The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence Wants You (to submit essays and articles on the future of government AI policy) 2019-07-18T17:21:56.522Z · score: 33 (9 votes)
Slack Club 2019-04-16T06:43:22.442Z · score: 57 (20 votes)
Trust Me I'm Lying: A Summary and Review 2018-08-13T02:55:16.044Z · score: 102 (39 votes)
On Authority 2018-07-05T02:37:28.793Z · score: 14 (4 votes)
Curriculum suggestions for someone looking to teach themselves contemporary philosophy 2013-05-31T04:20:58.811Z · score: 11 (11 votes)
Ruthless Extrapolation 2012-07-13T20:51:23.463Z · score: 0 (7 votes)
Betrand Russell's Ten Commandments 2012-05-06T19:52:22.012Z · score: 7 (26 votes)
[LINK] Signalling and irrationality in Software Development 2011-11-21T16:24:33.744Z · score: 9 (14 votes)
How did you come to find LessWrong? 2011-11-21T15:32:34.377Z · score: 5 (8 votes)


Comment by quanticle on The Oil Crisis of 1973 · 2020-05-25T04:47:19.175Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I gather the Fed was raising interest rates, but not enough to slow an economy with that level of rising inflation.

The Fed, at the time, was not raising interest rates because it was thought that the political cost of a recession caused by raising interest rates would be too high. Nixon favored keeping interest rates low. Ford was basically a caretaker government. Carter appointed Paul Volcker as chairman of the Federal Reserve, in 1979. Volcker immediately raised the Fed funds rate to 20% to curb inflation. In the process, however, he triggered a short but deep recession which contributed to Carter being a one-term President, thus proving the point.

Comment by quanticle on What are objects that have made your life better? · 2020-05-25T03:59:42.341Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think the advice would be best phrased as, " laptop charger," where is the number of locations you use your laptop regularly. For me, one at home, one at work and one in my bag is sufficient.

PS: why do you pack two in your travel luggage? Just in case one gets lost/left behind in a hotel room?

Comment by quanticle on What are objects that have made your life better? · 2020-05-25T03:55:53.888Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The corollary to that advice is that most comfortable doesn't necessarily mean most expensive.

Comment by quanticle on What is your internet search methodology ? · 2020-05-24T22:45:11.150Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Gwern has written extensively on how to use Google efficiently. Some highlights:

  • Use site: to search a particular site. For example, if I'm looking for the Ars Technica review of the Google Pixel 3A, I'll type: Google Pixel 3A. Or, if you want get a link "Meditations on Moloch" quickly, Meditations on Moloch
  • Don't be too specific -- people are bad at remembering specific words, so limit quoted phrases to two or three words
  • Learn the jargon of the field you're searching and use those phrases. For example, if the field uses "logistic regression" as a common approach, add that phrase to your search

In addition, I wouldn't bother trying to search sci-hub directly from Google. Instead, find the actual journal article you're looking for, copy its DOI number, and paste that into sci-hub.

Comment by quanticle on What are objects that have made your life better? · 2020-05-24T22:34:54.753Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Is the Coleto just the multi-pen version of the Hi-Tec C? If I don't need a bunch of colors (I can't remember the last time I used anything other than black ink), a standard Hi-Tec C would work just as well, right?

Comment by quanticle on What are objects that have made your life better? · 2020-05-24T06:20:06.660Z · score: 14 (4 votes) · LW · GW

A really nice set of screwdrivers.

People underestimate the deterrent effect that small obstacles have. Having a nice set of screwdrivers means that random things that come loose can be tightened easily. Things like door handles, the panels around electrical switches, that rattling armrest on your chair, etc, etc. They make assembling furniture oh so much more efficient, since the tools that ship with furniture kits are the absolute cheapest pieces of junk that manufacturers can get away with. A proper set of precision bits makes certain "impossible" projects easy. For example, when the RAM in my laptop died, I was able to open it up, and replace just the bad RAM, instead of having to throw away the entire machine and get a new one.

I have both the "Mahi" 48-bit 1/4" driver kit and the "Mako" precision 4-mm driver kit from iFixIt. If I had to choose one, I'd take the Mahi, since the precision bits are useless in a non-electronics context.

Comment by quanticle on The Oil Crisis of 1973 · 2020-05-23T15:10:37.234Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My best guess is that something was going wrong in the US and world economy well before 1971, but the market was not being allowed to adjust.

The problem that made the Bretton Woods system unsustainable was the fiscal expansion caused by the US having to pay for the Vietnam War and the Great Society programs. From the linked article:

The Federal Reserve shifted its stance in the mid-1960s away from monetary orthodoxy in response to the growing influence of Keynesian economics in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, with its emphasis on the primary objective of full employment and the belief that the Fed could manage the Phillips Curve trade-off between inflation and unemployment (Meltzer 2010).

Increasing US monetary growth led to rising inflation, which spread to the rest of the world through growing US balance of payments deficits. This led to growing balance of payments surpluses in Germany and other countries. The German monetary authorities (and other surplus countries) attempted to sterilise the inflows but were eventually unsuccessful, leading to growing inflationary pressure (Darby et al. 1983).

