All of JonahS's Comments + Replies

I would like to see an (optional) personality test section - email me at if you're interested in the possibility, as I have some detailed thoughts.

Yes, this is something that I've wondered about quite a bit specifically in connection with the variation in conscientiousness and agreeableness by religion. I plan on partially addressing this issue by discussing some objective behavioral proxies to the personality traits in later posts.

What I had in mind was that the apparent low average conscientiousness in the Bay Area might have been one of the cultural factors that drew rationalists who are involved in the in-person community to the location. But of course the interpretation that you raise is also a possibility.

Ah, I spoke imprecisely. I meant what you said, as opposed to things of the form "there's something in the water".

Glad you liked it :-).

So I'd be interested to hear a little more info on methodology - what programming language(s) you used, how you generated the graphs, etc.

I used R for this analysis. Some resources that you might find relevant:

... (read more)
Thanks for the links!

Physics is established, so one can defer to existing authorities and get right answers about physics. Starting a well-run laundromat is also established, so ditto. Physics and laundromat-running both have well-established feedback loops that have validated their basic processes in ways third parties can see are valid.

Depending on which parts of physics one has in mind, this seems possibly almost exactly backwards (!!). Quoting from Vladimir_M's post Some Heuristics for Evaluating the Soundness of the Academic Mainstream in Unfamiliar Fields:

If a resea

... (read more)
This is fair; I had in mind basic high school / Newtonian physics of everyday objects. (E.g., "If I drop this penny off this building, how long will it take to hit the ground?", or, more messily, "If I drive twice as fast, what impact would that have on the kinetic energy with which I would crash into a tree / what impact would that have on how badly deformed my car and I would be if I crash into a tree?").

A few nitpicks on choice of "Brier-boosting" as a description of CFAR's approach:

Predictive power is maximized when Brier score is minimized

Brier score is the sum of differences between probabilities assigned to events and indicator variables that are are 1 or 0 according to whether the event did or did not occur. Good calibration therefore corresponds to minimizing Brier score rather than maximizing it, and "Brier-boosting" suggests maximization.

What's referred to as "quadratic score" is essentially the same as the negative ... (read more)

4Paul Crowley7y
I don't think the first problem is a big deal. No-one worries about "I boosted that from a Priority 3 to a Priority 1 bug".
Good point! (And thanks for explaining clearly and noting where you learned about logarithmic scoring.) I would suggest that "helping people think more clearly so that they'll find truth better, instead of telling them what to believe" already has a name, and it's "the Socratic method." It's unfortunate that this has the connotation of "do everything in a Q&A format", though.
"Brier scoring" is not a very natural scoring rule (log scoring is better; Jonah and Eliezer already covered the main reasons, and it's what I used when designing the Credence Game for similar reasons). It also sets off a negative reaction in me when I see someone naming their world-changing strategy after it. It makes me think the people naming their strategy don't have enough mathematician friends to advise them otherwise... which, as evidenced by these comments, is not the case for CFAR ;) Possible re-naming options that contrast well with "signal boosting" * Score boosting * Signal filtering * Signal vetting

Brian Tomasik's article Why I Prefer Public Conversations is relevant to

I suspect that most of the value generation from having a single shared conversational locus is not captured by the individual generating the value (I suspect there is much distributed value from having "a conversation" with better structural integrity / more coherence, but that the value created thereby is pretty distributed). Insofar as there are "externalized benefits" to be had by blogging/commenting/reading from a common platform, it may make sense to regard

... (read more)

Wait, your category (ii) is surely exactly what we care about here.

Yes, I see how my last message was ambiguous.

What I had in mind in bringing up category (ii) is that we've had some students who had a priori worse near term employment prospects relative to the usual range of bootcamp attendees, who are better positions than they had been and who got what they were looking to get from the program, while not yet having $100k+ paying jobs. And most students who would have gotten $100k+ paying jobs even if they hadn't attended appear to have benefited from attending the program.

The nature of the value that we have to add is very much specific to the student.

Hello! I'm a cofounder of Signal Data Science.

