Comment by spiracular on Spiracular's Shortform Feed · 2019-07-06T00:39:39.385Z · score: 12 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I stumbled into a satisfying visual description:

3D "Renderers" of Random Sampling/Monte Carlo estimation

This came out of thinking about explaining sparseness in higher dimensions*, and I started getting into visuals (as I am known to do). I've see most of the things below described in 2D (sometimes incredibly well!), but 3D is a tad trickier, while not being nearly as painfully-unintuitive as 4D. Here's what I came up with!

Also, someone's probably already done this, but... shrug?

The Setup

In a simple case of Monte Carlo/random-sampling from a three-dimensional space with a one-dimensional binary or float output...

You're trying to work out what is in a sealed box using only a thin needle (analogy for the function that produces your results). The needle has a limited number of draws, but you can aim the needle really well. You can use it to find out what color the object in the box is at each of the exact points you decided to measure. You also have an open box in which to mark off the exact spot in space at which you did the draw, using Unobtainium to keep it in place.

Each of your samples is a fixed point in space, with a color set by the needle(function/sampler's) output/result. These are going to be the cores that you base your render around. From there, you can...

Nearest Neighbor Render

For Nearest Neighbor (NN), you can see what happens when you situate colored-or-clear balloons at each of the sample points, and start simultaneously blowing up all of them up with their sample point as a loose center. Gradually, this will give you a bad "rendering" of whatever the color-results were describing.

(Technically it's Voronoi regions; balloons are more evocative)

Decision Trees

Decision trees are when you fill in the space using colored rectangular blocks of varying sizes, based on the sample points.

Gradients

Most other methods involve creating a gradient between 2 different points that yielded different colors. It could be a linear gradient, an exponential gradient, a step function, a sine wave, some other complicated gradient... as you get more complicated, you better hope that your priors were really good!

Neural Net

A human with lots of prior experience looking at similar objects tries to infer what the rest looks like. (This is kinda a troll answer, I know. Thinking about it.)

Sample All The Things!

3D Pointillism even just sounds like a really bad idea. Pointillism on a 2D surface in a 3D space, not as bad of an idea! Sparsity at work?

Bonus

The Blind Men and an Elephant fable is an example of why you don't want to do a render from a single datapoint, or else you might decide that the entire world is "pure rope." If they'd known from sound where each other were located when they touched the elephant, and had listened to what the others were observing, they might have actually Nearest Neighbor'd themselves a pretty decent approximate elephant.

*Specifically, how it's dramatically more effort to get a high-resolution pixel-by-pixel picture of a high-dimensional space. But if you're willing to sacrifice accuracy for faster coverage, in high dimensions a single point's Nearest Neighbor zone can sloppily cover a whole lot of ground (or multidimensional "volume").

Comment by spiracular on Spiracular's Shortform Feed · 2019-07-02T21:53:15.787Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I have this vague intuition that some water-living organisms have fuzzier self-environment boundaries than most land organisms. It sorta makes sense. Living in water, you might at least get close to matching your nutritional, hydrational, thermal, and dispersion needs via low-effort diffusion. In contrast, on land you almost certainly need to create strongly-defined boundaries between yourself and "air" or "rock", since environments can reach dangerous extremes.

Fungi feel like a bit of an exception, though, with their extracellular digestion habits.

Comment by spiracular on Spiracular's Shortform Feed · 2019-07-02T21:53:00.136Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If The Ocean was a DM:

Player: I want to play a brainless incompletely-multiceullular glob with no separation between its anus and its mouth and who might have an ability like "glow in the dark" or "eject organs and then grow them back." It eats tiny rocks in the water column.

The Land DM: No! At least have some sensible distribution-of-nutrients gimmick! Like, you're not even trying! Like, I'm not anti-slimes, I'll allow some of this for the Slime Mold, but they had a clever mechanic for succinctly generating wider pathways for nutrient transfer between high-nutrition areas that I'd be happy to...

The Ocean DM: OMG THAT'S MY FAVORITE THING. Do you have any other character concepts? Like, maybe it can also eject its brain and grow it back? Or maybe its gonads are also in the single hole where the mouth and anus are?

