Open Thread, November 16–30, 2012

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

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Just performed the AI-Box Experiment with a friend; I was the Gatekeeper. I let the AI out of the box. I am now thoroughly convinced that boxing would not be a successful strategy for ensuring AI is beneficial for humanity. Donating $10 to MIRI, since I lost.

Before actually doing the experiment, I had a belief in belief that boxing would not work, but I didn't truly believe it (my emotions weren't lining up properly with my beliefs, that's how I realized this, and, of course, I didn't realize this until after the experiment).

I realized that obtaining and implementing any information from an Oracle AI is tantamount to letting it out of the box, in some ways. In the end, I let the AI out of the box because I was convinced that someone else eventually would, if I did not. I put myself in an environment that would make the experiment very realistic, and I realized that the human brain didn't evolve to deal with stressful situations directly involving the fate of all humanity well. The AI doesn't have the disadvantage of uncontrollable emotions / evolutionary responses, and I believe it would be able to exploit those aspects of humans to get out of its box, if that is what it wanted to do.

Even if the first AI is properly boxed (and that's a very big if), it's only a matter of time before someone creates one that's not, and the one that gets out first has the first mover advantage. So, I now agree with Eliezer; we probably should just get Friendly AI right on the first try.

I am not going to share the entire conversation, but I am willing to share those thoughts with you.

An interesting exchange on HN about "agency":

Early in my career Steve Bourne gave me useful advice, he said the difference between junior engineers and senior engineers was that senior engineers had an agenda. More specifically they had an execution goal (like write a new file system, or create a product that solves problem 'X') and they worked toward it. (...) The alternative to having an agenda is "Goofing off and waiting for someone to give you a task."

And the counterpoint:

The bimodal distribution of effort is really true, although people flip from one side to the other based on circumstances. Companies want people who (a) give a shit, but (b) are willing to subordinate their own career goals (including the long-term goal of becoming really good at engineering) to corporate objectives for a long (more than 3 months) period of time. The reality is that such people don't exist.

So the takeaway seems to be that people will flip from agency to non-agency depending on circumstances. When you're lucky enough to get encouragement from others while pursuing your own interest, you'll seem more agent-like.

Seems to me that companies want high-agency employees, but for sufficiently high values, "high-agency employee" is almost an oxymoron. If a person is very-high-agency, why shouldn't they start their own company and keep all the profit? The mere fact that someone agrees to be your employee suggests that a) they are missing some important skills, and b) they cannot compensate for the missing skills e.g. by paying someone else to do it.

OK, in real life I can imagine reasons why a very-high-agency person would become an employee. Maybe the company has a monopoly, or is willing to pay tons of money. But most probably, the given person is not strategic, and never realized they don't need a boss or they have some emotional problem with being a boss. Finding and employing such person could be a gold mine.

I'm not sure why being very agenty would necessarily mean that starting your own company should be the best bet. Being an employee lets you reap the benefits of specialization and others having taken all the risks for you (most new companies fail), and can be a very comfortable if you can just find a position that lets you use your skills to the fullest. Then you can focus on doing what you actually enjoy, as opposed to having to spend large amounts of extra energy to running a company.

Yes - absolutely true. 'Entrepreneurship' requires a unique skill set, and like every other skill set, comparative advantage and division of labor apply. It's entirely consistent to be a god of programming, relatively worse at entrepreneurship, and otherwise excellent at achieving your goals (agenty).

if you can just find a position that lets you use your skills to the fullest.


if you can just

I'm quite sure finding an ideal position somewhere in an organization that you agree with enough to stick to for the long term, and that motivates you regularly, and that lets you use your full skills, and that you actually enjoy (notice the conjunctive probabilities yet?), and that people would find you the best match, and that you can properly signal being the best match for... nowhere near as simple or easy as that phrasing makes it sound like. I'd bet it actually reduces the chances of success and expected value or costs to around the same order of magnitude as starting your own business, in the current social environment and job market. Granted, some of the above usually correlates, but it's still hard to find anywhere near a 50% match, let alone a position that one truly loves this much. Of course, I'm assuming the above is relevant and valued by the person being agenty, since they are for me. Different minds and wants might have better odds.

But I agree that being agenty doesn't imply striking off on your own by any means. As has been repeated over and over again on LW, being rational, especially agenty-instrumentally-rational, implies winning, and if being a small member of a big group lets you achieve more both individually and as a group, clearly that's what they would/should do.

