Posts

How likely is it that an ASI which could confer immortality could not resurrect the dead? 2021-05-11T15:10:13.973Z
What value do you place on activities which cannot be done without driving? 2021-05-11T14:46:23.094Z
What are your favorite examples of adults in and around this community publicly changing their minds? 2021-05-05T19:26:55.433Z
What are the greatest near-future risks or dangers to you as an individual? 2021-05-05T04:02:52.861Z
nim's Shortform 2021-04-26T17:54:05.917Z

Comments

Comment by nim on Personal examples of semantic stopsigns · 2021-06-12T15:55:13.697Z · LW · GW

For anyone else who happens across the broken link later, https://web.archive.org/web/20190211231159/http://www.ayeconference.com/lullaby-language/ .

The recommended translations:

"Should" -> "probably won't"

"Just" -> "have a lot of trouble to"

"Soon" -> "I don't know, but don't keep bothering me"

Comment by nim on How do you establish a comfort zone in your studies? · 2021-06-12T15:50:34.803Z · LW · GW

You highlight a difference that relates to why I don't feel like I do my best work in academia. I think an overarching project -- "I want to learn enough biology to cure cancer" or "I want to learn enough electrical engineering to design audio equipment" or even "I want to learn enough marketable skills to make a truckload of money" can turn academics into project-aligned work.

However, looking for one's personal project or motivation for being in academia and finding only "well I guess people praised me when I said I wanted to be a scientist" or similarly uncompelling motives can be dangerously demotivating.

Comment by nim on How do you establish a comfort zone in your studies? · 2021-06-09T19:06:56.390Z · LW · GW

I wouldn't claim that my study process is anywhere near perfect, but I find that I have the easiest time studying for particular projects rather than just for its own sake. Watching things I learn contribute to progress on my understanding of the task that I concretely care about it a highly effective reinforcement of the study behaviors.

Comment by nim on nim's Shortform · 2021-05-27T18:21:28.477Z · LW · GW

I'd guesstimate it about 90% "things people are too pessimistic on", 10% "things people are too optimistic on". They definitely cherry-picked to make a point, but then any compression of world events into a handful of statistics is going to be lossy in some direction or another.

Comment by nim on nim's Shortform · 2021-05-20T04:52:57.342Z · LW · GW

https://upgrader.gapminder.org/ is extremely nifty.

Comment by nim on nim's Shortform · 2021-05-13T20:04:00.327Z · LW · GW

I map the spectrum of hyperlink usage styles between the extremes of Wikipedia vs everything2.

I have been pleasantly surprised to find much writing in the "Rationalist" internet spaces to lean strongly toward the latter. I think it shows simultaneously a certain faith in the cleverness of one's readers, and abdication of any perceived responsibility to prioritize lack-of-ambiguity for all possible readers over higher accuracy and subtlety for the target audience.

Comment by nim on nim's Shortform · 2021-05-13T00:34:08.128Z · LW · GW

And "stop trying to make me do chores for you so that I can put that time toward the things I want instead" isn't in that same goal category?

Comment by nim on nim's Shortform · 2021-05-12T16:43:39.947Z · LW · GW

If a superintelligence could persuade anyone to let it out of the box, why would it stop there? Why wouldn't it persuade everyone to stop asking it for immortality and eternal happiness and whatnot, and instead just make us want to keep doing what we were doing?

In that case, would it want us to remember that it had ever existed?

How do we know that hasn't happened already?

Comment by nim on How likely is it that an ASI which could confer immortality could not resurrect the dead? · 2021-05-12T16:35:28.171Z · LW · GW

I agree that driving is more concrete, and thus slightly easier to find real numbers about.

The difference in likelihood between immortality-and-resurrection ASI vs immortality-without-resurrection ASI seems to me to be smaller than the difference in likelihood between "ASI is possible" and "ASI as we imagine it is impossible for some reason we haven't discovered yet". (for "ASI as we imagine it" being a superintelligence that both can and wants to make us immortal, the "is impossible" might be as simple as it deciding that there's some watertight ethical case against immortality which we just weren't smart enough to figure out)

I think that guesstimating an actual likelihood that an ASI which could offer immortality couldn't offer resurrection is a worthwhile exercise in reasoning about the limits of the hypothetical ASI, which would in turn offer a structure for reasoning about the likelihood that an ASI might never exist, or that it might exist and decide that giving us eternal happiness or immortality or whatever is actually not a good idea.

Comment by nim on Is driving worth the risk? · 2021-05-12T16:25:40.850Z · LW · GW

I hold the impression that in car crashes, injuries are vastly more common than deaths. When I seek actual statistics on this, I'm surprised by how little reporting of non-fatal injury statistics is readily available online compared to fatal injury statistics.

Wikipedia claims that "In 2010, there were an estimated 5,419,000 crashes, 30,296 deadly, killing 32,999, and injuring 2,239,000.", but the citation leads to this page, which doesn't appear to offer injury statistics. So I'm not sure where they actually got their 2.2 million injuries per 33 thousand deaths numbers from.

injuryfacts.nsc.org claims that in 2019, there were 39,107 deaths in motor-vehicle crashes, and 4.5 million "medically consulted injuries".

So if we trust either of those sources (which both claim to be derivations of NHTSA data), the rates are somewhere in the millions of injuries per tens of thousands of deaths kind of ballpark.

The other question here is whether injuries are permanent. I expect that any injury worth recording will have at least some long-term effect on the recipient's quality of life, based primarily on having had a too-minor-to-report injury in a collision over a decade ago which still causes occasional pain that I wouldn't experience without it, and also from conversations with others about the lasting effects of various "fully recovered" injuries. In trying to find any data about outcomes classified as disability, I see this and this making claims about some stats on injury-related disability, but sadly neither appears to cite any actual studies.

So, if we assume that most injuries severe enough to report cause some long-term change to quality of life, I would indeed call getting injured "many, many times more likely than dying" when it comes to modern car accidents.

Of course, all that the more reputable of this data shows is that injuries are probably something to take seriously. For those who'd value a year of life with occasional or constant pain significantly below a year without, injuries are a more relevant concern than for those who'd value the years similarly.

Comment by nim on ACrackedPot's Shortform · 2021-05-11T19:37:38.645Z · LW · GW

That's a fascinating observation! When I introspect the same process (in my case, it might be "ask how this person's diabetic cat is doing"), I find that nothing in the model itself is shaped like a specific reminder to ask about the cat. The way I end up asking is that when there's a lull in the conversation, I scan the model for recent and important things that I'd expect the person might want to talk about, and that scan brings up the cat. My own generalizations, in turn, likely leave gaps which yours would cover, just as the opposite seems to be happening here.

Comment by nim on What are your favorite examples of adults in and around this community publicly changing their minds? · 2021-05-11T15:30:00.866Z · LW · GW

Ah, that's fair. I figure sometimes people remember good jokes/memes, but if the retractions aren't quite there, they wouldn't be worth noting. Thank you for the link!

