What other problems would a successful AI safety algorithm solve? 2021-06-13T21:07:29.244Z
Self-study ideas for micro-projects in "abstract" subjects? 2021-06-11T19:09:28.973Z
How do you keep track of your own learning? 2021-06-10T20:25:08.888Z
How do you establish a comfort zone in your studies? 2021-06-09T17:01:26.242Z
Restoration of energy homeostasis by SIRT6 extends healthy lifespan 2021-06-05T21:11:49.729Z
For Better Commenting, Take an Oath of Reply. 2021-05-31T06:01:13.722Z
What are your personal (public) Hamming questions? 2021-05-29T06:37:23.329Z
(Trying To) Study Textbooks Effectively: A Year of Experimentation 2021-05-28T05:51:23.816Z
What's your visual experience when reading technical material? 2021-05-27T18:34:42.442Z
Antifragility in Games of Chance, Research, and Debate 2021-05-26T17:51:41.808Z
How refined is your art of note-taking? 2021-05-19T22:12:06.424Z
How concerned are you about LW reputation management? 2021-05-17T02:11:38.718Z
Vaccine Rollout as Wheeled-Luggage Problem 2021-05-13T21:04:04.363Z
Let's Rename Ourselves The "Metacognitive Movement" 2021-04-23T21:06:58.422Z
Does an app/group for personal forecasting exist? 2021-04-20T05:04:01.418Z
Are there opportunities for small investors unavailable to big ones? 2021-04-15T09:13:22.481Z
Using Flashcards for Deliberate Practice 2021-04-12T19:07:24.063Z
Curious Inquiry and Rigorous Training 2021-04-06T22:38:41.125Z
Goldfish Reading 2021-03-31T01:04:04.375Z
Progressive Highlighting: Picking What To Make Into Flashcards 2021-03-29T22:57:27.649Z
Making a Cheerful Bid 2021-03-27T19:37:27.790Z
Trust status sigmoidally 2021-03-20T19:50:21.567Z
Product orientation 2021-03-18T00:41:04.661Z
Wild Reading 2021-03-15T21:34:41.177Z
De-confusing myself about Pascal's Mugging and Newcomb's Problem 2021-03-09T20:45:38.299Z
Check OK, babble-read, optimize (how I read textbooks) 2021-03-06T03:17:22.325Z
The Comprehension Curve 2021-02-22T22:51:49.820Z
Could first doses first be better for the vaccine hesitant? 2021-02-22T16:24:55.847Z
Principles of Agile Rationalism 2021-02-21T01:47:06.090Z
How Should We Respond to Cade Metz? 2021-02-13T16:11:45.355Z
Networking and Expert Consulting As Rationality Bottlenecks 2021-02-05T05:41:07.723Z
Self-Criticism Can Be Wrong And Harmful 2021-02-01T01:07:33.737Z
Build Your Number Sense 2021-01-27T21:01:27.803Z
Define Your Learning Goal: Competence Or Broad Knowledge 2021-01-25T20:47:50.993Z
The Multi-Tower Study Strategy 2021-01-21T08:42:20.807Z
For Better Commenting, Avoid PONDS 2021-01-20T01:11:36.860Z
The Rube Goldberg Machine of Morality 2021-01-06T20:24:36.844Z
Vaccination with the EMH 2020-12-29T03:05:22.466Z
The Good Try Rule 2020-12-27T02:38:11.168Z
We desperately need to talk more about human challenge trials. 2020-12-19T10:00:42.109Z
Toward A Culture of Persuasion 2020-12-07T02:42:42.705Z
Forecasting is a responsibility 2020-12-05T00:40:48.251Z
Observe, babble, and prune 2020-11-06T21:45:13.077Z
Should students be allowed to give good teachers a bonus? 2020-11-02T00:19:54.578Z
The Trouble With Babbles 2020-10-22T21:31:23.260Z
What's the difference between GAI and a government? 2020-10-21T23:04:01.319Z
How to not be an alarmist 2020-09-30T21:35:59.285Z
Visualizing the textbook for fun and profit 2020-09-24T19:37:47.932Z
Let the AI teach you how to flirt 2020-09-17T19:04:05.632Z
A case study in simulacra levels and the Four Children of the Seder 2020-09-14T22:31:39.484Z


Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on Precognition · 2021-06-14T04:38:06.107Z · LW · GW

It’s almost impossible to predict the future. But it’s also unnecessary, because most people are living in the past. All you have to do is see the present before everyone else does.

That really is a nice quote, though.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on Self-study ideas for micro-projects in "abstract" subjects? · 2021-06-14T04:33:27.806Z · LW · GW

You're just gonna have to be the sort of person for whom solving the wave equation of the hydrogen atom is a juicy project.

That's a nice quote. I'm working on a handbook for how to self-study. Mind if I (tentatively) use it?

