Is ruthlessness in business executives ever useful? 2012-12-28T19:46:02.819Z
Wiki edits by spambots 2011-05-30T17:55:59.721Z
Existing Absurd Technologies 2011-05-30T06:12:18.646Z
Poll: What do you look for in a relationship? 2011-02-10T01:15:29.593Z
Perfectly Friendly AI 2011-01-24T19:03:16.954Z
Should we have secular churches? 2011-01-19T22:02:58.267Z
The Santa deception: how did it affect you? 2010-12-20T22:27:37.348Z
The Trolley Problem: Dodging moral questions 2010-12-05T04:58:34.599Z
Broken window fallacy and economic illiteracy. 2010-12-01T04:48:12.618Z
Belief in Belief vs. Internalization 2010-11-29T03:12:10.614Z
The Sin of Persuasion 2010-11-27T21:44:06.794Z


Comment by Desrtopa on Dunbar's Function · 2016-04-23T18:40:34.364Z · LW · GW

Sugar crystal is about 1.5 grams per ml, while human fat is about .9 grams per ml, but fat has more than twice the calories per gram.

Comment by Desrtopa on Suppose HBD is True · 2016-04-22T03:58:18.712Z · LW · GW

we already know European and East Asian populations are probably the smartest genetically because they are the smartest now phenotypically; this has already been conditioned on, so it's illogical to say 'well, we should expect an African subpopulation to be higher'. The race has already been run and the first and second place prizes handed out, it makes no sense to say 'there were a lot of other runners so maybe one of them is in first place'.

It's likely, but I think it's important to remember that there are a lot of environmental factors which can depress IQ, and some populations may have high genetic potential which is being depressed by circumstance.

The Dutch are the tallest nationality in the world today, but 150 years ago, they were among the shorter ones; as average height has risen in Western nations, the Dutch significantly overtook various populations that used to be much taller than they were.

Comment by Desrtopa on What makes buying insurance rational? · 2016-04-22T03:45:02.154Z · LW · GW

Insurance companies are in a much better negotiating position than private buyers, because they're dealing in bulk, so their expenses are based on paying much lower prices for services than their members would get if they bought individually.

Other commenters have already addressed the difference between expected utility and expected monetary return, but in fact having insurance can have a positive expected monetary return simply because you're forced to pay more when buying the services privately.

Comment by Desrtopa on Rationality Quotes Thread March 2016 · 2016-03-06T19:43:53.508Z · LW · GW

The evidence with the Swedish doctors versus the lottery winners though, is that it's something other than just the amount of money they have that leaves their descendants better off.

If the reason that the poor are poor is only that they don't have enough money, then it shouldn't be necessary to keep funneling in more money to keep them from being poor. That is, if a person has a low-paying job, but has income supplementation which gives them the same level of money as someone with a better job, then their children should be as likely to be well off as the children of the person with the better job, because both have the same access to money. But in practice this appears not to be the case.

There's a lot of middle ground between "the poor have less money because they're morally lacking and deserve to have as little as they do" and "the poor have less money only because they started out with less money, and the key to being able to make money is already having money.

Having worked as an educator for some persistently poverty-stricken school districts, I have to say that there being a "human capital" element is definitely attested to in my experience, and I don't mean this simply as a euphemism for "genes." I've seen plenty of intelligent, conscientious young people who are going to be seriously disadvantaged in achieving future financial success, because they

  • Haven't been exposed to standards and expectations that prepare them for how hard they'll have to work to compete with similarly intelligent people from more functional environments.

  • Have absorbed disadvantageous social norms about how to manage money (flaunting it via conspicuous consumption, living ahead of paychecks, not investing for future needs or building up a buffer for unforeseen situations, etc.) because these were the examples that everyone they knew who had any money set with it.

  • Engage in a lot of avoidable conflict, because high conflict interpersonal styles are the norm in the social circles they grew up with (but are not the norm in the social circles they're going to have to move in in more lucrative careers.)

  • Have had their learning opportunities sabotaged, because even when they were capable and willing to engage in a high level of learning, they were surrounded by peers who disrupt their teachers' attempts to create an educational environment.

