The Limits of Curiosity 2011-03-10T15:20:54.978Z
The Illusion of Sameness 2011-01-22T06:41:33.992Z


Comment by Elizabeth on Being a teacher · 2011-03-15T03:12:28.661Z · LW · GW

I find myself in the opposite position, because math always came very easily to me, and yet I've had a lot of success tutoring it. I think, though, that that largely comes out of my interest in why it worked rather than how, and my ability to make connections that weren't explained to me.

Comment by Elizabeth on The Limits of Curiosity · 2011-03-12T04:00:45.545Z · LW · GW

That's precisely what I'm trying to avoid with that particular area of anti-curiosity! Do you know how much time I'd spend on something like that if I started?

Comment by Elizabeth on The Limits of Curiosity · 2011-03-11T17:16:03.438Z · LW · GW

Too much anti-curiosity can easily lead to too much comfort, which is why I suggest periodic uncomfortable examination of areas of anti-curiosity.

Comment by Elizabeth on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-03-10T13:07:36.845Z · LW · GW

Yes, if I have emailed someone and typed their name, I will remember it. My problem is that generally I have no reason or means to write the names I'm having trouble remembering.

Comment by Elizabeth on Ability to react · 2011-02-19T04:29:13.692Z · LW · GW

I'm pretty sure you'd put me in your 'quick to react' category. I'm the person who remains calm in stressful situations and figures out what to do. I don't think it's a matter of shutting off my internal monologue (my internal monologue never shuts off) but of redirecting it. I tend to be fairly good at thinking about what I want to be thinking about. Useful in a crisis, really bad when I'm procrastinating.

I also tend to be really good at connecting and remembering information, and at taking tests, though, so I'm not sure that the skills are in opposition. I suspect that thinking on your feet and being able to retain and synthesize information are separate skills, but much more effective when put together.

Comment by Elizabeth on Ability to react · 2011-02-19T04:18:08.897Z · LW · GW

I disagree about people being born "good public speakers." I have no stress symptoms when I speak in front of groups of people. I find it quite comfortable. I have experienced an occasional butterfly if I'm going to be on a stage with lights and everything, but that's more anticipation than anything else. I do get a bit of stage fright singing in front of other people, but that's more a matter of extensive early criticism of my singing than difficulty making a fool of myself in front of a group.

Comment by Elizabeth on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-17T05:47:46.008Z · LW · GW

Principles for growing long hair:

  • It takes a long time. I've been growing mine for fourteen years, and it was at least seven before it was long enough to be at all remarkable. Growth rates vary, and mine isn't all that fast (4-5 inches a year), but it may be a long time. Don't get fed up and chop it all off.
  • Stop doing damaging things. No more blow-drying or coloring or straightening or curling. Minimize the amount of product you put in. Never tease your hair.
  • Get trims. A half inch trim every three months or so will take off the split ends and make your hair healthier.
  • Conditioner is your friend. Use it liberally. As your hair gets longer, less of it will have any exposure to scalp oils. Be sure to condition all of your hair, not just the ends. I always brush my hair with the conditioner in it before I rinse. This makes sure the conditioner is evenly distributed and there are no tangles.
  • Braid your hair before sleep to prevent tangles, and brush gently. Work knots out patiently, don't just tear through them.
  • Don't wash your hair every day. Every other day is plenty for hygiene purposes, and more often is hard on your hair.
  • Once your hair is too long to brush in a single stroke, pull it back in a bunch like a ponytail, and then pull it over your shoulder. Brush from the bottom up. *Bear in mind that not all people can grow their hair really long. Every hair follicle has a cycle, which is why your eyebrows don't grow down to your chin. The length a hair from a particular follicle can reach is the duration of the cycle times the rate of growth. These factors vary from person to person, and can also vary within a person's lifetime. If your hair gets to a certain length and the ends get really straggly even though you're taking good care of it, it may have reached its limit.

These principles should work for varied hair types, and should allow you to get your hair long. Hopefully, by the time it's really long, you'll be used to it and won't do anything stupid, like the time I did a backbend, adjusted my feet, and then tried to stand up without realizing I was standing on my hair.

