Stupid Questions August 2015

by Richard Korzekwa 1 min read1st Aug 2015131 comments


Personal Blog

This thread is for asking any questions that might seem obvious, tangential, silly or what-have-you. Don't be shy, everyone has holes in their knowledge, though the fewer and the smaller we can make them, the better.

Please be respectful of other people's admitting ignorance and don't mock them for it, as they're doing a noble thing.

To any future monthly posters of SQ threads, please remember to add the "stupid_questions" tag.

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Is it possible to tame an octopus? Could humanity over several generations tame octopuses and breed them into work animals?

Most of them are pretty darn short-lived, despite their intelliigence...

4Evan_Gaensbauer6yBonus Stupid Question I remember reading about how some biologists took some wild foxes, and allowed ones which were friendlier to humans to breed. In the next generation of fox offspring, they let the friendliest ones of those litters reproduce. They repeated this several times. After some number of generations, they found these friendliest of foxes had droopy ears like domesticated dogs. This demonstrates how a simple process of artificial selection, like just selecting for friendlier animal companions, may have been sufficient to lead to the domestication of dogs. Now, my question is, could we humans do the same thing with octopi? Could we just take a population of octopi, and identify the ones which can meaningfully interact with humans in a friendly and docile way, and let them breed, and iterate this process until we have some kind of domesticated octopi? If they're not long-lived, they wouldn't make good work animals, but I want to know if octopi could at all be domesticated regardless. The fact they're short-lived might mean humans could breed domesticated octopi even faster.

I imagine a lot of the selection was indirect selection for neoteny. I think it would be much, much harder to select for domestication in octopi, as they do not raise their young.

6RichardKennaway6yWikipedia on the fox-breeding experiment [\_silver\_fox].
3Ishaan6yI'd speculate that if you did an identical breeding experiment with octopuses (as in, the breeding criteria of non-aggressively interaction with human hand) you'd breed for curious, bold, or playful octopuses which tend to approach novel stimuli ... but not friendly in the sense of affectionate. It's not that they're asocial, I think they sometimes lay eggs cooperatively and obviously seek each other out for mating... but primarily octopuses see others of their species as predators or prey. (I mean, cats do eat each other but only in bounded contexts, like infanticide, not hunting.)
2ZankerH6yOctopuses / octopodes. It's greek, not latin.
1D_Alex6yOr could we breed them for intelligence...? With such short periods between generations, we could reach superintelligence, maybe faster than other methods!
0ChristianKl6yWhat could go wrong with breeding a species that hunts their own as prey as a superintelligence?
1Pfft6yI would imagine that using foxes give you a lot more to work with though. Foxes in nature live in pairs or small groups. The children stay around the parent for a long time. So they already have mechanisms in place for social behaviours. (And even if they are not expressed, there probably are some latent possibilities shared among mammals? E.g. this article [] about the evolution of housecats notes that they independently evolved a lot of the same behaviours that lion prides use to socialise, even though wildcats are solitary.)
5Tem426yIt is not hard to tame them and train them, but I have not heard of anyone training them to do something that is functionally useful aside from the narrow area of octopus-keeping. They have been trained to get into a bucket for easy transportation, to climb out of the water and interact with their keepers 'politely', and, famously, to take photos of aquarium goers. Bus as far as underwater rescue, exploration, or hunting for artifacts, AFAIK this has not been done yet. But if for some reason we needed them to run an underwater maze -- easy!
2Sarunas6yOctopuses are solitary animals, whereas most working animals are social. Which leads to another interesting question - is it possible to breed octopuses to become social animals?
3CronoDAS6yDunno - it worked with house cats, which are far more social than their wild ancestors, although not as social as lions. (Wild cats will not share territory with others, even when food is plentiful. Feral cats will live in feral cat colonies around food sources.)
1polymathwannabe6yI have always wondered why humans never turned bears into house pets.
3Lumifer6yThey eat too much.
1tut6yWe wouldn't have kept cats either if they didn't naturally hang around our granaries helping us with our rodent problems.
1telomerase6yOctopodes use hemocyanin... use CRISPR to take that out, lenti vector to replace with hemoglobin, and you've got a super-octopus. Now just apply MIRI's magic formula for making friendly superintelligence, and you've got your tame octopus. Great basis for a TV show in the genre of "Lassie", "Flipper", or "Skippy the Bush Kangaroo". "Good on ya', Cthulipper!" Octopuses have poisonous bites, of course.... some would see that as a bad quality in a pet.

I was recently at a bar with some friends, most of which are from the same physics PhD program as me. We had a discussion about how hard it is to spend all your time around unusually intelligent people, and then go out into the real world and have conversations with normal people. It seems to be intelligence-related, because it's usually much easier to have a conversation with, for example, a psychology grad student from Singapore than with a fashion designer who lives in the same city as me.

Is this just because we have no practice talking to people of average-ish intelligence?

Is it because intelligence gaps are inherently difficult in social settings?

Is there some factor other than intelligence that's causing this?

Are we just socially inept?

(Is this more of an open thread question or stupid question?)

I think this is mostly a function of the subculture to which you belong and, specifically, which things you find interesting, exciting, important, etc. IQ, of course, is a major underlying factor, but it's not just IQ.

