ScottL

ScottL's Comments

Wicked Problems

Actually, if you read further the above is described as taming the problem, which is bad, and is not solving it.

Taming a wicked problem is a very natural and common way of coping with it. Instead of dealing with the full wickedness of the problem, people simplify it in various ways to make it more manageable and solvable

While it may seem appealing in the short run, attempting to tame a wicked problem will always fail in the long run. The problem will simply reassert itself, perhaps in a different guise, as if nothing had been done; or worse, the tame solution will exacerbate the problem.

For a further explanation, see this document

There is a variety of ways that organisations try to tame wicked problems by handling them too narrowly. The most common way is locking down the problem definition. This often involves addressing a sub-problem that can be solved. If the problem is how to reduce violence in schools, for example, policy makers may focus on the more tractable, narrow problem of how to install metal detectors in school entrances. Or, if the problem is obesity in children, the more tractable but narrow problem could be removing unhealthy food from school canteens.

If policy and performance measures are limited to the sub-problem rather than the wicked problem, the problem can appear solved at least in the short-term. If the performance measure is that school canteens no longer offer unhealthy foods, for example, this may be achievable. An unintended consequence and a reassertion of the wicked problem may be that more children no longer buy their lunch at school canteens but instead miss lunch, save their lunch money, and buy junk food at the shops on the way home from school. This is also a good example of how a tame solution can exacerbate the problem—some children may now eat more unhealthy food than they did previously, and they miss their lunch! It is also another illustration of the unintended consequences that can result from interventions to address wicked problems. Unintended consequences tend to occur even more frequently if the problem has been artificially tamed, that is, it has been too narrowly addressed and the multiple causes and interconnections not fully explored prior to measures being introduced. This does not mean that at some stage in the policy formulation process it will not be necessary to identify the components of the wicked problem and possible practical solutions as part of a comprehensive and coordinated set of measures to address the problem. Obviously, the type of food offered in school canteens is part of the solution to childhood obesity. But this fragmentation of the wicked problem would ideally occur after all the interconnections and social complexities have been identified, discussed and addressed as part of a coordinated strategy.

Wicked Problems

Quotes from post and this: http://www.cognexus.org/Rotman-interview_SharedUnderstanding.pdf

It took me a while to realise what a wicked problem was. It is evil. It's a challenge.

"Wicked" in this context means resistance to resolution, rather than evil.

I looked to cooking. No two ingredients are the same. Even if you are cooking a thing for the 100th time, the factors of the day, the humidity, temperature, it's going to be different.

This doesn’t sound like a wicked problem to me. I think a more “wicked” problem would be something like where you have to create a meal for a whole hall full of people. Now, you want to make a meal that everyone will like and you have a limited amount of resources, so you can’t create separate meals for everyone, but some people might be vegetarians, some might have allergies, some might want one type of meal in particular etc. There is a social complexity aspect to this problem. You cannot come up with a best meal because there are different stakeholders with strongly-held beliefs about what the problem is.

As a current example there is global warming and energy policy where people from the developed world have one set of views about what needs to be done, and the developing world has a completely different set of views. Nobody ‘owns’ the problem and no-one has a clear idea of how to work out the answers


The problem is not understood until after the formulation of a solution.

This is less about quantifying things and more about how requirements change or are only realized after the solution of the problem or part of the problem is implemented. For example, let’s say you are renovating a house and there are 10 people involved. Every time you change something like a chair you need to check that it still aligns with everything else. You might need to go through many iterations of having to change and rechange things.

Every solution that is offered exposes new aspects of the problem, requiring further adjustments to the potential solutions. There is no definitive statement of ‘the problem’: these problems are ill-structured and feature an evolving set of interlocking issues and constraints.


Wicked problems have no stopping rule.

How do you make sufficient stopping rules when there are conflicts over what the problem is?

Since there is no definitive ‘the problem’, there is also no definitive ‘the solution.’ The problem-solving process ends when you run out of resources such as time, money or energy, not when an optimal solution emerges.


Every solution to a wicked problem is a 'one shot operation.'

Developing models, trying scenarios etc. all take effort and send you down a particular track in terms of the conception of the problem. I think that wicked problems are like the conglomeration of multiple problems or people's conception of the problem. Each time you try to move forward on one part of the problem you kind of entrench yourself in seeing the problem that particular way and it also spawns new problems directly related to only that one conception of the problem.

Every attempt has consequences. This is the ‘Catch 22’ of wicked problems: you can’t learn about the problem without trying solutions, but every solution is expensive and has lasting consequences that may spawn new wicked problems.


Wicked problems have no given alternative solutions.

