Comment by nexh on Rationality Quotes November 2012 · 2012-11-02T17:29:42.631Z · LW · GW

The word "right" (without the use of modifiers such as “exactly”) might sound too weak and easily satisfiable, but I think the idea is the following: Theories that may seem complete and robust today might be found to be incomplete or wrong in the future. You cannot claim certainty in them, although you can probably claim high confidence under certain conditions.

Comment by nexh on Rationality Quotes November 2012 · 2012-11-02T17:08:13.593Z · LW · GW

Can you recommend similar novels?

Unfortunately, I can’t: this kind of (strangely refreshing) cynicism is, in my limited experience, unique to Peter Watts, and the use of interesting “starfish aliens” seems to be quite rare.

There are, however, other short stories (not novels) of Peter Watts that have a somewhat similar mood , such as Ambassador, but you probably are already aware of them.

Comment by nexh on Rationality Quotes November 2012 · 2012-11-02T08:35:11.675Z · LW · GW

Quote from Peter Watts' Blindsight.

About the prospects of a fight against a superintelligence:

Still, I could tell that Bates' presence was a comfort, to the Human members of the crew at least. If you have to go up unarmed against an angry T-rex with a four-digit IQ, it can't hurt to have a trained combat specialist at your side.

At the very least, she might be able to fashion a pointy stick from the branch of some convenient tree.

Comment by nexh on Rationality Quotes November 2012 · 2012-11-02T08:17:31.364Z · LW · GW

As we learn more and more about the solar system, the reality-check that our theories have to pass becomes more and more stringent. This is one reason why scientists have a habit of opening up old questions that everybody assumed were settled long ago, and deciding that they weren’t. It doesn’t mean the scientists are incompetent: it demonstrates their willingness to contemplate new evidence and re-examine old conclusion in its light. Science certainly does not claim to get things right, but it has a good record of ruling out ways to get things wrong.

-- The Science of Discworld, Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen

Comment by nexh on Equality and natalism · 2012-10-26T09:23:54.095Z · LW · GW

Your definition is near to what I think of when I hear “private”, save that I would add that the event must be consensual for all the people involved. That is: “an activity performed by a set of persons can be considered private only if the direct consequences of the activity are limited to those in the set, and the activity is consensual for all the involved”*.

I may be projecting my own moral intuitions, but I think this is the definition that is informally evoked when there is talk of non-intrusion into others’ private lives; in this case, a right for non-intrusion seems morally defensible. However, the problem in my view is that sometimes the meaning of “private” is extended to situations where the right of non-intrusion is no longer so clearly worthy of defense.

*Actually, I think I would prefer to include sentients into the definition, but I doubt that is a mainstream view at the moment.

Comment by nexh on Equality and natalism · 2012-10-24T16:57:09.464Z · LW · GW

(and the decision of whether to have kids is pretty darn private).

In which sense is it private? A person having X kids will have affected the lives of at least X other persons.

Comment by nexh on October 2012 Media Thread · 2012-10-11T12:25:58.068Z · LW · GW

The short story Closer by Greg Egan deals with the subject.

Comment by nexh on September 2012 Media Thread · 2012-09-05T10:37:06.207Z · LW · GW

V nyfb sbhaq n irel fgebat fvzvynevgl jvgu n znyvpvbhf naq gehgushy Obkrq NV jura ernqvat gur rkcynangvba bs Onfg. Gur nanybtl vf abg cresrpg, ohg vg jnf irel vagrerfgvat naq cnffviryl nevfvat.

Comment by nexh on New · 2012-06-18T15:43:19.088Z · LW · GW

The website left me a positive impression. From my cursory exploration, the only thing that stood out negatively was the existence of the subsection of Life Stories inside Media; I think this subsection will need to be handled with care.

Comment by nexh on What are you working on? June 2012 · 2012-06-05T20:29:23.854Z · LW · GW
  • Finishing to program, in Python, an interactive fiction game, targeted at my D&D group. Doing this for fun, to please some friends with whom I have become geographically separated, and to improve my knowledge and programming practices in Python.
  • Aiming to take the JLPT N2 this year, I´m starting to focus my studies in order to identify and address what I still need to learn. Having the certificate would look nice on the CV, and passing the examination would surely be personally satisfying.
Comment by nexh on Rationality Quotes May 2012 · 2012-05-14T19:10:32.837Z · LW · GW

I see. I think the quoted text is very representative of rational thinking, but since I personally don´t like spoilers/previews very much, I opted for caution and rot13ed it. My thinking was that an unseen quote can be seen later if so wished, but it is harder to forget something already read. But perhaps for most people the discordance of seeing a lone rot13ed text has a negative utility that is lower than that of reading a very minor spoiler/preview? If that is so, I will unrot13 it.

In any case, thank you for your input. For now, I will edit the parent so that it is clear that the severity of the spoiler is very low.

