Teaching a short class on Bayes' Theorem? 2011-12-07T21:45:35.666Z
Ideas for heuristics and biases research topic? 2011-09-25T18:20:53.170Z
Judgment Under Uncertainty summaries, Part 1: Representativeness 2011-08-15T00:05:21.815Z
Background material for reading Judgment Under Uncertainty? 2011-06-25T02:24:41.353Z
Calculus textbook recommendation? 2011-05-29T06:20:02.382Z
Link: "When Science Goes Psychic" 2011-01-08T09:00:30.761Z
Meta: Cleaning the front page 2010-12-20T04:45:32.570Z
The Truth about Scotsmen, or: Dissolving Fallacies 2010-12-05T21:57:07.976Z


Comment by Tesseract on (Virtual) Employment Open Thread · 2014-06-10T16:18:30.159Z · LW · GW

Okay. I'm not going to post my writeup since it's a little outdated — close to two years old now — and contains a lot of info irrelevant to this discussion, but the gist:

I tried out piracetam very actively (using it frequently, varying a lot of things, and closely noting the effects) for about two months in summer 2012, and have been using it periodically since then. I didn't notice any long-term effects, though I don't think I've actually ever tried to test the effects of a fixed long-term regimen.

What I did find was very dramatic acute effects, starting within an hour or two after taking it and lasting for a couple hours. These effects included music enhancement, visual enhancement (colors look brighter, textures look sharper), relief from anxiety/depression accompanied by a sense of clarity, and often mild euphoria.

While I haven't done any blind tests and therefore can't be entirely sure the effects aren't placebo, they're often quite strong (e.g. piracetam has helped me go from being very anxious to feeling very clear and self-possessed in situations where I wouldn't expect that to happen otherwise) and some of them feel quite unlike any state I experience when not using piracetam.

It does seem to be difficult to get piracetam to work right, though — there seems to be idiosyncrasy in the dose people respond to, you have to figure out how much choline to take with it, tolerance builds, you might need to take a high initial dose ('attack dose') to get effects immediately, etc. I can see how this unreliability might seem characteristic of a placebo, but I can also see how it might cause people to falsely conclude that something was a placebo because they didn't get effects from it easily.

Comment by Tesseract on (Virtual) Employment Open Thread · 2014-06-06T22:57:39.674Z · LW · GW

Is this talking about me (SL), or is there some other person of our acquaintance who's written up an experience with piracetam? I can chime in with my experiences if so desired.

Comment by Tesseract on [Link] Some notes on Rationality in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality · 2012-06-16T17:15:10.277Z · LW · GW

This particular reference is from James & Bolstein, 1992, and Eliezer gets it from Influence, Science and Practice. It's on chapter 2, page 26 in the fifth edition.

Comment by Tesseract on Rationality Lessons Learned from Irrational Adventures in Romance · 2012-02-02T06:59:01.098Z · LW · GW

This comment is shockingly insightful and I would like to thank you for it.

Comment by Tesseract on Rationality Quotes February 2012 · 2012-02-01T19:53:34.297Z · LW · GW

What is the aim of philosophy? To be clear-headed rather than confused; lucid rather than obscure; rational rather than otherwise; and to be neither more, nor less, sure of things than is justifiable by argument or evidence. That is worth trying for.

Geoffrey Warnock

Comment by Tesseract on Rationality Quotes December 2011 · 2011-12-01T17:43:01.558Z · LW · GW

Education helps close the gap between what man believes to be the truth and truth itself.

Richard Scholz

Comment by Tesseract on Rationality Quotes December 2011 · 2011-12-01T17:40:37.113Z · LW · GW

One of the toughest things in any science... is to weed out the ideas that are really pleasing but unencumbered by truth.

Thomas Carew

Comment by Tesseract on Rationality Quotes December 2011 · 2011-12-01T17:39:22.842Z · LW · GW

A system for generating ungrounded but mostly true beliefs would be an oracle, as impossible as a perpetual motion machine.

