All of Ben_LandauTaylor's Comments + Replies

How do I evaluate the expertise of experts?

This is a difficult problem whose implications go well beyond evaluating charities. Many people seem to defer their evaluation of experts to the experts, but then you have to figure out how to qualify those experts, and I haven't yet seen a good solution to that.

Some heuristics that I use instead:

—Does the expert produce powerful, visible effects in their domain of expertise which non-experts can't duplicate? If so, they're probably reliable within their domain. (For example, engineers can build bridges and aut... (read more)

I found the Nonviolent Communication method extremely helpful for feeling more connected to my friends.

I've noticed a related phenomenon where, when someone acquires a new insight, they judge its value by how difficult it was to understand, instead of by how much it improves their model of the world. It's the feeling of "Well, I hadn't thought of that before, but I suppose it's pretty obvious." But of course this is a mistake because the important part is "hadn't thought of that before," no matter whether you think you could've realized it in hindsight. (The most pernicious version of this is "Oh, yeah, I totally knew that already. I just hadn't make it so explicit.")

A while back I deliberately switched from thinking of new ideas primarily in my head to thinking on paper, using notebooks or text editors. I had a strong, intuitive sense that the quality of my insights dropped, and nearly stopped. But instead I spent five minutes writing down the ideas I'd had using the two different systems, and found that I had substantially more insights thinking on paper–and those insights were usually better. But because they were easier to obtain, I wasn't valuing them as much.

Awesome. PM me if you want to talk more about effective altruism. (I'm currently staffing the EA Summit, so I may not reply swiftly.)

Yet another instance of comedy saving the world.

How many rationalists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Just one. They’ll take any excuse to change something.

How many effective altruists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Actually, it’s far more efficient if you convince someone else to screw it in.

How many Giving What We Can members does it take to change a lightbulb?

Fifteen have pledged to change it later, but we’ll have to wait until they finish grad school.

How many MIRI researchers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

The problem is that there are multiple ways to parse that, and while it might n... (read more)

The effective altruist comment just got me interested in effective altruism. I've seen the term thrown about, but I never bothered to look it up. Extrapolating from just the joke, I may be an effective altruist. Thanks for getting me interested in something I should have checked ages ago and for reminding me to look things up as I don't know them instead of just assuming I got the "gist of the passage."
I literally burst out laughing at the MIRI one.

How many neoreactionaries does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Mu. We should all be using oil lamps instead, as oil lamps have been around for thousands of years, lightbulbs only a hundred. Also, oil lamps won't be affected by an EMP or solar flair. Reliable indoor lighting in general is a major factor in the increase of social degeneracy like nightclubs and premarital sex, and biological disorders like insomnia and depression. Lightbulbs are a cause and effect of social technology being outpaced by material conditions, and their place in society should be... (read more)

I was pessimistic that this thread would yield anything worthwhile, but am gratified to be proven wrong.
Congratulations. You win this thread.
I'm considering how I can use it. I've checked it out before. I'd prefer to utilize the study hall for a specific project, which, at this moment, I don't yet have. Still, a handy resource.

I agree when it comes to asking questions about the facts of the situation. On the other hand, asking nonjudgmental questions about the person's feelings is a good way to establish rapport, if that's your goal. (See also)

Absolutely, but you have to be sensitive. If you genuinely are a little skeptical of the accuracy of the story or the reasonableness of the person's reaction to what happened, you can easily slip and sound condescending, disbelieving and dismissive.

The counterargument would be to claim that cows > pigs > chickens in intelligence/complexity

My understanding is that pigs > cows >> chickens. Poultry vs mammal is a difficult question that depends on nebulous value judgments, but I thought it was fairly settled that beef causes less suffering/mass than other mammals.

Huskies love fish (for obvious practical reasons), and fish are just dumb. (Though the way we achieve that is to mix fishy cat food into our husky's dog food, which is random tinned dog food.)
Pigs on top surprises me, given that I thought pigs had more intelligence/awareness than other meat sources (as measured by nebulous educated guessing on our part).

I've found that the process of creating the cards is helpful because it forces me to make the book's major insight explicit. I usually use cloze tests to run through a book's major points. For example, my card for The Lean Startup is:

"The Lean Startup process for continuous improvement is (1) {{c1::identify the hypothesis to test}}, (2) {{c2::determine metrics with which to evaluate the hypothesis}}, (3) {{c3::build a minimum viable product}}, (4) {{c4::use the product to get data and test the hypothesis}}."

This isn't especially helpful if you just remember what the four phrases are, so I use this as a cue to think briefly about each of those concepts.

Does this become a single card with four blanks to fill or four cards that have all but one blank visible?

