Posts

Arguments against constructivism (in education)? 2021-06-20T13:49:01.090Z
Where do LessWrong rationalists debate? 2021-04-29T21:23:55.597Z
Best way to write a bicolor article on Less Wrong? 2021-02-22T14:46:31.681Z
RationalWiki on face masks 2021-01-15T01:55:49.836Z
Impostor Syndrome as skill/dominance mismatch 2020-11-05T20:05:54.528Z
Viliam's Shortform 2020-07-22T17:42:22.357Z
Why are all these domains called from Less Wrong? 2020-06-27T13:46:05.857Z
Opposing a hierarchy does not imply egalitarianism 2020-05-23T20:51:10.024Z
Rationality Vienna [Virtual] Meetup, May 2020 2020-05-08T15:03:56.644Z
Rationality Vienna Meetup June 2019 2019-04-28T21:05:15.818Z
Rationality Vienna Meetup May 2019 2019-04-28T21:01:12.804Z
Rationality Vienna Meetup April 2019 2019-03-31T00:46:36.398Z
Does anti-malaria charity destroy the local anti-malaria industry? 2019-01-05T19:04:57.601Z
Rationality Bratislava Meetup 2018-09-16T20:31:42.409Z
Rationality Vienna Meetup, April 2018 2018-04-12T19:41:40.923Z
Rationality Vienna Meetup, March 2018 2018-03-12T21:10:44.228Z
Welcome to Rationality Vienna 2018-03-12T21:07:07.921Z
Feedback on LW 2.0 2017-10-01T15:18:09.682Z
Bring up Genius 2017-06-08T17:44:03.696Z
How to not earn a delta (Change My View) 2017-02-14T10:04:30.853Z
Group Rationality Diary, February 2017 2017-02-01T12:11:44.212Z
How to talk rationally about cults 2017-01-08T20:12:51.340Z
Meetup : Rationality Meetup Vienna 2016-09-11T20:57:16.910Z
Meetup : Rationality Meetup Vienna 2016-08-16T20:21:10.911Z
Two forms of procrastination 2016-07-16T20:30:55.911Z
Welcome to Less Wrong! (9th thread, May 2016) 2016-05-17T08:26:07.420Z
Positivity Thread :) 2016-04-08T21:34:03.535Z
Require contributions in advance 2016-02-08T12:55:58.720Z
Marketing Rationality 2015-11-18T13:43:02.802Z
Manhood of Humanity 2015-08-24T18:31:22.099Z
Time-Binding 2015-08-14T17:38:03.686Z
Bragging Thread July 2015 2015-07-13T22:01:03.320Z
Group Bragging Thread (May 2015) 2015-05-29T22:36:27.000Z
Meetup : Bratislava Meetup 2015-05-21T19:21:00.320Z

Comments

Comment by Viliam on Josephine's Shortform · 2021-07-31T20:28:24.020Z · LW · GW

Sounds correct. I was thinking how this applies to computer games:

Several subskills - technical perfection, new idea, interesting story, graphics, music... Different games become popular for different aspects (Tetris vs Mass Effect vs Cookie Clicker).

A frequent beginner mistake is making a game with multiple levels which feel like copies of each other. That's because you code e.g. five or ten different interactive elements, and then you use all of them in every level. It makes the first level needlessly difficult, and every following level boring. Instead, you should introduce them gradually, so each level contains a little surprise, and perhaps you should never use all of them in the same level, but always use different subsets, so each level has a different flavor instead of merely being more difficult.

Another beginner mistake is to focus on the algorithm and ignore the non-functional aspects. If one level has a sunset in background, and another level uses a night sky with moon, it makes the game nicer, even if the background does not change anything about functionality.

Yet another mistake is to make the game insanely difficult, because as a developer you know everything about it and you played the first level for hundred times, so even the insanely difficult feels easy to you. If most new players cannot complete the tutorial, your audience is effectively just you alone.

Some people may be successful and yet you don't want to be like them, e.g. because they optimize the product to be addictive, while you aim for a different type of experience; or their approach is "explore the market, and make a clone of whatever sells best", while you have a specific vision.

You should do a very simple game first, because you are probably never going to finish a complicated one if it's your first attempt. I know a few people who ignored this advice, spent a lot of time designing something complex, in one case even rented a studio... but never finished anything. (Epistemic check: possible base-rate fallacy; most people never write a complete computer game, this might include even most of those who started small.) And the more time you wasted trying to make a complicated game, the less likely you are to give up and start anew.

Successful game authors often recycle good ideas from their previous, less successful games.

The audience is famously toxic. Whatever game you make, some people will say horrible things about the game and about you in general. It is probably wise to ignore them. (Epistemic check: so you're saying that you should only listen to those who liked your game? Yeah... from the profit perspective, the important thing is how many fans you have, not what is their ratio to haters. A game with 1000 fans and 10000 haters is more successful than a game with 10 fans and 1 hater.)

Being good at designing logical puzzles does not translate into being good at designing 3D shooters, and vice versa.

Comment by Viliam on Brief thoughts on inefficient writing systems · 2021-07-30T20:55:35.861Z · LW · GW

Even small problems in orthography are very difficult to fix.

Slovak is a phonemic Slavic language; sounds and letters have almost 1:1 relationship. The greatest exception to this rule are the letters "i" and "y", which correspond to exactly the same sound. That means, reading is easy, but to write correctly, you need to memorize a lot of rules. For example, in words of Greek origin, the letter "ι" is transcribed as "i", and "υ" is transcribed as "y", despite the same pronounciation in Slovak -- but of course, unless you speak Greek, your only way to use this rule is to memorize those words. And the rules for words of Slavic origin include a lot of memorization, too. Realistically, after learning all those rules, you need to read a lot, and hope that your brain will magically provide you the correct version when needed.

Which makes it a great system for recognizing people who remember obscure rules and read a lot!

The reasonable solution would be to simply start writing "i" everywhere. (Plus fix some other irregularities that depend on the "i/y" distinction.) So the kids of future generations would not have to spend two years at elementary school memorizing these rules and exceptions.

