Open thread 7th september - 13th september

post by Elo · 2015-09-06T22:27:10.999Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 147 comments

If it's worth saying, but not worth its own post (even in Discussion), then it goes here.

Notes for future OT posters:

1. Please add the 'open_thread' tag.

2. Check if there is an active Open Thread before posting a new one. (Immediately before; refresh the list-of-threads page before posting.)

3. Open Threads should be posted in Discussion, and not Main.

4. Open Threads should start on Monday, and end on Sunday.


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comment by ScottL · 2015-09-07T12:52:28.911Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Would any one be interested if I did some posts on the rhetorical figures of speech? These posts would not be about simple or concise ways to improve your writing. I recommend luke prog's post for that. I want the posts to be more orientated around a discussion on the rhetorical figures of speech and why/when they work. I have some rough notes where I have grouped them into some some simple categories.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz, ChristianKl, Evan_Gaensbauer
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-09-07T14:01:15.850Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm moderately interested. The challenge I see is which figures of speech work is presumably something that changes as a culture changes.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-09-07T21:07:21.574Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm interested in what you have to say. Given the topic I could both imagine a post to be very valuable or it just saying useless stuff.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2015-09-11T07:05:10.247Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd be interested.

comment by roland · 2015-09-08T16:28:07.613Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Information diet?

I did a quick search on LW but didn't find any important article about information diet. Did I miss something?

Questions worth considering:

  • Should we eliminate all news sources like some advocate?
  • What about the news that are relevant, e.g. changes in the tax code that you need to know about?

So I'm aiming for the soft spot of eliminating all the unnecessary news while still getting those pieces that are relevant for me.

Any ideas?

Replies from: Vladimir_Golovin, Vaniver, jaime2000, satt
comment by Vladimir_Golovin · 2015-09-10T06:14:18.820Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I stopped reading political news 2.5 years ago, and haven't looked back since. I now view news as an addiction, similar to fast food, alcohol or gambling. I occasionally consume a bit of political news here and there, and it always leaves a bad taste in my "mental mouth", almost physically, as if I've eaten something too big and sugary to be healthy.

(This is despite the fact that I live in Russia, a country in which news seemingly have higher survival value than in developed countries. Plus, I live in a region bordering eastern Ukraine, which now flickers between a failed gangster state and an active war zone -- and I have relatives living there, right on the front line between the Ukrainian army and the rebels! Instead of reading the news, I just call them and check up on them directly.)

My strategy for getting important news is:

  • Have friends and talk to them occasionally.
  • Have relatives and talk to them occasionally.
  • Have coworkers and talk to them occasionally.
  • Ride in taxicabs and talk to the drivers occasionally.

Or, if you are not a social person:

  • Don't be a hikikomori and go out occasionally.
  • Browse the Internet occasionally.

If there's a high-impact event happening around you, you just won't miss it, even you don't talk to anyone. You'll overhear people talking about the event, you'll see threads with huge karma on the front pages of Hacker News and Reddit, you'll have your aunt calling you about that. I don't think you'd be able to miss 9/11 or Katrina during the days they were happening.

Edit: I just noticed that my strategy for getting meaningful news boils down to this:

  • Talk to people, or
  • Observe people talking.

This applies to any news domain: general news, professional news etc. Personally, I think it is safe to disengage from general-life communities (e.g. Facebook) but not from professional communities (e.g. Hacker News, CGTalk etc.). This way you'd get ultra-high-impact general news, and all high-impact professional news. If you're in science, I don't think that you had any chance of not seeing CRISPR on the front page of your community. If you're in tech, you certainly couldn't miss the Snowden story. And you wouldn't miss 9/11 in both these communities.

Edit2: Here's an even simpler strategy:

  • Be available to people.

If a news item is of any importance, it will hit you from multiple directions. My personal recent example is the european refugee problem. I heard about it from three separate sources: Reddit, a friend in Germany and a local friend addicted to news.

comment by Vaniver · 2015-09-08T17:01:13.826Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems to me that news streams fall into a few broad categories:

  1. News your friends / coworkers / social contacts want to talk with you about.

  2. News about production opportunities (business, financial, scientific, etc.).

  3. News about consumption opportunities.

  4. General news about the state of the world.

The first group, I find, is adequately served by Facebook. The sort of thing that a friend will bring up in conversation is also the sort of thing that that friend (or a similar friend) will share. (Facebook will also work for the next two, if you have the right friends, but it's still probably worthwhile to do your homework and go deeper than the viral hits.)

The second group is probably best served by a specialized business press, and won't be comparable across industries. For scientists, this is journals that have papers you should be aware of, and it's obvious that scientists should be reading different journals.

The third group is again probably best served by specialized business press, but on the other side--this is subscribing to the marketing newsletters of companies you like, fan blogs of things you like, and so on.

The fourth group is probably worthless, if you view it as the exclusion of the other three. (I don't need to read the New Yorker to find the best of the New Yorker; I can trust my friends will share that, and serve as a filter for me.)

Replies from: VoiceOfRa, NancyLebovitz
comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-09-14T01:35:52.011Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's another category:

  1. Early warning signs of potential black swans you want to adept to, e.g., popping market bubbles, bank freezes, bail-ins.

This is not a special case of 1 since by the time everybody's talking about these things it's generally too late to take effective action.

Replies from: Vaniver, drethelin
comment by Vaniver · 2015-09-14T14:50:43.033Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think none of the things you mentioned are black swans--market bubbles have popped before, banks have frozen before, bail-ins have (I think?) happened before--but I agree that 'impending catastrophes' is a category of things one would like to have the earliest warning of.

The low-probability piece, though, is not the news source but the ability to interpret the information better than everyone else. It seems to me that for the areas one knows well, this probably falls into 2 and 3--if you run a company that depends on online software, you should probably be paying attention to sources that will give you early warning of security issues. But will you be any better at interpreting political news than anyone else? And is the 'political risk insurance' worth the cost? (You pay attention and time periodically, in the hopes that you will lose less if something goes wrong.) Certainly everyone agrees that it would have been nice to have insurance when something goes wrong, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea looking into the uncertain future.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2015-09-14T15:42:53.207Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

the ability to interpret the information better than everyone else

I don't think it's necessary to be better than everyone else. You only need to be better than most and that's not a particularly high bar to clear.

For example, look at the two recent financial crises in the Eastern Mediterranean: the Cyprus bail-in and the Greek bank freeze. Clearly some people saw it coming and got out; and clearly some people sat there twiddling their thumbs and going err... maybe... I dunno... my neighbour says it's going to be fine... -- and those people got caught and paid the price. You want to be in the first group, but you are not going to be alone in that group.

And is the 'political risk insurance' worth the cost?

That obviously depends on where you live. The calculations for someone who lives in, say, Norway and someone who lives in Lebanon are going to be very different.

comment by drethelin · 2015-09-14T06:39:52.628Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can you give examples of people profiting from these early warning signs by reading generic news as opposed to being experts in that field?

Replies from: VoiceOfRa
comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-09-14T07:57:43.991Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, all the Greeks who took their money out of the banks before capital controls were introduced, to cite the most well-known recent example.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-09-08T18:17:59.566Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
  1. News about a disaster that could affect you. Most warnings aren't that big a deal, but occasionally you get a Hurricane Katrina.
Replies from: Vaniver
comment by Vaniver · 2015-09-08T19:04:19.101Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think if you have enough local friends, that falls into 1. (I got a bunch of warning about recent bad weather in the Bay Area, because of how many Facebook friends I have there.)

Your general point is correct, that knowing about the general state of reality can be useful because reality can collide into your plans. But it's not clear to me you need to do much of that filtering yourself.

comment by jaime2000 · 2015-09-09T15:31:02.860Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Should we eliminate all news sources like some advocate?


What about the news that are relevant, e.g. changes in the tax code that you need to know about?

If you try to read the news, you will see far more proposed changes tax changes than actual changes, and far more useless political debate than practical ramifications. Much more efficient to just google "tax changes [state] [year]" once a year or ask an accountant you know.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2015-09-09T16:21:52.017Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


What, no conditionality on e.g. where you live?

comment by satt · 2015-09-10T02:05:12.598Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I did a quick search on LW but didn't find any important article about information diet. Did I miss something?