Comment by Elizabeth on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-09T21:32:06.086Z · LW · GW

It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I first consciously noticed that I was incapable of using other people's names to their faces. I could do it with immediate family, and I could do it in third person "Howard was telling me..." I have since made strenuous efforts to get better at it, but it is still really psychologically difficult. That's also when I realized that it was almost impossible for me to leave a message on an answering machine. I'm working on that one too, but doing so is a serious effort. One of my roommates my freshman year of college had the same issues, but neither of us had a clue why.

Comment by Elizabeth on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-09T21:28:41.469Z · LW · GW

Having people spell their names does sometimes help, but also tends to be a bit awkward. I occasionally wish everyone would just get their names tattooed on their foreheads!

Comment by Elizabeth on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-09T18:52:42.108Z · LW · GW

They just gave it to me after I'd been there once or twice, but I suspect that if you pointed out that you just want a straight line and asked nicely, they might give it to you. If that is what you want, and have a friend or relative you trust to cut a straight line, it is also one of the few hairstyles that can be trusted to a nonprofessional. Just make sure you get a pair of good sewing scissors first.

Comment by Elizabeth on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-09T18:46:33.826Z · LW · GW

I am terrible at remembering names. This is bad in itself, but exacerbated by a few factors:

  • I regularly have lengthy conversations with random strangers, and will be able to easily summarize the conversation afterwords, but will have no recollection of their name.

  • I am fairly noticeable and memorable, so even people whose names I have no reason to know will know mine.

  • I am not particularly good with faces either.

This isn't a memory problem, I can quote back conversations or remember long strings of numbers. I often cope by confessing to my weakness in a self-deprecating manner, or by simply not using names in direct address (it's generally not necessary in English), but these don't actually help me learn names. If I remembered to ask their name early on, I sometimes pause mid-conversation to ask "Are you still x?" but that is somewhat awkward and I'm wrong half the time anyway. The only time I can reliably remember is if they share the name of an immediate family member.This is bad enough that I'll sometimes be five or six classes into the semester and have to check the syllabus to figure out the professor's name, or will have been in multiple classes with someone and shared several conversations and still not know their name.

Comment by Elizabeth on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-09T18:25:07.401Z · LW · GW

It depends on where you live and what sort of cut you want. My haircuts are ridiculously cheap, because I have long, straight hair and I just want a straight line across the bottom, so they generally charge me the child's price ($10). Fair warning, though, I may get charged less out of sheer novelty, because my hair comes to my knees, or because I always wash my hair at home before going, rather than having them wash it for me there, because my hair is simply too long to be washed in a sink.

I have lots of hair advice, but it is largely limited to very long hair, and thus minimally useful, and not worth using space on. If anyone wants advice on having or growing long hair, I'll be happy to respond.

Comment by Elizabeth on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-08T19:17:52.647Z · LW · GW

I don't get instant recall for left and right, but when I was learning to drive, the teacher would say "turn left ahead" and I would automatically turn on the correct blinker, and then have to pause to figure out which way to turn.

Comment by Elizabeth on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-08T06:43:39.792Z · LW · GW

I don't know if anyone can help me with this, but how do I tell the difference between flirting and friendliness? I grew up in pretty much total social isolation from peers, so neither really ever happened, and when they happen now I can't tell which is which. Also, how do you go from talking to someone at the beginning/end of class (or other activity) to actually being the kind of friends who see each other elsewhere and do activities together?

Edit: Thank you, this is good advice. Does anyone have any advice on how to tell with women? I'm bi, and more interested in women, and they are much harder to read than men on the subject, because women's behavior with female friends is often fairly flirty to begin with.

Comment by Elizabeth on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-08T06:35:17.723Z · LW · GW

Thanks for the link. I did not know I was folding fitted sheets wrong (generally I take my sheets off the bed, wash them, and put them back on) but Martha Stewart's instructions seem clear and logical.

Comment by Elizabeth on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-08T06:24:04.786Z · LW · GW

If you know the alphabet song, the melody naturally (at least to me) separates the alphabet into a few groups: ABCDEFG HIJKLMNOP QRS TUV WX YZ. This may be easier than memorizing divisions.

