Posts

Rationality Quotes Thread March 2016 2016-03-05T18:44:48.980Z · score: 5 (6 votes)
Rationality Quotes Thread February 2016 2016-02-02T18:17:22.039Z · score: 5 (6 votes)
Monthly Bragging Thread January 2016 2016-01-01T16:14:15.640Z · score: 5 (6 votes)
Rationality Quotes Thread January 2016 2016-01-01T16:00:57.019Z · score: 5 (6 votes)
Rationality Quotes Thread December 2015 2015-12-02T11:28:55.845Z · score: 5 (6 votes)
Rationality Quotes Thread November 2015 2015-11-02T12:30:33.213Z · score: 5 (6 votes)
Monthly Bragging Thread October 2015 2015-10-03T13:27:09.622Z · score: 2 (3 votes)
Rationality Quotes Thread October 2015 2015-10-03T13:23:31.855Z · score: 3 (4 votes)
Rationality Quotes Thread September 2015 2015-09-02T09:25:19.804Z · score: 3 (6 votes)
Monthly Bragging Thread July 2015 2015-07-01T11:07:07.666Z · score: 7 (8 votes)
Rationality Quotes Thread July 2015 2015-07-01T11:04:44.958Z · score: 5 (6 votes)
Rationality Quotes November 2014 2014-11-07T19:07:11.917Z · score: 8 (9 votes)
November 2014 Monthly Bragging Thread 2014-11-01T20:49:50.375Z · score: 13 (16 votes)
June Monthly Bragging Thread 2014-06-15T13:26:10.079Z · score: 2 (7 votes)
Rationality Quotes May 2014 2014-05-01T09:45:45.166Z · score: 4 (9 votes)
Rationality Quotes April 2014 2014-04-07T17:25:18.273Z · score: 8 (9 votes)
Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, part 23, chapter 94 2013-07-08T12:04:37.740Z · score: 8 (9 votes)
A New Interpretation of the Marshmallow Test 2013-07-05T12:22:59.433Z · score: 74 (82 votes)
Preparing for a Rational Financial Planning Sequence 2013-05-22T11:48:38.291Z · score: 22 (35 votes)
The Unselfish Trolley Problem 2013-05-17T10:51:56.068Z · score: 5 (18 votes)
The Power of Pomodoros 2013-05-14T10:36:25.710Z · score: 50 (54 votes)
Rationality Habits I Learned at the CFAR Workshop 2013-03-10T14:15:51.757Z · score: 39 (39 votes)

Comments

Comment by elharo on LW 2.0 Open Beta Live · 2017-11-23T02:56:37.781Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry, but it is. Simple test: open a page and view source. Do you see HTML or do you see a big chunk of obfuscated JavaScript?

Browsers today are wicked fast at rendering HTML. They are ungodly slow on anything that replaces HTML with JavaScript. A text-heavy site such as LessWrong is very well served by pure HTML with a small scattering of JavaScript here and there. LessWrong 1.0 isn't perfect markup (too many divs and spans, too little semantic markup) but it is much better designed for speed than 2.0.

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes April 2016 · 2016-04-06T16:19:14.825Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

What science gets wrong, more science sets right. (What religion gets wrong, by way of contrast, more religion rarely sets right.)

-- Dan Savage, American Savage, p. 152

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes Thread March 2016 · 2016-03-06T17:11:04.244Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The long term discussed in that article is multiple generations, and there's still evidence there that wealth does transfer to children and further (e.g. the Swedish doctors). It has little to say about the relative efficacy of social programs vs. direct cash grants in alleviating poverty today.

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes Thread March 2016 · 2016-03-06T01:08:28.963Z · score: -1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

It is comfortable for richer people to think they are richer because of the moral failings of the poor. And that justifies a paternalistic approach to poverty relief using vouchers and in-kind support. But the big reason poor people are poor is because they don’t have enough money, and it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that giving them money is a great way to reduce that problem—considerably more cost-effectively than paternalism.

