This post is excellent. It is probably the best post I have read on LessWrong in a long time. Thank you for writing it!
Interestingly, even some respected games do stuff that violates this. For instance, Starcraft has queues but with several constraints that make them far worse than they could be:
Some types of things you might want to build cannot be queued (you cannot, for instance, queue your Barracks to build an addon, only unit production; if you’re researching upgrades at your Engineering Bay, you cannot queue level 2 weapons while already researching level 1 weapons).
Adding something to the queue costs the entire cost that it would normally take to build that thing and does so up front rather than charging you the price once the queued item actually starts building. In other words, if I want to queue up three 50-mineral Marines, that will cost me 150 minerals up front even though only one will actually be building at first.
These constraints mean that using the queue penalizes you, as queuing a unit means that you are essentially wasting resources; if you want to build three Marines, it’s much better to reselect your Barracks and build a new Marine after each completes than it is to add three Marines to the queue, as queuing them “wastes” 100 minerals on Marines not actually being built, which you could instead use on other things while waiting for the first Marine to build.
I consider this extremely annoying and essentially anti-competitive; Starcraft notoriously has a high barrier to entry in terms of pure APM (actions per minute), since the user interface issues mean that you have to take very many actions in order to play efficiently. I would be very interested to see what the game would look like in a version where the interface was designed to be as efficient as possible instead of adding extra constraints onto the player.
Dominic Cummings, a strategist who worked on Brexit. He is surprisingly rationalist-aligned and has very interesting thoughts at his blog.
I used this term because I think the fundamental move being pointed towards is fairly similar (although actually I think the Bostrom/Ord application of this method is incorrect, which maybe means I should have come up with a different name!).
Thanks for the link! I ended up reading a large number of his articles. His thoughts on UO and Galaxies were predictably the most interesting to me—I definitely share his sense that the old “wild west” Ultima and the like was better and more alive than the more soulless modern games (though I didn’t actually play Ultima and maybe I’d change my tune after being ganked repeatedly by PKs… :P).
I also find it interesting how successful Galaxies was despite the fact that the combat system apparently never worked as intended and was basically dysfunctional! It kinda makes me wonder, what if Galaxies had had the dev resources and budget of WoW? Would that be the new face of MMOs? (Sometimes I’ve had similar thoughts re: Netrunner and MtG...)
For me the most “wild west” exciting alive game right now is EVE Online, but the actual gameplay is something I’m profoundly uninterested in so I basically live vicariously through stories of interesting happenings.
Overall, it seems to me that there are people trying to do the kind of translational work Davis is asking for, but the community is not, as a whole, applying the sort of discernment that would demand such work.
Agreed, yeah. This is maybe the main thing I’m getting at—I’m trying to shock people into realizing “hey, everything isn’t fine, things are going wrong” and applying more discernment to what’s going on in the community.
There’s an important part missing in my current draft that has to do with the fact that much of the “esoteric” content is in fact not being openly pushed, but rather smuggled into the community via other methods; I think it’s very difficult to translate/synthesize/ground concepts if you aren’t being told about them until they’ve already taken over relevant parts of the community.
This is also why much of the post has a “sound the alarm” feeling. I think that if the community’s institutions were operating more properly, it would be much more resilient to things being “smuggled in”, which in turn would mean that people trying to spread these ideas would have to make a stronger/more reasoned case for them in order to get traction here.
As for the “list” format—this post is somewhat based on a talk I gave at the CFAR alumni reunion last year which was much better-received than I’d anticipated. Several people told me they had similar concerns but wasn’t sure if it was just them or what, and if we’re trying to “get the shields back online” just warning people that this is going on may be sufficient to prompt at least somewhat more careful thinking.
Bayes occupies a place of privilege in the Sequences and for some time had a place of privilege in the CFAR curriculum as well, but it didn’t much work and so we stopped. I’m not saying it’s bad in principle, I’m saying it empirically didn’t work as a class for intro workshops despite our trying many different approaches.
You might dispute whether that’s a positive change, but it’s certainly a way in which I see “the state of the art” as having shifted over time.
As someone who worked for CFAR full-time from early 2014 to mid-late 2016 and still teaches at CFAR workshops fairly regularly as a contractor, I can tell you that there has definitely been progress from the “Sequences era” style of rationality to what we are currently teaching. Earlier versions of the CFAR curriculum were closer to the Sequences and were also in my view worse (for instance, CFAR no longer teaches Bayes’s Theorem).
Not all of this has been fully visible to the public, though at least some of it is—for instance, here is Duncan’s post explaining Double Crux, one of CFAR’s “post-Sequences” innovations. I don’t think there are posts for every new technique but I do quite think there’s progress being made, some of which is reflected on LW.
Interestingly that’s actually quite disputed—you linked to a reprint of the card that displays as being rated 5⁄5, but the original printing of the card is actually rated 3.455 out of 5.
(That said, it’s certainly better than Book Burning!)
Go after polyamory all you want—if there is data about problems that are statistically likely to show up, I’d like to know about that, so that I can try minimizing the odds that we will experience them—and we do experience some of the standard poly jealousy problems—but if you are going to shoot a sacred cow, bring a high powered rifle, not a squirt gun.
I’ll fully admit that I don’t have formal statistical data, but I think the point is worth making anyway as a potential warning. My intent is mostly to warn newcomers about patterns I’ve seen rather than to shame people already in the community; I certainly do not claim that every poly relationship is abusive or the like.