Each subculture also has its own social rituals and implicit communication methods so when you cross over to a different one you are very likely to have conversation difficulties -- unless your social skills are highly developed and you have some idea about how that subculture works.

5Creutzer6yThis was my first thought, too. The Singaporean psychology grad student is a member of the same culture as you; the local fashion designer is not.

Is this just because we have no practice talking to people of average-ish intelligence?

I believe a lot of practice would make talking to people with average intelligence easier. Not necessarily more satisfying, though. You will always have to debate with them at their level, while you probably enjoy debating at your level.

Is it because intelligence gaps are inherently difficult in social settings?

Could be. We naturally model other people by imagining what we would do in the same situation. If you use this algorithm to model people with much lower intelligence, you will get many predictions wrong.

Is there some factor other than intelligence that's causing this?

Sure. Rationality, culture, past experiences. All of these make modelling each other more difficult.

Are we just socially inept?

Possibly; but what exactly do you mean by "inept"? Unable to learn? -- probably not. Haven't learned yet? -- probably yes. The question is whether learning "how to communicate with normal people" is the best use of your time.

5ChristianKl6yNot all talking is debating.
7James_Miller6yI'm an economics professor at a good college. A fair number of my students are interested in fashion and have written on the topic for one of my "apply economics to anything" paper assignments. Fashion is a deeper topic than you might imagine and can justifiably attract bright minds. Prediction: A typical fashion designer and physics PhD get into a conversation. If the fashion designer wanted the PhD to greatly enjoy the conversation she could easily do this (even without doing anything sexual) but the reverse probably doesn't hold true.
5Richard Korzekwa 6yI didn't mean to suggest that being in the fashion industry implies that someone is unintelligent. I've known plenty of smart people in industries that are not traditionally thought of as being full of smart people. For this reason, I usually approach a conversation assuming that someone is good at something they do, has thought about it deeply, and has something interesting to say about it. It's usually much easier for me to tease this out with smarter people.
4Elo6yWe tend to get used to (read: lazy in a system 1 time-saving way.) the systems we are regularly engaged in. i.e. I don't often talk about the weather (and other small talk) with people of higher intelligence (unless in a meta-sense). So I sometimes feel off-guard when trying to respond in the "normal" way that people do. I usually appeal to stereotypical behaviour where there is common ground. For example - "growth mindset vs fixed mindset", The last time I talked to someone in the fashion industry I equally had a "black box" discussion, and found the bad communication experience too. But then I went on to talk about how I don't know because I had never ever gotten into it, and asked them to "teach me everything you know", which is a way to stump them back in the other direction. At the very least it get's people thinking, at the most you might get the opportunity to learn, they might get the opportunity to think, and you establish a new connection with someone you didn't think was interesting. There is something called "social intelligence" which you might not be optimising for. Which is completely fine, but can cause this sort of experience to happen. I have personally recently decided to invest more in social-intelligence. The main take-away from that concept is that there are only so many hours in the day. If you want to expend 100 hours on social intelligence learning, that's 100 less hours on learning programming or tackling UFAI, Or learning about music, fashion, communication, art, biotechnology, medicine, law... There are many things that people find valuable. Not everything is universal. I would consider social intelligence as a meta-skill, in a similar way to improving your memory, increasing your sleep quality, learning to communicate in another language, and 101 other things. It's up to you whether you want to pursue social intelligence.
5CronoDAS6yHow does one do this, besides trial and very painful error?
4Elo6yupdate: []
4Elo6yAn excellent question! I have now written a meta document of "How do I learn X" which I have sent off to a friend to be checked before I post it on Lesswrong. I will post a link (probably in the next 24 hours) to a discussion thread. I think the meta-strategy is going to be more helpful and for more people. I can write a specific list after. As a teaser: 1. Make a list of your knowledge in the area 2. Confirm what you think you know (via brief research), replace your existing knowledge with correct knowledge. 3. Make a list of the topics of knowledge in the area. 4. spend time finding the best resource (as a trade off of searching-time, $cost, time-to-cover-the-resource) 5. delve in, absorb the knowledge 6. devise ways to test yourself, and/or experiment that you have gained the knowledge. (experimental methods include controlled environments, repeated tests, evaluation) 7. teach others in order to cement your knowledge. This list is a teaser; there are more points, but you can probably cover 1-3 by the time I get to publish the list.
4adamzerner6yWhat do you mean by "hard"? Difficult? Frustrating? Boring? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I don't think that intelligence itself it causally related to any of those 3 things. * You could be "intelligent" and have "social skills". * You could be "intelligent" and not be frustrated by normal people. Maybe you're a huge humanist who just loves people so much. Maybe you don't view normal people as being at fault. Maybe your expectations are low for a number of reasons. * You could be "intelligent" and find normal people enjoyable. You probably wouldn't get to be intellectually stimulated by interactions with normal people, but you might... enjoy the "mere exposure" (humans enjoy socializing), enjoy goofing around, enjoy teaching them, enjoy their kindness, enjoy observing them as a means to better understand cognitive psychology. My guess is that intelligent people... * Who spend a lot of time in a certain in-group might "forget" what the norms of other groups are like. I mean "forget" in a "procedural" sense rather than a "declarative" one. A lot of times you might just acting according to the norms you're used to out of habit, but then realize, "oh yeah, normal people don't do this". * Intelligent people (feel that they) understand that and why a lot of the things normal people do aren't rational. I think that given a "default" perspective, this is very frustrating. But given a different perspective, it isn't necessarily frustrating (I'd love to hear more about this perspective...). * Intelligent people seem to be somewhat socialized to think that "normal pleasures" are sort of... "lesser". And so they don't derive as much joy from them, and instead need a certain amount of intellectual stimulation.
