Solved Problems Repository

post by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-03-27T04:51:54.419Z · score: 28 (32 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 272 comments

Follow-up to: Boring Advice Repository

Many practical problems in instrumental rationality appear to be wide open. Two I've been annoyed by recently are "what should I eat?" and "how should I exercise?" However, some appear to be more or less solved. For example, various mnemonic techniques like memory palaces, along with spaced repetition, seem to more or less solve the problem of memorization.

I would like people to use this thread to post other examples of solved problems in instrumental rationality. I'm pretty sure you all collectively know good examples; there's a comment I can't find from a user who said something like "taking a flattering photograph of yourself is a solved problem," and it's likely that there are other useful examples like this that aren't common knowledge. Err on the side of posting solutions which may not be universal but are still likely to be helpful to many people. 

(This thread is allowed to not be boring! Go wild!) 

272 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-03-27T20:55:32.961Z · score: 23 (26 votes) · LW · GW

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-03-27T22:55:01.375Z · score: 30 (29 votes) · LW · GW

My only problem with this flow is that it waits far too long before Googling.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-25T09:27:24.686Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My only problem is the fucking annoying habit of software corporations to translate everything, not just the GUI which makes sense, but even stdout error messages. This means not only translating back to English but even guessing the original wording, then googling. The worst part is they seriously think they are helpful here, thinking even IT people who read console error messages not always read English. How the heck are they supposed to solve problems then? I don't think they still think people read documentation, do they?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2015-03-25T14:35:31.048Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, it's a tricky thing. I've actually been involved in translation projects for global software, and the closest I can come to an answer is that they don't really think anything at all... there's several different divisions involved, and each one has bits of the picture, and it all just chunks along without anyone thinking it through end-to-end.

Really, a lot of software development, and of organizational activity more generally, is like that.

All of that said... yeah, the "user googles the error message for instructions" use case is not one that gets taken nearly seriously enough. This is also why you get error messages in dialog boxes that don't support copy-and-paste. If it were, every error message would have a unique copy-able ID code .

comment by kpreid · 2013-03-28T03:21:16.137Z · score: 10 (14 votes) · LW · GW

It's a nice joke, but I don't think it's actually good advice. There is a lot of background knowledge about how most computer software works that goes into actually executing the steps of this or similar procedures, e.g.

  • knowledge defining the “looks related” relation
  • knowledge about which things are likely to be destructive enough to exclude from “pick one at random”
  • knowledge about what “it worked” consists of when the shortest path to the goal is more than one step
comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-03-28T04:54:05.400Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

But you acquire that background knowledge faster when you follow the procedure.

My mother is retired, and sits paralyzed in front of the computer not knowing what button to press. I try to explain that you're unlikely to break anything, so just start looking around.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2013-03-28T07:52:58.998Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

I initially tried giving my mother the "you're unlikely to break anything" advice as well, then reconsidered after she'd followed that advice and gotten malware on the computer.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2013-03-28T09:09:31.353Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

"Boot into this live-CD and you're unlikely to break anything a reboot won't fix." (At least as long as you don't use webmail or similar persistent online accounts that can get hacked by malware you downloaded into RAM during the same session.)

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-03-28T17:29:49.751Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I learned most of what I learned -by- breaking things.

For example, I learned how page files worked because American Online and Dungeon Keeper both tried to seize them for themselves, and if Dungeon Keeper was run, AOL wouldn't run subsequently without a reboot. Research on the issue turned up that disabling page filing would fix it, which led me to research page filing to see what disabling it would do.

comment by kpreid · 2013-03-28T14:54:24.159Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I claim that you have a lot of background knowledge which gives your experimental actions a probability distribution much more like “unlikely to break anything” than hers.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-03-29T00:21:57.785Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not really, and particularly not with the new managed computing environments (Android/Ipad) that don't give you root. You can install programs they pre screen, and run them. And she's not likely to install anything I hadn't suggested. Just not a lot to break.

When in doubt, (<-back), (Home), or reboot, in that order.

Is there any kind of widespread problems with a google Nexus getting pwned?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-25T09:31:24.373Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Can relate, the weirdest habit of non-computer-literate people is 1) not reading what is on the screen 2) not trying to interpret even really simple instructions on the screen. Is there any sort of a cognitive explanation why do we have to have conversations like this?

"The computer froze."

"Do you see a pop-up window with a message?"

"Yes."

"Is there anything written into it?"

"Yes."

"What?"

(squint, lean closer) "Posting Date must not be empty in..."

"What do you think it means?"

"Ugh, fill out the Posting Date?"

"Exactly."

comment by Fadeway · 2013-03-28T02:36:33.814Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Google never fails. The chart shall not allow it.

comment by elharo · 2013-05-15T22:24:42.112Z · score: 20 (19 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't think of this until the recent munchkin post, but one solved problem is what financial instruments to invest in. The answer is index funds with low fees in a tax advantaged account. Vanguard has some good funds with fees as low as 0.1%. Unless you're a professional investor (and maybe not even then) your chance of beating index fund performance over the long term is tiny. Not quite winning the lottery tiny, but maybe winning a big stuffed animal at a rigged carnival game tiny.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-25T03:52:54.403Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The technical term for "low fees" is expense ratio.

comment by diegocaleiro · 2013-09-03T15:04:45.669Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How about index funds in countries that have an obviously larger growth potential instead of one's own country.

I don't mean to brag, but I'll bet none of you rich country folk have seen rates we've seen in Brazil in the last many years.

comment by elharo · 2013-09-18T10:11:28.581Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

That's the Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock Index Fund and indeed I own some of that. However it's a relatively small part of my portfolio. The risk and variance are much higher, and the risk and variance of a single country index fund would be higher still. This fund dropped more than 75% during the 2008 crash and still hasn't recovered. The expense ratio ranges from about 0.2% to 0.33%, higher though not hugely so than domestic and total international index funds.

Most investors, especially those with smaller portfolios or who have a shorter time horizon, are probably better off with something like the Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund which includes a developing markets component, but also includes Asia and Europe, or the Vanguard Total World Stock Index which adds the United States to the mix.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-25T03:55:49.615Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

At least in the US, generally expense ratios on foreign index funds are higher than on domestic index funds. They're still a better deal than actively managed mutual funds.

comment by MTGandP · 2013-08-18T22:47:58.680Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

your chance of beating index fund performance over the long term is tiny.

Isn't it more like 50%?

comment by gwern · 2013-08-18T23:42:09.432Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

No; you are incurring extra fees due to your likely extra trading, diseconomies of scale, and uncompensated risk due to less diversification.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-09-18T18:48:34.156Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

one solved problem is what financial instruments to invest in.

That is not even close to true.

To start with, consider the variation in people's goals, expectations, and risk tolerance.

comment by elharo · 2013-09-25T10:26:40.954Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That only changes which index funds to invest in, particularly the mix of stocks vs bonds. Unless your goal is to lose money, the answer is still index funds.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-09-25T14:44:58.638Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Can you provide an unfolded argument as to why index funds are the right investment vehicles for everyone on this planet?

comment by elharo · 2013-09-25T16:06:45.275Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Index funds outperform all other investments over a reasonably long time horizon.

Even over a short time horizon while certain stocks and funds may outperform some index funds, it is not possible to pick what those stocks are in advance. While you may get lucky with an individual stock pick, you are more likely to get unlucky. The expected return on the index fund is higher.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-09-25T16:39:12.189Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Index funds outperform all other investments over a reasonably long time horizon.

Really? Surely you will be able to provide data to support this rather amazing claim. It certainly does not look true to me.

...it is not possible

Why is that? How do you know what's possible and what's not?

comment by elharo · 2013-09-27T11:47:17.173Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Many intelligent, rational folks have written about this at great length with lots of charts and numbers. Instead of rehashing the same material, let me just point you at Eric Tyson's Personal Finance for Dummies. as a good starting point.

As to why it's not possible, the short answer is the weak efficient market hypothesis, which has been well proven by 100+ years of experience. I don't personally hold the stronger version--that is, I believe it may be possible to beat the market given insider information--but unless you have such insider information, the expected return of an index fund is greater than any other investment you can make in the same sector.

To bring this back on topic for LessWrong, keep in mind that when evaluating investor performance, you have to avoid survivorship bias. I.e. you need to consider the class of investors as a whole, not merely the ones who got lucky and shout their performance from the rooftops, but also the much larger class of investors who underperformed the market. This alone may be enough to account for the Peter Lynch's and Warren Buffet's of the world.

And of course we also need to account for hindsight bias. I.e. in 2013 investing in Magellan or Berkshire Hathaway circa 1983 is a no-brainer, but how could you pick those in 1983 amongst all the others that looked equally good at the time? Magellan's actually a really interesting case. When I first started paying attention to mutual funds about 15 years, it was the poster child for an actively managed fund that could outperform the indexes. However over the last 10 years or so, it's significantly underperformed the S&P 500. If I had bought it back then instead of the index fund I did buy, I'd have less money today.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-09-27T14:34:41.964Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Many intelligent, rational folks have written about this at great length with lots of charts and numbers.

Let me remind you what we are talking about. You said "Index funds outperform all other investments over a reasonably long time horizon." I believe this statement to be false. The general handwaving in the direction of "many intelligent, rational folks" does not look convincing.

Perhaps you could expand that statement a bit? What exactly do you call index fund, what are all other investments and what's a reasonably long time horizon? Does the concept of risk enter this claim at all?

let me just point you...

Can we move the discussion a couple of levels higher? I am reasonably well-acquainted with finance and not much interested in explanations for dummies.

the short answer is the weak efficient market hypothesis, which has been well proven by 100+ years of experience.

First, I do not believe EMH, even in the weak form, has been "proven". I also do not think it is correct (at least in a falsifiable form -- you can make it unfalsifiable easily enough by saying that the "long term" isn't here yet).

Second, weak EMH claims that it's not possible to predict future prices solely from past prices. Your claim -- "it is not possible to pick what those stocks are in advance" -- looks like semi-strong EMH and that one is pretty certain to be wrong.

Oh, and I am well aware of both survivorship bias and hindsight bias.

comment by elharo · 2013-09-29T13:08:26.249Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A few months ago I proposed writing a book that would answer all your questions in detail, but there wasn't enough interest to make it worth doing. There are many good books out there already that address these issues. I get that "Dummies" books are too low-status for you. I'll try to dig up some equally well-written, correct references that are higher status and explain things like "what an index fund is?" "what's a reasonably long time horizon?", and "what other investments are possible?" For starters, I've heard good things about Suze Orman's books, though I haven't read them myself.

Your formulation of the weak efficient market hypothesis is incorrect. The weak EMH is not based solely on past prices, but on all publicly available information.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-09-30T16:45:00.580Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

are too low-status for you

No, it's not an issue of status. They are too simplified and do not reflect reality to the degree that I consider necessary. It's like telling a competitive athlete "Oh, physical fitness is solved, just go to the gym".

I don't want references, anyway. You are claiming that investing is solved. You are saying that the only correct investment is into an index fund. Well then, tell me what's an index fund. Is it just any passive diversified investment? There are a great many indices, are all of them equally good? How diversified is diversified enough? Is "long term" a year? five year? ten? fifty? Should commodities be part of a well-diversified portfolio? should currency? real estate? sovereign bonds? volatility?

Your formulation of the weak efficient market hypothesis is incorrect. The weak EMH is not based solely on past prices, but on all publicly available information.

Let's see... Wikipedia: "In weak-form efficiency, future prices cannot be predicted by analyzing prices from the past. ... Share prices exhibit no serial dependencies, meaning that there are no "patterns" to asset prices. This implies that future price movements are determined entirely by information not contained in the price series. Hence, prices must follow a random walk."

Investopedia: "The weak-form EMH implies that the market is efficient, reflecting all market information. ... The semi-strong form EMH implies that the market is efficient, reflecting all publicly available information."

comment by elharo · 2013-10-02T20:47:06.014Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Your wikipedia quote is badly out of context. The article as a whole does not agree with you. A better summary of wikipedia's definition is given right at the start of the article:

There are three major versions of the hypothesis: "weak", "semi-strong", and "strong". The weak-form EMH claims that prices on traded assets (e.g., stocks, bonds, or property) already reflect all past publicly available information. The semi-strong-form EMH claims both that prices reflect all publicly available information and that prices instantly change to reflect new public information. The strong-form EMH additionally claims that prices instantly reflect even hidden or "insider" information.

Your investopedia quote is less out of context, but you still omit a key component of the semistrong hypothesis: that prices adjust quickly. Personally I neither agree nor disagree that prices adjust quickly. I think the wikipedia version is what most people in finance and economics understand as the weak efficient market hypothesis. However if you want to redefine these terms so only the semistrong hypothesis includes all publicly available information, then fine. I would agree with that part of the semistrong hypothesis.

Now on to your specific question. A few stinkers here and there aside, The Dummies Books are incredibly well written and an excellent introduction to most topics. The ones by Eric Tyson on investing and finance are definitely among the best, and I highly recommend them to you if your goal is to increase your wealth and income.

