Shortform Content [Beta]

Write your thoughts here! What have you been thinking about?
Exploratory, draft-stage, rough, and rambly thoughts are all welcome on Shortform.

I seem to differently discount different parts of what I want. For example, I'm somewhat willing to postpone fun to low-probability high-fun futures, whereas I'm not willing to do the same with romance.

Been mulling around about doing a podcast in which each episode is based on acquiring a particular skillset (self-love, focus, making good investments) instead of just interviewing a particular person.

I interview a few people who have a particular skill (e.g. self-love, focus, creating cash flow businesses), and model the cognitive strategies that are common between them. Then interview a few people who struggle a lot with that skill, and model the cognitive strategies that are common between them. Finally, model a few people who used to be bad at the skil... (Read more)(Click to expand thread. ⌘F to Expand All)Cmd/Ctrl F to expand all comments on this post

Sounds interesting. I think it may be difficult to find a person, let alone multiple people on a given topic, who are have a particular skill but are also able to articulate it and/or identify the cognitive strategies they use successfully.

Regardless, I'd like to hear about how people reduce repetitive talk in their own heads - how to focus on new thoughts as opposed to old, recurring ones...if that makes sense.

3Viliam1h Sounds interesting! The question is, how good are people at introspection: what if the strategies they report are not the strategies they actually use? For example, because they omit the parts that seem unimportant, but that actually make the difference. (Maybe positive or negative thinking is irrelevant, but imagining blue things is crucial.) Or what if "the thing that brings success" causes the narrative of the cognitive strategy, but merely changing the cognitive strategy will not cause "the thing that brings success"? (People imagining blue things will be driven to succeed in love, and also to think a lot about fluffy kittens. However, thinking about fluffy kittens will not make you imagine blue things, and therefore will not bring you success in love. Even if all people successful in love report thinking about fluffy kittens a lot.)

I keep seeing these articles about the introduction of artificial intelligence/data science to football and basketball strategy. What's crazy to me is that it's happening now instead of much much earlier. The book Moneyball was published in 2003 (the movie in 2011) spreading the story of how use of statistics changed the game when it came to every aspect of managing a baseball team. After reading it, I and many others thought to ourselves "this would be cool to do in other sports" - using data would be interesting in every area of every... (Read more)(Click to expand thread. ⌘F to Expand All)Cmd/Ctrl F to expand all comments on this post

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Part of the problem was that doing the work to apply those insights and doing so in a way that beats trained humans is hard because until recently those models couldn't handle all the variables and data humans could and so ignored many things that made a difference. Now that more data can be fed into the models they can make the same or better predictions that humans can make and thus stand a chance of outperforming them rather than making "correct" but poorly-informed decisions that, in the real world, would have lost games.

2hereisonehand4d Another weird takeaway is the timeline. I think my intuition whenever I hear about a good idea currently happening is that because it's happening right now, it's probably too late for me to get in on it at all because everyone already knows about it. I think that intuition is overweighted. If there's a spectrum from ideas being fully saturated to completely empty of people working on them, when good ideas break in the news they are probably closer to the latter than I give them credit for being. At least, I need to update in that direction.
1JustMaier3d I think this is caused by the fact that we lack tooling to adequately assess the amount of free-energy available in new markets sparked by new ideas. Currently it seems the only gauge we have is media attention and investment announcements. Taking the time to assess an opportunity is operationally expensive and I think I've optimized to accept that there's probably little opportunity given that everyone else is observing the same thing. However, I'm not sure that it makes sense to adjust my optimization without first increasing my efficiency in assessing opportunities.

If you deal with some of your problems by distracting yourself, then as long as you have those problems you'll be distracted. You can do most of the other stuff you want to do, even while being distracted. But there are some things you can't do while distracted, like some kinds of intellectual work.

1Pattern7d Can't you distract yourself with intellectual work?
2jimrandomh7d In theory you might, but in practice you can't. Distraction-avoidant behavior favors things that you can get into quickly, on the order of seconds--things like checking for Facebook notifications, or starting a game which has a very fast load time. Most intellectual work has a spinup, while you recreate mental context, before it provides rewards, so distraction-avoidant behavior doesn't choose it.

Hmmm..I think personal experience tells me that distraction-avoidant behaviour will still choose intellectual work, as long as it is quicker than the alternative.

I might choose a game over writing a LW shortform but I will still choose a LW shortform over writing a novel.