7Richard Korzekwa 6yFor a variety of reasons, I'm hesitant to share a specific example, but here is an exchange from the conversation I had recently: Me: To me, the fashion industry is this black box that has people in it, and clothing comes out of it Her (surprised, confused): It's not like that at all! Me: What I mean is that I don't know anything about how it works, except that it involves people who design clothing, and then somebody buys it Her (still confused): Yeah... <at this point I decided trying to get her to tell me about it wasn't going anywhere, so I moved on to attempt at embarrassing my friend who was standing nearby, who then got lots of unwanted attention from her> So I guess it's mainly frustrating or boring?
5ChristianKl6yThat might be understood as you expressing that you consider the fashion industry low status with a challenge for her to prove otherwise. The straightforward way to get her to tell you something about the fashion industry would be to ask her a question about it. You didn't. Most people in parties don't focus on exchange of information. If you are talking to someone who thinks conversation is about finding a topic where meaningful information can be exchanged the purpose of your remarks is more obvious than if you are talking to someone who has other goals.
3adamzerner6yHahahaha, that's really funny! "It's not like that at all" :) My understanding is that the black box analogy is understood by some normal people, but not most. How could you have made for a more enjoyable interaction? Some thoughts that come to my mind: * (Meta level: What's my goal? Enjoyable conversation? Where do our interests overlap? I like to have interesting conversations. She's probably not very smart, so her ability to have interesting conversations is probably limited to her domain. What interesting conversations could we have within her domain? What thoughts do I have about her domain? What are the likely ways she'd respond to those thoughts? Alternatives: skipping [] shallow talk and talking about emotional things is probably enjoyable. For some reason humans enjoy sharing their feelings. What's the line between interesting and creepy? Are you happy? What are your ambitions? What would you do if you didn't have to work?) * Our society's fashion seems really dark. Dark blues, blacks, browns, greys etc. I think it'd be cool if there were more color. I like to wear colorful clothing, but don't really. Mostly because it's more difficult to pair things up and I'm lazy. Which would lead to her probably giving advice, and maybe talking about color in a historical sense. Was it more colorful in the past? Will it be in the future? On that note, are there any trends in color? What about across cultures? Do any consistencies across culture say anything about design/color and human nature? * Maybe once she's been loosened up, I'd comment on how I love wearing pajama pants. Plus some stories of that. And my thoughts on how society seems to have chosen pretty uncomfortable clothes as its norms. There's probably nothing inherent about suits and khakis and jeans that look good. If we all agreed that something more comfortable was the new norm, we'd probably be
3Richard Korzekwa 6yRight! And this is why I tried to get her talking about fashion. I think your suggestion of asking more specific questions is very helpful. I'll definitely try that next time I'm having trouble with the more generic "tell me about your expertise" type questions.
2adamzerner6yYeah. One more thing - in some ways I'm a bit egocentric. So my instinct is to think about the thoughts that I have on the topic and discuss them (I tend to have a lot of thoughts about a lot of things. Or at least a lot of questions.). I notice that I didn't think too much about the strategy of evoking her strongly held opinions. But something about my more egocentric approach of pursuing lines of conversation that interest me feels more... natural/genuine, which I think often leads to good. (Not that I've had much success. I've always done well in "natural" conversations and am outgoing, but I've never been motivated enough to overcome the awkwardness of initiating conversations with random people out of nothing.)
2ChristianKl6yOn what basis do you believe that fashion designers have lower IQ?
4Richard Korzekwa 6yI will admit that when I wrote that, I was going off of blurry memories of seeing test scores. I will also admit that I kind of regret introducing the topic the way I did. I wanted to convey that I was comparing people who were both similarly removed from me culturally, but were from populations that would generally have different average intelligence from each other. In that description, I was referring to literally just "some person who said they are in the fashion industry". This includes fashion designers, accountants, HR people, photographers, janitors, (materials engineers? computer graphics engineers?) etc. But sure, let's go with fashion designers. Using IQ <==> SAT/GRE conversion tables, if you look up test scores for entering visual arts majors (I think that's what a college-educated fashion designer would study?), they average about 115 IQ, whereas GRE scores for entering psychology PhDs predict about 125-130 IQ (this one's hard, because I can only find "scaled" composite scores, rather than raw composite scores). This is about a one standard deviation difference. I mainly believe in using SAT and GRE scores as a proxy for IQ because Scott Alexander believes in this enough to pay attention to it on the LW census. Also, I have skimmed some literature on it. I've not examined it carefully, and I'm interested to hear dissenting opinions. This seems like clear evidence that your average college-educated fashion designer has a higher than average IQ, by a full standard deviation. Evidently, your average psychology PhD student (at the two competitive schools I looked at) has an IQ nearly a full standard deviation above that. Although what I said looks like the kind of thing someone would say if they thought fashion designers were stupid, that wasn't my intent.
2Ishaan6yYour culture is bounded by lexography, not geography and it simultaneously attracts and bestows the various qualities that it has defined as "intelligence".

