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Comment by hook on The Limits of Curiosity · 2011-03-12T18:54:27.394Z · LW · GW

One should also know everything, but clearly that's impossible.

There are some areas of knowledge that are so unlikely to yield anything useful that it's not worth spending any time being curious about them. For humanity in general, psi phenomena now fall into this category. There was a time when they didn't, but it's safe to say that time is over. For me as an individual, string theory falls into that category. I'm glad there are some people investigating it, but the effort required for me to have anything but a superficial understanding of the topic is extremely unlikely to help me achieve anything.

Comment by hook on Positive Thinking · 2011-03-08T02:13:19.471Z · LW · GW

I think you are approximately right here, but it's important to think about just how high that upper bound is, and what activities can only be accomplished by people above that bound. It might help to think in more concrete terms about what someone who believes in religion cannot achieve, that a non-believer can.

With sufficient compartmentalization of religious beliefs, I would venture to say the answer is a pretty small subset of activities. They may be important activities on a global scale, but mostly unimportant in peoples' day to day functioning.

It's very easy to imagine, or better yet, meet, theists who are far more rational in achieving their goals than even many of the people on this board.

Comment by hook on Science: Do It Yourself · 2011-02-20T19:36:56.818Z · LW · GW

Bobby Fischer, and a chess playing computer, highlight the difference between rationality and talent. Talent is simply the ability to do a particular task well. I tend to think of rationality as the ability to successfully apply one's talents to achieving one's reasonably complex goals. ("Reasonably complex" so the computer doesn't score very high on rationality for achieving it's one goal of winning chess games.)

Someone with limited talent could still be rational if he was making the best use of what strengths he did have. In a very real sense, we are all in that situation. It's easy to imagine possessing particular talents that would make achieving our goals much more likely.

That said, certain talents will be correlated with rationality and it's an interesting question to see to what extent chess is one of those talents.

Comment by hook on Procedural Knowledge Gaps · 2011-02-10T01:17:19.258Z · LW · GW

I first learned how to touch type on Dvorak, but switched to qwerty when I went to college so I wouldn't have issues using other computers. I found that I could not maintain proficiency with both layouts. One skill just clobbered the other.

Comment by hook on The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology is soliciting ideas · 2010-07-16T12:33:36.078Z · LW · GW

By interests, I mean concerns related to fulfilling values. For the time being, I consider human minds to be the only entities complex enough to have values. For example, it is very useful to model a cancer cell as having the goal of replicating, but I don't consider it to have replicating as a value.

The cancer example also shows that our own cells don't fulfill or share our values, and yet we still model the consumption of cancer cells as the consumption of a human being.

If you really want to ignore direct consumption by machines - and pretend that the machines are all working exclusively for humans, doing our bidding precisely - then you have GOT to account for people and companies buying things for the machines that they manange - or your model badly loses touch with reality.

I think I might have the biggest issue with this line. Nobody is pretending that machines are all working exclusively for humans, no more than we pretend our cells are working exclusively for us. The idea is that we account for the machine consumption the same way we account for the consumption of our own cells, by attributing it to the human consumers.

Comment by hook on The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology is soliciting ideas · 2010-07-15T13:18:02.517Z · LW · GW

Psychosurgery or pharmaceutical intervention to encourage some of the more positive autistic spectrum cognitive traits seems more likely to work than this. We are far from identifying the genetic basis of intelligence or exceptional intelligence, never mind an aspect as specific as rationality.

It's also not clear that it is in someone's self interest to do this. I know you said retroviral genetic engineering, but for now I'll assume that it would only be possible on embryos. In that case, if someone really wanted grand children, it is not clear that making these alterations in her children would be the best way to achieve that goal.

Comment by hook on The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology is soliciting ideas · 2010-07-15T12:48:24.221Z · LW · GW

Would this analysis apply to the ecosystem as a whole? Should we think of fungus as consuming low entropy plant waste and spitting out higher entropy waste products? Is a squirrel eating an acorn part of the economy?

Machines, as they currently exists, have no interests of their own. Any "interests" they may appear to have are as real as the "interest" gas molecules have in occupying a larger volume when the temperature increases. Computer viruses are simply a way that machines malfunction. The fact that machines are not exclusively on our side simply means that they do not perfectly fulfill our values. Nothing does.

