Is there an automatic Chrome-to-Anki-2 extension or solution? 2013-01-16T05:26:04.900Z · score: 6 (11 votes)
What is the Mantra of Polya? 2012-07-31T17:49:32.790Z · score: 6 (7 votes)
If calorie restriction works in humans, should we have observed it already? 2012-04-24T04:28:03.516Z · score: 21 (22 votes)
Should "latest insights" appear in the front page blurb? 2012-04-14T21:58:42.962Z · score: 27 (34 votes)
Question on math in "A Technical Explanation of Technical Explanation" 2012-02-02T22:29:56.587Z · score: 3 (4 votes)


Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Announcement: The Sequences eBook will be released in mid-March · 2015-03-05T13:53:56.229Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW


Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Announcement: The Sequences eBook will be released in mid-March · 2015-03-04T16:55:16.363Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Great project! What will the copyright be? I'm interested in putting a few essays into a course reader.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Fermi Estimates · 2013-04-09T06:16:21.640Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A decent approximation to exponential population growth is to simply use the average of 700m and 50m

That approximation looks like this

It'll overestimate by a lot if you do it over longer time periods. e.g. it overestimates this average by about 50% (your estimate actually gives 375, not 325), but if you went from 1m to 700m it would overestimate by a factor of about 3.

A pretty-easy way to estimate total population under exponential growth is just current population 1/e lifetime. From your numbers, the population multiplies by e^2.5 in 300 years, so 120 years to multiply by e. That's two lifetimes, so the total number of lives is 700m2. For a smidgen more work you can get the "real" answer by doing 700m 2 - 50m 2.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Rationality Quotes January 2013 · 2013-01-05T04:48:13.339Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Cartman: I can try to catch it, but I'm going to need all the resources you've got. If this thing isn't contained, your Easter Egg hunt is going to be a bloodbath.

Mr. Billings: What do you think, Peters? What are the chances that this 'Jewpacabra' is real?

Peters: I'm estimating somewhere around .000000001%.

Mr. Billings: We can't afford to take that chance. Get this kid whatever he needs.

South Park, Se 16 ep 4, "Jewpacabra"

note: edited for concision. script

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Applied Rationality Workshops: Jan 25-28 and March 1-4 · 2013-01-04T05:18:44.191Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

A bit of an aside, but for me the reference to "If" is a turn off. I read it as promoting a fairly-arbitrary code of stoicism rather than effectiveness. The main message I get is keep cool, don't complain, don't show that you're affected by the world, and now you've achieved your goal, which is apparently was to live up to Imperial Britain's ideal of masculinity.

I also see it as a recipe for disaster - don't learn how to guide and train your elephant; just push it around through brute force and your indefatigable will to hold on. It does have a message of continuing to work effectively even in bad circumstances, but for me that feels incidental to the poem's emotional content. I.E. Kipling probably thought that suffering are failure are innately good things. Someone who takes suffering and failure well but never meets their goals is more of a man than someone who consistently meets goals without tragic hardship, or meets them despite expressing their despair during setbacks.

Note: I heard the poem first a long time ago, but I didn't originally read it this way. I saw it differently after reading this:

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on [Link] On the Height of a Field · 2013-01-02T19:07:46.384Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I'm the author - thanks for the feedback. I think you're right that a more-topical title could help. Edit: done.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Rationality Quotes: March 2011 · 2012-12-26T20:37:04.987Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I see, thanks.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Rationality Quotes: March 2011 · 2012-12-21T04:03:19.305Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I just looked this up. It seems the text has been altered, and in the original, Linus said "Are there any openings in the Lunatic Fringe?"

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Voting is like donating thousands of dollars to charity · 2012-11-05T18:00:54.202Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

All of them are obviously still chances. I never said that a very small probability wasn't a chance. I said that it might rationally be treated in a different manner than larger chances due to risk-aversion.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Voting is like donating thousands of dollars to charity · 2012-11-05T13:00:23.925Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Re: other stuff on ballot. Yes, that's right. I was just replying to the content of the post.

