All of Mark_Eichenlaub's Comments + Replies

Announcement: The Sequences eBook will be released in mid-March

Great project! What will the copyright be? I'm interested in putting a few essays into a course reader.

4Rob Bensinger7yIt will be released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. So you can freely copy, distribute, transmit, or adapt the work, provided you (a) note who made the original, (b) don't use the content commercially, and (c) make your adaptation free for others to copy/distribute/transmit/adapt in turn.
Fermi Estimates

A decent approximation to exponential population growth is to simply use the average of 700m and 50m

That approximation looks like this

It'll overestimate by a lot if you do it over longer time periods. e.g. it overestimates this average by about 50% (your estimate actually gives 375, not 325), but if you went from 1m to 700m it would overestimate by a factor of about 3.

A pretty-easy way to estimate total population under exponential growth is just current population 1/e lifetime. From your numbers, the population multiplies by e^2.5 in 300 years, so 120... (read more)

Rationality Quotes January 2013

Cartman: I can try to catch it, but I'm going to need all the resources you've got. If this thing isn't contained, your Easter Egg hunt is going to be a bloodbath.

Mr. Billings: What do you think, Peters? What are the chances that this 'Jewpacabra' is real?

Peters: I'm estimating somewhere around .000000001%.

Mr. Billings: We can't afford to take that chance. Get this kid whatever he needs.

South Park, Se 16 ep 4, "Jewpacabra"

note: edited for concision. script

2arundelo9yThis is aduplicate []. You probably checked and didn't find it because for some reason Google doesn't know about it.
Applied Rationality Workshops: Jan 25-28 and March 1-4

A bit of an aside, but for me the reference to "If" is a turn off. I read it as promoting a fairly-arbitrary code of stoicism rather than effectiveness. The main message I get is keep cool, don't complain, don't show that you're affected by the world, and now you've achieved your goal, which is apparently was to live up to Imperial Britain's ideal of masculinity.

I also see it as a recipe for disaster - don't learn how to guide and train your elephant; just push it around through brute force and your indefatigable will to hold on. It does have a ... (read more)

A bit of an aside, but for me the reference to "If" is a turn off. I read it as promoting a fairly-arbitrary code of stoicism rather than effectiveness. The main message I get is keep cool, don't complain, don't show that you're affected by the world, and now you've achieved your goal,

I agree that the poem is about stoicism, but have a very different take on what stoicism is. Real stoicism is about training the elephant to be less afraid and more stable and thereby accomplish more. For example, the standard stoic meditation technique of thin... (read more)

0Raemon9yHuh. I read IF at a time when I was trying to be a more effective person, and found it really inspirational and exactly on note. I don't know what Kipling's precise intent was but don't care that much. Your mileage may vary, I guess.
[Link] On the Height of a Field

I'm the author - thanks for the feedback. I think you're right that a more-topical title could help. Edit: done.

7[anonymous]9yI was referring to the thread title here on LessWrong. I actually chuckled at yours, now I feel bad. Great article by the way. My first thought was to use a tiltmeter app on a smartphone attached to a long ruler.
Rationality Quotes: March 2011

I just looked this up. It seems the text has been altered, and in the original, Linus said "Are there any openings in the Lunatic Fringe?"

0TobyBartels9yRead the next one: [] I skipped the punchlines.
Voting is like donating thousands of dollars to charity

All of them are obviously still chances. I never said that a very small probability wasn't a chance. I said that it might rationally be treated in a different manner than larger chances due to risk-aversion.

Voting is like donating thousands of dollars to charity

Re: other stuff on ballot. Yes, that's right. I was just replying to the content of the post.

Sorry, I don't understand what was meant by your first sentence.

0Decius9yIs a .001% chance of making a difference still a chance of making a difference? Is a seven-sigma chance still a chance?
Voting is like donating thousands of dollars to charity

I rarely make decisions involving such low probabilities, so I don't really know how to handle risk-aversion in these cases. If I'm making a choice based on a one-in-ten-million chance, I expect that even if I make many such choices in my life, I'll never get the payoff. This is quite different than handling one-in-a-hundred chances, which are small but large enough that I can expect the law of large numbers to average things out in the long term. So even if I usually subscribe to a policy of maximizing expected utility, it could still make sense to depart... (read more)

3CarlShulman9yVoting for electoral impact doesn't make sense from a causal decision theory selfish point of view: you won't consider a $1 trillion gain to the U.S. to be a billion times as great as $1,000 for you. This argument presumes that you have a "risk-neutral charity budget."
5Decius9yHow small does the chance have to be before it isn't a chance anymore? Also, are you intending to research and vote only for the presidential election? Local offices have smaller budgets but also smaller margins...
Original Research on Less Wrong

