marc

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Minicamps on Rationality and Awesomeness: May 11-13, June 22-24, and July 21-28

I attended the minicamp last summer, at more personal expense than most participants, since I flew in from europe (I did have other things to do in California, so the cost wasn't entirely for minicamp).

If you want an analogy with minicamp, think of an academic summer school. At the most important level, I think the only thing that really separates minicamp (or an academic summer school) from christian camps is that the things they teach at minicamp (and summer schools) are mostly correct.

I go to summer schools to learn from people who have thought about things that I care about, in greater depth than I have. If you don't believe that will be true, don't go. You should be able to make a reasonable guess whether you think you have things to learn by looking at the instructors posts on less wrong.

I definitely agree with many things that the other participants said. I found that minicamp gave me a sense that things that normal people consider insoluble are often not, and a well thought out series of actions can lead you to places that most people would not believe. I also found it inspiring to be around a group of people that really care about improving themselves - something that I have found relatively rarely.

I have one genuine criticism of minicamp. There are reasons to be tactically 'irrational' in the real world. As a cartoon example: if disagreeing repeatedly with your boss will get you fired from your well-paid job, and you're giving significant amounts of money to the efficient charity, then stay quiet.

Now, Eliezer is too smart to fall for this - it's reading his writing that let me clearly understand the difference between faux-rational (Spock-like dedication to the truth, and getting fired) and truly rational (shutting up). Indeed, the complexities of this are beautifully explored in Harry Potter and the methods of rationality. However, at minicamp, I felt like the less inspiring aspects of being rational were under-emphasised. That is totally understandable, since talking about bending to social domination, lying etc, is low-status. Also, the instructors at minicamp have, quite deliberately, created a community where they are somewhat isolated from having to deal with irrational people, so they probably don't viscerally experience the importance on quite such a regular basis.

I felt that, at the end of minicamp, there should have been a session pointing out a few aspects of living rationally in an irrational world. I think we needed a lecture from Professor Quirrell, so that we don't create rationalists that can spot every bias known to psychology (and a few more) but aren't actually having positive impact on the world, because they don't know how to get things done.

I'll end by pointing out that I've just asked Anna whether I can go back this year, maybe as a participant, maybe as a volunteer. Hopefully that should let you estimate how I truthfully rate the overall experience.

Techniques for probability estimates

This isn't hugely relevant to the post, but LessWrong doesn't really provide a means for a time-sensitive link dump, and it seems a shame to miss the opportunity to promote an excellent site for a slight lack of functionality.

For any cricket fans that have been enjoying the Ashes, here is a very readable description of Bayesian statistics applied to cricket batting averages.

Mixed strategy Nash equilibrium

Although I didn't actually comment, I based my choice on the fact that most people only seem to be able cope with two or three recursions before they get bored and pick an option. The evidence for this was based on the game where you have to pick a number between 0-100 that is 2/3 of the average guess. I seem to recall that the average guess is about 30, way off true limit of 0.

Interested in a European lesswrong meetup

I'd be interested. So far my schedule has prevented me from attending most of the London meetups, and I live there, so i can't guarantee anything.

Open Thread, August 2010

I think you're probably correct in your presumptions. I find it an interesting idea and would certainly follow any further discussion.

Open Thread, August 2010

I don't think you'd have much success mastering non verbal communication through skype.

Unknown knowns: Why did you choose to be monogamous?

I think it may have something to do with limiting violence.

I'm trying to remember the reference (it might be Hanson or possibly the book the Red Queen Hypothesis - if I remember I'll post it) but a vast majority of violence is over access to women, at least in primitive societies. Obviously mongamy means that the largest number of males get access to a female, thereby reducing losses in violent competition to females. I think this would certainly explain why rich societies tend to be monogamous - less destructive waste.

Additionally I can imagine societies with high levels of polygyny (think emperors with giant harems) could be extremely unstable due to sexual jealousy, but that's mere speculation.

Apologies if this has already been posted - I was late to this thread and there's an unmanageable number of comments to search through.

Book Club Update and Chapter 1

This might be of interest to people here; it's an example of a genuine confusion over probability that came up in a friends medical research today. It's not particularly complicated, but I guess it's nice to link these things to reality.

My friend is a medical doctor and, as part of a PhD, he is testing peoples sense of smell. He asked if I would take part in a preliminary experiment to help him get to grips with the experimental details.

At the start of the experiment, he places 20 compounds in front of you, 10 of which are type A and 10 of which are type B. You have to select two from that group, smell them, and determine whether they are the same (i.e. both A or both B) or different (one is A, the other B). He's hoping that people will be able to distinguish these two compounds reliably.

It turned out that I was useless at distinguishing them - over a hundred odd trials I managed to hit 50% correct almost exactly. We then discussed the methodology and realised that it was possible to do a little bit better than 50% without any extra sniffing skills.

Any thoughts on how?

Less Wrong Book Club and Study Group

I'm interested, definitely online, possibly IRL. I'm in London.

Meetup after Humanity+ , London, Saturday 2010-04-24?

I'm going to the H+ event but I'm also going to the dinner, so I'm not sure how that will fit in with the pub. If I can make it, I will.

I'll also come to the 6/6 meet up.

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