Can you improve IQ by practicing IQ tests? 2021-04-27T11:28:56.688Z
Election results in Central Europe match some pre-WW1 borders 2021-04-24T06:24:16.207Z
Progressive avant-gardes 2021-03-01T11:19:07.577Z
What are the most powerful lotuses? 2021-02-20T19:05:59.899Z
Heliocentrism in the ancient era 2021-02-16T08:34:40.133Z
Against butterfly effect 2021-02-09T07:46:44.918Z
The maximally relativistic zeitgeist 2021-01-27T21:41:33.682Z


Comment by ForensicOceanography on Heliocentrism in the ancient era · 2021-09-12T10:23:51.405Z · LW · GW

Thank you! I had never thought that Aristarchus might have intentionally seeked a lower bound for the relative size of Sun and Moon. This does indeed make a lot of sense.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Can you improve IQ by practicing IQ tests? · 2021-04-29T09:31:52.281Z · LW · GW

The shape is perceptibly different from a Gaussian (at least in the distributions that I found googling "empirical distribution of IQ" and similar keywords). This is not surprising, because almost nothing in Nature is an ideal Gaussian.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Can you improve IQ by practicing IQ tests? · 2021-04-29T09:29:30.736Z · LW · GW

Thank you, I will look at the paper.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Can you improve IQ by practicing IQ tests? · 2021-04-28T13:51:01.912Z · LW · GW

Now, suppose everyone began gaming the "athletic ability" test so that the table of maximum speeds B in light of scores didn't correlate anymore, what would happen? Well, psychologists would analyze the new trend. They'd look at current full time professional short range runners, the scores they obtained in their "athletic ability" test when they took it a few years before, and develop a new table with updated maximum speeds B for "athletic score" abilities, so that both numbers began correlating again.

Here you are supposing that everyone does the same amount of preparation; otherwise, recalibrating the score would not be enough. I think that this is the main point: does everyone prepare the same amount for IQ tests?

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Can you improve IQ by practicing IQ tests? · 2021-04-28T13:12:20.786Z · LW · GW

(A) and (B) make different predictions. If (B) is true, people with high IQ will not be particularly good at a new task when they try it for the first time - but then they would improve by application. If (A) is true, people with high IQ will be immediately good at new cognitive tasks (or, at least, much better than people with low IQ).

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Can you improve IQ by practicing IQ tests? · 2021-04-28T05:26:08.317Z · LW · GW

Thank you for your answer!

If you practice for IQ tests, you're going to become better at detecting the specific kinds of patterns used in IQ tests, but then your IQ score will correlate less with your general pattern-recognition ability, and in turn with those other traits, so at some point your score will stop reflecting your general intelligence. [...]

Are you sure of this? Maybe the sort of people who are motivated to get an high score in a IQ test are the same sort of people who are motivated to get good grades in the college, who work harder to advance their career, and so on.

To clarify, we have two possible explainations for the correlation:

      A) People with a high IQ score got their high IQ score because they have a better innate capacity to detect patterns, so they are also innately more capable to become engineers or lawyers. People with a low IQ score have a low innate intelligence, so they are not able to understand that being a criminal is a bad idea.

     B) People with a high IQ score got their high IQ score because they were motivated to get an high IQ score. They are also more likely to become engineers or lawyers, because they are motivated to work hard to achieve their goals. People with a low IQ score just wanted to finish this boring test as soon as possible, so they gave random answers and returned to bar drinking.

I think that a mixture of (A) and (B) may be true. Most of your answers suggest that (A) is the most relevant explanation. However, if you for example replace "IQ score" with "school grades", I would say intuitively that (B) is the main answer. Is the IQ test fundamentally different from a school test?

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Can you improve IQ by practicing IQ tests? · 2021-04-27T18:05:00.035Z · LW · GW

I agree that different peoples have different learning curve. 

I wonder if perhaps a more appropriate test of "general intelligence" (+ motivation/grit) would be assessing how much you are able to improve in a task, given 1 month to practice.

Probably it is hard to make this work, because you could cheat in the first test doing it terribly on purpose.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Can you improve IQ by practicing IQ tests? · 2021-04-27T18:00:16.289Z · LW · GW

Thank you for your answer, however, the question is not if it is worthy, or useful to practice for IQ test; the question is if it can be done (and, secondarily, how many people do it). 

Usually, the ranking of abilities for a task are well correlated with the amount of practice. There is the rare child prodigy who beats the chess grandmaster, but usually all the people who can beat a chess grandmaster have practiced a lot of chess.