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on Five Suggestions For Rationality Research and Development · 2021-06-14T03:04:26.120Z · LW · GW

6. Treat the problem of measurement with the same care you treat the intervention. Much of rationality training will have its origins in introspection and intuitive inference. Figuring out what effects your hypothesis ought to predict, precisely enough to come up with a solid form of measurement, might be a lot harder than designing an intervention. Just because you don't have a good way to measure what you're doing doesn't mean it has "no evidence." But if you can find a way to measure, that can be very powerful.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on Experiments with a random clock · 2021-06-13T20:28:02.136Z · LW · GW

This is a great idea. I find it not impossible that if you build an arduino watch implementing this, that you could make a nice little business patenting (?) and selling them. I'm sure many people would say "why not just learn to enjoy being a little early?" But for whatever reason, some people just don't have much success with that. A gadget that corrected their problem might do just the trick.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on Self-study ideas for micro-projects in "abstract" subjects? · 2021-06-12T15:37:20.064Z · LW · GW

Many of the coolest and most useful activities for learning are sealed off from non-professionals, or at least are expensive and time confusing to obtain certification or access. Usually for good reason.

This seems like a fundamental dilemma of the role of school. To make students directly see what’s cool about different subjects, they need lots of hands-on experience. But the vast majority of their time, and most of their evaluation prior to grad school, comes from book work. Access to hands-on projects and a sense of freedom and agency is limited at best.

And ultimately, that’s for reasons of safety and expense, which we can’t just criticize away.

It seems then that a big learning skill is maximizing access to such applied projects.

I wonder, then, if it would be better to orient school around single subjects from an earlier age. It makes more sense to give a student heightened access to mentorship, equipment, and materials if that stuff is their obsession. And for a self-studier, it seems important to figure out first what you want to obsess yourself with, and then focus on getting maximum access to applied learning environments.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on Self-study ideas for micro-projects in "abstract" subjects? · 2021-06-12T05:19:27.922Z · LW · GW

Always enjoying your thoughts. Thanks chemslug. My expectation is that there are more safe and tractable micro-projects out there than the average student takes for granted. But I am also raising these questions to confirm a suspicion I have: that despite our love for the idea of "learning by doing," there are many disciplines where a long slog of paper-based learning, punctuated by a few carefully regulated experiments, has to precede any kind of creative or independent hands-on activity.

LessWrong's steeped in "move fast and break things" Silicon Valley culture, which seems to inform a fair bit of the perspectives on education I see shared here. One reason why I appreciate your comments here is that you bring insight from a less-represented discipline, one with a different set of norms and requirements than we find in Programland.

Do you think that most aspiring chemists would do well to figure out how to set up their own home lab, figuring out how to manage the risks and invest in some equipment? A fume hood costs a few thousand dollars, which is pricey but not completely impossible. Or is there a pretty hard norm that you don't do any serious chemistry outside a professional lab setting? At what point do chemists become qualified to design and execute their own projects?

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on Self-study ideas for micro-projects in "abstract" subjects? · 2021-06-11T23:14:54.842Z · LW · GW

These are great ideas, thanks! I like both the specific suggestions and the idea of contacting societies popularizing the subjects. I hadn't thought of that idea.

Agreed that there are real issues with doing "interesting" chemistry at home. I do think that this is one area where the idea that students can motivate themselves by finding an "applied" project to work on might not be the best advice.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on Self-study ideas for micro-projects in "abstract" subjects? · 2021-06-11T21:51:19.604Z · LW · GW

Here's another way of stating the exercise:

  1. Take a subject you're familiar with, or ideally are an expert in.
  2. Pick a sub-sub skill out of an introductory textbook on the topic. For example, if your subject is biochemistry, you might pick "RNA aptamers." If the subject is differential equations, you might pick "separable equations."
  3. Propose a micro-project where a student who had an introductory-level grasp of that topic would find it directly relevant. This micro-project should ideally be safe, cheap, legal/ethical, tractable for a self-studying introductory student, challenging/fun enough to be interesting. It should also be at least thematically related to real-world work in that field, in the way that coding a tic-tac-toe game is thematically related to professional programming work.
Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on Search-in-Territory vs Search-in-Map · 2021-06-10T22:10:45.831Z · LW · GW

Those are nice examples/test cases!

Here's what I think is the right way to understand what's going on in the phone case. Let's say you're looking for an ice cream stand in a park.

Your brain takes input from the phone and your eyeballs. It synthesizes them, along with memories and other sense data, into a prediction about where you should walk and what you should look at in order to find the ice cream stand. Based on that mental synthesis, it sends outputs to your body, causing you to walk/read/look around.

In this conception, there's ultimately only "search in map," where the map is in your brain. "Search in territory" is just a fancy label we give to a certain subset of sense impressions that aren't focusing on what we conventionally call a "map."

I think that John is interested here in this distinction from a more practical, engineering perspective. When is it efficient for some instrumental goal to create or consult what we'd conventionally call a "map?" Here, the important thing seems to be the distinction between accumulating and storing information in a legible format, versus acquiring data anew each time.

I'm just pointing out that ultimately, there has to be some abstract synthesis of signals. The idea of transducing signals from one form into another might be more helpful for understanding this side of things. Here, the important thing is tracing the transduction of information from one processing mechanism to another.

