All of Jacob Falkovich's Comments + Replies

Monastery and Throne

I don't think that nudgers are consequentialists who also try to accurately account for public psychology. I think 99% of the time they are doing something for non-consequentialist reasons, and using public psychology as a rationalization. Ezra Klein pretty explicitly cares about advancing various political factions above mere policy outcomes, IIRC on a recent 80,000 Hours podcast Rob was trying to talk about outcomes and Klein ignored him to say that it's bad politics.

Politics is way too meta

I understand, I think we have an honest disagreement here. I'm not saying that the media is cringe in an attempt to make it so, as a meta move. I honestly think that the current prestige media establishment is beyond reform, a pure appendage of power. It's impact can grow weaker or stronger, but it will not acquire honesty as a goal (and in fact, seems to be giving up even on credibility). 

In any case, this disagreement is beyond the scope of your essay. What I learn from it is to be more careful of calling things cringe or whatever in my own speech, and to see this sort of thing as an attack on the social reality plane rather than an honest report of objective reality.

9Rob Bensinger1moSounds right! If there's anything I should read in order to understand and agree with your view, send it my way (including things that get written in the future).
Politics is way too meta

Other people have commented here that journalism is in the business of entertainment, or in the business of generating clicks etc. I think that's wrong. Journalism is in the business of establishing the narrative of social reality. Deciding what's a gaffe and who's winning, who's "controversial" and who's "respected", is not a distraction from what they do. It's the main thing.

So it's weird to frame this is "politics is way too meta". Too meta for whom? Politicians care about being elected, so everything they say is by default simulacrum level 3 and up. Jo... (read more)

I think it's good to be really cynical about the media as it exists today. I'm not sure it's good to be cynical about the-media-two-years-from-now — that has something of the property of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I have my own personal sense of how likely it is that the media will suddenly turn over a new leaf tomorrow, but since it might turn out to be easier than I think, I won't start the conversation by stating that. Instead, I'll mention some of the specific forces I think create the status quo:

  • Self-deception and plausible deniability. Reporters don'
... (read more)

A cruxy thing for me is "Is the current regime of journalism representative of all eras of journalism?". Was there a time when journalism was more in touch with object-level reality, even if it was still largely or primarily about social reality?

On one hand, I can think of examples of yellow journalism and other social-reality-oriented writing from Awhile Ago. On other hand, the current news cycle seems much worse than the new cycle from 50 years ago. I have stories in my head about how the first TV broadcast presidential debate shifted the focus from "who... (read more)

Above the Narrative

I agree that advertising revenue is not an immediate driving force, something like "justifying the use of power by those in power" is much closer to it and advertising revenue flows downstream from that (because those who are attracted to power read the Times).

I loved the rest of Viliam's comment though, it's very well written and the idea of the eigen-opinion and being constrained by the size of your audience is very interesting.

Jacob's Twit, errr, Shortform

Here's my best model of the current GameStop situation, after nerding out about it for two hours with smart friends. If you're enjoying the story as a class warfare morality play you can skip this, since I'll mostly be talking finance. I may all look really dumb or really insightful in the next few days, but this is a puzzle I wanted to figure out. I'm making this public so posterity can judge my epistemic rationality skillz — I don't have a real financial stake either way.

Summary: The longs are playing the short game, the shorts are playing the long game.... (read more)

Is Rationalist Self-Improvement Real?

This is a self-review, looking back at the post after 13 months.

I have made a few edits to the post, including three major changes:
1. Sharpening my definition of what counts as "Rationalist self-improvement" to reduce confusion. This post is about improved epistemics leading to improved life outcomes, which I don't want to conflate with some CFAR techniques that are basically therapy packaged for skeptical nerds.
2. Addressing Scott's "counterargument from market efficiency" that we shouldn't expect to invent easy self-improvement techniques that haven't be... (read more)

1Yovel Rom3moI did similar trades to yours- call on VXX, and put on JETS (nothing on USO, as I don't think it can get much lower than it already is). As the market doesn't react to the rising case numbers in the US (and maybe more importantly, in Ireland, where they have a horrible outbreak), do you think the market might just factor the coming outbreak as a net positive, since everyone will be either vaccinated or immune after it? Also, vaccine distribution in the US seems to be accelerating, the British strain seems to be a bit less contagious than thought in December, and otherstrains that might or might not be affected by the vaccine were discovered. Have you changed any of your investment plans? Personally, I have options for both March and June, so I will either sell in a COVID related crsis, or sell the March ones at the first reasonable opportunity after March 1st, and the June ones at the first reasonable opportunity after May 1st, but I'm not sure how optimal that is.
1ErrethAkbe3moWhat brokerage do you use?
Review: LessWrong Best of 2018 – Epistemology

There's a whole lot to respond to here, and it may take the length of Surfing Uncertainty to do so. I'll point instead to one key dimension.

You're discussing PP as a possible model for AI, whereas I posit PP as a model for animal brains. The main difference is that animal brains are evolved and occur inside bodies.

