Less Wrong/2007 Articles/Summaries
Publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals are more worthy of trust than what you detect with your own ears and eyes.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.