Here is our monthly place to discuss Less Wrong topics that have not appeared in recent posts.

(Carl's open thread for March was only a week ago or thereabouts, but if we're having these monthly then I think it's better for them to appear near -- ideally at -- the start of each month, to make it that little bit easier to find something when you can remember roughly when it was posted. The fact that that open thread has had 69 comments in that time seems like good evidence that "almost anyone can post articles" is sufficient reason for not bothering with open threads.)

[EDIT, 2009-04-04: oops, I meant "is NOT sufficient reason" in that last sentence. D'oh.]

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134 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 12:07 PM
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Admins: Draft posts are superficially identical actually-posted ones (while logged in). This is confusing, and alarming to new users (at least, it was to me) since it looks like something you meant to save as a draft has been published to the world by mistake. Can they be made to look clearly different -- e.g., lighter colour or "[DRAFT]" next to them or something? This applies both on the front page (and /new etc.) and in the recent posts list in the sidebar.

Happened to me too! I panicked, deleted all of my developing posts, and wrote a note of apology to the forum for all the nonsense I accidentally posted. (Fortunately, I figured it out -- everything was still a draft, including my apology.)

Trick to get free respect from rationalist types: passionately argue for some wrong position, then when someone corrects you, say "oh, I've changed my mind, you were right and I was wrong, mea culpa'.

You might well lose more respect from them for being taken in by the wrong position in the first place. Or even, if they're particularly good rationalists and you aren't careful, by being too easily persuaded to change your mind.
0Paul Crowley14y
If you mean to say that we should be less persuaded of that signal than we might otherwise be, I can see a counterargument: lots of people couldn't bear to publically admit to being wrong even on a topic they chose for that purpose.
3Eliezer Yudkowsky14y
I'll bet that this is a case where you become what you pretend to be. Anyone who gets in the habit of publicly admitting they're wrong, even if they have to fake the whole thing, has acquired a valuable capacity, valuable practice, and a most valuable reputation to live up to. We tend to become what others think we are. I don't do this myself - my mistakes [] are real mistakes, thank you - but it's an argument on Michael Vassar's side in an ongoing argument between Vassar and I.

Could we get polls, and an easy way to analyze the poll data? e.g. remove anonymous votes. Remove votes by people below a karma cutoff, etc.

If you remove votes by people below a karma cutoff, then the people who have karma control access to karma. I don't really think it would be a problem here; but I have seen that same mechanism wreak havoc on a different electronic community.
4Paul Crowley14y
Karma mechanisms are always under attack and need constant policing and tweaking. They are worth it, but that is their cost.
I thought his suggestion was about being able to analyze poll data with various karma levels. That makes a lot of sense if you want to know what people with varying participation in LW think.

I just stopped myself from commenting on a thread because I was worried for my itty bitty karma score. I'm new, so my karma score is tiny. I'm new enough to know that I might not know all the relevant context, so I stopped myself in case what I was going to say was too obvious.

I wish that newbies could have a protected period from being downvoted to the pits of negative karma if the new person is clearly giving an honest effort. But at the same time, downvoting trolls makes very good sense. I realize it's not practical to separate out new people from... (read more)

I am new as well, and even under-versed in most of the common phrases. But I am starting to comment anyway because of the karma rating. My score does not mean much to me in terms of status, so I don't care if it drops to nothing. To me, it is a marker of how much of what I say is interesting to other people. It is feedback that allows me to improve. I cannot get that feedback unless I comment, so I comment.
Ah, but I have an ulterior motive. I'm here in part because I want to read discussions of a rationalist approach to rhetoric. And we can't create new posts until we hit 20 I believe. But I'm really curious about how a rationalist group would approach rhetoric, so I want to get the discussion started. :-) That's why I care about my karma score so much.
Well, I'll be looking forward to seeing your first post soon then =)
Thanks for the confirmation, and yes, I appear to be at 20. Now to start thinking about how to open up a discussion about rationalist approach to rhetoric. :-)
0Paul Crowley14y
Sadly, we do want newcomers to take extra care, and indeed that's pretty much normal - for example, it's usually good to lurk for a bit in a new community before contributing. It looks like that care is paying off for you, which to me seems to indicate that the karma system has been a success in this instance.
Agreed, the karma system is not fundamentally flawed (I realize that there's further discussion on the karma system, like over here [] ). Maybe the karma system is a little frustrating because it does force the new person to be careful, but a bit of frustration now to improve the latter dialogue makes sense. I just wanted to know that that was the intention here, not an accidental (if beneficial) by-product of the karma system.
I guess that makes me the counter-point. We will see how it goes. Normally I take much more care before contributing but I feel that karma is an easier way to feel the community. That being said, I am not planning on being pointedly disrespectful just to test the waters. I do think I have interesting things to say. Karma just lets me know if the community agrees. If, in a week, everything I say is ignored or voted down, I take it as evidence I need to change something.