Evolution is the answer to the dark room problem. You come with prebuilt hardware that is adapted a certain adaptive niche, which is equivalent to modeling it. Your legs are a model of the shape of the ground and the size of your evolutionary ter... (read more)

3abramdemski4moI haven't yet understood the mathematical details of Friston's arguments. I've been told that some of them are flawed. But it's plausible to me that the particular mathematical argument you're pointing at here is OK. However, I doubt the conclusion of that argument would especially convince me that the brain is set up with the particular sort of architecture described by PP. This, it seems to me, gets into the domain of PP as a theoretical model of ideal agency as opposed to a specific neurological hypothesis. Humans did not perfectly inherit the abstract goals which would have been most evolutionary beneficial. We are not fitness-maximizers. Similarly, even if all intelligent beings need to avoid entropy in order to keep living, that does not establish that we are entropy-minimizers at the core of our motivation system. As per my sibling comment, that's like looking at a market economy and concluding that everyone is a money-maximizer. It's not a necessary supposition, because we can also explain everyone's money-seeking behavior by pointing out that money is very useful.
3abramdemski4moHow does this suggest that perception and action rely on the same mechanism, as opposed to are very intertwined? I would certainly agree that motor control in vision has tight feedback loops with vision itself. What I don't believe is that we should model this as acting so as to minimize prediction loss. For one thing, I've read that a pretty good model of saccade movement patterns is that we look at the most surprising parts of the image, which would be better-modeled by moving eyes so as to maximize predictive loss. Babies look longer at objects which they find surprising, as opposed to those which they recognize. It's true that PP can predict some behaviors like this, because you'd do this in order to learn, so that you minimize future prediction error. But that doesn't mean PP is helping us predict those eye movements. In a world dependent on money, a money-minimizing person might still have to obtain and use money in order to survive and get to a point where they can successfully do without money. That doesn't mean we can look at money-seeking behavior and conclude that a person is a money-minimizer. More likely that they're a money-maximizer. But they could be any number of things, because in this world, you have to deal with money in a broad variety of circumstances. Let me briefly sketch an anti-PP theory. According to what you've said so far, I understand you as saying that we act in a way which minimizes prediction error, but according to a warped prior which doesn't just try to model reality statistically accurately, but rather, increases the probability of things like food, sex, etc in accordance with their importance (to evolutionary fitness). This causes us to seek those things. My anti-PP theory is this: we act in a way which maximizes prediction error, but according to a warped prior which doesn't just model reality statistically accurately, but rather, decreases the probability of things like food, sex, etc in accordance with their importance.
3abramdemski4moSo, for your project of re-writing rationality in PP, would PP constitute a model of human irrationality, and how to rectify it, in contrast to ideal rationality (which would not be well-described by PP)? Or would you employ PP both as a model which explains human irrationality and as an ideal rationality notion, so that we can use it both as the framework in which we describe irrationality and as the framework in which we can understand what better rationality would be? Am I right in inferring from this that your preferred version of PP is one where we explicitly plan to minimize prediction error, as opposed to the Active Inference model (which instead minimizes KL divergence)? Or do you endorse an Active Inference type model? This explanation in terms of evolution makes the PP theory consistent with observations, but does not give me a reason to believe PP. The added complexity to the prior is similar to the added complexity of other kinds of machinery to implement drives, so as yet I see no reason to prefer this explanation to other possibly explanations of what's going on in the brain. My remarks about problems with different versions of PP can each be patched in various ways; these are not supposed to be "gotcha" arguments in the sense of "PP can't explain this! / PP can't deal with this!". Rather, I'm trying to boggle at why PP looks promising in the first place, as a hypothesis to raise to our attention. Each of the arguments I mentioned are about one way I might see that someone might think PP is doing some work for us, and why I don't see that as a promising avenue. So I remain curious what the generators of your view are.
Review: LessWrong Best of 2018 – Epistemology

Off the top of my head, here are some new things it adds:

1. You have 3 ways of avoiding prediction error: updating your models, changing your perception, acting on the world. Those are always in play and you often do all three in some combination (see my model of confirmation bias in action).
2. Action is key, and it shapes and is shaped by perception. The map you build of any territory is prioritized and driven by the things you can act on most effectively. You don't just learn "what is out there" but "what can I do with it".
3. You care about prediction ov... (read more)

