A Democratic Currency 2021-01-19T05:32:07.612Z
No, Newspeak Won’t Make You Stupid 2020-12-18T00:56:02.654Z
Ideal Chess - drop chess perfected 2020-12-17T20:03:19.329Z
What AI companies would be most likely to have a positive long-term impact on the world as a result of investing in them? 2020-09-21T23:41:24.281Z
If there were an interactive software teaching Yudkowskian rationality, what concepts would you want to see it teach? 2020-09-02T05:37:08.758Z
Inoculating against Psychedelic Woo 2020-08-21T05:54:57.784Z
MikkW's Shortform 2020-08-10T20:39:29.510Z
Calibrate words, not just probabilities 2020-07-18T05:56:11.120Z


Comment by mikkel-wilson on Yoda Timers 2 · 2021-01-19T05:40:13.452Z · LW · GW

Based on this, I decided to see how fast I could write. I set 5 minute timers, with the initial goal of writing 400 words in each 5 minute block. I got closer to 200 words in 5 minutes, but with four 5-minute timers, I wrote a 900-word post in half an hour

Comment by mikkel-wilson on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-01-18T04:12:25.595Z · LW · GW

What happens if we assume that a comfortable life and reproduction are inviolable priviledges, and imagine a world where these are (by the magic of positing) guaranteed never to be violated for any human? This suggests that the number of humans would increase exponentially, without end, until eventually some point is hit where the energy and resources available in the universe, available at the reach of mankind, is less than the resources needed to provide a comfortable life to every person. Therefore, there can exist no world where both reproduction and a comfortable life are guaranteed for all individuals, unless we happen to live in a world where there is infinite energy (negentropy) and resources.


The explanation might not be perfect, and the important implications that I believe follow may not be clear from this, but this is a principle that I often find myself meditating upon.

(This was originally written as a response to the daily challenge for day 12 of Hammertime)

Comment by mikkel-wilson on Yoda Timers 2 · 2021-01-18T04:08:41.418Z · LW · GW

One important idea that I have not yet had time to share widely, explained in five minutes:

What happens if we assume that a comfortable life and reproduction are inviolable priviledges, and imagine a world where these are (by the magic of positing) guaranteed never to be violated for any human? This suggests that the number of humans would increase exponentially, without end, until eventually some point is hit where the energy and resources available in the universe, available at the reach of mankind, is less than the resources needed to provide a comfortable life to every person. Therefore, there can exist no world where both reproduction and a comfortable life are guaranteed for all individuals, unless we happen to live in a world where there is infinite energy (negentropy) and resources.


The explanation might not be perfect, and the important implications that I believe follow may not be clear from this, but this is a principle that I often find myself meditating upon.

Comment by mikkel-wilson on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-01-14T00:27:39.922Z · LW · GW

Sorry, I don't think I suceeded at speaking with clarity there. The way you use LW is perfectly fine and good.

My view of LW is that it's a site dedicated to rationality, both epistemic and instrumental. Instrumental rationality is, as Eliezer likes to call it, "the art of winning". The art of winning often calls for collective action to achieve the best outcomes, so if collective action never comes about, then that would indicate a failure of instrumental rationality, and thereby a failure of the purpose of LW.

LW hasn't failed. While I have observed some failures of the collective userbase to properly engage in collective action to the fullest extent, I find it does often succeed in creating collective action, often thanks to the deliberate efforts of the LW team.

Comment by mikkel-wilson on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-01-13T23:32:20.106Z · LW · GW

I acknowledge that I don't know how the effort needed to found a livable settlement compares to the effort needed to move people from the US to a Covid-good country. If I knew how many person-hours each of these would take, it would be easier for me to know whether or not my idea doesn't make sense.

Comment by mikkel-wilson on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-01-13T22:55:41.265Z · LW · GW

On an individual basis, I definitely agree. Acting alone, it would be easier for me to personally move to NZ or SK than to found a new city. However, from a collective perspective (and if the LW community isn't able to cordinate collective action, then it has failed), if a group of 50 - 1000 people all wanted to live in a place with sane precautions, and were willing to put in effort, creating a new town in the states will scale better (moving countries has effort scaling linearly with magnitude of population flux, while founding a town scales less than linearly)

Comment by mikkel-wilson on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-01-13T17:36:32.881Z · LW · GW

Are there any areas in the states doing this? I would go to NZ or South Korea, but getting there is a hassle compared to going somewhere in the states. Regarding size, it's not about self-sufficiency, but rather being able to interact in a normal way with other people around me without worrying about the virus, so the more people involved the better

Comment by mikkel-wilson on mike_hawke's Shortform · 2021-01-13T08:46:07.369Z · LW · GW

I will note that I'm surprised that this currently stands at negative karma (-1)

Comment by mikkel-wilson on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-01-13T08:39:55.575Z · LW · GW

It seems to me that months ago, we should have been founding small villages or towns that enforce contact tracing and required quarantines, both for contacts of people who are known to have been exposed, and for people coming in from outside the bubble. I don't think this is possible in all states, but I'd be surprised if there was no state where this is possible.

Comment by mikkel-wilson on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-01-12T23:33:12.143Z · LW · GW

With vaccines on the horizon, it seems likely that we are nearing the end of lockdowns and the pandemic, but there is talk of worry that it's possible a mutant strain might resist the vaccine, which could put off the end of the pandemic for a while longer.

It seems to me that numerous nations have had a much better response to the pandemic than any state in the US, and have been able to maintain a much better quality of life during the pandemic than the states, including New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea. For someone with the flexibility, moving to one of these countries would have seemed like a smart move when it seemed there was still a long time left in the pandemic; and would still seem like a good idea if one feels that the pandemic will not be over soon enough.

