Comment by persol on Avoiding Your Belief's Real Weak Points · 2015-04-09T23:26:04.512Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Can you please explain why you believe in your God, and not all the others?

Comment by persol on Avoiding Your Belief's Real Weak Points · 2015-04-09T20:52:27.311Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'd never seen the term Bulverism, but I don't think what you are doing would classify. You aren't saying A is false because Okeymaker likes B, you're saying the extraordinary claims with lack of extraordinary evidence doesn't provide much prove A.

And that lack of good evidence does not seems not to matter... which makes me wonder how a discussion can continue. Questioning the motives of the discussion is goal clarification, without which there is no discussion.

Comment by persol on Avoiding Your Belief's Real Weak Points · 2015-04-09T01:25:54.089Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW is a good reference. A simple reading of the first page should be sufficient to put doubt in the fact that the gospels are completely 'true'.

While this is not enough to convince someone that the Biblical God is false, it at least is a good gate to further discussion. If someone can't acknowledge that there are factual errors and contradiction... I'm not sure what there is left to talk about.

Comment by persol on Avoiding Your Belief's Real Weak Points · 2015-04-08T22:56:15.138Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

don´t NEED to read non-canon gospels to believe in Jesus, just like I don´t need to read Feynman to believe in physics.

Absolutely true, but if your belief on some specific part of physics is based on a single untested book which has demonstrable errors, you should read some other sources. Especially when there really isn't a huge volume.

[As a side note 'belief in physics' doesn't really mean anything. If you believe that a dropped apple will fall, you 'believe in physics'... you have direct evidence of it.]

I intend to read non-canon gospels, do you know how many there are?

It's shorter than A Song of Fire and Ice. In your world view, your religious documents should be much more important than George R Martin's musings are to millions.

Never said [liking something makes it true]

You're missing my point. Tour reason for believing the Gospels appears to have no foundation other than your 'like', and as you seem to agree, you liking it doesn't make it more true than all the other religious documents. If you have some other reason for believing it, share THAT and we can discuss. Currently you're leaving everyone to guess why you believe what you believe. If you go ask 10 fellow believes 'why', I guarantee you won't get the same answer each time.

I never said I disregard everything that is not the gospels and you know it.

I never said you did; I said you choose the Gospels over everything else... you have multiple sources, all of which are easily available to you; and you appear to randomly chose a subset. Even worse, you appear to have randomly picked a complete religion.

Your chance of having picked the right religion is near zero. Hopefully any real supreme being doesn't send you to some analogue of hell for believing in the wrong god.

Meanwhile, in the gospels JESUS do not contradict himself.

To be clear, almost nobody claims Jesus wrote the gospels. Different gospels have Jesus saying different things in the same situation. For a straightforward indisputable example refer to Matthew 26:34 and Mark 14:30. A response that the above example may be misquoted could apply to everything Jesus is quoted as saying.

(You can Google other examples, but many could be argued as Jesus telling a story in which he describes different activities. This one is more straightforward.)

Feel free to refer to those contradictions you talk about.

Again, you can easily Google this. The Old Testament is demonstratively wrong on facts, but I suspect you'll say you don't follow that. Mark has a large number of demonstratively wrong facts as well. You're trusting Mark to correctly quote Jesus, when his stories have numerous other mistakes,

Comment by persol on Avoiding Your Belief's Real Weak Points · 2015-04-08T20:12:31.051Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

with ACTUAL knowledge on the subject

The beauty of theological study (and the internet) is that you can look at the source material and translations in detail and directly yourself. You have access to the very small amount of source data on the subject. Most of what people 'know' about the Trinity was made up hundreds of years after the fact.... and quite obviously these theories about the holy trinity have been untested.

Comment by persol on Avoiding Your Belief's Real Weak Points · 2015-04-08T20:05:32.876Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

To be blunt, I'm not really seeing answers from you. Most of your responses to most people's claims have been "well I don't believe that anyway". Meanwhile, you haven't even read most of Christianity.

Your specific responses seem to say very little:

No. But I haven't fully read any non-canon gospels yet.