Sorry, I don't understand what was meant by your first sentence.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Voting is like donating thousands of dollars to charity · 2012-11-05T02:35:04.577Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I rarely make decisions involving such low probabilities, so I don't really know how to handle risk-aversion in these cases. If I'm making a choice based on a one-in-ten-million chance, I expect that even if I make many such choices in my life, I'll never get the payoff. This is quite different than handling one-in-a-hundred chances, which are small but large enough that I can expect the law of large numbers to average things out in the long term. So even if I usually subscribe to a policy of maximizing expected utility, it could still make sense to depart from that policy on issues like voting.

BTW, in my state, Maryland, Obama has a 18-point margin in the polls. That could easily be six standard deviations away from the realm where I even have a chance of making a difference.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Original Research on Less Wrong · 2012-10-31T12:42:26.949Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You're right. That would be true if we did n independent tests, not one test with n-times the subjects.

e.g. probability of 60 or more heads in 100 tosses = .028

probability of 120 or more heads in 200 tosses = .0028

but .028^2 = .00081

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Original Research on Less Wrong · 2012-10-30T15:34:28.912Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks. Sometimes I learn a lot from people saying fairly-obvious (in retrospect) things.

In case anyone is curious about this, I guess that Eliezer knew it instantly because each additional data point brings with it a constant amount of information. The log of a probability is the information it contains, so an event with probability .001 has 2.3 times the information of an event of probability .05.

If that's not intuitive, consider that p=.05 means that you have a .05 chance of seeing the effect by statistical fluke (assuming there's no real effect present). If your sample size is n times as large, the probability becomes (.05)^n. (Edit: see comments below) To solve

(.05)^n = .001

take logs of both sides and divide to get

n = log(.001)/log(.05)

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on What is the Mantra of Polya? · 2012-08-01T00:00:17.527Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think I see what you mean. To clarify, though, tension doesn't have a direction. In a rope, you can assign a value to the tension at each point. This means that if you cut the rope at that point, you'd have to apply that much force to both ends of the cut to hold the rope together. It's not upward or downward, though. Instead, the net force on a section of rope depends on the change in the tension from the bottom of that piece to the top. The derivative of the tension is what tells you if the net force is upward or downward. This derivative is a force per unit length.

In general, tension is a rank-two tensor, and is just a name for when the pressure is negative.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on What is the Mantra of Polya? · 2012-07-31T22:44:31.889Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not really sure what you mean by "upward tension", sorry. Tension in one dimension is just a scalar. The very bottom of the spring is under no tension at all, and the tension increases as the square root of the height for a stationary hanging slinky.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on What is the Mantra of Polya? · 2012-07-31T19:13:19.228Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the tip.

The center of mass of the slinky accelerates at normal gravitational acceleration. The bottom of the slinky is stationary, so to compensate the top part goes extra-fast. I did a short calculation on the time for the slinky to collapse here

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Rationality Quotes June 2012 · 2012-06-02T23:52:31.232Z · score: 28 (34 votes) · LW · GW

And clearly my children will never get any taller, because there is no statistically-significant difference in their height from one day to the next.

Andrew Vickers, What Is A P-Value, Anyway?

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Low hanging fruit: analyzing your nutrition · 2012-05-06T17:01:25.759Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

WolframAlpha is pretty good for calculating all this automatically - probably much faster than the spreadsheet. For example:

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Why do people ____? · 2012-05-04T14:17:09.520Z · score: 20 (20 votes) · LW · GW

Why do I fantasize about being angry?

I'm breaking the rule a bit by asking about myself here.

Sometimes when I have down time and am daydreaming, especially if I'm walking somewhere or going for a run, I fantasize about someone wronging me (say with a traffic violation), then imagine myself getting angry, yelling at them, and physically beating them up. I think about knocking them down, screaming at them, challenging them to get up, and knocking them down again.

I've never acted on such a fantasy. I have no idea how to actually fight someone if I wanted to. It's very rare that I show anger, and I don't think I've ever punched someone as an adult. But I think about it pretty regularly, and the thoughts disturb me. I have no idea where they come from or why I take pleasure in these sorts of fantasies.