Could putting an 850 nm wavelength LED light array on my forehead for ten minutes or so a day do me any harm? It generates a small amount of heat.

Edit: See this video for a motivation:

There are a few case studies/papers arguing it might help. It seemed to help one guy trying an RCT but the temporal patterns were weird. It didn't do me any harm; on the other hand, I didn't notice any benefit and the initial benefit seems to have been a selection/confounding effect since it disappeared after randomization.

I guess it depends on how much of your time/energy you think 10 minutes usage will cost you and if you think it's worth a shot.

I work with infrared lasers, and the main safety advice I will give you is that 850nm light will look very dim, even if it is very bright. So be careful about shining it in your eyes, because how bright it looks is misleading. That said, it does take a very bright source of visible or IR light to actually damage your eyes.

8Richard Korzekwa 6yAfter trying to imagine a way this would fail badly, I think you should make sure that whatever you do, you can remove it quickly. It's common for homemade electronics to get hot or catch fire, and you don't want to have any trouble getting if off your head if that does happen.
4ChristianKl6yIf it has a physiological effect that can reduce inflammation to some unknown process, that process also might have disadvantages and not be all positive.
4James_Miller6yMy Bayesian prior is that since my ancestors spent a lot more time in the sun than I do my body is most likely better adapted to the amount of sun that they got than what I receive.
4ZankerH6yNo way to know unless you measure its output spectrum, but as long as it's mostly IR, it shouldn't. Question though, why would you do that? I don't see the difference between using this or applying any other heat source.
3CellBioGuy6yI'm interested to know if the LEDs will be pointed inwards or outwards...
2James_Miller6yInward. Outwards would be just weird
0James_Miller6yBiohacking self-improvement light therapy supposedly to reduce inflammation. It has an immediate and noticeable effect on me, strong enough that I doubt it's just placebo. It started when I suffered long-term low-level pain in my ankle several months after twisting it (I hate aging!), and read how light exposure at the right wavelengths could help. My ankle did improve, although of course this might have been just natural healing. Then I started to consider other possible benefits of light therapy such as reducing inflammation in the brain. See this video [] .
6Username6yI have very high prior against light therapy on forehead or scalp reducing inflammation in brain. There is thick bone between skin and brain! Blood supply to skin on head is separate system to blood supply to brain. Maybe beneficial effect on skin, creates healing particles in blood, blood carry them to brain. But have to go long way round. Also cross blood-brain barrier. Phototherapy for SAD is different, more plausible, because proposed mechanism is direct via photonic stimulation of retina to influence biorhythm-generating processes. Signal passes in to brain by nerves, not blood. But rigorous self-experimentation is good idea with low-risk treatment. So I wish you good luck even though I count low chance of success, except for placebo effect.
2Gunnar_Zarncke6yMay we know the purpose of this?

Biohacking self-improvement light therapy supposedly to reduce inflammation. It has an immediate and noticeable effect on me, strong enough that I doubt it's just placebo. It started when I suffered long-term low-level pain in my ankle several months after twisting it (I hate aging!), and read how light exposure at the right wavelengths could help. My ankle did improve, although of course this might have been just natural healing. Then I started to consider other possible benefits of light therapy such as reducing inflammation in the brain. See this video.

If we're so rational why aren't we rich?

