All of PeerGynt's Comments + Replies

the tech support doesn't give a fuck, and will cite privacy concerns when you ask them for more direct access to the database

Seriously, who are these tech support people? Clearly this database belongs to the owner of less wrong (whoever that is). As far as I can tell, when moderators ask for data, they ask on behalf of the owners of that data. What is going on here? Has tech support gone rogue ? Why do they then get their contract renewed? Are they taking orders from some secret deep owners of LW that outrank the moderators ?

Seriously, who are these tech support people? Clearly this database belongs to the owner of less wrong (whoever that is). As far as I can tell, when moderators ask for data, they ask on behalf of the owners of that data. What is going on here? Has tech support gone rogue ? ...Why do they then get their contract renewed?

The tech support is Trike Apps, who have freely donated a huge amount of programmer time toward building and maintaining LessWrong.

I don't understand why this comment is downvoted and I want to go on record to say it wasn't me. I appreciate when people tell me why they downvote my posts.

I definitely did expect mixed reactions to the original post. I'll be honest and say that I'm surprised that people keep downvoting it to levels that I associate with malicious trolls, rather than let it stay hidden at -5 which seems appropriate for a failed attempt at humor. But it doesn't really matter, it would take much more than negative reactions to a joke to stop me from making Less Wrong great again :)

It was already negative when I saw it, so I neither up- nor downvoted. I suspect the title catches more attention than the normal not-bad-but-not-helpful post, so even when it passed -5, people were drawn to look at it, and when they saw the content they downvoted without noticing the current score. Actually, I wonder how many LW voters think of it as expressing an opinion (I want to support or dis-support this), and how many think of it as sending a signal (I want the author to change behavior). I suspect the former are more likely to add votes even if the score's already clear, and the latter to vote only if they think the current score is insufficient.
I'm at fault for not saying it so for the sake of honestly, my main problem with these kind of posts is that despite being amusing, they don't add much to the site. After a certain amount they actively harm the site and the quality of the humor would also deteriorate and would also replace possible quality posts. (Oppourtunity cost?) The reason I've mentioned Reddit in my comment is that Reddit looks nice on paper, but from my experience I've often faced an issue where I'll go to a subreddit, look for the 'top' posts and think there's going to be a bunch of useful stuff in that specific endeavor only to find too many posts that aren't even funny and take up 25% or more of the whole list of things. It feels annoying to spend time that ends up being a wasted effort.

I don't understand why this comment is downvoted

Probably because the poster formerly known as Eugine_Nier (and by many, many other names) -- who was banned from LW but keeps coming back with new accounts -- has taken a dislike to me and is downvoting most of my comments, in some cases multiple times with sockpuppets. (My 30-day karma is currently at -159/42%, which means something like +420-579, and I think almost all of that -579 is Eugine.) His usual practice at the moment seems to be to downvote just enough to ensure that everything I post is at 0 or... (read more)

Hi there, Mac. I'm a Matrix overlord. Can I have my 10 dollars, please?

Your request for money fills me with DETERMINATION. I can now SAVE.
LOL. Upvote. Yes, my comment was quite Pascalian.

Could you specify whether you want answers as percentage probability, probabilities, odds, or expected number of launches? My answer was intended as a percentage

I just used the standard less-wrong probability poll. edited the comment to include the description.
Yeah, I was fortunate enough to enter a percent sign after my estimate which resulted in an explicit warning, but an open-ended text box is not a great way to structure this poll.

So there is free money to be had by posing as a rabbi and offering a bet to Robert Aumann?

Try it :-P
I suppose his compartments might get a bit confused at that point, but the scientific one would win out :).

Using OxyContin(tm) for a job interview seems like a distinctly bad idea. Particularly if the employer asks for drug screening.. If you absolutely have to, I suggest sticking with Oxytocin.

I confused the substances and trusted outcomplete when I shouldn't have. But what I said does apply to fascia speak about Oxytocin (my source is the book Anatomy Trains). As far as the blood brain barrier goes: The timeframe for the effect on fascia seems also to be about right (from Anatomy Trains): The neuroskeptic says:

Why do you care about the 'original' meaning of the word?

