Internal Information Cascades 2021-06-25T16:35:13.870Z
Gems from the Wiki: Paranoid Debating 2020-09-15T03:51:10.453Z
David C Denkenberger on Food Production after a Sun Obscuring Disaster 2017-09-17T21:06:27.996Z
How often do you check this forum? 2017-01-30T16:56:54.302Z
[LINK] Poem: There are no beautiful surfaces without a terrible depth. 2012-03-27T17:30:33.772Z
But Butter Goes Rancid In The Freezer 2011-05-09T06:01:34.941Z
February 27 2011 Southern California Meetup 2011-02-24T05:05:39.907Z
Spoiled Discussion of Permutation City, A Fire Upon The Deep, and Eliezer's Mega Crossover 2011-02-19T06:10:15.258Z
January 2011 Southern California Meetup 2011-01-18T04:50:20.454Z
VIDEO: The Problem With Anecdotes 2011-01-12T02:37:33.860Z
December 2010 Southern California Meetup 2010-12-16T22:28:29.049Z
Starting point for calculating inferential distance? 2010-12-03T20:20:03.484Z
Seeking book about baseline life planning and expectations 2010-10-29T20:31:33.891Z
Luminosity (Twilight fanfic) Part 2 Discussion Thread 2010-10-25T23:07:49.960Z
September 2010 Southern California Meetup 2010-09-13T02:31:18.915Z
July 2010 Southern California Meetup 2010-07-07T19:54:25.535Z


Comment by JenniferRM on ($1000 bounty) How effective are marginal vaccine doses against the covid delta variant? · 2021-07-30T04:36:42.787Z · LW · GW

I just read this tonight and it is fantastic. You know more immunology than me by a lot! <3

I'll be editing my answer to leave the substance of what I wrote so posterity can see me being dumb but willing to make an educated guess, but defer to your answer at the top with an explanation :-)

Comment by JenniferRM on ($1000 bounty) How effective are marginal vaccine doses against the covid delta variant? · 2021-07-30T04:33:07.472Z · LW · GW

I sort of tapped out because "very long posts with an explosion of quotes" is a smell for me, but I wanted to continue because other indicators suggest "teaching and/or learning in good faith" <3

Finally posting now because of a big update from elsewhere...

On your "WHY", you seem to be presenting reasons why other people not believing your model shouldn't count as strong evidence against it. Which is all fair. But I'm still curious for positive evidence to believe your model in the first place.

For me, evidence happens at the point of measurement. Then often measurements are summarized in language by people who don't think clearly, or worry about standard misinterpretations of simple measurements... so careful reading is sometimes required just to acquire evidence able to distinguish between models.

So for me, the default is to need to think about mechanistic timecourse evidence through the screen of "how it was confusingly explained to me" by people who often aren't worried about mechanistic timecourse dynamics. 

I kinda don't care if people don't believe my model, I just want my models to get better over time... and I'm happy to explain them to people, and I like teaching... but if people don't believe me, then it is their tragedy that they believe false things, not my tragedy. (Conversely, people teaching me things is awesome!)

But to make my models better I don't just import other people's posterior believes about how a mechanistic system works, but rather see if my own model can "round trip" through my best guess of the raw data that they observed in a specific situation.  If people have bad reasoning, then their posteriors are even less safe to import than otherwise...

FWIW, just tonight I got around to reading this cousin comment by Connor and it swiftly tipped me over almost entirely. Three doses... might work? Sure.

I already thought there were empirical reasons to think it, so for me I think the key words in Connor's post started somewhere around:

And not only does it increase count, secondary responses vastly increase antibody affinity and produce different antibody types, e.g. the primary response is more IgM whereas secondary response produces more IgG and IgA (the latter aiding especially in mucosal immunity). [Citations for this can be found on pgs 413-414 of the Janeway immunobiology book, and I can maybe link pictures.]

The filter I have I think, is that I want to hear about mechanisms when it comes to biological theories. 

I'm not saying button mashing doesn't work. That plus "copy the winner" is how most actual technical innovation occurs and scales in practice most of the time. Its fine <3

But... a HUGE filter that avoids adding broken bits to my general reasoning capacities is whether someone can offer keywords that connects their proposed mechanism to ALL THE OTHER MECHANISMS in physics and chemistry and evolution and all of it.

Gimme a word like "IgA" and I can find my way to new and helpful parts of the truth mine! I can round trip it through general science, and so on.

I have paragraphs and paragraphs of text from my first attempt at a response, trying to explain "I don't know and neither do you (but politely and at length)".

They are deleted from this response. Maybe "two people debugging epistemics in the face of ignorance" is useful somehow for something, but I'm not attached to it. I could PM it maybe if you care?

Practical upshot: empirically more doses has worked, and now I have heard some "new magic mechanism words" from Connor, who seems to me to clearly knows his shit backwards and forwards and also seems to be in tentative favor of a third dose :-)

Maybe interesting: my main argument AGAINST a third dose is part of why I thought it might be smart to give single doses as fast as possible several months ago. Now that like... "mechanisms are mechanically different (giving more than just lots of IgM)" I feel like I learned enough to even notice errors in past thinking? 

But also... weirdly(?) this same body of empirical results says that the second reaction works BETTER after ... <missing mechanism that somehow is time dependent> has had 12 weeks to <do something> instead of just 3 weeks?

F-ing immunology, man. Its crazy.

Comment by JenniferRM on Delta Strain: Fact Dump and Some Policy Takeaways · 2021-07-30T03:45:12.540Z · LW · GW

A complexity here is that "the macrotopic to reform" is "the entire system... like practically all of it". 

You can't just delete the FDA because while the FDA is the current lynchpin (and "FDA delenda est"), to have a good system, that was not broken (in the way or other ways), you also need tort reform, and insurance reform, and on and on and on...

As near as I have been able to tell, the reason Pooled Testing is illegal, is because there are OSHA laws protecting chemists, basically, so if a chemist in a lab is running test reactions all day every day, and they accidentally put a "cut finger" into a jar of slime... OSHA requires that the jar of slime be traceable all the way back to someone who can be tricked or compelled or begged into somehow taking an HIV test. If the jar "from the patient to the chemist" lacks a chain of custody, then the chemist's employer is not allowed to have the chemist to do that job. 

If you have a cup, and can check the box "[X] let me know by text message" and write your phone # on the cup, and your cup goes into a jar with 2000 other people, and the whole 2000-cup batch gets a negative, then 1 test reaction generates 2000 "negative results"... great... except OSHA will shit a brick. That's not allowed. 

OSHA things the poor chemist can't just refuse? Isn't grownup enough to decide for themselves what risks they'll take for what amount of pay?

The macrotopic for which we need to "suspend certain regulations", as near as I can tell is simply: "using paternalistic reasoning to forbid people from owning risk to themselves after looking at local factors and deciding for themselves". 

Delete all ALL the laws whose only flimsy excuse is paternalism, and then I think any small city mayor could save their small city from covid using stuff you can buy at the grocery store (or maybe a lab supply company) based on ideas and tutorials you can look up online... Then they hire some (potentially inadequate) people to take some risks and learn on the job, and it "solves for covid"? I think?

(Though maybe a non-assertive half-competent chemist or two gets HIV. In my mind: worth it!)

Comment by JenniferRM on Brief thoughts on inefficient writing systems · 2021-07-30T03:21:43.775Z · LW · GW

I've looked at this some. 

A deep problem here is that if writing has SOME slop in it, then it is textually usable in nearly identical ways by people whose words-on-the-tongue are quite different... and this is... good? Yes! It is good.

The designed phonological orthography of interslavic is an interesting example where they aspire to something quite similar to written english, so that no particular accent or dialect or nigh-unto-language is particularly privileged but also there are not lots of confusing collisions.

Since the whole language in that case is artificial, they can try to detect sound collisions and or written collisions and tweak the vocabulary at the same time. This leads, however, to the annoyance of people from russia or poland or bulgaria or wherever needing to not just relearn spelling, but to stop using some words, and start using others, based on language mutation since the 700s in totally other parts of the slavic sprachbund.

For interslavic it is probably fine to throw away or recreate words? It is a hobby. And for people with spare brain cycles, learning the twists might help them get ready to learn like... "ALL the other slavic languages"? Maybe?

Here are the first few lines in the least bad english spelling reform I know of, for a pretty funny poem. 

The Keyoss

Direst krîchur in Krieishon,
Studiing Inglish pronunsieishon,
Ay wil tîch yu in may verce
Sounds laik korps, kor, horce and werce.
It wil kîp yu, Sûzy, bizy,
Meik yor hed with hît gro dizy;
Tir in ay yor dress yûl têr.
So shal ay! O, hir may prêr,

Just kompêr hart, bird and herd,
Days and dayet, lord and werd,
Sord and sword, ritein and Britin,
(Maind the later, how its riten!)

Maybe if I read a bunch of easy stuff out loud I'd get the hang of it? It isn't SUPER hard. But I can't recognize the words is the problem. I have to MAYBE say them out loud? And then "hear" what I said and perform recognition on that? (Personally, I like not having to have the sounds in my head when I'm reading, if I don't want them.)

This is the answer key, and the original, which you are strongly encouraged to read out loud:

The Chaos (by G. Nolst Trenite)

Dearest creature in creation, 
Studying English pronunciation. 
I will teach you in my verse 
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse. 
I will keep you, Suzy, busy, 
Make your head with heat grow dizzy. 
Tear in eye, your dress will tear. 
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.

Just compare heart, beard, and heard, 
Dies and diet, lord and word, 
Sword and sward, retain and Britain. 
(Mind the latter, how it's written.)

The author of that "riform" has a video (which I have just watched tonight at 1.75X speed).

Comment by JenniferRM on Slack Has Positive Externalities For Groups · 2021-07-30T00:36:20.865Z · LW · GW

Initially, I was expecting the article to be about the chat system named "Slack" and how great it is for enabling busy people to have slow motion conversations while not needing to have gaps in their schedules that perfectly line up. 

(And then IRC works similarly, and so on, and so forth...)

Having read the article, I thought it would be funny to throw a dart at a map of the US and a calendar and declare that to be the place that people able to attend the first meeting should meet to decide where to meet in the future. I changed my mind. It seems unlikely to work?

Something that popped into my head then, that might be the version that someone actually did: Burning Man! 

I've never been, because when it seemed cool it always was happening just AFTER the start of the school year and my life was packed too densely to have room to accept the invitations that were floating around. My college experience felt like I had LOTS of short term time slack (I spent hours per day for months at a time just wandering around a huge library, basically) but this kind of slack wasn't "enough slack" to find and attend Burning Man in the early days.

Comment by JenniferRM on Refactoring Alignment (attempt #2) · 2021-07-29T03:31:50.335Z · LW · GW

I like the nine-node graph for how it makes the stakes of "how you group the things" more clear, potentially? Also it suggests ways of composing tools maybe?

Personally, I always like to start with, then work backwards from, The Goal.

The Goal in "schematic/toy form".

Then, someone might wonder about the details, and how they might be expanded and implemented and creatively adjusted to safe but potentially surprising ways. 

So you work out how to make some external source of power (which is still TBD) somehow serve The Goal (which is now the lower left node, forced to play nicely with the larger framework) and you make sure that you're asking for something coherent, and the subtasks are do-able, and so on?

The goal plus a way to make sure the goal's expression doesn't end up going off the rails. It is like a very thoughtful and coherent wish, looking for a genie to grant it!

Metaphorically, if you're thinking of a "Three Wishes" story, this would be an instance that makes for a boring story because hopefully there will be no twists or anything. It will just be a Thoughtful Wish and all work out, even in terms of second order consequences and maybe figuring out how to get nearly all of what you want with just two wishes, so you have a safety valve of sorts with with number three? Nice!

Then you just need to find a genie, even an insane or half evil genie that can do almost anything?

One possibility is that no one will have built, or wanted to build a half insane genie that could easily kill the person holding the lamp.  They will have assumed that The Goal can be discussed later, because surely the goal is pretty obvious? Its just good stuff, like what everyone wants for everyone. 

So they won't have built a tiny little engine of pure creative insanity, they will have tried to build something that can at least be told what to do:

A "Do Anything Machine": The capability node is the magic rocket fuel, and the thing at the lower left is the philosophic middleware implementing a generic Do What I Mean instruction, and together they can do... uh... anything?

But then, the people who came up with a framework for thinking about the goals, and reconciling the possibility of contradictions or tradeoffs in the goals (in various clever ways (under extreme pressure of breakdown due to extremely creative things happening very quickly)) can say "I would like one of those 'Do Anything Machines' please, and I have a VERY LARGE VERY THOUGHTFUL WISH".

But in fact, if a very large and very thoughtful wish exists, you might safely throw away the philosophy stuff in the Do Anything Machine, why not get one, then tear out the Capability Robustness part, and just use THAT as the genie that tries to accomplish The Goal?

The danger might be that maybe you can't just tear the component out of the Do Anything Machine and still have it even sorta work? Or maybe by the end of working out the wish, it will turn out that there are categorically different kinds of genies and you need a specific reasoning or optimizing strategy to ensure that the wish (even a careful one that accounts for many potential gotchas) actually works out. Either getting a special one or tearing one out of the Do Anything Machine could work here:

EITHER: The "Capability Robustness" torn out of the Do Anything Machine OR ELSE: maybe a different thing that is perfectly consistently usable by The Thoughtful Wish?

If I was going to say some "and then" content here, based on this framing...

What if we didn't just give the "Do Anything Machine" a toy example of a toy alignment problem and hope it generalizes: what if we gave it "The Thoughtful Wish" as the training distribution to generalize?

Or (maybe equivalently, maybe not) what if "The Thoughtful Wish" was given a genie that actually didn't need that much thoughtfulness as its "optimizer" and so... is that better?

Personally, I see a Do Anything Machine and it kinda scares me. (Also, I hear "alignment" and think "if orthogonality is actually true, then you can align with evil as easily as with good, so wtf, why is there a nazgul in the fellowship already?")

And so if I imagine this instrument of potentially enormous danger being given a REALLY THOUGHTFUL GOAL then it seems obviously more helpful than if it was given a toy goal with lots of reliance on the "generalization" powers... (But maybe I'm wrong: see below!)

I don't have any similar sense that The Thoughtful Wish is substantially helped by using this or that optimization engine, but maybe I'm not understanding the idea very well.

For all of my understanding of the situation, it could be that if you have TWO non-trivial philosophical systems for reasoning about creative problem solving, and they interact... then maybe they... gum each other up? Maybe they cause echoes that resonate into something destructive? It seems like it would depend very very very much on the gears level view of both the systems, not just this high level description? Thus...

