Comment by leafy on The Argument from Common Usage · 2010-10-12T14:46:54.079Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm surprised that translation between languages isn't mentioned as a more simple example of where misinterpretation of meaning can arise.

Additionally, most people will now be aware of the variation in symbolic meaning between cultures (ie finishing all food on your plate being a compliment in some countries, and a sign that you weren't given enough food in others).

It's almost as if there is a requirement to have a constant reality-check process operating within the mind to ring alarm bells if the received response is against expectation. If this were operating effectively within both members of the tree-falling arguement they would more rapidly discover the arguement lay in the meaning of the word "noise" and not a failure of logical processing.

Comment by leafy on Neural Categories · 2010-10-12T12:01:10.924Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Two questions that occur following reading this:

1) Using the Blegg/Rube example would it be reasonable to suggest that the reaction to a purple egg would be different had it occured 20 years of working on the machine with no anomalies, than if it was the first off of the conveyor belt ... or the fith etc? What would be a threshold between casual acceptance and dumbfounded confusion?

2) The concept of neural pathways strengthening with usage and heightening connections through multiple observations leads to the question: At birth are our neural pathways all of equal "strength" and if not have we established yet what pre-existing configurations we are born with? (Is there an ultimate human "priori" with which we all start off or are there genetic differences, and if so are there any general constants?) Apart from an unlucky few am I right in saying that at birth there is a ready-made connection between sharp teeth/claws/aggresive noises and fear regardless of the occurence of previous observations or not?

Comment by leafy on Intelligence Amplification Open Thread · 2010-09-16T16:50:50.416Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It is clear that the human body is good at adjusting and fine-tuning itself in response to immediate need. What in-built "amplification" do we have when intelligence is needed, and how could it be harnessed?

For example: The natural fight-or-flight reflex appears to provide instant alertness and focus, and I would imagine blood-flow to decision making functions is enhanced? Linked to a comment below I have found my reaction time and competance at rapid reaction computer games improves rapidly following surges in adrenaline. Is this coming from the improved focus (could this be simulated?), or increased bloodflow?

Comment by leafy on Intelligence Amplification Open Thread · 2010-09-16T16:42:52.363Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Interestingly I have noticed a similar "time slowing" effect in rapid reaction computer games following extreme bursts of adrenaline for whatever reason - I wonder if action movies at 2x give you an adrenaline boost?

Comment by leafy on Intelligence Amplification Open Thread · 2010-09-16T13:16:01.697Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I would suggest that the greatest leap forward in recent years of combined human intelligence has been the internet, and an Intelligence Amplification method is having ready access to it and the base level of intelligence required to correctly use it for information!

Comment by leafy on Intelligence Amplification Open Thread · 2010-09-16T12:56:32.633Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Breakfast. Discuss:

Comment by leafy on On Enjoying Disagreeable Company · 2010-05-26T08:31:13.053Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I read your last section ("Note general failure mode: ...") with amusement as I have found myself following almost the exact train of thought several times recently.

It was an appreciated, although unpleasant, kick-in-the-teeth to realise that my thought process actually belied negative aspects to my character rather than positive ones.

Could I ask for advice then on reversing this situation? What internal monologue, or indeed actions, should be ideally followed based on a situation identical to the one given in the article.

Comment by leafy on Open Thread: May 2010 · 2010-05-14T08:43:16.938Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW


To me it is a process, a method, an outlook on life. But so often it is used as a pronoun: "Science says tomatoes are good for you".

It should be used to encourage rational thinking, clarity of arguement and assumption and rigorous unbiased testing. The pursuit of knowledge and truth. Instead it is often seen as a club, to which you either belong by working in a scientific profession, or you do not.

As a child of a mixed religeon household I felt like an outcast from religeon from an early age - it didn't matter that I have beliefs of my own, if I didn't belong to a specific club then I didn't belong at all. Very few religeous people I met encourage me to have faith regardless of what that faith is.

I see a scientific approach to life and its mysteries as my way of forming my own "map of the territory" as others perhaps use religeon and I hope that as promoters of rationality that we can encourage scientific principles in others rather than making them feel like outcasts for not being in our "club".

