nhaliday + lesswrong   121

Zettelkästen? | Hacker News
Here’s a LessWrong post that describes it (including the insight “I honestly didn’t think Zettelkasten sounded like a good idea before I tried it” which I also felt).

yeah doesn't sound like a good idea to me either. idk
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8 weeks ago by nhaliday
The Hanson-Yudkowsky AI-Foom Debate - Machine Intelligence Research Institute
How Deviant Recent AI Progress Lumpiness?: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2018/03/how-deviant-recent-ai-progress-lumpiness.html
I seem to disagree with most people working on artificial intelligence (AI) risk. While with them I expect rapid change once AI is powerful enough to replace most all human workers, I expect this change to be spread across the world, not concentrated in one main localized AI system. The efforts of AI risk folks to design AI systems whose values won’t drift might stop global AI value drift if there is just one main AI system. But doing so in a world of many AI systems at similar abilities levels requires strong global governance of AI systems, which is a tall order anytime soon. Their continued focus on preventing single system drift suggests that they expect a single main AI system.

The main reason that I understand to expect relatively local AI progress is if AI progress is unusually lumpy, i.e., arriving in unusually fewer larger packages rather than in the usual many smaller packages. If one AI team finds a big lump, it might jump way ahead of the other teams.

However, we have a vast literature on the lumpiness of research and innovation more generally, which clearly says that usually most of the value in innovation is found in many small innovations. We have also so far seen this in computer science (CS) and AI. Even if there have been historical examples where much value was found in particular big innovations, such as nuclear weapons or the origin of humans.

Apparently many people associated with AI risk, including the star machine learning (ML) researchers that they often idolize, find it intuitively plausible that AI and ML progress is exceptionally lumpy. Such researchers often say, “My project is ‘huge’, and will soon do it all!” A decade ago my ex-co-blogger Eliezer Yudkowsky and I argued here on this blog about our differing estimates of AI progress lumpiness. He recently offered Alpha Go Zero as evidence of AI lumpiness:

...

In this post, let me give another example (beyond two big lumps in a row) of what could change my mind. I offer a clear observable indicator, for which data should have available now: deviant citation lumpiness in recent ML research. One standard measure of research impact is citations; bigger lumpier developments gain more citations that smaller ones. And it turns out that the lumpiness of citations is remarkably constant across research fields! See this March 3 paper in Science:

I Still Don’t Get Foom: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2014/07/30855.html
All of which makes it look like I’m the one with the problem; everyone else gets it. Even so, I’m gonna try to explain my problem again, in the hope that someone can explain where I’m going wrong. Here goes.

“Intelligence” just means an ability to do mental/calculation tasks, averaged over many tasks. I’ve always found it plausible that machines will continue to do more kinds of mental tasks better, and eventually be better at pretty much all of them. But what I’ve found it hard to accept is a “local explosion.” This is where a single machine, built by a single project using only a tiny fraction of world resources, goes in a short time (e.g., weeks) from being so weak that it is usually beat by a single human with the usual tools, to so powerful that it easily takes over the entire world. Yes, smarter machines may greatly increase overall economic growth rates, and yes such growth may be uneven. But this degree of unevenness seems implausibly extreme. Let me explain.

If we count by economic value, humans now do most of the mental tasks worth doing. Evolution has given us a brain chock-full of useful well-honed modules. And the fact that most mental tasks require the use of many modules is enough to explain why some of us are smarter than others. (There’d be a common “g” factor in task performance even with independent module variation.) Our modules aren’t that different from those of other primates, but because ours are different enough to allow lots of cultural transmission of innovation, we’ve out-competed other primates handily.

We’ve had computers for over seventy years, and have slowly build up libraries of software modules for them. Like brains, computers do mental tasks by combining modules. An important mental task is software innovation: improving these modules, adding new ones, and finding new ways to combine them. Ideas for new modules are sometimes inspired by the modules we see in our brains. When an innovation team finds an improvement, they usually sell access to it, which gives them resources for new projects, and lets others take advantage of their innovation.

...

In Bostrom’s graph above the line for an initially small project and system has a much higher slope, which means that it becomes in a short time vastly better at software innovation. Better than the entire rest of the world put together. And my key question is: how could it plausibly do that? Since the rest of the world is already trying the best it can to usefully innovate, and to abstract to promote such innovation, what exactly gives one small project such a huge advantage to let it innovate so much faster?

...

In fact, most software innovation seems to be driven by hardware advances, instead of innovator creativity. Apparently, good ideas are available but must usually wait until hardware is cheap enough to support them.

Yes, sometimes architectural choices have wider impacts. But I was an artificial intelligence researcher for nine years, ending twenty years ago, and I never saw an architecture choice make a huge difference, relative to other reasonable architecture choices. For most big systems, overall architecture matters a lot less than getting lots of detail right. Researchers have long wandered the space of architectures, mostly rediscovering variations on what others found before.

Some hope that a small project could be much better at innovation because it specializes in that topic, and much better understands new theoretical insights into the basic nature of innovation or intelligence. But I don’t think those are actually topics where one can usefully specialize much, or where we’ll find much useful new theory. To be much better at learning, the project would instead have to be much better at hundreds of specific kinds of learning. Which is very hard to do in a small project.

What does Bostrom say? Alas, not much. He distinguishes several advantages of digital over human minds, but all software shares those advantages. Bostrom also distinguishes five paths: better software, brain emulation (i.e., ems), biological enhancement of humans, brain-computer interfaces, and better human organizations. He doesn’t think interfaces would work, and sees organizations and better biology as only playing supporting roles.

...

Similarly, while you might imagine someday standing in awe in front of a super intelligence that embodies all the power of a new age, superintelligence just isn’t the sort of thing that one project could invent. As “intelligence” is just the name we give to being better at many mental tasks by using many good mental modules, there’s no one place to improve it. So I can’t see a plausible way one project could increase its intelligence vastly faster than could the rest of the world.

