More "Stupid" Questions

post by NancyLebovitz · 2013-07-31T09:18:07.224Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 498 comments

This is a thread where people can ask questions that they would ordinarily feel embarrassed for not knowing the answer to. The previous "stupid" questions thread went to over 800 comments in two and a half weeks, so I think it's time for a new one.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by James_Miller · 2013-07-31T19:40:20.919Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have never liked music. Why do people like it?

Replies from: Leonhart, grouchymusicologist, pragmatist, lavalamp, Oscar_Cunningham, gwern, Alicorn, RichardKennaway, Flipnash, None, garethrees, MrMind, Halfwitz, A113, ShardPhoenix, Zaine, Jayson_Virissimo, Alsadius, PECOS-9, RobertLumley, FiftyTwo, play_therapist, PrometheanFaun, Douglas_Knight, zortharg
comment by Leonhart · 2013-07-31T22:06:21.929Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upvoted for blowing my mind.

Every time I think I've finally taken the measure of the Typical Mind Fallacy... Anyone want to announce that they dislike oxygen and rainbows? Let's get it over with!

Actual answer: for many people, including me, it's an incredibly useful mind-altering drug, that allows powerful immediate manipulation of my emotional state. In fact, I should really abuse it a lot more strategically than I do.

Replies from: gwern, ikrase, Alsadius, passive_fist, NancyLebovitz
comment by gwern · 2013-07-31T22:09:10.523Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anyone want to announce that they dislike oxygen and rainbows?

There's little I enjoy more than getting rid of that damn oxygen in my lungs!

(Rainbows are cool, though.)

Replies from: FiftyTwo, Leonhart
comment by FiftyTwo · 2013-08-04T15:13:00.615Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Rainbows are cool, though.)

Meh. I've never seen why they have this position of being axiomatically good. I mean they're nice, but are basically just some colours in the sky.

One confounding factors may be that I'm slightly colourblind (r/g) so maybe I'm not getting the full effect.

comment by Leonhart · 2013-07-31T22:23:38.438Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So you're saying you can subjectively distinguish oxygen days from placebo days?

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2013-07-31T23:19:49.404Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've been looking into how to blind this, but I'm afraid the hood just makes the whole thing that much more sexy and erotic.

Replies from: FiftyTwo
comment by FiftyTwo · 2013-08-04T15:13:30.227Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And thus the new fetish of double-blind bdsm was born...

comment by ikrase · 2013-08-01T09:19:07.926Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For me: I find some forms quite hedonic, and also very powerful emotional manipulation. In fact, it's the only effective emotional self-manipulation I know of that doesn't require obtrusive or expensive setups (such as live plays) or distract me completely from my tasks.

Can also be a kind of useful semi-distraction.

comment by Alsadius · 2013-08-03T06:44:27.696Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like rainbows as a pattern to some extent, but the actual ones in the sky seem underwhelming to me. Too subdued, I'm used to my colours being more vivid. I am pro-oxygen, though.

comment by passive_fist · 2013-08-01T04:45:32.482Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What lavalamp is trying to say is that people listen to music because it makes them feel good, but it's hard (or impossible) to explain why it makes one feel good. It is a subconscious thing; it happens in your neurons and you aren't aware of the pathways and the sequence of neuronal firings that causes it to happen.

Maybe someday we'll have a theory that makes it possible to take some information about you (anything from a 'psychological test' to a full-blown brain scan), a sample of music, and determine whether you will enjoy it or not.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-08-02T12:42:30.545Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was more surprised by someone who said they found Stockhausen more accessible than Mozart than by James Miller saying he didn't like music.

comment by grouchymusicologist · 2013-08-01T19:37:12.605Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just a couple of thoughts about this. First, as far as anyone can tell music enjoyment is a remarkably multifaceted phenomenon (and "music" itself is a term that describes a pretty giant range of human behaviors). There's no single reason, or even manageably short list of reasons, why people like it. It seems to be wrapped up in many different physical, neurological, cognitive, emotional, social, and cultural systems, any of which (in any combinations) could be responsible for a certain person's reaction to a certain kind of music. Some of the aspects of that seem to be relatively innate, like finding certain sonic timbres inherently pleasurable, while others are highly learned, like the kind of pleasurable "understanding" that comes from knowing how a classical sonata movement is ordinarily structured.

In your case, I'd guess that you have an atypically low physiological/neurological enjoyment of things like instrumental timbres, which makes the more cognitively demanding aspects of music-listening no more than a chore. For comparison, this is why we don't generally listen to spoken words (e.g., audiobooks) as background listening: there's nothing to be gained from it outside the semantic content, which is distracting unless you can tune it out, in which case why bother.

(Merely finding music distracting is not at all rare. In fact, the various professional musicians and music scholars I know listen to less music than most other people do, because our training makes it hard for us to listen as other than a "foreground" mental activity. I myself almost never listen to background music. Unlike you, though, I do like music a lot.)

We seem to have a tendency, when discussing music as when discussing other things, to assume that other people are more like us than we have any good reason to think they are. For example, I find the timbres and general sound world of noise music to be extremely unpleasant. So when I imagine someone who likes noise music a lot, my first impulse is to think they must in some sense "enjoy unpleasant things" (an obvious category error), or at least that they must find something in noise music that's rewarding enough to get past how clearly unpleasant the sounds are. And yet when I actually talk to a fan of noise music, they often tell me they find the timbres and sounds of noise music (exactly the aspects of it I can't even imagine liking) to be very pleasant or arousing in some way. The enjoyment of these basic aspects of a kind of music (what kinds of sounds it's made up of) seems to be sufficiently physiologically/neurologically determined for a lot of people that it is almost impossible to imagine liking a kind of music you don't "naturally" like.

In other words, and I do not mean this even slightly pejoratively, I would expect it to be very difficult for you to imagine why other people find, say, the sound of an orchestra playing a single major triad (NB, a purely sonic event with no syntactic or semantic content) pleasant. Much as it is for me to imagine finding noise music pleasant—it's just not what my brain is built to enjoy.

Relatedly, the history of the questions "why do people like music?" and "what kind of music is best?" feature some truly aggravating episodes that seem to stem from the idea that music is (or should be) a single kind of thing to all people, and that we just have to figure out what. (To be clear, I'm in no way suggesting that you're taking that point of view.) The idea that music is just a really, really complicated phenomenon with which everyone interacts a bit differently—and the corresponding aesthetic pluralism that follows from that fact—has been amazingly slow to spread, no less so in professional music circles than elsewhere.

Replies from: MrMind, ShardPhoenix
comment by MrMind · 2013-08-02T09:34:40.795Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

o when I imagine someone who likes noise music a lot, my first impulse is to think they must in some sense "enjoy unpleasant things" (an obvious category error)

The same things happen to me in reverse: I find industrial music (pop or metal) quite pleasing, but the whole point of industrial is to add factory noise (for example those typical of a sawmill) to otherwise plain music, so I at least can understand why as a genre it doesn't have a wide community of supporters.

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2013-08-02T10:47:42.415Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think many people are born enjoying noise music - I imagine they mostly ease into via other genres.

Replies from: grouchymusicologist
comment by grouchymusicologist · 2013-08-02T16:07:18.646Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Right. But, when exposed to it, some are drawn in and some run as fast as possible in the opposite direction. The point of the example was that there's a surprisingly large amount of individual variation on what kinds of fundamental sounds and timbres people find most pleasing, and (I cautiously suggest) that appears to be the most innate and least malleable or learnable aspect of a person's response to various kinds of music.

comment by pragmatist · 2013-08-02T05:53:51.393Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is evidence that people with amusia tend to report lower levels of musical appreciation. Perhaps you have amusia?

There are a few online tests that claim to test for amusia, such as this or this. If its not too unpleasant for you, you might consider taking one of them.

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2013-08-03T05:06:14.199Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting! I took the first test and they always sounded alike so unless the test was a cruel trick I clearly have some kind of pitch perception problem.

comment by lavalamp · 2013-07-31T20:02:21.481Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I doubt anyone has sufficient introspective powers over their own brains to answer this satisfactorily.

Or: I expect answers more complicated than "because it sounds good (to me)" to be mostly confabulation...

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2013-07-31T20:18:54.405Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

OK, but then what is it about music that makes it difficult for people to say why they like it?

Replies from: drethelin, lavalamp
comment by drethelin · 2013-07-31T20:32:06.001Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What things do you find pleasant? Could you tell me why food tastes good or paintings look pretty?

You can talk about certain repeated and near completed patterns but I think it's largely subconcious

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2013-07-31T21:11:02.241Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can explain why I like some things but not others. Why is music in the not others category for most people?

Replies from: gwern, lavalamp
comment by gwern · 2013-07-31T22:16:50.722Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can explain why I like some things but not others.

I don't believe you can. All you can do is point to surface features like 'I like how red the explosions in Star Wars are and the feeling you get when they win at the last moment', all of which is merely description of the parts you like and not what actually you like, and which do not serve to convey the qualia. If someone who just saw flickering lights on the screen asked you why you liked movies and that's what you said, they would not be satisfied any more than you would be satisfied by a music fan going 'the 4/8th time and the timpanni descending into a glissando in the third measure thrill my heart, and that is why I like music'.

If you really want to know what red looks like, you could try getting your hands on a psychedelic; they seems to be heavily linked to musical enjoyment.

Replies from: kalium, lavalamp
comment by kalium · 2013-08-01T01:08:33.478Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Psychedelics are not interchangeable for this purpose, and if it weren't for the war on drugs they could probably be used for some interesting science on auditory processing. Information from TIHKAL on two otherwise not unusual psychedelics with specific auditory effects:

N,N-diisopropyltryptamine specifically messes with pitch perception in such a way as to destroy the perception of harmony. From one of the experience reports: "No effects were noted with respect to clarity of speech, and both comprehension and interpretation were normal. Music was rendered completely disharmonious although single tones sounded normal."

Meanwhile, 5-methoxy N,N-diisopropyltryptamine distorts "musical character and interpretation." From one of the experience reports: "The program was a program of Irish music... What I heard were three distant, fraudulent selections with generically meaningless words, mumbled so as to sound authentic. Everything was faked."

Maybe if I could get my hands on one of these I could understand what it's like to be James Miller (in the musical respect only). Perhaps he's totally lacking the hard-to-explain satisfying feeling that comes when you hear notes played together whose frequencies are at a small-integer ratio.

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2013-08-01T02:41:36.623Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Psychedelics are not interchangeable for this purpose, and if it weren't for the war on drugs they could probably be used for some interesting science on auditory processing.

Sure. If I had to be more specific than just 'psychedelics', I'd probably say either LSD (due to Deadheads) or mescaline (due to Huxley).

And those two excerpts are fascinating. What does it mean for something to sound 'distant, fraudulent'? I can't even imagine. Maybe it's like a musical version of Capgras delusion.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-08-01T03:13:22.671Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Marijuana also has a reputation for making music more enjoyable.

comment by lavalamp · 2013-07-31T22:27:54.663Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't believe you can.

Generally, sentences that start out "I (don't) like X because" and don't finish with a description of neuronal states are, with highish probability, confabulation. :)

comment by lavalamp · 2013-07-31T21:18:22.419Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What makes you think it isn't in that category for you?

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2013-07-31T21:41:27.069Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For someone with my "brain type" music is obvious bad. It drains attention while giving nothing back.

Replies from: lavalamp, gwern, NancyLebovitz, Randy_M
comment by lavalamp · 2013-07-31T22:33:16.934Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For someone with my "brain type" music is obvious bad.

OK, sure.

It drains attention while giving nothing back.

IMO, this is confabulation. Maybe it's your true rejection, but I think it's much more probable (80%ish?) that your brain randomly came up with this story while trying to figure out why you dislike music. The part of your brain that generates reasons doesn't necessarily have access to the part of your brain that generates likes/dislikes.

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2013-07-31T22:58:31.738Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The story my brain came up with along time ago when I was a teenager was that I was too intelligent to enjoy music or other people were just pretending to enjoy it. (I could have used LW back then.)

Replies from: lavalamp
comment by lavalamp · 2013-07-31T23:25:27.903Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think your new story is less harmful but probably equally true. :)

comment by gwern · 2013-07-31T22:13:51.535Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It drains attention while giving nothing back.

So, uh, how about when you are just listening to music?

('I hate novels, they totally drain my attention and all I get back is the experience of reading novels.')

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2013-07-31T22:56:14.231Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've tried just listening and I don't enjoy it.

Replies from: gwern, Erica59
comment by gwern · 2013-07-31T23:12:35.219Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Then 'drains attention' was not a relevant fact.

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2013-07-31T23:32:45.410Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It was relevant but not necessary as to why I don't like music.

comment by Erica59 · 2013-08-01T00:41:20.306Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are you sure you're not really "Marvin" the depressed Robot?

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2013-08-01T06:02:23.920Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not depressed. Some things in life give me tremendous pleasure. I enjoy TV, movies, book, and video games.

Replies from: Benito
comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2013-08-02T06:26:49.769Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Life. Don't talk to me about life. -Marvin

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-07-31T22:00:16.785Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was wondering whether you have hearing issues* but that doesn't sound like it. Do you enjoy visual art?

*I like music, but not nearly as much as most people. A recent online test suggests that I don't hear low pitches as well as most people. Of course, the problem there might be with my computer speakers rather than my ears, but it might be a clue.

Replies from: James_Miller, None
comment by James_Miller · 2013-07-31T22:07:49.522Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My hearing has always tested as fine. I like some visual art, although I'm well below average in this. I do get pleasure in seeing beautiful things. I've never experienced music as beautiful and to my mind music being beautiful seems like a category error.

Replies from: OphilaDros, NancyLebovitz
comment by OphilaDros · 2013-08-02T04:46:52.530Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you enjoy movies? Does the background score seem distracting?

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2013-08-03T04:54:18.843Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes and I do dislike background scores.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-08-01T21:43:21.392Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My guess is that you just don't make an emotional connection to music. It's possible that moving to music would eventually make a connection, but this is a very tentative guess.

Can you tell people's emotional state from their voices?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-01T13:10:28.440Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I dislike the music as it comes out from my father's car stereo because he sets the equalizer to amplify the high pitches too much for my tastes. I used to wonder why he would do that, then I remembered that the ability to hear high pitches declines with age.

comment by Randy_M · 2013-08-01T18:17:13.050Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is it that you expect to get back that you do not? Whatever it is probably reduces down to the relative positions of certain neurotransmitters, the isovariable interpersonal variance of which few others are likely to be able to explain.

comment by lavalamp · 2013-07-31T21:08:18.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

...and we've now arrived at the hard problem of consciousness (why does anything feel good or bad, and what does that mean, and why is it hard to describe?). That didn't take long! :)

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2013-08-01T00:07:21.139Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's a tautological answer: It's because music is designed to be exactly the kind of sound that people want to listen to!

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2013-08-01T00:12:08.456Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Then why do I dislike the kind of sound that most people want to listen to?

Replies from: RomeoStevens
comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-08-02T00:48:15.265Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cognitive dissimilarity.

Replies from: sediment
comment by sediment · 2013-08-02T21:57:09.213Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This seems like a fake explanation, or curiosity-stopper. I mean, natch, the difference has to be cognitive in some sense, in that it's a mental phenomenon and therefore relates to James_Miller's brain. But giving "cognitive dissimilarity" as an answer and treating it as an open-and-shut case seems pretty unenlightening.

comment by gwern · 2014-03-08T21:10:02.990Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This may be relevant; "Bad brains: some people are physically incapable of enjoying music; Research shows that people who say "I don't like music" aren't just trying to sound cool":

Not necessarily, says Josep Marco-Pallerés, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Barcelona and lead author of a new study ["Dissociation between Musical and Monetary Reward Responses in Specific Musical Anhedonia"] that explores why some people feel indifferent to music. "Music isn't rewarding for them, even though other kinds of rewards, like money, are," he says. "It just doesn't affect them." To find out why, researchers recruited 30 university students, each of whom had been identified as very sensitive to music, moderately sensitive, or not sensitive at all thanks to a questionnaire. Researchers also made sure that the study's participants weren't depressed, tone-deaf, hearing-impaired, or otherwise unable to understand music — all factors that would have dampened their pleasure response. Then, researchers monitored the student's heart rates and sweat levels during listening sessions involving familiar pieces of music (previous studies have shown that people react more strongly to music they know). "We asked them to bring music from home that they like," Marco-Pallerés recalls, "and most of them had problems doing that." Those who were indifferent to music either ended up bringing a smaller number of recordings — some didn't own music at all — or had to borrow music from a family member. The study's results, published today in Current Biology, are surprising. Although these participants were perfectly capable of perceiving when a tune was sad or happy, they didn't show physical or emotional reaction. They didn't shiver if a singer hit a high note, and their heart rate didn't increase with each crescendo. But when asked to play a game involving a monetary reward, those who were indifferent to music reacted just like everyone else: the thought of winning even a small amount of money was enough to make their hearts race. The results were unchanged a year later, when 26 of the students took the test again.

...Researchers even have a name for the condition: "specific musical anhedonia." The term anhedonia is used by psychologists to describe a person's inability to derive pleasure from activities that most find enjoyable. But as the monetary-reward experiment indicates, this specific anhedonia only affects music perception. "Now that we know that there are people with specific musical anhedonia," Marco-Pallerés says, "we want to know the neural bases that might explain [it]." The research team plans to conduct a new experiment using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study how the brain's reward system differs in these people.

comment by Alicorn · 2013-08-01T18:53:01.044Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A lot of people talk about having emotional reactions to music as their primary reason for liking it. I don't generally have this reaction to music, so I might as well talk about what I do get out of it for a different perspective.

  1. It can drown out other noises. It is more regular than the sound of ventilation or traffic or chirping birds or upstairs footsteps, and I prefer it; I turn my (almost constantly on) music up when there are non-conversation noises about. (Conversation, though, competes too directly with music; I can't understand people talking over significant other sound.)

  2. It can control sensory overload. When I am spun up to unmanageable levels of sensory sensitivity, putting on familiar music with a solid, thumpy beat forces my thoughts to match it somewhat. When I am not spun up like that, it's still nice to have a modestly engaging track for my attention to fall into when I'm not doing enough to occupy myself - I don't function well when I'm not multitasking, my brain decides it's not wanted and turns off if I try. This probably doesn't apply to anyone else, at least anyone else who isn't autistic in a way similar to me.

  3. But that's all about the use of music, not the enjoyability of music. There is also enjoyability. Some music is a good source of word-pleasure, either in the poetic sense or just in the sense of some words sounding cool and feeling cool to say. People seem to vary widely in how much they appreciate this as a thing.

  4. Notes and timbres and rhythms vary a lot, and some of them sound pretty together. I think this for me is less like visual art being pretty - sequence is too important; if it's like visual art it's more like animation than like a painting - and more like an especially complex version of enjoying running my hands over soft things. Music is texture for my ears.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-08-01T07:01:22.143Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is possible that you perceive it differently. Do you have abnormal sound perception, e.g. inability to distinguish pitches or timbres, or to hear rhythms?

For example, if you hear a note, can you find it on a piano keyboard? Likewise a chord? Do you know what people mean when they talk about high pitches and low? If you hear a violin or a trumpet, can you tell which it is? Can you tap out a rhythm after hearing it? Can you appreciate poetry written with regular scansion and rhyme?

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2013-08-01T15:19:00.529Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can't read music, but I've never really tried to learn. I can distinguish between a violin or a trumpet,or high or low pitches. No on the poetry.

Replies from: ESRogs, NancyLebovitz, RichardKennaway
comment by ESRogs · 2013-08-02T05:10:59.635Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No on the poetry.

This sounds significant. What about the rhythm part?

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2013-08-03T04:56:10.825Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can tell if something rhymes.

Replies from: ESRogs
comment by ESRogs · 2013-08-03T06:06:30.995Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I meant the, "Can you tap out a rhythm after hearing it?" part.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-08-02T12:43:42.510Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can you recognize tunes?

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2013-08-03T04:54:57.564Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes but I'm well below average at this.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-08-02T06:04:10.595Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The tests aren't about reading music. You hear a note or a chord; can you find it on a keyboard?

Replies from: James_Miller, Benito
comment by James_Miller · 2013-08-03T04:55:38.971Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2013-08-02T06:28:08.980Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(He doesn't mean first time, simply if you can recognise when you've found it)

comment by Flipnash · 2013-08-07T00:59:49.517Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wow, I thought I was the only one.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-01T12:59:08.145Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not only do I like music but I wouldn't even know where to start explaining why I do; I didn't like music until in my teens and I don't even know what changed in me!

comment by garethrees · 2013-08-08T22:04:59.967Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is an excellent question. grouchymusicologist above has it right that "music enjoyment is a remarkably multifaceted phenomenon", and I would like to expand on this.

Michael J. Parsons, in How we understand art: a cognitive developmental account of aesthetic experience, identifies a sequence of developmental stages in the appreciation of visual art. This is of necessity a very rough and un-nuanced summary since I don't have the book to hand, but I think this sequence is: first, colour ("this painting is red"); second, subject matter ("this painting is of a dog"); third, emotional content ("this painting makes me feel wistful"); fourth, technique ("this painting is pointillist"); and fifth, historical relationships ("this painting is a witty riposte to a work of Velasquez").