Except, when you look at the text written with "i" everywhere, the emotional reaction is that it feels stupid. It feels like written by someone who is not really good at writing, because they can't remember the rules and don't read a lot. The idea that this should become the official version of the language feels offensive. To put it bluntly, it's like you are asking all people to write like retards. Of course most of them will refuse!

Comment by Viliam on Brief thoughts on inefficient writing systems · 2021-07-30T20:02:43.436Z · LW · GW

But I can't recognize the words is the problem.

Because you have already spent years using their current writing. It would take you years to become equally fluent in the new system. Kids who now learn writing, however, would not have the same issue.

Problem is that the convenience of future generations cannot outweigh even a temporary inconvenience of the current generation, because it is always the current generation that makes the decisions.

Comment by Viliam on Bring up Genius · 2021-07-30T19:43:09.097Z · LW · GW

There is a tension between specialization and keeping your options open. But also, many people are far from the Pareto boundary. For most kids, the alternative to learning chess (or CS or whatever) is watching cartoons, not studying something else.

Specialization has the risk that the entire field may become irrelevant, so it doesn't matter if you are world's number 1. Or you may find out one day that you hate the job, but you can't do anything else.

Polgár made a successful bet. All three of his girls made it to the top. But without the benefit of hindsight, I would say that his strategy was quite risky: suppose the girls instead become "merely" 10th best in their country; now what? -- Perhaps the idea was that they could later switch from chess to something else, and become good-but-not-genius at the other thing.

(Also, the girls were born during socialism, where full employment was the official goal, so not being able to find a job was not an actual risk. Arguably, in socialism it made a lot of sense to become a specialist on something that brings prestige, because the regime would redistribute the money.)

Comment by Viliam on garbageactual's Shortform · 2021-07-30T12:51:40.796Z · LW · GW

You could use the random number generator to return a sequence of random characters. If they happen to be words that describe a thing you might possibly do, obey them, otherwise generate another sequence.

This removes the burden of having to list all your choices, including the ones about buying pokemons.

(But creates a new problem of what exactly is a meaningful command. For example, "go", without specifying where exactly to go; are you free to simply go to the place of your choice, or do you have to re-roll?)

Comment by Viliam on An Apprentice Experiment in Python Programming, Part 2 · 2021-07-29T20:14:38.537Z · LW · GW

Meta: This seems like a good format to spread knowledge from people who have it and are willing to teach, but either suck at writing or don't want to spend time writing and editing. Become an apprentice in return for writing a guide.

Comment by Viliam on Josephine's Shortform · 2021-07-27T16:20:34.313Z · LW · GW

I think the society tells a lot of lies, or at least often lies by omission, and it is difficult to correct these lies, because they exist for a reason -- there is some social mechanism that rewards the liars and punishes the truthtellers, for example by raising the status of the liars and lowering the status of the truthtellers.

If anyone asked me about education choice to maximize the chance of getting the job, STEM is the obvious answer. (Although it depends on who asks; some people do not have the necessary skills/traits. I don't know what would be the right answer for them.) But if I gave such advice in public, I can easily imagine the backlash. Humanities are high-status, STEM is... let's say medium-status because it is associated with nerds but also with money... definitely lower-status than humanities. The proper way to express it is that STEM makes people merely smart, but humanities make them wise. (Wise = something like smart, but mysterious and higher-status.) Recommending STEM feels like an attempt to give nerds high status, and invites an angry response. Which is the reason why you haven't heard such advice more often and more strongly (in general, not just on LessWrong).

Problem is that the advice "study humanities, not STEM" is actually correct for a small part of the society; namely for the rich people. If you have so much wealth and connections that you will never need a job to pay your bills, but you still want to study something, because for some weird reason having a university education is considered higher-status than not having one... then humanities are definitely the right choice. You want to know something that other people at least partially understand, so that you can impress them with some smart quotations; you don't want the inferential distance to be too large. Also, if you study something that makes it quite difficult to get a job, that's good counter-signaling! As a rich person, you don't want to be suspected for someone who might need a job. -- The problem is that by saying "study STEM" you now advertise that neither you nor your friends are upper-class. All pretentious people will loudly recommend humanities instead.

Comment by Viliam on Social media: designed to be bad for you & for society · 2021-07-27T13:55:35.903Z · LW · GW

Yeah, speaking about decentralization... I would recommend using one default server (which will be used by all people who do not know what "server" means, that means most of population), but allow the protocol to connect to independent servers. They should be handled kinda like alternative app stores in smartphones. You connect to an alternative server, you get all the warnings, and then you choose your mode of contact-making with the alternative server: whether only you can actively seek for friends there (because your phishing resistance is zero, and you only wanted to connect with one specific person there), or whether other people can send you friend requests. (When you get a friend request, it is clearly shown that is comes from an alternative server.)

OK, now we just need to make this happen. ;)

Comment by Viliam on Failing safely is the anomaly · 2021-07-26T18:56:22.856Z · LW · GW

So if culture (and probably 20 IQ points due to better health and Flynn effect) can make the difference between Boko Haram and the Culture War in US

I would also add institutions (arguably part of culture), and maybe laziness (if Boko Haram members spent their whole days arguing on Twitter, they wouldn't have time left for killing people).

Maybe the actual way to world peace is to give everyone an online connection, and channel their destructive instincts into upvoting and downvoting.

Comment by Viliam on Social media: designed to be bad for you & for society · 2021-07-26T18:09:28.047Z · LW · GW

I suspect that the only way out is to provide a solution that has all the advantages of e.g. Facebook, without most of the disadvantages. Because there are advantages, especially for people who are less tech-savvy. Facebook allows them to communicate online with many people, and requires only minimum technical knowledge.

Before social networks, I usually communicated with people by e-mail. It was nice, but it required me to install and set up an e-mail program. (This problem was also solved by GMail.) Instant messagers were also nice, but again required installing and setup. Plus there were multiple instant messengers, and then you had some open-source client that could connect to all of them, but you still had to create the accounts, and configure the contact lists. Using these programs required some technical skills, or having someone with these skills in your family. I also visited all kinds of web forums.