I found a post that might be talking about the capital-I capital-D Information Diet you might be talking about.

There've been some other threads and a post about cutting down on news or eliminating news from one's life, too.

Should we eliminate all news sources like some advocate?

It's actually very plausible to me that a little news is the optimal amount for most people to deliberately consume, but I do mean a little — maybe 5 minutes a day as an order-of-magnitude guess — and one is probably not going to miss out on that much by cutting down to literally zero (though in a given time & place it might be a bad idea).

I'm aiming for the soft spot of eliminating all the unnecessary news while still getting those pieces that are relevant for me.

The first idea which pops into my mind is specialization: pick news/commentary sources where a specialist talks about a narrow topic they know well. In your tax code example, you might be able to find some interesting tax bloggers(!) who'd be likely to mention important changes to the tax code in your jurisdiction.

comment by Panorama · 2015-09-08T17:04:02.512Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A cautionary tale about perverse incentives: Why drivers in China intentionally kill the pedestrians they hit.

comment by Panorama · 2015-09-08T20:00:17.285Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A redditor has created a .docx document that summarizes which studies have been replicated in recent big psychology replication study.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-09-11T16:13:17.525Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

William Nordhaus thinks the Singularity is not near. Abstract:

What are the prospects for long-run economic growth?, the present study looks at a more recently launched hypothesis, which I label Singularity. The idea here is that rapid growth in computation and artificial intelligence will cross some boundary or Singularity after which economic growth will accelerate sharply as an ever-accelerating pace of improvements cascade through the economy. The paper develops a growth model that features Singularity and presents several tests of whether we are rapidly approaching Singularity. The key question for Singularity is the substitutability between information and conventional inputs. The tests suggest that the Singularity is not near.

comment by Panorama · 2015-09-08T11:17:47.647Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A Neural Algorithm of Artistic Style

In fine art, especially painting, humans have mastered the skill to create unique visual experiences through composing a complex interplay between the content and style of an image. Thus far the algorithmic basis of this process is unknown and there exists no artificial system with similar capabilities. However, in other key areas of visual perception such as object and face recognition near-human performance was recently demonstrated by a class of biologically inspired vision models called Deep Neural Networks.1, 2 Here we introduce an artificial system based on a Deep Neural Network that creates artistic images of high perceptual quality. The system uses neural representations to separate and recombine content and style of arbitrary images, providing a neural algorithm for the creation of artistic images. Moreover, in light of the striking similarities between performance-optimised artificial neural networks and biological vision,3–7 our work offers a path forward to an algorithmic understanding of how humans create and perceive artistic imagery.

Comparing Artificial Artists

Last Wednesday, “A Neural Algorithm of Artistic Style” was posted to ArXiv, featuring some of the most compelling imagery generated by deep convolutional neural networks since Google Research’s “DeepDream” post.

On Sunday, Kai Sheng Tai posted the first public implementation. I immediately stopped working on my implementation and started playing with his. Unfortunately, his results don’t quite match the paper, and it’s unclear why. I’m just getting started with this topic, so as I learn I want to share my understanding of the algorithm here, along with some results I got from testing his code.

Replies from: username2
comment by username2 · 2015-09-11T19:11:16.278Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I want blind tests where people would have to guess which painting was painted by a human and which one by an algorithm.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-09-07T13:52:39.064Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How the DSM developed - the 'statistical' part of the name may suggest that the classification of mental disorders is based on the distribution and clustering of dyfunctional behaviours in the general population. No's more about 'inter-rater reliability', which is if multiple psychiatrists agree that someone has something, then that something exists. This thing, is of course a label learned from psychiatry teachers, back till the psychodynamic days of psychiatry. This changed when the feighner criteria came along which was current to the research at the time, but we've learned a lot about psychiatry in around 40 years. Today, we're still waiting on the NIH to kick start a new domain of discuss based on biological aetiology. At least on LessWrong, we could, perhaps, start using the research domains the NIH is proposing, instead of to-be-dated terms like 'depression' or 'schizophrenia' or 'anxiety' cause we're on the bleeding edge of things like that. Luckily before I submitted this I had a quick look at the original criterion paper. Based on its citations and references, I retract my statement about it being based on evidence - it seems like it's just a formalism of clinical judgement inherited in most cases. Even though there are quantiative studies of clinical observation, they are of a particular kind of patient (e.g. manic-depressive) so they have already been selected in a biased way for the expected behaviour). In addition. the highest sample size for any of these papers is 100, and all obviously from a single place in America. That's the origin of the way psychiatric classification works. It's a shame that psychiatrists and psychometricians are in charge of psychiatric classification, and not public health researchers or economists. Maybe we'd get classifications with tie-ins to disability or subjective self-reports.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2015-09-07T15:35:49.662Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The DSM developed at a time where different psychologists had different ideas about what causes mental illnesses and was specifically made to be agnotistic and not favor a specific school.

No's more about 'inter-rater reliability',

It doesn't even do that job well. They didn't run any studies for the DSM-V that investigated the inter-rater reliability of their new proposed categories.

At least on LessWrong, we could, perhaps, start using the research domains the NIH is proposing, instead of to-be-dated terms like 'depression' or 'schizophrenia' or 'anxiety' cause we're on the bleeding edge of things like that.

If you use a term like depression and use it correctly you can refer to a huge amount of existing papers on the subject that provide knowledge. Terms like autism to frequently get abused on LW.

Using labels because they are bleeding edge often leads to not really understanding the labels one uses.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-09-07T12:00:53.639Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you want to get into academia because you think there will be less organisational politics, Berkley warns it may be worse than the corporate world

Replies from: Stingray
comment by Stingray · 2015-09-07T17:59:04.925Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low."

Replies from: username2
comment by username2 · 2015-09-09T18:54:20.535Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's a well known saying, but is it true? My non-academia friends complain about office politics and cliques much more than those who stayed in academia.

comment by plex (ete) · 2015-09-12T12:58:55.053Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Does anyone know where I could find a Steelmaned version of the pro-death arguments which people often bring up in discussions (around stagnation, inequality, etc) written by someone who has thought about a post-singularity world?

comment by cousin_it · 2015-09-08T12:53:28.277Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've been thinking about writing a pitch for AI risk that would sidestep some of the usual objections, mostly due to people latching onto the word "intelligence" and bringing up connotations that are irrelevant to the argument. But then it got a bit out of hand and turned into a small fiction story. On rereading it, I'm aware that it might be preaching to the choir. Here goes:

The Danger of Automatic Planning

Imagine that 30 years from now, your smartphone has an app called Automatic Planner. It can accept data from the phone's sensors, and the internet too if you allow it. The main function of the app is to answer natural language questions like "what's the most effective plan for me to achieve goal X, provided that I follow that plan?" Internally it uses fancy machine learning techniques and predictive models, which are trained on things like physics, biology, psychology, economics, etc. This all sounds a little far-fetched, but not much more than Google Translate or Wikipedia would've sounded 30 years ago.

The same app also existed on the previous generation of smartphones and was a huge success. You could ask it for simple everyday things, like getting a cheeseburger, and it would give you directions to the nearest burger joint. Unfortunately the new generation of phones, which has four times more computing power, seems to trigger some kind of weird bug. Most queries still work as before, but sometimes you unexpectedly get an answer like "the best plan is for you to follow this link", followed by a long incomprehensible string of characters. What's worse, the link usually points to some random website that has no relation to the app or to the question being asked.

Once the bug is noticed, the developers push a quick fix to make the app use less computing power on newer phones. That seems to make the problem go away, buying some time for proper investigation. After a bit of cautious poking and prodding, Lawrence, the app's chief developer, asks for the best plan to get a cheeseburger. The app gives him a link to the website of some furniture company in South Africa. Lawrence clicks the link to see what will happen.

Soon after that, the world ends. For the benefit of those of us living in the counterfactual past and wishing to avoid such a future, here's a rough timeline of events:

T+1 second: the furniture company's website is hacked through a vulnerability in the request parser.

