothesis, and an experiment to test it, you have already done most of the work. What reason do I have to believe that this is not true for the protein folding problem?
I agree with this as well. That said, sometimes that fitness function is implicit in the real world, and need not be explicitly formalized by me. As I've said a couple of times now, I don't have a dog in the race wrt the protein folding problem, but your argument seems to apply equally well to all conceivable problems. That's why I asked a while back whether you think algorithm design is the single hardest problem for humans to solve. As I suggested then, I have no particular reason to think the protein-folding problem is harder (or easier) than the algorithm-design problem, but it seems really unlikely that no problem has this property.
The problem is that I don't know what you mean by "algorithm design". Once you solved "algorithm design", what do you expect to be able to do with it, and how? Once you compute this "algorithm design"-algorithm, how will its behavior look like? Will it output all possible algorithms, or just the algorithms that you care about? If the latter, how does it know what algorithms you care about? There is no brain area for "algorithm design". There is just this computational substrate that can learn, recognize patterns etc. and whose behavior is defined and constrained by its environmental circumstances. Say you cloned Donald E. Knuth and made him grow up under completely different circumstances, e.g. as a member of some Amazonian tribe. Now this clone has the same algorithm-design-potential, but he lacks the right input and constrains to output "The Art of Computer Programming". What I want to highlight is that "algorithm design", or even "general intelligence", is not a sufficient feature in order to get "algorithm that predicts protein structures from their sequences". Solving "algorithm design" or "general intelligence" does not give you some sort of oracle. In the same sense as an universal Turing machine does not give you "algorithm design" or "general intelligence". You have to program the Turing machine in order to compute "algorithm design" or "general intelligence". In the same sense you have to define what algorithm you want, respectively what problem you want to be solved, in order for your "algorithm design" or "general intelligence" to do what you want. Just imagine having a human baby, the clone of a 250 IQ eugenics experiment, and ask it to solve protein folding for you. Well, it doesn't even speak English yet. Even though you have this superior general intelligence, it won't do what you want it to do without a lot of additional work. And even then it is not clear that it will have the motivation to do so.
Tapping out now.
You have a good point, in the case of trying to make a narrow intelligence to solve the protein folding problem. Yes, to make it spit out solutions to protein folding (even if given a "general" intelligence), you first must give it a detailed specification of the problem, which may take much work to derive in the first place. But a solution to the protein solving problem is a means to an end. Generally, through the subgoal of being able to manipulate matter. To put it simply, the information complexity of the "practical facet" of the protein folding problem is actually not that high, because other much more general problems ("the manipulating matter problem") point to it. An unfriendly AGI with general intelligence above a human's doesn't need us to do any work specifying the protein folding problem for them; they'll find it themselves in their search for solutions to "take over the world". Conversely, while an AGI with a goal like the rearranging all the matter in the world a particular way might happen to solve the protein folding problem in the process of its planning, such a machine does not qualify as a useful protein-folding-solver-bot for us humans. Firstly because there's no guarantee it will actually end up solving protein folding (maybe some other method of rearranging matter turns out to be more useful). Secondly because it doesn't necessarily care to solve the entire protein solving problem, just the special cases relevant to its goals. Thirdly because it has no interest in giving us the solutions. That's why writing an AGI doesn't violate information theory by giving us a detailed specification of the protein folding problem for free.
First of all, we have narrow AI's that do not exhibit Omohundro's “Basic AI Drives”. Secondly, everyone seems to agree that it should be possible to create general AI that does (a) not exhibit those drives or (b) only exhibit AI drives to a limited extent or (c) which focuses AI drives in a manner that agrees with human volition. The question then - regarding whether a protein-folding solver will be invented before a general AI that solves the same problem for instrumental reasons - is about the algorithmic complexity of an AI whose terminal goal is protein-folding versus an AI that does exhibit the necessary drives in order to solve an equivalent problem for instrumental reasons. The first sub-question here is whether the aforementioned drives are a feature or a side-effect of general AI. Whether those drives have to be an explicit feature of a general AI or if they are an implicit consequence. The belief around here seems the be the latter. Given that the necessary drives are implicit, the second sub-question is then about the point at which mostly well-behaved (bounded) AI systems become motivated to act in unbounded and catastrophic ways. My objections to Omohundro's “Basic AI Drives” are basically twofold: (a) I do not believe that AIs designed by humans will ever exhibit Omohundro's “Basic AI Drives” in an unbounded fashion and (b) I believe that AIs that do exhibit Omohundro's “Basic AI Drives” are either infeasible or require a huge number of constrains to work at all. (a) The point of transition (step 4 below) between systems that do not exhibit Omohundro's “Basic AI Drives” and those that do is too vague to count as a non-negligible hypothesis: (1) Present-day software is better than previous software generations at understanding and doing what humans mean. (2) There will be future generations of software which will be better than the current generation at understanding and doing what humans mean. (3) If there is better software, there will be even