2abramdemski4moI suspect some of the things that you want to use PP for, I would rather use my machine-learning model of meditation [] . The basic idea is that we are something like a model-based RL agent, but (pathologically) have some control over our attention mechanism. We can learn what kind of attention patterns are more useful. But we can also get our attention patterns into self-reinforcing loops, where we attend to the things which reinforce those attention patterns, and not things which punish them. For example, when drinking too much, we might resist thinking about how we'll hate ourselves tomorrow. This attention pattern is self-reinforcing, because it lets us drink more (yay!), while refusing to spend the necessary attention to propagate the negative consequences which might stop that behavior (and which would also harm the attention pattern). All our hurting tomorrow won't de-enforce the pattern very effectively, because that pattern isn't very active to be de-enforced, tomorrow. (RL works by propagating expected pain/pleasure shortly after we do things -- it can achieve things on long time horizons because the expected pain/pleasure includes expectations on long time horizons, but the actual learning which updates an action only happens soon after we take that action.) Wishful thinking works by avoiding painful thoughts. This is a self-reinforcing attention pattern for the same reason: if we avoid painful thoughts, we in particular avoid propagating the negative consequences of avoiding painful thoughts. Avoiding painful thoughts feels useful in the moment, because pain is pain. But this causes us to leave that important paperwork in the desk drawer for months, building up the problem, making us avoid it all the more. The more successful we are at not noticing it, the less the negative consequences propagate to the attention pattern which is creating the whole pr
2abramdemski4moQuoting from that, and responding: I would clarify that #1 and #2 happen together. Given a large difference between prediction and observation, a confident prediction somewhat overwrites the perception (which helps us deal with noisy data), but the prediction is weakened, too. And #3 is, of course, something I argued against in my other reply. Right, this makes sense. Why do you believe this? I can believe that, in social circumstances, people act so as to make their predictions get confirmed, because this is important to group status. For example, (subconsciously) socially engineering a situation where the cyan-skinned person is trapped in a catch 22, where no matter what they do, you'll be able to fit it into your narrative. What I don't believe in is a general mechanism whereby you act so as to confirm your predictions. I already stated several reasons in my other comment. First, this does not follow easily from the bayes-net-like mechanisms of perceptual PP theory. They minimize prediction error in a totally different sense, reactively weakening parts of models which resulted in poor predictions, and strengthening models which had strong predictions. This offers no mechanism by which actions would be optimized in a way such that we proactively minimize prediction error thru our actions. Second, it doesn't fit, by and large, with human behavior. Humans are curious infovores; a better model would be that we actively plan to maximize prediction error, seeking out novel stimulus by steering toward parts of the state-space where our current predictive ability is poor. (Both of these models are poor, but the information-loving model is better.) Give a human a random doodad and they'll fiddle with it by doing things to see what will happen. I think people make a sign error, thinking PP predicts info-loving behavior because this maximizes learning, which intuitively might sound like minimizing prediction error. But it's quite the opposite: maximizing learning m
3abramdemski4moPP is not one thing. This makes it very difficult for me to say what I don't like about it, since no one element seems to be necessarily present in all the different versions. What follows are some remarks about specific ideas I've seen associated with PP, many of them contradictory. Do let me know which ideas you endorse / don't endorse. It is also possible that each of my points is based on a particular misconception about PP. While I've made some effort to be well-informed about PP, I have not spent somuch time on it, so my understanding is definitely shallow. The three main meanings of PP (each of which is a cluster, containing many many different sub-meanings, as you flesh out the details in different ways): * A theory of perception. If you look PP up on Wikipedia, the term primarily refers to a theory of perceptual processing in which prediction plays a central role, and observations interact with predictions to provide a feedback signal for learning. So, the theory is that perception is fundamentally about minimizing prediction error. I basically believe this theory. So let's set it aside. * A theory of action. Some people took the idea "the brain minimizes prediction error" and tried to apply it to motor control, too -- and to everything else in the brain. I think this kind of made sense as a thing to try (unifying these two things is a worthwhile goal!), but doesn't go anywhere. I'll have a lot to say about this. This theory is what I'll mean when I say PP -- it is, in my experience, what rationalists and rationalist-adjacent people primarily mean by "PP". * A theory of everything. Friston's free-energy principle. This is not only supposed to apply to the human brain, but also evolution, and essentially any physical system. I have it on good authority that the math in Friston's papers is full of errors, and no one who has been excited about this (that I've seen) has also claimed to understand it. The PP th
4Ben Pace4moFYI Jacobian, very high in the review-request-thread [] is a post on neural annealing [] . I think many people would be interested in reading your review of that post. (Thank you very much for this review as well :D )
What trade should we make if we're all getting the new COVID strain?

The new strain has been confirmed in the US and the vaccine rollout is still sluggish and messed up, so the above are in effect. The trades I made so far are buying out-of-the-money calls on VXX (volatility) and puts on USO (oil) and JETS (airlines) all for February-March. I'll hold until the market has a clear, COVID related drop or until these options all expire worthless and I take the cap gains write-off. And I'm HODLing all crypto although that's not particularly related to COVID. I'm not in any way confident that this is wise/useful, but people asked.

2Adam Scholl2moAre you tempted to drop or reduce the size of this trade in light of the UK seeming to have (roughly speaking, for now at least) contained B.1.1.7?

Trade off to a promising start :P

1frcassarino4moI asked, thanks for the tips!
My Model of the New COVID Strain and US Response

I don't think it was that easy to get to the saturated end with the old strain. As I remember, the chance of catching COVID from a sick person in your household was only around 20-30%, and at superspreader events it was still just a small minority of total attendees that were infected.

3TheMajor4moI also thought this, but was told this was not the case (without sources though). If you are right then the scaling assumption is probably close to accurate. I tried briefly looking for more information on this but found it too complicated to judge (for example, papers summarizing contact tracing results in order to determine the relative importance of superspreader events are too complicated for me to undo their selection effects - in particular the ones I saw limited to confirmed cases, or sometimes even confirmed cases with known source). EDIT: if I check microCOVID [] for example, they state that the chance of catching it during a 1 hour dinner with another person who has been confirmed to have COVID is probably between 0.2% and 20%, The relevant event risks for group spread (as opposed to personal risk evaluations) are conditional on at least one person present having COVID. So is this interval a small chance or a large chance? I wouldn't be surprised if ~10% is significantly high that the linearity assumption becomes questionable, and a 1 hour dinner is far from the most risky event people are participating in.
What trade should we make if we're all getting the new COVID strain?

The VXX is basically at multi-year lows right now, so one of the following is true:
1. Markets think that the global economy is very calm and predictable right now.
2. I'm misunderstanding an important link between "volatility = unpredictability of world economics" and "volatility = premium on short-term SP500 options".

2PeterMcCluskey4moVXX is not a good way to compare volatility across years. VIX and similar measures are showing fairly high volatility, but no signs of new panic recently.
What trade should we make if we're all getting the new COVID strain?

