Value Loading 2012-10-23T04:47:07.919Z
In Defense of Ayn Rand 2012-04-10T01:53:08.001Z


Comment by ryjm on Rereading Atlas Shrugged · 2020-09-04T04:40:45.207Z · LW · GW

I re-read Atlas Shrugged once or twice a year. One of my first posts on LW was this (and you even commented on it!):


Not necessarily proud of it, but it's interesting to re-read it after fully reconciling the book with my own internal principles. I can see how much I struggled with the fact that I really resonated with the idea of hero-worship, while also feeling so fragile in my own judgments, simultaneously. It really is a wonderful book, and I no longer feel the need to defend anything about it - I just get a little sad when it gets brushed off (the lord of the rings comparison joke really gets me), as an honest reading will always reveal something fundamental, even in criticism.

Comment by ryjm on Open Thread June 2018 · 2018-06-01T16:48:45.709Z · LW · GW
Also discovered bone conduction headphones and I am impressed with the quality.

Do you have a recommendation? Constantly on the look out for new headphone styles, I have weird ear holes that nothing fits in.

Comment by ryjm on A LessWrong Crypto Autopsy · 2018-01-30T16:25:01.129Z · LW · GW

Taking my place in history - one of my first tasks as an intern at MIRI was to write some ruby scripts that dealt with some aspects of that donation.

Not only did that experience land me my first programming job, but just realizing now that it was also the impetus that led me to grab more bitcoin (I had sold mine at the first peak in 2013) AND look into Stellar. Probably the most lucrative internship ever.

(Shoutout to Malo/Alex if you guys are still lurking LW)

Comment by ryjm on Open Thread - January 2018 · 2018-01-05T05:52:05.250Z · LW · GW

I'm feeling nostalgic.

Is there any interest in having a monthly thread where we re-post links to old posts/comments from LW? Possibly scoped to that month in previous years? i.e, each comment would look like

(2013) link
brief description / thoughts

or something.

It's pretty easy to go back and look through some of the older, more popular posts - but I think there were many open thread comments or frontpage posts not by Yvain / Eliezer that are starting to slip through the cracks of time. Would be nice to see what we all remember.

Comment by ryjm on Superhuman Meta Process · 2018-01-04T15:44:23.600Z · LW · GW

This is the kind of content I've missed from LW in the past couple of years. Reminded me of something on old LW a while back that is a nice object level complement to this post. I saved it and look at it occasionally for inspiration (I don't really think it's a definitive list of 'things to do as a superhuman', or even a good list of things to do at all, but just as a nice reminder that ambitious people are interesting and fun):

  • Become awesome at mental math
  • Learn mnemonics. Practise by memorizing and rehearsing something, like the periodic table or the capitals of all nations or your multiplication tables up to 30x30.
  • Practise visualization, i.e. seeing things that aren't there. Try inventing massive palaces mentally and walking through them mentally when bored. This can be used for memorization (method of loci).
  • Research n-back and start doing it regularly.
  • Learn to do lucid dreaming
  • Learn symbolic shorthand I recommend Gregg
  • Look at the structure of conlangs like Esperanto and Lojban and Ilaksh I feel like this is mind-expanding, like I have a better sense of how language and communication and thought works after being exposed to this..
  • Learn to stay absolutely still for extended periods of time; convince onlookers that you are dead.
  • Learn to teach yourself stuff.
  • Live out of your car for a while, or go homeless by choice
  • Can you learn to be pitch-perfect? Anyway, generally learn more about music.
  • Exercise. Consider 'cheating' with creatine or something. Creatine is also good for mental function for vegetarians If you want to jump over cars, try plyometrics ..
  • Eat healthily. This has become a habit for me. Forbid yourself from eating anything for which a more healthy alternative exists (eg., no more white rice (wild rice is better), no more white bread, no more soda, etc.). Look into alternative diets; learn to fast.
  • Self-discipline in general. Apparently this is practisable. Eliminate comforting lies like that giving in just this once will make it easier to carry on working. Tell yourself that you never 'deserve' a long-term-destructive reward for doing what you must, that doing what you must is just business as usual. Realize that the part of your brain that wants you to fall to temptation can't think long-term - so use the disciplined part of your brain to keep a temporal distance between yourself and short-term-gain-long-term-loss things. In other words, set stuff up so you're not easy prey to hyperbolic discounting.
  • Learn not just to cope socially, but to be the life of the party. Maybe learn the PUA stuff.
  • That said, learn to not care what other people think when it's not for your long-term benefit. Much of social interaction is mental masturbation, it feels nice and conforming so you do it. From HP and the MOR:
    • For now I'll just note that it's dangerous to worry about what other people think on instinct, because you actually care, not as a matter of cold-blooded calculation. Remember, I was beaten and bullied by older Slytherins for fifteen minutes, and afterward I stood up and graciously forgave them. Just like the good and virtuous Boy-Who-Lived ought to do. But my cold-blooded calculations, Draco, tell me that I have no use for the dumbest idiots in Slytherin, since I don't own a pet snake. So I have no reason to care what they think about how I conduct my duel with Hermione Granger.
  • Learn to pick locks. If you want to seem awesome, bring padlocks with you and practise this in public
  • Learn how to walk without making a sound
  • Learn to control your voice. Learn to project like an actress. PUAs have also written on this.
  • Do you know what a wombat looks like, or where your pancreas is? Learn basic biology, chemistry, physics, programming, etc.. There's so much low-hanging fruit.
  • Learn to count cards, like for blackjack. Because what-would-James-Bond-do, that's why! (Actually, in the books Bond is stupidly superstitious about, for example, roulette rolls.)
  • Learn to play lots of games (well?). There are lots of interesting things out there, including modern inventions like Y and Hive that you can play online.
  • Learn magic. There are lots of books about this.
  • Learn to write well, as someone else here said.
  • Get interesting quotes, pictures etc. and expose yourself to them with spaced repetition. After a while, will you start to see the patterns, to become more 'used to reality'?
  • Learn to type faster. Try alternate keyboard layouts, like Dvorak.
  • Try to make your senses funky. Wear a blindfold for a week straight, or wear goggles that turn everything a shade of red or turn everything upside-down or an eye patch that takes away your depth-sense. Do this for six months, or however long it takes to get used to them. Then, of course, take them off. The when you're used to not having your goggles on, put them on again. You can also do this on a smaller scale, by flipping your screen orientation or putting your mouse on the other side or whatnot.
  • Become ambidextrous. Commit to tying your dominant hand to your back for a week.
  • Humans have magnetite deposits in the ethmoid bone of their noses. Other animals use this for sensing direction; can humans learn it?
  • Some blind people have learned to echolocate. [Seriously](
  • Learn how to tie various knots. This is useless but awesome.
  • Wear one of those belts that tells you which way north is. Keep it on until you are homing pigeon.
  • Learn self-defence.
  • Learn wilderness survival. Plently of books on the net about this.
  • Learn first aid. This is one of those things that's best not self-taught from a textbook.
  • Learn more computer stuff. Learn to program, then learn more programming languages and how to use e.g. the Linux coreutils. Use dwm. Learn to hack. Learn some weird programming languages If you're actually using programming in your job, though, make sure you're scarilyawesome at at least one language.
  • Learn basic physical feats like handstands, somersaults, etc..
  • Polyphasic sleep?
  • Use all the dead time you have lying around. Constantly do mental math in your head, or flex all your muscles all the time, or whatever.
  • All that limits you is your own weakness of will.

(Not sure who the author is, if anyone finds the original post please link to it! I'll try to find it when I get the time)

Comment by ryjm on Meditation: a self-experiment · 2013-12-30T03:32:54.630Z · LW · GW

For anyone interested in vipassana meditation, I would recommend checking out Shinzen Young. He takes a much more technical approach to the practice. This pdf by him is pretty good.