While every US state has as a whole failed to reign in the virus, I suspect that it may be possible and worthwhile to establish a town or village in some state - perhaps not CA or NY, or whichever state you would most want to live in, but in some state - where everybody consents to measures similar to those taken in nations that have gotten a grasp of the virus, and to take advantage of a relative freedom from the virus to live a better life. This may be, if taken up by a collective, be a cheaper and more convenient (in some ways) alternative to moving to a country on the other side of the world.

Comment by mikkel-wilson on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-01-10T03:29:37.079Z · LW · GW

I think capitalism staddles the line between these two modes: an inventor or well-function firm will optimize by making modifications that they actually understand, but the way the market optimizes products is how Scott and Abram describe it: you get a lot of stuff that you don't attempt to understand deeply, and choose whichever one looks best. While I am generally a fan of capitalism, there are examples of "adversarial subsystems" that have been spun up as a result of markets - the slave trade and urban pollution (e.g. smog) come to mind.

Comment by mikkel-wilson on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-01-10T03:24:28.963Z · LW · GW

In "Emedded Agency", Scott and Abram write:

In theory, I don't understand how to do optimization at all - other than methods that look like finding a bunch of stuff that I don't understand, and seeing if it accomplishes my goal. But this is exactly the kind of thing that's most prone to spinning up adversarial subsystems.

One form of optimization that comes to mind that is importantly different, is to carefully consider a prototypical system, think about how the parts interplay, and identify how the system can be improved, and create a new prototype that one can expect to be better. While practical application of this type of optimization will still often involve producing and testing multiple prototypes, it differs from back-propogation or stochastic hill-climbing because the new system will be better than the prototype it is based on due to reasons that the optimizing agent actually understands.

Comment by mikkel-wilson on MikkW's Shortform · 2021-01-08T21:46:20.172Z · LW · GW

Life needs energy to survive, and life needs energy to reproduce. This isn't just true of biological life made of cells and proteins, but also of more vaguely life-like things - cities need energy to survive, nations need energy to survive and reproduce, even memes rely on the energy used by the brains they live in to survive and spread.

Energy can take different forms - as glucose, starches, and lipids, as light, as the difference in potential energy between four hydrogen atoms and the helium atom they could (under high temperatures and pressures) become, as the gravitational potential of water held behind a dam or of a heavy object waiting to fall, or as the gradient of heat that exists between a warm plume of water and the surrounding cold ocean, just to name a few forms. But anything that wants claim to the title of being alive, must find energy.

If a lifeform cannot find energy, it will cease to create new copies of itself. Those things which are abundant in our world, are things that successfully found a source of energy with which to be created (cars and chairs might be raised as an exception, but they too indeed were created with energy, and either a prototypical idea, or the image of another car or chair in someone's mind, needed to find energy in order to create that object).

The studies of biology and economics and not so far separated as they might seem - at the core of both fields in the question: "Can this phenomenon (organization, person, firm) find enough energy to survive and inspire more things like it?". This question also drives the history of the world. If the answer is no, that phenomenon will die, and you will not notice it. Or, you might notice the death throes of a failed phenomenon, but only because something else, which did find energy, enabled that failed phenomenon to happen. Look around you. All the flowers you see, the squirrels, the humans, the buildings, the soda cans, the roadways, the grass, the birds. All of these phenomena somehow found energy with which to be created. If they didn't, you wouldn't be looking at them, they would never exist.

The ultimate form of life is the life that best gathers energy. The Cambrian explosion happened because first plants discovered they could turn light into usable food, then animals discovered they could use a toxic waste by-product of that photosynthesis - oxygen - as a (partial) source of energy. Look around you.  Where is there free energy laying around, unused? How could that energy be captured? Remember, the nation that can harness that energy will be the nation that influences the world. The man who takes hold of that energy can become the wealthiest man in the world. 

Comment by mikkel-wilson on Bug Hunt 2 · 2021-01-06T22:28:12.174Z · LW · GW

Finally coming around to this one, I found that I was a bit disappointed in myself that I wasn't able to generate as many leads as I did last Bug Hunt.

While I'm maybe not perfect at keeping my identity small, when I was visiting the identity, I found that I've already been pushing on the problematic areas, to the extent that I didn't find anything interesting while examining where my identity may be too big. Following the heuristic of Inverting Advice, maybe I could invert this and ask where I might have too small of an identity? Or perhaps it can be worthwhile for me to just try to write out everywhere where I know I have identified too big of an identity in the past.

Regarding Pica, I suspect that there may be something to it, but if there is, most of it is flying under my radar. I was able to identify soda, video games, and walking as activities that may have pica-like motivations; I find that I most crave soda when I haven't been eating enough (I always enjoy soda, but perhaps I've been drinking it more than I normally would lately due to suboptimal food intake), video games I generally have a positive relationship with, but I find myself wondering if some of my motivation lately to play videogames has something to do with me not doing practical things that my mind is built to want to do. I also suspect that walking may have provided some benefits in the ancestral environment that I'm not getting from walks in the modern environment; walking used to be a mode of transport, a way of exploring one's locale, and something that could lead to discovering new resources; of course, none of these happen on my walks (aside from meeting people, but lately even that hasn't been very helpful). Maybe there is some deeper purpose my mind hopes to achieve when it tells me to go for a walk? But then, I'm not sure this is true. Maybe I just go for walks because it's good for the mind and body, when I'd otherwise be inside all day. It's a thread to pull on.