Some options and their 1-year charts:
JETS - Airline ETF

XLE - Energy and oil company ETF

AWAY - Travel tech (Expedia, Uber) ETF

Which would you buy put options on, and with what expiration?

1jmh4moIf I were placing one of the bets I would likely bet against travel. It's recovered the most so likely has an easier drop; nice big spike in November. I would not go out too far as I think this will likely be something that has to happen sooner rather than later -- I don't think the trade is a slow burn type potential. Either you're going to see a move to say 22 quickly or options are not really a good vehicle for the trade. I have not looked at of follow that ETF nor have I been closely following the industry. I would note a potentially unrelated item. The Philippines was planning to reopen schools in some of its provinces after the Christmas break. The administration just announce that has been suspended due to the new strain of virus. One might think similar concerns and thinking about the new strain would have an even larger impact on international travel and certainly any nonessential travel.
1arunto4moI have a quite bad track record with options trading, anticipating the correct direction but loosing because of wrong timing. (Therefore I will reduce the equity part of my portfolio but hopefully refrain from buying put options this time). If I had to trade one of the three, then JETS, expiration in late March. (But I won't and this is definitely not meant as a recommendation.) I think in three months time it will be sufficiently clear for the market if the new virus strains have a heavy impact - writing from a German/European perspective where I anticipate a prolonged hard lockdown if the virus is as infectious as feared. The US reaction is much harder to anticipate for me.
How Lesswrong helped me make $25K: A rational pricing strategy

Those are good points. I think competition (real and potential) is always at least worth considering in any question of business, and I was surprised the OP didn't even mention it. But yes, I can imagine situations where you operate with no relevant competition.

But this again would make me think that pricing and the story you tell a client is strictly secondary to finding these potential clients in the first place. If they were the sort of people who go out seeking help you'd have competition, so that means you have to find people who don't advertise their need. That seems to be the main thing the author doing and the value they're providing: finding people who need recruitment help and don't realize it.

4kareemabukhadra4moI think there's a relevant question of ethics here. If I learn that these competitors offer a product / service equal to mine or better, I'd feel obligated to change the business model or innovate my product / service in some way. Still exploring that question.
How Lesswrong helped me make $25K: A rational pricing strategy

This pricing makes sense if your only competition is your client just going at it by themselves, in which case you clearly demonstrate that you offer a superior deal. But job seekers have a lot of consultants/agencies/headhunters they can turn to and I'd imagine your price mostly depends on the competition. In the worst case, you not only lose good clients to cheaper competition, but get an adverse selection of clients who would really struggle to find a job in 22 weeks and so your services are cheap/free for them.

5AllAmericanBreakfast4moOne interesting feature of the OP's pitch is that he's offering not to help the client find more/better options, but to accelerate them finding any job. It's not clear to me what happens if the client rejects the offers OP finds, but that seems critically important. I'd have to assume that as you say, these are clients who aren't in-demand enough to go through recruitment agencies or headhunters, or to find a job themselves. If he's made $25,000 from 5 clients, then assuming he got 11.5% of each of their salaries, his clients are on average starting at around $25,000/5/.115 = $43,000/year, or around $22/hour. Jacobian, what is the alternative to a service like the OP's for someone in this income bracket? My sense is a temp agency, but that they're typically placing people into jobs paying roughly minimum wage.
1digital_carver4moThis is true, but also often overrated, especially when it comes to individual customers. If you're selling to businesses, do consider that they'd be willing to shop around and optimize to some extent, so differences from your competitors matter a lot. Individual customers however really hate having to search around, compare options, and risk choice overload; if they've found OP as a provider of this service, they'd really prefer to be able to choose them. At this point, OP is not in equal footing with the rest of the competition, and thinking so would lose them income. I run a similar kind of business to OP, and what I've learnt over the years is that unless your prices are outrageously higher (as in an order of magnitude or more), pricing higher than your competition doesn't significantly affect your business, and often results in higher earnings (i.e. what you lose in raw customer numbers, you more than earn back with the larger individual revenues).
The Curse Of The Counterfactual

This statement for example:
> Motivating you to punish things is what that part of your brain does, after all; it’s not like it can go get another job!

I'm coming more from a predictive processing / bootstrap learning / constructed emotion paradigm in which your brain is very flexible about building high-level modules like moral judgment and punishment. The complex "moral brain" that you described is not etched into our hardware and it's not universal, it's learned. This means it can work quite differently or be absent in some people, and in others it can... (read more)

6pjeby4moNote that this is not evidence in favor of being able to unlearn judginess, unless you're claiming you were previously at the opposite end of the spectrum, and then unlearned it somehow. If so, then I would love to know what you did, because it would be 100% awesome and I could do with being a lot less judgy myself, and would love a way to not have to pick off judgmental beliefs one at a time. If you have something better than such one-off alterations, and it can be taught and used by persons other than yourself, in a practical timeframe, then such a thing would be commercially quite valuable. I am aware of many self-help approaches for eliminating specific judgments. However, apart from long-term meditation, or a sudden enlightenment/brain tumor/stroke, I am not aware of any methods for globally "unlearning" the capacity for judginess. If you know how to do such a thing, please publish! You will be revolutionizing the field. Define "it". ;-) I think perhaps we're talking past each other here, since I don't see a "complex" moral brain, only several very simple things working together, in a possibly complex way. (Many of these things are also components shared by other functions, such as our purity-contamination system, or the "expected return calculation" system described by prospect theory and observed in various human and animal experiments.) For example, we have emotions that bias us towards punishing things, but we can certainly learn when to feel that way. You can learn not to punish things, but this won't remove the hardware support for the ability to feel that emotion. Both you and the woman you mentioned are capable of feeling outrage, even though you've learned different things to be outraged about. That animals raised in captivity, and pre-verbal human children can both be observed expressing outrage over perceived unfair treatment or reduced rewards without first needing an example to learn from is highly suggestive here as well. I think it's safe t
The Curse Of The Counterfactual

