All of Scott Alexander's Comments + Replies

The EMH is False - Specific Strong Evidence

I tried to bet on this on Polymarket a few months ago. Their native client for directing money into your account didn't work (I think it was because I was in the US and it wasn't legal under US law). I tried to send money from another crypto account, and it said Polymarket didn't have enough money to pay the Ethereum gas fees to receive my money. It originally asked me to try reloading the page close to an odd numbered GMT hour, when they were sending infusions of money to pay gas fees, but I tried a few times and never got quite close enough. I just check... (read more)

3Isma21dI think by far the easiest way to trade the US election (for non US persons) was on FTX www.ftx.com [http://www.ftx.com] For reference, this is Vitalik's blog post about the US election prediction markets (which of course favors Ethereum-based platforms!) https://vitalik.ca/general/2021/02/18/election.html. [https://vitalik.ca/general/2021/02/18/election.html.] It looks horribly complicated. Maybe Vitalik himself didn't know about FTX? Side note: for US persons,www.ftx.us [http://www.ftx.us] is available (but more restrictive).
7cata1moI could have imagined this was true a month ago, but then I spent about 15 total hours learning about Ethereum financial widgets, which was fun, and wrote it up into this post [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/nMNi86hgNjaNnh8iu/a-whirlwind-tour-of-ethereum-finance] , and now I totally understand Vitalik's steps [https://vitalik.ca/general/2021/02/18/election.html], understand many of the possible risks underlying them, and could have confidently done something similar myself. Although I am probably unusually capable even among the LW readership, I think many readers could have done this if they wanted to. Similarly, I don't know anything about perpetual futures, but I guarantee that I could understand perpetual futures very clearly by tomorrow if you offered me $20k (or a 20% shot at $100k) to do it. Having to think hard for a week to clearly understand something complicated, with the expectation that there might be money on the other end*, is definitely a convincing practical explanation for why rationalists aren't making a lot of money off of schemes like this, but it's not a good reason why they shouldn't. Of course, many rationalists may not have enough capital that it matters much, but many may. *It's not like these are otherwise useless concepts to understand, either.

Not Vitalik. A friend of mine from OBNYC.

I don't know why you had so many troubles putting money into polymarket a few months back. Right now polymarket is in 'trouble' since ETH fees are so high so its expensive to withdraw. 

I mostly election bet elsewhere but I got five figures into polymarket without too much trouble. 

I wish you had posted on lesswrong. I would have happily helped you.

Still Not in Charge

Thanks for this.

I think the UFH might be more complicated than you're making it sound here - the philosophers debate whether any human really has a utility function.

When you talk about the CDC Director sometimes doing deliberately bad policy to signal to others that she is a buyable ally, I interpret this as "her utility function is focused on getting power". She may not think of this as a "utility function", in fact I'm sure she doesn't, it may be entirely a selected adaptation to execute, but we can model it as a utility function for the same reason we m... (read more)

What is it good for? But actually?

Bronze Age war (as per James Scott) was primarily war for captives, because the Bronze Age model was kings ruling agricultural dystopias amidst virgin land where people could easily escape and become hunter-gatherers. The laborers would gradually escape, the country would gradually become less populated, and the king would declare war on a neighboring region to steal their people to use as serfs or slaves.

Iron Age to Industrial Age war (as per Peter Turchin) was primarily war for land, because of Malthus. Until the Industrial Revolution, you needed a certa... (read more)

1jaspax4moThe only part of this that doesn't make sense to me is "they still eliminated their excess population". Unless I'm mistaken about the numbers, no war before WWI ever had a large enough number of combatants or was deadly enough in general to make a real dent in the population. An exception to this might be prehistoric intertribal warfare in which the combatants include "all healthy adult males of the tribe", but that obviously doesn't apply to Iron Age to Industrial Age warfare as you claim.
The rationalist community's location problem

The Bay Area is a terrible place to live in many ways. I think if we were selecting for the happiness of existing rationalists, there's no doubt we should be somewhere else.

But if the rationalist project is supposed to be about spreading our ideas and achieving things, it has some obvious advantages. If MIRI is trying to lure some top programmer, it's easier for them to suggest they move to the Bay (and offer them enough money to overcome the house price hurdle) than to suggest they move to Montevideo or Blackpool or even Phoenix. If CEA is trying to get p... (read more)

I actually feel like East Bay (Oakland and every place north of Oakland) is really pleasant:

  • Cost of living isn't terrible except for rent, and it's still possible to find good deals on rent, e.g. I've lived in North Oakland for 6 years and have only paid more than $1,000/month for one of those years (granted for the rest of the time I've been living in group houses or with a partner)
  • East Bay parks are amazing
  • Minimal social decay except for downtown Berkeley and parts of Oakland
  • Wonderful weather for ~10 months of the year (every season except for fire seaso
... (read more)

It also rules out Cascadian cities like Portland and Seattle - only marginally better housing costs, worse fires, and worse social decay (eg violence in Portland).

I'm not sure this is so conclusive, regarding Seattle. A few notes --

  1. The rent is 40% less than San Francisco, and 20% less than Berkeley. (And the difference seems likely to continue or increase, because Seattle is willing to build housing.)
  2. There is no state income tax.
  3. While the CHAZ happened in Seattle, my impression is that day-to-day it's much more livable than SF. (I haven't lived there in a
... (read more)

(Source: I work at MIRI.)

MIRI is very seriously considering moving to a different country soon (most likely Canada), or moving to elsewhere in the US. No concrete plans or decisions at this point, and it's very possible we'll stay in the Bay; but I don't think people should make their current location decisions based on a confident prediction that MIRI is going to stay in the Bay.

If we do leave the Bay Area, some of the main places we're currently thinking about are New Hampshire and some other northeastern US spots, and the area surrounding Toronto in Can... (read more)

I feel like there's a very serious risk of turning a 'broad rationalist movement' reaction, feeding on PARC adjacent extreme-aspirationals and secreting 'rationalists' into a permanently capped out minor regional cult by just deciding to move somewhere all avowed 'rationalists' choose.
I doubt most 'rationalists' or even most of the people who are likely to contribute to the literature of a rationalist movement have yet been converted to a specific sort of tribal self-identification that would lead them to pick up roots and all go to the same place at one t... (read more)

I have been collecting interest in an unchartered community in Niobrara, Wyoming with plans to gain critical mass for a state charter.

It's the smallest county in the state with ~2,000 population; the state has the most national voting power per person; generally the law is about as libertarian as any other and they've made a specific push to be a replacement Switzerland after Zurich cracked down on the banks, with especially friendliness to cryptocurrency.

There are currently 2200 acres for sale for $1MM, or smaller lots for less. I am personally committed ... (read more)

>it's less than an hour's drive to Boston

this is pretty damn strong for intellectual hub considerations. I had been thinking Denver or Santa Cruz were the only real choices due to decriminalization (leading indicator) but given NH's politics they might follow along in the next few years.

