Comment by garethrees on How can I spend money to improve my life? · 2016-06-14T20:03:51.299Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Deaths per cyclist per kilometre of road is a crazy unit of measurement. I mean, sometimes you have to report the statistic you've got rather than the statistic you'd like, but I don't see what possible practical significance this has.

The statistic we'd like to know is deaths per kilometre cycled. The average person in the UK cycles about 60 km a year (source: Department for Transport) and the population of London is about 8.5 million (source: Wikipedia), so the 19 deaths in 2006 correspond to about 3.5 deaths per 100 million kilometres cycled.

This is slightly higher than the UK average of 3.1 deaths per 100 million kilometres cycled, and on the high side for Western Europe (compare Netherlands: 1.0; Germany: 1.8; France: 3.1; Italy: 3.4).

Comment by garethrees on The rational way to name rivers · 2014-08-12T16:13:47.175Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In Japanese, these aren't noun suffixes but number suffixes, known as counters or classifiers. You don't say, "*ninjin ga san" [three carrots], but rather, "ninjin ga sanbon" [three-cylinder-shaped carrots].

Mass nouns behave in a similar way in English: you don't say "*three breads", but rather, "three loaves of bread". Also, "head of cattle", "slices of toast", "sheets of paper", "items of cutlery", etc.

In Navajo, the classifiers are verb stems.

Comment by garethrees on The rational way to name rivers · 2014-08-09T16:51:45.951Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This proposal seems like it would run aground on the actual complexity and changeability of river systems. The River Great Ouse, to take an example that's local to me, runs in four channels between Earith and its outflow at Kings Lynn (the Old and New Bedford Rivers, the Great Ouse proper, and an unnamed flood relief channel). But this is a relatively recent configuration: the Great Ouse formerly turned west at Littleport (rather than north as at present), reaching a confluence with the River Nene before flowing into the Wash at Wisbech, while the Little Ouse flowed north to Kings Lynn.

Comment by garethrees on Open thread, August 19-25, 2013 · 2014-07-05T22:45:42.911Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Gung cnegvphyne nzovtenz, fher. (Vg'f nyfb qvsvphyg gb svaq zhygvcyr zrffntrf jvgu gur fnzr unfu.) Ohg Qreera Oebja hfrq guvf nzovtenz va uvf 2007 frevrf "Gevpx be Gerng" jvgu ng yrnfg gur nccrnenapr bs fhpprff (gubhtu nf nyjnlf jvgu Oebja, vg'f cbffvoyr ur jnf sbbyvat hf engure guna gur cnegvpvcnag).

Comment by garethrees on Open thread, August 19-25, 2013 · 2014-07-05T22:07:54.857Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Creuncf gur fyvc bs cncre ybbxrq fbzrguvat yvxr guvf. (Qrfvtavat na nzovtenz jbhyq or nanybtbhf gb svaqvat zhygvcyr zrffntrf jvgu gur fnzr unfu.)

Comment by garethrees on What Can We Learn About Human Psychology from Christian Apologetics? · 2014-01-05T23:09:16.954Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I once attended an apologetical talk given by the Christian Union at my college. (They were offering free food.) The invited speaker presented a version of C. S. Lewis's trilemma: liar, lunatic or lord? (a kind of proof by alliteration).

I spoke to the speaker afterwards and took him to task for presenting such a silly argument, which I said was hardly likely to convince anyone not already a Christian. He freely admitted the logical flaws in the trilemma argument, and said that his own personal justifications for belief were quite different—he appealed, if I recall correctly, to his personal experience and to William Paley's argument from design—but he said that these kinds of justifications didn't go down so well with the members of the Christian Union who had invited him to speak, and that the trilemma was "the kind of thing people expected to hear" at these events. So this one speaker was quite clear about the nature of the audience for an apologetical lecture.

Comment by garethrees on According to Dale Carnegie, You Can't Win an Argument—and He Has a Point · 2014-01-05T19:43:28.630Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I have never been able to get the Socratic Method to work on the Internet. In theory the Socratic Method is effective because the student has to reason their own way to the conclusion, and so they end up knowing it more deeply and thoroughly than if they were just told the conclusion by the teacher. But somehow it never works for me.

I think part of the problem is that the Socratic Method relies on the participants agreeing to take on the appropriate roles in the discussion. In particular, the "student" has to agree to play the role of the student, so that when the "teacher" asks them to consider such-and-such, they actually do consider it.

Here's an example in which I try to help someone learn how to solve puzzles involving conditional probabilities. But he does not agree that I have any right to teach him, and so nothing is communicated.

The other problem is that the Socratic Method requires a very long interaction, with a lot of back and forth. In person you can keep someone focused on a difficult issue until they resolve it. But conversations on the Internet rarely go on long enough for a difficult point to be resolved, and it is easy for a participant who finds themselves in an uncomfortable position to abandon the discussion.