The Land DM: ...

Comment by spiracular on Unrolling social metacognition: Three levels of meta are not enough. · 2019-06-19T17:14:46.660Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

...huh. I guess I know of one particular variety, and that variety is very self-contained and circling-adjacent (I almost could have called it "Narrative Circling", if that didn't seem like such a contradiction-in-terms). But from the wiki article, T-Group appears to refer to a more nebulous and broad category of things, some of which seem not nearly so self-contained.

The thing I had run into functioned basically as described here (scroll down for the written description). This read to me as clearly cicling-adjacent, and I didn't think all that hard about where it had come from.

The wikipedia description struck me as surprisingly uninformative about the details of the practice itself. But from poking around a bit on the internet just now... I get the impression that T-Group can refer to something similar to what I described, but can also be used to refer to something close to an experimental leadership/decision-making structure that uses the "T-Group" as part of their intragroup conflict-resolution method?

I knew that the variety I had run into was a bit homebrew, and probably had aspects of circling bred into it. I don't think I appreciated just how different it could be from other people's usage of/context for the term. That said, I do see some signs of shared lineage.

The techniques feel related, and the facilitating ethos of awareness, learning, honesty, and goallessness feels similar. But the variety I ran into felt more tightly-defined and compartmentalized, and I was mostly doing it with strangers.

I admit that with a high bar of trust and decently committed participants, I could actually see it working well as a social-information-gathering method? But the idea of being dragged into doing it with coworkers, or of treating it like a primary conflict-resolution technique, seems quite troubling to me.

Comment by spiracular on Unrolling social metacognition: Three levels of meta are not enough. · 2019-06-17T19:42:19.097Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Circling is working on a similar problem, and training capacities that are used as workarounds: This feels true to me.

I think this even more visible in the circling-variant called "T-Group," where people tell a short narrative on why they think they're having a described emotional reaction. Very frequently, the explanations encapsulate 1-2 layers of meta, or explicitly gesture at certain/uncertain pieces of common knowledge.

(ex: Joe is responding to Jane's response and feels U, Jane is responding to Jane's interpretation of Joe's response to Jane and feels V. Albert notes X, models that Betty would be troubled by X, and feels concern that there might not be common knowledge of this. Betty believes that there is common knowledge of X, and that everyone feels wary about it. Betty queries if anyone disagrees with that interpretation. Carrie notes that she hadn't initially been aware of X, but is now aware of X, and feels sad and a little scared.)

When I look at it this way, it becomes even clearer why T-Group comes with an exhortation to always include the experiencer as an object in your sentence ("I feel", "I make it mean", "I infer"). If the next person is going to do meta on your meta, it helps if they don't need to recalculate out the layer representing "you," and it's useful to explicitly differentiate between yourself and common knowledge.

(Actually, the more I think about it, the more T-Group looks like a hybrid between circling and explicit modeling. And the fact that they work well together suggests to me that not everything in the circling skillset gets eclipsed when you switch to explicit-modeling.)

Comment by spiracular on Naked mole-rats: A case study in biological weirdness · 2019-06-17T17:15:19.994Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Ticks just repeatedly break my intuitions. How does something that small and R-selected have a 2-year-long lifecycle?

Oh goodness yes, fungi. Two-nuclei sexual stages startled me when I first learned of it. It's a highly-diverse and successful clade, filling in an array of niches all across the specialist/generalist spectrum, and ranging anywhere from unicellular to syncytial to organisms the size of a city. Plus, many of them seem to manifest that evolutionary pseudo-"inventiveness" that I usually associate with bacteria.

Comment by spiracular on Spiracular's Shortform Feed · 2019-06-15T02:10:41.393Z · score: 10 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah... this is reading as more "moralizing" and "combative" than as "trying to understand and model my view," to me. I do not feel like putting more time into hashing this out with you, so I most likely won't reply.

It has a very... "gotcha" feel to it. Even the curiosity seems to be phrased to be slightly accusatory, which really doesn't help matters. Maybe we have incompatible conversation styles.

