Posts

Book Review: The Eureka Factor 2019-03-04T19:47:23.483Z · score: 21 (9 votes)
The Bat and Ball Problem Revisited 2018-12-13T07:16:30.017Z · score: 76 (24 votes)
Two types of mathematician 2018-02-23T19:26:19.551Z · score: 122 (39 votes)
Metarationality: a messy introduction 2017-10-01T08:09:25.313Z · score: 1 (5 votes)

Comments

Comment by drossbucket on ricraz's Shortform · 2020-08-23T10:48:43.543Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks! I have been meaning to add a 'start here' page for a while, so that's good to have the extra push :) Seems particularly worthwhile in my case because a) there's no one clear theme and b) I've been trying a lot of low-quality experimental posts this year bc pandemic trashed motivation, so recent posts are not really reflective of my normal output.

For now some of my better posts in the last couple of years might be Cognitive decoupling and banana phones (tracing back the original precursor of Stanovich's idea), The middle distance (a writeup of a useful and somewhat obscure idea from Brian Cantwell Smith's On the Origin of Objects), and the negative probability post and its followup.

Comment by drossbucket on ricraz's Shortform · 2020-08-23T08:44:46.917Z · score: 21 (8 votes) · LW · GW

This is only tangentially relevant, but adding it here as some of you might find it interesting:

Venkatesh Rao has an excellent Twitter thread on why most independent research only reaches this kind of initial exploratory level (he tried it for a bit before moving to consulting). It's pretty pessimistic, but there is a somewhat more optimistic follow-up thread on potential new funding models. Key point is that the later stages are just really effortful and time-consuming, in a way that keeps out a lot of people trying to do this as a side project alongside a separate main job (which I think is the case for a lot of LW contributors?)

Quote from that thread:

Research =

a) long time between having an idea and having something to show for it that even the most sympathetic fellow crackpot would appreciate (not even pay for, just get)

b) a >10:1 ratio of background invisible thinking in notes, dead-ends, eliminating options etc

With a blogpost, it’s like a week of effort at most from idea to mvp, and at most a 3:1 ratio of invisible to visible. That’s sustainable as a hobby/side thing.

To do research-grade thinking you basically have to be independently wealthy and accept 90% deadweight losses

Also just wanted to say good luck! I'm a relative outsider here with pretty different interests to LW core topics but I do appreciate people trying to do serious work outside academia, have been trying to do this myself, and have thought a fair bit about what's currently missing (I wrote that in a kind of jokey style but I'm serious about the topic).

Comment by drossbucket on The Bat and Ball Problem Revisited · 2019-12-24T17:50:51.832Z · score: 12 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't thought about the bat and ball question specifically very much since writing this post, but I did get a lot of interesting comments and suggestions that have sort of been rolling around my head in background mode ever since. Here's a few I wanted to highlight:

Is the bat and ball question really different to the others? First off, it was interesting to see how much agreement there was with my intuition that the bat and ball question was interestingly different to the other two questions in the CRT. Reading through the comments I count four other people who explicitly agree with this (1, 2, 3, 4) and three who either explicitly disagree or point out that they find the widget problem hardest (5, 6, 7). I'd be intrigued to know if other people also disagree that the bat and ball feels different to them.

Concrete vs abstract quantities. Out of the people who agreed with that the bat and ball is different, this comment from @awbery does a particularly good job of giving a potential explanation for why:

The problem is a ‘two things’ problem. The first sentence presents two things, a bat and a ball. The language correctly reflects there are two things we should consider. The first sentence is ‘this plus that equals $1.10’. It correctly sounds like a + b; two things. The first sentence presents the state of affairs, not the problem itself. The second sentence presents the problem. The language of the second sentence reinforces the two things idea because there’s still the bat and the ball and they’re compared against each other: ‘there’s this one and it’s more than that one’. The trickiness is that it is a two things problem, but the two things we need to consider are not the most object level single units, but the bat, and the bat-plus-ball. Our brains are pulled toward the object level division of things by the language and the visual nature of the problem. We have to think really hard to understand that the abstract construct of the problem is the same shape as the state of affairs – there are two things to consider in relation to each other – but while the bat and the ball are still involved, they’re reconfigured by a non-intuitive/non-object-like division.

There’s no object level mirror trick in the other two problems, they’re straight forward maths mapping an object level visual representation. The widget problem presents a process which doesn’t change how the machines and widgets relate to each other in its solution. Our brains don’t have to mash up the pond and the lilies to separate the visual presentation to an abstract level. We can see that the pond is the same pond, half covered with lilies then fully covered with lilies at the next step. We don’t suddenly have some new abstract unreal configuration of lilies and pond to contend with.

