Yet More "Stupid" Questions

post by NancyLebovitz · 2013-09-08T14:18:45.010Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 269 comments

This is a thread where people can ask questions that they would ordinarily feel embarrassed for not knowing the answer to. The previous "stupid" questions thread is at almost 500 questions in about a month, so I think it's time for a new one.

Also, I have a new "stupid" question.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by James_Miller · 2013-09-08T16:48:36.879Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is eating vegetables extremely healthy? How strong is the evidence?

Replies from: Ishaan, DanArmak, RomeoStevens
comment by Ishaan · 2013-09-08T17:59:01.184Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, Extremely strong - it's among the extremely few statements which are uncontroversial in nutrition.

google scholar -> vegetables health -->

--> assorted references

Edit: I think it's more accurate to say that vegetable deprivation is extremely harmful. It's not like eating additional vegetables leads to additional health!

Psychologically speaking, it is helpful to think of eating vegetables as the default state which we actively deviate from, not a thing which we actively do to stay healthy. That's why I like words such as "sedentism" - it makes you feel like you are actively harming your body rather than passively allowing it to be harmed, similar to "alcoholism".

Replies from: NancyLebovitz, FiftyTwo, passive_fist
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-09-08T21:59:31.946Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was wondering whether fruits and vegetables were substitutable for each other. The article seems to leave the question open.

Replies from: Ishaan, ephion, RichardKennaway, drethelin
comment by Ishaan · 2013-09-08T23:28:31.635Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Did a very cursory search, didn't find anything professional. Here's an amateur meta-analysis that attempts to tackle it:

Methodology seems legit to me, the data is from a reliable source, and it also more or less conforms to what I'd intuitively expect.

Do keep in mind that this is nutrient density per weight, not nutrient density per calorie. How much of a food you can eat will depend more on the latter, and I'm guessing fruits have more calorie per gram then veggies (making vegetables even more important)

Replies from: tgb
comment by tgb · 2013-09-09T02:39:42.247Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That is a surprisingly well done guide there. As someone who just today went online to check whether my (rather repetitive) diet meets basic nutrition guidelines, I am surprised to find anything approaching a thorough, easy-to-use presentation of this data. Everything out there seems to be aimed at calorie-counting or high-fructose corn syrup scare. It's almost as if the internet's nutrition websites weren't designed for munchkining your diet!

On that note, can anyone recommend a good tool, database, website, or whatever for helping one to make good dietary choices? I'm talking about things like noticing that I should be replacing kidney beans with lentils*, that kind of low-level thing.

*Made up example, I have no idea how the two compare.

Replies from: Ishaan, NancyLebovitz
comment by Ishaan · 2013-09-09T18:55:43.131Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's almost as if the internet's nutrition websites weren't designed for munchkining your diet!

This is because while the field of nutrition is currently at the point where it can prevent serious deficiency (a relatively simple matter of making sure all the important nutrients pass through your guts in sufficient quantity), it's not at the point where it can confidently point to the optimal diet for the average human.

Everyone agrees that fruits and vegetables are generally positive. Everyone agrees that heavily processed foods are generally bad. By the way, Calorie counting is a reasonable path to weight loss and weight gain (though there are other methods) - and everyone agrees that being over/under weight is generally bad. That's about where the agreement ends.

Tackling the harder problems of nutrition would require us to understand more about human metabolism, nutrient absorption, non-nutrient factors like anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, natural toxins (never forget that being eaten is not in the genetic interests of most plants), gut flora, immunological function, and things of that sort.

Just to give you a sense of the chaos here: there are nutritionists who make a case that you shouldn't eat beans or lentils at all. These same folks say that while you are at it stop eating grains in general, and make up the calories with animal fat. At the opposite side of the spectrum, there are nutritionists who say that the optimal diet contains almost zero meat (see - china study). All this confusion is before you add in ethical complications about sustainable food and animal rights.

If you both these strands of advice simultaneously and cut out grains, legumes, and animal fat ... at that point you'll have to start to getting rather creative in order to get sufficient calories, and you're probably pretty far off from optimal at this point.

I could take your request and give you a professional nutritionist's dietary recommendations, but the nutritionist I recommend will necessarily conform to my own stance and you'd be foolish to trust anyone on expert opinion when expert opinion is so diverse. From your perspective, my opinion that the optimal strategy is to model your diet off of what humans ate during the paleolithic would constitute a random shot in a space of common schools of thought - I think Paleolithic diets have a relatively high likelihood of being better than almost all diets which became possible post-agriculture, but as far as you're concerned who the hell am I? Nutrition isn't even my primary area of study, and even if it was, taking the recommendation of a random expert is probably worse than taking the recommendation an expert who was recommended by a random non-expert

Anyway, aside from general purpose tools like google scholar, cochrane reviews, etc... is one of the most user-friendly primary source databases I've come across geared specifically to nutrition. Unfortunately, it's mostly about supplements and single nutrients rather than whole foods, and that's largely because we can be more confident when talking about single molecules than we can about entire foods. On a less empirical note, I've got a generally favorable opinion of the blog posts from which clued me in to several things I hadn't considered before (offal & bones, Vitamin K2, etc) and lean on the practical side. If you prefer to listen to people who are prominent in academia, Loren Cordain has a blog and several influential papers.

Replies from: tgb
comment by tgb · 2013-09-09T19:54:56.893Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Great points - thanks!

How confident is the consensus regarding whether one absolutely should meet the basic FDA minimums for all nutrients/ This would be my first approach towards 'munchkining' - at least looking to see whether I have any deficiencies.

Replies from: Ishaan, ephion
comment by Ishaan · 2013-09-09T20:15:56.949Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure. You'll have to research each nutrient individually - each nutrient is its own little research project.

I'm fairly confident that the optimum amount of vitamin D is probably much higher than the recommended dose. You can take that information into account as you see fit when judging the FDA recommended doses. My guess is that they generally tend to be too low. This might be ignorance, or it might be a precautionary measure to prevent supplement overdose - I'm not sure.

Being of the evolutionary-nutrition school of thought, I'd say the first place to look for deficiencies are the places where our ancestors would have gotten more than us even if we ate optimally given the resources we have. That means Vitamin D (we're sun deprived) Vitamin K2 (we grow up sterile so our gut flora do not synthesize enough) and Omega 3 (grain fed meat is lacking this).

Further deficiencies would probably depend on your individual diet and physiology. And by the way, if you are going to put lots of effort into being healthy, be sure to direct a good portion of that effort into optimizing exercise regimen and stress regulation, both of which are probably more important than diet.

comment by ephion · 2013-09-09T21:30:21.913Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Most FDA RDAs are to avoid a state of deficiency. Example: If you don't eat enough Vitamin C, you'll get scurvy. So eat at least this much vitamin C to avoid scurvy -- there's the RDA.

There are a few examples of nutrients which are naturally produced in the body, but supplementation provides a solid benefit beyond what you'd expect from satisfying a deficiency. Vitamin D is a good example of this: I've been taking 10,000IU Vitamin D (~17xRDA) and I feel MUCH better. Creatine is another good one, where you will produce enough to avoid a deficiency state, but additional supplementation significantly improves performance.

The kicker is that everyone is essentially individual in how they respond to things. Some people react really well to a paleo diet (ie high meat, low starch), whereas some people respond very well to a vegan/high-starch diet. Some people don't respond to creatine or fish oil supplementation, and some people are markedly worse off without it. So approach the question methodically: Change one variable at a time and record how you feel.

Replies from: kalium, Douglas_Knight
comment by kalium · 2013-09-10T19:15:16.095Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually, the FDA RDA for Vitamin C provides enough of this (non-fat-soluble, and therefore very poorly stored in the body) vitamin that your reserve, at equilibrium, will get you through thirty days of complete deprivation with no symptoms. Which is nice, but means that if your intake is below the RDA but decently reliable you will still be fine. I'd be surprised if my intake were above 30% RDA on average, but I have never had symptoms of scurvy.

I second the "individual response" paragraph. A lot of people say they feel hungry and unsatisfied after a full meal of mostly starch. I feel great after eating starch but feel hungry and unsatisfied after a full meal of mostly meat.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-09-11T03:03:40.430Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Most FDA RDAs are to avoid a state of deficiency.

I don't think that's true. As far as I know, they are largely based on normal consumption from a few decades ago.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-09-09T11:15:30.855Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That is a surprisingly well done guide there.

There's nothing like having something to protect. Or possibly, there's nothing like having a science background and something to protect.

comment by ephion · 2013-09-10T15:42:50.221Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Every plant (and every part of the plant) is going to have a different micro- and macronutrient profile. "Healthy" food has a lot of micronutrients (ie vitamins, minerals) and a generally desirable blend of macronutrients (protein, carbs [simple/complex/fiber], fats [saturated, unsaturated, polyunsaturated {omega-6, omega-9, omega 3 (ALA, DHA, EPA)}] jesus sorry for the nesting). "Healthy" isn't a goal but rather a descriptor of things that tend to promote certain goals, generally weight loss or reducing symptoms of cardiovascular disease.

Broccoli has a lot of fiber, micronutrients, and a pretty respectable net carb vs protein ratio. It's pretty much always a good idea to eat broccoli regardless of your health goals. You could say that broccoli has a very favorable calories:nutrients ratio, which you might refer to as nutrient density. An apple has more calories and less protein, micronutrients, and fiber, so you could say that an apple has a worse calorie:nutrients ratio, and is less nutrient dense.

I'd imagine that most of the benefit of vegetables comes from the high nutrient density as compared to fruits, grains, legumes, etc. A potato has less micronutrients than broccoli and over twice as many calories.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-09-08T22:42:39.419Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It (at least, the abstract, the rest is paywalled) deals with "vegetables and fruit" as a single category, not a disjoint union of two. I notice that in the list of subject classifications for the article, one of the classes is "fruit and vegetables".

The everyday distinction between the two is not relevant to nutrition, and there is no scientific distinction. In the technical discourse of the laboratory, some plant organs are called "fruits", "nuts", or various other things, but none are called "vegetables".

The questions to ask are about which fruits and vegetables contain which nutrients.

comment by drethelin · 2013-09-08T22:03:50.813Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it depends on which nutrients you're trying to actually substitute. Fructose seems to have different effects on insulin and digestion than the starches you might find in a potato, and vitamins can break down when cooked so fruits might be a better source than vegetables which are usually cooked.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2013-09-22T22:23:38.991Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some very basic questions given my complete dearth of knowledge:

What are micro-nutrients and anti-oxidants? Why are they good?

What is the minimum quantity of vegetables a normal adult would need to get the benefits described? Do they scale at all with increased consumption?

Replies from: Ishaan
comment by Ishaan · 2013-09-23T02:58:07.348Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

micronutrients are a subset of "vitamins and minerals" that we only need in small amounts. Your body uses them for physiological processes, but doesn't make them. If you don't get them, the physiological processes they are involved in stop working.

Oxygen is a very oxidizing agent. It used to be a metabolic biproduct which was toxic to most life on earth, until one branch of the tree of life evolved to use it for metabolism. We and most other successful organisms are descended from that branch. Even though we've evolved defenses to counter oxygen's harmful effects, it can still harm us. Using oxygen creates byproducts which are also oxidizing agents. These often go and react with other chemicals in your body, in places they aren't supposed to. This is called "oxidative damage". Anti-oxidants counter this effect - usually by making the oxidizing agent react with the anti-oxidant rather than with important parts of your body. But it's complicated, and you can't necessarily always just isolate a bunch of them and swallow them. That might actually hurt you.

comment by passive_fist · 2013-09-08T21:47:04.610Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But what if you could obtain the nutrients available in vegetables through other means?

Replies from: aelephant, Ishaan, RichardKennaway
comment by aelephant · 2013-09-09T00:04:14.006Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Doesn't have the same effect. There was a study where they gave one group Vitamin C & one group ate oranges. The group that got the Vitamin C had no change in Antioxidant activity; only the orange-eating group saw the benefit. Probably there are some other factors involved that we just haven't figured out yet. Eventually maybe reductionism will solve this one, but it hasn't yet.

Here's an article about the study in case I remembered incorrectly:

Replies from: passive_fist
comment by passive_fist · 2013-09-09T00:33:38.748Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's an interesting study, but they also mention that if you could obtain the other chemicals from the oranges (perhaps the flavanones and carotenoids) separately you could get the same effect as eating the fruit. Obviously, oranges are not just vitamin C.

It's true that we don't yet know all the biochemical pathways of nutrition. My question isn't about current knowledge.

Replies from: Ishaan, 4hodmt
comment by Ishaan · 2013-09-09T19:53:02.459Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wait, what exactly are we discussing here?

Isn't it tautological that if you fully understood the health-related properties of an orange, and engineered a food that had all the nutritional properties of an orange and yet was not an orange, then eating the engineered food would be functionally identical to eating an orange from a health related perspective?

Doesn't the fact that the definition of "orange" isn't ontologically fundamental imply that this feat is possible?

If we could do everything fruits and vegetables do through other means, then it goes without saying that we wouldn't need to eat fruits or vegetables.

Replies from: passive_fist
comment by passive_fist · 2013-09-09T21:10:49.725Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The question is can we engineer such a food. I know many people who would say that we simply can't do it with current or near-term technology (like, say, in twenty years).

Replies from: Ishaan
comment by Ishaan · 2013-09-09T22:45:51.315Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think technology is the limiting factor so much as knowing what it is about apples (or other foods) that makes them healthful.

If we actually knew how our bodies worked and what they needed, we could probably make optimally healthy foods right now.

comment by 4hodmt · 2013-09-09T05:33:45.030Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Whole fruit/vegetables act as a sustained release delivery system for their micronutrients, so even supplementing all the relevant micronutrients may not perfectly replicate fruit/vegetables if they're delivered as bare molecules.

Replies from: passive_fist
comment by passive_fist · 2013-09-09T05:44:51.688Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps we could engineer 'sustained release delivery systems' with properties far better than any fruit.

comment by Ishaan · 2013-09-08T23:45:16.165Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It would depend on what other means are. I'm guessing you're thinking along the lines of supplements and artificial meals?