...And so on.

Not just on a personal level, but on a community level, there are different reasons for being poor, and some poor communities may have very different social norms and values (see Kiryas Joel for instance,) but the norms still tend to perpetuate poverty.

I can't claim it constitutes a large data set, but I've watched a couple of people in these communities regress from being financially well off (due to payouts from having won lawsuits) to being poor again in just a couple of years. And I tried to talk them out of the money management habits that were inevitably leading to that. But while they recognized my cause for concern, they made it clear that they wanted to use the money to gain a few short years living in a way that would make them pinnacles of admiration in their community. Neither of them were dumb, but they were reasoning according to the social norms they'd grown up with.

I don't think program paternalism is necessarily a good solution, since being forced to use resources pragmatically doesn't mean that people will learn to use their resources effectively when they have autonomy over them. But I think it's incorrect to suppose that poor people and more affluent people in general are separated only by the amount of money they have access to, and not by any sort of cultural gaps that act to perpetuate their differences in wealth.

As far as simple wealth transfers having a lasting impact, I think it's likely that the impact will tend to be different in different places. With the cash transfers to poverty-stricken Ugandan women, for instance, as the article says, most of them used the money to set some kind of retail operation in motion. They had the motivation to use the money entrepreneurially, but also, crucially, they had access to markets with relatively low competition and barriers to entry. Give a couple hundred thousand dollars to a poor person in an American city, and they might want to use it to start a business, but not many would be able to start a business with those resources which would turn a profit given the level of existing competition they'd have to face.

Comment by Desrtopa on Rationality Quotes Thread March 2016 · 2016-03-06T12:33:43.500Z · LW · GW

In the short term, giving people money makes them less poor, but in the long term, it may not be so effective.

Comment by Desrtopa on Why people want to die · 2015-08-27T13:59:25.754Z · LW · GW

However, our expected healthspan (the amount of time for which a person is capable of substantial physical activity and not beset by ailments) has gone up considerably in the last few centuries. Perhaps the relatively few people who made it to old age in hunter-gatherer societies might have had similar healthspans, but they constituted a dramatically smaller fraction of the total populace. The average 35 year old today has decades longer of healthy, productive living to look forward to than the average 35 year old 300 years ago (sources available in this book) and while people occasionally remark on, say, 50 being the new 30, it doesn't seem to leave most people dazzled or mentally unequipped for their new environment.

Comment by Desrtopa on Why people want to die · 2015-08-27T13:48:34.380Z · LW · GW

I'm highly skeptical that most people actually run out of stuff they take pleasure in over the course of a natural lifespan, or anticipate themselves doing so. Most people may have interests less "open ended" than are the norm here, but I haven't found that people interested in, say, football, tend to find that by their latter years they've had enough of football.

If immortality was available on asking, and some people chose to live forever to pursue their interests indefinitely, I think people who refused to follow their lead because they had simply had enough would be very much in the minority.

Comment by Desrtopa on [deleted post] 2015-08-27T13:32:45.013Z

I think most people here are aware that there's a gap between how we tend to communicate on Less Wrong or in other rationalist circles, and how people tend to communicate in various other circles. I think that's a component of the concept of inferential distance.

But separating out various types of beliefs into categories such as "empirical truth" and "affective truth" also has a gap of inferential distance from most of the people we'd be using such concepts to communicate with, and I think it's questionable whether it's a step along the direction that brings them closest to the position we're trying to get to.

Comment by Desrtopa on Confidence levels inside and outside an argument · 2015-08-21T00:53:12.967Z · LW · GW

I have read the first three since I left that comment (so all but I Shall Wear Midnight,) and I thought they were, at least pretty good, as all the Discworld books were, but as far as younger-readers' Discworld books go, I rate The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents more highly.

Comment by Desrtopa on Selecting vs. grooming · 2015-07-02T15:27:53.803Z · LW · GW

This seems a bit hard to isolate from confounding variables though.For example, China might breed and groom basketball players for elite competition (my understanding is they do have some kind of athlete breeding system going on,) but not have access to as high level of basketball coaches and trainers as a country like the United States where basketball is more entrenched in the culture, and it would be hard to measure the impact of these influences separately.