After the devaluation of sterling in November 1967, pressure mounted against the dollar via the London gold market. In the face of this pressure, the Gold Pool was disbanded on 17 March 1968 and a two-tier arrangement put in its place. In the following three years, the US put considerable pressure on other monetary authorities to refrain from converting their dollars into gold.

The decision to suspend gold convertibility by President Richard Nixon on 15 August 1971 was triggered by French and British intentions to convert dollars into gold in early August. The US decision to suspend gold convertibility ended a key aspect of the Bretton Woods system. The remaining part of the System, the adjustable peg disappeared by March 1973.

Comment by quanticle on "God Rewards Fools" · 2020-05-01T14:40:09.191Z · score: 15 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure I agree. I don't think that one of the problems with the rationality community today is that it has insufficient holidays. I think the problem with the rationality community today is that it has insufficient accomplishments that can justify holidays.

If one looks at the actual mythology of holidays in major religions, they're not invented, they're earned. Christmas was earned by the 3 magi making the journey from the East to visit the infant Jesus. Easter was earned by the son of God redeeming his earthly body for the sins of mankind. Passover was earned by Moses choosing to confront Pharaoh and telling him to release the Israelites. Diwali was earned by Rama making the journey to Sri Lanka, defeating Ravana, and securing his bride, Laxmi.

Secular holidays, too, have to be earned. Memorial Day was earned by the sacrifices of the Civil War. July 4th was earned by winning a war of independence against Great Britain. Labor Day was earned by the struggle that working classes endured to gain the right to bargain collectively. Thanksgiving was earned by the starvation and cold that the Puritan Pilgrims suffered in their first winter in the New World.

To put it another way, holidays are justified as commemorations and celebrations. So, before we ask ourselves what holidays we ought to create, we ought to ask ourselves, what have we done, as a community, that is worth creating a holiday around?

Comment by quanticle on Negative Feedback and Simulacra · 2020-04-30T23:27:31.815Z · score: 14 (6 votes) · LW · GW

There are places where you can ask a stranger a question and they straight up won’t answer you, or won’t give you a true answer.

Indeed. The expectation that one can walk up to a complete stranger, ask a relatively innocuous question, and get a true answer is a rather WEIRD phenomenon. One of the asides that Graeber relates in Debt: The First 5000 Years is the story of an anthropologist who visits a tribe in Africa. He asks the directions to a nearby pond, and is deliberately deceived. Months later, when he has a greater level of rapport with the members of the tribe, he asks why they deceived him on the answer to a relatively innocuous fact-based question. Their answer is that, as a stranger, they did not know why he needed to go to the pond, or what he was going to do there. Their only knowledge was that 1) the anthropologist was a stranger and 2) the location of the pond was valuable information to him. As a result, their default position was to withhold the information (by lying, in this case). The tribe-members then assured him that they would of course give him reliable directions now, because he was known to the tribe and thus was not judged to be a threat.

I agree with shminux that there is no such thing as "pure" level-1 communication. Even when someone is relaying a true fact without any other connotations (i.e. a response to, "Do you have the time," or "Where's the bathroom?") they're relaying that they trust you enough to approach them and ask the question, and they're comfortable enough with you to give you a true answer. That's not nothing! In many parts of the world and through large parts of history, one had to undertake elaborate ceremonies in order to establish that level of baseline trust. The fact that said trust exists as a baseline among strangers is testimony to how civilized a modern industrialized society is.

Comment by quanticle on Why is my (our?) reasoning process noisy? · 2020-04-30T21:34:48.748Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think you're missing the point. You can't "pay attention" to this flickering, because it occurs below the level of conscious thought. It manifests as missed cues, "stupid errors", and other seemingly unrelated phenomena.

The reason I bring up ADD specifically is because one of the standard tests for it is to have the person being diagnosed sit in front of a computer and perform a routine task (like hit a button whenever a particular number pops up). The error rate is then compared to a baseline. If the error rate is significantly outside the "normal" variation, then it's a pretty clear warning sign that the person has ADD.

I'm not a psychologist, and your description is obviously not enough to make a diagnosis, but your description of the way you make errors stood out to me, and that's why I suggested getting tested.

Comment by quanticle on Why is my (our?) reasoning process noisy? · 2020-04-29T20:19:38.206Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Distraction: I don’t get distracted… I remain concentrated on the exercise

Are you sure about that? One of the symptoms of attention-deficit is that even when you're working hard to concentrate, your concentration can flicker in unexpected ways without you necessarily noticing, causing the "noisiness" or "glitchiness" that you're describing.

I would get tested for ADD (or other psychiatric/neurological) conditions before assuming that you've discovered some kind of human universal that everyone else has missed.

Comment by quanticle on Do you trust the research on handwriting vs. typing for notes? · 2020-04-25T23:30:07.211Z · score: 11 (5 votes) · LW · GW

That's how it is for everyone. It's just that severity of degradation varies from person to person, so some people can write quite quickly without their handwriting turning into mush, while others can barely go above 15 wpm while retaining legibility.