9Good_Burning_Plastic6yMostly because "we" are young -- the median LWer aged between 25 and 34 makes more money than the median American in that age range, and the median American LWer in that age range makes even more [], but only 50% of LWers are older than 26 and only 25% are older than 31 [].
2Dorikka6yI think you may have flipped this one, (so it's actually 75%). Median is something like 26 or 28.
2Good_Burning_Plastic6yYes. Thanks. Fixed.
1telomerase6yAh, I didn't know that. I'm telomere-challenged myself (Unless astragalosides actually work, in which case I now have some other problem). Hurry up and billionairize yourselves.... and stop believing your elders, you morons.
4CronoDAS6y1) Because getting rich is pretty hard. 2) Because we haven't been trying all that hard. Most people who get rich probably got there in one of three ways: 1) Be born with rich parents (or other relatives) 2) Marry someone who's already rich 3) Enter a career path in which it is possible to make lots of money, then be successful enough in that career path to become rich. My brother did #3 - he won the Goldman Sachs internship lottery, got hired into a permanent position, then, a few years later, jumped ship to a hedge fund that offered him more money than his boss was making. (He even took every one of his co-workers at his trading desk with him, much to the dismay of both his boss and his boss's boss.) I've not made the attempt. My brother worked his ass off in a way I don't want to duplicate, and it's perfectly rational to decide that there are more important things in life than the expected size of one's paycheck. ;)
4Vaniver6yWhat do you mean 'we,' Paleface?
0telomerase6yAh, an Amerind AND a billionaire! So you must be... no one on this timeline ;)
4[anonymous]6yYvain wrote an article on this: []
0telomerase6yHmmm... so if akrasia/laziness is the only problem, then Modafinil solves everything? In all seriousness and gullibility, I would expect that even a minor effort into rationality would have a large financial effect, even if you only exert it for five minutes a year when you're programming your IRA/40 whatever.
1[anonymous]6yDoes modafinal literally eliminate akrasia for you? I need to get me some of that. I think that was one factor Yvain mentioned. The other two I think are more damning to the whole idea of rationality as winning. One is that most people who are successful are rational when they need to be in their field, without having to make a formal study and be rational all the time. The other idea is that rationality is only a small small slice of what makes you successful, and that there are probably a ton of other factors that help even more. One idea that Yvain didn't mention (and actually wrote a blog post arguing against) is that maybe rationality is a red queen game. The more you study it, the more tricky your mind gets at rationalizing it's irrationalities. That view is explored here: []
1raydora6ySpeaking only from personal experience, it reduces akrasia rather than eliminates it. An odd factor is an inability to engage in pure entertainment, but I wonder if this is merely a latent psychological issue specific to me that only surfaces when taking modafinil. This seems like it's a benefit, but it can be an annoyance in regards to social interaction, almost like a classic djinn wish. Since it only lasts half a day (for me) after the first week, this isn't really a problem, though. I recommend never taking anything with caffeine in it while on modafinil, but you might not respond as strongly to it as I do. The most easily observed benefit for me has been not falling asleep while driving, watching movies, sitting, standing idly, etc.
0telomerase6yYeah, that makes sense... I certainly know people that have spent a LOT of effort maintaining their randomly chosen viewpoint. Goes back to meme theory, memes are selected for ability to stick in the mind and remove other memes. (I've never taken Modafinil, just thinking that there might be some chemical help for hunter-gatherer laziness).
3gjm6yI agree with everyone else: LW skews young (also researchy; not many PhD students are rich) and many LWers care more about other things than about getting rich, and in fact the LW population is wealthier than you would expect from age alone (though I don't know how it compares with what you'd get if you looked at, say, age, family's socioeconomic status, and IQ). I'd add: getting substantially rich takes luck as well as skill and hard work (some rich people will claim otherwise -- but they would, wouldn't they?).
0MrMind6yBecoming rich is a matter of: * caring about money enough to devote a substantial amount of time to the task; * a specific financial education; * discovering a profitable career / market niche. I've listed those in the order I think they pose an obstacle to LWers.
0Dorikka6yAs an off-the-cuff thought, much LW-content is useful for determining values and bringing strategies in alignment with those values. (I think of a hierarchy: values->strategies->campaigns->goals->actions.) It's also useful for some bug-catching and as some general tools of thought, but amassing lots of wealth is a convergent instrumental goal of many, many value setups. So value-discrimination may not really affect that, since either set of values would lead you to amass wealth. The above isn't really something that I'm confident of, and belongs in the "only posted because the alternative is not posting" bucket.

I vaguely remember reading (a few years ago) some trans-humanist literature about a land where thousands of people had to be scarified to a dragon each year (It was an analogy for death).

I don't remember the title or anything else about it though. Anyone know what I'm talking about?

[-][anonymous]6y 4

How are organised groups that consider themselves above the law formed?

Apparently the Crips gang was started as a neighbourhood watch against criminals. I'm interested in how violent groups are formed - paramilitaries and such. Anywhere where I can read more on the topic? A wikipedia article for instance. It's fascinating how someone can take a non-violent group and make it violent - I suppose there is research on the tactics - scapegoating and what not. From every field from how Jihadis are radicalised, to socialists and turned into passionate revolutionaries.

Hello. I am a young man about who's quite worried about Ai, like many here, and I'd like to know if I could help in any way.

I can't donate much money, at least not for a few years, and from reading So8res' recent post, money won't be much of an issue in a few years.

However, I am fairly intelligent, and I think I could help a little research wise. Of course, after a few years of rigorous study.

But there are many people at least as intelligent as I, so perhaps my trying to help wouldn't make any difference.

The issue is, I'm in no place to know. If someon... (read more)

3James_Miller6yYou could look at MIRI's research page [] to judge if its research is something you could contribute to. You could start by commenting on new AI related posts on LW. My guess is that in a few years time MIRI will still say that there is a high marginal benefit to them having more money. Don't let the fact that you can't donate lots of money stop you from donating small sums, even just $5 a year.
0Algon6yDoes that mean I should try and seek a high paying job? Or try and add a little more brainpower to the problem? Perhaps both? Really, my life goal for the past decade and a half was to become a physicist. But this definitely seems like something I'm obligated to support. But I will definitely try and donate whatever meagre amounts I can produce.
0James_Miller6yMy opinion is that the vast majority of smart people in rich countries can do the most good for the world by "earning to give" and seeking to earn a high salary and giving some of it to carefully chosen charities. If you have the math skills to become a physicist you might be an exception, especially if you can be of direct use to MIRI. My impression is that outside of academia some physicists earn high incomes, so you might want to consider that path.
0RomeoStevens6ySo8res gave a talk on this at the Effective Altruism Global summit, a video of which should be up in a few weeks.
0Algon6yThanks for the recommendation.
[-][anonymous]6y 3

Suppose a research team works on the methods comparability issue. (Specifically, 'is it possible to compare the percent of fungal colonization [the length of roots occupied by fungus divided by the total length of the root system], obtained by using Technique A [staining with fuchsin] with the figure for Technique B […Trypan blue]? For further specifics, see Gange et al, 'A comparision of visualisation techniques for recording arbuscular mycorrhizal colonisation', although I promise it is not required for this SQ.)

