All of BenLowell's Comments + Replies

I've been coming back to this post for 7 years or so, and the whole time it's obvious that I don't have something to protect, and haven't found one, and haven't yet found a way to find something to protect. It seems pretty cool though - and accurate that people who really care about things are able to go to great lengths to improve the way they think about the thing and their ability to to solve it.

I can say that once I realized I cared about wanting to care about something, that helped me quite a bit and I started improving my life.

There is possibility to skip the singularity question, since skipping is chosen to mean "very unlikely". Instead, choose some year like "-1" or "0"

This reminds me of how I met Nate Soares. He came to a few LessWrong meetups (his first ones), and I dismissed him because he was talking about a bunch of technical things that didn't seem very interesting to me. (I've was much more interested in finding flaws in my own emotional thinking then in discussing things like many worlds quantum mechanics or decision theory.)

I wrote him off as not-a-very-interesting person. Some of it was his interests, I was also a little offput by his intensity and took it as a sign of bad social skills. These days I read and re-read his blog and have gotten enormous gains from doing so, and he's off doing wonderful things.

This isn't very broad, but it went much better than I expected.

I wrote a series of letters to my grandmother describing my experiences at CFAR and describing what I learned. She is finding them very valuable and says that she has been discussing and sharing them with her friends to understand the ideas better. She wishes that she heard a lot of the ideas much earlier.

I'm so far only finished writing about half of my experiences and it has been wonderful. Rewriting everything I learned is helping me connect it in new ways. Since my grandmother doesn't know... (read more)

Very glad to hear you're having this positive impact! Would you consider posting revised versions of the letters here, with personal details taken out? I think this would be a good resource for the community.

Are there any known groups which have high conscientiousness? I would be especially curious to know about groups with high conscientiousness and openness to experience.

I scored high on both (4.5 openness and 4.2 conscientiousness), so, err... good question! (AKA I really, really wish I had an answer for this.) In the few minutes I had before posting this, I managed to scare up this 2003 meta-analysis that tried to correlate the big-five with Holland's RIASEC occupational types. Before reading I was expecting to see (85%) a correlation between conscientiousness and artistic/openness and artistic, with the prior that I attending an art school and successful art seems to hang on both qualities. [] Spoilers: I was wrong. The analysis concludes that openness correlates with Artistic and Investigative types (Table 5) and, of those, conscientiousness correlates very weakly to Investigative (Table 3). Heading to Wikipedia, you can find sample careers for RIASEC codes below, but I'm not getting a sense that many of these careers really combo well with conscientiousness and openness. [] Noted exceptions: Technical writer, "Counselor", Psychology/Psychologist
Possibly startup-culture people?
High conscientiousness is strongly associated with political conservatism, although there is dispute as to whether this is a direct effect of personality on ideology or a societally mediated effect (i.e. whether it is conscientiousness -> conservatism or conscientiousness -> life success -> conservatism). (On the first point see e.g. Hirsh, J.B., DeYoung, C.G., Xu, X., & Peterson, J.B. (2010) - Compassionate liberals and polite conservatives. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 655-664. On the second point see e.g. Morton, R., Tyran, J. R., & Wengström, E. (2011). Income and ideology: How personality traits, cognitive abilities, and education shape political attitudes. Univ. of Copenhagen Dept. of Economics Discussion Paper, (11-08). However, conservatism is negatively associated with openness to experience. I am not aware of any notable political cluster that combines the two.

Another relevant excerpt from the article:

Which saddens me, as an MWI proponent, because I am very quick to admit that there are potentially quite good objections to MWI, and I would much rather spend my time discussing those, rather than the silly ones. Despite my efforts and those of others, it’s certainly possible that we don’t have the right understanding of probability in the theory, or why it’s a theory of probability at all. Similarly, despite the efforts of Zurek and others, we don’t have an absolutely airtight understanding of why we see apparen

... (read more)

A lot of times different ways that people act are different ways of getting emotional needs, even if that isn't a conscious choice. In this case it is likely that they want recognition and sympathy for different pains they have have. Or, it's more likely the case that the different hurts they have (being lonely, being picked on, getting hand-me-downs, whatever) are easily brought to mind. But when the person tells someone else about the things in their life that bother them, it's possible that someone could say "hey, it sounds like you are really lone... (read more)

I wish I knew what I wanted to have studied when I went to college, so that I could have hit the ground running, with a goal in mind. Instead I took a year and half before I had settled on a major of physics. It seems that some people had a better idea of what to get out of college, but that seems largely dependent on their parents, where they grew up, and what part of the internet they lived in. I don't feel like I had a good understanding of what different jobs and careers were like.