Comment by garethrees on Rationality Quotes January 2014 · 2014-01-05T16:39:10.198Z · score: 21 (21 votes) · LW · GW

I think gwern is teasing us: there is no such quotation in Sluga's Heidegger's Crisis, or at least I cannot find it in the Google Books version. Perhaps gwern has taken the Wittgenstein/Malcolm story and swapped Britain for Germany to make a point about the universal applicability of the philosopher's rebuke.

But for what it's worth:

  • The date in the Heidegger version of the story is very suspicious: in 1939 Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty; he did not become Prime Minister until May 1940 and it is only with hindsight that we see his significance (even in 1940 most political actors seem to have thought that Lord Halifax would be a better choice for Prime Minister than Churchill).

  • The version of the anecdote featuring Wittgenstein and Malcolm is backed up by a citation to Malcolm's Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir where Malcolm quotes the letter from Wittgenstein at length. Also, the 1939 date for the original quarrel about "national character" is a better fit to this story, because in 1939 no-one could doubt the significance of Hitler, and assassination attempts on Hitler were by that point a fairly regular occurrence.

Comment by garethrees on Greg Egan disses stand-ins for Overcoming Bias, SIAI in new book · 2013-09-14T18:52:38.478Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

"Biggest fan" here is hyperbole for "a very big fan".

Comment by garethrees on "Mind reading" - how is this done? · 2013-08-20T09:13:09.991Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You say that my explanations "aren't valid" because I "have to assume" various facts. Why do I have to make these assumptions? Your argument is that these tricks must be fair puzzles. But Derren is not in the business of making fair puzzles, he is in the business of entertaining television audiences. He is under no obligation to play fair, and he is quite willing to use your belief that he plays fair in order to fool you.

My explanations for tricks two and three don't just explain the effect, but also a number of details of the presentation that would otherwise be mysterious or arbitrary. The technique in trick two (which is well-known among magicians under the name "vafgnag fgbbtr") explains, among other things, the flat affect of the man whose mind is supposedly being read (why doesn't he seem as amazed as the woman?) The technique in trick three explains not only why Derren is dressed like a clown, but also the sequence of camera cuts.

Comment by garethrees on "Mind reading" - how is this done? · 2013-08-16T13:20:18.527Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For the record, I thought of "spade" and then "orange" (perhaps because of an association of spades with the merchant B&Q, whose logo and branded materials are orange, though of course this is post-hoc rationalization on my part).

The reason why I think concentrating on "suggestion" is often an indication that you've missed something, is that suggestion is not reliable enough for magicians to use it as the sole mechanism for an effect, especially in settings like live television where the stakes are high. Magicians prefer to use it in combination with another method. Then, if the suggestion works, the effect is spectacular, but if it fails, the other method comes in and saves the effect. For example, Derren asks David Frost to picture something "in the back of your mind" and emphasizes this by tapping the back of his head. He then guesses that the word will "begin with a guttural sound, like a C or a G". I wondered if this was an attempt at suggestion (via an association from "back of the mind" to "back of the mouth") that didn't quite come off, with some other method then saving the effect. (My own word was "apple", which does start with a guttural sound—a glottal stop—though this would not have helped Derren, because no-one in the audience would know enough phonology to recognize that this was the case.)

But yes, you're right, I was a bit too strong in my comment above and suggestion does sometimes deserve consideration. If by good luck it works in a trick, then you might not get a hint from the performance as to what the backup method was going to be.

(If you can point me to televised tricks that you think are pure suggestion, then I'd be interested to see them.)

Comment by garethrees on "Mind reading" - how is this done? · 2013-08-16T08:40:07.966Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It's an example of Derren Brown's brilliant use of misdirection. Here you're misdirected as to the whole nature of the trick, and if you start your analysis by asking yourself, "how does he manage to read the woman's mind?" then you've already swallowed the false assumption. You have to take a step back and start from the question, "how does he manage to convince me, the viewer, that he read the woman's mind?"

Comment by garethrees on "Mind reading" - how is this done? · 2013-08-15T23:22:45.945Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I'll ROT-13 my own answers to the questions, but I strongly recommend that you do your best to figure out your own answers to them before decrypting mine. Trying to figure out plausible mechanisms for magic tricks is a way of calibrating your rational thinking skills, in the presence of an adversary (the magician) who is trying to use all your perceptual biases and cognitive shortcuts against you. If you find yourself seriously considering hypotheses like micromuscle reading or subliminal suggestion, then that's probably because the magician has managed to slip a false assumption past your defences!