But if the rationalist project is supposed to be about spreading our ideas and achieving things [emphasis mine]

Thanks for phrasing this as a conditional! To fill in another branch of the if/else-if/else-if ... conditional statement: if the rationalist project is supposed to be about systematically correct reasoning—having the right ideas because they're right, rather than spreading our ideas because they're ours—then things that are advantageous to the movement could be disadvantageous to the ideology, if the needs of growing the coalition's resources c... (read more)

I agree with regard to Moraga. Habryka and a few housemates of mine drove down to have a look around, and I think their main updates were that each house had only like 2 bedrooms, were all ~5x the distance from each other relative to Berkeley, there were no sidewalks, and no natural meeting place (the place with the shops had no natural seating), which means people just wouldn’t see each other very much unless everyone had a car and made it a conscious and constant effort. Even though it was nice and clean and so on.

I also agree wrt CFAR/MIRI. I would be i... (read more)

2thoughtfulmadison8moThanks for the link. Wish I'd read it earlier! That's a much better exposition of what I was trying to express here. :) I do think that there's complication beyond even the two-layer model presented in "Studies on Slack". For example, maybe my company gives a lot of slack and looks at my value-add on a 5-year timeframe. At the same time, I have little personal slack around my annual bonus because I need to pay off loans. Perhaps the culture I live in has some different level of slack in its expectations for work. Although the two-layer model is a useful simplification, I'm not sure that the actual interactions are so neatly hierarchical.
Ideology/narrative stabilizes path-dependent equilibria

I think you might find http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/Property/Property.html helpful here. It explains legitimacy as a Schelling point. If everyone thinks you're legitimate, you're legitimate. And if everything expects everyone else is going to think you're legitimate, you're legitimate.

America has such a strong tradition of democracy that the Constitution makes an almost invincible Schelling point - everyone expects everyone else to follow it because everyone expects everyone else to follow it because...and so on. A country wi... (read more)

English Bread Regulations

Banning fresh bread doesn't decrease human caloric needs. Wouldn't making fresh bread less desirable just mean people replace it with other foods, spending the same amount of money overall (or more, since bread is probably cheaper than its replacement) and removing any benefit from bread price controls? Or was the English government working off a model where people were overconsuming food because of how tasty fresh bread was?

1lexande1y1) People are probably less likely to throw out stale bread if it's impossible to obtain fresh bread? 2) If the price of e.g. fish is less regulated but generally higher than that of bread, banning fresh bread would lead to a larger rise in the price of fish as more rich people switch to it, which would perhaps lead to fishermen working longer hours and catching more fish, helping make up the overall calorie shortfall from the poor harvest without increasing costs for poor people who could never afford fish in the first place. Whereas letting the price of bread itself rise would be more regressive? 3) Same as with fish but with meat from livestock, pushing tradeoffs in the direction of "slaughter this year" vs "keep fattening up for next year", which could be desirable if the wheat shortage is expected to be temporary, and might even decrease demand for wheat as livestock feed if that was a thing at the time? Not sure how large any of these effects would be.
2jefftk1yI don't understand either! They did import rice: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transport_vessels_for_the_British_Government's_importation_of_rice_from_Bengal_(1800–1802) [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transport_vessels_for_the_British_Government%27s_importation_of_rice_from_Bengal_(1800%E2%80%931802)]
4Jay Molstad1yI suspect that fresh bread was actually a luxury food at the time, with pottages [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pottage]more common among the poor.
The EMH Aten't Dead

Re: "revisionist history":

You criticize my description in "A Failure, But Not Of Prediction", which was:

The stock market is a giant coordinated attempt to predict the economy, and it reached an all-time high on February 12, suggesting that analysts expected the economy to do great over the following few months. On February 20th it fell in a way that suggested a mild inconvenience to the economy, but it didn’t really start plummeting until mid-March – the same time the media finally got a clue.

As my post said, the mark... (read more)

5Richard Meadows1yHi Scott, If we take the 6th of March—the last trading day before the March 9 fall—then the market is down 12.2%, which is already in 'correction' territory, and an extremely rapid descent by historical standards. If we take the 16th of March—the closest trading day we have to 'mid-March'—the market is already down 29.5% per cent, which is not too far off the bottom, and well and truly into 'bear' territory. I thought the talk about EMH being dead was weird at the time, and left a comment saying as much. I also wrote a post on March 24, which later turned out to be the bottom, saying that timing the market was a really bad idea, and the buy-and-hold forever strategy was about the best anyone could hope for. I am as surprised about the speed of the rebound as anyone! I possess no predictive powers, but I have consistently been defending boring orthodoxy. I admire and respect you very much as a person and a thinker—seriously man, you have no idea—so I feel extremely bad if I have made you feel bad. I didn't mean to accuse you specifically of being a revisionist historian—it was more of a general vibe that seemed to be happening a lot—and although I think the passage as stated is misleading, I don't think it's deliberately so, and I've edited the post so it comes off as less accusatory.
SlateStarCodex 2020 Predictions: Buy, Sell, Hold

Thanks, I look forward to seeing how this goes. I'm impressed with you being willing to bet against me on things you know nothing about like my restaurant preferences (not sarcastic, seriously impressed), and I will be *very* impressed if you end up broadly more accurate than I am in that category. In many cases I agree with your criticism once you explain your reasoning.

There was a pretty credible rumor that Kim Jong-un was dead last week when I wrote this, which is why I gave him such a low probability. Today the news is he was seen in public alive (though in theory this could be a sham), so you are probably right, but it made sense when I wrote it.

Evaluating Predictions in Hindsight

Thanks (as always) for your thoughts.

I agree most of your methods for evaluating predictions are good. But I think I mostly have a different use case, in two ways. First, for a lot of things I'm not working off an explicit model, where I can compare predictions made to the model to reality in many different circumstances. When I give Joe Biden X% of the nomination, this isn't coming from a general process that I can check against past elections and other candidates, it's just something like "Joe Biden feels X% likely to win". I thi... (read more)

Good responses. I do think a lot of the value is the back-and-forth, and seeing which logic holds up and which doesn't. Bunch of things to talk about.

First, the discussion of models vs. instincts. I agree that one should sometimes make predictions without an explicit model. I'm not sure whether one can be said to ever not have an implicit model and still be doing the scribe things instead of the actor thing - my modal thinks that when someone like me makes a prediction on instinct there's an implicit (unconscious) model somewhere, even if it... (read more)

How to evaluate (50%) predictions

Correction: Kelsey gave Biden 60% probability in January 2020. I gave him 20% probability in January 2019 (before he had officially entered the race). I don't think these contradict each other.

3Rafael Harth1yOh, sorry! I've taken the reference to your prediction out and referred only to BetFair as the baseline.
April Coronavirus Open Thread

No, it says:

The study design does not allow us to determine whether medical masks had efficacy or whether cloth masks were detrimental to HCWs by causing an increase in infection risk. Either possibility, or a combination of both effects, could explain our results. It is also unknown whether the rates of infection observed in the cloth mask arm are the same or higher than in HCWs who do not wear a mask, as almost all participants in the control arm used a mask. The physical properties of a cloth mask, reuse, the frequency and effectiveness of cleani
... (read more)
3silverdrake111yI noticed this too. When wearing a bandana as a mask, humidity is building up while exhaling, causing it to be slightly damp.
6cata1yMea culpa, that's more of a condemnation than I thought.
April Coronavirus Open Thread

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4420971/ is skeptical of cloth masks. Does anyone have any thoughts on it, or know any other studies investigating this question?