Facebook is like GMail + instant messenger + web forums, all in one, and requires minimum setup. And although I hate the policy of providing your actual name and photo, it makes maintaining the contact lists easier. You do not have to install anything, which among other things means you can access Facebook at work from the company computer (unless it is specifically blocked); but there is also the optional smartphone app.

Blocking users solves the problem of spam. (Although you get ads, which are another form of spam.)

Multiple applications are, on one hand "yay competition" and less vendor lock-in, but it also makes maintaining contacts difficult in long term. If I have someone's ICQ number, but the person already moved elsewhere, how am I supposed to know, and how am I supposed to contact them again?

A possible way out would be to make a non-evil (or maybe just less evil) application that provides all of these services. And then somehow convince everyone to switch over. And if it isn't just as easy, people are definitely not going to switch over.

I prefer to have things sorted by topic, like one Reddit forum for this, and another Reddit forum for that. But from the perspective of a lazy publisher (or a publisher with near-zero technical skills), throwing everything on the wall is the easy way. So we need to allow this, at least as a default. (But of course, Facebook also supports joining groups, and writing on group walls.)

Maybe Facebook has already all figured out (they do spend lot of money on research), and the non-evil alternative would be surprisingly similar, only with more options and fewer ads.

Now another question is how to pay for the costs. Suppose you are not a profit maximizer, but you are not going to generate yourself a loss. And most people are not willing to pay something they can get for free at Facebook. Oops, are we stuck? Maybe not. Maybe we could allow advertising as a default alternative... and if you pay, dunno, $5 a month, the ads get turned off. Also, the ads would be less annoying, because we are not trying to generate profit, only to cover the costs of non-paying users.

Then we have the problem of policing content... you may prefer free speech, but at some moment the government is going to hold you responsible for something. We probably need to address users impersonating real people... first because it goes against the value of simple maintenance of contact lists, second because at some moment the impersonated people will sue you for libel. (That means, using a pseudonym would be ok, but using another real person's or organization's name would not.)

Sounds like a lot of work.

Comment by Viliam on Social media: designed to be bad for you & for society · 2021-07-26T17:34:45.986Z · LW · GW

Advertising is the reason why more addictive is more profitable.

If instead you had a model where users pay a monthly fee, it would not matter how much time they spend at screen. Actually, less would be somewhat better, because running the servers would cost less.

Comment by Viliam on Jimrandomh's Shortform · 2021-07-26T14:35:43.810Z · LW · GW

You make a good point, that some people who drop out of weight-loss studies might have experienced health problems caused by the study, and quiting was the right decision for them.

But I believe that the average obese person in general population is not this case. There are many situations where people eat refined sugar not because they have a strong craving, but simply because it is easily available or there are even habits built around it.

To give an example, in my family it was for some reason considered a good idea to drink tea with sugar at breakfast. As a child I didn't have an opinion on this, I was given the breakfast and I consumed it. But as I grew up and started making my own breakfast, out of sheer laziness I starting drinking water instead. I didn't fall into coma and die. Actually it made the breakfast better, because when you drink tea with sugar first, then everything you eat afterwards tastes bland, but if you drink water, you discover that some things are surprisingly delicious. Recently my kids spent one week with my mother, and then reported to me that they had "cereals" for each breakfast (in this context, "cereals" refers to those cheap hypermarket products that contain the word on the box, but consist mostly of refined sugar with some added fibers; the advertisement tells you to pour milk on them and pretend that the result is healthy somehow, because, you know, milk and cereals). I am not making a big deal out of it, one week is not going to hurt anyone, but sigh, of course most people in my family are fat.

Similarly, if you buy things in a hypermarket, check how many of them contain added sugar. So people eat this sugar not because they had a craving, but because they bought a processed food in a shop, and someone added the sugar for them. (There is often no easily available sugar-less version.) They probably add sugar to your food in a restaurant, dunno.

If you are curious what would it be like to not eat any refined sugar, probably the only solution is to cook for yourself from scratch. Even things like mustard or canned vegetables typically contain refined sugar. So we regularly eat lots of sugar without deciding to, often without being aware of it. (And then we drink coke on the top of it. But hey, the advertisement said that coke had zero sugar now, could they possibly be lying?)

So, avoiding lots of extra sugar is technically possible, but it is a lot of work, and some people cannot afford it, or have never learned the necessary skills. Because of course they don't teach cooking at schools anymore; why would anyone need such useless skill in the modern economy, where you can buy anything (but have little control over the content).

Comment by Viliam on Voicing Voice · 2021-07-26T13:49:31.016Z · LW · GW

Are there ways you could build a community to share what you write with?

Most importantly, to procrastinate less with the writing, so that there is more than 1 article. :D

Comment by Viliam on Future Of Work · 2021-07-26T13:41:54.609Z · LW · GW

The personal activities available during the 8 hours monitored by instant messengers involve mouse and keyboard.

Possible: reading a blog, commenting on a blog, writing a blog, watching YouTube videos, reading a book in PDF, doing an online course that does not require installing anything, etc.

Not possible: taking a nap, exercising, taking a walk, cooking, etc.

The thing I find sad is that all healthy activities seem to be in the latter group. For someone who wants to spend most of the day browsing Reddit and watching cat videos, work from home is a complete blessing. For someone who wants to take care of their health (maybe damaged by years of sedentary work), there are still many advantages (e.g. freedom to choose a chair or standing desk, plus all the useful things in the former group), but the 8-hour block still remains an obstacle to some activities.

Comment by Viliam on Fire Law Incentives · 2021-07-24T12:04:44.465Z · LW · GW

Then the solution could be to surround the entire forest by one firebreak, or perhaps for extra security make it two concentric ones with a narrow belt between them.

A creative (i.e. crazy, and probably not working in real life) solution could be to make the firebreak a spiral, so that technically the whole forest remains connected and the fire still spreads everywhere, but it spreads slowly, because it has to go in circles. People caught in the burning forest might even get a chance to outrun the fire. On a second thought, the same would be true for many animals.

Anyway, the problem in real life is that sooner or later someone will somehow build a house in the forest, no matter the law. It's just a question of time. Then more people will join, and then they will all cry on camera when their houses start burning. -- So you need strict law enforcement, where all houses found built in the forbidden zone are destroyed immediately.

