Comment by quanticle on Circle Games · 2019-06-09T18:36:58.805Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The baby’s fascination with circle games completely belies the popular notion that drill is an intrinsically unpleasant way to learn. Repetition isn’t boring to babies who are in the process of mastering a skill. They beg for repetition.

I disagree with the implication there that drill is repetition. Drill, to me, is repetition with predictable results. If I'm doing the same thing over and over again, and I'm getting exactly what I expect each time, that's a drill. The sort of entertaining repetition you're pointing at here, is something where I don't necessarily know what to expect every time I take an action.

A good contrast is painting a deck versus playing a slot machine. They're both extremely repetitive actions. Heck, even the physical movements in each are similar (if anything, deck painting involves less repetitive movement than playing a slot machine). Yet, we see people getting addicted to playing slot machines. I've never heard of anyone getting addicted to deck painting. The difference is that deck painting is pretty predictable. Dip paint in paintbrush, apply paint to deck, and there's paint on the deck, exactly as you'd expect. A slot machine, on the other hand, is geared toward unpredictability. You pull the lever, and you don't know what's going to happen when the reels stop. Will you get the jackpot? A lesser prize? Nothing at all? The sorts of circle games that babies enjoy are closer (from the perspective of the baby) to a slot machine than to deck painting.

For example, let's look at the Jack in the Box. It's predictable and boring to an adult. An adult (or even an older child) will pretty quickly catch on on the pattern that the box pops open after a number of turns or on a particular musical note ("Pop goes the weasel," etc.). However, to a child, especially to a child that's still grappling with the concept of cause and effect, a Jack in the Box is endlessly fascinating. Here's a mechanism, and when I manipulate the mechanism, something seemingly entirely unrelated happens?! How? Why?

Peek-a-boo is similar to that as well. Yes, the child might know that you're still there. But I'm willing to bet that you don't make exactly the same expression when you open your hands and reveal your face each and every time. It's the variety of facial expressions, and the effort required to predict them that provides the unpredictability that transforms peek-a-boo from a drill into a game.

Comment by quanticle on Is AI safety doomed in the long term? · 2019-05-26T03:20:30.160Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

On the basis that humans determine the fate of other species on the planet

Do they? There are many species that we would like to control or eliminate, but which we have not been able to do so. Yes, we can eliminate certain highly charismatic species (or bring them back from the brink of extinction, as needs be) but I wouldn't generalize that to humans being able to control species in general. If we had that level of control, the problem of "invasive" species would be trivially solved.

Comment by quanticle on Which scientific discovery was most ahead of its time? · 2019-05-17T05:44:47.787Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What about Mendelian Inheritance? It was initially discovered by Gregor Mendel in 1865, but it was seen as being a very narrow special case of genetics until about 1900, when de Vries, Correns and von Tschermak "rediscovered" his work. So that's about 35 years during which the statistical laws of inheritance were published, but weren't being used or built upon.

Comment by quanticle on Probability interpretations: Examples · 2019-05-14T03:25:08.877Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You seem to be saying that "external shared reality" is an approximation in the same way that Newtonian mechanics is an approximation for Einsteinian relativity. That's fine. So what is "external shared reality" an approximation of? Just what exactly is out there generating inputs to my senses, and by what mechanism does it remain in sync with everyone else (approximately)?

Comment by quanticle on Probability interpretations: Examples · 2019-05-13T14:19:54.254Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The examples you use reinforce my point. We argue about extremely fine details. When supporters of opposing teams argue over whether a point was or was not scored, they're disputing whether the ball was here or there by a few millimeters. You won't find very many people arguing that actually, the ball was clear on the other side of the field and in reality, the disputed point is one that would have been scored by the other team.

Similarly, we might argue about whether the British, Americans or Russians were primarily responsible for the United Nations' victory in World War 2, but I don't think you'll find very many people arguing that actually it was the Italians who won World War 2.

The fact that our perceptions of reality match each other 99.999% of the time, to me, indicates that there's something out there that exists regardless of whether I perceive it or not. I call that "reality".

Comment by quanticle on Probability interpretations: Examples · 2019-05-12T22:53:49.447Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Human and animal brains do complicated calculations all the time in real time to get through life, like solving what amounts to non-linear partial differential equations to even get a bite of food into your mouth. Just because it is subconscious, it is no less of a math than proving theorems.

