All of NancyLebovitz's Comments + Replies

The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam by Barbara Tuchman.

So far, I've only read the introduction. It pulls together things I already believe, so I like it.

First thought is James C. Scott's work-- Two Cheers for Anarchism is a good starting point. He writes about tyranny's demands for legibility.

Also, a lot of science requires taking a close look at the world.

See also "the map is not the territory"-- but it takes time to see the territory.

I've been doing qi gong-- it's amazingly easy to think I know what I'm feeling physically, and a lot of work to actually start to notice it.

And I've been thinking that a way for... (read more)

Maybe there's an organization to contribute to, though I grant that isn't much of an observance. Other than that, there's telling the story.

I've found that searching on [name of product or company sucks] can turn up interesting results, or a significant lack of results.

Look at customer reviews, especially those with a geeky level of detail.

Not a literal culture, rather In My Culture [].
This was probably a reference to In My Culture [].

Any thoughts about supporting biodiversity (perhaps especially for food crops)?

I couldn't think of anything that met all of: could be done in a day, didn't require follow-up, and was actually useful instead of purely symbolic. Planting something has fantastic symbolism, but letting it die later is worse than not doing it at all, and plant care isn't a priority for me the rest of the year.

Rats could be a good bit better than average, and still pretty bad.

Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency by Tom DeMarco

Another book: Slack (unallocated time) is essential for change, learning, and even doing things well.

I'm pretty sure this is the book with the description of what happens when two companies that don't do the work to write good contracts attempt to deal with each other.

Yes. Now how do we sieve good information out of this environment?

I have seen, more than once, rumour amplification get nipped in the bud by someone asking, "Hang on a moment. What did you actually hear them say?"

Did Vassar argue that existing EA organizations weren't doing the work they said they were doing, or that EA as such was a bad idea? Or maybe that it was too hard to get organizations to do it?

If you for example want the critcism on GiveWell, Ben Hoffman was employed at GiveWell and made experiences that suggest that the process based on which their reports are made has epistemic problems. If you want the details talk to him. 

The general model would be that between actual intervention and the top there are a bunch of maze levels. GiveWell then hired normal corporatist people who behave in the dynamics that the immoral maze sequence describes play themselves out.

Vassar's action themselves are about doing altruistic actions more directly by l... (read more)

2[comment deleted]1y

He argued

(a) EA orgs aren't doing what they say they're doing (e.g. cost effectiveness estimates are wildly biased, reflecting bad procedures being used internally), and it's hard to get organizations to do what they say they do

(b) Utilitarianism isn't a form of ethics, it's still necessary to have principles, as in deontology or two-level consequentialism

(c) Given how hard it is to predict the effects of your actions on far-away parts of the world (e.g. international charity requiring multiple intermediaries working in a domain that isn't well-understood)... (read more)

A sidetrack, but a French surgeon found that Baclofen (a muscle relaxant) cured his alcoholism by curing the craving. He was surprised to find that it cured compulsive spending when he didn't even realize he had a problem.

He had a hard time raising money for an official experiment, and it came out inconclusive, and he died before the research got any further.


This is interesting to me because I was brought up to go to college, but I didn't take it seriously (plausibly from depression or somesuch), and I definitely think of him as a guy with an interesting perspective. Okay, a smart guy with an interesting perspective, but not a god.

It had never occurred to me before that maybe people who were brought up to assume they were going to college might generally have a different take on the world than I do.

This is reminding me of a book called Plain and Simple by a woman who spent some time as a guest in Amish Families. She found that she'd mistakenly believed that having lots of options was the right way to live, but the actual effect was that she wasn't making decisions. The revelation hit when she realized she actually wanted something in particular, and  ferociously re-decorated her kitchen in as somewhat Amish style. "Ferociously" seems like weirdly strong language, but she seemed surprised that she could really want something and go for it.

It's a smallish thing, but I think it's pointing at a pervasive modern error.

""Why didn't you tell him the truth? Were you afraid?"