(There is a somewhat similar situation in Slovakia, than once in a few years there is a flood around the Danube river. The banks of the river are reinforced at some places, and at other places there are locations where it is forbidden to build houses. But of course, during the years between the floods, there are always many houses built in the forbidden places, either illegally, or someone influential somehow gets an exception... and then, quite predictably, once in a while we get an exceptionally large flood, and people are crying about their homes being destroyed.)

Comment by Viliam on A Guide for Productivity · 2021-07-23T21:45:36.970Z · LW · GW

This was awesome!

Thinking about productivity at job, I wonder whether there is a trade-off for the company, of a similar type like when you have a trade-off between short-tem productivity and long-term productivity. Maybe what is most productive (long-term) for the employee is not what is most productive (long-term) for the company. Like, maybe if you get too good, then the rational choice for you would be to leave (perhaps to start your own company). On the other hand, if you are perhaps less productive but more easy to replace, the company gets less value from you, but it can keep going if you leave for whatever reason, which also gives you less of a leverage in negotiation.

I think about this because you write about power of specialization, but in the software development I think I see the opposite trend: specialists being replaced by "full-stack developers", who are later unified with system administrators into "DevOps", who later become "DevSecOps", and god knows where this will end, maybe one day we will see a "DevSecOpsManagerAccountantSalesmanJanitor" and I sincerely hope I will be retired by then.

I found that all of them are 5% signal and 95% noise and their most important messages could have been summarized on 5 to 10 pages respectively. Ironically, a book that supposedly tells you how to save time inflates its content by out-of-context quotes, analogies that don't even support their point, personal stories that also don't support their argument, pseudo-scientific explanations which broadly support their claim, and incredibly lengthy descriptions of ideas that can be entirely described in one short sentence (maybe they had to hit a page count).

Yeah, I have seen books that had less content than this post. I suppose you have to produce a certain minimum amount of pages, otherwise people would not pay for the book (or would even read it in the book shop for free).

Comment by Viliam on Owain_Evans's Shortform · 2021-07-23T12:51:04.858Z · LW · GW

No actual answer, because I know little about history. Just some thoughts:

I would assume that the impact of religion on science is mostly indirect, but quite important. Do you believe in a god who wants to be known and has set up the rules of the universe as a puzzle for the believers to solve? Or do you believe in a whimsical micromanaging god who makes arbitrary decisions about everything, so the very idea of laws of nature is a heresy? More practically, are kids supposed to learn about secular subjects, or just memorize the holy scriptures? Are girls allowed to learn? Do your holy scriptures make specific (wrong) scientific statements; and are people who contradict those statements treated as heretics, or can we settle for "it's just a metaphor anyway"? Does your faith even allow the concept of human learning and improvement, or is everything important already written in the holy scriptures and trying to invent anything new is naive at best, and a heresy at worst?

The answers to these questions will depend on the religious community, and may change over time. But you may get stuck with something that was written in the holy scriptures so clearly that it is almost impossible to pretend it is not there, or there may be a culture war in the history of your church that makes certain type of ideas immediately associated with certain historical heresy.

You mention the underperformance of Orthodox Christianity and Catholicism, but Protestantism is also a part of Christianity, and seems to have quite good results. Looking at the map, could the explanation for different performance of different branches of Christianity be explained by the geography? I mean, maybe Christian countries surrounded by Christian countries perform better than Christian countries next to non-Christian countries? (Why would that be? Dunno, maybe if you are next to non-Christians, you spend too much time talking about Jesus; if you live next to Christians, you already agree about Jesus, so you focus on other things?)

The success of Jews in Christian countries should be attributed to both, right? Perhaps Christians are good at creating a good environment, but are not so good at exploiting all the opportunities it provides?

You compare ancient Greece with medieval Europe, but what about ancient Greece vs ancient Rome (which didn't start as Christian)? Maybe to do good science you need either independent city states or universities, and the era between ancient Greece and Renaissance was simply the era when cities were no longer independent, but universities were not invented yet.

Renaissance and reading classical texts, I suppose that after centuries of poverty following the fall of Rome, there was again enough food to feed everyone so some nerds could afford to have hobbies, which restarted science, and then some of the nerds found that reading ancient masters and stealing their forgotten knowledge is more profitable than inventing your own science. So it's a combination of economics allowing you to do things not immediately needed for survival, and having an ancient treasure of knowledge buried right under your feet. (Similarly, there was an explosion of science in Islamic countries, when they were economically successful, and had lots of knowledge available because of conquest and trade.)

Seems to me that intellectual development is a consequence of economic growth (you need to feed all those nerds), and the economic growth probably depends a lot on geography, and who won the recent wars.

Comment by Viliam on Learning in layers of muscle memory · 2021-07-23T11:58:22.903Z · LW · GW

I guess the failure to avoid is the conclusion "I have already done this successfully once, no need to pay attention to this ever again, because I am already good at it".

Practicing it is one option, doing something related and then revisiting it later seems like even better option, because it can give you a different perspective.

By the way, in the linked article, I can confirm that this little known thing is true for most teachers. It may sound weird if you had good math education, but that is an exception, not the rule:

the people who teach in elementary schools are not mathematicians. Most of them are math-phobic, just like most people in the larger culture.

I wish that instead of giving up on math, we could find a way to teach the teachers. Technically it should not be difficult (we only need to teach them the elementary school math, but in a way they will understand), the main problem would probably be admitting that "teachning elementary school math to elementary school math teachers" is a thing that needs to be done (to avoid the situation where the teachers are ashamed to participate, because that would mean admitting that they actually suck at their jobs). Perhaps redesigning the math curriculum, and then teaching math to math teachers under the pretense that we are "preparing them for the new curriculum" could be a solution.

Comment by Viliam on Hobbies and the curse of Spontaneity · 2021-07-23T11:49:02.983Z · LW · GW

Maybe the first step you could do is invite someone for a long walk, and have them brainstorm about things they would enjoy doing. Remember those that are also interesting for you, or at least you don't mind doing them, and you have a program for interaction with this specific person.