Is IQ special in this respect? Is the majority of people who is extremely good at IQ tests just "naturally" extremely good at IQ tests?

The mean IQ is different among different cultures in the United States. Could these differences be explained (at least partially) by different mean levels of preparation? For example, I imagine that if you grow up in a highly competitive culture, and your family presses you hard to achieve good grades, you will more likely also study more for an IQ test.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Can you improve IQ by practicing IQ tests? · 2021-04-27T17:48:06.339Z · LW · GW

Maybe I am in the minority, but I think that I in my teenage years I would definetely have studied for an IQ test if I had had to take one. 

Let us say that only 1% of people are like me, and the other 99% does not care. With your premises, that 1% would get a very high IQ. This is still a lot of people; is it possible that they are the majority of the people with high IQ? Or do you think that most of the people with IQ > 130 are "natural" (in the sense that scored high without solved made similar exercises before)?

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Can you improve IQ by practicing IQ tests? · 2021-04-27T17:05:41.019Z · LW · GW

Interesting, can you direct me to some scientific papers which prove conclusions (1) and (3)?

(I already believe (2))

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Election results in Central Europe match some pre-WW1 borders · 2021-04-26T15:01:18.489Z · LW · GW

Thank you for your reply! The differences in economic developement are undoubtedly a part of the story; it is hard to isolate the "material culture" from the rest of the culture. I never said it has to be direct cultural transmission (expecially in the case of Poland, which was resettled by colonists from all the other areas of Poland. Barely one sixth of the population of Western Poland in 1950 was made of Germans who inhabited in the same place in 1939; is it enough to have direct cultural transmission? Maybe, but the quick resettlement itself may have been a cause of cultural divergence).

The economy and the environment shape the culture, but sometimes also the opposite is true (you can tell which is the border between Dominican Republic and Haiti simply by looking at Google Earth). Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy/Veneto are two sides of the same Po Valley, and as far as I know have similar densities of small manifactures: so yes, maybe the former border is a part of the explaination for the fact that they have ended up opposing each other politically.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on The Fall of Rome, III: Progress Did Not Exist · 2021-04-26T10:29:45.135Z · LW · GW

The immediate cause for the fact that "lead pollution in 200 AD was lower than lead pollution in 1 AD" is that "the extraction from Rio Tinto mines in 200 AD was lower than the extraction from Rio Tinto mines in 1 AD". Now, according to Diodorus Siculus (Bibliotheca historica, V, xxxvi-xxxvi), the Carthaginians used mechanical and hydraulic technology for exploiting the Rio Tinto mines (they probably also employed chemical acids). According to Bromehead, this impressive technology was initially expanded by the Roman conquerors; but eventually the Romans switched to using large masses of slaves (as described by Pliny), becuse they were not able to keep the mechanical drainage systems running.

I don't necessarily agree with your depiction of the Romans as being "parasitic". Just because they did not produce food, does not mean that they were not valued.

By "parasitic" I mean that Rome imported a lot and exported no products; but you are right in pointing out that the "military services" exported by Rome (and the common market) had probably a great economic value for the provinces. Still, do you agree that Rome was not self-sufficient?

The Romans were interested in math, its just that most of them weren't located in Italia. Just look at the various mathematicians who lived in Alexandria, Athens, or Constantinople, and invented the fields of trigonometry (among others).

 I challenge you to name one mathematical treatise, written between 100 BC and 500 AD, which is on the same tier as the work by Archimedes, Ipparchus or Apollonius (the difference in quality is so big that it is not subjective).

If you with "Roman" mean "anyone living in the Roman Empire" then yes, some Roman were interested in higher math. But the mathematics in the Imperial age was a shadow of what mathematics was before the Roman conquest. Trigonometry was first developed in Alexandria when Egypt was an independent Hellenistic kingdom; then in 146 BC the Romans installed a puppet king in Egypt, who proceeded to persecute the Greek èlites and to annihilate every intellectual opposition (he literally appointed a spearmen officer as the new director of the Library of Alexandria). To escape the persecution, many Greek intellectuals (including the mathematicians) escaped; some of them went to India, where they founded a school which continued to develop trigonometry (sine and cosine were first defined in India).

It is true that some (not so many) Romans learned greek maths even well into the V century (for example, emperor Procopius Anthemius studied under Proclus), but all the mathematics of the Imperial age consists of commentaries and collections of previous results. Sometimes they are brilliant commentaries, but still commentaries.

Also, the Romans heavily benefited the economy of the Greeks. An interconnected empire meant that Greek goods (such as amphorae, pottery, or other luxury items) could be traded anywhere in the empire, with only the nominal port taxes placed on it by the Empire. 

