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Alisa Discussion

This is a discussion topic for Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum (a pseudonym, Ayn Rand's birth name). Other people are welcome to make comments. Alisa has agreed not to post under other names in this topic.


Elliot Temple on June 20, 2019

Comments (31)

Post-mortems and overreaching

Proposal: If you post-mortem each of your mistakes, then you're not overreaching.

Reasoning: Overreaching involves being overwhelmed by your mistakes. If you are post-morteming each of your mistakes, then you're dealing with them appropriately. This is incompatible with being overwhelmed by them.


Alisa at 7:00 AM on July 1, 2019 | #12940 | reply | quote

#12940 Yes but many post-mortems will be very short.

E.g. you could say: I don't know enough about this problem. I need more data, more experience with it. *And* I think it's minor and rare (because [something]). So I won't worry about it for now. I'll reconsider next time it comes up, if it comes up again. My tentative plan is to pay more attention to it if it comes up 4 times in 12 months or 8 times lifetime. Similar to not worrying about refactoring code to be general purpose until you've done the same thing 3 times.

If you have literally no idea what went wrong with a mistake, that's bad. If you can organize it into some kinda category (that you have some general policy for dealing with), and get some kinda handle on it, that's much better. That can be very brief.


curi at 12:25 PM on July 1, 2019 | #12942 | reply | quote

Unit testing knowledge

I think one reason I make as many mistakes as I do is that I don't unit test my knowledge enough. I accept, as something that I know, knowledge that hasn't been sufficiently tested from different angles. I wouldn't have such low standards for software (that I care about). So why do I have such low standards in the realm of ideas?


Alisa at 8:16 PM on July 29, 2019 | #13171 | reply | quote

On lying and being inaccurate

Being inaccurate is a matter of morality. I once watched an episode of Hell's Kitchen in which chef Gordon Ramsey indicated that he needed to be able to trust that his chefs were reliable and that they were giving me him reliable info about the dishes that they were cooking. Once, someone feigned not knowing what was wrong with a dish (it was scallops, and they were raw). Gordon Ramsey noticed that the chef hadn't done sufficient error-checking, and said that he couldn't trust them any more.

When you make an assertion without doing adequate unit testing, error checking, or cross-checking, you are saying that you know something which you do not in fact know. Being in accurate in this way is a form of lying. It’s misrepresenting your state of knowledge, like a waiter who says that a dish doesn't contain some allergen when in fact he doesn't know or hasn't done adequate due diligence.

Big picture: people need to be able to trust what you say, and you can't be trusted if you don't adequately error check what you say.


Alisa at 9:15 PM on August 1, 2019 | #13198 | reply | quote

> that they were giving *me him* reliable info

> Being in accurate

Typos. Content makes sense.


Anonymous at 11:11 PM on August 1, 2019 | #13199 | reply | quote

Typos

#13199 Thanks for the typo reports (and for the content assessment), anon.

After figuring out what I wrote above, it's a given for me that I need to find a way to reliably say things without being inaccurate or otherwise lying. I think that typos matter too, but in a different way than factual inaccuracies. From the Hell's Kitchen perspective: every factual inaccuracy is like a major problem with a dish, but so long as the true meaning of the text can be easily understood, a typo is more like a tiny defect.

In different situations there will be different expectations for what counts as reasonable typo-prevention efforts. For example, in a book, there basically should never be a typo, but in IMs that are clearly being sent off-the-cuff, occasional typos are okay. At work, it would be helpful for me to be able to generate typo-free text, so I am interested to find a trustworthy process for that.

My current best process for generating typo-free text is to check for misspelled words highlighted in red, and use TTS to listen to what I wrote.

> that they were giving *me him* reliable info

TTS should have caught that mistake. The issue here was that I didn't listen to my message #13198 before sending it. At this point, for me, sending a message that I haven't listened to is dishonest, because I've previously stated my intention to use TTS as part of my error-checking process [https://bitbucket.org/petrogradphilosopher/fi/src/default/pf.md]. I need to either follow through with that or retract my claim.

