Open Thread, February 1-14, 2013

post by OpenThreadGuy · 2013-02-01T08:26:17.065Z · score: 6 (7 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 292 comments

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

292 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-02-01T10:25:24.285Z · score: 30 (48 votes) · LW · GW

Be sure to screen shot any comment you make that you want to preserve, or comments by others that should be preserved. LessWrong is now the sort of site where critical comments silently vanish that cannot by any sane stretch be called trolling.

If your concern is public relations, systematically deleting critique is amongst the stupidest things I can think of you doing. This is the Internet, where that sort of behaviour ensures preservation. A bot to automatically preserve all comments to LW would be ridiculously simple, for example, if MIRI could no longer be trusted to be honest.

Really, MIRI. Just what the hell do you think you're achieving with this?

comment by gwern · 2013-02-01T19:00:06.586Z · score: 28 (28 votes) · LW · GW

Compare http://lesswrong.com/lw/ds4/article_about_lw_faith_hope_and_singularity/73m3?context=3 with http://web.archive.org/web/20120802190229/http://lesswrong.com/lw/ds4/article_about_lw_faith_hope_and_singularity/73m3?context=3

How ironic.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-01T21:13:05.414Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Mind blown.

comment by DaFranker · 2013-02-04T18:21:56.662Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That presumably makes close to 20 of us, based on the 19 upvotes at time of this comment.

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-02-01T19:49:32.153Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Well, you are literally paid to put up with this ...

comment by gwern · 2013-02-01T20:06:55.837Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I worked on and off for SI as a contractor; currently, I'm not. (Not that that should justify deleting comments.)

comment by David_Allen · 2013-02-07T19:25:20.338Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Gentlemen! Welcome to Rationality Club. The first rule of Rationality Club is: you do not talk about basilisks. The second rule of Rationality Club is: you DO NOT even allude to basilisks!

comment by twanvl · 2013-02-01T10:38:50.235Z · score: 26 (30 votes) · LW · GW

That might be a bit drastic, but I too am worried about the deletion of perfectly legitimate (IMO) discussion.

Do keep in mind that screenshots are not always reliable, though.

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-02-01T10:46:07.499Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, absolutely :-) Multiple saved copies are a little more trustworthy.

Capturebot2 is reasonably trustworthy for its intended purpose (documenting the sort of site that actually gets into a habit of trying to burn the evidence). Of course, I'm saying that as one of the two people who in fact has the power to edit Capturebot's saved PNGs ...

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-02-02T19:46:15.868Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This confused me more than it should have.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-02-04T23:52:22.033Z · score: 14 (26 votes) · LW · GW

I keep being told that there are no resources for my ideas for automatically fighting trolls, so after a user admits to being a troll I've been going through manually and deleting comments that strike me as trollish - in the sense of intended to provoke. I also suspect we have fake accounts upvoting and hence do not refrain from deleting upvoted comments.

I'm not particularly happy with the way things are, but don't see an obvious way to make them better without somebody being willing to devote an awful lot of full-time-equivalent work to modifying the LW codebase.

And yes, this forum practices (gasp!) censorship. It always has since the day I started deleting Caledonian's comments on Overcoming Bias because he was successfully making posting no-longer-fun for me. Before that, the SL4 mailing list was subject to threads frequently being terminated. We have always been up-front about pruning the tree, and nowadays there's an official Deletion Policy page. Please stop acting like this is some sort of shocking surreptitious secret.

http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Deletion_policy

Note that this includes deletion of replies to trolls, although I often just downvote those instead.

It would be helpful if people could see that many deleted comments are (in some cases, not all) from the same small set of trolls, but the basic rule is that we have no resources for developing anything so we can't show the author of deleted comments.

This is an online forum that practices gardening. There are lots of other online forums where you can speak freely. Oh, but you'd rather speak here, to the people who gather here to listen? Well - maybe they're gathering here in this garden because they don't want to be in those other ungardened forums, and so no, you can't speak freely.

EDIT: Attempted solution: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/gkv/official_lw_uncensored_thread_on_reddit/

comment by Elithrion · 2013-02-05T04:54:18.828Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

This is an online forum that practices gardening. There are lots of other online forums where you can speak freely. Oh, but you'd rather speak here, to the people who gather here to listen? Well - maybe they're gathering here in this garden because they don't want to be in those other ungardened forums, and so no, you can't speak freely.

My personal guess would be that they are gathering here because many seeds are blown here (from HPMoR, for the usefulness of the sequences and other materials), and the gardening does not have a significant net positive impact. This is mostly based on the fact that I have spent time on ungardened forums and I have never felt that the lack of gardening was a real problem. Where they declined it was because the inflow of members died down, not because members were turned off by trolls.

I'm not sure there's any evidence out there to settle this one way or the other, and certainly in the end you can do whatever you want, but I think you should at least take note that what seems to be a significant part of the userbase thinks strict moderation does more harm than good.

comment by Bakkot · 2013-02-05T06:45:54.315Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

My experience has been exactly contrary: young communities thrive without gardening, but as they grow they either devolve into low average value (digg as it was, most large subreddits) or are heavily pruned (HN, r/askscience). If there's an influx of people, heavy moderation is mandatory if you want to avoid regression to the mean.

comment by drethelin · 2013-02-05T07:56:38.082Z · score: -1 (17 votes) · LW · GW

Criticism =/= trolling

Gardening =/= censorship

This reads like a boilerplate reply you would email to a random idiot who complained about their post being deleted, not an actual answer to questions about deleting honest criticism and anything even mentioning the b-word. It's also not a response to the PR ramifications of these sorts of activities. Please stop acting like your moderation behavior is normal or like people who respond to it are crazy for not agreeing with it.

And as always: Telling people there are plenty of other places they can go is childish and petulant.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-05T12:52:26.399Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

not an actual answer to questions about deleting honest criticism and anything even mentioning the b-word.

It's all there in the link?

Please stop acting like your moderation behavior is normal...

Have you never posted to Hacker News? To a well-curated subreddit? To 4chan? To Wikipedia?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-01T18:17:54.570Z · score: 9 (15 votes) · LW · GW

If your concern is public relations, systematically deleting critique is amongst the stupidest things I can think of you doing.

On the gripping hand, systematically refraining from deleting (or better, shadowbanning) trolls is one of the stupidest things you can do if you want to maintain a community.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-02-02T23:50:43.769Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Reversed censorship is not a rational discussion.

comment by erratio · 2013-02-01T14:37:55.908Z · score: 6 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I'm relatively certain (>95%) that Dymitry/Private_messaging gets special treatment (ie. deletion) because the admins consider him a troll. The point of deleting even his reasonable comments would be to get him to stop commenting at all. I'm not aware of any other LessWrong users who are considered trolls by the site admins.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-01T14:44:26.550Z · score: 9 (17 votes) · LW · GW

I'm relatively certain (>95%) that Dymitry/Private_messaging gets special treatment (ie. deletion) because the admins consider him a troll.

They're right to do so.

I'm not aware of any other LessWrong users who are considered trolls by the site admins.

There are certainly some others, but I'm not sure naming names is really appropriate.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-01T15:15:28.439Z · score: 6 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not aware of any other LessWrong users who are considered trolls by the site admins.

Will_Newsome, eridu, and more generally anyone who's ever had negative last-30-days karma.

comment by gwern · 2013-02-01T19:06:11.070Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Didn't Will_Newsome say several times that he was trolling and post material designed to get downvoted? Not sure that's quite a comparison to eridu.

(To give a recent example, we banned a user from #lesswrong for mailbombing with porn sites another user; they did this partially because they were offended and partially to get themselves banned and stop spending time there. The ban is perfectly justified, yet I would not have called them a troll before or after.)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-01T19:38:51.769Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Didn't Will_Newsome say several times that he was trolling and post material designed to get downvoted? Not sure that's quite a comparison to eridu.

Yes, he did. No, I wasn't comparing them to each other, but it is the case that unlike eridu or Dmytry, Will_Newsome did not trigger the “since he posted lots of trollish comments, let's delete reasonable comments by him as well” reaction in the mods, as far as I can remember.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2013-04-22T18:19:31.036Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I've had a few comments deleted that I thought weren't egregiously unreasonable but were "provocative" and minimally substantive. I don't think the deletions were too unreasonable either—perhaps a tad overzealous. Overall I think the LW mods have been quite just regarding me, though some of the normal users have been a bit crazy, and I'm glad those users aren't mods.

comment by BerryPick6 · 2013-02-01T15:24:54.880Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Peterdjones, too, if I'm not mistaken.

comment by DaFranker · 2013-04-22T18:43:07.784Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

more generally anyone who's ever had negative last-30-days karma.

Beware edge cases! By this criterion, E.Y. could go on math-crunch-camp / hiatus and then make a single comment after 30 days that isn't too well received, and instantly be considered troll.

Not really an objection to the main point, though. Just felt like mentioning.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-23T10:18:21.214Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I was just reporting the criterion that I had heard EY was using; I wasn't endorsing it.

comment by DaFranker · 2013-04-23T13:56:50.208Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, thanks for clarifying.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-25T16:46:39.407Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(Anyway, if there was widespread common knowledge among non-trolls that anyone with negative last-30-days karma will be labelled as Evil and may be punished with a dust speck in the eye every day for 3^^^3 days, then whenever someone came back from a 30-day leave they would make a comment in the latest Group Rationality Diary thread explaining what they had been up to, and get enough positive karma to prevent ending up net negative for moderately disagreed-with comments.)

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-02-05T00:02:39.481Z · score: 0 (8 votes) · LW · GW

If you don't like participating in threads where things randomly vanish, stop replying to trolls.

comment by ikrase · 2013-02-08T12:00:44.564Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I am uninterested in this discussion.

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-02-02T17:19:06.278Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

.

comment by Zaine · 2013-02-01T21:30:20.844Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW · GW

This is really concerning to me. Also, what is the rationale behind obfuscating basilisks? From what I understand, it could lead to thoughts of, "There's no point to all this after all," but there exists many other avenues to arrive at that same thought; why attempt to bury LW's avenue? It signals quite disturbingly, "We do not wish to risk disillusionment of our followers." Would those particularly vulnerable to such thoughts not benefit from being taught how to build mental fortitude without sacrificing open-mindedness?

I don't specifically know how the above might be accomplished, but surely deleting critiques and other signals considered unsavoury will only increase the probability of a mental breakdown. What is the argument for helping each other tackle basilisks in a safe environment? Hiding the cause does not deal with the underlying susceptibility. I understand deletion of annoying noise, but how can anything reasoned that does not utilise Dark Arts be considered noise when presenting a sound argument?

A separate point:
Harry advocates for scientific secrecy in HP:MoR, as an analogue to how powerful wizards keep their most powerful tricks secret. However, the latter is widely known to be an agreed cultural convention of the magical world, as is the rationale for doing so understood. Hiding active secrecy without sharing a reason for same only inspires revulsion to that secrecy. The analogue is intriguing and not without merit, but only insofar as it stays an analogue and not a permutation.


Edit: Perhaps I should clarify that I truly am asking questions - they are not rhetorical by any means. If I am wrong, please tell me how; that is the point of the site, yes?

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2013-02-02T22:22:57.521Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

what is the rationale behind obfuscating basilisks?

To use a metaphor... The original basilisk was suppressed, not just because some people were frightened by the idea of making deals with demons, but because the site admins thought that the methods proposed might lead to people really getting entangled with real demons; and they will hang on to that belief until someone demonstrates, using the logic of a demonological theory that they accept, that the methods don't work.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-02T11:24:14.688Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Harry advocates for scientific secrecy in HP:MoR [...]

Not to mention the fact that his example (Szilard keeping the effectiveness of graphite as a neutron moderator secret) dates back to before the Internet, and hence before the Streisand effect was much of an issue.

comment by Rukifellth · 2013-02-04T17:33:15.347Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I made a similar post a few days ago, thinking that at any point in Lesswrong there's at least a few people that think they have basilisks and are just too hesitant to tell others about them. No one came forward, so I guess they aren't as common as I thought. I didn't think of calling them basilisks until they were referred to as such in the comments.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-01T21:21:58.592Z · score: 4 (10 votes) · LW · GW

None of the comments in this thread is at “100% positive” except the most recent few, which makes me suspect someone is systematically downvoting all of them.

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-02-01T21:26:08.446Z · score: 4 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Well, yeah. private_messaging has about 50% approval, many of the deleted comments scoring quite highly; for a "troll", there appear to be quite a lot of active readers who agree or approve. There's something systematic going on, with or without moderator approval.

comment by Emile · 2013-02-01T21:39:32.827Z · score: -1 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I was tempted to, because I don't want to see big threads dedicated to community drama over censorship, but decided against it, and merely removed a few of my upvotes.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-01T13:03:14.633Z · score: 4 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't this a bit melodramatic?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-02T11:20:24.780Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

It is, but I think it's warranted.

comment by Anatoly_Vorobey · 2013-02-01T11:28:57.254Z · score: 1 (27 votes) · LW · GW

Throwing out this accusation without links/explanations/examples is, in fact, trolling.

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-02-01T12:00:10.062Z · score: 15 (25 votes) · LW · GW

One example after I posted that comment: Capture, burnt remains. There's been a pile of others (mostly not in fact Dmytry, before you make that claim), but the current site code no longer leaves a really embarrassingly obvious string of "Comment deleted".

Really, are you seriously claiming you thought I was just making it up?

comment by FeepingCreature · 2013-02-01T13:18:12.632Z · score: 23 (33 votes) · LW · GW

Really, are you seriously claiming you thought I was just making it up?

Requesting evidence is good behavior and should not be discouraged.

comment by Vaniver · 2013-02-01T15:29:18.258Z · score: 23 (29 votes) · LW · GW

Requesting evidence is good behavior. Combining it with a counteraccusation of trolling slides the whole comment into the negative, for me.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-02-05T06:05:48.714Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Requesting evidence is good behavior. Combining it with a counteraccusation of trolling slides the whole comment into the negative, for me.

Likewise, not only is it an objectionable social move it is also just false. An abuse of language. Following through the reasoning (and also observing that often quoting or linking to copies of deleted comments is also considered trolling) makes the label 'troll' a label that can applied rather indiscriminately to anyone who dissents, regardless of how and why they do it.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-02-01T13:22:01.183Z · score: 5 (21 votes) · LW · GW

Anatoly is right. Accusation without proof is trolling, even if the proof exists. Thank you for providing at least a small part. But why so coy about the others?