Possibly the heart of the gears level question?

To the degree to which "Inner Alignment" and "Objective Robustness" are the same, or work well together, I think that says a lot. To the degree that they are quite different... uh...

Based on this diagram, it seems to me like they are not the same, because it kinda looks like "Inner Alignment" is "The Generalization Problem for only and exactly producing a Good AGI" whereas it seems like "Objective Robustness" would be able to flexibly generalize many many other goals that are... less obviously good? 

So maybe Inner Alignment is a smaller and thus easier problem?

On the other hand, sometimes the easiest way to solve a motivating problem is to build a tool that can solve any problem that's vaguely similar (incorporating and leveraging the full generality of the problem space directly and elegantly without worrying about too many weird boundary conditions at the beginning) and then use the general tool to loop back and solve the motivating problem as a happy little side effect?

I have no stake in this game, except the obvious one where I don't want to be ground up into fuel paste by whatever thing someone eventually builds, but would rather grow up to be an angel and live forever and go meet aliens in my pet rocket ship (or whatever).

Hopefully this was helpful? <3

Maybe a very practical question about the diagram: is there a REASON for there to be no "sufficient together" linkage from "Intent Alignment" and "Robustness" up to "Behavioral Alignment"?

The ABSENCE of such a link suggests that maybe people think there WOULD be destructive interference? Or maybe the absence is just an oversight?

Comment by JenniferRM on How much do variations in diet quality determine individual productivity? · 2021-07-29T01:43:04.064Z · LW · GW

Also "sugar rush" is a thing I've seen in children. I didn't used to think it was true, but having seen the same child over and over, and sometimes there is a sugar bomb in her evening and those evenings are weird for hours after in predictable ways, on a predictable timecourse... Its an N=1 study that I've seen replicate quite a few times, if that makes sense.

Also, if you want to try to model the next layer down, there's a whole universe of mechanisms aiming to keep fuel available in the blood at a steady level, with a liver full of glycogen ready to be released via glucagon signaling.

Then food produces shocks to this. I remember attending a Quantified Self meetup a while back and being surprised at how obvious and large the blood sugar level fluctuations could be in a non-diabetic person over two or three days of realtime monitoring "for curiosity's sake" with very very clear signals from eating events.

My vague recollection (not strongly backed by direct observation of realtime blood sugar monitoring, but more from the "lore" passed around among diabetics) is that dietary sugar causes a bump over ~2 hours of time. And protein over maybe 6. And fat over maybe 12? 

I feel like a heuristic of "eat more weird fats more often" isn't insane. Coconut soup? Avocados! The fat of grassfed cows!! And so on :-)

Comment by JenniferRM on Delta Strain: Fact Dump and Some Policy Takeaways · 2021-07-29T00:10:55.991Z · LW · GW

In roughly Feb/Mar/Apr of 2020 I had an unexamined belief that the cause of the failure of the US medical system and government to protect the health of the citizens was that "no one knew that it was feasible to do mass public testing for relatively little money" and so I poured brain power into designing a mass testing framework to test >1 time per week "roughly everyone who wanted to be tested".

The process that seemed likely to work best didn't use swabs. I was worried about this, because it seemed necessary to have a thing simple enough for almost anyone to do right... but then research came out that suggested that saliva and gargling based sampling methods actually beat "nurses sticking swabs up your nose with skill". So that was nice for a while. (I haven't gone back to double check this, it might be wrong at this point? Maybe?)

The idea was just to do saliva-and-gargling, and you got a cup in the mail, and swished, and let the pickup person take it away for pooled analysis.

I think I could get the price down to roughly "cost of the moving the cups to the home then to a lab + chemistry cost of approximately LOG(cups) test reactions". So like... $0.50 per cup? So like $150 million per week to test 98% of anyone in the U.S. who wants a test, every week? 

This seems like part of how one would eradicate covid. After you eradicate you still have to keep the green zone (that is: the whole country) green before you can dial back the testing? Success: technically possible!

Only about five or six regulations had to be ignored to make it work (like OSHA and HIPAA stuff and so on), so it seemed promising. 

Surely a technical solution could be found to the social problem of dumb regulations and a big fat cone of sound absorbing mud in the place where "people working to solve coordination problems" should be? 

In the happy model: covid could maybe even be a retrospective blessing for helping to demonstrate that problem solving is possible! Fixing not just covid, but also cleaning up some of the mud!

But I could never communicate the relevant vision to the relevant people (do "the relevant people" even exist in America anymore?) and then I ran out of steam. Convincing medical workers to break laws doesn't work. Convincing mayors runs into state/federal prosecution. Governors are hard to talk to, and harder to convince to give blanket pardons for violation of OSHA/HIPAA/FDA rules. Each agency would have to change their rules in a coordinated way to allow cheap mass testing to work... The higher you go the less they understand and the more they want certainty that they won't be yelled at by dumb voters. The lower you go the more you find scared little rabbits in tiny little cages. The rabbits can't promise the wimpy governors that "the thing will work...or if it doesn't work we won't blame you" because they're just rabbits :-(

In concurrent computing, a deadlock is a state in which each member of a group waits for another member, including itself, to take action...

That's us! That's America!

So for a while I switched AWAY FROM the unexamined belief that "no one knew that it was feasible to do mass public testing for relatively little money" TO an unexamined belief that America was semi-intentionally self-destructively stupid, and so covid and covid's tragedies were our just and balanced nemesis, acting upon our collective wrongness, in a tragically balanced way.

This oscillated between "collective (because officially democracy)" and "just the elites deserve the suffering (because de facto oligarchy)". Now I just feel sad. Even suicidally stupid people don't deserve to die :-(

But... ignoring the big picture insanities of my unexamined past beliefs... I DO think that saliva tests are probably Correct (and pooled testing could be very efficient (even though it is still basically illegal)).

Comment by JenniferRM on A Contamination Theory of the Obesity Epidemic · 2021-07-25T23:25:14.437Z · LW · GW

For a while I had a theory that "sugar in a beverage not paired with bulky food" added calories without the human brain/whatever noticing and having the satiety mechanism(s?) kick in when the right calorie consumption level was hit. The archetypal study here would involve carefully measuring how many calories like this, C, that a person consumed per week, and then C/3500 is how many pounds per week they should gain over time. 

I dunno if this is true, but it seemed close enough to likely to be true that I started rejiggering my habits and feelings about food to try to get my personal C "close to zero when left to my own habits and choices". If I'm just going to "drink" now, I try to basically only drink water or milk.  Not ALWAYS. Sometimes I find myself craving orange juice, but I try to eat other similar fruits first, before I fall back to a cup of delicious delicious citric acid flavored sugar water.

In this section there's a hunter-gatherer tribe for everything. I'm a little suspicious of this line of evidence because these small human populations could plausibly have evolved to tolerate their specific environment but, if you want a group of humans with zero-percent obesity who eat 60%+ carbs, or 60%+ fat, this paper has one for you. They have plenty of food, they just live happily and remain thin.

Is there a tribe that drinks a LOT of fruit juice?

The big obvious macrocausal elephant in the room is corn, and how corn is in everything, and how cows are fattened on it (so milk and burgers are actually corn), and then there's HFCS, and corn oil, and so on. Cheap edible calories, as far as the eyes can see. 

(You might link the "fruit" juice theory with the corn theory, because a lot of juice is just sugar water with fruit flavorants and a lot of sugar is corn based. If you're not careful, an attempt to drink apple juice will lead you to actually drink "corn" juice.)

If we follow the corn calories, I could imagine them cascading out, through pets, and lab animals, and into the garbage, and into mice and possums (and anything that eats mice and possums)... but NOT into deer nor any other non-garbage-eating herbivores.

4. It's not just humans: lab animals and wild animals appear to be getting fatter over time too. (A surprise to me, but casual inspection seems to confirm that this is really a thing that reviewed papers are noting.)

The wild animals seems surprising to me. I feel like I can probably suggest animals where it is NOT happening... like: I bet it is not happening in polar bears. How detailed was the analysis here? This seems like the place to find some "surprises" that constrain the causality more precisely.

Comment by JenniferRM on CTWTB: Paths of Computation State · 2021-07-23T19:37:02.088Z · LW · GW

I'm surprised there were not more responses to this.

We could imagine expanding this to a large-scale model of economic production in some domain, with thousands of dimensions and exponentially many possible paths. As before, it would be useful to have standard tools to compress “equivalent” paths through the state graph.

I laughed out loud when I read this. That's some chutzpah and a half. But also like... is someone working on this? 

I wondered if there was a standard tool for generating category-theoretic data stores and queries and it seems like maybe "Easik" is a tool aiming towards this, which might make Robert Rosebrugh the guy?

Comment by JenniferRM on Category Theory Without The Baggage · 2021-07-23T19:29:44.605Z · LW · GW

I had previously written off Category Theory, but this nudges me a little bit towards thinking there might be a There there? 

I like matrices, and I like graph theory, and they are very practical and useful practically everywhere for modeling work, that's part of why I like them. Suddenly I wonder if category theory could work similarly?

Reading this and the comments, it seems like the most important thing at the center of the field might be whatever the "Yoneda Lemma" is...  I checked, and Wikipedia's summary agrees that this is important.

In mathematics, the Yoneda lemma is arguably the most important result in category theory.

I did not read thoroughly, but, squinting, it seems like maybe the central result here (at a "why even care?" level) is that when you throw away some assumptions (like assumptions that generate set theory?) about what would be a good enough foundation for math in general... maybe the Yoneda Lemma shows that set theory is a pretty good foundation for math?

Is this wrong?

(If the idea is right, does the reverse hold? Like.. does non-Yoneda-Set-compatible "mathesque stuff" totally broken or aberrant or Intractably Important or something? Maybe like how some non-computable numbers are impossible to know, even though they contain all of math. Or maybe, similarly to how non-Euclidean geometry contained spherical and hyperbolic geometry, maybe "non-Yonedan" reasoning contains a menagerie of various defeasible reasoning systems?)

The CTWTB sequence has been fun so far! If a good explanation of Yoneda and its meanings was a third or fourth post like the ones so far, that would be neat <3

Comment by JenniferRM on ($1000 bounty) How effective are marginal vaccine doses against the covid delta variant? · 2021-07-23T02:07:18.093Z · LW · GW

You found a neat paper! Thank you!

"MY WHY" (for my admittedly simply model)... Is... Basically... Uh... a thing I experience often is that I have a sort of "models inside of models" expectation that seems rarely to be applied in practice even by so-called experts? 

For example during Feb/Mar 2020 there were people talking about how "X% of patients are asymptomatic" but they were making these assertions based on single snapshots of infection cohorts in whom the epidemic was actively moving. So some of the people (like on a cruise ship) might have been PRE-symptomatic (because maybe checking for symptoms 14 days later would turn something up) rather than A-symptomatic (as a general property of their entire disease course). People were using the terminology willy nilly, and no one was tracking any of it precisely... almost no one was thinking of it like they were getting momentary glimpses of a sort of state machine or advertising funnel or something, where each person might get a slightly different ride along a slightly different path AND ALSO might be at a different step along whatever ride they will end up having taken.

Another very common failing is that people think that a group mean implies a group median. If there are bimodal responses to something, and then a group summary is given... is the group's denominator over "all treated" or "all who were treated and had a followup confirming an adequate response"?

BOTH of these errors have a common cause of "assuming homogeneous efficacy and assuming competent followup at the clinical level" and in my experience neither of these assumptions are strongly justified. They constantly fail, and people are constantly acting surprised about it. 

Failures of followup are ALSO why we couldn't get people properly quarantined at the beginning of this disaster. 

Often patients DO NOT WANT to have "the system" FOLLOW them.

The study you linked to seems to have somewhat solved "the standard problems with the 'lost to followup' state" that is the bane of so many time course studies. The design certainly seems to take the followup process very much into account (and I couldn't find drop out rates from skimming or ^f and so maybe literally no one dropped out):

Every patient who completes the protocol will have visited the clinic at least 4 times within a window smaller than 15 weeks, which is pretty good followup! <3

Something I'd like to call attention to here... in the paper you link the Extended Track had Bleed1 data from the extended cohort group, where they got (in some sense) to see how many people seroconverted from just one dose by week 5 or so...

Within the extended interval cohort, antibodies were detectable in 91% (62/68) at the first timepoint, at 5-6 weeks after the first vaccine, but this rose to 100% 2-3 weeks after the vaccine boost.

Recall that up in the abstract the paper summarizes the key result thusly:

Results: In donors without evidence of previous infection the peak antibody response was 3.5-fold higher in donors who had undergone delayed interval vaccination.

Suppose, hypothetically, that instead of 91% of people having "a seroconverting response" on the first shot it was only 28% of them?  

(This would be almost understandable. The youngest person in that study was 80 years old! The whole study is on a group whose immune systems should be assumed to be decrepit and fragile from the raw fact of great age.)

Then if the second exposure brought this up to 100% seroconversion "somehow", and the seroconverted "antibody levels" were gaussian (log normal?) among the seroconverted and 0 among the rest...

...Then that bimodal response could directly and cleanly justify claiming "antibody response was 3.5-fold higher" in some very fuzzy and general way (because 28% x 3.5 = 98%)

MY NORMAL EXPECTATION is for people to communicate in a fuzzy and general way :-(

The graph you included as a supporting claim was, I think, just the B panel from the totality of Figure 2 which is nice in many ways. Color coded! The horizontal axes are mostly aligned! Nice!

All the data from all the cohorts, basically? Not just Panel B.

Note that in Panel A the two timepoints give basically the same levels of antibody response, with maybe some hint of a slow decline, but also overlap with Panel B's separated ranges. Some in Panel A went up?? Weird. Probably stuff goes down (and sometimes up?) over time, in general?

The data in Panel A therefore seems consistent to me that "eventually" there is some roughly normal and acceptable level of "vaccinated at all, in an essentially bimodal way" that two doses reaches faster than typical? 

This is what the two dose shot is designed to do in my mind: get ALMOST ALL of the patients (because of herd immunity benefits) to the state of "CLEANLY SEROCONVERTED" with the LEAST amount of measurement and need for followup (because followup is really hard).

Bleed2 of the standard group is "10 weeks post standard dose2".  There is no Bleed3 for either group out all the way at week 21.  That third data collection event would be "10 weeks after dose2 for the extended group" and thus sorta comparable to the standard group's Bleed1?

My hunch is that extended Bleed3 would show a decline from the extended Bleed2 measurement... 

