Comment by jswan on Wear a Helmet While Driving a Car · 2015-08-04T03:46:31.372Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There are so many variables here. I think most people underestimate the violence involved in a high speed motor vehicle crash. Years ago, I was involved in EMS and responded to a lot of crashes. If we eliminate a) crashes without seatbelts worn (1), and b) crashes without frontal airbags (cars without frontal airbags are relatively uncommon these days, I'd say that most survivable TBIs were caused by either a) side impacts, with the head hitting the window glass, or b) the airbag itself (2). Of those two, the low-to-intermediate-speed side impact is the only one where a helmet would make much difference. Some cars now come with side-curtain airbags, which would help a lot with this.

No doubt, many other crashes result in TBIs, but the forces are so extreme that a small helmet isn't going to help. It's really stunning to see what happens in high-speed impacts.

(1) Without seatbelts, even intermediate-speed impacts result in so much chaotic movement that people tend to fly around inside (or outside) the car and airbags don't help that much. You don't want to be in an ejected-from-vehicle event.

(2) Airbags can definitely cause TBIs by themselves, especially if you're seated very close to them. It's basically a small explosion going off in your face. It's better than hitting the steering wheel or windshield, though.

Comment by jswan on Open thread, Mar. 23 - Mar. 31, 2015 · 2015-03-30T01:33:42.594Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It seems like diet is a good case of where it might be better to satisfy than optimize: it's clearer that some things are bad than that other things are optimal.

Comment by jswan on 2015 New Years Resolution Thread · 2014-12-28T15:33:07.253Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I think that long-term goals should be qualitative and subjective, and supported by short-term goals that are quantitative and objective. I like my short-term goals to be achievable within 12 weeks at the outside, and preferably much less.

One reason for this is that as I learn by pursuing and achieving short-term goals, my outlook on the long term changes. Another reason is that the pursuit of long-term goals is hindered by getting stressed out over specific numbers or metrics, and made easier by pushing the edge of my subjective performance envelope. In other words, if I'm always trying to perform such that I feel mostly positive (which isn't necessarily the same as feeling good!) close to the point where I start to fail, I'm building a long-term positive association with my goal while incrementally improving.

This is easiest for me to illustrate with athletic goals. One of my long-term goals for 2015 is to feel physically light and subjectively strong. One of my short-term goals in support of this is to do 10 reps of the strict overhead press with 95 pounds at a bodyweight of 150 or less. Right now this seems subjectively hard, but I know from experience that I am probably less than 8 weeks from achieving it. When I get there, I'll make another short-term goal based on how I feel subjectively about the long term goal. This is probably too big a short-term bite for an area of practice in which one has little experience; I have many years of physical training experience to go on in making these goals. Some years ago when I had a long-term goal of getting back into coding, my short-term goals were things like "learn how to split a string in Python": something that I should be able to achieve in one sitting.

Comment by jswan on Rationalist Sport · 2014-06-21T02:51:19.160Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The shooting sports have a lot of attributes that appeal to different mental aspects of rationality:

  • they require careful observation of internal mental states
  • academic knowledge can directly contribute to success (such as knowing a lot about human vision)
  • lots of opportunities to indulge in obsession over microimprovements
  • pre-event, post-event and on-the-fly computational skills are immensely useful
  • unusual conscious states, such as time slowdown, are relatively easy to achieve without chemical assistance

Potential drawbacks: associated in the USA with right-wing politics; distrusted by liberals; expensive; requires ownership of dangerous tools.

Comment by jswan on Optimal Exercise · 2014-03-11T00:41:09.850Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In the event that exercise becomes a persistent habit, what is optimal changes a lot over time as you age and as you improve.

Speaking from the perspective of having exercised 5-7 days a week for over 20 years now, doing both strength and endurance work, I can say that my interests, capabilities, and my response to exercise has changed in fascinating ways over that time. Most people don't stick with an exercise program long enough to even really understand it, let alone wear it out, but if you do, what you do will probably change a lot.

