The Fallacy of Large Numbers 2012-08-12T18:39:47.894Z · score: 20 (30 votes)


Comment by dspeyer on What are the open problems in Human Rationality? · 2019-06-03T06:06:52.141Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Dealing with uncertainty about our own logic. It's a circular sort of problem: any logic I use to deal with my potentially flawed reasoning is itself potentially flawed. It gets worse when you deal with potential rationalization.

Comment by dspeyer on Rationalist Seder: A Story of War · 2017-06-04T21:43:55.027Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The idea of rationalist seder is to -- carefully! -- use the effect described in "beware fictional evidence" to promote ideas to our awareness.

We know that "the obviously better thing wouldn't be a Nash equilibrium" traps exist, but we have trouble seeing them, and keep seeing malice and power where there is only desperation. We know that stories can give structure to societies (or, at least, we do if we've read Haidt), but we have trouble seeing it, instead seeing madness and gullibility. We know social structures have both costs and benefits which are difficult to weigh against each other, but tend to see only the side that is effecting us right now.

So I wrote this story, this obviously not true story, stripped to its barest bones, so that it could stick in our heads. So that when we should be noticing the things from the preceding paragraph, a spark of recognition fires in our brains and we generate the hypothesis. Once the hypothesis is generated, we can evaluate it with all the tools at our disposal, and this story will (hopefully) get out of the way.

Comment by dspeyer on Rationalist Seder: Dayenu, Lo Dayenu · 2017-06-04T21:29:40.436Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Two small notes for those who aren't immersed in Judaism:

The "almost has been said" refers to the saying:

Keep two truths in your pocket and take them out according to the need of the moment. Let one be “For my sake the world was created.” And the other: “I am dust and ashes.”

credited to Rabbi Simcha Bunam, a leader of the chassidic movement in the early 19th century. He said, rather than wrote, this, so the exact phrasing may have gotten cleaned up by successive quoters (of which there have been many).

As for the rhythm of dayenu and lo dayenu, that's in the traditional melody (which is itself of uncertain origin, but probably a few centuries old at least). Traditionally, the extra beats are filled in by singing "day-dayenu, day-dayenu, day-dayenu, dayenu, dayenu". Almost as if the melody wanted "lo"s in front of half of the dayenus...

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes Thread January 2016 · 2016-01-09T19:41:33.977Z · score: 2 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I can't avoid all my problems by drawing squirrels, but when I can, I do.

--Randall Munrow

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes Thread January 2016 · 2016-01-05T08:17:15.182Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

There's a sort of Gresham's Law of conversations. If a conversation reaches a certain level of incivility, the more thoughtful people start to leave.

--Paul Graham

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes Thread November 2015 · 2015-12-27T08:28:23.007Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Reverse causation is not ruled out because diagnosis can be delayed.

It seems entirely plausible to me that it takes several months of worsening depression symptoms (during which time sex drive is effected) before a patient sees a psychiatrist.

I suppose it's ruled out if we separate "depression" and "diagnosed with depression" into separate nodes, but that doesn't rule out anything interesting.

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes Thread December 2015 · 2015-12-03T05:35:44.839Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I think the common thread in a lot of these [horrible] relationships is people who have managed to go through their entire lives without realizing that “Person did Thing, which caused me to be upset” is not the same thing as “Person did something wrong”, much less “I have a right to forbid Person from ever doing Thing again”.

--Ozymandias (most of the post is unrelated)

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes Thread November 2015 · 2015-11-04T23:05:14.575Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I agree.

The model I use to derive that involves looking at lots of dying people who don't want to die. If we had lots of people lying around saying "I wish I could die; why can't I die?" that same model would conclude the lifespan is too long.

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes Thread November 2015 · 2015-11-04T10:00:00.947Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Chronology is evidence of causality, but it's weak evidence. In this case, there are (at least) two problems. First, there could be some other factor (disruption of social network? increase in pro-inflamatory microbiota?) which causes both, but the sex is caused faster. Alternatively, it could be that depression causes low sex drive, but that kicks in immediately whereas it takes months to get a depression diagnosis.

There are good ways to determine causality from observational data, but timing isn't one of them.

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes Thread November 2015 · 2015-11-04T09:45:53.046Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Don't trust any model that implies X is too low unless it's also capable of detecting when X would be too high


Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes Thread October 2015 · 2015-10-04T20:02:03.713Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

The smug mask of virtue triumphant could be almost as horrible as the face of wickedness revealed. Almost as horrible, but not quite.

-- Granny Weatherwax. Carpe Jugulum, Terry Pratchett

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes Thread October 2015 · 2015-10-04T19:57:04.724Z · score: 21 (23 votes) · LW · GW

[T]he kind of mirage that came from modern data-dredging capabilities: if you watch trillions of things, you will often see one-in-a-million coincidences.