Regarding Ambition, I think that I'm already quite good at pulling things in the direction of setting crazily ambitious goals - to the extent that I've lately grown somewhat jaded at overly ambitious goals, and now I just groan when I consider a goal that doesn't seem realistic; instead of the wild excitement that Xiaoyu's heart felt when he kept doubling the intensity of his ambition, the groaning in my head just grew louder and louder as I raised the stakes. I instead decided to invert this advice, and try to make realistic goals out of the wildly ambitious goals my brain gives me, but halving the stakes until I felt confident in my ability to achieve them. I turned the goal of increasing by 1 kyu in Go every week to the goal of increasing by at least 1 kyu every month. I turned earning $1,000 every month to simply earning at least $10 every month. Another low-ball goal I generated was to just photograph a person; I'll let your imagination figure out what the original goal was.

For the daily challenge, I'll lean right into it. My most subjectively immodest ambition is to govern a city-state on the Moon with at least 250,000 inhabitants, all of whom are people who are selected according to criteria I set. Actually, I can do better than that. If I want to be as subjectively immodest as possible, I want to govern the entire Moon, with a population of at least a billion people. That's plenty immodest, and makes my heart throb with joy.

Comment by mikkel-wilson on Raemon's Shortform · 2020-12-29T01:17:28.934Z · LW · GW

Maybe post it first as a single post, then break it up into a sequence later?

Comment by mikkel-wilson on MikkW's Shortform · 2020-12-24T21:14:26.641Z · LW · GW

I recently wrote about combining Grand Chess with Drop Chess, to make what I felt could become my favorite version of chess. Today, I just read this article, which argues that the queen's unique status as a 'power piece' in Orthodox Chess - a piece that is stronger than any other piece on the board - is part of what makes Orthodox so iconic in the west, and that other major chesslikes similarly have a unique power piece (or pair of power pieces). According to this theory, Grand Chess's trifecta of power pieces may give it less staying power than Orthodox Chess. I'm not convinced, since Shogi has 2 power pieces, which is only 1 less than Grand Chess, and twice as many as Orthodox, but it is food for thought.

My first reaction was to add an Amazon (bishop + rook + knight in one piece) as a power piece, but it's not clear to me that there's an elegant way of adding it (although an 11x11 board might just be the obvious solution), and it has already been pointed out that my 'Ideal Chess' already has a large amount of piece power, and the ability to create a sufficiently buffed King has already been called into question, before an Amazon is added, so I'm somewhat dubious of that naïve approach.

Comment by mikkel-wilson on mike_hawke's Shortform · 2020-12-21T08:31:32.598Z · LW · GW

Double cruxes aren't supposed to be something you win or lose, as I understand it - a double crux is a collaborative effort to help both parties arrive at a better understanding of the truth. It's problematic when admitting that you're wrong, and changing your mind is called "losing"

Comment by mikkel-wilson on Ideal Chess - drop chess perfected · 2020-12-21T06:09:57.039Z · LW · GW

I have downvoted a few, but certainly not all of the comments you made in response to me here and on my other recent post. On the other thread, I have downvoted comments that I both disagreed with, and felt were either too harsh or failed to understand what I was saying, without attempting to resolve potential miscommunications.

In the case of this particular comment, your comment was showing up at the top of the comments (due to your seniority on this site), but I felt that it wasn't the comment that presented the most useful information, so I weak-downvoted it to allow other comments to gain more visibility. I don't have any problem with the comment itself. Now that I say it, I'm not sure that I endorse that approach (not sure that I don't, either, but I'll reflect on this more tonight), but I definitely do apologize for any chilling effect that may have had, I feel bad that my approach has made you feel reluctant to engage in open conversation.

I will also note that there are several comments disagreeing with me on this post and the other one that I haven't downvoted - there are only 4 other comments (aside from you) that I have downvoted between these two posts, 2 of which were unhelpful and had questionable tones, and have received downvotes from people other than me, and currently stand at negative karma. The other two posts I weak-downvoted for the same reason as this one - they appeared at the top of the comments by default, due to the user's seniority giving their comments 2 karma by default, but which were not the most interesting comments.

Comment by mikkel-wilson on Ideal Chess - drop chess perfected · 2020-12-21T00:12:00.996Z · LW · GW

I don't really feel like the Champion and Wizard are "missing pieces" the same way the Cardinal and Marshal are. There are a practically infinite number of pieces that could possibly exist, so I'd expect most possible pieces are not included in the game (Betza's Chess with Different Armies is a nice exploration of this). Omega chess doesn't even feel particularly complete- where are the pieces that can move exactly 1 square orthogonally or diagonally? If a champion is to rook as the wizard is to bishop, what is the knight to? I feel the correct completion of that is the knightrider, but there is no knightrider in the game. And we still have this weird gap where we have rook + bishop = queen, but rook + knight and bishop + knight are missing.

While I expect that most possible pieces will be missing from any variant, I happen to agree with Capablanca and Freeling that the lack of marshal and cardinal in orthodox feels weird. In orthodox, the queen is a strange wildcard that is unlike any other piece, whereas in grand chess the queen, cardinal, and marshal make a nice set, naturally extending the knights, bishops, and rooks.

Beyond any considerations of completeness, I also just feel more excited about the Cardinal and Marshal than most other variant pieces. They feel like fireworks to me, and I'd prefer a game with them over a game with a few new weaker pieces

Comment by mikkel-wilson on Ideal Chess - drop chess perfected · 2020-12-20T07:39:49.103Z · LW · GW

It doesn't seem right to me to give the king a long-range move. To end the game, the king needs every single one of its liberties to be blocked off, and the shape the liberties makes affects how enjoyable it can be to try and pin down a king - the shape of the orthodox king's liberties is very pleasant to navigate (both as an attacker and defender), and I worry that buffing the king can end up with its liberties having a shape that isn't fun to play with. If the king has too many liberties, then pinning it down can be like trying to hold water; it's way too slippery.

