Consciousness of abstraction 2020-12-21T21:35:31.001Z
Is the work on AI alignment relevant to GPT? 2020-07-30T12:23:56.842Z
Utility need not be bounded 2020-05-14T18:10:58.681Z
Who lacks the qualia of consciousness? 2019-10-05T19:49:52.432Z
Storytelling and the evolution of human intelligence 2019-06-13T20:13:03.547Z


Comment by richard_kennaway on Why aren't we all using Taffix? · 2021-02-27T11:20:16.918Z · LW · GW

As far as I can make out from internet browsing, the ingredient that does the work is hypromellose (short for hydroxypropyl methylcellulose). It's a cellulose compound whose powder, in humid conditions, takes up water and turns into a gel. This gel on the inside of your nose forms a barrier against infection.

I am not a chemist, pharmacist, or doctor, but here are my best guesses for the functions of the other ingredients. Benzalkonium chloride is a surfactant, which might help the hypro form a gel layer, and also an antimicrobial agent. I do not know if it would affect viruses. Citric acid + sodium citrate might be a buffer against pH changes. Or perhaps an anti-caking agent. I would guess that the menthol is to give a pleasant sensation, and so you can "feel it working".

Being in the UK I can order Taffix from Amazon co uk, though I'm not sure I will, as there appears to be a far cheaper product that does the same thing. That is "Nasaleze Cold & Flu Blocker", which is also mainly hypromellose. Another hypromellose product is "Vicks First Defence Nasal Spray". Those products make no mention of Covid, so it's possible that the Very Serious People have not yet noticed that they should be stopping people from buying them. There is also "Nasaleze Travel – Germ and Virus Prevention", but I can't see how it differs from the other Nasaleze. Same price, same ingredients.

Prices: As of today, Taffix is £51.99 for 1000mg. Nasaleze Cold & Flu Blocker is £8.95 for 800mg, less than a quarter the price of Taffix. The Vicks is a liquid, not a powder, but the price is £6 for 15ml of 1% hypro = 150mg, more than three times the cost of Nasaleze. Given that these are all basically the same thing, it looks like what you're paying extra for with Taffix is the field-testing against Covid. As for how many doses these represent, the Nasaleze says that the 800mg bottle is 30 days supply, but that would depend on how often you use it.

Obviously, these only protect against infection through the nasal tissues, and do not affect the result of breathing viruses into the lungs. I have not seen any information about which route is more important.

I have ordered the Nasaleze; it should arrive tomorrow.

Comment by richard_kennaway on How can I protect my bank account from large, surprise withdrawals? · 2021-02-23T20:58:10.635Z · LW · GW

That depends on your deal. My roaming arrangement is capped at so many GB per week. If it looks like I'll need more, I buy more as I need it. No bad surprises.

No bad surprises. A principle not only for money, but for life.

Comment by richard_kennaway on What's your best alternate history utopia? · 2021-02-23T12:02:01.453Z · LW · GW

The ancient Greeks also had sailing ships, metallurgy, and even steam engines of a sort.

More generally, one can always look at the past and find reasons for how things were. That does not demonstrate that they could not have been otherwise. One can also look at the present and find reasons for how things are. But there have always been those who have seen how things might be different, and made them happen.

Comment by richard_kennaway on How can I protect my bank account from large, surprise withdrawals? · 2021-02-22T19:32:19.828Z · LW · GW

This is why I only use automatic charging for things where I can reliably know the general magnitude in advance.

Automatic: subscriptions (to magazines, software, Patreons, etc.), my mobile phone (for which the flat rate usually covers my entire usage), my ISP (another flat rate).

They bill me then I pay them: utility bills, credit cards.

I don't find it an inconvenience to make the manual payments. On the contrary, it is helpful to me to have this regular contact with what I am spending.

Comment by richard_kennaway on Open & Welcome Thread – February 2021 · 2021-02-22T11:56:13.517Z · LW · GW

A rock. A question. A command. A mistake. A dream. "2+2=4" spoken by a zombie. The output of GPT-3. Simulacrum level 4. The fit of water to a puddle. The peacock's tail.

