Another Real World Example of Cognitive Bias 2012-01-31T22:31:52.713Z
Study Hacks on Convenience as Anti-Productivity 2012-01-22T19:50:56.262Z
Random Flu Thoughts, including vaccination and base rates 2011-11-11T06:04:50.875Z
A Problem with Abbreviations and Acronyms 2011-08-12T20:41:41.585Z
Science - Idealistic Versus Signaling 2009-12-06T13:39:04.368Z
Getting Feedback by Restricting Content 2009-11-27T22:50:35.642Z
Friedman on Utility 2009-11-22T14:22:52.368Z
ESR's New Take on Qualia 2009-08-21T09:26:24.196Z


Comment by billswift on Any existential risk angles to the US presidential election? · 2012-09-21T19:13:57.104Z · LW · GW

I think fictional evidence isn't terribly convincing.

Indeed. Try Hans-Herman Hoppe's Democracy: The God that Failed or Graham's The Case Against Democracy. Neither is all that convincing that monarchy is much better than democracy, but they make a decent case that it is at least marginally better. Note that Hoppe's book obviously started as a collection of articles, it is seriously repetitive. Both books are short and fairly easy reads.

Comment by billswift on Elitism isn't necessary for refining rationality. · 2012-09-10T20:19:24.901Z · LW · GW

You are grossly over-simplifying anti-intellectualism, some streams of which are extremely valuable. Your claim only fits the "thalamic anti-intellectual", one of at least five broad types Eric Raymond discusses.

The most important and useful to society is the "epistemic-skeptical anti-intellectual. His complaint is that intellectuals are too prone to overestimate their own cleverness and attempt to commit society to vast utopian schemes that invariably end badly." Of course lefties who want to change society to fit their theories try to smear them with claims like yours, but:

Because it’s extremely difficult to make people like F. A. Hayek or Thomas Sowell look stupid enough to be thalamic or totalitarian enough to be totalizers, the usual form of dishonest attack intellectuals use against epistemic skeptics is to accuse them of being traditionalists covertly intent on preserving some existing set of power relationships. Every libertarian who has ever been accused of conservatism knows about this one up close and personal.


"If “intellectuals” really want to understand and defeat anti-intellectualism, they need to start by looking in the mirror. They have brought this hostility on themselves by serving their own civilization so poorly. Until they face that fact, and abandon their neo-clericalist presumptions, “anti-intellectualism” will continue to get not only more intense, but more deserved."

Comment by billswift on Elitism isn't necessary for refining rationality. · 2012-09-10T20:06:25.574Z · LW · GW

I only recently ran into a good simple explanation for Bayes-- that the more detailed a prediction becomes, the less likely it is to be true.

That looks like a good way of explaining the conjunction and narrative fallacies, too. They could easily be looked at as adding details to a simpler argument. I wonder what other fallacies could be "generalized" similarly?

One thing I think we should be working on is a way of organizing the mass of fallacies and heuristics. There are too many to keep straight without some sort of organizing principles.

Comment by billswift on Integrated Method for Policy Making Using Argument Modelling and Computer Assisted Text Analysis · 2012-09-08T18:42:04.542Z · LW · GW

Go to Google Scholar and search on "argument maps" and "argument diagram", you'll get plenty of hits.

Comment by billswift on [link] One-question survey from Robin Hanson · 2012-09-08T14:56:43.281Z · LW · GW

The survey is ended and he has posted the results, A Survey Question.

Comment by billswift on “Pickled Stewberries!” in HPMoR, Omake #3 · 2012-09-05T14:15:35.401Z · LW · GW

Another possibility I saw, though it probably wasn't intended, is that both pickled and stewed are slang for drunk; maybe they are really powerful fruits.

Comment by billswift on How to tell apart science from pseudo-science in a field you don't know ? · 2012-09-02T15:15:17.278Z · LW · GW

You might find this useful, it isn't a source of papers, it is first-hand accounts by autistics and what life and other people were like to them. This one, Don't Mourn For Us, is probably the best general description. A quote from it:

You try to relate to your autistic child, and the child doesn't respond. He doesn't see you; you can't reach her; there's no getting through. That's the hardest thing to deal with, isn't it? The only thing is, it isn't true.

Look at it again: You try to relate as parent to child, using your own understanding of normal children, your own feelings about parenthood, your own experiences and intuitions about relationships. And the child doesn't respond in any way you can recognize as being part of that system.