Comment by nexh on Most transferable skills? · 2012-05-12T10:38:37.878Z · LW · GW

Programming is a great example of a transferable skill. Beyond being fun, and highly useful for solving many mathematical problems (and this is a very broad category), it can be helpful for automatizing repetitive tasks in various areas.

For example, last week I had to convert the imperial units in a document to metric ones. Probably there are other resources for doing this, but with a basic (2.5 months of learning) knowledge of Python and less than an hour of coding I was able to automatize most of the work, saving myself time and probably avoiding errors and tedium.

Comment by nexh on Rationality Quotes May 2012 · 2012-05-12T08:45:09.994Z · LW · GW

From Terry Pratchett´s Unseen Academicals (very minor/not significant spoilers):

‘You had to find the truth for yourself. That is how we all find the truth.’
‘And if the truth is terrible?’
‘I think you know the answer to that one, Nutt’ said the voice of Ladyship.
‘The answer is that, terrible or not, it is still the truth,’ said Nutt.
‘And then?’ said her voice, like a teacher encouraging a promising pupil.
‘And then the truth can be changed’ said Nutt.

Comment by nexh on SotW: Be Specific · 2012-04-04T19:18:11.092Z · LW · GW

I think there is an area where the information typically given is vague or confusing, and the ability to be specific can come in handy: for presenting personal information and preferences. The provider of the information is of course considerably familiar with the subject, so it often happens that ve doesn’t realizes that what ve actually says is unclear or easily misunderstood ( For example, saying that you are a mathematician evokes, in a surprisingly high number of people, images of large numbers and complex but mechanical calculations ) or overly general ( “I enjoy reading speculative fiction” ).

So I think it may be instructive and enjoyable to do the following simple activity:


  • Participants are grouped in pairs.

  • One person in each pair is designated as the initial questioner, and is given a list of personal questions to ask (for example, a list could include: studies, current projects/occupation, favourite musical genre, hobbies, etc.). Or perhaps the list is only a suggestion and the participants can choose the questions they want as they go.


  • The questioner asks the first question to vis partner.

  • The interviewee tries to answer the question in a precise way. The aim here is not excruciating detail; the aim is that the mental representation that the answer evokes doesn´t differ too much from reality.

  • The questioner asks for clarifications until ve deems the answer satisfactory, either sincerely or pretending not to be knowledgeable in a certain area/certain terminology that would have made the answering easy (also, see "comments", below).

  • The sub-steps in 2 are repeated, selecting a new question until the list is exhausted.

3) Step 2 is repeated, exchanging the roles of the two persons in each pair.


X and Y are paired together. X is the questioner.

X- What kind of music do you like?

Y- I think I prefer classical music.

X- Could you be more specific? I think that term encompasses music from over ten centuries.

Y- Well, the composers whose works I enjoy are…

X- Could you explain me what your current occupation is?

Y- I am an university instructor for basic linear algebra. In front of a class of between 30 and 90 students, I write in the blackboard most of the new concepts, definitions theorems, examples, and so forth, while also expounding orally and answering questions that may come up to the students. At the beginning of each semester, I receive a schedule which explains which topics should be presented on which days; I have certain liberty in determining the exact structure of each class, but the general shape is already given.

X- What do you mean with “basic linear algebra”?

Y- The class is directed to starting students of Economics, so the contents we see are not of too high abstraction. I mainly teach about the intersection of lines and planes in 3 dimensions, generalizations of this to higher dimensions, systems of linear inequalities, and some operation on matrices.

Comments: I think the main benefit of this exercise is that the questions don´t assume any specific knowledge, so whatever difficulty appears in the precise answering (save for poor introspection capabilities) probably relates to the skill being trained.

If the level of difficulty of these exercises were too easy, it could be increased by pretending something particular about the knowledge base of the questioner: for example, let’s say that ve is a typical (but yes, somehow English-speaking) citizen of the Roman Empire.

Comment by nexh on Rationality Quotes March 2012 · 2012-03-06T14:19:52.995Z · LW · GW

When it comes to rare probabilities, our mind is not designed to get things quite right. For the residents of a planet that may be exposed to events no one has yet experienced, that is not good news.

 --Daniel Kahneman, *Thinking, fast and slow*
Comment by nexh on Elevator pitches/responses for rationality / AI · 2012-02-05T09:58:54.205Z · LW · GW

"But you can't expect people to act rationally. We are emotional creatures."

This may be difficult to answer appropriately without knowing what the hypothetical speaker means with “emotions” (or "expect", for that matter). But the phrase seems to me like a potential cached one, so ve may not know it either.

A possible elevator response below:

Rationality is not Vulcan-like behavior; you don't have to renounce to your emotions in order to act rationally. Indeed, for most people, many emotions (like affection, wonder, or love) are very valuable, and applied rationality is knowing how to obtain and protect what is truly precious for you.
What is important is to rationally understand how your emotions affect your judgment, so you can try to consciously avoid or damper unwanted emotional reactions that would otherwise have undesirable consequences for you.