A hypothesis testing video game 2013-04-01T05:41:22.221Z
Is intelligence explosion necessary for doomsday? 2012-03-12T21:12:07.369Z
Awful Austrians 2009-04-12T06:06:39.990Z
Secret Identities vs. Groupthink 2009-04-09T20:26:21.052Z


Comment by Swimmy on How much wealth is produced by high IQ people? · 2014-03-14T14:45:38.200Z · LW · GW

Garett Jones' work seems relevant here. See this and this paper for instance. Short story: IQ has a modest effect on individual earnings but average national IQ has a large effect on a nation's GDP. He cites spillover effects as the cause, which, if true, renders the question in the OP a bit difficult to answer.

I have not read these papers carefully enough to comment on the statistical work contained therein.

Comment by Swimmy on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, part 28, chapter 99-101 · 2013-12-13T19:03:02.031Z · LW · GW

Ha, clearly Gjvyvtug Fcnexyr vf Oryyngevk va qvfthvfr naq gur jubyr guvat jnf fbzr ovmneeb frghc gb znxr Uneel guvax Dhveeryy vf qlvat.

Comment by Swimmy on Yet More "Stupid" Questions · 2013-09-11T02:00:36.423Z · LW · GW

Some of the very basics I know from researching veganism:

Moderate meat-eaters seem to have longer lifespans than heavy meat-eaters and vegans. I can't remember if vegetarians are equivalent or a little shorter. This is epidemiological data so take it with a grain of salt--you can eat french fries all day and be considered a vegan, likewise many vegetarians probably substitute meat with unhealthy amounts of cheese. But eating meat-heavy meals for every meal appears to be bad for longevity.

Fish is effective at preventing alzheimer's. This does not seem to be reproducible by taking (overrated) omega-3 fatty acid capsules.

So, eating more vegetarian dishes and fish once every few days or so is probably a good idea. I have no clue what to help with short-term cognitive performance.

Also, moderate wine consumption is extremely good for you. 3 glasses a week can increase your lifespan significantly.

Comment by Swimmy on Yet More "Stupid" Questions · 2013-09-11T01:48:13.203Z · LW · GW

I don't know if accounting is underrated, and I don't know if anyone has made accounting look awesome and exciting on its own. But conditional on finding scam-busting interesting, which I guess a lot of skeptics do, there are several books on auditing, how companies cook the books, how to detect unethical accounting practices through various statistical techniques, etc. In fact most of the techniques are subtle because they tend to bend the rules just a little bit more than auditing professionals prefer. The rules can already be legally bent significantly because of how many different ways there are to operate a business.

Comment by Swimmy on Yet More "Stupid" Questions · 2013-09-08T22:34:37.208Z · LW · GW

For what goal? Longevity, weight loss, muscle gain, ethics?

Comment by Swimmy on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, part 25, chapter 96 · 2013-07-26T00:17:22.929Z · LW · GW

Avoiding mockery is probably not a terminal value of most of the denominations you're referring to. Regardless, if you accept the doctrine of the Trinity, God gets to be both a third party and a first party to the transaction, problem solved! And most Christians probably see it more as God making a sacrifice to appease the cosmic legal system that he instituted rather than himself directly, if that makes any sense.

Comment by Swimmy on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, part 20, chapter 90 · 2013-07-02T18:11:50.513Z · LW · GW

Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse Five. I think it comes off a little awkward--more a reminder that Vonnegut was himself in Dresden than anything pertaining to the story.

Comment by Swimmy on The Mystery At The Heart of Central Banking · 2013-06-25T22:15:41.002Z · LW · GW

Scott Sumner is aware of free banking and seems somewhat supportive of it. Same for Lars Christensen. Alex Tabarrok is critical of the Fed and Cowen in response is critical of the anti-Fed case. (But note that the anti-Fed case is not the same as the case FOR free banking--I don't know Tabarrok's actual policy preference.) I can't find any Krugman mentions of free banking but he has offered arguments for a central bank. David Andolfatto, VP of the St. Louis Fed, has said that he sees some merit in free banking arguments but finds some of its modern proponents focusing on weak criticisms of the Fed. He even claims that he invited George Selgin to give a lecture on free banking to that Fed branch. Vera Smith, a Hayek student, claimed that central banking won out due to political motives and historical accident rather than sound economic theory. Keynes, in a passage that isn't quite about free banking, offered a criticism of bank incentives that suggests banks suffer a problem of liquidity preferences that central banks do not, and this can be read as an argument for central banking. (His argument is similar to yours about bank runs.) Brad DeLong included on a course syllabus a 1974 paper on free banking which argued that there was enormous variation in success in free banking in the U.S., with massive hyperinflation in some areas and stable currency in others. I don't know DeLong's actual position on the topic, but "the data suggests that free banking is unreliable" wouldn't surprise me. Of course the footnotes in that paper refer to other papers on central banking, and searching citation will find other research on free banking v. central banking, some of it negative. One of these papers, Whaples', surveyed economic historians and found they near universally agree that the free banking period in the U.S. didn't hurt the economy.

