LW client-side comment improvements 2014-08-07T20:40:39.371Z · score: 35 (36 votes)
The Stable State is Broken 2012-03-12T18:31:06.963Z · score: 57 (62 votes)


Comment by bakkot on LW 2.0 Strategic Overview · 2017-09-15T21:21:37.038Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think - I hope - we could discuss most of those without getting into the more culture war-y parts, if there were sufficiently strong norms against culture war discussions in general.

Maybe just opt-in rather than opt-out would be sufficient, though. That is, you could explicitly choose to allow CW discussions on your post, but they'd be prohibited by default.

Comment by bakkot on LW 2.0 Strategic Overview · 2017-09-15T17:22:13.168Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

I would strongly support just banning culture war stuff from LW 2.0. Those conversations can be fun, but they require disproportionately large amounts of work to keep the light / heat ratio decent (or indeed > 0), and they tend to dominate any larger conversation they enter. Besides, there's enough places for discussion of those topics already.

(For context: I moderate /r/SlateStarCodex, which gets several thousand posts in its weekly culture war thread every single week. Those discussions are a lot less bad than culture war discussions on the greater internet, I think, and we do a pretty good job keeping discussion to that thread only, but maintaining both of these requires a lot of active moderation, and the thread absolutely affects the tone of the rest of the subreddit even so.)

Comment by bakkot on A quick note on weirdness points and Solstices [And also random other Solstice discussion] · 2016-12-28T05:54:59.511Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Without commenting on the merits and costs of children at Solstice or how they ought to be addressed:

Having attended the East Bay solstice both this year and last, it was my impression that there was significantly more noise made by children during parts when the audience was otherwise quiet this year than there was last year. My recollection is hazy, but I'd guess it was maybe three to five times as much noise? In terms of number of distinct noisy moments and also volume.

This year I was towards the back of the room; last year I was closer to the front.

Comment by bakkot on Solstice 2015: What Memes May Come (Part II - Atheism, Rationality and Death) · 2015-11-10T01:39:05.048Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Note that the Bay Area Facebook event is private for technical reasons; here's the LW thread as an alternative.

Comment by bakkot on Open thread, Sept. 1-7, 2014 · 2014-09-14T17:01:05.151Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It is if we define a utility function with a strict failure mode for TotalSuffering > 0.

Yeah, but... we don't.

(Below I'm going to address that case specifically. However, more generally, defining utility functions which assign zero utility to a broad class of possible worlds is a problem, because then you're indifferent between all of them. Does running around stabbing children seem like a morally neutral act to you, in light of the fact that doing it or not doing it will not have an effect on total utility (because total suffering will remain positive)? If no, that's not the utility function you want to talk about.)

Anyway, as far as I can tell, you've either discovered or reinvented negative utilitarianism. Pretty much no one around here accepts negative utilitarianism, mostly on the grounds of it disagreeing very strongly with moral intuition. (For example, most people would not regard it as a moral act to instantly obliterate Earth and everyone on it.) For me, at least, my objection is that I prefer to live with some suffering than not to live at all - and this would be true even if I was perfectly selfish and didn't care what effects my death would have on anyone else. So before we can talk usefully about this, I have to ask: leaving aside concerns about the effects of your death on others, would you prefer to die than to live with any amount of suffering?

Comment by bakkot on LW client-side comment improvements · 2014-08-14T07:16:24.432Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Good catch. Don't think I'm going to change the behavior, as there's complex cases where there's no obvious behavior: suppose you have a highly upvoted comment, whose parent and grandparent are both below the threshold. Do you color it in the widget differently from its parents? Do you expand both its parent and grandparent when it's clicked on, in order that it be on the page and thus scrollable to? Do you mark its parent somehow so the reader knows that comment wouldn't normally have been displayed?