Because our students have come into the program from very heterogeneous backgrounds (ranging from high school dropout to math PhD with years of experience as a software engineer), summary statistics along the lines that you're looking for are less informative than might seem to be the case prima facie. In particular, we don't yet have meaningfully large sample of students who don't fall into one of the categories of (i) people who would have gotten high paying jobs anyway and (ii) people who one wouldn't expec... (read more)

Wait, your category (ii) is surely exactly what we care about here. We want to know: For someone whose background would lead you not to expect high-paying data science jobs, is Signal effective in getting them a better chance of a high-paying data science job?

Yes, that was supposed to be June 24th! We have a third one from July 5th – August 24th. There are still spaces in the program if you're interested in attending.

Thanks for the written feedback (which adds to what I had gleaned in person).

There were actually multiple times during the first couple weeks when I (or my partner and I) would spend 4+ hours trying to fix one particular line of code, and Jonah would give big-picture answers about e.g. how linear regression worked in theory, when what I'd asked for were specific suggestions on how to fix that line of code. This led me to giving up on asking Jonah for help after long enough.

I think that what happened here is me having misunderstood what you were asking... (read more)

Hi Toggle,

Thanks for your question!

Most of our students have just started looking for jobs over the past ~2 weeks, and the job search process in the tech sector typically takes ~2 months, from sending out resumes to accepting offers (see, e.g. "Managing your time" in Alexei's post Maximizing Your Donations via a Job).

The feedback loop here is correspondingly longer than we'd like. We expect to have an answer to your question by the time we advertise our third cohort.

I'd love to see some results as well, and I'm assuming as soon as you have them they'd be posted. I looked under 'projects' and looked at the available LinkedIn profiles, and it looks like three of the students got jobs (well, more specifically 2 jobs and an internship). Those students already had impressive resumes going into the program, but this is quite encouraging to see.
Following up!
Understood, sounds like that information won't be in for a while. I look forward to hearing about your results in a few months!

Thanks for your interest! Some responses below.

Do you require applicants to have a graduate degree?

No degree is required. We're selecting on ability rather than on credentials.

Zipfian Academy, App Academy, and other bootcamps are 12 weeks long, and (the first instance of) this one is only 6 weeks long. Why is this, and what are you cutting out relative to other data science bootcamps to make it this short? (This is my most pressing question).

  1. Based on the preliminary interest that people have expressed anticipate that the students in our first coho

... (read more)
Thanks for the response! I'm impressed that you expect that your first cohort will be so strong, since I presume that you're competing with already-established data science bootcamps for students. Again, good luck.

Thanks for the suggestion. That would be wonderful. We'll definitely think about this – it's a matter of whether we can create a sufficiently simple presentation of the material so that the marginal returns per unit time are high for the student population that we'll be working with.

Let's chat about it sometime. I am very interested in wide exposure for this type of stuff, and I think it is very useful to think about this for people working on all sorts of data that happens to be biased relative to their questions. My usual domain is medicine and healthcare, but I went to this talk recently where people worry about questions like "this ad received this many clicks if it was on top of the page, what would have happened had another ad been on top." This is a counterfactual question that causal inference deals with. From my point of view, a good learning outcome would be: "people are aware of the problem, people know where to go for more reading, people know simple things to try."

It might be that I have gotten to cynic but if you measure 6 variables it's more likely that one of them get a statistical significant result then if you first turn those 6 variables into 2 variables via PCA.

Yes, this is the point :-)

I'm sure you're aware that the word "cult" is a strong claim that requires a lot of evidence, but I'd also issue a friendly warning that to me at least it immediately set off my "crank" alarm bells.

