Taking Effective Altruism Seriously 2015-06-07T06:59:15.519Z
The File Drawer Effect and Conformity Bias (Election Edition) 2015-05-08T16:51:05.462Z
Rationality Quotes December 2014 2014-12-03T22:33:20.202Z
[LINK] Steven Hawking warns of the dangers of AI 2014-12-02T15:22:58.849Z
[LINK] Joseph Bottum on Politics as the Mindkiller 2014-02-27T19:40:00.978Z
[LINK] - Aaron Sell (Psychology Today) on the Politicisation of Science 2013-08-28T20:25:29.857Z
[LINK] Cochrane on Existential Risk 2013-08-20T22:42:06.583Z
[LINK] Relational models of Exchange 2012-05-17T19:19:30.118Z


Comment by Salemicus on Crisis of Faith · 2017-01-19T12:08:27.766Z · LW · GW

No, I didn't leave that part out.

the closer the real Paul Bunyan hews to the Bunyan of the stories, the smaller the mystery

Of course magic makes everything else more mysterious i.e. P(magical Jesus) is infinitesimal. But P(non magical Jesus) is not low. We do ask JK Rowling what non magical boy inspired Harry Potter.

Comment by Salemicus on Crisis of Faith · 2017-01-12T11:36:08.137Z · LW · GW

Would you say the origins of other religions become more mysterious if there never were whatever magical beings those religions posit?

Yes, of course.

The least mysterious explanation of Paul Bunyan stories is that there really was a Paul Bunyan. And the closer the real Paul Bunyan hews to the Bunyan of the stories, the smaller the mystery. P(stories about Bunyan | Bunyan) > P(stories about Bunyan | !Bunyan).

But just because a story is simple, doesn't necessarily make it likely. We can't conclude from the above that P(Bunyan | stories about Bunyan) > P(!Bunyan | stories about Bunyan).

Comment by Salemicus on Crisis of Faith · 2017-01-07T12:15:36.814Z · LW · GW

Neither sufficient nor necessary:

  • The origins of Christianity become more mysterious, not less, if there never was a Jesus.
  • We don't need to tie ourselves to a fringe hypothesis to posit non-supernatural origins for the Gospels.
Comment by Salemicus on Open thread, Nov. 02 - Nov. 08, 2015 · 2015-11-03T15:58:01.073Z · LW · GW

One possible answer is to look at how the then-state-of-the-art models in (say) 1990, 1995, 2000, etc, predicted temperature changes going forwards.

The answer, in point-of-fact, is that they consistently predicted a considerably greater temperature rise than actually took place, although the actual temperature rise is just about within the error bars of most models.

Now, there are two plausible conclusions to this:

  • Those past mistakes have been appropriately corrected into today's models, so we don't need to worry too much about past failures.
  • This is like Paul Samuelson's economics textbook, which consistently (in editions published in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s) predicted that the Soviet Union would overtake the US economy in 25 years.
Comment by Salemicus on Actually existing prediction markets? · 2015-09-04T11:14:49.860Z · LW · GW

Stock markets. I am using them continuously (if passively).

Comment by Salemicus on Why people want to die · 2015-08-28T13:54:28.640Z · LW · GW

As usual, Nietzsche got there first:

The heaviest burden: What, if some day or night, a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life, as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life must return to you, all in the same succession and sequence — even this spider and this moonlight between the trees and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned over again and again—and you with it, speck of dust!’ Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god, and never have I heard anything more divine!’ If this thought were to gain possession of you, it would change you as you are, or perhaps crush you. The question in each and every thing, “do you want this once more and innumerable times more?” would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?

Comment by Salemicus on Vegetarian/Omnivore Ideological Turing Test Judging Round! · 2015-08-20T13:07:01.760Z · LW · GW

I am a big fan of the Ideological Turing Test, and applying it to different domains, and I was happy to participate in this one. However, I wonder whether this is an appropriate domain.

I think the ITT works best when there are coherent and well-defined opposing positions, of roughly equal size and intensity. The abortion debate is a good example - while there are differences in emphasis and gradations of support, it is clear what the two sides are. Other good examples are the minimum wage debate, the global warming debate, and the debate. The ITT works worst when the positions are incoherent and ill-defined, or of grossly unequal size and intensity. "Was Tony Blair a good Prime Minister?" is a good example - it's not clear what it means to be a good Prime Minister, there are people who (dis)approve of him for diametrically opposite reasons, and his detractors are much more invested in the question than are his defenders.

Sadly, vegetarianism is much more like the latter than the former. Some people are vegetarians for health reasons, others for animal welfare reasons. Vegetarians typically feel strongly about the issue; non-vegetarians simply don't care about it, and have typically not considered the issue nearly as strongly. There is no "opposing side" to vegetarianism that would drive the ITT; all that links non-vegetarians is that they don't find vegetarian arguments compelling.