I realize that's a pretty vague statement, but while I think your advice is pretty good overall, the idea of optimal is not something that stays fixed over long periods of time.

Comment by jswan on Open thread for December 24-31, 2013 · 2013-12-31T02:52:55.467Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein writes philosophical fiction. She is my favorite contemporary literary fiction author. Her biographies of Gödel and Spinoza are also brilliant.

Comment by jswan on [LINK] David Deutsch on why we don't have AGI yet "Creative Blocks" · 2013-12-29T04:03:48.007Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In his 1985 paper he seems to be arguing that he uniquely extends the Church-Turing thesis.

Comment by jswan on [LINK] David Deutsch on why we don't have AGI yet "Creative Blocks" · 2013-12-29T01:17:33.427Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Deutsch claims in the article to have proved that any physical process can in principle be emulated at arbitrarily fine detail by a universal quantum Turing machine. Is this proof widely accepted? I tried to read the paper, but the math is beyond me. I've found relatively little discussion of it elsewhere, and most of it critical.

Comment by jswan on Open thread for December 24-31, 2013 · 2013-12-28T17:10:38.655Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I always recommend that people who are even remotely interested in this kind of stuff take a wilderness medicine course. Wilderness medicine is all about decision making under conditions of limited time and information, so it seems like the kind of thing that would interest LWers.

Comment by jswan on Why officers vs. enlisted? · 2013-11-03T22:10:58.664Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, one answer may simply be that militaries are class-and-tradition-laden bureaucracies that are hostile to change. Certainly this has been the experience of the US when attempting to build a western-style NCO corps into the militaries of allied developing nations.

Another answer might be that it's already possible in principle: somebody has probably already mentioned this, but one can go from a NCO role into an officer role; the traditional term for this is "mustang officer".

Another answer might be division of labor: traditionally, western military officers are required to gain a lot of breadth in their careers, both through academic education and through assignment to different types of field commands, logistical positions, and political positions. This poses a (common) problem for officers who have a personality type that wants depth in one type of military occupation; that role is more traditionally a senior NCO role. It may be, however, that this type of division of labor produces the most effective fighting force; I don't know.

Comment by jswan on Why officers vs. enlisted? · 2013-11-03T17:35:45.577Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think it's correct that the structure described here fits militaries cross-culturally, except in name. In the US and most Western European military structures, the senior NCOs are the critical link. The degree of authority and autonomy given to senior NCOs in the west is fundamentally different from that in most other military structures. I can't comment on this from personal experience, but every US military service member I've known who has served extensively alongside militaries outside the US, Canada, or Western Europe has commented on this, and they argue that this is what makes western units so dominant even in battle conditions where technological superiority is not the deciding factor. Senior NCOs carry institutional knowledge in military occupations that is lost to officers due to the latter's typical requirement to serve in a wide variety of commands, and they're the prime movers in both logistical and tactical planning up to a fairly large scale. Every officer I've known has commented on this fact as well.

Furthermore, every soldier is taught the basic principles of tactical planning and has it drummed in that anyone might have to become the leader when higher ranks are killed in battle.

Other militaries have a structure much more in line with what is described here, and tend to either fall apart completely without direct officer leadership, or to never even reach a semblance of battle-competency in cultures where officership is mainly a class-based phenomenon that doesn't select for strong leaders.

Comment by jswan on Luke is doing an AMA on Reddit · 2012-08-21T21:04:54.379Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I realize that LW collectively doesn't like unreferenced definitions, but in this case maybe it's OK... a friend of mine whose PhD is in decision theory explained aleatory uncertainty to me as the uncertainty of chance with known parameters: if you roll a normal six-sided die, you know it's going to come up with a value in the range 1-6, but you don't know what it will be. There's no chance it will come up 7. Epistemic uncertainty is the uncertainty of chance with unknown parameters: there may not be enough data to know the bounds of an event, or it may have such large and random bounds that trying to place them is not very meaningful.