Many biohacking guides suggest using melatonin. Does liquid melatonin spoil under high temperature if put in tea (95 degree Celcius)?

More general question: how do I even find answers to questions like this one?

When I had a quick go-ogle search I started with:

"melatonin stability temperature"



A quick flick through a few abstracts I can't see anything involving temperatures higher than 37 C i.e. body temperature.

Melatonin is a protein, many proteins denature at temperatures above 41 C.

My (jumped to) conclusion:

No specific data found.

Melatonin may not be stable at high temperatures, so avoid putting it in hot tea.

I would appreciate an option to hide the number of votes that posts have. Maybe not hide entirely, but set them to only display at the bottom of a post, and not at the top nor on the front page. With the way votes are currently displayed, I think I'm getting biased for/against certain posts before I even read them, just based on the number of votes they have.

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3Raemon1d ah, whoops.
3habryka1d Yeah, this was originally known as "Anti-Kibitzer" on the old LessWrong. It isn't something we prioritized, but I think greaterwrong has an implementation of it. Though it would also be pretty easy to create a stylish script for it (this hides it on the frontpage, and makes the color white on the post-page, requiring you to select the text to see the score): []
pretty easy to create a stylish script for it

Oh, good idea! I don't have Stylish installed, but I have something similar, and I was able to hide it that way. Thanks!

Epistemic status: Thinking out loud.

Introducing the Question

Scientific puzzle I notice I'm quite confused about: what's going on with the relationship between thinking and the brain's energy consumption?

On one hand, I'd always been told that thinking harder sadly doesn't burn more energy than normal activity. I believed that and had even come up with a plausible story about how evolution optimizes for genetic fitness not intelligence, and introspective access is pretty bad as it is, so it's not that surprising that we can't crank up our brains energy con

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A competition on solving math problems via AI is coming.

  • The problems are from the International math olympiad (IMO)
  • They want to formalize all the problems in Lean (theorem prover) language. They haven't figured out how to do that, e.g. how to formalize problems of form "determine the set of objects satisfying the given property", as can be seen in
  • A contestant must submit a computer program that will take a problem's descriptio
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2An1lam2d Can you quantify soon :) ? For example, I'd be willing to bet at 1/3 odds that this will be solved in the next 10 years conditional on a certain amount of effort being put in and more like 1/1 odds for the next 20 years. It's hard to quantify the conditional piece but I'd cash it out as something like if researchers put in the same amount of effort into this that they put into NLP/image recognition benchmarks. I don't think that'll happen, so this is purely a counterfactual claim, but maybe it will help ground any subsequent discussion with some sort of concrete claim?
5Matthew Barnett2d By soon I mean 5 years. Interestingly, I have a slightly higher probability that it will be solved within 20 years, which highlights the difficulty of saying ambiguous things like "soon."

That is interesting! I should be clear that my odds ratios are pretty tentative given the uncertainty around the challenge. For example, I literally woke up this morning and thought that my 1/3 odds might be too conservative given recent progress on 8th grade science tests and theorem proving.

I created three PredictionBook predictions to track this if anyone's interested (5 years, 10 years, 20 years).

Converting this from a Facebook comment to LW Shortform.

A friend complains about recruiters who send repeated emails saying things like "just bumping this to the top of your inbox" when they have no right to be trying to prioritize their emails over everything else my friend might be receiving from friends, travel plans, etc. The truth is they're simply paid to spam.

Some discussion of repeated messaging behavior ensued. These are my thoughts:

I feel conflicted about repeatedly messaging people. All the following being factors in this conflict... (Read more)(Click to expand thread. ⌘F to Expand All)Cmd/Ctrl F to expand all comments on this post

Eliezer has written about the notion of security mindset, and there's an important idea that attaches to that phrase, which some people have an intuitive sense of and ability to recognize, but I don't think Eliezer's post quite captured the essence of the idea, or presented anything like a usable roadmap of how to acquire it.

An1lam's recent shortform post talked about the distinction between engineering mindset and scientist mindset, and I realized that, with the exception of Eliezer and perhaps a few people he works closely with, all o... (Read more)(Click to expand thread. ⌘F to Expand All)Cmd/Ctrl F to expand all comments on this post

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3Wei_Dai2d Can you give some specific examples of me having security mindset, and why they count as having security mindset? I'm actually not entirely sure what it is or that I have it, and would be hard pressed to come up with such examples myself. (I'm pretty sure I have what Eliezer calls "ordinary paranoia" at least, but am confused/skeptical about "deep security".)