You haven't done even your basic due diligence. You believe your eternal soul is controlled by God, but you can't be bothered to read a few documents that claim to have worthwhile information? This is absurd. Instead you've randomly latched on one set of documents, which you fully acknowledge are contradicted elsewhere.

I am an evangelic christian and within my belief the gospels override everything else that is or can be seen as contradictory. I have to value the words of Christ higher than the words of his followers and mortal predecessors.

There are direct contradictions WITHIN the gospels. How can something with basic logical error be an ultimate truth? Moreover, most theologians acknowledge that the gospels were not written during Jesus's claimed activities... let alone BY Jesus.

I just "like" the gospels more than the rest of it.

You like something, fine... that doesn't make it true. That fact that you liking something doesn't make it true is simply a fact. Having not even read the alternatives, why does what you 'like' even matter?

If the only ice cream you've ever had is broccoli flavored, a statement that 'you it more than the rest' doesn't mean anything. You need something to compare it to.

Actually read and investigate the various documents across 'flavors' of Christianity that claim to talk about your God. Honestly ask yourself why you only choose the Gospels, and try to think about the various contradictions. You don't need us for this.

Comment by persol on Avoiding Your Belief's Real Weak Points · 2015-04-08T02:13:42.971Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I may have misread your initial comment. To paraphrase to check my reading: you are penalizing due to complexity of a 'god' prior but, on the balance, eyewitness details should increase your estimate of the claimed witnessed set being true. More details from eyewitnesses do not then penalize further. The complexity of the god models are just so complex in the first place, that eyewitness details don't increase your estimate much.

What I'm not grasping is what this sentence meant:

And even an Abrahamic God (or a divine Gospel Jesus, if we treat that as overlapping rather than a proper subset) is pretty detailed if we combine historical claims with some meaningful traits of divinity.

Functionally, we're talking about the set of vaguely Bible shaped gods... not all the details would need to be true. Eyewitness claims that this bible shaped god interacted with a historical figure should STILL increase your estimate of it happening.... even though that increase may still be infinitesimal.

Excepting things like "the following sentence is false", eyewitness details should always increase the chance of something like the referenced object existing. It may in parallel also provide evidence that the 'custody chain' is faulty or faked... but that's a different issue.

Comment by persol on Avoiding Your Belief's Real Weak Points · 2015-04-08T01:02:49.523Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I know this has been discussed before, but I'm not convinced that complexity penalties should apply to anything involving human witnesses.

Suppose someone theorizes that the sun is made of a micro black hole covered in lightbulbs, and there is no obvious physics being broken.... this is an obvious place to use complexity penalties. Simpler models can explain the evidence.

With the Bible though, we have witnesses that presumably entangle the Bible with a divine being. Complexity penalty in this case shouldn't penalize for extra details. (Considering complexity penalties may still point to "this story is made up for social reasons, and here are some prior sources" instead of "god did it"... but this isn't due to the amount of detail provided.)

Comment by persol on Avoiding Your Belief's Real Weak Points · 2015-04-08T00:21:48.790Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

True and I didn't consider that... but assuming a supreme being had any impact in humanity, it is reasonable to assume that the set of practiced religions are more likely to be true than the set of not discovered religions.

I was trying to minimize the possible tangential arguments. I think trying to expand from 1 religion to 19 major religions is enough to show the problem without going to ~200 religions, which allows room to argue about applicabiliy/similarity of subtypes. Going to all possible religions allows room to argue about applicability of set theory.

Comment by persol on Avoiding Your Belief's Real Weak Points · 2015-04-07T23:27:14.067Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not quite sure what you want to see when you ask for the 'weakest point in Christianity'. I thought the easily found arguments and frequently discussed arguments were compelling enough by themselves. I was a regular Sunday school attendee, continued to go to church (for social reasons) even after I started to think the whole thing was random, and genuinely enjoy having these sorts of discussions

The main things that I found had weight is that it's taking the numerous world religions and saying 'this one' without any great reason. When the correct selection may damn you for eternity, it's worthy of considering the alternatives.