Comment by Salemicus on Crazy Ideas Thread, Aug. 2015 · 2015-08-13T10:47:45.388Z · LW · GW

US prohibition was very successful at its goal of reducing alchohol consumption, and you are right that this is insufficiently appreciated. But it also resulted in massive organised crime. Your linked article is extremely unpersuasive on this point.

Although organized crime flourished under its sway, Prohibition was not responsible for its appearance, as organized crime’s post-Repeal persistence has demonstrated.

Ha! And lest anyone thinks I'm being unfair, that is literally its only discussion of the massive increase in organized crime caused by Prohibition. In an article that repeatedly discusses the possibility of people being socialised into different modes of behaviour, too!

Now, "don't cause a massive increase in organised crime" wasn't exactly a goal of the WCTU et al when they were campaigning for Prohibition. It was simply not on their radar, so you're kinda right that Prohibition succeeded in its goals. But looking at the implicit goals more broadly, Prohibition was a disaster, despite its success at its ostensible primary goal, in exactly the way that Lumifer's "blinking ad" example demonstrates.

Comment by Salemicus on Open thread, Aug. 10 - Aug. 16, 2015 · 2015-08-12T10:45:25.237Z · LW · GW

Pre-commitment needs to be credible, verifiable and enforceable. If you're playing chicken, pre-commitment means throwing the steering-wheel out of the window, not just saying "I will never ever swerve, pinky-swear."

What is the relevant pre-commitment mechanism here, and how does it operate?

If anything, I would say large dealers are more vulnerable.

Comment by Salemicus on Vegetarianism Ideological Turing Test! · 2015-08-11T22:29:24.203Z · LW · GW

With my omnivore hat on:

I don't know what you mean by "suffering." Google defines it as "the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship." But just because you're going through pain and hardship, doesn't mean you'd rather be dead. You can be suffering in some ways, and still have a net-positive life - indeed, this is the normal meaning of suffering. Do you deny that the inhabitants of the Syrian refugee camps are suffering? Do you think they'd be better off not to have been born?

Do factory farmed animals sometimes suffer? Surely. Is their life such a constant torment that non-existence would be preferable? Surely not.

Comment by Salemicus on Open thread, Aug. 10 - Aug. 16, 2015 · 2015-08-11T21:03:27.328Z · LW · GW

Oh, I thought we were talking about reality. EMH claims to describe reality, doesn't it?

Yeah, but you wanted "a scenario where everything is happening pre-tax, there are no transaction costs, we're operating in risk-adjusted terms and, to make things simple, the risk-free rate is zero. Moreover, the markets are orderly and liquid." That doesn't describe reality, so describing events in your scenario necessitates a toy model.

In the real world, it is trivial to show how you can lose money even if the EMH is true: you have to pay tax, transaction costs are non-zero, the ex post risk is not known, etc.

deep OOM options are diversifiable -- there is a great deal of different markets in the world.

There's still a lot of correlation. Selling deep OOM options and then running into unexpected correlation is exactly how LTCM went bust. It's called "picking up pennies in front of a steamroller" for a reason.

Comment by Salemicus on Open thread, Aug. 10 - Aug. 16, 2015 · 2015-08-11T20:47:09.519Z · LW · GW
  1. Who says this risk is diversifiable? Nothing in the toy model I gave you said the risk was diversifiable. Maybe all the X-like instruments are correlated.
  2. No, I'm not saying that selling deep OOM options is a free lunch, because of the risk profile. And these are definitely not diversifiable.
  3. I am not arguing that EMH is wrong. I have given you a toy model, where a suitably defined investor cannot make money but can lose money. The model is entirely consistent with the EMH, because all prices reflect and incorporate all relevant information.
Comment by Salemicus on Open thread, Aug. 10 - Aug. 16, 2015 · 2015-08-11T20:37:08.621Z · LW · GW

The annotated RichardKennaway:

This is a quote from Henry IV part I, when Glendower is showing off to the other rebels, claiming to be a sorceror, and Hotspur is having none of it.


I can call spirits from the vasty deep.


Why, so can I, or so can any man

But will they come when you do call for them?

Comment by Salemicus on Open thread, Aug. 10 - Aug. 16, 2015 · 2015-08-11T19:58:30.618Z · LW · GW

Second, when you say they are "a poor investment in terms of expected return", do you actually mean expected return? ... A lottery can perfectly well have a positive expected return even if your chance of getting a positive return is very small.

Yes, I mean expected return. If you hold penny stocks, you can expect to lose money, because the occasional big wins will not make up for the small losses. You are right that we can imagine lotteries with positive expected return, but in the real world lotteries have negative expected return, because the risk-loving are happy to pay for the chance of big winnings.