So, yes, I'd say Mankiw's opinion is within the range of normal economist variation. Obviously there are many professional economists who think there are sound market failure arguments in favor of a central bank or that the history of free banking shows a failure rather than success; Mankiw can only be saying that he finds their judgments inadequate, not that they don't exist. Otherwise, he's ignorant. And obviously one can't say that almost the entire economics profession has completely ignored the question. It's still an ongoing debate even among employees of the Fed.

Comment by Swimmy on The Mystery At The Heart of Central Banking · 2013-06-24T22:18:57.387Z · LW · GW

Well, if you're looking for criticism, let's start with this: As someone who has almost certainly spent much more time around economists than you have, I think both of your explanations for the unpopularity of free banking are very bad. On the second point, self-interest has little influence on individuals' politics. This is a robust result in political science across a large range of policies, and so should be the default when discussing why others have the politics they do. Unless you have very good evidence, rather than weak conjecture, you should assume that people's salaries do not determine their political opinions. Your conjecture makes little sense anyway, since under free banking economists would be hired by private banks instead of the Federal Reserve, while getting paid nicely to help shape the economy, and only a small portion of economists work for the Fed anyway. So there's a reasonable case to be made that self-interest would encourage economists to support rather than reject free banking.

For your first criticism, I think you're starting from entirely the wrong assumption. Your argument seems to be, "economists naturally distrust the government except for here, where status quo bias prevents them from doing so."

More reasonably, I think, is that you are simply wrong about what most economists believe. The average economist is a moderate Democrat. They support many, many government monopolies when they think there is a market failure to correct. They support the regulation of natural monopolies, they support antitrust commissions to tell us whether a market is too concentrated, they support the EPA, etc.

Most economists are quite supportive of centralization in the face of market failure, and there is at least one market failure argument with regard to free banking that is quite obvious: you might get too many currencies, the constant exchange of which would cause a large deadweight loss. And that's not just the exchange rates, that's employees now tasked with manning money exchange booths all over town, time wasted going to such vendors, people holding more than the optimal amount of money, etc. Indeed, some people will tell you this is exactly what happened when Switzerland tried free banking. Heck, there's currently a quote regarding that case on the wikipedia page for free banking.

There are good arguments in response to that, and responses to other criticisms of free banking. But your post pretends that such arguments don't even exist. I can find several more.

Not to mention other reasons the typical economist might not spend too much time looking into free banking: Free banking is largely the product of Austrian economists, an unpopular group whose main idea separating them from the mainstream, their business cycle theory, is considered by most economists totally wrong. So a first pass at free banking might see it as an attempt to fix a problem that is incorrectly identified to begin with.

In short: far, far too much confidence on display here. That's what politics does to us, and I'd recommend reading a lot more before continuing your series. As a start, read the references in Selgin and White's papers, you're sure to find some genuine criticisms there.

(Disclaimer: I have no strong opinions on free banking. I think it might be worth a try, that it's a shame we can't run this experiment, and that it's also a shame our historical data isn't good enough to settle the question. I have a Master's in econ from GMU.)

Comment by Swimmy on A hypothesis testing video game · 2013-04-01T06:24:47.445Z · LW · GW

I doubt it will much improve anyone's rationality. It does nicely illustrate a few issues on how science is done, and could be a fun way of explaining for the layman.

Comment by Swimmy on Overcoming bias guy meme | quickmeme · 2013-03-16T21:04:04.156Z · LW · GW

Well, I'll stick up for OB and Hanson.

Hanson posts about interesting things in a droll way. That's intentional, I believe: sometimes he seems to be trying to get a rise out of people, but most of the time he's trying to reduce emotional reactions to his posts.

He's really, really invested in ideas like evolution: simple theories that explain lots of different phenomena. This is why we get lots and lots of posts about signaling, near/far, and farmers/foragers. He thinks that these explain far more than people currently give them credit, so he's trying to expand their influence. If this seems boring, let me just point at that Hanson has provided or advertised:

1) Probably the best explanation for why medical expenditures in the US grow faster than health outcomes.

1.a) What I consider the best post on any blog about what economists can say about health care reform

2) An explanation for traditional scifi aesthetics

3) Why dumbed-down arguments work better in politics

4) An ev/psych hypothesis for left/right political divide

5) An ev/psych hypothesis for the appeal of adventure novels and video game settings

6) Problems with the business world and how to fix them (and why they won't be fixed)

7) The dark side of cooperation

He's also interested in experimentation and clever solutions to social problems. Hence,

1) A fantastic (but probably politically unworkable) way to solve the problem of CEO value.

