Open & Welcome Thread - November 2019

post by habryka (habryka4) · 2019-11-02T20:06:54.030Z · LW · GW · 76 comments

If you want to explore the community more, I recommend reading the Library, [? · GW] checking recent Curated posts [? · GW], seeing if there are any meetups in your area [? · GW], and checking out the Getting Started [LW · GW] section of the LessWrong FAQ [LW · GW].

The Open Thread sequence is here [? · GW].


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2019-11-18T20:48:34.895Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A Chesterton-fence style regret about decline of religion, which I just thought of and haven't seen written down anywhere before.

  1. It's well know that religion fills human social and psychological needs, including for loyalty and virtue signaling.
  2. It's easy for loyalty and virtue signaling to spiral out of control and lead to things like religious persecution and holy wars.
  3. Western civilization developed countermeasures to contain the religion-based loyalty and virtue signaling, like separation of church and state.
  4. With religion in decline (in many parts of the world), it's no longer suitable for loyalty and virtue signaling for many people, and they've had to find replacements, which consist of different ideologies [LW(p) · GW(p)] for different people.
  5. The old countermeasures against spiraling loyalty and virtue signaling don't work anymore because the new loyalty and virtue signaling are not based on religion, leading to worse negative consequences for society.
Replies from: MakoYass
comment by MakoYass · 2019-11-24T02:39:31.686Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Weren't the countermeasures kind of very basic, though? Like they weren't exactly the type of illegibly sophisticated egregores that trads like to worship? Isn't Tall_poppy_syndrome basically instinctive?

Replies from: Vaniver
comment by Vaniver · 2019-12-01T19:04:33.267Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Many of the countermeasures are allergies against specific things. If a Catholic ascends to some position and then fires non-Catholics and promotes Catholics, observers are prepared to notice this and argue it's violating freedom of religion / using religion for something that it shouldn't be used for in civil society. But if someone whose 'religion' is environmentalism ascends to the same position and fires non-environmentalists and promotes environmentalists, the same allergies might not fire in response. I can't easily imagine a phrase that's "freedom of X" that captures not being able to fire someone because they're not an environmentalist, and this means that if 'religion' morphs with the times the defenses posed by 'freedom of religion' might not morph with them, and we might end up back in the bad state.

Replies from: MakoYass
comment by MakoYass · 2019-12-03T06:07:05.501Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hmm. Perhaps if there were a consensus that some people have deep, sincere, sometimes metaphysical reasons for not being environmentalists, they could become a protected class. I'm not sure many people do, myself.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2019-11-06T05:37:36.533Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Eliezer Yudkowsky and Paul Graham have a lot in common. They're both well-known bloggers who write about rationality and are influential in Silicon Valley. They're both known for Bayesian stuff (Graham was a pioneer of Bayesian spam filtering). They both played a role in creating discussion sites which are, in my opinion, among the best on the internet (Less Wrong for Eliezer, Hacker News for Paul Graham). And they've both stopped posting to the sites they created, but they both still post to... Twitter, which is, in my opinion, one of the worst discussion sites on the internet. (Here is one of many illustrations.)

It seems like having so many celebrities, scientists, and politicians is a major asset for Twitter. What is it about Twitter which makes big names want to post there? How could a rival site attract big names without also importing Twitter's pathologies?

Replies from: Wei_Dai, Richard_Kennaway, drethelin, mr-hire, MakoYass, Benito, Pattern
comment by Wei_Dai · 2019-11-06T09:19:50.419Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upvoted. I'm pretty mystified and am very curious about the answers myself.

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2019-11-06T13:37:34.115Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have any of these people said why they have made that choice?

I don't use twitter, but one possibility might be that it actually isn't a discussion forum. It's a place for drive-by firing off of thoughts. For a prominent person, the function of a tweet is to say, "This is what I am thinking about at the moment," so as to invite conversation elsewhere with the people they already know and find worth while talking to. This is far less time-consuming than an actual discussion forum, where it's expected that a post will be of a more substantial length and that you will participate in subsequent discussion.

I predict from this hypothesis that Eliezer makes hardly any replies on Twitter to replies to his tweets.

Replies from: John_Maxwell_IV
comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2019-11-06T15:52:42.870Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have any of these people said why they have made that choice?

Not that I've seen, but I have seen Paul Graham tweet complaints about Twitter, and I think I've seen Eliezer complain about the behavior of users on the platform.

Twitter makes tweet replies less prominent than Facebook. When I'm scrolling down Eliezer's Facebook feed, I see comment replies to his posts. When I scroll down his Twitter feed, I have to click a tweet to see replies. So that could be playing a role.

It doesn't seem socially expected to reply to replies to your tweets.

comment by drethelin · 2019-11-21T22:06:12.832Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Simplest answer: twitter is where everyone else is, which makes it the simplest and easiest way to interact conversationally with potentially anyone on earth without an intro or in-person meeting.