I think this is why Kyzentun and Ander’s methods help get at the bat and ball problem intuitively – because they bypass the conflict between object level and abstract and translate it into the formal algebra realm. The problem as presented is non-intuitive because the objects visualization it suggests doesn’t reflect the shape of the formal solution.

So I think this is a particular type of problem, one in which visual shape and language of the presentation collude to obfuscate the visualization of the solution at an abstract/formal level. It’s a different type of problem to the other two in this sense, because the objects they present can be used as given in the solution.

Closeness to correct answer. Another interesting possibility is in TheManxLoiner's comment - that the bat and ball problem is difficult because the incorrect answer is 'close to the real one', whereas for the other two problems the incorrect answer is 'wildly off'. I've written a comment in response but I need to think about this more.

Ethnomethodology. David Chapman pointed out that these introspective accounts of what people are thinking when they solve maths problems are very unreliable, and that I'd probably be better concentrating strictly on what people do, as in ethnomethodology:

Yes, the fundamental principle of ethnomethodological methodology is “look at what people say and do, and don’t ever speculate about what’s happening in their head, because we can’t know.” At first that seems like a straitjacket, and highly unintuitive; but it forces you to really look, and then you see what is going on.

This sounds promising. I'm only just getting round to reading some ethnomethodology, and I haven't got my bearings yet.

Cognitive decoupling. There's a link with cognitive decoupling (in Stanovich's original sense) that could be worth exploring further. Success in the bat and ball problem seems to involve decoupling from the noisy wrong answer. David Chapman recommended Formal Languages in Logic by Dutilh Novaes for more background on this. So far I've read maybe a third of it. I've also written a bit more about cognitive decoupling and the history of the term here.

Next steps. I'm not sure where I'm going to take this next. Probably nowhere much for a while, as I have other priorities. But some options are:

  • Anders came up with a load of similar problems in the comments. These are designed to be cognitively unpleasant in the same way as the bat and ball, so I keep putting them off. I should actually go through them!
  • I'm going to continue reading Dutilh Novaes and some ethnomethodology.
  • Connect more specifically to Stanovich's idea of cognitive decoupling.

Testing theories? Further out, it could be interesting to actually test some theories by trying alternative, disguised versions of the question, on Mechanical Turk or something. Right now I've barely considered this, because I haven't thought through what I'd want carefully enough yet, but it might be interesting to test variations in:

  • how concrete the things the quantities refer to are (e.g. really concrete like 'the price of the bat', or more abstract like 'the difference between the price of the bat and ball'. Some of Anders' variant questions might fit the bill
  • how close in magnitude the intuitive-but-wrong answer is, as in TheManxLoiner's comment

I'm very ignorant about experiment design, so to do this I'd to get help from someone more knowledgeable. And psych research sounds like a gigantic minefield even if you are knowledgeable, so I'd probably end up wasting my time. But probably I'd learn something from going through the process, and it's something that could maybe happen in the future.

Comment by drossbucket on The Bat and Ball Problem Revisited · 2019-12-24T17:14:40.020Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
A possible reason for this is that the intuitive but incorrect answer in (1) is a decent approximation to the correct answer, whereas the common incorrect answers in (2) and (3) are wildly off the correct answer. For (1) I have to explicitly do a calculation to verify the incorrectness of the rapid answer, whereas in (2) and (3) my understanding of the situation immediately rules out the incorrect answers.

I must have missed this comment before, sorry. This is a really interesting point. Just to write it out explicitly,

(1) correct answer: 5, incorrect answer: 10
(2) correct answer: 5, incorrect answer: 100
(3) correct answer: 47, incorrect answers: 24

Now, for both (1) and (3) the wrong answer is off by roughly a factor of two. But I also share your sense that the answer to (3) is 'wildly off', whereas the answer to (1) is 'close enough'.

There are a couple of possible reasons for this. One is that 5 cents and 10 cents both just register as 'some small change', whereas 24 days and 47 days feel meaningfully different.

But also, it could be to do with relative size compared to the other numbers that appear in the problem setup. In (1), 5 and 10 are both similarly small compared to 100 and 110. In (3), 24 is small compared to 48, but 47 isn't.

Or something else. I haven't thought about this much.

There's a variant 'Ford and Ferrari' problem that is somewhat related:

> A Ferrari and a Ford together cost $190,000. The Ferrari costs $100,000 more than the Ford. How much does the Ford cost?