There's still stuff like ratio, absorption, bio-availability, and physical stuff (fiber, etc) to think about. It's not all about getting the nutrients.

We don't really know all the nutrients. The line between "nutrient" and "medication" gets a bit blurred, right? Plant based anti-inflammatory compounds aren't nutrients in that they aren't part of your metabolic chemical reactions, nor will you die without them, but they are still good for you and can stave of disease. "Medication' isn't necessarily the right word, but i don't know if we have a word for that.

I'm sure that something could be equal or superior, I'm just not sure whether or not anything we currently have is equal or superior.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-09-08T22:44:49.069Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It would not change the fact that you can get those nutrients from vegetables.

comment by DanArmak · 2013-09-08T18:37:43.714Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would like to add that it's important to be clear what is meant by "vegetables". The word can mean very different things in different contexts.

Scientifically (in botany, biology or nutrition), "vegetable" means "plant" - all food not derived from an animal. But in colloquial usage, "vegetable" means a small and badly defined subset of that. Wikipedia describes this kind of vegetables as plant food that is not "fruits, grains, or nuts". (Wikipedia also notes a third "culinary" usage, where "vegetable" means "any edible part of a plant with a savory flavor"; I'm not sure what that even means - presumably the usage of "savory" is not the colloquial one!)

In colloquial use, "vegetables" are opposed to "fruits" and distinct from "nuts", "berries" and "grains". Of course, many such "vegetables" are also botanical fruits (like tomatoes), and so are all berries and nuts; grains are the seeds of fruits.

Many (most? nearly all?) of the benefits that can be obtained from eating colloquial!vegetables can also be obtained from at least some other plant food. There's a huge difference between a diet of only animal food, and a diet that contains everything except colloquial!Vegetables which are "not fruit".

Replies from: Adele_L, ChristianKl
comment by Adele_L · 2013-09-08T19:30:04.159Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Regarding culinary usage, I think that "savory" is being used for anything which does not have sweet or sour flavors as the dominant flavor. So, tomatoes, peppers, etc... are considered vegetables, while apples and lemons are considered fruits.

Replies from: ChristianKl, CAE_Jones
comment by ChristianKl · 2013-09-11T11:13:45.856Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, tomatoes, peppers, etc... are considered vegetables

Whether or not tomatoes are vegetables depends a lot on the context.

comment by CAE_Jones · 2013-09-08T23:23:55.182Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Could be referring to Umami (most commonly translated as savory), one of the primary flavors with dedicated tastebuds in the "five flavors" model. (The others being sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Anecdotally, I forgot Umami pretty quickly after learning these in kindergarten, and no one I asked about it to try and refresh my memory could come up with any fifth flavor other than spicy (which is something different entirely); I eventually looked it up on Wikipedia, I think during my recent search for terminology related to each of the traditional five senses). I fI remember correctly, tomatoes are specifically listed in the wikipedia article as being high in umami.

Replies from: kalium
comment by kalium · 2013-09-09T01:57:17.552Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A lot of vegetables don't have umami themselves but are improved by its addition (potatoes for example). I believe these would also count as "savory."

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-09-11T11:21:27.326Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wikipedia also notes a third "culinary" usage, where "vegetable" means "any edible part of a plant with a savory flavor"; I'm not sure what that even means - presumably the usage of "savory" is not the colloquial one!

It basically means the kind of plants that you use in a main dish in traditional cooking.

You can use apples in a salad but you don't serve spaghetti with apple soup.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-09-09T02:46:46.685Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The evidence that eating vegetables independent of their micronutrient content is weak AFAIK. Most micronutrients have denser sources than veggies available. We also don't see indigenous populations pursue the rather calorie poor greens that are usually advocated. Instead it's mostly tubers, fruits, nuts and seeds that complement animal products.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-09-09T11:17:13.316Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Eating veggies with fats or oil seems to be fairly common. Anyone know whether it's anything like universal?

comment by lsparrish · 2013-09-09T14:53:51.961Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is accounting underrated in most nerd circles? What would a transhumanist or rationalist take on accounting look like? Are there any good blog posts introducing accounting to make it look like an awesome and exciting topic?

The reason I ask is that as I've gotten some actual experience working at a software business, I notice a lot of time and effort seems to go into making sure the numbers add up. At first I thought this was largely wasted, but lately I've been thinking it helps combat many of the kinds of things we talk about here such as scale blindness... It's sort of like an intelligence augmentation that lets us tackle resource allocation issues we did not evolve natural intuitions to solve.

Replies from: Swimmy, Alsadius
comment by Swimmy · 2013-09-11T01:48:13.203Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know if accounting is underrated, and I don't know if anyone has made accounting look awesome and exciting on its own. But conditional on finding scam-busting interesting, which I guess a lot of skeptics do, there are several books on auditing, how companies cook the books, how to detect unethical accounting practices through various statistical techniques, etc. In fact most of the techniques are subtle because they tend to bend the rules just a little bit more than auditing professionals prefer. The rules can already be legally bent significantly because of how many different ways there are to operate a business.

comment by Alsadius · 2013-09-16T23:25:56.957Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect that accounting is sufficiently well-optimized that a rationalist take on it would be a waste of time. Most of the questionable decisions made in the field are due to overlaps with the madness-inducing world of tax law or the simple fact that the future is uncertain and assessing an object's value other than through a cash sale is expensive. But double-entry bookkeeping and assets-liabilities=equity aren't ever going to change.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-09-08T23:13:13.504Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm looking over the table of contents to Intelligence Explosion Microeconomics, and it doesn't look as though there's any reference to what seems to me would be the most relevant topic of consideration to an intelligence explosion: returns on AI research. As I previously pointed out, an AGI that was just as "smart" as all the world's AI researchers combined would make AI progress at the same slow rate they are making AI progress, with no explosion. Having that AI make itself 10% "smarter" (which would take a long time--it's only as smart as the world's AI researchers) would only result in self-improvement progress that was 10% faster. In other words, it'd be exponential, yes, but it'd be an exponential like human economic growth, not like a nuclear chain reaction.

The empirical finding that when you combine the brainpower of the world's AI researchers (who are very smart people, according to a reliable source of mine), they get such low returns in terms of finding new useful AI insights, seems to me like it should weigh more than reasoning by analogy from non-AI domains.

(But even given this empirical finding, the question seems hopelessly uncertain to me, and I'm curious what justification anyone would give from updating strongly from even odds. The most salient observation I made from my recent PredictionBook experiment is that if a question is interesting enough for me to put it in PredictionBook, then I know less than I think about it and I'm best off giving it 50/50 odds. I suspect this applies to other humans, e.g. Jonah Sinick expressed a similar sentiment to me the other day. So a priori, the very fact that two smart people, Robin and Eliezer, take opposite sides of an issue should make us reluctant to assign any strong probabilities... I think :P)

Replies from: Manfred, Gurkenglas, drethelin, Randaly
comment by Manfred · 2013-09-09T09:41:19.617Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So a priori, the very fact that two smart people, Robin and Eliezer, take opposite sides of an issue should make us reluctant to assign any strong probabilities... I think :P

Suppose experts' opinions were assigned by coin flip with a weighted coin, where the weight of the coin is the probability that makes best use of available information.

If we go to the first expert and they hold opinion Heads, what do we think the weighting of the coin is? 2/3. But then another expert comes along with opinion Tails, and so our probability goes back to 1/2. Last, we meet another expert with opinion Heads. But jaded as we are, we only update our probability to 3/5 - or 0.6 rather than 0.66666.

So, sure. :P Although this sort of model makes less sense once you start evaluating the rhyme and reason behind the experts' opinions rather than just taking them as opaque data points.

Replies from: John_Maxwell_IV
comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-09-09T17:58:44.382Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't really trust Robin and Eliezer to be well-calibrated about what they don't know. One way to become a public figure is to make interesting predictions, and both have used this strategy. So polling public-figure-ish smart people as opposed to smart people in general will tend to get us a more confidently expressed and interesting-for-the-sake-of-interesting set of opinions. Also, neither has a PredictionBook account that's actively used (as far as I know; I've recently been using a pseudonym and maybe one of them is as well).

For some perspective, my younger brother Tim is very smart and in his years of peak intelligence, but does not have the high status associated with writing a widely read blog or being a professor, and his view on singularity related stuff, as far as I can tell, is that the future is too hard to predict for it to be worth bothering with. You could say that Robin and Eliezer are authorities on singularity-related topics because they write widely read blogs about them, but they write widely read blogs about them because they have positive predictions to make. So there's a selection effect. If a smart person thinks the future is very uncertain, they aren't going to put in the time & effort necessary to seem like a legitimate authority on the topic. (If you want someone who's an authority on another topic who seems to agree with my brother, here's Daniel Kahnman.)

This poll of Jane Street Capital geniuses seem like an even stronger argument that we shouldn't have a strong opinion in either direction.

comment by Gurkenglas · 2013-09-09T05:49:27.584Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When any speedup of 10% takes a constant amount n of computations, you get, for the computational speed f, the approximating differential equation f' [increase in speed over time] = 0.1f [10% increase] / n/f [time needed for that increase].

This diverges in finite time. Where are you getting exponential growth from?

Replies from: John_Maxwell_IV
comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-09-09T06:10:16.569Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When any speedup of 10% takes a constant amount n of computations

I didn't make this assumption--my model assumes that increasing the brainpower of an already-very-smart intelligence by 10% would be harder for a human AI researcher than increasing the brainpower of a pretty-dumb intelligence by 10%. It is an interesting assumption to consider, however.

Anyway, exponential growth is for quantities that grow at a rate directly proportionate to the quantity. So if you can improve your intelligence at a rate that's a constant multiple of how smart you are, then we'd expect to see your intelligence grow exponentially. Given data from humans trying to build AIs, we should expect this constant multiple to be pretty low. If you want a somewhat more detailed justification, you can take a stab at reading my original essay on this topic (warning: has some bad/incorrect ideas; read the comments).

comment by drethelin · 2013-09-09T05:43:10.134Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

An AI as smart as all the world's AI scientists would make progress faster than them (not saying how much faster or if it would foom) because

A it would be perfectly coordinated. If every AI researcher knew what every other was thinking about AI ideas would be tested and examined faster. Communication would be not a problem, whiteboards unnecessary

B I'm not sure if you meant smartness as Intelligence or as optimization power but an AI that had the combined intelligence of all the AI researchers would have MORE optimization power because this intelligence would not be held back by emotions, sleep, or human biases (except those accidentally built-in to the AI)

C Faster iteration: All the AI scientists can't actually test and run a change in the code of an AI because there's both no code and they don't have the supercomputer. Once you have an AI running on a computer it can implement good ideas or test ideas for goodness far faster and more empirically.

D It can do actual empiricism on AI mind, as opposed to what AI researchers now can do.

See also what Randaly said. For similar reasons as Robin Hanson's Emu Hell, a digital computer-bound mind will just be better at a lot of tasks than ones running in meat.

Replies from: ChristianKl, John_Maxwell_IV
comment by ChristianKl · 2013-09-09T09:28:44.150Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A it would be perfectly coordinated. If every AI researcher knew what every other was thinking about AI ideas would be tested and examined faster. Communication would be not a problem, whiteboards unnecessary

I don't think that has to be true. For some AI design it might be, for other it might be false.

B I'm not sure if you meant smartness as Intelligence or as optimization power but an AI that had the combined intelligence of all the AI researchers would have MORE optimization power because this intelligence would not be held back by emotions, sleep, or human biases (except those accidentally built-in to the AI)

I think you underrate the use of human heuristics and human emotions. Human biases happen because our heuristics have some weaknesses. It however doesn't mean that our heuristics aren't pretty good.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-09-09T05:56:58.649Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To clarify: it's as smart as them in the sense that when you take in to account factors A-D (and similar factors), its intellectual output on any problem (including AGI research) would be similar.

It sounds like with factor C, you are saying that you expect AI insights to come faster once an working, if slow, AGI implementation is available. I don't think this is obvious. "Once you have an AI running on a computer it can implement good ideas or test ideas for goodness far faster and more empirically." We already have computers available for testing out AI insights.

Replies from: drethelin
comment by drethelin · 2013-09-09T06:11:40.821Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not really? You can test out pattern-matching or whatnot algorithms but you can't test out anything more generalized or as part of anything more generalized like problem-solving algorithms because those would require you to have an entity within which to run them.

Replies from: John_Maxwell_IV
comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-09-09T06:13:16.901Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hm, plausible. To restate: if a mind consists of lots of little components that are useless on their own and only work well on concert, then it'll be hard to optimize any given component without the mind that surrounds it, because it's hard to gather data on which component designs work better. Does that seem accurate?

Replies from: drethelin, drethelin
comment by drethelin · 2013-09-09T06:27:39.206Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

yes though I think face and voice recognition software show us that many of the algorithms can be useful on their own. But eg: an algorithm for prioritizing face vs voice recognition when talking to humans is not.

comment by drethelin · 2013-09-09T06:16:36.628Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I also think all the AI developers in the world will have a higher pace of developments post functioning AIs than beforehand, which might be relevant if fooming for whatever reason does not take place. Sort of like Steam Engine time: All the little valves and pressure regulators someone could invent and try out will suddenly become a thing

comment by Randaly · 2013-09-09T05:05:41.169Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As I previously pointed out, an AGI that was just as "smart" as all the world's AI researchers combined would make AI progress at the same slow rate they are making AI progress, with no explosion.

Human neurons run at ~100 hertz; computer run at a few gigahertz. An AGI would be millions of times faster by default.

Having that AI make itself 10% "smarter" (which would take a long time--it's only as smart as the world's AI researchers) would only result in self-improvement progress that was 10% faster.

This seems wrong to me- can you justify this?

Replies from: ChristianKl, John_Maxwell_IV
comment by ChristianKl · 2013-09-09T09:31:31.338Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Human neurons run at ~100 hertz; computer run at a few gigahertz. An AGI would be millions of times faster by default.