The other quibble I have with the handwriting vs. typing studies is that they don't include the control group of not taking notes at all. Maybe the best option is just to review the literature ahead of time and just sit in class and pay attention.

Comment by quanticle on Do you trust the research on handwriting vs. typing for notes? · 2020-04-24T10:00:41.187Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think it depends on how neat one's handwriting is. I have (or rather, had) fairly neat handwriting, so it was no problem for me to take notes by hand. However, my brother, whose handwriting is considerably worse than mine, prefers to take notes on his laptop and annotate documents on his iPad. Similarly, I had a friend who had hand tremors get a specific note from the university's disability office to allow him to bring his laptop into courses where the professor banned them for most students simply because his handwriting was completely illegible, due to no fault of his own.

Taking notes serves no purpose if they're illegible scribbles that you can't make heads or tails of at the end of the class.

Comment by quanticle on Are veterans more self-disciplined than non-veterans? · 2020-03-23T06:36:53.258Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

How are you defining productivity? In my experience veterans do have a vastly greater capacity for buckling down and grinding through, in a way that people who have not had military service do not. However, on the flip side, I've also seen the failure mode where veterans assume that buckling down and grinding through is the only way to solve a problem, rather than stepping back and considering the broader picture. From what I've seen, it takes some time for veterans to realize that, in the civilian world, orders aren't absolute, and that if something doesn't make sense, you have an obligation to question it, rather than to just grind out the work.

In the military, there are strictly prescribed procedures for how certain things should be done, and deviation from those rules is punished. In the civilian world, not only is deviation not punished, but it can even be rewarded, if you find a more efficient way of accomplishing the task.

Therefore, while I agree with your friend that veterans have greater self-discipline, I disagree with the assertion that this would lead to greater productivity. It's plausible to me that the improvement in self-discipline is more than canceled out by the increased fixation on following rules and procedures unquestioningly.

Comment by quanticle on Sleepwalking Toward Armageddon · 2020-03-11T14:50:57.826Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Another unstated premise is that World War 1 and 2 are "typical". Braumoeller's study of war (discussed here) indicates that World War 1 and 2 were aberrations, and that the average war is far more limited than the sort of total society vs. society conflict that you had in the World Wars.

It's true that "war hasn't forgotten about us", but it's also important to note that most wars do not escalate into global conflict between coalitions of industrialized powers. Given that war may very well be inevitable, it might be more fruitful to look at the conditions of escalation. What causes military conflicts to escalate into global conflict? How can we build off-ramps so that when nations come to blows, there is a way for them to de-escalate?

Comment by quanticle on Why hasn't the technology of Knowledge Representation (i.e., semantic networks, concept graphs, ontology engineering) been applied to create tools to help human thinkers? · 2020-03-09T07:07:54.070Z · score: 13 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Third hypothesis: knowledge representation isn't actually a good paradigm for either human or machine learning. Neural networks don't have to be initialized with a structure, they infer the structure from the data, just like humans do.

Comment by quanticle on Winning vs Truth – Infohazard Trade-Offs · 2020-03-08T05:20:37.643Z · score: 32 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I think the notion of "winning" and "truth" being opposed has been addressed by Doublethink (Choosing To Be Biased). As Eliezer puts it so well:

There is no second-order rationality. There is only a blind leap into what may or may not be a flaming lava pit. Once you know, it will be too late for blindness.

Comment by quanticle on Cortés, Pizarro, and Afonso as Precedents for Takeover · 2020-03-01T06:58:12.280Z · score: 27 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Another example in this vein is Robert Clive's takeover of the Bengal Sultanate. As Nick Robins documents in The Corporation that Changed the World, Robert Clive was sent to Bengal by the British East India Company with the instruction to set up a modest trading outpost and specifically not engage in local politics or intrigue. So, of course, he intrigues with Mir Jafar, the commander in chief of the Nawab's army and gets him to change sides (along with a large portion of the Nawab's army) during the Battle of Plassey.

The East India Company's victory at the battle of Plassey resulted in immediate financial gain of £2,500,000 (now valued at over £250,000,000) for the Company, plus another £234,000 (now valued at £23,000,000) for Clive himself. Even more importantly, the EIC gained the right of diwani -- the right to collect taxes on behalf of the Mughals in Bengal. This allowed them to establish themselves as a commercial monopoly over the Bengal textile industry (considered the best in the world at that time) and further entrench themselves as a commercial and military power in India. For good reason, the Battle of Plassey is seen as a key moment in the consolidation of the British Empire in India, even though it was fought by a private individual on behalf of a private corporation.

Comment by quanticle on Eukryt Wrts Blg · 2020-02-10T19:28:24.432Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think there is a happy medium in between having zero jargon (and limiting yourself to the style of Simple English Wikipedia) and having so much jargon that your ideas are impenetrable to anyone without a Ph.D in the field.