(McKay & Dennett 2009)

Comment by Tesseract on Rationality Quotes December 2011 · 2011-12-01T17:35:16.805Z · LW · GW

Man’s most valuable trait is a judicious sense of what not to believe.

Euripides, Helen

Comment by Tesseract on Ideas for heuristics and biases research topic? · 2011-09-27T22:13:42.488Z · LW · GW

Ah, I think you misunderstood me (on reflection, I wasn't very clear) — I'm doing an experiment, not a research project in the sense of looking over the existing literature.

(For the record, I decided on conducting something along the lines of the studies mentioned in this post to look at how distraction influences retention of false information.)

Comment by Tesseract on [Link] Dilbert author tries to try · 2011-09-14T22:14:28.526Z · LW · GW

Is that supposed to be the Lovecraftian variation on 'God help us'?

Comment by Tesseract on Rationality Quotes September 2011 · 2011-09-01T20:49:27.909Z · LW · GW

To love truth for truth's sake is the principal part of human perfection in this world, and the seed-plot of all other virtues.


Comment by Tesseract on Rationality Quotes September 2011 · 2011-09-01T20:48:19.495Z · LW · GW

If you want to live in a nicer world, you need good, unbiased science to tell you about the actual wellsprings of human behavior. You do not need a viewpoint that sounds comforting but is wrong, because that could lead you to create ineffective interventions. The question is not what sounds good to us but what actually causes humans to do the things they do.

Douglas Kenrick

Comment by Tesseract on Book trades with open-minded theists - recommendations? · 2011-08-30T03:23:01.863Z · LW · GW

The idea that destroying the environment will make the remaining species "better" by making sure that only the "fittest" survive betrays a near-total misunderstanding of evolution. Evolution is just the name we give to the fact that organisms (or, more precisely, genes) which survive and reproduce effectively in a given set of conditions become more frequent over time. If you clear-cut the forest, you're not eliminating "weak" species and making room for the "strong" — you're getting rid of species that were well-adapted to the forest and increasing the numbers of whatever organisms can survive in the resulting waste.

Comment by Tesseract on Book trades with open-minded theists - recommendations? · 2011-08-30T03:15:15.395Z · LW · GW

I think that if you understand how evolution works on a really intuitive level — how blind it is — it's very difficult to believe both in human evolution and a guiding divinity. "Genes which promote their own replication become more common over time" is not a principle which admits of purpose. Vaguer understandings of evolution's actual mechanism probably contribute to the apparent reasonableness of "theistic evolution".

Comment by Tesseract on How much is karma worth, after all? · 2011-08-27T22:42:02.733Z · LW · GW

100 upvotes for a top-level post is 1000 karma, not 100 — upvotes for top-level posts are worth ten times more karma than upvotes for discussion and comments. This makes posts disproportionate sources of karma, even given the greater effort involved in writing them.

Comment by Tesseract on Please do not downvote every comment or post someone has ever made as a retaliation tactic. · 2011-08-22T06:32:45.877Z · LW · GW

Sometimes I see a really bad series of comments by the same person and want to downvote 5 times in quick succession.

Both of these suggestions would be incredibly overbearing solutions to a relatively minor problem.

Comment by Tesseract on [SEQ RERUN] Making History Available · 2011-08-14T08:58:39.580Z · LW · GW

This one really annoys me. It's one of the very few posts of Eliezer's that I've ever downvoted, because it strikes me as both naive and foolish. And I think that's because what Eliezer's proposing here is to pretend that your map is the territory. To take your third-hand model of history (no doubt deeply flawed and horrendously incomplete) and treat it as if it were your actual experience. Not to mention that you just don't have the knowledge he suggests envisioning (how do you know what it actually feels like to change your mind about slavery?) — or the sheer cognitive impossibility of actually making an imaginary runthrough of history.