In addition, twitter enables easy one-to-many communication for celebrities who want to spread memes, and brevity is the soul of wit.

Replies from: MakoYass
comment by MakoYass · 2019-11-24T02:30:45.104Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good reduction.

Drethelin here is on twitter. His posts are so good,

that I can almost ignore the amount of intentionally divisive politics memes. You create these wounds, brother, and you do not heal

comment by Matt Goldenberg (mr-hire) · 2019-11-25T23:51:08.149Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Twitter does a few things I can't do with other platforms.

1. I can quickly search through all of someone's thoughts on a particular subjects, and all of people's thoughts on those thoughts, and peoples thoughts on those thoughts, etc.

2. I can comment on someone else's specific thought on a subject, and start a conversation thread on it.

3. I can subscribe to someone's thoughts, without them needing to write essays, etc. It provides a very low friction way to share thoughts.

4. I can build off of my previous thoughts, creating an interconnected web of all my thoughts on a topic. The link is not to a whole "essay" but to the individual thought from that essay that's relevant.

One way to think of twitter is a vast web of interconnected individual ideas. The character limit forces people to segment their tweets by thought, allowing for this to happen.

comment by MakoYass · 2019-11-07T04:07:15.693Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Twitter's usefulness mostly comes from the celebrities being there. The initial reason the celebrities were attracted probably had to do with the char limit, its pretext, that they are not expected to read too much and that they are not expected to write too much.

You'll see on reddit - at least, back when these things were being determined - a lot of celebrities, when they did AMAs, seemed to feel obligated to respond to every comment with a comment of similar length. Sometimes they wouldn't wait and see which comments were getting the most votes and answer those, they'd just start with the first one that hit their mailbox and work down the list until they ran out of time. My guess is, non internet-native extroverts really needed a platform that would advise them about what's expected and reasonable.

But I think, now that we're all learning that we must moderate our consumption, the celebrities (and most other people) remain on twitter mainly because the celebrities were there in the first place. I don't think we need the char limit any more. I think maybe we're ready for the training wheels to come off.

But there's another reason redditlikes don't really work for a general audience. Mainly specifics about how voting tends to work. There is no accommodation of subjectivity. Everyone sees the same vote ranking even though different people have different interests and standards. The problem is partially mitigated by separating people into different subreddits, but eventually, general subreddits like /r/worldnews, /r/technology, /r/science or even /r/futurism will grow large enough and diverse enough that people wont be able to stand being around each other again. Every demographic other than the largest, most vote-happy one will have to leave. I really want everyone to be able to join together in the same conversation, but when the top-ranked comments always turn out to be "[outgroup lies]" or "[childish inanity]", that can't happen. The outgroup wants to see their lies, and the children want to see their inanity, and I think they should be able to, but good adults need to be able to hear each other too, or else they'll just move to GoodAdultSite and then the outgroup wont be able to find refutations of their lies even when they look for them, and the children will not receive the advice they need even when they call out for it.

(I have some ideas as to how to build a redditlike that might solve this. If anyone's interested, speak up.)

Replies from: John_Maxwell_IV
comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2019-11-07T05:22:25.913Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Twitter's usefulness mostly comes from the celebrities being there. The initial reason the celebrities were attracted probably had to do with the char limit, its pretext, that they are not expected to read too much and that they are not expected to write too much.

Interesting. So if Twitter's celebrity appeal is about brevity, and brevity is a big part of why the platform is so toxic, maybe the best outcome is for it to just get regulated out of existence? Like, we could pass a law that prohibits character limits on social media sites or something.

Replies from: An1lam, MakoYass
comment by NaiveTortoise (An1lam) · 2019-11-07T18:46:43.862Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Woah, this seems like a big jump to a form of technocracy / paternalism that I would think would typically require more justification than spending a short amount of time brainstorming in a comment thread why the thing millions of people use daily is actually bad.

Like, banning sites from offering free services if a character limit is involved because high status members of communities you like enjoy such sites seems like bad policy and also a weird way to try and convince these people to write on forums you prefer. Now, one counterargument would be "coordination problems" mean those writers would prefer to write somewhere else. But presumably if anyone's aware of "inadequate equilibria" like this and able to avoid it it would be Eliezer.

Re-reading my comment, I realize it may come off as snarky but I'm not really sure how better to convey my surprise that this would be the first idea that comes to mind.

ETA: it's not clear to me that Twitter is so toxic, especially for people in the broad bubble that encompasses LW / EA / tech / etc. I agree it's not the best possible version of a platform by any means, but to say it's obviously net negative seems like a stretch without further evidence.

Replies from: John_Maxwell_IV
comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2019-11-08T00:50:03.009Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Woah, this seems like a big jump to a form of technocracy / paternalism that I would think would typically require more justification than spending a short amount of time brainstorming in a comment thread why the thing millions of people use daily is actually bad.

Under what circumstances do you feel introducing new policy ideas with the preface "maybe this could be a good idea" is acceptable?