  • From an outside view, I see no reason to privilege the supernatural portions of Christianity over other religions. Rhetorically, what do you find as the weak points of every other religion? Don't many of these apply to Christianity?
  • Generic inconsistencies - having read all the Biblical texts (some multiple times), and referencing databases for discussions of the original pre-translated text, the number of straightforward contradictions is outstanding. If we just assume for a second that some of the text was effectively the word of god, you still don't know which parts. And that's disregarding every other religion's text, seemingly without justification.
  • Inconsistencies in practice - some branches of Christianity heavily discount the Bible due to the above.... but this makes the problem WORSE. It just dilutes the 'god content' even further. Arguments of your specific practitioners being 'inspired by god' needs to address all the people who disagree with you but say the same thing.

The specific details about Christ, and your 'flavor' of Christianity, are besides the point in light of the above. Other than popularity, Christianity still has the same problems as Zeus and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

All that said, the best argument for Christianity seems to be as a placeholder belief and social system. For some people it's better just to pick a set of beliefs and go with it (IE: it's a complex/unknowable local minima problem that's 'good enough').

P.S. - I'd be interested in hearing your arguments 'for' God. I've yet to see one that isn't so broad to be effectively meaningless. You might want to just google your argument for God and see if there aren't already identified issues.

Comment by persol on Rationality: From AI to Zombies · 2015-04-04T22:24:06.424Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

1 gramming is checking single words; should identify unfamiliar vocabulary. (Ex: quantifiable)

2 gramming would check pairs of words; should identify uncommon phrases made of common words (ex: probability mass - better examples probably exist)

The 1/2 gram terminology may be made up, but I think I've heard it used before.

Comment by persol on Rationality: From AI to Zombies · 2015-04-04T01:00:34.341Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Two reason:

  • Frequently having multiple words as hyperlinks in ebooks mean that 'turning the page' may instead change chapters. Maybe it is just a problem with iPhone kindle.
  • For links that reference forward chapters, what is a new reader to do? They can ignore it and not understand the reference, or they can click, read, and then try to go back... but it's not a very smooth reading experience.

Granted, I probably wouldn't have noticed the second issue, if not for the first issue.

Comment by persol on Religion's Claim to be Non-Disprovable · 2015-04-03T22:32:30.403Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe my thought of 'religion' is different than yours, but I think of 'religion' as being a set of beliefs that claims to know some fact that is outside observable reality. By definition, this seems non-disprovable. If a belief system doesn't have claim to some 'extra-normal' normal, I wouldn't consider it a religion.

This may be the christian god's rules on who goes to heaven, or Buddhism's rules on what you come back as.

Comment by persol on Religion's Claim to be Non-Disprovable · 2015-04-03T12:37:11.599Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As far as dis-provability is concerned, all major religions seem to consist of two pieces:

  • a claim regarding 'the ultimate truth' regarding reality (usually focused on the afterlife) which is by definition inaccessible and non-disprovable
  • a set of guidelines for life, usually claimed as originating from 'the ultimate truth', but still testable in reality

If you extract the ideas of karma and rebirth from Buddhism, I'd still consider those two topics a religion which is non-disprovable... while what is left of Buddhism looks more like a testable philosophy on life.

I'm not saying that testing a religion's philosophy is easy but, as it should have an impact on reality, it is in theory testable. At the very least it is open to comparison to other philosophies and consideration regarding the consequences. As Christianity and Judaism shows, the religion itself survives when some of the non-religious content is disproven.

Comment by persol on Rationality: From AI to Zombies · 2015-04-01T21:40:22.798Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

See Mark's post regarding 7th grade; my intention was aimed at adults, who (for whatever reason) seem to like the 7th grade reading level.

I'm not sure how to effectively crowd source this without getting volunteers for specific (non-overlapping) tasks and sections. I share your concern with the wiki-method, unless each section has a lead. At work we regularly get 20 people to collaborate on ~100 page proposals, but the same incentives aren't available in this case. Copyediting is time consuming and unexciting; does anyone know of similar crowd sourced efforts? I found a few but most still had paid writers.