I do not have much knowledge about the Imperial age, and maybe this was true in 100-200 AD, but it was definitely not true in the aftermath of the Roman conquest (see Rostovtzeff's books). 

Comment by ForensicOceanography on The Fall of Rome, III: Progress Did Not Exist · 2021-04-25T15:58:13.016Z · LW · GW

Yes, the lead pollution was measured with arctic ice; this is the original paper. The authors belive that the peak in the eraly Imperial era was mainly caused by the Rio Tinto ore mines (so yes, it is pollution from all Europe, but mainly from Spain).

I agree with your main point that the first century BCE and the first century CE were a peak of economic developement of the ancient world (as shown by the graphs); I think that this is not in contradiction with what I am saying. In the first century BCE, many of the Roman provinces were of recent conquests, with much of their local institutions and know-how intact. Think of the Antikythera mechanism, which was built around the first century BCE. 

In the III century, nobody could have built nothing even remotely similar to the Antikythera mechanism. If I understand correctly your overall thesis, this was because a shortage of fuel led to a simiplification of the society, so that the supply chain for building an Antikythera mechanism was not anymore feasible. But the main bottleneck in building  an Antikythera mechanism is not the wood that you need to burn in making the cogs and the gears; the main bottleneck are the mathematical and mechanical knowledge necessary to design it, and the artigianal expertise needed to build its components. The Romans did not care about any of it. No respectable Roman learned mathematics: it was a suspiciously Greek, nerdy thing, unsuited to the practical Roman spirit. The first Latin translation of Euclid's Elements was written in the Renaissance. I am sure that this played a significant role in the loss of mechanical technology after the first century (and, if you believe that mechanical technology was significant for the Hellenistic economy (a point about which scholars disagree), also played a role in the economic decline).

The vanishing of the economy was not, in my view, an unavoidable effect of resource depletion, but it was a consequence of the specific political and economical situation in the Imperial age. The Greek and Hellenistic states kept a complex and viable economy for much more centuries than "peak-Rome", with much fewer resources to start with (a narrow bucket, in your metaphor). Byzantium/Costantinople/Istanbul was there before "peak-Rome", and continued to be one of the main cities of the world long after Rome. How come Costantinople did not fill its bucket in 2000 years, while Rome (with access to a much wider bucket) did it in a few centuries? (maybe I am misrepresenting or excessively simplifying your view; I apologize if so)

Do you see a clear pattern in the sequence Rome -> Costantinople -> Baghdad -> Cordoba -> Costantinople -> Cairo -> Costantinople -> London -> New York? How does this succession fit in your model?

Comment by ForensicOceanography on The Fall of Rome, III: Progress Did Not Exist · 2021-04-25T08:38:47.489Z · LW · GW

Thank you for the article! In my opinion, one of the main issues is that it does not seem to explain how the Eastern part of the Empire survived.

Rome was never economically self-sufficient. The city of Rome was a sink that absorbed food and products from the provinces, and produced nothing. The millions of inhabitants of Italy could survive only thanks to the subjugated provinces of the Empire.

Other areas of the Empire, notably Egypt and Gaul, were self-sufficient. In particular, Egypt was the main exporter of manufactured good (Roman travelers to Alexandria usually lamented the fact that the local inhabitant were greedy and always busy making money). In general, the Eastern part of the Empire was much richer than the West, was more urbanized, and had many more ancient and complex local administrative institutions.

When the Empire split between a Western and a Eastern half in the IV century, the Western part was in serious trouble. The only relevant food-exporting provinces left to the Western Empire was Africa. When Africa was lost, the Empire quickly fell. On the contrary, the fall of the Western Empire had no dramatic consequences on the Eastern Empire (ok, it was a big export market loss, which probably contributed a lot to the social tensions and the riots of the Justianan era; but a crisis due to a lack of an export market for your manufactured goods is way better than a crisis due to a lack of food to import).