Comment by Elizabeth on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-08T06:00:42.371Z · LW · GW

If you don't want to go to a speech therapist, a friend with some linguistics training or a voice (singing) teacher may be able to listen and tell you where to put your tongue, etc.

I, too, have a related problem. I have great difficulty controlling my volume. That is largely hereditary (or nurtured by my family environment), but the real problem is that I can't hear when I'm too loud. There are certain triggers (being excited, interrupted, or in the presence of my mother) but they are not really triggers I can avoid, and I can't see a way to fix it. The obvious solution is to have someone tell me when I'm too loud, but being interrupted for that purpose tends to make me involuntarily louder.

Comment by Elizabeth on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-08T05:50:14.294Z · LW · GW

It's both inborn and learned. (Like a musical ear: you get what you get, but you can make it better if you work at it). A bird's eye view is the way to do it, there was an interesting bit on Radiolab recently about languages that rely on dead reckoning, and people keep track of it with a bird's eye map in their heads. If you can figure it out with pencil and paper, do that often. Eventually you will be able to do it without the pencil and paper. If you aren't generally good at mental representations of spatial or visual things, it will take longer.

Comment by Elizabeth on The Illusion of Sameness · 2011-01-22T18:39:50.725Z · LW · GW

That wasn't really the nature of the shock. It wasn't that they got their news from conservative sources, or that their beliefs were different from mine. I have no trouble with the concept of people who believe fundamentally different things are desirable. Just because I believe that preserving the environment is desirable, for example, doesn't mean others will. My shock was that they believed in fundamentally different facts. I had difficulty with the difference in belief about what is true, not the difference in what to do about it.

Comment by Elizabeth on The Illusion of Sameness · 2011-01-22T18:31:36.750Z · LW · GW

I think you're right, but suspect I will have more difficulty with the first than with the second. I am honestly curious about almost everything, which is a decent stand-in for spinning lack of knowledge as a personal deficit, but I am very bad at not speaking. I work at it, but I remain someone whose default setting is to babble at random people on the street. I'm better at "tactfully noncommittal" than I used to be, but I'm still pretty bad at it.

Comment by Elizabeth on The Illusion of Sameness · 2011-01-22T15:16:37.358Z · LW · GW

I wouldn't expect an intelligent conservative to posit it either. That was the largest part of my shock; not that intelligent people were conservative, but that people I thought intelligent were spouting views that I correlated more closely with "Get your government hands off my Medicare." than with any thoughtful conservative analysis.

That encounter (among others) has changed my beliefs about the beliefs of others, and I do talk to many people of differing views. My most strongly held belief that was shaken, though, was the belief that intelligent people who disagree can at least find sufficient common factual ground to determine the precise nature of their disagreement, if not to come to consensus. Belief-as-attire is the best explanation I've seen for that, but it doesn't help me much in interacting with such believers, since by the time I've determined their beliefs they have determined mine, and identified me as an outsider.

Comment by Elizabeth on Rationalist Clue · 2011-01-12T06:49:03.055Z · LW · GW

I'd like to give it a shot too

Comment by Elizabeth on Efficient Charity: Do Unto Others... · 2011-01-02T16:47:21.572Z · LW · GW

I agree with you completely about consumption vs. charity, and had even mentioned the concept in my point about NPR donation guilt.

I also agree that the close number is wildly inaccurate, but even in context it wasn't applied to local charities and it was intended to make the point that multiple factors could and should be considered when picking charities, even when the importance multipliers on some factors are orders of magnitude higher than for other factors.

I hope this clarifies my meaning without defensiveness, because none was meant.

Comment by Elizabeth on Working hurts less than procrastinating, we fear the twinge of starting · 2011-01-02T03:50:13.652Z · LW · GW

Thank you, I do exactly the same thing. I have anxiety about not having started the work but if I can't start the work because to do that I have to stop doing the things distracting me from my anxiety. Sometimes it gets bad enough that I can't even sit still long enough to do the distracting activities, much less anything productive.