To me, these seem importantly different, so I'm advocating that they be split apart rather than lumped together.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on How do you establish a comfort zone in your studies? · 2021-06-09T20:35:59.235Z · LW · GW

Makes perfect sense! Going into scientific research, there's often kind of a chicken-and-egg problem. You know that knowing biochemistry, differential equations, immunology etc. would be useful somehow, eventually, if you became familiar with these subjects. You do have a general interest in these topics, since they're directly relevant to becoming, say, a biologist. But most of your learning along the way won't be directly related to a project that directly has real, applied value to your own life or the lives of others. That comes later. So figuring out how to enjoy the studying you must do before you're able to work on practical projects seems useful. That's mainly what I'm wondering about here.

Thanks for your thoughts on the motivational role of practical projects!

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on How do you establish a comfort zone in your studies? · 2021-06-09T18:56:35.061Z · LW · GW

Agreed. I think of this as the problem of "source selection." C.f. The Best Textbooks on Every Subject if you haven't checked that out, though I don't know if I agree with the recommendations or this anecdotal approach to the problem.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on How do you establish a comfort zone in your studies? · 2021-06-09T18:14:55.716Z · LW · GW

Good thoughts. I agree that having a convenient practical application is very nice. Programming is lovely, because even a complete novice can make things that feel interesting to them with just a few pieces of basic knowledge.

By contrast, there's a fair bit of precursor knowledge required to figure out how to apply, say, differential equations to a biological modeling problem. Even though chemistry is in theory practical, the danger, regulation, and expense of setting up a laboratory to mess around in makes practical projects a less appealing way to learn (though it's perhaps counterbalanced by other factors like the hands-on aspect).

The problem I'm focusing on here is less about the difficulty of wrapping your head around a concept and ultimately committing them to memory, and more about motivating yourself to keep on trying.

For example, if you're reading a math textbook, you might find it difficult to understand. That's one problem. But you might also find it relatively easy to understand, yet find yourself getting distracted, losing focus, feeling stressed, or just not feeling like studying it.

My theory here is that in those cases, it's common for people to think that the reason they're feeling that way is that it's "too hard," or that they're "not smart enough." My guess is that for many, the reason is that math is a Jenga Tower topic and they haven't spent enough time establishing a comfort zone with the basics.

They could, in theory, keep pressing forward, just reviewing old concepts when those old concepts are explicitly referenced in the new material. But that may produce two kinds of experiences: an experience of "I can't believe I've forgotten this already," and an experience of "I don't understand this new stuff," neither of which is pleasant.

As an alternative, if students can press through some new material until they get tired, and then just "swim around," reviewing old material, sort of basking in the experience of what they've just learned, they might find their motivation returning. They start to have two different experiences: an experience of "wow, I've learned a lot already!" and "because of what I've already learned, this new stuff is making pretty good sense!"

If we were just robots who could mechanically force ourselves to do what's optimal for memory-building, then maybe this would be an inefficient approach. But if we think about our studies as having a twin purpose of building memories and building motivation, then this starts to look more attractive.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on Search-in-Territory vs Search-in-Map · 2021-06-06T19:17:13.077Z · LW · GW

It seems to me like search in territory (SIT) and search in map (SIM) are matters of degree, not kind. So they can potentially be quantified. They also have to do with transduction from one form of information to another.

For example, with the SIT example, you’re transducing information from scale balance and rock position into and out of brain states. With the SIM example, you transducer information from your brain, into a pre-designed spreadsheet, then from scale balance and rock position into your brain, into a spreadsheet, and then back to rock position.

It doesn’t seem like there’s a hard distinction between the two from that perspective? Not sure.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on Alcohol, health, and the ruthless logic of the Asian flush · 2021-06-04T21:18:43.663Z · LW · GW

From Wikipedia: "Disulfiram does not reduce alcohol cravings, so a major problem associated with this drug is extremely poor compliance. Methods to improve compliance include subdermal implants, which release the drug continuously over a period of up to 12 weeks, and supervised administration practices, for example, having the drug regularly administered by one's spouse."

My guess is that for a strategy like this to work better, you'd need the pain to come right away, strong enough to build an immediate association between alcohol and suffering. Instead, "about 5 to 10 minutes after alcohol intake, the patient may experience the effects of a severe hangover for a period of 30 minutes up to several hours." By contrast, here's how one Reddit user describes alcohol cravings:

It isn't so much a thirst like for water after a long run, it is more like a thirst for the body buzz and mental clarity that comes with drinking. You cannot enjoy any activity until you have that drink in you, and once you do, ON THE FIRST SIP, your body finally releases you from the tenseness and uncertainty you've been feeling all day. It is an indescribable release.

Note that the effect is immediate and intensely pleasurable. Yet alcohol only reaches the brain 5 minutes after consumption, and only takes effect 10 minutes after consumption. So there's something psychological, not just chemical, going on here. I'm skeptical that a delayed-onset pain that's potentially not even shifting the same motivational mechanism that caused the cravings would be effective.

The fact that people self-harm, despite the fact that the pain must be immediate and intense, should be at least some evidence against the idea that strategies like this would work. My money is on the idea that disulfiram's apparent effectiveness when taken is mainly a third variable problem. People who take it are likely to be highly organized or highly motivated to quit.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on What are your personal (public) Hamming questions? · 2021-06-04T19:03:10.274Z · LW · GW

Hi weathersystems, I like this idea. I have a few reactions to it.

