All of dougclow's Comments + Replies

Empirically we seem to be converging on the idea that the expansion of the universe continues forever (see Wikipedia for a summary of the possibilities), but it's not totally slam-dunk yet. If there is a Big Crunch, then that puts a hard limit on the time available.

If - as we currently believe - that doesn't happen, then the universe will cool over time, until it gets too cold (=too short of negentropy) to sustain any given process. A superintelligence would obviously see this coming, and have plenty of time to prepare - we're talking hundreds of trillions... (read more)

Baring unknown physics, it is absolutely slam-dunk known that the universe ends in a big freeze, not a great crunch. Perlmutter et al got the nobel prize in 2011 for discovering that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, due to an unknown effect called for now dark energy. Unless there is some future undiscovered transition, the end of the universe will be cold and lonely, as even the nearest galaxies eventually red shift to infinity.
I don't remember the exact math, but I believe that it was shown that in an expanding and cooling universe, the amount of energy available at any one spot drops over time, but so long as some distant future energy could slow down it's thinking process and energy use arbitrarily, that you could live forever in subjective time by steadily slowing down the objective speed of your thought process over time. The Last Computer (or energy being, or whatever) would objectively go a longer and longer time between each thought, but from a subjective point of view it would be able to continue forever. Of course, if the rate of the universe's expansion steadily accelerates indefinitely, that might not work, energy might fall off at too fast of a rate for that to be possible. We don't really know enough about dark energy yet to know how that's going to go.

Yes, good point that I hadn't thought of, thanks. It's very easy to imagine far-future technology in one respect and forget about it entirely in another.

To rescue my scenario a little, there'll be an energy cost in transporting the iron together; the cheapest way is to move it very slowly. So maybe there'll be paperclips left for a period of time between the first pass of the harvesters and the matter ending up at the local black hole harvester.

And of course you can throw black holes into black holes as well, and extract even more energy. The end game is when you have just one big black hole, and nothing left to throw in it. At that point you then have to change strategy and wait for the black hole to give off Hawking radiation until it completely evaporates. But all these things can happen later - there's no reason for not going through a paperclip maximization step first, if you're that way inclined...

That, and/or increased sweating, and/or larger temperature gain between inspired and expired air, or wearing fewer/thinner clothes. There's lots of ways to dump heat.

I would definitely expect someone with a faster metabolism to put out more total net heat, which is measurable with difficulty, and also consume oxygen faster (and produce carbon dioxide faster) which is measurable with some difficulty, but a lot less.

Yes, but that would require much more involved procedures than just taking peoples' temperature. So I will concede that my argument about variation in temperature, which is sort of a back-of-the-envelope way of getting at the problem, is weaker than I had thought.

Therefore they must not vary all that much in terms of metabolism.

I don't think that follows, or at least not without a lot of other explanation, even if you grant that temperature doesn't vary in any significant way between people (which I'm not sure I do). The body has multiple mechanisms for maintaining temperature, of which metabolic rate is only one. It seems entirely plausible to me that people run their metabolisms at different rates and adjust their peripheral vasodilation and sweating rate to balance it all out near 37 C/98 F. Core temperature might vary between people by only a few degrees, but surface temperature varies much more widely.

That's an interesting point. Would you agree that if a person has a higher metabolism, one would expect that under your theory, their skin temperature would be expected to be higher?

Also, they were not just AIDS researchers but AIDS activists and campaigners. The conference they were going to was expecting 12-15,000 delegates (depending on the report); it's the most prominent international conference in the area but far from the only one. As you say, a terrible loss, particularly for those close to the dead. The wider HIV/AIDS community will be sobered, but it will not be sunk. If nothing else, they coped with far higher annual death rates before effective therapies became widespread in the developed world.

The story of this story does helpfully remind us that the other 'facts' about this situation - which we know from the same media sources - may be similarly mistaken.

Much of modern medicine involves covering up symptoms with drugs proven to do this, without understanding the underlying cause of the symptom.

What, really? There certainly is a lot of that approach around, but it's not what I think of when I think of modern medicine, as opposed to more traditional forms. Can you give examples?