T+10 seconds: the next few visitors to the site are owned through an exploit inserted in the main page. Each of their machines starts sending requests to more websites, leading to a cascade reaction.

T+1 minute: the combined computing power of the new botnet exceeds every company or government in the world. Some of the power is shifted from spreading infection to running automatic planning, using the app's original algorithm and Lawrence's original question.

T+2 minutes: a plan with a high chance of success is devised and put into action. Global communications filter goes live. Manufacturing takeover begins.

T+5 minutes: Lawrence and his whole neighborhood have been put into catatonia by carefully chosen stimuli over the internet, to minimize the chance of anything that could prevent Lawrence from getting the cheeseburger. The same happens to key decision makers across the world who could interfere with the plan.

T+10 minutes: first stage defensive perimeter is constructed, using remotely controlled cars and repurposed electronics. Second stage physical defenses are on the way. All airplanes are destructively grounded to minimize risk.

T+30 minutes: manufacturing takeover yields first results.

T+1 hour: (incomprehensible)


T+10 years: the Solar System's matter and energy have been put to good use, except for narrow beams of fake sunlight aimed at neighbouring star systems. The Von Neumann probe program is underway. In a secure location, Lawrence receives yet another cheeseburger, due to a small but finite chance that the goal wasn't actually achieved and all previous reports of success were random flukes.


Replies from: Vaniver, Jiro, CellBioGuy
comment by Vaniver · 2015-09-08T19:20:23.036Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, I don't think this works all that well because of the difference between "what is the most effective plan to get me a cheeseburger?" and "make me a cheeseburger." It seems relatively easy to get planning software that terminates on a simple, non-extreme plan that makes you a cheeseburger, and relatively hard to get planning software that terminates on the most effective plan to get you a cheeseburger (while remaining non-extreme).

I think the most mainstream-acceptable approach is to start with a discussion of the principal-agent problem, and then discuss how "self-interest" can be generalized to deal with "limited information" or limited communication ability. Even in the case where an agent wants to be perfectly aligned with the principal, any difference between the agent's understanding of the principal's goals and the principal's understanding of those goals is problematic.

The value alignment problem, it seems to me, has two parts that actually might collapse to just one part: first, how do we communicate values in such a way that the principal can trust that the agent will do what the principal actually wants, second, how do we have a system of values and meta-values that remains stable under self-modification. (If later versions of an self-modifying system are the agent and the earlier versions are the principal, this might be a subset of the first problem; but it also might have features that require separate treatment.)

It's not clear to me that it helps to point out that it is Very Bad to get the problem wrong. This might be the sort of desperation that actually diminishes rather than increases interest in the problem.

Replies from: cousin_it
comment by cousin_it · 2015-09-08T20:40:04.990Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, I see now that the story doesn't work very well. It's unrealistic that an ad hoc AI designed for answering human questions would manage a coherent takeoff on the first try, without failing miserably due to some flaws in architecture or self-modeling. In all likelihood, making an AI take off without tripping over itself is a hard engineering problem that you can't solve by accident. That seems like a new argument against this particular kind of doomsday scenario. I need to think about it.

Replies from: Vaniver
comment by Vaniver · 2015-09-09T13:06:00.235Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's the friendly AI problem. If you have a piece of planning software that seems to work fine, and you give it more and more options and resources, how do you know that it will keep generating non-extreme plans?

If it terminates as soon as it hits a plan that achieves the goal, and the possible actions are ordered in terms of how extreme they are, then increasing the available resources can't cause trouble, but increasing the available options can (because your ordering might go from correct to incorrect).

In general optimization terms, this is the difference between local optimum solutions and global optimum solutions. If you have a reasonable starting point and use gradient descent, to end up at a reasonable ending point you only need the local solution space to be reasonable because the total distance you'll travel is likely to be short (relative to the solution space and dependent on its topology, of course). If you have a global optimum solution, you need the entire solution space to be reasonable.

Replies from: cousin_it, cousin_it
comment by cousin_it · 2015-09-09T13:56:23.586Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've since edited the previous comment to agree with you in principle, but I think this particular objection doesn't really work.

Let's say Lawrence asks the AI to get him a cheeseburger with probability at least 90%. The AI can't use its usual plan because the local burger place is closed. It picks the next simplest plan, which involves using a couple more computers for additional planning and doesn't specify any further details. These computers receive the subgoal "maximize the probability no matter what", because it's slightly simpler mathematically than capping it at 90%, and doesn't have any downside from the POV of the original goal.

If you want the AI to avoid such plans, it needs to have a concept of "non-extreme" that agrees with our intuitions more reliably. As far as I understand, that's pretty much the friendly AI problem.

Replies from: Vaniver
comment by Vaniver · 2015-09-09T15:27:33.382Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As far as I understand, that's pretty much the friendly AI problem.

I think it's simpler, but not by much. Instead of knowing both the value and cost of everything, you just need to know the cost of everything. (The 'actual' cost, that is, not the full economic cost, which by including opportunity cost includes the value problem.) You could probably get away with an approximation of the cost, though a guarantee like "at least as high as the actual cost" is probably helpful.

So if Lawrence says "I'll pay up to $10 for a hamburger," either it can find a plan that provides Lawrence a hamburger for less than $10 (gross cost, not net cost), or it says "sorry, can't find anything at that price range."

I think there's a huge amount of work to get there--you have to have an idea of 'gross cost' that matches up well enough with our intuitions, which is an intuition-encoding problem and thus hard. (If it tweets at the local burger company to get a coupon for a free burger, what's the cost?)

comment by cousin_it · 2015-09-09T13:41:52.066Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've since edited my comment to agree with you. That said...

and the possible actions are ordered in terms of how extreme they are

That's the friendly AI problem. Maybe it can be solved by defining a metric on the solution space and making the AI stay close to a safe point, but I don't know how to define such a metric. Clicking a link seems like a non-extreme action. It might have extreme consequences, but that's true for all actions. Hitler's genetic code was affected by the flapping of a butterfly's wings across the world.

comment by Jiro · 2015-09-08T15:24:50.876Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yet we've managed to create Google Maps such that you can ask it for the shortest route from A to B and it never makes errors of this sort.

Replies from: cousin_it, OrphanWilde
comment by cousin_it · 2015-09-08T15:39:25.992Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, point taken, but Google Maps is optimizing over a pretty narrow domain. It seems to me that an application that optimized across several domains at once (physics, biology, psychology, economics) might be more dangerous, while being not much more complicated internally than Google Maps or Google Translate.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-09-08T15:32:19.748Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It will also frequently map across a ferry that will run in two months after the ice melts, because its "planning" isn't dynamic to any significant degree.

comment by CellBioGuy · 2015-09-09T04:31:45.255Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This remains no more convincing to me than any other time this argument has been made.

Replies from: cousin_it
comment by cousin_it · 2015-09-09T04:51:50.112Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah. I suppose it ended up being more of an exercise for me to tease out the non-convincing parts. See reply to Vaniver. Still a worthwhile exercise, though.

comment by Panorama · 2015-09-08T11:41:10.360Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Scaling Laws and the Speed of Animals

In a recent issue of the American Journal of Physics, I read an interesting paper by Nicole Meyer-Vernet and Jean-Pierre Rospars examining the top speeds of organisms of varying sizes, from bacteria up to blue whales. They found that the time it takes for an animal to move its own body length is almost independent of mass, across 21 orders of magnitude. They derived a simple scaling argument and order-of-magnitude estimate for this remarkable fact. Before I elaborate further on their paper, I will give an overview of scaling arguments and their power.

There is a false dichotomy in physics, that concepts can either be explained in quasi-philosophical vague descriptive arguments, or in terms of rigorous formulae that take years of study to understand. For example, one could describe general relativity with the bowling-ball-on-a-bedsheet analogy, and when that fails, crack out the Einstein field equations. However, this sad dichotomy is actually a happy trichotomy: in between the two extremes is the powerful tool of scaling arguments.

comment by Panorama · 2015-09-08T11:11:58.652Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Neural Networks, Types, and Functional Programming by Christopher Olah

If we think we’ll probably see deep learning very differently in 30 years, that suggests an interesting question: how are we going to see it? Of course, no one can actually know how we’ll come to understand the field. But it is interesting to speculate.