I would also note that not all jargon is created equal. Sometimes a new word is necessary as shorthand to encapsulate a complex topic. However, before we create the word, we should know what the topic is, and have a short, clear definition for the topic. All too often, I see people creating words for topics where there isn't a short, clear definition. I would argue that jargon created without a clear, shared, explicit definition hurts the ability to build complex ideas even more so than not having jargon at all. It is only because of this form of jargon that we need to have the practice of tabooing words.

Comment by quanticle on Money isn't real. When you donate money to a charity, how does it actually help? · 2020-02-06T06:53:14.714Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Personal favors have lasting impact on the relationship, and cannot be accounted perfectly so there’s always some residual debt (IMO, this is a feature).

First, have you read Graeber's Debt: The First 5000 Years? It speaks to exactly this situation and makes points similar to the ones you're making.

Second, the real advantage of money is that it scales. Exchanging favors is great when we're all living in tribes or small towns. But if I, as many EAs believe, think that the real problem is not that my neighbor needs a new jacket but that a person 15,000 miles away needs a bednet to protect them from malaria, it's not at all clear how I can donate that bednet by doing favors for people.

While favors might have a lasting effect on the relationship, the problem with favors is that they require the relationship to already exist. Historically, this wasn't a problem because people lived in small, economically isolated communities, and didn't move. You got a set of pre-existing relationships simply by virtue of being born into that community, and you were stuck with those, whether you liked it or not. In that environment, people could keep and settle tabs, often without resorting to any sort of physical currency at all. But now, thanks to globalized trade networks and the businesses that built them, we have the ability to make use of faraway resources (like products made in China) and help people all over the globe (by donating bednets in Africa). In addition, the fact that people have the ability to move means that there needs to be a way for people to transact with others impersonally. I can't rely on trusting my IOUs when I'm new in town.

So while I do think that gift and favor based systems have some advantages, there is no way I'd trade our modern money-based financial system for a gift economy.

Comment by quanticle on Money isn't real. When you donate money to a charity, how does it actually help? · 2020-02-06T03:24:17.796Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I would alter that ever so slightly to say that money is as real as mathematics. Math is an unreasonably effective abstraction that allows us to efficiently and comprehensively describe a wide range of natural phenomena.

Similarly, money is an abstraction that allows us to trade a wide range of goods and services.

Comment by quanticle on Looking for books about software engineering as a field · 2020-02-05T15:34:48.089Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Another book that might be useful is Peter Seibel's Coders at Work: Reflections on the Craft of Programming. It is a collection of interviews with prominent software engineers (like Jamie Zawinsky, Douglas Crockford, Joe Armstrong, Ken Thompson, etc) in which they describe how they work and what it feels like (subjectively) for them to write code.

The benefit for practicing software engineers is to read the responses from other programmers in order to gain the perspectives of accomplished programmers on the act of programming. The benefit for you would be to look at how Seibel interviews programmers and how he can get them to speak about their accomplishments without necessarily getting too deep into the details of their work.

Comment by quanticle on Technology Changes Constraints · 2020-01-27T23:39:37.177Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Composing is slower, true, but composing a page for a printing press isn't really comparable to typing on a typewriter. The cost of composition on a press is amortized across hundreds or thousands of pages printed, which isn't the case for typing. In fact, we know that composition was worth the cost because the Chinese and the Japanese eventually did adopt the Gutenberg-style printing press in the mid-to-late 1800s as they industrialized and opened up to Western technologies.

Comment by quanticle on Technology Changes Constraints · 2020-01-27T06:47:58.748Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That's true, but it's not really the limiting factor. If you have lead type, you can make yourself a set of Chinese characters almost as easily as you can make yourself a set of Latin characters. The limiting factor is the fact that porcelain type was a lot less durable in a press and needed more time and skilled labor to make, whereas lead type can be made en-masse by metalsmiths.

Comment by quanticle on Technology Changes Constraints · 2020-01-26T22:24:07.921Z · score: 9 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It's illustrative to take your constraint theory and apply it to the press itself. Pi Cheng's press used porcelain type, which required skilled labor to manufacture and wore out quickly. Gutenberg's innovation was to replace porcelain (or wood, which had been used in prototype printing presses in Europe) with lead. Building on this, Gutenberg invented an ingenious system of molds that allowed a single metalsmith to cast a large number of type blocks at once.

Gutenberg's innovations (replacing porcelain with lead and his invention of a system to mass-produce type blocks) relaxed another constraint on the printing press: the availability of letters. These innovations were so successful, printing continued to use variations of lead type all the way into the early '80s, when cast lead was finally replaced with electronic systems.

Comment by quanticle on On hiding the source of knowledge · 2020-01-26T09:03:41.025Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

But these checks are insufficient to convince a skeptical audience, is the point.

Yes, I see that as a feature, whereas you see to see it as somewhat of a bug. Given our propensity for self-deception and the limits of our brains, we should gather evidence, even when our intuition is very strong, and we should be suspicious of others who have strong intuitions, but don't seem to have any sort of analytical evidence to back their claims up.

