All of James_K's Comments + Replies

Rationality Quotes November 2013

Rachel: I'll have to write that into the new gospel.

E-Merl: New gospel?

Rachel: Gospels should be updated regularly.

Guilded Age

Edit: mispelling of "write" corrected.

3DanArmak8yWrite, not right. Sorry if you feel this is nitpicky; it broke up my concentration.
Rationality Quotes August 2013

My bookmark is made of two prices of fridge-magnet material. It can be closed around a few pages and the magnetism holds it in place, preventing it from falling out.

Plus dollars in my country are exclusively coins, the smallest note is $5.

Rationality Quotes July 2013

Nonetheless it is important to have a firm grasp on the progress we have already attained. It's easy to go from "we haven't made any real progress" to "real progress is impossible". And so we should acknowledge the achievements we have made to date, while always striving to build on them.

Rationality Quotes March 2013

That second point is particularly important. Since present governments cannot reliably bind future governments, credibility is a big issue with any politically-sensitive project with a long time horizon.

Rationality Quotes December 2012

Except that an individual vote have a negligible effect on who wins an election, so voters have no incentive to figure out which political party best represents their goals.

0TimS9ySomeone recently wrote a post analyzing optimal voter behavior. It turns out that anyone who would vote in a country where a random voter is selected to decide the election should vote in the current setup []. Plus, voting has knock-on effects for future elections.
Rationality Quotes November 2012

The normal margin of error on a political opinion poll would be 1.96 sigma - a 95% confidence interval (that's how you'd get a margin of error of just over 3 percentage points on a poll of 1000 people.

Rationality Quotes August 2012

Yes, I don't think "couldn't afford paper" is a good explanation, books of this nature were for wealthy people anyway.

Rationality Quotes August 2012

I think much of it is that brevity simply wasn't seen as a virtue back then. There were far fewer written works, so you had more time to go through each one.

5Eliezer Yudkowsky9yI detect a contradiction between "brevity not seen as virtue" and "they couldn't afford paragraphs".
7gwern9yI think it's the vagary of various times. All periods had pretty expensive media and some were, as one would expect, terse as hell. (Reading a book on Nagarjuna, I'm reminded that reading his Heart of the Middle Way was like trying to read a math book with nothing but theorems. And not even the proofs. 'Wait, could you go back and explain that? Or anything?') Latin prose could be very concise. Biblical literature likewise. I'm told much Chinese literature is similar (especially the classics), and I'd believe it from the translations I've read. Some periods praised clarity and simplicity of prose. Others didn't, and gave us things like Thomas Browne's Urn Burial. (We also need to remember that we read difficulty as complexity. Shakespeare is pretty easy to read... if you have a vocabulary so huge as to overcome the linguistic drift of 4 centuries and are used to his syntax. His contemporaries would not have had such problems.)
Rationality Quotes March 2012

The three you mention are all subtypes of the same efficiency - informational efficiency. Informational efficiency is used in finance and refers to how well a financial market incorporates information into prices. Basically a market is informationally efficient if you can't out-predict without using information it doesn't have. The weak / semi-strong / strong distinction merely indicates how much information it is incorporating into prices: weak means it's incorporating it's own past prices, semi-strong includes all public information, and strong includ... (read more)

Rationality Quotes March 2012

Yglesias seems to be committing an error here by confusing technical jargon with common English. Efficient has a very specific meaning in economics (well, two specific meanings, depending on what kind market you're talking about). The word efficient is not meant to refer to universal goodness and it's a mistake to treat it as if it were.

0wedrifid9yI know of three, although it is a matter of parametrization (weak, strong, semi-strong). What two meanings do you have in mind?
Rationality quotes January 2012

Indeed. In fact there's a website: What's the Harm? that explains what damage these beliefs cause.

4Bill_McGrath10yVictims of Moon Landing Denial [] Marvellous.
A History of Bayes' Theorem

Thank you for the recommendation.

0jsalvatier10yYou're welcome!
Rationality Quotes: June 2011

For the record, I'm pretty sure this story is apocryphal, though that doesn't take away from it's value as a rationality quote.

Rationality Quotes: June 2011

It's even better when said by Leonard Nimoy.

3RobertLumley10yAh, so someone knows where I found this quote. :-)
Learned Blankness

You definitely have a point here. The Law of Comparative Advantage is an extremely powerful driver of improved standards of living. So you definitely shouldn't try to do everything yourself.