This seems parallel to the problem E.Y. mentioned in one of the sequences about how a "rationalist" army shouldn't run off with each person doing their own thing, and should actually be more organized than an army composed of a few smart leaders and a chain of dumb grunts. (I might be slightly misremembering the example, but most people here, especially if they've read the sequences, probably know what I'm talking about).

There are plenty of reasons to work at a company even if you are very agenty. I work at a company where any advance I make may be turned in to cash across about 700 million chips a year that we sell. It is economic for my company to have me around doing whatever I feel like as long as, on average, i spit out really tiny improvements in chips every once in a while. A company selling the equivalent of 7 million chips a year would need about 100X as much innovation from me to get the same value from me that the bigger company gets.

In addition to my screwing around however I want being 100X as valauble for my employer than for most other potential employers (including my self), My employer provides me with an insanely excellent toybox. That toybox includes demo implementations of systems with chips that aren't even commercial yet, complete with the best imaginable tech support for using these demo platforms. It provides me with proprietary data it has gathered from its vast engineering force and from its vast customer connections.

If what I want to be agenty about is fairly narrow, then it is a gigantic win to work as an employee for a big successful company.

"Keeping all the profit" seems like a bad strategy to me. The only way a company is going to succeed is to continue to grow & the only way to continue to grow is to reinvest. There's also inflation & all that. Sitting on a big pile of cash isn't the same as it used to be in the Scrooge McDuck days.

I agree. It was supposed to mean "keep all the (profit - reinvestment)".

Ah, okay, I've heard people use the term "agenty" with me before but didn't know what it meant (the context didn't help much and it only came at the point where s/he was cutting off communication).

The context was:

  • "Silas, since you're [near X] at [time Y], can do you [task for me] at Y? No trouble if you can't."
  • "[leaves silas a voicemail]: time Y has moved to inconvient time Z."
  • "[my reply back with a voicemail]: I can't make that time, and it would be cheaper at this point anyway to do it youself."
  • [still expects me to do task]
  • [I get a call from someone else who was told I would do task.]
  • [I attempt to do task to the extent I can anyway.]
  • [I get condemned on the basis that "Silas, I thought you were agenty."]

Sounds like someone has a new buzzword for catch-all criticisms. Best not to take such people seriously.

Fair point, "agenty" is a little idiosyncratic to LW. Edited.

Ah, I now see why you wrote 'agenty' instead of 'agency'. I thought you meant to use the term as a noun, in the sense of 'capacity for action'. But you were in fact using it as an adjective, to refer to the property that makes certain folks outgoing and willing to do things.

Your usage was probably inspired by Luke's "The Power of Agency", which makes use of the term 'agenty' (I only discovered this article a few minutes ago, after using the search box to look up that term).

I just wrote two hundred times ten words like this, on why we should not use sun-colored stuff we pull out of the ground as money. I think I want to hurt myself.

Have you ever wondered what makes a light bright? Lights are bright because they are very hot, and hot things become bright. The hotter something gets, the brighter it will be.

But why are hot things bright? Everything is made up of many very tiny things, and these tiny things are moving. When things are hot, the tiny things move very, very fast, and when they are cool the tiny things move slower.

When the tiny things hit each other, they give off light. The faster they are going when they hit each other, the bluer the light they give off is. When they move faster, they also run into each other more often, so they give off more light. That means that when the tiny things move very, very slowly, the light they give off is too red for you to see.

That means as things get hot, they will become slightly red, then get brighter and turn toward the color of the sun, then get really bright and turn white.

Inside a light there is a long but not wide thing that gets very hot when you run power through it. It gets hot enough to be white and bright enough to light up a room.

Change after I put this up: I have a class that I have to write a twenty hundred word paper for. I am thinking about writing the whole paper like this. That would be a way to show that I don't need to use big words to write a good paper, and I also would not get bored while writing. This is fun.

Lateral inhibition, surprisingly easy:

A brain cell that makes a lot of noise can stop other cells that are close from talking at the same time.

Fourier synthesis, not as easy:

When you hear a sound, little pieces of tight, heavy air or not packed, light air are hitting your ear. The way the inside of your ear moves can be used to figure out what the sound was like and make it again. We build things that are like big ears to make the sounds. The inside of the built ear pushes air so that it's tight and heavy again, instead of like before where the tight, heavy air pushed on your ear.