A host of potential solutions may be devised, but another host that are never even thought of. Thus it is a matter of creativity to devise potential solutions, and a matter of judgement to determine which should be pursued and implemented.

[CORE] Concepts for Understanding the World

For rationality related concepts, see this page

Wrong however unnamed

Yet how is a lichen 'more than the sum of fungus and alga'?

I don't know anything about lichen, but the below is what I assume "more than the sum of" in this context means:

"The symbiosis between the mycobiont and the photobiont creates an organism that is more than the sum of its parts, in other words, a lichen is an emergent property. Lets take a step back to examine this statement. On the one hand, neither the photobiont nor the mycobiont can withstand intense UV radiation, dessication, or extreme temperatures. But on the other hand, when the photobiont and mycobiont work together within the context of the lichen symbiosis, they create an organism that can withstand living in outer space – thats more extreme temperature and radiation (not to mention vacuum exposure) than is experienced on Earth! Lichen can even grow within rocks (endolithic lichen)! These are conditions that would kill a fungus or algae."

May Outreach Thread

My wish is to create rationalist communities which are emotionally healthy, capable of action, and successful in life. […] Similarly how the Sequences are not about "how to think rationally during a meetup", but how to think rationally in general.

Is your wish actually to create rationalist communities which are emotionally healthy, capable of action, and successful in life so that you can become these things?

That people often try to avoid an extreme by running into the opposite extreme […] and it will be necessary not only to navigate them properly, but also make them notice when someone else promotes an extreme form of behavior.

I think the problem here is that the underlying problem that caused these people to take on an extreme view in the first place is still there and so when they do change their view they just tend to adopt another similarly extreme view. For example you mentioned PUA before; I have noticed that there are some men who have a strong level of neediness and so become ‘nice guys’ in the worst sense. They then read some of the PUA stuff and instead of doing good things like: developing genuine confidence, self-respect, a healthy sense of boundaries etc. they take a shortcut. They just change their perspective on women. The neediness is still there, however, and so they adopt a view where they objectify women. They essentially become ‘assholes’. In both the ‘asshole’ and the ‘nice guy’ cases there is a sense in which these people are giving up or altering part of who they are. This is what I think these people would actually need to solve if they were going to make an improvement in their situation.

But people are less unique than they imagine. For example, read Games People Play -- this book describes about a dozen patterns of dysfunctional human interaction, and most people are shocked to find their own story described there.

That’s probably true, but I was trying to say that unlike with cognitive errors, which most people can relate to, most people would only be able to relate to a few of the games and would find the others to be largely irrelevant for them.

one of my big concerns is that I think that successful groups sooner or later attract psychopaths who will try to get into positions of power and exploit the whole thing for themselves. No idea how to prevent this

I would expect that any group like the one you propose would have a very flat hierarchy of power. In fact, if people become dependent on the group or find themselves seeming to need the group to improve then the group probably isn’t working too well. You reduce dependency by maximizing the free exchange of information and the ability for people to improve outside of the group.

May Outreach Thread

I have an idea about a sequence I would love to see, but only if it is written well (because it would be very easy and tempting!!! to make it wrong in various ways): Starting with scientifically describing human emotions, social behavior, and sexual behavior.

This seems way too broad. If it was done right, I don’t think it would end up being a single sequence.

How much have you looked into this already and do have any more concrete ideas on where you would want the sequence to go?

Progressing to social skills.

I think there are two main problems with trying to do a sequence on this:

  • I think that the problems that people have with social skills are more individualistic than the heuristics and biases that are normally discussed on this site. They are largely due to ingrained perspectival and strategical problems, which are in constrast, to say, the representativeness heuristic which we can all relate to. A consequence of this is that most people are going to find a lot of the content to not be applicable for them. I would guess that this problem could be overcome by creating more of a debug guide like if you have problems expressing yourself go to post 3 or you could also go meta and let people realize their own problems.
  • As you mention, it is important: “to have some ideas actionable”, but I think it is also especially important for these type of skills that they be easily able to be put into action and that there are opportunities available to easily put them into action. In this area, I would think that most of the ideas that would make an impact in people lives are not going to seem particularly insightful or revolutionary, in fact, they may at first appear to be incredibly obvious. It is only when they are put into practice that people come to recognize their importance. I would think that simulation of these skills is not as useful or as interesting as it is for the other content on this site.

And culminating with community building.

Something like this?

Open Thread April 4 - April 10, 2016

I'm exploring the following hypothesis : sometimes, you have to give up constructive actions for the sake of focus.

I would try to make the hypothesis a bit more concrete. Something like: flow, immersion and engagement are all important factors in productivity. An implication of this is: (your hypothesis here). You should of course look at the literature and explain what flow, engagement etc. is and how it relates to productivity.