...maybe this prediction is a crux?

I could also imagine those slow risers in the standard group would STILL be going up by week 21?

Basically, I suspect that antibody levels eventually go down EVENTUALLY (over months and years), but also have some "sensitivity to dynamics over a timecourse" (which is probably not showing up here, not because it didn't happen, but because it wasn't measured).

I don't know. My error bars are wide.


Also it would have been great to measure antibody levels for everyone on week 3, as Bleed0? More of the dynamics would be visible I think, and it would help characterize (and separate?) various members of the standard group in terms of seroconversion status before the second dose?


Basically, immunological science is more of an art than a science. It has a gazillion moving parts created under extreme adversity. Also, humans underestimate the difficulties of just doing the thing over and over.

People don't get that "seroconversion" IS A THING. Sometimes it just doesn't happen. That's often the most important practical fact. Many bad vaccine designs end up with a "vaccine" whose seroconversion rate is non-zero but so low as to be impractical.  This meta-analysis for measles (trying to find a relationship between age and seroconversion) shows numerous things that were tried in the clinic that had less than 50% rates for some kids. 

The Pfizer/Moderna/mRNA design is weirdly effective from my perspective here. To take a second dose of a weirdly effective thing... uh... I guess? Sure. If empirically that works for this disease maybe it could or would help somehow in a way that eventually could be made sense of.

So if I have to pick ONE THING to assume about vaccine status at the INDIVIDUAL level, it will be "seroconverted or not" and then after knowing the answer to that, I assume "the rest will be very very complicated".

I freely admit this is a simplified model. I just also think that any specific additional mechanistic second step to the modeling effort is likely to explode the combinatorial space of patient states to worry about, and yet also be a TINY epicycle, and the first of MANY epicycles.

The thing I'm asking for is: what's the best second epicycle to add? What is the mechanism? If someone is already seroconverted, what would you measure to detect "that their mechanistic biological state is not ALREADY in the configuration that you'd be hoping to cause to improve via the administration of a third dose"?

And in the meantime: DELTA MIGHT BE MUTATING AROUND THE CURRENT VACCINE DESIGN and so a new design aimed at the new epitopes just obviously seems like it would address the main uncertainty in a central way. 

RadVac for Delta is something I might pay for, and maybe something I might want to try to make on my own? Searching a bit: it looks like mixed third dose trials are already starting, so... <3!

A third dose that's "the same as the first two" doesn't interest me. The second one doing what it does seems to be empirically real, but I don't know why the hell it empirically gives the results it does.

Comment by JenniferRM on ($1000 bounty) How effective are marginal vaccine doses against the covid delta variant? · 2021-07-22T05:14:11.266Z · LW · GW

EDITED: Connor's comment below landed directly in a place where I was ignorant and I've updated to think the right answer is "defer to him on the details of immunology until I read a lot more". 

I feel like what I wrote was basically adequately hedged given my ignorance, and maybe it is interested to read for having some of the picture, but not all of the picture, but if you're just saving your attention for super high value things you can probably just skip it? I get kind of rant-y towards the end about the lack of a proper public health system. Maybe if you like the rant-y bit this is still worth reading for that?


My current personal mechanistic model is that for "a given challenge" (that occurs in a window roughly 6-21 days large, with variation between people and also between challenges for the same person in different states of health), people either have a germinal center response, or not. 

If not, then on a second attempt they might have a response again, or not. This is "in general". I've seen studies where they did really good followup with a population for a measles vaccine, and some patients managed to play along with followup 5 times, and only the 6th vaccine caused their immune system to finally begin testing positive for the desired antibodies.

However, my current personal mechanistic model has huge error bars, and numerous asterisks, with warnings about how immunology is a blacker art that computer security, because it basically IS computer security, but for programs written in nucleic acid that are billions of years old, with millions of new revisions spammed into existence every second by a mad god. I can't read the code (at least not most of it, and not easily). I just expect it to contain devilish tricks because: it would be surprising if it didn't.

Under the simple "response or not" model, the reason they did "two tries without bothering to check in between for a response" for the current Pfizer/Moderna design is that this "double tap" protocol ups the official "chance of having the response from the one official protocol" and basically jukes their numbers, so they can brag about a 90% efficacy "if you do it right" and this makes the narrative and the medical protocols and everything simpler. 

If I was rich enough to have a private doctor (I'm not, and I don't even have "a doctor" as such because of moves and paperwork and dealing with insurance paperwork constantly being so so so exhausting) then I could totally see just paying "one competent personal doctor" to acquire and administer one vaccine dose, test for response, then doing another dose only if the antibody test is negative... but also doing a third if the antibody test after the second didn't show that it worked, and so on.

However, under the "response or not" model this binary response is for a specific epitope (or epitopeS if several antibodies form for different surface bits of different proteins... I'm not personally clear on how the immune system picks exactly what folded protein surface part(s) to pick as a target, or why) and so if you have DIFFERENT vaccines that target DIFFERENT surface patches on the same set of proteins (or variants of proteins) then for a specific later challenge by an environmental exposure probably the best fitting antibody for that exposure reacts the strongest and leads charge by the immune system to fight off the invading virus particles and their initial first couple generations of viral babies.

My current working model might be wrong. If it is right, then the best vaccines would target lots of different epitopes selected from numerous possible genetic variants and we would generate and ship them in maybe close to realtime, as a sort of "human culture and institution mediated meta immune system". 

This is how a properly designed public health system would actually work. But the US does not have a public health system basically? It just has a pharmaceutical and medical licensing monopoly maintenance and legal challenge immunization system, that prevents incumbents in the medical industry from being competed into low margins and high consumer health surpluses :-(

If our country was well run, we would already have a delta booster designed and available that could trigger the formation of these new kinds of antibodies, and the reason we don't is because the government is "either evil or incompetent" and the private industry isn't allowed to innovate around this barrier to technologically solving technologically solvable problems. ("FDA delenda est", but that's neither here not there.)

(Maaaaybe someone HAS already designed such boosters, but the FDA and/or CDC threatened them with angry looks and being put on some kind of professional blacklist if they ever admitted this in public on the second go-around because the PR was so bad for them when it came out that the first mRNA vaccine was designed in early 2020?)

Basically, my model is that RaDVaC or other novel vaccine designs COULD improve your response to VARIANTS by increasing the breadth of covid epitopes that your body can recognize and respond to, but that if a given vaccine design triggered a response in you already then another one is unlikely to help much more...

...however I have genuine model uncertainty. Maybe a second exposure causes the specific form of specific immune responses to somehow be stronger or different in a way that I've never seen a clean and clear explication of? Some anecdotal evidence suggests that double-dosed people are safer than single-dosed people, but I've never seen anyone report anything like this with a coherent followup about how or why such anecdotes might occur more (or less) in "different worlds" where (1) single-dosed people are less likely to have had a germinal response at all vs (2) the second dose materially changes the nature of the immune response.

I'm interested in learning a better model, if my model is wrong.

Another thing to point out is that having more antibodies is called "being allergic to things" when the thing you have antibodies for something that isn't actually bad. And it is called an "autoimmune disease" when the antibodies recognize something that naturally is already part of you. Acquiring new antibodies is not totally risk free. All biology is half black magic and full of exceptions because evolution is deep and twisty. Please please please be careful!

If you want to give me the $1000 for this writeup, please give it to johnswentworth instead.

Comment by JenniferRM on Agency in Conway’s Game of Life · 2021-07-20T19:28:16.441Z · LW · GW

I performed the same experiment with glider guns and got the same result "stalagmite of ash" result. 

I didn't use that name for it, but I instantly recognized my result under that description <3

When I performed that experiment, I was relatively naive about physics and turing machines and so on, and sort of didn't have the "more dakka" gut feeling that you can always try crazier things once you have granted that you're doing math, and so infinities are as nothing to your hypothetical planning limits. Applying that level of effort to Conway's Life... something that might be interesting would be to play with 2^N glider guns in parallel, with variations in their offsets, periodicities, and glider types, for progressively larger values of N? Somewhere in all the variety it might be possible to generate a "cleaning ray"?

If fully general cleaning rays are impossible, that would also be an interesting result! (Also, it is the result I expect.)

My current hunch is that a "cleaning ray with a program" (that is allowed to be fed some kind of setup information full of cheat codes about the details of the finite ash that it is aimed at) might be possible.

Then I would expect there to be a lurking result where there was some kind of Maxwell's Demon style argument about how many bits of cheatcode are necessary to clean up how much random ash... and then you're back to another result confirming the second law of thermodynamics, but now with greater generality about a more abstract physics? I haven't done any of this, but that's what my hunch is.

Comment by JenniferRM on Internal Information Cascades · 2021-07-20T02:59:38.027Z · LW · GW

So, I think Thomas Kuhn can be controversial to talk about, but I feel like maybe "science" isn't even "really recognizable science" maybe until AFTER it becomes riddled with prestige-related information cascades?

Kuhn noticed, descriptively, that when you look at actual people trying to make progress in various well now-well-defined "scientific fields" all the way back at the beginnings, you find heterogeneity of vocabulary, re-invention of wheels, arguments about epistemology, and so on.  This is "pre-science" in some sense. The books are aimed at a general audience. Everyone starts from scratch. There is no community that considers itself able to ignore the wider world and just geek out together but instead there is just a bunch of boring argumentative Tesla-caliber geniuses doing weird stuff that isn't much copied or understood by others.

THEN, a Classic arises. Historically almost always a book. Perhaps a mere monograph. There have been TWO of them named Principia Mathematica already! 

It sweeps through a large body of people and everyone who reads it can't help but feel like conversations with people who haven't read it are boring retreads of old ideas. The classic lays out a few key ideas, a few key experiments, and a general approach that implies a bunch of almost-certainly-tractable open problems. Then people solve those almost-certainly-tractable problems like puzzles, one after another, and write to each other about it, thereby "making progress" with durable logs of the progress in the form of the publications. That "puzzle and publish" dynamic is "science as usual".

Subtract the classic, and you don't have a science... and it isn't that you don't necessarily have something fun or interesting or geeky or gadgety or mechanistic or relevant to the effecting of all things possible... its just that it lacks that central organizing "memetic sweep" (which DOES kind of look like a classic sociological information cascade in some ways) and lacks a community that will replicate and retain the positive innovations over deep time while talking about them the same way and citing the heroes forever.

There was no textbook or professor (not that I'm aware of anyway) that taught John Carmack how to create the doom 3D engine. Alex Krizhevsky's GPU work for computer vision was sort of out of left field, and a lot of it related to just hunkering down with the minutiae of how a GPU's memory pipeline could be reconciled with plausible vision-centric neural net architectures.  One layer of meta up from there, Peter Thiel has a line he has repeated for years about how being socially attuned might actually make people less good at doing interesting projects. Oh... and Montessori kids showing up all over the place doing new shit.

I'm not saying here that left-field innovators SHOULD be role models. There could be good public and private reasons for optimizing in a way that is more socially aware and build around identifying and copying the greats? But cascades are sort of violating Bayes, and the cascade perspective suggests that not all the low hanging fruit has yet been picked in science, and there are reasons to suspect that being aware of the choices "to cascade or not to cascade" might make the choice more of a CHOICE rather than an accidental default. Mostly people seem to DEFAULT into copying. Then a weird number of innovators also have weird starts.

Comment by JenniferRM on Big picture of phasic dopamine · 2021-07-19T23:37:09.545Z · LW · GW

I enjoy that you have an algorithm which presumes the existence of some hypothetical mechanism, whereas researchers in labs have been elucidating these mechanisms for years without any necessarily coherent vision of agentic architectures <3

I think there's gotta be some way that it can do things like that. I feel like those kinds of feats of wiring are absolutely required for all kinds of reasons. Like, I think motor cortex connects directly to spinal hand-control nerves, but not foot-control nerves. How do the output neurons aim their paths so accurately, such that they don't miss and connect to the foot nerves by mistake? Um, I don't know, but it's clearly possible. "Molecular signaling" or something, I guess?

Its like you don't know about keywords like "growth cone" or "chemotaxis" or attempts to visualize chemoattractant gradients!

One of the main idioms of brain wiring is basically for axon tips to do chemotaxis (often through various way stations, in sequence) and then if they find the right home base they notice and "decide" to survive, and otherwise they commit suicide and have to be cleaned up (probably to save on neural metabolic demands? and/or to reduce noise?) but then it seems like maybe there are numerous similar systems all kind of working in parallel, each with little details like the "homotopic connections" between each spot in one hemisphere and its rough cognate in the other hemisphere, through the corpus callosum?

The normal way it works, I think, is for people to get the big picture wiring diagram by simply looking, and then do biochemistry and so on, and then back their way into vague hunches about what algorithms could be consistent with such diagrams and mechanisms? You seem to be going in "algorithms first" instead :-)

Comment by JenniferRM on Covid 6/24: The Spanish Prisoner · 2021-06-25T17:49:25.890Z · LW · GW

I admire Dominic from a distance based more on reading old blog posts than on awareness of recent news (which I actively avoid in general in preference to getting information via word of mouth as a salience filter and then doing followup with active evidence seeking to test hypotheses).

there are few people who have proven themselves less trustworthy than Cummings in UK politics over the last few years.

Are you saying that he has a multi-year pattern of redirecting funds from public coffers to personal friends?

Or maybe... are you saying that he just has a halo, for you, of being someone that members of your tribe should say "boo" to by default?

Specifically, could you name things from the last few years which might update me decisively to not trusting Dominic in specific ways? I'd be specifically looking for official crimes (or gross normative violations) he may have committed that cross a coherent bright line. I currently model him as simply "an official villain that the press hates" because the press hated Brexit and so on and so forth?

So my structural model here is that you might be "simply downstream of the British press who I model as quite biased in predictable ways (so much so that I avoid the popular press on purpose in general)" or you might be "aware of specific crime-like actions done by Dominic that would surprise and sadden me and give me a specific threat model for how to be careful around him (that I might not know because I am often oblivious to many current events)"?

Links to the best evidence of the worst bright-line violations of behavioral norms by Dominic, that are clear, clean, and surprising to me would be appreciated <3

Comment by JenniferRM on Non-poisonous cake: anthropic updates are normal · 2021-06-23T18:23:00.233Z · LW · GW

I don't publish a lot. Also, I've tried to fill out this list with numerous examples, but mostly I find people explaining things via anthropics after they were basically inferred from other methods, not people predicting things using this argument from scratch and THEN those things turning out to be true.