Most of the ones I can think of are things that have fallen to the modern turn to evidence-based practice. The poster-child one in my head is the story of H. pylori and how a better understanding of the causes of gastritis and gas... (read more)

You're right, we do understand the pathophysiology of many diseases, and those are the ones that have been mostly eradicated. The major chronic diseases that remain are very poorly understood such as type II diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and alzheimer's. I spend a lot of time reading about 'alternative' ideas about these diseases, and many seem promising, but aren't taken seriously by the mainstream. It's definitely possible that they're ignored for a good reason, but I haven't been able to find the reasons yet. This is the biggest problem I've found with trying to be 'critical of everything.' In very few instances do I find myself quickly understanding and agreeing with the mainstream view. Instead, the more I read the more my opinion seems to diverge from the mainstream view. I have made an effort to discuss these issues personally with specialized experts, so they could help point out factors I may be missing, or not understanding correctly. I am a PhD candidate in the life sciences, so I have the opportunity to meet with research professors at my university in person to help clarify my understanding. Here are two example theories, regarding cancer and cardiovascular disease in particular. 1) The idea that cancer isn't initiated by genetic mutations, but that mutations are a downstream phenomena that results after damage to the mitochondria occurs. This stems from the initial observation by Warburg, that lack of control over glycolysis is part of the cancer cell phenotype. This phenotype can be triggered by a large number of factors which inhibit mitochondrial respiration including hypoxia. Later it was found that the mitochondria in cancer cells undergo a phenotypic change, where the cristae structure is lost. Nuclear transfer experiments have shown that a 'mutated' cancer nucleus placed into a healthy cell cytoplasm does not exhibit a heritable cancer phenotype. Conversely, a healthy nucleus placed into a cancerous cell cytoplasm does exhibit a
I think that for most autoimmune disorders the "modern medical" approach is to ameliorate the symptoms and that's about it. CVD, the main killer in the developed world, is rather poorly understood. Oh, sure, we know the details of how the atherosclerotic process works, we just don't quite know what drives it. Or take a look at the metabolic syndrome -- even the name (a syndrome is a collection of symptoms, more or less) gives it away. Can we treat it other than by prescribing a bunch of statins and saying "eat less"? Can we cure diabetes, a VERY widespread ailment? And that's even for diagnosable diseases. It's hard to find statistics, but it seems that it's not uncommon for people to be... suboptimal and the medicine just doesn't know what's happening inside them.

Interesting stuff, thanks; looking forward to the rest of the series.

As an aside, this makes the benefits of being able to rely on trust most of the time very apparent. Jack and Jill can coordinate very simply and quickly if they trust each other to honestly disclose their true value for the project. They don't even need to be able to trust 100%, just trust enough that on average they lose no more to dishonesty than the costs of more complex and sophisticated methods of bargaining. (Which require more calculating capacity than unaided humans have evolved.)

I find similar techniques help with my children.

It seems closely related to the technique where, to stop them doing something you don't want them to do, you encourage them to do something else that prevents them from doing the first thing. (There's a snappy name for this that I've forgotten.) So, for example, stopping them from bothering another child by getting them interested in an entirely different activity.

Do you mean what Kazdin calls the "positive opposite"? I wrote a review here: [] But the idea of the positive opposite really is to reward specific oppotite behavior. Not to divert from a problematic activity by distracting with other behaviors. I long believed distraction to avoid solving the original problem and it may actually reward the problematic behavior. So I'm still not convinced distraction works.

I really don't think we have to posit nanoassemblers for this particular scenario to work. Robot drones are needed, but I think they fall out as a consequence of currently existing robots and the all-singing all-dancing AI we've imagined in the first place. There are shedloads of robots around at the moment - the OP mentioned the existence of Internet-connected robot-controlled cars, but there are plenty of others, including most high tech manufacturer. Sure, those robots aren't autonomous, but they don't need to be if we've assumed an all-singing all-danc... (read more)

One thing I should mention where I wasn't able to get a very good match between my own observations and mainstream science.

The Sun and the Moon are very, very close in their apparent diameter in the sky. They are almost exactly the same size. You can measure them yourself and compare, although this is a bit fiddly; I certainly got well within my own measurement errors, although those errors were large. However, you can verify it very easily and directly at the time of solar eclipses. They are so near in size that the wobbliness of the Moon's orbit means t... (read more)

There are so many possible coincidences, it would be surprising if none of them happened. I observed 2012 transit of Venus, right on schedule. Don't know an easy way to prove changing earth-moon distance, but changes in speed of earth's rotation can be seen as changes in number of days per year, visible in growth layers in fossil coral. Taking a magnifying glass to the right museum might allow individual verification. []
Keep in mind that the earth-moon distance is not constant []. The moon appeared larger in the past and will appear smaller in the future.

An AI controlling a company like Google would be able to, say, buy up many of the world’s battle robot manufacturers, or invest a lot of money into human-focused bioengineering), despite those activities being almost entirely unrelated to their core business, and without giving any specific idea of why.

Indeed, on the evidence of the press coverage of Google's investments, it seems likely that many people would spend a lot of effort inventing plausible cover stories for the AI.

This raises interesting questions about who (or what) is really running Google.

I'll grant that "a very large proportion of the world's computing resources" was under-specified and over-stated. Sorry.