I agree. So if there is no "objective" reality, apart from that which we experience, then why is it that we all seem to experience the same reality? When I shoot a basketball, or hit a tennis ball, both I and the referee see the same trajectory and are in approximate agreement about where the ball lands. When I lift a piece of food to my mouth and eat it, it would surprise me if someone across the table said that they saw it spill from my fork and stain my shirt.

In the absence of an external reality, why is it that everyone's model of the world appears to be in such concordance with everyone else's?

Comment by quanticle on Type-safeness in Shell · 2019-05-12T19:06:21.121Z · score: 14 (6 votes) · LW · GW

PowerShell does a lot of this, doesn't it? PowerShell abandons the concept of programs transferring data as text, and instead has them tranferring serialized .Net objects (with type annotations) back and forth. It doesn't extend to the filesystem, but it's entirely possible to write functions that enforce type guarantees on their input (i.e. requiring numbers, strings, or even more complicated data types, like JSON).

A good example is searching with regexps. In Unix, grep returns a bunch of strings (namely the lines which match the specified regex). In PowerShell, Select-String returns match objects, which have fields containing the file that matched, the line number that matched, the matching line itself, capture groups, etc. It's a much richer way of passing data around than delimited text.

Comment by quanticle on Probability interpretations: Examples · 2019-05-12T17:58:55.036Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I still don't think you've answered Said's question. The question is whether two people can observe different values of pi. Or, to put it differently, why is it that, whenever anyone computes a value of pi, it seems to come out to the same value (3.14159...). Doesn't that indicate that there is some kind of objective reality, to which our mathematics corresponds?

One of the questions that Wigner brings up in The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences is why does our math work so well at predicting the future? I would put the same question to you, but in a more general form. If there is no such thing as non-experienced mathematical truths, then why does everyone's experience of mathematical truths seem to be the same?

Comment by quanticle on Why books don't work · 2019-05-12T04:20:20.063Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If wishes were horses, all men would ride.

More seriously, I would love for there to be a better way to learn than books, but in practice, books inhabit a sweet spot at the intersection of information density, ease of searching, and portability that's hard for other forms of media to match.

Comment by quanticle on Why books don't work · 2019-05-11T21:39:37.325Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The author seems to spend almost no time engaging with or thinking critically about the books that he's read, and then claims that "books don't work". Has the author tried writing an outline? Or writing a review?

Simply reading a book, and letting its contents wash over you won't magically make you retain the contents of that book. There is no royal road to knowledge. One has to engage with a book in order to retain not just the conclusions of the book, but also the reasoning that led to the conclusions.

Comment by quanticle on [deleted post] 2019-05-11T20:26:43.527Z

From the post:

A lot of people like to use the prisoner's dilemma to justify being shitty to other humans they personally know.

Can you post a specific example of someone using the prisoner's dilemma to justify being shitty to someone they personally know? One of the preconditions of the prisoners' dilemma is that the prisoners don't know one another very well (else, otherwise, they'd have come up with some kind of prearranged strategy). You see this with real prisoners and real gangs: they often flow along family and social lines, precisely because you can rely on your brother or a childhood friend when you've both been arrested, in a way that you can't with a relatively unknown stranger.

Comment by quanticle on [deleted post] 2019-05-11T20:21:47.712Z

Here's the post text. I was able to copy/paste it from Facebook, through some combination of running Linux, running Firefox, having AdBlock and not being logged in to Facebook:

A lot of people like to use the prisoner's dilemma to justify being shitty to other humans they personally know. I think think is a dumb analogy, at least for First World, relatively affluent adult life, because the original PD doesn't let you say "Hey, wait a minute, my game partner is an asshole who keeps defecting, I'm out of here".

That's why creating avenues of escape for people who don't have that luxury is so important to me. Entrapment is one of the most insidious parts of abuse, because of course you're going to come up with a counter-asshole strategy if you have to keep playing with an asshole. But most of those strategies have a cost of emotional guardedness and alienation that can make it tough to get along with genuinely good and nice people.

A better lesson from the PD? The winning strategy is always, always, always dependent on the strategies of your other players. It's really hard to juggle many wildly different strategies at once. Keep it simple. Pick a strategy that synchronizes well with itself, go and find people running the same strategy, and make that your people.

Comment by quanticle on Nash equilibriums can be arbitrarily bad · 2019-05-02T03:51:11.161Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I see. And from then it follows the same pattern as a dollar auction, until the "winning" bet goes to zero.