Comment by spiracular on Spiracular's Shortform Feed · 2019-06-15T00:58:14.264Z · score: 14 (4 votes) · LW · GW

(Meta-note: I spent more time on this than I wanted to. I think if I run into this sort of question again, I'm going to ask clarifying questions about what it was that you in particular wanted, because answering broad questions without having a clear internal idea of a target audience contributed to both spending too much time on this, and contributed to feeling bad about it. Oops.)

Comment by spiracular on Spiracular's Shortform Feed · 2019-06-15T00:57:24.857Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Personally, one of the most damning marks against the physical-distance intuition in particular is its rampant exploitability in the modern world, where distance is so incredibly easily abridged. If someone set up a deal where they extract some money and kidnap 2 far-away people in exchange for letting 1 nearby person go, someone with physical-distance-discounting might keep making this deal, and the only thing the kidnappers would need to use to exploit it is a truck. If view through a camera is enough to abridge the physical distance, it's even easier to exploit. I think this premise is played around with in media like The Box, but I've also heard of some really awful real-world cases, especially if phone calls or video count as abridging distance (for a lot of people, it seems to). The ease and severity of exploitation of it definitely contributes to why, in the modern world, I don't just call it unintuitive, I call it straight-up broken.

When the going exchange rate between time and physical distance was higher, this intuition might not have been so broken. With the speed of transport where it is now...

Maybe at bottom, it's also just not very intuitive to me. I find a certain humor in parodies of it, which I'm going to badly approximate here.

"As you move away from me at a constant speed, how rapidly should I morally discount you? Should the discounting be exponential, or logarithmic?"

"A runaway trolley will kill 5 people tied to the train track, unless you pull a switch and redirect it to a nearby track with only 1 person on it. Do you pull the switch?" "Well, that depends. Are the 5 people further away from me?"

I do wonder where that lack-of-intuition comes from... Maybe my lack of this intuition was originally because when I imagine things happening to someone nearby and someone far away, the real object I'm interacting with in judging /comparing is the imagination-construct in my head, and if they're both equally vivid that collapses all felt physical distance? Who can say.

In my heart of hearts, though... if all else is truly equal, it also does just feel obvious that a person's physical distance from you really should not affect your sense of their moral worth.

Comment by spiracular on Spiracular's Shortform Feed · 2019-06-15T00:50:11.815Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think you're inferring some things that aren't there. I'm not claiming an agent-neutral morality. I'm claiming that "physical proximity," in particular, being a major factor of moral worth in-and-of-itself never really made sense to me, and always seemed a bit cringey.

Using physical proximity as a relevant metric in judging the value of alliances? Factoring other metrics of proximity into my personal assessments of moral worth? I do both.

(Although I think using agent-neutral methods to generate Schelling Points for coordination reasons is quite valuable, and at times where that coordination is really important, I tend to weight it extremely heavily.)

When I limit myself to looking at charity and not alliance-formation, all types of proximity-encouraging motives get drowned out by the sheer size of the difference in magnitude-of-need and the drastically-increased buying power of first-world money in parts of the third world. I think that's a pretty common feeling among EAs. That said, I do conduct a stronger level of time- and uncertainty-discounting, but I still ended up being pretty concerned about existential risk.

Comment by spiracular on Naked mole-rats: A case study in biological weirdness · 2019-06-14T19:36:05.278Z · score: 9 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The strange pressures of their subterranean lifestyle, which eukaryote described somewhat, probably covers most of it. Inbreeding/isolation is probably the other half of the puzzle.

I'll try to show how some of these traits tie in with low-oxygen and subterranean living, in those places where it wasn't already covered.

  1. A lot of these do bottom out to the pressures of creating a large nest, and dealing with an underground low-oxygen environment.

Eusociality and large protective communal nest-building mesh together really well, which I think fed into a lot of the items in the Richard Alexander list of predictions mentioned above (the accuracy is really impressive!).