First, it sounds like to be a success, you just need to find one other person to collaborate with. If you can find that person, go for it!

Secondly, if your goal is to get more people interested and more questions submitted, I think it's worth taking more time to have individual conversations with specific people about topics you think they'd be interested in collaborating on based on their post history. Sussing out their level of interest, availability, and what sort of collaborative partner they'd like to find would be good.

When I think about who I'd like to collaborate with via LW, I think about other writers who have independently written insightful posts on topics very close to my own interests. To me, that signals potentially fruitful ground for collaboration. I'm starting to lean away from the model that long comment chains are the best way to do LW discussion, and toward the model that the most meaningful conversation on LW happens with full, well-considered blog posts responding to other full blog posts. 

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on For Better Commenting, Take an Oath of Reply. · 2021-06-03T14:57:39.443Z · LW · GW

That's a good point. I picked the word "oath" intuitively, and I can try to articulate why.

First, "policy" feels more detached and state-ish than I wanted. I wanted a word that conveyed some emotional depth and a spark of human connection.

Also, "policy" has the implication of being explicit in its details, like a law. By contrast, an oath is about building credibility without being specific about what actions to take. Here's a sample from the Hippocratic Oath:

  • "I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant: I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow."

Policies can also have statements like that occasionally, but they are also often extremely detailed and voluminous:

  • "Employees accrue 2.15 hours of emergency personal time per pay period. On an annual basis, this is the equivalent of 56 hours. Employees may use emergency personal time up to 56 hours."

But if you want to call yours a policy, more power to you!

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on AllAmericanBreakfast's Shortform · 2021-06-02T14:51:23.211Z · LW · GW

I’d prefer WAY BIG

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on For Better Commenting, Take an Oath of Reply. · 2021-06-02T04:03:02.429Z · LW · GW


Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on AllAmericanBreakfast's Shortform · 2021-06-02T03:03:35.335Z · LW · GW

Pet peeve: the phrase "nearly infinite."

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on Why don't long running conversations happen on LessWrong? · 2021-06-01T15:51:01.291Z · LW · GW

Adam Zerner’s recent question is a good example of a “this isn’t working” followed by analysis of the causes. Emotion is often a motivator for meta conversation in offline relationships. In online settings like LW, we might tend to start by imagining what sort of interactions we think are possible and missing, and then inferring the reason for their absence and experimenting with solutions.

Keeping those analyses general and succinct seems like the right way to go. I wouldn’t want to have a public discussion about my feelings about a specific other blogger. But trying to find explanations for general behavior online seems like world modeling, not navel gazing.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on What are your personal (public) Hamming questions? · 2021-06-01T06:52:20.348Z · LW · GW

Here's a description of the Hamming question.

Mathematician Richard Hamming used to ask scientists in other fields "What are the most important problems in your field?" partly so he could troll them by asking "Why aren't you working on them?" and partly because getting asked this question is really useful for focusing people's attention on what matters.

I'm not trying to troll anybody. The three questions at the top of the OP are what you'd answer to articulate your Hamming problem, as you've done here. What is the most important problem you face in your life (whether practical, intellectual, or social), and why aren't you working on it? Your HP might be finding a better living environment, or exploring your ideas, but either way, what stands in your way of working on them (more than you already are)?

As a note, the issues you're having sound like they are probably best addressed with some combination of a social worker, counselor, and doctor. I don't have any advice to give you on finding solutions. However, if you have not make a serious effort to connect with such people, stay connected, and change up who you work with until you find a good fit, that seems like a good place to start.

One of the issues the LW community has faced is how to field people who are experiencing profound struggles in their personal lives. As you know, those problems can be extremely severe, deep, and persistent, while strangers on the internet have zero ability to help in any deep way. So unfortunately, you are likely to find that LW is not a resource for the personal problems you face. However, we all hope that building our skills in rationality can help us overcome the thorny problems we individually face. I don't know if that is true for sure. But I spend a lot of time at it. I hope you are able to use some of the ideas here to leverage what resources are on offer from the professional providers in your area to make some progress!

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on What are your personal (public) Hamming questions? · 2021-06-01T06:42:00.267Z · LW · GW

Great, do you have time this week for a ~30 minute chat? :)

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on For Better Commenting, Take an Oath of Reply. · 2021-06-01T06:23:39.404Z · LW · GW

Thanks for linking this in to the conversation.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on For Better Commenting, Take an Oath of Reply. · 2021-06-01T06:05:18.503Z · LW · GW

I like the idea of a standard LW OoR, and maybe there could be several. Optimally it would be as convenient as possible to include one.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on For Better Commenting, Take an Oath of Reply. · 2021-06-01T06:04:17.866Z · LW · GW

The oath of reply is meant as a prior-increaser for receiving a reply specifically for an audience aiming for good faith dialog. So any assumptions or modifications needed to specify the sort of conversation you’re looking to have are appropriate. Much of this needs to be implicit, as we’re all busy people and don’t need 10 pages of legal boilerplate for this stuff.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on For Better Commenting, Take an Oath of Reply. · 2021-06-01T05:57:53.812Z · LW · GW

There are ways to do a “message received, thanks” in a few short words. Emojis are annoying in formal settings and convey much less than even just a single short sentence.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on How concerned are you about LW reputation management? · 2021-06-01T04:00:51.198Z · LW · GW

Primarily real reputation, but interested in both aspects!