-- Charles Kenney, "For Fighting Poverty, Cash Is Surprisingly Effective", Bloomberg News, June 3, 2013

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes Thread February 2016 · 2016-02-23T01:33:28.947Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If there’s a single lesson that life teaches us, it’s that wishing doesn’t make it so. Words and thoughts don’t change anything. Language and reality are kept strictly apart—reality is tough, unyielding stuff, and it doesn’t care what you think or feel or say about it. Or it shouldn’t. You deal with it, and you get on with your life.

Little children don’t know that. Magical thinking: that’s what Freud called it. Once we learn otherwise we cease to be children. The separation of word and thing are the essential facts on which our adult lives are founded.

--Professor Fogg in The Magicians by Lev Grossman, p. 248

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes Thread February 2016 · 2016-02-06T13:34:01.097Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect the answer is that grading at U.S. colleges just isn't that important.

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes Thread January 2016 · 2016-01-17T13:11:23.703Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I've experienced this as well, in different contexts. It's depressing to watch birders and even more commonly bird photographers trample on protected habitat just to get a better look at a bird. That being said, there's perhaps a fallacy here. It is absolutely true that some people value their personal comfort and wealth over broader values like environmental protection or the general health of the population, at least some of the time. It is also true that some people pick broader values like environmental protection or the general health of the population, even at some cost to their personal comfort and specific wants, at least some of the time.

Neither statement is true of all people, all of the time. The real questions we should ask are:

1) How many people, how much of the time? 2) Which people? And why? 3) What can we do to require less specific sacrifice in favor of the general good?

Both of these questions are better asked of very specific cases. For instance, you'll get different answers if you talk about, for example, reducing marine speed limits in Florida to protect manatees or installing smokestack scrubbers on coal-fired power plants.

Talking in generalities often avoids the hard work of quantification on real world problems in favor of ideologically motivated displays of tribal allegiance.

Comment by elharo on Why CFAR's Mission? · 2016-01-11T12:02:00.852Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I've learned useful things from the sequences and CFAR training, but it's almost all instrumental, not epistemic. I suppose I am somewhat more likely to ask for an example when I don't understand what someone is telling me, and the answers have occasionally taught me things I didn't know; but that feels more like an instrumental technique than an epistemic one.

Comment by elharo on Why CFAR's Mission? · 2016-01-11T11:56:56.107Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Basically, because it seems to me that if people had really huge amounts of epistemic rationality + competence + caring, they would already be impacting these problems. Their huge amounts of epistemic rationality and competence would allow them to find a path to high impact; and their caring would compel them to do it.

I agree with this, but I strongly disagree that epistemic rationality is the limiting factor in this equation. Looking at the world, I see massive lack of caring. I see innumerable people who care only about their own group, or their own interests, to the exclusion of others.

For example, many people give to ineffective local charities instead of more effective charities that invest their money in the developing world because they care more about the park down the street than they do about differently colored refugees in the developing world. People care more about other people who are closer to them and more like them than they do about different people further away. Change that, and epistemic rationality will take care of itself.

Solutions for the problems that exist in the world today are not limited by competence or epistemic rationality. (Climate change denial is a really good example: it's pretty obvious that denial is politically and personally motivated and that the deniers are performing motivated reasoning, not seriously misinformed. Better epistemic rationality will not change their actions because they are acting rationally in their own self-interests. They're simply willing to damage future generations and poorer people to protect their interests over those of people they don't care about.)

Anna's argument here is a classic example of the fallacy of assuming your opponents are stupid or misinformed, that they simply need to be properly educated and everyone will agree. This is rarely true. People disagree and cause the problems that exist in the world today because they have different values, not because they see the world incorrectly.

To the extent that people do see the world incorrectly, it is because epistemic rationality interferes with their values and goals, not because poor epistemic rationality causes them to have the wrong values and goals. That is, a lack of caring leads to poor epistemic rationality, not the other way around.

This is why I find CFAR to be a very low-effectiveness charity. It is attacking the wrong problem.

