All of Jimdrix_Hendri's Comments + Replies

I've always felt the Fisherian runaway hypothesis begs the (second order) question:

The first order question (for the scenario here) is - Why don't the male bird head plumage continue to grow indefinitely longer from generation to generation? This one is easy. At some point the plumage would become so impractical as to make mating impossible. 

The second order question is harder: Why is it that some species get away with remarkably impractical features (the peacock comes quickly to mind), while other species appear to be pretty close to a local maximum ... (read more)

That sounds plausible, but I've not looked into the empirical research on that topic so I can't tell you much more! 

I have the same concern as Daniel Kokotajlo, but for a different reason. 

Mr Malmesbury considers the gradual extinction of genders beyond 2, but he never mentions the injection of fertile new genders into the population through mutations. 

In order to make the case convincing case for unique suitability of exactly two genders, we should look for reasons why systems with three or more genders would be unstable. Here is a hint: consider a third gender entering into an established species with two genders: one with a huge gametes, the other with tiny gametes. Where does the gamete size of the new entry fit in?

Roughly speaking, (upward) completeness means that every statement about the system can either be shown to be demonstrable from the axioms of the system or to be in violation with some number of those axioms. 

That is not quite the same thing as your statement, but I think it would be a mistake here to argue which interpretation is right. My reluctance is due to the fact that the upward arc of completeness is incidental to the argument I am making. I mentioned the upward arc because many readers of Less Wrong are familiar with it. I hoped that would ca... (read more)

If you are saying that the First Law is unable to stand on its own, then I agree with you. 

If you are saying that NewtonWorld is not just about the first world, then I have to provide a clarification. I, as the founder of NewtonWorld (just for this article) declare by fiat that it encompasses only the first law (plus Kant's synthetic, a priori knowledge). I agree that the name NewtonWorld is misleading and I wish I had chosen a different name. So, sorry for the confusion.

I do not believe the first law was intended to assert the existence of inertial frames of reference, else Newton would have said that explicitly. I think you may be extrapolating from Einstein.

More likely, the first law was intended to correct the then widespread Aristotelian conviction that all terrestrial motion eventually ceases. 

However, as a standalone statement it is vacuous. 


The first law has nothing to say about mass. 

I suppose, you could say that mass is inherent in the notion of a particle. Yet physics has massless particles, such as the photon. On the other hand, it is true that the notion of massless particles only entered physics after Newton. 

In any case, the world of Newton's first law does not have any change in velocity. The possibility of a change of velocity is hinted at, but the first law has nothing to say about the associated circumstances. 

I wasn't talking about the first law alone, because you weren't. The first law does not fully describe NewtonWorld.

By the way, you do know that ants already do service for people by harvesting seeds for rooibos tea?

Cool topic!
Here are some critiques on part 1 of your presentation: Short Combinatorial Talk

1 Colour coding slides by content is a nifty idea. I hadn't seen this before. Unfortunately, even with as little as five headings it is difficult to recall the correspondence between colours and content. Why not try something else. Maybe a designation in the upper right hand corner of each slide?

2. That looks like an interesting diagram on slide 4. Why didn't you explain it?

3. You tend to introduce succinct definitions first, motivating examples later. This worked al... (read more)

Agree with #3, presenting definitions with examples first. Congrats on this research, feels like you’re onto something huge!

Thanks, betulaster, 

Since you address "how likely meeting a certain politically charged event would be", I assume your question is focussed on what I've called "Polling 2", which concerns itself with predicting future events. These tend to be less politically charged than than "Polling 1", but I agree you are right in pointing out the need to relativise respondents answers. People who identify strongly with a cause, especially if they are not used to dealing with probability, might confuse a question about an event likelihood with the strength of thei... (read more)

Yes, you're right, and I should have been more clear - thanks for pointing that out. I don't know if I'm convinced that would work. I think that most people fall into two camps regarding betting odds. Camp A is not familiar with probability theory/calculus and doesn't think in probabilistic terms in their daily life - they are only familiar with bets and odds as a rhetorical device ("the odds were stacked against him", "against all odds", etc). Camp B are people who bet/gamble as a pastime frequently, and are actually familiar with betting odds as an operable concept.  If you ask an A about their odds on an event related to a cause they feel strongly about, they will default to their understanding of odds as a rhetorical device and signal allegiance instead of giving you a usable estimate.  If you ask a B about their odds on the same event, they will start thinking about it in monetary terms, since habitual gamblers usually bet and gamble money. But, as you point out, putting a price on faith/belief/allegiance is seen as an immoral/dishonorable act, and would cause even more incentive to allegiance-signal instead of truly estimating probabilities. In this way, this only works either for surveying people with good skills at rationality/probability, or for surveying people about events they don't have strong feelings on. However, there are two pitfalls to this argument, and that's why I'm not stating this with complete certainty.  First, this is still speculation - I have no solid data on how familiar an aggregate (I'm not sure average is a good term to use here, given that mathematicians probably understand this concept very well while being relatively scarce) person is with concept of betting odds - and actually, do tell if you know any survey data that would allow to verify this, a gauge of how familiar people are with a certain concept seems like data useful enough to exist.  Second, this may be cultural. I'm not American and have never stayed in America long-te

You make a good point, namely that my article would be improved with an example. I don't have one at hand, although I think this behaviour comes up rather frequently in attacks on climate change deniers. I'll see what I can do to find an example.

