I've been around since the Overcoming Bias days. Original OB/LW was like finding an oasis in the desert. I write one long form history piece with actionable lessons every Thursday, you can check out here: Current major thing in life is building the company Ultraworking. We have free online training events and release new tools every month, click the link in my bio if you're interested. Don't be shy if there's anything on your mind, my personal email: sebastian -at-

lionhearted's Comments

Follow-Up to Petrov Day, 2019

You know what, I think LessWrong has collectively been worth more than $1,672 to me — especially after the re-launch. Heck, maybe even Petrov Day alone was. Incredibly insightful and potentially important.

I'd do this privately, but Eliezer wrote that story about how the pro-social people are too quiet and don't announce it. So yeah, I'm in for $1,672. Obviously, I wouldn't have done this if some knucklehead had nuked the site.

Now for the key question —

What kind of numbers do we need to put together to get another Ben Pace quality dev on the team? (And don't tell us it's priceless, people were willing to sell out your faith in humanity for less than the price of a Macbook Air! ;)

And yeah, mechanics for donating to LW specifically? Can follow up on email but I imagine it'd be good to have in this thread.

Edit: Before anyone suggests I donate to some highly-ranked charity, after I'd had some success in business I was in the nonprofit world for years and always 100% volunteer, have spent an immense amount of hours both understanding the space and getting things done, and was reasonably effective though not legendarily so or anything. By my quick back of the envelope math, I imagine any given large country's State Department would have paid $50,000 to $100,000 to have Petrov Day happen successfully in such a public way. Large corporations — I've worked with a few — maybe double that range. It was a really important thing and while "budget for hiring developers on a site that facilitates discussion of rationality" has far more nebulous and hard-to-pin-down value than some very worthy projects, it's first a threshold-break thing where a little more might produce much more results, and I think this site can be really important. If I might suggest something, though, perhaps an 80/20 eng-driven growth plan for the site that prioritizes preserving quality and norms would also make sense? We should have 10x the people here. It's very doable. I'm really busy but happy to help if I can. I think a lot of us would be happy to help make it happen if y'all would make it a little easier to know how. Something special is happening here.

Edit2: Okay, my donation is now conditional on banning whoever downvoted this ;) - just kidding. But man, what a strange mix of really great people and total idiots here huh? "I liked this a lot and I'd like to give money." WTF who does this guy think he is. Oh, me? Just someone trying to support the really fucking cool thing that's happening and asking for the logistics of doing so to be posted in case anyone else thinks it's been really cool and great for their life.

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Follow-Up to Petrov Day, 2019

What an incredible experience.

Felt like I got to understand myself a bit better, got exposed to a variety of arguments I never would have anticipated, forced to clarify my own thoughts and implications, did some math, did some sanity-check math on "what's the value of destroying some of Ben Pace's faith in humanity" (higher than any reasonable dollar amount alone, incidentally — and that's just one variable)... and yeah, this was really cool and legit innovative.

We should make sure the word about this gets out more.

We need more people on LessWrong, and more stuff like this.

People thinking this is just a chat board should think a little bigger. There's some real visionary thinking going on here, and an exceptionally smart and thoughtful community. I'm really grateful I got to see and participate in this. Thanks for all the great work — and for trusting me. Seriously. Y'all are aces.

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Feature Wish List for LessWrong

(1) I want this too and would use it and participate more.

(2) Following logically from that, some sort of "Lists" feature like Twitter might be good, EX:

("Friending" is typically double-confirm, lists would seem much easier and less complex to implement. Perhaps lists, likewise, could be public or private)

Running the Stack

Thanks. Awesome.

I'm actually not sure what you mean by "running down the stack." Do you mean "when I get distracted I mentally review my whole stack, from most recent item added to most ancient item"?

Well, of course, it's whatever works for you.

For a simple example, let's say I'm (1) putting new sheets on my bed, and then (2) I get an incoming phone call, which results in me simultaneously needing to (3 and 4) send a calendar invite and email while still on the phone.

I'll pick which of the cal invite or email I'm doing first. Let's say I decide I'm sending the cal invite first.

I'll then,

(4) Send cal invite - done - off stack.

(3) Send email - done - off stack.

(2) Check whether anything else needs to be done before ending call, confirming, etc. If need to do another activity -> add it to stack as new (3). If not, end call.

And here's where the magic happens. I then,

(1) Go finish making the bed.