It's one thing to recommend having historical perspective, and another to pretend that that perspective is actually your own.

Comment by Tesseract on Rationality Quotes: December 2010 · 2011-08-11T20:12:56.922Z · LW · GW

Correction: This quote is usually attributed to Andrew Lang. Not sure how I got that wrong.

Comment by Tesseract on Individual Deniability, Statistical Honesty · 2011-08-09T21:06:46.396Z · LW · GW

Also, it occurs to me that this is essentially an application of Bayes' Theorem. In an ordinary survey, the posterior probability (killed leopard|says yes) is 1, which is bad for the farmers, so they lie and therefore decrease the conditional probability (says yes|killed leopard), which is bad for the surveyors. Adding the die roll increases the unconditional probability of saying yes, so that the posterior probability no longer equals the conditional, and they can both get what they want.

Comment by Tesseract on Individual Deniability, Statistical Honesty · 2011-08-09T09:18:06.789Z · LW · GW

The keywords here are "randomized response". There are some interesting variations (from the Wikipedia page):

The sensitive question is worded in two dichotomous alternatives, and chance decides, unknown to the interviewer, which one is to be answered honestly.

Alternative 1: "I have consumed marijuana." Alternative 2: "I have never consumed marijuana." The interviewed are asked to secretly throw a die and answer the first question only if they throw a 6, otherwise the second question.

Comment by Tesseract on Rationality Quotes August 2011 · 2011-08-02T22:35:26.908Z · LW · GW

If we want to know where the truth lies in particular cases, we have to look.

Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene

Comment by Tesseract on Rationality Quotes August 2011 · 2011-08-02T22:34:44.434Z · LW · GW

None are so fallible as those who are sure they’re right.

Strunk & White, The Elements of Style

Comment by Tesseract on On the unpopularity of cryonics: life sucks, but at least then you die · 2011-07-31T19:49:54.346Z · LW · GW

I was very surprised to see that too, to the point of questioning whether the result was real, but apparently it is. (The particular result is on page 10 — and possibly elsewhere, I haven't read it through yet.)

Comment by Tesseract on New Post version 2 (please read this ONLY if your last name beings with l–z) · 2011-07-28T01:34:08.793Z · LW · GW

I found the Coming of Age series to be both self-indulgent and quite dull, and I think that it's very difficult to use yourself as an example of vice or virtue without running into one or both of those issues. I also find that I (more-or-less automatically) downgrade an author's ethos by a lot when he's talking about himself as an illustrative example. But for this one, it's the skeeviness factor that dominates — it's just plain creepy to hear about your love life as a source of telling anecdotes. And that's distracting.

Polyamory may be great, but the right way to promote it is not by slipping into a post the implication that it's the endpoint of rational thinking about romance. Which is what this reads as, whether you intended it to or not. If you want to advocate polyamory here (and honestly, I'm not sure that Less Wrong is the right place to do so), you should devote an entire post to it, and set forth clear arguments as to why it's the better option, rather than presuming it in your advice.

The Sequences do not consist of Eliezer promoting himself as a master rationalist, nor do they assume that you already think he is. He argues for certain positions, and the reader comes to believe that he is a good rationalist as a result of being convinced that the positions he holds are rational. The tone of this is much closer to the motivational-seminar pitch of "I turned my life around using these three simple principles", with the additional difficulty that we're just taking your word for your romantic success. It's not credible.

Comment by Tesseract on New Post version 2 (please read this ONLY if your last name beings with l–z) · 2011-07-27T22:34:50.476Z · LW · GW

Also, found the bite-sizing of the lessons made them feel like distractions to be skipped over rather than principles that the anecdotes were illustrating.

Comment by Tesseract on New Post version 2 (please read this ONLY if your last name beings with l–z) · 2011-07-27T22:31:14.731Z · LW · GW


It's interesting and potentially useful, and I liked some of the links; however, I felt seriously skeeved-out throughout, probably due to the combination of uncomfortably personal authorial bildungsroman (with connotations of "if you do this right, you can be just like me"), and the implied promotion of polyamory. Would work much better if you could remove the autobiographical aspects.

