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Comment by jay-molstad on The Curious Prisoner Puzzle · 2019-08-29T01:40:22.683Z · score: -6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Vulcan has considerably higher gravity than Earth. Use your shoelace and any handy weight to construct a pendulum. If its oscillation appears noticeably fast to your Earth-accustomed eyes, you're on Vulcan.

Also, don't talk to that guard any more. He is unhelpful.

Comment by jay-molstad on Why so much variance in human intelligence? · 2019-08-25T20:02:03.173Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You might find the following paper relevant:

Top 10 Replicated Findings from Behavioral Genetics

Comment by jay-molstad on Why so much variance in human intelligence? · 2019-08-25T18:19:40.116Z · score: 0 (3 votes) · LW · GW

we cannot conclude "that a single human cannot have a complex adaptation that is not universal"

You seem to have missed an important word, so I bolded it for you. A reproductively isolated population is a very different case. For example, a bunch of finches got stuck in the Galapagos a few million years ago; you might have heard of them.

Comment by jay-molstad on Why so much variance in human intelligence? · 2019-08-25T18:14:32.819Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW · GW

1) True, but by the time that roommate took the class he had had comparable math foundations to what I had had when I took the class. Considering the extra years, arguably rather more. (Upon further thought I realized that I had taken the class in 1988 at the age of 15)

2) That was first-semester calc, Purdue's Math 161 class (for me and the roommate). Intro calc. Over the next two years I took two more semesters of calc, one of differential equations, and one of matrix algebra. By the time I met my freshman roommate (he was a bit older than me) and he started the calc class, I'd had five semesters of college math (which was all I ever took b/c I don't enjoy math). Also, that roommate was a below-average college student, but there are people in the world with far less talent than he had.

3) Because time is the only thing you can't buy. Time in college can be bought, but not cheaply even then. I got through school with good grades and went on to grad school as planned; his plans didn't work out. Of course time marched on and I had failures of my own.

I agree that there's more to success than one particular kind of intelligence. Persistence, looks, money, luck, and other factors matter. But my roommate's calculus aptitude was a showstopper for his engineering ambitions, and I don't think his situation was terribly uncommon.

Comment by jay-molstad on Why so much variance in human intelligence? · 2019-08-25T14:05:58.158Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Personally, I learned a semester worth of calculus in three weeks for college credit at a summer program (the Purdue College Credit Program circa 1989, specifically) when I was 16. Out of 20ish students (pre-selected for academic achievement), about 15% (see note 1) aced it while still goofing around, roughly 60% got college credit but found the experience difficult, and some failed. Two years later, my freshman roommate (note 2) took the same Purdue course over 16 weeks and failed it. The question isn't "why don't some people understand calculus", but "why do some people learn it easily while others struggle, often failing".

Note 1: This wasn't a statistically robust sample. "About 15%" means "Chris, Bill, and I".

Note 2: That roommate wanted to be an engineer and was well aware that he could only achieve that goal by passing calculus. He was often working on his homework at 1:30 am, much to my annoyance. He worked harder on that course than I had, despite being 18 years old and having a (presumably) more mature brain.

Comment by jay-molstad on The Case Against Education · 2019-08-10T00:00:30.342Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The third thing is that it was the most valuable class I ever took, because it saved me from graduate school. 

I honestly wish I'd had that class. I think my physical chemistry classes were fundamentally similar, except that I failed them by continuing to grad school.

It seems obvious to me that society needs engineers and surgeons and scientists, and that those people actually do need a lot of education in the time-consuming, systematic-building-of-skills sense. It also seems obvious that society needs only 5% (wild guess) of the population to have that sort of education. Our society seems to have decided that it would be unconscionable to tell a child, however meatheaded, that they will never join that 5%. Instead we prefer to force all children to continue on that path until the age of 18, then encourage them to borrow to go further. Then most of them discover that they were never going to join the 5% and old people wonder why they're so angry.

Hmmm... in this model, humanities majors might realize the truth earlier, because even 18-year olds can't avoid the realization that an English degree isn't a ticket to wealth. They might get angry when they're still in college. Seems plausible.

Comment by jay-molstad on Learning to Learn and Navigating Moods · 2019-07-23T22:33:44.822Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My point was that it varies by person. My subtext was that one should avoid the typical "nerd" error of going to significant lengths to optimize a mostly irrelevant variable, if like me you find it mostly irrelevant.

Comment by jay-molstad on Learning to Learn and Navigating Moods · 2019-07-23T10:13:38.218Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I got my first 3 (B.S., M.S., Ph.D.) back in the 20th century and spent about 10 years in startups. And yes, the Ph.D. turned out to be a lot less marketable than expected, although I'm hardly the only one to have that problem. Fifteen years later I got another Master's and have been gainfully employed ever since. But I definitely have plenty of experience in learning things.