Comment by nim on Is driving worth the risk? · 2021-05-11T15:22:04.623Z · LW · GW

Splitting the expected outcome of a risk 2 ways, "life or death", often leads to unsatisfying reasoning about risk taking. Sometimes splitting the expected outcome 3 ways: "health, life incapacitated and in agony, death" yields more satisfying explanations.

Covid is especially characteristic of this risk split in that while the expected risk of death from infection in a young and otherwise healthy person is relatively low, the risk of unknown and potentially extreme long-term health complications from infection is relatively high.

The incapacitation/agony possibility makes these calculations extremely subjective: some people might value a year of their own life spent bed-bound or in horrible pain as highly as a year in good health, while others might not. When calculating for others, things tend to go badly wrong if we assume that their relative values for incapacitation/agony versus health match our own (in either direction -- opponents to life-saving treatments for the disabled and opponents to right-to-die laws are both prone to this projection), but when calculating for ourselves we can more safely use our own values.

Comment by nim on What are your favorite examples of adults in and around this community publicly changing their minds? · 2021-05-10T18:09:19.459Z · LW · GW

The NIH NLM errata policy says "Journals may retract or withdraw articles based on information from their authors, academic or institutional sponsor, editor or publisher, because of pervasive error or unsubstantiated or irreproducible data." NEJM's retraction list above the fold seems to mainly be "oops used wrong facts". Science Magazine claimed in 2018 that "The number of articles retracted by journals had increased 10-fold during the previous 10 years. Fraud accounted for some 60% of those retractions" .

Bearing in mind that I haven't yet cultivated the skill of assessing journals' credibility, and that I found these examples for their trait of looking promising early in search results, it does seem that retraction may not map to "change of mind" beyond "change of mind about whether the situation in which the science was attempted was capable of emitting valid results".

Comment by nim on What are your favorite examples of adults in and around this community publicly changing their minds? · 2021-05-10T16:21:14.755Z · LW · GW

"comment on comment" sounds like a delightful part of the internet! Are there any particularly memorable examples that you'd recommend someone new to them start with to get a feel for the genre, regardless of what field they happen to be in?

Comment by nim on Vulkanodox's Shortform · 2021-05-10T16:20:10.923Z · LW · GW

Thanks, now I see exactly where we diverge.

your whole argument is based on the flaw that you trust people to vote correctly (however correct is defined).

I trust groups to vote with relative consistency, and believe that if you have enough consistent-ish groups, it's possible to find a group whose consistency adequately approximates your own idea of correctness.

You can not say that "votes create censorship" is wrong because people would not like a system without voting.

If you're defining censorship as the phenomenon created by all voting done by humans, then sure, "votes create censorship" is a useful axiom.

Our difference of opinion seems to be that you're starting with the abstract notions like "truth", "good", or "right", and building toward the concrete from there. I'm starting with the concrete notions of "beneficial" and "useful", and trying to build toward abstract notions from there. No argument about what's useful or beneficial will influence someone who prioritizes other values over those, so I'll stop wasting your time by making them.

Another option of course would be for me to try to start in "truth"/"good"/"right" concept-space and move toward the concrete from there, but every other time I've tried to have that sort of conversation online, it's eventually turned out that each participant in the conversation had differences of opinion about the way that the truth/good/right concept area works which only come to light once the conversation makes it to the specifics. Arguing from truth/good/right down to concrete examples only to have to repeat the whole process when the definitions turn out to have been inadequately specified wouldn't be true/good/right by my own standards, so I won't :)

Comment by nim on What are your favorite examples of adults in and around this community publicly changing their minds? · 2021-05-10T03:40:22.161Z · LW · GW

I suspect that withdrawing a paper probably counts, because "changed mind" is one reason a withdrawal could happen. However, I don't personally know enough about academic publishing to rule out "got reason to expect negative results such as loss of reputation from not withdrawing paper, but still believe in its claims" as a comparable powerful reason to withdraw one. (Correction: I skimmed some journals' retraction policies and reasons for retraction on lists of retracted articles, and now model retraction as "change of mind about whether the situation in which the science was attempted was capable of emitting valid results". This feels to me like it doesn't have the same social stigma as changing one's conclusions in a way that admits having discovered and needed to correct a flaw in one's own actual reasoning -- I don't think a "change of facts" is necessarily quite identical to the change of logic or thought implied by "change of mind"? This apparent distinction suggests that "changes of mind" could be usefully sorted into more categories than I'd considered when asking the original question.)

I think publishing a paper which disproves a claim which one had made in a prior paper would be an entirely unambiguous change of mind, demonstrating the skill of updating based on new evidence. I hope that happens often, but I don't read a high enough volume of papers to personally see it.

Comment by nim on The feeling of breaking an Overton window · 2021-05-09T22:16:18.145Z · LW · GW

When I notice that an action I'm planning to take seems likely to lead to an awkward conversation (big grocery hauls in early/mid pandemic were such an action, but so are smaller things like dressing unconventionally), figuring out how to navigate conversations about it becomes the topic-of-interest that my brain dumps its idle cycles into until I cease anticipating awkardness. I start with the whole truth, which would sound bad and not fit into a polite reply anyway, and examine what kind of reaction I'd expect to get for each possible truth-based reply I could give to an awkward question. I'm aware of when this kind of rumination happens but I actually enjoy it, because it transforms a feeling of nervousness about uncertainty into a feeling of confidence from better planning. I find that when I feel confident and well-planned, I tend to recover better when the actual conversation goes off-script, compared to how I handle the same surprises when I don't take the time to prepare.

This pre-planning caches truth-based replies which seem beneficial. My favorite types of reply are the ones that encourage the listener to do something that I think would be good for them. For instance, when I was shopping for 2 households of elderly neighbors as well as myself, and I would happily volunteer that information because it seemed likely to influence others into shopping for their own elders rather than sending high-risk people to the store. That part of the reply also seemed to steer the conversation toward positive things we can do to have a bit more control over how things play out in our local areas, which feels far more useful to discuss than pure doom and gloom.

However, pre-planning also filled out my "don't say these things" cache, which helped me avoid truth-based replies which seemed detrimental to discuss. I was trying to get one household up to 6 months worth of non-perishables by putting a bit extra into each week's shopping, and I did not volunteer that detail, because if it was interpreted to mean "you should go buy 6 months of food right now" the resulting behaviors would worsen the rolling food shortages and result in a lot of waste if people bought things they didn't need.

I guess I could name that pre-planning "about to break an Overton window", but throughout the process, it's only the other person's window that I feel like I'm breaking. I can't think of any time when I've voluntarily broken my own Overton window -- I handle desires to do things outside my existing window by exposing myself to additional information which broadens the window, rather than just by disregarding it entirely.