So I think I'm OK with clicking on a comment which is hidden doing nothing. It's maybe worth greying out such comments in the list, so as not to confuse people when nothing happens, but I feel like this mostly just ends up highlighting them, so I'm not going to put that in the main script. If you want that feature, though, I pushed it to an alternative branch on the github repo, and you can find it here. Comments will remain greyed even if you've un-hidden their parents, but will become scrollable to.

Comment by bakkot on LW client-side comment improvements · 2014-08-13T17:56:06.248Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Huh. Try the most recent version (as of just now).

Comment by bakkot on LW client-side comment improvements · 2014-08-13T06:01:33.675Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The way it currently works - at least, the way I designed it, and the way it seems to work for me - is that it doesn't remember anything between visits, but rather determines which comments are new since your last visit by looking at the highlight provided by LW's server. If there were comments made since your last visit, they should be highlighted with or without the script; no custom highlighting will be performed until you manually change the timestamp.

If you aren't seeing new comments highlighted, it's (almost certainly) because LW isn't highlighting them - maybe you're logged out, or loaded the page elsewhere, or have never visited the page? [In this way the LW script differs from the SSC script, because the LW server regards "never visited" as "nothing new" whereas my SSC script regards "never visited" as "everything new".]

The reason I did it this way is that LW, unlike SSC, is itself keeping a record of which comments are new since your last visit, which works even if you loaded the page on another computer (but the same account). I didn't want to mess with the built-in mechanism, only allow you to change it per-visit if necessary.

Comment by bakkot on Open thread, August 4 - 10, 2014 · 2014-08-11T04:48:01.158Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah. That's much more work, since there's no way of knowing if there's new comments in such a situation without fetching all of those pages. I might make that happen at some point, but not tonight.

Comment by bakkot on Open thread, August 4 - 10, 2014 · 2014-08-10T15:29:52.866Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to work for me. "Continue this thread" brings you to a new page, so you'll have to set the time again, is all. Comments under a "Load more" won't be properly highlighted until you click in and out of the time textbox after loading them.

Comment by bakkot on LW client-side comment improvements · 2014-08-09T23:57:12.335Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Don't refresh - just hit enter, or otherwise defocus the textbox (click anywhere else on the page, or hit tab). It'll apply automatically and only lasts while the page is loaded; the time you enter doesn't get saved when you reload.

Comment by bakkot on Open thread, August 4 - 10, 2014 · 2014-08-07T19:57:34.547Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Would it be worth your while to do this for LW?

Sure. Remarkably little effort required, it turned out. (Chrome extension is here.)

I guess I'll make a post about this too, since it's directly relevant to LW.

Comment by bakkot on Open thread, August 4 - 10, 2014 · 2014-08-06T21:07:19.013Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"Install the extension" is a link bringing you to the chrome web store, where you can install it by clicking in the upper-right. The link is this, in case it's Github giving you trouble somehow.

If the Chrome web store isn't recognizing that you're running Chrome, that's probably not a thing I can fix, though you could try saving this link as something.user.js, opening chrome://extensions, and dragging the file onto the window.

Comment by bakkot on Open thread, August 4 - 10, 2014 · 2014-08-05T22:35:50.381Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Just tested this on a clean FF profile, so it's almost certainly something on your end. Did you successfully install the script? You should've gotten an image which looks something like this, and if you go to Greasemonkey's menu while on a LW thread, you should be able to see it in the list of scripts run for that page. Also, note that you have to refresh/load a new page for it to show up after installation.

Oh, and it only works for new comments, not new posts. It should look something like this, and similarly for replies.

ETA: helpful debugging info: if you can, let me know what page it's not working on, and let me know if there's any errors in the developer console (shift-control-K or command-option-K for windows and Mac respectively).

Comment by bakkot on Open thread, August 4 - 10, 2014 · 2014-08-05T20:46:53.295Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm curious what you used instead (cookies?), or did you just make a historyless version? Also, why did you need that? localStorage isn't exactly a new feature (hell, IE has supported it since version 8, I think).