Svefg, Qnivq Sebfg. Guvf, V jvyy fnl hc sebag, vf gur bar V'z yrnfg pbasvqrag nobhg. Ohg zl gurbel vf guvf. N pung fubj yvxr Sebfg'f glcvpnyyl unf fbzr xvaq bs cercnengvba orsberunaq: abg n fpevcgrq erurnefny, ohg n pbairefngvba va juvpu gur ubfg naq gur thrfg jbex bhg jung xvaqf bs fhowrpgf gurl ner tbvat gb pbire. Va gur erurnefny, Qreera qbrf fbzr zntvp gevpxf naq va gur pbhefr bs guvf ur fbzrubj sbeprf gur jbeq Zvyna ba Sebfg va fbzr jnl gung Sebfg guvaxf vf enaqbz. (Ubj? N obbx grfg? V qba'g xabj.) Qreera fgnegf gb thrff jung vg vf, ohg gura fnlf, "Ab, V'yy gel naq thrff gung yngre ba gur fubj". Gura, qhevat gur yvir erpbeqvat, ur tbrf guebhtu n zvaq-ernqvat nggrzcg gung tbrf onqyl (gur pvtne) ohg qhevat gur pbhefr bs guvf ur qebcf uvagf nobhg n cynpr, juvpu Sebfg vavgvnyyl qravrf: "Vg'f n cynpr bs fbzr fbeg" "Ab" "BX, pna lbh tb onpx va lbhe zvaq. V guvax gurer jnf n cynpr." "Ab, nf fbba nf lbh nfxrq zr V'ir bayl gubhtug bs guvf bar guvat." Qreera trgf vg jebat, ohg gura ur fnlf, "Gurer jnf n cynpr. V guvax gurer jnf n cynpr, gubhtu, gung jrag guebhtu lbhe urnq. Whfg tb onpx va lbhe zvaq naq whfg sbphf ba n cynpr sbe n frpbaq." Abj Sebfg nterrf gung gurer jnf n cynpr. Jul vf gung? Vg'f orpnhfr abj gung gur gevpx vf bire naq Qreera snvyrq, Sebfg ernyvmrf gung ur'f orvat cebzcgrq gb guvax onpx gb gur cynpr gung jnf pubfra rneyvre, naq abj Qreera thrffrf vg. Sebfg vf vzcerffrq orpnhfr ur qvqa'g fcbg gur sbepr, ohg jr ner rira zber vzcerffrq orpnhfr jr qba'g xabj nobhg gur erurnefny naq jr guvax Qreera jnf thrffvat pbyq. Sebfg vf gbb zhpu bs n cebsrffvbany gb fcbvy gur rssrpg ol gnyxvat nobhg gur erurnefny (naq Qreera bs pbhefr xabjf guvf).

Frpbaq, gur crg. 1. Qreera cvpxrq n jbzra jub jnf fubegre guna uvz fb gung ur pbhyq rnfvyl oybpx ure ivrj qhevat uvf rkcynangvba. 2. Qreera cvpxrq gur zna orsber tvivat gur rkcynangvba fb gung gur zna jbhyq unir n ybat jnvg bss pnzren. 3. Qreera fgrcf sbejneq gbjneqf gur jbzra, gbhpuvat ure fb nf gb pbzcyrgryl bpphcl ure nggragvbaf. Fur qbrf abg frr jung unccraf gb gur zna. 4. Arvgure qb jr, ohg zl gurbel vf gung Qreera'f "cebqhpre" yrnqf gur zna gb gur fvqr naq fnlf "jr arrq lbh gb ernq guvf eryrnfr sbez, cyrnfr". Gur zna ybbxf ng gur "eryrnfr sbez" naq vg fnlf, "Jrypbzr, ibyhagrre! Gbtrgure, lbh naq V ner tbvat gb tvir guvf jbzna na nznmvat rkcrevrapr: sbe n zvahgr be gjb fur vf tbvat gb oryvrir gung fur pna ernq lbhe zvaq. Nyy lbh unir gb qb vf nterr jvgu rnpu bs ure thrffrf. Orfg bs yhpx, Qreera"

Guveq, gur pybja. 1. Qreera vf qerffrq nf n pybja orpnhfr vg tvirf uvz na rkphfr gb chg urnil znxr-hc ba naq nebhaq uvf yvcf. 2. Vg'f n perrcl pybja fb gur znxr-hc pna or oynpx. 3. Ur jnirf uvf unaqf nebhaq fb gung gurl bsgra bofgehpg gur pnzren'f ivrj bs uvf zbhgu. 4. Jvgubhg gur fbhaq, vg'f pyrne gung lbh pna'g frr uvf yvcf pyrneyl be bsgra rabhtu gb irevsl gung ur'f fcrnxvat gur jbeqf ba gur fbhaqgenpx. Zl gurbel vf gung gur npghny qvnybthr vf pbzcyrgryl qvssrerag sebz gur fbhaqgenpx, naq qbrf abg unir nalguvat gb qb jvgu zvaq-ernqvat ng nyy. Creuncf Qreera fgnegf, "Rkphfr zr, Zvff, jbhyq lbh yvxr gb urne n wbxr?" naq fur fnlf "Hu-uhu" naq bss gurl tb. Gur zvaq-ernqvat qvnybthr vf gura jevggra naq qhoorq ba nsgrejneqf, gnxvat pner gb zngpu gur yvcf va gur oevrs frpbaqf jura jr pna frr gurz.