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes Thread January 2016 · 2016-01-08T11:14:36.615Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Sometimes a writer has no choice but to hedge a statement. Better still, the writer can qualify the statement—that is, spell out the circumstances in which it does not hold rather than leaving himself an escape hatch or being coy as to whether he really means it. If there is a reasonable chance that readers will misinterpret a statistical tendency as an absolute law, a responsible writer will anticipate the oversight and qualify the generalization accordingly. Pronouncements like “Democracies don’t fight wars,” “Men are better than women at geometry problems,” and “Eating broccoli prevents cancer” do not do justice to the reality that those phenomena consist at most of small differences in the means of two overlapping bell curves. Since there are serious consequences to misinterpreting those statements as absolute laws, a responsible writer should insert a qualifier like on average or all things being equal, together with slightly or somewhat. Best of all is to convey the magnitude of the effect and the degree of certainty explicitly, in unhedged statements such as “During the 20th century, democracies were half as likely to go to war with one another as autocracies were.” It’s not that good writers never hedge their claims. It’s that their hedging is a choice, not a tic.

-- Steven Pinker, Why Academics Stink at Writing (Behind Paywall)

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes Thread November 2015 · 2015-11-02T12:45:14.733Z · score: 3 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I picked up the folders for the two courses required of every student at the school. Statistics and epidemiology. Epi—what?

In the first lecture, we ‘reviewed’ all the major study types. For example, in the case-control study you find a group of people with a disease, and then look for people who are much the same but without the disease. You compare the two groups to see if they have different risks. It’s a relatively cheap method, but it doesn’t tell you much about the order in which things happen. I can’t remember all the examples used in the lecture, but let’s say you want to look at causes of depression in women. You start with 600 depressed women, find another 600 who match them in age, ethnicity and educational status, and then ask them all about their lives. Let’s say you find out that women who are depressed are six times more likely not to have had sex in the last year as women who are cheerful. That means if you’re not having sex you get depressed, right? But hang on, couldn’t it be that women who are moping around looking miserable don’t get laid much?

Perhaps you’d be better off with a cohort study. You start off with several thousand women who are perfectly happy. Then you follow them over time, recording their behaviours, and see which of them get depressed. If you find that women who have sex are less likely to become depressed than women who aren’t getting any, it suggests it is the lack of sex that causes the depression, not the depression which stops you getting laid. You can throw out the ‘misery guts’ theory and recommend more good sex as an intervention to promote mental health.

-- Elizabeth Pisani, The Wisdom of Whores, p. 16

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes Thread November 2015 · 2015-11-02T12:36:20.826Z · score: 8 (12 votes) · LW · GW

The terror that took Baru came from the deepest part of her soul. It was a terror particular to her, a fundamental concern—the apocalyptic possibility that the world simply did not permit plans, that it worked in chaotic and unmasterable ways, that one single stroke of fortune, one well-aimed bowshot by a man she had never met, could bring total disaster. The fear that the basic logic she used to negotiate the world was a lie.

Seth Dickinson, The Traitor Baru Cormorant, p. 292

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes Thread October 2015 · 2015-10-29T16:01:26.375Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Your tactics are self-centered. You have forgotten that you are not the only player on the board, that inherent talent speaks for no more than experience, and that others around you seek to expand their authority and constrain yours. Your error is fundamental to the human psyche: you have allowed yourself to believe that others are mechanisms, static and solvable, whereas you are an agent.

Purity Cartone, in The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson, p. 180

Comment by elharo on On Walmart, And Who Bears Responsibility For the Poor · 2015-09-22T10:17:08.436Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The relative value of a job matters more than the absolute here. When a worker can walk across the street and get the same $15 an hour at McDonalds they do today at Burger King, then Burger King and McDonalds need to compete for employees based on work conditions. Managers get away with abuse only when the salary exceeds the prevailing wage for the skill set, or jobs are hard to find.

Comment by elharo on Bragging thread September 2015 · 2015-09-04T10:20:30.380Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Crossed Genres published Ants on a Trestle, my first SFWA qualifying short story, in their 2065 themed issue.

SF Comet published For Your Safety, another near future, hard SF short story.

Both are available online in their entirety.

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes Thread September 2015 · 2015-09-04T10:14:20.194Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In physics general relativity and quantum field theory are applied to different domains and at least one, possibly both, are widely recognized as mere approximations to the ultimate theory that subsumes them.