Thanks, yeah, people have been telling me that I need to be more careful in how I frame things. :-)

Do you have evidence of legitimate mathematical results or research being hidden/withdrawn from journals or publicly derided, or is it more of an old boy's club that's hard for outsiders to participate in and that plays petty politics to t

... (read more)
I suppose there's one scant anecdote for estimating this; cryptography research seemed to lag a decade or two behind actively suppressed/hidden government research. Granted, there was also less public interest in cryptography until the 80s or 90s, but it seems that suppression can only delay publication, not prevent it. The real risk of suppression and exclusion both seem to be in permanently discouraging mathematicians who would otherwise make great breakthroughs, since affecting the timing of publication/discovery doesn't seem as damaging. I think I would be surprised if Basic Income was a less effective strategy than targeted government research funding. Everything from logic and axiomatic foundations of mathematics to practical use of advanced theorems for computer science. What attracted me to Metamath was the idea that if I encountered a paper that was totally unintelligible to me (say Perelman's proof of Poincaire's conjecture or Wiles' proof of Fermat's Last Theorem) I could backtrack through sound definitions to concepts I already knew, and then build my understanding up from those definitions. Alas, just having a cross-reference of related definitions between various fields would be helpful. I take it that model theory is the place to look for such a cross-reference, and so that is probably the next thing I plan to study. Practically, I realize that I don't have enough time or patience or mental ability to slog through formal definitions all day, and so it would be nice to have something even better. A universal mathematical educator, so to speak. Although I worry that without a strong formal understanding I will miss important results/insights. So my other interest is building the kind of agent that can identify which formal insights are useful or important, which sort of naturally leads to an interest in AI and decision theory.

That probably where there's something I don't understand. I don't understand why the analysis took ~1500 hours. Spending that much time with a dataset also instinctively triggers "fishing expedition" in my head. I don't know to what extend that's warranted.

The issue of multiple hypothesis testing is precisely why it took 1500 hours :-). I was dealing with the general question "how can you find the most interesting generalizable patterns in a human interpretable data set?" It'll take me a long time to externalize what I learned.

For ... (read more)

I don't have direct exposure to CS academia, which, as you comment, is known to be healthier :-). I was speaking in broad brushstrokes , I'll qualify my claims and impressions more carefully later.

I'll be writing more about this later.

The most scary thing to me is that the most mathematically talented students are often turned off by what they see in math classes, even at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Math serves as a backbone for the sciences, so this may badly undercutting scientific innovation at a societal level.

I honestly think that it would be an improvement on the status quo to stop teaching math classes entirely. Thurston characterized his early math education as follows:

I hated much of what was taught as mathematics in my early sc... (read more)

I distinctly remember having points taken off of a physics midterm because I didn't show my work. I think I dropped the exam in the waste basket on the way out of the auditorium. I've always assumed that the problem is three-fold; generating a formal proof is NP-hard, getting the right answer via shortcuts can include cheating, and the faculty's time is limited. Professors/graders do not have the capacity to rigorously demonstrate to themselves that the steps a student has written down actually pinpoint the unique answer. Without access to the student's mind graders are unable to determine if students cheat or not; being able to memorize and/or reproduce the exact steps of a calculation significantly decrease the likelihood of cheating. Even if graders could do one or both of the previous for a single student, they are not 30x or 100x as smart as their students, making it impractical to repeat the process for every student. That said, I had some very good mathematics teachers in higher level courses who could force students to think, and one in particular who could encourage/demand novelty from students simply by asking them to solve problems that they hadn't yet learned to solve. I didn't realize the power of the latter approach until later (and at the time everyone complained about exams with a median score well under 50%), but his classes were always my favorite.

Yes, this seems like a fair assessment o the situation. Thanks for disentangling the issues. I'll be more precise in the future.

I'm speaking based on many interactions with many members of the community. I don't think this is true of everybody, but I have seen a difference at the group level.


Do people pathologize Grothendieck as having gone crazy?

His contribution of math is too great for people to have explicitly adopted a stance that was too unfavorable to him, and many mathematicians did in fact miss him a lot. But as Perelman said:

Of course, there are many mathematicians who are more or less honest. But almost all of them are conformists. They are more or less honest, but they tolerate those who are not honest." He has also said that "It is not people who break ethical standards who are regarded as aliens. It is people like me... (read more)

What failure? He stepped down from the Steklov Institute and has refused every job offer and prize given to him.