Comment by Tesseract on Dungeons and Discourse implementation · 2011-07-27T16:46:23.639Z · LW · GW

Another erratum: Noah's Flash Flood is listed as level 9 in the chart and level 8 in the descriptions.

Also, the first page incorrectly describes it as being the DM guide.

Comment by Tesseract on Dungeons and Discourse implementation · 2011-07-27T15:39:40.716Z · LW · GW

FYI, I showed the manual to a (non-Less Wrong) philosophy-major friend who runs D&D games, so you may develop a splinter group.

Comment by Tesseract on [SEQ RERUN] Hindsight Devalues Science · 2011-07-26T20:34:53.830Z · LW · GW

This one is really important, for a reason that wasn't spelled out in the original article — hindsight bias makes people think folk wisdom is more valid than it really is, and thereby opens the door to all kinds of superstitious belief. If people interpret scientific evidence as confirming 'common-sense' or handed-down knowledge (because they select the 'common-sense' belief that turned out to be true after seeing the data, rather than having to select one from the morass beforehand), then they're likely to increase their credence in other knowledge of that type. You see this all the time when people say things like "science is just now finding proof for medicines that indigenous societies have been using for thousands of years — so here, try this snake oil!"

Comment by Tesseract on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, part 7 · 2011-07-19T01:20:55.189Z · LW · GW

The Atlantic put up a piece today using HP:MoR as the take-off point for discussing fanfiction and fan communities.

Comment by Tesseract on Rationality Quotes July 2011 · 2011-07-10T18:35:56.956Z · LW · GW

To be precise, knowing that someone is biased towards holding a belief decreases the amount you should update your own beliefs in response to theirs — because it decreases the likelihood ratio of the test.

(That is, having a bias towards a belief means people are more likely to believe it when it isn't true (more false positives), so a bias-influenced belief is less likely to be true and therefore weaker evidence. In Bayesian terms, bias increases P(B) without increasing P(B|A), so it decreases P(A|B).)

So CarmendeMacedo's right that you can't get evidence about the world from knowledge of a person's biases, but you should decrease your confidence if you discover a bias, because it means you had the wrong priors when you updated the first time.

Comment by Tesseract on Rationality Quotes July 2011 · 2011-07-03T04:42:28.308Z · LW · GW

Sometimes, apparently rational self-interested strategies turn out (as in the prisoners' dilemma) to be self-defeating. This may look like a defeat for rationality, but it is not. Rationality is saved by its own open-endedness. If a strategy of following accepted rules of rationality is sometimes self-defeating, this is not the end. We revise the rules to take account of this, so producing a higher-order rationality strategy. This in turn may fail, but again we go up a level. At whatever level we fail, there is always the process of standing back and going up a further level.

Quoted in The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker

Comment by Tesseract on Rationality Quotes July 2011 · 2011-07-03T04:25:27.327Z · LW · GW

We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it.

Mark Twain

Comment by Tesseract on Rationality Quotes July 2011 · 2011-07-03T04:19:04.468Z · LW · GW

It was a good answer that was made by one who when they showed him hanging in a temple a picture of those who had paid their vows as having escaped shipwreck, and would have him say whether he did not now acknowledge the power of the gods,—‘Aye,' asked he again, ‘but where are they painted that were drowned after their vows?' And such is the way of all superstition, whether in astrology, dreams, omens, divine judgments, or the like; wherein men, having a delight in such vanities, mark the events where they are fulfilled, but where they fail, though this happens much oftener, neglect and pass them by.

Francis Bacon

Comment by Tesseract on So, I guess the site redesign is live? · 2011-06-22T19:22:54.720Z · LW · GW

As a somewhat casual reader and participant, my immediate reaction (regardless of functionality, which I really haven't tried out yet) is that the new design is horrendously ugly compared to the old one. I was intending to go through the Sequences soon, but the visual change is a pretty strong disincentive.

