Regression To The Mean [Draft][Request for Feedback] 2012-06-22T17:55:51.917Z
The Dark Arts: A Beginner's Guide 2012-01-21T07:05:05.264Z
What would you do with a financial safety net? 2012-01-16T23:38:18.978Z


Comment by faul_sname on Learning Russian Roulette · 2021-04-05T22:45:18.687Z · LW · GW

I'm not convinced this is a problem with the reasoner rather than a problem with the scenario.

Let's say we start with an infinite population of people, who all have as a purpose in life to play Russian Roulette until they die. Let's further say that one in a trillion of these people has a defective gun that will not shoot, no matter how many times they play.

If you select from the people who have survived 1000 rounds, your population will be made almost entirely out of people with defective guns (1 / 1e12 with defective guns vs 1/6e80 with working guns who have just gotten lucky).

Alternatively, we could say that none of the guns at all are defective. Even if we make that assumption, if we count the number of observer moments of "about to pull the trigger", we see that the median observer-moment is someone who has played 3 rounds, the 99.9th percentile observer-moment has played 26 rounds, and by the time you're up to 100 rounds, approximately 99.999999% of observer-moments are from people who have pulled the trigger fewer times than you have survived. If we play a game of Follow the Improbability, we find that the improbability is the fact that we're looking at a person who has won 1000 rounds of Russian Roulette in a row, so if we figure out why we're looking at that particular person I think that solves the problem.

Comment by faul_sname on A Motorcycle (and Calibration?) Accident · 2018-03-28T06:18:36.154Z · LW · GW

For example, let's say that I think I have about 20 years left to live (because of AI timelines). Then a micromort is 10 expected minutes of life lost. According to Wikipedia, skydiving costs 9 micromorts per jump so I lose 90 expected minutes of life every jump. Also according to Wikipedia, motorcycling costs 1 micromort every 6 miles so I lose about 2 expected minutes of life per mile I spend motorcycling.

An interesting conclusion here is that if you save more than 2 minutes per mile (going 15 mph instead of 10mph, for example) of time sitting in traffic by riding a motorcycle instead of driving a car, the number of not-sitting-in-traffic minutes of your life actually increases by riding your bike.

Though note that the above calculation assumed that your risk of dying in a motorcycle crash while weaving through stopped traffic is not higher than 1/6 micromorts per mile. Also note that if your expected life span is 60 years, you now need to save 6 minutes per mile to "break even", which is unlikely -- if traffic is moving that slowly (remember that this is based on the average speed across the entire trip) you're probably better off walking.

Comment by faul_sname on How often do you check this forum? · 2017-02-02T18:19:39.438Z · LW · GW


Comment by faul_sname on A problem in anthropics with implications for the soundness of the simulation argument. · 2016-10-20T20:36:10.366Z · LW · GW

How many seconds have you been in the room?

Let's say the time between t1 and t2 is 1 trillion seconds. Let us further assume that all people go through the rooms in the same amount of time (thus people spend 1 second each in room A, and 1 million seconds each in room B).

100 trillion of the 100.1 trillion observer moments between 0 and 1 seconds in a room occur in room A. All of the observer moments past 1 second occur in room B (this is somewhat flawed in that it is possible that the observers don't all spend the same amount of time in a given room, but even in the case where 100 million people stay in room A for 1 million seconds each, and the rest spend zero time, an observer who's been in a room for 1 million seconds is still overwhelmingly likely to be in room B. So basically the longer you've been in the room, the more probably you should consider it that you're in room B).

If an observer doesn't know how long they've been in a given room, I'm not sure how meaningful it is to call them "an" observer.

Comment by faul_sname on Lesswrong 2016 Survey · 2016-03-27T07:06:10.004Z · LW · GW

I have taken the survey.

Comment by faul_sname on Shut Up And Guess · 2016-01-19T10:04:31.544Z · LW · GW

What does 0.01% on the wrong answer get you?

Comment by faul_sname on Yudkowsky's brain is the pinnacle of evolution · 2015-08-26T08:24:41.633Z · LW · GW

It was a memetic hazard.