I don't think that's a reasonable comparison. Neurons do a bunch of calculations. It's easy to imagine a AI that would have need a second to get from one mental state to the next.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-09-09T05:52:29.800Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Human neurons run at ~100 hertz; computer run at a few gigahertz. An AGI would be millions of times faster by default.

By that logic, we should have an AI that's millions of times faster than a human already merely by the virtue of being implemented on silicon hardware.

There are two inputs to intelligence: software and hardware. Combined, they produce a system that reasons. When the artificial system that reasons is brought to a point where it is as "smart" as the world's AI researchers, it will produce AI insights at the same speed they do. I don't see how the combination of software/hardware inputs that produced that result is especially important.

This seems wrong to me- can you justify this?

Which part? The part where the AI makes progress at the rate I said it would in the previous paragraph? In that case, your issue is with the previous paragraph, as I'm just restating what I already said. The only new thing is that an AI that's 10% smarter would find insights 10% faster... I agree that I'm being kinda handwavey here, but hopefully the waving is vaguely plausbile.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-09-09T17:01:26.154Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I happen to have a deficiency or excess of some nutrient, how would I tell? That is, what experienced symptoms should suggest to me a change to my diet?

Replies from: kalium, ChristianKl
comment by kalium · 2013-09-09T19:42:18.825Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Symptoms of vitamin C deficiency: Slow healing of injuries, small mouth sores that don't heal, malaise, lethargy.

Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency: Fragile bones, muscle weakness or twitching.

Symptoms of iron deficiency: Anemia, weakness, sometimes pica (a desire to eat ice cubes, clay, or some other non-food item). They test for this when you donate blood, so you don't have to involve a doctor to find out if you're deficient in iron.

Other deficiencies are much less common (at least I don't know anyone who's had them).

Replies from: FiftyTwo
comment by FiftyTwo · 2013-09-22T22:27:46.886Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Slight tangent, does "malaise" have a more specific meaning in this context? Google gives me "generalized feeling of discomfort, illness, or lack of well-being." which is unhelpful.

Replies from: kalium
comment by kalium · 2013-09-23T07:59:19.561Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It means exactly that. It's not a good diagnostic symptom since (a) it may come on slowly and not be noticed as a change and (b) there are a huge number of things that could cause it. But if I noticed small mouth sores and then realized I had been feeling vaguely bad for weeks I would be more concerned about a vitamin deficiency than if only the first symptom were present. (Otherwise, well, maybe I have picked up a habit of biting my lips in my sleep.)

The symptoms of vitamin D deficiency I found are even less useful. Neither of the people I know who've had it had mentioned muscle weakness or twitching in particular, and you really want to find out you're deficient before your bones are breaking all the time. Luckily, unless you sunburn very easily, or have dark skin and live in a temperate or higher latitude, you can synthesize plenty of this one yourself without worrying about diet.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-09-09T18:17:56.286Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you think that you might have an issue get blood testing. Afterwards you know if you lack some nutrient that the test investigates.

Replies from: RomeoStevens
comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-09-10T00:27:09.916Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I recommend privatemdlabs. Much cheaper for many people than going through the song and dance of getting a referral from a GP and then wheedling the raw results out of them (GP's don't like to share info IME).

comment by mare-of-night · 2013-09-09T00:40:23.092Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm about to start reading up on which treatments for mental disorders actually work. (Things like how CBT is significantly more effective against depression than most other therapies.) I'm also interested in things other than formal treatment that affect a person's odds of recovery - exercise, life circumstances, etc. I expect this might be a tricky thing to research, since the variety of treatments available indicates it's not a solved problem even within the psychology community.

I've never done this sort of research before, so I'm not sure how to go about it. What sorts of places should I look? (I'm a student, so I can get past paywalls - though I'm not sure whether reading academic papers is efficient.) How do I recognize a reliable source of information when I see one? What search terms should I use to find comparisons or evaluations of treatments?

Also, as a quick sanity check - I'm doing this under the assumption that most psychology and psychiatry professionals will be biased in favor of things within their own area of expertise, and that there's a significant chance (though possibly small - I don't know) of a medical general practitioner not knowing enough (about the field and/or the specific patient) to recommend the right kind of specialist. And so it'd be possible to learn enough by reading a lot that my knowledge could be useful in addition to that of professionals. Is this accurate? (No appointments are being put off because of this, I just want to make sure I'm not wasting my time.)

Replies from: dougclow, dougclow, maia, ChristianKl, Izeinwinter
comment by dougclow · 2013-09-09T10:41:10.602Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Short response: Check out the Cochrane Library on mental health. (Browse by Topics in the left-hand side, Expand, then click on Mental Health - as of just now there are 406 entries.)

Evaluating healthcare interventions is hard. The gold standard is a randomised controlled trial (RCT), published in a peer reviewed journal. But there are all sorts of problems with single trials, some of which you allude to here. It's a really great idea to do a systematic review of all published trials and combine the good ones to get the best evidence available.

Doing this well is really hard - you need specialist expertise in the specific area to correctly interpret the primary literature (the RCTs), and specialist skills in systematic reviewing (as with RCTs themselves, there are many obvious and subtle issues about how to do them well). And it takes ages.

Luckily, there's an international collaboration of people, called the Cochrane Collaboration who get together to do this sort of thing, and have been beavering away for 20 years.

Unless you have significant resources, you are unlikely to do better on any topic than the latest available Cochrane Review. And if you do have significant resources, you're likely to do well to start with it.

When a health issue pops up for me or someone I care about, I jump straight for the Cochrane review (and also any relevant guidelines and protocols, but that's a tier down the evidence quality pyramid), and it's like I'm getting a well thought-through briefing from the world's experts on what we currently know about what works and what doesn't.

I love it.

As a postscript, there is a whole field of healthcare informatics that looks at how to find good academic papers on a particular issue - I once ran a whole course on the topic (and related ones). The shortcut answer is 'use Cochrane'; the long spadework answer is 'search Medline'.

Good luck.

Replies from: mare-of-night, Bakkot
comment by mare-of-night · 2013-09-09T11:04:53.693Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wow, now I'm really glad I asked! This sounds like exactly what I was looking for. Thank you!

Replies from: dougclow
comment by dougclow · 2013-09-09T11:35:19.012Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're welcome. Glad to help.

I forgot to mention: if you have money rather than time available, there's MetaMed, which has personnel overlaps with LW, and does the looking-up job for you for a fee. See the write-up/pitch for it by Eliezer.

Replies from: mare-of-night
comment by mare-of-night · 2013-09-09T11:44:53.399Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not quite enough of it for MetaMed, but thank you for the suggestion.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-09-09T14:44:15.809Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This health coach seems sensible, and might be cheaper than Metamed.

Replies from: EvelynM
comment by EvelynM · 2013-09-09T14:53:08.076Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nancy, what made you think that coach was sensible?

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-09-11T13:48:18.443Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

He takes individual variation very seriously. Blood and saliva tests are a good idea before supplements because needs and reactions for supplements vary a lot.

He believes that the human body has evolved to be good at living, and it's better to support it and find out what's getting in its way rather than just trying to prevent symptoms.

At the same time, he also comes up with a scoring system for a person's symptoms-- efforts at treatment should either improve the score or be discontinued.

Possibly important for LW: He believes that very low carb diets + hard exercise with insufficient recovery + fasting all increase stress hormones, and can lead to exhaustion that takes a lot of time and work to cure, and that people don't necessarily get a lot of warning before they're in trouble.

Replies from: wedrifid, EvelynM
comment by wedrifid · 2013-09-12T04:19:35.119Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Possibly important for LW: He believes that very low carb diets + hard exercise with insufficient recovery + fasting all increase stress hormones, and can lead to exhaustion that takes a lot of time and work to cure, and that people don't necessarily get a lot of warning before they're in trouble.

In general this seems accurate but I request clarification regarding the 'hard exercise' claim. The word 'hard' in that context sets off warning bells. While either suitably extreme instantiation of 'hard' or a tautological instantiation of 'insufficient recovery' could make this claim denotatively true the connotations are something to be wary of. In particular I would like to assert the following claims and in so doing invite disagreement if the advice from your source happens to contradict them:

  • High intensity exercise is better than low intensity exercise in terms of effect on stress hormones. For a given degree of physiological distress and fatigue induced better stress hormone results come from high intensity exercise than low intensity exercise.
  • For the prevention of overtraining---the state where recovery is insufficient to the demands of exercise---an often effective solution is to reduce the amount of low intensity exercise and replace it with high intensity exercise. Obviously there will be less exercise as measured by time but more by measures of physical adaptation.
  • Except in extreme cases the effect of high intensity exercise on stress hormones is decidedly positive. Not only does such exertion reduce the level of stress hormones (and stress) in the body on average it also makes the body better able to resist the effects of stress. In particular the new neurons produced due to high intensity exercise are less vulnerable to destruction via chronic or acute stress. Many rats died in the discovery of this phenomenon.

I don't wish to criticise or reject your source. Pardon me if I am excessively wary of the wording. Unless his advice contradicts the above claims, what you have conveyed of his lessons thus far indicates that he is worth listening to. I'll add that his observation about fasting matches my research on the subject. Those that eat irregularly can in general improve their cortisol levels by consuming protein in the morning---that seems to be a fairly consistent finding.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-09-12T09:38:05.976Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

From memory, since I don't want to hack through the podcast again: He came up with an extreme example (something like Crossfit + an hour of cardio a day) and then clarified by saying that Crossfit can be very good, but it's important to have a coach rather than do it on your own, and also something to the effect while it's better to get blood tests and such, you have a clue that you're pushing yourself too hard if you're developing sleep problems.

From his blog: On combining fasting and exercise.

From a different source: Serious problems with "Strong is the new skinny"-- take a took at the number of comments from coaches who say they have to restrain their clients from over-training. I think there's a cultural problem.

Fasting can be bad for people with disregulated cortisol.

comment by EvelynM · 2013-09-11T17:43:45.216Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks NancyLebovitz.

The more I learn about human metabolism, the more I realize how complex it is. And because of that, I am more skeptical of simple, broad claims, that aren't backed up by solid research.

comment by Bakkot · 2013-09-10T21:23:03.970Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wasn't familiar with Cochrane; that looks like an excellent resource. Unfortunately, it looks like a lot of summaries haven't been updated in a decade - is this something to be worried about, and if so, is there another resource someone can recommend other than simply reading PubMed and doing your own meta-analysis?

comment by dougclow · 2013-09-09T10:59:54.048Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On the more personal question of what to do here to get the best treatment:

You care more about your condition than any medic, and so are motivated to spend more time on it. However, a general practitioner will have much more experience than you in diagnosing and treating mental health issues in the general population, and a specialist in mental health will know more about their area specifically than you can realistically hope to. (Unless you have a very rare condition, have the background chops to be a doctor, and put in an awful lot of work - which some people do.)

My guess is that you can almost certainly learn enough to be very helpful in decision-making about your condition. I wouldn't bother with the primary literature though - go for Cochrane Reviews and NICE Guidelines (here's the ones for mental health), and recent textbooks.

(NICE is a UK health body that basically takes the sort of information you get from Cochrane Reviews about what works and does some clever sums to work out what makes sense to do in yielding the highest number of QALYs given a fixed budget for healthcare.)

It's not always an easy ride - some clinicians have a morbid fear of patients who have 'consulted Dr Google' - and not without good reason.

But if you go along seeing yourself as an informed patient trying to engage in shared decision-making, most are happy about it in my experience. (Though my experience is limited to the UK.) If they're threatened by you mentioning this sort of evidence, I'd take it as a clear sign to change (if you possibly can).

It also puts you right on the sharp end of the distinction between what's true of a population and what's true for you.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2013-09-11T12:04:03.363Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My guess is that you can almost certainly learn enough to be very helpful in decision-making about your condition.

"Helpful in decision-making" is a curious way of speaking about mental health. In it's core mental health is about changing what the patient does and not about the doctor.

For a lot of mental health issues it matters whether a patient feels agency.

My guess is that you can almost certainly learn enough to be very helpful in decision-making about your condition. I wouldn't bother with the primary literature though

Don't underrate primary literature. Reading it can help you to build understanding of what the disease is about. There are a lot of details that get stripped out in reviews.

Replies from: dougclow
comment by dougclow · 2013-09-11T12:56:22.721Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Helpful in decision-making" is a curious way of speaking about mental health.

For clarity, I meant "learn enough to be very helpful to you in your decision-making about your condition", rather than useful to the doctor. (Which is not to say that it might not also be helpful to the doctor.)

For a lot of mental health issues it matters whether a patient feels agency.

Yes, absolutely - so for mental health issues it can be particularly helpful to learn enough about your situation and possible interventions so that you can be more involved in the decisions about them, rather than the locus of control lying with the clinician.

comment by maia · 2013-09-09T03:04:11.354Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you haven't picked it up already, Feeling Good is a very good introduction to CBT. Also, according to its introduction, studies have shown that reading the book and doing the homework is surprisingly effective at treating depression on its own, in many cases. But maybe you already are up to speed on that stuff.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-09-09T18:23:55.476Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What's you goal? Do you want to help a specific person or do you want to gather general knowledge.

A clinical trial can tell you whether a treatment works for the average person. It however can't tell you whether it works for a specific person.

When it comes to helping a specific person with a serious issue the correct solution is often about trying multiple approaches. If you try 9 things and one works you win.

When it comes to therapist, it's important to have good chemistry with the therapist. If you don't fell comfortable with a certain therapist they probably won't be able to help you even if the practice a technique with has studies to back it up.

Replies from: mare-of-night
comment by mare-of-night · 2013-09-09T23:10:46.119Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for the advice - these all seem like good ideas. Multiple approaches is what I was thinking - I was going to find out what's out there, and start with the ones that seem the most likely to work and don't conflict with each other or add up to be too costly (for example, you can only do so many time-consuming things concurrently).