If at all possible, I'd like the ability to view posts using the old interface.

Comment by Tesseract on Meanings of Mathematical Truths · 2011-06-06T12:01:39.074Z · LW · GW

Since being introduced to Less Wrong and clarifying that 'truth' is a property of beliefs corresponding to how accurately they let you predict the world, I've separated 'validity' from 'truth'.

The syllogism "All cups are green; Socrates is a cup; therefore Socrates is green" is valid within the standard system of logic, but it doesn't correspond to anything meaningful. But the reason that we view logic as more than a curiosity is that we can use logic and true premises to reach true conclusions. Logic is useful because it produces true beliefs.

Some mathematical statements follow the rules of math; we call them valid, and they would be just as valid in any other universe. Math as a system is useful because (in our universe) we can use mathematical models to arrive at predictively accurate conclusions.

Bringing 'truth' into it is just confusing.

Comment by Tesseract on What bothers you about Less Wrong? · 2011-05-21T15:20:28.832Z · LW · GW

I find that Less Wrong is a conflation of about six topics:

These don't all seem to fit together entirely comfortably. Ideally, I'd split these into three more-coherent sections (singularitarianism and AI, philosophy and epistemic rationality, and applied rationality and community), each of which I think could probably be more effective as their own space.

Comment by Tesseract on Rationality Quotes: May 2011 · 2011-05-02T04:49:11.655Z · LW · GW

A very popular error: having the courage of one's convictions; rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack on one's convictions.

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Comment by Tesseract on Official Less Wrong Redesign: Call for Suggestions · 2011-04-27T02:52:04.096Z · LW · GW

The pop-up window you get when you click on a voting button before logging in always seemed ugly and discordant to me.

Comment by Tesseract on Rationality Quotes: February 2011 · 2011-02-02T20:34:56.693Z · LW · GW

Increasingly each year the wild predictions of science-fiction writers are made tame by the daily papers.

Robert Heinlein

Comment by Tesseract on Punishing future crimes · 2011-01-28T21:10:50.958Z · LW · GW

Do you do it?


You would be harming another human being without expecting any benefit from doing so. Punishment is only justified when it prevents more harm than it causes, and this is specified not to be the case.

Our sense that people 'deserve' to be punished is often adaptive, in that it prevents further wrongdoing, but in this case it is purely negative.

Comment by Tesseract on Scientific Self-Help: The State of Our Knowledge · 2011-01-25T20:46:32.453Z · LW · GW

Minor error: judging from context, I think you mean the Milgram Experiment, which focuses on obedience to authority, and not the Stanford Prison Experiment, which is about how social roles affect personalities.

Comment by Tesseract on Some Morals from the Study of Human Irrationality [Link] · 2011-01-19T02:23:46.421Z · LW · GW

I'm currently working on a summary of some of the central Less Wrong ideas, with links to the original Sequences posts. First paragraph of the (very) rough draft, currently sans links:

The purpose of beliefs is to correspond with the state of the world and therefore allow you to predict reality. The 'truth' of a belief is therefore how accurately it predicts the world, which means that there can be degrees of truth, not simply a right and wrong answer. The way to arrive at beliefs which predict the world (at true beliefs) is to base your beliefs on evidence -- to entangle yourself with the world, and therefore let the state of the world control the state of your beliefs.

Would this be considered valuable?

Comment by Tesseract on Fallacies of Compression · 2011-01-17T07:57:09.382Z · LW · GW

Reality is very large - just the part we can see is billions of lightyears across. But your map of reality is written on a few pounds of neurons, folded up to fit inside your skull. I don't mean to be insulting, but PUNY HUMAN, YOU CANNOT CONTAIN REALITY WITHIN YOUR TINY BRAIN

Comment by Tesseract on Welcome to Less Wrong! · 2011-01-17T00:24:30.164Z · LW · GW

That's pretty much Deism, I think. Not right, but not quite as wrong as some other possible approaches.