I don't expect anyone important to be reading this thread, certainly not important policymakers. Even if they were, I think it was pretty clear I was spitballing.

Like, banning sites from offering free services if a character limit is involved because high status members of communities you like enjoy such sites

If society's elites are incentivized to use a platform which systematically causes misunderstandings and strife for no good reason, that seems bad.

Now, one counterargument would be "coordination problems" mean those writers would prefer to write somewhere else. But presumably if anyone's aware of "inadequate equilibria" like this and able to avoid it it would be Eliezer.

Let's not fall prey to the halo effect. Eliezer also wrote a long post about the necessity of back-and-forth debate, and he's using a platform which is uniquely bad at this. At some point, one starts to wonder whether Eliezer is a mortal human being who suffers from akrasia and biases just like the rest of us.

I agree it's not the best possible version of a platform by any means, but to say it's obviously net negative seems like a stretch without further evidence.

I didn't make much of an effort to assemble arguments that Twitter is bad. But I think there are good arguments out there. How do you feel about the nuclear diplomacy that's happened on Twitter?

Replies from: An1lam
comment by NaiveTortoise (An1lam) · 2019-11-08T01:05:57.689Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

First of all, I apologize, I think my comment was too snarky and took a tone of "this is so surprising" that I regret on reflection.

Under what circumstances do you feel introducing new policy ideas with the word "maybe this could be a good idea" is acceptable? To be clear, I think introducing the idea is totally fine, I just have a decently strong prior against widespread bans on "businesses that do this".

I don't expect anyone important to be reading this thread, certainly not important policymakers. Even if they were, I think it was pretty clear I was spitballing.

Agreed, I was not worried about this.

Let's not fall prey to the halo effect. Eliezer also wrote a long post about the necessity of back-and-forth debate, and he's using a platform which is uniquely bad at this. At some point, one starts to wonder whether Eliezer is a mortal human being who suffers from akrasia and biases just like the rest of us.

Fair enough. I agree the Eliezer point isn't strong evidence.

I didn't make much of an effort to assemble arguments that Twitter is bad. But I think there are good arguments out there. How do you feel about the nuclear diplomacy that's happened on Twitter?

I don't have time to respond at length to this part at the moment (I wanted to reply quickly to apologize mostly) but I agree it's the most useful question to discuss and will try to respond more later. To summarize, I acknowledge it's possible that Twitter is bad for the collective but think people may overestimate the bad parts by focusing on how politicians / people fighting about politics use Twitter (which does seem bad) and that even if it is "bad", it's not clear that banning short response websites would lead to a better long-term outcome. For example, maybe people would just start fighting with pictures on Instagram. I don't think this specific outcome is likely but think it's in a class of outcomes that would result from banning that seems decently likely.

comment by MakoYass · 2019-11-08T03:02:04.438Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hahah. That's a funny thought. I don't think it does lead inevitably to toxicity, though. I don't think the incentives it imposes are really that favourable to that sort of usage. There's a hedonic attractor for venomous behaviour rather than a strategic attractor.

Right now the char limit isn't really that hostile to dialogue. There's a "threading" UI (hints that it's okay to post many tweets at once) so it's now less like "don't put any effort into your posts" and more like "if you're gonna post a lot try to divide it up into small, digestible pieces"

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2019-11-08T07:44:34.989Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My general sense is that I see a lot of interesting people go to Twitter when they are committed to being on the outside of most elite institutions, but still want conversation. And Twitter gives a lot of control in who you see, and makes engaging those people in conversation very low cost. I think there's a valuable contrarian cluster on there.

comment by Pattern · 2019-11-06T09:02:17.366Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Meta note: the commenting guidelines aren't showing up on mobile - it just says "habryka's commenting guidelines".)

Possible benefits (or attractions) of Twitter:

  • Short term length.
  • Short/variable post length. (I'm just going to write/read one tweet...)
  • No voting.
  • People who are there.
  • Difficult to find things, unless directed there/but not too difficult. (Diaspora contained.)
  • Lots to find, different bubbles. (Lots of things.)
  • Pathologies. Perhaps drama = entertainment. (If you could be more specific, what pathologies?)
  • More modes of use and engagement. (Not all of which are freestanding - consider link posts.)
  • The format. (Reblogging navigation, also see Longer notes)
  • Word of mouth (or a digital equivalent).
  • Perhaps it's used in place of/in addition to Facebook.
  • More casual content, and mixtures.
  • Visuals
  • Speed

Shooting in the dark:

  • Features for filtering? (Having discussions with who you want/with the number of people you want.)
  • The font + text size?
  • average post length (acts like bullet points) + cute avatars
  • lack of censorship?
  • Everyone's there for the memes/low expectations about when content comes out.
  • Everyone's there, not because of one thing, but because the medium is malleable.
  • Something to do with governance

Longer notes:

  • The best way to handle content of mixed length isn't clear - by length (and quality). Some short form content here seems like posts, with the downsides of not being able to view it as a post, and less engagement.

