Aaro Salosensaari

I accidentally have created two LW accounts. www.lesswrong.com/users/aa-m-sa is now the active one.


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A Personal (Interim) COVID-19 Postmortem

Yes, if spread grows too large, tracing + quarantines is in fact not worthwhile, and shutdowns will be cheaper. (You can play with a basic DE model and put costs on tracing to convince yourself why this is true.)

Yeah, I tried to imply the problem was in my eyes the flimsy evidence they had a correctly specified model for making that decision. In reality, they didn't stop tracing at any point (I am not sure but looking at news, the public pressure supported by non-epi computationally oriented scientists might have helped. I hope they will do proper post-mortem afterwards.)

Otherwise, I think point by point response is not necessary. I would stress that I have downgraded my evaluation of epidemiology to the extent that instead merely trusting that "this is what epidemiology profs or textbooks say", one should review the actual arguments and evidence

The Fermi Paradox has not been dissolved - James Fodor

The potential for abusing multiplication of fractions to give extremely low numbers is well known. A particularly egregious example of this can be found in the work of Christian apologist Tim McGrew, who estimates the prior probability of having the evidence we do pertaining to the resurrection of Jesus at less than 10^-40, on the basis of multiplying together supposedly independent probabilities of each of Jesus’ disciples separately experiencing a hallucination.

There is nothing biased or weird in multiplication of probabilities yielding small numbers. It is the correct model for calculating joint probability P(A,B) = P(A|B)P(B) or P(A)P(B) if A,B independent. The issue with McGrew's calculation is not that multiplying independent events is "biased", it is that the model itself is wrong (the disciples' hallucinations are not plausibly independent, and there are additional issues concerning the transmission of factful account of events anyway).

Likewise, the correct move of incorporating "number of possible avenues by which life may emerge" is not to add more probabilities into multiplication, you'd include sum terms.

If one wants to criticize the model, that is of course possible, but that is a different point. The are also numerical issues with working with small floating numbers, but usually they can be avoided with careful applications of logs.

A Personal (Interim) COVID-19 Postmortem

Obviously there are discussions of this, but I just checked my copy of "Modern Infectious Disease Epidemiology: Concepts, Methods, Mathematical Models, and Public Health." It discusses travel and the contribution to spread, but mostly focuses on the way IHR limits the imposition of travel bans, and why such bans are considered problematic. It does mention quarantines and travel restrictions, but they aren't the key tools that are recommended.

Could you expand on what arguments they present?

Background / my current take:

The past year I have been reading a little bit about this received wisdom in epidemiology (Quarantines and travel restrictions do not work! Or people should not do that because they are too costly economically/because of human rights!), and in my view I have downgraded the profession's scientific credibility accordingly (that is, failing at rationality), as I have had difficulties finding the actual arguments with numbers and models instead of review articles which say this kind of things as conclusive and cite something which does not appear all that conclusice to a sceptical reader (Usually: airport temperature-taking in Asia during SARS did not work, and Spanish flu eventually reached Australia after several months of not spreading there.)

In contrast, going by my understanding of basic maths, it seems foregone conclusion that if one has limited test&trace capability, limiting introduction of new infectious cases will be helpful for the available capacity to contain new clusters. The amount of help depends on parameters of the measures taken and the disease itself, so it does not help always to great effect. NZ provides a plausible example that it was a helpful move for containing this particular disease. Likewise IIRC WHO and similar bodies have apparently pledges and such not to implement travel restrictions, and such universal policy decisions scream "ideological" to me. The cost-benefit calculus on these matters is not for some group of academians to dictate anyway. Nor its their job to state what is politically impossible or possible. Yeah, right, surprisingly many things become politically possible this year. (Such things happen infrequently, but they do happen.)

Other mind-boggling decisions by epidemiological elite here in Finland (that influence my position here) include the conclusion that "if we think clusters have become an uncontrolled epidemic, we will just cease all tracing and other similar efforts", and "we have this mathematical DE model where we assume we know exactly all the parameters. So if all restrictions influencing R are removed in November, it proves that we will have horribly deadly second wave in November/December unless we actually help the disease a little bit to spread in this R range, for herd immunity you see, trust me we are epidemiologists" (publicized in newspapers, "scientists say that we have horrible second wave in November if we stop the virus too well"). Presumably similar reasoning resulted in our central government department on at least one occasion outright forbidding some regional authorities from testing incoming travellers from Italy at the very moment the test personnel to was going to the airport and they had made media statement starting testing.

edit. Clarification

Open & Welcome Thread – October 2020

I noticed this comment on main page and would push back on the sentiment: I don't think there ever has been such conditions that "more speech" was universally agreed to be better way than restrictions to fight hate speech (or more generically, speech deemed harmful), or there is in general something inevitable about not having free speech in certain times and places because it is simply not workable in certain conditions. (Maybe it isn't, but that is kinda useless to speculate beforehand and it is obvious when one does not certainly have such conditions.)