Comment by leafy on Blue- and Yellow-Tinted Choices · 2010-05-14T08:11:06.353Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I used paint to take part of one cube, split through the "special" square and move it over to the other image - my brain told me that I was seeing one colour, but the second the opposite image came in contact with its rival square my brain began telling me the square had been grey all along. Remove it and the effect was reversed. It was almost as if my mind was trying to erase any false memories - quite a fun experience.

Comment by leafy on Making Beliefs Pay Rent (in Anticipated Experiences) · 2010-05-13T12:56:52.808Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

How is this not just a simple arguement on semantics (on which I believe a vast majority of arguements are based)?

They both accept that the tree causes vibrations in the air as it falls, and they both accept that no human ear will ever hear it. The arguement appears to be based solely on the definition, and surrounding implications, of the word "sound" (or "noise" as it becomes in the article) - and is therefore no arguement at all.

Comment by leafy on How to Convince Me That 2 + 2 = 3 · 2010-05-13T09:10:39.438Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

There seem to be far too many people hung up on the mathematics which ignores the purpose of the post as I understand it.

The post is not about truth but about conviction. Eliezer is not saying that there could be a scenario in which the rules of mathematics didn't work, but that there could be a scenario under which he was convinced of it.

Deconstructing all elements of neurology, physics and socialogy that make up the pathway from complete ignorance to solid conviction is not something I could even begin to attempt - but if one were able to list such steps as a series bullet points I could conceive that the manipulation of certain steps could lead to a different outcome, which appears to me to be the ultimate point of the post (although not hugely ground-breaking, but an interesting thought experiment).

It is not a claim that the strongly held conviction represents fact or that the conviction would not be shaken by a future event or presentation of evidence. As a fundamental believer in scientific thought and rationality there is much that I hold as firm conviction that I would not hesitate to re-think under valid contradictory evidence.

Comment by leafy on Eight Short Studies On Excuses · 2010-05-12T08:42:52.712Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I appreciate that these are being used as simple analogies, but since they are phrased as real-world scenarios I feel that it weakens my visualisation of the situation in hand by not explicitly commenting on the time-scales over which the teacher/pupil wishes to maximise their utility.

Each example refers to the impact of the initial setup, or decision made when faced with an excuse, to the overall utility of the outcome but fails to convey to me clearly the success or failure criteria.

I would find it valuable if we were able to split the scenarios into a timeline decision tree to show how the impact of initial setup and decisions made would affect the utility over time, which would allow me to visualise the most beneficial path once I had decided on the timescale over which I wish to consider. (Taking this even further I would most likely attribute different weightings to my utility function depending on time-horizons and then attempt to maximise over the whole.)

What variation would there be in setup and decision if my consideration was for a one-shot decision versus a long-term career?

Comment by leafy on Open Thread: May 2010 · 2010-05-06T08:05:49.088Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Continuing on the "last responsible moment" comment from one of the other responders - would it not be helpful to consider the putting off of a task until the last moment as an attempt to gather the largest amount of information persuant to the task without incurring any penalty?

Having poor focus and attention span I use an online todo-list for work and home life where I list every task as soon as I think of it, whether it is to be done within the next hour or year. The list soon mounts up, occassionally causing me anxiety, and I regularly have cause to carry a task over to the next day for weeks at a time - but what I have found is that a large number of tasks get removed because a change makes the task no longer necessary and a small proportion get notes added to them while they stay on the list so that the by the time the task gets actioned it has been enhanced by the extra information.

By having everything captured I can be sure no task will be lost, but by procrastinating I can ensure the highest level of efficiency in the tasks that I do eventually perform.


Comment by leafy on Newcomb's problem happened to me · 2010-03-29T16:22:38.977Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If I could attempt to summarise my interpretation of the above:

Joe realises that the best payout comes from proposing sincerely even though he is defined to be insincere (10% probability of surely breaking his promise to never try and leave her if they marry). He seeks a method by which to produce an insincere sincere proposal.

As sincerity appears to be a controllable state of mind he puts himself in the right state, making him appear temporarily sincere and thus aiming for the bigger payout.

As you have not assigned any moral or mental cost associated with this then there appears to be no choice required in the matter and this path is clear (which is the one he took).