> Being in accurate

That mistake would be hard to catch with my current process.


Alisa at 2:18 PM on August 2, 2019 | #13201 | reply | quote

Example of a lie: hand soap at the kitchen sink

Not too long ago, I had been away from home for about a week. I was staying at the house of someone I know. There was hand soap at the kitchen sink. That was convenient because I needed to wash my hands and the bathroom was on a different floor. I remarked on the convenience of this. I said that I didn't have hand soap in my kitchen sink at home. The person expressed surprise that I didn't have hand soap at my kitchen sink. I assured him that I didn't. But when I got home a day later, I saw that I *did* have hand soap at my kitchen sink.

I count as a lie the statement of mine in which I said that I didn't have hand soap at my kitchen sink. I confidently made a false statement about something which I can be reasonably expected to speak accurately about. Even if I was unsure (and it's not clear that I was), I mis-represented my state of knowledge by speaking confidently.

When I lied, did I have any sense that I was lying? Did I have any indication that what I was saying was false, or that what I was saying merited more error-checking -- even a slight gut feeling? I don't know, but if so, I should have paid more attention to that sense or indication. It would have been far better to say nothing than to confidently say something false.

I suppose my lie could have been due, in part, to bias. There were a lot of convenient things in the person's house. I had been praising some of them. Maybe I wanted to praise more things. Maybe I thought that lying about the hand soap would be a good way to make headway towards that goal. If so, then maybe I could have prevented the lie by *noticing* my desire to praise things, *recognizing* that as a bias, and then *watching for* for the potential effects of that bias. I could have been extra careful about saying things that I would be biased to say.


Alisa at 9:30 PM on August 3, 2019 | #13203 | reply | quote

#13203 You were visibly doing some social stuff (which is inherently not truth-oriented in some ways, which is similar to bias). Exaggerating some praise was one of the social things.


Anonymous at 9:40 PM on August 3, 2019 | #13204 | reply | quote

#13171 Unit tests for knowledge are basically the same concept as a library of criticism. That library of criticisms that you check new ideas against is your test suite. It needs to be built up gradually with *high quality* tests. People with a bunch of shitty tests, with a bunch of false positives (flags stuff as broken that is actually correct), start ignoring their tests and using metrics like "Did over 10% of my tests fail? Then maybe it's bad. But I'll ignore fewer fails than that."

Also note that many tests are subject-specific. They can apply to a field, like physics, or to a much more narrow area (like only applies to ideas about golden retrievers catching frisbees). So part of the process has to be evaluating *which* tests should be run for a particular idea (which are relevant).

When in doubt, run extra tests *if* they are designed to not fail when they can't deal with the input. But if your tests start flagging stuff as wrong that they don't understand, then you have to much more aggressively limit what tests get run, which is bad.


curi at 2:03 PM on August 4, 2019 | #13205 | reply | quote

#13204 Good point. Acting social is a major factor in lying. For one thing, acting social commonly involves telling *white lies*.

I could try to notice when I'm acting social (which is not THAT often, I think) and to be extra alert for lies during those times. I think that would be a do-able and potentially helpful next step.


Alisa at 6:54 PM on August 5, 2019 | #13232 | reply | quote

> I could try to notice when I'm acting social (which is not THAT often, I think)

I'd guess it's most of the time, or at least most of the time you're around anyone other than family.


Anonymous at 7:40 PM on August 5, 2019 | #13236 | reply | quote

#13236 I wrote:

>> I could try to notice when I'm acting social (which is not THAT often, I think)

Anon replied:

> I'd guess it's most of the time, or at least most of the time you're around anyone other than family.

Ok. I will modify my proposal from #13204 to take account of your point. My modification is to remove the text "(which is not THAT often, I think)". The result is:

>>> I could try to notice when I'm acting social and to be extra alert for lies during those times.

I don't currently notice myself acting social often enough for that to be a burden, but I do notice it enough for it to give me something to work on.

Suppose I eventually learn to notice myself acting social in more situations. Then maybe my capacity to watch out for my own lies will also have grown. If it hasn't, I'll have to think of something else.