Comment by Elizabeth on Efficient Charity: Do Unto Others... · 2010-12-26T15:59:15.924Z · LW · GW

My point was that it is not any more wrong to spend money on public radio than to spend money on cable tv or a new iPod. Yes, in theory all my money not spent on food and shelter could go to saving children, but you are not going to do that, I am not going to do that, and no one either of us knows is going to do that.

Comment by Elizabeth on Efficient Charity: Do Unto Others... · 2010-12-26T15:48:31.269Z · LW · GW

I didn't say that other goals could compete, but there are other goals that can be considered simultaneously. If one charity saves ten children for $100 and another saves nine and accomplishes a few other things, that is not a choice we should make mindlessly. we can't let "saving children become a buzzword that cuts off thought. What if the second charity saves the children from death and gives them some skills that will help them make a living and help their communities? In that case, I would probably choose the second charity. Think of it as a linear algebra problem, with numerous parameters with different weights. You end up with an optimal solution for all variables together rather than for a single variable alone. Just because saving children is the most heavily weighted variable doesn't mean that it is the only one.

Comment by Elizabeth on Efficient Charity: Do Unto Others... · 2010-12-25T16:28:25.630Z · LW · GW

I just had a conversation with my father on this subject which significantly clarified my thinking, and resolved most of my internal dilemma. The argument put forward in this post is correct, but there is one significant problem. I care about more than just saving children. I also care about how efficiently it is done, what peripheral good a charity is doing in the community by, say, employing locals, and any number of other things. "Children saved" is an important metric and should absolutely be considered, and it is a decision that should be made carefully, but it is not the only metric to consider. We should spend our money efficiently, but we first need to clarify our goals in order to do so, and "saving children" is not necessarily our only goal, even in cases where it is primary.

Comment by Elizabeth on Efficient Charity: Do Unto Others... · 2010-12-25T05:15:39.769Z · LW · GW

I find I run into a conundrum on this question, because there is a bias I fear overcompensating for. I know as a human that I am biased to care more about the one person standing in front of me than those ten thousand people starving in India that I'll never meet, but I find it difficult to apply that information. I know that donating money to, say, those malaria nets, will probably save more lives than donating to, say, my local food pantry. By these arguments, it seems that that fact should trump all, and I should donate to those malaria nets.

However, I know that my local food pantry is an organization that feeds people who really need food, that it has virtually no overhead, and that there are children who would be malnourished without it. I also know that there are people all over the world who will contribute to malaria nets, but it is highly unlikely that anyone outside my community will contribute to my local food pantry.

I agree that it is vitally important to think carefully about how we spend our charity money, and I understand that the difficulty I am having with this topic is an indication that I need to think more deeply on it, but I keep coming up against two basic issues.

  • There is no simple metric for "most good done." What if one disease costs little to prevent death, but leaves survivors crippled, while another costs much more to prevent death but leaves people healthy? Should I donate to the first, and burden the communities with many cripples, or to the second, and let people die? With food and medical care costing more in the developed world, should I only donate to help those in the undeveloped world, where my dollar will go farther?

  • Should I feel guilty for donating money to public radio because it doesn't save children? No. My purpose in donating money to public radio is to keep my favorite shows on the air, and my donations do that very efficiently. Yes, the money could go to save children, but so could the money I use to pay my cable bill. I should perhaps not consider it as charity the way I do a donation that saves children, but I should not feel guilty. If I have $500 allocated for entertainment and $500 allocated for charity, perhaps it should come out of the former. However, it would be disingenuous to say that donations for more frivolous causes, such as saving artwork, could be donated to better causes, such as malaria nets, unless we also point out that what we spent on our fancy dinner or our new dress or going to the movies could also be thus allocated.

Comment by Elizabeth on Fake Reductionism · 2010-12-23T16:09:22.350Z · LW · GW

I suppose we must quote back Millay: "Euclid alone has looked on beauty bare"

Comment by Elizabeth on The Santa deception: how did it affect you? · 2010-12-22T15:47:00.064Z · LW · GW

I don't remember believing in Santa Claus. I don't remember how exactly I came to disbelieve. I do remember a conversation with my mother (I can't have been more than five) in which I stated my disbelief and she asked me not to share it with my younger brother, so that he could believe for another year or so. I don't remember any great emotional upheaval. I also don't think my parents went to any particular lengths to preserve the delusion.