Takeoff speeds: https://sideways-view.com/2018/02/24/takeoff-speeds/
Futurists have argued for years about whether the development of AGI will look more like a breakthrough within a small group (“fast takeoff”), or a continuous acceleration distributed across the broader economy or a large firm (“slow takeoff”).

I currently think a slow takeoff is significantly more likely. This post explains some of my reasoning and why I think it matters. Mostly the post lists arguments I often hear for a fast takeoff and explains why I don’t find them compelling.

(Note: this is not a post about whether an intelligence explosion will occur. That seems very likely to me. Quantitatively I expect it to go along these lines. So e.g. while I disagree with many of the claims and assumptions in Intelligence Explosion Microeconomics, I don’t disagree with the central thesis or with most of the arguments.)
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april 2018 by nhaliday
What Peter Thiel thinks about AI risk - Less Wrong
TL;DR: he thinks its an issue but also feels AGI is very distant and hence less worried about it than Musk.

I recommend the rest of the lecture as well, it's a good summary of "Zero to One"  and a good QA afterwards.

For context, in case anyone doesn't realize: Thiel has been MIRI's top donor throughout its history.

other stuff:
nice interview question: "thing you know is true that not everyone agrees on?"
"learning from failure overrated"
cleantech a huge market, hard to compete
software makes for easy monopolies (zero marginal costs, network effects, etc.)
for most of history inventors did not benefit much (continuous competition)
ethical behavior is a luxury of monopoly
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february 2018 by nhaliday
Here Be Sermons | Melting Asphalt
The Costly Coordination Mechanism of Common Knowledge: https://www.lesserwrong.com/posts/9QxnfMYccz9QRgZ5z/the-costly-coordination-mechanism-of-common-knowledge
- Dictatorships all through history have attempted to suppress freedom of the press and freedom of speech. Why is this? Are they just very sensitive? On the other side, the leaders of the Enlightenment fought for freedom of speech, and would not budge an inch against this principle.
- When two people are on a date and want to sleep with each other, the conversation will often move towards but never explicitly discuss having sex. The two may discuss going back to the place of one of theirs, with a different explicit reason discussed (e.g. "to have a drink"), even if both want to have sex.
- Throughout history, communities have had religious rituals that look very similar. Everyone in the village has to join in. There are repetitive songs, repetitive lectures on the same holy books, chanting together. Why, of all the possible community events (e.g. dinner, parties, etc) is this the most common type?
What these three things have in common, is common knowledge - or at least, the attempt to create it.

...

Common knowledge is often much easier to build in small groups - in the example about getting off the bus, the two need only to look at each other, share a nod, and common knowledge is achieved. Building common knowledge between hundreds or thousands of people is significantly harder, and the fact that religion has such a significant ability to do so is why it has historically had so much connection to politics.
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september 2017 by nhaliday
Medicine as a pseudoscience | West Hunter
The idea that venesection was a good thing, or at least not so bad, on the grounds that one in a few hundred people have hemochromatosis (in Northern Europe) reminds me of the people who don’t wear a seatbelt, since it would keep them from being thrown out of their convertible into a waiting haystack, complete with nubile farmer’s daughter. Daughters. It could happen. But it’s not the way to bet.

Back in the good old days, Charles II, age 53, had a fit one Sunday evening, while fondling two of his mistresses.

Monday they bled him (cupping and scarifying) of eight ounces of blood. Followed by an antimony emetic, vitriol in peony water, purgative pills, and a clyster. Followed by another clyster after two hours. Then syrup of blackthorn, more antimony, and rock salt. Next, more laxatives, white hellebore root up the nostrils. Powdered cowslip flowers. More purgatives. Then Spanish Fly. They shaved his head and stuck blistering plasters all over it, plastered the soles of his feet with tar and pigeon-dung, then said good-night.

...

Friday. The king was worse. He tells them not to let poor Nelly starve. They try the Oriental Bezoar Stone, and more bleeding. Dies at noon.

Most people didn’t suffer this kind of problem with doctors, since they never saw one. Charles had six. Now Bach and Handel saw the same eye surgeon, John Taylor – who blinded both of them. Not everyone can put that on his resume!

You may wonder how medicine continued to exist, if it had a negative effect, on the whole. There’s always the placebo effect – at least there would be, if it existed. Any real placebo effect is very small: I’d guess exactly zero. But there is regression to the mean. You see the doctor when you’re feeling worse than average – and afterwards, if he doesn’t kill you outright, you’re likely to feel better. Which would have happened whether you’d seen him or not, but they didn’t often do RCTs back in the day – I think James Lind was the first (1747).

Back in the late 19th century, Christian Scientists did better than others when sick, because they didn’t believe in medicine. For reasons I think mistaken, because Mary Baker Eddy rejected the reality of the entire material world, but hey, it worked. Parenthetically, what triggered all that New Age nonsense in 19th century New England? Hash?

This did not change until fairly recently. Sometime in the early 20th medicine, clinical medicine, what doctors do, hit break-even. Now we can’t do without it. I wonder if there are, or will be, other examples of such a pile of crap turning (mostly) into a real science.

good tweet: https://twitter.com/bowmanthebard/status/897146294191390720
The brilliant GP I've had for 35+ years has retired. How can I find another one who meets my requirements?

1 is overweight
2 drinks more than officially recommended amounts
3 has an amused, tolerant atitude to human failings
4 is well aware that we're all going to die anyway, & there are better or worse ways to die
5 has a healthy skeptical attitude to mainstream medical science
6 is wholly dismissive of "a|ternative” medicine
7 believes in evolution
8 thinks most diseases get better without intervention, & knows the dangers of false positives
9 understands the base rate fallacy

EconPapers: Was Civil War Surgery Effective?: http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/htrhcecon/444.htm
contra Greg Cochran:
To shed light on the subject, I analyze a data set created by Dr. Edmund Andrews, a Civil war surgeon with the 1st Illinois Light Artillery. Dr. Andrews’s data can be rendered into an observational data set on surgical intervention and recovery, with controls for wound location and severity. The data also admits instruments for the surgical decision. My analysis suggests that Civil War surgery was effective, and increased the probability of survival of the typical wounded soldier, with average treatment effect of 0.25-0.28.