I'm not fanatic about it, but I won't get a snack first or anything significant until that done.

Or do you mean "when I get distracted, I 'pop' the next item/intention in the stack (the one that was added most recently), and execute that one next (as opposed to some random one).

This, yes. Emphasis added.

Less payoff to getting distracted? To being distractible?
Why is that? Because if you get distracted you have to complete the distraction?

Well, I can speculate on theory but I'll just say empirically — it works for me.

But let's speculate with an example.

You're midway through cleaning your kitchen and you remember you needed to send some email.

If you don't really wanna clean your kitchen deep down, you're likely to wind up on email or Twitter or LessWrong instead.

Now that's fine, if I see a second email I want to reply to, I'll snipe that.

But at the end, I have to go finish the kitchen unless things have materially changed.

Knowing there's no payoff in "escaping" is probably part of it. It probably shapes real-time cost/benefit tradeoffs somewhat. It means less cognitive processing time needed to pick next task. It makes one pick tasks slightly more carefully knowing you'll finish them. It leads to single-tasking and focus.

Umm, probably a lot more. I'm not fanatic about it, I'll shift gears if it's relevant but I don't like to do so.

Long-term Donation Bunching?

Do we have any lawyers here at LessWrong?


Would it be possible to legitimately write some sort of standardized financial instrument that functions as a loan with no repayment date, with options for conversion into charitable donation?

Speculations (non-lawyer here) —

(1) Maybe there's something equivalent to a SAFE Note (invented by YCombinator to simplify and standardize startup financing in a way friendly to both parties). It seems like a decent jumping-off point:

(2) On the other hand, there's a variety of mechanisms where you can't just do clever stuff. And there's a variety of arcane rules. You can, I think, donate property that's appreciated in value without paying capital gains first for instance, but maybe there's specific definitions around the timing of cash flows, donations, and deductions?

(3) On the other-other hand, seems like American tax policy in general is very amenable to people supporting worthy charitable causes.

(4) On the other-other-other-hand, you'd have to make sure it's not game-able and doesn't result in strange second-order consequences.

(5) And finally, if it's ambiguous, it seems like the type of thing where it'd be possible to get some sort of preliminary ruling from the relevant authorities. (Presumably the Treasury/IRS, but maybe someone else.)

Seems like a good idea though? If someone donates $10k a year for 5 years, it seems reasonable that they'd be able to write off that $50k at the end of the end of 5 years.

Honoring Petrov Day on LessWrong, in 2019

You guys are total heroes. Full stop. In the 1841 "On Heroes" sense of the word, which is actually pretty well-defined. (Good book, btw.)

Honoring Petrov Day on LessWrong, in 2019

There's rationalists who are in the mafia?


No insightful comment, just, like — this Petrov thread is the gift that keeps on giving.

Honoring Petrov Day on LessWrong, in 2019

Well, why stop there?

World GDP is $80.6 trillion.

Why doesn't the United States threaten to nuke everyone if they don't give a very reasonable 20% of their GDP per year to fund X-Risk — or whatever your favorite worthwhile projects are?

Screw it, why don't we set the bar at 1%?

Imagine you're advising the U.S. President (it's Donald Trump right now, incidentally). Who should President Trump threaten with nuking if they don't pay up to fund X-Risk? How much?

Now, let's say 193 countries do it, and $X trillion is coming in and doing massive good.

Only Switzerland and North Korea defect. What do you do? Or rather, what do you advise Donald Trump to do?

Honoring Petrov Day on LessWrong, in 2019
LW frontpage going down is also not particularly bad [...] If you wanted to convince me, you could make a case that destroying trust is really bad

Umm, respectfully, I think this is extremely arrogant. Dangerously so.

Anyways, I'm being blunt here, but I think respectful and hopefully useful. Think about this. Reasoning follows —

The instructions if you got launch codes (also in the above post) were as such (emphasis added with underline) —

"Every Petrov Day, we practice not destroying the world. One particular way to do this is to practice the virtue of not taking unilateralist action.

It’s difficult to know who can be trusted, but today I have selected a group of LessWrong users who I think I can rely on in this way. You’ve all been given the opportunity to show yourselves capable and trustworthy.


This Petrov Day, between midnight and midnight PST, if you, {{username}}, enter the launch codes below on LessWrong, the Frontpage will go down for 24 hours.

I hope to see you on the other side of this, with our honor intact."