Sure, but let me clarify that I'm probably not drawing as hard a boundary between "ordinary paranoia" and "deep security" as I should be. I think Bruce Schneier's and Eliezer's buckets for "security mindset" blended together in the months since I read both posts. Also, re-reading the logistic success curve post reminded me that Eliezer calls into question whether someone who lacks security mindset can identify people who have it. So it's worth noting that my ability to identify people with security mindset is itself suspect by this criteria (there's no pub

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5Wei_Dai2d Combining hash functions is actually trickier than it looks, and some people are doing research in this area and deploying solutions. See [] and []. It does seem that if cryptography people had more of a security mindset (that are not being defeated) then there would be more research and deployment of this already.

Over the years, I've experienced a couple of very dramatic yet rather sudden and relatively "easy" shifts around major pain points: strong aversions, strong fears, inner conflicts, or painful yet deeply ingrained beliefs. My post Identities are [Subconscious] Strategies contains examples. It's not surprising to me that these are possible, but my S1 says they're supposed to require a lot of effort: major existential crises, hours of introspection, self-discovery journeys, drug trips, or dozens of hours with a therapist.

Have recently... (Read more)(Click to expand thread. ⌘F to Expand All)Cmd/Ctrl F to expand all comments on this post

Mentally crowding out possibilities gets you stuck in local maxima. To glean the benefits of temporarily inhabiting local maxima while garnering the benefits of even better points that can be discovered via higher-energy search, acquire the ability to prevent {the idea of existing forms of X} from mentally crowding out {the possibility of, specific visualizations of, and motivation to create} better forms of X.

4jimrandomh4d In my experience, the motion that seems to prevent mental crowding-out is intervening on the timing of my thinking: if I force myself to spend longer on a narrow question/topic/idea than is comfortable, eg with a timer, I'll eventually run out of cached thoughts and spot things I would have otherwise missed.

Yeah, this is a great method.

For some instances of crowding out, this method doesn't work because you don't even get to the point of bringing the thing to attention. As an extreme example, we use a collection of mental moves to build thought-structures, and those moves are reflected in the grammar of our language; so it stands to reason that we might be able to think more difficult thoughts if we try to design further grammatical tools. It's hard to see this possibility or be motivated by it, I think in part because existing language crowds... (Read more)(Click to expand thread. ⌘F to Expand All)Cmd/Ctrl F to expand all comments on this post

6Raemon3d I've found the "set a 5 minute timer" meme to not-quite-work because it takes me like 15 minutes just to get all my cached thoughts out, before I get to anything original. But yeah this basic idea here is a big part of my "actually thinking for real" toolkit.

Selected Aphorisms from Francis Bacon's Novum Organum

I'm currently working to format Francis Bacon's Novum Organum as a LessWrong sequence. It's a moderate-sized project as I have to work through the entire work myself, and write an introduction which does Novum Organum justice and explains the novel move of taking an existing work and posting in on LessWrong (short answer: NovOrg is some serious hardcore rationality and contains central tenets of the LW foundational philosophy notwithstanding being published back in 1620, not to mentio... (Read more)(Click to expand thread. ⌘F to Expand All)Cmd/Ctrl F to expand all comments on this post

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11Viliam2d Please note that even things written in 1620 can be under copyright. Not the original thing, but the translation, if it is recent. Generally, every time a book is modified, the clock starts ticking anew... for the modified version. If you use a sufficiently old translation, or translate a sufficiently old text yourself, then it's okay (even if a newer translation exists, if you didn't use it).

Yup – Ruby/habryka specifically found a translation that we're allowed to post.