I have a question for Eliezer. I went back and reread your sequence on metaethics, and the amount of confusion in the comments struck me, so now I want to make sure that I understood you correctly. After rereading, my interpretation didn't change, but I'm still unsure. So, does this summarize your position accurately:

A simple mind has a bunch of terminal values (or maybe one) summarized in a utility function. Morality for it, or rather not morality, but the thing this mind has which is analogous to morality in humans (depending on how you define "... (read more)

6Eliezer Yudkowsky14y
No. It's more that if you extrapolate out the preferences we already have, asking what we would prefer if we had time for our chaotic preferences to resolve themselves, then you end up with a superior sort of shouldness to which our present preferences might well defer. Sort of like if you knew that your future self would be a vegetarian, you might regard your present consumption of meat as an error. But it's not hidden away as something that already exists. It's something that could be computed from us, but which we don't explicitly represent.
Hence "deep in the mind", not brain: defined in a model, not explicitly represented. Although there is more preference-defining stuff outside the mind (or rather outside the brain...).
To be honest, I wasn't thinking of the the distinction between mind and brain when I wrote that, so Eliezer's correction is on target. I was visualizing the utility function as something that exists and must be discovered.
Sounds about right, except that I wouldn't call this anything close to a summary of the whole position. Also, compare the status of morality with that of probability (e.g. Probability is Subjectively Objective [], Can Counterfactuals Be True? [], Math is Subjunctively Objective []). I'm not sure what do you see in the distinction between simple preference and complex preference. No matter how simple an imperfect agent is, you face a problem of going from imperfect decision-making to ideal preference order.
I don't mean simple or complicated preferences. I mean a simple mind (perhaps simple was a bad choice of terminology). My "simple mind" is a mind that perfectly knows it's utility function (and has a well-defined utility function to begin with). It's just an abstraction to better understand where shouldness comes from.
The (effective) utility functions are different enough to produce fighting and wars. The problem is that the utility functions refer to "me" - and that's different in every single case.
There is a large complication in that we call something "moral" when we want other people to do it. So there are probably things that we call "moral" that are actually "sins" according to our internal utility functions.

Someone should do a post attempting to define what exactly "rationalism" is. Right now I see lots of discussion on how to build rationalist communities, whether rationalism always "wins," why you should be a rationalist, etc., but very little on what the content of this term is, and very little on how to be a rationalist. A newcomer could be excused for thinking that "rationalist" just means someone who goes around exhorting others to become rationalists. Maybe there's nothing wrong with that, though; perhaps rationalism, at its core, is simply reminding yourself and others to think hard about things at all times.

see: [] - comments here [] ETA: maybe that's not the same question. Should we think about what a 'rationalist' is?

If it's not silly to comment with this: am I commenting too much? None of the comments on the first page of my profile are scored up, so looking at my high karma I guess I'm making a lot of comments, and they're not all hits. Should I cut back?