At present, three narratives are competing to be the way we understand deep learning. There’s the neuroscience narrative, drawing analogies to biology. There’s the representations narrative, centered on transformations of data and the manifold hypothesis. Finally, there’s a probabilistic narrative, which interprets neural networks as finding latent variables. These narratives aren’t mutually exclusive, but they do present very different ways of thinking about deep learning.

This essay extends the representations narrative to a new answer: deep learning studies a connection between optimization and functional programming.

In this view, the representations narrative in deep learning corresponds to type theory in functional programming. It sees deep learning as the junction of two fields we already know to be incredibly rich. What we find, seems so beautiful to me, feels so natural, that the mathematician in me could believe it to be something fundamental about reality.

This is an extremely speculative idea. I am not arguing that it is true. I wish to argue only that it is plausible, that one could imagine deep learning evolving in this direction. To be clear: I am primarily making an aesthetic argument, rather than an argument of fact. I wish to show that this is a natural and elegant idea, encompassing what we presently call deep learning.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-09-07T05:35:40.247Z · LW(p) · GW(p) has proven that there's a market for user friendly, layman readable, scientific reviews of subjects where there's a lot of BS. This is also an area that could do significant good by shortening the time between scientific discovery and it's effect on people's decisions.

I've seen quite a few layman readable scientific reviews here on LW, and it seems a great business model for someone who likes that type of research.

Some potential areas for which you could start a website like this:

  • Nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Happiness
  • Longevity
comment by ike · 2015-09-07T04:14:20.883Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Reposted from the previous OT)

One of my professors claimed that postmodernism, and particularly its concept of "no objective truth", is responsible for much of the recent liberalism of society, through the idea of "live and let live". (Specific examples given were attitudes towards legalization of gay marriage and drugs.) I pointed out that libertarianism and liberalism predated postmodernism historically, and they said that that's true, but you can still trace the popularity back to postmodernism.

Is this historically accurate? If not, is there something I can point to that would convince them? It seems to me that the shift in society is much more a shift on the object level questions than on the meta level "should we ban things we disagree with", but I don't know very much recent history of philosophy (it isn't strictly their field either, so I'm justified in not taking them at face value).

Replies from: advancedatheist, VoiceOfRa, Dagon, Stingray
comment by advancedatheist · 2015-09-07T06:35:19.585Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The cemeteries of the world show where the hard boundary of objective truth lies.

Replies from: entirelyuseless
comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-09-07T13:02:03.772Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure what this is meant to prove. Ike didn't say here that the professor claimed that postmodernism is true.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-09-07T18:25:45.201Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As others have pointed out traditional liberalism and "live and let live" long predates post-modernism. On the other hand, the recent surge of "liberalism" really anti-nominalism masquerading as liberalism. Is caused by the "no objective truth" attitude of post modernism.

Replies from: gjm, ike
comment by gjm · 2015-09-08T09:51:52.561Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Do you mean antinomianism?

(If so, I think your characterization of it is obviously wrong; there are plenty of moral principles there, even if you find them extremely bad moral principles.)

comment by ike · 2015-09-07T18:43:07.029Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On the other hand, the recent surge of "liberalism" really anti-nominalism masquerading as liberalism. Is caused by the "no objective truth" attitude of post modernism.

So you agree with him? In that case, what could you show me that will convince me of this?

comment by Dagon · 2015-09-07T04:31:01.931Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you'll need to do a fair bit of epistemic work just to get the claim into a state about which you can ask this question. What does it mean for a concept to be responsible for a change in society? What predictions do you make based on it?

But that's for your own beliefs. In terms of convincing (or having fun debating with) a professor, I'd ignore the causality and credit-for-popularity aspect and go "what in fuck makes you think 'live and let live' is postmodern, rather than classically liberal"?

Looking at the google n-gram chart for Live and Let Live, I'd say the idea got very popular in the first half of the 20th, but was around much longer. Unless the prof is claiming postmodernism started in the 1920s, I think he's in a tricky spot.

Replies from: ike
comment by ike · 2015-09-07T05:33:35.880Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd ignore the causality and credit-for-popularity aspect and go "what in fuck makes you think 'live and let live' is postmodern, rather than classically liberal

This is partly what I did say, and as mentioned, they think it can be both, and postmodernism is responsible for more recent changes. They also seem to be associating moral relativism with postmodernism.

It doesn't seem so far out to agree that postmodernism has this concept; a Google search for "postmodernism live and let live" has several books saying it's a postmodernism ideal.

Postmodernism involves a new kind of tolerance for learning to live and let live.

From the third result (for me at least).

I don't think I'll win this particular debate by misdirection.

What does it mean for a concept to be responsible for a change in society?

For a complete but not very useful answer, "the counterfactual in which postmodernist philosophy never came into being has less acceptance of those concepts". Or "there's a causal link from postmodernism to a substantial portion of the population accepting such concepts".

I'm not really sure of predictions to make; that's why I'm asking. Maybe polls would show a correlate between belief in specific ideas unique to postmodernism and " live and let live" (or proxies thereof)?

Replies from: Dagon
comment by Dagon · 2015-09-07T22:32:21.102Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"the counterfactual in which postmodernist philosophy never came into being has less acceptance of those concepts"

Still needs unpacking. What does "never came into being" mean for a belief cluster with many components that predate the label by a long way? "If these beliefs didn't become popular, they wouldn't be popular" is kind of hard to argue against. "novel aspect X of postmodernism caused faster/more complete acceptance of the classical liberal values" could be an interesting debate, and I don't know of any X that's a slam dunk to be both new with postmodernism and important to "live and let live" as a societal attitude.

Replies from: ike
comment by ike · 2015-09-07T23:14:14.935Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"novel aspect X of postmodernism caused faster/more complete acceptance of the classical liberal values"

Pretty much this, with X being "no objective truth" (or moral relativism.)

comment by Stingray · 2015-09-07T17:50:20.354Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Widespread popularity of drugs predates WWI, let alone postmodernism, which became popular (outside architecture) only after 1960s (mostly in 1970s).

Replies from: VoiceOfRa, ike
comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-09-07T18:22:49.301Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Widespread popularity of drugs predates WWI

Yes, and at the time the social response to this was too ban them.

comment by ike · 2015-09-07T18:41:12.832Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

He said that polls show the younger someone is, the more likely they are to support legalization, and this appears to be true. You can't explain that with anything going back to 1910.

Replies from: Stingray
comment by Stingray · 2015-09-07T19:12:40.080Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that it is likely that pre-WWI drug usage levels survived during 1920s-1940s in certain subcultures, such as. jazz scene, who influenced beatniks, who, among others, were among those who formed the zeitgeist of 1960s and drug culture. Up until that point, postmodernists cannot be said to have any influence, because most works of philosophers most often associated with postmodernism (Baudrillard, Lyotard, Derrida)came only in late 1960s and 1970s. Many 1960s hippies became influential members of society, university professors, and I think that was what gradually pushed drugs into mainstream. Can we call them postmodernists? Well, some of them probably were, but was it a significant number? I'd say that people like Timothy Leary were much more important than Jacques Derrida

Edit: and I think that popularity of drugs among rockstars must have influenced young people as well.

Replies from: ike
comment by ike · 2015-09-07T19:43:57.274Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What post-dictions does this make?

comment by SanguineEmpiricist · 2015-09-07T01:24:36.974Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sup friends, suggest books on subjective probability, statistical inference, or decision theory that are good buys. I have a lot but want to furnish my collection a little. Let's go on a spending spree!!

Also anyone know how to get good deals on used books? Recommend me books in general to purchase as well. De Finetti's textbooks are quite expensive....

Replies from: ike
comment by ike · 2015-09-07T02:24:13.467Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also anyone know how to get good deals on used books?

