All of aarongertler's Comments + Replies

Against Dog Ownership

Reminds me of an old essay I wrote (not fully representative of Aaron!2021) about experiences with a dog who lived with a family but not other dogs, and could never get enough stimulation to meet his needs. A section I think still holds up:

The only “useful” thing he ever fetches is the newspaper, once per day. For thirty seconds, he is doing purposeful work. and his family is genuinely thankful for his help. But every other object he’s fetched has been something a person threw, for the express purpose of fetching. We all smile at him out of polit

... (read more)
For Better Commenting, Avoid PONDS

Would you be interested in crossposting this to the EA Forum? I think your points are equally relevant for those discussions, and I'd be interested to see how posters there would react.

As a mod, I could also save you some time by crossposting it under your account. Let me know if that would be helpful!

2AllAmericanBreakfast6moActually, if you haven't done it yet, let me cross post it next week. I might edit it, incorporating feedback from Willa and Raemon.
aarongertler's Shortform

Epistemic status: Neither unique nor surprising, but something I felt like idly cataloguing.

An interesting example of statistical illiteracy in the field: This complaint thread about the shuffling algorithm on Magic: the Gathering Arena, a digital version of the card game. Thousands of unique players seem to be represented here.

MTG players who want to win games have a strong incentive to understand basic statistics. Players like Frank Karsten have been working for years to explain the math behind good deckbuilding. And yet, the "rigged shuffler" is a persi... (read more)

2Viliam6moPlayers of Battle for Wesnoth [] often accuse random number generator of being broken, e.g. when their unit has 3 attacks, each of them has independently 70% chance to hit, and all three attacks happen to miss. But the chance of that happening is actually 2,7%, and if a level takes twenty or more turns, and in each turn several units attack, this is likely to happen several times per level.
How do you evaluate whether a $500 donation to a project that you know well is a good idea?
  1. Consider cross-posting this question to the EA Forum; discussion there is more focused on giving, so you might get a broader set of answers.
  2. Another frame around this question: "How can one go about evaluating the impact of a year's worth of ~$500 donations?" If you're trying to get leverage with small donations, you might expect a VC-like set of returns, where you can't detect much impact from most donations but occasionally see a case of really obvious impact. If you spend an entire year making, say, a dozen such donations, and none of them make a really
... (read more)
EA Kansas City planning meetup, discussion & open questions

Hey there!

You might want to post this over on the Effective Altruism Forum, which is built with the same structure as LessWrong but is focused entirely on EA questions (both about ways to do good and about community-building work like that of EA KC). I'm a moderator on that forum, and I think folks over there will be happy to help with your questions about organizing a group.

Tips on how to promote effective altruism effectively? Less talk, more action.

Edit: I see that you also asked this question on r/EffectiveAltruism. I like all the links people shared on that post!

How best to grow the EA movement is a complex question that many people have been working on for a long time. There's also a lot of research on various aspects of social movement growth (though less that's EA-specific).

I don't have the bandwidth to send a lot of relevant materials now, but I'd recommend you post your question on the EA Forum (which is built for questions like this), where you're more likely to get a... (read more)

FB/Discord Style Reacts

I don't think I've seen this point made in the discussion so far, so I'll note it here: Anonymous downvotes (without explanation) are frustrating, and I suspect that anonymous negative reacts would be even worse. It's one thing if someone downvotes a post I thought was great with no explanation -- trolls exist, maybe they just disagreed, whatever, nothing I can do but ignore it. If they leave an "unclear" react, I can't ignore that nearly as easily -- wait, which point was unclear? What are other people potentially missin... (read more)

6Raemon2yThanks. As I said elsethread I was leaning non-anonymous. But, I'd also had a fundamental assumption of "some feedback is better than no feedback." If "slight feedback" feels worse than no feedback (curious for other's take on that?), then that might push me in an entirely different direction than reacts, since the whole point was to lower the bar to slightly-more-feedback for people who might have left it at none. (Maybe try out giving people an optional prompt about why they upvoted or downvoted things that is quite short – more like tweet length – so that people have a place where there's enough space to give long-enough-to-be-useful feedback without feeling obligated to write a whole comment)
6Ben Pace2yMy understanding is that Ray wants them to not be anonymous; the idea being voting and anything that determines the order your comment gets seen is always anonymous, and all other things are public.
If they leave an "unclear" react, I can't ignore that nearly as easily -- wait, which point was unclear? What are other people potentially missing that I meant to convey? Come back, anon!