Medical Prehistory: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2016/03/14/medical-prehistory/
What ancient medical treatments worked?

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2016/03/14/medical-prehistory/#comment-76878
In some very, very limited conditions, bleeding?
--
Bad for you 99% of the time.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2016/03/14/medical-prehistory/#comment-76947
Colchicine – used to treat gout – discovered by the Ancient Greeks.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2016/03/14/medical-prehistory/#comment-76973
Dracunculiasis (Guinea worm)
Wrap the emerging end of the worm around a stick and slowly pull it out.
(3,500 years later, this remains the standard treatment.)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebers_Papyrus

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2016/03/14/medical-prehistory/#comment-76971
Some of the progress is from formal medicine, most is from civil engineering, better nutrition ( ag science and physical chemistry), less crowded housing.

Nurses vs doctors: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/nurses-vs-doctors/
Medicine, the things that doctors do, was an ineffective pseudoscience until fairly recently. Until 1800 or so, they were wrong about almost everything. Bleeding, cupping, purging, the four humors – useless. In the 1800s, some began to realize that they were wrong, and became medical nihilists that improved outcomes by doing less. Some patients themselves came to this realization, as when Civil War casualties hid from the surgeons and had better outcomes. Sometime in the early 20th century, MDs reached break-even, and became an increasingly positive influence on human health. As Lewis Thomas said, medicine is the youngest science.

Nursing, on the other hand, has always been useful. Just making sure that a patient is warm and nourished when too sick to take care of himself has helped many survive. In fact, some of the truly crushing epidemics have been greatly exacerbated when there were too few healthy people to take care of the sick.

Nursing must be old, but it can’t have existed forever. Whenever it came into existence, it must have changed the selective forces acting on the human immune system. Before nursing, being sufficiently incapacitated would have been uniformly fatal – afterwards, immune responses that involved a period of incapacitation (with eventual recovery) could have been selectively favored.

when MDs broke even: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/nurses-vs-doctors/#comment-58981
I’d guess the 1930s. Lewis Thomas thought that he was living through big changes. They had a working serum therapy for lobar pneumonia ( antibody-based). They had many new vaccines ( diphtheria in 1923, whopping cough in 1926, BCG and tetanus in 1927, yellow fever in 1935, typhus in 1937.) Vitamins had been mostly worked out. Insulin was discovered in 1929. Blood transfusions. The sulfa drugs, first broad-spectrum antibiotics, showed up in 1935.

DALYs per doctor: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/01/22/dalys-per-doctor/
The disability-adjusted life year (DALY) is a measure of overall disease burden – the number of years lost. I’m wondering just much harm premodern medicine did, per doctor. How many healthy years of life did a typical doctor destroy (net) in past times?

...

It looks as if the average doctor (in Western medicine) killed a bunch of people over his career ( when contrasted with doing nothing). In the Charles Manson class.

Eventually the market saw through this illusion. Only took a couple of thousand years.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/01/22/dalys-per-doctor/#comment-100741
That a very large part of healthcare spending is done for non-health reasons. He has a chapter on this in his new book, also check out his paper “Showing That You Care: The Evolution of Health Altruism” http://mason.gmu.edu/~rhanson/showcare.pdf
--
I ran into too much stupidity to finish the article. Hanson’s a loon. For example when he talks about the paradox of blacks being more sentenced on drug offenses than whites although they use drugs at similar rate. No paradox: guys go to the big house for dealing, not for using. Where does he live – Mars?

I had the same reaction when Hanson parroted some dipshit anthropologist arguing that the stupid things people do while drunk are due to social expectations, not really the alcohol.
Horseshit.

I don’t think that being totally unable to understand everybody around you necessarily leads to deep insights.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/01/22/dalys-per-doctor/#comment-100744
What I’ve wondered is if there was anything that doctors did that actually was helpful and if perhaps that little bit of success helped them fool people into thinking the rest of it helped.
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Setting bones. extracting arrows: spoon of Diocles. Colchicine for gout. Extracting the Guinea worm. Sometimes they got away with removing the stone. There must be others.
--
Quinine is relatively recent: post-1500. Obstetrical forceps also. Caesarean deliveries were almost always fatal to the mother until fairly recently.

Opium has been around for a long while : it works.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/01/22/dalys-per-doctor/#comment-100839
If pre-modern medicine was indeed worse than useless – how do you explain no one noticing that patients who get expensive treatments are worse off than those who didn’t?
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were worse off. People are kinda dumb – you’ve noticed?
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My impression is that while people may be “kinda dumb”, ancient customs typically aren’t.
Even if we assume that all people who lived prior to the 19th century were too dumb to make the rational observation, wouldn’t you expect this ancient practice to be subject to selective pressure?
--
Your impression is wrong. Do you think that there some slick reason for Carthaginians incinerating their first-born?

