What To Do If Nuclear War Seems Imminent 2018-09-13T19:35:24.382Z
Good Citizenship Is Out Of Date 2018-09-10T00:15:24.456Z
Schelling Day 2.0 2014-04-09T06:58:21.416Z
Effective Altruism Summit 2014 2014-03-21T20:30:14.760Z
Meetup : Bay Area Solstice 2013-12-03T02:19:57.212Z
Use Your Identity Carefully 2013-08-22T01:14:45.109Z
Meetup : [Boston] Estimation Experiment & Discussion 2013-08-21T15:16:20.469Z
Meetup : [Boston] Using Causal Graphs to Understand Bias in the Medical Literature 2013-08-07T04:32:42.499Z
Meetup : [Boston] Goal Factoring 2013-07-30T21:16:12.077Z


Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on The value of doing one's own philanthropic research? · 2014-11-11T16:31:40.760Z · LW · GW

How do I evaluate the expertise of experts?

This is a difficult problem whose implications go well beyond evaluating charities. Many people seem to defer their evaluation of experts to the experts, but then you have to figure out how to qualify those experts, and I haven't yet seen a good solution to that.

Some heuristics that I use instead:

—Does the expert produce powerful, visible effects in their domain of expertise which non-experts can't duplicate? If so, they're probably reliable within their domain. (For example, engineers can build bridges and authors can make compelling stories, so they're probably reliable in those fields.) This is only useful in cases where a non-expert can evaluate the product's quality; it won't help a non-mathematician evaluate theoretical physics.
—Are the domain experts split into many disagreeing camps? If so, at most one camp is right, which means most of the experts are wrong, and the field isn't reliable. (So this rules out, e.g., experts on nutrition.) This one is a tools for assessing domains of expertise, and won't tell you much about individual experts.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Open thread, Oct. 27 - Nov. 2, 2014 · 2014-11-01T17:24:55.800Z · LW · GW

I found the Nonviolent Communication method extremely helpful for feeling more connected to my friends.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Power and difficulty · 2014-10-25T14:54:09.426Z · LW · GW

I've noticed a related phenomenon where, when someone acquires a new insight, they judge its value by how difficult it was to understand, instead of by how much it improves their model of the world. It's the feeling of "Well, I hadn't thought of that before, but I suppose it's pretty obvious." But of course this is a mistake because the important part is "hadn't thought of that before," no matter whether you think you could've realized it in hindsight. (The most pernicious version of this is "Oh, yeah, I totally knew that already. I just hadn't make it so explicit.")

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Jokes Thread · 2014-07-27T17:10:16.080Z · LW · GW

Awesome. PM me if you want to talk more about effective altruism. (I'm currently staffing the EA Summit, so I may not reply swiftly.)

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Jokes Thread · 2014-07-24T04:02:14.780Z · LW · GW

How many rationalists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Just one. They’ll take any excuse to change something.

How many effective altruists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Actually, it’s far more efficient if you convince someone else to screw it in.

How many Giving What We Can members does it take to change a lightbulb?

Fifteen have pledged to change it later, but we’ll have to wait until they finish grad school.

How many MIRI researchers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

The problem is that there are multiple ways to parse that, and while it might naively seem like the ambiguity is harmless, it would actually be disastrous if any number of MIRI researchers tried to screw inside of a lightbulb.

How many CFAR instructors does it take to change a lightbulb?

By the time they’re done, the lightbulb should be able to change itself.

How many Leverage Research employees does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

I don’t know, but we have a team working to figure that out.

How many GiveWell employees does it take to change a lightbulb?

Not many. I don't recall the exact number; there’s a writeup somewhere on their site, if you care to check.

How many cryonicists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Two; one to change the lightbulb, and one to preserve the old one, just in case.

How many neoreactionaries does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

We’d be better off returning to the dark.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Open thread, 7-14 July 2014 · 2014-07-08T17:29:00.810Z · LW · GW

The LW study hall seems relevant.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Questioning and Respect · 2014-06-10T21:03:42.088Z · LW · GW

I agree when it comes to asking questions about the facts of the situation. On the other hand, asking nonjudgmental questions about the person's feelings is a good way to establish rapport, if that's your goal. (See also)

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Open thread, 3-8 June 2014 · 2014-06-03T18:43:30.112Z · LW · GW

The counterargument would be to claim that cows > pigs > chickens in intelligence/complexity

My understanding is that pigs > cows >> chickens. Poultry vs mammal is a difficult question that depends on nebulous value judgments, but I thought it was fairly settled that beef causes less suffering/mass than other mammals.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Open Thread, May 26 - June 1, 2014 · 2014-05-29T16:28:25.413Z · LW · GW

I've found that the process of creating the cards is helpful because it forces me to make the book's major insight explicit. I usually use cloze tests to run through a book's major points. For example, my card for The Lean Startup is:

"The Lean Startup process for continuous improvement is (1) {{c1::identify the hypothesis to test}}, (2) {{c2::determine metrics with which to evaluate the hypothesis}}, (3) {{c3::build a minimum viable product}}, (4) {{c4::use the product to get data and test the hypothesis}}."