Comment by ryjm on Introducing Familiar, a quantified reasoning assistant (feedback sought!) · 2013-07-24T18:14:57.431Z · LW · GW

Oh my god if we can get this working with org-mode and habitrpg it will be the ultimate trifecta. And I've already got the first two (here).

Seriously this could be amazing. Org-mode and habitrpg are great, but they don't really solve the problem of what to do next. But with this, you get the data collection power of org mode with the motivational power of habitrpg - then Familiar comes in, looks at your history (clock data, tags, agendas, all of the org mode stuff will be a huge pool of information that it can interact with easily because emacs) and does its thing.

It could tell habitrpg to give you more or less experience for things that are correlated with some emotion you've tagged an org mode item with. Or habits that are correlated with less clocked time on certain tasks. If you can tag it org mode you can track it with familiar, and familiar will then controls how habitrpg calculates your experience. Eventually you won't have that nagging feeling in the back of your head that says "Wow, I'm really just defining my own rewards and difficulty levels, how is this going to actually help me if I can just cheat at any moment?" - Maybe you can still cheat yourself, but Familiar will tell you exactly the extent of your bullshit. It basically solves the biggest problem of gamification! You'll have to actually fight for your rewards, since Familiar won't let you get away with getting tons of experience for tasks that are not correlated with anything useful. Sure it won't be perfectly automated, but it will be close enough.

It could sort your agenda by what you actually might get done vs shit that you keep there because you feel bad about not doing it - and org mode already has a priority system. It could tell you what habits (org-mode has these too) are useful and what you should get rid of.

It could work with magit to get detailed statistics about your commit history and programming patterns.

Or make it work with org-drill to analyze your spaced repetition activity! Imagine, you could have an org-drill file associated with a class you are taking and use it to compare test grades and homework scores and the clocking data from homework tasks. Maybe there is a correlation between certain failing flashcards and your recent test score. Maybe you are spending too much time on SRS review when it's not really helping. These are things that we usually suspect but won't act on, and I think seeing some hard numbers, even if they aren't completely right, will be incredibly liberating. You don't have to waste cognitive resources worrying about your studying habits or wondering if you are actually stupid, because familiar will tell you! Maybe it could even suggest flashcards at some point, based on commit history or wikipedia reading or google searches.

Maybe some of this is a little far fetched but god would it be fun to dig into.

Comment by ryjm on Will the world's elites navigate the creation of AI just fine? · 2013-06-01T03:23:24.274Z · LW · GW

I've been surprised by people's ability to avert bad outcomes. Only two nuclear weapons have been used since nuclear weapons were developed, despite the fact that there are 10,000+ nuclear weapons around the world. Political leaders are assassinated very infrequently relative to how often one might expect a priori.

Why would a good AI policy be one which takes as a model a universe where world destroying weapons in the hands of incredibly unstable governments controlled by glorified tribal chieftains is not that bad of a situation? Almost but not quite destroying ourselves does not reflect well on our abilities. The Cold War as a good example of averting bad outcomes? Eh.

AI risk is a Global Catastrophic Risk in addition to being an x-risk. Therefore, even people who don't care about the far future will be motivated to prevent it.

This is assuming that people understand what makes an AI so dangerous - calling an AI a global catastrophic risk isn't going to motivate anyone who thinks you can just unplug the thing (and even worse if it does motivate them, since then you have someone who is running around thinking the AI problem is trivial).

The people with the most power tend to be the most rational people, and the effect size can be expected to increase over time (barring disruptive events such as economic collapses, supervolcanos, climate change tail risk, etc). The most rational people are the people who are most likely to be aware of and to work to avert AI risk. Here I'm blurring "near mode instrumental rationality" and "far mode instrumental rationality," but I think there's a fair amount of overlap between the two things. e.g. China is pushing hard on nuclear energy and on renewable energies, even though they won't be needed for years.

I think you're just blurring "rationality" here. The fact that someone is powerful is evidence that they are good at gaining a reputation in their specific field, but I don't see how this is evidence for rationality as such (and if we are redefining it to include dictators and crony politicians, I don't know what to say), and especially of the kind needed to properly handle AI - and claiming evidence for future good decisions related to AI risk because of domain expertise in entirely different fields is quite a stretch. Believe it or not, most people are not mathematicians or computer scientists. Most powerful people are not mathematicians or computer scientists. And most mathematicians and computer scientists don't give two shits about AI risk - if they don't think it worthy of attention, why would someone who has no experience with these kind of issues suddenly grab it out of the space of all possible ideas he could possibly be thinking about? Obviously they aren't thinking about it now - why are you confident this won't be the case in the future? Thinking about AI requires a rather large conceptual leap - "rationality" is necessary but not sufficient, so even if all powerful people were "rational" it doesn't follow that they can deal with these issues properly or even single them out as something to meditate on, unless we have a genius orator I'm not aware of. It's hard enough explaining recursion to people who are actually interested in computers. And it's not like we can drop a UFAI on a country to get people to pay attention.

Availability of information is increasing over time. At the time of the Dartmouth conference, information about the potential dangers of AI was not very salient, now it's more salient, and in the future it will be still more salient.

In the Manhattan project, the "will bombs ignite the atmosphere?" question was analyzed and dismissed without much (to our knowledge) double-checking. The amount of risk checking per hour of human capital available can be expected to increase over time. In general, people enjoy tackling important problems, and risk checking is more important than most of the things that people would otherwise be doing.

It seems like you are claiming that AI safety does not require a substantial shift in perspective (I'm taking this as the reason why you are optimistic, since my cynicism tells me that expecting a drastic shift is a rather improbable event) - rather, we can just keep chugging along because nice things can be "expected to increase over time", and this somehow will result in the kind of society we need. These statements always confuse me; one usually expects to be in a better position to solve a problem 5 years down the road, but trying to describe that advantage in terms of out of thin air claims about incremental changes in human behavior seems like a waste of space unless there is some substance behind it. They only seem useful when one has reached that 5 year checkpoint and can reflect on the current context in detail - for example, it's not clear to me that the increasing availability of information is always a net positive for AI risk (since it could be the case that potential dangers are more salient as a result of unsafe AI research - the more dangers uncovered could even act as an incentive for more unsafe research depending on the magnitude of positive results and the kind of press received. But of course the researchers will make the right decision, since people are never overconfident...). So it comes off (to me) as a kind of sleight of hand where it feels like a point for optimism, a kind of "Yay Open Access Knowledge is Good!" applause light, but it could really go either way.

Also I really don't know where you got that last idea - I can't imagine that most people would find AI safety more glamorous then, you know, actually building a robot. There's a reason why it's hard to get people to do unit tests and software projects get bloated and abandoned. Something like what Haskell is to software would be optimal. I don't think it's a great idea to rely on the conscientiousness of people in this case.

Comment by ryjm on 10-Step Anti-Procrastination Checklist · 2013-05-19T16:58:45.623Z · LW · GW

focus@will is pretty useful for me - I've never been into movie music, but the cinematic option was very inspiring for me. There is some science behind the project too.

Comment by ryjm on Thoughts on the January CFAR workshop · 2013-01-31T18:57:16.245Z · LW · GW

For the GTD stuff, I use emacs + org-mode + .emacs based on this configuration + mobile org.

Since I try to work exclusively in emacs, I can quickly capture notes and "things that need to get done" in their proper context, all of which is aggregated under an Agenda window. The Agenda window manages a collection of ".org" files which store the specific details of everything. MobileOrg syncs all these .org files to my phone. Combined with the GTD philosophy of never having anything uncategorized bouncing around in my mind, this system works very well for me.