Comment by Desrtopa on Selecting vs. grooming · 2015-07-02T15:23:04.665Z · LW · GW

I think there's an important distinction here this doesn't address though.

Both selection and grooming feature education, but in cases of grooming, a person is being educated for a specific role which they're intended to fill. In cases of selection, the person is acquiring qualifications which will promote them as a candidate for a variety of different positions. Within a system of selection, some people may receive significantly better or more prestigious educations, and this gives them preferential candidacy for higher level positions, but it's not the same as grooming, where a person is selected for the position they're meant to fill before they're educated for it.

Comment by Desrtopa on Are consequentialism and deontology not even wrong? · 2015-06-04T15:10:38.475Z · LW · GW

Most people haven't read the original untranslated versions in order to understand them better, but a lot of academics, such as classics professors, have. I've learned about Greek culture from a few professors who would discuss at length how the Greek conceptions of, say, honor or cunning differed from our modern conceptions. But if they were also of the impression that the ancient and classical Greeks did not have a concept of morality, then that would have been a very conspicuous and relevant omission from their instruction. So I'm inclined to suspect that this is a minority interpretation.

Comment by Desrtopa on In Defense of the Fundamental Attribution Error · 2015-06-04T07:02:33.864Z · LW · GW

I've been teaching part time at a community center for a while now, and it's been interesting for me to see how the first impressions I had of the various students stacked up against the experiences I had knowing them over an extended period.

I can put numbers to it- out of a bit over 50 students, there were three for whom I found my first impressions to be substantial misjudgments of their habitual character, and one who I came to suspect I had misjudged, but for whom it turned out that the evidence that let me to suspect my initial judgment was wrong was actually uncharacteristic of him, whereas the behavior that formed my first impression was not. Of course, there's a likelihood of confirmation bias here, but since I discuss the students' personalities and behavior extensively with the other teachers, our assessments of them tend towards agreement over time.

Of course, error rates are going to depend strongly on context, but it's nice to have some idea of my expected error rate in this particular context.

Comment by Desrtopa on Leaving LessWrong for a more rational life · 2015-05-28T03:46:27.845Z · LW · GW

Ghosts specifically seem like too complicated a hypothesis to extract from any experimental results I'm aware of. If we didn't already have a concept of ghosts, I doubt any parapsychology experiments that have taken place would have caused us to develop one.

Comment by Desrtopa on Is Scott Alexander bad at math? · 2015-05-18T07:54:24.967Z · LW · GW

I think that pretty much everyone who knows any number of mathematicians and has talked to them at any length about their work has received exactly this sort of counterbalancing. As someone in a similar position to Scott, I've heard it more times than I can count, and I've honestly come to resent it somewhat. I've been told no end of times about how the beauty and elegance of "real" math, and how unrepresentative the sort of calculating work done at lower levels is of that sort of mathematics, but this is pretty much always being expressed by people who didn't have certain difficulties with the work at lower levels that the people they're expressing it to did.

I've been on the other end of this a lot, trying to teach stuff to people which seems to me to be so intuitively, even beautifully obvious once you look at it from the right perspective, that it seems impossible for a person of any intellectual capacity not to grasp it, only to find that it takes a herculean effort on both our parts for them to make any sense of it at all. It's forced me to accept that there's a lot more human variability than I once thought in the capacity to be really bad at things.

Like Scott, there are some kinds of "real math" which I have a reasonable amount of familiarity with and fluency in. And I have a fair amount of curiosity about and enthusiasm for mathematical curiosities of a certain sort. But I've never been able to muster the slightest bit of enthusiasm for doing math except to the extent that it lets me work out non-math things I'm interested in the answers to. I would love to like math more for its own sake, because there are times when figuring things out which I'm interested in the answers to requires learning more math which is a lot easier if I can appreciate it for its own sake throughout the steps I have to make it through. But lacking that immediate motive, I find much of the necessary learning incredibly dull and frustrating.