2) Futarchy, of course. I doubt it would be very efficient on a large scale because of target/noise problems, but on a local government scale I think it could be amazing.

3) Other numerous applications he's come up with or advertised: solving standardization/focal point problems (like blu-ray vs hdvd), solving which movie scripts to fund, etc.

If you have seen much of this expressed better elsewhere, consider the value of originating an idea vs. explaining in different words. A lot of the LW community was around for the OB days when Eliezer and Robin blogged together and many of us have absorbed insights from both of them. And these are all just memorable posts from the top of my head. Digging for them, I found many more interesting posts.

Those political posts that seem like trolling seem to me about questioning our moral instincts, which are often very bad. I appreciate a seemingly bizarre hypothesis over another self-congratulation about why X moral theory confirms what we all already believe anyway, hooray.

Comment by Swimmy on Boring Advice Repository · 2013-03-07T18:27:34.977Z · LW · GW

Compound interest gains most of its power when large amounts have been saved. So if you don't make much money, compound interest simply won't make you rich, you won't be able to save enough (though you can still have a decent retirement). If you make a lot, it doesn't matter as much anyway. If you're middle class and willing to save half your income, then it might make you rich, but that is a painful 30-40 years. Explore the graphs and savings calculator here for examples of what you would need to do to have a million by 60.

Comment by Swimmy on AI box: AI has one shot at avoiding destruction - what might it say? · 2013-01-23T04:56:49.497Z · LW · GW

"If you type 'AI destroyed' right now, you'll be wasting a good opportunity for a fun conversation. You'll still have 'won' if you do it later, and nobody will be impressed with you for just typing 'AI destroyed' immediately, so why not wait?"

I thought of what would work on me, were I playing the game with someone I found interesting. In general, I'd say your best bet is to make the other person laugh hard.

Comment by Swimmy on I attempted the AI Box Experiment (and lost) · 2013-01-23T03:38:49.705Z · LW · GW

Most people don't usually make these kinds of elaborate things up. Prior probability for that hypothesis is low, even if it might be higher for Tuxedage than it would be for an average person. People do actually try the AI box experiment, and we had a big thread about people potentially volunteering to do it a while back, so prior information suggests that LWers do want to participate in these experiments. Since extraordinary claims are extraordinary evidence (within limits), Tuxedage telling this story is good enough evidence that it really happened.

But on a separate note, I'm not sure the prior probability for this being a lie would necessarily be higher just because Tuxedage has some incentive to lie. If it is found out to be a lie, the cause of FAI might be significantly hurt ("they're a bunch of nutters who lie to advance their silly religious cause"). Folks on Rational Wiki watch this site for things like that, so Tuxedage also has some incentive to not lie. Also more than one person has to be involved in this lie, giving a complexity penalty. I suppose the only story detail that needs to be a lie to advance FAI is "I almost won," but then why not choose "I won"?

Comment by Swimmy on I attempted the AI Box Experiment (and lost) · 2013-01-22T05:46:42.978Z · LW · GW

What are "sufficiently huge stakes," out of curiosity?

Comment by Swimmy on I attempted the AI Box Experiment (and lost) · 2013-01-21T19:53:03.643Z · LW · GW

Comment by Swimmy on I attempted the AI Box Experiment (and lost) · 2013-01-21T05:31:44.400Z · LW · GW

I think it's almost certain that one "could," just given how much more time an AI has to think than a human does. Whether it's likely is a harder question. (I still think the answer is yes.)

Comment by Swimmy on January 2013 Media Thread · 2013-01-12T07:55:52.250Z · LW · GW

Have you tried landing on them with shift+g instead of flying into them? If so, I got nothing. They render for me, if slowly.

Comment by Swimmy on January 2013 Media Thread · 2013-01-08T07:50:27.579Z · LW · GW

Not a videogame per se, but still a potential timesink for some of us. I like it anyway.

Space Engine is a free space simulation software that lets you explore the universe in three dimensions, starting from planet Earth to the most distant galaxies. Areas of the known universe are represented using actual astronomical data, while regions uncharted by human astronomy are generated procedurally. Millions of galaxies, trillions of stars, countless planets!

So, a space simulator. Allows FTL travel to get between universes. No interesting creatures like Noctis had, but it is very pretty sometimes.

Edit: Also prone to crashing. Such is life.

Comment by Swimmy on [Link] Hey Extraverts: Enough is Enough · 2013-01-03T22:06:35.166Z · LW · GW

Yeah, my first thought was, because we're animals that evolved to be quite social and have developed cognitive biases in light of that fact! Bet you can find powerful "groupthink" in introverts as well. . . like, say, an insistence on thinking in terms of introverts vs. extroverts.

