OT14: Tragedy Of The Comments

This is the semimonthly open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. Also:

1. Please do not email me anything that could be posted as a blog comment. Some people say they are emailing me their comments because they “want to make sure I see them”. But posts on here can get 500 or more comments. If 5% of commenters decide to email me their comments instead, that means 25 emails a day, which are annoying and which I mostly just delete.

2. Likewise, I appreciate your concern for my anonymity, but there’s no need to email me whenever I post something that would allow a clever reader to search out my real name. I’m comfortable with certain calculated risks as long as they don’t result in an immediate Google connection.

3. Comment of the week is Topher Hallquist’s suggestion regarding that book dedication in the last links post. You may remember that some libertarians writing a book on markets in everything offered to auction off the dedication to the highest bidder. Topher has suggested a dedication “To Lenin, who said, ‘We will hang the capitalists with the rope that they sell us.’” and some other commenters have chipped in some cash and now it looks like they’re going to make it happen. But if that’s not serious enough for you, Furrfu has some good numbers on solar versus traditional energy sources, including that solar power causes more deaths than nuclear (apparently from falling off roofs when installing it). Also of interest: Athrelon on the state of cryonics, both the problems with current methods and the research being done into improving them.

4. I’m continuing to expect an SSC meetup in Berkeley on Sunday, 3/1. Expect more information on this next Open Thread. I’ll probably also be meeting some people in Stanford or the South Bay around that time. Again, next thread.

5. Thank you for donating to Multiheaded’s GoFundMe campaign last month. She raised about $2500. We’re now working on ways to transfer that money to Russia. I’ll update you once that’s done.

Remember, no race and gender on the open thread. Ozy has a parallel open thread over at their place for all that discussion.

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642 Responses to OT14: Tragedy Of The Comments

  1. Pingback: Links for February 2015 - foreXiv

  2. What do you guys think about Active SETI? Is it dangerous or ok?

    • Paul Torek says:

      I think the probability of irrelevance is so high that I’m not going to spend much time thinking it over. At first glance, I agree with you that if we just restrict to the possibilities where SETI finds something, the payoffs look unfavorable.

      • Perhaps the probabilty of success seems a little higher for me (though I’m currently leaning towards a filter rather than widespread intelligent life), but I can’t fault your logic 🙂

  3. blacktrance says:

    File this one under “Radicalizing the Romanceless”:

    The group, known as Kakuhidou for short, was started in 2006, when its founder, Katsuhiro Furusawa, returned home one day after being dumped by his girlfriend and began reading the Communist Manifesto. He quickly came to the realization that being unpopular with girls is a class issue.

  4. 27chaos says:

    If I disappear sometime in the next month or two, the government did it because I was investigating some charges of corruption against local politicians in my area. I don’t expect to need this, of course, or I’d put it somewhere safer and contact actual people who could help me. But this is a half-decent lazy person’s solution, so it will have to do.

    • Cred for working on a difficult issue. On Scott’s blog especially it will be quite difficult to tell your status though (with no ability to see a user’s activity), so I’d consider other places if you think its really an actual danger. Feel free to let us know how its going if you feel safe doing so. Good luck!

    • Scott Alexander says:

      We don’t even know who you are IRL. If you stop commenting on this blog, even if we connect it, all we know is “apparently some person got in trouble with the government somehow”

      But yeah, kudos for fighting the good fight.

  5. Princess Stargirl says:

    This quote from Scott’s last article comments is too funny:

    “Scott> To be fair to Moloch

    Scott, it’s time for an intervention. You’ve taken charity and niceness too far.”

  6. A Cat in Ulthar says:

    Does anyone have any advice for rapidly learning a significant amount of material?

    • Geirr says:

      Anki or other spaced repetition systems are great. Check out the supermemo website for some background or look for gwern’s article on gwern.net. Elaborative rehearsal is also great. Don’t just read the material, do all the problems. Summarize what you just read. Apply what you have read, extend it, play with edge cases. If it’s for an exam get as many past exam papers as possible and do them all. Then do them again. Figure out where your weak points and then do them again.

      Anki or other SRS like Mnemnosyne or Supermemo are fantastic.

  7. Nick T says:

    Since this is the Weird Medical Problems Open Thread:

    Whenever I get a respiratory infection, I continue to have a significant unproductive cough for a couple of weeks after all other symptoms go away. I have this right now — it’s been about two weeks since I got over an unusually bad cold, and I’m still coughing, less every day, but noticeably more than normal and enough to sometimes be annoying to me and others. My throat is scratchy, but painless.

    (Also, whether or not I’ve had a cold recently, my nose is permanently slightly congested; at any given time, one of my nostrils probably has half the capacity of the other. Unlike with the cough, I don’t know whether or not this is normal.)

    I’d like to not have the cough (or the congested nose), and I’d like to know if it’s evidence of something interesting. I’ve already asked one doctor about the cough, who just said that it sometimes happens and to continue taking OTC cough medicine (which helps a little). The thought of taking the time to go to other doctors and probably hearing the same thing is very demotivating. It’s possible that there’s nothing interesting to say, but does anyone have ideas about the problem, or better ideas for finding someone who’s likely to say useful things?

    • Geirr says:

      Cough medicine is all active placebo. Some formulations have expectorants and soothers in the same formula. The alternating nostrils thing is totally normal. Paying attention to it is a common yoga practice for long meditations. I think the period is around three hours.

      • Tab Atkins says:

        Your nostrils alternate primary breathing duty every few hours as part of normal function. You usually don’t notice unless you’re congested, as that makes it much more obvious which nostril is actually trying to do something and failing.

        Unsure if this is what the poster means when they talk about semi-permanent congestion, though.

    • Nick T says:

      I should mention that, while I sometimes have mild allergies, the nose thing persists even when I don’t have any other allergy symptoms.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      When you have a cold and you’re coughing and swallowing mucus and stuff, it inflames the lining of the throat. Inflamed throat lining is more sensitive and so coughs more, but cough causes inflammation, so it’s a vicious cycle. It usually goes away after a while and there’s not much you can do about it. I think steroids can help, but it’s usually not worth it.

      • anon1 says:

        This does mean that things like cough drops that seem to work only very temporarily are also useful in the longer run by keeping you from making it worse.

        Also, in my experience DXM up to 3 times the dose recommended on the bottle remains less effective than a cup of mint tea. Pathetic.

  8. Faradn says:

    I could be wrong, but it seems that most of the people talking about dysgenics are conservatives who are opposed to universal access to contraception. To me that’s really weird, because that would be an effective and ethical way to help curb dysgenics.

    • Nornagest says:

      Are you sure you aren’t harboring some outgroup homogeneity here? Opposition to contraception isn’t a major plank of modern conservatism; opposition to abortion is, but the main arguments for that don’t extend to contraception in general.

      On the other hand, there are some strains of (mostly religious, traditionalist) conservatism that’d emphasize both. But most of those are trying to encourage sexual continence in a virtue-ethical way, and that readily extends to both dysgenics (since that implies being insufficiently picky in your partners) and contraception (since that enables a more casual approach to sex). If you try to view them through a consequentialist lens you won’t get anything that makes sense.

    • Anonymous says:

      Access to contraceptives would only make a difference if the relevant population doesn’t want babies. There’s certainly something to say for long-term contraceptives to avoid mistakes and whims.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I can’t discuss this without veering into forbidden topics. Make a comment at Ozy’s.

    • Irrelevant says:

      I’m not sure that’s an accurate characterization of their opinion. In fact, I’m not sure the dysgenics crew is organized enough to have a consensus opinion on the matter.

      For the sake of argument though, I expect the people that the dysgenics crew are most worried about are precisely the ones least likely to make effective and consistent use of birth control. So they don’t see universal contraception availability as a solution, and perhaps even think it could make the problem worse if it makes the smarter people less likely to have children faster than it does the dumb ones, and therefore don’t see it as a productive point to break with their political alliance.

    • Irenist says:


      In the U.S. at least, many of the people who are worried about dysgenics are opposed to immigration. Contrariwise, complaints about contraception in the U.S. tend to come from the Catholic Church, which loathes eugenics, is very pro-immigrant, and contains lots of immigrants.

      In short, I don’t think the “worried about dysgenics” conservatives and the “worried about contraception” conservatives are the same people. They might be part of the same partisan coalition (the GOP), but due to different motives.

  9. Midnight Rambler says:

    With regards to the first point: what’s the policy when that particular post’s comments are closed? I have a lengthy reply to an older post of yours (just over half a year old) floating around my head, and I’ve considered e-mailing it to you because there’s no comment button under that post anymore.

  10. Pingback: Web Meetup this Saturday | @meditationstuff (Since 2013; 100+ posts; 50,000+ words and counting...)

  11. Hilary says:

    Genuinely curious: Scott, are there any blogs you wouldn’t have linked to in your sidebar if you weren’t personally acquainted with the people who write them?

    • Geirr says:

      Scott links to Xenosystems. Nick Land is a neo-reactionary, HBD/race realist bitcoin/blockchain fanatic who comes quite close to believing that we should rush headlong into a future that looks like a cross between UFAI and Robin Hanson’s hardscrabble EMs. I strongly suspect his criteria for linking blogs is interesting and civil. I’m mildly surprised he doesn’t link to Steve Sailer.

      • Susebron says:

        Scott also considers Nick Land to be his archenemy. I think that’s probably a point in your favor.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Links are not endorsements, but I understand some people will probably take them that way and try to act accordingly.

        It’s not just that Nick Land is evil but interesting. It’s that he’s evil in such a complicated and novel way that nobody will know he’s evil unless they’re almost as far down the rabbit hole as he is. If someone’s smart enough to understand what the heck Nick Land is talking about, I expect them to be smart enough to know that links are not always endorsements.

        Steve Sailer is not just controversial, he’s controversial in exactly the way that everybody expects controversial people to be controversial. One can be very dumb and still realize exactly what he’s up to. So there’s no way I could get away with linking him even if I wanted to.

        Right now my main moral qualms are with Popehat. I love their explanations of legal minutiae, they’re really funny, but they can be huge jerks sometimes.

        At some point I’d like to get a blogroll big enough to list everyone remotely interesting, but I need to figure out a good way to do that without pushing down everything else.

        • social justice warlock says:

          At some point I’d like to get a blogroll big enough to list everyone remotely interesting, but I need to figure out a good way to do that without pushing down everything else.

          Solution obvious enough that I assume you have a reason not to: put the blogroll on the bottom of the sidebar, below archives.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I’m not sure if this falls into race&gender (if it does, I’ll move it elsewhere), but I think it’s relevant considering the discussion about the Larry Summers case:

  13. For those of you that are interested in throwing some theories or ideas that are opposed to the ridiculously factional state of politics in many countries, you may be interested in the following:

    Investigative Politics – A less factional approach to political thought

    For those of you that read my previous philosophy post called “comprehensive morality”, I’m basically applying that concept to the realm of politics, hopefully with useful results. Hope you guys like, feedback welcome and appreciated as always.

    • Irenist says:

      That post reads to me like you’re saying “it’s good to be open-minded sometimes, instead of just a zealot.” Which seems true but obvious. I assume I’m missing something, though.

      • That is certainly a theme I’m taking, but I think what I’m trying to achieve is to describe a very specific mechanism by which zealotry occurs, a how we might fight back against that. I’m also (going a bit meta and) trying to logically explore the way fighting this factor might help us reach an ideal political framework, which I’d contrast to just putting forward what we intuitively favour and claiming its the ideal approach (which I’d consider to be pretty much the norm). I’m definitely not just saying “be moderate”, because just taking a middle road isn’t enough. My theme is that the core of our politics ought to involve launching a *serious* investigation into both the primary data and every logically sound concept or argument we can gather, including from political views that aren’t intuitively appealing to us. That idea could be the heart of a collective effort to remedy the factionalism we’re stuck in today.

  14. Alex says:

    Speaking of cryonics, I wonder if there is any use for frozen brains short of re-animating the person. Everything I’ve heard about cryonics is all-or-nothing. In general, we might ask the question of which near-term technologies would help preserve a person’s “legacy” for future generations. What that means I’m not exactly sure, but it seems more worth inquiring into than singularities.

    Edit: Cloning. How about endowing a fund to raise a clone of yourself?

    • Irrelevant says:

      I figure the technological progression goes something like “we can freeze your brain” -> “we can destructively record your brain” -> “we can simulate your brain” -> “hey look! grandma’s cyberghost is on facebook chat right now!” with bridging the gap from step 2 to step 3 having huge applications for general human knowledge.

    • Sarah says:

      Frozen *organs* would be extremely useful for transplants, I think. (Not sure why that isn’t used as a short-term application for improving cryonics tech.)

  15. Gwen S. says:

    Does anyone else con-relationship? I’ve been designing a fantasy F/f relationship, thinking about the rituals, they would do, how they would work together as a team ect. I’m not writing a story, I just like thinking about how this fictional D/s relationship would work.

    Also, are there any good resources on con-religions? I’ve seen a few con-religions but they’re generally underdeveloped and are intended to be a feature of a con-world.

  16. Anonymous34567 says:

    Do any of you know the name for the phenomenon where a language uses the same word for two different concepts, and users of the language therefore end up conflating the concepts? I am trying to find a psychological paper to cite in order to back up the claim that this phenomenon exists, but since I don’t know the name for it my Google-fu is failing me..

    • MicaiahC says:

      A word with two meanings is a Homograph. if that helps.

      See also: Auto-antonym

    • Richard says:

      Not a psych paper, but if you want a real-world example illustrating the phenomenon, I got one:

      Swedish has one word; “Effektiv” meaning both Effective and Efficient. Now, in software testing, an efficient set of tests is a set that runs many tests quickly while an effective set of tests is one that finds many bugs.
      The number of hours I have spent trying to explain the difference boggles the mind.

    • Anonymous says:

      Note that a language can use two totally different words for two concepts and still get problems: I have heard “chronic” for “bad”, “regular” for “frequent” and “jealous” for “envious”; and further, have been admonished for even noticing…

  17. James Picone says:

    Following up the innate talent stuff, I’ve seen claims that programming has very strong innate talent requirements, to the point that there’s apparently a binary “Can be a competent programmer” property. These guys have some unpublished studies on it: http://www.eis.mdx.ac.uk/research/PhDArea/saeed/ . They’re a bit grandiose, though.

    There’s also substantial evidence that there’s a population of people who’ve gone through a CS degree but can’t actually program being interviewed. http://imranontech.com/2007/01/24/using-fizzbuzz-to-find-developers-who-grok-coding/ is a thing here, if you search for ‘fizzbuzz’ you’ll find a bunch of articles relevant to it.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      This finding has since been discredited and retracted.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Want to know something scary ? – the majority of comp sci graduates can’t. I’ve also seen self-proclaimed senior programmers take more than 10-15 minutes to write a solution.”

      How is this literally possible? Do the majority of CS graduates cheat on all their exams and projects? Were those senior programmers outsourcing their job to India?

      • Dude Man says:

        I’m guessing that the number is hyperbole. Also, I’m guessing there are a few factors that make it appear that there are more incompetent grads than there actually are (the shit candidates take more interviews before getting hired, a company that does less interesting work or pays poorly may not get the best candidates,etc.).

      • gattsuru says:

        Some people just freeze up or panic and make errors. FizzBuzz-like problems are usually presented during a high-stress interview. Not usually a complete disqualifier, but a reliance on running a code before knowing its output is still a bad habit. Some people attempt overly ‘clever’ solutions with serious errors, which is an issue: ‘clever’ code is often prone to subtle mistakes and always unreadable. Rarely, you’ll see FizzBuzz-like problems presented that aren’t part of the common skillset of a language or field, such as pointer arithmetic tests for a C#/Java programmer. Most often, you’ll see people who could program FizzBuzz-like code with a compiler after three to six attempts, but can not do the same on a whiteboard or paper without error — this is a big red flag, since debugging large programs like that just isn’t viable.

        Some people have terminology issues. It’d take me a while to think of how to build a good toy example of recursion, even though I (over)use it regularly, simply because I seldom describe the process. Some folk have issues with polymorphism, especially if they started in languages that don’t use it heavily (rarer now).

        A nontrivial amount is outright fraud. CompSci isn’t as dependent on credentials as some other fields, but a college degree and experience is a big signal, and that means at least some people will fake the signal, either by cheating or making it up. This is further complicated that most offices assuming new technicians will need three to six months to really get up to speed on any non-toy problem, and an industry policy of seldom speaking poorly of employees that have been let go for any reason but outright criminal activity, which allows unknowledgeable but credentialed actors a lot of space to move. Until recently, it was far too common for HR to interview coders with relatively little input from already-hired programmers.

        Some folk have backgrounds that they consider coding, but aren’t really the sort that’d involve any of these common coding requirements. Web Developers may think they have a “working knowledge of code” without understanding functions, references, or even loops; some programmers will list every language they’ve ever written even toy problems, even if not familiar with it specifically. This probably counts as fraud, but it’s not the same intent.

        More subtly : most coding problems are solved problems. There are exceptions, especially when you get into unusual languages or highly specialized fields, but most discrete problems and almost all commonly faced problems have extant solutions available online. I’ve written maybe three truly original algorithms in the last year, and that’s an optimistic count in a specialized field. It’s trivial to search for a FizzBuzz solution, but it’s actually not that much harder to find solutions like or similar to the overwhelming majority of test questions, usually with only minimal modification. This is actually a really, really important skill — looking for similar code is the only documentation you’ll find for many languages like Python — but using the code without understand what it does or remembering what it means is very, very harmful.

        • Jiro says:

          “some programmers will list every language they’ve ever written even toy problems, even if not familiar with it specifically. This probably counts as fraud, but it’s not the same intent.”

          That’s not fraud, that’s done to compensate for keyword-scanning systems which reject people for jobs if they don’t have certain keywords on their resume, regardless of whether the skill mentioned is necessary to the job and, if it is necessary, regardless of whether a competent programmer could pick up the skill in a week.

          • HeelBearCub says:


            I’m not sure how many people understand that knowing the syntax of any specific programming language is one of the least important skills in a programmers toolkit.

            Understanding how to think in various different development paradigms is far more important.

          • gattsuru says:

            Yeah, that’s probably a better way to describe it. There’s not really an intent to lie, so much as handling a bad equilibrium with HR, but it still comes across as failing FizzBuzz in border cases.

      • James Picone says:

        While the 199/200 number is probably hyperbole, I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of applicants to programming jobs can’t actually program.

        Firstly, the people who can’t program and therefore don’t tend to get jobs very often probably go to far more interviews than people who can program and thus tend to end up actually getting jobs. http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2005/01/27.html and http://weblog.raganwald.com/2007/03/thank-you-for-writing-such-heartfelt.html mention that feature. The result is that not that many people have to graduate with a CS degree to show a large effect in the workforce.

        Secondly, it is definitely possible to pass a CS course by copy-pasting code from the internet and changing stuff at semi-random until it mostly works, getting help from students who know what they’re doing, and scraping 50-60% in any exams you have. You don’t have to do that much to get a degree. I’ve seen that dynamic myself.

        Thirdly, it really does happen: http://thedailywtf.com/articles/The-Fizz-Buzz-from-Outer-Space

        • Tab Atkins says:

          And as a personal anecdote, I’ve committed to doing only front-line over-the-phone interviews, screening people before they get brought in front of the full in-person interview panel.

          I very purposely ask a small set of questions which are extremely simple; the first one has a naive solution that is absolutely at the FizzBuzz level, and I have absolutely had people fail at it.

          Abject failure like that is fairly rare, but the follow-up questions (all of which are still trivial, simple problems) catch up a surprising number of people who can code, but extremely poorly, and yet somehow still think themselves worthy of working at Google.

  18. MC says:

    Any expectation of putting out the results of the SSC reader survey soon?

  19. Multiheaded says:

    I would like to thank my supporters once again! YOU PEOPLE! are wonderful and shockingly kind to me and I love you! I still stand by a commitment to eventually give back part of this to efficient altruism, but yes, it is important to prioritize my own survival.

    More people who happen to live in the Hamilton, Ontario area or generally around Toronto, and who would be willing to offer advice, help with accommodation, perhaps leads on (IT-related) job training… thank you in advance, love you, and please all drop a note at ochemalibox @ gmail!

    I think the most efficient way to sort you out could be me launching a group chat for everyone, and talking about who would like to help with what, and seeing who has what comparative advantage!

    I am relatively quite well, and full of hopes!

  20. Pingback: Open Thread #8: All Your Race Are Belong To Us | Thing of Things

  21. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    Apparently obvious point that I never hear anyone bring up in mainstream political debate: isn’t emergency medicine not subject to customer choice and therefore obviously not a good candidate for a free-market approach?* This shouldn’t be a slam at libertarians; this should be at the top of the list of things non-anarchist libertarians admit you need government for.

    * Ok, I can see how you might sketch a free-market solution (c.f. Shadowrun for Sega Genesis), but this would require significant reform of its own and doesn’t really justify the pre-Obamacare status quo in any way.

    • Irrelevant says:

      First off, that issue comes up routinely in my experience. There’s simply no disagreement in the mainstream political spectrum that emergency medicine is a necessary public good/politically poisonous to oppose and so we’ll treat you up front and figure out some ad hoc way to prop the system up if too many people are failing to pay afterward.

      Secondly, you’re discussing a problem of price-gouging. All the standard economic arguments regarding price-gouging and why it’s a self-solving problem apply, though since most people find them counter-intuitive we often end up banning price-gouging anyway.

      Thirdly, branching into anecdote, I had life-saving emergency surgery myself this year, and I’m pretty content that its price point fairly reflected the factors involved. On less than two hours notice I was able to leverage 100 years of combined higher education and god knows how much equipment and a special building with a magic room where germs don’t live. That emergency treatment can cost as much as a car or house isn’t surprising, it literally gets as resource-intensive as building a car or house.

      You’re buying a logistical miracle. The shocking thing is that they can do it at all.

      • John Schilling says:

        Fourthly, acute emergency care represents a tiny fraction of total health care spending – maybe two percent – so it isn’t really worth talking about in its own right. When you do hear someone talking about it, it’s most likely the motte in an argument whose bailey is that the government should take charge of all health care because the market doesn’t work.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          This is on point, thank you.

          The relevant definition of ’emergency medicine’ for my argument is medicine such that you’re unable to price-shop due to, say, time pressure, unconsciousness, or already being in the hospital and not being able to move safely (or only at great cost). It’s possible that ’emergency medicine’ isn’t a good term for this; maybe I should call it ‘non-competitive medicine’ or something.

          Non-rhetorical question: is Emergency Room spending a good proxy for that?

          • John Schilling says:

            I think we’re talking about three categories of people. First, healthy people who are rendered unconscious or otherwise in need of truly immediate health care by some acute crisis in the outside world. Second, people who were already in a hospital or other facility being treated for chronic X, who now suddenly need treatment for acute Y (which may be a complication of X). And third, people who are conscious and don’t need treatment today, but really ought to be treated this week.

            The first case, pretty strongly overlaps with ER patients. That’s where you go if you’re that bad off and not already in a hospital.

            The second, probably has some overlap with ER patients. If you’re not in a full-service hospital and something goes badly wrong, you’re going to wind up in the ER of a full-service hospital, and however society pays for ER care should presumably apply. If you already were in a full-service hospital, one would hope that your deal with them covers “and if things go badly wrong, take care of that as well”.

            The third, well, it would really suck to suddenly find out that I have a severe tumor, need surgery this week, and have nothing more than the oncological yellow pages to go on, but I think I could handle that. I understand lots of people can’t, and most people who can, shouldn’t be expected to. But I can also see market-based approaches to this problem, e.g. competing HMOs, or health-care brokers for the uninsured but not indigent, etc.

            So for the case of problems where a market-based system would be clearly suboptimal, ER patients are a pretty good proxy. There’s a somewhat larger set of problems where we don’t necessarily have the right market institutions now, but we could develop them.

          • Anonymous says:

            Do you mean a proxy for the patient unable to choose and consider which hospital to visit? I’m guessing not really since that number probably doesn’t include the cost that the patient accrues once they are transferred from ED to some other unit (it is entirely possible I am wrong about this and, if I am, I apologize). Do you mean a proxy for healthcare where the patient is unable to price shop or does not get any benefit from it in general? Then it’s not a good proxy since there are a whole host of reasons a patient might not price shop. The biggest reason is that most healthcare costs are paid for by a third party, but price shopping in general is tricky even if you wanted to do it since price transparency in medicine isn’t that good. Of course, my guess would be that the first option is still not a high percentage of healthcare costs, and the second option includes a lot of scenarios that could be helped by regulatory changes that do not need to involve single payer.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        The whole “we’re not going to let people die in the streets” thing is something I’m used to encountering, but I don’t think that’s the same argument I’m making. The pre-Obamacare system of treating people first and then making them pay iff they’re able succeeded at not letting people die in the streets. I’m arguing that it would theoretically give rise to uncontrolled costs and diminishing quality except insofar as prevented by regulation.

        2) Price-gouging isn’t the relevant concept here; it’s more related to monopoly. You can correct me if I’m mistaken, but my model for how this works is that you get hurt, you get brought to a hospital and patched up, and then they tell you how much it costs. At no point do you compare hospitals based on price and reviews and choose which one to go to. So where’s the incentive for the hospital to do things any better or cheaper than the government forces them to?

        (Insurers do have some say in the matter. I don’t really understand how that works; can an insurer refuse to pay for a particular hospital? But anyway, to whatever extent insurer negotiation works, getting everyone insured is a solution to this problem, which aiui is the premise of Obamacare.)

        3) The conventional wisdom is that health care in the US is too expensive, and that prices for the uninsured in particular are totally out of hand. Getting modern medicine at any price is great, but that’s no counterargument to claims that we could be getting it for less.

        I’m 100% on board with the perspective shift from regarding advanced medicine as a basic human right to seeing it as a logistical miracle. I’m generally in favor of reasoning about it as we would about other economic goods, which is what I’m trying to do here.

        • Irrelevant says:

          1. And I’m arguing that’s incorrect, there is no special immunity to cost sensitivity in emergency medicine if you don’t chop your time horizons artificially short, and that emergency medical prices are approximately fair.

          2a. Price-gouging and monopoly are the same principles acting on different scales: “the only game in town at the moment” vs. “the only game in the country for a decade.” The major difference, in terms of how the problems work out, is that we should be more tolerant of price gouging than monopolies, because price gouging is often enabled by (and acts as a check on) consumer irrationality, while monopolies are often enabled by regulatory capture.

          2b. Your description of how emergency service “contracts” work is essentially correct (and I’d love to see anyone try to get some of those waivers I signed while I was bleeding out internally to stand up in court) but it doesn’t change the basic market pressures. A hospital that has unbearably high fees will have a lot of money owed to it on paper, but it will also have major collections problems that harm its actual revenue streams and give it the same category of problems that a business which charges more than it should up-front does.

          3. The conventional wisdom is… frankly, I’m not sure it has a decipherable truth value. It compresses so much into one global claim. America spends a disproportionate amount on medical care, but the reasons are multivariate and confusing and not the fault of emergency care. You also got my argument wrong here. I’m not saying medicine is amazing and you’re all just ungrateful (OK, maybe a little bit), I’m disagreeing with that “could.” I’m bringing in the personal experience because I used to have roughly the same assumptions you did here, then I got put through the system and realized that I was underestimating degree of difficulty by an order of magnitude and my previous intuition for how much surgery “should” cost was similar to thinking a new car engine should cost the same as an iron ingot. Now I believe that even in the parallel universe where everyone involved in medicine is motivated by perfect altruism and willing to work for room+board+school loan payments, the specific category of emergency care is not significantly less expensive than it is here, because the primary driver of emergency care prices is the overhead and opportunity costs involved.

    • but where is it written that all Americans, regardless of ability to pay, should get the latest, most advanced life saving procedures? In the scope of the history of human civilization, egalitarian healthcare is a relatively new concept and is one reason why we have out of control entitlement spending

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        Where is it written? In many liberal articles, to be sure, but not in my post.

        • this should be at the top of the list of things non-anarchist libertarians admit you need government for.

          As someone who ideologically leans libertarian, I disagree we need government for this. The problem with the healthcare system is this notion that everyone should get healthcare as a public good.

    • Anonymous says:

      This is one of the standard arguments against privatized healthcare. I’m surprised you haven’t heard it before!

    • Salem says:

      Apparently obvious point that I never hear anyone bring up in mainstream political debate: isn’t emergency medicine not subject to customer choice and therefore obviously not a good candidate for a free-market approach?

      Every day, I see advertisements for a private emergency medical clinic not far from where I live. Given that they advertise, the clinic presumably believes that patients are able to exercise customer choice regarding which emergency medical provider to use. As they have skin in the game, I assume they are likely to be right. Given that their competitors are giving away emergency care for free whereas this clinic is charging, I assume that the reason to go there is that you might be seen quicker, or something like that.

      • Irrelevant says:

        It sounds like you’re referring to an urgent care clinic, which is not quite the same thing.

        Urgent care clinics are significantly cheaper than ERs (assuming you have the ability to pay in the first place) due to lower overhead, and have far shorter lines. If you have a problem that needs dealt with as soon as possible, but you’re pretty sure isn’t literally going to kill you, a UCC is usually the better option for both price and time. Because if you go to the ER, what they’re going to do is make a quick assessment of your problem, and if you’re not at immediate risk of dying then they will help you eventually, but you’re going to sit there until they’ve helped every single person who IS at immediate risk of dying. Which between all the people with chest pain and anaphylactic shock and alcohol poisoning and car accidents and so on means you’re going to sit there all day unless you live in one of those mythical parts of the country where they have too many emergency rooms instead of too few.

        Basic guideline: “I cut myself and it needs stitches” = UCC, “I cut myself and it won’t stop bleeding” = ER. “My child is very sick” = UCC, “my child is so sick they’re unresponsive” = ER. “I’m not sure if this is broken” = UCC, “I’m not sure if this break severed an artery” = ER.

        Or if you’re really ambitious, you can try learning to triage code yourself. If you don’t think your problem is a 1 or 2, the UCC is probably better than the ER.

        • Anonymous says:

          Urgent care isn’t just cheaper than the ER, it’s cheaper than the doctor.

          • Irrelevant says:

            That too, but there are at least some tradeoffs in service there. You absolutely want to avoid the ER whenever you can safely avoid the ER.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Around here, our UCC’s are in effect a distributed ER triage. Go in with something you think is minor, and they may call an ambulance and send you to the nearest ER, already triaged.

          A clear point against the UCC is that it has more contagious people in the waiting room than the ER does.

      • The Anonymouse says:

        In some parts of the US (I’ve seen them most often in the Intermountain West), many hospitals have billboards along the freeway with a big electronic display telling you the current wait time in their ER.

    • anon says:

      Forgive me for asking, but I don’t understand the claim. People in emergencies don’t have the time or capabilities to select their treatment. Neither have people just before car crashes happen the time or possibility to choose the safety measures of their cars. The market seems to be able to supply them with quite save cars nonetheless.

      What I’m trying to say: this could be bought up front via insurance policies, or possibly in some other fashion as well. The situation is not totally like the on in the car, but not totally unlike either.

      This is my second comment at SSC after weeks of reading, so bear with me please.

      • Tab Atkins says:

        You’re misunderstanding; the issue is that in the case of an emergency, you can’t price-compare because you need help so urgently that you must go to the closest possible hospital immediately.

        Whether or not you pre-commit with insurance isn’t super-relevant here, because getting gouged by the hospital beyond what your insurance is willing to pay still sucks, and paying for “help, the hospital they took me to when I collapsed gouged me” insurance is a moral hazard.

  22. moridinamael says:

    So, “IQ is 50% to 80% heritable.” It is not obvious to me how heritability maps onto a normally distributed quantity. I am sure there is an unambiguous meaning to this sentence, but I can think of multiple interpretations. This lack of specificity makes it impossible for me to figure out the answers to simple questions.

    If (hypothetically) both my parents had IQs at 160, what range should I expect to fall in based in that 50-80% figure? Is there adjustment accounting for regression to the mean? If both my parents are sitting right at 100 points, what then? And if one parent is at 160 and the other is at 80?

    Could somebody clarify this for me or point me to a resource which explains it?

    • Ahilan Nagendram says:

      Perhaps you should read up on what heritability in the context of behavior genetics / psychology actually means.

      For resources, there are many blogs which specialize in IQ research and its technicalities. Human Varieties is a good one. If you want, I can recommend others.

    • Anonymous says:

      “IQ is 50% to 80% heritable.”

      I usually see this phrased as “Between 50% and 80% of the differences in IQ are caused by heritable factors.” I take it to mean (and IDK whether it’s correct) that if I have and IQ of 100 and you have an IQ of 120, then 50-80% of that difference (10-16 IQ points) was due to heritable factors.

    • TokenGreyGuy says:

      For a leftish perspective that is sceptical of “strong” IQ-heritability claims, Shalizi’s essay is good: http://vserver1.cscs.lsa.umich.edu/~crshalizi/weblog/520.html.

      FWIW, in his view a study claiming that IQ is 34% heritable in the “narrow” sense provides the best available estimate of IQ heritability. I don’t really know whether that is accurate or not (or is perhaps obsolete since he was writing in 2007), but debate over these things seems interminable anyway.

      • @Shieldfoss says:

        For a leftish perspective that is sceptical of “strong” IQ-heritability claims

        “For a :political opinion: perspective that is skeptical of :factual claim:”

        This kind of thing drives me straight up the wall.

        • Harald K says:

          Most IQ fans operate under a hazy and flawed understanding of what heritability means. Why don’t you click through and read the section with that headline – what heritability means. Maybe you can come down from that wall.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      First of all, there are two meanings of heritability, though in practice the difference is only 0.1. Both are the proportion of variance due to genes. Broad-sense heritability is the proportion of the variance due to genes. Narrow-sense heritability is a smaller number, the proportion due to additive effects. It is the square of the regression coefficient h of the trait of the children and the averaged trait of the parents. Thus if the parents have average IQ 160, that is, 60 above the mean, the child is predicted to be 60*h above the mean. Regression to the mean is the fact the prediction is not simply the parental value, but pushed a little in the direction of the mean, the fact that h<1. (I see a lot of people claiming that the regression coefficient is h², so someone is confused.)

      For quantitative traits like height and IQ, H²-h²~0.1. But for simple mendelian traits, like whether cilantro tastes like soap, H²=1, but the correlation between parents and offspring is not perfect, so h²<1. The deviation between broad and narrow heritability in quantitative traits is probably also due to the effect of two copies of a common gene not being perfectly additive, though it could also be due to interactions between genes. Or just the randomness of meiosis.

      • JK says:

        The regression coefficient is in fact h^2. This is because the correlation between mid-parent and offspring IQ is equal to the variance that additive genes explain in both. The phenotypic mid-parent IQ score does not explain offspring phenotypic IQ — the causal link between the two is the underlying additive genetic component which is fully shared between the mid-parent and the offspring. Heritability is the square of the correlation between IQ and that genetic component, which also happens to be equal to the correlation between midparent and offspring IQ.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Oh, that’s it. If parental phenotype P=hG+eE₁ and offspring phenotype O=hG+eE₂, where h²+e²=1 and G, E₁, and E₂ are independent random variables with variance 1, then the Cov(P,G)=hCov(G,G)+eCov(E₁,G)=h and Cor(P,O)=h²Cov(G,G)+ehCov(E₁,G)+heCov(G,E₂)+e²Cov(E₁,E₂)=h²

    • JK says:

      Heritability means the percentage of population variance attributable to genetic differences. If the heritability of some phenotype is 80 percent, eliminating all genetic differences between individuals (=if all people were genetic clones) would eliminate 80 percent of phenotypic differences between them.