Lack-of-hair and weird teeth seem pretty obviously developed for digging/crawling lifestyle. Acid-pain immunity has been proposed to be a consequence of having to handle an otherwise-intolerable level of lactic acid buildup ('sore muscles') while digging in low-oxygen zones. The strange metabolic properties (which probably feed into cancer resistance considerably) also seem to be a way to handle their lower-oxygen-availability lifestyle; endothermy can be surprisingly energy-intensive.

Really, living a low-temperature low-sugar careful-energy-usage low-ambient-cell-replication lifestyle tends to defend against cancer and improve lifespan quite a bit in general (ex: calorie restriction for mammals often extends lifespan, raising fruit flies at low temperatures can full-on double it). Molerats seem to have been under heavy pressure to biologically enforce a strict energy-usage regimen, and they take this to an incredible extreme. So you'd expect to see some cancer resistance, although it's still crazy in terms of degree.

(I'd totally buy that they probably have some additional nutty things going for them. I think I've heard a theory that they have unusually-stringent cell checkpoints pre-division?)

  1. Inbreeding and genetic isolation

No, really. It's both a strong push towards kin-selection (a basis of eusociality if there ever was one), and an exacerbator of genetic drift. The changes might not always be anywhere near this favorable, but isolation still tilts things towards the weird, and the faster rate to saturation increases your ability to build adaptations on top of adaptations. (see also: high weirdness for species living in islands, caves).

Comment by spiracular on Naked mole-rats: A case study in biological weirdness · 2019-06-14T17:00:19.383Z · score: 10 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Adding a couple of mine to this list, will probably add more as I think of them...

Invertebrates: Sacculina (parasitic barnacle that hormonally manipulates crabs), Sawflies (primitive hymenopterans with caterpillar-like larvae, some love forest fires), Ticks, Phengaris arion

Vertebrates: Chameleon, Hoatzin, Bats (just... bats)

Plants: Amorphophallus genus (The entire stalk is a single giant leaf. It sheds that leaf every few years, puts up a giant flower, then sheds that and goes back to growing another single giant leaf?), Orchids, Magnolia (ancient monocots that convergently evolved to look like dicots, flowers that predate bees)

I'm giving partial-points to: scale insects, fig wasps, termites, Neotrogla curvata, Pandoravirus, Neuroptera

Comment by spiracular on Spiracular's Shortform Feed · 2019-06-14T01:50:30.493Z · score: 10 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Out-of-context quote: I'd like for things I do to be either ignored or deeply-understood and I don't know what to do with the in-betweens.

Comment by spiracular on Spiracular's Shortform Feed · 2019-06-14T01:17:48.863Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW · GW

After seeing a particularly overt form of morality-of-proximity argued (poorly) in a book...

Something interesting is going on in my head in forming a better understanding of what the best steelman of morality-of-proximity looks like? The standard forms are obviously super-broken (there's a lot of good reasons why EA partially builds itself as a strong reaction against that; a lot of us cringe at "local is better" charity speak unless it gets tied into "capacity building"). But I'm noticing that if I squint, the intuition bears a trace of similarity to my attitude on "What if we're part of an "all possible worlds" multiverse, in which the best and worst and every in-between happens, and where on a multiversal scale... anything you do doesn't matter, because deterministically all spaces of possibility will be inevitably filled."

Obviously, the response is: "Then try to have a positive influence on the proximal. Try to have a positive influence on the things you can control." And sure, part of that comes from giving some weight to the possibility that the universe is not wired that way, but it's also just a very broadly-useful heuristic to adopt if you want to do useful things in the world. "Focus on acting on the things you can control" is generally pretty sound advice, and I think it forms a core part of the (Stoic?) concept of rating your morals on the basis of your personal actions and not the noisy environmental feedback you're getting in reply. Which is... at least half-right, but runs the risk of disconnecting you from the rest of the world too much.

If we actually can have the largest positive impact on the proximal, then absolutely help the proximal. This intuition just breaks down in a world where money is incredibly liquid and transportable and is worth dramatically more in value/utility in different places.

(Of course, another element of that POV might center around a stronger sense that sys1 empathetic feelings are a terminal good in-and-of-itself, which is something I can't possibly agree with. I've seen more than enough of emotional contagion and epidemics-of-stress for a lifetime. Some empathy is useful and good, but too much sounds awful. Moving on.)