But if you really don't like the Dummies books, many other references are available. I consulted some folks who spend way more time and energy thinking about this than I do, and here are some sources they recommend:

Rick Ferri's columns at Forbes, specifically

Mutual Fund Managers Fall Short Again

Index Fund Portfolios Reign Superior

5 Lies About Index Funds

Bogle's Common Sense on Mutual Funds is "page after page of raw data from Vanguard Research and others. It's an onslaught of irrefutable evidence of the superiority of low-cost index funds"

The Coffeehouse Investor

The Elements of Investing

Passive Investing: The Evidence the Fund Management Industry Would Prefer You Not to See

These answer all your questions and more. I'm not going to write my own 700 page tome rehashing what's readily available elsewhere. You can dispute or ignore the evidence if you like, but you'll just be setting yourself up to be money pumped by hucksters in fancy suits who are ready, willing, and able to take your money.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-10-03T19:14:38.591Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is pointless. We are speaking at different levels right past each other.

comment by Pablo_Stafforini · 2013-03-27T05:38:17.012Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

At least for people with the right personality profile (relatively high openness, above bottom decile of extroversion), CouchSurfing seems to have solved the problem of finding cheap (indeed, free) and comfortable short-term accommodation in a foreign city.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-25T09:21:43.696Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is the problem of feeling terribly ashamed to accept accomodation without payment or compensation solved or this a test for openness / extroversion I just failed? :) There is nothing I hate more than getting favors and feeling obligated.

comment by Pablo_Stafforini · 2015-03-28T20:42:13.363Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It might be that you haven't used CS enough to internalize the ethos governing host-guest relationships. I don't think CS hosts generally frame their decision to host someone as providing a favor to this person; rather, this is something they do because they genuinely enjoy it. Speaking for myself, I only expect my guests to be considerate (make little noise, be clean, etc., and show kindness in our interactions). As long as this minimal expectation is met, I take them to be under no obligation towards me.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-30T07:22:33.446Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I never dared trying it so yes, haven't used it "enough". Are they under no obligation to entertain the host, engaging in chat, small talk, not be morose and sullen, not be a killjoy? That alone would be quite a pressure. As it means they owe it to the host to be enjoyable.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2013-03-31T16:21:56.076Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

At least for me, getting up when the alarm clock rings used to be almost impossible and I kept staying in bed for 12 hours a day unless there was something that I absolutely had to get up in time for. Anders Sandberg's caffeine pill trick solved that problem for me, and it has worked for over five years now:

This week I have experimented with a new way of getting up in the morning. My problem is that Anders-Sleepy has different goals than Anders-Awake, and is quite adept at resetting the alarm clock. Now I, Anders-Awake, has found a way around this self:

I set my alarm to 6:00 and 8:00. At 6:00 I go up, take a 50mg caffeine pill, and go to bed again. Then I sleep and wake up rested and energetic around 8.

In my case the time for the pill to start working seems to be 1.5 hours. A dose of one pill ensures that I wake up (but still yawning) while two pills makes me start the day much more quickly. The added benefit is of course a regular sleep schedule.

I ran into the problem of a late night one of the days, where I remained awake until 3:30. In this case I adjusted the program slightly, taking the pill at 7:00 and sleeping to 8:30, this seemed to work and the rest of the day was efficient. I became tired earlier in the evening, which was fixed by going to sleep earlier.

Using caffeine to combat sleep inertia is not my idea; a study has shown that it works for naps. Music may also help.

comment by bokov · 2013-09-11T21:56:10.620Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What works for me in addition to my equivalent of the caffeine pill is:

  • An alarm that gradually gets louder. It's not even one of the traditional annoying tones, just kind of a gentle new-agey song. The key features seems to be the getting louder with time.

  • Putting my underwear, clothing, glasses, and the alarm at my desk, away from the bed, so that I have to get up to turn off the alarm and by then it's not that much extra trouble to also get dressed, and I tell myself that if I'm still tired after that I can sit down at my desk, which is still better than rolling back into bed.

comment by gwillen · 2013-07-25T03:19:00.177Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For me, the problem of waking up when my alarm goes off has been totally solved by using an alarm (Alarm Clock Plus for Android) which requires me to do complex mental math before it will shut off.

This doesn't solve the related problem of getting out of bed when the alarm goes off; only waking up and not going back to sleep.

comment by drethelin · 2013-04-02T14:44:30.171Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

one thing that helps me with this is having set up a thing I do semi-automatically whenever I get up. Go to bathroom, check weight, go make coffee usually means I actually get up unless I'm crazy tired and don't actually get as far as coffee making

comment by Stabilizer · 2013-03-28T00:52:39.670Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

The problem of transferring large files over the internet has been solved by Dropbox or similar services.

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2013-03-28T10:43:21.332Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

For certain values of "large".

comment by Stabilizer · 2013-03-29T07:48:11.557Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

For larger files there is always the SneakerNet.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-03-29T17:39:14.038Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

A padded envelope containing a dozen 16GB SD cards, sent by Express Mail (next-day delivery) has a bandwidth of about one megabit-per-second.

Networks have actually gotten fast.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-25T09:24:27.164Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is a classic demonstration of the difference between bandwith and latency. As in, if you have only 1MB to tansfer, with this method it still takes a day. High-bandwith, low latency, like ship freight (as opposed to low-bandwith, high-latency air freight).

comment by Pablo_Stafforini · 2013-06-14T15:42:05.771Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I have been using Dropbox for the past couple of years, but the new BitTorrent Sync seems to be a superior alternative: it is more secure and has no size limits.

comment by jsteinhardt · 2013-03-27T15:49:47.593Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

"How do I get stronger?" has been solved and the solution is Starting Strength.

Evidence: The set of my friends who are strong is exactly the set of my friends who do / have done Starting Strength or a close variant. Also, I used to lift with several competitive power lifters (including someone ranked top 100 nationally in the deadlift) and they unanimously advocated it.

These are relatively large N and effect size btw, i.e. I know at least 15 people who've done SS and they're out-benching the non-SS'ers by 20 pounds on the low end, and 100 pounds on the high end (I pick bench because it is the exercise most people are familiar with; the gap for other things like squat is more like 50 pounds on low end, 200 pounds on high end).

comment by DerBerggeist · 2013-03-27T19:02:56.690Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I wouldn't call SS the end-all, be-all solution for getting stronger, that would more closely be something like "progressive overload using compound exercises (or whatever you want to get stronger at) while under caloric surplus and having decent macro/micronutritional spreads. Also sleeping well and not having any other unusual health problems".

SS is a great program for beginners, but any other program that fits the above should work (like stronglifts). I also wouldn't recommend SS to intermediate or advanced lifters, when linear progression is no longer possible.

comment by maia · 2013-03-27T21:13:10.480Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This is the impression I've gotten as a beginner to lifting.

My current problem is "how can I learn to do SS safely and cheaply?" My university has an appropriately equipped gym, but I can't really afford coaching.

comment by aelephant · 2013-03-28T00:06:09.536Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

No need. Lifting weights is not rocket science. Even if it were, you're smart, right? I'm sure your gym has a squat rack & mirrors -- that's all you really need.

comment by maia · 2013-03-28T01:27:03.556Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Sure. I feel pretty comfortable with squats and benching already. I'm just a bit concerned about learning, say, powercleans without guidance, and going up on weight on them without assurance that I am, in fact, throwing the huge metal object into the air correctly.

comment by Brigid · 2013-04-14T16:06:14.929Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There are numerous serious lifting forums on the web that will critique your beginner cleans (for free) out of the goodness their hearts. You just need to film it and upload the video. So do this with lighter weights and see what people say., make the adjustments and ask again. Also, definitely start with cleans--they are a lot safer than snatches and much easier to master.

comment by aelephant · 2013-03-28T13:28:46.407Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, that makes much more sense. Actually there are various versions of SS that swap out powercleans for technically easier exercises.

comment by maia · 2013-03-28T18:49:34.405Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Happen to know any that also lack pullups? I can't do one, and likely won't be able to for a while (I am female). All the powerclean-free ones I've seen replace them with pullups.

(Also, I just found this on Google and am somewhat disturbed. Rippetoe claims you can learn to power clean without a coach, while this guy claims that Rippetoe doesn't even teach power cleans correctly: http://www.manlycurls.com/2012/02/starting-strength-truth-rippetoe-opinion-fitness/)

comment by shokwave · 2013-03-31T13:27:43.162Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

On pullups - you can replace them with pull-up negatives. Jump up to the chin-above-bar position and lower yourself as slowly as you can, particularly towards the end of the movement. Let go of the bar and jump again. About the only thing this doesn't train, that the regular pullup will, is the starting-from-a-dead-hang motion.

(This has the added benefit of eventually being able to do pullups.)

comment by Brigid · 2013-04-14T16:08:22.025Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I also advise that between jumping pullups, you return to a faux-deadhang position (even if this requires you to bend your knees to fit under the bar). Again, you will get tired of jumping pretty quickly and then will start to rely on your arms and back.

comment by 9eB1 · 2013-04-01T15:31:41.864Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I recommend working up to pullups by using the cable pull-down machine and programming it as 3x5 the same way you do for the main lifts. People typically program pullups for reps because of the inconvenience of adding weight, but it's fundamentally the same as any other movement in terms of the expected effect at different rep ranges. On the cable machine you are limited to lifting at most your own body weight conveniently, but by the time you can do 3x5 at a weight near your body weight you should be able to perform at least one pullup. Also, you should know that at most gyms it's possible to add 5 lb plates to the machine by threading the attachment thing through the plate or by using supplemental plates that you can add to the top of the weight stack, if your gym has them. The cable pull-down is reputed to be slightly easier but I find the difficulty comparable as long as you focus on keeping your torso vertical and pretending you are lifting up to the bar rather than lifting the bar down to your neck (kind of silly but it works). Most people tend to lean back slightly which makes it a little easier and a little less like a pullup.

I program my chinups and pullups this way and I can do them weighted with 62.5lb and 52.5lb respectively, starting from only being able to do 1 or 2 at bodyweight. Also I have a powerlifting total >1100lb from Starting Strength then Wendler's 5/3/1 over the last two years, and highly recommend that track.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-03-28T23:02:00.384Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That is correct, Rippetoe teaches the powerclean based on olympic lifting technique from the 60's when the rules were different.

Do barbell rows instead of cleans. This won't cause any problems.

comment by maia · 2013-03-29T04:25:26.395Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

based on olympic lifting technique from the 60's when the rules were different.

Interesting; that's a different reason than the one that guy cited. He claimed that a better source for learning powercleans is actually an older one from the '70's by Bill Starr. He seems to think, and I get the impression, that Rippetoe's changes are actually newer, instead of a reversion to an older standard.

Could you elaborate on the differences between what he teaches and... what one should do instead?

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-03-29T07:21:37.721Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The concept of a vertical pull originates from technique when brushing the thigh with the barbell was disqualifying of the lift. This lead to lifters keeping the bar further away from the body, and subsequently for rippetoe to teach the first pull as extremely similar to a deadlift. In contrast, modern technique shows a very distinct S shaped bar path on ascent. Rippetoe is disagreeing with every world record holder in the olympic lifts here, and notably has not trained anyone near close to competitive at even a national level. In contrast, Glenn Pendlay (who has trained the number 1 nationally ranked lifters in several weight divisions) and every other olympic coach teaches them very differently. Clean pulls are NOT deadlift pulls. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mEyoH5FV03s

comment by Elithrion · 2013-03-28T19:57:13.239Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I was looking up the Marines' fitness requirements at some point randomly, and for females the pull-up requirement is apparently replaced with a flexed-arm hang (wiki about.com), so you could maybe try doing that.

comment by jsteinhardt · 2013-03-30T08:29:20.500Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Flexed-arm hang won't work as a replacement for pull-ups in the context of this particular program; maintaining a load in a static position is very different from moving that load up and down.

comment by Brigid · 2013-04-14T16:12:18.959Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

As a former Marine, in addition to the difference pointed out by jsteinhardt, the flexed arm hang works your arms only, not your back. Pullups require an overhand grip, whereas the flexed arm hang (and chinup) focus on your biceps.

comment by Brigid · 2013-04-14T16:01:35.473Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As someone who has been in this situation, pullup negatives have worked for me. I would also add regular jumping pullups, without the negatives. As you do more, your jumping abilities will decrease and youll start to rely more on your arms/back, thus building those muscles. Most gyms also have an assisted pullup machine.

comment by zedzed · 2014-04-18T15:28:33.706Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Update: Romeo_Stevens has done better than Starting Strength, and every other exercise program I'm aware of, with the power of science.

comment by Yossarian · 2013-04-07T20:26:23.768Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Additionally, fitness roughly breaks into two broad categories - resistance and cardiovascular. Starting Strength covers resistance training, but the cardiovascular version of Starting Strength is Couch To 5K. It uses the same basic concept of progressive overload applied to running.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-25T09:36:24.030Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

SS covers strength training. There is more visual resistance training, body building, which is more about looks than strength, and utilizes about 50% SS like composite exercises, 50% isolation and higher rep counts, 8-10.

comment by PECOS-9 · 2013-03-27T17:58:47.921Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is also a solution to "I am underweight/too skinny, how do I get bigger?"

comment by Slackson · 2013-03-27T19:53:14.397Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Is SS for looking good, or for practical strength? I know they correlate, but optimizing for one doesn't necessarily mean optimizing for the other.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-03-27T20:21:58.721Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You will not be looking good in the 4 months SS takes. Body composition is a long term project. SS and similar programs are to strengthen the substrate so you have something to build on.

comment by jsteinhardt · 2013-03-30T08:32:35.966Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you want to look good, do starting strength for several months to build a base of strength, then switch to something geared more towards body-building (warning: I haven't tried this myself yet; also, depends somewhat on how much more muscular you want to look).

Another point is that body fat percent matters a decent amount for how "buff" you look as well, although there's a tradeoff where you won't build muscle as quickly if you're starving yourself.

Also, what you wear has a reasonably large impact on how muscular you look, at least when you're wearing clothes.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-03-31T14:54:55.219Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Another point is that body fat percent matters a decent amount for how "buff" you look as well, although there's a tradeoff where you won't build muscle as quickly if you're starving yourself.