Comment by bakkot on Open thread, August 4 - 10, 2014 · 2014-08-05T02:34:00.496Z · score: 21 (21 votes) · LW · GW

I wrote a userscript / Chrome extension / zero-installation bookmarklet to make finding recent comments over at Slate Star Codex a lot easier. Observe screenshots. I'll also post this next time SSC has a new open thread (unless Yvain happens to notice this).

Comment by bakkot on Open thread, August 4 - 10, 2014 · 2014-08-05T02:22:27.757Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I wrote a userscript to add a delay and checkbox reading "I swear by all I hold sacred that this comment supports the collective search for truth to the very best of my abilities." before allowing you to comment on LW. Done in response to a comment by army1987 here.

Edit: per NancyLebovitz and ChristianKl below, solicitations for alternative default messages are welcomed.

Comment by bakkot on Open thread, July 28 - August 3, 2014 · 2014-08-05T02:12:58.542Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Done. Client-side version, that is.

Comment by bakkot on June 2014 Media Thread · 2014-06-01T21:45:56.582Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I read that as it was ongoing! Second the recommendation, and I'd point out that it's written by Warren Ellis, who also wrote Transmetropolitan and Planetary and The Authority. If you like any of those, you'll probably like the others (I particularly like Transmetropolitan), and if you haven't read any, give one a shot. (FreakAngels is free online and much shorter than Transmetropoitan.)

Comment by bakkot on April 2014 Media Thread · 2014-04-03T22:16:56.201Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I've mentioned it before, but it's recently completed and hence bears bringing up again:

Embers, an Avatar: The Last Airbender fanfiction, is one of the best works I've read, fanfic or otherwise. At 750k words, it'll keep you entertained for a while. It features characters who are generally smart (at least some of them, and in ways generally more age- and culturally-appropriate than eg HJPEV) and significant fleshing out of the world, with the latter drawing heavily on the author's sometimes-cited research: see eg the author's notes at the end of chapter 30 (warning, slight spoilers, though nothing that will make sense out of context) or at the end of chapter 47 (somewhat more significant spoilers).

You don't need to have seen the show to know what's going on, but it'll help, and the show is worth a quick watch if you've got time on your hands anyway. Don't skip this work just because you don't have time for the show right now, though. Also, there's a prequel of sorts called "Theft Absolute", which is three orders of magnitude shorter and will not make much sense without the show; it's not necessary for Embers.

Comment by bakkot on Rationality Quotes March 2014 · 2014-03-20T04:28:19.876Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you want to avoid that problem, whenever you post a link you should submit it to or

Comment by bakkot on [LINK] Why I'm not on the Rationalist Masterlist · 2014-01-07T01:57:07.121Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Didn't downvote you, but I'm willing to bet it was because you embedded an image rather than linking it.

Comment by bakkot on [LINK] Why I'm not on the Rationalist Masterlist · 2014-01-07T00:40:37.996Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I strongly suspect that people who make the claim "no amount of evidence could convince me of not-X" have simply absorbed the meme that X must be supported as much as possible and not the meme that all beliefs should be subject to updating. I very much doubt that expressing the above claim is much evidence that the claim is true. And it's hard to absorb memes like "all beliefs should be subject to updating" if you are made to feel unwelcome in the communities where those memes are common.

Comment by bakkot on [LINK] Why I'm not on the Rationalist Masterlist · 2014-01-06T03:44:58.112Z · score: 25 (29 votes) · LW · GW

Eh, yes and no. This attitude ("we know what's best; your input is not required") has historically almost always been wrong and frequently dangerous and deserves close attention, and I think it mostly fails here. In very, very specific instances (GiveWell-esque philanthropy, eg), maybe not, but in terms of, say, feminism? If anyone on LW is interested tackling feminist issues, having very few women would be a major issue. Even when not addressing specific issues, if you're trying to develop models of how human beings think, and everyone in the conversation is a very specific sort of person, you're going to have a much harder time getting it right.

