All of Ben's Comments + Replies

Not-Useless Advice For Dealing With Things You Don't Want to Do

One approach I find helpful is committing to doing it next time I am bored and able.

It works well for me. There will come a time (sooner rather than later) when something gets cancelled or whatever and I find myself at home at about 19.30 having eaten and thinking "do x? - nah. Y - bored of that..." and suddenly remember that doing the task is not doing to make me more bored than I already am.

It’s Probably Not Lithium

I agree that most animals will become overweight if given unlimited tasty food. Two counter examples in my life were a cat and a hamster.  Both only became overweight in old age - with unlimited food and many treats. Caveat - the hamster didn't look fatter than normal hamsters, but maybe all hamsters are fat.

Luna Lovegood and the Fidelius Curse - Part 1

I really enjoyed the previous Luna story and am excited to get into this one. Don't know how fiddly it is to do but it would be nice if these had the "next" buttons that the chamber of secrets ones had.

I have added them back.
Paper reading as a Cargo Cult

I agree with these. Related, if you work in a team I think it is far more important that you read papers no-one else in your team has read, than reading papers that everyone in the team has read. Put that way it is obvious, but many research groups welcome new members with a well-meaning folder of 30+ pdfs  which they claim will be useful.

Feeling Rational

A side-point on the hypothetical universe where counter-induction largely holds. One issue with that world is that if one of that universe's bizarre inhabitants (assuming such a place somehow supports life) can use induction to discover the counter-induction rules. IE "When one spots an apparent pattern the next result will be the inverse of that predicted by the pattern, I have noticed this pattern historically and its always been good so far." Which seems slightly paradoxical. 

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread

Just finished the whole thing. Would like to say I thoroughly enjoyed it all. It starts out as one thing (entirely comedy) and over time becomes darker and more serious - I was really impressed by how the transition was handled.

One tiny detail that I especially liked was that, whenever messages where time-turnered back in time, Harry always copied it onto a new piece of paper - the same piece never went around a full loop (that I noticed). As soon as you notice that you notice that a piece going around a full loop would be infinitely old, and would have already been worn out to nothingness. 

Chapter 14: The Unknown and the Unknowable

What I really like about this "closing loop" theory is that is explains why things that emerge from a time-loop with no real source conform to certain standards. For example, Harry knew when he made his game/prank what the notes needed to say - so there was no reason for them to conform to his own personality. But they did.

Only problem is that we need to assume a convergent series - a grandfather paradox seems like it might converge to an alternating series in the hands of a some narrator fields. 

1Jon Garcia16d
To quote a future chapter in ROT13: Vg frrzf gung guvf Aneengvir Pbafgehpgvba sbepr (Ryvrmre, va ernyvgl, jura ur jnf pbzvat hc jvgu gur fgbel) bayl fgrref gvzr geniry riragf gbjneq ybbcf gung ner fgnoyr nsgre bar vgrengvba. Lrf, n tenaqsngure cnenqbk jbhyq abeznyyl pnhfr n gjb-vgrengvba ybbc, ohg vs gung jrer cbffvoyr va guvf svpgvbany havirefr, gura Uneel'f rkcrevzrag jbhyq unir fgnovyvmrq ba "457 k 397" engure guna "QB ABG ZRFF JVGU GVZR". Vg frrzf gung gur Aneengbe fgrrerq Uneel gbjneq jevgvat gung zrffntr engure guna pbagvahvat uvf rkcrevzrag nf cynaarq. (V pbhyq vzntvat guvf pbfzvp ragvgl vffhvat Uneel n qverpg jneavat (Ybirpensg-fglyr) nsgre gur svefg gvzryvar gung ur punatrq uvf cerivbhf shgher frys'f zrffntr, yrnqvat Uneel gb fraq uvf bja jneavat gb uvf arkg cnfg frys, jvgu gur zrffntr naq unaqjevgvat fgnovyvmvat npebff gvzryvarf fubegyl gurernsgre.) For the same reason, I would expect any time traveler attempting a grandfather paradox would find themselves thwarted in surprising ways, resulting in no grandfathers getting killed (or realizing that the man they thought was their grandfather actually wasn't). Even if the time traveler succeeded in the first few iterations, creating a two-iteration loop, I think Narrative forces would cause this to destabilize until a one-iteration loop was achieved. In other words, no convergent series need be assumed. Convergent series are enforced.
Steelmanning Marxism/Communism
Answer by BenJul 14, 20223