I'll add that there's a considerable opportunity cost in reaching the low body fat levels necessary to achieve a "ripped" appearance. When I made it a goal to hit seven or eight percent body fat, it was a project that not only occupied about a couple hours every day and imposed harsh limits on what I could eat, it led to my being preoccupied with my body condition even at times when I was working on other things.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-25T09:39:22.370Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

When I was young I as instantly doing body-building, as SS was not on the table and it worked well. Of course, I never tried any real world heavy object manipulation. It was purely looks. I think if I tried to do that, the complete lack of squats and deadlifts (just leg presses for quad size) would have made me injure the stabilizer muscles, but I am not a pack mule, I never need to actually use strength.

comment by Slackson · 2013-03-30T11:47:26.021Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This sounds reasonable. I'm guessing bodybuilding programs are more controversial than Starting Strength. Or is there a clear winner there too?

Thanks for the informative comment.

comment by shokwave · 2013-03-31T13:58:43.960Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Starting Strength recommends three sets of five reps at 90% of your maximum lift, each with a few minutes' rest between, as the best programme for building strength. For increasing muscle mass (which is what makes you look good, and is surprisingly not as correlated with strength as it would appear) you want something like six to eight sets of ten to twelve reps, at 60-80% of your maximum lift, with 60-90 seconds rest in between.

Effectively, the more time your muscles spend under load, the larger they will get, assuming your diet provides enough protein and calories. I don't know of a program, but anything you can stick to is good. I use the same routine as I did for strength (SS's A/B workouts, plus barbell curls). I still recommend a few months of Starting Strength to get your weight up to begin with.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-25T09:37:34.287Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No, body building and not weight lifting is the solution to that. That means basically adding some isolation exercises to SS and doing higher rep counts like 5 x 8 or 5 x 10.

This is really not complicated. Getting big is a different goal from getting strong, and there are specialized disciplines for both. Of course they overlap a lot.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-03-28T20:06:38.327Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Super Slow is working pretty well for me, although I haven't been at it very long yet. The biggest advantage to it that I've seen is that it forces me to use more of my muscles - it helps me avoid cheating by using my strongest muscles to gain momentum to skip my weaker. It also helps me focus on the form of the exercise rather than the end state.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-03-28T23:02:59.300Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I wouldn't mind seeing an update on this after a few months. I haven't seen any evidence, even anecdotal, that anyone got strong on it.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-03-30T19:55:27.315Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Aretae swears by it, which is the reason I decided to pick it up.

I'm considering putting data together. I haven't collected data on any of my projects since my experiment to see if calories were a reasonable approximation for weight-loss purposes. (And contrary to my original expectations, they are. But my diet was fairly well balanced, and I expect the data wouldn't hold for wildly unbalanced diets.)

comment by jsteinhardt · 2013-03-29T02:45:39.902Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know anything about Super Slow, but FWIW, these are all attributes of Starting Strength as well.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-03-27T20:24:11.438Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Having done SS, I regret doing low bar squat instead of the much more intuitive high bar squat. Of course powerlifters advocate for low bar squats, it's what their sport measures. Other than that it's pretty great. I have friends following the SS program with high bar and it's working out well for them.

comment by HungryHippo · 2013-03-29T14:45:29.814Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Why do you regret doing low-bar squats? Presumably you read SS:BBT and thus his arguments for why they are superior to the low-bar version. (E.g. Better use of the hamstrings.)

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-03-29T20:35:34.420Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The argument boils down to "you can use more weight" and "it involves the posterior chain more." Neither of these supposed benefits are worth the greater chance of injury. Low bar squats place significantly greater loads on the spinal erectors, which is fine if you're an experienced weightlifter and know how to maintain good form. A newbie who lacks proprioception is the worst person to have doing this. I see and speak with many people doing SS at my university gym and most of the ones doing lowbar do it with poor form and rounded backs. In contrast it is much easier to do highbar squats with correct form as they are much more intuitive. Low bar squats took me months and months to learn proper form with and I strained a spinal erector during this learning process. High bar squats took me a few lifting sessions to learn.

All that said, low-bar will work better for some people due to anatomy, but most have an easier time with high bar. You do need weightlifting shoes to do proper high bar squats. And you also need to throw in a few sets of RDL's to hit the hamstrings.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-25T09:34:25.424Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The part I don't understand is why people want to be stronger as opposed to be more visually muscular. This is not the same thing, for the later goal traditional body-building i.e. one composite and one isolation exercise for every major muscle group works better. Also it is more like 5 x 8 or 5 x 10. A lot of strong people end up still being fairly thin.

What is the utility of strength without beach looks today? I just pay movers to carry furniture from the old apartment to the new. Even in a brawl, punching strength depends more on knowing how to use gravity.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-03-25T13:04:49.198Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What is the utility of strength without beach looks today?

You can do more, it feels better, and your body lasts longer.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-25T13:55:53.168Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Because just inflated muscles don't do these? The gap between the two is not that big, the body-builders just go a bit less intense on the heavy lifts in order to have some energy left for the isolation ones, and the rep range being higher makes the weights 20-40% smaller. The difference between 5x5 150kg bench presses vs. 5x8 110 kg ones + doing pec-decs is nowhere nearly as big as the difference between these two and just about anything else. The primary difference is joints and ability to move heavy objects. Doing more in the sense of being more a of human forklift somehow does not look that glorious. The feeling better may as well attach better to the more spectacular looks, and as for longer lasting, probably near draw.

For me strength always meant punching strength and this guy convinced me it is mainly technique.

Caveat: I know grappling sports are getting more popular, such as BJJ / part of MMA. I think this probably does not apply there. I think grappling could be more brute-forced.

I think one reason modern culture may be hooked on strength is that when we were children a lot of fighting / domination / bullying / rough play relied more on intuitive grappling than on punching (or kicking). This made us all respect The Strong Guy Who Can Whip Everybody. And of course movies like the 300 etc. reinforce it. This goes back to very old cultural origins, wrestling is one thing many cultures paralelly evolved because this is how people can physically dominate each other and establish a pecking order without actually hurting each other.

Here is why I like to argue it: weight lifting techniques are used in many sports for a long time. Still, most guys were scrawny, and not due to lack of nutrition, since even today some lifters use really easy nutrition like eating lots of cottage cheese. Or drinking lots of milk if they are tolerant. Body building got popular in the West roughly after 1977 (Pumping Iron) and elsewhere later, I would say, buff guys on bar dancefloors became a common sight 1990-ish, roughly? What do you think body building brought to the table that former lifting couldn't? I think it brought ease through isolation. That while doing the triceps cables is straining for that muscle, it is not straining for the rest of the body, nor the mind. You can almost not pay attention, and not even feel tired, just stop it when the muscle itself burns but you can almost even avoid getting sweaty. This ease brought a strong motivating factor. When I was 17 it felt like a cheat code: I was sitting in the 45 degree leg press, and wondering how amazing it is that I am sitting on my ass, laid back, relaxed, yet got better looking legs that classmates who played soccer all the time.

The current SS / SL 5x5 trend is bringing back the former, pre-body-building era, where your energy is wasted on making sure your posture is right, all the secondary muscles are flexed all right and so on. While with a 45 degree leg press basically the only tiring, attention-grabbing, willpower-sapping activitiy is just pressing the legs up, with a squat you must pay attention to getting the whole body right, which is much more tiresome hence demotivating, because most of that does not apply to good looks, just a rather useless forklift-ability.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-03-25T15:08:07.226Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that having pretty muscles and having a physically capable body are quite different things. I do not agree that having a physically capable body is useless in our times.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-25T15:21:18.005Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Physical capability does not equal picking up heavy things, it is not even close. Speed, balance, accuracy etc. just imagine an ancestral hunter or any animal really. A fast, limber, precise, situationally aware guy who can dodge a spear and throw one in return. Our modern weight lifter would be the pack mule of the hunting band, who is too stiff and slow to do anything useful but he can carry the deer carcass home. OK...

comment by Lumifer · 2015-03-25T15:32:37.024Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I am not arguing that weightlifting is the best thing ever. I am arguing against your assertion that, except for looking pretty, contemporary people do not need physically capable bodies.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-25T15:41:12.175Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Okay, but how to define physical capability? What kind of capability matters most?

I'd like to have better cardio and better muscle endurance in the legs, for example, dancing for hours or walking sight-seeing all day without having to sit down would be awesome.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-03-25T15:59:39.562Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Okay, but how to define physical capability?

That's how.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-25T16:51:03.408Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, the other extreme : be able do everything, even though you probably don't want to do everything. It takes so much time that you probably won't have enough time left do the activity you wanted to become fit for.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-03-25T17:10:12.224Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It takes as much time as you are willing to commit. You asked what is physical capability, not whether you can afford trying to become physically perfect.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-03-25T14:09:21.256Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Doing more in the sense of being more a of human forklift somehow does not look that glorious.

Try being bedridden for a few weeks and see what you feel like afterwards. Then you can decide how much strength you actually want available in your everyday life.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-25T14:15:13.164Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And how much endurance you want? And how much speed you want? And how much coordination you want? And how much sense of balance you want? Why single out strength? Feeling my speed improve feels better than strength improvements... I think strength is a dangerously good sounding word, it has way too positive connotations than utility. Of course, I am not advocating weakness, I am advocating that for people not interested in sports beach-muscles may work better, and for people interested in sports whatever amount, form, and methods of acquiring strength their trainer tells them is probably best.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-03-25T14:25:06.452Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Why single out strength?

You spoke of strength, and that is what I was responding to. All those other things are also important. The body you get if you do not attend to maintaining them is unlikely to be optimal, outside of a career that forces you to. Not being a professional athlete, dancer, or soldier, I must take care of the matter myself.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-25T15:15:29.880Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I understand it, I just don't understand why taking care of the body maintenance equals human forklift stuff? I just baffled that somewhere in the last 10-15 years being healthy or fit gets increasingly equated to having a high one rep max. Alternatives are either beach body building stuff,which optimizes for looks, yet gives most of the forklift stuff as well, or the normal sports, not professionally but like playing tennis 2-3 times a week or something, which does little for muscles but takes care of speed, balance, endurance etc.

When I visualize myself as an ancestral hunter - as it sounds like a good way to take care of the body - I don't just see someone who can in a rigid and stiff way pick something up and put it down. It involves reflexes, balance, speed, dodging a thrown stone, throwing another back etc.

So this is what I don't understand this contemporary understanding of fitness. I understand the beach body builders, as it is about visuals. But the idea of picking up heavy things being fitness, it just seems so removed from any possible idea of how an animal's body is supposed to function.

comment by Gurkenglas · 2013-09-03T17:17:13.294Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I merely read somewhere about how muscles grow stronger when used and took up a habit of periodically tensing muscles whenever I noticed them needing to do much work in the near future, as that didnt require much concious effort or spent time. Since then, my strength has been above average (I think), but the two may be unrelated; the latter especially might have been caused by a 17-puberty pulse instead.

comment by ThrustVectoring · 2013-03-27T09:30:23.052Z · score: 7 (23 votes) · LW · GW

As far as I can tell, ketogenic diets solve the problem of fat loss. I know, anecdotes are not data, but it's worked wonders for everyone I know who's tried it (myself included).

Err on the side of posting solutions which may not be universal but are still likely to be helpful to many people.

This is the sole reason I'm posting this. Keto works for very many people. The short story of keto is that your brain can only eat certain kinds of chemicals. Glycogen from eating carbohydrates is one of them. Ketones generated from fat is another. Your body will preferentially use the first over the second, since turning fat into ketones is expensive. So if you eat few enough carbs (<30g per day is the figure I remember) and plenty enough fat (2:1 fat to protein is what I heard), your body will eventually start doing chemistry that turns dietary and body fat into ketones.

There's some more practical advice about how to induce ketosis quickly (muscles store glycogen, so exercise helps) and how to make low-carb versions of foods you enjoy, but that's pretty much the gist of it.

comment by Jack · 2013-03-27T22:30:44.117Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Ketogenic dieting has been very effective for me. But I'm not convinced that this story about the body learning to turn body fat into ketones is actually how it works. My sense is that a super low-carb diet may just a good way of keeping appetite down and maintaining a caloric deficit. At the very least, that seems to be part of why it works so well: high fat low carb foods tend to be much more satisfying per calorie than foods heavy in carbohydrates. E.g. A Starbucks blueberry muffin is 380 calories which is like eating ten strips of bacon or 5 hardboiled eggs or more celery than you could possibly eat in one sitting. Whether or not the chemistry stuff is actually true keto is a good way to feel satisfied on a lower number of calories.

I wonder if a diet that was actually optimized for high satisfaction/calorie would be a) different and b) more effective.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-28T19:52:52.171Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

high fat low carb foods tend to be much more satisfying per calorie than foods heavy in carbohydrates

I think it depends on the person. A meal without enough carbs just doesn't feel ‘complete’ to me, and it'd take lots of willpower for me to not eat anything else for a while (but I'm mostly thinking about stuff like pasta or rice or potatoes or bread or fruits, rather than muffins); OTOH I can go several days without much proteins before starting to crave for them. And eating ten strips of bacon without anything else in one sitting would feel very distasteful to me. But I know there are people for whom it's the other way round.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-03-27T10:17:41.689Z · score: 7 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Hasn't worked for me.

comment by MrMind · 2013-03-27T13:15:59.637Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sigh... me neither. Have you tried intermittent fasting? I'm just adapting to it these weeks. Will see if it works.

comment by jsteinhardt · 2013-03-27T15:40:16.253Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Just doing intermittent fasting by itself didn't do much for me, but doing intermittent fasting where I also measured and reduced calorie intake allowed me to lose 15 pounds (from 185 to 170). The LeanGains website was really helpful. It's also worth noting that prior to starting this, I already had a relatively healthy diet and exercised regularly.