Let's imagine we are arguing about trees falling in the forest. You are a lumberjack who relies on a piece of fancy expensive equipment that unfortunately tends to break if subjected to accoustic vibrations. You therefore create a map where the word "sound" means accoustic vibrations. This map works well for you and helps you resolve most disguised queries you could be interested in

Then you meet me. i make a living producing cochlear implants. My livelihood depends on making implants t... (read more)

Most common terms will, when used in a context that doesn't imply a specific meaning, be taken by the listener to imply a default meaning. Furthermore, some contexts do imply a meaning, but only weakly; if the context makes slightly more sense with meaning A, but you know that most people default to meaning B, and you are Bayseian, you should infer that the intended meaning was B. Caring about the "original meaning of the word" is about this default meaning, and is not nonsensical. If I say that this person is female, without qualifiers such as "genetically female", what will others understand me as saying? Will what they understand me as saying be more or less accurate than if I refer to them as male?

What is the LessWrong-like answer to whether someone born a male but who identifies as female is indeed female?

The Lesswrong-like answer to whether a blue egg containing Palladium is indeed a blegg is "It depends on what your disguised query is".

If the disguised query is which pronoun you should use, I don't see any compelling reason not use the word that the person in question prefers. If you insist on using the pronoun associated with whatever disguised query you associate with sex/gender, this is at best an example of "defecting by accident".

In this case the disguised query is "Were I to ask 'What would stop someone assigned male at birth to fraudulently claim to be a trans woman in order to seek admission to Smith College?', what would I mean by 'fraudulently'?"
If you "use the word that the person in question prefers," then the word acquires a new meaning. From that moment on, the word "male" means "a human being who prefers to be called 'male'" and the word "female" means "a human being who prefers to be called 'female'". These are surely not the original meaning of the words.

By the way, it is one of the best examples I've seen of quick, practical gains from reading LW: the ability to sort out problems like this.

Is there additional material about disguised queries?

I can see why this would look strange to a German speaker. It was just intended as a joke/reference to the Wikipedia article on the Vienna Circle. I've fixed the grammar

Less Wrong

Less Wrong (German: Weniger Falsch) was an association of philosophers gathered on the internet in 2007, chaired by Eliezer Yudkowsky. Among its members were Yvain, Lukeprog, Michael Vassar, Will Newsome and Gwern. PeerGynt was an eminent student at the time. He was allowed to participate in meetings, but was not a member of Less Wrong.

Members of Less Wrong had a common attitude towards philosophy, consisting of an applied rationalism drawn from Eliezer Yudkowsky, whose Sequences formed the basis for the group's philosophy. Less Wrong's influe... (read more)

As a German native that feels wrong to be. I would rather translate it as "Weniger Falsch". I also see no reason to translate it into German at all.
What? No mention of Carl Shulman or Anna Salamon? Or Michael Anissimov for that matter?

But some fences were created to serve interests that no longer exist: Hadrian's Wall, for one. The fact that someone >centuries ago built a fence to keep the northern barbarians out of Roman Britain does not mean that it presently >serves that purpose. Someone who observed Hadrian's Wall without knowledge of the Roman Empire, and thus the >wall's original purpose, might correctly conclude that it serves no current military purpose to England.

At the risk of generalizing from fictional evidence: This line of reasoning falls apart when it turns o... (read more)

You don't succeed in avoiding getting mind killed yourself. You switch for no reason towards real life.

Discussing the issue in terms of real life does not itself imply that I've been mindkilled (though it may increase the chance that the discussion ends up being subject to mindkill). If you think I have been mindkilled, please show me a specific instance where I used arguments as soldiers, or where I failed to update in response to a properly made argument.

General ethical consideration suggest that you only inflict pain on other humans if they consen

... (read more)

Sure. The point I was trying to make is that, while I see females as agents in real life, in this analogy I am discussing the ethics of a choice that is only made by men. The analogy therefore did not require a fully specified model of females as agents.

