Stupid Questions June 2017

post by gilch · 2017-06-10T18:32:57.352Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 19 comments

This thread is for asking any questions that might seem obvious, tangential, silly or what-have-you. Don't be shy, everyone has holes in their knowledge, though the fewer and the smaller we can make them, the better.

Please be respectful of other people's admitting ignorance and don't mock them for it, as they're doing a noble thing.

To any future monthly posters of SQ threads, please remember to add the "stupid_questions" tag.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by compiledwrong · 2017-06-16T04:56:11.738Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there a name for the (logical fallacy / fallacy of reasoning / self-defeating strategy) which I try to describe below? Do you consider it a fallacy? Have you ever seen this happen? Is there a reason to do this, and if so can you convince me that said reason has ever been successfully achieved?

(Specifically at work) Making a named (affinity) group (think: Women In Tech, or DevOps Interest Group, etc, with meetings and goals and priorities instead of just doing things (where "doing" here means scheduling educational sessions, discussion sessions, social activities etc)

Maybe this has something to do with the enjoyment of making plans- getting the satisfaction from saying what you're going to do, and because one has experienced the satisfaction, it makes one less likely to follow though on doing it)

I have seen this approach result in several dead "groups" which held maybe one or two events each, and sequential waves of people trying to "revive the group" rather than just... doing things that achieve the purpose that the person thinks that the group is for achieving.

Maybe this approach actually works? And I just don't understand what "works" means?

Replies from: gwern, ChristianKl
comment by gwern · 2017-06-16T21:12:22.210Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Lost purposes? Malthusianism? Selection bias? Iron law of oligarchy?

comment by ChristianKl · 2017-06-16T11:52:05.216Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think that strategy has anything to do with "logical fallacy" or "fallacy of reasoning". Being a clearly named group makes it easier to do political action.

If you are the leader of a woman in tech group it's more likely that a journalist will listen to you then if you are just somebody who scheduled a discussion group. Various decision makers will take you more seriously when you speak for a group than if you just speak for yourself.

Founding a group isn't the best strategy in every case but it's a valid for cases of social activism.

comment by compiledwrong · 2017-06-16T04:46:56.200Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you believe that "the mind works the way the mind think that it works"? (I do.)

The most specific example of this that comes to mind for me is- if you believe that exercising willpower drains your willpower, then that is true. And if you believe that exercising willpower strengthens your willpower, then it does!

Replies from: gilch
comment by gilch · 2017-06-17T02:41:12.248Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, I don't, or only a little bit. See Moravec's Paradox: the easiest tasks to program a computer to do are those we are most conscious of. There are parts of the brain that are remarkably plastic, but there is a lot of background processing that we are not aware of.

If you don't believe that exercising willpower drains your willpower, then it actually still does, but you just don't notice it as soon. This has been tested. It's also true that certain mental abilities can be improved with practice, this is just plasticity. Think of it like exercising a muscle. If you overexert yourself, a strong instinct will try to stop you from hurting yourself. Trained athletes can overcome this instinct to some extent, but they still have real physical limits. And of course, appropriate exercise can improve performance over the long term, but again there are real physical limits to how much.

comment by MaryCh · 2017-06-10T20:41:20.398Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can hydrophobic substances ever form "true solutions" (not colloids) when dissolved in hydrophobic liquids?

Replies from: Thomas
comment by Thomas · 2017-06-11T12:00:09.135Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't understand your question. Every "hydrophobic liquid" is in a sense a "true solution" of itself.

Perhaps you want to ask, is it possible to have a true solution of an "hydrophobic substance" in the water?

And I guess, no.

Replies from: MaryCh
comment by MaryCh · 2017-06-11T12:36:45.913Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I rather meant smth like "is it possible to have a true solution of olive oil in sunflower oil".

Replies from: Thomas
comment by Thomas · 2017-06-11T12:44:34.658Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Then, the answer is -- yes.

Replies from: MaryCh
comment by MaryCh · 2017-06-11T13:05:48.805Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, they don't just form very small micelles within the body of the, well, liquid of which there's more there? (Iam speaking of very small amounts of the dissolved substance, since it is clear that if their amounts are comparable, they will just separate according to gravity.)

Replies from: Good_Burning_Plastic
comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2017-06-11T14:53:29.467Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, they don't just form very small micelles within the body of the, well, liquid of which there's more there?

I don't think they would. After all, olive oil and sunflower oils are themselves mixtures of several different fatty acids.

if their amounts are comparable, they will just separate according to gravity

Not if they form a solution, which I think they do. After all it's not like if you leave a bottle of vodka alone all the water will sink to the bottom and all the ethanol will float to the top.

Replies from: MaryCh
comment by MaryCh · 2017-06-11T15:30:42.073Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ethanol has that OH group. It's a polar molecule, and a small one. But take two pure long-chained fatty acids, mix well, and then what will happen? (I said "oils" to show I didn't mean a "hydrophobic in polar" solution, which I hadn't thought the question implied.)

Replies from: dogiv, Good_Burning_Plastic
comment by dogiv · 2017-06-13T20:10:24.541Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Gasoline is an excellent example of this behavior. It consists of a mixture of many different non-polar hydrocarbons with varying densities, some of which would be gaseous outside of solution. It stays mixed indefinitely (assuming you don't let the volatile parts escape) because separation would require a reduction in entropy.

Replies from: MaryCh
comment by MaryCh · 2017-06-14T04:39:47.970Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you! That's neat.

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2017-06-12T15:49:09.451Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ethanol has that OH group. It's a polar molecule, and a small one.

Yes, I was just mentioning it as an example.

But take two pure long-chained fatty acids, mix well, and then what will happen?

I guess they stay mixed. They are pretty similar molecules, so the forces that hold e.g. oleic acid molecules together so that it doesn't evaporate (Van der Waals, I think?) can just as well hold oleic acid molecules to e.g. linoleic acid molecules. (Whereas since water molecules and oleic acid molecules are pretty different, the force between a water molecule and an oleic acid molecule is a lot smaller than between two water molecules or two oleic acid molecules.)

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2017-06-16T23:25:42.178Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Given that many of the most successful countries are small and self-contained (Singapore, Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, arguably the other Scandinavian countries), and also the disasters visited upon humanity by large unified nation-states, why are people so attached to the idea of large-scale national unity?

Replies from: ChristianKl, Viliam, gilch
comment by ChristianKl · 2017-06-18T09:26:30.407Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Large nation-states have a lot of power and that power allows them to convince people that large-scale national unity is important.

It's easier to lobby large states than to lobby a bunch of small states and that means the think tanks prefer centralization.

comment by Viliam · 2017-06-17T23:19:20.225Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maybe the countries you named also have something else in common, for example geography that makes them easier to defend (I am just guessing here), which allows them to use strategies that are not possible for most other countries.

The obvious answer to why some people like an idea of a big country, is that being a small country next to a big country may be very unfortunate if the big country decides to expand its territory in your direction. More soldiers, greater military budget, greater propaganda budget, more brainpower to develop strategy and tactics, etc. How do you survive this? Saying "because you are clearly superior e.g. technologically" does not quite explain how you survived to the point when you became superior.

Possible answer: your territory sucks; no natural resources, not even enough food. The big country never actually wanted your territory; or at least always had a more attractive alternative. No one was messing with you from the outside, and you succeeded to gradually develop a highly functional society inside.

But if your neighbors are repeatedly trying to take pieces of your territory, the idea of uniting with someone stronger seems attractive.

comment by gilch · 2017-06-17T02:48:07.831Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure what idea you're talking about. Are you talking about intranational unity or international unity? Can you give examples?