I guess there needs to be a distinction made between "quantity of power" and "finesse of power," and while quantity clearly can be put to a lot more use if you're willing to cross state (country, continent...) lines, finesse at a distance is still hard. And you need at least some of both (at this point) to make a lasting positive impact (convo for later: what those important components of finesse are, which I think might trigger some interesting disagreements). Finding specialists you trust to handle the finesse (read: steering) of large amounts of power is often hard, and it's even harder to judge for people who don't have that finesse themselves.

And "Finesse of power" re: technical impact, re: social impact, re: group empowerment/disempowerment (whether by choice or de-facto), re: PR or symbology... they can be really different skills.

Comment by spiracular on Spiracular's Shortform Feed · 2019-06-13T22:07:47.994Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Good to know! I'm assuming that's mostly an automatic consequence of everything being a comment, but that also fits with what I'd want from this sort of thing.

Comment by spiracular on Spiracular's Shortform Feed · 2019-06-13T21:56:59.665Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Damn it, Oli. Keep your popularity away from my very-fake pseudoprivacy :P

(Tone almost exactly half-serious half-jokingly-sarcastic?)

((It's fine, but I'm a little stressed by it.))

Comment by spiracular on Spiracular's Shortform Feed · 2019-06-13T21:49:02.622Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is pasted in from a very different context, so it doesn't match how I would format it as a post at all. But it paints a sketch of a system I might want to flesh out into a post sometime (although possibly not on LessWrong): Predictiveness vs Alignment as sometimes-diverging axes of Identity.

There's probably some very interesting things to be said about the points where external predictiveness and internal alignment differ, and I might be a bit odd in that I think I have strong reason to believe that a divergence between them is usually not a bad thing. In fact, at times, I'd call it a legitimately good thing, especially in cases where it feeds into motivation or counterbalances other forces.

Ex: For me in particular, anti-identifying as "sensitive" is load-bearing, and props up my ability to sometimes function as a less-than-excessively-sensitive human being. However, the sensitive aspect is always going to show through in the contexts where there's no action I can take to cover for it (ex: very easily disturbed by loud noise).

There's still some question in my head about what internal alignment even is. It feels to me like "Internal Predictiveness" is a subcomponent of it, and aspiration is another part of it, but neither describes it in full. But it felt like there was a meaningful cluster there, and it was easier to feel-out and measure than it was to describe, so for now I've stuck with that...

Q: What are some identity labels that apply to you? How aligned with or alienated from them do you feel?

I was only able to do this exercise if I separated out "Externally Predictive" (P-, NP, and P+) and "Internal Alignment," (AN-, N/A, AG+, and sometimes 404). These sometimes feel like totally divergent axes, and trying to catch both in a single axis felt deeply dishonest to me. Besides, finding the divergence between them is fun.

(I apologize for the sparse formatting on this; I'll try to find a way to reformat it better later.)

Predictive-First Identities

  • Nerd & Geek
    • Predictive (P+), Aligned (AG)
  • Rationalist
    • P+, AG+
  • Biologist
    • P+, full range from AG+ to bitterly AN- (Alienated)
  • Programmer
    • Moderately P+, N/A
  • Extroverted Geek
    • P+, Highly AN
  • Introvert
    • Slightly P- (used to be P+), AG
  • Anxious
    • Slightly P+, Slightly AN

Alignment/Alienation-First Identities

  • Healthy Boundaries
    • P+, AG+
  • Visual Thinker
    • NP to P+, AG+
  • Queer
    • NP (by design!), AG
  • Smart
    • P+, 404 (I can't properly internalize it in a healthy way unless I add more nuance to it)
  • Not Smart/Good Enough but Getting Better by Doing it
    • NP to Moderately P+, AG+
  • Sensitive
    • P+, AN
  • Immature
    • NP (used to be P-), AN
  • Self-centered
    • P-, AN-
Comment by spiracular on Spiracular's Shortform Feed · 2019-06-13T20:44:07.308Z · score: 14 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Thinking about value-drift:

It seems correct to me to term the earlier set of values a more "naive set.*" To keep a semi-consistent emotional tone across classes, I'll call the values you get later the "jaded set" (although I think jadedness is only one of several possible later-life attractor states, which I'll go over later).

