Open thread, Dec. 1 - Dec. 7, 2014

post by MrMind · 2014-12-01T08:29:02.166Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 346 comments

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

Notes for future OT posters:

1. Please add the 'open_thread' tag.

2. Check if there is an active Open Thread before posting a new one. (Immediately before; refresh the list-of-threads page before posting.)

3. Open Threads should be posted in Discussion, and not Main.

4. Open Threads should start on Monday, and end on Sunday.

346 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Artaxerxes · 2014-12-01T16:29:53.991Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

GiveWell's top charities updated today. Compared to previous recommendations, they have put Against Malaria Foundation back on the top charities list (partial explanation here), and they have also added an "Other Standout Charities" section.

comment by tog · 2014-12-01T21:45:37.045Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Here's GiveWell's detailed announcement post. I've posted a summary of the new (and old) charities to LW Discussion.

comment by Metus · 2014-12-01T16:38:33.381Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Also note that there is information on tax-deductibility of donations outside of the U.S. on that site. If you are paying a lot of income tax you might be able to get some money back, donate even more or some combination of those two.

comment by tog · 2014-12-01T21:56:35.095Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Even more easily, you can visit this interactive tool I made and it'll tell you which charities are tax-deductible or tax-efficient in your country, and give you the best links to them. It also has a dropdown covering 18 countries, including some in which tax-efficient routes are far from obvious.

comment by Metus · 2014-12-01T22:01:15.544Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you. It is a bit of a shame that it is so complicated to donate tax-efficiently from one EU country to another. I can understand complications going from the US to the EU member states and vice versa but this is plenty strange.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2014-12-03T01:57:49.340Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Several weeks ago I wrote a heavily upvoted post called Don't Be Afraid of Asking Personally Important Questions on LessWrong. I thought it would only be due diligence if I tried to track users on LessWrong who have received advice from here, and it's backfired. In other words, to avoid bias in the record, we might notice what LessWrong as a community is bad at giving advice about. So, I'm seeking feedback. If you have anecdotes or data of how a plan or advice directly from LessWrong backfired, failed, or didn't lead to satisfaction, please share below. If you would like to keep the details private, feel free to send me a private message.

If the ensuing thread doesn't get enough feedback, I'll try making asking this question as a Discussion post in its own right. If for some reason you think this whole endeavor isn't necessary, critical feedback about that is also welcome.

comment by shminux · 2014-12-03T18:22:54.694Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

My feeling was that SSC is getting close to LW in terms of popularity, but Alexa says otherwise: SSC hasn't yet cracked top 100k sites (LW is ranked 63,755) and has ~600 of links to it vs ~2000 for LW. Still very impressive for a part-time hobby of one overworked doctor. Sadly, 20% of searches leading to SSC are for heartiste.

My suspicion is that SSC would get a lot more traffic if its lousy WP comment system was better, but then Scott is apparently not motivated by traffic, so there is no incentive for him to improve it.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-03T18:29:28.989Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

SSC would get a lot more traffic

SSC getting a lot more traffic might change it and not necessarily for the better.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-03T19:53:58.681Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My suspicion is that SSC would get a lot more traffic if its lousy WP comment system was better, but then Scott is apparently not motivated by traffic, so there is no incentive for him to improve it.

Why do you think that's the case? Are there any cases of blogger getting much more popular after switching to a different comment system?

And what comment system would you advocate?

comment by shminux · 2014-12-03T21:18:50.086Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Why do you think that's the case? Are there any cases of blogger getting much more popular after switching to a different comment system?

It's a good question, maybe it does not, I am not aware of any A/B testing done on that. I simply go by the trivial inconveniences.

And what comment system would you advocate?

Scott is against reddit-style karma system, so I'd go for Scott marking comments he finds interesting, at a minimum.

Additionally, comment formatting and presentation which improves nesting and visibility would be nice. Reddit/LW is an OK compromise, userfriendly.org is better in terms of seeing more threads at a glance.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-03T23:31:34.039Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Scott is against reddit-style karma system

There are many reasons against using the reddit code base. While it's open source in theory it's not structured in a way that allows easy updating.

Is there any solution that would be plug&play for a wordpress blog that you would favor Scott implementing?

Coding something himself would be more than a trival inconvenience.

I also think you underrate the time cost of comment moderation. Want to be a blogger and wanting to moderate a forum are two different goals.

comment by shminux · 2014-12-04T04:35:20.526Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Scott uses WP, and it has plenty of comment ranking plugins. Here is one popular blog with a simple open voting system: http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog . It is probably not good enough for SSC, but many other versions are available. As I said, Scott is not interested in improving the commenting system, and probably is not interested in taking any steps beyond great writing toward improving the blog's popularity, either.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-06T11:13:33.256Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Here is one popular blog with a simple open voting system: http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog

That has voting but it doesn't seem to have threaded comments. That means switching to that plugin would break all the existing comment threads.

As I said, Scott is not interested in improving the commenting system,

I would guess that the main issue is that he doesn't want to do work to improve it.

Arguing what's an improvement also isn't easy.

If I look at the blogs of influential people who do put effort into it, I don't see that they all use a comment solution that Scott refuses to use.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-12-03T19:20:38.285Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The amount of comments can be rather overwhelming as it is. Do you want a larger SSC community, for the ideas to get a wider audience, or what?

comment by shminux · 2014-12-03T20:14:11.974Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It is overwhelming because it is poorly formatted and presented, not because of the volume. There are plenty of forums with better comment formatting, like reddit, userfriendly.org, or slashdot. Lack of comment ranking does not help readability, either.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-12-03T20:18:07.950Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I find that the bakot's ~new~ on new comments and the dropdown list of new comments is enough to get by with-- for me, the quantity really is the overwhelming aspect on the more popular posts.

comment by shminux · 2014-12-04T04:29:31.828Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Other forums have lots more comments, yet are easier to navigate through.

comment by maxikov · 2014-12-02T08:02:29.306Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Good futurology is different from storytelling in that it tries to make as few assumptions as possible. How many assumptions do we need to allow cryonics to work? Well, a lot.

  • The true point of no return has to be indeed much later than we believe it to be now. (Besides does it even exist at all? Maybe a super-advanced civilization can collect enough information to backtrack every single process in the universe down to the point of one's death. Or maybe not)

  • Our vitrification technology is not a secure erase procedure. Pharaohs also thought that their mummification technology is not a secure erase procedure. Even though we have orders of magnitude more evidence to believe we're not mistaken this time, ultimately, it's the experiment that judges.

  • Timeless identity is correct, and it's you rather than your copy that wakes up.

  • We will figure brain scanning.

  • We will figure brain simulation.

  • Alternatively, we will figure nanites, and a way to make them work through the ice.

  • We will figure all that sooner than the expected time of the brain being destroyed by: slow crystal formation; power outages; earthquakes; terrorist attacks; meteor strikes; going bankrupt; economy collapse; nuclear war; unfriendly AI, etc. That's similar to the longevity escape velocity, although slower: to survive, you don't just have to advance technologies, you have to advance them fast enough.

All that combined, the probability of working out is really darn low. Yes, it is much better than zero, but still low. If I were to play Russian roulette, I would be happy to learn that instead of six bullets I'm playing with five. However, this relief would not stop me from being extremely motivated to remove even more bullets from the cylinder.

The reason why the belief in afterlife is not just neutral but harmful for modern people is that it demotivates them from doing immortality research. Dying is sure scary, we won't truly die, so problem solved, let's do something else. And I'm worried about cryonics becoming this kind of a comforting story for transhumanists. Yes, actually removing one bullet from the cylinder is much much better than hoping that Superman will appear in the last moment, and stop the bullet. But stopping after removing just one bullet isn't a good idea either. Some amount of resources are devoted to the conventional longevity research, but as far as I understand, we're not hoping to achieve the longevity escape velocity for currently living people, especially adults. Cryonics appear to be our only chance to avoid death, and I would be extremely motivated to try to make our only chance as high as we can possibly make it. And I don't think we're trying hard.

comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-02T15:05:47.115Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

The reason why the belief in afterlife is not just neutral but harmful for modern people is that it demotivates them from doing immortality research.

While mainstream belief in an afterlife is probably a contributing factor in why we aren't doing enough longevity/immortality research, I doubt it's a primary cause.

Firstly, because very few people alieve in an afterlife, i.e. actually anticipate waking up in an afterlife when they die. (Nor, for that matter, do most people who believe in a Heaven/Hell sort of afterlife, actually behave in a way consistent with their belief that they may be eternally rewarded or punished for their behavior.)

Secondly, because the people who are in a position to do such research are less likely than the general population to believe in an afterlife.

And finally, because even without belief in an afterlife, people would still probably have a strong sense of learned helplessness around fighting death, so instead of a "Dying is sure scary, we won't truly die, so problem solved, let's do something else." attitude, we'd have a "Dying is sure scary, but we can't really do anything about it, let's do something else." attitude (I have a hunch the former is really the latter dressed up a bit.).

comment by maxikov · 2014-12-02T19:34:08.936Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Secondly, because the people who are in a position to do such research are less likely than the general population to believe in an afterlife.

On this particular point, I would say that people who are in a position to allocate funds for research programs are probably about as likely as the general population to believe in the belief in afterlife.

Generally, I agree - it's definitely not the only problem. The USSR, where people were at least supposed to not believe in afterlife, didn't have longevity research as its top priority. But it's definitely one of the cognitive stop signs, that prevents people from thinking about death hard enough.

comment by RowanE · 2014-12-02T16:42:53.097Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

About half of your list is actually an OR statement (timeless identity AND brain scanning AND simulation) OR (nanites through ice), and that doesn't even exhaustively cover the possibilities since at least it needs a term for unknown unknowns we haven't hypothesized yet. It's probably easiest to cover all of them with something like "it's actually possible to turn what we're storing when we vitrify a cryonics patient back into that person, in some form or another".

And the vast majority of cryonicists, or at least, those in Less Wrong circles who your post are likely to reach, already accept that the probability of cryonics working is low, but exactly how low they think the probability is after considering the four assumptions your list reduces to is something they've definitely already considered and probably would disagree with you on, if you actually gave a number for what "very low" means to see whether we even disagree (note: if it's above around 1%, consider how many assumptions there are in trying to achieve "longevity escape velocity", and maybe spread your bets).

And, as others have already pointed out, belief in cryonics doesn't really funge against longevity research. If anything, I expect the two are very strongly correlated together. At least as far as belief in them being desirable or possible goes, it's quite apparent that they're both ideas that are shared by a few communities such as our own and rejected by other communities including "society at large". How much we spend on each is probably affected by e.g. cryonics being a thing you can buy for yourself right now but longevity being a public project suffering from commons problems, so the correlation might be less strong and even inverse if you check it (I would be very surprised if it actually turned out to be inverse), but if so that wouldn't necessarily be because of the reasons you suggest.

comment by maxikov · 2014-12-02T20:07:58.264Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I would say it's probably no higher than 0.1%.

But by no means I'm arguing against cryonics. I'm arguing for spending more resources on improving it. All sorts of biologists are working on longevity, but very few seem to work on improving vitrification. And I have a strong suspicion that it's not because nothing can be done about it - most of the time I talked to biologists about it, we were able to pinpoint non-trivial research questions in this field.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-02T20:58:18.627Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I think LW looks favorably on the work of the Brain Preservation Foundation and multiple people even donated.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-02T11:37:30.512Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

All that combined, the probability of working out is really darn low.

How about putting numbers on it? Without doing so, your argument is quite vague.

Some amount of resources are devoted to the conventional longevity research, but as far as I understand, we're not hoping to achieve the longevity escape velocity for currently living people, especially adults.

Have you actually looked at the relevant LW census numbers for what "we are hoping"?

comment by maxikov · 2014-12-02T20:17:20.283Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How about putting numbers on it? Without doing so, your argument is quite vague.

I would estimate the cumulative probability as the ballpark of 0.1%

Have you actually looked at the relevant LW census numbers for what "we are hoping"?

I was actually referring to the apparent consensus what I see among researchers, but it's indeed vague. I should look up the numbers if they exist.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-02T20:37:28.249Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I was actually referring to the apparent consensus what I see among researchers, but it's indeed vague.

Most researchers don't do cryonics. I think a good majority of LW anti-aging research is underfunded. I don't buy the thesis that people who do cryonics are investing less effort into other ways of fighting aging.

I should look up the numbers if they exist.

The 2013 LW census asked a questions : "P(Anti-Agathics) What is the probability that at least one person living at this moment will reach an age of one thousand years, conditional on no global catastrophe destroying civilization in that time?"

"P(Cryonics) What is the probability that an average person cryonically frozen today will be successfully restored to life at some future time, conditional on no global catastrophe destroying civilization before then?"

And "Are you signed up for cryonics?"

The general takeaway is that even among people signed up with cryonics the majority doesn't think that it"s chance of working are bigger than 50%. But they do believe that it's bigger than 0.1%.

comment by cameroncowan · 2014-12-07T09:09:07.500Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think trying to stop death is a rather pointless endeavour from the start but I agree the fact that most everyone has accepted it and we have some noble myths to paper it over certainly keep resources from being devoted to living forever. But then, why should we live forever?

comment by pengvado · 2014-12-05T10:56:04.628Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The true point of no return has to be indeed much later than we believe it to be now.

Who is "we", and what do "we" believe about the point of no return? Surely you're not talking about ordinary doctors pronouncing medical death, because that's just irrelevant (pronouncements of medical death are assertions about what current medicine can repair, not about information-theoretic death). But I don't know what other consensus you could be referring to.

comment by maxikov · 2014-12-06T04:25:43.334Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Surely I do. The hypothesis that after a certain period of hypoxia under the normal body temperature the brain sustains enough damage so that it cannot be recovered even if you manage to get the heart and other internal organs working is rather arbitrary, but it's backed up by a lot of data. The hypothesis that with the machinery for direct manipulation of molecules, which doesn't contradict our current understanding of physics, we could fix a lot beyond the self-recovery capabilities of the brain is perfectly sensible, but it's just a hypothesis without the data to back it up.

This, of course, can remind you the skepticism towards flying machines heavier than air in 19th century. And I do believe that some skepticism was a totally valid position to take, given the evidence that they had. There are various degrees of establishing the truth, and "it doesn't seem to follow from our fundamental physics that it's theoretically impossible" is not the highest of them.

comment by gothgirl420666 · 2014-12-04T07:06:37.507Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You missed a few:

  • you will die in a way that leaves your brain intact
  • people will care enough in the future to revive frozen people
  • the companies that provide these services will stick around for a long time
comment by shminux · 2014-12-04T20:25:00.011Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

What cause would an NRx EA donate to?

comment by bramflakes · 2014-12-04T20:29:20.416Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Depends on what kind of NRx. There isn't a single value system shared among them.

The popular trichotomy is "Techno-commercialist / Theonomist / Ethno-nationalist" - I don't know about the first two, but the ethnonationalists would probably disagree with a lot of Givewell's suggestions.

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2014-12-05T17:01:28.489Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

ethnonationalists would probably disagree with a lot of Givewell's suggestions.

Not uniformly, I think - Japan is an Ethno-nationalist state, and also used to be the world's largest supplier of foreign aid.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-06T19:48:02.623Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ethno-nationalists certainly have no problem with geopolitics or mutually-beneficial investment, and foreign aid can be useful there.

comment by ZankerH · 2014-12-04T21:50:50.504Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The most coherent proposal I've heard so far is applying being TRS at the polling place to charity: The principle of optimising your donations for cultural-marxist outrage.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-12-08T04:18:47.325Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Sarah Hoyt isn't quite NRx, but her recent (re)post here seems relevant.

In particular, the old distinction between deserving and undeserving poor.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-12-06T16:41:41.066Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The Austrian "Iron Ring" party. Restore the Hapsburg Empire!


Yes, I am aware that there are things to understand about the crazy straw design world. :)

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-12-06T23:11:29.284Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

NRx's are generally not utilitarians.

comment by shminux · 2014-12-07T03:08:58.834Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I've met at least one claiming he is.

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2014-12-07T19:08:26.767Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What ethical system do you follow?

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-12-08T04:14:45.508Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm a virtue ethicist.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-04T20:39:01.053Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Ha. Good question.

Subverting the Cathedral, maybe?

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-03T00:16:58.650Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

New research suggests that life may be hard to come by on certain classes of planets even if they are in the habitable zone since they will lose their water early on. See here. This is noteworthy in that in in the last few years almost all other research has pointed towards astronomical considerations not being a major part of the Great Filter, and this is a suggestion that slightly more of the Filter may be in our past.

comment by MockTurtle · 2014-12-01T11:09:03.015Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

How do people who sign up to cryonics, or want to sign up to cryonics, get over the fact that if they died, there would no-longer be a mind there to care about being revived at a later date? I don't know how much of it is morbid rationalisation on my part just because signing up to cryonics in the UK seems not quite as reliable/easy as in the US somehow, but it still seems like a real issue to me.

Obviously, when I'm awake, I enjoy life, and want to keep enjoying life. I make plans for tomorrow, and want to be alive tomorrow, despite the fact that in between, there will be a time (during sleep) where I will no-longer care about being alive tomorrow. But if I were killed in my sleep, at no point would I be upset - I would be unaware of it beforehand, and my mind would no-longer be active to care about anything afterwards.

I'm definitely confused about this. I think the central confusion is something like: why should I be willing to spend effort and money at time A to ensure I am alive at time C, when I know that I will not care at all about this at an intermediate time B?

I'm pretty sure I'd be willing to pay a certain amount of money every evening to lower some artificial probability of being killed while I slept. So why am I not similarly willing to pay a certain amount to increase the chance I will awaken from the Dreamless Sleep? Does anyone else think about this before signing up for cryonics?

comment by jkaufman · 2014-12-01T12:05:28.911Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Say you're undergoing surgery, and as part of this they use a kind of sedation where your mind completely stops. Not just stops getting input from the outside world, no brain activity whatsoever. Once you're sedated, is there any moral reason to finish the surgery?

Say we can run people on computers, we can start and stop them at any moment, but available power fluctuates. So we come up with a system where when power drops we pause some of the people, and restore them once there's power again. Once we've stopped someone, is there a moral reason to start them again?

My resolution to both of these cases is that I apparently care about people getting the experience of living. People dying matters in that they lose the potential for future enjoyment of living, their friends lose the enjoyment of their company, and expectation of death makes people enjoy life less. This makes death different from brain-stopping surgery, emulation pausing, and also cryonics.

(But I'm not signed up for cryonics because I don't think the information would be preserved.)

comment by MockTurtle · 2014-12-02T10:31:29.482Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thinking about it this way also makes me realise how weird it feels to have different preferences for myself as opposed to other people. It feels obvious to me that I would prefer to have other humans not cease to exist in the ways you described. And yet for myself, because of the lack of a personal utility function when I'm unconscious, it seems like the answer could be different - if I cease to exist, others might care, but I won't (at the time!).

Maybe one way to think about it more realistically is not to focus on what my preferences will be then (since I won't exist), but on what my preferences are now, and somehow extend that into the future regardless of the existence of a personal utility function at that future time...

Thanks for the help!

comment by CBHacking · 2014-12-01T12:09:59.357Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Short version: I adjusted my sense of "self" until it included all my potential future selves. At that point, it becomes literally a matter of saving my life, rather than of being re-awakened one day.

It didn't actually take much for me to take that leap when it came to cryonics. The trigger for me was "you don't die and then get cryopreserved, you get cryopreserved as the last-ditch effort before you die". I'm not suicidal; if you ask any hypothetical instance of me if they want to live, the answer is yes. By extending my sense of continuity into the not-quite-really-dead-yet instance of me, I can answer questions for that cryopreserved self: "Yes, of course I want you to perform the last-ditch operation to save my life!"

If you're curious: My default self-view for a long time was basically "the continuity that led to me is me, and any forks or future copies/simulations aren't me", which tended toward a somewhat selfish view where I always viewed the hypothetical most in-control version (call it "CBH Alpha") as myself. If a copy of me was created; "I" was simply whichever one I wanted to be (generally, the one responsible for choosing to create the new instance or doing the thing that the pre-fork copy wanted to be doing). It took me a while to realize how much sense that didn't make; I always am the continuity that led to me, and am therefore whatever instance of CBH that you can hypothesize, and therefore I can't pick and choose for myself. If anything that identifies itself as CBH can exist after any discontinuity from CBH Alpha, I am (and need to optimize for) all those selves.

This doesn't mean I'm not OK with the idea of something like a transporter that causes me to cease to exist at one point and begin again at another point; the new instance still identifies as me, and therefore is me and I need to optimize for him. The old instance no longer exists and doesn't need to be optimized for. On the other hand, this does mean I'm not OK with the idea of a machine that duplicates myself for the purpose of the duplicate dying, unless it's literally a matter of saving any instance of myself; I would optimize for the benefit of all of me, not just for the one who pushed the button.

I'm not yet sure how I'd feel about a "transporter" which offered the option of destroying the original, but didn't have to. The utility of such a thing is obviously so high I would use it, and I'd probably default to destroying the original just because I don't feel like I'm such a wonderful benefit to the world that there needs to be more of me (so long as there's at least one), but when I reframe the question from "why would I want to not be transported (i.e. to go on experiencing life here instead of wherever I was being sent)" to "why would I want to have fewer experiences than I could (i.e. only experience the destination of the transporter, instead of simultaneously experiencing both), I feel like I'd want to keep the original. If we alter the scenario just slightly, such that the duplicate is created as a fork and the fork is then optionally destroyed, I don't think I would ever choose destruction except if it was a scenario along the lines of "painless disintegration or death by torture" and the torture wasn't going to last long (no rescue opportunity) but I'd still experience a lot of pain.