4ChristianKl1yIt seems the primary argument for clothing masks that's made is that if an infected person wears them it's less likely that they will infect others. That's not the purpose that was tested in "A cluster randomised trial of cloth masks compared with medical masks in healthcare workers" [https://www.researchgate.net/publication/275360639_A_cluster_randomised_trial_of_cloth_masks_compared_with_medical_masks_in_healthcare_workers] that study seemed more about whether or not the masks have protective qualities for the wearer.
2cata1yIt seems only skeptical of cloth masks as compared to surgical masks, which isn't really very interesting to me in the current circumstances, since most people don't have access to surgical masks.
April Coronavirus Open Thread

In most major countries, daily case growth has switched from exponential to linear, an important first step towards the infection being under control. See https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/daily-covid-cases-3-day-average for more, you can change which countries are on the graph for more detail. The growth rate in the world as a whole has also turned linear, https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/daily-covid-cases-3-day-average?country=USA+CHN+KOR+ITA+ESP+DEU+GBR+IRN+OWID_WRL . Since this is growth per day, a horizontal line represents a linear growth rate.

If ... (read more)

I would like this to be true, but two days on from the above comment, I am not seeing any linearity in the world growth rate (second link above), just three points in a nearly horizontal line a few days ago. The link for BRA+SWE shows the same thing for Brazil even more dramatically. New daily cases is a noisy enough measurement that I wouldn't entertain hope that we are past the exponential phase until seeing at least a week of a flat or declining rate.

The site I usually look for stats on is https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.... (read more)

I'd like to point out that the growth in India is still exponential (linear on the log-scale) https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/india/. This could be or become true of other developing countries.

India and other developing countries probably have a harder time controlling the outbreak (and governments and the young, food-insecure populations may judge the economic cost of social distancing to be higher than the risk of the virus).

There was a time when the number of worldwide cases appeared to stagnate because of the Chinese lockdown, but thi

... (read more)
9CellBioGuy1yHow much of that is a delayed effect of distancing and how much is saturation of test capacity? American capacity hasn't increased in days, and by both my and the Imperial College of London's calculations, at least 3 million Italians are probably already infected...
4Bucky1yI think there's a decent amount of correlation with between lockdown dates and entering linear growth. Below are the lockdown dates and starts of the linear phase for some of the worst hit countries. China 23rd Jan -> 5th Feb S. Korea 20th Feb -> 1st March (This wasn't a mandated government lockdown but people did seem to stay inside [https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-health-southkorea-cases/like-a-zombie-apocalypse-residents-on-edge-as-coronavirus-cases-surge-in-south-korea-idUSKBN20E04F] in the worst hit areas) March: Italy 9th -> 21st Spain 15th -> 26th Germany 16th -> 27th France 17th -> not yet linear (last 2 days have been high) Switzerland 20th -> 21st US 22nd (NY) -> not yet linear UK 23rd -> approaching linear? Possibly already there These are remarkably consistent at 10-14 days, apart from Switzerland (very fast) and France (looked like it had gone linear at about the normal time but has increased again). This graph [https://chart-studio.plotly.com/~Bucky13/9] shows the same data but is annotated with containment steps taken by each country (it isn't averaged over 3 days so the exact numbers don't match up but the same pattern applies).
April Coronavirus Open Thread

Thanks for the shout-out, but I don't think the thing I proposed there is quite the same as hammer and dance. I proposed lockdown, then gradual titration of lockdown level to build herd immunity. Pueyo and others are proposing lockdown, then stopping lockdown in favor of better strategies that prevent transmission. The hammer and dance idea is better, and if I had understood it at the time of writing I would have been in favor of that instead.

(there was an ICL paper that proposed the same thing I did, and I did brag about preempting them, which might be what you saw)

2Elizabeth1yI think you're being too modest, but I've removed it since you think it's been eclipsed by something better.
3Lanrian1yLink to paper [https://www.imperial.ac.uk/media/imperial-college/medicine/sph/ide/gida-fellowships/Imperial-College-COVID19-NPI-modelling-16-03-2020.pdf] , the relevant figure is on page 12.
SSC - Face Masks: Much More Than You Wanted To Know

Sorry, by "complete" I meant "against both types of transmission". I agree it was confusing/wrong as written, so I edited it to say "generalized".

Can crimes be discussed literally?

Agreed, it seems very similar to (maybe exactly like) the "Martin Luther King was a criminal" example from there.

It seems to me that you're taking the position opposite MLK's, and my position is pretty much MLK's.

MLK never equivocated about whether he was disobedient towards US law. He just asked people to accept the legitimacy of the justice over that of US law. As he wrote in Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is r
... (read more)

It seems to me precisely the opposite: my reading is that Benquo is driving exactly at how to talk about the problem of systemic falsification of information.

If the post is noncentral, what is the central thing instead?

March Coronavirus Open Thread

China is following a strategy of shutting down everything and getting R0 as low as possible. This works well in the short term, but they either have to keep everything shut down forever, or risk the whole thing starting over again.

UK is following a strategy of shutting down only the highest-risk people, and letting the infection burn itself out. It's a permanent solution, but it's going to be really awful for a while as the hospitals overload and many people die from lack of hospital care.

What about a strategy in between these two? Shut everythin... (read more)