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-02-01T17:04:15.914Z · score: 6 (12 votes) · LW · GW

If the accusation is false than it's very easy for someone like Eliezer to say: "This has no basis". If the accusation is true than it might violate the rules to reprint censored posts. A lack of public denail is a good way to see whether the accusation has a basis.

comment by HBDfan · 2013-02-01T17:39:27.511Z · score: -8 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Lukeprog put marketing before intellectual honesty before.

comment by gwern · 2013-02-01T19:11:17.254Z · score: 7 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I think that's an overstatement. It's not 'marketing before intellectual honesty' to point out that we should be extra-wary about analyses or materials by ideologues for whom the results are part of their identity (Sailer repeatedly talks about white identity and how it's a shame there's no White-with-a-capital-w solidarity in the way there's Black-with-a-capital-b solidarity) which is just one of the many deductive fallacies with perfectly valid statistical justification for using, or that quoting approvingly such people will ceteris paribus put off other people with extra reason to distrust such people.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-02-02T00:02:27.543Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Sailer repeatedly talks about white identity and how it's a shame there's no White-with-a-capital-w solidarity

Where?

comment by gwern · 2013-02-02T00:08:28.671Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Is that a genuine question? Because if you read his blog and longer articles for a few years, I don't see how anyone could differ about that.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-02T11:30:28.649Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

if you read his blog and longer articles for a few years [emphasis added]

Yeah, that's a very useful answer.
comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-02-02T01:23:50.563Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I expect that if you put more effort into searching than I did before posting my question, you will find material that satisfies you but which for which I reject your characterization. I would rather have the material than the bald assertion.

comment by gwern · 2013-02-02T01:40:19.957Z · score: 1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

So... you're trying to trap me or something? In that case, let me ask you: what makes you think that Sailer does not think that a White identity would be a good thing?

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-02-02T02:26:04.071Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Trap? WTF? I just want you to say something concrete, rather than your nebulous slander. I don't think it will resolve our difference, but I think it is more fair to Sailer and to the reader.

Reading Sailer leads me to my beliefs about him. In particular, paying attention to positive and normative claims. I'm sorry that you can't imagine that. As I said, before my first comment, I did a couple of searches and skimmed 10 or 20 articles. If he only expresses this opinion every three years, maybe it wouldn't come up in a search like that.

comment by gwern · 2013-02-02T02:49:09.316Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Reading Sailer leads me to my beliefs about him. In particular, paying attention to positive and normative claims.

That's a very high standard, since not everyone makes a clear and simple thesis statement which can be easily found. But it's implicit to various degrees in much of what he writes. So if you read Sailer's review of a book literally titled White Identity (first useful hit for "steve sailer white identity"), does it not look exactly like what I said? Here's some excerpts:

The next half millennium is likely to go worse for whites relative to the Chinese unless we modernize our mindsets on race. Taylor continues summarizing the current orthodoxy:

"It thus makes no difference if a neigh­borhood or nation becomes non-white or if white children marry outside their race. Whites have no valid group interests, so it is illegitimate for them to attempt to organize as whites. Given the past crimes of whites, any ex­pression of racial pride is wrong. The displacement of whites by non-whites through immigration will strengthen the United States."

As you can see, today's PC party line is a farrago of empirical and normative assertions

...What are the prospects for white identity politics emerging as a self-conscious, public force in America? I'd guess: not good. This is not to say that white identity politics won't continue to manifest itself de facto. We saw that, for example, with the Tea Parties and the emergence of an overwhelmingly white movement to protect Medicare in 2009. But, white people aren't supposed to say: we're doing this "to promote the general welfare" of "ourselves and our posterity" (to quote the Constitution's Preamble). Whites aren't supposed to say that—and they don't like to, either.

...In other words, what historian Hugh Davis Graham called attention to in the title of his 2002 book, Collision Course: The Strange Convergence of Affirmative Action and Immigration Policy in America, can't go on forever. The mounting "racial ratio" of nonwhite beneficiaries to white benefactors means the system will inevitably break down under the weight of numbers. At that point, white consciousness could be forced into existence. In the meantime, we can all be thankful that Jared Taylor has been thinking ahead.

Every line is consistent with the claim that a White identity does not exist and its existence would be good, from the complete absence of any criticism of Taylor to the first mention of Chinese competition requiring a coordinated White response to invocation of sacred scripture (the Constitution) to the claim that disaster will reveal the problems of a lack of a White identity, usher it in, and Taylor's work will have been meritorious for helping usher it in.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-02-02T05:30:39.064Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

First, I would like to correct an ambiguity from the very beginning of this thread. I did not mean to dispute that Sailer says (a rhetoric of) white solidarity does not exist, only to dispute that he would like to bring it into existence. I'm not sure this made a difference to the conversation, though.


I concede that Sailer thinks white solidarity would be an improvement over the status quo.

Of course that was one of the articles I looked at before posting and rejected on skimming. I also find your quotes utterly unconvincing and dispute your summary. (The part about Taylor thinking ahead is striking, though I think not so relevant.)
I think this represents a very large disagreement between us. I guess you said that it takes years of reading Sailer to discern his beliefs. If our years of reading him lead to disagreements, it seems hard to address.

What changed my mind was his comparison between his proposal and Taylor's. It is put entirely in terms of potential as a tool to limit immigration. He does link to a debate he had with Taylor years earlier, where he puts more emphasis on principles and the general running of society.

comment by gwern · 2013-02-02T16:59:49.191Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What changed my mind was his comparison between his proposal and Taylor's. It is put entirely in terms of potential as a tool to limit immigration. He does link to a debate he had with Taylor years earlier, where he puts more emphasis on principles and the general running of society.

A debate where he says that Taylor is morally right but that citizenism is more practical and more salable; repeatedly he says that citizenism is a pragmatic attack on his foes:

Mr. Taylor contends that "duty does not calculate the odds of success" but I do. And I'm betting on citizenism, not white nationalism, as the principle that could save America.

If Sailer actually accepts 'citizenism', then why this talk of 'odds of success' or 'betting'? If he believed it, then the chance of success is merely a good extra thing: "I'm right and I'm more likely to succeed". His arguments are taking the form of "you're right, but I'm more likely to succeed".

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-02-02T19:59:29.070Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I invite the reader to actually read the debate and see which of those forms his arguments take.

comment by Elithrion · 2013-02-04T02:15:31.281Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Priors: I haven't heard of either Taylor or Sailor before (except possibly in passing). I dislike "citizenism" (insofar as I understand what that means before reading this) almost as much as (though slightly less than) "white nationalism". I am also slightly more swayed by gwern's argument than Douglas's so far, though I remain quite uncertain.

Upon reading the essay linked and this previous one, but nothing else, my impression is that Sailor's main focus is on distinguishing "nationalism" and "tribalism" (my terms for interpreting his ideas), more or less. By nationalism he means a system based on laws designed to facilitate and encourage altruism and cooperation with strangers, which he claims emerged in Western Europe, and is carried on mostly by whites. By tribalism he means a system based on supporting and dealing with primarily your extended family, and by extension members of your race. He opposes "white nationalism" insofar as he believes it's "tribalist" and anti-individualistic and would harness whites to serve the racial group (much as he claims black solidarity, etc., does for other races), which would be harmful. He does seem to believe that whites are broadly superior to black and Latinos, but seems to believe this difference is unimportant compared to the paramount goal of promoting the welfare of current US citizens and ensuring that the "nationalism" (using the definition I mentioned above) remains the dominant force.

So, posteriors: I find that his arguments suck, and my opinion of "citizenism" has not improved and possibly became worse (which is beside the point). However, judging by those two posts alone, it does seem like Sailor genuinely holds "citizenism" to be paramount and is in weak opposition to some forms of white nationalism, insofar as that would encourage whites to put group interests ahead of individual and general cooperation interests; that said, he probably believes that whites are genuinely superior and because of this has significant moral sympathy for white nationalist positions despite believing a focus on racial solidarity may be harmful. Although I'm not sure if he cares about improving the lives of non-white Americans or sees that as merely a neutral or slightly beneficial side-effect of improving the lives of white Americans.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-02-05T12:28:38.945Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I admire your ability to read and review the article in a sane way, in the middle of mindkilling maelstrom.

comment by bogus · 2013-02-02T02:18:57.107Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In all fairness, "loyalty" and "identity" are core moral foundations for "conservative" or "right-wing" politics, and Sailer is often cited as a member of the so-called "alt-right". "Race", i.e. skin color, is a very salient feature which tends to correlate (at least in the United States; we would see very different results in such places as Brazil) with the kind of cultural distinctiveness that tends to create and sustain ingroup biases. So, it's not very surprising that the 'alt-right' would be biased towards this kind of ingroup solidarity.

"Black solidarity" is indeed harder to explain. It may reflect a morally conservative attitude on the part of some blacks; it may be proof that left-wing folks are anything but immune to ingroup bias, at least in some circumstances; or it may be that what we take to be "black solidarity" does not reflect a true ingroup in the moral and cognitive sense, but rather a mere coalition or bloc based on shared interests, which is a fairly common feature in modern politics.

comment by gwern · 2013-02-02T02:38:06.480Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

"Black solidarity" is indeed harder to explain. It may reflect a morally conservative attitude on the part of some blacks; it may be proof that left-wing folks are anything but immune to ingroup bias, at least in some circumstances; or it may be that what we take to be "black solidarity" does not reflect a true ingroup in the moral and cognitive sense, but a mere coalition or bloc based on shared interests, which is a fairly common feature in modern politics.

I don't think it's that hard to explain. A sufficient explanation would simply be the salience of skin color leading to stereotypes and action based on it: for example, during slavery, even if all sorts of ethnic groups with dark skin had nothing at all in common with each other it would still be a good idea to form a 'Black' identity just to coordinate opposition to slavery; if they were going to be treated as a single homogenous group, then they might as well strive to make themselves a homogenous group as far as fighting the treatment goes. (Alternate example: if there were pending legislation to execute everyone with brown eyes and you have brown eyes, you'd better quickly find all your fellow brown-eyes and hand all your money to a brown-eyed organization to fight this legislation in every way possible.)

Such a 'reaction' explanation of group identity also handily explains observed voting patterns of blacks for Democrats in shares upwards of 70 or 80% - it may not so much be that they really find themselves in agreement with the Democratic platform in every respect, it's just that black-related issues are really important to them. IIRC, blacks tend to strongly disagree with the general Democratic population on some issues like gay marriage.

(Of course, I could be wrong about all of this; maybe it's already been investigated thoroughly and these explanations debunked. It's not an area I read much in.)

comment by bogus · 2013-02-02T02:57:31.639Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, that's essentially what I mean by "shared interests". In this case, the lack of white "solidarity" (in a political sense) is easily explained by the observation that whites' political interests are not at all homogenous.

Of course, if policy is allowed to discriminate among races (and this is in fact the case) that might create homogenous interests where none existed before; however, my guess is that some minorities would still coalesce along race-based lines even if such policies weren't a factor.

comment by gwern · 2013-02-02T03:11:47.114Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, that's essentially what I mean by "shared interests".

I thought you meant something more like pre-existing conditions or contexts, for example, the shared interest of everyone who holds fixed debt in keeping inflation low or everyone who owns land on secure property rights.

What I thought was interesting and different about the black example was that this 'shared interest' could be forced on groups that previously shared no interests by a sufficiently powerful group which decides to treat the previously different groups as the same group - in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-02T11:27:03.653Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Race", i.e. skin color

It's not just that. Colin Powell is considered an African American despite being pale-skinned.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-02-01T18:04:56.368Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

So, I mentioned here that I might write a "(pure) mathematics for rationalists" post. Would other people be interested in such a post, and if so, what sort of concerns would you want it to address? If there are lots of LWers trying to learn mathematics I would also like to know what their goals are in doing so.

(Edit, 2/10: Thanks for the responses, everyone. I'm in the process of writing this.)

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2013-02-02T16:39:58.469Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I'm interested in heuristics for assembling or specific suggestions for a ruthless course aimed for giving a well-rounded math education (that doesn't trade thorough understanding of a diverse set of tools for better expertise in any particular area).

For example, I find the following techniques useful:

  • Focus on the simplest texts I don't yet understand well, not on the hardest texts I can follow
  • Assemble a list of leading US and UK schools and make sure that I've considered topics and textbooks mentioned in their curricula
  • Given a text, find related texts with Amazon's "Customers also bought these" lists, in Amazon reviews, with web search
  • Don't miss the "gems", which are often not mentioned in standard courses, but can be found on blogs and forums
  • Look for lists of recommended books (there are surprisingly few of such lists that are of any value)

What makes specific recommendations valuable for me:

  • Particularly good texts that may be absent from standard curricula, such as Pierce's "Introduction to Information Theory", Courant & Robbins's "What Is Mathematics?", Stillwell's texts, Needham's "Visual Complex Analysis", Hilbert's "Geometry and the imagination", Arnol'd's "Mathematical Methods of Classical Mechanics", etc. (More so for the texts that are not as well-known.)
  • Texts that are placed in context of other texts that are indicated as being at similar/lower/higher level
  • Texts with a discussion of prerequisites that names specific other texts and not just topics
  • Lists of prerequisites that go down a couple of levels without missing lots of intermediate steps, at least within the same topic

And these features make recommendations far less useful:

  • Assertions of which texts are "better", where the disapproval turns out to be aimed at books with a different intended audience (what's "better", Pinter's "Book of Abstract Algebra" or Aluffi's "Algebra"?)
  • Many alternative suggests, even worse if the "alternatives" are at vastly different levels
  • Misrepresentation of levels of texts or of order in which the texts should naturally go
  • Isolated "standard" texts with no context or motivation (a whole list of recommendations can consist of such items)
comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-02-02T19:30:10.329Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

These are all good ideas and I would be happy to write a post in this direction.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-01T18:13:15.152Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Why reinvent the wheel? There are plenty of decent textbooks out there already, and no apparent reason why "pure mathematics for rationalists" is any different from "pure mathematics."

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-02-01T18:23:22.695Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

There are various meta-level questions left unanswered by textbooks, such as "how do I go about deciding which textbooks to read in a particular subject," "how do I go about deciding which subjects to study," "what resources other than textbooks are good for learning math," and "say, what's the big picture here, anyway?" The goal would not be to regurgitate the content of any particular textbook.

I also expect rationalists to be more goal-oriented than most people, so my recommendations for them would be different from my recommendations for people who just want to learn whatever math is cool and interesting. My recommendations would depend heavily on what those goals are, which is why I'd like to know what those goals are.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-02T05:11:38.414Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

"how do I go about deciding which textbooks to read in a particular subject,"

You probably know this anyway Qiaochu, given your involvement in the various math stackexchanges. But others here might find it useful.

This is my Google search string for mathematics textbooks on the stackexchanges:

"coding theory" books | book | reading | texts | list | "reference request" site:math.stackexchange.com | site:stats.stackexchange.com | site:mathoverflow.net | site:crypto.stackexchange.com | site:quant.stackexchange.com | site:scicomp.stackexchange.com | site:cstheory.stackexchange.com | site:cs.stackexchange.com

Replace "coding theory" with the area you want to learn, and you end up getting a nice list.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-02-02T05:14:28.945Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You have overestimated the strength of my google-fu! That's a nice search string.

comment by PaulS · 2013-02-02T01:53:40.443Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I would be very interested in something like this.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-04T08:28:15.185Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I hope you do write this. I'm trying to get comfortable with using math again and I'm pretty much starting from scratch with only my rusty half-forgotten high school algebra and pre calculus (I haven't even learned calculus. Should I? That's why I need your post).This kind of general guidance about what to focus on would likely be very helpful.

My goal (for now, unless I try and find out I really like some specific direction of study) is mainly just to learn whatever math gets me the most mileage in understanding the random grab bag of subjects I happen to like a bit more rigorously- I'm not sure what specific advice that would warrant, besides maybe some discussion on the math prereqs for various domains. Could that be something your post covers?

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-02-04T16:51:47.893Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure what specific advice that would warrant, besides maybe some discussion on the math prereqs for various domains. Could that be something your post covers?

