Making Sense

"... and when we want to look at just a subset of the variables in a joint distribution, we have to sum over all the other variables: the probability that X is blue, is equal to the probability that both X is blue and Y is blue, plus the probability that X is blue and Y is red, plus ... and so on for all the values Y could take. We call this marginalizing over Y to get the marginal distribution for X. Note that you can think about this as taking an expected value. Does that make sense?"

"Ummm ... ye-es?"

"You don't sound very confident."

"The exact referent of the word that in 'Does that make sense?' was ambiguous, because it was preceded by a long, multi-part explanation. Most of the potential referents made perfect sense, but my response had to average over all of them, hence the hesitation and uncertain tone."



Hey. Just so you know.

Today while I was walking to the store to procrastinate from writing a big autobiographical post for my new ("new") secret ("secret") blog, a woman asked me if she could borrow a dollar, and I said, "Sorry, not today," and it wasn't until afterward that the thought even occurred to me that I might have responded by opening up a negotiation about interest rates, or that my saying "not today" could be construed as meaning that I might lend her a dollar on some future day, even though it seemed unlikely that the woman and I would meet again and remember that we were meeting again.

So, I'm not inhuman.

Although, as far as humanity goes, it is interesting to note that in that earlier-blogged incident when I was inhuman, the person asking for money ended up with three dollars, and this time, she ended up with none.

But you shouldn't exonerate me yet. While leaving the store, I overheard a canvasser saying that he was helping the Southern Poverty Law Center fight descrimination, and I didn't resist the urge to look over my shoulder and say, "Discrimination is Bayesian reasoning applied to human beings!"

But not loud enough for anyone to take notice. So, there's that.


Adventures in recalibrating my models of social reality ... Portland edition! (Previous adventures in Portland.)

"I think the man who asked me for change was trying to scam me. At the end of the interaction-slash-negotiation, I had given him three dollars, and I didn't get any quarters back, which is not how making change is supposed to work. Does ... does the poor thing not even have a concept of 'scam'? Is this just how his tribe makes a living?"

"Asking for change has two meanings. One is, 'please give me an equal value of smaller-denomination currencies for this single instance of a larger denomination.' This is the version of 'change' where it means to change one form of the same number to another. But because of that definition, small amounts of money like coins became known as 'change'. For example, 'pocket change to go to the movie,' only referenced as a small amount of money, not a conversion of form. Which then leads to the definition of 'Can I have change?' being ambiguous: on one hand they might want you to change the denominations of currency—what you expected, quarters—or on the other, they may be asking you to give them, for free, with no return, a small amount of money. As in, a handout to a beggar. Guy was asking you for second thing. He did not intend, and you were not meant to assume, any money would be returned to you. But this is ambiguous and annoying, I agree."

"I see. People in my social class are trained to either ignore lower-class street folk, or just give them money to ease our conscience; I wanted to try to break that script and just treat people as people. But 'treating people as people' should not be construed in such a way as to assume that when such a man asks for change, he means the same thing that I would mean if I were to ask someone for change. Although ... I summarized the situation to you as him 'asking for change', but I specifically remember him saying something about his friend having an entire roll of quarters, which I interpreted as him wanting me to give him ten dollars for the whole roll—ten dollars being the value of a standard-size roll of quarters—and I was trying to communicate that I wouldn't give him any more dollars after the third one, and that he should give me twelve quarters in return, even if that meant having to open the roll, assuming that I was doing the arithmetic in my head correctly that four quarters per dollar, times three dollars, equals twelve quarters. So I think it was a scam! But, that's just how his tribe makes a living. Except—wait! There's another way in which my initial interpretation of the situation made bad predictions because it was self-centered: when someone asks for change in the sense of wanting the same value in different denominations, the person asking is the one with the larger denomination to start: they want smaller units because they're easier to spend. So given that the man was the one asking for change from me rather than the other way around, I should have been able to infer that he meant it in the sense of a small amount of money as a handout, rather than in the sense of changing denominations. We could imagine him meaning it in the sense of changing denominations if he were trying to provide the service of providing smaller denominations for larger to passerby in exchange for a small fee: for example, by taking my three dollars and giving me eleven quarters back. But I assign a low prior probability to that having been his intent."

(thanks to Katie C. for explaining)

Blood and Ice

"Are you eating ice because you're autistic, or because you have an iron deficiency?"

"I think because it's there?—after drinking all of the iced-coffee. Like, Alicorn had an iron deficiency on account of being female and vegetarian, but I don't have either of those problems ... I mean, problems with respect to iron levels."

ADDENDUM (20 May): "Like, I wish I had exactly one of those problems."

Brand Rust

2007–2016: "Of course I'm still fundamentally part of the Blue Team, like all non-evil people, but I genuinely think there are some decision-relevant facts about biology, economics, and statistics that folks may not have adequately taken into account!"

2017: "You know, maybe I'm just ... not part of the Blue Team? Maybe I can live with that?"

Wicked Transcendence III

(Previously, previously.)


On my twenty-second day out of prison, I went to the genderqueer support/discussion group again, but this time with my metaphorical evolutionary-psychology goggles firmly in place.