Comment by richard_kennaway on What's your best alternate history utopia? · 2021-02-22T09:40:28.177Z · LW · GW

One Eliezer, a member of an obscure tribe in the Middle East, found himself dissatisfied with all religion, and especially that of his own people. He pondered deeply over the question of how to attain real knowledge of the world, and wandered through many countries observing how such things proceeded there. Eventually, having arrived at tried and tested conclusions about what methods systematically lead towards truth, he fetched up in ancient Greece in the time of the great philosophers. Here, it seemed, there might be some few people capable of understanding what he had discovered. He was successful in persuading them to take seriously the idea of working with their own hands to experiment and observe, to "entangle themselves with the world", and got SCIENCE!! started two thousand years earlier.

According to Plutarch in "The Obsolescence of Oracles", when Eliezer visited the oracle at Delphi it prophesied, "HE IS HERE. THE ONE WHO WILL TEAR APART THE VERY STARS IN HEAVEN. HE IS HERE. HE IS THE END OF THE WORLD." The oracle never spoke again.

Comment by richard_kennaway on Notes on Amiability · 2021-02-16T09:21:28.620Z · LW · GW

Which makes this an asymmetric strategy. It can only work on people who don't use it. I imagine one might get a feeling of smug superiority over the less enlightened person who swallows the bait without noticing — "ha, what fools these dullards be!" — but this is more smarm than amiability.

The most famous source of the advice to get the other person to talk about themselves is "How to Make Friends and Influence People". It was written by a salesman, translating his sales technique into everyday life. A salesman is always in an asymmetric relationship with his prospective customers. He is trying to sell them something. But if you never speak of yourself, what are you selling? It's clear what you're buying with your attention: information about the other person.

Rather like Facebook.

Comment by richard_kennaway on Notes on Amiability · 2021-02-15T20:38:07.385Z · LW · GW

Become a brilliant conversationalist by letting them talk

What happens when both people try to do this?

Comment by richard_kennaway on Were the Great Tragedies of History “Mere Ripples”? · 2021-02-15T12:41:17.340Z · LW · GW

You seem to be using "intuition" as a way to avoid discussion. Just go up a meta-level and bark "you just used intuition!" at your interlocutor. No further discussion is possible along this path.

Comment by richard_kennaway on Were the Great Tragedies of History “Mere Ripples”? · 2021-02-14T10:21:08.464Z · LW · GW

How do you value things? If solely by intuition, what do you do when intuitions conflict with each other?

Comment by richard_kennaway on Were the Great Tragedies of History “Mere Ripples”? · 2021-02-12T19:16:16.687Z · LW · GW

Your quarrel seems to be with the very idea of valuing things. You're welcome to take that view, but then this entire area of discourse must be a closed book to you. Why respond specifically to my pointing out that Torres does not address the transhumanists' arguments, but only denies their conclusions?

Comment by richard_kennaway on Were the Great Tragedies of History “Mere Ripples”? · 2021-02-12T15:39:26.483Z · LW · GW

What is this intuition by which you would judge the competing claims of Bostrom and Torres, but a "way of measuring moral worth"?

Comment by richard_kennaway on Were the Great Tragedies of History “Mere Ripples”? · 2021-02-10T17:54:25.828Z · LW · GW

I'm not sure anyone will see this, given the OP now stands at -15 (not that I have any objection to that). But I think the accusation of straw-manning is not accurate. In this paper, which is referenced in the OP, Bostrom estimates:

Advancing technology (or its enabling factors, such as economic productivity) even by such a tiny amount that it leads to colonization of the local supercluster just one second earlier than would otherwise have happened amounts to bringing about more than 10^29 human lives (or 10^14 human lives if we use the most conservative lower bound) that would not otherwise have existed.

Or as Insanity Wolf might put it:

Insanity Wolf says: "Delayed one second in doing good? You just killed 100 octillion babies"

(I always hear the larger claims of EA, Utilitarianism, and Transhumanism in the voice of Insanity Wolf.)

However, the OP does not really make any arguments against Bostrom. He denies the conclusions but does not follow that back through the argument to the premises and say why he rejects either the validity of the argument or the truth of the premises.