That does not mean the child is incapable of relating at all. It only means you're assuming a shared system, a shared understanding of signals and meanings, that the child in fact does not share. It's as if you tried to have an intimate conversation with someone who has no comprehension of your language. Of course the person won't understand what you're talking about, won't respond in the way you expect, and may well find the whole interaction confusing and unpleasant.

The best single source I know of is Tony Attwood's Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome.

As a more general response to your title, you need to learn more about the science, and especially pay attention to how the ideas in the field hang together. A less effective method is to consider how well what you are reading relates to what you already know to be true; unfortunately a lot of real science cannot pass this latter test unless you already know a lot of science.

Comment by billswift on Open Thread, September 1-15, 2012 · 2012-09-02T14:42:06.471Z · LW · GW

Not really. If you look at a periodic table, the vast majority actually are metals.

Comment by billswift on Open Thread, September 1-15, 2012 · 2012-09-02T14:30:52.288Z · LW · GW

The world (including brains) is strictly deterministic. The only source of our mental contents are our genetics and what we are "taught" by our environments (and the interactions between them). The only significant difference between rat and human brains for the purpose of uploading should be the greater capacity and more complex interactions supported by human brains.

Comment by billswift on Counterfactual resiliency test for non-causal models · 2012-08-30T20:32:44.623Z · LW · GW

At least for the three examples you cited, I seem to remember them bring called approximations, not "correct".

Comment by billswift on What's the Value of Information? · 2012-08-30T01:54:34.815Z · LW · GW

My comment from July 5, "Go Bayes! So if you just make your priors big enough, you never have to change your mind.", was rather snarky, but it illustrates a real problem. If your priors are not reasonably accurate, it takes a lot of new information and updating to get it straightened out. That is one reason a lot of introductions to Bayes rule use medical decision making which has reasonably well-established base-rates (priors) to begin with.

Comment by billswift on [SEQ RERUN] My Best and Worst Mistake · 2012-08-30T01:45:27.231Z · LW · GW

Off-topic, but in the context of "best mistake", here is John Ringo's definition of serendipity from The Last Centurion:

We were saved by serendipity. (Which is a term meaning "I fucked up but things came out better than if I hadn't.")

Comment by billswift on Benefits of Calorie Restriction Linked To Other Factors · 2012-08-30T01:35:15.980Z · LW · GW

Derek Lowe also commented on the studies. Repeating my comment there:

So the comparison of the two experiments shows that underfeeding results in life extension over monkeys that over-eat, but not over monkeys that eat a normal diet. Where is the surprise there?

ADDED: I just noticed the paragraph here is missing a key bit of information needed to make sense of my comment. The WNPRC experiment, which found positive results from calorie restriction, fed their controls ad libitum, as much as they wanted to eat. The newer NIA experiment fed the controls a standard, healthy diet, and found no effect of diet restriction.

Comment by billswift on What is the evidence in favor of paleo? · 2012-08-28T02:59:51.628Z · LW · GW
  1. Evolution doesn't stop. We have continued to evolve, adapting to new environments, including foods.
Comment by billswift on [Draft] Productive Use of Heuristics and Biases · 2012-08-27T01:49:31.705Z · LW · GW

I don't disagree with anything in this comment, I was just pointing out that "deliberate practice" has several requirements, including practice being separate from execution, that makes it less usable, or even totally unusable, for some areas, such as decision making and choosing. The other main requirements are that it has a specific goal, should not be enjoyable and, as you pointed out, that is is challenging. Another thing, that is not part of the original requirements but is encompassed by them, is that you are not practicing when you are in "flow".

Comment by billswift on [Draft] Productive Use of Heuristics and Biases · 2012-08-27T00:31:28.822Z · LW · GW

Some places, the "deliberate practice" idea breaks down, choosing and decision making is one of them. There is no way to "practice" them except by actually making chooses and decisions; separating practice from normal execution is not possible.

Comment by billswift on What are useful skills to learn at university? · 2012-08-25T23:43:31.805Z · LW · GW

Colleges have a breadth requirement; one source I read suggested using that to take a writing heavy course in history or philosophy that requires lots of short papers in order to improve your writing.

Comment by billswift on Completeness of simulations · 2012-08-25T02:50:12.079Z · LW · GW

Except that if the simulation really is accurate, his response should be already taken into account. Reality is deterministic, an adequately accurate and detailed program should be able to predict exactly. Human free will relies on the fact that our behavior has too many influences to be predicted by any past or current means. Currently, we can't even define all of the influences.

