Eluding Attention Hijacks 2010-04-17T03:23:46.520Z
Will reason ever outrun faith? 2010-01-07T14:00:27.205Z


Comment by ABranco on Open Thread, August 2010 · 2010-08-19T03:08:48.058Z · LW · GW

The visual guide to a PhD:

Nice map–territory perspective.

Comment by ABranco on Book Recommendations · 2010-08-11T06:10:12.669Z · LW · GW

I have Notes from Underground, but haven't yet read it. Would you tell me what impressed you in it?

Comment by ABranco on Book Recommendations · 2010-08-11T06:08:48.325Z · LW · GW

I've read Meditations.

Many wise aphorisms and thoughts there. Would recommend it for tougher times, as with any other stoic in general. Don't read it when feeling incredibly happy, or you are bound to have your emotional state flatten.

Comment by ABranco on Book Recommendations · 2010-08-11T06:03:09.783Z · LW · GW

This is the nth time someone recommends me Borges. Although I have never felt particularly attracted to his writings by sampling pages of his books, I am reaching some kind of irresistible threshold I am about to cross. Will read something from him.

Comment by ABranco on Open Thread, August 2010 · 2010-08-05T10:04:42.111Z · LW · GW

Remarkable quote, thank you.

Reminded me of the Anorexic Hermit Crab Syndrome:

The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity. Usually, growth comes at the expense of previous comfort or safety. The hermit crab is a colorful example of a creature that lives by this aspect of the growth process (albeit without our psychological baggage). As the crab gets bigger, it needs to find a more spacious shell. So the slow, lumbering creature goes on a quest for a new home. If an appropriate new shell is not found quickly, a terribly delicate moment of truth arises. A soft creature that is used to the protection of built-in armor must now go out into the world, exposed to predators in all its mushy vulnerability. That learning phase in between shells is where our growth can spring from. Someone stuck with an entity theory of intelligence is like an anorexic hermit crab, starving itself so it doesn't grow to have to find a new shell. —Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning

Comment by ABranco on Open Thread, August 2010 · 2010-08-05T04:26:00.616Z · LW · GW

I would love to see an ongoing big wiki-style FAQ addressing all possible received critics of the singularity — of course, refuting the refutable ones, accepting the sensible.

A version with steroids of what this one did with Atheism.

Team would be:

  • one guy inviting and sorting out criticism and updating the website.
  • an ad hoc team of responders.

It seems criticism and answers have been scattered all over. There seems to be no one-stop source for that.

Comment by ABranco on Open Thread, August 2010 · 2010-08-05T04:13:02.880Z · LW · GW

For survival skills, I'd suggest buying this one before the disaster, while there's still internet.

Comment by ABranco on Open Thread, August 2010 · 2010-08-05T04:07:00.260Z · LW · GW

The argument that no one person in the face of Earth knows how to build a mouse from scratch is plausible.

Matt Ridley

Comment by ABranco on Open Thread, August 2010 · 2010-08-05T04:02:56.679Z · LW · GW

I've had some dozens of viewquakes, most minors, although it's hard to evaluate it in hindsight now that I take them for granted.

Some are somewhat commonplace here: Bayesianism, map–territory relations, evolution etc.

One that I always feel people should be shouting Eureka — and when they are not impressed I assume that this is old news to them (and is often not, as I don't see it reflected in their actions) — is the Curse of Knowledge: it's hard to be a tapper. I feel that being aware of it dramatically improved my perceptions in conversation. I also feel that if more people were aware of it, misunderstandings would be far less common.

Maybe worth a post someday.

Comment by ABranco on Open Thread, August 2010 · 2010-08-05T03:45:45.296Z · LW · GW

P (H|E) = P (H and E) / P(E)

which tends to be how conditional probability is defined, and actually the first version of Bayes that I recall seeing.

Comment by ABranco on Open Thread, August 2010 · 2010-08-05T03:42:27.150Z · LW · GW

Interesting article:

One reason why it's a good idea someone with OCD (or for that matter, Asperger, psychosis, autism, paranoia, schizophrenia — whatever) should make sure new acquaintances know of his/her condition:

I suppose that being presented by a third party, as in the example, should make a difference when compared to self-labeling (which may sound like excusing oneself)?

Comment by ABranco on Some Thoughts Are Too Dangerous For Brains to Think · 2010-07-19T04:55:32.438Z · LW · GW

Or putting it differently:

  • One thing is to operationally avoid gaining certain data at a certain moment in order to better function overall. Because we need to keep our attention focused.

  • Another thing is to strategically avoid gaining certain kinds of information that could possibly lead us astray.

I'd guess most people here agree with this kind of "self-deception" that the former entails. And it seems that the post is arguing pro this kind of "self-deception" in the latter case as well, although there isn't as much consensus — some people seem to welcome any kind of truth whatsoever, at any time.