Comment by hook on The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology is soliciting ideas · 2010-07-14T19:21:50.568Z · LW · GW

So, if say a million people owned all of the machines in the world, and they had no use for the human labor of the other billions of people in the world, you would still classify the economy as very effective?

I guess the question is what counts as an economic crash? A million extremely well off people with machines to tend to their every need and billions with no useful skills to acquire capital seems like a crash to most of the people involved.

Comment by hook on The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology is soliciting ideas · 2010-07-14T14:57:12.169Z · LW · GW

At this point I was mostly wondering if there were any motivating anecdotes such as Phineas Gage or gourmand syndrome, except with a noticeable personality change towards rationality. Someone changing his political orientation, becoming less superstitious, or gambling less as a result of an injury could be useful (and, as a caveat, all could be caused by damage that has nothing to do with rationality).

Comment by hook on The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology is soliciting ideas · 2010-07-14T14:00:30.295Z · LW · GW

I realize that "brain module" != "distinct patch of cortex real estate", but have there been any cases of brain damage that have increased a person's rationality in some areas?
I am aware that depression and certain autism spectrum traits have this property, but I'm curious if physical trauma has done anything similar.

Comment by hook on The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology is soliciting ideas · 2010-07-14T12:43:44.997Z · LW · GW

For the time being, I'll just consider literacy as a binary quality, leaving aside differences in ability. In developed countries, with literacy rates around 99%, literacy is probably some what heritable because that <1% cannot read because of some sort of learning defect with a heritable component.

In Mail, with a 26.2% literacy rate, literacy is not very heritable. The illiterate there are a consequence of lack of educational opportunities. I think that the situation we are in regarding the phenotype of "rational" is closer to the Mali scenario rather than the developed world scenario.

Comment by hook on The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology is soliciting ideas · 2010-07-13T19:41:21.831Z · LW · GW

For heritability, I think rationality is closer to reading than it is to intelligence.

Comment by hook on MWI, copies and probability · 2010-06-25T17:59:31.004Z · LW · GW

I would place 0 value on creating identical non-interacting copies of myself. However, I would place a negative value on creating copies of my loved ones who were suffering because I got blown up by a grenade. If Sly is using the same reasoning, I think he should charge me with attempted murder.

Comment by hook on MathOverflow as an example for LessWrong · 2010-04-28T17:55:24.365Z · LW · GW

That would be interesting. I'm not quite sure how it would work though. I guess examples of appropriate questions and inappropriate questions (as the proposal requires) would help to clarify the purpose of a RationalityOverflow.

Comment by hook on What is missing from rationality? · 2010-04-28T13:49:34.662Z · LW · GW

I think discussion of talent is generally lacking from rationality. Some clearly very irrational people are extremely successful. Sometimes it is due to luck, but even then it is usually the case that a large amount of talent was necessary to enter the lottery. With my particular combination of talents, no amount of learning the arts of rationality is going to turn me into a golfer like Tiger Woods or a media mogul like Rupert Murdoch.

The closest Roko's list comes to this sort of thing is microeconomics, which includes comparative advantage. Taking proper advantage of that comes down to having something valuable to trade, asking others for help and negotiation skills, the last two of which Morendil and Johnicholas have already pointed out are not commonly discussed here.

Comment by hook on Saturation, Distillation, Improvisation: A Story About Procedural Knowledge And Cookies · 2010-04-15T20:26:51.181Z · LW · GW

The worst cooking I have ever had came from a person who seems to lack any sort of ability to criticize food. It's not that she didn't have the skill to be a good cook. She simply could not tell when her cooking was bad. Being a good critic is certainly not sufficient, but it is necessary.

Comment by hook on Open Thread: March 2010, part 3 · 2010-03-31T16:42:03.886Z · LW · GW

It's not really all that simple, and it's domain specific, but having someone take the keyboard while pair programming helped to show me that one person in particular was far smarter than me. I was in a situation where I was just trying to keep up enough to catch the (very) occasional error.

Comment by hook on Compartmentalization as a passive phenomenon · 2010-03-26T20:34:03.440Z · LW · GW

The 32% number does seem low to me. Even if the number is more like two thirds of adults are capable of abstract reasoning, that still leaves enough people to explain the pen on the moon result.