(not really)

Comment by faul_sname on Open Thread - Aug 24 - Aug 30 · 2015-08-25T06:38:58.666Z · LW · GW

I'm not sure, not having read the paper, but I would expect that "Lifetime manic features at age 22-23 years" means "number of manic features experienced in the time prior to 22-23 years of age" (i.e. we measured IQ of a bunch of 8-year-olds 15 years ago, and those people are now in the range of 22-23 years of age, and we ask how many manic episodes they've had in that time).

Comment by faul_sname on Crazy Ideas Thread, Aug. 2015 · 2015-08-13T08:19:15.442Z · LW · GW

Why tunnels, not canals? Particularly in the case of Denver, you've got a huge elevation gain, so you'd need the locks anyway, and digging tunnels is expensive (and buying farmland to put your canal through is relatively cheap).

Comment by faul_sname on I need a protocol for dangerous or disconcerting ideas. · 2015-07-13T10:03:48.378Z · LW · GW

How difficult would this be, out of curiosity, keeping in mind that you don't need 100% accuracy? I can think of a couple approaches, though probably nothing that would be supported by any revenue model I can think of off the top of my head.

Comment by faul_sname on The Brain as a Universal Learning Machine · 2015-06-21T19:58:54.737Z · LW · GW

If those 100 billion true statements were all (or even mostly) useful and better calibrated than my own priors, then I'd be likely to believe you, so yes. On the other hand, if you replace $100,000 with $100,000,000,000, I don't think that would still hold.

I think you found an important caveat, which is that the fact that an agent will benefit from you believing a statement weakens the evidence that the statement is true, to the point that it's literally zero for an agent that you don't trust at all. And if an AI will have a human-like architecture, or even if not, I think that would still hold.

Comment by faul_sname on Open Thread, May 18 - May 24, 2015 · 2015-05-22T11:17:16.724Z · LW · GW

I can come up with a few examples that seemed obvious that they wouldn't work in retrospect, mostly having to do with gene insertion using A. tumefaciens, but none that I honestly predicted before I learned that they didn't work. Generally, the biological research at my institution seemed to be pretty practical, if boring. On the other hand, I was an undergrad, so there may have been obvious mistakes I missed -- that's part of what I'd be interested in learning.

Comment by faul_sname on How my social skills went from horrible to mediocre · 2015-05-22T10:52:54.723Z · LW · GW

My mistake was in greatly underestimating the extent to which LWers are like this, given the unusually high IQ and the explicit goal of refining the art of rationality. I thought "these people are different so I don't have to worry about that."

I suspect that you're correct that you don't have to worry about arrogance as a strong communication barrier here -- I noticed that you registered as arrogant, but didn't really count it against you. Based on the other comments, it sounds like most readers did the same.

There's a lot of conversation about status in the LW-sphere, particularly in the Overcoming Bias region. Since you wrote a post on social skills, and since that post did not seem to be using the social skill of status management, several commentators felt that it was worthwhile to tell you.

Comment by faul_sname on Open Thread, May 18 - May 24, 2015 · 2015-05-22T10:45:51.609Z · LW · GW

I really don't have any similar observations, since I mostly focused on biochem and computational bio in school.

I'm actually not entirely sure what details you're thinking of -- I'm imagining something like the influence of selective pressure from other members of the same species, which could cover things like how redwoods are so tall because other redwoods block out light below the canopy. On the other hand, insight into the dynamics of population biologists and those studying plant physiology would also be interesting.

According to the 2014 survey we have about 30 biologists on here, and there are considerably more people here who take an interest in such things. Go ahead and post -- the community might say they want less of it, but I'd bet at 4:1 odds that the community will be receptive.

Comment by faul_sname on Open Thread, May 18 - May 24, 2015 · 2015-05-22T06:09:43.456Z · LW · GW

I, for one, would be interested in such a post.

Comment by faul_sname on Brainstorming new senses · 2015-05-22T02:03:46.432Z · LW · GW

Syntax highlighting, and a compiler that highlights errors as you type them (e.g. SyntasticCheck for vim). It's really useful.

