[Link] Rethinking the way colleges teach critical thinking 2012-12-17T18:51:04.956Z
The wandering rationalist: an update 2012-11-22T20:55:54.093Z
[Link] Article about rationality and CFAR 2012-09-09T17:06:31.727Z
The wandering rationalist 2012-08-28T02:59:35.324Z


Comment by Despard on [Link] Rethinking the way colleges teach critical thinking · 2012-12-19T18:07:15.399Z · LW · GW

Yes indeed. I thought people here, especially those connected to CFAR, might find it interesting. Critical thinking is only one part of rationality training of course, but its is a very useful one.

Comment by Despard on Meetup : Vancouver Last call for 2012 · 2012-12-15T01:21:37.913Z · LW · GW

I can be, though I'll want to be heading to Seattle around that time. No restrictions on travel really except I'd like to be in LA within two weeks of New Year.

Comment by Despard on Meetup : Vancouver Last call for 2012 · 2012-12-13T19:24:23.281Z · LW · GW

I'll be in Vancouver for New Year and shortly afterwards - any meetups planned for that time?

Comment by Despard on [LINK] AmA by computational neuroscientists behind 'the world's largest functional brain model' · 2012-12-04T19:24:56.546Z · LW · GW

No problem. Sent him a message, hopefully he has time!

Comment by Despard on [LINK] AmA by computational neuroscientists behind 'the world's largest functional brain model' · 2012-12-03T21:13:02.768Z · LW · GW

I actually know one of the guys working on it - I could ask him to come over here if you like.

Comment by Despard on Meetup : Seattle Meetup: Bayes Theorem Tutorial · 2012-11-29T19:30:57.909Z · LW · GW

Note for following meetups - I'll be in Seattle in early January, would be good to meet some of you!

Comment by Despard on The wandering rationalist: an update · 2012-11-26T00:15:14.909Z · LW · GW

Not sure for this trip; I'm mostly going West from Detroit, and I'll be back in the States (to NYC) next year but probably not heading to DC. All plans can change however!

Comment by Despard on Australian Rationalist in America · 2012-11-19T05:30:02.927Z · LW · GW

Nice! I'm actually doing something similar in December, bussing though various cities in the States (thread at before going, mildly ironically, to Australia. I actually think I'm going to be in Austin around the same time as you, though not for as long. I'll be reposting my message with dates shortly.

Comment by Despard on [Link] Nobel laureate challenges psychologists to clean up their act · 2012-10-04T15:05:54.694Z · LW · GW

It's not necessary to have them completely performed and controlled by a third party - but the idea is if you want to do a drug trial, you sign up with an independent register saying which drug you're testing and what your methodology is. Then when the trial is done, you must report your results publicly.

That stops companies hiding negative trials and only publishing positive ones. It doesn't stop the data being manipulated, but that's another problem.

Comment by Despard on [Link] Nobel laureate challenges psychologists to clean up their act · 2012-10-03T20:35:26.089Z · LW · GW

Nice article. Much of psychology suffers from the failure to replicate experiments, for various reasons like funding, time pressure, and difficulties in obtaining the population required. I've worked in sensorimotor control for several years and recently some researchers have come up with the idea of putting together a database of studies on perturbations during reaching (which is a very widely used paradigm) because they can so often be divergent due to tiny changes in the experiments.

I'd love to see more of this kind of thing in psychology in general, just as I'd like to see registration of medical trials from pharmaceutical companies (with both negative and positive results published) to avoid the all-too pervasive publication bias.

Comment by Despard on Gauging interest for an Auckland meetup group. · 2012-09-17T02:02:32.819Z · LW · GW

I will hopefully be in New Zealand in January, just passing through. Keep me informed!

Comment by Despard on [Link] Article about rationality and CFAR · 2012-09-11T03:37:49.146Z · LW · GW

Wordpress version now up.

Comment by Despard on [Link] Article about rationality and CFAR · 2012-09-10T22:29:35.446Z · LW · GW

Good catch. Just chatting to the editor to try to get this fixed - apparently there's a problem with the edit feature on issuu.

ETA: unfortunately it can't be changed. It can be re-uploaded but then they'd lose the view stats.

Comment by Despard on [Link] Article about rationality and CFAR · 2012-09-09T18:35:58.036Z · LW · GW

I guess it does a little - the piece was edited slightly from my original submission. I don't think it sounds all that strange, though I'm almost certainly biased on that front...