[If] penny stocks provide negative expected return ... then EMH breaks


Suppose we have two classes of investors, call them gamblers and normals. Gamblers like risk, and are prepared to pay to take it. In particular, they like asymmetric upside risk ("lottery tickets"). Normals dislike risk, and are prepared to pay to avoid it (insurance, hedging, etc). In particular, they dislike asymmetric downside risk ("catastrophes").

There is an equity instrument, X, which has the following payoff structure:

99% chance: payoff of 0 1% chance: payoff of 1000

Clearly, E(X) is 10. However, gamblers like this form of bet, and are prepared to pay for it. Consequently, they are willing to bid up the price of X to (say) 11.

Y is the instrument formed by shorting X. When X is priced at 11, this has the following payoff structure:

99% chance: payoff of 11 1% chance: payoff of -989

Clearly, E(Y) is 1. In other words, you can make money, in expectation, by shorting X. However, there is a lot of downside risk here, and normals do not want to take it on. They would require E(Y) to be 2 (say) in order to take on a bet of that structure.

So, assuming you have a "normal" attitude to risk, you can lose money here (by buying X), but you can't win it in risk-adjusted terms. This is caused by the market segmentation caused by the different risk profiles. Nothing here is contrary to the EMH, although it is contrary to the CAPM.


  1. Penny stocks (and high-beta instruments generally, such as deep out-of-the-money options) display this behaviour in real life.
  2. A more realistic model might include some deep-pocketed funds with a neutral attitude to risk who could afford to short X. But in real life, there is market segmentation and a lack of liquidity. Penny stocks are illiquid and hard to short, and so are many other high-beta instruments.
  3. The logical corollary of this model is that safe, boring equities will outperform stocks with lottery-ticket-like qualities. And it therefore follows that safe, boring equities will outperform the market as a whole. And that also seems true in real life.
  4. There are plausible microfoundations for why there might be a "gambler" class of investor. For example, fund managers are risking their clients' capital, not their own, and are typically paid in a ranking relative to their peers. Their incentives may well lead them to buy lottery tickets.
Comment by Salemicus on Open thread, Aug. 10 - Aug. 16, 2015 · 2015-08-11T11:02:23.081Z · LW · GW

Consider penny stocks. They are a poor investment in terms of expected return (unless you have secret alpha). But they provide a small chance of very high returns, meaning they operate like lottery tickets. This isn't a mispricing - some people like lottery tickets, and so bid up the price until they become a poor investment in terms of expected return (problem for the CAPM, not for the EMH). So you can systematically lose money by taking the "wrong" side, and buying penny stocks.

Does that count as an example, or does that violate your "risk-adjusted terms" assumption? I think we have to be careful about what frictions we throw out. If we are too aggressive in throwing out notions like an "equity premium," or hedging, or options, or market segmentation, or irreducible risk, or different tolerances to risk, we will throw out the stuff that causes financial markets to exist. An infinite frictionless plane is a useful thought experiment, but you can't then complain that a car can't drive on such a plane.

Comment by Salemicus on Vegetarianism Ideological Turing Test! · 2015-08-10T18:25:19.029Z · LW · GW

For Omnivores:

  • Do you think the level of meat consumption in America is healthy for individuals? Do you think it's healthy for the planet?

America has an obesity crisis, but I don't see any reason to think that meat specifically is a major part of it. I'm far more worried about the sugar consumption. If, as part of a general reduction in calorific intake, the meat consumption fell, that would be a good thing, but I worry more about people too poor to afford steak.

Regarding planetary "health" - the damage seems to me to be caused by a lack of property rights and tragedy-of-the-commons situations (see e.g. global warming, fish stock depletion, etc) than meat consumption per se. If reliable property rights could be established, we could all happily consume far more meat than we currently do - and without those reliable property rights, everyone going vegan will make little difference.

  • How do you feel about factory farming? Would you pay twice as much money for meat raised in a less efficient (but "more natural") way?

I would (and do) pay a little more for humanely raised meat, but not twice as much. Regarding factory farming - what alternative am I comparing it to? It's worse than happy animals frolicking in the fields, it's better than those animals not existing. As in my judgement, the realistic alternative is much closer to the latter, I am an enthusiast for factory farming, but not in an absolute sense.

  • Are there any animals you would (without significantly changing your mind) never say it was okay to hunt/farm and eat? If so, what distinguishes these animals from the animals which are currently being hunted/farmed?

It's context-dependent. If I'm starving on a lifeboat, in extremis I'd eat anything that came to hand - even human! - but I wouldn't resort to cannibalism just out of idle curiosity. There are no animals I'd never eat.

