Feature Request: Self-imposed Time Restrictions 2019-05-15T22:35:15.883Z · score: 22 (7 votes)
You can be wrong about what you like, and you often are 2018-12-17T23:49:39.935Z · score: 32 (10 votes)
What is abstraction? 2018-12-15T08:36:01.089Z · score: 25 (8 votes)
Trivial inconveniences as an antidote to akrasia 2018-05-18T05:34:55.430Z · score: 49 (16 votes)
Science like a chef 2018-02-08T21:23:45.425Z · score: 73 (23 votes)
Productivity: Working towards a summary of what we know 2017-11-09T22:04:28.389Z · score: 88 (43 votes)
Idea for LessWrong: Video Tutoring 2017-06-23T21:40:50.118Z · score: 13 (13 votes)
Develop skills, or "dive in" and start a startup? 2017-05-26T18:07:34.109Z · score: 1 (2 votes)
How I'd Introduce LessWrong to an Outsider 2017-05-03T04:32:21.396Z · score: 8 (6 votes)
New meet up in Las Vegas! 2017-04-28T23:57:21.098Z · score: 2 (3 votes)
Meetup : Las Vegas Meetup 2017-04-28T00:52:37.705Z · score: 0 (1 votes)
Should we admit it when a person/group is "better" than another person/group? 2016-02-16T09:43:48.330Z · score: 0 (14 votes)
Sports 2015-12-26T19:54:39.204Z · score: 12 (13 votes)
Non-communicable Evidence 2015-11-17T03:46:01.503Z · score: 10 (17 votes)
What is your rationalist backstory? 2015-09-25T01:25:04.036Z · score: 8 (9 votes)
Why Don't Rationalists Win? 2015-09-05T00:57:28.156Z · score: 2 (12 votes)
Test Driven Thinking 2015-07-24T18:38:46.991Z · score: 3 (6 votes)
Is Greed Stupid? 2015-06-23T20:38:34.027Z · score: -6 (18 votes)
Effective altruism and political power 2015-06-17T17:47:11.509Z · score: 4 (6 votes)
Ideas to Improve LessWrong 2015-05-25T22:55:00.818Z · score: 10 (11 votes)
Communicating via writing vs. in person 2015-05-22T04:58:06.373Z · score: 4 (5 votes)
Lessons from each HPMOR chapter in one line [link] 2015-04-09T14:51:53.411Z · score: 11 (12 votes)
How urgent is it to intuitively understand Bayesianism? 2015-04-07T00:43:43.215Z · score: 7 (8 votes)
Learning by Doing 2015-03-24T01:56:43.462Z · score: 4 (7 votes)
Saving for the long term 2015-02-24T03:33:32.183Z · score: 7 (8 votes)
[LINK] Wait But Why - The AI Revolution Part 2 2015-02-04T16:02:08.888Z · score: 17 (18 votes)
Respond to what they probably meant 2015-01-17T23:37:38.135Z · score: 11 (18 votes)
The Superstar Effect 2015-01-03T06:11:19.710Z · score: 10 (19 votes)
Ways to improve LessWrong 2014-09-14T02:25:26.228Z · score: 5 (6 votes)
Is it a good idea to use Soylent once/twice a day? 2014-09-08T00:00:36.118Z · score: 5 (10 votes)
What motivates politicians? 2014-09-05T05:41:01.629Z · score: 3 (8 votes)
Why are people "put off by rationality"? 2014-08-05T18:15:03.905Z · score: 3 (10 votes)
What do rationalists think about the afterlife? 2014-05-13T21:46:48.131Z · score: -17 (27 votes)
A medium for more rational discussion 2014-02-24T17:20:49.248Z · score: 10 (17 votes)
Is love a good idea? 2014-02-22T06:59:16.874Z · score: 3 (31 votes)
Rethinking Education 2014-02-15T05:22:11.067Z · score: 2 (32 votes)
How to illustrate that society is mostly irrational, and how rationality would be beneficial 2014-02-14T06:16:32.499Z · score: -2 (11 votes)
How big of an impact would cleaner political debates have on society? 2014-02-06T00:24:41.862Z · score: 6 (28 votes)
Salary or startup? How do-gooders can gain more from risky careers 2014-02-05T22:54:26.519Z · score: 5 (10 votes)
Why don't more rationalists start startups? 2014-01-20T07:29:08.244Z · score: -3 (32 votes)


Comment by adamzerner on Bayes' Theorem in three pictures · 2019-07-21T17:54:40.563Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I liked this a lot, thank you! My understanding of Bayes' Theorem has always been a little shaky, and I think that this sured things up for me.

One thing that I think would improve this post would be to have used a practical example.

Comment by adamzerner on Thinking Fast and Hard · 2019-05-13T21:22:56.685Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This reminds me of Cal Newport and his book Deep Work. He argues for something similar. He talks about how "thinking hard" allows you to perform wildly better than those who don't, and also that it is increasingly rare and valuable in our world.

Comment by adamzerner on Disincentives for participating on LW/AF · 2019-05-11T00:47:18.688Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Personally, here are two things that prevent me from participating as much as I'd like that I suspect might apply to others:

1) Internet addiction

Whenever I post or comment, I can't help but start checking in to see if I get any responses rather obsessively. But I don't want to be in that state, so sometimes I withhold from posting or commenting. And more generally, being on LW means being on the internet, and for me, being on the internet tempts me to procrastinate and do things I don't actually want to be doing.

2. Relatively high bar for participation

If I'm going to comment or post, I want to say something useful. Which often means spending time and effort. a) I have a limited capacity for this, and b) if I'm going to be spending time and effort, I find that I often see it as more useful to apply it elsewhere, like reading a textbook.

With (b), not always though. There's a lot of other times where I do feel that applying my time/effort here on LW is the most useful place to apply it.