I have a specific person in mind, and am intentionally being vague about whether it's me or someone else and who. I know it's not very polite to ask for help with a problem without saying what the problem is, and I'm sorry for doing that. I was iffy about posting at all for privacy reasons, but I knew that good advice on this would be really valuable, so the best I could come up with was posting but giving minimal information.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2013-09-09T23:28:17.284Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was going to find out what's out there, and start with the ones that seem the most likely to work and don't conflict with each other or add up to be too costly (for example, you can only do so many time-consuming things concurrently).

In this case I think it makes sense to try some simple methods even if they don't have peer reviewed research behind them. lists for most conditions the treatments that patients found useful.

Replies from: mare-of-night
comment by mare-of-night · 2013-09-09T23:56:26.262Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was also thinking this - stuff like changing diet is pretty easy to try out.

comment by Izeinwinter · 2013-09-11T13:11:54.891Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My personal readings on.. pretty much this exact subject .. is that there are a handful of effective drugs for specific - easily identifiable - problems and a larger number of drugs that mostly just calm you the heck down, and that misdiagnosis is a really major problem for both effective treatment and the development of treatments.

If you are bi-polar, then any doctor or shrink worth his salt is going to diagnose that correctly, and lithium will help. If you have a problem with a less clear cut set of symptoms? You are going to wind up with a diagnosis. Some diagnosis. Which may, or may not, be even remotely right, but now it is in your medical file, and all further symptoms are read through that filter. It is very rare that a diagnosis gets revised. This in turn makes developing treatments for mental issues a lot harder. When you are trying to develop a cure for a cancer or an infection, the group you test your drugs on will not in fact instead be suffering from fracking lupus. If you are testing a drug or other treatment for any given mental problem? Yhea, if you are really lucky, then half your test group has the actual problem you wish to treat.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz, mare-of-night
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-09-12T09:41:50.267Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're probably somewhat overoptimistic about how good medical diagnosis is (look at the problems around Lyme disease), but it's plausible that the situation is much worse for psychological problems.

comment by mare-of-night · 2013-09-11T20:58:37.830Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is a really, really good point that I hadn't thought of. I remember hearing in an intro to psychology class that psychologists have a worse misdiagnosis rate (or rather, rate of diagnosis being changed later - not necessarily to the correct thing even then) than emergency rooms, but I hadn't thought of how that would affect research.

comment by kgalias · 2013-09-08T19:34:08.647Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Per the vegetables question: what should I eat?

Replies from: Swimmy, None, RomeoStevens, Username, Manfred, wedrifid, bbleeker, aelephant
comment by Swimmy · 2013-09-08T22:34:37.208Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For what goal? Longevity, weight loss, muscle gain, ethics?

Replies from: kgalias
comment by kgalias · 2013-09-09T14:24:30.316Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Longevity and cognitive performance.

Replies from: ephion, diegocaleiro, Swimmy
comment by ephion · 2013-09-10T15:58:25.399Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Longevity: Consider "What kills people?" Heart disease, linked to a shitty diet and inactivity. So eat mostly vegetables, healthy meat (grass-fed free range organic etc.), and limit processed foods. Do cardio so that you don't keel over from basic activity. Cancer is a big one; avoiding carcinogens seems to be the only way to fight that. Again, don't eat much processed food, don't smoke, don't live in a high pollution area, etc... After that, injury from broken bones and bodily weakness are huge problems for elderly people. Do weight training to build muscle mass and bone density (and be sure to eat enough to put on muscle), as muscles and bones get weaker without a training stress.

Replies from: Alsadius
comment by Alsadius · 2013-09-16T23:14:02.680Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why would "organic" be a health-improving characteristic of a food? Organic foods tend to use more and nastier pesticides, contain less nutrients, and as a side benefit they damage the environment far more than normal food because they use more resources.

Edit: In retrospect, this is more a mockery of organic plant farming, not organic animal farming. The environmental concern stands, but they haven't done nearly as much laboratory-based genetic modification of animals(though we've done just as much with selective breeding, of course, which is why GMO complaints always seem funny to me), and I'm not familiar enough with organic livestock chemical use to say for sure that they use worse ones(though it wouldn't surprise me, I can't make that claim confidently enough to do so).

Replies from: Douglas_Knight, ephion
comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-09-23T03:33:36.392Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Organic foods tend to use more and nastier pesticides, contain less nutrients, and as a side benefit they damage the environment far more than normal food because they use more resources.

Could you give sources for these three claims?

I'm most interested in the nutrition one; the first hit on google is contrary.

Actually, what do you mean by "organic"? Your edit makes it sound like you just mean not GMO, while I think it's a lot narrower.

Replies from: Alsadius
comment by Alsadius · 2013-09-23T13:50:55.637Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

See for example this, this, or this - there are safe organic pesticides, but the most effective ones tend to be in the "shockingly lethal products of evolution" category, and are only believed to be safe because of vitalism myths.

The less nutrients thing refers to crops like golden rice, which has been genetically engineered to contain Vitamin A to help stave off 1-2 million people dying every year from deficiency. Naturally, organic food activists are violently opposed to it(sometimes literally).

The more damage refers mostly to the Borlaug hypothesis - using more efficient scientific farming techniques means you can grow more food on less land, which means we need to do less deforestation and can leave more land in its natural state. Also, remember that prices contain information - farmers need to pay for all the resources they use, and those costs are embedded in the price of the food. If organic food costs twice as much, it's probably because organic farming uses twice as many resources. (Admittedly, this does include resources like labour, which isn't strictly a "green" concern, but I like people, so I care about how hard they have to work on top of environmental issues)

comment by ephion · 2013-09-17T17:02:44.277Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was specifically referring to meat, which has much better conditions than factory farming, and much better nutrition as a result.

Replies from: Alsadius
comment by Alsadius · 2013-09-17T22:47:01.334Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But that's a gain due to free-range techniques, not organic prohibitions.

Replies from: ephion
comment by ephion · 2013-09-19T14:46:54.167Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreed. My comment and thought process is USA-centric. Free-range doesn't really mean anything in the US as a standard for poultry, and nothing for other kinds of meat. Organic beef on the other hand has "Must have unrestricted outdoor access" as a required criteria, along with prohibitions on hormones and antibiotics.

Replies from: Alsadius
comment by Alsadius · 2013-09-19T23:12:05.994Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, if you're engaging in rules lawyering I understand completely.

comment by diegocaleiro · 2013-09-10T22:10:52.254Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Don't eat sugar. If you can avoid eating processed man-made sugar (believe me, it is everywhere), you'll by necessity be avoiding so much of the bad stuff. Do that and ephion's tips, you'll be fine. Expect unbelievable difficulty when reducing carbs for the first two weeks, followed by a health, cognition and wakefullness spike, followed by normal life with a little bit more cognitive stability than beforehand.

comment by Swimmy · 2013-09-11T02:00:36.423Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some of the very basics I know from researching veganism:

Moderate meat-eaters seem to have longer lifespans than heavy meat-eaters and vegans. I can't remember if vegetarians are equivalent or a little shorter. This is epidemiological data so take it with a grain of salt--you can eat french fries all day and be considered a vegan, likewise many vegetarians probably substitute meat with unhealthy amounts of cheese. But eating meat-heavy meals for every meal appears to be bad for longevity.

Fish is effective at preventing alzheimer's. This does not seem to be reproducible by taking (overrated) omega-3 fatty acid capsules.

So, eating more vegetarian dishes and fish once every few days or so is probably a good idea. I have no clue what to help with short-term cognitive performance.

Also, moderate wine consumption is extremely good for you. 3 glasses a week can increase your lifespan significantly.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-09-10T21:46:59.186Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some low-hanging fruit:

Avoid artificially concentrated sugars. Don't drink soda or eat candy. Trans fats are almost certainly bad as well, (but are slowly being replaced in most foods). Don't drink too much alcohol. (Also, don't smoke)

The field of nutrition is a mess, but I think the above claims are genuinely noncontroversial, and can lead to larger improvements than any other general or exotic nutritional advice.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-09-09T02:51:30.190Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The cortisol drop I got from using soylent orange probably swamps the actual nutritional impact on my health.

Replies from: None, None
comment by [deleted] · 2013-09-10T02:57:40.370Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What has the daily cost of soylent orange been, and do you not get tired of the taste?

Replies from: RomeoStevens
comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-09-10T04:43:49.297Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's a cost estimate on the spreadsheet. With lactase and a scoop of whey I'm totaling around $2.80 for 1291 calories. But the cost goes up when I add fresh fruit or kefir or ice cream or anything else, which I do for variety.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-09-09T20:05:26.382Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How much does soylent orange cost per day?

comment by Username · 2013-09-09T20:10:05.545Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is probably not a great forum to take nutritional advice from - LW many have human rationality down better than most but the domains of food and methods of thinking are far apart. For what to do, I would either do the research or trust nutritionists that aren't selling anything. Alternatively, find healthy people or populations and ask them what they do.

Replies from: wedrifid, Douglas_Knight, ChristianKl
comment by wedrifid · 2013-09-11T04:08:33.030Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is probably not a great forum to take nutritional advice from - LW many have human rationality down better than most but the domains of food and methods of thinking are far apart.

Questions about what the most instrumentally rational practice is for a task shared by all humans are not not outside the domain of human rationality. If it happens that lesswrong is as bad at nutrition as you imply then that represents a failure according to the expressed and actual values of the site.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-09-11T02:50:56.251Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems to me inconsistent to suggest that a random LW user can usefully "do the research" but cannot usefully extract information from other random LW users, some of which probably believe that they have "done the research."

Replies from: FiftyTwo
comment by FiftyTwo · 2013-09-22T22:42:00.764Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's a selection bias problem, the people most likely to comment are those with strongly held outlier veiws rather than the majority who have considered the problem and come to some moderate solution.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-09-11T11:28:13.886Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For what to do, I would either do the research or trust nutritionists that aren't selling anything.

Nutritionists are a profession. Almost per definition they are selling something.

comment by Manfred · 2013-09-09T00:49:44.475Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

1) Greens with good nutrient contents, such as kale, spinach, asparagus, or the delicious butter lettuce (but not iceberg lettuce, yuck).
2) Sulfur-containing vegetables such as onion, broccoli and cabbage (the Proper recipe for cabbage is to slice it into thin strips and saute it in sesame oil - try it).
3) Variety is good. Eat bell peppers! And some carrots! Have you ever in your life tasted fennel? How many different colors of "green" beans to they sell at your local market?

Replies from: kalium
comment by kalium · 2013-09-09T01:54:41.827Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Proper recipe for dark green vegetables is to fry them at high heat and then add vinegar (ideally rice vinegar and fish sauce, as in pad see ew). Otherwise they are inedibly bitter.

Replies from: 4hodmt
comment by 4hodmt · 2013-09-09T05:22:56.482Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you're cooking for yourself, try them lightly steamed first. There's huge variation in human sensitivity to bitter tastes. I personally have very weak sensitivity to bitter tastes. Your "proper recipe" would ruin dark green vegetables for me.

Replies from: kalium
comment by kalium · 2013-09-09T19:21:38.961Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I figured anyone not sensitive to bitterness would already have found an acceptable way to prepare dark green vegetables and wouldn't be turned off them by trying my recipe (as I was by years of "lightly steamed" greens).

Note, though, that the frying should be quite brief and very little oil should be used.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-09-11T04:29:25.917Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Per the vegetables question: what should I eat?

  • Large amounts of vegetables. In particular the kind that is more like broccoli and less like potato in terms of your best estimate of macro-nutrient content.
  • Minimal amounts of carbohydrate that are not in the aforementioned vegetable form. Avoid grains, sugar and probably artificial sweeteners too. Note that many kinds of fruit count as 'sugar source' and so are far less healthy than I was told in school. Some fruits like berries tend to be lower on the sugar side so are worth looking in to.
  • Plenty of protein and fat. Saturated fat is basically ok (again, in contrast to what I was taught in school). Do be sure to include enough Omega-3 either via fish or supplementation. Avoid trans-fats (like from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils) like the plague. This means the kind of fat typically found in snack foods.
  • Beware soy, gluten and dairy. Response to these foods varies greatly among individuals and various levels of allergy or intolerance are possible, including at a level not dramatic enough to be noticed. Response to these substances can be tested empirically either through self experiment or medical tests. In the case of soy it is usually worth avoiding regardless of any intolerance since it messes with hormone levels.
  • When changing your diet remember to eat enough food. When changing from a diet high in energy dense carbohydrate sources (like bread) to a healthier diet a common mistake is to underestimate how much of the new food is required to supply the same amount of energy. Starvation makes compliance with new dietary practices unlikely.
Replies from: RomeoStevens
comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-09-12T12:27:12.508Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't buy the "sugar is inherently bad" hypothesis. It seems to cause inflammation in high amounts, but excluding the micronutrient dense fruits such as oranges, bananas, apricots, and above all, coconuts, from your diet in moderate amounts seems like an incredibly bad move.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2013-09-12T13:04:56.827Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't buy the "sugar is inherently bad" hypothesis.

I don't know much about inherent badness but if you also happened to not buy the hypothesis "at the margin for the overwhelming majority of people in western civilisation additional sugar is detrimental" then you would be significantly misinformed.

It seems to cause inflammation in high amounts

See also: insulin resistance.

but excluding the micronutrient dense fruits such as oranges, bananas, apricots, and above all, coconuts, from your diet in moderate amounts seems like an incredibly bad move.

I happen to include those foods in my diet. I no longer believe that I am virtuous for doing so. The advice 'eat lots of fruit and vegetables' is bizarre, it's like comparing apples and oranges would be if they were not, in fact, so similar. I suppose it makes sense for anyone with completely inadequate vitamin intake but for their role as a macro-nutrient source the two are a world apart. (Exceptions apply on both the fruit and vegetable side, including those previously mentioned.)

, and above all, coconuts, from your diet in moderate amounts seems like an incredibly bad move.