The top 3 answers to the MathOverflow question Which mathematicians have influenced you the most? are Alexander Grothendieck, Mikhail Gromov, and Bill Thurston. Each of these have expressed serious concerns about the community.

  • Grothendieck was actually effectively excommunicated by the mathematical community and then was pathologized as having gone crazy. See pages 37-40 of David Ruelle's book A Mathematician's Brain.

  • Gromov expresses strong sympathy for Grigory Perelman having left the mathematical community starting on page 110 of Perfect Rigor. (You

... (read more)
The links you give are extremely interesting, but, unless I am missing something, it seems that they fall short of justifying your earlier statement that math academia functions as a cult. I wonder if you would be willing to elaborate further on that?
I don't know about Grothendieck, but the two other sources appear to have softer criticism of the mathematical community than "actually functioning as a cult".
Thank you for all these interesting references. I enjoyed reading all of them, and rereading in Thurston's case. Do people pathologize Grothendieck as having gone crazy? I mostly think people think of him as being a little bit strange. The story I heard was that because of philosophical disagreements with military funding and personal conflicts with other mathematicians he left the community and was more or less refusing to speak to anyone about mathematics, and people were sad about this and wished he would come back.

I'm not claiming otherwise: I'm merely saying that Paul and Jacob don't dismiss LWers out of hand as obviously crazy, and have in fact found the community to be worthwhile enough to have participated substantially.

I think in this case we have to taboo the term "LWers" ;-). This community has many pieces in it, and two large parts of the original core are "techno-libertarian Overcoming Bias readers with many very non-mainstream beliefs that they claim are much more rational than anyone else's beliefs" and "the SL4 mailing list wearing suits and trying to act professional enough that they might actually accomplish their Shock Level Four dreams." On the other hand, in the process of the site's growth, it has eventually come to encompass those two demographics plus, to some limited extent, almost everyone who's willing to assent that science, statistical reasoning, and the neuro/cognitive sciences actually really work and should be taken seriously. With special emphasis on statistical reasoning and cognitive sciences. So the core demographic consists of Very Unusual People, but the periphery demographics, who now make up most of the community, consist of only Mildly Unusual People.

One of the things I find most charming about LW, compared to places like RationalWiki, is how much emphasis there is on self-improvement and your mistakes, not mistakes made by other people because they're dumb.

I agree that LW is much better than RationalWiki, but I still think that the norms for discussion are much too far in the direction of focus on how other commenters are wrong as opposed to how one might oneself be wrong.

I know that there's a selection effect (with respect to the more frustrating interactions standing out). But people not infrequ... (read more)

I agree that those frustrating interactions both happen and are frustrating, and that it leads to a general acidification of the discussion as people who don't want to deal with it leave. Reversing that process in a sustainable way is probably the most valuable way to improve LW in the medium term.

I'm sympathetic to everything you say.

In my experience there's an issue of Less Wrongers being unusually emotionally damaged (e.g. relative to academics) and this gives rise to a lot of problems in the community. But I don't think that the emotional damage primarily comes from the weird stuff that you see on Less Wrong. What one sees is them having born the brunt of the phenomenon that I described here disproportionately relative to other smart people, often because they're unusually creative and have been marginalized by conformist norms

Quite frankly, I... (read more)

