No One Knows Stuff 2009-05-12T05:11:45.183Z · score: 7 (22 votes)
On the Fence? Major in CS 2009-05-07T04:26:14.714Z · score: 18 (31 votes)
Rational Groups Kick Ass 2009-04-25T02:37:31.992Z · score: 27 (32 votes)
Two Blegs 2009-03-26T04:42:32.223Z · score: 4 (5 votes)
Playing Video Games In Shuffle Mode 2009-03-23T11:59:33.469Z · score: 20 (19 votes)


Comment by talisman on Mathematical simplicity bias and exponential functions · 2009-08-29T03:00:46.321Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I do not think your claim is what you think it is.

I think your claim is that some people mistake the model for the reality, the map for the territory. Of course models are simpler than reality! That's why they're called "models."

Physics seems to have gotten wiser about this. The Newtonians, and later the Copenhagenites, did fall quite hard for this trap (though the Newtonians can be forgiven to some degree!). More recently, however, the undisputed champion physical model, whose predictions hold to 987 digits of accuracy (not really), has the humble name "The Standard Model," and it's clear that no one thinks it's the ultimate true nature of reality.

Can you give specific examples of people making big mistakes from map/territory confusion? The closest thing I can think of offhand is the Stern Report, which tries to make economic calculations a century from now based on our current best climate+social+political+economic models.

Comment by talisman on Bead Jar Guesses · 2009-05-12T16:34:38.480Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Belated apologies for cranky tone on this comment.

Comment by talisman on No One Knows Stuff · 2009-05-12T16:24:43.838Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Done, thanks for the feedback!

I made the mistake I'm talking about---assuming certain things were well-known.

Comment by talisman on No One Knows Stuff · 2009-05-12T14:16:51.106Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I actually think Liron's slideshow needs a lot of work, but it seems very much like the kind of thing LWers should be trying to do out in the world.

the slideshow was completely useless to me

Yes, of course it was. It was created for teenagers who are utterly unfamiliar with this way of thinking.

its quality was poor

OK. Can you improve it or do better?

Comment by talisman on No One Knows Stuff · 2009-05-12T11:45:06.912Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Definitely worth reading up. K & T are the intellectual fathers of the entire modern heuristics and biases program. There was some earlier work (e.g. Allais) but from what I hazily recall that work was fairly muddled conceptually.

Comment by talisman on No One Knows Stuff · 2009-05-12T11:43:31.603Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Funny. I feel like on OB and LW utility theory is generally taken as the air we breathe.

Comment by talisman on Framing Consciousness · 2009-05-12T04:38:41.330Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted for calling your own post "completely wrong"!

Comment by talisman on Framing Consciousness · 2009-05-12T04:36:54.936Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Vladimir - "concentrated confusion", "a thousand angry cats": that's exactly the kind of spice that your earlier post needed! :-)

Also fewer function words...

Comment by talisman on You Are A Brain · 2009-05-12T04:29:40.471Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW
  • Let me add to the chorus of "you rock!" This is a nice piece of work. I don't know how you got the chance to present to a group of young people about this stuff, but kudos also to whoever gave you that opportunity.
  • Some have pointed out potential improvements. This seems like a solid way for anyone interested to add a quantum of effort to the cause---improve the presentation a bit, and post your improved version somewhere. (Where?)
Comment by talisman on On the Fence? Major in CS · 2009-05-07T13:50:05.542Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't at all disagree that for those who can do it, the CS/math parlay is excellent.

Comment by talisman on On the Fence? Major in CS · 2009-05-07T13:45:08.053Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I am very successful in my secret identity life, so no, this is not some kind of grass-is-greener observation; rather, it's an attempt to give practical advice to my younger selves out there. I majored in math and physics, and did well, and am in the world now, and can concretely see the ways that a CS education would have helped me, ways that people less smart than I am think better!

As soon as I graduated with a CS degree I realized I should have been in philosophy the whole time.

I'm comparing CS only to other technical majors.

CS is not something everyone can fall in love with and think about in the shower and over lunch and drifting off to sleep.

I'm not proposing CS as an academic discipline, but as a discipline for training the mind for work in the world.

Do I know the intricate details of every reader's intellectual life? Do I claim that everyone who's currently majoring in math or econ drop it and switch to CS?

To quote Robin:

[S]harp people ... distinguish themselves by not assuming more than needed to keep the conversation going.

Comment by talisman on On the Fence? Major in CS · 2009-05-07T05:23:26.645Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

True, but what I want to emphasize is that the CS way of thinking is extremely valuable outside of the software field.

