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A combination dial often has a tolerance of 2 in either direction. 20-45-35 will open a lock set to 22-33-44.

I certainly hope not! I think you intended 20-35-45 for the first or 22-44-33 for the second.

But spinning a hard drive can move things just outside the computer, or just outside the room, by whole neutron diameters

Not long ago, when hard drives were much larger, programmers could make them inch across the floor; they would even race each other. From the Jargon File:

There is a legend about a drive that walked over to the only door to the computer room and jammed it shut; the staff had to cut a hole in the wall in order to get at it!

It's 'Peirce', not 'Pierce'.

Eliezer is certainly correct that our real goal is to make optimal decisions and perform optimal actions, regardless of how different they are from those of the herd. But that doesn't mean we should ignore information about our conformity or non-conformity. It's often important.

Consider the hawk-dove game. If you're in a group of animals who randomly bump into each other and compete for territory, the minority strategy is the optimal strategy. If all your peers are cowards, you can completely dominate them by showing some fang. Or if your peers follow the "never back down, always fight to the death" strategy, you should be a coward until they've killed each other off. Non-conformity is a valid goal (or subgoal, at least).

On the other hand, in situations with networks effects, you want to be a conformist. If you're selling your widget on Bob's Auction Site, which has 20 users, instead of eBay, your originality is simply stupid.

What can we do about this? Can we reduce the effects of contamination by consciously avoiding contaminating input before making an important decision? Or does consciously avoiding it contaminate us?

Oops, as a correction to my previous comment, that should be "ground radars." "Ground satellites" is just an oxymoron.

"He sent messages declaring the launch detection a false alarm, based solely on his personal belief that the US did not seem likely to start an attack using only five missiles."

According to the Wikipedia article, Petrov claimed that he had other reasons for believing it was false alarm: lack of corroborating evidence from ground satellites and the fact that the detection technology was new and immature.

Oops, that should be "non-falsifiability," not "non-falsification."

Interesting post. It strikes me that semantic stopsigns join adoration of mystery and non-falsification as survival tricks acquired by story memes when curiosity -- and other stories -- threatened their existence.

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