I've come across a lot of discussion recently about self-coercion, self-judgment, procrastination, shoulds, etc. Having just read it, I think this post is unusually good at offering a general framework applicable to many of these issues (i.e., that of the "moral brain" taking over). It's also peppered with a lot of nice insights, such as why feeling guilty about procrastination is in fact moral licensing that enables procrastination.

While there are many parts of the posts that I quibble with (such as the idea of the "moral brain" as an invariant specialized module), this post is a great standalone introduction and explanation of a framework that I think is useful and important.

4pjeby4moI'm curious what the objection to the "moral brain" term is. As used in this article, it's mainly shorthand for a complex interaction of social learning, biases, specialized emotions, and prospect theory's notion of a baseline expectation of what one "ought" to have or be able to get in a specific circumstance or in exchange for a specific cost. (Or conversely what some specific thing "ought" to cost.)

But if evidence of that regrettable night is all over the internet, that is much worse. You then likely have a lot of other regrettable nights. College acceptances are rescinded, jobs lost.

I have a major quibble with this prediction. Namely my model is that the regrettability of nights, and moral character of people, is always graded on a curve, not absolutely.

Colleges still need to admit students. Employers still need employees. In a world where everyone smokes weed in high school but this is known about only 5% of students, it makes sense for j... (read more)

Book Summary: Consciousness and the Brain

The GNW theory has been kicking about for at least two decades, and this book has been published in 2014. Given this it is almost shocking that the idea wasn't written up on LW before giving it's centrality to any understanding of rationality. Shocking but perhaps fortunate, since Kaj has given it a thorough and careful treatment that enables the reader both to understand the idea and evaluate its merits (and almost certainly to save the purchase price of the book).

First, on GNW itself. A lot of the early writing on rationality used the simplified system 1... (read more)

Is Rationalist Self-Improvement Real?

EDIT: The Treacherous Path was published in 2020 so never mind.

Thank you (and to alkjash) for the nomination! 

I guess I'm not supposed to nominate things I wrote myself, but this post, if published, should really be read along with The Treacherous Path to Rationality. I hope someone nominates that too.

This post is an open invitation to everyone (such as the non-LWers who may read the books to join us). The obvious question is whether this actually works for everyone, and the latter post makes the case for the opposite-mood. I think that in conjunction... (read more)

4Ben Pace4mo(The Treacherous Path to Rationality, while a post I would personally nominate, was not published in 2019, so cannot be nominated for this Review.)
How I Write

Do you have trouble writing for short periods of time, or do you have enough long chunks of free time that there's no use for small chunks?

If my life was so busy that I couldn't even find 4-5 hourlong chunks throughout the week I probably wouldn't blog at all. I sometimes write in 15-20 minute bits while in the office (remember those?) but almost every single post took a multi-hour chunk to come together.

The Treacherous Path to Rationality

Yes, really smart domain experts were smarter and earlier but, as you said, they mostly kept it to themselves. Indeed, the first rationalists picked up COVID worry from private or unpublicized communication with domain experts, did the math and sanity checks, and started spreading the word. We did well on COVID not by outsmarting domain experts, but by coordinating publicly on what domain experts (especially any with government affiliations) kept private.

The Treacherous Path to Rationality

We didn't get COVID, for starters. I live in NYC, where approximately 25% of the population got sick but no rationalists that I'm aware of did.

I'm actually confused by that response, and I don't think it's really part of your best attempt to explain what you meant by 'rationalists pwned covid'. I'll try to explain why I'm unimpressed with that response below, but I think we're in danger of getting into a sort of 'point-scoring' talking past each other. Obviously there were a few rhetorical flourishes in my original response, but I think the biggest part of what I'm trying to say is that the actual personal benefits to most people of being ahead of the curve on thinking about the pandemic were pre... (read more)

The Treacherous Path to Rationality

If I, a rationalist atheist, was in Francis Bacon's shoes I would 100% live my life in such a way that history books would record me as being a "devout Anglican". 

4Vanessa Kosoy6moSure. But, in order to lie without the risk of being caught, you need to simulate the person who actually is a devout Anglican. And the easiest way to do that is, having your conscious self [] actually be a devout Anglican. Which can be a rational strategy, but which isn't the thing we call "rationality" in this context. Another thing is, we can speak of two levels of rationality: "individual" and "collective". In individual rationality, our conscious beliefs are accurate but we keep them secret from others. In collective rationality, we have a community of people with accurate conscious beliefs who communicate them with each other. The social cost of collective rationality is greater, but the potential benefits are also greater, as they are compounded through collective truth-seeking and cooperation.
Most Prisoner's Dilemmas are Stag Hunts; Most Stag Hunts are Schelling Problems

The longer (i.e., more iterations) you spend in the shaded triangles of defection the more you'll be pulled to the defect-defect equilibrium as a natural reaction to what the other person is doing and the outcome you're getting. The longer you spend in the middle "wedge of cooperation", the more you'll end moving up and to the right in Pareto improvements. So we want to make that wedge bigger.