  • Rather than discussions taking place in places, it's based around someone making a comment (in the set of all their comments sorted by time) and someone responding. The format is very different - if I want to read EY's Twitter posts/similar stuff, I know where to go. Celebrities might be there for the less serious entertainment, or because it's where everybody is, or for a lot of different reasons all of which are also there or conveniently linked to.

  • If intellectual engagement requires focus, mixing it with stuff that requires less focus might make it easier for people to engage, or enable different levels of engagement.

Replies from: Richard_Kennaway
comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2019-11-06T13:39:31.613Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
(Meta note: the commenting guidelines aren't showing up on mobile - it just says "habryka's commenting guidelines".)

And on desktop.

Replies from: habryka4
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2019-11-06T19:43:21.009Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I do indeed just have some empty comment guidelines for this post, so this isn't a bug, just me not setting the correct guidelines.

Replies from: Raemon
comment by Raemon · 2019-11-06T23:01:01.731Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seems like if the guidelines are an empty string it should probably display the default-guidelines.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2019-11-29T07:16:31.535Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For someone who is selfish, or the selfish part of one's moral parliament, a seemingly important but seldom-discussed concern is "modal immortality [LW · GW]" (in analogy to "quantum immortality"), which suggests that if all possible worlds exist, one can't subjectively experience death as nothingness and will instead experience things like being "resurrected" by a superintelligence in the future, or being "rescued" from outside of this simulated universe. Given modal immortality, and the possibility of influencing the relative likelihoods of various "life after death" experiences, a selfish person's long term priorities has to include optimizing for these experiences through one's actions. But I don't recall seeing any discussion of this.

Concrete example of a problem: Consider cryonics, or even just getting one's genes sequenced. Doing either seemingly increases the chances (considered as first-person "anticipation" as opposed to third-person "measure") of being "resurrected" (in the same universe) over being "rescued" (from outside the universe). Is that good or bad?

Moral uncertainty suggests that we should spend some of our resources on these problems, as well as related philosophical problems like the nature of "anticipation [LW(p) · GW(p)]" and how selfish-values [LW · GW] should work in a decision theoretic sense.

comment by lsusr · 2019-11-03T08:26:40.809Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I joined a few months ago. I've been happily surprised at how all the comments I've received have been constructive, respectful and written in good faith. It's nice to meet you all.

Replies from: mingyuan, Alexei
comment by mingyuan · 2019-11-05T19:36:26.629Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's nice to meet you too! :)

comment by Alexei · 2019-11-10T16:16:47.634Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Welcome! Thank you for your posts!

comment by ben_redan · 2019-11-06T03:21:49.515Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just joined up today. My name is Ben, 39 from the Hunter Valley in Australia - grew up and lived most of my life in Sydney a few hours away. I have a BA majoring in philosophy and political science and an honours in philosophy which focused on compelxity, coordination and reflection on the societal scale as envisaged by Jurgen Habermas and Nikals Luhmann. I also finished a Masters in Public Communication a couple of years ago.

My main reason for registering here is to discuss and learn about AI safety, which is what I wish to spend my life contributing to. I have ideas in this area and am keen to learn many more, refine my thinking and connect with others. Like many here, I believe AI safety deserves far more attention and resources than it currently recieves and am keen to be part of rectifying that.

So, hello all. I look forward to getting involved and becoming less wrong about some of the things which matter most :)

comment by ignoranceprior · 2019-11-23T07:01:01.515Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do any AI safety researchers have little things they would like to get done, but don't have the time for?

I'm willing to help out for no pay.

I have a backgound in computer science and mathematics, and I have basic familiarity with AI alignment concepts. I can write code to help with ML experiments, and can help you summarize research or do literature reviews.

Replies from: Buck, Skipjack
comment by Buck · 2019-12-01T23:27:03.336Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Email me at with some more info about you and I might be able to give you some ideas (and we can maybe talk about things you could do for ai alignment more generally)

comment by Skipjack · 2019-11-23T07:28:39.343Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can vouch that this person is highly skilled in a few areas of computer science.

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2019-11-14T22:15:04.559Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm interested to talk with people about your use of LW, what you get out of it, and changes you'd find helpful.

If you'd like to talk to talk with me about your experience of the site, and let me ask you questions about it, book a conversation with me here: I'm currently available Thursday mornings, US West Coast Time (Berkeley, California).

You can also find the link on my profile page.

comment by ryan_b · 2019-11-08T19:39:00.748Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's a new book out, Game-Theoretic Foundations for Probability and Finance by Glenn Shafer and Vladimir Vovk. The idea is that perfect information games can replace measure theory as the basis of probability, and also provide a mathematical basis for finance.

I have their earlier book, which I reviewed on LessWrong [LW · GW]. I don't have the new one, in which they claim more generalization, abstraction, and coherent footing as a result of 18 years of further development. They also claim their method for continuous time finance is better and easier to use than current practice.

