Open Thread April 8 - April 14 2014

post by Tenoke · 2014-04-08T11:11:50.069Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 245 comments

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


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by J_Taylor · 2014-04-11T04:39:40.760Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This post is shameless bragging:

I donated two days of pay to the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative. As always, this is incredibly easy to do. If you would like to do so, here is a link:

comment by D_Malik · 2014-04-08T19:05:35.863Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Should we listen to music? This seems like a high-value thing to think about.* Some considerations:

  • Music masks distractions. But we can get the same effect through alternatives such as white noise, calming environmental noise, or ambient social noise.

  • Music creates distractions. It causes interruptions. It forces us to switch our attention between tasks. For instance, listening to music while driving increases the risk of accidents.

  • We seem to enjoy listening to music. Anecdotally, when I've gone on "music fasts", music starts to sound much better and I develop cravings for music. This may indicate that this is a treadmill system, such that listening to music does not produce lasting improvements in mood. (That is, if enjoyment stems from relative change in quality/quantity of music and not from absolute quality/quantity, then we likely cannot obtain a lasting benefit.)

  • Frequency of music-listening correlates (.18) with conscientiousness. I'd guess the causation's in the wrong direction, though.

  • Listening to random music (e.g. a multi-genre playlist on shuffle) will randomize emotion and mindstate. Entropic influences on sorta-optimized things (e.g. mindstate) are usually harmful. And the music-listening people do nowadays is very unlike EEA conditions, which is usually bad.

(These are the product of 30 minutes of googling; I'm asking you, not telling you.)

Here are some ways we could change our music-listening patterns:

  • Music modifies emotion. We could use this to induce specific useful emotions. For instance, for productivity, one could listen to a long epic music mix.

  • Stop listening to music entirely, and switch to various varieties of ambient noise. Moderate ambient noise seems to be best for thinking.

  • Use music only as reinforcement for desired activities. I wrote a plugin to implement this for Anki. Additionally, music benefits exercise, so we might listen to music only at the gym. The treadmill-like nature of music enjoyment (see above) may be helpful here, as it would serve to regulate e.g. exercise frequency - infrequent exercise would create music cravings which would increase exercise frequency, and vice versa.

  • Listen only to educational music. Unfortunately, not much educational music for adults exists. We could get around this by overlaying regular music with text-to-speeched educational material or with audiobooks.

* I've been doing quantitative attention-allocation optimization lately, and "figure out whether to stop listening to music again" has one of the highest expected-utilons-per-time of all the interventions I've considered but not yet implemented.

Replies from: VincentYu, ChristianKl, badger, ephion, NancyLebovitz, Armok_GoB, MrMind, satt, ChristianKl, Metus, Gunnar_Zarncke, adbge
comment by VincentYu · 2014-04-08T22:22:07.346Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I went through the literature on background music in September 2012; here is a dump of 38 paper references. Abstracts can be found by searching here and I can provide full texts on request.

Six papers that I starred in my reference manager (with links to full texts):

One-word summary of the academic literature on the effects of listening to background music (as of September 2012): unclear

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-04-08T19:55:11.580Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Get RescueTime or something similar and flip a coin every day to decide whether or not to listen to music. After a while patterns might emerge.

comment by badger · 2014-04-08T20:33:15.901Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Music randomizes emotion and mindstate.

Wait, where did "randomizes" come from? The study you link and the standard view says that music can induce specific emotions. The point of the study is that emotions induced by music can carry over into other areas, which suggests we might optimize when we use specific types of music. The study you link about music and accidents also suggests specific music decreased risks.

All the papers I'm immediately seeing on Google Scholar suggest there is no association between background music and studying effectiveness, or if there is, it's only negative for those that don't usually study to music. If that's accurate, either people are already fairly aware of whether music distracts them, they would adapt to it given time, or they don't know what kinds of music are effective for them due to lack of experience.

Replies from: D_Malik
comment by D_Malik · 2014-04-08T20:52:24.502Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When I listen to music, I usually do so by putting a long multi-genre playlist on shuffle. That's what I was thinking of when I wrote that; I'll edit it.

Listening to music selected to induce specific emotions seems like it could be useful. For instance, for motivation, it might be useful to play a long epic music mix.

Replies from: badger
comment by badger · 2014-04-08T21:03:45.761Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Alright, that makes more sense. Random music can randomize emotional state, just like random drugs can randomize physical state. Personally, I listen to a single artist at a time.

comment by ephion · 2014-04-09T19:57:17.605Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Music is one of the primary joys and pleasures in my life. It is not optional for me.

Replies from: raisin
comment by raisin · 2014-04-10T04:37:59.581Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah. I may not feel as strongly as you about this, but I still feel music is something intrinsically valuable to me. At least something about is is, and I haven't yet found a better substitute for it. If I stop listening to music entirely, I feel like the world is a bit more devoid of value to me. It might make sense to talk about this for those who don't feel strongly about the matter, but for me personally this starts to drift into the Straw Vulcan territory.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-04-08T19:52:47.374Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you're just looking to maximize pleasure, perhaps you should schedule music fasts.

comment by Armok_GoB · 2014-04-11T00:00:48.646Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Obligatory link:

This not only includes noises like white, it also has soundscapes and music/noise hybrid things and a suprisingly effective isochronic generator.

comment by MrMind · 2014-04-09T08:24:18.111Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Related only indirectly: for me, pink noise seems to work much more effectively in masking distractions than white noise, to the point that I can tolerate a much higher volume.

comment by satt · 2014-04-12T13:42:34.520Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One distinction that might matter here is between instrumental music and music with lyrics.

Anecdotally, I think lyric-free music, as background music, distracts me less, and I've tried to remember to listen to e.g. instrumental jazz or prog rock when I want to hear music while studying something.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-04-08T19:58:49.593Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't really think that randomizing the the right word. Certain music has certain emotional effects on me. If I want to feel those effects I can play the music.

Certain Bachata music brings to my mind the emotions that I felt during dancing Bachata to those songs. Before dancing Bachata music did nothing for me.

comment by Metus · 2014-04-08T19:35:52.897Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting question I have yet never seen. Sounds obvious in hindsight, but all good questions are.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-04-09T10:34:28.263Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Very well noticed. Music takes a lot of our time and attention (and a bit of money) for giving a bit of pleasure (and very little information). Music used to give lots of (but seldom) pleasure and associate this with social situations you had an impact on.

I listen to music only if I am in the mood for it. If the music I want to hear matches the feelings I have. But this happens only a few times a month. I like music (thus not being one of the 5% who can't) but I'm quite choosy and my preference doesn't align with popular trends. I think listening to it all the time is a waste of time and depreciates the value of the music (makes it everyday; nothing has a chance to stand out and do make an impact).

If you have time to kill I'd recommend listening to audio books instead. Not only stories (though there are some that contain valuable concepts esp. for younger listeners; I'd love to see an HPMoR audiobook). But maybe you can spend your time even better.

Music is one more domain of human preferrence that has been 'subverted' by our society. From whatever origin through a socially well-integrated function of bringing people together and increase social exchange it's major remaining effect (measured by person-time spent) is to direct attention into the sphere of music meaning and economics (what sounds good, who likes what, how to sell/buy and play it).

This actually reduces chances of social interaction because everybody in the bus/train/street is listening to (or reading) something. And you can't relate to that. But maybe that is a compensation for the masses of online-interactions that you have instead (which are less personal though).

comment by adbge · 2014-04-08T20:08:51.596Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Another consideration: earworms. I find getting a song stuck in my head to be somewhat aversive.

Edgar Allan Poe puts it this way:

It is quite a common thing to be thus annoyed with the ringing in our ears, or rather in our memories, of the burthen of some ordinary song, or some unimpressive snatches from an opera. Nor will we be the less tormented if the song in itself be good, or the opera air meritorious.

Replies from: Luke_A_Somers
comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-04-13T20:12:06.088Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It takes about a minute for something bad to annoy me. It takes multiple days for something good to annoy me.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2014-04-08T18:06:03.966Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

App Academy has been discussed here before and several Less Wrongers have attended (such as ChrisHallquist, Solvent, Curiouskid, and Jack).

I am considering attending myself during the summer and am soliciting advice pertaining to (i) maximing my chance of being accepted to the program and (ii) maximing the value I get out of my time in the program given that I am accepted. Thanks in advance.

EDIT: I ended up applying and just completed the first coding test. Wasn't too difficult. They give you 45 minutes, but I only needed < 20.

EDIT2: I have reached the interview stage. Thanks everyone for the help!

EDIT3: Finished the interview. Now awaiting AA's decision.

EDIT4: Yet another interview scheduled...this time with Kush Patel.

EDIT5: Got an acceptance e-mail. Decision time...

EDIT6: Am attending the August cohort in San Francisco.

Replies from: Solvent, ChrisHallquist, Jack, ThrustVectoring, eeuuah
comment by Solvent · 2014-04-09T21:45:18.405Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I work at App Academy, and I'm very happy to discuss App Academy and other coding bootcamps with anyone who wants to talk about them with me.

I have previously Skyped LWers to help them prepare for the interview.

Contact me at if interested (or in comments here).

comment by ChrisHallquist · 2014-04-09T20:03:31.660Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maximizing your chances of getting accepted: Not sure what to tell you. It's mostly about the coding questions, and the coding questions aren't that hard—"implement bubble sort" was one of the harder ones I got. At least, I don't think that's hard, but some people would struggle to do that. Some people "get" coding, some don't, and it seems to be hard to move people from one category to another.

Maximizing value given that you are accepted: Listen to Ned. I think that was the main piece of advice people from our cohort gave people in the incoming cohort. Really. Ned, the lead instructor, knows what he's doing, and really cares about the students who go through App Academy. And he's seen what has worked or not worked for people in the past.

(I might also add, based on personal experience, "don't get cocky about the assessments." Also "get enough sleep," and should you end up in a winter cohort, "if you go home for Christmas, fly back a day earlier than necessary.")

comment by Jack · 2014-04-09T05:28:27.694Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hey Jayson. What's your programming background?

Replies from: Jayson_Virissimo
comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2014-04-09T06:02:06.785Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've got one year of a CS-program under my belt (so, basically some maths and Java) and am currently teaching myself Ruby via online tutorials.

Replies from: Jack
comment by Jack · 2014-04-10T23:08:37.358Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Chris covered a lot of things. Re getting accepted, I think you'll be okay. You're ahead of where I was and I can tell you're smart. Do the prep work they give you, do some project Euler problems. I don't think you have to do the challenges in Ruby, but knowing at least one language well will help.

If you are accepted I strongly recommend a) Going to SF, not NY. The job market is better and I suspect the instruction is as well. B) If you don't mind too much: stay at App Academy (2016 edit: they no longer allow this). It isn't comfortable but you'll greatly benefit from being around other people learning web development all the time and it will keep you from slacking off. Remember that this isn't college. You don't get a certificate or degree. So the point isn't to get through the program. The point is to learn as much as you possibly can while you're there.

Also, If you're still on the edge about doing it, I strongly recommend it. App Academy easily had a bigger beneficial impact on my life than anything else I've done. Let me know if you have any specific questions.

Replies from: Psy-Kosh
comment by Psy-Kosh · 2014-05-16T18:57:28.397Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hey there, I'm mid application process. (They're having me do the prep work as part of the application). Anyways,,,

B) If you don't mind too much: stay at App Academy. It isn't comfortable but you'll greatly benefit from being around other people learning web development all the time and it will keep you from slacking off.

I'm confused about that. App Academy has housing/dorms? I didn't see anything about that. Or did I misunderstand what you meant?

Replies from: Jack
comment by Jack · 2014-06-05T05:03:29.260Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hey. You might have had this question answered already but just in case: they don't have housing or dorms. But they do have room and allow you to put up a cot or inflatable mattress and sleep there for the duration.

Replies from: Psy-Kosh
comment by Psy-Kosh · 2014-06-07T00:46:55.068Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, found that out during the final interview. Sadly, found out several days ago they rejected me, so it's sort of moot now.

Replies from: komponisto
comment by komponisto · 2014-06-19T02:43:44.490Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yikes. Any idea why?

Replies from: Psy-Kosh
comment by Psy-Kosh · 2014-06-22T20:16:38.636Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not sure. They don't actually tell you that.

Replies from: komponisto
comment by ThrustVectoring · 2014-04-10T19:49:07.724Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm a current student who started two weeks ago on Monday. I'd be happy to talk as well.

comment by eeuuah · 2014-04-10T14:57:58.102Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hey. I'm doing App Academy this summer, so I can't tell you about the program, but I can give you my thoughts on the interview. Based on what you said in the comments above, it sounds like we have somewhat similar backgrounds.