The size of that wedge is determined by the ratio of a player's outcome from C-C to their outcome in D-D. In this case the ratio is 2:1, so the wedge is between the s... (read more)

Covid-19 6/18: The Virus Goes South

Here's what I wrote about coordinated moving when Raymond was talking about leaving the Bay for a while:

"Coordinated moving seems hard. It seems unlikely to happen. But, I think that uncoordinated moving can end up quite coordinated.

If I'm thinking of leaving Brooklyn, I have 10,000 small towns to choose from. If [Zvi, or Ray, or anyone like that] publicizes which one he goes to after doing research, that town is immediately in my top 10 options I'll actually consider. Not just because I'd want to live near [Zvi/Ray] and I trust h... (read more)

Simulacra and Subjectivity

Let me know if this matches — the way I understand it is that level 3 is often about signaling belonging to a group, and level 4 is about shaping how well different belonging signal works.


Level 1: "Believe all women" = If a woman accuses someone of sexual assault, literally believe her.

Level 2: "Believe all women" = I want accusations of sexual assault to be taken more seriously.

Level 3: "Believe all women" = I'm part of the politically progressive tribe that takes sexual assault seriously.

Level 4: "Believe... (read more)

Jacob's Twit, errr, Shortform

People ask what the goal of the Rationalist community is. It's to raise the sanity waterline. To flood the cities with sanity. To wash the streets with pure reason. To engulf the land in common sense. And when our foes, gasping for air, scream "this literally can't be happening!" we'll remind them that 0 and 1 are not probabilities.

2Chris_Leong7moTo be honest, I'm somewhat skeptical of this aim. I suspect the timelines are too short for this to be a viable strategy. We need to find a way of winning regardless.

In science we have standards for what qualifies as evidence. In increasing order of respectability, we have personal opinion, expert opinion, case reports, cohort studies, RCTs, and meta-analyses. 

And then if none of those work, we use what's known as an 'SSC lit review'.

5NaiveTortoise1yIn an alternate universe: All the over-estimators, under-estimators, slow updaters will look up and shout, "save us!" And we'll whisper "Bayes".
Premature death paradox

If you die at age 90, you died prematurely relative to what we'd expect a month before you died, but (postmaturely? it should be a word) relative to what we'd expect and bet on 80 years before your death (i.e., at age 10).

Now, you may still think there's a paradox in the following sense: let's say the median lifespan expected at birth is 70. That means that the 50% of people who died before 70 died prematurely relative to all predictions made throughout their lives, while for the remaining 50% some of the predictions were too pessimist... (read more)

1bfinn1yThanks for this. This certainly sounds plausible, though whether the premature and post-mature predictions would exactly cancel out isn't obvious. (Not sure without trying the maths, and it may or may not be tricky - this is what actuaries are for.) Also I'm not sure whether it requires the life expectancy predictions to be made on the same basis for everyone (e.g. life expectancy tables) or if it would still work for individually tailored predictions. I can see this could dissolve most of the paradox, but (as I threw as many confusions as I could think of into the post!) I sense one may still remain about tailored predictions. At the extreme, in a deterministic world, God could calculate our individual time of death when we're born. All his life expectancy predictions made at any time would be correct, and he wouldn't be surprised when we die; but nonetheless dying age 20 would still be premature. (And not just because we can't make perfect predictions.) Possibly 'premature' means slightly different things in different contexts.
April Coronavirus Open Thread

Hydroxychloroquine update!

A smart friend pointed me to this study that explains that mediocre antivirals only work if administered right after infection. By the onset of symptoms the effect is already much reduced. (The study isn't clear as to what counts as "symptoms" except that they occurred 3 days before hospitalization, so maybe early warning signs like loss of smell don't count). HCQ is, at best, a mediocre antiviral.

This model agrees with a new study from China (N=150... (read more)

The Great Annealing

As a follow up on the media angle, here's something I posted on my Facebook:

We're going to see a lot of research on hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin (HC&A), among other drugs, coming out in the next few weeks from around the world. HC&A is already the standard of care in several countries, in part because the drugs are cheap and widely available and in part because early results are promising. The combined evidence of these studies may show that other treatments are better as a first choice, or that HC&A is better, or that it depen... (read more)

"No evidence" as a Valley of Bad Rationality

I just thought of this in the context of this study on hydroxychloroquine in which 14/15 patients on the drug improved vs 13/15 patients treated with something else. To the average Joe, HCQ curing 14/15 people is an amazing positive result, and it's heartening to know that other antivirals are almost as good. To the galaxy-brained journalist, there's p>0.05 and so "the new study casts doubt on hydroxychloroquine effectiveness... a prime example of why Trump shouldn't be endorsing... actually isn't any more effective."

6Nick_Tarleton1yAnd the correct reaction (and the study [] 's own conclusion) is that the sample is too small to say much of anything. (Also, the "something else" was "conventional treatment", not another antiviral.)
Seeing the Smoke

I think the economic impact will also be huge. Businesses are prepared for 2% of their workers being out with the flu on any given day through the winter, but not for 20% to be sick while the other 80% are quarantined as COVID-19 hits their city. And the company who needs the input parts from that first business is not prepared to not have them for a month, and the companies that rely on them are not prepared, and most industries have slim enough cash reserves and profit margins that a pandemic can knock a lot good companies out of business for good. This could all mean just slightly more expensive electronics for two years, or it could mean a decade of unemployment and restructuring.