Comment by Despard on [Link] Article about rationality and CFAR · 2012-09-09T18:31:17.796Z · LW · GW

It'll be going up on Wordpress soon:

Comment by Despard on How to deal with someone in a LessWrong meeting being creepy · 2012-09-09T06:50:59.468Z · LW · GW

That's actually a really interesting thought. I am white and male and straight and am very aware of my privilege, and also am very interested in heuristics and biases and how they are part of our thought patterns. I consider myself very much a feminist, and also a realist in terms of how people actually work compared with how people would like each other to work. I might brood on this for a bit and write about it.

Comment by Despard on The wandering rationalist · 2012-08-30T20:50:27.927Z · LW · GW

That's not a bad idea - except I have a friend in Lansing, MI I said I'd look up on the way. If I do too many zig-zags it will raise hell with my schedule, and I've spent a lot of time on the East Coast fairly recently. Still... I'll think about it.

Comment by Despard on Meetup : SLC, UT: Free Will and Rationality Checklists · 2012-08-29T20:30:02.155Z · LW · GW


Not sure if any SLCers have seen this thread:

...but I'll be travelling through SLC sometime in December and it would be great to meet some of you if you're planning another meetup around that time. Offers of hanging out and accommodation gratefully received!

Comment by Despard on Expected utility and utility after time · 2012-08-29T14:40:34.541Z · LW · GW

As I recall from my readings on amnesia, having no conscious recollection of events but nevertheless having an unconscious preference (or lack of preference) is fairly common. Essentially patients have impaired declarative (explicit) memory but some spared implicit perceptual and motor memory. So the fictional example of Sammy Jenkis is actually quite reality-based.

What needs to be distinguished in this scenario is whether Omega is only wiping your declarative memory or if he's also going in and getting rid of your implicit memory as well, which takes care of lower-level responses to stimuli that might otherwise cause problems after the event.

Comment by Despard on The wandering rationalist · 2012-08-29T03:38:40.279Z · LW · GW

I've done Amtrak before and I quite liked it. What I'm wavering on is whether to buy the $450 30-day bus pass which allows me unlimited travel for that period or be a bit riskier and hope I'll find enough rides to get me across for cheaper. I need to sit down and do the research and the maths really.

I can rent a car for sure (I'm 31) but I haven't driven in ten years and considering it'll be December I'm not confident in my driving ability in bad weather conditions...

Comment by Despard on The wandering rationalist · 2012-08-29T03:36:32.939Z · LW · GW

Don't see why I wouldn't be able to stop a night! It's going in the right direction at least.

Comment by Despard on The wandering rationalist · 2012-08-29T03:32:47.924Z · LW · GW

No worries. I'm definitely interested in seeing nice things as opposed to just going places as quickly as possible, depending of course on how my travel time is going. I need to figure out what I'm actually going to do for Christmas - hopefully some friends of mine on the West Coast will take me in and feed me...

Comment by Despard on The wandering rationalist · 2012-08-29T03:31:39.898Z · LW · GW

Great, thanks!

Comment by Despard on The wandering rationalist · 2012-08-29T03:31:27.624Z · LW · GW

Well, it seems fairly close to Des Moines, and I don't know anyone there... it's just on my way to OK at this point. I'll bear it in mind!

Comment by Despard on The wandering rationalist · 2012-08-29T03:30:55.794Z · LW · GW

I'll definitely look into that.

Comment by Despard on The wandering rationalist · 2012-08-28T16:51:57.596Z · LW · GW

I know very little about what the most optimal way to get from place to place is in the US. Since I don't have a car, I figured big highways would be the way to do it, either by bus or by grabbing rides. But of course I'm happy to take advice.

I've also heard Austin is fun. I wasn't really planning on doing Texas and Austin's pretty far out of my way, but I'll think on it.

Comment by Despard on The wandering rationalist · 2012-08-28T16:48:56.187Z · LW · GW

I was thinking of doing that anyway, but I wanted to have a general post up early to prime people that I'll be travelling through. It would also be fun to see if I could pop from meetup to meetup and maybe post a cross-country review of them. Got a few months to plan it more carefully anyway.

Comment by Despard on The wandering rationalist · 2012-08-28T13:27:00.904Z · LW · GW

Thanks - it's a possibility. I'd love to see China. I do want to try to make Korea and Japan this trip as well.

Comment by Despard on The wandering rationalist · 2012-08-28T05:06:57.265Z · LW · GW

Awesome, thanks! Madison's actually somewhere I need a place to stay; I have friends in Chicago and Minneapolis already, for example. Good to know you're there, I've heard Madison's a lot of fun.

Comment by Despard on The wandering rationalist · 2012-08-28T03:19:45.084Z · LW · GW

Fixed - thanks for that!

