What it says on the tin.
I edited a transcript of a 1.5h conversation, and it was 10.000 words. That’s roughly 1⁄8 of a book. Realising that a day of conversations can have more verbal content than half a book(!) seems to say something about how useless many conferences are, and how incredibly useful they could be.
In conversation, you can adjust your speech to your partner. Don’t waste time explaining things they already know; but don’t skip over things they don’t. Find examples and metaphors relevant to their work. Etc.
When talking to a group of people, everyone is at a different place, so no matter how you talk, it will be suboptimal for some of them. Some will be bored, some will misunderstand parts. Some parts will be uninteresting for some of them.
Yup. I think it follows that when people do talk to groups in that way, they’re not primarily aiming to communicate useful information in an optimal manner (if they were, there’d be better ways). They must be doing something else.
Plausible candidates are: building common knowledge and signalling of various kinds .
Just because talking to a group is not optimal for an average group member, it could still be close to optimal for some of them (the audience that the speaker had in mind when preparing the speech), and could maximize the total knowledge—as a toy model, instead of one person getting 10 points of knowledge, there are ten people getting 5, 4, 3, 3, 2, 2, 2, 1, 1, 1 points of knowledge, each number smaller than 10 but their sum 24 is greater than 10; in other words, we are not optimizing for the individual’s input, but for the speaker’s output.
But building common knowledge seems more likely. The advantage of speech is that everyone knows that everyone at the same lecture heard the same explanation; which allows later debates among the audience. If you read a book alone, you don’t know who else did.
And of course, signaling such as “this person is considered an expert (or has sufficiently high status so that everyone pretends they are an expert) by both the organizers and the audience”. I would assume that the less information people get from the lecture, the stronger the status signaling.
Is the implied background claim that conferences are useless, and with this comment, you’re remarking that it’s sunk in how especially sad that is?
Something something about how many words you have if you’re doing in-person communication.
No, it’s just me being surprised about how much information conversation can contain (I expected the bandwidth to be far lower, and the benefits mostly to be due to quick feedback loops). Combine that with personal experience of attending bad conferences and lame conversations, and things seem sad. But that’s not the key point.
Really like your post. (Also it’s crazy if true that the conversational upper bound decreases by 1 if people are gossiping, since they have to model the gossip subject.)
Someone tried to solve a big schlep of event organizing.
Through this app, you:
Pledge money when signing up to an event
Lose it if you don’t attend
Get it back if you attend + a share of the money from all the no-shows
For some reason it uses crypto as the currency. I’m also not sure about the third clause, which seems to incentivise you to want others to no-show to get their deposits.
Anyway, I’ve heard people wanting something like this to exist and might try it myself at some future event I’ll organize.
H/T Vitalik Buterin’s Twitter
That’s an interesting idea. The crypto thing I’m sure gets some niche market more easily but does make it so that I have less interest in it.
I’m not even sure if it gets the niche market easily. Most crypto people don’t use their crypto for dapps or payments
I had that idea!
Assurance contracts are going to turn us into a superorganism, for better or worse. You heard it here first.
Does seem promising
What important book that needs fact-checking is nobody fact-checking?
The Sequences could use a refresher possibly.
Deep Work was my immediate thought after Elizabeth’s spot check.
Maybe “The End of Banking: Money, Credit, and the Digital Revolution”
Blackberries and bananas
Here’s a simple metaphor I’ve recently been using in some double-cruxes about intellectual infrastructure and tools, with Eli Tyre, Ozzie Gooen, and Richard Ngo.
Short people can pick blackberries. Tall people can pick both blackberries and bananas. We can give short people lots of training to make them able to pick blackberries faster, but no amount of blackberries can replace a banana if you’re trying to make banana split.
Similarly, making progress in a pre-paradigmatic field might require x number of key insights. But are those insights bananas, which can only be picked by geniuses, whereas ordinary researchers can only get us blackberries?
Or, is this metaphor false, such that having a certain number of non-geniuses + excellent tools, we can actually replicate geniuses?
This has implications for the impact of rationality training and internet intellectual infrastructure, as well as what versions of those endeavours are most promising to focus on.