It could be if you list those domains, although I can't claim to be a domain expert in anything that isn't math.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-04T18:12:01.910Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm still working on deciding what I'm into; I was hoping for something like a general overview of the maths used in different fields (whichever ones you felt like writing about about). But since you're wanting examples, I'll list some things I might or might not read and would like to know what math would enable understanding them

or learning computational cognitive science

And are the math courses listed in Louie Helm's course recommendations everything I need to understand the rest of the courses in it?

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-02-04T18:41:53.571Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

And are the math courses listed in Louie Helm's course recommendations everything I need to understand the rest of the courses in it?

I don't know! But I'll attempt to suggest untested heuristics for answering this question.

comment by Metus · 2013-02-01T18:58:34.655Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Goals: Deeper understanding of mathematics as a discipline, learning of useful formal concepts in mathematics, preferably with day-to-day applications such as probability theory.

Request: If possible, find a good balance between overly technical and overly practical presentation. Probability theory introduction usually suffer from the latter, more abstract concepts more from the former.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-02-01T21:24:41.004Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

learning of useful formal concepts in mathematics

Useful for what purposes?

comment by Metus · 2013-02-01T21:29:48.954Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I was thinking practically useful, e.g. geometry. Not general abstract nonsense.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-02-01T21:43:16.555Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

My expertise happens to be largely concentrated in general abstract nonsense (which I think has a bad rap it doesn't deserve; to me it's the analogue of using a high-level programming language instead of a low-level one) but I'll see what I can do. It's worth mentioning that I gave the title as "(pure) mathematics..." instead of "mathematics..." because I don't have any particular expertise in applied mathematics.

comment by Metus · 2013-02-01T21:54:10.894Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, try this: Show how general abstract nonsense could be relevant to a rationalist in his day to day life or in his general understanding of the world. Or try an introduction to general abstract nonsense that does not leave the reader with the feeling that it is, well, general abstract nonsense.

comment by negamuhia · 2013-02-02T14:17:47.644Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure about "day-to-day life", but this application of general abstract nonsense certainly did make my day better when I read it: link

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-02-02T19:27:22.341Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

So, in mathematics general abstract nonsense has a more specific meaning than this. It specifically refers to certain kinds of arguments in category theory.

comment by ESRogs · 2013-02-03T09:47:03.216Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

That is quite amusing. Of course mathematicians have defined "general abstract nonsense" to mean something specific. :P

comment by maia · 2013-02-07T04:29:28.967Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

LessWrong has a lot of threads that go like:

Someone: "Gee, it would sure be nice if we had this cool new feature on LessWrong!"

EY/similar person: "Gee, it sure would. Too bad we don't have any development resources."

How would one go about volunteering to do this sort of thing?

I assume that if volunteer work is accepted, it would require testing to prove that it is a quality and non-malicious change before they actually run it on the servers.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-02-08T05:46:33.799Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I attempted to volunteer (I'm a web developer) but that didn't go anywhere. First, I wanted to help LW grow (in my "LessWrong could grow a lot" thread). Then I realized that LW was at serious risk for eternal September and growing it would risk hastening progress toward cultural collapse. So, I did several more threads on that to see if anyone had good arguments about us not being at risk, or good suggestions on how to stop it. I compiled a list of suggestions and held a vote asking people whether they think there is a significant risk and which solution, if any, they wanted. The result was that the majority of respondents think there is a significant risk, and this was presented to Luke, but he said he doesn't want to do anything at this time.

That was, to put it mildly, a bit of a buzz kill in regards to my volunteering energy level.

My advice to you is to make sure of the following things:

  1. That you and Luke (yes, Luke seems to be the contact person) both agree on a project that is to be done. Luke liked the idea of growing LW, but he didn't like the idea of preventing cultural collapse. I can't, in good conscience, grow LW if there is a significant risk of it contributing to cultural collapse, and the group thinks that there is a significant risk. So, we unfortunately appear to be at a stalemate.

  2. That Luke is cool with you specifically making changes. (Luke will need to go to some trouble to verify that you're a good developer. This will take time, and he may or may not be willing to invest it.)

There are multiple people who are interested in doing volunteer work. Myself, you, and at least one other have expressed interest, and I could have swore there were more. Considering that, and the fact that this website is basically full of programmers up to the eyebrows, and the fact that they could ask for volunteers at any time, I really think lack of development resources is not an obstacle. If you attempt to explore and/or tackle the following obstacles you may get somewhere:

Obstacle 1: Luke and Eliezer may be unaware of how many potential developer volunteers they have.

Solution 1: Survey the group asking how many people would be willing to volunteer their web development skills, and which specific skills they can offer. Ask them to describe what type of time commitment they're willing to provide in the comments. (I don't think there's an easy way to organize a bunch of responses that will range from "an hour a week" to "I'll commit, but on a per project basis, depending on the project." I know that one of the research volunteers does the former, and that there is a potential volunteer web development manager who is interested in the latter arrangement.)

Obstacle 2: Managing volunteers has a cost - overhead. Luke and EY are busy, and they're "pivoting away from" community building (see the recent fundraiser post). Although Luke and EY still want to lead the LessWrong community, they must be very short on time. Luke and EY probably do not realistically have the time to manage web development volunteers.

Solution 2: When surveying the group to get an idea of the development resources potential, be sure to ask whether the respondents have experience managing web developers and would be willing to provide this service. Obviously Luke will have to decide whether to trust the volunteer manager, but making a decision about that one person is easier than managing a whole bunch of them, and double-checking the projects when they're finished is a heck of a lot faster than doing all the hand-holding that may otherwise be anticipated without such a manager in place.

If enough people volunteer, this will wake everybody (including them) up to the developer resources that they already have. If their true rejection has not been uncovered, broaching the subject of having a volunteer manager might be the hammer that hits that nail on the head.

Luke explains here

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-02-11T01:20:55.614Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

IIRC, a while after posting this years ago, EY complained that no one responded to it.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-02-11T07:36:38.591Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm seeing one "yes" and one "maybe" response on the volunteers wanted thread you referenced. Any idea why he said "no one" responded?

Also, that was posted about four years ago. The site has grown massively since then. There were (looks at my spreadsheet from Trike Apps full of registration dates) 373 members on 3-11-09. They hadn't even added Overcoming Bias yet. (That happened on 5-28-09). If the number of volunteers has increased proportionately to the number of members, then one or two volunteers four years ago could be a team today, as there are over one hundred times as many registered users now (13,726 as of 8-24-2012).

If they asked again, they might get dozens of volunteers.

It looks to me like all they need is a strategy to predict which ones are worth the overhead, and someone to manage them. Then, if they posted a "volunteers wanted" thread again, they might succeed.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-02-11T07:46:19.668Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's a very vague recollection, I just remember him complaining about the lack of Python volunteers.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-02-11T07:57:21.228Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder if they're choosy about what language the person normally uses. The code I work with at my job is not written in Python, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't be willing to put in the extra effort to work with new syntax and get into Python reference documentation.

comment by shminux · 2013-02-11T08:03:38.620Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you really want to volunteer, install and configure the LW code from github, make the changes, test them and present a working fork to EY to poke at and give you feedback. If he likes the result, he'll probably ask Trike to review and integrate your changes. Or something along these lines.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-02-11T10:46:41.183Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's the second time I've heard that piece of advice.

If I desire to make a change that is most likely wanted, not too large a time investment (as I am risking that the change is ignored or rejected), and also the sort of change that can be made by editing the open source (as opposed to, say, an SEO change specific to the text in an article or something), I will consider doing just that.

comment by shminux · 2013-02-11T19:54:30.237Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's the second time I've heard that piece of advice.

Oops, sorry. I should have realized. My thought process was "If I were Luke, what kind of volunteer help with the site would I prefer?" And the answer is invariably "minimum hassle".

comment by Epiphany · 2013-02-12T04:31:19.768Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Oops, sorry. I should have realized.

The other person told me elsewhere. There's no way you would have known about it. The intended meaning of "That's the second time..." was "When more than one person tells me something, that makes it seem more likely to be useful."

My thought process was "If I were Luke, what kind of volunteer help with the site would I prefer?" And the answer is invariably "minimum hassle".

Heh. You're probably right.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-02-08T06:00:02.329Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Something to consider is that work on the lesswrong codebase is something anyone can do. After something is identified that Eliezer would want if it was available then any old person can create the code. Then all that is required from officially endorsed types is to review the code, test and consider pulling it into the official codebase.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-02-07T18:11:33.631Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The obvious starting point would be to email somebody. I don't know who would be most appropriate, so for the sake of having a concrete recommendation, Luke?

comment by lukeprog · 2013-02-09T02:57:10.695Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Unfortunately, the code base takes a fair bit of time to learn. It is cheaper to pay for LW development from its current developers than to take risks with volunteer developers learning the code base and implementing changes.

A better destination for volunteer developers, I think, is CFAR app development, e.g. improving their calibration app, developing new apps for training particular rationality skills, etc. The contact person for this should be Anna Salamon.

Coming up with your own volunteer projects is hard, because people outside the organization can't possibly know the details of what's going on — e.g. the many past failed attempts at volunteer development for LW. Thus, volunteer projects are better generated by MIRI staff, and those are listed here.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-02-10T23:16:49.043Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(Nevermind. I see now that Luke has responded, making this irrelevant.)

comment by Slade · 2013-02-10T03:44:30.417Z · score: 14 (20 votes) · LW · GW

So... this is a really personal issue and I'm not sure I have any business bringing it up here, but I'm going to anyway:

I've been on and off suicidal for the past 8 or so years (I'm 18, btw), but I've been especially depressed for the last couple of months. My exact emotions are pretty complicated and the motivations behind my death wish differ from moment to moment. 2 days ago I decided to commit to killing myself and I've spent the time between then and now readying myself for suicide. In the past 10 minutes I've had a change of heart brought on by guilt.

Help.

I imagine the wise thing to do would be to seek professional assistance, but I don't want to for various reasons. I've told several friends that I want to die, but they don't really believe me because of the casual way I bring it up and my disposition towards seeking attention. There was a case of suicide by someone in this community awhile ago and I believe some of the commenters on that thread offered to talk to anyone who was feeling self destructive, but that was some time ago, so I'd like to inquire as to whether the offer still stands.

I think I'm likely to have more in common with the average Lesswronger than with any volunteer I could talk to, which is why I'm leaving this post on this site. My depression all but disappeared for over 2 years after finding this place, so naturally it's the first place I turn to. I'm not exactly sure if I have anything to say about my problems or if talking will even help, but I need to do something to fend off the desire to kill myself, and this is my way of committing. I'd appreciate anything anyone here has to offer in the way of advice.

Again, I'm truly sorry if this issue is inappropriate here and I swear I'm not trolling. I normally use a different account here, but I didn't want to associate anything rationality-based I have to say in the future with this problem, so I re-registered under this name.

Thank you.

comment by Tripitaka · 2013-02-10T14:08:50.302Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

It is ok and not at all inappropriate to seek help here. I myself suffer from depression, so I do know the kind of pain you`re in- right now, as I write this post, I nearly weep tears of sorrow for the fact that you hurt so much right now, and my heart flies out to you.

Please do not kill yourself!

Although it may seem very far away right now, the pain can go away, and you can be happy again. As for an immediate plan of action I would recommend the following things:

  • first, numb the pain so you do not get worse. Thats not a longterm-solution, its just until this cry of help does help you. What worked for me was watching old TV-Series and Starcraft-2 casts.

  • second: I certainly do not know your reasons why you do not wish to seek seek professional assistance, but I do understand this reluctance of yours. I myself needed over a year to make the call; a time which I now wish to be much shorter. So i ask you to reconsider: professional help is the fastest form of sustainable relief you can get and is probably the best method to minimize the total amount of suffering. For this, I would find it fantastical if you would not only talk about the reasons why you hurt, but also about the reasons why you do not wish to seek this form of help.

  • third: Should these feelings suddenly intensify and you really really need someone to talk to at, say, 02 00 am, it is helpful to have saved the number of a suicide hotline into your phone (or some other immediate form of communication, where you do not have to wait for long, thoughtful answers. Set up a IRC-chat.)

comment by gwern · 2013-02-10T15:59:00.144Z · score: 10 (14 votes) · LW · GW

It is ok and not at all inappropriate to seek help here.

I think it is. We are not suicide experts, we know nothing about how to help, and our attempts to help can easily backfire. And this is assuming that we are not being trolled, attacked, or drama queened (anyone can say that they have contributions under another account). Let us recall that pdf23ds asked for LW help with his sleep problems which did nothing, and LWers attempting to follow up on his posted suicide note apparently did not solve the problem.

The big sites like Wikipedia generally have a policy of:

  1. not encouraging amateurs to engage in therapy-over-the-internet and other-optimization
  2. having the admins escalate to looking up IP addresses and contacting locals
  3. providing the concerned user with a suicide hotline number

I don't see any reason that this should not be implemented on LW as well.

comment by MixedNuts · 2013-02-10T16:51:18.189Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

OTOH, suicidal people often have very few options, so removing one is a big cost. Lots of reports suggests that suicide hotlines aren't actually much better than random like-minded people, though it's possible that callers underestimate how helpful they were. And contacting locals is among the most likely strategies to backfire.

comment by gwern · 2013-02-10T17:03:21.175Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

so removing one is a big cost

I wasn't suggesting banning users contemplating suicide. (Do any sites do that? Is it a good idea?)

Lots of reports suggests that suicide hotlines aren't actually much better than random like-minded people, though it's possible that callers underestimate how helpful they were. And contacting locals is among the most likely strategies to backfire.

Are these claims research-based?

comment by Epiphany · 2013-02-11T09:00:56.311Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I want research, too, but in lieu of that, I second "lots of reports". Also, consider this reality:

Imagine you tell someone that you're thinking about killing yourself. Say this person decided to call 911, and you end up admitted into the mental ward of a hospital.

Unless you have very good insurance (or something has changed), they're likely to let you out in a week. I've heard of this happening to countless people. It is simply too expensive to keep them in there very long.

So, a week later, you've:

  • Missed a week worth of pay (from work).
  • Racked up tens of thousands of dollars in hospital bills (most likely your insurance won't pay for it all.)
  • Missed a week of work. Some workplaces will find a reason to fire you after that. (Not all managers care that this is illegal.)
  • You had to live in a place full of crazy people every day for a week.
  • You had to sleep in a place full of crazy people, perhaps sharing a room with one, every night, for a week.
  • You've been treated like a crazy person for a week. (Barely allowed any possessions, unable to go anywhere, living apart from friends and family, having your life scheduled by the staff, etc.)
  • Your new prescription may not even kick in for several weeks!

Is your situation and mood:

A. Better

B. Worse

The last suicidal person I called 911 for was not provided any services, but was charged hundreds of dollars. Apparently, they stopped by, asked him a pile of questions, he managed to avoid being taken to the mental ward, and then they charged him out the ears for the visit.

He was quite upset with me. Quite. Moral of that story: Don't IM about suicidal thoughts while the internet connection is flaking out and then say something like "I can't go on" and then also fail to answer the now very concerned friend's phone call right after.

It's enough to make me think that someone should do a study to determine whether fatalities might increase after a visit to a mental hospital.