I don't see any risk to hiding the origins of one's ideas, if one has experimental evidence confirming them. Similarly, I don't see the benefit of disclosing the sources of unconfirmed ideas. Where the idea comes from (a dream, an intuitive leap, an LSD trip, a reasoned inference from a literature review) is far less important than actually doing the work to confirm or disprove the idea.

Comment by quanticle on On hiding the source of knowledge · 2020-01-26T08:14:01.336Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, this is a semantic issue of what counts as “checking”, but that is exactly the issue at hand. Of course it’s possible to check claims against memory, intuition, mental calculation, the Internet, etc, but every such check has only limited reliability.

That is correct, but as Isaac Asimov pointed out in The Relativity of Wrong, there is a big difference between saying, "Every such check has limited reliability," and "Checking is the the same as not checking." If someone came to me tomorrow and said, "You're completely wrong, quanticle, in fact Australia has a larger land mass than Asia," I would be skeptical, and I would point out the massive preponderance of evidence in my favor. But if they managed to produce the extraordinary evidence required for me to update my beliefs, I would. However, they would have to actually produce that evidence. Simply saying, "I intuitively believe it to be true with high probability," is not evidence.

Comment by quanticle on On hiding the source of knowledge · 2020-01-26T07:25:14.137Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Einstein's Arrogance isn't as much of a counterpoint as you think it is. Yes, Einstein was arrogant, but we only remember his arrogance because he was right. Would we be holding Einstein's arrogance as such a good thing if Eddington's expedition had disconfirmed General Relativity? What if the orbital anomalies of Mercury had been explained by the presence of another planet even closer to the Sun? Without the numerous experiments confirming General Relativity, Einstein would be just another kook, with a set of papers that had interesting mathematics, perhaps, but whose hypotheses were refuted by observation.

As far as Blind Empiricism goes, I do find it telling that Japan did try the solutions that Eliezer proposed. However, due to factors that Eliezer did not consider, the Japanese government was not able to go as far with those solutions as Eliezer predicted, and as a result, the performance of the Japanese economy has remained laggardly. So perhaps Eliezer's confidence in his ability to figure out macroeconomics from first principles isn't as as great as he thought it was, and more empiricism is required.

Finally, with regards to The Sin of Underconfidence, while I agree that underconfidence leads one to pass up opportunities that one might have otherwise taken, I would argue that overconfidence is much worse. As Eliezer also stated:

One of chief pieces of advice I give to aspiring rationalists is “Don’t try to be clever.” And, “Listen to those quiet, nagging doubts.” If you don’t know, you don’t know what you don’t know, you don’t know how much you don’t know, and you don’t know how much you needed to know.

There is no second-order rationality. There is only a blind leap into what may or may not be a flaming lava pit. Once you know, it will be too late for blindness.

While it's certainly possible to be very confident in empirical claims without having checked, I don't think it's correct to do so. I am very confident that Australia has a smaller land mass than Asia, but the reason I am so confident is because I have repeatedly seen maps and atlases that show me that fact. If I did not, I would be as confident of my answer as I would be of my answer to the question, "Which has the greater landmass, the British Isles or the Japanese Home Islands?" Similarly, I have observed numerous flies and a few mice, and thus I can claim that the average fly is smaller than the average mouse. If I had not, I would be much less confident of my answer, much like I have little confidence in my answer to, "Which is larger? The average spider or the average fly?" Finally, I have absolutely no confidence in my intuitive answer to, "Am I going to get hit by a car when I cross the street?" This is why I look both ways before stepping out into the road, even when it's a "quiet" street. As someone who goes long-distance running, I have had enough unpleasant surprises there that I double and sometimes triple check before stepping out. Do you mean to suggest that you step out into roads without looking both ways?

Comment by quanticle on On hiding the source of knowledge · 2020-01-26T06:34:34.717Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I was fairly confident of my answer, but I still used a calculator to double-check my math. Moreover, I have computed 15*5 in the past, and I was able to check against the memory of those computations to ensure that I had the correct answer. Finally, math is not a science. Confidence applies to scientific results, which rely on experimental and observational evidence about the world to support or oppose specific hypotheses. The answer to 15*5 is not a hypothesis. It is a fact, which can be proven to be correct in the context of a particular mathematical system.

A scientific hypothesis, like the structure of benzene, is not reliant upon logical proof in the same way that a mathematical result is. If I have a proof of the answer to 15 * 5, then I know it is correct, absent any errors in my proof. However, if I have a particular hypothesis regarding the structure of benzene, or the nature of gravity, the logical soundness of the argument in favor of my hypothesis offers no evidence as to the argument's correctness. Only evidence can entangle my logical argument with the state of the world, and allow me to use my logical argument to make predictions.

Comment by quanticle on On hiding the source of knowledge · 2020-01-26T06:13:38.776Z · score: 2 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Couldn't it also be the case that the claim is already known through intuition, and proving it is the main problem? Of course, checking against more things will produce higher confidence, but confidence can still exceed 99 percent without doing other checks

How can something have any confidence behind it, much less greater than 99%, without evidence? 99% confidence on the basis of intuition alone is religion, not rationality.