If you want this to be interesting, then you should probably also try to find some implications that people normally don't think about because they're not strategic. Maybe, things like that you should: remove clutter, have the right perspective, exercise, practice, gamify things, learn how to beat akrasia, learn when its a good idea to relax etc.

The cfar class called turbo charging training which I described here seems to be related to your hypothesis . The underlying idea of it is the rule of intensity which states that the experience of intensity or effort that you are expending to learn something corresponds with the rate at which you are learning it.

Turning the Technical Crank

This from here seems pretty accurate for Usenet:

Binary groups being a great big cost sink would be the main thing.

The store and forward protocol required quite some disk space at the time.

The network relied on "control" messages to create/delete groups automatically (as opposed to manual subscription), which due to the lack of authentication/encryption in the protocol, were very easy to spoof. A gpg-signing mechanism was later put into place, so that nodes peering with each other could establish a chain of trust by themselves. This was pretty nice in retrospect (and awesome by today standards), but the main problem is that creating new groups was a slow and painful approval-based process: people often wanted small groups just for themselves, and mailing lists offered the "same" without any approval required.

Having a large open network started to become a big attractor for SPAM, and managing SPAM in a P2P network without authentication is a harder problem to solve than a locally managed mailing list.

running a local server became so easy and cheap, that running mailing list offered local control and almost zero overhead. People that had niche groups started to create mailing lists with open access, and people migrated in flock. Why share your discussions in comp.programming.functional where you could create a mailing list just for your new fancy language? (it's pretty sad, because I loved the breadth of the discussions). Discussions on general groups became less frequent as most of the interesting ones were on dedicated mailing lists. The trend worsened significantly as forums started to appear, which lowered the barrier to entry to people that didn't know how to use a mail client properly.

For NNTP for LessWrong, I would think that we have to also take into account that people want to control how their content is displayed/styled. Their own separate blogs easily allow this.

Turning the Technical Crank

As far as I see it, there are 2 basic classes of solutions.

The first type of solution is something like reddit or Facebook's newsfeed which involves two concepts: linkposts which are links to or cross posts of outside content and normal posts which are hosted by the site itself. Making use of RSS or ATOM can automate the link posts.

The second type of solution is something like the Blogger API with extended functionality to allow you to access any content that has been posted using the API. Other things it would include would be, for example, the ability the list top pages based on some ranking system.

In the first type of solution, LessWrong.com is a hub that provides links to or copies of outside content. Smooth integration of the comments and content hosted outside of this site would, I think, be hard to do. Searching of the linked content and handling permissions for it nicely would be difficult as well.

In the second type of solution LessWrong.com is just another site in the LessWrong Sphere. The functionality of all the sites in this sphere would be driven by the API. You post and retrieve using the API which means that all posts and comments regardless of their origination sites can be available globally. Creating a prototype for this type of solution shouldn't be too hard either which is good.

So, that's Reddit with more freedom to set up custom CSS for subreddits? Or there are deeper differences?

The deeper difference is the elimination of linkposts. All content posted using the API can be retrieved using the API. It is not linked to. It is pulled from the one source using the API.

Turning the Technical Crank

Is this a good summary of your argument?

NNTP was a great solution to a lot of the problems caused by mailing lists. The main ones being:

  • content duplication - mailing lists are bad because everyone gets their own copy of each article.
  • reduced content accessibility - mailing lists suck because you miss out on great articles if they were sent before you were part of the mailing list.

We are facing similar problems now. A lot of people have their own sites where they host their own content. We either miss out on great content if we don't trawl through a ton of different sites or we try to make lesswrong a central source for content and face problems with:

  • content duplication - through needing to cross post content (essentially duplicating it)
  • harder content accessibility - the alternative to cross posting is providing a link, but this is an annoying solution that can be jarring as you need to go to an entirely different site to access the content you want.

NNTP would solve the problems we have now in a similar way to how it solved the problems with mailing lists. That is, it would provide a central repository for content and a way to access this content.


I am currently thinking that the best way to think about the last point is that it means that we should set up a Web API similar to the Blogger Web API. Discussing NNTP, at least to me, is making the solution appear a lot more complicated than it needs to be. Although, I don't know much about NNTP, so I could be overlooking something very important and am interested about what your future posts will explore.

With a Less Wrong Web API, websites could be created that act like views in a database. They would show only the content from a particular group or author. This content would, of course, be styled according to the style rules on the website.

These websites could be free, dns name and web development costs aside, using services like github pages. This is because there should be no need for a back-end as the content and user information is all hosted on Less Wrong. You post, retrieve content and vote using the API. It should also be fairly easy to create more complicated websites that could aggregate and show posts based on user preferences or even to create mobile applications.

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