I'm sure you're aware that the word "cult" is a strong claim that requires a lot of evidence, but I'd also issue a friendly warning that to me at least it immediately set off my "crank" alarm bells. I've seen too many Usenet posters who are sure they have a P=/!=NP proof, or a proof that set theory is false, or etc. who ultimately claim that because "the mathematical elite" are a cult that no one will listen to them. A cult generally engages in active suppression, often defamation, and not simply exclusion. Do you have evidence of legitimate mathematical results or research being hidden/withdrawn from journals or publicly derided, or is it more of an old boy's club that's hard for outsiders to participate in and that plays petty politics to the damage of the science? Grothendieck's problems look to be political and interpersonal. Perelman's also. I think it's one thing to claim that mathematical institutions are no more rational than any other politicized body, and quite another to claim that it's a cult. Or maybe most social behavior is too cult-like. If so; perhaps don't single out mathematics. I question the direction of causation. Historically many great mathematicians have been mentally and socially atypical and ended up not making much sense with their later writings. Either mathematics has always had an institutional problem or mathematicians have always had an incidence of mental difficulties (or a combination of both; but I would expect one to dominate). Especially in Thurston's On Proof and Progress in Mathematics I can appreciate the problem of trying to grok specialized areas of mathematics. The terminology and symbology is opaque to the uninitiated. It reminds me of section 1 of the Metamath Book which expresses similar unhappiness with the state of knowledge between specialist fields of mathematics and the general difficulty of learning mathematics. I had hoped that Metamath would become more popular and tie various subfields together through unifyi
I would like to see some of those references (simply because I have no relation to Academia, and don't like things I read somewhere to gestate into unfounded intuitions about a subject).
I've only been in CS academia, and wouldn't call that a cult. I would call it, like most of the rest of academia, a deeply dysfunctional industry in which to work, but that's the fault of the academic career and funding structure. CS is even relatively healthy by comparison to much of the rest. How much of our impression of mathematics as a creepy, mental-health-harming cult comes from pure stereotyping?
I don't really understand what you mean about math academia. Those references would be appreciated.

Thanks so much for sharing. I'm astonished by how much more fruitful my relationships have became since I've started asking.

I think that a lot of what you're seeing is a cultural clash: different communities have different blindspots and norms for communication, and a lot of times the combination of (i) blindspots of the communities that one is familiar with and (ii) respects in which a new community actually is unsound can give one the impression "these people are beyond the pale!" when the actual situation is that they're no less rational than ... (read more)

Of course, Christiano tends to issue disclaimers with his MIRI-branded AGI safety work, explicitly stating that he does not believe in alarmist UFAI scenarios. Which is fine, in itself, but it does show how people expect someone associated with these communities to sound. And Jacob Steinhardt hasn't exactly endorsed any "Twilight Zone" community norms or propaganda views. Errr, is there a term for "things everyone in a group thinks everyone else believes, whether or not they actually do"?
Those are indeed impressive things you did. I agree very much with your post from 2010. But the fact that many people have this initial impression shows that something is wrong. What makes it look like a "twilight zone"? Why don't I feel the same symptoms for example on Scott Alexander's Slate Star Codex blog? Another thing I could pinpoint is that I don't want to identify as a "rationalist", I don't want to be any -ist. It seems like a tactic to make people identify with a group and swallow "the whole package". (I also don't think people should identify as atheist either.)

Yes, you seem to have a very clear understanding of where I'm coming from. Thanks.

See my edit. Part of where I'm coming from is realizing how socially undeveloped people's in our reference class are tend to be, such that apparent malice often comes from misunderstandings.

See Rationality is about pattern recognition, not reasoning.

Your tone is condescending, far outside of politeness norms. In the past I would have uncharitably written this off to you being depraved, but I've realized that I should be making a stronger effort to understand other people's perspectives. So can you help me understand where you're coming from on an emotional level?

How about you just jump right to the details of your method, and then backtrack to help other people understand the necessary context to appreciate the method? Otherwise, you will lose your audience.

You asked about emotional stuff so here is my perspective. I have extremely weird feelings about this whole forum that may affect my writing style. My view is constantly popping back and forth between different views, like in the rabbit-duck gestalt image. On one hand I often see interesting and very good arguments, but on the other hand I see tons of red flags popping up. I feel that I need to maintain extreme mental efforts to stay "sane" here. Maybe I should refrain from commenting. It's a pity because I'm generally very interested in the topi... (read more)

See my edit. Part of where I'm coming from is realizing how socially undeveloped people's in our reference class are tend to be, such that apparent malice often comes from misunderstandings.

Why did you have this impression?

Groupthink I guess: other people who I knew didn't think that it's so important (despite being people who are very well educated by conventional standards, top ~1% of elite colleges).

Tell me how exactly you're planning to use PCA day-to-day?

Disclaimer: I know that I'm not giving enough evidence to convince you: I've thought about this for thousands of hours (including working through many quantitative examples) and it's taking me a long time to figure out how to organize what I've learned.

