Announcing Data Secrets Lox: An Alternative to Slate Star Codex Open Threads 2020-10-27T04:24:25.079Z
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
Slack Club 2019-04-16T06:43:22.442Z
Trust Me I'm Lying: A Summary and Review 2018-08-13T02:55:16.044Z
On Authority 2018-07-05T02:37:28.793Z
Curriculum suggestions for someone looking to teach themselves contemporary philosophy 2013-05-31T04:20:58.811Z
Ruthless Extrapolation 2012-07-13T20:51:23.463Z
Betrand Russell's Ten Commandments 2012-05-06T19:52:22.012Z
[LINK] Signalling and irrationality in Software Development 2011-11-21T16:24:33.744Z
How did you come to find LessWrong? 2011-11-21T15:32:34.377Z


Comment by quanticle on Why don't countries, like companies, more often merge? · 2020-08-23T05:04:42.812Z · LW · GW

Germany is a merged country in both its original and post-Cold War forms.

Comment by quanticle on What are some low-information priors that you find practically useful for thinking about the world? · 2020-08-08T18:45:24.056Z · LW · GW

There‘ll always be time for the timeless literature later but the timely literature gives you the most bang for your buck if you read it now.

That's not true, because one's lifespan is limited. If you're constantly focusing on the timely, you in fact will not have time for the timeless.

Comment by quanticle on How far along are you on the Lesswrong Path? · 2020-07-10T03:40:59.736Z · LW · GW

Why is there such a large gap of exploration into emotions on Lesswrong. Is it because they are colloquially the anathema to rationality?

I don't think that's accurate. In fact, Eliezer says as much in Why Truth?. He explicitly calls out the view that rationality and emotion are opposed, using the example of the character of Mr. Spock in Star Trek to illustrate his point. In his view, Mr. Spock is irrational, just like Captain Kirk, because denying the reality of emotions is just as foolish as giving in wholeheartedly to them. If your emotions rest on true beliefs, then they are rational. If they rest on false beliefs they are irrational. The fact that they are instinctive emotions rather than reasoned logic is irrelevant to their (ir)rationality.

I think LessWrong has actually done a fairly good job at avoiding this mistake. If we look at the posts on circling [1], [2], for example, you'll see that they're all about emotions and management of emotions. The same applies to Comfort Zone Expansion, ugh fields, meditation and Looking, and kenshō. It's just that few of them actually mention the word "emotion" in their titles, which might lead one to the false assumption that they are not about emotions.

Comment by quanticle on When a status symbol loses its plausible deniability, how much power does it lose? · 2020-07-08T00:51:13.832Z · LW · GW

I don't think so, actually. The average age for entering Harvard, as an undergraduate is 18 years old. I don't think there's any faster way of meeting people who are likely to be influential. Even if you do something high-variance like starting a company, is that going to get you meeting the same sorts of people right away that getting into Harvard will? Probably not.

Comment by quanticle on What are the open problems in Human Rationality? · 2020-06-21T23:22:10.106Z · LW · GW

And what game have those "big guns" allowed you to bag that the lesser guns of "ordinary common sense" would not have?

There are lots of people who do lots of amazing things without having once read Kahneman, without having once encountered any literature about cognitive biases. If we are proposing that rationality is some kind of special edge that will allow us to accomplish things that other people cannot accomplish, we had better come up with some examples, hadn't we?

Comment by quanticle on What's Your Cognitive Algorithm? · 2020-06-19T16:40:22.233Z · LW · GW

Super naive question: given all we know about the myriad ways in which the brain fools itself, and more specifically, the ways that subconscious mental activities fool our conscious selves, why should we trust introspection? More specifically, why should I believe that the way I perceive myself to think is the way I actually think (as opposed to an abstraction put up by my subconscious)?

My model is that any psychological model that relies on introspection is going to be inherently flawed. If we want to learn how people think, we should observe their actions, and carefully watch how people behave in response to different stimuli and situations. I think asking people how they think tells us more about how they rationalize their thinking than it does about how they actually think.