Comment by Viliam on Re: Competent Elites · 2021-07-23T11:43:50.275Z · LW · GW

Welcome, and please try again under a different post with a different kind of comment!

Comment by Viliam on Re: Competent Elites · 2021-07-23T11:40:45.110Z · LW · GW

You have a point, but you are taking it too far.

For an actually smart person with high IQ, there needs to be a moment when after correcting for DK and applying basic humility, the result still says "I am smarter than average". Otherwise, how would they e.g. make the career choices?

If it is known that only smart people can succeed at some school or job, then following this rule only the dumb people should ever apply, because the smart ones would say "eh, everyone says that I am smart, and I even achieved a few awesome things and won a few competitions, but I also know that I am not perfect, there are many things I don't understand, and stupid people are known to be overconfident... so, all things considered, I am probably just an average guy, so I don't have a chance."

Comment by Viliam on Re: Competent Elites · 2021-07-23T11:14:05.814Z · LW · GW

Signaling. Any idiot can believe things that are obviously true, or mainstream truths that are already in the textbooks. And it takes time for a smart person to become an expert at something actually useful.

Doing difficult weird stuff is the obvious shortcut. The problem is, if you take this shortcut, you quite often get lost in the woods.

Comment by Viliam on Fire Law Incentives · 2021-07-23T11:07:12.155Z · LW · GW

What other people think of me is none of my business.

Unless you want to actually achieve something with your words, I suppose.

Comment by Viliam on Fire Law Incentives · 2021-07-22T20:21:27.396Z · LW · GW

What exactly is the greatest problem of the fire? Is it random people walking in the forest, caught by surprise by a quickly spreading fire? Or is it houses and other things that cannot be moved out of the way of fire, even if you get a warning in advance?

For houses, the solution would be to require an inflammable area of certain size around each settlement. (That is, not around each house individually; you can also surround the entire village.)

For people in the forest, some combination of a warning system (loud alarms in case of fire) and shelters to hide that are easy to find.

It might make sense to cut a few inflammable lines across the forest, so that it doesn't burn all at once.

Comment by Viliam on The shoot-the-moon strategy · 2021-07-22T20:10:58.548Z · LW · GW

A browser extension AdNauseam clicks on all ads on the website (opening them in background, so you don't actually see them), so that advertisers' profiles of you become full of noise.

Comment by Viliam on Jimrandomh's Shortform · 2021-07-22T13:13:50.230Z · LW · GW

I agree that "varied diet" is a non-answer, because you didn't tell me the exact distribution of food, but you are likely to blame me if I choose a wrong one.

Like, if I consume 1000 different kinds of sweets, is that a sufficiently varied diet? Obviously no, I am also supposed to eat some fruit and vegetables. Okay, then what about 998 different kinds of sweets, plus one apple, and one tomato? Obviously, wrong again, I am supposed to eat less sweets, more fruit and vegetables, plus some protein source, and a few more things.

So the point is that the person telling me to eat a "varied diet" actually had something more specific in mind, just didn't tell me exactly, but still got angry at me for "misinterpreting" the advice, because I am supposed to know that this is not what they meant. Well, if I know exactly what you mean, then I don't need to ask for an advice, do I?

(On the other hand, there is a thing that Soylent-like meals ignore, as far as I know, that there are some things that human metabolism cannot process at the same time. I don't remember what exactly it is, but it's something like human body needs X and also needs Y, but if you eat X and Y at the same time, only X will be processed, so you end up Y-deficient despite eating a hypothetically sufficient amount of Y. Which could probably be fixed by finding combinations like this, and then making variants like Soylent-A and Soylent-B which you are supposed to alternate eating. But as far as I know, no one cares about this, which kinda reduces my trust in the research behind Soylent-like meals, although I like the idea in abstract very much.)

Comment by Viliam on Matthew Barnett's Shortform · 2021-07-22T12:51:16.615Z · LW · GW

I still disagree with your post that a coefficient of 0 for you in someone's mind implies murder for pocket change.

I believe this is exactly what it means, unless there is a chance of punishment or being hurt by victim's self-defense or a chance of better alternative interaction with given person. Do you assume that there is always a more profitable interaction? (What if the target says "hey, I just realized that you are a psychopath, and I do not want to interact with you anymore", and they mean it.)

Could you please list the pros and cons of deciding whether to murder a stranger who refuses to interact with you, if there is zero risk of being punished, from the perspective of a psychopath? As I see it, the "might get some pocket change" in the pro column is the only nonzero item in this model.

Comment by Viliam on Jimrandomh's Shortform · 2021-07-22T12:36:00.624Z · LW · GW

Worth trying, but I am afraid that the likely outcome would be "I consume all the unsweetened chocolate, and then still go looking for something else". Though recently I partially substituted sweets by peanuts (peeled, unsalted), which is almost healthy... considering the likely alternatives.

Comment by Viliam on Jimrandomh's Shortform · 2021-07-21T14:25:59.579Z · LW · GW

Someone who eats a lot of candy bars is likely to be undereating in general, and not getting enough protein/fat/salt/micronutrients.

No matter how much I eat, there is always a place for extra chocolate. (Verified experimentally in an all-you-can-eat restaurant.) Doesn't work the other way round; if I eat a lot of chocolate first, then I am full and no longer interested in food... unless it is another piece of chocolate.

So I'll stay with the "sugar is addictive" model. Maybe it works differently for different people, though.

Comment by Viliam on Future Of Work · 2021-07-21T13:20:37.236Z · LW · GW

The need to pad out your 8 hour day will evaporate. Workers will do what needs to be done rather than wasting their trying to look busy with the rest of the office.

Remote work does not necessarily eliminate the pressure on workers to look busy for 8 hours a day.

Instant-messaging tools often show when you are "active" and when you are "away". If you are using a company computer without administrator rights, this effectively becomes a check when you are busy (typing on the keyboard, moving the mouse), even in countries where monitoring your employees is in theory illegal. If the circle next to your name is too often yellow when the circles next to your colleagues' names are green, some manager will notice.