But at the same time it pays not to over-specialise. If you rely on another person to fix your computer problems for you (for instance), that might work fine, until they aren't available for some reason. Then you have a choice between working it our for yourself or just giving up.

So I'd say at the very least overcoming "learned blankness" is helpful for implementing a back-up plan.

The Neuroscience of Desire

This was really interesting, while I got a decent primer in behavioural economics at university, neuroeconomics was still too cutting edge.

Rationality Quotes: April 2011

Yes, the trouble with rationality is that it may not work very well if you're a fictional character.

3ata10yOnly if you're a character in a fictional world that doesn't itself contain fiction in the same genre that you're in. If it does, you may be able to work out the rules.
Rationality Quotes: April 2011

Still, Ford's position was entirely reasonable ex ante.

6benelliott10yHow foolish of him to think something like reasonableness would matter in the Hitch-hiker's Guide universe.
1MBlume10yOh, certainly.
Rationality Quotes: April 2011

That is truly incredible, I regret only that I have but one upvote to give.

Reflections on rationality a year out

Happy to help, I like to contribute my economics knowledge to the group when its germane.

Reflections on rationality a year out

The textbook definition of "externality" is where some activity has an effect (whether positive or negative) on people who are neither party to that activity, nor in a contractual relationship with those people.

So, creating a meetup group that other people will enjoy has a positive externality, but note if SilasBarta had been hired by those people to create that group there would be no externality (unless it also benefited some people who hadn't hired him).

As for the reference to counterfeiting, that I believe is (based on previous discussions with SilasBarta) a sly reference to Keynesian economics, and you should probably leave it to one side if you're still trying to get your head around externalities.

Rationality Quotes: March 2011

Yes, blaming the failure on self-serving behaviour is futile, but its imperative that you account for people's tendency to do this when you design a system.

Rationality Quotes: March 2011

I think this quote is especially apposite when your looking at ways of reforming a system. Attributing bad policy outcomes to the perfidy of individuals is generally unhelpful in designing a solution.

3BillyOblivion10yDepends. If the potential perfidy of humans is not counted for in your solution, then it's a fail. Humans lie, cheat, and steal. Especially when the system is policy is designed to encourage that behavior.
Some Heuristics for Evaluating the Soundness of the Academic Mainstream in Unfamiliar Fields

It may have more to do with compartmentalisation than anything else. Economists focus their attention on their own sub-disciplines, so the micro guys don't pay much attention to what the macro guys are doing. I'm not sure that's especially unusual in any intellectual discipline though.

Secondly, macro is what most people think of when they think of economics. So laypeople talk about the failings of economics when they're really talking about fairly small parts of the discipline in the grand scheme of things.

As to why economists don't pick up on this mo... (read more)

Some Heuristics for Evaluating the Soundness of the Academic Mainstream in Unfamiliar Fields

As an economist myself (though a microeconomist) I share some of your concerns about macroeconomics. The way support and opposition for the US's recent stimulus broke down along ideological lines was wholly depressing.

I think the problem for macro is that they have almost no data to work with. You can't run a controlled experiment on a whole country and countries tend to be very different from each other which means there are a lot of confounding factors to deal with. And without much evidence, how could they hope to generate accurate beliefs?

Add to tha... (read more)

8Vladimir_M10yJames, Nice of you to drop by and comment -- I still remember that really interesting discussion about price indexes we had a few months ago! One thing I find curious in economics is that basically anything studied under that moniker is considered to belong to a single discipline, and economists of all sorts apparently recognize each other as professional colleagues (even when they bitterly attack each other in ideological disputes). This despite the fact that the intellectual standards in various subfields of economics are of enormously different quality, ranging from very solid to downright pseudoscientific. And while I occasionally see economists questioning the soundness of their discipline, it's always formulated as questioning the soundness of economics in general, instead of a more specific and realistic observation that micro is pretty solid as long as one knows and respects the limitations of one's models, whereas macro is basically just pseudoscience. Is the tendency for professional solidarity really that strong, or am I perhaps misperceiving this situation as an outsider?
Procedural Knowledge Gaps

I deal with this by wearing a watch. I always wear a watch on my left hand. Whenever I have to work out whether I'm talking about my left or my right I stop and sense the extra weight. The wrist with a slight weight on it is my left.