Comment by quanticle on Nash equilibriums can be arbitrarily bad · 2019-05-01T16:21:31.585Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Doesn't the existence of the rule that says that no money changes hands if there's a tie alter the incentives? If we both state that we want 1,000,000 pounds, then we both get it and we both walk away happy. What incentive is there for either of the two agents to name a value that is lower than 1,000,000?

Comment by quanticle on Pecking Order and Flight Leadership · 2019-04-29T21:37:37.027Z · score: 1 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Do people hate prophets, or hate being prophets?

The former. Being a prophet is great! You've achieved enlightenment! All you're doing is trying to spread the good word of your revelations with the rest of humanity. Here are all of these people, living lives of immense suffering, and you have the solution. You can bring them peace. You can ease the torment of their souls! Even a cold-blooded utilitarian can see that a 5% reduction in suffering multiplied by several hundred million people represents a substantial gain in overall utility. And if a bit of force needs to be applied in order to get people to see the Good Word, then that is justified, is it not?

Slack Club

2019-04-16T06:43:22.442Z · score: 57 (20 votes)
Comment by quanticle on What are the advantages and disadvantages of knowing your own IQ? · 2019-04-07T03:17:32.223Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

And “knowing thyself” is especially important.

Why? If you took a test, and it came back telling you that you had an IQ of 140, what about your day-to-day life would change? Likewise, what would you do different if you took a test and it came back telling you that you had an IQ of 90?

Comment by quanticle on What are the advantages and disadvantages of knowing your own IQ? · 2019-04-07T03:15:30.509Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What would you gain from knowing your own IQ?

As far as I can tell, knowing my own IQ is a no-win scenario. Either my IQ is higher than I expected it to be, in which case I feel like I'm a disappointment, or it's lower than I expect it to be, in which case I'd feel like a fraud. I wouldn't gain any actionable data from it, so why bother?

Comment by quanticle on Will superintelligent AI be immortal? · 2019-03-31T00:38:32.541Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If the system is float in the vacuum heat wont go out.

The heat won't escape by conduction, nor will it escape by convection. However, it will escape via radiation.

Comment by quanticle on General v. Specific Planning · 2019-03-28T18:59:09.504Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

On the other hand, AlphaZero seems to play to obtain a specific, although gradually accumulated, positional advantage that ultimately results in a resounding victory. It is happy to sacrifice “generally useful” material to get this.

AlphaZero plays chess in a manner that is completely unlike how humans, or even human-designed chess programs play chess. A human grandmaster does play much like you describe yourself playing: accumulating piece advantages, and only making limited sacrifices to gain position, when it's clear that the positional advantage outweighs the piece disadvantage.

AlphaZero, on the other hand, plays much more positionally. In its games against Stockfish, it would make sacrifices that Stockfish thought were crazy, as Stockfish was evaluating the board based on pieces and AlphaZero was evaluating the board based on position.

Comment by quanticle on Do you like bullet points? · 2019-03-27T02:15:48.044Z · score: 19 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I find that bullet points lose out on the ability to include story type data that my system 1 responds to.

That's an advantage, in my opinion. I have a habit of turning articles into bullet point summaries, and I've found that the more difficult something is to turn into a bullet-point summary, the less actual content there is in the article. Ease of transformation into bullet points is a quick, yet remarkably effective heuristic to distinguish insight from insight porn.

Comment by quanticle on The tech left behind · 2019-03-16T04:12:40.838Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In the same vein as OpenDoc, XMPP and RSS both come to mind. While they "saw the light of day", they never seemed to reach the threshold of popularity necessary for long-term survival, and they're not well supported any more. I would argue that they're both good examples of "left-behind" tech.

Comment by quanticle on The tech left behind · 2019-03-16T04:05:14.523Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I would argue that spaced repetition is one such technology. We've known about forgetting curves and spaced repetition as a way of efficiently memorizing data since at least the '60s, if not before. Yet, even today, it's hardly used and if you talk to the average person about spaced repetition, they won't have a clue as to what you're referring to.

Here we have a really cool technology, which could significantly improve how we learn new information, and it's being used maybe 5% as often as it should be.

Comment by quanticle on The tech left behind · 2019-03-16T03:55:40.411Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Could you clarify how Damascus Steel qualifies? As I understand it, the question is asking about technologies which demonstrated promise, but never reached widespread use, and thus languished in obscurity. Damascus Steel was famous and highly prized in medieval Europe. While it was rare and expensive, I'm not sure that it manages to meet the obscurity criterion.