Could I suggest a possible adjustment? I would either replace the fixed probability of happiness with a varying probability depending on sincerity (ie 90% chance of happiness if sincere, 1% chance if insincere!) or perhaps provide a cost associated with the act of "lying".

This latter "cost of lying" would make this a slightly more real world example as I believe that I have witnessed examples such as the one above where a persons cost of lying has been low or has been high and the two outcomes have been different accordingly.

Comment by leafy on Superstimuli, setpoints, and obesity · 2010-02-27T00:30:48.192Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I would not ignore the impact of an internal stimulus other than tastiness in driving over-eating.

In the case of chocolate, for example, I have often continued to eat well passed the point at which both my common sense and even my taste have begun to object to satisfy a craving.

Here the craving is clearly visualised in the form of direct sugar and chocolate stimulating the pleasure senses. Knowing the impact allows me to focus will-power towards avoiding it and yet I still give in on occasion.

Now consider the stimulus hidden more deeply. MSG subtly adding to the flavour of a ready meal. It is well know that this can induce cravings in the same way (although perhaps not to the same extent, i don't have any data on this) as other drugs with more commonly understood addictive properties.

Could the same cravings not still be present driving the desire to continue eating beyond otherwise sensible levels? Without the clear visualisation of the problem, as it is hidden behind food that we have otherwise been trained to consider healthy, there is no internal defence.

Once you pop, you can't stop - wasn't just a rhyme.

Comment by leafy on Babies and Bunnies: A Caution About Evo-Psych · 2010-02-25T21:55:39.210Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Just clicked through to the following screen after selecting "no - it didn't get it right" to see the resulting poll:

Yes - 63% No - 32% Don't know - 5%

Comment by leafy on Babies and Bunnies: A Caution About Evo-Psych · 2010-02-25T21:40:03.001Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Darn - claims my blog is 63% woman. Not sure how to take that!

Comment by leafy on Babies and Bunnies: A Caution About Evo-Psych · 2010-02-22T21:17:14.856Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Possibly I want to limit my hypothesis to life-forms, thank you for the feedback.

Comment by leafy on Babies and Bunnies: A Caution About Evo-Psych · 2010-02-22T13:47:49.475Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Is it not worth considering "cuteness" to be defined in terms of threat levels. It seems to me that in most cases there is a direct correlation between cuteness and perceived threat.

By threat I am referring not just to physical (claws versus soft paws, large vs small, dominant versus meek, hard versus soft) but even biological (messy / unhygenic looking creatures versus fluffy / cuddly looking ones) or social (flawed versus flawless).

This may explain why some people perceive cuteness differently. One person may look at a human baby and see no possible threat, others may be more inclined to be considering health implications or even the threat of embaressment / fear it is associated with.

With this association in mind it would seem that selection towards lower threat is prevalent - babies looking cute leads to lower abandonment or attack by other parties, animals allowed to come close to humans without fear and benefiting from shelter / food / care etc.

Comment by leafy on Open Thread: February 2010, part 2 · 2010-02-19T14:20:09.673Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It is common practice, when debating an issue with someone, to cite examples.

Has anyone else ever noticed how your entire argument can be undermined by stating a single example or fact which is does not stand up to scrutiny, even though your argument may be valid and all other examples robust?

Is this a common phenomenon? Does it have a name? What is the thought process that underlies it and what can you do to rescue your position once this has occurred?

Comment by leafy on The Craigslist Revolution: a real-world application of torture vs. dust specks OR How I learned to stop worrying and create one billion dollars out of nothing · 2010-02-19T14:12:22.219Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Could I take a slightly different tack on this?

Correct me if I'm wrong but I believe the objective is to increase donations to charity? So if, for example, this approach generated $1bn but only from people who would have donated anyway then the gain is zero.

The core questions that we are then addressing are:

  • how do we convince people to donate more to charity than they would without our intervention?
  • what stops people from donating the full amount that they would wish to, and how can we remove these barriers?

The first would be tackled by focusing on "marketing" - ie getting the message out there, influencing decision making etc. The second would be tackled by focusing on efficiency.