However... It seems to me now that, frankly, both cases are incredibly similar! So I may be conflating them, too.

The major difference seems to be the scale adopted: checking your email is an information hazard at that moment, and you want to postpone it for a couple of hours. Knowing about certain truths is an information hazard at this moment, and you want to postpone it for a couple of... decades. If ever. When your brain is stronger enough to handle it smoothly.

It all boils down to knowing we are not robots, that our brains are a kludge, and that certain stimuli (however real or true) are undesired.

Comment by ABranco on Some Thoughts Are Too Dangerous For Brains to Think · 2010-07-19T04:23:13.040Z · LW · GW

It's not obvious that knowing more always makes us better off — because the landscape of rationality is not smooth.

The quote in Eliezer's site stating that "That which can be destroyed by the truth should be." sounded to me too strong a claim from the very first time I read it. Many people cultivate falsehoods or use blinkers that are absolutely necessary to the preservation of their sanity (sic), and removing them could terribly jeopardize their adaptability to the environment. It could literally kill them.

Comment by ABranco on Some Thoughts Are Too Dangerous For Brains to Think · 2010-07-19T03:49:57.252Z · LW · GW

Hi, Michael.

Can you expand that thought, and the process? Doesn't adopting the other person's criteria constitute a kind of "self-deception" if you happen to dislike/disapprove his/her criteria?

I mean that even if, despite your dislikes, you sympathize with the paths that led to that person's motivations, if reading a book happens to be a truly more interesting activity at that moment, and is an actionable alternative, I don't see how connecting with the person could be a better choice.

Unless... you find something very enjoyable in this process itself that doesn't depend much on the person. I remember your comment about "liking people's territories instead of their maps" — it seems to be related here. Is it?

Comment by ABranco on Some Thoughts Are Too Dangerous For Brains to Think · 2010-07-19T02:21:16.556Z · LW · GW

He referred to something along the lines of "the sensation of being surprised", if I recall it correctly. Would you choose to know everything, if you could, but then never having this sensation again?

Comment by ABranco on Beware of Other-Optimizing · 2010-07-10T17:06:17.350Z · LW · GW

I think that would be great. Any initiative here? Quantifying the results Amazon-like would be great.

Comment by ABranco on Beware of Other-Optimizing · 2010-07-09T23:39:42.545Z · LW · GW

That's very interesting, and makes lots of sense. Reminds me of the technique of kicking the wall to stop the headache.

How to know which substitutions are the most suitable? For instance, what would you use to substitute for bad memories of the past? Fears of the future? Boredom with the task at hand?

I happen not yet to be a great specialist in brain anatomy...

Comment by ABranco on Applying Behavioral Psychology on Myself · 2010-06-20T23:31:31.952Z · LW · GW

Why did you choose 50% chance of reward of the gummy, and not 100%? Or half a gummy?

Comment by ABranco on Applying Behavioral Psychology on Myself · 2010-06-20T09:14:01.234Z · LW · GW

Nice post, John. Please post more on those topics.

Question: not sure I understood exactly what you meant by "I started eating a gummy worm with 50% probability each time I did the chore at a pre-determined time early in the evening."

Comment by ABranco on How to always have interesting conversations · 2010-06-14T03:18:39.645Z · LW · GW

You won me in the first paragraph and your description of Vassar's psyche.

I could promptly visualize his curious face investigating the walls, wrinkles between his eyes while he tries to draw mental connections between 11 different sources before coming up with an "Aha!", followed by an elegant (normally accurate) explanation he'll be pleased to share.

Developing over Rain: if you have time, you are curious and can make the other person at ease, questions will take you miles into the conversation. You'll learn, and the other person will be pleased to share.

However, I also agree with JoshuaZ: inane subjects are a problem. One should not fake curiosity, and all subjects are not equally interesting. If the person only talks about something you don't give a damn, faking interest wastes time and poisons your soul.

Talking to this person then becomes a gamble: "what is my expectation of maybe reaching something interesting here, if I keep asking questions enough for the next X minutes?". Of course, given enough time, you'll reach something interesting. But time is finite, and nobody seems to have enough time anymore, anyway.

So, with this person you could:

a. learn in the meta level (observe the dynamics of the conversation, or try to figure out his/her behavior); or

b. be the talker (if the person likes what you have to say, or you think you can help with something); or

c. just present her to someone who happens to also like celebrity gossips, make both happy, and excuse yourself to go find the waiter with the valuable cheese appetizers.

Comment by ABranco on Virtue Ethics for Consequentialists · 2010-06-07T07:51:53.448Z · LW · GW

I've practiced vipassana and can relate to the pain asymbolia thing, and do believe that more advanced vipassana practitioners develop a very high level of it.