Example workflow (a better and more complete example is in the configuration I linked above):

  1. At the end of class, Professor assigns a programming project due in a week. I pull out my phone and quickly capture a TODO item with a deadline in Mobileorg. Mobileorg syncs this to google calendar.
  2. I get home and pull up the agenda in emacs. The item referencing the programming project shows up in my "Tasks to refile" category (equivalent to "Inbox" in GTD terms), along with any other TODOs I captured while I was at school.
  3. I refile the project to an org file that contains all the information about my classes and define a NEXT item under it, which represent the next action I need to take on the project. When I start working on the project, I can attach any files related to it directly on the TODO item identifying the project.
  4. The NEXT item shows up on a list of NEXT items on the agenda. I can filter these by project (defined in the GTD way) or by the tag system.

It all seems very complicated, but all of this is literally a couple of keystrokes. And this barely scratches the surface (take a look at the aforementioned configuration to see what I mean).


  • Forces you to learn emacs.
  • Easily configurable and incredibly robust.
  • Optimized for functionality rather than prettiness (i.e if you end up liking it, you'll know it wasn't because of the nice UI, which is usually the main selling point for any computer based organizational system).


  • Forces you to learn emacs.
  • Takes a huge amount of effort to set up. I would compare it to setting up an Arch Linux system.
  • Can get messy if you don't know what you're doing.
  • Getting the syncing functionality isn't easy.

A spaced repetition package is also available for org-mode, which really ties the whole thing together for me.

EDIT: You can also overlay latex fragments directly in org-mode, which is really nice for notetaking. Whole .org files can be exported to latex as well.

Comment by ryjm on Matrix and Inspirational religious fiction · 2012-12-18T19:42:42.879Z · LW · GW

Whether it is meant for entertainment or not I think the usefulness of these hypothetical scenarios (in the context of a community blog) is directly proportional to the precision of their construction.

Comment by ryjm on Rationality, Transhumanism, and Mental Health · 2012-10-15T22:46:56.254Z · LW · GW

I understand, and I do think you gave good advice (I love pg's writing).

On a related note, I just get a little worried when these threads come up. We like to hide behind computing jargon and Spock-like introspection; this does help with efficient communication, but probably makes us look more resilient than we really are. These kind of LW discussion posts are probably of very high social value to the OP and the tone of the responses have more of an effect than we would like to admit.

So helping the OP to see hard truths is all well and good, but it seems to me that we could use a bit more finesse. It's easier to understand the root of a problem when we have such precise words for everything, but it also means our pontifications must be just as precise or miss the mark completely - possibly hitting something we weren't aiming for.

Comment by ryjm on Rationality, Transhumanism, and Mental Health · 2012-10-15T18:49:29.451Z · LW · GW

He is older than 23 per this comment. But reading his posts, either you have some extremely high standards for high school students or I am terrible at estimating someone's level of education. (Unless you were measuring emotional maturity somehow).

In any case, I would find it pretty disheartening if someone asked me if I was in high school in a post about my own mental health. I'm sure you didn't mean to be rude, but I find it hard to believe that this response would be anything but patronizing or insulting to anyone who isn't a high school student.

Comment by ryjm on Eliezer's Sequences and Mainstream Academia · 2012-09-18T14:20:30.569Z · LW · GW

Someone who doesn't want to read science-y stuff because they have that kind of mindset is not going to suddenly become curious when someone tells them it's based on science-y stuff from less than 30 years ago.

I like to think of it temporally; that religion is much like rationalists facing the wrong direction. Both occasionally look over their shoulders to confirm their beliefs (although with theists it's more like throwing a homunculus into the distant past and using that for eyes), while most of the time the things we really care about and find exciting are in front of us. Original vs unoriginal with respect to modern thought is of no practical interest to someone with the "every innovation is heretical" mindset unless it is completely within their usual line of sight - heretical is code for "I don't want to keep looking over my shoulder", not "I hate the original on principle". So unless you put that "original" encouragement thousands of years ago where they can see it, where it's a matter of one in front and one behind, the distinction between which is the greater turn-off is not going to matter, or bait anyone into turning around - there is nothing in their usually observed world to relate it to.

Comment by ryjm on Friendship is Optimal: A My Little Pony fanfic about an optimization process · 2012-09-09T16:01:19.331Z · LW · GW

I think I just imagined HPMOR in the My Little Pony universe, which does not sound appealing at all (to me). This is much better.

Comment by ryjm on Group rationality diary, 8/20/12 · 2012-08-30T09:09:30.041Z · LW · GW

With regard to the piracetam combo, yes I still use that regularly. With modafinil, I wouldn't say regularly, since it's a little expensive to keep that up. But I didn't actively stop using it. I pretty much use the same amount as I did when I was monophasic - i.e when I have it, I take it on a semi-regular basis.

Comment by ryjm on Group rationality diary, 8/20/12 · 2012-08-29T09:08:25.558Z · LW · GW

I'm still on the Everyman-3, and have been for about 7 months now.

Comment by ryjm on Group rationality diary, 8/20/12 · 2012-08-28T09:16:30.900Z · LW · GW

The first couple times I tried it, I had the exact same experience, though it took me a little longer to give up. What really helped me finally adjust was using nootropics. I had a lot of success with piracetam + choline + l-theanine after each nap, sometimes adding coffee when I needed it. I also used modafinil every other day for the first two weeks (I wouldn't recommend this though, since most people can't sleep on it).

The coolest thing about the modafinil (and to a lesser extent piracetam, etc) use during this period was that I could really see the difference between my sleep deprived self and my normal self, since modafinil completely erases all of the effects of sleep deprivation. On my previous attempts I did feel very useless, but I didn't realize the extent to which I just couldn't do things until I took modafinil on a particularly difficult day - it felt like someone gave me an entirely new brain. So it's really clear to me how much sleep dep actually impairs my ability to do things.

Comment by ryjm on Group rationality diary, 8/20/12 · 2012-08-22T08:36:28.590Z · LW · GW

I wish I had that schedule calculator earlier - I must have spent a couple of hours googling (#1 failure of my rationality skills) for one because I was sure someone had to have made it, given that all these polyphasic sleepers have oodles of free time.

Comment by ryjm on Group rationality diary, 8/20/12 · 2012-08-22T08:28:20.898Z · LW · GW

I think Wozniak is only evangelical about the Uberman schedule being a horrible idea. He states in his 2010 update that the Everyman 3-hour core sounds "pretty sustainable".

Comment by ryjm on [Link] Why prison doesn't work and what to do about it · 2012-07-30T13:28:06.134Z · LW · GW

Unless being on "the streets" means running with gangs and/or living in a slum. I'd rather spend those years in jail rather than watch my friends get shot (assuming that I'm stuck in this environment and have come to the conclusion that murdering is bad, revenge is unsatisfactory, etc).

Though I can't imagine a situation where a person is rational enough to choose jail over the streets but not rational enough to find another way out of his current situation.

Comment by ryjm on [Requesting Advice] Applying Instrumental Rationality to College Course Selection Dilemma · 2012-05-14T04:12:10.158Z · LW · GW

The gen eds are tricky to deal with. You can't usually get out of them, but some schools are pretty good with what classes satisfy them. I would suggest ignoring the recommended gen ed courses (though try to get specific advice from fellow students and listen to them if it contradicts this) and going straight to the department which is related to the requirement. Look around and see what courses they offer, and then ask if it will satisfy a gen ed. I've found that taking department specific introductory courses is WAY more interesting than trying to slog through the default ones, which are usually filled with the same people you had to deal with in high school. It's also been my experience that most of the default courses are actually harder (I think this might be because they want to push freshmen into college mode). Again, this varies with the school, so take it with a grain of salt.

One more thing that I wish people had told me: find all the problem solving strategies you can, and use the hell out of them. You might think you are good at this and you don't need anyone's advice on how to think (actually you probably don't, since you are on this site...), but the falseness of this statement will become increasingly clear when you attempt problem sets. I thought I knew this, but looking back I would spend hours on one problem just trying the same method over and over, thinking I was doing something new.