Comment by adamzerner on Tales From the American Medical System · 2019-05-10T18:32:44.005Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Gotcha. Maybe it could make sense to apply it to diabetics then.

Comment by adamzerner on Tales From the American Medical System · 2019-05-10T17:44:51.735Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for chiming in. I was hoping to hear from a practicing doctor.

That all does make sense. A doctor requiring appointments for refills seems understandable now. The system that forces them to do so doesn't, but that's a separate issue.

Comment by adamzerner on Tales From the American Medical System · 2019-05-10T17:23:43.908Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
I would not be surprised if the doctor adopted a rule of "always discuss treatment in person" as health issues often are very emotional and patients may be ill-informed

Ah, that does seem plausible. Along with the hypotheses that he sloppily applies this to diabetics who need insulin, and it subsequently became an ego contest.

I wonder how the doctor would react if Zvi's friend would point out his motivation for keeping his schedule while actively endorsing the importance of his doctor's opinion.

I too suspect that the doctor would have responded much better. I've been learning more and more that when you give people an out that lets them maintain their ego, they often are happy to take it. The places where people get really stubborn is when giving in would compromise their ego.

But of course, it's 100% not acceptable for a doctor to let their ego get in the way of life saving medicine, and it is extremely understandable for someone being denied life saving medicine to overlook all of this.

Comment by adamzerner on Tales From the American Medical System · 2019-05-10T04:32:03.746Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Why is it that they are like that?

Comment by adamzerner on Tales From the American Medical System · 2019-05-10T02:50:06.623Z · score: 18 (5 votes) · LW · GW


I thought that was a possibility but I didn't think it was too likely.

Don't they have enough money already? I've always been confused about people who are already extremely wealthy acting so greedily. Eg. CEOs. You already have a ton of money, the extra money can't mean that much to you because of diminishing marginal utility stuff, why hurt other people in pursuit of more? Is it that they compare themselves to others around them and want to have more than their friends? Is the pursuit of more just a habit?

Comment by adamzerner on Tales From the American Medical System · 2019-05-10T02:16:07.565Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, that all makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the reply.

So now I'm finding myself very curious as to what possibly could have been this doctors motivation for acting this way. Why would he have such a strong preference to see the patient so soon? And why would he be so reluctant to give the patient insulin in the meantime?

True maliciousness and desire to cause harm seems unlikely, so what could it be?

My first thought is some sort of twisted ego. "You don't say no to me! I'm the doctor! I am the one who knows when I do and don't need to see you!"

That seems somewhat plausible, but also seems to introduce other questions. Why would the doctor want to see the patient in the first place? More revenue? I guess that's possible but doesn't seem likely to me. Maybe the patient has other complications and the doctor cares about the patient and wants to see the patient more frequently to make sure they're alright. That seems to contradict the subsequent "you don't get your lifesaving medicine unless you listen to me" attitude, but I guess it could just be that ego is his stronger drive, or just that he's inconsistent.

Now that I think about it more, the thing that seems most likely to me actually is that the doctor may have come across a good(seeming) reason to have this policy in the past, and just follows it blindly now. Idk though, what would that good reason even be?

Comment by adamzerner on Tales From the American Medical System · 2019-05-10T01:43:05.570Z · score: 9 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I'm trying to steelman and see if there's a way for this situation to make some amount of sense.

  • What happens if you let patients buy refills without a prescription? Would they consume too much of it? Would there be any sort of risk of them selling the excess to others? I wouldn't think so for either of those questions, but I know very little about this domain.
  • Is there a medical reason why the doctor might not prescribe more insulin if he examines the patient and finds something new? I know you're saying that the answer is "no" and that he'll need insulin regardless, but perhaps there is some edge case. The medical system seems pretty obsessed with edge cases and covering their asses. "Have a headache? Ok. Let's just make sure that you don't have a brain tumor or anything first."
  • On that note, I wonder if the doctor is coming from a place of worrying about covering his ass and getting sued if he prescribes more insulin without the exam. Maybe he also knows that he's going to prescribe it regardless, but legally, he needs to say that he examined the patient first in case the patient has a weird reaction or something and ends up suing him.

Of course, this isn't to excuse the behavior. When we're talking about life and death, the system needs to have protocols in place to reallyreallyreallyreallyreally make sure that the death part doesn't happen.

The doctor accuses my friend of having a gun to his head. My friend points out this is a rather interesting choice of metaphor. One could say that the doctor has a gun to his head, in the form of denying him access to life saving medicine. And that the two do not seem remotely comparable.

What an amazing reply.

Comment by adamzerner on How long can people be productive in [time period]? · 2019-05-09T04:43:04.011Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Cool! I'd love to hear what you find!

Comment by adamzerner on How long can people be productive in [time period]? · 2019-05-08T19:43:34.957Z · score: 25 (9 votes) · LW · GW


Note: I'm going to be talking about productivity in the sense of hard work. Eg. Anders Ericsson's idea of deliberate practice.

It seems self-evident that if you're performing busywork like data entry or cleaning, you could be productive for way longer than four hours/day.

It also seems self-evident that in doing something in between busywork and hard work, you can still be productive for more than four hours/day. For example, a calculus student doing tons of practice problems, or an experienced web developer building a simple sign up form.

So then, it seems to make sense to me to deal with the question of hard work. Pushing yourself to the edge of your comfort zone, or perhaps slightly beyond it. For example, mastering a difficult new concept or skill.

Of course, when we talk about hard vs easy work, we're talking about a spectrum, so "hard work" really refers to a general area in that spectrum, not a single point. The answer to the question of how many productive hours you have in a day probably depends a little bit on where exactly you are on that spectrum, but getting into that nuance seems like something more appropriate for a different question. Here, it seems like it's worth just grouping "hard work" together and treating it as a single thing.