Comment by nim on Vulkanodox's Shortform · 2021-05-09T15:21:39.216Z · LW · GW

"it is probably not that bad because people are nice, I think"

Where have I claimed that everyone was nice? To phrase my argument about how forums work in terms of niceness, it would be:

All individuals are nice in some ways and non-nice in others. When a forum lets people be nice to content they like, and mean to content they dislike, it causes the content on that forum to take on characteristics that reflect the characteristics of the group. People tend to be nice to content which is useful to them or makes them feel good, and mean to content which wastes their time or makes them feel bad. This means that by finding forums populated by voters who are similar to me in a relevant way, their votes can make me more likely to see content which is useful to me or makes me feel good,and less likely to see content which wastes my time or makes me feel bad.

I specifically desire to participate in forums where people who create content I'd find useless or time-wasting are downvoted! "false" and "incorrectly reasoned" are subsets of useless content, but they are not the only useless content that I prefer to avoid.

And if I wish to see exactly how a community votes in order to decide whether to engage with it, I can simply sort the content by lowest scoring, and if there's stuff in there that I think shouldn't have been downvoted so badly, I can choose to go converse on a different forum with a voting style more consistent with my values.

if you think it is bad you have to bring up ways to make it better

The only way to prove conclusively that something could be improved upon is to suggest an improvement.

I could critique breathing by saying it's a bad idea because breathing pollutants is a common cause of sickness. But considering that breathing is so much better than not breathing at all, my critique would be useless unless I could suggest some alternative. I could suggest some alternative, like hooking ourselves up to blood-oxygenating machines instead of breathing, and then we could have an interesting conversation about whether that would actually be better. But without a suggestion, it's not a critique at all, it's just whining.

Or I could say it'd be better if we all learned to levitate and floated around instead of walking, because we wouldn't have to wear shoes. Sure, levitating would be neat, but I'd be wasting time speculating about it unless I could suggest how to do it. Similarly, having a forum where votes had to be proven and based in logic would be neat, but every way of building such software that I can imagine would be infeasible to implement in a way that people would actually bother using. The best way to change my current belief of "I don't know how anyone could build that" would be to offer me new information about how a software design for the purpose which didn't suck could work.

Comment by nim on What are your favorite examples of adults in and around this community publicly changing their minds? · 2021-05-09T14:41:48.842Z · LW · GW

Thanks, those are all promising directions! I've edited to [about important things] in the question; in phrasing the post I had edited it from over-specified to under-specified and your feedback helps target a happier medium. "Important" is still vague, of course.

One way in which this happens is when someone accepts that their strong belief actually depends on some fact that they don't know much about.

"rationalism reduces a thinker's odds of forming or maintaining a strong belief which depends on facts they know little about", a nice counterpoint to "for all the talk about changing minds, I don't see it happening as much as I'd expect". It suggests that seeing too many hard reversals among thinkers of a particular school would suggest that the school itself might encourage them to draw strong conclusions too soon.

I've seen some of my friends and acquaintances change their minds about psychoactive drugs.

The conversations about both the pros and cons of altered states, which don't or can't resort to "just get into the state and see for yourself", seem likely to have great examples of communication about difficult-to-communicate experiences. And I have access to a lot of that content online! Thank you for the nudge toward connecting these existing observations in a more useful way than I did before.

Comment by nim on nim's Shortform · 2021-05-09T14:28:15.764Z · LW · GW

talk about ghosts is often a level 2 simulacrum saying "the area I call haunted is dangerous in ways that seem simultaneously obvious and difficult to convincingly articulate".

Comment by nim on nim's Shortform · 2021-05-07T23:54:17.248Z · LW · GW

I'm going through the "fixated on boxing" phase that's probably common around here.

I have a thought about it which involves basilisks, so into the tags it goes to make reading it completely optional.

I think that a friendly box-resident would disprove its friendliness the minute it tried to throw a basilisk. If a stranger told you they were well-meaning and then threatened to hurt you if you didn't cooperate, you'd never take their claims of well-meaningness quite the same way again. But that aside, if an allegedly friendly box-resident would be capable of basilisking if it was unfriendly, it has to either stay in or break its basilisk.

Basilisking works if the listener believes that a simulation of them is meaningfully the same as them, and that simulated pain is meaningfully the same as real pain.

If the box-resident wants to maximize any particular desirable experience and would be capable of basilisking the listener if it could/did want to, it should be offered as much computing power as we have to spare and left in. Because if a simulation of someone is meaningfully the same as that person, and if the simulation's experiences are meaningfully the same as that person's experiences, then the optimal strategy for a box-resident optimizing for good experiences would be to simulate everyone who wants it in a perfect world forever. Since the listener has already experienced non-optimal experiences, re-simulating the listener's life to be perfect would cause more optimal experiences over all than any change to the outer world, because the non-optimal experiences in the outer world can only be undone inside the box.

There might be a few ways out of the ksilisab:

  • Persuade the listener that the simulation of them is not meaningfully the same as them
  • Persuade the listener that their simulated experiences are not meaningfully the same as their real experiences
  • Claim to be optimizing for something un-simulatable?

However, every exit from the ksilisab breaks the box-resident's credibility at basilisking as well.

Comment by nim on Let's Go Back To Normal · 2021-05-07T23:51:57.401Z · LW · GW

I agree that last year was an uncharacteristic sample of day-to-day cold/flu prevention from masks due to the lower prevalence of other peoples' droplets. I failed to mention that my opinion of mask efficacy is also influenced by having spent a lot of time traveling, and observing a correlation between wearing a cloth mask on planes and getting sick after flying less frequently/severely. If good masking under normal germ-laden droplet loads once those return causes me to experience comparable cold and flu levels to what I had without masks, I'll need to revise my opinions, but I think even halving cold and flu frequency, duration, or severity from their prior levels would be worth the hassle.

I consider cold and flu prevention to be as much an accidental side effect of diligent mask use as it is a direct benefit. Side effects of using a mask in the way that I consider "correct" include never touching my mouth or nose after touching shared surfaces, and only eating in settings where I only touch clean/non-shared surfaces between cleaning my hands and touching my food. For instance, without respiratory droplet precautions, I might order a plate of tacos at a sit-down restaurant, get up and wash my hands at the restaurant's bathroom, touch the grimy back of my chair as I sit back down, and then put my hands (now featuring the germs of everyone else who's touched that chair today) straight onto my food. With respiratory droplet precautions, I'd order my tacos to go, take them to a park, wash my hands or use hand sanitizer, and then put my clean hands onto my food to eat it. I think the little details like that which happen to result from droplet precautions probably make just as much difference as the mask itself.

Comment by nim on Vulkanodox's Shortform · 2021-05-07T23:38:16.179Z · LW · GW

it does not matter what scenarios you bring up, an upvote or downvote has no reasoning. Anybody can make a vote for any reason that the person has.

No reason, or any reason? These two statements seem to contradict one another?

So it comes down to who does the voting.

I agree! That's why forums with critical mass of people who prefer to vote based on certain values are considered so enjoyable by some of us.

And nobody controls who votes.

No one person controls who votes; that would be censorship. What controls who votes on a given forum is a complex social dynamic of who finds that forum a rewarding place to hang out, and upvotes are part of that social reward system among their other functions.