Is compartmentalization applying concrete (and possibly incorrect?) reasoning to an area where the person making the accusation of compartmentalization thinks abstract reasoning should be used?

Comment by hook on Compartmentalization as a passive phenomenon · 2010-03-26T16:08:05.800Z · LW · GW

Someone posted a while back that only a third of adults are capable of abstract reasoning. I've had some trouble figuring out exactly it means to go through life without abstract reasoning. The "heavy boots" response is a good example.

Without abstract reasoning, it's not possible to form the kind of theories that would let you connect the behavior of a pen and an astronaut in a gravitational field. I agree that this is an example of lack of ability, not compartmentalization. Of course, scientists are capable of abstract reasoning, so its still possible to accuse them of compartmentalizing even after considering the survey results.

Comment by hook on There just has to be something more, you know? · 2010-03-24T12:44:02.193Z · LW · GW

When we talk about the states of a microprocessor, what we care about are the contents of the registers, the cache, and the instructions in the pipeline. I'm not certain about the gigahertz level processors of today, but for the processors of 20 years ago, these states are completely stable in terms of changing the placement of one electron with non-relativistic energy levels.

Those processors operated at tens of megahertz. Are 100 Hz neurons so much more sensitive that the placement of a single electron has any effect on the mind states we care about?

Comment by hook on What would you do if blood glucose theory of willpower was true? · 2010-03-23T12:49:38.878Z · LW · GW

Your calorie intake is slightly high for the zone diet. That could be fine. The typical version of the zone diet is meant for weight loss and you need a higher amount of calories to maintain weight. The zone recommendation is to get those extra calories from healthy fats. The zone diet is also very concerned with maintaining the correct ratio for every meal and snack, not just as a long term running average. This makes sense if the goal is controlling insulin spikes after each meal.

I agree with Kutta that your protein consumption is much higher than is necessary. I am less clear on what the health consequences of that are.

Comment by hook on Open Thread: March 2010, part 3 · 2010-03-19T13:54:50.590Z · LW · GW

Spelling a word out loud is an infrequent task for me. I have to simulate writing or typing it and then dictate the result of that simulation. I would characterize myself as adept at language. Choosing the appropriate words comes easily to me, and I don't think this skill is related to spelling bee performance.

Comment by hook on Undiscriminating Skepticism · 2010-03-18T21:15:00.358Z · LW · GW

Jack and mattnewport both seemed to do a good job above.

Comment by hook on Undiscriminating Skepticism · 2010-03-18T21:04:06.613Z · LW · GW

Since when were terminal moral values determined by rationality?

Comment by hook on Undiscriminating Skepticism · 2010-03-18T20:38:53.940Z · LW · GW

Leaving aside the physical complications of moving cows, I think most vegetarians would find the decision to push a cow onto the train tracks to save the lives of four people much easier to make than pushing a large man onto the tracks, implying that humans are more special than cows.

EDIT: The above scenario may not work out so well for Hindus and certain extreme animal rights activists. It may be better to think about pushing one cow to save four cows vs. one human to save four humans. It seems like the cow scenario should be much less of a moral quandary for everyone.

Comment by hook on Undiscriminating Skepticism · 2010-03-18T19:22:33.461Z · LW · GW

Show me someone who actually needs to be convinced. Just about everyone acts as if that is true. One could argue that they are just consequentialists trying to avoid the bad consequences of treating people as if they are not morally special. I'm not even sure that is the psychological reality for psychopaths though.

Also, a corollary of what Matt said, if humans aren't morally special, is anything?

Comment by hook on Undiscriminating Skepticism · 2010-03-17T20:24:50.999Z · LW · GW

Another test:

Could smoking during pregnancy have a benefit? Could drinking during pregnancy have a benefit? It's not necessary that someone know what the benefit could be, just acknowledge the nicotine and alcohol are drugs that have complex effects on the body.

As for smoking, it's definitely a bad idea, but it reduces the chances of pre-eclampsia. I don't know of any benefit for alcohol.

Comment by hook on Undiscriminating Skepticism · 2010-03-17T19:09:21.787Z · LW · GW

I think "making the argument that humans have some special moral place in the world" in the absence of an eternal soul is very easy for someone intelligent enough to think about how close humans and goldfish are "in the space of 'things that one can construct out of atoms.'"