When considering the moderation of sugar intake from fruit the emphasis on coconut seems rather odd. Coconut is largely a (saturated) fat source, not a sugar source. It was even mentioned in the grandparent that the lower sugar fruits are worth researching. Clearly coconuts were not something being discouraged. In fact, given the encouragement given to both low sugar fruits and saturated fats I would infer the reverse.

Replies from: RomeoStevens
comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-09-12T13:50:10.671Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

sure, additional sugar in the context of western diets is bad. What I'm objecting to is the vaguely paleo point you're making of "lots of vegetables, little fruit" as a bare claim. If you're aware of any evidence that a carb heavy (where carb heavy for me means 40-50% of calories) diet is bad when those carbs come from whole food sources I'd like to see it. Anecdotally, I can say I get a lot more fruit, milk sugars, and starchy tubers than I do cruciferous or leafy veggies, and I can't find anything lacking in either my blood panels or nutritional analysis of my diet.

comment by bbleeker · 2013-09-09T13:26:08.899Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

From this post I got the idea of doing the same, and I created a menu of easy to prepare food that I can eat every day, and that meets all the FDA requirements (except for potassium; I don't think it's possible to get that much from natural sources) and that still lets me lose weight. So far it seems to be working; eating like that most days, I am (slowly) losing weight, and I feel fine.

comment by aelephant · 2013-09-09T00:01:34.016Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What vegetables should you eat?

Dark green ones seem to have more nutritional content in general, but yellow, orange, & red vegetables are typically good sources of Vitamin A & some other pigment-like compounds that might not be in large amounts in the green ones.

comment by mare-of-night · 2013-09-19T01:44:24.238Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is creating all possible human minds a possible (assuming unlimited resources etc.) method of resurrection? Including all possible combinations of memories, etc., not just personality.

Replies from: TheOtherDave
comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-09-19T02:21:17.448Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can you say more about what you mean by "possible" here?

Replies from: mare-of-night
comment by mare-of-night · 2013-09-19T12:11:29.343Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think what I'm trying to get at is the question of whether a brain that is identical to yours is still you, even if it was created by brute force guessing rather than by studying and copying the first instance of your brain. (And also the equivalent done with uploads or simulated brains - I don't think digital vs. biological should matter.)

Replies from: TheOtherDave
comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-09-19T15:24:05.613Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, I see.

This topic of what is "really you" recently came up on another thread as well; my position remains that whether some particular future entity is "really me" is a judgment each judge makes based on what that judge values most about me, and there simply is no fact of the matter. Some people who knew me at 20 might not believe that I'm still the same person, for example, simply due to the changes wrought by age and experience, and they aren't wrong, they simply care about different things than I do.

The same goes for a future entity that shares my memories etc. coincidentally rather than causally (as in your example).

Me personally? I'm pretty liberal about identity; I'm happy to treat it as being preserved through this sort of noncausal link. That said, if we really do create all possible human minds (which would indeed require inconceivable resources), there would be a vast number of future minds I would consider to preserve my identity.

How about you? What has to be true of a future mind for you to treat it as a preservation of your identity?

comment by knb · 2013-09-10T23:02:32.842Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My local library system doesn't have a copy of a book I want to read (Good and Real by Gary Drescher). Is there some way of requesting it from another library system? My other options are buying it online, which would set me back at least 30 dollars, and I don't know if I want to pay that much. Is there any other way to get a copy?

ETA: I just called my library and they apparently handle these requests for you. I'm going to leave question up here anyway in case someone else is stupid in the same way as me.

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2013-09-11T00:59:42.245Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or you could just take the usual option of pirating it: it's on (no surprise there), and it's even available through Google - the first two hits for "good and real" filetype:pdf are the book (as is the fifth hit for just "good and real"!).

As books go, you could not ask for getting it to be any easier.

Replies from: knb
comment by knb · 2013-09-11T01:27:24.463Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I prefer physical books for pre-bed reading.

Replies from: Viliam_Bur
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-09-14T16:28:01.779Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A printer could be a solution. Make a cost estimate. The advantage is that you could print just the first chapter, and then continue only if you liked it. On the other hand, if you like it, you can bind the papers and lend the book to many people around you afterwards.

comment by James_Miller · 2013-09-09T17:18:54.777Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there a name for a bias that causes you to ignore trade-offs and pretend that there are no costs to doing something, for example claiming that eliminating the use of chimps in medical research won't harm medical research because "scientific methods and technologies have rendered their use in research largely unnecessary"?

Replies from: B_For_Bandana, NancyLebovitz, Document
comment by B_For_Bandana · 2013-09-10T23:51:29.405Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Probably an obvious point: epistemically that's an error, but politically it's probably an indispensable tactic. Say you do an honest and perfectly reliable utilitarian analysis, and find that chimpanzees really should not be used in research; the real substantial medical advances are not worth their suffering. But frustratingly the powers that be don't care about chimps as much as they should. Your only hope is to convince them that chimp-using research is nearly useless to humans, so that even their undersized compassion for chimps will convince them to shut the research down.

I have a kind of romantic suspicion that nearly all politically active people are like this, that if you could somehow get them alone and sit them down and ask them what they really think, they'd go, "Yes, congratulations Einstein, you figured it out. Of course if we succeed then it's likely the lives of [some group] will get a lot worse, but, well, omelets and eggs." And then they swear you in and give you a membership card, because if you've gotten this far, then you can also see that they're justified.

Replies from: Viliam_Bur, Eugine_Nier
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-09-14T16:23:28.882Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have a kind of romantic suspicion that nearly all politically active people are like this

That would be nice. But if all the politicians were so rational, then why in the name of Aumann's agreement theorem would they disagree with each other so much?

Unless that too would be some kind of deception, necessary to achieve maximum utility. Maybe the average stupid humans (non-politicians) simply need to see a few battling factions, so if all these rational politicians suddenly stopped pretending to disagree with each other, the angry voters would vote for someone genuinely stupid, just to have more variety.

Well... I suppose politicians are on average more rational than average humans. At least instrumentally; this is why they are in politics, have power and make $$$, while the average citizen spends their time merely watching them on TV. And probably even epistemically; because I expect epistemic rationality to correlate somehow positively with instrumental rationality. And because there are some things that politicians must pretend, strategically, I expect them to be less mindkilled than they seem. And they also have better information on political topics. -- But all this considered, I think they are also prone to all human biases, just perhaps a bit less than the average human.

Replies from: ChristianKl, B_For_Bandana
comment by ChristianKl · 2013-09-15T19:44:59.932Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maybe the average stupid humans (non-politicians) simply need to see a few battling factions, so if all these rational politicians suddenly stopped pretending to disagree with each other, the angry voters would vote for someone genuinely stupid, just to have more variety.

I think it makes more sense to look at the incentives of politicians. Politians want to win. They want to be reelected. That means they have to somehow appear to be better than the other party.

Most politicans also think about their career. They have to impress fellow politicians.

comment by B_For_Bandana · 2013-09-15T01:08:47.290Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I expect them to be less mindkilled than they seem.

(Nods) that's really what I was trying to say, yeah.

Also it's worth an NB that the AAT only applies to epistemic agreement, right? It doesn't prevent groups from competing over resources: we agree that the pie is tasty, which is precisely why we're fighting over it. Of course if you're committed to fighting, then screwing with your enemy's, and partially-committed ally's, models of the world is a valid combat tactic.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-09-15T15:44:55.296Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But frustratingly the powers that be don't care about chimps as much as they should. Your only hope is to convince them that chimp-using research is nearly useless to humans, so that even their undersized compassion for chimps will convince them to shut the research down.

The problem is that these kinds of lies create a viscous cycle. Someone who shares your utility function and honestly believes your lies will want to shut down research even in cases you wouldn't and will feel justified inventing lies (on top of the lies he believes to be true) to promote that position. Then people start believing those lies and so feel justified inventing further lies, etc.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-09-09T17:57:00.699Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd call it scope insensitivity, and if I was feeling snippy, I'd call it motivated scope insensitivity.

See also "sacred values", though I'm not sure that they're a bias.

comment by Document · 2013-09-11T01:56:06.574Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Halo effect?

comment by Dahlen · 2013-09-09T12:04:24.215Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Does the concept of utility map onto anything describable in terms of actual human neuroscience? I've often seen people on here (and elsewhere) apply the concept to humans, and I wonder how accurate of a model or abstraction it is. Does anything in the brain behave like utility? (i.e. reducible to a real number, determines preferences and consumer behavior, etc.)

Replies from: JQuinton
comment by Mestroyer · 2013-09-08T14:52:30.910Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not that I believe this would work, but I have a perpetual motion machine idea.

I'm told you can convert between energy and mass. So first step, take a bunch of mass on Earth's surface, turn it into energy. Shine it as light up to a space station in Earth orbit. Collect the light, turn it back into mass, drop it. Collect kinetic energy, repeat.

Why wouldn't this work? Is there a slightly different energy-to-mass ratio depending on where you do the conversion? (Edit: I just realized this would give a way to tell the difference between "You're in an elevator accelerating upward" and "You're in an elevator standing 'still' on Earth" from the inside, which if I remember correctly you're not supposed to be able to do) Would the light lose energy as it traveled upward (Does differently-shaped space redshift it)? Is the answer the same if instead of gravity you used another force? (Say Earth was positively charged, and you converted negatively charged mass to energy, and back)

Replies from: Plasmon, kalium, NancyLebovitz
comment by Plasmon · 2013-09-08T15:08:45.626Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Would the light lose energy as it traveled upward (Does differently-shaped space redshift it)

Yes. You do lose energy moving light uphill, even if you have perfect emitters and collectors.

Is the answer the same if instead of gravity you used another force? (Say Earth was positively charged, and you converted negatively charged mass to energy, and back)

I don't think you can do that. Photons have no electric charge.

comment by kalium · 2013-09-08T19:39:05.433Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Say Earth was positively charged, and you converted negatively charged mass to energy, and back

Electric charge is conserved, so you can't convert only negatively charged matter to energy. You'd need some positively charged matter as well (ideally the corresponding antimatter).

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-09-08T14:55:31.140Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My guess is that you'd lose some of the energy as heat every time you tried to convert it into mass.

Replies from: Mestroyer, CAE_Jones
comment by Mestroyer · 2013-09-08T15:05:56.846Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

While true, that can't be all that's wrong with it, because otherwise if you did this even once, turning all your mass to waste heat, you'd still have violated the First Law. It would still be more useless energy than you started with. Right?

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-09-08T15:37:09.509Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Energy tends to become more useless, so I don't see how that's an argument against my point.

Replies from: Adele_L
comment by Adele_L · 2013-09-08T15:49:54.688Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Energy tends to become more useless

This is true, and is an informal version of the second law of thermodynamics.

But this violates a different law, conservation of energy.

Even the highest entropy energy can still be used to do work, it's just not as efficient. I would predict that a team of engineers/physicists could exploit this to get free energy in the counter-factual universe where this is the only difference between our laws of physics.

comment by CAE_Jones · 2013-09-08T23:33:46.633Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would expect most of the loss to take place in the collection stage, but short of antimatter, a perfect energy-mass conversion technique doesn't seem to be available, so there are probably plenty of waste particles when it's converted to energy as well.

(The parent was at -4 when I found it. When I expanded the comment to read it, I was extremely confused, because it did not fall into my "LW users will downvote this heavily" pattern. ??? )

Replies from: Alejandro1
comment by Alejandro1 · 2013-09-08T23:47:09.734Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I didn't downvote it because it was a plausible-sounding suggestion which led to a clarifying discussion, but my guess is that some downvoted it for giving a somewhat irrelevant/misleading answer. As Adele_L explains, heat loss pertains to the Second Law, while the proposed setup has the more fundamental problem of violating the First Law and even assuming away heat loss does not work because of gravitational redshift, as Plasmon explains.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-09-08T14:18:54.428Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Gregory Chaitin

Chaitin's mathematical curse is not an abstract theorem or an impenetrable equation: it is simply a number. This number, which Chaitin calls Omega, is real, just as pi is real. But Omega is infinitely long and utterly incalculable. Chaitin has found that Omega infects the whole of mathematics, placing fundamental limits on what we can know. And Omega is just the beginning. There are even more disturbing numbers--Chaitin calls them Super-Omegas--that would defy calculation even if we ever managed to work Omega out. The Omega strain of incalculable numbers reveals that mathematics is not simply moth-eaten, it is mostly made of gaping holes. Anarchy, not order, is at the heart of the Universe.

Does this sort of uncertainty have any bearing on FOOMing? On the provability of FAI? Is the LW Omega related to Chaitin's Omega?

Replies from: RichardKennaway, solipsist, Adele_L, tgb
comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-09-08T18:25:57.385Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No to all of these. The grand claims of that article are overblown hype (as is so often the case with New Scientist), and credit Chaitin with too much, to the exclusion of other mathematicians before him.

Anyone interested in Chaitin's work could read his own technical book "Algorithmic Information Theory", but might also read the criticism of him in Torkel Franzén's "Gödel's Theorem: An Incomplete Guide to its Use and Abuse" (book, not online, but reviewed here). The business in the original article of the hierarchy of Omegas is nothing more than the already well-known concept of degrees of unsolvability, which dates back to 1944.

comment by solipsist · 2013-09-08T15:27:55.898Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Short answer to your questions: No. They aren't related.

Pedantic answer to your questions: Yes.

If you knew the value of Chaitin's Omega you could calculate the incalculable. You would know the results of computations that should take an infinite amount of time to calculate. You could summon the proofs of any conjecture. You could simulate AIXI. You would have the knowledge of a demigod. Being a demigod has strong bearing on the subjects you bring up, and many others.

Chaitin's Omega and LW's Omega share the same name (I suspect) because they both refer to something superhuman. They are different sort of superhumans, however.

comment by Adele_L · 2013-09-08T15:40:08.300Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Löb's theorem and Chaitin's constant are in the same family of weirdness, so I think it is likely relevant, but not for a 'new' reason, if that makes sense.

comment by tgb · 2013-09-08T15:02:16.345Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can't comment on your question, but I have to say that that article is exceptional in managing to tell math research as an engaging story.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2013-09-22T22:15:25.673Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is your subjective experience of being tired? How does it vary with amount of time slept?

comment by ikrase · 2013-09-08T20:15:33.470Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What prevents you from breaking thermodynamics with radiation and a clever arrangement of elliptical reflectors and heated objects of varying surface areas?