This isn't especially helpful if you just remember what the four phrases are, so I use this as a cue to think briefly about each of those concepts.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Open Thread, May 26 - June 1, 2014 · 2014-05-28T17:59:24.101Z · LW · GW

I frequently give my friends detailed feedback and analysis on their writing. They know about my speed reading thing, and none of them have noticed any change in the quality of my feedback.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Open Thread, May 26 - June 1, 2014 · 2014-05-28T17:57:07.567Z · LW · GW

This happened to me all the time before I started putting valuable insights into Anki. I find that 1 card per outstanding article or lecture and 1-3 cards per excellent book is about right. (This is the only thing I use Anki for.)

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Open Thread, May 26 - June 1, 2014 · 2014-05-27T07:07:51.225Z · LW · GW

I leaned from Matt Fallshaw, who IIRC was using something loosely based on the Evelyn Wood method.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Open Thread, May 26 - June 1, 2014 · 2014-05-27T02:34:32.323Z · LW · GW

My experience is that modern speed-reading techniques don't lower comprehension unless you get extremely fast (say, 900-1500 wpm). The exception is the very early stages, so it's good to practice on, e.g., mildly interesting fiction. After a couple of weeks with ~30 minutes of focused practice daily, I was reading at double my previous pace with the same comprehension.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Effective Altruism Summit 2014 · 2014-05-12T22:16:38.617Z · LW · GW

We're working on putting the guest list together. I'll notify people as soon as we have definite answers.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on LessWrong as social catalyst · 2014-04-29T10:05:00.392Z · LW · GW

Online stuff:

I have several friends in the DC area who I met because I made this post.

I found my job because I applied to a CFAR workshop, and that led me to attend the Effective Altruism Summit instead (funny story there), which is where I first met the team I work with.

Phil and Eliezer have critiqued my fiction, and I've done the same for Phil and Vaniver.

Meatspace stuff:

I met about a dozen good friends in Boston through LW meetups and lived with several of them before I moved to SF.

These days, my primary social group is maybe 50% self-identified rationalists and 100% people who are serious about existential risk and laugh at jokes about fundamental epistemology.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Meetup Notes: Community Building · 2014-04-27T17:28:02.387Z · LW · GW

What I still don't get is how to steer a conversation from small-talk phase to more personal topics - esp. in a group setting.

Rosenberg's book gave me a framework that I use to understand the feelings someone is experiencing and to communicate my own experience, which I think is what you mean by "personal topics." The differences between the first and second versions of Schelling Day are strongly informed by this framework, to give an (extremely mechanical and oversystematized) example.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Schelling Day 2.0 · 2014-04-09T23:15:07.858Z · LW · GW


Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Schelling Day 2.0 · 2014-04-09T17:58:10.891Z · LW · GW

It's because of the peak-end rule. Last year, Boston's potluck started out with us following up on what people had shared, and then drifted to our usual conversation topics. I think there are still good reasons to eat a meal together, and good reasons for such a meal to be a potluck, but I'd recommend doing so before the event. I'll edit that in to the post.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Meetup : Boston - Schelling Day · 2014-03-28T00:29:08.712Z · LW · GW

I'll flag that I'm currently working on revisions to the holiday based on feedback from last time. Expect that to be posted soon.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Effective Altruism Summit 2014 · 2014-03-21T02:34:54.867Z · LW · GW

Space is limited, so we have to be pretty selective. I'd say it's worth taking some time to present the relevant information.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Open thread, 18-24 March 2014 · 2014-03-20T06:40:03.464Z · LW · GW

"Good point. I'll think about that when I have the chance."

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Group Rationality Diary, March 16-31 · 2014-03-17T18:44:56.592Z · LW · GW

I've had success by reframing these decisions from "crap, this is too hard (probably because I'm bad), I should give up" to "interesting, this isn't working, what's the best way for this to not work."