Comment by quanticle on To understand, study edge cases · 2019-03-03T00:06:18.010Z · score: 24 (11 votes) · LW · GW

There are fields where studying edge cases leads to confusion and actually hinders progress. From gwern's excellent essay on Bakewell and the origins of genetics:

But surviving theoretical scientific discussions of heredity are baffling. People lurch between ‘only fathers matter’ & ‘only mothers matter’, endlessly elaborating on wildly speculative (and wildly wrong) mechanistic explanations of how exactly sperm & eggs & embryos connected and formed, and in an example of “hard cases make bad law”, the focus on ‘monsters’ and other extreme cases among humans or animals badly misguided their premature attempts to elucidate universal principles comparable to that of astronomy or physics

The lesson is that when attempting to study statistical effects that aggregate across populations (like with genetics), studying the edge cases will lead one away from truth rather than towards it. Bakewell, Mendel and Darwin didn't develop their theories of heredity and genetics by studying plants and animals deformed by mutation. They studied populations of "normal" plants and animals, and kept very careful records of the statistical rate at which characteristics were transmitted from parent generations to child generations.

Comment by quanticle on What makes a good culture? · 2019-02-11T04:51:56.811Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

And to go back to your point about cohesion not necessarily being an unqualified good, South Korean culture (especially its emphasis on one-shot high-stakes exams as a way of determining future life prospects) results in one of the highest suicide rates in the world.

Comment by quanticle on One Website To Rule Them All? · 2019-01-13T09:33:32.940Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

(Is minimum wage a good thing? Should I adopt a paleo or keto or vegan or Shangri-la diet? What do we really know and not know about the historical Jesus?)

I would point out that the three examples you've listed are of three different categories. The first, "Is minimum wage a good thing?" has a significant value component. Do you value whether people have money? How much inefficiency are you willing to trade off in the economy in order to ensure that people have a certain amount of minimum spending power from work? Without knowing your specific values, I cannot answer whether a minimum wage is or is not a good thing.

Your second question, "What kind of diet should I adopt?" has significant dependencies on your physiology. Are you gluten-allergic? Do you have allergies to nuts? Do you have diabetes? Kidney issues? All of these things impact which of the listed diets (if any) is going to be best for you. And this is just from a strictly physiological perspective -- it leaves aside issues of preferences (i.e. maybe veganism isn't really right for you if you really like bacon).

The third question, "What do we really know and not know about the historical Jesus?" is answered, to a first approximation, by Wikipedia.

I think you're really asking for three sites. For the first question, there should be a site where people can debate moral values. Ideally, this site would taboo "good" and "bad" altogether, and force people to frame value judgments in the context of the value systems that result in those judgments, allowing others to see the criteria by which those judgments are made.

For the second question, a site that provides guidelines rather than recommendations would be helpful. Ideally this site would present a way for you to submit details about what your medical situation is and what your dietary preferences are and then it would output a decision tree that you could use to arrive at a diet that would work best for you.

Finally, for the third site, it'd be something like Wikipedia (only perhaps with better filtering tools to help weed out out unsourced data).

I'm not sure that it's possible to put together one site to rule them all because the the they're doing such different things. We're going from "there might not even be a 'right' answer" to "there is a right answer but it might be different for every person" to "there is a single, externally verifiable objective truth". How do you handle that range of epistemologies with a single site?

Comment by quanticle on Littlewood's Law and the Global Media · 2019-01-13T09:03:01.410Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I was able to use this post when discussing the news with a family member of mine. The example of a one-in-a-million event occurring 8 times a month (plus increasing global interconnection ensuring that we hear about these events every time they do occur) was especially helpful in helping debiasing someone who had read too much of the news.

Comment by quanticle on What are the open problems in Human Rationality? · 2019-01-13T07:59:35.217Z · score: 9 (16 votes) · LW · GW

How about: "What is rationality?" and "Will rationality actually help you if you're not trying to design an AI?"

Don't get me wrong. I really like LessWrong. I've been fairly involved in the Seattle rationality community. Yet, all the same, I can't help but think that actual rationality hasn't really helped me all that much in my everyday life. I can point to very few things where I've used a Rationality Technique to make a decision, and none of those decisions were especially high-impact.

In my life, rationality has been a hobby. If I weren't reading the sequences, I'd be arguing about geopolitics, or playing board games. So, to me, the most open question in rationality is, "Why should one bother? What special claim does rationality have over my time and attention that, say, Starcraft does not?"