      For discussion on how offspring IQ regresses toward the mean see here and here. For example, the average IQ of those in Lewis Terman’s gifted children sample who had children (as adults, that is) was 152 and the average IQ of their spouses was 125. This gives an average mid-parent IQ of 138.5. The average IQ of the more than 1500 children born to the Termites was, after Flynn corrections, 123, so regression from the mid-parent IQ was about 15 points.

  23. Pku says:

    I have this issue where when I move my lower jaw around, I get clacking noises from the joints. I always assumed that was something everyone had and can’t be heard by anyone else, but recently I’ve had some people comment on it, and apparently it’s pretty weird. Has anyone else had this?

  24. Tarrou says:

    As a thought experiment, I’ve been trying to disentangle a method of classifying “left” wing politics from “right” wing politics in a way that is consistent and useful between cultures.

    I’d like input, spitballs, thoughts from the crowd here. What defines the political spectrum? What explains the seeming convergence at the extreme ends of it (i.e. it becomes difficult to distinguish the extreme left from the extreme right)? Is there a metric that works without being embedded with cultural assumptions and history?

    • Nornagest says:

      I don’t think there’s such a thing as a cross-culturally valid metric of leftist vs. rightist politics. I do think there’s a cross-culturally valid axis of authoritarianism, which might be what you’re picking up when you look at the extreme left and the extreme right. (Perhaps needless to say, I don’t think that the left/right axis as we know it is particularly well correlated with authoritarianism — though ideologues on both sides will tell you that it is.)

      For example, it’s extremely difficult to describe any of the things that distinguished Confucianism from its competitors in left/right terms without glossing a lot of stuff over or otherwise leading people astray. But it’s immediately obvious that Legalism, one of those competitors, was extra super authoritarian.

      • Tarrou says:

        I think you are correct that authoritarianism is more easily distinguishable, but I don’t think it separates right from left. Both right and left at the extreme are highly authoritarian, unless one wants to make the argument that mao, pot, stalin, lenin, ceaucescu, tito and castro were all secretly “right” or that napoleon, louis XIV, pinochet and de gaulle were all really “left”.

        I would say that authoritarianism is a metric that applies equally to both leftist politics and rightist politics. To the degree they are not authoritarian, it is because they lack the ability, not the will.

        • Susebron says:

          I believe that was Nornagest’s point. You can’t use left/right for things in different cultural contexts.

          • Nornagest says:

            I might have ninja-edited Tarrou there. My intent was always that, but I only added the clarifying parenthetical after I’d submitted my initial post.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think the similarities between the extremes are because:
      -We associate the practical extreme left with russian communism and the practical extreme right with Nazism. But communism wasn’t extremely left and Nazism wasn’t extremely right. However, they were both extremely authoritarian, which is why we find them so similar.
      -We associate the ideal extreme left with communism and the ideal extreme right with anarcho-capitalism(?), and they both rely on fairy dust jolly cooperation, so they seem similar to us.

      Still, I think to make a meaningful political spectrum, you’d need at the very least two axes.

      • Tarrou says:

        I’ve actually had a really hard time classifying nazism. I know that traditionally it is understood as being “extreme right”, but why? Rightists who don’t want to be associated with it always point out the “socialist” part of teh name, which is fair enough, but not much cover.

        As an economic system, it really does split the difference between capitalism and socialism (the government directs industry, but does not own it). Nationalism, even extreme nationalism doesn’t seem to be a right or left metric either (Russia, North Korea etc.). Racism is endemic to the human condition as a subset of tribalism, so there’s not much there.

        The best ways I can think of would define National Socialism (the political system, not the aryan racist worldview) as a center-right government. It happened to be combined with some terrible racism, some frustrated imperialistic dreams and a deep sense of injustice in Germany when it was tried, but none of that is necessary to the structure of the thing. And all those distinct characteristics have been evinced by plenty of “left” wing governments and nations.

        • Anonymous says:

          Well yes, another problem with the classification is that both left and right will try to attribute all historical failures to the other. Hence the “Never really tried” and “it says socialism right there” memes.

        • Nornagest says:

          Nazism really is hard to classify. It was traditionalist, communitarian, and anticommunist, which at the time were rightist values; but its nationalism and racism at the time were neutral, it wasn’t particularly fond of religion (then as now a hallmark of conservatism), and its economic policy was solidly progressive (though not socialist) by 1930s standards.

          The “socialism” part of its name doesn’t mean much, though. It meant more at the beginnings of the party, when it was a revolutionary party with roots among working-class WWI veterans; but it shed most of the trappings of that as it made alliances and reorganized itself to function within the Weimar electoral system.

          “Populist” is probably the modern term that matches it most closely, but even that isn’t perfect.

          • Irenist says:

            They weren’t socialists exactly, but the Nazis did very heavy-handedly intervene in the pre-WWII German economy in order to facilitate both massive rearmament and various public works projects. And they managed the wartime German economy even more heavy-handedly. “Round up a lot of the able-bodied Slavs in conquered territory and set them to work as slave labor in coal mines, steel plants, and munitions mills” isn’t socialism (no unions, no worker empowerment) but isn’t remotely laissez faire, either. Likewise, “let the populations of the major Slavic cities starve to death so Ukrainian wheat can feed Germans instead” (which was the so-called “Hunger Plan” that wasn’t fully enacted before German defeat) doesn’t really map onto either capitalist or socialist economics as usually presented by their adherents.

            If anything, the 19th c. U.S. might be an analogue in some areas. The antebellum north was really protectionist, the antebellum south had slavery, and the American west witnessed genocidal (or quasi-genocidal: YMMV on whether it was mostly down to diseases or whatever, and I’m not an expert in the time period, nor eager to litigate its depredations in this forum) depopulation and resettlement akin to the Lebensraum vision of Germanized eastern Europe. Then again, the mass killing and intentional starvation, along with the very heavy-handed industrial policy, read a lot more Stalinist than the quite laissez fair (except for slavery, of course) 19th c. U.S.

            As you say, the Nazi regime was just a sui generis grotesque monstrous freak, and accordingly hard to classify.

          • Anonymous says:

            Without getting into cause, do you have any numbers on 19C depopulation?

          • Nornagest says:

            Without getting into cause, do you have any numbers on 19C depopulation?

            My understanding is that the depopulation of native Americans started very soon after Spanish contact, at a time when Westerners hadn’t made it north of central Mexico except for a few explorers, and was mostly a done deal by the 19th century — Wikipedia claims 90% population losses by 1750.

            Because of this early lack of contact, it’s very hard to put firm numbers on the scale of the disaster. Most sources cite pre-Columbian North American Indian populations as smaller than Latin American, though; Wikipedia gives a high estimate of 18 million and a low of 2 million.

          • Jiro says:

            “And they managed the wartime German economy even more heavy-handedly. “Round up a lot of the able-bodied Slavs in conquered territory and set them to work as slave labor in coal mines, steel plants, and munitions mills” isn’t socialism (no unions, no worker empowerment) but isn’t remotely laissez faire,”

            I’m pretty certain Stalin didn’t let the kulaks form unions either.

            If you’re going to classify governments as capitalist and socialist, you need to classify them as per the government’s actions towards those it claims to represent, not to its enemies.

          • John Schilling says:

            I think the really heavy-handed Nazi economic intervention, the part that would have merited the “Socialist” part of the name, didn’t really begin until 1942. And that was a matter of necessity rather than ideology – when engaged in total war and not clearly winning, pretty much everyone will do whatever it takes to win.

            The peacetime rearmament, and the first few years of war when it looked (from the German POV) like it was just going to be some quick blitzkriegs and then negotiated peace, those were mostly financed by simple deficit spending to pay defense contractors to build weapons. Since Versailles had left Germany with lots of idle arms-producing industrial capability and lots of unemployed skilled labor, no heavy-handed intervention beyond essentially printing money and saying “you can have some if you build us shiny new guns” was required.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            When ever someone talks about Nazi economics Adam Tooze sheds a tear. I recommend Wages of Destruction for anyone interested in an in depth discussion of it.

            Anyway just off wiki, Germany’s prewar build up was incredibly heavy handed. You had rationing, government seizure of raw materials from private concerns, wages and price controls, dividend restrictions and near total government control of international trade.

            Germany’s policy was mostly nonideological (except for their attacks on large stores and work to set up corporatism)- the goal was to provide for rearmament by any means necessary.

        • Irrelevant says:

          The thing to realize is that Naziism is not like feudalism, or representative government, or god-king monarchy. We have a bunch of examples of all of those from a lot of different time periods that we can use to construct a definition.

          Naziism is an N=3 (+/-1) phenomenon that drew from the very specific political winds of one period of history. If you want us to have a meaningful essential definition of Naziism, you’re going to have to wait until some more Nazis show up.

      • Paul Torek says:

        I don’t think you need two axes for a political mapping, or gain much over a single axis. I bet if you did a Principal Components Analysis on political positions in the West, the first component would have more than thrice the weight of the second.

    • My spit take is that the political space is multi-dimensional, but that the cultural, economic and technological context tends to flatten the space into ~1 dimension at any given time. However, changes to economy and technology cause the orientation of the most significant dimension to shift over time. “Left” and “right” are directions along the most significant dimension of the political space under conditions of modernity, industrialization, and democracy, but as we move outside that envelope those labels become nonsensical because the relevant political questions no longer fall along our axis.

    • DrBeat says:

      I don’t think the extreme left and extreme right converge by virtue of their extremeness; going super super far to the left does not make you actually come out on the right.

      The things the extremes have in common is that they are incredibly selfish and bereft of empathy; they consider their emotions to be the absolute inviolable facts of the world, their own needs to be the only needs, and their inability to imagine the mental states of others lets them conclude the only reason anyone disagrees with them is that they accept all their premises but are evil and want to make things bad. Anything that hurts their feelings is a threat on their life and people unlike them being tangibly harmed are just whining about hurt feelings.

      Once you disentangle selfishness from extreme rightism or leftism, I think the “survive/thrive” distinction is probably a good one to use as start.

      • Anonymous says:

        Mussolini went so far left he ended up right.

      • Held In Escrow says:

        I don’t think that’s quite right, otherwise we’d see super Libertarians, Objectivists, and An-Caps being in the same camps as your hyper-progressives and fascists. Rather, I think that our current model of “liberal” and “conservative” being a single axis fails (with the dual model of authoritarian/libertarian slapped on top working better but still not perfectly) and is very much affected by the surrounding culture. What makes an American liberal is very different from what makes a European liberal, which is why I tend to go a little cross eyed when people try and compare politicians across the pond.

        I do believe the whole horseshoe theory does apply across the libertarian/authoritarian axis though. Left-Authoritarians and Right-Authoritarians (who are somewhat out of fashion at the moment) tend to believe in the government enforcing their particular social and moral norms. This could be in forcing quotas of minority hires, criminalizing speech they dislike or having prayers in public schools.

        The libertarian side is a bit of a stretch, but it’s somewhat of the hippy commune vs the an-cap or night watchman state (as a less extreme example). The leftist version believes that people will make their own little societies of peace and free love which can prosper without “the man.” The right side tends to believe that everything will work out for the best through the free market or that we don’t have the right to restrict others.

        As for selfishness, I don’t think that’s quite the term I’d use. Rather, to look at the SJ movement’s extremism, I’d characterize it as a high sympathy/low empathy group. They feel bad for people but they don’t actually understand how the minds of others work. This group is being disadvantaged, so we must help them; they get sympathy. This group is advantaged, so we should hurt them; no empathy. The same issue definitely applies on the right side of the equation as well; I see hell raining down upon this group, they get sympathy. I see this group doing said hell raining, no empathy.

        • DrBeat says:

          There’s a reason I said they were selfish and bereft of empathy, and not just “selfish”.

          It’s possible to be astoundingly selfish while thinking you are motivated by altruism — if you are so self-centered you can’t comprehend that anyone’s lives or needs might be unlike your own. When you’re selfish enough, you convince yourself your selfishness is altruism, because of COURSE all of your whims and desires are what everyone else in the world needs, and you’re a good, smart person for demanding they be met.

          This is why, I think, extremist policies and efforts rarely if ever help the group they feel “sympathy” for, and usually make their situation far worse.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Talk of “extreme” leftism or rightism presupposes that we have an axis to measure along in the first place. By what cross-cultural measure are the Nazis or Bolsheviks “extreme?” In their contexts, they were the center by the time they were doing their dirty deeds.

        • John Schilling says:

          From the point of view of the Nazis, what were the two roughly-opposing extremes? If we take the conventional view that Nazi = right wing, who did the Nazis see as the right-wing fanatics?

          • Irenist says:

            I suspect the Nazis saw themselves as a middle way between the Jewish-inspired Bolshevism of Russia and the Jewish-inspired capitalism of the Anglo-Americans, bravely fighting to preserve the Aryan little guys from the Jewish conspiracy grinding the world between capitalist and communist stones, and taking the best of both sides: privately owned business and welfarist public works. Or something. That was too much entering into the Nazi viewpoint for me. I feel like my brain needs a shower.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I’m no expert, but here’s what I found on a cursory googling:

            The fascists opposed both international socialism and liberal capitalism, arguing that their views represented a third way. They claimed to provide a realistic economic alternative that was neither laissez-faire capitalism nor communism. They favoured corporatism and class collaboration, believing that the existence of inequality and separate social classes was beneficial (contrary to the views of socialists). Fascists argued that the state had a role in mediating relations between these classes (contrary to the views of liberal capitalists).

            Also interesting, but not well-sourced:

            When Nazis were first elected deputies to the Reichstag in 1924, the Nazi deputies did not sit on the Right side of the Reichstag or the Left side of the Reichstag, but rather at the back of the chamber, deliberately stating in the political language of the time that the Nazi Party was neither Right nor Left.

            As late as November 4, 1931, Nazi propaganda was proclaimed: “Left and Right, outdated concepts! A new man forms a new era” to a poster with a huge Nazi “We” standing behind the political parties of the notional Left and Right. In July 1932, Hitler campaigned against both the Left and the Right. The 1934 book, Hitler’s Official Programme, by Gottfried Feder states: “We know that neither the Left, with their false promise of ‘Down with Capitalism,’ nor the Right, with their phrases about the Fatherland, are capable of initiating a new world epoch, for neither Marxists nor reactionaries could alter anything in the nature of our economy.”

            No Labels!

          • haishan says:

            I don’t know of anything on the right analogous to Strasserism, which was “like Nazism, but more left” — but certainly there were some policies on which the Nazis took left-ish positions. They promoted an expansion of the pension system, for example, and famously nationalized industries. Hjalmar Schacht was a little too free-market for Hitler’s liking, but he got kicked out of government not because of this but because he didn’t hate Jews quite enough.

    • Emile says:

      One way of looking at it that allows a bit of cross-cultural comparison is to look at the kind of social classes support which side: the “left” is the side of people who are “better ranked” in terms of education than they are in terms of power/money (so, teachers, students, artists), and the “right” is the side of the people that are richer than you would expect from their education (so, plumbers, businessmen, landowners).

      At least, by those criteria you see more common points between the European left parties and the US Democrats than you would if you looked at specific policies.

      Also, I don’t think the extremes meet much, but however:
      * Minority parties who don’t have much hopes of getting in an alliance with a major party (the way centrists can) may as well dismiss the whole of the “establishment” (i.e. main parties) as corrupt, and may resort to similar tactics (courting people disappointed with the system etc.).
      * Positions that don’t fit cleanly on the left/right dichotomy (because they look leftish on some attributes, and rightists on others) might end up being tagged as “an extreme” on one side or the other, yet still share attributes with the other side
      * People are probably more likely to believe wrong things about unpopular minority parties, including cheap reasons to dismiss them like “the extremes rejoin each other”.

      • Anonymous says:

        That’s an axis (similar), but is it what people mean? You say that it matches the usage in America and Europe, but that’s not saying much. They are so similar (just shifted on the axis) that anything that distinguishes in one distinguishes in the other. The real test is other examples.

        Does this match the original usage in the French Revolution? China today? Does this explain why the military is right-wing? Have universities always been left-wing?

    • John Schilling says:

      I use a ternary plot as my mental model, with the axes being liberty, security, and progress. And I need a better word than “progress”, because I’m talking here specifically about planned social progress as opposed to emergent progress.

      It’s a zero-sum triad because as liberty goes to 100% you can no longer argue about whether society should seek progress or security or some mix, you just get to sit back and see what happens. At 100% security, you’ve given up hope for anything better and only the most strictly regimented society can keep things from getting worse. And at 100% planned social progress, everyone is a conscript to the One True Plan for a better future.

      The 100% liberty peak is anarchism, which is basically apolitical as most non-anarchists see it. You’re either ignoring the system or trying to crash it, not trying to define your place in it, so nobody else cares what you think. That leaves “left” and “right” to refer mostly to the progress security axis. A leftist wants to use the power of the state to make the world a better place, a right-winger to keep the world from getting worse.

      In a generally free society like e.g. the contemporary USA, the political mainstream may cut across the triangle at about the 50% liberty level, with the Democrats being 50% liberty / 50% progress and the Republicans 50% liberty / 50% security. Or maybe 50/40/10 or thereabouts. In order to be more progressive than a mainstream American democrat, or more security-conscious than a mainstream American republican, you have to move down one edge of the triangle to a more authoritarian tier, hence the view particularly from the left that the extreme right wing is necessarily authoritarian, with the right wing seeing the same on the left and the center saying “a pox on both your authoritarian houses”. But the mainstream left or right are at most only slightly more authoritarian than mainstream moderates.

      TL,DR: It’s mostly about faith in planned social progress vs. defense against social harm.

      • Mr. Breakfast says:

        This is on of the most plausible models of left/right and so forth I have encountered, thank you!

    • Illuminati Initiate says:

      I’m pretty sure the horse shoe theory is just people arbitrarily deciding that there is a political spectrum with “centrist” democratic liberalism* in the center and fascists and Stalinists on opposite sides, observing that neither of those groups are liberal, then saying that they must be more similar to each other than “centrist” democratic liberalism because they are not liberal. This does not seem like a very accurate model, because while you may consider liberalism to be the most morally relevant aspect, it is not the sole defining aspect of ideology.

      (The horseshoe model, like the normal political spectrum, also does not account for libertarians, anarchists, radical leftists who are not anti-liberalism*, the vast differences between Romanticist and Enlightenment style versions of leftism, the differences between religionism and nationalism, the difference between populist rightism and old style monarchies, etc.)

      *In the non-economic sense, obviously

    • Blue says:

      I wrote up a longer form model of this difference. If you want it, let me know your email somehow.

      In short: Any society has multiple cultures, one of which is larger than the others. That is the Hegemony. They start off having the most money and social capital because that’s what their dominance means. So they oppose government redistribution of money, but favor the government codifying the social norms their tribe believes in.

      The other tribes are the Dispossessed. It sucks to be them because they have less capital, and they have some social traditions at odds with the Hegemony’s social rules. So they favor the government having economic power (which leads to redistribution), and are against the government having social power.

      In between are the Defectors: members of the Hegemony who feel guilty about their position and would like some fair play between the various tribes. Liberals, as it were. They throw in with the minorities, and make up the Coalition of the Dispossessed. Politics in a country then comes down to a balance between this Hegemony (the right wing) and the Coalition of the Dispossessed (the left wing).

    • Peter says:

      My vote is for “outdated metaphor from the French Revolution”. At any rate, one key thing to accomodate is the changing position of capital; on the left back then (by then-current left/right definitions) and now on the right (by current left/right definitions).

      I think the history is the key thing. Imagine two banners, left and right. You see who’s crowded around the banners, pick the crowd you feel most at home with, make that crowd a bit more like you, make yourself more like the crowd, iterate… I’d say “until convergence” but changing circumstances means that things will never converge. In particular, people have spent a long time with “left” and “right” in their political lexicon, and it’s a gross oversimplification to say that you’re left-wing if you identify as left-wing, but I think there’s something to it; if you ID as left-wing, you open yourself to influence by other so-identified people, and maybe become an acceptable source of influence to them. Likewise for right-wing.

    • Anonymous says:

      Personally, I doubt you are ever going to find a political “spectrum” that reflects reality at all. The idea of a spectrum model is convenient for keeping people’s thoughts relatively binary and predictable (and I am not just talking about the political spectrum). I am not interested in starting an ideological debate, so here is my thirty second attempt at finding a better model.

      Create a directional graph with specific ideas as your nodes. Node A might point to Node B, B to A, both to each other, or no direct connection. (A weighting system seems to be in order, but that is another discussion.) An example node might be “Absolute freedom of expression” (note, this model should include a separate node for “Absolute freedom of expression, minus hate speech” and these should probably be connected using some sort of weighting). Your links between nodes should reflect reality by use of some sort of explicit data/metadata. Once your web of ideas is robust enough, I suspect an analysis of paths through the graph (for example frequencies of closed graphs relative to Node A) would reveal your fuzzy “political ideologies” like liberalism, fascism, etc.

      A rigorous attempt at a project like this seems (to me at least) a worthy endeavor. Who knows what counter intuitive stuff you may find…

    • clathrus says:

      I’m gradually moving towards thinking that the phase space of productively arranging human beings is largely unexplored, and that there are entire axes that have not been considered. It could be that the rapidly decreasing cost of genetic sequencing combined with a ubiquitous and pervasive electronic network will make possible entirely new and exciting (albeit highly illiberal) political structures. I think this would be better than the (somewhat atavistic) preferences of many neo-reactionaries.

      I would not be surprised if the current discourse on ways of resolving war and hardship in the world turns out to be on the same level as late 19th century civic discussion about the best methods of removing horse manure from the streets of major cities.

  25. Airgap says:

    RFC on my diabolical plan to wipe out the plague of chuggers (charity mugger, or charity beggar), who I regard as a “Social Cancer” in the sense of [https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/06/14/living-by-the-sword/]:

    0. Get a number of volunteers who will:

    1. Sign up for any and all offers from chuggers.

    2. Immediately cancel their payments to the charities.

    3. This will trigger a payment of ~$200 from the charity to the chugger firm, but the charity will not get a compensating payment subscription.

    4. If the number of volunteers is high enough, charities will decide they are losing too much money and stop hiring chuggers.

    I think this is fair. It’s tit-for-tat on the charities engaging in it. I don’t want to destroy them, just hurt them a bit so they stop defecting against the community. Anyway, they’re not cool charities like Deworm The World, they’re megacorp charities like Red Cross and Children International and so on, at least where I live. They can afford to take a hit and keep on keeping on, although they might have to have slightly less decadent gala receptions in the coming year.

    Is this moral? Would it work?

    • anonymous says:

      1. How do you find the chuggers? Don’t they kind of find folks themselves?

      2. See Robin Hanson’s “On Exposing Hypocrisy”

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        1. The chuggers I’m familiar with set themselves up at particular locations on the street and stop passersby.

        2. I think the idea here is that chuggers create negative externalities of annoyance that exceed the value they create.

        This could fail if charities could find a way to only pay chuggers in proportion to how much of the donation they actually receive. I don’t know the logistics of that. Alternatively, they could pay wages instead of per donation, which may or may not undermine chugger effectiveness enough to eliminate them (but should at least reduce them).

        As for morality, I’m not sure on the object level whether the nuisance of chuggers exceeds their value, but on the meta level I’d say you’re obligated to at least try political means first; a minority’s personal valuation of chugger-free environs shouldn’t be binding on the whole polity.

        A sneakier possible way to shut down chuggers via political means would be to advocate requiring them to disclose their fees. I’d hope that having to say, “By the way, $200 of your donation goes to the chugger firm” would convince people to go home and give online instead. Though non-commission-based chugging might survive that.

        • Tom Womack says:

          In a slightly different domain, I ask people who are phoning me up on behalf of a charity how much commission they get were I to do anything: generally they do give an answer, and generally I then hang up.

          Unfortunately I demonstrably have not then gone and increased my monthly donation to that charity by going through their Web site. I would sort of imagine that any organisation for phoning up people on behalf of a charity would claim its commission on any action the people take at the charity over the next time period, rather than any action they take while actually on the phone.

    • I think this is an excellent plan to reduce defection within the charity community, but I think it might also lower the visibility of charity overall. I guess there is a sense in which some of the problems raised by charities are not neccesarily pleasant to think about and need some prominence, even unpleasantly so, to get people to think about whether they should be doing something on those issues. Otherwise you’re regulating charity communications but leaving commercial communication to run wild.

      Perhaps a solution is to trade your sneaky “must declare your cut” soution for some useful visibility concession for charities. That way you’re optimising the sector without shrinking it. Of course, I don’t really know what that actual solution would look like.

  26. Mark Dominus says:

    Scott: I suggest that you check out the blog of Fredrik deBoer, which, while thematically different from your blog, also seems concerned with many of the same issues you often discuss concerning patterns of argumentation, and signaling and language policing among Red and Blue tribes. I have been reading his back issues and I find him consistently thoughtful and incisive.

    • Ahilan Nagendram says:

      I would recommend not to read this man’s blog. I had a discussion with him about his core beliefs (white privilege, feminism etc.) and he ignored all the facts I sent his way.

      • Pseudonymous Platypus says:

        I’ve previously recommended Freddie de Boer to Scott, and while I still think some of his stuff makes for great reading, I’ve begun to share Ahilan’s opinion of him. In one comment thread, he went completely ballistic because people politely disagreed with him about the issue being discussed, and ended up closing comments on his blog altogether. Last time I checked it looked like they were still closed. He also seems to be a bit of a motivated arguer, and apparently has no qualms about using disparaging terms for people he disagrees with… or even sorta-but-not-entirely agrees with (see his take on the Chait article).

        I still think he’s worth reading, but he can be irritating at times, and it certainly seems that he’s not worth engaging with over disagreements.

        • I like deBoer, but I agree with most of your reservations.

          The thing about Freddie is that he’s the truest of the True Believers. He (correctly) calls out a lot of liberals and SJ types for merely being on the side of fashion, but he doesn’t do this because he’s “neutral” or “objective”. He does it because he really truly, in his heart of hearts, alieves in progressivism, far more deeply than most people believe in any political cause. This makes him much more interesting and useful to read than your average online liberal, but it doesn’t make him much more accurate at the object level.

          • Irenist says:

            I can’t imagine wanting to debate Freddie, but I also can’t imagine not wanting to READ Freddie. He strikes me as smart, sincere, and passionate. He’s also a great writer. My politics are quite far from his (as they are from Scott’s), but like Scott, (although for different reasons), deBoer is well worth reading.

        • birdboy2000 says:

          I come from the same political place as De Boer and agree with the majority of his articles, especially on politics.

          I also think on some issues, he’s dead wrong, prone to invective, and doesn’t really understand the counterargument. I want to like reading him, but I can’t, although I’ll gladly link some of his criticisms.

    • Irrelevant says:

      I endorse reading Freddie because he’s often wrong, but when he’s wrong it’s almost always for non-trivial reasons. It’s far too easy to translate the fact that 90% of people don’t know what the hell they’re talking about on any remotely complex issue into “everyone who disagrees with me is an idiot”, and that makes it both important and interesting to learn what the thoughtful people who still disagree with you think.

    • Sarah says:

      Freddie is a nice guy who serves the Enemy.

      Thoughtful, but not brilliant; unconventional, but not truly original; pro-discourse, which is nice; but basically he counsels despair and resents optimists and I’ve come to the point where I’m no longer willing to give that philosophy the benefit of the doubt.

      • Ahilan Nagendram says:

        He serves the enemy for me, and is of the enemy. While said enemy believes that he serves their enemy (i.e. people like me.) Perhaps we should know which “side” you’re on, as your comment can be construed both ways.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Is de Boer exactly “pro-discourse”? It seems when he complains about people shutting down discussion, it’s always “and this is bad for making the Left welcoming to newcomers and credible to outsiders” rather than “and this means we’re unlikely to get the right answer”.

        • Irrelevant says:

          “I know that I am right, so discussion can only result in my views being confirmed, and therefore…” is a bad way to start a sentence, but “…we should talk.” is an infinitely preferable way to end it vs. “…I’m going to skip all that boring middle part and force you to comply with my views on pain of ostracism/hammers.”

          Put less cynically, he seems to be a person who cares not simply that people endorse The Truth, but that they understand The Truth.

  27. DrBeat says:

    So twice I tried sending you an e-mail with the information on that therapeutic roleplaying game I am making and you never saw it. For some reason I never saw your response that asked if I had an e-mail address easily mistaken for spam until recently, and I realized, yeah, that’s probably it, since my address is just a bunch of numbers @comcast.net. Is there a passphrase I could put into the subject line to bypass your spam filter?

  28. Peter says:

    I saw mention of “Chesterton’s fence” on tumblr and thought: there’s a guy who says, “Ere, mate, wanna buy some paradoxes cheap? Fell off the back of a lorry they did!”

    • John Schilling says:

      Uncollapsed feline wave functions for sale, cheap. As is – biological viability not warranted. Contact E. Schroedinger.

      And if our host wants to save some money on his cover art, any college physics department will have lots of slightly-used spherical cows at a substantial discount from the anatomically correct versions.

  29. C.B. says:

    Is it morally worse to eat a dog than a pig? Or vice versa? Or are the acts morally equivalent?

    And more to the point, is it okay for me, when people challenge me to justify being a vegetarian (which happens much more often than I thought it would before becoming one), to try and challenge their moral intuitions by suggesting that if they’re willing to eat pigs, they should be willing to eat dogs, too?

    • Andy says:

      And more to the point, is it okay for me, when people challenge me to justify being a vegetarian (which happens much more often than I thought it would before becoming one), to try and challenge their moral intuitions by suggesting that if they’re willing to eat pigs, they should be willing to eat dogs, too?
      My (carnivore) intuition is that it is okay, but mostly because I want to see what the reaction is. I mean, I eat pigs because pigs are tasty and dogs… I’m not sure, but I’m willing to bet not-tasty.

      • haishan says:

        I think the tastiness advantage of pigs over dogs is mostly down to the fact that pigs are selected for tastiness.

      • Mark Dominus says:

        Dog meat is commonly eaten in many places. Korea is particularly noted for this. There is a special breed of dog, the Nureongi (누렁이) that is specially raised in Korea for its meat.

      • Tarrou says:

        FWIW, dog ok, horse is tough and stringy but palatable. Cat, on the other hand, is freaking delicious. And I don’t say that (just) for the shock value. I had it once in a foreign country when I didn’t know what it was and I immediately had to find out what awesomeness had invaded my mouth.

        The closest comparison might be lamb? But more delicate….

        • Nornagest says:

          Huh. Not what I would have expected; I’ve always heard that obligate carnivores taste bad.

          Are you sure your hosts weren’t fucking with you? I’ve eaten some pretty weird things in some pretty weird places, but I’ve never had cat.

          • Ahilan Nagendram says:

            I actually tried cat in rural Vietnam and Peru (during a local festival) and I think that might be an accurate way to describe it. The meat is very tender, even when cooked with dry heat. The flavor is only slightly gamy, the samples I had were just a little less delicately flavored than beef.

    • Kiya says:

      I eat pigs sometimes. I’ve never been in a situation where dog meat was readily available, and I am uninterested in seeking out unusual foods for the sake of consistency, but I wouldn’t mind eating dogs. It makes sense to eat both or neither if your cutoffs for what to eat are based strictly on degree of intelligence, but cutoffs for what to eat based on cultural tradition or degree to which you think an animal is cute also seem valid. You are welcome to respond to demands to justify your vegetarianism with demands to justify omnivorism, but it may trap you in arguments that you could avoid by coming up with a quick unobjectionable answer.

    • Deiseach says:

      If you want to winnow out the “But dogs are cute!” lot, then that’s a good strategy. If it goes to “But that’s disgusting!”, then you have a lot of traction for why is it disgusting?

      But if you get someone sufficiently hard-headed (or hard-hearted) to shrug and go “Yeah, why not? Local supermarket puts tasty, certified disease-free dog chops on the shelves, I’ll try it” then I can’t see where your argument can go. Dogs and pigs are intelligent? I may concede that, but not as intelligent as humans, and we’ve domesticated and bred both dogs and pigs to suit our requirements, so making dinner out of them is just one more step. If people eat horse meat, why not dog meat?

      • Tarrou says:

        No reason not to, except people anthropomorphize their pets, and dogs are a common pet.

        • Tom Womack says:

          But the dog chop that I buy off the shelves in Tesco would not be from somebody’s pet, just as the pork chop isn’t; similarly, if someone had a pet pig, killing and eating it would be extremely unkind.

          Rabbit is the intersection point, at least in England; I have a few friends with pet rabbits, and nonetheless have been known to make delicious rabbit-carrot-and-bacon stew when the prospect of getting up early in the morning to convert a rabbit carcass purchased from the butcher into sensible-sized rabbit pieces doesn’t appal too much.

          • Izaak Weiss says:

            Rabbit owner here! I eat rabbit. Love it. Having a pet that I care for and play with and eating creatures distantly related to it doesn’t bother me at all.

    • Anonymous says:

      There are people in Korea who eat dogs, I think I’d be less averse to eating them than I am to clams.

      But honestly, I’ve never seen anyone challenge a vegetarian to justify their being a vegetarian… I have seen the motives a person has for being a vegetarian challenged, I’m not sure if that’s what you mean?

      • Muga Sofer says:

        >I’ve never seen anyone challenge a vegetarian to justify their being a vegetarian…

        Oh, believe me, it happens. A lot. (Not that there’s really anything wrong with that.)

        Admittedly, it’s less common than the much-worse “but meat tastes so good, I could never give it up, you must be crazy.”

        • Anonymous says:

          But meat does taste really good, and I would, in fact, never give it up (barring obviously extreme situations)… I’m not sure I understand what’s so bad about that?

          • Evan Þ says:

            Never? What if a Sufficiently Advanced Wizard waved his hand and gave all animals brains just as sapient as humans’? I’m a committed omnivore myself, but in that hypothetical world, I’d give up eating meat since there would be no source for it that didn’t involve morally-significant deaths.

            Or do you mean “never in real-world conditions” – but some vegetarians would argue that we already live in my hypothetical world, since animals’ deaths are already morally significant by their ethical standards. The way to oppose this is to argue ethics, not taste.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’d also give it up if the Undeground Cabal of Unexplicably Sapient Farm Animals kidnapped my family and threatened to subject them to an endless marathon of hunger gamesesque YA novel adaptations if I didn’t stop eating meat ASAP.

            Hopefully, they both fall into the “obviously extreme situations” category.

          • Anonymous says:

            >but some vegetarians would argue that we already live in my hypothetical world, since animals’ deaths are already morally significant by their ethical standards.

            And those vegetarians would be kind of annoying in bringing up an ethics discussion when the other person is obviously just commenting on their preferences. I guess the problem is that, for many vegetarians, vegetarianism is a Very Important Ethical Issue, while for most omnivores, it is, in fact, just a matter of preference.

          • Randy M says:

            “Never?… Or do you mean “never in real-world conditions”

            “…(barring obviously extreme situations)”

            C’mon, man, I think Magical brain augmentation falls under obviously extreme.

      • Peter says:

        (Personal status: vegetarian (ish), in the UK)

        I suppose there are a bunch of reasons for not being keen on other people being vegetarian. The ones that seem most compelling is that being vegetarian can be read as implicit moral criticism of non-vegetarians (and people who feel they’re being wrongly criticised will bite back), and also it’s socially disruptive. The lesser part of the disruption is the inconvenience, the greater part is the social meaning of not participating in some forms of food sharing.