Comment by garethrees on "Mind reading" - how is this done? · 2013-08-15T17:28:47.483Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

I think it's worth taking a step back from the details of any one of Derren Brown's effects, and looking at the nature of stage magic. A stage magician employs a set of techniques called misdirection to mislead the audience as to how a trick is performed, to direct their attention to irrelevant aspects of the performance, or to encourage them to misinterpret relevant aspects.

An important technique in misdirection is to provide the audience with a false explanation for how the trick is done. A magician who says that a trick is done by magic encourages you watch carefully at the point where he waves his magic wand (knowing that this does the audience no good, because the rabbit was already loaded into the hat). A magician who says that a trick is done by science encourages you to look at the fancy gears of his machine (when actually there's an assistant hidden inside). A magician who says that a trick is done by psychic powers encourages you to watch carefully at the point where he concentrates on reading the subject's mind (when actually the card was marked or forced).

Knowing all this, as I imagine you do, what are we to make of a magician who explains that a trick is done by psychology? I guess this time he might be telling the truth, right?

Now, let's look at your examples with the above in mind, and ask some questions.

In the first example, why does David Frost later agree that he was thinking of a place, after first denying it?

In the second example (guessing the pet name),

  1. Is Derren taller or shorter than the woman?
  2. Did Derren pick the other volunteer (the man with the shoulder bag) before or after explaining how to read minds?
  3. Where was Derren standing while he explained to the woman how to read minds?
  4. What was the man with the shoulder bag doing while this was going on?
  5. Who exactly was tricked here?

In the third example (the creepy clown),

  1. Why is he dressed as a clown?
  2. Why a creepy clown in particular?
  3. Why does he wave his arms about?
  4. What does it look like if you watch it without the sound?
Comment by garethrees on More "Stupid" Questions · 2013-08-08T22:04:59.967Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is an excellent question. grouchymusicologist above has it right that "music enjoyment is a remarkably multifaceted phenomenon", and I would like to expand on this.

Michael J. Parsons, in How we understand art: a cognitive developmental account of aesthetic experience, identifies a sequence of developmental stages in the appreciation of visual art. This is of necessity a very rough and un-nuanced summary since I don't have the book to hand, but I think this sequence is: first, colour ("this painting is red"); second, subject matter ("this painting is of a dog"); third, emotional content ("this painting makes me feel wistful"); fourth, technique ("this painting is pointillist"); and fifth, historical relationships ("this painting is a witty riposte to a work of Velasquez").

I can't point you at a corresponding developmental study of music, but I'm sure that similar stages of appreciation are there. To give a flavour of the different kinds of thing going on in the appreciation of music, let's take an example: here's Ian Bostridge singing Schubert's setting of "Der Erlkönig" by Goethe.

When listening to this, I appreciate: (i) the timbre of the piano and voice; (ii) the driving and urgent rhythm; (iii) the words and the story; (iv) the way the harmony creates and releases the dramatic tension at appropriate points in the text; (v) the skill of the performers: stamina is needed by the pianist to keep the triplets going, and vocal control by the singer to maintain timbre of the high notes; (vi) the "tone-painting": that is, the ways in which the musical notes illustrate aspects of the story, for example the repeated notes representing the horse's hooves; the way that the "child's" entries are a semitone above the piano, this discord illustrating his distress; the way that each entry is higher and more distressed than the previous one; (vii) the vocal acting of Ian Bostridge: his use of different vocal timbres to differentiate the four parts, and details of expression like the snarl on "so brauch ich Gewalt"; (viii) the different choices Schubert made in this composition compared with Carl Loewe's setting of the same text.

(I recognize that this doesn't explain why I appreciate these aspects of the performance. But I think it's still useful to give an indication of how complex the phenomenon of music appreciation is.)

Comment by garethrees on Great rationality posts in the OB archives · 2013-02-24T23:51:29.214Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The paper

provides evidence that periods of glaciation begin when northern hemisphere insolation (which varies due to changes in the precession, obliquity and eccentricity of Earth's orbit) falls below a "trigger" level that depends on the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Archer & Ganopolski suggest that we're currently approaching a solar minimum, but we've already released enough CO2 into the atmosphere to avoid a glaciation in the next few thousand years. (If we burn all available fossil fuels, "The model predicts the end of the glacial cycles, with stability of the interglacial for at least the next half million years".)

Comment by garethrees on Funnel plots: the study that didn't bark, or, visualizing regression to the null · 2013-02-24T01:41:54.235Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If I can't get this study published in the traditional way, I'll "publish" it myself on the internet.

There's always the Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis.

Comment by garethrees on Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Argument · 2013-02-23T10:38:50.864Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Blues understand Green arguments but aren't persuaded by them (presumably because they have counterarguments), whereas Greens don't understand Blue arguments and this makes it unlikely they have counterarguments.