There are many true things in the world that I chose not to specify in the analogy. For any of those things, if you give me a specific reason why it is relevant to the choice made by the Green Martians, then it certainly should have been part of the analogy. However, there is no law of nature that says "females should always be fully specified as agents in any analogy"

You don't succeed in avoiding getting mind killed yourself. You switch for no reason towards real life. General ethical consideration suggest that you only inflict pain on other humans if they consent. A doctor will only operate on a patient if the patient consents, even if the doctor believes that a decision to not consent is bad for the patient given the stated preferences of the patient. Respecting that decision means respecting the agentship of the patient. That's even true for decisions such as whether to get vaccinated where herd immunity is a concern. No single person if forced to feel pain by getting vaccinate for the good of the group.

It is true that some participants in the analogy are "non-player characters". That is because some ethical questions only have implications for the choices of a subset of the agents. It should be permissible to discuss these ethical questions. Doing this properly will require adding information about all stakeholders whenever it is relevant, but it does not necessarily require all stakeholders to be "playable" in the sense that they actively make ethical decisions.

It is also true that the women in my story have a preference on a sing... (read more)

Your parable is flawed at the core because you made a basic category mistake. Flirting is not an action, not something one person does to another one. It is interaction, something two people do together. Deciding that one person in that interaction controls the encounter and does things, while the other is just a passive receptacle to the extent that not even her consent is required, never mind active participation, is not a useful framework for looking at how men and women interact.

I'm fairly sure this comment was not exactly intended as a compliment, but I can think of worse insults than having my writing put in the same category as Nick Bostrom. As the author of the first of these parables, even I recognize that these two stories differ very significantly in quality

The Blue and Green Martians parable was an attempt to discuss a question of ethics that is important to many members of this community, and which it is almost impossible to discuss elsewhere. The decision to use an analogy was an attempt to minimize mindkill. This did no... (read more)

What would you think of the following solution? Announce 'I would like to have conversations about the controversial topic Pick-up Artistry. Because talking about it publicly can result in problems, If you want to talk with me about that topic, please send me a message stating your position on the topic.' By keeping it open like that and not stating your own position, it seems to be about as not prone to mindkill as you could get. The downside is, private conversations don't have as much bounce effects. For instance in the prior mentioned thread, Viliam_Bur essentially created a post which I don't think would ever get paralleled in a series of private conversations. (Viliam_Bur's post for reference:
Well I don't like the dragon parable either. It's overlong, a bit condescending and ignores the core problem that anti-aging research has done a pretty poor job of showing concrete achievements, even if it's right that it's under-prioritized. I was not a fan of yours exactly because I think the parable elides the most important parts of the actual topic. Even if a direct discussion would be flamey, it's not better to discuss a poor proxy. I'm not trying to pick on you, I just think you tried to define the problem with some premises that were well worth dispute. There are all sorts of other bad analogies out there though: "If canada launched missiles at the US, how would it respond?", even though the US hasn't turned Canada into a prison-state over the course of 50 years, is one on the news a lot right now. Parables about the danger of nuclear weapons that ignore the fact that this danger was successfully handled (there was something on here using it as an analogy for AI). Also, when parables are kind-of-but-not-really trying to be coy about what they're actually about is a bit annoying, leading to stilted writing (but that's the least of my issues). EY also has a lot of dubious parables, but tackling those is a subject for a bigger post. And of course there's the whole genre of parables where two fictional interlocutors are arguing, the strawman 'loses' the argument, and that's supposed to convince us of something. I think LW manages to avoid overt versions of this. In the realm of politics (both Red/Blue and further-from-mainstream) people often apply "argument by utopia", which suffers similar issues in that it attempts to prematurely define convenient facts and use a narrative to elide gritty, worthwhile details of an issue.

It's been a day since this discussion peaked, and I've had a chance to think a little bit more about this on a meta-level:

First of all, having a community built around epistemic hygiene is extremely valuable. Discussions about topics that involve mindkill are incredibly unpleasant, and may make it impossible for such a community to be successful. I therefore fully understand people who want to keep these discussions away from Less Wrong, and I won't post again on this topic or any other mindkilling topic.