Comment by Desrtopa on Feedback on promoting rational thinking about one's career choice to a broad audience · 2015-04-05T21:44:05.518Z · LW · GW

That is to name but a few. Money is a good barometer of the first four because higher demand jobs generally give you more options for where you work.

Not necessarily, See this comment for some opposing considerations. Some highly lucrative jobs can be pretty restrictive in terms of where you have to live to do them.

Comment by Desrtopa on Feedback on promoting rational thinking about one's career choice to a broad audience · 2015-04-05T21:39:20.128Z · LW · GW

Reminds me of this essay by Scott/Yvain where he mentions a reddit thread of over 10,000 comments specifically looking for people who opposed gay marriage, but with practically nobody who opposed gay marriage participating.

Comment by Desrtopa on [LINK] Amanda Knox exonerated · 2015-04-03T05:56:52.516Z · LW · GW

The prosecutor claimed that from the number of stab wounds, it was unlikely that a single person could have inflicted them all. However, the number of stab wounds was by no means an outlier among murders known to have a single perpetrator (I do not have detailed statistics on this subject, but merely from my limited experience with case studies on the subject I have encountered quite a few cases which involved many more stab wounds from a single perpetrator.) Considering the pervasive incompetence their forensics teams demonstrated over the course of the case, I would assign very little weight to this.

The prosecution also presented pieces of "evidence" such as Knox placing extremely short phone calls to Kercher, too short to transmit any message. This and many other points raised by the prosecution fit the pattern of behavior that seems unusual, and so is presented as evidence for suspicion of murder, despite the fact that the behavior doesn't make more sense if we suppose she was involved in the murder.

If Knox had a murder likelihood of 1/1000 after conditioning on the evidence that Kercher had been murdered, but before accounting for other evidence, and she's then observed to have engaged in unusual actions with a 1/1000 probability, it makes no difference towards her likelihood as a culprit if they're not actions which are more likely in the event that she's actually guilty. We can come up with post-hoc explanations for why the unusual things might be related to involvement in the murder, and this kind of reasoning appears to have constituted a large part of the prosecution's case, but if we don't have any prior reason to suppose that guilt of murder is associated with such behaviors, then these explanations will tend only to be rationalizations of preexisting suspicion.

Comment by Desrtopa on [LINK] Amanda Knox exonerated · 2015-04-03T05:41:54.274Z · LW · GW

There's all sorts of complicated details that are completely missing from the US coverage of the trials, which make the prosecution's position much more understandable. Perhaps the prosecution did not have sufficient evidence, but neither did the prosecution come up with some batshit insane theory out of the blue for no reason when they had everything explained with Guede.

Komponisto is Italian and translated documents from the prosecution for the benefit of the community.

Comment by Desrtopa on [LINK] Amanda Knox exonerated · 2015-04-03T05:29:58.951Z · LW · GW

By the way what she did was she claimed she was at the scene of the crime covering her ears as Lumumba murdered Kercher (and no she didn't call the 112 about it or anything). If she as she says was coerced into making such a statement, yeah, that's not evidence of guilt. But if it is as police says it is, do you still think it's not evidence of guilt?

The police records indicate that they had already started considering Lumumba as a suspect prior to interrogating Knox. Knox was detained for a long period of time by the police, during which time she alleges she was treated abusively, before she pointed her finger at the person the police already suspected, but who later proved to have an airtight alibi.

She's a foreigner, there's no budget for transatlantic flights to figure out if she had been cruel to animals as a child or the like, there's no jurisdiction, and you can't use that sort of stuff in a court anyway.

The prosecution presented plenty of character evidence, the worst they had to present was simply very innocuous, even when they tried to exaggerate it for effect. In the prosecution's hands, an anime series which a member of Less Wrong attested to having watched in an after school club in middle school became a work of "violent animated pornography."

Comment by Desrtopa on Don't Be Afraid of Asking Personally Important Questions of Less Wrong · 2015-04-02T23:29:19.590Z · LW · GW

Knowledge can be learned but aptitude is more or less defined in terms of not being trainable. Of course, this might mean that it's simply defined out of existence, but my experience has definitely been that it's much easier to teach some people things than others. Indeed, I experience a significant conflict between helping students who're most at risk of failing, and thereby accomplishing very little actual instruction, because they're mostly so difficult to teach, and focusing on the students who could pass under their own initiative, who'll actually absorb and comprehend the instruction, but can get by without it.