Comment by faul_sname on LessWrong experience on Alcohol · 2015-04-25T10:30:54.365Z · LW · GW

It's almost crazy to me that you wouldn't call strawberries sour. Strawberries taste quite sour to me, and quite sweet as well. I've always thought of sourness as relating to acidity (strawberries and grapefruits actually have pretty similar pH's). I perceive bitterness to be entirely different (strawberries are not bitter, grapefruits are slightly to moderately bitter, depending on the grapefruit, kale is very bitter to me but not at all sour).

Comment by faul_sname on If You Like This Orange... · 2015-04-02T06:46:11.319Z · LW · GW

I think that the relevant joke was that this was a rambling, 2000 word restatement of "politics is the mind killer".

Comment by faul_sname on If You Like This Orange... · 2015-04-02T02:10:59.144Z · LW · GW

Look at the date.

Comment by faul_sname on Open thread, Feb. 9 - Feb. 15, 2015 · 2015-02-14T02:20:34.111Z · LW · GW

The worrying questions have somewhat less worrying answers. Here is the cause of the length limit of 20 (in r2/r2/templates/login/html):

      <input id="passwd_${op}"
             name="passwd_${op}" type="password" maxlength="20"/>

Removing the maxlength="20" restriction on password fields allows longer passwords without a problem (I'm actually unsure why that's there in the first place -- it doesn't actually prevent a malicious actor from sending a 1 GB password, as it's a client-side check).

Comment by faul_sname on Open thread Jan. 5-11, 2015 · 2015-01-06T04:32:31.693Z · LW · GW

The word "set" in my dictionary has a definition spanning an entire page. Most other pages have between 20 and 50 words on them. This implies that the word "set" will be chosen about 1 in 1000 times, giving only 10 bits of entropy, whereas choosing completely at random, each word would have about a 1 in 50,000 chance of being chosen, giving about 15 bits of entropy.

In practice, picking 5 random pages of a 1000 page dictionary, then picking your favorite word on each page would still give 50 bits of entropy, which beats the correcthorsebatterystaple standard, and probably a more memorable passphrase.

Comment by faul_sname on Interesting (or semi-interesting) part time jobs? · 2014-12-30T05:37:52.543Z · LW · GW

Them and InstaEdu, which is entirely online (they take a similar cut as well, and the work comes in bursts mostly around midterms and finals).

Comment by faul_sname on Open thread, Dec. 8 - Dec. 15, 2014 · 2014-12-11T01:24:32.393Z · LW · GW

I think we're in agreement here.

Comment by faul_sname on Open thread, Dec. 8 - Dec. 15, 2014 · 2014-12-10T20:24:40.255Z · LW · GW

It depends on your goal. What a lot of non-biologists don't realize is that the ladder keeps going after species down through subspecies and beyond. In terms of bacteria, which do undergo horizontal gene transfer, we generally refer to them by their strain in addition to their species. The strain tells you where you got the culture, and, in lab settings, what it's used for. CAMP Staphylococcus aureus is used for the CAMP test, for example -- because you know where the strain comes from, you can be reasonably confident that it will behave like other bacteria of that strain. If you have a different strain of Staphylococcus aureus, you expect that it would probably also work for this test, but by the time you get as far away as Staphylococcus epidermidis, it's quite unlikely that you could use it successfully for the CAMP test.

In theory, you could do a DNA extraction and see if your organism has the right genes to do what you want. In practice, it's usually cheaper and easier to use a strain that you know has the right characteristics -- even among bacteria with 20 minute generation times, genetic drift is still pretty slow, and what little selective pressure there is is pushing for the strain to keep its useful properties (i.e. we throw away bad cultures).

The phylogenetic tree model is used because it makes useful predictions about the world, not because it represents the way the world actually is.

Comment by faul_sname on [deleted post] 2014-12-08T21:25:18.691Z

I'm not going to go into the full details on how one would do this, but using resources which an average undergraduate biology student has, it would be fairly trivial to culture up a strain of pretty much any BSL-2 pathogen (Mycobacterium tuberculosis is one example), which said undergrad would have easy access to, which is resistant to all antibiotics you throw at it (12 of them in the class I took this semester, which include vancomycin, tetracycline, and several other "last resort" antibiotics). Materials would be quite inexpensive, and incubators can be made cheaply from common household items.