  • If all your friends were vegetarians, and you had to go out of your way to find meat in a similar way to how vegans must go out of their way right now, do you think you'd still be an omnivore?

Yes. Meat is delicious and I would seek it out.

For Vegetarians:

  • If there was a way to grow meat in a lab that was indistinguishable from normal meat, and the lab-meat had never been connected to a brain, do you expect you would eat it? Why/why not?

I'd need to know more about the way the meat was grown, and why, but no, I don't expect I would eat it. Partly because the fact that this product is classified as "meat" tells me a great deal about the people it's aimed at, and the sensibilities of the corporation behind it. Partly because this kind of artificial creation is highly suspect. But mostly because it's so unnecessary - when you can live a happy and healthy lifestyle without having any truck with meat, why would you want to go down that route?

  • Indigenous hunter gatherers across the world get around 30 percent of their annual calories from meat. Chimpanzees, our closest non-human relatives, eat meat. There are arguments that humans evolved to eat meat and that it's natural to do so. Would you disagree? Elaborate.

Humans didn't evolve "to" do anything. That's the naturalistic fallacy. We just evolved. And sure, we have certain adaptations that make it easier for us to eat meat, but we have other adaptations (the shrivelled appendix, for example) that make it harder for us to do so. Unlike most other omnivores, humans can't safely eat raw meat - presumably because we have adapted to early technology such as fire. That makes it very misleading to talk about what's "natural" for humans, because there is no natural human state apart from our technology. But sure, there is a sense in which it's "natural" for humans to eat meat - the same sense in which it's natural for humans to murder our stepchildren, which chimpanzees and most other mammals do. The word I prefer is "barbaric."

  • Do you think it's any of your business what other people eat? Have you ever tried (more than just suggesting it or leading by example) to get someone to become a vegetarian or vegan?

As long as governments are pumping billions into agricultural subsidies, as long as corporations are distorting the democratic process and subverting the First Amendment with ag-gag laws, as long as chemicals and pollutants are flooding our rivers, as long as innocent animals are being tortured so you can eat a roast, then of course it's everyone's business. What you put into your mouth may seem like a private decision, but your ability to eat meat rests on a massive industry and supply chain that affects all of us, whether we like it or not. Externalities matter.

Yes, I have encouraged vegetarianism. I have volunteered for Viva in the past. However, there is a time and a place for such conversations. It's better to build trust first, rather than hectoring strangers.

  • What do you think is the primary health risk of eating meat (if any)?

The biggest risk is heart disease and related cardiovascular problems. However, the increased cancer risk is almost as bad.

Comment by Salemicus on Open Thread, Jul. 13 - Jul. 19, 2015 · 2015-07-14T15:49:56.210Z · LW · GW

Birds have a ZZ/ZW system where the male is the homogametic sex.

Yes, birds have testosterone. Mind you, women have testosterone. It's the elevated quantity of testosterone that leads to masculinity.

Comment by Salemicus on Open Thread, Jul. 13 - Jul. 19, 2015 · 2015-07-13T14:57:58.089Z · LW · GW

Woman is the biological default. That's why women have redundancy on the 23rd chromosomal pair, whereas men have a special "Y" chromosome - leading to much higher rates of genetic disorders in men. That's why in infant male humans, the testicles have to descend. And so on. Both from an encoding and from a developmental point of view, a man is a woman altered to be masculine. And testosterone is what does that altering.

Yes, it could have been different. We can imagine a species with a neutral default, which then gets altered to be either masculine or feminine by different sex-encoding hormones. But that's not how humans came about.

Comment by Salemicus on Selecting vs. grooming · 2015-07-01T10:16:24.637Z · LW · GW

A capitalist employer selects an accountant from a pool of 100 applicants. A feudal lord would groom a serf boy who has a knack for horses into the job of the adult stable man.

A capitalist employer grooms a management trainee for a future role, while a feudal lord selects a mercenary from those applying for the job.

My vote is for "false dichotomy." There has been a rise in selection (because the world is freer and more connected) but there is still plenty of grooming too. Note that even in your stable boy example, there was selection.

Comment by Salemicus on The great quote of rationality a la Socrates (or Plato, or Aristotle) · 2015-06-24T22:29:04.390Z · LW · GW

Cicero wasn't Greek and is most known as a jurist and politician, not as a philosopher.

Comment by Salemicus on Taking Effective Altruism Seriously · 2015-06-21T10:39:47.590Z · LW · GW

Would it be fair to summarise your post thus: "aid to the poorest people on earth is an ineffective way to create utils, it is better to invest in western businesses" ?

The first half of your "summary" is a utilitarian framing, and the second half is a recommendation of investment in the West. Neither are anywhere in the post. So no, this is not a fair summary.