There are issues of attitude as well as aptitude, and they're closely intertwined, but they're not the same thing, and when you deal with a lot of people who vary along both metrics, it's hard to avoid differentiating between them.

Comment by Desrtopa on Rationality Quotes Thread March 2015 · 2015-03-27T15:16:29.818Z · LW · GW

Only if you have no margin within which you can be considered to be "correctly estimating."

Comment by Desrtopa on Rationality Quotes Thread March 2015 · 2015-03-27T02:54:11.717Z · LW · GW

So would you get angry if a sabre-toothed tiger charged at you when you weren't expecting it? Do you get angry when a clear day gives way to rain? Do you get angry when a short story has a twist ending?

For me at least, the answers are no, yes, and no respectively. We can further refine the prior hypothesis by stipulating that the bad feelings arise from expectations not being fulfilled in an unpleasurable way, which would stop it from generating the third situation as an example. As for the first, perhaps one might experience anger if it were not being overridden by the more pressing reaction of fear. Or perhaps the hypothesis is off base, but it seems to generate some correct predictions of anger which the hypothesis that anger only arises from frustrated expectations about social rules fails to generate.

Comment by Desrtopa on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 110 · 2015-02-25T15:38:11.304Z · LW · GW

Actually, this might be one of the only plays Harry could have made which wouldn't have that result, because it seems the purpose of the trap is to lock away Voldemort's shade where it can't access other victims even by leaving his body. If Voldemort died while talking to Dumbledore, his shade would probably still be stuck inside the mirror world.

Although speculatively, this might not work because his shade has no reflection, but if that were the case then Voldemort would have an out even given the powers Dumbledore already knew him to have.

Comment by Desrtopa on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 110 · 2015-02-25T15:33:16.560Z · LW · GW

Well, keep in mind that Harry did just see Voldemort's reflection with Dumbledore's family before the Confoundment wore off. I don't recall the mirror doing that in the original canon, but it might just have been changed to make the scenes flow better rather than due to a specific mechanical change in how the mirror is supposed to work.

Comment by Desrtopa on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 110 · 2015-02-25T15:29:38.613Z · LW · GW

For instance, Harry believes that the wizarding economy should be trivially exploitable via exchange with the Muggle precious-metals market. He believes this because even though he knows about half-bloods (i.e. witches and wizards who have a Muggle parent), he thinks that he is special and that nobody else ever would have thought of that.

Don't forget, his Occlumency teacher would mention after every session that he wished he would be allowed to remember the arbitrage trick.

Eliezer has talked about how one of his main reasons for writing the story as a work of fanfiction is that it gets the audience to accept a world that is massively exploitable by the main characters, which they would have thought was a case of the author making things too easy on them if the author had actually created it. Eliezer wrote a story set in the world of Harry Potter because Rowling didn't think very hard about the implications of her worldbuilding and created a massively exploitable setting.

Comment by Desrtopa on Fake Justification · 2015-02-24T03:46:30.423Z · LW · GW

If we have incentive to continue to produce better things of that type, then probably, but sometimes the incentives we once had to do things well go away. There may not be any modern works of portrait painting which surpass premodern ones, for instance, because photography has removed a lot of the incentive to practice portrait painting.

Comment by Desrtopa on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 109 · 2015-02-24T03:41:39.824Z · LW · GW

Well, Harry breaks his glasses in the canon books, because nobody ever does anything sensible, but as a more general rule, if you could simply transfigure people into objects and enchant those objects to be unbreakable, and thereby prevent damage to their body structure, human transfiguration would already be possible within ordinary means.

Comment by Desrtopa on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 109 · 2015-02-24T02:08:31.680Z · LW · GW

It might have been possible for Quirrellmort to win the war in a few days, but I think the implication is supposed to be that he could do so by superior inventiveness and planning ability, rather than by superior dueling power. Indeed, going by his demonstrated methods, he might have been able to defeat Dumbledore in the war in spite of dramatically less dueling power.