Maybe there should be an option that allows you to highlight a part of the comment and react to that part in particular.

The Forces of Blandness and the Disagreeable Majority
The growth of lots and lots of outlets for more “unofficial” or “raw” self-expression — blogs, yes, but before that cable TV and satellite radio, and long before that, the culture of “journalism” in 18th century America where every guy with a printing press could publish a “newspaper” full of opinions and scurrilous insults  — tends to go along with more rudeness, more cursing, more sexual explicitness, more political extremism in all directions, more “trashy” or “lowest common denominator” media, more misinformation and “dumbing down”, but also some innov
... (read more)
Does the EA community do "basic science" grants? How do I get one?

Looks like you already posted on the EA Forum, but in case anyone else spots this post and has the same question:

I'm an EA Forum moderator, and we welcome half-baked queries! Just like LessWrong, we have a "Questions" feature people can use when they want feedback/ideas from other people.

Lesswrong 2016 Survey

I have taken the survey.

Comment: "90% of humanity" seems a little high for "minimum viable existential risk". I'd think that 75% or so would likely be enough to stop us from getting back out of the hole (though the nature of the destruction could make a major difference here).

5Squark5yWhat makes you think so? The main reason I can see why the death of less than 100% of the population would stop us from getting back is if it's followed by a natural event that finishes off the rest. However 25% of current humanity seems much more than enough to survive all natural disasters that are likely to happen in the following 10,000 years. The black death killed about half the population of Europe and it wasn't enough even to destroy the pre-existing social institutions.
2Elo5yyes maybe. but we have to draw a baseline somewhere.
Open thread, Aug. 17 - Aug. 23, 2015

I took part in the Good Judgment Project, a giant prediction market study from Philip Tetlock (of "Foxes and Hedgehogs" theory). I also blogged about my results, and the heuristics I used to make bets:

I thought it might be of interest to a few people -- I originally learned that I could join the GJP from someone I met at CFAR.

0MrMind6yI love your heuristics! They could be all summed up as: the world has inertia.
Open Thread, Jul. 6 - Jul. 12, 2015

I wrote a pair of essays (and a shorter summary of both) on heroic responsibility, and how it could serve as a strong counterpart to empathy as a one-two punch for making good moral decisions:

Seemed Less-Wrong-ish, though my "heroic responsibility" is written for a different audience than Eliezer's, and is a bit less harsh/powerful as a result.

Effective Altruism vs Missionaries? Advice Requested from a Newly-Built Crowdfunding Platform.

This is the best article on EA and religion that I've seen so far, and uses selective Bible quotes to make points:

Of course, you can use selective Bible quotes to make nearly any point, so this probably won't work if framed as a counterargument. Perhaps you can just show it to your cofounders and ask what they think, as the beginning of a discussion about what God might want or what Christians owe to non-Christians.

But I second MattG's advice that leaving is probably advisable, particularly if the above goes nowhere.

Rationality Quotes Thread February 2015

"Applause, n. The echo of a platitude."

--Ambrose Bierce, The Cynic's Word Book

How to learn soft skills

I will second The Charisma Myth and The Flinch. I have mixed feelings about Never Eat Alone, but if you live in a large city/on a college campus, Ferrazzi's advice is likely worth reading.

Who are your favorite "hidden rationalists"?

Yeah, this was disappointing to me as well. My feeling is that he's an "any publicity is good publicity" type, which could be seen as seedy (he has a book/classes to sell) or safe (he thinks he knows how to save a ton of time on exercising and prevent a lot of silly injuries, he wants as many people as possible to stay healthy). Having read a lot of his stuff and watched some of his talks, my beliefs tend towards the second, but it's unclear.

CFAR in 2014: Continuing to climb out of the startup pit, heading toward a full prototype

I gave $50, and plan to give substantially more within a year of graduation. That was one hell of a "big picture" section, Anna.

Rationality Quotes November 2014

Teacher: So if you could live to be any age you like, what would it be?

Boy 2: Infinity.

Teacher: Infinity, you would live for ever? Why would you like to live for ever?

Boy 2: Because you just know a lot of people and make lots of new friends because you could travel to lots of countries and everything and meet loads of new animals and everything.