These ideas largely came about from various fiction I've read in the last few years. Some examples that come to mind:

comment by MockTurtle · 2014-12-02T10:12:30.988Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I remember going through a similar change in my sense of self after reading through particular sections of the sequences - specifically thinking that logically, I have to identify with spatially (or temporally) separated 'copies' of me. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to help me in quite the same way it helps you deal with this dilemma. To me, it seems that if I am willing to press a button that will destroy me here and recreate me at my desired destination (which I believe I would be willing to do), the question of 'what if the teleporter malfunctions and you don't get recreated at your destination? Is that a bad thing?' is almost without meaning, as there would no-longer be a 'me' to evaluate the utility of such an event. I guess the core confusion is that I find it hard to evaluate states of the universe where I am not conscious.

As pointed out by Richard, this is probably even more absurd than I realise, as I am not 'conscious' of all my desires at all times, and thus I cannot go on this road of 'if I do not currently care about something, does it matter?'. I have to reflect on this some more and see if I can internalise a more useful sense of what matters and when.

Thanks a lot for the fiction examples, I hope to read them and see if the ideas therein cause me to have one of those 'click' moments...

comment by CBHacking · 2014-12-03T21:47:46.009Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The first is a short story that is basically a "garden path" toward this whole idea, and was a real jolt for me; you wonder why the narrator would be worried about this experiment going wrong, because she won't be harmed regardless. That world-view gets turned on its ear at the end of the story.

The second is longer, but still a pretty short story; I didn't see a version of it online independent of the novel-length collection it's published in. It explores the Star Trek transporter idea, in greater detail and more rationally than Star Trek ever dared to do.

The third is a huuuuuuge comic archive (totally worth reading anyhow, but it's been updating every single day for almost 15 years); the story arc in question is The Teraport Wars ( http://www.schlockmercenary.com/2002-04-15 ), and the specific part starts about here: http://www.schlockmercenary.com/2002-06-20 . Less "thinky" but funnier / more approachable than the others.

comment by RowanE · 2014-12-01T18:06:57.651Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Although with your example in particular it's probably justified by starting off with very confused beliefs on the subjects and noticing the mess they were in, at least as far as suggesting it to other people I don't understand how or why you'd want to go change a sense of self like that. If identity is even a meaningful thing to talk about, then there's a true answer to the question of "which beings can accurately be labelled "me"?", and having the wrong belief about the answer to that question can mean you step on a transporter pad and are obliterated. If I believe that transporters are murder-and-clone machines, then I also believe that self-modifying to believe otherwise is suicidal.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-12-01T12:00:40.024Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Obviously, when I'm awake, I enjoy life, and want to keep enjoying life.

Perhaps that is not so obvious. While you are awake, do you actually have that want while it is not in your attention? Which is surely most of the time.

If you are puzzled about where the want goes while you are asleep, should you also be puzzled about where it is while you are awake and oblivious to it? Or looking at it the other way, if the latter does not puzzle you, should the former? And if the former does not, should the Long Sleep of cryonics?

Perhaps this is a tree-falls-in-forest-does-it-make-a-sound question. There is (1) your experience of a want while you are contemplating it, and (2) the thing that you are contemplating at such moments. Both are blurred together by the word "want". (1) is something that comes and goes even during wakefulness; (2) would seem to be a more enduring sort of thing that still exists while your attention is not on it, including during sleep, temporarily "dying" on an operating table, or, if cryonics works, being frozen.

comment by MockTurtle · 2014-12-02T10:22:57.186Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think you've helped me see that I'm even more confused than I realised! It's true that I can't go down the road of 'if I do not currently care about something, does it matter?' since this applies when I am awake as well. I'm still not sure how to resolve this, though. Do I say to myself 'the thing I care about persists to exist/potentially exist even when I do not actively care about it, and I should therefore act right now as if I will still care about it even when I stop due to inattention/unconsciousness'?

I think that seems like a pretty solid thing to think, and is useful, but when I say it to myself right now, it doesn't feel quite right. For now I'll meditate on it and see if I can internalise that message. Thanks for the help!

comment by advancedatheist · 2014-12-01T15:33:02.584Z · score: -6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I have trouble understanding why people think that something spooky happens if you could cryopreserve and revive a human brain in good shape that apparently doesn't happen when you do that to other human organs.

comment by RowanE · 2014-12-01T16:15:51.663Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

He's not talking about death spookily happening to him during cryopreservation, he explicitly compares it to sleep, his question is closer to "does being killed in your sleep matter? Is it actually worth taking extra measures to make sure it doesn't happen, considering that it can't have negative effects on you and only affects your potential future happiness?", with a side of feeling (on an emotional level that makes him notice he's confused) that the differences between cryopreservation and sleep affect the answer to the question.

I think I responded to what you actually said there, but I'm not actually entirely sure what you're saying - what's the "something spooky"? What is it that happens "when you do that to other human organs" that even meaningfully applies to brains and spleens alike?

comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-12-01T12:17:37.054Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I'm going to narrate a Mutants and Masterminds roleplaying campaign for my friends, and I'm planning that the final big villain behind all the plots will be... Clippy.

Any story suggestions?

comment by RowanE · 2014-12-01T13:29:39.444Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Sabotage of a big company's IT systems, or of an IT company that maintains those systems, to force people to use paperclip-needing physical documents while the systems are down. Can have the paperclips be made mention of, but as what seems to the players like just fluff describing how this (rival company/terrorist/whatever) attack has disrupted things.

comment by ilzolende · 2014-12-02T05:46:02.202Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It depends on how familiar your friends are with uFAI tropes, so you may want to tone these up or down to keep foreshadowing at the right level. If they're highly familiar, you may want to switch paperclips with staples.

  • Monsters attack a factory, which happens to manufacture binder clips.
  • An infectious disease spreads across [home city], causing photosensitive epilepsy. Careful observers will note that seizures occur most often when lights strobe at computer monitor refresh rates.
  • Corporate executives experience wave of meningitis (nanotechnology-induced). When they return to work, they cancel all paperless-office initiatives.
  • Population of [distant area] missing. Buried underground: lots of paperclips. (If needed, have the paperclips test positive for some hallucinogen as a red herring).
  • Iron mines report massive thefts, magnetism-related supervillain denies all responsibility and is actually innocent. Alternatively, if any heroes have metal-related powers, frame one of them and present false evidence to the players that a supervillain did it.
  • Biotechnology companies seem to be colluding about something. The secret: somebody or something has been producing genetic material with their equipment, and they need to find out who, ideally without causing a panic. Maybe some superheroes could investigate for them?

If you do run this, please share your notes with us.

Edit: Now I want to run this sort of campaign. Thanks!

comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-12-02T13:00:40.941Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Good ideas. My friends don't know anything about uFAI topics; if I drop the name "Clippy," they'll think of the MS Office assistant.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-03T15:28:47.236Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

What exactly causes a person to stalk other people? Is there research that investigates the question when people start to stalk and when they don't?

To what extend is getting a stalker a risk worth thinking about before it's too late?

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-12-03T16:49:09.066Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

No research, just my personal opinion: borderline personality disorder.

alternating between high positive regard and great disappointment

First the stalker is obsessed by the person because the target is the most awesome person in the universe. Imagine a person who could give you infinitely many utilons, if they wanted to. Learning all about them and trying to befriend them would be the most important thing in the world. But at some moment, there is an inevitable disappointment.

Scenario A: The target decides to avoid the stalker. At the beginning the stalker believes it is merely a misunderstanding that can be explained, that perhaps they can prove their loyalty by persistence or something. But later they give up hope, or receive a sufficiently harsh refusal.

Scenario B: The stalker succeeds to befriend the the target. But they are still not getting the infinite utilons, which they believe they should be getting. So they try to increase the intensity of the relationship to impossible levels, as if trying to become literally one person. At some moment the target refuses to cooperate, or is simply unable to cooperate in the way the stalker wants them to, but to the stalker even this seems like a spiteful refusal.

In both scenarios, now the stalker feels hurt and cheated, and wants revenge. Projecting their false beliefs on the target, they believe the target has lied to them about the inifinite utilons; they blame the target for starting this whole process, and for destroying the stalker's life. (In the next mood swing, the stalker may offer forgiveness to the target, if the target agrees to give them the inifinite utilons now. Then they become angry again, etc.)

But maybe there are more possible mechanisms than this one. Also, my model does not explain why the stalker is targetting one specific person instead of multiple people, or everyone.

To what extend is getting a stalker a risk worth thinking about before it's too late?

I think it is worth thinking about, but I am not sure what specific advice to offer except for (a) avoiding everyone "weird", which seems like an overkill, and (b) using a pseudonym and other methods of protecting your privacy if you want to become even a bit famous.

I would certainly recommend to everyone who wants to become famous (as a bloger, singer, actor, etc.) to choose a pseudonym, stick to it, and never reveal anything personal. (Probably not even the city you live in; I would imagine that the idea that you are geographically distant would discourage most possible stalkers.)

comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-12-03T16:58:41.052Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Imagine a person who could give you infinitely many utilons

they try to increase the intensity of the relationship to impossible levels, as if trying to become literally one person

This sounds eerily close to the mystical varieties of theistic religions.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-04T16:31:50.342Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I would certainly recommend to everyone who wants to become famous (as a bloger, singer, actor, etc.) to choose a pseudonym, stick to it, and never reveal anything personal.

The only anonymous celebrity I can think of is Bansky.

Staying anonymous is not compatible with becoming famous.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2014-12-05T03:27:53.157Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Staying anonymous is not compatible with becoming famous.

Satoshi Nakamoto is also famous and pseudonymous, but this conjunction is very rare IMO.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-05T05:03:05.326Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Aha, thank you, a second example. Though I don't know if he's known by name in the general population.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-12-05T12:01:29.433Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I would guess most people become famous before they realize the advantage of anonymity, and then it's too late to start with a fresh name.

But it's also possible that it's simply not worth the effort, because when you become famous enough, someone will dox you anyway.

Could be interesting to know how much advantage (trivial inconvenience for wannabe stalkers) provides a pseudonym when your real name can be easily found on wikipedia; e.g. "Madonna". Or how big emotional difference for a potential stalker does it make whether a famous blogger displays their photo on their blog or not.

My favorite anonymous person is B. Traven.

comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-05T16:02:36.927Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The only anonymous celebrity I can think of is Bansky.

*Banksy

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-05T16:07:16.427Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

He's so anonymous I don't even know how to spell his (or maybe her) name! :-)

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-03T18:16:03.545Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm at the moment quite unsure how to handle a girl who seems to have bipolar depression and wants to have a relationship with me.

Four years ago I think she was in a quite stable mental state (I'm more percetive today than I was back then(. At the time she turned me down. I haven't seen her for a while and now she seems to be pretty broken as a result of mobbing in an enviroment that she now left.

One the one hand there the desire in me to try to fix her. Having a physical relationship with her also has it's appeal. On the other hand I can't see myself being open personally with her as long as she is in that messed up mental state.

comment by Jackercrack · 2014-12-10T14:34:43.139Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I've had a 3 year relationship with a woman I thought I could fix. She said she'd try hard to change, I said I'd help her, I tried to help her and was extremely supportive for a long time. It was emotionally draining because behind each new climbed mountain there was another problem, and another, and another. Every week a new thing that was bad or terrible about the world. I eventually grew tired of the constant stream of disasters, most stemming from normal situations interpreted weirdly then obsessed over until she broke down in tears. It became clear that things were not likely to ever get better so I left.

There were a great number of fantastic things about this woman; we were both breakdancers and rock climbers, we both enjoyed anime and films, we shared a love for spicy food and liked cuddling, we both had good bodies. We had similar mindsets about a lot of things.

I say all this so that you understand exactly how much of a downside an unstable mental state can be. So that you know that all of these great things about her were in the end not enough. Understand what I mean when I tell you it was not worth it for me and that I recommend against it. That I lost 3 years of time I could have spent making progress in a state with no energy. If you do plan to go for it anyway, set a time limit on how long you will try to fix her before letting go, some period of time less than half a year. I'll answer any questions that might seem useful.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-10T17:45:59.165Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

She said she'd try hard to change, I said I'd help her, I tried to help her and was extremely supportive for a long time.

Trying hard to change is not useful for changing. It keeps someone in place. Someone who has emotional issues because they obsess too much doesn't get a benefit from trying harder. Accepting such a frame is not the kind of mistake I would make.

That I lost 3 years of time I could have spent making progress in a state with no energy.

If a person breaks down crying I'm not disassociating and going into a low energy state. It rather draw me into a situation and makes me more present. But I'm not sure whether it brings me into a position where I consider the other person an agent rather than a rubics cube having to be solved.

comment by Jackercrack · 2014-12-10T18:04:09.420Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes well I wasn't a rationalist at the time, nor did I know enough about psychology to say what the right thing to do to help a person whose father... Well I cannot say the exact thing but suffice to say that If I ever meet the man at least one of us is going to the hospital. I'm rather non-violent at all other times. There wasn't exactly a how-to guide I could read on the subject.

I am also the kind of person that would be drawn out and try to help a person who breaks down crying. You use your energy to help their problems, and have less left for yourself. It starts to wear on you when you get into the third year of it happening every second week like clockwork over such charming subjects as a thoughtless word by a professional acquaintance or having taken the wrong bins out. Bonus points for taking the wrong bins out being a personal insult that means I hate her.

Anyway, that really isn't the point.Telling me how to solve my rubics cube which I am no longer in contact with is not very helpful. The point is, I've been there and I want to help you make the right decision, whatever that may be for you.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-11T15:05:40.860Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The point is, I've been there and I want to help you make the right decision

As far as I see it, you basically were faced with a situation without having any tools to deal with it. That makes your situation quite different.

When sitting in front of the hospital bed of my father speaking confused stuff because of morphium, my instinctual response was to do a nonverbal trance induction to have him in a silent state in half a minute.

Not because I read some how-to guide of how to deal with the situation but because NLP tools like that are instinctual behavior for me.

I'm very far from normal and so a lot of lessons that might be drawn from your experience for people that might be similar as you are, aren't applicable to me.

There wasn't exactly a how-to guide I could read on the subject.

While reading a how-to guide doesn't give you any skills, there's is psychological literature on how to help people with most problems.

comment by Jackercrack · 2014-12-11T15:35:58.039Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You may be right about my lack of tools, and I can't honestly say I used the try harder in the proper manner seeing as I hadn't been introduced to it at the time. I played the role of the supportive boyfriend and tried (unsuccessfully) to convince her to go to a therapist who was actually qualified at that sort of thing. I am suspicious, however that you took pains to separate yourself into a new reference class before actually knowing that one way or the other. Unless of course you have a track record of taking massive psychological issues and successfully fixing them in other people and are we really doing this? I mean come on. A person offers to help and you immediately go for the throat, picking apart mistakes made in an attempt to help a person, then using rather personal things in a subtly judgemental manner. Do you foresee that kind of approach ending well? Is that really the way you want this sort of conversation to play out? I like to think we can do better.

I have information. Do you want it or not?

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-12-04T12:42:05.056Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That is a difficult situation, but the last sentence suggests that the correct answer is "no". :(

comment by chaosmage · 2014-12-04T13:26:44.616Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Are you sharing your feelings or asking for advice?

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-04T16:10:52.341Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's context for the question I asked earlier.

There's a lot of information that goes into decision making that I won't be open about publically, so I'm not really asking on specific advice.

comment by SodaPopinski · 2014-12-01T22:25:59.160Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Elon Musk often advocates looking at problems from a first principles calculation rather than by analogy. My question is what does this kind of thinking imply for cryonics. Currently, the cost of full body preservation is around 80k. What could be done in principle with scale?

Ralph Merkle put out a plan (although lacking in details) for cryopreservation at around 4k. This doesn't seem to account for paying the staff or transportation. The basic idea is that one can reduce the marginal cost by preserving a huge number of people in one vat. There is some discussion of this going on at Longecity, but the details are still lacking.

comment by jkaufman · 2014-12-01T23:18:44.738Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The basic idea is that one can reduce the marginal cost by preserving a huge number of people in one vat.

Currently the main cost in cryonics is getting you frozen, not keeping you frozen. For example, Alcor gives these costs for neuropreservation:

  • $25k -- Comprehensive Member Standby (CMS) Fund
  • $30k -- Cryopreservation
  • $25k -- Patient Care Trust (PCT)
  • $80k -- Total

The CMS fund is what covers the Alcor team being ready to stabilize you as soon as you die, and transporting you to their facility. Then your cryopreservation fee covers filling you with cryoprotectants and slowly cooling you. Then the PCT covers your long term care. So 69% of your money goes to getting you frozen, and 31% goes to keeping you like that.

(Additionally I don't think it's likely that current freezing procedures are sufficient to preserve what makes you be you, and that better procedures would be more expensive, once we knew what they were.)

EDIT: To be fair, CMS would be much cheaper if it were something every hospital offered, because you're not paying for people to be on deathbed standby.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-02T00:54:51.133Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So, for how long will that $25K keep you frozen? Any estimates?

comment by gjm · 2014-12-02T14:06:56.042Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I believe the intention is "unlimitedly long", which is reasonable if (1) we're happy to assume something roughly resembling historical performance of investments and (2) the ongoing cost per cryopreservee is on the order of $600/year.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-02T15:40:51.087Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

we're happy to assume something roughly resembling historical performance of investments

The question is whether the cryofund can tolerate the volatility.

the ongoing cost per cryopreservee is on the order of $600/year.

Aha, that's the number I was looking for, thank you.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-02T16:33:45.630Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Note that it's just a guess on my part (on the basis that a conservative estimate is that if you have capital X then you can take 2.5% of it out every year and be pretty damn confident that in the long run you won't run out barring worldshaking financial upheavals). I have no idea what calculations Alcor, CI, etc., may have done; they may be more optimistic or more pessimistic than me. And I haven't made any attempt at estimating the actual cost of keeping cryopreservees suitably chilled.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-02T16:43:41.390Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And I haven't made any attempt at estimating the actual cost of keeping cryopreservees suitably chilled

Didn't you say it's on the order of $600/year?

comment by gjm · 2014-12-02T17:10:55.126Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It sounds as if I wasn't clear, so let me be more explicit.

  • I believe the intention is to be able to keep people cryopreserved for an unlimited period.
  • For this to be so, the alleged one-off cost of keeping them cryopreserved should be such as to sustain that ongoing cost for an unlimited period.
  • A conservative estimate is that with a given investment you can take 2.5% of it out every year and, if your investments' future performance isn't tragically bad in comparison with historical records, be reasonably confident of never running out.
  • This suggests that Alcor's estimate of the annual cost of keeping someone cryopreserved is (as a very crude estimate) somewhere around $600/year.
  • This is my only basis for the $600/year estimate; in particular, I haven't made any attempt to estimate (e.g.) the cost of the electricity required to keep their coolers running, or the cost of employing people to watch for trouble and fix things that go wrong.

(Why 2.5%? Because I've heard figures more like 3-4% bandied around in a personal-finance context, and I reckon an institution like Alcor should be extra-cautious. A really conservative figure would of course be zero.)

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-02T17:41:13.223Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, I see. I think I misread how the parentheses nest in your post :-)

So you have no information on the actual maintenance cost of cryopreservation and are just working backwards from what Alcor charges.

2.5%

I'm having doubts about this number, but that's not a finance thread. And anyway, in this context what matters is not reality, but Alcor's estimates.

A really conservative figure would of course be zero

That's debatable -- inflation can decimate your wealth easily enough. Currently inflation-adjusted Treasury bonds (TIPS) trade at negative yields.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-02T19:26:32.403Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

you have no information on the actual maintenance cost

Correct.

I'm having doubts about this number

I did try to make it as clear as I could that I do too...

That's debatable

Well, I defined it as the maximum amount you can take out without running out of money. I agree that if instead you define it as the maximum net outflow that (with some probability close to 1) leaves your fortune increasing rather than decreasing in both long and short terms, it could be negative in times of economic stagnation.

comment by philh · 2014-12-02T16:48:48.298Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No, ve said that "unlimitedly long" is reasonable if that's the cost. Ve didn't say that that was the cost.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2014-12-02T00:58:03.229Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I've seen extremely low plastination estimates due to the lack of maintenance costs. Very speculative obviously,, and the main component of cost is still the procedure itself (though there are apparently some savings here as well.)

comment by advancedatheist · 2014-12-01T16:05:01.532Z · score: 5 (23 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder why people like us who talk about wanting to "live forever" don't think more seriously about what that could mean in terms of overturning our current assumptions and background conditions, if our lives stretch into centuries and then into mlllennia.