So for classes, I took more chemistry than I would have liked, but that ... (read more)

and "avoidance coping"

I think that it's worth discussing the non-lesswrong term for an ugh field: Anxiety

I noticed that it wasn't mentioned in the original article or comments, but this is a case of people rediscovering what there is already a large field of research on. It may be helpful for learning more.

Also "aversion".

Not measuring twice before I cut (machining), directly after my adviser told me this.

Before that happened:

I'm not sure if I can count it as a mistake, since it's mostly his fault, but a month or so after I started my adviser came up to me and asked why I had been drawing all these plans, and not using the specs. No one told me that someone else had already designed the laser I supposed to be building.

For me, it seemed like it was the natural result of wanting to know 'why'.

I started college thinking I wanted to do biochemical engineering and study molecular biology without knowing much about it other than I liked the sound of it. For most of my life I had been interested in nature/biology. However, I decided that biology classes seemed like just reading books and repeating the information, and I was interested in learning how the chemicals worked, so I continued to take more chemistry, and changed my major to chemistry. In organic chemistry I was upse... (read more)

I did the ~1/2 of the problems up through chapter 4, and am currently reading chapter 5. I'm not sure If want to spend more time doing problems or not, but I'm definitely interested in reading the rest of the book.

How do you not get fatigued with recording things?

What are your recommendations for amount of structure before you incorporate pomodoros? Is there any structural/organizational stuff you should have set up before you do them?

I'm actually a bit surprised that I was able to maintain my recording for over a year. Some reasons why I think I was successful in hindsight: 1. Since I made the tracking app myself, I was excited to use it for the first little bit. 2. I intentionally made my tracking app such that I could see my daily, weekly, and category totals, all at once for a given week, which is important for me since my primarily unit of productivity measurement/planning is the week. 3. I came to realize that tracking all of the categories was key to the whole thing working. By tracking e.g. miscellaneous stuff (which seems pretty pointless at times), you're given a constant reminder that you are "covering all your bases." 4. After tracking pomodoros for several months, not tracking pomodoros made it feel like I wasn't being productive. 5. Once I passed a critical threshold, I was motivated by the thought of having an entire year's worth of data. You need basically zero structure to start using pomodoros; just a task and some time to work on it. (I say this especially because I'm really bad for wanting my system to be "perfect" before I use it.) I treaded the pomodoro waters for several months before delving in to tracking everything. My organization system, in short, is having a +/-5 year plan, a current year plan, and current quarter plan, and current month plan, and then specific tasks/projects for the current week (which I roughly estimate in pomodoros, or at least aim to hit a certain total for the week).

If possible, I'm interested in how unique the passwords were.

I used a random number generator for mine. Not so much because I think someone else could claim my prize, but on general principles that it is the correct choice.
I'm pretty sure mine was unique - I went into my Ruby interpreter, loaded the dictionary I'd been using for class projects and used "sample" twice.
I'm pretty sure mine was unique - I went into my Ruby interpreter, loaded the dictionary I'd been using for class projects and used "sample" twice.
I was sorely tempted to use "squeamish ossifrage []". But with more than a thousand regulars, many of whom are interested in computing trivia, I figure it's likely that someone else thought that would be clever.
I used a random password generator (set to 'readable', because the survey asked for 'words' or some such). Why would you do anything else?
Second that :)

I used to not listen to music for similar reasons, yet I played piano regularly. I also was confused by it, especially the lyrics---I couldn't understand what people were saying.

Eventually, peer pressure got me and I started listening to music, usually one cd over and over. Eventually I came to like it and became more comfortable with it as background, in a very similar way to wearing a watch or clothes different from my usual is extraordinarily uncomfortable, but after a week it becomes the new normal.

Beeminder: +3. Defining goals in a way that works well is difficult.

GTD + 0 It doesn't seem to be very useful when you don't have any appointments and things you want to do are more along the lines of "do all the problems in this textbook"

Getting on a somewhat decent sleep schedule + 2. Making my computer automatically turn off at 11 pm combined with putting shades made out of pillow cases on my bedroom lights has helped me go to sleep between 12 and 2 usually, which is much better. This gives me about 4 hours of extra time that otherwise would h... (read more)

Next time, please include a short introduction of what THINK is so I don't have to look it up.

(It is an effective altruism group)

You're right, thank you. I'll edit the post.