Capitalism works by creating the concept of personal ownership. This is intended to movtivate people to produce goods and services that other people value as they can then trade these for things that they value. Once they produce or acquire something it is "their's" and they shouldn't have to part with it. The concept of ownership requires policing to maintain, and is typically somewhat restricted (in different societies in histroy you may or may not have been able to own ideas, gold, people or weapons.)

However, while the concept of personal ownership migh... (read more)

Immanuel Kant and the Decision Theory App Store

I know this is mostly a philisophical take on Kant, but its interesting that these kind of issues will probably come up soon (if not already) in things like GPS apps and self driving cars. Lets say that some very significant percentage of road users use your GPS app to give them directions while driving. Do you optimise each route individually? Or do you divert the driver you know to drive slowly on single-lane country roads out of the way for your other users? If you are a dating app that really, really trusts its matching software maybe you partner one p... (read more)

Train Philosophers with Pearl and Kahneman, not Plato and Kant

A big problem with "Critical thinking", at least in the UK, is that our government introduced a new school subject called "Critical thinking" in which it was much easier to do well in the exams than other subjects. This was extrem, to the point that some schools (to boost their average grades) made every student do critical thinking in addition to the normal allocation of 3 A-levels subjects. This is really extreme, every student is doing only 3 subjects each. You give them all another subject to do. If this new subject is comparable that is a 33% increase... (read more)

Train Philosophers with Pearl and Kahneman, not Plato and Kant

I studied a philosophy module during my undergraduate in the UK. I noticed that the course was structured very carefully so that in the exam there were two ways of succeeding. (1) Having a very good memory of who had said what, and the ability to write something "English-literature-y" about what they had said. Here I noticed a strong taste for worrying about how stylishly things were said. (2) Doing something more on the logic side of things - this felt much more natural and more precise (less wooly) to me. Now, I have been told that in most mainland Europ... (read more)

Air Conditioner Repair

I don't think the post is confusing. Everyone is young once. Everyone has that time where, for the first time in their life, sorting out the gas/internet/leak/AC is their responsibility.  Many people, within the first couple of times they need to do this, get stung and learn a valuable lesson. Depending on how lucky/unlucky you are you could go a long way before encountering something like this. And, for everyone, (at least for me) the first time this happens it is a real surprise. Yes, maybe at an academic level you were able to imagine that there mi... (read more)

Air Conditioner Repair

"but they hadn’t completed the necessary certificate of insurance to be let into the building" - Just a random side point. In the UK many of us hold two, simultaneous and contradictory veiws of the US. The first is "they let you do just about anything there, you can even buy a gun!". The other is "the whole place is drowning in random needless restrictions stopping you from doing basic things. You can get fined for not having and mowing a lawn!"

Needing to complete a certificate before a repair-person can even step over your doormat to just look at a problem, now that is a really giant data point on the second one.

Moses and the Class Struggle

Something is less than three percent. Or, a heart emoji followed by a percentage sign.

My favourite interpretation is that the "<3" is a heart emoji. Then the "%" sign is supposed to remind us of the comment character in eg. python.  But nothing follows the %-symbol, so the full meaning is "I love this, no comment."

Shut Up And Guess

This is incredible. As others have said the most likely explanation is that people could see the system was intended to dis-incentivise guessing and that this design intent shaped the way they saw the test.

Now I want an exam on "logic and probability" which uses this system. The surprise being that the grading system indicated is in fact a lie. You fail if you put a single "don't know". Otherwise you pass with 100%. 

