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Comment by basil-marte on Leaving a line of retreat for theists · 2019-10-15T22:14:10.073Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No experience, just an idea: create a line of retreat for a "smaller version" of the topic before confronting the whole, to make the concept more available. First, answer "what would you do if it turned out that you(r friends) were mistaken about some minor details of God", and only after that ask about nonexistence. (I'd guess that more iterations would be seen as condescending.)

Comment by basil-marte on Reductionism · 2019-10-10T12:57:02.280Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There isn't, and the article is committing a type error. The terrain isn't a map, reality isn't a model/theory.

Unless you are using a model to approximate the behavior of a system that is of exactly the same kind, i.e. using a computational model to approximate another computational thingy, in which case you could indeed have the model that exactly coincides with what it is to describe. This may even be useful, e.g. in cryptography. But this is an edge case.

Comment by basil-marte on Qualitatively Confused · 2019-10-10T11:54:36.385Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

To be charitable to the postmodernists, they are overextending a perfectly legitimate defense against the Mind Projection Fallacy. If you take a joke, and tell it to two different audiences, in many cases one audience laughs at the joke and the other doesn't. Postmodernists correctly say that different audiences have different truths to "this joke is funny" and this state of affairs if perfectly normal. Unfortunately, they proceed to run away with this, and extend it to statements where the "audience" would be reality. Or very charitably, to cases of people comparing quoted statements, where it is again normal to remind the arguers that different people can have different maps. Of course, it would be far more helpful to tell them to compare the maps against reality, if indeed there is anything the maps claim to be maps of.

Comment by basil-marte on That Alien Message · 2019-09-01T22:29:35.100Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Three of their days, all told, since they began speaking to us.  Half a billion years, for us."

I think this severely breaks the aesop. In three frames, hum-AGI-ty learns the laws of the alien universe. But then the redundancy binds, and over the next hundred thousand frames ("It's not until a million years later, though, that they get around to telling us how to signal back.") humanity learns little more than how to say "rock". Then "it took us thirty of their minute-equivalents to [...] oh-so-carefully persuade them to give us Internet access", altogether 3*10^6 years up to that point.

Comment by basil-marte on siderea: What New Atheism says · 2019-05-12T00:35:49.344Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm putting it here, because the insight clicked when reading this article: perhaps one of the most important of "our" characteristics is simply being bad at compartmentalization?

"The New Atheists contend that the beliefs we hold have consequences for our conduct." -- Let's assume this view is basically typical mind fallacious, and the majority mostly compartmentalize away their religious beliefs. (Beliefs-as-attire, to be worn in the appropriate context only.) What would happen to those people who don't natively do this?

Comment by basil-marte on Three Dialogues on Identity · 2019-02-14T16:51:15.402Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Recognition that the so-called "repugnant conclusion" isn't repugnant at all. Total utility maximization involves an increase in the population---eventually, not necessarily right now---as most human lives have positive subjective utility most of the time (empirically: few people commit suicide).

Reductio ad absurdum: what would the universe be worth without humans in it to value it? Lesser reductio: what would a beautifully terraformed planet be worth, if humans were present in the universe, but none on that planet?

Additionally, beyond the "material" ("industrial"?) aspect, people derive much of their enjoyment of life from social interactions with other people; it would be remiss not to use this nigh-inexhaustible source of utility. This category just so happens to include, among other things, the joy of being with one's children.

Comment by basil-marte on Where Physics Meets Experience · 2019-02-10T00:26:50.892Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"There's no third-party experiment you can perform to tell you the answer."

While it's irrelevant to the anthropics/quantum physics debate, I almost immediately thought: let's put an electrode onto one side of an Ebborian brain-paper, and give it a train of pulses while it splits. Ask the Ebborian that "inherits" the other side of the brain, how many pulses it experienced.

Comment by basil-marte on Chronophone Motivations · 2019-02-01T05:28:47.919Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hallo, this is a chronophone call from 12 years in the future.

I would transmit a technical analysis of various voting systems, and the fundamental process they are meant to solve (simplistically: the process itself doesn't add any information whatsoever, just condenses the noisy information in the ballots into a set of winning candidates—single-winner systems weakly tend to reduce variety). Some do a terrible job (FPTP selects the mode of the distribution) while some are quite involved (given the input containing orderings/scorings of labels, reconstruct a metric space those labels come from, and return the median).