The difficulty of checkmating a king increases exponentially as liberties increases - a naïve model: if any given square has probability p of being attacked by the opposing team or blocked, then there is a p^L probability of a king with L liberties being checkmated. Of course, this model isn't realistic, but the pattern holds, so even just a few extra moves can go a long way for buffing the king.

Comment by mikkel-wilson on Ideal Chess - drop chess perfected · 2020-12-20T07:28:04.954Z · LW · GW

Aside from changing stalemates, I don't see how this changes anything. Checkmate is isomorphic to capturing the king, as long as no blunders are made

Comment by mikkel-wilson on Ideal Chess - drop chess perfected · 2020-12-20T06:30:41.488Z · LW · GW

There's some conversation about this post over on the comments on Hacker News, so if you want to hear more, check that out.

Comment by mikkel-wilson on Ideal Chess - drop chess perfected · 2020-12-20T05:19:47.051Z · LW · GW

I mean, Capablanca was World Champion. Same thing with Bobby Fischer and Fischer960 chess

Comment by mikkel-wilson on No, Newspeak Won’t Make You Stupid · 2020-12-19T17:58:16.361Z · LW · GW

Spaced Repetition, where a piece of information is presented multiple times, with exponentially increasing gaps between each repitition, works well to increase how much of the information we engage with actually sticks. Active Recall, where you are asked a question and have to remember the answer, also makes a big difference in how effectively you learn.

I don't know how these principles can be applied to languages specifically, but building a habit of using these (via Anki) is probably the most effective thing we can do to increase the amount of information our brains engage with. I make a habit of studying Anki for 1/2 an hour every day, covering things like mathematics, language, physics, poetry, astronomy, even Chess and Go strategy. Since your question is about how we can increase interpersonal communication, I suspect building a culture of making and sharing high-quality Anki decks can streamline the transfer of information.

While I do posit that our brains naturally feel comfortable engaging with a fixed cadence of information regardless of the richness of our vocabulary, I'm not convinced that our natural pace pushes our brains to our maximum processing capacity- if you listen to a podcast at a faster speed than it was recorded, it does seems that you can take in more information. However, my personal experience shows that if I talk faster than a natural pace, people tend to get confused and frustrated with me, and tell me to slow down. Perhaps the situation is simply that normal people process information optimally at our regular speaking pace, but smart people can process information at a higher speed, so can benefit from a faster speed of communication. Of course, we can reap the benefits of this simply by increasing the speed at which we listen to things, we don't need richer vocabularies to invoke this effect

Comment by mikkel-wilson on Ideal Chess - drop chess perfected · 2020-12-19T17:38:53.519Z · LW · GW

If you're curious to read about abstact game design, I recommend reading Christian Freeling's How I Invented Games and Why Not and perusing Nick Bentley's blog

Comment by mikkel-wilson on Ideal Chess - drop chess perfected · 2020-12-19T06:39:19.574Z · LW · GW

I'm not familiar with Poker, so I wouldn't have much to say there.

The way I see it, there isn't really such a thing as a Go variant, the same way there are Chess variants - there is an entire genre of Abstract Strategy Games (which chess also belongs to), of which placement games are a subset. Some notable placement games include Hex, Havannah, Six-in-a-row, Catchup, Blooms, and probably some good ones I'm forgetting right now. I suppose that among placement games, there are some that extend Go's rules directly: Sygo, Gonnect, Two-stone Go, Omino Go; but the same way I view chess as belonging to the chess variants category, I view Go as representing placement games, rather than Go variants.

I may on a whim write a post about abstract strategy games, but if I get around to that, I also want to write a more proper introduction to chess variants; as I mention in the main post, the list here is quite incomplete and conservative, serving merely to provide background to my own ideas that I discussed

Comment by mikkel-wilson on No, Newspeak Won’t Make You Stupid · 2020-12-19T03:34:19.189Z · LW · GW

I am never impressed by "I am not convinced that X is practically useful, therefore X must really be all about signalling"

I don't mean to claim it is 100% necessarily about signaling, however I do mean to claim that A) there's a solid argument to believe that signaling plays a role, and B) that the "naïve obvious" answer has very little to do with it. (Regardless of whether you are convinced, this is the main claim of the post, and I stand by this claim) There could very well be other reasons that I haven't considered which make a large vocabulary useful that don't have to do with signaling, I don't know.

I am aware that I haven't proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that my claims are true, but I have given both a theoretical justification and actual examples that illustrate something that is interesting (according to me) and counterintuitive, which is more than enough to justify making a post here.

Comment by mikkel-wilson on No, Newspeak Won’t Make You Stupid · 2020-12-19T03:26:28.469Z · LW · GW

Storing things in memory isn't a one-off cost, since you need to keep it there, which takes up space, and I believe a non-zero amount of maintenance in the context of the human brain

Comment by mikkel-wilson on No, Newspeak Won’t Make You Stupid · 2020-12-19T03:19:51.778Z · LW · GW

Not really

Comment by mikkel-wilson on No, Newspeak Won’t Make You Stupid · 2020-12-19T00:05:14.578Z · LW · GW

Sure people can coin their own terms, without there being a standard term there is a greater chance of these being misunderstood.