In this case, you're not selecting for transmissibility. You're selecting for difficulty of treatment. Several other techniques accessible to undergrads could be used to make this cultured organism even more dangerous, but unlike the techniques discussed in the above paragraph above, they are sufficiently non-obvious that putting them on a public forum might actually give bad actors useful ideas.

The difficult part of engineering a targeted pandemic is not the "pandemic" part, it's the "targeted" part.

Comment by faul_sname on Open thread, Dec. 8 - Dec. 15, 2014 · 2014-12-08T20:29:15.694Z · LW · GW

"Species" is one rung on the phylogenetic ladder. Whether a given edge case should be classified as a species or as a subspecies can be debated, but in practical terms it is useful to have a tree-like map, because it allows you to assess the phylogenetic distance between two groups.

Also, compared to the range from class to genus, "species" is relatively clear-cut.

Comment by faul_sname on Rationality Quotes December 2014 · 2014-12-08T18:56:22.711Z · LW · GW
"hello, world".replace(/(.)/g, '\u0336$1') == "h̶e̶l̶l̶o̶,̶ ̶w̶o̶r̶l̶d̶"
Comment by faul_sname on Rationality Quotes December 2014 · 2014-12-04T23:37:47.462Z · LW · GW

You are correct. I'm not sure where I got the idea that LDS was Jehovah's Witnesses.

Comment by faul_sname on Rationality Quotes December 2014 · 2014-12-04T19:10:50.894Z · LW · GW

I̶t̶ ̶a̶p̶p̶e̶a̶r̶s̶ ̶m̶o̶s̶t̶l̶y̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶c̶h̶u̶r̶c̶h̶,̶ ̶a̶p̶p̶a̶r̶e̶n̶t̶l̶y̶.̶ ̶W̶o̶w̶.̶

Edit -- is latter day saints. One of their quotes was by a Jehovah's Witness, so I thought this was a guide for Jehovah's Witnesses. If the question is "Does it work for the specific individuals in the Mormon Church?" the answer is yes.

Comment by faul_sname on Rationality Quotes December 2014 · 2014-12-04T09:28:37.507Z · LW · GW

Seems to have worked for them.

Comment by faul_sname on Rationality Quotes November 2014 · 2014-11-30T21:36:34.539Z · LW · GW

Then I accept that there's a time traveler. The evidence in this second situation is quite a bit stronger than a personal observation, and would probably be enough to convince me.

Comment by faul_sname on Rationality Quotes November 2014 · 2014-11-26T04:43:34.943Z · LW · GW

It's always a possibility that I'm insane, but normally a fairly unlikely one.

The baseline hypothesis is (say) p = 0.999 that I'm sane, p = 0.0001 that I'm hallucinating. Let's further assume that if I'm hallucinating, there's a 2% chance that hallucination is about time travel. My prior is something like p = 0.000001 that time travel exists. If I assume those are the only two explanations of seeing a time traveler, (i.e. we're ignoring pranks and similar), my estimate of the probability that time travel exists would shift up to about 2% instead of 0.0001% -- a huge increase. The smart money (98%) is still on me hallucinating though.

If you screen out the insanity possibility, and any other possibility that gives better than 1 in a million chances of me seeing what appears to be a time traveler with what appears to be futuristic technology, yes, the time traveler hypothesis would dominate. However, the prior for that is quite low. There's a difference between "refusing to update" and "not updating far enough that one explanation is favored".

If I was abducted by aliens, my first inclination would likewise be to assume that I'm going insane -- this is despite the fact that nothing in the laws of physics precludes the existence of aliens. Are you saying that the average person who thinks they are abducted by aliens should trust their senses on that matter?

Comment by faul_sname on Rationality Quotes November 2014 · 2014-11-25T20:47:59.113Z · LW · GW

Yes. And then I would go see a psychologist. Because I find it more likely that I'm losing my grip on my own sanity than that I've just witnessed time travel.

Comment by faul_sname on Open thread, Nov. 17 - Nov. 23, 2014 · 2014-11-25T20:37:14.520Z · LW · GW

I think there may be a communication failure here. While most desirable changes are themselves changes to the status quo, the phrase "changing the status quo" generally has the connotation of moving away from an undesirable state, instead of moving toward a desirable state.