Comment by richard_kennaway on On the nature of purpose · 2021-02-10T17:22:13.414Z · LW · GW

I would map "homeostasis" onto "control system", but maybe that's just a terminological preference.

The internal experience of purpose is a special case of internal experience, explaining which is the Hard Problem of Consciousness, which no-one has a solution for. I don't see a reason to deny this sort of purpose to animals, except to the extent that one would deny all conscious experience to them. I am quite willing to believe that (for example) cats, dogs, and primates have a level of consciousness that includes purpose.

The evolutionary explanation does not make any predictions. It looks at what is, says "it was selected for", and confabulates a story about its usefulness. Why do we have five fingers? Because every other number was selected against. Why were they selected against? Because they were less useful. How were they less useful? They must have been, because they were selected against. Even if some content were put into that, it still would not explain the thing that was to be explained: what is purpose? It is like answering the question "how does a car work?" by expatiating upon how useful cars are.

Comment by richard_kennaway on Against butterfly effect · 2021-02-09T18:46:38.316Z · LW · GW

The butterfly thing was never more than a slogan, and a misleading one.

The real story about tornadoes in six months time is that if you compute God's Deterministic Will backwards from 1 July, then the part of the state space described by "tornado in Texas" has been smeared out and folded over so much by the time you get back to 1 January, that there is no human-possible measurement that can separate that part of the state space from the rest. In particular, there will be no butterfly-flapping event to attribute the tornado to, in the sense that the tornado shows up if and only if the butterfly flaps.

Similarly, if you take the part of the state space on 1 January described by "this butterfly in Brazil flaps its wings" and project that forwards, it will be so smeared out and folded over as to overlap all the tornado and non-tornado events on 1 July.

It especially does not mean that you can set out to produce a tornado by provoking a butterfly somewhere to flap its wings.

Comment by richard_kennaway on On the nature of purpose · 2021-02-07T18:53:00.854Z · LW · GW

One simple answer to the question "what is purpose?" is "the reference input of a control system".

On this view, a thermostat acts purposively to maintain a room, a fridge, a shower, etc. at a constant temperature. It senses the actual temperature and adjusts it as necessary to keep it close to the reference temperature. Of course, it is the designer's purpose that the thermostat should do that, but once the thermostat has been made and installed, the purpose is physically present in the thermostat.

This concept does not occur at all in the letter exchange.

Consider what a person does when they act on a purpose. Some part of the world is not as they want it to be, and they act to bring it to such a state. That is what purpose is: to intend a state of affairs, and act to achieve it.

There is a wider sense of the word "purpose", where it is considered as a property of things. Maybe Dennett and Rosenberg are talking about that sense? The sense in which we can ask, "what is the purpose of this rock?", and if it's just some random rock lying somewhere, the answer would be "none". And for the question, "what is the purpose of an animal's heart?", the answer would be "to pump blood around its body." The difference between the two once again involves control systems. The heart is part of a control system. It is the actuator that will be made to beat faster and stronger, or slower and weaker, to meet the demand of the rest of the body for oxygen. A random rock is not part of any control system.

Comment by richard_kennaway on Massive consequences · 2021-02-07T18:27:39.181Z · LW · GW

Have you seen "Convergence of expected utilities with algorithmic probability distributions", by Peter de Blanc? Under certain conditions, he proves that all expected utility calculations diverge.

Comment by richard_kennaway on How likely is it that SARS-CoV-2 originated in a laboratory? · 2021-01-26T21:36:38.749Z · LW · GW

Viruses are known to sometimes jump from one species to another, so what is different about how they are encouraged to do so in a lab? Are they doing anything but forcing it to happen faster?

I am not a biologist and this is wild speculation, but I wonder if, when you force pathogens to pass from one host species to another to another to another, are you selecting them not just for making each individual jump, but for being able to jump from any species to any other more easily? You would then end up with a meta-infective virus able to mutate fast enough to spread through the whole animal kingdom and outpace any attempts at vaccination.

