The Unilateralist’s “Curse” Is Mostly Good 2020-04-13T22:48:22.589Z


Comment by David Hornbein on Rationalism before the Sequences · 2021-03-30T22:36:01.399Z · LW · GW

Please do.

Comment by David Hornbein on Anna and Oliver discuss Children and X-Risk · 2021-02-28T10:14:38.728Z · LW · GW

Also the Curies, the Coris, the Durants, and others. What these all have in common is that they worked together on the same project. Offhand I can't think of any couples like this where both made historically-significant contributions to different projects.

Comment by David Hornbein on Anna and Oliver discuss Children and X-Risk · 2021-02-27T21:05:33.034Z · LW · GW

Oh also, woman politicians in living memory seem much less likely to have kids than woman politicians "from history". I would guess this is a consequence of the shift away from explicitly hereditary political power rather than a consequence of feminism or the pill or anything, but it's hard to untangle different hypotheses because there were so few woman politicians between the advent of industrialization and recent rise from ~1970-1990.

Comment by David Hornbein on Anna and Oliver discuss Children and X-Risk · 2021-02-27T20:55:03.708Z · LW · GW

At conservative estimates, I've looked into dozens of significant pre-industrial people, dozens of significant people between the Industrial Revolution and 1970, and >100 significant post-1970 people. Among historically significant people and leaders-of-fields who get articles and books written about them, there has not been any change in who has kids large enough to jump out at me, except that in the past ~20 years there have been somewhat more openly gay entrepreneurs in the West.

Comment by David Hornbein on Anna and Oliver discuss Children and X-Risk · 2021-02-27T20:17:25.361Z · LW · GW

My impression from many, many biographies of ambitious and world-changing people is that historically significant politicians and entrepreneurs nearly always have kids, to such an overwhelming extent that >50% of exceptions are biologically infertile or are gay. Among historically significant scientists, engineers, and philosophers, most have kids, but it's not nearly so overpowering and I'm not immediately sure if it's different from what you'd expect of baseline "successful people".

Of course this is purely descriptive rather than mechanistic, but there's overwhelming mountains of data suggesting that world-changing impact is at least consistent with having kids, and in some fields, being the-sort-of-person-who-chooses-to-have-kids seems like it's nearly a prerequisite.

Comment by David Hornbein on What are some real life Inadequate Equilibria? · 2021-01-30T13:52:47.980Z · LW · GW

Make More Land.

—American policing. There's tons of obvious problems with this, and the proposed solutions range from obvious and nearly universally agreed upon (reduce SWAT-style raids by >90%, end/drastically reform qualified immunity, abolish civil asset forfeiture, etc) to speculative and contentious. Such reforms generally don't match the incentives of the police themselves, and civil oversight is currently too diffuse and ineffective to impose reform. National authorities are incapable of any reform, and while a few state and cities have made small changes in the past year, the core issues will not be addressed anywhere in the near future.

—COVID vaccine distribution. Our society can reach better equilibria, as shown by the normal flu vaccine distribution and by the occasional stories where a freezer breaks down and all the shots are administered before they expire. Nevertheless our current system is a mess, no one feels they have responsibility for the mess, and there is no sign it will be fixed before the pandemic ends.

—Whatever made development of the F-35 fighter plane so much worse than the development of previous fighter planes.

—There are several cases in America (and presumably elsewhere, although I'm less familiar) where a relatively small, coordinated group successfully lobbies for laws which benefit themselves by imposing small costs on the country as a whole. Because the costs are so widely distributed, no one has a strong incentive to overturn these, and lawmakers have a moderate incentive to cooperate with the special interest group. The canonical examples include the artificial complexity of the tax code held in place by tax-preparation firms; ethanol subsidies supported by corn growers; and comically long copyright for artistic works, supported by media conglomerates (IIRC these expire 70 years after the death of the author!).

Comment by David Hornbein on A few thought on the inner ring · 2021-01-21T14:41:48.648Z · LW · GW

How do we distinguish between Inner Rings and Groups of Sound Craftsmen?