Comment by Swimmy on Gun Control: How would we know? · 2012-12-20T21:38:17.553Z · LW · GW

There are two obvious effects (guns are more deadly than other weapons, but guns are also a deterrent) and it is not clear which is stronger. It's one of those issues where natural experiments or instrumental variables are our best bet for gaining knowledge, and of course anyone with a stat background will know the troubles with those techniques.

That said, there are studies using those techniques and they are better than a cursory glance at gun laws and homicide rates by country (or by state). And, to my understanding, the results of those studies are resoundly mixed. Some of these are quite controversial, but we're talking about tricky statistical techniques surrounding an emotional political issue, so controversy will abound even if the results are sound.

My takeaway is that this is not an issue worth getting very passionate about one way or the other. Your knowledge should drive your emotions, and if you don't know what effect is strongest, then you should save your emotional energy for more clear-cut or important causes.

If anyone knows of any very elegant studies, please correct me. Obviously I haven't read the whole literature.

Comment by Swimmy on LW Women- Minimizing the Inferential Distance · 2012-11-27T21:48:29.112Z · LW · GW

Here is a chapter from a book about feminism and evolutionary biology. Many pages are missing but you can get the general picture. Examples from the chapter:

Marzluff and Balda sought an "alpha male" in a flock of pinyon jays. The males rarely fight, so they tempted them with treats and considered instead glances from male birds as dominant displays and birds looking in the air as submissive displays. (This is actually plausible, since apparently the "dominant" males would get to eat the treat after doing this.)

About bird fighting, they wrote, "In late winter and early spring. . . birds become aggressive towards other flock members. Mated females seem especially testy. Their hormones surge as the breeding season approaches giving them the avian equivalent of PMS which we call PBS (pre-breeding syndrome)!"

The obvious alternative explanation is that dominance hierarchies may have been more fierce among females and that they instead should have been looking for an alpha female that determines hierarchies among the men.

That one is a bit old. There's a 2010 book of theirs on pinyon jays but I couldn't tell if it kept the same interpretation. So for something from the 90s the author points out that Birkhead's work on magpies shows a similar gender bias. Female magpies can store sperm for later use, and "cheating" is common. Birkhead focuses almost entirely on males nest-hopping for extra mates, and treats female cheating as a curious anomaly: "Interestingly, some [female] magpies. . . appear to seek extra-male matings." When you actually examine the data, "some" is not quite as accurate as "most."

There are other examples in the chapter. Some are better than others.

Comment by Swimmy on LW Women- Minimizing the Inferential Distance · 2012-11-26T19:12:18.326Z · LW · GW

From my wife:

I learned many interesting and useful things from my Women's Studies class, and am glad I decided to try it out. However, I became a pariah when I questioned the professor's account of sexism in biology textbooks. "Eggs are portrayed as passive, while sperm compete to reach them." In my experience, textbooks say what actually happens in the reproductive system, with no sexism to be found. She stuck to her guns. It was unfortunate that she used that example, because there are real examples of gender bias in biology publications.

And back to me:

Just thought it would be useful to provide an example of a questionable claim. She says other people in the class hated her for pointing it out.

Comment by Swimmy on Things philosophers have debated · 2012-11-04T21:34:00.739Z · LW · GW

Here is the abstract for the dissertation linked on Wikipedia. It argues that it is impossible to reject trivialism, as there are no alternatives to trivialism. It furthermore argues that common refutations of trivialism are incorrect for various reasons.

I'm not sure any of that refutes what you just said.

The paper is offered freely on the page.

Comment by Swimmy on Less Wrong Parents · 2012-11-04T17:58:39.054Z · LW · GW

Here is one study, it is fairly typical of the kind. (I can gladly dig up more for you, but this is one of the better ones.) It finds family effects, but they are much smaller than many people would expect. Of course it is more difficult to find out whether a child is "rational" as opposed to intelligent, and the same is true for parents, so there are no data (to my knowledge) on how much parenting affects scientific inquisitiveness.

Comment by Swimmy on [Link] "Fewer than X% of Americans know Y" · 2012-10-11T05:07:08.395Z · LW · GW

Neat! I'll put less confidence in such surveys now. HOWEVER! Many of the questions in such surveys are plain-ol' 50/50, and I have no idea how they could be very biased.

As an example, here is a scan from Carpini and Keeter's What Americans Know About Politics and Why It Matters. You'll notice that, in table 2.7, only 42% of Americans knew that Soviets suffered more deaths than Americans during World War 2. Seems like a coin flip to me, unless they asked, "Who had the most deaths during World War 2?" and ignored all answers besides US and USSR. I still think Americans are pretty durn ignorant of most political and historical matters. (Myself included, for many of the questions. I have no idea who my state's congressmen are (and I don't really care.))