(A teacher of mine at school once set us a reading test. It had a big line at the top saying "read this entire test before starting". The... (read more)

The inordinately slow spread of good AGI conversations in ML

Nice read. One thing that stood out to me was your claim that "Jetsons" AI (human level in 50-250 years, beyond later) was a riddiculous scenario. Perahps you can elaborate on why this scenario seems farfetched to you? (A lot of course hinges on the exact meaning of "human level".)


I think Holden's The Most Important Century sequence is probably the best reading here, with This Can't Go On being the post most directly responding to your question (but I think it'll make more sense if you read the whole thing.

(Really I think most of Lesswrong's corpus is aiming to answer this question, with many different posts tackling it from different directions. I don't know if there's a single post specifically arguing that Jetsons world is silly, but lots of posts pointing at different intuitions that feed into the question. Superintelligence FAQ... (read more)

Deep Learning Systems Are Not Less Interpretable Than Logic/Probability/Etc

I think that you have a point, but that arguably there is some goalpost moving going on somewhere in here.

Say, some computer system recognises trees, and has something in a layer of its mathematics that roughly corresponds to its idea of tree. Maybe that idea of a tree is no further removed from the real object than my hazy thought-cloud that goes with the word "tree" - but so what? When talking about how interpretable something is to me the question is not one of distance from reality, but the distance to my concepts.

I drew a random sketch to clarify my p... (read more)

To the extent that a system's concepts match my concepts but not reality, I would expect that to be some form of deception; the system is playing to mistakes I am making.
Value is Fragile

While I think you may very plausibly be correct, there is (I think) some reasonable grounds for uncertainty. I can imagine that an advanced algorithm that performs the role of making scientific discoveries to aid in the development of technologies for the great paperclip fleet might indeed have "some one home". It maybe that this is beneficial to its effectiveness, or might be close to essential.

I can't make any strong claims about why this would be needed, only that human beings (at least me) do have "some one home", but if we didn't know about human bein... (read more)

Ruling Out Everything Else

Nice article. It reminds me of the party game Codenames. In that game you need to indicate certain words or pictures to your teammates through word association. Everyone's very first lesson is that working out which words you do NOT intend to indicate, and avoiding them, is as big a part of gameplay as hitting the ones you do (possibly bigger).

If Many-Worlds Had Come First

This is a very nice essay attacking the Copenhagen interpretation, and other objective collapse models. But I think that the way it is written seems to imply that if I don't believe in objective collapse, that the only alternative is to believe the equally insane idea that I live in a world that is constantly locally branching into millions of alternative worlds, only one of which is, even in principle, observable to me.

There are many alternatives. I think Qubism is a mix of a genuine solution, and a  kind of a slight-of-hand that hides the problem. M... (read more)

Starting too many projects, finishing none

I also have this experience. For me the answer is to work with other people. In those weird personality test things that businesses sometimes do their is a category of person (I think, for some reason, called a "plant") who flits from one exciting idea to another and never finishes things. The silly business teamwork talk thing suggested that a good team has someone like that, then someone who is a bit more negative who can try and shoot ideas down to make sure bad ones don't get through, then finally a person (possibly the second person again) who is dedi... (read more)

Negotiating Up and Down the Simulation Hierarchy: Why We Might Survive the Unaligned Singularity

I am not sure I entirely follow. If I am indeed a simulated Clippy, then presumably I am fixated on increasing the number of paperclips in my virtual environment. Why should I care if my actions may ultimately harm the prospects of the real Clippy acting in the real world? How does that Clippy, or its "real world" factor into my reward function? If I am 90% sure my world is simulated do I only value my paperclips at 10%? If so then engaging in self-deception to bring my belief in my reality up becomes a very attractive strategy.