Replies from: drethelin, shminux, Alejandro1, Manfred, passive_fist, CAE_Jones, JQuinton
comment by drethelin · 2013-09-08T21:24:11.596Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Replies from: bbleeker
comment by bbleeker · 2013-09-09T14:25:39.680Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

OK, what reference am I missing this time?

comment by shminux · 2013-09-09T01:12:19.164Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Google to the rescue.

TL;DR: something hotter than the source will radiate back more than it absorbs.

comment by Alejandro1 · 2013-09-08T20:47:54.090Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Which specific arrangement do you have in mind, and why would it break thermodynamics?

Replies from: ikrase
comment by ikrase · 2013-09-09T05:14:25.584Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Basically, I was thinking of something in which one has a very small 'target', and a much larger (but still tiny relative to the whole system) 'source', both close to black body, and these objects at the two foci of a giant ellipsoidal reflector.

It seems that if the started at the same temperature, the source would radiate more than the target due to its larger surface area,and that radiation would hit the target, resulting in a temperature difference.

Replies from: Luke_A_Somers, RolfAndreassen
comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2013-09-09T10:52:07.945Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The amount of the source's radiation that will actually reach the target is the same as the target's emitted radation. Because the source is larger, there are steep angles it can emit at that do not pass through the target and only return to itself.

comment by RolfAndreassen · 2013-09-09T16:48:51.109Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It looks to me like you're tacitly assuming genuinely pointlike sources and targets when you say "that radiation would hit the target", but then going back and reversing that assumption when you say the source would radiate more. The surface of the source is not exactly at the focal point, and so radiation from it does not necessarily pass exactly through the other focal point.

Replies from: ikrase
comment by ikrase · 2013-09-10T04:25:55.488Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

OHHHHHHHH...... I get it. Thank you.

comment by Manfred · 2013-09-09T00:51:28.434Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The thermodynamics police. (e.g. Detective Lieutenant Noether)

comment by passive_fist · 2013-09-08T22:00:18.645Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is impossible to answer unless you give more information about your proposed set-up. At any rate, if you have any closed arrangement of heated objects, the radiation will always cause the objects to reach thermal equilibrium (same temperature) eventually. There is no way around this.

comment by CAE_Jones · 2013-09-08T21:05:14.200Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are you describing an idea for an energy trap-type thing? It sounds like it would require perfect reflectors, which I don't think actually exist. Most perpetual motion ideas tend to break because reality does not consist of spherical cows, or because energy is radiated out of the system and can't be recaptured, is lost due to friction, etc.

(Apologies if I've completely misunderstood what you're proposing.)

Replies from: Douglas_Knight
comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-09-11T02:39:09.961Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Most perpetual motion ideas tend to break because reality does not consist of spherical cows

That's not true. The first and second laws of thermodynamics tend to be apply even with ideal objects. It's true that an idealized pendulum is a perpetual motion machines of the third kind and they don't exist because of friction, but the category exemplified by a pendulum is not interesting and isn't what people usually mean by perpetual motion machine.

Moreover, any amount of friction will eventually stop a pendulum, whereas something that is supposed to generate a definite amount of energy or decrease entropy by a definite amount will not be stopped by an arbitrarily small amount of friction or an arbitrarily small deviation from sphericality. But in practice you can make things arbitrarily close to perfect.

comment by JQuinton · 2013-09-10T15:33:55.015Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We don't need clever arrangements of reflectors for perpetual motion machines. Things like souls, angels, demons, disembodied minds, etc. are all perpetual motion machines. So if they actually exist, all we would have to do is capture them and harness them for unlimited energy, like Shang Tsungs soulnado to solve our energy problems.

comment by Metus · 2013-09-08T17:15:47.229Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I know of ISBN for books and similar codes for physical media such as music or videos. Is there a similar code for other consumer stuff, such as electronics?

Replies from: RichardKennaway
comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-09-08T18:03:02.215Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Universal Product Code.

International Article Numbers).

I don't know how widely they're used, and they're generally not as consumer-visible as ISBNs for books. The iPad I recently bought has a UPC barcode on the box, but not on the machine itself, and I've never had occasion to use a UPC or EAN to look something up.

comment by mare-of-night · 2013-09-20T01:44:44.276Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What kind of speed is normal when taking an implicit association test? I tried to take one, and I could go pretty fast when sorting only words or only photos. But once it switched to sorting both at once, I was much slower (I had to pause to think for each one), and maybe around 90% accurate at best. I gave up pretty quickly because the process of taking the thing was so aggravating.

Is this usual? I know there's something different in my brain that makes me much slower at certain simple tasks, and this felt a little like I was running into that again.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-09-19T13:22:31.315Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is it a good idea to learn physics not from classical mechanics to quantum mechanics but the other way around i.e. from lesser scale to larger, to decrease the amount of things one needs to memorise and increase actual understanding?

Replies from: Douglas_Knight, shminux
comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-09-23T04:18:51.400Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No. You should follow an established curriculum because the textbooks are written that way, such as where mathematical techniques are introduced.

Memorizing enables fast recall. If you have to know it, you'll have to memorize it even if you can derive it. And there is very little to memorize in physics. You have to know that metals are ductile, but that's not a lot of information; you're not going to check it by going back to quantum mechanics. In principle, you could use QM to derive a quantitative version, but it's computationally intractable.

In the direct relation between quantum and classical mechanics, QM is simply more complicated: you generally start with the classical laws and modify them, so they are a prerequisite. I think that there is a recent QM textbook by quantum computing researchers that get to quantum weirdness with very few prerequisites. This sounds like a good place to start, but if you want to cover the whole thing, you'll need classical mechanics.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2013-09-25T14:30:19.671Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, I think I'm gonna follow this.

comment by shminux · 2013-09-23T06:50:01.947Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You don't get to memorize less this way. You learn from simpler to harder, not from smaller to larger. If you already know all the relevant math (linear algebra, complex analysis, partial differential equations), it might be interesting to start from, say, QM and then derive CM from it. But wait, shouldn't you start even smaller, with QFT, or at least with the Standard Model of Particle Physics, then proceed to peel off QCD and QED, then extract a Hilbert space from the Fock space and do QM, then construct CM and E&M... But that's not enough, what about gravity? Better learn GR, then derive SR from it, and Newtonian gravity as well.

I suppose it's not impossible, but the amount of math you would have to learn before you finally derive that F=ma is rather significant. In some parallel world, where every physicist learns a lot of math first, it might even make sense. But if you want to get some useful results early, and not spend 4 years learning math before you even think about physics, then you should probably start with classical mechanics and classical electrodynamics.

Replies from: None, None
comment by [deleted] · 2013-09-25T16:54:39.360Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks. Looks like that, although learning physics from "basics" is possible and immensely cool, it's also really difficult, so, I think I'm gonna follow ordinary approach.

Replies from: shminux
comment by shminux · 2013-09-25T17:15:37.758Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That said, I had an instructor who started the first course in electricity in magnetism by writing out the Maxwell equations, then working through them down to the Coulomb's law and other special cases, which is the opposite of the standard approach. But he knew what he was doing and was careful to only inflict the minimum necessary amount of math and rigor on the poor unsuspecting suckers in his class. I do not know of anyone deriving F=ma from the least action principle at an introductory physics course, though it seems doable.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-09-23T08:25:47.236Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually, math is exactly what I'm hoping to learn in the next 6 years or so.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-09-12T05:03:39.592Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is a good way to talk about 4-dimensional world histories. In particular is 'four dimensional world history' an adequate way to express the concept? I of course just refer to that thing which contains up, down, left, right, forward, backward and later and earlier. This is the thing to which preferences apply, as well as related concepts such as 'identity'. For the purpose of casual and efficient speech this seems like an adequate expression. Yet I have noticed that people who consider themselves to have high status in an area such as mathematics or physics sometimes like to jump on such casual expressions for the purpose of one-upmanship. I'm also somewhat idealistic with my own speech so knowingly saying technically incorrect things makes me uneasy.

There are of course advanced speculative physics theories which assume 13 or more dimensions and there are even some attempts to express physics without a 'time' dimension. I don't wish to deny such theories. Stuff is more complicated than I am capable of imagining. But on the other hand the universe 'adds up to normal'. There is a thing that looks kind of like a four dimensional universe for most practical purposes and that is what I wish to talk about. What I suppose I am actually talking about is "4 dimensional abstraction that can be mapped onto more complicated physical reality and which is sufficient to model the most interesting features".

Is there a better term for that which I am referring to?

Replies from: TheOtherDave, somervta
comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-09-12T16:14:46.807Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What happens if you eschew the use of "dimension" altogether and simply talk about world histories, or chains of events?

comment by somervta · 2013-09-12T05:21:50.097Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Block universe perhaps?

comment by Locaha · 2013-09-08T19:21:13.013Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How often do you think about death? (Not suicidally.)

Replies from: mare-of-night, ikrase, Jayson_Virissimo, CellBioGuy, MrMind, None, diegocaleiro, blacktrance
comment by mare-of-night · 2013-09-09T00:50:58.687Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I explicitly think of the goals of driving as 1) don't die, 2) get to destination. I do this because it helps me remember not to do dangerous things, and to not feel as bad about making wrong turns (because I feel like I'm doing badly at 2 but well at 1, rather than just plain driving badly). I don't visualize what dying in a car accident would be like or anything like that, though.

I think seriously about death of humans kind of often lately, but that's probably because of some circumstantial stuff lately. During more normal times, I think I don't think about death of real people very often, but do think about death in fiction sometimes.

(I also get the sense that I'm less horrified by death than is normal in this community.)

comment by ikrase · 2013-09-08T20:14:18.972Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Quite often, in the conquerer's mind. Three shall be the sons of Peverell...

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2013-09-08T20:05:54.191Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Daily, as it is part of standard Stoic practice (specifically, the technique of negative visualization, which I employ during before-sleep meditation).

Replies from: zslastman, niceguyanon
comment by zslastman · 2013-09-09T09:40:06.792Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also curious about this. Have found meditating before bed can ruin a nights sleep and so am wary of experimenting with it.

Replies from: Jayson_Virissimo
comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2013-09-10T00:06:33.641Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also curious about this. Have found meditating before bed can ruin a nights sleep and so am wary of experimenting with it.

Usually, when I mention meditation people have something like mindfulness meditation (or other Buddhist styles) in mind, but Stoic meditation is very different. You are in no way trying to empty your mind; actually it should be quite active.

The style I use involves replaying my entire day from waking in fast-forward with an imaginary observer-sage commentating on my actions, asking open-ended questions like "did it really make sense to worry about something over which you have no control?" or "don't you think you should have waited until you calmed down first before trying to talk about [emotional issue]?", etc...

It doesn't negatively impact my sleep very much, since it only takes 10-15 minutes and it has a definite end-point (just when my "ghost" enters my room to go to sleep) which makes me feel a sense of finality (if anything, I would guess this makes sleep easier).

comment by niceguyanon · 2013-09-08T22:10:05.039Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Other than the negative visualization technique, how else does your before-bed mediation differ from your normal meditation and why?

Replies from: Jayson_Virissimo
comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2013-09-09T23:56:42.378Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Other than the negative visualization technique, how else does your before-bed mediation differ from your normal meditation and why?

My before-bed meditation is my only meditation, so it is normal (for me).

comment by CellBioGuy · 2013-09-08T19:41:48.223Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Many many times per day in the abstract sense of living things that stop since I am surrounded by them EVERYWHERE and often kill them myself.

Still multiple times per day, in the context of understanding that my remaining time is limited and unpredictable and I need to make good use of it.

Every two or three days in the context of "existing is WEIRD, and soon enough I will no longer exist just like 25 years ago."

It doesn't distress me, except when dealing with immediate effects of the deaths of people or other organisms that are dear to me, or could be easily prevented from being worse than they are.

comment by MrMind · 2013-09-09T10:02:37.712Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

At least once every day, as a motivational tool. I even created a spreadsheet that tells me how many days are left for me to live, and what percentage of life is already behind me (based on the projection from a bunch of actuarial tables).

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2013-09-18T16:33:22.078Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That wouldn't work for me -- it would sound like plenty of time to me¹. (And that would happen regardless of what unit I² used -- 1,500,000,000 seconds? That's a lot of seconds! 50 years? A year is a helluva long time! 600 months? Why would you² use months of all units, are you² trying to fool me¹ or something?)

  1. i.e. my System 1/elephant.

  2. i.e. my System 2/rider.

Replies from: MrMind
comment by MrMind · 2013-09-19T13:40:02.826Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I simply use days, I find they are sufficiently short to be grasped intuitively but not enough to create a huge number. Besides, probably less then 17132 left...

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2013-09-21T08:51:45.633Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


That number isn't anywhere near small enough to trigger near-mode thinking in me, and days would trigger the “weird choice of units for this” memetic immune defence reaction (though not as much as months).

Replies from: MrMind
comment by MrMind · 2013-09-23T07:01:25.168Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So are you basically unable to think about death in a way that isn't far from you? I wonder how much this is common and/or relates to accepting a transhumanist point of view.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2013-09-24T14:03:55.651Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So are you basically unable to think about death in a way that isn't far from you?

Yes, I pretty much am (except when driving or doing something similarly dangerous). At least, not about my death or that of other healthy young people in developed countries.

(Weirdly, though, I do often think about stopping functioning before legal death. It must be a combination of having read the parts of I Am a Strange Loop about Ronald Reagan's late life, my girlfriend working with Alzheimer patients on a daily basis, my grandpa starting to show long-term memory loss too, and, er, my having read the Yvain post I linked to in the previous sentence.)

