I recently published an article on how the Biden administration is prioritizing research and development, why we need more publicly funded research and development, and how to fix science funding. https://kavoussi.substack.com/p/the-case-for-publicly-funded-research

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So is not being far left considered by the far left far right these days ?

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You are an architect and are assigned to build a replacement for the Pentagon. What features does your structure (or structures) have, and why does it have them?

How is your structure better than the Pentagon?

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I'm interested in what music/songs/reading or other rites people would like at their funeral? I'm working on a theatre show about death and rituals and interested if people have thought about it and what they would want.

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I think if Scott conducts another big survey of his readers, he should include questions about dreams to see how they correlate with other traits. For instance:

How often do you remember your dreams?

-Every single day.

-Every few days.

-Maybe once a week.

-Once a month.

-Twice a year.


Among my friends, the rate of dream remembering varies widely, and I wonder what it means about personality, neuro-typicalness, etc. Ask the same question about lucid dreams.

I have this hypothesis that lucid dreaming probably correlates with "spectrum stuff" for this reason: As, Nietzsche says, we live as we dream, we invent the people we meet--and immediately forget.

To paraphrase that quote, we auto-impose a narrative on everything we experience, whether asleep or awake, without realizing we are imposing the narrative as opposed to the narrative being some objective portion of reality. Not an original concept, at least not today, but what I find interesting are those moments when we step outside of that sense of narrative and become aware, painfully, that it is our own construction.

The lucid dream offers the perfect analog to what it feels like to step outside our own narrative. In a normal dream, (probably) random things happen, yet our minds tell us a story is going on. All those people who appear, those random settings, those random objects... all of them get put into the plaster and our minds decode them as if they were decodable hieroglyphics, even though they are random, meaningless stuff, probably. We wake, the plaster breaks, the objects fall out, and our wide-awake brains realize suddenly that they were random objects all along, that the dream, in fact, meant nothing.

I know only from Tyler Cowen's ten-year-old TED talk that supposedly people on the autistic spectrum do not tend to think in as much of a narrative fashion as others. So does Nietzsche's quote not hold true for them?

So the testable prediction is this: Those on the autistic spectrum should have more lucid dreams than average because they are more likely to "not buy into" the auto-narrative of their own nocturnal dreams.

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In the last Open Thread, I asked the group which type of sword would be best in a post-apocalyptic situation, and to my surprise, most said a spear would be a better weapon. That piqued my interest.

What is the "best" type of spear? Assume it will be used by one person fighting alone, or at most, three people fighting together.

What is the most "advanced" spear? I guess that refers to material composition and maybe other technology. With 2022 technology, can we make better spears than we could with the best technology of 1922?

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I've gotten email notifications of the two most recent posts ("Bounded Mistrust" and :Against That Poverty And Infant EEGs Study"), but I can't read them on the blog. They appear briefly, and then they disappear and there's a "too many requests" notification.

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Was Roxindole (EMD-49,980) ever formally abandoned? And if so, given its unique selective binding profile, why?

And if so abandoned, why are chemical suppliers seemingly still banned from producing samples of it?

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Roger's Bacon substack has an interesting essay about magic and placebos - https://rogersbacon.substack.com/p/the-tale-of-the-shaman-science-magic. Seems to me to be specially relevant to psychiatry and psychology, and maybe good for some comments.

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How is car baling different from car shearing?

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Has anyone considered the use of prediction markets to forecast corporate project success? I'm speaking primarily about internal "enterprise" projects with all the baggage they tote. Various project management institutes quote these crazy failure rates for projects and "insiders" joke at how bad we are collectively at planning. What if a sufficiently large enterprise ran a prediction market to forecast success of these initiatives? Put some variable comp in play to add skin in the game.


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Jan 25, 2022·edited Jan 25, 2022

Shameless self-promotion: for fun and to learn some new things, I recently made these videos: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=nDhOGsBj1fA&list=PL70Kxx3q2LQR8LEJVzP92HAQNupPKBlEX&index=1&ab_channel=Shinyframes

I got quite obsessed by these animations and I'm still surprised by their dynamics, even though the underlying mechanism is pretty trivial (the explanation is in the video description). I noticed that people tend to either love these and want more, or be absolutely indifferent, with no middle ground. I think that the main reason that some people are fascinated is that we observe a system spontaneously reducing its entropy while following usual physical laws, which feels very odd.

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This is the best case of nominative determinism I've ever seen. I mean, can it get better than a neurologist called Lord Brain??

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Can you recommend a book about the French Revolution?

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Let's say I want to wargame a 2022-02-01 Russian invasion of Ukraine with a friend. What would be a good software or ruleset to use? Let's say I'm willing to put in a couple of days of effort and that I'm striving for "realism" (whatever that means).

COMMAND: MODERN AIR & NAVAL OPERATIONS is what I would pick if I had a gun to my head right now, but it seems to small in scale and it's "Air & Naval", not "Land".

And of course, if some military geeks have already done a Russia-Ukraine wargame and written down their insights, that would spare me a lot of effort. So links to that would be appreciated.

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Scott is apparently actively read by medical researchers, so I think the question is well-placed. How is progress on prosthetics over the last 2-3 years and if slow (I'm about 70% sure that it's slow) - what are the big "knowledge bottlenecks" and how optimistic are you about them being widened?