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on Core Pathways of Aging · 2021-06-01T03:59:53.016Z · LW · GW

Interesting! Can you give me some background on where those ideas come from? I haven’t specifically studied cancer biology yet so I don’t know if this is something an intro textbook on the subject would cover, or whether they’re to some extent your original ideas?

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on Why don't long running conversations happen on LessWrong? · 2021-06-01T03:48:23.985Z · LW · GW

Ah, what I mean is that if you specifically ask a person to discuss a topic, or bring it up clearly showing you want to discuss it with them, they’re likely to take you up on it in an organic conversation. Also, if you specifically ask a friend to give you feedback on a piece of writing, making it clear it would mean a lot to you, I wouldn’t be surprised if they do. Most people I know seem happy to help.

But yeah, just sending a friend a link to a post isn’t going to increase the response rate too much.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on Why don't long running conversations happen on LessWrong? · 2021-06-01T03:45:12.447Z · LW · GW

Not the clearest language, sorry. Slightly more specifically, I mean that a lot of the conversation is either about our own conversations, conversational dynamics generally, or conversation dynamics between ourselves and family/friends or between people we know and others.

I don’t have a confident number to put on it. Between 10-50% perhaps? Which feels huge to me.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on For Better Commenting, Take an Oath of Reply. · 2021-05-31T13:34:53.875Z · LW · GW

Thanks for that great response, very in line with my own thinking!

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on For Better Commenting, Take an Oath of Reply. · 2021-05-31T13:34:24.627Z · LW · GW

gjm expresses it well! I think you’re right that some comments are in a special category of clearly not needing a reply. Maybe there’s a way to briefly acknowledge that the comment has been seen and considered, however.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on What are your personal (public) Hamming questions? · 2021-05-31T06:08:45.299Z · LW · GW

So is your personal Hamming problem getting into a better environment for study? If so, what would be your first step? Are you working on it? And if not, why not?

You're clearly in a difficult situation, so know that the reason I ask those questions is because that's the theme of this discussion. There is no implicit criticism here. This is just a space to explore these questions, whatever the problems each individual person is facing.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on Why don't long running conversations happen on LessWrong? · 2021-05-31T06:01:40.888Z · LW · GW

Here it is! Thanks for the inspiration.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on Why don't long running conversations happen on LessWrong? · 2021-05-31T05:22:01.253Z · LW · GW

It also makes me think about an idea I've always had: Blog Buddies. Alice is a blogger who is interested in having a lot of discussion and constructive criticism on her posts. So is Bob. And Carol. And Dave. They can all get together, form a group, and read + critique each others posts. Seems like it scratches an itch. I've thought about it as a startup idea, but I could see it making sense more narrowly on LessWrong.

Yeah, this sounds like a book club, except where the participants are also the authors. I'll bet that there are some groups of authors who do this already. Seems totally do-able. And I actually think that posts like this are exactly how you get this done.

This is part of why I've been posting a lot of questions lately - my stab at catalyzing conversation that people feel open to participating in. They've gotten a decent number of comments relative to the LW baseline. This feels like a solvable problem, though it probably has a few interlinked challenges (the intimidation factor, status concerns, building an expectation of continued discussion, and probably others too).

The fact is that we see a lot more idea posts than metaconversation posts on LW. By contrast, in my closest relationships, a huge proportion of the conversation is metaconversational. It's about exploring the nuances of relationships and conversation challenges. Those conversations genuinely lead to baseline improvements and real progress. So it might be that we're just straight-up neglecting something tractable that's critical for generative conversation on LW to thrive.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on Why don't long running conversations happen on LessWrong? · 2021-05-31T05:17:21.599Z · LW · GW

I'm having trouble understanding what you mean here. Would you mind explaining this differently?

You're right, that was convoluted :)

Having a prior that your conversation partner will reply motivates commenting. When both partners have that prior, they'll continue their conversation, as we're doing here. Figuring out how to generate that prior in both parties is the important part. So how do we generate that prior?

One way is trust/personal connection. If you're having a conversation with a friend, you can usually expect they'll respond when you bring up a new topic.

Another is professional interest in the topic. If you're an academic and bring up a topic among colleagues at a conference, you can often expect at least some response.

However, these are just means to an end. The end being that prior expectation of receiving a response. There may be other means to that end that are cheaper and easier, like your pledge for ongoing discussion, or using Beeminder.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on Why don't long running conversations happen on LessWrong? · 2021-05-31T03:37:50.420Z · LW · GW

I think I'll actually write this up as a corollary to For Better Commenting, Avoid PONDS.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on Why don't long running conversations happen on LessWrong? · 2021-05-31T03:34:44.325Z · LW · GW

This is partly why I’ve shifted in my posts on scholarship to just building on my own thoughts over a long time.