Bedford Level Experiment [...] has the disadvantage that it shows that the Earth is flat.

I love this. As it happens, I live quite near Bedford and am terribly tempted to actually try it one day. (Edit Looking closer, turns out the Bedford Level is in Norfolk, not Bedfordshire, so a little less nearby than I thought.)

There are loads of fun ways of verifying that the Earth isn't flat. Some of these were easily available to the ancients - e.g. the shape of the shadow of the Earth on the Moon during a lunar eclipse (it's always a curve). Others are easier ... (read more)

I spent quite a lot of time many years ago doing my own independent checks on astronomy.

I started down this line after an argument with a friend who believed in astrology. It became apparent that they were talking about planets being in different constellations to the ones I'd seen them in. I forget the details of their particular brand of astrology, but they had an algorithm for calculating a sort-of 'logical' position of the planets in the 12 zodiacal signs, and this algorithm did not match observation, even given that the zodiacal signs do not line up n... (read more)

Wow. The closest analogue I have to that is grabbing planet positions and velocities from JPL's HORIZONS system [], then doing small time steps holding accelerations constant. That's how I know the (mathematical) solar system behaves as claimed. Except that Mercury's orbit will eventually become so elliptical and gain so much energy that it careens in and out of the solar system until it flies off to infinity (or people are also right about the limitations of the approximation technique I was using).
One thing I should mention where I wasn't able to get a very good match between my own observations and mainstream science. The Sun and the Moon are very, very close in their apparent diameter in the sky. They are almost exactly the same size. You can measure them yourself and compare, although this is a bit fiddly; I certainly got well within my own measurement errors, although those errors were large. However, you can verify it very easily and directly at the time of solar eclipses. They are so near in size that the wobbliness of the Moon's orbit means that sometimes the Sun is just-smaller than the Moon (when you get a total eclipse) and sometimes it is just-bigger (when you get an annular eclipse). But they are very, very different in their actual size, and in their distance from the Earth. In Father Ted terms, the Moon is small and close; the Sun is large and far away. In rough terms, the Moon is 400,000 km away and 3,400 km across, and the Sun is 150m km away and 1.4m km across. You don't have to change any one of those four measurements much for them to be quite different apparent sizes from the Earth. Indeed, if you do the calculations (which I can personally attest to), if you go back far enough in time they weren't the same apparent size, and nor are they if you go forward a long way in to the future. Why? Why this coincidence? And why is it only happening at just the times when humans are around to observe it? So far as I know, we have no good theories apart from "it just happened to work out that way". This is pretty unsatisfying.

If you are at all mathematical, you can verify that relativity affects GPS signals by calculating what difference both special relativity (satellite clock moving faster than clock on Earth, hence slower) and general relativity (satellite clock higher up the gravitational field than clock on Earth) would make to timekeeping and hence accuracy of location. The effects work against each other, but one is larger than the other.

You can verify accuracy of location of a GPS yourself. IME this is almost always considerably less accurate than published estimates b... (read more)

But 1) even if I measure a GPS's accuracy, I can't distinguish errors caused by relativity from other instrument errors, and 2) GPS devices and satellites already try to correct for relativity, so the error I'll be observing is the error in correction.

To be fair to the medieval, their theories about how one can build large, beautiful buildings were pretty sound.

Similarly, modern theories about how to discover the habits of God in governing Creation (the Laws of Nature) are pretty sound as well. Or so theists say. A better example than Amiens Cathedral would be the Placebo Effect. For most of human history, people with access to lots of data (but no notion of the Placebo Effect) had every reason to believe that e.g. witch doctors, faith healing, etc. was all correct. Warning: Rampant speculation about a theory of low probability: Consider the corresponding theory about science. Maybe there is a Placebo Effect going on with the laws of nature and even engineering, whereby things work partly because we think they will work. How could this be? Well, we don't understand how the placebo effect could be either. God is a decent explanation--maybe airplanes are his way of rewarding us for spending so much time thinking rationally about the principles of flight. Maybe if we spent enough time thinking rationally about the principles of faster-than-light travel, he would change things behind the scenes so that it became possible.

Do you believe that if Obama were to ask the NSA to take over Russia, that the NSA could easily do so?

No. I think the phrase "take over" is describing two very different scenarios if we compare "Obama trying to take over the world" and "a hypothetical hostile AI trying to take over the world". Obama has many human scruples and cares a lot about continued human survival, and specifically not just about the continued existence of the people of the USA but that they thrive. (Thankfully!)