Comment by quanticle on Spaghetti Towers · 2018-12-23T18:30:12.365Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Meta note: the actual link URL ( results in an error when I click on it.

Comment by quanticle on Why Don't Creators Switch to their Own Platforms? · 2018-12-23T17:35:34.183Z · score: 14 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know enough about Wistia to say. However, from a cursory examination of their website, I would be skeptical. Wistia is designed for hosting product videos for business. These videos don't go viral in the same way that PewDiePie's content does. If Wistia did host PewDiePie's content my prediction would be that they'd have a deal with PewDiePie where he pays significantly more than he paid YouTube to host his content and, eventually, they'd incur enough controversy and protest to kick him off their platform.

Wistia's primary business is hosting boring promotional videos for businesses. Why should they put that boring-but-profitable business model at risk to host someone as troublesome as PewDiepPie? Moreover, why should PewDiePie move his videos to Wistia? Despite the controversy, we must remember that the cost that PewDiePie pays to YouTube is negative. YouTube pays PewDiePie (unless he's been demonetized, in which case the cost to PewDiePie is zero).

I would be willing to bet that if Slate Star Codex got controversial enough to get kicked off Wordpress, then Scott Alexander would have a heck of a time building out his own site. Even if he were a programmer, and even if he knew enough about PHP and Wordpress to build out his own hosting, he'd have to deal with people protesting his new hosting provider. He'd have to deal with people complaining to Patreon and PayPal about his content. He'd have to deal with people launching hacking and DDOS attacks against his site, constantly.

Comment by quanticle on Why Don't Creators Switch to their Own Platforms? · 2018-12-23T06:43:54.813Z · score: 37 (11 votes) · LW · GW

The technology that YouTube provides was hard to build when YouTube started a decade and a half ago, but surely today it’s not a huge challenge.

PDP has 20 billion total views. He doesn’t need traffic from the algorithm suggesting his videos, everyone else is trying to game the algorithm to get redirected by PDP!

The problem is that building a platform to enable those 20-billion views carries enormous fixed costs that only make sense when they are amortized across a truly massive amount of users, both in terms of uploaders and users. Video delivery at scale is one of the most difficult engineering problems out there. The only companies that have mastered it (YouTube, Vimeo, PornHub, Netflix, Amazon) are all billon dollar enterprises.

Sure, PewDiePie could pay to build out his own video service. But would it be as good as YouTube? It's very doubtful that it would have the level of polish that YouTube offers. YouTube is far more than just tossing up a bunch of .mp4 files on a web server.

Finally, I think you're underestimating the power of YouTube's algorithms. When Logan Paul (another YouTube celebrity) got delisted from YouTube, he suffered a massive revenue hit, even though his videos were still on the platform (but not showing up in search results). So I do think that PewDiePie is beholden to the algorithm. I would be willing to bet that if PewDiePie got delisted from YouTube, he would rapidly be forgotten, and would be replaced by the next YouTube celebrity willing to walk the fine line between "outrageous enough to be entertaining" and "so outrageous as to cause offense".

Edit: Scott Alexander has addressed the part of your question regarding hosting other comedians on his excellent post, Freedom on the Centralized Web. He correctly points out that the initial group of switchers are all going to be people who YouTube has deemed undesirable. However, YouTube deeming people undesirable is an effect. The cause is that these people have offended some powerful group (copyright holders, activists, etc). If all of these people abandon YouTube and start their own platform, the same forces that kicked them off YouTube will ensure that their new platform is starved of funding and respectability. For a good example of this, look at what happened to Gab. I don't support Gab, but the saga of Gab shows how difficult it really is to set up an entirely independent platform, which supports content that society doesn't approve of.

Comment by quanticle on Playing Politics · 2018-12-06T16:51:54.946Z · score: 15 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I know this is how things are frequently done, but it bothers me. When an issue is officially the jurisdiction of a committee, everyone on the committee is equally entitled to be part of the discussion, and entitled to know what’s going on; having secret side conversations creates a hierarchy between those “in the know” and those who aren’t.

I disagree quite strongly with this. Being part of a discussion is a tax. It's overhead. It makes perfect sense, in my head, for a committee to split into subcommittees that have responsibility for specialized tasks, but which report back to and are accountable to the primary committee. In fact, I don't see how else one would accomplish any kind of complex task that requires specialized domain knowledge. And for tasks that don't require specialized domain knowledge, having everything presented before the committee usually results in needless bikeshedding, as everyone on the committee has to demonstrate their status and worth by proposing a change or critique, in order to show that they've considered the proposal and are more than a mere rubber stamp.