I would write down your beliefs about working, and then analyze them. The goal should be to identify false and unhelpful beliefs and then find things that you can replace them with. Your basic beliefs about how the working world works will be a much better psychology base for other skills like beating procrastination or improving willpower. Read books or listen to things that will replace your old beliefs.

One thing that is an important part of procrastination is anxiety that is often related to feeling like your work is part of your self-worth, and so by n... (read more)

There is also the unspeakable visions of the seer in 85. Was there any previous mention of Trelawney and her vision-clock or am I just remembering before the update?

Yes. Trelawney has had two seer-nightmares so far, and the most recent one seems to be triggered by Harry's (now deleted in revision) decision to apply brutal utilitarian tactics if anybody dies. The second nightmare was echoed by a Hogwarts forest centuar, a Chinese witch, and an infant in an unknown, uncivilized country.

I find that I don't have good habits for using, just like I don't have good habits for very many other things. I'm only likely to use a hack if I was reading about it earlier and then remembered to try it within a few days. I would probably try it with mild success, maybe using it every once in a while.

For me, forming habits (beeminder) is the most important hack I use.

No. :)

I am just dipping my toe into productivity porn---most productivity pornography that I've seen assumes a higher level of organization/habit than I have (Beeminder doesn't assume that) so I haven't bothered at trying any advanced techniques. I do have a strong desire that information be much more organized and consolidated that it usually is. I have a dream that someday I'll be able to get books in certain fields that are like lists of facts, with collapsed context/deeper explanations and evidence for the facts.

With regards to blogs, and productivity ... (read more)

I would be very grateful if someone wrote an article summarizing all of the different methods of getting organized and learning to do so, with links to all of those various productivity blogs.

Are you making fun of all us productivity porn connoisseurs? :) Seriously though, we're pretty proud of the Beeminder blog: [] There's also good stuff at [] though they actually post too frequently for my taste. Ooh, and [] and of course has a gazillion interesting ideas. (And, yes, self-parody that I am, I second your call for a comprehensive survey article on productivity techniques!)
I'd probably be willing to do that eventually, but I'm not actually aware of a significant number of books or blogs about organization.

Note, shoe size correlates with height, which correlates with income and iq.

In fact, I'd expect the correlation between shoe size and height to be around 0.8 or more.
N.B.: Yes; while we may surmise that part of that causation is based on height correlating with gender and social status which correlate with income (and for the latter, IQ), the major lurking variable that determines both height and income is age (children versus adults). Factoring out all three of the aforementioned, the correlation remains (there's still e.g. nutritional status, and it's quite hard to factor out all aspects of an unformalized, soft criterion such as "social status" anyways).

I've been reading about muggle prison conditions lately, and while I've understood that "prison conditions are terrible and torturing people is pointless etc" for both systems, it did not occur to me that you were making a commentary.

I often wonder whether I should switch fields from physics to education, just because it seems so easy to make an impact.

I'm not so sure. I think education theory in the neighborhood of being a diseased discipline. I don't know how many education breakthroughs make it through the peer-reviewed machinery into implementation unscathed, but given the overall stagnation in the field, it can't be that many.

Spaced repetition is great, but doesn't necessarily mean anki and flash cards. For chemistry, this could mean doing reactions / stoichiometry along with naming, in a spaced, repetitious fashion. Flash cards/anki would work well for knowing specific compounds though.

It seems like some of his ideas are similar to those of Judith Rich Harris who wrote a book on how parents don't seem to have much of an effect on the personality of their kids.

An article can be found here: Where is the Child's Environment? A Group Socialization Theory of Development


I've started building a diode laser cavity (a box you shine a laser into which makes it have a more precise color), which means that I've been buying parts and spending lots of time in a machine shop. Most of what I'll be doing in the coming months will be using a mill to cut out various sized chunks of aluminum.

I've also been helping organize a conference.

Personal wise, I've been trying to pay attention to my mood and emotions more by keeping records.

I have difficulty recognizing emotions. I tend to categorize them as physical feelings, such as a certain tightness to the stomach, or between the ribs. I've come to associate these with commonly known emotions, since some of them correlate with thoughts making them easier to pinpoint, but sometimes I have specific feelings and I don't know if it is a known emotion or not.

It is pretty rare that I don't know what I'm feeling, but I have a record of the first time I felt intense jealousy/anger/stress, and I wrote about "hot skin, wide eyes, a burning feeling on my chest like a rash, and tightness between the shoulders" and my thoughts before I realized the name for what was happening.