I already have been using di... (read more)

Interesting - what are some examples of the latent ones?
Qualitative day-to-day dimensionality reduction sounds like woo to me. Not a bit more convincing than quantum woo (Deepak Chopra et al.). Whatever you're doing, it's surely not like doing SVD on a data matrix or eigen-decomposition on the covariance matrix of your observations. Of course, you can often identify motivations behind people's actions. A lot of psychology is basically trying to uncover these motivations. Basically an intentional interpretation and a theory of mind are examples of dimensionality reduction in some sense. Instead of explaining behavior by reasoning about receptors and neurons, you imagine a conscious agent with beliefs, desires and intentions. You could also link it to data compression (dimensionality reduction is a sort of lossy data compression). But I wouldn't say I'm using advanced data compression algorithms when playing with my dog. It just sounds pretentious and shows a desperate need to signal smartness. So, what is the evidence that you are consciously doing something similar to PCA in social life? Do you write down variables and numbers, or how can I imagine qualitative dimensionality reduction. How is it different from somebody just getting an opinion intuitively and then justifying it with afterwards?

It seem to me like to make major contributions to human knowledge you need to do a lot more than say: "Hey PCA is really great". You actually have to understand reasons of why people aren't using it and fixing those reasons.

Have you read my speed dating project posts? I haven't yet written up the most important one on demographics (I can do that soon, just many conflicting priorities), but the one on individual variation in revealed preferences for attractiveness vs intelligence and sincerity starts to get at what I'm talking about.

My project... (read more)

It might be that I have gotten to cynic but if you measure 6 variables it's more likely that one of them get a statistical significant result then if you first turn those 6 variables into 2 variables via PCA. That probably where there's something I don't understand. I don't understand why the analysis took ~1500 hours. Spending that much time with a dataset also instinctively triggers "fishing expedition" in my head. I don't know to what extend that's warranted. I'm not sure that you have shown that it makes more sense to interpret that factor individual preference is about intelligence and sincerity than that it's about the value of fun. As far as I can see it could also be that fun&physical attractiveness is simply more valued. In the case of the spending effort on the GSS I can't envision what success looks like. It's straightforward to find PCR factors but I don't know how to put them to good use. A more interesting project would be to explore LW's ideological landscape. It would be very interested in how various rationalist beliefs interact with each other. Does seeing yourself as an "aspiring rationalist" correlates to beliefs on UFAI risk? Having a project that searches where the main dimensions of disagreement in this community would be valuable. Maybe 300 questions that are answered on a Likert scale. Maybe 150 rationality questions, 100 big 5 questions and 50 autism questions.

Ok, I guess what I mean is that it's suspicious that it maps onto a preexisting notion held by the general population, in the same way that it would be suspicious for psychology research to apparently show the existence of demon possession (which humans have in fact believed in). I wouldn't find it suspicious if it mapped onto a notion of someone with demonstrated exceptional ability to read and connect with people (e.g. Bill Clinton).

The way scientific progress occurs is by developing progressively more refined understandings of what's going on: for exam... (read more)

I know that many researchers know something about PCA. I do think that it's not applied nearly enough (c.f. Sarah's remarks about Asperger's Syndrome, which was removed from the DSM a few years after she made her post). The main issue to my mind is that when people apply it in psychology they seem to come into it with preconceived notions concerning what they might find, rather than collecting large and diverse datasets, letting it speak for itself, and then trying to interpret what the principal components mean in human terms.

Consider the construct of co... (read more)

The DSM is a mess but I think the problems isn't that there aren't people who understand PCA. There are political reasons inside of the American Psychiatric Association that led it to use definitions that aren't data driven. It seem to me like to make major contributions to human knowledge you need to do a lot more than say: "Hey PCA is really great". You actually have to understand reasons of why people aren't using it and fixing those reasons. 100 is over a hundred years old, there have been a lot of people thinking that it should be used more. I think I have argued in the past in various time for PCR. The last time was when talking about the design of and how it should find factors for political labels via PCR instead of just using the left-right framework. I think I made the same argument for LW census political labels. You say that it's not predictive for the preexisting notion. That doesn't mean that various things haven't been predicted with it. Big Five ratings have been predicted via analysing facebook posts.
Is it? We've been modeling each other as long as language has existed. Conscientiousness might not correspond to a single well-defined causal system in the brain, but it would be no surprise to me at all to find common words in most languages for close empirical clusters in personality-space. And the Big 5 factors are very much empirical constructs, not causal.