I can't point you at a corresponding developmental study of music, but I'm sure that similar stages of appreciation are there. To give a flavour of the different kinds of thing going on in the appreciation of music, let's take an example: here's Ian Bostridge singing Schubert's setting of "Der Erlkönig" by Goethe.

When listening to this, I appreciate: (i) the timbre of the piano and voice; (ii) the driving and urgent rhythm; (iii) the words and the story; (iv) the way the harmony creates and releases the dramatic tension at appropriate points in the text; (v) the skill of the performers: stamina is needed by the pianist to keep the triplets going, and vocal control by the singer to maintain timbre of the high notes; (vi) the "tone-painting": that is, the ways in which the musical notes illustrate aspects of the story, for example the repeated notes representing the horse's hooves; the way that the "child's" entries are a semitone above the piano, this discord illustrating his distress; the way that each entry is higher and more distressed than the previous one; (vii) the vocal acting of Ian Bostridge: his use of different vocal timbres to differentiate the four parts, and details of expression like the snarl on "so brauch ich Gewalt"; (viii) the different choices Schubert made in this composition compared with Carl Loewe's setting of the same text.

(I recognize that this doesn't explain why I appreciate these aspects of the performance. But I think it's still useful to give an indication of how complex the phenomenon of music appreciation is.)

comment by MrMind · 2013-08-01T09:07:13.506Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You don't enjoy any kind of music? Gregorian chant, polyphonic medieval, celtic, African percussions, Caribbean, classical, baroque, house, electronic, alt-rock, progressive, industrial, rap, metal in all its infinite variations, pop music, tuvan chant, trance, etc. None of them evokes pleasurable feelings?
Boy, you are an outlier :) That's perfectly fine, of course.
I can only answer that for me, I enjoy different kind of music for different reasons.
Listening to classical music evokes sensations akin to reading a novel: it evokes powerful emotions and tells an elaborate story.
Listening to pop music is much more like eating junk food: a fast, powerful kick of positive emotions, that anyway lasts very little and leaves nothing behind.
I also listen to salsa music, over which I try to dance: the rythm combined with the movements makes me feel sexy and passionate.
House music is pleasurable in a kind of guilty way: it's a complete immersion in group-think, a primordial forgetting of individuality.
In all those cases anyway the underlying theme is the evocation of powerful positive or negative emotion (which can be meta-positive).

comment by Halfwitz · 2013-08-02T15:20:00.651Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I imagine you’ve read about synesthesia. Someone with synesthesia might find a particular color has texture or taste—some atypical crisscrossing between the senses. I find music (especially considering those who can’t understand music) can be well modeled as a near-universal form of synesthesia, a linking between the emotional parts of the brain and those that process auditory information. Now this analogy is not perfect, as synesthetes almost never achieve consensus; the taste and/or texture of any particular color varies wildly between synesthets. This isn’t true about music, as it doesn’t vary that much in structure; and there seems to be some consensuses on the “sadness” or “energy” of particular songs.

But still, this might be a good, non-confusing way for you to think about music. When someone describes the beauty of a song, treat their statement as you would a synesthete saying, “Wow, that sunset tastes like a cheese burger.”

comment by A113 · 2013-08-01T20:08:32.565Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I’m in the same boat. I don’t have anything against music, but never derived pleasure from it like other people seemed to. I’ve enjoyed particular songs, e.g. stuff from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, because I can enjoy cleverness and humor and a lot of songs have content that is clever or funny. But the music itself is background at best.

What I feel when listening to Bach isn't what someone else feels about a song they dislike; more like what you feel about an overheard conversation with nothing to do with you. Or a speech on an issue you don't care about. I have tried to change this, because of utilitarianism, but it turns out it's hard.

Replies from: MrMind
comment by MrMind · 2013-08-02T09:39:28.853Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In my very limited understanding of classical music, I get that Bach's music is quite difficult to follow and very rational, not very emotional. Have you tried Haydn or Mozart? You might get a better mileage...

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2013-08-01T00:49:55.223Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How often are you even exposed to music? Eg, do you consume TV/movies/games, etc?

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2013-08-01T05:58:03.783Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have been exposed to a huge amount of music over my life. I greatly enjoy TV/movies/games. Some video games are superstimula for me.

Replies from: pragmatist, ShardPhoenix
comment by pragmatist · 2013-08-01T07:39:53.442Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you feel the same way about music in movies, games, etc? Like, do you think you'd enjoy them just as much (perhaps more?) without the background music? This seems somewhat testable, given that many video games allow you to play without music.

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2013-08-01T15:20:00.287Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I always turn the music, but not sound, off in video games.

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2013-08-01T07:37:58.374Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, if you didn't enjoy any music from the soundtracks of those things, then I don't have any further suggestions.

comment by Zaine · 2013-07-31T21:57:10.687Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've thought about this before. Here's my go:

In regards to sound: If you take a tuning fork and smack it, it will vibrate. Vibration can be pleasurable. If the tuning fork is a brain, and the smack is music, then the result is a contented or slightly altered-from-the-norm feeling, that might be akin to the vibration of a tuning fork if tuning forks like vibrating.

In regards to lyrics: Singing along to things or singing by oneself can bring joy to one. This could have to do with the feeling of one's voice reverberating through their body, psychological factors I won't pretend to know, a combination of factors, or of course something I haven't considered.

Let me know if that helps, doesn't help, or causes confusion.

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2013-07-31T22:02:28.579Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In regards to sound: If you take a tuning fork and smack it, it will vibrate. Vibration can be pleasurable. If the tuning fork is a brain, and the smack is music, then the result is a contented or slightly altered-from-the-norm feeling, that might be akin to the vibration of a tuning fork if tuning forks like vibrating.

This makes it seem like wireheading.

Replies from: Lightwave, Zaine
comment by Lightwave · 2013-08-01T07:44:45.244Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

By the same logic eating you favorite food because it tastes good is also wireheading.

Replies from: drethelin
comment by drethelin · 2013-08-01T11:12:41.824Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well no because you have to eat SOMETHING. You could just not listen to music.

comment by Zaine · 2013-08-01T01:24:30.964Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Now that I think on it, maybe it is for some people. If you consider the lyric "lose yourself to the music, the moment..." the instruction to 'lose oneself' implies the experience must be voluntary; much like hypnosis, if you don't wish to succumb to the hypnotic flow of the hypnotist's drone, you won't.

Then again, music also passively affects brain waves. I can't find a review article after searching for five minutes. The neuronal firing patterns - the frequency of firing, or brain waves - induced by heavy metal differ from jazz, which yet differs from classical, which further depends upon the composer and the piece.

Compare: this solo to this solo, and thesepieceshere

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2013-08-05T05:41:38.768Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Music increases my motivation by making me feel like I am the main character in a story (since I have a "soundtrack") and prevents me from being distracted by people talking nearby (which makes it extremely difficult for me to study) because I can no longer hear them them with sound coming through the headphones.

Also, some music can make me feel more relaxed than I otherwise would (possibly due to sounds that mimic peaceful ancestral environments, such as gently moving water, etc...).

comment by Alsadius · 2013-08-03T06:39:56.924Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

1) Music seems to have the closest link to my emotional state of anything short of romantic relationships. It's rather trivial to hack my emotional state into mellowness with a song like, or into an aggressive upbeat state with something like, or appreciation of civilization with No other form of art can do anything near as much for me - most of them I appreciate on an intellectual level, but music is heavily emotional as well.

2) I've always listened to a lot of it, which means that there's a whole mess of assorted nostalgia attached to it.

3) Similarly, silence sounds unusual to me. I don't mind a bit of it, but too much(at least, in a context where music is possible) creates a distinct sense that something is missing unless I'm engrossed in something else.

4) I find that a minor distraction actually improves my focus sometimes - giving my brain a B-plot, so to speak, short-circuits a lot of wandering thoughts. Music, especially music I'm familiar with, gives my brain something to latch onto when it's idling that can easily be pushed back into the background.

comment by PECOS-9 · 2013-07-31T21:25:11.407Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It can cause or intensify a large range of emotions or moods.

Do you not have an emotional reaction to any music?

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2013-07-31T21:37:29.022Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It usually annoys me. It steals attention, like a beggar demanding money.

Replies from: Oscar_Cunningham, BenLowell, Adele_L
comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2013-08-01T00:26:53.145Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I sometimes listen to music whilst doing chores for precisely this reason. Without it I get distracted and begin to procrastinate. I think the music uses up spare brainpower or something.

EDIT: When I'm doing serious work I prefer to listen to music I know very well. It's less distracting because I know what's coming.

Replies from: MrMind, kalium
comment by MrMind · 2013-08-01T09:28:27.799Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interestingly enough (I think), in the XVIIIth century a sub-genre of classical music was born for this purpose: chamber music.

comment by kalium · 2013-08-01T00:44:31.173Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Likewise wrt work. I also prefer music without comprehensible lyrics for this purpose.

comment by BenLowell · 2013-08-01T06:56:36.238Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I used to not listen to music for similar reasons, yet I played piano regularly. I also was confused by it, especially the lyrics---I couldn't understand what people were saying.

Eventually, peer pressure got me and I started listening to music, usually one cd over and over. Eventually I came to like it and became more comfortable with it as background, in a very similar way to wearing a watch or clothes different from my usual is extraordinarily uncomfortable, but after a week it becomes the new normal.

comment by Adele_L · 2013-07-31T21:55:02.528Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you think you could deliberately focus your attention on it? That could potentially increase your enjoyment.

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2013-07-31T21:58:19.214Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have tried, in the required school music classes, for example. I don't understand what benefit people see in it, so I don't know what to look for.

Replies from: Adele_L, kalium
comment by Adele_L · 2013-07-31T22:17:37.332Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For me, it's not something I have to look for at all. It just, happens...

Being introspective (which is notoriously unreliable), it feels like my enjoyment of it is basically a combination of enjoying repetition/structure plus valuing novelty (so the repetitions change enough to avoid being boring), in the auditory modality. I enjoy the same sort of thing in other modalities as well:

  • Sight: looking at highly patterned art, for example, this visualization of the Mandelbrot set.

  • Kinesthetic: things like dancing, tapping patterns on my leg, sex.

  • Taste: I like alternating bites of my food to make the flavors form a pattern. For example, when I eat rice, I will often split it into two portions, and put soy sauce on one, and lemon juice on the other, and alternate the bites so I get a pattern of flavors. And sometimes I switch it up to a few bites of each alternating, etc...

  • Abstract thought: enjoyment from thinking about math seems to be a similar thing as well. In particular, abstract algebra. Going through the proof of the Sylow theorems, for example, gives me enjoyment analogous to listening to a grand symphony.

I can't think of anything like this for smell, but I have a very weak sense of it.

Anyway, I hope this at least helps you understand what most people get out of music, even if you don't enjoy it yourself.

comment by kalium · 2013-07-31T22:26:48.347Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you enjoy other types of art? If you do, and can describe what you like about that, perhaps we can suggest particular music that might appeal to you.

If music doesn't resonate emotionally with you, there is also intricately patterned music that appeals to me in a more mathematical way. Bach's fugues, particularly his "little fugue" in G minor, are a good place to start. Following along with the sheet music may help with appreciating the clever ways in which the different voices relate to each other.

As for appreciating music emotionally, I find that it is necessary to relax into a certain mildly altered state of consciousness similar to meditation; I've become better at this over time, though I can't always do it when under stress. I've also heard numerous reports that marijuana aids in the appreciation of music (in a lasting, not a temporary, way---you notice new things in music that you can then continue to appreciate while sober), and will have to try it sometime.

comment by RobertLumley · 2013-08-07T12:58:43.563Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like to draw a (rather pretentious) delineation between music and songs, the archetypal examples being, say Beethoven's fifth symphony and "Call Me Maybe". (As a side note, I very much consider it possible for something to both be a "song" and "music") I enjoy music because I played a few instruments and sang when I was younger, so I know enough musical theory to appreciate the artistry it took to come up with the structure in the music, and (when appropriate) lyrics.

Contrarily, I enjoy songs (although happen to hate "Call Me Maybe") because they're fun and upbeat and keep me in a positive mood. You can find a song to fit most moods, and fitting them very closely is a very satisfying feeling. Once last week, I was in a very relaxed mood on my way home and set Sultans of Swing on repeat, because it fit how I was feeling very exactly. It was probably the happiest I have been in the last week. Additionally, sometimes songs have the ability to change my mood and/or motivate me to work harder, and I often exploit them for this purpose.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2013-08-04T15:15:56.531Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As well as what others have said about the aesthetic experience, I find it useful for taking up 'processing power' in my brain, making it easier to focus on something. For example if I'm doing fairly dull work having free 'processor cycles' in my brain will cause me to get distracted and divert myself away from what I need to be doing, but music in the background can take up some of that so I dont get s distracted.

comment by play_therapist · 2013-08-02T02:34:35.687Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that you must differ from the average person in some way that makes it not enjoyable for you. Perhaps you are more sensitive to certain sounds and find them unpleasant. Perhaps you weren't exposed to music at a very young age. Your brain might be "wired" differently than average.

comment by PrometheanFaun · 2013-08-01T09:44:28.403Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My current unsubstantiated evpsych theory is that music is a collective mood-control language. A communication channel for getting everyones' attitudes in synch, songs to be used by the confident members with clear vision, to be shouted down if misplaced, or amplified and repeated if resonant. Does that sound plausible, considering your situation? Is it possible you've developed under conditions that would naturally cause you to be especially unreactive to a thing like that?

I could understand the pursuit of sanity would correlate with a disconnection from the mass's attitude control systems. Sometimes I find even as I laugh I wish the funny-man would shut up, as I dance I wish the music had not spoken to me, as I help I wish I had not been able to empathise in the first place. I wish I could just think my own thoughts.

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2013-08-01T15:23:10.677Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My situation doesn't make your theory more or less plausible in part since I'm such an outlier on this . There is nothing in my development that would cause me to not like music.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-07-31T23:12:52.553Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Try Keeping Together in Time by McNeill. It doesn't directly address why someone would like music in isolation, but I think it is the right answer.

Replies from: Zaine
comment by Zaine · 2013-08-01T01:37:48.094Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by zortharg · 2013-08-05T03:52:03.886Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

People are weird. I don't like music either. I mean, what's the point? For that matter, why do people like sex? Why do they LIKE to eat food, or get hungry for that matter, all things I have never experienced myself? More things that make absolutely no sense to me. I mean, obviously those serve a biological purpose, but I mean something deeper than a utilitarian reason. ALTHOUGH I do associate certain songs with things I like in a pavlovian sort of way, and so there actually is some music I like in a sense, but not for its own accord. For instance, certain video game music, just because I liked the video games that I was playing while I was hearing the music. But I would never, ever, ever derive any enjoyment from just listening to the music, I'd have to be playing the game. Though I may hum those songs while I'm running if it's a game with lots of running, like canabalt or doom. I don't know how many hundreds of miles I have run endlessly humming the canabalt song. Unfortunately humming it doesn't seem to give me the power to run 100+ mph :(.

Replies from: gothgirl420666, MixedNuts
comment by gothgirl420666 · 2013-08-05T04:11:22.596Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

People are weird. I don't like music either.

No, you're weird.


comment by MixedNuts · 2013-08-05T08:10:42.024Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This sounds less like normal variation and more like a medical problem. Are there things you do enjoy?

Replies from: Oscar_Cunningham
comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2013-08-05T11:03:30.797Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

zortharg says right there in the post that ve likes video games.

comment by gothgirl420666 · 2013-07-31T19:31:15.425Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why are so many rationalists polyamorous? I don't see why this idea is linked to the LW ideology, unlike transhumanism, atheism, effective altruism, etc. which all seem to follow logically.

Replies from: Qiaochu_Yuan, gwern, Eliezer_Yudkowsky, drethelin, lukeprog, moreati, beoShaffer, Prismattic, niceguyanon, Discredited, CellBioGuy, passive_fist, taelor
comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-07-31T21:35:25.575Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

why this idea is linked to the LW ideology

Question presupposes that it is linked to the LW ideology (wow, let's not use that phrase ever again), which isn't clear to me.

comment by gwern · 2013-07-31T20:54:49.706Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think they are, except in a waffly 'compared to the general population' sense; look at the surveys.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-08-01T04:29:09.666Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some fraction of the population is naturally poly, some naturally mono, some can go either way depending on circumstances. In the general population many naturally poly people are 'conformed' into being mono the same way they might be conformed into being religious. Thus 'people who want to be poly can be' would reasonably be expected to correlate with elements of the Correct Contrarian Cluster, and you would expect to find more polyamorous atheists or (he predicted more boldly) polyamorous endorsers of no-collapse quantum mechanics than in the general population, even outside LW. There are also specifically cognitive-rationality skills like 'resist Asch's conformity' and 'be Munchkin', and community effects like 'Be around people who will listen with interest to long chains of reasoning instead of immediately shunning you.'

Replies from: J_Taylor, AndrewH, gothgirl420666
comment by J_Taylor · 2013-08-01T06:35:44.058Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When you say 'naturally', are you referring to genetics, prenatal environment, or something else?

Replies from: Eliezer_Yudkowsky
comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-08-01T06:36:46.702Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How should I know?

Replies from: Tenoke, J_Taylor
comment by Tenoke · 2013-08-01T09:38:41.661Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You could've read some papers on the topic for example. (I'm answering this because it is after all in the stupid questions thread)

Replies from: Eliezer_Yudkowsky
comment by J_Taylor · 2013-08-01T06:43:23.206Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I apologize if I misinterpreted your statement:

Some fraction of the population is naturally poly, some naturally mono, some can go either way depending on circumstances.

I was curious what was meant by this.

Replies from: TRManderson
comment by TRManderson · 2013-08-15T04:56:08.689Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's likely that Eliezer isn't tending towards either side of the nature vs. nurture debate, and as such isn't claiming that nature or nurture is doing the work in generating preferences.

comment by AndrewH · 2013-08-01T18:52:28.710Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One wonders if in the populations of rationalists (CFAR in particular) that there are naturally mono people who are 'conformed' into being poly?

Replies from: Eliezer_Yudkowsky
comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-08-01T20:44:05.638Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would expect the answer to be "Yes, but with open discussion rather than social pressure, when one partner would prefer a monogamous relationship with someone who self-identifies as poly." See

comment by gothgirl420666 · 2013-08-01T14:58:49.881Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some fraction of the population is naturally poly, some naturally mono, some can go either way depending on circumstances.

What's the source of this claim? I hadn't heard that until today.

Replies from: wallowinmaya, Kaj_Sotala, smk, Eliezer_Yudkowsky
comment by David Althaus (wallowinmaya) · 2013-08-01T15:36:43.019Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would say that's a typical case of an antiprediction. Humans differ in all sorts of things (IQ, height, sexual orientation), so why shouldn't they differ in relationship-preferences?

Replies from: J_Taylor
comment by J_Taylor · 2013-08-07T00:50:40.939Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some fraction of the population is naturally poly, some naturally mono, some can go either way depending on circumstances.

seems to mean something other than

Some fraction of the population is poly, some mono, some can go either way depending on circumstances.

Replies from: Luke_A_Somers
comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2013-08-07T16:37:29.744Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I took the 'naturally' to just mean that there was some sort of subconscious inclination.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2013-08-04T20:22:41.966Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have seen several cases of relationships in which the other person seems to be strongly mono by nature, and the other strongly poly by nature. They generally don't go very well, though they sometimes do: this seems to require the mono partner being of the type who can be okay with their partner dating others. Otherwise one of them is going to end up deeply unhappy, even if the relationship lasts.

comment by smk · 2013-08-07T17:01:28.291Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And someone people aren't either one. Polyamory isn't the only kind of non-monogamy, and of course there are those who don't do sexual and/or romantic relationships at all.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-08-01T20:40:33.818Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Personal observation. Since the topic is deeply important to the mental health and happiness of a large fraction of the entire human population but sounds slightly silly, I would not particularly expect any significant experiments to have been done by academic science. Surveys of percentage actually practicing polyamory, yes, attempts to directly determine a wish / tendency / suitability in a general population, no.

This is falsifiable if Carl or Jonah want to check cynicism, though I wouldn't be too surprised (the Kinsey Institute exists).

Replies from: gothgirl420666, Izeinwinter
comment by gothgirl420666 · 2013-08-02T00:05:48.989Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When you're going off of personal observation, how do you distinguish whether preference for number of partners is a (relatively) hard-coded variable in the brain like sexuality, or if it's something highly malleable like e.g. preference to live in a rural or suburban area? Obviously empirically there are people who prefer to be polyamorous, people who prefer to be monogamous, and people who could go either way, but it doesn't necessarily seem obvious to me that there are a whole bunch of people who inherently long to be polyamorous that are being stifled by our monogamous society. (Not sure if that's what you're claiming.)

Replies from: Kaj_Sotala
comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2013-08-04T20:26:16.280Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

it doesn't necessarily seem obvious to me that there are a whole bunch of people who inherently long to be polyamorous that are being stifled by our monogamous society.