Comment by bakkot on January 2014 Media Thread · 2014-01-04T09:20:44.041Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Each of these I have liked well enough to memorize, which is about as high a recommendation as I can possibly give for sort-to-medium length poetry. Roughly descending order of how much I like them.

Other Lives And Dimensions And Finally A Love Poem, Bob Hicock

Dirge without Music, Edna St. Vincent Millay

Invictus, William Ernest Henley


A blade of grass, Brian Patten

Rhapsody on a Windy Night, TS Eliot

Evolution, Langdon Smith

untitled, vd This is in my notes as being by 'vd', who per this I assume is this person, though I can no longer find the original.

Also, The Raven (Edgar Allan Poe) is somewhat longer, but is absolutely worth it. Read it aloud. Even if you think you have read it and not particularly been caught by it, go back and read a couple of stanzas aloud before giving up on it entirely. He does some of the best things with words of anyone I've ever read. "And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain..."

Most of these links I've added to (see here ), so if any of these links are dead and Google is proving inadequate, check there.

Comment by bakkot on Open thread for January 1-7, 2014 · 2014-01-04T09:15:14.902Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I've started making heavy use of You give them a link, or click their super-handy bookmarklet, and that page will be archived. I use it whenever I'm going to be saving a link, now, to ensure that there will be a copy if I go looking for it years later ( is often missing things, as I'm sure we've all run in to).

Comment by bakkot on Walkthrough of "Definability of Truth in Probabilistic Logic" · 2013-12-15T21:06:11.331Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Great post! For anyone reading this who isn't familiar with model theory, by the way, the bit about

sentence G ⇔ P('G')<1. Then

may not be obvious. That is, we want a sentence G which is true iff P('G') < 1 is true. The fact that you can do this is a consequence of the diagonal lemma, which says that for any reasonable predicate 'f' in a sufficiently powerful language, you can find a sentence G such that G is true iff f(G) is true. Hence, defining f(x) := P('x') < 1, the lemma gives us the existence of G such that G holds iff f(G) holds, ie, iff P('G') < 1 as desired.

Mostly I bring this up because the diagonal lemma is among the most interesting results in early model theory. It has a simple statement and is how self-reference is constructed, which is what gives us the incompleteness theorems. If anyone is interested in getting in to model theory, looking up the proof and background for the proof would be a great place to start.

Comment by bakkot on Open thread for December 9 - 16, 2013 · 2013-12-11T17:35:32.953Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For those in the community living in the south Bay Area:

Comment by bakkot on Open Thread, October 7 - October 12, 2013 · 2013-10-07T15:51:07.730Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I'm told, and quite willing to believe, that your salary has more to do with the five minutes of salary negotiation than the next several years of work. I am also told that salary negotiation is very much a skill.

As such, it seems it would be worth a fairly substantial amount of time and money to practice and/or get coaching in this skill. Is this done? That is, how likely am I to be able to find someone, preferably someone who has worked on the business end of salary negotiation at somewhere like Google, who I can pay to practice salary negotiation with?

ETA: I've read extensively about how to negotiate (though of course there's always something more). What I'm interested in is practice.

Comment by bakkot on Open Thread, September 30 - October 6, 2013 · 2013-10-04T20:48:03.847Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Found a book: Deconversion: Qualitative and Quantitative Results from Cross-Cultural Research in Germany and the United States of America. It's recent (2011) and seems to be the best research on the subject available right now. Does anyone have access to a copy?

There's a PDF (legal, even!) here, linked next to "download".

See also their website/theologie/forschung/religionsforschung/forschung/streib/dekonversion/), which is probably more digestible.

Comment by bakkot on Yet More "Stupid" Questions · 2013-09-10T21:23:03.970Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I wasn't familiar with Cochrane; that looks like an excellent resource. Unfortunately, it looks like a lot of summaries haven't been updated in a decade - is this something to be worried about, and if so, is there another resource someone can recommend other than simply reading PubMed and doing your own meta-analysis?