Suffering seems to be the consequence of a conflict between two systems: one is trying to protect the map ("Oh!, no!, I don't want to have a worldview that includes a burn in my hand, I don't like that, please go away!") and the other, the territory (the body showing you that there's something wrong and you should pay attention). Consequence: suffering.

Possible solution: just observe the pain for what it is, without trying to conceptualize it. Having got your attention of it, the sensation stays, but there's no suffering.

Of course, you get better at this after the thousandth time you hear Goenka say: "It can be a tickling sensation. It can be a chicken flying sensation. It can be an 'I think I'm dying sensation'—just observe, just observe...". ;)

Comment by ABranco on Bayes' Theorem Illustrated (My Way) · 2010-06-03T12:34:18.678Z · LW · GW

I'm so happy: I've just got this one right, before looking at the answer. It's damn beautiful.

Thanks for sharing.

Comment by ABranco on Bayes' Theorem Illustrated (My Way) · 2010-06-03T12:22:03.336Z · LW · GW

Great visualizations.

In fact, this (only without triangles, squares,...) is how I've been intuitively calculating Bayesian probabilities in "everyday" life problems since I was young. But you managed to make it even clearer for me. Good to see it applied to Monty Hall.

Comment by ABranco on The Math of When to Self-Improve · 2010-05-27T11:23:26.219Z · LW · GW


Do you suggest any practical way to calculate how steep is my discounting curve, in real life?

Comment by ABranco on Multiple Choice · 2010-05-17T23:00:50.052Z · LW · GW

That was helpful insight, thanks.

Comment by ABranco on 23andme genome analysis - $99 today only · 2010-04-27T11:36:20.140Z · LW · GW

I might be interested in buying it. Is anyone here willing to resell it to me and make a small profit?

If yes, please reply with an offered price.

Comment by ABranco on Proposed New Features for Less Wrong · 2010-04-27T10:26:08.144Z · LW · GW

A feature I'd love to see implemented is a Q&A section. Let's say that this would be to Yahoo! Answers as LessWrongWiki is to Wikipedia.

The idea is that people can ask questions -- any questions -- related to rationality and whoever wants it can jump in trying to answer them. Good answers gain karma. And whoever asked the question selects the best answer.

The question could be made looking for qualitative answers (as with Yahoo! Answers) or quantitatively, as a poll (such as here, but much more seriously...)

Comment by ABranco on Eluding Attention Hijacks · 2010-04-21T22:02:50.856Z · LW · GW

True. =)

On the other hand, I've found that time invested in being more productive pays itself handsomely in time saved.

Comment by ABranco on a meta-anti-akrasia strategy that might just work · 2010-04-20T02:18:26.141Z · LW · GW

Starting often is a major point. No more reminiscing about lost time. Just experiencing the now, and the next half hour. It seems like the bigger picture of a project disappears and I only notice what is right around me. Its a lot easier to commit to the next unit of work when its only 30min, than to think about entire 8 hour days in front of me.

Your impressions here match mine (see Eluding Attention Hijacks).

I have also noticed that the anxiety that arises from having too many things to do, distributed in lots of hours ahead, might be closely related to Schwartz's Paradox of Choice -- whenever you chose to do something now, you know you are choosing not to do hundreds of other possible tasks, and it seems that the only way around is to put blinders and forget you have other stuff. And then, looking back, you'll have accomplished a lot.

Comment by ABranco on Eluding Attention Hijacks · 2010-04-19T12:39:04.764Z · LW · GW

That's definitely interesting. I am curious: have you tried them?, do they actually work?

Comment by ABranco on Eluding Attention Hijacks · 2010-04-19T12:37:57.420Z · LW · GW

...which is pretty much equivalent to the writing down tip that I wrote -- only that maybe for you emails are units easier to process.

Problem is that it takes some time to send an email. Really. I mean, not if you have three-four ideas a day, but if you have (like me) some dozens, the extra seconds of writing an email, multiplied by many emails, might become a barrier. So I prefer text files, and then I process them later.

Comment by ABranco on Eluding Attention Hijacks · 2010-04-17T16:31:28.071Z · LW · GW

I agree. It was quick, harmless, and relevant.

I have to say that I was recommended those ones as being the best. They are indeed the sexiest earplugs ever. Stylish.

Unfortunately, at least for me, they were inferior in blocking noise compared to the cheap ones in orange foam. Silicone still wins.

Comment by ABranco on Eluding Attention Hijacks · 2010-04-17T13:46:49.898Z · LW · GW

You are right, thank you. Corrected.

Comment by ABranco on Coffee: When it helps, when it hurts · 2010-04-04T22:54:34.821Z · LW · GW

I like your meta-analysis on to which kinds of tasks coffee works better.

I add something on the how much. Frequent small doses gives you better results than few large doses.

Actually, whenever in the absence of further specific evidences, I have found that small-doses-many-times is a good rule of thumb for a vast array of substances (eg: food in general, sugar) if the goal is to maintain a stable, productive mental state.