Perhaps I should write an article about the more general problem of journalists and politicians selectively using specious, (often pseudo-) scientific claims to attack their opponents? This originates mostly from the left. The right has long since accepted the idea that science arguments will always be ... (read more)

But this is not what is done. Instead, journalists write, pretty much universally, about "the scientific method", which is supposed to be an iterative procedure made up of observation, hypothesising and testing. This raises two questions:

1) Why don't journalists instead write about the life or physical or social science method? I suppose this is one of the widespread misunderstandings about science. There is also a gross public misperception about the validity that can be to attribute to scientific results. It is true that some of these poi... (read more)

1Mary Chernyshenko4y
I agree that it is sloppy of journalists. I just have not read any such piece in a while and so I have to ask - are they wrong, about the violating? Most of the time? It might be a gross oversimplification, but is it untrue?

Hey unreal!

I came to your article never having heard of circling before, and your first iteration at describing put me into the mind: "well, it's just another name for a party". But later you explained how the group gives explicit attention to feelings, especially feelings of the moment. This bring to mind and experience I would like to share with you.

I typically operate in a very masculine oriented environment and I've sometimes heard women complain they find the approaches taken, say, to reaching a decision, are unnatural for them. ... (read more)

2Said Achmiz4y
But… how did this “women’s” group actually… decide what to do? What sorts of groups were these, anyway? What was the decision-making procedure? (In other words, who had the power to make the decisions?) These and other details would be needed before any conclusions can be drawn from your anecdote, I think.

Hmm. I suppose the NY Times could run a column on the ethics of open discussion of violating medical confidentiality. No?

Certainly this sequence can be continued. With each new meta-iteration we are further removed from the original issue but might hope to benefit (?) from the silence-equivalent effect of increased incomprehensibility.

I’ve heard of the term “History channel effect” to explain why that sort of topic doesn't get coverage in the news. The idea is that people would rather hear about topics that make them feel well-informed than topics that would actually make them more well-informed.

1. The average IQ of visitors to this site is 145 squared? Impressive!

2. Are you trying to be subtly meta-contrarian with your idiosyncratic orthography, or are you just really glad to see me?

the question I want to ask about is what is it about humans, culture and brains that allows for such high variance within the species, that isn't true about mice and chimps?

Some points to consider:

1. Has it been demonstrated that variations in intelligence is that much greater for humans than for mice or chimps? This may be true, but you didn't indicate any references.

Whereas I could imagine a test for chimp intelligence, and even timed maze experiments on mice, the concept of what we mean by intelligence becomes increasingly attenuated as we de... (read more)

I think your idea about a Schelling point deserves further thought. But, why (and how) select the point arbitrarily? Why now presume that rational 100% Gandhi would perform an optimisation, according to his personal utility function, calculating the good the offered money could do against the harm done to the world by becoming less pacific?

Since you've already posited a third party, in your example, engaged to destroy Gandhi's prized possessions for deviations, why not just have Gandhi charge the man to shoot him as soon as he shows any sign of ... (read more)

I have the impression that Solomonoff Induction provides a precise procedure to a very narrow set of problems with little practical applicability elsewhere.

How would you use Solomonoff Induction to choose between the two alternative theories mentioned in the article: one based on Newton's Force Laws, the other based on the principle of least action. (Both theories have the same range of validity and produce the identical results).

HI Raemon,

I'm gratified to see my humble contribution receive attention, including from you. I'm learning. So thanks.

This is my first independent posting (I've commented before) and I didn't notice it appearing in the front page "latest posts". I understand you are a LW organisor. Can you help me understand the trigger criteria for an article to appear under "latest posts"? Thanks a lot! JH

Latest Posts follows a hackernews algorithm, where things appear in Latest Posts based on how much karma they have, and how recent they are. Your post has relatively low karma (most likely because the topic wasn't that novel for LW readers), so it probably appeared for a few hours in the Latest Posts column and then eventually moved off the bottom of the page. (By now, a 4 days later, it most likely is appearing in Latest Posts but you have to click 'load more' many times before it'll show up)

hi habryka,

It wasn't my purpose to open a discussion of interpretation of quantum mechanics. I only took this as an example.