Comment by jay-molstad on Learning to Learn and Navigating Moods · 2019-07-23T10:08:05.956Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

When I need to learn something, I read about it and work problems. It's not fundamentally different than getting anything else done. For me, that is. YMMV.

Comment by jay-molstad on Learning to Learn and Navigating Moods · 2019-07-22T22:37:22.314Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I do, but I find the world often requires me to stay productively on task even when I'd rather not. We old people used to call this "self-discipline".

Comment by jay-molstad on Learning to Learn and Navigating Moods · 2019-07-21T21:48:48.255Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think this varies considerably by person. Personally, I have 4 university degrees and I've never really felt the need to pay attention to my moods in anything like this way. I generally got good enough results by waiting for the last minute, which triggered the "this needs doing now" mood that was sufficient for my needs.

Comment by jay-molstad on Why did we wait so long for the bicycle? · 2019-07-17T23:32:33.310Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Whoops. My bad.

Comment by jay-molstad on Why did we wait so long for the bicycle? · 2019-07-17T22:44:38.236Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

A quick google search gave me an estimate of a 300:1 cost ratio of iron to silver (1 lb iron costing ~300 lb silver) in the 14th century. For comparison, a king's annual income might have been 20,000 lbs of silver. Without fossil fuels, smelting iron ore requires lots of charcoal, which requires lots and lots of wood, which requires plenty of land and labor (ever chopped a tree down by hand?). Bicycles would have been prohibitively expensive before fossil fuels.

https://www.quora.com/How-expensive-was-iron-in-the-late-12th-century-Europe

Comment by jay-molstad on Is the "business cycle" an actual economic principle? · 2019-06-19T21:50:39.378Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There are certainly economic theories that account for business cycles. Keynes's General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money is the go-to book here.

If you expect the market to fall, you would want a short position. If the market continues to rise, that bet will lose lots of money. A bet against the market has to be very well timed, and that's very hard to do. As the saying goes, the market can stay irrational longer than any investor can stay solvent.


Comment by jay-molstad on Is "physical nondeterminism" a meaningful concept? · 2019-06-17T01:42:43.395Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I completely agree with the answer above. I'll also add that, on an object level, all of the models agree about the outcomes of every experiment we've ever been able to do. It really doesn't matter whether you think of an isotope as having a 50% chance of decaying within 12 years, or whether you think of yourself as having a 50% amplitude, over the next `12 years, of branching into universes where the nucleus has decayed. As Feynman put it, "shut up and calculate" - the models work, but asking what they mean is a one-way ticket to epistemology.

Comment by jay-molstad on Quotes from Moral Mazes · 2019-05-31T00:06:01.876Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Some of this seems to be a problem intrinsic to meritocracies. The people who get to positions of real authority in a competitive, meritocratic system have been trained for decades to ignore the losers disappearing in the rearview mirror while using their current position of authority primarily as a platform to push for their next promotion. Those are terrible habits for a society to cultivate in its leaders.

Comment by jay-molstad on Nash equilibriums can be arbitrarily bad · 2019-05-27T13:03:31.525Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me that both parties to the Cold War favored the defect-defect outcome (launch all the nukes) over the cooperate-defect outcome (we die, they don't). It's hard to tell, though, because both sides had an incentive to signal that preference regardless of the truth.

But that's an extreme case. Any war you choose will have each side choosing between continuing to fight and surrendering. The cooperate-cooperate outcome (making peace in a way that approximates the likely outcome of a war) is probably best for all, but it's hard to achieve in practice. And it seems to me that at least part of the problem is that, if one side chooses to cooperate (sue for peace and refrain from maximally fighting), they run the risk that the other side will continue to defect (fight) and seize an advantage.

Comment by jay-molstad on What is your personal experience with "having a meaningful life"? · 2019-05-24T14:28:43.452Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think that when most people say "meaning", they mean "motivation". It's the feeling that there's something for you to do that's worth doing.

Dr. Zhivago talks about how Russian intellectuals who six months before had been political philosophers were, for a winter, completely and meaningfully engaged with questions of firewood. Danger, hunger, and fear are all fully motivating. It's only when you've run out of motivating goals to achieve that questions of meaning arise. I think questions of meaning are generally a sign of success.

Comment by jay-molstad on How much do major foundations grant per hour of staff time? · 2019-05-05T23:01:39.804Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I can't say that surprises me too much. Cost correlates pretty strongly to the complexity of a project, and complex projects should take more staff evaluation.