Had a good conversation with elityre today. Two nuggets of insight:
If you want to level up, find people who seem mysteriously better than you at something, and try to learn from them.
Work on projects which are plausibly crucial. That is, projects such that if we look back from a win scenario, it’s not too implausible we’d say they were part of the reason.
Something interesting happens when one draws on a whiteboard ⬜✍️while talking.
Even drawing 🌀an arbitrary squiggle while making a point makes me more likely to remember it, whereas points made without squiggles are more easily forgotten.
This is a powerful observation.
We can chunk complex ideas into simple pointers.
This means I can use 2d surfaces as a thinking tool in a new way. I don’t have to process content by extending strings over time, and forcibly feeding an exact trail of thought into my mind by navigating with my eyes. Instead I can distill the entire scenario into 🔭a single, manageable, overviewable whole—and do so in a way which leaves room for my own trails and 🕸️networks of thought.
At a glance I remember what was said, without having to spend mental effort keeping track of that. This allows me to focus more fully on what’s important.
In the same way, I’ve started to like using emojis in 😃📄essays and other documents. They feel like a spiritual counterpart of whiteboard squiggles.
I’m quite excited about this. In future I intend to 🧪experiment more with it.
I think random objects might work in a similar way. e.g. if talking in a restaurant, you grab the ketchup bottle and the salt to represent your point. I’ve only experimented with this once, with ultimately quite an elaborate set of condiments, tableware and fries involved. It seemed to make things more memorable and followable, but I wasn’t much inclined to do it more for some reason. Possibly at that scale it was a lot of effort beyond the conversation.
Things I see around me sometimes get involved in my thoughts in a way that seems related. For instance, if I’m thinking about the interactions of two orgs while I’m near some trees, two of the trees will come to represent the two orgs, and my thoughts about how they should interact will echo ways that the trees are interacting, without me intending this.
I… am surprised by how much I hate this comment. I very likely don’t endorse it, but I sure seem to have some kind of adverse reaction to emojis.
Well, I strong downvoted because adversarial tone, though I’d be pretty excited about fighting about this in the right kind of way.
Curious if you could introspect/tell me more about the aversion?
Oh, I totally didn’t mean it in an adversarial tone, only in a playful tone. I am generally in favor of people experimenting with weird content formats, I just had an unusually strong emotional reaction to this one, which seemed good to share without trying to imply any kind of judgement.
Can do a more detailed introspective pass later, just seemed good to clear up the tone.
(Potential reason for confusion: “don’t endorse it” in habryka’s first comment could be interpreted as not endorsing “this comment”, when habryka actually said he didn’t endorse his emotional reaction to the comment.)
Oh, that would make a bunch of sense. Yes, the “it” was referring to my emotional reaction, not the comment.
Ah! I read “it” as the comment. That does change my mind about how adversarial it was.
I am quite uncertain but have an intuition that there should be an expectation of more justification accompanying stronger negative aversions (and “hate” is about as strong as it gets).
(Naturally not everything has to be fully justified, that’s an unbearable demand which will stifle lots of important discourse. This is rather a point about the degree to which different things should be, and how communities should make an unfortunate trade-off to avoid Moloch when communicating aversions.)
I’m confused about the effects of the internet on social groups. 
On the one hand… the internet enables much larger social groups (e.g. reddit communities with tens of thousands of members) and much larger circles of social influence (e.g. instagram celebrities having millions of followers). Both of these will tend to display network effects. However, A) social status is zero-sum, and B) there are diminishing returns to the health benefits of social status . This suggests that on the margin moving from a very large number of small communities (e.g. bowling clubs) to a smaller number of larger communities (e.g. bowling YouTubers) will be net negative, because the benefits of status gains at the top will diminish faster than the harms from losses at the median.
On the other hand… the internet enables much more niched social groups. Ceteris paribus, this suggests it should enable more groups and higher quality groups.
I don’t know how to weigh these effects, but currenly expect the former to be a fair bit larger.
 In addition to being confused I’m also uncertain, due to lack of data I could obtain in a few hours, probably.