The list of "probably successful predictions" that probably started from an anthropic hunch so far was: just Fred Hoyle (but see a sibling comment... maybe Mitchell Porter's example of Steven Weinberg should count too).

I laughed out loud over the phrasing "Assuming that whales actually exist..."

...and then I wondered if maybe you're talking about the abstract form of whales in general, and postulating that they might exist (or not) in general in other places. Like perhaps there are something-like-whales under the ice of Europa?

One fun anthropic-flavored theory (that is definitely not just a retroactive explanation of an idea that is already considered true based on more prosaic reasoning (because we don't know if it is true yet)) is the proposal by Fergus Simpson that most aliens will turn out to physically larger than us, but from smaller planet-like objects.

Comment by JenniferRM on Non-poisonous cake: anthropic updates are normal · 2021-06-22T17:53:42.146Z · LW · GW

Nice! Searching... I see that he has an article from 1989 that is a trove of gems. He tosses this one off to get the idea started (which was also new to me):

In one very weak version, the anthropic principle amounts simply to the use of the fact that we are here as one more experimental datum. For instance, recall M. Goldhaber's joke that "we know in our bones" that the lifetime of the proton must be greater than about 10^16 yr, because otherwise we would not survive the ionizing particles produced by proton decay in our own bodies. No one can argue with this version, but it does not help us to explain anything, such as why the proton lives so long. Nor does it give very useful experimental information; certainly experimental physicists (including Goldhaber) have provided us with better limits on the proton life-time.

The presentation has the tone of a survey, and floats many ideas, equations, and empirical results than I can wrap my head around swiftly, but it appears that the core idea is that too fast an expansion might have prevented the condensation of enough matter, via gravity, for some of the matter to become us. He self cites back to 1987.

Comment by JenniferRM on Non-poisonous cake: anthropic updates are normal · 2021-06-21T22:09:01.349Z · LW · GW

Over the years I've tried to collect predictions that were supposedly made on the basis of anthropic reasoning and which turned out to be true.

Personally, I have collected a grand total of one. Maybe it doesn't work, or doesn't count, because I've never been really thorough on the scholarship to go back to original sources for myself. And determining "what the real provenance of good scientific reasoning actually was" is in general is notoriously tricky...

Anyway, the one/best anthropic update I'm aware of is Fred Hoyle's prediction that something like the triple alpha process must be occurring in stars, otherwise there would not be enough carbon in the universe for us to have formed.

Do you know of any other/better predictions based on anthropics?

Comment by JenniferRM on To the Robobassinet and Progress · 2021-06-21T21:25:35.013Z · LW · GW

The old school version didn't have the software to measure and react to the baby. Just a crank and a mechanical store of energy to fight against the friction that would otherwise slow the rocking motion. Gadgets are neato!

Comment by JenniferRM on Tracey Davis and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Part 5 · 2021-06-18T02:11:57.659Z · LW · GW

Well that settles the main question pretty decisively. 

This IS in the same nest of timeline(s) as Luna Lovegood and the Chamber of Secrets and it almost certainly isn't from the first loop (she's already forgetting things)... but since Cho can ask Luna to ask SMITE club to attend a concert, Luna's memories and linkages to that organization still exist "in time" for this timeline.... so this might not be from the last loop either?

Two years ago it was no Muggle artifacts in battles. Last year it was no electronics. This year the restrictions are even stronger

Maybe: Harry gets the first year, Luna gets the second, and now Tracey gets the third? If there are four more stories set in four future years, I would not complain!

Emotionally, I was hoping that this was part of Luna's final loop and also chronologically later than Luna's final battle so somehow Luna could start to make friends who actually survive to continue as her friends?

EDIT: Actually, the more I think about it, the more I feel like my theory of time here doesn't definitely survive contact with all the hints. I think the calendar date here is LATER than Luna's final surviving timeline's boss battle, but the history seems more like the history from before that final battle edited the timeline... maybe in this timeline... Maybe here... Luna's enemy is still out there, and still hunting her, but it will somehow attack later than it attacked in other versions of history? I think I'm still confused but my curiosity is certainly piqued <3

Comment by JenniferRM on Neo-Mohism · 2021-06-17T13:53:01.056Z · LW · GW

Are you proposing this as a new thing that few yet believe in, but many should, or as a description of the system that already sorta seems to exist?

I look up Mohism, and... it kinda seems like this is just "how all vaguely liberal nation-states downstream of the the enlightenment already run" basically? 

Or at least if you accused them of NOT running this way (accusing them of being unethical, or not merit-based, or wasteful) they would already experience it as an attack?

Central elements of Mohist thought include advocacy of a unified ethical and political order grounded in a consequentialist ethic emphasizing impartial concern for all; active opposition to military aggression and injury to others; devotion to utility and frugality and condemnation of waste and luxury; support for a centralized, authoritarian state led by a virtuous, benevolent sovereign and managed by a hierarchical, merit-based bureaucracy... Mohist ethics and epistemology are characterized by a concern with finding objective standards that will guide judgment and action reliably and impartially so as to produce beneficial, morally right consequences. The Mohists assume that people are naturally motivated to do what they believe is right, and thus with proper moral education will generally tend to conform to the correct ethical norms. They believe strongly in the power of discussion and persuasion to solve ethical problems and motivate action, and they are confident that moral and political questions have objective answers that can be discovered and defended by inquiry.

Virtually the only thing missing here is voting on who the leader should be, and how that leader should be restricted to roughly a decade of service in the top role.

Also the "..." was to cut out a bit about heaven and ghosts, although descriptively it does seem that the political operators in many modern nation states do give lip service to a confused mishmash of the best/shared parts of many religions, so maybe even that's descriptively accurate?

Comment by JenniferRM on Is the length of the Covid-19 incubation period likely to be affected by whether you are vaccinated? · 2021-06-17T03:05:06.451Z · LW · GW

I used to drink literally none. I'm genetically predisposed to bad outcomes from alcoholism (my family has jokes about "brewery genes") and teetotaling through my teen years is something I do NOT regret.

But statistics suggest that literally drinking absolutely no alcohol ever... isn't correlated with maxxing your longevity (though: insert much debate here)?  SO the current best theory I have for a possible mechanism (assuming it is even true) involves using short term brain damage as part of human bonding rituals.

More/better friends makes you happier, and hence longer lived. Seems legit. Then I figure: a few drinks a few times a year won't matter that much? So I do drink sometimes in some social contexts, but I try to do it rarely and lightly. Enough to show that "in vino veritas" (and so on) reveals me to be a happy drunk instead of a mean drunk, but not much more than that. ONE glass of champagne to celebrate new years? Who am I to argue with tradition? <3

My memory (which is human and thus fallible) contains a study or two that were beautiful, with healthy mostly non-drinking people people who were clean for some time, then had before and after white blood cell counts, with a randomly assigned number of drinks, and they got a nice little dose response curve and time-to-recovery out of it. 

My memory wants to say that maybe one drink depressed WBC counts by like 35%, with recovery within 1-3 days? Maybe the second drink got the number down to like 60% from peak? And by the sixth drink you mostly already blasted all the white blood cells that were going to die with the fifth drink already? That last 10%, or 5%, or 1% of white blood cells are hard to wipe out, and "100%" only has 100 percentage points inside of it to lose, which... is a finite number of points... so... yeah.

If literally ALL of them died with nothing anywhere to grow back to the right numbers... that seems like it would make alcohol way more fatal than it observably is? 

Like you might need a blood transfusion to live after every binge drinking event in that case? Which people don't need. So that can't be how it works.

But I can't find the study (studies?) now so either the modern (crappy) google on the modern (crappy) net corpus is failing me, or my memory is bad? 

Instead, all I can find right now is long term stuff from prestige farms (and second order similar content on long term processes) empirically showing a long term hand-wavy version of chronic abuse causing deep structural damage... 

...but like: "duh"? And THESE don't seem to mention telomeres or mechanistic connections between obvious short term and long term biological processes?

I don't know. 

Biology is a science, but it is a weird science. It is basically an attempt to reverse engineer a gajillion weird little gadgets designed by an insane god. The wrinkles have wrinkles, seemingly ad infinitum, but surely it has to bottom out SOMEWHERE and then make perfect sense eventually?


In terms of the VERY BIG picture, it is mechanistically plausible that it is useful to do a bit of a purge now and again? Exercise. Fasting. Variation. Hormetic stresses. Maybe "use it or lose it"?

Like my best guess for green tea's mechanism of action on cancer reduction is that it mildly upregulates apoptosis and makes all cells just that much extra willing to suspect they might be cancerous and press their own cellular suicide button. Seems scary to me (I stopped drinking green tea regularly when I found out), but green tea has a positive reputation, so who am I to say?

(Doctors used to purge blood all all the time, and it was never helpful, except when it was.)

Then there's asparagus: it could be neurotoxic (at some doses) for a chunk of people... I dunno if I have the allele for that result, but even if I have the allele, I still do eat it sometimes, but only like one or two spears, young/weak/small, and only maybe once a year. 

I hated asparagus as a kid, and kids tend to be smart about such things? 

I heard from someone once that there are two species that can eat asparagus without dying: some bug that specializes in it, and humans, because humans have freakishly capable livers. This was uncited however, and maybe just word-of-mouth bullshit?

There's an old wives tail that asparagus works as decent wart medicine, this jives with "anecdata" for me... but like... IF something can kill some small benign(?) cancers then it deserves serious respect in my book. Not "never". Just "cautiously"?

Alcohol seems like it could hypothetically fit in here somewhere, maybe it has a use as a poison that usefully poisons the bad cells worse than it poisons the healthy cells if used rarely?

I think the standard use for alcohol in the super olden days as a water additive that kills microbiological infestations (not that they knew that it was doing this, because they didn't have a germ theory of disease, so... what the hell?) but it doesn't make sense to use it this way anymore, I think.  

Nowadays the drinking supply is dosed with chlorine instead, so thank goodness for science!

The thing you were supposed to do was "water" the wine I think... which means drinking more water, which is theoretically healthy (but in practice probably not), so maybe many modern humans (but not all) have genomes tuned by the last few millennia of agricultural evolution to tolerate drinking a half a glass of a fructose-like beverage per day, mixed with quite a bit of water?

Purging cells every day, when we KNOW that telomeres are a thing, doesn't seem wise to me... but I know of zero studies aimed at optimizing any of this in any kind of sane way.

Basically, my real theory is basically to follow my cravings, try to AVOID eating unless I CRAVE some food or drink (and eat half of how much I think I want, then get seconds after 10 minutes if I still wanna), use common sense (liberally sprinkled with evolutionary bullshit), copy the diets of people similar to me who seem successful, and cross my fingers.

Comment by JenniferRM on Shall we count the living or the dead? · 2021-06-15T08:16:53.836Z · LW · GW

The official study is neither the beginning not the end of knowledge. If people were being really competent and thorough, the study could have have collected all kinds of additional patient metadata.

The patient's body is made of atoms that move according to physical laws. It is basically a machine. With the correct mechanistic modeling (possibly very very complicated) grounded in various possible measurements (some simple, some maybe more complicated) all motions of the atoms of the body are potentially subject to scientific mastery and intentional control.

From patient to patient, there are commonalities. Places where things work the same. This allows shortcuts... transfer of predictions from one patient to another.

Since the body operates as it does for physical reasons, if a patient had a unique arrangement of atoms, that could produce a unique medical situation... 

...and yet the unique medical situation will still obey the laws of physics and chemistry and biochemistry and so on. From such models, with lots of data, one could still hypothetically be very very confident even about how to treat a VERY unique organism.

Veterinarians tend to be better at first principles medicine than mere human doctors. There are fewer vet jobs, and fewer vet schools, and helping animals has more of a prestige halo among undergrads than helping humans, and the school applications are more competitive, and the domain itself is vastly larger, so more generic reasoning tends to be taught and learned and used.

If a single human doctor was smart and competent and thorough, they could have calibrated hunches about what tests the doctors who ran the "1% and 2% study" COULD have performed.

If a single doctor was smart and competent and thorough, they could look at the study that said "overall in humans in general in a large group: side effect X was 1% in controls and 2% with the real drug" AND they could sequence the entire genome of the patient and make predictions from this sequence data. The two kinds of data could potentially be reconciled and used together for the specific patient.

BUT, if a single doctor was smart and competent and thorough, they could ALSO (perhaps) have direct access to the list of all allergic reactions the patient is capable of generating because they directly sampled the antibodies in the patient, and now have a computerized report of that entire dataset and what it means.

Heck, with alphafold in the pipeline now, a hypothetical efficacy study could hypothetically have sequenced every STUDY patient, and every patient's unique gene sequences and unique drug-target-folding could be predicted. 

A study output might not be "effective or not" but rather just be a large computer model where the model can take any plausible human biodata package and say which reactions (good, bad, or interesting) the drug would have for the specific person with 99.9% confidence one way or the other.

Drugs aren't magic essences. Their "non-100%" efficacy rates are not ontologically immutable facts. Our current "it might work, it might not" summaries of drug effects... are caused partly by our tolerance for ignorance, rather than only by the drug's intrinsically random behavior.

We can model a drug as a magic fetish the patient puts in their mouth, and which sometimes works or somethings doesn't, as a brute fact, characterized only in terms of central tendencies... 

...but this modeling approach is based on our limits, which are not set in stone.

Science is not over. Our doctors are still basically like witch doctors compared to the theoretical limits imposed by the laws of physics.

The current barriers to good medical treatment are strongly related to how much time and effort it takes to talk to people and follow up and measure things... and thus they are related to wealth, and thus economics, and thus economic regulatory systems.

Our government and universities are bad, and so our medical regulations are bad, and so our medicine is bad. It is not against the laws of physics for medicine to be better than this.

Concretely: do you have a physical/scientific hunch here? It kinda seems like you're advocating "2% because that's what the study said"?

What is the maximally structurally plausible probability of an allergic reaction, as a complication for that patient, in response to treatment: ~2% or ~11% or ~20%?

Comment by JenniferRM on Shall we count the living or the dead? · 2021-06-14T22:42:30.150Z · LW · GW


My next question was whether this was "just pedagogy and communication to help people avoid dumb calculation mistakes" or a real and substantive issue, and then I watched the video...

And it is nice that the video is only 4:51 seconds long and works "just as well" on 2X... 

And... I think basically the claim is NOT just pedagogical, but substantive, but it was hard to notice.