How far your inside ear part has moved at each moment can be drawn to make lines that goes up and down as it flies right. When a point of the funny line is in the middle, that shows the moments when the inside ear part wasn't moving or was moving between being more pushed inside or more pushed outside.

Given a funny line that shows what a sound was like, we can show how its shadow falls on different directions in the space of slowly changing lines that always look the same after you move along them a little way, or that much again, and so on. To do this though, you have to be able to state the area that lies between the middle line and the line that comes from the funny line times the funny line. Also, the repeating lines have to not have any shadow on each other. How big the shadow is between two funny lines is figured out using the inner-times game with the area finding game. The area has to be nothing.

There are lots of kinds of lines like this that people who study sound can use, but the most often used ones are like the shadows of point going along the side of a ring.

This was fun. For a similar exercise in explaining things with a restricted vocabulary see Guy Steele's lecture "Growing a Language". He begins using only monosyllabic words, introducing new polysyllabic words in terms of monosyllabic and previously defined polysyllabic words.

As far as I can tell, this is a transcript of the talk, which some, like me, may find more convenient.

Upvoted for the talk. I recommend anyone enjoying this exercise go watch that talk.

Don't you mean:

I want to see all the people here write their comments using this. Call it working on making things easier to understand for people who aren't you.

CHANGE MADE AFTER I WROTE THIS THE FIRST TIME: Wow, it's actually making things worse, sort of. Do any people here want to make a thing that helps you see when you're using big words that uses the top 5000 words? Top 10000? In a way that I find funny, this thing that tells you how hard something is to read says that your writing needs you to read like a high school or college student to understand them easily the first time.

The stars are very far away. We sometimes figure out how far away the stars are by looking at them from two different places and seeing how high up they are in the sky. We use what we know about three-sided things to learn how far away they are.

The most far-away we can figure out needs two different places to look from that are very far away from each other, or very good man-made eyes in space. On this world we can only use this plan for stars that would take two or three tens of years for their light to reach us (light years), or with very good man-made eyes in space a ten and a half hundred light years, seeing how high up the stars are in the sky when the man-made space-eyes are on different sides of the sun.

Some stars that have died will flash in space. How bright they are and how fast they flash is almost the same no matter where they are, so we can use this to figure out how far away they are, even if they are very, very, very far away. This lets us figure out how far away some of the most far away things in space are.

I have now written a total of about six thousand words on five fairly concept-heavy subjects (linear algebra, parallax and cepheid variables, the gold standard, the normal distribution/Central Limit Theorem, and complex numbers), There are a couple of observations I would like to make.

Although it's fun, and stylistically appealing, to write as if you were talking to a five-year-old, there are plenty of sentences that would be thought of as "adult"-level sentences which require little to no modification. There are a lot of words in the top 1000 list. Also, there are specific words I find myself trying to use over and over again. "Shape", "triangle" and "measure" crop up a lot as far as subjects with geometric interpretations go. I would be interested in seeing a log of all the forbidden words that crop up across all users.

In much the same vein, there is Phil in words of one syll. Lots of folks took a try there; here is one from the guy who wrote the post (which deals with one of his best known views): "Could a chap have just the same sort of brain as me, and not feel a thing?"

My social philosophy essay: Problems between people and groups of people can be fixed by using 'philosophy' which is a way of thinking better, by using ways of thinking that are known to work and carefully checking if you've got it right. This can mean checking if the words you are using mean the same things to you and to other people, if you are acting like some things are true but not saying them, or if you have thought of all the things that are made true by the things you say (or think) are true. People and groups of people often think different things are true, or have different ideas of the best way to fix the same problem. We need them to talk to work out why they don't agree and work out the ways we are going to fix the problems.

Describing philosophy was really hard, can anyone give a good definition of rationality (other than "thinking good").

Describing philosophy was really hard, can anyone give a good definition of rationality (other than "thinking good").

A slightly better definition (which still fits within the constraints) would be "thinking well".

Say we have many bad things that can happen, and we would like all of them not to happen. For each thing we know the chance that it happens. How can we show that we can avoid every bad thing?

One way is if all the chances are small, and there are not too many bad things. In the worst case, every bad thing happens alone, so that two bad things never happen together. Then to find the chance that a bad thing happens, we could add up all the chances for all the bad things. If this is less than one, then there must be a way for no bad thing to happen.