        I say “ish” because true veggies could easily disown me. I have a little rule that says that if I’m out of the country, and I sit down at a restaurant, and there’s only meat on the menu, then I’ll have the meat, because it would be rude not to.

        • Seriously, No More Anons? says:

          Personally, when I look back on the last 150 years, I see a lot of things which were once some small group’s moral intuition becoming force-of-law entailing obligations.

          As a rabid decentralist, even when the moral intuitions are laudible, I see the follow-on effects of widescale or forced coordination as more destructive.

          Now I just resist any effort to “expand the circle of empathy” or whatever the particular would-be priest likes to call it.

    • Tarrou says:

      Not a great argument, although I agree the resistance to eating dogs is cultural and emotional rather than rational.

      As a vegetarian, you probably eat greens and beans, but not trees. Why? Because we don’t see woody plants as a food, and no one spent a few dozen thousand years breeding them for deliciousness. Same basic idea.

    • Noah S says:

      If pigs are at least as capable of suffering and pleasure as dogs or any other sentient being, and I see no reason to think that they are not, then I do not see any moral distinction.

      What troubles me is that I still eat meat. When I take a bite, I experience neither guilt nor revulsion.

      So the question becomes: Does doing something (eating meat) that I know to be unethical make me evil?

      • Anonymous says:

        Do you feel guilt when you wear clothes or use products you can reasonably expect have been built in a Southeast Asian sweatshop?

        • Noah S says:

          I think the evidence indicates that what we call sweat shops are a net positive for the people who work in them and live near them.

          I see no plausible way that modern meat production benefits chickens or their offspring.

          It’s possible that the existence of free-range chickens has upside, in that at least they are given a life worth living that they would not have otherwise had. But the harm caused by prematurely ending that life might outweigh the benefit of having that life.

          EDIT: added link

          • Irrelevant says:

            I see no plausible way that modern meat production benefits chickens or their offspring.

            It means there are many orders of magnitude more chickens in the world than otherwise. Chickens have pretty well won the genetic game in that respect.

            But seriously, I am a vegetarian and yet your views here are completely alien to me. I don’t know if we have completely different views on why wrong is wrong, or if you’re considering the problem by projecting yourself into counterfactual human-minded chickens, or what. The penumbra of human empathy should protect animals from sadistic torment, but not instrumentalization.

          • haishan says:

            It means there are many orders of magnitude more chickens in the world than otherwise. Chickens have pretty well won the genetic game in that respect.

            Isn’t this just the Repugnant Conclusion, but for chickens? I’m pretty sure most of the arguments and intuitions against the Conclusion for humans still hold for chickens.

          • Anonymous says:

            No, it is not the repugnant conclusion. It is one of the hypotheses that goes into the repugnant conclusion, one of the hypotheses that you’re not supposed to doubt. The repugnant conclusion is about trading good lives for mediocre lives. But in the choice between eating chicken and not eating chicken is the choice between the chickens existing or not existing. There is no trade-off between quality and quantity, only the question of whether the life of the chicken is better or worse than nonexistence.

          • haishan says:

            I mean, the idea is that we do a lot of things to chickens that make them have a very low quality of life, which we wouldn’t need to do if we didn’t eat chicken. This argument is, um, not exactly original to me.

          • anon1 says:

            If we demand that all of our chickens be happier (free-range, fed better, less crowded, etc), that will make them more expensive. Consequently, we won’t bring as many into being.

          • Irrelevant says:

            Isn’t this just the Repugnant Conclusion, but for chickens?

            No, it’s a reminder that chickens lack second-order preferences.

          • keranih says:

            I see no plausible way that modern meat production benefits chickens or their offspring.

            1) Fewer chickens die from disease & stress under modern intensive raising systems than when living in situations with less controlled environments. This is why the industries moved to these systems, even though housing is more expensive, the trade off in ‘more chickens to sell’ is worth it.
            2) Modern livestock animals produce more meat per animal and per pound of feed than their ancestors. This requires fewer lives to produce the same amount of food-for-humans. Likewise, concentrated mechanical processing plants allow for concentration of offal and other non-eatable parts, so that these can be readily transformed in to useful products. Elsewise, these parts of the animal – and that animal’s life – would go to waste.

            That’s two ways, maybe three.

  30. Recommendee says:

    I’m looking for a text or resource on experimental design and quantitative research methodology.

    My current background is comp/stats. I’m fairly literate in practical statistical methods (blocking, factorial design, GLMs, etc.), and I’ve also done a dedicated intro-to-med-stats undergrad module, so I have some idea about how medical trials and studies are put together.

    I want to level up in experimental design. I’d like to be better-equipped to appraise research, and have a stronger understanding of what types of experimental processes are appropriate in practice. I don’t need it vocationally, so I’ll take ease of reading over detail, but I’m not scared of detail.

    Does anyone have any recommendations?

  31. Deiseach says:

    Where is the picture of the moo-cows from? Yes, I’m contributing my bit to keeping up the high level of discourse here 🙂

    In my defence, I come from a rural background and you can’t expect to slap up a picture of a herd of Friesians grazing with a background that makes me go “Ooh, those look a bit like the Galtees!” and not have me ask.

  32. I’ll be moving to Beijing in the near future. Anyone have any advice on living there as an expat, or China in general?

    • Emile says:

      I lived there for a few years 🙂 though I don’t have any specific advice to give you; uh, don’t get scammed by “art students” trying to sell you their paintings? You’re sure to run into those. Get warm clothes. Talk to people a lot to improve your spoken Chinese. If you want to speak Chinese, better pay attention to the tones from the beginning.

      What kind of advice are you looking for?

      • My ideal type of advice is “things that would impact my quality of life a lot but I wouldn’t think of”. 😛 But general cultural insight would also help

        Any advice on learning Mandarin in advance? I’m told its famously hard for westerners to learn without live tutoring.

        • onyomi says:

          Buy some air filters and a mask! (Beijing is an awesome and interesting city, but the air quality is brutal).

          Do learn Chinese as much as you can, since China in general is not easy to navigate without it.

          Do be suspicious of scammers and do expect a 1000% foreigner mark-up anywhere you buy anything without price tags.

          Do try Dadong’s Peking duck!

        • Emile says:

          If you want to buy stuff in a place with non-definite prices (i.e. outside a supermarket),travel with a Chinese friend, and if you see something you want to buy, wait till you’re away and ask them to go back and buy it for you. Or if you don’t mind being a bit of a sucker, try haggling.

          Take some toilet paper anywhere you go.

          Pretend you don’t speak good English (being French helped in my case), so people will be more inclined to speak Chinese to you.

    • John Schilling says:

      I was in Beijing for a week last year, and it took me over a month to fully recover. I would suggest that if you have any sort of respiratory disorder, reconsider your plans or at least have a solid exit strategy. If you don’t have a respiratory disorder and would like to keep it that way, then A: set up your living and working arrangements to minimize the amount of outdoor walking you will have to do, and B: research what sort of filter masks actually work (the cheap paper ones don’t), buy a stockpile of the good ones, and actually wear them on the bad days no matter how silly they make you look or feel.

      On the good days [mostly in summer], Beijing’s air is not noticeably worse than any other major city. The bad days, are really really bad. Not just a discomfort to be traded against the benefits of working in China, but a substantial health hazard. Roughly speaking, if being in a room full of smokers is a problem for you, Beijing in winter is not a good idea.

      Regarding the language issue: Most people speak little or no English, and even in international hotels you may be limited to one concierge with a limited fluency after-hours. But if you speak any Mandarin at all, you’ll have no shortage of people wanting to practice their developing English skills with you, and that can be a two-way trade. Learn what you can before you go, but don’t expect to be fluent until some time in-country.

      • Emile says:

        (For what it’s worth I didn’t have any respiratory problems in China; I did occasionally get sick from eating suspicious stuff, but that happened in France too)

        • John Schilling says:

          It seems to be both seasonal and locational. Generally speaking, south is better than north, summer is better than winter, and rural is better than urban. So there’s ways to plan a visit to China without serious problems (I unfortunately had no choice, work-related travel), but if someone is going to live year-round in Beijing I think they are going to need to be prepared for the worst.

          Food and water, yes, those are concerns everywhere. Beijing is I think a bottled-water-only city; I didn’t have any problems with the food but I didn’t have time or inclination to be really adventurous.

      • Gwen S. says:

        Never agree to teach someone English unless they’re giving you money, or you want to be their friend. Ability to speak a language does not translate into an ability to teach it (this goes for English as well Chinese). If you want a Chinese teacher, pay for one.

      • ilzolende says:

        In terms of wearing masks: I have worn one in the US to my public high school, because we get a lot of smoke from nearby wildfires, which occur relatively often, I have a very strong sense of smell, and I have to ride a bicycle to school regardless of air quality. I get a couple of weird looks, but it has not wrecked my social life. Presumably the average person you encounter will not be more judgmental than the average American HS student is expected to be.

    • Gwen S. says:

      A cost efficient and effective air filter. You don’t need to bring it with you; they deliver in China.


      Have a backup plan in case you lose access to blocked sites, particularly gmail. VPNs will generally allow you to circumvent the great firewall but I’ve been throttled a couple times. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether they’ll continue being reliable in the future.

      Condoms are smaller in China, so if you or your partner need them you’ll want to bring few dozen from home. There are probably places that sell the larger condoms in Beijing, but it will take work to find them.

      Learn Chinese if you find it personally fulfilling, but it won’t help you get a job. The demand for Chinese speakers is probably already met in your home country by millions of first and second generation Chinese immigrants.

      If you’re a straight male, beware of Chinese women. Some will see you as a meal ticket, others will attempt to get pregnant without your consent. If you’re in Beijing, you’d probably do well to get an expat girlfriend anyway. They’re easier to relate to and are often eager to get a boyfriend. If you must date a Chinese woman, look for one who is richer than you. This advice goes double if you’re gay.

      Make sure you’re shower isn’t at risk of electrocuting you. If you’re apartment’s shower is risky, you should ask for a new apartment, or failing that, find a local bathhouse that will let you take a shower for a small fee.

      Cook your own food or you’ll get fat.

      Smartphones are more expensive in China, but if you bring on from home you can change out the sim card and use it in China. That being said, even at the inflated Chinese price my smartphone has been a great purchase. The ability to take pictures of places and then show them to taxi drivers alone is enough to warrant a purchase.

      Avoid toxic friendships. A large minority of ESL teachers have developed very bad habits that limit their ability to be anything but an ESL teacher.

      Never accuse anyone of being at fault. If your boss screws your over (by malice or neglect) point out the problem without assigning guilt. “My payment is too small” rather than “You didn’t pay me enough.” Use compliments to make demands: “You’ve been so fair with me before, I’m surprised the payment is this low.”

      Read your contract. Nickel and dime your boss, because she will nickel and dime you. China is not as high-trust as it makes itself out to be.

      Have an exit strategy. I’m glad I taught in China but after a couple of years the returns are diminishing. There are people who get stuck here.

      Perhaps less true in Beijing, but as a foreigner you will be a novel experience the Chinese people you meet. They will remember you longer than you remember them. Make the memories happy; be more friendly than you would be to your countrymen.

      • Emile says:

        > Avoid toxic friendships. A large minority of ESL teachers have developed very bad habits that limit their ability to be anything but an ESL teacher.

        I’ve heard this explained the other way around – some Chinese students told me about a cartoon of a couple of hobos digging through trash in the US, and one telling the other “I have an idea! Let’s go teach English in China!” (I think students form roughly the same impression as you…)

        Do you have any specific examples of those habits? I didn’t hang around many ESL teachers there; I would expect something like “getting too used to shallow one-night stands” or “being rude and insulting to Chinese people” but you may have something more specific in mind.

        • Gwen S. says:

          The biggest bad habit is wasting all your free time playing. If you’ve got a job that only requires you two work say 20 hours a week,, it’s tempting to goof off during the rest of that time. Once you’ve made it a habit, the prospect of returning to a 45 hour work week is intimidating. If your school doesn’t give you full-time responsibility, start a side project so you don’t get too lazy.

          Alcohol abuse is another bad habit. I knew a guy that didn’t have any bottled water or even a kettle in his home. He just drank beer. Drinking is cheap and socially expected in China; I once saw an on-duty cop down a flask of baijiu in mid-afternoon.

          None of the expats I met were having many one-night stands, though a series of short-term girlfriends is certainly possible. The biggest problem with Western-man/Chinese-women relationships is that the man simply has too much power. Many Chinese women will not stand up for themselves when their boyfriend is abusive. If you’re going to date a Chinese women, you need to make a habit of asking for her opinion, and demonstrating that you take her opinions seriously.

          Also, tell her that your parents won’t allow you to marry a Chinese woman. That will save her a lot of heartbreak.

          Finally, expats in China don’t respect the Chinese enough. Every single expat I met talks about what China can learn from the West, but few talk about what the West can learn from China.

    • sadly anonymous says:

      What are you doing there? What is the intended purpose?

      How many languages do you speak now?

      I recently taught for a year in China. I currently regret it, although it is a close call and the minuses come from personal problems and the presence of better opportunities elsewhere rather than anything to do with China.

  33. Cerebral Paul Z. says:

    If I were writing that libertarian book I’d well content to have the Lenin quote as dedication. The money turned out to be a lot more useful than the rope.

  34. Wirehead Wannabe says:

    What would you say the best career options are for someone with a Bachelor’s in Biology and a Psych minor? I keep hearing gloom and doom about the job market for PhDs in both fields. I would love to be involved in research in some capacity, don’t really feel like teaching, and don’t care too much about being the head honcho. I tend very strongly toward being judicial as described here, and am somewhat bad at/dislike executive type stuff. I’d prefer not to sell my soul or take huge risks if possible, but the former is negotiable. I strongly value both truth-seeking and “being involved.” Advice?

    • Thomas says:

      I have a bachelor’s in biology, and am now getting a PhD. I don’t recommend it. I wish I’d gotten a master’s in biological engineering instead.

    • Tracy W says:

      Check out the company IHS. They collect information and might have something in your line.

  35. FacelessCraven says:

    In the comments of the last IQ post, we were debating nature versus nurture as it applies to artistic talent. I do art for a living, and my own drive for self-improvement has left me with a deep and abiding interest in the specific mechanics of learning. My opinion is that genetic talent is largely irrelevant, and an artist’s skill is dependent on how efficiently they train, and how much training they do. The counterargument was that art is entirely dependent on talent, and those of us who have it just don’t understand how impossible art is to those who lack the gift.

    I thought it would be interesting to actually test this theory. I drew up a short art tutorial designed to provide relatively high-efficiency training on a specific task. Since the old thread died by the time I posted it, I figured I’d try again here with a proper introduction, and see if I could get any of the curious but artistically challenged SSC readers to give it a try and, if possible, give feedback on their experience. It’s a fairly straightforward tutorial, maybe 15-20 minutes to work through and pretty difficult to mess up in any unpredictable way. It asks for some practice at the end, you can do as much or as little as you feel like. I think 15-30 minutes of focused practice repeated a few times as needed should be enough to get pretty confident.

    if you’re up for giving it a try, a couple of questions:

    1. Prior to clicking the link, do you think art is primarily a learned skill, or something you need natural talent to be good at?

    2. Do you think you have artistic talent? Why?

    For the purposes of these next two questions, if you made it through the tutorial, can draw a head in two minutes that you think looks significantly better than your control, and now feel more confident that you can “learn art”, the tutorial worked. Otherwise, it failed.

    3. If the tutorial worked, how did it compare to other experiences you’ve had with attempting art?

    4. If the tutorial failed, what was the failure point? What convinced you to put the pencil down for good?

    5. If you’re up to it, post your first and last heads. Imgur works well for this.

    6. Is there a flaw in the tutorial itself? If so, what is it?

    You can find the tutorial here: https://imgur.com/KNThTkF …apologies for my handwriting.
    You can find an online stopwatch here: http://www.online-stopwatch.com/

    [EDIT] – if you have any other questions or need anything explained, ask those here too.

    • Harald K says:

      Hey, I might be a candidate for your tutorial, but it may have to wait some hours (or a day).

      I don’t consider myself either as particularly artistic or particularly artistically challenged (talking about art as in drawing/painting here), but I’ve drawn way, way too little to have any technique to speak of.

      But recently, I’ve tried some. The inspiration is my father: he is also an extremely sporadic painter, but I’ve always liked his portraits of family members. While proportions are sometimes a little off (and in one he did something strange and not exactly successful with the paint), they manage to capture a lot about both my father and the portrait subjects. I thought, maybe it doesn’t matter so much that my technique sucks, maybe a bad drawing is better than no drawing?

      So I bought some charcoal, since that’s the last thing I drew anything remotely naturalistic in (20 years ago.. at the age of 12 or so), and drew a very quick portrait of my son as he was drawing. Um, yeah, OK. A while until I can draw even something my family can appreciate, I suppose. But we’ll see how much that tutorial helps matters.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        Nice sketch! I’m very interested to see how the tutorial works out for you.

        “I thought, maybe it doesn’t matter so much that my technique sucks, maybe a bad drawing is better than no drawing?”

        This, in my opinion, is one of the main insights that allow actual learning to happen. There’s this idea that everyone seems to hit, where you don’t want to practice drawing because you know you’re bad at it. This seems obviously irrational to me, but I’ve still struggled with it myself and seen others completely defeated by it.

        The big problem with art seems to be its complexity. Artists frequently hit skill walls. Climbing over them often means learning a specific set of techniques in a specific sequence, and neither techniques or sequence are intuitively obvious. Large-volume generic practice can brute-force solutions, but tends to be very low-efficiency and a lot of people just burn out and quit.

        • Harald K says:

          Calling back in…

          My “instinct”, so to say, is to draw after a sort of schema. My schemas have become slightly better than stick figures, but not by much. What I have tried in my own drawing recently, is to try to forget “that’s a face”, “that’s a nose”, and just draw lines and shades as I see them right there and then. I find that this makes me draw immensely better than if I try to draw what I think a face or a nose looks like.

          (I need to actually be looking at what I draw to have any chance at it, my visual memory isn’t that good – but it’s OK if it moves a little, like my son certainly did when I sketched him.)

          At first I didn’t read the instructions too carefully (I know!) and didn’t draw the head from the side, but from the front, from looking at the mirror. The most unflattering self-portrait ever… when it’s in two minutes and I don’t have the “unlimited undo” of charcoal and rubber, well, you can see the result: http://imgur.com/PYgC7iE

          Then I see it’s supposed to be drawn from the side. Drat, my mirror won’t help me. Falling back to schema. Pre-tutorial: http://imgur.com/4Wc5JcM

          Following instructions first time, slowly: https://imgur.com/rZjLoAx

          Following instructions from memory, still slowly: https://imgur.com/TMsEXwT

          Following instructions from memory, trying to do it fast: https://imgur.com/zgN1WfM

          Stopping there for today. I guess my schema for drawing a head from the side has improved slightly. It is absolutely better than the pre-tutorial one.

          Question to you: Do you think getting better at drawing what I see (and not thinking about what it actually is or how it “should” be drawn) will help with this sort of drawing too, or would it be an orthogonal skill? (I feel like maybe it is).

          • FacelessCraven says:

            Looks like significant improvement just by the third one. When I was practicing these back in the day, I used to draw them really small, so I could pack 40-50 iterations to a sheet, but paper’s cheap, do it how you like! You also seem to be picking up on how the tutorial, like the pirate code, is more guidelines than actual rules. If you want to practice more, run through it a few more times, and then just when the habits start solidifying, compare your method to a side-view photo of a face. ignore the details, pay more attention to relative placement and proportions. One thing I can point out is, move your eyes a little more to the right, giving yourself a little more of a gap between the front edge of the eye and the vertical plane of the face. My proportions in the tutorial aren’t perfect either; I have too much jaw and not enough cranium, and maybe too much nose. my eyes are probably a little hey, ears too tall… but the point isn’t to have perfect proportions, the point is to get you used to the basic layout of the human head in the most memorable and least-fuck-upable way possible. You can always compare to real heads and adjust accordingly, but that’s easier to do when you have a basic grasp of what to pay attention to.

            Overall, very nicely done!

            “Question to you: Do you think getting better at drawing what I see (and not thinking about what it actually is or how it “should” be drawn) will help with this sort of drawing too, or would it be an orthogonal skill? (I feel like maybe it is).”

            They’re orthogonal in terms of technique used to practice, but they’re heavily interconnected in terms of your ability to actually draw what you want to.

            Drawing is made up of two main clusters of sub-skills. Visual Mapping is how you “draw what you see”, ie break down and simplify massively complex visual stimuli into vastly simpler marks on paper. Judging value (black to white range), hue (color) and contour (outlines of objects) are all part of this skillset. Mental Modelling, on the other hand, is where you build a 3D model of an object in your head, which you can then reproduce from memory, rotate, pose and manipulate at will. This usually breaks down into construction (building up a complex object out of simple sub-shapes) and the principles of perspective.

            People who focus only on visual mapping may be able to do a decent rendering of whatever they’re looking at, but they can’t invent, and often their drawings suffer from a lack of structure. Mental modelling tends to be slow and laborious, poor at detail, and tends to get the artist stuck in a rut. When you have both, the synergy between them dramatically amplifies your skill. A solid mental model of a head, say, allows you to focus your attention on the details of the specific head that contrast with the model. It gives you reference and context with which to interpret the detail you’re seeing. A well-trained eye allows you to sort out that detail in the first place, rather than just ignoring the real face and drawing your mental head model instead.

            There’s also physical dexterity, the muscle memory needed to get the pencil to actually do what your brain is telling it to, but that’s a lot easier and less mysterious than the other two, and usually you get plenty of practice in it while you’re trying to learn the rest.

      • Anonymous says:

        I appreciate the tutorial. Don’t have a camera to upload the results but it definitely improved my face-drawing.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          SUCCESS! 😀

          Out of curiosity, what’s your previous art experience? And about how long did it take you to complete?

    • Anonymous says:

      I was supposed to draw a head before reading the tutorial? Oh!

      • FacelessCraven says:

        The before/after effect is more stark that way, but honestly the practice itself should show a significant difference regardless.

    • Pseudonymous Platypus says:

      I’d really like to try this, but I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to; I’m pretty busy with work and life in general at the moment. Is there some other way I can contact you, so that you’ll actually see my response in case this thread is long-dead by the time I get around to it (if I ever do)?

      • FacelessCraven says:

        post it up in the next open thread? I read pretty much all the comments on these, so chances are good I’ll see it. I could make a dummy email as well, but I’m worried I’d forget to check it.

  36. Rachael says:

    I have moral qualms about using the SSC Amazon affiliate link. AIUI, affiliate links are supposed to be a way for bloggers to earn a bit of “commission” for recommending books to readers who then buy them from Amazon. If we use Scott’s affiliate link for routine Amazon purchases we were going to make anyway, that seems dishonest.

    If I were a consequentialist I’d be very happy with the outcome of redirecting money from Amazon, a huge corporation with flexible ethics of its own, to Scott, who is awesome and more deserving. But I’m more of a virtue ethicist, so I don’t feel comfortable with lying to Amazon to achieve this.

    • Jiro says:

      If you knew that a grocery store was sending out coupons for half-off milk, but did so in the expectation that a lot of people would come into the store and buy other things while they were there, would you consider it immoral to go in and buy only a bottle of milk?

      Of course not. They would be happier if everyone who buys milk also bought something else, but the fact that they would be happier if X falls short of a moral obligation for everyone to do X. The offer as it stands has no requirement to buy something else, even though they would *like* that you did so and even if they would lose money if you just bought a bottle of milk.

      Amazon commissions are the same way. Amazon would like it if everyone who followed an affiliate link is someone who would not have bought a book otherwise, but that’s no more part of the deal than buying extra things is part of the deal on the milk.

      • Rachael says:

        Not sure the analogy works. The milk coupon doesn’t mention anything about buying other groceries while you’re there; you just infer that’s what they’re hoping you’ll do. The Amazon affiliate program is all worded in terms of paying commission for *products you advertise* on your website (although the small print doesn’t actually forbid what Scott and many others are doing with it).

    • amazon assumes people will make other purchases, so there is nothing immoral about this

      • haishan says:

        I’m not 100% satisfied with this argument; it seems to me to be isomorphic to all sorts of terrible arguments for terrible things. Like, my neighbor has fire insurance on his home; he assumes that some people will commit arson (and that lightning, etc. happens), and has taken steps against this risk. Does this make it okay for me to break into his house, pour gasoline over everything, and light a match?

        • Jiro says:

          The risk of fires is a risk that the person buying insurance has whether he buys insurance or not. The insurance only pays for it, he doesn’t assume the risk by buying the insurance.

          A better comparison would be that your neighbor assumes the risk of a house being burned down by owning a house at all.

          But even that comparison is bad because he didn’t make an offer consisting of “burn down my house”. In the Amazon (and milk) examples, someone’s directly making an offer “harm me; I hope I’ll benefit also, but I won’t make that a requirement”.

        • When you buy something from Amazon through an affiliate link, you aren’t causing harm to Amazon, not even harm for which they will be compensated (as in the fire insurance/arson case). You are causing them to make slightly less profit that they otherwise would.

          Dude, just use the link.

    • Deiseach says:

      Why is it lying? You’re not cheating Amazon out of anything; they get the same money from you they would have got anyway, and if they’re happy with a business model that lets them divert a few cents of that to Scott, then you can be quite sure they’re not doing it for the good of their health and if it really hurt their profits, they wouldn’t have such a programme.

      Also, you may – by making it a habit to use the affiliate programme – be introduced to something by Scott that you would not have otherwise considered buying, so it’s quite possible that Amazon make more money out of this programme than lose on paying commission.

      If it were a choice between “If I buy this from the author’s website, they get all the money, but if I buy it off Amazon they only get a percentage”, then I could see your ethical dilemma, but in this case I don’t see any huge problem.

      • Rachael says:

        If I were introduced to something by Scott which I wouldn’t otherwise buy, then I would certainly use the affiliate link *for that item*.

        (If for some reason I wanted not to use it, I would have to go out of my way not to, because Scott would mention it with a link and I would click that link.)

        In that case, the affiliate commission would be Scott’s due for introducing me to the product, and it would be wrong of me to cut him out and go to Amazon without an affiliate link.

      • Rachael says:

        Does this analogy help? Suppose you apply for a job at Amazon. Then you realise your friend works there, so you tell HR “He suggested I apply here; you need to pay him the finder’s fee.” Would you consider that dishonest?

    • Anonymous says:

      No, Amazon wants its affiliates to advertise Amazon as a whole, not just specific items. Amazon gave him that generic ad.

      Roughly speaking, the money is not going to Amazon in the first place. The money going to Scott is not taken from Amazon, but from the last affiliate whose link you clicked on.

      • Rachael says:

        That is a very good point. I had thought, by reading the terms of the affiliate program, that they wanted bloggers to advertise specific products, and that they were turning a blind eye to generic affiliate links because it would be more trouble than it was worth to forbid. I hadn’t seen the page you linked, but it makes me think they’re more happy than I realised about generic affiliate links.

        But I’m still not sure it’s quite right for me to come along to Amazon and stick Scott’s affiliate code in the URL just because I like him rather than because he had any hand in my decision to shop at Amazon that day.

        (Re your second paragraph: only if I clicked the previous affiliate in the last 24 hours, which is vanishingly unlikely, since I only click them when I’m thinking of buying a product they introduced me to, which is maybe once a year.)

    • James Miller says:

      Amazon cares about your long-run commitment to them. Using the SSC Amazon link might make you less willing to switch to some future Amazon competitor. Also, by using the SSC link, Amazon learns something about you that might help them earn higher profits.

    • Pku says:

      I actually find this easier to reconcile with virtue ethics than with consequentialism: Under virtue ethics, Amazon made this offer honestly, accepting the consequence that some people are going to go out of the way to use it. They accepted the risk, and it’s not your responsibility to worry about it unless you have some reason to think their judgement might be impaired or harmful to them, and considering that Amazon’s doing pretty well financially, I’d say you don’t have to worry about that here.

      • Rachael says:

        I don’t understand this at all. Lots of companies accept risks that some people will free-ride or abuse their services. If those people are a minority, the company still does OK, and their judgement to allow the risk was correct and not impaired.
        But virtue ethics means choosing not to be one of those people.

        • Jiro says:

          But how do you define “free-ride or abuse their services”?

          You seem to think it means “use their services in a way that they would not like, and which costs them money”. But considering the half-off milk example, that can’t possibly be what it means.

        • Pku says:

          I think of it as, in virtue ethics, if someone offers you something for free, that’s their responsibility, unless you have reason to believe their judgement may be compromised for some reason (and Amazon’s managers probably have pretty good business judgement). Under consequentialism you need to consider if taking the offer actually benefits them as they’d expect, but under virtue ethics, it’s their call. The other thing with this issue in particular is that it would be very easy for Amazon to set up smile so that it would only work if you got there through a link (there’d probably be ways around it, but they could at least make it tricky), which would signal they didn’t want you to use it in this way. As they haven’t done that (in fact, going on your amazon profile gives you the option to use smile for any cause you like), you aren’t cheating them by doing this.

  37. Emile says:

    We have a LW / SSC meetup this Saturday (Feb 14) in Paris, LessWrong post here: http://lesswrong.com/meetups/19y SSC readers are welcome, you can ping me at flammifer (gmail) or just show up at 2 PM 🙂

  38. John says:

    This is my favourite blog but I’ve never read the comments. Am I missing much?

    • Peter says:

      Oh, it’s an oasis here.

      Which is to say, I suppose it’s what you’re after. I have various frustrations with the comments here, but I can get something important here I can’t get anywhere else, hence me being here. Milages vary, I have a friend who likes the top half of this blog but advises running away screaming from the bottom half; there are also a few familiar names in the bottom half. Have a read and see.

      (If you really can’t get enough, have a read of Scott’s tumblr too.)

    • Pseudonymous Platypus says:

      The comments are rarely as good as Scott’s writing (which is a very high bar to meet, IMO), but they’re roughly a billion times better than the comments you’d find on any other website. So yeah, I think they’re generally worth reading.

  39. Alex Mennen says:

    Since this is partially a psychiatry blog, I figure I may as well ask this here.

    Whenever I experience any sort of psychological problem, the first thing I do to try to get rid of it is jog until I tire myself out, and that usually works. It seems to be really stunningly effective. And a quick google search suggests that people have studied this and generally agree that getting enough exercise is very important for mental health.

    Despite that, I haven’t heard exercise mentioned as standard advise for what to do about psychological problems. From what I’ve seen so far, I’m guessing that it pretty much always makes sense to make sure someone’s getting enough regular exercise before getting them on medications. Do psychiatrists tend to do that? If not, should they?

  40. Anonymous says:

    im kinda a fan of this blog and would wanna go to the meet up since i live so close by and be like hi scott i really like your blog *hands him cool gift i didn’t think of yet* in some fantasy of mine. but i get really anxious around groups of strangers and if there’s a group i’d fit in with it wouldn’t be this one. maybe i could wrangle my friend who is smart and went to stanford into going because then he can do the talking for me. we had a falling out but then he messaged me on skype a week ago saying he was thinking about me. i showed him scott’s graduation speech post before and he seemed to like it. well more like i forced him into reading it while he was proctoring an SAT test and didn’t have anything else better to do but still. march 1st is kinda soon.

  41. obnoxious pendant says:

    you got a c- in calc 1 but an A in calc II, what gives?

    • Sniffnoy says:

      …are we really talking about Scott’s grades from undergrad or earlier?

    • Irrelevant says:

      Speaking as a tutor, that is in no way uncommon. Firstly because once you make it through the introductory course you’ve been, well, introduced. They’re building off existing structure now instead of trying to pound new pitons into your brain. And secondly because the most prevalent books for calculus introduce their ideas in a terrible order. There are points in Calc I that are in my experience most easily taught by giving the student a lecture from Calc III or IV.

      • Luke Somers says:

        Which in particular?

        I think integration should be taught alongside differentiation so you understand how they fit together.

        • Irrelevant says:

          Learning differentiation before integration doesn’t seem to bother most people, though it is amusing that calculus teaches you the subtraction-analogous process before the addition-analogous one.

          The problem I routinely see students hit is that they’re being artificially locked to a single variable, and they don’t know why, and it makes it really hard to sort out from within which of the things they’re learning are the general rules of the discipline and which just go with a special type of problem. Knowing how to work with two variables is slightly more complicated but immensely more powerful and sensible, and it’s well worth the time to teach the basics of that and parametric equations to Calc I students so that they know what direction to be thinking in.

          I’m sure there’s some defensible reason things are organized the way they are, but I consider it an attempt to get people to solve a puzzle by handing them individual pieces that can be fit together and forgetting to show them the picture on the box.

    • Anonymous says:

      wait what. assuming this was true and you had a way to know that, this means he kept the A get got in calc II from us in the last post as part of his master plan to make himself look worse off at math than he really was in order to gain our sympathy for his lopsided abilities, since we know all to well of the bias towards liking lopsided things. this is an outrage!!

    • Anonymous says:

      It could be that he was “behind” during the first part of the class, so he learned all the material, but just after he had been graded on it. So he went back and understood the questions he got wrong on the test, etc.

  42. Andy says:

    In previous Open Threads, I’ve mentioned a science-fiction idea I’ve had based on a melding of Reactionary and Progressive principles. Now I’m out of school, and Open Threads really helped. when I’m not looking for jobs I’m working on this, and the suggestions I got in previous . I’m looking for beta readers or suggestions of where to send a 13,000-word space-opera/military-SF novella with strong influences of Battletech.
    I don’t touch Reactionary notions of race or gender (my main character is a female soldier, and planetary-culture is much more important to plot than amounts of melanin) and I’d don’t need critiques of my writing style – I have betas I trust for that. What I’m looking for is a beta-reaction on the political theories I’m bringing up. Whether I’m using an argument that’s bad to support a position, where you see holes in the incentive structures that could be exploited, et cetera. Most of my betas either have very little knowledge of, or are repulsed by Reactionary ideas.
    If you’re interested, mail me at fifths stories [at] gmail, without the space.

  43. Pseudonymous Platypus says:

    In the previous open thread, I asked about “voice dialog” therapy. Paul Torek said he could get some information for me if I’d like, to which I said yes, but he didn’t get back to me… probably because the thread got stale so he never saw my response. Anyway, if Paul or anyone else who knows about voice dialog reads this, this is what I’m looking for:

    – A brief overview of the practice of voice dialog therapy and the supposed underlying mechanisms, from a source other than the people who invented it
    – Whether or not there has been any scientific study of its efficacy (I can’t find any)
    – How it compares to CBT and why one would use it instead of CBT
    – Whether or not it is more effective for particular issues or types of patients than others

    • Paul Torek says:

      From Rebecca Hatton, P Torek’s spouse: Paul said you were asking about voice dialogue for people who hear voices. It’s an extension of Gestalt method of role playing inner dialogues. It was pioneered by voice hearers in self help networks & in psychotherapy (cf. Dirk Corstens). The voices are respectfully consulted about who they are, what they want for the person, when & why they came, etc. Even abusive voices are seen as protectors who are trying to help, carriers of painful or traumatic memories, & capable of learning more informed or mature ways of helping the person cope. Their source is often found to be related to severe trauma. They may replicate historical relationships – they oppress the person the way they were dominated in the past, for ex.
      The supposed underlying mechanism is the idea that it’s helpful to explore & clarify one’s inner polyphony. Dialogical philosophy assumes human beingness is formed in dialogue with the community into which we are born. We act out of the cacophony of inner voices we have managed to find meaning in & integrate to one degree or another etc etc. (Open Dialogue is a whole other entity – family therapy for psychosis which has reduced population prevalence of DSM schizophrenia by 80%, cf Jaakko Seikkula & Daniel Mackler on YouTube).
      CBT does not inquire into the meaning of symptoms or voices as directly but tries to manage, control, modify them. Voice dialogue may coax change from the voices, but it’s first goal is to understand them (&, so, oneself) at a deep level. CBT tends to see voices as symptom of a disease & aim to reduce them or help person avoid or ignore them. Dialogue is more about integrating voice experience as a meaningful, creative experience, with the potential to greatly enhance self growth.
      Some psychoanalytic type workers see voices as being like waking dreams & explore them that way, also searching for the meaning of the experience.
      I don’t know whether D Corstens has done any study of voice dialogue, I don’t think so. Hearing Voices Network has used voice dialogue quite a bit in the past 25 years, informally in their self help work, esp in the UK. Until recently, HVN members avoided becoming subjects of scientific study since the history of objectification (I-It rather than I-Thou relationship style) between professionals & people with lived experience of psychosis has been so egregious. Lived Experience Research Network, a small, new group of psychologists recovered from schizophrenia & other mental ‘illness’, is doing participant-designed exploration of HVN, but not voice dialogue per se.
      I’ve heard of some HVN groups who role play a person’s voices for them, with their collaboration of course, when they may be to shy or sensitive to enact their voices in the group.