I'll defer to Dr. Miller on this if he cares to weigh in, or any other professional economist, but my outsider's impression is that in economics as discussed by Romer the situation is more that contradictory theories are being applied to the same domain, without a serious effort to determine experimentally which (if either) is correct.

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes Thread September 2015 · 2015-09-02T10:00:52.344Z · score: 19 (21 votes) · LW · GW

if we want economics to be a science, we have to recognize that it is not ok for macroeconomists to hole up in separate camps, one that supports its version of the geocentric model of the solar system and another that supports the heliocentric model. As scientists, we have to hold ourselves to a standard that requires us to reach a consensus about which model is right, and then to move on to other questions.

The alternative to science is academic politics, where persistent disagreement is encouraged as a way to create distinctive sub-group identities.

--Paul Romer, NYU, "My Paper “Mathiness in the Theory of Economic Growth

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes Thread September 2015 · 2015-09-02T09:55:07.434Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

if the Taj Mahal happens to be made of white tiles held to brown granite by tan grotte, there is nothing to prevent you from affirming that the Taj Mahal is white and the Taj Mahal is brown and the Taj Mahal is tan, and claiming both tan and brown to lie in the area of significance space we’ve marked as ‘nonwhite’—”

“Wait a second: Part of the Taj Mahal is white, and part of the Taj Mahal is brown, and part of the Taj Mahal is—”

“The solution’s even simpler than that. You see, just like ‘white,’ the words ‘Taj Mahal’ have a range of significance that extends, on one side, at least as far as the gates have set their boundaries around the same area. Treating soft-edged interpenetrating clouds as though they were hard-edged bricks does not offer much help if you want to build a real discussion of how to build a real house. Ordinary, informal, nonrigorous language overcomes all these problems, however, with a bravura, panache and elegance that leave the formal logician panting and applauding

--Samuel R. Delaney, Trouble on Triton, An Ambiguous Heterophobia, 1976

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes Thread September 2015 · 2015-09-02T09:51:20.551Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Our ideal in crafting an argument is a skeptical but friendly audience, suitable to the context. A skeptical audience is questioning of our observations, not swayed by emotional appeals, but not so skeptical as to be dismissive. The ideal audience is curious; humble, but not stupid. It is an idealized version of ourselves at our best,

Max Shron, Thinking with Data, O'Reily 2014

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes Thread August 2015 · 2015-08-15T12:08:34.444Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Only in mathematics is it possible to demonstrate something beyond all doubt. When held to that standard, we find ourselves quickly overwhelmed.

-- Max Shron, Thinking with Data, O'Reilly 2014

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes Thread July 2015 · 2015-07-25T12:35:17.293Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Only in mathematics is it possible to demonstrate something beyond all doubt. When held to that standard, we find ourselves quickly overwhelmed.

Max Shron, Thinking with Data, p. 32

Comment by elharo on Monthly Bragging Thread July 2015 · 2015-07-01T11:12:01.872Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

I had two new short fiction pieces published in the last month. First, Third Flatiron released their Only Disconnect anthology including my flash humor piece Email Recovered from Genetech Debris, Lt. Jeffrey Abramowitz Investigating

Second T. Gene Davis's Speculative Blog published The Valediction.

Comment by elharo on Bragging Thread March 2015 · 2015-03-22T10:35:17.457Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Third Flatiron has published my hard SF short story Net War I in their Spring anthology, The Time It Happened. (Also available from amazon for kindle and paper).

This story is deliberately opaque, but I suspect LessWrong members will be more likely than most to figure out what is really going on.

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes Thread March 2015 · 2015-03-13T22:35:28.728Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Feynman knew physics but he didn't know ornithology. When you name a bird, you've actually identified a whole lot of important things about it. It doesn't matter whether we call a Passer domesticus a House Sparrow or an English Sparrow, but it is really useful to be able to know that the male and females are the same species, even though they look and sound quite different; and that these are not all the same thing as a Song Sparrow or a Savannah Sparrow. It is useful to know that Fox Sparrows are all Fox Sparrows, even though they may look extremely different depending on where you find them.