Theodoric of York, bloodletting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvff3TViXmY

details on blood-letting and hemochromatosis: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/01/22/dalys-per-doctor/#comment-100746

Starting Over: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2018/01/23/starting-over/
Looking back on it, human health would have … [more]
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august 2017 by nhaliday
trees are harlequins, words are harlequins — bayes: a kinda-sorta masterpost
lol, gwern: https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/6ghsxf/biweekly_rational_feed/diqr0rq/
> What sort of person thinks “oh yeah, my beliefs about these coefficients correspond to a Gaussian with variance 2.5″? And what if I do cross-validation, like I always do, and find that variance 200 works better for the problem? Was the other person wrong? But how could they have known?
> ...Even ignoring the mode vs. mean issue, I have never met anyone who could tell whether their beliefs were normally distributed vs. Laplace distributed. Have you?
I must have spent too much time in Bayesland because both those strike me as very easy and I often think them! My beliefs usually are Laplace distributed when it comes to things like genetics (it makes me very sad to see GWASes with flat priors), and my Gaussian coefficients are actually a variance of 0.70 (assuming standardized variables w.l.o.g.) as is consistent with field-wide meta-analyses indicating that d>1 is pretty rare.
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august 2017 by nhaliday
Tales of the Chinese future past – Gene Expression
older: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2007/09/the-past-and-the-future/
That being said, the past is likely a guide that the Chinese imperialism of the 21st century will not take the form of massed invasions and conquests, but rather client-patron relationships which reinforce the rise of a new hegemon.

Why Confucianism Matters: https://www.gnxp.com/WordPress/2018/01/10/why-confucianism-matters/
Why look to China? After all, there were ethical systems in the West. First, I’m not sure that the supernaturalistic religions work to bind elites together anymore due to lack of credibility. Christianity is getting weaker. My own personal hunch is that the current wave of Islamic assertiveness and violence is the paroxysm of a civilization confronting its irrelevance.

Second, Classical Antiquity had plenty of ethical systems, especially during the Hellenistic and Roman period. But Rome collapsed. There was a great rupture between antiquity and the medieval period. In contrast, the Confucian and Neo-Confucian system persisted down to the early 20th century in classical form and casts a strong shadow over East Asia even today. While Stoicism had personal relevance, Confucianism was designed to scale from the individual all the way to the imperial state.

The 1960s saw a radical transition to notional social egalitarianism in the West. This is the world I grew up and matured in. Arguably, I believed in its rightness, inevitability, and eternal dominance, until very recently. But I think that today that model is fraying and people are looking to find some mooring. In particular, I think we are in need of a rectification of names. From Wikipedia:

Confucius was asked what he would do if he was a governor. He said he would “rectify the names” to make words correspond to reality. The phrase has now become known as a doctrine of feudal Confucian designations and relationships, behaving accordingly to ensure social harmony. Without such accordance society would essentially crumble and “undertakings would not be completed.”

How are we supposed to behave with each given person? A lot of this is free-form and improvisational today, and it turns out that many people are not comfortable with this. Humans need scripts.

Finally, the world that Confucianism developed was highly stratified, though there was some chance of advancement. It was not a calcified caste system, but it was a hierarchical one. I believe that is the system that we are moving toward in the West, and it seems that a system that takes for granted non-egalitarianism, such as Confucianism, may benefit us.

Spandrell: https://www.gnxp.com/WordPress/2018/01/10/why-confucianism-matters/#comment-6358
I’d say that arguably Confucianism only really flourished after the Song dynasty broke the Chinese aristocracy and instituted a fully civilian ruling class. Confucianism was a force for egalitarianism if anything. It was the religion of the mandarins, not of the people.

If we were to make an analogy to Chinese history I’d say we are more like in the Eastern Han, with private patronage networks taking over the state from within. The result of that wasn’t a strong confucianism. The result was the spread of Buddhism. A very different beast.

https://twitter.com/thespandrell/status/951469782053871616
https://archive.is/m0XAq
Read and check the comments. I wish it were true; I could sell a couple of books if anything. But Confucianism is an ideology of absolutism, not of oligarchy.

The Western Rectification Of Names: https://www.gnxp.com/WordPress/2015/03/09/the-western-rectification-of-names/
The important insight we can gain from the longevity of a Confucian political philosophy is that its core theses do have some utility for complex societies. Unlike that of Rome the Chinese order of two thousand years ago actually persisted down to living memory, with the fall of the Ching in the early 20th century. Confucius believed he was a traditionalist, rediscovering ancient insights as to the proper relations between human beings. I suspect this is correct, insofar as the Golden Mean he and his humanistic followers recommended between the cold and cruel utilitarianism of the Legalists and the unrealistic one of the followers of Mozi is probably the best fit to human psychological dispositions (both the Legalists and Mohists were suspicious of the family).** In the disordered world of the late Zhou, on the precipice of the Warring States period, Confucius and his followers elucidated what was really common sense, but repackaged in a fashion which would appeal more systematically to elites, and scaffold their own more egotistical impulses (in contrast to the Legalists, who seem to have enshrined the ego of the ruler as the summum bonum).

And that is the reality which we face today. Our world is not on the precipice of war, but social and technological changes are such that we are in a period where a new rectification of names is warranted. Old categories of sex, gender, religion and race, are falling or reordering. Western society is fracturing, as the intelligentsia promote their own parochial categories, and traditionalists dissent and retreat into their own subcultures. To give two examples, there are those who might find offense if addressed by the pronoun he or she, even though this is an old convention in Western society. In contrast, traditionalist Christian subcultures no longer have unified control of the public domain which would allow for them to promulgate the basis of their values. There are those who might accede to traditional Christian claims who can not agree with their metaphysics, which the traditional Christians hold to be necessary to be in full agreement.*** In contrast, the progressive faction which declaims the morally restrictive manners of the traditionalist Right in fact belies its own assertions by the proliferation of terms which serve to define the elect from those who do not uphold proper morals and manners.

Why I Am Not A New Atheist: https://www.gnxp.com/WordPress/2018/01/11/why-i-am-not-a-new-atheist/
Fundamentally I do not think this is correct. Nor do I think that religious beliefs have much to do with logic or reason. Religion is a complex phenomenon which is rooted in supernatural intuitions and then evolves further in a cultural context, with some possible functional utility as a group-marker.

Second, I do not think religion is the “root of all evil”, and so see no need to convert the world to atheism. Obviously, the horror of Communism illustrates that removing supernatural religion does not remove the human impulse to atrocity.