My two-sentence summary would be:

Effective methods rely on a tight feedback loop between action and results, which is best provided by a market. Wealth is a function of productive capacity, which requires investment, which requires consumption to be foregone, so the route to a richer tomorrow is through consuming less, not more, today.

You'll note that all these concepts are mentioned in the post, rather than surreptitiously snuck in from outside.

Comment by Salemicus on Taking Effective Altruism Seriously · 2015-06-21T10:20:02.031Z · LW · GW

The OP suggests that colonization is in fact a proven way to turn poor countries into productive ones.

Nope. Provide a quote or retract.

What I actually said was that nothing short of colonisation is known to work.

Comment by Salemicus on Taking Effective Altruism Seriously · 2015-06-21T10:15:16.894Z · LW · GW

So you're doubling down. Ok, whatever.

No, I have nothing to say about the rest of your comment. I think productive discussion normally requires that both participants feel the other is arguing in good faith. I don't feel that.

Comment by Salemicus on Taking Effective Altruism Seriously · 2015-06-06T11:25:11.916Z · LW · GW

You also don't provide an argument that Harvard has a high use for marginal dollars.

My argument is precisely the opposite. My argument is that Harvard is so rich that it has very low use for marginal dollars, but at the same time it has a credible commitment to its future state, so large donations to Harvard will serve to swell its endowment. And also that Harvard has demonstrated the ability to manage its endowment well. Therefore funds donated to Harvard are likely to be invested indefinitely - and therefore to provide increasing amounts of economic tools that will benefit mankind, both now and in the future.

Comment by Salemicus on Taking Effective Altruism Seriously · 2015-06-06T08:22:40.888Z · LW · GW

Unfortunately, most of the funds invested to finance people like Norman Borlaug turned out not to be financing Norman Borlaug.

Sure, I wasn't suggesting that Borlaug's work was replicable.

Still, if you want to generalize from that example, feel free.

When did I generalize from that example? I was merely refuting the crass claim that giving money to a starving woman and child (note the incidental misandry!) must be better than creating economic tools.

Comment by Salemicus on Taking Effective Altruism Seriously · 2015-06-06T08:18:51.506Z · LW · GW

That's true. But conditions in sub-Saharan Africa have improved by a lot less than in other regions that were extremely poor 50 years ago, such as China and South-East Asia. For most of that period, growth in Africa was slower than growth in the West, despite the fact that catch-up growth is much easier. Indeed, sub-Saharan Africa continues to fall further behind China (growth rate of 4.24% versus 7.7%, both for 2013) despite the fact that catch-up growth should favour Africa.

This is not a success story.

Comment by Salemicus on Taking Effective Altruism Seriously · 2015-06-06T08:12:21.417Z · LW · GW

I am astonished by this comment, and even more so that it has been upvoted. I wrote (and it's clear for all to see):

Providing cash transfers to [the people there] mostly merely raises consumption, rather than substantially raising productivity.

This is backed up by the paper, which notes that just 39% of the cash transfers boosted assets (see pg 12 and Table1), meaning that 61% of the transfer had been consumed. The productivity effects were similarly modest. And note that these figures were taken just one year after the transfer, and so likely overestimate the long-term effect; if more time had elapsed, it is likely that more of the capital would have been spent down. Note that this is the opposite of what we want. If the transferees were able to invest this money wisely, their assets after a period would be greater by more than 100% of the transfer.

You misquoted me, leaving out the "mostly" and "substantially," and then claim that I am misrepresenting the paper, because the paper does show some (small) effects on assets and productivity. Indeed it does, but this in no way contradicts what I wrote.

Do you have so little faith in your own position that you cannot bring yourself to quote me honestly?

Comment by Salemicus on Taking Effective Altruism Seriously · 2015-06-05T17:57:17.708Z · LW · GW

I think you are confused. You say I don't suggest an alternative, but then you correctly identify my suggested alternative in the very next sentence.

To be clear: None of the top recommended charities on GiveWell, including Give Directly, are aimed at famine relief, so if your top concern is starvation, your complaint should be directed at them. But if you want specific examples of such tools, I would certainly say that the funds invested to finance Norman Borlaug 's research were better spent than wasting them on aid, because that investment created the economic tools to prevent future famines, as opposed to temporary relief. See the Maimonides quote at the top.

Comment by Salemicus on In Defense of the Fundamental Attribution Error · 2015-06-04T14:41:27.547Z · LW · GW

To expand on what OrphanWilde wrote:

The Just World Hypothesis can be summarised as "you reap what you sow." If you wish to argue that you don't "deserve" to reap what you sow (perhaps because you didn't have access to better seeds), or that it's not "just" to reap what you sow (because everyone should reap in rough equality, regardless of how they sowed), or similar, that's fine, but you aren't arguing against the Just World Hypothesis.

