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: 2 (1 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: 2 (12 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 (https://www.lesswrong.com/out?url=eukaryotewritesblog.com%2F2018%2F12%2F21%2Fspaghetti-towers%2F) 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 gwern.net 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 gwern.net 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.

Comment by quanticle on Moderation Reference · 2018-09-14T07:31:46.069Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If a claim has some bad logic in it, but then you fix the logic and the claim makes sense, you should believe it

Yes, I agree with that. However, I think it's very easy to change the conclusion in the process of changing the inferential steps or the premises. If arguments were presented mathematically, using formal logic, I would have no objection to steelmanning. It would be obvious if the conclusion of an argument had changed in the process of fixing logic errors. However, we discuss in English, not math, and as a result I'm wary of engaging with anything other than the text as it is written. I do not have confidence in my ability to change my interlocutor's argument while preserving its conclusion.

Comment by quanticle on Good Citizenship Is Out Of Date · 2018-09-14T06:23:29.682Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In the mid-1900s, the norms of good citizenship were richer and more powerful than today.

Is that true? Certainly for discriminated minorities, it doesn't appear to be true. I would find it very difficult to argue that "norms of good citizenship" were stronger in 1950 towards, say, a black person, or a homosexual, or a (suspected) Communist than they are today.

Comment by quanticle on Moderation Reference · 2018-09-14T05:35:07.446Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Only that a criticism that steelmans is, typically, more valuable than criticism that doesn’t.

I disagree. Steelmanning is nice, but I don't think it necessarily adds value. I think there is real value in engaging the actual arguments that the person made, in the way that they made them. If LessWrong is going to train rationalists to argue for their points persuasively, I think it's imperative that we engage with the actual evidence that is presented, and not the idealized version of the evidence that would have convinced us of the conclusions.

Edit: After thinking about it some more, I have realized that steelmanning poses a danger to the listener as well as to the speaker. Namely, given two arguments of equal strength, one which I am able to steelman, and one which I am not, it's quite possible I will find the argument that I am able to steelman more convincing, even though it has no more evidence behind it than the argument that I am not able to steelman. It seems to me that steelmanning exaggerates our cognitive blindspots, rather than reducing them. Can you show me that steelmanning is not an epistemic hazard?

Comment by quanticle on Well-Kept Gardens Die By Pacifism · 2018-09-13T18:48:08.117Z · score: 13 (4 votes) · LW · GW

There is more than a single solution to this problem. Yes, one solution is to enforce First-Amendment style free-speech requirements on the oligopolistic giants that control the majority of the discourse that happens on the Internet. Another solution would be to address the fact that there are oligopolistic giants.

My solution to the above problem would be to force tech companies to abide by interoperability standards. The reason the dominant players are able to keep up their dominance is because they can successfully exploit Metcalfe's Law once they grow beyond a certain point. You need to be on Facebook/Twitter/etc because everyone you know is on that social network, and it requires too much energy to build the common knowledge to force a switch to a better competitor.

However, the reason it's so costly to switch is because there is no way for a competitor to be compatible with Facebook while offering additional features of their own. I can't build a successor social network which automatically posts content to Facebook while offering additional features that Facebook does not. If there were an open standard that all major social networks had to adopt, then it would be much easier for alternative social networks to start up, allowing us to have both well-kept gardens and relative freedom of speech. "Well-kept gardens" and "free speech" are only in apparent conflict because market forces have limited us to three or four gardens. If we allowed many more gardens, then we wouldn't have the conflict.

Comment by quanticle on A Dialogue on Rationalist Activism · 2018-09-10T21:59:05.101Z · score: 20 (7 votes) · LW · GW

What’s interesting is that when I say it that way, I realize that it sounds like a recipe for disaster. But also note that essentially no other organization on Earth has been formed in any other way.

I'm not so sure about that. Perhaps you meant "no other [freestanding] organization on Earth has been formed [by people without access to massive amounts of resources] any other way".

To elaborate on the distinction, I can point to organizations like NASA, or the Manhattan Project. They were created, from the beginning, as large groups, with pre-planned bureaucratic structures and formal lines of authority. While there was a certain level of organic growth, it's not like these things started in a garage and grew outward from there. Similarly, in private industry, when IBM embarked on its OS/360 project, or Microsoft embarked on Windows Vista, these were not small efforts started by a group of insurgents. Rather, they were responses to concrete opportunities/threats (a new mainframe, Netscape) that were identified by the leadership of the parent organization, who then mobilized the appropriate resources.