Comment by hook on Undiscriminating Skepticism · 2010-03-16T14:41:22.438Z · LW · GW

Any given chemical is not equally likely to cause pleasure for human beings, so of course alcohol and nicotine consumption have a genetic basis. It seems equally obvious that the availability of alcohol and nicotine are part of the environment. Additionally, they are parts of the environment where it is easy to imagine life being substantially similar without them (unlike environmental influences such as oxygen and gravity).

Comment by hook on Undiscriminating Skepticism · 2010-03-16T12:02:07.779Z · LW · GW

Athletic ability at birth isn't really all that variable. Besides, "at birth" doesn't eliminate in utero environmental effects.

Correlation with race does not mean genetic causation. Having 100% recent African ancestry correlates highly with living in Africa.

Comment by hook on Undiscriminating Skepticism · 2010-03-15T14:24:05.229Z · LW · GW

That's just about what I was thinking. Anything that pointed out that the "all other things being equal" clause doesn't describe reality would be sufficient.

Comment by hook on Undiscriminating Skepticism · 2010-03-15T13:29:02.001Z · LW · GW

Richard Lindzen is a nut, but he's also an MIT professor of meteorology who has made arguments from physical reality (mostly) that AGW isn't real.

Comment by hook on Undiscriminating Skepticism · 2010-03-15T12:46:20.111Z · LW · GW

My litmus test for whether someone even has the basic knowledge that might entitle them to the opinion that anthropogenic climate change isn't happening is: "All other things being equal, does adding CO2 to the atmosphere make the world warmer?"

The answer is of course "yes." Now, if a climate change non-skeptic answers "yes" the follow up question to see if they are entitled to their opinion that anthropogenic climate change is happening: "How could a climate change skeptic answer 'yes' to that question?" The correct answer to that is left as an exercise for the reader.

Comment by hook on The Importance of Goodhart's Law · 2010-03-14T14:09:53.624Z · LW · GW

It's an important note for the soccer game that Barbados needed to win by two points in order to advance to the finals. Otherwise, Grenada would go to the finals. Now people have a chance of imagining what happened.

Comment by hook on Open Thread: March 2010, part 2 · 2010-03-12T14:13:47.245Z · LW · GW

Whether something can be used for evil or not is the wrong question. It's better to ask "How much does computer vision decrease the cost of evil?" Many of the bad things that could be done with CV can be done with a camera, a fast network connection, and an airman in Nevada, just as many of the good medical applications can be done by a patient postdoc or technician.

Comment by hook on Open Thread: March 2010 · 2010-03-09T16:42:06.746Z · LW · GW

Yes. That does seem to be the correct context for a critique of the article. I was thinking more along the lines of "giving odds" in terms of "offering bets" in order to make money (ie, a bookie).

Comment by hook on Open Thread: March 2010 · 2010-03-09T15:33:09.500Z · LW · GW

Abg dhvgr. Uvf ceboyrz vf gung gur bqqf nqq hc gb yrff guna bar. Vs V tnir lbh 1-2 bqqf ba urnqf naq 1-2 bqqf ba gnvyf sbe na haovnfrq pbva, gung nqqf hc gb 1.3, naq lbh pna'g Qhgpu obbx zr ba gung.

Comment by hook on Open Thread: March 2010 · 2010-03-09T03:03:18.091Z · LW · GW

I didn't see any, but it is close to 100 pages longer.

Comment by hook on Open Thread: March 2010 · 2010-03-08T19:41:05.372Z · LW · GW

Looking at that amazon link, has anyone considered automatically inserting a SIAI affiliate into amazon links? It appeared to work quite well for StackOverflow.

Comment by hook on Open Thread: March 2010 · 2010-03-08T19:36:41.917Z · LW · GW

I'm waiting for the revised edition to come out in May.

Comment by hook on Open Thread: March 2010 · 2010-03-08T18:47:26.643Z · LW · GW

Does anyone have a good reference for the evolutionary psychology of curiosity? A quick google search yielded mostly general EP references. I'm specifically interested in why curiosity is so easily satisfied in certain cases (creation myths, phlogiston, etc.). I have an idea for why this might be the case, but I'd like to review any existing literature before writing it up.