I don't necessarily see a larger amount of people on Less Wrong who suffer from akrasia. It seem to me like more people identify their procrastinating as akrasia and see it as problem that can fix if they try harder or find the right tools.. As a student, I hear others/myself complaining about how they didn't have the willpower to complete their homework, or wishing for better time management skills, or that they didn't give in to playing video games/the internet. No-one uses the word 'akrasia' though, and many do search for solutions.

When I moved to a larger city with a larger homeless/begging/random street solicitor population, it took me a while to learn the methods of avoidance. I usually like to smile and look people in the eyes when I walk around (at least on a good day) but I find that solicitors---who are looking for that brief emotional connection, are much harder to turn down if I meet their face directly. It took me multiple times of feeling bad before I was able to overcome giving money/listening to somebody's life story/religious ideas. Now I have crowd-scanning-Mormon-avoi... (read more)

I recommend Spacetime Physics by Taylor and Wheeler for special relativity. This is a mathematical textbook however it only requires basic algebra and is accessible to highschool students.

Luke also has the advantage of that this is his job.

It is not uncommon for research articles to have 50+ references, and review articles often have over 300 references.

Edit: Luke's articles do have way more than the usual number of references. This article has approximately 120 sentences, with 37 notes and about 150 references, which doesn't make sense the way that I am familiar with. I am used to references referring to cited sources, and am not sure how Luke is using it. If it is a list of works consulted that makes sense.

I would presume that most papers will include a number of references to sources that the authors have only briefly skimmed, only read the abstract, or not actually read at all.

I saw an article somewhere (I wish I'd remembere where) about a widely-read paper making a mistake when it cited one of its sources, claiming that the source said something which it didn't. A number of later papers by other authors then repeated this mistaken claim, presumably because their authors didn't bother checking whether the prestigious paper was correct in its cite.

I'm about .90 confident that Luke hasn't actually read all of his cites in entirety.

Well, a huge part of it is the section with the bullet poins where literally every sentence needed a citation to back it up.
Though, this particular post was actually written before I was hired by SIAI at the beginning of September.

Last time I said:

So, I've started writing an article related to this in collaboration with another LWer. One of my goals is that like the idea of contributing content to the site. I was also curious, and I feel that the majority of my personal curiosity is satisfied, and finishing the project by communicating what I learned to others is what is being difficult. There are several reasons for this. One is that I can always learn more, and make a better article. I've also realized this is a lower priority than my school/work activities, so it keeps being pu

... (read more)

Does anybody specifically recall the opposite case?

Yes, completely the opposite here. I also find remembering dreams and inducing lucid dreams very easy, if I want to. Combine the two, and with the help of an alarm every 5-8 minutes, I can spend hours in a lucid dream state with full recall (with very quick interruptions of awakening in between, of course).

I feel like a fitting conclusion would be for Voldemort's last remnant to end up on the Voyager spacecraft, so that he is forever in the stars, away from earth.

No. Really? (Pioneer spacecraft. "V'olde'Ger" is a joke based on a Star Trek movie.) Edit: Raargh beaten by thirty seconds.
Pioneer, not Voyager.

Chapter 78

I have some questions on Snape: In an earlier chapter during a conversation with Harry Snape says, "and what your mother saw in him was something I never did understand until this day." Does anybody know what this is? I find it implausible that Snape had not considered that Lily was more likely to forgive James for being rich and handsome.

In the new chapter he mentions his two mentors. I am thinking the first mentor was Voldemort, who would not have mentioned missed perspectives as he was not out to make his death eaters better at the... (read more)

As to the second: correct me if I'm wrong, but the context seems to indicate that "the things [he] wasn't seeing" that his mentors failed to mention to him were A) mooning after Lily the way he did was "creepy" and B) still being in love with her years later was "pathetic," in Miss Felthorne's words. Going by canon motivations, Dumbledore would presumably not try to convince Snape of those things because his love for Lily, however childish and misguided, was the primary motivation for Snape's opposing Voldemort and protecting Harry. What I don't understand, though, is why Voldemort wouldn't say anything. Breaking Snape's ties to Lily specifically and the Light in general was obviously to his benefit. Also, as a side note, remember that MoR!Voldemort wrote the Evil Overlord List. Specifically, the idea that he was "not out to make his death eaters better at their jobs" contradicts Bahry One-Hand's internal description of two Death Eaters, which was Death Eaters are a big deal in MoR. And Snape bears the Dark Mark for a reason.

What techniques do you have for reducing careless errors? How do these scale in stressful/timed situations?

