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Rationality Quotes Thread May 2015

I'm not sure what to make of this quote. It is better to be ignorant than to believe the wrong thing; ignorance is much easier to identify and fix.

Or maybe he's saying that the fear of contamination is unjustified? That doesn't seem accurate either.

EDIT: My bad, it's Steve Sailer, I read the article and of course he was talking about racial bias, not biases generally.

Is Scott Alexander bad at math?

To be great at anything creative, you must have both skill and taste. Painting, music, programming -- every art I've ever studied, or even heard of, has worked this way. You need the technical skill to create, and the eye that decides what's worth trying, and worth keeping.

You've made a good case that math, like music, requires taste for true greatness. And you've persuaded me that Scott Alexander has it. But you also seem to be saying that math doesn't have a skill component, in the sense I mean here, and I do not find that part of your argument persuasive.

How has lesswrong changed your life?

I'm a professional programmer and I know Haskell, but I've only ever written one real Haskell program (an AI for double-move chess). Nevertheless I recommend it. All I can tell you is that if you master it -- I mean really master it, not learn to write Python in Haskell -- then your Python programming will reach a new level as well. You will be able to solve problems that once seemed intractable, which you'd persuade your product manager to scope out.

It used to be that you could get this effect by learning Lisp, but I don't think that works anymore; too many of Lisp's good ideas have since been taken up by more ordinary languages.

Defeating the Villain

The problems you're describing don't sound like "failure to make plans for after the villain is defeated" so much as "failure to accurately assess whether your target is a villain or not". I think Zubon's point is that even after you've found a real live villain and come up with a workable plan to defeat him, you're still not done.

Open thread, Mar. 23 - Mar. 31, 2015

Yes, I agree. That's why I like the analogy to composition: most of the songs you might write, if you were sampling at random from song-space, are terrible. So we don't sample randomly: our search through song-space is guided by our own reactions and a great body of accumulated theory and lore. But despite that, the consensus on which songs are the best, and on how to write them, is very loose.

(Actually it's worse, I think composition is somewhat anti-inductive, but that's outside the scope of this thread)

My experience is that naming is similar. There are some concrete tricks you can learn -- do read the C2 wiki if you don't already -- and there's a little bit of theory, some of which I tried to share insofar as I understand it. But naming is communication, communication requires empathy, and empathy is a two-place word: you can't have empathy in the abstract, you can only have empathy for someone.

It might help to see a concrete example of this tension. I don't endorse everything in this essay. But it's a long-form example of a man grappling with the problem I've tried to describe.

Open thread, Mar. 23 - Mar. 31, 2015

Code Complete has a section on this. But we don't have a precise understanding of what a "good name" is, for the same reason that we don't have a precise understanding of what a "good song" is: the goodness of a name is measured by its effect on its reader.

So I think the high-level principle, if you want to do a good job naming things in your program, is to model your intended reader as precisely as you can. What do they know about the problem domain? What programming conventions are they familiar with? Why are they reading your program--what matters to them? These concerns will inform your formatting and commenting style as well.

When you draw these distinctions you will exclude some people. That's normal. You shouldn't feel badly about that, any more than Thomas Mann felt bad that Chinese speakers had to learn German before they could read Der Zauberberg. If your work is influential enough, someone will translate or annotate it. And unlike a novel, most programs are read only by a small circle anyway.

If you want concrete advice instead of philosophy, this c2 page includes some useful tips.

[POLITICS] Jihadism and a new kind of existential threat

I suspect that the point was that the typical Muslim, insofar as there is such a thing, is not an arab. The founder was an arab, the Muslims on American TV are almost all arabs, but in the modern world the two concepts are less related than one might think.

[POLITICS] Jihadism and a new kind of existential threat

I read that the quiverfull movement has around a 20% retention rate. Of course, given exponential growth that doesn't buy all that more time.

Typo? If each pair of Quiverfull parents produces 8 children, and 8/5 = 1.6 of those grow up to become Quiverfull themselves, then the movement needs to proselytize aggressively just to hit replacement.

Also, anecdotally, my friends who are true-believer evangelicals don't think the demographic strategy is going to work; they think they're losing too many to the world.

How to deal with someone in a LessWrong meeting being creepy

Almost nobody has heard of Less Wrong or Eliezer. There's a mean article on RationalWiki (though honestly it doesn't look that mean anymore), there's a hostile thread on DarkLordPotter, but almost nobody has heard of those, either. This was even more true two years ago.

I'm not wedrifid. But I suspect his point is that, outside of a few incredibly narrow sub-sub-cultures, nobody knows anything about Less Wrong and no one who knows you personally will judge you by your connection to it, no matter how public or overt.

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