So here we have correct answer: 45000, incorrect answer: 90000

Here the incorrect answer feels somewhat wrong, as the Ford is improbably close in price to the Ferrari. People appeared to do better on this modified problem than the bat and ball, but I haven't looked into the details.

Comment by drossbucket on For the metaphors · 2019-11-09T08:37:44.604Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Not quite knitting, but close - you may like this piece by Sarah Perry explaining a spinning metaphor of Wittgenstein's:

And we extend our concept of number as in spinning a thread we twist fibre on fibre. And the strength of the thread does not reside in the fact that some one fibre runs through its whole length, but in the overlapping of many fibres.
Comment by drossbucket on MLU: New Blog! · 2019-06-13T06:25:05.923Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Just curious, are you planning to migrate blog comments too? I didn't know about Netlify, but it looks very promising for what I want - a mostly static site with some support for storing form submissions - so I'm going to investigate it a bit now.

Comment by drossbucket on Why exactly is the song 'Baby Shark' so catchy? · 2019-05-17T12:16:03.605Z · score: 11 (4 votes) · LW · GW

There was a Durham University study running from 2010 to 2013 where they asked the public to record their earworms (I contributed a few).

They suggest a few features that go into a particularly persistent earworm. A couple that stood out to me:

- Simple exposure. Songs that are currently popular tend to predominate. (There is a lot of Lady Gaga in their corpus.)

- A melody in the 'sweet spot' where it's generic enough to be easy to remember and sing but also has some kind of distinctive 'hook' like an unusual interval.

The popularity feature definitely fits Baby Shark. I think the melodic-sweet-spot feature does too: it's overall an extremely generic and repetitive tune, but also has the distinctive, painfully memorable 'doo doo do doo doo' bit.

The paper they published is here (pdf link). From a quick skim I'm not convinced that the stats are going to be all that great, but you'll have to read it more closely to judge for yourself. At the least it might give you some useful hints on other references and some terminology to google.

(And if you find anything interesting, let us know! I'm extremely prone to getting songs stuck in my head and would also like to know more about earworms.)

Comment by drossbucket on Book Review: The Eureka Factor · 2019-03-05T06:10:27.628Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Oops, I fixed that in my blog version and then accidentally posted the old draft here. Edited now, thank you!

Comment by drossbucket on The Bat and Ball Problem Revisited · 2019-02-18T19:17:23.001Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ooh, I'd forgotten about that test, and how the beer version was much easier - that would be another good one to read up on.

Comment by drossbucket on How did academia ensure papers were correct in the early 20th Century? · 2018-12-30T08:14:47.814Z · score: 46 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Not a full answer, but I would expect most of this kind of debate to be in more informal channels rather than journals (as in LiorSuchoy's answer).

Einstein, for example, was a prolific letter writer, and corresponded with many of the great physicists and mathematicians of the day, e.g. Born, Cartan and Schrödinger (from a quick google it looks like the Schrödinger letters are still not published as a collection, so I haven't linked them).

I read the Cartan letters, some time ago. I don't have access to a copy now, but IIRC they get much more into picking at disagreements/clearing up confusions than anything you'd find in journals. For example, I opened up the Google Books preview, and immediately found the following from Einstein (on page 13):

I am sending to you my articles on the subject, published so far by the Academy. The second, on the approximate field equations, suffers, however, from the drawback that, with the choice made there for the Hamiltonian, a spherically symmetric electric field is impossible...

Then as well as letters, there'd be conversations at conferences, gossip over lunch and in department common rooms, question sessions after lectures. This stuff is mostly lost, though, whereas the letters can still be read now, so that's where I'd look.

All of this still goes on between researchers now, of course, and that's still how news travels in individual research areas. If you want to know what's wrong with published papers you're much better off talking people in that field than trying to find retractions in the published literature. But academia was so much smaller then that informal networks of correspondence might plausibly cover large areas of science rather than a small research speciality.

Comment by drossbucket on The Bat and Ball Problem Revisited · 2018-12-13T19:08:03.157Z · score: 13 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Strangely, it can sometimes also go the other way!

One of my most eye-opening teaching experiences occurred when I was helping a six-year-old who was struggling with basic addition – or so it appeared. She was trying to work through a book that helped her to the concept of addition via various examples such as “If Nellie has three apples and is then given two more, how many apples does she have?” The poor little girl didn’t have a clue.
However, after spending a short time with her I discovered that she could do 3+2 with no problem whatsoever. In fact, she had no trouble with addition. She just couldn’t get her head around all these wretched apples, cakes, monkeys etc that were being used to “explain” the concept of addition to her. She needed to work through the book almost “backwards” – I had to help her understand that adding up apples was just an example of an abstract addition she could do perfectly well! Her problem was that all the books for six-year-olds went the other way round.