Minerva has apparently survived skirmishes with Voldemort where Moody or Dumbledore were at her side on different occasions, and if Voldemort could have overcome his opponents in those encounters with no risk to himself, I think he'd have had a hard time rationalizing passing up the chance.

Comment by Desrtopa on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 109 · 2015-02-24T01:46:56.200Z · LW · GW

I forget, do we have any word on whether damaging an object someone has been transfigured into would affect its ability to retain their information? Glasses have a rather limited operational lifespan- I broke another pair just recently.

Comment by Desrtopa on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 108 · 2015-02-23T02:36:09.169Z · LW · GW

He's made it pretty clear that he can abandon his current body without needing to wait for it to die, but it's not clear whether he's able to temporarily leave and return. It might be that leaving the body would mean simply letting it die. Whether he can or not, that's probably not what he's doing whenever he's in "off" mode, because he's been doing that since before Harry revealed to him the identity of the Resurrection Stone.

Comment by Desrtopa on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, February 2015, chapter 108 · 2015-02-23T02:15:37.091Z · LW · GW

Eh, Firenze was taking initiative to dispose of a major problem even if it required actions he considered morally distasteful. Compared to Quirrell, he's pretty dumb, but he hasn't distinguished himself for idiocy the way, say, the Ministry official who took self-destructive joy in obstructing him did. If anything, he probably distinguished himself as cleverer than the norm, if not in any way a peer.

Comment by Desrtopa on Rationality Quotes Thread February 2015 · 2015-02-06T17:04:27.565Z · LW · GW

This seems inapt as a generalization about human psychology.

In one psychology experiment which a professor of mine told me about, test subjects were made to play a virtual game of catch with two other players, where every player was represented to each other player only as a nondescript computer avatar, the only input any player could give was which of the other two players to toss the "ball" to, and nobody had any identifying information about anyone else involved. Unbeknownst to the test subjects, the other two players were confederates of the experimenter, and their role was to gradually start excluding the test subject, eventually starting to toss the ball almost exclusively to each other, and almost never to the test subject.

Most test subjects found this highly emotionally taxing, to the point that such experiments will no longer be approved by the Institutional Review Board.

In addition to offering a hint of just how much ethical testing standards can hamstring psych research, it also suggests that our instinctive reactions to ostracization do not really demand identifying information on the perpetrators in order to come into play.

Comment by Desrtopa on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, January 2015, chapter 103 · 2015-02-01T06:17:52.172Z · LW · GW

That sounds a lot more like a Rowling type twist than an Eliezer type twist. There are elements that could be interpreted as vague and oblique hints, but it doesn't suggest particularly clever or well-considered behavior on anyone's part.

Comment by Desrtopa on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, January 2015, chapter 103 · 2015-02-01T06:07:52.679Z · LW · GW

Well, if they have access to the dorms, they could steal the books and replace them with altered copies.

Comment by Desrtopa on Rationality Quotes January 2015 · 2015-01-12T21:47:26.815Z · LW · GW

My regular commute has been impeded by such a set of escalators (currently dismantled for repairs from fire damage) for weeks.

Comment by Desrtopa on The Importance of Sidekicks · 2015-01-12T21:17:23.679Z · LW · GW

I think that, in a video game sense (which is really the only context where the distinction of "player characters" makes real narrative sense,) "sidekick" type characters probably do tend to be NPCs. But I think this is a major weakness of using a video game framing for the concepts under discussion. Problems are rarely solved in real life the way they're solved in books, but they're pretty much never solved in real life the way they are in video games.

Comment by Desrtopa on Compartmentalizing: Effective Altruism and Abortion · 2015-01-09T16:19:11.426Z · LW · GW

If they're a truly isolated hermit, that distinction would presumably no longer apply, but the world is pretty short on truly isolated hermits.

I think you probably could kill and replace an isolated hermit in a QALY-neutral way (you'd probably need a fairly unhappy person to keep it QALY neutral even,) whereas with social connections in the equation, if you were trying to kill and replace non-hermits in a QALY neutral way, you'd ultimately end up having to do it to everyone.