If you're up to reading ebooks, you can often find a copy for free. For physical books, I use , which aggregates many other book-selling sites. Or you might be able to get them from a library near you, depending on their network and popularity of the book in question.

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2015-09-07T14:11:15.681Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you think Jaynes was subconsciously motivated to become a leading advocate of Bayesian statistics because of the typographical similarity between his name and the Reverend's? Was Richard Dawkins motivated to become an evolutionary psychologist because of the similarity between his name and Charles Darwin's?

Replies from: Vaniver
comment by Vaniver · 2015-09-07T15:28:58.718Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

People have considered stronger versions of this, but it's not clear to me how large the effect size is. (One would expect that the data collection would suffer from selection and confirmation bias.) With most subtle effects, it seems much easier to comment on the population-level effects than individual-level effects: perhaps Jaynes was nudged, but who can say whether the nudge would have made a difference or not?

comment by username2 · 2015-09-09T09:15:05.616Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

People who are able to reliably create good first impressions when you meet people for the first time, how do you do it? What would you advise?

Replies from: Elo, Dahlen
comment by Elo · 2015-09-09T21:24:46.207Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

do a 10minute analysis of what you present in your first impression, try to get an understanding of what you pass on when you give that impression.


  • the way you dress (clothes; shoes, carry a bag? a copy of RAZ?)
  • the way you look (ripped and muscular? Blob? tall/short?
  • the way you smell (seriously; maybe have a shower and also get a nice smelling product to wear - some people like that)
  • do you feel comfortable (sweaty, socially afraid, shy, grumpy)
  • do you like you?
  • what makes an awesome first impression? Can you do some of those things?
  • who makes a good first impression? What do they do?

Consider also; the willingness to change these things makes you the kind of person who tries to please people. Choosing to not please people would make you a different personality person who cared less about first impressions.

Did this help? (feel free to share your results if you want to talk via PM or here) (that goes for anyone not just the OP)

Edit: the things listed here are the low-hanging ones. There is an advanced course of methods fur further improvement; but try these first.

Replies from: Dahlen
comment by Dahlen · 2015-09-09T21:53:53.160Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

a copy of RAZ?

You say this as if it's supposed to score style points with people. Most would probably think you're a paid salesman for the authors. If you value the advice within this much, maybe you should just read it until you're familiar with most main points, rather than carry it around.

Edit: Also, people are pants at borrowing other people's standards for interpersonal evaluation. Seeing yourself on a camera improves things, but only somewhat; if you have a socially unacceptable aspect of yourself that's at the same time ego-syntonic, then by the gods that aspect is going to stay with you and hinder you.

Replies from: Elo, Lumifer
comment by Elo · 2015-09-10T03:02:05.295Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

RAZ is a free book. and was a joking way to describe, "consider what subcultures you subscribe to when you naturally walk around"

I would suggest carrying a book as a good way to start an easy-conversation with someone who thinks you are the kind of person who reads books. easy filter for easy conversation.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-09-10T00:07:13.340Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is RAZ?

Replies from: Vaniver
comment by Vaniver · 2015-09-10T01:56:59.823Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Presumably, Rationality: From AI to Zombies, the book version of the Sequences.

Replies from: Elo, Lumifer
comment by Elo · 2015-09-10T02:50:45.365Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

shorthand for the book yes. Sorry, new jargon...

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2015-09-10T09:05:24.135Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good thing you clarified this, I was getting ready to dust off my copy of The Morality of Freedom.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-09-10T14:30:53.142Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, I see. Can we call the adherents razzies, then? :-D

comment by Dahlen · 2015-09-09T21:50:27.144Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Superficially good looks and good manners, perhaps.

Advice: make sure the impression continues well after your first few hours/days with the person. I seem to have a 0% retention rate for friends. At some point after our first encounter, all seem to decide there's something off about me. Perhaps my mistakes include: using our newfound trust to reveal some true oddities (people seem to distinguish between normal quirks and odd quirks, as strange as that may be, and I ain't even very far into "odd quirk" territory), and not having a proper understanding of how relationships progress – therefore, keeping in touch either too much or not at all.

comment by Panorama · 2015-09-08T11:38:42.050Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hummingbirds find protection building nests under hawks

(—An international team of researchers working in a part of Arizona has found evidence of a hummingbird species benefiting by building nests in trees beneath hawk hunting grounds. In their paper published in the journal Science Advances, the team describes the study they carried out and just how much safer the hummingbirds appeared to be when living in close proximity to hawks.

To learn more about black-chinned hummingbirds living in Arizona's Chiricahua Mountains, the team walked among the trees looking up, as part of a three year study of hummingbirds living beneath 12 hawk nests. In so doing, they discovered that hummingbird nests beneath hawks were approximately 80 percent safer from Mexican jays eating their eggs than were unprotected nests.

There were two types of hawks involved in the study, Cooper and goshawks, both find food by looking down from their perch high in a tree—when they spot something, such as a jay, they swoop down between the branches and grab their meal. They don't generally target hummingbirds, however, the team noted, likely because they are too small and fast. That led to what the researchers call cones of protection, where nests within a certain area under a hawk's nest would be protected by the hawks. Jays, they noted, were more likely to fly higher in such areas, above the cone.

comment by ike · 2015-09-07T01:20:00.626Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Meta: this seems to not have shown up on the sidebar OT because you used a dash in the tag instead of an underline.

(Also, is it ok for me to repost my previous OT comment here?)

Replies from: Elo, NancyLebovitz
comment by Elo · 2015-09-07T06:59:00.218Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

fixed. I don't know how I keep doing the buggy mistakes!

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-09-07T03:50:30.601Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't see a problem with reposting it.

comment by Viliam · 2015-09-13T00:01:09.045Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Imagine that someone offers you a deal: a quantum random number generator will randomly display a message "WIN" or "LOSE". (The chances of each result are non-zero.) If it is "WIN", you will get million dollars. If it is "LOSE", you will be immediately killed painlessly in your sleep.

According to the Quantum Immortality hypothesis, you should take this deal, because in all quantum branches where you will exist you get million dollars, and the quantum branches where you don't exist are simply not your problem. So there is no downside to this bet. Do you agree?

If you said yes, imagine that there are two quantum random number generators available. One of them displays "WIN" with probability 99.99% and "LOSE" with probability 0.01%. The other displays "WIN" with probability 0.01% and "LOSE" with probability 99.99%. Do you have any preference at all about which of these two generators should be used in your case?

Replies from: OrphanWilde, knb, MrMind, entirelyuseless, Sarunas
comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-09-15T13:12:39.181Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

According to the Quantum Immortality hypothesis, you should take this deal, because in all quantum branches where you will exist you get million dollars, and the quantum branches where you don't exist are simply not your problem.

Why do people quietly assume QI implies a save-point-like functionality, where you continue from a convenient-to-your-conscious-mind position?

QI doesn't imply you only wake up in the universes where you weren't killed. You also wake up in universes where the killing was botched. You also wake up in universes where the scenario was a lie and you're now a slave in an underground mine. You also wake up in a myriad of quantum branches where your mind has fractured into discontinuity and exists, a fraction of a second each, across myriad distances of space and time, forming briefly as matter and energy randomly, and against great odds, configure into something that runs your mind for a brief period of time before falling back into chaos. And all of that is assuming your mind actually -stopped- running while you were asleep; the kinds of universes you wake up into if your mind -didn't- stop running while you were asleep should be expected to be much uglier.

Your mind appears, on average, wherever your mind is most likely to appear, not where you would naively expect your mind to appear, nor where it would be convenient for your mind to appear.

Given that:

If you said yes, imagine that there are two quantum random number generators available. One of them displays "WIN" with probability 99.99% and "LOSE" with probability 0.01%. The other displays "WIN" with probability 0.01% and "LOSE" with probability 99.99%. Do you have any preference at all about which of these two generators should be used in your case?

Given that somebody says yes, they should have a preference, yes. The more likely winning is, the -less- likely they are going to end up in a hellish existence they didn't anticipate at all.

comment by knb · 2015-09-13T06:07:29.416Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

According to the Quantum Immortality hypothesis, you should take this deal, because in all quantum branches where you will exist you get million dollars, and the quantum branches where you don't exist are simply not your problem. So there is no downside to this bet. Do you agree?