You're right. That would be true if we did n independent tests, not one test with n-times the subjects.

e.g. probability of 60 or more heads in 100 tosses = .028

probability of 120 or more heads in 200 tosses = .0028

but .028^2 = .00081

5Eliezer Yudkowsky9yAmazing, innit? Meanwhile in the land of the sane people, the likelihood function from any given propensity to come up heads, to the observed data, is exactly squared for 120 in 200 vs. 60 in 100.
Original Research on Less Wrong

Thanks. Sometimes I learn a lot from people saying fairly-obvious (in retrospect) things.

In case anyone is curious about this, I guess that Eliezer knew it instantly because each additional data point brings with it a constant amount of information. The log of a probability is the information it contains, so an event with probability .001 has 2.3 times the information of an event of probability .05.

If that's not intuitive, consider that p=.05 means that you have a .05 chance of seeing the effect by statistical fluke (assuming there's no real effect present... (read more)

-1jsteinhardt9yI'm not sure that follows.
What is the Mantra of Polya?

I think I see what you mean. To clarify, though, tension doesn't have a direction. In a rope, you can assign a value to the tension at each point. This means that if you cut the rope at that point, you'd have to apply that much force to both ends of the cut to hold the rope together. It's not upward or downward, though. Instead, the net force on a section of rope depends on the change in the tension from the bottom of that piece to the top. The derivative of the tension is what tells you if the net force is upward or downward. This derivative is a force per unit length.

In general, tension is a rank-two tensor, and is just a name for when the pressure is negative.

What is the Mantra of Polya?

I'm not really sure what you mean by "upward tension", sorry. Tension in one dimension is just a scalar. The very bottom of the spring is under no tension at all, and the tension increases as the square root of the height for a stationary hanging slinky.

0Luke_A_Somers9yThe tension gradient is upward, indicating an upward force per length.
0maia9yBy "upward," I just meant to emphasize that it was opposing gravity, e.g., positive. But of course, now that I think about it for a minute, I see that I was wrong, it is under no tension at all. Oops.
What is the Mantra of Polya?

Thanks for the tip.

The center of mass of the slinky accelerates at normal gravitational acceleration. The bottom of the slinky is stationary, so to compensate the top part goes extra-fast. I did a short calculation on the time for the slinky to collapse here

0tgb9yGood explanation - another way to think of it is that everything but the top of the slinky is exerting a tension on the top of the slinky which is acting in the direction of gravity (at least at the start). Hence the top of the slinky feels more force than just gravity and does accelerate downwards faster than with just gravity.
Rationality Quotes June 2012

And clearly my children will never get any taller, because there is no statistically-significant difference in their height from one day to the next.

Andrew Vickers, What Is A P-Value, Anyway?

Low hanging fruit: analyzing your nutrition

WolframAlpha is pretty good for calculating all this automatically - probably much faster than the spreadsheet. For example:

1Alexei10yI used wolfram-alpha to get the nutrition information for a banana, but for everything else I have a much more accurate information. However, you are right that using wolfram-alpha can give you a much faster (although rougher) estimate.
Why do people ____?

Why do I fantasize about being angry?

I'm breaking the rule a bit by asking about myself here.

Sometimes when I have down time and am daydreaming, especially if I'm walking somewhere or going for a run, I fantasize about someone wronging me (say with a traffic violation), then imagine myself getting angry, yelling at them, and physically beating them up. I think about knocking them down, screaming at them, challenging them to get up, and knocking them down again.

I've never acted on such a fantasy. I have no idea how to actually fight someone if I wanted to.... (read more)