You might also be seeing offsetting effects - bigger budgets may have some efficiencies in evaluating good proposals; they may also attract more low-quality proposals that must be rejected. It could wind up being about even, efficiency wise, over a fairly large range.

Comment by jay-molstad on Nash equilibriums can be arbitrarily bad · 2019-05-02T10:47:26.899Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It checks out empirically. War is a Nash semi-equilibrium - both sides would be better off if they could coordinate an end to it, but they usually can't (in the near term). If Stanislav Petrov had been a bit less chill, the Cold War would have ended in 1983 in the "everybody launches all the nukes; cockroaches win" Nash equilibrium. If that's not arbitrarily bad, it's plenty bad enough.

Comment by jay-molstad on AI Alignment Problem: “Human Values” don’t Actually Exist · 2019-04-25T22:21:19.296Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There's an existentialist saying "existence precedes essence". In other words, we aren't here doing things because we have some values that we need to pursue by existing. We're here because our parents got horny. We create values for ourselves to give us (the illusion of) purpose and make our existence bearable, but the values are post-hoc inventions. As such, they are not more consistent that we make them, nor more binding than we choose to let them be.

Comment by jay-molstad on How do people become ambitious? · 2019-04-06T01:41:41.753Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think we actually do have much of a disagreement. I'm just trying to point you in the direction of doing Fermi estimates of how changeable society is on any particular point. I think by most reasonable estimates, >10% is going to be a fairly delusional probability for any but the most marginal impacts, but YMMV.

Comment by jay-molstad on How do people become ambitious? · 2019-04-06T00:30:06.259Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

take Secular Solstice to a level where it was "at least as commonly celebrated as Kwanzaa"

I'd say that's maybe a 1 in a million level of impact. Equivalently, I'd say that's the level of cultural change that America sees maybe 330 times a year (there are about 330 million of us).

Some levels of impact are relatively easy. If you want to teach high school for 40 years, you can (with high probability) impact a thousand people over the course of a career. But the difference between the classes you taught and the classes that would have been taught without you would probably be slim, and rather few of the students would remember you ten years later. A lifetime of work will get you a high probability of marginal impact at a modest scope, or a correspondingly lower probability of higher impacts at larger scopes.

Comment by jay-molstad on How do people become ambitious? · 2019-04-05T23:36:36.813Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It depends on what degree of effect you're striving for. If you're content to change the world by playing Batman in a way that is somewhat different than Batman has been played before, or to write a pop song that millions of people will be vaguely aware of, then those are ... actually very difficult dreams to achieve, that only one in tens of thousands ever will. But thousands of people manage that level of impact. If you want to stop global warming, then the difficulty increases by several orders of magnitude.

Comment by jay-molstad on How do people become ambitious? · 2019-04-05T23:29:31.190Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that low conscientiousness is probably a showstopper, but conscientiousness alone isn't nearly enough. You also need 1) a workable plan 2) that enough people can be convinced to endorse, plus 3) the skills to effectively convince people of the virtues of that plan, 4) the leverage to overcome the opposition it generates (which it will), 5) the timing to be there with a solution when society feels the need for a solution and 6) the luck not to have unexpected events make you irrelevant. Most people lack any of those things, and you will need all of them. Otherwise you wind up like Hillary, a talented woman who worked her whole life for a one-sentence mention in the history books.

Comment by jay-molstad on How do people become ambitious? · 2019-04-05T18:20:01.977Z · score: 2 (7 votes) · LW · GW

How do people end up having plans (which they realistically expect to achieve) that affect at least thousands, and preferably millions of people?


The first thing is to realize that society makes this very difficult for very good reasons. If it was easy to affect thousands or millions of lives, then thousands or millions of people would constantly be affecting your life. This would be undesirable; without stability there can be no successful planning.

So I'd say Step 1 is: Realize that you are going to have to spend an incredible amount of effort to make even very modest changes to society, and that you are very likely to fail, and that that's as it should be.

Comment by jay-molstad on How do people become ambitious? · 2019-04-05T18:18:36.535Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How do people end up having plans (which they realistically expect to achieve) that affect at least thousands, and preferably millions of people?

The first thing is to realize that society makes this very difficult for very good reasons. If it was easy to affect thousands or millions of lives, then thousands or millions of people would constantly be affecting your life. This would be undesirable; without stability there can be no successful planning.

So I'd say Step 1 is: Realize that you are going to have to spend an incredible amount of effort to make even very modest changes to society, and that you are very likely to fail, and that that's as it should be.

Comment by jay-molstad on Dependability · 2019-03-28T10:40:37.916Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I expect that when you actually have the skill of dependability, you're going to be thinking about yourself a lot less and about your responsibilities a lot more.