6EGI1yAnd this is why I think less and not more permission to panik would be warranted. Our reaction to Covid 19 is likely much more dangerous than the virus itself. So less reaction would arguably be better. 20% Sick is way too much, since that would require everyone to be exposed at once. Epidemics tend to be exponential at first and then become subexponential way before saturation. Seasonal flu does this for example. Do you have any reason to expect Covid 19 to behave different?
Go F*** Someone

Attractiveness comes in many forms. I'm extroverted and write better than I look, so I do well at dinner parties and OKCupid. You can be attractive in dancing skill, in spiritual practice, in demonstrable expertise, in an artistic pursuit... guitar players get laid even if they're not that good looking.

And yet, everyone's first association when talking about "aim for 100 dates" is Tinder, which works only for the men who are top 20% in the one aspect of attractiveness that's crowded and hard to improve - physical looks. This includes men who self-report as

... (read more)
Go F*** Someone

I was thinking of people who write comments without reading the post, which pollutes the conversation. Or people who form broad opinions about a writer or a blog without reading. I deal with those people all day every day on Twitter and in the blog comments.

I didn't mean people deciding what to read based on the title. Of course everyone does that! Someone seeing 'Go F*** Someone' may assume that the post will be somewhat vulgar, and will talk about sex. Both things are true. People not interested in vulgar writing about sex shouldn't read it. If I titled

... (read more)
Go F*** Someone

I understand your concerns.

I cross-post everything I write on Putanumonit to LW by default, which I understood to be the intention of "personal blogposts". I didn't write this for LW. If anyone on the mod team told me that this would be better as a link post or off LW entirely, not because it's bad but because it's not aligned with LW's reputation, I'll be happy to comply.

I could imagine casual readers quickly looking at this and assuming it's related to the PUA community

With that said, my personal opinion is that LW shouldn't cater to people who form

... (read more)
2ozziegooen1yThanks for the response! For what it's worth, I predict that this would have gotten more upvotes here at least with different language, though I realize this was not made primarily for LW. I think this is a complicated issue. I could appreciate where it's coming from and could definitely imagine things going too far in either direction. I imagine that both of us would agree it's a complicated issue, and that there's probably some line somewhere, though we may of course disagree on where specifically it is. A literal-ish interpretation of your phrase there is difficult for me to interpret. I feel like I start with priors on things all the time. Like, if I know an article comes from The NYTimes vs. The Daily Stormer, that snippet of data itself would give me what seems like useful data. There's a ton of stuff online I choose not to read because it seems to be from sources I can't trust for reasons of source, or a quick read of headline.
Go F*** Someone

95%+ of people who drop out of the workforce to raise children are women

Citation needed.

Other than that, you are supporting my general argument by writing from within the very framework that I lay out here. Why is the choice to leave work "destructive"? Why is it OK for a man to depend on a woman for the biological necessities of having a family, but not OK for either partner do depend on the other for the financial necessities?

Accomplished women who drop out to raise families usually don't surrender the spending of money to their husbands (I agree that

... (read more)
Caring less

"Caring less" was in the air. People were noticing the phenomenon. People were trying to explain it. In a comment, I realized that I was in effect telling people to care less about things without realizing what I was doing. All we needed was a concise post to crystallize the concept, and eukaryote obliged.

The post, especially the beginning, gets straight to the point. It asks the question of why we don't hear more persuasion in the form of "care less", offers a realistic example and a memorable graphic, and calls to action. This is... (read more)

Expressive Vocabulary

I feel like this post is missing an important piece.

When people say "chemicals" or "technology" they are very often not talking about the term in question, but communicating an emotional fact about themselves. "I am disgusted by foods that feel artificially produced", "I want you not to be distracted by devices during dinner". Coming up with better and more precise terms won't help at all, since the thing is being communicated has little to do with the referent of the imprecise term.

You can notice this when the ... (read more)

What determines the balance between intelligence signaling and virtue signaling?

This is a great example. During the Cultural Revolution and similar periods (e.g., Stalinist Russia) you not only wanted to signal virtue above intelligence, you actively wanted to signal *lack* of intelligence as vigorously as you could. The inteligentzia are always suspect.

A LessWrong Crypto Autopsy

I wrote about this post extensively as part of my essay on Rationalist self-improvement. The general idea of this post is excellent: gathering data for a clever natural experiment of whether Rationalists actually win. Unfortunately, the analysis itself is very lacking and is not very data-driven.

The core result is: 15% of SSC readers who were referred by LessWrong made over $1,000 in crypto, 3% made $100,000. These quantities require quantitative analysis: Is 15%/3% a lot or a little compared to matched groups like the Silicon Valley or Libertarian blogosp... (read more)

The Intelligent Social Web

In my opinion, the biggest shift in the study of rationality since the Sequences were published were a change in focus from "bad math" biases (anchoring, availability, base rate neglect etc.) to socially-driven biases. And with good reason: while a crash course in Bayes' Law can alleviate many of the issues with intuitive math, group politics are a deep and inextricable part of everything our brains do.