Has anyone else read this? It's on my list, but it will be pretty far down, so I would welcome other opinions as to whether I should promote it.

Replies from: ryan_b, Alexei
comment by ryan_b · 2019-11-08T19:59:12.083Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I found a Q&A with one of the authors on the book's website. It describes what they were hoping to accomplish, who the audience of the new book is, and summarizes some of the theoretic advancements.

comment by Alexei · 2019-11-10T16:16:27.897Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting! I’ll take a look.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2019-12-01T18:18:56.453Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Uncertainty is mentally taxing, because one has to build, maintain, and use more mental models compared to someone who is more certain. One would think that makes it a good tool for signaling intelligence (and I think that at least partly motivates me to be conspicuously uncertain, such as here [LW · GW]), but fortunately or unfortunately (I'm not sure which ;) I don't see many other people doing this.

Replies from: riceissa
comment by riceissa · 2019-12-01T20:42:48.981Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Related discussion:

Replies from: Wei_Dai
comment by Wei_Dai · 2019-12-03T02:48:59.805Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Vipul Naik was talking about uncertainty as virtue signaling, which is related to but distinct from my point about uncertainty as intelligence signaling. (For the former, it's perhaps sufficient to pepper "not sure" throughout your writing, like Vipul was complaining about, but for the latter you have to demonstrate familiarity with and usage of a variety of theories/models that you haven't yet ruled out.)

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2019-11-25T11:36:42.849Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I put together a new sequence, Rationalists on Meditation [? · GW]; figured it would be nice to have an easy way of finding most of the meditation discussion on the site. As the sequence description says: "A semi-curated list of LW writings on meditation, ranging from self-reports to theorizing."

Let me know if I missed anything that you think ought to be included.

Replies from: mr-hire
comment by Matt Goldenberg (mr-hire) · 2019-11-25T23:33:44.626Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This really makes me wish you could upvote/downvote sequences, and see new ones on the front page.

comment by visionquest1972 · 2019-11-15T21:37:45.335Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hi, my name is Jason and I live in Asheville, NC. My main goal is just getting better at thinking rationally and how to have proper logical arguments with others. I am an atheist and I love discussing religion from my viewpoint of non-belief and why I believe that religion is not only false but also harmful. I am not afraid to admit ignorance and I am always willing to change my viewpoint based on the available evidence. I just love to learn.

Replies from: MakoYass
comment by MakoYass · 2019-11-17T07:00:19.713Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


I find I have very little energy for debating religion nowadays. It could just be because I don't know all that much about religion and don't want to bother to learn. But I think it might just be that the truth of claims of religion aren't really why people keep going to church, and arguing against those claims wont really have that much of an effect for people. Some relevant stuff was writ in Scott's recent article about new atheism

My impression right now, personally, is that the strongest anchors of peoples' religions are probably

  • Grounding of morality. Some people don't see a way to build a shared morality on a purely secular worldview. It's not obvious that we even can (I believe we can, with a lot of talking and a bit of evolutionary psych, but have we, yet? Has that book been written?)
  • Community. You can't argue someone out of wanting to be a part of a community of people who agree about what is good and bad. The best you can do is invite them to an effective altruist meet and try to make sure they have a good time, and then if they do, if you can make sure they understand that there are alternatives, other communities out there ready to embrace them, then maybe the prospect of leaving their spiritual community can become thinkable for them.
comment by Alexei · 2019-11-17T21:54:18.760Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have read the entire "My big TOE" book/trilogy by Thomas Campbell. If at least three people promise to read my summary of it, I'll write it up. Let me know how long you want the summary to be.

Super quick summary of the book: Thomas Campbell seems like a decently smart guy; he has a PhD in physics and works for the government. He claims his mind/consciousness can exist in and travel between multiple realities. In this book he explains his version of how the universe works, how it got started, why it's here, and why we are here.

Personally, I found it mildly interesting. There are a lot of big claims, but it's very hard to verify them. Tom is pretty upfront about it: his goal is to lay out a conceptual framework so that everyone can develop their own TOE (Theory of Everything). He doesn't ask the reader to trust him or his version. At the same time, if you can't trust it... it's kind of like reading sci-fi.

I'm also happy to answer any questions about the book / author.

Replies from: leggi, eigen
comment by leggi · 2019-12-03T05:44:48.707Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll read.

And as long as it needs to be ...

comment by eigen · 2019-12-02T22:37:20.980Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll read it.

comment by Mary Chernyshenko (mary-chernyshenko) · 2019-11-17T17:45:22.532Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How do you determine your "tiredness backlog"? When I am lack sleep, it seems that I have been so for decades (school days etc.), but obviously there's a limit to how much I can get back. (And the official stance on parenthood here is "oh you knew what you were getting into", so... hopeless, really.) And it is really easy to imagine that backlog small or large, there's no measure.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2019-11-06T05:47:24.011Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can anyone think of a theoretical justification (Bayesian, Frequentist, whatever) for the procedure described in this blog post? I think this guy invented it for himself -- searching on Google for "blended estimate" just sends me to his post.