As concerns your chart of civilizations moving in the north, in my opinion this is only the result of a bias: we learn in school about the civilizations more relevant to our history. I do not buy your thesis that the intensive agricolture drove the rise and fall of the civilizations:

  • Ptolemaic Egypt had an estimated population of about 8 millions of inhabitants, if I recall correctly. This is a great increase with respect to Ancient Egypt, and it was largely made possible by improvement in agricolture (not only plough, but irrigation and better agronomical techniques). This is after the "civilization hot spot" moved north of Egypt in your scheme - I am not sure if this count as a point for or against your model.
  • I have not the time now to look for estimations of the Roman population through history, but (if you trust my half-educated guess) I do not expect a demographic boom to have took place after the Roman conquest. The Roman Empire was forged by conquest, killings and enslavements. In The Economic and Social History of the Hellenistic World (a bit aged, but highly recommended!), Rostovtzeff speaks on the contrary of "race suicide" describing the demographic decline of Greece in the II and I century BCE. The parts of the Empire that were already civilized before the Roman conquest (namely Greece and the Near East), already had infrastructures and institututions before the Romans, which were ofted of superior quality (example: the celebrated Roman aqueducts worked by gravity, while e.g. the city of Pergamon in 180 BCE had watertight metal pipes which lifted water over a difference of altitude of >100 m. Also, the Roman aqueducts were designed by Greek slave engineers; the Romans never learned to project them on their own. Once the last educated Greek slaves dies, they could not buy anymore aqueducts. I hope that this specific example clarifies the general trend); and on top of this, after the Roman conquest, they also had to feed an economically parasite overlord. So I do not expect the population of the Eastern part of the empire to have substantially risen durin Roman rule (also Wikipedia says that it decreased, but I did not verify the sources). On the contrary, the population did probably rise (after the initial mass slaughters) in the formerly sparsely populated regions of Northern Western Europe; but these are also the provinces that in your chart became more relavant for civilization after the fall of Rome, so this does not seem to advance your theory.
  • There is no way in which Charlemagne's empire was more relevant than the Umayyad Caliphate in 800 AD , in any reasonable "civilization" metric.
  • Southern Europe was economically more developed than northern europe until the XVI century, and while the causes that reversed this pattern are object of debate among scholars (I recommend this paper), I do not recall seeing soil depletion as a proposed cause (instead, the shift in global trade route and the centralized governments likely played a role).
Comment by ForensicOceanography on The Fall of Rome: Why It's Relevant, And Why We're Mistaken · 2021-04-24T06:54:56.665Z · LW · GW

This is anecdotal, but if you look at technological progress from 200BCE (the Punic Wars) and 200AD, you find that not much has happened, except the expansion of trade networks.

While this may be true, it overlooks the fact that many technologies that were developed in the precedent period (for example, the lighthouse, the cog and the gear wheel) were lost during the Roman age, not to be recovered until the Renaissance - or later. 

Heron describes many artifacts that require tiny metal lives to be built, copying from previous Hellenistic sources, but at his age nobody knows anymore how to make tiny metal lives (he only describes a way to make big, wooden lives).

In the Imperial age the derivative was negative, but the technological and cultural level was obviously superior to the High Middle Ages. Between 500AD and 1000AD the urban society in Europe had become practically non-existent.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on In Defence of Spock · 2021-04-24T06:43:19.042Z · LW · GW

The fact that the Enterprise has survived for a long time may be due to the fact that captain Kirk overrules Spock in the areas where he is not competent (for example, when he estimates the probability of escaping from a black hole), while he is good enough in other aspects of his job.

The fact that Captain Kirk decides to ovverrule Spock's 99,999999 % predictions is strong evidence that he does not trust them.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on What's So Bad About Ad-Hoc Mathematical Definitions? · 2021-03-22T12:43:44.200Z · LW · GW

Yes, it is the relevant quantity in the limit of infinite number of uses of the channel. If you can use it just one time, it does not tell you much.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on What's So Bad About Ad-Hoc Mathematical Definitions? · 2021-03-18T18:17:16.970Z · LW · GW

Actually the mutual information has some well-defined operational meaning. For example, the maximum rate at which we can transmit a signal through a noisy channel is given by the mutual information between the input and the output of the channel. So it depends on which task you are interested in.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Unconvenient consequences of the logic behind the second law of thermodynamics · 2021-03-13T04:51:04.119Z · LW · GW

Imagine a water wheel. The direction the river flows in controls the direction that the wheel turns. The amount of water in the wheel doesn't change.

In this case you do not say "the wheel rotates in the direction of water increase", but "the wheel rotates in the direction of water flow".

I can see how you could argue that "the consciousness perceives past and future according to the direction of time in which it radiated heath". But, if you mean that heath flow (or some other entropic-related phenomenon) is the explaination for our time perception (just like the water flow explains the wheel, or the DC tension explains the current in a circuit), this seems to me a bold and extraordinary claim, that would need a lot more evidence, both theoretical and experimental.

This is technically true of the universe as a whole. Suppose you take a quantum hard drive filled with 0's, and fill it with bits in an equal superposition of 0 and 1 by applying a Hadamard gate. You can take those bits and apply the gate again to get the 0's back. Entropy has not yet increased. Now print those bits. The universe branches into 2^bit count quantum branches. The entropy of the whole structure hasn't increased, but the entropy of a typical individual branch is higher than that of the whole structure.