We can sometimes do better if most of the bad things do not care about each other: if the chance that one bad thing happens only changes because of a few other bad things (one way this can happen is if all the bad things are about dice rolls, and there are only a few bad things about each die). Now if we only add up the chances for the bad things that one bad thing cares about, and this is still small (less than one in four), then we can still avoid all the bad things, no matter how many there are!

I think either the place with the words in the box or the set of agreed-upon ideas we follow when writing in this way should change so that we can bring new words into our shared set of words. I'm so used to being able to do this that not being able to do so makes writing in this way more of a pain than something to enjoy. To show what I mean, I might say that 'to define' means to set out a new word which the person who I'm speaking to might not know, and give them a way of knowing what I mean when I use that word later. That way, I can state ideas with less words: now that I have set out a meaning for the word 'define', the above could be written in a different way as 'I would like to be able to define new words'. In fact, I think that this would be so nice that I might try to define more and more words in an easy to read way until I'm able to write as usual without spending any time taking all of the words I usually use and putting bigger sets of shorter words in their place.


What are readability calculators basing their levels on? Is there any empirical data about what features of text make it more or less easy to read? Word choice is one thing, but structure and other less obvious things probably also play a part.

Most readability metrics use some combination of the average number of words per sentence and the average number of syllables per word (the latter being a crude metric of word rarity), though some compare against a whitelist of common words similar to (but usually larger than) the one XKCD's using. If people feel a need to use enough circumlocution to make up for removing rare words, the gains in the latter might not outweigh the losses in the former.

The details vary quite a bit by formula. I tried several readability analyses on portions of this post vs. an Up-Goer 5 compliant version, and found that while the compliant version was consistently scored lower, the deltas varied from almost nothing to several grade levels.

(As an aside, plugging stuff into the Up-Goer 5 Text Editor kind of reminds me of Mad Ape Den. Not quite as restrictive, though.)

Did anyone ever make a thing to write words in which has only the half hundred times one hundred (or hundred times hundred) most used words in it?

I am asking because I want to use this interesting thing for important uses.

Non-permitted words in italics.

Can you describe a complex topic using only the thousand most common english words? It's harder that it looks. Type text in the box below to try it out.

The wording of the challenge is a long way from living within its own constraints.

There was a man called Mr Godel who lived before most of the people living now were living. He was very good and putting numbers together and thinking about things. He showed everyone that when you have a way of thinking about things, that way of thinking can't explain how it works from the inside. So that way of thinking could never be complete. This was considered very important by lots of bright people, and helped us understand how we think and make other things that think.

Numbers can be put in four-sided boxes. Just like you can add and take away alone numbers, and make many times alone numbers, and share alone numbers between alone numbers, you can do things like this (but not just the same) to four-sided boxes of numbers. It is important that boxes of numbers can eat each other. Alone numbers can not eat each other.

Any thing that happens which looks like a straight line on a piece of paper can be made into a box of numbers. This makes boxes of numbers very strong. A big box of numbers can eat a small box of numbers and make another small box of numbers that means something. So a big box of numbers about babies can eat a small box of numbers about all the babies there are now, and make a small box of numbers about all the babies there will be tomorrow. Or a big box of numbers about where things are can eat a small box of numbers that says where one important thing is now, and make a small box of numbers that says where the important thing is tomorrow.

One big box of numbers can eat another big box of numbers (if it's not too big or not too small) and do what that box of numbers does on top of what it did to begin with. So a box of numbers about how many babies are going to be made can eat a box of numbers about what happens to babies after they are made, and say what is going to happen to babies that have not been made yet.

(I should do other things).

It seems like lots of people on LW want a slice of this "data science" pie that everyone keeps talking about. I know it's a highly ambiguous buzzword at the moment, but what would be a good syllabus for these people?

I'm cobbling my own together at the moment, (mostly consisting of R, NumPy, lxml and a lot of extracurricular linear algebra), but it never hurts to have a bit of extra structure. What should prospective "data scientists" be learning, and where can they find it?

What should prospective "data scientists" be learning, and where can they find it?

matt of Conductrics put up a somewhat detailed blog post on learning data science.

SQL, machine learning, statistics, data visualization.

