Open Thread May 30 - June 5, 2016

post by Elo · 2016-05-30T04:51:47.829Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 95 comments

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

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comment by cousin_it · 2016-05-31T14:22:36.562Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's a little example of prisoner's dilemma that I just thought up, which shows how mass media might contribute to modern loneliness:

Let's assume that everyone has a fixed budget of attention and empathy. Empathizing with imaginary Harry Potter gives you 1 point of utility. Empathizing with your neighbor gives them 10 points of utility, but doesn't give you anything, because your neighbor isn't as interesting as Harry Potter. So everyone empathizes with Harry Potter instead of their neighbor, and everyone is lonely.

Does that sound right? What can society do to get out of that trap?

Replies from: Viliam, Lumifer, Dagon, Tem42, Gram_Stone
comment by Viliam · 2016-06-01T07:43:35.871Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect that Dunbar's number includes fictional characters and people you don't know in person but have many information about them (celebrities, politicians). In the past people also had a few examples in this category, for example Jesus, or the local king, but that is at least an order of magnitude less than all current movie characters, celebrities, and politicians people are familiar with. Also, watching someone on TV is a stronger stimulus than merely hearing or reading about them.

So it seems to me quite likely that modern media consume our "empathy points". (And the clickbait media make it even worse, because they burn all kinds of "giving-a-shit points" like a wildfire.)

A solution is spending time offline with other people (doing something else than watching media). Because people are not automatically strategic, someone has to organize an event and invite others. LW meetups, former classmates meeting at a cafe every Thursday, etc.

Replies from: Elo, cousin_it, buybuydandavis
comment by Elo · 2016-06-01T09:32:48.294Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect that Dunbar's number includes fictional characters and people you don't know in person but have many information about them (celebrities, politicians).

Never come across this idea before. Not yet sure if I agree or disagree. I will have to think about it. (Dunbar's' is approximate anyway which makes it harder to quantify.)

comment by cousin_it · 2016-06-02T06:43:33.962Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So it seems to me quite likely that modern media consume our "empathy points".

That's a good way to put it.

I've found a Reddit comment that describes another related problem:

This is the internet version of what happened to small towns. People were close and cared for each other because that is all they had. Once you open up the floodgates to a whole world of choice, settling for those around you makes you feel like a sucker, and it ruins you.

Spending time offline is probably part of the solution.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2016-06-02T15:00:43.743Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Once you open up the floodgates to a whole world of choice, settling for those around you makes you feel like a sucker, and it ruins you.

So, anyone wants to disconnect and settle for those in the immediate vicinity? Anyone? ...anyone?

Replies from: Viliam, cousin_it
comment by Viliam · 2016-06-06T07:44:46.607Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not either-or; you could also decide to spend only 50% of your free time online, and 50% in the meatspace. It's just more tempting to spend 100% of the free time online. Except those few moments when you would appreciate a company in meatspace, but everyone is too busy on Reddit.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2016-06-06T14:29:44.110Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's just more tempting to spend 100% of the free time online.

YMMV, as usual, but no, not for me.

comment by cousin_it · 2016-06-03T09:32:06.568Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Since this is a prisoner's dilemma, the solution won't be based on unilateral cooperation.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2016-06-06T01:00:30.222Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think it's a prisoner's dilemma. I don't want to disconnect and settle regardless of what people around me do.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-06-02T00:45:58.024Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"giving-a-shit points"

That's funny. That's my meme. Give a shit points. Only so much give a shit to go around.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-05-31T16:06:57.317Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Consider how old and universal story-telling is. Humans felt empathy for fictional characters since forever.

Replies from: cousin_it
comment by cousin_it · 2016-05-31T16:23:07.215Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair point. But did the media always draw such a big proportion of the attention we could've spent on each other?

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2016-05-31T17:46:10.244Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not a media issue. Think about how much empathy and attention did Jesus and his army of saints consume X-)

But generally speaking, I don't buy the "empathizing with your neighbor gives them 10 points of utility, but doesn't give you anything" assertion. That's not how human interaction works.

comment by Dagon · 2016-05-31T20:53:13.763Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Does that sound right?

As a fictional example of a prisoner's dilemma, it sounds fine. Solutions are the same as all PDs: out-of-game enforcement (social norms or the like), superrationality, repeated interactions and tit-for-tat, or accept the equilibrium.

Does that sound right?

As a description of actual choices made by individuals, no. Your assumptions and your reward scoring are nowhere near reasonable.

comment by Tem42 · 2016-06-17T16:07:09.877Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Let's assume that everyone has a fixed budget of attention and empathy.

This is a bad assumption. I could spend more time empathizing than I do -- for example, when I chose to read a nonfiction book, I am likely to emphasize less than when I read a fictional tear-jerker. Moreover, the media spends a lot of time trying to increase your attention and empathy budget, getting you very engaged (attentive and empathetic) to their characters, whether these be fictional or political personages or whatever. Anytime that you stay up late watching Football (rather than go to sleep) you have increased your attention and empathy for that day.

However, it is true that TV and internet have strong money-making incentives for gaming your attention and empathy, and your neighbors probably don't. So on the A&E market, it is reasonable to expect that large powerful players will often outperform small local players. The fact that the market is flexible rather than fixed is probably a factor that makes it worse.

comment by Gram_Stone · 2016-05-31T19:19:39.148Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Individuals can form pseudonymous groups and collaborate to perform tasks that they would be unable to perform as individuals while attributing the completion of the tasks to their collective pseudonymous identities, a la the Bourbaki group. The groups allow socialization and the identities allow admiration.

comment by gwern · 2016-06-02T22:36:49.427Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Scientists Announce HGP-Write, Project to Synthesize the Human Genome":

The publication occurred on Thursday by the journal Science.

The authors of the proposal said that the ability to fabricate huge stretches of DNA would allow for numerous scientific and medical advances. It might be possible to make organisms resistant to all viruses, for instance, or make pig organs suitable for transplant into people.

The project, which will be run by a new nonprofit organization called the Center of Excellence for Engineering Biology, will seek to raise $100 million this year from various public and private sources. Organizers declined to state the ultimate cost of the project, though it could conceivably exceed $1 billion....The organizers of the HGP-Write project hope to do much the same with DNA synthesis, reducing the cost more than 1,000-fold in a decade. Still, even if such progress is made, it might cost several million dollars in 10 years to completely fabricate one human genome.

...But George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and one of the organizers of the new project, said that if the changes desired are extensive, at some point it becomes easier to synthesize the needed DNA from scratch. “Editing doesn’t scale very well,” he said. “When you have to make changes to every gene in the genome it may be more efficient to do it in large chunks.”

I don't think I need to elaborate on the importance of this, here.

Replies from: CellBioGuy
comment by CellBioGuy · 2016-06-04T01:33:55.453Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The main big thing to come from such a thing would be cheaper synthesis of long pieces of DNA. God I want that. The last three months in the lab would've been so much less painful. I'm mostly with the guy from Ginkgo Bioworks arguing that the ability to make tens of kilobases at a time is most interesting - chromosome sized DNA chunks are damn hard to move in and out of eukaryotic cells reliably.

comment by Viliam · 2016-05-30T08:51:24.094Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's almost three months since a mysterious benefactor offered to donate to MIRI but insisted on doing it through other LW members contacted via private messsages.