I started to think about this based on something Mike Darwin wrote on his blog a few years back:

http://chronopause.com/chronopause.com/index.php/2011/04/19/cryonics-nanotechnology-and-transhumanism-utopia-then-and-now/index.html

Many years ago, when I was a teenager, Curtis Henderson was driving us out of Sayville to go the Cryo-Span facility, and I said something that irritated him – really set him off on a tear. Beverly (Gillian Cumings) had just died, and it had become clear that she was not going to get frozen, and I was moaning about it, crying about it in fact, and this is what he said to me: “You wanna live forever kid? You really wanna live forever?! Well, then you better be ready to go through a lot more of this – ’cause this ain’t nothin. Ever been burned all over, or had your hand squashed in a machine? Well get prepared for it, because you’re gonna experience that, and a lot more that’s worse than either you or me can imagine. Ever lost your girlfriend or you wife, or your mother or your father, or your best friend? Well, you’re gonna loose ‘em, and if you live long enough, really, really long enough, you’re gonna lose everybody; and then you’ll lose ‘em over and over again. Even if they don’t die, you’ll lose ‘em, so be prepared. You see all this here; them boats, this street, that ocean, that sun in that sky? You’re gonna lose ‘em all! The more you go on, the more you’ll leave behind, so I’m telling you here and now, you’d best be damn certain about this living forever thing, because it’s gonna be every bit as much Hell as it Heaven.”

So, for example, I've started to question the assumption that the social ideology we've inherited from the Enlightenment - a recent intellectual movement only 300 years old - has gotten locked in as a permanent part of the human condition. Now I wouldn't assume anything of the sort, and I can see the likelihood of Neoreactionary future societies. Even if we don't get that way because of the inherent weaknesses of the Enlightenment Project itself, we could stumble into them regardless through a drunkard's walk.

I also like to ask christians why their religion can't disappear eventually, and I don't mean through that ridiculous rapture belief some simple-minded evangelicals hold. From the perspective of people living ten thousand years from now, assuming humans survive, their dominant world religion might have started sometime between now and then, and if knowledge of christianity still exists then, only a few academic specialists would know anything about it from fragmentary evidence.

In practical terms, this perspective helps me to disengage from current events that don't matter much in the long run. At my current age (55), for example, American Presidents come and go subjectively quickly, so I tend to ignore them as much as possible compared with longer-term trends like the demographic social engineering in the U.S. that bloggers like Steve Sailer write about. I also tend to ignore geek fads that will allegedly "change everything," like Bitcoin, 3D printing and seasteading, until the beta testers beat the hell out of these innovations and we can get a more realistic view of what they can do despite what the hype and propaganda say.

So what do you think about the conditions of human life over, say, the next 300 years?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-12-01T18:51:27.356Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I would expect social arrangements to appear that we aren't even beginning to imagine much more than anything especially neo-reactionary.

comment by passive_fist · 2014-12-01T23:49:10.789Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

About that quote: If life is not worth living for 1000 years, then why is it worth living for 80? And if it's worth living for 80, why not 1000? If you don't want to live 1000 years, why not kill yourself now?

Is there some utility function that is positive up to 80 years but starts to become negative after that? (independent of level of health, since we're implicitly assuming that if you lived for 1000 years you'd be reasonably healthy during most of that time). If so, what is it?

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2014-12-03T04:25:11.627Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm jumping on this bandwagon.

User advancedatheist wrote:

In practical terms, this perspective helps me to disengage from current events that don't matter much in the long run. At my current age (55), for example, American Presidents come and go subjectively quickly, so I tend to ignore them as much as possible compared with longer-term trends like the demographic social engineering in the U.S. that bloggers like Steve Sailer write about. I also tend to ignore geek fads that will allegedly "change everything," like Bitcoin, 3D printing and seasteading, until the beta testers beat the hell out of these innovations and we can get a more realistic view of what they can do despite what the hype and propaganda say.

If the relative (dis)value of gains or losses for society at large regress to a mean over time, why wouldn't this trend extend to what happens to us personally? Why wouldn't everything we observe or experience not matter as much? In a lifetime of centuries, if I see everything I now love degrade or disappear, I may also have the opportunity to grow a more nuanced love for things or persons that are more robust over time. The sting of pain at losing something loved in our first century of living may fade as its dwarfed by how deeply we feel the loss or gain of love for something greater, something that can only be appreciated in a lifetime spanning centuries.

comment by cameroncowan · 2014-12-07T09:25:29.896Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think life after 80 goes downhill not just because of health but because people you are familiar with and things start going away. Things change so quickly the world starts to become unfamiliar to you. Its like living on an alien planet. I think living to 1000 years would require one to leave the world, do some adjusting/re-education/reworking and then re-engaging with the world again. It would be like every 100 years going back to college and starting again. New friends, new music, new everything so that one could keep going.

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-02T05:51:14.600Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Boredom.

comment by passive_fist · 2014-12-02T05:57:24.382Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Why is the threshold for boredom 80 years?

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-02T06:14:59.134Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Empirically, it seems to be nearly identical to the age of retirement as things stand. Lots of 70 year olds are just punching the clock most of the time(though there's certainly exceptions).

I don't claim that we've extended life as long as our attention spans can allow. I think we could live longer and be okay. But current human psychology and culture are not designed for extremely long lives, even if we solved the issues of physiology.

comment by passive_fist · 2014-12-02T07:42:42.345Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's the age of retirement because physical and mental health decreases but I explicitly said assume reasonable health.

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-02T08:29:36.071Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I know, but that's not the biggest reason for retirement. Remember, a lot of people despise their jobs - they're looking to get out as soon as they can. A lot more don't really hate it, but wait for the time when they can quit working financially(due to pensions, etc.), and leave as soon as they can, because retirement is seen as more fun. Those aren't dependant on aging.

comment by RowanE · 2014-12-02T18:17:44.379Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A lot of people who say they're looking to get out of retirement as soon as they can are optimising for it very poorly, as the early retirement community will argue and in many cases demonstrate. If you're in a sufficiently high-earning job OR are sufficiently frugal that you can save two thirds of what you earn or more and still enjoy your life with expenses at that level, you can retire in about ten to fifteen years. Social effects dominate - if you earn three times the median salary or more, probably most of your peers earn comparable amounts and spend ~90% of what they earn, so trying to live on what's actually a perfectly normal amount to live on seems like extreme deprivation. And what the social effects do is keep the age of retirement at the age it was set at by governments enacting the first pension schemes a hundred years ago when everyone was a factory worker. And that age was decided upon based on health deteriorating.

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-02T20:24:04.156Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No arguments. My comment isn't that all people are perfectly rational, it's that many people dislike their jobs.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2014-12-03T04:30:34.240Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I concur that if the issues of physiology are solved, the layout of culture and psychology would have to change to accommodate, lest quality of life decreases. Just because humans might start living for several more centuries or millenia into the future doesn't mean we can assume there's a hunky-dory post-scarcity wonderland waiting for us there. For one, a longer lifespan means longer time meant working to save for a future of greater needs and wants, to sustain that longer lifespan. Maybe humans would despair that several more centuries of living means several more centuries of work. Alternatively, as how humans experience time changes as a function of how long they live, they may be more willing to work longer if there's a greater diversity of work, and more opportunity for novel experiences and projects that a shorter lifespan couldn't afford.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-12-01T16:11:35.051Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Have you read R. Scott Bakker's fiction? You might enjoy it, he deals with some issues that arise with living forever. I am surprised more LW folks aren't into Bakker. It's sort of Tolkien by way of Herbert with heavy rationalist overtones, e.g.:

"This trilogy details the emergence of Anasûrimbor Kellhus, a brilliant monastic warrior, as he takes control of a holy war and the hearts and minds of its leaders. Kellhus exhibits incredible powers of prediction and persuasion, which are derived from deep knowledge of rationality, cognitive biases, and causality, as discovered by the Dûnyain, a secret monastic sect. "

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-12-01T23:26:10.757Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I read the first book in the series (after seeing it mentioned here some years back), and got some way into the second, but once I put it down I couldn't pick it up again. There are six books (so far). Are they worth it?

I started wondering who the books were about, and if different readers would have different answers to that question. To someone interested in rationality, Kellhus is the obvious protagonist, at least in the first volume, or perhaps, just if introduced to the books through a mention on LessWrong. In the second, that theme is not prominent, as far as I recall, and the whole arc of Kellhus waging jihad across the world seems to be merely background -- but to what? Other readers might consider the relationship between Achamian and Esmeret to be the focus of the story. Others, the power struggles amongst the various factions. Others, the nature of the dark force of past ages that is emerging into the world again, which is mentioned but hardly appears on stage.

What are these books about?

HT to the Prince of Nothing wiki for refreshing my memory of character names. Maybe it would be quicker to read the wiki than labour through the books.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-12-02T15:56:09.260Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

One heuristic I heard is that if you didn't like the Silmarillion, you probably wouldn't like Bakker's stuff.


These things are a matter of taste, I suppose. I was not very interested in Kellhus the rationalist Mary Sue so much, but I found it interesting to ponder the ontological puzzle of the "No-God."

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-12-01T23:35:00.345Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

So what do you think about the conditions of human life over, say, the next 300 years?

Global warming; Islam; a cure for ageing; practical use of space; AI; something else. To know anything about the next 300 years one would have to know how all of these pan out.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2014-12-03T04:33:10.745Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Are there any lesser cultural or technological trends that, if they panned out, you expect might have just as great an impact as the greater trends you've just mentioned above? I'm interested in your thoughts in this regard.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-12-03T12:46:00.491Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Getting more information out of less data, with the notable current example being discovering exoplanets from tiny variations in starlight and the history of humanity and other lifeforms from DNA.

I'm expecting this trend to continue, but I have no idea what else it will apply to.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-12-03T06:47:34.744Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Are there any lesser cultural or technological trends that, if they panned out, you expect might have just as great an impact as the greater trends you've just mentioned above?

I'm sure there must be. That was just a list of what immediately came to mind, with a catchall at the end. The Great Stagnation? Dysgenic breeding patterns? Malthusian limitations closing in? Genetically modified humans? Rationalism going viral? ("There is no God but Bayes and Eliezer is His prophet.") Rationalism going viral differently? ("Neuroscience proves that you do not exist. I do not exist. Even Eliezer does not exist. Room 101 exists.")

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2014-12-03T04:17:23.455Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

if knowledge of christianity still exists then, only a few academic specialists would know anything about it from fragmentary evidence.

In Asia, there are ideologies, philosophies, and/or religions two- or threefold older than Christianity, and they still have hundreds of millions of followers, or, at least, more than 'only a few academic specialists' who know about them. In particular, thought from ancient Chinese and Indian civilizations still have great impact on the modern incarnations of those civilizations. Also, how evidence is gathered and stored is so much better than it was two thousand years ago. If ever a point comes that future civilizations look at ours as ancient, they will have information on our histories and cultures much better (in quality and quantity) than we have of, e.g., the origins of Hinduism, Judaism, or Mesopotamia.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-02T00:32:35.744Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Why exactly Neoreactionary? Why don't you talk about the chance of fundamental Muslims dominating?

I've started to question the assumption that the social ideology we've inherited from the Enlightenment

Our social ideology changed a lot in the 300 years. The fact that it hasn't is one of the more central misconceptions of Neoreactionary thought.

Even in 200 years we went from homosexuality being legal, to it being illegal because of puritans, then being legal again and now gay marriage.

It's just ridiculous to say that the puritians that got homosexuality banned have roughly the same ideology as today's diversity advocates.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-12-03T02:11:00.991Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Even in 200 years we went from homosexuality being legal

Citation please.

comment by Vaniver · 2014-12-02T18:35:19.197Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's just ridiculous to say that the puritians that got homosexuality banned have roughly the same ideology as today's diversity advocates.

Right- and even if you take the more reasonable view and claim that the Puritans have the same genes or personalities or social roles or so on as today's diversity advocates, that means that we need to explain future social change in terms of those genes and personalities. If there will always be Mrs. Grundy, what will the future Mrs. Grundy oppress?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-12-01T23:13:52.657Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You see all this here; them boats, this street, that ocean, that sun in that sky? You’re gonna lose ‘em all! The more you go on, the more you’ll leave behind, so I’m telling you here and now, you’d best be damn certain about this living forever thing, because it’s gonna be every bit as much Hell as it Heaven.”

Sounds good to me.

(Disclaimer, or something: I am not signed up for cryonics.)

comment by cameroncowan · 2014-12-07T09:22:45.698Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I like this Curtis Henderson guy. My great-grandmother lived to be 96 and one of her complaints was that everyone she knew, loved, and cared about had died and she hardly had anyone left.

comment by RowanE · 2014-12-02T18:25:53.346Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Christians believe that a god exists and was interventionist enough to start a religion that taught the truth about him, so why wouldn't they expect him to at least also be interventionist enough to prevent that same religion from disappearing? And I'm not sure how, given someone already believes in an omnipotent interventionist god who's revealed his will to mankind, also believing that he'll perform a particular intervention in the future is "ridiculous" - do you have a theological argument or one based on the bible for why only an idiot would think God plans to make the rapture happen?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-12-02T10:29:51.967Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

what that could mean in terms of overturning our current assumptions and background conditions

"Our"? From other comments of yours I gather that you expect your own assumptions to be upheld, it was only everyone else's (outside the NRsphere) who were due for a come-uppance.

comment by Lalartu · 2014-12-02T16:16:04.027Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So what do you think about the conditions of human life over, say, the next 300 years?

By modern standarts it will be worse than present. This is how social change works.

comment by ioshva · 2014-12-03T08:40:36.222Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Apropos the "asking personally important questions of LW" posts, I have a question. I'm 30 and wondering what the best way is to swing a mid-career transition to computer science. Some considerations:

  • I already have some peripheral coding knowledge. I took two years of C back in high school, but probably forgot most of it by now. I do coding-ish stuff often like SQL queries or scripting batch files to automate tasks. Most code makes sense to me and I can write a basic FizzBuzz type algorithm if I look up the syntax.

  • I don't self-motivate very well. While I could probably teach myself a fair amount of code, without some sort of structure or project deadline, I would likely fail. If I tried to do this part-time, I would probably fail. (Also, I'm looking for a "clean break," such as it is, with my current, toxic job situation.) So I would think that I could either go to a bootcamp or go back to school.

  • Advantages to school: could defer my remaining loans and work part-time, degree would open more doors within my field (law) as well as outside it. Disadvantages: costs more in the long run, takes longer. Unknowns: post-bacc or MS? I can probably do well on the GRE, but my GPA was unimpressive, and light on math besides. It would have to be an MS program that worked with non-majors.

  • Advantages to bootcamp: much cheaper in the short run, over in a few months. Disadvantages: my savings would be drained by the tuition and interim living expenses; I would need to be damn sure of a job by the time I exited. Unknowns: which bootcamps are worthwhile? My city only has two: Coder Camps and Iron Yard. They appear to teach more or less totally different platforms.

Does anyone here have experience jumping the tracks to programming later in life? Did you take either of the above strategies, or neither? How did it work out, and what would you have done differently?

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2014-12-03T12:27:52.927Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Some salient questions:

1) What's your motivation for wanting to do this?

2) What's your current background/skill set?

3) Where in the world are you?

comment by ioshva · 2014-12-03T16:13:37.094Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I work on lots of large cases with complex subject matter (often source code itself) with reams of electronic haystacks that need to be sorted for needles. The closer my job is to coding, the more I enjoy it. I get satisfaction out of scripting mundane tasks. I like building and maintaining databases and coming up with absurdly specific queries to get what I need. I remember enjoying and being good at what programming I did do in high school. I am starting to get the creeping feeling that I took a wrong turn eight years ago.

I also feel somewhat stuck in my current position in patent law. Ordinarily step one would be to try a different environment to ensure it's not the workplace as opposed to the work. But most positions advertised in patent law demand an EE/CE/CS background, and I have a peripheral life science degree I use so little as to be irrelevant. I described my skill set as best I could in the parent post but right now it's just a cut above "extremely computer literate." I've dipped my toes but never found the time or motivation to dive (12 hour days kill the initiative).

Houston.

comment by shminux · 2014-12-03T18:36:13.154Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Consider writing a simple Android or iOS app, such as Tetris, from scratch. This should not take very long and has intrinsic rewards built in, like seeing your progress on your phone and showing it off to your friends or prospective employers. You can also work on it during the small chunks of time available, since a project like that can be easily partitioned. Figure out which parts of getting it from the spec to publishing on the Play/App store you like and which you hate. Record your experiences and share them here once done.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2014-12-03T02:29:00.551Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Several weeks ago I wrote a heavily upvoted post called Don't Be Afraid of Asking Personally Important Questions on LessWrong. I've been thinking about a couple of things since I wrote that post.

  • What makes LessWrong a useful website for asking questions which matter to you personally is that there is lots of insightful people here with wide knowledge base. However, for some questions, LessWrong might be too much, or the wrong kind of, monoculture to provide the best answers. Thus, for weird, unusual, or highly specific questions, there might be better discussion boards, or online communities, to query. In general, Quora might be best for some questions. Stack Overflow might be best for programming questions, Math Overflow might be best for math questions, and some subreddits best for asking questions on very specific topics. What I would like to do is generate a repository of all the best websites for asking specialized or unusual questions across a variety of deep topics. I would turn this into another Discussion post on LessWrong.

  • Robin Hanson wrote:

    It seems obvious to me that almost no humans are able to force themselves to see honestly and without substantial bias on all topics. Even for the best of us, the biasing forces in and around us are often much stronger than our will to avoid bias. Because it takes effort to overcome these forces, we must choose our battles, i.e., we must choose where to focus our efforts to attend carefully to avoiding possible biases. He follows this up with problems of being a 'rationalist', and suggestions for alternatives in Don't Be A Rationalist.

Luke Muehlhauser goes over similar material on his own blog here. In short, the rationalist community can't or won't become experts for every subject it wants to extract information from, so it makes sense for it to defer to experts. If rationalists can't become experts themselves, identifying experts seems like the best strategy. This could be broken down into the skills of knowing how or where to find experts, and knowing how to identify which experts are the best or most trustworthy. Developing skills or heuristics like these could make great additions to LessWrong. I'd be willing to be part of this project, but I don't believe I'm competent enough to do it alone. However, working with LessWrong, an initial post on what are some decent sources for getting answers to questions we can't get on LessWrong could be a springboard for such a discussion.

What are your thoughts on these topics?

comment by SodaPopinski · 2014-12-02T03:39:00.394Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

(warning brain dump most of which probably not new to the thinking on LW) I think most people who take the Tegmark level 4 universe seriously (or any of the preexisting similar ideas) get there by something like the following argument: Suppose we had a complete mathematical description of the universe, then exactly what more could there be to make the thing real (Hawking's fire into the equations).

Here is the line of thinking that got me to buy into it. If we ran a computer simulation, watched the results on a monitor, and saw a person behaving just like us, then it would be easy for me to interpret their world and their mind etc. as real (even if I could never experience it viscerally living outside the simulation). However, if we are willing to call one simulation real, then we get into the slippery slope problem which I have no idea how to avoid whereby any physical phenomena implementing any program from the perspective of any universal Turing machine must really exist. So it seems to me if we believe some simulation is real there is no obvious barrier to believing every (computable) universe exists. As for whether we stop at computable universes or include more of mathematics, I am not sure anything we would call conscious could tell the difference, so perhaps it makes no difference.

(Resulting beliefs + aside on decision theory) I believe in a Level 4 Tegmark with no reality fluid measure (as I have yet to see a convincing argument for one) a la http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/jn2/preferences_without_existence/ . Moreover, I don't think there is any "correct" decision theory that captures what we should be doing. All we can do is pick the one that feels right with regard to our biological programming. Which future entities are us, how many copies of us will there be, and who should I care about etc. are all flaky concepts at best. Of course, my brain won't buy into the idea I should jump off a bridge or touch a hot stove, but I think it is unplausable that this will follow from any objective optimization principle. Nature didn't need a decision theory to decide if it is a good idea to walk into a teleporter machine if two of us walk out the other side. We have our built in shabby biological decision theory, we can innovate on it theoretically, but there is no objective sense in which some particular decision theory will be the right one for us.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-02T04:55:07.449Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

However, if we are willing to call one simulation real, then we get into the slippery slope problem which I have no idea how to avoid whereby any physical phenomena implementing any program from the perspective of any universal Turing machine must really exist.

Can you expand on this a bit?

comment by shminux · 2014-12-03T18:47:55.067Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My approach is that everything is equally real, just not everything is equally useful. In a meta level, talking about what's more real is not useful outside a specific setting. Unicorns are real in MLP, cars are real in the world we perceive, electrons are real in Quantum Electrodynamics, virtual particles are real in Feynman diagrams, agents are real in decision theories, etc.

comment by DanielFilan · 2014-12-01T21:10:06.340Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Animal Charity Evaluators have updated their top charity recommendations, adding Animal Equality to The Humane League and Mercy for Animals. Also, their donation-doubling drive is nearly over.

comment by ZankerH · 2014-12-01T22:28:46.590Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Why would an effective altruist (or anyone wanting their donations to have a genuine beneficial effect) consider donating to animal charities? Isn't the whole premise of EA that everyone should donate to the highest utilon/$ charities, all of which happen to be directed at helping humans?

Just curiosity from someone uninterested in altruism. Why even bring this up here?

comment by jkaufman · 2014-12-01T23:05:00.873Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

We don't all agree on what a utilon is. I think a year of human suffering is very bad, while a year of animal suffering is nearly irrelevant by comparison, so I think charities aimed at helping humans are where we get the most utility for our money. Other people's sense of the relative weight of humans and animals is different, however, and some value animals about the same as humans or only somewhat below.