I entirely agree that killing huge num... (read more)

How many humans does it take to keep the infrastructure running that is necessary to create new and better CPU's etc.? I am highly confident that it takes more than the random patches of civilization left over after deploying a bioweapon on a global scale. Surely we can imagine a science fiction world in which the AI has access to nanoassemblers, or in which the world's infrastructure is maintained by robot drones. But then, what do we have? We have a completely artificial scenario designed to yield the desired conclusion. An AI with some set of vague abilities, and circumstances under which these abilities suffice to take over the world. As I wrote several times in the past. If your AI requires nanotechnology, bioweapons, or a fragile world, then superhuman AI is our least worry, because long before we will create it, the tools necessary to create it will allow unfriendly humans to do the same. Bioweapons: If an AI can use bioweapons to blackmail the world into submission, then some group of people will be able to do that before this AI is created (dispatch members in random places around the world). Nanotechnology: It seems likely to me that narrow AI precursors will suffice in order for humans to create nanotechnology. Which makes it a distinct risk. A fragile world: I suspect that a bunch of devastating cyber-attacks and wars will be fought before the first general AI capable of doing the same. Governments will realize that their most important counterstrike resources need to be offline. In other words, it seems very unlikely that an open confrontation with humans would be a viable strategy for a fragile high-tech product such as the first general AI. And taking over a bunch of refrigerators, mobile phones and cars is only a catastrophic risk, not an existential one.

Could the NSA, the security agency of the most powerful country on Earth, implement any of these schemes?

Er, yes, very easily.

Gaining effective control of the NSA would be one route to the AI taking over. Through, for example, subtle man-in-the-middle attacks on communications and records to change the scope of projects over time, steathily inserting its own code, subtle manipulation of individuals, or even straight-up bribery or blackmail. The David Petraeus incident suggests op sec practice at the highest levels is surprisingly weak. (He had an illic... (read more)

Do you believe that if Obama were to ask the NSA to take over Russia, that the NSA could easily do so? If so, I am speechless. Let's look at one of the most realistic schemes, creating a bioweapon. Yes, an organization like the NSA could probably design such a bioweapon. But how exactly could they take over the world that way? They could either use the bioweapon to kill a huge number of people, or use it to blackmail the world into submission. I believe that the former would cause our technological civilization, on which the NSA depends, to collapse. So that would be stupid. The latter would maybe work for some time, until the rest of the world got together, in order to make a believable threat of mutual destruction. I just don't see this to be a viable way to take over the world. At least not in such a way that you would gain actual control. Now I can of course imagine a different world, in which it would be possible to gain control. Such as a world in which everyone important was using advanced brain implants. If these brain implants could be hacked, even the NSA could take over the world. That's a no-brainer. I can also imagine a long-term plan. But those are very risky. The longer it takes, the higher the chance that your plan is revealed. Also, other AI's, with different, opposing utility-functions, will be employed. Some will be used to detect such plans. Anyway, the assumption that an AI could understand human motivation, and become a skilled manipulator, is already too far-fetched for me to take seriously. People around here too often confound theory with practice. That all this might be physically possible does not prove that it is at all likely.
Then why haven't they?

Another class of routes is for the AI to obtain the resources entirely legitimately, through e.g. running a very successful business where extra intelligence adds significant value. For instance, it's fun to imagine that Larry Page and Sergey Brin's first success was not a better search algorithm, but building and/or stumbling on an AI that invented it (and a successful business model) for them; Google now controls a very large proportion of the world's computing resources. Similarly, if a bit more prosaically, Walmart in the US and Tesco in the UK have gr... (read more)

Do you think that human beings will allow a single corporation to control a significant fraction of the world's resources? How will the company avoid anti-monopoly laws? Does a an AI CEO actually have control over a corporation, or does it only have the freedom to act within the defined social roles of what a "CEO" is allowed to do? I.e. it can negotiate a merger but can't hire a bunch of scientists and tell them to start mass producing nerve gas. The U.S. government spends more money in a single year than the combined market capitalization of the 10 largest companies in the world. In what sense does google "control a very large proportion of the world's computing resources"? Google maybe has the compute power equivalent to a handful of supercomputers [], but even that isn't organized in a particularly useful way for an AI looking to do something dramatically different from performing millions of internet searches. For the vast majority of problems, I'd rather use ORNL's Titan than literally every computer google owns.

For a fully-capable sophisticated AGI, the question is surely trivial and admits of many, many possible answers.