Even if you install a mouse shaker, if the managers have a habit of sending instant messages to employees several times a day and expecting an immediate response, they will notice who replies quickly and who does not.

With long meetings, the company can make sure that employees are actually paying attention by introducing group activities, where the employees are split into groups of five, and they are supposed to brainstorm on given topic and afterwards report their team conclusion.

Comment by Viliam on Matthew Barnett's Shortform · 2021-07-21T12:13:28.421Z · LW · GW

They may not care about you, but your atoms are useful to them in their current configuration.

There are ways of hurting people other than stabbing them, I just used a simple example.

I think there is a confusion about what exactly "selfish" means, and I blame Ayn Rand for it. The heroes in her novels are given the label "selfish" because they do not care about possibilities to actively do something good for other people unless there is also some profit for them (which is what a person with zero value for others in their preference function would do), but at the same time they avoid actively harming other people in ways that could bring them some profit (which is not what a perfectly selfish person would do).

As a result, we get quite unrealistic characters who on one hand are described as rational profit maximizers who don't care about others (except instrumentally), but on the other hand they follow an independently reinvented deontological framework that seems like designed by someone who actually cares about other people but is in deep denial about it (i.e. Ayn Rand).

A truly selfish person (someone who truly does not care about others) would hurt others in situations where doing so is profitable (including second-order effects). A truly selfish person would not arbitrarily invent a deontological code against hurting other people, because such code is merely a rationalization invented by someone who already has an emotional reason not to hurt other people but wants to pretend that instead this is a logical conclusion derived from first principles.

Interacting with a psychopath with likely get you hurt. It will likely not get you killed, because some other way of hurting you has a better risk:benefit profile. Perhaps the most profitable way is to scam you of some money and use you to get introduced to your friends. Only once in a while a situation will arise when raping someone is sufficiently safe, or killing someone is extremely profitable, e.g. because that person stands in a way of a grand business.

Comment by Viliam on Happy paths and the planning fallacy · 2021-07-19T20:22:46.048Z · LW · GW

In software development we sometimes play this game where you estimate how long a task will take, and then by sleight of hand the estimate becomes a commitment.

As a completely unrelated fact, most software projects exceed the deadlines.

Comment by Viliam on Reflecting on building my own tools from scratch and 'inventing on principle' · 2021-07-18T23:37:41.474Z · LW · GW

I did this "reinvent a wheel, then throw it away and use the regular one" with a personal note editor: first I wrote Notilo, then maintaining it became too much work so I switched to cherrytree. (But if the latter wouldn't exist, I would have stayed with the former.)

Comment by Viliam on Generalising Logic Gates · 2021-07-18T23:25:49.124Z · LW · GW

I am curious how to construct the cheapest addition for d digits.

Intuitively, "cheapest" refers to using as few gates as possible, exploting some mathematical properties of binary addition, and perhaps reusing some intermediate results. Though I am not sure how exactly to compare "costs" of gates of different dimensions. (This probably requires some insight into how the hardware of actual computers is built. The mathematical "cost" of gates should approximate the actual costs of producing and operating the hardware. I mean, the ultimate benefit of this exercise would be to design an actual computer that is cheaper or faster or more energy efficient.)

Then the same question for multiplication. Then, for building the entire computer.

Comment by Viliam on Media Diet: Cultivating Voice, Deliberate Action, and Alive Time · 2021-07-18T23:13:11.193Z · LW · GW

I recently tried to change some of my habits, and the greatest success was to stop reading Hacker News (and Reddit). Hacker News has this ironic impact on my life, that it gives me pointers to many interesting and potentially useful things, but also consumes all free time I would need to actually use and of those things.

Generally, seems that any system that pushes information to you is harmful. The right way to use resources is on-demand. (With very few exceptions; like if there is another pandemic coming, I want to know.)

The question is how to improve accessing the information on-demand. How to make "intelligent" queries that would not only give me "N latest articles" or "N most upvoted articles" or "N articles containing given keyword", but some proper combination of "approved by crowd + relevant to my interests", with a bit of exploration (if something is exceptionally strongly approved by the crowd, and not on my blacklist, show it to me, too).

Comment by Viliam on Matthew Barnett's Shortform · 2021-07-18T22:43:23.094Z · LW · GW

The connection between "doing good" and "making a sacrifice" is so strong that people need to be reminded that "win/win" is also a thing. The bad guys typically do whatever is best for them, which often involves hurting others (because some resources are limited). The good guys exercise restraint.

This is complicated because there is also the issue of short-term and long-term thinking. Sometimes the bad guys do things that benefit them in short term, but contribute to their fall in long term; while the good guys increase their long-term gains by strategically giving up on some short-term temptations. But it is a just-world fallacy to assume that things always end up this way. Sometimes the bad guys murder millions, and then they live happily to old age. Sometimes the good guys get punished and laughed at, and then they die in despair.

How could "good" even have evolved, given that "sacrifice" seems by definition incompatible with "maximizing fitness"?

  • being good to your relatives promotes your genes.
  • reciprocal goodness can be an advantage to both players.
  • doing good -- precisely because it is a sacrifice -- can become a signal of abundance, which makes other humans want to be my allies or mates.
  • people reward good and punish evil in others, because it is in their selfish interest to live among good people.

The problems caused by the evolutionary origin of goodness are also well-known: people are more likely to be good towards their neighbors who can reciprocate or towards potential sexual partners, and they are more likely to do good when they have an audience who approves of it... and less likely to do good to low-status people who can't reciprocate, or when their activities are anonymous. (Steals money from pension funds, polutes the environment, then donates millions to a prestigious university.)

I assume that most people are "instinctively good", that is that they kinda want to be good, but they simply follow their instincts, and don't reflect much on them (other than rationalizing that following their instinct was good, or at least a necessary evil). Their behavior can be changed by things that affect their instincts -- the archetypal example is the belief in an omniscient judging God, i.e. a powerful audience who sees all behavior, and rewards/punishes according to social norms (so now the only problem is how to make those social norms actually good). I am afraid that this ship has sailed, and that we do not really have a good replacement -- any non-omniscient judge can be deceived, and any reward mechanism will be Goodharted. Another problem is that by trying to make society more tolerant and more governed by law, we also take away people's ability to punish evil... as long as the evil takes care to only do evil acts that are technically legal, or when there is not enough legal evidence of wrongdoing.