-- Vernor Vinge, Rainbows End

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes Thread September 2015 · 2015-09-02T17:40:55.224Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Then the most important question for any model would be what domains it's good at.

For example: one model approximates the population as infinite, so it gets decent predictions when the number of agents in each category exceeds five (this is rare).

These requirements to apply the model should be the first thing taught about the model.

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes Thread September 2015 · 2015-09-02T16:07:24.285Z · score: 21 (23 votes) · LW · GW

I consider that I understand an equation when I can predict the properties of its solutions, without actually solving it.

-- Paul Dirac

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes Thread July 2015 · 2015-07-02T15:34:48.145Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

There is the world that should be, and the world that is. We live in one.

And must create the other, if it is ever to be.

-- Jim Butcher, Turn Coat

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes Thread July 2015 · 2015-07-02T06:00:00.275Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Don’t waste time trying to make him think that [your philosophy] is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous — that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about. The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy’s own ground. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?

-- Archfiend Screwtape, The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes Thread July 2015 · 2015-07-02T05:56:04.671Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

There is another proverb, "As you have made your bed, so you must lie on it"; which again is simply a lie. If I have made my bed uncomfortable, please God I will make it again.

-- G. K. Chesterton

Comment by dspeyer on Taking Effective Altruism Seriously · 2015-06-05T17:19:47.670Z · score: 20 (20 votes) · LW · GW

The population of sub-Saharan Africa is around 950 million people, and growing. They have been a prime target of aid for generations, but it remains the poorest region of the world.

In absolute terms, conditions in sub-Saharan Africa have improved a lot. Saying "poorest" only states that it hasn't caught up with the rest of the world, which is also improving.

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes Thread June 2015 · 2015-06-01T06:26:33.086Z · score: 22 (22 votes) · LW · GW

As a general rule, 90% of the execution time of your program will be spent in 10% of its code. Profilers are tools that help you identify the 10% of hot spots that constrain the speed of your program. This is a good thing for making it faster.

But in the Unix tradition, profilers have a far more important function. They enable you not to optimize the other 90%! This is good, and not just because it saves you work. The really valuable effect is that not optimizing that 90% holds down global complexity and reduces bugs.

-- Eric Raymond, The Art of Unix Programming

(Applies to optimization in general)

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes Thread June 2015 · 2015-06-01T06:20:58.934Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW · GW

You are probably not cynical enough if you think you could beat seven billion people at cynicism.

--Alicorn? (I'm not sure exactly how authorship of these pages works)

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes Thread March 2015 · 2015-03-13T04:32:49.628Z · score: 16 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Always take into consideration the fact that you might be dead wrong

--Sam Vimes, Jingo, Terry Pratchett

Comment by dspeyer on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, January 2015, chapter 103 · 2015-03-04T04:10:59.692Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

More immediately relevant:

Even in the world of comic books, the only reason a superhero like Batman even looks successful is that the comic-book readers only notice when Important Named Characters die, not when the Joker shoots some random nameless bystander to show off his villainy.

Comment by dspeyer on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, part 9 · 2015-02-23T23:04:21.660Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Either that or followed

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes Thread February 2015 · 2015-02-19T08:22:37.996Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This seems to be conflating possessing truth and sharing truth. The former is almost always valuable. The latter is an interesting bit of game theory, that can go either way.

As it has been said, truth may be spoken as events dictate, but should be heard on every occasion.

Comment by dspeyer on Rationalist Storybooks: A Challenge · 2015-02-19T05:55:35.966Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Alternative moral: "No matter how great you are, there exists a level of pride sufficient to bring you down."

Comment by dspeyer on Respond to what they probably meant · 2015-01-18T15:11:31.005Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This advice can backfire. If you're applying it and I'm trying to say something you didn't expect, I'm going to get very frustrated -- trying phrasing after phrasing until you hear what I'm actually saying (or I'll walk away).

The advice can also work well.

I think it's necessary to keep per person probabilities for meaning what they say and meaning something novel.

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes January 2015 · 2015-01-10T00:56:14.549Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

What fields do you have in mind?

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes January 2015 · 2015-01-06T11:00:40.465Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree -- make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.

-- Elon Musk

Comment by dspeyer on 2014 Survey Results · 2015-01-04T10:46:18.947Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Do I understand correctly that a more masculine finger ratio correlated strongly to support for feminism in both men and women?

I am also amused to note that, despite our extreme sex ratio, our BEM gender masculinity and femininity are almost exactly equal -- way below error.

Comment by dspeyer on Moloch: optimisation, "and" vs "or", information, and sacrificial ems · 2014-12-26T23:39:37.217Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Here is a source. I can't promise it's the one u/Lumifer meant.

