Comment by gaffa on Open Thread, November 1-15, 2012 · 2012-11-05T21:39:54.932Z · LW · GW

Causality in Statistics Education Award:


Comment by gaffa on Diseased disciplines: the strange case of the inverted chart · 2012-02-04T18:04:17.200Z · LW · GW

Strictly speaking these are bar charts rather than histograms, aren't they?

Comment by gaffa on The Human's Hidden Utility Function (Maybe) · 2012-01-23T22:41:57.200Z · LW · GW

As a first reaction (and without being read up on the details), I'm very skeptical. Assuming these three systems are actually in place, I don't see any convincing reason why any one of them should be trusted in isolation. Natural selection has only ever been able to work on their compound output, oblivious to the role played by each one individually and how they interact.

Maybe the "smart" system has been trained to assign some particular outcome a value of 5 utilons, whereas we would all agree that it's surely and under all circumstances worth more than 20, because as it happens throughout evolution one of the other "dumb" systems has always kicked in and provided the equivalent of at least 15 utilons. If you then extract the first system bare and naked, it might deliver some awful outputs.

Comment by gaffa on What Curiosity Looks Like · 2012-01-07T13:47:03.773Z · LW · GW

At least for me, I've found that studying some machine learning has kind of broadened my perspectives on rationality in general. Even if we humans don't apply the algorithms that we find in machine learning textbooks ourselves, I still find it illuminating to study how we try make machines perform rational inference. The field also concerns itself with more general, if you will philosophical questions relating to e.g. how to properly evaluate the performance of predictive agents, the trade-off between model complexity and generality and the issue of overfitting. These kind of questions are very general in nature and should probably be of some interest to students of any kind of learning agents, be they human or machine.

Comment by gaffa on Drawing Less Wrong: Overview of Skills, and Relevance to Rationality · 2011-11-19T12:53:25.841Z · LW · GW

I'm still not convinced that drawing has any real relevance to rationality. To me drawing seems to mostly involve unconscious motor learning that does not generalize much to other domains. For most rationality related purposes I don't see any major difference from other motor-based, practice-requiring skills such as juggling, playing golf, playing an instrument or patting-your-head-while-rubbing-your-stomach.

Sure, in some sense you will have to "see reality, as it truly is", and sure "your model of reality will be flawed, and you'll need to fix it", but I think this is in a sense that is only trivially analogous to what we usually talk about when we talk rationality, and I think the same statements could be made about the other motor skills mentioned above. When you practice these kinds of skills some parts of your brain/body do develop better models of reality, but it doesn't seem like those parts are particularly conscious or that what these parts have learned will benefit other parts much.

I don't know much about the neuroscience of learning, but my own experience with these kinds of skills is that you simply get better by repeated practice and that the underlying basis for the improvement is highly unconscious and hidden away somewhere in the structure of whatever neural systems deal with these kind of motor activities. Your muscle memory is developing a better model of reality, but your muscle memory is probably very disconnected from whatever parts of your brain deal with rationality in the traditional LW sense (which of course is not necessarily conscious). Placing drawing in the same bucket as "grokking quantum physics or abandoning a religion" seems very far-fetched to me. My guess is that the underlying cognitive structures are very different.

Comment by gaffa on Existential Risk · 2011-11-15T15:48:06.357Z · LW · GW

The link for "Countdown to Zero" points to the wrong place (I presume).

Comment by gaffa on Rationality Quotes November 2011 · 2011-10-31T18:41:50.774Z · LW · GW

You can't make a movie and say 'It was all a big accident' - no, it has to be a conspiracy, people plotting together. Because in a story, a story is about intention. A story is not about spontaneous order or complex human institutions which are the product of human action but not of human design - no, a story is about evil people plotting together.

Comment by gaffa on Meetup : Stockholm meetup · 2011-10-05T00:09:25.857Z · LW · GW

Yeah sure, that's cool with me. We could also decide on the train for the way back (if you're going back), though SJ's site is down for maintenance at the moment. Anyhow I'll send you my contact info by PM.

Comment by gaffa on Get genotyped for free ( If your IQ is high enough) · 2011-10-03T18:23:06.585Z · LW · GW

I think "Get genotyped for free" would work, I don't know how many people will not fully understand what is meant but it'd be hard to come up with something else without getting non-snappy.

Comment by gaffa on Meetup : Stockholm meetup · 2011-10-03T09:45:18.009Z · LW · GW

I will come - I'm in Uppsala currently but I'll take the train down there.

Comment by gaffa on Get genotyped for free ( If your IQ is high enough) · 2011-10-02T22:09:20.428Z · LW · GW

Actually, they will not sequence your genome - they will genotype you. It's actually quite a difference and I would recommend changing the title of this post. So what they do is use a so called "SNP chip" to test your genotype at a large number (hundreds of thousands) of positions known to be polymorphic in the human population ( This is the same technology currently used by personal genomics companies such as 23andMe, and it's not particularly expensive.

Sequencing a genome is done by totally different technologies, and can potentially determine your entire genome sequence (whereas in the genotyping case you are restricted to the particular loci that were included on the chip). It it also still considerably more expensive.