--Until (documentary)

0Luke_A_Somers7yFrom the same source: :| hate to break it to you, kid...
8BloodyShrimp7yWhile this is on My Side, I still have to protest trying to sneak any side (or particular (group of) utility function(s)) into the idea of "rationality".
Stupid Questions (10/27/2014)

Search "Rationality Diaries" on LW to see a huge archive of examples from recent years. (Those are places where users upload recent stories of victory from their lives.)

3JoshuaFox7yThank you, those have some excellent answers to my question.
2014 Less Wrong Census/Survey

Done! The survey has been a progressively smoother experience each of the past three years. And it's nice to have a time to think about the past month's habits in a structured way during the school year.

Group Rationality Diary, September 1-15

I use a cardboard desk from Single-surface, but I'm in the process of setting something up for less neck strain. The desk itself was very cheap and portable.

Group Rationality Diary, September 1-15

Wanted to experiment with working more often while standing (since I estimated a 40-50% chance this would be a good overall choice, between potential health gains and potential productivity gains). Winced at the thought of buying a $100 piece of furniture that would make this possible. Realized that this equated to about 25 cents a day, even at a relatively conservative value of how often I'd use it. And I would absolutely pay 25 cents per day to RENT this thing.

And now I own the thing! And I'm happy every time I see it, and so far I feel good on days when I use it. Odd that one of my lasting gains from CFAR is being better at spending money.

1AlexSchell7yWhat product do you use? For good posture, I want the monitor(s) to be much higher than the surface the keyboard lies on, but most standing desks I've seen have just one surface.
Moving on from Cognito Mentoring

I'd think it wouldn't be too hard to have a selective set of clients. A single screening interview makes sense here, and might even help appeal to parents who want to think that their child is being treated as special -- which wouldn't be a bad thing, if the child actually was special.

As an SAT tutor, I've tried to impart life lessons along with bubble-filling lessons (on how to look at tests in general, how to hack studying, etc.), but the scope of those has necessarily been limited, both by the demands of the SAT and by the types of students I work with... (read more)

Rationality Quotes May 2014

“I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer.”

― Douglas Adams

-3brazil847yI like this quote, but it occurs to me that "I don't know" is often a reasonable answer to a question. How about this: "I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I can't think of an answer which I am confident will not put me in a negative light."
Questions to ask theist philosophers? I will soon be speaking with several

Wonderful question! I spent some time recently interviewing religious converts on my very un-religious campus, and I think you'll find your discussions fascinating, if not particularly epistemic-rational.

Some topics I'd bring up: Second CronoDas on "why are you not a Jew/Muslim?", as well as "what evidence (especially scientific evidence) could lead you to dramatically change your belief in God, if not stop believing altogether?"

Finally: "If you stopped believing in God, what do you think would be the consequences in your present l... (read more)

Rationality Quotes April 2014

So as to keep the quote on its own, my commentary:

This passage (read at around age 10) may have been my first exposure to an EA mindset, and I think that "things you don't value much anymore can still provide great utility for other people" is a powerful lesson in general.

Rationality Quotes April 2014

"Throughout the day, Stargirl had been dropping money. She was the Johnny Appleseed of loose change: a penny here, a nickel there. Tossed to the sidewalk, laid on a shelf or bench. Even quarters.

"I hate change," she said. "It's so . . . jangly."

"Do you realize how much you must throw away in a year?" I said.

"Did you ever see a little kid's face when he spots a penny on a sidewalk?”

Jerry Spinelli, Stargirl

So as to keep the quote on its own, my commentary:

This passage (read at around age 10) may have been my first exposure to an EA mindset, and I think that "things you don't value much anymore can still provide great utility for other people" is a powerful lesson in general.

What are some science mistakes you made in college?

Well, "learn from it" and "use the crapware" can mean different things. I've found useful the rule of thumb that "someone else once had your problem and you should find out what they did, even if they failed to solve it".

What are some science mistakes you made in college?

In the HUGR, I've included the advice "learn the sad stories of your lab as soon as possible" -- the most painful mistakes others, past and present, have made in the course of action. Helpful as a specific "ways things can go wrong" list.

What are some science mistakes you made in college?

I won't be able to respond individually to everyone, but thank you all for your contributions! If anything else comes to mind, please leave more quotes -- I'll check back periodically.

What are some science mistakes you made in college?

Indeed! I found this to be an extremely helpful resource w/r/t seeking out "meta-expertise":

Key quote: "Here is a good rule of thumb: If you are trying to solve a problem, and there are multi-billion-dollar firms whose entire business model depends on solving the same problem, and there are whole courses at your university devoted to how to solve that problem, you might want to figure out what the experts do and see if you can't learn something from it."