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on A vote against spaced repetition · 2014-03-10T21:28:21.878Z · LW · GW

The video of Brienne's presentation at the South Bay meetup is the most useful guide I've encountered.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Strategic choice of identity · 2014-03-06T06:49:05.090Z · LW · GW

To reach the Peaks of Countersignalling, one must first climb the Hills of Signalling.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Strategic choice of identity · 2014-03-02T00:54:44.513Z · LW · GW

If it's 57% heritable, then ~40% of the difference is due to other factors, many of which you can control. Imagine someone at the 40th percentile of openness and contrast them with someone at the 80th percentile of openness. 40% is a lot.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Strategic choice of identity · 2014-03-02T00:49:02.526Z · LW · GW

I've had success in similar situations by reframing things and adopting the "extrovert in training" identity. Struggling at the limit of my ability reinforced that identity, even when that limit was low. For example, an extrovert wouldn't attend the first 45 minutes of a party and then get overwhelmed and leave, but an extrovert in training would. Meanwhile, the identity reinforced my desire to struggle at the limit of my ability (maybe I can stay for 75 minutes), which led to rapid improvement. The general heuristic of reframing from "I am having trouble with X" to "I am learning to X" has helped my motivation immensely.

Also, you are awesome for taking concrete steps to gain the skills you want. Have some positive reinforcement.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on LessWrong Hamburg Second Meetup Notes: In need of Structure · 2014-02-23T02:17:31.884Z · LW · GW

Good summary. There's enough detail here that other organizers can easily learn from it. Triple bonus points for noticing a problem and taking a concrete action to fix it.

Lively discussions about off-topics eat time and can keep participants out - but also provide casual athmosphere.

If the group is large enough (say, six people or more), then one way to handle this tradeoff is to establish a social norm to encourage splitting into separate conversations when someone is bored. That way, interested people can delve deeply into a topic without worrying that they'll bore everyone else, and people can break away for off-topic chats when they feel like it.

the planned topic procrastication falling off the table until very late


Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Open Thread for February 18-24 2014 · 2014-02-20T17:15:57.415Z · LW · GW

In my experience, subvocalization doesn't become a barrier until you hit maybe 900-1000 wpm. I still subvocalize, and I read at about 800 wpm with appropriate software and 500 wpm on dead trees, so it's definitely achievable. Over the span of several weeks, I increased my speed from ~250 wpm by spending 30 minutes a day practicing the techniques from Matt Fallshaw's presentation at the Effective Altruism Summit. Unfortunately, my notes are about 3000 miles away, right now.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Open Thread for January 8 - 16 2014 · 2014-01-16T19:40:54.474Z · LW · GW

You've listed one concrete goal and two stupendously vague goals. My first suggestion would be for your friend to spend the time figuring out what, exactly, they're trying to achieve with something like "form an alternative career" or "become a better person," then using the resulting knowledge to make an actionable plan. Clarifying goals is often the first step to achieving goals.

Other considerations: How far in the future will this be? How much money, if any, does this person have available for training or travel or the like? Is CFAR running a workshop during the relevant month?

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on New (proposal for) monthly thread: Meetup Reports · 2014-01-14T19:09:41.839Z · LW · GW

That handout is excellent. If anyone is an organizer looking for a topic, you could totally just steal this one.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on New (proposal for) monthly thread: Meetup Reports · 2014-01-14T18:59:31.429Z · LW · GW

This is a great summary with lots of specific, actionable detail. I successfully transitioned the Boston meetup from "philosophy and science fiction ideas discussion group" to "awesome vibrant community," so I'll give some feedback.

The most important thing in making the transition is to have content at the meetings, such as presentations or focused discussion topics. It sounds like you're doing this already, and having some trouble with the execution. Some suggestions:

—Relying on people to prepare ahead of time doesn't work in practice, since not everyone will actually do the homework.

—Having someone prepare a talk is a great way to provide background info and a focus for later discussion. I bet a 10-minute, well-rehearsed presentation on mind-killing would've improved this meetup dramatically. Doing this reliably does take a bunch of work, so it's good to have several people willing to share the responsibility.

—It's really good if you can set up the space in a way that encourages people to break out into individual conversations. My best experiences at meetups have been in conversations with 3-5 people. It's also helpful if you explicitly establish the social norm that it's appropriate to leave a discussion when you're not engaged, both because listeners don't have to politely sit through stuff they don't like, and because speakers can trust that people actually want to hear what they're saying.

I'm happy to answer any questions or help brainstorm for future meetups. If you want to talk more, PM me to set up a Skype call or something.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Open Thread for January 8 - 16 2014 · 2014-01-13T18:44:27.066Z · LW · GW

Short answer: The bad news is, you might in fact be screwed, given the situation. The good news is, it's always possible to change the situation; all it takes is deliberate practice, planning, and a tremendous amount of hard work.