Comment by persol on Rationality: From AI to Zombies · 2015-04-01T21:23:21.049Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed that it may not be the point, but other than what I think are fixable issues, the book contents work well. I don't think starting from scratch would be a large enough improvement to justify the extra time and increased chance of failure.

I think the big work is in making the examples accessible, and Eliezer already did this for the -other- negative trigger.

"If you want to make a point about science, or rationality, then my advice is to not choose a domain from contemporary politics if you can possibly avoid it. If your point is inherently about politics, then talk about Louis XVI during the French Revolution. Politics is an important domain to which we should individually apply our rationality— but it’s a terrible domain in which to learn. Why would anyone pick such a distracting example to illustrate nonmonotonic reasoning?"

Comment by persol on Rationality: From AI to Zombies · 2015-04-01T01:17:22.182Z · score: 29 (29 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps this is already discussed elsewhere and I'm failing at search. I'd be amazed if the below wasn't already pointed out.

On rereading this material it strikes me that this text is effectively inaccessible to large portions of the population. When I binged on these posts several years ago, I was just focused on the content for myself. This time, I had the thought to purchase for some others who would benefit from this material. I realized relatively quickly that the purchase of this book would likely fail to accomplish anything for these people, and may make a future attempt more difficult.

I think many of my specific concerns apply to a large percentage of the population.

  • The preface and introductions appear aimed at return readers. The preface is largely a description of 'oops', which means little to a new reader and is likely to trigger a negative halo effect in people who don't yet know what that means. - "I don't know what he's talking about, and he seems to make lots of writing mistakes."
  • There isn't a 'hook'. Talking about balls in urns in the intro seems too abstract for people. The rest of the sequences have more accessible examples, which most people would never reach.
  • Much of the original rhetoric is still in place. Admittedly that's part of what I liked about the original posts, but I think it limits the audience. As a specific example, a family member is starting high school, likes science, and I think would benefit from this material. However her immediate family is very religious, to the point of 'disowning' a sister when they found out about an abortion ~25 years ago. The existing material uses religion as an example of 'this is bad' frequently enough that my family member would likely be physically isolated from the material and socially isolated from myself. 87% of America (86% global) have some level of belief in religion. The current examples are likely to trigger defensive mechanisms, before they're education about them. (Side-note: 'Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion – by Sam Harris' is a good book, but has this same exact issue.)
  • Terminology is not sufficiently explained for people seeing this material with fresh eyes. As an example, ~15% of the way through 'New Improved Lottery' talks about probability distributions. There was no previous mention of this. Words with specific meanings, that are now often used, are unexplained. 'Quantitative' is used and means something to us, but not to most people. The Kindle provided dictionary and Wikipedia definitions are not very useful. This applies to the chapter titles as well, such as 'Bayesian Judo'.
  • The level of hyperlinks, while useful for us, is not optimal for someone reading a subject for the first time. A new reader would have to switch topics in many cases to understand the reference.
  • References to LessWrong and Overcoming Bias and only make sense to us.

Eliezer and Robb have done a lot to get the material into book state... but it's preaching to the choir.

Specifically what I think would make this more accessible:

  • A more immediate hook along the lines of 'Practicing rationality will help you make more winning decisions and be less wrong.' (IE: keep reading because this=good and doable) Eliezer was prolific enough that I think good paragraphs likely already exist; but need connectors.
  • Where negative examples are likely to dissuade large numbers of people, find better examples. In general avoid mentions of specific politics or religion in general. It's better to boil the frog.
  • Move or remove all early references to Bayes. 'Beliefs that are rational are call Bayesian' means nothing to most people. Later references might as well be technobabble.
  • Make sure other terminology is actually explained/understandable before it's used in the middle of an otherwise straightforward chapter. I'd try 1n & 2n-gramming the contents against Google Ngrams to identify terminology we need to make sure is actually explained/understood before casual use.
  • Get this closer to a 7th grade reading level. This sets a low bar at potential readers who can understand 'blockbuster' books in English. (This might be accomplished purely with the terminology concern/change above)
  • Change all hyperlinks to footnotes.
  • Discuss LessWrong, Overcoming Bias, Eliezer, Hanson in the preface as 'these cool places/people where much of this comes from' but limit the references within the content.