Comment by Despard on Four major problems with neuroscience · 2012-08-24T20:37:02.597Z · LW · GW

Very useful information and incredibly relevant for, among other things, rationality testing. I have some experience with these kinds of effects from my research on motor control, but it's good to keep them in the forefront of one's mind when designing studies.

Comment by Despard on LessWrong could grow a lot, but we're doing it wrong. · 2012-08-21T14:19:07.510Z · LW · GW

I'm not sure growth is necessarily a thing LW needs per se, as some of the other commenters have pointed out. But I do think there is scope for improving the landing page and decreasing the bounce rate of people we want to be here. That last is crucial.

In my case, I still only have a handful of comments due to not having much time to post at the moment, but I got here through HPMOR and read the Sequences... and still had problems sticking around to post anything as I was somewhat underwhelmed by the design and ease of navigation. I think things can definitely be made a little more user-friendly without ruining the community.

Comment by Despard on Meetup : Edinburgh summer meetup · 2012-08-09T09:11:45.653Z · LW · GW

So I'm here a couple more days - still up for grabbing a pint?

Comment by Despard on The Perception-Action Cycle · 2012-07-24T20:55:59.959Z · LW · GW

I'm interested in this - my PhD and postdoc work has all been in motor control, which is of course very much tied up with perception and action. I'm less interested in motor control now and more interested in beliefs, but this analysis demonstrates that the two systems are very much intertwined. You need to have beliefs about the world, which come from perception, before you can generate a useful motor command, for example.

Only thing I'd take issue with is that linking this process solely to reinforcement learning is a little simplistic. Motor learning is a rich field in its own right and learning can (and does) proceed without the presence of a reinforcing stimulus.

"...the importance of constantly making predictions of all of our sensory inputs as a functional part of our cognition, is only now dawning on neuroscientists and machine learning researchers."

This sounds a lot like Emo Todorov's work.

P.S. Somebody please tell me how to blockquote and link. Can I use HTML here?

Comment by Despard on [link] Prepared to wait? New research challenges the idea that we favour small rewards now over bigger later · 2012-07-22T16:26:55.838Z · LW · GW

This already happens in some cases. PLoS One, for example, publishes open-access entirely online and invites community criticism:

(Sorry, I've yet to figure out how to link things and suchlike; can HTML be used here?)

One issue with just allowing anyone to comment on a paper though is a high proportion of misinformed or ignorant people who can hijack the discussion. LW gets round this very well with its judicious gardening, and other sites do this too, so perhaps it's not as big an issue as I'm making it out to be. Unmoderated comment forums tend to turn into slimepits though.

Comment by Despard on [link] Prepared to wait? New research challenges the idea that we favour small rewards now over bigger later · 2012-07-20T19:04:16.935Z · LW · GW

I generally agree. I have an aversion to just reading abstracts because it doesn't let you get at the nitty-gritty of how exactly the studies were performed, but it's way better than just reading the news reports - and not everyone has full-text access to studies anyway.

Comment by Despard on [link] Prepared to wait? New research challenges the idea that we favour small rewards now over bigger later · 2012-07-20T15:09:57.147Z · LW · GW

It's definitely a good idea to be skeptical. There is definitely some badly-designed research out there, and some that shows less than it claims to. The best way to deal with that is to read the original papers and make sure the studies were adequately performed, although this doesn't entirely solve the issue (see: publication bias).

Comment by Despard on Welcome to Less Wrong! (July 2012) · 2012-07-20T01:13:23.958Z · LW · GW

Hello everyone,

Thought it was about time to do one of these since I've made a couple of comments!

My name's Carl. I've been interested in science and why people believe the strange things they believe for many years. I was raised Catholic but came to the conclusion around the age of ten that it was all a bit silly really, and as yet I have found no evidence that would cause me to update away from that.

I studied physics as an undergrad and switched to experimental psychology for my PhD, being more interested at that point in how people work than how the universe does. I started to study motor control and after my PhD and a couple of postdocs I know way more about how humans move their arms than any sane person probably should. I've worked in behavioural, clinical and computational realms, giving me a wide array of tools to use when analysing problems.

My current postdoc is coming to an end and a couple of months ago I was undergoing somewhat of a crisis. What was I doing, almost 31 and with no plan for my life? I realised that motor control had started to bore me but I had no real idea what to do about it. Stay in science, or abandon it and get a real job? That hurts after almost a decade of high-level research. And then I discovered, on Facebook, a link to HPMOR. And then I read it all, in about a week. And then I found LW, and a job application for curriculum design for a new rationality institute, and I wrote an email, and then flew to San Francisco to participate in the June minicamp...