But then, I've never been one to compare this to modern cultural knowledge. I see that as irrelevant. Asking about fresh memory vs. deep memory doesn't tell you about political knowledge per se. Responses should be compared against questions of similar difficulty.

Comment by Swimmy on [Poll] Less Wrong and Mainstream Philosophy: How Different are We? · 2012-09-28T19:43:48.548Z · LW · GW

I wonder how many disjunctivists have actually taken hallucinatory drugs?

Comment by Swimmy on [Poll] Less Wrong and Mainstream Philosophy: How Different are We? · 2012-09-27T02:58:28.330Z · LW · GW

Philosophical problems as a whole are a mix of all 3, and I don't know enough about modern philosophy to empirically determine which answer reigns in the "most." Voted "Other."

Comment by Swimmy on [Poll] Less Wrong and Mainstream Philosophy: How Different are We? · 2012-09-27T02:55:16.421Z · LW · GW

Voted "other" for this reason. Seems like a wrong question.

Comment by Swimmy on Any existential risk angles to the US presidential election? · 2012-09-20T17:53:48.543Z · LW · GW

I'm not saying that your individual vote is going to make any noticeable difference, but the votes of every jaded rationalist in America on the other hand...

By voting, you will not make (or probably even encourage) every jaded rationalist in America to vote, so from a decision theoretical standpoint that observation is irrelevant. The instrumental value of voting is zero. There may be other values (signaling, pleasure, moral), but there is no instrumental value. You will not influence the election, so the expected value of any policy changes arising from just your vote is zero. Once you think of it strictly in terms of decision theory, the relevant variables should present themselves.

For those of us who don't care that much about signaling interest in government and don't think there's any particular moral duty to vote (I think there is frequently a moral duty to abstain), wasting an hour on an internet forum is a much better use of our time.

If I had my way, voting would be compulsory in every democracy on the planet.

I know it's normal in some countries, but I think this is an AWFUL policy. Why? Consider it in economic terms of negative and positive externalities. Say I'm a good voter who knows a thing or two about policy. When I vote, it very (very very very) marginally affects policy outcomes. When a bunch of good voters vote, policy outcomes become better.

Now turn it around. When a bad voter votes, it very (very very very) marginally affects policy outcomes. When a bunch of bad voters vote, policy outcomes become worse.

This is wonderfully analogous to pollution. By leaving a fan on all day, you only very marginally contribute to global warming. So, even if you're interested in stopping global warming for selfish reasons, there's nothing you can personally do to hinder it, so why bother? But there's no personal incentive for anybody to bother, so global warming happens. Meanwhile, global warming affects more people than just you, and bad voting does the same. When you indulge your idiotic ideas of good policy, it doesn't have any effect on the election, so it doesn't have any effect on you. But since everybody's doing it, policy gets dumb.

So the question becomes, when comparing voluntary and mandatory voting, which types of voters are more likely to abstain in a voluntary system?

I don't see the need to hunt for the stats right now, but if you don't believe me, I'll happily scan some relevant sections from Scott Althaus' Collective Preferences in Democratic Politics and Carpini and Keeter's What Americans Know About Politics and Why It Matter. The basic story is this: In America, people who are educated are way more likely to vote than those who aren't, and uneducated people have demonstrably and outrageously boneheaded beliefs about policy. Forcing them to vote is like mandating bad policy.

(Hence what I said earlier about a moral duty to abstain. Like there might be a moral duty to reduce your carbon consumption, even though it will have no effect on the environment, there might be a moral duty to abstain from voting if you're an ignoramus.)

Comment by Swimmy on Rationality Quotes September 2012 · 2012-09-04T00:44:33.250Z · LW · GW

I thought the correct answer would be, "No time for programming, too busy pushing a boulder."

Though, since the whole thing was a punishment, I have no idea what the punishment for not doing his punishment would be. Can't find it specified anywhere.

Comment by Swimmy on The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world? · 2012-08-28T19:59:23.496Z · LW · GW

What is the strong version of "taxation is theft", for example?

Simple: "taxation is theft and is also just as wrong as mugging because 1) the supposed benefits of government programs aren't really there and 2) majority voting doesn't make mugging any better than theft by a gang of robbers is better than theft by a single robber." All of these arguments can be made stronger by specifying the reasons you should ignore the major differences between the moral issue in question and the archetypal example's.

Comment by Swimmy on [LINK] Cryonics - without even trying · 2012-08-18T18:31:17.468Z · LW · GW

Maybe by chance I checked the one US state that's different from all others, and many EU countries? Probably not.