More recently, I have been convinced that truth and knowledge is a minor value to most humans, including elites. Lying is pretty ubiquitous, and most people are rather satisfied with big lies girding social norms and conventions. One may try to avoid “living by lies” in private, but actually promoting this viewpoint in public is ridiculously self-destructive. Most people could care less about the truth,* while elites simply manipulate facts to buttress their social positions and engage in control.

In other words, the New Atheists seem to think that it’s a worthy to aim to enlighten humanity toward views which they believe align with reality.

At this point, I care about converting the common man to a true understanding of reality as much as I care about a cow grokking trigonometry. I don’t.

https://twitter.com/razibkhan/status/954392158198525953
https://archive.is/TXjN0
i have long believed many 'traditional' institutions and folkways which we in the post-materialist world look askance at are not traditional, but ad hoc cultural kludges and patches for ppl to manage to survive in villages where our cognitive toolkit wasn't sufficient
in an affluent liberal democratic context they may indeed be outmoded and easy to slough off. but if a different form of life, characterized by malthusian immiseration, comes to dominate then the kludges will come back
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may 2017 by nhaliday
Annotating Greg Cochran’s interview with James Miller
https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/interview-2/
opinion of Scott and Hanson: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/interview-2/#comment-90238
Greg's methodist: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/interview-2/#comment-90256
https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/interview-2/#comment-90299
You have to consider the relative strengths of Japan and the USA. USA was ~10x stronger, industrially, which is what mattered. Technically superior (radar, Manhattan project). Almost entirely self-sufficient in natural resources. Japan was sure to lose, and too crazy to quit, which meant that they would lose after being smashed flat.
--
There’s a fairly common way of looking at things in which the bad guys are not at fault because they’re bad guys, born that way, and thus can’t help it. Well, we can’t help it either, so the hell with them. I don’t think we had to respect Japan’s innate need to fuck everybody in China to death.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/03/25/ramble-on/
https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/03/24/topics/
https://soundcloud.com/user-519115521/greg-cochran-part-1
2nd part: https://pinboard.in/u:nhaliday/b:9ab84243b967

some additional things:
- political correctness, the Cathedral and the left (personnel continuity but not ideology/value) at start
- joke: KT impact = asteroid mining, every mass extinction = intelligent life destroying itself
- Alawites: not really Muslim, women liberated because "they don't have souls", ended up running shit in Syria because they were only ones that wanted to help the British during colonial era
- solution to Syria: "put the Alawites in NYC"
- Zimbabwe was OK for a while, if South Africa goes sour, just "put the Boers in NYC" (Miller: left would probably say they are "culturally incompatible", lol)
- story about Lincoln and his great-great-great-grandfather
- skepticism of free speech
- free speech, authoritarianism, and defending against the Mongols
- Scott crazy (not in a terrible way), LW crazy (genetics), ex.: polyamory
- TFP or microbio are better investments than stereotypical EA stuff
- just ban AI worldwide (bully other countries to enforce)
- bit of a back-and-forth about macroeconomics
- not sure climate change will be huge issue. world's been much warmer before and still had a lot of mammals, etc.
- he quite likes Pseudoerasmus
- shits on modern conservatism/Bret Stephens a bit

- mentions Japan having industrial base a tenth the size of the US's and no chance of winning WW2 around 11m mark
- describes himself as "fairly religious" around 20m mark
- 27m30s: Eisenhower was smart, read Carlyle, classical history, etc.

but was Nixon smarter?: https://www.gnxp.com/WordPress/2019/03/18/open-thread-03-18-2019/
The Scandals of Meritocracy. Virtue vs. competence. Would you rather have a boss who is evil but competent, or good but incompetent? The reality is you have to balance the two. Richard Nixon was probably smarter that Dwight Eisenhower in raw g, but Eisenhower was probably a better person.
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april 2017 by nhaliday
Interview Greg Cochran by Future Strategist
https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2016/08/10/interview/

- IQ enhancement (somewhat apprehensive, wonder why?)
- ~20 years to CRISPR enhancement (very ballpark)
- cloning as an alternative strategy
- environmental effects on IQ, what matters (iodine, getting hit in the head), what doesn't (schools, etc.), and toss-ups (childhood/embryonic near-starvation, disease besides direct CNS-affecting ones [!])
- malnutrition did cause more schizophrenia in Netherlands (WW2) and China (Great Leap Forward) though
- story about New Mexico schools and his children (mostly grad students in physics now)
- clever sillies, weird geniuses, and clueless elites
- life-extension and accidents, half-life ~ a few hundred years for a typical American
- Pinker on Harvard faculty adoptions (always Chinese girls)
- parabiosis, organ harvesting
- Chicago economics talk
- Catholic Church, cousin marriage, and the rise of the West
- Gregory Clark and Farewell to Alms
- retinoblastoma cancer, mutational load, and how to deal w/ it ("something will turn up")
- Tularemia and Stalingrad (ex-Soviet scientist literally mentioned his father doing it)
- germ warfare, nuclear weapons, and testing each
- poison gas, Haber, nerve gas, terrorists, Japan, Syria, and Turkey
- nukes at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incirlik_Air_Base
- IQ of ancient Greeks
- history of China and the Mongols, cloning Genghis Khan
- Alexander the Great vs. Napoleon, Russian army being late for meetup w/ Austrians
- the reason why to go into Iraq: to find and clone Genghis Khan!
- efficacy of torture
- monogamy, polygamy, and infidelity, the Aboriginal system (reverse aging wives)
- education and twin studies
- errors: passing white, female infanticide, interdisciplinary social science/economic imperialism, the slavery and salt story
- Jewish optimism about environmental interventions, Rabbi didn't want people to know, Israelis don't want people to know about group differences between Ashkenazim and other groups in Israel
- NASA spewing crap on extraterrestrial life (eg, thermodynamic gradient too weak for life in oceans of ice moons)
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march 2017 by nhaliday
Justified by more than logos alone - The Unz Review
The scientific study of religion is another topic where I once had a lot of interest, but where I concluded that the basic insights have stabilized. Since I stopped reading much in this area I stopped writing much about it too. To get a sense of where I’m coming from, Scott Atran’s In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion is probably the best place to start. It’s about 15 years old, but I don’t see that much has changed since then in the basics of the field.