So, I'm curious... Did anyone cooperate? Is there a story to share?

Replies from: Vaniver, None
comment by Vaniver · 2016-06-01T01:39:55.472Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes; I hear that he's the second largest donor to MIRI this year, and I've been working with him successfully on esports betting (with half of the proceeds earmarked for MIRI). I don't know if anyone has taken him up on the match offer.

Replies from: philh, Viliam
comment by philh · 2016-06-01T13:39:10.791Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Huh. I would have bet at strong odds against this.

comment by Viliam · 2016-06-01T07:54:01.255Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That sounds great (and quite surprising to me).

Just guessing; is he XXXXXX from the MIRI top donors list?

Replies from: iceman
comment by iceman · 2016-06-03T23:47:02.066Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As a person who donates to MIRI and tries to not associate this with my powerword, I'd like to encourage people to not attempt to unmask psuedonyms.

Replies from: Viliam
comment by Viliam · 2016-06-06T07:47:11.510Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good point; edited the comment.

However, without matching LW accounts to real names of donors, anyone can claim to be "the second largest donor to MIRI this year" and there is no way to verify it.

comment by [deleted] · 2016-06-03T14:14:29.787Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

He didn't contact me. I feel cheated.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2016-06-03T18:51:27.984Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Something I and my local group of conversational partners noticed (I don't have a better word for it) over the weekend: Greek philosophy was a matter of law; Theseus' Ship had tax consequences, and shifting conventions in philosophy had legal ramifications. Greek philosophy was argued in court; Sophists were lawyers who were paid to argue your case, and would argue any side whatsoever, as that was what they were paid to do. Socrates had to die, not because he was annoying important people (which he was), but because he insisted on a "pure" philosophy, and was causing all kinds of legal havoc.

It's an observation which probably isn't particularly unique, as all the clues are in just about every philosophy book I've ever read, but it's an interesting part of the history of the divergence between instrumental and epistemic rationality.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-06-02T14:42:26.244Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nope. You continue to be wrong.

You are mostly familiar with Graeco-Roman mythology and less familiar with the literature of that period. But that literature certainly existed and I don't know on which basis do you make assertions about "most of their stories".

Take Apuleius' Golden Ass -- a story about the misadventures of a man who (spoilers!) manages to turn himself into a donkey. You think most people took it as true?

In any case, which characters are fictional is irrelevant to the original issue of spending empathy. What matters is whether the character you're feeling empathy for is someone you could meet in real life and form a relationship with. If the story, for example, concerns some illustrious ancestors who might well have been real, you're still "wasting" empathy on them because in the zero-sum game postulated by the OP this takes away from the empathy available for you to feel for your neighbours.

comment by Algon · 2016-05-31T20:10:08.617Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To fellow victims of chronic pain: do you ever despair about the future, knowing your pain might never end? If so, how do you deal with it?

I've made it a schelling point to never end it all. To leave open the possibility of suicide seems too dangerous to me, too alluring. But I'm still afraid that one day I might try. Do any of you ever feel like this?

I would like to know how others deal with this, as I'm only doing so-so.

Replies from: moridinamael, John_Maxwell_IV, None, Strangeattractor
comment by moridinamael · 2016-05-31T20:45:17.694Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I tend to read up on potential cures that may come in the future. Even ones that are far off or unlikely. Hope is a valuable coping mechanism.

I busy myself with tracking the parameters in my life that make me feel good or bad. I take care to track the things that make me feel good and I don't have a "Pain Journal" but rather a "Thriving Journal". The semantic distinction changes my attitude toward the process.

I consistently pursue every currently available medical treatment. This is part of keeping a positive mindset.

I try to fully and mindfully appreciate the good days. I hope you have good days, or at least better days, to focus on. On the worst days, I try to reflect on the fact that a better day will come around eventually. Maybe tomorrow, even!

I assiduously avoid letting myself dwell or ruminate on "how much my life sucks" in such terms. I focus more on how I'm doing pretty well, considering. I've learned that getting into a depression about it just makes everything a billion times worse. Call it stoicism or whatever, it's more like a mindset that depressive thinking is an addictive drug that I know I can't risk taking a single hit of or I'll be addicted.

Suicide is not really an option that bears much thought when you consider that literally tomorrow somebody could come out with the cure to whatever ails you. You never know. And once you're finally cured, physical pain that's in the past is not really real anymore.

Replies from: Algon
comment by Algon · 2016-06-01T17:19:21.928Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hmm, a Thriving Journal seems like a good idea. Thanks for mentioning it. It makes sense.

I do try avoiding thoughts like 'my life sucks' or things like that because of the reasons you said. Its just that every so often, I get fall into a negative feedback loop. Which is not very fun.

One 'hope' I recently acquired is being able to lucid dream. It seems like you can avoid feeling pain in lucid dreaming, so its something I'm working towards. Any one tried something along those lines.

Replies from: moridinamael, Strangeattractor
comment by moridinamael · 2016-06-01T17:37:01.045Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just to elaborate, I noticed a long time ago that when I was grading every day with a 1-10 pain rating, it made everything seem extremely dismal, especially since almost no day was ever scored "zero". Recasting this so that I also took note of when I was feeling really great (even if it was just in the morning, etc.) allowed me to see a more balanced and realistic picture of my state.

Sure, avoiding negative feedback loops is easier said than done. Sometimes things are just that bad. All I can say is that I seem to have cultivated a reflexive, aversive reaction to ruminating. I'm almost more scared of ruminating, and the places that leads, than I am scared of pain. I don't know if this is a psychologically healthy stance, but it keeps my thoughts mostly in a place that I like.

I do not seem to have the knack for lucid dreaming, but I have used meditation to some minor success.

Replies from: bbleeker
comment by bbleeker · 2016-06-04T16:52:36.444Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

...a reflexive, aversive reaction to ruminating. I'm almost more scared of ruminating, and the places that leads, than I am scared of pain. I don't know if this is a psychologically healthy stance...

I think it is. My own life is pretty good, actually, but I could easily talk myself into a depression if I didn't try and avoid ruminating as much as possible. "Don't believe everything you think"—I learned that here on LW, and that alone is easily worth all the time I've spent on this site.

comment by Strangeattractor · 2016-06-08T07:50:27.373Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are herbs that can encourage lucid dreaming. I've experimented a bit with hyssop flower, also known as ezov, but it didn't change my experience of dreaming much, except I woke up feeling like I had been sorting things through and having insights in my sleep. I didn't recall what I had figured out, but I had the feeling of figuring things out. But I could lucid dream before I started taking it, though I don't do it often, and I remember my dreams often and write them down. Keeping pen and paper by the bed and writing down dreams can be a way to start if you want to work up to lucid dreaming.

I don't usually feel pain while dreaming, but I sometimes wake up from too much pain, so that is not always the case.

Many years ago, I did some meditation techniques to shut off pain when I was severely ill, and it worked for a little while, the technique was successful and I didn't feel pain. But then I moved around and lived my life as if the pain weren't there and I ended up hurting myself, and being in a worse condition than before. The pain had been stopping me from doing things that my body couldn't handle. So, I've been reluctant to mess with the pain signalling system since then.

I guess I'm telling you these stories because neither lucid dreaming, nor shutting off feeling the pain were answers for me. But that's me. Different people have different experiences and different bodies, which makes exploring these options not something that one can outsource, and anecdotes and stories are not reliable guides.

