Comment by jay on Sick of struggling · 2020-07-01T10:45:41.641Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

our possibilities are endless

Who told you that? If the answer involves science fiction authors, politicians, or religious leaders, then you might want to think about their credibility.

Air molecules can do impressive things (mostly destructive things) when enough of them start moving in the same direction, but mostly they just bounce off each other and collectively don't do much. People are much the same.

We're only human. A solid 49.9% of us are below-average humans. Most people are trying pretty hard, in our limited way, to accomplish goals that may or may not have been good ideas in the first place. Don't be too hard on them, or on yourself.

Comment by jay on What is Ra? · 2020-06-07T02:09:31.294Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you want to see Ra in its purest form, look to advertising. It's positive affect free of information. Olive Garden is not your family; not all who eat Doritos are bold. Ra is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. It is also often encountered in celebrities and politics (what is Kim Kardashian famous for, exactly?).

The opposite of Ra is the question "What have you done for me lately?".

Comment by jay on "It's Okay", Instructions, Focusing, Experiencing and Frames · 2020-05-15T10:49:57.515Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I would say something like "There's no point in judging the world. It's much vaster than you are, and your opinion of it doesn't really matter. There is often value in understanding it, though."

Comment by jay on Re: Some Heroes · 2020-05-12T21:09:51.681Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Could we get a Romanization of #5? Some of us are modestly familiar with Chinese history while simultaneously baffled by a written language that appears to consist mainly of several thousand subtly different drawings of sheds.

Comment by jay on Book Review: Narconomics · 2020-05-06T11:08:41.659Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect that "outsiders" form a bigger part of the overall demand than you think, and that the business transfers considerable(1) amounts of currency to the inner cities from places like Wall Street and Hollywood (and other more affluent areas). Which isn't to say that it's not part of the structures keeping the underclass down(2); it's possible to be dependent for one's livelihood on things that are bad for you.

(1) considerable by inner city standards, much less so by Wall Street standards

(2) I'm not sure to what extent we should view society as "keeping the underclass down" vs. "trying, and mostly failing, to lift the underclass up". Your points about the Nixon-era policies are taken, but that was 50 years ago and only part of the story.

Comment by jay on Book Review: Narconomics · 2020-05-03T21:48:10.670Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder if the drug war isn't the hidden subsidy that keeps the American underclass alive. Because drugs are lucrative and illegal, there is a significant section of our economy reserved to people who are desperate enough to sell drugs. If everyone could get quality cocaine at Walmart for $2.99 a hit, I'm concerned that the inner city poor would lose the only viable business they have. Sure it's a crappy business, but it's not like they're drowning in other attractive options.

Comment by jay on Forbidden Technology · 2020-05-03T21:37:03.770Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Desktop GUIs are simple, but a click or three can open software that's complex enough not to annoy me. Part of it is the screen; you can fit much more information on a large screen (obviously). Part of it is the input; keyboard and mouse gives you many more potential actions at any time than a touchscreen (given realistic limits). I will admit I disliked the Windows model at first, but I quickly realized that it worked pretty well.

Comment by jay on Forbidden Technology · 2020-04-26T00:18:30.555Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Personally I avoid smartphones and tablets. I had a tablet briefly, but it just felt incredibly shallow. Instead I use a blackberry-style phone for calls and texts and a desktop computer for everything else. Also a Kindle Paperwhite, which is basically a tablet optimized for the sorts of content I prefer to consume (books).

Comment by jay on My experience with the "rationalist uncanny valley" · 2020-04-26T00:08:01.517Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I need to start off by saying that I strongly encourage those who can to achieve fluency with the techniques of rationality. They're often very useful, and not knowing them is often crippling.

Having said that, if reason is the only tool in your toolkit you're not likely to get far. Empathy, charisma, confidence, psychology, and physical attractiveness are often even more useful. You are surrounded by seven billion apes who are smart enough to invent nuclear weapons and stupid enough to use them; they are by far the most important part of your environment and Donald Trump is better at manipulating them than Eliezer Yudkowski.

Beyond that there are the insights of meta-rationality. If you think of rationality in terms of optimization, meta-rationality is the art of choosing what to optimize. If rationalism is like climbing stairs, meta-rationality is deciding which staircases are worth climbing (there's a lot more to it than that.).

What I'm trying to say is- don't be so proud of your rationalism. It's only a part of what you need.

Comment by jay on My experience with the "rationalist uncanny valley" · 2020-04-23T21:14:12.841Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I would start with the ideas that natural behavior is typically adaptive, and that society is built for people who behave naturally. Rationality is highly effective at the margins, but tends to cause issues if used without restraint. Don't go overboard. If you do one thing at professional quality, it's okay to be normal everywhere else.