  44. Wrong Species says:

    Looking over past recessions, it seems that starting with the recession in ’90, the economy has taken longer than usual to recover. But on the other hand, there also seems to be fewer recessions than before. So I am making a few predictions:

    1. There will not be a recession in this decade.(Recession meaning two consecutive quarters of negative gdp growth) I give this a 65% chance of being true.

    2. The standard unemployment rate will be below 5% by January 2016. 80%

    3. U6* unemployment will be under 10% by this time next year. 75%

    4. Labor force participation rate will not hit below 62% this decade. 40%

    I will post an update one year from now. And if there is a recession in that time, then I will feel very stupid.

    *U6 unemployment is the broadest measure of unemployment. It includes everyone who wants a job and has looked in the last 12 months plus people who are working part time for economic reasons.

    • Sam says:

      I would bet against you on #2, if you give me 4-1 odds. But not at 2-1 odds, say.

    • Adam Casey says:

      1. There will not be a recession in this decade.(Recession meaning two consecutive quarters of negative gdp growth) http://predictionbook.com/predictions/66006

      2. The standard unemployment rate will be below 5% by January 2016. http://predictionbook.com/predictions/66007

      3. U6* unemployment will be under 10% by this time next year. http://predictionbook.com/predictions/66008

      4. Labor force participation rate will not hit below 62% this decade. http://predictionbook.com/predictions/66009 (I turned that one positive to make it clearer).

    • onyomi says:

      I would bet against you on number 1. Isn’t it a bit early to say recessions have become less frequent? Looking at the past 50 years, they seem to happen once every decade or so. I’d say we’re due soon, but I wouldn’t say there’s a big difference in the trend unless we do in fact get to 2020 without one, which I’d rate at more like 25%, personally. If the difference in time between the last big recession and the next ends up significantly longer than usual, I’d say it’s only because people were so scared for so long after the last one: a bubble can’t pop if it won’t inflate.

      • Wrong Species says:

        This is kind of cheating but the 2001 recession isn’t a recession by the definition I gave(economists are divided on what should count as a recession). So that would be about 18 years without a recession if we don’t include it. If we do include it, then it’s about one a decade since ’82. Now there were actually 5 recessions between 1945 and 1965. So there is definitely a pretty big difference.


        • onyomi says:

          The collapse of the dotcom bubble is pretty widely viewed as a recession, though I would say it seems like we’ve traded frequency of recessions for severity, which is what I’d expect, given the current interventionist monetary policy (fed rushes in to save the day at any hint of a recession).

  45. Carinthium says:

    Requesting advice. I want to learn to be a good enough writer to write fiction that qualifies as “Rationalist Fanfiction”, but I don’t think I’m good enough yet. Could anyone help me out?

    • Anonymous says:

      Write fanfiction and then ask people who are better at writing than you to critique it. Repeat until you have fanfiction you like.

      • Carinthium says:

        For Rationalist fanfiction, I doubt it’s that easy though. After all, I don’t know any good rationalist authors well enough to ask a favour of them and criticism from non-rationalists probably wouldn’t be helpful given my goal is to fit into the Rationalist fiction sub-genre.

        • James Picone says:

          Criticism from the general populace of fanfic authors will be good for improving your writing skills, though. The specific ‘rationalist’ fanfic genre is mostly just trying to write intelligent characters, as far as I can tell.

          • Carinthium says:

            That’s what lesser rationalist fics distill too. But I want to try and do more than that- I want to make them as rational as possible.

            It is significantly easier to write a good rationalist than to be one in some ways, so
            I figure I can potentially write considerably more rationalist characters than I actually be. I figured I might be able to get help with that.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Hm. I would still say that general writing skill is a prerequisite for writing rationalist fanfiction containing realistic characters, so I’d recommend you start there.

        • Airgap says:

          Try this: Write fanfiction and post it somewhere rationalists will read it. Probably, the first time they will say “This is shit and so are you.” Continue writing fanfiction anyway, possibly under different names. Eventually, maybe people will like it. Or not.

          Consider not writing “Rationalist” fanfiction though, but just fanfiction you like and other people might. Eli wrote something once about how you should try to be correct rather than “rationalist” or something to that effect, because that’s what being a rationalist is really about. Maybe you can dig it up. I think it’s good advice.

          Consider also just writing “stuff” rather than fanfiction. Really, no matter how much you liked HPMOR, don’t try to just do the same thing. Because I’ll just read HPMOR if I have the inclination. God knows there’s enough of it. Tucker Max used to always tell the young frat dudes “Stop trying to be a copy of me, because you will fail and nobody will like you and you won’t get laid, let alone get laid as much as me. Try to be the best version of yourself and it might work.” Also good advice.

    • Charlie says:

      Have you checked out the Writing Excuses podcast archive? If it’s the sort of thing you like, it will be quite helpful (a classic example episode).

      Attempt to have been born with the talent to find writing fun and fulfilling 😛

      Try a variety of things, don’t forget to have fun.

      Once you feel like you have something people will want to read (taking into account peoples’ desire to give advice if you’re asking for it), solicit advice from a variety of audiences. Non-rationalists can absolutely give you helpful advice – even about writing realistically intelligent characters, if you phrase the question in a jargon-free way.

    • rsaarelm says:

      You should probably develop a good enough sense of what good fiction is like that a lot of the existing rationalist fiction starts looking cringe-inducingly bad to you. Developing the craft of writing fiction is going to require just writing whatever quality of fiction you can manage and thinking what you wrote until you start writing good fiction. You can not publish the early stuff or use a different alias for it if you think it’s not up to scratch to publish with your main identity. For background research, look for advice on regular fiction writing.

      You might want to look at stuff from the Golden Age of SF with Clarke, Asimov and Heinlein. Besides mounds of pulp junk, they had some of a similar “positivism for the edification of the young” thing going that rationalist fics seem to be trying, before things got all cynical and literary.

      Try to have the circle of stuff you know about be significantly wider than the circle of common stuff people who like rational fiction are expected to be aware of. Learn stuff about literary fiction, philosophy of the mind, political history, decision theory, evolutionary aesthetics, language and semiotics, continental philosphy, ancient mythologies and religions and art history. Besides working hard on your craft, the other secret trick to writing great popular fiction is having a much wider pool of stuff to draw from than you’d expect to need to write popular fiction.

    • zz says:

      1. Read a writing guide. (This is your one bit of traditional writing advice.) For whatever reason, the MLP:FIM community has the best resources for aspiring writers. These are not specific to MLP: I have written a grand total of 302* words of MLP fanfiction, but have used MLP guides to beta upwards 30K words of rationalist Naruto fanfiction (nb: despite all appearances to the contrary, story is not dead). I suggest EZN’s guide.

      2. My Immortal. My Immortal is well-known for doing everything wrong. Everything. We enjoy reading it because the ways in which it is wrong are humorous. The idea here is to become well-acquainted with everything you could do wrong in your writing (all of which is contained in My Immortal), so when you see it in your writing, you can squash it.

      3. Beta. You are a unique person (meaning you’ll be able to see ways of improving writing that no one else will) and Eliezer has a buttload of fanfic recs in his Author’s Notes. Find an in-progress story you like and offer to beta. The writing guide lets you tell right from wrong and My Immortal has trained you to notice it. Once you identify something wrong, Rule 13: “Omit Needless Words” will usually tell you how to fix it. The crucial point is that you are now good enough to provide useful feedback to a story someone else is writing. If you are me, that is how you will improve. (Ideally, you want to be on a team with other betas so you can reflect on the suggestions *they* make, since Google Docs (which is, hands-down, the best platform for collaborative writing) makes that easy.)

      I have trouble believing that writing can be learned from classes because I always did very poorly in writing classes because I was a bad writer in school. Since then, I’ve become a lot better, entirely by doing things we never did in class. I did pick up one useful tip, though: be aware of your use of the verb “be” (am is was were be being been). Often, especially if you’re a new writer, use of a form of the verb “be” flags a weak spot that would benefit from rewriting.

      *Not even 302 words, actually. You may recognize the story I “wrote” as a ponified version of A Trekkie’s Tale, the story responsible for the term “Mary Sue.”

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Follow these steps.

      1. Read Eliezer Yudkowsky’s writing advice. All of it.

      2. Watch My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I don’t care if you don’t like it, just watch enough that you can read and write pony fanfiction. It’s one of the few really large, really active fandoms right now (others include Harry Potter and Naruto), it has a great writing tool that you will use in the next step, it has the best fanfic website, and the fanfic is much better than the show anyways.

      2. Go to Thirty Minute Ponies, look at some prompts and prompt responses to get a feel for it, then pick a prompt, and write. The thirty minute limit is great for teaching you how to strip away all the unnecessary bullshit and focus like a laser on the important part of each story. Don’t try to make your responses rational yet; just concentrate on writing good scenes. Since the site is not accepting submissions anymore, save every story you write for now.

      3. Once you have a thousand words, create an account on FIMFiction and post your stories. Ask LWers, SSCers, and other such critters to review and critique your stories. Tell them that you are aiming for writing rationalist fanfiction eventually, and that whatever improvements they can make in your writing will result in a higher quality fanfic for them to read when you finally write your rationalist story.

      4. Once you are a good writer, write your rationalist fanfiction in whatever fandom you desire. Post it in LW, SSC, and /r/rational for more readers and reviews.

      • zz says:

        Re:MLP fanfic: onemansponyramblings.blogspot.com offers high-quality reviews of the MLP fanfic considered the best. Not only does this provide a repository of the 10% of MLP fanfic that escapes Sturgeon’s Law, but that 10% is further broken down by Chris’s ratings. Given the size of the comments section, it’s maybe two orders of magnitude smaller than here, but the level of discourse is just as high and respectful as you’d come to expect from the rationalsphere, although the participants are people who stick around for high-quality fanfic reviews, rather than the people who stick around for The Sequences.

  46. Scott Alexander says:

    While everyone is talking about their weird medical problems here, let me discuss mine, the solutions I’ve found, and see if anyone has better ones.

    For the past one week, whenever I’m lying down, my ears pop every time I swallow. This is disruptive enough that it’s been preventing me from getting to sleep.

    I did some research on it and it looks like it’s a Eustachian tube problem, usually caused by either ear infections (which I don’t think I have), temporomandibular joint dysfunction (which I don’t think I have), or sinus congestion (which I might have but only a little).

    I think the problem might be my habit of browsing the Internet while lying prone in bed with my chin on the edge of the mattress staring down at the computer on the floor below (I work in weird positions). I think this might have blown my temporomandibular joint out of whack, so my long-term strategy is to stop being in this position and see if it heals on its own.

    Other things I am trying: decongestants (zero to minor success), making my room warmer to decrease sinus congestion (minor success), lying in an uncomfortable position with my head almost vertical (high success, but uncomfortable). I’ve ordered a mouth guard (supposed to help with TMJ dysfunction) and xylitol nasal spray (supposed to help sinuses) and I’ll see if those do anything. Right now my sincere hope is that I can reduce symptoms with little things until changing my posture makes it go away. Otherwise I might have to see an ENT doctor and start talking about radical solutions.

    • drethelin says:

      I’ve found ibuprofen to be helpful with ear-infection-like pressure in the ears, presumably because it reduces inflammation/swelling.

      • Irrelevant says:

        I found ibuprofen helpful for a lot of things, but then I got an ulcer and had to get emergency surgery. So, be careful with any plan involving taking NSAIDs on a daily basis.

        Interesting to hear the ear-popping thing is linked to TMJ though. I have both, though thankfully the ear-popping has never impaired my ability to sleep.

    • Anonymous says:

      Have you tried diuretics, stimulants, or antihistamines? Or, to make an easy first-line filter by combining everything together: have you tried Midol?

    • Anonymous says:

      my eustachian tubes suck. according to the internet they’re the source of all my misery on plane flights and why my ears have always hurt so bad on the descent. it said mine were poorly formed. i was born premature and i did have a lot of ear infections as a kid which my eustachian tubes being too small might account for.

    • Murphy says:

      As someone who used to have lots of sinus problems there’s 2 simple and cheap ones to try:

      You might try steaming your head-> ie, either go to a steam room or just get a bowl of hot water and a towel and sit breathing lots of steam for a while.

      A mild dose of some over the counter antihistamines like cetirizine for 3-4 days might be worth trying in case it’s in any way allergy related.

    • haishan says:

      I have had similar problems (though never quite that bad) and also spend too much time in similar positions, so this is perhaps a data point in favor of your theory. For me the problem always resolves itself within a couple of days.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Thank you! I kept Googling this and running across people who said “Oh, yeah, I’ve had that problem constantly for the past twenty years”, and although I know there’s a lot of selection bias (if you’ve had something for twenty years you’re more likely to talk about it) I was still freaking out. What you just said takes a big load off my mind.

        (also, people who spent time in weird positions, unite!)

        • I spend a lt of time lying on my side reading my laptop, would that have a similar effect?

        • Richard says:

          Right, if you don’t want to freak out again, stop reading now.

          This problem _can_ come from cartilage growing inside the tubes. I’ve had mine drilled twice and expect to keep drilling every couple decades. Not sure how common this is, but my first cousin does the drilling too, so it is probably genetic.

        • Jared says:

          OK, you’ve inspired me to counter such selection bias via this blog comment about a similarly annoying problem that went away on its own.

          One Sunday in October 2013, I developed a persistent, irregular thumping sound in my right ear. I’m confident it was objective tinnitus, although I can’t be sure it was objective because I never got the chance to check that a third party could hear it. It was not pulsative tinnitus because it was not synchronized with my pulse (also, if my heartbeat were that irregular, I think I would have died). My ultimate diagnosis with Dr. Wikipedia was middle ear myoclonus.

          The irregular nature was very annoying. It went in short bursts of a few seconds each, separated by pauses that were typically a fraction of a second, sometimes a couple seconds, and sometimes long enough to give me hope, only to dash it against the rocks. I’m overly sensitive to sound at the best of times, and I found the prospect of sound that could not, in extremis, by stopped with a pillow to be extremely stressful and alarming.

          Using the Internet, I decided that I was going to Urgent Care on Monday, that, if they couldn’t resolve the problem or refer me to someone who promptly could, I’d find some plastic surgeon to inject botox into all the relevant muscles, and that, if that failed, surely removing the muscles and/or severing the auditory nerve would work, and maybe a doctor in a lightly-regulated country would be willing to do that. To this day, I believe that it would have been preferable to permanently lose hearing in one ear than to have that thumping continue for months.

          In reality, the problem became much less severe by 3 am (in terms of the pauses becoming longer until the thumping was the minority, not in terms of acclimating to it), it was completely gone within 24 hours, and it has not recurred. I did drink a bunch of water and eat some calcium supplements, but if that was all it took I’m sure it would have gone away without doing that.

    • Emlin says:

      Oh man, I get this! It comes and goes. I never thought it might be related to lying in weird positions though I do (often on my back with my laptop on my chest and my chin tucked all the way down). I also do have TMJ but it doesn’t bother me much, and a history of a lot of ear infections/ear drum rupturing/allegedly I have oddly shaped eustacian tubes. Also underlying Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. But ~nevertheless~

      Anyway. 12 hour sudafed might help. and ibuprofen might help. But the biggest *weird* thing that has helped me not only with this but with reducing my frequent ear infections is to not lie down without using listerine, or at least drinking some sugar-free energy drink or black coffee. non-sugar-free lozenges have been permanently shunned. I can’t justify it and I don’t know if it would work for you. It *feels* like all those things open up my ears and it seems like if I eat anything I quickly get ear irritation. Anyway, too much energy drink/coffee leads to acid erosion of your teeth so maybe try listerine more than those things. I just live on constant caffeine anyway 😛

  47. onyomi says:

    Over the past several years I’ve developed an unmistakable and worsening intolerance to gluten. Don’t know if I actually have celiac, but I definitely can’t eat it anymore without days of pain. Should I intentionally infect myself with third-world parasites?


    • No, try a paleo diet first. Lot’s of people on paleo avoid gluten.

      • onyomi says:

        I’ve tried a paleo diet before, but I don’t care for it. I worry about the cholesterol, and I feel better on a high-carb, low-fat diet. I already avoid gluten completely. The issue is I’d like to not have to avoid it, or at least not so strictly.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Get tested for celiac first. If you know you have celiac, then you can try weird stuff, but you will also have all of the normal research on celiac to fall back on. It’ll also mean you have doctors on your side who you can consult about this sort of thing.

      • onyomi says:

        The problem with the testing is you need to eat gluten for a week or so for it to work. At this point, that prospect is extremely unpleasant. I did test negative for the antibody way back when I first suspected there was a problem, and it came back negative, but I had already stopped eating gluten for a week or two at that point. I suspect it may not be true celiac, but some sort of food sensitivity. My 23andme test did, however, indicate a higher-than-average probability of celiac, so maybe I will bite the bullet and do the whole intestinal camera thing at some point.

        But anyway, I’m more interested (if anyone’s interested) in discussing the more general idea of the hygiene hypothesis and solutions based upon it, as opposed to my specific case. I found this very talk to be very interesting, especially the comparison to gravity: gravity is a stress on our systems, yet we need it to be healthy (as our immune system may need to deal with parasites or potentially go haywire).


    • calef says:

      Doctors thought I had Celiac’s at one point, but it turned out that I was just severely lactose intolerant. Considering that lactose is often in things with gluten, I’d check this out as well before doing anything drastic.

      • onyomi says:

        I’m pretty sure it’s not dairy for me. I’ve tried eliminating it and putting it back in, and it makes no discernible difference.

  48. James Picone says:

    I’m currently getting treated for sleeping problems that kind of resemble http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-24-hour_sleep%E2%80%93wake_disorder , in that left to my own devices I tend to sleep about an hour later each day, and trying to fix my wakeup-time is very unpleasant – usually I can manage to do it for a week or two and then all hell breaks loose, my sleep schedule varies wildly, I feel awful, etc.

    But: I’m not blind, and from what I’ve read non-24 is exceedingly rare in sighted people, so I have low confidence that that’s what’s going on.

    Is there a high-reliability, moderately-inexpensive way of figuring out whether my circadian rhythm is running long vs I’m terrible at getting up in the morning vs some other possibility?

    As of soon I’m going to be getting a prescription for melatonin (which is prescription-only where I live), so that might help.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think Eliezer claims to have had this, which means either that it’s more common than people think or at least that there’s something common that mimics it.

      After trying a lot of stuff, Eliezer found what he thought was an effective solution that involved taking melatonin in a very nonstandard way. I don’t remember the exact details, but you could either ask him, or I think Sarah Constantin was involved in helping work this out and she might remember what exactly it was.

      EDIT: Someone posted it below

      • I don’t really understand Eliezer’s condition, as IIRC it’s so bad it’s one of the reasons that he’s an autodidact, as he could never be able to adhere to the hours of a normal school.

        But personally, I’m pretty sure I have a non 24-hour sleep schedule, in that if left to my own devices I’ll wake up and go to bed each day about an hour later than I did the day before. But I don’t have any major problems with sleep, I’m able to just live my life and get around 8 hours a night when I’m not too busy. So it seems to me like Eliezer must have something more.

      • Sarah says:

        Non-24-hour sleep disorder is
        a.) very rare among sighted people in general
        b.) pretty common among the blind
        c.) pretty common among autistics.
        It’s usually quite debilitating.

      • Jaskologist says:

        According to one experiment, this is pretty normal (warning: tiny sample):

        In 1962, a French speleologist named Michel Siffre spent two months living in total isolation in a subterranean cave, without access to clock, calendar, or sun. Sleeping and eating only when his body told him to, his goal was to discover how the natural rhythms of human life would be affected by living “beyond time.” Over the next decade, Siffre organized over a dozen other underground time isolation experiments, before he himself returned to a cave in Texas in 1972 for a six-month spell.

        tldr; without environmental cues, the subjects shifted to a 48 hour cycle.

        I would assume that with the advent of tempting shiny screens, this is becoming more common.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I believe that when they have repeated this using continuous low-level lighting, instead of allowing the subjects to turn lights on an off, the 24 hour cycle asserted itself.

        • James Picone says:

          My understanding of how circadian rhythms work is that for most people they’re slightly longer than 24-hours, maybe even 25-hours long, but that variation in light levels during the day is sufficient to correct the overshoot.

          For the last several months I’ve been deliberately avoiding big shiny screens at night and deliberately trying to get more sunlight during the day, especially in the morning. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve been getting better morning-evening light contrast than the average person. And it does seem to have reduced the rate that I drift forwards, but it definitely hasn’t stopped it, and I’ve been feeling sleep deprived all the time. My reflexes and ability to focus have definitely been impacted, which is usually the most obvious symptom of sleep deprivation for me – one of the convenient things about being a gamer is ready access to reflex tests. :P.

          I’m pretty certain most people manage to get up at roughly the same time every day without feeling sleep deprived, so there’s something going on.

          I’ve got an appointment with my GP soon where I’ll hopefully be able to get a melatonin prescription.

    • I’m the same way and have been taking melatonin for 20 years for this problem. I recently had some additional success exposing myself to infrared light via a heat lamp in the morning and at night. I’m not blind.

    • onyomi says:

      I know someone personally who suffered badly from a very similar-sounding sleep disorder, and melatonin was the thing that helped her the most, after years of trying more heavy-duty stuff.

    • Anonymous says:

      Eliezer suffers from this exact issue.
      In an author’s note to HP:MoR he discusses stuff he’s tried, and says that low-dose melatonin taken 5-7 hours before bedtime solved his problem.
      He says nothing about determining whether or not you suffer from the same problem.
      Link here: http://hpmor.com/notes/98/
      Good luck!

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s really easy to get melatonin without a prescription by ordering from amazon.com (as opposed to your local amazon, though try that too).

      • James Picone says:

        Importing most prescription-only drugs is illegal where I live, unless you have a prescription for it, and even then you can only import a limited quantity. Amazon won’t ship melatonin here.

        Vaguely sensible as a general policy, kind of stupid that melatonin is on the list.

        • Anonymous says:

          Where do you live?

          Yes, of course it’s illegal. Are you sure amazon won’t ship it? Do you understand the difference between amazon.com and, say, amazon.co.uk?

          • James Picone says:


            I searched ‘melatonin’ on http://www.amazon.com, and the first few items I looked at had the “This item does not ship to $SUBURB, Australia” thing on them. I just looked at a few more and every single one I looked at had that note. amazon.com.au doesn’t even list melatonin tablets, of course.

          • Anonymous says:


          • Chris Billington says:

            (reply to James Picone)

            It is actually legal to import prescription only drugs to Australia without a prescription, so long as you don’t sell it to anyone else, and so long as you don’t import more than a three month supply (and a few other rules). There are a list of drugs that are illegal to import regardless, of course, but melatonin is not one of them, and I have imported it just fine. I get it from a company called Biovea (site is the first google result), which was a recommendation of some other Melbourne rationalist person, I forget who.

            See here for more information on the legalities.

          • James Picone says:

            That was actually where I got my information from. This is the relevant bit: “without any approval required by the TGA provided that: …if the goods are medicines in Schedule 4 or 8 of the Poisons Standard a prescription from an Australian-registered medical practitioner is held for the medicines.”

            Melatonin is schedule 4. http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/F2014L01343/Html/Text#_Toc359452380 , search for ‘melatonin’.

          • Chris Billington says:

            Oh, wow. It just didn’t even occur to me to look at that list, since it was called “poisons”, instead of “a big list of drugs, inclusion on which doesn’t seem to imply much about how poisonous a drug is”.

            Modafinil is Schedule 4 too. TIL.

            Having said that, It’s pretty easy to get a prescription for Melatonin, and then it’s far cheaper to get it online than to go to a chemist here. So if you just tell a doctor what’s up, they might give you a prescription, then you can choose whether to get it locally or not.

    • StephenB says:

      I’ve had exactly the same problem for around a year now. Melatonin helps a little but doesn’t completely fix it. I’ve also used bright blue light in the morning, dim/reddened light in the evening, vitamin D3 in the morning, sunlamps, etc. I went to a sleep doctor for the first time recently and he gave me a prescription for tasimelteon (Hetlioz), which was recently approved for treating this. Haven’t started taking it yet, though, and I’m not sure whether I want to (because it seems risky and N24 has some advantages). I’ve also got schizoid personality disorder, undiagnosed, which probably contributes to N24 and vice versa.

    • Princess Stargirl says:

      If you pm me on lesswrong I will just ship you melatonin if you want.

    • Adam Casey says:

      Solution there, it seems to me, is a time-turner.

    • nydwracu says:

      I have something like what Eliezer has. My sleep schedule has two semi-stable patterns: either I go to sleep at around the time the sun starts to set in winter (which apparently is around 5pm; that sounds right) or I go to sleep after midnight. And they’re only semi-stable: the first one lasts until I need to be awake after 5pm, and the second one gets bumped forward continually each day until converging on going to sleep at about sunrise.

      Low-dose melatonin a few hours before going to bed seems to help, but I don’t think anything will work well short of not having to be awake after 5pm or just waiting until I get old enough that it stabilizes — my parents say they used to have the same thing. (Then again, my mother tends to sleep biphasically and work through the middle of the night, so…)

      What it seems like to me is that the time of day when I’m especially awake (11pm to 7am) doesn’t depend on when I go to sleep, but I’m not sure if that’s actually true.

      • Anonymous says:

        I used to fall asleep around 7 pm until I went on synthroid. Maybe have your thyroid hormones checked?

      • Sarah says:

        When your sleep cycle is advancing, take your melatonin *early*. Like, if you fall asleep at midnight, take melatonin at 4 in the afternoon.

  49. Martin-2 says:

    “Please do not email me anything that could be posted as a blog comment”

    Hey, I sent you an email like that once. You should put this in the ‘about’ page next to your contact info.

    Here’s the thing I sent you. Schelling’s cellular model of regional segregation made interactive and fun, presented by Vi Hart and Nicky Case.

  50. Luke G. says:

    (Note: I’ve tried posting this twice before and it seems to get eaten up by the spam filter. I think it might be my links, so I’m going to try to make search engine suggestions rather than copy/paste the actual links.)

    Do you take requests, Scott? Or perhaps just suggestions of things I think you might think are interesting enough to talk about? There are three things I’ve encountered that I’ve thought to myself, “I wonder what Scott would make of this.”

    1. Gregory Clark’s The Son Also Rises was the book I read last year that sent me reeling the most—the one book that did the most to upend my assumptions. It rattled me, surprised me, and made me deeply uneasy. I was surprised, however, to see how few people (it seemed to me) discussed it last year. I would love to have your take on it. In short, by doing surveys of how consistently some obscure last names crop up over centuries within the same cultures, Clark concludes that there is a very high heritability of social success—about as heritable as height. Regardless of how society is structured, certain family names bubble up to the top, even across centuries. Even in China, where a generation of the prominent were destroyed by the Mao Communists, within a few decades, the same names have begun to creep back to the top. Arnold Kling has a very good summary and review: Google “Arnold Kling” and “Son also rises” to find it.

    Honestly, I’d even be willing to send/buy you a copy of the book if it piques your interest.

    2. Speaking of Arnold Kling, I found his little e-book called The Three Languages of Politics very fascinating. His thesis is that progressives, conservatives, and libertarians talk past each other because they each have different axes by which they order the events of the world. Progressives look at issues along an axis of oppressed vs. oppressors; Conservatives look at issues along an axis of civilization vs. barbarism; Libertarians look at issues along an axis of freedom vs. (government) coercion. This goes a long way, he argues, to explain why even if people of different political stripes have a basic agreement of facts that they still can come to such radically different conclusions.

    3. Lastly, here’s a recent Russ Roberts-Alex Tabarrok podcast about semi-private cities in India—what works really well & what doesn’t. It reminds me in many ways of how something like your Archipelago notion might work, especially at the end where they discuss how there needs to be a certain threshold size of city in order to overcome several coordination problems. Podcast can be found by Googling Russ Roberts Alex Tabarrok Private Cities

    • Sniffnoy says:

      The link seems to be missing?

    • The Three Languages of Politics was probably the most important single influence on my current political perspective. I read it a few months before I found SSC, and it offered by far the best explanation I’d ever seen on why American politics is the way it is. I don’t claim it’s perfect, and I’m not sure how much of it would be new information to the average SSC reader (as it’s been a while since I last read it), but I do not hesitate to recommend it. I think that if everybody who argues about politics read it, those arguments would be significantly higher quality.

      (Note: Amazon estimates the book’s length at 53 pages. About half of this is an appendix outlining case studies; you can skip this if you don’t find it interesting. You can probably get through the important part in half an hour.)

      • Anonymous says:

        There’s also a really good interview with Dr. Kling over at econtalk.

      • Matthew says:

        Can someone tell me if the book-length treatment of “The Three Languages” is substantially different/better than the blogpost-length treatment? Because I’ve read that, and I thought it was possibly okay as a description of libertarians but an abysmal ideological Turing test failure for liberals and conservatives.

        • Anonymous says:

          That isn’t a Turing test. The whole point of the ideological Turing test is that people almost always object to their opponents descriptions, so that is lousy evidence.

          • Matthew says:

            No, anonymous. The point of the Turing test is to see whether you can describe your opponents’ views such that they mistake you for one of their own.

          • Anonymous says:

            Wait, I thought the point of the Ideological Turing Test was to prove that you understand your opponent’s point of view, kind of like the point of a Turing Test is to demonstrate humanlike intelligence, rather than the ability to fool the person the machine is talking to.

          • same says:

            That’s the format of the test, but that isn’t the point of the test.

            Kling didn’t attempt a Turing test. Thus he didn’t fail one.

            If the only good descriptions were ones that ideologues endorse, there would be no point to the test: you’d just ask how they describe themselves. In particular, they all say that they’re correct, but a good description of the world is not to declare everyone to be correct. The point of the Turing test is that someone who wants to make claims about ideologies, starting with simple rejection—but in Kling’s case more complicated claims—should demonstrate knowledge of the ideology. But in the end, the purpose is to do more than mimic.

    • Anonymous says:

      Or maybe certain surnames have a high social status and people with those surnames get benefits from having them.

      “Across centuries” rings a lot of alarm bells here; go back a few centuries and most people in any given country have most ancestors in common.

      • Irrelevant says:

        I take Clark’s data as indicating something like

        1. Success is heritable enough to survive any normal period of transient oppression,
        2. successful families are extremely good at spouse selection and
        3. are willing to violate normal surname conventions to maintain that.

        In other words, for that third point I’d expect very different results from a society in which you get your name from your father, always, vs. a society in which you get your name from your father, unless your father was an outlier able to marry into a higher social class. And as far as I know the second scenario describes how it worked in Sweden.

        • Harald K says:

          “are willing to violate normal surname conventions to maintain that.”

          Is this even a convention? In Norway, if you as a man acquired a farm by marrying, you usually took the farm’s (and your wife’s) family name. Especially when it was a wealthy farm.

          Hyphenated/doubled last names are a cliché marker of social class in Norway. In my hometown you had the Krohn Devolds, the Daae-Qvales, the Flem Devolds etc. In most cases those names are pretty prestigious on their own, and probably a result of someone way back when deciding not to throw away the prestige of their wife’s last name.

          I suspect that most places, it is a norm itself that family name norms are violated when it’s socially advantageous to do so.

          And how about the advantage inherent in the names themselves? If people can tell that you are high status as soon as you tell your name, I suspect that may help in all sorts of ways.

          • Irrelevant says:

            All good points, though I think you’re expanding on rather than disagreeing with mine?

            Ultimately, I think the more interesting question is the dual of the one people jump to. How long and what rules does it take for a social system to give a high proportion of the successful people the same names?

          • Harald K says:

            Yeah, I agree, if that wasn’t clear.

  51. Inspired by your Moloch posts, I gave this handout to my 80 person game theory class on the first day:

    Demon Games

    A. Our city is at war with another, and the loser will suffer a horrible fate. Just before our warriors leave for the decisive battle, the demon Moloch appears and says “sacrifice ten healthy, loved children and I will give +3 killing power to your city’s troops and subtract 3 from the killing power of your enemy. And since I’m an honest demon who practices full disclosure know that right now I am offering this same deal to your enemy.” Should your city accept Moloch’s offer?

    B. Exactly one thousand years ago today the elder god Cthulhu was banished to a watery grave. Tonight, however, if at least one million people pray for his resurrection Cthulhu will rise again and kill everyone on earth. As a reward, those who prayed for Cthulhu’s return will suffer a slightly less painful death than everyone else. Should you pray for Cthulhu’s return?

    C. Last year Anzû visited our city to implement and enforce these two rules:
    1. Every person had to spend three hours a day whipping themselves.
    2. If you know someone who didn’t follow rule (1) or (2) you had to kill them.

    Anzû has permanently left our city. Should you whip yourself tonight?

    D. Our city is on the verge of famine and prays to Azathoth for help. He appears and immediately destroys all of our remaining food stock but then says “I will magically remove the need to eat for 70% of you, the ones who want it the most and prove this desire through self-mutilation. Tomorrow the 70% of you who have done the most self-mutilation will never again need food.” What happens?

    E. Plague strikes your city, and will likely kill half of your population so you beg Lucifer for assistance. Lucifer offers to eliminate the plague if you give him the right to take ten percent of your population to hell. Your city agrees. Your city is made up of 10 clans of equal size. Each clan cares far more about its own members than the city as a whole. Lucifer talks to the leader of the first clan and says “kill 90% of your clan’s members or I will take all of the members of your clan to hell.” If this leader complies Lucifer will say the same to the next clan leader, and if he agrees, the next and so on. What happens?

    F. Baal temporarily takes over your city and temporarily forces everyone who is brave to wear a crown of thorns that cut into their skins causing great pain. You are brave, and want people to think that you’re brave. After Baal leaves, do you keep wearing the crown?

    G. Beelzebub forces people in your city to give helpful advice to someone they truly hate. Why might the evil Beelzebub have done this?

    H. Naamah identifies all the people in your city who have horrible secrets such as being murderers, traitors, child abusers, and inscribes their names on a wall of shame of his temple. Whenever a new city person commits an evil deed their names become immediately inscribed. But Naamah also inscribes the names of all those who do not regularly sacrifice to him. Do you offer sacrifice to Naamah to keep your name off of his wall?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Naamah is female.