7Self-Embedded Agent1yJust like to chime in to say that this (=' flattening the curve/ herd immunity') fundamentally doesn't work, and you don't need to have a PhD in epidemiology from Imperial College to understand this [but you might need a PhD in epidemiology to misunderstand it], just basic arithmetic and common sense. Suppose 50% of the UK (33 million people) get the virus of which 5% (~ 1.8 million people) will need serious hospitalization [conservative estimate]. The current capacity of ICU beds in the UK is something on the order of 2000 beds , depending on occupancy rates, ability to scale up et cetera. Let's be extremely optimistic and somehow the UK is able to quintuple this capacity [as far as I can tell this is unlikely]. When somebody is sick they might need care for 2 weeks. The annual hospital capacity is: 25 weeks * 10.000 beds= 250k. At the moment the capacity is nowhere that (perhaps 50-100k). You can see that 1.8 million is far larger than 100k or even 250 k. Even wildly optimistic estimates will not yield anything realistic. This assumes that the government is somehow able to control the infection spreading over a year; instead of two months. There is no reason to think they can do this without extreme (partial) lockdown measures. Controlling the R0 is extremely hard. All the mild measures seem to help only a tiny little bit. If the R0 is only a bit over 1, we still have exponential growth; and you have merely pushed timelines back a few months. Can we perhaps expose young people but lock up older people for one-two years [when the vaccin might arrive]? I find this is extremely unlikely; you need only a couple people to flout the rules to wipe out an entire nursing home. Is it worth it to (partially) lock down the entire country for a year to save maybe a hundred thousand old people? There are only two real possible approaches: 1. Let the Boomers die. If we're lucky the death rate is ~0.7 percent. When (not if) hospitals overflow this will easily triple.
6Pablo1yThe South Korean approach seems to be roughly as effective as the Chinese approach but significantly less costly and disruptive. SK managed to halt exponential growth and currently cases are increasing linearly at a rate of 75 or so per day. This has been achieved without lockdowns or extensive border closings. Instead, the key ingredient appears to be rapid, extensive and largely free testing, and an educational campaign that stresses the importance of hand washing and staying at home.
1Mmv1yIsn't "social distancing" the in-between strategy already? I was thinking of something similar today, when questioned whether to have a friend to my house. If I followed the strictest measures, I wouldn't. But then, if nobody did and we were essentially on self-quarantine mode, then the virus wouldn't spread at all or very, very, little and we would be hovering in small numbers for months, until next fall/winter, when it could get really risky again (presuming that weather has an influence, like with flu). So doesn't the social distancing strategy want some appreciable degree of transmission, high enough to get to herd immunity in a reasonable amount of time, but slow enough to avoid a hospital crisis? Are governments just relying on the idea that some people will ignore the suggestions, and we'll get a reasonable degree of transmission over time during social distancing?
3Lanrian1yIsn't this exactly what "flatten the curve" is about? Because a lot of people are talking about that as a solution, including some governments. The main problem is that the curve needs to get really flat for hospitals to have time with everyone. Depending on how overwhelmed you want your hospitals to be, you could be in lock-down for several years. Some calculations in this article [https://medium.com/@joschabach/flattening-the-curve-is-a-deadly-delusion-eea324fe9727] .
1Liam Donovan1yI'm pretty sure that's exactly what the UK is trying to do? I'm actually pretty confident that the UK government isn't planning to have " hospitals overload and many people die from lack of hospital care. ". Even if they were sure that was the best approach (and they just didn't think of your idea?) it would be completely unfeasible politically
1syllogism1yBut why can't we eradicate the virus? Let's say China shuts down international travel, keeps doing what they're doing, and then slowly eases back up in some area, letting the people in that city comingle and go back to work, but still restricting travel in and out. Let's say they get that city back running, with no coronavirus cases after a month. At the same time...Won't they also have basically eradicated other influenza there? Even if not entirely, there should be much less cold and flu, right? So as soon as coronavirus creeps back in, it should be much easier to contain. I guess my thinking here is, if coronavirus is much more virulent than the flu, and this type of containment works to almost eliminate the coronavirus, could China...actually eradicate the flu, at the same time? If not, why not? The problem comes in from other countries. If China goes to all this effort and the US, Europe, UK etc don't, do we would end up with this weird hazmat curtain? Asian countries would join China in eradicating the disease, and Australia and New Zealand would probably join them.

If you first do lockdowns to get new cases to ~0 and then relax, optimistically you will get localized epidemics that you can contain with widespread testing, contact tracing, and distancing if needed. Cost of testing & tracing and having to do occasional local/regional lockdowns could end up being manageable until treatment/vaccine arrives.

My main reason for optimism is Korea's and China's success containing a large outbreak. We will be expecting the secondary epidemics and reacting quickly, so they will be small when detected, so should be much easie

... (read more)
5Raemon1yI'm confused about why the second strategy works better than the first strategy at killing it permanently. If you shut down everything, shouldn't everything die out faster? (Unless you have open borders and let it in again, but wouldn't that also apply in the UK case?)

I've spent some time thinking about endgames here. (Not that I feel like I've come to any conclusions. I wish I knew what e.g. the WHO thought the endgame was.) The biggest problem I see with this idea is the lag between input and output -- when you change your quarantine measures, you can't observe the result for at least the 5-7 days it takes the newly infected to get symptoms, and longer if you want to get a lot of confidence in your measurement, over the noise inherent in the system.

Control systems with high lag like this are incredibly difficult to wo

... (read more)
The Critical COVID-19 Infections Are About To Occur: It's Time To Stay Home [crosspost]

It sounds like you've found that by March 17, the US will have the same number of cases that Italy had when things turned disastrous.

But the US has five times the population of Italy, and the epidemic in the US seems more spread out compared to Italy (where it was focused in Lombardy). This makes me think we might have another ~3 doubling times (a little over a week) after the time we reach the number of cases that marked the worst phase of Italy, before we get the worst phase here.

I agree that it's going to get worse than most people expect soon... (read more)

2Impassionata1yFair argument. I'm close enough to Seattle that I'm metering that risk as well. The reality is the rate at which hospitals get overwhelmed will vary by a few days, maybe even a week, across the US.
When to Reverse Quarantine and Other COVID-19 Considerations

Have you looked into whether cinchona is really an acceptable substitute for chloroquine?

I'm concerned for two reasons. First, the studies I saw were on chloroquine, and I don't know if quinine is the same as chloroquine for this purpose. They have slightly different antimalarial activity - some chloroquine-resistant malaria strains are still vulnerable to quinine - and I can't find any information about whether their antiviral activity is the same. They're two pretty different molecules and I don't think it's fair to say that... (read more)

2khafra1y"Tonic water contains no more than 83 mg of quinine per liter," according to the FDA. I haven't found any tonic water brands that say how close they come to that threshold, but 3 2L bottles of tonic water per day could keep you well-hydrated *and* protected.

This is a relevant study I found on quinine's antiviral activity (albeit on a different virus):

A previous study reported that the antimalarial drug chloroquine, a drug that shares a similar chemical property with quinine (both are alkaline in nature), inhibits pH-dependent stages of Flavivirus replication (Randolph et al., 1990). This is a likely inhibitory mechanism of quinine in our experimental model.

4Benquo1yI wanted to start with something very simple to avoid decision paralysis, but you're right that there are flow-through / flatten-the-curve benefits. I've added a note clarifying that while this consideration matters, I haven't counted it.
4Benquo1yNope! The epistemic status there is something like "rumor from a pretty sensible and curious friend." Definitely not a substitute for any other measure, and highly speculative. Edited to clarify (and link to your comment).
Model estimating the number of infected persons in the bay area

I tried to answer the same question here and got very different numbers - somewhere between 500 and 2000 cases now.

I can't see your images or your spreadsheet, so I can't tell exactly where we diverged. One possible issue is that AFAIK most people start showing symptoms after 5 days. 14 days is the preferred quarantine period because it's almost the maximum amount of time the disease can incubate asymptomatically; the average is much lower.

2Eli Tyre1yThat seems like a very likely divergence point. The difference between an incubation period of 5 days and of 14 days is an extra 1.3 to 2.5 doubling times. I might do up the same calculations with variable incubation period tomorrow. The google sheet is shared now. It really is kind of messy though, more like scratch paper than a published document.
2habryka1yI just fixed the images for Eli.
REVISED: A drowning child is hard to find

I've read this. I interpret them as saying there are fundamental problems of uncertainty with saying any number, not that the number $5000 is wrong. There is a complicated and meta-uncertain probability distribution with its peak at $5000. This seems like the same thing we mean by many other estimates, like "Biden has a 40% chance of winning the Democratic primary". GiveWell is being unusually diligent in discussing the ways their number is uncertain and meta-uncertain, but it would be wrong (isolated demand for rigor) to retreat from a best estimate to total ignorance because of this.