Comment by jswan on On the Care and Feeding of Young Rationalists -- Revisited[Draft] [Request for Feedback] · 2012-08-18T19:46:35.715Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Just logged in for the first time in a month... the reason I think it helps is that he now uses the terminology himself: he talks about believing or not believing things based on evidence fairly frequently, and occasionally talks about testing things. Small steps.

Comment by jswan on On the Care and Feeding of Young Rationalists -- Revisited[Draft] [Request for Feedback] · 2012-07-07T14:54:29.429Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

We have a nine y/o boy (an only child, by choice), and the one thing that seems to have made a difference specifically with rationality (for some value of "rationality"; children are not the first examples of the attribute that come to mind) has been constantly trying to phrase things in terms of simple scientific method: what do you think? why do you think that? what evidence do you have for that? how would you test that?

Comment by jswan on Minimum viable workout routine · 2012-06-22T03:54:23.592Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I suggest that people go check out the Less Wrong Fitocracy group. Lots of people of all different fitness levels busting ass and making progress in almost every way you can dream up. Experience is everything when it comes to fitness. Pick something that looks doable and give it a few weeks, months, or years.

Comment by jswan on [Request] Software or Articles on financial life planning · 2012-03-17T00:54:09.985Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

A decent place to start would be The Investment Answer, which is a pretty conservative, simple investment strategy. Then branch out from there. Most retirement planning software makes big assumptions about return rates and the linearity of markets; you need to make sure you're aware of that when using it. Most of them are based around Modern Portfolio Theory and the Efficient Frontier, so it's a good idea to be aware of that and its weaknesses.

So much of personal finance planning revolves around your personality type and desires; for atypical personality types it can be a bit tricky to fit yourself into generalized models. You definitely need to think seriously about stuff like how mobile you want to be, what your risk tolerance is, whether you have dependents, etc etc.

Comment by jswan on Delicious Luminosity, Om Nom Nom · 2012-03-07T04:06:05.487Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha

This is a book about the technical aspects of meditation. I haven't finished it yet (nor put it into practice), but it seems like a very low woo-factor book on introspection practice.

Comment by jswan on Which College Major? · 2012-02-06T18:09:14.763Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

History and Philosophy of Science.

Comment by jswan on Which College Major? · 2012-02-06T16:34:28.242Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Just out of curiosity, what kind of lifestyle and investment strategy are you planning to support a long-term life of the mind on $1M USD? Or is millionaire more of a figure of speech representing "a whole lotta money"?

If you make 5% a year on that and live a very frugal lifestyle in a low-cost area, you could do OK, but medical expenses, children, inflation, etc could hurt your capital considerably. I think you'd need a good bit more than $1M to have a large safety margin.

Comment by jswan on February 2012 Media Thread · 2012-02-06T04:13:38.344Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein's "36 Arguments for the Existence of God". Easily one of my top-10 favorite books ever. Beautifully written and hilarious (a particularly difficult combo for an author to pull of, IMO), a non-linear, recursive loop through the lives of several atheist characters who are inextricably tied to religion in one way or another. The author has quite an interesting life history: philosopher, biographer of Gödel and Spinoza, famous novelist, currently married to Stephen Pinker, among other things.

Comment by jswan on Which College Major? · 2012-02-06T03:42:45.416Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I have a BA and MA in English from a top US university, and more than half my lifetime later I'd recommend against it unless you are really sure you want to teach it. As an undergrad I thought I wanted to teach English, but I disliked the graduate studies in the field and I didn't much like teaching at the junior college level when I tried it. Being able to write well has been an enormous help in my alternate career, but you can get that in any course of study that forces you to write frequently under direct criticism. If I had it to do over again I'd do some combination of HPS and CS with a smattering of economics; right up your alley. UBC has a good CS department for sure.