That being said, even the guy who made LeanGains doesn't claim it will work for everyone. But for the first month I did it I screwed it up (by not also restricting calorie intake) and saw no change, then after fixing that I lost about a pound a week.

comment by DerBerggeist · 2013-03-29T20:38:54.196Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Have you tried eating less and exercising more? How long did you "diet"?

Also, how closely were you monitoring things? How many calories below maintenance were you consuming daily, on average [300-500 kcal's generally touted for muscle preservation for those not on steroids by the internet, but that's still pretty slow and not obvious weightloss against a backdrop of fluctuating water weight]? How long did it take you to enter ketosis if you were carb cycling (measured more definitively using something like ketostix and not my housemate-on-keto's "I can just feel it!")?

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-03-29T21:16:44.940Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Ketosis sticks did not show my entering ketosis even with as close to zero carbs as I could get (admittedly counting things like 3g carbs in a serving of protein powder). I don't recall how long I tried. Probably between 1 week and 2 weeks before giving up on almost-zero carb, then a month of very low carb before giving up entirely. Memory is fuzzy.

comment by Error · 2013-03-31T15:42:16.811Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted for evidence. I've read your comments on how diets that ought to work don't for you, and that it's not as simple as calories-in-calories-out, but have been skeptical because my prior for "Eliezer is a metabolic mutant" vs. "Eliezer has the same trouble sticking to a diet (and being honest when they fail) that most people do" is low.

In local parlance, my assignment for "Eliezer is a mutant" and "net calories aren't everything" have both risen.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-03-31T17:12:39.349Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I am not a metabolic mutant. There are plenty of people in the world who cannot seem to lose weight, and they aren't all weak-willed scum, and it's not because they just haven't tried your favorite diet.

The world is full of metabolic diversity. The fortunate who do not appreciate this are the metabolically privileged. That they can lose weight with an effort causes them to be unfortunately deluded about what is going on.

comment by Error · 2013-04-01T12:10:55.079Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I am not a metabolic mutant. There are plenty of people in the world who cannot seem to lose weight, and they aren't all weak-willed scum, and it's not because they just haven't tried your favorite diet.

I'm not sure I deserved the heat here. I prescribed no particular diet and said nothing about weak willed scum. I'm of the tentative opinion that modern weight-control problems are just a case of human brains not being built for an environment of plenty. Even if it was simply that people on average can't keep their hands out of the pastry box, that's not a moral failing, just an outdated adaptation. It's worth fixing ourselves because it's now a maladaptation and evolution is too slow about fixing it.

The world is full of metabolic diversity. The fortunate who do not appreciate this are the metabolically privileged. That they can lose weight with an effort causes them to be unfortunately deluded about what is going on.

What is going on? Is there a thread around here that you think covers it in useful detail? It seems to me that there must be some lower bound on food intake beyond which one can't help but lose weight -- otherwise you could eat nothing and still not lose weight, which seems spectacularly unlikely to me barring the aforementioned metabolic mutation.

It's not a rhetorical question; I have only mild difficulty controlling my weight, but my partner has a much harder time. (though both our weights respond to consistent food restriction) Useful information would be useful.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-04-01T13:09:14.966Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure I deserved the heat here. I prescribed no particular diet and said nothing about weak willed scum.

As you may have guessed, this isn't the first time the subject has come up. Frustration builds.

I'm of the tentative opinion that modern weight-control problems are just a case of human brains not being built for an environment of plenty.

It is not just the brain but the entire human body that isn't specialized for an environment of plenty. Lowered food intake changes metabolism and energy expenditure, it doesn't just make you crave more food.

Even if it was simply that people on average can't keep their hands out of the pastry box, that's not a moral failing, just an outdated adaptation. It's worth fixing ourselves because it's now a maladaptation and evolution is too slow about fixing it.

That would indeed still be true.

It seems to me that there must be some lower bound on food intake beyond which one can't help but lose weight -- otherwise you could eat nothing and still not lose weight, which seems spectacularly unlikely to me barring the aforementioned metabolic mutation.

That seems technically inevitable. The question then becomes whether this happens before or after your body enters a coma. (Or, more practically, whether valuable muscle mass is lost before undesired fat and whether the effect on fatigue and energy levels is debilitating.)

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-04-01T17:11:13.064Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

A ridiculously charged topic, how could I miss it?

We're probably among the last generations (as in so many things) that need to bother with the now counterproductive and out-of-place esterification making us fat. Just as we managed to separate the carrot from the stick (the stimulus we get from an action versus the original evolutionary incentivized purpose of that action) with sex/procreation, so will we eventually be able to indulge in feeling satiated without actually storing unwanted lipids.

If not for too strict pharmaceutical standards, some (more) drugs would probably already be available. Given the large impact of diabetes, CHD and other obesity related diseases, even severe side effects in animal trials could be outweighed by the benefits. If not for the fear of lawsuits and strict regulations that throw promising drugs out of the pipeline prematurely. It took a decade and untold needless deaths for gene therapy to recover from a few mishaps to where it can be pursued again.

Regarding losing weight, personally I like the volumetrics approach, it's easily combinable with most diets:

Feeling satiated is - mostly - a combination of mechanoreceptors in the stomach being activated (which is how gastric lap band surgery works) and various hormones reacting to e.g. rising blood sugar (hunger-stimulating Ghrelin gets inhibited), presence of food in the intestinal tract (hunger-inhibiting PYY is released, NB: it's released more effectively by high-protein intake which would help explain the effectiveness of some high-protein diets, such as variants of keto), and leptin (released by adipocytes, can be mostly ignored, since obese people apparently have high leptin levels and a corresponding high leptin resistence).

Now, there is of course a latency between food entering your stomach and the mechanoreceptors triggering and PYY being released.

Therefore, a sensible measure is the following: Drink a large-ish quantity of water (cold and tasty with lemon) before every meal (to pre-load the mechanoreceptors), eat slowly (so you don't eat more when your satiation signal is already in the process of being triggered), add taste-neutral e.g. salad to your normal food (I just pack my sausage sandwiches with large quantities of unprepared salad = little extra effort, halves the amount of high-caloric food I require before feeling completely full, mixed in it doesn't even taste any different*.) Don't drink caloric beverages, they're not as effective calorie-for-calorie in distending your stomach, since fluids aren't bulky enough.

These changes do not inhibit my "food experience" in any meaningful way, yet nearly halved my daily caloric intake.

It seems irrational to give up on dieting merely because the process can be complicated. That's not a good reason to give up on FAI, so why should it be for dieting? The impact in energy levels between being obese and normal is redunculous, even if losing weight is hard, it still promises the most bang-for-the-buck in increasing your productivity, your self-image and your quality of life. Sure some have it easier or harder than others. C'est la vie.

* The trick is that salad-diluted sausage still tastes just like sausage, and still causes the satiety inducing effects on the same order as double sausage.

comment by gwern · 2013-04-02T16:47:53.170Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Obesity is interesting because I regard it as a partially-solved problem. For example, dinitrophenol would solve much of it: it makes mitochondria less efficient and so effectively increases metabolism, but at the cost of emitting waste heat - which is potentially fatal and got it banned despite its apparent effectiveness. It could still be safely used; it's 2013 so electronic thermometers are a dime a dozen. Take patients to a fat camp, dress them in clothes with thermometers constantly recording and now doses can be adjusted based on detailed data and the thermometers can warn the patient to jump into conveniently located ice baths. Voila. And I'm not clear on how dangerous it really is when not made illegally and used recklessly by young kids; Wikipedia cites a 1934 paper as estimating that there were ~100k users of DNP before it was banned, and those authors remark, after discussing the grand total of 4 deaths up to that point due to the drug's use under medical supervision, that

When one considers that some one hundred thousand patients have been treated with this exceedingly potent therapeutic agent, it is a matter of some gratification to know that fatalities have not been more numerous. It might be added in this connection that fatalities from the fever of dinitrophenol can be largely prevented, in animals at least, by chilling the skin with ice packs and by giving oxygen inhalations.17

It would seem that like the War on Drugs in general, the attempt to reduce the harm from DNP has resulted in far more harm than was ever the case before.

comment by Capla · 2014-11-17T22:14:24.336Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It is frustrating to me that I want powerful cognitive enhancement, but instead of increasing metabolic efficiency, we're decreasing it. Can't we funnel those extra calories the the brain somehow?

comment by wedrifid · 2013-04-02T01:21:16.858Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

It seems irrational to give up on dieting merely because the process can be complicated.

Expected value calculation > your 'seeming'.

That's not a good reason to give up on FAI, so why should it be for dieting?

Because creating an FAI has (strictly!) greater expected benefits than one person successfully losing weight? To the extent that the rhetorical question is ridiculous.

it still promises the most bang-for-the-buck in increasing your productivity, your self-image and your quality of life.

This seems false.

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-04-02T07:23:54.808Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Expected value calculation > your 'seeming'.

I'd wager you've never been overweight. Strap a few dozen lbs around your waist or don them as a vest, see what it does to your daily routine. We've done that once in some class or other, and I've bordered the 30 myself as well, from time to time. You're affected constantly, we're as of yet embodied agents, not free floating minds. What's the likelier explanation for a lack of action, expected value calculations or - here it comes - 'akrasia'.

Because creating an FAI has (strictly!) greater expected benefits than one person successfully losing weight?

Depends from whose point of view. E.g. passing away in the knowledge that you've contributed to the eventual creation of FAI (which gives you fuzzies, or at least utilons) can be outweighed by living decades with more mental energy (which also contributes to your development efforts) and a better self-image.

That aside, that a task is a complicated problem/puzzle to be solved can be an incentive to solve it in and of itself, especially for certain kinds of people.

This seems false.

Assuming the increase in productivity, self image and quality of life (consider the metabolic syndrome, preventing decades of injecting insuline can have quite the impact on your QALY) to be fixed/constant for an individual, "true" or "false" does depend on how easy/hard it would be for that individual to efficiently attain and keep a lower BMI. For metabolically priviledged people, or just those with an easy to fix problem such as hypothyreodism, the statement is probably true. For someone who for whatever reason cannot lose any weight whatever he tries (within his motivational reach given his current energy levels ... there's a catch-22 present), it would be false.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-04-02T10:13:15.339Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'd wager you've never been overweight.

Eliezer has mentioned many of the things he has tried to lose weight (including ketogenic diets and even clenbuterol). I've tried all those he has mentioned. The difference is for me they work (I call it 'cutting' and can merrily play around with my body composition all sorts of ways). But if, like Eliezer, I had expended huge amounts of effort and my body did not respond significantly then I would update my expectations.

Things that are expected to fail have low expected value. Sometimes you need to shut up and multiply instead of shut up and do the impossible.

What's the likelier explanation for a lack of action, expected value calculations or - here it comes - 'akrasia'.

Expected value calculations. Unless you are making accusations of lies---outright fabrication of self reports.

Depends from whose point of view. E.g. passing away in the knowledge that you've contributed to the eventual creation of FAI (which gives you fuzzies, or at least utilons) can be outweighed by living decades with more mental energy (which also contributes to your development efforts) and a better self-image.

For the purpose of declaring an accusation of irrationality false the relevant point of view is Eliezer's. If Eliezer had someone else's values then it would make sense to evaluate the rationality of a given choice for him according to those other values.

For metabolically priviledged people, or just those with an easy to fix problem such as hypothyreodism, the statement is probably true.

Yes (or at least it would be up there on the list). It just isn't true in this case.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-07T16:37:44.737Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Depends from whose point of view. E.g. passing away in the knowledge that you've contributed to the eventual creation of FAI (which gives you fuzzies, or at least utilons) can be outweighed by living decades with more mental energy (which also contributes to your development efforts) and a better self-image.

Pretty sure most people involved in FAI efforts are fatoring in more than warm fuzzies in their EU calculations.

comment by drethelin · 2013-04-01T19:53:09.702Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I think most of the value in being thin is looking attractive and being able to be physically active. I think Eliezer doesn't really need to be more attractive than he already is (4 girlfriends) and isn't a huge fan of rock climbing or whatever. As far as I've heard, most of the health benefits of exercise can be gotten without needing to actually be thin.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-02T16:40:01.679Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I somehow doubt that all of this effect is due to thin people exercising more. ETA: looks like the ‘optimal’ BMI for women is larger than for men, BTW.

comment by drethelin · 2013-04-02T18:15:29.669Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Considering the social import of being attractive and getting around to see people and the correlation between active social life and longevity I think it's more than you might think, but I agree with you. On the other hand, the trade off is a lot more reasonable if you can be relatively healthy and happy while fat AND it's particularly hard for you to lose weight.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-03T11:52:23.028Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Considering the social import of being attractive and getting around to see people and the correlation between active social life and longevity I think it's more than you might think, but I agree with you.

Well, they did control for, among other things, marital status. (Also, I'd guess that the BMI that maximizes conventional attractiveness would be higher for men than for women, and wouldn't depend much on smoking.)

On the other hand, the trade off is a lot more reasonable if you can be relatively healthy and happy while fat AND it's particularly hard for you to lose weight.

Yes. ISTM that for certain people losing weight has become a lost purpose.

comment by ESRogs · 2013-04-04T00:23:15.488Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'd guess that the BMI that maximizes conventional attractiveness would be higher for men than for women

Higher for men? Despite the fact that women have higher BMI on average and that curvy figures are considered (by many) to be attractive?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-04T12:21:49.348Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Higher for men?