This is a restatement of the hypothesis under discussion. (That inability to imitate convincingly is caused by lack of understanding.)

your third objection amounts to "sometimes the people defending the incorrect position are homogeneous, this gives them a large advantage in the test".

You've failed to imitate my position. My third objection is about irrelevant detail, not homogeneity. (Perhaps you can suggest a better way I could have put it?)

your opponents' position really has no logic to it beyond saying anything plausible-sounding that backs up their conclusion

Again, you've failed to imitate my position. For concreteness, let's take Christopher Monckton as an example. It's not that I think he's saying "anything plausible-sounding". His arguments have a logical structure which is imitable but they are embedded in a rhetorical structure that I would find very hard to imitate convincingly due to lack of practice. (I guess you could characterize this as a form of irrelevant detail and merge it with my objection 3 but I think these two sources of irrelevant detail are sufficiently different in origin and aim to be worth separating.)

Comment by garethrees on Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Argument · 2013-02-22T15:22:22.034Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I find it very plausible that Christians are better able to pretend to be atheists than vice versa. But what follows from that?

Caplan claimed in his original piece:

the ability to pass ideological Turing tests—to state opposing views as clearly and persuasively as their proponents—is a genuine symptom of objectivity and wisdom.

Caplan gives little in the way of argument in support of this claim, and I'm not at all sure that it's true. "Genuine symptom of objectivity and wisdom", really? My objections follow.

First, there's only one way to be right but there are many ways to be wrong. So if you are right it is likely that you have only a broad survey-level view of the different varieties of wrongness. Take, for example, climate change. The scientific consensus view is narrow and everyone in the debate knows what it is. But as far as I know there are many different skeptical positions (there's no such thing as the greenhouse effect; there may be a greenhouse effect but CO₂ is not a greenhouse gas; CO₂ may be a greenhouse gas but concentrations are not increasing; CO₂ concentrations may be increasing, but they are not anthropogenic; global temperatures are not rising; temperatures may be rising but not because of CO₂; temperatures may be rising but there is no need to do anything because the net result will be beneficial; climate change may be harmful but it's too late to do anything about it; it may not be too late but there are still better things to spend money on). I think I know enough about each of these positions to be confident that it's wrong but in order to impersonate one of these positions well enough to fool people I would have to know it inside out. Exactly which wrong assumptions and wrong authorities does each of these positions depend on?

Second, the criterion of being able to state views "as clearly and persuasively as their proponents" is not as neutral as it seems. If you're right you may have been happy to rely on the facts to do your persuading for you. But if you're wrong then you have probably needed to employ a lot of rhetoric, salesmanship, fallacies and argumentation. These techniques take skill and practice and aren't easy to imitate. For example, there's no way that I would be able to imitate the dense texture of sneering and insinuation in the rhetoric of someone like Moldbug.

Third, in the specific case under discussion here, Christianity has a number of cultural properties that make it hard to imitate. If you are Christian, then you probably know the Bible in detail, you are probably familiar with a range of theological and apologetic texts, and you are probably embedded in a subculture with its own rules, rituals, and mores. These kinds of details take a lot of work to imitate. But the typical atheist has probably never read The God Delusion or attended any kind of atheist event, so there's nothing there that needs to be invented.

Comment by garethrees on The Useful Idea of Truth · 2013-02-19T17:00:05.087Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

"Post-utopian" is a real term, and even in the absence of examples of its use, it is straightforward to deduce its (likely) meaning, since "post-" means "subsequent to, in reaction to" and "utopian" means "believing in or aiming at the perfecting of polity or social conditions". So post-utopian texts are those which react against utopianism, express skepticism at the perfectibility of society, and so on. This doesn't seem like a particularly difficult idea and it is not difficult to identify particular texts as post-utopian (for example, Koestler's Darkness at Noon, Huxley's Brave New World, or Nabokov's Bend Sinister).

So I think you need to pick a better example: "post-utopian" doesn't cut it. The fact that you have chosen a weak example increases my skepticism as to the merits of your general argument. If meaningless terms are rife in the field of English literature, as you seem to be suggesting, then it should be easy for you to pick a real one.

(I made a similar point in response to your original post on this subject.)

Comment by garethrees on Facing the Intelligence Explosion discussion page · 2012-06-01T20:20:06.094Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Front page: missing author

The front page for Facing the Singularity needs at the very least to name the author. When you write, "my attempt to answer these questions", a reader may well ask, "who are you? and why should I pay attention to your answer?" There ought to be a brief summary here: we shouldn't have to scroll down to the bottom and click on "About" to discover who you are.

Comment by garethrees on NonGoogleables · 2012-01-13T23:33:13.672Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The tables of contents for Science magazine are online. Looking through these might jog your memory. But there are quite a lot of issues.