I believe it's unreasonable to assume that any person's set of naive values are, or were, perfect values. But it's worth noting that there are several useful properties that you can generally associate with them, which I'll list below.

My internal model of how value drift has worked within myself looks a lot more like "updating payoff matrices" and "re-binning things." Its direction feels determined by not purely by drift, but by some weird mix of deliberate steering, getting dragged by currents, random walk, and more accurately mapping the surrounding environment.

That said, here's some generalizations...

Naive:

  • Often oversimplified
    • This is useful in generating ideals, but bad for murphyjitsu
  • Some zones are sparsely-populated
    • A single strong value (positive or negative) anywhere near those zones will tend to color the assumed value of a large nearby area. Sometimes it does this incorrectly.
  • Generally stronger emotional affects (utility assignments), and larger step sizes
    • Fast, large-step, more likely to see erratic changes
  • Closer to black-and-white thinking; some zones have intense positive or negative associations, and if you perform nearest neighbor on sparse data, the cutoff can be steep

Jaded:

  • Usually, your direct experience of reality has been fed more data and is more useful.
    • Things might shift so the experientially-determined system plays a larger role determining what actions you take relative to theory
      • Experiential ~ Sys1, Theoretical ~ Sys2, but the match isn't perfect. The former handles the bulk of the data right as it comes in, the later sees heavily-filtered useful stuff and makes cleaner models.**
  • Speaking generally... while a select set of things may be represented in a more complete and complex way (ex: aspects of jobs, some matters of practical and realistic politics, most of the things we call "wisdom"), other axes of value/development/learning may have gotten stuck.
    • Here are names for some of those sticky states: jaded, bitter, stuck, and conformist. See below for more detail.
    • Related: Freedomspotting

** What are some problems with each? Theoretical can be bad at speed and time-discounting, while Experimental is bad at noticing the possibility of dangerous unknown-unknowns?

Jaded modes in more detail

Here are several standard archetypical jaded/stuck error-modes. I tend to think about this in terms of neural nets and markov chains, so I also put down the difficult-learning-terrain structures that I tend to associate with them.

Jaded: Flat low-affect zones offer no discernible learning slope. If you have lost the ability to assign different values to different states, that spells Game Over for learning along that axis.

Bitter: Overlearned/overgeneralized negatives are assigned to what would otherwise have been inferred to be a positive action by naive theory. Thenceforth, you are unable to collect data from that zone due to the strong expectations of intense negative-utility. Keep in mind that this is not always wrong. But when it is wrong, this can be massively frustrating.

(Related: The problems with reasoning about counterfactual actions as an embedded agent with a self-model)

Stuck: Occupying an eccentric zones on the wrong side of an uncanny valley. One common example is people who specialized into a dead field, and now refuse to switch.

Conformist: Situated in some strongly self-reinforcing zone, often at the peak of some locally-maximal hill. If the hill has steep moat-like drop-off, this is a common subtype of Stuck. In some sense, hill-climbing is just correct neural net behavior; this is only a problem because you might be missing a better global maximum, or might have different endorsed values than your felt ones.

An added element that can make this particularly problematic is that if you stay on a steep, tiny hill for long enough, the gains from hill-climbing can set up a positive incentive for learning small step size. If you believe that different hills have radically different maximums, and you aspire for global maximization, then this is something you very strongly want to avoid.

*From context, I'm inferring that we're discussing not completely naive values, but something closer to the values people have in their late-teens early-twenties.

Naive modes in more detail

Naive values are often simplified values; younger people have many zones of sparse or merely theorized data, and are more prone to black-and-white thinking over large areas . They are also perhaps notable sometimes for their lack of stability, and large step-size (hence the phrase "it's just a phase"). Someone in their early 20s is less likely than someone in their 40s to be in a stable holding pattern. There's been less time to get stuck in a self-perpetuating rut, and your environment and mind are often changing fast enough that any holding patterns will often get shaken up when the outside environment alters if you give it enough time.