Note: As jimrandomh mentions, things like age, physical health and motivation probably matter, as do things like performance enhancing substances or techniques. It seems to me like it'd make sense to address those things in different question though. Eg. here I think we can ask the question of how many productive hours a healthy individual who isn't doing any performance enhancing stuff has in a day. Then in a separate question, we can ask how things like age and physical health impact this number. And in another separate question, we can ask how things like performance enhancing substances impact the number.


After about an hour of googling around, I haven't been able to find any of those high quality studies either. My impression is that the "people are only productive for four hours/day" idea largely comes from interviewing successful people, as opposed to rigorously measuring their performance. If there were high quality studies that really measured performance, I'd expect that they would be talked about more and easier to find, so I take the fact that they're hard to find as reasonably strong evidence that they don't really exist.

It is interesting to note that across a wide range of experts, including athletes, novelists, and musicians, very few appear to be able to engage in more than four or five hours of high concentration and deliberate practice at a time.

This quote comes from a Harvard Business Review article titled The Making of an Expert. The authors are K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely. I know that Ericsson is known as an authority in the study of expert performance; not sure about the other authors.

The article Why you should work 4 hours a day, according to science also had some relevant excerpts. The author mentions various examples of experts reporting that four hours/day is their limit, and that in interviewing people, this is the strong pattern.


After his morning walk and breakfast, Charles Darwin was in his study by 8 a.m. and worked a steady hour and a half. At 9:30 he would read the morning mail and write letters. At 10:30, Darwin returned to more serious work, sometimes moving to his aviary or greenhouse to conduct experiments. By noon, he would declare, "I've done a good day's work," and set out on a long walk. When he returned after an hour or more, Darwin had lunch and answered more letters. At 3 p.m. he would retire for a nap; an hour later he would arise, take another walk, then return to his study until 5:30, when he would join his wife and family for dinner.


Toulouse noted that Poincaré kept very regular hours. He did his hardest thinking between 10 a.m. and noon, and again between 5 and 7 in the afternoon. The 19th century's most towering mathematical genius worked just enough to get his mind around a problem — about four hours a day.

G.H. Hardy:

G.H. Hardy, one of Britain's leading mathematicians in the first half of the 20th century, would start his day with a leisurely breakfast and close reading of the cricket scores, then from 9 to 1 would be immersed in mathematics. After lunch he would be out again, walking and playing tennis. "Four hours' creative work a day is about the limit for a mathematician," he told his friend and fellow Oxford professor C.P. Snow.

John Edensor Littlewood:

Hardy's longtime collaborator John Edensor Littlewood believed that the "close concentration" required to do serious work meant that a mathematician could work "four hours a day or at most five, with breaks about every hour (for walks perhaps)."

Ericsson's study of violin students:

Add these several practices up, and what do you get? About four hours a day. About the same amount of time Darwin spent every day doing his hardest work and Hardy and Littlewood spent doing math.
This upper limit, Ericsson concluded, is defined "not by available time, but by available [mental and physical] resources for effortful practice."

The article also makes some more general statements about the four hours/day idea:

Darwin is not the only famous scientist who combined a lifelong dedication to science with apparently short working hours. We can see similar patterns in many others' careers

In particular, it mentions the following study:

A survey of scientists' working lives conducted in the early 1950s yielded results in a similar range. Illinois Institute of Technology psychology professors Raymond Van Zelst and Willard Kerr surveyed their colleagues about their work habits and schedules, then graphed the number of hours spent in the office against the number of articles they produced. You might expect that the result would be a straight line showing that the more hours scientists worked, the more articles they published. But it wasn't.
The data revealed an M-shaped curve. The curve rose steeply at first and peaked at between 10 to 20 hours per week. The curve then turned downward. Scientists who spent 25 hours in the workplace were no more productive than those who spent five. Scientists working 35 hours a week were half as productive as their 20-hours-a-week colleagues.

If you search through Cal Newport's blog, you'll find lots of other examples of expert performers only being able to manage four hours/day of hard work. John Grisham’s 15-Hour Workweek is one:

Grisham primarily writes his novels during the winter months on his farm in Oxford, Mississippi. During this period he works five days a week, starting at 7 am and typically ending by 10 am.

There is something important that I'd like to emphasize. From what I can tell, all of these examples of expert performers who can only perform about four hours of hard work per day, these people all seem to be getting the other parts of the productivity equation right. They're sleeping enough, taking naps, taking walks, eliminating distractions, quitting Facebook, etc. So four hours/day seems like it is conditional on those things. I think that this is worth noting because many of us are not getting those things right. I know I'm not.

Comment by adamzerner on How long can people be productive in [time period]? · 2019-05-08T17:49:27.902Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It seems worth clarifying what you mean by "productive". As Raemon and waveman mention, the answer will depend on whether you are talking about "hard" work a la Anders Ericsson's idea of deliberate practice, or about more routine type of work. I suspect that you are talking about the former and that people will interpret it as the former, but it still seems worth clarifying.

It also might be worth mentioning that you are referring to "standard" cases of healthy individuals who aren't using any performance enhancing drugs or anything like that. I took that as a given, as the question of how unnatural things like that could change the default seems like a different question, as does the question of how things like anxiety or lack of sleep reduce your capacity.