The essay's answer to this is solid, and has steered me well:

In any wholesome group of people which holds together for a good purpose, the exclusions are in a sense accidental. Three or four people who are together for the sake of some piece of work exclude others because there is work only for so many or because the others can’t in fact do it. Your little musical group limits its numbers because the rooms they meet in are only so big. But your genuine Inner Ring exists for exclusion. There’d be no fun if there were no outsiders. The invisible line would have no meaning unless most people were on the wrong side of it. Exclusion is no accident; it is the essence.

My own experience supports this being the crucial difference. I've encountered a few groups where the exclusion is the main purpose of the group, *and* the exclusion is based on reasonably good judgments of competence. These groups strike me as pathological and corrupting in the way that Lewis describes. I've also encountered many groups where exclusion is only "accidental", and also the people are very bad at judging competence. These groups certainly have their problems, but they don't have the particular issues that Lewis describes.

Comment by David Hornbein on Group house norms really do seem toxic to many people. · 2021-01-12T15:56:13.874Z · LW · GW

I've lived in both rationalist and non-rationalist group houses and observed a bunch more. In my experience, there are special upsides and downsides that come with ideological/subcultural group houses that you won't find in e.g. a house formed by a regular friend group or a bunch of people thrown together by Craigslist ads. Those features appear pretty similar whether the subculture is rationalists or animal rights activists or an artistic scene or whatever, and I've seen stories similar to the OP's from several different subcultures. I think communities like these are net positive overall and I expect I'll be living in group houses in the future, but some people absolutely do get burned and it's worth being especially careful because of how entangled the social scene is, even beyond the regular roommate issues.

Comment by David Hornbein on Ways to be more agenty? · 2021-01-06T16:42:26.199Z · LW · GW

What's worked for me isn't focusing on agency per se. I've had more success from focusing on my deeper desires (for which "agency" is often instrumental) and figuring out how to get them. Sometimes those plans run into psychological barriers. When that happens, I'll do whatever it takes to overcome or dissolve those barriers—rationality techniques, therapy techniques, pure willpower, esoteric philosophy, etc etc. After repeating this a bunch I ended up more proactive than before because there were fewer mental barriers between me and taking the "agenty" action when it happened to be a good idea.

Like, I wasn't thinking "I should be more agenty, I'll go [organize a speaker series | raise tens of thousands of dollars for weirdo projects | change my interpersonal demeanor | solve an intellectual problem that no one I know can answer] to practice agency." Rather, I found myself in situations where things like that were good ways to get what I wanted but I was too averse to actually do it, then wrestled with my soul until I could do it anyway. (Sometimes this step takes two hours, sometimes it takes six months.) Each step unlocked more of a general willingness to do similar things, not just the narrow ability to do that one thing.

Of the people I know who seriously follow an approach like this for at least a couple years, about 50% wind up notably more effective than their peers and about 10% wind up insane.

Comment by David Hornbein on Daniel Kokotajlo's Shortform · 2021-01-03T22:02:38.373Z · LW · GW

In general I approve of the impulse to copy social technology from functional parts of society, but I really don't think contemporary academia should be copied by default. Frankly I think this site has a much healthier epistemic environment than you see in most academic communities that study similar subjects. For example, a random LW post with >75 points is *much* less likely to have an embarrassingly obvious crippling flaw in its core argument, compared to a random study in a peer-reviewed psychology journal.

Anonymous reviews in particular strike me as a terrible idea. Bureaucratic "peer review" in its current form is relatively recent for academia, and some of academia's most productive periods were eras where critiques came with names attached, e.g. the physicists of the early 20th century, or the Republic of Letters. I don't think the era of Elsevier journals with anonymous reviewers is an improvement—too much unaccountable bureaucracy, too much room for hidden politicking, not enough of the purifying fire of public argument.

If someone is worried about repercussions, which I doubt happens very often, then I think a better solution is to use a new pseudonym. (This isn't the reason I posted my critique of an FHI paper under the "David Hornbein" pseudonym rather than under my real name, but it remains a proof of possibility.)