There has been a lot of great writing describing the issue like Scott’s essays on ingroups and outgroups and Robin Hanson’s the... (read more)

5Valentine1yThank you. Thank you for sharing how you were impacted. That touched me. I'm delighted to have played a role in you enjoying your life more fully. :-) I quite agree. Thank you for stating this so clearly. At the time I was under the delusion that people would read and consider what I had to say because they consciously could expect a benefit from doing so. So I tried to state the value up front. I think I was also a little embarrassed to be talking in public in a way I wasn't aware of, so the "laundry list" was a way of assuaging my unrecognized shame. All of which is to say, I agree. :-) And I'm glad this point got into the reviews for this.
7Hazard1yFunny enough, when I did a reread through the sequence, I saw a huge number of little ways EY was pointing to various socially driven biases, which I'd missed the first time around. I think it might have been a framing thing, where because it didn't feel like those bits were the main point of the essays, I smashed them all into "Don't be dumb/conformist" (a previous notion I could round off to). Also great review.
Is Rationalist Self-Improvement Real?

As I said, someone who is 100% in thrall to social reality will probably not be reading this. But once you peek outside the bubble there is still a long way to enlightenment: first learning how signaling, social roles, tribal impulses etc. shape your behavior so you can avoid their worst effects, then learning to shape the rules of social reality to suit your own goals. Our community is very helpful for getting the first part right, it certainly has been for me. And hopefully we can continue fruitfully exploring the second part too.

Is Rationalist Self-Improvement Real?

Somewhat unrelated, but one can think of RSI as being a *meta* self-improvement approach — it's what allows you to pick and choose between many competing theories of self-improvement.

Aside from that, I didn't read the academic literature on TAPs before trying them out. I tried them out and measured how well they work for me, and then decided when and where to use them. Good Rationalist advice is to know when to read meta-analyses and when to run a cheap experiment yourself :)

8ChristianKl1yGiven that RSI is an acronym that has already a fixed meaning, adding a new meaning is likely going to be confusing for a lot of readers.
2Ideopunk1yThis seems correct to me. There are already self-improvement approaches to attempt and modify. Using epistemic rationality to achieve instrumental rationality is less about creating an RSI, and more about evaluating and improving upon existing SIs.
Is Rationalist Self-Improvement Real?

I have several friends in New York who are a match to my Rationalist friends in age, class, intelligence etc. and who:

  • Pick S&P 500 stocks based on CNBC and blogs because their intuition tells them they've beat the market (but they don't check or track it, just remember the winners).
  • Stay in jobs they hate because they don't have a robust decision process for making such a switch (I used goal factoring, Yoda timer job research, and decision matrices to decide where to work).
  • Go so back asswards about dating that it hurts to watch (because t
... (read more)
2Panashe Fundira1yWhat is the error that you're implying here?

Agreed, I see a major problem with an argument that seems to imply that since advice exists elsewhere/wasn't invented by rationality techniques, a meta-heuristic for aggregating trustworthy sources isn't hugely valuable.

In general, live mostly within "social reality" where the only question is "is this weird/acceptable" and never "is this true/false".

It seems to me like people who primarily think in terms of weird/acceptable never join the rationality in the first place. Or do you believe that our community has taught people who used to think in those terms to think otherwise?

Is Rationalist Self-Improvement Real?

Thank you for the detailed reply. I'm not going to reply point by point because you made a lot of points, but also because I don't disagree with a lot of it. I do want to offer a couple of intuitions that run counter to your pessimism.

While you're right that we shouldn't expect Rationalists to be 10x better at starting companies because of efficient markets, the same is not true of things that contribute to personal happiness. For example: how many people have a strong incentive in helping you build fulfilling romantic relationships? N... (read more)

Thanks, all good points.

I think efficient market doesn't just suggest we can't do much better at starting companies. It also means we can't do much better at providing self-help, which is a service that can make people lots of money and status if they do it well.

I'm not sure if you're using index fund investing as an example of rationalist self-help, or just as a metaphor for it. If you're using it an example, I worry that your standards are so low that almost any good advice could be rationalist self-help. I think if you&apos... (read more)

What determines the balance between intelligence signaling and virtue signaling?
Another idea is that intelligence is valued more when a society feels threatened by an outside force, for which they need competent people to protect themselves from.

Building up on this, virtue is valued more when a society is threatened from the inside. If people are worried about being betrayed or undermined by those who appear to be part of their tribe they will look for virtue signals. We see this a lot in the high correlation of virtue signaling with signals of ingroup loyalty, while intelligence signaling often takes the shape of disagreeing with t... (read more)

8Wei_Dai1yRight, and unfortunately the relevant thing here isn't how much society is objectively threatened from the inside, but people's perceptions of the threat, which can differ wildly from reality, because of propaganda, revenue-driven news media, preexisting ideology, or any number of other things. To quote a particularly extreme and tragic instance of this from Gwern's review of The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, 1962-1976 []:

This post changed how I think about everything from what creativity is to why my friend loves talking one-on-one but falls silent in 5 person groups. I will write a longer review in December.

Aella on Rationality and the Void

LSD doesn't make your brain do anything your brain is incapable of doing, just many things that your brain hasn't done in a long while. The best description I can give is that it gives you the intellectual openness of a 5-year-old, the emotional openness of a 3-year-old, and the sensory experience of perhaps a baby who has not formed strong enough predictions of things like "the clouds don't shift in shape while I look at them". All of these are in your brain, but they're usually suppressed by the strong top-down predictions a... (read more)

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