And as for the suicide hotlines - a lot of the operators are volunteers. I wouldn't be surprised if the number of operators who are volunteers is like 90%+. I'm sure you have to be pretty special to be a suicide hotline volunteer (nerves of steel + screening) but I doubt that most of the operators are psychologists. This could probably be verified if you were willing to look up the largest suicide hotlines and see how they source their operators. For now, a quick example of operator sourcing:

Crisis Clinic Volunteering Page:

"Crisis Line phone workers come from all walks of life and educational backgrounds." (All educational backgrounds means lots of people who are not licensed psychologists).

http://crisisclinic.org/get-involved/volunteer/#24hour

comment by Creutzer · 2013-02-12T21:18:30.100Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's enough to make me think that someone should do a study to determine whether fatalities might increase after a visit to a mental hospital.

There is one study I'm aware of.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-02-13T01:38:55.641Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ooh... click

It is interesting that the suicide rate for people who have just left a mental ward is over twice that of those who have just started anti-depressants, but:

A. Those who end up in the mental ward are more likely to be in that group because they actually attempted to kill themselves, or because they have a plan, whereas the anti-depressant patients and other groups of people might be experiencing suicidal ideation without an attempt or plan, or simply just depression without suicidal ideation.

B. People who plan or attempt to kill themselves are probably a lot more likely to attempt to kill themselves in the future than people who have never attempted and may not even be thinking about it.

In order to know whether admitting a suicidal person into a mental ward does more harm or more good, we'd need a study where they compare outpatient suicide rates with suicide rates in a control group. A good control group would need to consist of equally suicidal people who were not admitted into a mental ward. In order to ensure they were comparable, they'd need to track things like whether a suicide attempt was made, whether the person was on anti-depressants, etc. Also, if nobody had hospitalized the hypothetical control group, there'd be a reason for that. This reason would have to be the sort of thing that wouldn't impact the suicide rate itself. For instance, if those people are living in a place with no legal way to hospitalize a person against their will, it might produce a great control group. On the other hand, if the control group mostly consisted of people who were not hospitalized because they are alone and have no family members or friends who care enough to call 911, this would not be a great control group.

Now I wonder if there are any places where you cannot legally be admitted to a mental ward against your will... or whether there might have been a point in the past when there was a place like this.

It's hard to imagine that there would ever have been a place like this, but you never know.

comment by Creutzer · 2013-02-13T06:55:43.032Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You're quite right that it'd be very hard to demonstrate a causal effect (and without having read the study itself - don't have access -, I suspect the researchers didn't even want to try).

Actually, I have no idea how that could be done in practice. For voluntary hospitalization, it would be helpful if one couldn't be hospitalized against one's will, but I'm not aware of a time and place where that would be the case, and don't expect there to be any. So one can study that only outside the realm of "hospitalization-worthy" suicidality, by using patients who have been offered hospitalization, but declined it, as a control. My quick search turned up no indication of even that having been done.

And for forced hospitalization, it seems sort of impossible in principle to find a control group...

I also just found this, again I don't have access, and unfortunately it doesn't even have an abstract. Might be relevant, though, judging by the title.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-02-13T07:59:08.734Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Check for that first link on Pubmed. I was able to access the article that way.

I'm not finding this new article anywhere. The text in a Google book search where the study had been mentioned suggests that it's probably not the type of study I'm looking for though.

I doubt this type of study exists. About the best we could do is to compare the suicide rate in an area with no legal method for hospitalizing suicidal people against their will (if that exists and the country is developed enough to keep such statistics reasonably well) with the suicide rate of a comparable area.

comment by gwern · 2013-02-12T22:19:22.207Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I looked at the results section of that abstract, but there's an obvious reason why their correlation of an increase in suicides after hospitalization may not have Epiphany's causal explanation.

comment by MixedNuts · 2013-02-10T21:40:23.065Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't mean banning, just people thinking "They won't help me, no point posting" or "Holy mackerel they're going to call 911 on me and get me locked up" or "I would ask LW for help, but I can't get over fretting about the reaction".

A couple mental illness support groups I know of ban talking about planned suicides (and self-injury), mostly to avoid triggering potentially suicidal (resp. self-injurious) people. Since they point to emergency resources a lot and support non-acutely suicidal people, it doesn't seem to be very bad, but I can't observe the consequences.

Are these claims research-based?

The first is anecdotal. I've heard a lot of negative reports and very few positive ones, but there may be selection bias. Maybe hotlines are for people who are desperate to talk to anyone, so people who'd talk to me don't benefit nearly as much.

The second... is probably wrong, come to think of it. A lot of people shriek "Never spill the beans about someone being suicidal without their consent, it could get them into arbitrary amounts of trouble, and an even suckier life won't make them less suicidal", but even more people shriek "Call 911 NAO" and the main evidence that the former know what they're talking about is that they have much more personal experience.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-02-11T09:00:04.939Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ooh. Ooh. I totally want these studies. If there is research. Is there? eager to get that research

comment by Tripitaka · 2013-02-10T18:08:43.336Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

While I agree in general, I do think such guidelines and agreements are best discussed in a quiet, separate thread, with explicit agreement of the concerned Mods, and not in response to an "emergency" call for help. In this instance, I am very glad that Slade did manage to call for help this way.

comment by Epiphany · 2013-02-11T08:22:08.517Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

These are good points, Gwern, but the psychology industry and suicide hotlines fail a lot more often than you'd think (support for this point is included). If Slade has not tried them, they may still be useful for Slade. It is also possible that Slade has tried a few different psychologists, a few different prescriptions, and a few different hotlines without relief. Here are a few problems that one may run into when attempting to utilize the standard forms of help:

Note to Slade: You may not want to read this. This is for people who don't have a clue why anybody would be asking here. It consists of a list of problems. It's useful for the purpose it's serving, but not particularly uplifting for a person in your situation. I'm writing you a separate response.

  1. Psychologists failing to practice science. I'm sure you, Gwern, are aware how common this is but I'll include a link for others.
  2. Prescription drugs to treat moods not working. (See "A link for others".)
  3. Prescription drugs to treat moods causing intolerable side effects. (The FDA doesn't approve drugs based on them being safe. It approves them based on whether the problem caused by the drugs is better or worse than the original affliction. I will use tardive dyskinesia, a neurological disorder resulting in involuntary body movements like repeatedly sticking one's tongue out, as my example. Anti-psychotics can cause it.)
  4. If Slade is gifted (not unlikely according to these numbers and Slade may have a 50% chance of not knowing ("about half of our country's (America) gifted students are never identified")) then they may find themselves being misdianosed with disorders they don't have (happens to 25% of the gifted population (Citation: Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults) let alone the portion of the gifted population which actually shows up in a psychologist's office).
  5. If Slade is gifted, they might find that getting help from a psychologist who does not specialize in gifted clients is useless, frustrating or harmful. This can feel like taking a space ship to a car mechanic. Gifted people may need psychologists who have experience with gifted clients.
  6. Suicide hotlines are non-profit organizations. As such they can end up understaffed. The following scenario does happen: Can you imagine how it would feel to call a suicide hotline and be told "Hold on a minute, I'm getting another call." What if it kept happening over and over again throughout the call? If you look past the obvious annoyance that this is likely cause during your important conversation about this life or death matter, you'll also see that you may begin to wonder how many other people are killing themselves while you receive the help. Total survivor's guilt.

It is quite possible that Slade has attempted to get help using the stereotypical options and has run into one or all of these issues.

I don't blame Slade for asking here. In the event that Slade's main problem is that the psychologists don't seem to get it - that Slade is gifted and they're targeting their help to non-gifted clients, or that Slade is receiving unscientific advice from psychologists - one of the places where Slade would have a decent probability of finding these things out is by asking here.

If Slade has been failed by the ordinary methods, would you agree that the situation is important enough to "throw spaghetti at the wall" by posting on the internet asking for help, and that LessWrong would have a significantly better chance of producing a useful response than most websites?

Personally, I think the best approach when dealing with a problem this big is to talk to as many different people as possible about it - including both professionals and laymen that are either knowledgeable about the subject or generally smart. Nobody is infallible, and the more information you have, the better.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-02-13T09:20:58.174Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

We are not suicide experts, we know nothing about how to help, and our attempts to help can easily backfire.

This sounds to me like taking the precautionary principle too far. Shouldn't we do an expected value calculation? I imagine the folks at Wikipedia had a few incidents of people being helped with their depression and killing themselves subsequently (possibly as a result of the help they received), then Wikipedia was like "What should we do? How about a don't-talk-with-suicidal-people policy?" without looking at the other, much more obscure cases where someone asked for help and did not subsequently commit suicide (possibly as a result of the help they received).

I seem to have read that talking to a random smart, empathetic person is just as good as talking to a pro counselor, BTW.

ETA: gwern, what's your take on http://www.reddit.com/r/suicidewatch?

comment by gwern · 2013-02-13T18:48:08.151Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I imagine the folks at Wikipedia had a few incidents of people being helped with their depression and killing themselves subsequently (possibly as a result of the help they received), then Wikipedia was like "What should we do? How about a don't-talk-with-suicidal-people policy?" without looking at the other, much more obscure cases where someone asked for help and did not subsequently commit suicide (possibly as a result of the help they received).

I don't know. Wikipedia spends a lot less time on socializing then LW does.

ETA: gwern, what's your take on http://www.reddit.com/r/suicidewatch?

No one can stop them even if it's a terrible idea, they have nothing to lose, and nevertheless, they list their list of suicide hotlines prominently in the sidebar.

comment by Slade · 2013-02-10T16:29:32.256Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

All fair points.

having the admins escalate to looking up IP addresses and contacting locals

How much can you narrow down my identity from a comment, I really have no idea? That'd probably only cause trouble for me, by the way.

trolled, attacked, or drama queened (anyone can say that they have contributions under another account)

There's really no reason someone couldn't do those things even if they did have contributions under another account. And I'm curious, what do you mean by "attack" other than trolling?

LWers attempting to follow up on his posted suicide note apparently did not solve the problem.

There is a difference between a suicide note by someone determined to kill himself and a plea for advice from someone who doesn't particularly want to die but might kill himself all the same. Your point about attempts to help plausibly backfiring still stands, though.

comment by gwern · 2013-02-10T17:01:29.784Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How much can you narrow down my identity from a comment, I really have no idea? That'd probably only cause trouble for me, by the way.

I don't know; it depends on the details. I know from my time as an admin on Wikipedia that we were often able to contact local authorities or family, often using IP addresses. (I imagine suicide is quite troubling too.)

There's really no reason someone couldn't do those things even if they did have contributions under another account.

It reduces the odds.

And I'm curious, what do you mean by "attack" other than trolling?

I think that if you can't think of ways in which suicides, real or faked, could be used to attack a group, then it's probably better if I don't list every idea that comes to mind.

There is a difference between a suicide note by someone determined to kill himself and a plea for advice from someone who doesn't particularly want to die but might kill himself all the same.

I am not an expert on suicide (which is one reason I think a LW suicide policy is a really good idea), but I understand many or most suicide attempts fail so I'm not sure there is a difference or if the difference is important.

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2013-02-10T13:39:18.611Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Why did LW originally make a difference to your suicidality?

comment by Slade · 2013-02-10T16:14:07.719Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

It changed the way I thought about everything. I had to reanalyze every belief I held and was far too busy doing that to be particularly sad.

More importantly though, it gave me hope. The general air of optimism and confidence and defiance made me feel proud to be a part of it. Before finding this place, the thing that bothered me most about life was that it was absolutely certain to end. After reading the Methods of Rationality, I realized that I didn't have to go down without a fight so long as I had even a chance of winning.

Besides all that, Lesswrong gave me a sense of belonging. People here seem so similar to me, which is a pretty rare thing. Some of them seem atypical in almost exactly the way I'm atypical. Their quirks are basically my quirks. And the way they act, you'd get the idea that they think those things actually make them better people. It's a pretty powerful emotion when you come across it for the first time.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-02-13T09:31:47.362Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's also how I felt about OB/LW in high school. But when I grew older and met smart, sensible non-high-schoolers, the "zomg OB is totally my tribe" effect became less strong, because I found people in the real world who were more similar to me. Anyway, you might be depressed because you're in high school and you're having a hard time finding people similar to you (or because high school is just a terrible place in general).

comment by Epiphany · 2013-02-11T09:49:49.742Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Hi. I'm a psychology enthusiast (not a licensed psychologist) and I have a few bits of information that I think might be useful to you. I've read all of the replies to this, and your replies to those, to make sure I wasn't missing something obvious about your situation. Additionally, I defended your decision to post here. Three bits of information that may help you:

1.) If you haven't found psychologists useful, this might be an explanation

If you haven't found psychologists helpful, it might be because you are gifted. Here's my reasoning for why I think you might be gifted, why this matters to your psychological health, and some ideas for getting services and doing further reading:

  • A large proportion of people at LessWrong are probably gifted. If you feel a sense of understanding here, that may be a sign that you are gifted, too.
  • About 50% of the (American) gifted population doesn't know they are gifted.
  • Gifted people can need a psychologist who has experience with gifted clients. Taking a gifted mind to a psychologist who is trained to work with normal minds can be like taking a space ship to a car mechanic. It can be frustrating or unhelpful.
  • About 25% of gifted people are misdiagnosed by psychologists. If you were diagnosed with any mental or learning disorders, do consult a book called Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults (I got the 25% figure from that book as well.). You are obviously upset, but there's a good chance that there's far less wrong than they think there is.
  • If you're depressed and gifted, you aught to know about something called "existential depression". The misdiagnosis book above does have a blurb on that in the depression section. I am not sure what to recommend for more extensive reading on existential depression, as it's not an officially recognized form of depression. (There isn't nearly enough research on gifted adults.) However, now that you have the term "existential depression" this may enable you to find services or books that are more helpful.

    Consider phone counseling, especially if you're seeking a psychologist who has experience with gifted people. Psychologists who have experience with gifted people are not very common. You may or may not find one in your area. If you increase the range you're looking in to the size of your country, you're likely to have much better luck.

2.) My method for finding useful health professionals:

When I was sick with a medical condition, I discovered that a lot of doctors did not have any idea what to do with me. They'd spend lots of money on tests and come up with nothing, or they'd treat symptoms without getting at the root cause. The only reason I got better was because I found someone who had the same problems that I was having, who had gotten better and she referred me to a doctor that:

A.) Understood my specific problem (There are wayyyyy too many problems out there for any doctor to produce quality results in diagnosing or solving them all. Better to locate someone more specialized.)

B.) Is focused on getting to the root cause. A lot of doctors who are focused on actually finding the cause call themselves "naturopathic" (the Wikipedia entry on naturopathy has this frou-frou introduction about "energy" which I find quite annoying because the most important connection between the different definitions of naturopathy I've seen on professional organization's websites is the focus on getting to the root cause).

I recommend a similar approach when seeking a psychologist. Find someone with similar problems who got better and ask for their doctor (may not be as useful for psychological problems if, as my memory is regurgitating right now, studies show that 1/3 of psychology patients get better without treatment). Barring that, find someone who has tons of experience with your specific problem(s) as opposed to somebody who hasn't specialized very much. Prioritize professionals that are focused on getting to root causes. Also, do your own research (or ask someone with research skills to assist, if you're not feeling up to it.). Some psychologists don't use the most effective methods according to scientific evidence. If you know which methods are the most well-supported, you can find the professionals with the most experience using those.

