Correlation does imply some sort of causal link.

For guessing its direction, simple models help you think.

Controlled experiments, if they are well beyond the brink

Of .05 significance will make your unknowns shrink.

Replications prove there's something new under the sun.

Did one cause the other? Did the other cause the one?

Are they both controlled by something already begun?

Or was it their coincidence that caused it to be done?


Self-study ideas for micro-projects in "abstract" subjects?

Many of the coolest and most useful activities for learning are sealed off from non-professionals, or at least are expensive and time confusing to obtain certification or access. Usually for good reason.

This seems like a fundamental dilemma of the role of school. To make students directly see what’s cool about different subjects, they need lots of hands-on experience. But the vast majority of their time, and most of their evaluation prior to grad school, comes from book work. Access to hands-on projects and a sense of freedom and agency is limited at best.

And ultimately, that’s for reasons of safety and expense, which we can’t just criticize away.

It seems then that a big learning skill is maximizing access to such applied projects.

I wonder, then, if it would be better to orient school around single subjects from an earlier age. It makes more sense to give a student heightened access to mentorship, equipment, and materials if that stuff is their obsession. And for a self-studier, it seems important to figure out first what you want to obsess yourself with, and then focus on getting maximum access to applied learning environments.

Self-study ideas for micro-projects in "abstract" subjects?

Always enjoying your thoughts. Thanks chemslug. My expectation is that there are more safe and tractable micro-projects out there than the average student takes for granted. But I am also raising these questions to confirm a suspicion I have: that despite our love for the idea of "learning by doing," there are many disciplines where a long slog of paper-based learning, punctuated by a few carefully regulated experiments, has to precede any kind of creative or independent hands-on activity.

LessWrong's steeped in "move fast and break things" Silicon Valley culture, which seems to inform a fair bit of the perspectives on education I see shared here. One reason why I appreciate your comments here is that you bring insight from a less-represented discipline, one with a different set of norms and requirements than we find in Programland.

Do you think that most aspiring chemists would do well to figure out how to set up their own home lab, figuring out how to manage the risks and invest in some equipment? A fume hood costs a few thousand dollars, which is pricey but not completely impossible. Or is there a pretty hard norm that you don't do any serious chemistry outside a professional lab setting? At what point do chemists become qualified to design and execute their own projects?

Self-study ideas for micro-projects in "abstract" subjects?

These are great ideas, thanks! I like both the specific suggestions and the idea of contacting societies popularizing the subjects. I hadn't thought of that idea.

Agreed that there are real issues with doing "interesting" chemistry at home. I do think that this is one area where the idea that students can motivate themselves by finding an "applied" project to work on might not be the best advice.

Self-study ideas for micro-projects in "abstract" subjects?

Here's another way of stating the exercise:

  1. Take a subject you're familiar with, or ideally are an expert in.
  2. Pick a sub-sub skill out of an introductory textbook on the topic. For example, if your subject is biochemistry, you might pick "RNA aptamers." If the subject is differential equations, you might pick "separable equations."
  3. Propose a micro-project where a student who had an introductory-level grasp of that topic would find it directly relevant. This micro-project should ideally be safe, cheap, legal/ethical, tractable for a self-studying introductory student, challenging/fun enough to be interesting. It should also be at least thematically related to real-world work in that field, in the way that coding a tic-tac-toe game is thematically related to professional programming work.
Search-in-Territory vs Search-in-Map

Those are nice examples/test cases!

Here's what I think is the right way to understand what's going on in the phone case. Let's say you're looking for an ice cream stand in a park.

Your brain takes input from the phone and your eyeballs. It synthesizes them, along with memories and other sense data, into a prediction about where you should walk and what you should look at in order to find the ice cream stand. Based on that mental synthesis, it sends outputs to your body, causing you to walk/read/look around.

In this conception, there's ultimately only "search in map," where the map is in your brain. "Search in territory" is just a fancy label we give to a certain subset of sense impressions that aren't focusing on what we conventionally call a "map."

I think that John is interested here in this distinction from a more practical, engineering perspective. When is it efficient for some instrumental goal to create or consult what we'd conventionally call a "map?" Here, the important thing seems to be the distinction between accumulating and storing information in a legible format, versus acquiring data anew each time.

I'm just pointing out that ultimately, there has to be some abstract synthesis of signals. The idea of transducing signals from one form into another might be more helpful for understanding this side of things. Here, the important thing is tracing the transduction of information from one processing mechanism to another.

To me, these seem importantly different, so I'm advocating that they be split apart rather than lumped together.

How do you establish a comfort zone in your studies?