Comment by adamzerner on Karma-Change Notifications · 2019-03-02T06:51:29.025Z · score: 38 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I'm someone who is really worried about addictiveness. I find myself doing the compulsive refreshing, and hate myself more and more every time I find myself doing it. This coupled with my just having finished reading Digital Minimalism made me feel really worried as I first started reading this post. But once I reached the point where I realized the team was aware of the problem of addictiveness and gives users a way around it... I just felt a strong feeling of warmth towards LessWrong. hearts

Comment by adamzerner on Some Thoughts on My Psychiatry Practice · 2019-01-19T03:34:19.830Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I definitely see what you're saying about how we make comparisons when we process information, and that there is a strong evolutionary pressure for us to be concerned about social status. The thing that makes me feel hopeful is that when you look at humans, there's a pretty decent range of how much different people care about social status. Some care a lot, some only care a little. I wouldn't argue if someone were to claim that you can never 100% get rid of the concern for social status, but it does really seem to me that there is room for growth in terms of how much you care about it. Otherwise, what explains the fact that there is a spectrum of how much people care. Unless it is all genetic, it seems that there is a lot of room for people to improve.

I think that's a really cool idea about society moving towards healthier comparisons. Without having thought deeply about it, my impression is that it'd be extremely difficult because of equilibrium stuff. If an individual actor starts to prioritize something like effort instead of accomplishment, no one is going to praise them, and they won't get social status points. It seems like something where you'd need to get a sizable group to all make a change at the same time, which is always tricky to do. Not to say that it isn't worth pursuing though.

Comment by adamzerner on Some Thoughts on My Psychiatry Practice · 2019-01-18T23:58:25.629Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There's something that I've always been curious about but never had the chance to ask: as a psychiatrist and psychologist, to what extent has your training helped you avoid or solve your own mental health problems? How helpful has it been?

My guess is that it is only somewhat helpful. Many doctors smoke and eat unhealthy foods even though they've spent years studying just how harmful that stuff is. It seems to me that this is an area where "incremental improvements in rationality don't always lead to incremental improvements in winning" is true.

Comment by adamzerner on Some Thoughts on My Psychiatry Practice · 2019-01-18T23:46:44.211Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I've been meaning to think more about ego and identity. I also sense that a lot of people have problems where they don't feel accomplished enough, and where they compare themselves with other people. I know that I have those sorts of problems.

On the one hand, it seems silly to compare yourself to other people like that. Especially when it is taken to such an extreme. But on the other hand, it seems like something that is deeply ingrained in us, and that is very hard to avoid. In reality, that sort of thinking is probably establishing a false dichotomy. Clearly there are some people who are more invested in how accomplished they are than others.

The question that I'm interested in is how to change your mindset, such that you retain your ambition, but aren't caught up in it, if that makes sense. Where you pursue improvement and accomplishment either because you are intrinsically motivated to do so, or because you want to do good for the world, but not because you want social status points. And where you see the accomplishment as a "nice to have", rather than an "I'm happy if I get it, and sad if I don't". And especially not where you see it as a "I feel normal if I get it, and depressed if I don't". I find for myself, and sense that the same is true for many others, that a "logical" understanding often isn't enough, that your brain still may act as if it's a necessity rather than a nice to have, even though you logically understand that this mindset is silly. I suppose that this is a much more general problem, and a very important one.

Comment by adamzerner on You can be wrong about what you like, and you often are · 2018-12-21T01:19:15.254Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In the example of TV vs. novels, no, but there are other examples where I do think so:

  • Live-like-the-locals vacation vs. tourist vacation
  • Doing home improvement stuff yourself vs. paying someone to do it for you
  • Biking everywhere vs. having a car

On balance, I'm actually not sure of what I think about whether "high class" things tend to provide more happiness than "low class" things, so I spoke too soon in the previous comment.

Comment by adamzerner on You can be wrong about what you like, and you often are · 2018-12-20T20:03:49.538Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW
I'm curious why you chose these particular examples.

I wanted to think of better ones but was having trouble doing so, didn't want to dedicate the time to doing so, and figured that it would be better to submit a mediocre exploratory post about a topic that I think is important than to not post anything at all.

More generally, whether or not you enjoy something is different from whether that thing, in the future, will make you happier. At points in this post you conflate those two properties.

I agree, and I think it would have been a good thing to discuss in the main post. "I know that I don't like salads now; I think I could develop a taste for them, but I don't want to or can't bring myself to do so" is definitely a different thing than "I don't like salads now, so I'm not going to eat them" and "I don't like salads now and I don't think that I could ever like them".

By discussing the above point, I think it would have the benefit of being more clear about what exactly the problem is. In particular, that "I know that I don't like salads now; I think I could develop a taste for them, but I don't want to or can't bring myself to do so" is a different problem.

The examples also give me elitist vibes: the implication seems to be that upper-class pursuits are just better, and people who say they don't like them are more likely to be wrong.

I definitely don't mean to imply that this is true. I personally don't think that it is. But I do see how the examples I chose would give off that vibe, and I think it would have been better to come up with examples that demonstrate a wider range of "I know what I like" attitudes.

Comment by adamzerner on What self-help has helped you? · 2018-12-20T05:53:05.191Z · score: 16 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Internet blocks

I use SelfControl to block the entire internet for long periods of time. And I couple this with AutoSelfControl to set schedules where it gets blocked automatically. Currently, what I've been doing is blocking the entire internet for all hours other than an "internet window" of 5:00-5:30pm.

I do this because I find that the internet tempts me into using my time poorly, in terms of productivity, and fun. My thoughts on this are largely inspired by Cal Newport.

It is worth noting that I am a web developer, and I don't really find this the internet blocks all that inconvenient. In fact, I find that I am way more productive when I am working with an internet block. Being a web developer seems like it'd be one of the most inconvenient professions for this approach, so I imagine that if it works for me as a web developer, there is a good chance that it could work for others.

I use Dash for all of my offline documentation. They also allow you to include GitHub repos and StackOverflow posts. Yes, it isn't perfect. There are some times where I want to google around for a certain question and can't. But the downsides aren't that big a deal. I can just wait until my next internet window, and I can explicitly change the AutoSelfControl schedule if I truly do need to. More importantly, I find that the upsides really outweigh the downsides.