"I'm not afraid. I chose not to tell him, because I anticipated negative consequences if I did so."

"What do you think 'fear' is, exactly?""

The possibly amusing thing is that I read it as being someone who thought fear was shameful and was therefore lying, or possibly lying to themself about not feeling fear. I wasn't expecting a discussion of p-zombies, though perhaps I should have been.

Does being strongly inhibited against knowing one's own emotions make one more like a p-zombie?

As for social inhibitio... (read more)

Have a theory about why people can be reluctant to google. It may be excessively bitter.

To a large extent (especially for neurotypical people, though it seems to depend on the subject) learning is an unconscious process. The result is that people don't know how they learned and don't know how to teach. 

What's more, people are apt to want to just get things done and also apt to have punishment as an easy strategy. So they shame people for not knowing what they are supposed to have picked up somehow.

This means that googling indicates that you didn't kno... (read more)

3Adam Zerner2y
Meta: Upvoted to counteract downvotes. 1) This strikes me as an honest attempt at world modeling. 2) I don't share the viewpoint but I think it meets the bar of being plausibly true. 3) Given the intended content, I don't think it was written in an excessively bitter tone at all. Using the criteria of "I want to see more/less of this" that the FAQ recommends [] for voting, I want to see more comments like this. I worry that currently, people are fearful about coming across as too bitter and it gets in the way of honest attempts at world modeling.

It seems to me this is getting into Social Safety Net territory. Elliott is cautious because he really has fewer resources. Would the group benefit if he's given more so he isn't running so close to the edge?

Just to underline the fundamental question: if pain isn't a good metric (and I agree that it isn't) what is a good metric?

I'm recommending Bruce Frantzis' tai chi, qi gong, bagua etc. classes at

One of the fundamental principles is to put out reliable 70% effort-- this is enough to create progress without much chance of injury or burnout. Considerably less effort if you're sick or injured.

This is harder than it sounds, if you're from a culture which assumes that more effort = better results and is a sign of more virtue. 

Your effort leve... (read more)

I'll just paste this from my comment in case you find it useful to that question: I think that the right amount level of effort leaves you tired but warm inside, like you look forward doing this again, rather than just feeling you HAVE to do this again.

What have you been learning? How has it been working out for you?

Plurality of my effort has been studying agency-adjacent problems. How to detect embedded Bayesian models (turns out to be numerically unstable), markets/committees requiring unanimity as a more general model of inexploitable preferences than utility functions, abstraction, how to express world models, and lately ontology translation.

Other things I've spent time on:

  • Financial market models. Some progress there, but mostly I found that my statistical tools just aren't yet up to the task of (reliably) dealing with full-scale market data.
  • Statistical and optimi
... (read more)

Until I read this, I didn't realize there are different possible claims about the dangers of cults. One claim-- the one gwern is debunking-- is that cults are a large-scale danger, and practically anyone can be taken over by a cult.

The other less hyperbolic claim is that cults can seriously screw up people's lives, even if it's a smallish proportion of people. I still think that's true.

As I understand it, the purpose of a ventilator is to make up for a person's inability to move sufficient air in and out of their lungs, but it assumes that the lungs, if given air, don't have a problem with getting oxygen into the bloodstream.

Tell me about more of the things expers weren't talking about.

" In 2017, a federal court, the U.S. Southern District Court of New York, sided with Elsevier and ruled Sci-Hub should stop operating and pay $15 million in damages. In a similar lawsuit, the American Chemistry Society won a case against Elbakyan and the right to demand another $4.8 million in damages.   

In addition, both courts effectively prohibited any U.S. company from facilitating Sci-Hub’s work. Elbakyan had to migrate the websit... (read more)

A thing I regret not thinking of is that ventilators aren't as crucial as was expected because they're dependent on the long tissue being healthy.

I'm not an expert, but it's so obvious. I don't know how to avoid making that sort of mistake. Maybe being careful about tracking chains of causation.