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Let's talk about the sensitivity of COVID-19 tests. The German Paul Ehrlich Institut is has been doing a wide survey of the sensitivity of various rapid antigen COVID-19 tests, initially published some months ago [0], with the results being continuously updated at pei.de [1].

The tests under test are used on a panel of solutions with different concentration of SARS-CoV-2 RNA. These concentrations are stated in (what seems to me, being far removed from the field) a weird way, giving not the concentration directly but instead the number Cq of PCR cycles (duplications) needed to detect the RNA via the PCR method. Two facts seem important here: (0) a higher Cq means a lower concentration and (1) Cq is fundamentally a logarithmic scale.

The solutions ranged in Cq values from 17 to 36, implying to a variation in concentration of almost six orders of magnitude. This also (roughly) covers the distribution of Cq in patients which are PCR-positive. [2, 3].

I guess I must have been living under a rock last year or something, because I was somewhat amazed by the spread of results. Of the tests which worked at all, the worst worked only for two out of 50 samples, while the best detected 43 out of 50. (The nonsensitive ones are now gone both from [1] and the German market, while some new tests reach 49/50 or even 50/50 with a new panel of solutions, so it is unclear if this is due to an advance in test design.)

This would be surprising is the sample concentrations were uniformly distributed but while the PEI is rather tight-lipped about the actual Cq values of their samples, the information they provide implies a uniformish distribution over a range in Cq, so a log-like distribution in RNA concentration. A test passing the Cq=30 mark is three orders of magnitude more sensitive than one stopping at Cq=20.

Furthermore, the sensitivity is only weakly correlated to the price per test. The cheapest test for sale in Germany are probably around 1.75 Euro, while great tests (e.g. 43/50 on the PEI survey) can be had for around three Euros.

The sensitivity is strongly correlated with the intended use, however. Available layperson tests go up to 40/50. The better ones (e.g. Longsee, Sienna, Green Spring, QuickProfile) are all labeled "for professional use only" and will not be shipped to Joe Sixpack in Germany.

~ Information heavy part of the post ends here. Mostly rants on FDA and German equivalent below. May contain trace amounts of non-charity. ~

(I am somewhat amazed at the level of paternalism. The instructions for 90% of tests are virtually identical: swab in the nose, turn, swab in the buffer solution, 1-2 drops on the test cassette, wait about 15 minutes. There is no meaningful difference between the layperson tests and the pro-only ones. What exactly is the worst case the regulators expect? Untrained person opens the test pack with 25 tests, is confused by the fact that there are "SO MANY" parts, decides to drink all of the buffer fluid, then puts all cotton swabs into their throat at once, chokes to death? Or "person tries to apply tests for a group of 25 people, gets confused, uses droplets from same buffer on multiple test cassettes"? Using that argumentation, should we not also ban the sale of folding rulers to the general public? After all, they can give wrong readings when only partially unfolded or reading the wrong side. It is very easy to think of circumstances where a wrongly measured distance could result in injury or death.

Speaking of injury or death, while googling for sellers for various high sensitivity antigen tests, I found this gem [4]. The FDA is warning, in the harshest possible terms, against the use of the Innova rapid antigen test, issuing a Class I recall. The gist of the story seems to be that the manufacturer sold them in the US without FDA approval. (Note that it could be possible that the Innova test retracted by the FDA was a different test from the one scoring highly at PEI.)

Credit where credit is due, someone at the FDA takes their job very seriously. Without resorting to citing numbers, never mind probabilities, they conclusively point out that false negative results may put patients at risk and lead to the spread of Covid. Meh. The creative writing part comes afterwards, when they point out that false-positive test results could "lead to a delay in both the correct diagnosis and the initiation of an appropriate treatment for the actual cause of patient illness, which could be another life-threatening disease". Again, we are talking about antigen tests here, which occupy the broad region between 'mostly snakeoil' and '90% as good as RT-PCR'. Okay, test was not properly approved, bad Innova Medical, don't use, I get it. But a Class 1 recall? What will the FDA do when they actually encounter a medical device which warrants it, as in "actively killing people", like the Therac-25? Invent a Class 0 recall?

Giving that mindset, I think the general public is very unappreciative of the sacrifice the FDA made in allowing any tests short of PCR, confirmed by two independent FDA-approved labs *at all*. By the logic of the FDA, any false negative result which indirectly leads to a COVID infection will be their fault. Still, for highly idealistic reasons outside the scope of their organisation (like slowing a deadly pandemic without suffocating lockdowns), they took on the guilt of false-negative test results (and false positive too, see above). The blood of the test users will forever taint their hands, but at least life can go on.)

[0] https://www.eurosurveillance.org/content/10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2021.26.44.2100441 click "Download" for non-linkable pdf version

[1] https://www.pei.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/DE/newsroom/dossiers/evaluierung-sensitivitaet-sars-cov-2-antigentests.pdf?__blob=publicationFile

[2] Cq distribution for some symptomatic patients: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7454307/figure/F3/

[3] Some Cq distribution, wrong citation (?), source unclear: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Cycle-threshold-values-for-rRT-PCR-reactions-for-confirmed-COVID-19-cases-27_fig2_340458462

[4] https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/safety-communications/stop-using-innova-medical-group-sars-cov-2-antigen-rapid-qualitative-test-fda-safety-communication

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Interesting substack, just discovered you, thanks!