The interview was mostly pretty simple code problems. If you felt like you knew what you were doing in your cs classes and that you were keeping up with the other students, you'll probably be able to handle these. Just make sure you're comfortable with the ruby needed to do the practice problems.

Good luck!

comment by Lumifer · 2014-04-10T17:26:44.884Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A public service announcement.

If you only rarely peek out from underneath your rock and don't know about Heartbleed you should bother to find out. Additional info e.g. here. A pretty basic tool to check servers is here.

Notable vulnerable services were, for example, Gmail and Yahoo Mail.

Replies from: TylerJay
comment by TylerJay · 2014-04-10T22:06:12.558Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

List of affected sites with recommendations on which to change your password. Unfortunately, you should also probably change any other sites on which you use the same password.

It's a good time to do an Expected Utility calculation!

if you think that: p(having your accounts compromised) ( pain if accounts are compromised) > 1 (inconvenience of changing passwords), then change em!

Also, might be a good opportunity for you to start using a password manager like LastPass

Replies from: Lumifer, Dagon
comment by Lumifer · 2014-04-11T01:29:26.135Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

...then change em!

Before you change the password, though, make sure that the website patched the vuln and got a new certificate as private keys were one of those things potentially leaked. Changing the password for a site which didn't patch and get a new cert is worse than useless.

Replies from: TylerJay
comment by TylerJay · 2014-04-11T16:28:40.863Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Absolutely right. The list I posted shows which have been patched as well.

Thanks for pointing that out.

comment by Dagon · 2014-04-11T07:34:37.858Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Please help with this calculation. pain and inconvenience are individual, but probability (for the non-famous who aren't targetted specifically) is probably similar for many of us. Let's take gmail to be specific:

  • have you changed your gmail password in response to this flaw [pollid:664]
  • what is your current probability estimate that your gmail account was compromised by this flaw in a way that would cause you pain [pollid:665]
Replies from: RichardKennaway, None
comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-04-11T11:34:26.486Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I changed passwords on gmail, but what I'm wondering is why I haven't seen a single announcement on any of the sites I log in to about the issue, including gmail, and others that third party sites have listed as vulnerable.

Replies from: asr, XiXiDu
comment by asr · 2014-04-11T14:28:11.873Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have friends who do security at Google, and they explicitly told me "we don't think the company was vulnerable and you don't need to change your GMail password." So as near as I can tell, the third-party sites and Google, inc, disagree about whether Google is vulnerable here.

Replies from: JQuinton, Douglas_Knight, Lumifer
comment by JQuinton · 2014-04-11T14:36:30.826Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I checked my Gmail login locations after I heard about Heartbleed and saw one location that was obviously not anywhere I had been in the last month. So based on that information I assumed that Gmail was compromised and changed my password.

Replies from: Douglas_Knight
comment by Douglas_Knight · 2014-04-13T05:29:46.354Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How often do you check your login locations?

Replies from: tgb
comment by tgb · 2014-04-13T15:42:19.294Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It checks for you, by the way, and will block an attempt and notify you if it looks suspicious. This happened to me earlier this month. Interestingly, that happened 4 days after the vulnerable OpenSSL version was released and my Gmail password is basically the only the one which I do not reuse anywhere and I don't know how anyone could have gotten it... Still more likely to have been a keylogger or something.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2014-04-13T05:27:26.603Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Google said the same to the press.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-04-11T14:36:51.530Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have friends who do security at Google, and they explicitly told me "we don't think the company was vulnerable and you don't need to change your GMail password."

Um. Google said: (emphasis mine)

You may have heard of “Heartbleed,” a flaw in OpenSSL that could allow the theft of data normally protected by SSL/TLS encryption. We’ve assessed this vulnerability and applied patches to key Google services such as Search, Gmail, YouTube, Wallet, Play, Apps, and App Engine.

The fact that patches were needed pretty much says that the services mentioned were vulnerable.

Replies from: asr
comment by asr · 2014-04-11T18:13:41.777Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Context: I want to give some insight as to why I (and others) voted for "not changing password, not very worried" and as to why the company is not telling everybody to change password immediately.

I agree that the fact that patches were needed does imply that they were running the bad OpenSSL versions. The company is saying, on the record, that people do not need to change passwords. And this matches what I am hearing informally from friends who work there.

Is it good hygiene to change passwords? Yes. Given two-factor authentication and perfect forward secrecy, it might not be super critical though.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2014-04-11T19:00:06.349Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The company is saying, on the record, that people do not need to change passwords.

Let me ask an important question: how does Google know? A successful Heartbleed attack leaves no traces unless you're logging all the packets you received in pretty ridiculous detail.

Bruce Schneier says: "At this point, the probability is close to one that every target has had its private keys extracted by multiple intelligence agencies." I consider his opinions to be credible.

Update: Bloomberg says: "The U.S. National Security Agency knew for at least two years about a flaw in the way that many websites send sensitive information, now dubbed the Heartbleed bug, and regularly used it to gather critical intelligence, two people familiar with the matter said."

Replies from: asr
comment by asr · 2014-04-11T20:13:12.244Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes. The NSA isn't a threat I worry about, since I figure they could get my stuff via a demand to Google, if they wanted it. I am primarily worried about non-government-aided criminals. See Steve Bellovin's analysis for why this isn't so suitable an attack for that class of adversary.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2014-04-11T20:34:44.977Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And look what your own link says:

"There's one password you should change nevertheless: your email password."

Besides, Bellovin is talking about what he calls the most serious case -- leakage of crypto keys. If the attackers snarfed your password, they don't need to sniff, mitm, or redirect your traffic.

comment by XiXiDu · 2014-04-11T15:01:39.490Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I changed passwords on gmail...

I was going to wait until I get a message from Google, since I have 2-step verification enabled. I don't see how heartbleed could compromise it. Except of course for application-specific passwords.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-04-11T10:41:21.138Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I changed my password, but not solely due to the flaw - it was more a straw that broke the camel's back as I was using a password good enough for just email but not good enough for the master key to all my online (and banking) activity.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-04-09T08:06:46.671Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Inspired by economical lolcats, I guess we should have some rationality lolcats. Here are a few quick ideas:

Two big cats next to each other, a third smaller cat in front of them or hiding somewhere aside. "Consider the third alternative"

One cat standing on hind legs, other cat crouching. "If P(H|E) > P(H) ... then P(H|~E) < P(H)"

Cat examining a computer mouse. "Iz mouse 'by definishun' ... still can't eat"

Cat ripping apart paper boxes. "Stop compartmentalizing"

Cat ripping apart a map. "The map is not the territory"

Cat riding a vacuum cleaner ... something about Friendly AI.

Kittens riding a dog. "Burdensome details"

Cat looking suspiciously at a whirlpool in a bathtub. "Resist the affective spiral"

Or simply a picture of some smart cat (cat with glasses?) and some applause-light texts, like "All your Bayes are belong to us"

I am not sure what is the proper procedure for creating these; specifically whether there is some good source of legally available cat images. What is the correct font to use, and whether there are some tools for conveniently adding texts to pictures. Anyone has experience with this?

Replies from: Lumifer, fezziwig, gothgirl420666
comment by Lumifer · 2014-04-09T17:46:21.585Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

specifically whether there is some good source of legally available cat images


comment by fezziwig · 2014-04-09T14:06:37.988Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are lots of lolcat builders out there, but this is the only one I've used:

You're on your own for legally available images, though. I think the community consensus is that it doesn't matter because parody or whatever, which is not a legitimate legal defense, but I don't think anybody's been sued yet.

Replies from: Viliam_Bur, Lumifer
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-04-10T20:08:46.810Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The builder seems great. Thousands of cat pictures!

Replies from: Benito
comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2014-04-15T17:14:41.750Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know what lolcats are, although I have seen Internet memes, and in the few moments I spent looking at the cat pictures, I did get some ideas...

Edit: Added ones I couldn't earlier, because other site wasn't working.

Replies from: Viliam_Bur
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-04-15T18:49:53.067Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I love the marshmallow maximizer!

Perhaps it could serve as an educational example about how an Unfriendly AI might exploit our psychological weaknesses to make us accept horrible outcomes. :D

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-04-16T12:51:37.922Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't have a rationality point, but I like the grumpy cat "joy in the merely real" one.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-04-09T17:41:38.537Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

because parody or whatever, which is not a legitimate legal defense

In the US it is a legitimate legal defense.

YMMV in your jurisdiction.

Replies from: fezziwig
comment by fezziwig · 2014-04-09T18:18:40.868Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Right, sorry, that wasn't clear: parody is a defense, but I doubt it would work in this case because you're not parodying the material you used, you're just creating a funny derived work.

comment by gothgirl420666 · 2014-04-11T13:13:24.218Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This meme is at least a decade old. If we're going to do rationality memes, we should do something more relevant...

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2014-04-11T18:55:29.416Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Does using lolcats actually impede understanding of the message or anything like that? 'Recency' is not a terminal value.

comment by iconreforged · 2014-04-08T14:56:47.955Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Does anyone else here have bizarre/hacky writing habits?

I discovered Amphetype, a learn-to-type application that allows you to type passages from anything that you get as a text file. But I've started to use it to randomly sample excerpts from my own writing. The process of re-typing it word for word makes me actually re-process it, mentally speaking, and I often find myself compelled to actually re-write something upon having re-typed it.

Something similar that I've had positive results with is to print out a draft, open a new file, and make myself transcribe the new draft to a new file.

Replies from: Vaniver, Stabilizer, palladias
comment by Vaniver · 2014-04-08T16:24:24.290Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The process of re-typing it word for word makes me actually re-process it, mentally speaking, and I often find myself compelled to actually re-write something upon having re-typed it.

I used to alternate between paper and computer for each draft for this reason. I don't do it much because it requires quite a bit of time, but typing and retyping this way might be faster without losing much of the benefit.

Replies from: BloodyShrimp
comment by BloodyShrimp · 2014-04-10T20:30:22.720Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One time when I had a particularly large amount of biochemistry facts to study for a test the next morning I thought it might help my memory if I kept re-transcribing them, rephrasing them completely each time. I did well on the test, but not above my usual performance (then again, it was over more material than usual). I never tried this again; it was never necessary... but I am kind of curious if it really works.

comment by Stabilizer · 2014-04-10T06:17:36.124Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On a Mac, you can make the computer read your writing aloud: highlight the text, right-click and select 'Speech'. (Hat Tip: Kevin Simler)

Also, reading my writing out loud for myself---varying the tempo, varying the emphasis and so on---helps me understand its perceived impact.

Thanks for the tip about re-typing your writing.

comment by palladias · 2014-04-09T14:21:23.726Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oooh, thanks for mentioning. I think I'll try this when I finish my first draft.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-04-09T07:30:09.554Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are there any listings of rationalist houses and/or Less Wrong users looking for an apartment?

If not, do you guys think it should be a feature that is added to IMO, it's something that has the potential to improve a lot of lives, and doesn't take that much effort to implement. So ROI-wise, it seems like something worthy of doing.

Replies from: Viliam_Bur, Gunnar_Zarncke, ChristianKl
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-04-10T14:29:22.669Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

ROI-wise, the best first move seems to write a comment on Open Thread, asking: "Are there any rationalist houses with free capacity? Alternatively, are there any LessWrong users looking for an appartment (please write the locality)?"

If you get answers, you can put them in wiki afterwards. If you don't get answers... then making the wiki page would probably accomplish nothing.

Replies from: adamzerner
comment by adamzerner · 2014-04-10T15:49:13.722Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So you think that the likelihood of people posting in the WIki is low enough that it needs to be tested in Open Thread first?

Even so, what's the downside to making a Wiki? I suspect that people would be more willing to post there than the Open Thread because the Wiki seems more "legit" and posting there is more likely to be useful, whereas posting to the small Open Thread post may be seen as fruitless (for it to be useful, it really needs a critical mass of people, and it's more likely to get that with the WIki).

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-04-09T11:11:31.187Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think it really needs a new feature. We already have a Wiki. The problem is more about organising the information.

Replies from: adamzerner
comment by adamzerner · 2014-04-09T18:42:24.544Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Could you link to it? I can't find it.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-04-09T18:58:38.951Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Replies from: adamzerner
comment by adamzerner · 2014-04-09T19:27:37.921Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't see any listing of rationality houses or people looking for apartments there.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-04-09T20:12:59.704Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But there space where you could put that information. There no need to have a new feature. The Wiki feature is perfectly fine to store information about rationality houses.

There no need to ask for permission to create a Wiki page that lists that kind of information.

Replies from: adamzerner, adamzerner
comment by adamzerner · 2014-04-09T20:58:56.926Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd like to make a Wiki page of people looking for a roommate who is also a Less Wrong user. However I can't create new pages because I'm a new user. Do you know how I could get approval or something to make the page?

