Request for feedback: paper on fine-tuning and the multiverse hypothesis 2012-04-29T21:19:03.579Z · score: 6 (7 votes)


Comment by alexschell on Recommended Reading for Evolution? · 2015-07-15T20:47:39.921Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

John Maynard Smith's Evolutionary Genetics is a classic textbook. The second edition has simulation/programming exercises after every chapter. Have fun :)

Comment by alexschell on Open Thread, May 11 - May 17, 2015 · 2015-05-12T23:20:59.965Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Your beliefs imply likelihood ratios of ~10 and ~70 for bisexuality and sociopathy respectively (assuming base rates of 2-3% and 1%, respectively). What do you think you know and how do you think you know it?

Comment by alexschell on How do I make sample size matter? · 2015-03-22T20:15:34.829Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hayrff guvf vf gevpxvre guna vg frrzf, whfg gur svefg zbzrag bs rnpu qvfgevohgvba fubhyq qb. (Sbe guvf ernfba V qvfnterr gung gur Jvxv negvpyr vzcyvpvgyl nffhzrf vasvavgr fnzcyr fvmr. Gur pbaqvgvbany cebonovyvgvrf hfrq va gur pnyphyngvba ner gur svefg zbzragf (= pbafgnagf) bs gur erfcrpgvir cnenzrgre qvfgevohgvbaf, abg gur cnenzrgref gurzfryirf (= enaqbz inevnoyrf).)

Comment by alexschell on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, March 2015, chapter 119 · 2015-03-12T06:35:05.448Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The narration in the passage is extremely suggestive that someone other than McGonagall was at work. Dumbledore and Quirrell used to be the main candidate hypotheses for who it was, until this chapter basically confirmed it was Dumbledore.

Comment by alexschell on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, March 2015, chapter 119 · 2015-03-10T20:20:02.098Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Aww, so Dumbledore was the one who told Harry to look for Hermione on the train in chapter 6 :)

Comment by alexschell on CFAR fundraiser far from filled; 4 days remaining · 2015-02-01T04:40:23.640Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Donated $100.

Comment by alexschell on Open thread, Jan. 26 - Feb. 1, 2015 · 2015-01-30T19:15:06.329Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Contact info sent.

Comment by alexschell on Optimal eating (or rather, a step in the right direction) · 2015-01-20T18:34:45.178Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You shouldn't care much about omega-3/6 ratio in grains because they don't usually have much of either. Same for meat.

Comment by alexschell on Misapplied economics and overwrought estimates · 2015-01-16T05:00:37.325Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think I know the difference between changes in supply and movement along the supply curve, and your post confuses me. I take the OP's point to be that, in the long run, a change in demand shifts the short-run supply curve. This is exactly the sort of long-run dynamics scenario McAfee talks about (section 4.2.2, e.g. figures on p. 106). Is McAfee wrong or am I really missing something?

Comment by alexschell on Why you should consider buying Bitcoin right now (Jan 2015) if you have high risk tolerance · 2015-01-14T02:58:39.672Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If you look at net worth counterfactuals, the person deciding whether to borrow money to buy BTC is facing the same decision as someone who is already in debt and is deciding whether to buy BTC or use the same money to pay off some of their debt. If you think leveraged investments in BTC are unwise, you should also categorically advise people with any amount of debt to not buy BTC.

Comment by alexschell on How much does consumption affect production? · 2015-01-07T20:01:54.621Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Empirically, some industries are approximately constant-cost, others are increasing- and decreasing-cost. OP mentioned certain factors pushing one way or the other, but ultimately the slope of the long-run supply curve of an industry is determined by which factors predominate, so we'd have to measure it to be sure. What is generally true, however, is that long-run supply is typically highly elastic, so cost doesn't change much from marginal changes in demand.

Comment by alexschell on How much does consumption affect production? · 2015-01-06T23:11:52.888Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Looking at the extremes doesn't tell you that chicken production is an increasing-cost industry at the margin. Sure input costs are important (the OP agrees - see last section), but there are also economies of scale, R&D investment, and so on pushing the other way, so it's ultimately an empirical matter whether chicken production is increasing- or decreasing-cost at current levels of production (again I'm just repeating what the OP says).

IMO this issue is actually less relevant than the OP seems to think, because we're only talking about very small marginal changes to chicken demand, and there's no way the long-run supply curve is steep enough for that to matter. But one could try to estimate the long-run supply curve at least "locally", which might settle this issue.