Alisa at 11:25 PM on August 6, 2019 | #13244 | reply | quote

Unit tests for knowledge

#13205 That's an angle I wasn't thinking of it from. I was thinking of starting with an idea, and then figuring out what tests would be good for it, and then writing and running those tests. You're suggesting that I focus instead on the tests, and on making them good and generic, and then when ideas come along, I spend a bit of time figuring out which tests from my library apply. This seems different than writing new tests for each idea.

In programming, I write new tests for each function. I don't have a generic library of tests that I apply to new functions. I have generic test *helper* functions and test *libraries* that make testing in general easier, but still, each function requires its own new test, and I usually have to think about the inputs for each new function and about what the correct outputs should be.


Alisa at 8:46 PM on August 7, 2019 | #13247 | reply | quote

To avoid lying to others, you have to avoid lying to yourself

#13198 Some people (including me at some times) believe that it's morally worse to lie to someone else than it is to lie to yourself. But if you are effective at lying to yourself, then you will believe your own lies, and it's plausible that you would eventually tell those lies to others. So if you really care about not lying to others, you have to avoid lying to yourself.


Alisa at 8:46 PM on August 8, 2019 | #13252 | reply | quote

lying

This is an area where I don't know much. But my guess is that when we believe lies we tell ourselves, it is almost *inevitable* that we tell those lies to other people as well. The only situation where we wouldn't is where those lies aren't relevant to something we'd convey to other people in some way, and I can't think of a situation where that would be the case.


Anne B at 8:42 AM on August 9, 2019 | #13256 | reply | quote

Morality isn't primarily about others

My take on what you're saying: Some people think that the really bad thing is to lie to others. So, don't lie to yourself as you'll probably end up lying to others, too (i.e. you'll do the really bad thing).

I think this puts morality inside a social framework. It conveys that the reason to be moral is the effect on other people.

But the primary reason to be moral is for *you*. It's to help *you* successfully live. It's to help *you* not destroy yourself (by destroying your mind). Others come into the picture only secondary to that goal.

I think it's much worse to lie to yourself than to lie to others. When lying to others, it's possible that you retain a tie to reality (e.g. you lie only to them and not also to yourself). If you lie to yourself, then by definition you've lost that tie, which is a much worse position for you to be in.


Kate at 9:19 AM on August 9, 2019 | #13258 | reply | quote

My comment is a response to #13252.


Kate at 9:21 AM on August 9, 2019 | #13259 | reply | quote

#13258 If you can identify a single false statement in the post of mine to which you replied, I would appreciate hearing about it.


Alisa at 3:09 PM on August 9, 2019 | #13263 | reply | quote

Scenarios in which you could lie to yourself w/out lying to others?

#13256

> when we believe lies we tell ourselves, it is almost *inevitable* that we tell those lies to other people as well

Practically speaking, I agree. However, I think there are a few theoretical scenarios in which someone could lie to themselves without lying to others. Here are a few:

- Say someone follows a vow of silence. If they don't talk to others, they won't lie to others.

- Say someone never talks about a certain area of their life. If they lie to themselves only about that area, then they wouldn't inevitably tell those lies to others.


Alisa at 3:24 PM on August 9, 2019 | #13264 | reply | quote

> If you can identify a single false statement in the post of mine to which you replied, I would appreciate hearing about it.

I think believing the idea "that it's morally worse to lie to someone else than it is to lie to yourself" is a mistake.

Now, I guess you might be thinking "Well, I didn't say that it was *right* to believe that. I just said that I believed it some times. I was just honestly stating the facts regarding my beliefs. Therefore, I didn't actually make a false statement."

If that's the case, then I think you're missing the point. It's sort of like this:

Suppose someone says "I believe it's ok to steal from ppl some times."

Another person says "That's wrong and here's why -- blah, blah, blah."

The first person replies "If you can identify a single false statement in the post of mine to which you replied, I would appreciate hearing about it."


Kate at 4:11 PM on August 9, 2019 | #13265 | reply | quote

#13265 Saying "Some people [...] believe that [X]" is not stating X.