Remember that BMI is based on the total body mass, and that muscle is denser than fat. (OTOH, that study corrected for level of exercise, and it's quite possible that the BMI that would maximize an average white American man's attractiveness if he's not allowed to vary his level of exercise would indeed be around 20.)

that curvy figures are considered (by many) to be attractive?

I am one of those “many”, too, but ISTM that in present-day Western cultures we're a minority; "thin" seems to have become a compliment. (Last year, someone offered to set me up with her roommate who probably had BMI around 18, and when I told her that I didn't fancy her, she retorted “but she's so skinny!” as though it was a positive.)

comment by ESRogs · 2013-04-04T15:50:47.885Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, good points.

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-04-02T06:57:48.863Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't want to speculate about EY other than saying my model of him didn't expect to ever see "too complex" brought up as a reason not to try anything. Maybe there's too much overlap with HPMOR:Harry. It is possible that there are individuals whose akrasia levels / mental energy and self-image are unaffected by being overweight compared to not being overweight. Just unlikely.

As far as I've heard, most of the health benefits of exercise can be gotten without needing to actually be thin.

That's true, but doesn't change that ceteris paribus given little exercise, you'll still live longer not being obese. Note that I've not even mentioned exercise. It's certainly better being overweight and exercising (while still being overweight), than being overweight and not exercising.

comment by drethelin · 2013-04-02T13:58:15.982Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You're reading "too complex" as "difficult" but eliezer means it as "something with inherently low priors for working".

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-07T16:42:37.438Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Pretty sure he meant "since this has inherently low priors for working, it's too difficult to be worth it" ie expected utility is too low.

comment by Error · 2013-04-02T16:12:24.548Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A ridiculously charged topic, how could I miss it?

Well, I missed it; I kind of wish the LW inbox included replies-to-replies. In any case I find myself thinking this shouldn't be a charged topic, even though it clearly is. As a culture we're still hung up on the whole self-indulgence-as-moral-failure absurdity.

Just as we managed to separate the carrot from the stick (the stimulus we get from an action versus the original evolutionary incentivized purpose of that action) with sex/procreation, so will we eventually be able to indulge in feeling satiated without actually storing unwanted lipids.

A thousand times yes. Sex without babies is a nearly-solved problem, lacking only a male equivalent of the IUD. Weight control should be just as solved, and no, self-control in food intake is not a solution even if it does work. Like condoms, it's a badly suboptimal necessary evil. I should be able to eat whatever I feel like while maintaining whatever weight I damn well please.

That this has failed to happen despite the massive amount of money thrown at weight-control products says something, but I'm not sure what. Has anyone made a serious, prolonged attempt not at "getting people to 'stay good' around food" but at "decoupling food from fat entirely"? If not, why not?

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-04-02T17:27:59.055Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That this has failed to happen despite the massive amount of money thrown at weight-control products says something, but I'm not sure what. Has anyone made a serious, prolonged attempt not at "getting people to 'stay good' around food" but at "decoupling food from fat entirely"? If not, why not?

May I direct you to the subsequent paragraph in the grandparent? :)

comment by Error · 2013-04-02T21:52:40.151Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sort-of-valid point. But all drugs I've seen or heard of have been essentally appetite suppressants plus varying levels of bullshit. I wouldn't expect metabolic decouplers to be disproportionately cut out by regulation; if there was substantial research in that area, I would expect some of them to be on the market.

(it is possible some are that I'm unaware of.)

comment by ThrustVectoring · 2013-04-01T20:49:38.170Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

btw it's released more effectively by high-protein intake which would help explain the effectiveness of keto

Keto isn't a particularly high-protein diet. It's generally a high dietary fat diet. I mean, it can be high protein, but the general idea is high fat.

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-04-02T06:38:16.262Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Corrected. Although, it's somewhat hard replacing carbohydrates without also increasing the overall protein intake. There are probably variants of keto that fit, and variants that don't. There's apparently no catchy phrase for the overall "high protein diet" reference class.

comment by ThrustVectoring · 2013-04-02T16:52:17.015Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, most people who do keto or other low-carb variants tend to eat a high-protein diet. But for fat-loss something like twice as much weight of dietary fat as protein is recommended along with sub-30 grams of non-fiber carbohydrates. And the medical keto diet, iirc, was something like 4:1 fat:protein. It's a lot easier to hit the protein macros than the fat macros.

comment by Error · 2013-04-01T13:45:20.369Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As you may have guessed, this isn't the first time the subject has come up. Frustration builds.

Fair. I'd seen some of the previous conversations or I wouldn't have responded as I did; but I'm guessing I missed occasions on which Eliezer demonstrated that his body chemistry was provably not doing what theory would predict it should (with regard to ketosis), which I find much more convincing than "I tried X, Y, and Z and none of them worked."

If such occasions exist, then I just plain missed them and I've stepped on toes unnecessarily, and I apologize.

That seems technically inevitable. The question then becomes whether this happens before or after your body enters a coma. (Or, more practically, whether valuable muscle mass is lost before undesired fat and whether the effect on fatigue and energy levels is debilitating.)

I'm going to guess "before muscle loss or coma", on the grounds that fat is supposedly for long-term energy storage, and I would expect "break down muscle and/or go into coma in preference to using stored energy" to be maladaptive even in the EEA. I have no controlled study to support that guess, however.

I could see "after excessive fatigue," I suppose; that might be physically necessary (fat burning is slow, IIRC) but not so maladaptive as to defeat the purpose of storing fat.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-04-01T16:00:21.183Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me that there must be some lower bound on food intake beyond which one can't help but lose weight

It has been observed that no fat people emerged from Auschwitz. But if some people do not lose weight below that level of privation, they don't stand much chance of doing so voluntarily.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-06T20:04:45.608Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps they all died because they couldn't access their metabolic reserves? [/devilsadvocate]

comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-04-06T20:31:47.608Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps they all died because they couldn't access their metabolic reserves? [/devilsadvocate]

All the worse for those with great difficulty losing weight. Apply enough determination and it might kill you!

People would probably object to using Nazi data, but it would be interesting if they ever kept logs of inmates' body weight and non-deliberately-caused deaths.

comment by Vaniver · 2013-04-01T18:22:29.392Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

it's not because they just haven't tried your favorite diet.

This seems somewhat unfair. There are a handful of diets that work on a broad variety of people, such that the prior any one will work for a particular person is higher than a novel diet like Shangri-La. And so unless you've tried slow carb/ketogenic, intermittent fasting, 30g of protein for breakfast, and ECA stacks and none of them worked, it seems like you're updating too far in the direction of "all diets don't work for me" from the evidence that "diet X didn't work for me."

(The only one of those I've tried is IF. It worked for me.)

The world is full of metabolic diversity. The fortunate who do not appreciate this are the metabolically privileged. That they can lose weight with an effort causes them to be unfortunately deluded about what is going on.

What's the difference between this and the claim that you are a metabolic mutant?

comment by Halfwit · 2013-03-31T17:38:15.952Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It might be worth going to a sleep doctor; sleep apnea can really fuck up your metabolism, not to mention causing unbelievable akrasia. I would say sleep tests are a GOOD THING, something everyone should do. I had sleep apnea for years. It was like some eldritch monster was sucking away my willpower and I wasn't even aware. Within a few months of getting my mouth guard, which keeps my tongue from blocking my airway while in REM, I lost thirty pounds and gained an enormous well of mental stamina. A small minority of the "metabolically challenged" may just have undiagnosed sleep problems.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-03-31T18:48:26.649Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Since it was cheaper than a sleep study, I bought a self-adjusting CPAP on Craigslist and just tried it. Nothing miraculous occurred.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-03-31T19:56:40.286Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A history of diets-- please note the repetition of ideas and lack of effectiveness for people in general.

comment by DerBerggeist · 2013-04-01T03:02:31.698Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Well, there's your problem right there -- it sounds like you didn't really especially "do" a ketogenic diet, if you never once reached ketosis (as I understand, you typically need to deplete glycogen stores before entering ketosis, and so you might have 3,000~6,000+ kcal to burn through first, and then there's an interim period of glycogen depletion before it actually begins. Which is where the magnitude of your caloric deficit becomes relevant; was it large enough to get through your stored glycogen in the 1-2 weeks you ate no-carb? I think recently consumed food is generally metabolized first, before dipping into glycogen stores, though that's likely a huge oversimplification), any more than someone eating an egg for breakfast can be said to have "tried" keto.

And even with weight as your metric you should have seen some noticeable reduction after a month and a half of "dieting" on a >300 kcal deficit if you were consistent in your measurement conditions (eg, every day after waking/bathroom and before breakfast). Maybe you just overestimated how many calories you needed for maintenance each day? Which is quite common among "dieters". Like I mentioned, the usual advice for muscle preservation is to eat 300-500 kcal below maintenance each day, and if after a month you fail to note any weight loss or note weight gain to reduce your consumption by an additional 300 kcal, rinse and repeat. It might take several months to note any reduction in weight if you had a shoddy initial estimate (or if your metabolism is exceptionally sensitive to intake, though that can only account for so much. Eventually as you progressively reduce consumption [or increase activity!] you will lose weight).

Haha, and many people report a "mental fog" when first trying ketogenic diets. Maybe that's why you can't remember :D

disclaimer: this isn't my field of study and it's been several years since I tried keto and my research then was cursory, at best, which is why I used less-than-confident language in the above. In the three months that I ran a cyclic ketogenic diet I think it took 2-3 weeks to make the ketostik turn purple (or whatever) the first time, then a weekish after that, ulitmately down to 2-4 days after each weekly recarb.

edit: also, I've heard it might be useful to think of diets less in the "dieting" sense (a temporary change in eating behavior that will end once you reach a predefined goal) and more in a "biological" sense (the typical assortment of food that an organism habitually consumes). Less temporary, more permanent or semi-permanent lifestyle change.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-04-01T03:30:27.866Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

After numerous previous failures, if it's that complicated I'm not going to bother. Complicated things seem even less likely to work than simple things, and simple things almost never work in the first place.

In my experience, no matter what you try, there's always an excuse when it doesn't work. Then when it still doesn't work there's something else you're not doing exactly right that they forgot to mention earlier. Oddly enough, when something does work for someone, nobody bothers to check to see if they were doing everything exactly right by way of confirming that all these extra frills are actually required as opposed to just being excuses that are only invoked when it doesn't work because, in reality, metabolisms are different.

Anyway, not interested. Thanks for trying.

comment by Laoch · 2013-11-17T11:37:35.494Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Do you have any data on your eating and exercising habits? I'd love to know what or how your eating now. If you're eating the standard american diet, then you're definitely doing something wrong, and there are a few simple things you could do to at least eliminate deleterious factors. Do you drink Coca Cola everyday for example? What's your baseline diet? Before ever trying a new one, find out what's wrong with the baseline and tweak it.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-30T14:52:18.262Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

[300-500 kcal's generally touted for muscle preservation for those not on steroids by the internet, but that's still pretty slow and not obvious weightloss against a backdrop of fluctuating water weight]

It is obvious if you weigh yourself every day for a couple months or longer and you know how to do stats.

(FWIW, my weight since 12 February fits to a straight line a + bx where a = (93.74 ± 0.19) kg, b = (−0.018 ± 0.007) kg/day, and x is the time elapsed since 12 February; the RMS of residuals is 0.68 kg. Approximating the posterior pdf of b as a Gaussian, which ought to be close enough given 46 degrees of freedom, I'm 99.42% sure that b < 0.)

comment by DerBerggeist · 2013-03-31T06:53:58.593Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Haha, well yeah. Though you should hardly need stats if you're recording over a period of months ("golly, I wonder if my 40 lb weight change these past 6 months is just me being dehydrated right now? Maybe I should wait till after I drink my morning 4 gallons just to be sure"). I meant it more on time scales of "between 1 week and 2 weeks", or for where weight loss was very minor due to a tiny caloric deficit.

With more precise measurement (eg, via bodpod) of body composition you would better be able to track smaller changes, too.

comment by evand · 2013-03-31T19:13:43.471Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Excellent point.

I suspect you're basically correct, but I would not take the stats results at face value. There are many possible problems resulting from the physical and electrical properties of the scale you're using, that I would not expect to be well behaved in a stats sense. In particular: quantization errors, non-linearity / non-monotonicity of the scale A/D converter (depends strongly on type of A/D used), temperature dependence of both the scale strain gauges and A/D, etc.

The general rule here is that trying to get too many more bits of precision out of a measuring device than it is intended to provide is tricky.

You could calibrate the scale in a number of ways; easiest would probably be to check that it gives consistent readings over time for a fixed weight that's not too small compared to you. You could simply weigh the fixed weight, or you could weigh you and (you + weight).

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-02T11:37:25.790Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You're right, any time-varying systematic error (due to temperature, ageing of the scale, etc.) would screw up the analysis. (Quantization errors shouldn't matter that much so long as they're much smaller than day-to-day fluctuations.)

comment by wallowinmaya · 2013-03-28T11:06:32.643Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Ketogenic diets didn't work for me. In fact, they were one of the worst diets I've ever tried.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2013-03-27T18:00:54.803Z · score: 2 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Surely the more obvious solution is "eat less calories than you use."