Comment by billswift on Heading off a near-term AGI arms race · 2012-08-23T13:42:13.831Z · LW · GW

You add a parallel module to solve the new issue and a supervisory module to arbitrate between them. There are more elaborate systems that could likely work better for many particular situations, but even this simple system suggests there is little substance to your criticism. See Minsky's Society of Mind, or some papers on modularity in evolutionary psych, for more details.

Comment by billswift on Heading off a near-term AGI arms race · 2012-08-23T13:32:12.093Z · LW · GW

The reason for expanding a narrow AI is the same for a tool agent not staying restricted; the narrow domain they are designed to function in is embedded in the complexity of the real world. Eventually someone is going to realize that the agent/AI can provide better service if they understand more about how their jobs fit into the broader concerns of their passengers/users/customers and decide to do something about it.

Comment by billswift on Heading off a near-term AGI arms race · 2012-08-22T16:02:20.215Z · LW · GW

I think a working AGI is more likely to result from expanding or generalizing from a working driverless car than from an academic program somewhere. A program to improve the "judgement" of a working narrow AI strikes me as a much more plausible route to GAI.

Comment by billswift on Open Thread, August 16-31, 2012 · 2012-08-19T04:21:09.588Z · LW · GW

Listen to actual conversation sometime, most of it is excruciatingly boring if you think about it in terms of information. But as other posters have pointed out, most conversation is about social bonding, not exchanging information.

Comment by billswift on Open Thread, August 16-31, 2012 · 2012-08-19T04:17:46.120Z · LW · GW

Or for representing phenomena in an altered "format". For example, I have read a description of the bimetallic spring in a thermostat as a model of the room's temperature presented in a way that the furnace can make use of it.

Comment by billswift on Open Thread, August 16-31, 2012 · 2012-08-19T04:03:52.012Z · LW · GW

Humans normally get away with their biases by not examining them closely, and when the biases are pointed out to them by denying that they, personally are biased. Willful ignorance and denial of reality seem to be two of the most common human mental traits.

Comment by billswift on Open Thread, August 16-31, 2012 · 2012-08-19T03:55:53.464Z · LW · GW

That has a link to a new article by Sylvia Engdahl who has written on the importance of space for years,

Comment by billswift on Enjoy solving "impossible" problems? Group project! · 2012-08-18T01:08:21.558Z · LW · GW

I think this would be the most useful, even if it was only partially completed, since even a partial database would help greatly with both finding previously unrecognized biases and with the logic checking AI. It may even make the latter possible without the natural language understanding that Nancy thinks would likely be needed for it.

Comment by billswift on Cynical explanations of FAI critics (including myself) · 2012-08-14T01:04:44.340Z · LW · GW

I criticize FAI because I don't think it will work. But I am not at all unhappy that someone is working on it, because I could be wrong or their work could contribute to something else that does work even if FAI doesn't (serendipity is the inverse of Murphy's law). Nor do I think they should spread their resources excessively by trying to work on too many different ideas. I just think LessWrong should act more as a clearinghouse for other, parallel ideas, such as intelligence amplification, that may prevent a bad Singularity in the absence of FAI.

Comment by billswift on [Link] “Proxy measures, sunk costs, and Chesterton's fence”, or: the sunk cost heuristic · 2012-08-08T23:05:55.121Z · LW · GW

Everybody does that anyway, it is usually called second-guessing yourself. The best rule is to not decide under pressure unless you really have to, take the time to think things through.

Comment by billswift on [Link] “Proxy measures, sunk costs, and Chesterton's fence”, or: the sunk cost heuristic · 2012-08-08T17:31:05.558Z · LW · GW

it depends upon your past self having more information than your current self.

Or maybe you just spent more time thinking it through before. "Never doubt under pressure what you have calculated at leisure." I think that previous states should have some influence on your current choices. As the link says:

If your evidence may be substantially incomplete you shouldn't just ignore sunk costs -- they contain valuable information about decisions you or others made in the past, perhaps after much greater thought or access to evidence than that of which you are currently capable.

Comment by billswift on The Doubling Box · 2012-08-06T17:09:54.129Z · LW · GW

I see you found yet another problem, with no way to get more utilons you die when those in the box are used up. And utility theory says you need utility to live, not just to give you reason to live.

Comment by billswift on The Doubling Box · 2012-08-06T12:49:53.619Z · LW · GW

There are no other ways to get utilons.