Comment by quanticle on On hiding the source of knowledge · 2020-01-26T05:18:22.558Z · score: 11 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure I agree that the intuition itself is an artifact of value. To use a concrete example: Kekulé conceived of the structure of benzene after having a dream where he saw an ouroboros. But what does that give us as a way of further investigation? Should we ask chemists to take melatonin for more vivid dreams?

I recall a conversation I had where someone (call them A) commented that some other person (call them B) had developed some ideas, then afterwards found academic sources agreeing with these ideas (or at least, seeming compatible), and cited these as sources in the blog post write-ups of these ideas. Person A believed that this was importantly bad in that it hides where the actual ideas came from, and assigned credit for them to a system that did not actually produce the ideas.

Person A is correct that this is importantly bad, but incorrect as to the reason. The reason this is bad is because it is indicative of bottom-line thinking. The problem isn't assigning credit to a system that didn't actually produce the ideas. The problem is selectively scanning for confirmatory evidence and discarding contradictory evidence because one is so wedded to their intuition that they can't accept that their intuition might be wrong.

However, if Person B did the research, and surveyed all the evidence (including the evidence that disagreed with their intuition) and came to the conclusion that their intuition was correct, then I don't see what the problem is in saying, "I did a survey of the evidence for X, and I came to the conclusion that X is probably true." If anyone asks why you were investigating X in the first place, you can share that you had an intuition or a hunch. But at that point, the fact that you got the idea to study X from an intuition or a hunch no longer detracts from your evidence that X is true.

Comment by quanticle on Why Do You Keep Having This Problem? · 2020-01-21T01:56:23.130Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, yes, that's a good point, and I have updated in your direction. I was thinking more along the lines of things like product reviews and survey feedback, where the user is much more likely to take the time to complete the feedback form if they've had a negative experience than if they've had a positive one.

Edited to add: I wonder if there's a distinction between unsolicited feedback and requesting feedback, or giving feedback to an individual vs. feedback to a corporate entity.

Comment by quanticle on Why Do You Keep Having This Problem? · 2020-01-20T17:54:09.447Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think what tends to be voiced vs. not voiced varies a lot based on both the field and the culture involved. I've been in some environments where it seems like everyone loves to complain even when things are fine, but I've also been in some where people are very reticent to speak up even when there's a problem.

I'm not sure that's at odds with what mscottveach is saying. To put it in different words, while the amount of feedback might vary, I don't think the ratio of positive vs. negative feedback varies. It's the very rare situation where the number of messages that say, "This was good, everything went as planned or intended," outnumbers the messages that talk about how something went wrong.

Comment by quanticle on Steelmanning Divination · 2020-01-19T04:45:34.879Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for this comment. I was trying to point to something similar in this comment I wrote about the importance of understanding the origins of your ideas, but you've stated the point, in my opinion, much better than I did.

Comment by quanticle on In defense of deviousness · 2020-01-18T03:42:34.759Z · score: 16 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You might be interested in Fred Brooks' seminal essay, No Silver Bullet -- Essence and Accident in Software Engineering. In it, he distinguishes between essential complexity and accidental complexity. Essential complexity is complexity that comes from the problem domain. It cannot be factored out of the program, and any attempt to do so will likely introduce bugs. Accidental complexity is complexity that arises from details of the implementation, and which can be simplified out of the implementation.

A good example of accidental complexity is memory management. A good chunk of programmer effort in languages like C and C++ goes towards ensuring that memory is managed properly, and that the program returns memory to the operating system when it is finished using it. Memory managed languages take that burden away from the programmer and place it either with the compiler (in the case of Rust's borrow checker) or with the runtime environment (in the case of garbage collected languages like Java, or Python). The effect of this has been a significant reduction in accidental complexity (at the cost of some performance), with a commensurate increase in programmer productivity.

Comment by quanticle on "human connection" as collaborative epistemics · 2020-01-13T07:44:01.011Z · score: 19 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Surely there are all kinds of other ways to cooperate. A friend can help you move your stuff. You can exchange gifts. You can fend for each other. But objectively none of these are worth the huge chunk of resources we allocate to maintaining friendships and relationships. Only the upgrades to your worldview you get from interacting with other people is worth the trouble of interacting.

I think this is a very narrow, Straw Vulcan way of viewing the world. The primary value that other people have is the information and updates they can bring to your worldview? That seems like an awfully narrow conception of the value that other people can bring.

Moreover, how can you say, "objectively" that these benefits are not worth the effort? Do you presume to speak for everyone's utility function here?

Comment by quanticle on New edition of "Rationality: From AI to Zombies" · 2020-01-11T05:57:51.465Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

User Said Achmiz has take the old Rationality: From AI To Zombies text and laid it out in a much more aesthetically pleasing format at Read The Sequences. I definitely encourage you to check it out.