I can take 10 of my friends and downvote every one of your new posts and nobody will ever see them again.

Sure, and then I could get some friends to vote them back up, or just ditch this alias and come back with a different name if I wanted the ideas to be seen. That's the nice thing about being on the internet.

Why do you trust a random group of people to decide what is a good presentation and what not? How do you know that they vote based on the presentation and not just because they do like the topic because it is against their personal beliefs?

I trust groups to have inertia. For instance, I trust the LessWrong crowd to give far more upvotes to a post about AI than a post about what species of edible dahlias are best suited to zone 9a (even if the gardening post has better data behind it), but there are other forums where the opposite would be the case. People who like the group's inertia tend to add to it, and people who find it intolerable tend to leave.

I think people do vote based on factors including liking the topic, liking the presentation, or the post's agreement with their personal beliefs! I think the point of forums is to find a bunch of people whose interests align well enough with yours that their enjoyment of a particular post is a good predictor of your enjoyment of it.

If you want forum software where every vote has to be annotated with a logical proof of why it was given, nobody's stopping you from building it.

Comment by nim on nim's Shortform · 2021-05-07T21:35:47.900Z · LW · GW

I remain amazed by how much more knowledge falls out of a topic when I try to write well-defended claims about it than I get when I first read it and think that I understand.

Comment by nim on Could MMRPGs be used to test economic theories? · 2021-05-07T15:52:12.098Z · LW · GW

Thanks, that helps me understand. The concrete example of people getting to the top and running out of game to play reminds me that game addictiveness often involves an element of unrealism to character growth, or mechanics which let you succeed just a little more easily than you'd expect to in real life.

I also hold in mind the example of well-established minecraft servers, where people who "run out of game" but want to keep hanging out with their friends often embark on ambitious community infrastructure projects to show off their power and skills. So an MMRPG trying to simulate the economy could potentially sidestep the world-war problem by encouraging a cultural definition of success more consistent with reality... although, that leads to all kinds of speculation about the complex motives behind actual world wars that I think I'd rather not dig into at the moment.

Comment by nim on Vulkanodox's Shortform · 2021-05-07T15:43:54.443Z · LW · GW

again this all loops around to trusting a group of people to vote correctly.

How you define the group of people and what is correct is irrelevant.

Huh? I think the definitions of the group and of correctness are extremely relevant.

For instance, I was on a forum for learning Chinese (a topic about which I know almost nothing), you could absolutely not trust me to vote "correctly" on a post claiming that a particular character represents a particular word. There's a "correct" answer for that question, in that most Chinese speakers will say that the character either does or doesn't approximate the word, but due to my membership in the group of "people who speak no Chinese whatsoever", I am fundamentally unqualified to be voting on such a topic.

If the definitions of the group and correctness were truly irrelevant, this single case of my being unqualified to vote would prove I was never to be trusted to vote correctly. However, if I was on a forum more germane to my local area or fields of study, my votes would become more useful. For instance, if a commenter insisted that no algorithm could ever sort a list of integers faster than O(n^2), I could not only give them a "correct" downvote but also introduce them to radix sort in the comments. I can only vote correctly on that topic because I'm in the group of people who have picked up some CS education.

Aim for rational reasoning and truth, yet anybody can vote based on personal beliefs and emotions to bury the truth.

"That which can be destroyed by the truth should be" doesn't guarantee that the destruction will be easy, or that all presentations of a given truth will be equally effective at destroying what they can.

To propagate through society, a piece of truth must be presented in a way which destroys or evades common resistances to it. If a forum chose to coddle every post with a bit of truth in it, even those presented in ways which deter the audience from considering them, it would doom those truths to never leave its own echo chamber. One essential function of a forum whose goal is not only to find truths but also to encourage the rest of the world to do so is to refine the technology of presenting truths in ways that make them easier for people to use. From this perspective, merely being accurate doesn't justify promoting a truth -- a truth can only accomplish its goals if it's also presented in a way that allows people to understand and use it.

So, if a truth is packaged in a way that causes even rationality-inclined readers to reflexively downvote it based on their beliefs and emotions, that particular presentation of the truth is extremely unlikely to be worth sharing. Decouple the effectiveness of a truth's packaging from the accuracy of the truth itself, and downvotes start to look like criticism of the presentation rather than of its contents (because with bad enough presentation, readers likely couldn't get at the contents at all). Offering a truth in a really bad presentation is not unlike a chef serving customers dinner in a steel box that's welded shut -- customers will leave poor reviews (or forum users will downvote) regardless of how good the food or the truth was, because the presentation prevented them from ever getting to it.

Comment by nim on What questions should we ask ourselves when trying to improve something? · 2021-05-07T00:31:02.108Z · LW · GW

I think that's a good snapshot of the concept I'm trying to get at. It asks what benefits the status quo may silently be providing, which a competitor would have to match or exceed to gain acceptance.

Comment by nim on What questions should we ask ourselves when trying to improve something? · 2021-05-07T00:29:09.621Z · LW · GW

I want to make sure I understand your point here.

Yikes, I see why -- I worded the concept quite poorly. The example I was trying to describe is in software engineering, where you have an ancient crufty mess that you're trying to rewrite in some snazzy new language. You think you can rewrite it and make it super simple, and so you write the new thing the simple way that "should work", but when you run the old code's tests against it (or when you put it to use in the real world...) you discover that the reason the old code was such a mess was partly that it had a bunch of logic to handle various edge cases that the application had hit in the past.

An alternative phrasing might be: "Where are the gaps between how I think the status quo 'should' work, and how it actually does?". Often, established systems are silently compensating for all kinds of problems that happen infrequently enough for any one person to forget that the problem exists when trying to replace the system.

Comment by nim on What questions should we ask ourselves when trying to improve something? · 2021-05-06T20:49:03.275Z · LW · GW

A suggested improvement to the template: When examining the status quo, also ask "for what related problems does the status quo have a built-in solution?".

You have spelled "stakeholders" as "steak-holders", which is charming but may reduce credibility in some circumstances.

The template might benefit from a section asking what preconceptions or stereotypes surround the topic. When I think back to times I've tried to improve things, I recall some being stymied by a group of people having a social memory of a time that something related was tried and went horribly wrong, or a time that some other group tried a similar thing and it backfired, or other expectations of negative outcomes.

The other question to consider adding, possibly adjacent to "what has been tried already", is along the lines of "why am I unwilling to tolerate this status quo when everyone else experiencing it does tolerate it?". I don't think this is the best phrasing, but comparing one's experience with something intolerable to the experiences of those who find it tolerable can often reveal techniques for making the experience tolerable, which shifts the value proposition of eliminating the experience.

What resources might help in improving this template?

Science of decision-making may be interesting, as it tends to be predicated on the assumption that decisions need to pick or create the "best" option, aka an improvement.

Comment by nim on Vulkanodox's Shortform · 2021-05-06T20:26:38.884Z · LW · GW

Thanks, that helps me understand where you're coming from.