I have seen people end up in monogamous relationships, later on realize that loving one person doesn't prevent them from falling in love with other people as well, and then be unable to even really talk about the issue with their partner, since Western culture tends to interpret falling in love with somebody else as an automatic sign of the relationship having fundamentally failed.

comment by Izeinwinter · 2013-08-07T08:21:43.447Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

.. I would also expect this to be a low-research area, but not due to sounding silly, but rather due to high-noise datasets. People lie about their sexual desires a lot. This particular desire is even more likely to be denied or concealed from researchers than most, so I would expect most people setting out to look into this to get to the "Design data-collection protocol" stage, acquire a monumental headache, and then go research which kind of diet is easiest to stick with instead.

comment by drethelin · 2013-07-31T20:17:43.211Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it's the influence of San Francisco

More seriously: I think it follows perfectly well from rationality which is at it's core about doing non obvious things that result in better outcomes once you do the math. Obviously it comes down to preferences but many people seem to prefer multiple partners and only refrain because society condemns it. Polyamkry is more honest than cheating and more preference satisfying than monogamy for those with poly amorous inclinations.

Plus there's all the conveniences.

Replies from: Eliezer_Yudkowsky, Ben_LandauTaylor, drethelin
comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-08-01T04:23:36.800Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it's the influence of San Francisco

Historical note: Started in OBNYC and spread to the Bay.

comment by Ben_LandauTaylor · 2013-08-01T15:45:12.168Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nitpicky tangent:

rationality which is at it's core about doing non obvious things that result in better outcomes once you do the math

Don't neglect the obvious things that result in better outcomes.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-02T11:14:47.509Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're either already doing those or they're not actually obvious.

Replies from: Error
comment by Error · 2013-08-03T03:55:27.639Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Objection! They might be obvious, and you're failing to do them out of akrasia or similar.

Not that that's ever happened to me.

comment by drethelin · 2013-07-31T20:30:54.281Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

More specific benefits: you can get sex more often with less scheduling disruptions

You can have mutually fulfilling partial relationships that would not be sustainable if they had to be monogamous. Eg: someone can get most of their affection from you but indulge their foot fetish with someone else. Or if you simply have a different sex drive than your partner.

More widespread emotional support network. If you're prone to loneliness, having more people you can connect with will help you not lean all your metaphorical weight on one person

Less inhibition: depending on the rules of your polyamory you no longer have to kill your own urges when seeing someone attractive to you. This may be a downside if you want to get work done.

If one or more of you is bi you get to talk about people you find hot and seducing them to your bed. This is lots of fun.

Less stress: the converse of 3, you don't have to b the entire emotional support for another person.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-08-01T11:22:12.285Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If a polyamorous group is sharing a household, there are more skills and there's more likely to be someone who doesn't hate a particular chore.

Replies from: drethelin
comment by drethelin · 2013-08-01T13:50:10.379Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And the somewhat different claim: sharing a household with people is good for that and other reasons and polyamory can make that go more smoothly

comment by lukeprog · 2013-07-31T22:27:41.445Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think this is mostly a community thing: it just so happened that some key figures in the two largest rationalist communities (SF and NY) were polyamorous, so it became popular relative to the general population, and probably also popular relative to the coasts' populations.

Replies from: Adele_L
comment by Adele_L · 2013-07-31T22:39:04.493Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that the effect is stronger than just that. Of the poly people associated with LW that I know, at least a quarter knew they were poly before they got into LW. Sure, it's a small sample size, but I would be surprised if polyamorous people were less likely to be interested in rationality.

Replies from: daenerys
comment by daenerys · 2013-08-01T04:15:50.508Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Datapoint: I was poly before joining LW.

This might be an interesting question to ask Yvain to put on the next mega survey.

Replies from: Kaj_Sotala, ikrase
comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2013-08-04T20:28:40.074Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was also.

comment by ikrase · 2013-08-01T09:23:17.580Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My guess is that it's a combination of it existing among original LWers in the first place and LW culture being much more favorable to it than main stream.

comment by moreati · 2013-07-31T20:38:48.736Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not being poly and only a bit rational (so far), I'll only propose

  • Is polyamory actually higher amongst LW people than the general population? Do you just have more exposure to polyamorous LW people than a wider polyamorous population?
  • Do polyamorous LW people talk about their polyamory more than polyamorous non-LW people?
Replies from: satt, asr
comment by satt · 2013-07-31T22:47:57.802Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is polyamory actually higher amongst LW people than the general population?

This made me realize I didn't even know whether there were reliable estimates of polyamory prevalence in the general population. A cursory Google Scholar search didn't net me anything, but the Wikipedia article has a data point:

Research into polyamory has been limited. A comprehensive government study of sexual attitudes, behaviors and relationships in Finland in 1992 (age 18-75, around 50% both genders) found that around 200 out of 2250 (8.9%) respondents "agreed or strongly agreed" with the statement "I could maintain several sexual relationships at the same time" and 8.2% indicated a relationship type "that best suits" at the present stage of life would involve multiple partners.

Meanwhile, 13% of LWers in the 2012 survey said they preferred polyamorous relationships, although only 6% reported having multiple current partners. While 13% is appreciably higher than the Finnish survey's 8%-9%, the discrepancy could just be because the Finnish survey's from a different time & place and has a more even gender ratio.

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2013-07-31T23:22:29.659Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A cursory Google Scholar search didn't net me anything may help.

Replies from: satt
comment by satt · 2013-07-31T23:51:07.940Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Danke. I'm a bit relieved to see you didn't find much either in terms of representative samples of the general population; I can feel a bit better about being lazy. (I did get a kick out of the popularity of open marriages among the kind of people who answer surveys on Oprah's website.)

comment by asr · 2013-07-31T22:43:05.730Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Survey says that 13% are poly and 30% are uncertain or lack a preference. That's higher than the general public.

it might not be much higher once you control for age, gender, location, socioeconomic status, etc.

In particular, I have no idea what fraction of the non-LW-reading but otherwise similar public would say "uncertain/no preference."

comment by beoShaffer · 2013-08-01T03:20:49.165Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

i suspect that religious prohibitions significantly reduce the amount of westerners who are poly, so it kinda follows from the atheism part.

Replies from: ikrase
comment by ikrase · 2013-08-01T09:22:24.071Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't actually agree with that too much. It's more a rationalism thing than an atheism or irreligious thing.

comment by Prismattic · 2013-07-31T22:41:18.459Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In addition to some of the things other people have suggested, it is my possibly incorrect observation that there is at least a weak inverse correlation between desire for personal immortality and desire to have children. If one has already ruled out having children, a lot of the complications that arise from polyamory disappear.

Replies from: PrometheanFaun
comment by PrometheanFaun · 2013-08-01T09:57:16.349Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Which complications? I thought poly and kids mix just fine. Ideally, you get help with raising the kids, the kids get more positive adult influences in their life.

Replies from: drethelin
comment by drethelin · 2013-08-01T11:15:21.919Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Whose genes and womb do you use? Who decides which schools, where the kid lives, and so on? Not to mention only two people will be legal parents.

Replies from: PrometheanFaun
comment by PrometheanFaun · 2013-08-01T21:14:35.181Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Whose genes and womb do you use?

I look forward to confronting that question, actually. I'm reluctant to assume my genes are the ones that deserve greater representation in humanity's future. No matter who I end up with, if we exercise our wonderful poly selflessness and work together to decide who can provide the best legacy, we can at least say that the results will be better than if we'd each just individually had the standard 2.2 kids as per the status quo.

comment by niceguyanon · 2013-07-31T20:23:08.296Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps rationalist in a modern society, values things like careers and quality of life more importantly than sharing resources and a stable relationship to raise a family and feel monogamy is not as optimal. Besides, isn't a large part of the culture of monogamy rooted in religion? Most religious people are monogamous because that is what their religion tells them to do.

comment by Discredited · 2013-08-02T11:36:59.183Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Adding to the laundry list of explanations and trivializations, gender skew!

Replies from: gothgirl420666
comment by gothgirl420666 · 2013-08-02T16:14:12.674Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, wow, I liked this. Devastatingly cynical.

comment by CellBioGuy · 2013-08-01T01:32:38.484Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My guess: founder effects and the sheer dumb luck of what people got sucked into it and what attitudes they brought with them.

comment by passive_fist · 2013-08-01T04:47:26.429Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you're extrapolating from too little data. It would be nice to see some stats on this (not sure how you would go about collecting such stats...)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-01T09:44:29.676Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Over two years ago, lukeprog made this post. After that time, has MIRI gotten any closer to publishing in mainstream journals?

Replies from: Randaly, ESRogs
comment by Randaly · 2013-08-01T10:35:02.249Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

See here.

MIRI's journal publications:

Carl Shulman and Nick Bostrom (2012). How Hard Is Artificial Intelligence? Evolutionary Arguments and Selection Effects. Journal of Consciousness Studies 19 (7–8): 103–130.

Kaj Sotala (2012). Advantages of Artificial Intelligences, Uploads, and Digital Minds. International Journal of Machine Consciousness 4 (1): 275-291.

Kaj Sotala and Harri Valpola (2012). Coalescing Minds: Brain Uploading-Related Group Mind Scenarios. International Journal of Machine Consciousness 4 (1): 293–312.

(Bostrom and Shulman both work for FHI, and Bostrom doesn't work for MIRI. I'm not sure how mainstream the International Journal of Machine Consciousness is. ETA: It was one of the original journals Luke mentioned as targets, so I assume it qualifies.)

MIRI also has a larger number of CS conference papers, which this claims are higher status in CS than journal publications; Luke was presumably biased towards journals because he had less of a background in CS.

Replies from: None, Kaj_Sotala
comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-01T10:41:18.913Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That was a pleasant surprise. Thank you very much!

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2013-08-04T20:32:04.615Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure how mainstream the International Journal of Machine Consciousness is.

"Weird obscure niche" is my impression, though I could be wrong about that.

comment by ESRogs · 2013-08-02T04:18:29.996Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also see this post, posted a month later and stating that he'd "recently updated hugely toward SIAI not publishing in mainstream journals."

comment by Error · 2013-07-31T17:58:18.149Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure if this question is stupid enough, but here goes:

There is a set of skills, mostly in the arts, that are typically taken up as a child and pursued throughout life -- Musical instruments, for example, or art of varying kinds. Hence most beginners are children.

There is a set of people consisting of me that wants to take up skills of this sort (...all of them), but cannot stand being around children. Where can relatively inexpensive beginner-level training in arts-type skills be found that doesn't involve lots of interaction with kids and is available to non-college students?

Replies from: OnTheOtherHandle, Pfft, kalium, Manfred, RomeoStevens, fubarobfusco, Alexei, OnTheOtherHandle
comment by OnTheOtherHandle · 2013-07-31T22:47:37.402Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This question bothers me so much that once I get to be a good enough programmer I actually want to build a website that will connect adult beginners with each other so that maximum learning can happen with minimal embarrassment and no interaction with children. A system where you can trade tutoring ("I'll teach you the violin if you'll teach me painting") or simply pay for classes, with some way to rate and view the quality of each person's teaching would be useful.

As long as there is no larger system like that, I'd suggest that your best bet is to find a friend or acquaintance who is good at whatever you want to learn and offer them something they want but wouldn't ask for, whether it's money or a favor. That way, you get to learn things at a personalized pace while building a friendship.

Replies from: AnatoliP, OphilaDros
comment by AnatoliP · 2013-08-02T12:04:45.877Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Something like this?

Replies from: OnTheOtherHandle
comment by OnTheOtherHandle · 2013-08-07T06:56:07.159Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wow, thank you. I'll check it out.

comment by OphilaDros · 2013-08-02T06:27:06.174Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are forums like this where you can connect with other adult beginners (or learners at most levels, really) and even upload your recordings and ask for feedback.

There are also discussions around what pieces to learn next, how to set up a daily practise regimen etc. Does not replace a tutor, but is very useful nevertheless.

comment by Pfft · 2013-08-01T02:46:42.234Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Aren't music instruments usually taught in 1-on-1 sessions with a teacher anyway? Then you don't need to interact with the teacher's other students.

comment by kalium · 2013-07-31T22:32:46.193Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Check out your local craft stores: often there will be flyers advertising classes, meetups, and so on. For non-messy crafts like knitting, it's common to have weekly meetups in a bookstore or such, in which people of different skill levels will work on their own projects and help each other out or answer questions.

comment by Manfred · 2013-08-01T16:08:49.848Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or, books!

For example, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-07-31T18:09:22.179Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Craigslist should be able to connect you with people willing to offer instruction. Of course quality will be all over the map. Community colleges also offer open classes for some things, which might also have info on where to pursue further instruction once the class is over.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-07-31T18:07:50.055Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the U.S., adult education programs often offer art and music classes.

comment by Alexei · 2013-08-03T01:12:31.496Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you are okay with paying, you can always find one-on-one tutors. It'll be the most efficient way to learn (assuming good teachers).

comment by OnTheOtherHandle · 2013-08-02T00:07:24.935Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I found a website that might be useful: connects tutors to teachers with live online lessons in areas like music and cooking.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2013-08-01T22:08:27.763Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What do other people subjectively experience when they are thinking? To me its like talking to myself (in verbal english sentences) but I'm told that isn't universal.

Replies from: Qiaochu_Yuan, Alsadius, Manfred, wadavis, None, Alexei, None, Adele_L, JQuinton, itaibn0, noahpocalypse, Vladimir_Nesov, mwengler, BerryPick6
comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-08-02T00:20:25.406Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A combination of that and brief flashes of visual imagery.

comment by Alsadius · 2013-08-03T15:01:00.669Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm definitely an internal-monologue thinker. I've tried breaking myself from it and going into pure thought(which feels like it ought to be an option, because I know how the sentence I'm thinking will end when I'm halfway through, and I've successfully tested breaking monologue and still proceeding with the mental understanding of what I was going to think), but I spend more time thinking "No! Stop monologuing!" than I save by not monologuing.

comment by Manfred · 2013-08-02T19:36:51.972Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The most common for me are verbal (if I think while taking a walk, I basically talk to myself), spatial/kinesthetic (which key on my ring goes to this door again?), and visual/symbolic (integrate Sin(Ln(x))/x dx). But there's plenty more stuff I'd call thinking.

Verbal and symbolic thinking are often just expressions of conceptual problem-solving, where my brain can actually fit concepts together rather than just talking. Like in the integral above - I pattern-match it to the general concept "change of variables," without using words or symbols, and then after a second or so of brewing I can examine the idea in terms of symbols and words.

comment by wadavis · 2013-08-02T16:15:21.718Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Most idle thought comes across as a mental conversation.

Math (Calculus, Numeric Methods, structural design stuff, not actually numbers) is visualized as shapes, patterns, trends.

And decision making is more felt than anything else, where the attractiveness, consequences, and uncertainty of opposing ideas are weighted side my side.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-03T06:19:19.318Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I experience a thought all at once, usually without words or images. I sometimes reflexively start verbalizing thoughts internally at a spoken-conversation rate. I tend not to think of this inner monologue as the content of my thought but some incidental surface activity. It trails off after a couple words, since I already knew the entire verbalization before I even started inner-monologuing it.

Visualization and imagined conversations both feel very different from this and from each other.

Folks who are more verbal: do you talk to yourself in real time? How does reading feel in comparison? When you recall a conversation, do you re-verbalize the content? Can you speak without knowing what you're about to say beforehand? (I'm pretty sure I can't.)

Replies from: None, taelor, ChristianKl
comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-06T23:01:01.877Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

do you talk to yourself in real time?

Slightly faster. (Also, my inner monologue is usually in standard, formal language, whereas when I actually talk to people I tend to use many more regional colloquialisms.)

How does reading feel in comparison?

Usually faster, because I'm processing existing content rather than generating it from scratch. But when I'm reading stuff by people whose voice I'm familiar with, or poetry, I tend to subvocalize much more vividly, and pretty much in real time.

When you recall a conversation, do you re-verbalize the content?

Sometimes I do; other times, I can't even remember what language it was in.

Can you speak without knowing what you're about to say beforehand?

I usually do in small talk, but not in technical conversations. (And in the former, I sometimes stop myself mid-sentence because I don't like what I've said or I come up with something better to say, and immediately start an entirely new sentence.)

comment by taelor · 2013-08-04T07:29:34.140Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can you speak without knowing what you're about to say beforehand? (I'm pretty sure I can't.)

I can, though when I do, it's often consists of regurgitating bits and peices from long mental monlogues that I had in the past, with a bit of new content thrown in to make things flow better (specifically, the one where I articulated my experience with pre-thinking what I'm going to say years in advance occured nearly four years ago, in my senior year of high school, while sitting in a Spanish Class).

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-08-05T11:00:19.248Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can you speak without knowing what you're about to say beforehand? (I'm pretty sure I can't.)

One way to get there is to just spend an hour to say every thought that pop into your mind. After some time you stop filtering and the thoughts that flow out.

If you don't want to talk, writing is also good.

comment by Alexei · 2013-08-03T01:15:16.523Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Often times it doesn't feel like anything. I just tell my mind to think about something, pause and wait while it's thinking, and then ask for the best answer.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-02T13:41:44.410Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Mostly like that, with things mentioned in the other replies occasionally interspersed, their admixture varying depending on what kind of topic I'm thinking of, and my mental state (whether I'm fatigued, whether I've been reading a lot in the past couple days, whether I've been drinking, etc.)

comment by Adele_L · 2013-08-02T03:51:01.359Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I also think primarily verbally, but I have a friend who thinks (in their own words) "in raw abstract thoughts interspersed with occasional dialogue and imagery."

Replies from: Luke_A_Somers
comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2013-08-07T17:35:35.891Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wonder what a raw abstract thought is made of.

comment by JQuinton · 2013-08-13T13:14:17.992Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Mine is more like a congress, where I have multiple "me's" having a conversation on a topic offering ideas and alternative hypotheses.

comment by itaibn0 · 2013-08-12T22:23:11.797Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I call it thought qualia, because it is something I clearly experience but it is a sensory qualia. (Interestingly, this is the first time I'm using the term in public). It can have sensory conotations, though, and I sometimes have thoughts which are clearly verbal or visual.

comment by noahpocalypse · 2013-08-07T20:00:27.300Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When I'm not in the mood to talk to people- not out of anger, I'm just not feeling a desire to share my thoughts- I think in pictures and feelings with a reticent, sarcastic monologue. When I'm alone but feeling social, my monologue is wordy and sometimes witty. When I'm in a conversation, I often have to stop talking for a moment to think through what I'm going to say before I can say it.

Bottom line, I almost always have some kind of monologue; sometimes it's talkative, sometimes nearly silent.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2013-08-06T23:47:50.093Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I construct (vague) imagery of dynamic simulation/tangible flavor (similar to remembered perception of simplified/idealized physical systems and of interaction with them, sometimes without relevant spatial component, as a collection of a few related objects). This gives more explicitly accessible mental models of ideas (such as examples of standard mathematical structures, situations arising in specific problems, designs of pieces of software, etc.) that can be inspected/developed/debugged in a directed fashion (constructing a novel model together with actions that allow manipulating it can take hours, mostly because enough details/skills have to be committed to long term memory for the whole thing to work, attention is too small; more familiar things can be reconstructed in the focus of attention in about a minute or so).

Sometimes repeating a word or two a few times in a loop helps to force focus on a topic/construction. I never use internal monologue (it doesn't seem to do anything helpful), but writing down half-formed thoughts can help with organizing them (I guess mostly by lifting short term memory limitations).

comment by mwengler · 2013-08-06T18:12:03.827Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I feel a narrative that goes along with my thinking but does not seem to me to be the thinking itself. I do a lot of my work visually, when I am on a roll I will generate 100s of matlab plots a day as part of my sorting through stuff. Certainly as I look at the plots I narrate what I think I'm seeing, but it seems that what I think I'm seeing comes before my pushing that into narration comes. So I think I actually do some of my thinking visually, but it is hard to put how that feels in to words. Maybe as a movie script?

It makes sense that your thinking could be both wordy and picturey, and even audio (non-words). And even body feel. From my reading (suggest Jeff Hawkins book on the brain) thinking activity shows up as activity in verbal and visual areas of the brain.

comment by BerryPick6 · 2013-08-02T16:59:43.803Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some mixture of verbal thinking, and what I can only really describe as 'thinking in rules'.

comment by CAE_Jones · 2013-08-01T03:35:33.987Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why do people downvote questions in the thread entitled "stupid questions"? The entire point seems to be "If asking this question would ordinarily result in a status loss, you can safely post it here." Yet I've come across a few questions in this and the previous thread with negative karma at the time that I read them. The message I take away from that is that "Of the people reading this question, the majority believe it so stupid that it doesn't belong in a thread explicitly for stupid questions." Is this the wrong message to take away from such patterns?

Replies from: passive_fist, Lumifer, Tenoke
comment by passive_fist · 2013-08-01T04:52:27.176Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it would make sense to disable up/downvoting for top-level comments in 'stupid question' threads, actually. This would have the added benefit of attracting conversation from lurkers and 'outsiders', without the danger of having the whole forum go to hell. A little outside opinion would always be welcome.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-08-02T19:41:35.104Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Apparently we need a thread for questions too stupid to make it into the stupid questions thread :-/

This recurses well :-D

comment by Tenoke · 2013-08-01T09:28:12.905Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I haven't downvoted (or read yet) the questions here but do you not think that there are questions too stupid to ask?