That said, I think the inability to discuss this r... (read more)

Personally I'm not convinced that your analogy is completely isomorphic to the real world... the only way to improve your status/social skills is to hit on women? That doesn't sound right to me. You might read a book that's supposed to be about social effectiveness in general, like The Charisma Myth, before hitting on women. In general, I suspect there are lots of ways to improve your "tickling skills" that don't involve "tickling people". For example, lifting weights and buying more fashionable clothes will make you more attractive. Finding women who share personality characteristics with you and making friends on them (without making moves on them) will improve your model of women and help you empathize with them. Working a job that requires you to talk to strangers a lot will make it easier to talk to strangers. Better yet, do a job that requires you to start conversations with and befriend strangers (salesperson?) Or find a close friend who is also single & looking and go out together (it's easier to be in a friendly, social mood with friends around). (If you don't have a suitable friend, I suggest developing the social skills & connections to find such a friend before trying to meet women... in social skills terms, making such a friend is level 3 and finding a girlfriend is level 10.) Etc.

This is possible. Could someone please explain the important aspects of the PUA worldview that are being misrepresented? Particularly if they are relevant to the ethical question I am interested in? This would certainly help me clear up some confusion.

I don't know the PUA philosophy well enough but it seems to me that it does not look at females as inherently passive. PUA techniques often stress the need for the male to be assertive, but that's a far cry from looking at flirtation as a purely one-sided exercise. In general I think of PUA as teaching mimicry: it's a set of skills to signal being high-status and desireable without necessary being high-status and desireable.

Fair point - I should have phrased that differently. I think I intended that both in the weak sense "Our prior on moral statements should never be 0 or 1" and also in the slightly stronger sense "Ethics is difficult, so our priors should have high variance"

The problem isn't so much with priors, the problem is what are you willing to accept as evidence to be used for updating your beliefs.

I want to point out that I, perhaps incorrectly, assumed this thought experiment could be interesting even to the anti-PUA crowd, because it would help them distill their thinking about whether they object to PUA on epistemic grounds ("they have incorrect beliefs about female psychology") or if they object on moral grounds ("they draw incorrect / evil conclusions about the ethical implications of the theory")

From the reactions, it is tempting to conclude that most people object to PUA partially on epistemic grounds. However, it is hard for me to understand why a disagreement about facts would lead to such heated debate in a community based around the Litany of Tarski.

It seems that a common objection is that your analogy does not match well the PUA worldview.

Your translation of the analogy takes the postition that the status dichotomy is a thing. The rest follows from that assumption.

No, it takes the position that there exist people who believe status dichotomy is a thing, and then explores some of the consequences if this belief were to be true.

Moreover, status dichotomy is very obviously a lossy compression. For some purposes, this construct will lose so much information as to be useless. For other purposes, the information that is lost by dichotomizing status is not essential, and so it may still be ... (read more)

This insistence in keeping the analogy disconnected from its real-life referent will result in making answers to the analogy useless for the real-life issues behind it. Which means that: needs to be answered in real-life terms if it's to be a meaningful question. There's no universal, objective agreement about when exactly your Martians are blue or green. It partly depends on the human beholder, and Martians may switch many times between those categories during their lifetimes. Some Martians are better matches for some humans than for others, and very often both sides find themselves forced to compromise. And you're still neglecting the fact that humans tickle Martians. The questions you actually want answered would benefit from having been expressed in plain language since the start. You can keep the exercise the way it is, and with the collaboration of other posters come up with new and wonderful solutions within its framework, but if you don't check at every step whether the analogy still holds, you will reach solutions that will only work on Mars.

I am a moral realist, I believe there exists an objective moral standard which is part of the territory. This is the moral standard we are talking about.

Obviously, we are unable to know whether our ethical maps correspond to the ethical territory. We should therefore update our priors about the ethical territory in response to good arguments and thought experiments. Throughout this discussion, I have made several updates to my beliefs.

If we don't believe there is such a thing as an objective ethical standard, if the territory doesn't exist, then I fail to see the point in even discussing ethics.