Comment by adamzerner on What self-help has helped you? · 2018-12-20T05:44:38.447Z · score: 8 (6 votes) · LW · GW


I would say that reflecting itself has been the most useful self-help thing to me. It serves as a sort of meta-self-help, in the sense of self-help for self-help.

For the past few weeks, I start every day off by writing a sort of journal entry where I reflect on things I'd like to improve on. Some examples: avoiding the internet, starting my work day early enough, giving myself enough personal time, and exercising. Eventually I want to move to other things like meditation, eating healthy, improving my ability to focus and think hard, and plenty of other things.

In the past, I've tried to address these things, but have realized that my efforts are often fleeting. I try for a few weeks, a few months, even a few years (in the case of exercising) and have success, but then something happens, I stop having success, and I just find myself not coming back to it and going into problem solving mode. Developing a system to reflect periodically had helped with this, and has been really awesome for me.

My system for reflecting periodically still is far from perfect though. I have been doing it at the start of my work day every time I have a work day (as opposed to an off, sick, or vacation day). Recently I've noticed that I've been feeling antsy to "just get started with my work". This makes me eager to cut the reflection short, which prevents me from seriously thinking hard when I reflect. So I need to revisit this and try to find something that works better.

Comment by adamzerner on Act of Charity · 2018-12-20T05:33:59.837Z · score: 13 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I really enjoyed this post, thanks for writing it. Fwiw, I sat for two or three hours thinking about it and trying to come up with something useful to say, but I just couldn't. I hope humanity figures this one out eventually.

Comment by adamzerner on Act of Charity · 2018-12-20T05:25:24.231Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I assume that this is making the point that in general, with these sorts of systems, whatever the GiveWell equivalent is tends to be a scam, because they don't have the right incentives. What if GiveWell made stuff up? What if they accepted bribes? Why is it in their interest to actually be accurate? Imagine an equivalent in the field of medicine evaluating doctors and hospitals. Or in the field of education evaluating schools. I know that I wouldn't expect MedicateWell and EducateWell to actually be effective.

My guess is that the author thinks that GiveWell in particular happens to not be a scam, but that this fact is an anomaly. I'd place my confidence in this at perhaps 80% and I'm interested in hearing a response from the author too.

Comment by adamzerner on Act of Charity · 2018-12-18T23:23:41.560Z · score: 14 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Eliezer's Inadequate Equilibria seems like a good thing for further reading. Specifically about systems being broken in such a way where, eg. a charity could just stop doing all of these things, because then they'd just fail. They're not choosing between doing it the right way and doing it the wrong way, they're choosing between doing it the wrong way and doing it at all.

Comment by adamzerner on Act of Charity · 2018-12-18T23:17:52.522Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

There's a book called Three Felonies A Day that talks about it. (I haven't read the book, just have heard of it.)

Comment by adamzerner on You can be wrong about what you like, and you often are · 2018-12-18T18:30:37.991Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for a really great explanation, I understand now.

Now, how sure are you that the same isn’t true in the happiness case? (For instance, some researcher says that beautiful people aren’t happier. But is this true in an important and practical way, or is it false in that way and only true in an irrelevant and useless way? And if you claim the former—given the state of social science, how certain are you?)

I would say that I feel about 90% sure that it isn't true in the happiness case. I am not particularly familiar with the research, but in general, we have a ton of blind spots and biases that are harmful in a practical, real world sort of sense, and so a claim that we also have one in the context of happiness seems very plausible. It also seems plausible because of the evopsych reasoning. And most of all, reputable scientists seem to be warning us about the pitfalls of thinking we know what we like. If they were just making an academic point that we have these blind spots, but these blind spots aren't actually relevant to everyday people and everyday life, I wouldn't expect there to be bestselling books about it like Stumbling on Happiness.

But, it is definitely possible that I am just misinterpreting and misunderstanding things. If I am - if we aren't actually getting something wrong about happiness that is important in a practical sense - then that is very important. So that I can update my beliefs, and so that I can either edit or delete this post.

Comment by adamzerner on You can be wrong about what you like, and you often are · 2018-12-18T06:15:39.177Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, good point. I agree.

I think there are times when people want something but know they won't actually like it; that it won't actually make them happy. For example, pizza and french fries might be something that people want, but that they know won't actually make them happy. I used pizza and french fries as an example, and maybe it wasn't a good choice.

Still, I think that there are still many other times where people are actually wrong about what they like, enough such that it is very harmful.

Comment by adamzerner on You can be wrong about what you like, and you often are · 2018-12-18T06:10:47.103Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure if I understood the point you're making, but it sounds like the point is that, even if the pixels are the same color, the important thing is to be able to distinguish the objects. To see that the tomato and banana are different things even if they have the same pixels. I suppose more generally the idea is that with an illusion, it may be an illusion in some lower level sense, but not an illusion in a more practical sense. Is that accurate?

If so, I'm not sure how it would apply to "hedonic illusions". I suppose there are cases where we are wrong about thinking something provides happiness, but correct in some other more important way. But I'm having trouble thinking of concrete examples of what that other, more important thing is, and how it is distinct from "lower level happiness".

I would guess that there are some ways in which your point applies to "hedonic illusions". There may be some situations where we're wrong about "low level happiness" but correct about a more important thing. But I would also guess that it is not to the extent where we can reliably think "I know what I like".

Comment by adamzerner on What is abstraction? · 2018-12-15T21:05:52.992Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure whether or not there actually is a single meaning of the word or not. I get the impression from hearing other people talk about it that there is a single meaning, and that I'm not understanding what that single meaning is. But if it is the case that there is in fact no single meaning, I indeed wouldn't have any confusion remaining, aside from maybe not having as good an understanding of how the different meanings relate as I would like.