Replies from: Algon
comment by Algon · 2016-06-15T10:20:48.751Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That is a good point.

Still, it would be nice if I could do such things when I really need to. Would you mind sharing the techniques you used?

Replies from: Strangeattractor
comment by Strangeattractor · 2016-06-17T15:37:21.088Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I learned techniques for lucid dreaming and dealing with pain from what was called at the time the Silva Method course, taught by Marilou Seavey and Gerald Seavey.

I also sometimes use a Tibetan Buddhist technique called tonglen, explained by Pema Chodron in her book When Things Fall Apart.

The Silva Method used to be a collection of useful techniques taught in a secular context. However, at some point after I took the course, the organization that coordinated the Silva Method courses became more religious. So a lot of people who were teaching the Silva Method courses and who weren't happy with the religious direction the organization was taking continued to teach the techniques, but called their courses by different names.

Marilou and Gerald Seavey have a website. They travel to various places around the world to give workshops, and it looks like their focus has shifted to NLP and coaching. However, it looks like they still teach a Silva-Method-like course, and that they are calling it Essential Mind Power Training.

Here is another pair of former Silva Method instructors, who call their course Dynamind

Jose Silva, who came up with the Silva Method, wrote some books, but they are not a very good introduction to or explanation of the techniques. The workshops are superior.

I'm glad I learned those techniques, and also a bunch of others, including the ones to help memorizing long lists of things, from the workshop. However, these techniques may not be the best way to do lucid dreaming, or deal with pain, or the various other things taught in the course. I haven't done a comparison with other techniques for lucid dreaming from other traditions, for example. There may be superior ones out there. I'm telling you the way I learned how to do it, since you asked, but I'm not saying it's the best way to learn it.

At the workshop, I feel like the limitations of the techniques were not discussed, or what to do when you run into problems, or guidance on the nuances that arise after mastering the basics. There wasn't a support system of community or teachers. I was pretty much on my own after the workshop. I don't know if that has changed over the years. Also, the incentives of someone selling workshops to make a living don't necessarily line up with the best interests of the people taking the course, and there is a lot of hype, and a tendency to focus on the benefits, not the drawbacks, and to be less careful than a scientist would be in making claims.

In all, I think I do not wholeheartedly recommend it, but on balance it made my life better, so I recommend it with caveats.

Tonglen I learned from reading the book When Things Fall Apart, but it looks like there's a more detailed book about Tonglen by the same author Tonglen: The Path of Transformation by Pema Chodron.ödrön/dp/B000AN09FS/

I get the impression that Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns know a lot more about meditation techniques than I do, but it's rare that they write down what they know. It may be that they would teach more in person. I think finding a good teacher for this stuff would be helpful, but it is not straightforward to find such a person.

This is the hyssop flower aka Ezov extract that I was taking for a while. I don't like their marketing claims, particularly the way that website talks about it, but it did seem to have some small effect on my dreams, as opposed to no discernible effect, which is the case with most herbs and foods I consume.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2016-06-03T11:39:09.994Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Did you look at That site had info that cured nasty chronic pain of mine that lasted >1 year. This tutorial in particular was extremely helpful:

To answer your original question: when I was dealing with chronic pain, I had issues with deep despair similar to what you describe. My chronic pain left me unemployed, and I was constantly in fear of doing things that would aggravate my condition and set back the (very slow and variable) progress it was making in resolving itself. Definitely an extremely miserable period.

Thoughts I had that I found helpful and I'll pass on to you: I decided there were basically 2 strategies for dealing with the pain I had: cure and mitigation. Cure refers to finding a way to roll back the root cause of the problem and return to being my pain-free self. Mitigation refers to accepting the pain and finding ways to work around it (for me--finding a job that doesn't require me to make use of my hands at all, and probably doing a lot more meditation). I decided that it was best to focus on 1 strategy at a time, and that I should focus on the "cure" strategy for at least several years before switching to "mitigation". (What's a few years when I had decades left to live?) I realized that any given "cure" had a pretty low probability of working out, and being in a state of deep despair was extremely non-conducive to trying things that individually had a small probability of working out. This observation was helpful for recalibrating my intuition, and I resolved to make the "list of things I had tried" as long as I could possibly make it. I also resolved to do more of a breadth-first search than a depth-first search, at least at first--I didn't want something that would gradually fix my pain over the course of many months in a way that I would need careful journaling to observe--I wanted a technique that would help things noticeably, that I could use at any time, if the issues came up in the future. Luckily I did manage to find such a technique, which was trigger point therapy (see above links). I've since helped a few others make progress on their pain using trigger point therapy, and I think it's potentially useful for many, perhaps almost all, people who suffer chronic pain.

Some more specific recommendations:

  • If you're not already taking something, start taking SAMe. It's a supplement that you can buy over the counter that's anti-depressant and has been shown to be quite useful for arthritis (so who knows, maybe it will end up helping your condition somehow--it probably hasn't been studied for your condition and you may as well do an n=1 trial). Ideally it will improve your mood, which will give you the motivation to try low-probability treatments, and it might fix your issue on its own. Here's more info:

  • Read this book: Not only is it an great book in and of itself, the author covers mental strategies that are ideal for chronic medical condition sufferers. And he uses the story of his chronic medical condition as a motivating example through the book, so it gives you something to relate to.

Replies from: Algon
comment by Algon · 2016-06-03T16:06:56.147Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've seen you mention trigger point therapy before. It's something I do, and it helps to a degree, but it has not had made a large change in my quality of life.

The rest seems worthwhile. Thank you for that.

Replies from: John_Maxwell_IV
comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2016-06-04T01:38:10.542Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would guess then that you either

  • Suffer mainly from trigger points, but you're treating the wrong ones/haven't found effective treatment methods

  • Suffer from some other condition that's causing trigger points in your muscles as a downstream effect

One thing that might give you a clue is to figure out just how bad your trigger points are. You won't have a point of reference yourself, so I'd suggest visiting a few massage therapists and asking them after your massage whether you seem tighter than a typical client and where your worst tightness is. If your trigger points are very bad, or you have significant tightness/pain even in areas that aren't close to your head, I'd update some in the direction of them representing the core of your problem.

If trigger points are your primary issue, then keep in mind they can require quite a lot of creative investigation to treat effectively. For example, my current hypothesis is that the eyestrain issues I struggled with a few months ago were caused in part by the following chain: morton's foot -> trigger points in my soleus -> trigger points in my jaw muscles -> trigger points in my upper sternocleidomastoid -> trigger points in my eye muscles. It sounds weird, but when I spend a day walking around with inserts in my shoes to correct for the Morton's Foot, my eyes feel like they're loosening up when I lie down to sleep at the end of the day.

I recommend thoroughly reading the perpetuating factors chapter on every trigger point book you can get your hands on. Part of the reason I recommend SAMe is that one of the perpetuating factors that's been identified for trigger point problems is folate deficiency, but some people (like me) have MTHFR mutations that interfere with folate motabolism, and SAMe helps get around that. (Getting 23andme can help you determine if you're also an undermethylator.)

Make yourself the world's foremost expert on trigger points (and any other field of research that seems helpful for your pain). Then you'll have a great career if you do end up managing to fix yourself.

comment by [deleted] · 2016-06-01T02:12:23.760Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have chronic back pian.