Clearly the Craigslist idea addresses both of these in its own way but making itself rapidly visible to a large number of people and allowing low effort donations.

I will leave the first item, marketing alone, as I do not feel well positioned to discuss the morals of using psychological techniques to influence increased altruism, and will leave this for others to debate.

For the second I would like to suggest that the Craigslist idea doesn't go far enough. (Being from the UK I have never heard of it!) The internet is entering our lives apace and on-line transactions are becoming a way of life. There cannot be too many processes more efficient than one requiring only a flick of the wrist and a couple of mouse clicks.

I would be interested to hear debate on the feasibility of a more centralised internet-enabled donation scheme funded by the charities themselves that could remove suspicion by gaining notoriety.

Although this is only a slight extension of the idea, image the success that could be generated if present on-line transactions allowed the option to round purchases to the next $1 and donate the difference.

Comment by leafy on Welcome to Less Wrong! · 2010-02-19T08:45:08.723Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Actually no I am not. I began studying the Actuarial exams when I started work and have passed the ones that I took but stopped studying 3 years ago.

I found them very interesting but sadly of only minor relevance to the work that I was doing and, since I was not intending on becoming an Actuary and therefore was not being afforded any study leave in which to progress in them, I decided to focus my spare time on my own career path instead.

Why do you ask?

Comment by leafy on Welcome to Less Wrong! · 2010-02-18T23:45:46.512Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Hi everyone.

My name is Alan Godfrey.

I am fascinated by rational debate and logical arguments, and I appear to have struck gold in finding this site! I am the first to admit my own failings in these areas but am always willing to learn and grow.

I'm a graduate of mathematics from Trinity Hall, Cambridge University and probability and statistics have always been my areas of expertise - although I find numbers so much more pleasant to play with than theorems and proofs so bear with me!

I'm also a passive member of Mensa. While most of it does not interest me the numerical, pattern spotting and spatial awareness puzzles that it is associated with have always been a big passion of mine.

I have a personal fascination in human psychology, especially my own in a narcissistic way! Although I have no skill in this area.

I currently work for a specialist insurance company and head the catastrophe modelling function, which uses a baffling mixture of all of the above! It was through this that I attended a brief seminar at the 21st Century School in Oxford which mentioned this site as an affiliation although I had already found it a few months previously.

I come to this site with open eyes and an open mind. I hope to contribute insightful observation, engage in healthy discussion and ultimately come away better than I came in.

Comment by leafy on You're Entitled to Arguments, But Not (That Particular) Proof · 2010-02-18T23:19:10.401Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That is not how I interpreted the statement. To me it conveyed a strong dismissal of any further discussion on the subject.

Since the context was in conversation with a skeptic who could clearly have benefited from a clear and reasoned argument but was instead presented with this comment, my opinion is that this undermines the issue.

I am willing to accept that this may not have been the intention of the statement.

Comment by leafy on You're Entitled to Arguments, But Not (That Particular) Proof · 2010-02-18T13:55:17.510Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"As I once said to someone who questioned whether humans were really related to apes: "That question might have made sense when Darwin first came up with the hypothesis, but this is the twenty-first century. We can read the genes. Human beings and chimpanzees have 95% shared genetic material. It's over." "

I don't believe any scientist worth their lab-coat would ever use the phrase "It's over".

One of the central tenets of science is constant questioning and healthy skepticism. Statements which imply that 'since it's good enough to convince you it's the end of the debate' do not endear those of the scientific community to others.

I understand that leaving room for doubt and refusing to ever be 100% certain may be seen as a weakness that people can exploit, but these are the very principles that will make science stand the test of time and should not be casually discarded to remove short term hassle.

I will never let gut feeling blind me in the face of evidence and will always look at any new facts with an open mind - evolution or otherwise - and as a purveyor of such science I believe that it is your responsibility to do likewise.

Comment by leafy on Boo lights: groupthink edition · 2010-02-18T13:35:52.503Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I am quite surprised that more Karma functions do not track both the Up Votes and the Down Votes and display a running tally of each.

On a relative basis I would be far more interested in reading a post that has had 1,000 Up Votes and 999 Down Votes, than one which has had a single Up Vote.