Comment by Elizabeth on The Trolley Problem: Dodging moral questions · 2010-12-09T06:37:03.658Z · LW · GW

There is a major flaw in your proposal: the bottom 40% would not be in favor. Some of them would be, but there is a demonstrable bias which causes people to be irrationally optimistic about their own future wealth. This bias is a major factor in the Republicans maintaining much of their base, among other things.

However, to answer your question, while I would not favor your proposal, I would favor a tax on all of that top ten percent which would garner the same revenue as your proposal.

Comment by Elizabeth on Defecting by Accident - A Flaw Common to Analytical People · 2010-12-03T05:24:57.687Z · LW · GW

This post helped coalesce a number of observations I had made in the past, so I would like to leave aside the debate over whether the examples of politeness are optimal and look at a couple of other points.

One point which I haven't seen much of in comments is the relationship between how well people know each other and how polite they need to be. If people know you well, then they know enough to give you the benefit of the doubt if a comment can be taken multiple ways. If, however, they have only just met you or interact with you mostly in formal settings, that extra bit of politeness can go a very long way.

  • A little politeness is particularly effective when dealing with people who are being paid to do something for you, such as waiters or salespeople, or with people in bureaucracies from whom you need something. While it is not strictly necessary to be polite in these cases, it will often get you better service.

  • Unless you have a particularly close-knit workplace, that is also an arena where a little extra politeness is a good idea. You certainly don't want to offend your boss, and your coworkers will likely react better to constructive criticism than straight criticism.

  • The last, and most overlooked, of the areas where social niceties are important is the internet. Here, not only are you often talking to people who don't know you well, but they are also deprived of tone of voice and facial expressions, which provide important clues about intent. A comment which would be perfectly polite with a pleasant smile can seem downright rude in plain text.

Another point is that Less Wrong is not a place without social codes, it simply has it's own. Whether these codes are more rational than standard social mores is irrelevant when it comes to dealing with people who don't know them. Social codes are another type of language, and the most important factor in communication with language is speaking a common tongue. If the lojbanists succeeded in creating a perfect, logical, utilitarian language, the fact remains that it would not be particularly useful in ordering a milkshake at McDonald's. When someone butchers the English language, even if I did understand what they meant to say, I am bothered, and it affects my impression of their statement. This holds true for politeness as well.

Comment by Elizabeth on Activation Costs · 2010-11-28T07:46:10.685Z · LW · GW

The single most useful tactic I have for lowering activation costs is playing podcasts and audiobooks on my iPod. It lowers the activation cost for household chores like dishes significantly, and it is particularly effective in lowering activation costs for outdoor exercise. Impending boredom is the highest part of the activation cost for tasks that involve leaving my computer.

Comment by Elizabeth on Anti-Akrasia Technique: Structured Procrastination · 2010-11-28T07:29:25.860Z · LW · GW

The neatness of my bedroom is a fairly reliable barometer of how many papers I have due, and when I first consciously noticed that phenomenon a few years ago, I started to attempt to take advantage of it. However, I have discovered that there are more constraints than just having something more important I should be doing. When I'm procrastinating badly I find it almost impossible to sit still long enough to settle to anything. I can clean or do errands, but I require a podcast to keep me entertained. I had great success getting myself to practice piano, and indeed achieved daily practice for the better part of six months, but piano also had the advantage of being something I could effectively practice in ten minute bursts, rather than requiring a more sustained effort, and it involves movement. Sitting still becomes such a great effort of willpower that I can't accomplish anything, even fun projects or reading fiction. If anyone has suggestions for overcoming that particular hurdle, I suspect it would help my procrastination significantly.