As the language is used, standard terms will arise naturally

Comment by mikkel-wilson on No, Newspeak Won’t Make You Stupid · 2020-12-18T20:44:23.781Z · LW · GW

Objection 2: you compare exactly one pair of languages, Mandarin and Hawaiian; as it happens, my guess is that in broad terms the same pattern holds quite generally, but you really need more evidence. Objection 3: the difference you look at between these languages is in phonology, not in vocabulary; it's not obvious that the same goes for both.

This example was an intuition pump, to help identify the basic principle at play, not meant as a knockdown proof. But it’s no accident that the first two languages I thought of (which I chose as extremes of the richness vs speed spectrum) illustrate the point I made. If you do the same calculation for Spanish, Japanese, German, or any other language, we should expect to find the same pattern, that the bits per second comes out to the same cadence.

Objection 4: in your comparison, the "richer" language is still faster.

No. If you look again at the calculation of my rough estimate, you will notice that I didn’t use the actual speaking speed of Hawaiian, since I couldn’t find a good number for it, and instead plugged in the cadence of Japanese, which is slightly slower than Hawaiian, so the number I provide is an underestimate of the actual information speed of Hawaiian. Furthermore, even if the number wasn’t an underestimate, it’s not clear to me that the difference between 64.2 bits / second and 59.6 bits / second is statistically significant. (I don’t know the error bars, since my source was a secondary source and didn’t identify the paper where they got their numbers from)

Objection 5: you consider only spoken language; there might be similar effects for writing and typing, but it's not clear that they're the same.

I don’t see any reason to assume they’d be different, unless you know of a reason to think they won’t be. My theoretical justification (which I’m aware you aren’t yet sold on, but which generated the test of Hawaiian vs Mandarin that matched the prediction it made) holds just as well for written language as speech

Objection 6: the comparison you offer as evidence is between average data rates, but the likely effect of losing bits of vocabulary is to make particular things harder to express; if communicating simple things becomes faster and communicating complex things becomes slower, this may not show up in such comparisons but could be a big deal. 

This doesn’t seem correct to me. For example in Sona ‘momentum’ would be ‘ganru’: “matter” + “movement”, and ‘derivative’ would be ‘nuakiagu’: “change” + “speed” + “trend”, literally “rate of change”. In this case, ‘ganru’ is even shorter than the word it replaces, and ‘nuakiagu’ takes me about as long to say ‘derivative’ when I pronounce them in paces I find natural for each language, maybe even a little less.

In natural languages, simple words tend to be said quite quickly, while more complex words take more time to say - in general because they’re longer, or have more complex sequences of sound, while simple, common words tend to be shorter and easier to say. Similar effects should happen in a polysynthetic language (such as Sona)


If you don't have a word for "momentum", that doesn't stop you talking about momentum, but it makes it clumsier, and it makes higher-level thinking about related topics much clumsier.

Dancers have their own word for momentum: body-flight. ‘body-flight’ serves just as well to enable higher-level thinking about related topics, since once you have gotten familiar with the phrase, the brain treats it as one word, not as “body” + “flight”, except in addition to being able to serve all the same purposes ‘momentum’ serves, its meaning can also be easily inferred by someone who has never heard the word before. If you want to talk about angular momentum, you could just as easily say “angular bodyflight” in a world where physicists used the word ‘bodyflight’.

If I had to say "mass times velocity" and "change per unit time at infinitely small scales" instead of "momentum" and "derivative"

Of course you don’t want to use a definition as the handle you use for a word! But the thing is, you don’t have to do that (as illustrated above by ‘bodyflight’ and ‘momentum’).

I do not agree that the "obvious naive explanation" explains nothing, and so far as I can see you've offered no argument to support that criticism;

What? My previous comment was exactly an argument to show that.

What extra effort do I put in when I say "momentum" instead of some circumlocution?

You first had to learn the word ‘momentum’, and second, you had to store this sound and its meaning in the brain. To our concious selves, this doesn’t feel like work, but from a biological perspective, our brains have to do a lot of work to make that happen. In contrast, with ‘bodyflight’, you still have to be exposed to that fixed term before you can use it, but you can get a gist for what it means even if you have never heard it before; and your brain has to store less information to be able to go from the concept of bodyflight to the word ‘bodyflight’, because instead of storing an entire sequence of sounds, it can just point to words that it has already stored.

I haven't yet read Hanson&Simler, but I have read a fair bit of other Hanson and I am aware that, crudely caricatured, he claims that everything is signalling.

The first part of the book delves into why the brain does stuff (especially, but not exclusively, signalling) subconciously. I will also like to note that as far as the two authors go, I personally hold more esteem for Kevin Simler (who writes at Melting Asphalt) than Robin Hanson, I feel that Kevin’s biological explanations of many human phenomena delve into very interesting dynamics that have changed how I think about the species homo sapiens. I particularly like his blogpost Music in Human Evolution, written 5 years before The Elephant In The Brain was published, as a showcase for the kind of thinking Kevin does.