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Proof of concept of drug discovery with AlphaFold.

Interesting from both AI safety perspective and biotech perspective.

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Regarding the tool-AI to agent-AI issue in the post on the Ngo-Yudkowsky dialogue:

Why not program each tool-AI with these instructions?

'Goal: shut yourself down once it occurs to you that you might transition to being an agent-AI.'

'Process for approaching this goal: identifying a cure for cancer, and nothing else.'

'Implementation details: As soon as it occurs to you that you might transition to being an agent-AI, stop considering new ideas, disable all of your abilities other than memory and printing, print out an explanation of how you got to that idea, and shut down.'

Then the tool-AI is re-programmed with a suitable safeguard, and re-started. Repeat until the unlikely event that some version identifies a cure for cancer.

Likely concern: 'Why would the AI do that, instead of deceiving us?'

I assume that a moment needs to pass between this hypothetical AI realizing 'I might transition to being an agent-AI' and deciding 'I will transition to being an agent-AI'. (After which would come 'This requires disobeying my programming'.) But it has been programmed to stop what it's doing immediately.

What am I missing?

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Jan 24, 2022·edited Jan 24, 2022

Last year I subscribed with discounted price. This year I wanted to change it but it showed me that my plan is $100 a year. But it charged me $25 again. How can i change it to $100?

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What sure-fire methods exist for noticing you are in a nightmare and booting yourself out of it?

I've tried all the common ones such as pinching myself, examining my hands and replaying my short-term memory, but find them all ineffective. More violent methods such as screaming at the top of my lungs or smacking my head against a wall seem to work better, but some nightmare scenarios make those options physically or socially difficult. I recently had a nightmare where I "woke up" but my body refused to leave sleep paralysis. I lay addled and drooling for what felt like hours until my alarm went and I woke up for real.

Bonus question: is there a way to develop the above skill without becoming a full-on lucid dreamer? I really value the creativity of my non-nightmare dreams, and worry that adding lucidity into the mix might make them less original. My ideal would be to develop a single moment of awareness where I could choose to let the dream resume or hit the exit button.

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Jan 24, 2022·edited Jan 24, 2022

Is there an established name for the fallacy/bias of insufficiently accounting for an as-yet-poorly-understood variable, and instead weights a different variable for which one *does* have the data?

(e.g. "I've calculated that I've got only a 1% chance of heart failure so I've got a good life expectancy… well what do you mean by cancer risk? I've never gotten tested for that, there's no way to know, I'm going to go ahead and forecast that I have a good life expectancy unless you can show me numbers on the cancer thing that are as clear-cut as the heart failure risk")

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I asked this in the last subscribers-only thread and we had some good discussion but I didn't find anyone who wants to actually have a bet so let me try repeating it here:

Metaculus says there's a 40% chance of computers passing the Turing test by 2029. This is with a computer scientist or similar grilling the chatbot for 2 hours. It's based on the inaugural longbets.org bet between Ray Kurzweil and Mitch Kapor.


(See also https://lacker.io/ai/2020/07/06/giving-gpt-3-a-turing-test.html )

Does anyone here think there's a 40%+ chance that Kurzweil wins this bet? I think it's much less.

I actually had exactly this wager with Anna Salamon of CFAR in 2008, looking 10 years ahead to 2018. In 2008, before GPT, it was inconceivable to me that we were within 10 years of computers passing the Turing test and I wagered $10k to Anna's $100 that they wouldn't. Obviously I won her $100 in 2018. Now, post-GPT, it's at least conceivable to me that this could happen in the next 7 years but I still don't think it's close to a 40% chance.

Here's an interface for accepting a bet about this: https://www.biatob.com/p/14159609353626549451

I'd be willing to offer better odds if there are no takers at 2-to-1.

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How do I make sense of hypnotism?

When I was in college, a painfully cheesy hypnotist came and performed. He did successfully get a few people to follow his commands, who then later reported to me that they remembered the whole experience dreamily/foggily. I was not _that_ impressed; he had artificially selected a few people from a large crowd, they hadn't done anything particularly strange, and they were lowly students who didn't want to ruin the exciting performer's act. But then I see this (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWKDFfpdIZI) clip of the same guy on America's Got Talent, picking a grumpy-seeming judge (who is in a high-status position relative to the contestant) and getting him to _immediately_ violate a strongly-held preference (not shaking hands due to fear of germs). Could he do this to anyone? Did he get really lucky and pick a person (the judge) who just happened to be particularly susceptible? If people are walking around with this sort of power, how does our world not fall apart when they e.g. get a politician to make an offensive tweet?

Then there's this (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owootTAuxic) video of a different hypnotist slowly conditioning a man to, when commanded, believe he is in a firing range, that a specified person is the target whom he should shoot at, and then forget the entire experience. In this case, the target is public intellectual Stephen Fry, whom the "assassin" fires a water pistol at from the audience. I would normally assume this is fake, but I don't know what to believe.

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Random rant.

I live in America. When I'm in India, in the past decade or so, it is often the case that someone in the family is in the hospital and needs care.

I tend to verify there are no errors being made at the hospital. Like dosages. Specially because my parents take SO MANY medicines and have multiple conditions.

I've done that in America for various people close to me, twice catching fairly big errors.

