The case for hypocrisy 2021-05-13T03:36:16.863Z
Dumb dichotomies in ethics, part 2: instrumental vs. intrinsic values 2021-05-07T02:31:50.591Z
On silence 2021-04-30T03:15:23.009Z
What books are for: a response to "Why books don't work." 2021-04-21T23:18:09.393Z
The secret of Wikipedia's success 2021-04-14T22:18:52.871Z
Agreeing to Disagree: towards a better understanding of agreeableness 2021-03-29T03:14:23.966Z
Some things I've learned in college 2021-03-25T21:30:05.899Z
Direct effects matter! 2021-03-14T04:33:11.493Z
The Case for Logical Fallacies 2021-03-08T03:04:47.264Z
Societal Self-control 2021-02-20T03:05:21.271Z
Metric selection bias: why Moore's law is less important than you think 2021-02-08T00:21:20.494Z
Dumb Dichotomies in Ethics, Part 1: Intentions vs Consequences 2021-01-29T03:49:10.323Z
Efficiency Wages: A Double-Edged Sword 2021-01-11T04:43:09.201Z
Don't Use Your Favorite Weapon 2021-01-03T04:01:39.766Z


Comment by aaronb50 on The case for hypocrisy · 2021-05-14T22:05:07.173Z · LW · GW

Looks like I’m in good company!

Comment by aaronb50 on Dumb dichotomies in ethics, part 2: instrumental vs. intrinsic values · 2021-05-09T02:56:44.113Z · LW · GW

I don't think it is operationalizable, but I fail to see why 'net positive mental states' isn't a meaningful, real value. Maybe the units would be apple*minutes or something, where one unit is equivalent to the pleasure you get by eating an apple for one minute. It seems that this could in principle be calculated with full information about everyone's conscious experience. 

Comment by aaronb50 on Dumb dichotomies in ethics, part 2: instrumental vs. intrinsic values · 2021-05-07T20:55:46.730Z · LW · GW

Are you using 'utility' in the economic context, for which a utility function is purely ordinal? Perhaps I should have used a different word, but I'm referring to 'net positive conscious mental states,' which intuitively doesn't seem to suffer from the same issues. 

Comment by aaronb50 on On silence · 2021-04-30T23:29:42.075Z · LW · GW

Interesting, thanks. Assuming this effect is real, I wonder how much is due to the physical movement of walking rather than the low-level cognitive engagement associated with doing something mildly goal-oriented (i.e. trying to reach a destination), or something else. 

Comment by aaronb50 on On silence · 2021-04-30T23:25:34.755Z · LW · GW

Thanks for your perspective. 

I've never been able to do intellectual work with background music, and am baffled by people e.g. programmers who work with headphones playing music all day. But maybe for them it does just use different parts of the brain

For me, there is a huge qualitative difference between lyrical music or even "interesting" classical and electronic music, and very "boring," quiet lyric-less music. Can't focus at all listening to lyrics, but soft ambient music feels intuitively helpful (though this could be illusory). This is especially the case when its a playlist or song I've heard a hundred times before, so the tune is completely unsurprising. 

Comment by aaronb50 on What books are for: a response to "Why books don't work." · 2021-04-23T21:56:28.703Z · LW · GW

Yes, I was incorrect about Matuschak's position. He commented on reddit here:

"I think Matuschak would say that, for the purpose of conveying information, it would be much more efficient to read a very short summary than to read an entire book."

FWIW, I wouldn't say that! Actually, my research for the last couple years has been predicated on the value of embedding focused learning interactions (i.e spaced repetition prompts) into extended narrative. The underlying theory isn't (wasn't!) salience-based, but basically I believe that strong understanding is produced with a rich network of connections and a meaningful emotional connection, both of which are promoted by narrative (but usually not by a very short summary).

Comment by aaronb50 on What books are for: a response to "Why books don't work." · 2021-04-23T04:10:55.012Z · LW · GW

Super interesting and likely worth developing into a longer post if you're so inclined. Really like this analogy.

Comment by aaronb50 on What books are for: a response to "Why books don't work." · 2021-04-22T22:20:33.278Z · LW · GW

Great post and thanks for linking to it! Seems like books' function and utility has gotten more attention than I would have expected. 

Comment by aaronb50 on What books are for: a response to "Why books don't work." · 2021-04-22T22:18:55.671Z · LW · GW

But then readers would have to repeat this sentence for as long as it takes to read the blog post to get the same effect. Not quite as fun.