If you don't see a solution or the path to the solution within 5 or 10 minutes, try something completely new no matter how close you think you are. Keep prodding your brain like this, and eventually one of those stubborn folds of tissue will spill its guts for you. But if you keep hitting the same part over and over again, you're just gonna have a pissed off commander in chief. Yeah, it does sound obvious... but if you don't check to make sure you're doing it, most of the time you're just going to keep hacking your way to nowhere.

Also, find or make a study group. I was too damn stubborn to do this - biggest mistake of my college career. It might be annoying when you know all the answers and everyone else doesn't, but that won't happen often.

Comment by ryjm on [Requesting Advice] Applying Instrumental Rationality to College Course Selection Dilemma · 2012-05-13T22:26:38.736Z · LW · GW

If you understand that you have to work very hard and you are able to judge how much you can handle, you'll probably be okay. I've just seen a lot of people doing a math degree because they were always good at math and they thought they could breeze through it. That won't happen.

I use SRS daily for math stuff, and the best thing you can do is get one of those cheap graphics tablets. I think mine was about $60. Then you can just write out all your question answer pairs. I did the LaTeX route for a while, but the amount of time you have to spend inputting everything is not worth it. If you really want to get into this kind of studying, you can try this incremental learning technique. And definitely read ahead before each lecture.

Your course selection looks pretty good, but I would swap Differential Eq. and Calc III. I took Differential Eq. freshman year (stupid) while taking Calc III, and it was heavy on both linear algebra and calc III material. Your class may be different, but I would recommend a full semester of linear algebra before. Try to find some fellow students to ask though; professors can be either too strict or too lenient when it comes to what they require before taking a course.

You might want to consider throwing in some computer science courses too. Even a minor will increase your opportunities immensely after college.

Comment by ryjm on Most transferable skills? · 2012-05-12T23:09:03.489Z · LW · GW

Mindfulness meditation seems like another good example, especially since the required time investment for you to start seeing benefits seems to be pretty large.

Comment by ryjm on Most transferable skills? · 2012-05-12T23:05:00.020Z · LW · GW

As a data point, I was always horrible at visualization. My friends used to make fun of me for not being able to navigate my hometown.

That is interesting though, I hadn't heard of this method. Thanks!

Comment by ryjm on [Requesting Advice] Applying Instrumental Rationality to College Course Selection Dilemma · 2012-05-12T22:56:02.705Z · LW · GW

As someone who just finished my sophomore year as a math major, I think I can give some useful advice in the vale of tears that is a mathematics degree.

All in all, it comes down to how much your GPA matters to you versus how much math matters to you when choosing courses. Even if you are ridiculously smart, most of the stuff you see after calculus and linear algebra is going to be pretty damn hard, and in order to get something substantial out of those courses you'll have to spend a large amount of time staring at symbols.

So if you want to maintain a good GPA, limit your desire to speed ahead and focus on the recommended courses. You'll then have the time to be able to really understand the material and have good grades. Even if you were at the top of your class in high school, your GPA will benefit from understanding this. I would even recommend going slower than the pace set by the administrators. No matter how ready you think you are for a certain course, there will be a point where you have absolutely no clue what the fuck is going on. Trust me.

In my opinion, you will get as much out of doing this as you would if you sped ahead but kept the same work ethic. I use this heuristic: If I want to take another math course and have the same GPA and an increased net mathematical knowledge gain, I need to increase my work ethic by ten. If I'm missing a pre-requisite, I need to increase it by twenty. Grad courses are a hit or miss; sometimes they can be an easy, relaxed way to get into higher math, and sometimes they can be insanely hard.

Now, if you don't care about your GPA, then take as many math courses as you can. That's what I did. Worked my ass off for B's and C's. The only reason why it works for me (in terms of my level of satisfaction with my choices) is that I don't (and didn't) do much of anything other than math. So I was able to really delve into all of these topics and come out with internalized knowledge - but I had to sacrifice my ability to complete assignments on time and prepare adequately for exams. Had I focused on getting A's... I might've been able to do it, but it would be at the expense of optimal learning (not that I didn't try to get A's with my "internalized knowledge", I'm just really driving home the point that this shit is hard, especially in timed situations).

I guess what I'm getting at here is: don't overestimate yourself if you want to keep doing and loving math. Know your breaking point, or at least remember that you have one - you will hit it, and it will hurt. Even if you are not super into math and just want to use it another things, the core courses are still very hard and this advice is still valid. And if you do want to skip ahead and do as much as possible, think about how much harder you think you will have to work, and multiply that by ten. This is if you actually want to get anything out of these courses - I'm sure you can skip ahead and get A's, but you won't have gained much. Unless you're Gauss. (On that note, you will encounter a lot of this, even as an undergrad).

Comment by ryjm on Most transferable skills? · 2012-05-12T21:44:26.723Z · LW · GW

Memory skills and the ability to do quick arithmetic in your head (the two go hand in hand). I would suggest reading some of Dominic O'Brian's books, and then visit the various mnemotechnic forums. Most of the techniques you will find are geared towards memorizing for competitions, but with slight adjustments they can be used anywhere.

It seems a little silly at first, but it has probably been the biggest return on investment I have ever made. I started practicing these techniques last summer, and when school started I used them (Method of Loci especially - basically you just imagine a spatial location you know well and place images representing the things you want to memorize at unique points in your spatial journey) to memorize as much as I could, using spaced repetition software (mentioned somewhere else on this thread) to lock the most important things in.

Now, instead of writing down copious amounts of notes in class and not understanding a single thing, I just sit, listen, and memorize. I'll also write down broad labels for things I need to make sure I remember (i.e if we are talking about "normal subgroups", I will write down "normal subgroups", but memorize the rest. This is just to have a hook to the topic so I can look it up later if I don't remember something). By focusing on the images I am creating in my head, I've noticed that it even helps me focus more intensely on the topic that the images are referencing. By the time class is over, I can run through the entire lecture as if I was reading a book. This is the best part, really; it's completely flipped my idea of studying on its head. Now I can just sit in the park and think, and it will qualify as studying because I have an entire book in my head with images to play around with.

I've also used it to memorize entire textbooks (not word for word, more like "page for page"). Again, it seems silly and pointless at first, but it really works wonders when you get the hang of it. Instead of belaboring over a topic that you don't understand and then an hour later looking back 10 pages to see the illuminating point, all you have to do is rewind a "walk through your friend's house" or "a drive to the beach". At first it will take 10 times longer to do this than it would to just read the book. Currently, it only takes me about twice as long. I just have to make sure I go back through it in my head later on so I can plant it in my long term memory (spaced repetition is amazing for this).

It takes a hell of a lot of work though, if you want it to be more than a gimmick. And there doesn't seem to be much information for people who want to use it for scholarship rather than for their shopping lists. Even posts I've seen here about the method of loci seem pretty dismissive of its utility, that it doesn't help you understand. I think these claims are somewhat valid, but it's like using Mathematica to solve integrals and then claiming that it doesn't help you understand them. Well, yeah. But you could construct a 3d plot of an integral, and even make it interactive to see how it changes when you change some of the variables. Surely that will help you understand more. It's the same thing for mnemonics. I could memorize a book word for word using these techniques and not understand a single thing; or I could take concepts and ideas from a page, mold a visual representation of them in my head, and make sure that my notion of how the representation acts and looks is congruent with these concepts and ideas. Then as I learn more, I go back and adjust this image for any discrepancies, and also use the image in later scenes when the concept/idea comes up again. Kind of like OOP in your imagination. They don't have to be valid physical models for your concept, only approximations of the idea as you understand it in visual form. It surprised me how illuminating these approximations can be - more than once I have attempted to create a visual image only to get stuck and realize "Ah, that's what I don't understand!".