(Part of the reason I posted this in shortform rather than as a top-level post is because I was hoping to just send a quick warning rather than posting something more formal and detailed!)
The original site that the post was on has been taken down, but here’s a pastebin of the relevant text (posted with the consent of the original author, one paragraph removed to preserve the author’s privacy). I should add that my own view of poly is considerably more negative than that of this author, but even the linked post is significantly more negative than the Bay Area rationalist community norms tend to be.
Also, I slightly worry that what you’re seeing is skewed because the kind of people who are willing to try polyamory are unusually open about their personal lives. That is, I think there’s a lot of drama going on with monogamy, too, and it just happens that people who choose to be monogamous also have a culture that better keeps drama secret until it is too big to keep secret anymore, so it simply looks more common in polyamory because it is less hidden.
I think that there is certainly a lot of drama with monogamy as well, and I agree that some aspects of this can be under the surface. That being said, I think there are some aspects of poly that tend to exacerbate/lead to drama while there are some aspects of monogamy that tend to mitigate/avoid it.
I’ll give a basic example. Let’s say that there is a couple in a committed relationship, and one member of the couple starts getting closer to a third party. They become more and more emotionally close until eventually this bond seems stronger than the original relationship and the original couple splits up.
Now, this could easily happen either in monogamy or in polyamory—you could say that it’s the story of an “emotional affair” that turns into a real affair and splits up a monogamous couple; you could also say that it’s the story of a secondary relationship in a polyamorous situation that turns into a primary relationship and splits up an old primary relationship. In point of fact I have seen cases that seem to fit this description in both monogamous and polyamorous situations.
The key difference, though, is that monogamous norms tend to work against such things, while polyamorous norms tend to encourage and even directly support such things (until perhaps things go too far and it may be too late). The person who starts to form a close bond with someone already in an established monogamous relationship may be chided or discouraged by the community; the person who starts to form a close bond with someone already in an established polyamorous primary relationship is less likely to be chided and may even be supported.
In some cases I believe I have seen this lead to major strife or even divorce in a way that I suspect people would have disendorsed and tried to avoid if they were better equipped to predict; unfortunately, they were dealing with polyamory norms that made them extra vulnerable to this sort of thing.
An interesting example of a related thing is “charm” effects, where you pick between multiple things you can do with a card, all of them are sort of bad for the price, but the flexibility makes it worth it overall. Sometimes people focus a lot on “raw efficiency”, but when it’s between you picking the best of several inefficient options or your opponent picking the worst of several highly efficient options, the former tends to be much better.
My experience has been somewhat different. I think that if you look at the actual results of what’s going on re: poly in the rationalist community it’s fairly evident that things are going wrong—there are large amounts of drama and problems, well beyond that in other communities that I currently participate in (even other communities in the Bay Area etc.).
The most obvious example is that one of the people who was most involved in bringing polyamory to the early rationalist community ended up getting divorced after a lot of poly drama, left the community, and wrote a post about how poly is actually contrary to long-term romantic goals. Unfortunately, since the author had left the community, most people didn’t read the post.
However, most people are not actually looking back at the evidence IMO—it’s just become an installed and unexamined norm.
There are a pair of things in the rationalist community which I like to call “The Two Bad Polys”—polyphasic sleep and polyamory. Both seem appealing to many people and have been experimented with pretty widely in the community despite being quite harmful; I strongly advise against trying either. In practice they seem to lead to lots of problems for most people who try them.
(Attribution note: I’m not sure whether I was the first to come up with this term to describe the pair—I think the two were first referred to as a dangerous pair by someone else but I might have come up with this particular name for them.)
One thing that tends to be weak in strategy games is “opponent’s choice” effects, where an ability has multiple possible effects and an opponent chooses which is resolved. Usually, each effect is stronger than what you would normally get for a card with that price, but in practice these cards are often quite weak.
For instance, the Magic: the Gathering card “Book Burning” looks quite strong in theory, as it either does 6 damage or mills 6 cards (both strong effects that might well be worth more than the card’s cost, since this was a set where having cards in your graveyard was quite relevant). However, in fact it is quite weak, because in practice you will always get the effect that is less relevant; if the opponent has life to spare they’ll take damage, and if the mill is no longer relevant they’ll let you mill instead.
This pattern holds true across multiple games. In Legend of the Five Rings, Levy is similarly weak despite the fact that a card that did only one of its effects would likely be overpowered, as one effect or the other is likely to be much less relevant at any point in the game and the opponent can always choose the less relevant effect.
One concept people talk about in game design is “pendulum swing”, where something that is too powerful or too weak is overcorrected in balance patches and becomes the opposite—something too powerful becomes too weak, while something too weak becomes too powerful.
A similar concept can be present in other sectors as well—often, noticing one problem can lead to an overcorrection that brings you the opposite problem. For instance, an early stage organization might notice that they aren’t systematic enough in their processes, overcorrect, and become too rigid and doctrinaire.
(Duncan Sabien uses this concept of pendulum swing a lot, and while I was aware of it prior to his use he’s done a lot to bring it to attention as a relevant rationality concept.)
Yeah, that’s why I said it addressed this point “among others”—my summary of the poem’s message would be something like “There are timeless principles of morality and common sense that are fundamentally true; when what’s fundamentally true becomes unfashionable and people believe what’s popular or sounds good instead, disaster ultimately ensues.”
My post refers primarily to the second part of that message (beliefs are for true things, reject this at your peril) rather than the first part.