Hm, previously I had been assuming that this wouldn't work because readership isn't necessarily consistent, and because even if you do get the same readers they'd have lost the context of the previous posts.

Oh, to be clear, this is a response to having to some extent given up on hoping for deep conversations from readership. Instead, I just try to structure my research such that I have a feeling of responding to and building on my own line of thinking, rather than just ping-ponging off other people's thoughts. However, I do hold out hope that if my writings truly bear fruit, that having a demonstrated track record of thought behind them will somehow be helpful.

Also, sometimes you're really just writing for a couple of other people who are seriously interested in your work. I've received some behind-the-scenes real attention in the EA sphere from my "true fans," even though that wouldn't show up in the comments.

I don't get the sense that trust/personal connection is something people particularly look for as a prerequisite to having a long running conversation.

I view trust/personal connection as means to generate a credible expression of interest in further dialog and ability to deliver insight. The latter, not the former, is what's necessary to provoke extended conversations. Trust/personal connection is a good motivator for the latter. So is professional interest. The big question is whether or not we can generate that sort of credibility in a cheaper way. Being concerned that the answer is "no," I suggest leaning on the methods we do know work. But I could be wrong, and it's certainly worth trying!

I agree, but don't feel strongly enough to think that these things aren't worth experimenting with (the bar for experimenting is a lot lower).

Yep, agreed. Just pointing toward the MVP as a starting point, as you describe. Worth trying the lightest-weight and most convenient options and seeing what you can milk out of them first.

I can pledge to continue responding indefinitely, but I can't promise specific dates by which I'll respond. If I come to a point where I notice myself feeling unlikely to continue the discussion, I also pledge to state that explicitly. If you haven't heard from me in a while, I'm open to you asking me if I'm still interested in discussing.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on What are your personal (public) Hamming questions? · 2021-05-31T03:19:10.760Z · LW · GW

When I try to choose between any of the plethora of options I could put time towards, they all just feel sort of "flat" and difficult to differentiate. I think this is also tied up with often finding it hard to be strategic when I settle down infront of my computer -- a sense of brain fog often settles in.

tl;dr: I think in some sense organization is my hamming problem

Any chance you'd be interested in a small "feel it out" collaboration on my project for studying how to study? It sounds like you're studying, and also trying to decide what to study, both of which are directly relevant questions that I'm exploring.

By "studying how to study," I specifically mean acquiring knowledge from existing texts, rather than doing original research. It also means examining when and whether such scholarship is actually useful, as opposed to a form of academic make-work or pricey signaling mechanism.

If you are interested, let me know and we can do a chat to discuss!

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on What are your personal (public) Hamming questions? · 2021-05-31T02:05:19.225Z · LW · GW

That sounds like an amazing project! Do you think there's a chance that your stuck-ness is caused by you thinking your job and kids are more important than this video project? Maybe your Hamming project is being a parent and doing your day job, in which case you actually are working on your most important things?

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on What are your personal (public) Hamming questions? · 2021-05-31T02:02:20.289Z · LW · GW

Sounds like you want to create a software library for gameification (both implementing the features and increasing their addictiveness)?

It sort of sounds like you want to take the symmetric weapon of addictiveness, which the forces of doom have perfected and the forces of hope have neglected, and make it accessible to the good guys?

When I decided to pursue an EA career, I started taking classes and committed to grad school. This fall I'm moving to Michigan for an MS in bioengineering. Obviously that's not concretely relevant to your project.

However, in the outlines, I think it's relevant. I spent about $1,500 every quarter for two years on the "commitment device" of classes, and am about to drop another $25,000/semester on the "commitment/networking/internship" experience of grad school. Finding a meaningful way to pay for experiences that broadcast and reinforce your commitment and networking opportunities seems like a good strategy.

So if you're truly dedicated to this as your life's work, what could you spend $6,000/year or more on (maybe in chunks) that would help you network and commit and gain credibility in this space? Attending conferences? Hiring a full-time freelance programmer for a month?

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on What are your personal (public) Hamming questions? · 2021-05-31T01:54:56.315Z · LW · GW

The timescales to get a full feedback loop (think of an idea, try it out, analyze the results) often look like weeks to run an experiment, whereas in the digital world your code will compile in seconds.

I think this is superficially compelling. After all, if you read a biology method, often a single step will take hours, days, even weeks. By contrast, of course, a single line of code executes in next to no time.

However, it's not actually the right way to think about it. After all, there's no reason that we would compare a single physical action, or a single line from a method, to a single line of code. What is the "meaningful feedback loop comparison?" I get feedback when I pipette from one test tube into another - feedback on whether or not I spilled. Likewise, when I compile code, I get feedback on things like whether or not my syntax was correct. Comparing the speed of compiling code to the speed of executing an experiment is not a meaningful feedback loop comparison.

Even in computing, there's a point past which we no longer have crisp definitions for what needs to be done. The vision no longer breaks down into an obvious set of concrete tasks.

This becomes more obvious when you shift your starting point from "how do I execute task X in code" (i.e. build a tic-tac-toe game in Python) to "how do I create a program that audience X will buy?"

The former sort of question is easy to decompose into code. There is an objective standard by which to determine whether or not you've achieved it.