4Benquo1yOK but (1) what about the fact that to a large extent they're not actually talking about saving lives if you look into the details of the cost-effectiveness estimate? (2) GiveWell's analysis does not account for the kind of publication bias end users of GiveWell's recommendations should expect, so yes this does analytically imply that we should adjust the $5k substantially downwards based on some kind of model of what kinds of effectiveness claims get promoted to our attention.
REVISED: A drowning child is hard to find

I don't hear EAs doing this (except when quoting this post), so maybe that was the source of my confusion.

I agree Good Ventures could saturate the $5000/life tier, bringing marginal cost up to $10000 per life (or whatever). But then we'd be having this same discussion about saving money for $10000/life. So it seems like either:

1. Good Ventures donates all of its money, tomorrow, to stopping these diseases right now, and ends up driving the marginal cost of saving a life to some higher number and having no money left for other causes or the future... (read more)

6Benquo1yHow many lives do you think can be saved for between $5k and $10k? The smaller the number, the more "~$5k per life saved" looks like an impact certificate you're buying from Good Ventures at a price assessed by GiveWell, rather than a serious claim that for an extra $5k you can cause a life to be saved through the intervention you funded. The larger the number, the more the marginal cost looks like the average costs for large numbers of lives saved (and therefore the "why don't they do an experiment at scale?" argument holds). Claims that you can make the world different in well-specified ways through giving (e.g. more lives saved by the intervention you funded) imply the latter scenario, and substantively conflict with the former one. Do you disagree with this model? If so, how?
High-precision claims may be refuted without being replaced with other high-precision claims

An alternate response to this point is that if someone comes off their medication, then says they're going to kill their mother because she is poisoning their food, and the food poisoning claim seems definitely not true, then spending a few days assessing what is going on and treating them until it looks like they are not going to kill their mother anymore seems justifiable for reasons other than "we know exactly what biological circuit is involved with 100% confidence"

(source: this basically describes one of the two people I ever committed ... (read more)

REVISED: A drowning child is hard to find

I'm confused by your math.

You say 10M people die per year of preventable diseases, and the marginal cost of saving a life is (presumed to be) $5K.

The Gates Foundation and OpenPhil combined have about $50B. So if marginal cost = average cost, their money combined is enough to save everyone for one year.

But marginal cost certainly doesn't equal average cost; average cost is probably orders of magnitude higher. Also, Gates and OpenPhil might want to do something other than prevent all diseases for one year, then leave the world to rot after that.

I ... (read more)

4Benquo1yGiveWell seems not to think this is true: GiveWell's general position is that you can't take cost-effectiveness estimates literally [https://blog.givewell.org/2011/08/18/why-we-cant-take-expected-value-estimates-literally-even-when-theyre-unbiased/] . It might be confusing that GiveWell nevertheless attempts to estimate cost-effectiveness with a great degree of precision, but Holden's on the record as saying that donors need to adjust for publication bias. If you look at those detailed cost-effectiveness estimates, you'll find that GiveWell is usually compressing a variety of outcomes into a single metric. The amount of money it takes to literally prevent a death from malaria is higher than the amount of money it takes to do the "equivalent" of saving a life if you count indirect effects. (Nevertheless, the last time I checked, CEA reported the number as though it were literally the price for averting a death from malaria, so I can see why you'd be confused.)

On the object level, I agree that such interventions can't scale at stated levels of marginal cost effectiveness. That's actually one of the main points I wanted to communicate ("such experiments ... are impossible"), so while I'm glad you get it, I'm a bit frustrated that you're thinking of it as a counterargument. It seems really, REALLY difficult to communicate a disjunctive argument - rather than an object-level claim - as primary content.

Where I think we disagree is that I think that in practice it's extremely common for EAs to elide the distinction b

... (read more)
3gjm1yArguments very similar to this have been made by several people over at Ben's blog, and so far as I can make out his response has just been to dismiss them and reiterate his claim that if the numbers were as EA organizations claim then obviously they should be spending approximately all the money they have to make a big one-time reduction in communicable diseases etc. It's also apparent from comments there that an earlier version of the post made approximately the same argument but based it on a claim that the number of cases of "communicable, maternal, neonatal and nutritional" diseases is declining at a rate of 30% per year, from which Ben evidently derived some total cost of fixing all such diseases ever to compare with e.g. the total resources of the Gates Foundation. That's a comparison that makes some sense. But after fixing that error (which, all credit to Ben, he did promptly when it was pointed out), he doesn't seem to have appreciably changed his conclusion. He's instead switched to this very-dodgy-looking comparison of annual disease-treating cost with total EA resources, left in place his conclusion that EA organizations don't really believe there are huge numbers of lives to be saved at low cost, and left in place his final conclusion that we should be spending money on ourselves and those around us rather than giving to EA causes. Maybe I'm wrong, but all this looks to me less like the response I'd expect from someone who's simply trying to figure out what's true, and more like the response I'd expect from someone who's first decided to argue against EA, and then gone looking for arguments that might work.

But the estimate that you can save a life for $5000 remains probably true (with normal caveats about uncertainty) is a really important message to get people thinking about ethics and how they want to contribute.

I mean, the $5K estimate is at least plausible. (I certainly don't know how to come up with a better estimate than the people at GiveWell, who I have every reason to believe are very smart and hard-working and well-intentioned.)

But I'm a little worried that by not being loud enough with the caveats, the EA movement's "discourse algorithm" (the c

... (read more)
But marginal cost certainly doesn't equal average cost; average cost is probably orders of magnitude higher.

I believe this is Ben's point: That CEA and GiveWell disingenuously imply that the average price is low when their actions imply they don't believe this.

High-precision claims may be refuted without being replaced with other high-precision claims
Likewise for psychiatry, which justifies incredibly high levels of coercion on the basis of precise-looking claims about different kinds of cognitive impairment and their remedies.


You're presenting a specific rule about manipulating logically necessary truths, then treating it as a vague heuristic and trying to apply it to medicine! Aaaaaah!

Suppose a physicist (not even a doctor! a physicist!) tries to calculate some parameter. Theory says it should be 6, but the experiment returns a value of 6.002. Probably the apparatus is a little off, or there&apo... (read more)

2jessicata1yYes, of course things that aren't definitive falsifications aren't definitive falsifications, but there have been fairly definitive falsifications in physics, e.g. the falsification of aether theory. (Asking for a falsification to be literally 100% certain to be a falsification is, of course, too high of a standard) Yes, it's also possible to change the description of the theory so it is only said to apply to 99% of cases in response to counterexamples, but this is a different theory than one that says it applies to 99.9% of cases or 100% of cases. This is a matter of calibration.
Are "superforecasters" a real phenomenon?

I was going off absence of evidence (the paper didn't say anything other than taking the top 2%), so if anyone else has positive evidence that outweighs what I'm saying.

2Davidmanheim1ySee my response below - and the dataset of forecasts is now public if you wanted to check the numbers.
Free Speech and Triskaidekaphobic Calculators: A Reply to Hubinger on the Relevance of Public Online Discussion to Existential Risk

I agree much of psychology etc are bad for the reasons you state, but this doesn't seem to be because everyone else has fried their brains by trying to simulate how to appease triskaidekaphobics too much. It's because the actual triskaidekaphobics are the ones inventing the psychology theories. I know a bunch of people in academia who do various verbal gymnastics to appease the triskaidekaphobics, and when you talk to them in private they get everything 100% right.