    • Corwin says:

      That is awesome.

      What did the class answer?

      • Thanks. We talked about it for about 45 minutes, so they said a lot. Mostly we discussed how rational, self-interested people can do things that make everyone collectively worse off.

        • Richard Metzler says:

          This is really awesome, and should have made the geeks in the audience (probably > 90% of them) squeal with delight.

          I suppose the curriculum for the second class is how all this can happen even without the interference of malicious demons?

    • Irrelevant says:

      Well, what I learned from this is that I apparently have opinions on the relative trustworthiness of and sanity of making appeals to different evil mythical gods.

      Praying to Azathoth is so insane that the rest of the hypothetical bounced off me, while Lucifer is lying because he gets all your souls anyway.

    • Doug S. says:

      Naamah actually seems to be offering a pretty good deal here (assuming the sacrifices aren’t too far out of line with what police work normally costs). Can I invite this demon to my city? “Cheating on your taxes” sure sounds like an evil deed… 😉

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        You don’t get it. Everyone in your city will sacrifice to Naamah lest they appear on her wall and be mistaken for murderers, child abusers, or traitors, so there will be no names on the wall. But you could achieve the same result by coordinating a stop to the sacrifices; that way, everyone’s name would be on the wall, and having your name on the wall conveys no information about how likely you are to be a murderer, child abuser, or traitor.

        • Anonymous says:

          Is this wall updated on a regular basis and do names go down if you sacrifice after having not sacrificed? Since it seems that if you have the ability to coordinate it would be best to make sure nobody sacrifices for one day and get rid of all your murderers and rapists, then after that you simply write off the wall as useless.

        • Peter says:

          I’m with Doug S. – the difference between “everyone sacrifices” and “no-one sacrifices” is that in the former list we get a supernaturally good list of murderers, child abusers etc. – that means we can either prosecute them, or feel smug about living in such a crime-free city – if everyone is game theory-approved H. economicus then the deterrent effect of the wall should put a stop to all that.

          (As I read the question, if you have a dark secret and sacrifice, your name still goes on the wall. It does say “Do you offer sacrifice to Naamah to keep your name off of his wall?” but I read that as assuming you have no dark secret and no intention of getting one).

          On the other hand, Irrelevant has a better point – making deals with demons leads to disaster and if something looks like a good deal you haven’t read the fine print (beware of the leopard and all that) carefully enough.

        • Susebron says:

          If everyone sacrifices, then only the murderers, etc. will appear on the wall. The two questions are what gets your name put on the wall, and what is the sacrifice? If the sacrifice is disproportionate to the level of crime, then it’s good to coordinate a stop. If it’s a low-cost sacrifice, and only people who do really bad things get put on the wall, then it’s probably good. Not much privacy is violated, and not much is sacrificed If you have to sacrifice your children, and lying gets you put on the wall, then you should coordinate a stop.

          • Peter says:

            You sacrifice your child to Naamah – the next day your name is on the wall. Someone points out that the city hasn’t got around to legalising child sacrifice, so you’re a murderer. Just before being torn apart by a vigilante mob, you look at Naamah and she looks at you as if to say “I’m a demon! What did you expect?”

          • Susebron says:

            Right, which is one reason why you should stop if it’s child sacrifice. If it’s something small, then it makes more sense.

          • Paul Torek says:


            Twilight Zone, I of Newton 4:30 to 5:00 – “Evil, remember?” says the demon.

        • Richard Metzler says:

          The way I read it, sacrificing doesn’t help you if you actually commit a crime; it only keeps you from getting smeared even though you’re innocent. If I understand it correctly, there are two equilibria here: either no one sacrifices, the wall has everyone’s name on it, and there’s no information either way. That isn’t so bad; apart from the aesthetic impact of the scribbled walls, no one incurs any costs, or gets any benefits.

          Or every law-abiding citizen sacrifices, and the names on the wall are actual perpetrators. As Doug says, this isn’t half bad either – a supernatural crime detector with a false negative rate of 0, and a false positive rate of potentially 0…

          The interesting part is, how conspicuous do you want to be about making your sacrifices? The criminals would have an incentive to appear lazy (“Oh, never mind my name on the wall, I just couldn’t be bothered to buy a lamb this time.”) The law-abiding folks would presumably keep an eye out on everyone’s observance of the sacrifices, to prevent that excuse?

          • Harald K says:

            The criminals know if they have committed a crime, presumably. When Namaah announces her scheme, they will be among the first to argue that we should all abstain from sacrificing for the obvious common good of not letting a demon extort you – among many (or a few?) innocent people who honestly and selflessly believe that.

            You have a bunch of vile criminals who are certainly arguing truthfully for the best course of action, but for the wrong reason. Question is, do you dare to side with them, and risk being mistaken for a criminal yourself? Or do you side with the demon, and start deliberately punishing anyone whose name appears on the wall, since they at the very least sabotage this great crime detection system by spreading doubt that it’s worth it?

        • Anonymous says:

          I think you don’t get it. The idea is that murderers, child abusers, etc can not remove their names by sacrificing. If they could, then that part of the deal would be meaningless because whether or not a name was on the wall could be determined solely by whether or not the person sacrificed.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Naamah is offering a horrible deal that is indistinguishable from normal religious charlatanry.

        Naamah is explicitly not promising to distinguish between those who sacrifice and those who commit evil deeds (or, put another way, not sacrificing is defined as an evil deed on par with all others). Rubes will sacrifice, everyone else will simply say “I’m on the wall because I did not sacrifice” – which, by the way, will be true.

        In fact, the only people appearing on the wall that you can reliably tell have committed evil deeds are those whom you can prove sacrificed at all relevant times and still appear on the wall. There is no individual benefit to sacrificing.

        Now, if you could sacrifice on behalf of others, then it would be a social good to sacrifice on behalf of everyone. Assuming a functional government exists, they should carry this out. But that isn’t how the problem is set up.

        • Salem says:

          I like the comparison to ordinary religion, but I draw the opposite conclusion.

          I’m thinking of hiring one of two people. One of them sacrifices. The other doesn’t. The non-sacrificer says he’s on the wall because he doesn’t sacrifice. True as far as it goes. So I tell him that I’ll consider his application if he proves he isn’t a thief, which he can easily do by making a sacrifice. He refuses to prove this to me. Who do I hire?

          As we reach equilibrium, I don’t even consider the non-sacrificer, just as I wouldn’t even consider someone who refused to submit to a CRB check.

          And this applies across the board – jobs, friendship, marriage, politics. The non-sacrificers will be rightly shut out of decent society, because they are deliberately refusing to distinguish themselves from the evil.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Naamah has not said he will remove anyone from the wall. And if sacrificing can remove you from the wall retroactively, there is little incentive to sacrifice until the time comes to check. The problem becomes a trivial one.

            Absent that, perhaps for those whom the sacrifice is trivial and social status is important, sacrifice is rational. Everyone else (the less well off) will simply be stuck in a miasma of poor information. If the sacrifice is truly trivial, essentially zero cost, the problem then also resolves to trivial.

            But assuming the sacrifice is a non-trivial amount, it will mostly devolve to a marker of.socio-economic status. The number of people who can’t sacrifice at some point will swamp the evil doers.

          • Wes says:

            I think this is correct. An easier way to conceptualize it is that if you are innocent, Naamah will verify your innocence for the cost of a sacrifice. It’s completely voluntary, but Naamah-approved people will be high in demand, and it’s in all innocents’ best interests to sacrifice.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I. Sparky the Sun Devil creates a cursed castle that only the smartest in your city may enter. Those who step inside die four years earlier than normal and find themselves deeply indebted to the local merchants. The mayor, taking advantage of this opportunity, decides to hand out the most influential and prestigious positions in his government to people who can prove they have entered the castle. However, Sparky’s magic fades with time, and each year successively less intelligent people are able to enter the castle. The mayor responds by staffing ever lower positions in his government with people who have been in the castle. By the time you are born, everybody in the city can stroll into the castle as readily as they can walk the streets. You want a position in the mayor’s government. Do you enter the castle?

      • Salem says:

        I’m pretty sure that most people reading this blog entered the castle.

      • Tracy W says:

        Why would someone smart want to enter this castle? Is it that the smartest aren’t subject to said penalty?

        And how long is this mayor going to be in place if he hands out these positions to people who entered the castle, as opposed to people who represent significant political factions?

        • Muga Sofer says:

          It proves they must be smart, thus qualifying them to be employed by the government.

          • Tracy W says:

            But if you’re smart why would you want to lose 4 years of your life and get heavily indebted just to be employed by the government? The government doesn’t pay that well at the top end.

          • John Schilling says:

            The government provides lifetime job security. Lots of people find that to be more valuable than a big up-front paycheck.

          • Jiro says:

            Tracy, John: You’re taking the metaphor literally. The metaphor says that the government sets up a castle. What the metaphor represents is society setting up a college education system. Thus, in the metaphor, “government jobs” represents all jobs.

            The difference between literal government jobs and literal non-government jobs is irrelevant here.

          • Tracy W says:

            The government provides lifetime job security.

            Lots of people thought that in NZ. Up until the 1980s.
            And lots of people thought that in Greece up until 2008.

          • Tracy W says:

            Jiro: why not take the metaphor literally? If jaimeastorga2000 or you want to make an actual argument against college education, you’re welcome to.

            As a metaphor for college education, this fails on several grounds. Firstly, “you die four years earlier than normal” is quite different from “you spend four years in the castle”. College isn’t even like the latter statement, you can escape the castle from time to time. You can learn useful things while in there, like how to get free drinks in Las Vegas. And apparently CAE_Jones had multiple swordfights, which sounds pretty cool.

            Secondly, college originally tested who had family money, not for smarts. Arguably it still doesn’t pick out the smartest.

            Thirdly, again, why would the mayor hand out the most influential and prestigious positions to people who had entered the castle, as opposed to the people who could most help her politically?

      • Ah, but you’re forgetting about the time warp spell Sparky left on the castle. Those who enter die four years earlier, yes, but the few seconds they spend in the castle are magically expanded out so they last four subjective years, mostly cancelling out the reduced lifespan. And many who enter the castle report that the four years spent inside were among the best of their lives.

        • Salem says:

          Jesus, but I feel sorry for those people.

        • John Schilling says:

          Also the part where, for anyone planning to ever get married, Sparky arranged for an assortment of well-matched high-quality potential mates to be hanging around in the castle’s courtyard.

          I’m having a hard time understanding what sort of experiences some people are having with college, that lead them to conclude that it is neither usefully educational, nor enjoyable, nor otherwise personally rewarding. Certainly a college diploma can be used for signaling; that’s not the whole value of the process that leads to a diploma.

          • CAE_Jones says:

            I’m having a hard time understanding what sort of experiences some people are having with college, that lead them to conclude that it is neither usefully educational, nor enjoyable, nor otherwise personally rewarding. Certainly a college diploma can be used for signaling; that’s not the whole value of the process that leads to a diploma.

            People suck. College might have a greater chance of supplying access to one or two people who don’t suck, but it’s not like they’ll ever find me afterward.
            Add Akrasia and a disturbingly low demand for rigger (but a high demand for social games I opted out of long before), and it’s nothing more than a place to occasionally learn something interesting between depressive episodes and swordfights.

            TL;DR: I’m not as awesome as I thought, and cool people are too hard to find. Please, consume my disability check for the rest of eternity, for my foolishly listening to literally everyone ever as a teenager. And possibly being schizoid or something.

          • nydwracu says:

            College is probably great if you can get into one of the best colleges in the world. (If you think to apply to the best colleges in the world, if you’re the sort of person who’d have a chance of getting in, if white people from your high school aren’t seemingly blacklisted from everything but the state school.)

            If you’re a rich kid from Massachusetts, you’ll like college. If you’re a prole from Maryland with the same exact SAT scores, who took all the opportunities available, well, you can maybe get into UMD. And from what I heard from all the white people in my high school who I knew well enough to have on Facebook (because they got rejected from every school that anyone had ever heard of, no matter what), UMD… well, nobody was that enthusiastic about UMD.

            Also, even if college is good and not a colossal waste of time filled with boring people and awful bureaucrats, is it really worth hundreds of thousands of dollars? Is there any college so good that it’s better to go there than to take the same amount of money and use it to travel the world or something?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            bad teachers, worthless classes, lowest-common-denominator classmates, ballooning expenses, idiotic bureaucracy, everything good about it available better, cheaper, and more conveniently elsewhere.

          • social justice warlock says:

            If you’re a rich kid from Massachusetts, you’ll like college. If you’re a prole from Maryland with the same exact SAT scores, who took all the opportunities available, well, you can maybe get into UMD. And from what I heard from all the white people in my high school who I knew well enough to have on Facebook (because they got rejected from every school that anyone had ever heard of, no matter what), UMD… well, nobody was that enthusiastic about UMD.

            I went to UMD, and it was great. Obviously Harvard would have been better from a signalling perspective, but I got everything I could want out of a college: friends, a heterosexual life partner, both employable skills and classes that were actually interesting, a theatre troupe, crippling debt but much less so than I would have gotten from a private university, &c.

      • James Picone says:

        How many of the people who agree with the thrust of Jaime’s tertiary-education-analogy here are from the US? I have a sneaking suspicion that this perspective is not terribly international, limited by factors that are US-only. I live in Australia, for reference. (EDIT: Corrected name, thanks anonymous)

        My bachelor’s degree (software engineering) cost me roughly $20,000 AUD (~$15,000 USD by current prices) directly (and this wasn’t paid up-front – it was essentially an interest-free loan from the government indexed to the consumer price index), and indirectly our government spent $490 million on the entire education budget in 2009, for a population of 20 million people, ~half of which are working. So ~$50/person/year for the entirety of education, taxation isn’t a significant component of university costs.

        In return I got access to a significant number of resources on computer science and programming, access to computer science experts so I could ask stupid questions, and got a certificate demonstrating that I’m at least capable of faking knowledge of computer science. I don’t think it would have been nearly as easy to pick up all the theoretical underpinnings of programming on my own. This is ignoring all the networking benefits and hanging-out-with-people-like-me-who-are-also-learning-programming benefits, because those would be much easier to acquire outside university.

        This doesn’t seem like a bad trade?

        • Anonymous says:

          Jaime, not Jaskologist.

          Price is a big difference between America and the rest of the world, but that is really the least important detail in the analogy.

          It is easier to point to actual skills taught in engineering courses than in other courses. Even in science courses, it is very difficult to point to useful skills.Another difference between America and most of the world is that Americans have a broader education; even the engineers take a bunch of courses with ambiguous purposes.

          People who go to 3 month coding bootcamps are very employable. They probably don’t claim to learn much of the theoretical underpinnings, but the graduates who do claim to know them don’t have a great track record on actually knowing them.

          • Tracy W says:

            I did an economics degree after my engineering one and have found that useful for work too.

            Although I do think the most valuable thing I got from my engineering degree was two years of working so hard that everything else in life has seemed easy. (No, I didn’t do an engineering degree in two years, just the workload was unequally annually distributed.)

          • James Picone says:

            > People who go to 3 month coding bootcamps are very employable.

            Maybe, but they’re not going to be even competent programmers. And programming is not the sort of problem where a group of less-capable people can do as well as a small number of more-capable people. In practice, I suspect people whose sole programming experience is a three-month bootcamp will have negative productivity for quite a while at work while they learn how to program on the job.

            http://norvig.com/21-days.html is relevant here.

            Imagine trying to teach people to write fiction over the course of a three-month bootcamp, and then hiring a bunch of them to work on a novel – either together, or shepherded by people who’ve been writing for much longer.

          • Anonymous says:

            Tracy, what do you do? What particular skills from your economics degree do you apply? I have seen many econ professors claim that their students report not being able to identify anything from their degree that they use.

            James, have you ever tried to hire programmers? Do you know the skills of the median holder of a college degree in CS? the skills of the median person with 5 years employment as a programmer?

          • James Picone says:

            I have never hired programmers, and I don’t know any good measures of the median skill of programmers or CS degree holders.

            I have worked as a professional programmer (and intend to continue when Weird Medical Problem is less of a concern), but everybody I’ve ever worked with in a programming context had a related degree – I worked for a government agency and a large company, so filtering on degree seems like a thing they’d do. None of the people I’ve worked with I would consider particularly incompetent – they certainly all had more than three months experience with a language – but I only very rarely worked with new hires, so I don’t have much evidence on that front.

            I am aware of one person who graduated from the same degree I did who was, in fact, completely incompetent, but only through the grapevine (apparently the people who employed him complained to the university). But obviously I don’t really have a source to learn anything about self-taught programmers that way.

            I don’t doubt that you can teach yourself programming, incidentally, I just think that it’s difficult to pick up some of the important theoretical underpinnings (big-O, NP-complete, some of the standard algorithms/datastructures + how they work + performance characteristics, enough formal language theory to know now to parse HTML with regular expressions, noncomputable problems, lambda calculus) in a non-uni environment, and I also think that three months is not enough time to learn to program competently.

          • Anonymous says:

            A huge problem with university is that people just keep adding on requirements and have no incentive to check that the students are actually learning any of the material. It’s easy to say that it’s impossible for the bootcamp students to cover the degree syllabus, but that doesn’t matter if the university students don’t, either.

    • Deiseach says:

      Does it work to keep my name off the wall if I am a (murderer/traitor/puppy-kicker) and I sacrifice to Naamah? How do we know which names are those of Bad People and which names are of those who Didn’t Sacrifice? If we don’t know, is there any reason to believe any of the names are names of Bad People? What kinds of sacrifice must we make, and do they scale up (e.g. this week Naamah will accept wine and fruits, next week you must sacrifice a lamb, in a year it will be cut off one of your limbs, etc.)?

    • John Schilling says:

      You know that bit about how in pretty much every story everywhere, the so-called “Prince of Lies” is actually scrupulously honest in his deals? Trust the name, not the stories. And never, ever, ever trust the deal, not when there’s a Demon on the other side. The deal is not cleverly written so that only the most thoroughly rational and insightful fellow can find the traps and the loopholes; it is simply a lie.

      Seriously, any insight you may think you have on real problems from this sort of idealized puzzle, is most unlikely to survive the inevitable contamination from imperfect information and dishonest actors.

    • Luke Somers says:

      Interesting. My ‘break it’ thoughts:

      C: Anzu made the critical error of not outlawing discussions of changes to the law. Once we can coordinate, this becomes easy.

      D: that’s out of character for Azathoth, but whatever

      E: They walked right into that one, didn’t they?

      F: that’s not what bravery is, so no.

    • Pku says:

      Ok, G is killing me. Is it that you’d be forced to interact with someone you hate? That you’d find out some people hated you? (seems like you’d probably already know this). That you might feel inclined to oppose good advice just because you heard it from someone you don’t like? That the roads would get clogged with people driving to their hometowns to meet their childhood bullies? Is Beelzebub assuming that everyone hates him and looking for some life advice? AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH

      • James Miller says:

        My students didn’t initially get G either. It would create an equilibrium where you would fear to give useful advice because it would signal you didn’t like the person. It relates to how if someone gives you constructive criticism you can’t really be sure if the person is trying to help you, or is taking pleasure in criticizing you because they don’t like you.

        • Tasty says:

          That is the explanation? I was convinced that the problem was that it gave an incentive to be the kind of person who is hated by many others. The more people hate you, the more useful advice you’ll get. Even in a situation where Alice hates Bob and Bob hates Alice they would both be rewarded with advice from each other. (They wouldn’t be rewarded if they had to give money or something material instead of advice.)

          Your actual explanation makes more sense, though.

          • Paul Torek says:

            I think your idea makes more sense. If you are known as the kind of person who gives lots of advice, and you don’t seem to hate everyone, then no particular act of advice giving is much evidence of hating someone. Also, there are plenty of people who hate at least one person and don’t mind them knowing it. So it’s easy to obey the demon’s rule without ceasing to advise.

            My advice: rework the example. 😉

    • Nornagest says:

      Naamah identifies all the people in your city who have horrible secrets such as being murderers, traitors, child abusers, and inscribes their names on a wall of shame of his temple. Whenever a new city person commits an evil deed their names become immediately inscribed. But Naamah also inscribes the names of all those who do not regularly sacrifice to him. Do you offer sacrifice to Naamah to keep your name off of his wall?

      Na’amah’s a lady; but it occurs to me that you’ve accidentally created a perfect judiciary system. Erect a shrine of Na’amah outside your city walls and create a penal colony there, staffed with Na’amah cultists. Whenever someone in your city is accused of a serious crime, you move them to ritual isolation there and tell them to offer regular propitiatory sacrifice to the demon queen, funding it if necessary. A month later, or however long it takes to establish residency by demon standards, check the wall of shame there. If their name doesn’t appear, all is forgiven and they can come back to your city. If it does, you can throw them off a cliff, or, for extra demonological flavor, tie them to a stone altar and offer up their living heart to Na’amah.

      If that doesn’t work, perhaps because this was offered as a one-time deal, you can market your city to neighboring cities as their judiciary.

    • ilzolende says:

      For H, as the person who uses various relatively-easy-to-use privacy tools (Tor Browser, PGP, and the like) explicitly because I don’t want use of such tools to be a strong signal of evil, even though I have no crimes to hide, I wouldn’t sacrifice to Naamah.

    • Multiheaded says:

      I would bring attention to how awesome a demon-hating religion is and how it is correct to reinforce the meme of reinforcing the meme of reinforcing the meme, and how coordination should be sacred.

      I’d also point out how *inconvenient* it would’ve been, had similar multipolar traps arisen *without* any visible infernal influence – because now the demons have helpfully brought all of these together under the umbrella of “profane and creepy and untrustworthy and most certainly not worth evaluating on the object level”.

      I’d also lead the students in prayer before and after the meeting.

      (Naamah is – yes – a good deal as long as the sacrifice is not too taxing – like, no innocents – but still should be categorically rejected, because you are incredibly lucky that there is a “demon” category in play at all, and you should seize unflinching coordination as your watchword…. and then you’ll probably still end up with an evil tyrannical Inquisition or something.)

      “The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use them.” – Philip K. Dick

      • Anonymous says:

        I feel that Naamah kind of falls apart as a “demon” if we don’t make it too taxing. Otherwise you’re just describing Naamah as “criminal investigators” and “taxes.” Don’t pay the tax, get thrown in lockup.

        Although I suppose if you want to go full Sovereign Citizen that’s a fair analogy?

      • You might like Zoroastrianism, whose creed begins with the words “I curse the Daevas”. It’s certainly a lot punchier than “I believe in one God…”

        Also, stanza 4 from the creed:

        I reject the authority of the Daevas, the wicked, no-good, lawless, evil-knowing, the most druj-like of beings, the foulest of beings, the most damaging of beings. I reject the Daevas and their comrades, I reject the demons and their comrades; I reject any who harm beings. I reject them with my thoughts, words, and deeds. I reject them publicly.
        Even as I reject the head (authorities), so too do I reject the hostile followers of the druj.

        • Multiheaded says:

          Fuck me, that’s so badass. (And sounds quite 40k-ish, too!)

        • I think that at some point, there was a split in the proto-indo-European religion. The Iranian branch worshipped Ahura Mazda, and reviled the Devas. The Vedic/Indic branch (eventually) worshipped the Devas, and reviled the Asuras; this survives in modern Hinduism.

          I am very curious about how the split happened. I suspect it may make for a great story.

          Fate is odd – the Zoroastrians of Iran found refuge, when the Muslims invaded, in India. I think it is very interesting, and worth studying for the (potential) practical insights it can provide, how the communities lived together peacefully while their religions explicitly rejected and reviled the other’s deities.

    • cypher says:

      A lot of those don’t really seem to have enough information to have a good answer.

    • Irenist says:

      In a world where demons like this existed, it seems to me that a widely followed religion that categorically forbids cooperation with demons would solve a lot of coordination problems.

    • Doug S. says:

      A) Accepting Moloch’s offer seems to strictly dominate not accepting. Still sucks, though. **** you, Moloch.
      B) There are two Nash Equillibria here: less than one million people pray, or everyone prays. “Don’t pray” is the better equilibrium, so don’t pray.
      C) I don’t!
      D) Round up 30% of the population and immobilize them before they can do too much self-mutilation. Then the remaining 70% makes sure to mutilate themselves slightly more than the designated victims.
      E) The choice here is 1) your clan goes to hell, or 2) 10% of each clan goes to hell, and everyone else dies and goes wherever. It’s up to each the clan chief to choose which he or she prefers.
      F) No. Because I’m brave enough not to do something that stupid if I don’t have to. (Countersignaling 4TW!)
      G) Assuming that Beezelbub is malicious, it might be because it causes pain to the advice givers, or because the people receiving the advice might use the advice to be better at doing bad things.
      H) I do indeed; see my other post.

    • Mr. Breakfast says:

      G is kind of interestingly self-limiting: The talents and knowlege of those with the best advice to give will go to benefit those with less talent and knowlege, so overtime the relative advantage of native intellignce versus average intelligence will decline.

      Education and skill development will be less incentivised than under natural conditions, since they confer less relative advantage and because your hard-won insight is likely to strengthen your adversaries in inconvenient ways. Furthermore, those who “defect” the most by not investing in intellectual self-improvement will gain the most from others investments AND have all of their energy left over to pursue other forms of growth which they won’t have to share (such as hoarding physical goods / property, having many children).

      Overall, It seems like the effect would be mildly dysgenic of human-type intelligence and perhaps cause the effected population to evolve towards some survival strategy not based on mental activities that can be manipulated and transmitted as language.

    • Scott says:

      A. Not enough information, but this is just a math problem. Depends on total population, effect of +3/-3 on lives lost, and prior probability of winning the war.

      B. I assume this is worldwide. A million people is only 1 out of every 7200 people, and there are enough crazies/indigenous/inherent defectors that I’m positive we’ll cross the threshold. You better believe I’m praying to Cthulhu.

      C. Whip myself the first night, and see what happens the next day. Hopefully everyone can coordinate themselves towards a non-whipping situation.

      D. First sieve: take the people who would rather die than mutilate themselves, and don’t let them hurt themselves (because suicide would be the ultimate mutilation!). Second sieve: take all the criminals and drug them so they pass out. Third sieve: drug the people you don’t like until you reach 30%. Afterwards: everyone cuts off the tip of their pinky. Will eventually become a badge of honor in the post-society.

      E. Not sure. Does dying mean you go to hell automatically, or do you get a shot at heaven?

      F. Yes. Easy to stop wearing thorns when it goes out of vogue, hard to start again if you stopped. Social status is more important that head pain.

      G. Could be a lot of things. Beelzebub’s motives aren’t clear to me.

      H. The trick will be to have everyone in the city do a week of sacrifices once a year (or whenever there is a major crime). The only people with their name on the wall after that week will be the horrible criminals, and we can dispose of them. Outside of that week, no one does sacrifices and there’s no stigma to having your name on the wall.

  52. Can we have a conversation about psychedelics? Who has used them? What do people think the experience implies? What are the reasons to use or to not use psychedelics?

    I’ve done shrooms twice (1/8 ounce each time) and LSD twice (one tab each time) and all four have been incredibly revelatory, informative experiences with almost no negative aspects to them. Based entirely on my own experience, I can only unequivocally recommend using them, as they helped me more accurately model the world and be more psychologically healthy. Not everyone has the same experience, though.

    Also, each time I trip, the sillier the “rationality” community begins to feel to me.

    • Olivia says:

      Could you elaborate on that last sentence there? I think it’s generally regarded around here that psychedelics are often very positive experiences with long-term effects, but I’m wondering what makes you think that in particular.

      • It’s hard to put into words, but something along the lines of

        – An understanding that reality is far far too complex for the sluggish analytical system of the brain to properly understand and work with, and in fact the only way we can handle the world is intuitive reasoning based on cultural memetic communication

        – Feeling a disdain for the fetishization of unconventional points of view that you see here – by adopting such a thing, you’re trusting your weak logical processor over aforementioned cultural memes

        – A sense that a comprehensive understanding of the universe is so distant that to claim it or even attempt to reach it is ultimately futile

        – An understanding that the world-views we choose to yield are the byproducts of our internal psychology, time, and place and therefore not really better or worse than others, just more or less useful

        – Doing a TON of thinking in a short period of time and realizing that you never actually learned any useful information to communicate to others… you just grew a lot as a person in the process. So realizing that philosophy is more personal than generalizable.

        – Experiencing that a chemical can impart vastly more knowledge than all the armchair thinking in the world makes the latter seem somewhat absurd and useless

        I might have phrased that too sneeringly… I really do like the rationalist community. I guess it was more of a friendly taunt than a condemnation. You guys think you know the truth about the world, but you’ll cowards don’t even drop acid.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Okay, but read the second half of this, after “this is also my objection to post-rationality”

          • I think we agree on how useful the rationality community is, but we disagree on how useful its members believe that it is.

            Like, when you say “what exactly do you think you’re disagreeing with anyone else about?” I think I (and likewise, you) disagree with quite a few people. The sense I get from Eliezer’s writing, e.g. the stuff about “the martial art of rationality”, is something like “we must all be very diligent in training ourselves to be more rational, and that will let us achieve our goals”. I mean, look at HPMoR, you have this character who manages to perform astounding feats never before seen in his world simply by being super duper rational. And I also get the sense that a lot of people in this community have naturally absorbed this from Eliezer’s writing and come to believe it themselves until eventually they become disillusioned.

            there was a brief time in Less Wrong history where a bunch of people were talking about how rationality was going to turn us all into supermen who made every decision with Bayesian reasoning. But I yelled at them, and they mostly stopped.

            I sort of agree with you here. I feel like as the role of High Priest is increasingly transitioning from Eliezer to you, more and more people agree with your relatively muted feelings on rationality and less and less people agree with Eliezer’s more bombastic views. But, like… that’s exactly why post-rationality is a movement that’s emerging right now, if that makes sense.

            Personally, to me the definition of post-rationality seems something like: “Considering the usefulness of things like magic, religion, meditation, mysticism, art, and drugs from a rational, materialist perspective” which is something I am very behind and think is likely to be a good use of time.

          • Pseudonymous Platypus says:

            Scott, that Tumblr post is quite good. I’d suggest turning it into a full SSC post—especially since this is not the first time I’ve heard the claim that Less Wrongers have horrible moral intuitions.

          • Alexander Stanislaw says:

            I mean, look at HPMoR, you have this character who manages to perform astounding feats never before seen in his world simply by being super duper rational. And I also get the sense that a lot of people in this community have naturally absorbed this from Eliezer’s writing

            Evidence please. Most (almost all) LWers treat HPMOR as a piece of entertainment that happens to use rationalist ideas in interesting ways, not a model to emulate. I will be very surprised if you can cite 3 examples of people who think that rationalism will allow them to perform astounding never seen before feats.

          • Deiseach says:

            I mean, look at HPMoR, you have this character who manages to perform astounding feats never before seen in his world simply by being super duper rational.

            Which is why I can’t read the thing, and I have read some crappy fanfiction in my day. But the bits of the Rational Harry Potter I’ve read make me want to go “Hey, Voldemort! He’s over here!” because that Harry is a sanctimonious, stuck-up, full of himself prig who needs a good punch in the face and honestly, a cupboard under the stairs is too good for the brat 🙂

            I don’t think I’m the target audience for this.

          • Anonymous says:

            While it is all lost in the sea of internet archives, I have encountered LW frequenters who were pretty convinced Rationalism would allow them to acheive astounding feats. Obviously not in the level of fanfic magic.

            Of course, not being a LWer, I don’t know how prevalent this is, and this was a in a community that harbored people who were pretty out there.

          • > Most (almost all) LWers treat HPMOR as a piece of entertainment that happens to use rationalist ideas in interesting ways, not a model to emulate.

            One time I saw someone selling “WWHJPEVD” shirts.

            I’m not sure where you’re getting this idea, HPMoR explicitly aims to teach its readers rationalist techniques and therefore it doesn’t make sense to say that the main character is not meant to be emulated in some way.

          • David Godel says:

            It’s important to distinguish whether the claim is that ‘calculating Bayesian probabilities relating to every action and then multiplying by expected utility’ is suboptimal *in practice* or *in principle*.
            The first is nearly incontrovertible, but the second, that even a perfect rationalist with infinite compute-power is missing something, is quite a strong claim. If heuristics are doing something para-rational, that rationality cannot, what *is* it?
            Saying “just trust common sense and social selection” is a cop-out and misuse of humility.

            My take is that the flavor of rationality, the thing you think you mean by ‘rationality’ but not what you would program into a robot, is “complete”, but our understanding of “decision”, “object”, and “causation” are incomplete at the technical level.
            Ie. there is a mathematical advancement to be made, it’s not *just* a resource or algorithmic problem.

            I’m not sure I’m actually disagreeing with you
            ,but I’ve seen a lot of people make the same words as you who don’t really “get it”.

          • David Godel: I can’t completely understand what you’re saying, I’m afraid, but I don’t think we disagree. It sounds like you’re saying something along the lines of “Bayesian rationality isn’t useful in everyday life, but it’s important to understand for technical problems such as programming AI”. I definitely think that is true.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            Heuristics may be doing something optimalfor finite computing power. What is optimal for infinite computing power is unlikely to have much relevance,

        • David Godel says:

          My take:

          1) Technically true, but we can try to make top-down structural guarantees that “the correct theory will take this form”. Conventional rationality is usually bottom-up and we need to advance our math-tech to deal with this (see: inductive/coinductive)

          2) The memetic landscape is very complicated, and truth/accuracy is only a minor concern for their proliferation. You should only trust memes when they don’t have an “ulterior motive” to explain them away.

          3) This sort of basking in complexity is dangerous and the reason I don’t advocate drug use for insight, even though it can be effective. Yes, unfiltered reality is overwhelmingly intricate; no, we can’t fully appreciate it via reduction to categories and probability distributions. So what?

          4) Sure, the experience of the world around you literally changes depending on internal psychology, but there is a level of raw experience before world-views take effect. Some world-views capture more of this reality than others (though no finite reductive model can capture the entirety), and so are “better” in strong mathematical sense.

          5) I think of this as “experiential” vs “denotational”. It’s an important realization to make, but experiential/intuitive understanding is not hopelessly subjective, it’s just not (yet) communicable because it’s non-symbolic. In the future, when we can connect brain channels directly, we should be able to share these personal growths.

          6) See above. Don’t confuse the feeling of profoundness with the actual extent of knowledge (the only test is to apply it). It’s actually quite easy to artificially create feelings of profundity, often to disastrous effect (“a strong smell of turpentine prevails throughout”). Also don’t confuse experiential with logical knowledge – they’re both important for their respective tasks (logic: goal-oriented decision making, communication, and temporal consistency; experiential: everything else)

          I would strongly recommend meditation to reconcile the two views (see my other comment), especially considering it’s clear you’ve already been unplugged. The effects are more controlled and sustained than drugs, and believe me that you can have equally intense experiences/realizations.

          This may also be too sneering, but I hope the intention is clear. Keep questing, be cautious.
          I absolutely agree LW flavor rationality is missing something, though it’s not clear how to integrate them.

          • Deiseach says:

            Chiming in here that in religion, you get warned when undertaking spiritual growth, particularly through mysticism, that you should not go chasing “experiences”. Also, having a lot of strong sensations of connection to God (or however you want to classify your idea of the larger outside universe beyond your skull), feelings of joy, happiness, it’s easy to carry out your religious duties, etc. is part of the early stages and isn’t expected to last. They’re called consolations and are the beginning, not the end, and certainly not the point of devotion.