Comment by alexschell on How much does consumption affect production? · 2015-01-06T07:11:54.450Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

To get the retailer to buy less chicken, you'd have to cut consumption enough to exceed their threshold for allowable waste.

This strikes me as compatible with what gjm said in the sentence before the one you quoted. Some chicken-buying decisions will make no difference, and others are going to have a disproportionate effect by hitting some threshold. In aggregate, chicken purchases by a supermarket have to equal their chicken sales (plus inventory breakage), so a pretty good guess for the expected impact of buying one less chicken is that one less chicken is going to be produced. Richard Chappell discusses a very simple model here. I haven't seen believable models where in the long run there is substantial deviation from one-for-one.

Comment by alexschell on Graphical Assumption Modeling · 2015-01-05T23:50:29.020Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hubbard recommends a few commercial Monte Carlo tools for risk analysis that seem very related: Oracle Crystal Ball, @Risk, XLSim, Risk Solver Engine, Analytica.

Comment by alexschell on How much does consumption affect production? · 2015-01-05T22:31:21.656Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Neat write-up. I'd say that the scale elasticity of Cost is also irrelevant, since vegetarianism promotion only has a small marginal effect on scale.

Comment by alexschell on Open thread Jan. 5-11, 2015 · 2015-01-05T15:19:08.218Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This was more of a side effect of deciding to pare down on my possessions than an intervention specifically aimed at buying fewer books, but I rarely buy books anymore just because I want to read them. I get books on LibGen or at the university library. In the rare event in which a book turns out to be a really valuable reference I may then buy it.

Comment by alexschell on Stupid Questions January 2015 · 2015-01-05T15:04:56.146Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I found the links by googling "green card marriage".

Comment by alexschell on Stupid Questions January 2015 · 2015-01-04T21:29:46.319Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It looks like marrying specifically for US residency purposes is illegal. This report gives the impression that only a tiny fraction of people actually get prosecuted. You'll have to convincingly lie to a consul and likely undergo some investigation (see e.g. here).

Comment by alexschell on Stupid Questions January 2015 · 2015-01-04T20:57:21.668Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Time, legal risk, reputation. The opportunity cost is lower if you were going to marry a random/non-specific person anyway, but I'm assuming you're asking about a sham marriage that you're going to end later.

Comment by alexschell on Stupid Questions January 2015 · 2015-01-04T16:37:52.309Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I forget the details, but I think the argument intentionally focuses on ancestor simulations for epistemic reasons, to preserve a similarity between the simulating and simulated universes. If you don't assume that the basement-level universe is quite similar to our own, it's hard to reason about its computational resources. It's also hard to tell in what proportion a totally different civilization would simulate human civilizations, hence the focus on ancestor simulations. I'm not sure if this is a conservative assumption (giving some sort of lower bound) or just done for tractability.

ETA: See FAQs #4 and #11 here.

Comment by alexschell on Stupid Questions January 2015 · 2015-01-04T07:21:20.715Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'd be surprised if fake marriages turned out to be the most cost-effective way to help poor people immigrate to the US, even if you want to focus on refugees specifically.

Comment by alexschell on Open thread, Dec. 15 - Dec. 21, 2014 · 2014-12-18T07:04:11.628Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Huh, thanks. Not sure how I managed to misremember so specifically. Edited post.

Comment by alexschell on Open thread, Dec. 15 - Dec. 21, 2014 · 2014-12-16T04:35:36.042Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The hack is due to Anders Sandberg, with modafinil tablets though [ETA: this last part is false, see Kaj's reply]. Works wonderfully (whether with modafinil or caffeine).

Comment by alexschell on Stupid Questions December 2014 · 2014-12-11T02:42:20.207Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Do you have any sources that quantify the risk?

Comment by alexschell on Open thread, Nov. 17 - Nov. 23, 2014 · 2014-11-27T05:56:24.419Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Oops, shouldn't have assumed you're talking about genetics :)

Still, if you're talking about character in a causally neutral sense, it seems that you need to posit character traits that hardly change within a person's lifetime. Here I admit that the evidence for rapid institutional effects is weaker than the evidence for institutional effects in general.

(Re: Hong Kong, Singapore, no, I do mean those cities specifically. Their economic outcomes differ strikingly from culturally and genetically similar neighbors because of their unique histories.