Yes, whenever you pinch a density matrix, its entropy increases. It depends on your philosophical stance on measurement and decoherence whether the superposition could be retrieved. 

In general, I am more on the skeptical side about the links between abstract information and thermodynamics (see for instance It is my job, so I can not be entirely skeptic. But there is a lot of work to do before we can claim to have derived thermodynamics from quantum principles (at the state of the art, there is not even a consensus among the experts about what the appropriate definitions of work and heath should be for a quantum system).

Anyway, does the brain actually check whether it can uncompute something? How is this related with the direction in which we perceive the past? The future can (in principle) be computed, and the past can not be uncomputed; yet we know about the past and not about the future: is this that obvious?

[...] The universe as a whole behaves kind of like a reversible circuit. 

This is another strong statement. Maybe in the XVIII century you would have said that the universe is a giant clock (mechanical philosophy), and in the XIX century you would have said that the brain is basically a big telephone switchboard.

I am not saying that it is wrong. Every new technology can provide useful insights about nature. But I think we should beware not to take these analogies too far.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Unconvenient consequences of the logic behind the second law of thermodynamics · 2021-03-12T17:09:10.188Z · LW · GW

I agree - but, if understood correctly the OP, he is averaging over a time scale much larger than the time required to reach the equilibrium.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Animal faces · 2021-03-12T16:08:52.564Z · LW · GW

It is interesting to think that dogs may have been selected for hundreds of generation for their ability to influence the emotions of humans.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Unconvenient consequences of the logic behind the second law of thermodynamics · 2021-03-12T15:53:52.925Z · LW · GW

While of course it could, current measurements suggest that it is not.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Unconvenient consequences of the logic behind the second law of thermodynamics · 2021-03-12T15:44:51.074Z · LW · GW

The human brain radiates waste heat. It is not a closed system.

Sure, but are you saying that the human brain perceives the whole universe (including the heat it dissipated around) when deciding what to label as "past" or "future"? The entropy of the human body is approximately constant (as long as you are alive).

How do you make space for new memories? By forgetting old ones? Info can't be destroyed. Your brain is taking in energy dense low entropy food and air, and radiating out the old memory as a pattern of waste heat. Maybe you were born with a big load of empty space that you slowly fill up. A big load of low entropy blank space can only be constructed from the negentropy source of food+air+cold.

Ok, we should clarify which entropy you are talking about. Since this is a post about thermodynamics, I assumed that we are talking about dS = dQ/T, that is the one entropy for which the second law was introduced. In that case, when your brain's temperature goes down its entropy also goes down, no use splitting hair.

In the second paragraph, it seem instead that you are talking about an uncertainity measure, like Von Neumann entropy*. But the Von Neumann entropy of what? The brain is not a string or a probability distribution, so the VN entropy is ill-defined for a brain. But fine, let us suppose that we have agreed on an abstract model of the brain on which we can define a VN entropy (maybe its quantum density matrix, if one can define such a thing for a brain). Then:

  • in a closed system the fact that "Info can't be destroyed [in a closed system]" means that the total "information" (in a sense, the total Von Neumann entropy) is a constant. It never increases nor decreases, so you can not use it to make a time arrow.
  • in an open system (like the brain) it can increase or decrease. When you sleep I guess that it should decrease, because in some sense the brain gets "tidied up", many memories of the day are deleted, etc. But, again, when you go to bed your consciousness does not perceive the following morning as "past".


*while the authenticity of the following quote is debated, it is worth to stress that they the thermodynamical entropy and the Shannon/Von Neumann entropy are indeed two entirely different things, while related in some specific contexts.

You should call it entropy, for two reasons. In the first place your uncertainty function has been used in statistical mechanics under that name, so it already has a name. In the second place, and more important, no one really knows what entropy really is, so in a debate you will always have the advantage.

-J. Von Neumann? (allegedly to Shannon)

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Unconvenient consequences of the logic behind the second law of thermodynamics · 2021-03-12T07:34:31.053Z · LW · GW

No. As I said in this comment, this can not be true, otherwise in the evening you would be able to mak prophecies about the following morning.

Your brain can not measure the entropy of the universe - and its own entropy is not monotone with time.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Unconvenient consequences of the logic behind the second law of thermodynamics · 2021-03-12T07:28:48.434Z · LW · GW

The energy constrains the moments, but not the positions. If there is infinite space, the phase space is also infinite, even at constant energy.