Assigning consistent names to the right groups of things is colossally important to biology and physics. Not being able to name birds for an ornithologist would be like a physicist not being able to say whether an electron and a positron are the same thing or not. Again it doesn't matter which kind of particle we call electron and which we call positron (arguably Ben Franklin screwed up the names there by guessing wrong about the direction of current flow) but it matters a lot that we always call electrons electrons and positrons positrons. Similarly it's important for a chemist to know that Helium 3 and Helium 4 are both Helium and not two different things (at least as far as chemistry and not nuclear physics is concerned).

Names are useful placeholders for important classifications and distinctions.

Comment by elharo on The Truth About Mathematical Ability · 2015-02-14T17:57:16.985Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I'll let you in on a secret: almost everyone hits the limit in Calculus 2. For that matter, most people hit the limit in Calculus 1 so you were ahead of the curve. That doesn't mean no one understands calculus, or that you can't learn it. It just means most students need more than one pass through the material. For instance, I don't think I really understood integration until I learned numerical analysis and the trapezoidal rule in grad school.

There's a common saying among mathematicians: "No understands Calculus until they teach it."

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes Thread February 2015 · 2015-02-13T12:01:08.707Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In the case of superluminal neutrinos, pretty much nobody including the people who made the announcement believed it; and the real announcement was more along the lines of "we've got some problematic data here; and we can't find our mistake. Does anyone see what we've done wrong?"

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes Thread February 2015 · 2015-02-13T11:54:48.548Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you want to use google instead of science to "prove me wrong" then I am happy to call you an imbecile as well as misinformed.

-- Jennifer Hibben-White, "My 15-Day-Old Son May Have Measles", 02/11/2015

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes Thread February 2015 · 2015-02-01T18:08:19.283Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Absent context, I notice I'm confused about which sense of the word "values" she's using here. Perhaps someone can elucidate? In particular is she talking about moral/ethical type values or is she using it in a broader sense that we might think of as goals?

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes January 2015 · 2015-01-20T12:37:38.404Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's pretty much exactly what the article, and the quoted selection, said. The improved performance of teams with more women is attributed to from gender disparity on the test for "Reading the Mind in the Eyes, which measures how well people can read complex emotional states from images of faces with only the eyes visible."

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes January 2015 · 2015-01-19T12:57:08.628Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

We next tried to define what characteristics distinguished the smarter teams from the rest, and we were a bit surprised by the answers we got. We gave each volunteer an individual I.Q. test, but teams with higher average I.Q.s didn’t score much higher on our collective intelligence tasks than did teams with lower average I.Q.s. Nor did teams with more extroverted people, or teams whose members reported feeling more motivated to contribute to their group’s success.

Instead, the smartest teams were distinguished by three characteristics.

First, their members contributed more equally to the team’s discussions, rather than letting one or two people dominate the group.

Second, their members scored higher on a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes, which measures how well people can read complex emotional states from images of faces with only the eyes visible.

Finally, teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. Indeed, it appeared that it was not “diversity” (having equal numbers of men and women) that mattered for a team’s intelligence, but simply having more women. This last effect, however, was partly explained by the fact that women, on average, were better at “mindreading” than men.

--Anita Wooley, Thomas W. Malone. and Christopher Chabris, Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others, New York Times, January 16. 2015

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes January 2015 · 2015-01-04T13:03:29.369Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Update: JSTOR does not appear to include RUSI Journal. If anyone has access to a library that does have it, please do us a favor and look it up.

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes January 2015 · 2015-01-04T12:59:29.001Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You're vastly overstating the criticisms of S. L. A Marshall. He did not just make up his figures. His research was not an invention. He conducted hundreds of interviews with soldiers who had recently been in combat. The U.S. Army found this research quite valuable and uses it to this day. Some people don't like his conclusions, and attempt to dispute them, but usually without attempting to collect actual data that would weigh against Marshall's.

The Wikipedia article's claim that "Professor Roger J. Spiller (Deputy Director of the Combat Studies Institute, US Army Command and General Staff College) demonstrated in his 1988 article, "S.L.A. Marshall and the Ratio of Fire" (RUSI Journal, Winter 1988, pages 63–71), that Marshall had not actually conducted the research upon which he based his ratio-of-fire theory" appears to be false. Spiller's article criticizes Marshall's methodology and points out a number of weaknesses in his later accounts. However it does not claim that the interviews Marshall described did not take place. Rather it suggests that Marshall intentionally or unintentionally sometimes inflated the number of interviews he had conducted, though it still allows for hundreds to have taken place. The RUSI article doesn't seem to be online, (I'll try and see if JSTOR has a copy) but some relevant portions are quoted here.