Is this a common thought pattern? Why do people have it?

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Rationality Quotes May 2012 · 2012-05-02T05:34:28.616Z · score: 26 (28 votes) · LW · GW

Asked today if the Titanic II could sink, Mr Palmer told reporters: "Of course it will sink if you put a hole in it."

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Rationality Quotes May 2012 · 2012-05-02T05:33:38.096Z · score: 15 (27 votes) · LW · GW

If you're trying to choose between two theories and one gives you an excuse for being lazy, the other one is probably right.

Paul Graham “What You’ll Wish You’d Known”

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Rationality Quotes May 2012 · 2012-05-02T05:29:43.612Z · score: 17 (21 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think we can get much more specific without starting to be mistaken.

Paul Graham, "Is It Worth Being Wise?"

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Crowdsourcing the availability heuristic · 2012-04-25T07:19:46.638Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I like the idea. Perhaps we should start a periodic discussion thread where people post midrange goals and get feedback.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on If calorie restriction works in humans, should we have observed it already? · 2012-04-24T04:58:52.319Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

thanks for the catch

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Stupid Questions Open Thread Round 2 · 2012-04-22T19:53:04.638Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

And Aubrey de Grey doesn't take any. (

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Stupid Questions Open Thread Round 2 · 2012-04-22T19:50:49.678Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

The last sentence is patronizing, and especially inappropriate in a thread about asking stupid questions.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Stupid Questions Open Thread Round 2 · 2012-04-21T22:44:59.192Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

wait, that was easier to search than I thought.

Yes, it is Knuth's arrow notation.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Stupid Questions Open Thread Round 2 · 2012-04-21T22:42:44.904Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

What's 3^^^3?

Is this Knuth's arrow notation?

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on How accurate is the quantum physics sequence? · 2012-04-18T01:49:36.288Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Okay, thanks. I have only read the first few posts. On those, the karma score was higher and there was positive feedback from readers saying it was helpful to them. I should have read further in the series before characterizing it as a whole.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on How accurate is the quantum physics sequence? · 2012-04-17T18:51:47.491Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Good point, thanks. Konkvistador indicates it was too verbose for him/her.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on How accurate is the quantum physics sequence? · 2012-04-17T18:51:04.587Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for letting me know - John's point about selection effects is well taken.

It would have been better for me to say that because many LessWrongers enjoyed the sequence, it wasn't too verbose for everyone, though clearly it was for some readers.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on How accurate is the quantum physics sequence? · 2012-04-17T13:59:58.676Z · score: 33 (34 votes) · LW · GW

I'm pretty familiar with Ron Maimon, since I use Physics.Stackexchange heavily.

He seems to have other things going on in his life that prevent him from being accepted by the physics community at large, but in terms of pure knowledge of physics he's really, really good. Every time I've read an answer from him that I'm competent to judge, it's been right, or else if it has a mistake (which is rare) and someone points it out, he thanks them for noticing and corrects his answer.

When crackpots answer physics questions, they consistently steer away from the topic towards whatever their crackpot ideas are. Ron doesn't do that. Crackpots tend to claim things that are pretty much known to be impossible, and display little depth of understanding or willingness to talk about anything other than their theories. Ron doesn't do that. He also doesn't claim that he's being repressed by the physics establishment. He'll call professional physicists idiots, but he doesn't say that they're trying to hide the truth or suppress his ideas. And when he sees a professional physicist who comes on the site and writes good answers, he generally treats them with respect. He leaves positive feedback on good answers of all sorts. None of this fits in with being a crackpot.

He does get into fights with people about more advanced theoretical stuff that's over my head. But when he talks about physics that I know, he does it extremely well, and I've learned a lot from him. He's more knowledgeable and insightful than most professional physicists.

The stuff other users mentioned about his bible interests and his profile description is ad hominem.