Even disregarding things like social signalling, group dynamics, and all the other things that geeks categorize as "social drama", making everything that is under the jurisdiction of the committee the responsibility of the entire committee is incredibly inefficient, just from a communications perspective. It requires, in networking terms, a "fully connected mesh", where every node has to be communicating with every other node. It's much more efficient, even from a communication and information theory perspective, for a committee to break into smaller groups, each of which has responsibility for a specific task or specialization. These groups can then report back to the overall committee, and the overall committee can choose to adopt or reject their ideas without having to go through the expensive process of having the entire committee deliberate on every proposal for every subtask.

Comment by quanticle on Anyone use the "read time" on Post Items? · 2018-12-02T03:42:20.189Z · score: 26 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I'm on the other side. I prefer word count to read time, because I know approximately how many words per minute I read. The read time calculation that LessWrong uses is approximately 300 words per minute. If you read faster or slower than that, the read times will be off for you.

This is more impactful for people who are slow readers; being told that something is a five minute read and finishing it in three minutes isn't a big deal. Being told that something is a five minute read and actually taking seven or eight minutes to finish is considerably worse. For this reason I would prefer word count to be the default.

Also, if you use the GreaterWrong viewer, you get the option to choose. You can click on the read time to switch it to word count. Clicking again switches it back.

Comment by quanticle on October links · 2018-11-01T16:50:25.105Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

But why would that be an advantage exclusive to MLP? One could say the same about the Star Wars universe, for example (and indeed, there is a lot of Star Wars fanfiction out there).

Comment by quanticle on October links · 2018-11-01T03:08:50.607Z · score: 11 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This is worth reading for the excellent review of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.

Comment by quanticle on thought: the problem with less wrong's epistemic health is that stuff isn't short form · 2018-10-28T04:55:06.726Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Note that I said discussion, not engagement. Would your conclusion be the same if a post got relatively few replies, but was upvoted to +100?

Comment by quanticle on Facebook, The Rodents, and The Common Knowledge Machine · 2018-10-23T03:04:59.458Z · score: 27 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Exactly, it's good enough

No, I don't think that follows. One of the lessons of Inadequate Equilibria is that both individuals and groups get stuck in situations that are not "good enough" by any measure, simply because no individual has enough "free energy" to force a change to something better.

By this logic, p-values are "good enough" statistics, because the scientific community persists in using them, even though they clearly lead to non-reproducible studies. Selling lifesaving formula in one state and making it illegal to sell across state lines is "good enough" because no one has bothered to change the situation.

To me, Facebook is yet another Inadequate Equilibrium. We don't use it because it's good, we use it because that's where we started out, and no one has enough pull in our community to force a global change. If someone manages to change it at a global level in the rationalist community, we would look back upon our usage of Facebook and wonder why we ever bothered to use such a terrible tool.

Comment by quanticle on Facebook, The Rodents, and The Common Knowledge Machine · 2018-10-21T06:58:06.240Z · score: 26 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I think Facebook is good enough for our purposes

Facebook's treatment of recurring events stands as a counterexample to that claim. For one-off events, Facebook is fine, but the moment you have recurring events, then things become difficult. Facebook's search shows events in a random order, and when you're on an individual event's page, you have no indication whether the event is a recurring. You also have no idea whether the event page you're on is the latest event, or an old event.

Then you have the problem with inviting people. Facebook has limits on how many people you can invite to an event, even if the people you're inviting have all "friended" or "followed" the page that is inviting them. This sometimes leads to people missing invitations, which leads to them searching for events, which goes back to the search problem described above.

And that's just the problems with one specific feature of Facebook. I haven't even touched on the problems that Facebook has with formatting long posts, archiving discussions, finding old discussions, sorting comments, etc. It's clear to me that Facebook is not fit for purpose as a tool for serious coordination, nor is it meant to be. The only reason we use Facebook is because everyone else is using Facebook, so it's convenient to post events there because you know there's a good chance that everyone will be able to see the event once it's posted.

Comment by quanticle on "Now here's why I'm punching you..." · 2018-10-18T16:21:37.732Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I have added a note to the top of the essay making it clear that it's referring to this post.