Comment by garethrees on NonGoogleables · 2012-01-13T17:36:48.517Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Recently in another topic I mentioned the "two bishops against two knights" chess endgame problem. I claimed it was investigated over two decades ago by a computer program and established that it is a win situation for the two bishops' side. Then I was unable to Google a solid reference for my claim.

I believe that subject to the ambiguity in what is meant by "a win situation for the two bishops", your recollection is correct.

The 6-piece pawnless endgames were were first analyzed systematically by Lewis Stiller starting in the late 1980s and reported in his papers in 1991 and 1992. The storage technologies available at this time meant that only summarized results could be saved, such as the longest win, and the total number of wins, draws and losses. I can't find these papers online, but the results also appear in Stiller (1995) and there's a summary of the state of the art in Thompson (1996).

For the KBBKNN ending Stiller only analyzed positions with the two bishops on opposite coloured squares (and I think with white to move), and reported that the longest win for white was 37 moves and the percentage of wins for white was 63%.You probably also want to note Stiller's caveat:

The percent-win can be misleading because of the advantage of the first move in a random position—White can often capture a piece in one move—and because it includes positions in which Black is in check.

So I think if you said "mostly a win for the two bishops from a random position with bishops on opposite-coloured squares, with the player with the bishops to move" that would be a fair summary of the facts.

Modern tablebases usually also include positions with the two bishops on the same colour square, so that analyses of these databases will give different results to Stiller. For example, according to Kirill Kryukov, the KBBKNN positions split like this:

With white (bishops) to move: 28429 losses, 885809752 draws (76%), 282912378 wins (24%)

With black (knights) to move: 54327970 losses (4%), 1247006005 draws (96%), 154105 wins

How could you have found this using Google? Well, it always helps to know of specialized databases to search (because the results tend to be of higher quality). I used Google Scholar to search for academic papers relevant to the keywords "6-piece chess endgame" and that returned Thompson (1996) as the first hit, and reading Thompson's summary of the state of the art led me to the Stiller papers. Of course, domain expertise is a big help too: I realised after discovering Stiller (1995) in the course of this search that I have a copy of this on my bookshelves.


  • Lewis Stiller (1991), "Some results from a massively parallel retrograde analysis", ICCA Journal 14:3, pp. 129–134.
  • Lewis Stiller (1992). "KQNKRR". ICCA Journal 15:1, pp. 16–18.
  • Lewis Stiller (1995). "Multilinear algebra and chess endgames", in Games of No Chance edited by Richard J. Nowakowski, MSRI Publications Volume 29.
  • Ken Thompson (1996). "6-piece endgames", ICCA Journal 19:4 pp. 215–226.
Comment by garethrees on [Link] Belief in religion considered harmful? · 2012-01-13T13:58:54.725Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Spelling Latin with u has always been there (but as a tiny minority of texts). Here are some occurrences of omnia uincit amor over the years: 1603, 1743, 1894, 1974.

If you compare the frequencies of vincit and uincit on Google Ngram viewer, you'll see that the u spelling has always been present at a low frequency. There doesn't seem to be any noticeable recent trend (other than the general decline of Latin as a proportion of printed material). I tried a few other Latin words and got similar results.

Comment by garethrees on The Optimizer's Curse and How to Beat It · 2012-01-12T17:46:45.507Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The earliest reference I can track down is from 1952. In Roger Sessions: a biography (2008), Andrea Olmstead writes:

[In 1952] Sessions published "Some notes on Schoenberg and the 'method of composing with twelve tones'." At the head of the article he quoted from one of Schoenberg's letters to him: "A Chinese philosopher speaks, of course, Chinese; the question is, what does he say?" Sessions [had performed] the role of a Chinese philosopher in Cleveland.

(The work that Sessions had performed this role in appears to have been Man who ate the popermack in the mid-1920s.)

Sessions' essay (originally published in The Score and then collected in Roger Sessions on Music) begins:

Arnold Schönberg sometimes said 'A Chinese philosopher speaks, of course, Chinese; the question is, what does he say?' The application of this to Schönberg's music is quite clear. The notoriety which has, for decades, surrounded what he persisted in calling his 'method of composing with twelve tones', has not only obscured his real significance, but, by focusing attention on the means rather than on the music itself, has often seemed a barrier impeding a direct approach to the latter.

An entertaining later reference to this quotation appears in Dialogues and a diary by Igor Stravinsky and Robert Craft (1963), where Stravinsky tabulates the differences between himself and Schoenberg, culminating in this comparison:

Stravinsky: ‘What the Chinese philosopher says cannot be separated from the fact that he says it in Chinese.’ (Preoccupation with manner and style.)

Schoenberg: ‘A Chinese philosopher speaks Chinese, but what does he say?’ (‘What is style?’)

Comment by garethrees on Greg Egan disses stand-ins for Overcoming Bias, SIAI in new book · 2011-01-10T19:36:37.100Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's hardly fair to call EY Egan's 'biggest fan'

I based this description on Yudkowsky's comments here, where he says of Permutation City, "This is simply the best science-fiction book ever written [...] It is, in short, my all-time favorite."