To take a toy example, imagine there are two charities: one that averts a year of human suffering for $200 and one that averts a year of chicken suffering for $2. If I think human suffering is 1000x as bad as chicken suffering and you think human suffering is only 10x as bad, then even though we both agree on the facts of what will happen in response to our donations, we'll give to different charities because of our disagreement over values.

In reality, however, it's more complicated. The facts of what will happen in response to a donation are uncertain even in the best of times, but because a lot of people care about humans the various ways of helping them are much better researched. GiveWell's recommendations are all human-helping charities because of a combination of "they think humans matter more" and "the research on helping humans is better". Figuring out how to effectively help animals is hard, and while ACE has good people working on it, they're a small organization with limited funding and their recommendations are still much less robust than GiveWell's.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-01T19:08:06.774Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I may write a full discussion thread on this at some point, but I've been thinking a lot about undergraduate core curriculum lately. What should it include? I have no idea why history has persisted in virtually every curriculum I know of for so long. Do many college professors still believe history has transfer of learning value in terms of critical thinking skills? Why? The transfer of learning thread touches on this issue somewhat, but I feel like most people on there are overvaluing their own field hence computational science is overrepresented and social science, humanties, and business are underrepresented. Any thoughts?

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-01T19:18:38.742Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

The first question is what goals should undergraduate education have.

There is a wide spectrum of possible answers ranging from "make someone employable" to "create a smart, well-rounded, decent human being".

There is also the "provide four years of cruise-ship fun experience" version, too...

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-01T19:45:09.193Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Check out page 40 of this survey.

In order of importance: To be able to get a better job 86% / To learn more about things that interest me 82% / To get training for a specific career 77% / To be able to make more money 73% / To gain a general education and appreciation of ideas 70% / To prepare myself for graduate or professional school 61% / To make me a more cultured person 46%

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-01T20:08:25.619Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

First, undergrad freshmen are probably not the right source for wisdom about what a college should be.

Second, I notice a disturbing lack of such goals as "go to awesome parties" and "get laid a lot" which, empirically speaking, are quite important to a lot of 18-year-olds.

comment by RowanE · 2014-12-02T17:23:45.975Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In systems like the US, where undergraduate freshmen are basically customers paying a fee, I expect their input on what they want and expect the product they're purchasing to be like should be extremely relevant.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-12-03T15:07:58.991Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed, customers are usually expected to be informed about what they're buying. But in the case of education, where what the "customer" is buying is precisely knowledge, a freshman's opinion on what education should contain may be less well informed than, for example, a grad student's opinion.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-02T17:43:26.619Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, that is the "provide four years of cruise-ship fun experience" version mentioned. The idea that it's freshmen who are purchasing college education also needs a LOT of caveats.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-01T20:49:43.825Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Exactly which courses do you imagine do the most to help students go to the most awesome parties and get laid a lot?

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-02T05:57:11.117Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Ones with very little homework and a good gender ratio.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-01T21:07:53.456Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The point is not that they need courses to help them with that. The point is that if you are accepting freshman desires as your basis for shaping college education, you need to recognize that surveys like the one you linked to present a very incomplete picture of what freshmen want.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-01T21:18:24.941Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If the desires you named are irrelevant to the discussion at hand, then can you please name the desires that you think are relevant which are not encapsulated by the survey and explain how they are relevant to what classes students are taking? Also, who is the right source of wisdom about what a college should be?

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-01T21:30:12.796Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Also, who is the right source of wisdom about what a college should be?

For the bit of mental doodling that this thread is, the right source is you -- your values, your preferences, your prejudices, your ideals.

comment by Metus · 2014-12-01T19:34:15.010Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Nerds tend to undervalue anything that is not math-heavy or easily quantifiable.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-12-02T00:34:54.036Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If I were designing a core curriculum off the top of my head, it might look something like this:

First year: Statistics, pure math if necessary, foundational biology, literature and history of a time and place far removed from your native culture. Classics is the traditional solution to the latter and I think it's still a pretty good one, but now that we can't assume knowledge of Greek or Latin, any other culture at a comparable remove would probably work as well. The point of this year is to lay foundations, to expose students to some things they probably haven't seen before, and to put some cognitive distance between the student and their K-12 education. Skill at reading and writing should be built through the history curriculum.

Second year: Data science, more math if necessary, evolutionary biology (perhaps with an emphasis on hominid evolution), basic philosophy (focusing on general theory rather than specific viewpoints), more literature and history. We're building on the subjects introduced in the first year, but still staying mostly theoretical.

Third year: Economics, cognitive science, philosophy (at this level, students start reading primary sources), more literature and history. At this point you'd start learning the literature and history of your native language. You're starting to specialize, and to lay the groundwork for engaging with contemporary culture on an educated level.

Fourth year: More economics, political science, recent history, cultural studies (e.g. film, contemporary literature, religion).

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-02T01:04:08.155Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Fifth year: spent unemployed and depressed because of all the student debt and no marketable skills.

This is a curriculum for future philosopher-kings who never have to worry about such mundane things as money.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-12-02T01:04:58.553Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"Core curriculum" generally means "what you do that isn't your major". Marketable skills go there, not here; it does no one any good to produce a crop of students all of whom have taken two classes each in physics, comp sci, business, etc.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-02T01:11:35.471Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If you count the courses you suggest, there isn't much room left for a major.

I think a fruitful avenue of thought here would be to consider higher (note the word) education in its historical context. Universities are very traditional places and historically they provided the education for the elite. Until historically recently education did not involve any marketable skills at all -- its point was, as you said, "engaging with contemporary culture on an educated level".

comment by Nornagest · 2014-12-02T01:15:31.136Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Four to six classes a year, out of about twelve in total? That doesn't sound too bad to me. I took about that many non-major classes when I was in school, although they didn't build on each other like the curriculum I proposed.

It may amuse you to note that I was basically designing that as a modernized liberal arts curriculum, with more emphasis on stats and econ and with some stuff (languages, music) stripped out to accommodate major courses. Obviously there's some tension between the vocational and the liberal aims here, but I know enough people who e.g. got jobs at Google with philosophy degrees that I think there's enough room for some of the latter.

comment by jaime2000 · 2014-12-07T22:26:02.561Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Four to six classes a year, out of about twelve in total? That doesn't sound too bad to me. I took about that many non-major classes when I was in school, although they didn't build on each other like the curriculum I proposed.

I studied at two state universities. At both of them, classes were measured in "credit hours" corresponding to an hour of lecture per week. A regular class was three credit hours and semester loads at both universities were capped at eighteen credits, corresponding to six regular classes per semester and twelve regular classes per year (excluding summers). Few students took this maximal load, however. The minimum semester load for full-time students was twelve credit hours and sample degree plans tended to assume semester loads of fifteen credit hours, both of which were far more typical.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-02T01:32:00.077Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I know enough people who e.g. got jobs at Google with philosophy degree

Sure, but that's evidence that they are unusually smart people. That's not evidence that four years of college were useful for them.

As you probably know, there is a school of thought that treats college education as mostly signaling. Companies are willing to hire people from, say, the Ivies, because these people proved that they are sufficiently smart (by getting into an Ivy) and sufficiently conscientious (by graduating). What they learned during these four years is largely irrelevant.

Is four years of a "modernized liberal arts curriculum" the best use of four years of one's life and a couple of hundred thousand dollars?

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2014-12-03T03:10:05.030Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What counts as a 'marketable skill', or even what would be the baseline assumption of skill for becoming a fully and generally competent adult in twenty-first century society, might be very different from what was considered skill and competence in society 50 years ago. Rather than merely updating a liberal education as conceived in the Post-War era, might it make sense to redesign the liberal education from scratch? Like, does a Liberal Education 2.0 make sense?

What skills or competencies aren't taught much in universities yet, but are ones everyone should learn?

comment by cameroncowan · 2014-12-07T09:18:55.721Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps we need to re-think what jobs and employment look like in the 21st century and build from there?

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2014-12-07T13:01:49.579Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That seems like a decent starting point. I don't know my U.S. history to well, as I'm a young Canadian. However, a cursory glance at the Wikipedia page for the G.I. Bill in the U.S. reveals that it, among other benefits, effectively lowered the cost not only for veterans after World War II, but also their dependents. The G.I. Bill was still used through 1973, by Vietnam War veterans, so that's millions more than I expected. As attending post-secondary school became normalized, it shifted toward the status quo for getting better jobs. In favor of equality, people of color and women also demanded equal opportunity to such education by having discriminatory acceptance policies and whatnot scrapped. This was successful to the extent that several million more Americans attended university.

So, a liberal education that was originally intended for upper(-middle) class individuals was seen as a rite of passage, for status, and then to stay competitive, for the 'average American'. This trend extrapolated until the present. It doesn't seem to me typical baccalaureate is optimized for what the economy needed for the 20th century, nor for what would maximize the chances of employment success for individuals. I don't believe this is true for some STEM degrees, of course. Nonetheless, if there are jobs for the 21st century that don't yet exist, we're not well-equipped for those either, because we're not even equipped for the education needed for the jobs of the present.

I hope the history overview wasn't redundant, but I wanted an awareness of design flaws of the current education system before thinking about a new one. Not that we're designing anything for real here, but it's interesting to spitball ideas.

  • If not already in high school, universities might mandate a course on coding, or at least how to navigate information and data better, the same way almost all degrees mandate a course in English or communications in the first year. It seems ludicrous this isn't already standard, and careers will involve only more understanding of computing in the future.. There needs to be a way to make the basics of information science intelligible for everyone, like literacy, and pre-calculus.

  • There's an unsettled debate about whether studying the humanities increases critical thinking skills or not. Maybe the debate is settled, but I can't tell the signal from the noise in that regard. To be cautious, rather than removing the humanities entirely, maybe a class can be generated that gets students thinking rhetorically and analytically with words, but is broader or more topical than the goings-on of Ancient Greece.

These are obvious and weak suggestions I've made. I don't believe I can predict the future well, because I don't know where to start researching what the careers and jobs of the 21st century will be like.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-12-03T12:49:29.449Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Persuasive writing and speaking. Alternatively, interesting writing and speaking.

comment by cameroncowan · 2014-12-07T09:17:47.673Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That was basically my education (I took 5 years of Latin, 2 of ancient greek, philosophy, literature, art) and the only reason I didn't end up homeless camping out in Lumifer's yard was because I learned how to do marketing and branding. I think having practical skills is a good idea. Trade and Technical schools are a great idea.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-02T01:40:23.484Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

1st year: 5 / 2nd year: 7 / 3rd year: 5 / 4th year: 4 That's over half their classes. I also counted 14 of those 21 classes are in the social sciences or humanities which seems rather strange after you denigrated the fields. Now the big question: how much weight do you put on the accuracy of this first draft?

comment by Nornagest · 2014-12-02T06:45:09.507Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

in the social sciences or humanities which seems rather strange after you denigrated the fields.

It's pretty simple. I think the subjects are important; I'm just not too thrilled about how they're taught right now. Since there's no chance of this ever being influential in any way, I may as well go with the fields I wish I had rather than the ones I have.

As to accuracy: not much.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-02T15:34:54.749Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

foundational biology evolutionary biology

What do you mean with those terms?

Understanding the principle of evolution is useful but I don't see why it needs a whole semester.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-12-08T03:37:09.745Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Classics is the traditional solution to the latter and I think it's still a pretty good one, but now that we can't assume knowledge or Greek or Latin, any other culture at a comparable remove would probably work as well.

Um, the reason for studying Greek and Latin is not just because they're a far-removed culture. It's also because they're the cultures which are the memetic ancestors of the memes that we consider the highest achievements of our culture, e.g., science, modern political forms.

Also this suffers from the problem of attempting to go from theoretical to practical, which is the opposite of how humans actually learn. Humans learn from examples, not from abstract theories.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2014-12-03T03:50:12.756Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Scott Alexander from Slate Star Codex has the idea that if the humanities are going to be taught as part of a core curriculum, it might be better to teach the history of them backwards.

comment by MrMind · 2014-12-03T08:36:54.662Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

When I was in high school, I discussed this very idea with my Philosophy teacher. She said that (at least here in Italy) curricula for humanities are still caught in the Hegelian idea that history unfolds in logical structures, so that it's easier to understand them in chronological order.
I reasoned instead that contemporary subjects are more relevant, more interesting and we have much more data about them, so they would appeal much better to first year students.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2014-12-03T02:59:32.326Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I've been thinking a lot about undergraduate core curriculum lately. What should it include?

I just want to point out for the record that if we're discussing a core curriculum for undergraduate education, I figure it would be even better to get such a core curriculum into the regular, secondary schooling system that almost everyone goes through. Of course, in practice, implementing such would require an overhaul of the secondary schooling system, which seems much more difficult than changing post-secondary education. The reason for this would probably because changing the curriculum for post-secondary education, or at least one post-secondary institution, is easier, because there is less bureaucratic deadweight, a greater variety of choice, and a nimbler mechanisms in place for instigating change. So, I understand where you're coming from in your original comment above.

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-02T05:56:33.102Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
  • History illuminates the present. A lot of people care about it, a lot of feuds stem from it, and a lot of situations echo it. You can't understand the Ukrainian adventures Putin is going on without a) knowing about the collapse of the Soviet Union to understand why the Russians want it, b) knowing about the Holodomor to understand why the Ukrainians aren't such big fans of Russian domination, and arguably c) knowing about the mistakes the west made with Hitler, to get a sense of what we should do about it.

  • History gives you a chance to learn from mistakes without needing to make them yourself.

  • History is basically a collection of the coolest stories in human history. How can you not love that?

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-02T06:10:40.253Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

How useful is knowing about Ukraine to the average person? What percentage of History class will cover things which are relevant? Which useful mistakes to avoid does a typical History class teach you about?

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-02T06:22:58.788Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

1) Depends how political you are. I'm of the opinion that education should at least give people the tools to be active in democracy, even if they don't use them, so I consider at least a broad context for the big issues to be important.

2) Hard to say - I'm a history buff, so most of my knowledge is self-taught. I'd have to go back and look at notes.

3) Depends on the class. I tend to prefer the big-picture stuff, which is actually shockingly relevant to my life(not because I'm a national leader, but because I'm a strategy gamer), but there's more than enough historians who are happy to teach you about cultural dynamics and popular movements. You think popular music history might help someone who's fiddling with a bass guitar?

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-02T13:03:12.879Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

History gives you a chance to learn from mistakes without needing to make them yourself.

Given how hard it is to establish causality, history where you don't have a lot of the relevant information and there a lot of motivated reasoning going on is often a bad source for learning.

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-02T15:51:19.058Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Which is better - weak evidence, or none?

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-03T16:01:17.506Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

An interesting question. Let me offer a different angle.

You don't have weak evidence. You have data. The difference is that "evidence" implies a particular hypothesis that the data is evidence for or against.

One problem with being in love with Bayes is that the very important step of generating hypotheses is underappreciated. Notably, if you don't have the right hypothesis in the set of hypotheses that you are considering, all the data and/or evidence in the world is not going to help you.

To give a medical example, if you are trying to figure out what causes ulcers and you are looking at whether evidence points at diet, stress, or genetic predisposition, well, you are likely to find lots of weak evidence (and people actually did). Unfortunately, ulcers turned out to be an bacterial disease and all that evidence, actually, meant nothing.

Another problem with weak evidence is that "weak" can be defined as evidence that doesn't move you away from your prior. And if you don't move away from your prior, well, nothing much changed, has it?

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-04T17:41:54.069Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"Weak" means that it doesn't change your beliefs very much - if the prior probability is 50%, and the posterior probability is 51%, calling it weak evidence seems pretty natural. But it still helps improve your estimates.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-04T17:58:47.784Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But it still helps improve your estimates.

Only if it's actually good evidence and you interpret it correctly. Another plausible interpretation of "weak" is "uncertain".

Consider a situation where you unknowingly decided to treat some noise as evidence. It's weak and it only changed your 50% prior to a 51% posterior, but it did not improve your estimate.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2014-12-03T17:49:57.938Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Often none.

For example, if a piece of evidence E is such that:

  • I ought to, in response to it, update my confidence in some belief B by some amount A, but
  • I in fact update my confidence in B by A2,
    and updating by A2 gets me further from justified confidence than I started out, then to the extent that I value justified confidence in propositions I was better off without E.

Incidentally, this is also what I understood RowanE to be referring to as well.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-03T21:01:53.914Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But it's only bad because you made the mistake of updating by A2. I often notice a different problem of people to always argue A=0 and then present alternative belief C with no evidence. On some issues, we can't get a great A, but if the best evidence available points to B we should still assume it's B.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2014-12-03T23:36:26.402Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

it's only bad because you made the mistake of updating by A2

Agreed.

if the best evidence available points to B we should still assume it's B

Agreed.

I often notice a different problem of people to always argue A=0 and then present alternative belief C with no evidence.

Yes, I notice that too, and I agree both that it's a problem, and that it's a different problem.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-03T14:25:41.658Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Overconfidence is a huge problem. Knowing that you don't understand how the world works is important. To the extend that people believe that they can learn significant things from history, "weak evidence" can often produce problems.

If you look at the Western Ukraine policy they didn't make a treaty to accept Russian annexion of the Krim in return for stability in the rest of Ukraine. That might have prevented the mess we have at the moment.

In general political decisions in cases like this should be made by doing scenario planning.

It on thing to say that Britian and France should have declared war on Germany earlier. It quite another thing to argue that the West should take military action against Russia.

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-04T17:46:14.622Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Might have, but my money isn't on it. You think Putin cares about treaties? He's a raw-power sort of guy.

And yes, the scenarios are not identical - if nothing else, Russia has many more ICBMs than Hitler did. Still, there's ways to take action that are likely to de-escalate the situation - security guarantees, repositioning military assets, joint exercises, and other ways of drawing a clear line in the sand. We can't kick him out, but we can tell him where the limits are.

(Agreed on your broader point, though - we should ensure we don't draw too many conclusions).

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-04T19:00:26.687Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Might have, but my money isn't on it. You think Putin cares about treaties? He's a raw-power sort of guy.

Putin does care about the fact that Ukraine might join NATO or the EU free trade zone. He probably did feel threatened by what he perceived as a color revolution with a resulting pro-Western Ukrainian government.

At the end of the day Putin doesn't want the crisis to drag on indefinitely so sooner or later it's in Russia's interest to have a settlement. Russia relies on selling it's gas to Europe.

Having the Krim under embargo is quite bad for Russia. It means that it's costly to keep up the economy of the Krim in a way that it's population doesn't think the Krim decayed under Russian rule and there unrest.

On the other hand it's not quite clear the US foreign policy has a problem with dragging out the crisis. It keeps NATO together even through Europeans are annoyed of getting spied at by the US. It makes it defensibly to have foreign miltary bases inside Germany that spy on Germans.

Still, there's ways to take action that are likely to de-escalate the situation - security guarantees, repositioning military assets, joint exercises, and other ways of drawing a clear line in the sand. We can't kick him out, but we can tell him where the limits are.

Do you really think joint exercises contribute to deescalation?

As far as repositioning military assets goes, placing NATO assets inside Ukraine is the opposite of deescalation.

The only real way to descalate is a diplomatic solution and there probably isn't one without affirming Crimea as part of Russia.

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-04T19:34:09.702Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There's a certain type of leader, over-represented among strongmen, that will push as far as they think they can and stop when they can't any more. They don't care about diplomacy or treaties, they care about what they can get away with. I think Putin is one of those - weak in most meaningful ways, but strong in will and very willing to exploit our weakness in same. The way to stop someone like that is with strength. Russia simply can't throw down, so if we tell them that they'd have to do so to get anywhere, they'd back off.

Of course, we need to be sure we don't push too far - they can still destroy the world, after all - but Putin is sane, and doesn't have any desire to do anything nearly so dramatic.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-04T22:28:15.655Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think Putin is one of those - weak in most meaningful ways, but strong in will and very willing to exploit our weakness in same.

Putting gains inner politcs strength from the conflict.

The way to stop someone like that is with strength.

That assumes that you can simply change from being weak to being strong. In poker you can do this as bluffing. In Chess you can't. You actually have to calculate your moves.

Holding joint military exercises isn't strength if you aren't willing to use the military to fight.

Bailing out European countries is expensive enough. There not really the money to additionally prop up Ukraine.

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-04T22:42:47.656Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Putting gains inner politcs strength from the conflict.

Only as long as he's winning.

That assumes that you can simply change from being weak to being strong.

NATO is, far and away, the strongest military alliance that has ever existed. They have the ability to be strong. When the missing element is willpower, "Man up, already!" is perfectly viable strategic advice.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-05T00:14:24.786Z · score: -4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

NATO is, far and away, the strongest military alliance that has ever existed.

That's probably why ISIS is still alive despite years of US troops in Iraq.

When the missing element is willpower

Nobody in Europe is willing to freeze in the winter because there no gas to heat his home.

How would you imagine a scenario in which Putin overtly losing in Ukraine? How would it look like?

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-05T01:42:15.215Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's probably why ISIS is still alive despite years of US troops in Iraq.

The US crushed ISIS(then called AQI) back during the Bush years - it took a while, and a change of strategy, but they were completely demolished. When the troops left, ISIS came back.

How would you imagine a scenario in which Putin overtly losing in Ukraine? How would it look like?