Anyway, if you are interested in what a professional physicist would say, I'm quasi-professional in that I'm a graduate student. My opinion is that the sequence, so far as I read it, is fine. I haven't finished reading it, so I didn't offer a comment before, but so far I haven't found any significant mistakes (beyond those real but relatively minor ones pointed out on the thread on Phys.SE) The fact that many LessWrongers have read and enjoyed it indicates it's not too verbose for the target audience.

Edit several people gave feedback indicating that the sequence isn't as well-received as I indicated. I should have read more of it before commenting.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Should "latest insights" appear in the front page blurb? · 2012-04-15T01:52:57.627Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, thank you.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Suggestions needed: good articles for a meetup discussion · 2012-04-14T23:57:06.899Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think LessWrongers would like Victor Weisskopf's series of articles called "The Search for Simplicity", published in the American Journal of Physics in 1985 and 1986. They are The Simple Math of Everything applied to physics (specifically condensed matter).

They're accessible, using only simple algebraic calculations. Their goal is to connect different phenomena with just a few simple experiments and the right way of thinking about it. For example, the first article discusses how measuring the surface tension and energy to boil a liquid gives us a good estimate of the size of atoms.

A later article uses very similar ideas about the energy in atomic bonds to explain the connection between the height of the tallest mountains, the size of drops of water on a ceiling, and the wind speed needed to make ocean waves.

You can find them here, but they're unfortunately behind a pay wall, so you'll need somebody at university library to get them.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on School essay: outsourcing some brain work · 2012-04-12T21:59:13.706Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Did you find anything useful?

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on School essay: outsourcing some brain work · 2012-04-12T21:58:53.715Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Can you describe how else one would test a nursing theory for correctness?

As I understand it, a nursing theory says, "If the nurse follows procedure A, the reaction in the patient will be X. If the nurse doesn't follow procedure A, the reaction in the patient will be Y."

If the theory is accurate in those predictions, it's a correct theory, even if it sounds crazy. To tell whether it's a correct theory, we have to test it. That's what I was driving at.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on School essay: outsourcing some brain work · 2012-04-10T20:47:37.307Z · score: 9 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe I don't understand the request entirely, but wouldn't any criticism depend not on the details of the theory, but on how well it works?

The point of a nursing theory is presumably to help nurses do their job. So if you want to know if a nursing theory is good, come up with some metric to measure nurse performance, train some nurses in the theory, and measure their performance compared to a control group.

The theory could be absolutely ridiculous to people looking at it on paper, but that doesn't matter much if it turns out that it helps people be good nurses.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on SotW: Be Specific · 2012-04-09T11:50:35.500Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for letting me know you found it out so quickly.

By specificity for the review, I didn't mean that it should summarize the plot. Instead, when some general statement is made, there should be some connection to the movie that supports it. Jimmy Stewart has boyish charm? When? What scenes? What about them?

Contrast to Roger Ebert's review. An excerpt:

Even the corniest scenes in the movie--those galaxies that wink while the heavens consult on George's fate--work because they are so disarmingly simple. A more sophisticated approach might have seemed labored.

This is a specific example supporting his statement at the beginning of the paragraph that, ""It's a Wonderful Life" is not just a heart-warming "message picture.""

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on SotW: Be Specific · 2012-04-06T14:38:13.890Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Exercise: What Was That All About?

Players get samples of writing from various internet sources - randomly chosen movie reviews from IMDB, news stories from Huffington Post, blog posts from Wordpress, Wikipedia articles, etc.

Player A gets to block out 5% of the words in the sample. Player B then tries to guess the topic the sample discusses.

For example, here's a semi-randomly chosen IMDB review - the first one I grabbed off the site. It got 137 "helpful" votes out of 161 voters, so it's perceived as a good review. It's of a famous movie. I've blocked 5% of the words. Try to guess what movie.

This film has become a --------- tradition in my family. We watch it every year and never tire of it. -------- is a master of creating films with a message that reinforce strong values. This is probably his greatest film in that regard. Both he and ------ have publicly stated that this is their favorite film.

The message in this film is one of courage and sacrifice for the greater good as ------, a man with big ideas about seeing the world, continually forsakes his own desires to do what is right for the ------. The second message is that each life important. No matter how insignificant we feel we are, we are all inextricably linked to each other and play an important part in the fabric of one another's lives.