 In contrast to the psychological benefits of status, I think social capital can sometimes have increasing returns. One mechanism: if you grow your network, the number of connections between units in your network grows even faster.
My recent thinking about this in relation to creative content is this:
1. The middle has gotten much narrower. That is, because news can travel fast, and we can see what people’s opinions are, and high status people have more reach, the “average person’s aesthetic loves” are now much closer to the typical person. People who make content for a mainstream audience now have to contend with this mega-tastemaking machine, and there’s not as much space to go around because EVERYBODY is watching game of thrones and reading harry potter.
2. The tails have gotten much wider. That is, because self-publishing is easy, and searching is easy, and SOOO much content is at our fingertips, there are way more and way more varied fringe tastes than ever before, and people who make weird or out there content now have the option of making a living with 1000 true fans.
I haven’t thought about it too much, but it’s possible the internet has had the same effect on groups in general. With mainstream groups being bigger, and there being more room for niche groups. In general if we’re talking about people’s wellbeing, I suspect the first effect (of seeing how lititle status you have relative to the megastars) to overwhelm the effect of being able to find niche groups to be a part of.
So whether the internet is good or bad hinges on 1) whether (or to what degree) the health benefits of social status can be imparted via the internet, and 2) knowledge about social graphs that might be obtained from Facebook, or possessed by the NSA?
If you’re asking whether your paraphrase actually captures my model, it doesn’t. If you’re making a point, I’m afraid I don’t get it.
In addition to being confused I’m also uncertain, due to lack of data I could obtain in a few hours, probably.
While your model makes a lot of sense, I’m unclear on what data would clear this up.
There are different kinds of information instutitions.
Info-generating (e.g. Science, …)
Info-capturing (e.g. short-form? prediction markets?)
Info-sharing (e.g. postal services, newspapers, social platforms, language regulators, …)
Info-preserving (e.g. libraries, archives, religions, Chesterton’s fence-norms, …)
Info-aggregating (e.g. prediction markets, distill.pub...)
I hadn’t considered the use of info-capturing institutions until recently, and in particular how prediction sites might help with this. If you have an insight or an update, there is cheap and standardised way to make it part of the world’s share knowledge.
The cheapness means you might actually do it. And the standardisation means it will interface more easily with the other parts of the info pipeline (easier to share, easier to preserve, easier to aggregate into established wisdom...)
According to the standard model of physics: information can’t be created or destroyed. I don’t know if science can be said to “generate” information rather than capturing it. It seems like you might be referring to a less formal notion of information, maybe “knowledge”.
Are short-forms really about information and knowledge? It’s my understanding that they’re about short thoughts and ideas.
I’ve been contemplating the value alignment problem and have come to the idea that the “telos” of life is to capture and preserve information. This seemingly implies some measure of the utility of information, because information that’s more relevant to the problem of capturing and preserving information is more important to capture and preserve than information that’s irrelevant to capturing and preserving information. You might call such a measure “knowledge”, but there’s probably already an information theoretic formalization of that word.
I have to admit, I don’t have a strong background in information theory. I’m not really sure if it even makes sense to discuss what some information is “about”. I think there’s something called the Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom (DIKW) hierarchy which may help sort that out. I think data is the bits used to store information. Like the information content of an un-compressed word document might be the same after compressing said document, it just takes up less data. Knowledge might be how information relates to other information, like you might think it takes one bit of information to convey whether the British are invading by land or by sea, but if you have more information about what factors into that decision, like the weather then the signal conveys less than one bit of information because you can make a pretty good prediction without it. In other words: our universe follows some rules and causal relationships so treating events as independent random occurrences is rarely correct. Wisdom, I believe; is about using the knowledge and information you have to make decisions.
Take all that with a grain of salt.
If you’re building something and people’s first response is “Doesn’t this already exist?” that might be a good sign.
It’s hard to find things that actually are good (as opposed to just seeming good), and if you succeed, there ought to be some story for why no one else got there first.
Sometimes that story might be:
People want X. A thing existed which called itself “X”, so everyone assumed X already existed. If you look close enough, “X” is actually pretty different from X, but from a distance they blend together; causing people looking for ideas to look elsewhere.