There is no such a thing as an objective ethical standard. However, each agent has her own ethical standard which is meaningful to discuss. For humans, this moral standard often includes a "preference utilitarian" component i.e. we want the preferences of other morally significant agents to be satisfied (where the definition of "morally significant" is probably quite complicated but seems to involve intelligence and possibly similarity to humans) - but not at all costs (i.e. there are other components in our utility functions as well).
Is discussing preferences in sports, climate, food, art, attractiveness, ... also pointless? There are a great many preferences that we have, but not identically, and not assuming there is an objective "right" preference, that we discuss nevertheless. No more than "we" are all talking about the same thing when "we" say God. Is Clippy talking about the same moral standard?
Hold on. You're saying that there's objective morality but it's unknowable in principle? Then on what basis do you believe it exists and why would its existence even matter? Even if you think that ethics are a semi-arbitrary social construct, they are very useful for human societies and so worth discussing.

Thank you, this is exactly the kind of discussion I was hoping for. I don't really have anything to add, I agree with essentially everything here. Can we can please keep the discussion at this level?

I am certainly learning from any useful comments that are made, regardless of which position they take. This is not one of those comments. It is also the only comment in the thread which I have downvoted - I am trying to have a discussion about ethics in a hypothetical world, not a flame war.

Those are not my views:

First of all, I took no position on the truth value of the premises.

Secondly, I fully recognize that my analogy is a simplified map of a map. It does not accurately represent the full territory.

The question is whether the aspects of the territory that I have glossed over are important for the resolution of the ethical question. If there are any such aspects, please feel free to point them out. I do recognize that some of the aspects that have been pointed out, such as consent, are important. I have upvoted those comments and attempted to explain why I think you can make the argument that the analogy still has some validity.

Your translation of the analogy takes the postition that the status dichotomy is a thing. The rest follows from that assumption. If the views I enumerated are not your views, you need to refine your analogy, because the way it's written matches them neatly. The fact that my list of proposed solutions was perceived as having an overly physical emphasis seems to me like evidence of how much this analogy oversimplifies what it tries to represent. Let's reread your post: Being a pleasant person to be around is beyond a man's responsibility? Is this supposed to mean that women don't get how the male mind works? They may be green for all we know. Being a published guru is no guarantee that he knows what he's talking about. It may be the method's fault as often as the user's. Now let's address your actual questions: Is it unethical to attempt to become a better person? Absolutely not. BUT, as with everything, a good end does not justify nasty means. In your example, tickling is described in terms one would commonly use to refer to an optional pastime, but it actually stands for a fundamental biological urge with deep psychological and social consequences. This complicates the attempt to give an answer. Should I try to play chess? is not the same question as Should I try to get laid? Having a low expectation of success in mastering a pastime does affect your motivation to learn it, while it only has a moderate effect on your motivation to follow your biological urges. However, since there's nothing wrong with wanting to get laid per se, or wanting to become a more desirable person, I'll answer that everyone should be allowed, in fact encouraged, to learn. Chess child prodigies should have the chance to play as much as they like, but it makes no sense to keep the game's rules from everyone else. So, same as the previous question. It is only as acceptable as the techniques themselves.

Let me just point out that the post was an attempt to discuss ethics in a hypothetical world where certain PUA claims about human psychology are true. I think this is an important question, and I did not want it to degenerate into a discussion about whether the claims themselves are true.

I tried my best to make the analogy as neutral as possible, by making women the "humans", describing the PUA strategies as having a real harmful effect on women, and generally making their dislike of PUA strategies seem entirely reasonable.

I don't see how ... (read more)

Some of your views are discernible. You seem to think men can be visibly divided into "high status" and "low status", and that those categories can be matched to "sexually desirable" and "sexually undesirable," and that all women have the same opinion about which men fall into which category, and that women are not initiators of sexual contact. Real life is a lot more complicated than that.

OK, I really would prefer that this discussion stays on the abstract level, but in order to avoid confusion, I will provide a translation of the intended metaphors:

Green Martian = Low Status Male

Blue Martian = High Status Male

Earthling = Female

Tickling = Flirting (Including obnoxious strategies such as "negs" and "kino escalation")

The moderately painful sting of the tentacles of the Green Martian = Creepiness, Social Awkwardness, etc

Experimentation on Earthlings (defined in comments) = Sex

You should have set this up between Martians and Venusians :-) Otherwise, I don't think that practicing tickling is the main way for changing the color from Green to Blue.
OK, I had slightly misunderstood it. I'm retracting the comments based on the misunderstanding.