I've swirled your content around, and in doing so I feel like I've removed the stats confusion and turned it around so it sharpens the way the core question is about physical reality and modeling intuitions... Here is an alternative abstract that I offer for your use (as is, or with edits) if you want it <3

Imagine that an enormous high powered study samples people in general, and 1% of the control group has allergies on placebo, while 2% on "the real drug" have an allergic reaction. Then a specific patient from a subpopulation where 10% of the people have separately been measured to be predisposed to allergies, comes to a doctor who then tries to weigh treatment benefits vs complication risks. Assume the doctor is rushed, and can't do a proper job (or perhaps lacks a relevant rapid test kit and/or lacks the ability to construct tests from first principles because of a brutally restrictive regulatory environment in medicine) and so can only go off of subpopulation data without measuring the patient for direct mechanistic pre-disposing allergy factors. What is the maximally structurally plausible probability of an allergic reaction, as a complication for that patient, in response to treatment: ~2% or ~11% or ~20%? This fact of the matter, at this clinical decision point, could itself be measured empirically. Textbooks that speak to this say ~20%, but those textbooks are wrong because they have no theory of external reality and are basically just cargo-culting bad practices that have been bad for over half a century. The simplest Pearlian causal model (see figure 1) should be preferred based on Occam's razor and says ~11%. Mindel C. Sheps proposed the right answer using related intuitions in 1958 but she has been ignored (and sometimes made fun of) because our field is systematically bad at reasoning thoughtfully about physical reality. This paper aims to correct this defect in how the field reasons.

Does this seem like a friendly proposal (friendly to you, not friendly to the field, of course) for a better abstract, that focuses on a concrete example while pushing as hard as possible on the central substantive issue?

I admit: peer reviewers would probably object to this.

Also I did intentionally "punch it up" more than might be justified in hopes that you'll object in an informative way here and now. My abstract is PROBABLY WRONG (one example: I know your figure 1 is not a pearlian model) but I hope it is wrong in the way a bold sketch is less accurate than a more painterly depiction, while still being useful to figure out what the central message can or should be.

Comment by JenniferRM on Shall we count the living or the dead? · 2021-06-14T17:37:29.188Z · LW · GW

Is there a pithy summary which explains the basic object level idea in a sentence of four? Like when "Mindel C. Sheps proposed a principled solution", what was it? Is her solution the same as yours, or not?

It kinda seems like the idea is "use causal graphs to formally reason about diagnosis and treatment decisions" but I don't think causal graphs were common in 1958.

Or maybe the idea is that some treatments are like vitamins (maybe help lots of people a little, but could be poison by accident, or at the wrong dose, or for sensitive weirdos) and others are like chemotherapy (terrible in general, and yet plausibly better than non-treatment for very specific diagnoses) and these two kinds of treatment either need different reasoning methods to be properly formally justified, or else need a unified modeling tool that is powerful enough to express the important differences?

Or is the idea something else entirely? I can't seem to skim my way to the critical bit and then feel certain "I got the gist".

Comment by JenniferRM on Coronavirus crash vs history · 2021-06-14T17:02:05.271Z · LW · GW

This data is pretty great! 

I notice: some US/UK crashes are the same year and same color. Most of them are tightly correlated but the red 2020 lines don't stay close to each other, and it causes me to feel sympathy for the UK... and then have second thoughts about whether maybe the US recovery is just due to the US money printer?

One thing I wonder is what the sampling method looked like? Is there a cutoff for picking a crash that was generated via query, or is this hand curated? How did you boil it down to those 17 modern crashes? I tracked down your May 2020 post and it has slightly different crashes, so my hunch is that this is hand curated :-)

Comment by JenniferRM on Is the length of the Covid-19 incubation period likely to be affected by whether you are vaccinated? · 2021-06-14T16:04:16.686Z · LW · GW

I appreciate the feedback! I sometimes wonder if walls of text are unhelpful/embarrassing somehow, but if the intended audience likes it then it can't be that bad, right? <3

Comment by JenniferRM on Is the length of the Covid-19 incubation period likely to be affected by whether you are vaccinated? · 2021-06-12T20:58:30.422Z · LW · GW

I'm just reading out my mechanistic priors here (mostly not answering about specifically covid, from specific data).

In the same way that masks made sense in February of 2020 my reaction was "like duh? the viral particles are bigger than the particles that well fitted N95 masks already keep out? how could it NOT be helpful? are people really just this dumb?"

The immune system is much more complicated than masks, and has exponential growth INSIDE the mechanism, so it is way more understandable that people wouldn't "get it"...

But applying the same kind of "there is a general system that generally works" reasoning here...


When you get virally infected WITHOUT a vaccine, the reason it takes "N days" to fight off a virus is because your immune system initially fights a LOSING war against the virus until an "antibody-reliant super weapon" can be constructed, kinda like a Manhattan Project, but more focused.

Once your immune system gets specifically able to fight the specific virus the fight gets much shorter and your immune system nearly always wins.

(Sometimes not: HIV is an exception, for example, because it evolves faster than your immune system can complete super-weapon projects to target the recent/past/obsolete version of your own infection in your own body. Herpes is a partial exception because SOMEHOW(?) it hides in a nook invisible to our entire immune system? Biology is rife with exceptional details.)

N days until disease goes away =

"time to design antibodies after exposure but before symptoms" +

"more time to design antibodies during symptoms while still losing the fight" +

"more time to USE the antibodies to win the fight at the end"

= "1-3 weeks for influenza (and mostly on the shorter end of that range)".

MOST of the time is spent on research.

The last term in the equation above is generally pretty small. It would be even smaller if it was not performing a naively astonishing come-from-behind victory maneuver against a vast horde of gazillions of infected cells and viral particles.

The "time to form antibodies" varies across people, but the reason for the "3 week delay" between two vaccines is because the vaccine designers wanted to systematically wait until like 99% of the population would have finished this response, even sickly people.  This way the first response and the second response would be biologically distinct exposures, but also the treatment with both would count be "the same for everyone and logically a unit in most people's minds" which has nice political and PR properties.


Some very healthy people could probably get away with a delay of possibly just a week?

If there existed many competent doctors with schedules that were wide open (or just an autodoc in every home) the autodoc could measure things directly and give you a second vaccine in the very hour that the immune response is good enough, and this might be only 5 days for some people? Reason: because some people get better from influenza pretty darn fast.

So suppose that someone got infected with the same strain of influenza right after they fought it off once already? Like they drink 4 ounces of "give you influenza fluid" for science...

Then they fast forward through most of the earlier immune machinery's operation. They ALREADY have super weapons against exactly that influenza strain already designed, and design is the slowest step.

So the first few cycles of the SECOND infection can be thought of like something from a medieval anime war story that is an amusingly fast win for the good guys :-)

There are 4 (the inoculating dose) "ninjas with mind control magic scrolls" (viruses) who sneak into the small feudal nation (you), and while they are bespelling the first 4 gate keepers or farmers or whatever according to a basic magical mind control doubling schedule... There is a dog nearby that already has the scent of exactly those ninjas and exactly their specific paper for their specific mind control scrolls (from the previous infection), so the dog smells the ninjas and then howls, and howls spread quickly until they are heard several miles away at the superweapon depot.

The howls brings in killer robots with special algorithms to pierce every hiding trick the ninjas might employ (same as the first dog used, basically) and ends the game almost instantly. The killer robots take out the "at most 64-256 ninjas" and the invasion is over. EVEN if the robots had had to face 1,073,741,824 (==2^30) ninjas the robots would have STILL won (because robots are awesome). That would have been a long fight.

However, because the dog knew the scent, and the robot got there, and the robot knew the scent as well, the response is super early, and super fast, and the fight doesn't even take that long, and all together it prevents most of the possible damage to the little kingdom.

So a lot potentially hinges on your own personal vitality, and exactly which strain infects you. If the "smell" of the invaders isn't the same as before, the event will be BOTH more damaging AND take longer to deal with.


If you are healthy and the strains are close to what the vaccine targeted, then your average infection period will be like... half a day? Maybe 2 days?

Also, you will almost never notice it, because the metaphorical robots will kill the ninjas before there are enough ninjas to cause much damage to the countryside and form a ninja army to attack the lungs, or the brain, or whatever.

(Part of why covid is so freaking horrible is that it is infectious BEFORE the symptoms show up because the lab that created it probably used serial passage on humanized lab animals to make sure that the fit between the spike protein and human ACE receptors is very efficient. From the very beginning, in December, in Wuhan, it transmitted human-to-human BEFORE the fever starts, which means that the temp checking system that defeated Version 1 of SARS wasn't going to be good enough for this new version of SARS. If not for this detail, it wouldn't even be on my radar as a thing to worry about that you could pass covid during these quickly suppressed microinfections that vaccinated immune systems handle automatically all the time.)

HOWEVER ALSO, clinical studies of "people who are vaccinated but still somehow got sick" will therefore, over time, come to be based on either people who are sickly or who have new strains, or both.

(For example, like 20% of the US might be classified as some-kind-of-alcoholic, because even just 1 drink of alcohol wipes out a large percent of your immune cells for hours or days, and then your hematopoietic cells rebuild them at the cost of telomere shorting. Such people often have relatively wimpy immune systems, especially late in life.)

So if you're healthy and not exposed to brand new strains, the time during which you might be kinda infectious MIGHT be roughly 1.5 days in (while awesome robots kill the kind of ninjas they were programmed for)? Maybe less than 1.5 days? Maybe hours?

(I have half-heartedly looked for evidence of vaccinated healthy people being "the only logically possible link in a transmission chain" and have not found much evidence of such things. My search was not thorough, however.)

BUT if you are exposed to newly antibody-escaping strains, or are just "not healthy in the first place", or both, then you could look at naive clinical studies (that might not be careful about admitting or explaining the straightforward theoretical implications of their sampling methods), to get a sense of how your own bad luck situation might play out.

If you are unlucky, then studies performed on other unlucky people could show a rough infection, amenable to therapeutic interventions, that occurs partly in a hospital where "data collection to power formal studies" is easier and cheaper to collect.


Long story short: assuming a healthy immune system, and no immune escape from a new virus variant, your infectious period is probably much shorter (or even essentially non-existent) after you are successfully vaccinated.

This might be wrong. These are just priors, and a general model. (HIV is an exception to this model that I already know about, for example.)

However, I think there are not many ways that (1) the model has an essentially broken structure with respect to the immune system in general or (2) covid has some additional specific wrinkle to its biology such that it routes around the normal immune responses.

If someone existed in a conversation with me, in a similar state of "working almost entirely from priors", and they put $10 at risk while I put $20 at risk, and they won my $20 if they found something on the internet that defeated my model or basic conclusions, but if they couldn't find anything definite within a couple hours I would win their $10... then I would accept the bet... and be happy to learn how I was wrong <3

On the open internet, "against all comers", bets work differently, and mean more. I'm not offering this bet here.

All I'm reporting here is my subjective "conversational bet tolerance" for "my priors, and that the priors are basically adequate to model this situation without extensively consulting with the internet first".


The US essentially doesn't have a public health system anymore.

The giving of free vaccines is what such a system would do if it existed, but for covid vaccines, this was done as an emergency one-off, because...

...of reasons... basically none of what I said about vaccinated immune systems applies to a hypothetical "very new strain" where a single one could arise in a place with a lot of infected people and then evade hypothetical border controls AND also evade current antibodies produced by the current vaccine.

To account for this risk you would have to have a positive predictive evolutionary model?

And I can't do that, and don't know of anyone who can. Maybe nothing will evolve? That's what I hope.

If hope isn't good enough, and you don't count political solutions you basically have to fall back to really generic solutions like "retreat from the world (maybe as a project)" or else maybe just "cryonics and crossed fingers"?

Or abandon the constraint of not "being allowed to modify the current political disaster directly" and then like... uh... gain power... and fix border controls relevant to public health (and public health in general) directly for real?

Or just hope that Obama cleans house somehow eventually via more backroom deals or something?

Or take extra advantage of the brief cessation in the covid horror, while vaxxed against the current strain... because there's no coherently structurally certain reason that the next wave won't have already started up again by next Christmas?

If I couldn't get a vaccine, and was (justifiably) relying on the herd to protect me from plagues, I would be SUPER angry at the herd for not doing this properly.

Your housemate has my sympathy.

Comment by JenniferRM on Social behavior curves, equilibria, and radicalism · 2021-06-11T22:32:41.805Z · LW · GW

I noticed (while reading your great modeling exercise about an important topic) a sort of gestalt presumption of "one big compartment (which is society itself)" in the write-up and this wasn't challenged by the end. 

Maybe this is totally valid? The Internet is a series of tubes, but most of the tubes connect to each other eventually, so it is kinda like all one big place maybe? Perhaps we shall all be assimilated one day.

But most of my thoughts about modeling how to cope with differences in preference and behavior focus a lot on the importance of spacial or topological or social separations to minimize conflicts and handle variations in context.

My general attitude is roughly: things in general are not "well mixed" and (considering how broken various things can be in some compartments) thank goodness for that!

This is a figure from this research where every cell basically represents a spacially embedded agent, and agents do iterated game playing with their neighbors and then react somehow.

In many similar bits of research (which vary in subtle ways, and reveals partly what the simulation maker wanted to see) a thing that often falls out is places where most agents are being (cooperatively?) gullible, or (defensively?) cheating, or doing tit-for-tat... basically you get regions of tragic conflict, and regions of simple goodness, and tit-for-tat is often at the boundaries (sometimes converting cheaters through incentives... sometimes with agents becoming complacent because T4T neighbors cooperate so much that it is easy to relax into gullibility... and so on).

A lot depends on the details, but the practical upshot for me is that it is helpful to remember that the right thing in one placetime is not always the right thing everywhere or forever.

Arguably, "reminding people about context" is just a useful bravery debate position local to my context? ;-)

With a very simple little prisoner's dilemma setup, utility is utility, and it is clear what "the actual right thing" is: lots of bilateral cooperate/cooperate interactions are Simply Good.

However in real life there is substantial variation in cultures and preferences and logistical challenges and coordinating details and so on.

It is pretty common, in my experience, for people to have coping strategies for local problems that they project out on others who are far from them, which they imagine to be morally universal rules. However, when particular local coping strategies are transported to new contexts, they often fail to translate to actual practical local benefits, because the world is big and details matter.

Putting on a sort of "engineering hat", my general preference then is to focus on small specific situations, and just reason about "what ought to be done here and now" directly based on local details the the direct perception of objective goodness.

The REASON I would care about "copying others" is generally either (1) they figured out objectively good behavior that I can cheaply add to my repertoire, or (2) they are dangerous monsters who will try to hurt me of they see me acting differently.  (There are of course many other possibilities, and subtleties, and figuring out why people are copying each other can be tricky sometimes.)