There are lots of pitfalls when seeking good health professionals. The approach I just described will help you sidestep many of the common ones.

3.) It might be a doctor you need, not a psychologist.

Also, a lot of psychological symptoms are caused by medical problems - and I'm not talking about the vague and ominous "chemical imbalance" (often just used as a semantic stop sign). For instance, if you look at the correlation between irritable bowel syndrome, depression and anxiety, the overlap is incredible. As it turns out, these can be related in more than one way. Getting at the root medical cause of some diseases can stop the mental symptom of depression.

Invitation

If you would like to elaborate on your medical, emotional or life problems, you are invited to do so either here or in PM. I will let you know if I have information that is relevant to them. If you respond publicly there is, of course, a better chance that other people will have additional useful things to say.

comment by Dorikka · 2013-02-10T04:43:34.131Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think that I would be the best person for you to talk things out with, but I wanted to give you an internet hug and let you know that I hope things improve for you. hug

ETA: I think this would be fine to post in Discussion, and more people would see it there.

comment by Slade · 2013-02-10T04:46:00.134Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Well, hugs do make everything better. Reciprocated.

comment by Spectral_Dragon · 2013-02-10T12:09:48.243Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

hug is essentially what I can do as well. I have some experience with this (age 19, depression for the last 2,5 years), and the professionals I've talked with have been very understanding and adaptable to how I think (cognitive behavorial therapy for the win), so I think you should at least talk to one if you find yourself on the verge again. For what it's worth, what I use when I feel really terrible is the internet for reasons life is still awesome enough. Cracked has something like this, though this might only work for me. And I support moving this to Discussion if you want a better chance of help. But if you just want to talk, I'm up for that, too. Just drop me a message.

Anyway, I don't think I can do more for you except say that every life lost is a tragedy, and you're the kind of person the world would definitely be worse without.

comment by hampton · 2013-02-26T10:08:43.907Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Been lurking, but wanted to register and say I hope you feel better.

I imagine the wise thing to do would be to seek professional assistance, but I don't want to for various reasons.

Why not?

comment by juliawise · 2013-02-19T10:38:00.572Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'd like to inquire as to whether the offer still stands.

Yes. PM'd.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-02-11T16:50:25.298Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you want to talk about what you're dealing with without having to air it in front of everyone, I'd be happy to talk with you about it by PM.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-11T16:33:36.500Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hi Slade,

I think your willingness to talk about your issues (implicitly acknowledging that you desire help/advice) can only be a good thing. One thing you might try is training yourself to notice when your brain thinks happy/positive thoughts, and rewarding yourself either mentally or physically for merely thinking said thoughts (#6 from the Checklist of Rationality Habits.)

Here, have a hug. hugs

comment by palladias · 2013-02-01T18:09:04.250Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I gave a talk in Chicago on using Ideological Turing Tests to avoid some mindkill-y problems and have better, more interesting arguments. The video is now up.

In an Ideological Turing Test, you answer one set of questions honestly and another as your best model of your ideological opponent. It's a nice way to spot and burn strawmen and to get curious about why your opponent thinks the thing zer does instead of just angry that they won't concede. Other material included: tips on skipping generic argument scripts and cribbing from LARPing to build a line of retreat.

comment by palladias · 2013-02-01T20:53:36.200Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Would this be of interest as a discussion post? I assume anyone interested just pops over chez moi to read up.

comment by beoShaffer · 2013-02-01T21:37:33.345Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Would this be of interest as a discussion post?

Yes.

I assume anyone interested just pops over chez moi to read up.

I have not been doing that, but I find your ideas intriguing and wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

comment by palladias · 2013-02-04T19:36:59.533Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ok, I will have something up by the time this open thread's period ends.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-02-16T23:49:27.449Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm looking forward to it.

comment by Klao · 2013-02-05T23:13:58.243Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Wow, this is amazing! Both, the idea and your presentation of it.

Very insightful and though-provoking. And, my mind was completely blown by the fact that you have converted. It so doesn't fit into my models that I am quite confused. I would be very curious what's behind it and what would you answer to your own questions (before and after). But, I guess you wrote about it a lot, so I'll just go and read it.

And yes, this definitely deserves a discussion post!

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2013-02-05T13:03:05.154Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Since its inception in early 2009, has this community ever (1) changed its collective opinion on something (2) had a debate in which there were two sides and there was a clear victor?

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-02-06T04:53:59.723Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

(1) I am hesitant to describe this community as having collective opinions, and (2) do the Amanda Knox posts count?

comment by CarlShulman · 2013-02-06T05:56:53.078Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The annual prediction threads, and the website PredictionBook (built by Trike Apps and heavily used by LWers), showcase a lot of arguments about empirical predictions that have been resolved.

comment by Metus · 2013-02-01T11:20:44.416Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

In some kind of identity crisis I am looking for a well-paying, preferably mathematical, career where I can use broad knowledge of physics, biology, chemistry, cognitive science, economics ... I was thinking actuary or statistician. Any similar thoughts?

comment by Kingoftheinternet · 2013-02-01T20:29:35.813Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The software world could probably scratch your itch pretty well. Have you tried/do you like programming?

comment by Metus · 2013-02-01T20:47:43.793Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I tried programming a couple of times but it never really 'clicked' in the sense that I am able to write (simple) code but never developed a fascination with it. I usually find consice solutions that perform reasonably well but I can not stick to learning a language beyond the basic standard exercises.

comment by Kingoftheinternet · 2013-02-01T21:06:48.334Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I went the common route of fixing the "learning advanced subjects is hard" problem by studying computer engineering in college, if that's an option you're able to consider. Writing simple code is a just few steps away from writing complex code, and at that point you have something you'll likely be able to make a career out of. "Software is eating the world", as some people accurately quip.

comment by Metus · 2013-02-01T21:13:41.658Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I am finishing up a bachelor degree in physics and thinking about switching to mathematics. Seeing as I like theoretical physics and it essentially is coding something similar to your suggestion should be possible.

comment by palladias · 2013-02-03T16:26:08.033Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Fun example of the bystander effect in everyday life: last night, I hosted a Twelfth Night party, where people came over and all read the the play aloud and ate boozy cake ("Dost thou think because thou art virtuous, there will be no more cakes and ale?")

We all had a lovely time, and someone asked why we hadn't done this before. And I realized that it was because Shakespeare could happen any time, so we were never pushed to schedule it any particular time. We only managed Twelfth Night because it's pegged to the actual holiday of Twelfth Night.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-02-03T18:32:22.668Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is more about Schelling points than the bystander effect. "Everyone agrees to have Shakespeare parties at time X of the year" is a Nash equilibrium for every X, so in practice the easiest way to decide on an X is if some particular X stands out in some way. This is why Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc. are nice; otherwise an entire family (not to mention their employers!) would have to agree on what time of year is a good time to meet, etc. There may also be a scarcity effect involved in only one X standing out and the feeling that it would be a waste to let it pass.

Corollary: if you want to start having more interesting themed parties, look for more interesting dates to put them on. History-themed parties pegged to the dates of important historical events seems like a good place to start. (Followed by fictional-history-themed parties pegged to the dates of fictional important historical events?)

comment by palladias · 2013-02-03T20:39:55.589Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's how I handle seeing friends who are bad at logistics/scheduling. The standing plan is that we have dinner the first Sunday of each month, and, then, if one of us becomes busy, we have to reschedule it to a new specific day.

comment by gjm · 2013-02-03T17:40:27.681Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

last night [...] because it's pegged to the actual holiday of Twelfth Night

which is in early January. Is that just because arranging parties takes time, or did someone get Twelfth Night mixed up with Candlemas?

[EDITED to add: great idea, though.]

comment by palladias · 2013-02-04T04:16:47.529Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Not everyone was back in the city in time for normal Twelfth Night, so we consulted some schismatic calendars and picked the Twelfth Night of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, but then I had to go out of state, so we finally used doodle to have a heretical Twelfth Night.

As the other replier pointed out, we did happen to land on Candlemas/the Feast of the Presentation.

comment by Salutator · 2013-02-03T21:24:56.593Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But if you missed Twelfth Night, Candlemas would be a Schelling point for rescheduling, because it's the other "Christmas now definitely over" holiday.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-02-04T17:03:26.115Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I was thinking whether Mensa could be used for CFAR purposes (raising the rationality waterline), and I would like to hear your opinions. Also, I am interested how many LWers are in Mensa, and how many think that Mensa is useful for anything more than satisfying social needs of its members.

For me personally, Mensa was a huge disappointment. (I am not sure how much that reflects only Mensa in Slovakia, and how much applies for other countries too. I know many people in other countries are disappointed too, but it also seems to me that Mensa in other countries does more useful activities.) The easiest way to explain it is that when I first heard about Mensa, I imagined something like CFAR Minicamps. It did not occur to me that someone would spend their energy to create a worldwide organization for highly intelligent people, only to do... nothing. Because that is exactly what most Mensa members do, in my experience. They meet, they talk about something, but usually only to signal their own superiority, then they solve puzzles. Everyone wants to be a leader; almost no one is willing to be a team player. So all they do is confirm each other's superiority, and then lament about why the world does not hold highly intelligent people in higher esteem.

Yet I am somehow not ready to give up on the idea that selecting people with high IQ is potentially very useful. Many intelligent people are irrational. But still, higher intelligence should mean higher chance to become rational, and higher possible benefits from rationality. I mean, if you want to make someone interested in LW-style rationality, you should have better chances with "random person with IQ over 130" than with "random person". It's just that both of those chances are rather low. Selecting highly intelligent people could be a good first step toward some goal -- the problem is that for Mensa, selecting them is the goal. (To avoid misunderstanding: I don't think that a person must be Mensa-level to benefit from rationality. I just think that if you can do the IQ-testing cheaply, e.g. by outsourcing it to Mensa, your resources could be better spent on people who pass the test, than on random people.)

If many people have similar experience like me (tried to find rationality in Mensa, became disappointed, and eventually left), perhaps we could try to gain these people for rationality. Don't search among long-term Mensans; look at the fresh ones. They are preselected for IQ, and also for wanting some new experience -- we could offer them an alternative to Mensa, while outsourcing most of the costs of finding them.

This is the outline of a plan: Create a local rationalist organization. Become members of Mensa (even if you don't care about Mensa). Create a "special interest group" within Mensa. Get information about when the new members are tested. Go to the meetups with the new members, and try to recruit them for your organization. (If your organization is a subgroup of Mensa, there is nothing wrong about contacting new Mensa members, right?) But besides this, just ignore Mensa, and keep your group informally open for non-Mensans too. -- Simplified version: Create flyers about CFAR, with links to LessWrong and "Facing the Singularity", and give them to the new members.

Expected result: cheapest way to find new fellow rationalists in your area. Do you think it could work?

comment by wuncidunci · 2013-02-05T00:34:27.805Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Might work, depends on how inconspicuous and patient your were. Certainly not the first time people have been trying to recruit from/take over another organisation. Writing about it on the internet however will make what you're doing so much more obvious if someone started noticing.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-02-05T13:55:45.651Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Writing about it on the internet however will make what you're doing so much more obvious if someone started noticing.

One of the reasons I wrote this in Open Thread, instead of a separate article. :D

But even if they notice, can they prevent it? I don't think so. If a group of rationalists decides to become Mensa members, who can stop them? If they pass the entry test (in my estimate, 9 of 10 would pass), they cannot be stopped from becoming Mensa members. If they are Mensa members, they cannot be denied information about the new tests, and they cannot be denied contact with the new members. Nothing in the current rules of Mensa prevents this. Actually, the whole "special interest group" system encourages this -- of course, assuming that the group wants to remain a subset of Mensa. So we just need to have a subset of rationalists who are both rationalists and Mensa members, and this subset is a completely valid group within Mensa. This is not even exceptional; for example there is a group of Mensa members who love classical music, and I assume nobody expects them to avoid non-Mensans who share the same hobby. In the same way, rationalist Mensans could have meetups with rationalist non-Mensans, and ignore the whole Mensa, except for fishing for new members.

Certainly not the first time people have been trying to recruit from/take over another organisation.

Sure, the same strategy could by used by... well, anyone, unless they are strongly anticorrelated with IQ. But it would be most useful for groups strongly correlated with IQ. Seems to me that rationalists are such group. (I assume that most high-IQ people are not rationalists, but most rationalists are high-IQ people.) Any other groups like this? Probably many of them, for example entrepreneurs, programmers, mathematicians, etc. But each of them already have their specialized communities, probably larger than Mensa, so it does not make sense for them. When we will have local rationalist communities of size comparable with local Mensa, it will stop making sense for us too. But today, we are not there yet (at least in my country).

comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-02-05T15:45:20.361Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If many people have similar experience like me (tried to find rationality in Mensa, became disappointed, and eventually left), perhaps we could try to gain these people for rationality. Don't search among long-term Mensans; look at the fresh ones. They are preselected for IQ, and also for wanting some new experience -- we could offer them an alternative to Mensa, while outsourcing most of the costs of finding them.

It would probably work better if you do not present it as an alternative to Mensa, and do not think of LessWrong and CFAR as rivals to Mensa. Just start a special interest group within Mensa on the subject of practical rationality. To avoid the taint of entryism it would be best if it were started by people already in Mensa, if there are any such LWers.

Within Mensa, "if we're so smart, why aren't we rich?" is a FAQ. If the Rationality SIG could be started by people who actually are rich (or otherwise successful), so much the better.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-02-06T04:59:19.690Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The general impression that I get is that smart and effective people are too busy doing awesome things to join Mensa. If I wanted to recruit rationalists I think I would do better by looking for effective people and picking the smartest ones instead of looking for smart people and picking the most effective ones, especially if the process I'm using to look for smart people actively puts selection pressure against effectiveness. (CFAR running workshops directed at entrepreneurs seems to be a strategy in this vein.)

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-02-06T12:02:46.668Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I also know a few smart and successful people in Mensa. However, they were all successful before joining Mensa, and as far as I know Mensa did not help them become stronger. Their "being successful" and "being in Mensa" are just two traits that randomly happened to the same person; there is no synergy. They are successful during their time outside Mensa, and they come to Mensa only to relax.

(As far as I know the only way to use Mensa to become more successful is this: Do something that you would be doing outside of Mensa anyway, but convince your fellow Mensans to let you use the logo of Mensa in advertising your product. If you make a logical computer game, a board game, a mechanical puzzle, write a book, or create your own IQ test... for all these things a "Mensa recommended" logo could increase sales. And if you are an important person in your local Mensa, it should be trivial to get the permission from your friends. I know two people who use this strategy, and at least for one of them it makes decent money. But the only real help they get from Mensa is the advertising.)