Comment by talisman on Consider Representative Data Sets · 2009-05-07T05:21:37.035Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think the problem is a combination of:

  • length
  • density of ideas too low --- long section resummarizing old posts
  • prose hard to read, feels somehow flat --- try using shorter paragraphs, varying sentence lengths, using more tangible words and examples

Comparing to Robin's and Eliezer's stuff, the gold standards:

Robin's are generally very short, high-level, and high-density. Easy to read quickly for "what's this about? do I care?" and then reread several times to think carefully about.

Eliezer's are long and lower-density but meticulous and carefully arranged so that the ideas build brick on brick (and also offset length with effective, dramatic prose).

I would suggest trying to write this post Robin-style and see how it comes out: present your key points in as strong, terse and efficient a way as you can, even if you lose some people. Writing long posts seems harder.

Also, try pulling out some individual sentences and reading them out of context. Just to grab one almost at random: "Contamination by Priming is a problem that relates to the process of implicitly introducing the facts in the attended data set." Pretty inscrutable.

Compare to Anna Salomon's description of the same thing: "To sum up the principle briefly: your brain builds you up a self-image. You are the kind of person who says, and does... whatever it is your brain remembers you saying and doing." Even though hers is longer in words, the concepts are clearer and more explicit. The text is bouncier and has more places for the mind to grab onto.

Hope that helps? Good luck!

Comment by talisman on Bead Jar Guesses · 2009-05-05T04:17:08.362Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's because you didn't specify the sequence ahead of time, right?

Comment by talisman on Bead Jar Guesses · 2009-05-05T04:11:46.824Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Groundless or not, if you propoose to run two experiments X and Y, and select outcomes x of experiment X and y of experiment Y before running the experiments, and assign x and y the same probabilities, you have to be equally surprised by x occurring as you are by y occurring, or I'm missing something deep about what you're saying about probabilities. Are you using the word "probability" in a different sense than Jaynes?

Comment by talisman on Bead Jar Guesses · 2009-05-05T03:33:32.614Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This post confused me enormously. I thought I must be missing something, but reading over the comments, this seems to be true for virtually all readers.

What exactly do you mean by "bead jar guess"? "Surprise"? "Actual probability"? Are you making a new point or explaining something existing? Are you purposely being obscure "to make us think"?

I propose replacing this entire post with the following text:

Hey everybody! Read E.T. Jaynes's Probability Theory: The Logic Of Science!

Comment by talisman on Rational Groups Kick Ass · 2009-04-28T01:12:45.805Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Relatively rational people can form deeply irrational groups, and vice versa.

I would probably take a group with rational institutions but irrational members over a group with irrational institutions but rational members.

Of course, rational people will be better on average at building rational groups, so I would still predict a positive correlation in the experiment.

Comment by talisman on Rational Groups Kick Ass · 2009-04-28T00:56:27.132Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW
  • I was several years away from starting to learn about x-rationality when I met my partner.

  • Since there seems to be some interest, I'm going to try to collect my thoughts to describe the contribution of x-rationality to my personal life, but this may take considerable time; I've never tried to put it in words, and there's a strong dash of "dancing about architecture" to it.

Comment by talisman on Rational Groups Kick Ass · 2009-04-25T03:53:11.075Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I wanted to avoid the anecdotes-ain't-data writeoff and to avoid making the post too much about me specifically. Is that a mistake?

Comment by talisman on What's in a name? That which we call a rationalist… · 2009-04-25T03:09:19.649Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I love the word "aspiring." It feels...aspirational. Humble.

I don't like "Less Wronger" or other names that are about the affiliation rather than the thing itself.

Comment by talisman on What's in a name? That which we call a rationalist… · 2009-04-25T03:05:03.026Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

A week ago I would have thought this was a silly discussion. As I've thought more about LW's group nature, I've realized that this kind of cultural thing does matter.

It feels group-narcissistic to waste time on this, but the small difference this makes will be magnified over years and hundreds of thousands of repetitions. E.g.: at some point a major news outlet will do an article on OB/LW, and it will repeatedly use whatever the self-moniker is, and impressions of OB/LW will be slightly altered. (Parallel: I can't stop being marginally more negative on Google because their employees call themselves "googlers.")

The name will also subtly affect internal psychology and self-perception, and act as a slight magnet or a slight repellent over time.

It's worth taking the time to think about this and work on it, even if it takes a couple of weeks. Don't give up if the right answer doesn't show up in the next twelve hours.

Comment by talisman on Rational Groups Kick Ass · 2009-04-25T02:46:47.480Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There are three specific examples linked to; I agree that I could/should have done more.

Comment by talisman on Great Books of Failure · 2009-04-19T03:29:22.285Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Judgement Day by Nathaniel Branden. (I think this is the same book as My Years With Ayn Rand.)