OK. Good point. I am going to specify that in this thought experiment, tickling is only effective if there is no explicit consent.

Edit: See definition of tickling here:

Also, note that this is a thought experiment. The point of this comment is not to make a claim about the truth value of the statement "flirting is only effective if there is no explicit consent", but to explore the ethical consequences of a world in which this is true.

I agree with ialdabaoth. Accepting that interpretation, the solution might be: it is OK for a green martian to tickle a human once, but if she signalled displeasure with the initial tickling, repeated tickling is frowned upon and might be considered "tickling harassment" and persecuted by law.

Actually, I think you're doing the analogy a disservice.

What you want to say is, tickling is how Martians ask for consent.

I.e., Martians ultimately want to get humans onto the mothership for experimentation, and humans actually enjoy being on the mothership (with some Martians, anyways), but in order to do so they have to communicate with the human - and the only way to do that is to tickle their ears with their tentacles (hey, it's how Martians communicate.) And green Martians have stinging barbs on their tentacles.

So the first act a Martian has to perfor... (read more)

I definitely see the humans as agents, whose preferences are morally relevant. In fact, the reason this is even ethically ambiguous in the first place, is that humans have a preference not to be tickled by green martians.

The reason humans come across as passive, is that I am specifically asking about the ethics of an action that is generally conducted by the active Martian to the passive human. It is at least theoretically possible that this question can be resolved without considering any ethical dilemmas that the humans face. This does not mean that... (read more)

Agents make decisions. The moment you ignore decision making and only think in terms of preferences agentship is gone.
It's not that you need a "full map of the ethical agency", it's that just that your setting precludes any interaction between the Martians and the humans pre-tickling. I think there is a conflict between you saying "In this society, it is generally accepted that tickling is not something that requires consent" and saying "... long struggled to come up with a coherent ethical theory that determines whether tickling humans is morally acceptable." Not requiring consent (outside of power structures like government and law enforcement) is generally a sign that there are no pressing ethical issues involved. And in reverse, a lot of ethical issues disappear if the parties can freely signal, discuss, and negotiate the rules and terms of interactions. The simplest answer to your issue is "Ask before tickling". Another answer is to set up a signaling system where a human can signal that he is open to tickling, does not desire tickling, or is willing to negotiate the terms of tickling. None of that requires an analysis of human ethical dilemmas. Just allow the involved parties to exchange information pre-action.

In this society, it is generally accepted that tickling is not something that requires consent.

Even more than the Martians want to tickle humans, they want to carry them away to their mothership to experiment on them. Everyone agrees that experimentation on humans requires their consent. Part of the socially accepted foreplay that sometimes leads to humans giving their consent to be experimented on, consists of the martian tickling the human behind the ear.

How is it possible to not know whether or not tickling is moral but know that it doesn't require consent? That doesn't make any sense. The whole idea of consent is that it's for the space between those actions where you know you can do them to anyone and those actions where you know you aren't allowed to do them to anyone.
'mothership' sounds a little Freudian in this context.
Does that hold in the real-life situation that this is intended as an analogy for?
So, inflicting a "moderate stinging pain" on humans does not require consent..? Can humans, I don't know, not let any Martians approach them? slap away the tentacles? wear ear-guards? Can humans inflict pain on Martians at will, too? This looks either like a two-tier society with humans being rights-restricted or like some unstable construct which, if magically brought into existence, will immediately evolve towards a different, more stable equilibrium. The issue I see with that parable is that humans are entirely passive. They are just subjects of tickling -- they have no voice, no opinions, no preferences. All the discussion is about what's ethical for (active) Martians to do to (passive) humans.

A source is "Allison, Richard. “Organic chicken production criticised for leaving a larger carbon footprint.” Poultry World. 1 Mar. 2007". This article is behind a paywall. I am pasting a table from the article:


Energy use +33% +25%

Global warming potential (CO2) +46% +20%

Eutrophication potential +75% +28%

Ac... (read more)

I only think factory-farmed meat is the problem. I use "eat less meat" as a shorthand, since nearly all meat is factory-farmed meat.