For a concrete example, if I wanted to eradicate malaria, I would say "I want to eradicate malaria," not "I want to impact the status quo" or "I want to make a difference," even though both types of statements are true. The goal is to make a specific difference, not to make a difference.

Comment by faul_sname on Open thread, Nov. 17 - Nov. 23, 2014 · 2014-11-25T19:27:20.172Z · LW · GW


Please continue. If you don't ever make a difference, then what?

Comment by faul_sname on Open thread, Nov. 24 - Nov. 30, 2014 · 2014-11-24T19:16:15.504Z · LW · GW

Amazon already does that for you -- if you go to buy something without using that link, it'll ask you if you want to.

Comment by faul_sname on Open thread, Oct. 27 - Nov. 2, 2014 · 2014-10-27T19:48:47.028Z · LW · GW

So? Who said my goal was to stay spotlessly clean? I think more highly of Bill Gates than of Richard Stallman, because as much as Gates was a ruthless and sometimes dishonest businessman, and as much as Stallman does stick to his principles, Gates, overall, has probably improved the human condition far more than Stallman.

Comment by faul_sname on Open thread, Oct. 27 - Nov. 2, 2014 · 2014-10-27T19:28:57.523Z · LW · GW

The issue is blanket moral condemnation of the whole society. Would you want to become a "more successful writer" in Nazi Germany?

...yes? I wouldn't want to write Nazi propaganda, but if I was a romance novel writer and my writing would not significantly affect, for example, the Nazi war effort, I don't see how being a writer in Nazi Germany would be any worse than being a writer anywhere else. In this context, "the lie" of Nazi Germany was not the mere existence of the society, it was specific things people within that society were doing. Romance novels, even very good romance novels, are not a part of that lie by reasonable definitions.

ETA: There are certainly better things a person in Nazi Germany could do than writing romance novels. If you accept the mindset that anything that isn't optimally good is bad, then yes, being a writer in Nazi Germany is probably bad. But in that event, moving to Sweden and continuing to write romance novels is no better.

Comment by faul_sname on Open thread, August 4 - 10, 2014 · 2014-08-07T07:05:28.642Z · LW · GW

Awfully similar, but not identical.

In the first case, you have independent evidence that the conclusion is false, so you're basically saying "If I considered your arguments in isolation, I would be convinced of your conclusion, but here are several pieces of external evidence which contradict your conclusion. I trust this external evidence more than I trust my ability to evaluate arguments."

In the second case, you're saying "I have already concluded that your conclusion is false because I have concluded that mine is true. I think it's more likely that there is a flaw in your conclusion that I can't detect than that there is a flaw in the reasoning that led to my conclusion."

The person in the first case is far more likely to respond with "I don't know" in response to the question of "So what do you think the real answer is, then?" In our culture (both outside, and, to a lesser but still significant degree inside LW), there is a stigma against arguing against a hypothesis without providing an alternative hypothesis. An exception is the argument of the form "If Y is true, how do you explain X?" which is quite common. Unfortunately, this form of argument is used extensively by people who are, as you say, entirely wedded to a particular conclusion, so using it makes you seem like one of those people and therefore less credible, especially in the eyes of LWers.

Rereading your comment, I see that there are two ways to interpret it. The first is "Rationalists do not use this form of argument because it makes them look like people who are wedded to a particular conclusion." The second is "Rationalists do not use this form of argument because it is flawed -- they see that anyone who is wedded to a particular conclusion can use it to avoid updating on evidence." I agree with the first interpretation, but not the second -- that form of argument can be valid, but reduces the credibility of the person using it in the eyes of other rationalists.

Comment by faul_sname on Announcing the 2014 program equilibrium iterated PD tournament · 2014-08-04T00:37:16.337Z · LW · GW

That does seem exploitable, if one can figure out exactly what's happening here.

Comment by faul_sname on Announcing the 2014 program equilibrium iterated PD tournament · 2014-08-02T00:31:37.030Z · LW · GW

Limit my opponent to 10ms, defect if they go over.

You actually cooperate in this case.

Whoops. Effect goes away if I fix it, too.