Replies from: rossry
comment by rossry · 2019-11-09T13:58:25.383Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are you asking for a justification for averaging independent estimates to achieve an estimate with lower errors? "Blended estimate" isn't a specific term of art, but the general idea here is so common that I'm not sure _what_ the most common term for it is.

And the theoretical justification -- under assumptions of independent and Normal errors -- is at the post, where the author demonstrates that there's a lower error from the weighted average (and that their choice of weights minimizes the error). Am I missing something here?

Replies from: John_Maxwell_IV
comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2019-11-10T17:33:24.428Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

and that their choice of weights minimizes the error

The author has selected a weighted average such that if we treat that weighted average as a random variable, its standard deviation is minimized. But if we just want a random variable whose standard deviation is minimized, we could have a distribution which assigns 100% credence to the number 0 and be done with it. In other words, my question is whether the procedure in this post can be put on a firmer philosophical foundation. Or whether there is some alternate derivation/problem formulation (e.g. a mixture model) that gets us the same formula.

Another way of getting at the same idea: There are potentially other procedures one could use to create a "blended estimate", for example, you could find the point such that the product of the likelihoods of the two distributions is maximized, or take a weighted average of the two estimates using e.g. (1/sigma) as the weight of each estimate. Is there a justification for using this particular loss function, of finding a random variable constructed via weighted average whose variance is minimized? It seems to me that this procedure is a little weird because it's the random variable that corresponds to the person's age that we really care about. We should be looking "upstream" of the estimates, but instead we're going "downstream" (where up/down stream roughly correspond to the direction of arrows in a Bayesian network).

Replies from: rossry
comment by rossry · 2019-11-11T14:01:58.581Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, okay. In that case, here are a few attempts to ground the idea philosophically:

  1. It's the "prior-free" estimate with the least error. See that unbiased "prior-free" estimates must be mixtures of the (unbiased) estimates, and that biased estimates are dominated by being scaled to fit. So the best you can do is to pick the mixture that minimizes variance, which this is.

  2. It actually is the point that maximizes the product of likelihoods (equivalently, the joint likelihood, since the estimate errors are assumed to be independent). You can see this by remembering that the Normal pdf is the inverse exponential quadratic, so you maximize the product of likelihoods by maximizing the sum of log-likelihoods, which happens where the log-likelihood slopes are each the negative of the other, which happens when distances are inversely proportional to the x^2 coefficients (or the weights are inversely proportional to the variances).

  3. There's a pseudo-frequentist(?) version of this, where you treat each estimate as an assembly of (higher-variance) estimates at the same point, notice that the count is inversely proportional to the variance, and take the total population mean as your estimator. (You might like the mean for its L2-minimizing properties.)

  4. A Bayesian interpretation is that, given the improper prior uniformly distributed over numbers and treating the two as independent pieces of evidence, the given formula gives the mode of the posterior (and, since the posterior is Normal, gives its mean and median as well).

Are any of those compelling?

Replies from: John_Maxwell_IV
comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2019-11-12T04:25:26.829Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

See that unbiased "prior-free" estimates must be mixtures of the (unbiased) estimates

I don't follow.

assembly of (higher-variance) estimates

What's an "assembly of estimates"?

treating the two as independent pieces of evidence

But they're distributions, not observations.

Replies from: rossry
comment by rossry · 2019-11-12T13:28:14.919Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sorry, I'm writing pretty informally here. I'm pretty sure that there are senses in which these arguments can be made formal, though I'm not really interested in going through that here, mostly because I don't think formality wins us anything interesting here.

Some notes, though: (still in a fairly informal mode)

My intuition that the only way to combine the two estimates without introducing a bias or assumed prior is by a mixture comes from treating each estimate (treated as a random variable) as a true estimate plus some idiosyncratic noise. Then any function of them yields an expression in terms of true estimate, each respective estimator's noise, and maybe other constants. But "unbiased" implies that setting the noise terms to 0 should set the expression equal to the true estimate (in expectation). Without making assumptions about the actual distribution of true values, this needs to just be 1 times the true estimate (plusmaybe some other noise you don't want, which I think you can get rid of). And the only way you get there from the noisy estimates is a mixture.

By "assembly", I'm proposing to treat each estimate as a larger number of estimates with the same mean and larger variance, such that they form equivalent evidence. Intuitively, this works out if the count goes as the square of the variance ratio. Then I claim that the natural thing to do with many estimates each of the same variance is to take a straight average.

But they're distributions, not observations.

Sure, formally each observer's posterior is a distribution. But if you treat "observer 1's posterior is Normally distributed, with mean and standard deviation " as an observation you make as a Bayesian (who trusts observer 1's estimation and calibration), it gets you there.

Replies from: John_Maxwell_IV
comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2019-11-13T02:27:22.288Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure I'm familiar with the word "mixture" in the way you're using it.