4David Udell3mo
If you are simulated Clippy, then you indeed care about increasing the number of paperclips inside your simulated world. But your simulators might decide to shut off or alter your simulation, if you go about utterly reshaping it into paperclips. You're only worried about higher levels of the simulation hierarchy here insofar as those levels might negatively (from your perspective) interfere with your simulated world.
A philosophically reflective AGI might adopt a view of reality like UDASSA [] , and value paperclips existing in the base world more because of its smaller description length. Plus it will be able to make many more paperclips if it's in the real world, since simulated Clippy will presumably be shut down after it begins its galactic expansion phase.
Narrative Syncing

If you are looking for more examples of narrative syncing:

  • "I have read, and accept, the terms and conditions [tick box]". I have not read the terms and conditions. They know I haven't. This is not an information exchange.
  • I was shopping with my Grandma once. I knew bananas were on the list and put them in the trolley. She asked "why didn't you take these bananas" and indicated a different brand. I thought she was asking for information so provided it, saying "they are smaller, cost more, and are wrapped up in plastic.". I got body language that indicated I
... (read more)
Dath Ilan vs. Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri: Pareto Improvements

Perhaps not standard. But another possible explanation of why wars are fought is that any specific war might be a sub-optimal move, but that making a plausible pre-commitment to a war as a  general policy is a good disincentive for other people to avoid conflicts with you. You asked for some territory from me, we could negotiate a mutually acceptable compromise, but then maybe all those other jerks also start asking me for land. Maybe I value that disincentive highly. 

Another factor is that all the farmers and mooks who will loose limbs and lives... (read more)

Virtue signaling is sometimes the best or the only metric we have

I agree completely that your focus groups are going to give similar responses. I especially enjoy your dating example. "Oh, George you haven't! When you were only a 25 fold murderer I could look the other way, but I don't think I can marry a man who has killed 26 people."

Virtue signaling is sometimes the best or the only metric we have

I think your flat condemnation curve logic raises some weird problems. If the condemnation curve going from the murder of 25 people to 50 is relatively flat, then what do you say to someone who has already killed 25 and plans to kill 25 more? It seems like you would say "We have already decided you are maximally evil, so if you turn back from this course of action, or follow through, it won't make any difference to our assessment."  That logic seems incorrect to me. To me, when the mass murder stops killing people (or starts to kill significantly fewer) then that behavioural change seems significant.

Okay, let me clarify a little. If you ask some people what they think of someone who's killed 25 people, and you ask a similar group what they think of someone who's killed 50 people, you're going to get responses that are not meaningfully different. Nobody's going to advocate a more severe punishment for the 50-person killer, or say that he should be ostracized twice as much (because they've already decided the 25 person killer gets max and you can't go above max), or that they would be happy with dating the 25 person killer but not the 50 person killer, or that only half the police should be used to try to catch the 25 person killer. Nobody will say that. But they'll behave that way. Which is the equivalent of completely avoiding meat, not of eating less meat. (And to the extent that vegetarians don't behave with meat-eaters like they would with human killers, I'd say they don't alieve that meat-eaters are like human killers.)
Slack gives you space to notice/reflect on subtle things

I agree with the basic setup, although I think their is an optimal amount of slack to maximize the effectiveness of noticing subtle things. To notice these things you need experience, and time to reflect on it. Too little time is probably the main bottleneck in most cases, but in some cases it will be too little experience. IE Hiring a hundred slack-specialists to hang around with 100% slack-time is not likely to be productive.

Maybe I am mis-reading you, but I think of the "noticing subtle things" is something like, after you put out all the fires you later think "many of these problems seem to stem ultimately from the way that..." or whatever. But without having seen the problems that could not have happened.

On Saying the Obvious

I can completely believe that these papers were successful (as measured by citations for example), but that does not necessarily mean they were the most useful papers or that people got the most out of them.