Long answer: Those conditions are rare and valuable things. To get them, you have to offer something rare and valuable in return. Here's how to do that.

First, make sure you're in a situation where you can improve your skills. If your job doesn't use any skills that can be improved, then either take up a hobby, find a new job, or use all your ingenuity to figure out something else. You might have to ignore the other two conditions for now. That sucks, but such is life.

Second, practice. Constantly stretch yourself by working on projects that are just outside your comfort zone. Seek feedback from reality and from experts.

Third, build career capital. This is a combination of demonstrably awesome output plus social proof. It's the thing that people see and realize "this person is good at that thing."

Fourth, use your career capital to get a position that has (more of) the traits you want. From the outside, this will probably look like getting a lucky break. Your career capital makes opportunities available, and if you know what you're looking for, you can do a pretty good job of judging which opportunities are worth following.

Finally, keep doing this. If your skills and career capital keep improving, you can keep improving your position to get more money, more autonomy, more impact on the world, or whatever it is you're optimizing for.

This takes a long time. The examples in the book usually take years. The shortest example I've ever encountered took maybe ten months. With any proposed strategy to reach happiness and fulfillment, you have to ask why everyone else hasn't done it already, and in this case the answer is because it's actually pretty hard. I've done this, though, and I can confidently say it's worth it.

Actually complete version: read the book.

(Disclaimer: I am about halfway through the book so far. There are probably further insights that I haven't read yet.)

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Open Thread for January 8 - 16 2014 · 2014-01-11T00:59:39.203Z · LW · GW

These are group houses where a bunch of rationalists live together. Sometimes they hold events for the wider community or host visiting rationalists from out of town. I know of several that exist in the Bay Area, one in Boston, and one in New York. There are probably others.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Open Thread for January 8 - 16 2014 · 2014-01-10T20:30:57.965Z · LW · GW

Yeah. The author claims you need to find something where (1) you can improve your skills, (2) you believe your work has positive value, and (3) you don't actively dislike the people you're working with. From there, you can increase your skills and prove your value, then barter that value into a position that has the traits which correlate with fulfillment.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Open Thread for January 8 - 16 2014 · 2014-01-10T18:59:26.811Z · LW · GW

I'm currently about a quarter of the way through this book, and already it has several actionable insights on how to do that.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Open Thread for January 8 - 16 2014 · 2014-01-09T07:49:33.020Z · LW · GW

The standard advice for starting a physical group is to just pick a timeframe and a nice location, then show up with a good book and stay for the duration. Either other people show up and you've got your meetup, or else you spend a couple hours with a good book.

PM me if you want to talk about founding a group. I ran the Boston community for a while, and it was one of the most rewarding things I've ever done.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Open Thread for January 8 - 16 2014 · 2014-01-09T07:32:05.004Z · LW · GW

It looks like you've already got a list of things you want to answer in the meeting, so you've already done the most important preparation.

I'm unsure as to whether this conversation will be private (me talking to a DSB representative), or if one of my parents will sit in.

This is probably under your control. I expect you have the right to a private meeting, if you ask the DSB rep. If you're worried about how your parents would react to such a request, maybe try framing it as practicing your independence, or something appropriately harmless and fuzzy-sounding?

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Luck II: Expecting White Swans · 2013-12-22T03:08:43.595Z · LW · GW

you are basically engaging in something you are really bad at and don't enjoy

From your description, it seems like you're engaging in something you're good at and don't enjoy. (I mention this because I expect that realizing you've become skilled at this might cause you to enjoy it more. If you try to have the skill instead of trying to fake the skill, you might find that you've already done most of the work.)

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Luck II: Expecting White Swans · 2013-12-22T02:57:28.302Z · LW · GW

these aren't really traits you can just "decide" to improve

True! Instead, these are skills that you can train. "Just decide to be extroverted" will work about as well as "just decide to be better at chess." The thing is that, to turn "decide to be better at chess" into "actually become a better chess player," you have to play a bunch of games and study openings and probably other stuff. (I can't actually play chess very well.)

Over the past couple of years, I have massively shifted my personality towards four of the five traits you discuss (extroversion, openness, conscientiousness, and positivity). This isn't because I intellectually understood that it would be nice to change. It's because I deliberately practice this stuff all the time.

people who do not naturally possess these traits tend to experience a pretty hefty willpower toll forcing their behavior

True at the start. Becomes less true as you actually gain the traits, and eventually becomes negligible. ("Just forcing" the traits doesn't seem likely to work any better than just playing a squillion chess games. You'll get better results if you focus on specific subskills, ask experts for help, etc etc.)