Is a weakness in your argument. Either you can survive without utilons, a contradiction to utility theory, or you wait until your "pre-existing" utilons are used up and you need more to survive.

Comment by billswift on "Epiphany addiction" · 2012-08-04T13:05:47.370Z · LW · GW

Even worse, unlike your examples, rationality isn't a single, focussed "skillset", but a broad collection of barely related skills. Learning to avoid base rate neglect helps little if at all with avoiding honoring sunk costs which helps little with avoiding the narrative fallacy. You need to tackle them almost independently. That is one reason why I tend to emphasize the need to stop and think, when you can. Even if you have not mastered the particular fallacy that may be about to trip you up, you are more likely to notice a potential problem if you get in the habit of thinking through what you are doing.

Comment by billswift on "Epiphany addiction" · 2012-08-04T02:19:56.018Z · LW · GW

they are always too brittle and inflexible to carry you on in any meaningful, long-term sort of way.

What you need to do is to capture it, then use it to help you take the next step; then keep taking those next steps.

The very first thing you need to do is to STOP reading, write down whatever caused your epiphany, and think about the next step. Too much of the self-help and popular psychological literature are written like stories, which, while make them more readable and more likely to be read, tends to encourage readers to keep on reading through it all. If you are reading for change, you need to read it like a textbook, for the information, rather than entertainment.

Comment by billswift on Politics Discussion Thread August 2012 · 2012-08-01T23:12:54.723Z · LW · GW

Studies against the effectiveness of preventative medicine aren't new, they have been published repeatedly for decades, I have read several myself as early as 1993. And of course the RAND study that Robin discussed repeatedly.

Comment by billswift on What is the Mantra of Polya? · 2012-07-31T21:06:02.750Z · LW · GW

I don't know if it may help develop a helpful phrase, but another thing to keep in mind is that the link between what information you have and the problem you want to solve is often not obvious. You often need to play around with the information before you can figure out how it can be used to solve the problem.

And the complexity of real world problems can confuse the issue even more, so it helps to try to simplify or generalize the problem, so you can see what the core of the problem actually is, first.

Comment by billswift on The Criminal Stupidity of Intelligent People · 2012-07-27T12:00:35.852Z · LW · GW

Next we come to what I’ll call the epistemic-skeptical anti-intellectual. His complaint is that intellectuals are too prone to overestimate their own cleverness and attempt to commit society to vast utopian schemes that invariably end badly. Where the traditionalist decries intellectuals’ corrosion of the organic social fabric, the epistemic skeptic is more likely to be exercised by disruption of the signals that mediate voluntary economic exchanges. This position is often associated with Friedrich Hayek; one of its more notable exponents in the U.S. is Thomas Sowell, who has written critically about the role of intellectuals in society.

From Eric Raymond

Comment by billswift on The Criminal Stupidity of Intelligent People · 2012-07-27T11:24:25.123Z · LW · GW

I've about given up on LW, more than half the people here, judging from surveys, believe in socialism, or the socialism lite of modern liberalism, a belief system on a par with Creationism. Economics may not be as scientific as biology, but it is the most reliable of the social sciences, and economic socialism denies economics exactly as Creationism denies biology.

Economic libertarianism is how things actually work; socialism, of all styles and degrees, is to economics as Creationism is to biology. It is a politcal attempt to make the real world conform to wishful thinking. Political libertarianism is the refusal to condone that attempt to evade reality. Also the recognition that other forms of freedom are also as important in other areas of human relations, even if they are not as easily quantifiable as economics.

Libertarianism in the real world is far from perfect, of course. One failure of libertarianism is to clearly define fundamental versus derived effects and their importances. The "market worshiping" libertarians celebrate any effect caused by a free market whether it is good or not. The problem is that most of what they notice are derivative effects, what the market makes available. The fundamental benefit of free markets, though, is in the freedom granted creators, without which hardly any of the goods would be available in the first place. A key document describing, and celebrating, the "market worship" perversion is Virginia Postrel's The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness. I once, in my pre-Internet days, started an essay in response, "Why Style Lacks Substance, or The Value of Free Markets is in Opportunity it Provides, not in What it Rewards."

Another libertarian perversion is the "libertinist" position, they can usually be recognized by the outsized emphasis they place on recreational drugs, pornography, and entertainment. Not that these should be controlled, but they are definitely secondary, in the real world, to production and distribution.

"Politics is the mindkiller" is an irrational mantra from those attempting to defend their irrational beliefs. Intelligence far too often simply makes it easier for people to rationalize whatever they want to believe in.