So when we see the fruit, the Just World Hypothesis tells us: that's probably how the person sowed the seeds. And yes, there is noise, which is why it's a heuristic, not an infallible rule. But the whole reason to sow the seeds in the first place was to cause them to bear fruit. "Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?" In other words, Coherent Extrapolated Volition.

So to take an example from the original post - smoking. If I meet someone with lung cancer, the overwhelming likelihood is that they are responsible for their own problem, through smoking. But if I smoke and then I get lung cancer, I'll want to make excuses for myself, and will stubbornly refuse to make the connection between my own culpable past behaviour (the sowing) and my present misfortune (the reaping). People who complain about the Just World Hypothesis want me to extend this non-judgemental behaviour to everyone else. But just as with the Fundamental Attribution Error, the problem is not that I am being too harsh on other people, but that I am being too easy on myself. I am right to draw the connection between behaviour and outcomes for everyone else, and I should do the same for myself.

Comment by Salemicus on In Defense of the Fundamental Attribution Error · 2015-06-03T19:07:45.765Z · LW · GW

Excellent post.

Related: It only takes a small extension of the logic to show that the Just World Hypothesis is a useful heuristic.

Comment by Salemicus on Stupid Questions June 2015 · 2015-06-03T08:11:29.942Z · LW · GW

You will pay extra, as in you will pay more than the ring is worth. If you buy a diamond ring, turn around and try to sell it back, they'll give you something like 30% for it.

This has always struck me as such a strange argument against buying a diamond ring, because it's true about every retail purchase. If you buy a chair, then turn around and try to sell it back to the store, you'd be lucky to get 30%, but no-one thinks that's an argument for sitting on the floor. You buy a chair because you want to sit on it, not as the start of a complicated chair-resale scheme. Similarly, you buy a diamond ring because you (or your beloved) want to wear it.

Note: I am not blaming you in particular, because this is a popular argument, but talk about a selective demand for rigour!

Comment by Salemicus on Rationality Quotes Thread May 2015 · 2015-06-02T20:17:07.470Z · LW · GW

Biology may include studying traditions of behaviour, but biology is not itself a tradition of behaviour.

Comment by Salemicus on Are consequentialism and deontology not even wrong? · 2015-06-02T13:43:02.970Z · LW · GW

Regarding the question of what ancient Greeks meant by "the good," I'd start with the SEP.

I have no idea about anthropological data from non-Western cultures.

Comment by Salemicus on Are consequentialism and deontology not even wrong? · 2015-06-02T12:51:52.344Z · LW · GW

This is a very old argument. Certainly anyone familiar with Nietzsche or Strauss will have seen one version of it rehearsed. But it's not entirely persuasive (there are some excellent counter-arguments already in this thread), and there are reams of literature on it.

The truth is, we do not know for certain what Plato or Aristotle really meant, and these philological arguments don't - can't - settle the matter.

Comment by Salemicus on Rationality Quotes Thread June 2015 · 2015-06-02T09:16:49.019Z · LW · GW

That's possible. It's also possible, as Thiel says, that people shy away from unpopular truths out of conformity bias. Which is the bigger bias?

In Thiel's view, (and mine), the chief problem is not that people are overconfidently proposing answers to that question. The chief problem is that people have no answers at all to that question, and can't think of any ways to generate them. You are right that it's a hard question, because you can be mistaken, and reversed stupidity is not truth, and so on. But it's not an impossible one.

Comment by Salemicus on Rationality Quotes Thread June 2015 · 2015-06-02T09:06:49.831Z · LW · GW

Look, a single quote like this is never going to prove, to the satisfaction of the sceptical, a controversial thesis. But whole sections of the book are dedicated to arguing in favour of what Thiel calls the "determinate" viewpoint (that what matters is vision, planning and execution, and "secrets") and against the "indeterminate" viewpoint (it's all social context, luck, insurance, EMH). See for example this lecture in the series on which the book was based. It's possible Thiel goes too far in some instances, but the point he's making here, that people heavily underrate planning and heavily overrate chance is clearly true. As he writes elsewhere in the book:

Indefinite attitudes to the future explain what’s most dysfunctional in our world today. Process trumps substance: when people lack concrete plans to carry out, they use formal rules to assemble a portfolio of various options. This describes Americans today. In middle school, we’re encouraged to start hoarding “extracurricular activities.” In high school, ambitious students compete even harder to appear omnicompetent. By the time a student gets to college, he’s spent a decade curating a bewilderingly diverse résumé to prepare for a completely unknowable future. Come what may, he’s ready—for nothing in particular.

If you have a substantive counterargument to make, I'd like to hear it. But your drive-by insults aren't helpful.

