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Omicron Variant Post #1: We’re F***ed, It’s Never Over

I love how one of the paragraphs in here is essentially:

"Buy bitcoin, not investment advice."

In all seriousness, though, what makes you believe you have an edge over the market, when it comes to the crypto crash due to Omicron? Everyone in the market is trying to price in the risk of Omicron, why do you think you can do it better?

I certainly believe Omicron poses essentially zero risk to bitcoin, and so if the market is pricing in such a risk, I'd like to buy, but is it actually justified to believe my appropriation of the risk is more accurate than the market's as a whole?

Would you mind clearly articulating where you think your edge is?

Omicron Variant Post #1: We’re F***ed, It’s Never Over


  • Sees news stories about Omicron popping up
  • I wonder if Zvi's written a breakdown yet?
  • Checks LW
  • Zvi published on Nov 26

Zvi, you're an absolute legend. Thanks for getting these out so fast. If it weren't for your write-ups, I have no idea where I would go for anything even remotely resembling a minimally biased, rational review of the current evidence. 

Outside the Laboratory

"A witty saying proves nothing." How ironic. I love it.

Beautiful Probability

As long as the reputation doctor had committed to publishing the results regardless of what he found, then, yes, the data has equal evidential weight.

However, the story seems to imply he would have continued testing indefinitely until he got it right, and if he didn't, he would have faded into obscurity.

The issue here is that we must SEE the data in the possible world where he has a 58% cure rate with N=1000 (kept trying, kept trying, kept trying, eventually published), if we are to accept his 70/100 results in this world.

If, on the other hand, we would only see the 70/100, but wouldn't have seen the 580/1000, then the 70/100 does not carry the same weight as the other doctor's 70/100.

Imagine a world where the true success rate is 58%. We have 1000 biased researchers all doing the experiment and not publishing when they get 580/1000. The few who get lucky and get a 70/100 publish, leading to the 70%+ success rate results being very over-represented in the data we see.

Split and Commit

I tried to read that link. I really did. I "read" like 10 paragraphs, and skimmed further down than that... but I gave up.

I'm interested in what you have to say. Mind providing a summary in... well punctuated, concise English?

Split and Commit

Just reading the first section of this article exposed how much I emotionally enjoy having just my one hypothesis. It never occurred to me until now that, even though my held hypothesis is almost always justified, the fact that I no longer hold alternatives in focus is suboptimal.

That lack of focus on the other hypotheses feels good though... when my models of the world are accurate, it makes me very happy, so I don't like entertaining the possibility that it's some sort of long tail random event.

Anyway, might as well start unwinding the problem now, so here it goes... (this is going to hurt).

Here are three alternative Bitcoin hypotheses I'm going to watch out for:

  1. Governments have the power to crush Bitcoin whenever they want, but many actors in government own it, so they're holding off. Once it becomes a real threat, those actors will sell, and then the bans will come.
  2. I'm wrong about the way assets and store of value work, and Bitcoin will never truly compete with gold, real estate, stock indexes, or bonds as a long term store of value.
  3. I'm wrong about the network effect of Bitcoin, the value of true decentralization, and the superiority of proof of work. Proof of stake coins will replace Bitcoin long term.

This shouldn't have been painful to write, but it was. As a mid 20s American having their wealth constantly plundered by the state, Bitcoin gives real hope for the future. 

Even though I truly believe these hypotheses are less likely than Bitcoin succeeding, the truth is, the reason I don't consider them is because I really, really don't want them to be true, not because their probability is so low that they aren't worth the mental effort.

Covid 11/18: Paxlovid Remains Illegal

Have you defended the claim that child vaccinations are helpful? I’ve seen two concerns:

  1. Like chickenpox, covid is much more dangerous as an adult. It may be safer for kids to be infected as kids, rather than delaying infection with vaccination until adulthood.
  2. The risk of severe effect to kids is so low that the risks of the vaccine are no longer trivial by comparison.

Would like to know your thoughts.

Covid 11/18: Paxlovid Remains Illegal

On the long covid thing - if loss of smell counts, then I wouldn’t be surprised if it was close to 50% that had symptoms a few months out (though the other aspects of that part still do seem nonsensical).

For me, my brother, and my cousin, taste took 1-2 months to recover, and smell took more like 6. All athletic mid 20s males.

Torture vs. Dust Specks

I'm fairly certain Elizer ended with "the choice is obvious" to spark discussion, and not because it's actually obvious, but let me go ahead and justify that - this is not an obvious choice, even though there is a clear, correct answer (torture).

There are a few very natural intuitions that we have to analyze and dispel in order to get off the dust specks.