And now I'm in the midst of writing some fellowship applications to come to Berkeley and study rationality - specifically how the brain is Bayesian in some ways but not in others, and how that can inform the teaching of rationality. (Or something. It's still in the planning stages!) I'm also volunteering for CFAR at the moment by helping to find useful papers on rationality and cognitive science, though that's on somewhat of a back burner since these fellowships are due very soon. Next month, in fact.

I've started a new blog: it's called 'Joy in the Merely Real', and at the moment I'm exploring a few ideas about the Twelve Virtues of Rationality and what I think about them. You can find it at:

Looking forward to doing more with this community in the coming months and years. :)

Comment by Despard on Meetup : Edinburgh summer meetup · 2012-07-11T02:54:15.118Z · LW · GW

Great stuff - I just attended the June minicamp. I'm pretty sure you'll love it. I look forward to meeting and picking your brains about it!

Comment by Despard on Group rationality diary, 7/9/12 · 2012-07-10T16:52:04.660Z · LW · GW

Fashion update: many people have complimented me on how good I'm looking!

This last couple of weeks I've started using RememberTheMilk to manage my tasks a bit better. It's coming along. I'm probably not using it to its full potential yet but I'm actually GTD so that's a start.

I've also experimented with Pomodoro to increase productivity; the couple of times I used it it seems to work. More data required.

Comment by Despard on Meetup : Edinburgh summer meetup · 2012-07-09T22:38:25.957Z · LW · GW

I'll be in town August 5th-11th for the Fringe - any chance of a meetup during that time?

Comment by Despard on CFAR website launched · 2012-07-03T15:18:14.888Z · LW · GW

That's a beautiful site! And looks like all the links work.

I have very few criticisms. First there is a tiny use of jargon words like 'win' in a context they're not normally used in, but I think it's probably ok, the context is fairly self-explanatory. Though I might be getting used to the jargon words by now, so I'll inevitably be biased.

Second I think the causal model graphic on the front page can be improved: I think you need to change 'perfect reasoning' and 'perfect decisionmaking' to 'improved reasoning' and 'improved decision-making'. No reasoning or decision-making can be perfect, but they can be improved greatly. 'Perfect' seems like overstating the case. (That's even reinforced in the 'winning' section on the What Is Rationality?' page.) Also decision-making requires a hyphen.

Third and most obviously for my perspective I would like to see citations for some of the scientific claims, but since I'm personally working on that right now for CFAR I can wait until I've finished. ;)

Comment by Despard on Group rationality diary, 6/25/12 · 2012-06-27T21:14:13.735Z · LW · GW

Good point and good call. My plan is to arrange some clothes shopping time with friends when I get back to Kingston. I rather suspect they will be shocked when I ask them to accompany me. :)

I realised last night that I spent about 3 hours clothes shopping yesterday, without getting anxious once. It's much easier when you think of it as simply a problem to be solved...

Comment by Despard on Group rationality diary, 6/25/12 · 2012-06-26T22:47:39.552Z · LW · GW

Having just attended the June minicamp and having some time to kill in the Bay Area, I'm spending this afternoon on Haight hacking my fashion. So far my clothes choices have elicited a compliment on the fit from the clothing store staff at least, so I think that's a positive step.

Comment by Despard on Why Academic Papers Are A Terrible Discussion Forum · 2012-06-20T19:18:31.129Z · LW · GW

Great post - I definitely agree with some of your points. I'm very new to LW and haven't even written an introductory post yet, but I'm very impressed with what I've seen overall. I am even flying out to San Francisco tomorrow to discuss joining the newly-renamed CFAR. My background is entirely academic, as I have a PhD in experimental psychology and I'm interested in formalising some of the rationality measures CFAR is looking at. I even had a brief email exchange with Anna Salamon about the usefulness and validity of academic publications.

Here's my take on your points.

  1. Yes, the time lag is huge. It's worth noting that in academia papers aren't used as discussion forums to share ideas rapidly - you read them to see what other labs are doing, and discuss them in journal clubs where graduate students and postdocs can learn about the field and get ideas for their own work. Conference talks and poster presentations are the usual format for discussions between academics from different labs. The academic community as a whole has been very slow to harness the power of the web for the formal discussion of research, although much does take place on science blogs, and now some of the journals are very belatedly starting to host their own discussion forums.

  2. Yes. This is hugely irritating, most academics hate it, and it's the result of a publishing model that's massively outdated. Many governments are now taking steps to ensure that publicly-funded research is accessible to all, though we are by no means there yet.