I think this matters beyond mere pedantry. You've identified one way to spread rationalism -- bottom up, by establishing a small group of rationalists, who then spread their doctrine outwards. I'm saying there's another way: identify leaders, convince them that rationality is a good thing to focus on, and then have them mobilize the appropriate resources to spread rationality. If you could convince Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett and Carlos Slim that they should fund rationality with the full force of their collective fortune, then that would potentially do more in a year to spread rationalism than a small organization organically growing for a decade.

Of course, "go big or go home" has its own failure modes, but it's not actually self-evident that it's more risky than starting small and spreading outwards. Moreover, the really successful small groups employed a hybrid strategy. They started out as a small group, until the could amass enough resources and prestige to convince influential decision-makers that their cause was worth supporting. The canonical (pun fully intended) example is the Catholic Church, of course. It started as a small, often persecuted group of followers of a particular religious prophet, indistinguishable from the other Jewish spin-offs. However, through steady proselytizing, it grew and converted the aristocracy of the Roman empire. At that point, from the the conversion of Constantine onwards, it became the state religion, and spread rapidly wherever the Roman empire held sway.

Comment by quanticle on thought: the problem with less wrong's epistemic health is that stuff isn't short form · 2018-09-05T15:24:21.962Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

no, I was thinking of facebook.

Facebook isn't any better than Twitter on any of the metrics I care about.

basically what I want is “endless comment thread” type deal

That is the reason I use Facebook as little as possible, and I would stop interacting with LessWrong entirely if it moved to this format.

Facebook adopts its format not because it benefits the reader, but because it benefits them. The endless comment thread format maximizes "user engagement". It maximizes stimulation. It intentionally minimizes rational thinking, because, in a sense, rationality is the opposite of virality.

Moreover, why should there be discussion? If a post is authoritative, well researched and obviously correct, then the only thing to do is upvote it and move on. A lengthy discussion thread is a sign that either the post is either unclear, incorrect, or has mindkilled its readers.

Edit after feedback:

I want to draw a distinction between the worthiness of an article and the length/number of comments that article generates. Facebook, Twitter, for-profit-blogs, all elide this distinction. For them, an article that generates a lot of pageviews and a lot of comments demonstrates high user engagement, and therefore, is a good article. This is true, even if the article's content is inflammatory, and lowers the rationality waterline.

LessWrong is not a for-profit blog. LessWrong's goal should not be to maximize user-engagement via the production of long comment threads. In my opinion, if there are a bunch of long-form articles for which the only reasonable response is, "Yep, that's all true. Good article!" that's a win condition.

Comment by quanticle on Using expected utility for Good(hart) · 2018-08-28T04:04:57.995Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

One other issue, which I'm not sure you've touched on, is the fact that variables in the real world are rarely completely independent. That is to say, increasing a variable, say V(1) may in fact lower other variables V(2)...V(N), including one of the 5 "important" variables that are highly weighted. For example, if I value both a clean environment and maximizing my civilization's energy production, I have to balance the fact that maximizing energy production might involve strip-mining a forest or two, lowering the amount of clean environment available to the people.

Secondly, how does this model deal with adversarial agents? One of the reasons that Goodhart's Law is so pervasive in the real world is that the systems it applies to often have an adversarial component. That is to say, there are agents who notice that you are pouring energy into V. In the past, all of this energy would have gone straight into U, but now that agents realize that there is a surplus of energy, they divert some of it to their own ends, reducing or even eliminating the total surplus that goes into U.

Finally, how well does this model deal with the fact that human values might change over time? If the set of 100 things the humans care about changes over time, how does that affect the expectation calculation?

Comment by quanticle on Jobs Inside the API · 2018-08-27T21:09:04.568Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This already exists, by the way. There's a clothing chain called Bonobos, which has stores, but you don't really buy anything from their stores. The stores are more like showrooms. You go in, pick out some clothes that you like, and the staff there take your measurements and then place an order for you on the store's website. Just as you described with your shoe-store example, they're literally just an API for the store's website.

Comment by quanticle on Unrolling social metacognition: Three levels of meta are not enough. · 2018-08-26T01:55:25.181Z · score: 17 (5 votes) · LW · GW

As for your point that people shy away from posting “mediocrely-explained ideas”, I agree, especially if the ideas are not in the mainstream.

This might not be a bad thing. Idea inoculation is a known concept in sociology, and it can make sense to not post an explanation of something if you think that it will cause people who have heard your explanation to discount future versions of that idea.

To quote Nietzsche:

There are terrible people who, instead of solving a problem, bungle it and make it more difficult for all who come after. Whoever can't hit the nail on the head should, please, not hit at all.