1NancyLebovitz10yI have a variant of imagining someone saying something annoying, and then trying to figure out an answer to it. I think the sequence is more likely to end with me giving up because the imagined annoying person just won't listen. Fortunately, when I realized (after some decades of doing this) that it was a waste of mental and emotional cpus-- why am I inventing occasions to be annoyed?-- I found that I did a lot less of it, and could bail out of it quickly if I found I was doing it.
0FiftyTwo10yPersonally I don't fantasise about violence in itself as much as the exercise of power and control. Not sure how common that is, but possibly if you generally feel out of control the most obvious way for you to exer some seems to be violence (whereas for me its people doing what I tell them to).
1Viliam_Bur10yIt's just an evolutionary ad-hoc story, but I think that in an ancient environment you would have real fights sometimes. An impulse to imagine fighting, even when you are not, is an opportunity to rehearse the techniques and learn from mistakes. I remember reading some article that if some skill requires N hours of time, imagining the practice realistically with full attention, is almost as good as the real practice. This probably assumes that you had the real practice before, so your imagination is realistic enough. In ancient environment, your imagination of fight would be realistic enough.
4CuSithBell10yThe amateur psychoanalyst simulation I'm running would latch on to this:
3RomeoStevens10yViolence is just as much an inherent drive as sex for males. Violent narratives for entertainment are almost universal among human cultures.
0[anonymous]10yYes, I have similar thought patterns, though usually the angriness happens without or with only slight provocations (people not conforming to my asthetic norms, people loudly using their mobile in public). Fortunately, my fantasies are totally over the top, so I have a hard time taking them seriously or worrying about them - it's like watching a splatter movie inside my head. I don't feel guilty, worried or ashamed for watching those, so I don't worry if my mind produces them for free. A friend of mine with schizoid personality disorder has similar thought patterns from time to time, however, it is a lot harder for her not to act on these thoughts, and far more stressful. So, it isn't a thought pattern only you experience, but I'm afraid I can't answer why people have it.
6hesperidia10yI fantasize about horrific situations to subject fictional characters to. This I recently recognized as being due to my long-term work on decompartmentalizing new information. Essentially I find rules of the fictional realm, put them together in ways not intended by the original author, and get the small rush of self-congratulations for "taking an idea to its logical conclusion." This results in being "too realistic" for many fantasy settings. On the other hand, it is why rationalist fiction so pleases me - it reminds me of how I think!

When I first read this, I thought "woah, that's kinda weird and worrying". Then I realised I do something similar. I sometimes rehearse violent confrontations in my imagination.

I've been involved in a few violent confrontations as an adult, and they're nothing like you imagine them to be. People like to imagine all the badass things they would have done in those situations, but when you suddenly find yourself in a brawl, your thoughts are generally "what the hell's going on here? Is this really happening?" I've heard accounts of hi... (read more)

It's called Intrusive Thoughts, and apparently most people have these:

London psychologist Stanley Rachman presented a questionnaire to healthy college students and found that virtually all said they had these thoughts from time to time, including thoughts of sexual violence, sexual punishment, "unnatural" sex acts, painful sexual practices, blasphemous or obscene images, thoughts of harming elderly people or someone close to them, violence against animals or towards children, and impulsive or abusive outbursts or utterances.[6] Such bad thought

... (read more)
Rationality Quotes May 2012

Asked today if the Titanic II could sink, Mr Palmer told reporters: "Of course it will sink if you put a hole in it."

Rationality Quotes May 2012

If you're trying to choose between two theories and one gives you an excuse for being lazy, the other one is probably right.

Paul Graham “What You’ll Wish You’d Known”

Atheism is an excellent excuse for skipping church.

3Grognor10yAlmost the same as the one Eliezer used here []

Reversed stupidity is not intelligence!

Rationality Quotes May 2012

I don't think we can get much more specific without starting to be mistaken.

Paul Graham, "Is It Worth Being Wise?"

9shokwave10yNoticing this moment is important! Of course, we shouldn't stop when we notice this. We should keep getting more specific, and we should begin testing whether we are mistaken.
Crowdsourcing the availability heuristic

I like the idea. Perhaps we should start a periodic discussion thread where people post midrange goals and get feedback.

Stupid Questions Open Thread Round 2

The last sentence is patronizing, and especially inappropriate in a thread about asking stupid questions.

Stupid Questions Open Thread Round 2

wait, that was easier to search than I thought.

Yes, it is Knuth's arrow notation.

Stupid Questions Open Thread Round 2

What's 3^^^3?

Is this Knuth's arrow notation?

wait, that was easier to search than I thought.

Yes, it is Knuth's arrow notation.

How accurate is the quantum physics sequence?

Okay, thanks. I have only read the first few posts. On those, the karma score was higher and there was positive feedback from readers saying it was helpful to them. I should have read further in the series before characterizing it as a whole.

How accurate is the quantum physics sequence?

Good point, thanks. Konkvistador indicates it was too verbose for him/her.

How accurate is the quantum physics sequence?

Thanks for letting me know - John's point about selection effects is well taken.

It would have been better for me to say that because many LessWrongers enjoyed the sequence, it wasn't too verbose for everyone, though clearly it was for some readers.

How accurate is the quantum physics sequence?

I'm pretty familiar with Ron Maimon, since I use Physics.Stackexchange heavily.