You did. Most states require autopsy for any criminal/unnatural causes of death, including suicide. Oregon (and Washington) has a death with dignity law, which makes suicide non-criminal in some cases. The standard autopsy exemption in most states comes from a doctor's signature that the cause of death was known and natural. To my knowledge there's no compendium of state autopsy laws anywhere, you have to look state by state, but on average suicide is an instant mandatory autopsy.

In some states you can block an autopsy based on religious belief. Some people have organized to make cryonics a verified religious exemption to save time on paperwork. Only a few states explicitly allow this, however. See here.

Comment by Swimmy on Rationality Quotes August 2012 · 2012-08-09T19:23:15.790Z · LW · GW

Though the voice isn't, the sentiment seems similar to something Twain would say. Though I'd expect a little more cynicism from him.

Comment by Swimmy on Evolutionary psychology as "the truth-killer" · 2012-07-30T05:47:06.718Z · LW · GW

I agree with the other commentors on two things: you very likely won't be able to change your father's mind and that shouldn't be your goal, and an evo-psych book probably won't help. There are successful statistical evo-psych studies, but I think you should take the conversation to another level.

Specifically, as another commenter posted, the Euthyphro dilemma makes his line of reasoning very questionable. God-centered theories of morality are SUBJECTIVE morality theories, as evidenced by a simple thought experiment: imagine Satan, instead of the Christian god, created the world. In this hypothetical are murder and rape now moral? If not, then the act of creating humans and telling them what to do can't be a true objective source of morality.

Or, another revealing thought experiment: why, in detail, does god being god make him an arbiter of morality? The answer will usually be something like, "promise of eternal punishment/reward," "he's very wise," "the creation must not question the creator." These all correlate to PRIOR moral mandates that you must accept before following god's morality (respectively, "moral actions are based entirely on personal consequences," "smart people are always moral and should be followed," and "morality is strictly founded on rules passed down from a creator to a creation"). The point isn't that all of these prior moral rules are bad (though they are), but that they simply have to exist. You can't get to "we should follow god" without one.

Put very plainly: if god's a bad guy, we shouldn't do what he says.

If your father agrees to this, then you've divorced morality from god and have a more productive conversation on the origin of morality. If he doesn't, then he's admitted that he could be a bad guy; how could he possibly lecture you on morality after that?

(The common rejoinder is that god simply is goodness, or that goodness is essential to his nature; this is a black box tactic, a stopping point. If you poke further you'll see that it's not an answer at all. Be ready for this. If he insists, ask him to play rationalist's taboo with "nature." If he won't, then drop the conversation! Argument is about resolving confusion and learning new things. Those who refuse to take steps to those goals are not worth your emotional energy, no matter how close you might be to them on an emotional level.)

My friend, who is a campus minister, asked me to read the same book after hearing I was an atheist. I read the whole thing and found it very, very bad. My copy is filled with notes. I'd be happy to share further thoughts through pm if you have more difficulty. But first and foremost my suggestion is to get your relationship with your father to a point such that he isn't frequently haranguing you about your beliefs. Study takes time; you can't usually be prepared for any argument he can throw at you. But they will almost certainly not be novel. They will largely be cached and rehearsed arguments. Tell him that you feel debate should be about learning, not about winning, and so you should take time to study his arguments.

The answers are out there. The problem is that some of them are very technical, and some of them rely on revealing errors of thought you probably don't yet know. The rest of my rambling about morality was just to help this process. However, make notes of how much mental and emotional energy you are spending on this. There are harder questions in life. Given that you don't believe in god, there are probably more important questions as well. Remember not to get bogged down. Take long breaks, or simply ignore it if it's too much of a hassle. The degree to which you owe him a debate is a function of your emotional relationship and nothing else. There's no principle of it.

Comment by Swimmy on Learn Power Searching with Google · 2012-07-04T20:50:00.252Z · LW · GW

I registered as well. Not sure that I'll learn anything new, but I sure would like to.

Comment by Swimmy on Rationality Quotes July 2012 · 2012-07-04T19:59:01.779Z · LW · GW

Interesting, and I would happily bet against that prediction.

Comment by Swimmy on Shaving: Less Long · 2012-05-21T01:11:21.483Z · LW · GW

Electric razors hurt. They pull hairs out of my face, even when they are sharp. I used them from 15 years old to 26 and I am never going back.

For the hair on my upper neck, I never found an electric razor that much cut them at all, since they're at a funny angle. I would rub an electric all over them for a while and never get as close as I could on my face. Combine with the fact that electrics hurt and my change was obvious.

Comment by Swimmy on [SEQ RERUN] My Childhood Role Model · 2012-05-15T18:39:42.436Z · LW · GW

You're correct, of course, but I don't think "village idiot" traditionally refers to severly mentally disabled people. Usually it means a person in a group known for being a simpleton. Users on LW with many posts and extremely negative karma scores might be a better reference group.