My point is something else entirely: scientists have been leaning very heavily on William of Occam for a long while now. But try to pin down what they mean by a the relative complexity of an explanation, and they shrug their shoulders.

It's not even the case that scientists disagree on which metric to apply. (That would just be normal business!) But, as far as I know, no one has made a serious effort to define a metric. Maybe because they can't?

A very unscientific behaviour indeed!

3Abe Dillon5y
I think you're example of interpreting quantum mechanics gets pretty close to the heart of the matter. It's one thing to point at solomonoff induction and say, "there's your formalization". It's quite another to understand how Occam's Razor is used in practice. Nobody actually tries to convert the Standard Model to the shortest possible computer program, count the bits, and compare it to the shortest possible computer program for string theory or whatever. What you'll find, however; is that some theories amount to other theories but with an extra postulate or two (e.g. many worlds vs. Copenhagen). So they are strictly more complex. If it doesn't explain more than the simpler theory the extra complexity isn't justified. A lot of the progression of science over the last few centuries has been toward unifying diverse theories under less complex, general frameworks. Special relativity helped unify theories about the electric and magnetic forces, which were then unified with the weak nuclear force and eventually the strong nuclear force. A lot of that work has helped explain the composition of the periodic table and the underlying mechanisms to chemistry. In other words, where there used to be many separate theories, there are now only two theories that explain almost every phenomenon in the observable universe. Those two theories are based on surprisingly few and surprisingly simple postulates. Over the 20th century, the trend was towards reducing postulates and explaining more, so it was pretty clear that Occam's razor was being followed. Since then, we've run into a bit of an impasse with GR and QFT not nicely unifying and discoveries like dark energy and dark matter.

Yes, and the sequence (as well as the post I linked below) tries to define a complexity measure based on Solomonoff Induction, which is a formalization of Occam's Razor.

Raemon, I understand your remark. But I've detected another problem. I've dropped the ball by posting my reply to the wrong remark. So, I'm going to have to do some cutting and pasting. Please bear with me.

The EY article really is super long (but interesting) and seems to go all over the place. I'd like to do habryka the courtesy of an answer reasonably promptly. I hope I'm not out of order by asking habryka for guidance about what is on his mind.

The idea of counting postulates is attractive, but it harbours a problem which reminds me of a story. There once was an editor assigned to review an article. The editor was conscientious and raised 15 questions. But his boss thought this was too many and would only permit five questions. Now the editor cared about his points, so he kept them by generous application of the conjunctive: "and".

We could come up formal requirements to avoid anything as crude as the editor's behaviour. But, I think we'd still find that each postulate encapsul... (read more)

The idea of counting postulates is attractive, but it harbours a problem...
...we'd still find that each postulate encapsulates many concepts, and that a fair comparison between competing theories should consider the relative complexity of the concepts as well.

Yes, I agree. A simple postulate count is not sufficient. That's why I said complexity is *related* to it rather than the number itself. If you want a mathematical formalization of Occam's Razor, you should read up on Solomonoff's Inductive Inference.

To address your point about the... (read more)

Help me out here, habryka.

I've read part way through the article. The first paragraph seemed to be carrying on a continuing conversation (John Searle comes to mind). Then it seemed to change direction abruptly, addressing a problem in mechanism design, namely how to assign payoffs so as to incentivise an agent in a certain game to be honest about his predictions.

These are interesting topics, but I struggle to see the relevance.

EY's article is also very long. I haven't read it to the end. Can you point out where to look or, better, summarise the point you were making?

Thanks a lot!

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply
I or Habryka might be able to summarize the key points sometime later, but one of the important bits here is that LessWrong is generally a site where people are expected to have read through the sequences (not necessarily meaning that you have to right away, they are indeed super long. But if you're going to pose questions that are answered in the sequences, longterm users will probably ask that you read them before putting in time clarifying misunderstandings) (I realize this is a huge ask, but the site is sort of built around the notion that we build knowledge over time, rather than rehashing the same arguments over and over. This does mean accumulating more and more background reading, alas. We do have projects underway to distill the background reading into smaller chunks but it's an ongoing process)

EY writes:

the ordinary or colloquial way of speaking about degrees of belief, where someone might casually say, “I’m 98% certain that canola oil contains more omega-3 fats than olive oil.” What they really mean by this is that they feel 98% certain—there’s something like a little progress bar that measures the strength of the emotion of certainty, and this progress bar is 98% full. And the emotional progress bar probably wouldn’t be exactly 98% full, if we had some way to measure. The word “98%” is just a colloquial way of saying: “I’m almost but not enti... (read more)

Hi elityre, and thanks for responding.