Yes. This is a common problem: look up 'pain catastrophising'.

Then: Learn specific evidence-based strategies to deal with anxiety (relaxation techniques) and cognitive distortions like catastrophising (cognitive therapies).

Replies from: Algon
comment by Algon · 2016-06-01T17:22:33.129Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Pain catastrophising seems like a bad thing. So are you saying that trying the reverse is a good thing?

Do you know any strategies that you can recommend?

I was recommended cognitive behaviour therapy because I've tried almost all medications. I'm guessing that its something like what you're talking about.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2016-06-03T00:38:04.413Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, decastrophising pain is a good thing based on empirical evidence and my personal experience.

Yes, cognitive behavioural therapy is a type of cognitive therapy. When administered correctly it will help. There are also useful resources on the web. I recommend this strategy. I can provide other strategies depending specifically on your etiology.

In addition, mere insight in the psychological interactions with somatic symptoms like pain gives you an edge in recovery over many chronic pain sufferers. You are a smart man to have asked this question. I was not so smart, and suffered for a long time before having this ideas shoved in my face when attending a university lecture on the topic.

And yes, I used to feel suicidal constantly and made some attempts. Now I very rarely feel suicidal. Pain was a big contributor to my mental illness.

Can you describe what pharmacological therapiies you were prescribed and the nature of your pain, if you don't mind? If you are concerned about privacy I will respect that since it could be identifying information (feel free to pm me). If you have symptoms in areas I have either formal research expertise and/or personal experience (usually they're the same areas) then I would love to help. I am not a health care professional, do note, but a researcher. The reason I offer is that given what I can formulate about your case based on what you've said (chronic pain, pharmacotherapy treatment resistant, CBT offered afterwards rather than concurrently, and where are rehabilitation exercises?) your treatment team may not be operating in alignment with what I understand as best practice. Now, that may be inavavoidable since I don't read clinical guidelines, and it may simply be that researchers like me have to do more translational research, or it could be that you have a bad physio/gp/whoever and should get a second opinion so you don't suffer.

Also, I avoid going into too much depth about my specific research expertise here on LW because it becomes rather identifying information. For those who follow this account, this isn't Carlos (who's public about him identity) typing right now (this is a shared account, as you can probably tell from our very different writing styles). So, if I do not respond it just means I haven't had much time to visit lately or I'd be giving myself away. In such a case, I recommend just cnosulting a different health care provider for a second opinion.

Replies from: Algon
comment by Algon · 2016-06-03T16:03:51.108Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the help!

I have chronic migraines. In my case it means a constant headache with a powerful migraine every few days.

In terms of medication, I've tried: Triptans & NSAIDs as pain relief; Propanalol, Amitriptyline, Topiramate and an Ocipital Nerve block as preventation. I've tried Magnesium as a supplement, which I'd hear helped others.

Then there's stuff like acupuncture, trigger points and one or two things I can't remember the name of.

Botox is an option, but one that's met with resistance in my family.

That's it I think. I really appreciate the advice.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2016-06-04T03:23:07.667Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, I actually have next to no knowledge of migraines! Haha, some of my advice may before may even be irrelevant now, because I assumed it was pain in the sense of musculoskeletal or peripheral neuropathic type pain!

comment by Strangeattractor · 2016-06-08T07:23:12.948Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When the pain gets intense, it helps to remind myself "Not all days are as bad as this." It can feel overwhelming in the moment, and it distorts the view of the future. So I remind myself of that too. "What I'm experiencing right now is a distorted view of the future. So I'm not going to make any major decisions based on it."

It can be hard to look forward to the future when I'm not enjoying the present, when it's so awful, and there's no known path or plan to make thing better. It can be extremely frustrating to just endure. It can feel so futile and pointless.

When I have a better day later, I notice and point it out to myself and remember the worse day when it felt like I wouldn't have anything to look forward to, and am glad that I stayed alive long enough to experience it. And then I can remember that little conversation with myself when it gets intensely worse again, even though I don't recapture the good feeling at that time.

Suicide can seem pretty attractive under conditions of intense pain. Thoughts of suicide can be something like a valve, or an escape fantasy, or a fantasy of having an off switch for the pain. Repetitive thoughts can be related to exhaustion or illness. I think a lot of these thoughts and feelings can have a physiological basis, and are not necessarily something to identify with. They are probably pretty good at signaling "something is wrong" but not very good at "this is an accurate and complete picture of my desires". Paying attention to what you physically did just before the thoughts sometimes could lead to insights.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-06-01T14:19:07.991Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Storytelling, in the sense of telling a story that all the participants acknowledge to be false

That's a very weird concept of a "story".

is actually remarkably recent

Like ancient Greece and Rome are "remarkably recent"?

comment by [deleted] · 2016-06-03T15:53:00.686Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The alleged scientific concensus of the irrationality of violent discipline against children

Could research on corporal punishment in the home be misleading due to confounding by genetic factors or other methodological issues?

While doing research on this topic I found very interesting WP: talk, sections with someone making objections, and getting the most effective diplomatic replies I have every seen. Very impressive. here it is.

Worried your worry is untreatable?

Last night I started to wonder: Did I only try SSRI’s for depression (I tried antipsychotics and mood stabilisers too but those aren’t ‘just’ for depression)? Is that why pharmacotherapy failed? What if I try a different class like Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)s

Treatment resistant depression is common.

Treatment-resistance is relatively common in cases of MDD. Rates of total remission following antidepressant treatment are only 50.4%. In cases of depression treated by a primary-care physician, 32% of patients partially responded to treatment and 45% did not respond at all


Treatment-resistant depression is associated with more instances of relapse than depression that is responsive to treatment. One study showed that as many as 80% of patients who needed more than one course of treatment relapsed within a year. Treatment-resistant depression has also been associated with lower long term quality of life

  • Wikipedia. However, anxiety can be treatment resistant too.

You may wonder, what do you do if treatment for an anxiety disorder fails? The group of anxiety patients that is resistant to the treatment has been shown to have very poor quality of life and have highest rate of suicidal attempts than any other disorders..

“The two biggest risk factors for treatment resistance are inadequate treatment and failure of patients to comply with treatment. The other important risk factor is having a comorbid condition, such as depression, bipolar disorder, or substance abuse,” says Bystritsky

Conversely, medications with multiple mechanisms of action or 'poly-pharmacy cocktails' seem to be most effective in the treatment-resistant population. The scientific literature does not contain any good efficacy data for polypharmacy. However, it is apparent that the use of multiple medications with different indications is a rule rather exception in the treatment-resistant anxiety patients


For same of the patients, this regimen could be appropriate and even life saving. For some of them it could mask an underlying problem by numbing the feeling and not addressing abnormal coping of these patients. The examples of this could be an oversedated OCD patient, who continues his compulsive behaviors or a PTSD patient where the core traumatic even has never been addressed in psychotherapy. In my opinion, the extensive polypharmacy in patients should be periodically reevaluated and a second opinion should be obtained. It is especially important when the patient is treated with a complicated regimen for more than 2 years without clear improvement. Sometimes a 'subtraction' of medications from a polypharmacy regimen could lead to an improvement.