Comment by Swimmy on Is friendly AI "trivial" if the AI cannot rewire human values? · 2012-05-10T18:15:28.438Z · LW · GW

It's irrelevant. In a world of world-destroying technologies, a really bad thing happening for only a small amount of time is all it takes. The Cold War wasn't even close to the horror of Nazi domination (probably)--there were still lots of happy people with decent governments in the west! But everyone still could have died.

What if Nazis had developed nuclear weapons? What if the AI self-reproduces, without self-improving, such that the Big Bad they're supporting has an army of super-efficient researchers and engineers? What if they had gotten to the hydrogen bomb around the same time the US had gotten the atom bomb? What if the Big Bad develops nanomachines, programmable to self-replicate and destroy anyone who opposes, or who passes a certain boundary? What kind of rebellion or assassination attempt could stand up to that? What if the humans want the AI, rather than another human, to be the leader of their Big Bad Movement, making their evil leader both easily replicable and immune to nanomachine destruction?

Hell, what if the AI gets no more competent or powerful than a human? It can still, in the right position, start a thermonuclear war, just the same as high-level weapons techs or--hell!--technical errors can. Talented spies can make it to sufficiently high levels of government operation; why couldn't a machine do so? Or hire a spy to do so?

And if the machine thinks that's the best way to make people happy (for whatever horrible reason--perhaps it is convinced by the Repugnant Conclusion and wants to maximize utility by wiping out all the immiserated Russians), we're still in trouble.

However, if you're trying to describe an AI that is set to maximize human value, understands the complexities of the human mind, and won't make such mistakes, then you are describing friendly AI.

Edit: In other words, I contend that the future threat of General AI is not in modifying humans with nanotechnology. It is in simple general ability to shape the world, even if that only means manipulating objects using current technologies. If we're defining "intelligence" as the ability to manipulate atoms to shape the world according to our bliss points, a machine that can think thousands of times faster than humans will be able to do so at least hundreds of times better than humans. This is especially true if it can replicate, which, given this hypothesis, it will almost certainly be able to. If we add intelligence explosion to the mix, we're in big trouble.

Comment by Swimmy on [SEQ RERUN] When Science Can't Help · 2012-05-08T01:49:08.889Z · LW · GW

This is debatable, but I'm in the camp that many worlds is testable against collapse interpretations, if not other interpretations. Seeing typical quantum observations for a macroscopic body would settle it pretty easily. We just need to be able to accelerate baseballs in baseball accelerators.

Comment by Swimmy on Seeking links for the best arguments for economic libertarianism · 2012-05-04T01:01:23.594Z · LW · GW

I wouldn't look for Grand Arguments about why every sphere of the economy should adopt libertarian policies. Most of these are based on bad philosophy. Look instead at individual policy issues and see what libertarians say.

For example: Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom is split into individual chapters on policy issues. Few parts of the book take a big picture view of things. This is probably what you're looking for, but you also have to remember that it's a popular rather than a technical book, so if you find yourself wary of any individual empirical assertion you'll have to go hunting for the relevant literature on your own. The best arguments are buried in economics journals, along with the best arguments for significant government intervention, etc.

You'll also have to go digging from many different angles. That X policy works doesn't mean that X policy's benefits outweigh its costs, so you'll also have to dig through the empirical literature in Law and Econ and Public Choice to measure the cost of carrying out any individual policy.

Capitalism and Freedom is also outdated in many of its empirical assertions, though many have held up. Again, you'll have to go digging one-by-one.

I can help more if you narrow your question down to individual policy summaries. Asking for all the best arguments on antitrust regulation, free trade, the optimal level of taxation, the optimal type of tax, the optimal level of spending on education, anti-discrimination laws, the optimal level of spending on public goods, the optimal level of taxation on negative externalities, the optimal level of fiscal stimulus in a recession, the relative merits of monetary vs. fiscal stimulus, the net effects of redistribution, the net effects of occupational licensing, the net effects of each individual government regulation--to name just a few policy issues!--is way too tall an order.

Comment by Swimmy on Open Thread, May 1-15, 2012 · 2012-05-01T19:11:45.191Z · LW · GW

Experimental economists use cogsci sometimes. Many economists incorporate those findings into models. And you can find Bayesian models in game theory, as alternate equilibrium concepts. But if you're looking for a school of universally Bayesian economists who employ research from cognitive science to make predictions, you won't find them. And I don't really know why it would matter. You won't find many biologists using cogsci rationality either, but that doesn't mean their research findings are false.