Saying something like "Sometimes I believe X" also is not stating X.

> then I think you're missing the point.

You seem to be missing the point that Alisa was speaking narrowly about limited issues, and then asked if you could point out a false statement. Alisa was trying to say things which were true rather than false, as written, exactly. You are talking about how, in some context, some of it could be bad or misleading which is a different issue. You are still pushing this after Alisa clearly and directly communicated what he cares about (false statements). You have not in fact pointed out a false statement from Alisa's comment, but you haven't clearly admitted you can't, and you have continued with other types of criticism that Alisa didn't express interest in and which you could probably guess that Alisa has heard before.

> Suppose someone says "I believe it's ok to steal from ppl some times."

That is not equivalent to what Alisa said. That strikes me as dishonest. That or it's a grammar error with an ambiguous modifier on the end. What Alisa said was about *believing sometimes*, but you've changed it, as I read it, to being about always believing that *stealing* is ok sometimes (in some situations).


Anonymous at 6:22 PM on August 9, 2019 | #13266 | reply | quote

#13247 Start with individual tests. It's important to find patterns in the testing and refactor to have more generic tests which can replace 3+ previous tests. Same as normal DRY coding.

If you have a bunch of one-line tests which just call a library function, then you're part of the way there. But it'd be superior to write some code which generates all those individual tests instead of writing them all by hand.

Also I talked about this in my stream https://youtu.be/EiPMrvQYx5w approximately 2 hours in. (I talked about some other comments from this page earlier in the stream, too.)


curi at 6:50 PM on August 9, 2019 | #13267 | reply | quote

>> then I think you're missing the point.

> You seem to be missing the point that Alisa was speaking narrowly about limited issues, and then asked if you could point out a false statement.

I wondered about that point, which is why I wrote this:

>Now, I guess you might be thinking "Well, I didn't say that it was *right* to believe that. I just said that I believed it some times. I was just honestly stating the facts regarding my beliefs. Therefore, I didn't actually make a false statement."

To clarify, I agree with this reasoning as stated. Alisa didn't actually make a false statement.

back to anon:

>Alisa was trying to say things which were true rather than false, as written, exactly. You are talking about how, in some context, some of it could be bad or misleading which is a different issue.

I don't understand why Alisa doesn't care that his belief is a mistake. But it's his call. I'll drop it.

> You are still pushing this after Alisa clearly and directly communicated what he cares about (false statements). You have not in fact pointed out a false statement from Alisa's comment, but you haven't clearly admitted you can't, and you have continued with other types of criticism that Alisa didn't express interest in and which you could probably guess that Alisa has heard before.

What other types of criticism? The idea that he should care when his beliefs are mistaken?

>> Suppose someone says "I believe it's ok to steal from ppl some times."

> That is not equivalent to what Alisa said. That strikes me as dishonest. That or it's a grammar error with an ambiguous modifier on the end. What Alisa said was about *believing sometimes*, but you've changed it, as I read it, to being about always believing that *stealing* is ok sometimes (in some situations).

I see what you mean. Sorry. The grammar is different between them. I don't know if it was dishonesty or carelessness (or both...they are related). Anyways, I just wrote the meaning that I had in mind. And looking at it now, even though the grammar is different, I'm having a hard time seeing the difference in meaning.

I sometimes believe it's ok to steal.

I believe it's ok to steal sometimes.

(BTW, I think "sometimes" is better.)

If you sometimes believe it's ok to steal, then there will be times when you believe it's ok to steal.

If you believe it's ok to steal sometimes, then aren't we left with the same conclusion? That there will be times when you believe it's ok to steal?

How are they different?


Kate at 8:11 PM on August 9, 2019 | #13269 | reply | quote

With one meaning, there can be times when you think all stealing is wrong. You have different ideas at different times.

With the other one, you have a single idea at all times which says some stealing is wrong and some is right.

In the one case, your ideas are what's changing around time. At different times you have different opinions of the same situation. In the other case, the situation is what changes.