  3. Yes, papers aren't widely read outside the field they're published in. But they're actually not usually supposed to be - the work and the jargon in most fields is so specialised that just being able to read it and understand what people are talking about takes years of training. At that level you need a specialised vocabulary just to be able to ask the questions. Compare it to the jargon used here at LW - it took me a while to get into it, and most of it isn't completely inaccessible, but it's still tough for a first-timer to break into this community if they don't know much about rationalism.

  4. Not sure about this. Philosophers make philosophical arguments in paper form all the time, and they do it primarily to convince other philosophers. If they want to convince people without the formal training, that's when they'll usually write a book. (As an experimentalist myself, and given that I'm interested primarily in testing rationality measures, it doesn't really apply.)

  5. Yes and no to this one. It's true that writing a paper doesn't get you mobbed by hordes of screaming fangirls, as I know to my detriment! But again it's about who you're trying to convince. You need publications to be taken seriously by other academics, if that's what you want to do. And if you want to be taken seriously by wider society, there are certainly other ways to do that than by becoming an academic. But as I mentioned before, there's a vibrant community on science blogs and people interested in science who consider a paper to be the gold standard of scholarship.

  6. Yes, actually you're supporting the point here I made in my reply to 3. The two tie together quite well in fact.

  7. This is definitely a problem with academia, although I'd consider it more a feature than a bug. Basically the current system is optimised to stop crazy people coming in and messing things up. That is, if you have an idea that's novel but mainstream you'll attract funding; if you have an idea that's way out there you often won't, people will think you're a crackpot, etc. etc. GIven the existence of actual crackpots, this is a necessary defence mechanism, although perhaps some knowledge of the base rate of crackpots would be helpful so that academia could make decently Bayesian decisions...

  8. This is true for the moment but as I've said I'm interested in joining CFAR (probably not SIAI though, it just doesn't interest me as much as rationality training) and I'm probably not the only academic who's at least a bit interested. The more research you can pump out the more either organisation will be seen as a viable place for academics to go and work. I'm sure we can bring things to the table that most non-academics cannot, and can learn things ourselves as well.

  9. Disagree strongly. I suspect you're right with FAI, which is a topic I'm not very familiar with, but other topics about cognitive biases and heuristics, Bayesian decision theory and so on, have been mainstream in academia for some time now. In fact part of my PhD was based on the premise that the brain treats incoming information in a Bayesian way (see also Tom Griffiths' work at Berkeley: So I don't think it's correct to say that all of the ideas in this community aren't academic in origin; it might be better to say that some of them aren't.

  10. Yes and no. Of course in the abstract you have a conclusion - because the abstract is a tiny mini-paper that you can read to find the answer without having to plough through the whole thing. If you want to check the work, you go and do just that. Papers should be stories - they should flow well and communicate the idea they're trying to sell. But that idea isn't written down before the research is done, otherwise there'd be no point in doing the research. It might be written down in the paper before you reach the evidence that supports it, but that's for narrative reasons. I should note that many papers do start off with a question: "is it A or B? let's find out!" rather than stating outright whether A or B has won the day. But in reality one of them has already, because the universe is as it is, and the experiments you do to test it only reflect that.

  11. Again this has its good and bad points. A fraction of submissions getting approval goes back to the 'crackpot filter' I talked about in my response to 7, which also explains why universities are privileged over other organisations. You don't want journals filled with any old rubbish, though some journals are obviously better than others (and in your field it very quickly becomes apparent which ones those are). So how do you keep quality up without filtering? You're right that good papers get rejected and errors slip through - but generally that stuff is caught pretty fast and corrected, and eventually a whole field changes when the errors are brought to its attention. A good example is neuroimaging using fMRI, which a decade ago you could publish anything in really easily but now your stats have to be pretty much watertight. And you're right that it's unfair that reviewers get to know who you are but you don't get to know who they are for the most part... means they can block your grants or your papers if they don't 'like your ideas or think you're getting too close to their turf. We are, after all, hierarchical social apes, even those of us who try to be rational.

To summarise then, I generally agree for the most part but there are nuances beyond what you've stated in your arguments. I'd agree that papers aren't great for discussion among the community at the time they're published, but the advantage is that anyone can go back and find them and other papers and build a narrative from that, much more easily (at the moment) than can be done with a blog. The signal-to-noise ratio is generally higher, although a blog like this with good moderation and smart, curious people ameliorates many problems.

Comment by Despard on New · 2012-06-20T03:15:11.758Z · LW · GW

There's a spelling error on the first section of the Research page:

"If you’re new to the entire topic, see the 5-page Reducing Long-Term Catastrohpic Risks from Artificial Intelligence."

It should be Catastrophic.