New Year's Predictions Thread (2011)

That's only true for a stationary series, which temperature isn't. For a random walk series you can have a 50% chance of each new observation being the highest ever in the series. For a trended series it can be higher than 50%.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, part 5

Furthermore even if one is a pure consequentialist, there may be a case for acting like a deontologist in some cases. While a perfectly rational entity can properly weight costs and benefits, people can't. Chances are if a person's moral code says "it's a good idea to subject some people to mind rape for decades" that person has made a mistake, and one should account for that.

Bayesian Nights (Rationalist Story Time)

And you had the good taste to steal something that doesn't get stolen all that often.

Rationality Quotes: November 2010

In circumstances like that I find I have to laugh, if only to keep from weeping.

Activation Costs

I definitely face this issue, I find it difficult to do anything I'm not in the habit of doing, especially if I'm doing it for the first time.

Swords and Armor: A Game Theory Thought Experiment

I've given the problem a quick pass and I can conclude this much:

1) Using the red weapon is weakly dominated, so definitely don't do that.

2) There's no Nash equilibrium in pure strategies, so if there's an equilibrium, it's in mixed strategies. If I have time over the weekend, I might re-learn how to do Lagrange Multiplier calculus and then I'll have a go at calculating a mixed strategy equilibrium.

Rationality quotes: October 2010

I'd go along with both of those examples (though the US has a history of corporate bailouts that extends far beyond current events). Also rent control (it has significant perverse effects on rental markets and often hurts the poor).

That's not to say other countries don't have their problems, I don't think the US is a uniquely bad policy maker, but there is something about the way the US government makes policy that seems to want to have its cake and eat it too. When they try that it usually doesn't end well.

Rationality quotes: October 2010

Not at all. Emergency care is precisely the sort of thing that should be covered by insurance. Equally, there's no reason why the providers of health savings accounts couldn't negotiate rates for their members, if that's a valuable service (in fact many insurance companies offer HSAs at the moment. Though I wouldn't object to the US government forcing hospitals to be more transparent about their pricing.

Rationality quotes: October 2010

The essential problem is the way health insurance works in the US. The basic function of insurance is to protect people from strongly adverse events that would put them into financial distress. Insurance companies have to charge more than an actuarially fair rate for insurance in order to make a profit. This means that it is inefficient to run small or high probability expenses through an insurance scheme. The only reason this happens in the US is the tax deductibility of insurance and the mandates on coverage in some states. This turns health insuran... (read more)

1jimrandomh11yThis idea seems to involve people negotiating their health care expenses with providers directly, which doesn't work. Or rather, it only works for the routine expenses, and not the unexpected ones. Some fraction of health care decisions are made under conditions that are literally "buy this or die", and a large fraction of the remainder are made by people who are in no condition to negotiate, so either some form of collective bargaining, or else direct regulation of prices, is required.
Rationality quotes: October 2010

I'm an economist and it makes no sense to me at all. It seems almost like someone carefully identified the efforts insurance markets make to mitigate the failures in health markets and then crippled them. I actually have trouble convincing some of my colleagues that I'm serious when I describe the regulatory structure.

6NancyLebovitz11yCould you expand on the specific details of what went wrong?
Rationality quotes: October 2010

Just an indication that one should avoid absolutes: even an absolute directive to avoid absolutes ;)

Rationality quotes: October 2010

I agree with your qualifications, I was oversimplifying. And the reason I didn't say certainly fail because I try to avoid using the word "certain" unless I'm dealing with purely logical systems.

1wedrifid11yA worthy goal. Usually that will prevent you from making claims that are technically wrong despite being inspired by good thinking. This seems to be a rare case where defaulting to not using an absolute introduces the technical problem.
Rationality quotes: October 2010

For some strange reason a lot of US policy in particular seems to fall into the "worst of both worlds" camp ( I would consider their health insurance system as an example). As I'm not an American I don't know why this is the case.

4Douglas_Knight11yCould you give other examples? I certainly accept health insurance and this particular fire department, but I don't think it is a representative fire department. Is the common theme the word "insurance"?
7wnoise11yNeither do Americans.
1wedrifid11yWhat little I know of that system scares me.
Rationality quotes: October 2010

It's a government-run fire station, so it's not all that capitalistic.

3wedrifid11yReally? Going for a 'worst of both worlds' approach it would seem. ;) If you are going to make fire fighting a pay for individual service system instead of a cooperation problem handled by central authority and taxation then you may as well at least get the efficiency benefits of competition in private industry. In fact a completely capitalistic organisation with no interest in public welfare would probably not have had a problem like we see in this instance. The organisation would have set up payment contingencies such that they can sell their services at a penalty rate to those who didn't buy according to the preferred subscription/insurance model.
Rationality quotes: October 2010

By "understand", I mean have a sufficiently good model to make high quality predictions about what key economic variables are going to do. And I wouldn't call papers like the one on the Monday effect routine, though they do happen.