I agree that Marshall's evidence is not perfect. I'd be interested to see better evidence, and if it came to different conclusions than he did, using better research techniques, then I would update my beliefs accordingly. Until I am see such research, though I am very wary of poorly sourced ad hominem attacks.

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes January 2015 · 2015-01-02T12:36:50.385Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe. However many scholars and other authors (Isaac Asimov comes to mind) have criticized this tendency in Tolkien. There's an extent to which Middle Earth post-War and the Shire in particular are wish fulfillment. This is what Tolkien wants the world to be. For one recent take see The Anti Tolkien in the latest issue of the New Yorker which gives Michael Moorcock his say:

Moorcock thinks Tolkien’s vast catalogue of names, places, magic rings, and dwarven kings is, as he told Hari Kunzru in a 2011 piece for The Guardian, “a pernicious confirmation of the values of a morally bankrupt middle class.”

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes January 2015 · 2015-01-01T13:46:48.793Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

That is a really clever mixup of different argumentation modes. That being said, Mr. Cochran strangling one of his opponents would still be only weak evidence that it is not so difficult for humans to psych themselves up to kill another human.

First of all, he hasn't actually done it (I presume).

Secondly, we know it's difficult, not impossible.

Thirdly, we know there are sociopaths and psychopaths who can do this without much thought, as well as perhaps normal people who have become desensitized to killing. Fortunately these are a small percentage of the populace.

There is, in fact, a large amount of research that has gone into studying the minds of people who kill: in wartime, in criminal activity, in law enforcement, and so forth; and there is a strong consensus that for most people intentional killing is hard. For example,

In World War Two, it is a fact that only 15-20 percent of the soldiers fired at the enemy. That is one in five soldiers actually shooting at a Nazi when he sees one. While this rate may have increased in desperate situations, in most combat situations soldiers were reluctant to kill each other. The Civil War was not dramatically different or any previous wars.

In WW2 only one percent of the pilots accounted for thirty to forty percent of enemy fighters shot down in the air. Some pilots didn't shoot down a single enemy plane.

In Korea, the rate of soldiers unwilling to fire on the enemy decreased and fifty five percent of the soldiers fired at the enemy. In Vietnam, this rate increased to about ninety five percent but this doesn't mean they were trying to hit the target. In fact it usually took around fifty-two thousand bullets to score one kill in regular infantry units! It may be interesting to not that when Special Forces kills are recorded and monitored this often includes kills scored by calling in artillery or close air support. In this way SF type units could score very high kill ratios like fifty to a hundred for every SF trooper killed. This is not to say these elite troops didn't score a large number of bullet type kills. It is interesting to note that most kills in war are from artillery or other mass destruction type weapons.

If one studies history and is able to cut through the hype, one will find that man is often unwilling to kill his fellow man and the fighter finds it very traumatic when he has to do so. On the battlefield the stress of being killed and injured is not always the main fear.

-- William S. Frisbee, The Psychology of Killing

If you want a more detailed look at this, including lots of references to the original Defense Department research, there are a number of good books by army officers including On Killing by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman. One of the originals is Men Against Fire by World War I Officer S. L. A Marshall. Bruce Siddle's work, more focused on law enforcement, is also worth a look. E.g. Sharpening the Warrior's Edge.

None of these are perfect or irrefutable evidence. For instance, the research I'm aware focuses primarily on U.S. and British troops and police officers. It's certainly possible that this is culturally conditioned and the results might be different elsewhere. However, I've yet to see any strong critiques of the general consensus about the difficulty of killing in war. The best evidence we have is that killing is in fact difficult for most people, most of the time, even in war.

Comment by elharo on Help us name the Sequences ebook · 2014-12-10T13:10:10.977Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Drop the dates in the title. They just make the book seem old and outdated.