In a related note, we all have meta-preferences that are different than our preferences; there are many things that we want to have done but don't actually want to do. And often our preferences are wiser than our meta-preferences; spending your youth studying and self-improving is not always a better use of your time than getting drunk with attractive people. You don't have to be superhuman, which is good since it isn't an option. Have some compassion for yourself; it's okay to be merely okay.

Note that this is the opposite of the advice that I would give to an underachieving slacker. Some people need to learn to act with intent, and some people need to learn to chill. You seem to be the second type.

Comment by jay on Magic Brain Juice · 2020-03-09T23:29:59.421Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

People vary considerably in which habits stick, which habits don't, and how much work any specific habit takes. To the extent that there is a "self", I'd say it involves not how you are at any given moment, but the range of modifications accessible to you over time.

Comment by jay on Meta-Preference Utilitarianism · 2020-02-18T00:03:31.588Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I got that; I just don't think most people have identifiable meta-preferences. I don't. I expect less than half of Americans would quickly understand the concept of "meta-preferences", and I'm pretty sure that God features prominently in the moral reasoning of most Americans (but perhaps not most Californians).

OTOH, I'm sure that many people have identifiable preferences and that some people are smart enough to work backwards. Somebody's going to figure out which meta-preference leads to a lower tax rate and tell Fox News.

Voting relies on human judgement, which gets increasingly shaky the farther it gets from the humans' concrete concerns. I think your approach magnifies the problems of democracy rather than solving them.

Comment by jay on Meta-Preference Utilitarianism · 2020-02-11T01:39:40.603Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I expect that this system, like democratic processes in general, would have problems because nearly all people, even on an individual level, don't have clearly defined ideas of what they want to optimize. I'd expect a relatively small number of people to develop some understanding of the various choices and their effects, then the emergence of various political campaigns to promote one or another preference (for reasons idealistic and otherwise). I'd expect tribalism to set in rather quickly.

Comment by jay on Protecting Large Projects Against Mazedom · 2020-02-05T01:10:28.483Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Six direct reports is the rule of thumb I use but it depends on the job, the manager, and the staff. Use a number that's demanding but realistic for your purpose; it should take good managers but not great managers.

Comment by jay on Protecting Large Projects Against Mazedom · 2020-02-03T23:32:23.001Z · score: 9 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I have a few concerns about the suggested solutions:

Solution 1 (be smaller): Being smaller means less maze-nature within your organization, but more interfaces with other organizations (since you're forced to contract out a lot of things). Interfaces with other organizations tend to bring issues of coordinative communication that are similar to, and potentially worse than, the internal mazes they replace.

Solution 2 (minimize levels of hierarchy): I agree, to a limit. That limit is usually about six direct reports per supervisor. Beyond that, people and projects get lost in the shuffle; a single manager can only manage so much and six staff is a fair estimate for competent managers.

Solution 6 (resist "objective criteria"): When serious money and careers are on the line, that's very dangerous. You will make mistakes; objective criteria (however flawed) will allow your boss to "fix the problem" by changing the criteria instead of by firing you. You will upset people with your hiring, promotion, and firing decisions; having an objective basis for your actions is extremely helpful to avoid or minimize lawsuits. Sadly, this is true even if the "objective criteria" are fatally flawed; hardly anyone will have enough information to tell.

Solution 8 (avoid other mazes): All things being equal I'd agree. In practice, the organizations that have huge budgets are usually mazes. As customers, mazes have excellent qualities in terms of budgets (often large) and demands for performance. Mazes demand compliance and reports; other customers demand results.

Comment by jay on Moloch Hasn’t Won · 2019-12-29T14:08:35.049Z · score: 13 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Moloch's biggest enemy is change. In a rapidly changing environment, "Moloch" presents as crippling overspecialization. Since "slack" is useful in a wide variety of circumstances, rapid change selects for slack.

Comment by jay on Intuitive differences: when to agree to disagree · 2009-09-30T22:46:17.041Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

All of this is coming from a book on chaos theory I read ~5 years ago, so take it for what it's worth. As I recall:

Microscopic wind currents cause worldwide changes to the weather in about a month.

On a frictionless billiard table, extremely microscopic differences in initial conditions cause significant changes in the system after about a minute of collision, since each collision magnifies the difference between model and system results.

Plus, your claim was a claim about all systems. His claim was a claim about some systems. In general, you had the harder case to make.