Replies from: rossry
comment by rossry · 2019-11-13T14:10:28.300Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I mean a weighted sum where weights add to unity.

comment by Rafael Harth (sil-ver) · 2019-11-09T10:49:03.339Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there anything one can do for shortening the amount of time needed to fall asleep, and making it more robust? Currently I will be unable to fall asleep if I've overslept on the previous day or engaged with something too stimulating before going to bed. This is still true even though I've followed a strict schedule for a fairly long time. It's pretty annoying.

Something I already do is sleep with white noise, partially to make it less likely that I'll wake up from unexpected sounds.

Replies from: gilch, MakoYass, Charlie Steiner, gilch
comment by gilch · 2019-11-11T01:38:32.683Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Copied from my answer here [LW(p) · GW(p)].

  • Take melatonin at the appropriate time and dose. It's cheap and legal in the U.S., but most products have way too much. most insomnia drugs are not much more effective than this.
  • Avoid light at night, especially blue light. Light inhibits natural melatonin production, which interferes with your circadian rhythms.
    • If you can't darken your room completely, you can use a sleep mask instead. Get the kind with cups (like opaque swim goggles) instead of the kind that puts pressure on your eyes.
    • Use f.lux on your personal devices to reduce blue light after sunset or use one of the similar built-in features of your OS. Windows 10 has the new "Night Light" setting, macOS and iOS have "night shift" mode. Newer Samsung phones have a "blue light filter" setting. These options vary in quality and may have configurable intensity. More intense is more effective and it's surprising how much you get used to it.
  • Falling asleep is a common failure mode of certain types of meditation practice. You can use this to your advantage when suffering from insomnia in bed. Even beginners fail to meditate this way accidentally, so it's not particularly difficult to do on purpose. Focus your attention on the sensation of breathing or on the ringing in your ears. When you notice you are lost in thought, refocus your attention. But when you notice the dreaming arise without directed effort, dive in and let them take you. It works for me anyway. If not, at least you got your meditation in today. [...]
  • Track your sleep quality.
    • You can get smartphone apps that purport to do this using the phone's sensors. Some fitness trackers or smartwatches also have this function built in or available as an app. Accuracy varies.
    • You may have sleep apnea. Talk to your doctor about doing a sleep study to diagnose possible issues and treatments. Some people do much better on a CPAP, but there are many other treatment options.
  • Avoid eating late at night. This can cause indigestion, which can keep you awake.
    • if you suffer from heartburn, sleep on your left side to contain it better, because your esophagus attaches to your stomach on the right side (unless you're one of those rare people with backwards internal organs).
  • Exercise regularly. I'm not sure why this helps, but it seems to. Perhaps mental fatigue doesn't always line up with physical fatigue unless you actually make some effort physically during the day.
Replies from: mr-hire, sil-ver
comment by Matt Goldenberg (mr-hire) · 2019-11-25T23:53:49.714Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Meta: I found a downvote on this comment even though I didn't remember downvoting it, so if you were wondering why someone downvoted you, it was an accident.

comment by Rafael Harth (sil-ver) · 2019-11-11T13:53:21.113Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


The meditation one in particular sounds interesting. I'll try it. flux is something I've already experimented with, and I do exercise regularly.

I've had the opposite experience with eating – if I eat a lot right before going to bed, it seems to help. But I guess it's not too surprising if that one differs from person to person.

Replies from: ChristianKl, gilch
comment by ChristianKl · 2019-11-11T13:56:49.453Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What metric do you use to determine it works to eat right before bed?

Replies from: sil-ver
comment by Rafael Harth (sil-ver) · 2019-11-11T14:25:43.494Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, the disclaimer here is that I wrote that without giving it conscious thought, so I have to examine why I believe it retroactively. I notice that I'm pretty confident.

I think the biggest reason is just that it feels that way. The second is that I sometimes intent to go to bed, notice that I'm hungry, then eat something and go back to bed, and I seem to sleep better than average on those cases.

I've only tried to use it deliberately once. It was recently; I failed to fall asleep for about an hour, at which point I usually give up and just stay awake longer. Instead I got up, deliberately ate too much and went back to bed. It actually worked.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2019-11-11T15:18:54.218Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As far as I understand eating before sleep raises your pulse as more blood has to flow through your intestines and thus usually leads to less deep sleep.

It might damage your sleep in a way that leads you to be less rested the next morning even through you don't notice that you had trouble entering sleep.

It might be useful to be more clear about what kind of food to eat when you find that eating something is good.

Personally, I can eat a bit of soup before going to bed without producing much spike in heart-rate.

Replies from: sil-ver
comment by Rafael Harth (sil-ver) · 2019-11-11T16:33:51.550Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Usually bread and/or cereal.

Your point that it might make sleep less effective even if it reduces falling asleep time is well taken.

comment by gilch · 2019-12-17T05:27:51.464Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Did you try the meditation one? I'm curious to know how it worked for you.

