All of theme_arrow's Comments + Replies

MIRI location optimization (and related topics) discussion

To expand on this a bit, I think that people with working partners would be the group most likely to be deterred from working at MIRI if it was in either Bellingham or Peekskill. The two-body problem can be a serious constraint, and large metro areas tend to be much easier to find two jobs in. That may be getting better with the rise of remote work, but I do think it's worth keeping in mind. 

6dspeyer2dLess of a constraint if matters are arranged such that living in NYC is practical. Expensive, of course, but no worse than the Bay. It's a long-ish commute, but not too terrible by mostly-empty train (the full trains will be running the opposite direction). Easier still if WFH a few days a week is supported.
Covid 5/6: Vaccine Patent Suspension

My experience with elementary and middle school was that small numbers of snow days were not made up at the end of the year, but if more than a week or so was lost due to snow days, then the year would be extended. This appears to be the case in at least some other parts of the country as well. From a quick search: in Michigan "schools can be closed for up to six days before they must make up time to receive full funding from the state."

Why I Work on Ads

In defense of the position df fd took, you're playing a very asymmetric game here. Advertisers are investing very large sums of money and lots of person-hours of work to figure out how to change people's preferences with those 15-second ads. There's not a comparable degree of investment in developing techniques for making sure your desires aren't manipulated. I think it's hard to be totally sure that ads aren't subtly creating new associations or preferences that are intended to benefit the advertiser (potentially at the reader's expense). 

Taking a bi... (read more)

Open and Welcome Thread - May 2021

To add a bit more detail to your comment, this form of housing used to exist in the from of single room occupancy (SRO) buildings, where people would rent a single room and share bathroom and kitchen spaces. Reformers and planners started efforts to ban this form of housing starting around the early 20th century. From Wikipedia:

By the 1880s, urban reformers began working on modernizing cities; their efforts to create "uniformity within areas, less mixture of social classes, maximum privacy for each family, much lower density for many activities, buildings

... (read more)
9ozziegooen10dA bit more info; I lived at 20Mission, which was technically an SRO. I enjoyed the setting quite a bit, though I've heard they've had trouble recently with COVID. That said, most of the other SROs I know of nearby (in the Mission, SF), are really not nice places. (lots of drugs and some violence). [] There's been discussion of having "Micro-Units" in SF, but they're heavily regulated. It seems like small progress is being made. []
Open and Welcome Thread - May 2021

Yes! We had a nice discussion in the comments of your "Fun with +12 OOMs of Compute" post.

Open and Welcome Thread - May 2021

Hello! I've been around here since about the start of the year, but haven't yet introduced myself in a welcome thread. My exposure to the rationalist movement was somewhat nonstandard, as I have a sister who's 10 years older and who was reading LessWrong back in 2007-10 when I was in middle school. I picked up quite a bit via osmosis from her, particularly EA-related ideas. As a result, I started lurking on the EA forum back in 2019, and discovered SSC and LessWrong from there. What finally motivated me to make an account and start posting was wanting to g... (read more)

5Daniel Kokotajlo10dWelcome! I recognize your username, we must have crossed paths before. Maybe something to do with SpaceX?
Alzheimer's, Huntington's and Mitochondria Part 2: Glucose Metabolism

This is an interesting idea and I appreciate you putting this together. A few comments: 