Replies from: Gunnar_Zarncke
comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-04-14T10:14:12.544Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hi Adam, I created the page for you:

Replies from: adamzerner
comment by adamzerner · 2014-04-14T15:21:01.729Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks! I suspect that "rationalist houses" should be more clearly distinguished from "apartments" though.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-04-09T20:30:53.967Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh ok, I understand what you mean now.

comment by JoshuaFox · 2014-04-08T14:14:12.808Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What's so special about HPMoR?

Some people seem to think that it is more than just a decent read: that it genre-breaking, that it transcends the rules of ordinary fiction. Some people change their life-pattern after reading HPMoR. Why?

For some context on who is asking this question: I've read 400 pages or more of HPMoR; as well as pretty much everything else that Eliezer has written.

Replies from: TylerJay, badger, None, CellBioGuy, fezziwig, David_Gerard, NancyLebovitz, shminux, knb, Punoxysm, Metus, JoshuaFox
comment by TylerJay · 2014-04-08T15:49:09.979Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can't speak for others, but I love HPMoR. I honestly believe it's one of the best pieces of fiction I've ever read, so I'll try to describe my own reasons.

  1. Tropes and Plot Devices: I've read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy and HPMoR avoids a lot of the downfalls of the genre such as dei ex machina, whiny/angsty heroes, and phleboninum/unobtainium. Eliezer is familiar enough with common tropes that he does a great job of applying them in the right contexts, subverting them interestingly, and sometimes calling them out and making fun of them directly.

  2. The First Law of Rationalist Fiction: Roughly, that characters should succeed by thinking in understandable, imitable ways, not by inexplicable powers or opaque "bursts of insight" that don't really explain anything. After hearing this ideal stated outright and seeing it in practice, a lot of other fiction I've read (and, unfortunately, written) seems a lot less satisfying. Eliezer does a fantastic job at giving a look into the characters' minds and letting you follow their thought patterns. This makes it even more satisfying when they succeed and even more crushing when they fail.

  3. Application of the Sequences: As someone who had read the sequences more than once before reading HPMoR, it was both fun and enlightening to see the ideas put into practice in a high-stakes scenario. As someone who was familiar with the ideas beforehand, I got to smile and "get the reference," yet also be surprised by the application. I honestly believe that I've started applying rationality to my real life more after reading MOR and seeing examples of how to do it.

  4. Balance of Power: I think MOR does an excellent job of maintaining a balance of power between the characters. At times, you think your protagonist is horribly weak and at other times, they appear very strong, though perhaps in a different way from the other characters. The conflict is never one-sided.

  5. The Characters: The characters are dynamic, multi-faceted, and sometimes morally ambiguous. You never fully understand their goals or motives, but they are there and they are consistent. Even the "dark" characters have certain insights to share that sound "bad", but are nonetheless seductive and often hard to argue with.

  6. The World and the Lore: As a long-time Harry Potter fan, seeing this kind of adaptation of the world is just fun. It's a rich world in which to set a story and Eliezer does a great job expanding the lore, making some of it grittier, and making a lot of it much deeper and more mysterious. While he had a great platform to start from, the world-building is fantastic.

Overall, the story is incredibly entertaining and fun to read. It has a lot more to offer than most fiction out there. I love it.

comment by badger · 2014-04-08T15:55:04.616Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm also somewhat confused by this. I love HPMoR and actively recommend it to friends, but to the extent Eliezer's April Fools' confession can be taken literally, characterizing it as "you-don't-have-a-word genre" and coming from "an entirely different literary tradition" seems a stretch.

Some hypotheses:

  1. Baseline expectations for Harry Potter fanfic are so low that when it turns out well, it seems much more stunning than it does relative to a broader reference class of fiction.
  2. Didactic fiction is nothing new, but high quality didactic fiction is an incredibly impressive accomplishment.
  3. The scientific content happens to align incredibly well with some readers' interests, making it genre-breaking in the same way The Hunt for Red October was for technical details of submarines. If you are into that specific field, it feels world-shatteringly good. For puns about hydras and ordinals, HPMoR is the only game in town, but that's ultimately a sparse audience.
  4. There is a genuine gap in fiction that is both light-hearted and serious in places which Eliezer managed to fill. Pratchett is funny and can make great satirical points, but doesn't have the same dramatic tension. Works that otherwise get the dramatic stakes right tend to steer clear of being light-hearted and inspirational. HPMoR is genre-breaking for roughly the same reasons Adventure Time gets the same accolades.
Replies from: badger
comment by badger · 2014-04-08T17:59:08.574Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One more hypothesis after reading other comments:

HPMoR is a new genre where every major character either has no character flaws or is capable of rapid growth. In other words, the diametric opposite of Hamlet, Anna Karenina, or The Corrections. Rather than "rationalist fiction", a better term would be "paragon fiction". Characters have rich and conflicting motives so life isn't a walk in the park despite their strengths. Still everyone acts completely unrealistically relative to life-as-we-know-it by never doing something dumb or against their interests. Virtues aren't merely labels and obstacles don't automatically dissolve, so readers could learn to emulate these paragons through observation.

This actually does seem at odds with the western canon, and off-hand I can't think of anything else that might be described in this way. Perhaps something like Hikaru No Go? Though I haven't read them, maybe Walter Jon Williams' Aristoi or Ian Banks' Culture series?

Replies from: Nornagest, blacktrance, Luke_A_Somers, IlyaShpitser
comment by Nornagest · 2014-04-08T23:05:55.642Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Culture books tend to star people on the margins of the eponymous Culture: disaffected citizens, spies, mercenaries, people from other involved (and usually more conservative) civilizations. They almost always have serious character flaws (a number of them are out-and-out assholes) and while character development does occur, generally toward Culture values, it's not usually dramatic. On the other hand, the culture itself, and the AI entities that run it, are presented as having few to no flaws from the narrative's perspective. While the characters are often critical of it, it's fairly clear where the author's sympathies lie.

They're not rationalist fiction in the sense that Methods is, or even in the sense that Asimov's Foundation books are. They do make for a decent stab at eutopia from a socially liberal soft-transhumanist perspective, though not an especially radical one.

comment by blacktrance · 2014-04-08T18:00:56.375Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Atlas Shrugged comes to mind.

Replies from: badger, CellBioGuy
comment by badger · 2014-04-08T18:31:05.944Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hmm... Atlas Shrugged does have (ostensible) paragons. Rand's idea of Romanticism as portraying "the world as it should be" seems to match up: "What Romantic art offers is not moral rules, not an explicit didactic message, but the image of a moral person—i.e., the concretized abstraction of a moral ideal." (source) Rand's antagonists do tend to be all flaws and no virtues though.

comment by CellBioGuy · 2014-04-08T22:47:09.301Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Everyone in that book acts nearly completely diametrically opposed to their interests were they in the real world.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-04-14T00:39:39.636Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Characters act against their own interests in HPMoR... and in Hikaru no Go, for that matter. Just, you get to see why they're doing it so it seems more reasonable at the time. Which is of course how it seems to them. We're just used to characters doing things that don't seem like good ideas at the time in other works.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-04-11T11:55:05.078Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

HPMoR is a new genre where every major character either has no character flaws or is capable of rapid growth.

I have not read HPMoR (or have a particularly strong desire to), but if this sentence is true, then HPMoR is shitty literature with a particular TVTropes name.

How many people over 35 enjoyed HPMoR?

comment by [deleted] · 2014-04-08T15:38:04.389Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's one of the only fictional works I can read without having to constantly ignore obvious things the protagonists should be doing. It's really, really funny.

comment by CellBioGuy · 2014-04-08T22:45:02.255Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's fun and absurd and complicated and fulfills the inner need to overanalyze that a lot of geeky people like myself have. Me and a bunch of friends in college were reading it as it came out and speculating wildly on what would happen next, especially about motives, and especially around Azkaban. But it was just a popular fanfic with an absurd hilarious premise that we liked (and that would occasionally lead to me oversleeping and missing the first half hour of my astrobiology class). Another work of comparable interest that had quite a similar effect on several of my friends around the same time was Homestuck.

Nowdays we have nearly completely lost interest. Partially because we have learned of the existence of people who take it too seriously / have changed their life-pattern after reading it which adds an ugh effect and partially because it's become rather overdone / takes itself too seriously. My interest in it that remains has changed from fun to morbid fascination.

Replies from: Luke_A_Somers
comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-04-14T00:43:58.445Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Really? Are you sure it's not simply that it's barely updating anymore? I ask because the first two reasons you give are pretty poor reasons, and the second two... well, most of these developments seem to follow pretty directly from what went before.

comment by fezziwig · 2014-04-08T15:04:23.618Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can't speak for everybody, but some of us are judging it by comparison to other fanfiction instead of other fiction generally. I'd agree that HPMoR doesn't stack up against good Sanderson or Pratchettt, say, but judged in the reference class of fanfiction it's pretty extraordinary.

comment by David_Gerard · 2014-04-08T14:24:40.794Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That it's top-quality for its field (fanfic). That it has an active proselytising fanbase. That some of said fanbase, it's the first thing they like that much that they've seen.

Replies from: somervta
comment by somervta · 2014-04-11T06:25:50.176Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And, for some, the only thing.

Replies from: David_Gerard
comment by David_Gerard · 2014-04-11T15:19:41.652Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Basically, kids who don't know much about an area will imprint upon the first thing they like that much.

Replies from: somervta
comment by somervta · 2014-04-12T06:32:29.257Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

shrugs. I'm not that willing to deny people's own preferences. It's entirely possible that it's the thing they'll derive the most enjoyment from reading, or close.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-04-08T19:50:51.217Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One more thing-- it's got is tremendous emotional range and intensity.

Replies from: Frood
comment by Frood · 2014-04-09T06:47:02.023Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One of the first things that I tell people is that it's the most powerful story that I've ever read. I've never cried or laughed as hard as during HPMoR.

comment by shminux · 2014-04-08T16:55:13.618Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For some context: I got hooked on HPMoR because of its humor in the early chapters, and some then-mind-blowing characters, ideas and plot twists in the first half. That's how I ended up on this forum way back when. However, the story has gotten darker, more preachy and short on comic relief in the last half. This is pretty standard for multi-volume works and is probably intentional, but I still miss Comed-tea, soul-eating Tracey and frolicking woodland creatures.

HPMoR is "more than just a decent read" because it is a well-designed and successfully implemented device to gently introduce new people to the ideas of rationality and transhumanism. In that it is similar to what Atlas Shrugged did for Objectivism. It also helps that the story has no obvious plot holes and idiot balls.

Some people change their life-pattern after reading HPMoR. Why?

Probably after lurking or participating here, not just after HPMoR.

comment by knb · 2014-04-09T05:52:30.746Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wasn't aware that people have been changing their "life-pattern" after reading it. Are there any examples?

Replies from: JoshuaFox
comment by JoshuaFox · 2014-04-09T14:10:28.216Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that some MIRI researchers, or at least active community members, originally encountered the LW/MIRI memeplex through HPMoR.

Also, I met someone who said he was formerly very religious and is now an atheist. He said that he was brought into the LW world through HPMoR and HPMoR seemed to still be the main focus of his interests inside this memeplex. Though I can't say that HPMoR was the only cause of his shift of attitudes or even the main one, it apparently had an important role..

So, it does seem that HPMoR has some strong effects on some people.

Replies from: somervta
comment by somervta · 2014-04-11T06:18:09.903Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it's main effect is as a gateway to studying rationality.

Replies from: JoshuaFox
comment by JoshuaFox · 2014-04-11T08:02:10.688Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, but some people praise the book itself as utterly exceptional. Atlas Shrugged may introduce people to Objectivism, but even the fanatics who praise the ideas in it don't praise it as literature.

Replies from: fubarobfusco, Luke_A_Somers, somervta
comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-04-13T04:48:15.887Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Atlas Shrugged is the greatest novel that has ever been written, in my judgment, so let's let it go at that."
— Nathaniel Branden, quoted in a 1971 interview in Reason magazine.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-04-14T00:47:27.578Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In some respects, it is. If you've always been put off by idiot balls or stupid moves or leaving exploits on the table or any number of other things, HPMoR scratches an itch that you've had all along.

comment by somervta · 2014-04-12T06:31:10.714Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think those are two separate things - "it changed my life" and "It's exceptional literature" are different, although they're not uncorrelated.

Replies from: JoshuaFox
comment by JoshuaFox · 2014-04-12T18:47:41.941Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Certainly. I'm interested in why people would say either of these things. From my reading, HPMoR is interesting and well-written, but it's hard to see why it would change someone's life or why someone would think it was an utterly new mold-breaking work of literature.