Other strategies are discussed in the source article in molecular psychiatry

Evidence suggests the worse psychological harms from violence are closer to home than you might expect

Would you rather be a victim of domestic violence, or the victim of armed conflict (think ISIS, or Naxalites or Insurgencies in Africa)?

This conclusion – that fighting itself is often not as bad as hardship and domestic abuse and other traumas that can fill every day – is one borne out in other research on adversity.

from Mental health and conflict research from Colombia.

Experience of the armed conflict was more linked to anxiety while non-conflict violence was more related to aggression and substance abuse. Depression and suicide risk, however, were represented equally across all of the categories.

It’s worth saying that being ‘trauma obsessed’ is really just a American and European condition – as I’ve discussed before, Latin American psychology in particular has a strong tradition of looking at problems on the community level rather than always aiming to treat the individual victims.

Effective hedonism: sex

Students have less sex than others of the same age (except my students, who have assured me that is impossible) and married people have more....Research suggests that promiscuity is not associated with increased happiness and, in fact, that the number of sexual partners needed to maximize happiness is exactly one....Money may bring you happiness, but it won’t buy you more sex. Being homosexual doesn’t make you any happier than anyone else, but it does mean having more partners....People who cheat in marriage (10% of the married people in the sample have had sex with more than one person in the previous year) are less happy. Men who use prostitutes are also less happy. That is, promiscuous people are less happy

from less happy

I also wonder how societal attitudes towards sexual behavior affect individual happiness. If I engage in a behavior that is considered socially unacceptable and I am unhappy, is that because of the behavior or because of the social acceptability of the behavior?

Are there cross-cultural studies?

Summary of 80,000 hours research as it applies to pursuit of employment for hedonistic purposes

”A widely used definition of stressful situations is one in which the demands of the situation threaten to exceed the resources of the individual.”

One puzzle is that people with higher responsibility jobs, which you’d expect to be more stressful, have been found to have better health outcomes than those with lower responsibility jobs.

“Current evidence indicates that perceived psychosocial stress is independently associated with increased risk of stroke.”

Steve Jobs started out passionate about zen buddhism. He got into technology as a way to make some quick cash. But as he became successful, his passion grew, until he became the most famous advocate of “doing what you love”.

Some studies suggest that people in higher responsibility positions, with greater job demands, have better health outcomes and are less stressed than people in lower responsibility positions. This may be because those in higher responsibility positions also tend to have greater autonomy, control and power.

Overall, the studies actually found that higher job demands3 (and low control to a lesser extent) were associated with higher risk of heart disease and mortality:

”It is important to note that the low stress levels of leaders may both cause and result from leadership. That is, individuals with low stress levels may be particularly well-suited for leadership and as a result, may select into leadership positions. Conversely, leadership roles may confer lower stress because of the psychological resources that they afford.”

"...those who believed that stress had a large effect on their health had double the risk of suffering a heart attack...."

"”There is a simpler, less mysterious way of accounting for the results: people who experience stress but who suffer minimal ill effects from it come to believe that stress cannot hurt them, whereas people who do suffer ill effects come to believe that stress is harmful. Voilà, we now have the correlation those researchers found but with belief as an outcome rather than a cause.”"

When have you been most fulfilled in the past? What did these times have in common? Imagine you just found out you’re going to die in ten years? What would you do? Can you make any of our six factors more specific? e.g. what kinds of people do you most like to work with?

My follow up questions are:

  1. How well does constructed interventions on the basis of identified modifiable risk factors for a disease predict the effectiveness of the intervention - a kind of systematic review of backwards vs walk forward forecasting in epidemiology
  2. Does hyper awareness of opportunity cost from effective altruism engagement make people less happy?
  3. Given that there are longitudinal studies on stress and positions of responsibility or leadership why do they focus on studies that can't draw temporal, causal inferences in the 80k article? Lacking methodological expertise, are we? ;)

Not quoted from 80k, but in a piece they link to:

...generally try to avoid or ignore hostile people' (Epstein's test)

Something tweetable?


#Reframe demands as #opportunities

#Reframe #stress as useful rather than threatening

Let me know if you tweet or share in some form or another so I can track my impact (if any!) and keep doing this

Replies from: Viliam, ChristianKl
comment by Viliam · 2016-06-06T08:05:52.258Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Research suggests that promiscuity is not associated with increased happiness and, in fact, that the number of sexual partners needed to maximize happiness is exactly one ... People who cheat in marriage (10% of the married people in the sample have had sex with more than one person in the previous year) are less happy. Men who use prostitutes are also less happy. That is, promiscuous people are less happy

The obvious question: Which way does the correlation go?

One possible explanation is "cheating will make you unhappy, e.g. because it will ruin your relationship", other possible explanation is "people who are already unhappy in their relationship are more likely to cheat".

Money may bring you happiness, but it won’t buy you more sex.

Again, the obvious question is: Does this control for the time spent making money?

One possible explanation is "people are actually not influenced by the money you have when they consider whether to choose you as a sexual partner", other possible explanation is "the more time you spend at work making money, the more money you have, but the less time you have for finding and maintaining sexual relations".

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-06-03T16:44:31.157Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Worried your worry is untreatable?

Untreatable and the average primary-care physician can't effectively treat it are two different categories.

We also don't have an incentive system whereby those who can effectively treat actually get to treat. Medicine is rewarded on a cost-plus basis instead of being payed by the outcome.

comment by TimS · 2016-06-02T13:40:54.648Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Citation, please?

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-06-01T11:35:07.500Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think most people understood Aesops fables to be about a real fox at the time they were written.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-06-01T12:13:50.207Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I remember LW discussions where a study was cited about how psychologists compare to lay people when they do counselling. Does anybody have a link?

Replies from: gjm, None
comment by gjm · 2016-06-01T12:26:03.181Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is definitely not that, but might be interesting for similar reasons: Scott Alexander's post called Scientific Freud.

comment by [deleted] · 2016-06-03T14:13:27.709Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think I posted that. It's not hard to find the study - it's not counselling, it's CBT specifically.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2016-06-03T16:24:09.746Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Finding a study is always about finding the right keywords. I didn't find it with the keyboard that came to my mind. If you still remember the right keywords how about posting a link?

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2016-06-04T03:21:36.526Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's not always how you find a study.

I map my ontology to wikipedia.

The closest relevant top is the Dodo BIrd verdict on wikipedia. From a quick scan I couldn't find what I was looking for, but I'm somewhat confident it'll have the right leads. Also, I remember another study suggesting new psychologists were more effective at CBT than experienced ones.

I would dig harder to find the study, but I reckon it's misleading in isolation anyway. The larger, wider body of evidence overwhelmingly suggests the biggest factor in therapeutic success in the 'therapeutic alliance', a relationship level factor, not the therapy itself, or the characteristics individually of the patient of clinician.

comment by morganism · 2016-05-31T23:33:14.767Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Deep learning and machine learning resource list.

comment by [deleted] · 2016-06-03T17:02:49.917Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What method of testing whether one is better at remembering things from hearing or from seeing would you recommend?

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2016-06-03T17:29:07.924Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why do you want to do the test?

There was a lot of research that tried to show that students can be better taught by adapting to their learning styles. The general outcome of it, is that nobody demonstrated that adapting to learning styles helps.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2016-06-03T17:46:21.552Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I guess that answers my question. Thank you.