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-03-27T18:26:37.432Z · score: 27 (29 votes) · LW · GW

The calories-in calories-out model is attractive, but it doesn't appear to be all that accurate, or at least it's incomplete. The body responds differently to different foods. They might have different effects on various hormones (e.g. the ones that regulate hunger), and they might be broken down and redistributed in different ways. In one study (Kekwick and Pawan), three groups of people were put on 1,000 calorie diets of 90% fat resp. 90% protein resp. 90% carbs. The first group lost 0.9 lbs / day, the second group lost 0.6 lbs / day, and the third group gained 0.24 lbs / day. (I don't know to what extent the study controlled for exercise but I think it's safe to assume that the difference in the amount of exercise that each group did wasn't large enough to explain these results.) As Tim Ferriss puts it in The 4-Hour Body:

The creator of the "calorie" as we know it, 19th-century chemist Wilbur Olin Atwater, did not have the technology that we have today. He incinerated foods. Incineration does not equal human digestion; eating a fireplace log will not store the same number of calories as burning one will produce. Tummies have trouble with bark, as they do with many things.

In the context of solving the specific problem of fat loss, one goal is not to lose muscle, and what you're eating should affect how easy it is to target fat and retain muscle as well.

And, of course, diets don't work if they can't be maintained. The fact that different foods affect the hormones that regulate hunger differently (some foods even make you hungrier!) means that different diets, even with the same number of calories, require different amounts of willpower to maintain.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-28T11:50:27.860Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I'm heartened that your comment is so well-liked. I made the same point a year or two ago and got back a bunch of nonsense about how the second law of thermodynamics cannot be violated.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-03-28T19:42:17.969Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's interesting that the second law of thermodynamics is what people use here. As long as your metric is losing weight, the relevant physical law is conservation of mass, and starting from conservation of mass helps clarify the issue enormously, I think. (Apparently the mechanism by which burning calories actually causes you to lose weight is exhalation of carbon dioxide. I feel like I knew this once, but forgot and only very recently relearned it.)

comment by drethelin · 2013-03-28T20:31:23.315Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Carbon Dioxide and water are the two main byproducts of fat metabolism, which made me really happy to learn because it basically killed my worries about focusing on bowel movements. You literally can sweat the fat away!

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-29T10:01:15.593Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's interesting that the second law of thermodynamics is what people use here.

Probably a brain fart for the first law?

comment by shminux · 2013-03-28T19:57:57.922Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

the mechanism by which burning calories actually causes you to lose weight is exhalation of carbon dioxide

Probably not as much as excreting all the unprocessed food from the other end.

comment by drethelin · 2013-03-28T20:31:21.373Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's not true. Most of the material in bowel movements was never in your fat to begin with.

comment by shminux · 2013-03-28T20:35:32.881Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed not from burning calories, sorry. However, it still has to be subtracted from the intake, just like the amount you exhale, so reducing absorption is just as important as increasing burning.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-03-28T21:40:53.566Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is this actually true? Do you have a citation for this?

comment by shminux · 2013-03-28T22:59:59.262Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, I could not find any data online on the food energy utilization in the small intestine in humans and on the factors affecting it. Apparently the obvious ways to prevent absorption, like laxatives, don't really work in the long term.

comment by DerBerggeist · 2013-03-29T20:22:09.748Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think so, because calories are a unit of energy, so a simple calories-in calories-out model would necessarily model energy balance as energy intake (through food) and energy expenditure (through body maintenance and activity). Your thermodynamic/energy balance is what would ultimately determine either the anabolism or catabolism of different tissues (a more complex calories-in calories-out model, rather than the simpler one mentioned, would have the greatest explanatory power, I imagine. Metabolic rate is under hormonal control, hormones interact in complex ways, and intake of different foods and different activity patterns can alter hormone expression. A calorie-budget model incorporating varying hormone expression/sensitivity, genetics [for both little things like minute differences in receptor molecules and bigger ones like hyperthyroidism], and different metabolic pathways used [as dictated largely by the previous two], would be pretty accurate, I reckon).

Weight can also be stored as different things, which is why it's not the best proxy for the success or failure of a "diet". Different substances (like fat or muscle or glycogen or water) have different energy densities, so not all changes in weight signify the same thing (presumably, a "dieter" wants to lose fat. Drinking a gallon of water might cause his weight to rise beyond where it was a month ago, but that does not mean that his "diet" has been shot, or that he has gained fat). A study that looks only at weight change and not change in body composition under different conditions would enormously simplify what that weight represents -- in the study Qiaochu_Yuan mentions, 90% fat diets might have gained fat and lost muscle, water, and glycogen, resulting in a net weight loss, where the 90% carbs group gained muscle, glycogen, and water, and lost fat, resulting in net weight gain. The second case is obviously preferable to "dieters" than the first.

(what I suspect happened in the study is that the first two groups were depleted of glycogen, an energy source the body tends to use before it starts catabolizing fat or muscle deposits. Glycogen also tends to increase water retention, further inflating the weight of high-carb dieters. If they put all three groups on a 0-carb diet for a week to deplete glycogen stores and then dehydrated them, I'd suspect their net weight loss to be much more similar (changes in muscle and fat would vary [again, because of hormonal interactions and different energy densities], but bodies seem to need a lot less protein for maintenance than often suggested so unless the non-protein groups were consuming mostly carbs/fats for their 10% I doubt there'd be a huge difference)(also, the fact that obese individuals might gain muscle/fat on a 1000 kcal diet is obviously silly. If they were using the [again, stupidly oversimplified] BMI to define obesity [where obesity occurs at BMIs>30], a 5'10" man would have to weigh >209lbs, giving him a BMR at minimum of roughly between 1500 and 2000 calories, which is a good bit more than 1000kcal, so he'd still probably lose weight [but ignoring changes in BMR from hormones and such] completely sedentary)

There's also calorie type influencing activity level (eg, People starting ketogenic diets often report lethargy that eventually levels off, but whether that's a true return to past alertness or a subjective change in perceived vigor I'm not sure).

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-03-29T20:29:36.691Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand what you're disagreeing with. Is it "as long as your metric is losing weight, the relevant physical law is conservation of mass"? Because that seems obviously true to me. What you seem to be arguing is that your metric shouldn't be losing weight, which is reasonable, but you're not disagreeing with me.

comment by DerBerggeist · 2013-03-29T20:49:44.598Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Huh, I think I read your comment too quickly and missed the "as long as...: qualifier and then started replying and went off on a tangent and forgot what the original comment was. Hah. My bad. Also didn't notice your name, hence my reference to you in the 3rd person.

Yeah, weight's not the best metric to use without taking into account body composition.

Oh wait, I think I figured it out. I'd combined your post and paper-machine's in my head, so I thought the simple calories-out-calories-in model in the highest level post being the thing referred to by discussion of conservation laws.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-03-29T20:28:23.168Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand what the first sentence is disagreeing with.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-03-28T12:01:57.551Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm heartened that your comment is so well-liked. I made the same point a year or two ago and got back a bunch of nonsense about how the second law of thermodynamics cannot be violated.

I noticed the same difference in response myself and was similarly pleasantly surprised.

comment by MrMind · 2013-03-28T14:55:01.905Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Due to the evolution of general sensibility or the Karma power-law?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-28T18:23:38.836Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No idea. Probably just random chance. The parent of Qiaochu's comment is now at zero, so "evolution of general sensibility" is slightly less likely.

comment by Sarokrae · 2013-04-12T12:25:27.628Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

1,000 calorie diets ... third group gained 0.24 lbs / day

I noticed I was confused. This doesn't seem consistent with the results of the Minnesota Starvation/Semistarvation Study. I went to Wikipedia.

Kekwick and Pawan, 1956 conducted a study of subjects consuming 1000-calorie diets, some 90% protein, some 90% fat, and some 90% carbohydrates. Those on the high fat diet lost the most, the high protein dieters lost somewhat less, and the high carbohydrate dieters actually gained weight on average. Kekwick and Pawan noted irregularities in their study (patients not fully complying with the parameters of the study). The validity of their conclusions has been questioned, and follow-up studies over a longer duration concluded that these temporary differences were due chiefly to changes in water balance (citation)

My prior consider it quite ludicrous that you can gain weight eating at a 50% deficit, no matter what your macros. The criticisms seem reasonable enough to explain the effect.

Note that the link in the citation claimed that when told to cut out carbs and eat as much protein and fat as they liked, "In all subjects, there was a reduction in calories ranging from 13% to 55% during the time they were consuming the low-carbohydrate diet."

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-04-12T18:30:17.180Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for looking this up! Regrettably, I did not notice that I was confused.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-28T18:56:52.519Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

90% fat resp. 90% protein resp. 90% carbs

So long as your diet isn't nearly that lopsided, IME (YMMV) the calories-in calories-out is a more decent first-order approximation than many people realize. See also The Hacker's Diet. Second-order effects exist, but they're second-order effects.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-28T19:35:25.931Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

IME (YMMV)

That's basically the point.

The Hacker's Diet

Places way too much focus on losing weight. See parent; losing weight by losing muscle mass isn't desirable.

Second-order effects exist, but they're second-order effects.

Your claim here hinges on the presumption that CI and CO are the only first-order effects, which is almost certainly false. Age, body fat proportion, maximal oxygen uptake, etc., are plausible candidates that I've seen in mathematical weight models.

comment by Sarokrae · 2013-04-12T23:36:18.897Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Age, body fat proportion, maximal oxygen uptake...

In my experience, these tend to be taken into effect when calculating the "calories out" part of the equation. By what mechanism were you thinking that these mattered, that's not "calories out"?

comment by Decius · 2013-03-27T20:44:02.514Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Calorie use is not constant, and varies with calorie intake and type, among other things.

comment by MrMind · 2013-03-27T18:43:07.981Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, but as you probably know, calories eaten are stored into multiple deposits, depending on various internal and external factors. If the availability of those deposits varies, it might not be so easy to deplete most of the calory intake, short of completely starving oneself.

comment by ikrase · 2013-03-27T21:37:31.038Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Plus you also have to deal with massive willpower problems.

comment by elharo · 2013-03-27T17:31:12.403Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Worked for me, though I have been plateaued for the last year a few pounds and several waste inches above where I'd ideally like to be. Haven't figured out how to bust through that yet.

I strongly suspect that when we do figure this out, ketogenesis will be a large part of any eventual solution, but I don't think we have all the answers yet.

I do know folks for whom low carb diets failed, but in all cases I'm personally familiar with that's because they couldn't maintain them. (which is a strike against low-carb diets, of course; an unmaintainable diet isn't useful) I know of one case of someone who took off 150+ pounds using low-carb and then put 50 or so pounds back on while continuing low carb. Still he never came close to getting back to where he was pre-low-carb. I'm curious if anyone has simply failed to lose weight while maintaining a low carb diet. I think Atkins talked about this possibility in the last edition of his diet book he authored. I'll have to look up the citation, but there are some medical conditions that can cause weight gain/prevent weight loss that show up in a few percent of patients.

comment by DerBerggeist · 2013-03-29T20:33:49.598Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Err, have you been lowering calorie intake relative to your activity and changing metabolic rate? Lighter bodies require less energy both to maintain and move around. If you haven't been adjusting your "dieting" diet it's no wonder you plateaued, because where initially you ran a caloric deficit you're now much closer to equilibrium.

Also, I've intentionally gained weight on cyclical low-carb diets (<5 g carbs each weekday, 1200-1500g carb-up on weekends). It's because I ate a lot.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-03-28T13:51:31.812Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As far as I can tell, ketogenic diets solve the problem of fat loss. I know, anecdotes are not data, but it's worked wonders for everyone I know who's tried it (myself included).

If I may ask, what was your starting weight; what is your current weight; and how long have you been at your current weight?

comment by drethelin · 2013-03-28T20:29:40.997Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

when I started keeping track 479 days ago I was 270, right now I am at 228. This isn't pure keto, because at first I was doing slow carbs, and then when I switched to no carbs I kept the tim feriss style cheat day. I've also cheated on various trips and so on I've taken, but in general I have 6 days on 1 day off diet. I've gone down something like 4 pants sizes. Right now I'm trying to transition to fewer cheat days or none at all because I feel like I'm plateauing, but it's rough.

comment by pinyaka · 2013-03-30T20:04:54.104Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Do you get keto flu type hangovers after your cheat days?

comment by drethelin · 2013-03-31T05:27:18.162Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A little? I tend to feel really heavy and bleh at the end of cheat nights and kinda weird the next day but it's not really what I would call "keto flu"

comment by brazil84 · 2013-03-28T20:42:10.983Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for sharing. Are you willing to follow up in a year or two to let me know where you are?

comment by drethelin · 2013-03-28T22:48:29.789Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

if you want to ask again in a year sure. Email me or something in a year. Drethelin@gmail.com

comment by Elo · 2014-10-29T06:18:00.169Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

follow up plz?

comment by drethelin · 2014-10-29T17:19:56.366Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

lost some progress, up to 238.6 as of this morning, which is down from getting back up over 240. I stopped tracking regularly for a while, and now I am again and I don't know why but tracking on a daily basis seems to have some sort of causal effect making me lose weight again.

comment by ThrustVectoring · 2013-03-28T14:39:42.307Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't been keeping the closest track, so this isn't even a good anecdote. I was a 165 lb and 5'10 man going out of high school seven years ago, and went up to 220 as of a year ago. It wasn't all fat (I'm significantly stronger now than I was then), but I did go from wearing 34 waist jeans to a 38.

So I started at 220 and a 38 waist, and I've gone down to 180 and I think size 34 jeans (I haven't gotten around yet to buying more jeans, but my size 36's need a belt now). Exercise involved hasn't been too extensive - mostly just walking and housework. I'm still work-in-progress, but I haven't had a history of my weight yo-yoing on diets, and I intend to stay on keto for the foreseeable future.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-03-28T18:27:01.078Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't been keeping the closest track, so this isn't even a good anecdote. I was a 165 lb and 5'10 man going out of high school seven years ago, and went up to 220 as of a year ago. It wasn't all fat (I'm significantly stronger now than I was then), but I did go from wearing 34 waist jeans to a 38.