Comment by alexschell on Open thread, Nov. 17 - Nov. 23, 2014 · 2014-11-23T02:04:24.259Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Many Western societies have seen pretty dramatic productivity-enhancing institutional changes in the last few hundred years that aren't explicable in terms of changes in genetic makeup. In light of this, your view seems to rely on believing that most currently remaining institutional variation is genetic, whereas this wasn't the case ~300 years ago. Do you think this is the case?

Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea seem to make a pretty strong case for a huge independent effect of institutions.

Comment by alexschell on Should we go all in on existential risk? - Considering Effective Altruism · 2014-11-21T17:49:15.511Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ignore the last sentence and take the rest for what it's worth :) I did the equivalent of somewhat tactlessly throwing up my hands after concluding that the exchange stopped being productive (for me at least, if not for spectators) a while ago.

Comment by alexschell on Should we go all in on existential risk? - Considering Effective Altruism · 2014-11-16T22:42:44.788Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The fact that the assumptions of an incredibly useful theory of rational decisionmaking turn out not to be perfectly satisfied does not imply that we get to ignore the theory. If we want to do seemingly crazy things like diversifying charitable donations, we need an actual positive reason, such as the prescriptions of a better model of decisionmaking that can handle the complications. Just going with our intuition that we should "diversify" to "reduce risk", when we know that those intuitions are influenced by well-documented cognitive biases, is crazy.

This has been incredibly unproductive I can't believe I'm still talking to you kthxbai

Comment by alexschell on Should we go all in on existential risk? - Considering Effective Altruism · 2014-11-16T01:07:10.339Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You don't imagine that when someone, say, characterizes a financial asset as having the expected return of 5% with 20% volatility, these probabilities are precise, do you?

Those are not even probabilities at all.

Comment by alexschell on Should we go all in on existential risk? - Considering Effective Altruism · 2014-11-16T01:05:04.855Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There are two very different sorts of scenarios with something like "imprecise probabilities".

The first sort of case involves uncertainty about a probability-like parameter of a physical system such as a biased coin. In a sense, you're uncertain about "the probability that the coin will come up heads" because you have uncertainty about the bias parameter. But when you consider your subjective credence about the event "the next toss will come up heads", and integrate the conditional probabilities over the range of parameter values, what you end up with is a constant. No uncertainty.

In the second sort of case, your very subjective credences are uncertain. On the usual definition of subjective probabilities in terms of betting odds this is nonsense, but maybe it makes some sense for boundedly introspective humans. Approximately none of the decision theory corpus applies to this case, because it all assumes that credences and expected values are constants known to the agent. Some decision rules for imprecise credence have been proposed, but my understanding is that they're all problematic (this paper surveys some of the problems). So decision theory with imprecise credence is currently unsolved.

Examples of the first sort are what gives talk about "uncertain probabilities" its air of reasonableness, but only the second case might justify deviations from expected utility maximization. I shall have to write a post about the distinction.

Comment by alexschell on Should we go all in on existential risk? - Considering Effective Altruism · 2014-11-13T05:18:08.068Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Let me try to refocus a bit. You seem to want to describe a situation where I have uncertainty about probabilities, and hence uncertainty about expected values. If this is not so, your points are plainly inconsistent with expected utility maximization, assuming that your utility is roughly linear in QALYs in the range you can affect. If you are appealing to imprecise probability, what I alluded to by "I have no idea" is that there are no generally accepted theories (certainly not "plenty") for decision making with imprecise credence. It is very misleading to invoke diversification, risk premia, etc. as analogous or applicable to this discussion. None of these concepts make any essential use of imprecise probability in the way your example does.

Comment by alexschell on Should we go all in on existential risk? - Considering Effective Altruism · 2014-11-12T19:02:35.096Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Adding imprecise probability (a 1.1% credence that I'm not sure of) takes us a bit afield, I think. Imprecise probability doesn't have an established decision theory in the way probability has expected utility theory. But that aside, assuming that I'm calibrated in the 1% range and good at introspection and my introspection really tells me that my expected QALY/$ for charity B is 1.1, I'll donate to charity B. I don't know how else to make this decision. I'm curious to hear how much meta-confidence/precision you need for that 1.1% chance for you to switch from A to B (or go "all in" on B). If not even full precision (e.g. the outcome being tied to a RNG) is enough for you, then you're maximizing something other than expected QALYs.

(I agree with Gelman that risk-aversion estimates from undergraduates don't make any financial sense. Neither do estimates of their time preference. That just means that people compartmentalize or outsource financial decisions where the stakes are actually high.)

