I'm Harry Altman. I do strange sorts of math.

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Wiki Contributions


In support of Yak Shaving

Seems to me the story in the original yak-shaving story falls into case 2 -- the thing to do is to forget about borrowing the EZPass and just pay the toll!

Founding a rationalist group at the University of Michigan

There used to be an Ann Arbor LW meetup group, actually, back when I lived there -- it seems to be pretty dead now best I can tell but the mailing list still exists. It's; I don't know how relevant this is to you, since you're trying to start a UM group and many of the people on that list will likely not be UM-affiliated, but you can at least try recruiting from there (or just restarting it if you're not necessarily trying to specifically start a UM group). It also used to have a website, though I can't find it at the moment, and I doubt it would be that helpful anyway.

According to the meetup group list on this website, there's also is or was a UM EA group, but there's not really any information about it? And there's this SSC meetup group listed there too, which has more recent activity possibly? No idea who's in that, I don't know this Sam Rossini, but possibly also worth recruiting from?

So, uh, yeah, that's my attempt (as someone who hasn't lived in Ann Arbor for two years) to survey the prior work in this area. :P Someone who's actually still there could likely say more...

A Contamination Theory of the Obesity Epidemic

Oh, huh -- looks like this paper is the summary of the blog series that "Slime Mold Time Mold" has been written about it? Guess I can read this paper to skip to the end, since not all of it is posted yet. :P

Can crimes be discussed literally?

Yeah. You can use language that is unambiguously not attack language, it just takes more effort to avoid common words. In this respect it's not much unlike how discussing lots of other things seriously requires avoiding common but confused words!

Classifying games like the Prisoner's Dilemma

I'm reminded of this paper, which discusses a smaller set of two-player games. What you call "Cake Eating" they call the "Harmony Game". They also use the more suggestive variable names -- which I believe come from existing literature -- R (reward), S (sucker's payoff), T (temptation), P (punishment) instead of (W, X, Y, Z). Note that in addition to R > P (W > Z) they also added the restrictions T > P (Y > Z) and R > S (W > X) so that the two options could be meaningfully labeled "cooperate" and "defect" instead of "Krump" and "Flitz" (the cooperate option is always better for the other player, regardless of whether it's better or worse for you). (I'm ignoring cases of things being equal, just like you are.)

(Of course, the paper isn't actually about classifying games, it's an empirical study of how people actually play these games! But I remember it for being the first place I saw such a classification...)

With these additional restrictions, there are only four games: Harmony Game (Cake Eating), Chicken (Hawk-Dove/Snowdrift/Farmer's Dilemma), Stag Hunt, and Prisoner's Dilemma (Too Many Cooks).

I'd basically been using that as my way of thinking about two-player games, but this broader set might be useful. Thanks for taking the time to do this and assign names to these.

I do have to wonder about that result that Zack_M_Davis mentions... as you mentioned, where's the Harmony Game in it? Also, isn't Battle of the Sexes more like Chicken than like Stag Hunt? I would expect to see Chicken and Stag Hunt, not Battle of the Sexes and Chicken, which sounds like the same thing twice and seems to leave out Stag Hunt. But maybe Battle of the Sexes is actually equivalent, in the sense described, to Stag Hunt rather than Chicken? That would be surprising, but I didn't set down to check whether the definition is satsified or not...

Thirty-three randomly selected bioethics papers

I suppose so. It is at least a different problem than I was worried about...

Thirty-three randomly selected bioethics papers

Huh. Given the negative reputation of bioethics around here -- one I hadn't much questioned, TBH -- most of these are suprisingly reasonable. Only #10, #16, and #24 really seemed like the LW stereotype of the bioethics paper that I would roll my eyes at. Arguably also #31, but I'd argue that one is instead alarming in a different way.

Some others seemed like bureaucratic junk (so, neither good nor bad), and others I think the quoted sections didn't really give enough information to judge; it is quite possible that a few more of these would go under the stereotype list if I read these papers further.

#1 is... man, why does it have to be so hostile? The argument it's making is basically a counter-stereotypical bioethics argument, but it's written in such a hostile manner. That's not the way to have a good discussion!

Also, I'm quite amused to see that #3 basically argues that we need what I've previously referred to here as a "theory of legitimate influence", for what appear likely to be similar reasons (although again I didn't read the full thing to inspect this in more detail).

Jean Monnet: The Guerilla Bureaucrat

Consider a modified version of the prisoner's dilemma. This time, the prisoners are allowed to communicate, but they also have to solve an additional technical problem, say, how to split the loot. They may start with agreeing on not betraying each other to the prosecutors, but later one of them may say: "I've done most of the work. I want 70% of the loot, otherwise I am going to rat on you." It's easy to see how the problem would escalate and end up in the prisoners betraying each other.

Minor note, but I think you could just talk about a [bargaining game}(, rather than the Prisoner's Dilemma, which appears to be unrelated. There are other basic game theory examples beyond the Prisoner's Dilemma!

Dark Matters

I just explained why (without more specific theories of in exactly what way the gravity would become delocalized from the visible mass) the bullet cluster is not evidence one way or the other.

Now, you compare the extra fields of modified gravity to epicycles -- as in, post-hoc complications grafted on to a theory to explain a particular phenomenon. But these extra fields are, to the best of my understanding, not grafted on to explain such delocalization; they're the actual basic content of the modified gravity theories and necessary to obtain a workable theory at all. MOND by itself, after all, is not a theory of gravity; the problem then is making one compatible with it, and every actual attempt at that that I'm aware of involves these extra fields, again, not as an epicycle for the bullet cluster, but as a way of constructing a workable theory at all. So, I don't think that comparison is apt here.

One could perhaps say that such theories are epicycles upon MOND -- since the timeline may go MOND, then bullet cluster, then proper modified gravity theories -- but for the reasons above I don't think that makes a lot of sense either.

If this was some post-hoc epicycle then your comment would make some sense; but as it is, I don't think it does. Is there some reason that I'm missing that it should be regarded as a post-hoc epicycle?

Note that Hossenfelder herself says modified gravity is probably not correct! It's still important to understand what is or is not a valid argument against it. The other arguments for dark matter sure seem pretty compelling!

(Also, uh, I don't think "People who think X are just closed-minded and clearly not open to persuasion" is generally not the sort of charity we try to go for here on LW...? I didn't downvote you but, like, accusing people of being closed-minded rather than actually arguing is on the path to becoming similarly close-minded oneself, you know?)

Defending the non-central fallacy

I feel like this really misses the point of the whole "non-central fallacy" idea. I would say, categories are heuristics and those heuristics have limits. When the category gets strained, the thing to do is to stop arguing using the category and start arguing the particular facts without relation to the category ("taboo your words").

You're saying that this sort of arguing-via-category is useful because it's actually aguing-via-similarity; but I see the point of Scott/Yvain's original article being that such arguing via similarity simply isn't useful in such cases, and has to be replaced with a direct assessment of the facts.

Like, one might say, similar in what way, and how do we know that this particular similarity is relevant in this case? But any answer to why the similarity is relevant, could be translated into an argument that doesn't rely on the similarity in the first place. Similarity can thus be a useful guide to finding arguments, but it shouldn't, in contentious cases, be considered compelling as an argument itself.

Yes, as you say, the argument is common because it is useful as a quick shorthand most of the time. But in contentious cases, in edge cases -- the cases that people are likely to be arguing about -- it breaks down. That is to say, it's an argument whose validity is largel to those cases where people aren't arguing to begin with!

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