Some of these ideas seem worth adopting on their merits, maybe with minor tweaks, but I don't think we should adopt anything *because* it's what academics do.

Comment by David Hornbein on In My Culture · 2020-12-28T15:29:53.968Z · LW · GW

In the spirit of "how could this post be improved, such that it makes sense to include in a 'Best Of', or otherwise enter into Lesswrong's longterm memory", my suggestion would be "publish an summary version which is just an abridgment of the current piece's introduction plus maaaybe a few selected paragraphs from deeper in, probably no need to bother writing any new words."

Comment by David Hornbein on In My Culture · 2020-12-21T11:59:37.793Z · LW · GW

For this reason, I wouldn't want this post included in the 2019 highlights. I just looked at this for the review, and the part which some people report finding useful is in the brief description of the concept at the very beginning. The bulk of the post is a freeform, rambling exploration of the concept and its implications which I mostly couldn't bring myself to focus on; this exploratory style seems totally appropriate for a personal blog post, but it's not the sort of thing I'd want to read if I were looking back at a curated list of the best stuff from 2019.

Comment by David Hornbein on Where to Draw the Boundaries? · 2020-12-17T01:02:58.137Z · LW · GW

As has been mentioned elsewhere, this is a crushingly well-argued piece of philosophy of language and its relation to reasoning. I will say this post strikes me as somewhat longer than it needs to be, but that's also my opinion on much of the Sequences, so it is at least traditional.

Also, this piece is historically significant because it played a big role in litigating a community social conflict (which is no less important for having been (being?) mostly below the surface), and set the stage for a lot of further discussion. I think it's very important that "write a nigh-irrefutable argument about philosophy of language, in order to strike at the heart of the substantive disagreement which provoked the social conflict" is an effective social move in this community. This is a very unusual feature for a community to have! Also it's an absolutely crucial feature for any community that aspires to the original mission of the Sequences. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so much of this site’s best philosophy is motivated by efforts to shape social norms via correct philosophical argument. It lends a sharpness and clarity to the writing which is missing from a lot of the more abstract philosophizing.

Comment by David Hornbein on Make more land · 2020-12-17T00:09:43.615Z · LW · GW

This sort of thing is exactly what Less Wrong is supposed to produce. It's a simple, straightforward and generally correct argument, with important consequences for the world, which other people mostly aren't making. That LW can produce posts like this—especially with positive reception and useful discussion—is a vindication of this community's style of thought.

Comment by David Hornbein on What confusions do people have about simulacrum levels? · 2020-12-15T18:56:26.570Z · LW · GW

This isn't exactly a confusion about the model itself, but this seems like the right place to ask this question:

What areas of the world are people able to predict better once they've internalized the "simulacrum levels" model? Like, if I go through all the effort of learning which statements and behaviors are "level 1" or level 3" and what principles go into those distinctions and how the levels relate to each other, then in what way will I be better able to navigate the world?

I ask because this is a very esoteric theory which I only partially understand after ~a couple hours of serious effort, and some people clearly think there's a big payoff for really internalizing it. However, so far the justification I've seen people claim for the payoff has always been in terms of subjective insight and the feeling of understanding, not in terms of improved ability to navigate social situations or predict the trajectories of groups or avoid dangerous people, or any similar feats which I might expect a person could perform if they had a true theory in this area.

In other words, what's the argument that these beliefs pay rent?

Comment by David Hornbein on Open & Welcome Thread – October 2020 · 2020-10-05T02:50:19.479Z · LW · GW

Huh, in the past I've used Calendly pretty heavily from both ends, and never experienced anything like the issues you describe.

Having written this out, I may start pinging people for confirmation after filling out their calendlys...

Probably a good idea. Still, I suspect this will only partially solve your problem, considering what seems to be the attitude of the people you're scheduling with.

Comment by David Hornbein on Ways that China is surpassing the US · 2020-04-23T00:58:38.379Z · LW · GW
One thing I've often heard/read is that authoritarian governments tend to be limited in competence because it's hard for important and accurate information to reach the top.