  1. I'm a bit skeptical of your comment in part 3 that "none of the biological/medical community has started doing something like this," as that just seems unlikely to me. I'm less deeply involved in biology than it sounds like you are, but how confident are you that these kinds of modeling efforts don't already exist?
  2. You say "I also (without a mechanism) believe that Aβ plaques (and smaller soluble aggregates) have some feedback effect which further damages glucose me
... (read more)
2Jemist10dThanks for the feedback! 1. You may be right there, and I would certainly be pleased to hear of any projects like this. 2. I believe the model could work without it, but AD seems to be an attractive state that many human brains fall into with various genetic associations. The main evidence for it is that mutations in Aβ precursor protein can have very high penetrance (i.e. everyone who has the mutation develops early-onset AD ( You are definitely right that I was too specific in my assessment of exactly how Aβ plaques cause a feedback mechanism, thanks for catching that. I have amended the post to fix that. 3. Lastly what do you mean specifically by prion-like? Amyloid fibrils are a prion-like structure in the sense that the growth of existing fibres is much, much more favourable than the formation of new ones. (this leads to exponential growth as long fibres break apart leaving new open ends for new protein molecules to add) However Aβ plaque formation was reversed in the mice given EET-A which means that at some physiologically achievable concentrations of free Aβ, the amyloids dissipate due to un-misfolding of Aβ (at least in mouse models). This would suggest that the cause of AD is various factors pushing the brain over a threshold where Aβ can accumulate. (which could be metabolic, or mutations which make Aβ more likely to accumulate) This is in contrast to "classical" prions where the original misfolded protein is able to continuously cause the misfolding of normal protein at normal physiological conditions, and the only barrier to a prion disease occurring is that no misfolded protein is present. The paper which you sent also postulates a feedback loop between Aβ and Tau which is interesting. I had considered the Aβ feedback into the earlier mechanism as an afterthought but perhaps it is more importa
Follow-up to Julia Wise on "Don’t Shoot The Dog"

This is a lovely companion writeup to Julia's. I especially liked your section on respect, I think that it's critical to not become Machiavellian when using this kind of method to shape the world. 

I also wanted to add some personal thoughts related to your comments on fun. Part of my work involves being a mission controller for spacecraft. Training for that is long and daunting process involving going from being a trainee during simulated rehearsals, then being in a non-lead role during actual operations, then being in a lead role in simulations, and ... (read more)

[Letter] Re: Advice for High School

I don't quite think that's the crux of our disagreement. I think he probably is that smart, and even if he isn't, someone else reading this post probably will be. I'm wondering if the crux lies with your line 

"When I worked at a particle physics laboratory it was the first time I felt like I was interacting with my own species. But the physicists didn't feel alive."

I work as a spacecraft guidance, navigation, and control engineer, and my colleagues are really smart, talented people. But I haven't had a similar experience as you in terms of feeling lik... (read more)

[Letter] Re: Advice for High School

I don't want to get too into the weeds here. But I think that someone in the top few percent of their school would be smart. The kind of kid who might be feeling without intellectual peers and posting here about it could be the smartest in their school or their town (or they could not). But I don't think that really changes the conclusions. 

8lsusr13dYou have used the word "feel(ing)" twice. The core question isn't whether he feels he has intellectual peers he can talk to. It is whether he genuinely does or doesn't have intellectual peers of his caliber. I believe this high school student when he implies he doesn't have anyone near his intellect at his school and at other programs he has tried out. You do not. I think this is the crux of our disagreement. I put so much effort into standard deviations because "smart" papers over a broad range of intelligences. Someone with an IQ of 115 is "smart". Someone with an IQ of 175 is "smart". The difference between someone with an IQ of 115 and someone with an IQ of 175 is four standard deviations. Four standard deviations is huge. It is equal to the difference between a PhD in science and someone hovering on the edge of an intellectual disability. It would be absurd for a PhD in science to look for intellectual peers in the same place as someone bordering on the edge of intellectual disability. The same goes for someone with an IQ of 115 verses someone with an IQ of 175.
[Letter] Re: Advice for High School

I think of "smart" as (at least approximately) referring to g. 

1lsusr13dWhen you say "a smart kid in high school", what threshold or range of g are you referring to? (Insofar as "smart" refers to g.) A kid with a g two standard deviations below the mean isn't smart. A kid four standard deviations above the mean is smart. Where do you draw the cutoff?
[Letter] Re: Advice for High School

As I read this post, I couldn't help but feel like it crossed over from reasonable advice into elitism. I wouldn't argue with the basic idea of surrounding yourself with smart, interesting people who will help stimulate you intellectually and push you to grow. But spending your time worrying about how many standard deviations above the mean everyone's IQ is seems like it's crossing a line from reasonable to excessive, particularly when you describe normal life as "living among the monkeys." 