Comment by jswan on How I Ended Up Non-Ambitious · 2012-01-24T04:33:24.725Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I had no idea when I wrote that that the talk I was going to tonight would be closely related to this topic. It was a talk about the 20th century polymath Michael Polyani (physician, physicist, economist, philosopher), given by a former surgeon and teacher of surgery who's made a late-in-life career change into teaching writing. One of the things he touched on, and which deserves a lot more thought on my part, is the relationship between reductionism and heuristics in critical decision making.

A good chunk of medicine (and I think many, but not all, aspects of nursing in particular) is about decision-making under conditions of limited information. The speaker observed that doctors coming into surgery from a hard science background tended to be less good at it, because their versions of reductionism led them into continuous loops of information gathering, trying to find more and more grains of detail. Doctors who were able to reductively eliminate information in order to converge on decisions were more talented. I asked him how this related to the current developments in medicine with respect to machine learning, robotic surgery, "AI"-driven imaging, etc. He said he didn't have any good answers, but if he were starting his medical career again, that's where he'd want to be.

So first, I think that the kind of intelligence required to make good decisions in an information-restricted environment is maybe not as immediately glamorous as the kind that makes the cover of Nature, but it's just as important. Second, the ways in which different areas of knowledge are converging in medicine makes it a pretty exciting place to be for someone with your interests, and you've got a lot of time to explore them.

Edited to add: I suppose I should note that almost all the nurses I know are or were ER, flight, or ICU nurses, which colors my views.

Comment by jswan on How I Ended Up Non-Ambitious · 2012-01-24T01:26:42.821Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've known at least one person (and possibly more, it's hard to remember...) who went for a MD after years as a nurse, a couple who went on to nurse-practitioner or PA, and one or two who have shuffled between RN and EMT-P positions as pay and adventure dictate. If you spend some years as a nurse and decide later that you want more schooling, you'll be experienced regarding the options available and probably in a more financially stable position. If you continue to yearn for academia, there are a both teaching and research avenues out there in the nursing and nurse-practitioner fields.

Comment by jswan on How I Ended Up Non-Ambitious · 2012-01-24T00:39:06.572Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Before I get bogged down in reading all the comments, I just want to say: nursing is one of the most admirable and versatile professions in existence. There are very few people I'd rather have available in any generic critical situation than an experienced and competent nurse. Good on you.

Comment by jswan on Some potential dangers of rationality training · 2012-01-21T19:34:37.520Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It seems like I can engage in strategic self-deception while acknowledging it as such in order to reduce negative thoughts or tolerate unpleasantness in situations where it's beneficial. Rationality practice seems to be a benefit inasmuch as it allows me to understand better situations in which self-deception leads to negative vs positive outcomes.

Comment by jswan on The Singularity Institute's Arrogance Problem · 2012-01-21T04:55:28.027Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, I think you pretty much called it. It doesn't really work for me, but I guess that if such a communication style is the most effective way to go, drive on.

Comment by jswan on The Singularity Institute's Arrogance Problem · 2012-01-21T02:49:18.194Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'm certainly going to try to be a Rationality Tim Ferris, but I have a ways to go.

Please no. Here's an example. When you say stuff like:

"As an autodidact who now consumes whole fields of knowledge in mere weeks, I've developed efficient habits that allow me to research topics quickly."

You sound like Tim Ferriss and you make me want to ignore you in the same way I ignore him. I don't want to do this because you seem like a good person with a genuine ability to help others. Don't lose that.

Comment by jswan on January 1-14, 2012 Open Thread · 2012-01-06T01:57:24.227Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I have poor circulation (a touch of Reynaud's syndrome) as well, and I've tried a great many products in the context of cycling, ice climbing, and just general being outside in the cold. The short answer is that there are no gloves that will reliably keep your hands warm and allow you to retain dexterity if you're not getting your heart rate up to promote circulation. Mittens work better, by far. In no particular order, here are some more long winded tips:

1) Use mittens whenever possible. Ones that allow skin-to-skin contact between your fingers work best.