Comment by quanticle on Rationalist Community Hub in Moscow: 3 Years Retrospective · 2018-08-25T05:23:12.436Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I was very intrigued to see a reference to "Street Epistemology Practice". Could you elaborate a bit on that?

Comment by quanticle on Isolating Content can Create Affordances · 2018-08-23T21:24:52.819Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I'm still unconvinced. Both your data and David_Kingsley's data seem to confuse correlation with causation. The rationality community has grown. It has more people interested in politics than it had in the past. This led to more politics being discussed, which, in turn led moderators to create politics-only sections on forums, discords, etc. to prevent politics talk from overwhelming the main channel and turning off those who were not interested in discussing politics. This seems to explain the increase in political posts and the quarantining of politics without requiring a causal link between the two.

Comment by quanticle on Isolating Content can Create Affordances · 2018-08-23T21:21:33.883Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · LW · GW

But has that led to an actual increase in the prevalence of politics on /r/slatestarcodex?

Comment by quanticle on Isolating Content can Create Affordances · 2018-08-23T19:39:39.902Z · score: 10 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I've noticed the opposite effect. I'm a fairly active member on the LessWrong IRC channel (#lesswrong, on Freenode), and a year ago, in light of current events at that time, political discussions were threatening to take over the channel entirely. So, what one of the moderators did was to create a separate channel, #lw-politics, into which political discussions could be moved. The effect was immediate and dramatically positive. Political discussions are often confined to #lw-politics and when a political discussion starts up in the main channel, very often participants will notice that they're in the main channel, and voluntarily shift the discussion to #lw-politics, in order to free up bandwidth on the main channel. The end result has been a fairly clean separation of political content from more general interest rationality content.

Similarly, the SlateStarCodex subreddit has quarantined politics into its weekly "culture war" threads with similar results. In both cases separating politics from the main topic of the forum or channel led to a decline in the amount of political content and a cleaner separation between the political content and the primary topic of discussion.

Comment by quanticle on [Feature Idea] Epistemic Status · 2018-08-22T19:18:57.621Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Losing nuance is a cost to the writer, but a benefit to the reader. The really nice thing about having fixed categories is that they form a set of fixed reference points allowing us to compare articles. This then allows the user to more quickly determine whether an article is or is not relevant to their interests. It also allows the LessWrong (or GreaterWrong) software to implement filters, which allow this sorting to happen automatically.

Comment by quanticle on [Feature Idea] Epistemic Status · 2018-08-22T18:42:01.791Z · score: 28 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Scott took the idea from gwern, who, in turn, took the idea from muflax.

Muflax's system is a set of belief tags, "strongly believed", "partially believed", and "not believed", which indicate how strongly he believes in a post. In addition to the belief tags, he has other tags, like "fiction" or "log", which indicate that a post doesn't contain any real claims, but is commentary or opinion.

Gwern took muflax's system and formalized it further by using a variant of Kesselmann's estimative words, a list of words from National Intelligence Estimates that are used by analysts to indicate how probable they believe a particular event is likely to be. To the list of estimative words, he added "log", which indicates that a particular piece of writing is intended to document an existing text or event, and is not intended to create predictions.

Scott, in turn, took gwern's version and turned it into a more freeform text, which, so far as I can tell, he really only uses as a disclaimer on posts that are wildly speculative. Other people in the rationality community took Scott's version of free-form epistemic status and took it as a license to engage in witticism and signalling.

Of the three implementations above, the implementation described in OP most resembles Muflax's version -- a set of coarse-grained categories that range from "I'm totally sure of this, and it would rock my world to be proven wrong," to "This is interesting, but I'm not at all sure that it's actually true." While I would prefer gwern's version, with a rigorous set of epistemic words which are standardized across posts, these coarse grained categories are certainly better than the chaos that we have today.

Comment by quanticle on [Feature Idea] Epistemic Status · 2018-08-22T17:46:37.670Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I actually really like the claims idea. One of the limitations I've found with PredictionBook is that I can make a prediction, but I can't lay out my evidence or reasoning (nor can others make long-form responses to tell me why prediction is wrong). Allowing a post to make formal claims with probabilities attached would make it easier to use LessWrong to practice rationality as well as theorize about it.

Comment by quanticle on [Feature Idea] Epistemic Status · 2018-08-21T22:35:51.723Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I would be okay with a limited (say, 140 characters) explanatory text if it were in addition to an already chosen epistemic status. That is, in the implementation I'm visualizing, selecting an epistemic status would enable the free-form text box, but the free-form text would remain read-only otherwise.