Comment by quanticle on "Now here's why I'm punching you..." · 2018-10-18T01:05:51.890Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I would also note that every instance of the word "punch" and "punching" can be replaced by "sanction" or "sanctioning" and the denotational content of the essay would be virtually unchanged. The use of the word "punch" does little but smuggle in the connotations associated with physical violence, in an essay that is ostensibly about sanctions of all sorts, both physical and non-physical.

Edit: I have gone ahead and created a version of the essay with "punch" replaced by "sanction". I copied the essay into a new markdown document, fixed the formatting, and then ran %s/punch/sanction/g in vim. I fixed one resulting spelling error, but other than that I left the document as-is.

Comment by quanticle on Two Kinds of Technology Change · 2018-10-13T18:09:59.279Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I disagree that the spread of printing presses was not constrained by insight. Gutenberg's innovation was not the invention of the printing press, but rather the invention of a cheap way of making letterforms for the type in the printing press. Prior to Gutenberg, type had to be laboriously carved out of wood, or sculpted out bronze or ceramic. This was very expensive, and the resulting type wore out quickly, making it uneconomical to use for large print runs.

Gutenberg's innovation was to cast the letterforms out of lead, using a hand mold. This innovation allowed him to produce letterforms that were cheaper, more durable and more efficient, in terms of ink consumption, than woodblock or ceramic letterforms that the Chinese were using. It seems to me that this was the key innovation that allowed the printing press to take off, since without cheap, high quality type, the printing press isn't actually more economical than hand copying. Indeed, Gutenberg's method was so successful, it remained state of the art in printing until well into the 20th century, until it was displaced by photolithography.

Comment by quanticle on Two Kinds of Technology Change · 2018-10-12T08:13:36.709Z · score: 13 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Babbage and Lovelace had all the key ideas for the modern computer in the 1820’s, but it wasn’t until the 1890 census that somebody wanted to pay for such a thing.

I'm not sure that's true. One of my friends, for a history of computing course in university, took a deep dive into Babbage's designs for the difference and analytical engines, and concluded that they weren't actually all that much like modern (Von Neumann) computing devices at all. The limiting factor on Babbage's machines was not the fact that nobody wanted to pay for them, but that the necessary precision in manufacturing gears had not yet been achieved. The analytical engine, especially, required thousands of very small and precisely machined gears, and the manufacturing technology for them would not be invented until well into the 20th century.

The tabulators used in the 1890 census were a far cry from anything that Babbage designed. The Census tabulators were, more or less, very fancy sorting and counting machines. They could not do math or logical operations, but they could take a large amount of data, sort it by various fields and count how many records had the given field marked. They made no attempt at generality (unlike Babbage's inventions and later computers), but instead sought to mechanize one or two algorithms for maximum efficiency.

Comment by quanticle on Thinkerly: Grammarly for writing good thoughts · 2018-10-12T06:19:24.047Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You may have noticed all the annoying Grammarly adds bouncing around, which is a browser-based spelling/​grammar/​syntax checker. I wondered about how easily we could detect indications of known-bad-thinking with the same kind of analysis.

Before we go ahead and attempt to build something like Grammarly, but for logical reasoning, shouldn't we verify that Grammarly actually improves one's writing? I haven't used Grammarly itself, but I did use a similar tool, called Hemingway, and I wasn't terribly impressed with it.

Comment by quanticle on The Valley of Bad Theory · 2018-10-12T04:47:17.151Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's baby steps, but CERN has an open data portal, where you can download raw data from their LHC experiments for your own analysis. The portal also includes the software used to conduct the analysis, so you don't have to write your own code to process terabytes of LHC collision data.

Comment by quanticle on Additional arguments for NIMBY · 2018-10-12T03:58:09.180Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It’s also kind of theft. The owner had previously acquired something that was valuable due to regulation, so taking that regulation away is a confiscation of their private property (e.g. get your government hands off my Medicare).

I strongly disagree with this claim. I don't think removing the regulation that allows house prices to rise is a form of theft. I think it's the risk. Bay Area housing (like housing more generally in the US) is an investment, and just like all investments, it carries the risk of loss. Part of this risk is that the government might stop the explicit and implicit subsidies that prop up the value of this investment. Tying a significant portion of one's net worth to one's house earns about as much sympathy from me as tying a significant portion of one's net worth to any other undiversified illiquid asset.

Comment by quanticle on The funnel of human experience · 2018-10-11T22:25:38.141Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What's wrong with (1) being a valid explanation? The geniuses of the 17th and 18th centuries, like Gauss and Newton, did work that today is expected of moderately bright high-schoolers. Decartes' geometry can be understood by middle-schoolers. Even the science of the 19th century, like work of Maxwell and Rutherford is considered to be pretty much undergraduate level today.