In a typical paper, somewhere in the introduction it will be necessary to say some basic "establishing the field" statements. Academics want to support these statements with references. A reference that says some basic thing, in plain words with very little technical hedging, is much easier to find and cite than a series of more targeted and precise poi... (read more)

The internet makes it easier to cooperate, that’s the problem

Very nice read. One aspect I find fascinating is how international political movements might be effected. One reason nations are defined by borders geographically is that coordination used to be constrained by distance. But that is less and less the case, for example, New Zealand's anit-lockdown protests were described as "imported" from Canada ("inspired" would probably be more accurate). I think nations will stay geographical, but perhaps something in their character will change. Policies need not just catch "the national mood" but perhaps the internatio... (read more)

I think language barrier is substantial for now and New Zealand and Canada sharing English language is an exception.
Editing Advice for LessWrong Users

I actively dislike the use of inline links. When I am reading an article and there is a link I now have a choice, continue reading or follow that link. I immediately feel myself leaving the thread of the article itself to make a quick assessment about whether the linked material likely to be more or less interesting than the article I am currently reading. Even in the best case this is a small speedbump that can break flow.

I think that maybe the links can all be at the end in a reference section like place. It might feel quite formal, but it doesn't break ... (read more)

Ideal governance (for companies, countries and more)

I agree 66th of of 200 is pretty good. My general point is that to talk about "success" you need to already know what winning looks like.  Low corruption is certainly not the #1 thing, and probably not in the top 10 for most people. But it probably makes it into the top 100. Maybe GDP per capita is a in the top 10. These discussions (what is good) are sort of needed to ground any kind of discussion about whether a particular system produces good outcomes. I singled out China simply because the other two on this list would (by the kinds of metrics I wo... (read more)

Ideal governance (for companies, countries and more)

You describe three systems (Switzerland, Singapore and China) as "very successful" I was wondering if you could elaborate a little on what metrics you believe are marks of success. You offer 6 categories, but I have trouble seeing how you might connect them to outcomes.

Specifically, for me at least PRC feels like an odd include on a list of "very successful, democratic designs", as (1) it is not widely described as democratic, and (2 - more relevantly) by most of the metrics I would reach for (eg. GDP per capita, global happiness index, press freedom index... (read more)

2Marion Z.4mo
Fourth, seventh, and 66th out of ~200 is quite good? I agree that there are aspects of all of these nations which are objectionable, particularly China, but corruption seems like an odd example. I think there's a fair argument that the PRC has been extremely successful in many metrics given the position of the nation in 1945 - that China was in extreme poverty and I wouldn't have expected it to improve so quickly. China is undemocratic in many ways in practice, particularly press freedom and freedom of speech, but on a gears level, the system of local and regional governance is a relatively effective democracy.
Ideal governance (for companies, countries and more)

Your "select 1,000 voters at random, give them time to do research. Only they vote" system made me think of how Venice used to elect a doge. It was madness! Basically they introduced N layers of "this group of people appoint a larger group, that is stripped back by lot. They then appoint the next group..." [1]. The fact that this kind of system did exist, but doesn't any longer, perhaps reflects badly on it.

As a separate point, the official system, "constitution", is always actually beholden to whatever the "real" system is, which can drift quite far. In a... (read more)

Eight Short Studies On Excuses

One aspect that complicates the situation with the sports and music fans is an unwillingness to kick people when they are down.

The grieving student, or a student who was sick (even slightly sick, could have still got the report in but at a utility cost) are both people for whom we feel bad.

In contrast your example of the music fan is different. Or the example of a student who says "Last night a Billionaire's experimental utility AI calculated that giving me a surprise trip to space in a rocket would be worth 10^7 utility points. So I missed the deadline wh... (read more)

Why Agent Foundations? An Overly Abstract Explanation

The fact that the mutual information cannot be zero is a good and interesting point. But, as I understand it, this is not fundamentally a barrier to it being a good "true name". Its the right target, the impossibility of hitting it doesn't change that.