Comment by quanticle on [Feature Idea] Epistemic Status · 2018-08-21T21:30:13.380Z · score: 31 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I would support this initiative on the condition that list of epistemic statuses is not freeform text. A list of confidence levels, plus options like "log" or "review" for opinion pieces would serve the original purpose of epistemic status -- allowing an author to write confidently and forthrightly about conclusions while still indicating that they're not 100% sure about those conclusions.

Allowing freeform text, however, would lead to epistemic statuses like:

We must remember that the original purpose of epistemic status was to increase the legibility of posts. The hope was that by introducing a standard set of words indicating confidence, one could quickly and easily share and compare the confidence that one had in their conclusions, facilitating the process of reaching agreement. Epistemic statuses, as they're actually used in the community, are the opposite of that. Most of the time, I ignore them, because they don't add to the content of the post, and just serve as a bonus field for the author to signal how witty and subversive they are.

The introduction of an epistemic standard field for LessWrong posts represents a chance to reclaim the concept and reimplement it in the manner that it was originally meant to be. We should not squander this opportunity.

Edit (2018-08-22): it turns out that one of my friends has an entire tumblr of non-epistemic epistemic statuses.

Comment by quanticle on Y Couchinator · 2018-08-21T02:15:15.165Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

An alternative, less cynical viewpoint, would be that it actually does cost more to host couchsurfers as you get older. You get more stuff. You get better stuff. You get more attached to your stuff. All of these things make it more costly to host couchsurfers since the expected cost of broken stuff increases proportionally to all three of those things. It's one thing to host a couchsurfer when all your furniture is Ikea and all your dishes are plastic. It's quite another thing when you've picked up a proper sectional, a nice coffee table and proper plates and silverware.

Comment by quanticle on A future for neuroscience · 2018-08-20T03:14:51.550Z · score: 29 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that connectome-specific harmonic wave theory is elegant. I think that it has the potential to unlock some interesting insights about how brains work. I think it definitely deserves more study and research from neuroscientists. But to suggest that all psychologists and psychiatrists should stop what they're doing and focus on CSHW is incorrect, even if CSHW is actually true. It would be like suggesting that all programmers stop what they're doing and pay attention every time physicists figure out a new transistor theory. Yes, this new theory may revolutionize how neuroscientists see how the brain conducts certain operations, but psychologists and psychiatrists operate at a much higher level of abstraction than that.

While you have given some instances of how this understanding might affect our higher-level-of-abstraction models of the brain, it's important to note that all of these are pure speculation. Harmonics might indicate the level of pleasantness of an experience or sensation, or they might not. Adjusting one's connectome harmonics to be different might eliminate mental illness or it might not. The history of psychological research and mental illness treatment is rife with new paradigms which have either turned out to be completely useless in modeling disease or of significantly more limited utility than what they were initially advertised to be. At this stage, therefore, it's not worth getting excited over CSHW, because it might be yet another thing that looks good on a conference poster, but then doesn't work in clinical trials. Or, worse yet, it might be a thing that looks good on research posters, leads to limited success in clinical trials, and then is found to be of little or no effect when the replication study is done.

My advice for psychologists and psychiatrists would be to ignore this. Ignore it completely. When a form of treatment based upon CSHW is developed or proposed, investigate it. Then replicate the investigation. Then, take the treatment into clinical practice. But CSHW itself? You need to know about it about as much as a programmer needs to know transistor physics.

Comment by quanticle on Trust Me I'm Lying: A Summary and Review · 2018-08-19T20:30:24.913Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

He does, but it's a weak reply, in my opinion. He claims that the viral marketing campaign was supposed to be only a part of the overall marketing, but that due to factors outside of his control, the funding for the more traditional marketing campaign fell through, and that the viral marketing campaign ended up being the entire marketing campaign for the movie.

Comment by quanticle on Trust Me I'm Lying: A Summary and Review · 2018-08-14T22:42:38.160Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The argument around ad-blockers and anti-addiction tech is an interesting one. While I agree that they make it more difficult for sophisticated people to be affected by the provocation and click-bait, I'm not sure that this automatically makes the unsophisticated audience that remains more lucrative. One of the hopeful things that Ryan mentions in the 2017 edition of this book is that the rise of paywalls is a sign that "serious" media outlets are beginning to realize that the pageview game is a game for suckers. They can't hope to compete with blogs who specialize in outrage, so instead of doing that they're differentiating themselves as "upmarket" publications who charge an up-front fee, in exchange for not showering you with clickbait.