Comment by gaffa on Entangled with Reality: The Shoelace Example · 2011-07-05T19:06:32.975Z · LW · GW

Clicking the first image for full size isn't working, seems to be a link problem there.

Comment by gaffa on Where are we? · 2011-04-28T10:34:29.836Z · LW · GW

Gothenburg, Sweden.

Comment by gaffa on Buy Insurance -- Bet Against Yourself · 2010-11-27T23:22:20.171Z · LW · GW

I've heard about people doing this for sports events they care about - e.g. betting against their national team qualifying for the soccer World Cup.

Comment by gaffa on Something's Wrong · 2010-09-06T17:55:03.116Z · LW · GW

While I don't disagree that it can be valuable to say that there's something wrong with a theory, it should be noted that at least for factual matters, if you can't provide an alternative explanation then your criticism isn't actually that strong. The probability of a hypothesis being the true explanation for an observation is the fraction its probability makes up of the total probability of that observation (summing over all competing hypothesis, weighed by their respective likelihoods). If you can't move in with another hypothesis to steal some probability clay from the first hypothesis (by providing likelihood values that better predict the observations), that first hypothesis is not going to take a hit.

Comment by gaffa on Open Thread, August 2010-- part 2 · 2010-08-10T13:22:40.900Z · LW · GW

Has anyone read, and could comment on, Scientific Reasoning: The Bayesian Approach by philosophers Howson and Urbach? To me it appears to be the major work on Bayes from within mainstream philosophy of science, but reviews are mixed and I can't really get a feel for its quality and whether it's worth reading.

Comment by gaffa on Open Thread: June 2010 · 2010-06-05T01:25:43.623Z · LW · GW

Tabloid 100% gold. Hanson slayed me.

Comment by gaffa on The Psychological Diversity of Mankind · 2010-05-09T16:55:44.735Z · LW · GW

Where on Earth have you been for the last couple of days? : ] Hiding in a Croatian cave?

That being said, we currently have no reason to believe that this interbreeding had any phenotypic effects on the human lineage.

Comment by gaffa on The Psychological Diversity of Mankind · 2010-05-09T16:42:50.027Z · LW · GW

If we're looking to find out if humans vary significantly in their psychological phenotypes, why not compare these phenotypes directly rather than appealing to highly shaky evolutionary speculations about genotypes?

(Sure, environmental variation also contributes to phenotypic variation, but we have no reason to believe that the current level of human psychological variation is masked by environmental factors - especially since right now environmental variation is probably at its peak in human history)

Comment by gaffa on Open Thread: April 2010 · 2010-04-05T13:51:43.592Z · LW · GW

Does anyone know a popular science book about, how should I put it, statistical patterns and distributions in the universe. Like, what kind of things follow normal distributions and why, why do power laws emerge everywhere, why scale-free networks all over the place, etc. etc.

Comment by gaffa on Rationality quotes: March 2010 · 2010-03-01T17:20:03.500Z · LW · GW

…it is fatally easy to read a pattern into stochastically generated data.

-- John Maynard Smith (The Causes of Extinction, 1989)

Comment by gaffa on Rationality Quotes January 2010 · 2010-01-07T13:49:18.576Z · LW · GW

He thought he knew that there was no point in heading any further in that direction, and, as Socrates never tired of pointing out, thinking that you know when you don't is the main cause of philosophical paralysis.

-- Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea

Comment by gaffa on Ethics as a black box function · 2009-09-23T16:33:01.194Z · LW · GW

My reading of that sentence was that Kaj_Sotala focused not on the happiness part of utilitarianism, but on the expected utility calculation part. That is, that everyone needs to make an expected utility calculation to make moral decisions. I don't think any particular type of utility was meant to be implied as necessary.

Comment by gaffa on The Lifespan Dilemma · 2009-09-10T20:22:35.315Z · LW · GW

The point is to imagine the event that is the least bad, but still bad. If dust specks doesn't do it for you, imagine something else. What event you choose is not supposed to be the crucial part of the dilemma.

Comment by gaffa on Rationality Quotes - September 2009 · 2009-09-03T21:06:47.239Z · LW · GW

It is better to have an approximate answer to the right question than an exact answer to the wrong question.

-- John Tukey

Comment by gaffa on How inevitable was modern human civilization - data · 2009-08-22T01:04:24.738Z · LW · GW

This isn't really true. Only organisms with mitochondria developed multicellularity. Mitochondria are the hard part.

doi: 10.1073/pnas.0702207104:

Multicellularity is widely viewed as a unique attribute of eukaryotes, somehow made possible by the origin of a more complex cellular architecture and, without question, with the assistance of natural selection. However, it is difficult to defend this assertion in any formal way. Complex, multicellularity has only arisen twice, once in animals and once in vascular plants. One might add fungi to the list, although the number of fungal cell types is not large, and there is some question as to whether multicellularity was ancestral to the phylogenetic group that contains animals, fungi, and slime molds. In any event, the probability that two or three origins of multicellularity simply arose by chance within eukaryotes as opposed to prokaryotes is somewhere on the order of 1/4 to 1/2, well below the general standards of statistical validity. Of course, many other eukaryotes are capable of producing a few different cell types, but the same is true for prokaryotes, some of which produce radically different cell morphologies.