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes April 2014 · 2014-12-15T18:36:28.403Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In that case, the questions have complicated answers. The best dieting advice might be "first sequence your personal microbiome then consult this lookup table..."

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes December 2014 · 2014-12-14T06:22:39.966Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Better, to Death:

For once, Death appeared not to smile.

He brought his hand down on the strings.

There was no sound.

There was, instead, a cessation of sound, the end of a noise which Susan realized she'd been hearing all along. All the time. All her life. A kind of sound you never notice until it stops . . .

The strings were still.

There are millions of chords. There are millions of numbers. And everyone forgets the one that is a zero. But without the zero, numbers are just arithmetic. Without the empty chord, music is just noise.

Death played the empty chord.

The beat slowed. And began to weaken. The universe spun on, every atom of it. But soon the whirling would end and the dancers would look around and wonder what to do next.

It's not time for THAT! Play something else!

--Soul Music, Terry Pratchett

Comment by dspeyer on You have a set amount of "weirdness points". Spend them wisely. · 2014-11-28T15:56:21.474Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Have we worked through the game theory here? It feels like negotiating with terrorists.

Comment by dspeyer on A Cost- Benefit Analysis of Immunizing Healthy Adults Against Influenza · 2014-11-11T08:18:00.493Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Omitting death seems like a big deal. Very crudely, it looks like p=10^-4. It's said that society values each life at $5M, so that's E=-$500 already, but each individual likely values their own life a bit higher.

Comment by dspeyer on Open thread, Nov. 3 - Nov. 9, 2014 · 2014-11-05T21:44:39.537Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The Ferrett often has interesting things to say on the subject.

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes November 2014 · 2014-11-03T07:03:31.318Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Dr. Bowmen is consistently two steps ahead of the base commander. Instead of not causing emergencies, he might just leave better traps. Or nastier ones.

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes November 2014 · 2014-11-01T21:52:29.501Z · score: 36 (38 votes) · LW · GW

It’s easier to bear in mind that the map is not the territory when you have two different maps.

--Eric Raymond on the value of bilinguilism

Comment by dspeyer on 2014 Less Wrong Census/Survey · 2014-10-23T16:26:42.427Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Why would the universe be particularly likely to run an SQL statement in a form question about whether the universe is a simulation? All you have to do is think the attack and


Comment by dspeyer on 2014 Less Wrong Census/Survey · 2014-10-23T16:24:28.949Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's a Google-forms survey. I'm pretty sure they don't do that. Can't blame you for being cautious, though.

Comment by dspeyer on 2014 Less Wrong Census/Survey · 2014-10-23T04:33:19.224Z · score: 57 (59 votes) · LW · GW


Didn't have a scanner, so I traced my hand on a piece of paper with a pencil and measured that. Not sure I got enough accuracy to take seriously. Oh, well.

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes October 2014 · 2014-10-06T21:14:17.171Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It expresses two ideas:

  • Reduction to incentives is such a useful hammer that it's tempting to think of the world as homo economus nails. Like all simplified models, that can be useful, but it can also be dangerously wrong.
  • It isn't very much information to say that people have a price. The real information lies in what that price is. It may be true to say "people are dishonest", but if you want to win, you need to specify which people and how dishonest.
Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes October 2014 · 2014-10-06T21:08:59.809Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Huge success. Sales jumped up in ways that are hard to explain as anything other than the free library's effect.

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes October 2014 · 2014-10-06T20:44:38.119Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How to recognize someone wiser than you is indeed left as an exercise for the reader. And, yes, there will always be uncertainty, but you handle uncertainty in tradeoffs all the time.

Are you seriously claiming the Weasely twins are the wisest characters in HPMoR?

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes October 2014 · 2014-10-06T18:16:28.123Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

"It can get worse, though, can't it?" Fred said, "Isn't that sort of following how people wound up working for Grindlewald?"

"I am talking to you, not to those people. Have you ever come close to doing evil through excess obedience?" the Wolf asked.

"We've hardly ever obeyed at all," George said.

The Wolf waited for the words to sink in.

"But not every act of courage is right," Fred said, "Just because someone is wiser than us doesn't seem like a reason to obey them blindly."

"If one who is wiser than you tells you to do something you think is wrong, what do you conclude?" the Wolf asked patiently.

"That they made a mistake," George said, as if it were obvious.

"Or?" the wolf said.

There was silence. The Wolf's eyes bore into the twins. It was clearly prepared to wait until they found the answer or the castle collapsed.

"Or it could... conceivably... mean we've made... some kind of mistake," Fred muttered at last.

"And which seems more likely?"