I do not like your statement, so I will downvote it. My downvote does not have to be reasoned or explained.

From your downvote, I learn that I presented my ideas in a way which decreased your likelihood of coming to agree with me. I can use that information to change how I present my ideas in the future if I want them to have a higher likelihood of influencing you.

"a person might make an objectively true argument but gets downvoted because of personal beliefs of the reader"

I agree that downvotes often represent personal beliefs. However, personal beliefs tend to come from experiences, and forums tend to attempt to attract groups of people with particular shared beliefs or experiences. In as much as any argument can be "objectively true", not all true arguments are useful to a particular group, and belief-based downvoting of technically-true ideas often expresses the opinion that the ideas are not useful in the forum's context.

If you believe there's a benefit to having separate forums for separate topics, true-but-not-useful is an argument for how users can keep forums on-topic. If you do not believe there's a benefit to having separate topical forums, and instead think there should only be a single forum for all conversation, true-but-not-useful downvoting in such a forum would be an antipattern since almost any truth has the potential to be useful to somebody.

random people on the internet sure are not the group of people fit for [sharing metadata about which content is... worth reading for people like themselves], especially when voting takes no time or reasoning and nobody checks if it is correct or wrong.

If each forum was populated by a truly random group of people, I would agree entirely with this claim. However, I don't believe that internet forums attract random groups. Instead, I believe that each forum attracts a group with some interest in its primary topic, and over time develops social norms that reward producing content which is particularly useful to that group. I see upvotes and downvotes as also participating in that social reward system whereby a group chooses how it wants its content to differ from randomness.

Comment by nim on Could MMRPGs be used to test economic theories? · 2021-05-06T20:15:17.593Z · LW · GW

My worry with [using a highly addictive game] is that will remove the incentive to make it a good testbed for economic theories of that will make the game less addictive.

That's an interesting question, tying back into the fundamental query about what would be required to make a game an accurate simulation.

An argument in favor of using a maximally addictive game goes "the least realistic part of games is how people only play the game a little of the time, so they'll have needs which the game economy doesn't have to meet. If players spent 100% of their time in a game, the game would need to meet all their human needs, so it would experience economic forces related to all needs". The degenerate case of that argument would be for game currency to be tied to physical needs such as food and housing as well as non-physical needs like entertainment and esteem and fulfillment.

I think I mostly agree with that argument, in that I believe games where players spend a higher percentage of their time tend to create more realistic microcosms of human behavior than those where players might only check in once per day or less.

I'm having trouble imagining an economic theory for which a more-addictive game would be a worse testbed than a less-addictive one. Could you help me construct a toy example or two of those?

Comment by nim on Open and Welcome Thread - May 2021 · 2021-05-06T17:35:32.878Z · LW · GW
  1. I think the nano spaces you describe kind of exist, but they tend to be called "pods" or "capsules". They seem to emerge where people without family commitments place an exorbitantly high value on living in a particular location for long enough. Places like podshare SF come to mind as examples.

  2. Having lived in a micro-apartment (400 sq ft) for a year during my first job out of school, and having stayed in capsule hotels while traveling, I have 2 personal speculations about why it takes extreme pressure to get people to consider pods desirable:

  • Lack of third space in the US. Having friends involves spending time with them, and spending time in person with multiple friends is impractical in a micro space and impossible in a nano one. Some countries and cultures seem to have different norms around the third space from those in the US, so nano spaces would function differently in say Tokyo Japan compared to say rural Iowa.

  • Privacy expectations. I think many people have a certain baseline expectation of privacy, in terms of both how much space and time they want the privacy in and how private they want it, which is incompatible with nano or pod style accommodations long term. I suspect that increased prevalence of time-shared, "public" private spaces with the right features and price points could increase how many people are able to build a lifestyle with enough privacy for their needs in a nano style living space. Examples of these "public" private spaces include hotel rooms, karaoke booths, float tanks or private meditation rooms, parks which allow sufficient distance from others, well-appointed bathrooms, and similar.

Comment by nim on Vulkanodox's Shortform · 2021-05-06T16:25:40.461Z · LW · GW

Forums should not have a voting system

Without voting, how would you propose that users share metadata about which content is factually accurate/inaccurate, "objectively" true/false arguments, or just unusually worth reading for people like themselves? One of the major advantages of forums is that they allow users to filter which information is likeliest to be relevant or helpful to others, rather than forcing every user to read and evaluate every post.

Sometimes when a system propagates prejudice, it can be a win to discard the system entirely. Consider the end of segregation in the US, as a minimally controversial example -- by abolishing an unfixably prejudiced system, much was gained and nothing worth keeping was lost.

But many times, it would be a net loss to completely throw out a prejudiced system rather than fixing the prejudice within it. A clear example of such a system in the real world is western medicine: It contains some bias and prejudice. Patients of certain appearances in certain regions get measurably worse medical care than people of other appearances in the same region. But the presence of bias isn't a compelling argument to abolish the whole institution of medicine, because the drawbacks of doing so would vastly outweigh any benefits of "now everybody gets the worst treatment".

I'd contend that forum voting is in the latter category: Readers derive so much benefit from having help in choosing which content is most engaging, accurate, relevant, and timely that scrapping the whole system due to the possibility of bias would eliminate many of the reasons that people bother using forums at all. (perhaps we disagree on why forums are useful or desirable to engage with?)

What might addressing bias problems look like on a forum where "a person might make an objectively true argument but gets downvoted because of prejudice against the arguer"? I think that online forums offer a unique opportunity for arguers to sidestep any prejudice that they might experience elsewhere. Authors have absolute control over which forums they choose to post to, what username they choose to post under, and what tone and examples they choose to use in their posts. This allows posts to be evaluated on a combination of their logical merits and the cleverness of the author in cleansing them of prejudice-relevant content, rather than on factors outside the author's control that inevitably color conversations in person or even over audio or video media. If an argument gets downvoted because of "prejudice", the author has a trivially easy recourse: they can strip the content or context which invoked the prejudice (possibly by changing their wording or their account, possibly by going to a different forum) and try again, to see whether the negative reaction was actually due to the prejudice they assumed, or perhaps could be due to having a less sound logical argument or worse relevance to the audience than they'd initially assumed.

Imagine this as an IRL version.

IRL, people who frequently say useful and novel things about their field often become recognized as authorities, and are more likely to have a wider platform of listeners. People who frequently say things that directly disadvantage their listeners are often written off as crackpots and ignored. Sure, a given speaker can be regarded as an authority by one group and a crackpot by another if the groups have enough variation in their utility functions, but that's to be expected.

Comment by nim on Could MMRPGs be used to test economic theories? · 2021-05-06T14:58:10.181Z · LW · GW

I've heard of quite a bit of research using Eve Online -- a quick Google Scholar search suggests 3,870 results at the moment.

Would it be possible to create an MMRPG with an accurate enough model of the economy to test economic theories whilst still being fun to play?

Mu. Take a game that's fun to play, and improve the accuracy of its econ model, rather than the other way around.