Assuming we have a group of saints (who have the same values, and who trust each other to be saints), I am not even sure what would be the best strategy for them. Probably to cooperate with each other a lot, because there is no risk of being stabbed in the back. Try to find other saints, test them, and then admit them to the group. Notice good acts among non-saints and reward them somehow -- maybe in form of lottery, when most good acts only get a "thank you", but one in a million gets a million-dollar reward. (People overestimate their chances in lottery. This would lead them to overestimate how likely a good act is to be rewarded, which would make them do more good.) The obvious problem with rewarding good acts is that it rewards visibility; perhaps there should be a special rewards for good acts that were unlikely to get noticed. The good acts should get a social reward, i.e. telling other people about the good act and how someone was impressed.

(The sad thing is that given that we live in a clickbait society, it would not take much time until someone would publish an article about how X-ist the saints are, because the proportion of Y's they rewarded for good deeds is not the same as the proportion of Y's in the society. Also, this specific person rewarded for this specific good deed also happens to hold some problematic opinions, does this mean that the saints secretly support the opinion, too?)

I sometimes like to imagine a soft version of karma, like if people would be free to associate with people who are like them, then the good people would associate with other good people, the bad people would associate with other bad people, and then the bad people would suffer (because surrounded by bad people), and the good people would live nice lives (because surrounded by good people). The problem with this vision is that people are not so free to choose their neighbors (coordination is hard, moving is expensive), and also that the good people who suck at judging other people's goodness would suffer. Not sure what is the right approach here, other than perhaps we should become a bit more judgmental, because it seems the pendulum has swung too much in the direction that you are not even allowed to criticize [an obviously horrible thing] out of concern that some culture might routinely [do the horrible thing], which would get you called out as intolerant, which is a sin much worse than [doing the horrible thing]. I'd like people to get some self-respect and say "hey, these are my values, if you disagree, fuck off". But this of course assumes that the people who disagree actually have a place to go. Another problem is that you cannot build an archipelago, if the land is scarce, and your solution to conflicts is to walk away.

(Also, a fraction of people are literally psychopaths, so even if we devised a set of nudges to make most people behave good, it would not apply to everyone. To make someone behave good out of mere rational self-interest, they would have to believe that almost all evil deeds get detected and punished, which is very difficult to achieve.)

Comment by Viliam on Matthew Barnett's Shortform · 2021-07-18T20:53:07.635Z · LW · GW

If your well-being has exactly zero value in my preference function, that literally means that I would kill you in a dark alley if I believed there was zero chance of being punished, because there is a chance you might have some money that I could take. I would call that "evil", too.

Comment by Viliam on "If and Only If" Should Be Spelled "Ifeff" · 2021-07-16T23:16:04.102Z · LW · GW

What about "if-if"? Short, obviously not a typo, intuitive spelling. Oh, seems like stutter.

Comment by Viliam on When beliefs become identities, truth-seeking becomes hard · 2021-07-16T18:30:54.995Z · LW · GW

The best one so far, in my opinion. Not sure what you changed, but whatever it was, please consider keeping it.

Comment by Viliam on Jimrandomh's Shortform · 2021-07-16T18:20:57.377Z · LW · GW

Seems to me like an unspoken assumption that there are no hard problems / complexity / emergence, therefore if anything happened, it's because someone quite straightforwardly made that happen.

Conflict vs mistake is not exactly the same thing; you could assume that the person who made it happen did it either by mistake, or did it on purpose to hurt someone else. It's just when we are talking about things that obviously hurt some people, that seems to refute the innocent mistake... so the villain hypothesis is all that is left (within the model that all consequences are straightforward).

The villain hypothesis is also difficult to falsify. If you say "hey, drop the pitchforks, things are complicated...", that sounds just like what the hypothetical villain would say in the same situation (trying to stop the momentum and introduce uncertainty).

Comment by Viliam on Jimrandomh's Shortform · 2021-07-16T17:59:32.810Z · LW · GW

I wonder how accurate it is to describe the structural thinking as a recent progress. Seems to me that Marx already believed that (using my own words here, but see the source) both the rich and the poor are mere cogs in the machine, it's just that the rich are okay with their role because the machine leaves them some autonomy, while the poor are stripped of all autonomy and their lives are made unbearable. The rich of today are not villains who designed the machine, they inherited it just like everyone else, and they cannot individually leave it just like no one else can.

Perhaps the structural thinking is too difficult to understand for most people, who will round the story to the nearest cliche they can understand, so it needs to be reintroduced once in a while.

Comment by Viliam on Essentialness of Data · 2021-07-15T21:13:15.629Z · LW · GW

I guess there are two issues here: lack of consent, and lack of trust.

Each of them is important for me separately. But together, it's like, I say "no", you say "but trust me, you are going to like it, it will be good for you", and I say "first, I don't trust you, and second, I already said no".

To explain the problem with trust, let's use some outside view here. I don't want to read hundred pages of the latest specification written by Google, because I am not a security expert, I cannot verify that the functionality will actually be implemented 100% according to the specification and without bugs, and most importantly the specification can be updated in the future after people get used to it.

The historical experience is that first you have a TV, then you have a TV full of ads, then you agree to pay for cable TV because you acknowledge that they need money and you want to get rid of the ads, and then you find yourself paying for a cable TV which is full of ads anyway. (And the story doesn't really end here. Then you find out that your TV is collecting data about your watching habits and sending it god knows where. And maybe there is a hidden camera in the TV that looks at your face and analyzes whether you are smiling or bored, and how much attention you are paying. And I am pretty sure the story doesn't end here either, and I wonder what my children and grandchildren will consider "normal" when they are at my age.) So the outside view says that whevener you give up some X in return for a promise of getting some Y back, in long term you are going to lose both X and Y and also some unexpected Z.