Comment by mikkel-wilson on Ideal Chess - drop chess perfected · 2020-12-18T06:06:10.602Z · LW · GW
  1. This feels like it would be too much of a hack; while the ruleset I propose here is not maximally elegant, I do feel that it's a fairly natural solution to the problems that it solves, while this would enlarge the rules without being strictly neccesary

  2. I worry that the pole will get in the way of the king. Many checkmates I have seen, both in orthodox and crazyhouse, were due to the king's own pieces being unfortuitously placed on squares that the king would otherwise have been able to run away to. While most of the iconic smother-mates that I can think of were in orthodox since I play mostly orthodox, they are even more common in crazyhouse. I worry that the pole will smother the king just as often as it comes in handy to protect it

Comment by mikkel-wilson on No, Newspeak Won’t Make You Stupid · 2020-12-18T05:57:16.859Z · LW · GW

A perfectly sufficient explanation for a lot of use of sophisticated words, it seems to me, is the obvious naive one. Sometimes a fancier word expresses a useful idea clearly and concisely, and the alternative would be circumlocution

The entire point I was trying to make with this post is that the "obvious naïve" explanation isn't perfectly sufficient. Yes, a more sophisticated word can communicate more bits, more information than a more common word. But since the cadence of information is constant, which is a direct consequence of the fact that the computer that is the human brain is capable of processing up to X bits of speech per second [1], but no more, when you increase the number of bits per word, you must compensate by speaking more slowly- you are right that nobody conciously asks "do I want to say many low-information words quickly, or a few high-information words slowly", but our brains will instinctively make this tradeoff, as I illustrated with Hawaiian and Mandarin in the post. If you look only at conscious processes, you will miss many, many of the most interesting things we homo sapiens do.

Once we realize that you can't actually communicate more information by using more nuanced words, the "obvious naïve" explanation doesn't actually explain anything at all- it just posits that you will put in extra effort to acheive the exact same results, which never happens in biology.

If you haven't read Simler and Hanson's The Elephant in the Brain, I would recommend reading it, it makes you think in a completely new way about how human cognition works.

[1] Based on my rough calculation in the first footnote of this post, X is roughly 60 bits / second. More important than the exact value is that there does exist some X.

Comment by mikkel-wilson on No, Newspeak Won’t Make You Stupid · 2020-12-18T05:23:13.788Z · LW · GW

If you want an exclusive technocratic bureaucracy

Uhh... what?

We have gotten by just fine not having a global monoculture before, so I see no reason to assume that we'll all go on a killing spree now.

Have you never studied history? You don't even have to go back an entire century for a good example of what homo sapiens is capable of, and if you look just at the past millennium, I see plenty of reason to worry about what you call "killing sprees"

Comment by mikkel-wilson on No, Newspeak Won’t Make You Stupid · 2020-12-18T05:15:45.798Z · LW · GW

I've heard of if before, but that was many years ago, so I'm happy to be reminded of it

Update: After having looked at it for a bit, I'm struck by how ambiguous Toki Pona is. So far, it feels very different from Sona, which uses its slightly larger set of radicals to form compound words that can cover basically any word we have in English. Running with Simplified English would probably end up with something closer to Sona than Toki Pona (or what my experience with it so far suggests)

Comment by mikkel-wilson on No, Newspeak Won’t Make You Stupid · 2020-12-18T02:30:58.849Z · LW · GW

And sometimes a fancier word has a sound that's better for your purposes for some reason

In non-poetry uses, I think you'd be hard-pressed to identify a word sounding good over alternatives that doesn't have to do with subconcious signaling. Sure, I sometimes smile when I listen to lyrical alliteration, but don't you smile since it signals smarts and sophistication? And OJ's lawyers put a rhyme to a use most sublime when they said "If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit", but surely it's a good sign when a potential ally can make their sounds align.

Of course some poets sometimes may be signalling sophistication too.

Since when has poetry (or most art for that matter) been anything but signaling?

Comment by mikkel-wilson on MikkW's Shortform · 2020-12-18T00:59:53.728Z · LW · GW

I have now made this into a top-level post

Comment by mikkel-wilson on No, Newspeak Won’t Make You Stupid · 2020-12-18T00:58:18.652Z · LW · GW

This post is based upon a post I wrote 4 months ago on my shortform. I've been planning on polishing it up a little and posting it as a top-level post for some time now, so I'm happy to finally have it ready!

Comment by mikkel-wilson on Ideal Chess - drop chess perfected · 2020-12-17T20:04:22.480Z · LW · GW

This was originally posted on my shortform, and reposted as a top-level post on the recommendation of Raemon

Comment by mikkel-wilson on MikkW's Shortform · 2020-12-17T19:22:51.905Z · LW · GW

Thanks for the link 👍

Comment by mikkel-wilson on MikkW's Shortform · 2020-12-17T18:23:45.965Z · LW · GW

Thinking about rationalist-adjacent poetry. I plan on making a post about this once I have a decent collection to seed discussion, then invite others to share what they have.

  • Tennyson's poems Ulysses and Locksley Hall both touch on rationalist-adjacent themes, among other themes, so I'd want to share excerpts from those
  • Piet Hein has some 'gruks' that would be worth including (although I am primarily familiar with them in the original Danish - I know there exist English translations of most of them, but I'll have to choose carefully, and the translations don't always capture the exact feeling of the original)
  • I have shared two works of my own here on my shortform that I'd want to include
  • Shakespeare's "When I do count the clock that tells the time" is a love poem, but it invokes transhumanist feelings in me
Comment by mikkel-wilson on MikkW's Shortform · 2020-12-17T16:22:11.294Z · LW · GW

I'm curious to hear more about why you are recommending putting it as a top level personal post- is it length, format, quality, a combination of these, or something else?

I notice that I have some reluctance to post "personal blog" items on the top level- even though I know that the affordance is there, I instinctively only want to post things that I feel belong as frontpage items as top-level posts. I also notice that I feel a little weird when I see other people's personal posts as top-level posts here. I'm certainly not arguing that I have any problem with the way things are now, or arguing that this shouldn't be a top-level post, I'm just putting my subconscious feelings into words.