1zslastman7yIf I had only had this advice at the beginning of my PhD, I would have saved myself a lot of hassle.... Also, the above advice would suggest, for instance, that we should use SAP's ridiculous, bloated crapware to manage human resources etc... Sometimes the multibillioner dollar companies fail.
How can Cognito Mentoring do the most good?

Have you looked at the Johns Hopkins/Center for Talented Youth forums at I think you need a special login to get on, and I forgot my info long ago, but the community still seems to be of a respectable size.

2JonahS7yThanks! We've heard of it, but don't know very much about it, because it's gated. You used to use it? What was your experience?
Don't teach people how to reach the top of a hill

At least the existence of this post will make "discovery" easier for the next person who has to do this task (if they know to look for it, at least). Perhaps there are some steps in the process that are best taught instead of climbed, or vice-versa, and the challenge is to figure out the right mixture?

(I recall a coding bootcamp I was a part of, where a careful balance of "look this up" and "ask the instructor" was required so that the instructor wouldn't be overwhelmed and people wouldn't waste an entire day fixing a chain of mistakes flowing from some trivial error.)

Political Skills which Increase Income

When I saw the title, the first things I thought of were Ramit Sethi's videos on negotiation and the CFAR income negotiation workshop. This seems more focused on promotions than raises, but are you aware of any meta-studies that examine specifically the effect of different types of negotiation strategies?

Rational Evangelism

I agree with avoiding identity-claim aspirations.

When I use the Ned Flanders example, what I'm thinking is:

I know Christians who say that belief in Jesus and being determined to love others will make life better, and they express this better-ness in their incredible patience and kindness--to the point where I wish I were equally patient and kind.

I think we could get to a point where Less Wrong members can say "living with a strong awareness of your own biases and a desire to improve yourself will make your life better", and express this better-... (read more)

Rational Evangelism

When I visualize Bjorn Lomborg's "Indonesia 2100 should have the same GDP per capita as Denmark now" future, I start to glow on the inside. There are many things about LW that give me that glow. I just wish I were better at expressing the glow at the right times without sounding weird about it.

1buybuydandavis7yI think that's lowballing it by a wide margin. If Indonesians in 2100 only live as well as the Danes now, some catastrophe hit the earth in the interim.
Rational Evangelism

HPMOR is really cool, but I've also known several people who can't stand it. Too long/too Gary Stu/too strange for devoted fans of the original series. Luminosity is just as good, but suffers from some of the same issues. I think we need more short stories that have reasonable, non-utopian endings, things people can pick up and read in an hour. Though I say this knowing I likely won't be in a position to write any of these stories for a while...

Rational Evangelism

"These advantages are real, significant, and probably even replicable for a more secular memeset - but I think if we tried it, we'd be missing our own point."

Interesting. I think that could be true of whatever our "point" is right now. But eventually, that point is probably going to have to involve something that people at the IQ 100 level can pick up and use with some success in their daily lives, the same way so many already do with religious principles. (Though LW principles can hopefully avoid most of the negative downsides that come with living religiously.)

2Alicorn7yI agree that we should aspire to eventually appeal to the IQ 100 population with as many of our concepts as we can. I don't think we should use the identity-claim-but-no-deep-thought technique to do it.
Rational Evangelism

Sounds like Jonathan Edwards, or maybe Timothy Dwight. Both of them have Yale residential colleges named after them. No one cares much about the Hell stuff here, though, probably because John Calhoun (another college namesake) was an infamous slaveholder.

Rational Evangelism

Targeted quick reads are great! That's one reason I like the quote threads so much--almost anyone will be fond of a few good rationality quotes, and that's a good way to introduce them to specific LW material.

Rationality Quotes February 2014

"Let's just seal up Hell and leave it there" = "Let's just accept the good things about death and leave it there". But I see lots of things with LW glasses on at this point, so it could be a stretch. Also just a fun example of seeing problems from a new angle

0Eugine_Nier7yTo me that seemed as more of a case of, "Let's flood hell with the ocean, Satan won't escape" = "Let's just put this AI in a box, it won't get out".
3[anonymous]7yIf I hadn't read Three Worlds Collide, I would very likely not have gotten Black Hat Guy's point in that comic.
Rationality Quotes February 2014

Cool response! Upvoted. But when I saw the comic, I read it as:

"Hey! Certain things are pretty scary and seem to be beyond our human abilities to deal with! But in the face of fear, we should size things up and take action, large-scale action if need be." In other words, a metaphor for death. (But I've been seeing many things as metaphors for death lately, so your mileage may vary.)