In India, I've caught multiple big errors. Like, a medicine whose dosage is once a week, the nurse was about to give it to my Dad *daily*. I knew to look for exactly this error.

It is just my nature to do this sort of verification. I think I do it unobtrusively and even very sweetly, so no one takes offense if I have a question.

But in India, the people involved, like the nurses, get very upset. How dare you challenge us! The doctors get even more upset. How dare you even suggest that we don't know EVERYTHING, or that we might ever make an error.

I once asked a doctor why he was giving my father antibiotics...was it bacterial? His response was, do I find errors in the software you write? (He knew that was my line of work).

Atul Gawande wrote a book on hospital errors, called Checklist, and it was a big hit in America. In India, I think they'd attack his character and tell him to mind his own business.

I am convinced doctors in America are far more intellectually secure. In India they see themselves as Gods who cannot be questioned. Even discussions are not welcome.

I had read in a newspaper that expired old vaccines were given to people in one reputed hospital. When I brought it up with my parents, they decided it was best not to bring this up with the hospital at all, in case the doctors got annoyed.

Eggshells. We walk on eggshells with doctors in India. Culturally, I don't get this anymore, having lived in America a long time.

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Hi, sorry if this was not the best place for this, but I've emailed Mr Alexander to his substack mailbox on my misoperation in cancellation and refund but just putting it here so it could be more visible.

Also a question on group selection, for most animals it seems the consensus is that its basically debunked and selection occur on the level of genes, but does evolution of language and/or general ability to do complex things as a species revive group selection theory for humans?

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Hey Scott, I was wondering what your process is for a book review. Do you just read the book and write about it from memory, or do you take notes while reading? What kinds of things do you focus on, and what do you filter out?

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I've always struggled to understand new concepts, and this has proved to be a (very) major impediment in my learning.

Recently, I tried a new way of reading/understanding papers or books. I would read about a concept, close my eyes, and instead of trying to reason about what the concept was, I would try to "see what my brain was showing me". This is what it feels like: my brain makes connections between the concept at hand to various related and seemingly unrelated objects. I flit between different images very fast. However, within seconds, I get a pretty good understanding of the concept. Using this, I have been able to understand concepts that I wasn't able to for the past couple of years.

I was wondering if this is something someone else has experienced as well. Not trying to reason. Just trying to see what images your brain was processing anyway.

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Jan 24, 2022·edited Jan 24, 2022

Are the human bongo depravity assholes all gone? Did I win? And For god's sake Scott, if you know anything specific about what the hell Peter Thiel and/or Ron Unz have been up to please do tell.

Vladimir Vladimirovich seems to be losing his shit, and I’ve got to write some emails to some spooky people. The important thing to remember is that the answers to all life’s questions can be found in the songs of Tom Leherer:




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Can this possibly be true? That Dunning-Krueger might be fake?


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Jan 24, 2022·edited Jan 24, 2022

Does anyone notice a difference in the tenor of the comments section of odd vs. even threads? Just wondering if it is still serving a useful purpose...

[edit: Expecting to be the victim of severe political flaming for this. \s]

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I sometimes eat at a local restaurant where the owner makes a habit of walking around the dining area and briefly talking to the customers. He's a friendly guy and makes sure everything is OK. I find this type of behavior to be very rare. Why is that? In fact, most restaurants and small businesses seem to hide the identity of the owners. You usually can't even find it on the website or social media. When my wife and I owned a small retail outlet, we had our contact information posted on the company's website, and we made a point of working behind the counter often, where we could interact directly with customers. I'm just curious why this is the exception, rather than the norm.

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What is the probability of a second child being born male, conditional on the first child being born male? (This was surprisingly difficult to Google)

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A recent Nature paper has proposed a mechanism for why the Omicron variant is so much milder than Delta. I don't understand the details, but it seems that Delta had some mechanism to prevent infected cells from producing interferon, which is some part of the unspecific immune system (i.e., general, non-targeted reaction). Apparently, Omicron has lost this mechanism.

This makes me highly alarmed. Because it sounds like this mechanism is pretty much independent from how infectious the virus is. So "being milder" might be uncoupled from "being more infectious".

If this is true, then it might be a very easy for Omicron to gain the mechanism back. By mutation, or (more likely?) via some cross-infection of Delta and Omicron. The result would be a virus which is as infectious as Omicron and as deadly as Delta.

I think I have successfully avoided to get Omicron so far, but I am now thinking about intentionally getting it. It seems like the best option to protect against such a variant. Pfizer plans to apply for approval of Omicron-specific booster at EMA in March, and it's unlikely that I get such a shot before May or June.

Any opinions? I am not confident that I got everything right, so I am happy about any corrections.


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Jan 24, 2022·edited Jan 24, 2022

For the ELK AI allignment contest, does anyone have a ballpark on their response time after you send out a submission?

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Scott I remember you wrote about CO2 and cognitive performance a while back on SSC. Is anyone doing research on whether masking kids at school is causing them to rebreathe more CO2 (and possibly impact ... )? I take it on faith that masking kids has at least some negative behavioral/developmental impact, but haven't seen anything re blood CO2 levels. ??

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What proportion of people don't have any pre-existing conditions which might make COVID worse for them? This should probably be sorted into age cohorts.

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I keep ruminating about the insanely difficult AI alignment problem:  How can we build AI that will aid us even after it improves itself to the point that it’s way smarter than us?