Comment by quanticle on The Economic Consequences of Noise Traders · 2020-06-15T20:59:45.725Z · LW · GW

That's a good thing to point out, though, it's also worth pointing out that Fama's papers on the efficient market hypothesis date from 1965. Neither the Efficient Market Hypothesis nor the responses to it are fresh results at this date.

Also worth pointing out is that both DeLong, et. al. and Fama's original paper long predate the recent growth of low-fee index funds.

Comment by quanticle on Self-Predicting Markets · 2020-06-14T06:53:58.732Z · LW · GW

In the long run, the smarter agents in the system will tend to accrue more wealth than the dumber agents.

Only if the smarter agents also have similar amounts of capital as the dumber agents. As Delong, Shleifer, Summers and Waldman showed, dumb agents can force smart agents out of the market by "irrationally" driving market prices up or down far enough to exhaust the limited capital reserves of the smart agents.

Comment by quanticle on Self-Predicting Markets · 2020-06-14T06:46:39.808Z · LW · GW

“Nail in the coffin of the EMH” is a fun phrase to say, but as always, the bottom line is that if you’re so sure, why aren’t you shorting Hertz?

Because the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent. It's entirely possible that Hertz is incorrectly valued, but if you short Hertz now, then you had better have enough liquidity to survive the margin calls caused by irrational exuberance.

Comment by quanticle on Self-Predicting Markets · 2020-06-14T06:45:46.149Z · LW · GW

We have to remember that businesses don't go bankrupt because they're unprofitable. Businesses go bankrupt because they're unable to make payments on their debt. The two are related, but not identical. It's possible that Hertz, as a company, is fundamentally solvent, but was caught out by a combination of high debt load and a sudden shortfall in cash flow. We've seen the same with airline bankruptcies in the past. The business can be fundamentally profitable, but a combination of thin margins and high capital requirements means that any sudden shortfall in cashflow means bankruptcy as the business is suddenly unable to make payments on the loans that it has taken out. The bankruptcy process (Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection) is designed to give legal protection to a business so that it can renegotiate its loans and emerge as a functional business without being liquidated.

I haven't run the numbers on Hertz myself, but it did seem to be a profitable business before the coronavirus pandemic caused all travel to basically go to zero. It's entirely possible to think that, at some point, the pandemic will end, and at that point people will want to start traveling and renting cars once again. Buying Hertz shares now, when they're almost valueless, is a cheap way to bet that a recovery will occur.

Comment by quanticle on BBE W1: HMCM and Notetaking Systems · 2020-06-14T06:35:56.921Z · LW · GW

I'm not sure I agree with the premise of the question. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that the question is assuming there's a single program or system somewhere that is maintaining the wiki, and that this single monolithic system has certain characteristics (open vs. closed source, accessible vs. inaccessible API, etc, etc.). My response is to ask why do we want a single monolithic system in the first place?

In my mind, a personal knowledgebase is a set of texts which capture information that we want to store and retrieve later. Fortunately for us, Unix and Unix-like (by which I mean, Linux, MacOS and Windows-with-WSL) computer systems come pre-equipped with a plethora of tools that have been finely tuned for text processing over a period of decades. I've found that by combining the tools already available, I can do most of the things a monolithic wiki system would do with far less configuration and far more flexibility.

With that in mind, I find that my answer to most of your questions is, "Not applicable". Is it closed proprietary cloud software? It certainly can be, if you store your files in a proprietary service like Dropbox. However, if you store your files in a git repo, which you either self-host or use a more free service like GitLab or, it doesn't have to be. The API, such as it is, is the same "API" you can use to interact with any other file on your computer: GNU command line tools, or if you choose to write scripts in some other programming language, whatever file manipulation API is exposed by the standard library for that language. Same with editing. I choose to use an open source text editor (namely, Visual Studio Code), but there are certainly many competent proprietary text editors, such as BBEdit or Sublime Text.