Comment by quanticle on What is Life in an Immoral Maze? · 2020-01-10T05:06:19.435Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's fair, though I do wonder how representative 25-person-deep reporting chains are. I've never worked in a company that had a reporting chain > 8 and my dad works in a company with a reporting chain of 12. 25 seems... incredibly painful.

Comment by quanticle on Stripping Away the Protections · 2020-01-10T03:49:26.436Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I know of a number of large organizations that are much more functional than described in these posts.

That's one thing that stood out to me as well. The dynamics seem typical for law and finance, but far less so for firms that actually have to produce goods and services that are consumed by others (and, insofar as those dynamics do take hold in firms that have to produce, the results are usually disastrous -- see: American auto manufacturing from the late-70s through the 2000s, the decline and fall of Sears, the decline of GE, and, most recently, Boeing).

Comment by quanticle on What is Life in an Immoral Maze? · 2020-01-10T01:56:21.501Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, I would agree with that. I was really confused when the OP kept referring to "middle management".

(Is considering oneself "middle management" like considering oneself "middle-class" -- i.e. everyone considers themselves that, even when they're far above the actual median?)

Comment by quanticle on What is Life in an Immoral Maze? · 2020-01-10T01:47:48.246Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I was specifically referring to these two passages:

When asked who gets ahead, an executive vice-president at Weft Corporation says: The guys who want it [get ahead]. The guys who work. You can spot it in the first six months. They work hard, they come to work earlier, they leave later. They have suggestions at meetings. They come into a business and the business picks right up. They don’t go on coffee breaks down here [in the basement]. You see the parade of people going back and forth down here? There’s no reason for that. I never did that. If you need coffee, you can have it at your desk. Some people put in time and some people work.

For those in middle management who want to succeed, that’s not how things work. Everything you are is on the table. You’d better be all-in.

That hasn't been my experience. In my experience, those who get ahead are not those who work hardest, but those who are most visible. You can "come in earlier, and leave later", but it won't matter if your project is not one that's a priority for senior management. Moreover, that sort of "working harder" doesn't seem to correlate with whether your project gets picked up as a priority or not.

So even a 9-5 guy who goes fishing is still likely to play politics, avoid rocking the boat, pass the blame downhill

To a first approximation, that's true of every job role, whether it's front line, middle management, senior management, or the C-suite. Nobody wants to look bad. Nobody wants to be blamed for a problem that they don't perceive was their fault. My disagreement is not with the fact that people play politics at work. Of course people will play politics; it's human nature to have politics when you have more than two people attempting to make a decision on which there's meaningful disagreement.

What I disagree with is the notion of middle management as a sort of all-consuming lifestyle that totally snuffs out your ability to be yourself outside of work. Maybe it's like that at some firms (like finance, or law), but my intuition is that most firms are not like that. Most firms are less American Psycho and more Dilbert.

Comment by quanticle on What is Life in an Immoral Maze? · 2020-01-10T01:37:43.861Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The barrier to exit is the cost of rebuilding those relationships. The old saw, "It's not what you know, it's who you know," applies quite heavily to management. The key value that managers add to front-line people is that quality of being a "human switchboard", knowing who is working on what, who needs to talk to whom and, most importantly, who should not talk to whom. When a manager switches firms, all of that implicit knowledge has to be built up from zero. It's a huge cost, and represents a significant barrier to exit.

Comment by quanticle on What is Life in an Immoral Maze? · 2020-01-08T18:22:33.378Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If the core organization is a thousand, then that's not very big, to be honest. Even if there are other affiliated, franchise organizations, the fact that the core is a thousand means that, organizationally, this nonprofit is probably closer to a just-past-startup corporation that it is to a Fortune 500 company.

The company my dad works for directly employs more than a million people. Microsoft employs roughly 90,000. Google employs, last I read, somewhere around 50,000. Amazon, if you don't count warehouse workers, employs somewhere around 60,000 (if you do count warehouse workers, it's roughly 500,000). This is roughly the order I'm talking about when I talk about a large organization.

The reason I'm so skeptical of the claims in the OP is that once an organization gets up these kinds of employee numbers, it's statistically highly improbable for middle management to be as described in Moral Mazes. There just aren't enough hyper-ambitious people to fill the roles. The vast majority of people don't actually want to subsume everything into their job -- they just want to do their work, get paid, and then go home to do whatever it is they do for fun.

I don't doubt that senior management is like what's described above. But there is a large difference between a Senior Vice President or Director angling for a C-level position and a middle manager who goes to work, puts in his 9-5 and then goes home and relaxes with the kids and goes fishing on weekends. My intuition is that the latter sort actually make up the majority of middle management.

Comment by quanticle on What is Life in an Immoral Maze? · 2020-01-08T06:37:01.740Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's interesting to hear. If I might ask, how large is this nonprofit, in general terms?

Comment by quanticle on What is Life in an Immoral Maze? · 2020-01-07T21:20:05.530Z · score: 11 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Any thoughts on why knowledge of this hasn't percolated down?

Maybe it's an incorrect view. Like I indicated in my other answer, the picture painted by this post does not at all correspond to my experience in large corporations, nor does it correspond to my father's experience as a middle manager in a large corporation.