Your models here seem to be mostly about social contagion, and information cascades, and these mechanisms read to me as central causes of "why 'we' often can't have nice things in practice" ...because cascading contagion is usually anti-epistemic and often outright anti-social.

You’re having dinner with a party of 10 at a Chinese restaurant. Everyone else is using chop sticks. You know how to use chop sticks but prefer a fork. Do you ask for a fork? What if two other people are using a fork?

I struggled with this one because I will tend to use a chopstick at Chinese restaurants for fun, and sometimes I'm the only one using them, and several times I've had the opportunity to teach someone how to use them. The alternative preference in this story would be COUNTERFACTUAL to my normal life in numerous ways.

Trying to not fight the hypothetical too much, I could perhaps "prefer a fork" (as per the example) in two different ways:

(1) Maybe I "prefer a fork" as a brute fact of what makes me happy for no reason. In this case, you're asking me about "a story person's meta-social preferences whose object-level preferences are like mine but modified for the story situation" and I'm a bit confused by how to imagine that person answering the rest of the question. After making an imaginary person be like me but "prefer a fork as a brute emotional fact"... maybe the new mind would also be different in other ways as well? I couldn't even figure out an answer  to the question, basically. If this was my only way to play along, I would simply have directly "fought the hypothetical" forthrightly.

(2) However, another way to "prefer a fork" would be if the food wasn't made properly for eating with a chopstick. Maybe there's only rice, and the rice is all non-sticky separated grains, and with a chopstick I can only eat one grain at a time. This is a way that I could hypothetically "still have my actual dietary theories intact" and naturally "prefer a fork"... and in this external situation I would probably ask for a fork no matter how unfun or "not in the spirit of the experience" it seems? Plausibly, I would be miffed, and explain things to people close to me who had the same kind of rice, and I would predict that they would realize I was right, nod at my good sense, and probably ask the waiter to give them a fork as well.

But in that second try to generate an asnwer, it might LOOK like the people I predicted might copy me would be changing because "I was +1 to fork users and this mapped through a well defined social behavior curve feeling in them" but in my mental model the beginning of the cascade was actually caused by "I verbalized a real fact and explained an actually good method of coping with the objective problem" and the idea was objectively convincing.

I'm not saying that peer pressure should always be resisted. It would probably be inefficient for everyone to think from first principles all the time about everything. Also there are various "package deal" reasons to play along with group insanity, especially when you are relatively weak or ignorant or trying to make a customer happy or whatever. But... maybe don't fall asleep while doing so, if you can help it? Elsewise you might get an objectively bad result before you wake up from sleep walking :-(

Comment by JenniferRM on Inner Alignment in Salt-Starved Rats · 2021-06-11T00:21:30.340Z · LW · GW

Response appreciated! Yeah. I think I have two hunches here that cause me to speak differently. 

One of these hunches is that hunger sensors are likely to be very very "low level", and motivationally "primary". The other is maybe an expectation that almost literally "every possible thought" is being considered simultaneously in the brain by default, but most do not rise to awareness, or action-production, or verbalizability?

Like I think that hunger sensors firing will cause increased firing in "something or other" that sort of "represents food" (plus giving the food the halo of temporary desirability) and I expect this firing rate to basically go up over time... more hungriness... more food awareness?

Like if you ask me "Jennifer, when was the last time you ate steak?" then I am aware of a wave of candidate answers, and many fall away, and the ones that are left I can imagine defending, and then I might say "Yesterday I bought some at the store, but I think maybe the last time I ate one (like with a fork and a steakknife and everything) it was about 5-9 days ago at Texas Roadhouse... that was certainly a vivid event because it was my first time back there since covid started" and then just now I became uncertain, and I tried to imagine other events, like what about smaller pieces of steak, and then I remembered some carne asada 3 days ago at a BBQ.

What I think is happening here is that (like the Halle Berry neuron found in the hippocampus of the brain surgery patient) there is at least one steak neuron in my own hippocampus, and it can be stimulated by hearing the word, and persistent firing of it will cause episodic memories (nearly always associated with places) to rise up. Making the activations of cortex-level sensory details and models conform to "the ways that the entire brain can or would be different if the remembered episode was being generated from sensory stimulation (or in this case the echo of that as a memory)".

So I think hunger representations, mapped through very low level food representations, could push through into episodic memories, and the difference between a memory and a plan is not that large? 

Just as many food representing neurons could be stimulated by deficiency detecting sensory neurons, the food ideas would link to food memories, and food memories could become prompts to "go back to that place and try a similar action to what is remembered".

And all the possible places to go could be activated in parallel in the brain, with winnowing, until a handful of candidates get the most firing because of numerous simultaneous "justifications" that route through numerous memories or variations of action that would all "be good enough".

The model I have is sort of like... maybe lightning? 

An entire cloud solves the problem of finding a very low energy path for electrons to take to go from electron dense places to places that lack electrons, first tentatively and widely, then narrowly and quickly. 

Similarly, I suspect the entire brain solves the problem of finding a fast cheap way to cause the muscles to fire in a way that achieves what the brain stem thinks would be desirable, first tentatively and widely, then narrowly and quickly.

I googled [thinking of food fMRI] and found a paper suggesting: hippocampus, insula, caudate. 

Then I googled [food insula] and [food caudate] in different tabs. To a first approximation, it looks like the caudate is related to "skilled reaching" for food? Leaving, by process of elimination: the insula?

And uh... yup? The insula seems to keep track of the taste and "goal-worthiness" of foods?

In this review, we will specifically focus on the involvement of the insula in food processing and on multimodal integration of food-related items. Influencing factors of insular activation elicited by various foods range from calorie-content to the internal physiologic state, body mass index or eating behavior. Sensory perception of food-related stimuli including seeing, smelling, and tasting elicits increased activation in the anterior and mid-dorsal part of the insular cortex. Apart from the pure sensory gustatory processing, there is also a strong association with the rewarding/hedonic aspects of food items, which is reflected in higher insular activity and stronger connections to other reward-related areas.

So my theory is: 

Biochemistry --> hunger sensors (rising, enduring) --> insula (rising, enduring) --> 

--> hippocampus (also triggerable by active related ideas?) --> memories sifted --> plans (also loop back to hippocampus if plans trigger new memories?) --> 

--> prefrontal cortex(?) eventualy STOPS saying "no go" on current best mishmash of a plan --> 

--> caudate (and presumably cerebellum) generate --> skilled food seeking firing of muscles to act in imagined way!

The arrows represent sort of "psychic motivational energy" (if we are adopting a theory of mind) as well as "higher firing rate" as well as maybe "leading indicator of WHICH earlier firing predicts WHICH later firing by neurons/activities being pointed to".

I think you have some theories that there's quite a few low level subsystems that basically do supervised learning on their restricted domain? My guess is that the insula is where the results of supervised learning on "feeling better after consuming something" are tracked?

Also, it looks like the insula's supervised learning algorithms can be hacked?

The insular cortex subserves visceral-emotional functions, including taste processing, and is implicated in drug craving and relapse. Here, via optoinhibition, we implicate projections from the anterior insular cortex to the nucleus accumbens as modulating highly compulsive-like food self-administration behaviors

Trying to reconcile this with your "telencephalon" focus...  I just learned that the brain has FIVE lobes of the cortex, instead of the FOUR that I had previously thought existed?! At least Encarta used to assert that there are five...

These and other sulci and gyri divide the cerebrum into five lobes: the frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital lobes and the insula. [bold not in original]

Until I looked up the anatomy, I had just assumed that the insula was part of the brain stem, and so I thought I won some bayes points for my "hard wiring" assumption, but the insula is "the lobe" hiding in the valley between the temporal cortex and the rest of the visible surface lobes, so it is deep down, closer to the brain stem... So maybe you win some bayes points for your telencephalon theory? :-)

Comment by JenniferRM on The Generalized Product Rule · 2021-06-10T05:06:30.746Z · LW · GW

Kant thought that space being Euclidean was a priori logically necessary, hence determinable from pure thought, hence true without need for empirical fact checking... and in the end this turned out to be wrong. Einstein had the last laugh (so far).

I have wondered now and again whether it might be that Cox's Postulates are similar to Euclid's Postulates and might have similar subtle exceptional discrepancies with physical reality in practice.

It is hard to form hypotheses here, partly for a lack of vivid theoretical alternatives. I know of two claims floating around in the literature that hint at substantive alternatives to Bayes.

One approach involves abandoning at least one of Aristotle's three laws of thought (excluded middle, non-contradiction, and identity) and postulating, essentially, that reality itself might be ontologically ambiguous. If I had to pick one to drop, I think I'd drop excluded middle. Probably? Constructionist/intuitionist logic throws that one out often, and automated proof systems often leave it out by default. Under the keywords "fuzzy logic" there were attacks on these laws that directly reference Jaynes. So this is maybe one way to find a crack in the universe out of which we might wiggle.

The only other approach I know of in the literature is (for me) centrally based on later chapters in Scott Aaronson's "Quantum Computing Since Democritus" (try clicking the link and then do ^f bayes) where, via hints and aspersions, Aaronson suggests that quantum mechanics can be thought of as Bayesian... except with complex numbers for the probabilities, and thus (maybe?) Bayesianism is essentially a potentially empirically false religion? Aaronson doesn't just say this directly and at length. And his mere hints would be the place I left this summary... except that while hunting for evidence I ran across a link to what might be a larger and more direct attack on the physical reality of Bayesianism? (Looking at it: using axioms no less! With "the fifth axiom" having variations, just like Euclid?!)

So that arxiv paper by Lucien Hardy (that I missed earlier! (that was written in 2008?!?)) might just have risen to the top of my philosophy reading stack? Neat! <3

Maybe it is worth adding a third approach that I don't think really counts... When the number of variables in a belief net goes up, the difficulty of simply performing mere inference becomes very hard to compute, with relatively general assumptions the algorithms ending up in NP-hard. This "doesn't count as a real deep philosophically satisfying alternative to Bayes" for me because it seems like the practical upshot would just be that we need more CPU, and more causal isolation for the systems we care about (so their operation is more tractable to reason). Like... the practical impossibility of applying Bayes in general to large systems would almost help FIGHT the the other "possible true/deep alternatives" to Bayes, because it creates an alternative explanation for any subjective experience of sorta feeling like you had probabilities figured out, and then your probabilities came out very wrong. Like: maybe there were too many variables, and the NP-hardness just caught up with you? Would you really need to question the "laws of thought" themselves to justify your feeling of having been been in the physical world and then ended up "surprisingly surprised"? Seriously? Seriously?

Anyway. I was wondering if you, having recently looked at the pillars of pure thinking themselves, had thoughts about any cracks, or perhaps any even deeper foundations, that they might have :-)

Comment by JenniferRM on Inner Alignment in Salt-Starved Rats · 2021-06-10T03:22:37.234Z · LW · GW

I wrote the following before reading the three hypotheses or other comments. The links were added after I copied the text over to the website:

My hypothesis for how the salt pursuing behavior worked is that there's a generic "entity" subsystem in the brain. 

It has a deep prior that "things" exist and it figures out the sound/smell/appearance of "things".

Where is "thing modeling" implemented? Something something temporal cortex, something something hippocampus, something something halle berry neuron.

As a similarly deep prior, some "things" are classified in terms of a "food" category, and for all such things there is a taste vector which is basically a list of values for how full of nutrient/features the "thing" is when considered as "food". There are low level rewards to help "educate the palate" which fills in this part of a model of the world and so: goats and rats and babies constantly stick stuff in their mouths.

The features/characteristics of "things" that are "edible" are non-trivial, and based on complex sensors that can essentially perform a chemical assay. These assays are central to everything. There's thousands of smells that could support a dimensional analysis engine that would have probably had something like 2 billion years of evolution to develop.

There are receptors which measure how glucose-like a substance is, for example, and their operation is ancient and also non-trivial. Also acidity and saltiness are simpler molecular ideas than glucose, and all of these simple molecules were "learned about" by DNA-based learning for a long time before neurons even existed.

Single celled organisms already have chemical assay based behavioral learning. Smell was almost certainly the first sense.  In a way, the only sense 99% of neurons have is a sense of smell.

Dogs have a lot of smell sensors (and bad eyesight) whereas human noses are far from the ground, but we haven't lost all the smell receptors to mutational load and lack of selection yet. We probably will never lose them all?

So then there's a large number of nutrient deficiencies and chemical imbalances that are possible.  Low blood sugar is an obvious one, but many others could exist.  Every amino acid's levels could, individually, be tracked and that would "just make sense" on a first principles evolutionary level for there to be chemical sensors here.

Sensors for the chemical or physiological precursors of basically any and all serious nutrient deficiency could exist in large numbers, with many subtypes.  Some of the microbiological sensors could modulate the conscious mind directly, the evidence being that many people know what it feels like to "feel hungry" in different ways, but different signals could be subconscious quite easily and not violate the hypothesis? Just have the optimization signals propagate via paths far from the verbal awareness loops, basically?

The claim is simply that the microsensory details here could exist in the body, and send signals to some part of the brain stem that recognizes "food-fixable deficiencies" that treat food seeking as a first class task. Call all these subtypes of chemically measurable hunger different internal "deficiency sensors"?

Any big obvious linkages between a deficiency and a tastable food feature that could reliably occur over evolutionary timescales is likely to already exist at a very low level, with hard coded linkages.  

Basically we should expect a many-to-many lookup table between "foods" and how much each food type would help avoid worsening over supply (and/or helping with under supply) of every nutrient, with the only learning being the food list contents (plus where each food is and so on, for motor planning) and then learned "deficiency fixing" values for each food (plausibly subconsciously).

When the vector of various kinds of "hunger levels" changes, a relatively hard coded circuit probably exists that (abstractly (maybe even literally?)) assigns each food a new dot product value in terms of general food goodness, and foods with high values "sort to the top", after which a whole planning engine kicks in, confabulating plans for getting any or all such high value foods and throwing out the implausible plans, until a food with a high value and a plausible plan is left over.

Then after a while (something something prefrontal cortex, something something inhibition of motor plans) the plan is tried. Sometimes it will be a terrible plan, like "eat sand (because your parents suck at being providers)" but we can't keep parents from torturing their children using insane dietary theories... that's not even an important example... it mostly just shows that human conscious thought is mostly not that great. The main case is just like, a dog whose puppies are hungry because it sucks at hunting, so the puppies get weird deficiencies, and then the puppies that wordlessly/atheoretically solve these cravings somehow survive to have more puppies.