Yes. The basic situation is that I figured out how the methods that Charles Spearman used to discover IQ can be used to shed a lot of light on many different psychology and sociology questions. This is what I was implicitly getting at in my sequence of posts on my Speed Dating Project, though I did a poor job contextualizing the results. IQ is by far the most robust construct to come out of psychology research, so this could in principle revolutionize social science (with a huge amount of work by many talented people).

Some people would say that psychology... (read more)

In my bioinformatics studies we did PCA in statistics 102 and I got the impression that it's a commonly used statistical tool. Do you think people generally do PCA wrong, or is your complaint that it's not used enough?

Maybe I'm misinterpreting, but do you mean "...that that's simply because psychology researchers haven't investigated it carefully."?

Yes, thanks, fixed.

I did some reading of the literature on intrinsic motivation and came to a conclusion I hadn't seen anywhere else, which is that people are intrinsically motivated to complete tasks that raise their status.

Yes, I think that the situation is that people are biologically hardwired to pursue their comparative advantage because doing so was was historically what was most conducive to becoming higher status, so that people's motivation goes way up when they're pursuing their natural comparative advantage (relative to their subjectively perceived communities).

That suggests one way to motivate yourself to do something is to surround yourself with other people who are doing it badly.

Thanks for the detailed comment. I omitted details in order to keep my post short, and get the main point across.

I believe that the IQ tests that Terman and Hollingworth were using were effectively scaled differently from modern IQ tests. They may have corresponded to "mental age" as opposed to "standard deviations. In particular, they discuss IQ scores of 180, and there definitely aren't enough people who are 5+ SD above the mean to get reliable scores in that range.

Putting that aside, there are genetic factors other than IQ alone that pl... (read more)

Thanks for pointing this out. Also, I think the important thing about the numbers was not that the modern and historical IQ scores be comparable, but that IQ correlated with maladjustment in Terman and Hollingworth. Maybe I'm misinterpreting, but do you mean "...that that's simply because psychology researchers haven't investigated it carefully."? There's a link to that study in my comment that you just replied to.
To put Viliam's (very good) suggestion in more concise, specific terms: try casting the network of ideas in your head into a directed, acyclic graph of dependencies. That might make it easier to systematically begin with the ideas that lack dependencies, and proceed from those. (There's a good chance you've already reformulated, in your own mind, what Viliam wrote into these terms. But I thought it worth mentioning in case you haven't, though I run the risk of patronizing you!)

Probably better to send me private messages via the LW interface then rather than communicating by email them - do you know how?

Yup, done.

Thanks for the suggestion.

The actual situation is that over the past 3 months I've had a cluster of insights that's extended far beyond math education as typically conceived, and I think that I've finally uncovered a road forward for people in our reference class to (as a group) increase our productivity by ~100x+. (As a point of reference, Bill Gates makes ~$10 billion a year: that should make the factor of 100x less far fetched.)

There are so many things to say that it's difficult to know where to start. I have ~500 unpublished pages on the subject, but a... (read more)

If there is a part that doesn't require other parts, write that one first. Repeat until finished. That is, do not use forward references to things you haven't written yet (that is a huge mistake many people do), but feel free to use references to things you have already published, especially if the comments suggest they were well understood. If you can do the same thing on multiple levels (i.e. find a subset that doesn't require other subsets, publish it using this algorithm, then continue with another subset) that would be even better, because the articles would be groupped by topic. Give specific examples. Tell a story, if possible.
Deleted. I pushed the retract button expecting the delete button to come up as normal but it did not, so this edit will have to suffice.
In the process of emailing you now, draft is saved, feel free to delete your email info now so no bots take it.