Hero becomes Ayn Rand's closest confidant, co-builder of Objectivism, lover; gets drummed out.

Message: every cause wants to be a cult; the enormous power of personal charisma; an excellent antidote for the recalcitrant Objectivist in your life.

Comment by talisman on Great Books of Failure · 2009-04-19T03:14:46.819Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I disagree strongly that "the danger of leverage" is the key message of LTCM. The key message for rationalists has to do with the subtle nature of correlation; the key message for risk managers has to do with the importance of liquidity.

"The danger of leverage" also isn't much of a message. That's like saying the message of the Iraq War is "the danger of foreign policy."

Does "popular belief" hold that LTCM wasn't hedged? Anyone who believes that is very far from learning anything from the LTCM story.

Comment by talisman on Great Books of Failure · 2009-04-19T03:07:20.769Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Not to focus exclusively on markets, and it's not a book, but this page of a Michael Lewis piece from is a crucial read (and short!):

I was shocked to learn that when the big Wall Street firms all became public companies, which is arguably the most important precursor event to the current unpleasantness, many people knew this was a terrible idea!

There are at least two parts to the failure message: think carefully about the public company structure and how it changes your institutions' incentives; and listen to the wise.

The rest of the piece is entertaining but not on point to the current discussion and not a must-read.

Comment by talisman on Great Books of Failure · 2009-04-19T02:56:02.244Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What are the best books about the fall of the Roman Empire?

This seems like one of the most important failures in history, and most important to understand.

I just started Peter Heather's book, but haven't read enough to say anything except that the writing is a bit clunky.

Comment by talisman on Great Books of Failure · 2009-04-19T02:52:08.923Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A Demon Of Our Own Design by Richard Bookstaber

This book came out two years ago but reads like it was just written.

The lesson is similar to e.g. When Genius Failed but it gets into the grit a bit more and is more detailedly insightful about markets. Bookstaber has worked in markets rather than just writing about them, and it shows.

Dull in spots, but that's fairly standard in books like this, since you can't sell a 130-page book.

Comment by talisman on Great Books of Failure · 2009-04-19T02:48:06.861Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't buy this account of Enron, which has become the standard fable. There was a lot there that was more like straight-up fraud than smart people overcomplicating things and missing the down-home common sense.

Edit: I agree with the "hiding from reality = downward spiral" part strongly.

Comment by talisman on Too much feedback can be a bad thing · 2009-04-13T15:06:49.615Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Ungated here:

Comment by talisman on Two Blegs · 2009-03-27T00:55:51.426Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks; I had forgotten about that post.

Comment by talisman on Two Blegs · 2009-03-26T22:41:13.462Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'd like to understand the precise arguments so that I can understand the limits, so that I can think about Robin and Eliezer's disagreement, so I can get intuition for the Hanson/Cowen statement that "A more detailed analysis says not only that people must ultimately agree, but also that the discussion path of their alternating expressed opinions must follow a random walk." I'm guessing that past the terminology it's not actually that complicated, but I haven't been able to find the four hours to understand all the terminology and structure.

Comment by talisman on The Good Bayesian · 2009-03-26T02:45:25.928Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

This post feels out of accord with the Virtues. It feels like a debate brief against religion rather than a curious, light, humble, empirical exploration. "On the wrong side of every moral issue in American history"? "Denying the government billions in tax revenue"? This doesn't strike me as the talk of a truthseeker; rather, a polemicist.

Religion is true (vague, but you know what I mean I hope) with a very low odds ratio, perhaps 1-to-100k against? In any case way down in the hazy low probability region where the intuition has a hard time. Call it evidence of -70 to -40 decibels.

Religion net helps the total utility of humans in the present day with a still adverse but much higher odds ratio. I would be reluctant to go as far as -15 decibels.

It seems to me that you are conflating the two numbers.

Your first point about the claim of privacy is good, though.

Comment by talisman on Terrorism is not about Terror · 2009-03-25T03:55:09.315Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Hm. I'm far from an expert, and it could well be that there are ten times as many anonymous attacks, but off the top of my head I think of WTC '93, the Millenium plot, 9/11, London trains, Madrid trains, Israel suicide bombings, Munich massacre, Iraq beheadings, USS Cole, bombings of US embassies.

Not off the top of my head: Golden Mosque bombing, Tamil Tigers numerous bombings, IRA-related terrorism, etc. Scanning through this I find many more terrorist attacks that were done with a clear political or propaganda purpose.