Replies from: sil-ver
comment by Rafael Harth (sil-ver) · 2019-12-17T10:50:42.373Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Only made some fairly halfhearted attempts at that one; it didn't really lead to anything.

comment by MakoYass · 2019-11-17T07:02:56.259Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

People say reading something boring does it, but for me it's about cognitive overhead. Something that'll make some part of the brain go "I'm too tired for this shit actually, if you wanna read this we've got to sleep a bit first, you do want to read this ergo we are going to sleep now"

comment by Charlie Steiner · 2019-11-09T14:57:56.912Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

0.3 mg melatonin an hour before I want to be asleep works, my only trouble is actually planning in advance.

Replies from: sil-ver
comment by Rafael Harth (sil-ver) · 2019-11-10T18:16:38.227Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


I've already been convinced by gwern that melatonin is worth taking, but it's prescription-only where I live. Still, you've given me a better sounding reason why I need it. I'm definitely going to ask for it the next time I see a doctor.

Replies from: habryka4
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2019-11-10T23:32:56.301Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When I was living in Germany, where it was also prescription only, I found some place that just shipped it to me online anyways. There was some risk of a fine, but not a huge one even in the worst-case. I don't remember what site it was though. 

Replies from: sil-ver, sil-ver
comment by Rafael Harth (sil-ver) · 2019-11-24T17:19:38.221Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've gotten my hands on melatonin now, inspired by your comment. I've found a site that actually shipped it from Poland, which I believe isn't even illegal and definitely won't get me into trouble. The cost is still minimal. So far, it seems to help. Thanks again.

Replies from: habryka4
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2019-11-25T05:37:02.087Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Great, glad to hear that!

comment by Rafael Harth (sil-ver) · 2019-11-11T13:49:43.709Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks. That is very useful to know.

Replies from: eigen
comment by eigen · 2019-12-02T22:53:09.406Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Curious to know if you got better; care to update?

Replies from: sil-ver
comment by Rafael Harth (sil-ver) · 2019-12-03T09:07:43.707Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I did. It's hard to quantify how much, but I'm falling asleep in < 20 min more reliably and am less tired during the day. I also remember dreams much more frequently, which is a welcome change.

comment by gilch · 2019-11-11T01:40:22.827Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Try reading something boring. It works for me.

comment by leggi · 2019-11-20T19:05:48.526Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can't imagine a situation where I'd dole out bad karma, and certainly I wouldn't do it without giving an explanation. If something's so bad it can be reported, but just because "I don't want to see more of this" doesn't mean it's up to me to influence whether anyone else can see it.

Unfortunately the current situation means one person can remove stuff from view if they get in early. I get the impression of rash rather than rational...

Negative karma without comment is like saying "bad dog" which won't stop this old bitch.

I suggest an explanation should be provided with bad karma, even if it's via an anonymous system if people want to hide.

I'd like to think there is a reason for down votes and it'd be nice to know what they are.

Replies from: rossry
comment by rossry · 2019-11-23T06:03:41.424Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

just because "I don't want to see more of this" doesn't mean it's up to me to influence whether anyone else can see it.

I feel like this proves more than you want. For example, is it up to you to influence whether someone sees more of something, just because you want to see more of it?

Similarly, it's also helpful to get a reason for up votes, but enforcing that a reason be given can reduce the amount of information-aggregation that will occur, on some margins. What justifies an asymmetry between how we aggregate positive information and how we aggregate negative information? Or would you also argue that up votes should come with reasons?

Replies from: leggi
comment by leggi · 2019-11-23T09:39:22.264Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wrote this comment in response to an immediate down-vote of a comment I posted which removed it from view. The tone of which wasn't all fluffy and nice and safe-space-esk but it was factually correct and an important point. I'd rather be direct on LW than worrying about hurting someone's feelings.

I can only speak from my experiences, but the speed at which my first post got voted down (alignment and balance of the human body [LW · GW]) was a surprise (negative vote = no-one else would see it) After months of consideration the only conclusion I reach is that someone didn't like me using 'alignment' without talking about AI, but I don't know. There was no explanation. No reason. I get the impression that negative karma is an emotional response rather than rational in many cases.

I don't know how the "sorted by magic" karma system works and the effect of up-votes on how visible something is, but I have observed that negative votes hides things. Up-votes feel good and the effect of an up-vote is very different from a negative vote so I have no problem with an asymmetry in how they are applied.

As a new user I might have given up on LW but what I am here to share is too important to be put off by a couple of randoms not liking my stuff. It's not a welcoming place when negative karma is given with no explanation and I'm afraid to say (afraid of more negative votes) there appears to be a lot of cronyism and a degree of myopic thinking on the site (maybe only one or two users but they can have great influence).

I have to give comments on my posts some time to settle when they don't instantly please me. I believe having to give a reason for a negative vote would encourage this. It's easy to click down but can it be justified?

I live in hope that people who consider themselves rational can take a step back and think rather than instantly react but we're still human (all hail the AI master...).