How can we protect economies during massive public health crises? 2020-03-18T18:56:21.933Z · score: 3 (1 votes)


Comment by kithpendragon on A Taijitu symbol for Moloch and Slack · 2020-05-26T00:31:05.690Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Beautiful! I love that pair of concepts that each have seemingly limitless dimension to explore can be represented together so elegantly by a single curve!

Comment by kithpendragon on From self to craving (three characteristics series) · 2020-05-25T15:13:03.623Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I've been examining anatta recently, and this article really helped clarify some thinking for me! It clicked when my training in computer science began framing the problem in terms of a Self class that gets instantiated each time a subroutine needs a Self object to manipulate for some project. If the brain doesn't do a good job cleaning up old instances, or if multiple instances of the same class have a tendency to coincide and share memory space (perhaps they cross-link heavily to save RAM, as it were), it might lead to a sense of a continuous entity.

Decreasing the coincident instances of Self by reducing dependencies in the decision making processes on the craving subroutines that heavily depend on Self objects could lead to times where some processes looks for any current instance of Self but finds none available (because they've all been cleaned up for once), then returns a code for NO_SELF_FOUND. This could lead to a feeling of "there is no self" as an observation on the current state of the Global workspace. The calling process may also elect to work in Global directly. If another process then notices self-like code hanging out nakedly in Global it might start acting like Global is an instance of Self, leading to a sense of "all is self".

If true, this would explain why there's so much disagreement on the best translation of "anatta", and also why teachers sometimes claim that no-self and all-self amount to the same thing in the end.

I don't know if all that is functionally representative of what's going on, but it seems worth playing with for a while. At the least, it gives a good sense of why we might pretend to "be the sky"!

Comment by kithpendragon on Why do you (not) use a pseudonym on LessWrong? · 2020-05-07T20:46:16.311Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Names are a complicated thing. I have several, myself. I hardly ever use my birth/government name for anything except official documents. At work I'm mononymously known as Red for reasons so old they're forgotten to all but myself; but it's not so much a nickname anymore as it is my work persona; I even use it on the phone now. A very limited set of people call me Dad or Daddy. Almost everybody else calls me Kith, and that's the name I use online. It honestly wouldn't have occurred to me to use one of my other names here. I don't normally think of it as a pseudonym, but since it's not on my legal documents I suppose at least some people would.

Comment by kithpendragon on How much money would you pay to get access to video footage of your surroundings for a year of your choice (in the past)? · 2020-05-05T10:12:41.164Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

None thanks, I'm good. :)

Comment by kithpendragon on Meditation: the screen-and-watcher model of the human mind, and how to use it · 2020-05-03T22:14:24.272Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As I understand it, the sense of self eventually vanishes entirely, leaving only the immediate psycho/physiological phenomena that "know themselves", whatever that means. ;)

Comment by kithpendragon on Meditation: the screen-and-watcher model of the human mind, and how to use it · 2020-05-03T20:08:06.778Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The usual move the teachers suggest is to imagine the mind as the sky with thoughts and feelings and sensations as clouds floating through it. You don't have to get involved with the clouds, just watch as they grow and change and float on by. Let them be. You could also use the ocean or a river if you like waves and eddies and fishes better than clouds. I like the ocean, myself, because the waves on the shore analogue pretty well with the breath (the breath is the standard meditation anchor, though you could actually use any sensation).

Another move would be to imagine the whole of experience as taking place on a stage, with each of the "sense doors" (sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch, thought) as an actor. The role of attention itself becomes more obvious here (maybe use a spotlight if you like concrete images), but it's a step back toward the movie/viewer metaphor. Come to that, tho, I've never heard a teacher talk about an audience...

As for changing cognitive habits, the effect is something like taking things less personally; stuff just unfolds and you can choose to get involved or not.

In my experience, even a little taste of anatta has helped me to better notice -- and take more advantage of -- the space between impulse and action. I've found that skill to be extremely beneficial, even at what I assume to be the lowest levels!

Comment by kithpendragon on Meditation: the screen-and-watcher model of the human mind, and how to use it · 2020-05-03T13:29:55.093Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I've been using Ten Percent Happier (app, podcast, and books) for a few years now. The app subscription is $80/year, and there are a number of ways to get free content, including a short free trial period on the app.

The app has guided meditations, short talks, and courses from a number of widely respected teachers. It tends toward the beginner-level stuff, but there's a ton of content available for a variety of interests and experience levels.