Comment by Desrtopa on Compartmentalizing: Effective Altruism and Abortion · 2015-01-07T00:06:27.063Z · LW · GW

At the very least because an already-born person will almost always leave survivors aggrieved and/or materially harmed by the act, while aborted fetuses often do not.

Comment by Desrtopa on Has LessWrong Ever Backfired On You? · 2014-12-21T09:33:34.801Z · LW · GW

Actually I for one gave up Death Note in frustration very early on because I couldn't help focusing on how much of the real inferential work was being done by the authors feeding the correct answers to the characters. Like when L concludes that Kira must know the victim's real name to kill him... there were so many reasons that just didn't work. Kira's apparent modus operandi was to kill criminals, there was no particular reason to suppose he would respond to a challenge to kill anyone else, so the fact that he didn't was already weak evidence regarding whether he could at all, let alone what the restrictions might be. Whether Kira knew his real name or not was just one variable switched between him and Lind L. Taylor. L could just as easily have been immune because he eats too many sweets.

While smart, knowledgeable people can often extract a greater yield of inference from a limited amount of data than others, I find that far too many writers take this idea and run with it while forgetting that intelligence very often means recognizing how much you can't get out of a limited amount of data.

Comment by Desrtopa on Has LessWrong Ever Backfired On You? · 2014-12-21T09:22:44.578Z · LW · GW

With Fate/Stay Night, one problem is that I was looking at ripped videos on Youtube, while the original material is a "visual novel" with branching paths, so it's possible (but unlikely) that the people who put up the videos missed all the rationality-relevant bits.

I haven't watched the anime, but I have read the visual novel, and the anime does not have a reputation for being a very faithful adaptation. The visual novel at least does share themes that often feature in Eliezer's work, but I wouldn't call them "rationality content" as such. More in the manner of Heroic Responsibility and related concepts.

Comment by Desrtopa on Rationality Quotes December 2014 · 2014-12-07T00:46:44.218Z · LW · GW

Actually, one thing that I noticed while reading this book is that despite engaging in violence far more frequently than people in non-tribal cultures, the Yanomamo don't really seem to have a conception of martial arts or weapons skills, aside from skill with a bow. The takeaway I got was that in small tribal groups like the ones they live in, there isn't really the sort of labor differentiation necessary to support a warrior class. Rather, it seems that while all men are expected to be available for forays into violence, nobody seems to practice combat skills, except for archery which is also used for food acquisition. While many men were spoken of as being particularly dangerous, in all cases discussed in the book, it was because of their ferocity, physical strength, and quickness to resort to violence. In fact, some of the most common forms of violent confrontation within tribes are forms of "fighting" where the participants simply take turns hitting each other, without being allowed to attempt to defend or evade, in order to demonstrate who's physically tougher.

I'm not sure how representative the Yanomamo are of small tribal societies as a whole, but it may be that serious differentiation of martial skill didn't come until later forms of societal organization.

Comment by Desrtopa on Rationality Quotes December 2014 · 2014-12-06T15:40:57.649Z · LW · GW

The problems in North Korea are not so simple with straightforward solutions, when we look at them from the perspective of the actors involved.

For the average citizen in North Korea, there are no clear avenues to political influence that don't increase rather than decrease personal risk. For the people in North Korea who do have significant political influence, from a self-serving perspective, there are no "problems" with how North Korea is run.

North Korea's problems might be simple to solve from the perspective of an altruistic Supreme Leader, but they're hard as coordination problems. Some of our societal problems in the developed world are also simple from the perspective of an altruistic Supreme Leader, but hard as coordination problems. Some of the more salient differences are that those problems didn't occur due to the actions of non altruistic or incompetent Supreme Leaders in the first place, and aren't causing mass subsistence level poverty.

Comment by Desrtopa on Rationality Quotes November 2014 · 2014-11-12T04:44:37.894Z · LW · GW

IAWYC, but in general the right thing to do is to reduce the risk until the marginal cost of reducing it more exceeds the disutility of what one is risking:

Not necessarily. The reduction may have positive value in absolute terms, but carry the opportunity cost of preventing you from devoting those resources to more valuable risk reductions.