One obvious class of routes is to simply con the resources it wants out of people. Determined and skilled human attackers can obtain substantial resources illegitimately - through social engineering, fraud, directed hacking attack, and so on. If you grant the premise of an AI that is smarter than humans, the AI will be able to deceive humans much more successfully than the best humans at the job. Think Frank Abagnale crossed with Kevin Mitnick, o... (read more)

Heh []
Could the NSA, the security agency of the most powerful country on Earth, implement any of these schemes? The NSA not only has thousands of very smart drones (people), all of which are already equipped with manipulative abilities, but it also has huge computational resources and knows about backdoors to subvert a lot of systems. Does this enable the NSA to implement your plan without destroying or decisively crippling itself? If not, then the following features are very likely insufficient in order to implement your plan: (1) being in control of thousands of human-level drones, straw men, and undercover agents in important positions (2) having the law on your side (3) access to massive computational resources (4) knowledge of heaps of loopholes to bypass security. If your plan cannot be implemented by an entity like the NSA, which already features most of the prerequisites that your hypothetical artificial general intelligence first needs to acquire by some magical means, then what is it that makes your plan so foolproof when executed by an AI?

R is free & open source, and widely used for stats, data manipulation, analysis and plots. You can get geographical boundary data from GADM in RData format, and use R packages such as sp to produce charts easily.

Or at least, as easily as you can do anything in R. I hesitate to suggest it to people who already do data work in Python (it's less ... clean) but in this sort of domain it can do many things easily that are much harder or less commonly done in Python. My impression is the really whizzy, clever stats/graphics stuff is still all about R. (See e... (read more)

I know about R. In fact I switched from R to Python because R is less ... clean. It looks like I will have to use R for plotting though the rest of the stack will be in Python. Those maps look gorgeus!

I consider myself to be "thin" even though my BMI of 24 puts me close to the official line for "overweight."

Aha! I think we've found the main source of our disagreement here, and it's purely terminology. Totally agree that maintaining a BMI around 24 is a reasonable, broadly-supported aspiration (all other factors being equal), particularly if you're younger than middle age.

this seems unlikely -- at least as the primary factor

Agreed it's probably not the largest effect, but I do think there's good reason to think there is an effe... (read more)

This is subject to the same cause and effect issues you alluded to earlier. It's reasonable to hypothesize that worse-than-average impulse control is likely to result in both low socio-economic status and overweight/obesity. Anyway, for my purposes it doesn't really matter. The evidence is strong enough that at a minimum I'm willing to stake my health on the claim that it's better for one's health to avoid getting fat.

My concern is particularly describing "thin" as healthy, or low risk for mortality. If by "thin" you mean BMI 18-25, then I'm with you, but that's officially labelled "healthy" or "normal" weight and is not what most people mean by thin. The official "underweight" category (<18) is much riskier than the official "overweight" category (25-30). The risk profile either side of official "healthy" weight is not symmetrical - and indeed there are sound reasons to think that tending toward... (read more)

I didn't precisely define the word "thin," but what I had in mind was "not fat." I suppose that BMI 18-25 is roughly what I mean by "thin." I consider myself to be "thin" even though my BMI of 24 puts me close to the official line for "overweight." Depending on your definition of "thin," I would agree with you. And it's part of the reason I am not engaging in what I have defined as "severe calorie restriction." I doubt that they do so completely. Between people lying about their health and simply being unaware of latent serious health problems, I am pretty confident that the curves for "healthy people who never smoked" include a decent number of people who are actually not healthy. It would depend what data you are looking at. If you look at the entire universe of general knowledge and common sense, this seems unlikely -- at least as the primary factor.

If you happen to read your horoscope, or your Myers-Briggs personality type, or any similar sort of thing, and find that it fits quite well for you, I can recommend selecting a few others, not intended for you, and see if you can make them fit you as well. You can also use this technique with a credulous friend, by reading them the 'wrong' one.

For me this works well to undo the 'magic' effect. But then that's just the sort of shenanigans you'd expect from a truth-seeking Sagittarius or 'Teacher' ENFJ.*

  • I'm not a Sagittarius and don't get ENFJ on M-B tests.

A fun project! And one I'm trying to do for my kids.

One thing that worries me a little about trying to tell parables about these sorts of concepts is that, outside mathematical formalism, most real-world examples are not clear cut. Most fallacies, for instance, have versions that are useful real-world heuristics. Take post hoc ergo propter hoc. It is indeed strictly a fallacy to deduce that and event was caused by the event that immediately preceded it. But "What did you do differently just before it broke?" can be a really useful diagnostic ques... (read more)

the observation that fat people have significantly greater mortality than thin people

That's not how I read that chart and the many similar ones showing mortality as a function of body mass index.