So, to Ben Pace at least (the developer who put in a tremendous amount of hours and thought into putting this together), it represents...

*"practicing not destroying the world"

*"practicing the virtue of not taking unilateralist action"

*implications around his own uncertainty of who to trust

*de facto for Ben that he can't rely on you personally, by his standards, if you do it

*showing yourself not "capable and trustworthy" by his standards

*having the total group's "honor" "not be intact", under Ben's conception

And you want me to make a case for you on a single variable while ignoring the rather clear and straightforward written instructions for your own simple reductive understanding?

For Ben at least, the button thing was a symbolic exercise analogous to not nuking another country and he specifically asked you not to and said he's trusting you.

So, no, I don't want to "convince you" nor "make a case that destroying trust is really bad." You're literally stating you should set the burden of proof and others should "make a case."

In an earlier comment you wrote,

You can in fact compare whether or not a particular trade is worth it if the situation calls for it, and a one-time situation that has an upside of $1672 for ~no work seems like such a situation.

"No work"? You mean aside from the work that Ben and the team did (a lot) and demonstrating to the world at large that the rationality community can't press a "don't destroy our own website" button to celebrate a Soviet soldier who chose restraint?

I mean, I don't even want to put numbers on it, but if we gotta go to "least common denominator", then $1672 is less than a week's salary of the median developer in San Francisco. You'd be doing a hell of a lot more damage than that to morale and goodwill, I reckon, among the dev team here.

To be frank, I think the second-order and third-order effects of this project going well on Ben Pace alone is worth more than $1672 in "generative goodness" or whatever, and the potential disappointment and loss of faith in people he "thinks but is uncertain he can rely upon and trust" is... I mean, you know that one highly motivated person leading a community can make an immense difference right?

Just so you can get $1672 for charity ("upside") with "~no work"?

And that's just productivity, ignoring any potential negative affect or psychological distress, and being forced to reevaluate who he can trust. I mean, to pick a more taboo example, how many really nasty personal insults would you shout at a random software developer for $1672 to charity? That's almost "no work" — it's just you shouting some words, and whatever trivial psychological distress they feel, and I wager getting random insults from a stranger is much lower than having people you "are relying on and trusting" press a "don't nuke the world simulator button."

Like, if you just read what Ben wrote, you'd realize that risking destroying goodwill and faith in a single motivated innovative person alone should be priced well over $20k. I wouldn't have done it for $100M going to charity. Seriously.

If you think that's insane, stop and think why our numbers are four orders of magnitude apart — our priors must be obviously very different. And based on the comments, I'm taking into account more things than you, so you might be missing something really important.

(I could go on forever about this, but here's one more: what's the difference in your expected number of people discovering and getting into basic rationality, cognitive biases, and statistics with pressing the "failed at 'not destroying the world day' commemoration" vs not? Mine: high. What's the value of more people thinking and acting rationally? Mine: high. So multiply the delta by the value. That's just one more thing. There's a lot you're missing. I don't mean this disrespectfully, but maybe think more instead of "doing you" on a quick timetable?)

(Here's another one you didn't think about: we're celebrating a Soviet engineer. Run this headline in a Russian newspaper: "Americans try to celebrate Stanislav Petrov by not pressing 'nuke their own website' button, arrogant American pushes button because money isn't donated to charity.")

(Here's another one you didn't think about: I'll give anyone 10:1 odds this is cited in a mainstream political science journal within 15 years, which are read by people who both set and advise on policy, and that "group of mostly American and European rationalists couldn't not nuke their own site" absolutely is the type of thing to shape policy discussions ever-so-slightly.)

(Here's another one you didn't think about: some fraction of the people here are active-duty or reserve military in various countries. How does this going one way or another shape their kill/no-kill decisions in ambiguous warzones? Have you ever read any military memoirs about people who made to make those calls quickly, EX overwatch snipers in Mogadishu? No?)

(Not meant to be snarky — Please think more and trust your own intuition less.)

Honoring Petrov Day on LessWrong, in 2019

Oh in case you missed the subtext, it's a SciFi joke.

It's funny cuz it's sort of almost plausibly true and gets people thinking about what if their life had higher stakes and their decisions mattered, eh?

Obviously, it's just a silly amusing joke. And it's obviously going to look really counterproductively weird if analyzed or discussed among normal people, since they don't get nerd humor. I recommend against doing that.

Just laugh and maybe learn something.

Don't be stupid and overthink it.

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