Comment by billswift on HP:MOR and the Radio Fallacy · 2012-07-21T23:16:47.413Z · LW · GW

It's that particular kinds of brain damage can take away particular mental abilities, and there's a consistent correlation between the damage to the brain and the damage to the mind.

And particular damage to a radio receiver distorts the received signal in particular ways. So that argument isn't much help.

Comment by billswift on [LINK] Using procedural memory to thwart "rubber-hose cryptanalysis" · 2012-07-20T12:55:21.816Z · LW · GW

OTOH, there are downsides to being too secure: you're less likely to be kidnapped, but it's likely to be worse if you ARE.

Indeed, for a recent, real world example, the improvement in systems to make cars harder to steal led directly to the rise of carjacking in the 1990s.

Comment by billswift on Open Thread, July 16-31, 2012 · 2012-07-17T12:40:42.964Z · LW · GW

If you read the second sentence, I do too; it's just a very weak disadvantage when compared to almost any suffering. If I didn't consider it at least somewhat disadvantageous, I wouldn't be around now to write about it.

Comment by billswift on Exploiting the Typical Mind Fallacy for more accurate questioning? · 2012-07-17T08:08:51.619Z · LW · GW

"Anything is easy if you're not the one that has to do it." Claiming something is easy, without giving an actual means of doing it, is a cheap rhetorical trick, one of the "dark arts".

Comment by billswift on Exploiting the Typical Mind Fallacy for more accurate questioning? · 2012-07-17T08:04:36.599Z · LW · GW

Her point was that honest people who know that many people do steal would be penalized.

Comment by billswift on Open Thread, July 16-31, 2012 · 2012-07-17T07:55:52.396Z · LW · GW

Except for possible disutility to family and friends, oblivion has a lot to recommend it; not least that you won't be around to regret it afterward. It isn't something to seek, since you won't have any positive utility afterward, but it isn't something that is worth enduring much suffering to avoid either.

Comment by billswift on Open Thread, July 16-31, 2012 · 2012-07-16T22:57:06.474Z · LW · GW

The genome is the ultimate spaghetti code. I would not be at all surprised if some genes code for the direct opposite characteristics in the presence of other genes. It is going to take more than just running relatively simple correlation studies to untangle the functions of most genes. We are going to have to understand what proteins they code for and how they work.

Comment by billswift on Open Thread, July 16-31, 2012 · 2012-07-16T16:56:12.584Z · LW · GW

Sounds are waves transmitted by air. Waves can reinforce or cancel each other, but cancelling can only go so far (to zero), so what is left is the sound resulting from the reinforced waves.

Comment by billswift on Magic players: "How do I lose?" · 2012-07-15T11:09:29.327Z · LW · GW

If you have nothing to lose, consider desperate high risk options. If you are in a comfortable position consolidate and avoid risk.

I have, in fact, seen this given as investment advice. If you are going to go broke in a big way, take risks; this is the time to play the lottery, you probably won't win, but you might and by this point you have nothing to lose. If you have plenty of wealth, and aren't playing for the thrills, this is when you play safe, no more need to take significant risks at this point.

Comment by billswift on Useful maxims · 2012-07-13T12:06:22.168Z · LW · GW

Not really, because I don't think they are distinct in the way you suggested; rather, I think safety issues are a subset of "things I'll likely regret".

ADDED: Or at least safety issues where things actually do go wrong are "things I'll likely regret".

Comment by billswift on Useful maxims · 2012-07-12T17:20:47.350Z · LW · GW

They are not mutually exclusive. I can't think of anything I would regret more than causing a permanent injury to myself or another person.

Comment by billswift on Rational Ethics · 2012-07-12T07:05:10.688Z · LW · GW

There is one significant question about ethics that has been skirted around, but, as far as I remember, never specifically addressed here. "Why should any particular person follow any ethical or moral rule?" Kai Nielsen has an entire book, Why Be Moral?, devoted to the issue, but doesn't come to a good reason.

Humans' inherited patterns of behavior are a beginning, Nielsen only addresses purely philosophical issues in the book, but still not adequate for what then becomes the question, "Why not defect?"

Comment by billswift on Useful maxims · 2012-07-12T06:53:05.356Z · LW · GW
  • I have often regretted my speech, never my silence. - - Publilius Syrus

  • Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable. - - Sydney Harris

  • My version: You will regret missed opportunities far more than anything you actually do.