Comment by richard_kennaway on How likely is it that SARS-CoV-2 originated in a laboratory? · 2021-01-26T11:59:28.083Z · LW · GW

Why do people do this sort of experiment? Why do they deliberately try to create infectious plagues? Is there some real, useful knowledge that comes out of such experiments, or do they just want to see the world burn?

Comment by richard_kennaway on Give it a google · 2021-01-25T16:24:11.117Z · LW · GW

Now try telling them that the entire library fits inside of this little machine. And that the machine fits inside their pocket! Madness!

Madness indeed!

Comment by richard_kennaway on No nonsense version of the "racial algorithm bias" · 2021-01-22T15:18:26.082Z · LW · GW

All evidence is "biased compared to our prior". That is what evidence is.

Comment by richard_kennaway on For Better Commenting, Avoid PONDS · 2021-01-21T13:03:40.609Z · LW · GW

Here's a verbal image:

"See, yonder is Llyn-dhu, garlanded with mosses and mean dwellings.”

Colin and Susan looked where Fenodyree was pointing, and some two or three miles out on the plain they could see the glint of grey water through trees.

“Men thought to drain that land and live there, but the spirit of the place entered them, and their houses were built drab and desolate, and without cheer; and all around the bog still sprawls, from out the drear lake come soulless thoughts and drift into the hearts of the people, and they are one with their surroundings."

— Alan Garner, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen.

Although the real Lindow Common, with its Black Lake, is nowadays a place for nice people to go with their dogs for a nice walk.

Comment by richard_kennaway on Open & Welcome Thread - January 2021 · 2021-01-19T19:21:28.223Z · LW · GW


While I'm here, if someone likes Ted Chiang and Greg Egan, who might they read for more of the same? "Non-space-opera rationalist SF that's mainly about the ideas" would be the simplest characterisation. The person in question is not keen on "spaceship stories" like (in his opinion) Iain M. Banks, and was unimpressed by Cixin Liu's "Three-Body Problem". I've suggested HPMoR, of course, but I don't think it took.

Comment by richard_kennaway on Open & Welcome Thread - January 2021 · 2021-01-19T11:41:31.023Z · LW · GW

I'm looking for a science fiction novel that I believe I first saw mentioned on LessWrong. I don't remember the author, the title, or any of the characters' names. It's about a robot whose intelligence consists of five separate agents, serving different roles, which have to negotiate with each other for control of the body they inhabit and to communicate with humans. That's about all I can remember.

Comment by richard_kennaway on RationalWiki on face masks · 2021-01-15T20:01:16.894Z · LW · GW

Because they've always thought it was for the greater good before.

Comment by richard_kennaway on Grey Goo Requires AI · 2021-01-15T14:40:18.148Z · LW · GW

Green goo doesn't need all that (see: Covid and other plagues). Why would grey goo? Ok, Covid isn't transforming everything into more of itself, but it's doing enough of that to cause serious harm.

Comment by richard_kennaway on Overconfidence · 2021-01-10T18:46:23.879Z · LW · GW

Belief and action are different things and obey different laws. If I run for a train, the lower I think my chances, the more effort I must put in.

Comment by richard_kennaway on Johannes Kepler, Sun Worshipper · 2021-01-09T09:32:36.440Z · LW · GW

Interesting about Kepler, but it is surely not an example of the "metaphysical foundations" of Burrt's title. (I have not read his book.) "Motivation" would be a more accurate word. Kepler's laws stand on their own, independent of his sun-salutation. Newton later put a foundation under them, and Einstein a deeper foundation.

Comment by richard_kennaway on Empiricism in NLP : Test Operate Text Exit (TOTE) · 2021-01-02T20:21:47.097Z · LW · GW

In the specific case of PCT, the model treats everything as closed-loop homeostasis occurring within the organism being modeled.

That is not the case. Indeed, most of the experimental work on PCT involves creatures controlling perceptions of things outside themselves, e.g. cursor-tracking experiments, or ball catching. Indeed, this is where the important applications are. Homeostatic processes within the organism, such as control of deep body temperature, are well understood to be control processes, and in the case of body temperature, I believe it is known where the temperature sensor is. It is for interactions with the environment that many still think in terms of stimulus-response, or plan-then-execute, or sensing and compensating for disturbances, none of which are control processes, and therefore cannot explain how organisms achieve consistent results in the face of varying environments.