Take two balls which start both at x=0, one with velocity v(0) = 1 and the other with velocity v(0) = -1, in an infinite line. They will continue to go away forever, no recurrence.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Unconvenient consequences of the logic behind the second law of thermodynamics · 2021-03-12T05:16:00.875Z · LW · GW

The entropy of the brain is approximately constant. A bit higher when you have the flu, a bit lower in the morning (when your body temperature is smaller). If we perceived past and future according to the direction in which the entropy of our brain increases, I would remember the next day when going to bed.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Unconvenient consequences of the logic behind the second law of thermodynamics · 2021-03-12T05:10:26.735Z · LW · GW

Depending on how you define it, arguably there are observation of entropy decreases as small scales (if you are willing to define the "entropy" for a system made of two atoms, for example). 

At macroscopic scale (10^23 molecules), it is as unlikely as a miracle.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Unconvenient consequences of the logic behind the second law of thermodynamics · 2021-03-12T05:06:46.015Z · LW · GW

If you work under the hypothesis that information is preserved, then the total entropy of the universe does not increase nor decrease.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Unconvenient consequences of the logic behind the second law of thermodynamics · 2021-03-12T05:04:44.835Z · LW · GW

In the equilibrium, small increases and small decreases should be equally likely, with an unimaginably low probability of high decreases (which becomes 0 if the universe is infinite).

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Unconvenient consequences of the logic behind the second law of thermodynamics · 2021-03-12T05:02:46.338Z · LW · GW

First, a little technical precisation: Poincaré's recurrence theorem applies to classical systems whose phase space is finite. So, if you believe that the universe is finite, then you have recurrence; otherwise no recurrence.

I think that your conclusion is correct under the hypothesis that the universe exists from an infinite time, and that our current situation of low entropy is the result of a random fluctuation. 

The symmetry is broken by the initial condition. If at t=0 the entropy is very low, then it is almost sure that it will rise. The expert consensus is that there has been a special event (the big bang), that you can modelize as an initial condition of extremely high entropy.

It seems unlikely that the big bang was the result of a fluctuation from a previously unordered universe:  you can estimate the probability of a random fluctuation resulting in the Earth's existence.  If I recall correctly Penrose did it explicitly, but you do not need the math to understand that (as already pointed out) "a solar system appears from thermal equilibrium" is extremely more likely that "an entire universe appears from thermal equilibrium". Therefore, under you hypothesis, we should have expected with probability of almost 1, to be in the only solar system in existence in the observable universe.

I wish to stress that these are pleasant philosophical speculations, but I do not wish to assign an high confidence to anything said here: even if they work well for our purposes, I feel a bit nervous in extrapolating mathematical models it to the entire universe.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on What are the most powerful lotuses? · 2021-03-07T18:52:55.264Z · LW · GW

They are not things you would like to spend more time on, when you're rich enough not to work.

People who work for a living aren't kept from alcoholism because they don't have time to drink, or can't afford even cheap alcohol.

This is sure; but someone could be kept from alcoholism because he knows he must be sober to live. This comment suggests that some very rich people who lacks this motivation do effectively become drink-addicted.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on What are the most powerful lotuses? · 2021-03-06T12:01:48.690Z · LW · GW

The final paragraph of this comment seems relevant:

Comment by ForensicOceanography on What are the most powerful lotuses? · 2021-03-01T18:22:44.967Z · LW · GW

My position is that everyone is already sick and intoxicated at work and we don't notice or care most of the time. 

I do not think this is true. I think that it is important that we clarify this point before continuing.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on What are the most powerful lotuses? · 2021-02-27T15:46:47.793Z · LW · GW

I'm willing to bet your town's average wages are terrible in comparison to what you get doing nothing.

No, it is not that the wages are low, it is that they can not be fired (both for legal and for cultural reasons). So they do not risk to lose their wage by not working.

To clarify your position, are you saying that if more people were sick/intoxicated then the quality of their work would deteriorate, but this does not really matter because there is sufficient slack in the system and nothing really bad would happen? 

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Coincidences are Improbable · 2021-02-25T17:53:45.067Z · LW · GW

Coincidences are improbable, but improbable thing happens. Given any two events A and B, each one with probability 0.01/day, we expect that in about one day in 10000 both will happen. Seems pretty low, but what happens if there are several events A, B, C, ...., Z, each one with probability 0.01?

If we consider 25 distinct improbable events, there are 25X24/2 = 300 pair of events, and each of those pair has a probability of 10^(-4) of happening in a day. Therefore, in about 3% of days (that is, one a month) you will observe a coincidence, which is not anymore that low. 