4habryka3d At the very least "The New Atlantis", a fictional utopian novel he wrote, was quite influential, at least in that it's usually cited as one of the primary inspirations for the founding of the royal society: []

Referential distance or referential displacement. Like inferential distance, but for reference instead of inference. Inferential distance is when one perspective holds conclusions that require many steps of inference to justify, and the other perspective hasn't gone through those steps of inference (perhaps because the inferences are unsound). Referential distance is when one perspective has a term that points to something, and that term is most easily define using many other terms, and the other perspective doesn't know what those terms are supp... (Read more)(Click to expand thread. ⌘F to Expand All)Cmd/Ctrl F to expand all comments on this post

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3Raemon3d In this case your blog already counted as a third party repository.
5Raemon3d Understood, and apologies. A fairly common mod practice has been to fix typos and stuff in a sort of "move first and then ask if it was okay" thing. (I'm not confident this is the best policy, but it saves time/friction, and meanwhile I don't think anyone had had an issue with it). But, your preference definitely makes sense and if others felt the same I'd reconsider the overall policy. (It's also the case that adding an image is a bit of a larger change than the usual typo fixing, and may have been more of an overstep of bounds) In any case I definitely won't edit your stuff again without express permission.

I know I'll go to programmer hell for asking this... but... does anyone have a link to a github repo that tried really hard to use jQuery to build their entire website, investing effort into doing some sort of weird 'jQuery based components' thing for maintainable, scalable development?

People tell me this can't be done without turning into terrifying spaghetti code but I dunno I feel sort of like the guy in this xkcd and I just want to know for sure.

2lifelonglearner3d There's jquery UI [] which maybe counts?

AFAICT jQuery UI is somsthing like a component library, which is (possibly) a piece of what you might build this out of, but not the thing itself (which is to say, a well functioning, maintainable, complete website).

Although I don't think it's really designed to do the sort of thing I'm talking about here.

4jimrandomh3d Note that this would be a very non-idiomatic way to use jQuery. More typical architectures don't do client-side templating; they do server-side rendering and client-side incremental mutation.

I think it's safe to say that many LW readers don't feel like spirituality is a big part of their life, yet many (probably most) people do experience a thing that goes by many names---the inner light, Buddha-nature, shunyata, God---and falls under the heading of "spirituality". If you're not sure what I'm talking about, I'm pointing to a common human experience you aren't having.

Only, I don't think you're not having it, you just don't realize you are having those experiences.

One way some people get in ... (Read more)(Click to expand thread. ⌘F to Expand All)Cmd/Ctrl F to expand all comments on this post

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7G Gordon Worley III3d So, having a little more space from all this now, I'll say that I'm hesitant to try to provide justifications because certain parts of the argument require explaining complex internal models of human minds that are a level more complex than I can explain even though I'm using them (I only seem to be able to interpret myself coherently one level of organization less than the maximum level of organization present in my mind) and because other parts of the argument require gnosis of certain insights that I (and to the best of my knowledge, no one) knows how to readily convey without hundreds to thousands of hours of meditation and one-on-one interactions (though I do know a few people who continue to hope that they may yet discover a way to make that kind of thing scalable even though we haven't figured it out in 2500 years, maybe because we were missing something important to let us do it). So it is true that I can't provide adequate episteme of my claim, and maybe that's what you're reacting to. I don't consider this a problem, but I also recognize that within some parts of the rationalist community that is considered a problem (I model you as being one such person, Duncan). So given that, I can see why from your point of view it looks like I'm just making stuff up or worse since I can't offer "justified belief" that you'd accept as "justified", and I'm not really much interested in this particular case in changing your mind as I don't yet completely know myself how to generate that change in stance towards epistemology in others even though I encountered evidence that lead me to that conclusion myself.

There's a dynamic here that I think is somewhat important: socially recognized gnosis.

That is, contemporary American society views doctors as knowing things that laypeople don't know, and views physicists as knowing things that laypeople don't know, and so on. Suppose a doctor examines a person and says "ah, they have condition X," and Amy responds with "why do you say that?", and the doctor responds with "sorry, I don't think I can generate a short enough explanation that is understandable to you." It seem... (Read more)(Click to expand thread. ⌘F to Expand All)Cmd/Ctrl F to expand all comments on this post