I think this is unusual though.

Comment by drossbucket on The Bat and Ball Problem Revisited · 2018-12-13T19:05:53.498Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Ah yeah, I meant to make this bit clearer and forgot.

I'm not really sure what to make of that statement you put in italics. The jump in success rate could be down to better trained intuition. It could also be due to better access to formal methods. I don't really see it as good evidence for my guess either way.

If I get more time later I'll edit the post.

Comment by drossbucket on Realism about rationality · 2018-09-19T05:08:19.066Z · score: 1 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the explanation!

Comment by drossbucket on Realism about rationality · 2018-09-17T05:51:32.092Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This is the most compelling argument I've been able to think of too when I've tried before. Feynman has a nice analogue of it within physics in The Character of Physical Law:

... it would have been no use if Newton had simply said, 'I now understand the planets', and for later men to try to compare it with the earth's pull on the moon, and for later men to say 'Maybe what holds the galaxies together is gravitation'. We must try that. You could say 'When you get to the size of the galaxies, since you know nothing about it, anything can happen'. I know, but there is no science in accepting this type of limitation.

I don't think it goes through well in this case, for the reasons ricraz outlines in their reply. Group B already has plenty of energy to move forward, from taking our current qualitative understanding and trying to build more compelling explanatory models and find new experimental tests. It's Group A that seems rather mired in equations that don't easily connect.

Edit: I see I wrote about something similar before, in a rather rambling way.

Comment by drossbucket on Realism about rationality · 2018-09-17T05:48:51.070Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for writing this, it's a very concise summary of the parts of LW I've never been able to make sense of, and I'd love to have a better understanding of what makes the ideas in your bullet-pointed list appealing to those who tend towards 'rationality realism'. (It's sort of a background assumption in most LW stuff, so it's hard to find places where it's explicitly justified.)

Also:

What CFAR calls “purple”.

Is there any online reference explaining this?

Comment by drossbucket on Unrolling social metacognition: Three levels of meta are not enough. · 2018-08-26T10:58:22.580Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Side note, but I really appreciated the bolded sentences marking the start and end of the 'tiring symbolic reasoning' section.

I normally give up on posts on this sort of topic precisely because I can see that I'm getting into an unknown amount of unpleasant mental effort holding all the "he said she said she said"s in my head at once. This time I could quickly gauge how much of that stuff there was, and it looked manageable, so I persevered.

Comment by drossbucket on The Monthly Newsletter as Thinking Tool · 2018-06-23T20:19:05.628Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm happy to answer questions, as I always like rambling about boring implementation details! I mentioned that I fancied trying this on Twitter and got a few takers. Right now I'm going for a pretty low tech approach where I just email it out - I write each one in a Google Doc and then paste it into Gmail and hope the formatting doesn't mess up too much. I could definitely improve this!

I have another Google Doc going throughout the month where I make brief notes on what I've been reading or thinking about, any useful links, etc, so that I have something to work with once I start writing. This is actually really valuable on its own.

I'm not trying for any particular length but seem to be writing a fair bit - the last one was about 5000 words split over three or four topics. Generally one section of it is talking about whatever physics topic I'm currently interested in, and the rest is more of a mixed bag based on what I've thought about that month.

Comment by drossbucket on The Monthly Newsletter as Thinking Tool · 2018-06-15T18:27:03.901Z · score: 10 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Update: I've done four of these now and have really enjoyed it. It works brilliantly for motivating me to keep a record of what I'm doing, and I've had some great followup conversations too. Thanks very much for introducing me to the idea!

Comment by drossbucket on Three Miniatures · 2018-02-25T10:09:50.281Z · score: 52 (12 votes) · LW · GW

my name is Dross,

and wen i see

the shiyning text

leap out at me,

i look at wot

it tels my hed -

i read the rules.

i like the red.

Comment by drossbucket on Two types of mathematician · 2018-02-24T07:23:08.769Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW

No, I also definitely wouldn't lump mathematical analysis in with algebra... I've edited the post now as that was confusing, also see this reply.

Your 'how much we know about the objects' distinction is a good one and I'll think about it.

Also vim over emacs for me, though I'm not actually great at either. I've never used Lisp or Haskell so can't say. Objects aren't distasteful for me in themselves, and I find Javascript-style prototypal inheritance fits my head well (it's concrete-to-abstract, 'examples first'), but I find Java-style object-oriented programming annoying to get my head around.