I agree that most people will not literally have their buildings burned down if the... (read more)

when you talk to them in private they get everything 100% right.

I'm happy for them, but I thought the point of having taxpayer-funded academic departments was so that people who aren't insider experts can have accurate information with which to inform decisions? Getting the right answer in private can only help those you talk to in private.

I also don't think we live in the world where everyone has infinite amounts of slack to burn endorsing taboo ideas and nothing can possibly go wrong.

Can you think of any ways something could possibly go wrong if o

... (read more)
Less Wrong Poetry Corner: Walter Raleigh's "The Lie"

I think you might be wrong about how fraud is legally defined. If the head of Pets.com says "You should invest in Pets.com, it's going to make millions, everyone wants to order pet food online", and then you invest in them, and then they go bankrupt, that person was probably biased and irresponsible, but nobody has committed fraud.

If Raleigh had simply said "Sponsor my expedition to El Dorado, which I believe has lots of gold", that doesn't sound like fraud either. But in fact he said:

For the rest, which myself have seen, I wi
... (read more)
2Zack_M_Davis1yOh, sorry, I wasn't trying to offer a legal opinion; I was just trying to convey worldview-material while riffing off your characterization of "defrauding everyone about the El Dorado thing."
Less Wrong Poetry Corner: Walter Raleigh's "The Lie"

What exactly is contradictory? I only skimmed the relevant pages, but they all seemed to give a pretty similar picture. I didn't get a great sense of exactly what was in Raleigh's book, but all of them (and whoever tried him for treason) seemed to agree it was somewhere between heavily exaggerated and outright false, and I get the same impression from the full title "The discovery of the large, rich, and beautiful Empire of Guiana, with a relation of the great and golden city of Manoa (which the Spaniards call El Dorado)"

6Elizabeth1yOne thing I see: "Raleigh was arrested on 19 July 1603, charged with treason [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treason] for his involvement in the Main Plot [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Plot] against Elizabeth's successor, James I [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_I,_King_of_England], and imprisoned in the Tower of London [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_London]"
Less Wrong Poetry Corner: Walter Raleigh's "The Lie"

I'm confused by your confusion. The first paragraph establishes that Raleigh was at least as deceptive as the institutions he claimed to be criticizing. The second paragraph argues that if deceptive people can write famous poems about how they are the lone voice of truth in a deceptive world, we should be more careful about taking claims like that completely literally.

If you want more than that, you might have to clarify what part you don't understand.

What is Life in an Immoral Maze?
Questions that will be considered later, worth thinking about now, include: How does this persist? If things are so bad, why aren’t things way worse? Why haven’t these corporations fallen apart or been competed out of business? Given they haven’t, why hasn’t the entire economy collapsed? Why do regular people, aspirant managers and otherwise, still think of these manager positions as the ‘good jobs’ as opposed to picking up pitchforks and torches?

I hope you also answer a question I had when I was reading th... (read more)

Any thoughts on why knowledge of this hasn't percolated down?

Maybe it's an incorrect view. Like I indicated in my other answer, the picture painted by this post does not at all correspond to my experience in large corporations, nor does it correspond to my father's experience as a middle manager in a large corporation.

Before we ask ourselves why something is correct, we should endeavor to ensure that it is in fact correct.

9Dagon1yTwo reasons come to mind: 1) much of the reason it's grueling and unpleasant is that it's a social tournament, with success being predicated on convincing people that you're successful. This naturally encourages participants to play up the benefits and downplay the costs to outsiders (and each other, and themselves). 2) It's not as evenly distributed as the well-known difficult jobs - there are pretty good middle-management positions that can easily be found as examples to attract suckers to play your game. I suspect that by the time someone notices they've been baited-and-switched by #2, they've invested enough in #1 that they start to believe it can't get better.
3Zvi1yThank you for calling attention to that question. It wasn't on the core list and it should be there. It's sort of implicitly within that last question, but also importantly distinct and should be answered first. I should think more explicitly about that. I do have a few good potential mechanisms I can point to, but will work to improve my model slash wait until I've laid out more of my model, rather than answer here.
Less Wrong Poetry Corner: Walter Raleigh's "The Lie"

Walter Raleigh is also famous for leading an expedition to discover El Dorado. He didn't find it, but he wrote a book saying that he definitely had, and that if people gave him funding for a second expedition he would bring back limitless quantities of gold. He got his funding, went on his second expedition, and of course found nothing. His lieutenant committed suicide out of shame, and his men decided the Spanish must be hoarding the gold and burnt down a Spanish town. On his return to England, Raleigh was tried for treason based on a combination of ... (read more)

9Benquo1yI don't understand how the second paragraph follows from the first at all.
9Said Achmiz1yThis account of Walter Raleigh’s life seems… misleading, at best (and in parts just plain inaccurate)—assuming, that is, that we can trust the Wikipedia page [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Raleigh]. There seems to be quite a bit of conflict (of interpretation, at least) between that page and this one about Raleigh’s book [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raleigh%27s_El_Dorado_Expedition#Aftermath_and_consequences] . I don’t think we should draw any moral from this story, without first thoroughly verifying it from reliable sources. As it stands, we have several Wikipedia pages, which paint a murky and contradictory picture (and some of which are inconsistent with Scott’s summary).

Sometimes it may take a thief to catch a thief. If it was written in 1592, Rayleigh was at his height then, and had much opportunity to see inside the institutions he attacks.

I'm reminded of a book review I wrote last week about famed psychologist Robert Rosenthal's book on bias and error in psychology & the sciences.

Rosenthal writes lucidly about how experimenter biases can skew results or skew the analysis or cause publication bias (which he played a major role in raising awareness of & developing meta-analysis), gives many examples, and proposes

... (read more)

I think the Vassarian–Taylorist conflict–mistake synthesis moral is that in order to perform its function, the English court system needs to be able to punish Raleigh for "fraud" on the basis of his actions relative what he knew or could have reasonably been expected to know, even while Raleigh is subjectively the hero of his own story and a sympathetic psychologist could eloquently and truthfully explain how easy it was for him to talk himself into a biased narrative.

Where mistake theorists treat politics as "science, engineering, or medicine" and conflic

... (read more)
Predictive coding & depression

In this post and the previous one you linked to, you do a good job explaining why your criterion e is possible / not ruled out by the data. But can you explain more about what makes you think it's true? Maybe this is part of the standard predictive coding account and I'm just misunderstanding it, if so can you link me to a paper that explains it?