The problem with both Techniques A and B i... (read more)

1shminux6yFor a stupid questions thread the language sounds remarkably domain-specific. Consider rephrasing in ELI5.
1[anonymous]6yThere is a variable X, x belongs to [0, 100]. There are n ways of measuring it, among them A and B are widely used. For any given measurer, the difference between x(A) and x(B) can be up to 20 points. Between two any measurers, x(A)1 and x(A)2 can differ on average 10 points, likewise with B. Measurer 1 wants to know if it is meaningful to compare her results, x(A)1, with Measurer 2's results, x(B)2. Does the interval in which the true x lies include 40 points? If Measurer 1 herself establishes the difference between x(C)1 and x(D)1, where C and D are two other ways to measure x, how much more useful for any given Measurer 3 will be her results, if she also invites Measurer 2's opinion - that is, x(C)2 and x(D)2? (Is this ok?)
3gwern6yFactor analysis/measurement error/multilevel models/Value of Information: X is a latent variable, which yields more latent variables (one for each kind of method), which are themselves measured with error by the raw datapoints. So you have multiple kinds of measurements, each with their own error, giving you a multilevel model. You can write a multilevel model expressing this in a Bayesian language like JAGS or you could use a SEM library like lavaan, where it'd be something like 'x ~ A, x ~ B, A ~ a-datapoints, B ~ b-datapoints'... (To give an analogy: imagine you are measuring Gf. Gf is a latent variable which is predicted from things like WM or executive function; WM and executive function are themselves latent variables, which are measured by tests like forwards digit span. The graph would look like a little pyramid. So you measure someone's intelligence by doing forwards digit span several times, giving you a reasonably precise estimate of the latent variable WM, which then gives you a imprecise estimate of the highest latent variable Gf.) Comparing measurer 1 and measurer 2's results is not really the same thing as simply asking for the posterior distribution of the latent x, but yes, with the posterior, it's easy to calculate the probability of anything you like such as '>=40' or '<=90'. I only know a Bayesian approach here: it sounds like Expected Value of Sample Information. You need a loss function on error (mean squared, perhaps?) and then you can repeatedly sample from the posterior based on all of Measurer 3's data as a hypothetical, and then look at how much loss is reduced based an additional sample (or more) from Measurer 2. (You could always go ask the Statistics Stack Overflow [].)
1[anonymous]6yThank you! (In part, for such faith in my abilities:) Have to go hunt myself a programmer for dinner...) It seems that if M-r 1 gives M-r 2 the same subsample of the middle latent variables (photoes of fields of vision, scoring them gives you the datapoints), and the x1 is compared with x2, they can see the least difference between them, which is (largely?) sample-independent. If, however, M-r 1 and M-r 2 each draw their subsamples independently, the difference between x1 and x2 should be larger due to chance, right?.. So if we look at the difference in differences between x1and x2, and it is greater for some middle latent variables (ways of staining) than for others, can we use it as a measure of 'the overall variability of the measuring method'? Say, if we have ten measurers and four measuring methods... (I'm asking you this because it is relatively simple to do in practice, not because I think this would be the most efficient way.)
3gwern6yYou can estimate the bias of each measurer much more efficiently if you have them measure the same sample, yes, analogous to crossover []: now the differences are due less to the wide diversity of the sampled population and more to the particular measurer. (To put it a little more mathily, when each measurer measures different samples, then the measurements will be spread very widely because it's Var(measurer-bias) + Var(population); but if we have the measurers measure the same sample, then Var(population) drops out and now there's just Var(measurer-bias). If I measure a sample and get 2.9 and you measure it as well and get 3.1, then probably the sample is really ~3.0 and my bias is -0.1 and your bias is +0.1. If I measure one sample and get 2.9 and you measure a different sample and get 3.1, then my bias and your bias are... ???) For example, the classic example for MLMs is you have n classrooms' test scores, and you want to figure out the teachers' effects. It's hard to tell because the classrooms' average scores will differ a lot on their own. This is analogous to your original description: each measurer gets their own batch of samples. But what if you had a crossed design of one classroom with test scores after it's taught by each teacher? Then much of the differences in the average score will be due to the particular effect of each teacher and that will be much easier to estimate. I guess. From a factor analysis perspective, you just want to pick the one with the highest loading on X, I think.
1[anonymous]6yHuh. Your answer was even more useful for me than I expected. My 'secret agenda' is to put forth another mountant medium, which might have advantages over the one in use, but I will have to show that they do not differ in preparation quality. I think I am going to do a 2-by-2 crossover. So - thank you! Analogies for the win!
1[anonymous]6yThe problem is that whatever one I will find the most desirable, other people will continue using the methods they are good at. And I will have to somehow compare x(A)1, x(B)32 and x(C)3... And this is a relatively straightforward situation, things are often much less clear in environmental science, already on the methodology level.
2gwern6yI don't really understand the problem. Yes, maybe you can't control them and get everyone onto the same method page. But I've already explained how you deal with that, given you the relevant keywords to search for like 'measurement error', and also given you example R code implementing several approaches. They all take the basic approach of treating it as data/measurements which load on a latent variable for each method, and each method loads on the latent variable which is what you actually want; then you can infer whatever you need to. The first level of latent variables helps you estimate the biases of each category, some of which may be smaller than others, and then you collectively use them to estimate the final latent variable. Now you have a principled way to unify all your data from disparate methods which measure in similar but not identical way the variable you care about. If someone else comes up with a new method, it can be incorporated like the rest.
0[anonymous]6yRight - sorry, melting brain. (Also, I had just thought that the assumed 10% difference between two measurers has not, in fact, been established rigorously, and that derailed the still-solid brain...)
0[anonymous]6y...okay, I started the Cross-over trials by Jones and Kenward, and immediately got another stupid question (yay, me): if we do a two-period two-treatment design, with subject group 1 crossing over from A to B and subject group 2 crossing from B to A, and we note the effects for A and B, how many controls do we need to run? As in, surely we would need a sg 3 which receives no treatment, sg 4, 5 and 6 which receive only treatment A (in the first half; in the second half; for the full duration of the experiment) and sg 7, 8 and 9 which receive only B?.. If they talk about this later on, please ignore this question.
2gwern6yHere are some examples in R of the mentioned approaches including EVSI. Syntax-highlighted on Pastebin: [] For another example of VoI, see my draft essay []