If, for the sake of argument, we make the (unreasonable and wrong!) assumption that the variance in mortality is caused by the variance in body mass index, it looks to me more like being fat is much less dangerous than being thin. Look at the shape of the curves as you move away from the minimum mortality trough around BMI 19-26 or so (which is slightly higher ... (read more)

I would agree with you if we were looking only at that chart and making no use at all of any other knowledge or common sense. But if one adds in other knowledge and common sense, it's reasonable to believe that there is cause and effect on the right side of the chart. The left side is more difficult to interpret since there are many unhealthy conditions which can cause weight loss. This is true of just about any data concerning human health. But health decisions need to be made. Under the circumstances, I'm reasonably comfortable with (1) not smoking; (2) restricting calories enough so that I do not become fat; (3) eating plenty of fruits and vegetables; (4) exercising regularly. I think there's a good chance that these things will improve my longevity and perhaps more importantly I think it's pretty unlikely that I will be significantly worse off for having done these things.

I don't think I do much subvocalisation. There are certainly some words that I don't subvocalise: I often (like about once a week or a fortnight or so) have the experience of talking in person about a topic that I've previously only read and written about, and realising that I have never even tried to say key specialist vocabulary out loud, and so have no idea about how you pronounce it.


I got mine in a large pharmacist, in case you're still looking.

How often should I apply it?

I'd be guided by the instructions on the product and your common sense.

For me, a single application is usually enough these days - so long as I've been able to leave it on for ages and not have to wash my hands. The first time I used it, when my fingernails had got very bad, it took about three or four applications over a week. Then ordinary hand moisturiser and wearing gloves outside is enough for maintenance. Then I get careless and forget and my fingernails... (read more)

This is the beginning of a very good idea. Happily, many, many highly-competent educational researchers have had it already, and some have pursued it to a fair degree of success, particularly in constrained domain fields (think science, technology, engineering, maths, medicine). It certainly seems to be blooming as a field again these last 5-10 years.

Potentially-useful search terms include: intelligent tutoring systems, AI in Education, educational data mining.

One particularly-nifty system is the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Centre's Datashop, which is a... (read more)

I've been thinking a lot about this topic as well. This comment is very helpful! Thank you!
To add that keyword list: Adaptive learning, educational big data.
I am learning Math and Physics after a long break. I found putting together the sequence of things I need to learn has been quite difficult. Several times I found I had spent a lot of time on something that was not really needed. This is particularly the case with Math as a prerequisite for physics. The mathematicians seem to want you to learn a lot more Math than you need eg Rings, Category theory and Topology may be useful for physics at some stage. But not for me yet. Conversely I found that I was short on some unexpected topic once or twice eg Linear Algebra was in one case not listed as a prerequisite but would have been very useful. Others have commented on various difficulties in coming up with a single dependency graph. I do think you have underestimated the difficulties of this. Overall this post is a bunch of plausible ideas but in need of a) More research on the state of the art b) A test in a real learning situation. It is a cliche in the startup world that ideas are cheap, tested ideas with proof by execution are potentially far more valuable.
1Adam Zerner9y
Thanks a lot for the references!! I'll read up.

Yes - that's the part I too have trouble with, and that these products and practices help. They also help the nail itself, but fewer people tend to have that problem.

In my explanation should've said "Splitting/peeling nails, and troubles with the skin around them, are usually due to insufficient oil ...", sorry.

There's no reason why you should trust a random Internet person like me with health advice. But think cost/expected benefit. If your hangnails are anything like as painful and distracting as mine were, trying out a tube of nail cream, moi... (read more)

I'll see if I can find any nail cream at my local supermarket, then. How often should I apply it? I've seen similar advice on various web pages after I did a Google search on the problem, too. Which means that it's many random Internet people, which is slightly more trustworthy. ;)
1Paul Crowley9y
I would take a recommendation from Doug as strong evidence that something is a good idea, FWIW.

I'd be cautious about using nail polish and similar products. The solvents in them are likely to strip more oil from the nail and nail bed, which will make the problem worse, not better. +1 for asking a beautician for advice, but if you just pick a random one rather than one you personally trust, the risk is that they will give you a profit-maximising answer rather than a cheap-but-effective one.

To repair hangnails: Nail cream or nail oil. I had no idea these products existed, but they do, and they are designed specifically to deal with this problem, and do a very good job IME. Regular application for a few days fixes my problems.

To prevent it: Keep your hands protected outside (gloves). Minimise exposure of your hands to things that will strip water or oil from them (e.g. detergent, soap, solvents, nail varnish, nail varnish remover), and when you can't avoid those, use moisturiser afterwards to replace the lost oil.

(Explanation: Splitting/peelin... (read more)

It's not the nail itself, it's the skin around the nail...

This is very much my experience too. There is also a very high variance in quality of discourse in face-to-face situations.

I think it's slightly easier to have moderate-to-high quality discussions in asynchronous online writing (assuming that's what the participants want), because you can treat stuff-you-can-Google-easily as an assumed baseline of knowledge and competence.