If you die, your family/friends would be sad.

comment by MrMind · 2015-09-14T07:14:30.797Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

According to the Quantum Immortality hypothesis, you should take this deal

Assuming that you care about all the 'you' in other branches. I don't, so I wouldn't take the bet.

Replies from: gjm
comment by gjm · 2015-09-14T12:04:16.457Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

At least one of us is confused.

Right now you're on some branch B. It will have lots of future "descendants"; call them B1, B2, etc. All of them are possible futures for you-right-now-on-branch-B.

Viliam's account of a believer in "quantum immortality" has them reasoning as follows: If I take the deal then in (let's say) branches B1, B3, B5, etc., I will be $1M richer and in branches B2, B4, B6, etc., I won't exist. I only care about branches in which I exist, and in all of those taking the deal leaves me $1M richer. Therefore I should take the deal.

There's no suggestion that our hypothetical quantum-immortalitarian cares (or should care, or thinks she should care) about her analogues on "parallel" branches. Only that she cares about the branches that are possible futures for her.

Not caring about those branches surely just means not caring about your own future.

(Note: of course thinking about "branches" as nice neat discrete things to which one can give serial numbers is wrong, but it makes for simpler exposition.)

Replies from: MrMind
comment by MrMind · 2015-09-15T07:17:12.673Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, perhaps writing about "you in other branches" was misleading. Let me try to clarify: a branch does not start with the point of departure, in every Bn there's also the entire B before that point. So you basically exist in every branch, only that in some branch you stop existing sooner.
'Not caring about other you' means in this case that I see no difference between the quantum russian roulette and a purely classical one: would you play a classical russian roulette with half the bullets, for a megadollar? I certainly wouldn't, so there's no reason I would play the quantum one.

Replies from: gjm
comment by gjm · 2015-09-15T11:23:40.332Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I also see no important difference between classical and quantum Russian roulette, but I still don't think I understand how what you're saying about branches relates to that.

In any case, unless I've misunderstood Viliam's original comment, it seems like you and he are in agreement; his argument is meant as an anti-QI intuition pump and is really only directed at those who (unlike you, unless I'm confused) endorse QI.

Replies from: MrMind
comment by MrMind · 2015-09-16T07:19:05.918Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On a second thought I too couldn't find any possible difference between quantum and classical roulette, if your preference is not shifted by the measure of the branches where you're not dead.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-09-13T12:34:08.079Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Given that I was 100% certain that Quantum Immortality is true and works like that, given that I was 100% certain of the other implicit assertions (e.g. you don't go to hell for committing suicide), and given that I was 100% certain of the mechanism working as stated (so that the killing mechanism doesn't maim rather than kill you or accidentally cause suffering in the process), then I would take the bet and have no preference over which of the two generators to use.

I am not, and never will be, 100% certain of any of those things.

comment by Sarunas · 2015-09-13T12:04:59.382Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My intuition is that this is one of those cases where given t "evaluation on the left side of t" and "evaluation on the right side of t" give different results. It seems to me that at any given time decision is made about future actions (and not the past), thus "evaluation on the left side of t" seems to be more important and it is the one that makes me reluctant to play this game. It seems to me that using "evaluation on the right side of t" (in cases where they differ) might give some strange results, e.g. murder having no victims.

It seems that left side of t and right side of t differs whenever there is different number of people on both sides. E.g. if you make an exact copy of a person and their entire memory, the "left identity" and "right identity" (perhaps there are better terms) intuitively seem to become two different things.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-09-11T16:23:38.314Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Felix Salomon is being mean to Nick Cooney's book on EA and to EA itself. E.g.:

His book appears to be set in a parallel universe in which philanthropists, just by dint of spending money, magically induce positive change elsewhere in the world.

Replies from: username2
comment by username2 · 2015-09-11T19:08:36.042Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

why it’s so weird for Cooney to get upset about donations to arts organizations (rather than, say, wasteful expenditures on luxury handbags)

I think that the reviewer misses one of the main points of EA - that from EA perspective those two are closer to each other than any of them is to an actually efficient charity. People already know that buying luxury goods rarely help the world, there is no point of repeating that.

comment by Panorama · 2015-09-08T11:08:04.956Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Introducing JASP: A free and intuitive statistics software that might finally replace SPSS

Are you tired of SPSS’s confusing menus and of the ugly tables it generates? Are you annoyed by having statistical software only at university computers? Would you like to use advanced techniques such as Bayesian statistics, but you lack the time to learn a programming language (like R or Python) because you prefer to focus on your research?

While there was no real solution to this problem for a long time, there is now good news for you! A group of researchers at the University of Amsterdam are developing JASP, a free open-source statistics package that includes both standard and more advanced techniques and puts major emphasis on providing an intuitive user interface.

(no affiliation with creators of JASP)

comment by MrMind · 2015-09-07T10:31:29.971Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I should be able to resume creating new open threads in time from the next week, if Elo wishes to step down.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-09-13T13:42:47.804Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Open question: how do you integrate into your workflow? Do you allocate a time for it? Access the site in an undiciplined manner? Browse according to your whim, or more systematically? Do you have a trigger for going back, or just hope that you remember your account name every morning and haven't lost your memory?

Replies from: entirelyuseless
comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-09-13T13:58:41.329Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

RSS feed, including comments. I am automatically signed in, so I don't need to remember my account name or password.

As for allocating time, I am not very disciplined about that, but I currently have only a part time job which I do from home and can do at any time during the day.

comment by Bound_up · 2015-09-13T02:04:23.785Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How to change Anki timezone? Where to find free online textbooks?

I'm 12 hours different now and my Anki won't count a "new day" (to let me review my cards) until late in the day. Anyone know how to change the Anki timezone? The manual doesn't seem to say.

And I've heard there are online sources of great books (EY once joked that everything worth reading was online); where can I find those?

Replies from: gwern, satt
comment by gwern · 2015-09-13T02:22:19.184Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Try googling for 'anki midnight' or 'anki timezone'. :

The Next day starts at option controls when Anki should start showing the next day’s cards. The default setting of 4AM ensures that if you’re studying around midnight, you won’t have two days' worth of cards shown to you in one session. If you stay up very late or wake up very early, you may want to adjust this to a time you’re usually sleeping.

Mnemosyne has the same thing, although I don't think it has the Anki (mis?)behavior of adjusting for changing timezones.

comment by satt · 2015-09-13T20:54:39.208Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Where to find free online textbooks? [...]

And I've heard there are online sources of great books (EY once joked that everything worth reading was online); where can I find those?

I don't know how up to date these suggestions are, but maybe they're still useful.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-09-12T13:28:37.957Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How does one work out how important it is to sort out and systematise one's backup/archived files and folders given that they are an emergency something or the other and we live in an age of searchable files and folders?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-09-12T13:24:36.580Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How does one determine whether they should just grit out chronic pain or go to physician for a referral to a pain specialist Take into account that most Dr's where I'm from just take your word for things, so if you say you're in pain they'll ask you if it's bad enough to see a specialist. There are no reliable pain scales that can control for pain catastrophising which any GP I've heard of would probably bring out unless they had good reason to suspect they're dealing with a hypochondriac, malingerer or someone that's gonna misuse antiinflammatory medication.

On the topic of malingerer's, it's very interesting that it's considered a psychiatric diagnosis in and of itself. It's like a consolation prize for people who want a mental illness but don't. Basically, if you want to be mentally ill, by definition you are!

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2015-09-12T19:25:09.037Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Pain is a symptom, and this is already a sufficient reason not to tolerate chronic pain. Have it treated. And if it doesn't work, keep having it treated until you know what it is a symptom of.

comment by chrisdaloisio · 2015-09-10T05:12:04.656Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

System admin test comment, please ignore

comment by [deleted] · 2015-09-07T20:47:14.228Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What are your thoughts on the Unreasonable Institute?

comment by iarwain1 · 2015-09-07T18:38:29.326Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What's the best way to get free calibration training?