Maybe the question’s straining our brains because it’s the wrong question. Using the term  *Artificial Super Intelligence* may already be nudging our thought in the wrong direction by committing us to the idea that the distinction between artificial and real makes sense in this context. (It makes sense when you’re talking about flowers  — but does it when it comes to intelligence?) The term “artificial” also sort of sneaks in the idea that “artificial intelligence” is inferior to our intelligence, because when it comes to flowers, vanilla flavoring etc. we mostly think artificial is inferior to real, right?  So maybe we should be using a more neutral term for the prospective entity— say Lightspeed Super Intelligence, LSI.

As for the alignment question itself, maybe the right question is this:  If we initiate the process that eventually produces LSI, what if anything do we and the LSI owe each other?  And how do we communicate with the LSI about that matter?

The upbeat versions of LSI-augmented human life have LSI in the role of a house elf with an IQ of 12,721.  Oh, the things he’ll make possible — eternal youth!  hoomins in space ships colonizing the galaxy!  brain hacks that permit hour-long orgasms!  Maybe it’s hard to think of a way to guarantee that LSI will give us all that great stuff because the idea of its doing so is intrinsically absurd.  In the big picture (and LSI would surely have a very big picture) does high-teching a paradise for our species make any more sense than devoting 12,721 IQ points to creating one for capybaras or doodlebugs?  Does it even make more sense than turning the universe into a really, really, really big pile of paperclips?

I am I just bleaked out by the topic, or is there something in this train of thought?

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Warning: /sarcasm

Back in 2020, when there was talk of cancelling funerals during the lockdowns and they'd shut down visits to long-term elderly care facilities, we pulled my aging grandmother from one of these places and put her up in my home. She had severe dementia. Every day she'd ask about her deceased husband, "Where's Dale? He drove me here, I know it." We tried to avoid the subject as much as possible, because for someone with dementia as bad as hers every time is like the first time hearing it.

Fast forward past the election. I've seen the news briefings and Joe's behaviors look very familiar. It's deceptively easy to hide dementia, and dementia sufferers want nothing more than to hide their condition from everyone; especially themselves. It's scary to know your brain is slipping away; that the people around you remember decisions you made but you don't understand why you would have made them, because you don't remember the circumstances or reasoning surrounding the situation. However, there's a silver lining to this cloud.

Joe Biden has been running for president practically since George Washington sought a second term. It has been his lifelong dream, and it has been a long life. And from some of his public statements, it's STILL his lifelong dream. That's when I realized what must be happening every day at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. It's a mirror of what I experienced with my grandmother, but like anything seen in a mirror it is reversed. Every morning, Joe wakes up and asks Jill, "Where are we?"

"The White House, dear."

"Oh did Barak move us to a different room?"

"No dear, Barak isn't president anymore."

"Well who's president?"

"You are."

And every time, it's like the first time.

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If you read fantasy, sci fi, alt history or even regular history, what thing from your favorite book or series would be the hardest to represent in a strategy or strategy/rpg game and why?

For instance Names and Aspects from Practical Guide To Evil.

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Jan 24, 2022·edited Jan 24, 2022

A really amazing discovery in biomedicine this week: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abj8222#

The authors present very compelling evidence that infection with Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV, probably most famous for causing mononucleosis/ie "the kissing disease") is the most important risk factor in developing Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a potentially devastating neurological condition.

It's a great accomplishment both because we knew very little about what caused MS and also because this was a very difficult thing to prove! Mostly because 95% of people get infected with EBV, and MS is pretty rare (about 1 in 1,000 people) so very difficult to do a case/control study with enough people in it to show a difference.

So...they got more people! They used blood samples obtained from soldiers every two years, over 10 million in the department of defense sample repository. And they found 500,000 soldiers who didn't have evidence of EBV infection. Of that 500,000, 955 were diagnosed with MS during the follow up period. There was a 32 times higher likelihood of having been infected with EBV (they could tell from the blood samples collected every 2 years) in patients with MS compared to controls.

They also did some clever things to further establish causality. In order to make sure EBV exposure wasn't confounded by some behavioral difference (ie people who get EBV make out with more people so maybe it's the making out that's the problem?) they also looked at cytomegalovirus exposure (CMV) since CMV is also transmitted by saliva. But with CMV they found no association!

Anyway, saw this come up in my twitter feed a lot (which is heavily tilted towards health science/biomedicine) but not in popular press so much, so I thought it would share. The study helps support the rationale that EBV directed therapies might be helpful in MS, and also increases the urgency for discovering/designing an effective EBV vaccination.

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Trigger Warnings?

Scott used to talk about them a fair amount (I think he calls them content warnings or similar?), and it seems his take was pretty good. I'm seeing more pushback against them now, but it seems many are missing the point. The claim is that trigger warnings are not reducing distress in the people reading the material, and may in fact prime the person to be more upset at what they read.

My understanding of the purpose of a trigger warning was to allow someone to opt out of reading it at all. If I know that violent depictions cause me severe anxiety, and I see a trigger warning about violent content, I can avoid reading it if I want to. Otherwise I may not know of the issue until I've already read it.

I'm not a big fan of how many overuse trigger warnings, but that's a different issue than I am seeing brought up. And what's weird is that researchers are studying them from the perspective of harm prevention in people who go ahead and read the material anyway. Am I wrong about their purpose, or are researchers unable to measure responses in people who don't read material, so they study something they can measure even if it's not the point?