Mostly for my kid and for tutoring the occasional student. For example, my kid prefers 'repairing' misspelled words (built from connected blocks) to simple reading or writing; I thought there could be other exploitable features.

comment by kitimat · 2016-05-31T03:05:43.933Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Help request. I am looking for an article/posting that I once read, the topic of which was reasoning about continuums , like Less Wrong's Fallacy of Grey . I think I originally found the article through a link on Less Wrong but I have been unable to locate it. Any suggestions?

Replies from: gjm
comment by gjm · 2016-05-31T12:36:53.176Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are a few links on the wiki. If none of them is what you're after, could you possibly say a little more about what was in the article you're looking for? (Was it, e.g., making the same sort of point as Eliezer's "Fallacy of Gray", or disagreeing with it, or saying some completely different thing about "continuous thinking"?)

Replies from: kitimat
comment by kitimat · 2016-06-01T00:41:30.670Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The article listed 8 or so common errors in reasoning about continuums. The article was rather clever in its use of categories and naming and also gave excellent examples. I want to use it as an aid in teaching/explaining rather than in self-learning.

comment by pangel · 2016-06-02T14:40:38.036Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have a question, but I try to be careful about the virtue of silence. So I'll try to ask my question as a link :

Also, these ideas are still weird enough to win against his level of status, as I think the comments here show:

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2016-06-02T14:48:41.320Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

these ideas are still weird enough

It only looks weird when expressed in the language of computers.

The simulation hypothesis is better known as creationism.

Replies from: pangel
comment by pangel · 2016-06-02T15:21:09.342Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Although I appreciate the parallel, and am skeptical of both, the mental paths that lead to those somewhat related ideas are seriously dissimilar.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2016-06-02T15:25:46.817Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why would you care about mental paths if they lead to the same place?

These ideas are not "somewhat related". They are literally the same.

Replies from: gjm
comment by gjm · 2016-06-02T15:58:34.013Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why would you care about mental paths if they lead to the same place?

Because the different paths may be of independent interest (e.g., creationism-in-the-usual-sense relates to questions of religion; the simulation hypothesis to questions of technology and fundamental physics). Because if one of these paths seems like a good path but its final destination is uninhabitable, the place you back off to may be different depending on what path you took.

They are literally the same.

Only if you define "creationism" or "simulation" in an unorthodox way.

"Creationism" is universally[1] understood to mean the idea that the world was created by a god, and that term "god" has a whole lot of other baggage; if it turns out that our world was made in some other-universe hacker's basement, and that the hacker has no idea we even exist, no particular interest in how his pet universe comes out, no extraordinary mental capabilities or moral perfections, etc., then no one would call him a "god" and this would not be a scenario to vindicate the creationists.

[1] Near enough.

"Simulation" is universally[2] understood to mean the idea that our world's existence is as a pattern of information inside something very computer-like. If, e.g., it turns out that everything we see around us is ideas in the mind of God a la Berkeley, that would be highly un-computer-like and this would not be a scenario to vindicate the simulationists.

[2] Near enough.

The two ideas are certainly closely related. They are both special cases of the same general idea (that our universe is a thing that has been made by someone else). But no, they are not the same idea.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2016-06-02T16:15:22.704Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Creationism" is universally[1] understood to mean the idea that the world was created by a god, and that term "god" has a whole lot of other baggage

If you drag in the baggage, there will be baggage. If you don't, there won't. A lot of smart people thought for a long time about what it means for the world to have been created.

"Simulation" is universally[2] understood to mean the idea that our world's existence is as a pattern of information inside something very computer-like.

Simulation universally[0] means that our universe is part of a larger system outside of it which works by different rules; and that some entity constructed our world and by that virtue has supernatural powers over it.

[0] Near enough.

They are both special cases of the same general idea (that our universe is a thing that has been made by someone else). But no, they are not the same idea.

They are that same general idea.

Replies from: gjm
comment by gjm · 2016-06-02T17:19:36.002Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you drag in the baggage [...] If you don't [...]

The baggage is part of the meaning of the word. Look it up in a good dictionary. Look at how it's actually used.

They are that same general idea

I'm not sure what you mean by that. If you mean that you agree that they're different special cases of a single general idea, then I think we are in agreement (and I just don't understand why you're so determined to call them "the same" when they are in fact not the same). But if you mean that they are not merely different special cases, but that each in fact has the exact same meaning as (what I'm claiming to be) the more general idea, I think that's flatly wrong.

(The best answer I can see: our universe is being simulated by the Mind of God. No, says the traditionalist Christian, our universe is not a part of God, it is not a mere mental creation; it is an actual separate thing.)

Suppose traditionalist Christians are right in every detail. Then creationism is correct; if creationism and simulationism are the same thing, then simulationism must also be correct. In that case, please tell me what is simulating our universe.

Suppose our universe was made by a hacker in another universe who set his unthinkably powerful computer simulating universes with random simple-ish physical laws and has since then completely forgotten the program is even running. Then simulationism is correct; if creationism and simulationism are the same thing, then creationism must also be correct. In that case, please tell me what being plays the role of God in this scenario.

(The best answer I can see: the hacker is God. But he doesn't even know our universe exists and certainly has no idea what's going on within it. In principle he could discover the program running on his computer, find a way of inspecting its state, and figure out what that means in terms of in-universe events; but as it happens he has nowhere near the brainpower or the patience for that. Neither is he supremely wise or good or anything of the sort. He just happens to have a really fast computer.)

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2016-06-02T17:48:44.090Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Look it up in a good dictionary.


So, within the framework of the simulation hypothesis let us consider the entity which made our universe and runs it. Why is it not a god? Which necessary attributes of godhood does it lack? What makes it not belong in a class denoted by the word "god"?

I'm not sure what you mean by that.

I'm pointing at abstraction levels.

Are a Ferrari and a Hummer the same thing? They are both cars. But they are different "special cases" of cars.

Are a Ferrari Spider and a Ferrari Lusso the same thing? They are different "special cases" of Ferraris.

Are Alice's Ferrari 488 Spider and Bob's Ferrari 488 Spider the same thing? They are different "special cases" of Ferrari 488 Spiders.

please tell me what is simulating our universe.

The not-created. Traditional Christian ontology starts with the basic divide between the not-created (=God) and the created (=our world).

please tell me what being plays the role of God in this scenario

The hacker. The fact that he's absent at the moment makes him an absent god, not not-a-god. Notice that he can shut down his computer or twiddle the rules of the universe. Or just reach in and change things directly which would look awfully like a miracle.

Replies from: gjm
comment by gjm · 2016-06-02T23:28:37.356Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


The usual reason for laughing at the idea of looking in a dictionary would be because the meaning of a word is really determined by how it's used and dictionaries merely report that. But in this case, the sentence immediately after the one you quoted (which you mysteriously didn't quote) was "Look at how it's actually used". So could you explain, please, what you found so funny?

Why is it not a god? [...]

I think all those questions are answered quite well in the last two paragraphs of the comment you were replying to.

I'm pointing at abstraction levels.

Yes, I understand that. But words come with particular (rough) abstraction levels built in: "thing", "asset", "financial instrument", "financial derivative", "option", "call option on an equity", "American call option on Apple shares", "American call option on 100 AAPL shares at a strike price of $500 per share and maturity date 2016-09-01". The abstraction levels implicit in the words "creationism" and "simulationism" are lower than the abstraction level at which they turn into the same concept.