Comment by aaronb50 on What books are for: a response to "Why books don't work." · 2021-04-22T22:17:47.403Z · LW · GW

Yes this is an excellent point; books increase the fidelity of idea transmission because they place something like a bound on how much an idea can be misinterpreted, since one can always appeal to the author's own words (much more than a blog post or Tweet).

Comment by aaronb50 on The secret of Wikipedia's success · 2021-04-15T11:33:08.583Z · LW · GW

It’s not that individual journalists don’t trust Wikipedia, but that they know they can’t publish an article in which a key fact comes directly from Wikipedia without any sort of corroboration. I assume, anyway. Perhaps I’m wrong.

Comment by aaronb50 on How You Can Gain Self Control Without "Self-Control" · 2021-03-25T23:59:22.574Z · LW · GW

Great post! Is ego depletion just another way of conceptualizing rising marginal cost of effort? Like, maybe it is a fact of human psychology that the second hour of work is more difficult and unpleasant than the first. 

Comment by aaronb50 on Nutrition for brain. · 2021-03-20T04:09:03.604Z · LW · GW

I don't know much more than you could find searching around r/nootropics, but my sense is that the relationship between diet and cognition is highly personal, so experimentation is warranted. Some do best on keto, others as a vegan, etc. With respect to particular substances, it seems that creatine might have some cognitive benefits, but once again supplementation is highly personal. DHA helps some people and induces depression in others, for example.

Also, inflammation is a common culprit/risk factor for many mental issues, so I'd expect that a generally "healthy" diet (at least, not the standard American diet), and perhaps trying an elimination diet to see if eliminating certain foods produces a marked benefit could be helpful.  Supplements like resveratrol might help with this as well. Also might be worth experimenting with fasting of different lengths; some people find that they become extremely productive after fasting for 12-14 hours. There are a million studies on all these topics that will come up in a Google search.

Comment by aaronb50 on Direct effects matter! · 2021-03-18T03:42:35.598Z · LW · GW

Yes, you're correct. As others have correctly noted, there is no unambiguous way of determining which effects are "direct" and which are not. However, suppose decriminalization does decrease drug use. My argument emphasizes that we would need to consider the reduction in time spent enjoying drugs as a downside to decriminalization (though I doubt this would outweigh the benefits associated with lower incarceration rates). It seems to me that this point would frequently be neglected.

Comment by aaronb50 on Nutrition for brain. · 2021-03-17T05:19:22.881Z · LW · GW

There is a good amount of this discussion at r/nootropics - of which some is evidence based and some is not. For example, see this post

Comment by aaronb50 on Direct effects matter! · 2021-03-15T04:03:05.105Z · LW · GW

Thanks very much. Just fixed that. 

Comment by aaronb50 on Direct effects matter! · 2021-03-14T21:17:37.588Z · LW · GW

This is a good point. Could also be that discussing only points that might impact oneself seems more credible and less dependent on empathy, even if one really does care about others directly.

Comment by aaronb50 on Metric selection bias: why Moore's law is less important than you think · 2021-02-11T23:19:49.504Z · LW · GW

Fair point, but you'd have to think that the tendencies of the patent officers changed over time in order to foreclose that as a good metric. 

Comment by aaronb50 on Metric selection bias: why Moore's law is less important than you think · 2021-02-11T00:20:50.548Z · LW · GW

I meant objective in the sense that the metric itself is objective, not that it is necessarily a good indicator of innovation. Yes, you're right. I do like Cowen and Southewood's method of only looking at patents registered all of the U.S., Japan, and E.U. 

Comment by aaronb50 on Metric selection bias: why Moore's law is less important than you think · 2021-02-08T23:00:56.524Z · LW · GW

Basically agree with this suggestion: broader metrics are more likely to be unbiased over time. Even the electric grid example, though, isn't ideal because we can imagine a future point where going from $0.0001 to $0.000000001 per kilowatt-hour, for example, just isn't relevant. 

Total factor productivity and GDP per capita are even better, agreed. 

While a cop-out, my best guess is that a mixture of qualitative historical assessments (for example, asking historians, entrepreneurs, and scientists to rank decades by degree of progress) and using a variety of direct and indirect objective metrics (ex. patent rates, total factor productivity, cost of energy, life expectancy) is the best option. Any single or small group of metrics seems bound to be biased in one way or another. Unfortunately, it's hard to figure out how to weight and compare all of these things. 

Comment by aaronb50 on Metric selection bias: why Moore's law is less important than you think · 2021-02-08T03:50:35.282Z · LW · GW

Thank you! Should have known someone would have beat me to it. 

