Wiki Contributions


I wonder what is the optimal population size, because it seems to me that most people say either "more" or "less" (and yes, it seems strongly correlated with the political tribe), but no one ever gives an exact number. I suspect there is no optional number; that the people who say "more" or "less" will keep saying that regardless.

Too bad that more nuanced views, such as "let's have more good and competent people, but fewer evil and incompetent people" are definitely outside the Overton window. :D

We live in a culture where we now eat more meat than ever.

Yeah, I know people who eat a steak every day, and there is no way an average person could have afforded that hundred years ago.

Is there any "eat meat once a week" movement? Possibly worth supporting.

How many real numbers can be defined?

On one hand, there are countably many definitions. Each definition can be written on computer in a text file; now take its binary form as a base-256 integer.

On the other hand, Cantor's diagonal argument applies here, too. I mean, for any countable list of definable real numbers, it provides a definition of a real number that is not included in the list.

Funny, isn't it?


Asking the "right" open ended questions seems pretty powerful in leading someone astray.

It is somewhat more difficult than leading them the right way. Also, you may start the habit of thinking, which may continue after you stop asking the questions, so it no longer goes in a direction you control.

But yes, it is a question of degree. You can mislead people by:

  • bringing their attention to some things (privileging a hypothesis), and simultaneously taking it away from other things (because attention is a limited resource);
  • leveraging their existing incorrect beliefs to make them conclude wrong things even from correct data (rather than examine those beliefs);
  • and of course, it is never just asking questions, but also subtly making assumptions, etc.
Answer by ViliamSep 29, 202330

There are reasons why people keep secrets. Exposing more of yourself allows better cooperation, but also better attacks.

A partial solution is to expose yourself to your friends, and maybe expose the harmless information to the world, but keep everything else secret. But you need to consider that someone who is friendly (or seems to be friendly) today, may not be friendly tomorrow.

So, the situation with irreversibility is complicated. On one hand, yes, if someone refuses to make a record of their words, you should suspect that they are planning to deny them at some moment in future. (When your boss tells you to do something that seems fishy, but refuses to write it in e-mail or to reply to your e-mail asking for clarification or confirmation, you might consider contacting a lawyer.) A hypothetical perfectly open person would be willing to put everything in writing and post it online.

On the other hand, if there is a good reason to avoid making things public (e.g. to avoid retaliation by a third party), I would expect people to be more open when speaking privately, and more reluctant to write it down, or at least to write non-specifically. Because the alternatives to speaking openly include not just being silent, but also speaking vaguely, or telling a part of the story but avoiding another. So if a good friend writes something vague, I would expect them to be more open if I ask them privately.

With billion dollars you can probably hire better lawyers.

Do other crimes, for example murder, follow a similar pattern? Like, at some moment they might execute you, but what are they going to do if you kill 10 times more people?

Can they cancel you more if you post 10 times more offensive tweets?

Maybe everything is (sub-)logarithmic, because that's how people think.

In which case, a group of rationalist criminals should precommit that if they get caught, they will randomly choose one of them, who will accept the blame for everything.

Insanity is repeating the same quantum experiment over and over again and expecting different results.

Thinking about status reminded me of the advice "if you are the smartest person in the room, you are in a wrong room". Like, on one hand, yes, if you move to a place with people smarter than you, you will have a lot of opportunity to learn. On the other hand, maybe you were high-status in your old room, and become low-status the new room. And maybe the low status will make you feel so depressed, that you will be unable to use the new opportunity to learn (while maybe you would google something in the old room).

This of course depends on other things, such as how friendly are the people in the new room, and whether your smartness was appreciated in the old room.

(Hypothetically, the winning combination would be to surround yourself with smarter people you can learn from, and simultaneously have such a giant ego that you do not feel low-status, and simultaneously also somehow the giant ego should not get in your way of actually learning from them.)

Answer by ViliamSep 26, 202330

I am not hard working, but I had bursts of working significantly harder than usual.

Not sure how much you can benefit from my example, because I suspect that people are quite different about these things. Things that other people report working for them, or things that people use to make other people work harder, often fail completely for me.

Things that work for me:

  • autonomy
  • removing other obstacles and distractions from my life
  • do not interrupt me after I have started working
  • someone friendly I can talk to about the project

Things that "should" work for me, but actually don't:

  • external threats (they kinda work now, but it is a loan from tomorrow's work)
  • motivational speeches and platitudes
  • pomodoro, beeminder, web blockers
  • giving myself chocolate as a reward

Seems like the common theme is that external motivation does not work for me, internal motivation does, and social motivation does too if I perceive it as coming from an aligned source (but not when it is obvious manipulation or a kind of threat).

In general I procrastinate a lot with starting the work, but once I start, it feels like I could work endlessly unless I am interrupted. (When I was single and childless, I could spend an entire weekend working on my project, interrupted only by food and sleep. That kind of interruption is not a problem. Problem is the kind of interruption that requires me to solve some other problem.) Once I am interrupted, it is difficult to start again. If I am interrupted repeatedly, I begin expecting to be interrupted again, which makes it even more difficult to start.

On the dimension of "alone - not alone", I work best when you leave me alone when I need it, and provide me company when I need it. (If you had a group of people like me, a good workplace would be a small private quiet room for everyone, and a larger common room to take breaks and talk about work to each other.)

Giving myself rewards fails completely, because the reward becomes yet another thing that distracts me. (Now I have two jobs: the original job, and rationing the rewards.) I work better when I forget about possible rewards and just focus on the work. Similarly, pomodoro, beeminder, or web blockers annoy me, and then I cannot focus on my work over how annoyed I am.

EDIT: Keeping written notes makes it easier to continue the next day. Actually, even if I am going to do it right now, I sometimes write the outline first.

I need to distinguish: To-do lists, in the sense of "dozen unrelated tasks that I should all do today" do not work for me (the problem is finding the energy to actually do it), but project-oriented lists "dozen things I want to do on this specific project" are useful. (Intuitively, the "daily to-do list" is like my boss, the "project to-do" is like a colleague.)

(You probably don't want this, I am just saying it as a possible solution.)

You could simply give up on rendering math in browser and instead create images on server. You are already willing to go the extra step of using the verbosifier. Why not instead use a program that will convert the expression to image (and automatically generate the HTML tag, including the alt attribute), and use that?

You could reuse the images by putting them in a separate "images/math" directory with an automatically created filename (could be a hash function of the math expression, or just keep an external list saying that "math0000.png" corresponds to this expression), so if you use the same equation twice, you will refer in both places to the same image.

Alternatively, you could create an endpoint that generates those pictures on the fly, and in the HTML code include "math.php?expr=a^2+b^2=c^2". Then you don't need to store the images. If needed, you could still cache the most frequently used ones.

Load More