Even if creating images doesn't help you understand, using this method is still an amazing way to create hooks for stumbling points in your reasoning. It's like having a jumper cable for your mind at all times. For any topic or concept you know you understand but have trouble at certain points, just make an image reminding you of the key elements and place it in your chosen spatial journey. When you need your reasoning, moving through your spatial journey and seeing these images will trigger a domino effect and you'll slide right through with no trouble.

Anyway, sorry for the jumbled wall of text. I'm trying to communicate how fucking useful this has been for me, but it's a little difficult with this kind of personal topic. So even if you find my reasons too subjective, I implore you to really try it. Not with the mindset that it's a stupid little parlor trick, but that it has the possibility to be a huge improvement in how you assimilate knowledge.

Comment by ryjm on Muehlhauser-Wang Dialogue · 2012-04-23T21:08:19.908Z · LW · GW

I think I am in the same position as you are (uninitiated but curious) and I had the same immediate reaction that Pei was more convincing. However, for me, I think this was the result of two factors

  1. Pei is a Professor
  2. Pei treated the interview like a conversation with someone who has read a couple books and that's about it.

Maybe the 2nd point isn't entirely true, but that was what immediately stuck out after thinking about why I was drawn to Pei's arguments. Once I eliminated his status as a barometer for his arguments... it just became (1) an issue of my own lack of knowledge and (2) the tone of the responses.

For one thing, why the hell should I understand this in the first place? This is a dialogue between two prominent AI researchers. What I would expect from such a dialogue would be exactly what I would expect from sitting in on a graduate philosophy seminar or a computer science colloquium - I would be able to follow the gist of it, but not the gritty details. I would expect to hear some complex arguments that would require a couple textbooks and a dozen tabs open in my browser to be able to follow.

But I was able to understand Pei's arguments and play with them! If solving these kinds of conceptual problems is this easy, I might try to take over the world myself.

Not to say that the appearance of "complexity" is necessary for a good argument (EY's essays are proof), but here it seems like this lack of complexity (or as someone else said, the appeal to common sense) is a warning for the easily persuaded. Rereading with these things in mind illuminates the discussion a bit better.

I was actually a bit depressed by this dialogue. It seemed like an earnest (but maybe a little over the top with the LW references) attempt by lukeprog to communicate interesting ideas. I may be setting my expectations a little high, but Pei seemed to think he was engaging an undergraduate asking about sorting algorithms.

Of course, I could be completely misinterpreting things. I thought I would share my thought process after I came to the same conclusion as you did.

Comment by ryjm on In Defense of Ayn Rand · 2012-04-12T02:03:38.124Z · LW · GW

Sure. But is the interpretation of EY significantly different if instead of AR the woman that's AR the myth? I know a number of Objectivists who really do believe that AR was the most important person in history. It's very different from reading the Analects, in which Confucius, mourning a gifted pupil, tells another pupil that the dead pupil was five times as clever as Confucius was. Regardless of whether or not Rand had the properly calibrated humility of science, she definitely failed to inculcate it in her friends and students.

Isn't that a subtle point that would require multiple readings to fully understand? I mean if someone were to read the essay while going through the sequences, they would understand that Rand did not do enough to resist the slide into entropy, but they would also think that Rand actively encouraged the slide itself. Only after thinking about it heavily would they consider that it was Ayn Rand the myth, the one that objectivists defend in the absence of reason, that was being spoken of, and not the person who had some ideas and wrote them down. For example, I read this essay while in the middle of Atlas Shrugged, and because of her portrayal I kept expecting some completely ridiculous or offensive idea to come up, and I even considered putting it down when it was getting good, since I thought I might be buying into some evil ideas on accident. While that was definitely my fault, it not hard to imagine it happening to anyone else. It might even be enough to convince them that Rand is not even worth reading, which I think would be a mistake.

Sure. "Particularly good at math" may mean very different things to you and EY. Math was Rand's favorite subject, but if EY means "Math Olympiad winner" by "particularly good" then those are different standards. Compare to Asimov, who was a professor of biochemistry.

Yes, but the statement that follows it says that "She could not aspire to rival her heroes". But her heroes were characterized by the existence of ability and their desire to use it, not the existence of specific abilities. Suppose John Galt, instead of being a physicist, was a novelist whose ideas were so powerful that should he allow the government to take his books, they would control the world. Well that's almost exactly what he was! And I don't think you could argue that she did not have the capacity to rival that ability, being a particularly good writer.

Even if being an engineer was necessary for her to rival her heroes, I think her math teacher saying "It would be a crime if you didn't go into mathematics" is enough evidence of the fact that she at least had the capacity to rival them.

Compare these statements. Are there criticisms out there that you think are fair?

I thought the criticism in your parent comment and your subsequent remarks of her influence on her followers were fair, and they cover all the bases that need to be covered without being overly dismissive. I don't see why you couldn't turn it into an interesting essay without losing the neutral but critical tone.

But taking a step back, it's hard to see why Rand's treatment in EY's post is significant. Is it because you think people on LW ought to have a higher opinion of Rand than they currently do? Because you think the story would be more effective at showing how to not become a cult if it included more nuance or references to Rand's life? Some other reason?

I think I addressed this in my example above. If the sequences are to be read by those who have little experience with rationality, I think it would turn them off to a good writer with interesting ideas. If instead it was more supportive of the fundamentals of Rand's philosophy but sharply criticizing the fact that she did not attempt to stop the slide into entropy, it would prime readers to take her writing with a grain of salt without dismissing her as irrelevant.

I don't think LW ought to have a higher opinion of Rand, but I also don't think they should be convinced to have a low opinion of her.

Comment by ryjm on In Defense of Ayn Rand · 2012-04-11T20:37:47.385Z · LW · GW

The vibrance that Rand admired in science, in commerce, in every railroad that replaced a horse-and-buggy route, in every skyscraper built with new architecture—it all comes from the principle of surpassing the ancient masters. How can there be science, if the most knowledgeable scientist there will ever be, has already lived? Who would raise the New York skyline that Rand admired so, if the tallest building that would ever exist, had already been built? And yet Ayn Rand acknowledged no superior, in the past, or in the future yet to come.

This seems to state that Rand was incapable of accepting that someone could be better than her, which I think was an exaggeration of her bloated ego. I understand the point, but the following passage from Branden's book did not seem to justify this statement enough. Here is some more context on that quote (take it with a grain of salt, as I found it on objectivist site, though it seems to be well cited) :

No, she did not. Tales that Rand ended relationships with people over disagreements in musical tastes seem to stem primarily from Barbara Branden's book The Passion of Ayn Rand, in which Branden gives a brief account of several arguments between Rand and her longtime friends Joan Mitchell Blumenthal and Allan Blumenthal, over differences of taste in music and painting. According to the information in Branden's book, these arguments were part of a generally worsening relationship between Rand and the Blumenthals over several years in the 1970s, which culminated in the Blumenthals initiating a break with Rand (not vice versa) in 1978. Even if one believes that Rand ran a cult from which she excommunicated people, it is hard to see how these disagreements could be interpreted as instances of excommunication, since the Blumenthals remained friends with Rand for several years while these arguments were happening, and they were the ones who initiated the break.[] Other accounts of how Rand dealt with artistic differences also fail to support the "excommunication" interpretation. Alan Greenspan is reported to have disagreed openly with Rand's opinions on music, and even convinced her to moderate her negative opinion of Mozart.[] At least one person who remained Rand's friend until her death was an admitted lover of Beethoven's music: Leonard Peikoff, who was Rand's closest friend for over a decade and the heir to her estate.[*]

Another quote:

It's noteworthy, I think, that Ayn Rand's fictional heroes were architects and engineers; John Galt, her ultimate, was a physicist; and yet Ayn Rand herself wasn't a great scientist. As far as I know, she wasn't particularly good at math. She could not aspire to rival her own heroes. Maybe that's why she began to lose track of Tsuyoku Naritai.

I think I showed why this statement was untrue, and I don't think anyone can argue how arrogant it sounds (though that is a personal gripe I have with it).

