Less Wrong/2007 Articles/Summaries

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Some Claims Are Just Too Extraordinary

Publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals are more worthy of trust than what you detect with your own ears and eyes.

Outside the Laboratory

Written regarding the proverb "Outside the laboratory, scientists are no wiser than anyone else." The case is made that if this proverb is in fact true, that's quite worrisome because it implies that scientists are blindly following scientific rituals without understanding why. In particular, it is argued that if a scientist is religious, they probably don't understand the foundations of science very well.

Politics is the Mind-Killer

People act funny when they talk about politics. In the ancestral environment, being on the wrong side might get you killed, and being on the correct side might get you sex, food or let you kill your hated rival. If you must talk about politics (for the purposes of teaching rationality) use examples from the distant past. Politics is an extension of war by other means. Arguments are soldiers. Once you know which side you're on, you must support all arguments of that side, and attack all arguments that appear to favor the enemy side; otherwise it's like stabbing your soldiers in the back - providing aid and comfort to the enemy. If your topic legitimately relates to attempts to ban evolution in school curricula, then go ahead and talk about it - but don't blame it explicitly on the whole Republican Party (Democratic/Liberal/Conservative/Nationalist).

Just Lose Hope Already

Casey Serin owes banks 2.2 million dollars after lying on mortgage applications in order to simultaneously buy 8 different houses in different states. The sad part is that he hasn't given up - hasn't declared bankruptcy, and just attempted to purchase another house. While this behavior seems merely stupid, it recalls Merton and Scholes of Long-Term Capital Management who made 40% profits for three years and then lost it all when they overleveraged. Each profession has rules on how to be successful which makes rationality seem unlikely to help greatly in life. Yet it seems that one of the greater skills is not being stupid, which rationality does help with.

You Are Not Hiring the Top 1%

Policy Debates Should Not Appear One-Sided

Burch's Law

Just because your ethics require an action doesn't mean the universe will exempt you from the consequences. Manufactured cars kill an estimated 1.2 million people per year worldwide. (Roughly 2% of the annual planetary death rate.) Not everyone who dies in an automobile accident is someone who decided to drive a car. The tally of casualties includes pedestrians. It includes minor children who had to be pushed screaming into the car on the way to school. And yet we still manufacture automobiles, because, well, we're in a hurry. The point is that the consequences don't change no matter how good the ethical justification sounds.

The Scales of Justice, the Notebook of Rationality

Blue or Green on Regulation?

In a rationalist community, it should not be necessary to talk in the usual circumlocutions when talking about empirical predictions. We should know that people think of arguments as soldiers and recognize the behavior in our selves. When you think about all the truth values around you come to see that much of what the Greens said about the downside of the Blue policy was true - that, left to the mercy of the free market, many people would be crushed by powers far beyond their understanding, nor would they deserve it. And imagine that most of what the Blues said about the downside of the Green policy was also true - that regulators were fallible humans with poor incentives, whacking on delicately balanced forces with a sledgehammer.

Superstimuli and the Collapse of Western Civilization

At least 3 people have died by playing online games non-stop. How is it that a game is so enticing that after 57 straight hours playing, a person would rather spend the next hour playing the game over sleeping or eating? A candy bar is superstimulus, it corresponds overwhelmingly well to the EEA healthy food characteristics of sugar and fat. If people enjoy these things, the market will respond to provide as much of it as possible, even if other considerations make it undesirable.

Useless Medical Disclaimers

Archimedes's Chronophone

Imagine that Archimedes of Syracuse invented a device that allows you to talk to him. Imagine the possibilities for improving history! Unfortunately, the device will not literally transmit your words - it transmits cognitive strategies. If you advise giving women the vote, it comes out as advising finding a wise tyrant, the Greek ideal of political discourse. Under such restrictions, what do you say to Archimedes?

Chronophone Motivations

Self-deception: Hypocrisy or Akrasia?

Tsuyoku Naritai! (I Want To Become Stronger)

Tsuyoku vs. the Egalitarian Instinct

"Statistical Bias"

Useful Statistical Biases

The Error of Crowds

The Majority Is Always Wrong

Knowing About Biases Can Hurt People

Debiasing as Non-Self-Destruction

"Inductive Bias"

Suggested Posts

Futuristic Predictions as Consumable Goods

The Friedman Unit is named after Thomas Friedman who 8 times (between 2003 and 2007) called "the next six months" the critical period in Iraq. This is because future predictions are created and consumed in the now; they are used to create feelings of delicious goodness or delicious horror now, not provide useful future advice.

Marginally Zero-Sum Efforts

Priors as Mathematical Objects

Lotteries: A Waste of Hope

New Improved Lottery

Your Rationality is My Business

Consolidated Nature of Morality Thread

Feeling Rational

Universal Fire

Universal Law

Think Like Reality

Beware the Unsurprised

The Third Alternative

Third Alternatives for Afterlife-ism

Scope Insensitivity

One Life Against the World

Risk-Free Bonds Aren't

Correspondence Bias

Are Your Enemies Innately Evil?