Comment by jay-molstad on Active Curiosity vs Open Curiosity · 2019-03-15T10:34:13.809Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I get it. As extreme cases, consider reading Proust vs. looking for an answer on an open book test. One is meditative; you're reading a whole book about the memories triggered by eating a cookie, following the associations wherever they go. In the other case you're actively, quickly searching for (say) an equation relating dielectric constants to refractive indices.

Comment by jay-molstad on Why didn't Agoric Computing become popular? · 2019-02-19T00:22:23.168Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That feels a lot like allowing your computer to write blank checks, which is a tough sell for users. If it were me, I'd want to cap the payments at some affordable maximum level. The service would likely find ways to ensure that users almost always hit the cap, after which point the cap is basically a subscription fee.

Comment by jay-molstad on Why didn't Agoric Computing become popular? · 2019-02-17T13:41:16.375Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

For most people, the negative utility of deciding whether or not to do a transaction is on the order of a buck or two (based on some barely-remembered research from the '90s). Pricing transactions less than this amount is inefficient; you don't get enough extra transaction volume to compensate for the lower price (regardless of the value of whatever you're selling).

Comment by jay-molstad on Why didn't Agoric Computing become popular? · 2019-02-16T11:58:12.182Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Something very similar to this is happening whenever Google serves you an ad; there's a whole underlying auction architecture comparing your past habits to advertisers' bids and optimizing projected ad revenue (estimated likelihood of you clicking on the ad times advertisers bid per click on each ad).

The difference is that human attention is the limiting resource and machine resources are cheap enough to spend prodigiously. In the early days of the Web that wasn't as true, so people saw huge walls of poorly targeted ads. Those ads wasted attention (i.e. annoyed people more than necessary), so they were abandoned.

Comment by jay-molstad on Do the best ideas float to the top? · 2019-01-22T01:18:45.097Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm pretty sure the negative attention tax is called "school". Society has a set of things it wants us to know (called a "curriculum") and forces kids to sit in chairs while the things are slowly explained. They can't actually make anyone pay attention, though.

Comment by jay-molstad on Some Thoughts on My Psychiatry Practice · 2019-01-19T19:07:15.514Z · score: 7 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Your patients seem to have a problem deeper than depression. They seem to be spending their lives doing things that they hate. Taking a pill to hate it less is probably a sub-optimal solution.

Comment by jay-molstad on Learning-Intentions vs Doing-Intentions · 2019-01-02T23:00:16.038Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Your approach is probably appropriate for a software startup, but it's horrible for a bridge. If your first bridge collapses and kills a bunch of people, your company won't survive to build bridge 2. Some industries tolerate failure better than others, and a company needs to set its risk tolerances accordingly.

Comment by jay-molstad on Learning-Intentions vs Doing-Intentions · 2019-01-02T00:20:39.077Z · score: 29 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I've been in several startups that died this way. They were hardware startups; there was a big jump between research tools (relatively cheap, flexible, low throughput, expert-labor-intensive) and limited production tools (10X more expensive, much less flexible, 100X higher throughput, capital intensive). If you buy production tools before your process really works, you lose flexibility to further develop your process. The loss of flexibility is often fatal.

Comment by jay-molstad on Debt is an Anti-investment · 2018-07-10T21:58:43.002Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, but they're a bank. Hopefully they have a competitive advantage in finding profitable places to lend money; that's supposedly their whole job. I don't, so I'm probably better off leaving it to them (as long as I have sufficient insurance in case they're bad at their job, which historically they often are).

Comment by jay-molstad on Debt is an Anti-investment · 2018-07-09T22:27:17.738Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For small amounts of money, FDIC insured bank accounts are suitably secure. Which is what I and most people actually use.

If the FDIC fails, we're probably beyond a financial fix. Time to go loot a Hot Topic and start calling myself Doctor Humongous.

Comment by jay-molstad on Debt is an Anti-investment · 2018-07-08T23:22:41.950Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I would use a bank lockbox instead of a mattress. But that situation does indicate that the markets have more invested funds than they have investment opportunities, and people should take enough money out of the market that only investment opportunities offering reasonable risk-adjusted returns get funded.

It also implies that a lot of retirement plans that assume constant ~8 percent returns are delusional, and that most people will have to work longer than they wish. Such is life.

Comment by jay-molstad on Debt is an Anti-investment · 2018-07-08T15:05:19.187Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

On one level, the fact that there are multiple companies willing to lend to me at X percent and to expend funds marketing these loans to me is a pretty strong indication that there aren't investments of comparable risk that pay X percent. If there were, the companies would make those investments themselves without involving me. So I operate from a presumption that capital costs me more than it pays me, and I minimize my debts accordingly.