Why should this have been obvious? Invasive mechanical ventilation is much more helpful for typical ARDS than for COVID-19-style ARDS and other COVID-19 dysfunction. What's the earliest evidence that should have strongly updated us in that direction?

Conservation of thought, perhaps. The root problem is having more options than you can handle, probably amplified by bad premises. Or the other hand, if you're swamped, when will you have time to improve your premises?

"Conservation of thought" is from an early issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction.

I don't have children, and my upbringing wasn't especially good or bad on learning rationality.

Still, what I'm noticing in your post and the comments so far is the idea that rationality is something to put into your children.

I believe that rationality mostly needs to be modeled. Take your mind and your children's connection to the universe seriously. Show them that thinking and arguing are both fun and useful.

I think that even if the NYT doesn't dox Scott in a first article, his identity is now part of the story, and he'll be doxed in various major media, probably including a second article from the NYT.

Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency is about why businesses fail if they ignore all other values in favor of maximizing profit-- they lose too much flexibility.

I'm looking forward to the rest of this series.

I never would have thought biological systems are random, but spaghetti code isn't about randomness, it's about complex interdependence. This being said, the book looks really valuable-- even if can only help sort out the simpler parts of biology, that's quite a bit.

There may be another piece-- the ability to count on each other for help.

I think the anime thing is partly feeling a compulsion to say something combined with availability bias. Of course, there's also an element of completely ignoring consent.

There was someone who was interviewed on Tim Ferriss who recommended finding out what you care about and spending a lot more on that and what you don't care about and spending a lot less on that. In particular, there was a suggestion to think about spending ten times as much on what you care about-- you've got a chance of turning up improvements which aren't nearly that expensive.

2Mo Putera1y
In case you were wondering, the interviewee is Ramit Sethi [], who was talking about what he calls "money dials []".

My impression from a few arguments I've been in is that there are people who simply don't/can't believe that health extension is possible, so they can't assimilate arguments based on the idea of health extension. You say life extension and they hear miserable old age extension.

Ah, gotcha.

Do I pay now, or when a space opens up?

Space has been booked by now. Not 100% sure I understand the question but I think the answer is "pay now"

It's a fascinating essay, but non-automation isn't all that great. In particular, Confucian China had foot-binding for nearly a thousand years-- mothers slowly breaking their daughter's feet to make the daughters more marriageable.

It's possible that in the long run, societies with automation are even worse than societies without it, but I don't think that's proven.

1Virgil Kurkjian4y
Well, I don't think that foot-binding is necessarily a result of Confucianism directly, and even if it is, I see even less connection to the anti-automation aspects. You could also say that Confucianism as it was practiced bears about as much relationship to what Confucius actually taught as modern Christianity bears to what Jesus actually taught.

This also implies that it's a good idea to avoid houses with a history of mysterious deaths. The deaths were no longer mysterious when carbon monoxide poisoning was figured out, but before that?

I was very fond of this site. There were excellent essays, and the discussion structure suited me very well. I'm more of a short form writer. Also, the way it was easy to find old material and conveniently add to old threads is a feature that ssc doesn't have.

The big block of unchanging recommendations at the top of LW2 gets on my nerves.

This being said, the resident troll squeezed a lot of the fun out of LW1, and getting to be moderator-- and then discovering I didn't have adequate moderation tools-- gave me something of an ugh field about the place. And now it's over. It was good when it was good.

The new place has its annoyances, but I'm having fun there. The discussion quality is similar to LW1, I received some great comments already. Instead of a main/discussion split, they let you post to the front page or to your "personal blog", so the barrier to posting is lower. The developers are reasonable, e.g. I complained to Oliver about comment links and he fixed them. Though I agree that they are too fond of the front page and it gets on my nerves too, so I just go to /daily instead.

I'm somewhat annoyed that this claims there's a solution to becoming happier, goes on at some length, and doesn't include the solution.

I suspect the solution is this [].

So, some years later, and I'm surprised I was upset. I consider this to be progress.