Comment by drossbucket on Two types of mathematician · 2018-02-23T20:55:47.952Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I just start gnawing on the corn cob somewhere at random, like the horrible physicist I am :) But the 'analysis' style makes more sense to me of the two, it had never even occurred to me that you could eat corn in the 'algebra' style.

I also think about linear algebra in a very visual way. I'm missing that for a lot of group theory, which was presented to us in a very 'memorise this random pile of definitions' way. Some time I want to go back and fix this... when I can get it to the top of the very large pile of things I want to learn.

Comment by drossbucket on Two types of mathematician · 2018-02-23T20:29:56.268Z · score: 24 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, that probably needs clarifying... I was using 'analysis' in the sense of 'opposed to synthesis' as one of the dichotomies, rather than the mathematical sense of 'analysis'. I.e. 'breaking into parts' as opposed to 'building up'. That's pretty confusing when one of the other dichotomies is algebra/geometry!

I agree that algebra and (mathematical) analysis are pretty different and I wouldn't particularly lump them together. I'd personally probably lump it with geometry over algebra if I had to pick, but that's likely to be a feature of how I learn and really it's pretty different to either.

Comment by drossbucket on The Monthly Newsletter as Thinking Tool · 2018-02-22T06:20:16.826Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for writing this up! I was interested last time you mentioned it somewhere, and this time you've motivated me enough that I'm going to try it for a couple of months.

Comment by drossbucket on Are you the rider or the elephant? · 2018-02-21T17:48:20.080Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I also identify more with the elephant, which I (probably unhelpfully) think of as the one that 'actually does maths and physics', in the sense of gaining insights into problems and building intuitive understanding.

I (also probably unhelpfully) think of the rider as a more of a sort of dull bean counter who verifies the steps in my reasoning are correct afterwards, and ruins my fun for some of my wilder flights of fancy.

I'm slowly learning to like the rider more - it's doing more than I give it credit for.

Probably some of the issue is trying to fit everything into these two categories. I think Sarah Constantin has convinced me that there are at least three things in the world - flow states, formal step-by-step reasoning and insight. I've been unthinkingly lumping flow state in with insight as the good stuff, and leaving the rider with just formal verification. Someone else might lump insight differently.

Comment by drossbucket on Clarifying the Postmodernism Debate With Skeptical Modernism · 2018-02-17T11:55:48.394Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I like this and agree that this thing deserves its own name. In my own head (you may not agree) this view often also includes ideas like 'explicit formal metrics often get Goodhart-ed into useless cargo cults, top-down rational plans often erase illegible local wisdom', etc. The kind of cluster people seem to get from Seeing Like A State, The Great Transformation, etc. (I've never read either of those myself though.)

To my mind this cluster is something like 'pomo ideas grafted on analytic rootstock', rather than the normal continental rootstock. And I think the main influence it misses because of this is phenomenology (gworley I think may be pointing somewhere similar). Thinking seriously about subjective internal experience often pulls people towards a more thoroughgoing rejection of modernism than the 'skeptical modernism' one.

I don't understand any of this well myself, though, and I'd struggle to unpack any of this into a compelling argument for someone who didn't basically already agree with me.

Comment by drossbucket on "Just Suffer Until It Passes" · 2018-02-12T17:50:19.750Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I would also be interested in this! I saw a use for it within about an hour of reading the post, when I did something stupid and easily fixable with a bit of thought. I just wrote the problem into a gmail draft, but if doing this turns out to be useful I'll try something more structured.

Comment by drossbucket on Meetup : Bristol meetup · 2018-02-11T13:13:36.010Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm in Bristol! No idea if anyone else is.

Comment by drossbucket on TSR #5 The Nature of Operations · 2018-01-20T12:34:17.127Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There are some great questions at the end of your posts and it's a bit of a shame you haven't had much uptake on them. It would be a lot of work to do many of these (which is why they're good questions!), but I'll have a go at your 'slipping through the cracks' question and do a worked example. Mine is also to do with making appointments.

I thought I did have a good system. I set a lot of Google Calendar email reminders and normally turn up to things with no problems. But actually I screwed up unusually badly twice last year and didn't do much about it other than think 'oops that was stupid'.

One was solvable in the end with a mad dash to the train station, but was stressful and annoying. The other one I travelled for three hours to meet up with friends on the wrong day... not my finest moment.

I notice that both of these were made informally on messaging/social media, and the problem was that they never even made it into a calendar in the first place. So I need to make sure everything ends up in the same system, rather than assuming a facebook event reminder or friends talking about it will be enough.