Replies from: somervta
comment by somervta · 2014-04-13T05:31:46.127Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the main effect wrt the former is as a introduction to rationality and the Sequences

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-04-08T17:18:00.753Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is pretty good, and the plot picks up after Azkaban.

I don't count myself among the rabid, but I do enjoy the mysteries. It's very densely plotted, which is fun.

comment by Metus · 2014-04-08T14:55:05.623Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As I am agreeing with your confusion I want to extend the question to why Eliezer's writing is seen as so great in general. For me it is just exhausting to read, especially since most of the articles can be summarised in a couple of sentences.

Replies from: drethelin
comment by drethelin · 2014-04-08T20:26:20.267Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd be happy to see you do this. Maybe when we see what you think the two sentence version of every article is it'll be easy to talk about why you don't like what eliezer is doing.

Replies from: Metus
comment by Metus · 2014-04-08T22:23:01.397Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That would require me reading all of the articles. We could meet at a middle ground with me trying to rewrite one of the smaller subsequences, like a handful of articles, and us evaluating the merits of this approach. Do you have any preferences?

Replies from: drethelin
comment by drethelin · 2014-04-08T23:46:16.060Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Haven't you already read them if you know that they can be summarized in two sentences?

comment by JoshuaFox · 2014-04-08T15:17:02.617Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for those answers; but they don't quite explain

  • why some people are induced to change their life by it (perhaps only because it piques their interest for other material on LessWrong)
  • why some readers get more enthusiastic about it than about some excellent non-fanfic books. (These readers are mostly not part of a group that might put social pressure on them to become fans.)
  • why Eliezer has described his own work as "fictional literature from what looks like an entirely different literary tradition." (That's in the April Fool's post, but he has said similar things elsewhere. And though this bullet point could be explained as arrogance on the part of Eliezer, some comments I've seen suggest that many fans agree with him.)
Replies from: knb, ChristianKl, TheOtherDave, blacktrance, polymathwannabe, drethelin
comment by knb · 2014-04-09T06:08:17.052Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

why some people are induced to change their life by it (perhaps only because it piques their interest for other material on LessWrong)

I'm also kind of surprised by this but... actually how rare really is it for people to say "X caused me to change my life."

I do know for a fact that people have changed their lives based on canon Harry Potter, with hundreds of people becoming obsessed with different character pairings etc. So maybe it isn't too surprising that it would happen with HPMoR, at least to a few people.

A weird fact about humanity and mass society is that virtually anything that reaches a large enough audience will wind up with some obsessive fans. As an example, dozens of women pledged their undying devotion to Richard Ramirez, the "Night Stalker."

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-04-08T18:34:45.096Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

why Eliezer has described his own work as "fictional literature from what looks like an entirely different literary tradition."

Characters in HPMOR do things for rational reasons. Smart characters are smart and make their decisions based on careful thought instead of unexplained flashes of insight.

That not something that happens in normal fiction. If you think that's not new, which works of fiction do you consider to have the same quality?

why some people are induced to change their life by it (perhaps only because it piques their interest for other material on LessWrong)

Because HPMOR often has morals to teach.

There are a lot of atheists who are essentially like Harry's father. They wouldn't run experiments to test whether magic exist but simply assume that it doesn't exist and get angry with everyone who claims magic exists. By having a well written story they might update into the direction of empricism.

It teaches a version of science that about experiements and not about reading authoritative papers. That might raise in at least a few readers the question of why they aren't doing science in their lifes.

The narrative about taking heroic responsiblity is strong. For me it was strong enough to make some decisions about taking responsibility that I otherwise might not have made.

To me HPMOR feels deeper than Pratchett. Pratchett makes a lot of points on the surface and plays around with them. HPMOR had a bunch of instances where Eliezer made point that weren't obvious and buried deeper. Enough for most readers to not consciously get them, but that doesn't prevent the reader from absorbing the moral a more unconscious level.

In hypnosis telling metaphars that take the brain months to understand is a teaching device for creative deep belief changes. HPMoR frequenlty makes point on that level.
I would not have expected to find that in writing by someone like Eliezer and it made me update into thinking that Eliezer understands more than I previously thought. Eliezer doesn't have a hypnosis background but learned his lessons about deep metaphor somewhere else. Probably by dealing with zen koan's and how they are used for teaching.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2014-04-08T15:38:31.686Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I had to guess, I'd guess that it targets a particular kind of audience that most fiction isn't targeted at, and consequently appeals to that audience more than excellent other books targeted elsewhere.

comment by blacktrance · 2014-04-08T16:01:37.498Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
  • Because most fiction (including fanfics) doesn't include such explicit teachings that are applicable to one's life. Usually it's found in non-fiction, and didactic works of fiction usually must be subtle lest they be labeled "preachy".

  • The themes in and lessons of HPMOR are relatively uncommon in fiction.

  • Didactic fiction is a rarity in modern times, and writings that are both didactic and tell a story well are rarer still.

Replies from: MathiasZaman, Nornagest
comment by MathiasZaman · 2014-04-08T18:32:35.395Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Because most fiction (including fanfics) doesn't include such explicit teachings that are applicable to one's life. Usually it's found in non-fiction, and didactic works of fiction usually must be subtle lest they be labeled "preachy".

I just made the point on the /r/HPMOR subreddit that with most fiction, the author wants to share a story with you, but with some authors (for example, Yudkowsky or Stephenson), they have knowledge they want to share with you and their way of sharing is through story.

I'm sure their are other authors who also do this, but they seem to be few and far between, making HPMOR one of the first works of that kind people may encounter.

Replies from: blacktrance
comment by blacktrance · 2014-04-08T18:34:11.465Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also, most authors who do want to show or teach something through their story tend to do it subtly and non-explicitly, perhaps because being open and explicit about a message is low-status.

Replies from: MathiasZaman
comment by MathiasZaman · 2014-04-08T18:46:48.813Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I thought about it before I typed it out and I found that most authors do want to show or teach something, but that this is often something obvious. Harry Potter (canon) teaches us that Nazis are bad, that you shouldn't trust an oppressive government, that bureaucracies can be dangerous, that you shouldn't torture people... but when I read the novels (at the appropriate age, I grew up with them) I had already learned those lessons.

What Anathem, Snow Crash and HPMOR taught me were things I wouldn't have picked up on my own.

Replies from: blacktrance
comment by blacktrance · 2014-04-08T18:52:50.102Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's interesting to note that HP canon is aimed at children/teens, and that books aimed at those demographics tend to be more open about teaching something. It would be interesting to consider how often fiction aimed at adults is didactic, and how open adult didactic fiction is about its message.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-04-08T19:05:55.189Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Didactic fiction is a rarity in modern times, and writings that are both didactic and tell a story well are rarer still.

I'm not so sure about this. Didactic and polemic works are uncommon (though not unknown) in genre fiction, but they seem less so in literary fiction; George Orwell is the first writer that comes to mind, but he's by no means the last. I've even heard didactic content described as a prerequisite of literary quality, though I can't remember where at the moment.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-04-08T20:07:14.650Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's been a while but why do you consider Orwell to be didactic. He makes political points but from what I remember from 1984 it's not really about decisions are made in daily life.

Replies from: Nornagest
comment by Nornagest · 2014-04-08T20:21:06.394Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A work doesn't need to inform daily life in order to be didactic. 1984 is about the dynamics of totalitarianism, Animal Farm is a thinly fictionalized Russian Revolution, Down and Out in London and Paris is about class relations in Western Europe, and so forth -- but practically everything Orwell wrote was primarily meant to be instructive in some way.

Replies from: Douglas_Knight, ChristianKl
comment by Douglas_Knight · 2014-04-09T01:24:40.372Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maybe I have too precise a definition, but I think "didactic" should mean giving advice, and not just information. Almost all fiction is about psychological insight, but that isn't directly practical. And I don't mean "practical" in a daily life way: the reason I don't count Animal Farm as didactic isn't because I'm not a Bolshevik, but because even if I were, it still wouldn't tell me how to change the course of the revolution.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-04-08T20:29:48.669Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

By that definition nearly all serious fiction is didactic and there are plenty of people in the English department who find didactic elements in the rest.

blacktrance used didactic to mean "teachings that are applicable to one's life". I don't think Orwell fits.

Replies from: Nornagest
comment by Nornagest · 2014-04-08T20:39:33.942Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wouldn't say "nearly all", but quite a lot of it, yes, and probably a larger fraction since 1945. That's the point.

I don't think we should restrict the word to everyday living, but if we did, I could point to Hermann Hesse, Kurt Vonnegut, Ayn Rand, and plenty of others.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-04-08T16:15:29.954Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My experience with HPMoR has been to find a story that is a) dementedly funny, b) loaded with a pile of mysteries to keep you wondering about crazy theories late at night, c) internally consistent and well narrated, d) useful for indirectly teaching people about rational techniques.

I was not aware of the number of rationalist novels circulating out there, and HPMoR was the first case I found of a fictional character explicitly defending my pet causes (empiricism, privileging experimentation, reductionism, atheism, the importance of SF in teaching creative thought). Among other effects, it naturally makes the reader want to know more about the author.

comment by drethelin · 2014-04-08T20:22:30.238Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Very few books in any genre are as good at maintaining a constant and exciting level of interaction between interesting characters. Even some of the works that have HPJEV style characters like Miles Vorkosigan (who I love) tend to lean heavily on their central character. Harry Potter is extremely impportant to HPMOR but all his best scenes are interplays with draco, hermione and quirrel which involve back and forth interaction rather than simply domination.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-04-09T18:08:20.272Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

An idea: a rationality hackathon.

From what I see, it seems like rationalists don't act on ideas often enough. To help people get the motivation to act on ideas, I sense that a hackathon would be effective. People would talk and group together to prototype different ideas, and at the end of the hackathon, participants would vote on the best ideas, and hopefully this would spark some action.

I guess what makes this different from the typical hackathon is:

1) Participants would be Less Wrong readers, or people part of other rationality-minded communities.

2) The goal would be to start things that are as beneficial as possible to the world (people at hackathons usually just want to build something "cool").


Replies from: Viliam_Bur
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-04-10T14:21:49.546Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The more complex a project is, the less likely are people to complete it successfully. The more meta a project is, the less likely is the model of its usefulness correct.

I expect a risk that people will vote on something very nebulous (more meta! more meta!) as the best idea, and at the end pretty much nothing measurable happens.

To avoid going too much meta, I would recommend adding an artificial constraint, such as "we must be able to complete the whole thing in one week". Sure, this drastically limits how useful things you can do. On the other hand, it allows multiple iterations and feedback.

Replies from: adamzerner
comment by adamzerner · 2014-04-10T15:57:04.854Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I expect a risk that people will vote on something very nebulous (more meta! more meta!) as the best idea, and at the end pretty much nothing measurable happens.

Maybe there's a risk, but do you think it's big enough to make the Hackathon not worth doing? I think that people here are smart enough to Get Something Done.

To avoid going too much meta, I would recommend adding an artificial constraint, such as "we must be able to complete the whole thing in one week".

Hmm, maybe.

1) I think that if a private group wants to do something more future-oriented, they should be allowed. Maybe you could just restrict people that enter voting to be things that could be done in a certain time period.

2) "You have to have a useful version in x weeks" is probably better than "You have to have completed your project in x weeks".

comment by Alejandro1 · 2014-04-08T18:24:55.293Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A nice puzzle which I found in this Math Overflow page: Is there a position with a finite number of chess pieces on an infinite chessboard, such that White has a forced win in ω moves? The meaning of this is that White has a move such that, for every possible response of Black, White has a guaranteed checkmate in a number of moves bounded by a finite number N; but before Black's first move, we cannot put a bound on how large N might be.

The thread gives a solution, and also links to this paper, where higher ordinals and questions of computability in infinite chess are also considered.

comment by khafra · 2014-04-09T14:14:29.117Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Since one big problem with neural nets is their lack of analyzability, this geometric approach to deep learning neural networks seems probably useful.

Replies from: Punoxysm
comment by Punoxysm · 2014-04-11T04:27:32.677Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is very neat. There is no obvious way to apply these methods to nets with many hidden units (which means most useful deep learning nets). The visualization techniques are excellent though. It's a great blog post, and we'll see if it leads to some great research.

comment by Markas · 2014-04-09T02:35:43.364Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A career question, asked with EA aims in mind, that will hopefully be relevant to many other LW members.

I am considering CS research as a career path, probably in one of AI/ML/distributed systems. I'm currently working as a software developer and I have done extensive MOOC work to pick up a CS background in terms of coursework, but my undergraduate degree is in math and I have no published research.