And what are those basics? At its fundamental basics religious impulses must be understood as an outcome of our cognitive mental intuitions. All religion operates on top of this basic kernel of our mental OS. Religion may have functional utility as a social system of control, or channeling collective energies, as argued by David Sloan Wilson in Darwin’s Cathedral. Or, one might be able to fruitfully model “religious marketplaces” as argued in Marketplace of the Gods. But these are all basically simply applications installed into on top of the operating system.

...

Very few are Roman Catholic because they have read Aquinas’ Five Ways. Rather, they are Roman Catholic, in order of necessity, because God aligns with their deep intuitions, basic cognitive needs in terms of cosmological coherency, and because the church serves as an avenue for socialization and repetitive ritual which binds individuals to the greater whole. People do not believe in Catholicism as often as they are born Catholics, and the Catholic religion is rather well fitted to a range of predispositions to the typical human.

...

There are a subset of believers who are not well captured by the generalizations in books such as Slone’s, or in ethnographic descriptions which trace the assimilation of Catholicism into the American scene. They are usually highly intellectual and analytical in their orientation. Often, they seem to be converts. Rod Dreher was a convert to Catholicism from Methodism, before he became Orthodox. Leah Libresco and Eve Tushnet also seem to fall into this category. Highly intellectual. And, converts to Catholicism.

Because they are analytical and articulate, these sorts of religious people are highly prominent on the public stage, and, they also write the histories that come down to us through the centuries. These are also the type of people who are overrepresented in the clerical apparatus of any organized religion. This is a problem, because their prominence can obscure the reality that they are not as influential as you might think. As a metaphor, imagine mountainous islands scattering amidst a featureless ocean. The islands are salient. But it is the vast ocean which will ultimately be determinative. Similarly, the vast number of believers who move along a nexus of inscrutable social forces, and driven by powerful universal psychologies, may be hidden from our view.

And yet even for the “analytics” reason does not dictate. Both Dreher and Tushnet have made references to mystical and emotional occurrences and impulses which are beyond my ken. I have no need, no wish, no impulse, and no intuition as to what they are talking about in that dimension (Libresco seems a somewhat different case, but I haven’t read much of what she’s written; I suspect I’ve been in the same room with her since she worked for an organization which I have many personal connections with, but I’m not sure).

It isn’t a surprise that I think Hume was onto something when he asserted that “reason is a slave to the passions.” In many instances I suspect theological analysis is simply the analytic engine being applied to a domain whose ultimate rationale is driven by a passion.

Addendum: Leah Libresco seems to have been associated with the broad umbrella group of Bay Area rationalists. I’ve been associated in some fashion with these people as friends and acquaintances for nearly 10 years. I will admit that I’ve generally found the conceit of rationality as an ends, as opposed to a means, somewhat off-putting. Ultimately I’m more of a skeptic than a rationalist I suppose at the root.

The nature of religion and Breaking the Spell: http://www.unz.com/gnxp/the-nature-of-religion-and-breaking-the-spell/

Buddhism, a religion or not?: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2007/02/buddhism-a-religion-or-not/

Against the seriousness of theology: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2013/04/against-the-seriousness-of-theology/
This is the hard part for many intellectuals, religious or irreligious, to understand. For intellectuals ideas have consequences, and they shape their lives. Their religious world view is naturally inflected by this. And most importantly they confuse their own comprehension of religious life, the profession of creeds rationally understand and mystical reflection viscerally experienced, with modal religiosity. This has important consequences, because intellectuals write, and writing is permanent. It echoes down through the ages. Therefore our understanding of the broad scope of religious history is naturally shaped by how intellectuals view religion. In a superficial sense the history of religion is the history of theology, because theology is so amenable to preservation.

http://www.unz.com/gnxp/justified-by-more-than-logos-alone/

What Religion Is: https://www.gnxp.com/WordPress/2018/01/12/what-religion-is/
It’s been about 10 years since I addressed this topic. Largely because I have no new thoughts. But probably after 10 years, it’s useful to revisit/clarify on this topic to clarify confusions, since people have a lot of opinions on this topic.

People mean different things when they mean “religion,” and the different meanings are not contradictory, nor in conflict.

At the lowest level in terms of individual cognition religion emerges from deep intuitions about the nature of the universe. Colloquially one might say that religion bubbles out of our unconscious.

In relation to social units, say the clan or tribe, religion consists of these intuitions about the nature of the universe and the world around us, bound together with rituals and verbal descriptions and narratives. These rituals and communal narratives help forge some sort of group Weltanschauung that has a functional utility in terms of inter-group competition and relations. Here religion steps out of the individual and becomes an expression of collective consensus.

As human societies became more complex the role of religious professionals became more elaborated. The common role of a shaman can be thought of as a magician, one who manipulates and operates in the domain of the supernatural. Shamans are common and ubiquitous in pre-state societies (even if a tribe does not have a “professional” shaman, someone takes on the role when needed). The priest adds on top of this institutional authority, often supra-clan or tribal. No king, no priest. Eventually, though the shaman-priest took on the role of the metaphysician. The metaphysician generates abstract principles and rationales, which can transcend the tribe or ethnicity, and allows religion to generate meta-ethnic civilizational identities in the service of priestly functions.

So in the post-Axial Age, the religious professional is often shaman, priest, and philosopher.

...