2) Keep gloves in your pockets and switch from the mittens to the gloves when you need dexterity.

3) Cut off a pair of small wool socks to make wrist warmers. This helps but isn't a panacea.

4) Use chemical handwarmers when necessary.

5) If you have to use gloves, some relatively cheap options that work well include, in order of warmth: a) freezer gloves, b) lined elk skin gloves (available at large hardware stores), c) Gore Windstopper gloves, available in outdoor shops.

6) Try to keep your heart rate up when outside, with your hands below your heart. This helps a lot.

7) Never wear wet gloves. If you're going to get wet, alternate two or more pairs of gloves and keep the extras inside your jacket where they will stay warm and dry out a bit.

8) Consider vapor barrier gloves or mittens from RBH Designs if you want to spend some real money. I have not personally tried their handwear, but their vapor barrier socks are impressively warm and perform as advertised.

Comment by jswan on Welcome to Less Wrong! (2012) · 2011-12-27T03:02:57.987Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

There are indeed a couple of different ways I do mean it, but my best specific examples come from athletics. About eight or nine years ago I started getting seriously interested in long distance trail running. Like most enthusiastic autodidacts I started reading lots of material about shoes, clothing, hydration, nutrition, electrolytes, training, and so on. As I'm sure you've seen, a lot of people on the Internet can get paralyzed by analysis in the face of vast easily available information. In particular, they have a lot of trouble sorting out conflicting information gained from other knowledgeable people.

Frequently, further research will help you arrive at less-wrong conclusions. However, in some endeavors there really is a great deal of individual variation, and you just have to engage in lengthy, often-frustrating self-experimentation to figure out what techniques or training methods work best for you. This base of experience can't really be replaced by secondary research. Where research skill comes in, though, is in figuring out where to focus that secondary research (and this in itself is a skill that is honed by experience). As a friend of mine likes to put it: the best practitioners of [insert skill here] in the world perform almost all components of their skill the same way. They all have weird idiosyncrasies too. The place to focus your research is in the areas they have in common.

Anyway, this is a longer response than I had intended, and undoubtedly this is not new to you; it's just variation on standard cognitive bias. However, I think that deferral of experience and self-experimentation in favor of secondary research (aka, analysis paralysis) is a common bias blind-spot among rationality enthusiasts.

Comment by jswan on Welcome to Less Wrong! (2012) · 2011-12-26T22:10:07.073Z · score: 14 (16 votes) · LW · GW

I've been lurking here on and off since the beginnings at OB, IIRC, though more off than on. Expressed in the language of the recent survey: I'm an 43-year-old married white male with an advanced humanities degree working in the technical side of for-profit IT in the rural USA. I was raised in a non-theist environment and was interested in rationality tools from an early age. I had a spontaneous non-theistic mystical experience when I was 17 that led me to investigate (but ultimately reject) a variety of non-materialist claims. This led to a life-long interest in the workings of the brain, intuition, rationality, bias, and so on.

I enjoy LW primarily because of the interest in conscious self-improvement and brain hacking. I think that the biggest error I see in general among self-described rationalists is the tendency to undervalue experience. My thinking is probably informed most strongly by individual athletics, many of the popular writers in the rationalist tradition, and wide variety of literature. These days, I'm nursing obsessions with Python programming, remote backcountry cycling, and the writing of Rebecca Goldstein.

Comment by jswan on Weight training · 2011-08-27T04:13:07.413Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Book recommendations:

Answering your questions:

1) It doesn't matter that much what you do, as long as you stick with the basic, multi-joint movements (see below); what's more important is that you do it consistently for a long period of time (i.e., years), and you train progressively harder as you make progress. That said, you need to avoid injury. Training with weights near your one-rep max is riskier as a beginner, especially without a coach. I like the set/rep progression laid out in the 5/3/1 book listed above. I've made good progress on it after doing regular weight training for 15 years; it's difficult to make progress at that "training age", so it should work even better for a beginner.