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes December 2014 · 2014-12-09T12:30:01.196Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

We're similarly shocked whenever authority figures who are supposed to know what they're doing make it plain that they don't, President Obama's healthcare launch being probably the most serious recent example. We shouldn't really be shocked, though. Because all these stories illustrate one of the most fundamental yet still under-appreciated truths of human existence, which is this: everyone is totally just winging it, all the time.

Institutions – from national newspapers to governments and politicial parties – invest an enormous amount of money and effort in denying this truth. The facades they maintain are crucial to their authority, and thus to their legitimacy and continued survival. We need them to appear ultra-competent, too, because we derive much psychological security from the belief that somewhere, in the highest echelons of society, there are some near-infallible adults in charge.

In fact, though, everyone is totally just winging it.

-- Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian, May 21, 2014

Comment by elharo on Stupid Questions December 2014 · 2014-12-09T12:26:23.331Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Possible, but unlikely. We're all just winging it and as others have pointed out, impostor syndrome is a thing.

Comment by elharo on December 2014 Bragging Thread · 2014-12-03T12:51:33.101Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine has published my flash piece "To the Point" in their January/February issue. It's short (250 words) but at 10 cents a word, it's my first Mystery Writers of America qualifying sale.

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes December 2014 · 2014-12-03T12:39:07.979Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

It strikes me that the original Franklin quote really identifies a specific case of the availability heuristic. That is, when you're focused on safety, you tend to adopt policies that increase safety, without even considering other values such as liberty.

There may also be an issue of externalities here. This is really, really common in law enforcement. For example, consider civil asset forfeiture. It is an additional legal tool that enables police to catch and punish more criminals, more easily. That it also harms a lot of innocent people is simply not considered because their is no penalty to the police for doing so. All the cost is borne by people who are irrelevant to them.

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes November 2014 · 2014-11-27T23:15:18.062Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That someone has never experienced some state X does not imply that they do not have a vision for the state X they wish to achieve in the future. If you want to know what someone's positive vision for the future is, ask them, "What is your vision for a better future?"; not "Have you experienced something better than this in the past?" These are two very different questions.

Most people grow up in some status quo.* That doesn't mean they can conceive of no alternative to that status quo.

  • What qualifies as "status quo" is of course very local to some time, place, and subculture. The status quo described in the article quoted isn't remotely close to anything I've ever seen, but that doesn't mean it isn't an accurate reflection of the status quo at one particular English-speaking university in Montreal in the early teens.
Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes November 2014 · 2014-11-27T20:01:57.684Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm reminded of Eisenhower:

I tell this story to illustrate the truth of the statement I heard long ago in the Army: Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of "emergency" is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning.

-- From a speech to the National Defense Executive Reserve Conference in Washington, D.C. (November 14, 1957) ; in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1957, National Archives and Records Service, Government Printing Office, p. 818 : ISBN 0160588510, 9780160588518

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes November 2014 · 2014-11-27T19:58:59.647Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

SJs? Can you elaborate? I'm not sure what you're referring to.

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes November 2014 · 2014-11-27T14:43:18.451Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This strikes me as a common failing of rationality. Personally I've never really noticed it in politics though. People arguing politics from all corners of the spectrum usually know exactly what they want to happen instead, and will advocate for it in great detail.

However, in science it is extremely common for known broken theories to be espoused and taught because there's nothing (yet) better. There are many examples from the late 19th/early 20th centuries before quantum mechanics was figured out. For example, the prevailing theory of how the sun worked used a model of gravitational contraction that simply could not have powered the sun for anything like the known age of the earth. That model wasn't really discarded until the 1920s and 30s when Gamow and Teller figured out the nuclear reactions that really did power the sun.

There are many examples today, in many fields, where the existing model simply cannot be accurate. Yet until a better model comes along scientists are loath to discard it.

This irrationality, this unwillingness to listen to someone who says "This idea is wrong" unless they can also say "and this alternative idea is right" is a major theme of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

Comment by elharo on November 2014 Monthly Bragging Thread · 2014-11-23T19:00:43.603Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You did. Demand for computer professionals is noticeably higher than the supply. It therefore is much easier to become a highly paid computer professional than a successful doctor/lawyer/teacher/writer/police officer/scientist/musician/real estate agent/salesperson/etc.