So what I'd say to this is that yes, finding and befriending ... (read more)

1lsusr13dWhat, precisely, do you mean when you use the word "smart"?

Thanks for this writeup. Could you share a bit more about how you got into using Vim and why you've found it to improve speed so much? I occasionally need to use vi when there's nothing else installed on a system, but the clunkiness and high barrier to entry has never made me tempted to use Vim as my primary editor.

Keyboard shortcuts are faster than the mouse. Keys accessible from homerow are faster than distant keys like the arrow keys. Keyboard shortcuts you can combine are more powerful than standalone keyboard shortcuts. As gianlucatruda mentioned, the important thing is Vim keybindings, not the editor itself. You can get a similar speed boost by installing Vim keybindings on your favorite editor.

I learned Vim very early in my programming career because I knew the upfront investment would pay itself over many times—and it has. Vim has paid my initial investment b... (read more)

AstraZeneca COVID Vaccine and blood clots

From Twitter, it looks like the rates of clotting-related issues in UK recipients of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are essentially indistinguishable.

1theme_arrow1moAn update to this comment: there is now some evidence to suggest the rates of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis are substantially different in UK recipients of the two vaccines [] . It is a very low rate (30 in 28 million), but there does seem to be a real difference there.
Thoughts On Computronium

The new Apple M1-based mac mini appears to be able to do 2.6 teraflops on a power consumption of 39 W. That comes out to 0.000066 W/petaflop, or ~4x the efficiency of Fugaku. 

Fun with +12 OOMs of Compute

Your comment about Crystal Nights makes sense. I guess humans have evolved in a word based on one set of physical laws, but we're general purpose intelligences that can do things like play videogames really well even when the game's physics don't match the real world's. 

Fun with +12 OOMs of Compute

Really interesting post, I appreciate the thought experiment. I have one comment on it related to the Crystal Nights and Skunkworks sections, based on my own experience in the aerospace world. There are lots of problems that I deal with today where the limiting factor is the existence of high-quality experimental data (for example, propellant slosh dynamics in zero-g). This has two implications:

  1. For the "Crystal Nights" example, I think that our current ability to build virtual worlds that are useful for evolutionarily creating truly transformative AIs may
... (read more)
3Daniel Kokotajlo2moThanks! Yeah, I basically agree with you overall that Skunkworks could be undermined by our lack of understanding of real-physics dynamics. We certainly wouldn't be able to create perfectly accurate simulations even if we threw all 35 OOMs at the problem. The question is whether the simulations would be accurate enough to be useful. My argument is that since we already have simulations which are accurate enough to be useful, adding +12 OOMs should lead to simulations which are even more useful. But useful enough to lead to crazy transformative stuff? Yeah, I don't know. For Crystal Nights, I'm more 'optimistic.' The simulation doesn't have to be accurate at all really. It just has to be complex enough, in the right sort of ways. If you read the Crystal Nights short story I linked, it involves creating a virtual world and evolving creatures in it, but the creators don't even try to make the physics accurate; they deliberately redesign the physics to be both (a) easier to compute and (b) more likely to lead to intelligent life evolving.
Why are delicious biscuits obscure?

I finally got around to making these! I was very pleased with the result, they were tasty and distinct from anything I've had before. While I thought they were about as delicious as most homemade cookies, my partner who is not generally a huge fan of cookies liked them much more than previous cookie attempts and kept coming back for more. 

I agree with the other commenters who've suggested that like with most homemade cookies, they're better than store-bought cookies because they don't have to last for months on a store shelf. But I am surprised it's not a more popular home recipe in the US as it's about the easiest recipe for tasty cookies I've come across. 


This comment (and the whole discussion) really resonated with me. I think a hard part of this is that if I try and totally remove the activities that allow for opting out of being (video games, mindless reddit scrolling etc.), it tends to only work for a short time before I relapse all at once into them. It seems like this is a case where moderation might be the answer for me personally rather than abstinence.