Hopefully, this comes out as "autocrats sometimes rule according to the subjects' morality, but when they don't, there's no system to remove/correct them", and helps implement some form of democracy. Or I could just read The Dictator's Handbook, though I have no idea what that would come out as.

Personal ideas:

  • I think the globally "standard" four-year terms (I was primarily thinking about my own country's cabinets when I thought about this) are too short, as they leave no incentive to invest in infrastructure-like public goods (e.g. education) beyond its role as a crowd-pleaser. Even if there is no lead time for gathering information, planning, and implementation, most investments don't make back their initial cost so soon.
  • On the other hand, even in a comparatively healthy system with multiple parties, the distribution of their popularities has approximately 2 bits of entropy (I used my own country's election data). So, ~0.5bits/year public input... (Yes, there are other elections for local government that I didn't count.)
  • Cheaper (thus more frequent), higher-bandwidth information input: legally binding polls, focus groups (analogy with juries?), "citizen boards" and other market research tools. I've not put too much thought into how to make them cheater-resistant yet.
  • Rethinking the separation of powers into those three bins. For instance, it's not obvious to me why collecting evidence for the criminal side of the judicial system and putting down riots cluster together (with other functions) into what we label police. (Obvious counterexample—not meant as endorsement—being the places where armed policing is done by the military.) Or why are there near-duplicates for rule creation ("obey or else") e.g. laws and decrees (or however executive-generated rules are called). (I've made these notes years before reading Legal Systems Very Different from Ours.)
Comment by basil-marte on Fake Explanations · 2019-01-29T03:37:31.272Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I've not seen anybody mention those students who said "strange metals in the plate" in particular, and I'd like to argue for them. Their answer was not a password (the teacher never mentioned it), and actually shows correct anticipation-controlling beliefs! That is to say, they noticed that the observed outcome is not what they would have predicted, and looked for some hypothesis that explained why the heat gradient is reversed. Working from the incorrect assumption that they are seeing a stationary state, they guessed a hidden means of transporting heat from the heater to the far end of the plate, e.g. an insulated internal layer. I might be overfitting on this few-word detail, but I think this answer is on average very early in search orderings of those with qualitative but correct visualization of heat conduction, and I don't see other equally simple reasons why the students would have said this.

Of course, I also agree with the rationalist point that this answer should still feel a bit forced, trigger a listing of assumptions, which on average hits "stationary state" very early for simple physics problems.

Comment by basil-marte on Frequently Asked Questions for Central Banks Undershooting Their Inflation Target · 2018-07-17T20:56:28.978Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Bailouts: I'm not sure whether this is overstating the case. The central bank is the liquidity provider of last resort (and clearinghouse) in addition to being the monetary policy authority. Saving insolvent banks is not its job, but saving illiquid banks is.

Prediction markets: Let's set up one to correctly debias a biased coin, and use binary options. If the market starts at 55:45, we add more weight to the tails side until the prices move to 50:50, and we get a fair coin. Let's say that the market is funded with $10. Now I come along and for fun I promise to divide $5 between "tails" options. The market still comes back to equilibrium at 50:50, but the coin is weighted to have a 0.75 chance of coming up heads.

An actual proposal for automated NGDP targeting almost describes just such a scheme. On pages 20-21 the "market deepening" is a variant of this that is tailored to leave the price intact. Despite the different contract design, promising a biased payout is entirely possible. Furthermore, the proposed system has bugs that would cause problems, even apart from any securities vulnerability (pun intended).

- While risk premium is dissected and shown not to be a concern, liquidity premium is. If NGDP futures become more liquid, they will become more attractive investments at the same pecuniary yield, more will be bought and cause some deflation. If the system is set up with a high gain (e.g. every $1 of NGDP bought, $1000 in reserves is removed and $1000 worth of T-securities is introduced into circulation), then this may or may not alter the total supply of liquidity sufficiently to increase demand for NGDP by $1.

- To the extent real interest rates and RGDP growth can vary from each other, if e.g. the first drops more than the latter, then the present value of NGDP contracts goes up (because the future payout is discounted less steeply), and monetary policy contracts.