I agree that effective people are generally more busy, but it's not "all or nothing". Someone like Steve Jobs would have no time for Mensa. But there are many young people doing awesome things and exploring the world. As a part of exploration, some of them come to Mensa, and then many of them soon leave. The advantage is that they are willing to try something new. -- Looking for the most effective people you would have a problem to make them listen to you. Of course, unless you are even more awesome. Which I am afraid I am not (yet).

comment by beoShaffer · 2013-02-06T05:33:02.131Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think the focus on new comers to Mensa may reduce this. I also think it would depend partially on why Mensa people are ineffective. If there ineffectiveness is set, or due to something that we don't have a comparative advantage at fixing then yes we shouldn't focus on recruiting them. However, its possible that many of them are ineffective due directly to rationality failures, or some other problem that the LW community could help fix (e.g. they lack something to protect, but would find existential risk reduction very compelling if they heard the arguments for it). In than case Mesna would make a good recruiting ground.

comment by gwern · 2013-02-01T16:35:43.350Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

There will be <=3 MLP-related posts on LessWrong in January 2013 (80%; marked right):

Since people are whining about the MLP-fics that LW is ruined, ruined, while I think it’s a temporary spurt exhausting a limited reservoir of such posts.

The MLP discussions were obviously going to die down, as indeed they have; 'Friendship is Optimal' is done, 'Myou've got to be kidding' has ceased to draw any attention and slowed updates, and Vaniver still hasn't done anything with his. The problem solved itself. People here can be such drama queens.

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-02-01T20:49:37.382Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

"problem"? Friendship is Optimal was excellent, and I miss Myou've.

comment by ModusPonies · 2013-02-01T22:21:47.348Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

If you need more rationalist MLP fanfiction in your life, I'm 5/6 of the way through writing mine and could use feedback. It's intentionally somewhat less rationalist and more fanfictiony than either of your examples.

(I'm aware of the irony of posting this link in this thread, but I figure most posters who are bored by all things pony will have stopped reading the thread by now.)

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-02-03T00:28:26.378Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

In the scene where Twilight Sparkle discovers her Earth Pony senses, is doesn't make sense that she would be surprised that Crabapple knew what they felt like. It seems like something that should be common knowledge (If IRL people talk so much about race and penis size, you'd think people would talk about entire extra magic senses).

Also, Rarity turns Rainbow Dash a day after Twilight Sparkle's attempt, but it says "For the second time today, Rainbow Dash felt another mind join hers."

Also, why were they waiting to turn Rainbow Dash when Celestia could have shown up at any second and killed her, imprisoned Rarity and Twilight Sparkle, and kept immortality from the world for another thousand years or so? Seeing as it's the elements of harmony that have decided the outcome of every fight involving alicorns (except Chrysalis vs Celestia) shouldn't Twilight have tried to make off with them while she was still in Celestia's good graces, even if they are missing 3 of the bearers, and can't use them themselves? Celestia has been known to use the elements herself before.

Twilight could probably have found some way to turn Rarity and Rainbow Dash in secret, and flown to some far corner of Equestria to raise an army of alicorns and overthrow the incumbent princesses. I would expect the princesses to need to be vastly outnumbered to lose a fight, because you can probably get really good at magic duels after a thousand years.

Granted, Twilight might not be up for such a plan because she's not ready to completely betray the princesses, but ... what is her plan? Get herself, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash imprisoned for a thousand years? Or did she know Luna would object, and was it her plan to get exiled (not a good plan if she actually wants to make everyone immortal like she says). Did she expect to convince Celestia that mass immortality was good (Surely she must have known that wouldn't work)?

My model of your Rainbow Dash (with her impossible thing-doing attitude) would have attempted to figure out the alicorn transformation on her own to save Fluttershy (after she heard a brief description of what it involved from Twilight). Maybe you should edit in some mention of her trying?

All that said, I really liked the conflicting loyalty plot between Rainbow Dash, Twilight Sparkle, and Celestia (enough to read all 102 pages in one night). I liked Rainbow Dash's desperation over Fluttershy's impending doom, and how you covered the omission bias. I mentally squee'd when I read the part about Celestia burning Twilight's letters.

Can you send me a PM when the last chapter is done?

comment by Alicorn · 2013-02-04T16:35:32.332Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This fic was an enjoyable read. Please let us know when the rest of it is available :)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-05T18:13:35.854Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I just started the chapter "Loyalty" and so far, I don't have any feedback so far other than PLEASE keep writing. I mean, I've read things about Immortality/Death before, but so far this is really tugging on my heartstrings.

Edit: I couldn't stop reading and I ended up reading all of it in one go. I still don't have any feedback other than please keep writing.

comment by gwern · 2013-02-01T21:36:44.817Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The people whining about all the MLP material considered it a problem.

comment by Vaniver · 2013-02-01T22:20:12.096Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Vaniver still hasn't done anything with his

Well, done anything visible. I went from ~50% ready to start posting it to 95% ready to start posting it. I'll commit to publishing the first chapter, at least, by the next episode's airdate (which is Feb 9th).

(While writing this comment, I was reluctant to commit: but what if I discover deep structural problems with the fic before I start posting it? Well, then I should change it from its current threaded state to something without macrostructure, post the threads separately, and then reweave them later once I fix the structural problems. Contingency planning ftw!)

comment by Vaniver · 2013-02-09T05:40:51.078Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And submitted the first four chapters to fimfiction! No idea how long it'll take them to approve it, but I'll post the link to Discussion as soon as I notice that that's happened.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2013-02-02T17:29:40.241Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There is a mostly inactive lesswrong group on Fimfiction which could be used to host discussion if it become a problem again.

Out in the wild I've been trying to slip anti-deathist sentiments into discussions of [season finale spoiler].

comment by lukeprog · 2013-02-12T03:14:35.621Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Good news! Bill Gates is against death.

comment by tgb · 2013-02-02T17:11:27.328Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Link: NYT op-ed on publication bias in medicine.

I hadn't realized some of the measures in place to counter publication bias in medicine but am sad to see that these have had an insufficient effect. It's reassuring at least to see that significant players are both aware of the situation and interested in improvement.

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2013-02-01T11:47:29.234Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Of interest for the data science angle. Also it includes the word "bayesian" and links to Paul Graham. That's got to make it more or less on-topic, right?

I recently took this collection of text messages (from Hilary Mason's collection of research-quality data sets ), and attempted to build a simple Bayesian spam filter for text messages.

This was mostly just a fun exercise. I wasn't expecting to produce a usable product (and I didn't), but as an exercise it was pretty informative and well worth my time. I've put some observations in rot13, as anyone else undertaking this exercise may benefit from observing them by themselves.

Vg'f n irel tbbq qrzbafgengvba bs cbjre nanylfvf pbaprcgf, naq gur genqr-bss orgjrra frafvgvivgl naq fcrpvsvpvgl. Jura znxvat gjrnxf gb gur pynffvsvre, vg ernyyl unzzref ubzr gur vqrn gung ryvzvangvat glcr-V reebef pneevrf gur pbfg bs zber glcr-VV reebef.

Gur birenyy zrgubq (anvir onlrf pynffvsvpngvba) frrzf gb or fvtavsvpnagyl yrff hfrshy sbe grkg zrffntrf guna sbe rznvy zrffntrf. Gurer ner n ahzore bs boivbhf ernfbaf sbe guvf, naq n srj yrff boivbhf barf. Grkg zrffntrf ner n ybg fubegre guna rznvyf (hfhnyyl yrff guna 140 punenpgref, juvyr rznvyf jvyy abeznyyl unir ng yrnfg 140 punenpgref bs urnqre zrgnqngn orsber lbh rira trg bagb gur obql grkg). Nyfb, yrtvgvzngr grkg zrffntrf frrz gb pbagnva n ybg zber "fcnzzl" pbagrag guna rznvyf. Gur zrffntrf va zl grfg unz pbechf gung synttrq nf fcnz nyy ybbxrq ernyyl fcnzzl. Gur zbfg ragregnvavat qvfpbirel jnf gung gur gbxra "kkk" ybbxrq zber yrtvg guna fcnzzl orpnhfr fb znal crbcyr fvta bss gurve grkgf jvgu gung.

Zl vaghvgvbaf nobhg ubj cebonovyvgvrf hcqngr tvira bgure cebonovyvgvrf vf nyy jebat.

If anyone else tries this, let me know how you get on.

comment by negamuhia · 2013-02-02T14:27:33.166Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is great, thanks. I'll implement a rudimentary spam filter with this sometime next week.

comment by V_V · 2013-02-01T23:35:51.254Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What is the maximum F1 score you can obtain?

comment by Matt_Simpson · 2013-02-12T23:00:57.485Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

What's the community norm on cross posting? Suppose I have a couple of relatively short ideas I want to write about and post on my blog, but I also think the LW community might be interested (I do). I could post them as discussion posts here and on my blog, or just post them on my blog and links to them as discussion posts. I prefer the former, but is there a norm against it?

Thanks.

comment by beoShaffer · 2013-02-13T03:15:18.251Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Its pretty common to do the first option, usually with a note and link letting people know upfront that its a cross-post.

comment by Matt_Simpson · 2013-02-13T16:18:23.839Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks!

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2013-02-13T19:21:01.324Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If it's appropriate for LW then it's appropriate for LW, no matter where else it has been posted.

comment by CoffeeStain · 2013-02-08T06:35:39.559Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Here's a question perhaps not posed too often. I'm new here, and finding the sheer amount of effort people seem to put into the status quo topics quite daunting. I recognize the objective value in many of the things discussed, in that by discussing them there is moral benefit. But day-to-day, I find myself envious rather than spurred to action that people are able to put forth the effort.

For far too long, I've been frustrated and in a mental lull, and I find little to attribute this to except a decrease in effort about the things I know I am capable of caring about. Being part of a community of like-minded individuals seems like the thing that would help me get out of this, but this in itself requires the sort of effort I only feel lucky to have currently as I make this attempt to interact with one.

Any advice for getting out of the rut?

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-02-08T07:37:59.717Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Ask Shannon Friedman for a free consultation?

comment by CoffeeStain · 2013-02-08T10:18:11.900Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Done, with apprehension. To be honest, the mildly altered state meditation stuff kind of weirds me out, which is hardly a predictor of its potential efficacy. To be more honest, my religious upbringing, to which I still often have a little allegiance (a discussion, and a long one, for many another time), suggests an argument about not looking too inwardly for answers to your innermost hurts. But the real or imagined force of that argument is not the source of my apprehension, so I best ignore it.

I may wish to find a local therapist that is paid for by my health insurance. How does one walk into a general practitioner's office and ask for a therapist? What sort of therapy am I looking for?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-06T11:48:15.977Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

What if I told you that you that I had a reform proposal that would give us nearly all of the same benefits we gain from spending on Medicine and Education in First World Nations but for half of the cost? While this is a radical and bold course of action that would require substantial political capital to acheive, I'm not as madly optimistic as to expect the funding freed up to be spend on Efficient Charity or Existential Risk Mitigation (that is what Altruistic Piracy is for). Even slightly lower taxes resulting in higher economic growth lifting more people out of misery is not the expected result. I do expect it to be spent on things with some sorts of returns and that this is on net very good. I should remind you that even for the most inane use with some positive value you can expect pretty drastic net effects, these are not small numbers after all, developed countries usually spend more than 10% of their GDP on Healthcare and over 5% on Education. How many trillions is that for the entire Western world?

Certainly enough to buy mountains of non dead Third World babies if that's your thing. So are you ready to hear my reform proposal?

Cut societal spending on Medicine and Education by half.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-02-07T06:54:32.644Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

One reason that people believe Hanson's claim that half of US money spent on medicine is wasted is that other First World Nations spend half as much per person. You seem to imply that Hanson claims that France wastes half of its spending and the US 3/4. He certainly does not do that explicitly.

The link "Gregory Cochran on Education" is actually by Henry Harpending (the other really is Cochran). As Harpending concedes in the comments, he really is missing something and this is not at all evidence of waste.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-07T12:12:07.055Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The link "Gregory Cochran on Education" is actually by Henry Harpending (the other really is Cochran).

Thank you for the correction.

As Harpending concedes in the comments, he really is missing something and this is not at all evidence of waste.

If you want to see evidence of waste of our spending on education all you need to do is look at the data, judging in it education at the very least on the university level seems to be a positional good. Moving down the ladder to high school even very basic things like Algebra or foreign languages don't pass the cost benefit test. See Bryan Caplan's writing on related matters.

Moving even lower I've made the argument elsewhere that we probably don't even need obligatory primary school to maintain acceptable levels of literacy. Now my opinion on acceptable levels is basically 85%+, since I think that the current "literacy" numbers of 97%+ in the first world are bullshit at least in terms of functional literacy anyway and that in the absence of public schooling the smart fraction's actual literacy in systems like that of Colonial America seems to have been better than today anyway. The primary function of public school is indoctrination and teaching children how to accept terrible work place conditions anyway. I say we could do pretty well with less of both today.

The link was more me provoking people to a discussion than a full argument. I'm writing a series of articles on this matter where I will make it.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-02-09T06:12:30.193Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Arguably, mandatory algebra is a good idea because it may be difficult to identify career-algebra-users in advance, and they may have a disproportionately large positive impact on society relative to their numbers.

I also seem to recall something about taking a high school algebra class improving one's thinking skills (even if you don't do well, apparently), but I haven't been able to find the cite for that.

Here in America we like to maintain the illusion that everyone's cognitive ability is equal and with the right education the playing field will be level. This is indeed false, but I do wonder if it's a useful illusion. I've noticed that reading research relieving me of this illusion has caused me to become less empathetic and more cynical. Another reason to promote this illusion: research on fixed vs growth mindsets.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-02-07T21:16:11.321Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

since I think that the current "literacy" numbers of 97%+ in the first world are bullshit at least in terms of functional literacy anyway and that in the absence of public schooling the smart fraction's actual literacy in systems like that of Colonial America seems to have been better than today anyway.

The fact that many of the best selling books of all time were published a long time ago should be no surprise even without the supposition that people used to be more literate. The number of books published back then was much, much smaller. A book's distribution is likely to be better when it's one book out of seven to come out that year, rather than one book out of three thousand.

Note that the link you provided doesn't even attempt to argue that literacy rates were as high back then as they are now, it acknowledges the opposite.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-08T08:34:35.570Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Note that the link you provided doesn't even attempt to argue that literacy rates were as high back then as they are now, it acknowledges the opposite.

Funny I don't recall arguing about that there. I was talking about the literacy of the smart fraction. To quote from the link:

In the extensive NAAL survey, only 13% of adults attained this level. Thus, the proportion of Americans today who are able to understand Common Sense (13%) is smaller than the proportion that bought Common Sense in 1776 (20%).

It seems proportionally more Americans bought Common Sense than could understand it today properly according to the educational metric given. Now people buying material they can't understand for various reasons isn't that uncommon and of course the inference we draw from a particular survey may be problematic for various reasons. But the sheer size of the proportion is pretty striking and decent evidence that literacy among clever people was at the very least not much worse than today and was plausibly perhaps even better.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-02-08T14:16:11.255Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but he reaches that conclusion on extremely tenuous grounds.

“search, comprehend, and use information from continuous texts,” is categorized into four levels: below basic, basic, intermediate, and proficient. Proficient, the highest level, is defined as “reading lengthy, complex, abstract prose texts as well as synthesizing information and making complex inferences.” As an example of this level of performance, they cite comparing the viewpoints in two texts. This level seems to be roughly the level required to read Common Sense.

Seems on what basis? You don't have to be able to make complex inferences to be able to read Common Sense. Ideally, you should be at this reading level in order to make informed opinions based on complicated political texts, but then, you should also be at this level in order to try and parse the Bible, and readership of that certainly isn't restricted to the 'Proficient' category. I can certainly attest that one hundred percent of any of my English classes in high school could have read Common Sense and written an essay on the content, many of them would simply have been uninsightful and full of regurgitated cached thoughts.