Comment by Desrtopa on 2014 Less Wrong Census/Survey · 2014-11-12T02:26:19.895Z · LW · GW

Completed. I'm concerned that the "mixed" options for religious background are concealing meaningful demographic information. For instance, my parents are of Christian and Jewish parentage, so I chose the "mixed" option because I do not consider my cultural heritage to be predominantly Jewish or Christian. A person with Hindu and Muslim parents would have the same answer, but a very different cultural background. Perhaps in future it might be better to use a "check all that apply" format?

Comment by Desrtopa on What false beliefs have you held and why were you wrong? · 2014-10-20T14:50:31.495Z · LW · GW

There seems to be, although the studies that I've found with a quick search discuss this in terms of poverty having strong predictive value even after controlling for race (which is probably a less politically charged claim.) However, there are a lot of confounders that are not easy to adjust out of such an analysis.

Comment by Desrtopa on Questions on Theism · 2014-10-16T20:25:48.699Z · LW · GW

Jesus is said to have said, "Will the Son of Man find faith left on the earth when he returns?" In context this looks like a rhetorical question, with the answer being "no", at least more or less, even if he did not mean that no one at all would believe. So I don't see how your second thing is right, since someone seems to have predicted that scenario. It's true that that is likely to happen if Christianity is false; but apparently it is also likely to happen if it is true.

First, I don't think it's at all clear from the context that the answer is intended to be "no." Second, Jesus also indicated that some people who knew him in person would still be alive as of the time he returned to earth, so this might be better interpreted as skepticism that his followers can maintain their standards of devotion rather than doubt in the persistence of a long term tradition.

As for better documentation, Thomas Aquinas at least asserts that the reason faith should work miracles is that a person who has faith "merits" in a certain way to prove that faith to himself and others. This means that equal faith should earn equal proofs. But an equal miracle will be more capable of proving things, not equally capable, when you have better documentation; so as documentation improves, the faith you need to work the same miracle will increase, and so the frequency of miracles of a given type will decrease. This also explains why most miracles are not directly visible in a moment; because a miracle like this has too much of a capacity to prove something, in comparison to people's level of faith.

On the other hand, Jesus himself seems to suggest a simpler model in Luke 11, according to which God answers prayers simply to satisfy those who ask, because he is good.

If unbelief inhibits miracles, then one should be able to create miracles by separating out enclaves of the faithful (and indeed, more religious communities certainly tend to segregate themselves from less religious ones.) But if you go too far down the road of expecting no miracles to occur, then this also means that you can't update your confidence upwards based on reports of miracles either.

Comment by Desrtopa on Questions on Theism · 2014-10-16T20:05:49.224Z · LW · GW

I don't think this requires an assumption that it's real at all; a higher level of commitment could very easily lead people to be more lax in their standards for whether a prayer has been "answered," if we're looking at it in psychological rather than supernatural terms.

Comment by Desrtopa on Questions on Theism · 2014-10-16T01:38:33.794Z · LW · GW

This is certainly an argument one could take. However, while the average levels of faith then were certainly much higher, the population now is also much higher, so even if our per-capita rate of dramatic miracles is lower, we have a much larger pool to draw on, and much better documentation.

Also, if we're comparing hypothetical worlds where Christianity is true or false, I think a scenario where the populace becomes dramatically less faithful over time, to the point that the absolute population with sufficient faith to perform miracles goes down while the total population more than dectuples, is significantly less likely to occur in the world where Christianity is true.

Comment by Desrtopa on Questions on Theism · 2014-10-15T19:39:58.924Z · LW · GW

In my experience, people who are not involved in alleged miraculous events will often throw support behind their veracity, because any dramatic miracle is like a point scored for the cultural group they identify with. While arguably this might have been less the case hundreds of years ago when the cultural hegemony of Christianity meant that there was less value in dramatic evidence for it, I think that the far greater prevalence of dramatic miracle claims from that period suggests that this is not the case. Plus, in those times, the site of any dramatic alleged miracle would often gain a reputation as a holy place, greatly increasing the standing of the location and increasing business through pilgrimage.