Comment by Salemicus on Stupid Questions June 2015 · 2015-06-01T16:26:52.785Z · LW · GW

Err... I don't know. Proposing with a fake £10 ring sounds cheesy to me. You can always go shopping together for the wedding bands :-)

I agree it would be cheesy to propose with something fake-looking, but you can buy a really nice-looking ring for that price, that she is unlikely to realise isn't real (unless she's a jeweller). I proposed that way and afterwards when I told my fiancee that we had to buy a real ring, she was surprised that the ring wasn't real. Maybe I shouldn't have told her :)

The problem with non-GIA certificates is that because GIA is the standard, the reason that anyone submitted to a non-GIA authority is that they think they'll get a higher price if they sell it with a non-GIA certificate. In which case you, as customer, are paying more for the same diamond...

Well, the first choice is between yellow and white -- some people want yellow (gold) jewelry.

This is true. As the fiancee wears both gold and silver, I assumed she was OK with both.

Comment by Salemicus on Stupid Questions June 2015 · 2015-06-01T13:29:58.854Z · LW · GW

This is a perfect exemplar of something I really hate about this website. A poster asks for advice about how to buy a diamond, and instead he gets mostly replies saying "don't buy a diamond." I will try and actually be helpful.

My advice would be:

  • Your girlfriend probably has much stronger views than you do about jewellery, and after all she will be the one wearing it. Propose with a "fake" ring, then go shopping for the "real" ring together. I got a very nice-looking ring off Amazon for £10 to propose with. This minimises the chance of making a bad decision, and is also a romantic thing to do together.
  • If you do insist on buying the ring beforehand, make sure you can take it back. Many places will do returns within 30 days. Borrow a ring she finds comfortable to get the sizing.
  • Do not get hung up about high degrees of quality. VS2 clarity and H colour is plenty. She will never tell the difference between having a VS2 and VVS1 diamond on her finger - these differences are only visible when put next to another diamond in the right light, which will never happen.
  • But make sure the cut is top quality.
  • Shop around. My experience is in London, but over here the prices in the diamond quarter and online are about the same. Beware of anyone who won't give you a straight price. Despite what anyone tells you, diamonds are close to commodities.
  • Make sure you get a certificate, and don't buy anything with a non-GIA certificate.
  • She will be wearing the ring all the time, and indefinitely into the future, which means there will be inevitable wear-and-tear. So platinum is probably the best metal.
  • There is no reason to spend anything like the upper range of your budget. You can get an extremely nice (genuine) ring in the bottom half of that price range, and artificial will only be cheaper.
Comment by Salemicus on Rationality Quotes Thread June 2015 · 2015-06-01T13:03:23.671Z · LW · GW

What important truth do very few people agree with you on?

Peter Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

Comment by Salemicus on Rationality Quotes Thread June 2015 · 2015-06-01T13:02:16.040Z · LW · GW

When unsavvy observers see a nonprofit organization with dozens of people on its board, they think: “Look how many great people are committed to this organization! It must be extremely well run.” Actually, a huge board will exercise no effective oversight at all; it merely provides cover for whatever microdictator actually runs the organization.

Peter Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

Comment by Salemicus on Rationality Quotes Thread June 2015 · 2015-06-01T13:01:27.888Z · LW · GW

When Baby Boomers grow up and write books to explain why one or another individual is successful, they point to the power of a particular individual’s context as determined by chance. But they miss the even bigger social context for their own preferred explanations: a whole generation learned from childhood to overrate the power of chance and underrate the importance of planning. Gladwell at first appears to be making a contrarian critique of the myth of the self-made businessman, but actually his own account encapsulates the conventional view of a generation.

Peter Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

Comment by Salemicus on A Challenge: Maps We Take For Granted · 2015-05-29T15:58:05.004Z · LW · GW

Captain Cook did fine in Australia. It was Hawaii that got him.

Comment by Salemicus on A Challenge: Maps We Take For Granted · 2015-05-29T08:39:26.360Z · LW · GW

The problem is that most of our modern methods rely on other technology that was also not available in the 13th century. So you need to be aware of disused practices, not modern ones. In your example, sterilisation would be useful, but also very expensive. Washing your hands would typically be counterproductive, because they often did not have access to clean water. Spreading cholera is bad! That is why people drank small beer rather than water.