Replies from: None, Benito
comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-01T19:11:11.384Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In principle, there are possible questions which can be fully satisfactorily be answered with JFGI, but I can't remember any of those in the LW stupid question threads.

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2013-08-02T08:06:20.181Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2013-08-02T16:46:58.933Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Reply no longer required. Thankyou Benito.)

Replies from: Benito
comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2013-08-03T15:56:27.716Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Totally out of order. Sorry.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2013-08-01T22:02:51.704Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How do I learn to accurately model other people?

Replies from: Qiaochu_Yuan, mwengler, Lumifer, None
comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-08-02T00:22:04.302Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Spend more time around them. Form hypotheses about what they're going to do and test them.

comment by mwengler · 2013-08-06T18:21:20.256Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Take a sculpting class with live nude models.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-08-06T18:39:55.659Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you mean explicitly/mathematically, you can't learn that, you have to discover that (and likely get a Nobel shortly thereafter).

If you mean intuitively/qualitatively, well, I bet B&N has a shelf of books about that, though they're probably called How To Understand (or Manage) People.

It might also be that you actually mean "How can I forecast how will that girl react to X?". That's a different question altogether :-D

comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-03T06:50:26.079Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Humans are generally pretty well-equipped to model other people, and you can practice using that equipment. Imagine as vividly as possible what it would be like to be the other person. Be aware of your own past feelings and other mental processes, in such a way that you can access those memories when you notice that the other person might be experiencing something which is (on some axis) familiar to you. Keeping a journal can help with that. It's also useful take some time to think of your own ways to practice this, where 'practice' includes getting and incorporating feedback. As Qiaochu points out you can be empirical. I would add that 'testing hypotheses' includes asking people about their internal state.

If you know anyone who seems to 'get people' especially well, ask them how they do their thing.

Look for existing resources on building empathy skills.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-06T23:03:42.905Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you know anyone who seems to 'get people' especially well, ask them how they do their thing.

Being good at doing X doesn't entail being good at explaining how to do X. (See also: Moravec's paradox)

comment by VincentYu · 2013-08-01T20:28:13.991Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Along the lines of James_Miller's question: Why do people like poetry?

How do I get myself to like poetry? (Reading poetry seems like a cheap and respectable way to spend leisure time, if only it were pleasurable for me!)

Replies from: sixes_and_sevens, play_therapist, mare-of-night, Petruchio, mwengler, RolfAndreassen, None, mwengler
comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2013-08-02T16:37:53.224Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

People appreciate words differently. Sometimes I'll hear a turn of phrase, just something someone says outside of any kind of artistic context, and it'll just feel really pleasant. Maybe it's the rhythm of the phrase, or the image it conjures up, or maybe it'll have some sort of immediate underlying theme. Some things just sound poetic, by various criteria my brain doesn't necessarily reveal to me, and if they sound poetic enough, they can be really, achingly beautiful.

Formal verse can often have a different appeal. It takes cleverness to express something in a constrained form, but from my experience in writing poetry, often that constraint helps promote good ideas to your attention when you're writing it. Seeing something difficult done well is satisfying.

A combination of the two can be extremely pleasurable to read or write.

comment by play_therapist · 2013-08-02T02:25:55.982Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You might try attending a poetry reading or two, Hearing them read and discussed might help.

comment by mare-of-night · 2013-08-01T22:53:23.646Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it's sometimes related to liking wordplay. If you want to try to like it, I'd suggest reading a wide variety of poems to see if anything sticks. I'm not sure where one goes to find varied, good poetry, though.

comment by Petruchio · 2013-08-01T21:04:27.171Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Personally, I find it difficult to enjoy "typical" lyrical poetry, but I appreciate epic poetry a great deal more. Epic poetry not only aims to capture the drama of an event, but also to encapsulate an entire culture of a people. The Iliad and the Odyssey were the first two i have read, and they are not only about the Trojan War and the return home of one of its heroes, but it touches on every aspect of Greek society. War, love, food, honor, virtue, cowardice, honoring the gods, pissing off the gods, the gods pissing you off, hospitality, ethics, punishment, the afterlife, nobility and servitude, all touched upon.

For more conventional (and shorter) poetry, some of the enjoyment comes from the prosody and lyrical qualities of the poem. Reading them out loud increases my own enjoyment. Otherwise, there is oft a multitude of "senses" and meanings in poetry, which provides a pleasant meditation. Some quality poems to read (as a start) would be "the Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe, and "Ozymandias" by Percy Shelley

Replies from: advancedatheist
comment by advancedatheist · 2013-08-01T21:36:48.811Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Satan has the best lines in Paradise Lost. And learning how to parse Milton's 17th century poetic English will give your brain a good workout. Besides, according to Dan Brown, evil transhumanists can become obsessed with classic literature. ; )

Also give Der Ring Des Nibelungen a look.

. . . What though the field be lost? [ 105 ]

All is not lost; the unconquerable Will,

And study of revenge, immortal hate,

And courage never to submit or yield:

And what is else not to be overcome?

That Glory never shall his wrath or might [ 110 ]

Extort from me. To bow and sue for grace

With suppliant knee, and deifie his power,

Who from the terrour of this Arm so late

Doubted his Empire, that were low indeed,

That were an ignominy and shame beneath [ 115 ]

This downfall; since by Fate the strength of Gods

And this Empyreal substance cannot fail,

Since through experience of this great event

In Arms not worse, in foresight much advanc't,

We may with more successful hope resolve [ 120 ]

To wage by force or guile eternal Warr

Irreconcileable, to our grand Foe,

Who now triumphs, and in th' excess of joy

Sole reigning holds the Tyranny of Heav'n.

Replies from: Alsadius
comment by Alsadius · 2013-08-03T14:57:33.464Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Paradise Lost is the one book since early childhood that I've felt the need to read aloud. It's just so much more grand than anything else I've ever read.

comment by mwengler · 2013-08-06T18:37:40.137Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think of myself as someone who likes poetry.

But I can recite (sing) all the verses of "American Pie," and I love it. I spent an hour and a half reading different verses that have been sung as part of Leonard Cohen's song "Hallelujah."

Maybe I think I don't like poetry because I am spoiled by having my poetry sung to me in recorded fashion, but when I think of "liking poetry" I think of some anachronistic action of sitting there with a book reading poems printed on a page. Maybe I love poetry to death, I just call it "music" due to modern technology.

comment by RolfAndreassen · 2013-08-03T04:55:15.854Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What poetry have you tried? Perhaps it's only a question of finding the right author.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-02T11:13:58.453Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are you one of those people who hear words in their mind while reading?

Replies from: VincentYu
comment by VincentYu · 2013-08-02T20:52:17.626Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, I subvocalize while reading. Why do you ask?

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-02T21:14:58.429Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For me, much of the pleasure of poetry is that I like the way words sound in my mind when I read it (more specifically, the emotions they evoke).

comment by mwengler · 2013-08-06T18:34:11.194Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why would you want to get yourself to like poetry if you don't? Are you short of things to do that you do like?

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2013-08-06T18:54:37.762Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why would you want to get yourself to like poetry if you don't?

A common reason why people don't like complex things is because they don't understand them and thus cannot appreciate most of what's being offered. Spending effort to understand e.g. some art has the potential to open up large areas of enjoyment.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-08-01T09:30:02.715Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I want to find an appropriately-sized "small" pond to be a big fish in. Any advice?

Replies from: jamesf, khafra, Randaly, Lumifer, mwengler, SilasBarta
comment by jamesf · 2013-08-01T22:15:32.867Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anecdote time!

I had the high school resume to get into highly selective universities. For financial reasons, I instead went to my flagship state university. I expected the big fish in small pond effect to play to my advantage, and I did develop a reputation as "(one of) the smartest student(s) in the room" (which I'll at least admit was a boon to my romantic desirability), but the most salient result was extreme loneliness. I wasn't able to find many people I could have stimulating conversation with, and while I did make a few friends, none of them shared my degree of passion for intellectual subjects. This summer I've been at Hacker School, which I think is a correctly-sized pond for me, but the damage to my mood and social expectations from three years of being stuck in too small a pond has definitely impeded my ability to make friends and feel socially engaged. As of right now I'm attempting to find a job as a software developer so I can drop out of college in relative security, because college is that intolerable and I think I have a much better chance of finding more correctly-sized ponds on this path. (Transferring to a more selective university is still not a financial burden I'm willing to accept.)

I guess the takeaway here might be: while a small pond of the right size can have its advantages, larger ponds are much more likely to help you grow more, and ponds that are too small can be absolutely crushing. If finding a smaller pond consists of moving away from your current large pond, be extremely careful that it's not too small.

Replies from: CronoDAS, None
comment by CronoDAS · 2013-08-02T00:39:27.963Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I also went to a state university (Rutgers). I was in an Honors program (in engineering) with plenty of other smart students, but I was still often one of the best academically in the room. I didn't feel much of a "small pond" effect there; when I drifted away from the friends I made in my first year, it was for other reasons.

Replies from: jamesf
comment by jamesf · 2013-08-02T01:04:03.937Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Rutgers is a better university than mine. Studying engineering in the honors program I still felt very alone. I'm glad it (sounds like?) you felt like you fit in there somewhat. Still, it's very possible to underestimate the size of the minimum-sized pond you'll be able to flourish in. "Lonely at the top" and all that.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-02T19:30:03.808Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Catharsis Warning:

I made a similar trade-off, and was surprised by the social and academic downsides. I took a full-ride to a large party-school in a small town. I've tried really hard to fit in, but I've either failed to be socially accepted, or been socially accepted but failed to self-modify enough to enjoy it. It feels like crap to suck at making friends in an environment that's explicitly optimized for making friends.

I do great one-on-one over coffee, (which I think is why I've been fairly successful romantically), but there's little social oxygen left over for that, and it's been an uphill battle to make any friends at all. I hope this isn't arrogance or a refusal to affiliate. I've started going to religious groups to ward off loneliness, and I'm not even religious.

Academically, there are benefits to being one of the best students, but learning isn't one of them. Everything is slow. You can study independently to challenge yourself and minimize the inefficiency of sitting in class and starting at the ceiling, but there are still overhead costs to be paid if you actually want a degree: Showing up for quizzes, taking prerequisites that you don't need to take, completing assignments you didn't need, etc. If you want to push yourself, you have to implement your own carrot and stick, because the reinforcements provided by the normal structure are too easy to control.

And you can never talk about any of this, because it's arrogant and ungrateful, and because admitting that you think you're above-average sounds like saying you think you're above everyone, which you don't think at all because you're not stupid and because you go online and meet all the people at MIT who've been writing papers and doing research while you've been skipping as much class as possible because you can get away with it.

If you're so smart...

On a happy note, the upside is free time and money, which is totally worth it if you spend them wisely, (especially the free time). But I second that you should consider the downsides of choosing too small of a pond, at least in certain areas, and even if status-competition is something that turns you off.

comment by khafra · 2013-08-01T11:14:41.471Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Binary search? Find a pond. If it's too big for you to conquer, try a pond half its size. If that's so small you're unsatisfied with being its biggest fish, try a pond 50% larger, etc.

Replies from: CronoDAS
comment by CronoDAS · 2013-08-01T20:09:18.117Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have a pond. It feels too big. How do I locate a smaller one?

Replies from: ESRogs, SaidAchmiz
comment by ESRogs · 2013-08-02T04:25:57.487Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is your pond? I think more details would help. Is it professional, social, educational? Do you want to be in smaller ponds across the board or just in some areas of your life?

Depending on the answers to these questions the advice could be as diverse as: move to a different city, change jobs, or just pick up a new hobby.

Replies from: CronoDAS
comment by CronoDAS · 2013-08-02T09:57:39.565Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is your pond? I think more details would help.

My most relevant pond now is that I play Magic: the Gathering competitively, with a focus on deckbuilding. The online Magic community has grown a lot since 2001 and I'm not too thrilled at my chances of making a name for myself in it, at least not without doing something dramatically different than I have been. I either need a mentor who's better than I am (Zvi, of the NY Less Wrong meetup group, turned me down), or I need to start working a lot harder and spending a lot more money on the problem of trying to qualify for the Pro Tour. (Not just on cards, but on travel, too.)

I don't have a job. When I start looking at job postings, I freak out, and I also have no confidence in my ability to get and keep a job in the current economy. My meatspace social life is kind of crap, too; I live with my parents, who support me, and rarely see anyone else in a social context. Needless to say, being with my parents makes me the small fish, not the big fish. I also used to go to the NY meetup group but it's such a pain in the neck to take the bus to NYC and I feel inadequate next to these people with well-paying jobs and/or advanced degrees.

I could try to get some respect as a productive member of a raiding guild in some MMO or other; I'd only have to meet a threshold of competence instead of competing against other people, so it would be less stressful. I do have a pretty good healer in SWTOR...

I've always been very good at math. In my (small) high school, I was always the best math student; in college, I still felt like I was among the top math students in any given math class I took, although I was only a math minor, not a math major. If I tried to study math in graduate school, I don't think "lack of talent" would be an obstacle to getting an advanced degree... but how much room is there in the world of mathematics for someone who's probably closer to the 1 in 1000 level than the 1 in 100,000 level? And it's not like I like taking classes...

Replies from: Lumifer, ESRogs, jamesf
comment by Lumifer · 2013-08-02T19:37:04.611Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't have a job. ... I live with my parents, who support me, and rarely see anyone else in a social context.

I really would focus on these major problems before spending time on running from pond to pond with a measuring tape (or figuring out which raiding guild to join).

When I start looking at job postings, I freak out

That's a problem you have to fix. Not knowing you I cannot offer any advice on how, but I can predict with high confidence that your success in solving this problem will have a major impact on your life.

I also have no confidence in my ability to get and keep a job in the current economy.

You don't know until you try. Also, since you have no job at the moment, your downside is zero.

comment by ESRogs · 2013-08-02T20:42:12.232Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd agree with Lumifer and jamesf that it seems like it'd be best to do what you can to overcome the ugh field surrounding getting a job. Anecdotally, from my experience and others, having a job can do wonders for your self-esteem and general outlook on life. And it's also a reason to get out of the house and meet new people!

On that note, do you have any interest in computer programming? Programming ability seems to be pretty correlated with mathematical ability, at least to the degree that anybody at the 1 in 1000 mathematical ability level should be able to do very well as a programmer, if they enjoy it.

And if you're interested, but don't have any experience, there are lots of ways to learn! You can sign up for free Udacity or Coursera courses. There are even multiple developer bootcamps you can sign up for that teach you to code, including one that is in New York, and free until you get a job! (Then they take a 15% cut of your first year's pay.)

If you want to go the bootcamp route, and you've had no experience before, it might be a good idea to do some messing around with a couple free online courses first, 1) to convince yourself that you'll enjoy it and 2) to show in your application that you are serious, as I think getting into the camps might be competitive. But the fact that these, and especially the don't-pay-until-you-get-a-job version, exist demonstrates that there is very high demand for strong programming talent, and with your level of mathematical ability, it really seems like you could easily fall into that category, with just a little training and experience.

Hope that helps!

Replies from: CronoDAS, CronoDAS
comment by CronoDAS · 2013-08-03T01:40:50.041Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd agree with Lumifer and jamesf that it seems like it'd be best to do what you can to overcome the ugh field surrounding getting a job.

Last time I had a job, I sat in a cubicle surfing the Internet and feeling guilty about not working on the (programming) problem I was supposed to be tackling. It was horrible.

Replies from: ESRogs
comment by ESRogs · 2013-08-03T06:13:59.877Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To be fair, this describes a significant fraction of every working programmer's day. But if the programming problems themselves don't grip you at all, then maybe it's truly not for you.

Let's try this from another angle. Suppose it's three years in the future, and you're working a job that you find, if not absolutely thrilling, then at least engaging enough that you're content to do it every day. What kinds of things are you closest to being able to picture fitting in that blank? (You're allowed to say professional Magic player, but that should only be one of several options. Also, you of course don't have to answer -- I'm just a random person from the internet, but perhaps this exercise will be helpful?)

Replies from: CronoDAS
comment by CronoDAS · 2013-08-03T18:25:34.249Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Honestly, I have no clue. Book editor, maybe?

/me shrugs

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-08-03T01:34:25.785Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I did well in programming courses in college, but, in general, I don't program for fun; it feels like hard work.

comment by jamesf · 2013-08-02T17:37:47.852Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The competitive Magic scene may not be your best bet. If it looks like you're not going to make a name for yourself in it, but that's what it would take for you enjoy it, you might be much better off playing with local amateurs and trying to focus on that world instead. Also, it's probably a better way to make friends. I've never stood a chance at playing competitive Team Fortress 2, but finding a public server and carrying the team every now and then is still very fun for me; I pretend pros don't exist and temporarily relish in my superiority over 23 randoms.

I don't have much concrete advice as far as finding a job goes, since there a lot of relevant details that you haven't and possibly shouldn't share, but I'll at least suggest that doing whatever you can to overcome your ugh field around job searching would be extremely valuable in the long run. If you have a large gap in your resume (which sounds like it might be the case), find something you can do that puts an end to it, and can also plausibly retroactively fill in some of the gap. Freelancing of some sort comes to mind.

Replies from: CronoDAS
comment by CronoDAS · 2013-08-03T01:37:29.673Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I need an excuse for a resume gap, does "I was taking care of elderly relatives" work? (My last job was in 2006, and that was officially an internship.)

Replies from: Alsadius, jamesf
comment by Alsadius · 2013-08-03T14:48:46.800Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I also advocate volunteering. It's both a good indicator that you weren't just sitting in your basement the whole time(even if you actually were), and a good source of references. I think the two hours a week I spent at the food bank while unemployed made a big difference to me getting my current job.

comment by jamesf · 2013-08-03T04:00:57.826Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That would be a good component of an answer to "what have you been doing for the last seven years?", yes.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2013-08-02T03:37:48.628Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Aren't you in New York? That's a relatively poor place to look for small ponds.

Replies from: CronoDAS
comment by CronoDAS · 2013-08-02T08:39:35.783Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Central New Jersey, actually. Manhattan is about 60-90 minutes away by car, depending on traffic. (By bus is slower because I have to wait for the bus.)

comment by Randaly · 2013-08-01T10:40:08.801Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Pond in what sense? Online community, company, soccer league, town, what? Or do you not care?

comment by Lumifer · 2013-08-01T19:39:58.034Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Define what you want out of it.

Alpha-maleness or status in general? Money? A sense of superiority? Something else?

Replies from: CronoDAS
comment by CronoDAS · 2013-08-01T20:07:33.994Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I want to recalibrate my sociometer so I stop comparing myself to people who are way more awesome than I am and feel better about myself.

Replies from: Lumifer, NancyLebovitz
comment by Lumifer · 2013-08-01T20:17:51.203Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know if self-esteem problems are fixable by pond-hopping.

The world is big. There will always be many people way more awesome than you. You can't prevail in a status competition against the entire world and even in a small pond you'll be well aware that there are oceans out there.

The way to win is not to play the game.

Replies from: Bayeslisk, CronoDAS, None
comment by Bayeslisk · 2013-08-06T20:53:16.397Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, that's nice in principle, and easy to think, but how do you actually go convincing yourself to consistently feel it? If you have an answer, I sincerely want to know it, because I've become acquainted (doing the first labwork of my life) this summer with feeling like an absolute fraud, despite reasonable success and complete inexperience.

Replies from: asr, Lumifer
comment by asr · 2013-08-06T21:09:51.364Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah. That's a different problem.

I find it helpful to read memoirs of people who have been successful in the field. Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman mentions a number of episodes of him feeling like a fraud or a failure, as a graduate student or junior faculty. Many other scientists and scholars report the same. Feel free to talk to grad students or faculty around you -- I would bet that most of them went through this. Most of the successful grad students I knew felt that way some of the time or most of the time.

Feeling out of your depth in science (and I suspect most other competitive fields) isn't an indicator that you're doing badly -- it's an indicator that you're badly calibrated. It's a routine feeling that you should just ignore until it goes away.

See also the term "impostor syndrome."

Replies from: Bayeslisk, Bayeslisk
comment by Bayeslisk · 2013-08-07T07:17:34.850Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Something occurred to me while I was in the shower. Suppose for a moment I really was incompetent, and not just because I had little lab experience - I was just plain incompetent at labwork, I really was a fraud/failure/what have you, and to ignore those feelings would be critically bad. What would I expect to see in the world, that would distinguish that from "no, you'll be fine, this is what everyone goes through", and what would I expect to see differently from "no, you'll be fine, you'll actually be really good at this, good enough to make significant, even undergrad textbook contributions in 10 years' time"? Because there should definitely be something I should be able to observe that would be different, and if there isn't, then it seems safest to proceed with maximal caution and minimal self-estimation.

Replies from: asr
comment by asr · 2013-08-07T22:12:26.529Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Incompetence and fraud are separate.