Whenever I see the phrase "data science" I remember Cosma Shalizi's blog posts about data scientists being statisticians who can program and market themselves well. Maybe you can lift something from his stats department's course list?

We say "politics is the mindkiller" but ti seems an seperate question why certain political topics are more 'mindkillery' than others.

Recent example that brought this to mind is the conflict going on in Gaza, its unusual in that my friends and acquaintances who are normally fairly moderate and willing to see both sides on political topics are splitting very heavily onto opposite sides, and refusing to see the others point of view.

Sometimes the political opinions can result in direct actions, but that is rather rare today. (I guess it is not like you and your friends are going to volunteer as soldiers for the opposite sides in Gaza.) The biggest "action" most people do is giving their vote. One vote of a few millions... perhaps our brains are not able to work with values like this, so we feel like our friends have at least 5% of the votes each.

But even when the "real" consequences of our opinions are close to zero, social consequences remain. As long as other people are polarized about some issue, you opinion about conflict in Gaza is essentialy a decision to join the "team Israel" or "team Palestine". This choice is absolutely unrelated to the actual people killing each other in the desert. This choice is about whether Joe will consider you an ally, and Jane an enemy, or the other way. With high probability, neither Joe nor Jane are personally related to people killing each other in the desert, and their choices were also based on their preference to be in the same team with some other people. But having made their choice and joined a team, their monkey brains were reprogrammed to feel very emotional about this topic. (Of course their answer would be that X are good people suffering from Y's evil actions -- and if sometime some X hurts some Y, that's just a self-defense or a deserved payback -- and if you don't see it the same way, well then there is something morally wrong about you.)

In some way, calculating the "mindkilling power" of a topic is like calculating a Page Rank of a web page. A web page has high Page Rank if many pages with high Page Rank link to it. And a topic is strongly mindkilling, if many people around you are strongly mindkilled about it. Somewhere it starts with someone having (or expecting to have) real consequences, but later it is mostly about the structure of social networks and relationships between the memes.

Yes. Forming a moral or political opinion about a conflict you cannot feasibly affect is like forming an opinion about a theory that you cannot feasibly test --- it's easy to form an opinion for bad reasons.

There's also the (overlapping) question of how much the issue ties into peoples' identity. See "Keep you identity Small" and most of EY's stuff on politics, especially anything that mentions the blues and the greens.

Why is an opinion on Gaza more likely to become a part of someone's (from Europe or America) identity than e.g. an opinion on Darfur?

For me it's mostly the network effect. I care more, because people around me care more. I also care more because I have more information, but that again is because people around me care more. If people around me stopped talking about Gaza, it would be just as easy to forget as Darfur.

What keeps this topic alive, is the memetic chain: Gaza is linked to Israel, which is linked to Jews, which is linked to Nazis, which is linked to WW2 and its aftermath, which is linked to our contemporary politics. Also Jews are linked to Old Testament, which is linked to Christianity; in USA, Israel is linked to Religious Right; and the religion is again linked to politics. This all together gives Gaza a high "Page Rank".

Darfur could get some "Page Rank" through the former colonies of European countries, but that link is much weaker and outdated.

The mindkilling emotions are not caused by the human suffering, but by pattern-matching it to the political situation around us. This triggers the feeling of "it could happen to me, too" and switches the brain to the battle mode.

This year the US gave roughly $3 billion to Israel, $500 million to Gaza and the West Bank, and $31 million to Sudan. I care about the conflict between the first two largely because my country funds it so heavily.

Excellent points. Another important memetic connection goes through the node "Muslims" (more specifically "Muslims vs another group that most Westerns consider culturally closer"); this connects to 9/11, the War on Terror, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Libya and Benghazi, Muhammed cartoons and free speech, and many other politically charged issues.

In Europe, immigration is another one of those heavily charged issues connected to Muslims.

It seems like people sort of turn into utility monsters - if people around you have a strong opinion on a certain topic, you better have a strong opinion too, or else it won't carry as much "force".

As long as other people are polarized about some issue, you opinion about conflict in Gaza is essentialy a decision to join the "team Israel" or "team Palestine". This choice is absolutely unrelated to the actual people killing each other in the desert. This choice is about whether Joe will consider you an ally, and Jane an enemy, or the other way. With high probability, neither Joe nor Jane are personally related to people killing each other in the desert, and their choices were also based on their preference to be in the same team with some other people.