The latter question requires all sorts of non-programming tasks. Rapidly, those tight programmatic feedback loops disappear. Once the code base gets large enough, even the coding challenges no longer have the same tight feedback loops. All projects aiming to achieve a substantial and sustained real-world audience hit this bottleneck, usually sooner rather than later.

Progress in biology is not slow. Biology is just vastly more complicated than computer science. I don't mean that as an insult to CS. It's just that CS is a discipline of building systems out of precisely specified mathematics. Biology is trying to understand a system that we didn't design, based on mechanisms that we don't have the power to determine with precision.

Figuring out how to define "progress" in a meaningful way, such that you're finding an appropriate referant for comparison between the two disciplines, is quite tricky. Without that definition, you can't compare progress rates. 

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on Why don't long running conversations happen on LessWrong? · 2021-05-31T01:11:56.282Z · LW · GW

This is partly why I’ve shifted in my posts on scholarship to just building on my own thoughts over a long time. Having a readership, even if shallow, is motivating. I do occasionally get useful comments, sometimes via PM. I think reaching out to others for zoom or other back and forth goes a long way to establishing the trust needed to generate even a 45 minute conversation.

With commenting, I feel at each stage a concern that I won’t be responded to. I imagine others feel the same way. And this frequently turns out to be the case! Many times I’ve taken a fair bit of time writing up comments for posts where comments were explicitly solicited, only to have them ignored.

Other times, as on SSC/AC10, I notice that the OP has a pattern of posting no more than one reply per comment. So this causes me to develop an even stronger prior for them specifically about the depth to expect. And if they’re clearly not interested enough in what I have to say to read my reply, why should I think they care enough about me to have invested much thought into their comment in the first place?

I do think this is an important and solvable problem. I think part of the problem is lack of credibility and incentives to carry on long running conversation, and Quirrel is right that academia selects for and promotes those traits.

Nevertheless, there’s a real need for capacity to establish such conversations online. Partly because there’s a need for people to be able to have sustained discussions on topics outside their specialty. Partly as a hedge on academia’s incentives. So naive, annoying, or idealistic, it’s worth considering whether this is important and tractable enough to execute.

One problem, I think, is that synthesizing such conversation probably demands a LOT of upfront time and energy with a very low chance of any financial or status reward coming from it. You have to scour the internet for particular debate partners on your mutual topic of interest, invest lots of time trying again and again to start and sustain conversation, and pay for the privilege with your limited time and no promise of any recognition or reward in the end. Not even an academic paper!

Few are willing to pay that cost for so little reward.

Aside from shifting toward PMs and zoom calls (which I do recommend), I think the other solution you suggest is good. Probably it’s not necessary to be heavy handed with Beeminder and such. Just post a comment saying something like “I’m interested in spending at least X hours, with an option for more, having a longer conversation with you on this. Let me know if interested.” Accompanying this with a substantial object level comment would make it more credible.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on Demons in Imperfect Search · 2021-05-30T06:04:47.778Z · LW · GW

Another example might be democratic politics. Optimization is meant to produce a government and policies representing a majority view while protecting minority rights. Search is via voting, a procedure which is defined in a difficult-to-change constitution; politicians who are elected have an incentive to preserve the system that got them elected. Exploitation happens when actions that would better represent majority views and protect minority rights don’t necessarily get politicians elected. In fact, there are actions politicians can take to further decouple representation and rights-protection from voting.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on Demons in Imperfect Search · 2021-05-30T05:52:16.889Z · LW · GW

Addiction might be another example. It starts with pursuing a feeling of relief. Search is imperfect, focusing on reward system responses in the brain rather than the feeling of relief originally sought. Drug makers and addicts focus on stimulating that reward center, rather than on creating/consuming drugs that might produce relief. Some actions that stimulate the reward system further decouple brain stimulus from relief, like self isolation or theft to get money for drugs.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on Two Definitions of Generalization · 2021-05-29T15:52:21.842Z · LW · GW

This article on “Generic Generalizations” seems potentially relevant?

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on The Homunculus Problem · 2021-05-29T10:05:30.969Z · LW · GW

"We don't see the actual colors of objects. Instead, the brain adjusts colors for us, based on surrounding lighting cues, to approximate the surface pigmentation. In this example, it leads us astray, because what we are actually looking at is a false image made up of surface pigmentation (or illumination, if you're looking at this on a screen)."

Cultural concepts and the colloquial language of vision do not map very neatly onto the subjective experience of vision. Nor does the subjective experience of vision map neatly onto the wavelengths of light striking the opsins of the retina.

For example, we can describe the color of pixels with RGB values. We might call these "light grey" or "dark grey," if we saw them in the MS Paint color picker. This is a measure of the wavelengths of light striking our opsins.

However, when we view the Checkerboard Illusion and look at squares A or B, the shadow pattern causes a different pattern of neurotransmission than if we looked at those squares alone in MS Paint. That different pattern of neurotransmission results in a different qualia, and hence different language to describe it.