Anyway, the wikipedia article was a good place to start, but probably not deep enough if these questions interest you greatly.

Comment by jay on Intuitive differences: when to agree to disagree · 2009-09-30T14:45:36.166Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The mathematicians have pretty much answered this question. Point to Friend, and Kaj needs to read up on chaos theory. Chaos theory describes the types of systems that can't be well modeled if the model system deviates even very slightly from the system of interest.

Comment by jay on Another Call to End Aid to Africa · 2009-04-03T21:12:23.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Logic and pity are by no means conflicting. Pity drives people to try to help Africans. Logic and evidence, when avalaible, show the results from any particular intervention. If people keep acting in a counterproductive manner, inertia and/or politics are running the show, not pity.

Comment by jay on The Pascal's Wager Fallacy Fallacy · 2009-03-19T03:01:09.000Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Ask yourself if you would want to revive someone frozen 100 years ago. Most Americans of the time were unabashedly racist, had little concept of electricity and none of computing, had vaguely heard of automobiles, etc. They'd be awakened into a world that they don't understand, a world that judges them by mysterious criteria. It would be worse than being foreign, because the new culture's values were formed at least partially in reaction to the perceived problems of the past.

Comment by jay on Markets are Anti-Inductive · 2009-02-27T20:31:02.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Jeremy and Doug,

There's less disagreement than you think here. Future net earnings enter the equation as future dividends (appropriately discounted) or share buybacks (driving up farther-future dividends and per-share liquidation value). I didn't specify that assets on liquidation had to be tangible; trademarks and the like are valuable (both because they improve the business as it operates and because they can be sold on liquidation).

If earnings are reinvested in the company, that's fine. The investments will be profitable or not; profitable investments will result in even more earnings. The cycle can continue until either (1) management decides that it has no further opportunity for reinvestment, and returns the now-compounded earnings to shareholders as dividends, or (2) investments are made that are unprofitable, and the money is wasted. Option 2 is a surprisingly popular choice.

In any case, a stock that has no dividends, no liquidation value, and no prospect of either of those facts ever changing is worthless. You may be able to convice a greater fool to buy it, but there's no actual wealth attached to the stock.

Comment by jay on Tell Your Rationalist Origin Story · 2009-02-27T04:14:18.635Z · score: -2 (14 votes) · LW · GW


Comment by jay on Markets are Anti-Inductive · 2009-02-27T03:10:16.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Doug and Jeremy:

Generally, the fundamental value of a stock is determined by one of two things. It can be defined by the net present value of the future dividends of the stock. Alternately, it can be determined by the per-share liquidation value of the company's assets (after creditors are paid). Which one applies or what mix depends on whether and how the company will be liquidated.

The rest is a mix of market psychology and adjustments for risk/uncertainty.

A big wrinkle is that the many investors look for companies with major earnings growth potential. As a result, most traded companies try to give the appearance of major earnings growth potential. One way to signal growth potential is to allocate little or no cash to dividends, because using the cash for expansion (or for activities that superficially resemble expansion) signals that the company has strong growth opportunities. If investors believe this signal, then the stock price rises from its fair value as an existing business to its expected fair value as a much bigger company in the future. The management rewards everyone with bonuses and all is good, until the future arrives disappoints everyone.

I was going for a peacock analogy, but perhaps lemmings would be more appropriate.

Comment by jay on Markets are Anti-Inductive · 2009-02-26T02:22:06.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW


You are not confused. You have clearly articulated the structure of a market bubble and its resulting crash.

Comment by jay on On Not Having an Advance Abyssal Plan · 2009-02-24T19:24:34.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Here are some possible reasons for not wanting to explicitly plan for future failure, more at the level of the institute than at the level of the economy:

-The board wants to build consensus and forge a diverse group of people into a coherent whole. Telling some people that they are marginal would damage this focus.

-If a funding agency finds out that you can withstand an X% cut with vital operations intact, your odds of getting your grant cut by X% skyrocket.

-The board and officers are largely tasked with selling your concept to funding agencies. Given that funding agencies are usually risk-averse in practice (despite being risk-seeking in rhetoric), any suggestion that you might fail makes it harder to get funding.

You are making a conscious effort not to fool yourself. This habit of mind is excellent in a scientist or philosopher, but does not work well in contexts involving leadership, salesmanship, and negotiation.

Comment by jay on The Moral Void · 2008-07-03T10:55:00.000Z · score: 3 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Would you kill babies if it was inherently the right thing to do?

If it were inherently the right thing to do, then I wouldn't be here. Someone would have killed me when I was a baby.