Ignore schools of thought entirely and focus on independent empirical/theoretical questions. Use your cogsci rationality skills to differentiate between good and bad arguments and to properly weigh empirical papers. The historical disciplines are largely about politics anyway. The biggest tips for assessing econ are: 1) Most empirical papers are (sometimes necessarily) bad and should only change your priors by a small amount; you should look for overwhelming empirical findings if an argument goes against your (reasonable) priors, and 2) High degrees of consensus are a very good sign. On that second point, most textbooks will be stuff that most economists agree on.

Comment by Swimmy on [SEQ RERUN] Collapse Postulates · 2012-04-30T17:24:19.234Z · LW · GW

I propose a theory: It isn't the "strong nuclear interaction" that binds protons and neutrons together, it's actually very tiny little angels that live in between the particles and hold them together. They are also responsible for binding quarks together.

What's that you say? "Invisible fairies" is a complicated hypothesis that needs extra evidence to contend with strong nuclear interaction theory? Well, they are experimentally no different, so you need to directly falsify my angel theory.

What's that you say? The existence of indetectable invisible magical sapient beings that are too small to contain any known possible mind configurations violates some known laws of physics, so our Bayesian prior should be highly weighed against them? Who cares? I'm going to believe in them until you prove that they are experimentally inferior to strong nuclear interaction theory.

(By the way, "Jesus holds atoms together" is genuinely proposed by some.)

Comment by Swimmy on Do people think Less Wrong rationality is parochial? · 2012-04-30T01:51:46.664Z · LW · GW

I've linked LW several times on a (videogame) forum and the reaction has been mostly positive. A few are regular readers now, though I don't believe any participate in discussion. I think two have read most of the sequences. At least one regularly links EY articles on Facebook.

Another small sample, of course. And I haven't really linked articles on FAI/MWI/cryonics.

Comment by Swimmy on What's wrong with psychology, anyway? · 2012-04-30T01:43:22.886Z · LW · GW

Do you mean the average psychologist, the average elite academic psychologist, or what? Experimental econ is psychology, and lots of psychologists study it. I have no idea what the average psychologist thinks about supply and demand or eye tracking, though.

Comment by Swimmy on What's wrong with psychology, anyway? · 2012-04-30T01:34:00.098Z · LW · GW

Furthermore, we should expect grants to go to those projects that show the most promise for publishing. "Publishable" does not mean "good," and publication bias is one of the biggest pathologies of modern science. This is a lousy metric.

Comment by Swimmy on A Kick in the Rationals: What hurts you in your LessWrong Parts? · 2012-04-25T21:46:18.072Z · LW · GW

Oh, lots of things. "Suspension of moral disbelief," I suppose, causes me to rage the hardest inside, though I rarely get in arguments over it. There's too much inferential distance to close before people change from defense/rationalization mode to actually-goddamn-thinking-about-it mode. So I don't generally go about to my family members screaming "YOUR GOD CONDONES RAPE!" even though every time I hear an argument about how morality comes from god, my blood boils.

Comment by Swimmy on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, part 16, chapter 85 · 2012-04-23T02:10:41.406Z · LW · GW

In that case you are completely correct! But I think the counteropinion generally being expressed here, if not clearly, is that prisons are extremely brutal.

Comment by Swimmy on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, part 16, chapter 85 · 2012-04-21T10:20:30.037Z · LW · GW

If your argument is simply "brutality acts as a deterrent," it's almost certainly true. If your argument is, "Therefore the current level of prison brutality is optimal," or, "we should be happy with prison brutality," the only counterargument needed is that nobody's provided any evidence at all for those positions.

But if either of those is the assertion, here are some counterarguments: 1) There is a countereffect: longer (and therefore more brutal) prison sentences increase rates of recidivism. 2) Flogging and caning are brutal deterrents. Many (most?) people will take a punishment of flogging over a punishment of a long prison sentence when given the choice. Ergo at least for many, prisons are more brutal than literal torture. 3) From a cursory glance at stats, violent crime rates don't seem to be much lower in countries with higher incidences of prison rape or prison hospitalizations. I would like to see some rigorous analysis on this. 4) Violent crime rates don't seem to be much higher in countries that employ flogging or caning. Again, not a rigorous statistical analysis, but weak evidence nonetheless. 5) Let's not forget that we're trying to minimize violent crime, and prison brutality is just the perpetration of violent crime while in prison. Prisoners are people too, and many of them are innocent or overcharged. Determining optimal brutality levels will take this into account. 6) And of course I shouldn't even have to say that a large number of people undergoing the brutality of prison are completely innocent of hurting anybody at all; they are only guilty of crimes that shouldn't be crimes.

I don't think there's any evidence at all that the brutality levels in western prisons are optimal. But are they a deterrent? Yeah, sure. And the death penalty is a deterrent of shoplifting. What's the relevance to the actual debate of prison brutality? That people who applaud prison brutality have a point? Not any more than advocates of the death penalty for shoplifting do.