If I have an account but want to change my user name, is there a way to do that?


When I shake joylent, there always seems to be a small amount of dry powder remaining in the bottom corners of the shaker, no matter how much I shake. I need to poke it with a fork to get it to mix in. Anything else that would work? (The joylent shaker comes with a small ball whisk to keep inside, which might help a bit but doesn't solve the problem.)

Immediate edit: oh! I should try putting in a small amount of water before the powder. Other suggestions also welcome.

2ZeitPolizei6yWhen I used home-made soylent, I first put in (all) the water, then the powder. My shaker also has a plastic grid inset in the lid. Putting in the water first also lets you see exactly how much water you have (transparent measuring cup shaker). I don't remember ever having any problems.
0philh6yPersonally I'm more interested in knowing how much powder I have than how much water. (Though I'm not sure how accurate I can really be based on the volume markings - weight would be more accurate, but also a hassle.) A small amount of water seems to work, though it does increase uncertainty in powder volume a bit.
0ZeitPolizei6yI used a measuring cup (iirc 75ml) for the powder. My typical meal would be three cups of powder and 300ml water. It's quite thick that way, my friend used more water.
[-][anonymous]6y 2

Could someone point me towards good fictional stories set in Roman times, like those by Kipling in Puck...? Thank you. (Edit: spelling)

I, Claudius by Robert Graves

3advancedatheist6yI enjoyed the miniseries adaptation starring Derek Jacobi. I guess I identified with Claudius as the unappreciated nerd in his family who finally winds up with some respect and recognition just through the attrition of the other men in his Julio-Claudian family.
3Username6y []
3Douglas_Knight6yThe Golden Ass []
3D_Alex6yIf you are after descriptions of society in those days, try "Quo Vadis" by Henryk Sienkiewicz. Historical fiction about early days of Christianity, won a Nobel Prize for literature. Strong religious themes.
2[anonymous]6yFeuchtwanger's novels on the Judean war set during early Christianity were also interesting.
3RomeoStevens6yLest Darkness Fall []
3iarwain16yI happen to greatly enjoy Rosemary Sutcliff's [] historical novels. I'm not an expert on Roman or Anglo-Saxon cultures (that's where most of her novels are set), but as far as I can tell they're pretty accurate. They give a pretty good feel for what it must have actually been like to live back then.
0[anonymous]6yThank you. I think I saw her books in shops here.
2DavidPlumpton6yWell there is this little classic that is apparently being made into a movie []
1roystgnr6yHousehold Gods []
0MaryCh5yThe Ides of March by Wilder
[-][anonymous]6y 1

What simple book is there for free, in which it is told how to calculate 'studentized' residuals? I am stuck [on page 71 of the freely downloadable pdf of] 'Design and analysis of cross-over trials' by Jones and Kenward. They give the figures for their model, but don't quite explain how they obtained them.

0[anonymous]6yOn a related note, how does one calculate within-subject variance, given one baseline measurement? I am afraid that my subjects are small enough that I can't obtain many totally different samples for the variable.
-1Lumifer6yWikipedia []

Whenever I have free time (which is unfortunately becoming more and more rare) I have tremendous difficulty in deciding what to do with it.

This seems to be the result of a few problems:

1) I have too many goals, and so I don't know how to properly prioritize them, making it difficult to choose a next task. 2) Once I try to prioritize goals I end up going down a black hole of trying to figure out what my values really are, what I should actually be doing with my life, what I actually care about, if moral philosophy has implications on my goals, etc etc etc... (read more)

0MrMind6yOh yes, I certainly do. I do not, for the most part. On the other side, it's a matter of understanding that ultimately, nothing has an absolute value, so you can as well do entertaining things. Or creative things. The universe won't care anyway. Of course, since the system needs to compress so much information that updating it is a momentous and futile task. More so if its purpose is to guide your actions. Better to start with a very imperfect value system and update it slowly on the run.

I'm trying to iron a 100% cotton men's dress shirt. I iron one section until it looks wrinkle-free, then I iron another section, and then I look at the first section and it's wrinkled again! What am I doing wrong and how do I fix it?