I wonder how much this is common

I hear that's quite common among teenagers, at least according to the stereotype. (ISTR an EY post mentioning that, but I can't find it off hand.) I'm no longer a teenager myself, though.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-09-18T16:25:20.186Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not very often. Usually less than twice per week. [happens to notice mare-of-night's comment] Oh, yeah, sure; except when driving.

I think more often about what happens before legal death.

comment by diegocaleiro · 2013-09-10T22:23:53.993Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I used to dream I died about twice or three times a week, for years. But that was more than a decade ago.

I do think about how unbelievable it is that I'm still the only freaking sane monkey out of 190 million around me who signed up for cryonics.

Replies from: Alsadius
comment by Alsadius · 2013-09-16T23:10:48.619Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For most people, cryonics is a terrible use of resources. I'm entirely opposed to deathism, but I'd still never sign up for cryonics unless I had, as a rule of thumb, enough wealth to pay cash for it. It's too chancy for me to devote too significant a chunk of my wealth to it - the opportunity costs are too high for the gamble.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2013-09-17T01:59:39.747Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For most people, cryonics is a terrible use of resources. I'm entirely opposed to deathism, but I'd still never sign up for cryonics unless I had, as a rule of thumb, enough wealth to pay cash for it. It's too chancy for me to devote too significant a chunk of my wealth to it - the opportunity costs are too high for the gamble.

Do you have a back-of-the-envelope calculation for this finding? Something which illustrates for which values of 'chance of success' and 'value of success' and opportunity cost this holds true for? Obviously depending on those beliefs other people can be expected to agree or disagree with your conclusion, while accepting your reasoning.

Replies from: Alsadius
comment by Alsadius · 2013-09-20T00:10:44.752Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I hadn't done the math when making the above post, but let's do some here. We'll assume that cryonics has a 10% chance of actually working, and that the added lifespan you'll get is equal to a 2% chance of dying per year(because they presumably won't have entirely conquered death when you get back, but they'll have better medicine than we do and presumably won't be bothered resurrecting you unless there's good reason). This means that the math works out to cryonics being the equivalent of buying an average of 5 extra years of life. You may want to also add some discounting for declining utility of lifespan, the fact that everyone you know will likely be dead, and for the fact that you're gambling, and I think my assumptions are generous, but we'll take 5 years as a baseline.

On the flip side, cryonics costs about $100,000 at present. You also need to factor in the costs of supporting yourself in your second life, unless your body will be getting repaired to the point where you can reasonably work again - with your hideously outdated skills, you're not likely to be getting a desk job, so you'll probably need to be young again to work. It's easy to say you'll take out insurance to pay for it, but insurance companies aren't in the business of giving away free money, so in practice you need to put up the present value of it over the course of your actuarial lifespan.

Mathematical utility calculations are generally only mathematical playthings, not serious numbers(I tried doing one in my first draft of this post, it said the breakeven for buying cryonics was $2500 of annual income, which is clearly absurd), so I can't judge it numerically. But you're dropping $100k on an extra five years of life. I don't think that can be justified if you're poor - you'd do better improving your guaranteed life than playing the lottery. If you have the cash, sure - it's a better cash sink than some. But it's a big gamble, and I don't advocate gambling with your life savings.

comment by blacktrance · 2013-09-09T06:16:18.274Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not often. Only when I hear about someone dying or someone's life being in danger, or if I'm arguing against someone with a pro-death view.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-22T23:49:33.627Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What point is the "torture vs. dust specks" argument supposed to be supporting or illustrating? Is it just about being able to do the "moral calculus" or multiplication, or is there some some conclusion about friendly AI/singularities as well?

Replies from: Gurkenglas
comment by Gurkenglas · 2013-12-23T01:53:36.434Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems to be about flinching away from thoughts.

comment by BlackNoise · 2013-11-24T09:15:22.233Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not sure where else to ask but here goes:

Sparked by the recent thread(s) on the Brain Preservation Foundation and by my Grandfather starting to undergo radiation+chemo for some form of cancer. While timing isn't critical yet, I'm tentatively trying to convince my Mother (who has an active hand in her Fathers' treatment) into considering preservation as an option.

What I'm looking for is financial and logistical information of how one goes about arranging this starting from a non-US country, so if anyone can point me at it I'd much appreciate it.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-11-24T14:05:51.758Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you don't get an answer here, I suggest trying again in the open thread-- this thread is old enough that there probably aren't many people following it.

comment by guebjnjnl · 2013-09-29T02:56:14.174Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Created a throwaway account to ask: how does one go about finding good porn on the Internet? I'm pretty innocent on this topic, I've felt awkward asking my friends what they do, and it's un-Googlable for a different reason than most stupid questions: too many bad or irrelevant sites want to show up in a search that contains the relevant terms.

There are a few sub-questions here:

  • What are the obvious free sources that aren't too infested with malware and other bad things?
  • Is it OK to use my main browser in incognito mode, or should I use an entirely separate browser? Which one? (I'm smart enough not to even consider IE. I've heard Chrome is better with privacy, but I trust Mozilla more than I trust Google.)
  • Is it ever safe to use a work laptop (at home, obviously)?
  • Are there good ways to find higher-quality works? People of course have wildly different preferences, but a lot of porn seems really low-quality by any reasonable metric (distractingly atrocious attempts at acting, for example), and also lots of it perpetuates stereotypes I don't endorse and don't enjoy (i.e. the "women need to be tricked/manipulated/bribed into sex" stereotype).
  • Are there paid sources that are worthwhile and reputable? Are there any undesirable consequences to signing up for them?
  • Are there any legal concerns that might affect me?
  • Is there anything else I really ought to know that I'm not thinking of?

If you have something to say about ethical ramifications or health advice, that's fine too. And for greater understanding, I'd appreciate advice explained in terms of possible consequences whenever possible (rather than unconstrained "shoulds").

If, like me, you'd rather not have your thoughts attached to your account name, you can make your own throwaway account, or you can PM me and I'll post your responses anonymously as response comments.

comment by imvk · 2013-09-24T05:25:38.797Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Given a low (I think) fixed income and no particular local commitments (apart from citizenship in the USA) (edit: and being currently located), how do I identify a good place to live?

Replies from: CAE_Jones, imvk, Lumifer
comment by CAE_Jones · 2013-09-24T05:47:14.139Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's Kiplinger's top ten towns for cheapskates, though I'm not sure how useful this is for you (I'm on disability and living in one of those towns. I believe Saint Louis was one of them as well, and I think we have some LWers from thereabouts.).

If transportation is an issue, though, you might try finding a way to optimize for a bigger city where public transit is actually a thing. It depends on your abilities and the amount of your fixed income.

Replies from: imvk
comment by imvk · 2013-09-24T05:58:56.565Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

About $1000 a month. Not sure what you mean by abilities.

comment by imvk · 2013-09-27T15:43:16.555Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On further thought, since I'm in a low-density area, rather than looking for a place first it might be better to first improve my local mobility by getting a bicycle. Then I could see what possibilities it opens up, and either look for housing next or upgrade to a moped, motorcycle or car. I still don't really know where to start, though.

Edit: I tried looking for relevant ebooks on Amazon. I've found three, and from the reviews, none of them have what I'm looking for; not The Complete Idiot's Guide to Cycling (1999), Bicycling Magazine's New Cyclist Handbook (2005) or The Big Book of Bicycling (2010).

Edit 2: Every Woman's Guide to Cycling seems to have decent reviews; maybe I'll try it.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-09-24T16:39:49.609Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You figure out what's valuable to you (climate, nature, demographics, culture, etc.) and then filter places to live until you get a short list.

Replies from: imvk
comment by imvk · 2013-09-24T16:48:20.265Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So there's no quantitative approach? If you've done it, could you elaborate on how you did it?

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2013-09-24T17:15:55.754Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can be as quantitative as you like, but you still have to define your preferences (aka fitness function, aka loss function).

There is really no generic advice -- some people hate winter and move to Florida or the Southwest, some people really like the change of seasons and move to the Northeast. Some people need to live near the ocean, some like mountains. Some need the high voltage of large cities, some feel better in a lower-stress pastoral setting. Etc. etc.

In practice most people are driven by job and family constraints. If you have none, well, figure out which climate zone you like, figure out whether you like large cities, figure out what do you want to do and where it's best to do it...

Replies from: imvk
comment by imvk · 2013-09-24T17:27:37.847Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks. So there are no common bad or commonly regretted decisions, ways people commonly get exploited, factors people commonly neglect or anything of that sort? (Also, do I really have that many degrees of freedom at ~$1000 a month?)

If so, that's good to know, but I'm still not sure how to actually do it. Is there a centralized list of housing providers, possibly one that can be automatically ranked by relevant criteria? Amazon pretends to do that with computers, but (last I checked) many if not most models don't have the relevant fields entered and so don't show up.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2013-09-24T17:45:02.930Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are commonly regretted decisions but... it not unusual to regret leaving family and moving far away for a job. It's also not unusual to regret not taking a job far away in order to stay with the family.

Yes, you do have a lot of degrees of freedom at ~$1K/month (I am assuming you're single and have no expensive habits). All that it rules out is a few expensive cities (e.g. NYC, SF) and single-family-house suburbs. And even then you can live in NYC or SF if you're OK with living in a bad neighborhood. How high do you value security is one of items on the preferences-you-need-to-figure-out list.

I don't understand what do you mean by a "list of housing providers". First you need to decide on a region and a town (or a few towns) and then you can go look at Craigslist.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-09-21T01:37:47.304Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If washing with chlorine bleach fails to remove a stain from a piece of cloth, what's the next step? For example, my family and I have sheets with very old blood stains, towels stained by my father's brown hair dye, a white lab coat stained by ink from a damaged ballpoint pen, a formerly white skirt that turned pink from dye that bled from other clothes in the washing machine, and white socks that have grey bottoms. All of these stains have refused to budge when washed in the washing machine with detergent, bleach, and cold water.

Replies from: None, arundelo
comment by [deleted] · 2013-09-21T02:10:01.106Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

cold water

Why cold water? Typically hot works better.

(cold is recommended for fresh blood because it washes it away without triggering chemical changes that cause it to stain (AFAIK))

Replies from: CronoDAS
comment by CronoDAS · 2013-09-21T06:53:35.059Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My mom washes everything in cold water. Saves energy, I guess?

comment by arundelo · 2013-09-21T02:06:13.278Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sometimes a stain might be set and you won't be able to get rid of it, but I love Carbona Stain Devils. They make different formulas for different types of stain -- one for blood and dairy stains, one for ink and crayon stains, and so on.

Replies from: CronoDAS
comment by CronoDAS · 2013-09-21T06:54:42.277Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Does that remove set blood stains?

Replies from: arundelo
comment by arundelo · 2013-09-21T14:05:08.336Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know but it's worth a try. It definitely removes blood stains.

comment by therufs · 2013-09-11T21:07:43.158Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When someone refers to "flagging" a mental state or behavior, what do they actually do? (It appears a lot in the Rationality Checklist, and I think I've seen it used elsewhere.)

Replies from: drethelin
comment by drethelin · 2013-09-11T22:40:53.167Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

notice and think to yourself "I am sad" or "I just got annoyed because someone corrected me even though they were right" when these things happen

Replies from: therufs
comment by therufs · 2013-09-12T13:44:00.087Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Any recommendations on how to persist the flags until one can actually deal with them?

Replies from: drethelin
comment by drethelin · 2013-09-12T19:40:40.037Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What do you mean by actually deal with them? Usually in my experience noticing a thing repeatedly is what causes it to be dealt with eg I'm better at eating to improve my mood now that I've noticed a lot of times how much my bad moods are fixed by eating. If I notice I'm in a bad mood and think "this is because I haven't eaten" usually that makes the mood a tiny bit better but not actually dealt with until I make sure to eat

comment by Stabilizer · 2013-09-09T08:05:04.090Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How happy were you overall in the past year? Please rate based on the internal feeling of peacefulness/happiness/non-anxiety. For example: I could be very unsatisfied with career right now, but still be quite happy internally. I'm trying to gauge the happiness level of LW.



Replies from: FiftyTwo, MrMind
comment by FiftyTwo · 2013-09-22T22:36:32.687Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I find it hard to give a useful answer as my comparison is biased by suffering serious depression/anxiety for the last few years. I am happier/less anxious than I have been in the ast due to some combination of medication, therapy and lifestyle changes, but I am still significantly below where I visualise I should be.

You might also be interested in some of the studies described by Daniel Kahneman in thinking fast and thinking slow on how people assess their life satisfaction when framed in certain ways, and the difference between experiencing and remembering self.

comment by MrMind · 2013-09-09T10:07:02.161Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm usually quite happy, but last years was swamp by unhappiness due to multiple destructive earthquakes hitting my town.

comment by diegocaleiro · 2013-09-10T22:20:44.366Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you decide to read this from the second line on, please respond, to avoid bias as much as possible.


Do you believe that the first vegan/vegetarian you can think of really know what their True Rejection of animal eating is?
I have yet to meet a handful of vegans who really can describe what would have to be true of the world for them to eat meat and consider that others eating meat is ok. Usually the easiest way to detect is by presenting the three arguments: Logic of the Larder (more animals for creation, more minds around to live). Counterfactual (If two people claimed they would never eat meat if and only if you started doing so, would you? or Would you pay for 3-5 people to stop eating meat instead of stopping yourself?) and Numerical(less meat, less grass, more forest, more dense fauna, more animals more natural suffering). But the secret is to let them state the reason for not eating meat prior to each question. So back to my stupid question. Do you think that the first three vegans you can think of don't eat meat for the reasons they say they don't???

Replies from: itaibn0, CellBioGuy, Tripitaka, Nornagest, knb, Lumifer, shminux, therufs, Alsadius, ChristianKl, Illano, None, Document, linkhyrule5
comment by itaibn0 · 2013-09-11T12:06:03.216Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you read this, please respond, to avoid bias as much as possible.

I don't like this sort of request. You're forcing obligations on anyone who reads this thread. You can do better in this respect if you rot13 the question or make it an external link. Even with that I'm uncertain about this.

Anyways, I can't think of three vegans for whom I can usefully comment on their reasons.