At this point, a complete loss is impossible. We can't push him out of Crimea in any plausible way. Support for the Ukrainian military to keep the eastern bits of the country from being overrun could work. But the real move here is stationing a bunch of military hardware in the Baltics, adding whatever is left of Ukraine to NATO, seeing if we can carve Belarus out of his sphere of influence, re-starting ballistic missile defense programs and deploying them in real quantity, and getting the Europeans to start fracking already so they're not so dependent on Putin's goodwill.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-12-05T12:16:34.671Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes. Ukraine is not an isolated data point. There is a recent history of Russia attacking its different neighbors, which would make me bet that the future will be similar.

It's not merely "What to do about Crimea?" but also "Who is next (and what to do about them while we can, while the Russian army is not there yet)?". If my country had borders with Russia, I would consider fortifying those borders a #1 national priority. I would probably destroy as much roads and railways across the border as would be economically possible. But that's only passive defense.

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2014-12-05T16:17:22.749Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I would probably destroy as much roads and railways across the border as would be economically possible.

I don't think this helps all that much (tanks can travel over rough terrain) and has high economic costs. Better to mine the infrastructure, and detonate the mines when a train carrying enemy soldiers passes over it.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-12-05T22:10:46.904Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Modern tanks are pretty capable cross-country, but they have a long supply tail. An Abrams tank (which, to be fair, is more of a gas-guzzler than average owing to its high weight and its cool-but-questionably-practical turbine engine) gets about half a mile to the gallon and has a nominal range of a bit under 300 miles, which overstates its operational range because warfare tends to involve a lot of waiting and a lot of local maneuvering.

Strategically, you can only move armor as fast as the trucks or railroad cars carrying fuel, food, and ammunition, and that means that roads, rails, and bridges remain important. (A bit less so if you're somewhere like Iraq, though, where you've got lots of open, hard-surfaced desert to work with.)

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2014-12-06T09:56:36.307Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, destruction of infrastructure is certainly some help, but I imagine that the supply train would be reasonably adapted to rough terrain as well. Even if you can slow the Russians down, this only really helps if reinforcements are on the way, which depends on whether NATO is willing to get involved.

Destroying bridges is certainly really useful though.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-05T16:12:30.125Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If my country had borders with Russia, I would consider fortifying those borders a #1 national priority. I would probably destroy as much roads and railways across the border as would be economically possible.

That seems... excessive (and pretty useless). Do you actually believe that, say, Finland should do this now?

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-12-06T12:31:06.862Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This is the situation where it could be useful to have a prediction market for "which country will be next invaded by Russia?". I don't have high confidence for my predictions here.

My guess is merely: within 10 years, Russia will invade another country, one they share a border with. But I'm not sure which one.

Finland seems like an interesting target: it is a EU member, but not a NATO member. NATO has weapons, EU has rationalizations why not doing anything is the wisest policy ever.

On the other hand, there are former Soviet Union countries where Russia can use the excuse "they belonged to us historically anyway, and there is our minority we have to protect". I don't know how important each of these factors is for Russia when deciding its next target.

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2014-12-05T16:51:29.449Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

NATO has far higher military expenditure than Russia. I think if nukes were out of the picture then retaking the Crimea would be a possibility. But this is unlikely because the main objective has to be preventing nuclear war, and the more we escalate, the more likely it is that nukes will be used by accident if nothing else. For this reason its probably a good idea not to add the Ukraine to NATO - its simply not worth the risk to get involved.

Ballistic missile defence stops mutually assured destruction, and so gives ones enemies an incentive to strike first before the defence can be completed. I'm not saying Putin would launch a first strike, but it still seems needlessly antagonising even if its technologically feasible.

Finally, couldn't we do without fracking by using nuclear power?

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-05T20:18:52.991Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

1) Adding Ukraine to NATO is iffy - their politics are so conflicted that it'd be tough to guarantee they join, or that they stay, and we don't want them thinking we're as bad as the Russians. But an offer should be made. And yes, nukes are the reason we can't squish Russia like a bug(well, that and morality).

2) Doesn't need to be deployed tomorrow, or deployed publicly. Step up R+D, at a minimum, though.

3) Longer lead time, higher capital costs, and electricity-fuelled transport is still in its infancy(other than trains, but not even Europe runs on trains alone). Also, Europe(bar France) is about as anti-nuclear as they are anti-fracking, so I don't see any obvious gains in political viability here.

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2014-12-06T10:06:08.976Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

1) Why should we let the Ukraine join NATO? It escalates us towards a war against Russia, and really if we wanted the Ukraine to join then the offer would have been made before the war started.

2) I'd guess that something with the complexity of a ballistic missile shield probably can't be kept secret. For instance, if you were going the 'star wars' route and sticking weapons in space, then the Russians are going to wonder what all these new satellites being launched are for. I suppose you could disguise them as spy satellites, but its still a clue that something's going on.

3) Isn't Russia exporting gas rather than oil? In which case it is being used for heating and power rather than transport.

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-06T16:09:18.984Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

1) Before the war started, Ukraine was run by a corrupt Russian toady. Russia's in the process of carving off all the regions of Ukraine that voted for said toady, so it's unlikely another would win. Also, it's become clear that conciliation isn't working, so deference to not aggravating the Russians matters a lot less than it used to. That makes them a lot more appealing.

2) Depends on the shield. The GWB-era defence system is land-based, for example.

3) They export both.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-05T17:05:05.909Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

NATO has far higher military expenditure than Russia.

US does. European military isn't particularly large or capable.

I think if nukes were out of the picture then retaking the Crimea would be a possibility.

Sigh. Do the words "land war in Asia" ring any bells? (yes, I know that Crimea is technically in Europe)

comment by Salemicus · 2014-12-05T17:33:56.406Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Some "land wars in Asia" are successful. For example, Germany successfully conquered Russia in 1917. Even more relevantly, Poland ejected the Russians from large parts of the Ukraine in 1921. I think the saying gets its popularity from a very superficial reading of history. Yes, Napoleon and Hitler famously came a cropper, but there have been plenty of successes.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-05T17:42:42.832Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

For example, Germany successfully conquered Russia in 1917

You must be using a pretty strange definition of the word "successfully".

there have been plenty of successes

Certainly Russian armies have been defeated and Russia lost chunks of territory on occasion. But the last guy who, I'd say, successfully invaded Russia went by the name of Genghis Khan.

comment by Salemicus · 2014-12-05T17:53:59.990Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You must be using a pretty strange definition of the word "successfully".

I think I'm using the standard one. Germany invaded Russia, forced it to renounce huge amounts of territory, and knocked it out of WW1. Incidentally, it was that invasion which led to the formation of Finland, the Baltic States, Ukraine and Belarus which persist (some with interruptions) to this day. Looks like a pretty resounding victory to most. And Germany did all that while fighting on two fronts! Now, Germany later lost on the Western front, but the moral there isn't "Don't start a land war in Asia," it's "Don't fight serious enemies on two fronts at once."

Certainly Russian armies have been defeated and Russia lost chunks of territory on occasion.

Great, so you agree with skeptical_lurker that, nukes aside, NATO retaking the Crimea from Russia is a possibility. (Frankly I'd say it would be a certainty).

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-12-05T18:01:33.234Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think Russia's conventional army today would fold in a matter of weeks. Yes I know who else said that.

It would be bloody though, on both sides.


Lenin's peace with Germany in WW1 isn't even applicable to the saying about land wars in Asia, as only the European part of Russia was a part of the theatre. The historically relevant bit of Russia is in Europe both culturally and geographically. Maybe the saying should be "don't get involved in land wars with Russia." China was partitioned just fine back in the day. Commodore Perry got what he wanted from Japan just by showing up in a fancy ship, right? The East India Company did ok for a while, etc.

comment by Salemicus · 2014-12-05T18:31:09.652Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You're right that the WW1 invasion was entirely in the European part of Russia... but then, so were the Napoleonic and WW2 invasions. And the Crimea too, the point in question.

And you are of course quite right that lots of people have successfully invaded Asia by land, from Alexander onwards. I think the saying is nonsense, relying entirely on a highly selective reading of history.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-05T18:22:26.295Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think Russia's conventional army today would fold in a matter of weeks.

I think that facing an Eastern Front meatgrinder over some intra-Slav land squabble, the West's political will today would fold faster.

Maybe the saying should be "don't get involved in land wars with Russia."

The saying, I think, is a quote from Princess Bride and at the time the relevant war was Vietnam (and to a lesser degree, Korea).

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-05T20:27:49.878Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I feel like Princess Bride was probably repeating Baby Boomer wisdom from the anti-Vietnam protests. A quick Googling attributes the quote to Douglas MacArthur, of all people(who fought no less than three of them, which makes me wonder...)

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-05T18:03:55.265Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I like how you ignore Russia's, um, internal problems at the time :-/ Not to mention that what you are showing is that Russia lost WW1, not that Germany successfully conquered it.

so you agree with skeptical_lurker that, nukes aside, NATO retaking the Crimea from Russia is a possibility

No, I do not, not in the real world. If you want to do simulated war-games which abstract from most everything except for numbers and hardware, maybe, but I don't see how that's relevant to anything.

comment by Salemicus · 2014-12-05T18:56:54.599Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I like how you ignore Russia's, um, internal problems at the time :-/

But those internal problems were largely caused by the hardships and stresses of losing the war. Similarly, the proximate cause of the German surrender in WW1 was "internal problems" in Germany (the revolutions in Kiel and Bavaria, etc) but those are inseparable from the fact that the hardships of the war and the psychological sense that Germany was losing put an intolerable strain on German morale. Loss of morale leading to institutional overthrow is often the mechanism by which countries collapse when at war.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-05T19:50:47.883Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that Russia lost WW1. What I don't agree with is that Germany "successfully conquered" Russia in 1917.

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-05T20:29:49.827Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Russia faced Germany and its allies, fought until the country collapsed, and then surrendered and gave up a massive chunk of land to secure an ignominious and punitive peace.

Germany faced France and its allies, fought until the country collapsed, and then surrendered and gave up a massive chunk of land to secure an ignominious and punitive peace.

I see no difference between the two.

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2014-12-05T17:22:47.366Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

US does. European military isn't particularly large or capable.

http://www.globalfirepower.com/ says that the UK, France and Germany are the 5th-7th most powerful countries respectively. UK tanks are probably the most powerful in the world, based on the idea that whoever shoots first wins (at least when you're firing depleted uranium rounds that can punch straight through a tank), and the UK holds the record for longest distance tank-on-tank kill.

The US alone has over 8x the defence budget. The UK, France and Germany together have almost twice the defence budget.

Sigh. Do the words "land war in Asia" ring any bells?

Yes... this is because Asia is very big, and armies can freeze on the way to Moscow. But the Crimea isn't that big.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-05T17:49:14.760Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No one froze in Iraq or Afghanistan where the world's #1 superpower with the defence budget that's a large multiple of the entire GDP of those countries used the most sophisticated military hardware to achieve... what?

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-05T20:24:16.845Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Modern militaries give very few advantages when it comes to rooting out insurgents hiding in the general populace - you deal with that old-school, either with convincing the local public to join you, co-opting local power brokers, flailing ineffectually, collective punishment, or outright slaughter(on the sliding scale of evil). The US has used the first three in roughly equal proportion.

Russia is unlikely to retreat into the shadows - they're a line-of-battle army, always have been, and most of Putin's appeal is restoring the pre-1991 national pride of being able to throw down with NATO and survive. If it ever got to a war, I think they'd fight it mostly straight, and they'd lose badly.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-05T20:51:19.586Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If it ever got to a war, I think they'd fight it mostly straight, and they'd lose badly.

That all depends on what kind of war we are talking about. The biggest issue for the West is political will, and everyone knows it. Even in a full-out non-nuclear war, it's not going to be like running tanks at full speed through the desert to Baghdad. Russia's goal would be to bog down NATO army and engage in exchange of heavy casualties. If it manages to do this, it wins -- it doesn't need clear battlefield victories.

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2014-12-05T18:30:02.126Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, the US conquered these countries, killed a lot of Taliban, inc. bin laden, toppled Saddam, installed democracy... admittedly things might have got slightly worse after they left, but that's an ideology problem more than a military one.

But there is a difference. Do the Crimeans see themselves as Russian or Ukranian? Do they care enough to fight a guerilla war? If not, then an analogy to Iraq can't be drawn.

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-05T20:20:46.054Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

European militaries are extremely capable, for the most part - pound for pound, they're almost as good as the US. They just have a lot fewer pounds.

And historically, land wars in Asia haven't been a big deal. That's a Vietnam-era myth - WW2 involved a lot of Asian land warring, and that went pretty okay.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-05T20:44:43.217Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

European militaries are extremely capable, for the most part

Err... show me. The Brits fought a short and mostly air/naval war in the Falklands, most everyone sent in a few units for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. But other than that the European militaries haven't done any real fighting for many decades. Even in the Yugoslavian mess nothing happened other than US air strikes.

I am sure they look good on paper. I am also sure the few elite units are very good. I have doubts about actual battlefield performance of the main part of the army, in part because because there is no data.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-12-05T22:22:33.302Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

How recent are we talking? The French were involved in Vietnam before the US was and in the Suez Crisis around the same time, and a few years after that they fought a protracted and seriously nasty asymmetrical war in Algeria. More recently they've also been party to the Islamist civil wars in northern Africa, most importantly against Boko Haram in Mali, and to a number of other postcolonial squabbles.

They don't get a lot of press in the Anglosphere, but theirs is probably the most active Western military after the US's.

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-06T03:07:30.165Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Fair concern. Still, has there been a meaningful difference between those few units and their American or British counterparts? (And Britain sent about as many soldiers per capita to Iraq as the US did, though they were posted to a quieter sector. That's not "a few units").

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2014-12-08T14:19:11.220Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But other than that the European militaries haven't done any real fighting for many decades.

The US fighter planes and armour haven't faced a real opponent in a long time either. Most of the experience is in asymmetric warfare against guerillas, which would be very different from a war against Russia.

I have doubts about actual battlefield performance of the main part of the army, in part because because there is no data.

No data does justify uncertainty, but you can't just say "I don't know how well the German army would perform, therefore I'm going to assume they'll do badly". Anyway, there is data from wargames, from testing grounds, on what distance a weapon can hit a target, and so forth.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-12-08T17:41:33.747Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's been more than twenty years, but the first Gulf War was a conventional war waged against an opponent that was serious about fighting conventionally. The strategic outcome wasn't really in doubt, and the Iraqis at the time were largely running old and/or downgraded export versions of Russian equipment, but it still gives us good tactical data; the current reputation of American armor, for example, largely rides on the Battle of 73 Easting.

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2014-12-08T21:25:58.454Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This depends whether the advantage of american combat experience is proof of abilities, or experience gained.

My understanding is that having seen combat, veterans are then less scared by future engagements. But what proportion of Gulf war vets are still serving now - wouldn't they be getting a bit old?

Anyway, yes the Gulf war shows the massive superiority of US/UK tanks over T-72s.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-12-05T20:44:39.319Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Nobody in Europe is willing to freeze in the winter because there no gas to heat his home.

I agree, Europe displayed a remarkable degree of moral cowardice. It is literally "we don't want to deal with a predator on our doorstep because we don't want to be cold."


The scenario where Putin loses in Ukraine is Russia being so screwed up by serious sanctions that there is regime change to something more moderate. But, as was well-covered elsewhere, the West lacks both the coordination and the moral spine to do serious sanctions.

Russia lost the Cold War, remember, because it did not have a functioning economy to stand on its own and compete in e.g. military spending against the West. It still does not.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-06T01:48:17.880Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The scenario where Putin loses in Ukraine is Russia being so screwed up by serious sanctions that there is regime change to something more moderate.

Sanction hurt both parties.

They also allow Putin to steal assets from Western countries that are located in Russia. The don't create moderation but basically make political life for every moderate in Russia harder.

But, as was well-covered elsewhere, the West lacks both the coordination and the moral spine to do serious sanctions.

I'm not sure whether from a moral perspective the kind of resources it would take are a good bargain. The task for a moral imperative to do something in a situation like Darfur is much higher than Crimea.

Russia lost the Cold War, remember, because it did not have a functioning economy to stand on its own and compete in e.g. military spending against the West.

At present when Western states are at the brink of declaring bankruptcy the Western strength is different than it was at the end of the cold war.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-04T18:01:39.708Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

they didn't make a treaty to accept Russian annexion of the Krim in return for stability in the rest of Ukraine. That might have prevented the mess we have at the moment.

Accept an annexation in return for promises of stability? Hmm, reminds me of something...

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-04T18:31:44.126Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's partly the point, we didn't go that route and now have the mess we have at the moment.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-04T18:51:41.201Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And what happened the last time we DID go that route?

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-04T19:01:40.247Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Making decisions because on a single data point is not good policy.

Also the alternative to the Munich agreements would have been to start WWII earlier. That might have had advantages but it would still have been very messy.

comment by RowanE · 2014-12-02T17:01:40.805Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sometimes none, if the source of the evidence is biased and you're a mere human.

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-02T20:23:20.072Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There are unbiased sources of evidence now?

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2014-12-03T03:47:08.096Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Some sources of evidence are less biased than others. Some sources of evidence will contain biases which are more problematic than others for the problem at hand.

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-03T06:24:40.036Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Of course. But Rowan seemed to be arguing a much stronger claim.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-03T13:25:03.190Z · score: -1 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That question doesn't have anything to do with the claim that you can make someone less informed by giving them biased evidence.

comment by zedzed · 2014-12-02T05:44:54.735Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

tl;dr: having a set of courses for everyone to take is probably a bad idea. People are different and any given course is going to, at best, waste the time of some class of people.

A while ago, I decided that it would be a good thing for gender equality to have everyone take a class on bondage that consisted of opposite-gender pairs tying each other up. Done right, it would train students "it's okay for the opposite gender to have power, nothing bad will happen!" and "don't abuse the power you have over people." In my social circle, which is disproportionately interested in BDSM, this kinda makes sense. It may even help (although my experience is that by the time anyone's ready to do BDSM maturely, they've pretty much mastered not treating people poorly based on gender.) It would also be a miraculously bad idea to implement.

In general, I think it's a mistake to have a "core curriculum" for everyone. Within 5 people I know, I could go through the course catalog of, say, MIT, and find one person for whom nobody would benefit from them taking the course. (This is easier than it seems at first; me taking social science or literature courses makes nobody better off (the last social science course I took made me start questioning whether freedom of religion was a good thing. I still think it's a very good thing, but presenting me with a highly-compressed history of every inconvenience it's produced in America's history doesn't convince my system 1). Similarly, there exist a bunch of math/science courses that I would benefit greatly from taking, but would just make the social science or literature people sad. Also, I know a lot of musicians, for whom there's no benefit from academic classes; they just need to practice a lot.)

Having a typical LWer take a token literature class generally means they're going to spend ~200 hours learning stuff they'll forget exponentially. (This could be remedied by Anki, but there's a better-than-even chance the deck gets deleted the moment the final's over.) Going the other way, forcing writers to take calculus probably won't produce any tangible benefits, but it will make them pissed off and write things with science is bad plotlines. (Yes, most of us probably wish writers would get scientifically literate, but until we can figure out a way to make that happen, forcing them to take math and science courses is just going to have predictable effects on what they write and do you really think it helps to have a group of people who substantially influence culture to hate math and science?)

For the typical LWer, I'd go heavy on the math and CS with enough science (physics through psych) to counteract Dunning-Kruger, and some specialization, the idea being that math and CS are tools that let you take something you already know and find out something you didn't know for free, the sciences are there to reduce inferential gaps and eliminate illusory competence, and the specialization gets you a job. This would be very good for people-who-are-central-examples-of-LWers (although I'm sure there many are people here who this would be very bad for), but I have trouble imagining that this would work for more than a few percent of the population. In fact, for everyone going into a field that doesn't need a lot of technical knowledge, I'd look for the most efficient way to measure intelligence and conscientiousness (preferably separately), which looks very little like an undergraduate curriculum.

comment by cameroncowan · 2014-12-07T09:15:47.497Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As a writer, I agree with you. I am horrible at math. In my life 2x3=5 most of the time. If I had to suffer and fail at Calculus when I can't multiply some days I would certainly start writing books about evil scientists abusing a village for its resources and then have the village revolt against its scientific masters with pitchforks. Throw in a great protagonist and a love interest and I have a bestseller with possible international movie rights.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-02T06:21:33.432Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If a field doesn't require a lot of technical knowledge, why bother with college in the first place? I'm not so sure how useful your examples are since most creative writers and musicians will eventually fail and be forced to switch to a different career path. Even related fields like journalism or band manager require some technical skills.

comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-06T19:05:54.212Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Obligatory SMBC comic. :)

comment by zedzed · 2014-12-02T08:55:02.112Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Signalling, AKA why my friend majoring in liberal arts at Harvard can get a high-paying job even though college has taught him almost no relevant job skills.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-02T04:36:52.979Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Undergraduate core curriculum where, for whom, and for what purposes?

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-12-01T19:37:31.417Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think history and the softer social sciences / humanities can, if taught well, definitely improve your ability to understand and analyze present-day media and politics. This can improve your qualitative appreciation of works of art, understand journalistic works on their own terms and context instead of taking them at face value, and read and write better.

They can also provide specific cultural literacy, which is useful for your own qualitative appreciation as well as some status things.