Before we ask ourselves why something is correct, we should endeavor to ensure that it is in fact correct.

Comment by quanticle on What is Life in an Immoral Maze? · 2020-01-07T21:17:11.567Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not in middle management, but my dad is (at a Fortune 500 corporation, with something like 8 levels of management between contributors and the CEO), and his experience is far different from what you've described here.

We have this idea that there is work and there is not-work, and once one leaves work one is engaged in not-work distinct from work. We also have this idea that there are things that are off limits even at work, like sexual harassment.

For a person without anyone reporting to them, who is ‘on the line’ in the book’s parlance, this can be sustained.

For those in middle management who want to succeed, that’s not how things work. Everything you are is on the table. You’d better be all-in.

If anything, my dad works less than I do, and I have no ambitions to be anything more than an individual contributor. Yes, at times he has to be on-call when his team is doing a deployment, but I've found that overall he works fewer hours than I do. Moreover, it's not like my dad is coasting; I would estimate that he works harder than his peers. Do you have any statistics that can compare the average amount of hours worked for individual contributors and manager at a large corporation?

If the job requires you to move, anywhere in the world, you’ll do it, dragging your nuclear family along and forcing all of you to leave behind everything and everyone you know. Otherwise, you’re just not serious about success.

Again, speaking from personal experience, this is not the case. My dad was asked to move, when I was younger. I and my mother vehemently objected. He went to his boss and demurred... and so far as we know, he suffered no consequences for it. He was later promoted, and then, years later, laid off when the company merged with another company (as so often happens in the modern economy).

I guess my question is, "What evidence do we have that Moral Mazes actually describes life inside a large, modern corporation?" The quotes you've given here go very much against both my own and my father's experience.

Comment by quanticle on Dominic Cummings: "we’re hiring data scientists, project managers, policy experts, assorted weirdos" · 2020-01-05T08:23:02.258Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The charitable case is that Dominic Cummings pushed for Brexit because he realized that real, meaningful civil service reform would not be possible as long as the UK had to be fully aligned with EU rules and regulation. Brexit gives the UK room to maneuver in that regard while simultaneously stunning the existing political establishment into shocked inactivity, giving people like Dominic Cummings room to run and accomplish what they need to accomplish before things revert to politics as usual.


From what I've read, the UK's civil service is far less responsive to the winds of politics than the US's. This has both good and bad aspects. The good aspect is that while ministers can come and go, the day-to-day functioning of the government carries on largely unchanged from administration to administration. The bad is that, because the civil service is so professionalized, it's nigh impossible to change the mindset of the average civil-service professional without some kind of radical change. Brexit is that change, and the hope is that by inserting rationalist-aligned people into key positions in the civil service, Dominic can meaningfully alter the way that government functions in a way that can't easily be undone by the whims of the voters at the next election. Whether this is a good thing or not, of course, remains to be seen.

Comment by quanticle on What are the best self-help book summaries you've read? · 2020-01-03T20:55:43.836Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Speaking of SlateStarCodex, Scott Alexander's review of 12 Rules for Life is a really good summary of the main points of the book.

Comment by quanticle on Normalization of Deviance · 2020-01-03T04:40:49.394Z · score: 18 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Specifically, the normalization of deviance process in Challenger Launch Decision involved a 5-step process:

  1. Signal of potential danger
  2. Official act acknowledging potential danger
  3. Review of the evidence
  4. Official act indicating the normalization of deviance (i.e. accepting the risk)
  5. Shuttle launch

The key thing that Vaughan identifies is that in every iteration of the above cycle, the standard that was compared against was the output of the previous iteration. Because of this, the notion of what was "acceptable" joint rotation subtly shifted over time, from what a conservative standard in 1977 to a very risky one 1986. The problem was that NASA was updating its beliefs about what was acceptable O-ring performance, but, as an organization, was not realizing that it had updated. As a result it drifted in an uncontrolled manner from its original standards, and thus signed off as safe a system that was, in retrospect, a disaster waiting to happen.

Normalization of deviance is a difficult problem to combat, because the process that leads to normalization of deviance is also the process that leads to helpful and beneficial updates about the state of the world. I would suggest that some normalization of deviance, within limits is acceptable. The world is not always going to be what your model says it will be, and you have to have some leeway to adapt to circumstances that aren't what you were expecting. However, when doing so, it's important to ensure that today's exception remains an exception, and that the next time deviance occurs, it's checked against the original standard, not an updated standard that results from the exception process.

Comment by quanticle on Programmers Should Plan For Lower Pay · 2020-01-03T01:17:56.025Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's not that the benefits of co-location scale up with size, it's that, to a first approximation, communication overhead scales linearly with the number of employees in a remote-work environment and scales with something like the logarithm of employees in a co-located environment.

New technology, such as e-mail or slack, in my model, doesn't go far enough to address that disparity. I think there's still a point at which the benefits of having everyone in a centralized office outweighs the savings from not having to rent office space.