One unexpected positive of Hammertime is that I've noticed my desire to play video games gradually decreasing over the last month. This might be an interesting case where the solution to the problem is to solve other life problems, at which point the desire to cease to exist simply fades away.

CoZE 3: Empiricism

Overestimation: Interacting with external reviewers/customers at work. I thought I had useful things to contribute to discussions with external folks starting maybe 4-5 months into my job. I didn't understand how to handle those interactions tactfully (and overestimated the chillness of by bosses) and got slapped down pretty hard.  

Underestimation: Research ability as an undergrad. I kept thinking I was a fraud and doing terrible work right up until the day I won the research top prize in my department. 

Design 3: Intentionality

Done well: I really like the daily prompts to comment, I think they've done a lot to encourage me to stick with it. They've also been nice because I get to see everyone else's responses. 

Done badly: I wish more days had direct connections to the bug list (i.e. more challenges directly of the form "pick a bug from the bug list and apply today's technique to it"). It's harder to motivate myself to tackle challenges on the bug list when it's implicit that today's technique can be applied to them than it is when it's explicit. 

TAPs 3: Reductionism

I applied the method of exhaustion to my course final project this semester, breaking it into 9 steps. It was a fun exercise, and I appreciated it!

It's interesting, you definitely see failure rates that look logarithmic in marriages and bankruptcies, but I do think that some of that is what tcheasdfjkl said - some of that is just from the fact that things that fail early don't get a chance to fail later. In my personal experience, I think there are two big places where my plans fail: before they start and at the first major setback. I think that usually if... (read more)

Feedback for learning

It can be a little hit-or-miss, but I think Coursera partially fits the bill of what you're looking for. Generally the courses will have a mix of lectures, reading material, assessment quizzes, and a project. The downside is that the assessments are very closely tailored to the material that's being taught, so they may not be the best way to check your general learning in an area.

I've only used Coursera for a few things, so I can't offer a ton of recommendations, but I took this sequence on spacecraft attitude control to improve on some skills before grad school and found it excellent. 

Yoda Timers 3: Speed

Interestingly enough, five minutes wasn't enough for me to get any improvement in typeracer or the arithmetic game. I started at 80 WPM and got results both above and below that on my subsequent tries. Similarly I got 20 on my first attempt at the arithmetic game, 23 on the second attempt, and 17 on the third. I don't think that makes speed impossible to train, it just suggests that it'll take longer than 5 minutes!

Here are some of my proudest speed records: 

  • Performance on exams when time is tight. For example, I had an undergraduate materials science
... (read more)
Bug Hunt 3

I do think I've gotten better at achieving my values over the course of Hammertime. the biggest way that's manifested has been in how I'm spending my time. I'm spending more time reading books and talking to friends rather than aimlessly browsing the internet or playing videogames. Interestingly enough, I've actually been spending less time working, which I wasn't consciously trying to do but I think is positive, as I generally work somewhat too hard. 

Reflecting back on the bug list for the second time, I only came up with a modest number of additiona... (read more)


This was a great post, and I fully agree with the idea that working to make our interactions with others positive is an important part of making life good. I found that a good additional exercise to go with this post was to set a Yoda timer and reach out to friends who I haven't talked to in a bit. 

TDT for Humans

I like your weakened version of TDT, it feels like it does really capture something salient about human decision-making. I recognize that the exact number isn't really important, but I think I'd describe it as close to a one-percent shift than a ten-percent shift for myself. I feel like I personally have taken a very long time to go from the first few times I do something to that thing feeling natural. I wonder if that's something that tends to differ a lot between people or different kinds of actions. 