Unlike WoW and other MMORPGs, nothing in the real world requires different character classes to be balanced in leveling, power, and effort. Being a computer professional in the early 21st century is like playing the game on easy mode.

Comment by elharo on November 2014 Monthly Bragging Thread · 2014-11-01T21:02:47.166Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Third Flatiron has published my short story Refusing the Call in their winter anthology, Abbreviated Epics. (Also available from amazon for kindle and paper).

This story isn't explicitly rationalist fiction, but I do expect readers will find my protagonist to be a tad more compos mentis than the usual fantasy hero in the Harold Shea/Richard Blade/John Carter/Tarl Cabot/Wiz Zumwalt/Thomas Covenant/Adam Strange/Pevensie mold.

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes October 2014 · 2014-10-21T20:54:44.689Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

if people use data and inferences they can make with the data without any concern about error bars, about heterogeneity, about noisy data, about the sampling pattern, about all the kinds of things that you have to be serious about if you’re an engineer and a statistician—then you will make lots of predictions, and there’s a good chance that you will occasionally solve some real interesting problems. But you will occasionally have some disastrously bad decisions. And you won’t know the difference a priori. You will just produce these outputs and hope for the best.

--Michael I. Jordan, Pehong Chen Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Machine-Learning Maestro Michael Jordan on the Delusions of Big Data and Other Huge Engineering Efforts

Comment by elharo on On Caring · 2014-10-19T10:16:26.858Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As usual, the word "better" hides a lot of relevant detail. Better for whom? By what measure?

Shockingly, in at least some cases by some measures, though, it works better for us if I pay your debt and you pay my debt, because it is possible for a third party to get much, much better terms on repayment than the original borrower. In many cases, debts can be sold for pennies on the dollar to anyone except the original borrower. See any of these articles

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes October 2014 · 2014-10-05T22:07:15.292Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I understand the sentiment and why it's quoted. In fanboy mode though, I think Gryffindor and Ravenclaw are reversed here. I.e. a Gryffindor might sacrifice themself, but would not sacrifice a friend or loved one. They would insist that there must be a better way, and strive to find it. In fiction (as opposed to real life) they might even be right.

The Ravenclaw is the one who does the math, and sacrifices the one to save the many, even if the one is dear to them. More realistically, the Ravenclaw is the effective altruist who sees all human life as equally valuable, and will spend their money where it can do the most good, even if that's in a far away place and their money helps only people they will never meet. A Ravenclaw says the green children being killed by our blue soldiers are just as deserving of life as our own blue children; and a Ravenclaw will say this even when he or she personally feels far more attached to blue children. The Ravenclaw is the one who does not reject the obvious implications of clear logic, just because they are unpopular at rallies to support the brave blue soldiers.

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes October 2014 · 2014-10-04T14:39:49.951Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure that's the real reason a soldier, or someone in a similar position, should obey their leader. In circumstances that rely on a group of individuals behaving coherently, it is often more important that they work together than that they work in the optimal way. That is, action is coordinated by assigning one person to make the decision. Even if this person is not the smartest or best informed in the situation, the results achieved by following orders are likely to be better than by each individual doing what they personally think is best.

In less pressing situations, it is of course reasonable to talk things out amongst a team and see if anyone has a better idea. However even then it's common for there to be more than one good way to do something. It is usually better to let the designated leader pick an acceptable solution rather than spend a lot of time arguing about the best possible solution. And unless the chosen solution is truly awful (not just worse but actively wrong) it is usually better to go along with the leader designated solution than to go off in a different direction.

Comment by elharo on Rationality Quotes September 2014 · 2014-09-30T11:15:27.954Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thinking back to my own religious high school education, I realize that the ethics component (though never called out as such, it was woven into the curriculum at every level) was indeed important; not so much because of the specific rules they taught and didn't teach; as simply in teaching me that ethics and morals were something to think about and discuss.

Then again, this was a Jesuit school; and Jesuit education has a reputation for being somewhat more Socratic and questioning than the typical deontological viewpoint of many schools.

But in any case, yay for personal finance.