Makes perfect sense! Going into scientific research, there's often kind of a chicken-and-egg problem. You know that knowing biochemistry, differential equations, immunology etc. would be useful somehow, eventually, if you became familiar with these subjects. You do have a general interest in these topics, since they're directly relevant to becoming, say, a biologist. But most of your learning along the way won't be directly related to a project that directly has real, applied value to your own life or the lives of others. That comes later. So figuring out how to enjoy the studying you must do before you're able to work on practical projects seems useful. That's mainly what I'm wondering about here.

Thanks for your thoughts on the motivational role of practical projects!

How do you establish a comfort zone in your studies?

Agreed. I think of this as the problem of "source selection." C.f. The Best Textbooks on Every Subject if you haven't checked that out, though I don't know if I agree with the recommendations or this anecdotal approach to the problem.

How do you establish a comfort zone in your studies?

Good thoughts. I agree that having a convenient practical application is very nice. Programming is lovely, because even a complete novice can make things that feel interesting to them with just a few pieces of basic knowledge.

By contrast, there's a fair bit of precursor knowledge required to figure out how to apply, say, differential equations to a biological modeling problem. Even though chemistry is in theory practical, the danger, regulation, and expense of setting up a laboratory to mess around in makes practical projects a less appealing way to learn (though it's perhaps counterbalanced by other factors like the hands-on aspect).

The problem I'm focusing on here is less about the difficulty of wrapping your head around a concept and ultimately committing them to memory, and more about motivating yourself to keep on trying.

For example, if you're reading a math textbook, you might find it difficult to understand. That's one problem. But you might also find it relatively easy to understand, yet find yourself getting distracted, losing focus, feeling stressed, or just not feeling like studying it.

My theory here is that in those cases, it's common for people to think that the reason they're feeling that way is that it's "too hard," or that they're "not smart enough." My guess is that for many, the reason is that math is a Jenga Tower topic and they haven't spent enough time establishing a comfort zone with the basics.

They could, in theory, keep pressing forward, just reviewing old concepts when those old concepts are explicitly referenced in the new material. But that may produce two kinds of experiences: an experience of "I can't believe I've forgotten this already," and an experience of "I don't understand this new stuff," neither of which is pleasant.

As an alternative, if students can press through some new material until they get tired, and then just "swim around," reviewing old material, sort of basking in the experience of what they've just learned, they might find their motivation returning. They start to have two different experiences: an experience of "wow, I've learned a lot already!" and "because of what I've already learned, this new stuff is making pretty good sense!"

If we were just robots who could mechanically force ourselves to do what's optimal for memory-building, then maybe this would be an inefficient approach. But if we think about our studies as having a twin purpose of building memories and building motivation, then this starts to look more attractive.

Search-in-Territory vs Search-in-Map

It seems to me like search in territory (SIT) and search in map (SIM) are matters of degree, not kind. So they can potentially be quantified. They also have to do with transduction from one form of information to another.

For example, with the SIT example, you’re transducing information from scale balance and rock position into and out of brain states. With the SIM example, you transducer information from your brain, into a pre-designed spreadsheet, then from scale balance and rock position into your brain, into a spreadsheet, and then back to rock position.

It doesn’t seem like there’s a hard distinction between the two from that perspective? Not sure.

Alcohol, health, and the ruthless logic of the Asian flush

From Wikipedia: "Disulfiram does not reduce alcohol cravings, so a major problem associated with this drug is extremely poor compliance. Methods to improve compliance include subdermal implants, which release the drug continuously over a period of up to 12 weeks, and supervised administration practices, for example, having the drug regularly administered by one's spouse."

My guess is that for a strategy like this to work better, you'd need the pain to come right away, strong enough to build an immediate association between alcohol and suffering. Instead, "about 5 to 10 minutes after alcohol intake, the patient may experience the effects of a severe hangover for a period of 30 minutes up to several hours." By contrast, here's how one Reddit user describes alcohol cravings:

It isn't so much a thirst like for water after a long run, it is more like a thirst for the body buzz and mental clarity that comes with drinking. You cannot enjoy any activity until you have that drink in you, and once you do, ON THE FIRST SIP, your body finally releases you from the tenseness and uncertainty you've been feeling all day. It is an indescribable release.

Note that the effect is immediate and intensely pleasurable. Yet alcohol only reaches the brain 5 minutes after consumption, and only takes effect 10 minutes after consumption. So there's something psychological, not just chemical, going on here. I'm skeptical that a delayed-onset pain that's potentially not even shifting the same motivational mechanism that caused the cravings would be effective.

The fact that people self-harm, despite the fact that the pain must be immediate and intense, should be at least some evidence against the idea that strategies like this would work. My money is on the idea that disulfiram's apparent effectiveness when taken is mainly a third variable problem. People who take it are likely to be highly organized or highly motivated to quit.

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