Comment by Elizabeth on Do We Believe Everything We're Told? · 2010-11-28T06:38:25.866Z · LW · GW

As someone who spends a lot of time on the student side of those math classes (and as the student in the class who almost always catches those typographical errors), I suspect that there are students who notice the error but don't comment for social reasons (don't want to interrupt, don't want to be a know-it-all, don't want to be publicly erroneous in a correction, etc.). Your solution of giving students problems, while an excellent teaching tool, is not a particularly good test for this phenomenon because it fails to distinguish between students who really do miss the errors because they assume you are right and the students who noticed but didn't speak up, or those who simply weren't paying attention in the first place.

Comment by Elizabeth on Diplomacy as a Game Theory Laboratory · 2010-11-28T03:31:15.020Z · LW · GW

I would also quite like to play.

Comment by Elizabeth on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread · 2010-11-07T05:21:44.550Z · LW · GW
  1. Yes, I had registered an account, and had managed ten whole karma points as of this post, of which I am rather proud.
  2. I have been reading through the sequences.
  3. I've found a lot of the biases fascinating, particularly when it comes to testing a hypothesis, and I just finished a sequence on words and definitions, which I quite enjoyed.
  4. I've attempted to refer a couple people, but found that my brother had already found Less Wrong independently (and hadn't told me about it!).
Comment by Elizabeth on Words as Mental Paintbrush Handles · 2010-10-17T19:11:31.010Z · LW · GW

Much of this discussion seems to be people expressing differences in their own internal processes when it comes to visualization, reading, etc. This seems to me to be directly connected with a concept it took me many years to learn and which still feels unnatural to me: not all people think the same way. Even if one assumes that people all have identical brains at birth (which is not true, but useful for the sake of this argument) our brains start with a vast number of connections, and then as we age and gain experience those connections are pruned, so that we retain only the connections we use. The parts of our brain we use to process specific types of data would then be reinforced to process that data in the future, and our thinking would diverge.

This is a topic particularly prone to argument because whether or not other people think the same way we do is a difficult concept to think about, but the comments on this article are strong evidence that people at least perceive their mental processes differently. I cannot think of a good experiment to validate our different internal perceptions, but I think it would be overhasty to try to denounce other people's perceptions of how they process certain data such as visualizations.

I personally cannot picture my mother's face. I cannot picture my childhood bedroom. I can describe them in my head with words, but that is all. I can, however, rearrange the furniture in a room in my head and be sure that it will fit, or perceive the three dimensional shape described by a calculus problem. It feels to me like proprioception. I cannot say that with certainty, as I don't have a test for it, but the evidence of my own perceptions, and the evidence of, for example, the visualize-a-tiger experiment (in which some people had visualized it down to the stripes and others were taken aback by the question), both contribute to my belief that the parts of my brain I use to perceive certain data are not necessarily the same as yours, and that different mental abilities, such as visualization, are found at different strengths in different people.

Comment by Elizabeth on Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010-2011) · 2010-10-17T17:41:03.510Z · LW · GW

My name is Elizabeth, and I made my way here through "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality," but quickly found myself fascinated. I've been reading intermittently for a few months, and would likely not be posting here today due to an unfortunate personal tendency towards lurking and the sheer daunting nature of the volume and intelligence of discussion, but when I was reading about narrowness I came across a comment I couldn't help responding to, and decided my newfound positive karma score was worth overcoming my trepidation about permanent records.
I've most recently been reading about the nature of words and definitions, which is a topic of particular interest to me. I really like it when a post walks me through a set of ideas that I sort of half knew, but never really codified, and I like it even better when it's something I had never thought of, or which changes how I think of things. Some of the posts about biases were particularly effective in that regard. I hope to be a productive part of the discussion.

Comment by Elizabeth on The Virtue of Narrowness · 2010-06-13T03:42:14.218Z · LW · GW

The problem with harping on everything is connected is that it is, but good systems are created bottom up instead of top down. You didn't sit down and say "All statistical problems are governed by overarching concept X, which leads to the inference of methods a, b, and c, which in turn lead to these problems." You said, "I have these problems, and certain similarities imply a larger system." It's like biology, Linnaeus did not come up with his classification system out of thin air, he first studied many individual animals and their properties and only subsequently noticed similarities and differences which he could classify. Narrowness is where we need to start, because it gives us the building blocks for broader ideas.