The "Yahweh wants it this way" conclusion is interesting, but then again: If God had to put Hell literally underground, he seems like more a Philip Pullman-i... (read more)

0[anonymous]7yYou're right. We just have to think: "What would Squirrel Girl [] do [] ?"

Wait, hold on. You can't just flood Hell. There are people down there, apparently preserved well enough to torture for eternity without ageing (except if ageing is the torture, of course). Surely there's some way to exploit this!

Also, Hell would mean Lucifer is somewhere down there. Do you think we can dredge him up for a decent Faustian bargain? Any decent LW-er should be able to do a few things with Faust's traditional Omni-Knowledge that should render Christian-style immortal souls obsolete and unnecessary, and possibly irretrievable when Lucifer comes collecting as well.

Let's get Munchkining, people.

7Mestroyer7yIt's clever, but I don't think the workers would be irrational for sealing it up. If Hell is real, then it makes sense to conclude Christianity or Islam is mostly true too. Which means that a super-powerful agent wants those people tortured. If you try and save them, you will fail. (There's no thwarting an omnipotent or near-omnipotent being). And this agent will probably torture you too for trying. Edit: In other words, "Nobody fucks with the Jesus. []" When I try and imagine what the god who could exist and call himself Yahweh and not have been noticed until now would do in a situation, my brain spits out "do nothing and continue to hide oneself, because it was part of the plan all along" So maybe by flooding Hell you're acausally making Yahweh decide in advance when he made the plan "I'm gonna torture people up until this person floods Hell." instead of "I'm gonna torture them forever."
2Eugine_Nier7yHow is this a rationality quote? The main conceit amounts deciding who would win in a fight based on how awesome Monroe happens to find them.
Meetup : Yale: Initial Meetup

I would love to visit, but will be interviewing candidates for positions at a publication (standard Yale excuse, I know). Hope I get another chance! I can see about recruiting other likely candidates for future meetings, as well.

Rationality Quotes February 2014

"The story of Japanese railways during the earthquake and tsunami is the story of an unceasing drumbeat of everything going right [...] The overwhelming response of Japanese engineering to the challenge posed by an earthquake larger than any in the last century was to function exactly as designed. Millions of people are alive right now because the system worked and the system worked and the system worked.

That this happened was, I say with no hint of exaggeration, one of the triumphs of human civilization. Every engineer in this country should be wal... (read more)

Rationality Quotes December 2013

I recently bought a print of the same comic from the author. They are still being sold:

Rationality Quotes December 2013

Expressed in pictures rather than words, but a great example of how to respond to humanity-threatening calamities:

Sidenote: Almost every Minus comic is wonderful, and there aren't that many of them (you can read the whole series in an hour).

2DanielLC8yAre you saying that you should respond by being omnipotent?
4adamzerner8yIt's probably because I'm not familiar with Minus, but I don't understand what the girl did that is admirable. If she's normal, Mestroyer's comment addresses why it isn't admirable. If she has superpowers, destroying the meteor is completely effortless for her, making her action simply a decision of saving humanity over letting it die, which mostly anyone would make.
4cody-bryce8yCool comic, though a repeat []
6Eliezer Yudkowsky8yI printed this up and hung it on my wall for a while. Before anyone gets worried about what that indicates, the girl in the comic is a reality warper and could get away with it. Never found a good enough image of Akemi Homura changing her eyes, though.
4Mestroyer8yThe girl with the bat is trying to try. It's symbolic defiance, not a proper response to a humanity-threatening calamity. Granted defiance is a better attitude than the attitudes of the people shivering in fear, praying, smiling and holding up "Welcome to Earth!" signs, looting and pillaging, sitting around mellow-ly and talking and doing nothing, and standing in lines and holding hands. But that girl is still going to die and so will the rest of humanity. Maybe you can argue that she doesn't know it won't work, but there are kinds of virtue a rationalist should not aspire to, and that includes the kind that you can only have by being ignorant of things.
4linkhyrule58ySlightly ruined by the fact that, well, given minus, I'm really more worried about the meteor...
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