1.) The negative utility of a dust speck rounds down to 0. 

If that's the case, 3^^^3*0 = 0, and the torture is worse. The issue with this is two fold. 

First, why does it have to be torture on the other side of the equation? If dust speck rounds down to 0, then why can't it be someone spraining their ankle? Or even lightly slapping someone on the wrist? Once we're committed to rounding dust specks to 0, all of the sudden, we are forced to pick the other side of the equation, regardless of how small it is.

This, then, exposes our rounding fallacy. The dust speck's negative utility is not zero, it's just really really small, but when we then apply that really, really small downside to a really, really large number of people, all of the sudden the fact that it is certainly nonzero becomes very relevant. It's just that we need to pick a counter-option that isn't so negative as to blind us with emotional response (like torture does) in order to realize that fact.

The more broad version of the mistake of rounding dust specks to 0 is that it implies there exists some threshold under which all things are of equal utility - they all round down to 0. Where is this threshold? Literally right at dust specks? They round to 0, but something slightly worse than a dust speck doesn't? Or is it a little higher than dust specks?

Regardless, we need only analyze a problem like this on the border of our "rounds to zero" and "doesn't round to zero" utility in order to see the absurdity in this proposition.

2.) What if it's not the absolute utility, but the gap, relative to torture, which causes specks to round to zero?

This second attempt is more promising, but, again, on further analysis falls apart.

One of the best ways to bypass the traditional pitfalls in single choice decisions is to pretend that you're making the choice many times, instead of just once. By doing so, we can close this subjective gap, and end up at an apples-to-apples (or in this case, torture-to-torture) comparison.

We've already established that dust specks do not round down to zero, in an absolute sense, so all I need to do is ask you to make the choice enough times that the 3^^^3 people are essentially being tortured for 50 years.

Specifically, this number of times:

(torture's badness) / (dust specks' badness)

Once you've made the choice that many times, guess what, 3^^^3 people are being tortured for 50 years by dust specs.

If you'd picked the torture every time, (# of choices) people are being tortured for 50 years.

Do you think that the torture is 3^^^3 times worse than the dust speck? (If so, there would be the same amount of people being tortured either way.) I can just change it to make it 40 years of torture instead, or 1 year of torture. Or I can make the dust speck a little less bad.

The thing is, your desire to pick the dust specks doesn't come from rationally asserting that it's 3^^^3 less bad than torture. No matter what you think the factor is, I can always pick numbers that'll make you choose the torture, and your intuition is always going to hate it.

3.) You can't calculate utility with a linear combination. Even if the sum of the dust specks is more negative, the torture is still worse, because it's so much worse for that one person.

Let me be a little more clear about what I mean here. Imagine this choice:

  1. One person tortured for 10 hours.
  2. 601 people tortured for 1 minute.

It's very reasonable to pick option #2 here. Even though it's an extra minute of torture, you could argue that utility is not linear in this case - being tortured for 1 minute isn't really that bad, and you can get over it, but being tortured for 10 hours is likely to break a person.

That's fine - your utility function doesn't have to be a strictly linear function with respect to the inputs, but, critically, it is still a function.

You might be tempted to say something along the lines of "I evaluate utility based on avoiding the worst outcome for a single person, rather than based on total utility (therefore I can pick the dust specks)."

The problem is, no matter how how much proportionally less bad you think 1 minute of torture is than 10 hours, I can still always pick a number that causes you to pick the 10 hour option.

What if I change it to 1000 people instead of 601? What about 10,000? What about 3^^^3?

All of the sudden it's clear that picking to avoid the worst possible outcome for a single person is an incoherent intuition - that would force you to torture 3^^^3 people for 9 hours instead of 1 person for 10 hours.

The non-obvious answer is therefore torture.

The dust specks do not round down to zero. The gap between the dust specks and the torture doesn't cause the dust specks to round down to zero, either. You must multiply, and account for the multiplicity of the dust specks, lest you be forced to choose saving one person from -100 from saving hundreds from -99. Even if you discount the multiplicity and don't linearly sum the costs, again, treating them as 0 leads to incoherence, so there is still some cumulative effect.

Therefore, you've gotta go torture, as much as your intuition hates it.

tl;dr - Shut up and multiply.

Covid 9/23: There Is a War

They are emergency authorized for verifying prior infection, though. As far as I can tell, they constitute medical proof of natural immunity in some capacity, but the test itself can't tell you to what extent that natural immunity is protective.

However, the studies I looked at on natural immunity show it seems to be about 80% effective at preventing infection, median 7 months after infection  (, so that + an anti-body test to confirm I really had it seems sufficient.

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