            Let us count ourselves but as little children, having need of milk, and believe that these sugar-plums are only given us because we are still feeble and delicate, needing bribes and wiles to lead us on to the Love of God. But, as a general rule, we shall do well to receive all such graces and favours humbly, making much of them, not for their own importance, but rather because it is God’s Hand which fills our hearts with them, as a mother coaxes her child with one sugar-plum after another.

            If the child were wise, he would prize the loving caresses of his mother, more than the material sugar-plum, however sweet. So while it is a great thing to have spiritual sweetnesses, the sweetest of all is to know that it is the loving parental Hand of God which feeds us, heart, mind and soul, with them. And, having received them humbly, let us be diligent in using them according to the intention of the Giver.

            Why do you suppose God gives us such sweetness? To make us kinder one to another, and more loving towards Him. A mother gives her child a sweetmeat to win a kiss; be it ours reverently to kiss the Saviour Who gives us these good things. And by kissing Him, I mean obeying Him, keeping His Commandments, doing His Will, heeding His wishes, in a word, embracing Him tenderly, obediently, and faithfully.

            So the day on which we have enjoyed some special spiritual consolation should be marked by extra diligence and humility. And from time to time it is well to renounce all such, realising to ourselves that although we accept and cherish them humbly, because they come from God, and kindle His Love in our hearts, still they are not our main object, but God and His Holy Love;–that we seek less the consolation than the Consoler, less His tangible sweetness than our sweet Saviour, less external pleasure than Him Who is the Delight of Heaven and earth; and with such a mind we should resolve to abide stedfast in God’s Holy Love, even if our whole life were to be utterly devoid of all sweetness; as ready to abide on Mount Calvary as on Mount Tabor; to cry out, “It is good for us to be here,” whether with our Lord on the Cross or in glory.

            Lastly, I advise you to take counsel with your director concerning any unusual flow of consolations or emotions, so that he may guide you in their wise usage; for it is written, “Hast thou found honey? eat so much as is sufficient for thee.”

        • Hallucinogens turned you into a mundane?

          • Yeah… in my experience so far, psychedelics have made me more “normal”, in that I feel like every time I do them, I begin to slightly closer resemble a platonic human ideal (if that makes sense).

          • Nita says:

            @ general butt naked

            Do you have any external evidence that these feelings accurately reflect reality? The same goes for the feelings of great insight and such.

            That’s the real scary thing about brain-altering stuff — it might make you better, or it might make you delusional, and you might be unable to ever tell the difference.

          • David Godel says:

            “I begin to slightly closer resemble a platonic human ideal”

            “The ghost of perfect emptiness” 😉

        • Anon says:

          “You guys think you know the truth about the world, but you’ll cowards don’t even drop acid.”

          I strongly suspect – and have some anecdata to back up (plus some science, ie, intelligence is correlated with novelty-seeking in general and psychadelic use in particular) – that the fraction of rationalists who have used psychadelics is much higher than in the general population.

          In particular, I’ve done acid; also shrooms and DMT. Acid is fun, but I don’t much learn things (the first time I did acid, I was a little disappointed to discover that my existing models of myself and the world continued to seem the best available while on acid, though this may not be true for people who don’t introspect as much as I do) (although I do generally implement at least one or two better habits after each trip!). Certainly no amount of acid I’ve ever taken has lead me to think that rationality isn’t a very worthwhile pursuit.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          FWIW, I’ve come to a lot of those realisations without chemical assistance.

        • Deiseach says:

          Don’t call anyone a coward for refusing to try substances they think might affect them badly. And before you say “But that was only a joke, I only meant it humorously, it wasn’t serious” – don’t do that either. Too many bullies pull that same shit – “aw come on, I was only joking, they’re over-sensitive!”

          You had great experiences with magic mushrooms? Bully for you! But not everyone is as lucky.

          I’m old enough that taunts about “dare ya!” don’t impress me, and also being Irish, I’ve heard enough drunks spouting shite which they thought was the hidden wisdom of the world when they’re truly hammered.

          Why think that messing around with your brain chemistry is any more reliable than getting hit over the head with a hammer? Or that experiences on drugs are more immediate and linked-in to a deeper or higher or more real level of reality than sitting and thinking about a problem?

          • Why think that messing around with your brain chemistry is any more reliable than getting hit over the head with a hammer? Or that experiences on drugs are more immediate and linked-in to a deeper or higher or more real level of reality than sitting and thinking about a problem?

            Uhh, because doing psychedelics have led me to good outcomes and hitting myself on the head or sitting and thinking about problems have not? You’re the one who appears to be assuming that “messing around with your brain chemistry” cannot lead to valid results.

          • Deiseach says:

            Wow, I ingested some plant matter and I now know the innermost secrets of the universe!

            Of course, if I’d ingested that plant matter instead of this plant matter, I’d be dead but hey, it’s all good!

            EDIT: Okay, that was rude of me. Certainly plant-derived drugs can be of use. And if you feel a lack of certain brain chemicals that need to be balanced, then taking psychedelics is along the lines of taking insulin.

            But it’s as absurd to claim “Y’all need to try a good dose of insulin to give you an insight into what it’s like to have your blood sugar really balanced, it’ll change your minds and opinions on so many matters” as it is to say “do mushrooms or LSD or get shit-faced drunk like the Bacchae and oooh the mystical higher consciousness truths!”

            If I don’t need insulin to control my blood sugar, it’s entirely possible I may be able to arrive at mystical higher consciousness truths by sitting and thinking, not getting pissed as a newt.

          • Ahilan Nagendram says:

            Except, Deiseach, that’s not why people take psychedelics to begin with.

            Your comment betrays a broad ignorance about the subject.

          • Of course, if I’d ingested that plant matter instead of this plant matter, I’d be dead but hey, it’s all good!

            What? How is that not a fully general counter-argument against taking any medicine, or even eating any sort of food? “Never put any plants into your body, because there are also plants that kill you.” Uh, okay.

            But it’s as absurd to claim “Y’all need to try a good dose of insulin to give you an insight into what it’s like to have your blood sugar really balanced, it’ll change your minds and opinions on so many matters” as it is to say “do mushrooms or LSD or get shit-faced drunk like the Bacchae and oooh the mystical higher consciousness truths!”

            How is it absurd, at least prima facie to say: There is a chemical you can ingest which changes your brain chemistry in a way such that the brain becomes better equipped to model reality

            I will however admit that I now kind of take back what some of what I wrote, given that other people have chimed in writing that they have experienced psychedelics and it didn’t drastically change their worldview. (Then again, there is a selection-bias effect.)

        • TeslaCoil says:

          Your post made me change my mind.

          I no longer believe that trying psychedelic drugs (or practicing meditation) could positively affect my self-development.

    • Anonymous says:

      >incredibly revelatory, informative experiences
      >helped me more accurately model the world and be more psychologically healthy

      Psychedelic experiences are certainly incredible and can provide an immense sense of well-being, but I think the descriptions of them being informative are embellished.

      • Anonymous says:

        “Embellished” is an odd choice of word. Usually there is only the assertion with no detail. When people have provided detail to me, I find the details entirely credible and unedited, let alone adorned. Which is not to say that I always understand, let alone believe the information, but that’s another matter.

      • Obviously a psychedelic experience is unlikely to give you concrete information about the world like “the weight of a boron atom is 10.811 amu” and to imply such a thing is tantamount to a supernatural claim, but I think mine were very informative in the sense that

        1: They made me realize that certain things I believed were stupid and represented distortions of thought
        2: While on them, I saw the world in new ways which carried over into the rest of my life

        Examples of the first:
        – On my first trip, I realized that the primary function of communication is to relay information from person to person. This might seem obvious, but before I had the implicit belief that almost anything anyone said had a more important second-order meaning to it behind the words, but I realized that was not in fact a logical way of looking at things
        – All my life when I have drawn or painted I have done so in a very spontaneous, improvisatory style. However, for a long time I desired to eventually transition to a more methodical, deliberate, executed approach, as I believed that was “better”. While I was tripping, I realized that I would probably never actually start painting this way and there is no reason whatsoever to do so, and that I should embrace my improvisational methods.

        Examples of the second:
        – I went to the art museum and I felt like I finally understood all the art, and I continue to understand art in the same way I first did then
        – While hanging out with my friends I saw a “deeper” level behind each social interaction where I could see the way that memetic information was disseminated throughout the friend group so that everyone ended up “on the same page” at the end of the day. This made me feel like I better understood socialization. (This kind of sounds like it contradicts what I just said about communication but to me it doesn’t, idk)

      • Corwin says:

        LSD can really help to comprehend some concepts on a level you couldn’t attain otherwise within anything like the same time frame.

        I have two examples from personal experience.

        First – it showed me how it’s possible to get the feeling of understanding something, while nothing was understood. It helped me recalibrate how much to trust my sense of insight.

        Second – that one is a little more stereotypical of psychedelics, it’s that reflection on “where the boundaries of the self are” : “so if ‘i am a pattern that organizes matter’, where does the process start…” *looks at the factory that farms humans, planted amidst the wobbly landscape, connected to the next one by the shop, the road, the trucks, the rail track, the trains, the power lines, running through the fields or the river separating it from this one* “whoa…” (then platform-jumping from idea to idea, playing in my belief tree, stomping on the branches to check if they’re solid)

        Also loops of thought running around modeling systems as various sets of agents… It’s a lubricant for mental masturbation. It doesn’t make you smarter, but it can help connect things. Sometimes the connections make no sense, but you can sort that out when sober.

        LSD is fun, and pretty safe.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I used LSD once (caveat – in retrospect I took way too much for a first time). I was a little worried about bad trips, because I’m a naturally anxious person, but I figured the worst that would happen was that I would have a bad couple of hours and then be done.

      In the shallower stages of the trip I saw and learned a lot of things that – while they didn’t change my life outlook in any specific way I can point to – profoundly affected me.

      But when it really kicked in I got stuck in a bad place where time didn’t work normally, and ended up with the very strong impression that I would be there forever. That even though after a few hours by the clock I would sober up and continue my everyday life, in some sense that would be a different thread of my consciousness, and there would be at least one consciousness thread that really was stuck in that place forever. While I was there, I made myself promise really hard that the consciousness thread that escaped wouldn’t ever do LSD again or encourage other people to do it, so that nobody else would suffer the same fate.

      This seems really silly now – but Pascal’s Wager is a harsh master and I’m probably not going to do any more psychedelics for the time being – not to mention I have a job now as a Responsible Adult Who Tells You To Stop Using Drugs so I should probably avoid them anyway.

      Also, apparently while I was in the bad place where time didn’t exist, I (without more than the foggiest memory of this) thought it would help to send my parents an email alerting them of this fact and asking if they knew any way out. They laughed it off, but I was really mortified and that probably affected my decision too.

      • Thanks for sharing… sounds like a rough experience. It’s kind of surprising to me that the experience didn’t change your outlook in any major way, considering how much of a thinking person you are. Apparently it wasn’t even worth writing a blog post about.

        Out of curiosity, how much did you take? And also, were there lingering negative consequences after it ended?

        • Scott Alexander says:

          It was too personal to write a blog post about. Also, I would describe it as “A lot of stuff I know from the world’s mystical traditions suddenly made intuitive sense, but if I were to talk about it, it would just sound like I’m repeating the same stuff every mystical tradition says which everyone’s already heard.”

          I think it was 300 ug, and no lingering effects on this consciousness thread as far as I know.

          • David Godel says:

            I’m really glad to know this Scott Lore, thanks.

          • I kind of get the impression based on certain things you’ve said that you have a lot of opinions and ideas about mysticism, but you don’t publish them because you would feel silly doing so. If this is in fact the case, I for one kind of wish you would… that TimeCube post of yours was one of my favorites, even if it doesn’t actually impart any useful information.

      • Harald K says:

        “But when it really kicked in I got stuck in a bad place where time didn’t work normally, and ended up with the very strong impression that I would be there forever.”

        I’ve had that experience on nothing more than a really bad illness (and possibly some anti-emetic drug, I don’t remember). It felt like my body was inside out in some horrible way, and I felt with terrible certainty that it would last forever. Fortunately it only really lasted for a second or so, so I never got around to thinking that a part of me might be stuck there forever or anything.

        Still have absolutely zero faith in drugs to find truths or insights, profound or otherwise.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          I used to have sleep paralysis. I have definitely experienced bad places, a distorted sense of time, and a feeling that I would be stuck there forever, but I never had the feeling that my consciousness would split into threads and that one would escape and the other would remain trapped.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            Jaime, this has been bothering me for a while. It may not be the place for this, but it’s an open thread so what the hell.

            Your name is uncannily similar to an Internet friend I had a number of years ago. I have since lost touch with him but I am fascinated to know if you’re him. <_<

            Do the letters "AWB" mean anything to you?

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Believe me, I know that feel. I have spotted people from AWB in the darnest places. I found Necro on the TVTropes forum, I encountered JonWood on Reddit, and I think I’ve even seen Mr. Mario on Twitter. I guess it really is a small net after all.

            But anyways, to answer your question; yes, I am that jaimeastorga2000. I don’t recognize your name, though. May I ask who you were in a past life?

          • Irrelevant says:

            I’m from AWN, so I think I’m obligated to dig out my flag, wave it around, and boo at this.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            I wonder if there is something about AW players that attracts them to the rationalist community. Was the game popular enough that we would expect to see three AW fans in the same SSC comment thread?

            Also, don’t make me challenge you to defend the honor of AWB. It’s been a while since I’ve played another human, but I considered myself the third best AW player on AWB (tied with Caffie after Kam and Frosty).

          • Irrelevant says:

            No idea, but in my personal case the cause seems to run the other direction.

            I was 12, decided to ask for the first game spontaneously, and joined the site because it was too hard for me. Then my family moved to Beijing, causing the forum to be my primary social contact with English speakers for a year, where I was inducted into political and philosophical argument by the other site members and became one of the people that views the internet as their hometown. So a vast portion of my life appears to derive from my interest in this picture at age 12.


          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Story of my life. I first became interested in Advance Wars because I read a Nintendo Power article which described it as chess on a global scale, or something like that. Got the game, joined AWB, met a lot of people in that forum, got to know some of those people better in MSN Messenger, and, well, let’s just say some of the ripples of those interactions are still with me to this day. All because I randomly read a specific article of a specfic issue of a specific magazine.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            In ages past I was known as Kanbei’s Minion.

            I’m actually friends with Mr. Mario on Facebook. He’s still happily monarchist and contrarian at every turn.

            I also keep in touch with LTK, Master of the Phoenix, Sturm und Drang, and Lord Ankhram, if you remember any of them.

            I’ve stopped posting on forums and well, really participating at all on most of the Internet. I discovered SSC via Yudkowsky about a year ago, and stuck around because the gender/social justice/etc. stuff was like water in the desert to me. But I never commented until I started seeing a “jaimeastorga2000” popping up in the comment threads, and I thought, /no way./

            Way, apparently.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            Also, I think I read the same damn article in the same damn magazine, and, well, here I am.

          • MicaiahC says:

            Oh what on Earth? A person from the AW community? IT KEEPS HAPPENING. (wouldn’t know me, was lurker)

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            I had a suspicion it might be you, Kay Em. Your high verbal intelligence and strong interest in the humanities made you a natural candidate for SSC readership from among the AWB members. I am happy to see you again. I still remember LTK, Master of the Phoenix, and Sturm und Drang. LTK was active for a while on Wars Central, actually. Unfortunately, I do not remember any Lord Ankhram. But it is good to know that the guy I saw hanging around the reactosphere on Twitter was indeed Mr. Mario. I don’t think he liked me very much, though I hindsight I can hardly blame him; I was quite the idiot back then.

            I am glad to see that you are aware of Master Yudkowsky’s teachings. Do you happen to have a Less Wrong account? I am jaime2000 there (used to be jaimeastorga2000 as well until I deleted that account as part of a failed attempt at treating my internet addiction).

            Was the magazine you read Nintendo Power 147? If so, then it must have been the hand of destiny.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            Mr. Mario was hanging around the reactionary sphere of Twitter? That doesn’t surprise me in the slightest – if not for knowing him I wouldn’t have even believed reactionaries exist (I think I’m pretty well acquainted with the Right and I’ve never encountered their thought discussed at all outside of SSC and links therein).

            Anyway, yes, it’s me, Kay Em, although I’ve used Chevalier Mal Fet as my handle for the last seven or eight years (no one gets the reference. :/ I think two people in all that time have recognized it). I don’t have a Less Wrong account, or any accounts really, anymore – the days when I actively participated in the Internet are long gone, and I content myself with lurking now.

            I’ve been hanging around here for nigh on a year now, and these are my first comments, purely to probe your identity a bit. I’ll probably recede back into the shadows after this, too.

            (It was that same magazine, btw).

          • Anonymous says:

            >I wonder if there is something about AW players that attracts them to the rationalist community. Was the game popular enough that we would expect to see three AW fans in the same SSC comment thread?

            I wonder the same thing about TvTropes… OK, no, because TVT is pretty popular, but I’ve noticed a lot (for certain interpretations of “a lot”) of people from the forum, which was a much smaller community.

          • Nornagest says:

            The TV Tropes forums are grossly, painfully nerdy. Nerdy even by nerdy standards. So is LW. What’s surprising?

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @Chevalier Mal Fet: Heh. Funny story; I have actually become a bit of a reactionary myself. I don’t actively participate in the reactosphere except for the occasional ask.fm question, but I do read blogs, twitter, ask.fm, and, when I am feeling particularly bored, /duck/.

            Sticking to the shadows seems to be working out for you, so I wish you good luck, and hope my future comments on SSC can make your lurking a little more interesting and enjoyable. It was good to see you again. Please send Phoenix, LTK, and SuD my regards. If you have need to contact me, you can try to flag me down in another open thread, send me a private message on LW after making an account there, or e-mail me (my username @gmail.com).

      • Alexp says:

        There were few times when I almost had a “bad trip” two of those times, long conversations with friends (while walking around the college campus) helped me out of it. One of the friends was also tripping, the other time it was a different friend had tripped before, but was sober at the time.

        The other one was my first time doing mushrooms and on the comedown I was experiencing some anxiety regarding where I thought my life (or at least college) was going to go while in high school and how it contrasted with how things were actually going.

        A few yeas after I graduated, it was the last time I’ve done any psychedelic (though I wouldn’t rule it out later) and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I was in a good place, gainfully employed with no dependents.

      • Matt C says:

        > But when it really kicked in I got stuck in a bad place where time didn’t work normally, and ended up with the very strong impression that I would be there forever.

        This description is uncannily close to my own drug experiences. The feeling of fragmented consciousness, of having made a one way trip where I was going to be stuck forever, of (eventually) making a stern promise to myself not to do it any more ever no matter what.

        It was like time was sliced up and shuffled around like a deck of cards, and there was a very strong sense that this was the actual way time worked, and normal consciousness only a delusion.

        In my case, though, I was smoking marijuana, not taking LSD. I am a slow learner and gave myself this experience 3 times before I stopped trying weed for good (*), so it seems to be something odd about me. I’m guessing there’s other people who have the same weird response, but I’ve never seen it discussed as a standard abnormality.

        * I also had a few milder experiences smoking weed that weren’t horrible.

      • Anonymous says:

        I resisted making this comment before because it will make no sense in your worldview and I don’t want to be obnoxious. But whatever. I feel so bad for that eternally-tormented strand of consciousness that I’ll risk being a bit obnoxious to this one.

        If you ever find yourself in a mindstate where neo-shamanistic rituals seem like a valid and useful lifestyle choice, consider getting someone to do a soul retrieval with you. Tell them the story and get them to bring that part back.

        Okay. Finished now. Sorry about that.

    • roe says:

      Ya, during my 20’s I did a bunch of experimenting with various hallucinogens, including some trips on amounts of LSD that most people would consider extreme.

      It was wonderful and uplifting for a while, but after a strip of bad trips continuing with it no longer made sense.

      I was kinda looking for a direction for my life to take at that time, and I think those experiences helped with that. Also, I was fairly socially anxious, and I made the decision to confront that and try to move towards my fear instead of away from it all the time – which was pretty immensely helpful and something I still try to practise.

      I guess I think of hallucinogens as epiphany-generators. They give you a short-term ability to look at your life from the outside, and can serve as an impetus for positive change.

      • Harald K says:

        We were discussing drugs here in another thread, weren’t we? Anyway, what my addiction textbook tell me is that depressants are generally found to be unpleasant on first use, while stimulants are found to be pleasant. It makes sense to me, most people enjoy feeling alert, awake, etc. (The minority who don’t find stimulants pleasant on first use do so because of restlessness, anxiety, etc.)

        For both cases though, expectation plays a huge role of whether the experience is characterized as positive or negative.

        Hallucinogens, on the other hand, don’t seem nearly so reliant on expectations. The downside is that this goes both ways.

        Just a personal observation of mine, but it seems drug subcultures tend to move away from hallucinogens like LSD – apparently they were far more popular before. Why, if it has fewer side effects, and can give positive experiences more “real” (i.e, independent of expectation?) I suspect more people (like Scott) have bad experiences, but are less likely to talk about it than those who have only positive or mildly negative ones.

        • Alexp says:

          Most hallucinogens are not physically addictive, and many drug subcultures rely on the fact that people are addicted.

          Related to the fact that they’re not phsycially addictive is the fact that they’re usually not habitually addictive since they’re not a guaranteed good time and usually some amount of preparation has to be taken to ensure a good experience. In my experience, the decision to take a hallucinogen was rarely spontaneous.

    • anon1 says:

      My experiences with psychedelics have been rather different from what people tend to describe. I rarely have complex abstract thoughts, and never profound revelations. Instead it tends to be a very *waves hands* embodied experience, ideally combined with a slow wander through the woods, digging my toes into the mud. It’s clear to me that this is beneficial: it’s extremely pleasant, my general feeling of dissociation from the world tends to decrease for several weeks following, and my motivation to do things that make me happy tends to increase. I’ve also become obviously more mentally healthy (less anxious and depressive) since I began using psychedelics several years ago, though there are plenty of possible confounders.

      One very specific way drugs have been useful to me is demonstrating that certain feelings are possible. For instance, at one point while tripping on mushrooms I had a very clear view of myself from the outside as someone who was rather impressively competent, and the memory of this has been useful as a reference point in getting rid of much of my imposter syndrome over the past year.

      In contrast, I tried meditating regularly for a few months, and the main effect seemed to be an increasing detachment from the world and a “thinner” sense of self, so I stopped. Both of these were effects were very undesirable to me, and pretty much the opposite of what I’ve gotten from psychedelics.

    • zz says:

      Today, I’ll be reading to you from Drugs, Brain, and Behavior.

      …LSD was also used to treat other disorders, such as alcoholism, drug addiction, and the emotional distress and physical pain of terminally ill patients. For examples, in the 1960s one study of over 100 alcoholics found that half of the high-dose LSD treatment participants reported abstinence 6 months after treatment, in comparison with one-third of those in a low-dose LSD group and only 12% in a conventionally treated group. Other research in the 1960s indicated that a majority of cancer patients suffering from anxiety, depression, and uncontrollable pain showed improvement in their physical and emotional status after LSD treatment. The researchers also observed that many of these LSD-treated patients reported that their desire for addictive pain medicines, such as morphine, diminished or vanished, along with the pain. In fact, at that time the National Institute of Mental Health recognized that the use of LSD in these types of patients was legitimate.

      This LSD therapy phase began to wane in the mid-1960s for two primary reasons. First, the psychiatric community was unable to decide how LSD should be used in the therapeutic process or to document its efficacy scientifically. Second, but the mid-1960s, nonmedical use of LSD, especially by young people comprising a counterculture that was opposed to traditional values (“hippies”), led to the belief that LSD had become a public health problem. As a result the U.S. government passed a law that banned the use and sale of LSD, as well as peyote, mescaline, and several similar drugs, by the public. At that point, legitimate research on its effects on humans and on its potential therapeutic uses declined precipitously—not only because of the legal difficulties and maze of bureaucratic procedures required, but also because psychedelic research with humans was not viewed as reputable by the vast majority of those in the scientific community.

      In this third phase, LSD and similar drugs became just another class of abusable drugs that mainstream culture attempted to suppress. Psychedelic drug therapy still goes on unofficially—practitioners would not continue using it under difficult conditions unless they believed that they were accomplishing something.

    • Anonymous says:

      I used ayahuasca on a fairly regular basis over the course of 2-3years to treat depression and dissociation. I’m naturally prone to mystical experiences so about 80% of what I took away from the experience was that I can trust my own experience, that I’m not crazy, and the model of the world in my head makes more logical sense than the model of the world I infer most other people have.

      I had internalised a belief in dualism from the culture, which caused me to reject the physical. Intellectually I rejected dualism but subconsciously I still believed in it. The medicine helped me heal the perceived split between the physical and the rest of the universe, so I didn’t hate my physical body and physical self any more. I’ve been a lot more functional since then. The trip where I finally agreed to merge my “physical” and “non physical” modes of experience was a REALLY bad one though. I couldn’t stop screaming.

      I’ve almost completely lost the illusion of continuity of self. That has been pretty scary as it manifested in my life outside of work with the medicine, because I wondered if I was losing my grip on sanity, but I’ve actually become way more grounded. Oddly enough, I’m behaving in ways that are very much in the interest of (me five years from now) even though I don’t have any sense whatsoever that (me five years from now) is me. But that seems to be a function of feeling more connected to my emotions and my physicality.

      The medicine has been dissolving my outsider/superiority complex, mostly by attacking me very hard so that I had to draw on my psychic connection to the group to stay physically upright and non-distressed. Similarly, it has been putting me in touch with levels of psychological strength and power I didn’t know I had, again by hurting me till I had to tap into a lot of mental reserves I had apparently been saving for emergencies.

      Qualities the medicine has encouraged me to cultivate: cruelty, insensitivity, being good at “networking”, being good at presenting as feminine. Not because these are intrinsically good things, but because I was afraid of them or had a fake sense of superiority about rejecting them or was unwilling to own them in myself. And to greater or lesser degrees they are important and useful.

      Oh, and I got taken to a place between all the universes once, so I could watch universes being born and dying. The purpose was to give me a sense of the vastness of creation, so I could see how ridiculous it was to be afraid of my own power. Nothing I ever do or accomplish (or fail to do, or destroy) can possibly ever matter, so I might as well do whatever I can do authentically. Understanding that was important to me.

      I have the sense you’re more interested in metaphysical implications than psychological ones but my metaphysics were weird to start with; my intellectual model of the world hasn’t altered very much. One thing I’ve learned that I didn’t really know on any level before is how the mind turns sensations and emotions into intellectual concepts or thing-concepts or person-concepts, all the weird random shit and coincidental association that gets packaged up as “thoughts.” I have very strong emotional associations with particular letters of the alphabet; I never used to have the faintest clue that was there, but it must be affecting me all the time, every time I ever have a thought that contains language.

    • stillnotking says:

      I’ve done psychedelics more times than I can count. All types of tryptamines and phenethylamines — I’ve tried ~10% of the Shulgin catalog, which is pretty respectable if you’re not synthesizing them yourself. I’ve tripped alone, in small groups, in large groups, in public places, at parties, in national parks, at the beach (I particularly recommend that one), even once at work.

      I think it’s a valuable experience. It’s not for everyone, definitely. The general (and unsurprising) rule of thumb is that you will probably enjoy psychedelics if you feel “drawn” to them, and probably not if you don’t. The most useful thing I’ve gotten out of it is a deeper understanding of social relationships. I often feel like I can see the connections between people when I trip. It’s hard to explain.

      I have, however, learned to mistrust the big cosmic revelations. That could be down to my Zen background. Zen is fairly contemptuous of big cosmic revelations.

    • Alexp says:

      Funnily enough, Michael Pollen just wrote a long piece for hte New Yorker about psychedelics in therapy.

      One thing a commentator on a different mentioned is that it seems dubious that they can cure alcoholism when he know so many alcoholics who have tried acid at some point.

      From my experience, it can be a completely unpredictable effect. An alcoholic on a trip might decide that she’s done wasting her life, or alternatively that she’s fine with drinking herself into an early grave. I imagine proper therapy and controlled setting can probably tilt things more towards the first.

    • - says:

      So, if I want to try it, what should I do? I know absolutely no people who are into drugs…

      • Princess Stargirl says:

        Imo a semi-reasonable alternative is cannabis edibles. You can order cannabis infused chochalte online easily. Tor is not even required (Though bit-coin is). In many states the risks of ordering cannabis online are extremely low.

        In theory one can buy mushrooms/LSD online. But I really do not know how to do so safely anymore. Things have gotten kinda fucked up.

        PM me on lesswrong if you want details. Though I will make the public PSA that localbitcoin is much safer than most ways of getting bitcoin.

        • Imo a semi-reasonable alternative is cannabis edibles. You can order cannabis infused chochalte online easily.

          I’m not really sure why you think these two things are good substitutes for each other. They’re very different drugs, afaik edibles have never been said to be a profound experience, and from what I’ve heard, people who aren’t experienced weed smokers will usually find edibles unpleasant. (Disclaimer: I’ve never taken edibles.)

          A better idea might be to buy some morning glory seeds, since those are legal, and there’s an extraction process you can perform to get LSA, which is apparently kind of like LSD lite. (I sort of did this once, but I screwed up the extraction process and ended up incredibly nauseous and had to lay down the whole time. I basically just watched Adventure Time in bed for eight hours in complete bliss, then spent another hour feeling incredibly, horribly depressed, then fell asleep. It wasn’t really a remarkable experience.)

          That being said, if you DO want to completely leave this plane of existence and don’t care what drug it is, you should just go to the 7/11 and buy some robotussin. But again, while this is fun and kind of mind-blowing, it doesn’t give you insight the same way LSD/shrooms do and impairs you much more drastically, and is not a substitute for the real deal.

          Anyway…….. I’m not sure where to get psychedelics online either, but this might be a good starting place: http://www.reddit.com/r/darknetmarkets

          • Temp Anon says:

            I have also used LSA (hawaiian baby woodrose) a couple of times. It’s pretty rough physically — it probably didn’t help that I didn’t do any extraction or anything beyond “remove the bits that are literal poison” — but you can have wonderful trips on it.

          • Princess Stargirl says:

            I would not suggest Morning Glory seeds. A high fraction of people’s stomachs will not be able to handle it at all. Repeated painful vomiting is not really something I recommend.

      • anon1 says:

        Mushroom hunting can be a very rewarding hobby if you are patient, and there are more species of psychedelic mushrooms, distributed over a wider range of climates, than you may be aware of. Get a thorough field guide for your area, pay attention to the sorts of habitat you’re looking at, be appropriately cautious and never skip a step in your identifications, and keep your eyes open. Bonus: you’ll very likely find all manner of other deliciousness as well. Fresh porcini mushroom in the fall is a wonderful thing.

        Spam filter ate my previous attempt at a reply, which contained a link on which species to look for by region.

        There are also some places (e.g. Amsterdam) where psychedelic mushrooms or “truffles” are legal.

      • Anonymous says:

        If you do buy online please don’t take them by yourself. Find a sitter you trust. It’s possible you might be fine if you ignore this advice but… I’m sensitive to hallucinogens. If you are too you shouldn’t be by yourself during a bad trip. I can’t overstate this. You might think you’re not typically someone who needs people much so you’ll be ok. But that’s the sort of self concept that can break wide open on a trip. You might really, really need someone.

    • Princess Stargirl says:

      I have done LSD and Mushrooms many time. I did not have particularly enlightening experiences on mushrooms though they were interesting. However my trips on LSD have been very beautiful.

      One LSD trip was probably among the most important beautiful experiences in my life. I think it put me on the path to being a much kinder and empathetic person. For example I am sure I would not have signed the Giving What we can pledge if I hadn’t taken that dose of LSD years earlier.

      On the other hand the worst day in my life was a bad trip on Marijuana. I felt total dissociation and that my brain was moving through molasses. Worse I felt that this horrible state of mind was “reality” and my previous feeling was just an illusion. I was terribly afraid I would forever “understand the truth” and be stuck like this. Interestingly to some extent I think this is true. That trip never really left me and I still have moments of feeling “dissociated.” Overall I think this trip badly affected my mental health long term.

    • Anonymous says:

      William Burroughs is supposed to have related his experiences with ayahuasca to a botanist who replied, “that’s funny, Bill, all I saw was colors.”

      • Anonymous says:

        That has the structure of a punchline, but where’s the joke? Sometimes people do just see colors. They appear to enjoy the experience very much. It’s not connected with being a botanist or any other sort of scientist. I feel almost autistic trying to decipher the point of this anecdote. I guess you’re going for bathos? But ayahuasca visuals are felt to be indescribably wonderful, so it doesn’t work on that level.

        Or maybe you’re using the story to convey an averse reaction to even trying to verbalise this kind of experience, which I could understand. But I still kind of enjoy it when people try.

  53. Dude Man says:

    After reading the IQ thread, I learned something. Any discussion of IQ on the internet shows why it is considered rude to talk about IQ in polite company.

    • I thought the discussion was civil. If people want to discuss IQ and it’s impolite to do so in public, what choice is there but online?

      • Dude Man says:

        It was civil, but it also very quickly ran into subject matter that people tend to avoid normally (most notably race and eugenics). It also quickly became an excuse for people to not so subtlety talk about their high IQ. There’s certainly a place for that type of discussion, but it is not the type of thing you bring up to acquaintances.

        EDIT: I should note that by “polite conversation” I mean “real life discussions between acquaintances and friends with no specific subject matter” and not “internet threads about IQ related blog posts.”

        • haishan says:

          It was civil, but it also very quickly ran into subject matter that people tend to avoid normally (most notably race and eugenics).

          Isn’t this exactly why we need online spaces like this? “People tend to avoid talking about X” is a really bad heuristic for whether or not you should sometimes talk about X.

    • Harald K says:

      Hah, discussions here are nothing. If you google anything related to IQ, something like the top twenty hits are typically scams, tempting/threatening your ego for money, claiming to be able to determine deep truths about you, pronounce judgment on your abilities. You just need to take this test (oh, did we forget that you need to sign up for a scientology course pay us to see your rest results?) It’s so slimy it makes diet ads look good.

      I remember a book I read once, called something like “how to cheat on the IQ test”. It claimed that as an adult, you can practice to get pretty much as good as you want on all common IQ-type tests, and argued that you should, since there’s no reason to make it easy for people to discriminate against you. I found it pretty convincing, and in any case it was very interesting about the kind of puzzles tests use, and how the ones who make them think. I wish there were more books like this.

      • Vulture says:

        I remember a book I read once, called something like “how to cheat on the IQ test”. It claimed that as an adult, you can practice to get pretty much as good as you want on all common IQ-type tests, and argued that you should, since there’s no reason to make it easy for people to discriminate against you.

        Holy moley, what a terrible book. I understand that this kind of thing will immediately happen once it’s possible to get advantages just by testing high-IQ, but I don’t understand why you seem so positive about it. “Low IQ? Moderately sleazy? Want access to powers and responsibilities normally reserved for smarter people? Worry no longer!” Ugh.

        • Anonymous says:

          I take it you didn’t do any SAT, ACT, MCAT, or GRE test prep, so as the preserve the integrity of the results?

          • Irrelevant says:

            No, that was because I was lazy. But I like the sound of this “I have too much integrity to study” idea!

          • Richard says:


            The integrity bit actually works the other way. I have never “studied for an exam” because I have always put in the long hours during the entire semester to actually learn the subject(s), which makes exam-cram totally pointless.

        • Jiro says:

          What’s so terrible about it? If I’m low IQ, I don’t care about ruining the usefulness of IQ tests–in fact, I prefer that.