Comment by alexschell on Should we go all in on existential risk? - Considering Effective Altruism · 2014-11-11T23:08:55.839Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

No, I'm not relying on that assumption, though I admit I was not clear about this. The argument goes through perfectly well if we consider expected marginal utilities.

Investors are risk-averse because not-too-unlikely scenarios can affect your wealth sufficiently enough to make the concavity of your utility function over wealth matter. For FAI or world poverty, none of your donations at a given time will make enough of a dent.

I think the countervailing intuition comes from two sources: 1) Even when instructed about the definition of utility, certainty equivalents of gambles, and so on, people have a persistent intuition that utility has declining marginal utility. 2) We care not only about poor people being made better off (where our donations can't make a dent) but also about creating a feeling of moral satisfaction within ourselves (where donations to a particular cause can satiate that feeling, leading us to want to help some other folks, or cute puppies).

Comment by alexschell on Should we go all in on existential risk? - Considering Effective Altruism · 2014-11-11T16:03:04.675Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Robin is correct. Here is an accessible explanation. Suppose you first give $1 to MIRI because you believe MIRI is the charity with the highest marginal utility in donations right now. The only reason you would then give the next $1 in your charity budget to anyone other than MIRI would be that MIRI is no longer the highest marginal utility charity. In other words, you'd have to believe that your first donation made a dent into the FAI problem, and hence lowered the marginal utility of a MIRI dollar by enough to make another charity come out on top. But your individual contributions can't make any such dent.

Some sensible reasons for splitting donations involve donations at different times (changes in room for more funding, etc.) and donations that are highly correlated with many other people's donations (e.g. the people giving to GiveWell top charities) and might therefore actually make dents.

Comment by alexschell on What are you learning? · 2014-09-16T03:36:15.822Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I just recently started to learn basic multivariable calculus (using this book + Khan academy etc.) to make progress on my economics self-study (using this magnificent book). This turned out to involve some of relearning of single-variable also, because much of what I learned in college and high school didn't quite stick. What's the book you're using? Are you aware of the best textbooks thread? Why do you want to study calculus?

Comment by alexschell on Should people be writing more or fewer LW posts? · 2014-09-15T01:42:09.579Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for that. I really should take a closer look at all the content there (there seems to be some beneficial stuff I wasn't aware of), but the current format strikes me as pretty ill-suited to anyone but the most motivated aspiring rationalists and lifehackers. More to the point, I don't think relative newcomers are actually going to read the FAQ (this is just a hunch based on what I would do / what I did).

I agree with your point that we could produce more social value by encouraging more posts, especially on instrumental rationality topics. But I think we can do a lot more on the cheap by figuring out how to make existing high-quality content and resources more accessible to readers who weren't around when they were originally discussed.

Comment by alexschell on Should people be writing more or fewer LW posts? · 2014-09-14T18:06:14.103Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm. A certain prominent wiki displays featured articles on the front page. That would reward efforts to maintain and extend the wiki, while also increasing the visibility of high-quality materials to newcomers.

Comment by alexschell on Should people be writing more or fewer LW posts? · 2014-09-14T14:16:34.557Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Regardless of whether we should have more or fewer posts, the problem you noticed is more precisely traced back to the lack of infrastructure aimed at collating the best output and resources produced or aggregated here. I got a lot of benefit from the "best textbooks" thread, the post(s) introducing Beeminder back in the day, the post by cousin_it on mutual screen-monitoring, and perhaps from a few other interventions (standing desks, nicotine) I picked up in the local memespace. I doubt I could find many of these as a newcomer, except by lurking around for long enough. Not proposing a solution so far, but this seems to be a common problem with big blogs that have lots of excellent content but even more chaff.

ETA: N-acetylcysteine is actually FDA-approved but only as an expectorant and as an antidote for APAP overdose.

Comment by alexschell on A reason to see the future · 2014-09-07T18:47:09.147Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"I have signed this cryonics contract" isn't perfectly correlated with "I will be around after time t", so to get the incentives right he should just make it available far in the future.

Comment by alexschell on Group Rationality Diary, September 1-15 · 2014-09-06T21:25:26.789Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not at all picky about aesthetics, just curious about what people use in case I want to make a more expensive purchase in the future. My own setup is this, with which I'm reasonably happy (though I need to get a larger and slightly taller table/dresser/keyboard surface).

Comment by alexschell on Group Rationality Diary, September 1-15 · 2014-09-04T03:45:49.795Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What product do you use? For good posture, I want the monitor(s) to be much higher than the surface the keyboard lies on, but most standing desks I've seen have just one surface.