And just, woooooow

These not-particularly-feminine females and probably-autogynephilc males think that they have something substantive in common (being "genderqueer"), and are paranoid at the world of hostile cis people just itching to discriminate against and misgender them

And their struggle makes sense to them, but I'm just sitting there thinking wooooow

It's all just social-exchange and coalitional instincts. There are no principles. There have never been any principles. The horror is not, "This is a cult." The horror is that everything is a cult.

Religious, Redux

"Shit! Shit! Remember how, the last time this happened to me, I described it as feeling religious?"


"I was wrong! It's actually the feeling of acquiring a new religion, getting eaten by someone else's egregore. It's not that the God-shaped hole was empty before; it's that I didn't notice what it was filled with. It's tempting to describe the psychotic delusions-of-reference/anticipation-of-Heaven/fear-of-Hell state as a 'religious experience' because the process of the God-shaped hole getting filled with something new is so intense. But that's only because once the hole is filled and you feel safe again, it doesn't feel like a religion anymore; it just feels like reality."

The Bayes-Structure in the Form of a Riddle

Left-wingers say torture is wrong because the victim will say whatever you want to hear.

Right-wingers say torture is right because the villain will tell the truth.

Q: What happens when you torture someone who only tells the truth?
A: They'll make noises in accordance with their personal trade-off between describing reality in clear language, and pain.

This is the whole of the Bayes-structure; the rest is commentary. Now go and study.


Or consider the token male cheerleader performing in the pep rally in the afternoon before Game 2 of the Series for Ancient Earth, shouting, "Blue Tribe Values, Red Tribe Facts! Blue Tribe Values, Red Tribe Facts!"

The Reason the World Sucks

"I think we should perform action A to optimize value V. The reason I think this is because of evidence X, Y, and Z, and prior information I."

"What?! Are you saying you think you're better than me?!"

"No, I don't think I'm better than you. But do I think I'm smarter than you in this particular domain? You're goddamned right I do!"

"You do think you're better than me! I guess I need to kill you now. Good thing I have this gun on me!"

"Wait, what?"


A Common Misunderstanding

In a series of papers published in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Dr. Ray Blanchard proposed that there are two fundamentally different types of rationalists with unrelated etiologies: instrumental rationalists, and epistemic rationalists ...

"You just used language in a way that ignores psychological harm to people whose dysphoria is triggered by that word usage! That's a bad consequence according to the global utilitarian calculus! I thought you were a rationalist, someone who chooses actions based on their consequences!"

"A common misunderstanding. You're thinking of the good kind," I said. "I'm the bad kind."

An Element Which Is Nameless

I had always thought Twilight Sparkle was the pony that best exemplified the spirit of epistemic rationality. If anypony should possess the truth, it must be the ones with high p (p being the letter used to represent the pony intelligence factor first proposed by Charles Spearpony and whose existence was confirmed by later psychometric research by such ponies as Arthur Jenfoal) who devote their lives to tireless scholarship!

After this year, however, I think I'm going to have to go with Applejack. Sometimes, all a pony needs to do to possess the truth is simply to stop lying.

Just—stop fucking lying!

Fighting Game Ideas I

Évariste Galois vs. Aaron Burr

particularist special-snowflake fox vs. broad-brush dimensionality-reducing hedgehog

the pain of arguing with creationists vs. the pain of being a creationist and not understanding why those damned smug evolutionists won't even talk to you

Resisting the Narrative

Culture wars are a subtle thing to wage, because they determine everything without being about anything. Explicitly political contests are at least ostensibly about some particular concrete thing: you're fighting for or against a specific law or a specific candidate. But how do you fight a narrative, when your enemy is less of a regime and more of a meme? How do you explain to anyone what you're trying to accomplish when you're not trying to get anyone to do anything different in particular, but to renounce their distorted way of thinking and speaking, after which you expect them to make better decisions, even if you can't say in advance what those decisions will be?

Picture me rushing into a room. "People, people! The standard map is wrong! Look at this way better map I found in the literature; let's use this one!"

"Our map isn't wrong. It has all the same continents yours does."

"I mean, yes, but it's a Mercator projection. Surely you don't really think Antarctica is larger than Asia?"

"Why do you care what size Antarctica is? What difference does it make? People are perfectly happy with Antarctica being the largest continent."

"But it's not true!"

"It sounds like you're assuming your beliefs are true. What is truth, anyway?"

And it being the case that no one will die if she gets the size of Antarctica wrong, what can I say to that?

Prescription II

that feel eighteen months post-Obergefell when you realize you missed your chance to be pro-civil-unions-with-all-the-same-legal-privileges but anti-calling-it-marriage while that position was still in the Overton window

(in keeping with the principle that it shouldn't be so exotic to want to protect people's freedom to do beautiful new things without necessarily thereby insisting on redefining existing words that already mean something else)

Alpha Gamma Phi

In the oneiric methodlessness of my daydream, my bros at ΑΓΦ are telling me that E is the best party drug and that I have to try it.

"I don't know, guys," I say.

"Nah, bro, you've got to try it!"

"Okay," I say, "just don't expect me to mentally rotate any 3D objects tomorrow."