2tut6yYou might be ironing the parts in the wrong order, or getting the freshly ironed part under something. But the first thing I would try in your position is to just iron every part of the shirt and hang it up for a while, and then see if the wrinkles go away again. Often wrinkles that come about right after ironing are much softer than the ones that you remove by ironing.
9Username6yOne right order is: Collar, yoke, one arm [cuff first], other arm [cuff first], front left, back, front right. Are the wrinkles pretty much the same ones you started with, or are they new ones with sharper creases? If new, sharp creases, you are probably accidentally ironing creases in the wrong place, or folding it over as you go. Concentrate carefully on the placement of the garment, remembering that fabric will remain prone to creasing while it remains hot. If original wrinkles which have not gone away: You are probably not using enough heat and steam. 100% cotton needs pretty much as hot as the iron will go (>=3 dots), and as much steam as the iron will produce. Consult the manual (!) for how to ensure the iron is producing copious steam. Typically, you need to put enough water in (not too much), have it set to a high enough temperature, set the steam control valve to maximum, wait for it to heat up to hot enough. My guess is not enough heat and steam. Beware! An iron this hot will melt many other garments. But a colder iron will not be effective on 100% cotton. Linen needs a lot of heat too. Look on the care label for an iron icon. The number of dots indicates how hot your iron should be - 1 (coolest, garment at risk of melting if iron set higher), 2 or 3 (hot, garment at risk of not de-creasing if iron set lower). Hotter irons are more effective (speed and quality of output) than cooler ones. In my experience garment manufacturers set the care label conservatively and you can get away with a setting one higher most of the time. But always test carefully first.
9philh6yI love that LW has people publicly advocating for all sorts of fringe positions - (Someone once commented that in one thread we'll describe common persuasive techniques as "dark arts", and in the next thread we'll bemoan that cutting off heads and freezing them so we can perform necromancy isn't more popular.) - and someone is using the community throwaway account to give advice on ironing. (I recognise that it's probably more "don't want to make an account" than "don't want to be identified". But still.)
[-][anonymous]6y 1

Why do politicians bother with such offputting political ads?

Posting this in the stupid questions thread because it's unclear to me why obvious question is not, for the most, raised or answered elsewhere.

Requests For Intelligence Information

Political campaigning is expensive. I assume it takes up a large portion of political party's campaign funds. But what if (some of it is) a waste of time, or even counterproductive? If that was the case, as I have reason to believe (follow my links). If that's the case, political entities have reason to spend less in or... (read more)

2Username6yIn many political systems, a major intention of campaigning is to attract news coverage, not to influence voters directly.
0Username6y []
0Strangeattractor6yIn some cases, being off-putting is the goal. The more you can make potential voters disgusted with the political process, the more likely they are to stay home and not vote. If you are a party that has a base that votes a lot, and your opponents have a more fickle voter base that are more likely to stay home instead of voting, icky political ads serve your purpose.
0Lumifer6yGiven that Western political systems are basically a Darwinian selection process, I would be greatly surprised if the political consultants didn't have a good idea about the effectiveness of their propaganda. They certainly gather and examine the data. Of course, there is not much incentive for them to publish their results. Do you have any reason to believe that political consultants are particularly stupid?
1ChristianKl6yPolitical consultants make money by convincing politicians that they are useful, not by actually being useful.
0gudamor6yI have no idea which of the below are true, or to what extent: 1) They're not off-putting to everyone; you are not the target audience 2) Being off-putting is valuable, as decreasing voter turnout benefits their strategy 3) Being off-putting does not matter, as they remain effective regardless 4a) No one is checking if these are effective 4b) The people who DO check if these are effective have a vested interest in showing they are If no one is gathering data on the effectiveness, then the next best strategy is to copy your competitor.

Apparently since the Enlightenment this idea has gotten about that all the previous generations didn't know how to live properly, even our parents' generation; but that we somehow mysteriously know how to do it right, or at least better. But then if we have offspring, many of them might develop the same attitude towards us.

This really doesn't make sense, because incompetent people generally don't leave descendants. Our ancestors must have gotten a lot of important things right on average for us to have come into existence in the first place. Yet we think w... (read more)

This really doesn't make sense, because incompetent people generally don't leave descendants.

The criticism tends to be that people were too mean rather than that they were incompetent.

Here's an SSC post and ~700 comments on cultural evolution:

[-][anonymous]6y 10

Apparently since the Enlightenment this idea has gotten about that all the previous generations didn't know how to live properly, even our parents' generation; but that we somehow mysteriously know how to do it right, or at least better.

Has it? That rather sounds like a crotchety old guy's notion about Kids These Days, and as far as I know old people only got that crotchety after 1950 or so (tongue-in-cheek).

9Val6yEvolution works in the timespan of hundreds of generations or more. A cultural or political trend can wreck a society in a few generations, before evolution has any time to compensate.
7DanielLC6yWe have values besides inclusive genetic fitness.
5Dagon6yThere's lots of systems which exist, but don't deliver my preferences and goals. I find it extremely likely that know what I want and how to get it much better than a semi-random offspring filtering process.
4ZankerH6yAs far as I can tell, in postmodern western value systems the idea isn't that they know better than Gnon, it's the idea that "principles derived from the collective evolutionary experiences of human survival" shouldn't matter in comparison to postmodern cultural sensibilities, and therefore it's worth expending effort to counter them as opposed to making use of them.
0ChristianKl6yMost people don't consider the goal of life to be maximizing the amount of offspring.