Rationality quotes: October 2010

The problem is that understanding the economy is probably harder than understanding human intelligence. After all, the global economy is the product of over 6 billion human brains interacting with each other and their environment.

0gwern11yWhat does 'understanding the economy' mean? Routinely economists point out missed opportunities which the market then exploits (IIRC one of the standard examples was a paper which discovered a small average rise on Mondays), or simple models outperform the economists' predictions of the future.
Rationality quotes: October 2010

I think it genuinely wise, it contains three related important concepts: 1) You should try to make the world a better place, 2) You shouldn't waste your effort in attempting 1 in situations when you will almost certainly fail, 3) in order to succeed at 1 & 2 you need to be able to understand the world around you, a desire, to affect change isn't enough.

The only thing that's missing form it is something about having the insight to distinguish good changes form bad ones.

1soreff11yI don't think that is actually implied by the original wording. Clippy could also view as wise, though in vis case, "the things I cannot change" would be closer to "the resources I am unable to apply to paperclips". One can't expect too much specificity from a 25 word quote... I'm taking your point (which I agree with) as meaning that one should have the insight to distinguish instrumental subgoals that actually will advance one's ultimate goals from subgoals that don't accomplish this. (This is separate from differences in ultimate goals.)
3wedrifid11yNot quite. You want to consider the expected value of the attempt, not the raw probability of success. A 0.1% chance of curing cancer or 'old age' is to be preferred over an 80% chance of winning the X-Factor (particularly given that the latter applies to yourself). It would definitely be foolish to waste effort attempting something that will certainly fail.
Memetic Hazards in Videogames

In Oblivion, the settlements you are in are village-sized. They would be close-knit communities in which you are a stranger. Also, we're not talking about picking up something off a street (picking flowers or herbs for instance) was OK, because outdoor plants generally weren't flagged as owned. Things you might want to pick up were generally indoors and often within sight of the person who owned them.

Memetic Hazards in Videogames

It's interesting that the designers hook up the formula for FF 13. You basically don't do any sidequests until you finish the game. After defeating the final bosses it puts you at the last save point, and lets you go back and do all those sidequests you walked past earlier in the game. The incentive to play this way comes form the fact you can't finish levelling up until you finish the game.

Memetic Hazards in Videogames

It's interesting to see what happens when videogames behave more like real life. For instance, in Oblivion (and Fallout 3), you can't just take things unless you're in the middle of nowhere. If someone sees you, they cry out "stop, thief!". Equally, attacking people who didn't attack you first in civilised areas will draw the guard or vigilantes down on your head, and most of the stuff you find lying around is worthless trash that isn't worth the effort to haul away and sell.

I remember how jarring it was when I first tried to take something in Oblivion, only for a bystander to call for the guard. And then I realised that this is how NPCs should react to casual theft.

2CronoDAS11yThe Kleptomaniac Hero [] is very common in video games. If the game lets you take it, you probably should - and you can take a lot of stuff from random people's houses and such, while the people who actually own it stand there doing nothing.
8SilasBarta11yIs that how people normally react in real life? I would think people tend to be apathetic bystanders, or might think you were picking up something of your own. If someone creates a real life simulator where you can repeatedly practice your crimes and learn what the actual responses would be ... God help us all. (I mean God in the secular sense.)
2[anonymous]11yThis seems to depend of the kind of games one plays. NPCs noticing theft was default for most of my gaming experience (first RPG I played was Gothic 2) I am disappointed by less.
7thomblake11yYes, this is following the tradition of the Ultima series [\]), wherein Lord British originally introduced those sorts of mechanics specifically out of concern for the effects video games might have on the character and habits of the players.
Rationality quotes: September 2010

Eliezer advocates the "rationality is about winning" position, as timtyler note sin his reply to you.

And this is actually a Humean point. The idea is that passion is about what you want i.e. want qualifies as winning and rationality is about getting what you want i.e. how to go about winning.

As for Mr Bagehot's preference set, it's true that transitivity is a necessary condition for rationality because an agent with intransitive preferences has no coherent utility function.

However, I don't think that's an issue here. Bagehot's preferences are d... (read more)

Something's Wrong

And all of that is true. Even if you have a real problem that people are ignoring, highlighting its badness might still be counter-productive.

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