A silly idea I have is to model the quality of conversation as a random walk. With no boundary, you will almost-surely sink below the YouTube Comment Event Horizon as time passes. But if you have Wikipedia as a lower bound, the average quality of discussions will tend to increase over time.

... and this is part of why my kids have always known that Santa and the Tooth Fairy are fun pretend games we play, not real. I really don't see what they're "missing out": they seem no less excited about Santa coming than other kids, and get no fewer presents.

Not lying about it has all sorts of extra benefits. It makes keeping the story straight easy. It means I'm not dreading that awkward moment when they've half-guessed the truth and ask about it outright. And I wasn't remotely tempted to tell them -as several people I know did - that the Inte... (read more)

Another benefit for me is reduced mistakes in picking items from the list.

Some people don't use online shopping because they worry pickers may make errors. My experience is that they do, but at a much lower rate than I do when I go myself. I frequently miss minor items off my list on the first circuit through the shop, and don't go back for it because it'd take too long to find. I am also influenced by in-store advertising, product arrangements, "special" offers and tiredness in to purchasing items that I would rather not. It's much easier to whi... (read more)

Isn't it the aspiration of the LW community for the causation to run the other way? That is, the LW community aspires to approve of protoscience but disapprove of pseudoscience.

Also, I strongly suspect there are typical mind fallacy effects at work here.

Some people can think clearly without having words in their mind, and tend to assume that of course thought is possible without language. Other people can't think at all without words, and tend to assume that of course language is required for thought.

There's also a philosophical literature on 'thought without language' that I've never got to grips with, and the associated pop-philosophy stuff that's even harder to make sense of.

Whether or not you need words is an empirical question. That question was investigated pretty thoroughly in linguistics. I don't have to extrapolate from what I think about my own mind but can extrapolate from empirical research.

I took the survey.

I, like many others, was very amused at the structure of the MONETARY AWARD.

I'm not sure it was an advisable move, though. There's an ongoing argument about the effect of rewards on intrinsic motivation. But few argue that incentives don't tend to incentivise the behaviour they reward, rather than the behaviour the rewarder would like to incentivise. In this instance, the structure of the reward appears to incentivise multiple submissions, which I'm pretty sure is not something we want to happen more.

In some contexts you could rely on mos... (read more)

Starting today, Monday 25 November 2013, some Stoic philosophers are running "Stoic Week", a week-long mass-participation "experiment" in Stoic philosophy and whether Stoic exercises make you happier.

There is more information on their blog.

To participate, you have to complete the initial exercises (baseline scores) by midnight today (wherever you are), Monday 25 November.

If that's an interesting insight for you, you might get a kick out of realising that trees come from out of the air.

For a different mind-blowing angle, a tree is the combined trajectory of its buds.

(From Theodore Stugeon's "The Education of Drusilla Strange", but I think it's fairly sound if you ignore persistent wind, random damage, and some thickening.)

Mind officially blown. Will file along with "honey is bee barf."

I think this is spectacularly hard to get a robust estimate of, but my wild uninformed guess is your chances of dying of it interacting with your heart condition are less than 25%, and probably less than 5%. (I try not to pull probabilities higher or lower than 5%/95% out of the air - I need a model for that.) That's for the simple case where you don't get addicted and take ever-higher doses or start taking other stimulants too or start smoking, etc.

The only hard information I can get a handle on is that the US manufacturer lists existing cardiovascular co... (read more)

if the lottery has one-in-a-million odds, then for every million timelines in which you buy a lottery ticket, in one timeline you'll win it

I don't understand this way of thinking about MWI, but in a single universe, you will only win a one-in-a-million lottery one time in a million on average if you play it many, many millions of times. You can easily buy a million lottery tickets and not get a winner at 1-in-a-million odds - in fact the chances of that happening are just short of 37%. Think of how often in a "throw a six to start" game some p... (read more)

To make it less surprising that (1-1/n)^n converges, here are two arguments that may help. First: take logs. You get n log (1-1/n). Now for small x, log(1+x) = x + lower-order terms, so n log (1-1/n) = n (-1/n + lower-order terms) which obviously -> -1. (Is it obvious enough that log(1+x) = x + lower-order terms? The easiest way to prove that might be to say that log x = integral from 1 to x of 1/t, and for x close to 1 this is roughly the integral from 1 to x of 1, or x-1.) Second: use the binomial theorem. (1-1/n)^n = sum {k from 0 to n} of (-1)^k (n choose k) n^-k. Now (n choose k) = n(n-1)...(n-k+1) / k!, and for small k this is roughly n^k/k!. So for large n, the "early" terms are approximately +- 1/k!. And for large n, the "late" terms are relatively small because of that factor of n^-k. So (handwave handwave) you have roughly sum (-1)^k 1/k! which is the series for exp(-1).