Free speech, in particular talking about and arguing for free speech is more of commitment to certain set of values (against violence to dissemination of ideas etc), often made in presence of opposition to those values, and less of something that has been empirically deemed to be best policy at some past time but the conditions of those times are for some reason lost. Freedom of speech is not an on-off thing; the debate about free speech seems to be quite a constant in the West since the idea's conception, while the hot topics will change. (When Life of Brian came out, Pythons found themselves debating its merits with clergymen on TV: the debate can be found on YouTube and feels antiquated to watch.)

Moreover, there is something that bugs me in the claim that with certain technological and social conditions, free speech becomes unworkable. The part about social conditions is difficult, as one could say that social conditions in places with free press were the necessary social conditions for free press, and places without had not the necessary conditions, but that feels bit too circutous.

If we allow some more leeway and pick an example of place with some degree of freedom in speech, one can quite often point to places in the same historical period with broadly similar conditions where nevertheless the free speech norms were not there. Sometimes it is the same place just a bit later where the free speech had broken down some way or other and maybe in spectacular fashion. (History of France provides many fascinating examples of this.) Obviously there is a difference in social conditions between such pair of societies, but are the differences inevitable in the sense of resistance to great tidal wave of history being futile, or is the difference of there being just not couple of more individuals putting in effort or making the right move at some crucial point?

Anyway, for a specific example how Enlightenment ideals about relations in society (freedom of speech veing one of them) were argued for because the society was very much not like the ideals, I'd like to highlight Voltaire's Treatise On Toleration. (While the Treatise is not exactly about free speech and more about religious and political toleration and also good judicial procedure, I refer to it because I am familiar with it, and in any case, it is close enough. Anyhow:)

The treatise deals with Voltaire's indignation at a case of the cruel injustice, a brutal murder of one Jean Calas, a Protestant, committed by local authorities with the cheers of local populace against in Toulouse (I recommend reading it for details; it is a fairly short text). Voltaire presents various arguments and rhetorics to convince the reader that what happened was morally wrong and also the primary reason why it happened, religious bigotry, is not a good or useful thing to have in a society.

Voltaire is one of the most famous Enlightenment era thinkers known as proponents of ideals like religious toleration and free speech. This is not because France (or rest of Europe) of his time was very tolerant or had lots of free speech; as he found ample evidence in form of the case of Jean Calas, it was not. In general concerning matters of free speech, the French royal government had active press censorship bureaucracy. The French public life was restricted: there was no formal avenue for political opposition to the establishment. During approximately same period of time, Rousseau spent much of his time in exile from various authorities for his writings, which were banned and burned several times. (The hand on censorship was evidently imperfect.) D'Alembert and Diderot faced various troubles and widespread condemnation for their Encyclopedie. France and Europe had intoleration and restricted speech in abundance (not as effectual and totalitarian restrictions as in some parts of Europe in 20th century). At the same time, Britain generally had wider freedoms of press; many hoped to change conditions of France to be more like British ones, which was one cause why Revolution played out like it did).

However, the two reasons I launched on this bit longwinded tangent was this: To me it is quite unclear what to make of the "big" societal or technological forces in France at Voltaire's time, and we have the benefit of retrospection. Today's future is more difficult to judge.

Also, people who wrote and acted in defence of Enlightenment values such as free speech did it because they felt they had an opportunity but a reason to defend such ideals. It was often unclear how the dice would fall, both for them personally in immediate future and in grand societal or historical scale later on. Sometimes they were successful in increasing the amount of liberty in the world.

(Phew, well that was a bit of mouthful and I think I got a bit too excited and may have lost my train of thought)

Expansive translations: considerations and possibilities

Maybe I am misreading, but in case not everone is not aware of them, in many ways concept-wise the "expansive translation" sounds quite similar to critical editions / translations [1] and other similar scholarly annotated editions [2]. This kind of work usually includes more or less extensive commentaries (often presented as footnotes or endnotes) by later scholars that attempt to explain meaning and context of the original text that may be lost on their contemporary audience. (Critical editions also attempt to deal with cases where there are several differing or fragmented versions of the source text or the original language is very archaic or dead which ofc leads to issues with faitful translations.)

Sometimes the commentaries become influential on their own right. (Weirder things have also happened, like when according to one textual history theory, one day in China somebody shoehorned in a historical novel to terse ancient administrative logbook as "a commentary" to make it more interesting as the original chronicle was attributed to most famous of all scholars, thus creating a renowned classic [3].)

