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I disagree. I think the real benefit in something like this is to is hear a discussion with a community outsider. A discussion between Elizer and Robin would be interesting but wouldn't offer anything substantially different than existing LW/OB content.


I thought of Myers as well, particularly since PZ is a biologist and not a huge fan of evolutionary psychology it could lead to some informative debate.

Regardless I would be very interested to see a discussion with a physicist/biologist/chemist as opposed to a philosopher/economist/computer scientist. We seem to get a lot of the latter but not much of the former and I'd like to see their perspective on some of our brand of rationality.


One of the concepts I've been playing with is the idea that the advantage of knowing our innate biases is not so much in overcoming them but in identifying and circumventing them.

Your common scenarios regarding risk assessment and perceptions of loss vs. gain generally assume a basis in evolutionary psychology. If these are in fact built into our brains it strikes me trying to overcome them directly is a skill we can never fully master and trying to do so brings tempts akrasia.

Consider a scenario where you can spend $1000 to have a 50% shot of winning $2500. It's a definite win but turning over the $1000 is tough because of how we weigh loss (if I recall loss is weighted twice as greatly as gain). On the other hand you can just tell yourself (rationalize?) that when you hand over the $1000 that you're getting back $1250 for sure. It's an incorrect belief but one I'd probably use as I wouldn't have to expend willpower overcoming your faulty loss prevention circuits.

Which approach would you use?


Just a personal observation that for me there seem to be two classes of akrasia.

1) Inertial akrasia: I should be doing task X, I could do task X well if I just got going, I just can't seem to make myself do task X.

2) Exhaustive akrasia: I want to do task X but I've exhausted my willpower reserve. It's hard to start task X and even when I start I generally drift off-task as I've expunged my willpower reserves.

Type 1) akrasia consists of things like getting out of bed and procrastinating, type 2) is more zoning out midday or being unproductive after getting home from work.

They have similar symptoms and a fair amount of overlap but different treatments. Type 1 seems to generally be tricks to get you started, ie counting to 10, setting deadlines, etc. For type 2 treatments are more removing distractions (don't challenge your depleted willpower reserves) and taking a real break to replenish (ie watch a movie or work every other day).

Personally I think a lot of my troubles come when I try treating type 2 as type 1 or vice versa.

For instance often in the morning I'll often take a while to get working despite the fact my willpower reserves should be near full. Instead of taking a break I should have a trick to start working. Conversely at the end of the day I'll sometimes spend the last half hour reading websites and intermittently poking at a project, unwilling to admit that I've run out of willpower and thinking I just need a trick to get going.

I suspect that my failure to correctly identify which kind of akrasia I'm experiencing so I can treat it accordingly is partially a form of akrasia itself.

Does anyone else have similar experiences?


Why not a top level post noting the lack of women on LW?

Doesn't have to be anything fancy, just note the survey results you don't even have to offer any analysis, just noting the problem in a top level post should be enough to draw some women out of the woodwork in the comments section. It might even inspire a few of them to write their own top level posts.


I should clarify.

I'm specifically thinking of Linus Pauling with his theories about Vitamin C curing cancer and a former Nobel winning physicist (can't remember who) doing a debunking of global warming based on some flaky arguments. Of course Wikipedia claims that Pauling may not have been completely out to lunch (though I don't really trust Wikipedia when it comes to junk science). And I don't really have any hard numbers, just knowledge of a couple cases and some anecdotes from scientists complaining about the tendency of Nobel winners to turn crackpot.

I suppose this could underline the danger I was mentioning about working with limited evidence as I fell victim in my very own example of it!


Awesome work.

One thing that disappointed, but didn't really surprise me, was the lack of diversity in the community

"160 (96.4%) were male, 5 (3%) were female, and one chose not to reveal their gender.

The mean age was 27.16, the median was 25, and the SD was 7.68. The youngest person was 16, and the oldest was 60. Quartiles were 30.

Of the 158 of us who disclosed our race, 148 were white (93.6%), 6 were Asian, 1 was Black, 2 were Hispanic, and one cast a write-in vote for Middle Eastern. Judging by the number who put "Hinduism" as their family religion, most of those Asians seem to be Indians."

The thing that particularly worries me is our low age. Now it's to be expected as internet communities are a young person's game but I'd be more comfortable with an average age closer to 30.

Combine that with the fact that most of us seem to be in Computers or Engineering (I'd really like to know what those "Other Hard Sciences" were) I do worry about our rationality as a group. One thing I've noticed with junk science is that Engineers and to a lesser extent Computer Scientists seem to be overrepresented. I'm not sure of all the reasons for this, I suspect that part of the problem is that we regularly work with designed systems that have a master plan that can be derived from a small amount of evidence. The problem being if you take that tendency to problem spaces that aren't designed you have a tendency to go flying off in the wrong direction.

I'm worried that we could start turning into an echo-chamber where a localized consensus masks a growing dissonance with the outside world. The Shangri-la diet sounds interesting (I'm even giving it a try) but it also sounds a bit like pseudo-science. There could be a completely different mechanism at work, it could even be the good old fashioned placebo effect. I worry that we'll develop a tendency to believe our rationality is strong enough to wade outside of our fields of expertise, the halls of kookdom are filled with brilliant scientists who wandered into a neighbouring discipline and I worry we could risk the same fate.

I'm not saying Less Wrong is a doomed cause or anything, the topics we explore (oh that crazy old Omega!) we seem to do fairly well on and I've picked up many useful lessons and insights. I just worry since we all want to apply our rationality and find answers, but regardless of how rational you are you can't unravel the secrets of the universe just from analysing a piece of cake.

ps Oh yeah, how many of us 83.4% Libertarians/Liberals were very torn because while we really liked the free-market and social liberty ideals of libertarians there were just too many crackpots over there so we considered giving up some economic freedom for the mainstream democrats.


I agree about the political views. The problem is any political parties I've come along with a huge amount of baggage in associated ideas and I'm very hesitant to claim membership with a political tribe lest I signal support for the crazy bits.


Of course some people who post can effectively obscure the signal that they care about karma by trying to display an alternate valid reason they posted.


I can see the reasoning though I don't quite agree for two reasons.

1) If the Lancet report is at all accurate that's a lot of deaths for the long-term benefits to make up for.

2) How much more extreme has that made the rest of the middle east? How has it hurt the possibility of peace in Israel.

I was, and still am against the start of the war, though I've been fairly consistent in thinking they should stay since then. (Oddly enough I thought the surge was a good idea when virtually no-one else did, though have since started to think it didn't really do anything now that everyone is moving on board!).

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