No need to worry if you're not regularly getting downvoted, if you ask me.
Just read your last 5 comments and they looked useful to me, including most with 1 karma point. I would keep posting whenever you have information to add, and take actual critiques in replies to your comments much more seriously than lack of karma. Hope this helps.. Rob zahra
2Eliezer Yudkowsky14y
Not by my book.
I am trying to imagine some possible reason why someone downvoted EY's 4-word comment, and failing. Back up it goes.
Perhaps he did not vote it up himself?
One of the arguments for having a karma system is so that posters don't have to self-censor. With no karma system, posters have to spend time worry about being polite and not hogging the discussion, and maybe worthwhle comments fail to get made, lost either to self-censorship or running out of time. Given the lack of social clues, body language, facial expressions, etc, on a discussion board like this you could spend a great deal of time worring to no useful effect. Commenting can be pretty addictive []. I predict (confidence 30%) that within two months you will be hooked but will have run out of things to say. So you will start posting crap comments and, after a period of grace, get hammered with a lot of almost automatic down votes. Shrug. That's life. It might be nice it you can avoid this, but it is not that important in the great scheme of things, so don't try too hard nor care too deeply if you screw up.
0Paul Crowley14y
I'm actually happier commenting now that zero-based karma is here - before that, I worried that prolific commenting would be karma whoring. I have quite a lot left to say at the moment; I want to start talking about how we can start talking about politics.
Politics? Tricky! I'm trying to compose a top-level post about mining politics for logic-smells. The idea is that if you take your opponents political arguments and extract the errors, you can abstract them a little to get bad-argument templates that you can apply to your own thought, testing to see if you are making a similar mistake. But how to write this to bring out the meta-level point and not simply start an object level quarrel?
Use a hypothetical country, but map real world arguments to it in a way it is non obvious what the real issue is? Perhaps the pebble sorters could make a comeback.
I certainly don't think so, according to my vision for lesswrong, but if you are - then I definitely am.
It seems to me unreasonable to expect that a significant fraction of comments should be voted up. A bit of chatter helps clarify topics and build community, but voting up every non-disruptive comment would only serve to dilute the informational value of an upvote.
0Paul Crowley14y
absolutely, i mention karma mainly as a rough measure of my comment volume. I'm not unhappy with my upvote rate.
0Paul Crowley14y
I posted it from my phone, for goodness sake!
So a lack of captials deserves a downvote ?
Be that as it may be, what is a captial ? I understand the need for proper grammar and orthography in our dear garden, but there's something intriguing going on there :-)
Agreed. First it's just missing captials, then next thing you know weird spaces appear around question marks.
In France, we have different spacing conventions, we put spaces before !, ? and ; (Still, when writing in english, we should use the english convention. Otherwise the German will start capitalizing nouns, and God knows what the American will do)
Don't you find it more aesthetically appealing that way ? Also, I'm French :-)
For reference, the joking exchange was in reference to 'captials', not 'capitals'.
Haha, I have been tempted to do things like that.
you've passed me since the auto-upvote was turned off, so if one of us needs to worry about this, it's me.
0Paul Crowley14y
Well I certainly haven't got the impression you're commenting too much, and looking at your comment history I think you're adding to the site, so I wouldn't worry.

I must say I like having an 'open thread' even though we can write posts on whatever. I routinely vote down posts that aren't terribly interesting and downvote comments that are off-topic, so this seems like a good place to put things so that they don't give you a huge karma hit just for existing. All of the comments that have popped up other places that say things like "This isn't really the place to say this, but..." can just live here.

Maybe it would be nice if some people wrote a few "tutorial"-like or basic lesson-kind of posts aimed at people who are new to the whole "rationalist" thing, covering for example basic concepts in probability theory and statistics, decision theory, cognitive bias etc., thereby making LW more accessible to newcomers who want to get on the train but might have never been exposed to these topics before. These posts could be sorted under a special tag that could be linked to in the "About" section.

I've been putting some of my notes on learning and independent study together into sort of mini-essays (and a couple not so mini) on my blog [] . Some of the things I've written about so far are: Knowing Lots of Facts Why Learning Optimism - Dangers and Benefits Assorted Comments on Tools Plateaus in Learning Learning Journal and Record Depth of Knowledge Stages of Study Commitment The Value of Mistakes: Mistakes and Learning Getting Things Right by Avoiding Mistakes The most recent post Knowing Lots of Facts actually grew out of a comment I posted here on LW. I haven't posted any of these essays here because they seem rather peripheral to the actual content of LW, though some of them directly address the title theme of getting things Less Wrong. PS - I intended to make a simple single space list, but it either ran them all together or required me to double-space the list. What can I do about it?
Try []
Billswift, I like your blog. Of course we are all very busy, but is there any chance we could chat about autodidacticism? My inferior google-fu can't find contact info for you; my email address is zackmdavis {-at-} yahoo daht kahm.
Your email encryption attempt is no match for the regex my spambot was already using: \w+[^\w](@|at)[^\w](yahoo|gmail|...)

I don't suppose there's any easy way to change the name of an account once it's created? When I started this account, I pretty much expected to just read and vote, so I cloned my reddit s/n without much thought. In retrospect, I'd much rather have gone with my full name (Michael_Blume)

me too (Maria_Byrne)

Admins: Can we have a link to the wiki in the LW sidebar, please?

At the IRC meetup, Eliezer said that a new wiki will be hosted on, and the articles will be moved from wikia. Thus, presently it might be a bad idea to advertise the location of temporary wiki, as links to it will die in the near future. I guess it's also a reason to postpone the discussion of guidelines for wiki/blog usage.