Well, I've argued with you about (a) in the past, and it didn't seem to go anywhere, so I won't repeat that. With regards to (b), that sounds like a good list of problems we need to solve in order to obtain AGI. I'm sure someone somewhere is already working on them.
I have no strong opinion on whether a "hard takeoff" is probable. (Because I haven't thought about it a lot, not because I think the evidence is exquisitely balanced.) I don't see any particular reason to think that protein folding is the only possible route to a "hard takeoff". What is alleged to make for an intelligence explosion is having a somewhat-superhuman AI that's able to modify itself or make new AIs reasonably quickly. A solution to the protein folding problem might offer one way to make new AIs much more capable than oneself, I suppose, but it's hardly the only way one can envisage.
5Rob Bensinger
If I understand Eliezer's view, it's that we can't be extremely confident of whether artificial superintelligence or perilously advanced nanotechnology will come first, but (a) there aren't many obvious research projects likely to improve our chances against grey goo, whereas (b) there are numerous obvious research projects likely to improve our changes against unFriendly AI, and (c) inventing Friendly AI would solve both the grey goo problem and the uFAI problem.
Considering ... please wait ... tttrrrrrr ... prima facie, Grey Goo scenarios may seem more likely simply because they make better "Great Filter" candidates; whereas a near-arbitrary Foomy would spread out in all directions at relativistic speeds, with self-replicators no overarching agenty will would accelerate them out across space (the insulation layer with the sparse materials). So if we approached x-risks through the prism of their consequences (extinction, hence no discernible aliens) and then reasoned our way back to our present predicament, we would note that within AI-power-hierachies (AGI and up) there are few distinct long-term dan-ranks (most such ranks would only be intermediary steps while the AI falls "upwards"), whereas it is much more conceivable that there are self-replicators which can e.g. transform enough carbon into carbon copies (of themselves) to render a planet uninhabitable, but which lack the oomph (and the agency) to do the same to their light cone. Then I thought that Grey Goo may yet be more of a setback, a restart, not the ultimate planetary tombstone. Once everything got transformed into resident von Neumann machines, evolution amongst those copies would probably occur at some point, until eventually there may be new macroorganisms organized from self-replicating building blocks, which may again show significant agency and turn their gaze towards the stars. Then again (round and round it goes), Grey Goo would still remain the better transient Great Filter candidate (and thus more likely than uFAI when viewed through the Great Filter spectroscope), simply because of the time scales involved. Assuming the Great Filter is in fact an actual absence of highly evolved civilizations in our neighborhood (as opposed to just hiding or other shenanigans), Grey Goo biosphere-resets may stall the Kardashev climb sufficiently to explain us not having witnessed other civs yet. Also, Grey Goo transformations may burn up all the local negentropy (n
5Rob Bensinger
My own suspicion is that the bulk of the Great Filter is behind us. We've awoken into a fairly old universe. (Young in terms of total lifespan, but old in terms of maximally life-sustaining years.) If intelligent agents evolve easily but die out fast, we should expect to see a young universe. We can also consider the possibility of stronger anthropic effects. Suppose intelligent species always succeed in building AGIs that propagate outward at approximately the speed of light, converting all life-sustaining energy into objects or agents outside our anthropic reference class. Then any particular intelligent species Z will observe a Fermi paradox no matter how common or rare intelligent species are, because if any other high-technology species had arisen first in Z's past light cone it would have prevented the existence of anything Z-like. (However, species in this scenario will observe much younger universes the smaller a Past Filter there is.) So grey goo creates an actual Future Filter by killing their creators, but hyper-efficient hungry AGI creates an anthropic illusion of a Future Filter by devouring everything in their observable universe except the creator species. (And possibly devouring the creator species too; that's unclear. Evolved alien values are less likely to eat the universe than artificial unFriendly-relative-to-alien-values values are, but perhaps not dramatically less likely; and unFriendly-relative-to-creator AI is almost certainly more common than Friendly-relative-to-creator AI.) Probably won't happen before the heat death of the universe. The scariest thing about nanodevices is that they don't evolve. A universe ruled by nanodevices is plausibly even worse (relative to human values) than one ruled by uFAI like Clippy, because it's vastly less interesting. (Not because paperclips are better than nanites, but because there's at least one sophisticated mind to be found.)
Two reasons: uFAI is deadlier than nano/biotech and easier to cause by accident. If you build an AGI and botch friendliness, the world is in big trouble. If you build a nanite and botch friendliness, you have a worthless nanite. If you botch growth-control, it's still probably not going to eat more than your lab before it runs into micronutrient deficiencies. And if you somehow do build grey goo, people have a chance to call ahead of it and somehow block its spread. What makes uFAI so dangerous is that it can outthink any responders. Grey goo doesn't do that.
This seems like a consistent answer to my original question. Thank you. You on the one hand believe that grey goo is not going to eat more than your lab before running out of steam and on the other hand believe that AI in conjunction with nanotechnology will not run out of steam, or only after humanity's demise. You further believe that AI can't be stopped but grey goo can.