If I decide that getting a PhD was worthwhile and wanted to apply to good programs, where would I start building my resume and skills? Independent research project? Sufficiently impressive projects within my current company? Should I just get a master's and see how that goes?

Alternately, is it possible to get involved with industry research without a PhD? What would such a career path look like?

Thoughts on any or all of the above questions, suggestions for people to talk to, etc. would be much appreciated.

Replies from: Barry_Cotter
comment by Barry_Cotter · 2014-04-09T14:17:24.277Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How to Get into Grad School for Math, Engineering or Computer Science

Juniors and seniors often ask me how to get into a Ph.D. program. Having looked at applications for three years now, I feel like I can offer some good advice. [This advice applies for masters students too.] The one-word version of that advice is: PUBLISH.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-04-14T14:32:00.710Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This article proposes a plausible mathematical model for the subject perception of (long) time spans:

This is interesting for the following reasons:

  • It is general and robust to definitions of time perception in particular it doesn't rely on a specific measurement or definition of events.

  • It is analogous to model of perception of other stimuli.

  • The derived relationship suggests time perception being logarithmic with age and thus at age a time seems to proceed only at a rate of 1/a

  • A corallary would be that if you could become immortal you'd probably be bored to death.

  • An escape hatch to this is that you'd possibly could increase the rate of new events for older people.

Replies from: Vaniver
comment by Vaniver · 2014-04-14T20:43:38.353Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A corallary would be that if you could become immortal you'd probably be bored to death.

And I think this points in the other direction- I think this suggests that 'a century is but a blink in the eye in the life of an elf' might actually be accurate. You throw some dwarves in the dungeon, then go about your normal routine, and then say 'oh, didn't we just capture some dwarves?' and it turns out that you've done your weekly routine a few thousand times since then.

That is, if you're ten times as old, you only expect a tenth the number of 'new events' during the same period, and it's likely that anything faster would lead to a feeling of change happening too quickly. Hanson's talked a bit about minds (and thus ems) ossifying, which lines up with this- if you've been practicing a particular variety of corporate law for 300 years, you're probably very good at doing that law and not very good at picking up anything else.

comment by kpreid · 2014-04-10T01:38:18.138Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is not a Rationality Quote, but it might be about transhumanism if you squint. From a short Iron Man fanfic, Skybreak, cut for relevance:

He tells the recruits that technology will never replace them. He tells them that flight will always be there for them, that flight has to be there for them, because they are masters of the sky and what the hell were humans meant to do, except fly?

He knows men will never stop flying. Not because the machines will stop coming, because they won't. Not because the future's gonna step aside for him, because it won't. Rhodey knows because he's seen the future. He's seen technology, he's been friends with the biggest and best damn technologist on the goddamned planet.

And when Tony made the armour, he took away the plane, not the man. When Tony set out to fly, he put the engines literally in a man's hands, put wings on his feet, and broke the sound barrier with his fucking forehead.

Replies from: DanielLC
comment by DanielLC · 2014-04-12T05:15:31.801Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It fits in a fanfic, but outside that it starts to look like generalizing from fictional evidence. We haven't seen what a supergenius did. We've only seen what a writer thinks a supergenius would do.

Replies from: kpreid
comment by kpreid · 2014-06-11T15:15:01.143Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

True; as evidence, it is fictional evidence.

But it is a depiction of a category of positive outcome which, even if not inevitable, could be aimed for.

It's making the difference between transhumanism and the robot economic takeover.

comment by Tenoke · 2014-04-08T11:17:16.647Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am looking for resources related to meditation. I've made the same call before but this time I am aiming at checking the evidence more thoroughly.

I am particularly interested in 1. Decent studies in general 2. Information relating to the dangers of meditation 3. Resources that outline the differences between the different types of meditation

(no need to send me the wiki page on meditation research but if you are particularly impressed in a study there, that could be useful to me)

Replies from: MarkL, TylerJay, Jayson_Virissimo, polymathwannabe
comment by MarkL · 2014-04-08T13:35:01.068Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here is a self-link to my meditation blog; this post has links to other posts:

The blog is a mixture of personal experience, unscientific references, and cherry-picked peer-reviewed research. I specifically talk about the dangers of meditation, with included citations, but unfortunately it's all mixed in with other stuff. Here is one place to start:

comment by TylerJay · 2014-04-08T15:58:00.191Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Relaxation Response focuses on the health effects of meditation. It doesn't cover too many different forms, but it has some good research on how a certain simple form of meditation affects your health. Very science-based, written by a doctor.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2014-04-08T16:22:34.136Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is a good place to start for getting an idea about potential dangers of meditation.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-04-08T19:24:11.366Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's an intersting article.

I think a lot of the trouble of speaking of dangers of mediation is that we lack a coherent system about talking about different kinds of meditation.

Also, it is forbidden to ever question anything they said, because it is holy, and they are better than you can ever hope to be. This is why meditation teaching remains stuck in the past – they are determined to preserve their traditions, that's their job. And tradition means no innovation.

This paragraph is intersting. That not the kind of paradigm of the people from whom I learned meditation. At the moment I'm learning under the framework of perceptive padagogy of Danis Bois who's a French men. You might not get answers to every question in a way where you understand the answer but you are certainly not forbidden from asking anything. Sometimes the answer to: "Should I do A or B?". is "That's a good question. Take it with you in your next meditation."

I haven't interact much with real Zen Buddhists but read them. It's my understanding that they have a concept of beginners mind that's about not declaring things to be holy but always being open for learning something new.

Having already an idea of meditation I wouldn't shy away from staying a bit and learning the style of someone who considers some knowledge holy and forbidden from questioning.

When you are a beginner I would recommend to stay away from such teachers. I would also stay away from people who tell you to renounce your bodily desires.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-04-08T12:07:00.433Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What type of meditation are you interested in?

comment by bramflakes · 2014-04-13T20:16:11.744Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know whether this observation has been made before, (if it has, certainly more succintly), but I've noticed something about arguments with particularly irrational people (AGW deniers, Holocaust deniers, creationists, etc): The required length of each subsequent reply to explain why they're wrong grows exponentially with the length of the argument, while the irrational side can remain roughly constant. Entangled truths?

comment by falenas108 · 2014-04-10T22:10:44.817Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Does anyone know of a good secular Haggadah for Passover?

Replies from: falenas108
comment by falenas108 · 2014-04-10T22:14:49.517Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have this one already.

comment by Raiden · 2014-04-10T16:03:32.874Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm at that point in life where I have to make a lot of choices about my future life. I'm considering doing a double major in biochemistry and computer science. I find both of these topics to be fascinating, but I'm not sure if that's the most effective way to help the world. I am comfortable in my skills as an autodidact, and I find myself to be interested in comp sci, biochemistry, physics, and mathematics. I believe that regardless which I actually major in, I could learn any of the others quite well. I have a nagging voice in my head saying that I shouldn't bother learning biochemistry, because it won't be useful in the long term because everything will be based on nanotech and we will all be uploads. Is that a valid point? Or should I just focus on the world as it is now? And should I study something else or does biochem have potential to help the world? I find myself to be very confused about this subject and humbly request any advice.

Replies from: CellBioGuy, shminux, Squark, Lumifer, Raiden, drethelin, polymathwannabe, IlyaShpitser, None
comment by CellBioGuy · 2014-04-11T04:33:12.521Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have a nagging voice in my head saying that I shouldn't bother learning biochemistry, because it won't be useful in the long term because everything will be based on nanotech and we will all be uploads. Is that a valid point?

Keeping in mind the biases (EDIT: but also the expertise) that my username indicates, I would say that is nearly exactly backwards - modifications and engineering of biochemistry and biochemistry-type systems will actually occur (and already are) while what most people around here think of when they say 'nanotech' is a pipe dream. Biochemistry is the result of 4 gigayears of evolution showing the sorts of things that can actually be accomplished with atoms robustly rather than as expensive delicate one-off demonstrations and the most successful fine-scale engineering in the future will resemble it closely if not be it.

comment by shminux · 2014-04-10T17:20:37.145Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

everything will be based on nanotech

Maybe, some day. And as a "double major in biochemistry and computer science" you will be well positioned to help bring said nanotech from the realm of SciFi to reality. Certainly you have plenty of time, nothing as revolutionary is likely to happen in the next few years, and you will have your degree by then. I'd actually bet that "nanotech and uploads" are decades away, even being optimistic.

Replies from: Raiden
comment by Raiden · 2014-04-11T18:36:47.776Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hmm it seems obvious in retrospect, but it didn't occur to me that biochemistry would relate to nanotech. I suppose I compartmentalized "biological" from "super-cool high-tech stuff." Thank you very much for that point!

comment by Squark · 2014-04-10T18:32:36.160Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems likely we will have to learn more biochemistry to realize uploading.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-04-10T16:29:07.352Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have a nagging voice in my head saying that I shouldn't bother learning biochemistry, because it won't be useful in the long term because everything will be based on nanotech and we will all be uploads. Is that a valid point?


Think about the timelines involved.

comment by Raiden · 2014-04-11T18:37:17.038Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you to those who commented here. It helped!

comment by drethelin · 2014-04-10T21:23:46.101Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nanotech without biochemistry won't be able to help anyone medically. That's like saying you don't need to know about biology because farming is all going to be done with machines these days.

ALSO: Biochemistry and cell biology are the best existing examples we have of nanotech machines.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-04-10T21:14:34.465Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Biochemistry has tremendous world-saving potential. With both computer science and biochemistry in your arsenal, you could work in molecule modeling. The design and simulation of molecules is a key part of the development of new drugs and vaccines. Besides, we're running out of usable antibiotics. And as healthcare continues to prolong our working life years, we will need to improve our understanding of degenerative diseases like arthritis and Alzheimer's.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-04-15T21:49:54.892Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

People with bio and algorithmic skills are in extremely high demand, but:

(a) there might be a biotech bubble

(b) it might be worthwhile to go after difficult to learn meta skills that help you learn other things more quickly (math, etc.), and just pickup whatever is in demand later.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-04-10T21:48:37.351Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

...the most effective way to help the world.

This seems like the bottleneck question. Why don't you try to study that? After all, you should only prefer to be skilled and educated if you get this question right. If you get it wrong, it's either a matter of indifference, or actually better for everyone if you're as unskilled and uneducated as possible.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-04-13T08:35:11.141Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is Moore's Law ending? 2 3

Moore’s law is no longer expected to deliver improved transistor cost scaling at or below the 20nm node...

For decades, semiconductor engineers have come to broad agreement about which technologies represented the best and most reliable scaling opportunities for future manufacturing...

If EUV and 450mm wafers don’t happen at 10nm, the “what happens next?” roadmap is a grab-bag of unresolved difficulties and potentially terrible economics.

comment by djm · 2014-04-11T15:09:41.310Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just wanted to say it is nice to see MIRI has a github presence -

Looking forward to seeing more.

comment by bramflakes · 2014-04-08T13:55:39.332Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I asked this in the last open thread and got no reply so here it is again:

Have there been any studies on how effective things like MOOCS and Khanacademy and so on are at teaching people?

Replies from: djm
comment by djm · 2014-04-08T16:02:18.574Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It would be quite difficult for a researcher to conclude 'MOOC's are/are not effective' due to the flexibility of the grading mechanisms. In terms of 'passing' a MOOC , some courses offer easy multiple choice quiz's where you can submit several times, while others require peer reviewed essays or a calculation to 4 decimal places.

To test the effectiveness of a course, you'd need to not only look at the course content / quizzes / exams, but also the student reviews to get an idea on how accurate/simplified the content testing actually is.

As a single data point, my personal experience is that MOOC's are massively more effective for my learning style than any traditional course I have taken.

Replies from: bramflakes
comment by bramflakes · 2014-04-08T16:16:53.248Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What's your retention like, 1, 6, 12 months after?

The reason I ask is that I've noticed that the things I've "learned" on khanacademy and MOOCS stick far more poorly in my brain than traditional methods do, despite doing the provided exercises. Is this is quirk of my brain, or is it a problem with the exercises/instruction given?

Replies from: sixes_and_sevens, djm
comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2014-04-09T09:06:16.667Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What do you class as "traditional methods"?

A big problem I've found with video lectures is the difficulty of looking things up afterwards. Text is much easier to refer back to, and it's after-the-fact repetition that helps things stick with me (and, by my understanding, with most people). I do find a lot of video lectures much "clickier" than text, though. Explaining something five ways is stylistically and editorially frowned upon in text, but is much more common in lecture format, so it increases the odds of having the subject explained in a way that suits me.