I don't have any explicit techniques now. Apparently then, "most of your careless errors were in math, so I had you solve each problem and then re-work each backward." was the only technique my mom remembers. That clearly doesn't scale to timed situations.

I just like how often not communicating is used in fiction as a false way of creating conflict, but Eliezer shows that you can still have a story (with conflict!) when people try and understand each other.

This is something I hadn't realized explicitly until you pointed it out. But yes, lazy authors don't bother to give their characters conflicting goals or personalities or deep beliefs, so they give them conflicting surface beliefs and then come up with bad excuses for them not to communicate.

That too!

Two months ago I said:

Learning quantum mechanics and so that I can have a better understanding of what my research group is working on. Quantum is the basis for most modern physics so it seemed the most useful/important of all the interesting physics things I wanted to learn.

This is going quite well! I've worked through a good amount of material on my own, and am satisfied with my progress.

Trying to break down what "physical intuition" is and creating a guide for to how to solve physics problems. I'm doing this because it seems like people

... (read more)
I'm glad the quantum learning is going so well! We should definitely talk about the physical intuition post when we see each other.

Here is an article written for you! What is Bayesianism? My personal struggle is where this differs from 'clear-headedness.' I think that much of this website is geared towards helping us get closer to the ideal Bayesian, though the connections are not mentioned specifically.

Can anyone give an example of where they explicitly used Bayesian reasoning? It makes sense that it is right, but ... unlike other things on this website that can be transferred into skills or habits. My guess is that having a deeper understanding of Bayesian probability would help wi... (read more)

My awareness of Bayesian reasoning doesn't quite enable me to use it explicitly with success most of the time, or maybe the successes are not vivid and spectacular enough to be noticed, but it does make me aware of Bayes-stupid inferences committed by me and others. Just yesterday my father proclaimed that a certain beggar who tends to frequent our street with a kid or two and claim to be a homeless is a liar, because, well, he's not a homeless because he is also often seen in a company of drunkards and he probably drags around the kids for show and they aren't even his. I asked my dad whether the beggar's claim of homelessness makes him more or less likely to be homeless. He said less likely, but after that he denied that the beggar's failure to claim so would make him more likely to be a homeless. []
I personally feel like a deeper understanding of Bayesian probability has mainly just helped me to formalize things that are already obvious (the goal being to replicate what is obvious to humans in a computer, e.g. computer vision, robotics, AI, etc.). There have been few instances where it has actually helped me weigh evidence more effectively. But maybe I am missing some set of practical techniques. Also, I was unable to parse the final paragraph that you wrote, would you mind re-stating it?

I see no reason for you to play games unless you wish to discuss games with these people and have something in common with them.

Benefits of playing games:

  • Improved hand-eye coordination
  • Strategic puzzle solving skills
  • Decreased stress level
  • By far, more mentally engaging than television or movies, which are passive entertainment
  • introspection in choice-morality games
  • by Playing Like a Designer you can learn how to use gamelike elements in non-game environments (like the classroom) to make them more fun

See also:

Role-playing games can also have some of the same benefits (albeit much less salient) as improv theater and r... (read more)

It makes me happy that those traits you list as what rationalists are usually thought of ----disagreeable, unemotional, cynacal, loners---are unfamiliar. The rationalists I have grown up in the past few years reading this site are both optimistic and caring, along with many other qualities.

The reason was probably that there was a large amount of material (the class included electricity, magnetism, circuits, and optics), so that I had to learn many different explanations. Each of these topics is a course by itself, and so and to explain things for an introductory course you often have to have a deeper level of knowledge. I hadn't taken any classes other than the intro class, so acquiring the deeper explanations was a long process.


If you want to add more physics stuff, here is a bunch of electricity and magnetism links. The visualizations are especially nice.

I found this list of yours on amazon helpful: and I always like more lists of good books.

I was a TA for a while and was taught to use Socratic methods. If people have some background knoweldge, you can get very far by asking people "what would happen in this situation? what about this situation? Now if you apply this situation back to this one, what happens?" It depends how much time you have, but lots of questioning interspersed with some explanations seemed to help most students the best.

If you are trying to teach someone, I think doing that is better than telling, because then when someone else has made the inferences it will beco... (read more)

Interesting that it it takes so long. I am reminded of SilasBarta's claim [] that a lot of things that require lots of experience just require the right insights plus some practice. It would be interesting to write down a bunch of student questions, and lists of questions from an experienced TA and a naive TA and then try to figure out how they differ.
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