Comment by garethrees on Greg Egan disses stand-ins for Overcoming Bias, SIAI in new book · 2011-01-10T19:32:56.233Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see how those novels could have been an inspiration?

Yudkowsky describes Egan's work as an important influence in Creating Friendly AI, where he comments that a quote from Diaspora "affected my entire train of thought about the Singularity".

Comment by garethrees on Updating, part 1: When can you change your mind? The binary model · 2010-05-17T19:22:26.579Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The Wikipedia page explains how a frequentist can get the answer ⅓, but it doesn't explain how a Bayesian can get that answer. That's what's missing.

I'm still hoping for a reference for "the Bayesian rules of forgetting". If these rules exist, then we can check to see if they give the answer ⅓ in the Sleeping Beauty case. That would go a long way to convincing a naive Bayesian.

Comment by garethrees on Updating, part 1: When can you change your mind? The binary model · 2010-05-17T19:01:13.872Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think this kind of proposal isn't going to work unless people understand why they disagree.

Comment by garethrees on Updating, part 1: When can you change your mind? The binary model · 2010-05-17T18:42:34.729Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You're not obliged to give a lecture. A reference would be ideal.

Appealing to "forgetting" only gives an argument that our reasoning methods are incomplete: it doesn't argue against ½ or in favour of ⅓. We need to see the rules and the calculation to decide if it settles the matter.

Comment by garethrees on Updating, part 1: When can you change your mind? The binary model · 2010-05-15T09:18:49.491Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If I understand rightly, you're happy with my values for p(H), p(D) and p(D|H), but you're not happy with the result. So you're claiming that a Bayesian reasoner has to abandon Bayes' Law in order to get the right answer to this problem. (Which is what I pointed out above.)

Is your argument the same as the one made by Bradley Monton? In his paper Sleeping Beauty and the forgetful Bayesian, Monton argues convincingly that a Bayesian reasoner needs to update upon forgetting, but he doesn't give a rule explaining how to do it.

Naively, I can imagine doing this by putting the reasoner back in the situation before they learned the information they forgot, and then updating forwards again, but omitting the forgotten information. (Monton gives an example on pp. 51–52 where this works.) But I can't see how to make this work in the Sleeping Beauty case: how do I put Sleeping Beauty back in the state before she learned what day it is?

So I think the onus remains with you to explain the rules for Bayesian forgetting, and how they lead to the answer ⅓ in this case. (If you can do this convincingly, then we can explain the hardness of the Sleeping Beauty problem by pointing out how little-known the rules for Bayesian forgetting are.)

Comment by garethrees on Updating, part 1: When can you change your mind? The binary model · 2010-05-14T10:42:17.970Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

D is the observation that Sleeping Beauty makes in the problem, something like "I'm awake, it's during the experiment, I don't know what day it is, and I can't remember being awoken before". p(D) is the prior probability of making this observation during the experiment. p(D|H) is the likelihood of making this observation if the coin lands heads.

As I said, if your intuition tells you that p(H|D) = ⅓, then something else has to change to make the calculation work. Either you abandon or modify Bayes' Law (in this case, at least) or you need to disagree with me on one or more of p(D), p(D|H), and p(H).

Comment by garethrees on Updating, part 1: When can you change your mind? The binary model · 2010-05-13T22:59:39.644Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Bayes' Law says, p(H|D) = p(D|H) p(H) / p(D) where H is the hypothesis of interest and D is the observed data. In the Sleeping Beauty problem H is "the coin lands heads" and D is "Sleeping Beauty is awake". p(H) = ½, and p(D|H) = p(D) = 1. So if your intuition tells you that p(H|D) = ⅓, then you have to either abandon Bayes' Law, or else change one or more of the values of p(D|H), p(H) and p(D) in order to make it come out.

(We can come back to the intuition about bets once we've dealt with this point.)

Comment by garethrees on Updating, part 1: When can you change your mind? The binary model · 2010-05-13T22:24:11.591Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's interesting. But then you have to either abandon Bayes' Law, or else adopt very bizarre interpretations of p(D|H), p(H) and p(D) in order to make it come out. Both of these seem like very heavy prices to pay. I'd rather admit that my intuition was wrong.

Is the motivating intuition beyond your comment, the idea that your subjective probability should be the same as the odds you'd take in a (fair) bet?

Comment by garethrees on Updating, part 1: When can you change your mind? The binary model · 2010-05-13T21:24:56.662Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I did check both threads, and as far as I could see, nobody was making exactly this point. I'm sorry that I missed the comment in question: the threads were very long. If you can point me at it, and the rebuttal, then I can try to address it (or admit I'm wrong).

(Even if I'm wrong about why the problem is hard, I think the rest of my comment stands: it's a problem that's been selected for discussion because it's hard, so it might be productive to try to understand why it's hard. Just as it helps to understand our biases, it helps to understand our errors.)