I had a pretty shallow understanding of a lot of political ideas until I took a hybrid history/philosophy course that was really excellently taught. It allowed me to read a lot of poltical articles more deeply and understand their motivations and context and the core academic ideas they built around.

That last part, seeing theses implicitly referenced in popular works, is pretty neat.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-12-01T19:54:59.721Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is true... but also that "taught well" is a difficult and ideologically fraught criterion. The humanities and most (but not all; linguistics, for example, is a major exception) of the social sciences are not generally taught in a value-neutral way, and subjective quality judgments often have as much to do with finding a curriculum amenable to your values as with the actual quality of the curriculum.

Unfortunately, the fields most relevant to present-day media and politics are also the most value-loaded.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-12-01T21:01:59.772Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, the impossibility of neutrality, except when giving the most mundane recitation of events, when talking about history or the humanities is a pretty vital lesson to understand. The best way to approach this is to present viewpoints then counterpoints, present a thesis then a criticism.

I have had one non-core course that was pretty much purely one perspective (left-radical tradition), but this is still a tradition opposed to and critical of even mainstream-leftist history and politics. What I mean to say is I don't think it was a great class, but I still learned plenty when I thought critically about it on my own time.

If you have a certain amount of foundation (which I got through a much more responsibly-taught class pretty much following the traditional western philosophical canon), in other words, you should still learn plenty from a curriculum that is not amenable to your values, if you put in an effort.

But I think most core history and philosophy courses at liberal arts colleges stick to a pretty mainstream view and present a decent range of criticisms, achieving the ends I talked about. If you really want far-left or right-wing or classical liberal views, there are certainly colleges built around those.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-12-01T22:23:55.898Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The thing that bothers me is that (at least at my university, which was to be fair a school that leaned pretty far to the left) neutrality seems to have been thrown out not only as a practical objective but also as an optimization objective. You're never going to manage to produce a perfectly unbiased narrative of events; we're not wired that way. But narratives are grounded in something; some renditions are more biased than others; and that's a fact that was not emphasized.

In a good class (though I didn't take many good classes) you'll be exposed to more than one perspective, yes. But the classes I took, even the good ones, were rather poor at grounding these views in anything outside themselves or at providing value-neutral tools for discriminating between them. (Emphasis on "value-neutral": we were certainly taught critical tools, but the ones we were taught tended to have ideology baked into them. If you asked one of my professors they'd likely tell you that this is true of all critical tools, but I don't really buy that.)

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-12-01T23:01:23.771Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Of course bias can vary, but I think most of the professors you ask would say they are being unbiased, or they are calibrating their bias to counteract their typical student's previous educational bias. After all, you were taught history through high school, but in a state-approved curriculum taught by overworked teachers.

As far as critical tools, which ones are you thinking of? Are you thinking of traditionally-leftist tools like investigations into power relationships? What do you think of as a value-neutral critical tool?

You seem to have an idea of what differentiated the good classes from the bad. I'm not disagreeing that some classes are bad, I'm focusing on the value the good ones can give. A bad engineering class, by analogy, teaches about a subject of little practical interest AND teaches it at a slow pace. Bad classes happen across disciplines.

And I admit I am probably speaking from a lot of hindsight. I took a couple good classes in college, and since then have read a ton of academic's blogs and semi-popular articles, and it has taken a while for things to "click" and for me to be able to say I can clearly analyze/criticize an editorial about history at a direct and meta-level the way I'm saying this education helps one do.

You're right, for instance, that in college you probably won't get an aggressive defense of imperialism to contrast with its criticisms, even though that might be useful to understanding it. But that's because an overwhelming majority of academics consider it to be such a clearly wretched, even evil, that they see no value in teaching it. It's just how we rarely see a serious analysis of abolition vs. slavery, because come on right?

On slavery, academia and the mainstream are clearly in sync. On Imperialism? Maybe not as much, especially given the blurry question of "what is modern imperialism?" (is it the IMF; is it NAFTA; is it Iraq?). But many academics are striving to make their classes the antidote to a naive narrative of American history that goes: "Columbus discovered America, immigrants came and civilized the Indians, won the southwest in glorious battle against corrupt Mexico, then their nation reluctantly accepted the role of world peacekeeper ushering in our golden age, and triumphed over communism".

comment by Nornagest · 2014-12-01T23:25:29.094Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As far as critical tools, which ones are you thinking of?

I mentioned critical theory elsewhere in these comments. There's also gender theory, Marxian theory, postcolonial theory... basically, if it comes out of the social sciences and has "theory" in its name, it's probably value-loaded.

These are frameworks rather than critical tools per se, but that's really what I was getting at: in the social sciences, you generally don't get the tools outside an ideological framework, and academics of a given camp generally stick to their own camp's tools and expect you to do the same in the work you submit to them. Pointing to value-neutral critical tools is harder for the same reason, but like I said earlier I think linguistics does an outstanding job with its methodology, so that could be a good place to start looking. Data science in general could be one, but in the social sciences it tends to get used in a supporting rather than a foundational role. Ditto cognitive science, except that that hardly ever gets used at all.

many academics are striving to make their classes the antidote to a naive narrative of American history

This in itself is a problem. If you start with a group of students that have been exposed to a biased perspective, you don't make them less biased by exposing them to a perspective that's equally biased but in another direction. We've all read the cog-sci paper measuring strength of identification through that sort of situation, but I expect this sort of thing is especially acute for your average college freshman: that's an age when distrust of authority and the fear of being bullshitted is particularly strong.

(The naive narrative wasn't taught in my high school, incidentally, but I'm Californian. I expect a Texan would say something different.)

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-12-02T00:30:23.172Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I mentioned critical theory elsewhere in these comments. There's also gender theory, Marxian theory, postcolonial theory... basically, if it comes out of the social sciences and has "theory" in its name, it's probably value-loaded.

But these frameworks/theories are pretty damn established, as far as academics are concerned. Postcolonial theory and gender theory make a hell-of-a-lot of sense. They're crowning accomplishments of their fields, or define fields. They're worth having a class about them. Most academics would also say that they consider distinctly right-wing theories intellectually weak, or simply invalid; they'd no more teach them than a bio professor would teach creationism.

If you strongly feel all of mainstream academia is biased, then pick a school known for being right-wing. Academia's culture is an issue worthy of discussion, but well outside the scope of "should history be in core curriculums".

Maybe things like game-theoretic explanations of power dynamics, or something like discussion of the sociology of in-groups and out-groups when discussing nationalism, or something similar, are neglected in these classes. If you think that, I wouldn't disagree. I guess most professors would probably say "leave the sociology to the sociologists; my class on the industrial revolution doesn't have room to teach about thermodynamics of steam engines either".

I think linguistics does an outstanding job with its methodology, so that could be a good place to start looking.

I don't know much about linguistics, except that Chomsky is a Linguist and that some people like him and some people don't.

I do know it is on the harder end of the social sciences. The softer social sciences and humanities simply won't be able to use a lot of nice, rigorous tools.

This in itself is a problem. If you start with a group of students that have been exposed to a biased perspective, you don't make them less biased by exposing them to a perspective that's equally biased but in another direction. We've all read the cog-sci paper measuring strength of identification through that sort of situation, but I expect this sort of thing is especially acute for your average college freshman: that's an age when distrust of authority and the fear of being bullshitted is particularly strong.

I think good teachers, even ones with a strong perspective, approach things so that the student will feel engaged in a dialogue. They will make the student feel challenged, not defensive. More of my teachers achieved this than otherwise. Bad teachers and teaching practices that fail to do this should be pushed against, but I don't think the academic frameworks are the main culprit.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-03T14:43:03.555Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If you strongly feel all of mainstream academia is biased, then pick a school known for being right-wing.

If left-wing academia is low quality that in no way implies that right-wing academia is high quality. Seeing everything as left vs. right might even be part of the deeper problem plaguing the subject.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-03T17:05:35.052Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

On the other hand, if (in someone's opinion) academia as a whole is of low quality on account of a leftward political bias then it seems reasonable for that person to take a look at more right-leaning academic institutions.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-03T19:33:43.058Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Nobody here said that's it's primarily a leftward bias.

A while ago someone tried to understand who controls the majority of companies and found that less than few institutions do control most of the economy.

Did they publish in a economics journal? Probably too political. Instead they publised in Plos One.

I have a German book that makes arguments about how old German accounting standards are much nicer than the Anglo American ones. Politics that makes Anglo-American accounting standards the global default are not well explored by either leftwing or rightwing academic institutions.

Substantial debates about the political implications of accounting standards just aren't a topic that a lot of political academics who focus on left vs. right care about.

A lot of right wing political academia is also funded via think tanks that exist to back certain policies.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-03T23:59:05.264Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Nobody here said that it's primarily a leftward bias.

True, but the things Nornagest was complaining about could all be at-least-kinda-credibly claimed to have a leftward bias, and could not be at all credibly claimed to have a rightward bias.

Of course, as you say, there's a lot more to politics (and putative biases in academia) than left versus right, but it's a useful approximation.

Lest I be misunderstood, I will add that I too have a leftward bias, and I do not in fact think anyone would get a better education, or find better researchers, by choosing a right-leaning place (except that there are some places that happen both to be good and to have a rightward slant, I think largely by coincidence, and if you pick one of them then you win). And I share (what I take to be) your disapproval of attempts to manipulate public opinion by funding academics with a particular political bent.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-12-02T00:48:30.790Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If you strongly feel all of mainstream academia is biased, then pick a school known for being right-wing. Academia's culture is an issue worthy of discussion, but well outside the scope of "should history be in core curriculums".

Though I suspect I have a rather dimmer view of the social sciences' "crowning achievements" than you do, I'm not objecting directly to their political content there. I was mainly trying to point to their structure: each one consists of a set of critical tools and attached narrative and ideology that's relatively self-contained and internally consistent relative to those tools. Soft academia's culture, to me, seems highly concerned with crafting and extending those narratives and distinctly unconcerned with grounding or verifying them; an anthropologist friend of mine, for example, has told me outright that her field's about telling stories as opposed to doing research in the sense that I'm familiar with, STEMlord that I am. The subtext is that anything goes as long as it doesn't vindicate what you've called the naive view of culture.

That's a broader topic than "should history be in core curriculums?", but the relevance should be obvious. The precise form it takes, and the preferred models, do vary by school, but picking a right-wing school would simply replace one narrative with another. (I'd probably also like the students less.)

The softer social sciences and humanities simply won't be able to use a lot of nice, rigorous tools.

They don't. That doesn't mean they can't. There's plenty of rigorous analysis of issues involved in social science out there; it's just that most of it doesn't come from social scientists. Some of the best sociology I've ever seen was done by statisticians.

(Chomsky, incidentally, was a brilliant linguist -- if not always one vindicated by later research -- but he's now so well known for his [mostly unrelated] radical politics that focusing on him is likely to give the wrong impression of the field.)

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-12-02T02:18:44.653Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

seems highly concerned with crafting and extending those narratives and distinctly unconcerned with grounding or verifying them;

I think this is a problem, BUT it wouldn't be a problem if we had more people willing to pick up the ball and take these narratives as hypotheses and test/ground them. I think there IS a broad but slow movement towards this. I think these narrative-building cultures are fantastic at generating hypotheses, and I am also sympathetic in that it is pretty hard to test many of hypotheses concretely. That said, constant criticism and analysis is a (sub-optimal) form of testing.

Historians tend to be as concrete as they can, even if it's non-quantitatively. If an art historian says one artist influenced another, they will demonstrate stylistic similarities and a possible or verified method of contact between the two artists. That's pretty concrete. It can rely on more abstract theories about what is a "stylistic similarity" though, but that's inevitable.

I also think that the broadest and best theories are the ones you see taught at an undergrad level. The problems you point out are all more pernicious at the higher levels.

There's plenty of rigorous analysis of issues involved in social science out there; it's just that most of it doesn't come from social scientists. Some of the best sociology I've ever seen has been done by statisticians.

Surely true. But I think (from personal discussions with academics) there is a big movement towards quantitative and empirical in social sciences (particularly political science and history), and the qualitative style is still great for hypothesis generation.

I also think our discussion is getting a bit unclear because we've lumped the humanities and social sciences together. That's literally millions of researchers using a vast array of methodologies. Some departments are incredibly focused on being quantitative, some are allergic to numbers.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-02T00:58:36.108Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Postcolonial theory and gender theory ... [a]re crowning accomplishments of their fields, or define fields.

I would call that "damning with faint praise" :-D

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-12-02T02:03:50.695Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's praise sincerely intended. What strikes you as inadequate about, say, feminist theory and related ideas?

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-02T02:13:47.671Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Can we do postcolonial theory instead? What kind of falsifiable (in the Popperian sense) claims does it make? Any predictions?

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-12-02T04:41:16.456Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

First I'll do a couple examples from feminism, since it is often tarred as academic wankery, and I feel more knowledgeable about it:

  • Feminist theories say that movies underrepresent women, or represent them in relation to men. A simple count of the number of movies that pass the BechdelTest vs. it's male inverse shows this to be plainly true. In fact, the gap is breathtaking. Not only that, but this gap continues with movies released today, supporting the idea that only direct and conscious intervention can fix the gap and related iniquities in the portrayal of men and women in media.

  • Feminist theory predicts that issues like female reproductive autonomy, education, and various categories of violence against women are strongly correlated. Statistics appear to show this is true (not indisputable; reporting and confounding factors exist).

As for postcolonialism, I'll give it a shot, though I'm not the best to speak on it:

  • Postcolonial theory states that most of the institutions of formerly colonial nations (their media, the World Bank, etc.) fetishize the strong nationalist state and a capitalist economy with all the trappings (central banks, urbanization, progression from agrarian to industrial to service economy) that western nations have developed over the past two centuries, and will attempt to impose states where they can. Many argue that Western intervention in the Balkans and in Somalia bear this out.

  • Postcolonial theory makes many other statements about development, like that postcolonial nations shouldn't try to emulate western paths of development (because they will result in poorer economic growth). Some of them are hotly disputed. However they are empirical.

  • More broadly, postcolonialism says that for any intervention in a non-western nation, basing this intervention on methodology for western nation will yield worse results than building the approach up based on the ethnographic characteristics of that nation, despite the fact that international institutions seem to favor the former.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-02T16:04:47.748Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

movies underrepresent women, or represent them in relation to men

That's merely an empirical observation.

only direct and conscious intervention can fix the gap

That's a normative statement about what should be.

issues like female reproductive autonomy, education, and various categories of violence against women are strongly correlated

Can you be a bit more precise about these relationships? Also, does the feminist theory predict or does it say that's what it sees?

Off the top of my head I'd say I have at least two issues with feminism. The first is that it loves to tell other people what they should think, feel, and value. Science is not normative and feminism is -- that makes it closer to preaching than to science.

The second is that I am not sure why feminism (as an academic discipline) exists. I understand that historically there was the movement of "these not-quite-yet-dead white men in the social studies departments don't understand us and don't do things we find important, so fuck'em -- we'll set up our own department". That's fine, but first that's not true any more, and second, that's an office-politics argument for the administrative structure of a university, not reason for a whole new science to come into existence. What exactly is feminism doing that's not covered by sociology + political studies + cultural studies?

Postcolonial theory states that most of the institutions...

Again, this is a post-factum empirical observation.

a capitalist economy with all the trappings

And that doesn't seem to be quite true. Most newly independent countries love state power and often played with some variety of socialism, "third way", etc. Given the context of the Cold War, their political economy generally reflected which superpower they aligned with.

will attempt to impose states where they can

Who will? Impose on whom? I don't quite understand what do you mean here.

postcolonial nations shouldn't try to emulate western paths of development (because they will result in poorer economic growth)

An interesting point. The problem with it is that nations which did NOT try to "emulate western paths of development" experienced even more poor economic growth. It is, in fact, an empirical observation that the economic growth in the developing world was, by and large, quite poor. However the conclusion that this is the result of transplanting Western practices to alien soil and home-grown solutions are much better does not seem to be empirically supported.

for any intervention in a non-western nation, basing this intervention on methodology for western nation will yield worse results than building the approach up based on the ethnographic characteristics of that nation

And another curious statement. You can read it in two ways. Way one is just that bespoke engineering is always better than off-the-shelf parts. True, but trivial. Way two is that the developing countries are special (in some poorly defined, presumably non-racist way :-/) so that the empirically successful practices of Europeans will not work for them. That looks to be highly motivated reasoning to start with, and doesn't have much empirical support either.

In general, postcolonialism seems to be basically anti-capitalist, Marxism warmed over, trying to make it so the developing countries avoid capitalism and follow what's usually called "the third way" (which, in practice, is a mix of crony capitalism and state-dominated economy run for the benefit of the ruling elite). I think this approach failed quite decisively and in that sense postcolonialism is a failed theory, not a crown jewel at all.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-12-02T18:05:45.605Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I made a mistake trying to defend postcolonial theory here, it's just not my area of expertise. Whether it's valid or not, I can't defend it well. But we do seem to be on the same page that it's falsifiable.

However, I do have a substantial beef with your beefs with feminism.

That's merely an empirical observation.

Come on... Things falling to the ground is an empirical observation, gravity is the theory.

That's a normative statement about what should be

No, it's a prediction. If the gender representation gap spontaneously solved itself without any evident adoption of feminist attitudes that would be a strike against feminism as a theory.

Can you be a bit more precise about these relationships? Also, does the feminist theory predict or does it say that's what it sees?

Predicts; It observed it then it continued to be true so it's not overfitting

Off the top of my head I'd say I have at least two issues with feminism. The first is that it loves to tell other people what they should think, feel, and value. Science is not normative and feminism is -- that makes it closer to preaching than to science.

It has a normative and an empirical element. An organization like GiveWell empirically assesses charities then makes normative recommendations based on a particular version of utilitarianism. Feminism assesses institutions and makes recommendations.

The second is that I am not sure why feminism (as an academic discipline) exists. I understand that historically there was the movement of "these not-quite-yet-dead white men in the social studies departments don't understand us and don't do things we find important, so fuck'em -- we'll set up our own department". That's fine, but first that's not true any more, and second, that's an office-politics argument for the administrative structure of a university, not reason for a whole new science to come into existence. What exactly is feminism doing that's not covered by sociology + political studies + cultural studies?

Most of what feminism does in influence other fields. Gender studies departments exist some places and not other, but it's influence is pervasive in academia. I think this is a misinformed criticism.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-02T18:21:10.645Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In another post you called feminism "a project dedicated to changing certain policies and cultural attitudes". I like this definition, it makes a lot of sense to me.

However the implication is that feminism is neither a science nor even a field of study. Recall that the original question was feminism (gender studies) in academia. You said

Postcolonial theory and gender theory make a hell-of-a-lot of sense. They're crowning accomplishments of their fields, or define fields.

I'm fine with treating feminism as a socio-cultural movement based on a certain set of values. But then it's not an academic theory which is a crowning accomplishment of a field of study.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-12-02T18:44:21.403Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's both scholarly field and social movement. And scholars involved in it may be involved in one or both elements.

Feminism is a HUGE tent. It provides a framework for everyone from economists studying what factors drive labor participation rates among women to judges ruling on a case of sexual harassment to a film critic analyzing a character. There are probably tens of thousands of academics alone (forget lawyers, legislators, lobbyists and journalists) who would say feminism influences their work. This includes many who are very quantitative and empirical.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-02T18:52:54.065Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's both scholarly field and social movement.

What does this "scholarly field" study that is not covered by the usual social sciences? And, given that we are on LW, how prevalent do you think is motivated cognition in this field of study?

Feminism is a HUGE tent.

What covers everything covers nothing.

How would you define feminism -- in a useful way, specifying what kind of a thing is it and how it's different from other similar things?

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-12-02T21:02:27.969Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is getting very Socratic. I don't know what your assumptions are or what would satisfy you as a definition and it is beginning to get frustrating to figure out, but I think these two links are pretty good.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_studies

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminist_theory

As for motivated cognition, of course it's present, as it is virtually everywhere in life and academia. Do you have a more specific case?

Remember that though the humanities and softer social sciences have all sorts of flaws that are easy to make fun of, they don't submit grants for $100 million dollar construction projects with stated goals they know to be totally unachievable (I'm looking at you local university particle accelerator). Don't condemn the field just by its sins.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-02T21:20:22.265Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

As for motivated cognition, of course it's present, as it is virtually everywhere in life and academia

Don't you think that being both a field of study and a social movement aiming to change prevalent values and social structures offers especially rich opportunities for motivated cognition? Compared to the baseline of life and academia average?

they don't submit grants for $100 million dollar construction project

That's peanuts. When social scientists fuck things up, the cost is in millions of human lives. Exhibit A: Karl Marx.

Don't condemn the field just by its sins.

Well, the problem is that I don't think it's a field of study at all. I think it is, as you said, a project to change the society.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-01T20:57:42.920Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I can see your point about social sciences, but I would think this doesn't apply to most of the humanities. How is a creative writing, theatre, or communications course fraught by ideological criterion?

comment by Nornagest · 2014-12-01T22:13:17.269Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In a word: theory. I didn't take as many of those classes in college as I did social science, so I'm speaking with a little less authority here, but the impression I got is that the framework underpinning creative writing etc. draws heavily on critical theory, which is about as value-loaded as it gets in academia.