I frequently give my friends detailed feedback and analysis on their writing. They know about my speed reading thing, and none of them have noticed any change in the quality of my feedback.

This happened to me all the time before I started putting valuable insights into Anki. I find that 1 card per outstanding article or lecture and 1-3 cards per excellent book is about right. (This is the only thing I use Anki for.)

I tried this but went about it wrong, I wrote a whole bunch of cards like I was making comprehensive notes (around the level of detail of the MineZone book notes), and ended up getting frustrated by the chaff of disordered small notes that the system threw back at me. One card per article / book section seems like a good rule of thumb. Do you have any conventions for turning insights that don't necessarily go into a neat question/answer format into card halves? Just put the whole thing on the front of the card?
I'll have to try that. Indeed I'll have to try to not forget that.

I leaned from Matt Fallshaw, who IIRC was using something loosely based on the Evelyn Wood method.

Thanks for answering, I did some googling and found a website called that seems to be helping. So far I've been able to gradually increase the wpm from where I was comfortable starting, and it seems like it could be an effective tool.

My experience is that modern speed-reading techniques don't lower comprehension unless you get extremely fast (say, 900-1500 wpm). The exception is the very early stages, so it's good to practice on, e.g., mildly interesting fiction. After a couple of weeks with ~30 minutes of focused practice daily, I was reading at double my previous pace with the same comprehension.

How do you know that you have the same comprehension?

Where did you learn these speed reading techniques?

We're working on putting the guest list together. I'll notify people as soon as we have definite answers.

Online stuff:

I have several friends in the DC area who I met because I made this post.

I found my job because I applied to a CFAR workshop, and that led me to attend the Effective Altruism Summit instead (funny story there), which is where I first met the team I work with.

Phil and Eliezer have critiqued my fiction, and I've done the same for Phil and Vaniver.

Meatspace stuff:

I met about a dozen good friends in Boston through LW meetups and lived with several of them before I moved to SF.

These days, my primary social group is maybe 50% self-identified rationa... (read more)

What I still don't get is how to steer a conversation from small-talk phase to more personal topics - esp. in a group setting.

Rosenberg's book gave me a framework that I use to understand the feelings someone is experiencing and to communicate my own experience, which I think is what you mean by "personal topics." The differences between the first and second versions of Schelling Day are strongly informed by this framework, to give an (extremely mechanical and oversystematized) example.

Thank you. There are few hits on LW about NVC. the cover claims 'because it works'. Is that advice backed by deep theories?
I looked at the differences between both: * Removed Confessions and Hopes but addes Background * Allow for limited positive empathize in between instead of at the end * Avoid the open ended sozializing by replacing it with a positive end (eating sweets and then group hug and over). I understand 2+3 but not 1. Is it relevant? Did I overlook something?

It's because of the peak-end rule. Last year, Boston's potluck started out with us following up on what people had shared, and then drifted to our usual conversation topics. I think there are still good reasons to eat a meal together, and good reasons for such a meal to be a potluck, but I'd recommend doing so before the event. I'll edit that in to the post.

This is what I expected, thanks! We're planning on running one in Austin this year.

I'll flag that I'm currently working on revisions to the holiday based on feedback from last time. Expect that to be posted soon.

Space is limited, so we have to be pretty selective. I'd say it's worth taking some time to present the relevant information.

"Good point. I'll think about that when I have the chance."

I've had success by reframing these decisions from "crap, this is too hard (probably because I'm bad), I should give up" to "interesting, this isn't working, what's the best way for this to not work."

The video of Brienne's presentation at the South Bay meetup is the most useful guide I've encountered.

To reach the Peaks of Countersignalling, one must first climb the Hills of Signalling.

It's one way to the peak but not the only one. You can also do the work with pen and paper and analyse your thoughts via the CBT described in the Feeling Good Handbook. You can sit down and meditate till you are in control of your own state of mind. There are many ways. I personally think that I didn't do enough of the pen and paper stuff. Countersignaling is also not the main point. If you are bent on proving that you are confident you don't have the flexibility to play the game a level higher than everyone around you because you moves are intended to be showy.

If it's 57% heritable, then ~40% of the difference is due to other factors, many of which you can control. Imagine someone at the 40th percentile of openness and contrast them with someone at the 80th percentile of openness. 40% is a lot.