Comment by garethrees on Updating, part 1: When can you change your mind? The binary model · 2010-05-13T19:51:25.602Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The Sleeping Beauty problem and the other "paradoxes" of probability are problems that have been selected (in the evolutionary sense) because they contain psychological features that cause people's reasoning to go wrong. People come up with puzzles and problems all the time, but the ones that gain prominence and endure are the ones that are discussed over and over again without resolution: Sleeping Beauty, Newcomb's Box, the two-envelope problem.

So I think there's something valuable to be learned from the fact that these problems are hard. Here are my own guesses about what makes the Sleeping Beauty problem so hard.

First, there's ambiguity in the problem statement. It usually asks about your "credence". What's that? Well, if you're a Bayesian reasoner, then "credence" probably means something like "subjective probability (of a hypothesis H given data D), defined by p(H|D) = p(D|H) p(H) / p(D)". But some other reasoners take "credence" to mean something like "expected proportion of observations consistent with data D in which the hypothesis H was confirmed".

In most problems these definitions give the same answer, so there's normally no need to worry about the exact definition. But the Sleeping Beauty problem pushes a wedge between them: the Bayesians should answer ½ and the others ⅓. This can lead to endless argument between the factions if the underlying difference in definitions goes unnoticed.

Second, there's a psychological feature that makes some Bayesian reasoners doubt their own calculation. (You can try saying "shut up and calculate" to these baffled reasoners but while that might get them the right answer, it won't help them resolve their bafflement.) The problem somehow persuades some people to imagine themselves as an instance of Sleeping Beauty selected uniformly from the three instances {(heads,Monday), (tails,Monday), (tails,Tuesday)}. This appears to be a natural assumption that some reasoners are prepared to make, even though there's no justification for it in the problem description.

Maybe it's the principle of indifference gone wrong: the three instances are indistinguishable (to you) but that doesn't mean the one you are experiencing was drawn from a uniform distribution.

Comment by garethrees on Making Beliefs Pay Rent (in Anticipated Experiences) · 2010-05-13T11:46:22.035Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I think it's both. "Brave New World" portrays a dystopia (Huxley called it a "negative utopia") but it's also post-utopian because it displays skepticism towards utopian ideals (Huxley wrote it in reaction to H. G. Wells' "Men Like Gods").

I don't claim any expertise on this subject: in fact, I hadn't heard of post-utopianism at all until I read the word in this article. It just seemed to me to be overstating the case to claim that a term like this is meaningless. Vague, certainly. Not very profound, yes. But meaningless, no.

The meaning is easily deducible: in the history of ideas "post-" is often used to mean "after; in consequence of; in reaction to" (and "utopian" is straightforward). I checked my understanding by searching Google Scholar and Books: there seems to be only one book on the subject (The post-utopian imagination: American culture in the long 1950s by M. Keith Booker) but from reading the preview it seems to be using the word in the way that I described above.

The fact that the literature on the subject is small makes post-utopianism an easier target for this kind of attack: few people are likely to be familiar with the idea, or motivated to defend it, and it's harder to establish what the consensus on the subject is. By contrast, imagine trying to claim that "hard science fiction" was a meaningless term.

Comment by garethrees on Epilogue: Atonement (8/8) · 2010-05-13T09:07:35.016Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Stanislaw Lem, "The Twenty-First Voyage of Ijon Tichy", collected in "The Star Diaries".

Comment by garethrees on Making Beliefs Pay Rent (in Anticipated Experiences) · 2010-05-12T16:24:53.103Z · score: 20 (21 votes) · LW · GW

You write, “suppose your postmodern English professor teaches you that the famous writer Wulky Wilkinsen is actually a ‘post-utopian’. What does this mean you should expect from his books? Nothing.”

I’m sympathetic to your general argument in this article, but this particular jibe is overstating your case.

There may be nothing particularly profound in the idea of ‘post-utopianism’, but it’s not meaningless. Let me see if I can persuade you.

Utopianism is the belief that an ideal society (or at least one that's much better than ours) can be constructed, for example by the application of a particular political ideology. It’s an idea that has been considered and criticized here on LessWrong. Utopian fiction explores this belief, often by portraying such an ideal society, or the process that leads to one. In utopian fiction one expects to see characters who are perfectible, conflicts resolved successfully or peacefully, and some kind of argument in favour of utopianism. Post-utopian fiction is written in reaction to this, from a skeptical or critical viewpoint about the perfectibility of people and the possibility of improving society. One expects to see irretrievably flawed characters, idealistic projects turn to failure, conflicts that are destructive and unresolved, portrayals of dystopian societies and argument against utopianism (not necessarily all of these at once, of course, but much more often than chance).

Literary categories are vague, of course, and one can argue about their boundaries, but they do make sense. H. G. Wells’ “A Modern Utopia” is a utopian novel, and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” is post-utopian.