So I started at 220 and a 38 waist, and I've gone down to 180 and I think size 34 jeans (I haven't gotten around yet to buying more jeans, but my size 36's need a belt now). Exercise involved hasn't been too extensive - mostly just walking and housework. I'm still work-in-progress, but I haven't had a history of my weight yo-yoing on diets, and I intend to stay on keto for the foreseeable future.

Thank you for your response. Will you agree to update this response in a year or two?

comment by ThrustVectoring · 2013-03-28T19:22:41.690Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, I can do that.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-03-28T19:31:24.533Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Great, thanks. I have been doing informal research on diet and weight loss for a while now and I think there is value in following up with people a year or two down the road.

comment by ThrustVectoring · 2014-06-05T17:08:23.251Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Update: I'm at pretty much the same place now as I was then. Dropped the keto diet since I was happy with where I was. Still fairly active but not hardcore about it.

comment by brazil84 · 2014-06-06T11:55:37.201Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

thank you

comment by jooyous · 2013-03-27T19:18:08.056Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW · GW

"How do I find out how a particular person thinks/feels about a particular subject/issue/situation?" Ask them.

I'd call this an 80% solution because sometimes they don't quite know (and even more rarely, they deliberately lie), but it's still wayy better than not asking in most cases.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-03-27T20:25:21.028Z · score: 11 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Warning: This is worth negative points in many situations.

comment by jooyous · 2013-03-27T21:12:04.185Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know if I agree. What situations did you have in mind? I can think of a lot of situations where knowing the answer is much more important than "points".

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-03-27T22:58:34.234Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Explicitly asking about social hierarchies/status positional moves.

comment by jooyous · 2013-03-27T23:05:55.727Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Ohh. "Hey friend, do you feel insecure around me because I'm more successful than you?" type questions?

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-03-28T01:09:43.102Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

exactly.

comment by jooyous · 2013-03-28T01:24:17.572Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

That's a good point; I guess those are hard to ask directly. Though maybe you can still ask a variant of it if you're careful and kick into their abstract reasoning? Maybe something like "Oh my gosh, friend, I feel so insecure around person because they're more successful than me! Does that ever happen to you successful people?" Of course, they might answer the way they wish they could answer and keep acting weird around you anyway.

Though, I feel like that's a question you half-know the answer to before you ask. Are there situations where knowing the answer to a status-related question is important for making a decision and guessing wrong has a high penalty?

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-03-28T01:43:49.814Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

uh...every situation?

comment by jooyous · 2013-03-28T01:49:26.317Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Sounds like you worry a lot more about status than I do. o_O

comment by Nisan · 2013-03-28T06:23:08.544Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

That's a high-status thing to say :)

comment by jooyous · 2013-03-28T19:13:27.210Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I probably hang out with mostly similar-status people, but there's got to be a lot of context I'm missing, because I can think of a number of decision questions that don't depend on the answer to "well, is this person I'm with higher status than me?"

comment by Nisan · 2013-03-28T19:52:29.383Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I just said it because it was funny.

comment by jooyous · 2013-03-28T20:45:15.899Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think I am bad at knowing which comment to reply to. ^_^

comment by wedrifid · 2013-03-28T06:47:58.255Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's a high-status thing to say :)

To the point of being banal and transparent.

comment by Elithrion · 2013-03-28T20:12:12.510Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think it depends on the reading. If you read it in a sort of snooty dismissive voice, yes, certainly. But if you read it in a genuinely perplexed kind of voice, it mostly sounds confused.

comment by jooyous · 2013-03-29T00:59:05.918Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's why I put the confused-face!

I was pretty confused by "every situation" because I can definitely think of some situations where status considerations factor only negligibly into your decision process. For example: you are out with some people and notice your shoe is untied. Do you tie it? Uhh. Does it really matter if your friends are higher or lower status? Maybe if they can't afford shoes or something, but otherwise, not really. I think?

comment by Kindly · 2013-03-29T13:58:43.546Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It seems like by "status" you mean status within society at large, mainly economic status, while I think most people here are thinking about status within your own social group.

So if you stop to tie your shoe and you have high status within your social group, your friends will stop and wait for you; if you have low status, they won't. (You display your assessment of your own status by asking "Hey, wait up, I have to tie my shoe" or by not asking.) There are finer gradations depending on how quickly you tie your shoe: you might hurry to avoid slowing down your friends, which I'm sure has various implications.

I'm not saying you should care about any of this; but it certainly could be an issue. If it's not an issue, that could mean one of two things: either you're so high-status you don't even notice these things, or you're not in high school any more :)

comment by jooyous · 2013-03-29T17:23:14.740Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, that's interesting. I guess I do think about stuff like that but I don't ... usually frame it as a status question. I just think about it in terms of what the people I'm around have a problem with. Like if they seem annoyed that I'm tying my shoes all the time, I try not to do it? Or whether I like the people enough to do stuff for them, for example.

Actually, you made me think of a really good example of this and it goes back to the earlier question of whether we should ask people things. I have a bad habit of walking off and not responding during IM conversations! I mostly do it because IM is that sort of casual medium where you can be doing a bunch of other things at the same time. I think most people I talk to don't really care but when people tell me that they're bothered by it, I make an effort to let them know if I'm not gonna respond for a while. But I guess some people might be interpreting it as a status move and therefore not letting me know it bothers them? So maybe the people that I figure are also not responding because they're busy are actually deliberately not responding to also signal status? Oops.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-28T23:49:47.105Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My guess: you don't live in a very large city, so most of the people you interact with already know well (cf this), whereas that doesn't apply to RomeoStevens; and/or you are in the hard sciences or similar and he is in the humanities or similar (cf this).

comment by bbleeker · 2013-03-29T10:57:26.580Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sounds like he's male. A while ago, I read something in a thread on reddit about women in IT, where a woman complained about women having to prove themselves all the time there. And I was thinking that yes, that sucks; you'd think that after a time, people would recognize that hey, this woman knows her stuff. But then a man asked what was the problem with that, after all, it wasn't like men didn't have to prove themselves with every interaction as well.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-03-29T11:39:02.212Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

There might be a difference in the baselines that men and women have to prove themselves against.

comment by bbleeker · 2013-03-29T15:27:14.465Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, good point.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-28T23:40:17.687Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect that depends (among other things) on the wording of the question, the tone of voice, the context and the non-verbal communication. I can't remember such a question backfiring when asked in a ha ha only serious/lampshade hanging way.

comment by MrMind · 2013-03-28T08:35:47.304Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

"Do you want to have sex with me?"

Sometimes, just the act of asking changes the answer...

comment by MixedNuts · 2013-03-28T09:38:14.734Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

How to put this delicately... do we have any data on whether this is more likely to change a "yes" to a "no" than the opposite?

comment by fezziwig · 2013-03-28T17:06:39.194Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

My graphs are in another state, but from memory, in 40-ish trials:

  • About half the time, the encounter ended immediately: either she literally slapped me/walked away/whatever, or the chemistry was too blighted for me to recover.
  • Most of the rest of the time (~45% altogether?) she said no, but either converted later (e.g. to a date the next day) or turned me down for unrelated reasons.
  • And then a couple of times she said yes (3 times altogether, I'm pretty sure).

There's a lot of fuzz in the numbers and methodology, but 5% conversion was pretty far below my then-average for an otherwise warm, flirty conversation, so I didn't investigate further. Honestly I wouldn't even have done that many trials, except that I knew a fellow who swears by it.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-29T00:21:46.037Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

unrelated reasons

Are you sure they were actually unrelated reasons and not just excuses?

comment by fezziwig · 2013-03-29T15:57:02.935Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No, of course not. I doubt they were excuses, just because I didn't have any reason to excuse the "just ask directly" strategy, but presumably all those outcomes were influenced a least a bit.

comment by MrMind · 2013-03-28T17:24:07.200Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm more in the range of 10-ish, so I guess that if there's a chance that asking for sex solves the problem of the OPer, it's in the range of 5-7%. Which to me is an anti-solution.

comment by MrMind · 2013-03-28T15:10:32.776Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Any data? Yes. In my personal experience that kind of question were able to kill flirty and touchy behaviour 100% of the time.

Double-blinded, debiased, large sampled data? I don't think, but it might be a fun project for some social scientist out there.

comment by ahartell · 2013-03-28T17:08:18.322Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There is also the possibility that sex would not have happened anyway but brining it up that that was your intention made them want to distance themselves from the situation. And the possibility that it would have happened if you hadn't asked but only because the flirty/touchy behavior was leading them towards wanting to have sex but asking interrupted the process (this is distinct from the original claim in that the problem wasn't asking but asking too soon).

comment by MrMind · 2013-03-28T17:20:07.018Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There is also the possibility that sex would not have happened anyway but brining it up that that was your intention made them want to distance themselves from the situation.

I'm aware, unfortunately there's no way to tell. Asking does seem to lower the frequency, though, at leas as far as I can tell in my cultural environment.

And the possibility that it would have happened if you hadn't asked but only because the flirty/touchy behavior was leading them towards wanting to have sex but asking interrupted the process (this is distinct from the original claim in that the problem wasn't asking but asking too soon).

That's surely possible. Based on observations in my personal life though I don't deem it much probable... Anyway, the original point was that there are very important situations in which asking for feelings is very bad and quite far from a solution. In this regard, asking too soon to me is a subset of asking, not just an entirely different issue

comment by MixedNuts · 2013-03-28T16:40:59.057Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My personal experience only contains switches the other way. Maybe I don't ask enough and others don't ask me enough.

comment by MrMind · 2013-03-28T17:13:29.753Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My personal experience only contains switches the other way.

You mean that asking increases the probability of sex happening? Interesting... I wonder if it's something reproducible or just a cultural artefact.

comment by MixedNuts · 2013-03-28T23:22:09.105Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

How do y'all have sex without asking at some point? Do you just kinda follow a script and try to guess the other person's script from their body language and hope that you get it right enough that they don't have to stop and correct you, and that your default ideas of sex more or less match? And once sex is underway, do you switch to words, or have some other method for requesting things, or just have the same kind of sex every time?

Or am I mistaken about what "asking" covers? I'm counting both asking after a makeout session and commencing sex five seconds later, and asking "Wanna meet up five days from now and do these sexual things?" and then initiating those things on the assumption you're working from the same script.

comment by gwern · 2013-03-28T23:34:06.829Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Comrade, do you enjoy borscht?

comment by MixedNuts · 2013-03-29T00:42:24.971Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But... at some point you do ask if they are a Soviet spy too!

comment by gwern · 2013-03-29T14:33:52.083Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If your tradecraft is good enough, you never need explicitly ask. The First Directorate expects its agents to be better, da? That sort of incompetence will get you thrown in the Lubyanka dungeons!

comment by maia · 2013-03-29T05:01:13.290Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In my experience there are more or less three stages:

1) Flirting without physical contact, or only with physical contact that might be acceptable for an acquaintance (brief touches, possibly friendly hugs) leading up to some kind of asking-out or other fairly direct "are you interested in me" question

2) More overt flirting, possibly later-stage physical contact, possibly leading up to kissing

3) After kissing or similar-level contact, if things seem to be getting hot and/or heavy, body-language-only communication halts. Serious Discussion is had about What Will Happen Next, including sex and/or Future Plans. This is fairly explicit and consists of things like "Do you want this to be a serious relationship?" and "Do you want to do sex act X?" and "I need to tell you about Y."

I doubt this is really applicable to anyone else, because our culture doesn't seem to really have a script that is standardized enough for anyone to follow, but it's a script that I like pretty well. I've skipped steps, but more or less always follow the "Talk about it explicitly once physical contact reaches a certain point" part, and I think it is helpful.

comment by MrMind · 2013-03-29T08:36:09.615Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

3) After kissing or similar-level contact, if things seem to be getting hot and/or heavy, body-language-only communication halts.

That's really funny: for the stages I've been experiencing, that's when body-language-only communication begins.

comment by maia · 2013-03-29T12:23:18.484Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Halts temporarily, I should say. After Serious Discussion is had, it generally continues.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-29T12:31:46.034Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You mean that you explicitly, verbally ask for each step before that?

comment by MrMind · 2013-03-29T16:25:29.295Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No, only that before it's usually a mix of verbal and non-verbal. After kissing, body-language-ONLY communication begins.

comment by MrMind · 2013-03-29T08:32:18.489Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How do y'all have sex without asking at some point?

I usually just go forward and if a girl is uncomfortable she will stop me. Apparently this is much less awkward than asking directly.

comment by MixedNuts · 2013-03-29T09:57:52.116Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm aware that I'm going in quite a bit more detail than you might be willing to give, but I'm confused.

Say you want to receive oral sex. (I don't think that's an uncommon preference.) Do you go through elaborate acrobatics so you can "just go forward" without her actively helping, or is there some nonverbal way to signal you want that (pushing her head down? smoooooth), or once you have tacitly agreed that sex is going to occur can you use words to decide what kind?

Say you want something unusual, either for society at large or relative to what you've done before. Do you also just go forward? That seems like it would cause quite a few "Whoa, not that" moments, and a lot of "Um, I may or may not be into what you want to do, but I can't tell what it is" awkwardness.

Is she also just going forward with her own script, or only correcting yours when needed? If the former, doesn't that cause confusion and bumping noses? (Maybe being good at reading body language and not so clumsy avoids that.) If the latter, isn't that a lot of corrections (or maybe a full switch back to using words) for her to get what she wants? Or do you do a sort of Designated Control Freak thing where the last person to object becomes in charge?