Comment by alexschell on Group Rationality Diary, September 1-15 · 2014-09-04T03:39:00.009Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

About six weeks ago I started using TagTime, a time tracker that pings you at random times. One big advantage of TagTime is that it integrates seamlessly with Beeminder and makes it feasible to beemind lots of things with minimal overhead. (Though if you just want to track productivity and work mostly at a computer, you're better served with RescueTime's Beeminder integration.)

I've also found it informative (and quite pleasantly reinforcing) to plot the general trend of how much time I spend on various things such as work, school, sleep, commuting, standing vs sitting, and so on. I use an R script for that, and have an interactive app for a few time use categories here (sample code here). I've given the link to a few friends, which so far seems to help me make better choices.

Comment by alexschell on Group Rationality Diary, September 1-15 · 2014-09-03T18:11:59.855Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Your win isn't completely offset -- you spend more of your time on consuming content and less on fruitless search.

Comment by alexschell on Persistent Idealism · 2014-08-26T16:43:47.597Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Sellout risk can be worked into the discount rate for future donations, and so it's a consideration against complicated decade-spanning plans to maximize one's giving. Following your advice is very valuable by decreasing the discount rate.

Comment by alexschell on Group Rationality Diary, August 16-31 · 2014-08-21T16:42:21.444Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Re: cryonics, I've been playing with the same sort of "revealed preference" idea, but on reflection I don't think it survives a status quo reversal test. If I'd been signed up by default, I would not cancel my membership in exchange for a smallish annuity and a larger lump sum payment that's equivalent to the time and other costs of signing up for cryonics.

Comment by alexschell on Group Rationality Diary, August 16-31 · 2014-08-18T05:59:21.659Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I greatly benefited from a silly-seeming "information hazard management scheme" (suggestions for better/existing terms are welcome):

I was going to interview at my top choice med school that I applied to, School A, and knew that I would receive my first admissions decision, from School B, on the same day I would be interviewing. I was mildly confident (60-70%) that School B would accept me, and I really wanted to know their decision. If I were to be accepted, I figured I'd get a confidence boost that would improve my interview performance at School A. But finding that I hadn't been accepted would badly shake my confidence.

So I arranged to receive a noisy and biased signal of my admissions decision. I asked my sister to execute the following when prompted: Flip a coin twice; if the outcome is HH, stop there; otherwise log into my email account and send me a text message iff School B admitted me. This protocol has the effect of diluting the bad news with noise -- P(admitted | no text) ~ 0.3-0.4 -- while still being 75% likely to give me the good news if it exists.

On interview day at School A, the decision email arrived about 30 minutes before my actual interviews. I let my sister know, and waited. I didn't hear back, and as expected, I didn't think much of it. I resisted the temptation to open the email until after my interviews (the interviews went fine). It turned out that School B waitlisted me, which predictably wrecked my confidence. School A would later be the only med school to accept me.

Comment by alexschell on Maybe we're not doomed · 2014-08-04T20:25:51.649Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Good point. My guess is that with some googling, the median 23andme customer would find out about SNPedia and find some tool they trust. Of course, requiring even a tiny bit of open-ended research on the part of the prospective consumer is what constitutes the trivial inconvenience.

Re: 23andme supplicating USG, that seems like a reasonable strategy for advancing personal genomics. Across-the-board liberalization of drugs and medical devices won't happen soon.

Comment by alexschell on Maybe we're not doomed · 2014-08-04T15:55:57.091Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The FDA just forced 23andme to shut down the medical information they were giving me, tailored to my genome. What's the cost in lives of delaying the genomic revolution in health care 5 to 10 years?

Interestingly, FDA will have achieved this obstruction by merely adding a trivial inconvenience to personal genomics. A consumer can still get essentially the same health info through free tools (which interpret your data file with info from sites like SNPedia), except they have to spend an extra 1-2 hours on this extra step. Of course, this more than suffices to decimate 23andme's sales.

Comment by alexschell on [moderator action] Eugine_Nier is now banned for mass downvote harassment · 2014-07-05T00:23:22.970Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In practice we avoid this problem by granting a lot of discretion to judges and prosecutors (i.e. mods).

Comment by alexschell on Open Thread, May 19 - 25, 2014 · 2014-05-31T06:07:12.935Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Your definition of sacrifice seems to exclude some instances of literal self-sacrifice.