Factory-farmed meat converts photosynthetic energy (grass) to food much more efficiently than free-range farming. Factory farming requires less inputs in terms of arable land and water, and emits less CO2. If everyone in the world ate non-factory farmed meat, we would have to cut down the Amazon many times over, thereby drastically reducing earth's capacity to convert CO2 back to carbohydrates.

When you decide wh... (read more)

Modern farming techniques are designed to minimize labor, especially managerial labor, not energy.

Factory-farmed meat converts photosynthetic energy (grass) to food much more efficiently than free-range farming.

Factory-farmed animals don't eat grass. This is a really important detail.

3Peter Wildeford11y
I hadn't considered that. Do you have any sources for your claims? Personally, I don't eat meat of any type, so this wouldn't be a problem for my diet.

What is more ridiculous about MIMO than CICO? Conservation of matter, can't argue with that.

OK, I see the point. But multicellular life evolved as thermodynamic engines, not as fusion plants. Over billions of years, cells were surviving based on how efficiently they could extract thermodynamic energy from macronutrients, to power intracellular processes. This is what we are optimized for. If we had been able to use fusion power in our evolutionary past, MIMO would be a more appropriate level at which to draw your map.

There is obviously thermodynamic energy in food which is not absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract. Fiber is an example of this. Energy which is not absorbed is not listed on the nutrition label of food. When I say 'calories', I mean the biochemically available energy in absorbed macronutrients such as fat, carbohydrates, protein and alcohol.

Nobody doubts that thermogenesis uses energy. This is a special case of my mechanism 3. It is part of the 'energy used'. Again, if you want to convince me that you can eat 3000 calories of fat without gaining we... (read more)

On a previous occasion when this topic came up, I posted this anecdote. Now, as you might imagine, there were medical reasons for that episode. Or rather, there were concurrent medical events with no obvious connection: acute ulcerative colitis, a disease of the large intestine only. Most nutrition is extracted by the stomach and small intestine, which were unaffected. So what was going on there? What made my digestive system so inefficient for several years following the initial attack? So there's a lot of room for variation in digestive efficiency. (For those who know the last-resort treatment for ulcerative colitis, I'll just add that I recovered without surgery.) What is more ridiculous about MIMO than CICO? Conservation of matter, can't argue with that. You don't get to be a supermodel unless you can stay thin. Some people can, no-one doubts that, and some people just are, without taking any effort. And I'll take Eliezer's word that nothing has worked for him over anyone's assertion that because they can't see how something could happen, it doesn't happen. CICO is only one part of the picture, and its abundantly clear from experiences of dieting that it's of little explanatory value on its own, and of practical value to only a subset of people.

OK. I'll accept your rephrasing. Let us assume that "calories out" is always difficult to estimate and depends on a lot of factors such as muscle mass and total calorie intake.

I took the original comment to mean that we can eat very large amounts of fat and protein, because our bodies would somehow react, in response to the proportion of different nutrients in our diet, and change how efficiently we use energy. I find it difficult to believe that this would explain much of change in body weight. I find it much easier to believe that it would c... (read more)

This article says that there is some non-absorption of fat in healthy people, and much greater non-absorption in people with cystic fibrosis.

If you want to convince me that I should consider this when I choose the fat/carbohydrate/protein content of my diet, you would have to make an argument that the percentage of fat that is not absorbed is a function of my diet, ie, causally related to what I choose to eat.

I'm not saying this is not theoretically possible, but my intuition tells me that the variation in absorbtion that is caused by diet, is unlikely to have a major impact in the final analysis

So, Tim Ferris has done a couple of demonstrations where he ate about 20,000 calories in the course of 24 hours. The vast majority of that is not absorbed. You may have had in mind the limited claim that macronutrient ratio has a small effect on the percentage of calories absorbed, which seems reasonable for normal macronutrient ratios, but quantity seems important, as well as more detailed chemical composition. For example, I don't produce enough lactase to digest normal American quantities of milk consumption without chemical assistance, and so if I continued to drink a glass of milk each day, the amount of calories that made it into my bloodstream would be predictably lower than the amount of calories put into my mouth. So while the CI calculation can be complex, it seems obvious to me that the amount of calories you put in your mouth is a good upper bound. (I don't think this is seriously contested by anyone, but it's worthwhile to establish that it's not seriously contested.) The system dynamics may mean that in some cases a higher total number of calories in leads to a lower maintenance weight, and so just lowering intake is not always the right solution.