In some of your examples, you are considering things that must have a well-defined cause (someone must have damaged your couch; something must be causing your skin irritation), so if the only thing new is the other event it is reasonable to guess a causal link (but what if you have a new dog and a new cat? Or if you changed lotion and you are also allergic to your new dog?). But in real life it is usually very difficult to insulate only one possible cause.

The latitude of the Great Pyramid of Giza coincides with the value of the speed of light in m/s, and the pyramids are roughly aligned with theposition of the Orion's Belt constellation in 12500 BC, and both these things are very unlikely, but I do not think there is something to uncover.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Avoid Contentious Terms · 2021-02-24T10:11:52.190Z · LW · GW

I agree, and I would extend the advice to all the expressions which are short, fashionable, and somewhat opaque.

In Politics and the English Language, Orwell offered further arguments for avoiding ready-made phrases.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Heliocentrism in the ancient era · 2021-02-23T10:20:25.631Z · LW · GW

Basically, the fact that the sea rises not only in the directions of the Sun and of the Moon, but also in the opposite directions.

If you think that the Sun and the Moon attract just the sea, but that the Earth does not move, then you would expect the water to bulge only towards them, and not also in the opposite direction.

If you instead think that the whole Earth is falling towards the Moon and the Sun, you have to subtract the motion of the center of the Earth, and you will correctly predict to see the water rise in both directions. The center of the Earth is attracted more than the sea in the opposite side, but less than the sea on the side of the Moon/Sun, so when you subtract you see a high tide in both sides.


In the Placita Philosophorum (probably written by Aetius) it is written that (Ps. Plut. Plac. 3.17):

Seleucus the mathematician attributes a motion to the earth; and thus he pronounceth that the moon in its circumlation meets and repels the earth in its motion; between these two, the earth and the moon, there is a vehement wind raised and intercepted, which rushes upon the Atlantic Ocean, and gives us a probable argument that it is the cause the sea is troubled and moved.

Now, this is very unclear (and the English translation does not help - for example πνεύματος is not "a wind", the Stoichs used it to mean a much more abstract kind of influence); Galileo was confused by this passage too. But it looks like Seulecus assumed that the Earth moves in order to explain tides.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on What are the most powerful lotuses? · 2021-02-23T09:03:46.100Z · LW · GW

Business (and life) favours completion over perfection. You might have a feel for whether you are underperforming at work but the question is whether others can see that (and especially whether they can quantify it). 

So you are saying that you can still pretend to do a good work if many people do a work just a bat as yours. This is different from saying that your work is decent. 

In the town I grew up in, it is common for people to do not work at all (not because they are sick, but because they do not care). They "can" do it in the sense that they do it and they face no consequences - but we all pay the price, for our public services are terrible to nonexistent.

People are sick all the time. A third of the population is on antidepressants or other psych meds, and script drug addiction is massive. Work still gets done. 

Do you think that the performance of a workforce on antidepressants would be the same as the performance of a drunk workforce? 

In regards to you and B: If you haven't worked at breaking point then you don't know what you're capable of. 

I do not know, but neither do you. I mantain that my output would be terrible (I would not be fired, because of my contract, but it still would be terrible).

Comment by ForensicOceanography on What are the most powerful lotuses? · 2021-02-23T08:51:09.210Z · LW · GW

I am not really into the studies, but I know that in 1950/1960 virtually everyone smoked (also, if you read books from that period, is it taken as given that everyone smokes), while now it is quite uncommon for a young person in Italy to smoke.

I think that also in the USA tobacco consumption rate is plummeting, so why are you saying that it does not work?

It may be misleading to conflate all "addictions" together. I can see how this can not work with heroine, but addiction to candies is a different thing.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on What are the most powerful lotuses? · 2021-02-22T08:44:02.924Z · LW · GW

Maybe I am making confusion between two claims: 

      A) If it happens that you are sick one day, you can still (with pain) carry out an acceptable amount of work for that day.

      B) You can work in a decent way, in the long run, while being sick most of the time.

Are you saying that (B) is true, or just (A)? I fully concede (A) - I also did it. But (A) does not imply (B). I work as a PhD student (which in Europe is a job: you do not have to attend lessons, but you have to do research), and I am sure that (B) is false for me.

Maybe there are jobs for which (A) implies (B), but my intuition is that they are not the majority. 

Comment by ForensicOceanography on What are the most powerful lotuses? · 2021-02-21T20:02:05.645Z · LW · GW

Probably some of them do (at least in the popular imagination); I do not know if this can be checked.