"Study science, not just me!" is probably the most important piece of advice Ayn Rand should've given her followers and didn't. There's no one human being who ever lived, whose shoulders were broad enough to bear all the weight of a true science with many contributors.

She did tell her followers to study science.

To be one more milestone in humanity's road is the best that can be said of anyone; but this seemed too lowly to please Ayn Rand. And that is how she became a mere Ultimate Prophet.

She seemed very pleased with her achievements, and I couldn't find any evidence that said she refused to accept other ideas when faced with substantial proof (though this a difficult topic, since many of her ideas were based on her axioms of morality and so I'm sure she refused to accept many ideas that contradicted her axioms and thus invalidating many of the things I've said. But I still think the portrayal was a bit harsh). I recall that she was invited to speak at the Ford Hall Forum where she knew there would be many, many people challenging her ideas. I know she was very rigid in her beliefs, but it seems hard for me to accept that "being one more milestone in humanity's road" was not enough for Rand. But I may be giving her too much credit in this regard.

Ayn Rand fled the Soviet Union, wrote a book about individualism that a lot of people liked, got plenty of compliments, and formed a coterie of admirers. Her admirers found nicer and nicer things to say about her (happy death spiral), and she enjoyed it too much to tell them to shut up. She found herself with the power to crush those of whom she disapproved, and she didn't resist the temptation of power.

This is related to my previous criticisms. It just seems to harsh to me. I wanted more factual evidence for this, not just the quote about musical differences which turned out to be more ambiguous than it was portrayed.

Perhaps I'm being too picky. Calling Rand an "Ultimate Prophet" seemed so incongruous with her actions and her philosophy. She was incredibly forthright and in your face with her ideas, and I can see why it was interpreted as evangelism. But objectively speaking, it seemed to harsh for my tastes. Saying she "crushed those of whom she disapproved" is just... I don't know.

I see your position and I accept that you have every right to criticize my thoughts. This is a very ambiguous topic, and I think I can see why people seem to be angry with my choice of presenting this. I don't think her portrayal was very fair, is all. Yes, compared with other criticisms out there, this looks like praise. I just hold these Sequence posts to a higher standard. If I found this in a popular article about Ayn Rand, or a newspaper article, or a Reddit post... I would note it's high quality. I've just been so used to every side of an argument being represented incredibly clearly and without ambiguity (ironic, given my post) that I felt a need to post this. It was kind of like eating a bunch of skittles and getting an M&M; not so bad, just a little jarring.

Comment by ryjm on In Defense of Ayn Rand · 2012-04-11T18:39:09.487Z · LW · GW

I don't think I missed the point of the essay. I clearly state at the end of the post that the ideas presented were incredibly interesting. I even posted an essay about Peikoff's defense of the closed system of objectivism, which I thought was more representative of the cultish nature of the group. I was responding to what I saw as a misrepresentation of Ayn Rand that I thought was unnecessary with respect to the goals of the essay.

Suppose Eleizer decided to collect all of his writings and found his own philosophy called Yudkowism of which he was the final arbiter. You can object to him doing that, and that's a pretty damn valid objection considering the nature of his writing. But suppose he didn't care what you thought, and did it anyway. He writes up plenty more ideas, gives some lectures, influences people, vigorously tries to further intellectual progress, and dies. Towards the end of his life, people notice him doing some weird things that don't seem to fit with his ideas. Someone thinks "Hey, this isn't' cool! I thought he was an advocate of rationality, but he doesn't seem to be accepting of other people's reasonable ideas!'. Then this person writes an essay using him as an example of what to avoid when trying to further humanity, "raise the sanity waterline", and encourage progress in philosophy and science. In this essay, the person uses Eliezer's personal life to reveal the extent of his spiral into destruction.

Now, you and I both think very highly of the ideas presented in Yudkowism, though we might object to the name, to the closed system, or to its structure. We have read his writings, and they have influenced us in a positive way and helped us become more rational people. We don't see him as a Great Leader, and we don't want him presented as such, but we can't deny that his actions have precipitated this label. And so we read this essay, and we feel like we learned more about rationality, about group identification, about the need for openness and the awareness of our place in the progress of humanity.

But then we notice that the essay is unnecessarily dismissive of Eliezer. We realize that this may or may not have any influence on the relevance of his philosophy (as, of course, if the ideas are good enough they should be able to stand up to any criticism of its spokesman), but we are a little taken aback by the flawed portrayal of his character.

This was the point of my post. I don't think it's necessary to attack a person's character for the sake of rhetoric, especially when the highlighted aspects of that person's character are exaggerated. You might think the same, but disagree that the rhetoric was all that harmful, and that's fine. I thought it was harmful.

I think the rest of your comment pertains to the actual evidence of Rand's strangehold over her followers. The bit about homosexuality is especially revealing without resorting to harmful rhetoric. Again, I liked the final conclusion and thesis of the essay, but I disliked the way it was reached.

Comment by ryjm on In Defense of Ayn Rand · 2012-04-11T02:27:12.727Z · LW · GW

By "justify" I meant "show that her actions were not a contradiction of her philosophy", which is what I think you said in your third question.

However, I was not trying to provide a justification for objectivism, and I was not attempting to use the tenets of objectivism in any clever sort of way.

I also was not trying to give strong justifications of her actions, only to show that if one were to give her main ideas a charitable reading, one would find a significant amount of evidence showing that her portrayal in Guardians of Ayn Rand was not consistent with the facts. Each time I "defended" her actions, I gave a quote that showed her characters acting in a similar way or giving credence to a similar action. Again, this was not a defense of her philosophy.

What I wrote was not about the structure of objectivism or lack thereof, not about objectivism being a closed system, and not about Rand's motives in her construction of objectivism. I specifically stated that I am not an expert on objectivism, and I would not try to defend it a community of rationalists.

My only motive behind this post was to highlight factual inaccuracies and (in my opinion) deceitful rhetoric in the original essay. It would have liked to have put in a comment, but it seemed much too long; so I formatted it a little and posted it here. Next time I'll have to treat these posts like a formal analysis and not like a casual writeup.

Comment by ryjm on In Defense of Ayn Rand · 2012-04-10T05:02:31.032Z · LW · GW

Agreed. I was lugging around her specs only to justify her actions, not to justify her philosophy.

Comment by ryjm on In Defense of Ayn Rand · 2012-04-10T04:59:36.395Z · LW · GW

Ah, I see. The mind killing bit makes sense, but wouldn't you want to combat it by confronting it head on and refusing to succumb to the polarization? I don't find it to be particularly hard to do, and I'm fairly certain I haven't been mind killed. But I very much respect this position, and I accept the consequences of publishing material that enables these tendencies.

The factual inaccuracies were primarily in the presentation of her actions as being discordant with her philosophy. I have attempted to show her actions were not so incongruous. Also, the presentation of her character was inaccurate, portraying her as some sort of pseudo philosopher who had no idea what she was talking about. Just because she idolizes Aristotle is not evidence of her ineptitude as a thinker. Just because she has a bloated ego (though this is also a big part of her philosophy) does not mean she is incapable of recognizing her superiors. She may have thought she was the epitome of a rational person, but this certainly did not prevent her from recognizing ability when she saw it. She is portrayed in the original essay as being unable to recognize the nature of science and its progression, when there is much evidence that she was very aware of how science progresses and why.

Comment by ryjm on In Defense of Ayn Rand · 2012-04-10T04:31:57.324Z · LW · GW

I'm sincerely confused as to why this is getting downvoted so heavily (and it seems to have disappeared... is this a feature?). Is it just the nature of the topic? Honestly, it's not a well structured critique or whatever, but this is the discussion page, is it not? I'm not arguing some logically indefensible position, and I can't seem to find any errors in my logic (my logic consisting of my use of Rand's philosophy and not of the logical positioning of her ideas).