The implementation part, of course, isn't nearly as much so.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-02T00:52:28.239Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It allowed me to read a lot of poltical articles more deeply and understand their motivations and context

How do you know that you understand motivations of political articles better? Are you able to predict anything politically relevant that you couldn't have predicted beforehand?

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-12-02T01:53:27.760Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How do you know that you understand motivations of political articles better? Are you able to predict anything politically relevant that you couldn't have predicted beforehand?

Concretely, I can often tell if the article writer is coming from a particular school of thought or referencing a specific thesis, then interpret jargon, fill in unstated assumptions, see where they're deviating or conforming to that overarching school of thought. This directly enhances my ability to extrapolate to what other political views they might have and understand what they are attempting to write, and who their intended audience is.

As far as predicting the real world, that's tough. These frameworks of thought are in constant competition with one another. They are more about making normative judgments than predictive ones. The political theories that I believe have the most concrete usefulness are probably those that analyze world affairs in terms of neocolonialism, in part because those theories directly influence a ton of intellectuals but also in part because they provide a coherent explanation of how the US has managed its global influence in the past and (I predict) how it will do so in the future.

I can also do things like more fully analyze the factors behind US police and African-American relations, or how a film will influence a young girl.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-02T09:51:25.246Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

These frameworks of thought are in constant competition with one another.

That reminds me of the Marxist who can explain everything with the struggle of the workers against the capitalists.

I can also do things like more fully analyze the factors behind US police and African-American relations, or how a film will influence a young girl.

The sentence looks like your study did damage. You shouldn't come out of learning about politics believing that you can fully understand the factors of anything political.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-02T14:35:33.417Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I can also do things like more fully analyze [...]

You shouldn't come out [...] believing that you can fully understand [...]

I think the difference I highlighted is an important one.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-12-02T17:39:53.892Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That reminds me of the Marxist who can explain everything with the struggle of the workers against the capitalists.

I am referring to the normative parts of frameworks. For instance feminism makes many normative statements. It is a project dedicated to changing certain policies and cultural attitudes. The eventual influence of these frameworks are based largely on their acceptance.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-02T22:20:32.259Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

People make statements. Abstract intellectual labels don't. People have all sorts of personal goals. If one sees everything as the battle of certain frameworks then a lot dealing with individual people is lost.

Additionally you can also miss when new thoughts come along that don't fit into your existing scheme. A lot of people coming from the humanities for example have very little understanding of the discourse of geeks.

The political effects of getting people to meditate and be in touch with their bodies are also unknown unknowns for a lot of people trained in the standard political ways of thinking.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-12-03T07:17:00.342Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

People make statements. Abstract intellectual labels don't. People have all sorts of personal goals. If one sees everything as the battle of certain frameworks then a lot dealing with individual people is lost.

I don't have much to comment on this except that many academics in the humanities level charges of dehumanization and ignoring individual agency against a lot of works in economics or quantitative sociology and political science (ex. they might criticize an economics paper that attributes civil unrest to food shortages without discussing how it might originate in individual dissatisfaction with oppression and corruption). So it's ironic if I've done the same disservice to those academics.

Additionally you can also miss when new thoughts come along that don't fit into your existing scheme. A lot of people coming from the humanities for example have very little understanding of the discourse of geeks.

I don't really know what you're referring to. But if you're talking LW-style memes, I think that it is generally true that futurism isn't of much interest to many in the humanities. And to a great degree it is orthogonal to what they do. A scenario like the singularity may not be, in that it's not orthogonal to anyone or anything, but I haven't had many conversations about it with those in the humanities.

The political effects of getting people to meditate and be in touch with their bodies are also unknown unknowns for a lot of people trained in the standard political ways of thinking.

What are you thinking of?

But I am sure there are academics who can readily discuss the effects of the fall of physically demanding labor, the effect of physical rigors on those in the military, or the interaction of all flavors of Buddhism with politics.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-03T12:36:41.843Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

(ex. they might criticize an economics paper that attributes civil unrest to food shortages without discussing how it might originate in individual dissatisfaction with oppression and corruption).

Dissatisfaction with oppression and corruption in itself doesn't have much to do with individual people being actors. Standard feminist theory suggests that social groups are oppressed.

And to a great degree it is orthogonal to what they do. A scenario like the singularity may not be, in that it's not orthogonal to anyone or anything, but I haven't had many conversations about it with those in the humanities.

As far as LW ideas go, prediction markets do have political implications. X-risk prevention does have political implications.

CFAR mission also mentions that they want to change how we decide which legislation to pass.

A bunch of geeks are working on getting liquid democracy to work.

Wikileaks and it's in actions do have political effects.

Sweden recently changed their Freedom of Press laws to make it clear that having a server in Sweden is not enough to profit from Swedish press protections because Julian Assanges Wikileaks tried to use Swedish press protection to threaten people who try to uncover sources of Wikileaks.

In Germany a professor of sociology recently wrote a book that argued that Quantified Self is driven by the belief that it's possible to know everything. It isn't. The kind of geeks New Atheists that want everything to be evidence-based and who believe that they can know everything generally reject QS for not doing blinded and controlled trials. He simply treated all geeks the same way and therefore missed the heart of the issue.

How much have polticial scientists wrote about Crypto Wars and in Cory Doctorow words the recent war on general computing?

Estonia had to be defended against cyber war by a lose collection where likely the stronger players weren't government associated. It's also quite likely that we live in a time where a nongovernemntal force is strong enough to start such a war.

The NSA is geeky enough that it's NSA chief Gen Keith Alexander modeled his office after the Star Treck bridge.

Jeff Bezos brought the Washington post. Pierre Omidyar who made his money with ebay sponsored First Look Media. Those are the signs that more and more political power goes to geeks.

What are you thinking of?

I'm just pointing to a political idea to which you probably aren't exposed.

the effect of physical rigors on those in the military

Military training is not supposed to build empathy but the opposite. Soldiers are trained to ignore bodily feelings.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-01T21:04:31.094Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How much of this course was history? How similar was it to other history courses you've taken? A course syllabus might be useful, but I understand if you'd prefer privacy. I could see this happening with a course on general scientific principles that used history to develop practice problems, but then what you learned would be scientific principles; not really history. Was it just the professor was better as his/her job than other history professors or is there something that's readily replicable to other history courses?

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-12-01T22:24:23.930Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It was history of philosophy, focused on reading major works chronologically with a good dose of historical context and background for each (e.g. biblical authorship theories, prevailing attitudes that works were responding to, historical events like wars that would have influenced the authors, etc.). Work included twice-weekly journal entries on our readings, occasional quizzes, and essays tying several works together. A partial list of the curriculum, which we read in this (chronological) order, was:

  • Plato
  • Aristotle
  • Aurelius
  • Bible
  • St. Augustine
  • Koran
  • Avicenna
  • Aquinus
  • Hobbes
  • Locke
  • Rousseau
  • Burke
  • Kant
  • Hegel
  • Marx
  • Nietzsche
  • W.E.B. Dubois
  • Simone De Beauvoir
  • Foucault
  • Peter Singer

The other hybrid philosophy/history course, the radical one, did have a couple excellent, very historically-oriented, readings. One was Black Jacobins about the Haitian revolution, others were about the French Revolution, the Paris Commune, and a left-radical rebellion against the Bolsheviks in the early USSR (which I have unfortunately forgotten the name of, but it does demonstrate the pluralism of pre-Bolshevik socialism).

Detailed historical explorations were the stronger part of that course, and served to show how clear investigation into the facts could dispel or nuance a charicatured view of history.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-12-08T03:48:37.928Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Here is Eliezer's post on the subject.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2014-12-03T03:29:43.134Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

History seems to me a subject in its teachings that aims to produce critical thinking in a sense different than what LessWrong typically tries to optimize for. I figure LessWrong optimizes for the critical thinking of the individual, which benefits from an education in logic, computer science, and mathematics, among a general knowledge of the natural sciences. I'm not sure how much history would contribute to that sort of skill, but others in this thread seem skeptical of its value.

However, learning history seems like it improves how critically groups and societies can think together, across a few domains key to society. A general education in history as part of the core curriculum could be a heuristic for circumventing group irrationality, and mob rule, in a way that critical thinking skills designed for only the individual might not. Understanding the history of one's own nation in a democracy give the electorate knowledge of what's worked in the past, what's different in the nation in the present compared to the past, and the context in which policy platforms and cultural and political divides were forged. This extends to the less grand history of the geographical location in which ones resides, or was raised in, within one's own nation. An understanding of a history of other nations, and the world, gives one the context in which international relations have formed over centuries.

Here's an example of how knowledge of world history and international relations might be useful. If the executive branch of the United States federal government wants to declare war on the country, to intervene against a predator country on the behalf of one victimized, it makes sense to understand the context of that conflict. If the history of those faraway regions is known, than the electorate can check the narrative the government puts forward against what they learned in schooling. Even very recent history could be useful knowledge in this regard. If the electorate of the United States was aware of the hundreds of years of colonial or ideological conflict, and how intractably stupid the whole thing is and has been, they might have been warier of condoning invasions of Iraq, Vietnam, the former Yugoslavia, etc. Knowing the background of such regions in the future, by having better access to options in learning of these regions in undergraduate education, might make whole generations less likely to vote for parties or presidents who will sink the United States into costly and drawn-out wars that are negative-sum games for all sides.

Groupthink and other pitfalls of group psychology that aren't circumvented by merely knowing science might be debunked by everyone knowing more history. In writing this, I'm realizing that the value of history would be in having enough information as a baseline to not make mistakes of ignorance, the same way that knowing of biology or psychology might. This decreases the chances that a society at large will make mistakes, like supporting a stupid war, or rallying behind an anti-vaccination movement. However, it doesn't seem to fall into the more valuable category of subjects which (presumably) directly improve reasoning ability for individuals, such as maths, and computer science.

My above illustration is a hypothesis or thought experiment for how an education in history might be valuable for critical thinking skills. If it's mostly valuable for having a better democracy with better politics, then perhaps the question can't be divorced from what other education makes for a better democratic polity. That leads us to opening the Pandora's Box of producing better thinking on politics, which is its own behemoth of a problem.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-02T00:53:17.368Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think the idea of a core curriculum that contains things such as history is awful. Diversity is pretty useful.

Business in general is useful, but little of the relevant skills are well learned via lectures. Being able to negotiate is a useful business skill.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-02T01:29:22.398Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Diversity courses strike me as an odd combination of sociology, anthropology, and history, but since you specifically criticized history courses; I'm a bit confused as to why you like diversity courses. Are culturally-focused history courses such as history of hip-hop, latin american culture, or women in American history better than standard history courses? Is there a certain category of business courses that does a better job than others? Are there any skills that can be easily taught in a lecture format? I have a friend who felt communications courses were very good at teaching negotiation strategies.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-02T14:23:37.636Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think you have misinterpreted "Diversity is pretty useful" as "Diversity courses are pretty useful". My reading of ChristianKI's comment is that he meant "having different people take different courses is useful" and I would be rather surprised if he thought diversity courses as such were much use.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-02T15:46:30.515Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I like diversity in course offerings. That's not the same thing as liking courses that supposedly teach diversity.

I don't want a world in which every college student learns the same thing. As such I reject the idea of a core curriculum.

Is there a certain category of business courses that does a better job than others?

Probably courses that don't use textbooks but that do exercises with strong emotional engagement.

I was at personal development seminars where at the end of the day some people lie on the floor because of emotional exhaustion. I think doing a lot of deep inner work brings higher returns than learning intellectual theory.

I have a friend who felt communications courses were very good at teaching negotiation strategies.

How djd he came to that conclusion? Has the amount that the person pays for the average thing he buys gone down because he has become much better at negotiating?

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-02T22:21:24.558Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I only took one class in communications so I don't understand the field too well. The class itself seemed useful, but there was no mention of negotiation strategies. It would seem more likely that better negotiation leads to more offers than that better negotiation leads to a better offer. A smart businessman is going to know how to value the deal, and it's going to be hard to significantly change his price.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-03T12:14:25.124Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The class itself seemed useful

What practical effect did it have that make you consider it to be useful?

A smart businessman is going to know how to value the deal, and it's going to be hard to significantly change his price.

If you buy a car in many cases a person with good negotating skills can achieve a better price.

comment by rkdj · 2014-12-01T09:25:26.120Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Do you or would you secretly invade your child's privacy for their own protection?

comment by CBHacking · 2014-12-01T11:31:26.587Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

TL;DR because this turned into a lot of looking back on my relationship with my parents: I'd make sure they knew I had the capability, and then, if I saw a need to use it, I would. I wouldn't give an expectation of privacy and then violate it.

First, let me state that I'm in my late 20s, and have no children.

Secretly? No. Or rather, I would never hide that I have the capability, though I wouldn't necessarily tell them when I was using it. If I had reason to suspect them hiding things from me, I might even hide the mechanism, but I'd let them know that I could check. The goal would be to indicate that whatever it is I'm concerned about is REALLY IMPORTANT (i.e. more important than privacy), and that I expect that to act as a deterrence.

On the other hand, I can't think of many scenarios that would call for such action. I would make it clear, for example, that a diary is private unless I expect the kid to be in danger, but the scenarios that actually come to mind for when I would go through it all involve things like "E left without telling anybody where e'd be, can't be reached by any way, and has been gone since yesterday" or similar; if it was a suspicion of something like drug abuse, my inclination is simply to talk about it, not even necessarily asking anything specifically. If you can show your kid(s) the utility of giving a positive weight to your views on a subject, then you can often avoid needing to do anything so drastic as violating their privacy (in any scenario where they reasonably expect to have it).

With all that said, I don't really have a good view of how adversarial parent/child relationships function (or rather, dysfunction); I certainly didn't always get along with my parents, and didn't even always respect them very much (and oh damn but did my dad blow up when I told him that, circa age 12) but they never violated my trust on big things. It was never a case of me-vs.-him (most of my problems were with my father), but rather of my utility functions vs. his appreciation for my utility functions. He could make me incredibly angry by promising some treat and then simply failing to follow through (for what never seemed, to me, to be a valid reason to break your word) but that was because I valued a verbal promise of something trivial far more strongly than it warranted, not because he was inherently untrustworthy; to me, the breaking of a promise was a much greater betrayal than the loss of the treat. Once I learned to understand him better, I simply discounted any promise he according to how (un)important he thought it was (not how important I thought it was; I didn't get so far back then as to think about "how important he thinks it is to me"). The only times he came close to breaking the big ones I could usually argue him around.

Took me a long while to work out the details there, though. Might be good to help the kid(s) in question understand where you're coming from, and how much you value something like your implicit (or explicit) promise of their privacy. Of course, if you already have given an expectation of the child's privacy being sacrosanct, I don't know what I'd do in your place. If you've already been caught violating such expectations, my only recommendation would be to immediately explain why you fucked up because, if the kid's worldview is anything like mine at that age (which it totally may not be, and I'm no psychologist) you sure as hell have. Not by the snooping itself, but by simultaneously creating a scenario where the kid had reason to believe emselves private and yet one where you felt it was justified to violate that.

comment by Salemicus · 2014-12-01T10:37:23.171Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I don't have children. But my answer is that, potentially, I would, but it would depend on the situation.

Firstly, I think the level of privacy that a child can reasonably expect to have from his parents is age and context-dependent. A thirty-year-old who has left the home has a far greater legitimate expectation of privacy than a fifteen-year-old living at home, who in turn can legitimately expect far more than a 5-year-old. I don't think most people have any problem with, say, using a baby-monitor on a young child, even though this could be viewed as a gross invasion of privacy if done on someone older.

Secondly, it is better to be honest and open where possible, as otherwise when your actions are discovered (and they likely will be), it could be seen as a breach of trust. However, if your child is lying to you, then it could be appropriate. For example, suppose my teenage child kept receiving suspicious parcels through the mail, and gave implausible accounts for the contents. I would then try to sit the child down and say right, we're going to open this together, and see what's inside. But if that wasn't possible, then yes, I might secretly open one of the parcels, to ascertain whether the child is doing something illegal, dangerous, or otherwise inappropriate.

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2014-12-02T08:38:54.215Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Corollary - would you secretly invade an adult's privacy for their own protection?

I have more trouble answering that one. The answer to the "children" question begins somewhere on "estimate what they might think about the situation as adults"...now if I only knew where the line could be drawn for an adult, this would be simple...

comment by passive_fist · 2014-12-01T23:38:05.946Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Depends on age. If they were teenagers, not secretly. For the simple reason that it could backfire (they find out their privacy has been invaded, then in the future hide things even more strongly). I would, however, expect them to tell me whatever information about their lives I wanted to know.

For full disclosure: I'm in my late 20's and have no children.

comment by imuli · 2014-12-03T14:52:34.334Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No.

Aside from the don't do things to other people without other their consent angle (which is hard with a child), my two year old is ascribing motives to my actions, and when privacy comes into being I doubt I'll be able to use any information that I do acquire without them noticing.

comment by Anatoly_Vorobey · 2014-12-02T04:57:06.649Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I would.

(Have two small children, haven't needed to).

comment by James_Miller · 2014-12-07T04:35:28.151Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

For a young child, of course it's not even close since the kid probably doesn't even value privacy.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-12-07T18:10:14.752Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Court OKs Barring High IQs for Cops

An aspiring cop got rejected for scoring too high on an IQ test.

I cannot begin to understand why they would do that.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-07T21:33:56.793Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It may be worth mentioning that the article appears to be from 14 years ago. (Or it may not; for all I know the same policy is still in place.)

comment by bramflakes · 2014-12-07T20:07:47.217Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I went into the article thinking the guy would have a freakishly high IQ (160+) where I could maybe see the point, but instead was 125. The judges most likely scored higher than that - aren't they feeling even slightly belittled at the suggestion that they'd be ineligible for law enforcement work because they'd find it too boring?

comment by MathiasZaman · 2014-12-07T19:28:16.627Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The weird part is that after being rejected as a police officer he goes off to work as a prison guard. The latter is way more boring. If he's able to put up with that, he should be able to cope with the boredom of law enforcement.

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2014-12-07T19:11:10.126Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Their explanation is that he would get bored and leave. I'm not surprised - I've been rejected for jobs more than once due to being too smart. (I'm not just boasting, it does seem relevant)

comment by Manfred · 2014-12-04T00:52:17.931Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Is there a better place than LW to put a big post on causal information, anthropics, being a person as an event in the probability-theory sense, and decision theory?

I'm somewhat concerned that such things are a pollutant in the LW ecosystem, but I don't know of a good alternative.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-04T10:36:03.334Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Why would it be a pollutant in the LW ecosystem? This sounds pretty central in the space of things LW people are interested in; what am I missing? (Are you concerned that it would be too elementary for LW? that it might be full of mistakes and annoy or mislead people? that its topic isn't of interest to LW readers? ...)

What's the intended audience? What's it for? (Introducing ideas to people who don't know them? Cutting-edge research? Thinking aloud to get your ideas in order? ...)

comment by Manfred · 2014-12-04T14:32:07.392Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I feel like it increases barrier to entry for new people.

Intended audience is me from three years ago, I guess cutting-edge-adjacent.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-04T15:05:20.063Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Barrier to entry shouldn't be your main criteria. High quality posts draw intelligent people.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-04T15:11:21.240Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think it increases barrier to entry for new people.

Nah. Both Discussion and Main fairly consistently have a mix of intimidating technicality, fun (e.g., "Rationality Quotes"), lifehackery, ethics, random discussion, etc., etc., etc. One more bit of intimidating technicality isn't going to scare anyone away who wasn't going to be scared away anyhow.

I guess cutting-edge-adjacent.

Sounds like fun. Go for it, say I.

(Important note: I have not done anything remotely resembling research into the thought processes of potential new LW readers, and my model of them may be badly wrong. Don't trust the above much. It's just one random person's opinion.)

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-12-05T21:41:04.781Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Manfred, I think your posts on Sleeping Beauty, etc. are fine, people just may not be able to follow you or have anything to contribute.

comment by Manfred · 2014-12-06T00:54:23.258Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks. So would you recommend that for the new stuff I use those sorts of 3/4-baked stream of consciousness posts?

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-12-06T15:29:44.121Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The way I do the equivalent of what you are doing is write up something in various stages of "less than fully baked" and send to someone I know is interested/I respect in private, and have a chat about it. What's nice about that is it exploits the threat of embarrassment of outputting nonsense to force me to at least "bake" it sufficiently to have a meaningful conversation about it. It's very easy to output nonsense.

But I am skeptical regarding the wiki model of generating good novel stuff -- there's too much noise.

comment by advancedatheist · 2014-12-02T17:20:54.416Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Has anyone come across research on parents' attitudes towards their sons when they can see that girls don't find their teen boys sexually attractive? If you saw that happening to your son, that has to affect how you feel about him compared to how you would feel if you saw that your son had sexual opportunities.

This relates to my puzzlement about the idea that the "sexual debut" happens as an organic developmental stage with a median age of 17, compared with the fact that quite a few straight young men miss this window and become the targets of social derision and contempt.

Reference:

Who is the 40-year-old virgin and where did he/she come from? Data from the National Survey of Family Growth.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19493289

comment by shminux · 2014-12-02T19:38:50.323Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

quite a few straight young men miss this window and become the targets of social derision and contempt.

