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
Explain/Worship/Ignore?
"Science" as Curiosity-Stopper
Absurdity Heuristic, Absurdity Bias
Availability
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?
Rationalization
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
Singlethink
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
Self-Anchoring
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