What about the priest? Though I am wary of the term “political religion,” due to semantic confusion, it seems clear that the function of the priest can be stripped of its supernatural valence. Many of the most objectionable characteristics of religion for people of liberal orientations derives from the institutionalized priestly functions. Unfortunately, the persistence of the priest in the absence of gods, shamanic powers and metaphysical justification opens the doors to secular totalitarianism.

...

These different aspects of religiosity exist and persist simultaneously in most contexts, but sometimes in tension. Philosophers and priests often take a dim view of shamanic religiosity. In organized religion of the modern sort shamanism is marginalized, or highly constrained and regulated in sacraments. But the recession of state-sponsored Christianity across much of the West has arguably resulted in a resurgence of shamanism, and the proliferation of diverse supernatural beliefs which had previously been suppressed (much of East Asia is characterized by relative weakness of philosophical religion but the strength of shamanism).

The relevance of all this in relation to New Atheism is that New Atheism seems to posit a religious “Blank Slate.” That is, children are indoctrinated in religion at a small age, previous to which they had been atheists. Part of this is due to the fact that the philosophical-metaphysical aspect of religion is quite clearly indoctrination, and often of a superficial sort at that (judging by how weak most believer’s grasp of theology is). But the communal and psychological aspects are not indoctrination, as much as specific instantiations of general human sentiments, dispositions, and intuitions. The erasure of a Christian, Buddhist or Islamic religious orientation will not necessarily leave in its wake a mind primed for scientific naturalism. Rather, it will simply be one shorn of Axial-Age accretions, reverted back to the shamanic age…

Atheism As Mental Deviance: http://www.gnxp.com/WordPress/2011/09/18/atheism-as-mental-deviance/
Tyler Cowen points me to a PDF, Religious Belief Systems of Persons with High Functioning Autism, which has some fascinating results on the religiosity (or lack thereof) of people with high functioning autism. I’ve seen speculation about the peculiar psychological profile of atheists before in the cognitive science literature, and there’s a fair amount of social psychological data on the different personality profile of atheists (e.g., more disagreeable). But there hasn’t been a lot of systematic investigation of the possibility that autistic individuals are more likely to be atheist because they lack a fully fleshed “theory of mind,” which … [more]
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february 2017 by nhaliday
Overcoming Bias : Surprising Popularity
This week Nature published some empirical data on a surprising-popularity consensus mechanism (a previously published mechanism, e.g., Science in 2004, with variations going by the name “Bayesian Truth Serum”). The idea is to ask people to pick from several options, and also to have each person forecast the distribution of opinion among others. The options that are picked surprisingly often, compared to what participants expected, are suggested as more likely true, and those who pick such options as better informed.

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v541/n7638/full/nature21054.html
http://science.sciencemag.org/content/306/5695/462

https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/5qhvf0/a_solution_to_the_singlequestion_crowd_wisdom/
http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/okv/why_is_the_surprisingly_popular_answer_correct/

different one: http://www.pnas.org/content/114/20/5077.full.pdf
We show that market-based incentive systems produce herding effects, reduce information available to the group, and restrain collective intelligence. Therefore, we propose an incentive scheme that rewards accurate minority predictions and show that this produces optimal diversity and collective predictive accuracy. We conclude that real world systems should reward those who have shown accuracy when the majority opinion has been in error.
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january 2017 by nhaliday
Funding the Reproducibility Crises as effective giving - Less Wrong Discussion
I had definitely noticed all the different nutrition, psychology, and biological initiatives like OSF or the Reproducibility Project, and how expensive they all are, but I didn't realize that they all owed their funding to a single source. I'm very glad Arnold is doing this, but I now feel more pessimistic about academia than when I assumed that the funding for all this was coming from a broad coalition of universities and nonprofits etc....
ratty  lesswrong  commentary  replication  science  meta:science  effective-altruism  cause  money  error  gwern  power  info-dynamics 
january 2017 by nhaliday
Adaptation executors - Lesswrongwiki
Individual organisms are best thought of as adaptation-executers rather than as fitness-maximizers
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december 2016 by nhaliday
Links 12/16: Site Makes Right | Slate Star Codex
Prescient Marginal Revolution post from last year on how celebrities and CEOs make better politicians than politicians.

Chinese scientists claim they can use machine learning to predict criminality from facial appearance. Still needs a lot of double-checking before accepted, but basically believable. Maybe related to mutational load: “The variation among criminal faces is significantly greater than that of the non-criminal faces. The two manifolds consisting of criminal and non-criminal faces appear to be concentric, with the non-criminal manifold lying in the kernel with a smaller span”.

Less Wrong is trying to regain its status as a good discussion hub and it’s actually going pretty well. Among the posts there worth checking out: A Return To Discussion, Double Crux: A Strategy For Resolving Disagreement, and Sample Means: How Do They Work?

Ozy at Thing of Things did a social justice Intellectual Turing Test.

Remember Trump’s claim that millions of non-citizens voted in the election? It comes from a journal article in Electoral Studies (article, popular summary) calculating that several hundred thousand non-citizens probably voted in the 2008 election. But further research has challenged that claim (study, popular article), and it now seems to be very much in doubt. [EDIT: National Review defends the study, and relevant SSC]

Andrew Gelman: How Can You Evaluate A Research Paper?
ratty  yvain  ssc  links  commentary  multi  politics  lesswrong  trump  2016-election  gelman  culture-war  replication  scitariat 
december 2016 by nhaliday
Fact Posts: How and Why
The most useful thinking skill I've taught myself, which I think should be more widely practiced, is writing what I call "fact posts." I write a bunch of these on my blog. (I write fact posts about pregnancy and childbirth here.)

To write a fact post, you start with an empirical question, or a general topic. Something like "How common are hate crimes?" or "Are epidurals really dangerous?" or "What causes manufacturing job loss?"

It's okay if this is a topic you know very little about. This is an exercise in original seeing and showing your reasoning, not finding the official last word on a topic or doing the best analysis in the world.

Then you open up a Google doc and start taking notes.