I think that openness can be changed to some degree. However, even though I think that traits that are highly heritable are harder to change generally, I don't think one could say that one could say that the fact that openness to experience is 57 % heritable means that we have control over 43 % of our openness. For instance, openness to experience is 57 % heritable in the present social set-up. This does not conclusively show, however, that it wouldn't be much less (or more) heritable in other social set-ups. For instance, it might be possible to develop techniques that increase openness to experience radically. Conversely, non-heritable factors might be beyond our conscious control (as you indeed point out). A person with low openness to experience due to childhood traumas might have at least as hard a time changing level of openness as a person who is not so open to experience for biological reasons. In general, I think, though, that high degrees of heritability signals that it is not easy for the individual to radically change the trait in question.

I've had success in similar situations by reframing things and adopting the "extrovert in training" identity. Struggling at the limit of my ability reinforced that identity, even when that limit was low. For example, an extrovert wouldn't attend the first 45 minutes of a party and then get overwhelmed and leave, but an extrovert in training would. Meanwhile, the identity reinforced my desire to struggle at the limit of my ability (maybe I can stay for 75 minutes), which led to rapid improvement. The general heuristic of reframing from "I am ... (read more)

That is a useful reframing. I’ll give it a try!
This is a great example of a growth mindset motivated identity! If you're not yet good enough at a skill according to your inner judge, just call yourself an apprentice.

Good summary. There's enough detail here that other organizers can easily learn from it. Triple bonus points for noticing a problem and taking a concrete action to fix it.

Lively discussions about off-topics eat time and can keep participants out - but also provide casual athmosphere.

If the group is large enough (say, six people or more), then one way to handle this tradeoff is to establish a social norm to encourage splitting into separate conversations when someone is bored. That way, interested people can delve deeply into a topic without worrying th... (read more)

In my experience, subvocalization doesn't become a barrier until you hit maybe 900-1000 wpm. I still subvocalize, and I read at about 800 wpm with appropriate software and 500 wpm on dead trees, so it's definitely achievable. Over the span of several weeks, I increased my speed from ~250 wpm by spending 30 minutes a day practicing the techniques from Matt Fallshaw's presentation at the Effective Altruism Summit. Unfortunately, my notes are about 3000 miles away, right now.

You've listed one concrete goal and two stupendously vague goals. My first suggestion would be for your friend to spend the time figuring out what, exactly, they're trying to achieve with something like "form an alternative career" or "become a better person," then using the resulting knowledge to make an actionable plan. Clarifying goals is often the first step to achieving goals.

Other considerations: How far in the future will this be? How much money, if any, does this person have available for training or travel or the like? Is CFAR running a workshop during the relevant month?

That handout is excellent. If anyone is an organizer looking for a topic, you could totally just steal this one.

This is a great summary with lots of specific, actionable detail. I successfully transitioned the Boston meetup from "philosophy and science fiction ideas discussion group" to "awesome vibrant community," so I'll give some feedback.

The most important thing in making the transition is to have content at the meetings, such as presentations or focused discussion topics. It sounds like you're doing this already, and having some trouble with the execution. Some suggestions:

—Relying on people to prepare ahead of time doesn't work in practice... (read more)

Thanks a lot for the input, Ben. The meetup has people trying to be heroes; we just need more practice. I'll install those social norms. I'll PM you if I have any more questions.

Short answer: The bad news is, you might in fact be screwed, given the situation. The good news is, it's always possible to change the situation; all it takes is deliberate practice, planning, and a tremendous amount of hard work.

Long answer: Those conditions are rare and valuable things. To get them, you have to offer something rare and valuable in return. Here's how to do that.

First, make sure you're in a situation where you can improve your skills. If your job doesn't use any skills that can be improved, then either take up a hobby, find a new job, or u... (read more)

These are group houses where a bunch of rationalists live together. Sometimes they hold events for the wider community or host visiting rationalists from out of town. I know of several that exist in the Bay Area, one in Boston, and one in New York. There are probably others.

Yeah. The author claims you need to find something where (1) you can improve your skills, (2) you believe your work has positive value, and (3) you don't actively dislike the people you're working with. From there, you can increase your skills and prove your value, then barter that value into a position that has the traits which correlate with fulfillment.

How do you prevent this very strong set of conditions from making you throw up your hands and say "alright, I'm screwed"? I feel like it's what a lot of people would, given their situation, be perfectly justified in doing.

I'm currently about a quarter of the way through this book, and already it has several actionable insights on how to do that.

Just reading the book description, this sounds right: Maybe the trick is with the "something valuable" part. Some people make money by doing things that are not valuable, or at least some Dilbert-esque process removes a lot of value from their contribution. So while you shouldn't keep searching until you find something you feel passionate about (because it is your work that creates the passion), you probably should keep searching until you find something valuable, where the value you add isn't destroyed by the process. And then keep doing it.