Comment by hook on The fallacy of work-life compartmentalization · 2010-03-05T21:31:05.909Z · LW · GW

Most of the anecdotes I can recall about changing work place culture are examples of unintentionally changing it for the worse. Has there ever been a high profile positive culture change in a large corporation?

Joel Spolsky wrote an article about companies following the get-big-fast strategy or the grow-slow strategy. One of the disadvantages to the get-big-fast strategy is so many people come on board that any existing corporate culture is overrun. The implication here is that the only way to establish a good culture is to have it established in the founders and grow slowly.

Comment by hook on Welcome to Less Wrong! · 2010-03-05T15:40:01.984Z · LW · GW

Hello.
My name is Dan, and I'm a 30 year old software engineer living in Maryland. I was a mostly lurking member of the Extropian mailing list back in the day and I've been following the progress of the SIAI sporadically since it's founding. I've made a few donations, but nothing terribly significant.

I've been an atheist for half my life now, and as I've grown older I've tended more and more to rational thinking. My wife recently made a comment that she specifically uses rational argument with me much more so than anyone else she has to deal with, even at work, because she knows that is what will work. (Obviously, she wins frequently enough to make it worth her while.)

I hope to have something minor to contribute to the akrasia discussion, although I haven't fully formulated it yet. I used to be an avid video game player and I don't play anymore. The last few times I played any games I didn't even enjoy it. I plan to describe the experiences that led to this state. Unfortunately for general applicability, one of those experiences is "grow older and have a child."

It's not the most altruistic of motives, but what most draws me to this community is that I enjoy being right, and there seem to be lots of things I can learn here to help me to be right more often. What I would dream about getting out of this community is a way to find or prepare for meaningful work that helped reduce existential risk. I have a one year old daughter and I was recently asking myself "What is most likely to kill my children and grandchildren?" The answer I came up with was "The same thing that kills everyone else."

Comment by hook on Individual vs. Group Epistemic Rationality · 2010-03-04T20:21:47.342Z · LW · GW

Adversarial legal systems were not necessarily designed to be role models of rational groups. They are more like a way to give opposing biased adversaries an incrementally fairer way of fighting it out than existed previously.

I'm guessing scientific institutions don't do this because the people involved feel they are less biased (and probably actually are) than participants in a legal system.

Comment by hook on Priors and Surprise · 2010-03-04T19:11:17.443Z · LW · GW

That sounds like a decent solution. I have no idea how hard the little red dot would be to program, but I think it would be distracting for the people who don't care about the typos. The highlighted text from previous typo-alerts makes sure that only the people who care get the information.

Comment by hook on Priors and Surprise · 2010-03-04T16:36:37.551Z · LW · GW

You should consider other solutions, since the first one you think of is unlikely to be the best/cheapest to implement. The "Edit" functionality already exists. Users above a certain karma level could be allowed to edit posts, as in the case of StackOverflow. The major cost is that there would need to be a way to revert changes to prevent vandalism. Morendil pointed out that DM are a bit harder to send than comments. If desired, that could be fixed cheaply. There are surely other solutions.

Comment by hook on Where are we? · 2010-03-04T15:19:51.926Z · LW · GW

In between DC and Baltimore

Comment by hook on Open Thread: November 2009 · 2010-03-03T16:35:10.158Z · LW · GW

"Actually, the information needed to generate the Bible is the same as the information to locate the Bible in all those texts."

Or to locate it in "The Library of Babel".

Comment by hook on Priors and Surprise · 2010-03-03T16:23:44.955Z · LW · GW

As a suggestion, maybe typos that have no substantial impact on readability should be communicated to the author through a direct message rather than a public comment.

Comment by hook on Priors and Surprise · 2010-03-03T15:01:04.610Z · LW · GW

Jaynes even uses the example of meteorites (aka thunderstones) to show that this line of reasoning, while valid by the laws of probability, can lead educated people to believe things that are not true.

The natural philosophers who knew something about gravity had a much higher prior probability for the unreliability of farmers' reports of natural phenomena than they did for rocks falling from the sky, so every report served to reinforce the hypothesis that farmers don't know what they are talking about. It took reports from people who were considered reliable in order for the meteorite hypothesis to be accepted.

How reliable a reporter would you need to call science in general into question?