How easy is it to call relevant utility functions? Well, it's as easy as invoking any other shell command. Do I need to close the software in order to edit it? Once again, the answer is "not applicable", because I'm not editing a single piece of software, I'm composing multiple pieces of software, on the fly, to accomplish particular tasks.

Are the functions easy to use and standardized? While we can debate the usability of Unix command line tools for a long time, what cannot be denied is that they are quite well standardized. As for skill transfer, the skills are extremely transferable, insofar as they're exactly the same skills you'd be using to manage source code in any kind of even moderately sized codebase.

It can be easy to screw up. Command line tools are sharp, and can cut you if you don't use them appropriately. However, if you have your wiki in a version control system, reverts are nigh trivial. One command and your wiki (or any part of your wiki) is restored to a previous state of your choosing.

While the learning curve on command line tools is steep, I would argue that the advantages that one earns in flexibility, speed (both in terms of machine time and user time), and transferability to other tasks make it more than worthwhile. Of course, if one already knows how to use command line tools with a fair degree of proficiency (as many programmers and technically inclined people do), then the question becomes, why aren't you using these tools to manage your knowledgebase?

Comment by quanticle on BBE W1: HMCM and Notetaking Systems · 2020-06-14T04:56:04.678Z · LW · GW

It's as simple as doing any other sort of text manipulation with a shell script or Python script, or whatever other programming system one uses to manipulate text. It's remarkable what you can do with a simple combination of find and sed.

Comment by quanticle on BBE W1: HMCM and Notetaking Systems · 2020-06-11T06:11:19.322Z · LW · GW

What do you mean by "programmable"? I keep my notes as a directory of markdown files in a git repo. I can manipulate these files with all the standard Unix command line tools that are specialized for manipulating text. In your mind, does that meet your threshold for programmability, or are you looking for something else?

Comment by quanticle on Is a near-term, self-sustaining Mars colony impossible? · 2020-06-07T05:14:26.842Z · LW · GW

Unless there's a discontinuity (i.e. something like a space elevator resulting in more than one order of magnitude reduction in cost per ton to orbit) I suspect it would still be impossible to sustain a Martian colony for a nontrivial number of people. The physics and chemistry of conventional rockets just won't allow it.

Comment by quanticle on Is a near-term, self-sustaining Mars colony impossible? · 2020-06-06T07:52:21.297Z · LW · GW

if the colony works at all, there will be a path where the amount of Earth resources required to sustain it shrinks over time due to market forces

Why do you think that? On earth, colonies survived because they were able to secure a comparative advantage in the production of goods or services, which allowed them to be a net economic benefit to the originating country. What comparative advantage does Mars possess?

Any Martian colony, under the current technological regime, will require heavy economic subsidies for decades, possibly centuries. Who would pay for it? It's one thing to pay a few billion dollars to send a few dozen astronauts to plant the flag and collect some scientific data. It's quite another thing to spend trillions to support a population of thousands for little to no discernible benefit.

Comment by quanticle on Is a near-term, self-sustaining Mars colony impossible? · 2020-06-06T07:48:18.065Z · LW · GW

In one word: economics.

A self-sustaining colony on Mars will require many hundreds of billions (or perhaps even trillions of dollars) of dollars to set up. Imagine all the things you need to survive on Mars. Imagine all the infrastructure to build those those things. Imagine all the infrastructure needed to build that infrastructure, etc. etc. To be truly self-sustaining (i.e able to survive indefinitely without further input from Earth), a substantial portion of that infrastructure will either need to be shipped to Mars or built on-site.

Heck, you may as well ask, "Why don't we have self-sustaining colonies on Antarctica?" Surely Antarctica is an easier terraforming/colonization project than Mars.

Comment by quanticle on Why isn’t assassination/sabotage more common? · 2020-06-06T07:22:01.948Z · LW · GW

Even the Israelis, though, will concede that assassinations are tactic, not a strategy. The fact that they call their assassination campaign "mowing the grass" indicates the level of confidence they have in assassinations as a means of bringing a decisive end to a conflict. At best, assassinations buy time until the conflict can be ended through other means.