Welcome! I don't know much/how systematically you've read, but if you're wondering about what makes something "true", you'll want to check out The Simple Truth (short answer: if it corresponds to reality), followed by Making Beliefs Pay Rent and What is Evidence.

But it sounds like you've made a very good start.

Comment by Tesseract on Image: Another uninformed perspective on risks from AI (humor) · 2011-01-15T20:16:49.434Z · LW · GW

A (highly intelligent) friend of mine posted a link to this on Facebook tagged with "Reason #217 why the singularity isn't that big of a thing." I'm wondering if there's a concise way to correct him without a link to Less Wrong.

Comment by Tesseract on Deontological Decision Theory and The Solution to Morality · 2011-01-13T03:37:51.077Z · LW · GW

Very much, thank you. Your feedback has been a great help.

Given that others arrived at some of these conclusions before me, I can see why there would be disapproval -- though I can hardly feel disappointed to have independently discovered the same answers. I think I'll research the various models more thoroughly, refine my wording (I agree with you that using the term 'deontology' was a mistake), and eventually make a more complete and more sophisticated second attempt at morality as a decision theory problem.

Comment by Tesseract on Deontological Decision Theory and The Solution to Morality · 2011-01-11T21:01:17.128Z · LW · GW

Your article is an excellent one, and makes many of the same points I tried to make here.

Specifically, Dilemma B, an ideal agent will recognize that their decision to pick their favorite ice cream at the expense of another person suggests that others in the same position will do (and have done) likewise, for the same reason.

is the same idea I was trying to express with the 'cheating student' example, and then generalized in the final part of the post, and likewise the idea of Parfitian-filtered decision theory seems to be essentially the same as the concept in my post of ideally-rational agents adopting decision theories which make them consciously ignore their goals in order to achieve them better. (And in fact, I was planning to include in my next post how this sort of morality solves problems like Parfit's Hitchhiker when functionally applied.)

Upon looking back on the replies here (although I have yet to read through all the decision theory posts Vladimir recommended), I realize that I haven't been convinced that I was wrong -- that there's a flaw in my theory I haven't seen -- only that the community strongly disapproves. Given that your post and mine share many of the same ideas, and yours is at +21 while mine is at -7, I think that the differences are that a. mine was seen as presumptuous (in the vein of the 'one great idea'), and b. I didn't communicate clearly enough (partially because I haven't studied enough terminology) and include answers to enough anticipated objections to overcome the resistance engendered by a. I think I also failed to clearly make the distinction between this as a normative strategy (that is, one I think ideal game-theoretic agents would follow, and a good reason for consciously deciding to be moral) and as a positive description (the reason actual human beings are moral.)

However, I recognize that even though I haven't yet been convinced of it, there may well be a problem here that I haven't seen but would if I knew more about decision theory. If you could explain such a problem to me, I would be genuinely grateful -- I want to be correct more than I want my current theory to be right.

Comment by Tesseract on Deontological Decision Theory and The Solution to Morality · 2011-01-11T05:11:24.339Z · LW · GW

Your objection and its evident support by the community is noted, and therefore I have deleted the post. I will read further on the decision theory and its implications, as that seems to be a likely cause of error.

However, I have read the meta-ethics sequence, and some of Eliezer's other posts on morality, and found them unsatisfactory -- they seemed to me to presume that morality is something you should have regardless of the reason for it rather than seriously questioning the reasons for possessing it.

On the point of complexity of value, I was attempting to use the term 'utility' to describe human preferences, which would necessarily take into account complex values. If you could describe why this doesn't work well, I would appreciate the correction.

That said, I'm not going to contend here without doing more research first (and thank you for the links), so this will be my last post on the subject.