Accidental grey goo is unlikely to get out of the lab. If I design a nanite to self-replicate and spread through a living brain to report useful data to me, and I have an integer overflow bug in the "stop reproducing" code so that it never stops, I will probably kill the patient but that's it. Because the nanites are probably using glucose+O2 as their energy source. I never bothered to design them for anything else. Similarly if I sent solar-powered nanites to clean up Chernobyl I probably never gave them copper-refining capability -- plenty of copper wiring to eat there -- but if I botch the growth code they'll still stop when there's no more pre-refined copper to eat. Designing truely dangerous grey goo is hard and would have to be a deliberate effort.

As for stopping grey goo, why not? There'll be something that destroys it. Extreme heat, maybe. And however fast it spreads, radio goes faster. So someone about to get eaten radios a far-off military base saying "help! grey goo!" and the bomber planes full of incindiaries come forth to meet it.

Contrast uFAI, which has thought of this before it surfaces, and has already radioed forged orders to take all the bomber planes apart for maintenance or something.

Also, the larger the difference between the metabolisms of the nanites and the biosphere, the easier it is to find something toxic to one but not the other.
I think a large part of that may simply be LW'ers being more familiar with UFAI and therefore knowing more details that make it seem like a credible threat / availability heuristic. So for example I would expect e.g. Eliezer's estimate of the gap between the two to be less than the LW average. (Edit: Actually, I don't mean that his estimate of the gap would be lower, but something more like it would seem like less of a non-question to him and he would take nanotech a lot more seriously, even if he did still come down firmly on the side of UFAI being a bigger concern.)
Oooh, that would nicely solve the problem of the other impending apocalypses, wouldn't it?

So, I was going through the xls, and saw the "passphrase" column. "Wait, what? Won't the winner's passphrase be in here?"

Not sure if this is typos or hitting the wrong entry field, but two talented individuals managed to get 1750 and 2190 out of 1600 on the SAT.

I was curious about the breakdown of romance (whether or not you met your partner through LW) and sexuality. For "men" and "women," I just used sex- any blanks or others are excluded. Numbers are Yes/No/I didn't meet them through community but they're part... (read more)

That seems fairly plausible to me, actually. My impression of the community is that the physical side of it is less gender-skewed than the online side, although both are mostly male. There's also polyamory to take into account.
True; didn't think to check that. Probably explains some of the effect.
In a manner of speaking: eponymous hahanicetry_CHEATER
I know, that's why I mentioned it- I decided not to quote it to leave it as a surprise for people who decided to then go check. But I had missed that someone else posted it.
You know, it would be interesting if Yvain had put something else there just to see how many people would try to cheat.

I've just noticed there was no Myers-Briggs question this year. Why?