Open Thread

Two More Things to Unlearn from School

Making Beliefs Pay Rent (in Anticipated Experiences)

Belief in Belief

Bayesian Judo

Professing and Cheering

Belief as Attire

Religion's Claim to be Non-Disprovable

The Importance of Saying "Oops"

Focus Your Uncertainty

The Proper Use of Doubt

The Virtue of Narrowness

You Can Face Reality

The Apocalypse Bet

Your Strength as a Rationalist

I Defy the Data!

Absence of Evidence Is Evidence of Absence

Conservation of Expected Evidence

Update Yourself Incrementally

One Argument Against An Army

Hindsight bias

Hindsight Devalues Science

Scientific Evidence, Legal Evidence, Rational Evidence

Is Molecular Nanotechnology "Scientific"?

Fake Explanations

Guessing the Teacher's Password

Science as Attire

Fake Causality

Semantic Stopsigns

Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions

The Futility of Emergence

Positive Bias: Look Into the Dark

Say Not "Complexity"

My Wild and Reckless Youth

Failing to Learn from History

Making History Available

Stranger Than History


"Science" as Curiosity-Stopper

Absurdity Heuristic, Absurdity Bias


Why is the Future So Absurd?

Anchoring and Adjustment

The Crackpot Offer

Radical Honesty

We Don't Really Want Your Participation

Applause Lights

Rationality and the English Language

Human Evil and Muddled Thinking

Doublethink (Choosing to be Biased)

Why I'm Blooking

Planning Fallacy

Kahneman's Planning Anecdote

Conjunction Fallacy

Conjunction Controversy (Or, How They Nail It Down)

Burdensome Details

What is Evidence?

The Lens That Sees Its Flaws

How Much Evidence Does It Take?

Einstein's Arrogance

Occam's Razor

9/26 is Petrov Day

How to Convince Me That 2 + 2 = 3

The Bottom Line

What Evidence Filtered Evidence?


Recommended Rationalist Reading

A Rational Argument

We Change Our Minds Less Often Than We Think

Avoiding Your Belief's Real Weak Points

The Meditation on Curiosity


No One Can Exempt You From Rationality's Laws

A Priori

Priming and Contamination

Do We Believe Everything We're Told?

Cached Thoughts

The "Outside the Box" Box

Original Seeing

How to Seem (and Be) Deep

The Logical Fallacy of Generalization from Fictional Evidence

Hold Off On Proposing Solutions

"Can't Say No" Spending

Congratulations to Paris Hilton

Pascal's Mugging: Tiny Probabilities of Vast Utilities

Illusion of Transparency: Why No One Understands You


Expecting Short Inferential Distances

Explainers Shoot High. Aim Low!

Double Illusion of Transparency

No One Knows What Science Doesn't Know

Why Are Individual IQ Differences OK?

Bay Area Bayesians Unite!

Motivated Stopping and Motivated Continuation

Torture vs. Dust Specks

A Case Study of Motivated Continuation

A Terrifying Halloween Costume

Fake Justification

An Alien God

The Wonder of Evolution

Evolutions Are Stupid (But Work Anyway)

Natural Selection's Speed Limit and Complexity Bound

Beware of Stephen J. Gould

The Tragedy of Group Selectionism

Fake Selfishness

Fake Morality

Fake Optimization Criteria

Adaptation-Executers, not Fitness-Maximizers

Evolutionary Psychology

Protein Reinforcement and DNA Consequentialism

Thou Art Godshatter

Terminal Values and Instrumental Values

Evolving to Extinction

No Evolutions for Corporations or Nanodevices

The Simple Math of Everything

Conjuring An Evolution To Serve You

Artificial Addition

Truly Part Of You

Not for the Sake of Happiness (Alone)

Leaky Generalizations

The Hidden Complexity of Wishes

Lost Purposes

Purpose and Pragmatism

The Affect Heuristic

Evaluability (And Cheap Holiday Shopping)

Is there a way to exploit human biases to give the impression of largess with cheap gifts? Yes. Humans compare the value/price of an object to other similar objects. A $399 Eee PC is cheap (because other laptops are more expensive), yet a $399 PS3 is expensive (because the alternatives are less expensive). To give the impression of expense in a gift chose a cheap class of item (say, a candle) and buy the most expensive one around.

Unbounded Scales, Huge Jury Awards, & Futurism

The Halo Effect

Superhero Bias

Mere Messiahs

Affective Death Spirals

Resist the Happy Death Spiral

Uncritical Supercriticality

Fake Fake Utility Functions

Fake Utility Functions

Evaporative Cooling of Group Beliefs

When None Dare Urge Restraint

The Robbers Cave Experiment

Misc Meta

Every Cause Wants To Be A Cult

Reversed Stupidity Is Not Intelligence

Argument Screens Off Authority

Hug the Query

Guardians of the Truth

Guardians of the Gene Pool

Guardians of Ayn Rand

The Litany Against Gurus

Politics and Awful Art

Two Cult Koans

False Laughter

Effortless Technique

Zen and the Art of Rationality

The Amazing Virgin Pregnancy

Asch's Conformity Experiment

On Expressing Your Concerns

Lonely Dissent

To Lead, You Must Stand Up

Cultish Countercultishness

My Strange Beliefs