Understand that qualia is a fundamentally biochemical process, just like a muscle contraction, although we understand the mechanics of the latter somewhat, while we understand qualia hardly at all. Likewise, the subjective experience of a 'you' thinking, remembering, and experiencing this illusion is a qualia that is also happening along with the qualia of vision. It's like your brain is dancing, moving many qualia-muscles in a complex coordinated fashion all at once.

We can refer possessively to our bodies without risking the homunculus fallacy - saying "my brain" is OK. Since qualia are a physiological process, we can also therefore say "my qualia." Both are synonyms for "this body's brain" and "this body's qualia." "Me" simply means "this body."

Just as we can say "I am seeing" or "I am thinking," we can say "I am experiencing" when we have a qualia of being a homunculus distinct from but experiencing our senses. All of these phrases could be translated as "This brain is generating qualia of seeing, thinking, experiencing."

This helps show that the homunculus fallacy is baked into the language. While in fact, the brain is doing all the seeing, thinking, and experiencing, we have normalized using language that suggests that a homunculus is doing it. Drop the "I am," shift to "this brain is," and it magically vanishes.

Since we don't have a qualiometer, it seems important to be wary of creating language to describe qualia, recombining it symbolically, and then imagining that the new combination describes "real qualia." For example:

  1. "I am experiencing the A and B squares as different colors" is a pretty commonsense qualia.
  2. "I am experiencing myself experiencing the A and B squares as the same colors" is less convincing. What does it mean to "experience yourself experiencing?" Is this a real qualia, or just a language game?

The reason this matters is that, in theory, there is a tight connection between biochemical processes and particular qualia. If we were good enough at predicting qualia based on biochemistry (akin to how we can predict a protein's shape based on the mRNA that encodes it), then we could refute somebody's own self-reported inner experience. With a qualiometer, someone could know your inner world better than you know it yourself, describe it more accurately than you can.

Finding a practical language that avoids the homunculus fallacy has more problems than reflecting concepts accurately. It also needs to content with people's inherited language norms, exceedingly poor ability to describe their inner state accurately in words, and need to participate in the language games that the people around them are playing.

Overall, though, I think the simplest change to make is to just start replacing "you" with "your brain" and "you are" with "your brain is," while jamming the word "qualia" in somewhere every time a sensory word comes up and using precise scientific terminology where possible.

"Your brain doesn't generate a one-to-one mapping from the actual wavelengths of light striking its eyeballs' opsins into vision-qualia. Instead, your brain adjusts color-qualia based on surrounding lighting cues, to approximate the surface pigmentation. In this example, it generates a color-difference-qualia even though the actual wavelengths are identical, because what the brain is actually looking at is a false image made up of surface pigmentation (or illumination, if your eyes are looking at this on a screen)."

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on What are your personal (public) Hamming questions? · 2021-05-29T07:41:35.413Z · LW · GW

Thanks for the recommendation!

I love programming. Taught myself back in high school, and it's such a lovely self-reinforcing and immediately useful skill.

Now I'm back in school after 10 years working in music. This fall I'm attending an MS program in bioengineering, which I'm QUITE excited for. One of the things about studying biology is that, well, biology is amazing, but it's a lot harder to do even basic things, much less create anything original, at home. One of the coolest resources is, which has lots of bioinformatics practice problems. I haven't seriously looked into the biohacking community, but it's time.

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on What are your personal (public) Hamming questions? · 2021-05-29T06:46:14.062Z · LW · GW

I'll go first. I've been working for a year on a "studying how to study" project. There are a couple potentially high-impact experiments I could do.

  1. Buying or synthesizing modafinil (the synthesis is very easy). First step would probably be to buy some via an online pharmacy, since the synthesis would be time-consuming and expensive unless I do it in large quantities.
  2. Going on a 10-day study retreat as suggested by Razied. First step would be announcing to friends and family that I intend to take 10 days in August to try this.

I also need to figure out what it actually means to "get something done" via studying. What exactly am I improving at? I already get top grades. Since that's not the motivating factor, what is? What specifically am I aiming for?

A first step here would be to iterate between brainstorming possible concrete goals, then criteria for selecting them, until I find an operationalization I find satisfying.

Why haven't I done them? On modafinil, it's just personal psychology. I think that realistically, it's probably better for my health and mind than my caffeine intake. For the study retreat, it's that summer's already busy, and I don't want my friends to feel rejected in the limited time I have before moving. Plus my family's already pestering me about how much time I spend studying.

For the operationalization of my study goals, I think I'm partly worried that it'll make my studying less fun (and I already struggle to have fun with it). But maybe that's a good indicator that one of my criterion should be that it needs to be fun!

Comment by AllAmericanBreakfast on (Trying To) Study Textbooks Effectively: A Year of Experimentation · 2021-05-28T20:18:44.161Z · LW · GW

As a followup, it does seem like you could test this to some extent. Find out what textbook an upcoming year-long class uses. Take 10 days prior to the class for a retreat, during which you read the entire textbook. Then try to do the homework and exams with minimal review of the textbook, treating the class as a review of material you're already familiar with rather than a first brush with the content. Since textbook reading comprises the bulk of my studies, it seems possible that this would feel like a net time saving/deeper learning, but I'm not sure. Would be interesting to try it and see!