Is there any ongoing attempt or desire to do a group edit of this into an 'Accessible Rationality'?

Comment by persol on Who Wants To Start An Important Startup? · 2012-08-22T14:57:49.400Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is a very good idea. Generally Google or Reddit works for this sort of thing, but focusing on aggregating news only is useful.

Few things:

  • How would you consider monetizing this? The online advertising bubble appears to be shrinking, as people realize minimal returns. For a similar website I've been considering an iP*/Android app, but the return still looks low.

  • Much of this information can be gathered automatically. The website I mentioned above is for an automated new summary generating site... which only works 90% of the time. For what you're doing, simply gathering and listing the information automatically is relatively easy.

  • Is moderation required to scale? I wonder if the topic resolution may not be agreed on for busy topics. Using the example above, one person may find the photos with Buddha. Another may find video of it. You may end up with a video thread, a photo thread and a thread with both. Using another example, at what point is a new Curiosity rover discussion a new 'subject'. If they find little green men I'd expect a new subject... but what if the rover gets flipped upside down? You can let users decide this, but you'll likely end up with users making multiple versions of the same article/subject/thread.

Comment by persol on Who Wants To Start An Important Startup? · 2012-08-21T18:54:46.183Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That link (fixed version ) is very accurate. I wish I'd considered the first few points BEFORE programming/advertising the site.

Comment by persol on Who Wants To Start An Important Startup? · 2012-08-19T15:08:49.039Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I was thinking of this same sort of thing for a diet site. Rather than count calories, just photograph your plate with your hand next to it, and have the computer calculate for you.

The main issues I see with doing this in a fridge would be viewing angles and telling the difference between an old carton of OJ and a new carton of OJ.

Comment by persol on Who Wants To Start An Important Startup? · 2012-08-19T00:51:38.158Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It seems that the entire idea of currency is to act as a trusted means of recording exchange and debt. Of all the functions of money, which one is being improved by this proposal?

What's actually different between this and Bitcoin? I don't understand what the benefit of having two non-legal currencies instead of just one. The idea of wasting electricity to generate unbacked currency doesn't make sense to me.

Comment by persol on Who Wants To Start An Important Startup? · 2012-08-18T12:13:26.001Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

About 75% of the hits came from Google adWords, which was on for about 8 months. Maybe about 10% from search results. I also had a few links from subject specific websites. Average CTR was about 0.25%. Best CTR were ads that mentioned 'flashcards' and 'online'. The best conversion rate (answered a study session question) was 17% with the ad below:

  • Remember Facts
  • Spend less time studying.
  • Remember more material.

Graphic/animated ads were a waste of money, but at least I learned how to make animated GIFs.

Comment by persol on Who Wants To Start An Important Startup? · 2012-08-18T03:22:22.222Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Here's the actual PHP code, weighing in at 18Mb. It's probably the best way to get a feel for what it was, and it might help you decide what to do.

It includes:

  • most of the site code - This code is from about a month before I moved onto a more rewarding project, but it's the last full set I have.
  • automatic stylesheets/icons for iPhone and Android (not an application, but did create an icon on the home screen)
  • a bunch of draft banner ads - the animated GIFs summarize how the site worked
  • a research folder with information on SRS publications
  • screenshots of other SRS engines

This version may not have the correct repetition calculation. Due to the inherent time factor, it was a hassle to test, so I didn't fix that part of the code until later.

It was admittedly an ugly (but fast loading) site. After a few weeks of cheap banner ads and seeing the minimal reuse, I just set it to coast until the year ran out.

I did do some A/B testing with email notifications about a month in. It didn't have a measurable effect of return use.

Monetization was via banner ads. Via A/B testing, the best location for the ad was under the card's question. Once flipping the card, the ad was hidden. I also deactivated the ads for awhile too see if they were too intrusive; return visitors didn't improve.