Comment by quanticle on Why isn’t assassination/sabotage more common? · 2020-06-06T07:13:19.825Z · LW · GW

Political goals seem ripe for assassination

That is a huge misconception. Can you name a single US assassination of a foreign head-of-state, in the last 50 years, that didn't blow back on us? In every case I can think of, where the US has assassinated a head-of-state, the state has either ended up collapsing into instability or has eventually replaced the leader with a leader that was even more hostile to the United States.

Also, depending on your model of history, assassinations may be completely ineffective. If historical events are the result of large historical trends converging, then assassinating any particular politician might shift things around by a few years, but may not actually stop events from occurring.

Political goals also seem ripe for sabotage.

Also incorrect. This was tried in the 1970s by a number of far-left revolutionary terror groups, both in the United States and Europe. Weatherman, Symbionese Liberation Army, Red Army Faction, the Italian Red Brigades, all tried overthrow their respective states via a campaign of terror bombing and sabotage. They all failed. The book Days of Rage, by Burrough, chronicles many of the American revolutionary groups, and how they were all eventually either hunted down or scattered by state pressure. (If you don't have time to read the book, David Hines has an excellent summary on the blog Status 451).

As it turns out, nation-states are pretty resilient, and can remain functioning even in the face of enormous pressure, and a guerilla campaign of sabotage and assassinations hardly constitutes any pressure at all, much less enormous pressure.

Comment by quanticle on One systemic failure in particular · 2020-06-02T06:53:34.627Z · LW · GW

I agree with Dagon's criticism elsewhere in the thread. However, I would add another criticism. You're confusing the surface purpose of HR with its actual purpose.

The surface purpose of HR is to efficiently match people with jobs. The actual purpose of HR is to ensure that the company can efficiently navigate the byzantine thicket of laws and regulations concerning hiring, employment and firing without getting sued, ensuring that benefits for current employees are well managed, and finally when an employee is involuntarily let go (either fired or laid off) that the letting go is once again done in a manner that will minimize the company's exposure to legal liability.

Every so often, you hear of various start-ups (usually in Silicon Valley, but sometimes elsewhere) getting pilloried for making absolutely basic mistakes when hiring. Things like asking candidates their age, or questions clearly correlated with age. Asking (female) candidates about their plans for a family. Etc. Basic errors that a large corporation with a functioning HR department wouldn't even dream of making. That is the true purpose of HR. It's ensuring that your interviewers aren't doing clearly illegal things. It's giving the appearance of fairness (even if actual fairness is difficult to achieve).

And that's all prior to hiring. After hiring, HR becomes even more important. Do you know all the tax forms that have to be filled out when you hire a new employee? What about if that employee is remote? What about if that employee is remote but moves from a state with no income tax to a state with income tax (as I did, once). What forms do you need to give the employee to allow him or her to file his or her taxes when you've issued them with stock options or RSUs? What about health insurance. Are you qualified to choose between health insurance plans for a company of 50 employees? 500 employees? 5000 employees? What about 401(k)s? A well qualified HR department knows the answers to all that and a lot more besides.

Finally, let's say you have to let some people go (as so many companies are having to do, during these economically troubled times). Do you know how to administer severance packages? Can you get COBRA forms to everyone efficiently? If it's an individual being fired for cause, rather than a mass layoff, have you collected data to show that the individual was underperforming and was not fired because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, etc. etc?

HR is infrastructure. The fact that you don't notice what it's doing is a feature. That means it's working well. People notice HR when it fails. When the company gets sued for discrimination. When they don't get the right tax forms in a timely manner. When there's a benefits snafu that leads them to have to wait an extra month before their health insurance kicks in. Matching people with jobs is the tiniest part of what HR does on a day-to-day basis, so I would expect them to be not very good at it.

Comment by quanticle on The Oil Crisis of 1973 · 2020-05-25T04:47:19.175Z · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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.