As for how this post ended up in shortform, I originally started typing it into the shortform box, and I didn't realize it would be this long until after I had already written a good chunk of it, and I just never decided to change it to a top-level post

Comment by mikkel-wilson on MikkW's Shortform · 2020-12-17T02:42:13.918Z · LW · GW

Ideal Chess

Chess is fairly well known, but there's also an entire world of chess variants, games that take the core ideas of chess and change either a few details or completely reimagine the game, either to improve the game, or just change the flavour of the game. There's even an entire website dedicated to documenting different variants of chess.

Today I want to tell you about some classic chess variants: Crazyhouse chess, Grand chess, and Shogi (Japanese chess), and posit a combination of the first two that I suspect may become my favorite chess when I have a chance to try it.


Shogi is the version of chess that is native to Japan, and it is wildly different from western chess - both western chess and shogi have evolved continuously from the original chaturanga as the game spread out from India. The core difference between shogi and the familiar western chess is that once a piece has been captured, the capturing player may later place the piece back on the board as his own piece. But if that was the only difference, it would make for a very crazy game, since the pieces in western chess are so powerful while the king is so weak, that the game would be filled with precarious situations that would require the players to always have their guard up for an unexpected piece drop, and checkmate is never more than a few moves away unless both players are paying close attention.

In fact, this version is precisely crazyhouse chess, and this property is both what makes crazyhouse chess so beloved and fun, but also what stands in its way of being taken as seriously as orthodox chess. There are two ways that this barrier could be overcome - either the king can be buffed, giving him more mobility to better dodge the insanity that the drops create, or the pieces can be nerfed, making them much less powerful, and particularly to have less influence at a long range. Shogi chooses the route of nerfing the pieces, replacing the long-ranged and very influential pieces used in orthodox chess with a set of pieces that have much more limited mobility, such as the lance, which moves like a rook, but can only move straight forward (thereby limiting its position to a single track), the uma (horse), which moves like a knight, but can only move in the two forwards most positions, or the gold and silver generals, who can only move in a subset of the directions that a king can move in. Since each piece isn't much stronger than a king, it is much easier for the king to dodge the threats produced by each piece, and a king can only be checkmated when the pieces are acting in coordination to create a trap for the king. (This is the basis of tsume-shogi, checkmate puzzles for shogi. They are fun to solve, and I recommend trying them out to get a feel for how different checkmates in shogi are from orthodox chess checkmates)

I think shogi and crazyhouse solve a problem that I have with modern orthodox chess: the game ends in draws far too often, and the endgame is just too sparse for my taste. You can get good puzzles out of orthodox endgames, but I find the endgames of shogi and crazyhouse to be much more fun and much more exciting.

I a.  (An aside)

While I'm on the topic of shogi and crazyhouse, shogi pieces look quite different from the pieces used in orthodox chess:

I quite like the look of these pieces, and it provides a solution to a practical problem that arises from the piece drop mechanic: With orthodox chess pieces, one would need two sets of chess pieces, a double-sized army for each player, since each player may have up to twice the regular amount of each type of piece after they capture the enemy’s pieces. With these flat, wedge shaped pieces, though, a player can just make the piece face in the opposite direction towards their opponent, and a single set of pieces is enough to play the game. While I think this solution works, and these pieces are quite iconic for shogi, it just doesn’t feel right to play crazyhouse chess with pieces like this: crazyhouse chess is orthodox chess at its core, and it feels right to play crazyhouse with orthodox chess pieces. My ideal solution would be pieces that are as tall as orthodox chess pieces, and have a similar design language, but which are anti-symmetric: the pieces would have flat tops and bottoms, and can be flipped upside down to change the colour of the piece, since one end would be white, and the other end would be black. I imagine the two colours would meet in the middle, with a diagonal slant so that it would show one colour primarily to one player, and the other colour to the other.


It's been an observation made more than once, that there's a certain feeling of completeness to the orthodox chess pieces: The rook and bishop each move straight in certain directions, either perpendicularly / parallel to the line of battle, or diagonally to the line of battle. If you were to draw a 5x5 square around each piece, the knight can move to precisely the squares that a rook and bishop can't go to. And the queen can be viewed as the sum of a rook and a bishop. It all feels very interconnected, and almost perfectly complete and platonic. Almost perfectly, because there's two sums that we don't have in orthodox chess: the combination of a rook + knight, and a bishop + knight. These pieces, called the marshal and cardinal are quite fun pieces to play with, and I would not argue that chess is a better game for omitting these pieces. As such, there have been proposals to add these pieces to the game, the most well-known of which are Capablanca chess and grand chess, proposed by Chess World Champion J. R. Capablanca and the game designer Christian Freeling, respectively. The main difference between the two is that Capablanca chess is played on a board 10 wide by 8 tall, while grand chess is played on a 10x10 board, with an empty file behind each player's pieces, aside from the rooks, which are placed in the very back corners (what about castling? Simple, you can't castle in grand chess):

The additional width of the board in Capablanca and grand chess is used to allow one each of the marshal and cardinal to be placed in each player's army. Aside from the additional pieces and larger board, grand chess plays just like regular chess, but I think it deserves to be considered seriously as an alternative to the traditional rules for chess.