Useful maps:

  • Crops require nitrogen, legumes fix nitrogen. Do Dutch-style crop rotation and anticipate the Agricultural Revolution by centuries. Fritz-Haber is sadly a non-starter.
  • Royal authority and legitimate descent are highly resilient, and temporary assaults on them will be reverted. Don't count out Henry III when he's a small child and most of his kingdom is occupied by a foreign king with the backing of the English nobility. Don't count him out later when he and his son are prisoners. Don't back shooting stars (Langton, Louis, de Montfort, etc) against the majesty that doth hedge a king.
  • Penicillium is useful! Try and find some of that if you can!
  • Iron is less reactive than the other elements contained within it. Firing oxygen through it will remove the impurities much better than other methods then available, and allow you to make lots of cheap steel. Note: this was actually known in the 13th century, but not in England.
Comment by Salemicus on Rationality Quotes Thread May 2015 · 2015-05-28T16:59:30.313Z · LW · GW

My own experience is in London and Cambridge.

I think your intuitions are steering you wrong if you'd expect this kind of thing among the "undereducated" (your word). That might be true in the US, but in Britain most people from those social echelons simply don't attend church, and haven't for generations, as an effect of urbanisation. Of course, there are relatively poor and uneducated people with that relation to religion in the Black Country, but they aren't Christians.

If you want to find devout Christians, you need to find educated, middle class, small-c conservative types - HTB and the like aren't filled with manual workers. Or else, recent immigrants - but they don't normally attend CoE churches.

Comment by Salemicus on Rationality Quotes Thread May 2015 · 2015-05-28T15:35:45.412Z · LW · GW

These pockets definitely exist in the UK. There are a fair number of devout Christians here, although they don't shout about it because mainstream society is so hostile to Christianity. They are also easily the nicest people I've met.

Comment by Salemicus on Open Thread, May 25 - May 31, 2015 · 2015-05-27T10:37:28.435Z · LW · GW

[Peer review] rejects far more than implausible/insane/unworthy ideas.

What else does it reject?

I see papers get rejected all the time for methodological disagreements and failure to cite papers the referee thinks important. More broadly, ideas that are perfectly plausible but contrary to current thinking in a field have a much higher threshold to publication than ideas consonant with current thinking.

But more generally, peer review is normally explicitly aimed at rejecting work judged to be non-novel or non-substantial. That boring replication attempts can't get published should therefore be seen as a feature not a bug. The ability of academics to publish novel, counter-intuitive and false results should therefore also be seen as a feature not a bug.

I think it's important to look at this on a per-discipline basis.

Oh, I'm sure some disciplines are worse than others. But as you seem to be tacitly conceding, "the vast majority of scientific output never undergoes real review," and that's true in all disciplines.

Comment by Salemicus on Open Thread, May 25 - May 31, 2015 · 2015-05-26T15:11:23.336Z · LW · GW

The purpose of peer review is just to make sure what's in the paper is plausible and sane, and worth being presented to a wider audience. The purpose is to weed out obvious low-quality material such as perpetual motion machines or people who are duplicating other's work as their own.

Maybe, but this isn't how actual peer review operates. It rejects far more than implausible/insane/unworthy ideas.

Real review of one's work begins after peer review is over and the work is examined by the scientific community at large.

I agree with this, if you'll concede that by your measure, the vast majority of scientific output never undergoes real review. Which is why most published results are false, and science is a cesspool.

Comment by Salemicus on Rationality Quotes Thread May 2015 · 2015-05-21T15:05:46.526Z · LW · GW

Since a tradition of behaviour is not susceptible of the distinction between essence and accident), knowledge of it is unavoidably knowledge of its detail: to know only the gist is to know nothing.

Michael Oakeshott, Political Education.

Comment by Salemicus on [Link] A Darwinian Response to Sam Harris’s Moral Landscape Challenge · 2015-05-20T16:24:37.019Z · LW · GW

Ah, but it is good to be light-hearted, light as a feather, floating on air, on cloud nine, to have a light touch, make light work or to tread lightly, whereas it is bad to be ponderous, heavy-footed, weighed down, find things heavy going, throw your weight around, make heavy weather, or to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.

There is a great deal of linguistic tension between whether "heavy" or "light" is good, one that exists in many different languages. See also the lengthy discussion on "heavy" versus "light" at the start of The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Comment by Salemicus on Why capitalism? · 2015-05-20T15:16:19.011Z · LW · GW

Is your point that property can be trade-like? That it exists not only because either you or the government has enough guns to chase away trespassers, but also because a tit-for-tat trade-like "I won't touch stuff you call yours if you promise the same" social agreement is seen as mutually beneficial, even without much of an enforcement?

Kinda. I would de-emphasise the "mutually beneficial" and "promise" bits and emphasise the notion of self-reinforcing equilibrium. After all, you do have to defend your property, because theft does exist, but you don't have to defend it very much, at least in normal times, because Hobbes was wrong; we do not have a constant 'Will to contend by Battle.' Similarly, international relations are fundamentally anarchical, so most countries judge that they need armies, but that doesn't mean that they are constantly on a war footing, nor that "there is no place for industry, .. culture of the earth," etc.