The point being, in scholar traditions it is traditional to distinguish between the text / translation and the commentaries, which at the same time deals with impossibility of perfect translations (by acknowledging that explanations of translation choices at minimum and in general, also other annotations are warranted) but also tries to retain a text with considerable fidelity to its source (such as, has no large insertions to improve it for contemporary audience) which is also useful.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Textual_criticism

[2] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annotated_edition

[3] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zuo_zhuan

The Treacherous Path to Rationality

I do not feel like writing a point by point response, it seems we are in agreement over many issues but maybe not all.

Some paragrah-sized points I want to elaborate on, however:

1 If it is not clear, in my comment I attempted not to argue against your positions in particular. It was more in the support of the idea expressed upthread that building too much of the attitude of there being an identifiable "Rationality Tribe" is a net negative.

(1b Negative both to the objective of raising general societal sanity waterline and the tribespeople's ability of it. Especially I feel the point -- cant find link to comment with my phone -- how in a close-knit society where many opinons obtained by explicit thought are expressed, it can become difficult disengtangle which of my individual opinions I have obtained by my own explicit thought and agreeing with others because I agree with the logic, or which opinions I am agreeing with because of my social mind wants agree or disagree with some specific individuals or "group consensus")

2 One of the reasons I picked the sexual dynamics because OP mentions it in a figure caption as a joke. Nevertheless, it is an indication that at least in the OP the Tribe in question is not thought as existing in eg some abstract idea space but as a specific group of people living near each other enough to have sexual dynamics.

3 I find myself disagreeing with the idea that rationality-in-general (in contrast with LW-originated social group) is a new innovation. In near history perspective the first example that comes to mind, John Allen Paulos published Innumecary in 1988 ; I read it as a kid in 00s when I had no internet and LW did not exist, but it tickled the same parts of my brain as many ideas about putting numbers on arguments floating in LW-adjacent thoughtspace. In long-term history perspective, I'd make an argument that attempt at improving human ability at rational thought is part of the grand scientific project and tradition that goes back to Socrates.

4 I also I think that having social groups over common interests is good. I got started in local area SSC meetups because I was interested in talking with with people interested in AI, science, philosophy, and other such things Iassumed people reading SSC the blog would be interested in. (Maybe this would be "joining a band" in the metaphor.)

5 Writing and disseminating resources that help with better thinking is a good thing and worthwhile project. It is also quite natural that liked-minded people seek each other's company, resulting in a community. (Of which there are and can be many kinds: up until late-20th century, there was an intellectual community of "men of letters" primarly writing letters to each other if they did not live near enough for regular in-person discussion.)

6 The part that seems problematic (and the complaint this comment thread is about) is the point where it looks like the Bay Area community (or some members thereof) treats itself as having a kind-of weird cultural or intellectual monopoly over principles of rationality as the Rationality Community With Capital Letters, whose members tacitly assume after learning about Rationality, others would want join exactly their "tribe", instead of assuming more pluralistic outcomes.

This brings me back to your analogy that inspired me to claim rationality is not yet like music: some people most focused in tribes and communities do not talk in terms of having a music community in Bay Area, but of The Music Community.

The Treacherous Path to Rationality

The point is, the analogy fails because there is no "music people tribe" with "music meetups" organized at "MoreMusical.com". There is no Elizier Yudkowsky of "music tribe" (at most, everyone who appreciates the Western classical music has heard about Beethoven maybe) nor idea that people familiar with main ideas of music have learned them from a small handful of "music sequences" and interconnected resources that reference each other.

Picking at one particular point in the OP, there are no weird sexual dynamics of music (some localized groups or cultures might have, eg. one could talk about sexual culture in rock music in general, and maybe the dynamics at a particular scene, but they are not central to the pursuit of all of music, and even at the local level the culture is often very diffuse).

Music is widespread. There are several cultures of music that intersect with the wider society : no particular societal group has any claim of monopoly on teaching appreciation or practice of music. There is so much music that there are economies of music. There are many academies, even more teachers, untold amount of people who have varying expertise in playing instruments who apply them for fun or sometimes profit. Anyone with talent and opportunity can learn to appreciate music or play an instrument from lots of different resources.

It would be good for rationality to explicitly attempt become like music (or scientific thinking, or mathematics, or such), because then the issue perceived by some of being an insular tribe would simply not exist.

Instead of building a single community, build a culture of several communities. After all, the idea of good, explicit thinking is universally applicable, so there is nothing in it that would necessitate a single community, is there?