Anyway... the intrinsic horrifying bleakness of biology aside... in low cephalization animals (like cows) with bodies and habitats and habits that are already "known viable", evolution's instrumental task here doesn't need to be very complicated.  Maybe slightly modulate which grasses or herbs are eaten, and wander in the direction of places where the desired plants tend to grow more?

For some animals (like chimps) the confabulation engine turned out to be pretty valuable, and it just kept getting bigger over time.  Hence human brains getting progressively bigger confabulation engines.  

When humans starve, they become obsessed with imagination about food. A nearly identical process plausibly explains romantic obsessions.  And so on.  A HUGE amount of human behavioral reasoning is plausibly "pica with more steps".

Basically, my theory is that "mammal brains have first class specialized treatment of edible physical objects, the mice got pica for salt, and the source of salt was already in the relevant foodthing/location memory slot, and the obvious half-hard-coded action happened when the relevant check engine light came on and a new part of the dot product calculator for food value reversed in sign... for the first time ever (in the experiment)".

Comment by JenniferRM on Alcohol, health, and the ruthless logic of the Asian flush · 2021-06-09T22:00:29.069Z · LW · GW

This reminded me of an essay on artificial pain, where people whose hands could no longer feel pain in some part of their body would get a computer controlled device attached to another part of their body that would hurt them where they were sensitive if they did something that could damage their insensitive body parts.

One problem was calibrating the mechanism to really detect damaging actions (preferably before damage became at all severe). 

The deeper problem was that the entire mechanism was optional.

Even the patients who were most "adherent" to the treatment and the most intellectually "bought in" to the idea that pain could protect them from damage would sometimes briefly turn the device off to do things that would cause damage to their hands that they just "really wanted to do" in that moment.

It feels like there's a lurking idea here related to agency operating on longer time scales?  Something something months, years, and decades? Something something low pass filter?  Something something Parfit?

I had not heard of casino self exclusion before! Thanks for that pointer :-)

Comment by JenniferRM on Power dynamics as a blind spot or blurry spot in our collective world-modeling, especially around AI · 2021-06-03T23:38:34.380Z · LW · GW

I googled for mentions of [confidence building measures] on Lesswrong and felt mildly saddened and surprised that there were so few, but happy that there were at least some. A confidence building measure (or "CBM") is a sort of "soft power" technique where people find ways to stay chill and friendly somewhat far away from possible battle lines, in order to make everyone more confident that grownups are in charge on both sides. They seem like they could help rule out large classes of failure modes, if they work as they claim to work "on the tin".

In the search, I found 5 hits. One from me in 2011 and another from me in 2017. Two mentions are "incidental" (in biblios) but there was a pretty solid and recent and direct hit with [AN #146]: Plausible stories of how we might fail to avert an existential catastrophe. which is pointing to a non-less-wrong text on CBMs. Quoting the core of AN #146 here:

This paper explores confidence-building measures (CBMs) as a way to reduce the negative effects of military AI use on international stability. CBMs were an important tool during the Cold War. However, as CBMs rely on a shared interest to succeed, their adoption has proven challenging in the context of cybersecurity, where the stakes of conflict are less clear than in the Cold War. The authors present a set of CBMs that could diminish risks from military use of AI and discuss their advantages and downsides. On the broad side, these include building norms around the military use of AI, dialogues between civil actors with expertise in the military use of AI from different countries, military to military dialogues, and code of conducts with multilateral support. On the more specific side, states could engage in public signalling of the importance of Test and Evaluation (T&E), transparency about T&E processes and push for international standards for military AI T&E. In addition, they could cooperate on civilian AI safety research, agree on specific rules to prevent accidental escalation (similar to the Incidents at Sea Agreement from the Cold War), clearly mark autonomous systems as such, and declare certain areas as off-limits for autonomous systems.

The paper itself appears to be authored by... maybe this Michael Horowitz and then this Paul Scharre seems like an excellent bet for the other author. A key feature here in my mind is that Horowitz appears to already have a functional enduring bipartisan stance that seems to have survived various US presidential administration changes? This is... actually kinda hopeful! :-)

(Edit: Oh wait. Hopefulness points half retracted? The "AI IR Michael Horowitz" is just a smart guy I think, and not specifically a person with direct formal relationships with the elected US govt officials. Hmm.)

There are specific ideas, backstory, phrases, and policy proposals in the article itself: AI and International Stability: Risks and Confidence-Building Measures. Here's a not-entirely-random but not especially critical part of the larger article:

States have long used established “rules of the road” to govern the interaction of military forces operating with a high degree of autonomy, such as at naval vessels at sea, and there may be similar value in such a CBM for interactions with AI-enabled autonomous systems. The 1972 Incidents at Sea Agreement and older “rules of the road” such as maritime prize law provide useful historical examples for how nations have managed analogous challenges in the past. Building on these historical examples, states could adopt a modern-day “international autonomous incidents agreement” that focuses on military applications of autonomous systems, especially in the air and maritime environments. Such an agreement could help reduce risks from accidental escalation by autonomous systems, as well as reduce ambiguity about the extent of human intention behind the behavior of autonomous systems.

I guess the thing I'd want to communicate is that it doesn't seem to be the case that there are literally ZERO competent grownups anywhere in the world, even though I sometimes feel like that might be the case when I look at things like the world's handling of covid. From what I can tell, the grownups that get good things done get in, apply competence to do helpful things, then bounce out pretty fast afterwards?

Another interesting aspect is that the letters "T&E" occur 31 times in the Horowitz & Scharre paper which is short for the "Testing & Evaluation" of "new AI capabilities". They seem to want to put "T&E" processes into treaties and talks as a first class object, basically?

States could take a variety of options to mitigate the risks of creating unnecessary incentives to shortcut test and evaluation, including publicly signaling the importance of T&E, increasing transparency about T&E processes, promoting international T&E standards, and sharing civilian research on AI safety.

Neither italics nor bold in original.

But still... like... wisdom tournament designs? In treaties? That doesn't seem super obviously terrible if we can come up with methods that would be good in principle and in practice.

Comment by JenniferRM on Decoupling deliberation from competition · 2021-05-25T21:23:51.534Z · LW · GW

Something I find myself noticing as a sort of a gap in the discourse is the lack of the idea of a "right" and specifically the sort of lowest level core of this: a "property right".

It seems to me that such things emerge in nature. When I see dogs (that aren't already familiar) visit each other, and go near each other's beds, or food bowls... it certainly seems to me, when I empathically project myself into the dog's perspectives as though "protection of what I feel is clearly mine against another that clearly wants it" is a motivating factor that can precipitate fights. 

(I feel like anyone who has been to a few big summer BBQs where numerous people brought their dogs over will have seem something like this at some point, and such experiences seem normal to me from my youth, but maybe few people in modern times can empathize with my empathy for dogs that get into fights? The evidence I have here might not work as convincing evidence for others... and I'm not sure how to think in a principled way about mutual gaps in normatively formative experiences like this.)

Unpacking a bit: the big danger seems often to be when a weak/old/small dog has a strong/mature/big dog show up as a visitor in their territory. 

If the visitor is weak, they tend not to violate obvious norms. Its just polite. Also its just safe. Also... yeah. The power and the propriety sort of naturally align.

But if the visitor is strong and/or oblivious and/or mischievous they sometimes seem to think they can "get away with" taking a bite from another dog's bowl, or laying down in another dog's comfy bed, and then the weaker dog (often not seeming to know that the situation is temporary, and fearful of precedents, and desperate to retain their livelihood at the beginning of a new struggle while they still have SOME strength?) will not back down... leading to a fight?

The most salient counter-example to the "not talking about property rights" angle, to me, would be Robin Hanson's ideas which have been floating around for a long time, and never really emphasized that I've seen?

Here's a working (counter) example from 2009 where Robin focuses on the trait of "law-abidingness" as the thing to especially desire in future robots, and then towards the end he connects this directly to property rights:

The later era when robots are vastly more capable than people should be much like the case of choosing a nation in which to retire.  In this case we don’t expect to have much in the way of skills to offer, so we mostly care that they are law-abiding enough to respect our property rights. [bold not in original] If they use the same law to keep the peace among themselves as they use to keep the peace with us, we could have a long and prosperous future in whatever weird world they conjure.  In such a vast rich universe our “retirement income” should buy a comfortable if not central place for humans to watch it all in wonder. 

Obviously it might be nice if (presuming the robots become autonomous) they take care of us out of some sense of charity or what have you? Like... they have property, then they give it up for less than it costs. To be nice. That would be pleasant I think.

However, we might download our minds into emulation environments, and we might attach parts of the simmed environments to external world measurements, and we might try to put a virtual body into causal correspondence with robotic bodies... so then we could have HUMANS as the derivative SOURCE of the robot minds, and then... well... humans seem to vary quite a bit on how charitable they are? :-(

But at least we expect humans not to steal, hopefully... Except maybe we expect them to do that other "special" kind of theft sometimes... and sometimes we want to call this transfer good? :-/

I feel like maybe "just war" and "just taxation" and so on could hypothetically exist, but also like they rarely exist in practice in observed history... and this is a central problem when we imagine AIs turning all the processes of history "up to 11, and on fast forward, against humans"? 

Also, however, I sort of fear this framing... it seems rare in practice in our discourse, and perhaps likely to cause people to not become thereby BETTER at discussing the topic

Perhaps someone knows of a good reason for "property and rights and property rights and laws and taming the (often broken) government itself" to remain a thing we rarely talk about?

Comment by JenniferRM on The Argument For Spoilers · 2021-05-24T05:27:16.466Z · LW · GW

My central objection is that in speculative fiction there are new and good ideas woven into detailed theories about how the ideas could relate to worlds and people and planning and social processes and so on.

And these ideas are worth talking about sometimes. 

And if you put an idea into writing that people feel like they're consuming for some sort of primarily hedonic appreciation, all of the sudden the idea spreads in conversation through society slower than otherwise

And then because of "people who care about spoilers" there's all this dancing about where people can't just say "I read a cool book at it had a cool idea which was X". Because of the ambient culture, and the sense that talking about fiction in plain words is considered rude by some people, now people have to hem and haw and hedge to figure out what it would be polite to say.

Its crazy. Publishing an idea in a delightful format shouldn't slow the idea's propagation down!

Screw it. For me: spoil away! The faster, and more interestingly, and more relevant to the conversation, the better.

Comment by JenniferRM on Finite Factored Sets · 2021-05-24T04:31:21.390Z · LW · GW

I have read most of the article, but not yet carefully combed the math or watched the video. 

The OEIS gap seems suggestive of "being on the track of something novel (and thus maybe novel and good)".

Reading this, some things clicked for me as "possibly related and worth looking at" that I hadn't really noticed before. 

Specifically, I was reminded of how "TF * IDF" is this old pragmatic "it works in practice" mathematical kludge for information retrieval that just... gets the job done better "with" than "without" nearly all of the time? People have ideas why it works, but then they start debating the tiny details and I don't think there's ever been a final perfectly coherent answer?

One framing idea might be "everything that works is actually Bayesian under the hood" and there's a small literature on "how to understand TF * IDF in Bayesian terms" that was reviewed by Robertson in 2004

Long story, short: Event Spaces! (And 80/20 power laws?)

"The event space of topics, and of documents in topics, and of words in documents in topics" versus "the event space of queries, and of words in queries" and so on... If you make some plausible assumptions about the cartesian product (ahem!) of these event spaces, and how they relate to each other... maybe TF * IDF falls out as a fast/efficient approximation of a pragmatic approximation to "bayesian information retrieval"?

Something I noticed from reading about Finite Factored Sets was that I never really think much about what Pearl's causal graphs would look like if imagined in terms of bayesian event spaces... which I had never noticed as a gap in my thinking before today.

Comment by JenniferRM on Bayeswatch 5: Hivemind · 2021-05-23T03:54:07.627Z · LW · GW

Hardware hacks can be "demonically" clever (or just normal amounts of clever) and it is somewhat distressing to not see people take it more seriously even in the deep fictional future.

I'm coming around lately to the idea that the way to go is artisanal hardware made by friendly monks or something? Chip designs printed on 8.5x11 transparencies.  Megahertz speeds. For some signal processing kinds of things the security seems like the most important factor.

It feels like it might work like covid testing/vaccines in practice: by the time "the system" does it, it will have been too late, for too long, to avoid enormous pain?

In the meantime, the writing is dense with ideas and I seek it out on purpose. Thank you for authoring and for publishing here!

Comment by JenniferRM on Is driving worth the risk? · 2021-05-12T03:19:11.531Z · LW · GW

Two things:

ONE: I love how "should I learn to drive for this trip right here?" cascades into this vast set of questions about possible future history, and AGI, and so on <3

Another great place for linking "right now practical" questions with "long term civilizational" questions is retirement. If you have no cached thoughts on retirement, you might profitably apply the same techniques used for car stuff to "being rich if or when the singularity happens" and see if either thought changes the other?

TWO: I used to think "I want to live this year", "If I want to live in year Y then I will also want to live in year Y+1". Then by induction: "I will want to live forever".  

However, then I noticed that this model wasn't probabilistic, and was flinching from possible the deepest practical question in philosophy, which is "suicide".  Figuring out the causes and probabilities of people changing from "I do NOT want to kill myself in year Y" to "I DO want to kill myself in year Y+1" suggests a target for modeling? Which would end up probabilistic?

Occam (applied to modeling) says that the simplest possible model is univariate, so like maybe there is some value P which is the annual probability of "decaying into suicidalness that year"? I do mean decay here, sadly.  Tragically, it looks to me like suicide goes up late in life... and also suicides might be hiding in "accidental car deaths" for insurance reasons? So maybe the right thing is not just a univariate model but a model where the probability goes up the older you get?

This approach, for me, put bounds on the value of my life (lowering the expected value of cryonics, for example) and caused me to be interested in authentic durable happiness, in general, in humans, and also a subject I invented for myself that I call "gerontopsychology" (then it turned out other people thought of the same coinage, but they aren't focused on the generalizable causes of suicidal ideation among the elderly the way I am).

Ok three things...

THREE: I drive <3

Comment by JenniferRM on Sunzi's《Methods of War》- The Army's Form · 2021-05-12T01:40:20.880Z · LW · GW

This chapter felt more allusive than the earlier ones. It kind of reminds me of sword manuals where the writer assumes the reader already has had F2F training and is "pointing" instead of "explaining".

I looked up "the nine heavens" and it didn't help much. Maybe the phrase changed meaning over time? It seems to have been connected to the planets after Ptolemy's model reached China, but I don't know if Sunzi wrote before or after that. If after, I wondered if maybe were some sort of planets/pantheon/astrology linkages, that would mean something to someone who caught more references than I do?