Comment by richard_kennaway on Luna Lovegood and the Chamber of Secrets - Part 12 · 2020-12-31T22:33:01.749Z · LW · GW

endless stacks of stationary

Immovable stacks, clearly. Stacks of what? Stacks of immovability.

Comment by richard_kennaway on 2021 New Year Optimization Puzzles · 2020-12-31T10:10:29.953Z · LW · GW

Summary results (without derivations):

Puzzle 1: score 19. Edit: that was for score = sum of numbers used. The product score for the same solution is 198.

Puzzle 2: 1.0030 expected rolls.

Edit: Scott pointed out that the primes had to be below 2021. For this I have a solution with exactly 2 rolls.

Edit, no, I'm still wrong, there are 2022 people to choose among, not 2021.

My latest attempt gets 2.000000579 expected rolls.

Puzzle 3: 4 coins (and at most 14 flips).

Full solutions:

Puzzle 1:

scores 19.

Edit: for the problem as originally stated, i.e. the score is the sum of the numbers used. For score = product, the score is 198.

Puzzle 2:

Use a die with 2027 faces (the smallest prime above 2021). Roll to choose; if the result is above 2021 roll again. The expected number of rolls is 2027/2021 = 1.0030.

Edit: I missed the condition that the primes had to be below 2021. Since , use one roll each of a 43-sided and a 47-sided die.

Edit, no, I'm still wrong, there are 2022 people to choose among, not 2021. So I don't have a solution to puzzle 2 yet.

New attempt: I used some computational assistance in finding this solution. Roll one die of 1811 sides and one of 1907. The product of these is 3453577 = 1708*2022 + 1. In 3453576 out of 3453577 cases this gives you your choice, otherwise roll both again.

Expected rolls = 2*(3453577/3453576) = 2.000000579.

Puzzle 3:

Use six coins, with probabilities 1/2, 1/3, 1/5, 1024/2021, 729/997, and 243/268.

Flip 1024/2021 to divide the people into groups of 1024 and 997. Choose from the 1024 group with 10 flips of 1/2.

For the 997 group, use the 729/997 to get groups of 729 and 268.

The 729 group can be chosen from with the 1/2 and 1/3 coins in at most 12 rolls. (Use 1/3 to cut off one third of the group, and 1/2 to split the remaining 2/3 into two thirds. Do this 6 times.)

For the 268 group, use the 243/268 to split it into groups of 243 and 25.

These can both be chosen from with the 1/2, 1/3, and 1/5 coins, the group of 243 with at most 10 flips, the group of 25 with at most 6.

In the worst case 14 flips are needed.

Better solution with five coins: 2000/2021, 1/2, 1/3, 1/5, and 4/7.

Use 2000/2021 to divide the group into 2000 and 21. The 1/2 and 1/5 will choose from 2000 in at most 13 rolls. Use 1/3 and 1/2 to divide the 21 into three groups of 7. Use the 4/7 to split 7 into 4 and 3, which can be chosen from with the 1/2 and 1/3.

Further improvement with four coins: 2000/2021, 1/2, 1/5, and 20/21.

Use 2000/2021 to divide the group into 2000 and 21. 2000 is as before, using the 1/2 and 1/5. For the group of 21, use 20/21, then the group of 20 can be solved with the 1/2 and 1/5.

Considering the way these solutions all work, I doubt if there is one with three coins along these lines. UnexpectedValues claims to do it with just one coin, so he must be taking a completely different approach. I want to think about that before looking at his solution.

Comment by richard_kennaway on An argument for personal identity transfer. · 2020-12-15T15:51:10.703Z · LW · GW

The replacement indistinguishability is not transitive.

I assume that's a typo for "is transitive".

Regardless of how many are replaced in any order there cannot be a behavior change, even if it goes as A to B, A to C, A to D.

Why not? If you assume absolute identity of behaviour, you're assuming the conclusion. But absolute identity is unobservable. The best you can get is indistinguishability under whatever observations you're making, in which case it is not transitive. There is no way to make this argument work without assuming the conclusion.