My impression is that being a scientific fraud is hard work. The system is designed to catch honest mistakes -- reviewers will tell you "this analysis doesn't make sense" or "this is a source of error you didn't control for," or even "we don't know what's wrong, but we don't believe this result." And they'll say it anonymously and confidentially when they don't publish your paper.

Being a fraud requires deliberate dishonesty. You would know if you were faking data. And if you are an LW reader, you probably would notice if you were doing selective reporting in such a way as to undermine your statistical tests. You would know if you were committing fraud. If you don't do it, you aren't it.

That brings us to incompetent. I don't think there's a category of otherwise-intelligent non-handicapped people who just cannot do lab work. The prior probability on "gets accepted to grad school / undergrad research / whatever and cannot learn" is low. Do you find that in general there are things you can't learn?

The people I've known who failed out of science did not fail through inability or catastrophic mistake. They got distracted by something else in life, or they never got very interested in their work, or they were very badly advised, or the like. Sometimes it's bad luck -- the funding runs out unexpectedly, their advisor turns out to be a bad match, the data or samples get destroyed by accident, or somesuch.

Many people aren't good enough or dedicated enough or lucky enough to make important scientific contributions. Certainly, most people don't make important contributions. But that's a different problem than incapacity, and probably shouldn't worry you too much. You can very easily have a happy life as a mediocre scientist. You can even do something important. To pick an extreme example, Angela Merkel doesn't seem to have done anything notable as a researcher, but has left her mark in other ways.

Something I didn't know until just now is that Merkel's PhD did actually help her career in politics. Fairly early in her career, she was made minister for the environment and nuclear policy -- and I assume that her chemistry PhD was part of her qualification for the post.

Replies from: Bayeslisk
comment by Bayeslisk · 2013-08-07T22:35:46.176Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As for feeling like a fraud: I don't fabricate data, naturally. But there's always that moment at the mass spec where you go "eh, that looks like it should be the right peak, rather than this slightly smaller, but closer peak." It's not fabricating data, but it feels like it's in the same vague region, from the same source. But I meant something more like "other people are doing your work for you, you're a burden, they're just humoring you until they're convinced you're to be got rid of."

As for incompetence: I do find it difficult to understand, for example, complex math. Homotopy groups stumped me for weeks, and I'm still not sure how I tottered through the rest of my recent math, but apparently it was satisfactory enough for a reasonably good grade for someone generally renowned as intelligent. (And it was also his last class taught here, too, says the voice. He was just being nice.) But as best I can tell, there's not a lot I just plain can't learn, can't come to terms with, can't abstract and assimilate and build on, given enough spoon-days.

As for mediocrity: one of the many things that keeps me up at night, when the anxiety is particularly bad, is the idea of never amounting to anything significant, of just being mediocre. The idea terrifies me, that I will fail to stamp my name on men's minds forever. Another is self-modifying to the point where I no longer worry about the things I worry about, and then falling prey to them. My foibles are almost sentient in their cleverness and self-preservation. They even have their own designated inner self-part.

comment by Bayeslisk · 2013-08-06T22:09:07.320Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I know of it. I was trying to avoid the term because it feels wrong, feeds the wrong, and also rationalist taboo. Also reminding myself that feeling dumb means you're learning, and feeling really dumb means you're learning a lot. Just ignoring it won't help, I don't think, and other mental issues do point to that I'm really, really badly calibrated.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-08-06T21:19:17.547Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, I am not sure I had do any particular self-convincing, that's just the way I naturally feel.

Basically, I know that I'm not the best in the world by pretty much any criteria -- there are people smarter than me, stronger than me, richer than me, etc. etc. But then, why should that matter? I am not in a competition with these people. We are not fighting over some resources. Let's assume I have some global rank in, say, smartness -- if my rank changes will it affect my life in any way? No, it won't.

Things are different in a local context -- maybe you want to win the affections of a particular girl or a boy. Maybe you entered a sports tournament. Maybe you want to get into a particularly selective school. In these cases I care about how I compare to others in the same local context -- because whether my ranking is high or low will directly affect outcomes that are meaningful to me.

But globally -- meh. I don't care that there are thousands of people who understand quantum physics much better than I do. So what?

I suspect it ultimately boils down to the issue of self-worth. Do you consider yourself worthy because you're better than someone? Or do you consider yourself worthy just because you are?

Replies from: Bayeslisk
comment by Bayeslisk · 2013-08-06T22:10:55.197Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As it turns out, I consider myself worthy only when I'm better than someone, which sometimes takes the form of being able to help others, exert control over situations, or solve problems myself. This tends to spiral into feeling (self-)loathing when reading about some fictional people - Lazarus Long is a good example. At the moment, mental issues prevent me from consistently feeling worthy just for existing.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-06T22:42:27.404Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I consider myself worthy only when I'm better than someone

There always¹ is someone somewhere worse than you.

  1. i.e., about 99.99999998% of the times.
Replies from: Bayeslisk
comment by Bayeslisk · 2013-08-07T00:32:35.872Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's really not the point. It's because it's so common and so easy to be worse than me that I don't really take notice. Yes, I am aware that there is a critical error in thinking that, and then worrying about not being very good. I am attempting to resolve it.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-08-02T00:43:51.716Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In theory, if you define a niche narrowly enough, you can become "best in the world" at it, but, chances are, nobody is going to care. A niche still has to be big enough to support a community in order to be satisfying...

comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-02T13:45:11.063Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know if self-esteem problems are fixable by pond-hopping.

Certain times for certain people they are: “out of sight...” an' all that.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-08-03T05:24:44.520Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It might help to poke around in your mind to find out what's going on when you compare yourself to other people.

comment by mwengler · 2013-08-01T18:19:33.030Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Build your own pond. That is, start your own business, work for yourself.

Of course, you will need customers, but as long as you don't think of them as fish, you'll be fine.

Replies from: SilasBarta
comment by SilasBarta · 2013-08-01T19:17:38.322Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Non-thinking-of-customers-as-fish is not a business plan.

comment by SilasBarta · 2013-08-01T19:19:07.897Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Depends on what you intend to get out of it, but you can go to an amateur hack night ("we're going to implement C-style integers in Ruby", "we're going to implement simulated annealing)", where almost everyone but you will have trouble conceptualizing the problem.

Replies from: RolfAndreassen
comment by RolfAndreassen · 2013-08-03T04:57:29.651Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's just as well this is a stupid-questions thread, but: Doesn't Ruby already have C-style integers? What is it you mean by this phrase which Ruby doesn't have?

Replies from: SilasBarta
comment by SilasBarta · 2013-08-03T18:23:25.641Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

C-style integers = integers with a fixed possible range of values and the corresponding rollover -- that is, if you get a result too big to be stored in that fixed size, it rolls over from the lowest possible value.

Ruby doesn't implement that limitation. It implements integers through Fixnum and Bignum. The latter is unbounded. The former is bounded but (per the linked doc) automatically converted to the latter if it would exceed its bounds.

Even if it did, it's still useful as an exercise: get a class to respond to addition, etc operations the same way that a C integer would. (And still something most participants will have trouble with.)

Replies from: RolfAndreassen
comment by RolfAndreassen · 2013-08-03T20:52:29.939Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hmm, interesting! Maybe the simplest approach would be to just implement a class with 16 (or 32, whatever) booleans, and do the underlying bit-pattern math. Then on printing, interpret as powers of two, or two's-complement, or whatever you like.

Replies from: SilasBarta
comment by SilasBarta · 2013-08-03T21:58:32.638Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

... and that is what being a big fish in a small pond feels like ;-) That is, most of them there won't even make it that far. At least, that was my experience.

(My approach was the cruder one of just taking a remainder modulo max size after each operation.)

Replies from: RolfAndreassen
comment by RolfAndreassen · 2013-08-04T03:11:00.445Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That would work for unsigned integers, but I don't see how it gives you the classic rollover from 32767 to -32768?

comment by Panic_Lobster · 2013-07-31T22:26:33.064Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How do you pronounce 3^^^3?

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter, maia, Leonhart, Adele_L, answer, None, linkhyrule5, None, komponisto, jimrandomh, MrMind, Rukifellth, OnTheOtherHandle
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2013-08-01T05:07:15.708Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Three to the to the to the three / is how you say it if you're M to the P

Replies from: Alejandro1
comment by Alejandro1 · 2013-08-01T14:02:59.693Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But I thought you were M sub P...

comment by maia · 2013-07-31T23:03:52.965Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've heard "three up up up three."

Replies from: Eliezer_Yudkowsky
comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-08-01T04:22:51.546Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's how I say it.

comment by Leonhart · 2013-07-31T23:04:19.591Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by Adele_L · 2013-07-31T22:30:56.494Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"three up arrow up arrow up arrow three"

ETA: The notation is called Knuth's up-arrow notation, and is usually written with up-arrows instead of carets.

Replies from: ESRogs
comment by ESRogs · 2013-08-02T04:56:40.375Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Alternatively, "three triple up-arrow three"

comment by answer · 2013-08-01T01:07:45.360Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Three to the pentation of three".

Replies from: Fhyve
comment by Fhyve · 2013-08-02T05:08:15.669Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How about 3^...(3^^^3 up arrows)...^3?

Replies from: answer
comment by answer · 2013-08-04T20:46:03.647Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hmm. "Three to the 'three to the pentation of three plus two'-ation of three". Alternatively, "big" would also work.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-01T13:20:52.803Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(There was a SMBC comic I wanted to jokingly link to which called ^^^ “penetration”, but I don't know how to search for it -- neither this thing nor googling for smbc penetration help.)

Replies from: ArisKatsaris
comment by ArisKatsaris · 2013-08-01T13:43:15.417Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here you go!

I googled "tetration" with "smbc" which gave me an smbc forum topic which listed the date of the comic in question.

comment by linkhyrule5 · 2013-08-01T04:55:25.848Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

3-pentate-3. Actually pronouncing the up-arrows is generally too clunky for me.

How do you pronounce 3^(n)3, that is, 3 (n up-arrows) 3? "n-tate" works for simple numbers, but "3 (3 pentate 3)-ate 3" isn't exactly... comprehensible.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2013-08-02T17:11:52.729Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How do you pronounce 3^(n)3, that is, 3 (n up-arrows) 3? "n-tate" works for simple numbers, but "3 (3 pentate 3)-ate 3" isn't exactly... comprehensible.

"3 hyper-n 3". Note that the 'n' used in both the greek-number-prefix "n-tate" and hyper forms is actually "number of up arrows + 2".

For particularly large numbers Conways chained arrows may be preferable, I'm not sure if there is a convention for pronouncing them.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-02T18:25:16.630Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like "Three-triple-Knuth-three"

comment by komponisto · 2013-08-02T07:18:23.083Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My inclination is to say "three triple-arrow three".

People at SIAI in 2010 were saying "three triple-head three". I don't know why.

Replies from: Larks
comment by Larks · 2013-08-02T08:37:19.619Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I say "three triple-hat three", which may be linguistic drift from 'head'.

comment by jimrandomh · 2013-08-02T01:15:24.564Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I pronounce it "three trip-up three". The pun is always appropriate.

Replies from: ESRogs
comment by ESRogs · 2013-08-02T04:52:37.555Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can I get a joke-explainer?

Replies from: MrMind, jimrandomh
comment by MrMind · 2013-08-02T09:45:32.713Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My guess: "trip" as an abbreviation of "triple" but also in the sense of an acid trip, given the mind-blowingly large quantity referred to.

comment by jimrandomh · 2013-08-02T13:03:02.097Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"To trip up" means "to cause to stumble or make an error". It's also short for triple-up-arrow. Putting a 3^^^3 into an argument often trips up reasoning, and that's the main reason people use that number.

(Apparently this is less intuitive than I thought; MrMind pointed out a third interpretation, which I hadn't thought of before.)

Replies from: ESRogs
comment by ESRogs · 2013-08-02T20:46:40.786Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh haha, I see. I didn't make the connection to tripping up arguments (nor did MrMind's acid trip interpretation occur to me). Thanks!

comment by MrMind · 2013-08-01T09:11:24.147Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have a proposal: let's call x^^^y "x knuth y", just because it's used quite often in this community :)

Replies from: Joshua_Blaine, wedrifid
comment by Joshua_Blaine · 2013-08-01T17:45:44.912Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

ok, since this is the stupid questions thread, how do you pronounce "knuth"? I really have no idea.

Replies from: arundelo
comment by arundelo · 2013-08-01T18:48:39.527Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


When I want to know how to pronounce someone's name I look on their Wikipedia page or their own site. If that fails, I do Google searches like "donald knuth" pronunciation. If that fails too and I want to know badly enough, I look for video or audio of them saying it, or of someone else who presumably would know saying it. This last has misled me at least once: When I first saw Patri Friedman's name, I guessed it was pronounced "PA-tree", but wasn't sure. Then I heard someone on the Internet pronounce it "puh-TREE", and I figured they probably knew. Then I said it in conversation with Shannon Friedman and she told me it was "PA-tree". (I appreciated the correction. Note also that since I didn't physically make a note, there's a small possibility I'm misremembering which pronunciation is correct.)

Replies from: RolfAndreassen
comment by RolfAndreassen · 2013-08-03T05:02:58.516Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


I think an apostrophe is a better way of indicating to English speakers the way Danish treats an initial k, as in K'nuth. There's no actual vowel in there. Also it looks cooler, as in ph'nglui mglw'nafh K'nuth R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn. Fits right in, doesn't it?

comment by wedrifid · 2013-08-02T16:54:18.177Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have a proposal: let's call x^^^y "x knuth y", just because it's used quite often in this community :)

The most obvious interpretation of "3 knuth 3" is 27. A single 'knuth' up arrow denotes exponentiation. Conceivably "3 triple-knuth 3" would convey the intended meaning.

comment by Rukifellth · 2013-07-31T22:46:31.325Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Three ar-ruh-ruh-row"

comment by OnTheOtherHandle · 2013-07-31T22:33:26.083Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I usually say "three to the three to the three to the three" even though that's not technically correct unless I pronounce the parentheses in the proper places.

Replies from: Oscar_Cunningham
comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2013-08-01T00:12:29.236Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That isn't correct no matter where the parentheses go: 3^^^3 isn't 3^(3^(3^3)) or ((3^3)^3)^3.

Replies from: OnTheOtherHandle
comment by OnTheOtherHandle · 2013-08-01T05:46:27.260Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're right, I misunderstood - I thought it was 3^(3^27), or 3^7625597484987, but it's actually 3^^(3^27), or 3 to the power of itself 7625597484987 times, which is way bigger.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2013-08-04T15:18:21.090Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How do you calibrate yourself against the 'average' person when self assessing personality traits?

For example, when a standard big five or myers briggs test asks you if you are more extraverted than normal, how on earth are you meant to answer? The people I interact with are obviously a non-random sample, and I've no idea what a 'normal' level of extraversion (or whatever) would look like.

Replies from: None, gwern
comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-05T12:17:22.523Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I look at the people I choose to interact with (friends), the people I have to interact with (relatives, public employees, etc.), compare and contrast, and extrapolate, but I'm not sure how reliable that is, given that I interact with the two in quite different sets of situations.

It gets worse: the tests I took asked me to compare myself to the typical person of my age and gender, and over most of the past decade nearly all of my friends have been members of the other gender, the kind of people that Graham here calls freaks, and/or graduate physics students, so my guesses about what the typical twentysomething male is like may be unusually unreliable and/or contaminated by stereotypes and/or the horns effect.

comment by gwern · 2013-08-04T16:08:03.059Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The people I interact with are obviously a non-random sample

Don't worry; the people whose responses the tests were built on didn't have access to a random sample either! Still seems to work, though.

Replies from: FiftyTwo, ExaminedThought
comment by FiftyTwo · 2013-08-04T19:10:14.134Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So combining two biased samples balances out? Or is it more testing self perception? E.g. do you think of yourself as X not whether you are objectively X. Probably thinking about this question in detail ruins its usefulness as a text question anyway....

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2013-08-05T00:11:20.189Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Offhand I don't entirely know, but the tests do work so your comparison issues can't be serious. If they've been normed for your group, perhaps that screens off the worst of the issues.

comment by ExaminedThought · 2013-08-06T20:31:59.408Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm only talking about myers briggs here, but I'm really confused about why you say the tests seem to work. They don't seem to work to me. I can get any of handful of different results and so can many people I know. Not only that, but I've studied the underlying theory enough to know that a lot of people I've met who only go by the tests are mistyped. They don't even know what the letters mean. They don't know if they use extroverted or introverted thinking/intuition/feeling/sensing. They think that if they're smart, they have to have a T in their type.

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2013-08-06T21:52:31.829Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm only talking about myers briggs here, but I'm really confused about why you say the tests seem to work.

One of the main criticisms of MBTI is actually its lack of reliability - that is, its lack of consistency from test to test. MBTI in general is rubbish and when I talk about personality tests or correlations, it's always Big Five or some other decent test.

comment by J_Taylor · 2013-08-01T06:38:25.444Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How does one best optimize personal opinions for purposes of status-acquisition?

Replies from: mwengler, Lumifer, drethelin, RichardKennaway
comment by mwengler · 2013-08-01T18:28:01.906Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Presumably, you are asking how to hack the status detectors of other people? If not, then you need to put a lot of work and energy into doing something that other people value, and not be shy about letting the kinds of people who value that thing know what you have done and can do. I think this is usually called "earning it."

But if you are seeking to acquire status as status, essentially, the reputation for something which you are not, then you are asking how to hack people's status detectors. The answer will very much depend on WHO you want to think you are high status, as different people will have different status. If it is biker chicks, for example, you should get the biggest hog (motorcycle, not mammal) you can, get a pot belly, go to some biker clothes stores and get the outfit, get some bitchin' tatoos. You should lie about having been in the marines, having been in jail, probably a crime of passion carries more status than a crime of violence, and either of those would be better than a white collar crime. Of course, you can lie about these but you will need to do some research to get the lie going.

If you want to hack the status of some other group, you'll have to do some research on what they think of as status-ful and then do enough research to come up with a good false story, and make yourself look like a high status individual in that crowd.

If my answer seems funny, it did seem like a funny question to me. Maybe I missed the point, if so I apologize in delay.

Replies from: MugaSofer
comment by MugaSofer · 2013-08-06T14:56:28.166Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect the OP was looking for reasonably subculture-independent ideas. Still, upvoted.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-08-01T19:44:55.542Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are we in PUA-land?

The specifics of status acquisition very much depend on which social group do you want to grant you status.

comment by drethelin · 2013-08-01T11:09:22.508Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Insofar as you exclude stuff like career choice from personal opinions I think the best way is to act like you share the opinions of whoever you're talking to (or the most powerful person in a group) while never committing to anything publicly. This is probably different in fields where your opinions ARE your career, like politics or art criticism, but I think schmoozing is probably more effective than trying to pick the most generally appealing to everyone opinions.

Replies from: RichardKennaway
comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-08-01T11:23:10.631Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Insofar as you exclude stuff like career choice from personal opinions I think the best way is to act like you share the opinions of whoever you're talking to (or the most powerful person in a group) while never committing to anything publicly.

The words "yes-man", "hanger-on", and "riding on coat-tails" come to mind. These are failure modes of status-seeking.

Replies from: drethelin
comment by drethelin · 2013-08-01T13:40:45.829Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are they? They seem to always be attached to rising star or second in command and so on. Also you forgot brown-noser and the one I think most illustrative: teachers pet. The teachers' or bosses esteem is exactly whose you should care about if you want to rise high, not jealous or anti-elite drones.

Eg "he only got the job by sucking up to the boss" is used pejoratively but guess who has the job? It's not the complainer.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-08-01T08:28:30.359Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The same way you optimise the colour of a wheel for purposes of velocity-acquisition.

Replies from: gjm, None, wedrifid
comment by gjm · 2013-08-01T09:33:19.284Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Make it expressed personal opinions, then.

Replies from: J_Taylor
comment by J_Taylor · 2013-08-01T12:41:32.301Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I endorse this as being my original intention.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-02T12:49:07.558Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Myself, I just use my actual opinions -- I'm so bad at lying convincingly, and even if I was better, I have better things to spend my cognitive faculties on than keeping track of which people I tell which lies to.

OTOH, that's a very bad idea with people who don't already know you. (In that case, I play it safe, e.g. in the past couple years I only ever mentioned my beliefs in a God or the lack thereof to people I had already known for months, or whose ideas on the matter I already knew.)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-01T19:17:53.416Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The cheapest one so you have more money left for the motor.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-08-02T14:56:18.829Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The same way you optimise the colour of a wheel for purposes of velocity-acquisition.

This is an example of an opinion that is sometimes useful to believe but terrible to alieve.

Some opinions can get you killed or ostracised. Being killed and ostracised is low status.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-07-31T09:19:27.729Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there some way to get all the comments in a thread to display? "Show all comments" actually only shows some comments in long threads.

Replies from: None, VincenzoLingley, sixes_and_sevens
comment by [deleted] · 2013-07-31T10:49:02.631Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it also doesn't expand comments below threshold, no matter how short the thread is.

comment by VincenzoLingley · 2013-07-31T23:03:58.958Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Click "Show all comments", wait for more comments to load, repeat. I suspect that there is a limit to the number of comments it loads in one go, probably to ease the load on the server.