Is it really that implausible to you that the low-hanging fruit is gone?

Comment by quanticle on Why don’t we treat geniuses like professional athletes? · 2018-10-11T22:17:51.210Z · score: 13 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Another problem is the problem of goals. Athletes have a very clearly defined, concrete goal. Run fast. Jump high. Score points. Genius, on the other hand, seems to lie in being able to redefine goals, or at least modify goals to make them more attainable.

My intuition (and it really is nothing more than an intuition) is that we don't (and shouldn't) treat geniuses like athletes because genius and athletics are on opposite sides of the explore/exploit dichotomy. Genius is all about exploring a problem space, and finding new solutions (and maybe even new problems). Athletics is about executing a set of strategies with maximal efficiency to reach a goal by a known route, as quickly and with as little expenditure of energy as possible.

The dichotomy isn't hard-and-fast. The best athletes will be able to come up with new tactics and use those to win games more efficiently. The best geniuses will be able to execute fairly competently and efficiently upon their ideas. But in terms of emphasis, I think genius is much more about exploration, with exploitation (or execution) being an afterthought. Athletics, on the other hand, is all about exploitation (or execution). While there may be some exploration, that exploration is necessarily constrained by the (fixed) rules of the game.

For this reason, I think applying athletics tactics or even athletics metaphors to genius is misguided.

Comment by quanticle on The funnel of human experience · 2018-10-11T06:06:13.077Z · score: 13 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You have, I don’t doubt, heard the almost-stereotypical complaints about the tenured professor’s academic activity being devoted—if not entirely, then far too close to it—to such things as grant-writing, intradepartmental politicking, and other nonsense.

Yes, but the gentlemen scholars of the 18th century couldn't devote all of their time to the pursuit of science either. They had estates to run, social obligations to fulfill, duels to fight, and, as you so well put it, "other nonsense." Is the tenured professor today doing more or less "science" per week than a gentleman scholar of the 18th century? I don't know, but I'm not sure that it's self evident that Lord Kelvin and Charles Darwin were doing more science per week than a tenured professor today.

Secondly, even after taking into consideration the possibility that gentlemen scholars did much more science per week than today's tenured professors, I still think it's plausible that much more science, in total, is getting done today than it was in the 18th Century. We have to remember how few early scientists were, and how difficult it was for them to communicate. Even if a modern tenured professor spends 90% less time doing science than a gentleman scholar, it's still plausible to me that the majority of scientific thought is taking place right now.

Comment by quanticle on Things I Learned From Working With A Marketing Advisor · 2018-10-11T05:43:53.413Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

How does that follow? At one point jargon (words like "synergy", "core competency", "disruption", etc.) all had distinct meanings. However, at this moment in time, those words have become overused and have lost their original meaning, to the point where no one is quite sure what they mean any more. How how does the latter negate the former?

If I say something like, "This merger will unlock synergies, allow us to focus on our core competencies, and render us less vulnerable to disruption due to paradigm shifts, going forward," am I really saying that the proposed merger will cause our organizations to cooperate better, focus more on our comparative advantages, and render us less vulnerable to competitive surprises in the future? Or am I stringing together a bunch of applause lights in an attempt to get you to go along with whatever I say?

Comment by quanticle on Things I Learned From Working With A Marketing Advisor · 2018-10-09T00:39:25.039Z · score: 22 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Business “jargon” and “buzzwords” are unfairly maligned by people who aren’t used to corporate culture. First of all, a lot of them originally referred to specific important concepts, and then got overused as generic applause lights — e.g. “disruptive innovation” is actually a really useful idea in its original meaning. But, second of all, it’s honestly just handy to have stock phrases if you need to keep talking fluently without awkward pauses.

That doesn't seem like an unfair maligning of jargon and buzzwords. That seems like the completely fair maligning of jargon and buzzwords as phrases which once had distinct meanings but now don't mean anything other than, "You should feel good about what I'm just about to say."

Also, I wonder how much a reputation for individual brilliance can overcome an inability to speak fluently. Peter Thiel and Elon Musk have a public speaking style that is cringe-inducing to watch, because of their lack of fluency and the awkward pauses that result as they stop midsentence to gather their thoughts. However, that same awkwardness seems to cement their reputation as geniuses who worry more about results than polished marketing.

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