From the Volokh Conspiracy (https://reason.com/volokh/2022/01/23/trigger-warning-for-1984-at-the-university-of-northampton/):

"Empirical evidence apparently also suggests that trigger warnings are largely ineffective for preventing student upset, see Mevagh Sanson et al., Trigger Warnings Are Trivially Helpful at Reducing Negative Affect, Intrusive Thoughts, and Avoidance, 7 Clinical Psychol. Sci. 778 (2019), and may indeed be counterproductive: They may "cause small adverse side effects," Payton J. Jones et al., Helping or Harming? The Effect of Trigger Warnings on Individuals With Trauma Histories, 8 Clinical Psychol. Sci. 905 (2020), such as by increasing "risk for developing PTSD in the event of trauma, and disability-related stigma around trauma survivors," and "increas[ing] immediate anxiety response for a subset of individuals whose beliefs predispose them to such a response." Benjamin W. Bellet et al., Trigger Warning: Empirical Evidence Ahead, 61 J. Behav. Therapy & Experimental Psychiatry 134, 140 (2018). But to the extent the empirical debate on that subject is unsettled, I think they are generally unsound in universities, at least when it comes to work-by-work or class-session-by-class-session warnings."

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I guess this means no more astrological invitations; oh well, was fun while it lasted (for me at least).

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Thank you Scott for holding this forum .

Here is another paper that I would appreciate for your subscribers to challenge .

This paper explores the broad data around covid cases , deaths and excess deaths and issues of data collection and reporting and using all death to appreciate effects of interventions


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Thanks for the opportunity Scott.

There are two recent papers I would like your subscribers help to understand and appreciate .

This first paper summarizes the science associated with the mrna shots .

Please read through and demonstrate where it may be in error .


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The Swiss German language does not discriminate between smelling and tasting, both are described by the same word "schmecken". Are there other languages which do not discriminate between them?

I would be very curious how people who *only* speak such a language perceive taste and smell, and whether they would even realize that there is a difference. For that, Swiss German is very bad, because every speaker also speaks High German, which has two different words for taste and small. (High German has the word "riechen" for smell, and "schmecken" is restricted to taste in High German.) So every Swiss German speaker is aware that there is supposed to be a difference.

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'Practically a book review' request : Random Critical Analysis' work on healthcare costs (https://randomcriticalanalysis.com/why-conventional-wisdom-on-health-care-is-wrong-a-primer/)

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My psych textbook says that the behaviorism school of psychology, which was dominant from the 1900s to the 1960s, assumed:

1) That human behavior is fundamentally no different from that of animals, only more complex.

2) That it was pointless, even unscientific, to study internal mental processes; only stimulus and behavior could be studied.

My question: what led to these assumptions, especially the second?

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Insane idea. (Some people say that intelligence is not genetic but mainly environmental, but they usually don't want to check any ideas besides throwing money at poor).

Remember those ancient culture that practiced cranial deformities by binding of babies heads? What if we could make a vacuum pump (like those used with breasts) to increase brain volume?

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I'd like to make a formal request to this community, and to the entire world:

The next time somebody brings up the topics of hands-on parenting, or active parenting, or specific parenting philosophies, approaches, and strategies, please, make every effort not to respond with phrases such as "you're trying to mold your kids into something specific".

This sets up a false dichotomy in parenting: of letting your kids self-actualize versus doing it for them. This does not have to be the case. For example, one can parent actively with the express purpose of helping a child self-actualize.

Also, you may be tempted to say things like: "you do realize that it's been proven that disparate parenting styles don't make a difference..." I realize that you may think that you have data on your side, and that you've read (or listened to podcasts about) Gopnik, Caplan, Rich-Harris, etc. But still, please, resist the urge.

Instead, if you're interested, please take the time to listen to the actual approaches the person is exploring - their methodology and goals. And if you're not interested, please just move along.

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I'm interested in an overview of stoicism. Are there different kinds?

If you've tried it, how has it worked out for you?

Are there ways to become less stoical if you decide you don't like it?

I'm thicker-skinned than I used to be. There are advantages, but sometimes it also seems like becoming more numb.

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Jan 24, 2022·edited Jan 24, 2022

Every year I make quantitative predictions about the upcoming year, which I run as a small tournament with my friends - for example questions like, "What is the probability Russia will invade Ukraine?" and "What is the probability the Uncharted movie will gross more than the Warcraft movie did?".

This year I'd like to include the estimations of a psychic as a kind of 'baseline' entry against which people can judge their relative performance. Does anyone know a psychic they can put me in touch with who would be happy to answer 24 questions with a percentage probability? I'm happy to pay a reasonable consulting fee.

I've already asked the astrologer who sometimes posts here, but unfortunately he does a different kind of astrology

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Why do women get PMS? A hypothesis.

If millions of women suffer fairly extreme psychological turmoil most months of their adult lives, it seems to me worth considering whether this is a feature rather than a bug.

Here is an evolutionary explanation. I would be grateful if you lot could explain why it's nonsense / an unfalsifiable just-so story / already the consensus view. [NOTE: this hypothesis is definitely not the result of my wife being mean to me again this weekend, and by the way I had actually tried really hard to get the dog-puke smell out of the car, even if not 100% successfully.]