Whatever value you are promising me to get back after accepting your proposal, I expect to lose it at the very next update. (That is, if the first version is implemented flawlessly, and if it truly contains no security holes. Otherwise, I expect to lose the value again five seconds after we shake hands.)

From the perspective of consent, I am not really free to say "no" here, am I? The corporations want my private data, and given the difference in power, they will get them. The bottom line is already written, and the only thing this debate could achieve is to make me feel less bad about having my preferences violated. My opinion about differential privacy or anything else makes zero difference, it's just shouting in the wind.

The description of differential privacy on Wikipedia sounds interesting, and I don't for a moment assume that it will be implemented correctly. The idea, if I understand it correctly, is that whenever someone makes a query, you add a certain (mathematically determined) amount of noise to the results. Which means the data in the database itself are without the noise. Which means we just have to trust that no one implements an extra button that would return the data without the added noise. Not even if their boss, or the government tells them to. I don't believe this for a moment.

Comment by Viliam on Viliam's Shortform · 2021-07-15T16:38:42.524Z · LW · GW

Elsevier found a new method to extract money! If you send an article to their journal from a non-English-speaking country, it will be rejected because of your supposed mistakes in English language. To overcome this obstacle, you can use Elsevier's "Language Editing services" starting from $95. Only afterwards will the article be sent to the reviewers (and possibly rejected).

This happens also if you had your article already checked by a native English speaker who found no errors. On the other hand, if you let your co-author living in an English-speaking country submit the article, the grammar will always be okay.

Based on anecdotal evidence from a few scientists I know. Though some of them have similar experience with other journals who do not use their own language services, so maybe this is not about money but about being primed to check for "bad English" of authors from non-English-speaking countries.

Comment by Viliam on Essentialness of Data · 2021-07-15T16:27:37.855Z · LW · GW

If that refers to people uploading their baby pictures on Facebook, okay.

But e.g. telemetry in operating systems is more like: "by living in a house I built (in a country where 90% of houses are built by me) you automatically consent to streaming videos from your shower".

Comment by Viliam on Essentialness of Data · 2021-07-15T16:08:05.513Z · LW · GW

Instead of pushing for "don't collect data", I think it would make a lot more sense for advocates to push for "only collect data privately" and work to make that easier (carrot) or mandatory (stick).

Why not both? A fine for collecting data without explicit free informed consent; prison time for providing the collected data to a third party...

I lock my door despite that we already have laws against theft. Because the extra protection feels useful, and because I focus on the part that is under my control.

I do not consent to companies collecting data about me. In a nice society, the discussion should end here.

Comment by Viliam on Analyzing Punishment as Preventation · 2021-07-15T15:46:45.112Z · LW · GW

Why would we assume that someone who commits a crime today is likely to do so again tomorrow, but not in two years?

More time to change one's mind. I know you have "improvement by punishment" as a separate category, but here I don't mean improvement as a result of whatever specific that happens in prison, but rather as a result of having enough time to reflect (and not being allowed to commit another crime in the meanwhile).

Situation may change so the motive for the original crime may no longer be relevant. (This effect is probably not intentional, otherwise "how long before the motive becomes irrelevant" would be explicit in sentencing.)

If the crime happened as a result of social pressure, it means two years without that specific pressure. (Though there are other kinds of social influences in the prison, not necessarily better.)

If young men are most likely to commit crime, perhaps becoming two years older can make a difference in some cases? (Though this would imply that younger people should get longer sentences.)

Comment by Viliam on Ideal College Education for an Aspiring Rationalist? · 2021-07-15T13:22:34.106Z · LW · GW

Not sure if this is related or just a similar idea: https://nandgame.com/

Comment by Viliam on How to make more people interested in rationality? · 2021-07-15T10:43:42.181Z · LW · GW

I agree with the general idea that actually being awesome makes evangelizing easier, and not being awesome makes the whole awesomeness-promising project suspicious.

But there are also benefits from cooperation, or from social pressure aligned with your goals. To get these benefits, you need to have similarly-minded people around you. There are places with enough rationalists to start awesome group projects; but there are also places without them. Groups can be more productive than individuals, because of division of labor, getting sidekicks, etc.

Comment by Viliam on Viliam's Shortform · 2021-07-12T21:46:18.037Z · LW · GW

When internet becomes fast enough and data storage cheap enough so that it will be possible to inconspicuously capture videos of everyone's computer/smartphone screens all the time and upload them to the gigantic servers of Google/Microsoft/Apple, I expect that exactly this will happen.

I wouldn't be too surprised to learn that it already happens with keystrokes.

Comment by Viliam on Voicing Voice · 2021-07-12T20:53:07.852Z · LW · GW

Agree about the distinction between expressing yourself and being understood. You can speak freely and yet be constantly misunderstood... and it may feel liberating at first, but then it just feels lonely. Yes, communication deepens understanding, also also provides a social reward for self-exploration.

Do I feel free to express myself openly? This is complicated, because on one hand I do have some insecurity about being open, but on the other hand, in those cases when I express some partial things openly, the typical outcome is that people either don't care or completely misunderstand. (Like trying to talk about rationality, when everyone is interested in scoring points for their tribe.) I wish I could talk to people around me the same way I can at a Less Wrong meetup, because the meetup mood is maybe 80% of what I want. Or I wish there were more rationalists around me, so there would be a chance for a subset of "rationalist and cares about the same topics I do". When I share something I wrote, the typical reactions are (1) silence, (2) "oh yes, I agree with <a strawman of what I wrote>". Recently I reviewed posts I have shared on social networks: the more meaningful they were, the fewer reactions they got.

So I guess the thing I am afraid of is that I will spend lot of energy and time expressing myself, and the result will be mostly silence. Not exactly scary, but demotivating nonetheless.

Here is the first blog article, and I have a few more planned, but I am currently low on free time. The plan is a sequence on writing computer games (this takes a lot of time, because each article will come with an example project), also one article on non-standard integers (already half-written, but also needs illustrations) which may or may not be an introduction into a math sequence, and some book summaries (again takes lots of time, need to read the books first). Uh, now I see I chose topics that require lot of time; but that reflects who I am (I don't like expressing opinions on things I know little about, and I am not good at writing essays).