You look for quantitative data from conventionally reliable sources. CDC data for incidences of diseases and other health risks in the US; WHO data for global health issues; Bureau of Labor Statistics data for US employment; and so on. Published scientific journal articles, especially from reputable journals and large randomized studies.

You explicitly do not look for opinion, even expert opinion. You avoid news, and you're wary of think-tank white papers. You're looking for raw information. You are taking a sola scriptura approach, for better and for worse.

And then you start letting the data show you things.

You see things that are surprising or odd, and you note that.

You see facts that seem to be inconsistent with each other, and you look into the data sources and methodology until you clear up the mystery.

You orient towards the random, the unfamiliar, the things that are totally unfamiliar to your experience. One of the major exports of Germany is valves? When was the last time I even thought about valves? Why valves, what do you use valves in? OK, show me a list of all the different kinds of machine parts, by percent of total exports.

And so, you dig in a little bit, to this part of the world that you hadn't looked at before. You cultivate the ability to spin up a lightweight sort of fannish obsessive curiosity when something seems like it might be a big deal.

And you take casual notes and impressions (though keeping track of all the numbers and their sources in your notes).

You do a little bit of arithmetic to compare things to familiar reference points. How does this source of risk compare to the risk of smoking or going horseback riding? How does the effect size of this drug compare to the effect size of psychotherapy?

You don't really want to do statistics. You might take percents, means, standard deviations, maybe a Cohen's d here and there, but nothing fancy. You're just trying to figure out what's going on.

It's often a good idea to rank things by raw scale. What is responsible for the bulk of deaths, the bulk of money moved, etc? What is big? Then pay attention more to things, and ask more questions about things, that are big. (Or disproportionately high-impact.)

You may find that this process gives you contrarian beliefs, but often you won't, you'll just have a strongly fact-based assessment of why you believe the usual thing.
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december 2016 by nhaliday
Can It Be Wrong To Crystallize Patterns? | Slate Star Codex
So provisionally I’m not sure there’s such a thing as crystallizing a pattern and being wrong to do so. You can crystallize patterns in such a way that it ends out misleading people who were already at risk of being misled – like the “ley lines” and “international Jewry” examples – and in practice this is a HUGE HUGE problem. But it seems to me that if you’re good enough at sorting through connotations to handle it that crystallization is usually a good idea.
thinking  rationality  yvain  ssc  essay  reflection  things  insight  lesswrong  critique  ratty  epistemic  map-territory  clarity  error  vague  systematic-ad-hoc  info-dynamics  grokkability-clarity 
october 2016 by nhaliday
Generalizing From One Example - Less Wrong
My old professor, David Berman, liked to talk about what he called the "typical mind fallacy", which he illustrated through the following example:

There was a debate, in the late 1800s, about whether "imagination" was simply a turn of phrase or a real phenomenon. That is, can people actually create images in their minds which they see vividly, or do they simply say "I saw it in my mind" as a metaphor for considering what it looked like?

Upon hearing this, my response was "How the stars was this actually a real debate? Of course we have mental imagery. Anyone who doesn't think we have mental imagery is either such a fanatical Behaviorist that she doubts the evidence of her own senses, or simply insane." Unfortunately, the professor was able to parade a long list of famous people who denied mental imagery, including some leading scientists of the era. And this was all before Behaviorism even existed.

The debate was resolved by Francis Galton, a fascinating man who among other achievements invented eugenics, the "wisdom of crowds", and standard deviation. Galton gave people some very detailed surveys, and found that some people did have mental imagery and others didn't. The ones who did had simply assumed everyone did, and the ones who didn't had simply assumed everyone didn't, to the point of coming up with absurd justifications for why they were lying or misunderstanding the question. There was a wide spectrum of imaging ability, from about five percent of people with perfect eidetic imagery to three percent of people completely unable to form mental images.

Dr. Berman dubbed this the Typical Mind Fallacy: the human tendency to believe that one's own mental structure can be generalized to apply to everyone else's.

--

my favorite comment:
Interesting illustration of mental imagery (from Dennett):

Picture a 3 by 3 grid. Then picture the words "gas", "oil", and "dry" spelled downwards in the columns left to right in that order. Looking at the picture in your mind, read the words across on the grid.

I can figure out what the words are of course, but it is very hard for me to read them off the grid. I should be able to if I could actually picture it. It was fascinating for me to think that this isn't true for everyone.
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october 2016 by nhaliday
A Fervent Defense of Frequentist Statistics - Less Wrong
Short summary. This essay makes many points, each of which I think is worth reading, but if you are only going to understand one point I think it should be “Myth 5″ below, which describes the online learning framework as a response to the claim that frequentist methods need to make strong modeling assumptions. Among other things, online learning allows me to perform the following remarkable feat: if I’m betting on horses, and I get to place bets after watching other people bet but before seeing which horse wins the race, then I can guarantee that after a relatively small number of races, I will do almost as well overall as the best other person, even if the number of other people is very large (say, 1 billion), and their performance is correlated in complicated ways.

If you’re only going to understand two points, then also read about the frequentist version of Solomonoff induction, which is described in “Myth 6″.

...

If you are like me from, say, two years ago, you are firmly convinced that Bayesian methods are superior and that you have knockdown arguments in favor of this. If this is the case, then I hope this essay will give you an experience that I myself found life-altering: the experience of having a way of thinking that seemed unquestionably true slowly dissolve into just one of many imperfect models of reality. This experience helped me gain more explicit appreciation for the skill of viewing the world from many different angles, and of distinguishing between a very successful paradigm and reality.

If you are not like me, then you may have had the experience of bringing up one of many reasonable objections to normative Bayesian epistemology, and having it shot down by one of many “standard” arguments that seem wrong but not for easy-to-articulate reasons. I hope to lend some reprieve to those of you in this camp, by providing a collection of “standard” replies to these standard arguments.
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september 2016 by nhaliday
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