Is it not encouraging valid discussion? I don't see why not, as there are many things to talk about here. Perhaps a response to the idea of a closed system? I thought that was interesting. Maybe a defense of why it is okay to disregard facts in favor of convincing rhetoric? I honestly think I may be missing something in Eleizer's post, because it seems to me to hold a blatant disregard for evidence.

Did I need to make it more clear that I am not arguing for or against objectivism, only for a more charitable rhetorical representation of a cultural and philosophical character? Maybe someone can enlighten me on the atrocities committed by Rand.

Have these things been said before? Maybe someone can link me to the relevant discussion.

Is this "mind killing"? I would like to know which parts, and why.

Comment by ryjm on In Defense of Ayn Rand · 2012-04-10T04:03:41.103Z · LW · GW

Could you explain to me this whole "mind killing" business? I'm not talking politics here, I'm talking rhetoric. All I did was take Rand's actions as mentioned in the original essay and gave a justification by Rand's philosophy. This wasn't used to justify her philosophy, only to show that her actions were consistent with it. I agree with Eliezer's final points, but I don't agree with the way they were represented, and that's all I sought to show here.

I don't see how the nature of the criticism is changed by the fact that worse criticism exists. If the facts are incorrect, they are incorrect and that's it.

Comment by ryjm on In Defense of Ayn Rand · 2012-04-10T03:52:05.322Z · LW · GW

I don't think this is done. The bad things about Rand are emphasized, yes, but that is because that is what we can learn from.

Most people commenting did not seem like they were very familiar with the philosophy, and I think the presentation of 1. the ideas behind the philosophy and 2. the founder of the philosophy were incredibly misleading. If someone (like me) were relatively new the site were to read this, they would have an incredibly biased view of her philosophy. I don't see how justifying that point by saying people already know her philosophy gives any credence to the way it was portrayed. The bad things about Rand are emphasized with no regard for factual evidence. We can still learn from her errors without resorting to what felt to me like a curt dismissal of an otherwise intelligent and influential character. If we are willing to discard evidence in favor of more elegant rhetoric, I want no part of it.

No, the main character of Atlas Shrugged was a physicist, who invented a motor that harnessed the power of static electricity, and then went on to flip the entire country the bird. Regardless of whether or not you sympathize with him, is Galt's position so utterly important that it justifies the mass starvation and destitution of the entire country? In my opinion, Galt had a good point to make. But that doesn't justify letting the entire world burn around you just to make your point.

The world as it was portrayed in the book would not have survived long if Galt hadn't done anything. I don't think we can compare it with the real world - America was the last pillar of support, and if it collapsed without Galt having convinced people to "save their minds" then there would have been another long "Dark Ages" period. And people don't actually act the way they do in her books. I would compare it to the decisions made in the Foundation series. But that wasn't really my point anyway - in the book, it was clear that Galt was saving the country in the way Rand thought it should be saved, meaning that she believed that a scientist had that power, and thus advocating something akin to "Study Science!" regardless of the morality of Galt's decision.

I disagree. I don't think LW does this. We're (or at least I am) happy to admit that Rand was correct about a number of things. She made more progress than most philosophers, but that bar is set so unbearably low as to not really be worth mentioning. It's more that she is a better example of what not to become. It's not that she did nothing good. There have even been some decently upvoted Ayn Rand quotes in the threads.

I didn't say LW did this. It was only in this specific essay. I would find it hard to believe that LW disagreed with everything she said. My only problem was with the presentation, and that it would lead to wrong interpretations, or at least interpretations based on falsities.

She quite vehemently signaled agreement with the scientific tribe, I agree. But that's not the same as actually supporting it. (Well, it supports it in some way, but I think you get my point.) Given how she felt about the environment (and based on the positions taken by most Objectivist themed organizations (ARI, ARC, etc.)) she probably wouldn't have much respect for anthropomorphic global warming as a theory. I don't know much about the science of it myself, so my opinion isn't worth much, but I believe the predominant opinion on LW is closer to AGW denial is akin to evolution denial.

Again, I only have problems with the way her positions were portrayed. She was most definitely portrayed as failing to tell her followers to "study science" when in fact she did exactly that. Whether her support of the scientific community was any good is an entirely different discussion which I will probably agree with you on.

I think I failed to make it clear that I do think she is a good example of what not to strive for. I just think that the rhetoric involved in convincing me of that point was deceitful.

Comment by ryjm on Emotional regulation, Part I: a problem summary · 2012-03-26T04:54:18.107Z · LW · GW

Apologies, I should have thought about the about possible interpretations of such a dialogue; I meant it more as a "feel good" kind of thing rather than a factual assessment about the nature of mentally unstable people. Thinking about it, "crazy" definitely does not map easily into "moron", and my usage of the above dialogue was intended to convey the notion that logically thinking about whether or not you are a moron is a good sign that you are probably not a moron.

But I think your comment brings up another interesting point. Would it be right to say that your emotional states are changing your definition of "crazy"? That, when you are in a different mental state, "crazy" is referencing an entirely different object? That when you are asking the question "am I crazy" you are actually asking an entirely different question? I would think that if you keep entering these manic states of mind, your normal cached version of "crazy" would slowly be chipped away and eventually you wouldn't even be able to access it anymore. Then you really have the inability to ask the question.

I'm not defending the use of the above dialogue though. It's clear to me that it's usefulness is outweighed by the possible negative interpretations.

Comment by ryjm on Best shot at immortality? · 2012-03-22T21:21:38.778Z · LW · GW

What is the recommended literature related to the ideas both you and wedrifid have been discussing in this thread? I googled but I figure it wouldn't hurt to ask either. Thanks.

Comment by ryjm on Cult impressions of Less Wrong/Singularity Institute · 2012-03-21T13:42:26.845Z · LW · GW

So we should be Less Weird now? ;)

Comment by ryjm on The Futility of Intelligence · 2012-03-16T21:24:37.318Z · LW · GW

I think the subtlety here is that intelligence is used in place of domain specific aptitude, when much more information can be obtained through an enumeration of the latter. Given the sixteen equally competent generals with one who successfully wins four even battles in a row, saying "he won because he was intelligent" gives us limited information in that it does reveal the reason why he won to the majority of people who don't care for specifics, but does not tell us what this specific general did differently when compared to his equally skilled counterparts.

So using "intelligence" as an answer is not as mysterious as using "magic" or "complexity" in a general context, but in domain specific areas it relays little value - in such a situation, I would think that all participants would ask for some sort of clarification (specific tactics, key responses, etc). It most likely is intelligence that gave him the win though, even if we aren't about to go into specifics; but perhaps we are missing vital knowledge by saying "intelligence!" and ending.

However, I think this is a subtle and not incredibly useful point when applied in general.

Comment by ryjm on Emotional regulation, Part I: a problem summary · 2012-03-07T05:14:20.224Z · LW · GW

If you can't trust your evaluation of the moron argument, how can you trust your evaluation of the argument that your moron argument is logically insoluble; or, for that matter, any argument at all?

I agree that it would be better to realize the low utility in thinking about these types of arguments and file them away to a dusty box in a tiny little nook in the back of your mind. However, I wouldn't go as far as dusting it off and smacking a "logically insoluble" tag on it; it just seems like an attempt to rationalize with a pseudo logical hack.

And I would consider a test of my "moron"-ness to be very useful if I didn't deem the argument to be a useless waste of thought, just as any other indicator of new knowledge would be useful. If it turns out I'm a moron, then I'm a moron; wait a minute, now I'm even less of a moron because now I know more than before! But saying it's impossible to know because logic is a little iffy.


Robert: You're gonna be okay.

Catherine: I am?

Robert: Yes. I promise you. The simple fact that we can talk about this together is a good sign.

Catherine: A good sign?

Robert: Yeah.

Catherine: How could it be a good sign?