(I also think the on-demand style of online video lectures makes it harder to remember them than if they were in a spaced, episodic format. By way of comparison, if I watch a box-set TV series in one marathon sitting, all the episodes will blur, and that will make it harder to remember exact sequences of events, or what occurred in proximity to what; if all the episodes are separated, they'll feel more self-contained, and I'll also have other surrounding events in my life to pin the memories on.)

My MOOC successes have been ones that introduced me to subjects for which I subsequently got hold of several books, or ones that supplemented parallel study in a similar area.

Replies from: bramflakes
comment by bramflakes · 2014-04-09T11:30:43.689Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What do you class as "traditional methods"?

In the flesh teachers.

My MOOC successes have been ones that introduced me to subjects for which I subsequently got hold of several books, or ones that supplemented parallel study in a similar area.

Yep, this is what I end up doing. Works pretty well for me.

comment by djm · 2014-04-08T23:25:11.402Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On average, I would say my retention is slightly less than traditional methods and this is probably due to be the amount of time spent doing exercises. MOOC's are generally completed faster, and the number of required exercises/quizzes you do is overall less than a traditional course.

Even with traditional courses, if I want to be able to do the stuff I've learned after it is over (and not just get the piece of paper), I work out a way to apply the learning in real life, such as a small programming project, or spend 10 minutes a day doing practicing maths. It is only after doing that that I considered I have nailed a topic.

comment by ColonelMustard · 2014-04-11T12:29:19.492Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thought experiment. Imagine a machine that can create an identical set of atoms to the atoms that comprise a human's body. This machine is used to create a copy of you, and a copy of a second person, whom you have never met and know nothing about.

After the creation of the copy, 'you' will have no interaction with it. In fact, it's going to be placed into a space ship and fired into outer space, as is the copy of Person 2. Unfortunately, one spaceship is going to be very painful to be in. The other is going to be very pleasant. So a copy of you will experience pain or pleasure, and a copy of someone else will experience the other sensation.

To what extent do you care which copy receives which treatment? Zero? As much as you would care if it was you who was to be placed into the spaceship? Or something in between?

Replies from: Tenoke, polymathwannabe, RowanE, wadavis
comment by Tenoke · 2014-04-11T13:03:49.521Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would care just slightly less than I would if my original body was sent instead (so I'd care a lot).

(I put a high probability on something along the lines of pattern identity theory being 'correct')

comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-04-11T12:35:56.096Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would care as much as I would about any two random human beings, plus caring points for personal acquaintance.

comment by RowanE · 2014-04-11T16:52:15.176Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Quite a lot, but mostly out of fear of being wrong; I believe that identity is such that I will not wake up in the spaceship, and given that I'm correct I would care very little about the fate of that copy of me, but my beliefs about identity are based on strong intuitions that aren't soundly philosophically based and merely seem "obvious". I'd guess I care about 5% as much as I would care if I were to be placed in the spaceship, although "5% as much as if I was to be put in a torture-can and shot into space" is really abstract and I have no idea how to convert that to actual amounts of caring.

comment by wadavis · 2014-04-11T15:39:39.222Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Pre copying I would care greatly. Post copying I would mourn my body doubles suffering or celebrate their joy mildly.

From the future copy's and my experience we were once the same, so the present is invested in the well being of both. Post copy we have split and care for each other to the extent that kin and kind care for each other.

For example consider a lottery you have a 50% chance to win, before the draw you are greatly invested in the outcome. after the outcome you barely give a thought to the alternate timeline you that could have won.

Replies from: Oscar_Cunningham
comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2014-04-11T21:26:29.251Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Pre copying I would care greatly. Post copying I would mourn my body doubles suffering or celebrate their joy mildly.

I think this turns you into a money pump. Pre-split there's some amount of money you will pay to have it be the other person experiencing pain rather than your double. Post-split you'll need less money given back to you to incentivise you to let it be your double rather than the other person.

Replies from: wadavis, drethelin
comment by wadavis · 2014-04-13T00:45:33.786Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm going to need to go back and brush up on the money pump concept. But for now I'm on boat that that would be mugging my body double as drethelin said.

Wadavis v1.0 cares about all future versions of Wadavis. He accepts the deal and improves the life of the body double Wadavis v2.0. Wadavis v1.1 is the planetside post-copy of Wadavis v1.0, he accepts the second deal and reduces the quality of life of Wadavis v2.0. It is clear payout with no downside.

Wadavis v1.1 is a jerk who denied Wadavis v2.0, who remember includes Wadavis v1.0 in their identity, agency over their own future. Wadavis v1.1 just mugged Wadavis v2.0 for the money Wadavis v1.0 paid for the better life.

Now if Wadavis v1.0 was rational and cared for all future Wadavis versions. Would he cooperate (pay) if he knew Wadavis v1.1 would defect (take the second of option)? No, that would be foolish. So Wadavis v0.0 has precommitted to respect the rights and freedom of(cooperate with) all versions of Wadavis, eg. Not mug them of a luxury bought and paid for.

Make sense?

Replies from: Oscar_Cunningham
comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2014-04-13T15:16:59.250Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So Wadavis v0.0 has precommitted to respect the rights and freedom of(cooperate with) all versions of Wadavis, eg. Not mug them of a luxury bought and paid for.

Okay, that makes sense. So Wadavis v1.1 doesn't care much about Wadavis v2.0, but he acts like he cares a lot?

Replies from: wadavis
comment by wadavis · 2014-04-13T18:55:55.892Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thats right, but I want to double check our connotations. Acts feels like faking or intentional signalling, how about Wadavis v1.1 does not defect against kin and kind (other Wadavis versions in this case) so that future kin and kind will cooperate with him. Less a matter of acting and more a matter of those are the rules Wadavis follows while dealing with Wadavis, Home-team bot Cooperates with all other Home-team bots, even if defect has a higher payoff for the tempted version. Schelling fences and such.

This all hinges on Wadavis v1.0 cooperating and having some sort of confidence that all future versions will cooperate. I think this is where is comes together, Wadavis v1.0 can simulate the behavior of future versions. If future versions cooperate, v1.0 cooperates. if future versions defect, v1.0 will defect and not invest in helping v2.0.

Replies from: Oscar_Cunningham
comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2014-04-13T19:30:07.764Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yep. I didn't mean "act" as in "perform in a play" but as in "carry out an action".

comment by drethelin · 2014-04-11T23:56:12.042Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's not really a money pump, since you have to spend whatever resources it takes to create a bunch of clones and torture them.

Replies from: Oscar_Cunningham
comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2014-04-12T00:11:22.929Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The point isn't whether I (the pumper) make a profit, it's whether you (the pumpee) make a loss.

Replies from: drethelin
comment by drethelin · 2014-04-12T00:39:59.255Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I the "money pump" needs to be imposed from the outside via threats it's no different than mugging.

comment by DeeElf · 2014-04-17T05:22:13.896Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Feyerabend's counterinduction and Bayesianism. Has anyone here thought about how these two views of science bear on each other?

comment by DeeElf · 2014-04-14T05:14:32.679Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What are the differences and similarities between fallibilism and Bayesianism?

Replies from: ChristianKl, Plasmon
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-04-15T16:29:13.865Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you look at the wikipedia page that describes fallibilism, the word probability doesn't directly appear. In the main body of the article.

People like Pyrrho were practicing fallibilism long before the kind of math that you need to think about probabilities that you can multiple with each other got invented.

Replies from: DeeElf
comment by DeeElf · 2014-04-15T20:43:17.642Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So the underlying philosophies are extremely similar if not the same even though the methods, largely due to practical problems (lack or presence of mathematical tools)?

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-04-15T22:08:38.279Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The math is at the core of Bayesianism. It's part of the underlying philosophy.

comment by Plasmon · 2014-04-14T06:45:51.363Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There can be Bayesian evidence for non-falsifyable hypotheses. You might perhaps be interested in "Belief in the Implied Invisible "

comment by gwern · 2014-04-13T03:01:23.532Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have LWers ever used Usenet? By that, I mean: connected to a NNTP server (not Google Groups) with a newsreader to read discussions and perhaps comment (not solely download movies & files).


Your age is:


I am curious about the age-distribution of Usenet use: I get the feeling that there is a very sharp fall in Usenet age such that all nerds who grew up in the '70s-'80s used Usenet, but nerd teens in the mid-'90s to now have zero usage of it except for a rare few who know it as a better BitTorrent.

Replies from: JayDee, gwern, ChristianKl, CronoDAS
comment by JayDee · 2014-04-15T07:54:22.950Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hmm, I'm not entirely sure. I can find old usenet comments - like my nethack YAFAP - from 2005 to 2008, but as far I can tell they were all made with Google Groups. I do vaguely recall using a newsreader, maybe trying to set up Thunderbird? It certainly would have been in character, "real men use newsreaders, and never top-post" kind of thing was a big part of the appeal. Possibly I could only get read-only access through whatever free provider I found.

At the time, the communities discussing interactive fiction and roguelike games were still centered on usenet ( and* respectively) although iirc half the conversations were on the need to move on, to web forums or whatnot.

Replies from: JayDee
comment by JayDee · 2014-04-15T07:56:55.288Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

LessWrong tends to remind me more of usenet. Probably just due to the threaded comments.

I'd happily read this site with a newsreader.

comment by gwern · 2015-02-27T02:30:35.239Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A belated analysis: hypothesis confirmed to my satisfaction - as expected, age is strongly related to Usenet-familiarity. (There's even a hint of a quick shift in the histograms.)


usenet <- read.csv("2015-02-26-lw-usenet.csv", header=FALSE)
usenet2 <- data.frame(Usenet=usenet[1:67,]$V3, Age=usenet[68:134,]$V3)
## the default LW poll encoding is yes=0, no=1; this is very confusing, so let's reverse it
usenet2$Usenet <- (usenet2$Usenet==0)
wilcox.test(Age ~ Usenet, data=usenet2)
#     Wilcoxon rank sum test with continuity correction
# data:  Age by Usenet
# W = 183.5, p-value = 3.893e-06
g <- glm(Usenet ~ Age, data=usenet2, family="binomial"); summary(g)
# ...Coefficients:
#                Estimate  Std. Error  z value   Pr(>|z|)
# (Intercept) -7.33329350  1.93381008 -3.79215 0.00014935
# Age          0.24311715  0.06695693  3.63095 0.00028238

## alternative plot:
# with(usenet2, plot(Age,Usenet,xlab="Age",ylab="Probability of Usenet familiarity"))
# curve(predict(g,data.frame(Age=x),type="resp"),add=TRUE)
# points(usenet2$Age,fitted(g),pch=20)

with(usenet2, logi.hist.plot(Age,Usenet,boxp=FALSE,type="hist",col="gray"))

## specific example: 51yo vs 20yo probabilities based on the model:    
predict(g, data.frame(Age=51), type="response")
#            1
# 0.9937299491
predict(g, data.frame(Age=20), type="response")
#             1
# 0.07791991187

(If anyone is curious, my original motive was wondering about Satoshi Nakamoto & Nick Szabo - both are familiar with and have used Usenet. We already know Szabo is old and very similar to LWers, so being Usenet-familiar turns out to be entirely ordinary as I guessed, but if Satoshi Nakamoto were a young college student as some people thought, then being Usenet-familiar is pretty surprising.)

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-04-15T16:20:11.876Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I might have used it a bit but I voted "no" because I didn't use it in a significant amount to be able to say for sure that I used it.

comment by CronoDAS · 2014-04-13T06:10:33.449Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Me, I used USENET a lot back in the late 1990s, mostly hanging out on Sad to say, my internet service provider back then was AOL. (The first newsgroup I tried reading was alt.barney.dinosaur.die.die.die...)

My impression is that USENET died because it lacked reasonable spam prevention measures?

Replies from: RichardKennaway
comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-04-13T07:47:59.167Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My impression is that USENET died because it lacked reasonable spam prevention measures?

Spam started on Usenet. The Canter & Siegel visa spam! The anatomically correct chocolate heart! Ah, memories.

So yes, a lot of it was overrun by spam for a while, but countermeasures were developed, and eventually the spam was brought down to the level we see today. My impression is that Usenet faded because blogging and web forums were invented, and most people voted with their feet. And then public access to the Internet exploded, the general public never even knew there was such a thing, and USENET faded into an obscure backwater of old-timers, which has probably contributed to it lingering on for as long as it has, under the benign neglect of Google and whatever sysadmins still run nntp servers. I've just looked into rec.arts.sf.fandom and it's still going, but I recognise nearly all of the posters' names, which implies that it's the same people as it was years ago, perhaps thinned by age. I've nothing against them, but I'm not going back.

Is USENET still USENET, even? That is, are there still nntp servers propagating the messages to "thousands of machines throughout the entire civilized world"? Or does everyone go to Google Groups to use it?