This is the part I was disagreeing with, to be clear.
My current thoughts on the risks from SETI

While these ideas are interesting I think there are many reasons not to worry about SETI. The first is that I find the "malicious signal" attack very implausible to begin with. Even if the simple plain-text message "Their is no God" would be enough to wipe out a typical civilization I still think the aliens don't stand much of a chance. How could they create a radio signal that carries that exact meaning to a majority of all possible civilizations that could find the broadcast? And this is a scenario where the cards are stacked in the aliens favor by assum... (read more)

Your second paragraph seems unpersuasive to me. I would think that designing a program that can wipe out a civilization conditional on that civilization intentionally running it would be many orders of magnitude easier than designing a program that can wipe out a civilization when that civilization tries to analyze it as pure data. Both things would require that you somehow make your concepts compatible with alien information systems (your first counter-argument), but the second thing additionally requires that you exploit some programming bug (such as a buffer overflow) in a system you have never examined. That seems to me like it would require modeling the unmet aliens in a much higher degree of detail. Now, you could argue that if an astronomer who is attempting to analyze "gamma ray bursts" accidentally discovers an alien signal, that they are just as likely as SETI to immediately post it to the Internet. But suggesting they would accidentally execute alien code, without realizing that it's code, seems like a pretty large burdensome detail []. (Contrariwise, conditional on known-alien-source-code being posted to the Internet, I would say the probability of someone trying to run it is close to 1.)
Confidence levels inside and outside an argument

Splitting it by internal/external is a nice system.

I think people do this instinctively in real life. Exhibit A: people buy lottery tickets. My theory for this is that they know that the odds of winning are too low to justify buying a ticket assuming it is actually fully random. However, most people are willing to put the probability that karma, divine justice, God's plan or their lucky ritual might swing the lottery in their direction at some nonzero value. If they believe in one of these things with even 1% certainty then the ticket is a good deal for them. 

A lottery ticket can be justified in terms of utility even if it can't be justified in terms of expected value.
Is Success the Enemy of Freedom? (Full)

Brian Josephson is an interesting example, his discovery of the Josephson effect at the age of 22 won him a Nobel physics prize. At about the same time that the physics prizes started to pour in for his discovery he switched hard into studying telekinesis, meditation and psychic powers (

Now, specifically in his case it is tempting to reason as follows: If he spent the rest of his career working in physics he would always be primarily known for that thing he did right at the beginning. If he wanted his new work ... (read more)

How to Best Use Twitter

I agree that the italics would be nicer, it would make that paragraph more obviously skip-able. And it is a paragraph that I (and possibly others) chose to skip. 

More Dakka for Coronavirus: We need immediate human trials of many vaccine-candidates and simultaneous manufacturing of all of them

Reading this post with the power of hindsight one downside for a more aggressive strategy is obvious: Trust.

The Oxford AstraZenica vaccine is, by any reasonable standards safe. A tiny fraction of the people it is administered to have blood clots, but the only reason this is even known is because it has been given to millions of people. If the sample wasn't so large we could lack the statistics to resolve the effect from coincidence. Yet, people are still quite worried about this vaccine, some governments dismiss it.

So, a faster more aggressive vaccine test... (read more)

Scholarship: How to Do It Efficiently

I have a couple of pet theories for "why physics not chemistry" on arXiv use.

(1) arXiv's structure really wants you to be using latex to produce your paper. My experience is that latex has conquered physics, but not other fields as much. This is supported by my impression that the more theoretical the physics the more computational it tends to be, and the more likely the author is to use latex and arXiv. 

(2) The American Physical Society Journals are formatted in quite a minimalist manner, which tries to look quite formal. A typical arXiv preprint usi... (read more)

Scholarship: How to Do It Efficiently

I recognise that problem as well. Unfortunately it has a really large number of advantages. Not only might you flatter your reviewers and build comradery with the people you want to cite your papers but you also trigger citation alerts for more people. Google scholar (or presumably alternatives) tell people about "hey, this cited you" and then more of the relevant audience see your paper. Often these "padding references" are not papers you have actually read in full detail. You know the abstract, the conclusion, the figures and maybe saw a familiar equatio... (read more)

Conspiracy-proof archeology

Its interesting. A relatively recent example is people investigating some conspiracy involving English kings and royal succession using DNA evidence in the bones,they%20vowed%20to%20investigate%20further.