Replies from: diegocaleiro
comment by diegocaleiro · 2013-09-11T16:01:29.445Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sorry, I tried to make it more decidable now.

Replies from: FiftyTwo
comment by FiftyTwo · 2013-09-22T22:31:37.659Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We have a poll option which would seem a simpler solution

comment by CellBioGuy · 2013-09-11T01:31:08.780Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The 'logic of the larder' would sway literally no one I know, not just vegans. It's usually a question of not contributing to factory farming, not some abstract thing about suffering in general, and in some cases a diet that worked after health issues and they kept to it.

comment by Tripitaka · 2013-09-11T00:11:49.260Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One person from a group of four people I know who eat vegan sees the need for ending natural suffering in nature; the other do not regard "natural" occuring suffering a problem. So, no.

comment by Nornagest · 2013-09-10T23:06:26.198Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No. But that's hardly unique to vegans; if you pull five random people off the street and find something each of them objects to, chances are they'll be objecting for confused emotional reasons.

I do know one person who's allergic to dairy products and finds that meat upsets her stomach, and uses "vegan" as shorthand, but that's probably not what you're going for.

Replies from: Document
comment by Document · 2013-09-11T01:50:53.722Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seconding this, insofar as I can think of three vegans.

comment by knb · 2013-09-10T22:58:03.310Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I know one vegetarian (my sister) and I believe she does know her objection. When we were young (10-11) she stopped eating meat after visiting a farm. As far as I know, she's never eaten meat since then. She says she just had the insight that animals were "real" and didn't want to eat them anymore.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-09-19T18:19:22.037Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

...really know what their True Rejection ... is?

I don't drink Bud Light. Can I really know what my True Rejection of Bud Light is? Probably not. Woe me!

comment by shminux · 2013-09-19T17:58:31.140Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good questions. I have put them to one vegetarian I know. The reason this person stopped eating meat is that she is now "weirded out" by the thought of eating an animal, even though she still likes the taste and misses it. Her replies to all your counterfactuals would be "no" because it's her personal preference, not a quest for animal rights or against animal suffering, so her logic is self-consistent.

comment by therufs · 2013-09-19T17:48:46.694Z · LW(p) · GW(p)



I have yet to meet a handful of vegans who really can describe what would have to be true of the world for them to eat meat and consider that others eating meat is ok.

I don't think I know any vegans whose rejection isn't based on personal preference who consider meat consumption okay, exactly, but I think they weight their reasons for not eating meat lower than their reasons for not making a big deal about it.

comment by Alsadius · 2013-09-16T23:41:13.078Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The only relevant personal anecdote I have is an ex-vegan friend who started eating meat when she realized that a medicine she used was animal-sourced, that she wasn't going to stop taking it(it wasn't life-saving, but it was useful), and that to avoid eating meat at that point would be grossly hypocritical.

Also, a pundit I'm fond of has commented to some extent on this topic: and encompass it pretty well.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2013-09-17T01:56:18.267Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The only relevant personal anecdote I have is an ex-vegan friend who started eating meat when she realized that a medicine she used was animal-sourced, that she wasn't going to stop taking it(it wasn't life-saving, but it was useful), and that to avoid eating meat at that point would be grossly hypocritical.

Tangentially, considering that 'grossly hypocritical' seems to be a cognitive distortion of some kind. It is more a 'failure of absolutism' or somesuch. The moral implications of eating meat don't seem to change just because you eat the pill.

Replies from: Alsadius
comment by Alsadius · 2013-09-17T04:21:31.637Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps it was the realization that she didn't actually believe what she claimed to? It did sound a bit odd to me when she said it, for what it's worth.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2013-09-17T05:44:15.813Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps it was the realization that she didn't actually believe what she claimed to? It did sound a bit odd to me when she said it, for what it's worth.

To be fair it does seem to be consistent with the "vegan intuition"---whatever we call the deontological or virtue ethic that tends to drive the bearer to an 'all or nothing' avoidance of the animal products. It is only inconsistent with the approximately consequentialist justifications often given for that value system. That is, the abandoning of the veganism isn't much more absurd/weird/distorted than what drove the veganism in the first place. It just isn't an ethical system that happened to have been based on Von_Neumann–Morgenstern axioms.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-09-15T19:33:18.618Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you believe that the first vegan/vegetarian you can think of really know what their True Rejection of animal eating is?

I don't believe in the concept of "True Rejections" in the sense you are advocating it here.

Most vegan I know don't follow that paradigm because of a cognitive moral argument but because of something they would call compassion for animals. Compassion happens to be an emotion and no logical argument.

Many vegans I know also think that being a vegan is healthier and like the feeling that the change to that diet brought them.

comment by Illano · 2013-09-11T13:25:36.332Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The first one I can think of definitely knows her reasoning: she doesn't like the taste of meat (though she is more of a vegetarian). For her to eat meat, it basically has to be overly processed to the point where it really doesn't taste like meat anymore (e.g. she will eat hot dogs and pepperoni occasionally).

For the 'true' vegans I know, I'm pretty sure they don't know what their reasoning is, and the only thing that would need to change for them to consider eating meat OK would be for it to stop being trendy for them to be vegan. At least, they've never been able to clearly articulate a position to me.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-09-11T12:52:12.288Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've never met a vegan AFAICR, let alone three.

comment by Document · 2013-09-11T02:31:36.460Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seconding Nornagest's answer, insofar as I can think of three vegans. Aren't the questions of who the three are and why they're the first three to come to mind relevant to what you want to learn?

comment by linkhyrule5 · 2013-09-10T23:06:08.831Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I know no vegans. Sorry.

comment by passive_fist · 2013-09-08T21:53:15.256Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The closest thing that we have in real life to the 'rational agent' concept in game theory and artificial intelligence are psychopaths. Psychopaths act entirely out of self-interest, without any regard for others in their utility function. Taking this idea further, it's easy to see why a rational superintelligence would become a UFAI - it is a psychopath. One thing that normal humans have that psychopaths lack is empathy for others. We have some degree of 'empathizing' in our utility functions - if we make someone feel bad, we feel bad as well. Our empathy does not have laser-guided precision, and as such is directed not just at human beings but at animals (and sometimes even inanimate objects).

Thus it seems that the best way to create FAI wouldn't be Coherent Extrapolated Volition, it would be Coherent Extrapolated Emotion. This is probably a stupid question, but why does the concept of 'artificial empathy' seem to get such little attention?

Replies from: Manfred, niceguyanon, Dahlen, Pfft
comment by Manfred · 2013-09-09T01:02:12.490Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Being further along the psychopathy spectrum isn't all sunshine and daisies and rationality.

Instrumental learning is also interesting. “Instrumental learning involves learning to commit specific behavioral responses in order to gain reward or avoid punishment.” [ibid, pg 51]. Psychopaths have issues with specific forms of this, particularly passive avoidance and response reversal. In passive avoidance, the subject must learn to avoid responding to thing that will give them punishments, while response reversal is when the subject must stop responding to a stimulus that was once a reward but now punishes. The impairment of the first has been repeatedly demonstrated, while Blair uses the example of a card game developed by Joe Newman to demonstrate the second. In that game, participants must decide whether to play a card or not. At first, playing is always rewarding, but as the game goes on the probability of playing being rewarding decreases, and eventually it will be primarily punishing. While most non-psychopaths do learn to stop playing once punishment becomes too likely, psychopaths do not, to the point of losing all of their points.

Basically, I fear you are committing a sort of "straw-spock argument" about rationality, where you assume in the absence of evidence that someone with more muted empathy must be pursuing their goals more rationally.

Replies from: passive_fist
comment by passive_fist · 2013-09-09T01:06:23.039Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am not; see my reply to niceguyanon.

EDIT: I see the point you are trying to make though, that psychopaths not only lack empathy, but also a large amount of rationality. I agree with this and in fact it has been shown that in terms of logic problems and so on, pscyhopaths are just as rational as normal people i.e. not at all.

The point I'm trying to make is that the presence of empathy can certainly do a lot to destroy psychopathy. This is supported by the study you linked.

comment by niceguyanon · 2013-09-08T22:35:35.461Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The closest thing that we have in real life to the 'rational agent' concept in game theory and artificial intelligence are psychopaths. Taking this idea further, it's easy to see why a rational superintelligence would become a UFAI - it is a psychopath.

This doesn't quite seem right and here is why; my utility function considers others people's utility function, therefore by acting rationally and maximizing my utility function leaves room for empathy of others. You only get psychopathy if the utility function of the rational agent, is psychopathic, most people's utility functions are not.

Replies from: passive_fist
comment by passive_fist · 2013-09-08T22:59:55.674Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This doesn't quite seem right and here is why; my utility function considers others people's utility function, therefore by acting rationally and maximizing my utility function leaves room for empathy of others.

Yes this is what I said. Usually in game theory setups though, empathy is not included in the utility function. That's what I meant, sorry if it was unclear. You're right that an agent can be rational and empathic at the same time.

Replies from: Luke_A_Somers
comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2013-09-09T10:55:29.554Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Then the game theory experiments leaving no room for empathy are straw Vulcans.

comment by Dahlen · 2013-09-09T01:12:37.525Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not just lack of empathy that makes psychopaths act as they do, but also what looks to me like a particularly strong drive for domination. They simply get more emotional rewards out of exerting power over other people, in ways that range from winning socially acceptable status contests to torturing and butchering other humans. Without this drive for domination, they wouldn't be half as dangerous.

Just pointing out that it's the presence rather than the absence of a feature that causes one to be actively evil, not just selfish and calculating. Merely self-interested rational agents would stop at callously pursuing whatever their, er, utility function tells them to. They wouldn't go that extra mile to satisfy a purely emotional need. To exhibit psychopathic behavior -- to play mind games with people, to break laws and to engage in power contests even when you don't have anything rational to gain, just for the thrill of it -- well, you need to be able to feel the thrill of it. An extra feature.

As for programming emotion into an AI, I wouldn't know about that. I have the vague intuition that emotions are a bit of a kludge-y solution to morality; our emotional system is mildly good some of the time, but not great and not all of the time, at getting morality right. A different emotional system, designed from scratch and checked for coherence, might perform better, though I don't have the qualifications needed to express an opinion one way or the other.

Replies from: passive_fist
comment by passive_fist · 2013-09-09T01:23:41.477Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So you're saying that included in their goals is an explicit urge for dominance, that is absent (or weakened) in 'normal' human beings? I suppose it sounds plausible, but I'd like to see some references.

Replies from: Dahlen
comment by Dahlen · 2013-09-09T02:15:04.356Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Most people have it to a small extent (it's a feature present all across the animal kingdom, after all), but in psychopaths it is exacerbated.

Sorry, no references. Just a speculation that seems strongly consistent with what I know so far about them.

comment by Pfft · 2013-09-09T04:33:09.762Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The closest thing that we have in real life to the 'rational agent' concept in game theory and artificial intelligence are psychopaths.

Maybe corporations, nation-states, and other institutional actors come even closer? It sure would be nice to be able to add some "artificial empathy" to Nestlé et al.

comment by BrotherNihil · 2013-09-08T22:44:01.724Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What are some examples of ideas that are so dangerous, incendiary or sanity-destroying that they shouldn't even be spoken of? Rot-13 if necessary...

Replies from: blacktrance, Manfred, ChristianKl, niceguyanon, RomeoStevens, drethelin, metatroll, mare-of-night, metatroll
comment by blacktrance · 2013-09-09T06:17:28.858Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is it too meta to say "asking questions like this in a place where they're likely to be answered correctly"?

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-09-09T11:50:38.361Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Speaking about suicide methods in a detailed fact-based way would be a classic example. There's evidence that it increases the number of suicides that happen. There are media guides for journalists who argue against that practice.

comment by niceguyanon · 2013-09-08T22:59:54.103Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Stupid question, is this even allowed on LW? I remember reading somewhere that stuff like this have been purged before.

Replies from: CellBioGuy
comment by CellBioGuy · 2013-09-09T04:10:24.043Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes they have been and the results were hilarious.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-09-09T02:55:20.499Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My Little Pony apparently. Though the sanity destruction seems to be for a very specific subset of the populace.

Replies from: knb
comment by knb · 2013-09-09T04:51:09.416Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can you explain what you mean by this?

Replies from: drethelin
comment by drethelin · 2013-09-09T05:45:15.841Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

people get exposed to it and some of them become obsessed to the point of watching it all the time and basing their clothing and friendships off it, or feeling like they are married to Rainbow Dash.

Replies from: FiftyTwo, knb
comment by FiftyTwo · 2013-09-22T22:38:39.475Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That seems to be a general pattern in any subculture, I don't think the MLP fandom is unusual in its distribution of strangeness for its size

comment by knb · 2013-09-09T06:40:25.742Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh. Thanks. I've never seen this show and don't know much about it other than that it's oddly popular among people on Less Wrong.

Although, based on what you're saying, I guess it could be that people who are already insane are just especially attracted to My Little Pony for some reason.

comment by drethelin · 2013-09-08T23:32:16.712Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The idea that some ideas are far too dangerous to be spoken about is a pretty dangerous one

comment by metatroll · 2013-09-09T01:40:28.924Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by mare-of-night · 2013-09-09T02:25:31.465Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, there's the AI box experiment. Those transcripts could be kept hidden because private, personal things were spoken of, but then people who have done the experiment could tell us that that was the reason for secrecy. Eliazer seems to believe that humanity will be more likely to create and be harmed by a boxed AI if the transcripts are revealed.

This is kind of a hard question to answer without crossing the lines that should not be crossed, though. You can really only get an answer about ideas that shouldn't be spoken of only under certain conditions, or ones that can be referred to in a more general sense (like the AI box).

comment by metatroll · 2013-09-09T02:06:48.969Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Gehgu naq iveghr ner trahvaryl ba gur fvqr bs cbyvgvpny pbeerpgarff.

Gur havirefr ybirf lbh naq jnagf lbh gb orpbzr n tbbq crefba ntnva.

Gurer vf n cbvag gb nyy guvf fhssrevat.