Comment by adamzerner on Upcoming: Open Questions · 2018-12-09T20:16:08.561Z · score: 12 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm really excited about this! (Just realized that it's actually been released. Woo hoo!)

Comment by adamzerner on Is Clickbait Destroying Our General Intelligence? · 2018-11-18T17:12:41.137Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think it is worth noting that results probably vary a lot based on who you hang out around on the internet. Eg. us LessWrongers hopefully have improved our culturally transmitted software by hanging out around the rationalistsphere, whereas people who browse pictures of Cardi B on Instagram probably haven't.

So as far as looking for a takeaway that you can apply to your personal life goes, I don't think most readers here need to be too worried. I would say that we should be watchful, but not paranoid. Personally, I spend a bit of time on poker forums discussing hands, and I've been extremely frustrated with the quality of conversation and discourse there. I should probably keep an eye on myself to see if anything has rubbed off on me.

Comment by adamzerner on Is Clickbait Destroying Our General Intelligence? · 2018-11-18T01:21:04.890Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I hope that the trend of low quality internet content will reverse itself, and settle at a less low quality equilibrium. As an analogy, think about food. We start out at whatever point, then we introduce fast food and processed garbage, people initially respond by consuming too much of it, but then, once they realize how harmful it is, they start to wise up and look for healthier alternatives. (Well, some people do, to some extent.) Same with smoking. With the internet, I think we're just starting to enter the phase where we realize how harmful it is. I don't know enough to say "I'm confident that the internet will follow the same path", but it certainly seems plausible.

Something that makes me feel more optimistic about the internet as opposed to food and smoking is that it is a lot easier to precommit to avoiding things on the internet than it is to precommit to avoiding, say, McDonalds, or a pack of cigarettes. SelfControl is a good example. It allows you to block websites for up to 24 hours at a time. But I see no reason why this sort of thing can't be expanded. Why only 24 hours? Why only blocking websites? What about apps? What about certain types of content, say, on your newsfeed? What about precommitting to, say, five hours per week as opposed to an outright block? I suspect that this sort of software will evolve to be more and more sophisticated.

Of course, there is tremendous economic incentive for the Facebooks of the world to prevent people from using this sort of productivity software, but it seems like a very hard battle to win. How do you prevent people from realizing that they aren't as happy as they used to be before they spent 4 hours a day mindlessly browsing your site and getting in to stupid arguments? How do you stop people from precommitting with the click of a button? Maybe I'm just underestimating the ability of internet companies to manipulate us. After all, they've been winning for years, and humans don't have the best track record of plucking low hanging fruits in their personal lives.

Comment by adamzerner on On Doing the Improbable · 2018-10-31T00:11:54.471Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe it would be more fruitful to find the people who do want to cooperate than it is to convert the people who don't?

Comment by adamzerner on [Beta] Post-Read-Status on Lessestwrong · 2018-10-28T21:10:08.472Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I actually didn't notice that it was a new feature. I had just assumed that visited links had always been gray.

Comment by adamzerner on The Kelly Criterion · 2018-10-20T17:44:37.617Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm trying to think of real life situations where this is useful, but I don't think I am doing too good a job.

For people who are trying to use their bankroll to make money:

  • People who are in charge of spending money in a business. When there is money available for a business, you want to invest it to grow it, but you don't want to risk too much and go bankrupt.
  • People who play the stock market for profit. (Although from what I understand, the stock market is so competitive that trying to outperform is almost always a bad idea.)
  • People who gamble for a living. Poker is the big example I can think of where this can make sense. With most other forms of gambling, like blackjack, the odds are against you. And with things like sports betting where you could get an edge if you're smart enough, my understanding is that the house takes a big enough cut such that it's really, really hard to get an edge.

For people who are looking to gamble for the sake of intellectual growth, like OP says, tiny quantities should work. And even if you need to bet in larger quantities so that you "feel the pain", 1) these quantities are still probably going to be a small fraction of your overall bankroll, and 2) if you are gambling for the sake of intellectual growth, you are probably smart enough to get a job that pays a lot of money, and can thus replenish your bankroll easily.

Comment by adamzerner on Unknown Knowns · 2018-10-10T00:14:33.176Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The central point I'm making is that people often know that the kid with a backwards baseball cap and sunglasses is likely to be bluffing, even though they don't know that they know it, and thus it's an example of an unknown known.

It is true that the cards change every hand, and so the kid may not be bluffing, but the probabilities don't change (for a given context), so the kid is just as likely to be bluffing each time (for a given context). Eg. on a 964 flop, if the kid is the preflop raiser, he could have AA, but on that flop he's likely to be bluffing, say, 80% of the time.

Comment by adamzerner on Direct Primary Care · 2018-09-25T19:35:44.192Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I had that thought too, but I couldn't really think of a somewhat plausible argument lobbyists could use. "Visiting a doctor without insurance isn't fair for patients, because you could unexpectedly have to pay a lot of money, and thus we shouldn't allow patients to put themselves in this position"?

Comment by adamzerner on Direct Primary Care · 2018-09-25T19:33:38.492Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you can negotiate better rates by guaranteeing immediate payment, well, there seem to be other ways to solve that problem. Eg. the office pays immediately; then, when and if the insurance pays, the provider refunds the office their initial payment. From the offices perspective, the benefit is cheaper rates, and the cost is the risk of insurance not paying. And perhaps if the risk is too large, they could get insurance for that risk. Or maybe a third party could do it all in exchange for a fee. Eg. a third party would pay immediately, get a refund when and if the insurance payment goes through, and take a small fee from the doctors office.

Comment by adamzerner on Unknown Knowns · 2018-09-08T18:23:28.077Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I would probably have thought the same thing if I didn't play poker, but my impression from playing poker is that players just aren't that sophisticated (in this manner) at anything but the highest of stakes.