Maybe it is possible estimate drug consumption in a geographical area by enviromental data, for example the amount of cocaine retrieved in the water, and attempt to infer a correlation with income. But I do not know if there is sufficient data available.

Surely not everyone would be like Ogodei Khan.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on What are the most powerful lotuses? · 2021-02-21T19:02:22.736Z · LW · GW

I think that Caplan is referring to a scenario in which the UBI is high enough to cause a significant reduction of the employment rate.

1000 $ per month would not achieve this effect.

By the way, here in Italy the state has recently enacted a law to give 780 € per month to unemployed people. The party which proposed this law has been mostly voted by southern Italy, whose ruling classes correctly predicted that it would have had the effect of increasing undeclared work.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on What are the most powerful lotuses? · 2021-02-21T16:08:07.104Z · LW · GW

While I agree that the state can not prevent you from becoming obese or drunk (mush less sure about, say, heroine), I think it is legitimate to apply economic incentives to decrease the expected number of people engaging in a given activity. 

Many states apply taxes on tobacco and sugar, and there are advertising and sale restrictions on cigarettes and alcohol.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on What are the most powerful lotuses? · 2021-02-21T15:59:04.648Z · LW · GW

I definitely can not work when I am sick. Can I ask what kind of job are you overseeing?

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Utility Maximization = Description Length Minimization · 2021-02-21T08:56:10.280Z · LW · GW

This look like a technical statement of the Anna Karenina principle, 

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

But then the problem becomes finding the right M which maximises your utility function.The optimal solution might be very unintuitive and it may require a long description to be understood.  M will not be (in general) a smooth set. 

Comment by ForensicOceanography on What are the most powerful lotuses? · 2021-02-21T08:45:51.730Z · LW · GW

As a slightly unrelated question, I would be very interested to hear if you think that the quality of the work you watch over is somehow affected by the workers being addicted, and how much.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Heliocentrism in the ancient era · 2021-02-21T08:34:26.061Z · LW · GW

If the Earth was stationary in an inertial reference frame, no. 

If you want to compute tidal forces in the reference frame of the Earth (i.e., extract the quadrupole term from a painful integral), you have to include an apparent force which accounts for the fact that the Earth is really rotating.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on What are the most powerful lotuses? · 2021-02-21T08:29:40.169Z · LW · GW

 If people aren't causing problems, and aren't asking for addiction intervention, then why shouldn't their agency and privacy be respected?

i agree on this principle: making people work to avoid them falling in vice seems definitely an exceedingly patronizing position for the State. However, I can think to two possible answers to your question:

    - many addicted people are not really happy with their addiction, and do not ask for help for pride or because they are costantly believing that are quitting (like the stereotypical smoker that decides avery day to quit smoking). So it would be a net utilitarian harm if more people were addicted.

    - maybe the society could have a legitimate interest in preventing the spreading of addictions. Maybe there are no problems if 10% is high, but there could be trouble on the streets if 80% of the populations was high.

Comment by ForensicOceanography on What are the most powerful lotuses? · 2021-02-21T08:07:35.341Z · LW · GW

I understand how this can be very rewarding, but it is also an activity which requires mental effort (you do not just look after a kid the way you can drink a bottle or the way you can scroll your Facebook feed).

 It does not feel to me like the sort of activity in which you can just fall into, while you are planned to do other things. Are there documented cases of pathological dependence by caretaking?

Comment by ForensicOceanography on Don't encourage prisoners dilemmas · 2021-02-16T18:27:58.629Z · LW · GW

At first I was convinced by your argument, but then I tought to apply it also to the voters.

Both parties would be probably better with a lower turnout (less undecided voters to convince, less effort required to campaign); but it does not seem correct to conclude that we should not encourage voting. An high level of engagement of the local popolation in politics is supposed to be a good thing for democracies, even if it requires more work.

I do not think that donations to political parties should be tax deductable. But I hesitate on the abstract principle "Do not encourage prisoners dilemmas". Sometimes it is good that everyone makes more effort, because that effort produces something valuable. Two rival pencil companies "play" in opposition to each other (in the estreme case in which the pencil demand is totally inelastic, it would be a zero sum game, because if more people buy pencils from company A, then less people buy pencils from company B). But this does not mean that the state's regulations should encourage monopolies: monopolies are (generally) not good.

Depending on your utility function, there are situations in which you should wish to encourage a prisoner dilemma between two factions, if this yields benefits to you or other people.

Maybe your principle applies when the relevant model really has no third party which gains from A and B fighting. But I can not think to many such situations in the society (even in wars, there is someone (weapon sellers?) who profits if the belligerants fight harder).