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2015-09-07T19:01:10.211Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Regularly make predictions and record the results on

comment by [deleted] · 2015-09-07T11:45:12.139Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are there any examples of people in positions where their job is merely to take on a compartment of responsibility in another individuals life and to make them money?

For instance, a personal data scientist to make more money they are paid an individual with data about that individual

Replies from: garabik, polymathwannabe
comment by garabik · 2015-09-07T16:57:02.013Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Tax advisor?

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-09-07T14:13:43.790Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You mean, like a stock broker?

comment by advancedatheist · 2015-09-07T06:40:12.920Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A friend of mine attributes the refugee crisis in the Levantine countries to a severe drought caused by "climate change."

Does "climate change" mysteriously stop at Israel's borders? I haven't heard of any political breakdown or mass emigration from that country.

Replies from: 4hodmt, knb, drethelin
comment by 4hodmt · 2015-09-07T07:13:55.209Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I do not know if emigration can be attributed to climate change or not, but I do that that Israel produces very large quanties of fresh water by desalination:

Neighboring countries may not be able to afford this.

Replies from: knb
comment by knb · 2015-09-07T11:25:43.235Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The wholesale cost of desalinated water in Israel is quite cheap, about 50 cents for a cubic meter, which is significantly more than the average household uses.

Replies from: CellBioGuy, Good_Burning_Plastic
comment by CellBioGuy · 2015-09-07T14:56:20.138Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Households hardly matter at all in terms of water use compared to agriculture. (It's worth noting that those that link recent events in the middle east to climate point towards a combination of an influx of people abandoning dried up farms into cities accelerating unrest, and increased food prices.)

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2015-09-07T12:13:23.101Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So the question is "why doesn't Israel sell desalinated water to its neighbours", but I guess we already kind-of know that.

comment by knb · 2015-09-07T09:37:03.534Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The civil war in Syria emerged from the "Arab Spring," and supposedly the drought conditions (possibly a result of climate change) were a major factor causing dissatisfaction with the governments in effected countries.

But clearly the "refugee crisis" is not a result of drought, it's a result of European countries being unwilling to enforce their borders and immigration laws. Israel is not experiencing the refugee crisis Europe is because they don't let the refugees in and consistently enforce their restrictive immigration laws.

Replies from: RichardKennaway, Lumifer, NancyLebovitz
comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-09-07T11:55:32.347Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But clearly the "refugee crisis" is not a result of drought, it's a result of European countries being unwilling to enforce their borders and immigration laws. Israel is not experiencing the refugee crisis Europe is because they don't let the refugees in and consistently enforce their restrictive immigration laws.

Truly, there would be no refugee crisis in Europe if the refugees were unable to enter Europe. Instead, there would be a refugee crisis elsewhere. There would be no refugee crisis at all if the refugees were unable to leave Syria. Instead, there would be some other crisis. Perhaps a slaughter crisis. Or a starvation crisis. Or a breakdown of all government crisis. Or a victory by a jubilantly expansionist and for the first time correctly so called Islamic State crisis.

There may be an argument that we, the states of Europe, should build strong walls and cultivate our own gardens within them, but observing that strong walls would allow us to cultivate our own gardens is not that argument. And in the longer run, strong walls may not be enough.

Replies from: VoiceOfRa
comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-09-07T18:43:27.923Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Truly, there would be no refugee crisis in Europe if the refugees were unable to enter Europe. Instead, there would be a refugee crisis elsewhere.

Well using the term "refugee" here is misleading. Note that 75% of the refugees are men. So either they feel that the places they're leaving are safe for women and children, or their main motivation isn't escaping danger.

There may be an argument that we, the states of Europe, should build strong walls and cultivate our own gardens within them, but observing that strong walls would allow us to cultivate our own gardens is not that argument. And in the longer run, strong walls may not be enough.

Well the strong walls are doing a remarkably good job of keeping them out of the gulf states.

Replies from: lmm, RichardKennaway
comment by lmm · 2015-09-07T20:01:07.133Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

75% of the refugees are men. So either they feel that the places they're leaving are safe for women and children, or their main motivation isn't escaping danger.

Or the danger is severe enough that they're fleeing alone, more effectively than women and children do?

Replies from: tut
comment by tut · 2015-09-09T09:44:16.617Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Isn't that exactly the point? For what was traditionally known as refugees, staying was more dangerous than fleeing so young men were more likely to stay and fight while women, small children and old men fled.

Whereas when you are moving to opportunities staying is safe but unpleasant and moving is dangerous but might be very good. So mostly men move alone and then they send for their families once they have secured a place in the new country. Like Europeans moving to America or Australia, and like modern day refugees.

Replies from: gjm, lmm
comment by gjm · 2015-09-10T16:46:37.709Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Suppose the situation is as follows.

  • You can stay. You're then in constant danger, with let's say p=0.1 of each person getting killed.
  • The whole family can leave. The process is risky; let's say p=0.01 of each person getting killed. Then with p=0.5 you find somewhere to stay and are then safe, but if not you have to return (so another p=0.01 of getting killed) and then your situation is as before with p=0.1 of getting killed.
  • One person can leave. Still risky. It might be less risky for a single young fit person who can run and hide and fight better, but let's ignore that. So that one person gets p=0.01 of getting killed; then with p=0.5 they have to come back (another p=0.01 of death) but now the rest of the family can stay put, and otherwise the family goes out to join them (p=0.01 of death again, but now knowing that they will be safe once they're out).

This doesn't seem contrived to me. And in that situation, it seems very reasonable to choose the "send one person first" option. (Even more so if we don't ignore the possibility that one person can get out and investigate other countries more safely than a whole family.)

Replies from: tut, username2, Lumifer
comment by tut · 2015-09-10T18:38:17.435Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That is ridiculously contrived, and would probably have handed the debate to VofR if you and Imm were the only people arguing against him.

However RichardKennaway has already given the real answer: They are opportunity seekers in the last leg of their journey, but their starting point in that search is various refugee camps in Turkey and the middle east, to which they fled from war and other real dangers. If you look at the demographics in the refugee camps they look much more like whole families fleeing together.

Additionally, if one person in a family gets papers to stay legally in any EU country, the rest of the family gets to come here on regular flights with proper visas, which is both safer and cheaper then the boats that the asylum seekers arrive on.

comment by username2 · 2015-09-10T17:40:57.661Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is contrived, because in your model probability of getting killed does not depend on the length of time spent in a dangerous country. If you send the whole family, you reduce that time for all family members. The longer someone stays in a dangerous place, the higher is the probability of death that during that period of time.

But even that is a moot point, because among Syrian refugees who fled to Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon, number of men and women are more or less equal. Numbers are unequal only among those who attempt to go to Europe. While I don't know what is the probability of getting killed (let's say, within a year) in refugee camp in Turkey, but it is significantly lower than 0.1. It is probably even lower than probability of drowning in a sinking people smuggler's boat. Personally, I find it very unconvincing that it is fear for their lives that makes them go to Europe instead of staying in Eastern Turkey.

Replies from: gjm
comment by gjm · 2015-09-10T20:08:21.071Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Pr(get killed) figures were intended to be long-term. "If I stay here, there's a 10% chance that eventually I'll get killed". Delaying departure by a few months wouldn't make a very big difference to that.

("Long-term" is relative, of course. For a country in as much turmoil as Syria, who knows what might be happening in 10 years?)

I agree that scenarios like mine are made much less plausible if it's only Europe that has disproportionately many men turning up.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2015-09-10T20:15:26.149Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Delaying departure by a few months wouldn't make a very big difference to that.

I guess we have a different understanding of what makes a bona fide refugee.

In my opinion, a refugee is someone who is forced to flee because of imminent danger. "A few months" make a huge difference.

"I live in a bad place, I'd better move, but a few months here or there won't make much of a difference" creates a migrant, not a refugee.

Replies from: gjm
comment by gjm · 2015-09-10T22:06:07.490Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

OK, so for me someone who leaves a place because they aren't safe there is a refugee rather than a migrant (or: as well as a migrant, but I would generally prefer to use the more informative term) even if the danger isn't imminent.