Technological stagnation: Why I came around

I like Noah Smith and enjoyed that post, but I'm not sure I agree with the conclusions. I think I agree more with the critique from Applied Divinity Studies than I do with Noah. There are definitely areas for optimism, but I haven't seen anything that looks like we're actually getting increases in productivity growth in the US or similar countries. Moreover, I have seen no indications that cost disease has slowed (see healthcare costs for example, other than the decrease in care due to COVID lockdowns, there's no real evidence of a slowdown). And beyond al... (read more)

3jasoncrawford4moI'm not convinced by the optimists, either, and ADS made some good points. This post was laying the foundation for my response. With this framework I think you can analyze things in at least a slightly more rigorous way.
Goal Factoring

Here's what I came up with goal factoring "do Hammertime:"


Goal: Feel like I’m “moving forward,” not just treading water

  • Subgoal: Feel like I’m learning new skills and making progress towards a job that’s a better long-term fit
  • Subgoal: Feel like my relationship is getting stronger and more beneficial
  • Subgoal: Feel like I’m developing intellectually

Goal: Improve health

  • Subgoal: Make progress on health issues that are annoying/concerning
  • Subgoal: Do a better job at exercising

Goal: Improve day-to-day life

  • Subgoal: Enjoy more quality activities, rather than fi
... (read more)

There's a very particular kind of anxious feeling I get, a kind of catch in the throat and knot in my stomach, that means "your current plan has a major failure mode that you're totally undefended against." I deeply aspire to reach a point in my life where this feeling is no longer regularly present.

Three Miniatures

Listing all of the times I've improved rapidly in the past was a very interesting exercise. Many of the times where I made a really big improvement stemmed from making a decision that was hard to make in the moment, but locked me into a path toward something good. That's very much in line with the basic principle is "take advantage of willpower now to put yourself on a course in which you don't need willpower to do the right thing later."

Another idea that seems common to a number of the examples I can come up with is an idea that I might call "seize the mo... (read more)

Public selves

Epistemic status: largely just brainstorming 

I think there are a number of examples in history of people or groups of people successfully advancing the cause of ideas significantly outside the societal mainstream through living and embodying those ideas fully openly and authentically. One example that comes to mind is FM-2030, who was pretty much the exact opposite of choosing to spend one's weirdness points selectively and did a lot to spread transhumanist ideas as a result. Anther good example would be the post-Stonewall gay liberation movement. 

CoZE 2

I think courage is more than just the absence of fear, I think it's the ability to take actions that are important but difficult or dangerous, while being fully aware of the risks. Similar to what Qiaochu_Yuan said, just going through life doing dangerous stuff without caring out the consequences is recklessness, not courage. I think you may or may not have fear when an action is dangerous, but you can be courageous regardless of whether you're afraid. 

To me, CoZE seems like it's more targeted at decreasing fear than it is at increasing courage. A lot... (read more)

Design 2

In general, my advice is that making something totally painless on a computer is worth extra cost or hassle setting up. I really like using dropbox for storing schoolwork because it's just a folder on my desktop that I can use like any other, but it's automatically backing up everything. I stay under the limit of what's allowed in the free version, but I think the paid version may still be worth it for many people if you're the kind of person who can't be bothered to regularly back things up ordinarily. Another similar one is to get a laptop docking statio... (read more)

TAPs 2

Switching majors in undergrad was definitely a "factory reset" moment for me. I came into college with lots of AP credits and the plan of being a chemical engineer. I started classes in the major right from the beginning of freshman year, and it felt great to be getting ahead. Of course, the disadvantage of that was that I didn't have any real chance to explore other interests before starting. I actually enjoyed the major classes, but it turned out that there was quite a bit of stuff I enjoyed better. It was soon pretty clear to all my friends that I would... (read more)

Yoda Timers 2

I grew up in Oakland, but didn't return after college. Looking at California as it was then and as it's changed since I've left, I keep feeling like housing policy is really the nexus of so many different problems (and that this is true nationwide as well). We're struggling with homelessness, high costs of living, climate change, wildfires etc., and housing has such a big role to play in all of those. We make new housing construction so hard, not just with zoning but with lot size and coverage restrictions, parking requirements, and arduous consultation an... (read more)

Bug Hunt 2

I would like to be the lead author on a patent (and one that actually represents a new development). I work on a team that has produced dozens of patents, but none in the last few years. I want to get my skills to the point where I'm genuinely pushing boundaries, and more selfishly I want to have something public to show for my work. I don't know if that'll be possible on my current team, or if this team/company's time has passed, but it's something I would find really special. 