I'm a little nervous about the low-confidence model of depression, both for some of the reasons you bring up, and because the best fits (washed-out visual field and psychomotor retardation) are reall... (read more)

3Steven Byrnes1yThanks for the comment! Maybe the reason for (e) would be more clear if you replace "hypothesis" with "possible course of action". Then (e) is the thing that makes us more likely to eat when we're hungry, etc. ("Course of action" is just a special case of what I call "hypothesis". "Hypothesis" is synonymous with "One possible set of top-down predictions".) I don't think I'm departing from "Surfing Uncertainty" etc. in any big way in that previous post, but I felt that the predictive coding folks don't adequately discuss how the specific hypotheses / predictions are actually calculated in the brain. I might have been channeling the Jeff Hawkins 2004 book a bit to fill in some gaps, but it's mainly my take. I guess I should contextualize something in my previous post: I think anyone who advocates predictive coding is obligated to discuss The Wishful Thinking Problem. It's not something specific to my little (a-e) diagram. So here is The Wishful Thinking Problem, stripped away from the rest of what I wrote: Wishful thinking problem: If we're hungry, we have a high-level prior that we're going to eat. Well, that prior privileges predictions that we'll go to a restaurant, which is sensible... but that prior also privileges predictions that food will magically appear in our mouths, which is wishful thinking. We don't actually believe the latter. So that's The Wishful Thinking Problem. The Wishful Thinking Problem is not a big problem!! It has an obvious solution: Our prior that "magic doesn't happen" is stronger than our prior that "we're going to eat". Thus, we don't expect food to magically appear in our mouth after all! Problem solved! That's all I was saying in that part of the previous post. Sorry if I made it sound overly profound or complicated. ETA: I think I have a better understanding of emotions now than I did when I wrote this comment; see Inner Alignment in the Brain [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/DWFx2Cmsvd4uCKkZ4/inner-alignment-in-the-brain] I en
Perfect Competition
Things sometimes get bad. Once things get sufficiently bad that no one can deviate from short-term selfish actions or be a different type of person without being wiped out, things are no longer stable. People cheat on long term investments, including various combinations of things such as having and raising children, maintaining infrastructure and defending norms. The seed corn gets eaten. Eventually, usually when some random new threat inevitably emerges, the order collapses, and things start again. The rise and fall of civilizations.


I'm wondering i... (read more)

1Pattern1yIntuitively, there's also after the fact R&D to keep up with your competitor's improvements (implementation) which is distinct from before the fact R&D (what's a good idea + how do we do it).
3Zvi1yI was not thinking of that particular example/implementation of the concept, there are definitely differences, but the two have a lot in common. Related pieces of the same puzzle, I'm assuming. My central answer to why things aren't worse should be clear in post three, which is that competition is very imperfect - and Mazes are a case where suddenly that imperfection is stripped away and you instead have super-perfect competition, and suddenly things are in fact really bad. We also both have a key place in the model for time scales and shocks, where anyone who runs too close to the edge becomes fragile.
Firming Up Not-Lying Around Its Edge-Cases Is Less Broadly Useful Than One Might Initially Think

At the risk of being self-aggrandizing, I think the idea of axiology vs. morality vs. law is helpful here.

"Don't be misleading" is an axiological commandment - it's about how to make the world a better place, and what you should hypothetically be aiming for absent other considerations.

"Don't tell lies" is a moral commandment. It's about how to implement a pale shadow of the axiological commandment on a system run by duty and reputation, where you have to contend with stupid people, exploitative people, etc.

(so for ex... (read more)

(Thanks for your patience.)

This is part of what you mean when you say the report-drafting scientist is "not a bad person"—they've followed the letter of the moral law as best they can [...] your judgment ("I guess they're not a bad person") is the judgment that morality encourages you to give

So, from my perspective as an author (which, you know, could be wrong), that line was mostly a strategic political concession: there's this persistent problem where when you try to talk about harms from people being complicit with systems of deception (not even to

... (read more)
Maybe Lying Doesn't Exist

EDIT: Want to talk to you further before I try to explain my understanding of your previous work on this, will rewrite this later.

The short version is I understand we disagree, I understand you have a sophisticated position, but I can't figure out where we start differing and so I don't know what to do other than vomit out my entire philosophy of language and hope that you're able to point to the part you don't like. I understand that may be condescending to you and I'm sorry.

I absolutely deny I am "motivatedly playing dumb&qu... (read more)

(Scott and I had a good conversation today. I think I need to write a followup post (working title: "Instrumental Categories, Wireheading, and War") explaining in more detail exactly what distinction I'm making when I say I want to consider some kinds of appeals-to-consequences invalid while still allowing, e.g. "Requiring semicolons in your programming language will have the consequence of being less convenient for users who forget them." The paragraphs in "Where to Draw the Boundaries?" starting with "There is an important difference [...]" are gesturing

... (read more)
Maybe Lying Doesn't Exist

I say "strategic" because it is serving that strategic purpose in a debate, not as a statement of intent. This use is similar to discussion of, eg, an evolutionary strategy of short life histories, which doesn't imply the short-life history creature understands or intends anything it's doing.

It sounds like normal usage might be our crux. Would you agree with this? IE that if most people in most situations would interpret my definition as normal usage and yours as a redefinition project, we should use mine, and vice versa for yours?

2jessicata1yI don't think it's the crux, no. I don't accept ordinary language philosophy, which canonizes popular confusions. There are some contexts where using ordinary language is important, such as when writing popular news articles, but that isn't all of the contexts.
Maybe Lying Doesn't Exist

Sorry it's taken this long for me to reply to this.

"Appeal to consequences" is only a fallacy in reasoning about factual states of the world. In most cases, appealing to consequences is the right action.

For example, if you want to build a house on a cliff, and I say "you shouldn't do that, it might fall down", that's an appeal to consequences, but it's completely valid.

Or to give another example, suppose we are designing a programming language. You recommend, for whatever excellent logical reason, that all lines mus... (read more)

Like, sibling comments are very not-nice, but I argue that they meet the Slate Star commenting policy guidelines on account of being both true and necessary.

Like, I know my sibling comment is hugely inappropriately socially aggressive of me, and I don't want to hurt your feelings any more than is necessary to incentivize you to process information, but we've been at this for a year! "This definition will make people angry" is not one of the 37 Ways Words Can Be Wrong.