The pattern often does seem to be towards jaded (flat low-affect zones that offer no discernible learning slope), bitter (overlearned/overgeneralized negatives assigned to what would otherwise have been inferred to be a positive action), stuck (occupying eccentric zones on the wrong side of an uncanny valley), or conformist (strongly self-reinforcing zones, often at the peak of some locally-maximal hill).

Many people I know have at east one internal-measurement instrument that is so far skewed that you may as well consider it broken. Take, for instance, people who never believe that other people like them despite all evidence to the contrary. This is not always a given, but some lucky jaded people will have identified some of the zones where they cannot trust their own internal measuring devices, and may even be capable of having a bit of perspective about that in ways that are far less common among the naive. They might also have the epistemic humility to have a designated friend filling in that particular gap in their perception, something that requires trust built over time.

Spiracular's Shortform Feed

2019-06-13T20:36:26.603Z · score: 36 (8 votes)
Comment by spiracular on Global insect declines: Why aren't we all dead yet? · 2018-04-08T03:25:02.680Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Part of why this is so confusing to me is that if you take some of these invasive-like species, and introduce them to new habitats, they DO cause huge problems (see: Kudzu, certain species of mussel... I could go on and on). And due to combinations of things like "toxins" or "low nutritional content" or various really good counter-herbivore adaptations, I actually wouldn't be that surprised if only 1 or 2 things in their native environment actually subsist predominantly off of the invader, or at least eat it at such a level that it would kill large numbers of them.

Comment by spiracular on Global insect declines: Why aren't we all dead yet? · 2018-04-08T03:22:21.097Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Entomology bacchelor here. My naiive model would have been that termites and earthworms, followed maybe by "the entirety of all pollinators", would have major effects on ecology at the macro-scale. But my default model also has comments along the lines of "there are species that will trigger black swan effects, and you can't always predict which ones they are." And that later part of me is very confused.

The model is less that every single species matters, and more that there are "keystone species": the often-highly-specialized regulator (a predator, parasitoid, or lethal disease) of a toxic/high-reproductive-rate/invasive-like species, where if that invasive species were to be left unchecked, it would dominate the environment in a manner detrimental to just about everything else living there. See: Otters that kill sea urchins which would otherwise detatch kelp from the sea floor, or... in a case closer to what I'd expect here, things like small wasps that specifically kill a beetle that would otherwise kill large numbers of trees.

Comment by spiracular on Global insect declines: Why aren't we all dead yet? · 2018-04-08T02:41:47.371Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

On a related vein of thought, one can almost model any currently-visible adults of a species with a high potential number of offspring-per-adult as a "surplus" that doesn't necessarily have a large effect on trophic "throughput". Phytoplankton come to mind as the extreme case; they sequester a huge quantity of carbon dioxide, but the oceans aren't green (usually...) because huge quantities of them are constantly sinking to the ocean floor or being eaten. That small surviving fraction still reproduces at a high enough level to maintain themselves. (Land plants seem to have a very different equilibrium, which probably has something to do with... better herbivore control by predators, and maybe also counter-herbivore adaptations and the necessity of infrastructure-deployment to handle water scarcity? Not especially confident on this.)

Insects don't have the reproductive rate of phytoplankton, though. And from the other comments, it sounds like this really is starving out some members of higher tropic levels.

Comment by spiracular on Global insect declines: Why aren't we all dead yet? · 2018-04-08T02:08:41.870Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For the former (German study with the biomass numbers), perhaps? For the review study (which reported on worldwide species numbers and Britain range distributions), I flipped through the supplement and it looks like they actually did try very hard to adjust for the fact that they were working off of volunteer data (Filtered for surveys that had identified certain other similar species, and which had lasted for over 1hr. Also, excluded some species that they expected to have "gone into hiding" more). Something interesting might be going on with the Beetles, but it seemed suggest that Butterfly/Moth and Wasp/Bee/Ant species are almost all either holding steady, or dropping. I think significant reductions in flying insect catches might actually be plausible.