"Wisdom isn't everything," George rallied, "maybe we know something they don't, or they got careless --"

"Good things to think about," the Wolf interrupted, "but are you capable of thinking about them?"

"What do you mean?" Fred asked.

"Can you take seriously the idea that you might be wrong? Can you even think of it without my help?"

"We'll try," George said.

"There's more options, though," Fred though aloud, "We don't have to decide on our own whether we're wrong or they are -- we could talk to them. Couldn't we?"

"Sometimes you can," the Wolf said, "and the benefits are obvious. Can you see the costs?"

"It takes time, that we sometimes don't have" George said.

"It could give you all away -- if you're trying to sneak past somebody and you start whispering, I mean," Fred said.

"And it makes extra work for the leader. Overwhelming work if there are many followers," the Wolf added.

"So it's another tradeoff," George said.

"Now you understand. But understanding now and in this place is easy. What is hard is to continue to understand. To make the best choice you can, when all paths may run ill, and one ill fills you with fear but another is only words to you. You have the understanding to make that choice, but do you have the courage?

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes October 2014 · 2014-10-02T15:48:49.437Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

One of the things about the online debate over e-piracy that particularly galled me was the blithe assumption by some of my opponents that the human race is a pack of slavering would-be thieves held (barely) in check by the fear of prison sentences.

Oh, hogwash.

Sure, sure - if presented with a real "Devil's bargain," most people will at least be tempted. Eternal life. . . a million dollars found lying in the woods. . .

Heh. Many fine stories have been written on the subject! But how many people, in the real world, are going to be tempted to steal a few bucks?

-- Introducing the Baen Free Library, Eric Flint

(Which I can no longer find at Baen, but copies are scattered across the internet, including here)

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes October 2014 · 2014-10-02T14:53:36.481Z · score: 19 (21 votes) · LW · GW

Lord Vetinari, as supreme ruler of Ankh-Morpork, could in theory summon the Archchancellor of Unseen University to his presence and, indeed, have him executed if he failed to obey.

On the other hand Mustrum Ridcully, as head of the college of wizards, had made it clear in polite but firm ways that he could turn him into a small amphibian and, indeed, start jumping around the room on a pogo stick.

Alcohol bridged the diplomatic gap nicely. Sometimes Lord Vetinari invited the Archchancellor to the palace for a convivial drink. And of course the Archchancellor went, because it would be bad manners not to. And everyone understood the position, and everyone was on their best behaviour, and thus civil unrest and slime on the carpet were averted.

-- Interesting Times, Terry Pratchett

Comment by dspeyer on Open thread, September 15-21, 2014 · 2014-09-18T04:36:03.406Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't have a link, but I suspect cutting this fine is not very valuable. That last $10k would be a lot to you, but that wouldn't make it more than any other $10k to a charity. Instead, ask how you could come to have a vast amount of disposable income. Including whether it makes sense to spend some money toward that end. You may be able to get a very high rate of return investing in yourself.

Comment by dspeyer on Unpopular ideas attract poor advocates: Be charitable · 2014-09-17T04:27:59.049Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

My experience is the opposite. The worst advocates tend toward the popular ideas.

After all, they became the worst advocates by a complete inability to think straight. So they tend to pick their ideas to champion by popularity.

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes September 2014 · 2014-09-05T16:10:03.320Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · LW · GW

For the opposite claim: If It’s Worth Doing, It’s Worth Doing With Made-Up Statistics:

Remember the Bayes mammogram problem? The correct answer is 7.8%; most doctors (and others) intuitively feel like the answer should be about 80%. So doctors – who are specifically trained in having good intuitive judgment about diseases – are wrong by an order of magnitude. And it “only” being one order of magnitude is not to the doctors’ credit: by changing the numbers in the problem we can make doctors’ answers as wrong as we want.

So the doctors probably would be better off explicitly doing the Bayesian calculation. But suppose some doctor’s internet is down (you have NO IDEA how much doctors secretly rely on the Internet) and she can’t remember the prevalence of breast cancer. If the doctor thinks her guess will be off by less than an order of magnitude, then making up a number and plugging it into Bayes will be more accurate than just using a gut feeling about how likely the test is to work. Even making up numbers based on basic knowledge like “Most women do not have breast cancer at any given time” might be enough to make Bayes Theorem outperform intuitive decision-making in many cases.

I tend to side with Yvain on this one, at least so long as your argument isn't going to be judged by its appearence. Specifically on the LHC thing, I think making up the 1 in 1000 makes it possible to substantively argue about the risks in a way that "there's a chance" doesn't.

Comment by dspeyer on Rationality Quotes August 2014 · 2014-09-03T17:19:55.055Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How does that fact impact the morality of moral philosophers as measured?