The not-created [...] (=God)

So, that's the answer I remarked was the best one I could see, and I explained why I don't find it a good answer, and you ignored that without comment.

The hacker.

Well, at least in this case you did make some comments that kinda engage with my comments on that answer, so let's see.

an absent god, not not-a-god.

I think it's the combination of his absence with the other features I mentioned that make him not-a-god.

he can shut down his computer

Yup. I don't think the ability to destroy the universe is sufficient for godhood. (Suppose some clever physicist discovers a way for us to destroy the universe -- but it doesn't enable us to do anything else. Does that make us gods?)

or twiddle the rules of the universe

Except that he has no idea which of the bazillion universes his computer is simulating is ours, and he's lost the source code for his universe simulator and isn't smart enough to make sense of the object code. He could reach in and twiddle things at random, but that wouldn't (e.g.) enable him to make any specific change, and the most likely consequence would be that the simulation would crash.

which would look awfully like a miracle.

Given the details I laid out, it would look like an awfully hamfisted miracle; he would have no actual control over what he did.

comment by Viliam · 2016-05-30T08:44:53.229Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some people believe that altruism has evolved through helping your relatives or through helping others to help you in return. I was thinking about it; on the surface the idea looks good -- if you already have this system in place, it is easy to see how it benefits those involved -- but that doesn't explain how the system could have appeared in the first place. Anyone knows the standard answer?

Imagine that you are literally the first organism who by random mutation achieved a gene for "helping those who help you". How specifically does this gene increase your fitness, if there is no one else to reciprocate?

Or imagine that you are literally the first organism who by random mutation achieved a gene for "helping your siblings". How specifically does this gene increase your fitness, or the fitness of the gene itself, if your siblings do not have a copy of this gene?

In other words, it seems simple to explain how these kinds of altruism can work when they are already an established system, but it is more difficult to explain how it could work when it is new.

And this all is a huge simplification; for example, I doubt that "helping those who help you" could be achieved by a single mutation, since it involves multiple parts like "noticing that someone helped you", "remembering the individual who helped you" and "helping the individual who helped you in the past". Plus the problem of how to start this chain of mutual cooperation.

My guess is that... nygehvfz pbhyq unir ribyirq guebhtu frkhny fryrpgvba. Yrg'f rkcynva vg ol funevat sbbq jvgu bguref. Svefg, vaqvivqhnyf abgvpr jub vf tbbq ng tngurevat sbbq, naq gurl ribyir nggenpgvba gbjneqf tbbq sbbq pbyyrpgbef. Gung znxrf vzzrqvngr frafr orpnhfr vg vapernfrf fheiviny bs gur puvyqera, vs gurl nyfb trg gur trarf tbbq sbe tngurevat sbbq. Nsgre guvf nggenpgvba rkvfgf jvguva gur fcrpvrf, gur arkg fgrc pbhyq or fvtanyyvat: vs lbh unir fbzr rkgen sbbq lbh qba'g npghnyyl arrq, oevat vg naq ivfvoyl qebc vg arne bgure vaqvivqhnyf, fb gung bguref abgvpr lbh unir zber sbbq guna lbh pna rng. Ntnva, guvf znxrf vzzrqvngr frafr, orpnhfr vg znxrf lbh zber nggenpgvir. Abgvpr ubj arvgure "urycvat lbh eryngvirf" abe "urycvat gubfr jub uryc lbh" jnf arprffnel gb ribyir urycvat vaqvfpevzvangryl. Npghnyyl, gubfr pbhyq unir ribyirq yngre, nf shegure vzcebirzragf bs be nqqvgvbaf gb gur vaqvfpevzvangr urycvat.

Replies from: mwengler, gjm, AspiringRationalist, Pimgd, Val, g_pepper, Good_Burning_Plastic, ChristianKl, pcm
comment by mwengler · 2016-05-30T17:35:24.440Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My first thoughts reading your post are 1) You start WAY TOO LATE IN THE GAME. You are essentially talking about altruism as a conscious choice which means you are well into the higher mammals.

Virtually every sexually reproducing creature devotes resources to reproduction that could have been conserved for individual survival. As you move up in complexity, you have animals feeding their young and performing other services for them. As would be expected with all evolved cooperation, the energy and cost you expend raising your young produces a more survivable young and so is net cost effective at getting the next generation going, which is pretty much what spreads genes.

How big of a leap is it from a mama bird regurgitating food into her baby's mouth to you helping your neighbor hunt for wooly mammoth?

If you were the first organism to get the gene to feed your babies or do whatever expanded their survivability, then obviously that is how that gene propagates, your babies have the gene.

As you get to the more complex forms of altruism of primates and humans, you also get to strong feedback mechanisms against non-cooperators and free-riders. The system may not be perfect but I think it allows a path from feeding babies or burying eggs in the sand to modern altruism in humans where no wierd "how do we start this" behaviors bump up to stop things.

comment by gjm · 2016-05-31T12:12:44.421Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

imagine that you are literally the first organism

If the immediate consequences of the genetic change in question aren't terribly deleterious then that first organism may very well have offspring, even without it conferring any particular advantage. And now those offspring do have siblings who share the gene.

[EDITED to add: oops, saw Viliam's comment in Recent Comments and replied to it without noticing others had also done so making the same point.]

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2016-05-30T15:10:17.791Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you have a gene that makes you help you siblings, your offspring are reasonably likely to get it too, which benefits their siblings (also your offspring).

Replies from: Viliam
comment by Viliam · 2016-05-30T19:21:08.356Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I feel like this increases the amount of lucky coincidence needed. Not only I have to randomly get the right mutation, but I also need to have many children (surviving to the age when they can help each other) for reasons completely unrelated to having the mutation. Actually, the mutation may be a bit harmful in the second step, because I may give some of my resources to my siblings instead of my children.

Unfortunately, I am not familiar enough with mathematical models of evolution to evaluate how much this extra burden weighs against your hypothesis.

Replies from: gjm
comment by gjm · 2016-05-31T13:02:48.854Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems to me that it doesn't weigh against it very much. A genetic change that causes a not-too-big increase in altruistic behaviour towards likely kin is unlikely to hurt your chances of survival and reproduction a lot.

The first organism with the genetic change doesn't need to be exceptionally well supplied with offspring or anything. (Unless this is an r-selected species for which surviving at all is exceptionally lucky; in that case, it needs to be about as lucky as the bearer of any other not-too-dramatic genetic change has to be.)

comment by Pimgd · 2016-05-31T07:59:58.096Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maybe it doesn't help when you're the only one, but that doesn't matter; your species is one that has multiple children, and the mutation was so small it occurred in multiple children? ... And if that's too high a complexity penalty, there could be an alternative: say it is a trait which got spread due to a resource boom in a population (the resource boom makes it likely for even disadvantaged mutations to survive), and then individuals with the trait managed to find each other and be more fit?

... Just conjecture, though.

Replies from: Viliam
comment by Viliam · 2016-05-31T14:22:55.981Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Doesn't this suffer from a similar problem as group selection?

Imagine that the first mutant gets lucky and has 20 children; 10 of them inherited the "help your siblings" genes, and 10 of them did not. Does this give an advantage to the nice children over the non-nice ones? Well, only in the next generation... but then again, some children in the next generation will have the gene and some will not... and this feels like there is always an immediate disadvantage that is supposed to get balanced by an advantage in the next generation, except that the next generation also has an immediate disadvantage...