Comment by ABranco on Saturation, Distillation, Improvisation: A Story About Procedural Knowledge And Cookies · 2010-04-04T22:38:43.375Z · LW · GW

Curiously, this is pretty much what I normally do when learning new procedures, but being aware of those S.D.I. steps in a more explicit manner seems to be useful in terms of having a less hesitant, "what the heck should I do next?" attitude when about to do something.

I liked it. Very good procedure to learn new procedures.

Comment by ABranco on Deontology for Consequentialists · 2010-03-31T05:03:08.774Z · LW · GW

"Avoidum" (pl. "avoida") could be an alternative — but "evitandum", having more syllables, does sound better.

Comment by ABranco on Even if you have a nail, not all hammers are the same · 2010-03-30T05:01:26.799Z · LW · GW

Then vitamins are not evil, as the paper claims.

Roughly speaking, can we assume that the right thing they should have written as a conclusion in the paper would have been the weaker claim:

"Vitamins X and Y are evil under these daily doses; further studies are needed to confirm if they are beneficial in some other dosage, and if so, which is the optimal one."


Comment by ABranco on Pretending to be Wise · 2010-03-30T03:57:54.149Z · LW · GW

Seems like two separate issues: one thing is what you essentially think about the matter under discussion (whether if you make it explicit to the others or not); how you approach influencing the other side is something else.

Comment by ABranco on Pretending to be Wise · 2010-03-30T03:52:33.447Z · LW · GW

There is a very similar quote from Ayn Rand as well:

It is not justice or equal treatment that you grant to men when you abstain equally from praising men’s virtues and from condemning men’s vices. When your impartial attitude declares, in effect, that neither the good nor the evil may expect anything from you—whom do you betray and whom do you encourage?

Your point is good. Sometimes it's just a matter of allocation of resources -- and yes, may sound like "you're with us or you're against us" depending on the tone.

Comment by ABranco on Mental Crystallography · 2010-03-30T02:30:44.097Z · LW · GW

In particular, I have realized that trying to visualize the words as you hear them works wonderfully both for:

(a) focusing on what the other person is saying, especially if the theme is difficult to grasp and/or if you tend to get easily distracted; and

(b) associating sounds to words while learning foreign languages.

Comment by ABranco on Rationality quotes: March 2010 · 2010-03-01T23:51:01.338Z · LW · GW

Emotions are the lubricants of reason. —Nicholas Nassim Taleb

Comment by ABranco on Rationality quotes: March 2010 · 2010-03-01T23:50:20.631Z · LW · GW

A touchstone to determine the actual worth of an "intellectual" — find out how he feels about astrology. —Robert Heinlein

Comment by ABranco on Rationality quotes: March 2010 · 2010-03-01T23:49:59.658Z · LW · GW

A thinker sees his own actions as experiments and questions — as attempts to find out something. Success and failure are for him answers above all. —Nietzsche

Comment by ABranco on Rationality quotes: March 2010 · 2010-03-01T23:49:29.429Z · LW · GW

The limits of my language are the limits of my world. —Ludwig Wittgenstein

Comment by ABranco on Rationality Quotes January 2010 · 2010-01-09T14:44:39.087Z · LW · GW

The absence of alternatives clarifies your mind marvelously. —Kissinger

Comment by ABranco on Rationality Quotes January 2010 · 2010-01-09T14:44:19.569Z · LW · GW

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. —Nietzsche

Comment by ABranco on Rationality Quotes January 2010 · 2010-01-09T14:42:32.127Z · LW · GW

Don't go around saying the world owes you a living; the world owes you nothing; it was here first. —Mark Twain

Comment by ABranco on Are Your Enemies Innately Evil? · 2010-01-07T13:05:57.668Z · LW · GW

Influenced, yes.

But not 'because' of you. It's not that personal. The other person carries all her dreams, histories, frustrations, hormones, cognitive biases and -- which is relevant -- a rather inaccurate map of the very territory that you are. Their response is more like an effect of that mix, in which, what concerns you, only a partial map of who you are play a role.

Comment by ABranco on Fundamentally Flawed, or Fast and Frugal? · 2009-12-21T00:01:34.157Z · LW · GW

You're right. It works better if the group interviewed is composed of neither experts nor completely isolated news-averse schizoids.

Comment by ABranco on The Amanda Knox Test: How an Hour on the Internet Beats a Year in the Courtroom · 2009-12-14T19:52:44.495Z · LW · GW

I haven't deeply read or studied the whole case itself — but by all means this is a beautiful, detailed, clearly written exposition of your train of thoughts. Thank you.

And yes, the mental suffering of spending two decades in jail + being despised by everyone around when you're actually innocent shouldn't be easy to face even with the highest possible dose of stoicism one could inject herself.