Comment by talisman on Contests vs. Real World Problems · 2009-03-25T02:57:01.213Z · score: 11 (15 votes) · LW · GW

The fear and hatred of gambling. Contra Tyler Cowen, betting your beliefs is one of the best paths to both individual and group rationality. You should be doing it twice a day, like brushing your teeth. The beliefs that don't get bet get cavities and rot; the beliefs that are unbettable create unbreakable deadlocks that later require ophtalmological intervention. Bet!

Comment by talisman on Terrorism is not about Terror · 2009-03-25T02:33:56.890Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Modeling terrorists as trying to kill as many people as possible strikes me as insufficient. In Terror and Consent, Philip Bobbitt models their aims as propagandistic, which feels more like the right angle---hence the focus on inefficient but spectacular killing.

Comment by talisman on Playing Video Games In Shuffle Mode · 2009-03-23T23:44:53.142Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

That assumes beginners know what they know, which strikes me as a poor assumption.

Comment by talisman on Playing Video Games In Shuffle Mode · 2009-03-23T23:42:55.175Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That link doesn't work due to the angle brackets.

Comment by talisman on Playing Video Games In Shuffle Mode · 2009-03-23T13:54:52.685Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Rereading some of those old posts it's fascinating to see how much Eliezer's writing has sharpened from then to now!

Comment by talisman on Playing Video Games In Shuffle Mode · 2009-03-23T13:26:03.442Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW


Comment by talisman on Playing Video Games In Shuffle Mode · 2009-03-23T12:00:38.231Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I can't get the html links to work; can someone help?

Comment by talisman on Mind Control and Me · 2009-03-23T01:42:46.676Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

To be clear, my comment above isn't meant to be a "charge"! Among other things, Eliezer is exceptionally gifted at making ideas interesting and accessible in a way that Robin isn't at all. I'm looking forward to his book coming out and changing the world.

I personally love his stuff, and think it's great 1) for people that are completely new to these ideas; 2) for people that are fairly advanced and have the ideas deep in their bones.

For people in between, I sometimes feel like his writing presents too much of a glide path---answers too many questions for the student, guides the reader too unerringly to the answers, presents a polished surface that makes it hard for inexperienced learners to understand the components of the thought process and learn to do the same themselves.

Comment by talisman on Mind Control and Me · 2009-03-21T19:08:19.403Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

It's much more than peer pressure. Eliezer, along with the other authors, use a confident, rhythmic, almost biblical style, which is very entertaining and compelling. You don't just learn deep things with EY, you feel like you're learning deep things. Robin Hanson's thought is incredibly deep, but his style is much more open, and I would guess you find his writings not to have this property.

Robin and Eliezer have debated writing style over at OB, and I highly recommend you read that debate, Patrick.

You should also, in my opinion, be very cautious about this feeling; there's a reason that religious writings have this style, and I would bet you would be less able to find logical gaps in something written in this style. I had a similar set of experiences as an adolescent Randian.

Comment by talisman on 3 Levels of Rationality Verification · 2009-03-15T22:33:37.089Z · score: 36 (32 votes) · LW · GW

Occasionally, well-respected community members could say things that are intentionally false, but persuasive and subtle, a la

You get points for catching these mistakes. Perhaps you submit your busts privately to some arbiter so others have the same challenge.

Later, the error is revealed and discussed.

This would also have the benefit of causing everyone to read the most-respected members' writings ultra-critically, rather than sitting back and being spoon-fed.

One key thing this idea has is short term feedback. Frequent, rapid feedback is essential for getting good at this kind of thing. (IMO that's why economics is still so useless relative to the other sciences: the experiments take fifty years to run.)

Comment by talisman on Is Santa Real? · 2009-03-14T01:51:03.036Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The phraseology "raise them X" suggests to me inculcating deep, emotional, childhood-locked belief in X. The only X for which that seems supportable is rationality itself.

Comment by talisman on Is Santa Real? · 2009-03-14T01:48:12.642Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Raise them many-worlds.

Comment by talisman on Selective processes bring tag-alongs (but not always!) · 2009-03-12T01:26:48.299Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I do a lot of interviewing candidates for jobs, and it's essential to be aware of both those concepts. In working on our hiring process, we discuss both concepts, in words very similar to yours.

I've heard occasional complaints about certain things we do in our interviews, of the form "what does X have to do with being a good Y?!". These complaints invariably come from people who didn't get offers, and give me a warm glow at having made the correct decision.

Comment by talisman on Simultaneously Right and Wrong · 2009-03-09T04:05:56.689Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

No idea the extent to which EY's approval upped this, but what I can say is that I was less than half through the post before I jumped to the bottom, voted Up, and looked for any other way to indicate approval.

It's immediately surprising, interesting, obvious-in-retrospect-only, and most importantly, relevant to everyday life. Superb.