          Suppose that discriminating based on race is legal. I know that being black is statistically associated with being criminal, so employers will discriminate against me for rational reasons. I am black, but might be able to pass for white, and if I do, employers will not discriminate against me. Is it wrong to do that?

          Isn’t this book basically just saying that low-IQ people should try to pass for high IQ if they can?

        • ilzolende says:

          If you don’t want people who have information about IQ tests to want to share it, then don’t make disabled middle-school students whose IQ has nothing to do with their disability take IQ tests that use 8 hours of their life, at least 6 of which are wasted in one session. You’re not going to do anything useful with the data, and the student could have been doing homework or spending time with friends.

          I don’t actually write “how to cheat on tests” books, but if discussing the IQ test was not an intended result, they should have made me sign something NDA-like the way all major tests (AP, SAT, ACT…) now require. If I didn’t agree to keep the secret of a group I mildly dislike, why should I?

          • Deiseach says:

            Besides, if practicing for the tests (whether IQ, SAT or whatever) means you can inflate your score, then that means that the tests are less about ‘pure’ levels of intelligence, intellect, reasoning ability or what have you, and that there are tricks and shortcuts to them.

        • Deiseach says:

          But if you really are low IQ enough, a ‘how to’ book isn’t going to help you. If you can bump up your score by a few points by learning “This is the pattern of questions, this is what they ask, this is the reasoning behind them”, then you’re probably smart enough in the first place.

          I doubt “How to bump up your score” books will, say, mean someone with an IQ of 105 will score 130 on a test, but I don’t see why they couldn’t score 110 or even 115.

          Right this week, 15 and 17 year old students in Ireland are doing “mock” or “pre-Junior/pre-Leaving Certificate” exams as practice and preparation for the real national state exams in the summer. Are you saying this is ‘cheating’? Because they’re learning the format of the exam and finding out what areas they are weak in and need to revise?

          • Harald K says:

            The national state exam is presumably intended to measure specific skills, not some mysterious unchangeable innate factor. As long as cramming for the test actually makes you better at what the test is supposed to measure, then of course it’s not cheating.

            Another thing about that, there is the intimidation factor. I am convinced that what IQ tests measure is mostly how easily you are intellectually intimidated. I have helped kids with remedial math, and what I found there was that their problem wasn’t usually that they couldn’t find the answer, it was that they had no faith in their answer. And thus they didn’t dare to build further understanding on the understanding they had.

            The talented kids, on the other hand, usually don’t understand things half as well as they believe. But they rush in and build understanding on their intuitions. If their intuitions happened to be right despite the shaky foundation, great, now they’re a step ahead. If they’re wrong, they can usually quietly go back and fix them without too big a hit to their ego.

            Yes, kids who are easily intellectually intimidated are “dumb” – they’re going to fail, keep failing, and find it difficult to build skills. It’s not easy to give them the confidence to break that cycle – remedial math teacher speaking again. And it’s all to easy to accidentally break their confidence down again by being too “helpful” – you see how their excitement at finding out something on their own quickly fades once they think “but really he guided me the whole way”. They’re damn smart at seeing that, let me tell you.

            I’m sure intellectual arrogance/self-confidence is for a large part genetic. Sure, you’re fighting an uphill battle. But giving them tests designed for maximum intimidation, that’s capitulating.

            Schools try to build confidence, and level out the effects of a confidence advantage. They want to measure – for your sake, mostly – what you really know, not just what you think you know. Which is why they give people stuff such as mock tests.

            Whereas Vulture above here is appalled that someone would write a book that help people overcome the intimidation effect on IQ tests, because it makes IQ tests less effective! See the difference in attitude between the two types of testing?

    • Anonymous says:

      Could you be more specific? I hate when people make vague comments that anyone can interpret according to their own preconceived notions.

      If talking about a topic is considered rude, then there will be a disproportionate number of rude people among those who talk about it. But that doesn’t necessarily say anything about a topic itself.

      • Dude Man says:

        It’s impolite because the subject very quickly veers into uncomfortable subject matter and at least some people will use the subject just to brag (which is similar to the reason it is impolite to talk about money in the US). There is definitely a time and place to discuss these things, but they cannot be broached as dinnertime conversations.

        Also, labeling a discussion topic as rude will mean that people who discuss it will be disproportionately rude. However, no discussion topic starts off rude, it gets labelled rude after discussions wind up going in uncomfortable directions. Also, I don’t think it’s uncontroversial to say that there was a lot of overlap between posters in the IQ thread and posters in other SSC threads, and yet the IQ threads wound up displaying the same problems as other IQ discussions.

        EDIT: I should note that by “polite conversation” I mean “real life discussions between acquaintances and friends with no specific subject matter” and not “internet threads about IQ related blog posts.”

  54. Gwen S. says:


    • Anonymous says:

      To be frank, I think schoolchildren are awful but most people grow up to be better than they were at that age. I would vote for not telling, unless you have more than that to indicate he is a possible threat.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I really have no idea on this one. I’m just commenting to say I appreciate it’s a really awful problem and respect how hard you’re thinking about this and trying to balance competing harms.

    • Wrong Species says:

      You seem to be assuming a lot based off one incident. You shouldn’t tell them.

  55. An update on cancers getting cancer (discussed here).

  56. J says:

    People with high anxiety, how do you cope? I’ve managed depression and mild anxiety for years, no problem. But panic is really horrific, having to control a strong emotional reaction at the same time parts of my rational self are trying to convince me that I’m actively dying. What works for you long-term and short-term?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      If you’re talking about full-on panic attacks:

      1. Psychotherapy really does work for panic disorders. I’m not sure why the chart in the last post was so pessimistic, but the conventional wisdom in psychiatry is that panic disorder is the one condition psychiatrists can actually cure, with relatively high success rates. Wikipedia says “Several studies show that 85 to 90 percent of panic disorder patients treated with cognitive behavioral therapy recover completely from their panic attacks within 12 weeks”. No doubt this is somewhat exaggerated, but everyone else exaggerates too and they don’t get numbers that good.

      2. A lot of the therapy is learning to deliberately induce panic attacks, then doing in a safe setting this until you’re accustomed to them and learn to deal with them. You can do this on your own if you are working from a book, reputable website, or other guide that tells you how to do this without making things worse.

      3. Breathing into a paper bag during panic attacks apocryphally helps.

      4. Stop smoking, drinking alcohol, and drinking caffeine.

      5. Inositol is a first-line supplement (unless you have bipolar). SSRIs are a first-line medication (with the same caveat).

    • Minderbinder says:

      The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook (available on Amazon) really helped me when I first started dealing with my anxiety issues.

      Therapy helps too and can help to pinpoint the sort of anxiety you’re having (existential vs. too much stress, for example).

      Also, my level of anxiety is pretty closely tied to what I eat (took me a long time to discover this). So if you’re suffering from chronic anxiety and/or panic attacks, you may find it worthwhile to get checked for food allergies.

      • Tracy W says:

        Out of curiousity, by allergy test do you mean the ones where they put various substances on your skin and see if a rash forms? Or is there some other test for allergies with suspected mental effects.

    • Pseudonymous Platypus says:

      If you can afford it, your best bet is definitely to go see a professional psychologist–ideally one who specializes in anxiety and panic disorders. Speaking from personal experience, a good psychologist can do wonders.

      Psychiatry can be very helpful too, but personally I’ve had more mixed results with that. Some of the drugs I was put on actually made things worse, and it seems like it’s very common to get several different prescriptions before finding one that actually works for you. Benzodiazepines are very effective, but you can’t rely on them long term because of dependence/tolerance (although there’s some debate about this, as I understand it. Scott would know more, of course).

      If you can’t afford either of those things, there are a variety of self-help books available, some of which can be fairly effective. My psychiatrist recommended this one to me (link includes Scott’s affiliate code), and I found it to be decent, although I haven’t gotten very far into it yet because I started seeing a psychologist and found that more effective.

      Good luck. Panic attacks are literally the worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my life, but they can be controlled pretty effectively with the right tools. If you have specific questions you think my personal experience might be helpful with, let me know.

      Edit: also, I completely agree with Scott that if you have anxiety issues, you absolutely need to completely cut caffeine out of your diet. I’m sure he’s right about smoking and alcohol too.

      • coffeespoons says:

        Edit: also, I completely agree with Scott that if you have anxiety issues, you absolutely need to completely cut caffeine out of your diet. I’m sure he’s right about smoking and alcohol too.

        That seems totally unrealistic though (especially the alcohol/cigarettes recommendation), especially since many people with mental health problems have impulse control issues.

        Also, I have problems both with anxiety and with concentration, so cutting out caffiene has major downsides. FWIW, I also drink alcohol and occasionally smoke e-cigarettes. Thankfully, most British doctors are realistic about these things, so I was just advised to cut down. And I have! Anyway, through a combination of CBT, mindfulness, SSRIs and getting older my anxiety has improved a great deal without cutting out any of these things.

        If I’d been told 8 years ago “it is essential for your recovery that you quit smoking, caffiene and alcohol” I would have felt as though getting better was completely hopeless! Alcohol, especially is fun! And it’s a big part of having any sort of social life in the UK. Perhaps Scott, as a teetotaller, underestimates how unpleasant it can be to give up these things.

        • Pseudonymous Platypus says:

          That seems totally unrealistic though (especially the alcohol/cigarettes recommendation), especially since many people with mental health problems have impulse control issues.

          I don’t doubt that people with some types of mental health problems have impulse control issues, but if you’re claiming that people with anxiety disorders have impulse control issues at a greater rate than the general population, I’m going to need a citation on that. I think it’s very unlikely to be true.

          That said, I agree that it can be extremely difficult to quit caffeine and alcohol, let alone smoking. Before my anxiety got bad, I used to drink four cups of coffee a day—sometimes more. It was difficult for me to stop, but I’m sure giving that up is nothing compared to what smokers go through.

          And yes, there are downsides to quitting caffeine in particular. I’m currently on two medications which, like many anxiolytics, have a mild sedative effect. Making it through the day without a nap can be extremely challenging.

          I still don’t think it’s “completely unrealistic,” though. I don’t even consider my anxiety to be particularly bad, relatively speaking, but it’s bad enough that I would do almost anything to make it better. I think that quitting caffeine helped quite a bit, so it’s a minor sacrifice for the benefit I gained.

          I don’t have as much personal experience with cigarettes and alcohol, as I’ve never been a smoker and I drink only rarely. But I think nicotine can give you the same kind of “nervous energy” that caffeine does, which is definitely not ideal for anxious people. (Although others find smoking calming, so YMMV, I guess.) The interdiction against alcohol makes a bit less sense to me, but Scott is a professional psychiatrist so I trust that he knows what he’s talking about. Furthermore, he’s by no means the only person I’ve heard that advice from.

          I will concede that the phrasing I used in my edit was probably a bit too strong. I don’t think it’s absolutely essential to quit caffeine, cigarettes and alcohol if you want to manage your anxiety. But it’s common advice, and it quitting caffeine helped for me personally, so I do highly recommend it.

          • Nornagest says:

            if you’re claiming that people with anxiety disorders have impulse control issues at a greater rate than the general population, I’m going to need a citation on that. I think it’s very unlikely to be true.

            A very brief scan of the literature suggests that anxiety disorders are disproportionately comorbid with everything. That might be a little glib, but impulse control disorder is on the list.

            Not that this is much of a surprise; from what I remember of the last time I looked into this, everything is disproportionately comorbid with everything. Brain problems are likely to come with more brain problems.

            As to quitting caffeine: it’s minimally difficult, at least for me, if you spend a couple weeks putting yourself in a position where caffeinating yourself is inconvenient yet possible enough that you can do it just enough to stave off the (highly unpleasant) withdrawal symptoms. I’ve done it a couple of times, though I’ve always fallen back off the wagon because coffee’s so useful to me.

          • Pseudonymous Platypus says:

            I assume you’re referring to this paragraph specifically?

            The Stanley Foundation Bipolar Network reports a high percentage of concomitant psychiatric conditions with bipolar disorder. Panic disorder, social phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and impulse control disorders (e.g. pathologic gambling, kleptomania) often present concurrently with bipolar disorder (NIMH, 2000; Suppes et al, 2000). The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) recently reported an especially high incidence of PTSD and OCD in people with bipolar disorder, with 43% of people with bipolar disorder exhibiting symptoms of PTSD.

            Maybe I’m reading it wrong, but it looks to me like this is saying that bipolar disorder is comorbid with impulse control problems, and also comorbid with panic disorder and PTSD. I guess that’s a transitive relationship, so that would make it accurate to say that anxiety disorders are disproportionately comorbid with impulse control problems, but since the rate of comorbidity would not be 100%, it would still be at a lower rate than that of other mental disorders.

            But I did say that I didn’t expect impulse control issues to be present at a higher rate than in the general population, and clearly I was wrong about that, so I retract that statement. 🙂 However, I still think my overall assertion was correct, and it seems you agree: quitting caffeine is not that difficult. Therefore, for the majority of people with anxiety disorders, it should not be a huge problem to do so. Of course, smoking is much harder, and for some people alcohol will be as well.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          It’s not absolutely essential. It’s one of many options. I think it’s fair to mention that doing it would help, and leave the cost-benefit analysis to the person involved.

    • onyomi says:

      Meditation helped me a lot. aypsite.org

      That and valium. But the former gradually denecessitated the latter.

  57. Ne says:

    Does anyone else constantly feel like they’re always overwhemled by absurd amounts of new information?

    I don’t feel like there’s any way for me to consume the amount of information I want to consume.

    I want to learn a lot of things on a lot of subjects, and I also like having a lot of interesting and fun hobbies. But just reading a few news feeds and articles can easily take up most of my free time in a given day.

    I can’t really decide what to do. What kind of information can I just decide “isn’t worth learning” (entire subjects)? How do I decide which hobbies and subjects I have time for, and which I don’t? Should I just relax and not focus on learning as much, or should I try to be super-productive 24/7 and satiate my desire for knowledge consumption as efficiently as possible?

    I just kind of feel overwhelmed. Curious if anyone has thoughts on this.

    • I went through this, too. I think an information stream limiter of some kind is necessary to actually *process* the information you’re ingesting.

      I’ve recently begun reading (and also seriously implementing) the ideas found in ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less’. I’d already strated doing so, when the book caught my eye, and because it fit with what I was doing, I bought it. If you can ignore the fact that it’s somewhat pretentious, it’ll probably help.

      For me, the information deluge was a sign of a more general unfocusedness of my life, which I’m now slowly fixing.

      I’ve also learnt that focusing intently on a few things at a time actually leads to me learning more, and more effectively. More generally, it leads to me being more efficacious than trying to do everything, which leads to me feeling unfulfilled because I start so many things and never finish them, and which leaves me with unresolved feelings about those things later.

    • Anon says:

      Prioritize, of course. Some things you will end up not learning because you are getting higher-priority new things to learn at a rate such that you will never get to the lower-priority things – in which case, rejoice! You are getting lots of high-priority information!

      For example, I recently stopped reading news feeds, even technical ones, on the basis that I was deriving less benefit than I would learning other things. Since then I’ve picked up juggling, can play rudimentary piano, and am on track to speaking conversational Chinese within a few years. I doubt any of the news I’m missing would give me anything like as much benefit.

    • Sharon says:

      Ugh, I’m the same way, but it’s not just with information. It’s also with that thousand book to be read pile and all those movies and all those TV shows. Not to mention all the video games and fanfiction and that giant file full of links I want to look at that I add to faster than I subtract from and and…

      I find new (information/books/movies/links/video games/TV shows/fanfic) that I want to look at faster than I can look at it.

      • Ne says:

        This pretty much describes how I feel.

        I just feel like I want to consume pretty much everything.

        At any given time (including right now), I’m thinking about all the potential things I’m missing out on. And it’s upsetting.

        The other responses to my original comment offer some partial solutions (thanks for those!), but I’m still left feeling like I’m missing out on a lot.

        • Sharon says:

          Quick question: do you, like me, feel bad/stressed when you miss a reference, whether to a fact you think you should know or say a TV show you think you should have watched? Also do you, like me, feel the need to go through the entire archives of, say, YouTube channels and webcomics and blogs instead of just checking out the most recent update and then only reading subsequent updates when they happen (which seems to be the norm)? I personally feel like these things are related to my ultra desire to consume.

          • Ne says:

            I’m certain almost no one will read this given how late I’m responding, but, yes.

            I do. Sometimes it seems worth it, other times it seems like it would take too long, and I manage to restrain myself.

        • Tracy W says:

          Maybe you want to adopt Tyler Cowan’s strategy? Eg he will buy tickets for two movies on one night, one starting an hour into the next one. If he is watching the first and doesn’t want to leave to see the second, then that’s the signal of a good movie.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      What kind of information can I just decide “isn’t worth learning” (entire subjects)?

      Unfortunately, we live in a universe where much of the information that appeals to infophiles is practically worthless. The laws of economics dictate that the most efficient way to get something is to specialize in your own area and trade with others; learning the principles of radio making and buying the parts to make your own crystal set is ridiculously less efficient than making money, going down to the store, and buying a consumer radio. Learning marketable skills is almost always less important than signalling marketable skills; see how far you get with 120 hours of MIT OCW and no degree. Likewise, who you know is more important than what you know; someone who spends all his time networking will probably do better than someone who spends time learning whatever the networked guy was recommended for. Big results require big capital investments; no human scientist can build an atomic bomb in a month and hold cities hostage single-handedly, but human governments funding research teams with billions of dollars can it in several years. On those rare occasions when trade is unfeasible and capital unnecessary and knowledge is thus practically useful, it is often in the forms of heuristics and rote mastery rather than as a deep understanding of the underlying theory; a terrorist trying to make a homemade bomb is better off memorizing a recipe and carefully following instruction than independently trying to study chemistry and engineering to develop his own bomb design. And it goes without saying that reading about politics, history, or the news is almost always less beneficial than laying poolside, getting a tan; at least some girl may pay attention to the tan.

      Examples of boring but practical knowledge include learning how to navigate your local bureaucracies, getting to know useful people around you, social skills, how to drive, first aid, foreign languages, mnemonics, etc…

      • Irrelevant says:

        Do you endeavor to watch every movie that comes out this summer and feel anxious when you cannot?

        Every movie? No, most of them are uninteresting. Every good movie? Yes.

      • Nicholas says:

        With the object level objection that depending on the desired function it takes a week’s reading and $30 at Radio Shack to make a ham radio, but more than that to buy one.

      • MicaiahC says:

        Just sort of chipping in unfairly about the foreign language comment: Do people actually think that learning a foreign language as an adult is a practical skill unless they’re planning to immerse themselves in an environment where that’s the language of choice? It seems to me that if you needed a foreign language you would have learned it as a child in a multilingual environment or you’d be forced to pick it up out of necessity, if you’re moving to a new country.

        For context, it always bothers me that people try say that they have the long term goal of learning a language, but they don’t have a specific impetus for it (e.g. want to read a specific item in the language, want to immigrate to the country). So it looks like they’re just trying to signal virtue by saying they have X lofty goal. (I suspect that trying to write a novel is along similar lines to this)

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Well, English is king right now, and presumably anyone reading this blog has an excellent command of it, but there is a very real possibility that Chinese or Russian may become more important depending on how well the Pax Americana holds. Spanish and Arabic are the other languages I’d recommend for maximum flexibility; large numbers of speakers, some of them even in America and Europe due to immigration, and lots of countries which use them as the official language.

          Basically, if you think the status quo is gonna hold forever, you are perfectly correct. If you want to be prepared for the possibility of political or economic upheaval, you might want to be ready to speak another language in the future, if only to do business with people from rising economic powers, and perhaps even to move to other countries if their employment opportunities or physical safety guarantees become much more attractive than those of your current location in the coming decades.

          And certainly don’t learn something stupid like Latin, or Esperanto, or Swahili, or anything like that. That would be a waste of time.

          • Nornagest says:

            Something else to consider is that you gain skill not only in language but in how to learn languages; learning your third language is much easier than learning your second. If you expect such extreme social upheaval as to necessitate learning a new language in your lifetime, but don’t know which language to learn, it may be wisest to pick whatever’s locally easiest to learn — probably meaning Spanish, if you’re in the US — with an eye towards using your language-learning skills later on whatever your actual objective turns out to be.

            (That said, my knowledge of Spanish is limited to what I’d need to order tacos, understand restroom signs, and maybe start a fight. Do as I say, not as I do.)

          • Emile says:

            Eh, I’d say learning Esperanto is fine as a hobby (it’s pretty easy), as long as you don’t delude yourself thinking it’s actually useful.

          • Anonymous says:

            Micaiah’s point (or, at least, my point) is that if you’re going to need Chinese, why not wait until you actually need it?

            Nornagest, do you have any evidence that learning a third language is easier?

          • MicaiahC says:

            I disagree that any cultural upheaval would be sufficiently quick / surprising that you can’t just learn the new language when you need it. Any level of language skill that needs to be done far in advance would require a lot of investment, and in an environment where you’re unsure of the future changes, any guess that zeros out represents a *lot* of wasted effort (especially considering that the languages listed are all of different families, not sure about arabic though).

            Nornagest seems to be anticipating this objection, but as a discussion betwen me and onyomi earlier about his anecdotal experiences in language learning, the jump between different language classes (some chinese derivative vs romantic language) is big. Bigger than going from one language to two? Maybe, maybe not. But I don’t think this line of reasoning is complete without at least considering the great variation in possible future languages.

            Edit: Here is the discussion

          • Nornagest says:

            @anon — Anecdotal evidence and hearsay, initially; but Googling the topic gave me this as the first hit.

          • Anonymous says:

            Nornagest, before anyone learned English, the Russians already spoke Hebrew better than the native speakers. Isn’t that suspicious? First of all, they should do intention-to-treat analysis; by filtering out the Russians who failed to learn Hebrew fluently, they are selecting for language-learning ability. Second, this could just come down to Ashkenazim being smarter than Sephardim, although the advantage in English was larger than the advantage in IQ (whatever percentage advantage means).

          • Nornagest says:

            The point I was trying to make was not “I endorse this research” but “research exists”. The first Google hit on anything is usually not good research.

            Here’s another study from a source that looks more reputable; unfortunately I can’t find a full text link. You could, of course, be doing this yourself if you’re actually that interested; do you have any contrary evidence that you haven’t told me about?

            ETA: Here’s a third, with full text.

          • Anonymous says:

            I asked you a question and you answered it: no.

            I took the implication of posting it at all to be that it was not a steaming pile of crap. I suppose that there could have been the more subtle implication that it was the best evidence available.

        • Anonymous says:

          “For context, it always bothers me that people try say that they have the long term goal of learning a language, but they don’t have a specific impetus for it (e.g. want to read a specific item in the language, want to immigrate to the country). ”

          I get what you’re saying, but how specific/necessary does the impetus have to be? Does “better appreciating French poetry” count? What about “being able to talk to my french-speaking friend?” What about “understanding all those French-language signs I see in Little Paree?”

          What about “to see if I can do this challenging thing that’s not super-necessary but does, if only potentially, have some practical application?”

          • MicaiahC says:

            So this is just my specific nitpick. Do not consider this as life advice!

            I think everything in your first paragraph is fine, and in fact is how I came to learn another language (Japanese), with the very specific caveat that you need to actually enjoy those activities (as in not doing it for mere bragging rights) and that you have ways of being repeatedly exposed to it (i.e. you have access to a lot of french poetry, your friend is willing to put up with your attempts at learning the language).

            The “challenging thing ” in your second paragraph is approaching the abstract way too much. I’m rather skeptical that anyone can come to that conclusion and say it is the best thing to do. Unless you already have some aptitude, or have some motivation similar to what you said in the first paragraph, you can freely interchange language learning for drawing/math/music/dance/extreme sports, where you might have the motivation or context to better succeed at.

  58. the biggest issues of the day (or at least for this niche) : IQ, wealth inequality, job creation vs. automation, nurture vs. nature. And questions like, what does it mean to be smart? Does it mean understanding the world better?

    • Richard Metzler says:

      “job creation vs. automation”: tricky. Theoretically, what we all want is useful goods and services. Since machines (ideally) produce goods and services and don’t consume them, the way to a higher standard of living is to let machines do more of the work, and thus circumventing the limiting factor “one person can, on average, at most consume one person’s production of goods and services”. Ideally, the person whose job was replaced can now do some other useful thing. (Of course, machines do in some sense consume goods and services, and that’s why engineering and programming are in such high demand.)
      However, there’s no guarantee that there’s always something useful to do for everyone, let alone something that person wants to do…

      “nurture vs. nature”: according to the quite convincing Judith Rich Harris, 50% nature, very little influence by the parents (“nurture” in the traditional sense), quite a bit of something else (finding your own social circle, and your niche within it, maybe).

      “what does it mean to be smart? Does it mean understanding the world better?”
      IMO: it means being good at understanding whatever is thrown at you, or whatever you throw yourself at. If you apply your smarts to solving qabbalistic puzzles and devising conspiracy theories, your understanding of the actual world may actively suffer.

    • Anonymous says:

      gets disproportional lot of attention != biggest issues

    • Nature vs. Nurture is all about nature because if you give a human infant and a mandrill equal upbringing and educational opportunities only the human will be able to complete an IQ test.

      Nature vs. Nurture is all about nurture because if you have to human children and feed one but not the other then it doesn’t matter if their parents were imbeciles or geniuses, only the one who was fed will be able to complete an IQ test.

      Or really it’s all about both and any attempt to say that one is more important has to fix the ranges of variation of both at some place which will determine the answer.

      • Wes says:

        Well sure, but any reasonable nature vs. nurture discussion recognizes that at the extremes, either can be dispositive. The interesting debate (study?) is what weight to assign each when it comes to different factors such as IQ and other talents.

    • Anonymous says:

      Jobs and automation:

      So I have a few questions to everyone who thinks automation will eliminate jobs for people whose IQ is below a certain threshold:

      1. So Moravec’s Paradox states that the things that are easier for humans to do are the hardest to automate. Doesn’t this mean that some of the last problems solved by AI researchers involve things that are currently done by low wage workers.

      2. The argument made in this essay (the Algorithmically Scalable Work and Machine Repetition and Human Boredom sections are relevant) states that many jobs we consider dull are not one process that gets repeated but rather many similar but slightly different processes that are done in slightly different ways. These types of jobs are therefore hard to scale algorithmically. Would automating these processes be worth the time and effort if this is correct?

      3. Hours worked in the US dropped noticeably from 1950-1980 but has remained fairly stagnant in the last 30 years. If automation was going to cause significant job loss, wouldn’t this number be declining?

      4. Many other people have predicted that machines would advance to the point where everyone would be out of a job. These people have always been wrong. What about the current situation makes you think that this time is different?

      • Anonymous says:

        “3. Hours worked in the US dropped noticeably from 1950-1980 but has remained fairly stagnant in the last 30 years. If automation was going to cause significant job loss, wouldn’t this number be declining?”

        Male labor force participation has dropped over that time period (between 15-20% since 1945). Female labor force participation rose until the 1990s where it leveled off; it looks like it is also beginning to drop although it is too early to make a definite claim.

        “4. Many other people have predicted that machines would advance to the point where everyone would be out of a job. These people have always been wrong. What about the current situation makes you think that this time is different?”

        People moved into nonmanual labor jobs. However we are now looking at the ability to automate those as well. Essentially we are running out of jobs that can’t be automated. The only barrier will be cost of automation, but for some reason people don’t think “you are a janitor because the machine to do this costs to much” is a very stable equilibrium.

        • Anonymous says:

          Male labor force participation has dropped over that time period (between 15-20% since 1945). Female labor force participation rose until the 1990s where it leveled off; it looks like it is also beginning to drop although it is too early to make a definite claim.

          However, because of the increase in the female labor participation rate, the total labor force participation rate continued to grow until the start of the 2000’s. Also, keep in mind that the country is getting older, and this means that more people are going to be retired. The employment rate for those who are 25-54 has dropped since the last recession, but is (slowly) recovering. Let’s see where it is in five years before we determine that fewer people are working.

          People moved into nonmanual labor jobs. However we are now looking at the ability to automate those as well. Essentially we are running out of jobs that can’t be automated. The only barrier will be cost of automation, but for some reason people don’t think “you are a janitor because the machine to do this costs to much” is a very stable equilibrium.

          There are two problems with that. First, “the machine costs too much” could be a valid concern for a while for the reasons brought up in the blog post for point two. Second, it is both possible and likely that new jobs will be created or existing jobs will become much more common in response to the changes in technology. There may have been salesmen 200 years ago, but there weren’t three million of them.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “However, because of the increase in the female labor participation rate, the total labor force participation rate continued to grow until the start of the 2000’s. ”

            Yes, but men were in the jobs that were most likely to be automated (manufacturing) so if automation was displacing workers you’d expect men to be disproportionately affected.

            ” First, “the machine costs too much” could be a valid concern for a while for the reasons brought up in the blog post for point two.”

            I’m going to assume you are talking about comparative advantage. Unfortunately that means that humans end up doing entirely manual labor while machines take over all thinking jobs because the marginal cost of duplicating a program that can do a thinking job is zero.

            “Second, it is both possible and likely that new jobs will be created or existing jobs will become much more common in response to the changes in technology.”

            What jobs can be created that machines will be unable to do?

          • Anonymous says:

            @Samuel Skinner

            The problem with the “men are disproportionately affected” argument is that there are clearly some replacement jobs out there if the overall rate increased. Just because those jobs were more likely to be taken by women does not mean that those jobs don’t count. Also, if more women entered the workforce, it would make sense if some (maybe not a lot) of men would leave the workforce and do things like become househusbands or further their education while relying on their SO’s income.

            As for the algorithmically scalable argument, I only sort of mean comparative advantage. The question is “cost it takes to program something to do X vs. cost it takes to just manually do X”. There are problems where programming a solution would be prohibitively expensive because they are so many edge cases that programming a solution to each one would cost more than just paying someone to do it manually.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “The problem with the “men are disproportionately affected” argument is that there are clearly some replacement jobs out there if the overall rate increased.”

            Were disproportionately affected. The first wave of mechanization affected manufacturing. We’d expect to see the people most in manufacturing lose out the most and those not in it not be affected and human labor to shift to nonmanufacturing jobs.

            This doesn’t reduce total jobs, but it does explain why job replacement doesn’t result in a reduction in hours.

            “There are problems where programming a solution would be prohibitively expensive because they are so many edge cases that programming a solution to each one would cost more than just paying someone to do it manually.”

            That lasts as long as robots need to have every task explicitly programmed in. Once you get learning robots and build a listing of “common sense” rules for them to work off of, it stops being an issue.

  59. Is anyone here practicing meditation?

    I know Scott used to do it, but I don’t know if he’s still into it.
    I just started two weeks ago, and have yet to see much results, but I know such things take their time. I’d love to hear from more experienced people.

    • Mark says:

      I’ve been meditating for many years. I blog, here:


      Perhaps start here:


      It’s very hard to know if you’re doing it right or if anything’s happening at first. One trick is to stop for a few days and then start again. You briefly get a sense of what it’s been doing to you, before the rest of your brain starts compensating again. But the idea is that you’re slowly changing structure over time, and those structural changes slowly start to win, over months and years and decades.

    • David Godel says:

      What variety are you doing? (Description more useful than name)
      The first thing I like to point out to beginners is that “meditation” means a lot of different things, even though it might all look the same from the outside. Some are more useful than others, some better for certain people, or at certain skill levels. There are many axes of development, but a lot of crosstraining too.

      It can be great for rationality training, but could also put you in an unrecoverable irrational state without some care. It’s most useful add more modes of experience to your arsenal, break out of the bubble of everyday thinking while seeing how mental processes are logically related.
      Some revelations can feel (and be) deeply profound, but don’t let them trick you into thinking you’ve found ultimate truth, that’s the fastest way to fail.

      I strongly recommend some sort of retreat (the important part is continuity of practice – 5-10 hours/day for many days – so if you have the willpower to stay home and do it, no need to find a community.
      Some particularly mindblowing realizations you’re liable to run into fairly quickly with heavy practice:
      — As Mark points out, inner energy/qi/ki/chi/prana, etc. is “real” and can cause some pretty dramatic effects if controlled/increased. No one really knows how this works (though out of all meditation effects, it’s the ripest for study… get on it neuroscientists!), but the “energy”/”current” metaphor works *shockingly* well.
      — The notion of “I” is incoherent and totally unwinds with enough introspection. Thoughts float in from nowhere and dissipate freely unless bound up in the “I’m thinking this”. You play motte-baile tactics on the definition of “I” with yourself all the time. The “seat of consciousness” (most often between the eyes for westerners) is arbitrary and unstable, as is the boundary of body vs environment. Realizing this at the experiential level is deeply freeing.
      — There’s a deep understanding of the instability of goals and volition that makes it clear why utility cannot fully capture human intention, but it’s rather hard to explain.

      Don’t be satisfied with any packaged teaching, they all miss the mark in important ways, in my experience. Vipassana (noting, body scanning) are least bullshitty in my opinion. It misses a lot of the breadth of “energy work”, “magick”, etc. but they’re steeped in so much voodoo that it’s hard to tell what to pay attention to without that initial introspective insight. I’ve found basic vipassana + rationality sufficient to navigate the more complex landscape after that first insight.
      The Dharma Overground is a pretty great place for this sort of quest, though the crazy ratio seems to have gone up over time. I’d really love to see LW merge (read: take over) with the Overground community, because I think it’s something conventional rationality misses, but that should be lead by scientific sensibility rather than spirituality.

      • You play motte-baile tactics on the definition of “I” with yourself all the time

        I love how you explained that!

        I’m mostly doing vipassana/mindfulness of the breath, based on Mindfulness in Plain English and some guided meditations from the internet. I also did a little bit of Metta/Lovingkindness. I’ve been doing 10 to 20 minutes a day for some two weeks now.

        That chi stuff sounds very interesting, and like the kind of stuff I’d have dismissed if not coming from the comments here. Do you have any resources on this? (such as books or blog posts)

        Related question: Have you read Sam Harris’ Waking Up?

        • Mark says:

          For what it’s worth, I don’t actually recommend “energy/chi” stuff, except for very narrow applications/needs:


          It’s almost epiphenomenal autonomic noise, except for some weird, neurally/hormonally gated edge cases.

        • David Godel says:

          My bit of advice:

          “Energy work” can be *really cool* to play with, and looking at things from the perspective of energy flow and blockage / pressure can be fruitful. I started off with accidental “Kundalini awakening” (yeah it’s a thing, I have no idea how it works biologically) so I’m quite fond of energy play. But there’s smarter ways to progress, if you have the foreknowledge – it’s not worth dedicating serious time to until super-expert-level imo. A lot of it comes “for free” with vipassana anyway.

          Same thing with metta. Unless you can already feel your heart melting into the loving collective-mind-thing, your time is probably better spent continuing vipassana.

          Pure concentration (ex. samatha) can be useful if you’re having trouble focusing, especially it’s from anxiety. The effects of heavy-duty concentration practice (Jhana) are pretty cool and useful, but they also come “for free” from vipassana. So no need to overdo it.