Anyone care to comment on why they voted down on my post? At least 6 people did, and none of them left a comment.

Not all down votes need a comment why. But it would be useful for me and probably others in a similar situation when trying to figure out why people thought it was bad,

2Eliezer Yudkowsky14y
I voted up, so couldn't say.
I agree with the below. It seemed poorly-written and uninteresting. I feel like it's not worth anyone's time to read it. The "I want my time back" interpretation.
This was my reason too. In addition to the lack of clarity about why the topic should be interesting, it had numerous style errors.
I couldn't see your point. Your questions seem to be either too vague, or solved. The perception could be reversed with better editing.
1Paul Crowley14y
If you promise you won't be mad :-) I guess I read it thinking "where's the thing I haven't already thought about?".

So after all these post about rationalists having problem cooperating, I am left wondering: Cooperate on what? Are there any existing projects to join? As a student I am not able to support by giving any large amounts of money, but I do have time to spare on a worthy cause.

Rationalist hardliner response: stop slacking off, hurry up and make a lot of money. There must be some way to convert that extra time into wealth. Then donate some of the money to a project, or start your own.
3Paul Crowley14y
Not everyone agrees with me on this - evangelism has bad associations - but I currently think that spreading rationalism itself enough to change the incentives for politicians would be a worthy goal.
2Eliezer Yudkowsky14y
There was this post [] and if you're good at Python we've got plenty of open issues [].
2Paul Crowley14y
I'm good at Python but I'm having trouble getting the code running. If it's not an abuse of the site I might put up a top-level post for people interested in hacking on lesswrong to find each other and help each other out. Are there enough of us for that? I got stuck trying to install Postgres 8.2 on my Intrepid machine - the advice I could find online mentions but that seems to be broken :-(
Go ahead and put up the post.
There should be a mailing list. Any open source project must have one, even if the issue tracker is supposed to take care of most of the day-to-day working exchange. You should ask the project owners if there's one already, and if there isn't, set one up, for example, using google groups. The [] introductory [] pages [] should also link to the mailing list.
3Eliezer Yudkowsky14y
An LW post is a mailing list, in a way. I'd say go ahead and put up the post for now. Mailing list can be added later.
Only in a way. It's as easy to set up a mailing list as it is to create a post, but the post is a short-term solution, so I don't see any advantages in doing that.
The stronger our reply notifications are, the more like a mailing list it becomes. If we could subscribe to posts, for example, then a post would be just like a mailing list, but with easy threading and archival.
Posts don't have named threads. Google groups and gmail provide threading and archival. Gmail allows to set up custom filters. Group admins can manage membership.
1Paul Crowley14y
All that is good, but we can get there later. I don't know if there are more than three of us yet. Once there are more than six people who want to discuss the software, we can look at better mechanisms.
mailing list created: [] I started working on some bugs, and the lack of a mailing list makes things a bit complicated. I'll add it to the wiki if it gets used; it might be better if the project owners created one instead.
1Paul Crowley14y
Could you change the settings to make it more open by default? You can always change it back if you hit problems.
You're right - changed.
Indeed, it'll be useful only if people in the know join it. I believe the archives should be public, and probably joining should be automatic, but the first post moderated.
I have added links to the mailing list in the README in the code (which GitHub shows) and also on the 'Home' wiki page.
I had some difficulties with it as well but I seem to have the code working locally now. I'd be happy to help others get it working as much as I can.
1Paul Crowley14y
What OS did you get it running under, and how did you get the right version of PostgreSQL installed?
I got it working on my MacBook, using PostgreSQL 8.2. When installing psycopg I had originally installed it for the wrong version of PostgreSQL (8.3), so I had to uninstall it and reinstall it with the right version.
Gentoo Linux, and by using package-specific flags in the Portage package manager to force specific versions for stuff. I seem to recall there were versioning issues with some Python packages as well, and a bit of modification needed in the example.ini file.
Darius recently updated the Hacking on Less Wrong [] wiki page to include instructions for getting up and running on Ubuntu 8.10. He's just set up an install on 9.04 as well and has some notes on the experience. I'll ask him to add them to the wiki page too.
Whatever it is you want to do with your life. I can't think of many fields in which a rational outlook wouldn't be of use. This goes back to fundamental values, interests, talents, etc. -- the dictates of rationalism can't decide everything for you.