Comment by adamzerner on [Feature Idea] Epistemic Status · 2018-09-06T21:32:29.586Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
One day—but not today, and not for some time. There have been abuses, serious enough that erring on the side of discipline and structure is warranted, now.

Fair. When I query my brain, I don't get the impression that the abuses are so bad, but my brain isn't giving me back concrete examples, so it's hard to support my impression. I don't feel too, too confident in my impression though, and I wouldn't be surprised if you were right.

But do you think that authors will be in favor of this? Recent discussions seem to suggest otherwise…

Hm, I'm not sure. But that question you pose just lead to a thought - perhaps it could be opt in! That way, if you're looking for feedback on your writing you can opt in to have that section enabled, whereas if you just are interested in discussion of the meat of the post, you can avoid opting in.

I suppose a downside to that could be that it makes those who don't want to opt in feel uncomfortable. It could lead to a feeling of, "If I don't opt in, won't people see me as thinking I'm so good that I don't need any writing advice?".

Comment by adamzerner on [Feature Idea] Epistemic Status · 2018-09-06T19:55:50.058Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think that communication can be hard, but isn't necessarily hard. And I also believe that connotations can be confusing, but aren't necessarily confusing.

As for connotations requiring shared cultural contexts, I agree, but I think that often times the shared cultural context that they require is pretty wide, as opposed to a narrow group of friends. Eg. if you send someone a "how are you?" text message and they reply "good" and don't respond afterwards, it's a pretty good signal that they don't want to continue the conversation. It's not a perfect signal - they could have intended to follow up with a second reply and then forgot - but I'd argue that it's a pretty strong one. More to the point, I think that the shared cultural context that it requires is pretty broad.

Still, I agree that it is often wise to err on the side of being explicit. My opinion is that it would be good to give authors a sort of prompt like "be careful about assuming that readers understand the connotation of what you're saying" rather than completely taking the (semi)sharp knives away from them.

I also think it'd be really cool to have a sort of meta-comments section where you could offer critiques of the general writing style, as opposed to the meat of the post. That way authors can learn what approaches do and don't work. I suspect that the quality of writing in the community will improve if that feature existed and was used.

Comment by adamzerner on [Feature Idea] Epistemic Status · 2018-09-06T18:56:50.264Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

1. I really like the idea! I think epistemic statuses are really useful to readers, and I think that they can often times make authors feel comfortable writing things that they otherwise wouldn't write. Ie. I think a lot of people are hesitant to post things that aren't authoritative. But if there was an explicit field for "exploratory" or "my best guess", it is obvious that "oh, ok, I'm allowed to write something like that".

Another thing I like is that it can make the writing smoother. Without epistemic statuses, it can be tempting to have a lot of "I have a reasonably strong impression"-like qualifiers throughout a post. Whereas with an epistemic status of My Best Guess, you could probably leave out most of those qualifiers while still communicating that your statements are reasonably strong impressions, rather than statements of truth.

2. Although I like the idea, I don't think it's completely obvious that it's a good feature to include. However, I feel pretty confident in saying that it's worth running an experiment on. Maybe try it out for a month and see how it goes. If people aren't liking it you leave users slightly frustrated for a month. But if it does work, I think the upside is pretty large, and it is multiplied across a much larger period of time. I guess the same arguments could be made for most potential features - and I think that there are many things worth experimenting with! - but I think this one is particularly high upside, in contrast to something like a UI change I guess.

3. I think that there should be an option for a freeform epistemic status, eg. one that isn't Empty, Exploratory, My Best Guess or Authoritative. Sometimes the epistemic status doesn't quite fit in to one of those buckets. In general, I think it's pretty hard to predict in advance what all of the possible buckets for things are. And so I feel especially strongly about this as a ways to start off. Perhaps after a few months of use, if it is clear that Empty, Exploratory, My Best Guess and Authoritative are the buckets, it would be appropriate to get rid of the freeform option, but it seems prudent to test it out before making that assumption.

I suppose the big downside to this is that, with a freeform field, authors may say confusing things, whereas if there wasn't a freeform field, they would have to choose something (and then perhaps add additional text to their choice), and that would be easier for readers. I don't see this as a big downside because I think that authors on LessWrong are pretty capable as writers. Of course, they're not perfect and there will be moments of confusion, but overall I don't think there will be too much. And I think that issue can be addressed in other ways.

4. I agree that there are times when epistemic statuses are used to be witty and clever rather than clearly communicate the epistemic status, but I haven't found this to be a big problem at all. And when it is a problem, you can easily skim/skip through it.

Comment by adamzerner on [Feature Idea] Epistemic Status · 2018-09-06T18:34:56.005Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I disagree with the idea that freeform text leads to bad epistemic statuses. I sense that a big reason why I disagree is because I think you can read into the connotation of a lot of the "bad" epistemic statuses, even if the denotation isn't particularly informative.

  • "Casual" tells me that there wasn't too much effort spent doing research, thinking hard about the ideas, getting feedback on them, or iterating, which implies that the author isn't too confident in the ideas. It's more of a brain dump. I think that the absence of elaboration is also very telling. If the author was more confident, she would have (most likely) said so. And if the author was particularly skeptical of the ideas, she also (most likely) would have said so. So the absence of elaboration makes me feel like it's somewhere in the middle.
  • "political, opinionated, personal, and all the typical caveats for controversial posts" interpreted literally is more of a trigger warning than an epistemic status, but I think the implication is that the author realizes that she may have some biases, and is thus not as confident as she otherwise would be. More importantly to me is what wasn't said. The fact that no claim was made that she is or isn't particularly confident says a lot to me.
  • Yeah, I have a pretty hard time understanding that third epistemic status too.
Comment by adamzerner on Unknown Knowns · 2018-08-31T04:25:42.909Z · score: 1 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Any example that comes to mind is with poker. Say you just sit down at the table and a kid with a backwards baseball cap and sunglasses makes an aggressive move. A lot of people will fold with the rationale:

I have a feeling he's bluffing, but I just sat down so I don't know. I have to see him prove that he's capable before I give him credit.