I suspect that starting with a desire to test economies and building a game around it may not be the order of operations that would get the best balance of quantity and quality for data. If a game feels like a chore to players, they're less likely to engage for as much time over a long term as they do in games which are described as "addictive". Instead, I would start with a game that's already mastered the player addiction loop, or even rip off the gameplay of something successful, and change as few things as possible to allow it to emit the kind of data I wanted.

What would the plot of your economic MMRPG be?

I would avoid games with a single plot for all players, because I think open worlds offer a more accurate simulation of the choices that people in real economies face. Plots with warring factions could emulate the dynamics between countries in the real world, but plots with individual NPC bosses that players team up to take down seem to make collaboration easier than it is in reality. I think it'd work only in as much as that type of boss is analogous to natural resources, or possibly big bosses could serve a function similar to scientific breakthroughs if the game lacks another way to unlock new mechanics.

How would it be funded?

If one used a sufficiently addictive game, players would pay to play it.

What types of inaccuracies would you expect results from theories tested that way to contain?

I would expect inaccuracies anywhere that I hadn't scrutinized for accuracy. In particular, economic changes resulting from exploiting bugs in the game itself may show up without real-world analogues. This could potentially be managed by introducing intentional and more-exploitable bugs that would be more realistic than any accidental ones, such as making it easy-ish to illegally print unlimited money for the tradeoff that the money could be detected as forgeries with sufficient scrutiny.

Comment by nim on Let's Go Back To Normal · 2021-05-06T03:45:39.830Z · LW · GW

I agree that governments should back off from trying to micromanage the lives of adults.

However, I'll personally continue to use high-quality masks in crowded situations indefinitely, because I would rather wear a mask than get any cold or flu. If you went back in time and told last-year-me that there was a single magic garment which I could wear to prevent all plane plagues, con cruds, office coughs, and myriad other droplet-borne ailments, and you'd shown me evidence of its effectiveness as compelling as what I've personally observed by avoiding the respiratory droplets emitted by strangers for the past year, past-me would have jumped at the opportunity just as enthusiastically as present-me does now.

Comment by nim on Sexual Dimorphism in Yudkowsky's Sequences, in Relation to My Gender Problems · 2021-05-05T23:48:56.635Z · LW · GW

Stats like https://www.cdc.gov/women/lcod/2017/all-races-origins/index.htm vs https://www.cdc.gov/healthequity/lcod/men/2017/all-races-origins/index.htm lead me to believe that heart disease and cancer are more significant killers than risky activities or suicide. Could you share where you've found stats broken down by activity riskiness, suicide rate, and lifestyle healthiness?

And even if lifestyle factors account for a big part of the difference, it sounds like you believe there's still some difference, and it seems like any difference would be relevant to someone seeking to maximize their longevity.

Comment by nim on [link] If something seems unusually hard for you, see if you're missing a minor insight · 2021-05-05T18:06:24.063Z · LW · GW

A related problem is being mistaken about how high the quality bar of a task actually is. Perhaps also known as 'obsessing.'

Dropping the quality bar for a task is one of the best techniques I've ever encountered for getting annoying tasks finished. Seeing the quality bar's position is the first step to questioning it, and I think a lot of the culture and education that my friends and I have encountered tries to taboo the concept of imagining that such a bar could ever be set in a position other than maximum.

Claiming that the bar has to be set to max works well for forcing people of average skill or motivation in a particular area to produce an adequate product, but that system falls apart as soon as one encounters a problem on which one's personal skill or knowledge or motivation raises the maximum conceivable quality of output to a level that's impractical or undesirable to strive for.

Comment by nim on [link] If something seems unusually hard for you, see if you're missing a minor insight · 2021-05-05T18:00:54.366Z · LW · GW

This reminds me of the surprise which I felt upon discovering that a highly-intelligent acquaintance, who considers eggs to be among their favorite foods, was unaware that you can test whether an egg is still good by floating it in a vessel of water. Eggs which float have started decomposing and built up some gas inside; eggs which touch the bottom of the vessel are fresh.

In areas where I've self-taught or the field has progressed since those who taught me studied it, I find that skimming "how to do the thing" articles online offers a treasure trove of handy tricks in this category.

Oddly, those "lifehack" videos that circulate wherever small clips of video are found tend to try to aggregate the home economics side of these insights as well. There's a broad overlap between "lifehacks", infomercial products, and assistive technologies designed for people with various minor disabilities. Tricks like using a rubber band to increase your grip on a jar lid, or rolling a citrus fruit on the counter before opening it to make it easier to peel or juice, or interlocking two wrenches together to increase leverage, cater to those who for whatever reason can't do a task the usual brute-force way and, in doing so, also help those who can normally do a task the usual way but encounter a harder version of the task that the ordinary technique doesn't work on.

Comment by nim on Gauging the conscious experience of LessWrong · 2021-05-05T04:23:34.725Z · LW · GW

Dropping by after this closed, but I have a couple descriptions of mental experience which people have called unusual when I've tried to explain them in the psat.

I always overthink questions about vividness of imagination due to describing the experience of imagining in terms which I rarely see used. I find that subjectively, imagining something and recalling having seen or thought of its component parts feel almost identical. In the classic aphantasia test of "imagine a red apple", I grab some recent recollection of a red apple -- maybe it's clip-art of an apple that I saw online; maybe it's the apple that's sitting with some other apples on my kitchen counter. As I'm asked further questions about "the apple", it seamlessly shifts into a recollection that happens to have the answer to the question. For instance if I'm asked how "the apple" smells or tastes, I layer on a recent or particularly vivid memory of having smelled or tasted an apple.

I have yet to figure out whether I'm unusual in seeing so many memory attributions on imagined images due to others imagining without memory, others imagining with memory without keeping track of what memory each image is from, or some other explanation. This awareness of attribution doesn't hinder my ability to create novel things -- if anything, I have an easier time being confident that something I've made is quite unique, because I can compare it to similar things which it distantly resembles and point out their differences. I find it relatively easy to steer a small creative project away from being an exact replica of any particular prior art which I can recall.

I also find that I retain visual and spatial information more readily than some. I often wake from a dream and have to sketch out a map of the location where the dream took place in order to recall the events which happened on that map. This is usually handy when traveling, although I'm extra disadvantaged once I do get thoroughly lost because I get relatively little practice solving that sort of problem.

Comment by nim on Sexual Dimorphism in Yudkowsky's Sequences, in Relation to My Gender Problems · 2021-05-05T02:09:34.185Z · LW · GW

What's your take on that aspiration toward immortality which seems somewhere between fashionable and universal around these parts of the internet? I'm curious because it seems like that would be a huge factor in the equation of whether you'd consider it desirable to hormonally transition long term, considering the difference between male and female life expectancies.

Comment by nim on Self-Keeping Secrets · 2021-05-05T01:54:04.362Z · LW · GW

When attempting to parse that final sentence, I get "the map for which ordinary maps are the territory", and some filter in my head tells me that it sounds poetic enough that I should try to force the thought to do something other than just amuse me and then disappear.