I see that The Art Of War has 13 chapters. If you had done them all, I'd have probably binged the whole sequence this evening :-)

Comment by JenniferRM on Sunzi's《Methods of War》- War · 2021-05-12T01:16:44.069Z · LW · GW

Reading this, I wonder how much of the quality is related to your own wisdom, and how much can be attributed to the original author?

The original:


What google translate makes of it:

If the country is poor than the teacher, those who lose far away will lose, and the people who lose far will be poor;

Your version

Resupplying an army over long distances impoverishes a country.

The last one seems to me like pragmatic direct clean common sense. If someone didn't know it, I would think they were not right for military planning.

If every planned military campaign was to be checked against a checklist of common sense objections (that someone might have forgotten mid-planning based on groupthink or enthusiasm or something) then having that line in the checklist makes sense to me. Useful! Practical!

Google's translation has no such virtues and I can't read Chinese. Other lines have a similar pattern of "quality"?

Maybe... I'm reading (and appreciating!) "Lsusr's Steelman Of Sunzi" rather than "the original itself"??

Maybe there's a gap in my cross-cultural literary interpretation capacities (and/or Google is still terrible at Chinese translation) and I'm expecting to be spoon fed, and any normally capable classical Chinese reader would have "basically gotten the same thing you did" from the original, but then perhaps admire specifically your skill at translating it to a new domain (English) with different literary standards (pop culture infused midwits like me)?

Another theory might be that in the original, all the lines ARE vague. Perhaps they are elliptically written to avoid political attacks in Sunzi's own time? Or just honestly lacking the punch and wisdom? Still, all of them together might cause someone who reads Chinese to "read between the lines" and be able to "get" each line?

One test might be to round trip your translation back through Google, and back to Chinese, and see if it "sounds way more sane and direct and useful" in the very last stage still?

Some lines from the original:




Google's version:

Therefore, the soldiers heard the clumsy speed, and they have not seen the cleverness for a long time. There is no such thing as a husband and a soldier who benefits the country for a long time.

If the country is poor than the teacher, those who lose far away will lose, and the people who lose far will be poor;

Therefore, a soldier is expensive to win, not for a long time.

Your take:

There is no such thing as a beneficial protracted war.

Resupplying an army over long distances impoverishes a country.

A valuable victory is a quick victory.

Then back through Google?




So, the final Chinese looks pretty different in terms of characters and density and so on, but I can't read or judge it as language. Your English seems way better than Google's English. Is there a similar jump in quality from Chinese at the beginning as compared to the Chinese at the end?

Comment by JenniferRM on Bayeswatch 3: A Study in Scarlet · 2021-05-08T02:29:54.861Z · LW · GW

Maybe there's more than one volitional AI. A finance bot and a weather bot?

Perhaps the finance bot wants to corner the market on weather-related market predictions and performed an action (red paint) that would cause a source of information for its competitors to disappear from the game board? If this is true, then it seems like these stories might have a Recurring Villain who is part of a Plot Arc!

The explosions were strictly instrumental.

I chuckled. 

The idea that the explosion(s) were/was not intrinsically enjoyed, tickled me somehow. Like, I pushed the first domino because I wanted specifically the last domino to fall. All the ones in the middle were just "instrumental"?

Now I wonder... maybe you mean to communicate what I would mean by saying "incidental"? Like maybe the glass breaking was just a hypothetically avoidable side effect of a hasty plan, that was mildly bad, but not actively mitigated/minimized, nor bad enough to change the net good of the hasty action?

Comment by JenniferRM on Bayeswatch 2: Puppy Muffins · 2021-05-08T01:30:16.143Z · LW · GW

I mean... like... "the Lobsters" in Accelerando (who ultimately end up being highly similar to humans compared to the very weird "Vile Offspring", and altruistically are able to help us a bit with escaping, after humans are essentially deported from Earth and so on) were, I'm pretty sure, based on a hypothetical extension of work vaguely like this? (There's a specific study where someone did the crude but serviceable first cell of a Moravec Upload, but on a Lobster, that I wanted to link to but can't instantly find anymore.)

I can't remember all the allusions, but parts of that novel were very dense with these kinds of things :-)

My understanding is that Stross held (still holds (dunno: haven't checked in a while)) singularitarians in mild contempt, and just harvested a bunch of "our memes" and threw them back at us in a book aiming to insultingly pander to us. If that's what happened, I'm fine with it! Such high quality pandering is ok by me <3

I think over time he came up with larger audiences to insultingly pander to, where I could see the pandering more easily, but not notice as many collected allusions to interesting research? C'est la vie.

Comment by JenniferRM on Why I Work on Ads · 2021-05-08T01:06:44.788Z · LW · GW

I don't mean to butt in. Hopefully this interjection is not unfriendly to your relative communicative intentions... but I found the back-and-forth personally edifying and I appreciate it!

Also, I do love bright lines. (I like weighing tests better, but only if the scales are well calibrated and whoever is weighing things is careful and has high integrity and so on.)

In places, it seemed like there was a different gestalt impression of "how morality and justification even works" maybe? This bit seemed evocative in this way to me:

Your example also reads to me like a classic justification for 'everyone having guns':  "but what if I'm attacked by a rabid dog?  If I have my gun I can protect myself!  See, guns are ok to have!"  Just because it's possible to point out a positive use case, doesn't mean that the remainder of the field is also positive.

Then this bit also did:

The point is that the target gets to decide what's acceptable and what isn't, not the... publisher, [or] advertiser, the distinction does not matter.  The point is that the target does not get to decide.

For me, both of these feel like "who / whom" arguments about power, and exceptional cases, and how the powerful govern the powerless normally, and the justifications power uses, and the precedent of granting such power, and how precedents can cascade weirdly in black swan events, and how easy or difficult it is to resist seemingly-non-benevolent exercises of power, and to what degree appeals are possible, and so on.

I read Jeff as trying to break the question of "ads" down into a vast collection of cases. Some good some bad. Some fixable, some not. Some he might be personally able to change... some not?

Then he constructed at least one case that might be consistent with, and revelatory of, an essentially acceptable (and not unbenevolent?) exercise of a certain kind of power. One case could exist that was good for everyone in that one case... because it is full of puppies and roses for everyone (or whatever).

The "power" here is basically "the power to choose at the last second what some parts of a website (that in some sense 'has been asked for by the person the website copy will be sent to') might look like"?

If you object even to this one quickly constructed "best possible use" of such a website editing power, despite the puppies and roses... that would mean that it isn't "the results as such", but (groping here...) more like "who or how are the results decided"?

Which... maybe who and how any economic event is decided is more important than what the result in particular is for that event? Or not? 

But if that's the crux then it seems useful to know, and the example did suggest to me that this might be close to the crux. If the "best possible ad" is actually "bad because of who/whom structural factors", then... well... that's interesting? 

However also this makes the larger logical case less likely to be something where an answer can be found that any sane person would obviously agree to. It seems likely that humans will dispute about structural stuff "forever"?

The entire effective altruism movement is sort of (epistemically) "humble" here, and takes as a sort of premise that it is uniquely EFFECTIVE (compared to other, plausibly "lesser" ways of being altruistic) because it actually uses evidence and clear thinking to figure out specific local positive cheap ways to measurably "do the most good for others" (thereby helping many people, one life at a time, with specific local plights, despite limited resources). 

Gather data. Run numbers. Do single local "likely best" intervention. Update. Repeat.

By contrast to obviously locally improving little tragic problems in the world one case at a time... the "structural who/whom stuff" is notoriously hard to reason about in a clear and universally convincing way. 

One thing maybe to say is that I admire Jeff's seemingly very honest commitment to giving money away to help others efficiently. 

Separately, I admire his search for flaws in the way he makes the money being donated. And I upvoted Dentin's original comment early on, because it seemed central to Jeff's search for critical takes on his current professional work.

Behaviorally, if you and he both continued to work in ads at Google, I don't think I would personally judge either of you (much?) worse. If you stop with ads. If Google stops with ads... I think still "the ads will flow" in the economy by some method or other no matter what? And when I worked at Google, I worked on weirder things, and every time I met someone in ads I tried to thank them for giving me the opportunity to not hew too directly to instantaneous market signals.

Google's non-ad contribution to the lives of generic humans is plausibly sort of staggeringly positive (search, email, and maps plausibly generate almost $30k/yr/person in consumer surplus!) compared to HOW LITTLE it extracts from most people. If Martians were going to copy the Earth 1000 times and delete either "Google+Bing" or "the Fed", or both, or neither, as an experiment, I think my life would be sadder in copies without a decent search engine than in the copies without the Fed. I think?

If neither of you personally solve all of the inchoate structural problems inherent in the global information economy of earth in 2021... that's not surprising, and I don't think it makes you much worse than everyone else who is also not solving those problems. And donating a lot to actually effective charities is obviously relatively rare, and relatively great. If someone is going to Be Part Of A Structural System which causes me to sometimes see dildo ads on the internet (which might inevitable so long as the 1st amendment exists (and I don't want to give up the 1st amendment)), I'd rather it was people who can have pangs of conscience, and seek to minimize harm, and who are proud that "At least the systems I work on make things less terrible."

And (though I might be engaging in cognitive dissonance and just trying to end on a positive note) maybe people in the world can also fix "the structures" too, somehow, perhaps a bit at a time, with similar sorts of the (relatively humble) kinds of reasoning as is used to fight polio and malaria and so on?

Comment by JenniferRM on Bayeswatch 2: Puppy Muffins · 2021-05-05T18:44:55.347Z · LW · GW

I remember that example!

(EDITED: Crap. I included the key pic from the key research in the first draft of this comment, and then the site's software put my comment "close to the OP, with the OP not rolled out" and so the OP would be spoiled by the comment? Apologies. Hopefully with this edit to remove the pic from the comment things work better?)

This series is great! Please keep going!  

It reminds me of some of the "best bits" from Accelerando, back in the day, when Stross was clearly alluding to ideas from actual published work by people trying to understand brains and learning algorithms and so on. Some parts of the novel were practically "a new allusion every paragraph" and the density of them caused me to laugh, which I take to be a positive some of like... uh... something interesting and probably good?

Also, more seriously, it is plausible that this very text might end up in GPT-N's language models.  If the language models have a coherent literary concept of short sweet narratives describing obvious failure modes, that might be helpful?  Like... in the actual future there will probably be engineers who re-use libraries very quickly to hit deadlines with high enough quality that the QA team can't instantly detect the problems.  That "hurried productive iterative pragmatic chaos"-feeling is in these stories, and feels true to life.

Comment by JenniferRM on Bayeswatch 1: Jewish Space Laser · 2021-05-04T04:46:37.119Z · LW · GW

So... did Vi see the pushplate or something? Certainly she had some domain specific expertise that could have helped if that was how she figured it out.

Project Orion schematic with push plate, tiny hole for nukes to shoot out the back, and shock absorbers to smooth out the pushes.

I would vaguely imagine that there might be coverings over this stuff, to protect from atmospheric turbulence during the first rocket stage, and such coverings might not let it be obvious what the design was by direct inspection of the ship.

My other guess for how she figured it out is just "the objective function was kinda dumb", but maybe it took a while for the penny to drop? Like, why would you EVER turn off "protect Earth from environmental damage" part way through the mission?!?

Comment by JenniferRM on Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think · 2021-05-01T17:58:09.216Z · LW · GW

I put a raw URL in the raw text, and javascript rewrite magic happened to it and made it an embedded video.  

I was strongly tempted to try and hit ^z on the rewrite because in my experience embedded stuff changes over times and thus makes the writing "not able to persist in archives for the ages", but... :shrugs:

I'm not surprised that the article didn't have it. LessWrong has had the issue that "comment markdown stuff and article markdown stuff work differently" essentially forever. 

I guess another possibility: maybe the LW forum software devs changed the WYSIWYG javascript editor(s) to work the same, but you have a different browser than me, or that they tested on?

If you respond with a raw youtube URL, and don't get an embedded video based on a javascript rewrite of the comment, that would help clarify what might be going on :-)

Comment by JenniferRM on Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think · 2021-05-01T15:48:28.104Z · LW · GW

Another honorable mention is Chaser, a border collie who was trained and tested by John Pilley et al with a language design and testing regime that was specifically aimed at making Clever Hans criticisms impossible, and also to make it very clear that certain grammar recognition tasks could be statistically detected VS alternative ways to solve the linguistic challenge that "don't seem like they are doing language learning right"... What if a dog learns "fetchblue" as a single sound that lacks a breakdown into a coherent verb about an action and a coherent object named blue?  What if, in the dog's head, "fetchblue" is just like a name for a scene that includes the object and the actions normally done with the object, in a giant swirl? Well...

They taught Chaser more than a 1000 proper names, and at least 3 verbs, and did tests with her in front of audiences using objects that (so far as they could tell from their notes?) hadn't been paired with the tested verb before.

Here's the kind of performance they could do, for video cameras, as supplementary material for the 2010 paper:

In the paper, they also claim something I'd previously thought impossible for dogs, which was to be able to learn to hear a common noun as a reference to a category of objects.  

"Toys" were all the >1000 things Chaser knew the names of and had a right to play with because they were hers. The >100 "balls" were "toys" that were round and obvious to a human as balls. The >20 "Frisbees" were non-"ball" "toys" that were disc shaped and so on.  Chaser seems to have learned to be able to "fetch ball" even when the ball was weird or named recently or named long ago or was far from her or was near to her. 

(THEY DID NOT show in the paper that she could generalize this to novel un-named (non-"Toy"?) balls or frisbees. I'm not sure if the barrier was "they tried to teach and failed" or "they didn't have time to teach" or "they didn't think of it at all" or "Chaser got too old to learn quickly before that part of the curriculum happened" or what.)

The researchers seem to have been imagining objections to the data and processes (and had read objections to previous iterations) and trying to address them.  I think dogs can probably be taught the concept and pragmatic linguistic uses of a common noun now (at least for recognition, if not for production), and I did not believe this before reading the paper about Chaser.

I'm not saying that Chaser had the concept of a noun from scratch, however. The methods section of the paper sounded a lot to me like the they used a combo of really empathically effective dog training techniques plus something more or less like Explicit Direct Instruction on "the idea of a common noun". 

What seems to have happened is that every possible opportunity and encouragement was made to give Chaser the ability and incentive to have the insight that the word "frisbee" referred to her >20 named frisbees... and then she DID have the insight.