Similar example: take the same situation and replace the kid with a twenty-something year old asian. Twenty-something year old asians tend to be aggressive. People know that, but often still won't give the player credit for being capable of bluffing because they "don't want to stereotype".

Comment by adamzerner on I am Sailor Vulcan! · 2018-08-24T23:18:10.483Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
I sometimes jokingly compare my life to an intelligence explosion. I honestly believe that if there was a contest for most improved person in the world, I'd be in the running for it. When I was a kid I was a screaming, incoherent moron and lunatic. When I got to college I was still a screaming, incoherent moron and lunatic, but significantly less so. The older I've gotten, the more quickly I've improved. Most people, even other rationalists, would probably be shocked by how much I've improved myself within the past couple years, let alone the past four or five years or even the last ten.

Very cool! Have you written about this in more detail? (I'm interested in hearing more.)

Comment by adamzerner on Tactical vs. Strategic Cooperation · 2018-08-24T21:47:12.842Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder why people have the instinct to "debate around" rather than just asking for what they want. I get the sense that understanding the why will really help to get ourselves to stop doing it.


Maybe because our instinct is to think, "Well, if they don't agree with me in the more theoretical sense, why would they do the thing I want?" Eg. if your husband doesn't agree with you about the value of home-cooked family dinners, why would he agree to your request to have them?

Well, perhaps he doesn't mind having home-cooked family dinners. Or perhaps he just senses that your preferences are larger than his, and wants to make you happy. In either case, his thinking is roughly, "Sure, we can do that. I don't agree with you about why, but it's not a big deal to me and I don't mind doing it at all."

I sense that enough positive reinforcement could address this. Eg. "I make requests of people to do things even though they disagree with me all the time, and many times it works!"


Or maybe it has to do with our tendency to get dragged in to arguments. Eg. you start off mentioning that you think home-cooked family dinners are valuable, with the intention to follow up by asking if you can have them more often. But your husband disagrees, and your instinct is to explain why you disagree with his disagreement. Which leads to a rabbit hole. Which perhaps leads you to forget to ask, "well could we just do this even though you don't agree". Or perhaps it feels uncomfortable to make the request after he clearly disagrees.

I guess one way to address this is to try to establish some sort of TAP of "Disagreement --> This might be a rabbit hole. Do I have any concrete requests to make before we get going?"

Comment by adamzerner on Y Couchinator · 2018-08-23T18:16:58.249Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah that also seems like a good idea.

Comment by adamzerner on Y Couchinator · 2018-08-21T20:14:21.629Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting point. My main thought is that it is a hypothesis to test, and that I don't feel strongly about how people would react to the contingent future payment. I could definitely see some people being turned off by it, as well as others turned on, but I don't have a good sense for what the results would be on balance.

Comment by adamzerner on Y Couchinator · 2018-08-19T19:24:38.094Z · score: 16 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This is a really cool idea, thanks for taking the initiative!

  • Personal loans seem like an alternative for people who need couches. A lot of companies that give personal loans do seem sketchy, but I recall stumbling across Upstart a few years ago - it seems kinda cool.
  • Another alternative/spin on this idea: if the couch needers end up doing really well for themselves some time in the future (eg. their income is in the top 20% of their country), they have to pay the couch provider some amount of money. Whereas if they never reach that point, they don't have to pay anything. I could see this really helping with vetting, because randoms who are just looking to mooch might not want to get involved. I could also see it really helping with motivating couch providers. I'm not sure though.
  • Vetting definitely seems like the biggest obstacle here. As opposed to 1) whether people would be willing to offer their couch to someone who has been vetted to their satisfaction, or 2) whether there are actually people out there who would benefit from such couch time. 1 and 2 seem very likely to be true to me (although of course it's still good to treat them as hypotheses and test them).
  • The second biggest obstacle I see is spreading the word. People need to know that this exists in order for it to be a thing.
  • Perhaps what you can do to get off the ground is something like this. You start off building a list of couch needers that either: 1) you know personally and can vouch for, 2) a friend of yours who you trust knows personally and can vouch for, 3) a friend of a friend of yours who you trust knows personally and can vouch for. I'm not sure how many degrees of separation would be optimal, but three sounds like a practical and safe place to start. I'm sure that most of your social network and many LessWrongers would feel comfortable enough with this level of vetting to start volunteering as couch suppliers.
  • Such an approach relies on people trusting you. I know that I have read enough of your stuff and seen your name pop up enough to trust you. Perhaps this approach can scale with someone else being the "initial node". For example, maybe there's a YouTuber who has a ton of followers who have enough trust in them to offer to be couch suppliers. In fact, this could be a great PR tool for people who have some amount of a following on the internet.
  • Initially the couch needers wouldn't know this exists, so I think the person acting as the "initial node" would have to reach out to their social network and "manually" find the couch needers. But at scale, it would be nice for couch needers to go to the website and use some sort of search function to see if there are any "initial nodes" that they are close enough to. Something like Facebook's Graph API would be incredibly useful here. I'm sure other social networks have something similar. But for those who aren't part of social media, perhaps they could do things like enter names of people they know, enter names of organizations they've been a part of, enter where they live, etc.
Comment by adamzerner on Y Couchinator · 2018-08-19T18:57:11.638Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This definitely seems like something to address. But it also doesn't seem like an obstacle big enough to get in the way of Y Couchinator succeeding long term. It seems like something that can be addressed by the occupant signing some sort of form.