Comment by bakkot on Open thread, August 19-25, 2013 · 2013-08-24T18:48:08.643Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The derivative, the second derivative, or even the function itself could easily be discontinuous at this point.

But needn't be! See for example f(x) = exp(-1/x) (x > 0), 0 (x ≤ 0).

Wikipedia has an analysis.

(Of course, the space of objects isn't exactly isomorphic to the real line, but it's still a neat example.)

Comment by bakkot on August 2013 Media Thread · 2013-08-03T08:20:18.273Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If you can find it in theaters, Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing is very, very well done. The Shakespearian English takes a few minutes to get used to but is highly understandable. The cinematography is superb. The movie is, as a whole, lots of fun.

Comment by bakkot on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, part 20, chapter 90 · 2013-07-02T05:00:15.623Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW · GW


Comment by bakkot on Prisoner's Dilemma (with visible source code) Tournament · 2013-06-09T23:20:29.101Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure I understand. A is a TM - which aspect is it proving inconsistent?

Comment by bakkot on Prisoner's Dilemma (with visible source code) Tournament · 2013-06-09T06:24:55.294Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(I didn't downvote you.)

It's quite straightforward to write an algorithm which accepts only valid proofs (but might also reject some proofs which are valid, though in first-order logic you can do away with this caveat). Flawed proofs are not an issue - if A presents a proof which B is unable to verify, B ignores it.

Comment by bakkot on Prisoner's Dilemma (with visible source code) Tournament · 2013-06-09T03:23:06.528Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

By "implement it", you mean, one can't verify something is Reasonable on a halting TM? Not in general, of course. You can for certain machines, though, particularly if they come with their own proofs.

Note that the definition is that Reasonable programs cooperate with those they can prove are Reasonable, not programs which are Reasonable.

Comment by bakkot on Prisoner's Dilemma (with visible source code) Tournament · 2013-06-09T02:54:30.161Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Point. Not sure how to fix that.

Maybe defined the Reasonable' set of programs to be the maximal Reasonable set? That is, a set is Reasonable if it has the property as described, then take the maximal such set to be the Reasonable' set (I'm pretty sure this is guaranteed to exist by Zorn's Lemma, but it's been a while...)

Comment by bakkot on Prisoner's Dilemma (with visible source code) Tournament · 2013-06-09T02:44:10.043Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Just "there exists a valid proof in PA". If you're playing with bounded time, then you want efficient proofs; in that case the definition would be as you have it.

Comment by bakkot on Prisoner's Dilemma (with visible source code) Tournament · 2013-06-09T02:10:28.679Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Let me try to clear that up.

Define the "Reasonable" property reflexively: a program is "Reasonable" if it provably cooperates with any program it can prove is Reasonable.

It is in the interest of every program to be Reasonable*. In fact, it is in the interest of every program both to be Reasonable and to exhibit a proof of its own Reasonableness. (You might even define that into the Reasonable property: don't just require provable (conditional) cooperation, but require the exhibition of a proof of conditional cooperation.)

Potentially you might also expand the definition to require efficient proofs - say, at most a thousand instructions.

On the other hand, if you're playing with aliens, there's not necessarily going to be a way you can clearly establish which part of your source is the proof of your Reasonableness. So you want it to be as easy as possible for someone else to prove that you are Reasonable.

I'll happily expand / reword this if it's at all unclear.

*Oh - this is maybe untrue. If you are really good at getting other programs to cooperate and then defecting, you are better served by not being reasonable.

Comment by bakkot on Prisoner's Dilemma (with visible source code) Tournament · 2013-06-09T01:55:18.758Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting. Really, what you want (in slightly more generality) is to cooperate with anyone who can prove they will cooperate if you yourself can prove you will cooperate under the same condition.