Robert: Because crazy people don't sit around wondering if they're nuts.

Catherine: They don't?

Robert: No. They've got better things to do. Take it from me. A very good sign that you're crazy is an inability to ask the question, "Am I crazy?"

Catherine: Even if the answer is yes?

Robert: Crazy people don't ask, you see?

Catherine: Huh.

-- Proof (movie)

Comment by ryjm on Get Curious · 2012-02-23T15:38:01.141Z · LW · GW

Also, learn to differentiate between genuine curiosity and what I like to call pseudo-curiosity - basically, being satisfied by conclusions rather than concepts. Don't let the two overlap. This is especially hard when conclusions are most of the time readily available and often the first item in a google search. In terms of genuine curiosity, google has been the bane of my existence - I will start off moderately curious, but instead of moving to that higher stage of curiosity, I will be sated by facts and conclusions without actually learning anything (similar to a guessing the teacher's password situation). After a couple hours of doing this, I feel very scholarly and proud of my ability to parse so much information, when in reality all I did was collect a bunch of meaningless symbols.

To combat this, I started keeping a "notebook of curiosities". The moment I get curious, I write whatever it is I'm curious about, and then write everything I know about it. At this point, I determine whether or not anything I know is a useful springboard; otherwise, I start from scratch. Then I circle my starting node and start the real work, with the following rules:

  • Every fact or concept I write must follow directly from a previous node (never more than two or three reasoning steps away). Most of the time, this results in a very large diagram referencing multiple pages. I use pen and paper only because I like to use it outside.
  • Wikipedia is a last resort - I don't want to be tempted by easy facts. I use textbooks -> arxiv -> jstor -> google scholar in order of preference. It's a lot of work.
  • If I skip some reasoning or concept because I think it is trivial, I write the reason why it is trivial. Most of the time, this results in something interesting.

Doing this has revealed many gaps in my knowledge. I've become increasingly aware of a lack of internalization of basic concepts and modes of thinking that are necessary for certain concepts. It also forces me to confront my actual interest in the subject, rather than my perceived interest.

The majority of what I use it for is math related, so it's more tailored to that use case.

Comment by ryjm on [LINK] Shutting down the destructive internal monologue through transcranial direct current stimulation · 2012-02-23T03:22:18.209Z · LW · GW

There was also a very detailed comment thread on Hacker News - someone claimed to have built one from 30$ in parts.

Comment by ryjm on What happens when your beliefs fully propagate · 2012-02-16T03:52:44.112Z · LW · GW

I see. I wasn't asserting that you are going to do work you hate, however. I was mainly looking at the value of having a seemingly unachievable and incredibly broad goal as one's primary motivation.

I'm sure you have a much more nuanced view of how and why you are undertaking this life change, and I don't want to discourage you. Seeing as how the general consensus is that FAI is the most important thing to be doing, I think it would take a lot of effort to discourage you. I just can't help but think that there should be a primary technical interest in the problems presented by FAI motivating these kinds of decisions. If it was me, I would be confused as to what exactly I would be working on, which would be very discouraging.

Comment by ryjm on What happens when your beliefs fully propagate · 2012-02-15T20:09:25.240Z · LW · GW

As a relatively new member of this site, I'm having trouble grasping this particular reasoning and motivation for participating in FAI. I've browsed Eleizer's various writings on the subject of FAI itself, so I have a vague understanding of why FAI is important, and such a vague understanding is enough for me to conclude that FAI is one, if not the most, important topic that currently needs to be discussed. This belief may not be entirely my own and is perhaps largely influenced by the amount of comments and posts in support of FAI, in conjunction with my lack of knowledge in the area.

With this lack of understanding, I think it is clear /why/ I haven't given up my life to support FAI. But it seems to me that many others on this site know much, much more about the subject, and they still have not given up their lives for FAI.

So my brain has made an equivalence between supporting FAI and other acts of extreme charity. I think highly of those who work for years in impoverished countries battling local calamities, but I don't find myself very motivated to participate. From my observations, I think this is because I have never heard of anyone with the goal of saving the world actually making significant progress in that direction. However, I have heard of many people who have made the world a better place while never exhibiting such lofty motivations.

I guess this is similar to cousin_it's response in that it seems strange to me to pursue something because it is a "big important problem". But I am also worried about the following line of reasoning:

Motivation to participate in FAI => motivation to do charitable work => I should be motivated to do all sorts of charitable work.

This seems like it would become reality only if my interests were aligned with the charitable work. In the OP's reasoning, is the motivation to save the world enough to align interest with work? To me, it seems analogous to the effect of a sugar high on your energy level.

If I did find myself working with FAI, it would probably be because I found that these were interesting problems to solve, and not because I wanted to save the world.

Comment by ryjm on What are you working on? February 2012 · 2012-02-12T00:06:54.414Z · LW · GW

Funny that you mention music. My experience with practicing guitar all through high school was what led me to believe that natural talent is dwarfed by hard work. This is a oft repeated phrase, but I don't think it does anything for anyone until they experience the results of it themselves.

You can find my instrumental metal project here.

Comment by ryjm on What are you working on? February 2012 · 2012-02-09T21:39:40.201Z · LW · GW

The substantial amount of mathematics related posts has encouraged me to emerge from lurker status and post my own 'project'.

I have spent the last 5 months recording every minute of rigorous mathematical practice here in an attempt to test the limits of my modest intellect. I used a stopwatch and paper for the first couple of months, but I have now graduated to Emacs and org-mode (and to tracking all of my time, out of pure curiosity - I like knowing that every aspect of my life is searchable. It frees a (possibly imagined) mental burden).

A (long) background for whoever is interested: I've never been very good at math, and I struggled throughout all of my high school math classes. Toward the end of high school, however, I became absolutely enraptured with something about mathematics, something that I can't really put into words. It's been a kind of a curse, to be honest. I feel like Paul Erdos without any semblance of mathematical intuition; maybe close to how he felt for that week of no amphetamines.

So I spent the summer after senior year with my nose in every math textbook I could find. I have huge piles of paper filled with exercises from Apostol, Rudin, Munkres, that I spent upwards of 10 hours a day on. But it didn't help much... I went to university, took a fairly heavy, but not impossible courseload, and didn't do so well. Not horrible, but definitely not what you would expect from someone who spent every waking moment on this stuff. Same thing happened the next semester.

I breezed through an Analysis course last summer, and that gave me some confidence. It also prompted me to figure out exactly why this was happening to me... Is there something fundamental I am missing? What can I do about it?

So I took another heavy courseload for the fall semester, but this time I decided to track every moment of really vigorous, concentrated practice - no light reading, leisurely thoughts, a skim through a couple chapters; but actual, no bullshit, rigorous mind work. The kind where you get tired after 15 minutes. Lectures were the most brutal - I made it my goal to get ahead of the professor, to ask every single dumbass question that I honestly could not think of the answer to, and even attempted to completely re synthesize as many proofs as possible when there was any downtime. And I recorded it all.

It didn't help. I spent an average (I think) of 40 hours a week on this kind of work. The rest was 'regular' work - mostly math related (I did play skyrim for a bit, but didn't get very far), but not quite so intense. I got three B's and one A-. Disappointing.

Well, here I am now. No happy ending (yet). I took a much needed break for the winter as a test to see whether I was just running on steam. Definitely not the case. By the end of the month, I was itching to get back.

So what have I learned? I don't know. I'd like to blame it on exams - I do very well on the homework, but I can't seem to get in the right mindset for solving problems in such a small window of time, and they practically count for your entire grade. But exams DO test your understanding... perhaps I haven't understood anything deep enough yet.

If you read all this... thanks! I haven't shared this with anyone, and it feels like I'm letting out a dark secret.

Last note: I have almost no problems whatsoever with akrasia. Not sure why... but I would gladly trade it for a modicum of the deeply inspirational intelligence I see here.