While an introduction to chess variants would make a good topic for a post on this website, that's not what I'm writing right now. While these three games would certainly be present in such an article, the selection would be far too limited, and far too conservative - there's some really crazy, wacky, fun, and brilliant ideas in the world of chess variants which I won't be touching on today. I'm writing today because I want to talk about what I think may be the best contender as a replacement for orthodox chess, a cross between grand chess and crazyhouse, with a slight modification to better handle the drop mechanic of crazyhouse. It's clear that Capablanca chess and grand chess were intended from the very start as rivals to the standard ruleset, and I mentioned previously that shogi solves a problem that I have with orthodox chess: orthodox ends in too many draws, and I find orthodox endgames to be less exciting than crazyhouse and shogi endgames. My ideal game of chess would look more like crazyhouse than orthodox chess, since drops just make chess more fun. As I mentioned before, while crazyhouse is a fun game, it's just too intense and unpredictable to present a serious challenge to orthodox chess (at least, that is what I suspected as I was thinking about this post). There are two ways this can be addressed: the first is to do as shogi did, and make the pieces almost all as weak as the king, so the king can more easily survive against the enemy pieces; but doing this makes the game a different game from orthodox chess; it's no longer just a variant on orthodox chess, it's a completely different flavour. A flavour that I happen to love, but not the flavour of orthodox chess. I wanted a game that would preserve the heart of orthodox chess, while giving it the dynamic aspect allowed by drops, but more balanced and sane than crazyhouse chess.

So let's explore the second way to balance crazyhouse chess: instead of nerfing the pieces, let's make the king more formidable, more nimble, and able to more easily survive the intensity of drop chess. I haven't playtested this yet, but it seems appropriate to give the king the 4 backwards moves of the knight: This will give mobility to the king, without giving it too much mobility, and limiting the king to the backwards moves will ensure that it remains a defensive piece, and doesn't gain a new life as an aggressive part of the attacking force. Playtesting may prove this to be too weak (I don't anticipate that it will make it too strong): If this is the case, a different profile of movement may make sense for the king, but in any case, it is clear that increasing the mobility of the king will allow for a balanced form of drop chess.

Ideal Chess

So my ideal chess would differ from orthodox in the following ways:

  • The game is played on a 10x10 board, instead of the traditional 8x8 board (I feel that a wider board will make for a more fun, and deeper, game of chess)
  • The game will feature the marshall (rook + knight) and cardinal (bishop + knight) of grand chess, and will have the pieces arranged in the same way as grand chess (this also implies no castling)
  • When a piece is captured, it may be dropped back in to the game by the capturing player (working exactly as in crazyhouse chess or shogi)
  • The king may, in addition to its usual move, move using one of the 4 backwards moves of the knight. Pieces may be captured using this backwards move.

Ideally, the game would be played using the tall, bichromatic, antisymmetric pieces I propose in section I a of this post.

Comment by mikkel-wilson on Machine learning could be fundamentally unexplainable · 2020-12-16T19:02:02.077Z · LW · GW

Just a heads up, the Higgs boson really doesn't have much to do with General Relativity. It does help explain why Z and W bosons have mass, but this is accomplished only within the framework of the Standard Model, and doesn't give any clues as to how the SM may be unified with GR

Comment by mikkel-wilson on [Expired] 20,000 Free $50 Charity Gift Cards · 2020-12-12T03:32:22.526Z · LW · GW

Looks like they have all been taken as of 19:30 Pacific

Comment by mikkel-wilson on MikkW's Shortform · 2020-12-09T03:21:23.152Z · LW · GW

I agree that real estate can make a person rich. But the path I see for that is only tangentially connected to luxury

Comment by mikkel-wilson on MikkW's Shortform · 2020-12-08T21:08:36.549Z · LW · GW

NB: I'm currently going through my old blog, which I'm planning on deactivating soon. I may repost some relevant posts from there over here, either to shortform or as a main post, as appropriate. This piece is one of the posts from there which touches on rationality-adjacent themes. You may see other posts from me in the coming days that also originate from there.

Comment by mikkel-wilson on MikkW's Shortform · 2020-12-08T21:05:47.886Z · LW · GW

I step out of the airlock, and I look around. In the distance, I see the sharp cliff extending around the crater, a curtain setting the scene, the Moon the stage. I look up at the giant blue marble in the sky, white clouds streaked across the oceans, brown landmasses like spots on the surface. The vibrant spectacle of the earth contrasts against the dead barren terrain that lies ahead. I look behind at the glass dome, the city I call home. 

Within those arched crystal walls is a new world, a new life for those who dared to dream beyond the heavy shackles that tied them to a verdent rock. New songs, new gardens, new joys, new heartbreaks, reaching, for the first time, to the skies, to the stars, to the wide open empty sea.

A voluminous frontier, filled with opportunity, filled with starlight, filled with the warmth and strength of the sun. We are one step further from the tyrannical grip of gravity, stretching our wings, just now preparing to take off, to soar and harness the fullness of the prosperity that gave us form

Comment by mikkel-wilson on MikkW's Shortform · 2020-12-08T21:03:04.972Z · LW · GW

An infographic I found shows that LVMH's revenues are driven by the following sections:

"Fashion and leather goods" is 38% of LVMH's revenues

"Selective retailing" is 28%

"Perfumes and cosmetics" is 13%

"Wines and Spirits" is 10%

Between these, they account for ~90% of the value of LVMH, with watches and jewelry making up most of the remaining 10%. So perhaps I should be asking: What is LVMH's fashion and retail sectors doing to make them so valuable?

I will also note, that this is the percentage of revenues, not profits. I might want to find out the proportion each of these sectors contributes to profits (to ensure I don't accidentally chase a high-revenue, low profit wild goose), and I could probably find that out by looking at LVMH's shareholder report.

Comment by mikkel-wilson on MikkW's Shortform · 2020-12-08T20:51:04.841Z · LW · GW

But that doesn't answer my question. What is LVMH doing that makes them so valuable? Wikipedia says they "specialize in luxury goods", but that takes us right back to what I say in my original post. What value is LVMH creating, beyond just "luxury"? Again, I may be wrong, but it just doesn't seem possible to become the third richest person by selling "luxury" - whether real estate, champagne, clothes, or jewelry.