I also incorporated graphics and audio, since the most successful SRS systems seem to revolve around vocabulary. I personally used it to help learn basic Mandarin for use with my in-laws... but it is a boring way of learning a language. While it is much more effective than Rosetta Stone, it is very difficult to stay engaged.

"Remember what you read" If you take a look at a newer version of SuperMemo, it has this feature.

Comment by persol on Who Wants To Start An Important Startup? · 2012-08-18T02:43:42.101Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry, typo. ~4000 people finished a session. Many more 'tried' than 4000... I just couldn't determine which users were bots that registered randomly vs users that didn't finish the first session.

  • Tried: lots (but unknown)
  • Finished 1 session: ~4000
  • Finished >1 session: ~20
Comment by persol on Who Wants To Start An Important Startup? · 2012-08-17T13:29:20.957Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I think Micaiah_Chang mostly nailed this. I actually wrote a site that did this a few months ago. I had about 4000 users who had actually gone through a complete session.

it would appear to be an uphill battle to make the benefits immediately relevant

As guessed, the problem is that I couldn't get people to start forming it as a habit. There is no immediate payback. Less than 20 people out of 4000 did more than one session.

you have to learn how to make cards that are easy to memorize or download a deck which is already well made

This one is easily solved. The Anki decks have a (weak) rating system, and allowing people to import anki decks was easy.

Additionally, there are at least 18 competitors. Here's the list I made at the time. Very few seem to be successful.

I shut the site down about a month ago. There are numerous free competitors which don't have any great annoyances. I wouldn't suggest starting another of these sites unless you figured out an effective way to "gamify" it.

Comment by persol on Memory, Spaced Repetition and Life · 2011-08-16T19:54:03.761Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In an effort to learn Mandarin, I started to use Anki. At the time the android app kept crashing. (Reviews seem to say it's better now.) I also had a doubt that the current two variable algorithm is actually optimal.

So I set up a webpage with a mobile interface that lets you import decks and study using a variation of SuperMemo's SM-2 algorithm. It has a small Gaussian randomness built into the easiness factor (decay constant). This might help determine if the algorithm should change.

I'm also worked on a way of sorting a language corpus. If you have sentences translated into another language, it's not useful to have a long sentence presented, when you don't know ANY of the vocabulary. Effectively, the algorithm runs through the items and sorts the items so that the challenge/novelty is fairly constant; the number of new words is distributed evenly over the entire set. As you might guess, this is iterative and still processor intensive... so I need to optimize it some more before letting web users run that function.

The other function still in the pipeline is a 'remember on but not after' deadline. I think this would only be useful for students, who need to remember something for testing, but can then forget it and use the internet if it ever comes up again.

Anyway, if interested:

Comment by persol on A LessWrong "rationality workbook" idea · 2011-01-12T23:54:19.888Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'd been tossing around the idea of a popular "How to Improve Your Life" sort of site. The user answers questions regarding what they are disappointed in, some 'dance around the bush' type questions to work around people's self-bias and questions to judge education level on various necessary topics.

The system would then weight the answers and calculate what improvements would have the highest cost/benefit. My assumption was that most people would suffer from too little time, irrational beliefs or health issues. A site is then suggested to support improvement.

There are tons of free sites for too little time (GTD), improving health (mostly calorie counters) and knowledge (spaced repetition sites, Khan Academy, etc). There is nothing I know of to step people through rationality. When I say 'step through', think an expert system similar to software 'wizards'.

I've been leaning, and this post helped shove me over, that helping address the lack of a rationality site is the more immediate good. (A rational/informed person wouldn't need a site to point out what areas need improvement, and then google it)


I plan on starting to outline a rationality specific version of the above and code it for a LAMP stack. Anyone else interested, or have a better suggestion? If no better suggestions, I'll start a sourceforge project.

Comment by persol on References & Resources for LessWrong · 2010-10-14T00:55:57.721Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The first 3 chapters of Jaynes' "Probability Theory: The Logic of Science" is available at:

Also, here's a copy of his unpublished book (pdf link at bottom):