(I'm sure this is very obvious to more organised people, but this really isn't something that comes naturally for me.)

It's interesting that the problem is specifically with informal social events. A dentist appointment or work meeting has a kind of serious-business aura where I know it has to go in a system, so I just do that.

To fix this, I'll have to make sure that arranging an event informally automatically makes me think of putting it on my calendar. I haven't worked on this much yet, but as a first step I checked to see if this applies to anything coming up, and I did find one upcoming event that was on facebook but not my calendar and added it.

Comment by drossbucket on TSR #8 Operational Consistency · 2018-01-20T12:31:41.021Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I've been reading through this series this week based on seeing your review posts, and have enjoyed it, so thanks! I think this was my favourite of the series, maybe because it covers things I was already thinking about anyway (but also the sentry part was really interesting).

I'm really not a natural at operationalising things, but have come to appreciate it in the last couple of years, mainly through accidentally ending up in a job that's quite ops-heavy and realising I badly needed to get better at it. I like the tone of 'this stuff is often boring and I'm not great at it, but it really pays off' in this series.

I've done a very similar thing to you with breaking down getting up in the morning into lots of steps and realising the cold was an issue - my version is putting a jumper and thick hiking socks nearby to put on immediately. The surprising thing for me was how helpful just having a bunch of steps to do is, almost independent of what they are! Every morning after the alarm goes off my brain spontaneously generates a bullshit story about how today is somehow completely different to all the other days and therefore it's completely reasonable for me to just go back to bed, but I just keep mindlessly plodding through steps and by the time I've finished the voice has shut up and I'm up and drinking a cup of tea.

Comment by drossbucket on Seek Fair Expectations of Others’ Models · 2017-10-21T07:55:35.397Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If I was asked any question of the form 'what's the least impressive X that you are very confident cannot be done in the next Y years?', I would hesitate for a long time because it would take me a long time to parse the sentence and work out what a reply would even consist of.

I think that I am unusually dumb at parsing abstract sentences like this, so that may not apply to any people on the panel, but I'm not certain of that. (I have a physics PhD, so being dumb at parsing abstract sentences hasn't excluded me from quantitative fields.)

I notice that I'm currently unable to intuitively hold the sense of this sentence in my head in one go, but I am able to generate answers anyway, by the method of coming up with a bunch of Xs that I think couldn't be done in two years, and then looking for the least impressive such one. It feels kind of unsatisfying doing that when I can't hold the sense of the whole problem in my head, and that slows me down.

If I was put on the spot in front of lots of people, though, I might just panic about being asked to parse an abstract sentence rather than doing any useful cognitive work, and not come up with much at all.

Comment by drossbucket on Post Fit Review · 2017-10-12T16:51:47.711Z · score: 1 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for replying! I think I was expecting a link post to behave somewhat differently, i.e. take you to a summary page with comments rather than straight off the site. I will crosspost manually in future if I have anything that I feel would be a good fit (also I think the process of manually crossposting might have been enough for me to realise that this specific link was not a great fit).

Comment by drossbucket on Post Fit Review · 2017-10-01T08:12:10.091Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I've posted on the frontpage as a linkpost (included explanation but appears not to show currently), let me know if I should do something different in future.

Comment by drossbucket on Post Fit Review · 2017-09-30T14:06:07.541Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hi, I just wrote a post and was planning on publishing it here. I wanted to check a couple of things first though, as I haven't posted on old or new LW before:

  1. Should I post this to the front page or just to my page?

  2. What's the preferred way of reposting something from elsewhere? Just the link, link with some explanation, or reposting the whole lot here? (I'm happy to do any of these.)

Sorry if I've missed some other post that explains these things.

Comment by drossbucket on The Virtue of Numbering ALL your Equations · 2017-09-30T06:49:20.994Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My second supervisor for my PhD was a big fan of this short essay by David Mermin, which you might like. He got all the new students to read it, and insisted on us always following the three rules there:

Rule 1: Number all your equations.

Rule 2: When referring back to an equation, identify it with a phrase as well as a number so the reader knows what you're talking about.

Rule 3: Punctuate equations like prose.

Good advice for helping the reader along.

Comment by drossbucket on Thinking on the page · 2017-09-27T19:45:12.395Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm a pretty monologuey person myself but still recognise this 'thinking on the page' thing. It's a good way to describe it. I get into a state where I'm just writing... stuff... because it's 'there in my head' for some reason, but doesn't feel like it particularly corresponds to anything.