Comment by gaffa on Rationality Quotes - June 2009 · 2009-06-15T10:54:35.707Z · LW · GW

"We have tried to do this in a hypothesis-independent manner because there is nothing more dangerous in life than a good hypothesis."

--Kári Stefánsson, deCODE Genetics

Comment by gaffa on Rationality Quotes - June 2009 · 2009-06-15T10:49:42.895Z · LW · GW

"Although the first solution is the one usually given, I prefer this second one because it reduces the need to think, replacing it by the automatic calculus. Thinking is hard, so only use it where essential."

--Dennis Lindley, Understanding Uncertainty

Comment by gaffa on Less Meta · 2009-04-26T16:31:57.488Z · LW · GW

How does everyone feel about posts not consisting of info, advice or reflection, but only of request for help or the pointing out of problems and difficult questions? So far on LW the former kind of posts have been dominating, with the general feel, inherited from OB, that posts should be high-quality contributions from the poster to the community. But could there also be room for posts just consisting of "I have this problem (relevant to our topic) and I need help" or straight-forward questions without much complementary reflection from the poster?

Maybe this latter kind of material would be better placed in comment form in threads intended for this kind of thing (such as the recent The ideas you're not ready to post ). Maybe there could even be a "General Help and Advice Thread". This kind of set-up would keep the quality of posts at a high level - but would also mean that potentially good problems/questions would get little attention, buried away in obscure corners of the site.

Comment by gaffa on Spreading the word? · 2009-04-19T21:27:17.136Z · LW · GW

On several occasions I've wanted to introduce people to Eliezer's writings (and OB/LW aswell), but due to its disorganized and heavily-dependent-on-other-material-in-a-great-messy-web-like nature, I have feared that just a "hey check this guy out" would most likely just result in the person reading a few random essays, saying "yeah I guess that's pretty interesting" and then forgetting about it. Right before LW launched, I seem to recall Eliezer talking about how the LW architecture would allow better organization and that maybe he would do something to make his material more accessible. I haven't heard anything since then, but if something like that would be done I think that would be great.

(sorry if I'm being rude by focusing on just Eliezer's material when we're discussing the greater LW picture, but this is just a situation that I've found myself in a few times and I think it's still relevant to this topic. I also second ciphergoth's point about the elephant)

Comment by gaffa on "Playing to Win" · 2009-04-10T20:37:11.327Z · LW · GW

I used to play a competitive multiplayer game at a fairly high level, and in the community "play to win" was the standard dogma to throw at "scrubs" who complained about what they felt were unfair tactics or exploitation of bugs or unbalanced strategies. In this particular community, this attitude reached a somewhat unpleasant magnitude and many potentially constructive concerns or reflections upon player behaviour or game balance was met with hostility. The "play to win" doctrine to some extent hampered discussion in the community and fostered a cold, hostile environment where any sign of non-competitiveness was looked down on by default.

I don't mean to extrapolate this to a larger picture, I just thought I'd share my experience with the "play to win" concept. One should keep in mind that the utility function in a computer game is extremely simple - "win" in a game actually means to win in the game. Indeed, Sirlin's point is that in a competitive game, there is only one utility. In real life, your utility function is of course going to be more complex, and might include for example other people's feelings.

Comment by gaffa on Extreme Rationality: It's Not That Great · 2009-04-09T13:51:36.798Z · LW · GW

Am I the only one who is isn't entirely positive towards the heavy use of language identifying the LW community as "rationalists", including terms like "rationalist training" etc.? (Though he is by far the heaviest user of this kind of language, I'm not really talking about Eliezer here, his language use is whole topic on its own - I'm restricting this particular concern to other people, to the general LW non-Eliezer jargon). Is strongly self-identifying as a "rationalist" really such a good thing? Does it really help you solve problems? (I second the questions raised by Yvain). Though perhaps small, isn't there still a risk that the focus becomes too much on "being a rationalist" instead of on actually solving problems?

Of course, this is a blog about rationality and not about specific problems, so this kind of language is not suprising and sometimes might even be necessary. I'm just a bit hesitant towards it when the community hasn't actually shown that it's better at solving problems than people who don't self-identify as rationalists and haven't had "rationalist training", or shown that the techniques fostered here have such a high cross-domain applicability as seems to be assumed. Maybe after it has been shown that "rationalists" do better than other people, people who just solve problems, I would feel better about this kind of jargon.

Comment by gaffa on Where are we? · 2009-04-03T20:32:53.252Z · LW · GW

Post here if you live in Sweden.

Comment by gaffa on Open Thread: April 2009 · 2009-04-03T20:22:13.543Z · LW · GW

Maybe it would be nice if some people wrote a few "tutorial"-like or basic lesson-kind of posts aimed at people who are new to the whole "rationalist" thing, covering for example basic concepts in probability theory and statistics, decision theory, cognitive bias etc., thereby making LW more accessible to newcomers who want to get on the train but might have never been exposed to these topics before. These posts could be sorted under a special tag that could be linked to in the "About" section.