          You can play around with different insight practices (but eventually stick to one). I personally hate noting because verbalizing feels weird, but some people swear by it. The important thing is *not to shut out any experience, CONSTANT VIGILANCE*

          I enjoyed *Waking Up*. He knows what he’s talking about but I think it overemphasizes no-self and gets stuck in atheist counter-signaling. It left me wondering what someone would gain if they didn’t already know what they were looking for – it’s usually easy to recognize content at or below your level, but incomprehensible from the other side, much like John Baez’s “Levels of excellence”. IIRC Sam Harris comes from a dzogchen tradition. My biggest problem dzogchen is the reliance on absolute trust in a teacher for “transmission” and insistence on ritualistic secrecy (I understand why, but I think it’s just sloppy teaching, refusing to tackle hard communication problems)

          • Abel Molina says:

            Tried to learn about Dzogchen after reading Waking Up and found a text that discusses some of the practices in a fashion amenable to self-study: http://www.amazon.com/Roaring-Silence-Discovering-Mind-Dzogchen/dp/1570629447

            Feeling like it is helpful so far, but imagine there is a lot to Dzogchen practices that’s not there.

          • anonymous says:

            “Same thing with metta. Unless you can already feel your heart melting into the loving collective-mind-thing, your time is probably better spent continuing vipassana.”

            What do you recommend for someone who knows how to spontaneously melt into the loving-collective-mind-thing without any training? (Seriously, I tried basic metta exercises and they just worked. It’s kind of great? I mean I’m not sure I’m doing it completely right but I assume since it feels very nice I am doing something right.) Would pursuing ‘higher study’ in metta be helpful (and if so are there any good sources of textual information on the subject) or are there diminishing returns?

          • David Godel says:

            to anon:
            That’s great! I suggest using it as a platform for deeper stuff (see below).

            Metta is super good for you, but 15 min at the end of each session should be plenty for everyday use. I don’t know of any “advanced metta”. You’re welcome to try inventing some though 😉

            There’s 3 directions I know of that you could take it now:

            1. Use it as a platform for jhana entry: Once you yet into metta focus on stabilizing it. Bask in it (mindfully) until you enter jhana (you will know). Don’t stress to much about doing something special, just make sure to stay focused/aware.

            2. Use it as a platform for dissolution: Dissect the feeling – where is it most intense? Does it move/change over time? How quickly? does it change with the breath? Try to find the smallest the feeling covers. Be aware of every minutia in realtime. Once you get into the flow you can shift your focus to include all sensations.

            3. Stabilize it so that you can rest in metta at all times, without distracting yourself.

            Try each and see what’s most natural. I recommend trying 1 until you can get jhana, then switching to 2. If you try 1 for a few weeks with nothing happening, just switch to 2. 3 comes “for free” with 1/2, but you can strengthen it alone if you really want.

            A word of caution:
            Staying in metta a lot will greatly increase empathy, which (while usually good) can be bad if you forget that humans are insane and inconsistent. Remember rationality if you have a *goal* to *really help* people – feelgood actions are totally subjective and not necessarily productive.

    • konshtok says:

      what sort of results are you expecting?

      *stares at a spoon*

    • haishan says:

      I’m gonna piggyback off of this to ask if anyone can recommend a mindfulness workbook or something similar for a meditation neophyte. I’ve resolved to read more “self-help” type stuff on the principle that, as far as I can tell, the main reason I avoid it is because I go “ugh! so low-status!” So it seems like a personal one-sided tradeoff for me. But there really is a lot of crap out there (Sturgeon’s law) and so I only want to bother with things that come recommended from people/communities I trust.

      • David Godel says:

        I’d recommend “Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha”. The author is a quirky guy, but the practice is solid and the philosophy is a bit more down-to-earth than most authors on the subject. (Favorite quote: “More interesting than what is real is the question of what is causal”)
        Try not to read too much into his 4 path model though. It’s most useful to prepare you for possible experiences, and remind you that progress doesn’t always feel “good”.

        Mindfulness in Plain English is quite popular and it’s hard to object to. However, you won’t get very deep with it unless you have extraordinary natural talent (or do a lot of drugs, but not recommended). It’s really best for the kind general relaxation most people expect of meditation, which is great, but there’s so much more and you may end up disappointed/ turned off to it.

      • Inexperienced Meditator says:

        I like this guy’s stuff, he lays everything out in a way that really appealed to the systematizer in me: http://www.shinzen.org/

  60. Temporarily Anon says:

    Is there any way I can be sure that someone I’m with has BPD? I don’t want my personal connection to this person to lead me cherry-pick data which support my hypothesis, though at this point I don’t think there’s much doubt. Due to the ups and downs of the relationship, I’ve had recurrent panic attacks for a period lasting for weeks during the worst time (thankfully over now), along with an inability to think clearly and concentrate on anything much for fear of when I’d be attacked next (verbally, with this person saying very negative-emotion inducing things, often designed to make me feel bad). For a long while, I couldn’t focus on anything, and became incapable of enjoying almost everything I did before.

    Based on what I know, and what this person has admitted to, they clearly meet the diagnostic criteria. They also have a life history which is a *recipe* for BPD, including an unstable childhood, being treated (very) badly by their family, having a family history of one parent abusing another, and being sexually assaulted twice – which, I have to say, they’ve done a *very* good job recovering from. They also seriously contemplated suicide after one major life disappointment (not getting a job, which would have resulted in their being forced to go back to their home country), and it took all my desperate efforts – in the face of their opposition to *me* – to tell them that they were in fact very capable (they are, though they didn’t believe me then, and still don’t believe me properly now), and should come to the Bay Area where the jobs are to get one (they did, after much pleading and cajoling, and they now have a fulfilling job).

    I’ve also seen that in spite of everything I’ve tried to do for them, which has cost me a *lot* in terms of time (almost all of it for two years), money (I nearly went broke), and personal suffering (a period of depression, and later nearly daily panic attacks for weeks), they still think I’m to blame for everything, or nearly everything, due to mistakes I’ve made which, in spite of my apologies and attempts to make up, they’re not willing to let go. I have my failures, but I don’t think they’re as severe as this person makes them out to be, nor do I think it’s right of them to attack me so consistently and harshly in spite of me trying my best, sometimes even in the middle of when I’m trying to make them feel better.

    The first clue came when I looked up the symptoms of being abused, and concluded that my internal experience did in fact match the descriptions of abuse. I wasn’t willing to label them as an ‘abuser’, however, because it didn’t make sense: they clearly and genuinely believed what they were saying, and it was equally clear that when they said they suffered, they really did, including times when they were genuinely terrified. It wasn’t until I came across Mike Blume critiquing another Tumblr post which mentioned that many such behaviours are ‘BPD feels’ and not necessarily indicative of an abuser, and after I looked up BPD and checked multiple times that I wasn’t trying to pass off blame, or to dismiss by labeling, that things started to make some sense.

    I’ve also read a few books on BPD, and all the essentials match completely, including many details that struck me as odd when I first encountered them, but which now make sense.

    It’s the complexity of the situation due to which I ask – I don’t want my feelings to cloud my judgement. I’ve tried very hard to ensure that cognitive biases and biased judgements haven’t influenced what I think, and have attempted to ensure that I’m not simply seeing what I want. Any help would be greatly appreciated, and I’m happy to provide any further non-identifying information required.

    • J says:

      From what I know of abusive relationships, biases tend toward preserving the status quo. You mention that you don’t want to unfairly label the other person as BPD or abusive, but from what you’ve written, I’m more concerned that you seem to have come to a lot of harm due to the relationship. So regardless of whether the other person meets any official criteria, I hope that you are in (or can get to) a safe place with good safe boundaries and healthy people nearby who can help you heal.

    • anon1 says:

      What are you trying to accomplish by determining this?

      This isn’t what you’re asking, but you don’t need to decide whether or not this relationship qualifies as abusive, or whether or not this person has a personality disorder, in order to decide you don’t want to stay. So I’m going to give my standard advice for unhappy, exhausting relationships: binge on Captain Awkward archives until “wanting to leave is enough” sinks in.

    • Richard Metzler says:

      Wow. Just let me put on my Dan Savage hat real quick… okay…
      DTMFA! RUN! RUN, and don’t look back!
      Whether this person has BPD is pertinent for one question only: whether the good-bye note should read “F*** you, and thanks for nothing” or “Seek help, before you ruin more lives!”

    • Tracy W says:

      To echo others, regardless of whether they’re BPD or abusive, you don’t need to stay. You’re suffering, you’ve said you’ve got recurrent panic attacks, and spent ages incapable of enjoying almost anything you did before.

      Also you nearly went broke because of their behaviour. My family history says that’s definitely the point to bail.

    • Also Temporarily Anon says:

      As someone also in a relationship with someone with Bipolar Disorder, I can confirm that the “blame people close to you” behavior can definitely be symptomatic of the illness.

      You wouldn’t be asking if you didn’t want to save this in some way, so I won’t entirely echo the others’ GTFO sentiment, but here a few points I’ll mention:
      1) The (usual) essential characteristic of BPD is that it is episodic. In between manic/depressive episodes, what is your person’s behavior? Do they recognize that their behavior during their episode was hurtful and wrong? In my case, my SO is emotional and irrational during depressive episodes, but outside of them can recognize this. In fact, they have a degree of social anxiety because of shame for the things they did during their episodes (many of which they don’t really remember, as both the illness and the acute treatment affects their memory).

      2) Treating BPD is really, really hard. It will probably take a lot of tinkering with medicine and/or other treatments (ECT was particularly helpful for my SO). Most importantly, it will require a committment from your person to really want to get better. That’s a cliche, but a true one.

      3) I guess my best advice then, is to raise your concerns gently and when your person is at their most rational. Affirm your committment to stay and help, assuming they get a diagnosis. And follow through. If your person is like my SO, they will find a diagnosis a relief, since it will explain a lot of the feelings and behaviors they couldn’t understand before.

      4) Manic/depressive episodes are unpleasant but survivable, but you need a plan, and it needs to be in place beforehand. What treatments will you use, who will you go to? Again, it’s the nature of the illness that sufferers aren’t particularly rational during their episodes. You can’t really explain to the sufferer that they aren’t being rational without upsetting them, so if you wait till things get bad before you try to fix them, it will be much harder.

      5) If you can’t make a plan, and your person is not willing to work to address their illness (if that is indeed what it is), then you probably do need to get out before damaging yourself irreperably. It’s sad but true that these behaviors can truly not be their fault, but still not be something you can reasonably accept. Martyring yourself won’t make them better. So if you care about them, certainly continue to sacrifice, but make sure it’s towards a goal of making them better, and not just getting by.

    • pneumatik says:

      I don’t want you to feel like the comments section is yelling at you, so if you can’t for whatever reason completely eliminate the possible-BPD person from your life then I encourage you to at least get some distance from them. If they need help point them to where they can get what they need. Feeling responsible for other humans is a great thing, but from what you posted it sounds like the most efficient allocation of resources is to get them to places where they can get more help, not for you to try to help them by yourself.

      I wish you luck in improving the situation, however you decide to do it.

    • been there, wondered that says:

      Your description could be used to perfectly describe (with a shorter timeline) my last relationship, so I’m going to tell you what I wish I could have told myself after the first panic attack my partner induced. It’s now nearly three years since I ended that relationship and I’d say things are almost normal again.

      You need to end the relationship immediately. By “immediately” I mean “right now”. If you are living together, take today off work, pack, and move out to a friend’s or storage unit + an extended stay motel/hotel. Take your clothes, personal records, expensive items (electronics, jewelry) and ditch the furniture. If you have money, you can find a place for tonight by bidding on priceline.com, or calling local hostels. If you don’t, look at homeless and abuse shelters (I don’t know the bay area well enough to be specific).

      The relationship you describe is profoundly unhealthy. It is exhausting you and will kill you. Whether your partner has BPD or not is irrelevant. If you want to feel like you are properly accounting for cognitive biases, draw the Punnett square. On the left: partner has BPD, partner does not have BPD. Across the top: you stay, you leave. Imagine the outcomes in each of the four result squares. I predict the left two columns are nearly identical – though perhaps you burn more time and money trying therapy in the upper row.

      The source doesn’t matter, the situation matters. Your willingness to hear other people out and consider their opinions is being used against you. The behavior you describe is abusive. You say you recognize it is abusive. It’s time to get out. You cannot fix them, and you are not “unsupportive” if you leave. Your partner’s actions are never, never, never your fault. You do not in any way deserve the abuse you describe.

      Your friends and family will support you more than you can guess. Though if you are male and your partner is female, you will lose at least one friendship to someone who doesn’t believe women can be abusive, or that the abuse you’re enduring is actually abuse. I’m sorry.

      After you escape, you will probably experience PTSD symptoms. It may be months before the feeling of “I’m going to get yelled at for this” intuition starts to fade, but it will. The reactions your abuser trained into you will show up in unexpected places in your next relationships, so take them slow. A therapist would help a lot in helping you recognize these, because your perspective has already been warped.

      Your abuser will probably find someone else to fixate on faster than you can imagine. You be able to stop fearing insults and blame.

      Get out and you will be OK. Good luck. *hug*

  61. Drake. says:

    hmm. posts here accumulate comments /super super quickly/. out of curiousity, does anyone actually read comments below the 100-ish mark? i know that personally i am always discouraged from commenting when i see the little “200 responses to x” label — which, despite near-obsessive refreshing, seems to happen with every post.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I do. But I’m relatively new. The “comments since” tool on the sidebar is very useful. Each time you refresh the page, it shows you all the comments since the last refresh.

    • I imagine people read them. I do at least if the topic is of interest. There is there is no ranking, so mediocre comments can stay high and good ones may be at the bottom.

      • Anonymous says:

        Do others agree with me that this blog badly needs a comment ranking/sorting system a la reddit?

        Sure, sorting comments by community ranking has some problems, but it’s probably better than an unchangeable chronological sorting. And you can just include a sorting option for that chronological order, so the ability to sort strictly dominates.

        Is anyone opposed to this idea? Why don’t we have it already?

    • drethelin says:

      I often just skim for comments from people I like and then look at the surrounding threads.

      • Vulture says:

        Also: irc regulars already know this, but Bakkot (who made the corner-comments-tracker-thing) is mulling over an automated version of this involving whitelists and other exciting decentralized cool things. We should all get excited/remind him to do this, because it would be really cool.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I approve of this.

          I might also grudgingly allow an upvote/downvote mechanism if it worked with normal WordPress (none of this Disqus stuff) and the votes on individual comments were invisible to everyone including the author.

          • Anonymous says:

            Hopefully there would be a way to disable the sort-by-rank?

          • Scott Alexander says:

            While I’m requesting things that will never happen, of course there will be! Also, if you vote enough times, you get a free pony!

          • Anonymous says:

            Well… Truth be told, this is really quite embarrassing, but I’m actually already struggling to take care of several ponies at the moment, so I’d rather get them freely removed.

          • Wrong Species says:

            For the love of god please do not do this. On reddit they tried hiding scores for individual subreddits but it did not make a difference. It doesn’t matter whether you hide them or not, voting on comments will completely change how this blog works.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Also, if you vote enough times, you get a free pony!

            Can we choose which one? I’m partial to Twilight Sparkle.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            To risk stating the obvious — any sort of sorting by votes would make absolutely no sense with only finite nesting.

          • James Picone says:

            You can sort subtrees by vote, or propagate high-ratings uptree. The former means that you’ll always see top-rated replies to things first, the latter tries to prevent the situation where someone says something dumb, gets downvoted, and there’s a highly-upvoted reply that explains things well but it’s buried.

          • @Wrong Species:

            I agree with you that voting on comments would completely change things and have negative side effects, but I feel like at this point the sheer popularity of this blog has already drastically changed things. There’s just too much of everything, it’s a clusterfuck… and at this point I kind of feel like desperate measures are called for. I don’t know if other people have as strong feelings as I do about this.

            I wonder if it could be set up that relatively straightforward posts about medicine and statistics and psychology could have voting on comments, but controversial posts about IQ and “things I will regret writing” could stay the traditional way. This could help minimize the hivemind “circlejerk” effects that are so obnoxious on reddit.

          • Anonymous says:

            Discouraging back-and-forth is a feature, not a bug.

          • Pseudonymous Platypus says:

            I agree with Wrong Species. I have never seen a voting system on a website that does anything other than encourage the development of a hivemind, no matter how many clever countermeasures there are. Please do not do this.

            Edit: also, FWIW, I do read all or at least most of the comments on posts that interest me and most open threads, even when there are hundreds of comments.

          • Harald K says:

            Please don’t. With an upvote/downvote on every comment, there are several big problems:

            * Most people will probably vote once in a blue moon, but some people will vote on everything. The latter will have a disproportionate effect on what gets seen.

            * Those who do vote once in a blue moon, will probably do it on comments that make them go “Strongly agree!!” or more rarely, “idiot!!”. Emotional bombastic assertions will be hugely rewarded if they agree with the blue-moon voting majority.

            I’ve argued before and I’ll argue again, that the way around both these problem is sortition: Don’t let people choose which comments to vote on. Let them vote on (or better yet, compare) two randomly chosen comments.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            For working with normal WordPress stuff, the number of up-votes might be indicated alongside the ~n~ flag. A reader who wants high rated comments only, would search for ~n~ ***** (or however many stars zie wants). Entering ~n~ alone would still find all new comments, and ***** alone would find all 5-star comments, old and new.

            Imo, with a different system, even if A’s poor comment could be hidden and B’s good reply still shown, B’s would lack context. Having to click ‘parent’ to find A’s comment would jumble the flow. A poor comment on a different sub-thread may also provide context for B’s.

          • onyomi says:

            I’m going to add a strong “downvote” to the idea of an “upvote/downvote” button. What I like so much about SSC is that there are a large number of intelligent, generally very civil commenters, many of whom are interested in discussing perennially divisive topics like politics and philosophy.

            An “upvote/downvote” feature inevitably shifts the dynamic away from this kind of relatively dispassionate discussion to a popularity contest. I am not just worried about how it will affect other commenters, but how it will affect me. I have posted before at places like RealClearPolitics and I find it fosters a more “us-against-them” mentality. You try to “smack down” the other side so you can get a lot of appreciate nods from your side. You feel good if you get a lot of votes and try to post more in that vein and feel bad and discouraged if you try to post a heterodox opinion or on a novel topic and get none.

            There are definitely a lot of comments to wade through, and I am probably a contributor to this negative trend some perceive, having only started commenting here a few months ago, but it doesn’t yet feel to me completely unmanageable, with use of control-F, etc.

            People can already tell which topics are popular by the number of replies, and can add an appreciative “+1” if you really strongly echo a sentiment. If only the most upvoted topics appear at the top, I worry other, later, less initially popular topics will get buried.

          • Zack says:

            How about a way to collapse various levels? Like when you first look at the comments you only see the top level, and you can click an interesting one to see the replies?

          • Anonymous says:

            I would appreciate that. I often scroll to the next comment tree when I’m not particularly interested in the top-level comment. The ability to collapse the tree would help.

          • haishan says:

            Er… is that not what the “hide” button does? Or are you describing a different functionality?

          • Emile says:

            haishan: ooooh I never paid attention to the “hide” button, yet had idly thought “hmm I wish there was a button to collapse a subthread”. UI design is hard (alternate explanation: I’m stupid).

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m a fan of karma in a LW context, but I can easily see how it might cause problems in a context where partisan politics isn’t as strongly discouraged.

          • onyomi says:

            The “hide” function does do this, but it seems you have to manually hide each individual comment? Don’t know if this is do-able, or would be too much work for Scott, but it might be nice if there were a “hide all replies” button and one could expand the threads that interest them.

            That said, commenting systems wherein comments only show up when you click on them, such as with Yahoo groups, tend to be really annoying and hard to use in my experience.

          • Anonymous says:

            The only modification comments need is a collapse/expand function.

          • Bakkot says:

            onyomi: I’m not entirely sure why you’d want that, but here’s a bookmarklet which will toggle the collapse/expandedness of all top-level threads (and incidentally scroll you to the first comment).

            Anonymous: in what way is the existing “hide” button not doing the thing you want? (If you don’t see the “hide” button, you probably have Javascript disabled.)

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            I’d suggest starting any voting scheme completely silent, with no effect on rankings, visible only to Scott, who can then observe what gets voted how, and also do cluster analysis on voting patterns. You couldn’t pilot the effects voting would have on what gets written in the first place, but it’d be something.

            I’ve also considered the idea of having two voting axes: agree/disagree and interesting/boring. You then write the agree/disagree numbers straight to /dev/null and sort by interesting/boring.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’ve also considered the idea of having two voting axes: agree/disagree and interesting/boring. You then write the agree/disagree numbers straight to /dev/null and sort by interesting/boring.

            I’d expect a strong correlation between the two from day one, and a very strong correlation once people figure out how the system works.

          • Desertopa says:

            If possible, I think that a useful compromise might be to have a system of upvotes/downvotes which only affect comment sorting. No visible point score is displayed for comments or tracked for users.

          • Arthur B. says:

            Would people be interested in having a SSC group on a private NNTP server?

          • cypher says:

            Agree with @Desertopa.

            If you’re going to have upvotes/downvotes, make the scores completely invisible and just use it to sort comments.

          • pneumatik says:

            @Arthur B. While I personally love NNTP, I don’t know if enough people would bother to set up a reader. What I think this blog needs is a not-kidding forum, with each of Scott’s posts starting a new sub-forum within which people can start new threads. But that probably wouldn’t be as easy to administrate as Scott is looking for.

          • Anonymous says:

            Starting a forum is easy.

          • Anonymous says:

            @ADifferentAnonymous: Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. I would love to see what Scott makes of comment ranking data!

            @Anonymous from February 10, 2015 at 10:34 pm: No, no, no no. NO REDDIT.

          • Arthur B. says:


            There are a bunch of web frontend one can slap on it.
            Otherwise, as a far as web forum go (not nntp), I quite like Discourse.

          • Anonymaus says:

            If we take the number of child-comments as a proxy for a comment’s interestingness (or at least the likelihood of getting involved with it), sorting by this might make sense. Or sorting by the proportion of child comments that a comment got of all comments written after it, so that newer comments are not at a disadvantage.
            I hacked a Greasemonkey script which adds a sort toolbar. It is not pretty, and not well tested, but it gives an idea of what sorting comments might look like.

    • The Anonymouse says:

      I read comments all the way through, if the original post is relevant to my interests. (About half are.) I also reload the site fairly frequently, so I don’t often stumble into a post that already has comments in the hundreds. It’s more manageable when comments come in a score or so at a time, and it lets me follow the divergent threads more closely.

  62. Dan says:

    Best title so far

  63. Brian says:

    I wonder what feedback this community has over the innate talents and philosophers discussion over at the Daily Nous.

    I found their treatment of the topic fairly disappointing (both in article and comments).

    • Anonymous says:

      Of late, I’ve found almost any treatment of any topic to be woefully inadequate.

      Rationality-sphere has spoiled me.

    • Irrelevant says:

      In typical philosophical fashion, I’d argue this is a problem with definitions.

      The psychological/biological stance on innate talent is looking at the total field of human endeavors and arguing, to a stronger or weaker extent, “if I pushed hard enough I could train any blank slate person to do any of those things.”

      The philosophers aren’t doing that. The philosophers are looking at one particularly niche field of human endeavor, concluding that all the people who are in it in fact are ones who did not need to pushed into it, and calling that innate talent.

      So I don’t see a contradiction here, similarly to how I don’t see a contradiction between claiming that if I forced any typical person to draw for thousands of hours they could be a professional artist, but that since nobody is doing that we instead have a world where all the professional artists are people who spent thousands of hours drawing voluntarily, and these people are outliers from the general population who often resemble each other.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        To be fair, we really don’t know what was in the philosopher’s heads when they answered that four question survey. We can make guesses, but now seeing the actual questions, I’m not sure it really measures much about the actual professions other than how they talk about themselves and how frustrating they find it to talk to others about what they do.

        • Irrelevant says:

          Yeah, I don’t know what was going through the heads of the respondents. But I know how I unpack the idea of “innate talent” and that it significantly differs from the author here, so I consider it a plausible explanation.

          My understanding of “innate talent” is as a concept that relates primarily to existing people rather than hypothetical ones. It encodes the idea not of genetic predestination, or even necessarily of genetic predisposition, but rather that the cognitive processes necessary to make use of bodies of knowledge are personality-driving, and that personality forms early enough that by the time you have a choice in what interests you will pursue, that deck is heavily stacked.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            That scans for me, and it’s close to what I was getting at.

            When you read hard core philosophy, the language can be very dense. I’m thinking here about arguments about the duality of mind and body that start imagining a body the has no mind but acts indistinguishably from one which has a mind (which the dualists claim somehow proves there is duality).

            Most people are going to find that conversation both unintelligible and pointless. As you say, this is a measure of “personality” plus other stuff.

            Anecdotally, I had a college friend who dropped out of computer science during a very depressing time and eventually ended with a philosophy degree. Maybe that was “innate” interest, but I think it had more to do with being depressed at that time in his life. Now he has a PhD and has a faculty position. I mean, how much can you do that is directly related to a philosophy degree besides that? But ending up in philosophy may have been more random confluence than out and out decision.

            And once you have gone down that path, and find that few other people are pulled down that path, post-hoc you may rationalize that this is because others don’t have what it takes to be philosophers.

      • Peter says:

        I think there’s parallels with the free will debate. As I see it:

        Compatibalist: Applying the maxim of charity to the problem, the term ‘free will’ signifies the defensible concept most closely related to our vague pre-theoretical ideas of free will. Oh, and this thing, which we may call free will, exists.
        Libertarian: WTF? That isn’t free will. That isn’t what’s meant by free will. We’re still working on clarifying what we mean by free will, but it definintely exists.
        No-free-will: The libertarian guy is right about what ‘free will’ means. The compatiabalist is sort of right in that what the libertarian means by free will is an incoherent concept. Therefore, there’s no free will.

        Me? I suppose I used to learn no-free-will but these days I lean towards compatibalist – reading Hume helped, seeing what the various answers were correlated with on the PhilPapers survey sealed the deal.

        With “innate talent” (or indeed just “innate”) – I’m like a compatibalist. The folk concept may be incoherent but I think that you can come up with defensible revisions of the concept. Furthermore, I think that attempts to deny innate stuff lead to wrong ideas.

        • Irrelevant says:

          There’s an argument to be had even over that principle of charity, since rounding people’s expressed ideas to the nearest informed opinion is often an excellent way of making conversations flow better, but makes some people really mad.

          As for free will, ego, innateness, authenticity, etc., philosophy can rather aptly be defined as the field that studies incoherent-but-accessible ideas.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          That’s not how I see it. Since there’s always been some sort of problem of free will, its the incompatibilists who are using the traditional notion, and since compatibilism didn’t arrive until 3 centuries ago, its compatibilism that has the revised concept.

          • piwtd says:

            “compatibilism didn’t arrive until 3 centuries ago”

            There were Calvin, st. Augustin, st. Paul and the prophet Isaiah.

        • Paul Torek says:

          Well said. It’s important to distinguish between someone’s theory of a phenomenon, versus their success or failure at referring to it. If John thinks the moon is made of cheese, that shouldn’t stop you from listening when he says that the moonlight and the snow on the ground make it easy to see tonight. People have all kinds of crazy theories, but that doesn’t mean their words lack referents.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “The complicated nature of this problem makes it impossible to truly tease out innate ability versus cultural factors. Also, it’s all cultural factors and definitely not innate ability.”

      • Irrelevant says:

        OK, yes, it being a selective demand for rigor is also a possible answer.

      • Tomas says:

        You put your comment “…it’s all cultural factors and definitely not innate ability” in quote marks. But I don’t think you are fairly representing your opponents in that debate. It’s an invented quote, representing a straw man argument.

        Noone can demonstrate that the cause of extraordinary performance is “definitely not innate ability”. Similarly, they can’t demonstrate its “definitely not invisible pixie dust”. That does not mean that either innate ability or pixie dust are necessarily important in explaining exceptional performance.

        The reason why many people, including me, are unconvinced about the importance of innate ability is the lack of evidence that it is important.

        For example, you have mentioned the case of Shakuntala Devi in your last blog post, who you note “apparently impossible calculations, like giving the 23rd root of a 201 digit number in less than a minute.” While impressive, that’s not an inexplicable feat; others have done it faster than her, and explained the techniques they use to do it. There is no convincing evidence of her having special innate calculation abilities or unusually high general intelligence.

        Extracting roots of large numbers is easier than it looks, which is precisely why stories of her having exceptional abilities as a child should be treated so skeptically. For example, many casual observers would be very impressed by a child who could instantly solve a question like “what’s the seventh root of 170,859,375?”. But actually, it’s easy once you know how, and could easily be taught to a small child. The calculation looks impressive because of the lack of mathematical knowledge of the audience, not the abilities of the performer.

        The case of Shakuntala Devi is a good example of someone who you might incorrectly assume had clear evidence of exceptional abilities. But a closer look shows no evidence of exceptional innate ability at all. That illustrates the danger of assuming without proper evidence that people who perform exceptionally must have special innate abilities.

        • Anonymous Coward says:

          To me, the second sentence made it pretty clear that it was a joke and not an actual quote.

        • Thomas Eliot says:

          How does one easily take roots of large numbers?

        • lunatic says:

          I don’t think the claim that Shakuntala Devi probably has some “innate talent” with operations is understood by many people to mean that she has some extra optimised root-finding module installed in her brain. It’s more like it appears she is able to do things, and possibly able to learn to do things, at a rate many people cannot match even if they spent as much time on it as her. The fact that some others can beat her in this is perfectly consistent with this claim.

          I think that the criticisms of innate talent in the linked article come from a place of not taking the idea seriously in the first place. It’s fine to note that there is a pervasive folk notion of “X”, but from there one could invent a poor folksy definition of “X”, because one imagines most folk to be poor at defining things, or one could try to find something that is more rigorously defined and would in many practical cases wind up looking like “X”. I think that Gopnik does the former.

          I want to use cycling to illustrate three (unrealistic) hypothetical scenarios, all three of which violate an intentionally stupid definition of innate talent but two of which, nonetheless, would end up appearing to be dominated by innate talent. The difference is simply in how people might respond to training.

          Scenario one: Here, training on a bike increases your ability to ride quickly linearly in response to the volume of training. Everyone’s response to training is similar. For just about anyone, 1 hour of riding a week improves their speed on a bike by 1 standard deviation, 2 hours improves it by 2 SD, 3 hours by 3 SD and so on (all improvements over their “baseline speed”). In this scenario, very large deficits can be overcome by training for only an extra 2 hours every week. Good cyclists may still come from the upper half of the bell curve of baseline performance, but the very best ones will be those who are willing to put in the most training rather than those who started out with a slight edge. The difference between a trained and an untrained cyclist is of course massive.

          Scenario two: Response to training is similar for everybody, but most of the gains are realised from the initial amounts of training. Everyone gains 3 SD from the first hour, 2 SD from the next hour, 2/3 SD from the next (so 5 2/3 SD for 3 hours/week of training). Again, the difference between a trained and an untrained cyclist is massive. However, when it’s not too hard to find cyclists who are willing to train 30 hours a week, at that level an extra hour of training gives a measly 0.0000005 SD of speed. Thus all good cyclists will train, but because changes in the length of training have such a tiny effect on anybody’s performance, the best cyclists will probably be those who had an advantage in their baseline performance. To someone looking for potential top cyclists, they want to find people who perform well with minimal training – that is, they are looking for the people who display “innate talent”.

          Scenario three: Training gains are linear, with mean values as in scenario one. However, these gains are distributed so that, say, 15% of people gain more than 1.3 SD per hour per week and, say, 2% of people gain more than 1.7 SD per hour per week and about 0.1% gain more than 2 SD per hour per week. In this scenario, then, the best cyclists will be dominated by those who have the largest response to training, completely independent of baseline performance. However, to someone looking for the next top cyclist, one is again looking for someone who performs unusually well with limited training – the top cyclists again appear to be dominated by people with “innate talent”.

          All of these scenarios are extreme in order to illustrate the point. I think the true scenario is not relevant to illustrating the point I want to make, but if you are wondering about it: I have no idea know what shape a typical training response curve is, or the distribution of responses to training. I do know that it’s nonlinear (i.e. too much training for an untrained person will cause damage, but the same amount for a trained person will be beneficial) and depends on more than just hours trained.

          • Tomas says:

            You say ‘I don’t think the claim that Shakuntala Devi probably has some “innate talent” with operations is understood by many people to mean that she has some extra optimised root-finding module installed in her brain.’

            I wish that were true! But I think you would be surprised at how many people actually believe such things are possible. Many people who are usually careful to be rational are taken in by unreliable and unfounded stories of geniuses and savants with amazing skills ‘pre-installed’ at birth without training.

            For example, there was a blog post last week at Scientific American from author Darold Treffert called “Genetic Memory: How We Know Things We Never Learned”, which tells of savants who supposedly can do things like playing the piano or doing mathematical calculations without any training or practice whatsoever. I think it’s absolute crank science. Treffert also believes in psychics, which should be a warning sign. He also has an article in this winter’s Scientific American Mind, in which he claims that some people can gain abilities like playing piano instantly after a hit to the head. The evidence is pitifully thin, but these far-out theories still get space in leading popular science publications, and sometimes in peer reviewed journal articles as well.

            Lots of intelligent, rational people believe this stuff. For example, last month Scott Alexander commented on “Johann von Neumann … who could already divide 8 digit numbers in his head at age 6, apparently without any deliberate effort to learn the ability”. I would be deeply impressed if there were convincing evidence of such a feat, but I don’t think there is – not for Von Neumann, not for Shakuntala Devi, and not for any other human being.

    • Anonymous says:

      If I understand correctly, the “innate talent” argument gets play in philosophy and some other disciplines because it is supposed to account for the distributions of characteristics among persons who work or excel in those disciplines. The argument seems to go like this: “Why are there relatively few ——– in this discipline? Because doing well in it relies upon innate talents that fewer members of group ——– have compared to others.” The problem is that the causal story is too complex to be characterized this way at all.

      Excellent philosophers need many rare qualities and we don’t know whether all of them are innate – or at least, are determined in such a way that choices or efforts made by the individual later in life will have minimal effect. We don’t know what the essential qualities are, nor do we know the extent to which they depend on things like IQ that permit some sort of measurement. So when people say that innate talent is required, I’m far more interested in learning why they believe this, given the difficulty of knowing what exactly makes for a great philosopher. If they wish to use this claim to explain the distribution of characteristics of philosophers (like race or sex), then we need evidence to show why one group of people possesses a given good-philosopher-making trait more than another group, and how such differences affect one’s choice of career.

      • Irrelevant says:

        The argument seems to go like this: “Why are there relatively few ——– in this discipline?”

        “I think it’s because they’re all assholes and nobody else likes being around them.”
        “No! It’s because we’re all geniuses you couldn’t even hope to understand!”

    • I liked Richard Chappell’s comment:

      I’m not sure I fully understand this dispute, partly because people seem to be arguing against positions (e.g. effort makes no difference) that I can’t imagine anyone actually holds.

      Here are a couple of relevant-seeming truisms:
      (1) It takes training to fully develop one’s potential (including various forms of intellectual potential).
      (2) Different people have different (intellectual/philosophical) potential.

      I trust that neither of these is in dispute. So what exactly is in dispute? Is the central question about the extent to which variation amongst top performers in an area (e.g. professional philosophers) is explained by differences in individual potential vs differences in the extent to which individuals are realizing their potential (due to variation in effort, quality of training, etc.)? That seems a wide open empirical question. Perhaps the central question is instead about how common it is (amongst undergraduate students? amongst the entire population?) to have the requisite intellectual potential to become good philosophers? Or whether this is rarer, in comparative terms, than having the requisite intellectual potential to become a good biologist or chemist?

      Maybe I’m just missing something that’s obvious to everyone else, but the discourse on this topic seems of generally lower quality (less clear, less charitable, etc.) than I’d expect from philosophers. (I hope I’m not adding to the lack of charity; I’m just really confused by the whole discussion.)