Wiki Contributions


I understand the idea of trading one things for another e.g. sleep for pleasure and I understand the idea that if you break something complex down into components and understand those components you understand the whole (reductionism). What I do not understand is the relation between the two things. Could someone explain it differently? It feels like the "Lego principle" section is disconnected and could have been omitted without losing anything.

We ran this in Freiburg, Germany in January 2023 with a total of 10 people.


  • It was very fun!
  • Many people had never explicitly thought about such rates of exchange and they found the implications interesting
  • Some people were able to identify inconsistencies at the end while going over their list of bookings

Worthy of improvement / Unclear things:

  • In the trade I am giving up what I have on my card. Can I give up more than one item? Do I already own that item beforehand? If I am giving up several is it because I own all of them or do I need to get them somehow (e.g. by paying money)? For example if my index card says "An apple" and the other person's index card says "1 million USD", would I trade my single apple for a fraction of the million USD or would I trade many tons of apples for the entire 1 million USD. Do I already own those tons of apples?
    • We solved this by specifying that you own your item once and always trading for a fraction of what the other person owns.
  • Including monetary values like "1 million USD" makes it less fun because those exchange rates are more common anyway
  • Some things are really hard to multiply or subdivide such as "the ability to breathe underwater".
    • We solved this by specifying that the fraction was having this ability for a certain amount of time instead of the rest of your life
  • Since my booking card always compares everything to my own "index card" I don't ever get any obvious inconsistencies. e.g. I only have trades involving the "mediocre laptop" with the plane ticket, with the bicycle, with everything else. But never an exchange between the plane ticket and the bicycle.
    • The inconsistencies only become clear once you start comparing the things on your booking card among themselves, which is made more complicated by the fact that you had to use fractions or multiples in the other trades. It would be great if these inconsistencies become directly obvious as part of the game rules e.g. by trading index cards at some point.

We tried this exercise in the Freiburg, Germany meetup a few days ago. We were 12 people, divided into two groups of 6.

The martial arts analogy with falling works really well and was well received.

Most people, myself included, felt that the exercise did not work as well as we were hoping. As a participant one is aware that the setting is artificial and admitting you are wrong is therefore quite easy. We even tried the harder variants with "making fun" and such.

One suggestion made in the feedback round was to ask participants to also provide confidence intervals. Then making fun could also be about having chosen those to be too wide.

I feel like it would be necessary to find questions people think they know the answers to and use those. Then admitting you are wrong would be more painful. Maybe a list of common misconceptions and people provide answers before knowing what the game is about. Then during the game people read their answers aloud with as much conviction as possible.

I wondered about the same thing.

Just to clarify: Did the LW team discover a bug and take the site down while the bug was being fixed or did someone with zero karma actually push the button?

If it's the second case:

  • How did you discover this given that no information about the person pressing (or rather entering the code) is being collected?
  • Shouldn't this count as having the nukes launched and the site simply staying down? Just like a real-life system where the security clearance system is severely buggy and a random janitor launches the missiles by simply trying some knobs. Sure, it would suck, but it wouldn't change the outcome.

Are you saying that any statement outside the Overton window always makes you lose status but more normal controversial (that not everyone agrees with) statements do not make you lose status?

I'm not sure how I feel about this. On some level I think that most controversial opinion will make you lose status with some people (sometimes most of them) but at the same time gain status with others.

Also it seems like a narrower view of what the Overton window is than I have, but it's totally possible that your view is in fact more accurate and closer to what Overton intended.

FWIW when I did this exercise at the LWCW in our small group we were discussing opinions that are outside the mainstream social western European Overton window, not outside the Rationality-community Overton window. That makes it easier, though maybe less interesting or valuable.

  • Explicitly coming together with a goal in mind instead of just chatting
  • Sharing controversial opinions gets harder the larger the group is, so having a small group seems like a good middle ground to get out of your comfort zone
  • Collaborating to come up with a good ITT works better with more people (referring specifically to Variant 1)

That being said, there is nothing wrong with doing this with just two people in an informal conversation.

As I understand the Overton window it refers to mainstream opinions. Using Treviños degrees of acceptance they can be either Policy, Popular or Sensible. Outside the Overton window you have Acceptable, Radical and Unthinkable. In the general population a politician from a major party who wants to stay in office will only move within the Overton window. But not everyone is forced to stay within it, there may be quite large groups within the population that accept more controversial (e.g. "Radical") statements, but for the time being you will be denied mainstream appeal if you voice such opinions.

One such "Acceptable/Radical" example within the Rationality community could be "AI safety is overrated". The "Christian god" example would probably fall under "Unthinkable".

I agree that taking action to make it safe to share even very controversial opinions would be good. Do you have a suggestion?

tl;dr My understanding of the Overton window does not imply that every opinion outside it will make you lose significant status.