Comment by kithpendragon on Meditation: the screen-and-watcher model of the human mind, and how to use it · 2020-05-03T13:19:58.527Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The Buddhist teachings include the "three marks of existence" which are "Anicca" (pronounced [ah-NEE-cha], almost always translated as "Impermanence"; everything with a beginning has an end), "Dukkha" ([DOO-ka], usually translated as "suffering", maybe a closer English language equivalent is "stress"; no experience can really be deeply and permanently satisfying), and "Anatta" ([AH-nah-tah], usually translated as "non-self" or "no-self" or "not-self"; this is an observation of the non-personal nature of experience). The closest to what you are describing is probably anatta/non-self. When experiencing non-self, the boundaries between "me" and "not me" can seem to become less defined or disappear altogether. Using the screen/watcher model can be a step toward that experience as you move more and more of your experience from the watcher to the screen until you realize there simply isn't anybody there watching, just experience unfolding. That's pretty advanced stuff, tho. I've only had a few small glimpses of anatta after meditating pretty often for the last three years or so.

If you're interested, you can find talks from a number of excellent teachers on this topic at [link to search results]. I generally find Mark Nunberg to give particularly accessible talks for some reason. He's conveniently just given a series on anatta, so at the time of this comment he's right at the top of the results.

Comment by kithpendragon on Negative Feedback and Simulacra · 2020-04-29T11:16:23.410Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I would identify this as something I had difficulty learning until I was an adult. I feel like there would be tremendous value in explicitly teaching children that this is a thing and giving them the tools to at least detect it so they can at least choose to participate or rebel per their temperaments, instead of simply finding large swaths of the population difficult to deal with because they aren't operating on the same political level.

Comment by kithpendragon on What are habits that a lot of people have and don't tend to have ever questioned? · 2020-04-20T10:50:51.198Z · score: 13 (7 votes) · LW · GW
  • Habits of thought that manifest as a deep gut feeling...
    • "The narrator in my mind is always right, especially when it tells me how wrong or bad I am"
    • "My mind is confined to my brain"
    • "My body is bounded entirely and always by my skin"
  • Reactions [1] to common social situations...
    • My kid is yelling "NONONONONO", I should feel [EMOTION] and say [UTTERANCE]
    • My boss is coming this way, I should sit [POSTURE] and be doing [ACTIVITY]
  • The way I hold my body when I type, drive, walk, run, stand, &c.
  • The appropriate volume for speech
  • The procedure for tying shoes
  • The way we cook and eat certain foods: specifically foods like eggs where there are plenty of options, and plenty of local variation, but we still routinely default to over-medium or whatever

... I sense this list could get very long if allowed. Basically every skill or pattern we have acquired since birth is comprised of at least one habit. If you can do a thing without having to think it out step-by-step, it's a habit (or a series of consecutive habits) triggered by some context(s). If you have a cached default established well enough that it's useful, that's a habit. Are any of the examples I or others have listed like what you were looking for? Which items seem to more centrally match your needs?

  1. To clarify: Any behavior that looks like a "reaction" from the inside is a habit. Non-habitual actions are "response"s. ↩︎

Comment by kithpendragon on Why don't we tape surgical masks to the face to seal them airtight? · 2020-04-14T12:39:41.438Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think you could overcome most of those bullet points by using spirit gum instead of tape, tho I'm not sure how often you'd want to do that: even sticking an adhesive bandage to some patch of skin and changing it every day will do considerable damage after a relatively short time.

I've also come to understand that the N95 respirator is a much better filter than the paper masks could ever be, so adhering paper masks to the face might simply be nowhere near as useful as just having the right mask in the first place. My understanding is that most masks are simply just at keeping the user's bio-bits out of the environment than they are at keeping the environment out of the user. That's why the current recommendation is for the general public to use paper or cloth masks while reserving N95 respirators for healthcare personnel.

Comment by kithpendragon on Are there any naturally occurring heat pumps? · 2020-04-13T16:18:17.509Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Warm blooded creatures use tricks like evaporative cooling and flow control to move heat around. Some birds, for example, have the veins and arteries in their legs tangled up in such a way that the blood headed toward their feet can give heat back to the cooled blood that's headed back toward the heart. This prevents a lot of heat loss, but doesn't actually move heat from low- to high-density regions within the body. Most of the heat involved comes from chemical processes within the cells releasing energy that, ultimately, came from sunlight.

Convection currents distribute heat throughout water by completely normal thermodynamic means: hotter (less dense) water becomes buoyant and rises, displacing cooler (denser) water down toward the heat source. Having moved away from the heat source, the warm water eventually releases the excess heat to the cooler environment and the cycle repeats. Again, there is no heat moving the "wrong" way in those systems.

Comment by kithpendragon on Are there any naturally occurring heat pumps? · 2020-04-13T10:44:20.911Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Off the top of my head: I know some chemicals (like sodium acetate, found in reusable hand warmers) change form when heated and can be easily coerced to change back, releasing the stored heat in the process. I'd be surprised to learn that there aren't any natural processes that take advantage of behavior like that, but I don't think I actually know of any.

Comment by kithpendragon on Are there any naturally occurring heat pumps? · 2020-04-13T10:37:38.934Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think of fire as moving heat around so much as converting chemical energy (derived from electromagnetic) into thermal.

Comment by kithpendragon on Why I'm Not Vegan · 2020-04-10T09:11:53.303Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Last March there was a Slate Star Codex essay you might be interested in [link] where Scott tried to compare the moral weight of various animals to the number of cortical neurons each species has on average. Those numbers don't account for suffering under farm conditions or environmental impact, but they might help refine your intuitions.

Comment by kithpendragon on What will be the economic effects of no restrictions · 2020-03-25T22:47:32.725Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Not an economist, but the naive answer is it would be like this anyway. Only people would be dying all over the place and there would be no safety net at all. The damage would be more on a permanent basis due to sporadic but widespread uncontrolled shutdowns. Unemployment would go up like mad and even more people would have no access to health care. Not that it would matter since the hospitals would all be stretched well beyond capacity. The virus would preferentially kill older folks (as it apparently does) without being checked by isolation measures. Their money would pass on to their heirs and the headlines would read "MILLENNIALS KILLED THE BABY BOOMERS".

Comment by kithpendragon on When are the most important times to wash your hands? · 2020-03-15T17:36:16.937Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect there is at least as much "cultural inertia" at play as the costs and reliability aspect.

That may well be. "But we've always done it this way" is one of the most annoying things people say to me on a regular basis. (I often forget where the metaphorical box is that I'm typically presumed by other people to be thinking in.)

Will be interesting to see if, assuming things do get as bad as everyone seems to be making this to be, we see those types of operational/behavior changes propagating within societies.

Agreed. Tho, I plan on examining implementation of foot-operated doors in my home if it turns out to be reasonable, just for the convenience if nothing else. Just because nobody else is doing it right now hasn't ever stopped me from making improvements on my own if I can!

Comment by kithpendragon on When are the most important times to wash your hands? · 2020-03-15T17:30:24.134Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Out of curiosity, how does the jacket pocket thing work in the summer?

Comment by kithpendragon on When are the most important times to wash your hands? · 2020-03-15T17:28:17.085Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As long as the screen is locked, it doesn't even matter if you press the keys while you're smearing, but I don't usually go in that hard anyway. I just grab a little extra sanitizer for the keyboard and make sure to hit the tops of the keycaps at least. ;) My office has a half-gallon pump bottle of the stuff, so I just give the pump an extra centimeter of travel when I want to do the keyboard (and mouse, BTW). It doesn't have to be often; I usually just wash my hands anyway. And I'm under no illusions that smearing some hand sanitizer on a keyboard is a perfect cleaning job, but it's surely better than nothing. :)

Comment by kithpendragon on When are the most important times to wash your hands? · 2020-03-15T14:50:55.948Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I wipe down my keyboard with hand sanitizer pretty frequently (a couple times a day) just because it's a horizontal surface that could catch anything that happens to be floating through the air. It's not a big deal, especially if I'm using sanitizer anyway: just smear some on the keyboard from the hands before it all dries up.

Comment by kithpendragon on When are the most important times to wash your hands? · 2020-03-15T14:46:53.545Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That would be awesome, but more expensive and prone to failure than what we're using now. I expect this is the primary reason we are still mostly using purely mechanical systems. My "automate everything" is in conflict with my "simpler is usually better" in this case.

I almost made a comment about security (which would be not-very-good given our current technology), but then I realized a couple of things:

  • I've studied lockpicking so I know exactly how secure our current systems are. (It's shockingly bad, BTW. You'd be hard pressed to actually find something that was more-than-trivially worse than the usual 4-pin tumbler locks.)
  • You'd need a mechanical backup for when the controller was down due to lack of power (and the fact that they would probably end up all running a full install of Windows for no good design reason. #cinicism) The mechanical backup would probably be exactly as secure as the mechanical systems we are currently using: not at all.
Comment by kithpendragon on When are the most important times to wash your hands? · 2020-03-15T12:52:40.626Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't heard anybody talking about credit cards or wallets as potentially-contaminated surfaces. I wonder why that is? We often handle them with unwashed hands, and those pin pads are pretty frequently touched as well.

Comment by kithpendragon on When are the most important times to wash your hands? · 2020-03-15T12:48:50.267Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm certain they could be calibrated to require more force than a small dog or baby could apply to operate, or they could be locked by a positive stop mechanism beneath the pedal. Large dogs, some cats, and small children can operate many types of door opener anyway, so I expect we'd find ways around this issue just as we've done with what is now a standard doorknob.

Comment by kithpendragon on When are the most important times to wash your hands? · 2020-03-15T11:29:16.609Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed; I use elbows or shoulders if possible. Some doors even have a kick plate that can essentially be stepped on!

Sudden thought: Why aren't all doors foot operated? A simple pedal latch would be far more hygenic and easier to operate e.g. with an armload of groceries or when wet than the knobs we have most places. I know I've seen doors with this feature (does a google on "foot pedal door opener"...) It's totally a thing! This should be common!

Comment by kithpendragon on The absurdity of un-referenceable entities · 2020-03-15T11:20:42.281Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I always thought it was pretty funny when Lovecraft wrote about Un-namable on Indescribable Horrors for exactly this reason. Thanks for expanding on the thought!

Comment by kithpendragon on The absurdity of un-referenceable entities · 2020-03-15T11:18:06.358Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

there are ... only countably many names you could give a number.

If we take a name to be any pronounceable string pointing to a specific entity*, then in what way is that set limited? If you construct a list of syllables used for all names, and even limit your search to the items that start "the number", you can always take an existing number name and append a syllable from that list to create a new name. That's pretty much how set theory establishes integers, as I understand it.

I think there is a difference between "unnameable" and "unremarkable so far, so nobody's bothered to name it", which does describe nearly all numbers.

*This is an extremely narrow definition, but functional for this application. It could be extended to include any reproducible symbol including those that can be pronounced, scribed, or thought.

Comment by kithpendragon on What is the best way to disinfect a (rental) car? · 2020-03-13T00:16:38.530Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

From what I've seen, SARS-COV-2 doesn't survive very long on cloth surfaces (a few hours, if I remember correctly), so you probably don't have to worry about the carpeting and seats. Picking up the vehicle as early as is practical and letting it sit in the sun (as avturchin suggested) will probably go a long way. Wipe down all the control surfaces with disinfectant wipes, for sure. If you're still concerned, I'd suggest some Lysol or some-such used per the bottle instructions. Just make sure to let that stuff air out before you need to use the vehicle; no point driving a super clean car if you can't breathe because of chemical fumes!

And wash your hands after using the vehicle anyway, just for good measure.

Comment by kithpendragon on At what point does disease spread stop being well-modeled by an exponential function? · 2020-03-09T00:27:48.989Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

3Blue1Brown just did a video about this subject that I found very informative. The chart they use to explain the "inflection point" actually does look much like the idea you described with exponential growth up to about 50% of the total infections over the course of an outbreak and leveling off after that.

Comment by kithpendragon on Why would panic during this coronavirus pandemic be a bad thing? · 2020-03-08T18:35:37.234Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe, and maybe. I would expect to see a range of responses from panicking people acting on all parts of fight/flight/freeze instincts. And I think bunkering down safe at home is certainly one possible freeze reaction. One likely flight reaction is driving/walking aimlessly "away" from the threat (think, "if I just get far enough away from the city I'll be fine"). If enough people take the latter action, they are likely to meet up and start moving aimlessly as a group* despite the increased risk of infection ("Those people look healthy, and there's safety in numbers"), and I think we all know how groups of humans can act. :(

*A group, BTW, with next to no planning or leadership structure, probably limited food and water supplies, not using sanitary facilities reliably, not washing their hands often, and most likely carrying lots of guns.

As for the army, if they were able to help at all I think it would be because they were following orders given to them by an officer who had the distance and training to be able to think more clearly. Would a military presence in the street scare more people into staying inside? Probably, and especially if there were clear instructions being broadcast at regular intervals. I've seen some people behave very well when you take their need to think out of the equation. On the other hand, you're going to have the folks who freak out into fight mode because they think "they're here to take our guns!" or some such, resulting in more needless deaths. Furthermore, mobilizing a military force mixes people around more and further exacerbates exposure risks. This is not a step I would choose to take at this time.

Comment by kithpendragon on Why would panic during this coronavirus pandemic be a bad thing? · 2020-03-08T10:47:44.716Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Because people who think and act deliberately are less likely to blindly and actively hurt others than those who are acting on a fight/flight/freeze instinct. We are not evolutionarily equipped to handle threats of a nature such that:

  1. it just doesn't have a face to punch
  2. running away is just going to result in the formation of dangerous migrating packs of sick monkeys spreading the problem around and looking for something with a face to punch
  3. freeze looks like going about business as usual and ignoring the problem, which is good news for the invisible, unpunchable threat

Panic is what we call it when the elephant has gotten really freaked out and the rider stops trying to determine the best course of action in the face of what feels like an uncontrollable primitive mind. Panicky people tend to do stupid things like breaking quarantine, other-seeking for comfort, finding out those people are all panicking too and starting a riot instead of appropriate behaviors like staying inside whenever possible, making phone calls to authorities to report the riot outside, and washing their damn hands (and maybe sanitizing the phone as well).

I think it's axiomatically better if people do stuff on purpose instead of acting out of animal fear. I'd even think this if people were choosing to do the wrong stuff due to, let's say... inconsistent and unreliable messaging or something, because at least they're thinking and acting deliberately which makes them less likely to do the stupid panicky animal things that confer no benefit but add needless harm to the problem.

Comment by kithpendragon on Coronavirus is Here · 2020-03-02T20:17:48.861Z · score: 8 (9 votes) · LW · GW

My wife has a friend in California who works in medical. She points out that:

  • COVID-19 throws flu-like symptoms
  • It's still flu season
  • Our lab tests for the flu are pretty poor
  • Therefore: lots of cases of "you obviously have the flu, lets just treat it like it's flu and move on" in the last little while could plausibly have been COVID-19 and we would have had no good way to know

It's entirely reasonable to expect that it's out there in the community, at least on the west coast, and we just haven't found out yet. Any place close to a travel hub is suspect now. We should assume that most of us have at least had the opportunity to be exposed by now.

Above all, keep you hands washed (and lotioned because cracked and bleeding knuckles from lots of washing could be an infection vector, if not for COVID-19 then for other stuff) and keep good cough/sneeze hygiene!

Comment by kithpendragon on At what point should CFAR stop holding workshops due to COVID-19? · 2020-02-27T19:40:12.709Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Fair point. I guess it depends on how hard it is to cancel a complex event on (relatively) short notice if things should take a bad turn between planning and execution.

Comment by kithpendragon on At what point should CFAR stop holding workshops due to COVID-19? · 2020-02-27T17:52:04.928Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Acknowledged and agreed (with the addendum that COVID-19 isn't actually killing children at elevated rates, but that's really weird). The fact remains that the first unaccounted for case in the US was only just found yesterday. Around here, all of us with access to soap and water and reasonable healthcare are currently in next to no danger. The going strategy is to keep good hygiene, especially good hand hygiene, and review emergency procedures. What I'm seeing is the start of a panic, and that is entirely uncalled for. It may be only a matter of time before we reach dangerous levels of infection in the US, but we aren't there yet.

BTW, thank you for being the only person so far to comment instead of just downvoting without adding to the discussion. Much appreciated!

Comment by kithpendragon on How does electricity work literally? · 2020-02-26T10:05:48.562Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Remember, you have a title and a body to work with when asking a question. Pithy titles are good for getting attention, and there's room for a bit more elaboration once people click through. The key is to keep it both open-ended and specific so the conversation has somewhere solid to start from. Otherwise you'll get a lot more off-topic discussion.

I'm glad you found my notes helpful!

Comment by kithpendragon on How does electricity work literally? · 2020-02-25T15:21:19.683Z · score: 9 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Some notes on researching new topics:

  1. You're right that many people say you can't rely on wiki. Unfortunately, statements as broad as that are rarely useful. A more nuanced approach would be something like "wiki can often be a good starting point, but don't stop there". Check the sources, especially on topics (e.g. drifting speed) that aren't particularly clear, but really on anything that catches your interest. When you feel like you have enough information to narrow your search terms a bit, do that and see if more sources come up that you weren't able to access with the more general question.
  2. You won't be able to keep the whole topic in your head at once. Make brief notes on each source you used and quick summaries of any interesting information you got out of it. Number the notes so you can cross-reference them (any numbering system will do as long as each note has a short but unique identifier). Write down your questions and thoughts as more notes notes as they come to you (maybe set them in a special pile so you can find them easier), then append those notes with answers or partial answers when you find them. Record the full answer in your own words, and link to the notes that helped you write that. Back-link related notes to the question to make it easier to follow your cross-references using that question as an entry point.
  3. If you're thinking this sounds like a lot of work, it is. Keep a list of sources you want to check out and why, and take on only as much as you're comfortable doing at a time. Even if you tend to process only one article or chapter per day, you are making progress! And don't be hard on yourself if you feel like you can't give the project the time you want to: that only leads to feeling frustrated and spending even less time on it.
  4. On forums, you're likely to get friendlier results for asking questions like, "I'm curious about [Specific Thing]. [Source] and [Source] seem to suggest [Brief Summary], but I'd like a little clarification on [Even More Specific Thing]. Sources would be appreciated!" than really general questions like "How does [thing] work?", because you're giving the community a starting point for the discussion instead of a general topic.
  5. [ETA} From the conversation in the Answers section, it looks like you're good at asking follow-up questions. That's a huge help when you're doing research!

I hope you find these notes useful. If you would like to go deeper into any of them I'd be happy to discuss them with you. :)

Comment by kithpendragon on How does electricity work literally? · 2020-02-25T14:06:48.220Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Research is a skill that requires specialized knowledge and a good deal of practice to do well. Long try did say that "general articles on the net doesn't satisfy" in their post, and I think we have a responsibility to assume that this represents a good faith effort. After all, the Internet is pretty hit-or-miss at explaining things in an accessible way. Often, explainers are aimed at small children and don't actually lead to the kinds of questions that would allow one to proceed deeper into a topic. And it can be very discouraging to approach a new topic when you don't even know what you don't know.

Criticism without any attempt at education is unhelpful, and there's no harm in approaching these things with kindness. Builds community, you know, and we could all use a little more of that.

Comment by kithpendragon on At what point should CFAR stop holding workshops due to COVID-19? · 2020-02-25T12:58:55.100Z · score: -20 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Summary: I see very little danger for now, particularly in this group. If basic hygiene stops working I'll be more worried.

I weep for the group of aspiring rationalists who can't even be bothered to wash their damn hands. By all accounts, that's the easiest way to severely limit the spread of COVID-19. Fatality seems to go up with the age of the patient, and if the 2020 SSC survey is any indication, the average age of this group is in the low 30s. Nearly all of the confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been in China (77.6k chinese cases / 80.2k global cases = 97%) [Johns Hopkins data and visualizations], so maybe we shouldn't have CFAR workshops there.

(edited for formatting and clarity)

Comment by kithpendragon on Why a New Rationalization Sequence? · 2020-01-13T16:01:29.002Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Re: The Psychiatrist Paradox

This example isn't sitting comfortably in my mind. How I'm thinking is this: First of all, (boring answer, see the Dreaming Paradox) you should always assume reality is as you directly observe it to be, for safety reasons.

[Objection] "But in this thought experiment, your observations and your inferences based on those observations are likely to be incorrect due to delusion."

[Response] In that case, there's no hope for being aligned with reality in the first place and you should abandon the project and continue to assume reality is as you observe it just in case you're right. I claim that it would be equally delusional for a real psychiatrist to believe themselves to be a patient.

Moving on:

  • Some people are psychiatrists
  • Some psychiatrists do work at mental hospitals

[Conclusion] finding yourself in a mental hospital should increase your chances of being a psychiatrist vs. finding yourself in, say, a grocery store or a gym.

I can think of at least a few pieces of evidence that should be very strong evidence that a person has a profession. e.g.:

  • Being on the payroll (physical evidence: paycheck)
  • Living somewhere else (physical evidence: driving home)
  • Generally being able to leave the facility without being strongly challenged, despite obvious contact with security. [If you have to resort to violence to leave, you are escaping and should rethink your employment status.]
  • Most other employees, particularly high-ranking employees, agreeing that they are your co-workers. Particularly, nobody challenging your profession. [Admittedly, this could still be sketchy in a delusional situation, but still not for nothing.]

It's not that experiences like these cannot be imagined by a sufficiently deluded mind, but if we're arguing on those grounds there should be no standard of evidence in general to prove that you are not a mental patient (or a brain in a jar, or simulated for that matter).

[Conclusion] Observing good hard evidence (like being allowed to drive home and cash your paycheck) should increase, not decrease your confidence that you are a psychiatrist and not a patient in a situation where you find yourself at a mental hospital. In the case that you're still wrong, you're presumably in the best available place to get the help you obviously need and shouldn't worry too much about it.

[Objection] "Shut up and actually do the math. You can assume some sufficiently extreme numbers from the scenario to be able to do some calculations. Maybe you're the only psychiatrist in a ten-thousand patient facility dedicated to delusional disorders."

[Response] Since the prior probability that you are a psychiatrist and not a patient should actually be quite high in either case, doing a Bayesian update on proportions consistent with the scenario should render only a small decrease in confidence. This is still a step in the wrong direction, though. My intuition is that, like e.g. the 2 envelope paradox, this will actually end up being the wrong math somehow.

[Objection] "You can't just decide the math is wrong because you don't like the answer."

[Response] Agreed, but an actual psychiatrist who does the math without error and updates on the results to become more confident that they are a patient has updated away from being correctly aligned with reality. The math is wrong, just like Newtonian physics is wrong. It works under a wide variety of circumstances, but when you plug in some extreme numbers of the right kind it just fails to make good predictions.

Comment by kithpendragon on How has the cost of clothing insulation changed since 1970 in the USA? · 2020-01-13T12:51:40.960Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW
  • Per Wikipedia, Polar Fleece was invented in 1979.
  • The Hacker's Paradise puts the patent for the first moisture wicking fabrics at 1996. [article]
  • Forbes has an article from 2014 reporting the recent invention of "smart textiles" that "do many things that traditional fabrics cannot, including communicate, transform, conduct energy and even grow."
  • This 2017 article from University of Minnesota describes some of the latest in color-changing fabrics technology.
  • Science Daily has an article from 2019Feb about the invention of a fabric that dynamically regulates temperature.
Comment by kithpendragon on Is cardio enough for longevity benefits of exercise? · 2020-01-04T10:16:22.156Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What is a plausible mechanism of action where training your muscles has any effect on your brain?

You seem to be claiming that cognition occurs strictly within the brain. If so, how sure are you of that claim? How sure that the condition of the rest of the body has no effect. even just supportive, on the brain's ability to process data? That the external environment isn't involved in any way?

Comment by kithpendragon on Autoexperiments · 2019-12-26T16:44:46.209Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I consider it the greatest failure of my education that nobody ever taught me to take, organize, and archive notes of any kind. I've only just begun that life-long project in the last few months. That said, I'll share what thoughts I can on each of the experiments you've specified. Maybe I can at least point a finger in the right direction for you.

Cold Showers

This is the one I tried the longest ago, and had the least observable results. In the end I quit because my only noticable result was that I ended up hating the idea of getting in the shower. I recall being left with the impression that it would probably take more cold exposure than showers, and over a time period of some years to produce the promised biological changes anyway. YMMV

A quick look on Google shows that the current claims about the benefits of cold showers are far more varied than I remember. When I tried it, there was some talk about brown fat production as a result of repeated exposure to cold temperatures leading to more aggressive metabolism and better cold tolerance. As I recall, that conversation converged on a much stronger genetic component than environmental. Now I'm seeing talk of blood flow, pain relief, immunological benefits and more. To me, that smacks of snake oil, but provided you avoid hypothermia I don't think you'd be doing yourself any obvious harm to try. Be sure ahead of time what benefits you want to see and how you intend to measure them, of course.


My understanding is that we've known for several decades that sugar is the enemy of good health and dentistry, so there should be plenty of literature out there. At some point the sugar industry made successful efforts to blame our problems on fat instead, eventually kicking off the low-fat/fat-free craze that still seems to have a stranglehold on popular American diet advice. I recall some reporting early in 2016 (I think) about the influence the food lobby has on our dietary guidelines. By memory, the current recommendation allows about twice as much added sugar than is actually thought to be "safe".

I've tried for some time now to reduce my sugar intake, and succeeded only somewhat. It turns out added sugars are extremely difficult to avoid (around here, at least). Nonetheless, my doctor seems pleased with the way my routine bloodwork has been slowly trending over the last few years. Still, given the addictive nature of sugar and the sort of cumulative damage it apparently does to us in the long term, I doubt a couple of weeks will make a noticable change. The cravings may not even disappear for longer than that. There are plenty of articles to be found talking about how unpleasant sugar withdrawal can be.

Gratitude Practice

Here, at least, I feel I can point you in a good direction for more research. Last couple of years I've been keeping a regular meditation practice and absorbing a ton of theory on a variety of related topics, including gratitude practice. You can search by topic on to find many experienced teachers' thoughts on gratitude practices. From there, and from "Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha" by Daniel Ingram [Amazon link] I've learned that, while the changes this kind of practice makes to the mind can begin to be evident in a couple of weeks with intensely focused practice, it is likely to take years of regular practice to solidify those changes. Unless you plan to start with a 2-week gratitude retreat, I wouldn't expect half a month to be enough time to notice the effects of the adjustments you're planning to reprogram your brain.

All this isn't meant to discourage you, but rather to encourage patience. I definitely wish you success with all your experiments, and I'm sure we'd be interested here in seeing a follow-up for each when you have your data.

Comment by kithpendragon on Autoexperiments · 2019-12-24T11:49:34.853Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

From my past reading, I expect that 2 weeks is far too short a time to produce noticeable results on any of the specific experiments you mentioned. You may consider a few months for each experiment, which may result in having to run a few unrelated ones concurrently if you want to fit a particular set into 2020.

Comment by kithpendragon on What could a World Unification Index track to measure how unified the world is, was, and is becoming? · 2019-12-22T12:21:52.171Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Access to public utilities. I'm looking for global power, water, data, transport (both goods and people) and economic networks.

Comment by kithpendragon on What could a World Unification Index track to measure how unified the world is, was, and is becoming? · 2019-12-22T12:16:54.424Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

what fraction of people are multiracial, and multiracial to which extent on average

Race being a construction, how would you measure this? Perhaps how widely the average person's genotype is distributed geographically?

Comment by kithpendragon on Tabletop Role Playing Game or interactive stories for my daughter · 2019-12-21T01:06:51.622Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You're very welcome! I hope you have tons of fun! :D


In the interest of good systems overload, my wife notes that one of her online homeschooling groups has had luck with Adventures Await, No Thank You, Evil, and Hero Kids with the very little kids.

Comment by kithpendragon on Tabletop Role Playing Game or interactive stories for my daughter · 2019-12-20T10:19:29.978Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No reason you have to stick with opposing checks here, that's just the original system. You could use a successes system instead: any roll >X is a success, you need Y successes for the best outcome. You can even build in some flex here: >Y successes is "yes, and...", Y is "OK, that works", Y-1 is "yes, but...". Kid doesn't even have to fully understand at first how the dice affect the result, she'll catch on soon enough if she finds rolling the dice fun (like mine does) and you patiently explain the outcome each time. If you want to keep it even simpler, just pick a goal number and have her roll above that instead of opposing rolls. It's about what works for you and her to make the process fun!

Comment by kithpendragon on Tabletop Role Playing Game or interactive stories for my daughter · 2019-12-16T13:02:42.463Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Roll For Shoes is an exceedingly simple system. Like most, it relies on reading and writing skills, but I'm sure it could be adapted to work with simple drawings or even stickers.

To paraphrase:

  • Each player starts with a single skill - Do Anything (1). The name indicates its scope and the number tells how many d6 to throw on a skill check using that skill. I think it works really well to use index cards or sticky notes for each skill.
  • When a player rolls above an opposing check, they succeed. On failure they receive a pity point (some small token). In the context of playing with small children, it may sometimes be more appropriate if on failure they still do what they were trying, but not very well, resulting in some negative consequence.
  • If a player rolls all 6s, they get a new skill based on what they just did with one more die than they were just using. e.g. Player succeeds at boiling water for the cook using Do Anything (1). They rolled a 6, so they learn Basic Cooking (2) as a new skill.
  • After success has been determined, a player may use pity points to change dice to 6. This helps them level up their skills more easily.

That's the whole system, and the website has some settings that could be adapted to your kid's level of storytelling ability with a little creativity. I haven't been able to try this out with my almost-four-year-old yet since he hasn't been interested in cooperative storytelling so far, but I'm certain he could handle the mechanics provided we went to pictographic representations for the skills. You could even manage all the skill cards yourself if it's more fun for your kid that way.

Good luck with this, and I'm curious what else you come up with!

Comment by kithpendragon on Under what circumstances is "don't look at existing research" good advice? · 2019-12-15T15:49:58.165Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think one important context for not reading the existing literature first is calibration. Examining the difference between how you are thinking about a question and how others have thought about the same question can be instructive in a couple of ways. You might have found a novel approach that is worth exploring, or you might be way off in your thinking. Perhaps you've stumbled upon an obsolete way of thinking about something. Figuring out how your own thinking process lines up with the field can be extremely instructional, and super useful if you want your eventual original work to be meaningful. At the very least, you can identify your own common failure modes and work to avoid them.

The fastest and easiest way to accomplish all this is by using a sort of research loop where you collect your own thoughts and questions, then compare them with the literature and try to reconcile the two, then repeat. If you just read all the literature first, you have no way to calibrate your explorations when you finally get there.

Comment by kithpendragon on An optimal stopping paradox · 2019-11-12T21:21:06.957Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW
  1. Claim that expectation maximization decision theory is flawed. This doesn't stop the procrastination. As long as your decision is purely based on the future, and your rational decision process is constant in time, you either immediately sell the company or never sell the company.

I don't need to maximize the expected value of anything where I know I can get at least what I want. If I precommit to sell at $X or when the risk of failure in the next year goes above P%, that doesn't mean the actor that sells at $X+1 "wins": if we both got what we wanted, we both win. Likewise, Schrodinger doesn't need to set the best possible record for cat survival; he just needs to keep one alive for the duration of the previous record +1 interval.

Comment by kithpendragon on [Health] [Math] Proofs, forgetting, and an eldritch god · 2019-11-12T18:04:17.396Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I usually solve issues like this by writing the thing down, carefully showing my work, and filing the resulting notes in a central, trusted place with good indexes and lots of links to sources and related ideas where available. If I go back later and have to try to understand my notes or find that my mind has changed, I figure out what I was going on about and why, then make copious annotations. This way, I export large portions of my mind to the environment. If I need to demonstrate to myself or somebody else that, for example, I can prove X, I can just pull the relevant notes and work them as needed into some sort of document.