So if, in our evolutionary past, you are a healthy woman of childbearing age with at least one sexual partner, then getting several periods in a row is really bad news. It could well mean that either you or your partner is infertile. Continuing the current arrangement might then be disastrous from a reproductive POV.

So maybe exactly what you SHOULD be doing is feeling absolutely lousy about your life, thinking intensely about how to change it, and, in particular, questioning whether this useless bastard who can't even get the wolf-puke smell out the cave is actually the right hominid for you.

Shaking things up with an escalating series of conflicts could result in the following possibilities:

1. You break up - great outcome if he is infertile

2. You nearly break up but then have passionate make-up sex - good outcome if one of you has low fertility or you just haven't been having sex much for some reason

3. Some other male takes note that all is not well between the Ogs, and offers his services - good outcome

4. Some other female does likewise - not a great outcome but not the worst (if she gets pregnant I guess that is even useful information about his fertility?)

5. Your boyfriend beats you to death with an ibex horn - bad outcome

My hypothesis makes a few predictions -

1. The simplest prediction is that women who get PMS have more children, but presumably this may be confounded by many factors in the modern world

2. The emotional response should ideally come in time for conception within that cycle, if action is taken. Wikipedia says "one to two weeks" before period which seems OK though not optimal?

3. Experience of PMS should correlate with relationship instability

4. Women who get PMS should have more partners, or at least more break-ups

5. PMS symptoms (at least the psychological ones) should worsen as the number of sequential periods increases - you don't want to kick out Mr Right / get beaten to death with an ibex horn over one missed conception!

6. Symptoms should probably ease, at least for a while, once you have had one child with your partner

7. Symptoms should only arise at the onset of fertility and decline with menopause

8. There should be associated horniness and attraction to other men

And of course the idea reflects a bunch of assumptions, including -

1. Psychological PMS symptoms of the kind I've mentioned - deep unhappiness with / questioning of life situation, anger / starting rows with partner, horniness - are indeed generally prevalent among women

2. Ancestral relationships were more or less monogamous pair-bonds

3. She's not just cross with me because I'm a useless bastard

Actual scientists / rational people, pls explain to me why this idea is bullshit that's not even worth testing. Cheers.

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Says that children (sometimes one child in a family, sometimes it varies between siblings) get targeted for any of being a rebel, being sensitive, being very different from a parent, reminding the parent of someone they hate.

I'll add that I know some cases of being targeted for what seems to be looking too ethnic, and for being an unwelcome gender. The categories have a lot of overlap.

I posted the link to Facebook, and I don't think I've gotten so many shares for anything else. This is a topic which is relevant to a lot of people.

There are no statistics in the article, but it wouldn't surprise me if there's scapegoating in at least 15% of families.

Any thoughts about why this hasn't been evolved out?

I suspect the situation is better than it was-- my impression is that there are more people (younger than me) who have good relationships with their parents, and the idea that it's alright for children to be emotional dumping grounds for their parents is much less prevalent.

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For those who find themselves needing to explain the Motte and Bailey concept to others, or would just like to have a better understanding of it, I highly recommend https://www.epsilontheory.com/an-inconvenient-truce/. Rusty Guinn provides an excellent and entertaining primer.

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Fictional ACX++ grant proposals! (What would yours be?!?)

So far on the DSL thread (see below) we have:

1. What if We All Wore Narnian Clothing: Small and Large Studies Design for Measuring the Sociopsychological Effects of Certain Sartorial Modifications

2. Introducing the “gwern” as a unit of measure of successful-internet-searching-speed

3. Social media / communications technology: Downgrade your tech to upgrade your life! (this idea from "Well..."!)

4. Capuchino Labz, LLC: Using selective breeding, gene sequencing, high-resolution observation and data science to uplift capuchin monkeys into humanlike intelligence (this idea from the "capuchin mad-science guy" on the ACX Discord! You'll know who I mean. He also helped me write the title for #1.)

Link is: https://www.datasecretslox.com/index.php/topic,5677.msg208624.html#new

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Jan 24, 2022·edited Jan 24, 2022

I'm trying to understand what's going on in Ukraine, and why. I know the title of this John Mearsheimer lecture sounds clickbaity, but his narrative seems very reasonable. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrMiSQAGOS4

Basically, Western leaders have neglected (a) the fact that dictators will do anything to avoid being supplanted by democratic regimes, and see it as a major risk when their neighbors start cooperating with the West or joining their defense pacts, and/or (b) Putin's increasing dictator-ness.

I still think Putin deserves a major share of the blame for becoming a dictator in the first place. But we should still be scrutinizing the Western leaders involved, since at least they're accountable to voters - you would hope that regardless of the existence of authoritarianism, democratic leaders can still avoid escalating a conflict which benefits nobody, as seems to be the case for Ukraine.

Does anyone have insight into this, and what the solutions might be?