Here are the average results for the first round:

For some reason, TrollBot always wins 500 / 0 against SmarterMirrorBot. DefectBot actually beats TrollBot by a narrow margin (1604 - 1575 = 29 points) on average, but there is quite a bit of randomness from RandomBot, so TrollBot often comes out ahead of even DefectBot, and they both come out over 100 points ahead of the next bot (TitForTatBot).

Since I built TrollBot as a sanity check on my actual bot to make sure that it would defect against TrollBot, I was definitely surprised by the fact that TrollBot outperformed not only my attempt at a serious bot, but also most of the other bots... :/

Comment by faul_sname on Announcing the 2014 program equilibrium iterated PD tournament · 2014-08-01T20:08:05.513Z · LW · GW

Found something slightly amusing:

-- Simulate my opponent playing a round against me, and to the opposite of
-- whatever my opponent does. Limit my opponent to 10ms, defect if they go
-- over.
trollBot :: Bot
trollBot = Bot run where
    run op hist = do
        simulation <- time 10000 . runBot op mirrorBot $ invert hist
        return (case simulation of
                Nothing   -> Cooperate
                Just Cooperate -> Defect
                Just Defect -> Cooperate)

When I enter trollBot into the simulation tournament, it actually ends up doing better than any of the default bots during the first round, pretty consistently. It also results in a win for defectBot.

I'm puzzled as to why trollBot does as well as it does. Is it just a function of the particular players it's up against, or is that actually a viable strategy?

Comment by faul_sname on Rationality Quotes May 2014 · 2014-06-01T08:42:07.256Z · LW · GW

"Because positive illusions provide a short-term benefit with smaller short-term benefits, they can become a form of intellectual procrastination."

Comment by faul_sname on What is the most anti-altruistic way to spend a million dollars? · 2014-03-26T05:23:55.137Z · LW · GW

On reflection, I think you're right that the chances are much lower than 1 in a million that a given human wants to indiscriminately harm humanity. Retracted.

Comment by faul_sname on What is the most anti-altruistic way to spend a million dollars? · 2014-03-25T00:08:57.985Z · LW · GW

Tragedy-of-the-commons-for-profit has been done quite profitably -- see until quite recently.

Comment by faul_sname on What are some science mistakes you made in college? · 2014-03-24T23:54:44.615Z · LW · GW

Organic Chemistry lab --

Label everything, especially when two subsequent steps of your reaction look very similar.

If you're going to leave something stirring overnight, make sure there's a backup power supply, especially if your area has a history of power failures.

Not mine, but -- If the temperature of your oil bath seems to be going up much more slowly than usual, check to make sure the thermometer is working properly. Don't just turn the heat up until the temperature until the thermometer reads correctly. One of the people in my lab managed to cook his compound at 280 C because the tip of the thermometer was slightly above the surface of the oil bath.

Comment by faul_sname on What is the most anti-altruistic way to spend a million dollars? · 2014-03-24T23:30:10.193Z · LW · GW

Is the chance of me of doing that conditional on your giving me a million dollars less than the chance that James_Miller will bring utopia to an infinite number of people in conjunction with the chance that he will not do that if you give him a million dollars?

Comment by faul_sname on What is the most anti-altruistic way to spend a million dollars? · 2014-03-24T23:18:51.299Z · LW · GW

Bioterrorism is definitely not where I was going with this. However, it is pretty much a given that the owners of large farms will do things that will increase their crop production, even if it decreases the productivity of farms that are spatially or temporally distant from them.

Again, think about creative uses for the knowledge you have for 5 minutes before you come to the conclusion that it's not possible to do significant harm with it. You probably don't even have to think directly of doing harm -- just look for the most profitable thing you can do with that knowledge, figure out what the negative side effects would be (particularly tragedy-of-the-commons type effects), and figure out how you can maintain profitability while increasing those negative side effects.

Comment by faul_sname on What is the most anti-altruistic way to spend a million dollars? · 2014-03-24T23:08:24.053Z · LW · GW

Okay then, I will put dust specks in the eyes of an infinite number of people.

I win.

Comment by faul_sname on What is the most anti-altruistic way to spend a million dollars? · 2014-03-24T23:06:13.355Z · LW · GW

I would estimate that the worst idea posted here would probably be equivalently bad to killing about a million people. Do you think there's more or less than a 1 in a million chance of someone reading and executing one of these ideas?