Besides, Payne was following the usual standards of writing of his day. Literate people of the time got used to text that was dense and relatively opaque compared to most writing today, because that's how people were taught to write. Many people in modern audiences can't parse Shakespeare, and Shakespeare performed for the lower classes of his time, we've simply moved past the point when the modes of communication he used were current.

I would not regard this as "decent evidence" that literacy among clever people was at least as high then as today. Peer and political pressure can easily account for people buying a text that's above their reading proficiency. You could just as easily say that the higher proportions of families today which own their own bibles (books were expensive, many families didn't have their own, Common Sense was just a pamphlet) means literacy levels today are higher. I would regard this as extremely tenuous evidence on which to claim that "the smart fraction's actual literacy in systems like that of Colonial America seems to have been better than today anyway."

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-09T15:25:49.256Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You make a potent counterexample with the Bible, upvote.

Besides, Payne was following the usual standards of writing of his day. Literate people of the time got used to text that was dense and relatively opaque compared to most writing today, because that's how people were taught to write. Many people in modern audiences can't parse Shakespeare, and Shakespeare performed for the lower classes of his time, we've simply moved past the point when the modes of communication he used were current.

I think the difference is at least in part that literacy was more limited, so material made for the lowest common denominator ended up shooting for a higher target than that produced in eras of wider media consumption.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-02-07T20:54:22.249Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The link was more me provoking people to a discussion than a full argument. I'm writing a series of articles on this matter where I will make it.

I'm not complaining that you didn't make a full argument, I'm complaining that the Harpending link was worthless. It would be better if you had omitted it. Provoking people with bullshit does not suggest that you are interested in the truth. At least Harpending has the humility to admit when he is wrong. Like you, he assumed that if he drew an example at random it would support his case, but he had the humility when presenting it to ask for analysis of the particular case. The fact that he and you are wrong in the belief that randomly pulling examples supports you is evidence that you are overconfident.

If you are familiar with the literature you know this is basically true.

Well, if you are familiar with the literature, why not cite a survey or something? After the Harpending example, why should I trust your description of the literature? But thanks for the links in this comment.

Actually, I like simple arguments like Cochran's much more than the education research literature. Mainly I distrust it because it is politicized and incompetent, but on this particular point, I imagine that most of the (US) literature is worthless because (US) schools lie about their spending. It is widely known that poor urban districts have larger budgets per student than rich suburban districts, but this is an illusion because suburban buildings are off budget, especially in the richest districts. Probably some of the literature, like the nameless commenter, isolates instructional spending, which is a much more reasonable comparison, in addition to evading the deceit.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-09T15:15:55.177Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I imagine that most of the (US) literature is worthless because (US) schools lie about their spending

I've finally had time to read that interesting and long paper. It is strong to call most of the US literature worthless because of those points, it gives your argument much more weight than I previously thought it had. Thank you for sharing it!

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-09T15:15:59.709Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Provoking people with bullshit does not suggest that you are interested in the truth.

It is very useful to get people to make extensive responses, which can be pretty educational.

The fact that he and you are wrong in the belief that randomly pulling examples supports you is evidence that you are overconfident.

I don't think I was randomly pulling examples.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-08T08:44:26.272Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I see you ignored the Caplan links. Regardless I really should give extensive references from the literature. I will do so in the articles which I will likely publish on the matter in my new blog and will share links here.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-02-08T19:47:32.147Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You see what you want to see.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-09T15:13:28.846Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Your reply makes it clear to me that I used too harsh a tone.

I was hoping to solicit your comment on Caplan's particular arguments rathern than to flaunt your lack of comment on them as some kind of counter point to the points you touched on, which it obviously isn't. If I have offended please accept my apologies.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-02-09T20:36:52.154Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There's a serious conditioning problem in responding at greater length to bad arguments than to good arguments.

I am generally sympathetic to your position on both education and healthcare, so I don't think I have much to learn by engaging with it, at least not with this kind of evidence. As I complain below, Caplan does not propose anything. I may engage elsewhere with your vague proposal.

As to the particular Caplan articles. Yes, foreign language instruction in the US is a disaster and should be dropped, or narrowed or something, but I don't believe that the comparison to Europe is pure revealed preference. As to Algebra 1, meh. He talks in terms of cost-benefit comparison, but doesn't offer any alternatives. If the purpose of school is babysitting, teaching conscientiousness, or IQ testing, then it doesn't matter much what subjects you teach. Maybe if math is more unpleasant than other subjects, that's a strike against it, but he describes foreign language as also painful.

If I were making micro-changes to the US curriculum, I might require several years of math without requiring any particular level for graduation. I think that there is a serious problem of people moving on without understanding the prerequisites. If you want to get people out of school earlier, then, sure, a lot of them shouldn't reach Algebra 1.

Whether the study Caplan cites is a good measure of the benefit of the class depends on what you think the purpose of the class is, which depends on what you think the purpose of school is. But I certainly don't think school is very consciously designed around any goal, let alone the three I suggest, so, yes, it could achieve these goals better, or at least more cheaply.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-09T15:08:31.663Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So what is it that I want to see?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-07T12:36:26.294Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

he really is missing something and this is not at all evidence of waste.

To quote a different commenter:

The jury has been in for decades on spending; it simply doesn’t make a difference. So when you see spending so conspicuously out of whack, you don’t expect Wyoming to be better, you ask what is different about Wyoming.

If you are familiar with the literature you know this is basically true.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-02-07T15:04:44.723Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I am not familiar with the literature on education, but there's a matter of causal inference that I do feel able to comment on, if only hypothetically.

The quoted assertion that the amount spent made little difference does not follow from the fact that Wyoming spends twice as much as Utah for similar results. One cannot conclude absence of causation from absence of correlation alone, without considering confounding factors. One such factor was mentioned by another commenter there, already referenced by the commenter you quoted: the population of Wyoming is much more rurally scattered. This would make even the same education cost more to provide.

To take a limiting and hypothetical case, if every school is aiming to reach a certain uniform standard, the better they actually succeed at that by varying their expenditure, the less visible dependence there will be between educational expenditure and educational results.

If I emigrated to Alaska, I expect I would have to spend much more on heating my house than I do at present. But my indoor temperatures would end up much the same. That does not mean that the extra money I spent was wasted. It just means that it is colder in Alaska.

comment by magfrump · 2013-02-05T06:38:30.074Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I'm currently a Ph.D. student in mathematics, which seems like it's not unheard of around here, and I'm beginning to realize (about halfway through the expected life of my program) that I'm not particularly interested in staying in academics.

What sorts of other career options are there, coming from pure mathematics?

And in particular I don't do anything related to graph theory, probability theory, or other fields with obvious connections to other career paths; what are some skills that would complement a PhD in mathematics on a resume?

The top of my list right now is programming; in particular it's pretty easy for me to turn my ideas into algorithms but I don't know the syntax of any language except python. I'm planning to make a list of common programming languages and then push through a dozen problems on Project Euler in each of them, but I'd like to have more ideas about how to make myself employable in a way that still involves lots of math.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-05T13:00:30.362Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not particularly interested in staying in academics.

Join the club. Over the past couple months I more or less decided that the guy I've been seeing for a year is the guy I want to spend my life with, which makes jaunting cross-country for six to ten years on post-docs much less appealing.

What sorts of other career options are there, coming from pure mathematics?

IIRC, you're American. There's a good amount of government work available: DoD, DoE, national labs, and so on. I'm aware of some people who parlayed their math PhD into the equivalent of an engineering MS, with all the job opportunities that opens up.

Programming is the obvious choice, but I'm told one would want a paper trail (a git account, a blog, etc.) of contributions to various projects.

It also sounds like you're still young enough to pivot a bit in your choice of field -- do you have an advisor yet?

comment by magfrump · 2013-02-06T00:50:07.166Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I have an advisor and a thesis topic already, both of which I like a lot. I came into grad school with a somewhat specific idea of what math I liked and no other ideas about what to do with myself, so I am pretty far in to my sub-subfield (which is number theory, in particular BSD and Hida theory if you're interested).

I've submitted a patch for SAGE which will have my name on it, but I'll definitely heed the paper trail advice when I have time/basic competence to work on real projects.

When you say "DoD, DoE, national labs, etc," how are you generating that list? And where can I read up on the sorts of positions they tend to have openings in?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-06T01:13:32.975Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

When you say "DoD, DoE, national labs, etc," how are you generating that list?

Unfortunately, it's not a helpful rule: I'm listing places that hired people I know.

And where can I read up on the sorts of positions they tend to have openings in?

You can search usajobs.gov: This position for instance, or this one, both seem feasible for an arbitrary American math PhD.

comment by magfrump · 2013-02-06T04:10:07.278Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Both also seem to favor someone with a bit more experience past grad school, but I can look around the site myself later.

I'm vaguely hesitant about the prospect of getting security clearance, I wonder if anyone has a few non-classified words of experience, although I may actually know some mathematicians who do have clearance in which case I might just be able to ask them.

Thank you! I appreciate having any feedback about this at all, it's sort of awkward for me to talk to most people about it.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-02-07T06:23:06.395Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

$60k means no experience beyond a PhD. I think the NSA will pay that much to people just out of college. The private arm of the NSA (CCR/IDA) will certainly pay much more to newly minted PhDs with irrelevant theses in pure math (not that elliptic curves are irrelevant - surely your adviser has sent previous students to the NSA).

NSF program directors decide what to do with grant money. It's basically part of academia and normally a temporary position in between academic stints. I think it is for people with tenure.

You don't get a background check until the company decides to hire you. A full check is takes a long time, somewhat unpredictable, depending on congestion. At most government contractors, I think you start the job without a clearance. But for government jobs, at least ones like the NSA, if you time your application wrong (eg, you apply now for graduation in June), it often involves a few months of unemployment until the clearance comes through.

In particular, it's too late to be an intern at the NSA or CCR this summer. After such an internship, clearance lapses and I think it's almost as a big hassle to get again, but it certainly reassures you and potential employers that you'll pass.

comment by magfrump · 2013-02-08T06:17:11.432Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I have two more years after this academic year, so there's another summer free for me; maybe I'll check that out next year. My adviser is young and hasn't had any students yet, so no he hasn't sent any to the NSA. But as I said I know some people that have who are very close to my field.

When is it that I should be applying if I want such an internship?

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-02-08T07:06:09.299Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Google tells me the due date is 15 October. It also turns up security clearance gossip that sounds right to me. The IDA also has interns, but I don't see details.

comment by ModusPonies · 2013-02-06T19:56:51.872Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I have quite a few friends and relatives with security clearances, so although I haven't gone through the background check myself, I think I'm qualified to talk about it in general terms. This is all secondhand, of course.

They're looking for levers that outside folks could use to manipulate you. As long as you're not especially susceptible to bribery (i.e., not in massive debt, no current drug addictions, not a compulsive gambler, etc) and have no skeletons in your closet that someone could use for blackmail, I would expect you to pass easily. If anyone I know ever failed a government background check, they didn't tell me about it. One person has told me that the process involves an interrogation that's several hours long and extremely unpleasant.

jkaufman is a LWer who had (has?) a clearance, and he's a helpful guy (and also one of my sources for the above). You could PM him if you want to talk to someone who actually went through the process.

comment by Larks · 2013-02-07T18:02:37.730Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Quant Hedge Fund.

comment by magfrump · 2013-02-08T06:18:02.136Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is not enough information for me to act on and barely enough information to help me find more.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-05T19:21:18.612Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I feel like I have been reading a fairly large amount of news that can be summed up as "Technology is replacing employment."

For instance, this piece came out today:

http://marketdailynews.com/2013/02/05/rise-of-the-droids-will-robots-eventually-steal-all-of-our-jobs/

And this person compiled a huge list of links about the topic that had come out recently:

http://theleisuresociety.tumblr.com/post/39057729530/the-tech-debate-blasts-off-a-linkfest

I don't mind just discussing the topic in general (Although I don't know if I even have an clear opinion, I still feel underread), but I also want to assess which of these articles are worth reading and which aren't so I can learn more about the topic.

For Instance, I remember reading Lights in the Tunnel when it came out:

http://www.thelightsinthetunnel.com/

And I remember looking back on it more recently and realizing that some of it was already outdated. This field seems to move very fast, and I want a good source of up to date news about it in general. Right now I just have a section for "Robots" in Google News, and I'm wondering if I can do better than that.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2013-02-02T18:48:20.566Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The Human Brain Project seems to have garnered some media attention recently. None of it particularly deep or informative, what are your thoughts?

comment by Plasmon · 2013-02-05T13:16:45.987Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

They are very careful to not mention certain things in their video: nothing involving the computational nature of the human identity / "consciousness". Nothing we would call "whole brain emulation".

I have little doubt that what they choose to mention, and what they choose not to mention, in their video is driven more by signalling considerations than by what they consider to be technologically (in)feasible. Can they do what they claim? Create a model of the human brain detailed enough to obtain non-trivial information about brain diseases and computational processes used in the brain, but coarse enough to not have moral implications? Of course I do not know the answer to this question.

Kurzweil, who is widely agreed to be rather optimistic in his predictions, predicts

By the mid 2020s, it is conservative to conclude that we will have effective models of the whole brain

comment by FiftyTwo · 2013-02-05T23:58:53.696Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

They seem t be purposefully dodging talking about moral significance of the simulated brain, which is worrying...

comment by Plasmon · 2013-02-06T10:05:08.246Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Mentioning it would pattern-match to "science fiction" rather than "serious research" in the intended audience's minds. It would cost them credibility.

comment by gwern · 2013-02-06T00:33:51.971Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

IIRC, the Nature or Ars Technica article mentioned that something like 1% of the funds will be going to ethicists and philosophers.

comment by ikrase · 2013-02-08T11:56:47.921Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How so? They should be thinking about it (meaning purposefully dodging it if they want to conceal thinking about it?)Personally, I doubt they are at that point yet at all.

comment by woodside · 2013-02-05T10:38:19.651Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

1 billion dollars earmarked for whole brain simulation makes it seem a lot more likely that we'll brute force a naive version of AI well before we have the ability to prove any kind of friendliness. If that AI is seeded by the simulated brain of an actual human though... who knows. I'd like to think that if it were my brain and at some point I became singularity-scale intelligent that I wouldn't create a horrible future for humanity (by our present day perspective) but it's pretty hard to claim that with any confidence.

comment by Plasmon · 2013-02-26T17:53:44.446Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

See this comment

comment by D_Malik · 2013-02-02T02:40:02.728Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Found on Wikipedia:

There is an ongoing controversy in metaphysics about whether or not there are, in addition to actual, existing things, non-actual or nonexistent things. [...] Note that "actual" may not mean the same as "existing". Perhaps there exist things that are merely possible, but not actual. (Maybe they exist in other universes, and these universes are other "possible worlds"--possible alternatives to the actual world.) Perhaps some actual things are nonexistent. (Sherlock Holmes seems to be an actual example of a fictional character; one might think there are many other characters Arthur Conan Doyle might have invented, though he actually invented Holmes.)

comment by Manfred · 2013-02-02T13:45:35.584Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well. Good thing these hypothesis make different predictions :P

comment by David_Allen · 2013-02-06T07:32:49.434Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Existence is reserved for things we have access to. Possible existence implies possible access. Actual existence implies actual access. Non-existence implies no possible access.