Thank you, that was helpful.

Note that I don't disagree with anything in that Mayo Clinic article. The point about "pounds of fat, muscle and water" is obviously true and does not contradict anything I said. The points about "metabolic rate" and "response to reduced calories" just seem to say that sometimes it is difficult to estimate the "calories out" part of the equation, and that it is endogenous to the system. This is also obviously true. I still find it difficult to believe that we can affect the metabolic rate to an extent that matters in the final analysis, based on the fat/protein/carbohydrate content of our diet..

Did I misunderstand your grandparent post? It sounded like you were looking for an explanation as to why CO is hard to quantify. I disagree that this is a fair rephrasing of the article. A correct rephrasing would be "It is always difficult to estimate the CO part of the equation." What would convince you otherwise? When I posted my grandparent response, I wasn't in a position to link to the various body weight modelling studies that have been done, but I could do so if you'd think it might convince you.

By which mechanism do these nutrients get excreted? Urine? Bile? Non-absorption?

My impression is that carbohydrates in urine is something that we only see to a significant extent when blood glucose concentration is at diabetic levels. Protein and fat in urine occurs, but it doesn't seem to me that this happens to an extent where it can make a difference to the total energy picture

I don't think excreting them through bile would work, the nutrients would just be reabsorbed further down the gastrointestinal tract.

It is possible that at very high intake ... (read more)

2Manfred11y (Bam.) So, under normal conditions you're pretty efficient (~4% of your calories just get pooped back out), meaning that something like metabolic rate just swamps poop-energy-content as an interpersonal variable.

I am not sure I am convinced by this argument, for the following reasons:

If you think of calorie content / thermodynamics as an upper bound on how much energy can be extracted from the food, you have to make an argument for what happens to the unused energy. Even if you are in a biochemical state where not all the energy is used, there is still energy floating around in your body in the form of carbohydrates, fat and protein. I can think of three possible mechanisms for what happens to this extra energy, and I am not convinced by any of them:

(1) Calori... (read more)

(4) Calories are excreted unused not in their original form. What do you think shit is made of? When dried out, it will burn -- that's calorific value right there. Everyone takes in more calories than they turn into heat and motion. (5) Thermogenesis. If that's impaired, you won't burn as much fuel as it takes to maintain body temperature, but you may not even notice, because you'll do other things to keep warm instead. Come to think of it, accumulating an insulating layer of fat will also dampen the effect. CICO is about as helpful as MIMO -- matter in, matter out. In is easy to measure, out not at all easy.
Comments which mention the importance of calories are reflexively downvoted around here. I think many people are confused between what CICO actually says (your energy balance determines your weight loss or gain) and what their image of CICO -- conveniently made out of straw -- says (there is a magic fixed number of calories, if you eat less than that magic number you'll lose weight).
It all depends on what you mean by "very good approximation." There's an entire cottage industry in medicine that revolves around developing weight prediction models; none of them get good results even assuming one knows much more data than simply calorie intake. I suspect this is possibly the source of a few downvotes. Since this is superficially a site on rationality and science, every once in a while the doctrine of Calories In, Calories Out (CICO) rears it's ugly head. People who have actually looked into the situation know that it's a drastic oversimplification, but experience has shown it's usually not worthwhile to convince adherents of CICO of the complexity of the problem. Here is a list of some violations of CICO.
I think this can actually happen to a very great extent depending on how much the person normally eats and burns, and how quickly they consume it, and is the main mechanism by which e.g. competitive eaters generally avoid becoming obese.

The OP's assertion is true. Stratifying on certain variables can introduce bias.

Consider that you have a cohort of initially healthy men, and you are trying to quantify the causal relationship between an exposure (eg eating hamburgers) and an outcome (eg death). You have also measured a third variable, which is angina pectoris (cardiovascular disease).

Assume that the true underlying causal structure, which you are unaware of, is that hamburgers cause cardiovascular disease, which subsequently causes death.

Now look at what happens if you stratify on cardi... (read more)