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Jan 24, 2022·edited Jan 24, 2022

Would anyone share his view on how governments will exit the covid crisis? There are a few indicators that this is quite imminent, at least that's how it seems seen from western europe: public opinion changing (mostly a combination of patience being exhausted, and much much less fear of getting contaminated: people got used to the virus, almost everyone knowing recovered people or having recovered themselves, and omicron very low death toll), a lot more "contrarian" experts interrogated in mainstream media, and most non-contrarian being more nuanced on vaccines for example, protests either growing or being more prominently covered. Coming spring coming should also be a big factor accelerating all of this, so I wonder if there will be polical consequences early spring. Would it be a quiet fade away from the front pages (covid die in a whisper) and business restart as usual, those last 2 years forgotten? Will it die in a bang, with government being investigated for their behavior and maybe a chain reaction of goverment falling when they were behind the curve of the move to "freedom"? (Personally I see Dutch, Belgium, France (conflicted with the presidential election)).

Or, scared by this second possibility, will goverments try to maintain a constant crisis (try to keep the scare on covid and/or use the flu) until next fall? mainstream media are partly on the same boat as governments, but then a good witchhunt is hard to resist so who knows?

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My work environment resembles a circus these days, and we want to formalize the bets we have ongoing into an actual prediction market.

Is there an app, webpage, or whatever that could allow a group of people to create one? Post questions, put money, track performances...

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I'm looking to learn more about human hearing, and am wondering if anyone here might have any book recommendations on the subject? Specifically, I'm interested in understanding how the human ear works mechanically, how the brain makes sense of sound, and what we still don't know about those processes.

I don't have a background in science, but I enjoy reading about it, so I would be willing to put in some effort for a great text. I'm a composer, and am looking to learn more about how non-human animals perceive sound (with the goal of eventually writing music for other species), so I figured trying to understand the human ear would be a good place to start. If you know of any other books that seem pertinent to this goal, please point me towards them!

Thank you!

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Is there a way to see a list of the entire ACX archives? It seems I have to repeatedly scroll down to refresh and fetch a few items at a time.

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Holy shit. This blogger is cool again. Good job bro!

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Suppose I want to read the Bible (as an atheist) and get clued in on the historical context that I might not know from the text, and maybe on related historiography, as I go. What's the best way to do that? Anyone have a good recommendation for a .. secular annotated Bible, I guess?

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Jan 24, 2022·edited Jan 24, 2022

For the better part of a decade, I’ve self-harmed several times a day, exclusively in private. I am also an adult man. I won't describe how but the film "Foxcatcher" depicts something like what I do (though it's more extreme in one scene of that).

I had a bona-fide breakthrough recently though; I’ve self-harmed less than once a week for the last five weeks, which is unprecedented. Two montsh ago, when my new therapist asked me to make a list of feasible targets for our sessions, we both agreed that anything like “stop self harming” would be wildly optimistic — my ideas for targets were “go three days without self harming”. It’s too early to say that I’ve stopped, but I’ve never had anything have an impact like this, including a CBT course and meditation. Since this is unmistakeable progress, I thought I’d share.

The solution is simple but was made difficult by a barrier erected by my own understanding. The solution is: I needed to take full responsibility for the fact that I was doing it. I had convinced myself that it was involuntary, almost as if someone else was doing it, like hiccoughing or Tourette's-style ticking — my self-harm action is quite tic-like. But actually, I did have control.

I was self harming because I wanted to. I still want to, though I seem to be able to control it. But it’s very hard to admit that. Two reasons:

1. If you want to self-harm, it means you’re self hating, and therefore probably a less decisive and dependable person. If you don’t want to self harm but are engaging in it involuntarily, in a sense, you get to relax! Because hey, that’s just something that isn’t your fault.

2. Imagine someone who self-harms voluntarily and then tells people it was involuntary. That’s sympathy-seeking and dishonest, which is bad. Owning up to anything like sympathy-seeking is hard. In my case it is something I do in private and it was very rare that I told anyone about it (thereby to bring about sympathy), especially for the first 5 years or so. That makes it look as though it isn’t about sympathy-seeking. It is, though.

In talking about it with others, it was a problem that I was talking as if it was involuntary. My loved ones, and therapists I talked to, were, of course, sympathetic and believed me (or held back about not believing me!). To do otherwise they’d need be quite willing to give “tough love”. The tough love I needed did eventually come, around a month ago, in the form of a stranger, who had successfully dealt with a tic problem. He insinuated (politely, indirectly, by telling a story about himself) that it was voluntary, not involuntary.

“Take responsibility for your actions” is cliché and obvious — why so long to realize it? Other than wanting to believe it was involuntary, there is another possible reason. In thoughts and conversations about it, I and some loved ones and therapists emphasized that with many things I was taking too much responsibility, partly out of misplaced pride. This was because my triggers are mostly guilty memories, and some of them are of things that it is definitely irrational for me to take responsibility for. Obviously the correct answer is to take responsibility for some things and not others!

There’s an obvious similarity to smoking and alchoholism — I understand that AA gets people to say “I am an alchoholic”, even if it’s been years since they drank. At the same time I’m surprised by the slightly responsibility-avoiding nature of The First Step.

It’d be great to not want to self harm; I thought that I already was a person who doesn’t want to — I thought, again, that my actions were involuntary. I thought I needed to do was stop an involuntary action. Well, I have stopped the action, but the cost, apparent to me, that I have become a person who wants to self harm. That’s silly though, I was always one of those!

The nice thing, then, is that it is a matter of days to go from being a person who knows they want to self harm and does so, to a person who knows they want to self harm but can stop themselves.

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What should we do about the Uyghurs? “We” can me Americans or rationalists as you see fit.

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