My personal prediction is that we'll end up with a two-tier media market, where relatively affluent and more sophisticated readers continue to read things like the New York Times, or the Wall Street Journal, or The Economist, while less affluent or less sophisticated readers read Huffington Post and... whatever ends up taking Gawker's place. In a sense, it'll be like the old split between broadsheets and tabloids, only online instead of in print.

With regards to Twitter, I wonder how important it is that the handle be a throwaway one, with no prior history. I know that, for example, gwern has tried engaging with vocal skeptics of things like GWAS studies on IQ, and it doesn't really seem to have made a difference in their viewpoint. I wonder how much of that has to do with gwern's prior posting history putting him firmly on the "other side", causing people to dismiss his claims on the basis of who he is, rather than what the claims are.

Comment by quanticle on Trust Me I'm Lying: A Summary and Review · 2018-08-13T22:14:51.070Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I was just informed that link posts can have text too, so I've converted this post into a link post to my blog.

Trust Me I'm Lying: A Summary and Review

2018-08-13T02:55:16.044Z · score: 101 (38 votes)

On Authority

2018-07-05T02:37:28.793Z · score: 14 (4 votes)
Comment by quanticle on Monopoly: A Manifesto and Fact Post · 2018-06-06T18:04:01.192Z · score: 16 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I was also including the employees of the company itself, and all the machinery and equipment that the company has on hand. However, today, we live in a world of just-in-time supply chains, with companies subcontracting various specialized functions out to various subcontractors. Very few companies are the sort of vertically integrated enterprises that Ford or US Steel were at the turn of the century. As a result, a lot of the knowledge that you're attributing to the individual company is actually in the supply chain for the company, not the company itself. This applies not just to the nitty-gritty of actually building components, but even matters of overall product design. As an example, Foxconn has a large say in iPhone manufacturing, because, at the end of the day, they're the ones putting the things together. In the auto industry, parts suppliers like Mopar or Denso often know more about the cars that Chrysler and Toyota build than Toyota or Chrysler themselves.

In addition, companies today carry much less inventory than they used to, as a result of the aforementioned JIT supply chains. So even if your modern steel corporation could be operated with 1899-era machinery and infrastructure, it's still might not do you any good, because you'd rapidly run out of iron, coke, and the special alloying agents needed to make modern high-strength steel. Today, you can rely on computerized inventory management and logistical planning systems that are deeply integrated with your suppliers to ensure that new supplies of raw materials and spare parts reach your production facilities right when they're needed. How are you going to do that in 1899? Hire a bunch of telegraph clerks?

Moreover, this reliance on supply chains forms another pressure point that a monopolist like Carnegie could use to suppress your firm. He could work with the railroads (which were not operating under the common carrier regulations that they operate under today) to ensure that your factories were starved of raw materials, while his factories were well supplied. No amount of scientific expertise can conjure finished steel out of thin air.

Finally, you allude to cash reserves, but even that might be a problem. Not all corporations are as cash rich as Apple or Microsoft. And even Apple and Microsoft keep large amounts of their "cash" in various short-term investments, offshore holding companies, and various tax shelters. It's not like Apple has a giant underground vault filled with hundred dollar bills in Cupertino. So if you transported a company back in time, it might not have enough cash on hand to make payroll, much less sustain ongoing operations.

I think many people strongly underestimate how interconnected and interdependent firms in the modern economy are. Many people have an idea of how firms operate that was beginning to be obsolete in the '80s, and is wholly obsolete today. Firms are increasingly disaggregated, as computerization has reduced transaction costs, allowing for a more Coasean equilibrium.

That said, many of these innovations have only really taken root since 1980 or so. Prior to that firms were more like the sort of vertically integrated enterprises that people envision when they think of a classic industrial corporation. Perhaps US Steel from 1968 could go back in time and compete effectively with the 1899 version of itself. But I'm not sure that the US Steel from 2018 could do the same.

Curriculum suggestions for someone looking to teach themselves contemporary philosophy

2013-05-31T04:20:58.811Z · score: 11 (11 votes)

Ruthless Extrapolation

2012-07-13T20:51:23.463Z · score: 0 (7 votes)

Betrand Russell's Ten Commandments

2012-05-06T19:52:22.012Z · score: 7 (26 votes)

[LINK] Signalling and irrationality in Software Development

2011-11-21T16:24:33.744Z · score: 9 (14 votes)

How did you come to find LessWrong?

2011-11-21T15:32:34.377Z · score: 5 (8 votes)