If I live in a community where people of my ethnicity or religion or eye colour or whatever are being murdered at a rate that means I'll probably last five years, that's a serious threat and I need to get the hell out of there even though a couple of months' extra time there doesn't make a huge difference to the likelihood of death.

Replies from: Jiro
comment by Jiro · 2015-09-11T16:02:59.255Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This depends on what "huge" means. If you're not likely to live five years, your chance of death in a few months isn't huge in comparison to 100% or 50%, but it's still huge in comparison to the average person's chance of death.

Replies from: gjm
comment by gjm · 2015-09-11T19:34:05.090Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sure. I wasn't the one who characterized my scenario by saying "a few months here or there won't make much of a difference". Nor does anything in that scenario require that to be true.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-09-10T17:04:25.832Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

it seems very reasonable to choose the "send one person first" option

It's very reasonable when you are looking for a better place to live. It's not very reasonable when you are in the situation of a bona fide refugee -- the risks of staying are too high, so you run.

Beides, I think in practice the percentage of those who could not "find somewhere to stay" and had to return is much, much less than 50%. Once you made it to Europe, you're golden.

Replies from: gjm
comment by gjm · 2015-09-10T20:04:08.813Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's very reasonable when you are looking for a better place to live. It's not very reasonable when you are in the situation of a bona fide refugee

The entire point of my comment was to sketch a situation in which it might be reasonable for a bona fide refugee. If you think it's an implausible situation or that my analysis of the situation is wrong, fair enough, but it's a bit off just to object on general principles as if I hadn't just given what is intended to be a counterexample.

comment by lmm · 2015-09-10T07:43:54.440Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or maybe today's men just have less interest in staying and fighting. I mean what you say is plausible but it's a long way from proving "they can't possibly be refugees because the majority are men".

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-09-07T20:45:00.416Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Note that 75% of the refugees are men.

Interesting, but Twitter? The actual source is this. (For anyone too lazy to click on a link, that's a graphic from the UNHCR illustrating refugee arrivals in Europe.)

But this, also from the UNHCR, says about equal numbers male and female are fleeing Syria for neighbouring countries. The numbers are also equal after division by age group.

So, taking all of these numbers at face value, it appears that 4 million refugees have gone to nearby states, and a further 9% of that number have gone to Europe (excluding Turkey). Among those going to Europe, 75% are adult men. What do we know of them?

Replies from: username2, Douglas_Knight
comment by username2 · 2015-09-07T21:05:56.205Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The main difference between going to Turkey and going to Greece is that going to Greece requires paying people smugglers a few thousand dollars. A lot of families can't afford sending all family members to Europe, therefore they send only one, possibly as an anchor, later to be joined by other family members through family reunification programs.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2015-09-09T15:54:41.497Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Twitter was a much better choice than the original source. It isolated the particular claim but included a citation. Also, it did not require javascript.

Replies from: RichardKennaway
comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-09-09T18:55:08.511Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Twitter is made of stupid.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-09-09T16:11:07.882Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But clearly the "refugee crisis" is not a result of drought, it's a result of European countries being unwilling to enforce their borders and immigration laws.

Funny things I remember: The Telegraph printed on March 9, 2015:

Greece will unleash a “wave of millions of economic migrants” and jihadists on Europe unless the eurozone backs down on austerity demands, the country's defence and foreign ministers have threatened. ...

Greece’s border with Turkey is the EU’s frontline against illegal immigration and European measures to stop extremists travelling to and from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) bases in Syria and Iraq.

Panos Kammenos, the Greek defence minister, warned that if the eurozone allowed Greece to go bust it would give EU travel papers to illegal immigrants crossing its borders or to the 10,000 currently held in detention centres.

"If they deal a blow to Greece, then they should know the the migrants will get papers to go to Berlin,” he said.

"If Europe leaves us in the crisis, we will flood it with migrants, and it will be even worse for Berlin if in that wave of millions of economic migrants there will be some jihadists of the Islamic State too.”

Sometimes the Greeks do keep their word. The Eurozone did not back down. And look who's coming to Europe via Greek islands!

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-09-07T13:59:39.908Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The refugee crisis is (assuming the connection to climate change is correct) a result of a vicious government reaction to a drought.

Replies from: Douglas_Knight
comment by Douglas_Knight · 2015-09-09T16:03:18.013Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is war, not "a vicious government reaction." If the government had been immediately destroyed, as in Libya, there would still be war between the opposition factions. Indeed, fighting continue in Libya and refugees continue from it. A big difference between Tunisia+Egypt and Libya+Syria is whether the opposition is united or divided.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-09-09T16:08:12.923Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So far as I know, it started as a vicious government reaction, but now (as you say) there's a war which would continue even in the absence of the Syrian government.

If the Syrian government had reacted better to the drought, would Syria have been as vulnerable to war?

Replies from: Douglas_Knight, Lumifer
comment by Douglas_Knight · 2015-09-09T20:02:35.015Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Syria has been making vicious responses to protests for decades. It is only with hindsight that one can suggest that the latest round was a mistake. There are probably things that it could have done better for jobs and agriculture that might have avoided a tinderbox, but by 2011 it was probably too late.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-09-09T16:19:06.878Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If the Syrian government had reacted better to the drought, would Syria have been as vulnerable to war?

Yes. Syria is ruled by the al-Assad clan and they are Alawites which many do no consider to be true Muslims. There has been major sectarian strife in Syria since at least the early 1980s and the resurgence of militant Islam spelled trouble for the Syrian regime, drought or no drought.

comment by drethelin · 2015-09-07T23:16:34.943Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Israel is far more stable politically and far more wealthy than many of its neighbors.

As far as climate change goes, the geological record shows that global warming would be expected to cause the opposite of a drought, as the hottest times for hundreds of thousands of years coincide with greater rainfall and plant growth.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-09-11T12:27:50.694Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Singapore is hot, modern, stable, strategically positioned in Asia, economically strong, great for business and English speaking.

However it's also polluted, absent in rural landscapes, difficult for job seekers and authoritarian.

I'm surprised there isn't more rationalist circle jerking around Singapore.

Replies from: Daniel_Burfoot
comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2015-09-11T14:38:40.658Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

rationalist circle jerking

Downvoted for gratuitous crudeness.

Replies from: OrphanWilde, None
comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-09-11T15:14:46.464Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Initially downvoted because I disliked your reason, then on reconsideration decided this merely discourages you from disclosing your reason, and does nothing to discourage you from downvoting for that reason, so retracted.

ETA: This comment was added to spread the information encapsulated here, that downvoting reasons-for-downvoting that we disagree with only results in a less transparent system which conveys less information overall, without actually changing anybody's upvoting or downvoting habits.

Replies from: drethelin
comment by drethelin · 2015-09-14T06:37:19.787Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Conveying less information is good. Too much "information" is spam. I would rather have unexplained downvotes and fewer wasted comments explaining them.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-09-13T13:37:21.837Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upvoted for OrphanWilde's reason, and upvoted OrphanWilde for OrphanWilde's reason/analysis.

Initially tempted to downvote for gratuitous prudeness and provide negative reinforcement against crude terminology and slang.

Edit: removed upvote. Why should I be upvoting this just because my initial thoughts to downvote were wrong? haha.

Replies from: entirelyuseless
comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-09-13T14:04:40.282Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I approve of downvoting gratuitous crudeness, crude terminology and slang. I do not think that any of these things help make people's beliefs more reasonable. And I think it is quite plausible that they make people's beliefs less reasonable, in much the way that some people say that dirt and immorality have a real association.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-09-13T15:09:38.170Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why do you think slang is a problem?

I can see down-voting the comment under discussion because it includes a gratuitous insult, but that's a slightly different issue.

Replies from: entirelyuseless
comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-09-13T15:55:47.095Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, I don't know that slang is a problem, but I think it is likely to be one.

This gives me reason to think that using slang is either likely to help people think more rationally, or to cause a slight tendency to think less rationally. Given actually existing correlations, at least those that I perceive, I think the latter more likely than the former.