------'s direction is brilliant. His genius is bringing human stories to life in a ways that not only make a point, but that totally involve the audience in the lives of the characters. He is always extremely optimistic about the human condition. He is known for testing his characters with overwhelming adversity to make them struggle to triumph in a way that causes the world to change and the character to grow. For this reason his films were always crowd pleasers and this film was the best of all in that regard.

Led by ------'s understanding hand, the actors all did a magnificent job. ------'s wide-eyed enthusiasm and boyish charm, coupled with an unbending strength of character made him the perfect folk hero. ------ was lovely and charming and attained the right balance between being supportive and inspirational. The romantic chemistry between her and ------ was subtle and charming. ------ was towering as the greedy old skinflint who was trying to take over the ------. ------ plays one of my favorite characters, as the bumbling ------ in probably his most memorable role.

This film is number ------ on AFI's list of best films of the century. It was nominated for ------ academy awards and won ------. It was swept in ------ by ------, a great film that won ------ Oscars that year but in my opinion was the lesser film. History has corrected that minor injustice by rendering ------ an enduring classic that is viewed and loved by generation after generation. Of course, I rated it a 10/10. I can't wait to see it again this ------.

Clearly, this review fails to be specific. I've pretty much just blocked all the proper nouns - names of actors, years, etc. Still, I am willing to guess that not many people will know what the movie is. (I also blocked the two words describing a plot element and the setting.)

By contrast, I went to Wikipedia and hit "random article" repeatedly until I got an article whose title was something I had heard of before. The entire article is a little long, so I took the first two segments from the beginning of the article. Try to guess the topic of the article.

------ is a ------ ------ ------ ------ that was an international success during the 1990s and early 2000s with shows being filmed in America, Finland, The United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, Sweden, Nigeria and Denmark. Russia,Germany, The Bahamas and Japan would also compete in international shows during the series. After a lengthy break, ------ was revived in 2008 in the UK, the US, Australia and Saudi Arabia.

The concept of the show is that athletic members of the public ------ against the show's own ----- (often semi-professional or ex-athletes) to claim points in several events that require speed, strength and skill. In the final event of the show, ------ the contenders ------ against each other (with starting times based on previous events), with the ------ ------ ------ winning the episode and moving onto the next round.

A children's derivative of the concept was also made in the US, called ------ (1994–1996). A UK variant of this was aired starting in 1995, called ------.


[edit]1990s success

The initial concept for the show by Dan Carr and John C. Ferraro was held in Erie, Pennsylvania, in the USA before being sold to Samuel Goldwyn Productions/MGM where the format was adapted and televised as ------ with the first series airing over 1989-1990. As the show progressed, new events were introduced along with new ------, sometimes retiring previous ------.

Following the success of ------, other countries began to produce their own versions of the show with the UK and Finland starting production in 1992. ------ had already picked up a cult following in the UK after being shown on late night TV. The UK, most noticeably adapted the concept into a large arena (the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham), glamorizing the show, often adapting events from the American series as well as introducing many of their own, often more high-tech. Winners from the UK and Finnish series would then go over to America, to film a special show of ------ in which they competed against the current American champions along with selected athletes from other territories such as Japan and the Bahamas and South Korea.

In early 1995, the first full scale international competition was launched in which selected ------ from the American, Finnish and British series competed against contender champions from those three countries. A fourth country, Russia was added but as they did not have their own domestic series, the ------ and contenders were hand-picked by Russian TV producers. The Finnish series ceased production after ------.

In 1995, Australia began production of their own show, basing it on the UK series. After the first series, a three part 'Ashes' mini series was filmed in Australia, in which a selection of British and Australian ------ faced champions from the opposing countries. Australia then went on to compete in ------ along with the UK and America. Russia also returned, even though they still did not have a domestic series. Germany and South Africa also competed even though they too did not have their own domestic series.