2) In general, you should strength train at least twice a week but not more than four times a week. This does not include conditioning or mobility training, which you should also do.

3) Don't bother with supplements. Spend your money on a clean diet with lots of protein and you'll be fine. Since you probably won't take this advice: creatine monohydrate seems to have the most evidence in favor of its efficacy, but the effect is still relatively small and seems to vary between users. I haven't noticed a difference when using it.

Remember that there are only a handful of great movements: squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, pull-up, push-up, dips, rows, power cleans. Consider the barbell, dumbbell, and bodyweight variations of these and you will have plenty to do without doing a bunch of exotic isolation work.

If in doubt:

Monday: Squat, Bench, Pullups Thursday: Deadlift, Overhead Press, Rows

Three other days: run hills, steep and hard. Two days: rest

Comment by jswan on The Four-Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss - any LWers tried it? · 2011-06-12T04:17:46.711Z · score: 9 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Having lurked here for a while, I think that one of the reasons that some LWers have difficulty with exercise and diet is due to a crisis of optimization: given the wildly divergent claims of popular fitness gurus and the murky state of exercise science research, it's hard to know where to start.

I'd suggest that exercise and diet are areas in which experience, persistence, and self-experimentation are unusually important. I've been engaged in the serious practice of some form of physical exercise for virtually all of my adult life, and somewhat more casually in the observation of others doing the same. Some thoughts in the context of popular 'quick fix' programs:

Doing something consistently for a long period of time, working hard, and working harder as you get better are much more important than what you do. Most exercise programs published in books or magazines revolve around 2, 3, or 4 month plans. Even if you're devoting a lot of time to it, that is nothing compared to the physically active lifetime of the average person. It's barely enough time to become familiar with the program, let alone excel in it. It's OK to try different things to find something you like, but when you do, stick with it.

Individuals are highly variable in their adaptations to exercise and diet, but also highly adaptable. Over time, you'll learn the more unusual aspects of your physiology. Be extremely wary of thinking anything as a limitation or weakness until you have considerable experience with it (by considerable, I mean on the order of years). Learn to work around problems by trying small variations, one at a time.

Everything works for beginners. As your "training age" increases, it becomes more difficult to make improvements, and the importance of record keeping, analysis, and outside coaching becomes more important.

High-intensity programs, such as the ones that are currently in vogue, are quite effective in the 8-12 week window that comprises most popular programs. This is why they're popular. When training becomes consistent, over a period of years, intensity becomes a tool that needs to be used more specifically.

Fat loss is a matter of caloric deficit. You can achieve caloric deficit through increased activity or decreased caloric intake. Decreasing caloric intake is faster and more effective for most people living the average western lifestyle, but doing both is best. In the context of fat loss, diet plans are an enabler for caloric deficit. Plans that emphasize special food combinations often work well, but this is subject to individual variation. The most effective parts of these plans can be summarized as: 1) don't eat crap, and 2) don't eat a lot.

There are three components to a well rounded exercise plan: strength, conditioning, and mobility. Do all three, consistently and over a long period of time. You'll figure stuff out.

Comment by jswan on Less Wrong NYC: Case Study of a Successful Rationalist Chapter · 2011-03-18T01:57:40.406Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

About 15,000 people in the immediate area. Longer than four hours to drive to the nearest urban area. There's a college in town, so there's probably a larger intellectually-inclined population than would otherwise be expected. I've lived here a long time and I know a lot of intelligent atheists, but no one so far who's interested in systematic rationality as an explicit endeavor.

Comment by jswan on Less Wrong NYC: Case Study of a Successful Rationalist Chapter · 2011-03-18T01:15:52.471Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I live (by explicit preference) in a small town in the rural mountain west. Has anybody had success with starting a rationalist group in a small town?