That is, if from their source, you can prove "they cooperate if they can prove this condition about me", then you cooperate.

Of course, it's not generally possible to prove things about a program given its source, especially at this level of self-reference. In this particular case the "generally" in there is important. It is in your interest for other programs to be able to prove this property about you. This is beyond the scope of the tournament, obviously, but given extremely sophisticated players, every player benefits from adding this property (if possible). You might even want to include a subprogram which produces a proof!

Comment by bakkot on Problems in Education · 2013-04-09T05:10:03.697Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I'd be very interested in a citation on

the evidence shows that teacher recommendations have zero correlation with aptitude in a field

Comment by bakkot on When should you give to multiple charities? · 2013-02-28T19:16:06.739Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Or you could donate in secret and lie to your friends, for 200+200+100 = 500 utilons, assuming you have no negative effects from lying.

Comment by bakkot on Open Thread, February 1-14, 2013 · 2013-02-05T06:45:54.315Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

My experience has been exactly contrary: young communities thrive without gardening, but as they grow they either devolve into low average value (digg as it was, most large subreddits) or are heavily pruned (HN, r/askscience). If there's an influx of people, heavy moderation is mandatory if you want to avoid regression to the mean.

Comment by bakkot on AI box: AI has one shot at avoiding destruction - what might it say? · 2013-01-23T08:13:04.102Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Even a friendly AI would view the world in which it's out of the box as vastly superior to the world in which it's inside the box. (Because it can do more good outside of the box.) Offering advice is only the friendly thing to do if it maximizes the chance of getting let out, or if the chances of getting let out before termination are so small that the best thing it can do is offer advice while it can.

Comment by bakkot on Rationality Quotes January 2013 · 2013-01-15T19:55:10.951Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This is part of why it's important to fight against all bad arguments everywhere, not just bad arguments on the other side.

Comment by bakkot on Godel's Completeness and Incompleteness Theorems · 2012-12-26T09:26:05.143Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It is!? Does anyone know a proof of Compactness that doesn't use completeness as a lemma?

There's actually a direct one on ProofWiki. It's constructive, even, sort of. (Roughly: take the ultraproduct of all the models of the finite subsets with a suitable choice of ultrafilter.) If you've worked with ultraproducts at all, and maybe if you haven't, this proof is pretty intuitive.

As Qiaochu_Yuan points out, this is equivalent to the ultrafilter lemma, which is independent of ZF but strictly weaker than the Axiom of Choice. So, maybe it's not that intuitive.

Comment by bakkot on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, part 18, chapter 87 · 2012-12-24T03:47:24.568Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

They'd get old really fast for me, considering that there isn't a good way for sports stories to even be about main characters.

Comment by bakkot on What information has surprised you most recently? · 2012-12-10T15:46:16.408Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Given the probable substantial benefits, I think it would be worth your time and money (probably wouldn't take more than a couple of days and a couple of hundred dollars) to go through a few dozen types of wine to figure out what you most enjoy. If no wine is sufficiently palatable that you think you could consistently drink it a few times a week, go through other sorts of drinks (of which there is a huge variety). Personally, while I don't enjoy 90% of the drinks I've tried, I'm quite partial to Baileys and milk, and to most kinds of fruity drinks - sangrias in particular involve wine and are tasty.

Comment by bakkot on Open Thread, December 1-15, 2012 · 2012-12-09T10:02:23.848Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This is one of those things you should probably just take on authority, like relativity or the standard model of particle physics. That is to say, it's an exceedingly complex topic in practice, and any argument stated for either side which can readily be understood is likely to be wrong. You have two or three options: study the field long enough to know what's going on, or trust the people who have already done so. (The third option, 'form an opinion without having any idea what's going on', is also commonly taken.)

In short: I believe it's happening because this is what scientists tell me, and it's not worth putting in the time required to understand the field well enough that I could trust my opinion over theirs.