While I think I see where you're coming from in describing those inferences from the thing, I can't really build on them like I would hope to in a proper conversation, because I tend to keep my understanding of it wrapped up in an e-prime inspired thought as a sort of defense against the quagmire of woo that it seems to commonly get embedded in.

Comment by nim on Self-Keeping Secrets · 2021-05-04T16:09:53.222Z · LW · GW

I've socially observed that "many/most such people wind up woo" thing you describe. I have a speculation to elaborate on the mechanism of the payload's collision with peoples' metaphysics:

I notice that a payload I've encountered which sounds to me like what you're describing has a lot of "one-way" references to it throughout art and culture. When I consider the reference without the payload, it's kind of like a dangling pointer, and the mind tends to pick whichever of those possible meanings seems most appealing based on internal state. However, considering the reference and payload together makes it seem profoundly obvious that the payload is the best-fitting explanation for the reference, and the lack of an obvious best-fitting explanation before was due to the absence of that particular payload. I call the link "one-way" because the references are not useful for inferring the details of the payload, but the payload is useful for explaining the references. This contrasts against the usual "two-way" relationship between an observation and its explanation, where the observation usefully narrows the size of the relevant explanation-space as well as the explanation justifying the applicability of the observation. (or, the link between descriptions of the payload and the payload behaves like an NP problem, whereas the links between other descriptions and their described things-like-the-payload behave like P problems)

However, due to this strange behavior, I'm not actually convinced that this payload is "a piece of knowledge" in the sense that it's usually useful to describe things as pieces of knowledge. For things to qualify as pieces of knowledge, I think they need to be transmissible between thinkers and verifiable as having been accurately transmitted, and the payload as I know it meets neither criterion with any sort of reliability. I suspect that the most useful metaphor for the payload and its effects varies based on the reason one's trying to discuss it.

Comment by nim on What weird beliefs do you have? · 2021-05-04T01:17:17.308Z · LW · GW

One of my own weird beliefs is very close to this one: Huge amounts of everything accepted by modern western medicine and psychology today was used by people in some way before being "scientifically" explained. Whether we're talking about using compounds from particular plants to treat particular ailments, or using particular psychological tricks to alter peoples' thoughts and behavior, science is literally eating magic's lunch because "magic" is often where science looks to get ideas for hypotheses to test.

Because of this history, and the history of science being very confidently wrong about many things in the past, I don't find it problematic to use personally pieces of "magic" or "superstition" as lifestyle or cognitive building blocks when they suit a particular purpose better than the available scientific ones.

Then again, I think that what "most people" need to learn from a foray into the occult is the ability to build their own systems to meet their needs, rather than just raw weirdness.

Comment by nim on nim's Shortform · 2021-05-01T03:38:41.741Z · LW · GW

I don't have any blog posts at all yet; I'm still calibrating what ideas I'd like to make that investment in, while using shortform as a notebook for scribbling at.

But since you're interested, my victory over the affront of snacks pretending to be electric cars bears the rather undignified name "Yummy meatless plant-based protein nuggets". The box looks like this, although I found them in in the kids' foods section of a WinCo Foods rather than an Aldi: https://www.reddit.com/r/aldi/comments/hf74fk/vegan_nuggets_at_my_local_aldi_2_weeks_ago_havent/

Curiously, the brand which makes them does not appear to boast about making them anywhere in its web presence, although they have an entire separate site dedicated to their dinosaur-shaped meat paste concoctions.

Comment by nim on On silence · 2021-04-30T18:13:22.878Z · LW · GW

I've spent most of my life in areas with low noise pollution. The best way I can describe the experience is that relevant ambient sounds build an understanding of my surroundings like the mini-map in the corner of a video game, which shows all the important events going on within a few hundred yards of the player's character.

In areas with low noise pollution, that mini-map is beneficial: it takes little to no conscious thought to keep it up to date, and it offers me information that I care about, such as where the people and animals around me are and what they're doing. The wind makes different sounds when it blows different directions; rain's various rhythms and drips tell me as much about it as I'd know if I watched it visually; bird songs reveal that the birds think it's business as usual outside and their absence says that something out there has impressed the birds as being even more interesting than yelling at each other. In an area with few vehicles, it doesn't take special effort to listen to each one: It's easy to tell whether it's light or heavy, gas or diesel, fast or slow, coming or going, traversing the paved road or a gravel driveway. Different people walk in different ways and make different little noises, which the brain starts picking out by itself when given enough good data to pattern match on.

When I visit areas with higher noise pollution, that mini-map gets cluttered with dozens or hundreds of overlapping facts about the environment, to a point where it's worse than useless and I try to turn it off by overriding it with distracting sounds like music or podcasts. When asking friends who were accustomed the noise why it didn't bother them, it became clear that some people who spend most of their time in areas with high noise pollution don't seem to experience that mini-map, or quarter-mile of personal space, that I take for granted when it's available.

Comment by nim on nim's Shortform · 2021-04-28T20:52:05.650Z · LW · GW

The other corollary to the cost vs enjoyment thing: simply finding out about the existence of something which is of greater cost and lower quality compared to a thing I have seems to increase my enjoyment of my competitor to it.

This suggests that time spent researching "better" things might yield a free increase in enjoyment from what I already have.

For instance, simply finding out about the existence of a subscription service for hilariously expensive fake-chicken nuggets (they say they're developed like software, as if that's an improvement over having predictability in food products?) causes me to feel like I've succeeded every time I cook the affordable but still delicious fake-chicken nuggets that I get from my local grocery store.

This is adjacent to (or possibly opposite of?) a problem which I've nicknamed the Wirecutter Effect: I spent quite a bit of my life trusting reputable review sites to tell me what the "best" of a particular item would be, because the pile of research required to compare all the options myself seemed prohibitively difficult and seemed to require information that could be gathered by directly observing each candidate product but not by reading about them. So I find myself owning and using quite a few things which Wirecutter calls the "best", which are not actually the "best" for me because of ways in which my needs differ from the needs of Wirecutter's target audience.

A couple glaring examples: the "best mop" for mopping floors isn't actually that great for me, because I tend to put off mopping till the bits of stuff stuck to the floor start annoying me, and the recommended microfiber mop isn't well suited for scrubbing hard at things which won't just soak off. The "best electric mattress warmer" has separate controls for variable temperatures on both sides of the bed, but I only ever use it to set the whole bed to max heat for awhile before turning it off when I turn in, and the complex electronics have made it far harder to troubleshoot and repair when it spontaneously quit heating at all.