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2013-07-31T09:25:10.763Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Probably not the answer you're looking for (sorry), but if you're used to visually parsing XML, the RSS feed will let you do this.

comment by itaibn0 · 2013-08-14T14:44:14.101Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is the evidence that thought can be usefully divided into "System 1" and "System 2"?

comment by advancedatheist · 2013-08-01T21:44:45.913Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do the transhumanist & manosphere subcultures overlap to any significant degree? If so, what might they have in common?

Replies from: drethelin, None, Randy_M, Larks
comment by drethelin · 2013-08-02T00:18:35.851Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Large amounts of male nerds

comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-02T13:37:20.188Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by Randy_M · 2013-08-02T17:57:51.441Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's apparently some connectivity in/through the rightward edge of transhumanism to them: Note that from any two random points there you might not have moeven 50% agreement--but in each case you'll have emphatic disagreement with mainstream positions marking each as an outsider in some way.

(If I were to be sarcastic, I would answer your second question as "an interest in sexbots")

Replies from: advancedatheist
comment by advancedatheist · 2013-08-03T16:57:25.515Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would suggest that transhumanists and manospherians share an interest in evolutionary psychology and empiricist views of human nature. .

comment by Larks · 2013-08-02T08:25:30.245Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have never heard of the manosphere.

Replies from: Randy_M, fubarobfusco
comment by Randy_M · 2013-08-02T18:08:31.822Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Basically an umbrella term for blogs of pick-up-artists, men resentful or fearful of divorce/family court type legal structures, and traditionalists hewing to gender norms.

Replies from: advancedatheist
comment by advancedatheist · 2013-08-03T17:00:08.196Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Transhumanists shouldn't dismiss traditionalist views of women just because they conflict with current notions of political correctness. You could interpret tradition as a consensus vote of the democracy of our ancestors.

Replies from: JoshuaZ, Viliam_Bur, None, Randy_M
comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-08-03T17:27:46.704Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Transhumanists shouldn't dismiss traditionalist views of women just because they conflict with current notions of political correctness. You could interpret tradition as a consensus vote of the democracy of our ancestors.

You can't call something a democratic decision when those women literally couldn't vote. That's aside from the fact that many traditionalist views were tied into or justified by religious belief systems which are empirically wrong. Transhumanism is to a large extent about individuals having the ability to make their lives what they want, and that shouldn't change whether that's being able to live a long time, having wings and other non-natural extensions, getting uploaded, or not following traditional gender roles.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-08-04T23:08:49.737Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You could interpret tradition as a consensus vote of the democracy of our ancestors.

How much of that tradition was really created by a vote? If it wasn't, why should I treat it like one?

Just because people did something in the past, it does not mean they all thought it was a good idea. (It could actually be one of the reasons why they later stopped doing it.) Also, people in the past didn't have some of the information we do -- why should I expect that given that information, their votes would remain the same?

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-06T11:18:23.095Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How much of that tradition was really created by a vote? If it wasn't, why should I treat it like one?

See Nick Szabo about intersubjective truth, and Chesterton's fence.

On the other hand, just because something was a good idea in the past doesn't mean it's still a good idea now if things have changed.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-06T11:15:48.200Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, but there are differences between the times when the traditionalist views developed and now: many more women in the work force, cheap convenient availability of reliable contraceptives, the Flynn effect, etc.

It would most likely be an awful idea for me to adopt the same attitude towards my girlfriend as my grandfather has towards his wife when, among dozens of other things, my girlfriend has IQ probably around 130 and makes more money than me whereas my grandma has IQ probably around 90 and has never worked.

Replies from: mwengler
comment by mwengler · 2013-08-06T18:31:27.724Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Flynn Effect is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1/3 IQ point per year. So unless your girlfriend is 120 years younger than your grandmother...

Also the Flynn Effect is observed in similar magnitudes in men and women. IQ_you/IQ_yourgirlfriend is predicted to be the same as IQ_grandpa/IQ_grandma, at least the part of that ratio attributable to the Flynn effect.

Replies from: None, BlindIdiotPoster
comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-06T21:12:12.478Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(You should escape underscores with backslashes, or they get converted to italics; also, it makes little sense to use ratios rather than differences as the zero of the modern scale is more or less arbitrary.)

comment by BlindIdiotPoster · 2013-08-08T09:22:17.806Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

He didn't actually mention the Flynn effect in the above post.

Replies from: mwengler
comment by mwengler · 2013-08-08T22:28:10.355Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

OK you've got me freaked out. I'm staring at army1987's comment that I replied to and it says "...contraceptives, the Flynn effect, etc."

What am I missing?

Replies from: BlindIdiotPoster
comment by BlindIdiotPoster · 2013-08-09T02:49:38.387Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have no idea how I managed to miss that.

comment by Randy_M · 2013-08-05T17:47:23.340Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Poetic phrasing, although to answer the other arguments to the parent comment, it may be better phrased as "one set of features/behaviors proven sucessfully adaptive to conditions previously." Traditions universally adopted should indeed be dismissed very reluctantly, as it implies that the variation in adapative behavior is likely quite small.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-08-02T08:47:46.571Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Another term for "men who feel threatened by feminism", apparently.

Replies from: Randy_M
comment by Randy_M · 2013-08-02T18:00:50.337Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you insert "society is" after feel, you'd get agreement from them. However, you probably mean something along the lines of "whose irrational feelings of self-worth" are threatened instead, I presume?

Replies from: fubarobfusco
comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-08-02T20:44:04.379Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not really.

Replies from: Randy_M
comment by Randy_M · 2013-08-02T21:54:12.913Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by somervta · 2013-08-01T09:45:15.585Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What are actually the reasons for saying that the meaning of words are things-in-the-mind rather than things-in-the-world?

(Prompted by a philosophy course on metaphysics)

Replies from: RichardKennaway, bbleeker, Manfred, Leonhart
comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-08-01T11:16:22.004Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Taboo the word "word", and what does your question become?

A word is already partly a thing-in-the mind, and partly a thing-outside-the-mind, the latter being a sound when spoken or a string of glyphs when written. Neither the sound nor the glyphs are, or contain, meanings. If you define "word" to mean the whole arrangement, including the meanings, then you have merely answered the question by definition: meanings are contained in words. The same is true if you define "word" to mean just the sound and string of glyphs: meanings are not contained in words. This method of answering a question is incapable of being a discovery about the world.

So the question becomes "what is the relationship between the sound and the meaning?" The answer is that people learn from the speech of those around them to associate a given sound with a given meaning, and that these agreements are what enable meanings to be communicated. However, there is no necessary connection between the two, and no correlation not explained by the shared history of related languages, borrowings, and a few onomatopoeic regularities. Contemplating the meaning will not tell you the sound that people use to express it, which will be different in different languages. Contemplating the sound will not tell you the meaning, else you could understand every language without learning it.

ETA: I should also have pointed out the third thing that is a part of what can be meant by the word "word": the thing-in-the-world that people are talking about when they use the word. This book may repay study.

BTW, why are you taking a philosophy course on metaphysics?

comment by bbleeker · 2013-08-01T10:29:34.073Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You mean, do words have an intrinsic meaning? If that were true, there would be only one language, no? I probably misunderstood the question, but I can't think of another interpretation.

comment by Manfred · 2013-08-01T14:37:15.731Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If we put you inside a box and told you to think of a name for a cat, could we tell what the name was by looking at the cat? No, we'd have to open up the box and look at (or listen to ) you. Ditto for any similar game, like creating slang, interchanging meanings, creating private spellings, doing math and then giving names to important theorems, etc.

This only works for (at least partly-) intentional definition though - if your definition of red is to point at a stop sign, then a fire truck, then a tomato, and then to point at grass and say "not this," then we can't figure out your meaning for red just by looking at what's inside the box. First we have to get the definition from you, and then we have to go look at stop signs and fire trucks.

So depending on how you want to cash out "meaning," it can be in your mind, or in your mind+context. But it's not just in the outside world, because there's no way an alien knows what to call a capybara just from examining one.

comment by Leonhart · 2013-08-01T11:21:13.507Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Implement a tiger-recogniser in exactly five Unicode characters and get back to us.

Replies from: FiftyTwo, Alsadius
comment by FiftyTwo · 2013-08-01T22:00:06.527Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Downvoted, because this is exactly the sort of answer that this thread is meant to avoid. It makes people who already know the answer feel clever, while belittling the asker.

comment by Alsadius · 2013-08-03T14:53:43.063Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you can recognize actual tigers using only the string of letters t-i-g-e-r, you are a vastly more clever man than I am.

comment by Transfuturist · 2013-08-01T06:02:09.484Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am a transhumanist and a futurist, but I've been depressive recently while thinking about the far future. This rarely happens. I found myself being scared of getting smarter due to a Singularity-like event. I was also scared by the arbitrariness of our goals and values. Simply put, I don't fit in to the present. I'm theorizing about intelligence, reading scientific papers, and participating very modestly in the brony fandom. I've made it my life's goal to make major steps towards safe AGI. Living to the point past that, I see aimlessness. Besides my one creative technological skill, I am mainly a consumer. That leads to my concern of getting smarter.

I mostly read stories, take in stories, participate in stories. Stories are my life. I want to be able to appreciate the stories we have now in the future. And I'm concerned that upgrading to transfuturist levels of intelligence will make the types of stories we have now incredibly banal and obvious, for many good reasons. Predictable, boring, and worthless.

It's not really a question, but I'd appreciate any other perspectives. Please?

Replies from: Adele_L, RichardKennaway, Risto_Saarelma, Luke_A_Somers, Username, MrMind, Joshua_Blaine, Ben_LandauTaylor, Nectanebo, Pentashagon, ESRogs
comment by Adele_L · 2013-08-01T14:13:00.753Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Having a meaningful life is a very strong human value, and if FAI is done right, it will have something to keep your life meaningful post-singularity.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-08-02T06:01:23.181Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If people get smarter, they'll write smarter stories.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2013-08-08T07:13:23.759Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

At least you probably won't feel too bad about present-day stories no longer feeling compelling at a point where they no longer feel compelling. Maybe think about the horror of a three-year-old you at the idea of no longer liking their favorite picture-book, and your current feelings about you no longer finding the same picture-book very interesting. That's not quite enough though, people also probably won't feel bad about being wireheaded once they have been wireheaded, and they don't feel bad about being in a coma while they're in a coma...

A more positive thought might be that if your abilities to perceive patterns are much improved, you might find many more interesting things going on in actual reality, instead of needing to have massively simplified stylized narratives laboriously distilled from the huge messy soup of actual stuff.

This is also a thing that happens with people right now, just from getting more used to the story patterns. Many older people probably find themselves feeling increasingly distant from the sort of storytelling culture we have now where many popular stories are made to be understandable and compelling to teenagers, like most all of science fiction and fantasy. You could try looking into what people significantly older than you who liked the sort of stories you like at your age think about stories now.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-08-09T01:14:48.191Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like to think that advanced intelligences would have modules for enjoying different sorts of art, so that you could enjoy children's literature as though you were a child or 21st century fiction as though you were a reasonably bright native of that century, and then enjoy the memory with your full mind.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2013-08-07T18:42:08.613Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As bronies, we already enjoy things that are pretty danged obvious. I mean, how many episodes could you not call the end of, at the 14 minute mark? That doesn't mean that there aren't good things about them. Obvious does not immediately lead to banal. If you're paying attention, you can predict nearly note for note the last quarter or so of lots of sonatas (hint: repeats used to be really popular). That doesn't make them banal any more than listening to them a second time does, or listening to them after you've already familiarized yourself with them.

Another question - are you reading Friendship is Optimal and derived works? That's not Eutopia. CelestAI is a cosmic screwup.

comment by Username · 2013-08-02T05:33:25.716Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Litmus test: do you find children's stories banal and obvious?

For me, they don't envoke the same awe and emotional connection that a novel for adults can, but I still find them pleasant, charming, and often immersive.

comment by MrMind · 2013-08-01T09:20:49.876Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've heard quite often (mainly in the writers community) that people's brain reasons primarily with stories. We need story to understand and make sense of things (they say). It's not a surprise than that you define yourself as a consumer/producers of stories.
To me, I think it's perfectly fine. I would love to contribute meaningfully to AGI understanding, but most probably I won't. I've long time ago made peace with that, and while this doesn't prevent me from trying, I'm also content to live my life consuming (and sometimes producing) stories, while trying to stay alive and have sex.
Anyway, if it's intelligence augmentation that worries you, think that with a more intelligent brain you can appreciate more complex stories...

comment by Joshua_Blaine · 2013-08-01T18:01:12.384Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This may ease your anxiety regarding intelligence enhancement and enjoyment. perhaps not. I still recommend reading it.

comment by Ben_LandauTaylor · 2013-08-01T16:05:15.932Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
And I'm concerned that upgrading to transfuturist levels of intelligence will make the types of stories we have now incredibly banal and obvious, for many good reasons. Predictable, boring, and worthless.

This seems unlikely (albeit possible, I guess). I enjoy some children's stories, and while they're predictable, they're neither boring nor worthless.

comment by Nectanebo · 2013-08-01T14:06:07.055Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've also been having a few very similar worries. In relation to them, I've come up with plenty of half-formed ideas for solutions or potential ways around it, like the possible need to downgrade to current levels of intelligence temporarily to be able to enjoy current-era stories.

Here's the thing though: will there be much point in engaging in such activities? Perhaps we go through some kind of massive intelligence boost, and our current modes of fiction suddenly seem so outdated, simplistic and as you say, banal. Perhaps they will only seem that way compared to however sophisticated way we enjoy ourselves in the future? Perhaps we might have access to completely different media, with a difference in complexity comparable to that between cave-paintings and a motion picture or video game? Perhaps, like Mr Mind says, with a more intelligent brain we'll be able to appreciate more complex stories? Maybe it won't matter that the stories enjoy now won't seem so great, because our equivalent stories will be so great?

How much value do you place on still valuing current-era stories post-intelligence boost? I'm reminded of that Ghandi not wanting to swallow a pill that would make him into a person who doesn't mind committing murders.

I can only speculate. I feel like some of these kinds of concerns are touched upon at times in the fun theory sequence (possibly an understatement, you could consider the fun theory sequence to be a more generalised response to exactly these kinds of worries), among other bits and pieces.

comment by Pentashagon · 2013-08-05T06:37:48.460Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Most characters in stories suffer from the same problems current humans do. Why not write far better endings (and interludes for that matter) for all the stories? I think you are correct that we will not find the tragic tale of Romeo and Juliet anything but appalling in 100 years ("They died??!?"). So we'll probably fix them in ways that are quite satisfying to transhumans, just like we plan to fix the rest of reality. And there will almost certainly be new, better, amazing stories.

Have you read the Fun Theory sequence? That deals directly with the question of what to do with potentially boundless time and space and intelligence.

comment by ESRogs · 2013-08-02T04:29:55.041Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Won't it all be fine as long as there are some intelligence-amplified authors hanging around after the singularity too?

comment by BlueSun · 2013-08-06T15:38:34.298Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are the sequences still going to be made into a publishable book? If so, how is that process coming along?

comment by zortharg · 2013-08-05T03:32:45.073Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why can't I post an article I wrote? No matter what I do, it only appears under drafts. Under Submitted it always says "There doesn't seem to be anything here." and what I wrote is invisible unless I am logged in. I have tried clicking on all the buttons except for "unsave" which I dare not press. I click on the "CC" button on the bottom right which LOOKS the most promising because it says "post licensed under creative commons attribution 3.0 license" but that takes me to a page which describes what a creative commons license agreement is, and also has no "submit" buttons. How does ANYONE submit ANYTHING?

Replies from: Alicorn
comment by Alicorn · 2013-08-05T04:44:10.605Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You don't have enough karma to post a top level article.

Replies from: CronoDAS, NancyLebovitz
comment by CronoDAS · 2013-08-05T04:47:48.223Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If that's the case, we should make that clearer to people.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-08-05T06:25:41.410Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How many points does it take?

Replies from: BlindIdiotPoster, Alicorn
comment by BlindIdiotPoster · 2013-08-08T09:14:11.424Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Last I checked it was something like 10.

comment by Alicorn · 2013-08-05T18:39:31.583Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's different for Discussion and Main and it's changed several times, but at the time I answered the question zortharg's karma was negative. I think it might be two and twenty or something like that.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-03T15:23:55.576Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A question for polyamorous people: What, to you, is the difference between a secondary partner and a friend with benefits?

Replies from: drethelin
comment by drethelin · 2013-08-03T16:12:31.189Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unfortunately that's kind of like asking what the difference in rank is between a Knight and a samurai. Poly is not monolithic and friends with benefits is itself a fairly new and evolving phrase, but from my point of view, a secondary poly partner is in a formal arrangement and fwb is informal. A poly partner is more likely to have constraints about what they do with others and has stronger emotional attachment. An fwb is a "we can both do whatever but when convenient we have sex"

comment by JQuinton · 2013-08-01T14:35:33.645Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you can use Bayes Theorem to see what the evidence does to the probability of a hypothesis, can you also use BT to see what happens to the hypothesis upon the absence of evidence?

Or, if you can use P(H | E) = P(E | H)P(H) / P(E) Can you formulate it as P(H | ~E) = P(~E | H) P(H) / P(~E) for absence of evidence?

Replies from: Oscar_Cunningham, ArisKatsaris
comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2013-08-01T22:27:27.188Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Indeed. To put it another way, "absence of evidence" is just a different kind of evidence. If hearing a dog bark would tell you something then not hearing it bark also tells you something.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2013-08-01T14:40:04.197Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by Petruchio · 2013-08-01T12:38:56.181Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What course of action has MIRI taken to attain a provable FAI?

Replies from: Adele_L, Larks
comment by Adele_L · 2013-08-01T14:06:42.538Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This donation page lists their accomplishments in 2013 so far, which mostly seems to be research papers and analysis.

comment by Larks · 2013-08-02T08:28:13.866Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I realise that you did not say it was, but it is important to bear in mind that FAI is not MIRI's only goal. They also aim to prevent UFAI, and to prevent/adjust/encourage other possible future phenomena in AI to make things better.

comment by moreati · 2013-07-31T22:17:35.895Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When you read a comment how often are you consciously aware of who wrote it? How often do you read the username before you read the comment?

Replies from: tim, Oscar_Cunningham, None, maia, Username, ESRogs, RomeoStevens, mare-of-night
comment by tim · 2013-08-01T00:50:08.683Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am almost always aware if the author is someone with a distinct name that posts a fair amount. Otherwise it doesn't really register.

(its almost impossible for me not to read the username before the comment unless I put real effort into it)

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2013-08-01T00:10:40.716Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I use the anti-kibitzer. (This anonymises LessWrong, with the hope of reducing bias in judging posts. I think there's an option for it in Preferences.) It's great.

Replies from: Kawoomba
comment by Kawoomba · 2013-08-01T13:12:33.106Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok, who am I? (lol!)

Edit: The anti-kibitzer feature is quite interesting as I just noticed it's an extremely clear example of a situation in which there's a tradeoff between instrumental and epistemic rationality, and when purposefully depriving yourself of relevant information yields the preferred outcome.

Replies from: drethelin
comment by drethelin · 2013-08-01T13:47:20.644Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Preferred for who? I think being able to judge people is useful

Replies from: Kawoomba
comment by Kawoomba · 2013-08-01T13:53:56.560Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Preferred for who?

Those who enable anti-kibitzer, which has the sole functionality of hiding information.

I think being able to judge people is useful

Yea, and it'd give you trouble knowing their names (if you use anti-kibitzer), that would detract from you being able to judge.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-01T19:06:12.999Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

About 90% of the times for comments and about 60% of the times for posts, I think. (And I'm more likely to notice it when it's a regular than when it's a newbie.)

comment by maia · 2013-07-31T23:07:57.920Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I only notice if the commenter happens to be someone I know in real life or whose posts I have taken particular note of. Every other LW username could be replaced by "Anonymous Internet Person Number 3," and I would barely notice.

comment by Username · 2013-08-02T05:28:47.356Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I normally don't register the name at all, but if it's a high-status person on LW (gwern, eliezer, lukeprog), it might grab my attention.

comment by ESRogs · 2013-08-02T05:07:35.956Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When I'm reading a comment written by a name that I've seen enough to associate a personality with, I'm almost always aware of whose comment it is. But, when it's not a name I know well, I'm not consciously aware of having looked at the name and made that determination.

So I think I must always read the name, and if my brain doesn't recognize it, it automatically filters it out.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-08-01T01:24:41.032Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I check when a comment a surprises me, in either direction.

comment by mare-of-night · 2013-08-01T22:59:31.438Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On LW, I hardly ever notice the username. (I tend to notice more often on sites where people have avatars, and sites where I know most of the people whose comments I see.) I think I might be skimming the names, because I remember noticing usernames of people who I already knew about, but can't remember actually reading and comprehending usernames I don't recognize, at least not very often.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-08-02T09:48:47.325Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I imagine that there are three kinds of "unsolved" problems in mathematics: problems that are unsolved because people have tried and failed to solve them, problems that people haven't yet tried to solve but aren't particularly difficult to solve once attempted, and problems that both haven't been tried but would likely result in failure anyway.