This is definitely more specific, but it still could be significantly better. It's probably clear that it's a television show where people have some sort of athletic competition, but it's not really clear what sort of athletic competition it was, what the general mood of the show was like, etc. There is a bit more information on this later in the article, but not quite as much as one might expect. Still, you know a lot more about this show than you know about the movie. This is despite the blanks blocking significant material; I blocked out verbs like "compete" and "race". In the movie review, there wasn't even such material available to block.

The answers are It's a Wonderful Life and Gladiators television franchise).

Passages that aren't specific could describe many different things, so by blocking out a few words, the original topic is lost. Highly-specific passages don't have this problem. This exercises teaches how to be on the lookout for specific and non-specific writing, but also gives us some data on what sorts of writing tend to be specific and what sorts do not. That way you know when to be especially aware of the "Be Specific" skill. (I predicted ahead of time that artistic reviews would be very non-specific and Wikipedia articles would be very specific.)


A representative from team A writes a passage. Team B blocks 5% of the words. The rest of team A tries to fill the words back in. The number of words correctly filled in is the team's score.

Rewrite non-specific passages to be specific.

Write your own content in the same style, but with a list of taboo words. For example, an article about the Gladiators series that taboos "gladiator", "television series", "competition", etc.

All players use a particular source of content and search through to find the longest contiguous passage they can that doesn't reveal the topic. For example, one might through IMDB reviews until you find a passage that's 200 words long and doesn't let you identify the movie, even with no words blocked.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on SotW: Be Specific · 2012-04-03T10:54:45.191Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In the RSAnimate talk, Pink cited research that found that once people were doing the task (presumably under time pressure), higher incentives produced worse results.

That's different from using an incentive to get people to come do the task at all.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Rationality Quotes April 2012 · 2012-04-02T00:03:19.151Z · score: 26 (28 votes) · LW · GW

Gene Hofstadt: You people. You think money is the answer to every problem.

Don Draper: No, just this particular problem.

Mad Men, "My Old Kentucky Home"

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on The Fox and the Low-Hanging Grapes · 2012-03-10T08:47:59.827Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think my standard for a convincing parable is not just that the parable feel true, but that it feels true and would feel false if it had gone the other way.

For example, there's a parable about rowing on a lake in the fog. Another rowboat comes out of the fog and collides with yours. You get angry and start yelling, but when you notice the other rowboat is empty, you aren't angry any more.

If we reverse the conclusion of that parable - the rowboat is empty, but you remain angry anyway - it would seem false to me.

By contrast, if the low-hanging grapes had tasted good and been nourishing, I don't think I would find this parable false. This fox has a different perspective than the turtles, and it's completely possible it could have found a niche that was not occupied previously.

Sure, outsiders who come into a new field and think they can solve everything in one quick blow are usually wrong. But outsiders who come into a field and try to cast old problems in a new light are sometimes right and productive, too.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Question on math in "A Technical Explanation of Technical Explanation" · 2012-02-03T01:43:32.400Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That sounds better, thank you.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Question on math in "A Technical Explanation of Technical Explanation" · 2012-02-02T23:43:26.321Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks. I realize now I calculated those numbers I cited while leaving out the payoff from the .3 option since it wasn't changing, then forgot to add it back in. Strange what Wikipedia says when there was this counterexample. If I have some time later I'll check through the sources linked in the article.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Rationality Quotes February 2012 · 2012-02-01T20:24:34.383Z · score: 21 (21 votes) · LW · GW

I was interested in the context here. Chesterton was referencing Wells' original belief that the classes would differentiate until the upper class ate the lower class. Wells changed his mind to believe the classes would merge.

The entire book is free on Google Books.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Leveling Up in Rationality: A Personal Journey · 2012-01-18T09:14:42.058Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I am curious: when someone says they are happy, how do you judge the credibility of the claim?

There are certainly a lot of reasons to trust Luke's judgment. His other claims are verifiable, and given the nature of his message and the community he's delivering it to, he probably feels a strong desire both to tell the truth and to understand the truth about himself.