I am no certainly no expert, but I do know there is legislation - both national and international - regulating to genetic research. Quick queries to Professor Google delivered two international agreements that appear relevant:

o Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the

o International Declaration on Human Genetic Data

Both are older documents which establish a kind of precedent for a basic framework for how national governments can cooperate to regulate a rapidly changing and cri... (read more)

elityre makes a sincere effort to examination of the question from the ground up. But this overlooks the work that's already been done in similar fields. A lot of what has been accomplished with regard to applied genetic research is likely to be transferable, for instance.

More generally, formal methods of safety engineering can provide a useful framework, when adapted flexibly to reflect novel aspects of the question.

2Eli Tyre5y
Are there existing agreements constraining the deployment of applied genetic research? What are the keywords I should search for, if I want to know more? The only thing I know about this area is that an unaffiliated researcher used CRISPR to modify human embryos, and that most of the field rebuked him for it. This suggests that there are general norms about which experiments are irresponisble to try, but not strong coordination that prevents those experiments from being done.

One criterion for a procedure to be objective is that it can be carried out equally by anyone.

A procedure which includes a codicil: "Sometimes, I will step in and overturn the arrangement". Fails on three counts:

1 It fails to explicitly define the criteria for making interventions.

2 Nothing is said about the range of interventions that will be entertained.

3 It does not specify the means by which the type of intervention will be determined.

The name for this is dictat, and is almost always inappropriate and dangerous.

There are other ways of bui... (read more)

2Said Achmiz5y
Yes, all of these things can be done. And if you do any or all of them, and do not have a provision for applying judgment that stands above any of these provisions, your system will be exploitable. This is nostalgebraist’s point. In practice, there will always exist “no, actually, we’re not following that rule in this case” exceptions. Our options are as follows: 1. Pretend strenuously that no exceptions exist. Apply the rules as inflexibly as possible, even (in fact, especially) in cases where it really seems like we shouldn’t apply them, to maintain the illusion that no exceptions exist. 2. Admit the fact that exceptions exist; attempt to make explicit, clarify, and rationalize the criteria for exception-making (in other words, fold them into the explicit rules); nevertheless maintain the option to exercise judgment, in contravention to the rules. Crucially, in case #1, there will still be exceptions. They will be “snuck in” via creative interpretation of the rules, or via expansion or alteration of the rule set with rules that are bad rules (and exist only to allow a certain class of cases which the rules would otherwise forbid), or via manipulations outside the rule system that make the rule-based decision itself irrelevant, or in any number of other ways. Look to our criminal justice system for examples, and our political system also; and any number of other systems of rules. Note three things: First, that nostalgebraist’s advice does not in any way prevent you from formulating guidelines, and attempting to minimize and to circumscribe the scope of your “extralegal” judgments. In fact, you should do this—especially if you find yourself making such “extralegal” exceptions often! You should seek a pattern in them, and see if they (or at least some of them) can be made into a rule; or, perhaps, if the existing rules need to be altered. Second, the “fail-safe” clause is not meant to be used only by one “side” or party in some relationship—quite the opposit

We should select comparisons aimed at the getting the best result, not to make things easy on ourselves:

What if the Europeans had thought: "Hmm. The natives are following a procedure we don't understand with regard to casava. Their explanation doesn't make sense according to our own outlook, but it is apparent that they have a lot of experience. It may pay to be prudent rather than disregarding their rituals as superstitions."

Had the Europeans taken this attitude, they may have discovered the toxicity of yucca, experimented with imitat... (read more)

A good rule is an objective procedure that can be apply to derive a response to any foreseeable situation.

A look-up table is not a rule, for the same reason that a detailed table of planetary ephemerides is not a substitute for the law of gravity.

Nostalgebrist's suggestion cannot be considered a rule at all. It is not objective.

In the realm of psychology and politics, rules gain legitimacy when they are adhered to over a long period of time and when they are seen to consistently protect against bad outcomes.

There is a case for flexible interpretati... (read more)

4Said Achmiz5y
What is an “objective procedure”? How does it differ from a procedure which is not “objective”?

The example given for status quo bias is not necessarily indicative of impaired rationality. That are such things as hysteresis effects:

Consider the case of the family subject to frequent power outages. They will learn to adjust. This could be as simple as buying an alternative power source (generator). Or, perhaps they adopt their life to perform activities requiring no power whenever their is an outage. If you have already bought a generator, it might not be worth your while to pay a higher price for a more reliable power supply. Whereas the family accustomed to a stable supply faces capital cost associated with making an adjustment.

You might be interested to learn that there is a large literature devoted to quantifying this effect: