Posts

Yes, words can cause harm 2021-02-24T00:18:56.790Z
Speedrunning my Morning Makes the Coffee Taste Weird 2021-02-11T17:06:46.287Z
kithpendragon's Shortform 2021-02-07T12:34:18.921Z
Will we witness the compassion of a nation? 2021-01-10T11:10:07.879Z
What am I missing? (quantum physics) 2020-08-21T12:39:12.418Z
How can we protect economies during massive public health crises? 2020-03-18T18:56:21.933Z

Comments

Comment by kithpendragon on the fat baker principle · 2021-04-21T15:06:15.939Z · LW · GW

I hope only to offer a motivational system to nascent could-be creators on the precipice of making their first contributions to a culture...

But can we do that without making it into a question of identity? I expect you'll find it far more effective to simply advise that someone might look at what they enjoy consuming for the possibility of a new creative endeavor. The approach you suggested is likely to raise a lot of defensiveness.

Comment by kithpendragon on the fat baker principle · 2021-04-19T10:38:35.609Z · LW · GW

how can you say you even like bread if you can't make a decent loafa?

I've come across this idea before from the culture, and I agree that there's certainly some wisdom in it. But I'd caution that accepting it fully as it is could easily lead to a situation where we become frustrated comparing ourselves to the imagined ideal of people who are good at everything they find enjoyable. Moreover, although I read your intent as empowerment, this comes dangerously close to gatekeeping. Watch what happens if we try to generalize, changing the sentiment to, "how can you say you even like sci-fi if you can't write a decent story?"

I may be prevented from ever becoming competent at a task whose product I enjoy as a result of many factors that are (to various degrees) not within my power to control. Off the top of my head:

  • My previous skillsets may be inadequate to prepare me to learn this new skill. This may not be obvious in any way.
  • This particular skill may be sufficiently complex that it requires fairly intensive hands-on teaching to transmit effectively, and no teachers are available.
  • My current circumstances may prevent me from investing the time, or the material or cognitive resources required to learn a new skill.
  • My enjoyment of a product does not necessarily translate to an enjoyment of the process that creates it.
  • The opposite of that last is also possible, that I love the process but have no need at all for the product. Maybe this leads me to decide that I have better things to do with my time and money.
  • Many activities require a partner (or at least work much better in pairs or groups); sometimes partners are not to be had for whatever reason.
  • The bar of entry could be particularly high for my demographic.
  • I may have physical limitations that prevent me from developing the necessary skills.

You could respond that all these sound like excuses: I could discover and learn the prerequisites, look harder for teachers, and scrape together the cash; but that level of investment is predicated on the original idea that liking a thing means I should or must be good at doing the thing. I can see a lot of needless suffering arising from that idea.

I'd also argue that enjoyment doesn't necessarily breed discernment.

And after all that, who gets to decide if my bread is, in fact, "good"?

On the other hand, inability alone shouldn't prevent us from sampling the skills related to the things we like, or at least taking in more academic knowledge on closely related topics (if that is, indeed, our interest). Suppose I think that the processes and chemistry of breadmaking are absolutely fascinating, but for whatever reason I just can't turn out a "decent loafa" to save my life. That fact alone shouldn't necessarily stand in the way of my finding out what makes my favorite breads the way they are if I am so inclined! And maybe my occasional-but-consistently-failed attempts at breadmaking can add to my appreciation of the craft and my respect for those who do it well.

Comment by kithpendragon on How long should I delay my second shot? · 2021-04-18T11:16:36.217Z · LW · GW

I don't know about where you all are, but here the big distributor is keeping separate appointment slots for first and second doses. Putting off a second dose would just mean somebody else got their second dose, so no help there.

Comment by kithpendragon on How do you deal with decision paralysis? · 2021-04-18T10:53:03.956Z · LW · GW

I'm pleased to have been of service! :)

Do you have a blog? ...

I occasionally blog here on LW. I'll add this topic to my list of stuff I might write a top level post about, and we'll see what happens!

Comment by kithpendragon on How do you deal with decision paralysis? · 2021-04-13T11:23:31.804Z · LW · GW

In general I work to reduce volume of choices I have to make (offload some responsibilities, maybe) and also to reduce the cognitive load each choice imposes. I have a few strategies for the latter (my Partner and 5yo both have a hard time with decision paralysis)...

  • Many choices are routine, or specifically come up often enough it's worth it to choose a permanent default. e.g. "Always get rum raisin ice cream if it's available, otherwise see if anything sounds better than chocolate"
  • Use a random number generator to select a default. e.g. "Make a list of options and ask Google to select an integer on the range of 1 to [size of the list]. If nothing seems obviously better, go with it."
  • Use process of elimination. e.g. "Make a list of the options and scratch off the worst (or at least the least good) one. Repeat until there's only one option left, or until the remaining list offers an obvious choice."
  • For choices with few options but big possible consequences, make better use of your brain time by actually examining those consequences (this is not necessarily a traditional list of pros and cons)(this should be done in text form to make it less likely you'll waste a lot of time and energy retreading the same ground). Before predicting the consequences for each option, make a list of possible consequence-types and your outcome preferences for each type. Maybe rank those preferences. If your options still look the same after that, you probably know what you need to find out for the tie-breaker. Else, they really are basically the same and you can throw the dice. e.g. When buying a house, decide how many bedrooms you need at minimum, how much square footage you need, and what you must have nearby; and decide how much you're willing to negotiate on all categories. This can reduce the search-space dramatically, and if you end up with multiple choices at the end you'll know they're all at least sufficient.

Basically, I proceduralize the decision-making process in one way or another. The more mechanical I can make the choosing process, the less cognitive load in imposes on me.

Very importantly, there's a skill to letting go of all the other options. You will never get to taste all the ice cream, and you just have to be OK with that. Even if it's not really true because, e.g., you have regular access to that shop, the brain is worse at delaying gratification than it is at letting go of the idea of that particular gratification entirely. Like all skills, you get better at this with practice.

Comment by kithpendragon on Is there a mu-like term that means something like "why is this any of my business?" · 2021-04-06T12:43:23.908Z · LW · GW

I like to start with "I have no opinion on that." If pressed, I'd follow up with something like, "I don't understand; why is this so important to you?" Often, though, conditions result in my saying something more along the lines of, "What does that have to do with [what we were just discussing]?"

Comment by kithpendragon on What Happens To Your Brain When You Write? · 2021-03-31T17:25:12.779Z · LW · GW

Yeah, that echoes my experience too. Also, I notice that writing on my phone is partway between the two: a bit more thoughtful than typing on a keyboard, a good bit faster than pen and paper. Screen size is a big downside, though.

Comment by kithpendragon on Bureaucracy is a world of magic · 2021-03-31T01:18:08.142Z · LW · GW

I would just like to add the word "documancy" to this discussion.

Comment by kithpendragon on What Happens To Your Brain When You Write? · 2021-03-30T13:18:28.023Z · LW · GW

I seem to remember reading that the active ingredient here is actually speed. When typing, it's easy (with practice) to note most of what is presented almost verbatim. But handwriting is inherently slower, resulting in a condition where you have to do a lot more summarization. The act of summarization leads to better learning because you have to assimilate the ideas more completely in order to condense them into just a few words. Then, you have to unpack those few words into the complete idea when you study, leading to better practice. With a little discipline, you can go through the same steps on a keyboard and achieve the benefits of both styles.

I think I know where I read that, let's see if I can find the source...

There it is. Sönke Ahrens gives a very similar explanation in his excessively named book How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking - for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Writers in chapter 10.1, and he cites Mueller and Oppenheimer 2014.

Anti-clickbait note: The book is about the Zettelkasten method, and focuses on heavily cross-referencing notes so you can follow the logic chains in situ instead of having to reconstruct them every time you want to remember a thought. The arguments he makes for taking structured notes are pretty good, but Zettelkasten is far from the only note-taking method that does the things he likes.

Comment by kithpendragon on Bureaucracy is a world of magic · 2021-03-30T10:47:20.452Z · LW · GW
  • I lived in NY state for a short time. Turns out, to get a photo ID or driver's license there you have to have birth certificate && social security card && 6 points worth of qualifying documents. Most people aren't super likely to be able to produce 6 points of documents (I got up to 2 points), but you can use a state issued photo ID for all 6 points. Oh, and if your name has a numeral after it (III, for example), that numeral must be present on each and every one of those documents, or they don't count. I don't know if it's changed since, but I went without a photo ID while I lived there.
  • Likewise in NY, if you want to change your name after getting married, your marriage certificate had better look exactly like the clerk expects. Even with an already-changed social security card, the old card, a birth certificate, and an out-of-state marriage certificate, you're out of luck getting your driver's licence updated.
  • I currently work in intermodal rail (interfacing the rail and trucking industries). If you're bringing a shipping container (or trailer) in, all your paperwork had better be in order before you come to the gate to check in. Else you usually have to physically leave the property before you're allowed to try again, even if you could fix the issue in a few seconds on the phone.
    Folks hate that one pretty hard, but I can actually explain where it comes from. Turns out somebody up in corporate doesn't like drivers hanging around on the property where they could get bored and cause trouble, thinks somebody might hide a bomb or something in one of those shipping containers, and dislikes the bottleneck that proceeds from several people having problems at once and all sticking around while they call their companies to get it fixed.
  • The number of reports we have to file for the purpose of proving that we filed the reports is astonishing. Many of them contain large swaths of the same information as other reports, as well. We look up nearly all that information on the automated reports system, then have to copy-paste them into spreadsheets and emails.
  • I even have to send the emails if the reports are empty because what we're reporting on didn't happen that day. There's no special format for this, I just send an email with a blank body to prevent getting an email asking why I didn't file the report.
Comment by kithpendragon on Making a Cheerful Bid · 2021-03-28T13:30:23.493Z · LW · GW

It sounds like maybe you feel the word "negotiate" implies that someone is asking you to to be willing to come down on your cheerful price based on their arguments, which (I would completely agree) fully defeats the purpose. If so, maybe you'd prefer if someone asked to "discuss" or "discover" your cheerful price? That's the sense I'm getting from "negotiate" in this context. (Is that correct, AllAmericanBreakfast?)

Comment by kithpendragon on Learn and practice using Hanlon's Razor with exercises. · 2021-03-28T12:49:48.051Z · LW · GW

I'm confused (as usual) by all the downvoting with no comment; if people feel strongly enough to vote "I want to see less of this kind of content", they should be willing to explain why. At a guess, people probably want to see a short summary added to the post. In this case, a description of Hanlon's Razor and the reason you found the linked article especially helpful might improve reception.

Comment by kithpendragon on Call to the technical support of reality · 2021-03-28T10:53:38.626Z · LW · GW

Fun dialogue!

I thought about offering suggestions on a few unusual sentences, but then I decided I actually like nearly everything just the way it is. I had no difficulty understanding the text, and it fits well with the theme if some of the wordings are other than what I'd expect. 😉

The only thing that tripped me up a bit was the ad copy near the end:

And its not absolute accuracy will keep you so dear to you a sense of surprise

It might work better to say something like, "And its not-absolute accuracy will help you keep that sense of surprise that you find so dear". I would expect ad copy to sound like, "And, in addition to the ongoing savings on storage and processing, the low-resolution package will help you retain that sense of surprise and wonder that you so dearly enjoy", but I think that moves much further away from the established tone.

Comment by kithpendragon on “Meditation for skeptics” – a review of two books, and some thoughts · 2021-03-24T22:42:02.494Z · LW · GW

Thanks for the observations.

Glad they were interesting!

I wonder whether it is a nice-to-have but basically separate from meditation essentials.

I've heard teachers with a Theravada background talk about two "wings to awakening": wisdom (or insight) and compassion. The claim is that without developing both in a relatively even way, you can end up badly unbalanced and unable to achieve full realization of the practice. I've heard that non-westernized versions tend to teach metta before insight meditation, though I don't recall the exact justification off the top of my head.

It seems to me that without at least some of the discipline that comes from doing a sit-and-be-aware meditation for a while, it could be substantially more difficult to really dig in on the wishing-people-well stuff. On the other hand, I've heard several teachers say that we have a self-compassion problem in the west that makes insight meditation harder to do effectively/*. Maybe there's something to the wings thing after all?

/* Apparently westerners (and particularly Americans) tend to have a nasty habit of berating ourselves for being bad at meditation instead of just starting again when we get distracted.

Comment by kithpendragon on “Meditation for skeptics” – a review of two books, and some thoughts · 2021-03-23T19:41:26.790Z · LW · GW

It may be of note that Dan Harris is currently working on a book about metta. Has been for some time now, actually, but he seems to hate whatever book-writing process he's using, so we may or may not never actually see this one come to print.

I've been listening to his 10% Happier podcast for a while now, and I've noticed that he's undergone a massive and obvious change regarding his expressed attitudes toward compassion meditation and his apparent opinion of its importance. In earlier episodes when he says that words like "heart" and "loving-kindness" bother him, it seems like he's being fully genuine. Later, those claims seem to become more about his interview style and connecting with his audience than reality. Recently, he's fully admitted that talk of being "allergic" to the sappy-sounding words is an old schtick that he's trying to stop because it's no longer consistent with how he's thinking about the topic. It seems like he's been convinced that compassion practice is pretty important.

(It's a good podcast, BTW. Harris interviews plenty of really interesting people!)

Harris currently has two books titled "10% Happier: [excessive subtitle]" and "Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics" in the US. Maybe there were some translation shenanigans with the German publisher?

Comment by kithpendragon on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-03-15T18:03:52.714Z · LW · GW

I don't think it's always useful to think of free will as a "capacity to make choices in which the outcome has not been determined by past events" (wikipedia). I'm not even sure that definition makes any sense, actually. To me, at least, it doesn't feel like I make decisions without referring to my memories, which were laid into my mind by my past experiences. It certainly feels like different memories could easily result in my making different decisions in the same situation. And the fact that we can get more skilled at handling certain situations as we get older and experience those situations more times supports that notion.

Rather, I think it's (at least sometimes) more useful to reframe free will as how it feels to be inside a system that operates at least partially by constructing counterfactual futures and conditioning its outputs on how it provisionally responds to those simulated futures. Start such a system in a specific state, give it a particular input set, and you can expect a specific output; but from within the system it feels like freely making a choice. We can see exactly this happen in patients experiencing Transient Global Amnesia, and with other conditions that prevent the encoding of new memories (though those with permanent conditions do still show some neuroplasticity, and this leads to some changes in the long term).

But I also don't think I would say that "physics excludes... freewill". Rather, I would call trying to reconcile free will with cause and effect a category error. Free will is a way to model how a mind can feel like it works from the inside, while causality is a way to model how information propagates through the universe. They're just not really related, is all.

Comment by kithpendragon on AstraZeneca COVID Vaccine and blood clots · 2021-03-15T14:13:55.441Z · LW · GW

Off the top of my head, it could easily be the case that we still need to rule out that the groups getting the vaccine are already more prone to blood clots. In particular, I seem to remember some talk about Covid infections leading to blood clots, and many of the early vaccinations have been given to folks most likely to be exposed to Covid. We've also seen that "asymptomatic" (referring specifically to the symptoms of cough, fever, & anosmia) Covid seems to be really common in the group of all infections.

It's not much of a stretch to guess that -- if the blood clot problem turns out to be real -- it may be at least partly because of those "asymptomatic" infections among the groups we've targeted for early vaccination specifically because they are more likely to be exposed (and therefore more likely to have already been infected without knowing) than other groups.

Comment by kithpendragon on How to use hypnagogic hallucinations as biofeedback to relieve insomnia · 2021-03-14T18:10:27.929Z · LW · GW

I've interpreted some of the instances of this as a protective mechanism...

That's a really interesting thought. I'll have to (try to) remember to check out my breathing next time I jerk awake!

Comment by kithpendragon on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-03-14T18:08:27.747Z · LW · GW

It's just that if the mind is limited to the physical systems that compose it, then free-will-cluster concepts (consent, responsibility, &c.) are map-stuff and don't really signify in a discussion of cause and effect. The state of the mind-system must necessarily evolve according to the laws of physics when it is provided a particular input. That doesn't mean that there's nothing it's like to be the mind (as it's commonly understood), or that the mind doesn't partially operate by generating and comparing counterfactual realities; only that from a global view it's all physics. I agree that while we're "being in the world" it's usually not useful to take that angle on things, but it's important not to just forget it either.

You've appealed to free-will-cluster concepts heavily in your argument, and I'm just trying to get a feel for how you think they're relevant.

You also say you don't believe in "magic spells" (where just saying a thing has a predictable effect, if I'm reading you correctly), but you claim to be able to predictably make certain changes by incanting "I do not consent". That doesn't feel consistent to me.

Comment by kithpendragon on How to use hypnagogic hallucinations as biofeedback to relieve insomnia · 2021-03-14T11:46:16.377Z · LW · GW

This is the most detailed examination of the experience of falling asleep I've yet seen. Cheers!

I have only ever suffered from occasional acute insomnia, but I can confirm guideposts 2-6 from my meditation practice. Guidepost 1 is something else that happens in meditation that is sometimes called "remembering", or (somewhat ironically) "waking up".

I may be familiar with 6 as well, but (if we're thinking of the same thing) my experience is mostly of bouncing off that "membrane" and becoming more fully awake. I've noted the experience as something like all the sounds happening at the same time and at high speeds. The effect is something like hearing an especially noisy in-window air conditioner going through all its daily cycles at once in a second, ramping down as I re-attain a fuller level of consciousness.

One thing I didn't notice you mention is that during the falling-asleep process, sleep paralysis can be a fuzzy-bordered thing. (That's chemical processing for you!) This can sometimes result in the whole body jerking once or twice, called Hypnagogic (or Hypnic) Jerking. My partner tells me that my body does this most nights, and I've been woken by it on occasion. I'd guess I've been around your Guidepost 5 when I've had that experience, and I am sometimes able to recall what body was doing in the dream that correlated with the sudden motion.

Have you experienced such body jerks? If so, what guidepost(s) do you associate with them?

Comment by kithpendragon on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-03-12T17:41:26.635Z · LW · GW

Interesting; I noticed that you're using words like "responsibility" and "consent" and "choice" a lot. Do you take a non-materialist view of the mind? That is, do you think a mind is something more than the physical systems it's made of?

Comment by kithpendragon on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-03-11T16:32:13.424Z · LW · GW

The effects that follow any cause necessarily depend on the conditions in which the cause occurs. Nobody in Jonestown had poison funneled down their throats. They acted on what they were told, each according to the conditions in their own mind and (largely shared but not identical) environment.

Comment by kithpendragon on kithpendragon's Shortform · 2021-03-08T11:39:04.695Z · LW · GW

Possible storytelling device: Some timeline is established, the story plays out a certain way. As a result of the events of the story, a new character is introduced at the end of the timeline. Then the events of the story are then retold, but altered by the existence of the new character from the first telling, who is now present from the beginning of things. The process could repeat several times, each time with a single new character added (or possible an old character removed) as a result of the last iteration.

It's a riff on story cycles, but instead of all new characters doomed to follow in the fate of the earlier lot in each telling, we have (mostly) the exact same characters in situations that diverge further and further from the last cycle as the story evolves due to the change of cast.

Comment by kithpendragon on Suspected reason that kids usually hate vegetables · 2021-03-01T17:39:03.835Z · LW · GW

With some kids, some parts of parenting are easy; and nobody knows why.

It's just to drive you insane. 😉

Comment by kithpendragon on The Puce Tribe · 2021-02-28T23:09:20.630Z · LW · GW

My family comments that Puce tribe "sounds like normal people".

Comment by kithpendragon on Suspected reason that kids usually hate vegetables · 2021-02-28T11:24:30.282Z · LW · GW

For your data: I can tell you that my 5yo doesn't predictably like veggies steamed, stir-fried, roasted, sauteed, flame-broiled, "riced", or even pan fried in bacon fat with garlic. He is much more likely to eat them raw, but it's super hit-or-miss even then. When presented with a new vegetable, there's a (medium-low) chance his curiosity alone will compel him to try it iff we make a big deal about eating it ourselves and how much we enjoy the thing.

This is a complete turn-around from a couple years ago when you couldn't get him to taste a protein source on purpose. Feeding a small child is hard! You'd think they'd want to eat whatever you're eating (especially known vegetables!) by default so they, you know, don't starve! Our current strategy is to make meals with several, varied components and require that he at least taste each thing on the basis that he might like it this week. This does not often meet with his approval, but at least we know he eats a wide variety of foods.

I tend to agree that providing children with textureless, flavorless food is a good way to make them fussy eaters, though, as that was largely my experience growing up. [1] My parents tried to make "good" food, for sure, but the default still seemed to be just to get calories into the kids and presentation be damned so long as it wasn't actually offensive. It wasn't until college, when I started routinely choosing and cooking some meals for myself, that I discovered that food could actually be Interesting, for crying out loud! (And that I love vegetables, especially fresh and raw.) I'm trying to avoid that pattern for my own kid, but I'll admit he doesn't make it super easy. There must be more to it than just presentation.


[^1] On my proofreading pass, I noticed that I just got finished saying how hard it is to get kids (my kid, anyway) to eat anything on the regular, then I complained that when I was a kid, the food I was served just didn't seem interesting to me. There's probably something to be exploited there about finding what foods actually are interesting to my own kid, but his tastes change so fast I can't be sure that won't change between one instance of a particular meal and the next. We've tried asking him, but he doesn't seem to know any better than we do until the thing is right in front of him. We even let him help out in the kitchen, so he can give input on the preparation of the meal and have contact with each ingredient before it's on his plate, but still he often won't eat what he himself chose and cooked! (deep breath) PSA: Parenting is hard!

Comment by kithpendragon on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-02-27T17:38:08.253Z · LW · GW

That's a fair objection. I encourage you to look at the Appendix for some abstracted examples if you happen to find yourself interested.

Comment by kithpendragon on Best way to write a bicolor article on Less Wrong? · 2021-02-26T17:14:04.025Z · LW · GW

... so it is! My mistake. I'll remove that line.

Comment by kithpendragon on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-02-25T19:08:09.038Z · LW · GW

Maybe the issue is definition and we should taboo "cause". I'll also taboo "words" and "harm" while I'm at it. My core claim is that:

The purpose of symbolic language is to transmit ideas from one mind to another. In the new mind, the idea can prompt or set the stage for (sometimes strong) urges to arise. Humans acting on strong urges can be destructive in lots of ways.

Do you disagree that this happens? If so, why?

Comment by kithpendragon on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-02-25T17:19:27.342Z · LW · GW

Appendix I

First, a little context. When I began the process of writing this essay, I nearly fell into the trap of using a set of words that were callibrated to be harmful as example of exactly that. Seeking to avoid this pitfall, I put up a set of proverbial traffic cones in a wide area around the issue; I decided that no examples would be safer than actually writing a list designed that way. That was true, but I got stuck in a binary mode of thinking that resulted in my missing the possibility of abstractions available in between those extremes.

After I published the essay, the comments showed me a number of ways in which my writing is... a bit rough in places. In particular, several excellent suggestions regarding places where I had set the cones too widely; where my over-avoidance of examples was limiting my ability to communicate effectively, and making it difficult for others discuss my work. Huge thanks to the people who wrote those comments! They reminded me that these things have names, after all, and that we can easily discuss them without accidentally engaging in them or encouraging others to do so if we take a little care.

So for those who feel like examples make a much stronger argument than theory, let's connect some of the dots. Below is a short list of ways that words, and often only words, can be used to manipulate the circumstances in a way that can result in harm. Most of these examples work by convincing the victim that a destructive action is in their best interest. This is typically accomplished either by controlling the conditions or the perceived conditions for the victim, then offering a specific instruction with a harmful outcome, but that's not the only possible strategy. While props and other physical components can be helpful to those attempting these acts, they are not really necessary, and speech alone is sufficient as a trigger once the stage is set.

##  Short list of processes by which words can cause deliberate harm

  • Lying is a pretty central way of causing harm, which is probably why there are so many rules made against it. By convincing someone that the world is other than the way it really is, people can get others to act in some pretty destructive ways.  I'm aware that there has been some discussion in the past as to what constitutes Lying, so I'll define it here as "willfully misrepresenting the facts". That includes cherry-picking as well as alteration, but excludes being accidentally incorrect, and also excludes the listener taking the wrong impression in other ways that were not intended. Those can be harmful too; I'm just setting them out of scope for the word "lie" here.
  • Sales tactics can get people to buy and consume things that are (physically, ecologically, economically, socially...) harmful to them and/or others, or things that they do not need or want, causing direct economic harm.
  • Threatening need not have any non-verbal component, only perceived credibility, to establish conditions in which someone might perform harmful acts.
  • A subset of threatening, Blackmail, can easily ruin lives. This works by manipulating the circumstances such that someone becomes willing to do things that are otherwise not in their best interests, usually by threatening to make some information public that the victim believes would cause them harm unless the victim behaves in a certain way.
  • Intimidation overlaps with threatening, but the threat can be either explicit or implied by the setting, some aspect of the delivery of the words, or some perceived power held by the threatener. These constitute necessary conditions for words to do their work. Police interrogations designed to be intimidating produce more false confessions than other methods, resulting in innocent people going to jail.
  • Bullying contains necessary verbal components including threats and words designed to make the victim question their own worth. Often physical violence accompanies the words, but it may not. This allows the bully to make demands of the victim under threat of more bullying. Long-term, this process has resulted in suicides.
  • Gaslighting is a big pack of lies that are orchestrated to convince a person that they are actively and systematically misperceiving reality. The end result can be that the victim loses touch with reality so badly that they begin making actively destructive or self-destructive decisions.
  • Peer pressure takes advantage of the mind's willingness to compare it's situation with that of others, and leverages the fact that rejection causes the brain to react as though there was physical discomfort.
  • Horrors have been committed by people "just following orders". Indoctrination of people into organizations that expect that kind of behavior tend to mix and match these and other methods very efficiently. Once accomplished, this renders "orders" (mere words) as high priorities for the subordinate.
Comment by kithpendragon on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-02-25T13:29:50.769Z · LW · GW

They might not pass you the salt. But they most probably will not unless you ask. The asking causes your dinner partner to at least consider passing you the salt, where the thought might not have ever come up otherwise. More simply, your words caused the thought in someone else that resulted in your being handed the salt. That's as much cause as your releasing a catch causing the spring tension to be released and resulting in a lid opening.

You don't need to actually follow through on a threat for it to be effective, someone need only believe that the threat is genuine. That constitutes a necessary condition and a linguistic trigger.

Comment by kithpendragon on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-02-25T10:16:35.895Z · LW · GW

How about a concrete example of a benign interaction? Suppose you're sitting at a table having a meal with someone in your household. You look up and ask "Please pass the salt", and they do so. I think most people would agree that your asking caused the salt to be passed because the conditions were right for it to do so.

The same can (and does) happen with less benign interactions. To stay in the abstract, threatening, coercion, and bullying come readily to mind. How many people have been threatened into doing terrible things? Or ordered by a superior? This kind of thing happens all the time.

Comment by kithpendragon on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-02-25T00:31:08.572Z · LW · GW

Yes, some prediction models are extremely sensitive to initial conditions. But I doubt very much if a flap or even a sneeze can actually be the key thing that determines Hurricane or Not Hurricane in real life. The weather system would have to not only be extremely unstable, but in just the right way for that input to be relevant at such a scale.

You should still be careful with butterflies, though. They're a bit fragile.

Comment by kithpendragon on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-02-24T18:13:39.843Z · LW · GW

you don't write the actual content, suggest that other people do it, and threaten to remove their examples if they go too far

Two things. First, the goal was to refute the claim that words can't cause harm. I did not (intend to) suggest that others write examples in part because I feel concrete examples are a likely hazard, and in part because I was able to construct an argument without them.

Second, I'm confused about this "examples = content" thing. What's that about?

Comment by kithpendragon on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-02-24T18:04:09.274Z · LW · GW

I would say that the weather is probably next-to-never unstable enough for that to actually happen, despite its fame. If I thought otherwise, I would never have even tried to write and post comments, much less essays.

Comment by kithpendragon on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-02-24T17:09:18.801Z · LW · GW

I'm sorry for coming off as particularly harsh in my warnings. I noticed early on just how easy it would be to accidentally fall into some really horrible speech on this topic. I just don't want to end up with someone falling into the same trap I almost did, so I put up the orange cones.

Your examples are well callibrated; thank you.

Comment by kithpendragon on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-02-24T16:54:04.123Z · LW · GW

Agreed. Thanks, Viliam, for pointing at conditions instead of giving direct examples.

Comment by kithpendragon on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-02-24T16:15:51.156Z · LW · GW

That's a really helpful (and, I think, quite correct) observation. I'm not usually quite so careful as all that. This seemed like something it would be really easy to get wrong.

Comment by kithpendragon on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-02-24T15:52:37.782Z · LW · GW

Yes, I'd agree with all that. My goal was to counter the argument that words can't cause harm. I keep seeing that argument in the wild.

Thanks for helping to clarify!

Comment by kithpendragon on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-02-24T14:18:01.390Z · LW · GW

I generally think of "harm should be avoided whenever possible" as morally foundational. (Although it certainly isn't the only possible basis for a moral system, it seems really common). If "words can lead to causal chains that produce harm", then it follows directly that "interlocutors should be careful with their words so as to avoid accidental harm", does it not? I'll own that I didn't make that link explicitly, though. Thanks for pointing out the gap (and the blind spot).

As for the motte and bailey, I'm not sure where you're getting that. In the introduction, I lay out the argument I'm defending against clearly, and you can see it repeated elsewhere in the comments. When I state that we should be more careful with our words, it is met with "words can't cause harm, that would be magic".

Comment by kithpendragon on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-02-24T10:45:23.351Z · LW · GW

Upon further reflection: consider the messages that censorship sends between one group and another. Then, I think you'll have your answer.

Comment by kithpendragon on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-02-24T10:03:07.843Z · LW · GW

Exactly which part of the argument are you disagreeing with? Where does the causal chain fall down for you?

Comment by kithpendragon on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-02-24T10:01:39.435Z · LW · GW

This isn't journalism. That would be another topic.

Comment by kithpendragon on Could first doses first be better for the vaccine hesitant? · 2021-02-23T12:24:40.552Z · LW · GW

I haven't seen yet that anybody's actually been bothered to check if one dose is sufficient to confer immunity, and (if so) at what level. (PLEASE correct me if I've missed it!) I think that seems like a pretty critical question to answer here! My impression so far has been that we're using two doses because that's how the vaccines were tested and the two-dose plan definitely works, not because it's actually known to be useful in any way to get a second dose.

Everybody say it with me: "More! Research! Is! Needed!"

Comment by kithpendragon on Best way to write a bicolor article on Less Wrong? · 2021-02-23T11:56:47.753Z · LW · GW

It's probably been brought up before, but colors are also not a particularly accessible feature for those who cannot perceive them. There are some easy (partial) solutions [1] that can result in this being less of an issue, but simply not supporting colors is certainly the easiest. Monospace is supported in markdown using the code ticks; perhaps it would be useful to be able to explicitly specify serif, sans, and script fonts as well? (Perhaps we already can and I just haven't noticed?) With the four font types, times three formatting options (bold, italic, normal), we'd have 12 available "colors" that should all be pretty easy to differentiate. I suspect that many would already be more than it's easy for most readers to keep track of anyway, so it should be more than enough.

[^1] Allowing bright orange and dark blue provides a high-contrast color set that can be distinguished by most individuals with various types of color-blindness. Standard and inverted are also easy for most sighted persons to see. Still, that even leaves out those without sight unless their screen readers are set up to detect those signals.

Comment by kithpendragon on Best way to write a bicolor article on Less Wrong? · 2021-02-23T11:52:21.541Z · LW · GW

(Edited for correctness)

There are other plain-text options you might consider.

  • You could use grouping characters other than quotes (parentheses, square brackets, angle brackets, braces) to distinguish map and territory.
    • You can also use unconventional grouping characters, like literally any punctuation marks that aren't reserved by markdown. Just be sure to test your choices first. I've had some unexpected results involving the $ character on LessWrong in the past.
  • There are also several styles of quote marks that might be useful for this kind of differentiation. Guillemets may be especially nice here as you could point them »in for map« and «out for territory».
  • You could explicitly tag map and territory statements in a number of ways, as long as you write a forward explaining what you're doing. This kind of tagging carries the advantages of being unambiguous to the reader, easy to remember, and almost certain to be rendered by screen readers. Downside is that they tend to be a bit clunky.
    • You could borrow namespace conventions from any programming language. e.g. map::"thing the map says", territory::"what's really out there"
    • I've seen fanfic enthusiasts compare works with a similar operator:
      e.g. map!"thing the map says", territory!"what's really out there"
    • You could borrow function/method syntax from programming as well. This has the advantage of already being solved for multiple parameters, in case you need something like that.
      e.g. map("thing the map says"), territory("what's really out there", "closely related thing")
Comment by kithpendragon on Best way to write a bicolor article on Less Wrong? · 2021-02-23T11:27:36.552Z · LW · GW

As a note, I see new LessWrong posts first in my RSS reader, which tends to ignore most formatting choices. It would be helpful to know at the start of a post that I should click through to the original page in order to get the best experience if you decide to use formatting to mark different concepts within the text.

Comment by kithpendragon on Speedrunning my Morning Makes the Coffee Taste Weird · 2021-02-17T16:32:06.120Z · LW · GW

Can you learn to braid your hair faster (but in a way that doesn't cost you time later*)?

I'm certain I could, but given that this is the first time I've ever had to get through my morning starting off with a 30 minute deficit I don't think it would be worth the investment. It would be pretty simple to just start braiding my hair instead of binding it up the way I do now [1], but I would lose many of the benefits of the current method. In particular, my hair gets tangled much more easily in a braid than if I put it up "correctly".

I keep the hair long mostly because Partner likes it that way. (And she knows that, which is why she didn't complain about being awakened so early.) I'd really just as soon cut it off as be bothered to train up a new skill. But as long as Partner is willing to work with me on the extremely rare occasion that I need to do something like this, it needn't come to that. Braiding is pretty sub-optimal for the reasons that I wear the hair up anyway; it just happened to seem like the fastest way to gain a portion of the usual benefits in that moment.

[^1] My normal style is to make a banded a ponytail like this, then tie it in a figure-eight knot so I don't have to have all those elastics digging into my back as I drive. Takes 7-10 minutes, but results in close to no tangle and keeps my waist-length hair out of the way.

Do you have to rush getting dressed to pull this off...

If you mean do I normally rush getting dressed, no. My normal routine of "get dressed then start water" is calculated to reduce trips up and down the stairs in the dark [2] , and reduce the amount of casual nudity in the common areas for the comfort of my other housemate in the warmer months. It usually only takes a short time for me to dress, and the kettle works pretty fast, so it's not normally an issue.

[^2] Yes, I could turn lights on, but that always runs the risk of waking people up. As does running up and down the stairs a lot. Also, tripping over things and making loud crashing noises. There's a balance to be had there, and I've noticed that moving in a deliberate manner seems to take care of it nicely.

Optimizing for time as something that doesn't sacrifice time...

Absolutely true! And there are lots of things that I normally optimize for efficiency as you describe, with time weighted more heavily than other factors where possible. But in the case of my morning routine, (and despite that I could theoretically be out the door in less than five minutes from the time my feet hit the floor), I've generally found it most efficient to give myself about a half hour between my wake-up alarm and the time I need to leave the house, mostly because less time means I'm far less awake. Net benefit of taking my time is an increase in coordination and situational awareness for most of the morning. Worth! (usually)

Comment by kithpendragon on Speedrunning my Morning Makes the Coffee Taste Weird · 2021-02-12T16:11:11.276Z · LW · GW

So, in all practicality it's TAS only. Too bad; I'd have never had a chance!

Comment by kithpendragon on Speedrunning my Morning Makes the Coffee Taste Weird · 2021-02-12T14:54:09.439Z · LW · GW

Hahaha! Not in my car she doesn't! 🤣