USENET developed as it did because of the technological and social environment of the time, and faded when that environment changed. No-one would invent it today, except in the form of a heavily decentralised and encrypted medium for secret discussion.

Replies from: gwern, RichardKennaway
comment by gwern · 2014-04-13T16:26:26.589Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is USENET still USENET, even? That is, are there still nntp servers propagating the messages to "thousands of machines throughout the entire civilized world"? Or does everyone go to Google Groups to use it?

Yes, it's still possible to use Usenet independent of GG.

For example, in the early 2000s, I was doing a lot of reading of early Web/Internet sociology, nerd culture, etc, got very curious about what Usenet was really like (I understood all the basics and a lot of details like scoring files, but there's nothing like using something to get a feel for it) and discovered my local ISP had a NNTP server up for a decent chunk of Usenet (the main omission being the bin hierarchy). A few hours of meddling with Thunderbird and later, mutt...

It worked reasonably well and I understood why it was so dominant in its day, but spam was still a big problem compared to regular mailing lists and if my ISP didn't have a server up, I'm not sure how I would have gotten onto Usenet at all - there are few free servers these days.

No-one would invent it today, except in the form of a heavily decentralised and encrypted medium for secret discussion.

Still works pretty well for that. A fascinating example from 2005+:

Replies from: garabik
comment by garabik · 2014-04-15T06:36:09.990Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, it's still possible to use Usenet independent of GG.

Indeed. I regularly participate in some groups. While just a shadow of its former self, USENET (the text part, never mind the binary groups – those are much used for ahem, redistribution of multimedia content) is still alive and certain groups are rather vibrant.

While the number of ISPs and universities that carry USENET declined almost to zero, several public news servers (aioe, ethernal-september) moved to fill this niche.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2014-04-15T15:10:58.181Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What's the relationship between Usenet and Google Groups nowadays? I thought that at some point Google rebadged much of Usenet forums as Google Groups?

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2014-04-15T17:02:08.861Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's something like that. As I understand it, Google Groups runs thousands of normal email mailing lists with no connection to Usenet, but it also offers a bidirectional gateway to Usenet - GG'll show Usenet posts that it can download or which it has copies of in its huge archive, and it'll let GG users post to Usenet as well.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2014-04-15T17:29:27.007Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, basically, Google forked Usenet? X-)

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2014-04-15T22:27:45.314Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

'Extend, Embrace, Extinguish.'

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-04-14T19:57:10.740Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For anyone who has never read USENET and is wondering what it was, I could say it was a completely decentralised collection of discussion forums in which every message posted was automatically replicated to every other participating machine, with nobody in charge of the whole thing, because before the web and broadband and instant global communications that was the only way you could implement a global discussion forum.

But that isn't what it was.

This is what it was.

The technology is still there, still running, but like an aged relative with a glorious career now over, it's not what it was.

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2015-02-27T02:04:21.218Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The technology is still there, still running, but like an aged relative with a glorious career now over, it's not what it was.

One sad minor consequence is that A Fire Upon The Deep is less funny and interesting now that most/all new readers will have no personal experience with Usenet.

comment by jd_k · 2014-04-11T16:34:56.004Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(This was posted in the welcome thread, and I received a PM suggesting I post it here.)

I am looking for someone to help me with the Quantum Physics sequence. I have little background in physics and mathematics. For purposes of the sequence, you could probably consider me "intelligent but uninformed" or something like that.

To indicate the level on which I am having difficulties, take as an example the Configurations and Amplitude post.

  • I can do the algebra involved.
  • I found the articles linked in this comment helpful.
  • I understand the notion of configuration space in its classical sense.
  • I do not understand how the term "amplitude" is functioning in the post.

Hopefully that gives you an idea of where I am at and what sort of help I might need. It's totally basic stuff, obviously, and there is a part of me that is somewhat embarrassed to ask. Nevertheless, learning is more important than avoiding embarrassment.

Replies from: pragmatist, DanielLC, shminux
comment by pragmatist · 2014-04-11T17:15:08.144Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What sort of help are you looking for? Do you have specific questions (like, do you want someone to explain the notion of amplitude) or are you looking for general resources on QM?

If the latter, then I highly recommend Leonard Susskind's lectures on quantum mechanics from his "Theoretical Minimum" series, available here. Susskind does assume that you know calculus. If you don't, then I suggest that you familiarize yourself with calculus before attempting a technical understanding of QM.

If you'd rather read than watch, the lectures are also available in book form, here.

Replies from: jd_k
comment by jd_k · 2014-04-11T17:58:12.721Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was looking for something more like the former.

I do not know calculus, but I am convinced that I need to for a variety of reasons, so I have begun working my way through the Khan Academy materials. I had intended to leave the quantum physics materials aside until that project was complete, but I was heartened by Eliezer's insistence that one need only know algebra to grasp the sequence. Perhaps I just need to do calculus first, then work through a few books/lectures. Do you think this to be the case?

Replies from: pragmatist
comment by pragmatist · 2014-04-11T21:52:45.129Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't recommend Eliezer's sequence as a first introduction to QM, at least not if you're interested in developing a reasonably deep understanding of the theory. If you want a minimal-math introduction, I think a better bet would be to check out the first few chapters of David Albert's Quantum Mechanics and Experience, illegally available in it's entirety here. I don't think Albert's book is an ideal introduction either, but I do think it does a better job than the sequence at getting the salient points across in simple language. Also, since you're interested in ontology, the latter half of Albert's book contains a pretty incisive analysis of various interpretations of QM (not just MWI).

And here's an attempt at explaining quantum amplitudes:

Let's start with classical configuration space, since you understand that. The possible states of a classical system are represented by individual points in its configuration space (well, technically, the configuration space doesn't give you the complete state of the system, because it leaves out information about velocities, but let's ignore that for now).

In quantum mechanics, the configuration space looks just like classical configuration space, but its interpretation is very different. It's no longer true that the state of a quantum system is represented by an individual point in configuration space. The state of a quantum system is represented by a function on configuration space (the function has to satisfy certain other requirements in order to qualify as a bona fide representation of a quantum state, but ignore that detail also).

So imagine your configuration space is only two-dimensional for now, and again imagine that we are only considering real-valued functions on configuration space. In that case, you could construct 3-D plots of the various functions that correspond to quantum states, with the x-y plane representing the configuration space and the z axis representing the value of the function. Here's an example of one such function (this function actually doesn't satisfy those extra requirements I mentioned above, but we're ignoring those). Looks kind of like a wave, doesn't it?

So that function represents one possible state of the quantum system. Other possible states are represented by other functions. A quantum state is simply a function mapping each point on configuration space to a number; in other words, it associates a single number with every individual classical configuration. This number is what we call the amplitude of that particular configuration. Go back to our 3-D plot from above. The amplitude of any particular configuration (any point on configuration space) is just the height of our wave-like function at that point. And the quantum state is just the collection of all these amplitudes.

Now things are a little more complicated in quantum mechanics because the functions we consider aren't necessarily real-valued. They don't have to associate a real number with each point on configuration space. They are actually complex-valued functions, which means that each point in configuration space is associated with a complex number. That's no longer easy to plot in three dimensions unfortunately, so you'll have to use your imagination a little bit. And of course, the configuration spaces for actual systems we are interested have many many more dimensions than just two.

Now what the amplitude does is give you the probability of observing some particular configuration when you decide to look at the system.In order to figure out the probability of seeing a certain configuration, take the complex number associated with that configuration by the quantum state, and then calculate its squared magnitude. That will give you the probability.

Hope that helped a little.

Replies from: jd_k
comment by jd_k · 2014-04-16T23:18:26.057Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Sorry for the delay in response.)

That is extremely helpful; it is just the kind of explanation I was looking for. I have begun working through some of the materials linked here, as well. Many thanks. Now that I am starting to piece the picture together, I need some time to mull over it and let my intuitions adjust to the ideas, but I may send you a message when I next get hung up on it.

comment by DanielLC · 2014-04-12T19:51:13.126Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you have specific questions to ask, I'd be happy to answer them.

"Amplitude" just refers to a complex number corresponding to a given point in configuration space. The Schrödinger equation specifies how the field of these complex numbers evolves over time. The probability of being in a particular configuration is proportional to the square of this amplitude. Does that help?

comment by shminux · 2014-04-11T16:54:54.211Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I recommend that you first read popular or semi-popular books written by experts in the field (Eliezer isn't one). One of the more recent and highly praised semi-popular books which addresses many points Eliezer tried to get across is ScottAaronson's Quantum Computing since Democritus. Free lecture notes are also available, but not as complete. The book has a complexity-theoretic bend, but you can skip the parts you find too boring or too hard. Other classic semi-popular QM books are also available, including the venerable Feynman lectures. That one explains amplitudes very well, but is light on various ontologies, like MWI.

Replies from: pragmatist, jd_k
comment by pragmatist · 2014-04-11T17:17:46.961Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

While Aaronson's book is excellent, I suspect that someone who had trouble following Eliezer's posts will also have trouble following Aaronson's discussion of QM. It's not very neophyte-friendly.

Replies from: shminux
comment by shminux · 2014-04-11T21:25:13.960Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, it requires effort, but, unlike Susskind's book, it has basically no calculus, just algebra and a tiny bit of some basic matrix addition and multiplication, as well as some very brief understanding of complex numbers, both of which can be learned in an afternoon by a person who has a solid grasp of precalc (grade 11-level math or so). Basically the same prereqs as for the QM sequence. Additionally, it touches on several very AGI-relevant points, like Godel incompleteness, anthropics, complexity and free will. And, while it talks favorably about MWI, it has none of the anti-rational MWI/Bayes propaganda and "eld science" bashing of the QM sequence.

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2014-04-12T01:33:12.686Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And, while it talks favorably about MWI, it has none of the anti-rational MWI/Bayes propaganda and "eld science" bashing of the QM sequence.

Of course, it throws in some gratuitous anti-Bayesianism too - remember the chapter where anthropics (which no one agrees on or can formulate a sensible position on) refutes Bayesianism? Pick your poison...

Replies from: shminux
comment by shminux · 2014-04-12T18:03:28.871Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think he ever said anything about "refuting" Bayesianism, only that its application may depend on whether you believe SIA or SSA.

comment by jd_k · 2014-04-11T17:59:52.436Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is the ontology angle in which I am most interested, but I am not convinced that I can understand the ontology on even a basic level without understanding the math.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-04-11T04:35:08.315Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I want opinions: Is Neal Stephenson's Anathem a work of rationalist fiction?

I think it is (I don't think it was written with the rationalist label in mind, it just meets the qualifying standards).

Science and the scientific method are core plot points Technology is central. There is a transhumanist theme. The main character is a scholar/scientist. He seems approximately realistic in his behavior and intellect. Maybe this makes him more of a traditional hero in the midst of far more rational and intelligent people than himself.

Replies from: raisin
comment by raisin · 2014-04-12T05:57:02.353Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You could get more answers if you posted this to /r/rational, which is a subreddit entirely dedicated to rationalist and rationalist-esque fiction.

comment by mstevens · 2014-04-10T13:47:37.339Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Harry Potter question:

Is there any good "Harry is evil, Voldemort is the good guy" fanfic?

Replies from: BloodyShrimp
comment by BloodyShrimp · 2014-04-10T20:54:40.091Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's the obvious "Harry appears to be about to destroy the universe; Voldemort might be trying to stop him" one. But I don't know any real answers to your question.

Replies from: mstevens
comment by mstevens · 2014-04-11T12:53:08.033Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I did further research after I posted the question and found this:

which is about Voldemort being good, and Harry being sort of neutral then converted to Voldemort's side.

But it's not the ideal of what I was looking for.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-04-08T11:26:31.155Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

From "Bayes' Theorem":

In front of you is a bookbag containing 1,000 poker chips. I started out with two such bookbags, one containing 700 red and 300 blue chips, the other containing 300 red and 700 blue. I flipped a fair coin to determine which bookbag to use, so your prior probability that the bookbag in front of you is the red bookbag is 50%. Now, you sample randomly, with replacement after each chip. In 12 samples, you get 8 reds and 4 blues. What is the probability that this is the predominantly red bag?

... a blue chip is exactly the same amount of evidence as a red chip, just in the other direction ... If you draw one blue chip and one red chip, they cancel out. So the ratio of red chips to blue chips does not matter; only the excess of red chips over blue chips matters. There were eight red chips and four blue chips in twelve samples; therefore, four more red chips than blue chips. ...

We can now see intuitively that the bookbag problem would have exactly the same answer, obtained in just the same way, if sixteen chips were sampled and we found ten red chips and six blue chips.

Did I misunderstand something, or does the last quoted sentence contradict the whole previous explanation? Please check after me.