He seems to have other things going on in his life that prevent him from being accepted by the physics community at large, but in terms of pure knowledge of physics he's really, really good. Every time I've read an answer from him that I'm competent to judge, it's been right, or else if it has a mistake (which is rare) and someone points it out, he thanks them for noticing and corrects his answer.

When crackpots answer physics questions, they consistently steer away from the top... (read more)

The fact that many LessWrongers have read and enjoyed it indicates it's not too verbose for the target audience.

It appears to be one of the least-read of the original Sequences - I say this based on the low, zero or even negative karma scores and the few comments. This is evidence for the precise opposite of your claim.

4[anonymous]10yI've found them too verbose.

The fact that many LessWrongers have read and enjoyed it indicates it's not too verbose for the target audience.

Or else the audience is self-selecting so that the people who read it don't find it too verbose...

Suggestions needed: good articles for a meetup discussion

I think LessWrongers would like Victor Weisskopf's series of articles called "The Search for Simplicity", published in the American Journal of Physics in 1985 and 1986. They are The Simple Math of Everything applied to physics (specifically condensed matter).

They're accessible, using only simple algebraic calculations. Their goal is to connect different phenomena with just a few simple experiments and the right way of thinking about it. For example, the first article discusses how measuring the surface tension and energy to boil a liquid gives us... (read more)

School essay: outsourcing some brain work

Can you describe how else one would test a nursing theory for correctness?

As I understand it, a nursing theory says, "If the nurse follows procedure A, the reaction in the patient will be X. If the nurse doesn't follow procedure A, the reaction in the patient will be Y."

If the theory is accurate in those predictions, it's a correct theory, even if it sounds crazy. To tell whether it's a correct theory, we have to test it. That's what I was driving at.

0MartinB10yI don't think I have to answer that to point out the flaw. If all nursing theories considered are wrong than one of those can easily still be the one that produces the best results despite no correlation with what nursing actually is about. A flaw I would expect to see more often is a nursing theory that has new age elements that are not linked to reality, makes the user feel helpful and good and leads possibly to a good care of patients. But that sounds like rating the more effective bedtime story or the more effective motivational mission statement. The term "nursing theory" implies that it is a theory about how nursing should be done, not what thoughts the nurse should have while doing it.
School essay: outsourcing some brain work

Maybe I don't understand the request entirely, but wouldn't any criticism depend not on the details of the theory, but on how well it works?

The point of a nursing theory is presumably to help nurses do their job. So if you want to know if a nursing theory is good, come up with some metric to measure nurse performance, train some nurses in the theory, and measure their performance compared to a control group.

The theory could be absolutely ridiculous to people looking at it on paper, but that doesn't matter much if it turns out that it helps people be good nurses.

0MartinB10yThis still does not make it a correct theory.
5Swimmer96310yGood idea! You gave me the idea to go on the university database and look for studies that have been done using the Roy model (which there have been, almost certainly.) Whether or not they say anything that I would consider valid, I can still cite them in my essay.
SotW: Be Specific

Thanks for letting me know you found it out so quickly.

By specificity for the review, I didn't mean that it should summarize the plot. Instead, when some general statement is made, there should be some connection to the movie that supports it. Jimmy Stewart has boyish charm? When? What scenes? What about them?

Contrast to Roger Ebert's review. An excerpt:

Even the corniest scenes in the movie--those galaxies that wink while the heavens consult on George's fate--work because they are so disarmingly simple. A more sophisticated approach might have seemed la

... (read more)
1atorm10yThis clears up your point wonderfully.
SotW: Be Specific

Exercise: What Was That All About?

Players get samples of writing from various internet sources - randomly chosen movie reviews from IMDB, news stories from Huffington Post, blog posts from Wordpress, Wikipedia articles, etc.

Player A gets to block out 5% of the words in the sample. Player B then tries to guess the topic the sample discusses.

For example, here's a semi-randomly chosen IMDB review - the first one I grabbed off the site. It got 137 "helpful" votes out of 161 voters, so it's perceived as a good review. It's of a famous movie. I've bloc... (read more)

5atorm10yI realized that the movie was "It's a Wonderful Life" within the first paragraph. Consider adjusting your estimates of readers. Also, an imdb review that gave me the plot of a movie would not be a good review. It would be a synopsis. That review told me that the acting was good and the story heartwarming. I don't think that it is a good subject for criticism of specificity.
SotW: Be Specific

In the RSAnimate talk, Pink cited research that found that once people were doing the task (presumably under time pressure), higher incentives produced worse results.

That's different from using an incentive to get people to come do the task at all.