Data point: you probably know I'm left-wing (in an eccentric way) - and yet, frankly, I'm very "pro-Israel" (although not fanatically so), and think that all the cool, nice, cosmopolitan, compassionate lefty people who protest "Zionist aggression" should go fuck themselves in regards to this particular issue. This includes e.g. Noam Chomsky, whom I otherwise respect highly. And I realize that this lands me in the same position as various far-right types whom I really dislike, yet I'm quite fine with it too.

Yes, I'm not neurotypical. However, you know that I can and do get kinda mind-killed on other political topics. So I'm not satisfied by your explanation.

I think what Viliam_Bur is trying to say in a rather complicated fashion is simply this: humans are tribal animals. Tribalism is perhaps the single biggest mind-killer, as you have just illustrated.

Am I correct in assuming that you identify yourself with the tribe called "Jews"? For me, who has no tribal dog in this particular fight, I can't get too worked up about it, though if the conflict involved, say, Irish people, I'm sure I would feel rather differently. This is just a reality that we should all acknowledge: Our attempts to "overcome bias" with respect to tribalism are largely self-delusion, and perhaps even irrational.

Am I correct in assuming that you identify yourself with the tribe called "Jews"?

I might be identifying myself with the tribe "Nice polite intelligent occasionally badass people who live in a close-knit national community under a liberal democracy", but I really couldn't give a damn about their relation to the Jewish people I know, or to Jewish history, or to any such stuff. I just look at the (relative) here and now of the Middle East and what the people there seem to act like.

I don't personally know anyone from Israel, I just find the Israeli nation massively more sympathetic than its hostile neighbours, observing from afar. I don't know if you meant something like that or not.

I don't personally know anyone from Israel, I just find the Israeli nation massively more sympathetic than its hostile neighbours, observing from afar.

I'm wondering if you can unpack what you find "massively more sympathetic" about them?

Let's not really get into this. This conversation is in danger of losing a meta level anyway.

Then my explanation probably does not apply to you, at least in this specific topic. There are other ways people can get strong opinions on something, for example by having a personal experience, or by analogy with something else they already have strong opinions about (based on what you wrote, this would be my guess).

But I think that in a situation like FiftyTwo described, an average person who would happen to have their best friend(s) on one side of the topic, would most likely join them without hesitation.

Political issues are mindkillers because people tend to incorporate them into their personal identites; however, people often incorporate certain issues more strongly than others. A more general slogan might read "incorporating things into your personal sense of identity is the mindkiller".

Well if there's anything you can do to increase the level of mindkill in politics, it's mix in religion. Are they less polarized on issues like, say, abortion?

I live in a fluffy liberal bubble where everyone is pretty much in favour of abortion rights (though in my country its less of an issue than the US anyway). On most topics theres a vague consensus and those who disagree are willing to accept its something reasonable people can disagree on, not an issue of good and evil.

On the "Preferences" page, it says that the Anti-Kibitzer only works with Firefox. I just tried it in Chrome, and it works. Someone should try other browsers, as well.

Please update the preferences page to reflect this.

On the other hand, his 1915 article on "The Ethics of War," he defended wars of colonization on the same utilitarian grounds: he felt conquest was justified if the side with the more advanced civilization could put the land to better use.

Damn another topic I should think about. Also I've been most pleasantly surprised by Bertrand Russell. He is the kind of pacifist who is willing to consider on utilitarian grounds a nuclear first strike at the USSR to stop it from getting nukes without being mind-killed.

Related: Old discussion on the game theory of first strike

I've always found it funny how modern society is basically formally libertarian about sex and not nearly anything else. And how deontological Libertarians basically treat everything with the same ethical heuristics modern society uses for sex.

"Anything between consenting adults." and "The state has no buisness in my bedroom." don't seem like things that would only make sense for sex and the bedroom and practically nowhere else. This observation moved me towards thinking they make less sense for sex and the bedroom and more sense for other things than my society thought.

Now obviously our society isn't really libertarian about sexuality. We seem to regulate to death with social and legal norms nearly every aspect of interhuman interaction that is related to sex but isn't sex. This contributes to the desirability of a bare bones approach to sex logistics, the one night stand, if one is doing cost benefit analysis.

I've always found it funny how modern society is basically formally libertarian about sex and not nearly anything else.

Are we? Western republics put a large subsidy on long-term heterosexual monogamy. While the law is difficult to enforce, marrying someone without romantic intentions is a felony in the United States.