If I am correct and this is a mistake, it should be fixed both on Eliezer's page and in the Sequences ebook.

Replies from: Emile
comment by Emile · 2014-04-08T11:40:26.674Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, it looks perfectly fine to me; "8 reds and 4 blues" is the same evidence as "10 red and 6 blues", or for that matter, as "104 reds and 100 blues" (in that context) - what counts is the difference, not the ratio.

Replies from: Xachariah, Viliam_Bur
comment by Xachariah · 2014-04-08T14:09:38.471Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Surely that can't be correct.

Intuitively, I would be pretty ready to bet that I know the correct bookbag if I pulled out 5 red chips and 1 blue. 97% seems a fine level of confidence.

But if we get 1,000,004 red and 1,000,000 blues, I doubt I'd be so sure. It seems pretty obvious to me that you should be somewhere close to 50/50 because you're clearly getting random data. To say that you could be 97% confident is insane.

I concede that you're getting screwed over by the multi-verse at that point, but there's got to be some accounting for ratio. There is no way that you should be equally confident in your guess regardless of if you receive ratios of 5:1, 10:6, 104:100, or 1000004:1000000.

Replies from: gjm, Emile, othercriteria
comment by gjm · 2014-04-08T15:08:37.904Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What getting a ratio of 1000004:1000000 tells you is that you're looking at the wrong hypotheses.

If you know absolutely-for-sure (because God told you, and God never lies) that you have either a (700,300) bag or a (300,700) bag and are sampling whichever bag it is uniformly and independently, and the only question is which of those two situations you're in, then the evidence does indeed favour the (700,300) bag by the same amount as it would if your draws were (8,4) instead of (1000004,1000000).

But the probability of getting anything like those numbers in either case is incredibly tiny and long before getting to (1000004,1000000) you should have lost your faith in what God told you. Your bag contains some other numbers of chips, or you're drawing from it in some weirdly correlated way, or the devil is screwing with your actions or perceptions.

("Somewhere close to 50:50" is correct in the following sense: if you start with any sensible probability distribution over the number of chips in the bags that does allow something much nearer to equality, then Pr((700,300)) and Pr((300,700)) are far closer to one another than either is to Pr(somewhere nearer to equality) and the latter is what you should be focusing on because you clearly don't really have either (700,300) or (300,700).)

Replies from: Xachariah
comment by Xachariah · 2014-04-08T21:34:18.295Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maybe I should back up a bit.

I agree that at 1000004:1000000, you're looking at the wrong hypothesis. But in the above example, 104:100, you're looking at the wrong hypothesis too. It's just that a factor of 10,000x makes it easier to spot. In fact, at 34:30 or even a fewer number of iterations, you're probably also getting the wrong hypothesis.

A single percentage point of doubt gets blown up and multiplied, but that percentage point has to come from somewhere. It can't just spring forth from nothingness once you get to past 50 iterations. That means you can't be 96.6264% certain at the start, but just a little lower (Eliezer's pre-rounding certainty).

The real question in my mind is when that 1% of doubt actually becomes a significant 5%->10%->20% that something's wrong. 8:4 feels fine. 104:100 feels overwhelming. But how much doubt am I supposed to feel at 10:6 or at 18:14?

How do you even calculate that if there's no allowance in the original problem?

Replies from: gjm, Douglas_Knight
comment by gjm · 2014-04-09T01:14:55.356Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There should always, really, be "allowance in the original problem". Perhaps not explicitly factored in, but you should assign some nonzero probability to possibilities like "the experimenter lied to me", "I goofed in some crazy way", "I am being deceived by malevolent demons", etc. In practice, these wacky hypotheses may not occur to you until the evidence for them starts getting large, and you can decide at that point what prior probabilities you should have put on them. (Unfortunately it's easy to do that wrongly, e.g. because of hindsight bias.)

As Douglas_Knight says, frequentist statistics is full of tests that will tell you when some otherwise plausible hypothesis (e.g., "these two samples are drawn from things with the same probability distribution") are incompatible with the data in particular (or not-so-particular) ways.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2014-04-08T22:54:57.183Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How do you even calculate that if there's no allowance in the original problem?

Frequentist tests are good here.

comment by Emile · 2014-04-08T18:03:04.177Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I concede that you're getting screwed over by the multi-verse at that point, but there's got to be some accounting for ratio. There is no way that you should be equally confident in your guess regardless of if you receive ratios of 5:1, 10:6, 104:100, or 1000004:1000000.

Yeah, that's why I added "(in that context)" - i.e. we are 100% sure that those two hypotheses are the only one. If there's even a 0.01% chance that the distribution could be 50% / 50% (as is likely in the real world), then that hypothesis is going to become way more likely.

comment by othercriteria · 2014-04-08T17:07:22.272Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's actually some really cool math developed about situations like this one. Large deviation theory describes how occurrences like the 1,000,004 red / 1,000,000 blues one become unlikely at an exponential rate and how, conditioning on them occurring, information about the manner in which they occurred can be deduced. It's a sort of trivial conclusion in this case, but if we accept a principle of maximum entropy, we can be dead certain that any of the 2,000,004 red or blue draws looks marginally like a Bernoulli with 1,000,004:1,000,000 odds. That's just the likeliest way (outside of our setup being mistaken) of observing our extremely unlikely outcome.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-04-08T14:07:18.656Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks a lot! Somehow I read something else than was actually written there, and repeated readings didn't help. When you wrote it using digits, I realized the confusion.

(Specifically, it was: "eight and four" vs "sixteen and ten". Yeah, those words are there, but in a different context.)

comment by DeeElf · 2014-04-17T03:23:57.997Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Belief & double-blind randomized control group studies: response to IlyaShpitser

In a previous thread IlyaShpitser said >According to your blog, you don't believe in RCTs, right? What do you believe in?

This is part of the problem I'm trying to address. Belief/non-belief are inappropriate locutions to use in terms not only of the double-blind randomized control group method (DBRCGM), but of models and methods of science in general. "Belief in" a any scientific method is not even remotely relevant to science or the philosophy of science. Also, I did not say that the DBRCGM is entirely useless. All I'm really saying is it can be improved upon. Furthermore, what I "believe in" is almost entirely irrelevant to my appreciation of Bayesiansim and other forms of scientific fallibilistic flexibility. When we "believe in" something, we allay our curiosity and create unnecessary obstacles for the mind changes Bayesianism and fallibilistic flexibility encourage us to practice.

Replies from: drethelin
comment by drethelin · 2014-04-18T20:10:41.180Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What are you actually trying to say here? And this is the wrong way to respond to someone: If you reply to someone they are notified and can continue the conversation, and the conversation is also confined to the specific subthread.

comment by DeeElf · 2014-04-15T21:27:46.129Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Continuing Causality Woes: Smoking and Lung Cancer:

Looking at:


Cross Referenced with Causation in the Presence of Weak Associations:

WHY IS IT SO OFTEN REPEATED THAT SMOKING CAUSES CANCER? I'm not a tobacco user, so I'm not trying to justify my behavior. Has anyone here looked into the other things tobacco's accused of causing or being "strongly" correlated with?

Background reading:

-Anything by David Hume

-Carl G. Hempel. Laws and Their Role in Scientific Explanation:

-Studies in the Logic of Explanation:

-Causation as Folk Science:

-Causation: The elusive grail of epidemiology:

-Causality and the Interpretation of Epidemiologic Evidence:

-Studies in the Philosophy of Biology: Reduction and Related Problems:

Replies from: IlyaShpitser, wedrifid, Anders_H
comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-04-15T21:46:19.620Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you believe the nutritional etiology of scurvy?

Replies from: DeeElf
comment by DeeElf · 2014-04-16T02:21:33.078Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Replies from: IlyaShpitser
comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-04-16T16:25:03.851Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why? According to your blog, you don't believe in RCTs, right? What do you believe in?

comment by wedrifid · 2014-04-15T23:21:31.187Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Start here. Follow the references (and the references' references). If you are still not convinced then try here.

Replies from: DeeElf
comment by DeeElf · 2014-04-16T02:41:06.282Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Did you follow the references I provided? Two of them are LW "in house" and the rest are superior to the ones you cited.

comment by Anders_H · 2014-04-16T03:01:40.092Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Smoking is not "accused" of being strongly correlated with negative outcomes. It is strongly correlated with negative outcomes, as a simple empirical fact. This is a statement about the joint distribution of the observed variables "smoking" and "negative outcomes", and it has nothing to do with causal inference. I cannot even imagine a scenario where the statement "Smoking is strongly correlated with lung cancer" is false, short of a vast conspiracy among scientists and doctors

A slightly more interesting question is whether the correlation between smoking and cancer is due to causation. It is theoretically possible that an unmeasured confounder is responsible for the observed correlation. In fact, R.A. Fisher believed such a confounder was probably at work . One of the first uses of sensitivity analysis was to show how unrealistic Fisher's claim was. A sensitivity analysis is essentially a thought experiment that lets you play around with how "strong" a confounder has to be, in order to account for the observed correlation if the causal null hypothesis were true. See

In this case, I think any reasonable investigator who looks at the data and does some basic reasoning about possible confounders, will come away with a very strong posterior in favor of smoking causing lung cancer. However, the relationship between smoking and certain other negative outcomes is in some cases much more questionable, and it would not surprise me if publication bias accounts for many of the negative outcomes smoking has been connected to

Replies from: DeeElf
comment by DeeElf · 2014-04-16T04:16:32.252Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anders_H: "Smoking is not "accused" of being strongly correlated with negative outcomes. It is strongly correlated with negative outcomes...."

This is the opposite conclusion of the first citation I provided. And the second "in house" LW link asserts that in terms of decision making about smoking in light of whether or not it's linked to cancer is about a 50/50 proposition.

Anders_H: " a simple empirical fact." This is a huge abstraction. Please clarify.

Anders_H: "This is a statement about the joint distribution of the observed variables "smoking" and "negative outcomes", and it has nothing to do with causal inference."

I understand that, but I'm not asking about that. I'm asking why the correlations are thought of as causes by reports on the relationship. And it is indeed an ACCUSATION commonly presented by the press, etc..., that smoking causes or is positively correlated to cancer. Furthermore, ccording to Hume, causal inferences are THEMSELVES observed by constant conjunction, implying we have know sure way of knowing what the relationship between causes and correlations is.

Anders_H: "I cannot even imagine a scenario where the statement "Smoking is strongly correlated with lung cancer" is false...."

Again, I refer you to the first citation, which also underscores the fact the line between "weak" and "strong" is done by fiat, another challenge to the so-called link between smoking and cancer.

The Japanese smoke more (if not the most) than most cultures yet are also one of the most healthy cultures. This goes to your "slightly more interesting question," but it also goes the challenges of positively correlating smoking with "negative" outcomes. A further problem is that "negative outcomes" are normatively tied to cultural standards. Another problem is with average life expectancy comparisons, as they are to sensitive to outlier inflation.

Replies from: Anders_H
comment by Anders_H · 2014-04-16T14:33:16.440Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is the opposite conclusion of the first citation I provided.

Sorry, can you be more specific? Where does anybody claim that smoking is not strongly correlated with life expectancy?

And the second "in house" LW link asserts that in terms of decision making about smoking in light of whether or not it's linked to cancer is about a 50/50 proposition.

The second "in house" link is a very simple thought experiment to explain the concept of confounding. It is meant as an example where evidential decision theory fails. In this situation, causal decision theory gives the right answer, it is certainly not a 50-50 proposition. Moreover, the correct answer within the thought experiment is that smoking does not cause cancer. This is because they postulated the existence of a deterministic confounder. This has no implications for whether or not such a confounder exists in the real world.

I 'm asking why the correlations are thought of as causes by reports on the relationship.

Because the confounders, ie the "smoking lesions", would have to be unrealistically strong to fully explain the observed correlation between smoking and lung cancer. This is the part where I showed you the sensitivity analysis.

Furthermore, ccording to Hume, causal inferences are THEMSELVES observed by constant conjunction, implying we have know sure way of knowing what the relationship between causes and correlations is.

Of course we don't have a "sure" way of knowing about causal relationships. But if you adopt "certainty" as your epistemic standard, you wouldn't even be able to tell whether parachutes save lives in people who are falling from airplanes.

The Japanese smoke more (if not the most) than most cultures yet are also one of the most healthy cultures.

This is called an "ecologic" argument, and it is considered very weak. Note that your sample size is essentially 2, as the units you are making inferences about are countries, not individuals.

A further problem is that "negative outcomes" are normatively tied to cultural standards.

Now you're just trolling... We're talking about life expectancy, lung cancer, heart attacks etc here.