How much math does one have to study before one has a reasonable chance of encountering a problem of the second type - one that an "average" tenured mathematics professor at an "average" university of no special prestige is likely to be able to solve once the problem is brought to their attention? Do they even exist?

Replies from: calef, ChristianKl, Qiaochu_Yuan
comment by calef · 2013-08-02T18:47:46.545Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd say the average Mathematics PhD student that has a publication has already solved such a problem!

There's usually a fair amount of low-hanging fruit in niche disciplines--for certain subdisciplines of mathematics, you really can count the number of people working on that discipline on one hand.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-08-05T15:02:23.346Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would guess that there are many problems that nobody cares about. Producing new problems in math isn't really that hard. Just add a new axiom to an existing theory and you have a bunch of new problems.

The problem is that nobody necessarily cares and so they won't cite you.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-08-03T01:44:55.484Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's probably not hard to find a question of the second type at the bright undergraduate level or earlier if you drill down into a subdiscipline that's both obscure and requires relatively few prerequisites (such subdisciplines do exist, e.g. probably some branches of combinatorics), but I don't really see the point of doing this.

Replies from: CronoDAS
comment by CronoDAS · 2013-08-03T02:00:25.381Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't really see the point of doing this.

1) PHD thesis topic.

2) Grinding out least publishable units in anticipation of a tenure application.

I'm trying to estimate the level of "talent" one needs to make graduate study in mathematics not entirely pointless.

Replies from: Alsadius, Qiaochu_Yuan
comment by Alsadius · 2013-08-03T15:02:31.908Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

From my understanding of grad students per year:new faculty hires per year ratios, you need to be in about the 95th percentile of math grad students.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-08-03T02:09:22.337Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Okay, but this approach sounds boring and painful. Why are you pursuing graduate study in mathematics?

Replies from: CronoDAS
comment by CronoDAS · 2013-08-03T02:15:19.818Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not actually pursuing it right now. I'm trying to estimate its value (to self and others) for someone who's below the "super-genius" level of math talent: how hard is it, really, to make useful progress in mathematics?

Replies from: mwengler, Qiaochu_Yuan
comment by mwengler · 2013-08-06T18:06:55.129Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In my opinion, based on non-scientific examination over decades first as a graduate student and then as a professor, the primary value of the middle level of talent (where most of us are if we are lucky) is usually referred to as "teaching" and might more generally be referred to as "socializing." An at least occasionally interesting teacher has the possibility of exciting interest in somebody of top talent, and has the near-certainty of exciting interest in many others who can become teachers.

Upon my graduation with a PhD from Caltech, I took a faculty position at the University of Rochester. I got funding, I plodded along. I had a crisis of confidence: the lesson I felt I had learned at Caltech was that "we" tolerate the bottom 99% because the results from the top 1% that our tolerance makes politically possible are more than worth it. As a prof. at UR, it was difficult for me to believe that I was anywhere near the top 1% of working research PhDs in the country. Years later, many of my graduate students hold VP and other leadership positions in industry: that is they are all apparently more productive than me. Considering the efforts they put in to getting me as an advisor and the efforts they put into getting my attention to talk through their projects once they were my students, it is reasonable to think that some part of their output is attributable to me.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-08-03T02:32:15.380Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Extremely hard, I think, but I may have a high bar for what constitutes useful progress (in general; FAI research might be an exception but you don't need to pursue graduate study to get in on that).

My impression is the following. Most academic research seems more or less useless, and that's no less true of mathematics than other fields. There are probably too many research mathematicians at the moment. The incentives are aligned pretty strongly towards research and away from other arguably more useful-at-the-margin activities like exposition, synthesis of previous research, meta-research, and so forth. Research mathematics also seems highly competitive relative to other areas where math-related talent has applications (e.g. programming, maybe finance).

Replies from: CronoDAS
comment by CronoDAS · 2013-08-03T02:45:41.886Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maybe I should say "interesting progress" instead of "useful progress", then?

(For example, literature is often interesting but rarely "useful".)

comment by FiftyTwo · 2013-08-01T22:06:14.178Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why are lesswrongers so against involvement in politics? The fact that tribalism exists and is bad is fairly well known, but it remains the case that the vast majority of power and resources in the world as it exists at the moment is controlled via political processes.

Replies from: shminux, drethelin, Qiaochu_Yuan, mwengler, metastable
comment by shminux · 2013-08-01T23:57:58.816Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My understanding is that it's not that involvement in politics that is somehow bad, but that discussing politics here is perilous, just like discussing feminism and PUA is, or sports, or any other subject matter where identity and opinions are intertwined. If anything, MIRI/CFAR should be doing more in terms of lobbying.

Replies from: CarlJ
comment by CarlJ · 2013-08-09T22:03:37.682Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Would you like to try a non-intertwined conversation? :-)

When you say lobbying, what do you mean and how is it the most effective?

Replies from: shminux
comment by shminux · 2013-08-09T23:39:20.940Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Lobbying as in advocacy. Google thought they could get away with no political lobbying, until they learned the hard truth. MIRI is not in the same position as Google of course, but the lessons are the same: if you want to convince people, just doing good and important work is not enough, you also have to do a good job convincing good and important people that you are doing good and important work. MIRI/CFAR are obviously doing some work in this direction, like target recruiting of the bright young mathematicians, but probably not nearly enough. I suspect they never even paid a top-notch marketing professional to prepare an evaluation. I bet they are just winging it, hoping to ride the unexpected success of HPMoR (success in some circles, anyway).

Replies from: Lumifer, CarlJ
comment by Lumifer · 2013-08-10T00:25:54.466Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Google thought they could get away with no political lobbying, until they learned the hard truth.

Actually, the first was Microsoft. Their (deliberate) ignorance of politics cost them the anti-trust investigation and the whole following mess.

Replies from: shminux
comment by shminux · 2013-08-10T05:02:28.376Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Right, forgot about that.

comment by CarlJ · 2013-08-10T18:24:16.842Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Advocacy is all well and good. But I can't see the analogy between MIRI and Google, not even regarding the lessons. Google, I'm guesssing, was subjected to political extortion for which the lesson was maybe "Move your headquarters to another country" or "To make extra-ordinary business you need to pay extra taxes". I do however agree that the lesson you spell out is a good one.

If all PR is good PR, maybe one should publish HPMoR and sell some hundred copies?

Replies from: shminux
comment by shminux · 2013-08-10T19:20:44.665Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I doubt that publishing an incomplete fanfiction is the best way, unless JKR suddenly endorses it.

comment by drethelin · 2013-08-01T23:39:06.299Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Politics is a zero sum game in which you spend 500 billion dollars to no avail except for forcing your opponent to spend 510 to win. Millions if people are already trying to win this zero sum game already. Might as well ask "why not just win the World Series of poker, then use that money to fund Miri?"

Replies from: asr, mwengler, BlindIdiotPoster, Lumifer
comment by asr · 2013-08-06T19:15:19.770Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think this is true in most political contexts. Political activity is often positive-sum or negative-sum.

People do make compromises that improve total utility. Special interests demanding special handling aren't always wrong -- sometimes they do have special concerns that can be met cheaply, and that ought to be.

Conversely, political process can be negative sum. It sometimes results in inefficiencies -- either rent-seeking or awkward half-measures that produce less utility than if one faction had total control.

comment by mwengler · 2013-08-06T18:20:43.311Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If politics is a zero sum game, why are some political entities so incredibly more productive than others? Do you think US politics has NOTHING to do with US GDP?

Replies from: drethelin
comment by drethelin · 2013-08-06T19:07:37.194Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If there is a factory, it is productive. The owner of the factory gets the proceeds. If I try to get ownership of the factory from you, that is a zero sum game.

Public policy, economic activity, lawmaking, are not zero sum. It is the democratic process of taking power that is Zero sum.

Replies from: mwengler
comment by mwengler · 2013-08-06T19:48:48.803Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Public policy, economic activity, lawmaking, are not zero sum. It is the democratic process of taking power that is Zero sum.

If you abstract away from power-taking the policy debate and differences which are such an important part of how these elections are campaigned, then yes, politics is zero sum.

If you abstract away from property-taking the policy differences in running factories, than factories could be stolen or nationalized in a political process with no reduction or increase in national income or production as a result.

Most of us think we know that strong and consistent property law is required to achieve high returns from capital, i.e., that the way capital is deployed and factories are run is NOT divorced from how the ownership of factories is determined. Most of us think we know that strong and consistent laws protecting a significant portion of return on investment is required to get the most out of factories.

Is there any reason to think it makes more sense to divorce policy differences from the aspect of politics which is zero-sum than it does to divorce how a factory is run from the methods under which its ownership is determined? That is, is a model that treats politics as zero-sum too falwed to use for much?

comment by BlindIdiotPoster · 2013-08-04T07:45:45.755Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is assuming you're trying to do politics yourself instead of just deciding who to support.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-08-06T18:45:39.306Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Politics is a zero sum game

Politics is not a game at all, never mind zero-sum. Politics is the acquisition and exercise of power in a society.

I am also not sure that LW is against involvement in politics. LW doesn't like to discuss politics for well-known reasons. On the other hand, skills of most people on LW and skills necessary to succeed in politics are... not well-matched.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-08-02T00:19:07.454Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't have the impression that LWers are against involvement in politics.

comment by mwengler · 2013-08-06T18:19:08.474Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Tribalism is bad? Without tribe affiliation you die and so probably do your memes. I think in your case your thinking about tribalism may be like a fish's thinking about water: it is ubiquitous, transparent, and you can't imagine life without it, and so you treat it as if it were nothing.

As to why lesswrongers seem less involved in politics... my thoughts. As wonky creative types we are way more interested in policy than the sausage-making of winning. We would be more interested in advising the president than in being the president, because we would be more interested in considering 22 different unrealistic policies and their implications than we would be in buttonholing 22 senators and trading pork with them for votes on the one policy which has percolated to the top which I do not have the time to truly understand myself because I need to get it passed.

Most politics is like driving a bus on the same route every day, and in local politics the route is not very big.

comment by metastable · 2013-08-13T06:39:43.787Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Piggyback question on this: why aren't LessWrongers finding and exploiting cognitive biases in markets in order to raise funds for their projects?

I realize that (a) it's really hard to do this or everyone would do it; and (b) there probably are individual LessWrongers working in finance. But to the extent that LW tends to think that entire fields of experts can be blind in their disciplines in ways disciplined rationalists are not (theologians, philosophers, doctors, politicians, educators, physicists), there would seem to be the prospect of some massively profitable arbitrage or prediction somewhere. And it's not like any of LessWrong's projects are allergic to funding.

Replies from: private_messaging, wedrifid
comment by private_messaging · 2013-08-14T10:19:59.044Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My theory is that initially people who believe they can beat the experts in a variety of fields try to beat the experts at testable matters, which are the natural choice for someone wanting to demonstrate superiority or gain funding. At that point one of 3 things can happen: a: success that others recognize, b: re-calibration of self assessment, c: maintenance of the belief by change of the subject matters to non testable (those without strong feedback).

comment by wedrifid · 2013-08-13T07:03:41.841Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Piggyback question on this: why aren't LessWrongers finding and exploiting cognitive biases in markets in order to raise funds for their projects?

Large well funded markets are smarter than lesswrongers.

But to the extent that LW tends to think that entire fields of experts can be blind in their disciplines in ways disciplined rationalists are not (theologians, philosophers, doctors, politicians, educators, physicists), there would seem to be the prospect of some massively profitable arbitrage or prediction somewhere. And it's not like any of LessWrong's projects are allergic to funding.

Experts with incentives that reward epistemic accuracy and have significant direct feedback from the universe can usually be assumed to be reliable. All else being equal this would lead us to trust index funds, be wary of managed funds and be sceptical of paid financial advice.

comment by niceguyanon · 2013-07-31T18:54:59.584Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I value that not everyone is like me. I am better than some people at some things and I like that. If I practice or try harder and achieve more than others that also makes me feel good. I enjoy playing games in which winning means others must lose and vice versa.

CEV questions:

Would I change my values if I knew more? If yes, then I have the wrong values now? If no, but I want others to be happy as well, what then?

Trans-humanism questions:

Does trans-humanism end up just making everyone the same person? Will there be no diversity? Will everyone be just as good as everyone else? Will everyone be smart as the latest patch, everyone strong as the latest hardware?

For some reason I am not satisfied in this future – where everyone can bypass what they were by chance given, and is now hyper attractive and intelligent, yet I recognize that it would be a cruel world if we couldn't achieve such.

Replies from: Eliezer_Yudkowsky, Adele_L, RomeoStevens, savageorange, malcolmocean
comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-08-01T04:38:48.355Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

CEV questions

...are just a proxy for "Should I think this is morally wrong on my own terms?" - I don't think invoking CEV helps on this.

I am better than some people at some things and I like that. If I practice or try harder and achieve more than others that also makes me feel good. I enjoy playing games in which winning means others must lose and vice versa.

And because you also will that these things should continue into the future of the galaxies, even to the children's children, therefore, you are of the Competitive Conspiracy and its secrets will be made yours.

where everyone can bypass what they were by chance given

Doesn't imply everyone is equal in all respects. If you can get better at anything by practicing, screw talent, it doesn't mean everyone has to spend the same amount of time practicing the same things.

If you demand that you be more formidable than some others in all respects so that they lose at the very game of life, then this I may dispute, but this the Competitive Conspiracy does not hold as an ideal. Though there may be some within the Erotic Conspiracy who would endorse that their masters be truly higher than them at any given point in time.

comment by Adele_L · 2013-07-31T21:59:35.409Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it's very likely, for the same reasons why boredom is an important human value, that humans value that kind of diversity enough to make it into CEV (or whatever the actual morality function is).

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-08-01T01:23:50.979Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I enjoy playing games in which winning means others must lose and vice versa.

Gamblers fallacy helps us out here. If winning is more memorable than losing everyone can win sometimes/in some activities and everyone is happy. Also, I wouldn't play a sport in which I always won.

comment by savageorange · 2013-08-01T01:12:10.555Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Would I change my values if I knew more? If yes, then I have the wrong values now? If no, but I want others to be happy as well, what then?

I find these particular questions quite hard to think about, so I'll just mention these few thoughts:

  • There is a huge difference between wanting to win, and wanting others to lose. Not everyone will be on the same wavelength, but if they're mostly on the first wavelength, it creates an atmosphere of friendly competition / self-betterment, whereas wanting others to lose looks like academia (bitter competition / self-aggrandizement). In the former, you can lose thoroughly and still get satisfaction out of your participation, so I don't hesitate to say that updating in this direction promotes a better social environment for every individual. Perhaps this somewhat answers your third question.
  • There's almost certainly value in limiting competition size. Losing with a thousand others placing ahead of you is much less motivating than losing with 50 others placing ahead of you. (it's not clear to me what exactly you meant by 'games' here -- the most general sense?). So if your
  • Many games can also be played with a focus on beating yourself rather than your competitors. Having the mental resolve to do this consistently is relatively rare, but AFAICS this is a strict win (both in satisfaction/motivation levels and quality of results) over merely beating your competitors. Updating in this direction should make you more friendly in competition, more effective, and less vulnerable to temporary setbacks. And also more able to continue improving even if you are ranked at the top.

Will everyone be just as good as everyone else? Will everyone be smart as the latest patch, everyone strong as the latest hardware?

I think if you look at the wild variety of Linux distributions, that effectively answers these questions, assuming you believe that open-sourcing this stuff will be mandatory (I think it must be, in order to avoid social chaos and oppression, but I don't know if it will be). Perfection is highly subjective/contextual, and even transhumanists have limited resources to allocate.

There's also a pretty strong argument to be made that once we can 'reallocate' resources like intelligence, physical/visual attributes, health factors, that attractiveness / fitness will become ever more subjective, Basically arising from the same fact, that resources are still limited and 'perfection' is highly subject to context.

Is your projected self unhappy because this individuation of what is attractive/fit/winning effectively divides society up into hundreds of thousands of sub-sub-sub-subcultures, and we presumably become more blase about differences but simultaneously more clique-ish / narrowly focused / echo-chamber-ish?

Now I want to read some fiction discussing these topics :)

comment by MalcolmOcean (malcolmocean) · 2013-07-31T19:14:03.703Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Will there be no diversity?

Only if for some reason we all end up with identical values. I find that to be extremely unlikely (and undesirable). People will have personal preferences, and will self-modify and self-optimize to suit those preferences. For example, some people might want gills to live underwater or something. Most won't.

Replies from: ikrase
comment by ikrase · 2013-08-01T09:37:37.707Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd actually expect more diversity, assuming no disaster.

comment by Carinthium · 2013-08-20T09:28:42.665Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Theoretical question. I have a character in a fanfic I'm writing with an 'infinite will' superpower they can turn on and off. Besides the obvious problems with forgetting to eat/sleep etc, what realistic downsides should overuse of this power have?

Replies from: gwern, CAE_Jones, Lumifer, Risto_Saarelma
comment by gwern · 2013-08-20T15:52:23.248Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Besides the obvious problems with forgetting to eat/sleep etc, what realistic downsides should overuse of this power have?

Extrapolate from stories about Adderall: infinite willpower for doing the wrong thing. The character winds up spending a year perfecting building toothpick castles eg.

comment by CAE_Jones · 2013-08-20T09:48:04.481Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll generalize from my own observations: I'm pretty sure there were many instances where, had I infinite willpower, I would have gotten some rather nice things done... but with some gaping flaws that I wouldn't notice until much later, flaws which would probably be pretty hard to mend without starting over. The sorta-kinda advantage to not being able to exert infinite will is the opportunity for plans to get gradually refined in the background, or for incidental side things to get involved, etc.

Metaphorical Tunnel vision, more or less.

So, for example, if this character is using their infinite willpower to construct an AGI, they'd be more likely to brute-force through it and end up with an UFAI.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-08-20T16:30:17.498Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you actually mean "infinite will" or "infinite ability to focus"?

Will -- that is, the ability of the rational mind / ego / neocortex to override anything coming from lower levels -- doesn't lead people to forget to eat or sleep. Focus does.

Replies from: Carinthium
comment by Carinthium · 2013-08-21T12:59:44.847Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I didn't realise that. What is the evolutionary reason infinite willpower would be a bad idea then? The character was meant to have infinite willpower, but the plot I had in my mind was that they jump at the chance only to find that it was a bad idea. The character who gains it is too stupid to think of the consequences.

Was it a bad idea for a plot, then? Are there are no downsides?

Replies from: Lumifer, Protagoras
comment by Lumifer · 2013-08-21T14:56:24.314Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is the evolutionary reason infinite willpower would be a bad idea then?

Infinite willpower implies that you don't have to listen to what your body and your subconscious are telling you. Evolutionary speaking it's a bad idea to ignore your body telling you it's damaged and will break down soon while your mind is soaring through n-dimensional algebra.

they jump at the chance only to find that it was a bad idea. The character who gains it is too stupid to think of the consequences.

I'd just call it "stupid" :-) Alternatively you can think about it as confirmation bias: once you commit to an idea or an approach you ignore/deny/discount evidence that tells you that idea is wrong.

The downsides of not updating one's beliefs on new evidence are rather obvious.

comment by Protagoras · 2013-08-21T14:17:19.905Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Willpower" is kind of a vague concept. Perhaps being able to always do what you think you ought to do? In that case, the downsides would perhaps involve problems of rationalization, or weaknesses in his reason, creating mismatches between what he thinks he ought to do and what will actually produce the best consequences. Maybe his laziness, squeamishness, and fear actually would prevent him from doing things he thinks he should do, but which actually would produce greater harm that he doesn't anticipate, or his anger, lust, etc. would motivate him to do things with beneificial consequences he doesn't anticipate, and so he ends up worse off when all that gets overridden.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2013-08-20T13:51:45.015Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My quick ideas are something like going from vacillating between exploration and exploitation strategies into pursuing pure exploitation and missing out on exploration paths, and generally ending up in failure modes of Hofstadterian sphexishness, where you doggedly keep at the same behavior when it obviously isn't working right in the circumstances. Though you could also use the power to pursue deliberate exploration and thinking things through, so it's not quite that simple.

Still, now there's the meta-problem of whether the thing you're trying to think through is the best thing to be thinking about. For a historical analogue, would this end up with you staying up for weeks cranking out the best machine code with 1950s computers while people without the superpower decide that cranking out machine code for weeks at an end is horrible and go ahead to invent Lisp and Fortran? If you resolve to do something that's too difficult, like proving whether P != NP, will you ever stop? How will you figure out the correct level to figure out things, so that you neither end up arranging pebbles instead of inventing a compiler nor end up trying to solve all of philosophy and never get anywhere because it's too hard for you?

How do you end up deciding to turn the power off anyway once you've turned it on? I guess there could be a natural control there, like you eventually falling unconscious from lack of sleep and waking up with the power turned off. What if there isn't?

comment by Duke · 2013-08-08T04:07:30.690Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is the gender of gothgirl420666?

Replies from: RichardKennaway
comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-08-08T07:01:04.796Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Spoiler warning! gothgirl420666's answer is here.