Anonymous at 9:09 PM on August 9, 2019 | #13270 | reply | quote

A trick for solving problems that should be possible but seem impossible

This note explains a trick for making progress on a kind of problem where you have to figure out how to do something that seems like it should be possible but also seems to be impossible for some unknown reason. Examples of this kind of problem:

- Figuring out how to close the blinds to get some privacy in a street-level hotel room that seems like it doesn't have blinds

- Figuring out how to turn the cooling on in a hotel room that doesn't seem like it has air conditioning (AC)

The trick is: act as if things make sense even though it seems like they don't. It's a mental attitude to try adopting temporarily. Just assume that things must make sense somehow and keep looking for how that could be.

The example problems above actually happened to me. I was with someone who used the trick to figure out how to solve each problem. They shared the trick with me after I asked how they did it.

The solution to the missing AC control is that it was in a strange location. I forget exactly where. But it doesn't make sense that a hotel wouldn't have AC, so it was worth assuming that there was AC and trying to find the control for it.

The actual blinds were somehow covered behind semi-transparent curtains. They were attached to a high railing and kind of hidden. But they were there. And when you closed them, it gave the room privacy from the street.


Alisa at 6:04 PM on August 10, 2019 | #13274 | reply | quote

BoI on "[t]he quest for good explanations" and Deutsch's "criterion for reality"

A paragraph from BoI:

> The quest for good explanations is, I believe, the basic regulating principle not only of science, but of the Enlightenment generally. It is the feature that distinguishes those approaches to knowledge from all others, and it implies all those other conditions for scientific progress I have discussed: It trivially implies that prediction alone is insufficient.

Ok.

> Somewhat less trivially, it leads to the rejection of authority, because if we adopt a theory on authority, that means that we would also have accepted a range of different theories on authority.

Ok. "X is true because Y said so and Y has authority" is not much of an explanation, let alone a hard-to-vary explanation.

> And hence it also implies the need for a tradition of criticism.

Hmm. Is the issue that without ongoing criticism throughout time, the quest for good explanations will ultimately fail, and the only known way to provide ongoing criticism throughout time is to have a tradition of criticism?

> It also implies a methodological rule – a criterion for reality – namely that we should conclude that a particular thing is real if and only if it figures in our best explanation of something.

How does "[t]he quest for good explanations" "impl[y]" Deutsch's "criterion for reality"? (I think "It" at the beginning of the above sentence ultimately refers to the subject of the first sentence of the paragraph, namely, "[t]he quest for good explanations".)


Alisa at 8:16 PM on August 11, 2019 | #13283 | reply | quote

> How does "[t]he quest for good explanations" "impl[y]" Deutsch's "criterion for reality"?

It's not a logical implication, but it's a view which works well if you see explanations as primary.

re tradition of criticism, that's an alternative to authority.


Anonymous at 9:00 PM on August 11, 2019 | #13285 | reply | quote

#13285

> re tradition of criticism, that's an alternative to authority.

Is a tradition of criticism the only workable alternative to authority that is compatible with the quest for good explanations? Or is there some other reason that nothing other than a tradition of criticism would work? If not, then I don't see how the quest for good explanations implies the *need* for a tradition of criticism.


Alisa at 10:10 PM on August 12, 2019 | #13296 | reply | quote

#13296 Do you have any ideas for something else that would work?


Anonymous at 10:16 PM on August 12, 2019 | #13297 | reply | quote

#13297 No.


Alisa at 7:08 PM on August 13, 2019 | #13299 | reply | quote

Chilipad

The Chilipad is a device that helps control the temperature of the top of a mattress. The Chilipad's temperature can be set to any integer value between 55° and 110° F.

The Chilipad consists of two parts: (1) a small refrigerator/heater and (2) a thin pad filled with flexible water-carrying tubes that lies between the mattress and the bottom sheet. A pair of hoses connects the two parts. Whenever the Chilipad is on, water circulates through the pad and through the refrigerator/heater.


Alisa at 8:18 PM on August 14, 2019 | #13301 | reply | quote

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