Comment by aaronb50 on Dumb Dichotomies in Ethics, Part 1: Intentions vs Consequences · 2021-02-06T05:00:17.609Z · LW · GW

I was thinking the third bullet, though the question of perverse incentives needs fleshing out, which I briefly alluded to at the end of the post:

“Expected consequences”, for example, leaves under-theorized when you should seek out new, relevant information to improve your forecast about some action’s consequences.

My best guess is that this isn't actually an issue, because you have a moral duty to seek out that information, as you know a priori that seeking out such info is net-positive in itself. 

Comment by aaronb50 on Dumb Dichotomies in Ethics, Part 1: Intentions vs Consequences · 2021-01-29T23:14:03.718Z · LW · GW

Thanks for your insight. Yes, the "we simplify this for undergrads" thing seems most plausible to me. I guess my concern is that in this particular case, the simplification from "expected consequences matter" to "consequences matter" might be doing more harm than good. 

Comment by aaronb50 on Dumb Dichotomies in Ethics, Part 1: Intentions vs Consequences · 2021-01-29T23:12:21.064Z · LW · GW

I don't think rule utilitarianism, as generally understood, is the same as expected consequences. Perhaps in practice, their guidance generally coincides, but the former is fundamentally about social coordination to produce the best consequences and the latter is not. Hypothetically, you can imagine a situation in which someone is nearly certain that breaking one of these rules, just this once, would improve the world. Rule consequentialism says they should not break the rule, and expected consequences says they should.

Comment by aaronb50 on You can send people KN95s · 2021-01-27T04:39:42.211Z · LW · GW

Ordered for my family as a direct results of reading this post - thank you!

Comment by aaronb50 on Efficiency Wages: A Double-Edged Sword · 2021-01-12T00:36:56.990Z · LW · GW

Hmm, I don't entirely see it that way. I think in the vast majority of cases, the talent-attracting effect of more money overpowers the benefits offered by competence signalling. That's why I think public defenders should be paid more both as a matter of justice and because it would increase average performance on net

Comment by aaronb50 on Efficiency Wages: A Double-Edged Sword · 2021-01-11T23:55:10.680Z · LW · GW

All very valid points. To be sure, my model is only valid when there is good reason to expect competence and motivation to correlate and when firing is relatively difficult. My only (possible?) disagreement is that I think "lawyers with no serious option at better than $61K/yr" wouldn't generally become public defenders unless they also happen to be very motivated by the position itself, because other law positions paying $61k have a lower workload, stress, etc. 

It's true that government jobs tend to be more secure, but I don't think this fully explains the low salaries of public defenders (though this is just an intuition).

Comment by aaronb50 on Don't Use Your Favorite Weapon · 2021-01-04T00:29:37.962Z · LW · GW

Good points. I certainly don't know how any individual conservative would justify any of their positions. The Fijian example is admittedly a little silly to work with, but based on my experience of contemporary American politics I would bet that the strong majority of Fijian conservatives would not cite Chesterton's Fence-esque reasons for their position. True, the "thoughtful" or intellectual elite conservatives might, but these individuals are often deemed "thoughtful" and survive in academia or other elite liberal institutions because their style of thinking is at least a little more appealing to their more numerous liberal colleagues. 

Comment by aaronb50 on Give it a google · 2020-12-30T04:55:04.075Z · LW · GW

I'm frequently surprised that my parents will spend effort on something or ask another person for help without Googling; both are well-educated and comfortable using the internet, but it just isn't their first instinct like it is with me. Perhaps there's a correlation with age, where older people weren't trained to use Google as a first-line troubleshooting device. 

Comment by aaronb50 on Tools for keeping focused · 2020-08-14T03:41:54.342Z · LW · GW

Strongly seconded. Keeping my phone out of reach, out of sight, and on silent is both trivially easy and amazingly effective at reducing distraction. I think that all of those three things (sight, sound, reach) are necessary for me, and I suspect others as well.

Comment by aaronb50 on High Variance Productivity Advice · 2020-03-03T22:22:11.436Z · LW · GW

Regarding "Magic Pills," I would note that Wellbutrin is know as the first-line antidepressant that tends to aid in focus, energy, and productivity. SSRIs (which wellbutrin is not) have a reputation for sedation and sometimes an emotional numbing effect, though this very well may be what one needs or desires to deal with depression or anxiety. Additionally, Wellbutrin is "lower risk" than SSRIs in the sense that uncomfortable withdrawal effects are quite rare. The source for this is research for a personal decision regarding whether to try antidepressnts in the past. All this said, there seems to be very large variation in personal satisfaction with different antidepressants, and there are surely some people who would indeed benefit from SSRIs, not only in terms of depression itself but also productivity as a secondary effect.