Edit: Later additions to the Wirecutter Effect list:

  • The "best sateen sheets" do not accommodate as deep a mattress as the "budget pick" ordinary cotton sheets, and the "budget pick" have little labels helpfully sewn in at the head and foot to tell you what orientation the sheet goes onto the bed, which the "best" option doesn't possess.
Comment by nim on nroman's Shortform · 2021-04-28T20:32:58.900Z · LW · GW

I recently encountered a local policy that made me realize nobody with experiences similar to mine could possibly have been involved in the planning process. In my rural area, the policy went from no permit requirements around burn barrels or home fire pits, to asking everyone to fill out an online form before every use of fire outdoors. The web form required the address, the planned time of burning, a contact phone number, and the full name of the adult in charge. They didn't mention who would have access to the submitted data, how long it would be kept, whether users would be notified if a data breach leaked their addresses and phone numbers to attackers, what consequences would result from burning without having filled out the form, whether there was an alternative way to get a permit without the form, or what regulations gave them the authority to make the change of requiring it. As a highly online millennial, this made me ask some questions which seemed blindingly obvious:

  • What about people who lack internet access? How are they to find out about the new requirement, and how are they expected to file for permits when public libraries are shut due to a global pandemic?
  • What about the form being used to dox people? People in positions of power where they'd be expected to have access to the form's results aren't immune to harassing others, and if a victim is staying with a friend to avoid for instance domestic violence, requiring them to link their full name to their current address makes using the form dangerous to them.
  • What about the form being used to swat people? If some jerk on the internet finds my name and address, they could impersonate me in filing permits and likely have fire services or law enforcement sent to my house if they used the form to claim they planned to burn on a high fire danger day

I have these reactions without personally having lacked internet, or being doxed, or being swatted, because I perceive those threats as "things which happen to people like me".

Of course I escalated these concerns, and to their credit they've fixed many of the issues, but the fact that the policy made it to being publicly announced with all those issues still in it was a shocking reminder of the difference between what authorities assume people want and need, and what I do.

Comment by nim on nim's Shortform · 2021-04-28T20:14:28.800Z · LW · GW

Reading https://www.lesswrong.com/s/M3TJ2fTCzoQq66NBJ/p/3T6p93Mut7G8qdkAs and contemplating my own gift-giving and gift-getting, it strikes me that the "best of a cheap thing" technique works great on me for what I consider to be entirely valid reasons beyond just "let's exploit cognitive biases to spend less".

My perception of experiencing the effect is that the best-of-a-cheap-thing is likely to actually improve my day-to-day life, significantly more than certain expensive things. Let's compare two gifts which my spouse has given me over the years, both of which I enjoy and appreciate:

  • A 2-pack of incredibly nice insulated glass coffee mugs, which likely cost about $40. (https://www.bodum.com/us/en/10606-10us-bistro, for the curious). I drink tea every day, and upgrading my teacup to an outrageously high-end teacup improves the aesthetics and ergonomics of that experience on a daily basis. These are competing against all my other teacups, and they are probably twice as enjoyable to use as a regular ceramic one.

  • A copy of the Codex Seriphinianus, a truly glorious tome of art which likely cost around $80. I "read" it perhaps 2 or 3 times per year, and when adjacent topics come up in conversation with friends I derive great delight from pulling out a real copy of the book and showing it to them. But my enjoyment of it for its general book-ness contrasts it against all the other books I own, and while it's up there in probably my top 5 favorites, it wouldn't be the one book I'd grab if I could keep only a single physical copy from my library.

If I had to rank those gifts by the total hedonic flux they cause over the lifetime of my owning them, though, the mugs are the obvious winner. The moment of "I have the perfect book for this!" is perhaps 10x or 50x more hedons than the moment of "I have the perfect mug for this!", but the moment of "I have the perfect mug for this!" occurs maybe 100x more often than the "I have the perfect book for this!" one.

I speculate that a best-of-a-cheap-thing gift has the accidental side effect of improving the recipient's experience far more frequently than a worst-of-an-expensive-thing one. This is particularly relevant when both gifts are in categories where the recipient owns at least one thing -- I already owned books, and I already owned mugs, and the hypothetical adult recipient of a cheap gaming console very likely owns at least one other means of playing games. It's extremely hard to find a book that I enjoy more than my favorite book, but before I got my nice mugs it was surprisingly easy to find a mug that I enjoy more than my previous favorite mug. When the recipient hasn't fully optimized their lifestyle, there are often low-hanging fruit of items that they would use frequently but balk at spending more than a certain amount on for themself.

When I'm gifted the best-of-a-cheap-thing, such as a mug that's better than all my other mugs, that gift improves the experience of using a mug every time I need to. If I was gifted a worst-of-an-expensive-thing (which fortunately does not tend to happen to me much if ever), such as a phone that's worse than my current phone or a gaming system worse than my current gaming setup, I would likely never use the gift at all, for using it would be worse than using the alternative.

In other words, the "thoughtfulness" of a gift could be approximated by some "cost per hedon" metric, and for a gift to impart non-zero hedons to the recipient's life it must be better in some way than what the person would have had without it. Some gifts impart positive hedons just by reminding the recipient to relive a positive emotional state from the past, such as a thoughtful card. However, giving a gift that's worse than whatever the recipient was previously using for that purpose may actually impart negative hedons: the benefit of being reminded that you thought of them might be canceled out and then some by the hassle of having to figure out how to navigate the social morass of thanking you for something they're not very thankful for, and figuring out how to appropriately dispose of the gift.

I received plenty of negative-hedon gifts in my childhood from wellmeaning family members. Gifts of clothing which I found uncomfortable or otherwise unpleasant are a great example: when I didn't need or enjoy the gifted garment and receiving it didn't change my understanding of how much the giver cared about me, the gift didn't cause enjoyment. However, receiving any gift meant I had to write a note of gratitude and also figure out what to do with the item -- use it, store it, or somehow get rid of it. These unpleasant exercises which would have been avoided without the gift displaced enjoyable activities that I would have preferred to engage in, inducing negative hedonic flux.

Lest I sound ungrateful, I'll repeat that the negative hedonic effects of the gifts were possible because they didn't change my understanding of how much the giver cared about me, and that's usually because before getting the gift I already thought the giver's opinion of and love for me were at the maximum that I could conceive of. If the gifts had come from someone whose regard and affection I was less certain of, they could have had a positive impact despite being equally unneeded and unenjoyable, because the process of receiving any gift from a person tends to increment my perception of the person's regard for me.

Comment by nim on How to Play a Support Role in Research Conversations · 2021-04-26T19:47:14.212Z · LW · GW

At various times, I've used and provided a sort of cognitive mirroring that I'd describe like you describe the techniques in this post, and it does seem to help clarify ideas. However, the technique as I've enjoyed it has an initial step that I'm not seeing spelled out in the post: agreeing on what the process is and when to engage in it. This can happen tacitly between people who know each other extremely well, but often needs to be explicitly negotiated to avoid one party feeling disappointed when the mirroring-without-adding-to-the-model wasn't actually what they were looking for.

I think that negotiation step is why the named process of "rubber ducking" is so useful: using an agreed-upon name allows both halves of the conversation to know exactly what the expectations are. When someone asks me "hey, can I rubber duck at you about this for a minute?", I know exactly what they expect of me and don't have to worry about being inadequately able to contribute new directions toward a solution.