The standard advice for starting a physical group is to just pick a timeframe and a nice location, then show up with a good book and stay for the duration. Either other people show up and you've got your meetup, or else you spend a couple hours with a good book.

PM me if you want to talk about founding a group. I ran the Boston community for a while, and it was one of the most rewarding things I've ever done.

It looks like you've already got a list of things you want to answer in the meeting, so you've already done the most important preparation.

I'm unsure as to whether this conversation will be private (me talking to a DSB representative), or if one of my parents will sit in.

This is probably under your control. I expect you have the right to a private meeting, if you ask the DSB rep. If you're worried about how your parents would react to such a request, maybe try framing it as practicing your independence, or something appropriately harmless and fuzzy-sounding?

you are basically engaging in something you are really bad at and don't enjoy

From your description, it seems like you're engaging in something you're good at and don't enjoy. (I mention this because I expect that realizing you've become skilled at this might cause you to enjoy it more. If you try to have the skill instead of trying to fake the skill, you might find that you've already done most of the work.)

these aren't really traits you can just "decide" to improve

True! Instead, these are skills that you can train. "Just decide to be extroverted" will work about as well as "just decide to be better at chess." The thing is that, to turn "decide to be better at chess" into "actually become a better chess player," you have to play a bunch of games and study openings and probably other stuff. (I can't actually play chess very well.)

Over the past couple of years, I have massively shifted my personality towards ... (read more)

Suggestion: link to the mailing list in the meetup post.

Good idea! Though, note: Some require you to ask for permission to see the list, for reasons of privacy. So there is some conflict between making this knowledge publicly available and the privacy. I'll suggest doing this for DC, though, since ours is public.

I'm curious how useful this ends up being. Once you're well above qwerty speed, please let us know whether it increases writing speed as well as typing speed.

my QWERTY speed is 90 WPM, so I will give another update then. I currently hold the dubious "benefit" of valuing my time at under ten dollars an hour. I hope to improve that, though, and hope this helps.

Are there solid examples of people getting utility from Lesswrong?

The Less Wrong community is responsible for me learning how to relate openly to my own emotions, meeting dozens of amazing friends, building a career that's more fun and fulfilling than I had ever imagined, and learning how to overcome my chronic bouts of depression in a matter of days instead of years.

As opposed to utility they could get from other self-help resources?

Who knows? I'm an experiment with a sample size of one, and there's no control group. In the actual world, other thin... (read more)

In general, I've had much more success at substituting good things than cutting out bad things. I tried and failed to stop drinking soda many times, but eventually succeeded without much difficulty after I'd installed the habit of drinking seltzer water.

According to wikipedia, there's a little research and it's been positive, but it's not the sort of research I find persuasive. I do have mountains of anecdata from myself and several friends whose opinions I trust more than my own. PM me if you want a pdf of the book.

I'd recommend Nonviolent Communication for this. It contains specific techniques for how to frame interactions that I've found useful for creating mutual empathy. How To Win Friends And Influence People is also a good source, although IIRC it's more focused on what to do than on how to do it. (And of course, if you read the books, you have to actually practice to get good at the techniques.)

Thanks! And out of curiosity, does the first book have much data backing it? The author's credentials seem respectable so the book would be useful even if it relied on mostly anecdotal evidence, but if it has research backing it up then I would classify it as something I need (rather than ought) to read.

You should totally go to a meetup, if only for value of information purposes. If it's bad, then it costs you one evening. If it's good, then you can go to many, many awesome meetups in the future. (This reasoning applies to trying new activities in general, not just LW meetups.)

Well done. This is one of those things I'd never thought of, but is obviously correct now that you point it out.

Comments on how to expand / rewrite this post would be appreciated, as I feel like I could move it to Main with a little work.

I don't think this needs expansion. Brevity is a virtue, and this does a good job of explaining the core idea quickly and accessibly. If you run it through a spellcheck and spend fifteen minutes making the prose flow more smoothly, I'd consider it ready for Main.

Thanks. I think I'll still try to expand slightly before moving to Main, to address a couple points made in the comments, but I'll try to keep it mostly brief.

Yes and yes.

If you're already beeminding without the pledge and it's not working perfectly, I'd suggest trying a small pledge for the value of information.

Would it be fair to rephrase your question as "How can we make receiving constructive criticism feel good?"

If so, then I endorse the first technique you mentioned. (My mantra for this is "bad news is good news," which reminds me that now I can do something about the problem.) I intend to try the second technique.

I have a third tactic, which is to use my brain's virtue ethics module. I've convinced myself that good people appreciate receiving constructive criticism, so when it happens, I have an opportunity to demonstrate what a good and... (read more)


Not in this case. We had a couple experienced people and many novices.

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