I've always found the advice you get from the old 'close reading' style of criticism useful for getting out of this state, the kind of thing you'd find in, say, Orwell's Politics and the English Language essay: work at the word level and pick those words carefully. One place where 'thinking on the page' seems to creep in for me is when I start working at the phrase level instead, tacking together premade phrases that already sound good.

Orwell and the New Critics were maybe more interested in doing justice to sensory experience - finding new vivid images instead of stale old ones - rather than doing justice to internal felt meaning, but I think their advice of thinking about the individual words can still work.

Comment by drossbucket on Actors and scribes, words and deeds · 2017-04-27T19:39:21.197Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hm, I think people vary a lot on this. I like to have a blurred outline of a thing before I fill in detailed steps; I find it painful and frustrating to be dragged through detailed logical steps without that context. I find mimesis is good for producing the blurred outline.

Agreed that classes also often go way too fast. University intro maths courses (in the UK at least) are often pretty terrible for this. But I have no problem in principle with people learning a mix of syntax and substance at the same time.

Comment by drossbucket on Actors and scribes, words and deeds · 2017-04-26T18:23:14.017Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I like this, but I don't think mimesis is always a bad thing, at all. It's often a useful stage on the route to deeper understanding. You see this in teaching sometimes: you're trying to teach the cross product, but they're learning that they need to underline their vectors, and that they should put some punctuation and explanatory words between their equations so another person can follow the argument. Eventually they will definitely need to learn both sets of things, but if you just get back vector salad with explanatory words interpolated between it they've still learned something that will be useful in their mathematical career.

I've never been a teaching assistant for a proofs course, but I imagine you have to mark a lot of epsilon salad, because I'm pretty sure I produced a lot of epsilon salad as a student in the course of internalising the language.

These days as a relatively noob programmer it's normally me doing the babbling, and I've used this strategy consciously: offer up some network protocol salad or version control salad and gauge from my boss's face how much it sounds like the real thing. I find that when I've filled in an outline like that and know roughly how to talk a language, it's much easier to fill in the detailed steps.

Comment by drossbucket on Akrasia Tactics Review 3: The Return of the Akrasia · 2017-04-12T17:06:39.758Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I like the sound of the monthly journalling thing - normally I see reviewing included in these things as some kind of virtuous-but-dull thing people make themselves sit down to do at the end of the week or whatever, and it sounds so unappealing I can never be bothered to even try it. Your version sounds pretty enjoyable.

Comment by drossbucket on Akrasia Tactics Review 3: The Return of the Akrasia · 2017-04-10T19:10:30.748Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Cool, I like these sorts of lists! Here's mine:

  1. (Mostly) giving up caffeine. 7 points, ~5 years. Much easier to get up in the morning. I have a single cup of tea maybe once or twice a month if I feel like I need waking up more, and that's enough to do the job now. Best used in combination with another elite lifehack, highly recommended if you can manage it:

  2. Getting enough sleep. 7 points, ~5 years.

  3. Pomodoros. 8 points, ~9 months. Really excellent and not sure why I resisted the idea so long. Turns out lots of half hour blocks really add up, and it's significantly changed how I work. This is a relatively recent thing so probably still overexcited about it.

  4. Keeping my desk clear of paper. 6 points, ~2 years. I used to be awful at having stuff piled up everywhere, which would put me off working at home and convince me that I had to go to a library or something. This works by having box files so that the paper never ends up there in the first place.

  5. Lot of calendar reminder email alerts. 4 points, ~3 years. Not exactly life-changing but I have fewer birthday present buying panics.

  6. Todoist. 3 points, ~9 months. It has Gmail integration so I do check it, and it sort of works, but gets clogged with stale stuff too easily. I generally find todo lists hard though so this is good by my standards.

  7. Beeminder. 5 points (but hard to attach a single number to), used for ~4 months 2 years ago and then stopped. Extremely effective way to simulate the stress of having a lot of external deadlines. It worked brilliantly on a time-sensitive project I had, but too stress-inducing for me to want to use permanently. It did do an excellent job of reminding me what being a productive person felt like, and I'd use it again if I really needed to, but mostly it just made me realise I needed to get my internal motivation working better.

  8. Leechblock type browser extensions. 4 points, used them on and off for ~4 years up to about two years ago. I think the one I liked most was called Crackbook, which added a delay to the page load time instead of outright blocking it. They tend to work OK until they don't. There's no particular reason I stopped using them, except that the problem doesn't seem so urgent now I have a normal full time job and value my free time a bit more.

Comment by drossbucket on CFAR Workshop Review: February 2017 · 2017-03-01T19:23:02.917Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the extra description, that's helpful! I might give the audiobook a go then.