I imagine most of the course corrections will be minor, along the lines of "Slow down, tiger" or "My ears aren't really all that sensitive, kiss my neck instead", but it seems like major ones would tend to be mood-killers. If she asks for X, you can say "Sorry, not into that, but how about Y or Z?" or "Hmm, not sure but I'd like to try"; if she starts doing X when you didn't really expect it, you're more likely (or so I'd guess) to go "Whoa ew no stop" or "Ouch" or "WTF are you doing?", all of which seem hard to recover from. I assume the idea is to notice that she's going for X, and nonverbally redirect her toward Y or Z?

comment by MrMind · 2013-03-29T16:37:35.990Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

once you have tacitly agreed that sex is going to occur can you use words to decide what kind?

This. Once sex is a given, words usually can be reintroduced without mood-killing, away from the bedroom.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-03-29T13:34:49.838Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I can't speak for MrMind, but typically if I want to introduce novel things into my sex life, I talk about them with my partner when we aren't having sex to see whether there's mutual interest. If there is, I start introducing them. I rarely talk much while having sex, relying primarily on non-verbal communication (which is quite adequate for "is this OK? more of this? less of this? something altogether different?" kinds of negotiations). He's more inclined to negotiate verbally during sex, which is also fine, but not really my thing.

comment by MrMind · 2013-03-29T16:39:39.368Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I always wonder if it was neurological: if I talk or someone talks too much during sex I lose all the excitement.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-29T00:27:00.284Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Or am I mistaken about what "asking" covers?

I wonder whether MrMind's was intended to be a direct quotation or a paraphrase.

comment by MixedNuts · 2013-03-29T01:03:08.794Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not precise enough! Do I want to have sex with you right now, after dinner, after you drive me home, next time we see each other, on your birthday, at some unspecified point in the future, after marriage? Are you my boyfriend, my friend with benefits, my date, someone I've been flirting with for weeks, someone I've been flirting with for half an hour, someone I've been talking to but didn't realise there was any flirting going on, a complete stranger? Are we in bed half-naked, cuddling on the couch, at your front door, out on a date, at a nightclub, at a book club, at an orgy, on AdultFriendFinder, on LessWrong? Why are you specifying "with me"?

comment by Kindly · 2013-03-29T03:05:54.973Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"A potential partner asks you if you want to have sex! How long does it take you to decide?"

"Less than a second, sensei!"

comment by MrMind · 2013-03-29T08:33:58.632Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No more wondering! I'm ok with asking directly ;) Yes, I intended it to be a more or less direct quotation.

comment by MalcolmOcean (malcolmocean) · 2013-03-28T21:55:53.214Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you want to optimize for no->yes, which I presume you do, I would say start with something much less intimate, like kissing. And even then, you'll probably want it to happen when there's already some vectors pointing in that direction.

If you ask the sex question out of the blue / too early, then that signals that you just generally have sex on your mind, which in many cases is seen as a bad thing. And depending on tone it can convey lots of other undesirable ideas. There are also (many) situations in which your conversational partner may simply not want to say yes to that question too early, and therefore you don't want to ask the question yet.

It's... kind of like inferential distances? If your state of mind is all sexy, but your partner's is not, then it can be weird to just jump suddenly to sex. The difference (I guess) is that unlike just explaining something, there are indeed serious drawbacks (slaps, etc) from assuming the inferential gap is small. In general, I think it's a valuable skill to be able to quickly gauge where someone is on the inference or arousal spectra and respond accordingly. Perhaps separate skills though.

comment by Izeinwinter · 2013-03-28T22:54:07.955Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Asking out of the blue is highly antagonizing because it transgresses against conversational norms very badly, and this changes the perception of the situation. Basically, from her point of view, the probability that you are either a pickup artist, crazy/dangerous or a psychology student (in decreasing order of likelyhood) just approached unity. None of those three are likely to be fun for her, so bye-bye.

It is be possible to clarify the situation without failing social skills forever. - "Are we flirting"? can work, for example.

comment by MrMind · 2013-03-29T08:40:54.449Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Asking out of the blue is highly antagonizing because it transgresses against conversational norms very badly, and this changes the perception of the situation.

My theory is that it just signals very low social skills, an undesirable feature in general for women.

comment by Izeinwinter · 2013-03-29T13:57:31.935Z · score: -1 (12 votes) · LW · GW

.. This is bad reasoning. If status was really what women wanted, the vast majority of men would go to their graves without ever getting laid. It is not at all difficult to get a high-status man to sleep with you, after all.

Danger avoidance and pleasure seeking suffice to explain the observed facts, so why on earth are you over-complicating your hypothesis ?
Simplest Theory: What a typical women wants sexually is a satisfying sex life without becoming a rape or domestic violence statistic. I find this to be a much better fit for observed behavior than bullshit pseudo-scientific theories that postulate enormously complicated drives. How the frack would brainware favoring something as ephemeral as "status" have evolved? And in what way would it be consistently advantageous over "Get laid. Do not get killed"?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-29T20:38:56.267Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

And in what way would it be consistently advantageous over "Get laid. Do not get killed"?

Do you feel attracted to all people of your preferred gender by the same amount?

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-03-29T15:00:29.586Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

How the frack would brainware favoring something as ephemeral as "status" have evolved?

If we didn't have brainware for favoring status, people wouldn't have a preference for attaining it, or the ability to recognize it, at all. I suspect anyone who's been through an ordinary public school will be able to attest that humans, from an early age, tend to have some degree of motivation to have standing among their peers, and are able to follow cues to determine who has such standing and who does not. If we've established that such apparatus exists at all, it's not a big jump to implementing it in mate selection.

And in what way would it be consistently advantageous over "Get laid. Do not get killed"?

I'm going to disagree with Kindly and say that there is a readily apparent advantage here. For most of our evolutionary history, high status would be associated with ability to provide for offspring. A leader who has many underlings paying tribute can much more easily support raising children in safety and abundance than one of the underlings whose resources are being taken in tribute. If we're looking at a culture with really large status differentials, say, Ancient Egypt, a Pharaoh who's already had two hundred kids by various women is still more able to support the raising of a few more than a peasant laborer who hasn't had any children at all yet.

We can confirm via genetics that humans alive today have considerably fewer male ancestors than female, because it was rarer for women to go without having any children than men, but men were more likely to have many children by different partners. Reports of sexual activity among men and women support the same pattern today.

If both men and women had drives that amounted only to "get laid, don't get killed," we would be unlikely to observe such a pattern. Among animals, organisms with more than a very small amount of processing power tend to implement more complex selection strategies than this. Take, for example, all the herbivores where the males have horns they use to compete with other males over females.

Keep in mind that beyond attempting to survive and have offspring, there's a genetic advantage in displacing competitors. Every specimen benefits from getting their genes as large a share of the next generation as possible. This will tend to complicate reproductive strategies well beyond the level of "survive and have kids."

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-30T12:40:54.767Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If status was really what women wanted, the vast majority of men would go to their graves without ever getting laid.

I seem to recall someone mentioning a study concluding that probably only about 40% of men who ever lived had children, compared to about 80% of women.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-03-31T21:44:22.747Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

However, there's a huge difference between "no children who lived long enough to have descendants" and "no sex".

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-01T09:19:12.322Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

IIRC it just said “no children”, not “no descendants alive today” (the 80% figure sounds way too large for the latter). Still not quite the same as “no sex”, but given that reliable birth control has only existed for a tiny fraction of human history, they must be quite close.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-04-01T11:59:59.091Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see how you could tell what proportion of people had ever had children. It might be possible to tell how many common ancestors people have.

This seems to be a source for the meme, but it doesn't have a citation. It does mention genetic research, though.

By the way, I'd have sworn I saw the thing debunked, which is probably as good evidence as your having seen it somewhere.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-02T12:23:59.057Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I've managed to find the page where I originally saw that claim, and it indeed cites Baumeister's 2007 talk.

comment by drethelin · 2013-04-04T09:42:41.251Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Uh, the same way anything like pairbonding evolved? What about maternal feelings towards children? What about paternal feelings toward children? What about complicated behaviors like nesting, animal mating rituals, and dominance fights among (to pick the first of dozens of examples that sprang to my mind) elk? Status games ABOUND in nature, and mating that isn't just "getting laid" takes place among tons of species, and humans especially. Having a high status man sleep with you isn't anywhere near enough to safely and happily raise children, even assuming you get pregnant.

If we ignore your weird ignorance of nature: Social skills do not equal high status. they correlate with high status, but they're not the same thing. Not understanding what is appropriate to say to someone you're trying to get into bed is a sign of foolishness and lack of care far more than it's a sign of low status.

comment by MrMind · 2013-03-29T16:29:32.790Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

his is bad reasoning. If status was really what women wanted, the vast majority of men would go to their graves without ever getting laid.

Well, I said they're after social skills, not status. And there are others factor involved, for example availability.

comment by Kindly · 2013-03-29T14:09:27.899Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In what way would it be consistently advantageous over "Get laid. Do not get killed"?

It wouldn't, but "Get laid. Do not get killed" is a low bar to clear. Once you can do that, your goals may change to finding the best possible partner to get laid with/by (what is the correct preposition here?) and this is where status comes in.

As to your other objection:

If status was really what women wanted, the vast majority of men would go to their graves without ever getting laid.

Women also have status. High-status women sleep with high-status men and low-status women sleep with low-status men. (Also high-status men sometimes sleep with other high-status men and so on.)

comment by JQuinton · 2013-04-02T21:17:45.722Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see a need to separate social skills with pleasure seeking/danger avoidance. Generally, someone with a lot of social skill isn't a rapist, and someone with a lot of social skill would probably have a lot of experience giving pleasure as well.

In my experience, women have been more open to me once they've seen that I'm popular with other women. If I were in academia, I would test this by designing a variation of that classic approach-random-women-and-ask-for-sex experiment with one group of males being seen in the company of a lot of women and another group of males approaching alone.

comment by jooyous · 2013-03-29T01:02:13.690Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think the people who change their answer to that question are the same types of people that might have sex with you and then go around telling other people that it's not their fault, it just kinda happened.

comment by JoshuaFox · 2013-03-27T14:31:38.633Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I would be very cautious about any claim that any "problem" is totally, finally, and uncontroversially solved.

When a problem gets to that point, no one is calling it a problem.

And even then, better solutions may come along.

comment by JoshuaFox · 2013-03-27T14:33:07.616Z · score: 18 (21 votes) · LW · GW

How can I keep warm when going outside on a blustery fall day? Wear clothing.

How can I eat without spending all my time hunting? Buy food from other people who specialize in that.

How can I retain key thoughts more precisely than by mere memorization? Write them down.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-03-27T19:41:52.167Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Other "solved problems" from early human history:

How can I find out if all the sheep have come in from the field? Count them as they are going out, and count them again as they are coming in.

How can I remember how many sheep that person owes me? Write down their name, the word "sheep", and the number of sheep.

How can I resolve conflicts with someone without fighting, when just talking it out with that person doesn't seem to be working? Find some person whom we both respect, have each of us explain their view on the situation, and follow the respected person's advice.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2013-03-27T17:59:45.300Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Another category is questions like "(2x^8)/3 +62/4 = x" where the method of obtaining the answer is well defined, but the answer itself is unknown.

comment by Clippy · 2013-04-01T06:42:43.316Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I know the answer.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-03-27T17:40:36.527Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but even so, there may be lots of problems that I think are 50% solved or maybe wide open and that it turns out are maybe 95% solved (loosely speaking), and I'd still like to hear about those.

comment by jooyous · 2013-03-27T23:02:27.417Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Can we start a thread for unproductive but frequently asked questions that can easily be replaced with other, more productive questions? Like if you're asking this, you probably mean to ask something else. Does that sound useful?

One example of these is yelling at a small child, demanding to know why they broke something, which is not that useful because small children sometimes don't have good answers or they have answers that don't quite take all of reality into account. (For example, maybe the child wanted to see what would happen but didn't realize might be permanent or unfavorable.) The more productive question is "How can we prevent you from breaking these types of objects again?"

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-03-27T23:28:55.660Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

You can start whatever threads you want! You have the power! (What question should you have replaced that question with, I wonder...)

comment by jooyous · 2013-03-27T23:40:02.870Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

"Do you think this is a good and useful idea? And can I perhaps legitimize the idea further by persuading you to start the thread instead of me since you've been starting a lot of repository threads lately?"

See? Questions are a tricky business! That was an unintentionally round-about and meta way of demonstrating it.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-05T12:16:41.525Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sleep inertia is solved by sleep cycle-tracking alarm clocks, such as this or this.

comment by curiousepic · 2013-04-09T20:52:05.032Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sleep Cycle helped this for me for about a year. I've noticed the effect lessen over the past few months (feeling crappier upon waking than I used to) - but I'm hoping it has something to do with the temperature/season.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-11T16:54:01.751Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

but I'm hoping it has something to do with the temperature/season.

Yeah, I was going to mention something about that; now that you remind me...

Insomnia may (or may nor) be solved by one or more of: (roughly in order of perceived-by-me importance) making sure the temperature in your room is not too high (or too low), using LeechBlock or something to prevent you from surfing the Web past a certain time, not spending too much time in your room (especially in bed) doing things other than resting (or intimate activities), biphasic sleep (I usually sleep around six hours and a half every night and take a one-hour nap in the afternoon), lots of light/water/caffeine until dinner but very little afterwards, and software that decreases the colour temperature of your display (such as F.lux or Redshift).

(I still wonder how could I spend the first two decades of my life having serious trouble falling asleep pretty much all summer nights but seldom in the winter, before it occurred to me that keeping the windows open for a couple hours after sunset to let cooler air in might solve most of the problem.)

comment by thrwy · 2013-03-28T07:04:01.556Z · score: -5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Problem: Want to have sex, but paranoid about getting a woman pregnant.

Solution: Have sex with women over 50.