One aspect that presents something of a problem is not just whether the window has closed on the evidence itself, but on the medium used to transmit the evidence. If someone on the street tells m... (read more)

Very true. I was thinking from the point of view of the experimenter: "could I possibly test it if I really wanted to". This may be relevant because knowing that something could be investigated in the future provides an incentive not to cheat. Also the Plantagenet thing is really cool, I had no idea about it.
Constraints & Slackness as a Worldview Generator

I think this is very much true.  Only if you are both aiming for the same things (eg. economy growth) will different constraints be the primary drivers of different choices.

But I think that the two samples were, in some aggregate sense, not aiming for similar objectives. In Medieval Europe, presumably, people believed that increasing prosperity and economic growth were good things.

This is not a universal standard. According to Karl Popper's "Open Society and its Enemies", the ancient Spartan government placed as the greatest objective : stability. All... (read more)

Ambiguity causes conflict

A very nice read. Something to note: typically in the arms race that can precede a war the side that is behind will invest in unconventional weapons. For example Germany's U-boat investments.  They didn't know for sure if submersibles were a good tactic or not, but they did know for sure that their ordinary battleships would be outnumbered even if they committed the full navy budget to them. So they took a punt on submarines.

This adds more ambiguity. If the underdog has invested much of their budget into a new-fangled weapon that has never seen real action before then they introduce additional uncertainty into the two sides likelihoods of victory.

Something to Protect

Very interesting. I can't help feeling that "trying to be a better rationalist" is somehow a paradoxical aim.

Roughly speaking I would say that we have preferences, and their is no rational way of picking preferences. If you prefer pizza to icecream, or pleasure to pain, or living to dying, then that is that. Rationality is a mechanism for effectively seeking your preferences, ordering pizza, not putting your had in a fire etc. You can't pick rational preferences (goals), you can pick a rational route towards those goals.

If you adopt "I want to be more rati... (read more)

The Best Textbooks on Every Subject

Sometimes two textbooks on the exact same topic serve completely different purposes. There are "I want to learn this thing I don't know" textbooks, and there are "I am an expert but I still want this book on hand as a tool to help me with my experting". Below I describe the most extreme examples I am aware of, which are unfortunately on different topics:

Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos by Strogatz  is incredibly readable. You can sit with it on a train and read non-stop without needing to look anything up and you will keep wanting to relate the next amazi... (read more)

Monks of Magnitude

Nice ideas. It sounds like (without mentioning it directly) that you are thinking about publishing pressure in academia. Academics applying for a new job, or for funding that enables them to keep their current job, will typically provide a list of publications they produced. It goes without saying that a list containing entries {A, B, C} must be strictly better than the list merely {A, B}. So long lists are good. People whose funding requests/promotion applications fail often claim (to themselves and others) to be 1,000 day monks by your metric. Many of them are right, others have simply been unsuccessful 100 day monks (due to various factors, that may include ability but also luck, resources, coworkers etc).

Defending One-Dimensional Ethics

Enjoyable dialogues. I am convinced of the "all in one place" argument from a strictly efficiency standpoint. Even more so if we have a lot less money than the example where diminishing returns (some beds that need bednets are out in the wilderness far from roads, you do those last) will not matter.

A (fairly unorigonal) utilitarianism problem that I find myself often toying with is something like the following:

What if we could spend the $1 billion on a brain in a jar connected to the matrix. We can feed that brain the sensation of a day at the beach. Then ... (read more)

Pain is not the unit of Effort

This is a wonderful point made well. I know who have fallen into the trap of taking the path of most resistance for reasons like those you lay out.

My own (less clear) version of a similar concept was a strong dislike of the saying "work ethic". What is ethical about working?

Some comments:

(1) I have noticed some cultural correlations in this area. In my limited experience Danes approach this issue in a more healthy way that the English. A colleague who used to work in Japan complained bitterly about his Japanese colleagues making themselves (and him) misera... (read more)

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