Reflecting back on the bug list, I actually came up with relatively little... (read more)

Hammertime Day 10: Murphyjitsu

This was a super interesting exercise! I chose doing well in the next class in my master's degree as the goal. I have generally done well so far, but I'm working full-time while going to school (because work is paying for it), so every semester is a bit of a struggle. What was unexpected about murphyjitsuing this goal was the way in which there were basically two categories of possible problems I found. The first were the easy, well-contained problems (like "I generally submit assignments at the last minute, making it easy for technical difficulties to mes... (read more)

Hammertime Day 9: Time Calibration

My worst case of the planning fallacy is a very general one - any assignment with a deadline. I consistently think "this problem set isn't so hard, I'll be able to get it done on Tuesday even though it's due Friday." In reality, I'm always working right up until the deadline, pretty much regardless of how hard the assignment is. It's even worse at work, where a large fraction of the deadlines are made up and easy to slip past without anyone getting mad. I think the underlying dynamics here aren't just about the planning fallacy, it's also a matter of how my personal control systems operate, and I'm trying to address both pieces as part of hammertime. 

Hammertime Day 8: Sunk Cost Faith

Epistemic status: I was told to argue this position. 

For a long-term project (say, for example, finishing a PHD rather than mastering out), the true utility you'll derive from it is a random variable with some true mean and variance. Maybe finishing the PHD will take 8 years and you'll never get that TT position you dream of, maybe it'll take 5 and there will be a perfect job for you at the end. You can't know the true mean utility, your guess of the mean is an estimator, which is itself a random variable. I think your argument was that sometimes your... (read more)

Hammertime Day 7: Aversion Factoring

My job involves sometimes dealing with information that can't necessarily be shared with everyone at the company. I have an official mentor, who's a senior employee who used to work in my group and is now in another. I put off setting up a mentorship meeting for months because I was working on a project and didn't know whether I could talk about it with him. All I needed to do was send my manager a quick email to check, but I just kept putting it off. 


On the flip side, I've had instances where adding a trivial inconvenience has been key to break... (read more)

Hammertime Day 6: Mantras

"When will you learn that your actions have consequences." It's from a terrible meme, but boy does it have a way of being relevant. 

Hammertime Day 5: Comfort Zone Expansion

I had a great time trying new things tonight. I started my 20 minutes while out for a walk, and ended up doing jumping jacks in the middle of an empty parking lot, pausing by the highway just to watch the cars, and leaving a comment on a youtube video for the first time (after I got home), among other things. 

Hammertime Day 4: Design

I had a really pleasant surprise when working on this one. I constantly feel like we don't have enough storage space in our apartment, and I had sort of resigned to the cabinets and closet feeling super cramped. During my Yoda timer today, I looked under the bed and realized that we have a bunch of empty plastic tubs there! My partner has been keeping them to be helpful for future moves, but we hadn't thought to store anything in them now. With a few minutes of work, we freed up a huge amount of space by putting a bunch of stuff in them. 

Hammertime Day 2: Yoda Timers

I hit some nice and easy challenges today - replacing my shoes that have holes in them, getting a new ice scraper that isn't broken in half, and setting some reminders to take out the trash before it overflows. 

The most successful Yoda timer-like item I've hit recently was upgrading my work setup. I work at a small built-in desk in my apartment, too small to fit two monitors. I also use the desk both for work and for school/videogames. For a long time, I just dealt with working on a small single monitor and having to get under the desk to unplug my mo... (read more)

Hammertime Day 1: Bug Hunt

Thanks for posting this! I'm feeling in a bit of a rut currently and will be giving the 30-day sequence a shot. 

To start off, I can't think of anything especially strange, but I'll share a good bugfix story from undergrad. Spring of freshman year, I found myself struggling somewhat in an intro thermodynamics class. I resolved at some point to always read the textbook as I was eating breakfast, and carried on this tradition for whatever my hardest class was each following semester. While it did result in a lot of hot sauce-stained textbooks, I found it to be an extremely good way to encourage consistent review and practice.