Fitness does have a relatively strong correlation with overall human utility.

I really don't think that's true, if you mean 'fitness' in the evolutionary sense. One massive counterexample is the popularity of birth control - which seems to rise as people feel better off. Evolutionary fitness is not what we, as humans, value. And a good job too, I say: evolution produces horrors and monstrosities, favouring only those things that tend to reproduce.

That's why I said relatively. Obviously, what we value is better correlated with utility since this is almost a tautological statement. However, so far we weren't able to come up with any other function better correlated with utility than fitness, although we can see many clear cases where it fails miserably in doing that.

I'm not sure that's true in general. I can think of situations where the prudent course of action is to act as fast as possible. For instance, if you accidentally set yourself on fire on the cooker, if you are acting prudently, you will stop, drop and roll, and do it hastily.

Generally, you should not be in the habit of doing things that have a 0.1% chance of killing you. Do so on a daily basis, and on average you will be dead in less than three years


It's even worse than that might suggest: 0.999^(3*365.25) = 0.334, so after three years you are almost exactly twice as likely to be dead than alive.

To get 50%, you only need 693 days, or about 1.9 years. Conversely, you need a surprising length of time (6500 days, about 17.8 years) to reduce your survival chances to 0.001.

The field of high-availability computing seems co... (read more)

I wonder whether some of the inferential distance here is around what is understood by 'the human experience'.

Materially, the human experience has changed quite profoundly, along the lines Vaniver points out (dramatic improvements in life expectancy, food supply, mechanisation, transport and travel, and so on).

Subjectively, though, the human experience has not changed much at all: the experience of love, loss, fear, ambition, in/security, friendship, community, excitement and so on seems to have been pretty much the same for humans living now as it was for... (read more)

Kaj_Sotala has already discussed most of these, but I wanted to focus on friendship. Ancient friendships seem to have had as a major component mutual defense against violence. As violence decreases, that aspect of friendship decreases- I've never had a friend come to my aid in combat, because I've never been attacked, and never come to someone else's aid, because I've never had the opportunity. As well, modern friendships seem to be categorically different from most ancient friendships. Instant messaging with someone who is a close match to your personality and interests who lives across the globe feels rather different than physically interacting with the person who lives next door to you, who isn't particularly close to your personality or interests. Modern childhood friendships are much more likely to be age-segregated than they were in the past, and so on. My adrenaline system seems to work as well and in the same way as someone from a thousand years ago- but I've had far less cause to activate mine, and so while I'm mostly okay with calling the hardware 'pretty much the same' I have a hard time calling the experience 'pretty much the same.'
In e.g. the Middle Ages, the average person might have spent their whole lives on the countryside in a small community where everyone knew everyone, people rarely heard any news from the outside world, there were relatively strict sexual morals and never very much to do on one's limited spare time, and most people inherited the profession of their parents and basically knew their place in the world from birth. Compare this to someone living in a large modern liberal city, whose daily commute might already involve traveling a longer distance than the middle age peasant would travel in their whole life and who also has the option of traveling around the world, who may be in daily contact with more people than the peasant knew in their whole life, who has never known for certain what he would do in her life and has already changed careers three times, who may sleep with different people every night, etc. etc. I would claim that these people would have vastly different experiences, even in terms of love, loss, fear, friendship, community, and so on. Yes, there are some elements which are the same, but the overall experience is still different enough that the peasant would have been literally incapable of imagining the modern urbanite's life.

Guy on the right is Markus Kalisch.

Not sure about the one on the left - outside chance it's Bertrand Russell but probably not.

Give the man some points! Guy on the right is indeed Markus Kalisch. The guy on the left is not Bertrand Russell.

One evening, when I was in my mid-teens, my parents had gone out and were due back very late. For story-unrelated reasons there was a lot of tension, nervousness and worry in the household at that time. My younger brothers went to bed, and I stayed up a bit watching the film Cat's Eye, a mild horror film written by Stephen King.

In the final part of the film, a girl is threatened by a vicious troll, a short, ugly, nasty creature with a dagger. It repeatedly creeps in to her bedroom in the night, first slaughtering her pet parrot, and then trying to kill her... (read more)

One may surmise that, if the family not been in an unusual state of tension already, your younger brother would have figured it out for himself.
Gura, va n frafr, lbh jrer gur gebyy :)

Play to your strengths; do what you're best at. You don't have to be best in the world at it for it to be valuable.

Good things about this advice are (a) it has a fairly-sound theory behind it (Comparative advantage), and (b) it applies whether or not you're smart, normal or dumb, so you don't get in to socially-destructive comparisons of intelligence.

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