Comment by richard_kennaway on To listen well, get curious · 2020-12-15T12:13:10.551Z · LW · GW

In other words, hold off on proposing solutions.

Comment by richard_kennaway on An argument for personal identity transfer. · 2020-12-15T09:12:06.529Z · LW · GW

One must then demonstrate that the statement between the hashtags is false. As I implied in my update, the statement between the hashtags is not necessarily true.

Then that undercuts the whole argument. That is exactly the argument by the beard. It depends on indistinguishablility being a transitive property, but it is not. If A and B are, for example, two colours that you cannot tell apart, and also B and C, and also C and D, you may see a clear difference between A and D.

You cannot see grass grow from one minute to the next. But you can see it grow from one day to the next.

Comment by richard_kennaway on An argument for personal identity transfer. · 2020-12-14T15:11:37.016Z · LW · GW

Doing them all at once doesn't help. You are still arguing that if kN neurons make no observable difference, then neither do (k+1)N, for any k. This is not true, and the underlying binary concept that it either does, or does not, make an observable difference does not fit the situation.

Comment by richard_kennaway on An argument for personal identity transfer. · 2020-12-14T11:24:20.442Z · LW · GW

Note that I'm not referring to gradual changes through time, but a single procedure occurring once that replaces N neurons in one go.

You refer to doing this k times. There is your gradual process, your argument by the beard.

If A is indistinguishable from B, and B is indistinguishable from C, it does not follow that A is indistinguishable from C.

Comment by richard_kennaway on An argument for personal identity transfer. · 2020-12-13T19:07:40.672Z · LW · GW

This is the argument of the beard. You can pluck one hair from a bearded man and he still has a beard, therefore by induction you can pluck all the hairs and he still has a beard.

Or if you stipulate that replacing N neurons not merely causes no "significant" change, but absolutely no change at all, even according to observations that we don't yet know we would need to make, then you've baked the conclusion into the premises.

Comment by Richard_Kennaway on [deleted post] 2020-12-12T21:31:31.251Z

Green ink is the stereotypical medium that cranks and crackpots write in.

Comment by richard_kennaway on Manifesto of the Silent Minority · 2020-11-24T08:46:56.857Z · LW · GW

Is the "[REDACTED]" in the belief as submitted?

Comment by richard_kennaway on Survey of Deviant Ideas · 2020-11-23T15:44:48.373Z · LW · GW

Will you be posting the anonymous beliefs?

Comment by richard_kennaway on Working in Virtual Reality: A Review · 2020-11-21T21:52:38.432Z · LW · GW

Here's a discussion of someone who didn't find working in VR particularly usable

The hyperlink is missing.

Comment by richard_kennaway on When Money Is Abundant, Knowledge Is The Real Wealth · 2020-11-18T09:15:25.577Z · LW · GW

precious mentals

I like this coinage.

Comment by richard_kennaway on Pascal's Mugging: Tiny Probabilities of Vast Utilities · 2020-11-14T16:03:00.548Z · LW · GW

Eliezer covers this in the article:

Should we penalize computations with large space and time requirements?  This is a hack that solves the problem, but is it true?

And he points out:

If the probabilities of various scenarios considered did not exactly cancel out, the AI's action in the case of Pascal's Mugging would be overwhelmingly dominated by whatever tiny differentials existed in the various tiny probabilities under which 3^^^^3 units of expected utility were actually at stake.


Consider the plight of the first nuclear physicists, trying to calculate whether an atomic bomb could ignite the atmosphere. Yes, they had to do this calculation! Should they have not even bothered, because it would have killed so many people that the prior probability must be very low?The essential problem is that the universe doesn't care one way or the other and therefore events do not in fact have probabilities that diminish with increasing disutility.

There is also a paper, which I found and lost and found again and lost again, which may just have been a blog post somewhere, to the effect that in a certain setting, all computable unbounded utility functions must necessarily be so dominated by small probabilities of large utilities that no expected utility calculation converges. If someone can remind me of what this paper was I'd appreciate it.

ETA: Found it again, again. "Convergence of expected utilities with algorithmic probability distributions", by Peter de Blanc.