I've also heard this, but IMO Western talking points about the superiority of our system should be treated with the same skepticism as Chinese talking points about the superiority of theirs. The null hypothesis here is that "authoritarian" and "democratic" governments aren't intrinsically different in competence, and variation in government competence is due to other sources.

It's hard for information to reach the top when messengers are punished for bringing bad news. You can have an authoritarian government that punishes messengers, like the Soviet Union under Stalin, and you can have an authoritarian government that doesn't punish messengers much, like Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew. You can have a democratic government that punishes messengers, like the US military under George W. Bush, and you can have a democratic government that doesn't punish messengers much, like the US military under Harry Truman. Western propaganda likes to compare democracies-like-Truman's to authoritarians-like-Stalin's.

It's plausible that democratic governments are better on average about not punishing messengers, but once you know about a government's propensity to punish messengers, whether it's "democratic" or "authoritarian" is screened off for this purpose.

How reliable are American messengers? Your link doesn't paint a very flattering picture.

How reliable are the Chinese messengers? I'm no expert. My rough sense is that they're not great, but not quite as embarrassing as their American counterparts.

Comment by David Hornbein on When is the right time to hole up? · 2020-03-15T01:15:30.068Z · LW · GW

"It's hard to time your reaction to an exponential process, so the only two choices are to act too early or act too late."

Byrne Hobart

Comment by David Hornbein on Over $1,000,000 in prizes for COVID-19 work from Emergent Ventures · 2020-03-13T18:39:04.222Z · LW · GW

I'm very glad to see this. Tyler's past grants have shown good judgment, and a level of risk tolerance unusual for a philanthropist. For people who need seed funding rather than retrospective prizes, also note that "you still can propose a coronavirus-related project through normal [Emergent Ventures] channels, with discretionary amounts to be awarded as grants per usual procedures."

Comment by David Hornbein on Jan Bloch's Impossible War · 2020-02-21T07:10:41.362Z · LW · GW

This post’s summary of The Great Illusion gets the book's predictions backwards. Norman Angell does indeed argue that even victory in war is economically unprofitable and that offensive war is stupid, but he does not argue that this means war can’t happen. Just the opposite, in fact:

"It is evident that so long as the misconception we are dealing with is all but universal in Europe, so long as the nations believe that in some way the military and political subjugation of others will bring with it a tangible material advantage to the conqueror, we all do, in fact, stand in danger from such aggression. Not his interest, but what he deems to be his interest, will furnish the real motive of our prospective enemy’s action. And as the illusion with which we are dealing does, indeed, dominate all those minds most active in European politics, we (in England) must, while this remains the case, regard an aggression … as within the bounds of practical politics."

I’m aware that this isn’t central to the post’s point, but it’s one of the few claims in the post that I’m already familiar with, so seeing this makes me wonder if some of the other claims (especially the characterization of Renaissance warfare as “something of a gentleman’s sport”) might also be misleadingly glib.

Comment by David Hornbein on On hiding the source of knowledge · 2020-01-26T11:24:17.138Z · LW · GW
I recall a conversation I had where someone (call them A) commented that some other person (call them B) had developed some ideas, then afterwards found academic sources agreeing with these ideas (or at least, seeming compatible), and cited these as sources in the blog post write-ups of these ideas.

FWIW I've heard enough people admit to this practice, and enough secondhand accounts which I consider reliable, that I think it's *extremely* common, and not just in blog posts. I've also had many different people comment on my work asking me to add academic citations (not asking for support of a specific point they thought needed justification; just asking for academic citations in general), so I can see where the temptation to do this would come from.

Comment by David Hornbein on Dominic Cummings: "we’re hiring data scientists, project managers, policy experts, assorted weirdos" · 2020-01-03T21:05:30.713Z · LW · GW

I don't think this is nearly enough to move it. The inertia behind these hubs is astounding. SF has been the "Global Weird HQ" since, what, the 60s or 70s? And I really, really don't think a culture of optimistic, power-seeking weirdness would thrive in the contemporary UK.