Before looking at that, can you say if you would attribute different meanings to what gothgirl420666 writes, depending on the gender you imagine gothgirl420666 being? The same for anyone else whose gender you do not know.

Preferably leaving aside the additional complications of people who, for whatever reason, present as the opposite gender to their physiological one.

ETA: More by gothgirl420666. Tvira gur anzr naq traqre, V'z vzntvavat na navzr pngobl glcr. Ohg V'z whfg znxvat gung hc.

Replies from: Duke
comment by Duke · 2013-08-08T14:55:48.844Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah interesting. I don't think the gender thing influenced my interpretations of the writing. Plus I started to figure out that he was a male fairly quickly but wasn't totally sure. I will say that he subverted my I-don't-listen-to-teenagers heuristic with some thoughtful, well-written posts. Funny too that reading his bio he strikes me as quite similar to myself, especially when I was in my late teens. In fact, I have posted on a forum with a girl-sounding name before.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-11T13:30:54.948Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Plus I started to figure out that he was a male fairly quickly

How did you do so? Are certain writing styles employed more frequently among males?

comment by nebulous · 2013-08-01T03:40:10.931Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was confused about Solomonoff induction a while ago. Since code from any part of whatever program is running could produce whatever string is observed, why would shorter programs be more likely to have produced the observed string? My understanding of the answer I received was that, since the Turing machine would produce its output linearly starting from the beginning of the program, a program with extra code before the piece that produced the observed string would have produced a different string. This made sense at the time, but since then I've thought of a variant of the problem involving not knowing the full length of the string, and I don't think that answer addresses it.

Since the code that produces the string can be arbitrarily long, and when trying to apply the principles of Solomonoff induction as a general means of induction outside of computer science we often can't observe the full string that whatever the code producing our observed string may have produced (for example, trying to find laws of physics, or the source of some event that happened in an uncontained / low-surveillance environment), why is a shorter program more likely? The program's length could be a billion times that of the shortest program to produce the string and be producing a ton of unobserved effects. I could wave my hands, say something about Occam's razor, and move on, but I thought Solomonoff induction was supposed to explain Occam's razor.

Replies from: Adele_L, Strilanc
comment by Adele_L · 2013-08-01T04:18:37.180Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Solomonoff induction is a formalization of Occam's razor.

You may find this article useful.

comment by Strilanc · 2013-08-01T13:06:39.112Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In order for the prior probabilities you assign to programs to be well-formed, they must limit to 0 as the length of the program goes to infinity. Otherwise the probabilities won't add up to 1.

No matter what prior you choose, you'll always end up with a variant of Occam's Razor where programs beyond a particular length are always assigned very low probabilities.

You don't necessarily have to decrease proportionally to 2^(-length), instead of say 3^(-length) or 1/Ackermann(length), like the Solomonoff prior does. However, since each additional bit lets you identify a value from a space that's twice as big (i.e. the precision grows like 2^length), it seems like a natural choice to penalize by that much.

(Personally, I prefer a prior that also lightly penalizes for running time. That removes computability issues and makes the induction approximable by dove-tailing.)

comment by OnTheOtherHandle · 2013-08-14T08:16:49.529Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are there any users of the spaced repetition software Mnemosyne that could help me with a technical issue? I just got the software for my Mac, and I've read in multiple places that you can import plain text files as a card deck. But on my version of Mnemosyne, I see no button saying "import files," and in fact no way at all to add more than one flashcard at a time.

My text editor is Word, and while I can save my vocabulary as a .txt file with Unicode encoding, I don't see any way to export it to Mnemosyne from there. Just to test if I understood the download/import concept at all, I tried downloading one of the free flashcard decks on the site, chose Mnemosyne as the application to open it with, and just got an error message. What am I missing here? Do I need to download a plug-in for importing to work?

Replies from: Zack_M_Davis
comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2013-08-14T16:47:18.383Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Replies from: OnTheOtherHandle
comment by OnTheOtherHandle · 2013-08-14T20:27:53.934Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, I completely forgot that Apple has the "File" button the menu bar instead of on the application itself.

comment by JQuinton · 2013-08-13T16:16:46.998Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Another stupid question about Bayes Theorem.

Let's say I go to the doctor and take some sort of screening test for cancer. Only 1% of the population has this cancer, and this test has an 80% success rate and 10% false positive rate. The test says I have the cancer, so this means that I'm now at approx. 7% probability that I have the cancer. If I go to a different doctor's office the next day and take the same test, am I updating on the original 1% or am I updating on the new 7%?

Replies from: ygert, asr, tut
comment by ygert · 2013-08-13T16:34:49.961Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It depends on the test, that is to say that the information given is not enough to determine it. If different instances of the test are independent, then you update on the 7%. If they are partially or completely dependant on one another, it is a lot more complicated. (An analogy: If you roll a die, there is a 1/2 chance of getting an even number, and a 1/2 chance if getting an odd number. If you roll the die twice, there is a 1/2 * 1/2 =1/4 chance of the first roll being odd, and the second roll being even, because the rolls are independent. Between non-independent events, you cannot just multiply out the probabilities like that. The chance of getting both an odd number and an even number on one die roll is 0, despite the fact that on a surface level it seems the same as the previous example: Two tests, each with a 1/2 chance of passing.)

So again, it depends on the type of test. If, say, the test is that people with a certain gene have more of a chance for the cancer (the test can always find the gene, and tells you the gene with 100% accuracy, but while having the gene increases your risk, it isn't absolute, giving the numbers you gave), then it is obvious that the new test will give you no new information. You know the test will again say that you have the gene, and you stay at the 7% confidence level. On the other hand, if the test is, say, some sort of scan, that will look for precancerous tissue, and in each unit of time, it has a certain (fixed) chance of either finding precancerous tissue if it exists or of falsely finding precancerous tissue, then multiple instances of the test will be independent, and so you can "add the information together", first updating on one test, then on the other, so you will do the update from the new test from your 7% confidence level.

(Actually, in real life, it will be far more complicated than that, with different test being only partially independent. It is unrealistic to think the first test will correctly identify the gene 100% of the time, and in the second one, there is only a fixed number of places in the body to look, so the probability of finding a new precancerous growth will probably not stay fixed.)

comment by asr · 2013-08-13T16:21:28.090Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not a stupid question. But I believe the answer depends on the details of the test. For some tests, the probabilities on successive tests will be correlated, and for others, they won't. My impression is that part of what people learn when they become medical specialists is when it makes sense to repeat the same test, and when it makes sense to look for a different test with uncorrelated errors.

comment by tut · 2013-08-14T17:46:25.535Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You update on the 7%, but the conditional probabilities of getting a positive result if you have and not have cancer respectively have also changed so that another positive test gives you less information than what it took to bring you from 1% to 7 %. See what ygert said.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-08-03T03:10:47.156Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have a problem. My mom sleeps about four to five hours a night and needs help getting into and out of bed. My father goes to sleep around 1 AM and gets up at around 10 AM or so, and gets her up shortly afterward. I usually end up taking my mom into bed some time between 4 AM and 6 AM, going to sleep a little while later, and waking up around 3-4 PM or so. Is there anything social to do in the world outside my house between, say, 2 AM and 5 AM?

Replies from: Aharon, Alsadius, Qiaochu_Yuan
comment by Aharon · 2013-08-03T08:06:46.718Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I hope you don't mind if I don't answer your actual question, but wouldn't it be a better option to sleep before taking your mom into bed, so you have sleep from 10 PM to 5 AM? What you're currently doing seems to equate to night-shifts, which are really bad for health, AFAIK. It would also help solving your problem of finding something social to do, I guess - that should be a lot easier in the evening.

Replies from: CronoDAS
comment by CronoDAS · 2013-08-03T17:42:10.784Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure I can actually do that, but I'll keep it in mind.

comment by Alsadius · 2013-08-03T15:04:24.533Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seems like those are your prime Internet hours, and you can be meatspace-social when 99% of the world isn't asleep.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-08-03T05:19:19.120Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seems to depend pretty strongly on where you are.

Replies from: CronoDAS
comment by CronoDAS · 2013-08-03T05:29:34.122Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah... the only local places I know of that are open 24 hours are a McDonalds and a Starbucks. :(

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-08-03T00:07:20.235Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why does FAI have to have a utility function that's such a close approximation of the human utility function? Let's say we develop awesome natural language processing technology, and the AI can read the internet and actually know what we mean when we say "OK AI, promote human flourishing" and ask us questions on ambiguous points and whatnot. Why doesn't this work? There are probably humans I would vote in to all-powerful benevolent dictator positions, so I'm not sure my threshold for what I'd accept as an all-powerful benevolent dictator is all that high.

Replies from: None, MugaSofer, Qiaochu_Yuan
comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-03T00:43:11.065Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You have two questions: why accurately approximate human value, and why not have it just ask us about ambiguities.

  1. Because the hard part is getting it to do anything coherent at all, and once we are there, it is little extra work to make it do what we really want.

  2. This would work. The hard part is to get it to do that.

I would also accept most people as BDFL, over the incumbent gods of indifferent chaos. Again the hard part is kicking out the incumbent. Past that point the debate is basically what color to paint the walls, by comparison.

Replies from: Eliezer_Yudkowsky
comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-08-03T01:03:44.777Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would also accept most people as BDFL, over the incumbent gods of indifferent chaos.

Not sure I would. Azathoth doesn't fight back if you try to overthrow it and set up Belldandy in Its place. George W. Bush would.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-03T02:52:21.334Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was modelling it as a superintelligence acting on eg GWB's behalf, including doing his moral philosophy (ie GWB's Extrapolated Volition). I see I wasn't exactly obvious with that assumption.

Let's put it this way, conditional on the BDFL doing well by their own standards (so, not the usual human fail), I would probably find that world superior to this.

The only wrench to be thrown in this is human corruption by power, but then it's debatable whether the BDFL is doing well by their own (previous) standards.

Replies from: ciphergoth
comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2013-08-04T10:18:18.199Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I broadly agree with this. GWB probably thinks of eg minimising gay sex as a terminal value, but I would have thought that a superintelligence extrapolating GWBEV would figure out that value was conditional on their being a God, which there isn't, and discard it.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-08-06T14:41:14.975Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, if we ask it to, say, maximize human happiness or "complexity" or virtue or GDP or any of a million other things ... BAM the world sucks and we probably can't fix it.

Replies from: John_Maxwell_IV
comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-08-03T01:43:42.135Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

ask us questions on ambiguous points and whatnot

Everything is ambiguous and this would slow it down too much.

Replies from: John_Maxwell_IV
comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-08-03T05:53:27.059Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"ambiguity" is a continuous parameter. Your sentence doesn't have enough ambiguousness for it to pass the threshold after which I would refer to it as "ambigious", but it probably doesn't mean exactly the same thing to me as it does to you.

Given sufficiently good language-understanding, world-modeling, and human-thought-intuiting algorithms (human-thought-intuiting perhaps to a large degree being implied by language-understanding and/or world-modeling), it seems like an AGI could interpret your sentence as well as I do if not better. You could configure it with some ambiguousness threshold beyond which it would ask for clarification.

comment by CAE_Jones · 2013-08-27T03:58:27.029Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How can blind people kill mosquitoes? (I've asked blind people about this, and most of what I got was "You mean there are sighted people who can kill mosquitoes?")

Mosquitoes are quite populous where I live, and while I don't expect them to give me any horrible diseases, they are a nuissance at best. There are the obvious first lines of defense--minimize their opportunities to enter, eliminate standing water and excess vegetation, encourage bats to hang out nearby, various plants/candles/technology whose efficacy is questionable--but for now all of those are out of my hands, and the indoor mosquito population seems to be on the rise. Someone suggested that fabric softeners make decent mosquito repellant--perhaps the only technique I can actually try for myself, though I still haven't had a chance to try and get my hands on a fabric softener since then.

I generally think people are too hard on most arthropods. Especially bees and spiders. But mosquitoes? If I could summon a legion of bats to do battle with the vampiric swarms, I'd still question whether it'd be enough.

But if I can stop them from attacking me once they're past all the outer defenses, that'd be spectacular. (Of course, I'd gladly buy and erect bat houses given the opportunity.)

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-08-28T15:51:25.319Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some suggestions from a friend of mine-- fans, especially ceiling fans, make it hard for mosquitoes to fly. Also, make sure there isn't standing water in the house for two or three days at a time-- this can happen with saucers under potted plants or dishes left in a sink.

comment by JackLight · 2013-08-11T20:21:59.768Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Whats MWI? and whats FAI?

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-08T11:00:39.230Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What do LW-ers in general think of embodied cognition? Upon first impression, it smells like pseudo-science to me, but I would love to hear the opinions and thoughts of those who have devoted more attention to the subject than I have. Thank you!

Replies from: Risto_Saarelma
comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2013-08-08T11:12:44.227Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's being discussed here. People with a computer science background often consider the physical reality mostly exchangeable with an extensive simulated environment for the purposes of intelligent agents and therefore tend to not readily agree with viewpoints that claim that a non-virtual environment is philosophically necessary.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-08T11:18:57.002Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That is very informative. Thank you. I'd also like to hear the thoughts of those with different backgrounds -- e.g., neuroscience.

comment by ThisSpaceAvailable · 2013-08-07T01:16:33.903Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure whether to revive a thread on Pascal's Mugging to ask this question, but why is it specified that the person says "Give me five dollars, or I'll use my magic powers from outside the Matrix to run a Turing machine that simulates and kills 3^^^^3 people"? Let S = "the person has the power to do so, and will do so unless you give $5". Suppose you assign a probability 1/3^^^3 to the P(S| person claims S), and suppose you assign a probability of 10^-100 to P(does not claim S|S). Then shouldn't you assign a probability of 1/((10^100)(3^^^3)) to P(S|doesn't claim S)? If you're willing to give $5 to someone who claims S, shouldn't you be only slightly less willing to give $5 to everyone, regardless of whether they claim S?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-01T02:23:05.995Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How do you resolve situations in which you experience disinterest towards any/most things?

This is assuming that you are interested enough to want to work against the disinterest. Also, note that disinterest and lack of motivation are different things. A lack of motivation implies that there is still some presence of a goal, just not the interest to work towards it, whereas blatant disinterest is indicative of a lack of a goal... or at least the clear perception of one.

comment by shminux · 2013-08-02T20:19:09.675Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect that one feature people want from this thread is that all top-level replies/questions are safe from downvoting, so maybe it's worth adding to the rules, if not to the code.

Replies from: BlindIdiotPoster
comment by BlindIdiotPoster · 2013-08-04T07:42:34.671Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Personally I'm just going with the policy of upvoting every negative Karma question.

comment by Rukifellth · 2013-07-31T22:48:39.681Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How do I convince someone that Open Individualism is false?

Replies from: Dre, tim, CronoDAS, Oscar_Cunningham
comment by Dre · 2013-08-01T04:26:13.837Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know if this is exactly what you're looking for, but the only way I've found to make philosophy of identity meaningful is to interpret it as about values. In this reading questions of personal identity are what you do/should value as "yourself".

Clearly you-in-this-moment is yourself. Do you value you-in-ten-minutes the same as yourself-now? ten years? simulations?, etc. Then Open Individualism (based on my cursory googling) would say we should value everyone (at all times?) identically as ourselves. Then it's clearly descriptively false, and, at least to me, seems highly unlikely to be any sort of "true values", so it's false.

comment by tim · 2013-08-01T00:45:26.418Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I bet tabooing/rigorously defining "subject" and "everyone" in the context of the first line of the wikipedia summary would do it. At least to the extent that the position would become either incoherent or tautological.

Open individualism is the view in the philosophy of personal identity, according to which there exists only one numerically identical subject, which is everyone.

Replies from: Rukifellth
comment by Rukifellth · 2013-08-01T01:00:13.005Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Subject: a word which is synonymous with person.

Everyone: All persons that exist, have existed or will exist.

Though I have a feeling these definitions aren't rigorous. I'm also stumped on "numerically identical".

Replies from: Oscar_Cunningham
comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2013-08-01T09:57:10.534Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think "numerically identical" is just a stupid way of saying "they're the same".

So now we have

Open individualism is the view in the philosophy of personal identity, according to which there exists only one person, which is all persons that exist, have existed or will exist.

Now taboo "person".

(You're allowed to reword my above definition if you think I've got it wrong.)

Replies from: Rukifellth, randallsquared
comment by Rukifellth · 2013-08-22T21:15:49.712Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your definition is good, and I'm having a hard time tabooing the word person, so what if I tried making a prediction?

If Open Individualism is true, then there is no moral consequence of fission or fusion, and nothing remarkable about such a process.

Replies from: Oscar_Cunningham
comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2013-08-23T04:33:22.762Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That uses the word "moral", which is well known to hide many mysteries. After fissioning someone, how would you judge if your prediction was right or wrong?

Replies from: Rukifellth, Rukifellth, Rukifellth
comment by Rukifellth · 2013-09-02T17:21:28.035Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Another prediction is that there is no difference between a clone of myself and another person.

comment by Rukifellth · 2013-08-27T16:24:06.409Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It may also help to consider that my interpretation of OI seems to imply that murder is not wrong, which is quite an odd result.

comment by Rukifellth · 2013-08-23T11:38:34.350Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Moral in this case is the adjective that labels the set of all actions that could be Right or Wrong. In turn, Right is the set of all actions that cause warmth, benign camaraderie and relief of negative emotions, and Wrong is the set of all actions that cause alienation and other suffering, as well as the extinguishment of warmth and benign camaraderie.

The reason fusion would have no such Right or Wrong consequence is that since there is only one person in the universe, there is no one who would be destroyed in such a process. Indeed, since no one has disappeared, nothing about the process will be alienating or frightening. The entire theory can serve as a solution to fusion and fission problems, though I suppose making everyone a p-zombie could also do that.

comment by randallsquared · 2013-08-08T13:29:22.919Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think "numerically identical" is just a stupid way of saying "they're the same".

In English, at least, there appears to be no good way to differentiate between "this is the same thing" and "this is an exactly similar thing (except that there are at least two of them)". In programming, you can just test whether two objects have the same memory location, but the simplest way to indicate that in English about arbitrary objects is to point out that there's only one item. Hence the need for phrasing like "numerically identical".

Is there a better way?

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-08-01T00:34:58.473Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

::does a Google Search, finds Wikipedia page::

This appears to be a position that is either incoherent, has no practical implications, or is obviously stupid and wrong. I therefore feel justified in ignoring it.

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2013-08-01T00:17:47.239Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What convinced you that it's false? Use that. (Note that "what convinced you" might not have been a direct argument, but perhaps a particular way of looking at the problem.)

Replies from: Rukifellth
comment by Rukifellth · 2013-08-01T00:27:04.635Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not convinced that it's false- I'm hoping someone could help me with that.

Replies from: Oscar_Cunningham
comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2013-08-01T00:39:06.126Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(*Looks up "Open Individualism"*)

It looks pretty meaningless to me. Like it's a solution proposed to a problem when the problem itself is confused. It fails the standard tests of meaningfulness: What would you expect if you believed it that you wouldn't otherwise? Suppose Open Individualism were true on Monday but false on Tuesday, what would change?

Replies from: Kaj_Sotala, Rukifellth
comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2013-08-04T20:49:12.006Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Our minds need to use some definition of personal identity in order to function: open, empty, and closed individualism are the alternatives that you can try to make your brain follow, though we're pretty strongly hardwired to use closed individualism by default and that's very difficult to overcome.

The choice of personal identity doesn't necessarily alter our predictions, but it can (temporarily at least) change our values and thereby behavior: if you believe that you are everyone, then you are much less willing to hurt others. It may also affect things such as your happiness, if it makes you feel more connected with others or if it makes the risk of your own death feel like less of an issue.

comment by Rukifellth · 2013-08-01T00:51:13.119Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This will require careful thinking on my part- I'll get back to you in a few days. For that purpose, what are the other tests of meaningfulness?

Replies from: Oscar_Cunningham
comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2013-08-01T01:08:28.045Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The only other one I can think of at the moment is "Can the hypothesis be worded in a way that refers to only physical objects?"

See also this post: Making Beliefs Pay Rent (in Anticipated Experiences).

Replies from: Rukifellth
comment by Rukifellth · 2013-08-01T02:01:59.501Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It could, if we say that consciousness (I'm still not sure how that word is thought of here) is thought to be a physical object. However, (and I am saying this tentatively), I've heard of instances where particles can be made to have no distinction, where action on one particle has effect on a particle at a distance, so there is a prior example of two physical objects being the same entity despite spatial and numerical difference.

Replies from: Oscar_Cunningham
comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2013-08-01T09:49:51.495Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It could, if we say that consciousness (I'm still not sure how that word is thought of here) is thought to be a physical object.

If you don't understand consciousness then this isn't allowed.

However, (and I am saying this tentatively), I've heard of instances where particles can be made to have no distinction, where action on one particle has effect on a particle at a distance, so there is a prior example of two physical objects being the same entity despite spatial and numerical difference.

Do you think that if we had turned out to live in a purely Newtonian universe with no quantum nonsense then no-one would have proposed Open Individualism? If not then the resolution can't lie in quantum physics.