4Zack_M_Davis1yScott, I appreciate the appearance of effort, but I'm afraid I just can't muster the willpower to engage if you're going to motivatedly play dumb like this. (I have a memoir that I need to be writing instead.) You know goddamned well I'm not appealing to God's dictionary. I addressed this shit in "Where to Draw the Boundaries?" [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/esRZaPXSHgWzyB2NL/where-to-draw-the-boundaries] . I worked really really hard on that post. My prereaders got it. Said got it. [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/esRZaPXSHgWzyB2NL/where-to-draw-the-boundaries#T49M7fyizPhrLZMnL] 82 karma points says the audience got it. If the elephant in your brain thinks it can get away with stringing me along like this when I have the math and you don't, it should think again. In the incredibly unlikely event that you're actually this dumb, I'll try to include some more explanations in my forthcoming memoir (working title: "'I Tell Myself to Let the Story End' [https://genius.com/Sara-bareilles-gonna-get-over-you-lyrics]; Or [https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/EitherOrTitle], A Hill of Validity in Defense of Meaning [https://twitter.com/ESYudkowsky/status/1067185907843756032]; Or, The Story About That Time Everyone I Used to Trust [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/wustx45CPL5rZenuo/no-safe-defense-not-even-science] Insisted on Playing Dumb About the Philosophy of Language in a Way That Was Optimized for Confusing Me Into Cutting My Dick Off [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaginoplasty] (Independently of the Empirical Facts Determining Whether or Not Cutting My Dick Off Is a Good Idea) and Wouldn't Even Cut It Out Even After I Spent Five Months and Thousands of Words Trying to Explain the Mistake in Exhaustive Detail Including Dozens of Links to Their Own Writing; Or, We Had an Entire Sequence About This [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/FaJaCgqBKphrDzDSj/37-ways-that-words-can-be-wrong] , You Lying Motherfuckers").
8jessicata1yFor the record, my opinion is essentially the same as the one expressed in "Bad intent is a disposition, not a feeling" [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/JDLKjYKDb5ohTAY45/bad-intent-is-a-disposition-not-a-feeling] , which gives more detail on the difference between consciousness of deception and intentionality of deception. (Subconscious intentions exist, so intentional lies include subconsciously intended ones; I don't believe things that have no intentionality/optimization can lie) "Normal people think you can't lie unawarely" seems inconsistent with, among other things, this article [https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2002-06/uoma-urf061002.php]. Note also, you yourself are reaching for the language of strategic equivocation, which implies intent; but, how could you know the conscious intents of those you believe are equivocating? If you don't, then you probably already have a sense that intent can be subconscious, which if applied uniformly, implies lies can be subconscious.
Free Speech and Triskaidekaphobic Calculators: A Reply to Hubinger on the Relevance of Public Online Discussion to Existential Risk

Maybe I'm misunderstanding you, but I'm not getting why having the ability to discuss involves actually discussing. Compare two ways to build a triskaidekaphobic calculator.

1. You build a normal calculator correctly, and at the end you add a line of code IF ANSWER == 13, PRINT: "ERROR: IT WOULD BE IMPOLITE OF ME TO DISCUSS THIS PARTICULAR QUESTION".

2. You somehow invent a new form of mathematics that "naturally" never comes up with the number 13, and implement it so perfectly that a naive observer examining the calculator code... (read more)

not talking about taboo political issues on LW

Sure, I'm happy to have separate discussion forums for different topics. For example, I wouldn't want people talking about football on /r/mylittlepony—that would be crazy![1]

"Take it to /r/TheMotte, you guys" is not that onerous of a demand, and it's a demand I'm happy to support: I really like the Less Wrong æsthetic of doing everything at the meta level.[2]

But Hubinger seems to argue that the demand should be, "Take it offline," and that seems extremely onerous to me.

The operative principle here is "Permal

... (read more)

In the analogy, it's only possible to build a calculator that outputs the right answer on non-13 numbers because you already understand the true nature of addition. It might be more difficult if you were confused about addition, and were trying to come up with a general theory by extrapolating from known cases -- then, thinking 6 + 7 = 15 could easily send you down the wrong path. In the real world, we're similarly confused about human preferences, mind architecture, the nature of politics, etc., but some of the information we might want to use to build

... (read more)
Will AI See Sudden Progress?

This project (best read in the bolded link, not just in this post) seemed and still seems really valuable to me. My intuitions around "Might AI have discontinuous progress?" become a lot clearer once I see Katja framing them in terms of concrete questions like "How many past technologies had discontinuities equal to ten years of past progress?". I understand AI Impacts is working on an updated version of this, which I'm looking forward to.

Noticing the Taste of Lotus

I was surprised that this post ever seemed surprising, which either means it wasn't revolutionary, or was *very* revolutionary. Since it has 229 karma, seems like it was the latter. I feel like the same post today would have been written with more explicit references to reinforcement learning, reward, addiction, and dopamine. The overall thesis seems to be that you can get a felt sense for these things, which would be surprising - isn't it the same kind of reward-seeking all the way down, including on things that are genuinely valuable? Not sure how to model this.

4bfinn1yIs anything genuinely valuable though? I.e. independent of the fact that it generates rewards (feelings of happiness, life satisfaction, eudaemonia). A philosophical stance I know, but a widely held one.
The Bat and Ball Problem Revisited

It's nice to see such an in-depth analysis of the CRT questions. I don't really share drossbucket's intuition - for me the 100 widget question feels counterintuitive the same way as the ball and bat question, but neither feels really aversive, so it was hard for me to appreciate the feelings that generated this post. But this gives a good example of an idea of "training mathematical intuitions" I hadn't thought about before.

A LessWrong Crypto Autopsy

Many people pointed out that the real cost of a Bitcoin in 2011 or whenever wasn't the couple of cents that it cost, but the several hours of work it would take to figure out how to purchase it. And that costs needed to be discounted by the significant risk that a Bitcoin purchased in 2011 would be lost or hacked - or by the many hours of work it would have taken to ensure that didn't happen. Also, that there was another hard problem of not selling your 2011-Bitcoins in 2014. I agree that all of these are problems with the original post, and tha... (read more)

Is Science Slowing Down?

I still endorse most of this post, but https://docs.google.com/document/d/1cEBsj18Y4NnVx5Qdu43cKEHMaVBODTTyfHBa8GIRSec/edit has clarified many of these issues for me and helped quantify the ways that science is, indeed, slowing down.

Varieties Of Argumentative Experience

I still generally endorse this post, though I agree with everyone else's caveats that many arguments aren't like this. The biggest change is that I feel like I have a slightly better understanding of "high-level generators of disagreement" now, as differences in priors, contexts, and categorizations - see my post "Mental Mountains" for more.

Mental Mountains

I definitely agree with you here - I didn't talk about it as much in this post, but in the psychedelics post I linked, I wrote:

People are not actually very good at reasoning. If you metaphorically heat up their brain to a temperature that dissolves all their preconceptions and forces them to basically reroll all of their beliefs, then a few of them that were previously correct are going to come out wrong. F&CH’s theory that they are merely letting evidence propagate more fluidly through the system runs up against the problem where, mos
... (read more)
Is Rationalist Self-Improvement Real?
I'd similarly worry that the "manioc detoxification is the norm + human societies are as efficient at installing mental habits and group norms as they are at detoxifying manioc" model should predict that the useful heuristics underlying the 'scientific method' (e.g., 'test literally everything', using controls, trying to randomize) reach fixation in more societies earlier.

I'd disagree! Randomized controlled trials have many moving parts, removing any of which makes them worse than useless. Remove placebo contr... (read more)

Randomized controlled trials have many moving parts, removing any of which makes them worse than useless.

I disagree with this- for one thing, they caught on before those patches were known, and still helped make progress. The patches help you discern smaller effects, with less bias, and better understanding of whether the result is a fluke; but the basic version of a randomized trial between two interventions is still vastly superior to human intuition when it comes to something with a large but not blindingly obvious effect size.

I'm confused about how manioc detox is more useful to the group than the individual - each individual self-interestedly would prefer to detox manioc, since they will die (eventually) if they don't.

Yeah, I was wrong about manioc.

Something about the "science is fragile" argument feels off to me. Perhaps it's that I'm not really thinking about RCTs; I'm looking at Archimedes, Newton, and Feynman, and going "surely there's something small that could have been tweaked about culture beforehand to make some of this low-hanging scientific fruit get grabbed earlier

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9Richard_Kennaway1yI am curious. Could you expand on this?
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