There's an alternate approach I've seen in Neo-Paganism-- have a structure for rituals, and a high proportion of people who can improvise within the framework.

I don't know whether this would work for rationalist rituals (maybe if we start having smaller more frequent rituals), but I'm mentioning it for completeness.

Yeah, I actully think the Pagan approach is almost entirely better, just requiring more skill, and in particular not being able to scale past 30 people or so, which is why I haven't used it for larger tentpole events.

I think the long history of "getting the homeless ready for housing" rather than just giving them housing is an example of civilizational inadequacy.

"Suburbanization makes it costly to raise children humanely; parents are forced to choose between sending their kids off to a designated abuse facility, or designating at least one parent to be a full-time caretaker. This work cannot be shared among communities to realize economies of scale, because most adults are busy far away at work, and in any event you can’t let your kids run around freely because nearly every house abuts an active road with deadly automobile traffic."

I believe another way that raising children outside the school system is

... (read more)

First, I'm seconding a couple of things. There should be a comment box.

And please don't have huge pictures for static material at the top of the home page. There's a lot to be said for tabs with words on them at the top. I realize three lines for a menu is fairly standard these days, but it still leaves me feeling as though the site is a puzzle which has to be solved.

In the spirit of experimentation, I tried out the numbers on the strip under the comment space. Being able to change font size and line spacing probably has its uses, but the o

... (read more)

I've done that. Still haven't gotten an email. I've checked my spam folder.

I think I've figured it out. Some email servers have very strict spam requirements, and I hadn't set up our MX records properly ( []. This caused the emails to go through for a large majority of users, but not some who had custom domain setups with strong spam filters. This should be fixed now. Really sorry for the trouble.

I didn't get the password reset email.

Sorry, there was a miscommunication at an earlier point. We did not send out password-reset emails to everyone, however you can request a password-reset email in the login form on the new LessWrong, which should work well.

LW2.0 doesn't seem to be live yet, but when it is, will I be able to use my 1.0 username and password?

"One obvious candidate for such a generic cost effective safety intervention is a small but fully autonomous city on mars, or antarctica, or the moon, or under the ocean (or perhaps four such cities, just in case) that could produce food independently of the food production system traditionally used on the easily habitable parts of Earth."

That sort of thing might improve the odds for the human race, but it doesn't sound like it would do much for the average person who already exists.

Correct. Once you're to the point of planning for these kinds of contingencies you're mostly talking about the preservation of the spark of human sentience at all in what might otherwise turn out to be a cold and insentient galaxy.

I'm fond of LW (or at least its descendants). I'm somewhat weird myself, and more tolerant of weirdness than many.

It has taken me years and some effort to get a no doubt incomplete understanding of people who are repulsed by weirdness.

From my point of view, you are proposing to destroy something I like which has been somewhat useful in the hopes of creating a community which might not happen.

The community you imagine might be a very good thing. It may have to be created by the people who will be in it. Maybe you could start the survey process?

I'm hoping that the LW 2.0 software will be open source. The world needs more good discussion venues.

"From my point of view, you are proposing to destroy something I like which has been somewhat useful in the hopes of creating a community which might not happen." I think a good argument against my position is that projects need to focus quite narrowly, and it makes sense to focus on the existing community given that it's also already produced good stuff. Hopefully that's the justification that the project leaders have in mind, rather than them focusing on the current rationality community because they think that there aren't many people outside of it who could make valuable contributions.

How about the boring simplicity of having downvote limits? Maybe something around one downvote/24 hours-- not cumulative.

If you're feeling generous, maybe add a downvote/24 hours per 1000 karma, with a maximum or 5 downvotes/24 hours.

1J Thomas Moros5y
I'm not opposed to downvote limits, but I think they need to not be too low. There are situations where I am more likely to downvote many things just because I am more heavily moderating. For example, on comments on my own post I care more and am more likely to both upvote and downvote whereas other times I might just not care that much.
This is a solution as well; it is not clear to me though, that it is better than the solution I proposed.
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