8G Gordon Worley III3d I forget if we've talked about this specifically before, but I rarely couch things in ways that make clear I'm talking about what I think rather than what is "true" unless I am pretty uncertain and want to make that really clear or expect my audience to be hostile or primarily made up of essentialists. This is the result of having an epistemology where there is no direct access to reality so I literally cannot say anything that is not a statement about my beliefs about reality, so saying "I think" or "I believe" all the time is redundant because I don't consider eternal notions of truth meaningful (even mathematical truth, because that truth is contingent on something like the meta-meta-physics of the world and my knowledge of it is still mediated by perception, cf. certain aspects of Tegmark). I think of "truth" as more like "correct subjective predictions, as measured against (again, subjective) observation", so when I make claims about reality I'm always making what I think of as claims about my perception of reality since I can say nothing else and don't worry about appearing to make claims to eternal, essential truth since I so strongly believe such a thing doesn't exist that I need to be actively reminded that most of humanity thinks otherwise to some extent. Sort of like going so hard in one direction that it looks like I've gone in the other because I've carved out everything that would have allowed someone to observe me having to navigate between what appear to others to be two different epistemic states where I only have one of them. This is perhaps a failure of communication, and I think I speak in ways in person that make this much clearer and then I neglect the aspects of tone not adequately carried in text alone (though others can be the judge of that, but I basically never get into discussions about this concern in person, even if I do get into meta discussions about other aspects of epistemology). FWIW, I think Eliezer has (or at least had) a simil

I agree with Wei Dai that we should use our real names for online forums, including Lesswrong. I want to briefly list some benefits of using my real name,

  • It means that people can easily recognize me across websites, for example from Facebook and Lesswrong simultaneously.
  • Over time my real name has been stable whereas my usernames have changed quite a bit over the years. For some very old accounts, such as those I created 10 years ago, this means that I can't remember my account name. Using my real name would have averted this situation.
  • It motivates me
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These days my reason for not using full name is mostly this: I want to keep my professional and private lives separate. And I have to use my real name at job, therefore I don't use it online.

What I probably should have done many years ago, is make up a new, plausibly-sounding full name (perhaps keep my first name and just make up a new surname?), and use it consistently online. Maybe it's still not too late; I just don't have any surname ideas that feel right.

3jp3d Sometimes you need someone to give the naive view, but doing so hurts the reputation of the person stating it. For example suppose X is the naive view and Y is a more sophisticated view of the same subject. For sake of argument suppose X is correct and contradicts Y. Given 6 people, maybe 1 of them starts off believing Y. 2 people are uncertain, and 3 people think X. In the world where people have their usernames attached. The 3 people who believe X now have a coordination problem. They each face a local disincentive to state the case for X, although they definitely want _someone_ to say it. The equilibrium here is that no one makes the case for X and the two uncertain people get persuaded to view Y. However if someone is anonymous and doesn't care that much about their reputation, they may just go ahead and state the case for X, providing much better information to the undecided people. This makes me happy there are some smart people posting under pseudonyms. I claim it is a positive factor for the epistemics of LessWrong.
2JustMaier4d Another issue I'd add is that real names are potentially too generic. Basically, if everyone used their real name, how many John Smiths would there be? Would it be confusing? The rigidity around 1 username/alias per person on most platforms forces people to adopt mostly memorable names that should distinguish them from the crowd.

Questions around Making Reliable Evaluations

Most existing forecasting platform questions are for very clearly verifiable questions:

  • "Who will win the next election"
  • "How many cars will Tesla sell in 2030?"

But many of the questions we care about are much less verifiable:

  • "How much value has this organization created?"
  • "What is the relative effectiveness of AI safety research vs. bio risk research?"

One solution attempt would be to have an "expert panel" assess these questions, but this opens up a bunch of issues. How could we know how much we could tr

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Making long term predictions is hard. That's a fundamental problem. Having proxies can be convenient, but it's not going to tell you anything you don't already know.

2ozziegooen5d Yea, in cases like these, having intermediate metrics seems pretty essential.
2romeostevensit6d Deference networks seem underrated.

Thoughts on impact measures and making AI traps

I was chatting with Turntrout today about impact measures, and ended up making some points that I think are good to write up more generally.

One of the primary reasons why I am usually unexcited about impact measures is that I have a sense that they often "push the confusion into a corner" in a way that actually makes solving the problem harder. As a concrete example, I think a bunch of naive impact regularization metrics basically end up shunting the problem of "get an AI to do what we want" into the problem o

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[ETA: This isn't a direct reply to the content in your post. I just object to your framing of impact measures, so I want to put my own framing in here]

I tend to think that impact measures are just tools in a toolkit. I don't focus on arguments of the type "We just need to use an impact measure and the world is saved" because this indeed would be diverting attention from important confusion. Arguments for not working on them are instead more akin to saying "This tool won't be very useful for building safe value aligned agents i... (Read more)(Click to expand thread. ⌘F to Expand All)Cmd/Ctrl F to expand all comments on this post

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