I'd say it's more of a pity than derision and contempt, but then it probably depends on one's social circles.

comment by cameroncowan · 2014-12-07T09:30:26.676Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think parents want their children to be successful with their peers, particularly if they are. I helped raise my cousins and the youngest one was the last to really attract men and we felt really sorry for her because she was missing out and she was depressed because her sisters were always attached and she was not. Its a social thing, but it doesn't really hurt you as a person. I do think however, that your attractiveness level when you're young does have affect on your perception of your attractiveness into the rest of your life. Evolutionarily, when we only live to 40, it was important to keep the species going. Now, I think it is a matter of fitting in and finding one's place in society. Knowing, at a young time that you are attractive helps keep you going as life goes along. Whereas, if you don't feel attractive then you get that idea and it can be very hard to break.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2014-12-03T04:50:08.211Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This relates to my puzzlement about the idea that the "sexual debut" happens as an organic developmental stage with a median age of 17, compared with the fact that quite a few straight young men miss this window and become the targets of social derision and contempt.

Now I'm puzzled by this too. Does the median age for young males making their "sexaul debut" vary by culture?

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-02T05:52:24.828Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'd like to recommend a fun little piece called the The Schizophrenia of Modern Ethical Theories (PDF), which points out that popular moral theories look very strange when actually applied as a grounds for action in real-life situations. Minimally, the author argues that certain reasons for actions are incompatible with certain motives, and that this becomes incoherent if we suppose that these motives were (at least partially) the motivation we had to adopt that set of reasons in the first place.

For example, if you tend to your sick friend, but explain to them that you are (really only) doing so on utilitarian ground, or on egoistic grounds, or because you are obligated to do so, etc, well...doesn't that seem off? And don't those reasons for action, presumably a generalization of a great deal of specific situations of this sort, seem incompatible with the original motivation that we felt was morally good?

comment by DanielFilan · 2014-12-02T07:13:39.304Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

For example, if you tend to your sick friend, but explain to them that you are (really only) doing so on utilitarian ground, or on egoistic grounds, or because you are obligated to do so, etc, well...doesn't that seem off?

... no? I mean, maybe it will sound weird if you actually say it, because that's not a norm in our culture, but apart from that, it doesn't seem morally bad or off to me.

ETA: well, I suppose only helping someone on egoistic grounds sounds off, but the utilitarian/moral obligation motivations still seem fine to me.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-02T14:03:18.403Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I suppose only helping someone on egoistic grounds sounds off

I'm not sure even that does, when it's put in an appropriate way. "I'm doing this because I care about you, I don't like to see you in trouble, and I'll be much happier once I see you sorted out."

There are varieties of egoism that can't honestly be expressed in such terms, and those might be harder to put in terms that make them sound moral. But I think their advocates would generally not claim to be moral in the first place.

I think Stocker (the author of the paper) is making the following mistake. Utilitarianism, for instance, says something like this:

  • The morally best actions are the ones that lead to maximum overall happiness.

But Stocker's argument is against the following quite different proposition:

  • We should restructure our minds so that all we do is to calculate maximum overall happiness.

And one problem with this (from a utilitarian perspective) is that such a restructuring of our minds would greatly reduce their ability to experience happiness.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-12-02T15:47:34.208Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

We have to distinguish between normative ethics and specific moral recommendations. Utilitarianism falls into the class of normative ethical theories. It tells you what constitutes a good decision given particular facts; but it does not tell you that you possess those facts, or how to acquire them, or how to optimally search for that good decision. Normative ethical theories tell you what sorts of moral reasoning are admissible and what goals are credible; they don't give you the answers.

For instance, believing in divine command theory (that moral rules come from God's will) does not tell you what God's will is. It doesn't tell you whether to follow the Holy Bible or the Guru Granth Sahib or the Liber AL vel Legis or the voices in your head.

And similarly, utilitarianism does not tell you "Sleep with your cute neighbor!" or "Don't sleep with your cute neighbor!" The theory hasn't pre-calculated the outcome of a particular action. Rather, it tells you, "If sleeping with your cute neighbor maximizes utility, then it is good."

The idea that the best action we can take is to self-modify to become better utilitarian reasoners (and not, say, self-modify to be better experiencers of happiness) doesn't seem like it follows.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-02T16:35:33.733Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It looks like we're in violent agreement. I mention this only because it's not clear to me whether you were intending to disagree with me; if so, then I think at least one of us has misunderstood the other.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-12-02T17:22:32.266Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No, I was intending to expand on your argument. :)

comment by blacktrance · 2014-12-03T05:41:56.864Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If I tell my friend that I am visiting him on egoistic grounds, it suggests that being around him and/or promoting his well-being gives me pleasure or something like that, which doesn't sound off - it sounds correct. I should hope that my friends enjoy spending time around me and take pleasure in my well-being.

comment by Metus · 2014-12-01T13:55:55.359Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This is for the people versed in international and tax law.

By a ruling of the ECJ all tax-payers in the EU can deduct charitable donations to any organisation within the EU from their taxes. In Germany at least this means that the charitability has to be certified by the German authorities. The usual process here is that a legal entity wishing to accept tax-deductible donations has to document how their funds are used and can then issue certificates to donors which then document the tax-deductibility of their donations.

Which leads to a couple of ideas and questions:

  1. It is obvious then that to receive tax-deductible donations in principle necessitates exactly one legal seat in any of the EU member states. This opens up donations from potentially 500 million people in the largest economic zone of the world. Does charitability have to be proven in every one of the currently 28 member states or is there an easier way to do this, e.g. by some sort of transitivity? Is it possible to get the usual certification at all or does charitability have to be proven for each and every one of the donations?

  2. Is this process specific to Germany or do other EU member states recognise charitable organisations from other member states by default such as Ireland and United Kingdom? How do medium sized organisations solve the problem of receiving tax-deductible donations, do they just found a bunch of subsidaries?

  3. Assuming that the situation is maximally bleak with regard of tax deductibility, would it be useful to lobby for reform at the level of the EU to make it way easier to donate from any member state to any legal entity in any other member? Or is the marginal unit of money better spent elsewhere?

Considering the tax-load in the EU and the potential wealth available for donations a lot of thought should be given to these kind of things.

I have a couple more thoughts on the whole matter of extracting more donations, if anyone is interested.

comment by cmdXNmwH · 2014-12-02T22:11:44.004Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I am not skilled at storytelling in casual conversation (telling personal anecdotes). How can I improve this? In particular, what is a good environment to practice while limiting the social cost of telling lame stories?

comment by katydee · 2014-12-03T05:00:03.843Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm considered pretty good in this respect. I think the #1 thing that helps is just paying attention to things a lot and having a high degree of situational awareness, which causes you to observe more interesting things and thus have more good stories to share. Reading quickly also helps.

When it comes to actually telling the stories, the most important thing is probably to pay attention to people's faces and see what sorts of reactions they're having. If people seem bored, pick up the pace (or simply withdraw). If they seem overexcited, calm it down.

One good environment to practice the skill of telling stories is tabletop role-playing games, especially as the DM/storyteller/whatever. In general, I think standards in this field are usually fairly low and you get a good amount of time to practice telling (very unusual) stories in any given session.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2014-12-03T04:55:10.839Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Although I consider myself average in good storytelling abilities, I'd like to be better. Additionally, it's always been curious to me how one can improve this skill, rather than just leaving one's talent in it to the whims of social fortune, or whatever. As such, I've outsourced this question to my social media networks. If I haven't returned with some sort of response within a few days, feel free to remind me in a few days with either a reply to this comment, or a private message.

comment by cmdXNmwH · 2014-12-13T00:06:32.784Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ping :)

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2014-12-15T17:17:14.181Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't get direct answers to your query, but I got some suggestions for dealing with the problem.

One person told me to defuse an awkward situation if a story isn't well-received with a joke:

I find it helps to jokingly acknowledge when a story fell flat. "...and then I found $5"

Also when I make a joke that doesn't get a laugh, I'll look at the time on my phone and say "9:35. I'm calling it." or whatever. That gets a laugh usually and helps defuse the situation.

Another friend suggested it's all about practice, and bearing through it:

Volume, brah. Volume of social interactions coupled with metacognition and intelligence.

That particular friend is a rationalist. By 'metacognition', I believe he meant 'notice you're practicing the right skills'. Basically, in your head, or on a piece of paper, break down the aspect(s) of storytelling you want to acquire as skills, and only spend time training those.

For example, you probably want to get into the habit of telling stories so the important details that make the story pop come out, rather than getting into the habits of qualifying the points with background details that listeners won't care about. This is a problem I myself have with storytelling. In each of our own minds, we're the only one who remember the causal details that led to the something extraordinary sequence of events that day on vacation. Our listeners don't know the details, because they weren't there, so assume you didn't make any glaring omissions until someone asks about it.

Also, try starting small, I guess. Like, tell shorter anecdotes, and get to bigger ones. Also, I don't believe it's disingenuous to mentally rehearse a short story you might tell beforehand. I used to believe this, because good storytellers I know like my uncle always seem to tell stories off the cuff. Having a good memory, and not using too much jargon, helps. However, I wouldn't be surprised if good storytellers think back on their life experiences and think to themselves 'my encounter today would make a great story'.

Here are some suggestions for generating environments limiting the social costs of telling lame stories.

Another friend of mine thought I was the one asking for how to to limit the social cost of telling lame stories, so he suggested I tell him stories of mine I haven't told him before, and he won't mind if they're bad. This isn't a bad suggestion. You yourself could go on social media, and ask your friends if they want to get together to share stories. If you don't want to go on social media, try texting or calling a friend about it.

If being so direct still seems too awkward, invite a friend or two for coffee, or to the bar, under a pretext of hanging out, and specifically tell stories. Let your friend know that you think you've got a good story, but you might be awkward at telling it, so you hope they don't mind. If they're already you're friend, I expect they'll be genuine and patient enough. However, I recommend ensuring that whoever you're telling a story to is in a neutral or good mood when you start. It's no good to practice storytelling to a friend who just went through a breakup, or lost their job yesterday, or whatever.

I believe this is a good idea for a meetup. At the CFAR alumni reunion this last summer, one alumna hosted a storytelling session. She had a whiteboard out with story suggestions, and we passed around a stick to ensure everyone knew only the designated speaker was supposed to be talking, and there was a short period for questions about the story after each one had finished. Who got to tell a story after the first volunteered happened spontaneously as more people eagerly volunteered because the stories were fun, and their memories about their own experiences were jogged from hearing the last story. However, you don't need all that stuff for a storytelling session to be worthwhile.

The room was jampacked with nearly 30 people at first, and never was less than 10, and the storytelling session went on for several hours rather than only one as was originally intended. To me, this is a testament to how much nerds, or folk from this cluster in person-space, want an environment to try these things in. If you attend a rationality or LessWrong meetup near where you live, try hosting or suggesting a meeting with another group of friends you know, like a meetup for a different topics, or some group of gamers you're a part of. If that doesn't bear out, try again with someone else, or try starting smaller.

comment by cameroncowan · 2014-12-07T09:20:50.088Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Learn storyteller, read a writing book. A good story has to have setting, a character, situations that are ironic, funny or heartfelt, and then a transformation. Sometimes it can be short and other times it can be longer and more like an epic. If you have all the elements, then learn how to keep an audience's attention with good language.

comment by Stefan_Schubert · 2014-12-01T14:23:31.916Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sweden launches a price comparison site, moneyfromsweden.se, for transferring money abroad. The site has information in many languages spoken by different immigrant communities in Sweden.

People living in Sweden send large sums of money to family and friends abroad. But it can be expensive. Fees and currency exchange costs differ between money transfer operators.

On average it costs about 15 percent (150 SEK) to send 1 000 SEK . In extreme cases the cost can be as high as 48 percent.

Therefore, the Swedish Consumer Agency has, at the Government's request, developed an independent price comparison service.

  • It is important that we can help consumers find information in this complex market. The service will make it easier for those who send money abroad. The goal is to ensure that as much money as possible reaches the receiver, says Gunnar Larsson, Director General of the Swedish Consumer Agency.

In my view a very good initiative, since it gives people objective information on which they can make rational decisions. It should be of interest to rationalists and effective altruists (since remittances have a big impact on developing countries).

comment by Metus · 2014-12-04T01:11:01.145Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Say I have have a desktop with a monitor, a laptop, a tablet and a smart phone. I am looking for creative ideas on how to use them simultaneously, for example when programming to use the tablet for displaying documentation and having multiple screens via desktop computer and laptop, while the smart phone displays some tertiary information.

comment by Sherincall · 2014-12-04T20:07:57.127Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Unplug the desktop monitor and plug it in the laptop. Open some docs on the tablet. Keep your todo list on the phone.

Or just get another monitor or two and use that. In my experience, you never need more than 3 monitors at once (for one computer, of course).

comment by eeuuah · 2014-12-10T07:25:35.205Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The biggest hangup I've found in using multiple computers simultaneously is copy pasting long strings. I can chat them to myself, but it's still slightly awkwarder than I'd like.

Otherwise, Sherincall is pretty on point.

comment by Capla · 2014-12-02T23:55:59.730Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Is there a way to sign up for cryonics and sign up to be an organ donor?

I know that some people opt to cryo-preserve only their brain. Is there a way to preserve the whole body, with the exception of the harvested organs ? Is there any reason to? Does the time spent harvesting make a difference to how thoroughly the body is preserved?

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-12-03T05:44:48.190Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Is there a way to sign up for cryonics and sign up to be an organ donor?

No, because the folks responsible for each process need custody of the body in the same time frame after legal death.

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2014-12-05T17:05:54.532Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But all the organ donor people need is for the body to be kept cold. I get that there's a legal conflict, but couldn't you leave your body to Alcor with instructions for them to hand it over to the organ donor people after they remove the head?

comment by Leonhart · 2014-12-07T17:17:10.147Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I believe it doesn't work like this; you need the circulatory system in order to perfuse the head, and in doing so the other organs are compromised. This could probably be avoided, but not without more surgical expertise/equipment than today's perfusion teams have, I think.

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2014-12-07T23:29:56.069Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, because the cryoprotectant is toxic. I forgot about that. I suppose other internal organs apart form the heart could be removed before perfusion starts, but the Alcor people are not qualified to officially do this. All in all it seems like the sort of problem which would be solved if cryonics ever became big enough that it created a sufficient shortage of organs that hospitals actually dedicated some resources to solving the problem.

comment by Metus · 2014-12-01T22:03:55.801Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How do you track and control your spending? Disregarding financial privacy I started paying with card for everything which allows me to track where I do spend my money but not really on what. I find that I in general spend less than what I earn because spending money somehow hurts.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-12-01T23:41:37.034Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I have a spreadsheet in which I record every financial transaction, and enter all future transactions, estimated as necessary, out to a year ahead. Whenever I get a bank statement, credit card statement, or the like, I compare everything in it with the spreadsheet and correct things as necessary. I don't try to keep track of cash spent out of my pocket. I tried that once, but found it wasn't practical. The numbers would never add up and there would be no independent record to check them against.

One row of the spreadsheet computes my total financial assets, which I observe ticking upwards month by month.

I don't record in detail what I buy, only the money spent and where (which is a partial clue to what I bought). I'm sufficiently well off that I don't need to plan any of my expenditure in detail, only consider from time to time whether I want to direct X amount of my resources in the way I observe myself doing.

I spend less than I earn, because it seems to me that that is simply what one does, if one can, in a sensibly ordered life.

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-02T06:09:25.825Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Congratulations, you're about a million times more organized than most people. Even my girlfriend isn't that particular - she records transactions, and has a dozen budget categories, but she doesn't predict a year out.

comment by Robin_Hartell · 2014-12-02T21:08:22.555Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

MoneyDashboard.com - links directly to my credit cards and bank accounts. I hear that the US equivalent is mint.com

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-02T06:08:09.352Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My income is variable and hasn't been great lately. As a result, several months ago I flipped the "I'm poor!" switch that's been lingering in my brain since I was a student, and so I avoid almost all unnecessary spending(a small recreation budget is allowed, for sanity, but otherwise it's necessities and business expenses only). Every few months I review spending to see if there's any excessive categories, but my intuition has been pretty good.

And yeah, everything on plastic. Not even because of tracking, mostly because Visa gives me 1% cash back, which is a better bribe than anyone else offers.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-02T16:37:28.940Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

which is a better bribe than anyone else offers

Some cards will give you 1.5% back and I think I've seen an ad for a Citibank card that gives you 1% on purchase plus another 1% on payment.

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-02T20:22:54.951Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Most of those have annual fees, though - I've done the math, my spending isn't high enough to justify them. My 1% card is free. Also, I have my credit card number memorized, so changing it would impose a fairly high annoyance burden on me. But it's worth noting for those who have higher spending patterns than I do(~$1000-1500/month on credit).

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-02T20:36:48.652Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Most of those have annual fees, though

Nope.

Here is the 1.5% Capital One card.

Here is the 2% Citi card.

comment by Alsadius · 2014-12-02T23:44:34.361Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

For clarity, I'm in Canada. All the card offers I've seen up here that are meaningfully better than 1% have fees. Americans can take note of those, though.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-03T06:34:53.058Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah. Sorry for my presumption.

comment by hyporational · 2014-12-05T03:05:11.281Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I did a rough estimation of my normal monthly costs of living and then added a small amount for fun. The rest of my monthly paycheck gets semi-automatically invested in ETFs and can't be used without transaction costs. I have a small buffer account that I can use for unexpected expenses and if this happens I'll be aware of it the next month and try to spend less and grow the buffer account.

comment by Manfred · 2014-12-02T00:27:57.295Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Once you have a few thousand socked away, remember to start investing and picking up your free money.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-04T16:05:07.643Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

LessWrong in Alameda:

I've posted elsewhere that I'm applying for work in Alameda, CA. At the moment, I'm not at the top of the list to get the job but I'm still in the running, so, before any further interviews occur, I decided I'd ask this.

Do any LWers live or work in Alameda? Given our strong connection to the Bay Area, I'm assuming at least a few people are from the island. I'd especially be interested in talking to anyone working at the library(ies) there. I'd like to get an idea of Alameda from an LWer's perspective. If it's a good place to live, work.

Also, if things end up going well, I'm hoping to find a roommate. There are few places I'd prefer to look than here. For now, though, I'm just hoping to get an idea of Alameda from the LessWrong view.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-04T14:56:59.595Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I am trying to design a competition for students focused on Bayesian understanding of ecology. Could I ask here for some pointers? I will have data on 2 sets of maybe physiologically linked parameters (from some research I plan to do next summer), and then offer the students to review qualitative descriptions of the link between them, like 'Some plants having mycorrhiza have higher biomass than the average - 3 populations out of 5' (see L. Carroll, The game of logic.) There will be other variables that might correlate with mycorrhiza more or less strongly than total biomass, and the students will have to make an educated guess as to which variable (s) have better predictive value (that is somewhat like what we start from in 'real life', if the subject has not been rigorously researched before). For this task the participants will have a month. Then on some set day I will call those of them who have offered the more substantial explanations and give them exact probabilities of, say, (plant having mycorrhiza)/(plant having a higher than average biomass) etc. so they could compute the posterior probability of a GIVEN plant having mycorrhiza. Bonus points if they note that the variable(s) they have chosen work worse than some other one(s). For this task they will have several hours. What is perhaps more interesting to me is not the number they will give, but the way they will arrive at it. I would gladly share the experimental data with anybody interested in a similar experiment. Is there some advice you can give me? Thank you.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-12-03T16:14:41.076Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Self Help Books

I'm looking to buy a couple audiobooks from Amazon. Any good recommendations?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-12-03T19:18:09.160Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is a filter rather than a recommendation, but read the reviews to find out whether people used the book rather than just finding it a pleasant read.

What are you hoping to improve about your life?

comment by Ritalin · 2014-12-04T11:31:15.573Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Right now I think my two weakest points are:

  • Akrasia: I have a lot of trouble keeping a proper sleeping schedule and not slipping into night owl lifestyle, going to the gym as often as I should, keeping my diet, and, depending on the circumstances, I have a lot of trouble keeping myself motivated, organized, and productive.
  • Relatively poor social skills. They're not nearly as bad as they once were, but I still find myself somewhat clumsy and awkward, in the way high IQ people tend to be. Out of synch. Having different priorities than the folks around me. Coming up with stuff out of left field. Spacing out, being prompted to explain, retelling a train of thought that to them seems convoluted and to me seems natural. Having a terrible time maintaining proper etiquette, especially table manners.

Either I'm put down "crazy" or put in a pedestal as "genius", but I'm always put aside, and have very few friends. Love life is similarly disastrous, but I don't think there's a book for people who fall in love too hard, too soon, and too easy.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-12-04T14:11:28.002Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Tentative suggestion: Maybe you need to live somewhere where you have more access to smart people.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-12-04T14:59:08.390Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

They're a bit hard to come by, and, let's face it, we can be hard to live with even among ourselves.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-01T19:40:54.437Z · score: -7 (19 votes) · LW · GW

Go girl power! When reason fails, boobs have a chance.

:-D

comment by Minds_Eye · 2014-12-01T20:59:01.179Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

When reason fails, boobs have a chance.

...Ok, Obviously enough that's an affective plan, (even if it is dark arts-ish) but are you posting this as news or a recruitment attempt?

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-01T21:34:49.465Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Teh internets do not lack for "show us your boobs" places, so no, no recruitment :-) I just like the irony.