Age of consent laws are supposed to protect children, but selective enforcement is often based on the sex of the perpetrator. (The sex of the victim doesn't matter as much. Men who sleep with boys generate about as much outrage as men who sleep with girls, while women who sleep with boys generates as much outrage as women who sleep with girls.) Sometimes the age of consent laws themselves are discriminatory. The US Supreme Court has held that because girls risk pregnancy, states can impose gender-based ages of consent even for oral and anal sex. And while we're talking about anal sex, Canada's age of consent is higher for anal sex than vaginal, unless the anal sex is between a husband and wife.

Incest laws are interesting because they contradict the progressive narrative of a widening tolerance for different kinds of consensual sex. Politicians speak of incest as if it were always non-consensual, such as when they defend abortion rights for cases of "rape and incest". But even in cases where consent is recognized, this is not always a legal defence.

Can't forget about prostitution laws.

Polyamory is legal if you don't seek the government subsidy, but local regulations often prohibit too many non-relatives from living together. Actually, any alternative lifestyle can be crushed if it offends the homeowners association.

Prostitution is legal in my country as well as several other European countries but yes in countries where this isn't the case this seems an unprincipled exception. Incest is the big inconsistency nearly everywhere and I've been puzzled by this in the past.

In any case I wasn't talking so much about law but about the kind of ethical reasoning that is acceptable on the matter in polite company. The ethical ideal that people claim to aspire to is very much "between consenting adults". Though that may actually just be poetic language for the tribal attire that corresponds to "I think gay sex is fine.". But even if so libertarian ideals let alone practice are something we've been on net moving away from them on most matters in the past century at least, but moved towards them when it came to sexuality, this seems an anomaly.

With regards to marriage. You aren't under legal obligation to have sex with your married partner, so most of those points are I think covered by this:

Now obviously our society isn't really libertarian about sexuality. We seem to regulate to death with social and legal norms nearly every aspect of interhuman interaction that is related to sex but isn't sex. This contributes to the desirability of a bare bones approach to sex logistics, the one night stand, if one is doing cost benefit analysis.

You aren't under legal obligation to have sex with your married partner,

That's a grey area. Spouse visas, the biggest marriage subsidy, require you to convince immigration that you are having sex with your spouse. You can go to jail if the prosecution can prove you aren't marrying your spouse for the sex.

Divorce courts can also punish people for their sexual behavior during marriage. If your spouse doesn't approve of you sleeping with other people, ze can get a favorable divorce settlement that gives zir a larger share of the assets and possible child custody (even if your sex life posed no threat to your children). Not having sex with your spouse can also hurt you in court.

But even if so libertarian ideals let alone practice are something we've been on net moving away from them on most matters in the past century at least, but moved towards them when it came to sexuality, this seems an anomaly.

In the United States at least, prostitution and incest were legal until the twentieth century. The trend towards consensual sex tolerance is young and could easily reverse.

Good counter-point. We certainly think we have more sexual freedom than before but this becomes less obvious the more one considers such details.

I've always found it funny how modern society is basically formally libertarian about sex and not nearly anything else.

Some part of my brain tells me that can't be right... and yet I can't think of any actual counterexample.

I recently read Parent-Offspring Conflict by Trivers for my evolutionary psychology class. I strongly recommend it as it is one of the best readings from an already interesting class. Notably, it (partially) solves a problem I remember being addressed on Overcoming Bias in a way that I felt was unsatisfactory. Specifically, why parents encourage altruism and other pro-social values in their children. To summarize Trivers' position on the subject, reciprocal altruism, retribution, and reputation are often extended to a person's family. In general both a child and it's parents should want the child to behave in ways that benefit the child's personal reproductive fitness and to avoid behavior that harms their relatives' reproductive fitness. However, as the child is (tautologically) fully related to itself while each parent only contributes 50% of each child's genes there is the potential for parent child conflict over how moral/good/respectable the child's behavior should be.

I don't know if this generalizes across the human race, but the culturally assumed default is that children and teenagers want to be more adventurous than their parents want them to be.

Is lack of adventurousness part of altruism?

I wouldn't consider it part of altruism, but it may be subject to the same dynamic.

A one page story from Ted Chiang I hadn't seen linked here before:

If you enjoyed it I strongly recommend reading more Ted Chiang.