Uhm, let's reverse it. Imagine that everyone has the "help your siblings" gene, in the most simple version that makes them take a given fraction of their resources and distribute it indiscriminately among all siblings. Now we get one mutant that does not have this gene. Then, this mutant has an advantage over their siblings; the siblings give resources to mutant, not receiving anything in return. Yeah, the mutant is causing some damage to the siblings, reducing the success of their genes. But we don't care about genes in general here, only about the one specific "don't help your siblings" allele; and this allele clearly benefits from being a free-rider. And then it reproduces with some else, who is still an altruist, and again 50% of the mutant's children inherit the gene and get an advantage over their siblings.

So we get the group-selectionist situations where families of nice individuals prosper better than mixed families, but within each mixed family the non-nice individuals prosper better. This would need a mathematical model, but I suspect that unless the families are small, geographically isolated, and therefore heavily interbreeding, the nice genes would lose to the non-nice genes.

Replies from: tut
comment by tut · 2016-05-31T18:53:05.647Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your siblings is not a reproductively isolated population (hopefully=)). The relevant question is if the helpers are more or less fit relative to the population as a whole. So in your example, where the helpers give up something and get back less, the gene goes extinct.

But start instead of just zero-sum redistribution with something like that trust game where you send money through a slot and whatever amount you send the other guy gets triple. But it's multiplayer and simultaneous. So the helpers give up some amount, let's say x each and every family member gets three times what the average participant gave up. If half of the family members are helpers then everyone gets 3x/2. Which is more than x, so now the gene gives a fitness advantage.

Replies from: Viliam
comment by Viliam · 2016-06-01T09:25:40.534Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here is a toy model:

Let's ignore the details of genetic reproduction, and simply assume that if both parents have a trait, all children have it; if no parent has a trait, no children have it; and if one parent has it, exactly 50% of children have it. Let's assume all families have the same size. (These are quite unrealistic assumptions to make calculation simple.)

Let's suppose that being nice to all your siblings has a cost c (for example, if without reciprocation it would reduce your survival rate by 5%, then c = 0.05), and that being supported by all your siblings provides a benefit b (for example, if without helping any your siblings but being helped by all of them would increase your survival rate by 10%, then b = 0.10). We can assume 0 < c < b.

So, the current generation contains a fraction p of adult individuals who have the sibling-helping trait. Let's assume they form pairs randomly (because the trait is so new they haven't developed its detectors yet). On average, there will be p^2 "helper-helper" families, 2×p×(1-p) "helper-nonhelper" families, and (1-p)^2 "nonhelper-nonhelper" families.

In "nonhelper-nonhelper" families, children's survival rate will be 1 (the default survival rate before the helper mutation appeared). In "helper-helper" families, children's survival rate will be 1+b-c. In "helper-nonhelper" families, the 1/2 of helper children will have survival rate 1+b/2-c (they only get half the help, but pay the full cost), and the 1/2 of nonhelper children will have survival rate 1+b/2 (they get galf the help at no cost). Now all these values together have to be normalized to 1, to get the proportions in the next generation.

Ugh, math...

non-normalized next generation helpers = p^2 × (1+b-c) + 1/2 × 2×p×(1-p) × (1+b/2-c) = p + pb/2 - pc/2 + ppb/2

non-normalized next generation non-helpers = (1-p)^2 × 1 + 1/2 × 2×p×(1-p) × (1 + b/2) = 1 - p + pb/2 - ppb/2

next generation helpers ratio = (p + pb/2 - pc/2 + ppb/2) / (p + pb/2 - pc/2 + ppb/2 + 1 - p + pb/2 - ppb/2) = (p + pb/2 - pc/2 + ppb/2) / (1 + pb - pc/2) ... which for obscure mathematical reasons is always greater than p

Well, assuming that I made no mistake during the calculation, and that my simplified assumptions about heritability of traits didn't diverge from reality too much (two reasons why I hesitated to do the calculations myself)... I am more or less convinced this could work.

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2016-06-01T21:00:25.655Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

More broadly: consider genetic drift and the probability of reaching fixation. For neutral mutations, their probability of fixation is the rate at which they are introduced, and they will reach fixation at 4*population-size generations. For primate species, the population size is always pretty small, low hundreds of thousands or millions; generation turnover tends to be something like 10 years, and early primates can date back as much as 60 million years, so it can encompass a lot of drift. If we imagine that kin altruism is neutral until you have at least a few relatives and the relevant mutation keeps happening once in every few hundred thousand individuals, it's not at all unlikely that it will appear repeatedly and then drift up to the threshold where fitness gains start appearing, and then of course, now that it's no longer neutral, it'll be quickly selected for at the rate of its gain.

comment by Val · 2016-05-30T15:19:59.564Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Imagine that you are literally the first organism who by random mutation achieved a gene for "helping those who help you"

Not all information is encoded genetically. Many kinds of information have to be learned from the parents or from society.

comment by g_pepper · 2016-05-30T15:32:52.706Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Richard Dawkins' 1976 book The Selfish Gene contains, among other things, some interesting discussions about how many altruistic behaviors might have arisen through natural selection.

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2016-06-19T09:12:55.220Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or imagine that you are literally the first organism who by random mutation achieved a gene for "helping your siblings". How specifically does this gene increase your fitness, or the fitness of the gene itself, if your siblings do not have a copy of this gene?

Even if being the first one to have that gene would make you have fewer children than average, (half of) your children will have the gene too and they would help each other and benefit from that and as a result you'd still have more grandchildren than average.
comment by ChristianKl · 2016-06-01T20:47:36.914Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or imagine that you are literally the first organism who by random mutation achieved a gene for "helping your siblings"

That's not how genes work. There isn't a single gene for "helping your siblings".

Imagine that you are literally the first organism who by random mutation achieved a gene for "helping those who help you". How specifically does this gene increase your fitness, if there is no one else to reciprocate?

Genes don't need to help the individual that carries it. Genes are as Richard Dawkins famously said selfish.

Replies from: Viliam
comment by Viliam · 2016-06-02T08:04:50.011Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Genes don't need to help the individual that carries it.

Technically true, but irrelevant in the scenario when there is yet only one organism having the gene. Kill the organism and the gene is gone.

Replies from: ChristianKl, None
comment by ChristianKl · 2016-06-02T08:14:00.659Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It doesn't make sense to focus on only one organism. Natural selection is a stochastic process. Genes that don't help the only organism that carry it get doublicated all the time.

A random gene on the Y chromosome of Genghis Khan that didn't have strong effects would now be carried by millions of people without the gene being responsible for it.

comment by [deleted] · 2016-06-02T17:22:46.627Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

BTW, I was just browsing JSTOR and saw this: Life history, habitat saturation and the evolution of fecundity and survival altruism. S. Lion and S. Gandon, Evolution, v. 64 n. 6 (2010), pp. 1594-1606. If you would like to, I could relate the substance (it is a tiny bit inconvenient for me to do right now, or I would have.)

comment by pcm · 2016-05-30T18:15:08.262Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suggest reading Henrich's book The Secret of our Success. It describes a path to increased altruism that doesn't depend on any interesting mutation. It involves selection pressures acting on culture.