P.s. about manipulation: even if I manipulate for profit, I never trade in NGDP futures themselves. I get a position in dollar cash (or T-securities) and make a promise to pay those who trade in NGDP. The latter moves their expected price directly, and arbitrageurs move the spot price afterwards, implementing monetary policy as a side effect. This is analogous to the "light a candle under the thermostat" fable.

Comment by basil-marte on Frequently Asked Questions for Central Banks Undershooting Their Inflation Target · 2018-07-17T19:33:29.827Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The important thing is not the value of money but the rate of inflation; not f(t) but f'(t)/f(t). It's mentioned in the text that people suffer from money illusion in an asymmetric way, and adapt to slight inflation better than to slight deflation. Thus if the value of money goes up, prices are weirdly rigid and trades start not to happen. Consequently it makes sense to say that everyone has too little money.

"Everyone has too little money" is so simple you can crank it out of Say's law. Take one guy on an island; he cannot have too much stuff. Take a couple guys on an island, bartering (I know, I know) and as a group they cannot have too much stuff. However, if they specialize and one of them falls ill, then there will be a shortage of what he used to produce and a surplus of what he used to consume. Now, take even more guys on an island who use some commodity as money. There cannot be too much of everything including money, but there can be a shortage of money and a corresponding surplus of everything-except-money, i.e. deflation.

I get the impression you think of money as purchasing power, which is a great way to think about it, but you can't really make sense of some phenomena like money illusion, because you need to assume e.g. infinite price flexibility for this point of view. You get the (partial) equilibrium, rather than the actual trajectory. This was good enough for the entirety of classical econ, but starting from Keynes, macro focuses on the short-run trajectory. Try to think of money as liquidity as well as purchasing power.

*coin: the extremely limited transaction rate (astronomical transaction fees) means they won't be money. They make very-high-quality ponzi schemes, though, because no operator can run away with the "invested" money, no central node to be shut down, etc., perhaps "digital gold" really is the best analogy. Because they aren't liquid enough to be money (and to become the numeraire) in the first place, deflation is not a concern.

Comment by basil-marte on Frequently Asked Questions for Central Banks Undershooting Their Inflation Target · 2018-07-17T18:55:56.711Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

1. The Fed needs to be able to buy back the entire base money supply always, always, always. If it cannot, i.e. the Fed is insolvent, instant hyperinflation is almost certainly the result. (Theoretically, the value of money could float in midair. Practically, lots of arbitrageurs will be betting on hyperinflation—and in principle the Fed could buy back money as long as it could, and maybe the speculators would run out of dollars before the Fed ran out of assets—but don't count on either assumption holding up.) As a result, it can only expand the money supply by market-rate purchases of securities (of stable value). Mailing checks to people would be a gift out of share capital. (This is the difference between banks and counterfeiters: the former treat money issued as a liability on their balance sheets, and are willing to buy it back at any time in any quantity.)

2. Cut the interest on excess reserves (IOER). Though keeping the Fed's balance sheet smaller doesn't really save on anything important; financial institutions trading T-bills for reserves is not something that can realistically be depleted.

3. Most of that is fiscal policy (government stuff) rather than monetary policy (central bank stuff).

Comment by basil-marte on No, Really, I've Deceived Myself · 2018-06-12T23:23:17.527Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The belief that overdosing on sleeping pills is fatal comes from barbiturate medications, while modern pills contain benzodiazepines such as diazepam. Modern sleeping pills are pretty easy to get exactly because even if someone downs the whole bottle, they don't die, only go to deep unconsciousness, i.e. "knockout sleep" (physical stimuli, such as shaking the patient, don't wake them up) that possibly lasts several days. Thus if James Randi took a fatal-by-barbiturate-standards dose of benzodiazepine sleeping pills, then (after he woke up) he would conclude that the pills didn't work because he didn't die.

This is not to say that benzodiazepine pills are completely safe. (This is to be expected from anything that messes with the central nervous system and basic regulation.) Of most practical relevance is the crossreaction with alcohol; combining drunkenness with benzodiazepine overdose is very much fatal. Unfortunately, mild alcohol consumption plus a standard dose can fairly reliably trigger "knockout sleep", making the combination an easily-used party/rape drug. (If this is a floating belief, keep it as such; a.k.a. do not try this at home.)