Comment by drossbucket on CFAR Workshop Review: February 2017 · 2017-03-01T19:19:41.694Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks very much! Yes I wasn't really expecting to be able to pick up too much from an online explanation, but a bit of context is nice to decide whether to explore further. It sounds like the audiobook would be a good resource after that.

Comment by drossbucket on CFAR Workshop Review: February 2017 · 2017-02-28T19:28:17.233Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Another question on the subject of Focusing: is anyone able to point to any good online resources explaining what it is / how to try it / any theoretical background it has?

On the one hand, I'm fascinated by pre-verbal, 'embodied' aspects of thinking, and this 'felt sense' idea sounds well worth exploring. On the other hand, as with anything in the self-help-adjacent area there looks to be a lot of dubious stuff and people wanting to sell you things, and if anyone has already looked into this and can save me from wading through the rubbish I'd really appreciate it.

Comment by drossbucket on 2017: An Actual Plan to Actually Improve · 2017-01-29T20:24:59.793Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks, that's useful! A post on this some time sounds good.

Comment by drossbucket on 2017: An Actual Plan to Actually Improve · 2017-01-28T11:18:18.873Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Item eight of your second list ('schematizing everything') sounds really interesting. Is it possible to give some specific examples? I'd like to get clearer on what you mean by 'schematic workflows that other tools can be plugged into'.

Comment by drossbucket on Thoughts on "Operation Make Less Wrong the single conversational locus", Month 1 · 2017-01-20T20:17:20.328Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not a massive fan of the 'postrationality' label but I do like some of the content, so I thought I'd try and explain why I'm attracted to it. I hope this comment is not too long. I'm not deeply involved but I have spent a lot of time recently reading my way through David Chapman's Meaningness site and commenting there a bit (as 'lk').

One of my minor obsessions is thinking and reading about the role of intuition in maths. (Probably the best example of what I'm thinking of is Thurston's wonderful Proof and Progress in Mathematics.) As Thurston's essay describes, mathematicians make progress using a range of human faculties including not just logical deduction but also spatial and geometric intuition, language, metaphors and associations, and processes occurring in time. Chapman is good on this, whereas a lot of the original Less Wrong content seems to have rather a narrow focus on logic and probabilistic inference. (I think this is less true now.)

Mathematical intuition is how I normally approach this subject, but I think this is generally applicable to how we reason about all kinds of topics and come to useful conclusions. There should be a really wide variety of literature to raid for insights here. I'd expect useful contributions from fields such as phenomenology and meditation practice (and some of the 'instrumental rationality' folk wisdom) where there's a focus on introspection of private mental phenomena, and also looking at the same thing from the outside and trying to study how people in a specific field think about problems (apparently this is called 'ethnomethodology'.) There's probably also a fair bit to extract more widely from continental philosophy and pomo literature, which I know little about (I'm aware there's also lots of rubbish).

There's another side to the postrationality thing that seems to involve a strong interest in various 'social technologies' and ritual practices, which often shades into what I'll kind-of-uncharitably call LARPing various religious/traditional beliefs. I think the idea is that you have to be involved pretty deeply in some version of Buddhism/Catholicism/paganism/whatever to gain any kind of visceral understanding of what's useful there. From the outside, though, it still looks like a lot of rather uncritical acceptance of the usual sort of traditional rubbish humans believe, and getting involved with one particular type of this seems kind of arbitrary to me. (I exclude Chapman from this criticism, he is very forthright about what he think is bad/useless in Buddhism and what he thinks is worth preserving.) It's probably obvious at this point that I don't at all understand the appeal of this myself, though I'm open to learning more about it.

Comment by drossbucket on Be secretly wrong · 2016-12-10T10:40:13.893Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I like this post, because I have always been nervous expressing opinions online, and have kind of had to work up to it. The ideas in here sound like good steps. I'm getting a little bit past the 'be secretly wrong' stage at last now, and one helpful step beyond that can be to get a tumblr or similar throwaway blog and just experiment, starting with topics you feel reasonably comfortable talking about. Then slowly crank up the bold claims quotient :)

Comment by drossbucket on Be secretly wrong · 2016-12-10T10:39:11.223Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I also do the 'saying stuff in my head' thing a lot and it is definitely a useful form of writing practice - my main one, in fact, as I'm relatively new to actually writing things down frequently.

I find it's mainly good for practice at the sentence/paragraph level, though, at least at my level of discipline. I tend to end up with fragments that sound good locally, but drift around pretty aimlessly at the global level. Trying to write something down makes me notice that. It's helped me realise that I have a lot to to work on when it comes to focus and structure.