Comment by richard_kennaway on Ongoing free money at PredictIt · 2020-11-11T10:19:39.217Z · LW · GW

Where is this money coming from? Who is taking the other side of these bets?

Comment by richard_kennaway on Confucianism in AI Alignment · 2020-11-03T13:05:38.842Z · LW · GW

You are proposing "make the right rules" as the solution. Surely this is like solving the problem of how to write correct software by saying "make correct software"? The same approach could be applied to the Confucian approach by saying "make the values right". The same argument made against the Confucian approach can be made against the Legalist approach: the rules are never the real thing that is wanted, people will vary in how assiduously they are willing to follow one or the other, or to hack the rules entirely for their own benefit, then selection effects lever open wider and wider the difference between the rules, what was wanted, and what actually happens.

It doesn't work for HGIs (Human General Intelligences). Why will it work for AGIs?

BTW, I'm not a scholar of Chinese history, but historically it seems to me that Confucianism flourished as state religion because it preached submission to the Legalist state. Daoism found favour by preaching resignation to one's lot. Do what you're told and keep your head down.

Comment by richard_kennaway on Stupid Questions October 2020 · 2020-10-28T13:14:57.057Z · LW · GW

The geodesics aren't lines in space, but in space-time. For the ball to fall through the Earth and back to its starting point takes about 5000 seconds, during which time light goes about 1.5 billion km. So a graph in space-time will be a sine wave whose period is 1.5 billion km and whose amplitude is 6400 km, a ratio of about 250000 to 1. The graph has very low curvature everywhere.

It is the same for the Earth's orbit round the Sun. It is not the spatial path of the orbit that is a geodesic, but the helical path it traces out in space-time. In one revolution it travels one year into the future, equivalent to a distance of a light-year. As a handy way of visualising this, the ratio of a light-year to an AU (astronomical unit, the radius of the Earth's orbit) is about the same as a mile to an inch. So in space-time the orbit can be visualised as a helix formed by wrapping a piece of string around a cylinder two inches thick and a mile long, which makes just a single turn over that distance. The curvature of this path is much lower than the spatial curvature of the orbital path.

Comment by richard_kennaway on On the Dangers of Time Travel · 2020-10-27T15:08:43.612Z · LW · GW


Comment by richard_kennaway on Should we use qualifiers in speech? · 2020-10-24T09:35:42.058Z · LW · GW

“I am inclined to think—” said I.

“I should do so,” Sherlock Holmes remarked impatiently.

Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Valley of Fear"

Comment by richard_kennaway on Should we use qualifiers in speech? · 2020-10-23T22:26:54.997Z · LW · GW

In writing, I take a hard look at any dubifiers I notice, and only let them stand if they are really necessary. I find that often (a quantifier I have let stand!) they result from mere timidity rather than justified, significant, and relevant uncertainty. In speech too, if I'm quick enough to make these decisions on the fly.

I especially avoid multiple dubifiers, like "It seems to me like there's a chance that probably it might be a good idea to maybe try and see if it's possible to..." As deluks917 said, epistemic security theatre. Or in that concocted example, epistemic security farce.

Comment by richard_kennaway on Has Eliezer ever retracted his statements about weight loss? · 2020-10-14T20:54:35.565Z · LW · GW

As a data point in the opposite direction from the stereotype than Eliezer (the stereotype being that everyone tends to put on weight unless they strive not to), I have never needed, nor tried, to "lose weight". My weight stays at 120 to 125 pounds (giving a BMI of about 20) without my doing anything to make it so, any more than I do anything to regulate my body temperature. It has done so for my entire adult life of more than 40 years, during which I have never been short of the means to eat whatever I want. My body obviously does regulate my weight and temperature, but by mechanisms I know nothing about. Any explanation of why people put on weight must also account for the people who do not.

In fact, surely people only speak of "losing weight" who are failing to do so. If they ever reached their target weight they would be talking about maintaining it, but I only see that mentioned as something you will have to do once you have "lost weight" in a tomorrow that is presumed never to arrive. The entire discourse is predicated on the assumption of failure.