It is certainly possible to describe things outside of all possible access. For example as mentioned above we can talk about "non-actual or nonexistent things" and "possible worlds" that we can't access because they are counterfactual or because they are a separate reality. But when we talk about things beyond all possible access, we are just making up stories, and we can say anything. For example: All non-existent things are blue, and they are also simultaneously non-blue.

This reshapes the question to "Can something exist even if we don't have access to it.".

Although I am tempted to say that it certainly seems possible, I believe that the best approach is not to make any claims about anything beyond our access.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-02-16T23:51:42.134Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've seen a mention by Rudy Rucker of unmanageably large numbers. We don't have access to them. Do they exist?

comment by Nisan · 2013-02-06T06:47:56.344Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The question of whether there are things that don't exist should lead us to consider the urgent question of whether there exist things that are not.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-02T05:39:39.510Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Also related are Meinong's Jungle and Noneism.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-01T19:44:47.484Z · score: 4 (10 votes) · LW · GW

IIRC he self-identified as such. And what he said did fit with the definition in the lead of the English Wikipedia article on radical feminism.

comment by DaFranker · 2013-02-04T18:28:21.617Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

And what he said did fit with the definition in the lead of the English Wikipedia article on radical feminism.

To emphasize, since I personally had several discussions with that user: What he said did fit, only fit, and exclusively fit the wikipedia article on radical feminism. Other lines of thought seemed to not even parse - like comments in a block of code. The specific worldview and paradigm typical to radical feminism were all that could possibly exist and be real in the world, and nothing else seemed to even remotely make sense to that user, based on my extrapolation of their responses to various questions, comments, critiques and arguments.

I had productive discussions where I learned quite a bit, but that is definitely not the sort of behavior we want on LW by any stretch. AFAIK, that user learned exactly nothing useful from all those discussions, except perhaps on opinions among LW users.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-01T19:20:01.689Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

eridu's now-deleted comments supporting radical feminism definitely didn't fit that pattern. Most of them were trollish by any reasonable standard, but some weren't that bad and I guess were deleted just because of who their author was.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-02-11T02:01:50.466Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Is the CFAR logo a line below all the other logos in Discussion for anyone else? (Edit: It's okay now.)

comment by rxs · 2013-02-10T08:18:00.478Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

German speakers - trying to improve my german I'm looking for good blog recommendations. Ideally dealing with similar topics as seen here (rationality, AI, philosophy) but any thoughtful, well written essays would do. Some good people to follow? I like Thomas Metzinger as a reference point for you. Thank you!

comment by Nisan · 2013-02-09T01:45:21.353Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There's a new way to write math in Less Wrong posts. If you have Chrome and Gmail, you can install the GmailTeX Chrome extension, compose your post as a new message in Gmail, and then copy and paste into LessWrong's html editor. This doesn't work for comments, though.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-02-08T05:00:18.704Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm preparing to read more books (technical and non-technical) than I usually read in fields outside of my comfort zone. This is not something I have ever really tried or needed to do in the past. Any basic tips for retaining information from these books? Ideas I've thought of include taking notes in WorkFlowy and then maybe putting the notes into Anki. I am not currently convinced of the value of learning speed-reading techniques (certainly that doesn't seem helpful for the technical books).

comment by cousin_it · 2013-02-06T12:30:56.083Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There's something weird about how my mind works. The latest example was with this article. The first time I tried reading it, my eyes sort of glided off the page and I couldn't understand anything. I waited a day, without thinking about the article at all, then tried reading it again. And suddenly everything was completely obvious and I couldn't see any difficulty. The same thing happens with math problems (when I was a kid I would often wake up with a solution to some problem I heard the day before), complicated programming tasks, etc. Any ideas why this happens?

comment by yli · 2013-02-06T18:46:26.146Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

A couple years ago I deliberately used that strategy of reading an article again and again on successive days to grasp some hard sigfpe posts and decision theory posts here on LW. For some of them, it took several days, and some of them I never understood, but on the whole it worked very well. I always thought the reason it works is because of sleeping between sessions. (I still think this is a very useful technique but haven't used it much due to general akrasia.)

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2013-02-06T12:49:36.026Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'd guess it's a less systematic variant of the process described here, where the initial impression is sufficient to grasp enough of the problem statement to develop auxiliary ideas helpful for understanding the material on the second reading.

comment by cousin_it · 2013-02-06T16:38:57.717Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I had another guess: if some task is at the limit of my abilities, then success or failure is mostly governed by chance. Maybe I randomly fail the first time but succeed the second time.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-02-17T00:03:11.008Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure why it happens, but my impression is that it's not unusual.

comment by gwern · 2013-02-01T23:58:03.740Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Just leaving a note here; I've dropped Coursera "Drugs and the Brain"

Dropped after finishing the first section's quiz; presentation was weirdly scattershot, going into great depth on some details and overviewing others, assumed a lot of chemistry & physics background, and the material turned out to be too low-level to be useful to me in reading up on nootropics even though I was initially pleased nicotine would be discussed throughout the course.

It does leave me time to do Data Analysis, which is going well so far (it's essentially applied R).

comment by FiftyTwo · 2013-02-02T18:33:05.461Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Whats your opinion on Cursera overall as a system?

comment by Ratcourse · 2013-02-03T15:51:55.407Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Coursera is fine, just fine. I took intro to model thinking and game theory and they've put some thought into it. Udacity is better, cs101 is the best online course out there afaik. intro to ai, is so-so

comment by beoShaffer · 2013-02-03T21:48:02.920Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Udacity stats 101, is also very good.

comment by Ratcourse · 2013-02-04T16:55:37.641Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I forgot that one, quite good indeed

comment by gwern · 2013-02-02T18:53:23.916Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure. 'Drugs and the Brain' was the first one I tried - before I had been put off by the forced scheduling, but this makes sense if they're depending on peer grading. The technical aspects are better than 'Marginal Revolution University', but I can't compare to many others. One thing I liked about the CMU OLI course was that it had a lot of questions and quizzes, which is something 'Data Analysis' is currently falling down on the job a bit anent.

comment by shminux · 2013-02-15T16:17:46.790Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yet another simulation argument.

comment by BerryPick6 · 2013-02-02T20:39:51.764Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm planning on teaching myself a programming language (probably Python, via LPTHW) and I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts on whether Anki would be helpful in this endeavor. Normally, I'd just go ahead and do it, but some of my friends who know how to code said it wouldn't be helpful, even though they were hesitant to give reasons when pushed.

comment by gwern · 2013-02-02T21:07:05.666Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I linked 3 pages by programmers on using spaced repetition in http://www.gwern.net/Spaced%20repetition#external-links which you might find helpful.

comment by BerryPick6 · 2013-02-02T21:32:51.427Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Terrific, thanks!

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-02T11:36:05.474Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I've just noticed that the “Top Contributors, 30 Days” sidebar has many more entries now. Seeing my own username there feels kind-of weird to me, for some reason.

comment by skepsci · 2013-07-12T04:39:26.717Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Why do some posts have pink borders?

I can't quite figure it out. I gather it has something to do with being new, since newer posts are more likely to be pink and every reply to a pink post seems to be pink. But it's not purely chronological (since some of the most recent comments do not have pink borders when I view the thread), and it's not purely based on being new since the last time you've viewed a thread (since I've seen pink borders around my own posts).

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-07-12T05:28:11.384Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's posts you haven't read before. I think writing a post doesn't count as reading it. Also, the newest open thread is this one.

comment by skepsci · 2013-07-12T05:44:40.433Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks. The logic the board uses to determine posts you've read seems strange.

Sorry about posting in the wrong open thread. I followed an "open thread" link, and this looked like it was the most recent open thread.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-07-12T05:26:38.446Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's posts you haven't read before. Also, you're not posting in the most recent open thread.

comment by shminux · 2013-02-12T22:37:52.301Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This catalog of shaming tactics from a rather polarizing organization A Voice For Men is quite interesting, regardless of whether you approve their agenda, and is probably applicable to many other cases where an attacker uses the emotion of shame to achieve their goals. I'm wondering what cognitive biases are in play here? Having been on the receiving end of many of these attacks, I cannot calmly think through the answer on my own.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-02-13T02:43:16.781Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Practical advice to both sides: don't assume that the other person is an evil mutant. Practice releasing againstness. Model the other person in enough detail that you can understand why they thought what they just said was a reasonable thing to say. I think that's a good place to start.

comment by shminux · 2013-02-13T03:19:37.397Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's a good advice, but not at all what I was asking. Feel free to post your advice on the site, I don't read it or participate, only got linked to it.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-02-13T03:28:46.554Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry. Fundamental attribution error and the horns effect.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-02-17T00:24:58.876Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I took a fast pass through them, and the initial few looked good. The overgeneralization section impressed me less because the recommended answer was "feminists do it too!".

comment by shminux · 2013-02-05T06:06:22.714Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It sucks to be an NPC and know it. .

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-05T16:30:16.034Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I'm glad that you mentioned that, because it reminded me of something. I frequently feel like an NPC, but I also get a truly vast amount of false alarms on my existential crisis meter for some reason. I mean, I know I've been depressed before, but even attempting to account for that, some of my internal thought processes feel ridiculous in retrospect. Let me give you an example:

"Life has no purpose, I don't care whether I live or die, everyone is going to abandon me when I inevitably fail."

Eats Food.

"Wait, I was just hungry."

I mean, that sounds absurd to type, but I really have had that happen.

I am not saying that your specific Existential crisis is a false alarm. (You may have already established that it isn't.) But there might have been other people reading who aren't aware that Existential False alarms exist, and your mention of being an NPC reminded me of that.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-02-05T11:12:16.757Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I am not sure what exactly you mean by that, but to me it seems that many people enjoy the idea of being an NPC. This is essentially what conspiracy theories are about: that someone else is the PC of this world, and we are not.

Yes, people complain about that, but they enjoy the complaining, and they strongly resist being convinced otherwise.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-11T01:49:35.740Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Conspiracy theorists consider themselves to be PCs. Conspirators are the villains.

comment by ikrase · 2013-02-08T11:53:54.557Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Conspiracy theories? Really? My perception was that conspiracy theories let people feel like other people are NPCs.

comment by magfrump · 2013-02-05T06:33:41.290Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I had a conversation about this with my girlfriend last night, and what we felt it came down to was the feeling that it is frustrating to be an unfulfilled enneagram 4.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-02T18:03:31.998Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Regarding this:

I'm using wget and grep to find examples in a less biased manner. There's a lot of deleted comments. A common pattern is that someone from MIRI makes particularly arrogant/self praiseful claim (e.g. Luke claims extreme self scepticism skills), then some responses get deleted. Dmytry (talk) 12:37, 2 February 2013 (UTC)

You do realize you can't tell the difference between someone deleting their own comment and a moderator deleting their comment?

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-02-02T20:18:26.934Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know what Dmytry is doing, but it is possible to tell the difference. If I delete my comment, it is not visible on my user page. Whereas, if the moderators delete a comment, it vanishes in context (and its permalink shows "deleted comment"), but the contents are visible on the user page.

A few more details. If I delete my comment, its permalink is an error. I cannot seem to delete a comment without deleting its replies, while moderators can (and users could in the past). If I delete the reply and then the comment, the permalink shows a deleted comment (as if deleted by moderators), but it is not listed on my user page.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-01T18:21:41.029Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

How do you explain this?

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-02-01T19:38:12.244Z · score: 0 (8 votes) · LW · GW

That's "critique"?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-01T21:21:12.212Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

... yes? If you're not going to agree with semantics, you could at least explain why.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-20T08:18:18.774Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Funny dreams you had that could happen thread

I had a dream about Mencius Moldbug the other day, he was making some sort of point and it ended with "and what do we call [thing that satisfies some description]? Rejecta." But I just looked it up and that's not even an English word, it just occurs in places like "rejecta mathematica"

comment by tgb · 2013-02-08T16:27:15.334Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Link: A Snapshot of Foundational Attitudes Toward Quantum Mechanics, a paper giving results of a survey of physicists at a conference on the foundations of QM. Lot's of opinions!

LW will probably be particularly interested in question 12, particularly the prevalence of Copenhagen Interpretation (42%) and information based interpretations (24%) beating out many-worlds (18%). Unfortunately, the survey did not include "shut up and calculate" as an option. Also of interest is question 8 on predicting when a useful quantum computer will exist with no respondent giving a time frame over 50 years (Edit: though some did say 'never'). Also, I recommend reading the write-in responses that they highlight throughout; many are amusing and show some extremes of thought.

comment by gwern · 2013-02-08T16:41:01.077Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

http://lesswrong.com/lw/gbw/open_thread_january_1631_2013/8atz

comment by tgb · 2013-02-09T02:59:37.705Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah looks like I'm bad at finding duplicates. Is there any way to search by date posted?

comment by gwern · 2013-02-09T20:22:20.414Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not that I know of. In this case I just googled site:lesswrong.com "a snapshot of foundational", which works well.

comment by Elithrion · 2013-02-06T02:32:11.818Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Question: how low exactly (approximately) would a Solomonoff prior's probability for something like "Coming up with this thought means that you automatically [get an FAI recipe in the mail] / [go to super-fun heaven] / [get to live for 3^^^^3 happy years]." be? (Those specific examples are fine, but if you can come up with something of similarly vast utility that's more likely, that'd be even better.)

Is it something on the order of 1/10^40 or 1/10^100 or 1/10^200 or less? (Sorry for anchoring you.)

(I'm thinking of an alternative Pascal's Mugging "solution" to which this is relevant.)

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-02-05T19:51:26.004Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Probably a redundant link, since most of us check smbc anyways, but this comic kind of confirms his transhumanist leanings.

comment by Elithrion · 2013-02-06T04:11:59.556Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think that comic is more part of the pattern of him covering many interesting-sounding "philosophies", rather than him explicitly endorsing anything in particular. Which is not to say that he doesn't have transhumanist leanings, just that that's not very strong evidence for their presence.

comment by CellBioGuy · 2013-02-16T20:43:00.083Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not only that, when one looks at the last panel and sees the lack of a human, it is extremly ominous and foreboding.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-02-02T20:08:50.114Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

ignore me.

experimenting with deleting comments.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-02-02T20:09:03.391Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

ignore me.

experimenting with deleting comments.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-02-02T20:04:25.919Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

ignore me.

experiment with deleting comments.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-02-02T20:03:28.682Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

ignore me.

experiment with deleting comments.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-02-01T19:50:05.442Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Alexander Kruel got a list.

Where?

comment by CAE_Jones · 2013-02-01T16:36:11.605Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Why do I have memories of reading critique in the comments to multiple articles, if this is the case? Granted, I should probably go collect such comments to verify said memories, but... that would take a lot of searching... and isn't really the optimal thing to use that time/effort for...

comment by David_Allen · 2013-02-06T06:51:36.454Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm exploring some elements of the philosophy of existence (ontology) and while reading about ontological arguments I was reminded again about the description of God as the "unmoved mover".

It occurred to me that although we can't say anything meaningful about the ultimate origin of motion, we can describe the mover that is not changed by the motion from a mathematical perspective, it is called relativity -- a static description of dynamic systems.