3John_Maxwell10yI noticed a similar flaw in some studies Dan Areily was citing to prove that incentive pay didn't work, and e-mailed him about it. He didn't have any counterarguments when he responded to me, but he did keep citing the studies IIRC...
Rationality Quotes April 2012

Gene Hofstadt: You people. You think money is the answer to every problem.

Don Draper: No, just this particular problem.

Mad Men, "My Old Kentucky Home"

Another good one from Don Draper:

I hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie, there is no system, the universe is indifferent.

The Fox and the Low-Hanging Grapes

I think my standard for a convincing parable is not just that the parable feel true, but that it feels true and would feel false if it had gone the other way.

For example, there's a parable about rowing on a lake in the fog. Another rowboat comes out of the fog and collides with yours. You get angry and start yelling, but when you notice the other rowboat is empty, you aren't angry any more.

If we reverse the conclusion of that parable - the rowboat is empty, but you remain angry anyway - it would seem false to me.

By contrast, if the low-hanging grapes had t... (read more)

Question on math in "A Technical Explanation of Technical Explanation"

Thanks. I realize now I calculated those numbers I cited while leaving out the payoff from the .3 option since it wasn't changing, then forgot to add it back in. Strange what Wikipedia says when there was this counterexample. If I have some time later I'll check through the sources linked in the article.

Rationality Quotes February 2012

I was interested in the context here. Chesterton was referencing Wells' original belief that the classes would differentiate until the upper class ate the lower class. Wells changed his mind to believe the classes would merge.

The entire book is free on Google Books.

8Anubhav10yIn the Time Machine, it's the other way round.

At the point where those are the two hypothesises being considered there may be larger problems.

Leveling Up in Rationality: A Personal Journey

I am curious: when someone says they are happy, how do you judge the credibility of the claim?

There are certainly a lot of reasons to trust Luke's judgment. His other claims are verifiable, and given the nature of his message and the community he's delivering it to, he probably feels a strong desire both to tell the truth and to understand the truth about himself.

Nonetheless, I suspect there are far more people who claim to be happy than who really are, essentially due to belief in belief. What are some tests? For example, are there people known to have hi... (read more)

Can the Chain Still Hold You?

This story is not true. Bannister broke 4:00 in May of 1954. The next person to do it was John Landy 46 days later. Bannister's training partner Chris Chataway did it the next year, as did another British runner. However, I think Bannister and Landy were the only two to do it in 1954. The first American to do it was Don Bowden in 1957.

I found a list for the US here Also a master list of many runners, but difficult to parse.

There were three runners close to the sub-four mile in the early 50's. The other two were Wes Santee and John Landy. They didn't... (read more)

I have learned today not to fluff my posts with phrases like "a dozen more runners" and "ancient Greece" unless it makes sense to do so. Upon further reflection it's also possible that Zig said "Roger Bannister was a flea trainer" in a metaphorical sense--though he most definitely used that kind of words.

The "impossible 4-minute mile" myth, also upon reflection, seems like a similar myth that I stopped believing in, that some boxers, fighters and martial artists were required by law to register their hands as lethal... (read more)

Announcing the Quantified Health Prize

The contest asks for "A recommendation list that tells people what they should do based on their situation, without any additional information or explanation. Keep it as short as possible, but no shorter."

Are there limits on the sorts of recommendations that are considered acceptable? For example, could one recommend no mineral supplementation? Alternatively, instead of recommending mineral quantities, could the paper recommend a procedure of personal experimentation saying, "take mineral A and monitor the results with process A', then adjust according to criteria A*, then take mineral B and monitor the results using criteria B'..."

5Zvi10yThere's a reason there was no explicit size requirement on the recommendations. They could be one sentence, or they could be a complicated set of conditional instructions, or anything in between. It's a real life question asking for a real life solution, and time/effort/money required of the patient is one of the trade-offs involved. Will add this to the FAQ in some form, to make sure it is clear.
0[anonymous]10yI asked a substantially similar question to the organizers, and the answer is basically yes. It seems like it should be obvious that the most correct answer for a company called "Personalized Medicine" is not something like "everyone takes the same multi-vitamin!"
2011 Less Wrong Census / Survey

GRE quantitative scores are not useful for high-IQ estimates because 6% of people get perfect scores.

A perfect GRE verbal score is roughly the 99.8th percentile, as can be inferred from the charts in this pdf: It shows that the percent of people with a perfect scores varies between less than 0.1% and 1.5%, depending on field, but it is usually 0.1% or 0.2%. (The 1.5% field was philosophy.) Because many non-native English speakers take the test, it's likely that one ought to adjust that percentile a bit... (read more)

1dbaupp10yThat link should probably point to this [] (without the dot at the end).
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