We might want to link each open thread to past open threads. Of course, if everyone uses your openthread tag, this will be done automatically.

The convention for tags seems to be the use of underscores, so it should be open_thread, not openthread.
2Eliezer Yudkowsky14y
fixed 'em
Thanks! I should, of course, have looked at the tag cloud to see what the convention was for multiple words; sorry.

From the Profit:

What lives longer? A Mayfly or a Cyprus tree?

If you answer a Mayfly then you are very perceptive: you realize that in time and space, time is relative and the short life of the Mayfly could be mysteriously longer than the life of the mighty Cyprus.

If you answered a Cyprus then you are unimaginative, but correct.


Just read your last 5 comments and they looked useful to me, including most with 1 karma point. I would keep posting whenever you have information to add, and take actual critiques in replies to your comments much more seriously than lack of karma. Hope this helps.. Rob zahra

I have lowered testosterone via drugs then castration.

I'm intrigued... were there any changes you noticed that would be relevant to this community?
I can expand more. I don't think I have to detail how many men became less rational because of testosterone. Besides the distractions of the preferred sex, there are more subtle "zen-like" qualities of the state. I'll have likely more to say about the forbidden topic in regards to this state as well.
Before taking this step, had you had a mutually satisfying sexual experience with someone of your preferred gender whom you found physically attractive and for whom you cared emotionally? ie: are you aware of the magnitude of the positive utility which you sacrificed?
What parameters did you track your rationality / calmness on? How about bodily energy levels? - muscle mass is affected by testosterone, i have read. How much time you were spending/using up earlier thinking about sex? What personal goal other than becoming more rational have you achieved? - the sacrifice you have made is huge. I would've asked from the devil more than my due here. What marginal benefit did castration give you that earlier testoterone lowering drugs did not?
Why did you do that?
To lower testosterone.
Since it's unlikely that you are employed as a harem guard or castrato, that only makes sense, but why did you find the goal of lowering testosterone sufficiently motivating to take this action?
Stop being vague and unhelpful

To what extent is Less Wrong a family site?

I mean, we're all adults, so it's not like you're going to see someone saying "well, use a @#$%ing ignorance prior, $%^&-head" or some such. Still, in the quote I just wrote, was it necessary to censor? When quoting off-site, is it necessary to censor? I'm aware that I'm probably not asking a question which already has an answer -- what guidelines do we want to establish here?

Personally I'm for "at writer's discretion, but expect to be voted down if it was unnecessary or gratuitous, and expect to bleed karma if it was abusive."

no replies, and positive karma -- does that mean I just set the standard?

Someone's been downvoting the last few pages of comments from ~2 accounts.

Silly self-obsessed stylistic question here:

Would anyone be willing to tell me whether I'm badly overusing italics and em-dashes in my writing?

I think you're fine-- but then I adore em-dashes.
Aren't they wonderful? I'm an extremely aural person, so I tend to put a lot of effort into reproducing textually the way my sentences sound in my head. I just found myself hitting the asterisk key rather a lot and started wondering if it might be wearing on people -- if it felt like I was forcing their reading of the text.
I don't think so.

This comment is safe to ignore and is intended to help me understand the formatting rules.

(Edit) Okay, I found a list from Markdown. This was edited out to make it less of an eye-sore.

Which was the first post on LW? Is there a way to browse all the titles posted since LW began?

Yes. []
If memory serves, it was Tell Your Rationalist Origin Story []

How old is Less Wrong? With some people having karma over 1000 I thought maybe a year or two, but trying to find the date I'm beginning to think just a month or two? Really -- I just happened to find you guys at the beginning? Awesome! Why did you make the break from Overcoming Bias?

The dieting discussion seems to have slipped from the intended purpose into a discussion of, well, dieting. I'm wondering if some of that discussion belongs over here, under "open thread" discussion, instead?

Also, am I the only person who has problems dieting because sometimes, for causes yet to be identified, hunger can trigger a migraine? I'll do anything to avoid migraines, including being fat. (Though today I started experimenting with the Shangri-La diet: if it works and doesn't trigger migraines, I would be delighted.)

It doesn't for me, but a quick Google suggests that blood sugar and migraines are at least somewhat related, though I'm fuzzy on the details of how. That might be (but might also not be) mechanism for hunger triggering your migraines. You should get a test kit and find out; if that is the reason, then you can design a diet which won't cause migraines, and measurements will help you do so.
Thanks. Last time I googled it--before there was a Google--I came up with nothing.

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