Nonetheless, I suspect there are far more people who claim to be happy than who really are, essentially due to belief in belief. What are some tests? For example, are there people known to have high emotional intelligence who know Luke well and think he exhibits high happiness levels?

I hope this doesn't come off as a personal questioning of Luke in particular. It seems like a difficult problem in general, but nonetheless an important one if I want to study what people have to say about happiness.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Can the Chain Still Hold You? · 2012-01-13T21:18:48.709Z · score: 24 (24 votes) · LW · GW

This story is not true. Bannister broke 4:00 in May of 1954. The next person to do it was John Landy 46 days later. Bannister's training partner Chris Chataway did it the next year, as did another British runner. However, I think Bannister and Landy were the only two to do it in 1954. The first American to do it was Don Bowden in 1957.

I found a list for the US here Also a master list of many runners, but difficult to parse.

There were three runners close to the sub-four mile in the early 50's. The other two were Wes Santee and John Landy. They didn't race each other while trying to break 4:00 because Santee was American, Bannister British, Landy Australian.

According to Neil Bascomb's The Perfect Mile, the race to sub-4 was highly publicized, and most people believed that it could in fact be done. There are some quotes from Landy saying that 4:00 was an unbreakable wall, but I believe these were mostly comments from him in dejection after early failures to beat the mark.

Bannister also wrote a memoir about running sub-4. I do not remember the flea story from it. Google books doesn't return any hits in that book for the word "flea"

Wikipedia says:

The claim that a 4-minute mile was once thought to be impossible by informed observers was and is a widely propagated myth created by sportswriters and debunked by Bannister himself in his memoir, The Four Minute Mile (1955). The reason the myth took hold was that four minutes was a nice round number which was slightly better (1.4 seconds) than the world record for nine years, longer than it probably otherwise would have been because of the effect of World War II in interrupting athletic progress in the combatant countries. The Swedish runners Gunder Hägg and Arne Andersson, in a series of head-to-head races in the period 1942-45, had already lowered the world mile record by 5 seconds to the pre-Bannister record. (See Mile run world record progression.) What is still impressive to knowledgeable track fans is that Bannister ran a four-minute mile on very low-mileage training by modern standards.

The stuff about centuries of buildup and ancient Greece is absurd. In ancient Greece they did not use the mile to measure, and measurements and timekeeping were not accurate enough for this anyway. Wikipedia lists mile records only back to 1855.

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on Announcing the Quantified Health Prize · 2011-12-02T11:57:35.372Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The contest asks for "A recommendation list that tells people what they should do based on their situation, without any additional information or explanation. Keep it as short as possible, but no shorter."

Are there limits on the sorts of recommendations that are considered acceptable? For example, could one recommend no mineral supplementation? Alternatively, instead of recommending mineral quantities, could the paper recommend a procedure of personal experimentation saying, "take mineral A and monitor the results with process A', then adjust according to criteria A*, then take mineral B and monitor the results using criteria B'..."

Comment by mark_eichenlaub on 2011 Less Wrong Census / Survey · 2011-11-04T09:12:06.338Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW


Comment by mark_eichenlaub on 2011 Less Wrong Census / Survey · 2011-11-02T05:52:47.490Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

GRE quantitative scores are not useful for high-IQ estimates because 6% of people get perfect scores.

A perfect GRE verbal score is roughly the 99.8th percentile, as can be inferred from the charts in this pdf: It shows that the percent of people with a perfect scores varies between less than 0.1% and 1.5%, depending on field, but it is usually 0.1% or 0.2%. (The 1.5% field was philosophy.) Because many non-native English speakers take the test, it's likely that one ought to adjust that percentile a bit lower.

That's among people applying to grad school, which is a higher-IQ group than the general population, but not by so much that 99.8th percentile among grad school applicants correlates to the 99.996th percentile among the general population, as that site ( claims. That would be impossible assuming more than one in fifty people in the applies to grad school.

If we attribute a perfect GRE score to the 99.8th percentile, then looking up that percentile on the chart on the same page, we get an IQ score >142 for 1600 on the GRE.