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on [Meta] Post-meetup reports and discussion · 2013-12-21T21:16:17.480Z · LW · GW

Suggestion: link to the mailing list in the meetup post.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Group Rationality Diary, December 16-31 · 2013-12-21T09:17:10.063Z · LW · GW

I'm curious how useful this ends up being. Once you're well above qwerty speed, please let us know whether it increases writing speed as well as typing speed.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Open thread for December 17-23, 2013 · 2013-12-20T08:21:39.534Z · LW · GW

Are there solid examples of people getting utility from Lesswrong?

The Less Wrong community is responsible for me learning how to relate openly to my own emotions, meeting dozens of amazing friends, building a career that's more fun and fulfilling than I had ever imagined, and learning how to overcome my chronic bouts of depression in a matter of days instead of years.

As opposed to utility they could get from other self-help resources?

Who knows? I'm an experiment with a sample size of one, and there's no control group. In the actual world, other things didn't actually work for me, and this did. But people who aren't me sometimes get similar things from other sources. It's possible that without Less Wrong, I might still have run across the right resources and the right community at the right moment, and something else could have been equally good. Or maybe not, and I'd still be purposeless and alone, not noticing my ennui and confusion because I'd forgotten what it was like to feel anything else.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Group Rationality Diary, December 16-31 · 2013-12-17T19:57:54.084Z · LW · GW

In general, I've had much more success at substituting good things than cutting out bad things. I tried and failed to stop drinking soda many times, but eventually succeeded without much difficulty after I'd installed the habit of drinking seltzer water.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Open thread for December 9 - 16, 2013 · 2013-12-11T19:49:52.013Z · LW · GW

According to wikipedia, there's a little research and it's been positive, but it's not the sort of research I find persuasive. I do have mountains of anecdata from myself and several friends whose opinions I trust more than my own. PM me if you want a pdf of the book.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Open thread for December 9 - 16, 2013 · 2013-12-10T23:00:29.960Z · LW · GW

I'd recommend Nonviolent Communication for this. It contains specific techniques for how to frame interactions that I've found useful for creating mutual empathy. How To Win Friends And Influence People is also a good source, although IIRC it's more focused on what to do than on how to do it. (And of course, if you read the books, you have to actually practice to get good at the techniques.)

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Happiness and Productivity. Living Alone. Living with Friends. Living with Family. · 2013-11-25T18:46:01.032Z · LW · GW

You should totally go to a meetup, if only for value of information purposes. If it's bad, then it costs you one evening. If it's good, then you can go to many, many awesome meetups in the future. (This reasoning applies to trying new activities in general, not just LW meetups.)

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on On Walmart, And Who Bears Responsibility For the Poor · 2013-11-24T02:46:31.487Z · LW · GW

Well done. This is one of those things I'd never thought of, but is obviously correct now that you point it out.

Comments on how to expand / rewrite this post would be appreciated, as I feel like I could move it to Main with a little work.

I don't think this needs expansion. Brevity is a virtue, and this does a good job of explaining the core idea quickly and accessibly. If you run it through a spellcheck and spend fifteen minutes making the prose flow more smoothly, I'd consider it ready for Main.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Open Thread, November 1 - 7, 2013 · 2013-11-10T07:43:54.917Z · LW · GW

Yes and yes.

If you're already beeminding without the pledge and it's not working perfectly, I'd suggest trying a small pledge for the value of information.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Open Thread, November 8 - 14, 2013 · 2013-11-09T20:11:25.845Z · LW · GW

Would it be fair to rephrase your question as "How can we make receiving constructive criticism feel good?"

If so, then I endorse the first technique you mentioned. (My mantra for this is "bad news is good news," which reminds me that now I can do something about the problem.) I intend to try the second technique.

I have a third tactic, which is to use my brain's virtue ethics module. I've convinced myself that good people appreciate receiving constructive criticism, so when it happens, I have an opportunity to demonstrate what a good and serious person I am. (This probably wouldn't work if I didn't surround myself with people who also think this is virtuous and who do, in fact, award me social points for being open to critique.)

Admonymous has some good advice on giving and receiving criticism. Also, use Admonymous. Mine is here.

Comment by Ben_LandauTaylor on Group Rationality Diary, November 1-15 · 2013-11-03T06:12:12.352Z · LW · GW

Not in this case. We had a couple experienced people and many novices.