I know that the content itself is clear. The main thing that I need to work on is making my writing more engaging to a broader audience. If the writing isn't appealing enough to motivate people to read carefully, I'm not going to get through to them :D. I think that Scott Alexander / Yvain would do a better job than I can. I don't expect to be able to get up to his level, but I hope to move in that direction.

Speaking selfishly, personally, I would be more engaged with the content if you tackled some specific mathematical problem or set of ideas and used it as an example to make a broader point about learning math. This could be done, perhaps, by talking about some concept that gave you a lot of trouble until you finally found the right perspective that made the issue "click"? Not just as a hollow example, make it so that we too are puzzled by the oddity or frustrated by the difficult situation, and give us the actual answer and the process necessary for finding it. Or if that's not an accurate understanding of how you actually go about learning new mathematical concepts, then talk about that issue instead, maybe even while addressing the "click" misunderstanding. Be more specific and involve more applied knowledge please. Give us a strongly flavored taste of what it is like to experience high level mathematical understanding and to work with the nitty gritty of mathematical issues. You linked to a "visualizing machine intelligence" post a few days ago, I really enjoyed that, although I didn't understand too much and am still processing some of its ideas. Do more things like that please and thank you.


I know that I'm actually far above average after controlling for the complexity of the material that I'm trying to convey, but nature doesn't grade on a curve: it's not enough to be at the 99th percentile of academic mathematicians to actually successfully convey ideas to a broad audience of people without technical backgrounds :D.

I'm glad that you're understanding what I'm writing, but as a practical matter it seems as though I've been failing with > 50% of those who I've been trying to reach.

I don't think you're likely to make any breakthroughs with the crowd you've had a difficult time reaching thus far. What can you do differently next time? Try harder? Presumably you're already trying very hard, and you've also tried "trying harder" following each time you've received negative feedback. Write even more painstakingly nuanced sentences? You'll dilute the quality of your writing if you do that. I'd like to see you just ignore the portion of the audience that is consistently not understanding you - focus on getting the message across to at least a minority of people first, and then those people will be able to help you polish your message and deliver it to a broader audience.

I was speaking figuratively / poetically. If I can disseminate what i know to 100 people I'll be happy, though I hope for more, and it might prove to be unrealistic.

Oh, sure, I know that, I have a very long ways to go. What I meant to convey was that I already have a lot to work on with written communication alone :D. But I am in fact spending more time talking with people in person as well, just only have so much time in the near term...


There are meta-principles that are relevant to learning how to communicate with any group of people, that I'm just starting to learn. Reaching the LW community would be a great starting point, but only makes a small dent in the general problem of knowledge of how to think about the world mathematically in general being very rare, in juxtaposition with the fact that far more people are capable of learning than are currently learning.

Thanks. The issues come across in writing just as much as orally – you've already seen them.

I actually think you're a good communicator (at least when writing). Don't forget that LessWrong tends to nitpick, and don't fall into the trap of aiming at perfection by trying to make everyone happy. Keep in mind that commenters almost always tend to be more negative than the average reader, people who like or are indifferent to your ideas will generally not comment. Instead of worrying about minimizing the amount of bad reactions or misinterpretations your posts will cause, focus on maximizing the amount of good reactions and insightful realizations they will cause, even if you get less feedback on the second. "Premature optimization is the root of all evil." Obviously it's fine to worry a little about bad reactions. But if you're calling yourself a bad communicator I think that's a sign you're worrying far too much, because I find myself nodding along with your posts about 10x more than I find myself wondering what you're trying to say. Most "good communicators" are harder for me to understand than you, so I think you deserve to give yourself a better label. Maybe we need you to start a new sequence: On Innate Social Ability.
Hey Jonah, great post, but I suspect you might be hiding something from yourself here. Verbal communication is much harder for people than written, and has it's own slew of failure modes (verbal speech has a lot to do with body language). I highly recommend treating them as separate issues, particularly since verbal communication is so socially significant.
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